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| TUESDAY APRIL 28 2009

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Japan’s opposition wins key local election
TOKYO: Japan’s main opposition party won a key weekend local poll in a landslide, official figures showed yesterday, handing it a significant and much-needed boost ahead of national elections later this year. “It is very significant that we scored a landslide victory in a major city when a general election is drawing near,” Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) secretary-general Yukio Hatoyama said in a statement late on Sunday. “We will be fully prepared for the general election to topple the government,” he said after Takashi Kawamura won the mayoral election in the central industrial city of Nagoya. Kawamura, 60, won 514,514 votes against 282,990 votes for runner-up Masahiko Hosokawa, backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, the New Komeito party. The opposition DPJ has suffered two election defeats in local polls since leader Ichiro Ozawa was hit by a funding scandal last month. Ozawa, who had been widely tipped as a likely future premier, has seen his popularity slide since, and recent opinion polls have showed public support for Taro Aso’s cabinet recovering, fuelling speculation of early elections. Despite that, pundits have said the general election, which must be held by September, will be the toughest yet for the ruling conservative party in its almost unbroken rule of Japan lasting more than half a century. – AFP

briefs
S’porean jailed for hoax terror threats
SINGAPORE: A Singaporean suffering from depression was jailed for five years yesterday for sending hoax e-mail messages warning of terror plots to airlines, the Pentagon and the White House, a report said. Josemaria Miguel Ye Yong Qiang, 40, pleaded guilty to five charges under an anti-terrorism law, the Straits Times said. Ye sent the e-mails, which warned of bomb and rocket attacks, between Sept 6 and 27. Some went to US embassies. The man was found to be suffering from a major depressive disorder at the time of the offences, the newspaper added. He masqueraded as an informant within the Al Qaeda militant network when he sent the e-mails, the report said. In one instance, he used an internet cafe in Johor Baru to send an e-mail to the Pentagon about crashing a plane within the next few days, prompting a security alert. Ye was arrested following information provided by the FBI, the report said. – AFP

Moscow cop kills 3 in shooting spree
MOSCOW: A Russian police major yesterday went on a killing spree at a Moscow shop leaving three people dead and at least six injured, Russian news agencies reported. Major Denis Yevsyukov, head of police of Tsaritsyno district, first shot dead the driver of a car he was travelling in and then entered a shop where he unleashed a barrage of gun fire on those inside. Yevsyukov “fatally shot the driver of the Chevrolet Lanos he was being driven in,” a spokesman for the Russian prosecutor’s investigative committee, Vladimir Markin, told RIA Novosti. “The police head then entered the Ostrov supermarket ... and continued firing. As a result a female cashier and a man were killed. Another six people received gunshot wounds of varying degrees. The shooter was detained.” Investigation is under way, with initial reports suggesting he is of unsound mind. – AFP

Troops kill 20 Taliban militants in Pakistan
Residents attend a meeting in Buner, adjacent to Swat valley, where Taliban militants are seeking to expand their control.

PESHAWAR: Pakistan forces yesterday pounded suspected militant hideouts after the Taliban suspended talks with the government over the Swat valley, the military said. Paramilitary troops and helicopter gunships bombed the suspected bases in Lower Dir for the second day running, killing at least 20 militants, a military official said. “Helicopter gunships targeted different militant hideouts” the official said on condition of anonymity. The Taliban had earlier suspended talks with the government

demanding the army halt its latest operation against militants in which around 30 insurgents have been killed, Ameer Izzat Khan, a spokesman for a cleric who negotiated a peace deal between the two sides, said. The talks were aimed at restoring peace in the Malakand region, which includes the district of Swat, after Taliban fighters infiltrated nearby Buner town despite the peace deal signed with the provincial government in February. The government had insisted the militants lay down their arms after it agreed to implement IsEPAPIX

Sex criminal flees jail in helicopter
SAINT DENIS (Reunion): A cult leader jailed for sex attacks on children escaped in a helicopter from a prison on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion yesterday, the regional administration said. Juliano Verbard, who was serving a 15-year term for rapes and sex assaults on children, and two of his jailed followers were hauled on board a chopper hijacked by three accomplices, senior official Jean-Francois Moniotte said. The helicopter landed a few hundred metres away and the gang escaped in a van that had been waiting for them, he said. Earlier, the hijackers had boarded the chopper pretending to be tourists, before seizing control and directing the pilots to Domenjod prison, where it landed in the exercise yard and took on the escapees. – AFP

Psychiatric cases rise in Hongkong
HONGKONG: The number of people seeking psychiatric help in Hongkong has risen by around one quarter since the onset of the economic crisis, a leading public doctor said yesterday. Patient numbers have risen by between 20 and 30% since last October, mental health specialist Dr Lee Wing-king told government-run radio station RTHK. Separately, a survey by the Democratic Alliance political party found that 80% of people in the wealthy city of 7 million had suffered from insomnia or mood disorders because of the downturn. Share prices have slumped by 50% since the beginning of 2008 and the city’s jobless rate has risen to 5.2%. – dpa

Pope mocker goes free in Australia
SYDNEY: Australian police have given up trying to prosecute civil libertarian Ian Bryce for driving around Sydney in a fake pope-mobile during the real pope’s visit in July for World Youth Day. Charges were dropped yesterday after the police case collapsed for a fourth time. “It was against the pope’s claims to have supernatural authority and all the harm he’s doing in the world in banning condoms and trying to avoid family planning,” Bryce said. “And now he’s said gays are an equal threat to mankind as climate change, and I can’t for the life of me see what harm they’re doing anyone.” Police alleged the modified car was a distraction for other motorists. Bryce had fitted an illuminated canopy to the roof with a mannequin dressed as the pope inside. – dpa

lamic justice system in the region. Interior ministry chief Rehman Malik accused the militants of violating the deal. The Pakistan military, under US pressure to stop the advance of the extremists in the region, launched its offensive against Taliban militants in the northwest of the country on Sunday. “Our council of leaders met on Sunday night and decided to suspend peace negotiations with the government in North West Frontier Province,” Khan said. “We, however, still adhere to the February deal,” that put three million people under syariah law, he said. Despite the deal Taliban militants yesterday took control of a telephone exchange in Behrain town, 30km north of Swat valley, police officials said. “About 30 armed Taliban took control of a telephone exchange in Behrain yesterday morning,” a police official said on condition of anonymity. Another police official confirmed the incident, saying the militants were still in control of the exchange. The military said on Sunday that Frontier Corps paramilitary launched an operation against the Taliban in Lower Dir after militants killed a soldier in an ambush. It said a “number” of militants had been killed and that the dead bodies of at least 26 insurgents had been found. Lower Dir is 75km west of Swat, once a popular ski resort frequented by Westerners but where the government has effectively lost control after a violent two-year Taliban campaign to enforce syariah law. – AFP

Opposition icon’s son to lead party
SINGAPORE: A fledgling opposition party in Singapore yesterday announced the appointment of British-trained economist Kenneth Jeyaretnam, son of late pro-democracy icon J.B. Jeyaretnam, as its new leader. The Reform Party said Jeyaretnam was appointed secretarygeneral at a meeting of its central executive committee on Sunday. The younger Jeyaretnam, 50, had worked in the financial sector in London after earning a double first-class honours degree from the University of Cambridge. He returned to Singapore last year, before his father died. The party was founded by his father after the 2006 general elections. –AFP

Correa claims re-election victory in Ecuador
GUAYAQUIL (Ecuador): President Rafael Correa claimed an easy re-election victory on Sunday as voters ignored a sputtering economy to give the charismatic socialist four more years in power. Correa, a popular former economy minister, won more than 50% of the vote, two leading pollsters said. The result put him way ahead of his nearest rival and means he comfortably avoided a run-off election. “This revolution is on the march, and nobody and nothing can stop us,” the 46year-old president said minutes after exit polls showed he won easily. “The people ... have given us the most splendorous victory of probably the last 50 years,” Correa said at a news conference in his home town of Guayaquil. A Correa victory in line with the polls would be the first time a president has won an election without a run-off vote since Ecuador’s democracy began in 1979. Flag-waving supporters packed Correa’s party headquarters shouting “Just one round, Ecuador.” Correa has vowed to keep standing up to foreign investors and big oil companies in a second, four-year term after bringing relative stability where street protests toppled three presidents in the decade before he took office in 2007. But the fierce nationalist must now tackle a weakening economy and sliding oil revenues to deliver on his promises of more housing, roads and jobs or he risks eroding his popularity in the world’s top banana exporter. A new constitution passed in September gave Correa broader powers, allowed him to stand for re-election and also lets him run for another four-year term in 2013. “Correa is being watched by all Ecuadoreans and should continue with adequate social spending. If not, his administration will not last long,” said veterinarian Karen Cabrera, 32. A close ally of Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez, Correa was also hoping to win a majority in the newly formed National Assembly after a lively campaign in which the boisterous incumbent frequently burst into song. He is trusted by Ecuador’s poor for squeezing hundreds of millions of dollars from foreign companies and spending it on pensions, schools and health programmes in the country of 14 million people known for its Galapagos Islands, Andean mountains and remote Amazon tribes. Correa is a bold leader who has made risky moves such as defaulting on billions of dollars of debt and also reining in his own left-wing party’s radicals. – Reuters