Ex-minister quits party
A former Cabinet member quit Prime Minister Taro Aso’s ruling party yesterday, a rare defection that reflects growing dissent in the party’s ranks as public support for Aso plummets. Lawmaker Yoshimi Watanabe said he quit the ruling Liberal Democratic Party because its policies were increasingly aimed at maintaining the status quo, not at solving problems. “Prime Minister Aso’s political judgment, which is only based on his desire to hold on to power, is the very problem that is delaying measures on crucial issues,” Watanabe said. “I fear that he might invite tragedy to the country and its people.” Watanabe said he had no plans to start a new party, but added that there were many within the ranks of the Liberal Democrats who share his views and said he expected they would cooperate with him.
Ministry trims search
The government yesterday scaled down the search for around 230 people still missing two days after a ferry capsized in heavy seas off Sulawesi, as investigators began probing the cause of the disaster. High winds and rough seas continued to pound the Makassar Strait,where the 700-tonne Teratai Prima capsized and sank with some 267 people on board early on Sunday. Smaller vessels were ordered to give up the search and only four navy warships and two patrol boats continued to look for survivors in the treacherous strait, known for strong currents and unpredictable seas. “We are facing very bad weather and rough seas. We don’t want to take any risks by sending small boats,” transport ministry maritime official Sunaryo said. He said 34 people had been rescued since the alert was raised late on Sunday and only one body had been found, leaving 232 people missing feared dead.
Bird flu virus found
Authorities have found the H5N1 bird flu virus in poultry illegally imported from China, said Hoang Van Nam, deputy director of the Department of Animal Health. Nam said the animal health department in Lang Son province had tested 16 samples of illegally imported chicken seized by police at the Chinese border. Eight tested positive for the H5N1 virus. The department asked Lang Son’s animal health officials to strengthen their inspections of imported poultry, Nam said. Five people in Vietnam died from avian influenza early last year, but no cases have been reported since March. On Jan. 2, an eight-year-old child in Thanh Hoa province was admitted to hospital and confirmed by health officials as the nation’s first human case of the H5N1 virus this year.
Court: Bemba used rape
War crimes prosecutors have accused former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba of using systematic rape to intimidate civilians during a bloody power struggle in neighboring Central Africa Republic. Prosecutors are laying out their case against Bemba in a pretrial hearing in the Hague meant to assess whether there is enough evidence to put Bemba on trial. In an opening statement on Monday, deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda previewed the testimony of one man who said he was sodomized in front of his family, then watched his wife and children abused.
Mugabe rejects meeting
President Robert Mugabe won’t meet Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai because the request for the meeting was communicated through the wrong channels, a government official said. Tsvangirai, who asked for the meeting on Friday, should have submitted his request through former South African president Thabo Mbeki, said Patrick Chinamasa, an aide to Mugabe, by phone from Harare yesterday. Mbeki is the facilitator of Southern African Development Community-mandated talks aimed at resolving Zimbabwe’s political crisis. Mugabe would not meet Tsvangirai because the request for a meeting did not come through the facilitator, Chinamasa said.