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Koreas restore regular cross-border traffic

South Korea Koreas Tension

Koreas restore regular cross-border traffic

SEOUL, South Korea – North and South Korea restored regular traffic across their heavily fortified border for their jointly run industrial park Tuesday in the latest sign of improved relations between the two, officials in Seoul said.

The North’s state radio station, meanwhile, quoted leader Kim Jong Il as saying that the U.S. should abandon its “hostile policy” toward the North and sign a peace treaty with the communist nation to reduce tension on the peninsula. His comments echoed statements he has made in the past. Pyongyang Radio didn’t say when Kim made the remarks.

The U.S. fought with South Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, leaving the North and South still technically at war. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea as deterrence against the North. U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday he had no comment on the matter.

The resumption of regular traffic between the neighbors for their joint industrial park in the North was the latest indication of efforts by Pyongyang to reach out to Seoul and Washington, after months of provocations that included nuclear and missile tests.

The North had severely restricted traffic across the border since December. The clampdown affected the flow of goods and personnel to and from the factory park in Kaesong.

The border will open 23 times a day to traffic to and from Kaesong, up from the previous six times, Seoul’s Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo told reporters Tuesday. The number of people and vehicles allowed to cross the border at one time will no longer be restricted, she said.

“I don’t have any sense of uneasiness,” Han Maeng-woo, a 53-year-old South Korean worker, said as he left for the industrial complex. He said his company will be able to resume investment that was suspended during the inter-Korean tensions.

Kaesong is home to some 110 South Korean-run factories that employ about 40,000 North Korean workers. The project is the most prominent symbol of the inter-Korean cooperation that prospered under two liberal South Korean presidents following the Koreas’ first-ever summit in 2000.

The reconciliation process and most joint projects came to a halt after conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office early last year. North Korea protested Lee’s tough policies, such as linking aid to the impoverished neighbor to nuclear disarmament.

But in August, Pyongyang freed two American journalists and a South Korean worker held for more than four months of detention, agreed to resume joint projects and set a date for the reunion of families separated during the Korean War.

Pyongyang also sent an official delegation to Seoul to mourn the death of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during the 2000 Korean summit.

The two sides agreed Friday to hold a new round of family reunions in late September. On Saturday, North Korea released four South Korean fishermen seized in late July after their boat strayed into northern waters.

Kelly said the U.S. is “encouraged by more dialogue between North and South.”

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Cleric says Iran in crisis, police fight protesters


Cleric says Iran in crisis, police fight protesters

TEHRAN – july 18 – In apparent defiance of Iran’s supreme leader, a powerful cleric declared the Islamic Republic in crisis after a disputed election, and tens of thousands of protesters used Friday prayers to stage the biggest show of dissent for weeks.

Clashes erupted in central Tehran between police and followers of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, who still contests official results that showed hardline President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad had been re-elected by a wide margin.

“Police fired teargas and beat supporters of Mousavi in Keshavarz Boulevard,” a witness said, adding that protesters were carrying hundreds of green banners — Mousavi’s campaign colour — and chanting “Ahmadinejad, resign, resign”.

State television showed footage of police firing tear gas to disperse protesters, chanting “Death to dictator” and “Mousavi we support you”.

Some demonstrators shouted “Death to Russia” in protest at Moscow’s declared recognition of Ahmadinejad’s election win.

Protest cries of Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) were heard from Tehran rooftops again overnight and they were longer-lived than on previous evenings in the capital.

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate who backed Mousavi’s election campaign, said many Iranians had doubts about the official result of the June 12 vote.

“I hope with this sermon we can pass through this period of hardships that can be called a crisis,” said the influential cleric, leading prayers for the first time since the poll.

Live state radio broadcasts of Friday prayers at Tehran University, with a dual religious and political sermon delivered by a top cleric, have been a staple of revolutionary Iran.

Rafsanjani did not go as far as Mousavi and reformist candidate Mehdi Karoubi in denouncing the conduct of the vote, but his remarks still posed a clear challenge to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has upheld the election result and accused foreign powers of fomenting the unrest.

Karoubi was physically beaten at the prayers, the state news agency IRNA quoted Tehran’s governor Morteza Tamaddon as saying, blaming the beating on “the elements behind this suspicious event”.


Some hardline clerics support Ahmadinejad, but other senior Shi’ite prelates, including Grand Ayatollahs Yusof Saanei and Hossein Ali Montazeri, have criticised the authorities.

In the streets outside Tehran University, police used teargas and batons to disperse Mousavi supporters who had flocked to the prayers. At least 15 people were arrested, a witness said.

Mousavi, prime minister in the 1980s, attended the ceremony in his first official public appearance since the presidential vote, which he says was rigged. The authorities deny any fraud.

Rafsanjani, who heads the Assembly of Experts — a powerful body that can in theory dismiss the supreme leader — attacked the way authorities had handled the poll and its aftermath.

“When people are not in the scene and their votes are not there, that government is not Islamic,” he said, referring to opposition charges of vote-rigging. “Today is a bitter day.”

Rafsanjani said it was vital to restore voters’ faith in the system. “That trust cannot be brought back in a day or a night … We have all been harmed,” he added, calling for unity.

He criticised the Guardian Council, a clerical body which vets candidates and considers election complaints, for failing to do its job even though it was given five extra days to make its assessment. The council has denied any irregularities.

Using harsh language against the use of security forces to quell protests, Rafsanjani, who was a close aide to Iran’s late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, said:

“We knew what Imam Khomeini wanted. He didn’t want the use of terror or arms, even in fights (for the revolution).”

The election stirred the most striking display of internal unrest in Iran, the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter, since the 1979 revolution and exposed deep rifts in its ruling elite.

“If the Islamic and Republican sides of the revolution are not preserved, it means we have forgotten the principles of the revolution,” said Rafsanjani, who was enraged during the election campaign when Ahmadinejad accused him of corruption.

At least 20 people died in post-election violence. Mousavi and the authorities blame each other for the bloodshed. Riot police and religious Basij militia eventually suppressed the street demonstrations, but Mousavi has remained defiant.

Rafsanjani also demanded the immediate release of people detained in the unrest and called for press curbs to be relaxed. Some of his own relatives, including his daughter Faezeh, were arrested briefly for joining pro-Mousavi rallies.

“It is not necessary for us to have a number of people in prisons … we should allow them to return to their families,” he said, in an emotional tone. “It is not necessary to pressure media. We should allow them to work freely within the law.”

Rafsanjani’s robust stance appeared to set him on collision course with Khamenei, who has overtly backed Ahmadinejad in a departure from the supreme leader’s accepted role as a lofty clerical arbiter above the political fray.

The election has further strained ties between Iran and the West, already at odds over Tehran’s nuclear programme. Western powers criticised the crackdown. Iran accused them of meddling.

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Australia’s plan to ban Uluru climb sparks debate


The sun rises above Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, located around 300 km (186 miles) west of Alice Springs in outback Australia November 12, 2005.

Australia’s plan to ban Uluru climb sparks debate

CANBERRA (Reuters) – An Australian government proposal to stop people from climbing the famed Uluru, in deference to the wishes of indigenous people, sparked debate on Wednesday with lawmakers opposing the plan.

A draft management plan for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park called for a ban on people climbing the 348-meter (1,142 ft) rock, which is sacred to local Aborigine people and visited each year by 350,000 people, half of them from overseas.

The plan for Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, could be implemented within 18 months, but must be approved by national Environment Minister Peter Garrett after a two-month public consultation, a spokesman for Garrett said.

“Kevin Rudd must veto any plans by Peter Garrett to shut down Australia’s world-famous Uluru climb,” said conservative politician and environment spokesman Greg Hunt.

“Visitors from around Australia and the world would be stopped from completing the majestic and exhilarating journey,” Hunt said.

The world heritage-listed rock, famed for its shifting red-ochre colours, is a top tourist drawcard and is climbed by more than 100,000 people each year, despite its central desert location and against the wishes of indigenous people.

“You can’t go climb on top of the Vatican, you can’t go climb on top of the Buddhist temples and so on and so forth,” local elder Vince Forrester from Mutitjulu township told state radio.

Forrester said traditional owners of the rock, which is 9.4kms (5.8 mls) in circumference, have wanted the climb closed since the park was placed in indigenous hands in 1985. The monolith features strongly in indigenous creation myth.

“Obviously you have to respect our religious attachment to the land too, so we’re saying please do not climb Uluru. We’ve said it in all languages,” Forrester said.

But outback Northern Territory Tourism Minister Chris Burns said his government did not back the indigenous proposal.

Hunt said the national government should not contemplate the closure of the rock at a time when Australia’s tourism industry was under threat from the global financial crisis.

“Big Brother is coming to Uluru to slam the gate closed on an Australian tourism icon, the climb,” he said.

But people responding to the state ABC radio website were divided, with some saying it was a “denial of the rights,” and others calling for more respect of sacred areas.

“About time. We would be horrified if people were allowed to climb all over our churches or sacred sites,” wrote Lilly. (Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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