CHINA - TAIWAN: Taiwan has accepted an invitation from China to re-start a dialogue on opening regular charter flights between the two sides, and allowing Chinese tourists to visit the island. Chiang Pin-kung, the chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation, made the announcement in Taipei today, saying officials from the two sides will meet in Beijing next month (June 11th-14th). China extended the invitation for talks at an unprecedented meeting in Beijing Wednesday between Chinese President Hu Jintao and the head of Taiwan's ruling party, Wu Poh-hsiung.
CHINA - QUAKE: Heavy rain is hampering efforts by Chinese emergency workers to drain a so-called "quake lake" that was formed by this month's deadly earthquake in southwestern Sichuan province. More than 150-thousand people have been evacuated from the area below Tangjiashan lake, which was formed after landslides triggered by the May 12th quake caused natural dams to form in rivers. Authorities fear the lake could overflow and trigger flash floods in the area. The heavy rains have grounded helicopters from airlifting equipment needed to help in the drainage of the lake.
BURMA: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says Burma may need food assistance for at least a year to support communities devastated by Cyclone Nargis. In a new assessment, the FAO notes that nearly a month after the cyclone hit, hundreds of thousands of Burmese living in remote areas of the devastated Irrawaddy Delta region have yet to receive food aid. It also says food shortages and escalating prices pose a risk to national security. Cyclone Nargis tore across Burma's Irrawaddy Delta on May third leaving more than 134-thousand people dead or missing, and devastating the country's agricultural belt.
US - GATES - ASIA: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has arrived on the tiny Pacific island of Guam on the first stop of his Asian tour. Gates landed in the U.S. territory today, where more than eight thousand U.S. Marines, and an equal number of their dependents, will be relocated from Japan's southern Okinawa island by 2014, as part of a global realignment of U.S. forces. At least six-thousand U.S. military personnel are already stationed on Guam, which has been under American control since 1898. After his stopover in Guam, Gates will fly to Singapore to appear at a regional security conference.
SOKOR - US BEEF: South Korea says it is going forward with the resumption of U.S. beef imports, despite mass public protests over the deal because of safety and health concerns. Agricultural Minister Chung Woon-chun told reporters today that new rules dealing with the inspection of U.S. beef will be published within the next few days. Seoul suspended U.S. beef imports in 2003 after a case of the brain-wasting illness known as mad cow disease was detected in the United States. It resumed imports last year, but restricted it to boneless beef from cattle 30 months old or younger.
NEPAL: Officials in Nepal say the flag of the royal family has been taken down at the main palace in the capital, after lawmakers abolished the Himalayan nation's 239-old monarchy. An official at the main palace, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Nepal's national flag has now been raised as part of the nation's transition to a republic. Members of the newly elected Constituent Assembly, led by former communist rebels, voted overwhelmingly (560 to four) Wednesday to declare Nepal a republic. But lawmakers argued over how much power should be vested in the president and prime minister.
IRAQ CONFERENCE: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has opened a conference on Iraq by urging the international community to cancel his country's debt. Speaking to delegates gathered near Stockholm, Mr. Maliki also called for compensation payments imposed after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait to be ended. The conference brings together sponsors of a five-year plan to reform Iraq's economy and political system (known as the "International Compact with Iraq"). Hundreds of delegates from dozens of countries are in attendance. Most of Iraq's foreign debt is owed to fellow Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Ki-moon, who told delegates Iraq had made "notable progress."
AMNESTY - REPORT - ASIA: Amnesty International says that while the Asia Pacific region saw rampant economic growth last year, its growth in terms of improving human rights was not as noticeable. In its annual report released today (Wednesday), Amnesty said that as China's economy expanded by more than 11 percent last year - its highest growth rate since 1994 - there were also social tensions, and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. The report notes that in China last year, a growing number of human rights activists were imprisoned, put under house arrest or surveillance.
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