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Beyond the World news headlines

from Tales from the Trail:

Security summit honors Polish leaders who died in plane crash

NUCLEAR-SUMMIT/

Dozens of world leaders stood and bowed their heads in a moment of silence honoring Polish President Lech Kaczynski and nearly 100 others who died on Saturday in a plane crash in western Russia. U.S. President Barack Obama remembered the deaths as losses not just for their own country, "a close friend and ally," but for the world, before making remarks formally opening a gathering of world leaders to discuss nuclear security issues.

"Before I begin, I want to take this moment once again to acknowledge the terrible tragedy that struck the Polish people this weekend. All of us were shocked and deeply saddened by the devastating loss of President Kaczynski, the first lady and so many distinguished civilian and military leaders from your country. This was a loss not just for Poland but for the world," Obama said.

"As an international community, I know we will all rally around the Polish people who have shown extraordinary strength and resilience throughout their history. So our hearts go out to your people. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We join them in this time of mourning. And so if everybody is agreeable, I would like to ask for a moment of silence to show that solidarity and to honor those who are lost."

Kaczynski had been traveling to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish officers by Soviet secret police in the Katyn forest in western Russia when his plane went down on Saturday in thick fog. A total of 96 people died in the crash, including Polish military commanders, top opposition figures and the central bank governor, plunging the country into mourning and bringing forward a presidential vote originally scheduled for October.

Remembering Hiro’s gentle smile

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As Hiro Muramoto headed out the door of the Tokyo newsroom last week, weighed down with TV equipment on his way to Bangkok to cover demonstrations, he flashed a smile at a Reuters colleague.

It was, she remembers, a “Hiro” smile. It was gentle, rather than a broad grin, and it showed the 43-year-old was pleased once again to take his expertise on the road to do his job telling the world what was going on.THAILAND/

from Tales from the Trail:

How to ease traffic tie-ups in Washington: hold a nuclear security summit

There's nuclear security, and then there's street security. NUCLEAR-SUMMIT/OBAMA

High-level delegations from nearly 50 countries gathered in Washington to talk, talk, talk, and talk some more about keeping the world safe from nuclear terrorism at the Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Barack Obama.

That in turn required Washington to cope with ensuring the safety of the world leaders gathered to mull world security.

Being There: U.N. Chief Takes a Rights Message to the Doorstep of Autocrats

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    By Patrick Worsnip

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits Kyrgyzstan and lectures the authorities on the need to improve human rights and stop harassing independent media. Four days later, the government of the Central Asian state is overthrown and its president driven from the capital Bishkek in demonstrations by opposition forces who say their rights have been trampled.
   

    Coincidence?
    Senior U.N. officials spend a lot of time beating off allegations that their boss is ineffectual. But in this case, they have been concerned to play down suggestions that Ban’s visit — part of a whistle-stop tour of former Soviet Central Asia — might have actually sparked the unrest that exploded onto the streets on April 7. As the chief executive of a 192-nation organization, Ban is not in the business of toppling governments, however much he may disapprove of their policies.
    “I wouldn’t take that as the case at all,” said one official in Ban’s party of the cause-and-effect notion, pointing out that political tensions had been rising for some time in Kyrgyzstan. But another said: “Touched it off — I don’t know. Exacerbated it? – Possibly.”
    The events in Kyrgyzstan dramatized the whole nature of diplomacy by the U.N. chief, a man who has no legions — as Stalin said of the Pope — and depends on moral suasion to make his points. Deferential by nature, and obliged by his job to be respectful wherever he goes, he did some things likely to appal the advocacy groups that had urged him to hammer the rights message at every stop on his five-nation tour. In Turkmenistan, he laid a wreath in the mausoleum of the late dictator Saparmurat Niyazov. In Uzbekistan, he referred to veteran autocrat Islam Karimov as a “great leader.”
    And yet, Ban did convey the human rights message, both publicly and privately, to all the Central Asian leaders, none of them anxious to hear it. In Kyrgyzstan, he said he was troubled by recent moves against free media. In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, he said it was time to deliver on the rights pledges they had signed up to. While his comments might sound anemic, they were enough to infuriate Uzbekistan’s Karimov, for one. According to U.N. aides, the Uzbek leader hit the roof when Ban raised rights issues, arguing that his country was being unfairly picked on, and that such matters were, in any case, to be discussed only with lower-level officials.
    With no big stick to wield, Ban has one advantage over presidents and prime ministers who say they are concerned about human rights — he does actually visit offending countries. The risk is he can look as though he is endorsing them.  But he does confront their leaders on sensitive issues, however politely. And he is prepared to use public forums in those countries to make the same points out loud. Last year in Myanmar, for instance, he was humiliated by the ruling junta, who prevented him from seeing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But he was able to hit back, saying in a public speech in Yangon that the Asian country’s human rights record was of “grave concern” and the government should start democratic reforms.
    Do rights violators change their ways as a result of such strictures? Kyrgyzstan’s ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev hasn’t lasted long enough to do so. But whether or not any link can be made between Ban’s trip to Bishkek and subsequent events there, autocrats elsewhere who face smoldering opposition might now think twice before they invite the U.N. secretary-general to come visit.

U.S., Russia in push to crack down on UN Security Council leaks

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The good old days -- the U.N. Security Council before the move.

The United States, Russia and China are quietly backing moves to  exclude “unnecessary” elements from closed meetings of the U.N. Security Council to prevent leaks to the media on sensitive issues like Iran and North Korea, U.N. officials and diplomats told Reuters. They also support moves to reduce reporters’ contact with delegates outside the council chamber. But the new measures have sparked a furor among journalists and less powerful members of the United Nations, who argue that the steps are discriminatory and will make what they say is a secretive Security Council even less transparent.

The measures were suddenly implemented this week after the council moved to a temporary new space, to allow for a $1.9 billion renovation of the 40-story U.N. secretariat building overlooking New York City’s East River. Unless they get special permission to attend, note-takers from the office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, will no longer be allowed into closed-door consultations. Peacekeeping officials and other departments in the U.N. secretariat will also be shut out due to what U.S. and other diplomats say is limited space in the new chamber. Non-council members suspect other motives.

War comes to Germany

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Germans have spent the last six decades trying to be as un-militaristic as possible.Germany Afghanistan

Their struggle to make a complete U-turn from their belligerent past has caused many an awkward moment for the country and its NATO allies. In avoiding the mere mention of the word “war” that seemed to be all but banished from their vocabulary, German leaders raised in a post-war era and the motto “Nie Wieder Krieg!” (No more war ever)  have gone through tortuous tongue-twisting excursions about what the increasingly deadly mission in Afghanistan isn’t – a war.

Markets call euro zone’s bluff on Greek aid

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The surge in the spread of Greek bond yields over German ones since European leaders issued a promise of emergency loans to Greece last month indicates financial markets do not believe the pledge of euro zone support is anything more than a bluff.

And they are itching to call it.

Euro zone leaders have been betting that a promise of loans to Greece and strong words of political support will be enough to calm markets and allow Athens to borrow at more reasonable rates, therefore rendering any real aid — the dreaded bailout — unnecessary.

The “Japan High School Party”

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If ever proof were needed that personal ties can trump policy in Japanese political alliances , a new party being set up by a band of ageing opposition MPs should do the trick.

Former Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano, 71, favours raising taxes to pay for burgeoning social welfare costs in Japan’s greying society and helped push to privatise Japan’s huge postal system back in 2005.

“Red shirt” festival proceeds under threat of crackdown

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By Martin Petty

Garbage heaps were piled up in front of plush shopping centres. Weary protesters sipped on coffee and tip-toed through a sleeping crowd. Pick-up trucks unloaded crates of water, food and energy drinks as demonstrators directed traffic around a makeshift stage. Police were nowhere to be seen.

Bangkok’s burning sun was starting to rise.

Mornings seldom make news in Thailand’s nearly month-long anti-government street protests. Rallies typically heat up in the evening when tens of thousands gather in Bangkok’s main shopping district to hear fiery speeches by protest leaders demanding elections. But the mornings offer a rare glimpse into the heart of a protest movement that has triggered a state of emergency in the Thai capital.

Japan “opens up” to freelancers

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Hatoyama at a news conferenceJapan, breaking with tradition, has started to open up government news conferences to reporters outside the country’s established media. But have they become genuinely “open”?

After six months on the job, Prime Minister  Yukio Hatoyama  held his first news conference last month accessible to magazine, freelance and online journalists, drawing a packed crowd at the premier’s Kantei office . Other ministers, including those for foreign affairs, banking and environment, have also started news conferences for journalists excluded from so-called ”press clubs”, which are reserved for a small number of mainstream news agencies, newspapers and broadcasters. The elite press clubs have long enjoyed exclusive access to government news conferences, off-the-record briefings and other events. Opening up the news conferences to non-club members has been a big deal, and only came about after Hatoyama’s Democratic Party took power last year with promises for change and more transparent policies.

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