BEIJING: Wen Jiabao, entering his final year as China's premier, called Wednesday for vague political reforms to forestall chaos and solidify growth as the nation's legislature approved a budget aiming to boost domestic consumption in the face of weak demand for exports.
On the final day of its annual session, the legislature also approved revisions to the key criminal procedure law that at least on paper will restrict police powers to secretly detain people, a tactic increasingly used against activists and government critics.
At his annual news conference following the session's close, Wen repeated reform calls, saying they were needed to consolidate the achievements of three decades of economic growth and prevent a repeat of the mass disorder that rocked China during the violent 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
"Without a successful political structural reform ... new problems that have cropped up in China's society will not be fundamentally resolved and such historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution may happen again," Wen said.
"I know very well that the reform will not be an easy one. The reform will not be able to succeed without the consciousness, the support, the enthusiasm and creativity of our people," he said.
As before, Wen offered no specific proposals, saying reform had to adhere to China's particular national circumstances and proceed in a "step-by-step manner." Chinese leaders often define political reform in terms of boosting administrative efficiency, but even those paltry efforts at streamlining have gained little traction against an entrenched bureaucracy and struggle for influence ahead of this fall's generational leadership transition.
Touching on recent unrest in Tibetan areas, Wen said economic growth was needed to counter sentiments that have prompted more than two dozen Tibetans, including several teenagers, to set themselves on fire to protest China's suppression of their religion and culture and call for the return of the Dalai Lama.
"We don't support this kind of extreme acts in disrupting and undermining social harmony. The young monks are innocent. We feel distressed about what they have done," Wen said. "We should treat Tibetan compatriots as equals and with respect and keep improving our work."
It was Wen's last annual news conference, as he will step down before the end of the congress next year. He appeared sentimental at times, apologizing for any mistakes he may have made and saying much work still needed to be done.
"I have the courage to face the people and face history," he said.
The changes to the criminal procedure law were the most high-profile legal measures passed by the congress. They are portrayed as offering better protection for suspects and reflecting increasing awareness in China of the need for stronger detainee rights, although legal enforcement in China remains weak.
Police and prosecutors routinely ignore current legal provisions protecting suspects' rights and have frequently used charges of endangering national security against dissidents.
And so they'll ignore the new rules...
The measure's approval by a vote of 2,639 to 160 ends months of speculation and debate about whether the government would give police the legal authority to do something they have long done extralegally: disappear people for months at a time without telling their families. Police have increasingly used the tactic over the past year to detain activist lawyers, democracy campaigners, and even internationally acclaimed artist Ai Weiwei, amid government worries about whether the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring might spread to China.
There are two relevant articles in the new law that deal with notifying families, one in regular criminal cases and the other involving a type of detention known as residential surveillance. Both have been revised to better protect detainees, though they don't do away completely with secret detentions, analysts said.
In the case of residential surveillance, a sort of house arrest that can happen in a fixed location chosen by police, a detainee's family must be notified within 24 hours unless they can't be reached. Dissidents detained under this kind of residential surveillance are often put in suburban hotels or apartments, and many have reported being tortured by police.
Beijing human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang dismissed the legal tinkering, saying arbitrary enforcement and lack of independent oversight rendered such changes meaningless.
"I can't get very excited about any new provisions legalizing types of detention. The authorities have always operated just as they pleased without regard to rules," Pu said, citing the ongoing and still-unexplained detention of figures such as blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng and Liu Xia, the wife of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
The latest polls put Korea's ruling and main opposition parties in a dead heat, just one month ahead of the April general election.
This will begin to matter if the lefties win...
In a survey by news channel YTN, the ruling Saenuri Party appeared to have a slight lead at 45.6 percent, while the opposition Democratic United Party was supported by 42.6 percent.
But public broadcaster KBS' survey of 1,000 people showed a slightly different picture, with a little over 35 percent of respondents saying they would vote for DUP candidates compared with 34 percent for the ruling party.
Asked about a leftwing coalition between the DUP and the United Progressive Party, close to 43 percent thought it was a good idea, as opposed to 37 percent who did not.
Quebec is not the only province in which this has been noted and discussed in public. It is, however, the only province in which a separatist party has involved itself. Should be fun to watch the arguments fly.
[Dawn] A love-marriage couple received minor injuries during a clash between family members from both sides on the Lahore High Court premises on Tuesday.
The couple of Hujra Shah Muqeem had tied the knot against the wishes of the girl's parents. They had come to the court in pursuance of their petition against a case of kidnap and theft got registered by the girl's family against her husband.
Asma stated before the court of Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik that she contracted marriage with her free will and her husband Riaz had neither kidnapped her nor stole anything from her house. The judge allowed the girl to go with her husband.
However, a clean conscience makes a soft pillow... the moment the couple came out of the courtroom, both men and women of the girl's family attacked the couple. The attackers tried to take the girl with them. Members of the groom's family also retaliated and tried to free the couple from the clutches of bride's family.
The couple somehow managed to go away and got first aid from dispensary of the court.
Police officials deputed at the high court did not rescue them and remained silent spectator during the whole episode.
[Dawn] Pakistain Mohammedan League-Nawaz (PML-N) terming Mehran Bank's former head Younis Habib's allegations a pack of lies has decided to take legal action against him.
PML-N Punjab President and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif addressing a news conference here on Wednesday, said that Habib's accusations about giving money to him and his brother Nawaz Sharif ... served two non-consecutive terms as prime minister, heads the Pakistain Moslem League (Nawaz). Noted for his spectacular corruption, the 1998 Pak nuclear test, border war with India, and for being tossed by General Musharraf... were baseless.
He asked Habib that if he had given amount through Telegraphic Transfer should turn to the court with proof.
He said, every body knew about the character and crimes of former Mehran Bank head.
To a question, the chief minister said that an attempt was being made to include Nawaz Sharif's name into Mehrangate.
He said that conspiracies were being hatched to malign PML-N leadership. He smelled some fishy bid behind Mehrangate scandal.
He told a questioner that they would not keep silence over hushing up of NRO issue. He said Habib had changed his statements four times in a week.
He affirmed that PML-N leadership was fully prepared to face any conspiracy.
A multi-volume chronology and reference guide set detailing three years of the Mexican Drug War between 2010 and 2012.
Rantburg.com and borderlandbeat.com correspondent and author Chris Covert presents his first non-fiction work detailing
the drug and gang related violence in Mexico.
Chris gives us Mexican press dispatches of drug and gang war violence
over three years, presented in a multi volume set intended to chronicle the death, violence and mayhem which has
dominated Mexico for six years.