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Leader may quit over golfing

South Korea’s prime minister offered to resign today amid mounting opposition criticism for playing golf when he was expected to oversee the government’s response to a railway strike, the president’s spokesman said.

Lee Hae-chan relayed his intention to step down to President Roh Moo-hyun, who just returned from a trip to several African countries, presidential spokesman Kim Man-soo said. Roh will decide on Lee’s fate after receiving a full report on the scandal, Kim said.

Lee has been under fire from the opposition and public for golfing March 1, the first day of a nationwide walkout by railway workers.

Lee was off that day, a national holiday marking Korea’s 1919 civil uprising against Japanese colonial rule, but he was heavily criticized because South Koreans expect high-level officials to work overtime during times of crisis. Lee, who took the job in June 2004, has repeatedly publicly apologized.

TALLINN, Estonia

Key independence figure dies

Former President Lennart Meri, a key figure in Estonia’s independence movement during the Soviet occupation, has died. He was 76.

Meri, a statesman, writer and filmmaker who was president of Estonia from 1992 to 2001, died overnight at a hospital in Tallinn after a long illness, the presidential office said today.

Born in Tallinn on March 29, 1929, Meri and his family were deported to Siberia after the Soviet invasion of Estonia during World War II. The family survived and returned to Estonia, where Meri started working as a writer and dramatist.

He later became one of the leaders of the Baltic country’s independence movement and was Estonia’s first president after the Soviet collapse.

“The President of the Republic and the Office of the President express deep condolences to the family and relatives of President Meri,” the statement said.


Free care declared for all over 60

Newly inaugurated President Michelle Bachelet said Monday that all Chileans older than 60 will immediately begin receiving free care at public hospitals.

“This will become effective immediately,” the Socialist physician said at a news conference. “This is possible because it does not require a law.”

The benefit would be for those at least 60 who are registered with the federal insurance system known as Fonasa, Health Minister Maria Soledad Barria told Santiago daily La Segunda. The paper estimated more than 300,000 people would be eligible.

According the last national census in 2002, 1.7 million people of Chile’s 16 million people are older than 60. But there was no immediate word on how the Bachelet’s program would affect the older Chileans not linked to Fonasa or if they could now join.

Compiled from wire reports


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