January 3, 2010 in Nation/World

In brief: Tribal elders vow to defy Taliban

From Wire Reports

Shah Hasan Khel, Pakistan – Tribal elders in a Pakistani village where a suicide car bomber killed nearly 100 people insisted Saturday that residents will keep defying the Taliban, even as the bloodshed laid bare the risks facing the citizens’ militias that make up a key piece of Pakistan’s arsenal against extremism.

The New Year’s Day attack on the northwest village of Shah Hasan Khel was one of the deadliest in a surge of bombings that has killed more than 600 across Pakistan since October. Police believe the attacker meant to detonate his 550 pounds of explosives at a meeting of tribesmen who supervise an anti-Taliban militia. Instead, the blast went off at a nearby outdoor volleyball court, killing at least 96 people.

Many of the residents in the village of 5,000, which lies near Pakistan’s militant-filled tribal belt, were too scared to name any possible culprits, but others were defiant.

“The people are in severe grief and fear – it is a demoralizing thing,” said Raham Dil Khan, a rifle-toting, 70-something member of the tribal council. “We want the government to provide security, but one thing is very clear: The committee will stand against every type of terrorism and despite this great loss we will continue our work.”

Iran says proposal has a deadline

Tehran, Iran – Iran set a one-month deadline Saturday for the West to accept its counterproposal to a U.N.-drafted nuclear plan and warned that otherwise it will produce reactor fuel at a higher level of enrichment on its own.

The warning was a show of defiance and a hardening of Iran’s stance over its nuclear program, which the West fears masks an effort to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran insists its program is only for peaceful purposes, such as electricity production, and says it has no intention of making a bomb.

“We have given them an ultimatum. There is one month left and that is by the end of January,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, speaking on state television.

Even if Tehran started working on the fuel production immediately, it would likely take years before it could master the technology to turn uranium enriched to the level of 20 percent into the fuel rods it needs for a medical research reactor.

Still, any threat to enrich uranium to a higher level is likely to rattle the world powers that have been trying to persuade Iran to forgo enrichment altogether.

Japan’s population decline hastening

Tokyo – Japan’s population fell by 75,000 in 2009, decreasing for the third straight year and dropping at the fastest rate since the end of World War II.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s annual population estimate, the pace of decrease accelerated in 2009 as the 1,144,000 deaths – an increase of 2,000 from 2008 – outpaced the 1,069,000 births – a drop of 22,000.

The population decline grew by 24,000 from that of the previous year.

The nation’s population fell in 2005 for the first time since the war. Although the population increased slightly in 2006, it has fallen each year since 2007.

The total fertility rate – the average number of children expected to be born to each woman over her lifetime – is forecast to hover around last year’s figure of 1.37.

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