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In brief: China on pace with military goals

Washington – China’s military is closing technical gaps that long have given the United States and its allies a military edge in Asia, although several ambitious new weapons systems and platforms appear years from completion, according to a new Pentagon assessment.

China is developing a new stealth fighter, recently conducted sea trials on its first aircraft carrier and carried out a record number of satellite and other space launches in the last year, the report notes. It says China appears on track to achieve its goal of building a modern, regionally focused military by 2020.

The pace and scope of China’s drive has “allowed it to pursue capabilities that we believe are potentially destabilizing” and “may contribute to regional tensions and anxieties,” Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant secretary of defense, said Wednesday.

But China’s People’s Liberation Army may face difficulties trying to integrate new and complex weapons systems and capabilities into a military that has always relied on manpower, not technology, for national defense, the report adds.

Strike turns violent in clash with police

Santiago, Chile – Protesters supporting a 48-hour strike called by student groups, unions and opposition politicians threw up burning barricades and clashed with police Wednesday to demand fundamental changes in Chile.

At least 11 people were injured and 35 arrested, police said. One police officer was shot in the hand.

The day began with a long and noisy pot-banging protest known as a “caceroleo,” conducted by students who have been boycotting classes for three months to demand improvements in public education.

Treasury Secretary Felipe Larrain had said the strike would cost Chile $200 million a day in lost production, but it was unclear Wednesday how much of a shutdown the strikers achieved.

Sarkozy unveils spending, tax plan

Paris – President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government has bowed to economic reality, admitting its growth forecasts were overly rosy and announcing a $16 billion austerity package in a bid to ensure that France doesn’t miss a vital pledge to cut its deficit.

The government unveiled the package of spending cuts and tax increases two weeks after France came under fire by investors who feared the country’s high debt and deficit levels, as well as its role bailing out weaker European partners like Greece.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the austerity package is vital for France to keep its pledge on deficit reduction and maintain its triple A credit rating.

Sarkozy’s austerity package consists largely of closing tax loopholes and scrapping deductions for the country’s largest companies. But it also includes a tax hike on the country’s wealthiest taxpayers via a 3 percent “exceptional contribution” on larger incomes.