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Japan PM Yoshihiko Noda set for general election

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has dissolved parliament ahead of a general election next month.

Mr NodaMr Noda, in power since August 2011, will face newly-elected opposition leader Shinzo Abe in the polls.

Mr Abe’s party is expected to win the most seats but the election is seen as unlikely to deliver a clear winner.

Mr Noda has lost support over his sales tax rise and handling of the Fukushima aftermath, while Mr Abe is an ex-PM who struggled to connect with the public.

Support ratings for both the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are low.

A number of other smaller parties draw some support – controversial former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has formed one, so too former DPJ stalwart Ichiro Ozawa. Toru Hashimoto, the Osaka governor, is also forming a political party.

Polls show almost half of all voters are undecided, indicating that the next government will likely be a coalition.

“This is an election to decide on the nation’s direction – to go forward or to go backward,” Mr Noda said of the election set for 16 December.

“We are determined to do our best to have the Democratic Party of Japan at the helm of the nation… and fight it out to move politics forward,” he added.

Revolving door

Mr Noda, who has been under pressure to call elections for months, agreed on Wednesday to do so after the opposition said it would back him on electoral reform and a deficit-financing bill.

He had lost public support over the move to double sales tax, although many analysts say it was necessary to tackle the country’s massive debt.

The debate over nuclear energy, restarting suspended reactors and his perceived flip-flopping on the issue has also affected his popularity.

His main election rival will be Shinzo Abe, the man chosen to lead the once-dominant LDP despite a short term as prime minister in 2006-7 that saw his poll figures plummet.

Mr Abe is seen as a hawk – last month he visited the Yasukuni Shrine, angering China and South Korea who see the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. The shrine honours Japan’s war dead, including those convicted of war crimes.

The LDP enjoyed more than 50 years of almost unbroken rule but lost power to the DPJ in 2009.

The DPJ promised more welfare spending and a better social safety net, but has struggled to deliver amid the economic downturn and 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

It has also seen multiple leadership changes – Mr Noda is the third DPJ prime minister since 2009.

Reports suggest the Tokyo and Osaka governors, Shintaro Ishihara and Toru Hashimoto, are in talks over a potential link-up in the polls.

Fresh Wave of Arrests of Former Officials in Georgia

Georgian authorities have arrested a further nine former government officials, accusing them of abusing their power while in office.

Protests in TbilisiAll the officials worked at the interior ministry under President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose party was ousted from power last month.

Mr Saakashvili says politicians from his administration are now being persecuted by the new authorities.

The ex-defence minister has been charged with torturing army personnel.

The charges relate to an incident in February 2010, when Bacho Akhalaia allegedly ordered 17 servicemen to be locked up and abused.

‘Political persecution’

Mr Akhalaia left his post in September, ahead of the polls, amid a prisoner abuse scandal.

Currently being held in pre-trial detention, he says the charges against him are politically motivated.

“Former senior officials from the interior ministry are suspected of illegally obtaining personal information, including financial and commercial, with computers,” Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani told reporters, Reuters reports.

Lawyers for the nine detainees said they had been charged with abuse of power and illegal confinement.

The BBC’s Damien McGuinness, in Tbilisi, says that Georgia was widely praised after October’s elections for ensuring the first peaceful transition of power in the country’s post-Soviet history. Mr Saakashvili is expected to step down in October 2013.

But tensions between the ousted government and the country’s new leadership have been mounting over the past week.

After a dirty election campaign, our correspondent adds, Mr Saakashvili’s party is accused of all kinds of abuses while in power: ranging from allegedly imprisoning critics unfairly to confiscating funds from the businesses of political opponents.

The mayor of Tbilisi, whose deputy was arrested, has condemned the move as political persecution, accusing the new government of becoming a “dictatorship”.

But Georgia’s new Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose six-party coalition unexpectedly swept to power in October’s elections, says it is about restoring justice, after years of authoritarian behaviour by the former authorities.

France Vows To Restore Order In Corsica After Shootings

The French government has vowed to restore order on the island of Corsica, which accounts for one in five of the country’s gangland murders.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls

Interior Minister Manuel Valls and Justice Minister Christiane Taubira jointly visited the island a day after a prominent businessman was killed.

Jacques Nacer, who owned a clothing store and headed Corsica’s chamber of commerce, was shot dead on Wednesday.

The island has long been troubled by organised crime and separatist unrest.

Last month, Antoine Sollacaro, president of Corsica’s bar association and a leading figure in the nationalist movement, was shot dead in his car on his way to work.

Correspondents say the two murders shocked the island, particularly as the men were regarded as pillars of the community.

Unsolved Murders

Since the start of 2011, there have been 39 murders on Corsica, which has a population of some 300,000, out of France’s total population of 62.6 million.

Corsica records around 20% of all gangland murders in France, Mr Valls told reporters in Ajaccio, the island’s capital.

It sees, on average, 33 actual or attempted gangland murders a year, he said.

“Corsica is France…” the interior minister said. “It is not a territory apart where we would accept murders and violence.”

Ms Taubira acknowledged that only four of the 60 most recent killings on the island had ended in convictions and promised the government would do better.

“A minority of murderers, assassins, crooks and mafiosi do not control the territory,” she insisted.

“It’s the large majority of Corsicans who control the territory, and they will have the last word.”

Famed for its beauty and connections to Napoleon Bonaparte, the island 170km (110 miles) off France’s Mediterranean coast, which has its own Romance language and distinctive culture, is a popular holiday destination.

UK Cuts Aid to Ugandan Government

The UK has announced it is cutting all aid to the Ugandan government after an investigation into corruption.

The Ugandan auditor reported last month that millions of dollars had been transferred from Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s office into private accounts.

A Ugandan official told the BBC he was “not happy” with the UK’s decision because it would affect poor people.

Mr Mbabazi has acknowledged that money has been stolen from his office, but denies any involvement.

Other European donors have also recently cut aid to the Ugandan government.

‘Extremely concerned’

A spokesman for the UK’s Department for International Development said about £11m ($18m) in aid had been suspended with immediate effect because of “initial evidence” emerging from a forensic audit that it had ordered.

“We are extremely concerned by these preliminary findings and we will assess the decision further when we have considered the full findings of the report,” the spokesman said.

“Unless the government of Uganda can show that UK taxpayers’ money is going towards helping the poorest people lift themselves out of poverty, this aid will remain frozen and we will expect repayment and administrative and criminal sanctions.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s adviser John Nagenda said the government was determined to ensure that those responsible for the alleged corruption were brought to justice.

All Ugandans – including Mr Museveni – were “absolutely fed up” with corruption, he said.

However, he was not happy with the UK’s decision, as poor Ugandans would be “hardest hit”, Mr Nagenda said.

It would have been better for the UK to give the money to non-governmental organisations to spend on poor people, he said.

Ireland, Norway and Denmark have also suspended aid to the Ugandan government following the findings of the Ugandan auditor-general.

Mr Mbabazi has denied wrongdoing, but acknowledges there has been “massive theft” from his office.

Ugandan taxpayers’ money had also been stolen, he has said.

The UK’s total aid budget for Uganda this financial year is about £99m ($151m).

Goma City Defended By Dr Congo from the M23 Rebels

A Congolese regional governor has told the BBC that rebels will not take the main eastern city of Goma, following fierce fighting.

Julien Paluku said that the rebels had telephoned him to say they would be “spending the night” in Goma.

Dr Congo Defends Goma from M23 RebelsMr Paluku said 150 rebels had been killed but the rebels disputed these figures, saying no-one had died.

The fighting is the most serious since July in the mostly lawless but resource-rich eastern DR Congo.

Nearly 500,000 people have fled their homes since April when the rebels mutinied from the army.

The fighting has been taking place around the village of Kibumba about 30km (19 miles) north of Goma in North Kivu province.
A body count showed that more than 150 rebels and two government soldiers had been killed, said Mr Paluku, the North Kivu governor.

Thousands of people have fled the latest fighting, which lasted until Friday morning, he said.

Mr Paluku told BBC Afrique he had received a phone call from M23 military spokesman Lt Col Vianney Kazarama who told him that the rebels would “spend the night” in Goma, a city of some 400,000 people.

However, government forces would repel any attack on the city, Mr Paluku said.

On Thursday, the army spokesman in Goma, Olivier Hamuli, said 44 rebels had been killed – and one high-ranking officer from the army also died.

Lt Col Kazarama told the BBC that no rebels had been killed but two had been injured.

The UN mission in DR Congo, Monusco, said it could not confirm any casualty figures.

The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse witnessed the Congolese army using tanks and helicopters against the rebels on Thursday.

Both sides accuse the other of starting the conflict.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said “51 bodies [of rebels] wearing Rwandan army uniforms have been collected” from the battlefield, AFP reports.

On Tuesday, Uganda closed the Bunagana border crossing near Goma.

This followed a request from the DR Congo government, which said the M23 was illegally raising money from people travelling between the two countries to finance its operations.

Last month, a UN panel of experts said Rwanda and Uganda were supplying M23, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, with weapons in what is seen as an on-going battle for control of the region, which is rich in minerals.

Rwanda and Uganda strongly deny the allegation – Rwanda has called on both sides to stop fighting, saying stray bullets have fallen on its side of the border, injuring civilians.

The UN and US imposed a travel ban and asset freeze earlier this week on the group’s leader, Sultani Makenga.

The UN has a large force in DR Congo to help the government establish its authority in the mostly lawless east.