Japanese Prime Minister – The new conservative Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has arrived in the U.S. on an official visit focused on strengthening economic and security ties between the two allies, writes Aljazeera. Abe will also discuss with President Barack Obama the existing tension over Chinese territorial disputes and the North Korean nuclear test. His U.S. visit may also be to convince the president that he’s “not a right-wing fanatic seeking confrontation in East Asia, but a calm partner working to maintain peace,” writes The Japan Times. “I am determined to use the opportunity of the coming bilateral summit to show to the rest of the world our strong alliance is back,” Abe told the Japanese parliament last month, notes the Wall Street Journal.
China’s Polluted Waters – The poor condition of China’s water supplies has drawn increased attention to the country’s continued pollution problems, reports the New York Times. An official with the China Geological Survey has said the groundwater of 90% of Chinese cities is polluted and two-thirds of those cities have “severely polluted” water, the NYT wrote. However, the daily points out that the issue is not only environmental: Investors have identified an opportunity to profit, and have responded to the threat of water scarcity by investing in specialist water funds.
Haiti Cholera – The U.N. invoked its legal immunity to reject compensation claims from Haiti cholera victims, the Guardian notes. This is not the first time the U.N. has invoked its own immunity – the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the U.N. grants itself legal protections in the countries it operates. The cholera epidemic broke out in Haiti in October 2010 and is the worst outbreak of the disease in modern times. The infection is believed to have been carried into Haiti by U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal sent to help with disaster relief following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Al Jazeera points out. Although it rebuffs compensation claims and has never acknowledged responsibility, the U.N. vowed to continue its efforts to contain the epidemic, reports the Guardian.
Mexico’s Disappearances – A human rights group called on Mexico’s new government to account for the country’s missing, the New York Times writes. The organization, Human Rights Watch, said nearly 150 people and possibly hundreds more, have disappeared under the watch of Mexico’s police and military during the drug war with little or no investigation of the cases. Mexico’s previous president, Felipe Calderón, had compiled a list of 25,000 people reported missing in the past six years, but government officials and human rights groups have said it’s incomplete and flawed, the daily notes. The country’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has said he would be more attentive to victims of violence.
Papal Election – The head of the Indonesian Catholic church, Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, has said he will not take part in the election of the next Pope, reports Aljazeera. He explained that his poor eyesight and lack of energy would prevent him from reading the “texts, materials, rules, and so on” necessary for the upcoming Papal election. Darmaatmadja’s decision follows the Vatican announcement earlier this week that the Pope may change the rules governing the conclave so that the meeting of cardinals in Rome can be pushed forward. The changes mean that the conclave, the secret election of the next Pope, could start before March 15. Pope Benedict XVI will officially resign on Feb. 28.
Health Worries – Following his return from Cuba earlier this week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is continuing to suffer from respiratory problems, writes Reuters. The government announced Thursday that the 58-year-old, who underwent surgery for cancer two months ago in Cuba, is struggling to talk and is breathing through a tracheal tube. Many Venezuelans are now debating whether Chávez will be able to make a full recovery, while others simply think he has come home to die. Details of Chávez’s condition have been kept secret since the president was first diagnosed with cancer of the pelvic area. He is currently being treated at a Caracas military hospital and has only seen close family and a few senior officials.