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JAPAN

Prime minister quits post

Japan's ruling party is expected Monday to name a new leader, almost certain to become the nation's prime minister, following the long-anticipated resignation on Friday of Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Kan, 64, was fulfilling a promise to critics of his largely ineffective response to the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami. In a nationally televised speech, Kan announced that he was relinquishing his post as chief of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, or DPJ, effectively ending a 15-month tenure as national leader. Kan had said he would quit once lawmakers passed three key pieces of post-tsunami recovery legislation, the last two of which cleared parliament on Friday. Potential successors include Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Trade Minister Banri Kaieda and former Foreign Minister Seji Maehara, a security hawk who has proclaimed that boosting growth and phasing out nuclear power are among his top priorities. The winner, who would become the nation's sixth prime minister since 2006, faces challenges that include continued rebuilding following the March disaster, forging a new nuclear policy and curbing a public debt that is already twice the size of the nation's $5 trillion economy. The new leader will also need to mend fences with the United States over the relocation of an American military base on Okinawa. Kan had recently canceled talks with President Barack Obama due to uncertainty over his political future.


UNITED NATIONS

Russia issues draft on Syria

Russia introduced a rival UN resolution on Syria that called Friday for Bashar Assad's government to halt its violence against protesters and expedite reforms, but made no mention of the sanctions sought by the United States and European nations. Envoys for Britain and Germany said they welcomed Russia's decision to seek any Security Council action on Syria. But they said Russia's proposed resolution was weaker than the statement the group had issued earlier this month on the Syrian government's violent crackdown on the opposition. "This is a situation where continued activity by the Security Council might be helpful, if it is pushing the parties in the right direction," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said. Russia's draft resolution calls on the Syrian government to "expedite the implementation of the announced reforms in order to effectively address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of Syria's people." The Russian draft seeks an end to all violence, stresses that the only solution to the current crisis is "an inclusive and Syrian-led political process," and urges the opposition to engage in political dialogue with the government.


GREECE

Large blazes tax firefighters

Greece's firefighters battled to contain at least six large wildfires burning out of control across the country Friday and declared a state of emergency near its northeastern border with Turkey, requesting European partners to help by sending in water-dropping planes. The blaze in the northeastern region of Evros forced the evacuation of two villages and destroyed tens of thousands of acres of forest, though there have been no reports of injuries, officials said. Two firefighting aircraft that arrived from France were assisting, in containing the fires while two more planes from Spain were scheduled to arrive as well as reinforcements from Portugal and Italy. High winds were fanning wildfires and hampering operations to extinguish the blaze on eight fronts in Evros. Authorities were forced to seek help due to the large number of forest fires that broke out across Greece, which were estimated to hit 80 over the past 24-hours. Six large blazes still remained out of control and officials feared there would be a high risk of more fires over the next few days as high winds and scorching heat were forecast. The government declared a state of emergency as the blaze in Evros, which began Wednesday, rapidly spread near the villages of Melia and Kila, where residents were evacuated.

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