Observer - Asia

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Terrible example in Taiwan

There was a cabinet meeting with a difference for the Taiwanese government on Wednesday.

After rushing through the usual business, Frank Hsieh, premier, and several ministers boarded limousines which took them to a cave in northern Taipei.

Inside the rock cavern beneath the foothills that houses the command and control centre of the island's armed forces, they underwent the cabinet's first anti-terrorism manoeuvre, and two more exercises are to follow on Thursday and Friday.

"We hope this will increase confidence in our preparedness against terrorist attacks in the future," Hsieh said.

But it is unclear whether the drill had any effect other than entertaining ministers.

Video footage released after the first day showed officials sitting in a dark, wood-panelled room around a huge table with a map of Taiwan on it and relaxing while watching films.

The screen on the front wall displayed tanks and army vehicles approaching a group of armed men on a dirt road.

Dark-clad special forces members shouted at the men in English, demanding their surrender. The movie ended with a series of gunshot noises.

"This represents the best of all outcomes: the terrorists are killed and the hostages freed," said Cho Jung-tai, cabinet spokesman.

Will part two on Thursday show the worst of all outcomes?

Deaf and Rum

For someone with a reputation for being direct, Donald Rumsfeld, US secretary for offence, was in a remarkably vague mood on Wednesday.

At a joint press conference in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai, Rumsfeld said he could not say why the US military had not published the results of its investigation into alleged abuses of Afghan detainees.

Nor was he keen to answer repetitive questions about Afghanistan's long-term military relationship with the US.

"I think the question was addressed to you," Karzai said at one point.

"Oh no, it was just to you," Rumsfeld replied.

Undeterred, Karzai offered to translate. "The question was: will the US also give the kind of guarantees that Afghanistan is seeking with regard to its relationship with the United States?"

The question may have been for him, but the answer wasn't, Rumsfeld said. It was a matter for the nations' presidents to discuss "in an orderly way", he said.

Counting sheep

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has had an eventful - some might say Biblical - first six months as Indonesia's president thanks to natural disasters.

Following the Indian Ocean tsunamis, which left some 200,000 dead in Indonesia alone, came last month's earthquake off Sumatra. Yesterday authorities were evacuating tens of thousands of people near a rumbling volcano. It's all been a bit much for some Indonesians' nerves and some have come up with a creative solution to the new president.

Yudhoyono this week was forced to reject publicly a suggestion making the text message rounds that he sacrifice 1,000 sheep to appease the gods.

He and his family were already praying to God for protection, he told the opening session of a conference on Tuesday. But "don't be superstitious", he urged the audience. "There is a scientific explanation for the series of earthquakes."

Zoo diplomacy

An agreement on nuclear disarmament might remain elusive but the two Koreas are co-operating on the important international issue of . . . animal husbandry.

Zoos on either side of the demilitarised zone separating the two countries have agreed to swap mating pairs of animals. Seoul Grand Park Zoo will send hippopotamuses, guanacos, llamas, red kangaroos and wallabies to Pyongyang Central Zoo, and in return will receive coyotes, lynx, Siberian weasels, African ponies and Asiatic black bears.

Let's hope those weasels aren't commie spies.

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