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EU, Asian leaders meet as human rights cloud ties

Written by: Staff

HELSINKI, Sep 10 (Reuters) European and Asian leaders representing half of the world's economy gathered in Finland today to discuss greater ties between the regions, but with human rights complicating some of their relations.

The European Union, eager to improve its trade with the fast-growing economies of China and southeast Asia, has focused the Helsinki meeting on increased cooperation in business, politics and the environment.

But European officials also want human rights particularly in Myanmar to be in focus, to the annoyance of some of their Asian counterparts.

EU officials pressed home the message today with Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win, who is attending the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) as the EU waived a visa ban on the country's officials to raise its concerns.

''We reiterated our well known positions on human rights and democracy -- lack of democracy in Myanmar,'' Markus Lyra, Finnish under-secretary of state, told a news conference. ''We hope that reforms in Myanmar should start.'' The EU and Washington have condemned Myanmar's military regime for sweeping aside democratic elections and imprisoning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in her home.

Leaders of 13 Asian countries met before the ASEM summit, with a focus on security issues such as the nuclear programmes of North Korea and Iran.

''...North Korea and the situation in West Asia over which Europe is seriously concerned are the issues Asia and Europe should jointly deal with,'' Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told the Asian leaders, according to a Tokyo Foreign Ministry official.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told Reuters that Beijing -- whose own human rights standards have come under the spotlight amid a crackdown on activists -- believes Myanmar's rights record is a matter for that country.

''As far as China is concerned, we stick to the principle that we should not interfere in other countries' internal affairs,'' he said before the ASEM began.

The EU and China agreed yesterday to start talks on a broad treaty to underpin their growing economic ties, but with Beijing warning Brussels not to link trade to human rights.

China announced new curbs on foreign media today, obliging them to seek approval from its state news agency for distributing news or pictures in the country.

Human rights campaigners and anti-globalisation activists are expected to gather again in the Finnish capital today.

Police detained more than 100 people a day earlier at an anarchist-inspired protest.

International human rights groups have pressed the EU to take on China's restriction on citizens' rights, pointing to a recent crackdown on activists.

ASEM brings together the European Union with the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, China, Japan and South Korea. Together they account for about half the world economy and 60 per cent of trade.


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