Japan PM cuts short Asia trip due to hostage crisis

Visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a joint press conference held after official talks with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung in Hanoi on January 16, 2013. AFP PHOTO/POOL/LUONG THAI LINH

TOKYO: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has cancelled part of his trip in Southeast Asia, his first overseas trip since taking office, and will fly home early due to the hostage crisis in Algeria, Japan's senior government spokesman said on Friday.

Algerian forces stormed a desert gas complex to free hundreds of hostages, including Japanese, but 30 were killed in the assault along with at least 11 of their Islamist captors, an Algerian security source told Reuters.

"The action of Algerian forces was regrettable," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said earlier on the day, adding Japan had not been informed of the operation in advance.

Three Japanese workers of Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp have been confirmed safe but 14 others remained unaccounted for, he said.

Abe will hold a scheduled summit with the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and a joint news conference on Friday and then fly home.

"Agreement has been made with the Indonesian side so that events, after the summit meeting and a joint news conference, will be cancelled," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters on Friday.

Abe was scheduled to give a policy speech later on Friday in which he was expected to push for closer ties with Southeast Asia to counter increased tensions with neighbours China and South Korea over territorial disputes.

Arrangements are now being made for Abe to return to Japan before dawn on Saturday, instead of Saturday evening, said Kato.

Abe needs to handle the hostage crisis carefully and not attract domestic criticism ahead of an upper house election in July, which he needs to win to push forward his policies including the easing of constraints on the military under Japan's pacifist constitution.





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