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Europe

European, Asian Leaders Wrap up Summit

Asian and European leaders wrapped up summit talks in Hanoi Saturday by calling for the United Nations to lead the fight against terrorism while largely side-stepping a rift over military-ruled Myanmar.

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Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schröder listening to his colleagues

The leaders of the 25 European Union and 13 Asian nations urged Myanmar's junta to ease political restrictions, but there was no mention in their summit declaration of EU calls for the release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been under house arrest for more than a year, while other senior members of her National League for Democracy, which won elections in 1990 but was not allowed to rule, remain in jail.

In the final statement after the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the leaders reiterated their call for the UN to spearhead the fight against international terrorism.

Calling for a strong UN

In veiled criticism of the unilateral US approach to global threats, they stressed this "requires a comprehensive approach, collective efforts and international cooperation where the United Nations plays the leading role."

French President Jacques Chirac, who left the summit early for China, was more blunt Friday in his criticism of Washington, attacking the war in Iraq as illegal without UN backing and expressing grave fears for the country's future.

ASEM in Vietnam, Wen Jiabao und Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (left) walks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to a meeting

The leaders also pressed for the immediate resumption of six-party talks between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China to end the nuclear impasse on the Korean peninsula.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi used the summit to press their countries' case and those of Brazil and India for permanent seats at the UN Security Council.

Koizumi, however, conceded that Japan faced a "long and arduous" battle in its bid, despite ASEM members backing the need for UN reform, with China notably reluctant to see its old wartime foe gain a seat at the UN's top table.

Economic cooperation

The EU and Asian leaders, whose regions account for nearly half the world's economy and trade flows, agreed on the need to entrench their economic cooperation by stimulating private-sector ties.

They also agreed that ASEM should embrace the fight against the "global emergency" of HIV/AIDS.

However, deep divisions between the two regions on how best to push through political reforms in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, have overshadowed this summit.

On Thursday Myanmar was one of three Southeast Asian nations that joined the high-powered forum, alongside Cambodia and Laos, and the 10 new EU states.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi

The EU only agreed to Myanmar's admission into ASEM on condition that the ruling top generals stay away from the Hanoi summit.

But its long-sought entry was tempered by the EU's announcement that it would slap tougher sanctions on the junta next week for failing to meet several demands, including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi (photo).

Prodi denies failure

The ASEM leaders called for all sides in Myanmar to work together for "national reconciliation" and said they "looked forward to the early lifting of restrictions placed on political parties."

The head of the EU's executive commission, Romano Prodi, denied that the failure of the summit to demand the democracy icon's freedom amounted to a lost opportunity.

"No, because also the Burmese were present at the discussion and they understood how important the international pressure on them is," he told reporters. "I think this type of collective pressure will be very important to find a solution." Playing down talk of an inter-regional rift, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the very fact that Myanmar was now sitting at the ASEM table with the EU was encouraging.

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