Explosion in eastern Nigeria, 20 wounded

A witness said the blast could have been targeting the police commissioner who drove past shortly before.

Maiduguri: A bomb blast wounded at least 20 people in the eastern Nigerian city of Jalingo on Monday, one day after two deadly attacks in other parts of the country, an emergency agency and a witness said.

"The blast was between the State Ministry of Finance and police headquarters," Ibrahim Farinloye, local head of the National Emergency Management Agency, told a news agency.

A witness told the agency the blast could have been targeting the police commissioner who drove past shortly before. He said he saw dead bodies and that at least 20 people were taken to hospital.

Jalingo is the capital of usually peaceful Taraba state.

On Sunday, at least 19 people were killed in two attacks on Christian worshippers elsewhere in Nigeria. A university theatre used for services in the northern city of Kano and a church in northeast Maiduguri, Boko Haram`s home town, were attacked by gunmen.

Boko Haram has been fighting against President Goodluck Jonathan`s government for more than two years. Its attacks usually target police and government in the mostly Muslim north of Africa`s most populous nation.

Bureau Report

Washington: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, in his Monday meeting with President Barack Obama, is looking to reaffirm Japan`s strong alliance with the US and boost his leadership credentials as his popularity flags at home.

Noda, who came to power in September and is Japan`s sixth prime minister in six years, faces huge challenges in reviving a long-slumbering economy and helping his nation recover from the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

His Oval Office meeting and working lunch with Obama, to be followed by a gala dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, could offer Noda some brief relief from domestic woes. The two sides are determined to show that US-Japan ties are as close as ever, particularly after the assistance the US lent following the massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered a meltdown at a nuclear plant.

The US alliance with Japan, the world`s third-largest economy, is at the core of Obama`s expanded engagement in Asia — a diplomatic thrust motivated in part by a desire to counter the growing economic and military clout of strategic rival China.

The US has about 50,000 troops in Japan, and both sides never tire of saying that their defense cooperation underpins regional peace and security.

Among the issues for discussion will be North Korea`s recent failed rocket launch and expectation it could soon undertake its third-ever nuclear test. They will also discuss democratic reforms in Myanmar and the international pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

Noda is the first Japanese leader to be hosted at the White House since his Democratic Party of Japan, which had an initially awkward relationship with Washington, came to power in the fall of 2009. When the party came to power in 2009, it had favored a foreign policy more independent of the United States.

Obama and Noda will hold a joint news conference.

Noda is seen in Washington as capable and practical, and the Obama administration will be hoping he can weather his political problems and stick around longer than his immediate predecessors. His poll numbers have dwindled to below 30 percent as he pushes an unpopular rise in a consumption tax to tackle Japan`s vast national debt and looming social security crisis to cope with the nation`s aging population.

Days before Noda`s visit, the US and Japan announced an agreement on shifting about 9,000 Marines stationed on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The plan would spread US forces more widely in the Asia-Pacific as part of a rebalancing of US defense priorities after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is a move also aimed at easing what Okinawans view as a burdensome US military presence and goes some way to ameliorate a long-term irritant in bilateral relations. But there`s still no timetable and the plan faces opposition in Okinawa and in the US Congress.

No breakthroughs on trade were anticipated at Monday`s summit. In November, Noda signaled Japan`s interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact under negotiation by nine nations and a key plank in US trade strategy to crank up its exports to support America`s fragile recovery after the global slowdown.

While Noda is believed to be personally supportive of declaring Japan`s intent to join the talks, he faces opposition at home, even within his own party. The pact could demand an assault on the heavy subsidies enjoyed by Japan`s farmers.

Noda also faces an uphill battle to persuade Japan to restart dozens of nuclear power plants that were idled as a safety precaution after the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant after last year`s quake and tsunami. The plants were a source of about one third of Japan`s power needs, and last week Japan reported its largest annual trade deficit ever, after decades of surpluses, as oil and gas imports grow.

US companies are major players in Japan`s nuclear sector, and the White House may be looking for reassurance that the plants will go back on line. Japan is likely interested in natural gas exported from the US.

Bureau Report

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