Weekly News Summary – February 11

A looks at the headlines making news this week from around South-east Asia  and a little bit beyond.

ASIAWATCH — In Indonesia, crowds screamed “God is great” as they called for the death of blasphemers and vandalized churches. A lynch mob was filmed clubbing, stoning and then killing three members of a minority sect in front of police, before laughing at their limp, shattered bodies. The US Ambassador issued a statement deploring the religious violence, just three months after President Obama lauded the secular democracy’s “spirit of religious tolerance.”

The 3,000 police deployed during the trial of Islamic cleric and accused terrorist mastermind Abu Bakar Ba’asyir will be authorized to use live ammunition to control unrest. In Papua New Guinea, where 4,000 road accidents occur each year, a specialized task force found over 90 per cent of vehicles in the border province of Sandaun were unroadworthy. Thugs wearing ninja masks threatened locals in East Timor.

The Philippine government is hopeful of success in its twentieth attempt at peace negotiations with the country’s main Islamic militant group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). India and Pakistan agreed to resume peace talks halted after Pakistan-based militants attacked Mumbai in 2008.

Twenty thousand people fled their homes during fierce fighting between troops and militants in the Pakistani tribal region of Mohmand, a long serving sanctuary for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In Afghanistan, a Taliban commander was revealed to have spent the past three years controlling an active cell of suicide bombers from inside Kabul’s main maximum-security prison. At the direction of the Taliban, a teenage suicide bomber dressed in a school uniform blew himself up in an army compound in Pakistan; at least 31 people were killed. A second autopsy was conducted on the body of a 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl who died a week after publicly receiving 80 lashes as punishment for allegedly having an affair with a married man. Although the original autopsy recorded no injuries, the second autopsy discovered she had in fact bled to death. A new law in Afghanistan demands women seeking refuge in shelters justify themselves to an eight-member government panel. The women will face an interview, physical examination and virginity test before a determination is made as to whether they should be granted refuge, returned home or sent to jail.

The Indian navy and coastguard captured 28 Somali pirates who had spent the last 11 months occupying a Thai fishing trawler carrying 24 fishermen. India’s tabloid media declared on of Tibetan Buddhism’s most revered incarnate lamas a Chinese spy. He was arrested by Indian police with $1 million in his home and subsequently accused of plotting a monastic empire along the border region. A secretly shot video showed one of China’s most high-profile human right activists, Chen Guangcheng, being held under house arrest. Authorities accuse the self-taught lawyer, who is blind, of carrying out forced abortions. A father was reunited with his kidnapped son after nearly three years of separation courtesy of a three week old Twitter-style account that has proved widely popular in China, where some of the 60,000 children abducted every year.

Manga comics came under the scrutiny of Japanese public officials, who called for tighter restrictions on the provocative depictions of young girls in popular publications like “My Wife Is an Elementary School Student.” A Chinese sexologist estimated that 80 per cent of China’s gay population marries straight people. Hong Kong’s McDonald’s stores began trialing $129 McWedding packages, which include a personalized menu, McDonald’s themed gifts and a lone fry replacing the traditional cherry a couple shares prior to kissing.

Anti-whaling campaigners labeled whale hunters an endangered species, claiming Japanese public opinion had tipped against the industry. Tensions between Russia and Japan continued to soar after President Medvedev ordered military chiefs strengthen defenses of the disputed Kuril Islands. Medvedev described the islands, located six nautical miles north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, as an “inseparable” part of Russia. A lingering territorial dispute over an ancient cliff-top temple led to fierce fighting between Thai and Cambodian soldiers. South Korea continued to seek an apology from the North for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March last year, which resulted in the death of 46 sailors. North Korea rejected talks with South Korea, which had “sinister” motives of “unreasonable” demands. Interviews with North Korean defectors revealed that skinny jeans, adult films and human excrement were selling like “hot cakes” on the regime’s black market.

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Luke Hunt is a foreign correspondent, author and occasional photographer who has covered much of Asia fr the last 30 years.

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