Weekly News Summary – February 18

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

ASIAWATCH — As China overtook Japan and became the world’s second biggest economy, the worst drought in the nation’s history continued to parch large portions of the country that have had no rain since October, leaving many short of drinking water and the winter wheat harvest at risk.

High food prices throughout the region continued to affect political machinations, with Indonesia forced to purchase 400,000 tonnes of rice from Vietnam and East Timorese opposition parties calling for an investigation because “the issue of rice prices is a serious one to raise because everyone has been shouting about it.”

The Indian government lifted a ban on onion exports following a price crash on the domestic market.

A dispute continues to rage over whether diplomatic immunity applies to a US official arrested for killing two men in Lahore, Pakistan. Hundreds of Pakistanis participated in street demonstrations and public anger intensified after the widow of one of the dead men killed herself, having said she had no hope of justice.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono faced threats of Egypt-like protests demanding a government overthrow as his Foreign minister congratulated the Egyptian people for their success. Yudhoyono inaugurated a ‘Peace Gong’ to symbolize peace and pluralism whilst protestors clashed with police outside the ceremony.

An Indonesian Commander denied allegations the military had masterminded riots that led to the burning of Churches: “It’s not true. TNI never does such things such as orchestrating a conflict in the interest of a certain group or individual. We are neutral.” Less than three months after he was sworn in, a top member of Myanmar’s junta resigned from Parliament without offering an explanation. The junta’s role in the newly elected but military-dominated government remains unclear. The Australian editor of a Myanmar newspaper was arrested and jailed for violating immigration laws. Chinese censors blocked US diplomats’ attempts to create online debate about internet freedom, less than 24 hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched an initiative to help dissidents protest online. The government maintained Chinese internet users enjoy freedom of speech “in accordance with the law,” whilst Chinese computer servers were linked to cyber attacks on Canadian government institutions.

Eleven foreign tourists and their Vietnamese guide drowned after their tour boat sank in waters in the north-east of the country. In an effort to increase career opportunities, a northern Indian Dalit (formerly known as ‘the untouchable’) community is building a temple to worship the Goddess of the English language, whilst in Bangladesh the 10th Cricket World Cup was launched following a USD30 million opening ceremony. During a UN speech in New York, the Indian Foreign Minister read out the Portuguese Foreign Minister’s text for over three minutes before realizing his error; he explained the mistake by saying many UN speeches were basically the same. Kim Jong-un, the heir apparent to the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, cemented his position as the second most powerful person in the country when he was named vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission. The announcement preceded a celebration for the elder Mr Kim’s 69th birthday festivities, crowned by a vast turnout of goose-stepping soldiers and uniformed women dancing amongst glowers known as kimjonilia. The leader broke a promise of a day’s food to all of the country’s 24 million people. Television images showed both Kim’s at an art show in Pyongyang; both men wore black pants, identical oversize cargo coats and matching brown fur hats. North Korea complete a launch tower for its new missile base, a key step in efforts to test a missile that could eventually reach the United States.

The Malaysian government campaigned to stop Muslims celebrating Valentine’s Day, labeling it a ‘trap’ that could encourage immoral behavior. A Thai couple sealed a new record for the longest kiss, lasting over 46 hours and a Malaysian woman rescued her husband from a near fatal tiger attack by wielding a wooden soup ladle at the tiger which quickly fled.

Animal rights groups demanded a Chinese magician stop forcing goldfish to swim in perfect formation in a popular trick involved magnets. Japanese conservation groups described the Japanese whaling industry as a “sinking ship” after financial and diplomatic pressures led to whale hunters suspending their annual Antarctic chase. More than 700,000 ultra thin condoms were lost somewhere somewhere in transit between Malaysia and Japan.

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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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