Weekly News Summary – March 4

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

ASIAWATCH — The Chinese government continued to crackdown on internal dissent by strengthening its already elaborate security apparatus and jailing human rights lawyers and activists.

Authorities suppressed anonymous calls for a Middle East-style pro-democracy “Jasmine Revolution” by blocking words like “Egypt” and “Tunisia” on search engines. Although there were no protests of any discernible size, government authorities introduced more stringent restrictions on what foreign journalists could report.

Beijing is also focused on the upcoming National People’s Congress, where agenda items will include tax increases on gas-guzzling cars, improved food safety and tougher penalties for drunken driving. It was also announced that the national defence budget would increase by 12.7 percent in 2011. This came as Japan was forced to scramble jets into action after two Chinese military aircraft flew close to disputed islands in the East China Sea.

After a month of questioning by intelligence agencies, 27 North Korean fishermen who accidently crossed into South Korean waters will be repatriated to the North. Four fishermen defected, joining more than 20,000 defectors in the South.

India’s Supreme Court forced the chief of the national anti-corruption watchdog to resign after he was accused of fraud dating back to 1992. His resignation is the latest in a series of corruption scandals to hit India’s ruling Congress party.

Meanwhile, there were lavish celebrations for an arranged marriage between the children of two other prominent Indian politicians. The week-long wedding saw the groom wear a garland made of bank notes and the gifting of a helicopter. Not to put a damper on the nuptials, but figures released also showed a drastic change in Indian divorce rates recently, with a 100 percent increase in the past five years alone.

 

The Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for the assassination of former minorities minister Shabaz Bhatti, who was a prominent Christian who campaigned against Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. Christians protested across the country, condemning the killing and denouncing the blasphemy law – which carries a death sentence for anyone who insults Islam.

In Indonesia’s West Java, authorities have restricted the activities of a small Islamic sect called the Ahmadiyah through a decree limiting members’ ability to publicly identify themselves and urging them to convert to mainstream Islam. Despite the Constitution enshrining freedom of religious expression, the government has been under pressure from hardliners to ban the sect completely.

Such religious animosity was wiped off the Indonesian front pages, however, by an equally powerful force – soccer. Hundreds of protestors took to the streets in Jakarta to demand the resignation of the beleaguered Football Association of Indonesia’s chairman, whom they say has run Indonesian soccer into the ground.

The suicide rate of Japanese people unable to find a job jumped 20 percent last year, according to figures released this week. Such pressure to perform also saw a 19-year-old prospective student arrested after he posted questions of Kyoto University entrance exams on the internet to solicit answers. The case sparked a scandal in the Japanese education sector and spurred a national manhunt.

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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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