Weekly News Summary – April 1

Stephen Tucker looks at the headlines making news this week from around south-east Asia and a little bit beyond.

Dominating this week’s news headlines was the revelation that the alleged mastermind behind the 2002 Bali bombings, Umar Patek, was captured in Pakistan earlier this year. The Indonesian terrorist was the only suspect involved in the attacks who had not been killed or captured, despite a USD1 million reward offered by the US for his arrest. Jakarta sent a team to confirm his identity.

At least ten people were killed in a terrorist attack in north-west Pakistan, after a suicide bomber hit the convoy of a radical religious leader and popular politician, Maulana Rehman. It was the second time in as many days he had been targeted, likely due to Wikileaks’ release of US cables showing he had offered to help US diplomats in return for their political support.

Over the border in India, it was announced that according to the 2011 census the nation’s population grew by 181 million people to hit 1.21 billion. Although the growth rate is falling, India remains on track to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030.

Disturbingly, the census also showed that the divide in India’s sex ratio has continued to grow every year since the nation achieved independence in 1947. The preference for boys is attached to perception that sons are the wage-earners for the future. Female foeticide is common, with statistics showing that fewer girls than boys are being born or surviving. For every 1,000 boys under the age of six, there are 914 girls.

Meanwhile, the Indian government banned the publication of a controversial book on Mahatma Gandhi. The book by Pulitizer Prize winning author Joseph Lelyveld contains evidence that India’s independence hero had a homosexual relationship.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi declared, “The perversion shown in the writings not only deserves to be condemned in the strongest possible terms but cannot be tolerated. Whilst homosexuality has recently been made legal in India, it remains stigmatised.

Sri Lankan police also clamped down on the media, with the arrest of the editor of a news website critical of the government. Whilst police alleged he had threatened another man, free press advocates declared the arrest was an attempt to silence a dissenting voice.

Chinese authorities ignored desperate appeals for clemency and executed three Philippine citizens arrested in 2008 on charges of smuggling heroin into the country. The two women and one man had carried packages containing at least 4kg of the drug.

In its latest National Defence white paper, the Chinese government described the United States’ increased military presence in the Asia-Pacific region as “volatile”. It also said there had been a rise in operations directed against China.

The new president of Burma’s civilian-led parliament was sworn in, officially bringing the end to Burma’s military government. Critics dismissed the new government as merely being an extension of the previous regime.

Severe flooding across southern Thailand killed at least 15 people and left approximately one million people affected. And for the poor tourists, it really ruined their holidays. According to Lucy Pennington from London, the “holiday is turning into a nightmare.”

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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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