Weekly News Summary – April 8

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

China warned the world against interfering in the case of renowned dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained at an airport by authorities five days ago.

Human rights groups rejected ardent claims by the Foreign Ministry that he was being held on suspicion of “economic crimes”, and instead say that he is just merely the latest government critic to be detained in a crackdown on activists, dissidents and human rights lawyers.

The Chinese government has reason to be confident that it can control the issue diplomatically, however, when even legendary musician Bob Dylan, a leading crusader during America’s civil rights era, refused to speak out against Weiwei’s incarceration during his current Chinese tour.

Similarly, the Foreign Ministry refused to acknowledge having spoken about Weiwei’s incarceration during a government news conference. Official transcripts omitted eight questions asked by journalists of the detention.

Human rights groups were also busy in Sri Lanka, making accusations against the government of covering-up the number of Tamils who have been “forcibly disappeared” since the end of the 26-year bloody civil war in 2009.

The government, which has consistently faced such criticism, denied the latest accusation.

Three people were killed in Japan after a powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the nation less than one month after the devastating quake and tsunami struck.

Power was cut in the country’s north and a tsunami alert was issued near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Power plants across the north-east coast were given the all clear.

Thai customs officials seized 1,800 protected lizards that were stuffed into mesh bags and hidden behind fruit. Lizard meat is considered a delicacy in parts of Asia and this latest haul was destined to be sold as food.

North Korea’s opaque politics continued to surprise analysts, who had expected leader Kim Jong-il to use a rare parliamentary session as an opportunity to promote his son, Kim Jong-un.

Instead of appointing Kim Jong-un to the National Defence Commission, the rubber-stamp Supreme People’s Assembly agreed to “remarkably increase” food production in the rogue state. A worthy aspiration, if ever there was one.

In the finest of Indian traditions, hunger-striking protestors have called for mass non-violent civil disobedience in a push for stringent new anti-corruption laws.

The sub-continent has been stunned by a string of corruption scandals. The latest was a damning new report estimating that India has lost US$460 billion worth of revenue since Independence due to companies and the rich funnelling their wealth overseas.

Media in Singapore was preoccupied this week with debating the intensity of military training given to conscripts.

The debate began after a photograph was published on social media sites showing a soldier in fatigues walking ahead of a maid carrying his military back-pack.

The soldier, who was undergoing physical training, has now been counselled regarding his behaviour.

A Malaysian court decision to uphold the death sentence handed out to an Indonesian man over a drug case attracted much interest in Jakarta.

This preoccupation, however, is somewhat hypocritical considering that two men and two women were publicly caned in a conservative province this week for sex offences.

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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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