WNN Asia


Burma: HRW satellite images ‘show Rakhine destruction’

27 Oct 2012
A human rights group has released pictures showing what appears to be the destruction of a western Burmese district riven by ethnic unrest. Human Rights Watch says more than 800 buildings and houseboats were burned. Satellite images show a 35-acre area burned to the ground in Kyaukpyu, a coastal town in Rakhine state, it says. The US-based group…
A Rakhine refugee lies on a bed under medical treatment at Sittwe hospital in Sittwe, Rakhine State, western Myanmar, Friday, Oct. 26, 2012.










Raging Waters Swamp Thousands Of Indian Villages

 Floods displace 900 000 in India






Myanmar: The slow road to democracy

22 Jun 2012
It is not often that you get the chance to be part of a moment that is genuinely historic. But, after more than 20 years of working on human rights in Myanmar, I truly never believed I would get to sit in Oslo and personally witness Aung San Suu Kyi receiving her Nobel Peace Prize. The moment was a true embodiment of the changes happening in Myanmar, which were hard to imagine when I opened Amnesty International’s file on the newly jailed prisoner of conscience, Aung San Suu Kyi, in July 1989.
Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a news conference after attending a meeting of the Oslo Forum at the Losby Gods resort, about 13 kilometers (8 miles) east of Oslo, Monday, June 18, 2012.





Pakistan president to attend NATO summit

Pakistan has confirmed its president will attend a summit of NATO leaders this weekend in Chicago as negotiations with US to reopen supply lines into Afghanistan continues. Nadeem Hotiana, an embassy spokesman in Washington, said on Tuesday that Asif Ali Zardariwill attend the May 20-21 summit.
Pakistan president to attend NATO summit






Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi smiles at supporters as she celebrates Thingyan, Myanmar’s new year water festival, in front of her home in Yangon April 16, 2012.


Main Image








Myanmar To Hold Landmark Elections.. Widespread Irregularities, Unnecessary Errors.. Democracy Icon ‘Determined To Go Forward’





The Sydney Opera House is illuminated green to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

The Sydney Opera House is illuminated green on 17 March 2012 in Sydney, Australia







A Buddhist novice waves a National League for Democracy flag

A Buddhist novice waves a National League for Democracy flag as Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives at an electoral campaign rally in Naypyidaw.




06/03/2012 – IRAN – NUCLEAR

UN Security Council to resume Iran nuclear talks

The UN Security Council and Germany has accepted an offer to resume talks with Iran on their nuclear program, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (pictured) announced Tuesday.
Iran court overturns death sentence for former US marine
05/03/2012 – IRAN – US

Iran court overturns death sentence for former US marine

Iran’s Supreme court overturned the death sentence for former US Marine Amir Mirzai Hekmati on Monday, the 28-year-old Iranian-American who was accused of espionage, of being a member of the CIA, and of “trying to implicate Iran in terrorism.”
China cuts growth target in bid for 'balanced economy'
05/03/2012 – CHINA

China cuts growth target in bid for ‘balanced economy’

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao lowered the country’s growth target for 2012 to 7.5% in order to relieve pressure on prices as he called for a new emphasis on domestic consumption at the start of China’s annual parliamentary session on Monday.
Supreme Leader loyalists trounce Ahmadinejad in parliamentary vote
04/03/2012 – IRAN

Supreme Leader loyalists trounce Ahmadinejad in parliamentary vote

Loyalists of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have won more than 75% of the seats in Iran’s parliament, early results showed Sunday, dealing a severe blow to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and condemning him to serve out his term as a lame duck.
China's military spending to hit $110 billion in 2012
04/03/2012 – CHINA

China’s military spending to hit $110 billion in 2012

China’s government unveiled plans Sunday to boost military spending by 11.2% this year, bringing spending to $110 billion in the country’s first defence budget since the United States moved to reinforce its military presence in the Asia-Pacific.





February 5, 2012. Kashmiri Muslim devotees raise their hands for prayers as a head priest displays a relic of Prophet Mohammed at the Hazratbal shrine on the occasion of Eid-e-Milad, or birthday of Prophet Mohammed, in Srinagar, India.

Farooq Khan—EPA







Devotees take a holy bath at the Bagmati River at Pashupatinath Temple during the Swasthani Brata Katha festival in Kathmandu. The month-long festival dedicated to the goddess Swasthani, involves the recitation of folk tales about her miraculous feats.

Devotees take a holy bath at the Bagmati River at Pashupatinath Temple











Myanmar Frees Many Prominent Political Prisoners.. ‘A Crucial Development’.. ‘The Democratic Process Is On The Right Track’





Thousands of homeless residents are still in evacuation centres more than two weeks after floodwaters swept through their homes in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, Philippines.


A general view shows rows of tents set up for tropical storm Washi survivors






The Dirty Little Secret About North Korea

Image: Sam Gellman

North Korea is a nightmare state, worse than George Orwell’s 1984.

Every decent person looks at the state and wishes that the regime would just collapse under the weight of its stupidity and wickedness.

Its people are so malnourished that they are 3-6 inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts. The state’s subjects experience conditions that would be deemed cruel and unusual in almost any other country. The lives of criminals and dissidents at labor camps are almost unimaginable. 

The North Korean economy exists only to enrich the nation’s rulers and to equip an enormous military 1.2 million strong in active duty members. And the economy has only shrunk over the last four decades. 

he state has crushed or subsumed everything in civil society: religion, family life, along with cultural and historical memory. This means there is nothing around which a revolution could gather strength or moral authority. This is why people were bawling in the streets. They have almost no ethic, reasoning, or culture beyond what the state gives them. 

North Korea’s people have been degraded through state indoctrination, enforced ignorance of the outside world, and compulsory worship of “Dear Leader.” They maintain a deeply racist society, offended by even the suggestion that South Koreans dare to marry those of other races and ethnicities.

The whole government amounts to an institutionalized humanitarian crisis. Obviously it would be better not to have this crackpot state pointing nuclear weapons around the region, right? 

Not so fast. The dirty secret is that none of the major powers operating in the Pacific want to see the North Korean dictatorship collapse.  

According to Eric Margolis a veteran journalist on the subject writes that South Koreans fear “accidental unification” much more than nuclear weapons.

If the North Korean state ever completely failed, South Korea (and by extension the U.S. which has scores of thousands of troops there) would wake up to a spreading humanitarian crisis, with millions streaming over the demilitarized zone seeking food and shelter. 

South Koreans don’t want to take responsibility for an enormous number of illiterate, malnourished North Koreans. But neither the United States or South Korea want to keep the electricity flowing through the fences to keep North Koreans penned inside their prison state. 

If North Korea collapses China, Japan, and Russia would also be faced with ships of North Korean “boat people.” 

China likes having the North Korean state in its region. It is a nuclear armed buffer between U.S. forces in South Korea and the Chinese industrial and military base in Manchuria. If the region were a bar, North Korea would be China’s wiry, ex-convict cousin. His unpredictability and nothing-left-to-lose attitude make everyone else cautious. 

As Ian Bremmer pointed out, an uncontained humanitarian crisis in North Korea could worsen relations between the U.S. and China. “An outright shooting war between the U.S. and China is “very unlikely,” Bremmer says, “but the potential for U.S.-Chinese relations to deteriorate significantly in the [event] of a bad North Korean outcome is very great.”

So when contemplating the fate of North Koreans, remember that its not just the officials of the gangster-like military-state that want to keep the status quo. Everyone else does too. 

The most hoped for solution is that the struggle for power between different factions of the North Korean regime eventually leads to moderation of its relations with its neighbors. But for now the transition of power to Kim Jung-Un seems to proceed apace. 








Philippines flood deaths hit 650

800 more missing as typhoon Washi sweeps houses into rivers and out to sea off southern island of Mindanao

Philippines floods debris

Rescuers are searching for more than 800 people missing in the southern Philippines after flash floods and landslides swept houses into rivers and out to sea, killing more than 650 people.

The cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on the island of Mindanao were worst hit when typhoon Washi hit shore late on Friday and early on Saturday, sending torrents of water and mud through villages and stripping mountainsides bare.

The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) said 652 people were killed in eight provinces in the southern Mindanao region, which is unused to typhoons.

“Our office was swamped with hundreds of requests to help find their missing parents, children and relatives,” Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the PNRC, told reporters. “We’re helping co-ordinate the search with local government, army, police and even other aid agencies.”

Floods washed away houses with families inside in dozens of coastal villages around Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

“This is the first time this has happened in our city,” Vicente Emano, mayor of Cagayan de Oro, said in a radio interview. He said officials in the area did not receive adequate warning before the typhoon struck.

The state disaster agency said adequate warnings had been given to officials and residents three days before the typhoon made landfall.

Disaster and health officials were struggling to deal with the scores of bodies that have been recovered. Some were stacked on top of each other in under-staffed mortuaries unable to cope with the number of dead.

“I saw for myself bloated bodies of women and children, not less than 100,” the vice president, Jejomar Binay, told Philippines radio as he toured Cagayan de Oro.

Binay distributed food packs and ordered the relocation of families living near waterways and other hazards.

Brigadier General Roland Amarille, head of an army task force in Iligan, said soldiers had been mobilised to recover bodies and build coffins.

“We need bodybags and lime to deal with too many bodies,” Amarille said, fearing an outbreak of disease.

“Local mortuaries are no longer accepting bodies and they are even asking people to bury the dead at once because there are too many bodies even in hallways,” he said.

Most of the dead were from a slum area on an island sandwiched by two rivers in Iligan. “About 70% of the houses on the island were washed into the sea,” Amarille said.






N. Korean leader Kim Jong Il, 69, has died

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2010 file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il salutes soldiers while watching a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the communist nation's ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA Kim Jong Il, North Korea?s mercurial and enigmatic longtime leader, has died. He was 69. Kim?s death was announced Monday by the state television from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but he had appeared relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country carefully documented by state media. The communist country’s “Dear Leader” — reputed to have had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine — was believed to have had diabetes and heart disease.The news came as North Korea prepared for a hereditary succession. Kim Jong Il inherited power after his father, revered North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. In September 2010, Kim Jong Il unveiled his third son, the twenty-something Kim Jong Un, as his successor, putting him in high-ranking posts.

Kim Jong Il had been groomed for 20 years to lead the communist nation founded by his guerrilla fighter-turned-politician father and built according to the principle of “juche,” or self-reliance.

Even with a successor, there had been some fear among North Korean observers of a behind-the-scenes power struggle or nuclear instability upon the elder Kim’s death.

Few firm facts are available when it comes to North Korea, one of the most isolated countries in the world, and not much is clear about the man known as the “Dear Leader.”

North Korean legend has it that Kim was born on Mount Paekdu, one of Korea’s most cherished sites, in 1942, a birth heralded in the heavens by a pair of rainbows and a brilliant new star.

Soviet records, however, indicate he was born in Siberia, in 1941.

Kim Il Sung, who for years fought for independence from Korea’s colonial ruler, Japan, from a base in Russia, emerged as a communist leader after returning to Korea in 1945 after Japan was defeated in World War II.

With the peninsula divided between the Soviet-administered north and the U.S.-administered south, Kim rose to power as North Korea’s first leader in 1948 while Syngman Rhee became South Korea’s first president.

The North invaded the South in 1950, sparking a war that would last three years, kill millions of civilians and leave the peninsula divided by a Demilitarized Zone that today remains one of the world’s most heavily fortified.






More than 100 people are now known to have died after consuming toxic alcohol in India’s West Bengal state. Patients have been flooding to the Diamond Harbour Hospital for treatment over the past 36 hours.


Toxic alcohol treatment at the Diamond Harbour Hospital









Dozens Die In Deadly Hospital Fire

Fire started in the multi-storey hospital early on Friday morning, trapping many elderly patients in the smoke-filled building.

Rescue workers at the hospital in Calcutta.
AMRI hospital in Calcutta

A devastating fire has broken out in a hospital in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta (Kolkata), killing dozens of people.





Clinton meets Suu Kyi, urges Myanmar to expand reforms

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi talk talk prior to dinner at the US Chief of Mission Residence in Rangoon, Myanmar, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011.
photo: AP / Saul Loeb, Pool
YANGON, Myanmar — Hillary Rodham Clinton dined Thursday with former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, forcefully underscoring a U.S. challenge to Myanmar’s leaders on her historic visit: The new civilian government must expand recent reforms, including the release of political prisoners, to improve relations as it emerges from more from more than a half-century of repressive military rule.

“We believe that any political prisoner anywhere should be released,” the U.S. secretary of state told reporters. “One political prisoner is one too many in our view.”

Clinton called Suu Kyi a personal inspiration, and her first meeting with the Nobel peace laureate was a highlight of her visit to the long-isolated country also known as Burma. Suu Kyi, a prisoner for most of the past two decades, was released from house arrest last year and is returning to politics.






Thai floods begin to recede

An elderly Thai couple and their pets ride a boat as they are evacuated from a flooded neighborhood in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011.
photo: AP / Altaf Qadri
The centre of Thailand‘s capital, Bangkok, looks like it will escape the flooding that has hit some suburbs and provinces to its north, but evacuation orders are still issued each day in outer districts and many residents face weeks of hardship. The department of disaster prevention and mitigation said today 562 people had died in the flooding…




Myanmar’s Suu Kyi urges peace talks, prisoner release

Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi talks to journalists during a press conference at her National League for Democracy party's headquarters Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, in Yangon, Myanmar.
photo: AP
By Aung Hla Tun YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi marked the anniversary of her release from years of house arrest by renewing calls for all political prisoners to be freed and for an end to hostilities between government troops and ethnic rebels. Myanmar pro-Democracy Leader Aung San Suu Kyi gestures during a news conference.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate also told a rare news interview on Monday that her National League for Democracy (NLD) movement had yet to decide whether to re-register as a political party to contest upcoming parliamentary by-elections.“It is very important to release all political prisoners. It’s not only those of the NLD, but all who want democracy are desirous of this,” Suu Kyi said.

The United States and Europe have long made the release of political prisoners part of their criteria for lifting sanctions. Suu Kyi said on Monday they should remain in place until some reforms had been introduced that benefited the Burmese people.





Floodwater has continued to pour into outer districts of the Thai capital, Bangkok, forcing residents to evacuate. The government says efforts to protect the centre of the city from the rising water have been largely successful. But tension has been rising in flooded suburbs, with residents demanding barriers be opened to allow water out.


People board a truck to transport them back home along the flooded streets in the Thonburi area, Bangkok, Thailand





The floodwaters in the north of Bangkok have engulfed factories, offices, homes and cultural treasures

Bangkok residents try to defend their neighbourhood using sandbags
Man walking through a flooded temple in Bangkok's Don Muang district

Seven of Bangkok’s 50 districts are now flooded and despite the scale of the challenge, efforts are continuing to try to stop the waters spreading

Bangkok floods: Thousands flee as waters approach

Bangkok residents sit in a truck as they drive away from a flooded area of the capital on 26 October 2011

Residents have been leaving the capital by bus, train, truck and boat


Those who can, appear to be heeding the advice to get out of Bangkok, at least for the next few days.

Many major roads leading north – towards the areas worst affected by the flooding – are largely impassable.

Those leading south and east are reported to be clogged with traffic, made worse by the number of cars that have been parked on elevated sections of roads to save them from the approaching waters.

Those who have decided to stay in the capital have been stocking up on essential provisions. Supplies of bottled water and dried noodles are running very low.

Satellite images now show Bangkok surrounded by a sea of water which is creeping deeper into the nation’s capital every day.

Thousands of residents are rushing to leave the Thai capital Bangkok, which is braced for potentially severe flooding over the weekend.

The city’s bus and train stations and many roads are jammed by crowds of people attempting to flee.

People in several northern districts of the capital – some of which are now 90% submerged by rising water – have been told they should evacuate immediately.

More than 360 people have died in Thailand’s worst flooding in decades.

The crisis is an early test for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who took office in August and has previously been criticised for failing to take the flood threat seriously enough.

“It’s a crisis, because if we try to resist this massive amount of floodwater, a force of nature, we won’t win,” Ms Yingluck said.

“But if we allow it to flow freely then people in many areas are prepared.”

Any lingering sense of complacency is long gone






Hope in Myanmar

A Burmese spring?

Something good could finally be happening in one of Asia’s nastiest dictatorships

October 2011



THE recent news from Myanmar, that beautiful, blighted land formerly known as Burma, has offered an all-too-rare cause for optimism. In the past week the president (and former general), Thein Sein, has announced that construction of the Myitsone dam across the River Irrawaddy would cease. That is probably a good thing for the environment; but it also marks a symbolic shift. It shows that for the first time for many years, Myanmar’s regime is prepared to annoy China, the dam’s main backer.

Irritating China is not necessarily a good thing. But in this case it appears to be part of a wider trend: Myanmar’s leaders seem prepared to pay more heed both to popular opinion at home and to pressure from the West. In August Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of the 1991 Nobel peace prize who is the de facto head of Myanmar’s opposition, was invited for talks with Thein Sein himself. Miss Suu Kyi, who was previously confined for years under house arrest, has been allowed far greater freedom of movement and has even met several foreign visitors. Then in September the government passed a law to permit the formation of trade unions. These changes could just mark the start of a substantial shift in the now nominally-civilian leaders’ repressive policies.

India floods situation worsens in UP, Bihar and Orissa

Orissa floods

Orissa is the worst-affected state

More than two million people have been affected by floods in India as torrential rains lash Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states.

Heavy monsoon rains have been battering parts of India for the past fortnight.

More than 80 people have died in flood-related incidents, and some areas have been cut off by rising waters.

Heavy rains in Uttar Pradesh (UP) have killed more than 30 people across the state. A flood alert has been issued in eight districts in Bihar.

In Orissa, the worst affected state, vast parts of 10 districts have been inundated by flood waters, officials say.

Special Relief Commissioner PK Mohapatra said 55 people had died – some drowned, while others died from snakebites and in wall collapses.

More than 10 people who had gone missing after the boat in which they were travelling overturned in the Brahmani river in Dhenkanal district were rescued on Monday, officials say.

Some areas have been cut off because of breaches to river banks and embankments. Helicopters are the only way to bring food and water to people stranded there.

Officials said that more than 130,000 in Orissa alone have been evacuated to safety as the relief and rescue operation moves into full swing.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the state are reported to be taking refuge in trees or on the tops of buildings as flood waters continue to rise

Indian activist ends hunger strike

Children give coconut water and honey to Indian social activist Anna Hazare as he ends his hunger strike in New Delhi today. Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters





Indian parties to discuss anti-graft watchdog bill

Supporters of India's anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, unseen, wave the national flag and shout slogans on the eighth day of Hazare's hunger strike in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011.
photo: AP / Gurinder Osan
NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s government is holding an all-party meeting to discuss improving anti-corruption legislation in hopes of ending protests led by a 73-year-old activist on a hunger strike. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked Anna Hazare to end his fast, and sent the finance minister to negotiate with him.

Anna Hazare’s hunger strike has drawn tens of thousands of supporters to his protest in the heart of the capital and inspired smaller rallies across India.

It has also tested a government beset by controversy after a string of scandals implicated top officials from both the governing and main opposition parties, and revealed billions in lost funds and revenues.

Aides to Hazare held a second round of meetings with government officials Wednesday. Kiran Bedi, a protest organizer, said no deal was reached.

Hazare, 74, indicated he would give up the fast if the government pledged in writing to push for a watchdog with power over the prime minister and judiciary. In the meantime, he refused to let doctors feed him intravenously, and his aides appealed to supporters to pray for his health.

Yet he appeared hearty and defiant Wednesday morning as he addressed his supporters for nearly 20 minutes.

“Until now, the government’s intentions are not good. So I have decided until my last breath, until the government gives in to this issue, I will not turn back. I don’t care even if I die,” he said.

Styling himself after liberation icon Mohandas K. Gandhi, Hazare calls his campaign a second fight for freedom in a country where top officials are regularly embroiled in corruption scandals even as hundreds of millions remain trapped in abject poverty.

About 2,000 people, many with cheeks painted with the Indian tricolor, chanted, sang patriotic songs or beat drums under a huge canopy in front of Hazare’s raised concrete stage. Some lit incense in prayer for the activist’s health.

“He has made all of us his family, and he is risking his life for us, for India,” said Delhi housewife Anjali Jena, 40.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has personally urged Hazare to end the hunger strike and asked Parliament to debate Hazare’s tougher version of proposed reform legislation on Wednesday. Singh also sent the finance minister to negotiate directly with Hazare’s aides in a sign the government may meet some of his demands.

“There is a crisis of credibility in the country right now,” said Arun Jaitely, a leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party during a parliamentary debate, a day after his party’s members caused a ruckus that forced the assembly to shut down.

More muted has been the criticism against Hazare, with some saying his tactics are undemocratic and verging on demagoguery while falsely pretending to represent all of India. Critics have also said Hazare’s more sweeping draft legislation is unconstitutional and undermines other democratic institutions.

Representatives of India’s lowest-caste dalits, or untouchables, planned a counterprotest Wednesday, saying Hazare’s proposal wouldn’t protect the poor masses.

Hazare’s supporters dismissed the objectors as agents of a government bent on ruining their rally.

“Those people are all corrupt,” said Dr. Probhpal Hundal, a 25-year-old doctor who took leave from his job in the northern city of Amritsar to travel to Delhi for the protests. “It is just a conspiracy of the government against Hazare. We have to protest to make them bend.”






53 killed in first major terror attack in Pak during Ramzan

Pakistani villagers clean the floor of a mosque targeted by a suicide attacker in Ghundi, in the Pakistani tribal area of Khyber, Friday, Aug. 19, 2011.

photo: AP / Mohammad Sajjad

read more Indian Express
At least 53 people were killed and 123 injured when a teenage suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque packed with hundreds of worshippers on the third Friday of the holy fasting month of Ramzan in Pakistan’s restive tribal belt, the deadliest..




India anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare detained

Indian rights activist Anna Hazare waves to supporters from the back of a police van after he was detained prior to beginning a hunger strike in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011.
photo: AP / Manish Swarup
read more BBC News
Police in India have detained prominent activist Anna Hazare hours before he had planned to start a fast against a proposed new anti-corruption law. As news of the arrest spread, his supporters came out on the streets of many Indian cities in protest. Mr Hazare had pledged to go on hunger strike in the capital, Delhi, Tuesday despite police…

Indonesia mob trial ‘sends chilling message’

 28 July, 2011 14:13
Indonesia policemen block Muslim supporters who are rallying in support of their friend, who was accused of attacking Ahmadiyah followers in Serang, Indonesia’s Banten province July 28, 2011.

An Indonesian court sent a “chilling message” Thursday by giving Muslim extremists light sentences for a vicious mob attack in which three sect members died, rights activists said.

20 dead, 9 missing in slow-moving Philippine storm

In this photo taken Tuesday July 26, 2011, residents evacuate to safer grounds after heavy rains brought about by slow-moving storm Nock-ten (local name Juaning) flooded Legazpi city, Albay province in northeastern Philippines.
photo: AP
MANILA, Philippines—Heavy rains and floods battered the northeastern Philippines for a third day Wednesday as the death toll from a slow-moving storm rose to at least 20 with nine others missing. Waist-deep floodwaters swamped the houses of about half a million people, nearly half of the population of eastern…


PHOTOS: Dramatic Images From The Scene


Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s First Female Prime Minister? Party Win Paves Path

Yingluck Shinawatra

China blames Vietnam for rising tensions over disputed sea


China and Vietnam are at odds over the South China Sea
Six countries claim the sea in whole or in part
The United States says it is neutral but has offered to mediate
China rejects foreign intervention, but Vietnam has welcomed it

Beijing (CNN) — China Tuesday blamed its neighbors for escalating tensions in the South China Sea, one day after the Vietnamese navy held a live-fire drill in disputed waters.

“Some countries took unilateral actions to impair China’s sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, released groundless and irresponsible remarks with the attempt to expand and complicate the disputes,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei at a regular press briefing.

Beijing and Hanoi have exchanged increasingly heated words in recent weeks, accusing each other of territorial intrusions in the South China Sea, which is claimed in whole or in part by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The vast area of waters, dotted with partially submerged atolls and reefs, contain some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and are thought to hold large deposits of oil and natural gas.

Hanoi authorities have announced a few recent incidents, charging that Chinese ships last week intentionally severed electric cables on Vietnamese survey vessels in Vietnamese waters. Beijing has countered that Vietnamese vessels have been illegally surveying in Chinese waters and harassing Chinese fishing boats.

Computer hackers from both sides have also attacked websites in the other country, posting nationalistic images and messages, according to Chinese media reports.

Although tensions flare up periodically among the various claimants of the disputed waters, the current situation is drawing more international attention amid China’s fast-growing political and military power.
The United States used to have Taiwan as its main bargaining chip in the region
–Prof. Zhang Xizhen, Peking Univsersity

Southeast Asia

The United States officially stays neutral in the disputes, despite some Congressional calls for a more forceful stance to balance China’s clout. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, has expressed Washington’s willingness to facilitate multilateral talks on the issue.

“The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea,” she said last July at a regional security meeting in Hanoi.

Chinese analysts see the United States using the South China Sea issue as a new way to contain China’s rise.

“The United States used to have Taiwan as its main bargaining chip in the region,” said Zhang Xizhen, a professor of Southeast Asian studies at Peking University. “Now that tensions across the Taiwan Strait have calmed down, they are turning to the South China Sea.”

“Although the U.S. claimed neutrality on the issue, if conflicts arise in the area, they may use it as an excuse to intervene,” he added.

The Beijing leadership balks at any notion of “internationalizing” the dispute, in sharp contrast to a recent comment by Vietnamese officials welcoming foreign involvement.

“China always maintains that countries directly related to the issue should conduct bilateral negotiations and friendly consultations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong said.

“China is trying to safeguard its own legitimate rights and interests, not infringing on other countries’ rights,” he added. “Justice lies in the heart of the people.”

Pakistan ‘arrests CIA informants in Bin Laden raid’

Pakistani soldiers standing guard in Abbottabad, near Bin Laden's final hideout (11 May 2011) The raid on Bin Laden’s compound has strained relations between the US and Pakistan

Pakistan has arrested five alleged informants for the CIA who helped in the US raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in northern Pakistan in May, US media report.

Among those held by the intelligence agency, the ISI, was the owner of a safe house rented to the CIA to watch Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, the New York Times reported.

The raid strained US-Pakistan ties.

US President Barack Obama said “someone” was protecting Bin Laden.

Pakistan has denied knowing Bin Laden’s whereabouts and denied the New York Times report, in particular its claim that an army major was among those arrested.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on a recent visit to Pakistan that there was “absolutely no evidence that anyone at the highest level of the Pakistani government” knew where Bin Laden was.


“No Pakistani soldier is under arrest, but we are interrogating several people whom we suspect of having been working for American intelligence services,” Inter Services Public Relations spokesman Brigadier Azmat Abbas told the BBC.

He said that among those arrested were people “captured during a raid at a house located close to the Bin Laden compound”.

“We suspect them of having been working for CIA,” he said.

“Others being interrogated include people who used to visit the compound.”

Brig Abbas said that two categories of people were among those arrested – those who threw flares into the Bin Laden compound to guide approaching US helicopters and those who helped the helicopters refuel within Pakistani territory.

In the wake of Bin Laden’s death many American agents have been forced to leave Pakistan, while Pakistani officials and civilians suspected of helping the CIA may soon appear in court.

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says dozens of people have been arrested and released by the security agencies since the death of the al-Qaeda leader – and at least five of them have not yet been released.

Our correspondent says that the Pakistani authorities appear to be making every effort to unearth CIA informants while showing little interest in arresting Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathisers.

Soon after the killing on 2 May, witnesses told the BBC that two brothers – both cousins of Bin Laden’s courier – were picked up from their village in the north-western Shangla district.

A member of the security forces was also picked up from the Ilyasi Masjid area near the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, according to witnesses. It is not known whether he belonged to the intelligence wing of the police or the army. He remains unaccounted for to date.

The contractor who built the Bin Laden compound, Noor Mohammad alias Gul Madah, a property dealer identified by witnesses as Kaleem, Bin Laden’s neighbour Shamrez and his father Zain Mohammad were arrested in the weeks following the killing.

All of them – apart from Kaleem – were later released although they have subsequently gone missing, our correspondent adds.

It is not clear whether these men were among the alleged CIA informants arrested.

The New York Times said those held included a major believed to have logged the number plates of cars visiting Bin Laden’s compound in the weeks before the raid.

The US has sharply reduced its troop presence in Pakistan at Islamabad’s request.

Washington has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars of aid in recent years, much of it military assistance.

Islamabad has also been angered by US drone raids on tribal regions bordering Afghanistan in which civilians, as well as militants, have been killed.


Fast hasn’t ended, they wanted to kill me: Ramdev

  • June 5, 2011

Cops evict supporters of yoga guru Baba Ramdev from the 'fast-unto-death' at Ramlila Maidan grounds, in New Delhi - AFP

Cops evict supporters of yoga guru Baba Ramdev from the ‘fast-unto-death’ at Ramlila Maidan

June 02, 2011

Pakistan: 63 Die in Militant-Security Border Clash

June 1: Pakistani troops fire heavy artillery toward alleged militants hideouts in the mountain ranges in Mamad Gat, in Pakistan's Mohmand tribal region along the Afghan border.

Fighting between militants who crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan and attacked a Pakistani checkpoint killed 25 troops, three civilians and 35 insurgents, police said Thursday, in some of the deadliest clashes in recent months.

Jewel of the aisle: Online luxury boutique caters to Indian brides

Jewel of the aisle: Online luxury boutique caters to Indian brides

Between the flowers, the food, hundreds of guests and jewels, an Indian wedding in the U.S. costs between $75,000 and $100,000 – three times more than your average American wedding.


In India coal towns, many miners are children
  • Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

In India coal towns, many miners are children

Times Editors

| May 14, 2011

Times South Asia bureau chief Mark Magnier and photojournalist Daniel Berehulak report on the mining situation in the Jaintia hills, located in India’s far northeast state of Meghalaya. Thousands of underage workers as young as 8, lured by the wages, leave school to work in coal mines under perilous conditions. The country officially upholds mining safety standards and forbids child labor




Authorities say a large stash of sexually explicit material has been found at the bin Laden compound.


Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the ISI, has said it is embarrassed by its failures on al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. An ISI official told the BBC the compound in Abbottabad where Bin Laden was killed by US forces on Sunday had been raided in 2003. But the compound “was not on our radar” since then, the official said….

Osama Bin Laden may cast a shadow long after death

THEY couldn’t have done it better – the killing of Osama bin Laden. In a daring, breathtaking and clinically lethal operation they cut him down right where he lived. The raid marks the passing of a long, bloody decade of war since the 9/11 horror. It comes as the great price of treasure and blood – about 6000 US combat deaths and hundreds  of thousands of civilian deaths – continues to be paid. But in August last year US intelligence finally unearthed the lead they had been so desperately seeking.It allowed them to track and hunt down the masterfully elusive al-Qaeda leader in a plush Pakistani mansion.

From a base in wartorn Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama unleashed a strike force of elite Navy SEALs, teams most certainly filled with the kind of hardened warriors I’ve come to know in America’s wars.

At night the airborne assault choppered across Pakistan’s badlands, al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s heartland.

The team landed in Abbottabad, 50km outside of the capital Islamabad, deep in Pakistan. Neither the Pakistani government nor its intelligence agencies – long known for their on-going lines of communication with Islamic militant groups killing American, British and Australian troops – knew US boots were setting foot on their soil. That, at least publicly, is a first since the wars began.

Storming into the multi-layered luxury compound where bin Laden was hiding, the SEALs gave him the chance to surrender. When he refused, they blew him away with shots to the head.

And at last, the al-Qaeda inspiration for the 9/11 attacks lay dead in a pool of blood.

President Obama and his agency chiefs could not have scripted it better if they’d tried.

But, then again, neither could have al-Qaeda.

For hardline Islamic militants continuing the “holy war” –

or jihad – Osama inflamed, he will forever now be revered as a martyr.

But in the wake of bin Laden’s death it’s with a sad and heavy heart that I suspect, we’re still going to need those men with courage and the relish to confront al-Qaeda. Because al-Qaeda’s story is most certainly far from over.

The dread going forward should be, perhaps, not if there will be reprisal.

Rather, it should be which of the operations al-Qaeda already has in planning, in preparation, or indeed underway be tagged as the one marked “retaliation”.

Be assured al-Qaeda operational masters are plotting and diligently preparing.

They were the day before bin Laden was killed. As they were on the day he died. As they will be tomorrow.

The departure of Indian spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba [PHOTOS]

High and mighty of India turn up for the funeral of Sathya Sai Baba, who was laid to rest with state honors at his ashram in Puttaparthi on Wednesday. Scroll down to see photos of the spiritual leader’s departure:.

Japan aftershock raises fears
Published  April 2011
Another powerful earthquake shook the same region hit by the quake and tsunami that devastated much of Japan’s coastal areas last month. Power and water were cut, people were evacuated, and fears were once again raised about the potential effect on the country’s nuclear power facilities. Al Jazeera’s Marga Ortigas reports from Mizusawa.

EXPLOSIONS  at Japan nuclear plants radiation threat rises

SENDAI, Japan (AFP) – Japan’s nuclear crisis escalated Tuesday as two more blasts and a fire rocked a quake-stricken atomic power plant, sending radiation up to dangerous levels. Radiation around the Fukushima No.1 plant on the eastern coast had “risen considerably”, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, and his chief spokesman…

* Posted By: Jerome Adamstein
* Posted On: 9:30 p.m. | March 8, 2011

It’s International Women’s Day and we begin with an image of a schoolgirl in southern India practicing Vietnam Vovinam martial arts as part of the worldwide event. In Manila, Filipino women march to mark the day and to support the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill, a measure being blocked by the politically influential Roman Catholic church.

Philippines ousts India for outsourcing top spot

MANILA – The Philippines has emerged as the world leader in business process outsourcing (BPO), supplanting India in terms of total number of workers employed. Two studies, one by IBM’s Global Locations Trend report, another by consulting firm Everest Group, show a shift at the top of the still strong global cost-cutting trend.

With average annual growth of 46% since 2006, BPO has been one of the few bright spots in the otherwise moribund Philippine economy. The sector, almost non-existent a decade ago, has zipped from US$350 million in revenues in 2001 to over $9 billion last year. Analysts predict industry revenues will exceed $10 billion this year.

Poisoned workers ask Apple for help

OSLO – The Philippine government and communist rebels meet near Oslo Tuesday for their first peace talks in six years, but amid continuing fighting, observers have played down expectations. The two sides finally agreed last month to talks, the first since 2004, in a bid to end the decades-old rebellion which has claimed thousands of lives. President Benigno Aquino’s administration expressed hopes that the festering conflict would be over by 2014, but the fact that fighting has persisted is a bad sign for the already slow-moving peace…

Allegations of spying and media manipulation lay bare the divisions in Tibetan Buddhism and tensions between China and India.


Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje is seen in Dharamsala. The leader of Tibetan Buddhism’s most wealthy sect is in the middle of a controversy following a raid by Inidan authorities in which they said they found large amounts of cash.

He’s a “living Buddha” with movie-star good looks and an iPod, a 25-year-old who rubs shoulders with Richard Gere and Tom Cruise and is mentioned as a successor to the Dalai Lama.

Now allegations that he’s a Chinese spy, and a money launderer to boot, have laid bare divisions in the outwardly serene world of Tibetan Buddhism and longtime tensions between China and India.

There’s a lot at stake. The Karmapa is among Tibetan Buddhism’s most revered figures and heads the religion’s wealthiest sect, with property estimated at $1.2 billion worldwide. His appointment was approved by both Beijing and the Dalai Lama — a rarity — but rivals say he isn’t the legitimate leader.

Khmer Rouge genocide suspects seek release before trial

Khmer Rouge genocide suspects seek release before trial
Three of the Khmer Rouge leaders awaiting trial for the deaths of over two million people have asked to be released until they are expected in court. Their lawyers say that detaining the aging trio, including Ieng Thirith (photo), is illegal.
Three top Khmer Rouge leaders made a rare joint appearance before Cambodia’s UN-backed war crimes court on Monday to seek release from custody while they await trial for genocide.
“Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea and ex-social affairs minister Ieng Thirith looked frail as they sat in the courtroom with former head of state Khieu Samphan, underscoring fears that not all the defendants, aged 78 to 85, will live to see a verdict.

Along with a fourth accused they face charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and related crimes under Cambodian laws in connection with the deaths of up to two million people between 1975 and 1979 from starvation, overwork and execution.

Lawyers for the three called for their “immediate release”, claiming their continued detention was illegal because the defendants had not been brought to trial four months after their indictments were issued.
While the accused are not seeking to have the charges dropped, acting co-lawyer Jasper Pauw said “there are no conceivable reasons to keep Nuon Chea in custody”, in comments echoed by the other two defence teams.
A pale-looking Ieng Thirith, sometimes described as the “First Lady” of the Khmer Rouge, left the courtroom almost as soon as proceedings began, referring to a written statement instead and waiving her right to attend the hearing.

Nuon Chea, who wore sunglasses to protect his eyes from the light, suffered a dizzy spell and was sent back to the court’s detention facility on medical advice.

Khieu Samphan was the only defendant to address the judges. “Please abide by the law,” he said.
Absent from the hearing was fellow accused Ieng Sary, the regime’s former foreign minister and Ieng Thirith’s husband. His lawyers recently requested half-day trial sessions, claiming their client was too ill to spend full days in court.

All four defendants have been detained since they were arrested in 2007.
A ruling on their request is expected in the coming weeks, though observers believe releasing them could cause an uproar in Cambodia.

The upcoming trial, the tribunal’s second, is due to start in the first half of this year and is expected to be a lengthy and complex one with all four former leaders disputing the charges against them.
It follows the landmark July conviction of former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the deaths of around 15,000 men, women and children.

Click here to find out more!

Suu Kyi to Davos: Myanmar must reconnect with world

January 29, 2011
Aung San Suu Kyi urged support for Myanmar from global investors in recorded message to the World Economic Forum.
Aung San Suu Kyi urged support for Myanmar from global investors in recorded message to the World Economic Forum.
  • Recently freed political activist Aung San Suu Kyi sends recorded message to Davos
  • Pro-democracy leader released in November after 20 years under house arrest
  • Suu Kyi: Myanmar needs to reconnect with rest of world after years of isolation
  • She cautioned that change was only possible through unity and cooperation

Davos, Switzerland (CNN) — Recently freed political activist Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the world’s political and business elite not to forget the people of Myanmar as they rebuild the global economy.

In a recorded message played Friday to delegates at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Suu-Kyi said she had followed the world’s response to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression on her radio despite being under house arrest.

“While the challenges were immense, the response was both swift and strong,” she said. “Of course, much still remains to be done. Our global interdependence has compelled and resulted in increased cooperation.”

But with the largest country in Southeast Asia teetering on the brink of economic collapse after years of stagnation and mismanagement by the ruling military junta, the vast majority of its 55 million people live in extreme poverty.

Inflation will be an endemic problem in the emerging markets

MUMBAI, India — Stock markets in India and a handful of other, smaller Asian countries, which surged last year as foreign investors bet on their fast growth, are starting to remind investors of the risks involved. The Indian stock market has fallen more than 7 percent from a record high set in November, as investors have grown increasingly concerned about inflation and corruption scandals that have paralyzed the country’s Parliament.

The Nifty 50 stock index did close up 1.9 percent on Wednesday, but that came after a six-day losing streak. Meanwhile, the stock market in Bangladesh, which jumped 96 percent last year has tumbled 27 percent in recent weeks after regulators tightened rules to limit speculation.

That market, which went into a free fall on Monday, setting off riots, recovered some of those losses in the last two days after the government eased regulations to make it easier for investors to borrow money. Stock markets in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines have also fallen in recent days, though not as sharply.

Indians growing richer and less healthy.   With more money in their pockets, Indians are exercising less, indulging in fatty foods and risking injury by driving more

* January 11, 2011

New Delhi: Indians are growing richer, but they are also adopting unhealthy lifestyles that could take years off their lives and threaten economic growth, a major study said on Tuesday.

In a wide-ranging review of India’s under-resourced health system published in the British magazine The Lancet, studies by a clutch of top doctors flagged some particular medical downsides linked to economic progress.

“Rapidly improving socioeconomic status in India is associated with a reduction of physical activity and increased rates of obesity and diabetes,” said a paper on chronic diseases and injuries led by Vikram Patel from the Sangath Centre in Goa.

With more money in their pockets, Indians are exercising less, indulging in fatty foods and risking injury by driving more and faster on the country’s notoriously dangerous roads, often under the influence of alcohol.

“The emerging pattern in India is characterised by an initial uptake of harmful health behaviours in the early phase of socioeconomic development,” Patel’s paper said.

The scourges of the newly wealthy, whose ranks swell by millions each year, can only be tackled with education. The authors said bad habits decline once consumers become aware of risks to their health.

Overall in India, the poor remain the most susceptible to disease and are burdened by the effects of paying for care in a country whose health indicators lag behind its impressive economic growth figures.

The study also said it was vital that India, with its young and fast-growing 1.2 billion population, took steps to prevent injuries and illnesses such as heart or respiratory diseases, cancer and diabetes.

These problems, which suck up resources in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, can be reduced cost effectively through education, the use of drugs and patient screening, as well as higher taxation on tobacco and alcohol.

The study said India was in the early stage of a “chronic disease epidemic,” with as many as one in five people suffering from a chronic illness, while one in 10 has more than one disease.

“Many chronic diseases can be treated with inexpensive generic drugs and lifestyle modifications,” Patel’s paper said. “And if action is not taken now, the avoidable suffering and deaths will have an adverse effect on economic development.”

Other studies published in The Lancet urged India to do more to reduce inequality and to meet a target contained in the title of the series: “India: Towards a Universal Health-care System by 2020.”

According to research led by S.V Subramanian from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, health costs push 39 million Indians back below the poverty line each year, with millions of others forced into even greater penury.

The authors were critical of Indian healthcare noting that payments by individuals account for 71.1 percent of spending on health, with insurance and the public sector taking up a very small proportion of the burden.

The review’s seven studies, which were presented at a symposium in New Delhi on Tuesday, called on India to raise public health spending from 1.1 percent of GDP to 6.0 per cent – financed by new taxes on tobacco, alcohol and fatty foods.

“India’s continued economic growth will be at risk if adequate steps are not taken quickly to invest in the health of its citizens,” the authors said in a statement.

The studies on infectious diseases, reproductive health, chronic diseases and injuries, health care and equity, human resources for health, and financing healthcare can be found on The Lancet’s website.

First anti-government protests staged in Bangkok since emergency rule

Thai anti-government demonstrators shout as they break through police barricades Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011, in Bangkok, Thailand.photo: AP / David Longstreath

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — Thailand’s red-shirted anti-government protesters returned to the streets of Bangkok Sunday for their first demonstration since a state of emergency was lifted last month. Police said up to 30,000 opposition supporters descended on the area they occupied during the

state of emergency was lifted last month.

Police said up to 30,000 opposition supporters descended on the area they occupied during the height of the protests last year. Sunday’s “Red Shirt” demonstrators — so named for the color of their clothing — demanded a thorough investigation of a deadly government crackdown in May, along with the release of protest leaders, some of whom have been held in jail on terrorism charges for months.

Sunday’s demonstration was largely peaceful, a police spokesman told CNN.

But Red Shirt organizers say they plan to hold regular demonstrations twice a month until their demands are met.

North Korean Refugees in China Get Internet Help

Koreans continue to flee their impoverished homeland in search of food and to escape political oppression. Christian missionaries have been at the forefront of the effort to bring these defectors to South Korea. But the work is difficult because of China’s crackdown on those who enter the country illegally. Now, some activists have taken their rescue effort online.

Man with a mission:

Pastor Chun Ki-won goes online as soon as he arrives at his office at the Durihana Church in Seoul.

He is trying to get in contact with a young woman named Sung-hee.

Chun opens up a web-cam chat program and clicks on Sung-hee’s name on his list of contacts. On his screen appears a young woman, with long dark hair, wearing a black and white tank top.

Chun explains that Sung-hee is a North Korean refugee who is being held inside a house somewhere in northeast China. He is trying to help her escape and come to South Korea.

He says Sung-hee became the victim of human traffickers after she left North Korea a year ago.

Forced to strip

Chun says when she was on the border with China, some men bribed the border guard to sneak her across. They told her they would help her earn money and that she would work for a computer company. But she ended up locked in this house and is forced to strip for an online pornography site.

Chun says Sung-hee’s story is typical of many North Korean women who cross into China.

Human rights groups say many are picked up by human traffickers. Some are sold for just a few hundred dollars to Chinese men as brides. Others are put to work in the sex trade.

Because China repatriates North Koreans who enter the country illegally, activists like Pastor Chun say it is becoming harder for missionaries and other aid workers to reach those in need.

He says that is why he has taken his rescue effort online.

Online pornography

Chun says, years ago in China it was easy to meet North Korean women anywhere on the streets. But these days it is too dangerous for them to go out, so they just stay inside and go on the Internet. Also, much of the sex work they are forced into is online.

The defectors hear about Chun’s church in newspapers or by word of mouth. The Durihana church supports a team of undercover missionaries in China. They run a network of safe houses all the way to Southeast Asia, where it is easier for North Korean to seek asylum.

Chun says his church has brought 900 North Koreans to South Korea over the past 11 years.

Hannah’s story

One defector Chun helped escape from China is a 30-year-old woman who asked to be called Hannah.

Like many North Korean defectors, she crossed the border many times. But one time, the police caught her and she was sent to a North Korean prison camp.

Hannah describes what happened to her there.

She says she was kept in a small room at the prison with some North Korean officers, who kicked and beat her with a belt. Hannah says they called her a prostitute. Whenever she spoke, they hit her more.

Hannah eventually escaped North Korea again and got in touch with Chun’s missionaries in China.

Chun says Hannah was lucky to get out alive. Defection can be punishable by death in North Korea. He also says women who are repatriated often face more punishment than men.

Chun says, if a woman is pregnant when she is returned, she could go to jail for the rest of her life and be tortured. A pregnant woman will be forced to have an abortion. Prison officials will hit her and give her drugs to cause her to abort.

Chun says, for these reasons, he tries to help as many North Korean women as possible come to South Korea, so their lives are no longer at risk in China.

Chun continues his chat with Sung-hee.

Chun types to her that he can bring her to South Korea in the next 10 days.

Not ready for rescue

But Sung-hee replies she is not ready to go yet.

Chun says she is reluctant to go because she still thinks she will get money for her work. Chun says she does not understand that people in her situation never actually get paid by human traffickers.

Chun says he will dispatch missionaries to her home soon. But he says, it is up to her to decide whether to come to South Korea.

INDONESIA’S top Islamic body said on Thursday that Christmas decorations in malls, amusement centres and public places were ‘excessive and provocative’ in the Muslim-majority country.

Christmas ornamentation had been put up in an ‘excessive and provocative way”, said Muhyidin Junaedi, one of the chairmen of the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI).

‘It should be done in a proportional manner as Muslims are the majority here, otherwise it will hurt their feelings,’ he told AFP.

He said that the MUI issued a recommendation urging mall and recreation centre managers to act proportionally in decorating their premises.

‘We received complaints from a number of malls’ employees who are forced to wear Santa Claus costumes which are against their faith. Such things should not have happened,’ he said.

‘We need to restrain Muslims from joining the festivities,’ Mr Junaedi added. — AFP

Japan warning over China militaryA Japanese warship under military review near Yokohama (file pic)

Japan makes sweeping changes to its national defence policies, boosting forces to counter the rise of China and the threat of North Korea.


US officials have expressed concern over the “weak, ineffectual and corrupt” government of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and doubt that Pakistan will ever withdraw support for Taliban militants

Once-secret U.S. diplomatic memos reveal Western concerns that Islamist militants might get access to Pakistan’s nuclear material and American skepticism that Islamabad will sever ties to Taliban factions fighting in Afghanistan.
They also show U.S. doubts over the abilities of the weak, unpopular civilian government. The army chief is shown to be an important behind-the-scenes political player who once talked about ousting President Asif Ali Zardari, who himself is said to have expressed concern the military might “take me out.”

The revelations were published Tuesday by newspapers working together with WikiLeaks, which obtained more than 250,000 leaked American diplomatic files from missions around the world. Britain’s the Guardian newspaper published many of them on its website.

There was no immediate response Wednesday from Pakistani officials over the documents, which may well complicate ties between Washington and Islamabad, at least in the short term. The U.S. ambassador has already expressed his regret over the leaks.

In one memo, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is quoted as saying he does not object to U.S. drone attacks against militant targets in the northwest — the opposite of what he and other top officials say in public, where they oppose them to avoid domestic criticism.

“I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it,” Gilani is quoted as telling then-U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson in August 2008.

U.S. and Western officials have expressed concern over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, given the threat posed by al-Qaida and Taliban militants, but in public have generally said they believed it was safe.

In a Feb. 4, 2009, document, Patterson wrote that “our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in GOP (government of Pakistan) facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon.”

The Guardian reported that Russian and British officials shared the same concern.

The papers reported that in 2007 Pakistan had agreed “in principle” to an operation to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani nuclear reactor, but it was never carried out because of domestic opposition. Pakistan said Monday it refused the operation because its own nuclear security would prevent the material from getting into the wrong hands.

U.S. National Intelligence Officer for South Asia Peter Lavoy told NATO representatives in November 2008 that despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world.

The memos also provide insight into American views on Pakistan’s efforts to fight extremists.

The United States is pushing Pakistan to take action against insurgents in the northwest who are behind attacks in Afghanistan. But Islamabad has resisted because it views the groups as potential assets against the influence of archenemy India in Afghanistan, once the Americans withdraw.

In one memo, Patterson said she was skeptical that Pakistan would abandon the militants. “ There is no chance … for abandoning support for these groups, which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India,” she wrote.

Zardari was elected after the death of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, in a suicide blast in 2008, but he has been hounded by the opposition, the media and the army, which remains the real power center in the country.

In February this year, Patterson wrote the civilian government “remains weak, ineffectual and corrupt. Domestic politics is dominated by uncertainty about the fate of President Zardari.”

In March 2009, during a period of political turmoil, Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani told the ambassador that he “might, however reluctantly,” pressure Mr. Zardari to resign, but revealed he had little time for the head of the opposition, Nawaz Sharif.

“Kayani made it clear regardless how much he disliked Zardari he distrusted Nawaz even more,” the ambassador wrote.

Zardari emerges as a leader who is fearing for his position, and possibly his life — the wording is ambiguous.

The memos reveal that American Vice President Joe Biden told then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain that Zardari had told him the country’s main spy chief and “Kayani will take me out,” according to an account in the New York Times.

India has dispatched roughly 60,000 troops to its border with China, the scene of enduring territorial disputes between the two countries.

J.J. Singh, the Indian governor of the controversial area, said the move was intended to “meet future security challenges” from China. Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh claimed, despite cooperative India-China relations, his government would make no concessions to China on territorial disputes.

The tough posture Singh’s new government has taken may win some applause among India’s domestic nationalists. But it is dangerous if it is based on a false anticipation that China will cave in.

India has long held contradictory views on China. Another big Asian country, India is frustrated that China’s rise has captured much of the world’s attention. Proud of its “advanced political system,” India feels superior to China. However, it faces a disappointing domestic situation which is unstable compared with China’s.

India likes to brag about its sustainable development, but worries that it is being left behind by China. China is seen in India as both a potential threat and a competitor to surpass.

But India can’t actually compete with China in a number of areas, like international influence, overall national power and economic scale. India apparently has not yet realized this.
Indian politicians these days seem to think their country would be doing China a huge favor simply by not joining the “ring around China” established by the US and Japan.

India’s growing power would have a significant impact on the balance of this equation, which has led India to think that fear and gratitude for its restraint will cause China to defer to it on territorial disputes.

But this is wishful thinking, as China won’t make any compromises in its border disputes with India. And while China wishes to coexist peacefully with India, this desire isn’t born out of fear.

India’s current course can only lead to a rivalry between the two countries. India needs
to consider whether or not it can afford the consequences of a potential confrontation with China. It should also be asking itself why it hasn’t forged the stable and friendly relationship with China that China enjoys with many of India’s neighbors, like Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Any aggressive moves will certainly not aid the development of good relations with China. India should examine its attitude and preconceptions; it will need to adjust if it hopes to cooperate with China and achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.

The 3,000-meter Merapi is famously unpredictable. An eruption killed two people in 2006 and another killed more than 60 villagers in 1994. About 1,300 people died when Merapi erupted in 1930.


* NEW: Death toll from recent eruptions is now 39
* Mount Merapi spews hot ash clouds
* Residents flee once again

Mount Merapi started spewing hot ash clouds Monday morning, sending a 1.5-kilometer plume toward the south.

Volcanic ash also blew eastward toward Boyolali, Central Java, said Kurniadi of the Indonesian Volcanology and Geological Disaster Monitoring staff. Kurniadi goes by one name, as many Indonesians do.

Residents on the volcano started fleeing yet again. Many had returned to their homes to check on them as well as their farm animals after eruptions last week.

Mount Merapi began erupting Tuesday and has killed at least 39 people in the past week. Another 74 have been injured and more than 71,000 people have been evacuated, according to the National Disaster Management Board.

Chinese vessels irk Japan in ongoing island row

Japan said Monday it had lodged a protest with Beijing after spotting two Chinese fisheries patrol boats near a disputed island chain at the centre of a bitter row between the Asian giants.

“Last night around 9:00 pm (1200 GMT) our coastguard sighted them and afterwards the two (Chinese ships) left there and sailed north toward China,” Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshito Sengoku said.

“After the incident we launched a protest through diplomatic channels,” Sengoku, the chief cabinet secretary, told a regular press conference.

Beijing and Tokyo have been locked in their worst spat in years that started after Japan arrested a Chinese trawler captain on September 8 near the uninhabited island chain in the East China Sea.

Amid the row, nationalist street demonstrations have been held in both countries, with protesters again rallying in China at the weekend, chanting anti-Japanese slogans and calling for boycotts of Japanese goods.

In Japan, the Chinese embassy has received an envelope with a bullet and an anonymous note that warned, “Don’t come near the Senkaku islands” — the second time such a threat was sent — Jiji Press reported, citing police sources.

The row started when Japan arrested the Chinese captain near the Japan-administered islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, after his ship had collided with two Japanese coastguard vessels.

China reacted with a barrage of diplomatic protests and snubs and other punitive steps and first dispatched two fisheries patrol boats on September 23 to waters near the islands.

It withdrew the boats after Japan released the captain.

But last week Japanese media reported that China had again dispatched boats on October 14 — thought to be the ones Japan is now protesting about — with the aim of “protecting the legal rights of Chinese fishermen”.

The Japanese government spokesman reiterated Tokyo’s position in the row over the islands, which are located in rich fishing grounds and near suspected gas deposits, in waters between Japan’s Okinawa island and Taiwan.

“There is no doubt at all that the Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japanese territory historically and under international law,” he said.

“We are going to continue taking the necessary precautions and (conducting) surveillance.”

Asked about the wording of the protest, Sengoku said Japan told China that it disapproved of its ships sailing near the islands, saying: “What’s the purpose? Such activities are no good, are they? We have told them this.”

The two economic giants and major trade partners have at various times in recent weeks sought to de-escalate the row.

Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan held a brief meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Brussels early this month, and officials in Tokyo say both countries are seeking to arrange a formal summit later this week in Vietnam.

With the high-profile appointment of Kim Jong-un, the third and youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, to four-star general and vice chairman of the ruling party’s Central Military Commission has generated intense chatter within the South Korean media.

The consensus being that the younger Kim is being positioned as to succeed his 69-year-old father, who is widely believed to be in failing health, opinions range from fears that North Korea will become a protectorate of China to shame over the anachronism of a communist monarchial tradition in the North.

The Korea Times in Seoul quoted South Korea’s Ministry of Unification as saying the release of the first-ever government-sanctioned photo of the 27-year-old Kim indicates that “North Korea has begun a campaign to rally public support for the heir-apparent, while speeding up the father-to-son succession.”

Widely believed to have been educated in Berne, Switzerland, and to be a fluent speaker of German and English, the soon-to-be leader of the world’s most isolated nation is otherwise little known inside or outside his country. The father-to-son transfer of power, if and when it takes place, would mark the world’s first-ever three-generation communist dynasty. Kim Jong-il, who remains the sole leader of the country, took power after his own father, state founder and “president for life” Kim Il-sung, died in 1994.

“Kim Jong-un is still young and inexperienced,” says Chang Hyun Roh, news director for New York Radio Korea and a correspondent with the Internet news service Newsroh. Pointing to reports that the elder Kim had a stroke two years ago and is suffering from diabetes and kidney problems, Chang says it’s likely that his brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek—considered the state’s No. 2 leader—and his wife, Kim Kyung Hui, who was also elevated to the post of four-star general this week, will provide “strong protection” to the younger Kim.

Kwang-min Choi, managing editor of the Korea Daily in Oakland, expressed disgust over the recent developments. “Considering the state of North Korean society, filled with starving children and countless numbers looking to escape, it is inconceivable how Kim can justify his ruling over the people like a king.”

Tae-soo Jeong, editor with the Korean language Korea Times in San Francisco, offered a similarly acrimonious assessment. “It’s like a comedy, the idea of a hereditary communist monarchy in the 21st century.” He added, however, that given the various internal factions scrambling for power in Pyongyang, Kim places utmost trust in his own “bloodline.”

That line of reasoning is echoed elsewhere. Writing for the Web site The National Interest, Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the conservative Cato Institute, notes: “Too many officials (in North Korea) have been waiting too long for their turn to voluntarily turn over control to another Kim, especially another one whose only claim to power is his parentage.” Among the officials Bandow speculates would be less-than-thrilled with the younger Kim’s anointment are Jang Song-taek and his wife.

An article in the conservative Korean daily Chosun Ilbo quoted statements by several North Korean soldiers, aired on Radio Free Asia a day earlier, expressing skepticism about the handover of power. “(The military) had accepted Kim Jong-il without much difficulty when he was promoted to supreme commander because his personality cult had been built up for a long time. But in Jong-un’s case they wonder what the 20-something has done to become a four-star general?”

The developments in North Korea come at a time when relations with the South have sunk to the lowest point in decades. The two Koreas remain bitterly divided over the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March that killed 48 sailors. A team of international investigators laid responsibility for the sinking with North Korea, a claim both Pyongyang and Beijing have refused to accept.

But in a sign of the often-conflicting policies coming out of the North, Seoul announced today that the two sides had agreed to restart cross-border reunions of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War. Some 100 families from both sides will be allowed to meet in October at a mountain resort in the North. The upcoming round of reunions will be the first since they were cut off amid deteriorating relations in late 2009.

Peter Hayes with the Nautilus Institute, which works to promote international cooperation on such issues as denuclearization, says that such seemingly contradictory tactics out of the North are part of a larger strategy aimed at internal consolidation and regional maneuvering. “Kim Jong-il is firmly in charge, and he is moving around parts of the pyramid of power to maintain his absolute control. Doing so entails keeping everyone off balance.”

Having just returned from China, where he orchestrated a meeting between North and South Koreans, Hayes says he believes the North is “fast becoming a de facto protectorate” of its larger communist neighbor. “Kim Jong-il has communicated clearly to China that the DPRK intends to have a multi-generational nuclear armed state and that he is willing to pay the economic and political price of Chinese backing to achieve a smooth succession.”

It’s a fear widely shared among many in South Korea. Chang, with New York Radio Korea, says there is widespread concern about North Korea becoming a satellite country of China, “an event that would diminish any hope of a future unification of the two countries.”

Obama offsets Beijing by courting Vietnam

As the United States deepens strategic ties with Vietnam in response to a rising China, a question now on many minds is how Washington will address Hanoi’s well-documented and continuing human rights abuses. The moral dilemma for the Barack Obama administration is how it can reconcile long-standing US support for democracy and human rights with its current realpolitik aims of winning friends and influencing states concerned by an overbearing Beijing.

These two often contradictory strands of American foreign policy were manifested in the media coverage surrounding Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presentations at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum held in Hanoi in July. Her public remarks before Vietnamese government
Obama’s moral dilemma in Vietnam
By The Hanoist

As the United States deepens strategic ties with Vietnam in response to a rising China, a question now on many minds is how Washington will address Hanoi’s well-documented and continuing human rights abuses. The moral dilemma for the Barack Obama administration is how it can reconcile long-standing US support for democracy and human rights with its current realpolitik aims of winning friends and influencing states concerned by an overbearing Beijing.

These two often contradictory strands of American foreign policy were manifested in the media coverage surrounding Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presentations at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum held in Hanoi in July. Her public remarks before Vietnamese government leaders on upholding human rights dominated the first day’s headlines.

On the following day, however, Clinton turned her focus to security matters. Her declaration that the US had a national interest in maintaining an open South China Sea and supported a multilateral solution to the maritime disputes there between China and ASEAN countries became the biggest story out of the ministerial meeting and still reverberates several months later.

United States-Vietnam watchers have witnessed a considerable warming of ties this year. A highly visible sign was the August visit by the super carrier USS Washington off the coast of Danang, not far from the Paracel Islands occupied by China since 1974 but historically part of Vietnam. Substantive cooperation is also underway in pursuing nuclear cooperation, crafting a multilateral free trade agreement, initiating US weapons sales to Vietnam’s military and continuing military-political talks involving both countries’ foreign affairs and defense establishments.

Part of the reason for the tighter rapport is good timing. As the 2010 chair of ASEAN, Vietnam became the public face of the regional grouping just when the Obama administration sought to re-engage with Southeast Asia. US officials have recently collaborated closely with their Vietnamese counterparts to prepare for numerous mid- and high-level meetings. Given Hanoi’s Foreign Ministry’s lack of experience on the international stage, US officials have reportedly played a primary, if not behind-the-scenes, role in coordinating the various US-ASEAN working groups.

The bigger reason, however, is that the US needs Vietnam to contribute toward stiffening ASEAN’s spine, so that the 10-country body can collectively counterbalance China’s regional ambitions. Most of ASEAN’s member states have traditionally pursued an accommodationist policy toward Beijing. With its long history of repelling Chinese invasions, ingrained worries about the Sino threat, and its relative large size within ASEAN, Vietnam is uniquely positioned to rally others in the bloc.

In addition, the US would like to see Vietnam join other countries in the neighborhood – notably India, Australia, Japan and South Korea – to serve as a strategic counterweight to China. Though no US official has publicly said so, the American military also probably covets regular access to Vietnamese ports to project power into the South China Sea, where a third of the world’s maritime trade flows yet which Beijing is increasingly treating as its own lake.

Flagging emphasis
With face time between the leadership of the two countries always a scarce commodity, Obama recently met with Vietnamese state president Nguyen Minh Triet and other ASEAN heads in New York and the US secretaries of State and Defense will be in Hanoi in late October. The worry among some Vietnamese democracy activists is that human rights, an issue where progress was crucial for the US to re-establish normal trade relations and support Vietnam’s bid to accede to the World Trade Organization, are now being relegated to the diplomatic backburner.

There are precedents for expediency. In the fall of 2004, the George W Bush administration blacklisted Vietnam as a ”Country of Particular Concern” over serious violations of religious freedom. Two years later, the State Department removed Vietnam from the designation – not necessarily due to measurable progress on religious freedom – but to pave the way for a cordial Bush visit to Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting held in November 2006.

Human rights advocates say that such real politik calculations are short-sighted since greater political freedom in Vietnam would better suit long-term US economic and security interests in the region. To be sure, human rights has never been an all or nothing focus of US policy, and each US administration since normalization of relations with Hanoi in 1995 has set calibrations differently on the attention given to the issue.

There is a vocal human-rights lobby in congress that serves as a check on each administration’s realist tendencies on foreign policy. Only a day before the US-ASEAN meeting in New York, 10 House members signed a letter calling on Vietnam’s government
to release activists from the pro-democracy party Viet Tan. During the summer, a congressional hearing into alleged beatings by police of Catholic worshipers in the Con Dau parish in central Vietnam prompted the US Embassy in Vietnam to conduct an investigation that is still unfolding.

In addition to congressional pressures, non-governmental organizations also shape the debate. US-based rights group Human Rights Watch recently released a report on systemic abuses by security police in Vietnam that detailed numerous cases of political dissidents and ordinary citizens suffering from police brutality and deaths in custody.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung attended a conference marking the 65th anniversary of communist Vietnam’s public security forces at which he called on his audience to crush all opposition political groups that could threaten the Communist Party’s control. The Hanoi leadership is in the midst of preparing for the 11th party congress, where political promotions and government policies
will be decided in January 2011. As in the past, the run-up to this conclave has been accompanied by an intensified crackdown on political dissent.

While addressing the UN General Assembly on September 23, Obama gave his strongest statement yet in defense of the virtues of freedom: “Experience shows us that history is on the side of liberty – that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments.” It is against this rhetorical backdrop and an ongoing political crackdown that Obama reaches out to Hanoi.

While US treaty allies have historically tended to be stable democracies, Washington also has a long history of partnering with authoritarian states, though with more mixed results. Obama’s overtures towards Vietnam thus represent a policy risk, one influenced by his government’s larger strategic concerns over China’s rising clout and assertiveness.

Naoto Kan, the incumbent Japanese prime minister, has won a party leadership vote which could have brought in the country’s third prime minister in a year, and the sixth in three years.

Japan’s lower house of parliament gave Kan a surprisingly large margin of victory in the poll on Tuesday, taking 721 votes against his challenger and popular veteran legislator Ichiro Ozawa’s 491.

Kan remains head of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and prime minister because of the party’s parliamentary majority.

Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley, in the capital Tokyo, said: “It was an overwhelming victory, the grassroots of the party voted overwhelming for Kan.

“Everyone’s hoping the scars in the party will heal and the party will move on. People want stability now, new initiative and Japan moving forward.”

Media reports had predicted that the outcome would be too close to predict, with as many as 30 party members being undecided ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s vote. But the DPJ voted for stability over change.

The vote came as Japan battles a strong currency, a weak economy and a bulging public debt.

Kan, 63, who took office three months ago, and rival Ozawa, 68, who has been in parliament for 40 years, have clashed over economic policies.

Fiscal challenges

Kan has vowed to cap spending and debt issuance to rein in a public debt already twice the size of Japan’s $5 trillion economy, the second largest in the world after the US.

He also wants to debate raising the five per cent sales tax to fund growing social welfare costs of a fast-ageing population.

Ozawa promised to cut waste to fund party campaign promises to give consumers more cash, pry control over policy away from bureaucrats to re-prioritise the budget, and consider more borrowing to fund stimulus if the economy stumbles.

He pledged steps to curb the yen’s rise to 15-year highs, including solo intervention, and could well pressure Japan’s central bank to buy government bonds to fund his spending plans.

Kan’s team has repeatedly expressed concern about the yen’s climb but so far has refrained from stepping into the market.

The DPJ last year ousted the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), ending more than 50 years of nearly non-stop rule by the conservative party.

But it floundered under Kan’s predecessor Yukio Hatoyama and the DPJ-led ruling bloc lost its upper house majority in a July election after Kan floated the sales tax rise.

Ozawa has in the past vowed to work with Kan if he wins, but some analysts say the leadership battle could split the party and result in a possible realignment of party allegiances.

Filipinos mourn victims of bus hijacking


* NEW: Hong Kong government urges restraint in aftermath of hijacking
* Bodies, remaining tour group members arrive in Hong Kong
* Condolence points have been set up around Hong Kong
* A police official says he ordered authorities to assault the bus

Manila, Philippines (CNN) As the bodies of eight tourists killed in a bus hijacking in the Philippines arrived in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, the Hong Kong government urged citizens not to take their grief and anger out on Filipinos despite “the poor way” the hijacking was handled by authorities.

The Cathay Pacific flight, which also carried remaining members of the tour group and about 60 officials and family members, was greeted by a large crowd on its arrival. In a somber ceremony, bagpipers played “Amazing Grace” as coffins were brought off the plane and wreaths laid upon them. Several people appeared to be injured and were helped down a flight of stairs when departing the plane; one man’s hand and arm were bandaged. Hong Kong officials were being tight-lipped about details of the group’s return, according to CNN’s John Vause. Two of the three remaining hospitalized victims had been expected to be released from Philippine hospitals in time for the flight, but it’s not known if they were on the plane that landed in Hong Kong. A third, more seriously injured tourist, is receiving treatment in an intensive care unit. Meanwhile, residents in the Philippines observed a national day of mourning Wednesday in the aftermath of this week’s bus hijacking in Manila.

Many Japanese spent Sunday evening floating lanterns. The eclipse of Japan as the world’s second-largest economy is a sideshow. The more telling statistic is that its nominal output has retreated to levels last seen in 1993. down rivers, honoring the souls of the departed. A similarly time-worn tradition was played out in Tokyo on Monday, as the cabinet office revealed gross domestic product numbers that failed to meet expectations in

Unlike other rich economies wrestling with deflationary forces and minimal growth, though, Japan has largely come to terms with its decline. The big banks make no secret of their desire to build assets overseas rather than at home, where deposit growth consistently outpaces demand for credit. No chief executive is being fired for preferring the payment of huge takeover premiums for growth outside Japan over domestic investment (gross fixed capital formation was down an annualized 2.3 per cent in the second quarter).

Floods sweeping across Asia in succession of disasters

Up to 1,300 people are believed to be missing after flash floods and landslides ravaged northwest China, the latest in a succession of disasters that have killed thousands and left millions more homeless across Asia over the past week.

In Pakistan, authorities are struggling to cope with the country’s worst floods in 80 years, which have killed 1,600 people, destroyed or damaged more than 600,000 homes and left 12 million people — almost 10 percent of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, in India-administered Kashmir, rescuers are racing to find 500 people missing after flash floods struck the mountainous region, where at least 145 people have died so far and dozens of tourists have been stranded.

China’s mountainous Gansu Province suffered a series of mud and rock slides after record levels of rainfall over the weekend, killing at least 127 people and submerging entire villages in debris. That death toll is expected to climb much higher, as the state-run news agency Xinhua reported Monday that in just one village, Yueyuan, which sits at the foot of the craggy peaks, around 450 of the 500 residents had died in the disaster.

“It was not raining very heavily in the county seat Saturday night. We didn’t know that torrents were crashing down from the mountains,” He Xinchao, a survivor, told Xinhua. “Before I realized what was happening, the house was gone.” His 11-member family was reduced to two, he said, “just me and my son.”

The rescue effort is being hampered by the fact that roads leading to afflicted areas have been coated by up to six feet of muck, making it almost impossible for authorities to bring in heavy equipment needed to clear mud and rubble, according to the Christian Science Monitor. “Since excavators can’t reach the site, we can only use spades and our hands to rescue the buried,” He Youxin, a local police officer, told Xinhua on Sunday.

The Associated Press reported that more rain is expected in the region later this week. In an attempt to reduce the threat of further natural disasters, demolition experts blasted away debris blocking the Bailong River. That blockage led to a two-mile-long artificial lake forming on the river, which overflowed in the early hours of Sunday, sending waves of water crashing through the downstream town of Zhouqu, tearing houses from their foundations and felling entire apartment blocks.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao flew to the area on Sunday to help coordinate the relief effort. State broadcaster CCTV showed him comforting victims, walking through flooded streets and shouting to people buried under buildings to “Hold on!” as soldiers attempted to dig them out.

This year has seen China’s worst flooding in a decade, killing more than 1,100 people and causing tens of billions of dollars in damage.

In Pakistan, fears are now growing that people in the country’s south may soon suffer the same devastating floods that have swept across the country’s north. Water is now rushing through a key anti-flood barrier, the Sukkur Barrage, in the southern province of Sindh at 49 million cubic feet a second, according to Sky News. That structure, however, was only designed to cope with 32 million cubic feet a second, suggesting much of Sindh could soon be submerged. Upper Sindh is already under water, the BBC reported, and some 2 million people have fled the area.

Public anger is also mounting over the government’s aid effort, with President Asif Ali Zardari being singled out for criticism over his decision to go ahead with his tour of Europe last week. During a Saturday rally organized by the Pakistan People’s Party in the English city of Birmingham, the final event of the president’s U.K. trip, a disgruntled heckler hurled a shoe at Zardari.

And on Sunday, angry locals in Pakistan’s Muzaffargarh district of southern Punjab pelted a convoy carrying Hina Rabbani Khar, the minister for economic affairs, with stones.

In Indian-controlled Kashmir, meanwhile, the number of people known to have died following Friday’s fierce rainstorms hit 140 — a toll that includes five foreigners, whose nationalities have not been announced. Some 500 more people are listed as missing, although it’s not clear how many are dead and how many have been cut off from communication. Indian air force helicopters are now scouring the region, rescuing locals and foreign tourists, some 36 of whom were airlifted from Zanaskar, a popular trekking area, on Monday.

Chinese Entrepreneurs in Africa, Land of a Billion Customers

A report on Danwei looks at the individual entrepreneurs and small companies from China who are trying to strike it rich in Africa:

Although multi-billion natural resource deals dominate the headlines, as many as 80 per cent of the Chinese companies that are currently operating in Africa are small or medium-sized enterprises, according to Dr Jing Gu, a research fellow at Sussex University’s Institute of Development Studies.

They have come to get rich, she says: “Chinese private sector investment in Africa is not driven by Chinese government policy or Chinese political interests. They are more focused on the pursuit of profit.”

[…] Many Chinese on the continent came over with the large SOEs but then spotted openings in the market that were too good to resist. “In terms of actual SMEs, companies with hundreds or thousands of employees, there are relatively few,” says Adam Mahamat, a project advisor from Cameroon who now works at the China-Africa Business Council in Beijing. “What we have seen is that Chinese people who first went over to Africa to work for state-owned businesses are quitting these jobs and setting up on their own. Then they invite their friends and families over to help them when they begin to grow.”

In the eyes of small Chinese companies, Africa is a land of opportunity. As one African official in Beijing put it: “The Chinese view Africa as an entity of one billion potential customers, much like the way the West views China.”