The Philippine authorities announced Sunday the opening of an investigation into an explosion in the parking area of Manila international airport.The Philippine News Agency (PNA) reported that a faint explosion occurred in the parking area of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City, northern Manila.No injuries were recorded in the explosion that occurred Saturday, the PNA added.The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and the Philippine National Police are hunting the culprits behind a reported explosion, while the police have tightened their procedures in public places with an increased number of surveillance patrols.The flaming device caused damage to three vehicles parked in the airports parking lots. (QNA
The Philippines is ready to chair ASEAN in 2026 instead of Myanmar, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said Tuesday, as the bloc wrestles with how to engage with the country's junta rulers.Myanmar has been ravaged by deadly violence since a 2021 military coup deposed Aung San Suu Kyi's government and unleashed a bloody crackdown on dissent."It is my pleasure to announce that the Philippines is ready to take the helm and chair ASEAN in 2026," Marcos told Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders in the Indonesian capital Jakarta."We will fortify the foundations of our community-building and navigate ASEAN as it embarks on a new chapter," he said, according to a statement from the presidential palace. Marcos did not say why Manila was taking over the chair from Myanmar.However, two Southeast Asian diplomats attending the summit said the move was agreed by leaders so the crisis would not hijack the bloc's agenda and prevent "external partners" coming to Myanmar for their gatherings."It's been decided. It was announced at the leaders' meeting and there was no objection," said one diplomat on the condition of anonymity.ASEAN wrote to the Philippines to ask if it was willing to accept the chair for that year and Manila accepted, the diplomat said.A second diplomat, who also declined to be identified, said the switch had been agreed after "leaders' assessment on the progress" of a five-point plan agreed two years ago that the junta in Myanmar has largely ignored.Laos will host next year's summit and Malaysia will chair the event in 2025.
Six people lost their lives due to an explosion that occurred in a coal mine in the Semnan province in northeast Iran.Iranian news agency (IRNA) quoted the Director General of Crisis Management of Semnan Province Kamal Taherian as saying that the bodies of six workers who were trapped inside the Eastern Alborz Coal Mine in Tazreh area of Damghan city have been recovered,The explosion, which occurred on Sunday, was caused by the accumulation of gas, he indicated, adding that the tunnel where the explosion took place is located 400 meters underground.The coal mine explosion and collapse occurred Sunday evening, and rescue and relief teams were dispatched to the scene. (QNA)
At least 21 people have died following torrential rains in Tajikistan, authorities said Wednesday, the latest natural disaster to hit the mountainous Central Asian country.The deaths were reported in three towns not far from the capital Dushanbe, after heavy rains on Sunday and Monday triggered flooding, landslides and mudflows.A spokesperson from the Committee for Emergency Situations told AFP that "there are 21 dead", up from a previous toll of 13 on Monday.Tajikistan, the poorest of the ex-Soviet nations in Central Asia, is vulnerable to natural catastrophes.In February, dozens of avalanches as well as landslides and rockfalls struck Upper Badakhshan, an autonomous region in the south bordering Afghanistan, China and Kyrgyzstan that is surrounded by the Pamir Mountains.
An earthquake measuring 4.1 on the Richter scale struck on Sunday the Aegean Sea, off the western coast of Turkiye.Turkiye Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said in a statement that the occurred at a depth of 57.6 km.No casualties or material damage reported as a result of the earthquake.On April 26, an earthquake measuring 5 on the Richter scale struck the Aegean Sea off the western coast of Turkiye. (QNA)
Myanmar's junta on Sunday ordered the expulsion of East Timor's top diplomat in the country over a meeting his government held with a banned shadow administration.The Southeast Asian nation has been locked in crisis since the military seized power in February 2021, ending a brief experiment with democracy and sparking violent clashes.The military has designated the shadow administration known as the National Unity Government (NUG) -- dominated by exiled lawmakers working overseas to overturn the coup -- as a terror organisation.Last month, East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta met with NUG foreign minister Zin Mar Aung in the capital Dili.On Sunday, Myanmar's ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the "irresponsible actions" of East Timor, ordering the country's Charge d'Affaires in Yangon "to leave no later than 1 September 2023".The ministry said in a Facebook post that East Timor was "encouraging the terrorist group to further committing their violations in Myanmar".East Timor condemned the expulsion order, reiterating in a statement "the importance of supporting all efforts for the return of democratic order in Myanmar".Dili also urged the junta to "respect human rights and seek a peaceful and constructive solution to the crisis".East Timor is due to become the eleventh member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).However, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao said earlier this month the young democracy could reconsider its bid to join the ASEAN should the bloc fail to persuade Myanmar's junta to end the conflict.The grouping has made little progress since the coup in 2021, with the army largely ignoring a five-point deal aimed at ending the violence.ASEAN has also been divided over how to engage with Myanmar's military.While the junta has been banned from high-level summits, ASEAN member Thailand has hosted informal talks with Myanmar's foreign minister.Linn Thant, an NUG representative based in Prague in the Czech Republic, condemned the junta's decision and told AFP that there was no justification for the expulsion of the Timor East diplomat.The whereabouts of the diplomat is currently unclear.
Turkey's central bank on Thursday delivered a huge surprise by raising the interest rate to 25 percent as part of a transition from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's era of unorthodox economics.The hike of 7.5 percentage points follows a raise to 17.5 percent from 15 percent last month.Most economists had expected the bank to increase its policy rate Thursday to 20 percent."Recent indicators point to a continued increase in the underlying trend of inflation," the central bank said."Monetary tightening will be further strengthened as much as needed in a timely and gradual manner until a significant improvement in the inflation outlook is achieved," it said.The lira gained 1.5 percent against the dollar in wake of the bank's strong signal that is was stepping up its fight against inflation and attempts to support the troubled currency.Capital Economics analyst Liam Peach said the "much larger-than-expected" rate increase "will go a long way towards reassuring investors that the shift back to policy orthodoxy is on track".Erdogan infused his government with market-friendly faces after winning a difficult May election that came in the heat of one of Turkey's most dire economic crises in decades.They immediately set off on a new battle against inflation that peaked at an annual rate of 85 percent last October and is on the rise once again.The team allowed the lira to start depreciating against the dollar in a bid to ease pressure on depleted state coffers.They also imposed a series of more technical steps aimed at balancing the economy and restoring the trust of both consumers and Turkey's foreign investors.-'Large gap'-The central bank increased its key rate to 15 percent from 8.5 percent at the first meeting chaired by former Wall Street executive Hafize Gaye Erkan in June.Erdogan had pushed the nominally independent institution to slash borrowing costs out of a life-long belief that high interest rates cause -- rather than cure -- inflation.But Erkan and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek had advocated a more go-slow approach in the past two months that tried to restore market confidence without causing too much short-term pain.That appeared to change when July's annual inflation rate soared back to 47.8 percent thanks to billions of dollars in social spending Erdogan meted out during his election campaign.The central bank expects the annual inflation rate to peak at 60 percent in between April and June of next year."There remains a large gap between the policy rate and both current and expected inflation," ING bank's chief economist Muhammet Mercan warned.Some analysts suspected that Erkan and Simsek feared a revolt from Erdogan should they push their reforms too strongly.Erdogan fired one central banker four months into his attempts to interest raise rates in late 2020 and early 2021.He dismissed two others before then for fighting his unorthodox approach.- Vote of confidence -But Erkan's hand was strengthened following the appointment of three more respected economists to top central bank positions in the past month.These bankers are "giving Hafize Gaye Erkan the backing to be more aggressive with rate hikes," emerging markets economist Timothy Ash said."The Turkish central bank now has a really impressive team in place -- there is light at the end of the tunnel."Erdogan gave his new team a new vote of confidence in prepared remarks delivered shortly after the decision."We are taking determined steps to address the problems caused by inflation," Erdogan said."We have started to see the positive impact of the measures already taken."
Iranian police have arrested the head of a real estate agency after a viral video showed his firm selling an apartment to a dog, officials said on Sunday.In the video, which spread widely over the weekend, an Iranian couple signed a contract transferring title of their apartment to their furry, white, small-breed dog.The animal, named "Chester", placed its paws on an ink pad with the help of a woman before the contract was stamped.She said in the video that the couple had no "heirs and that they wanted to sell the apartment to the dog."There is no law banning dog ownership in Iran but, as in many Muslim countries, they are considered unclean. Conservative clerics have advised against keeping them as pets.On Sunday, ISNA news agency reported that the "police launched an investigation" following the video."The police arrested the head of the real estate agency and shuttered the firm on Saturday," the judiciary's Mizan Online website said, quoting deputy prosecutor general Reza Tabar.Tabar said the sale seeks to "normalise the violation of the society's moral values", and has "no legal basis".Mizan did not identify the arrested realtor.Many Iranians, especially among the upper and middle classes, have in recent years embraced the trend of pet ownership, usually dogs and cats.
A 4.2 magnitude earthquake struck the Goksun district of Kahramanmaras province in southern Turkiye.The earthquake's epicenter, located in Goksun district, occurred at a depth of 22.17 km, according to the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority of Turkiye (AFAD).On Feb. 6, two devastating earthquakes struck southern Turkiye and northern Syria, the first measuring 7.7 and the second measuring 7.6, followed by thousands of violent aftershocks, killing tens of thousands, mostly in southern Turkiye, and causing massive destruction. (QNA)
Thailand's former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is set to return to the kingdom on Tuesday, the same day as a key parliamentary vote could end a political deadlock, his daughter said.The 74-year-old billionaire was ousted in a 2006 military coup and has spent 15 years in self-exile.Thaksin has long said he wanted to return home but faces multiple criminal charges that he says are politically motivated."On Tuesday, August 22, 9 am I will pick up my father Thaksin at Don Muang Airport," his daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra, who is one of the Pheu Thai Party's candidates for prime minister, said on Instagram.Thaksin later said he was definitely coming home this time."I don't want to offend people. I want everyone to love each other. I want the country to be peaceful," he told BBC Thai Saturday."I'm old, I miss my grandchildren, I want to be with my family."His return will coincide with an afternoon vote on whether to approve Srettha Thavisin -- from the Thaksin-linked Pheu Thai Party -- as prime minister and end months of political uncertainty since a May general election.To become premier, Srettha needs to muster a majority across the lower house of 500 elected MPs, and the 250-member senate that was handpicked by the kingdom's last junta.The progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) won the most parliamentary seats in the election but the senate blocked its leader from becoming prime minister, after being spooked by a controversial policy to reform the kingdom's harsh royal insult laws.Pheu Thai came second in the race and has been trying to form a government.While he's long been a divisive figure, political analysts don't expect Thaksin's presence to kick off protests.- 'People have moved on' -"I think Thai people have moved on from Thaksin," Verapat Pariyawong, a political analyst, told AFP.Verapat expects Thaksin will likely be taken to court upon arrival."His return means that he is confident that when he lands in Thailand he won't be a victim of political games and that the steps are there to make sure he is in a comfortable position," Verapat said."The real question is whether he will actually come back, and if yes, where did he get that assurance from?"Thaksin has lived in self-exile, mostly in Dubai, since 2008 and regularly addresses supporters on the Clubhouse social media platform using the alias Tony Woodsome.He was convicted during his time abroad in four criminal cases, one of which has now passed the statute of limitations.His sentences for the other three total 10 years in prison, while he is still under investigation in another case, and in his May message he said he was ready to face justice.He has long maintained the cases were politically motivated.Thaksin previously slated an August 10 return to Bangkok but postponed citing a medical appointment.Political analyst Yuttaporn Issarachai said there had long been rumours about his return and still no guarantees it would happen this time."I give it a 50-50 chance," Yuttaporn told AFP, adding that his return might cause distress among the senators.Thaksin's slated return sparked mixed reactions and the hashtag #Thaksinreturnshome was trending on X, formerly known as Twitter."I bet we won't see him in Don Muang," one X user wrote.Plumber Prasert Yenjaipaisan, 47, said Thaksin was within his rights to come home if he wanted. "He makes his own decisions," he told AFP.Bangkok cleaner Bow, 35, doubted he would return."He keeps postponing, I didn't think he will come back, but if he does, I will be very surprised," she said.
Legs in iron chains and unable to roam freely, the treatment of two elderly elephants at the Hanoi public zoo has drawn outrage in Vietnam, with animal rights groups demanding the pair be relocated. The groups are calling for the two female elephants -- Thai and Banang -- to be released to a national park, and close to 70,000 people have signed an online petition in support. State media has also covered the story widely in recent weeks. On Wednesday morning, the pair's legs were in chains as zookeepers fed them grass and sugarcane, AFP journalists observed. "The elephants are quite fierce. With a broken electric fence, we had to chain them," a zoo staff member told AFP on the condition of anonymity. Staff said the two elephants were brought to the zoo from the country's south and central highlands in 2010 and 2014. "They were not in the same herd. We had to do our best to help prevent fighting between them and ensure safety for carers," the zoo employee said, adding the animals were well cared for and given three meals a day. But Animals Asia sent a letter to city authorities earlier this month urging the creatures be returned to the jungle at the Yok Don National Park in the country's central highlands. "Elephants at the Hanoi zoo have been chained for a very long period," the group said in the letter. "The health of the two elephants will deteriorate if they remain as they are." Vietnam Animal Eyes, a group of local animal advocates, started a petition to remove the pair from the zoo at the beginning of August. Zoo director Le Si Dung, however, has characterised the push to free the animals as "illogical", according to state media. "The two elephants, aged 60-70 years old, have been at our zoo for more than 10 years... They will die if they are put back to nature as they do not know how to seek food or protect themselves," Dung was quoted as saying by the Dan Tri news site. David Neale, animal welfare director at Animals Asia, told AFP the elephants were likely frustrated they couldn't carry out their natural behaviours. "Yok Don National Park... has all of the elements which an elephant needs to be able to live well and live happily," he said. Other animal lovers believe the zoo is not serving the elephants' best interests. "This (Hanoi) zoo is like a jail," social media user Thanh Nguyen said. "I was furious after my first visit there last year... I would never go back." According to environmental groups, Vietnam's wild elephant population has fallen from around 2,000 in 1980 to about 100 in 2022. The number of domesticated elephants has also declined significantly from about 600 in 1980 to 165 today.
Thailand's Constitutional Court on Wednesday refused to hear a case on election winner Pita Limjaroenrat's thwarted bid to become prime minister, clearing the way for a new leadership vote in parliament.The ruling means the new vote to choose a PM could come as early as Friday, potentially ending the deadlock that has gripped the kingdom since the general election in May."The Constitutional Court has agreed unanimously to not accept the case for a hearing," the court said in a statement.Pita's Move Forward Party (MFP) won most seats in the May poll, riding a wave of support from young and urban Thais to end nearly a decade of army-backed rule.But the Harvard-educated 42-year-old was defeated in his bid to become PM by a nexus of conservative forces spooked by his pledges to reform royal insult laws and business monopolies.Pita dropped out of the running after parliament rejected him in a first prime ministerial vote and then denied him a second.The case thrown out by the court on Wednesday had centred on the constitutionality of parliament refusing Pita a second vote.The Pheu Thai party of exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, which came second in the election, is now set to lead a multi-party coalition government without the participation of MFP.Pheu Thai will nominate business tycoon Srettha Thavisin for prime minister, and the party says it is confident he will get enough votes to be approved.To become prime minister, a candidate must be approved by a majority of both houses of parliament -- the 500 elected MPs and the 250 senators appointed under the last junta.Pita could not muster enough support from senators, and several parties said they would play no part in any government that included MFP.Last week the Bhumjaithai party -- which was part of the outgoing military-backed government -- joined Pheu Thai's new coalition.Bhumjaithai, best known for delivering on a 2019 campaign promise to legalise cannabis in Thailand, had previously insisted it would not join a coalition containing MFP.Pheu Thai is seen as a vehicle for the Shinawatra political clan, whose members include two former prime ministers ousted by military coups.Thaksin, 74, has said he will return to Thailand in the coming weeks -- despite facing multiple criminal cases he says are politically motivated.The policeman turned telecoms tycoon won two elections but was thrown out by the army in 2006 and has lived in self-exile for the last 15 years.A bogeyman figure for Thailand's pro-military and royalist establishment, Thaksin still casts a long shadow over the kingdom's politics and his return has the potential to inflame an already-febrile atmosphere.
The yen slipped on Monday to its lowest in the year against the dollar, breaching the key 145 level, while the dollar rose to a more than one-month peak.The Japanese yen weakened to as low as 145.22 per dollar in early Asian hours, its lowest since Nov. 10 before quickly reversing course in a volatile start to the week. It last fetched 144.92, up 0.03%.The dollar index, which measures the US currency against six other currencies, rose 0.097% to 102.95.The euro was down 0.12% to $1.0931, while sterling eased 0.15% to $1.2675. The Australian dollar fell 0.42% to $0.6470, while the kiwi slipped 0.36% to $0.5963. (QNA)
Indonesia's capital will force drivers to undergo emission tests and consider ordering half of its civil servants to work from home, officials said on Monday, amid deteriorating air quality that has made Jakarta one of the world's most polluted cities.Jakarta has been consistently ranked among the 10 most polluted cities globally since May and last week topped global rankings compiled by Swiss air quality technology company IQAir. On Monday, Jakarta ranked second.The government has blamed the problem largely on industry and excessive road traffic but environmental groups point to a coal-fired power plants as the cause, which authorities reject.The government announced on Monday it would carry out random checks on vehicles and force drivers to undergo emission tests. It will consider fines for those who fail and license revocation for repeat offenders.It will also require emission tests to be part of the process of obtaining a vehicle registration license. It did not say when the measures would be introduced or how they would be enforced."We will start in Jakarta and when it gets better, we will expand it to greater Jakarta," environment minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told a press conference.Other measures under consideration include requiring cars with 2,400 cc engine capacity and above to use 98-octane fuel, and requiring each vehicle to be carrying four people.Jakarta residents, which number well over 10 million, have long complained of poor air.A group of residents won a landmark civil case against the government in 2021, with President Joko Widodo ordered to establish national air quality standards to protect human health, and the health minister and Jakarta governor told to devise strategies to control air pollution.
South Korea and the United States will kick off a major combined military exercise next week to beef up their joint defense, both sides said Monday, amid North Korea's hardening rhetoric fueling concerns about the possibility of North Korea unleashing new provocations.The annual Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) exercise based on an all-out war scenario is set to take place from Aug. 21-31, featuring various contingency drills, such as the computer simulation-based command post exercise, concurrent field training and Ulchi civil defense drills, South Korea's News Agency (Yonhap) reported."Ulchi Freedom Shield 23 is designed to be a tough and realistic exercise to strengthen the combined defense posture and alliance response capabilities based on scenarios that reflect diverse threats within the security environment and lessons learned from recent wars and conflicts," the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a press release.Aside from South Korean and US participants, personnel from member countries of the UN Command (UNC) will join the exercise.The UNC is a key enforcer of the armistice that halted the fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War. The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, an observer of the armistice, will also attend the drills.
Seven of Hong Kong's most prominent democracy figures, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai, were cleared Monday of the charge of organising a massive rally in 2019.While the appeals court struck down one conviction, it upheld another, for participating in the August 18 demonstration, which drew an estimated 1.7 million people -- one of the largest gatherings during the height of democracy protests that have since been crushed by Beijing.The group was convicted in 2021 of organising and taking part in an unauthorised assembly, and later appealed.According to Monday's ruling, the suggestion that the seven were at the front of the procession was "not a realistic or suitable substitute for evidence that they were involved in its organisation".But the court upheld their participation conviction, as "they each knew they had embarked on an activity which was unauthorised".In addition to Lai -- the founder of now-defunct Apple Daily -- the group includes veteran unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, prominent leftist Leung Kwok-hung, rights lawyer Albert Ho, former lawmaker Cyd Ho, Civic Party founder Margaret Ng and Democratic Party founder Martin Lee.The seven are among the most recognisable faces of Hong Kong's now-quashed democracy movement.Their conviction in 2021 was seen as a blow to the right to peaceful assembly in the city, coming after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law that effectively silenced dissent.The August 18 rally was peaceful, and during the initial trial, police told the court that no violence was observed nor were any arrests made.Ng told reporters they would study the judgement before deciding their next move.Three among the seven -- Margaret Ng, Martin Lee and Albert Ho -- were granted suspended sentences, while the other four had finished serving their terms, which were between eight to 18 months.However, Jimmy Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Kwok-hung and Albert Ho are still in remand over three separate cases in which they are accused of national security crimes.So far, 260 people have been arrested under the national security law, with 79 of them convicted or awaiting sentencing in Hong Kong.
Asian markets posted sharp losses on Monday after falls in US tech stocks and as concerns over China's property sector weighed on sentiment.Leading the losers in Hong Kong -- where shares closed down more than one percent -- was developer Country Garden, after it missed bond payments and warned of multi-billion-dollar losses, deepening concerns over China's heavily indebted real estate sector.Its shares were down more than 18 percent at the close, days after its billionaire boss Yang Huiyan said the firm was "facing the greatest difficulties since our establishment".Privately owned Country Garden is on Forbes' list of the 500 largest companies in the world.The firm has long been deemed financially solid but was unable last Monday to make two bond payments, and after a 30-day grace period, the company risks defaulting in September if it still cannot pay.Like its heavily indebted competitor Evergrande, any collapse of Country Garden would have catastrophic repercussions for the Chinese financial system and economy.Fears for Chinese property companies were causing regional markets' gradual decline, Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management wrote in a note."This negative sentiment has spread to other Asian markets, resulting in a generally subdued atmosphere across all exchanges," he said.Singapore dipped by more than one percent, and Tokyo closed down by a similar amount.During the morning, the dollar was fetching 145.10 yen, its strongest level against the Japanese currency since November.But the yen rebounded throughout the day, and was trading at 144.80 per dollar when the market closed, against 144.93 yen seen Friday in New York.Shanghai and Manila were also down.European markets opened little changed, with traders keeping a wary eye on China, as well as US inflation risks.In London, shares fell 0.2 percent, while Paris was flat and Frankfurt edged up 0.2 percent.The ruble slid past 100 against the dollar, its lowest level since March 23, 2022 -- shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine.Stock markets had wavered on Friday after US data showed a bigger-than-expected rise in wholesale inflation, with traders weighing the likelihood of more interest rate hikes this year.All eyes will be on the US retail sales report for July and the minutes of the July 26 Federal Open Market Committee meeting.Wholesale prices in the United States picked up in July on a surge in services costs, according to government data released Friday.- Key figures around 0820 GMT -Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 1.6 percent at 18,773.55 (close)Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.3 percent at 3,178.43 (close)Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.3 percent at 32,059.91 (close)London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 7,506.41 pointsEuro/dollar: UP at $1.0956 from $1.0941Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2694 from $1.2689Euro/pound: UP at 86.31 pence from 86.23 penceDollar/yen: UP at 114.86 from 144.84West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.4 percent at $82.86 per barrelBrent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.5 percent at $86.42 per barrelNew York - Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 35,281.40 (close)
Taiwan's Vice President William Lai flies to the United States on Saturday in a sensitive trip that has angered Chinese officials.The democratic island is claimed by China, which has vowed to take the territory one day -- by force, if necessary -- and has ramped up political and military pressure.It opposes other countries' official exchanges with Taiwan, and often reacts angrily to Taiwanese leaders' stopovers in the United States.Lai -- a candidate for Taiwan's presidential elections next year -- is officially making only transit stops in the United States en route to and from Paraguay, where he will be attending the inauguration. "Departing soon for #Asuncion to attend (president-elect Santiago Pena's) inauguration & convey to him & the people of #Paraguay the best wishes of (Taiwan)," Lai wrote on Twitter, now called X."(E)xcited to meet with #US friends in transit."In response, Laura Rosenberger, chair of the American Institute in Taiwan -- a de-facto embassy for Taiwan based in Virginia -- wrote that officials were "looking forward to welcoming" Lai. Lai is expected to stop in New York en route to Paraguay, and San Francisco when flying back. Last week, China's foreign ministry urged US leaders to "abide by the One-China principle and... to stop official exchanges between the US and Taiwan".In April, China staged three days of military exercises simulating a blockade of Taiwan after President Tsai Ing-wen met US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.Ahead of Lai's departure, Taiwan had sought to downplay the trip, with foreign ministry spokesman Jeff Liu saying there was "nothing special" about vice presidents transiting in the United States -- which has occurred 11 times before. "China has no reason to overreact or take the opportunity to escalate the situation," Liu said in a briefing this week, adding that Lai was making the trip in his capacity as vice president, not as a presidential candidate. "If China decides... to take provocative actions, it is China, not Taiwan or the United States, that undermines the status quo of peace and stability in the region," Liu said. In the week leading up to Lai's departure, incursions by the Chinese military around Taiwan's waters and airspace -- which have been happening near-daily in the past year -- were larger than usual. On Wednesday, the defence ministry said 33 Chinese warplanes and six vessels were detected around the island over the past 24 hours.
Malaysians in six states went to the polls Saturday to vote for state assembly members in elections widely seen as a barometer of support for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's unity government.While the elections are unlikely to immediately affect Anwar's current two-thirds majority in parliament, analysts said his hold on power could weaken if his Pakatan Harapan coalition suffers a setback, especially among Malay Muslim voters in the largely Islamic Southeast Asian nation.More than 9.7 million voters are expected to cast their ballots to elect 245 assembly members in the states of Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, Penang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.Of the six states, Anwar's coalition holds three, while the rest are controlled by an influential rural-based Malay Muslim alliance led by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.Malays account for two-thirds of Malaysia's 33 million population, which includes large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.Voter turnout was low at between 34-42 percent as of midday, the Election Commission said. The polls close at 6:00 pm (1000 GMT)At a voting centre in Petaling Jaya outside the capital Kuala Lumpur, factory worker Fazrul Hafiz, 26 said he voted for the ruling coalition's candidates."I hope Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim will lead Malaysia for a full term until 2027," he told AFP.Anwar went on a whirlwind tour of the states during the two-week campaign period, promising increased financial subsidies to paddy farmers, economic aid and job opportunities.After casting his vote Saturday, he urged Malaysians to "return to fostering relationships", local media reported.The 76-year-old, who had campaigned on a promise of reforms in last year's general elections, is pushing for a more inclusive society where other races are allowed greater participation, while his opponents want primacy of the Malay Muslim majority.- 'Dire consequences' -Opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional has expressed confidence in making further inroads.One key Perikatan member is the Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, which aims to create a theocratic state.Having won 49 parliamentary seats, or more than 20 percent of the 222-member parliament last year, PAS has in recent months stepped up racial and religious rhetoric to shore up support."I feel quite excited and I hope Perikatan can win again in this area," said housewife Jamilah Baharin, 48, who voted in Kedah state, a PAS stronghold.PAS spokesman Khairil Nizam Khirudin told AFP that Anwar "promised a lot but has not delivered".James Chin, a Malaysia expert at the University of Tasmania in Australia, said the election was being watched for the level of support reformist Anwar draws among Malay Muslims.He warned of "dire" consequences if Anwar loses even a single state."The first direct implication is that he cannot undertake any major reforms or fundamental structural reforms to the economy or to politics," Chin told AFP. "This will force his hand and Anwar (will have) to adopt a more pro-Malay and pro-Islamic policy. That means the end of reforms."A loss could prompt MPs to shift allegiances over the next 12 months, "putting a question mark about the future of Anwar as the prime minister", Chin added.A win, however, would give Anwar "enough political capital to carry out real reforms", Chin said.Anwar became prime minister last November following a political impasse that saw his party win the most seats in the general election but fall short of the outright majority needed to form a government.That forced him into an alliance with former foes in the United Malays National Organisation to secure a two-thirds parliamentary majority and approval from Malaysia's king to form a "unity government".The coalition has so far held together in a country that had seen three leadership turnovers in as many years after scandal-tainted Najib Razak was voted out as prime minister in 2018 over massive corruption at state fund 1MDB.
At least 17 people drowned when a boat carrying Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar's Rakhine state broke up at sea this week, rescuers said Thursday.Thousands of Rohingya risk their lives each year making perilous sea journeys from camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar to try to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia.Byar La, a rescuer from the Shwe Yaung Metta Foundation in the town of Sittwe, said more than 50 people were thought to be on the boat heading for Malaysia when it got into trouble in heavy seas on Sunday night."We found 17 dead bodies... as of yesterday," he told AFP."We found eight men alive. Police have taken them for questioning."Rescuers are still trying to find those unaccounted for, he said, although the exact number on board is not known.Rakhine in Buddhist-majority Myanmar is home to around 600,000 Rohingya Muslims, who are considered migrants from Bangladesh and are denied citizenship and freedom of movement.- Deadly sea crossings –More than 3,500 Rohingya in 39 vessels attempted crossings of the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal in 2022, up from 700 the previous year, according to the United Nations refugee agency's January data.At least 348 Rohingya died or went missing at sea last year, the agency said, calling for a regional response to stop further drownings.The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says calls for maritime authorities in the region "to rescue and disembark people in distress have gone unheeded with many boats adrift for weeks".Amnesty International likens the living conditions of Rohingya people in Rakhine state to "apartheid".A Myanmar military crackdown in 2017 forced some 750,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine for Bangladesh following widespread accounts of murder, arson and rape.Myanmar is facing genocide accusations at the United Nation's top court following the mass exodus.Bangladesh and Myanmar have discussed efforts to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees to their homeland.A top US rights envoy in Bangladesh said in July conditions remain unsafe for the return of ethnic Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.Funding cuts forced the United Nations food agency to cut rations to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh twice this year.A cyclone ravaged Rakhine in May and the military junta has blocked international efforts to deliver aid.Myanmar has been in chaos since Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government was toppled in a military coup in February 2021, ending its brief period of democracy.