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Bangkok firefighters on front line of city’s snake scourge


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From The Asian Reporter, V27, #22 (November 20, 2017), pages 2 & 5.

Top court overturns discriminatory religious law

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia’s top court has overturned a law that denied recognition and legal rights to followers of indigenous faiths in a surprise advance for religious freedom in the world’s most populous Muslim nation. The Constitutional Court, in a unanimous ruling from its nine-judge panel, said articles in the 2013 Civil Administration Law were discriminatory and violated the principle of equality before the law. "These articles are not legally binding as they contradict the 1945 constitution," presiding judge Arief Hidayat told the court. The ruling is an unexpected victory for moderates at a time when religious conservatives have demonstrated growing political influence and undermined the country’s reputation for tolerance. The 2013 law effectively required followers of faiths not among the six recognized by the government to list one of the official religions on their national identity card or be denied basic rights such as marriage registration and land titles. The ruling, published on the court’s website, said the law caused injustice to followers of native faiths. Difficulties in obtaining national identity cards meant some were deprived of education, access to the justice system, and other rights, it said. Indonesia has for decades recognized only Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism as religions, but millions practice animism and other local faiths.

Hong Kong, Southeast Asian nations sign free-trade pact

MANILA, The Philippines (AP) — Hong Kong signed a free-trade agreement and an investment deal with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in pacts that it said are a vote against protectionism elsewhere. ASEAN officials said the free-trade agreement they signed with Hong Kong in Manila is the sixth such deal forged by the 10-nation bloc after concluding similar pacts with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand. The Philippines hosted the annual summit of ASEAN heads of state with Asian and western leaders. Hong Kong commerce secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah said the new free-trade accord is "a loud and clear vote from all of us here for freer and more open trade" amid protectionist tendencies in other parts of the world. He said ASEAN is Hong Kong’s second-largest merchandise trading partner and fourth-largest partner in services trade "but the best is yet to come," with the agreements expected to fuel new investment opportunities and boost trade flows. Philippine trade secretary Ramon Lopez, this year’s chairman of the ASEAN Economic Ministers, said the signing of the two agreements marked the commitment toward shared prosperity and inclusive growth in the region. "We send a strong message to the world of our outward oriented drive and economic resolve toward cooperation," he said.

Border traders losing money amid North Korea sanctions

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese traders are complaining about new U.N. sanctions on North Korea, saying they have all but dried up business in the border city of Dandong. They say they’re unable to collect payment from impoverished North Korean state companies for goods such as toothpaste, instant noodles, and other household items. Large-scale trade involving North Korean iron ore and coal has been banned entirely, dealing a big blow to Dandong’s port, whose operator defaulted on a $150-million corporate bond. China has long been the North’s biggest economic partner. Beijing accounted for more than 90 percent of its neighbor’s foreign trade of about $6.5 billion in 2016, and continues to be a key source of food and fuel aid to help keep North Korea’s weak economy from collapsing.

Pohang quake leaves 1,500 homeless, dozens injured

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Officials say a 5.4-magnitude earthquake that was South Korea’s second-strongest in decades damaged infrastructure, injured dozens of people, and left about 1,500 homeless. No deaths were reported since the quake rattled the southeastern coastal region around the port city of Pohang. The Ministry of the Interior and Safety said at least 1,536 people evacuated their homes and 57 people were injured. The ministry’s statement said the quake destroyed or damaged more than 1,000 houses and dozens of other buildings and cars. Cracks and other damage were found in military facilities, bridges, port facilities, and water supply facilities. It’s the second-strongest quake in South Korea since the country began monitoring in 1978. Last year, a 5.8-magnitude quake occurred near Gyeongju.

Ford, Chinese partner form electric car venture

BEIJING (AP) — Ford Motor Co. has announced it is launching a venture with a Chinese partner to develop electric vehicles for sale in China, the biggest market for the technology. The announcement of the $750-million venture with Anhui Zotye Automobile Co. adds to rising investment by global automakers in China’s growing electric vehicle industry. Zotye already has its own electric vehicle business and said sales in the first 10 months of this year were up 14 percent over a year earlier, at 22,500. Sales of pure-electric and gasoline-electric hybrids in China rose 50 percent last year over 2015 to 336,000 vehicles, or 40 percent of global demand. U.S. sales totalled 159,620. Beijing has supported sales with subsidies and a planned quota system that would require automakers to produce electric cars or buy credits from companies that do. Ford said it expects China’s market for all-electrics and hybrids to grow to annual sales of 6 million by 2025. The company said previously that it plans to offer electric versions of 70 percent of its models sold in China by 2025. Daimler AG’s Mercedes Benz also makes electric cars with a Chinese partner.

Japanese tug boat scrapes U.S. Navy ship during exercise

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese tug boat lost propulsion and drifted into a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer during a towing exercise, according to the Navy. The USS Benfold sustained minimal damage, including scrapes on its side, the Navy said in a statement. No one was injured on either vessel. The commercial tug boat was towed to a port in Yokosuka, the home of the Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet. The collision occurred in Sagami Bay, which is southwest of Tokyo. The Navy said the Benfold remained at sea under its own power, and that the incident would be investigated. The 7th Fleet has had two fatal accidents in Asian waters this year, leaving 17 sailors dead and prompting the removal of eight top Navy officers from their posts, including the 7th Fleet commander. The USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided near Singapore in August, leaving 10 U.S. sailors dead. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided off Japan. The Navy has concluded that the collisions were avoidable and resulted from widespread failures by the crews and commanders, who did not quickly recognize and respond to unfolding emergencies. A Navy report recommended numerous changes to address the problems, ranging from improved training to increasing sleep and stress management for sailors.

Sri Lankan police arrest 19 over racial violence

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan police say 19 people were arrested following racial violence in the country’s south that started over a dispute between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said four people were injured in attacks that took place in areas surrounding the southern town of Galle. Homes, shops, and vehicles were damaged in the violence, though the extent was not immediately known. A curfew imposed overnight was lifted in the morning.

Law and Order minister Sagala Ratnayake said in a statement that the elite police riot squads and the military were brought in to prevent an escalation of the violence and the situation was brought under control. He thanked everyone who "acted with responsibility to avoid a bloodbath." Ratnayake also warned of stern action against those carrying out racial propaganda and spreading rumors. Sinhalese Buddhists make up 75 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million, while Muslims make up nine percent. Even though relations between the communities have been generally cordial, Muslims have been victims of hate speech and their businesses attacked by radical Sinhalese groups in recent years.

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