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Top Asian News 6:47 p.m. GMT

December 24, 2022 GMT

Packed ICUs, crowded crematoriums: COVID roils Chinese towns

BAZHOU, China (AP) — Yao Ruyan paced frantically outside the fever clinic of a county hospital in China’s industrial Hebei province, 70 kilometers (43 miles) southwest of Beijing. Her mother-in-law had COVID-19 and needed urgent medical care, but all hospitals nearby were full. “They say there’s no beds here,” she barked into her phone. As China grapples with its first-ever national COVID-19 wave, emergency wards in small cities and towns southwest of Beijing are overwhelmed. Intensive care units are turning away ambulances, relatives of sick people are searching for open beds, and patients are slumped on benches in hospital corridors and lying on floors for a lack of beds.

India opposition’s ‘unity march’ against hate enters capital

NEW DELHI (AP) — Members of India’s main opposition Congress party and thousands of supporters walked into the capital on Saturday as part of a 5-month-long cross-country “unity march” seeking to challenge what they say is a “hate-filled” version of the country under the Hindu nationalist government. Joined by thousands of party workers and senior leaders, the march led by Rahul Gandhi, an opposition leader of the Congress party and scion of the influential Gandhi family, entered New Delhi after passing through eight states. Flanked by his mother, Sonia Gandhi, and sister, Priyanka Gandhi, the 52-year-old leader said that the motive of his long walk across the length of the country is to revive the once-mighty Congress party and showcase the “real India” unlike the “hate-filled version” offered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


Rabuka sworn in as Fiji prime minister after close election

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Sitiveni Rabuka was sworn in as Fiji’s prime minister on Saturday, capping a tense week in a fragile Pacific democracy where the former military commander first held office more than two decades ago. The 74-year-old won the nomination by one vote over incumbent Frank Bainimarama at a sitting of the Fijian Parliament in Suva. Rabuka, the head of the People’s Alliance Party, won after forming a majority coalition with two other parties following last week’s close and contentious election. On Thursday, army and navy personnel were reportedly called in to protect minority groups over threats against them following the Dec.


Taliban ban women from working for domestic, foreign NGOs

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban government on Saturday ordered all foreign and domestic non-governmental groups in Afghanistan to suspend employing women, allegedly because some female employees didn’t wear the Islamic headscarf correctly. They also separately banned women from attending religious classes at the mosques in the capital of Kabul. The bans are the latest restrictive moves by Afghanistan’s new rulers against women’s rights and freedoms, coming just days after the Taliban banned female students from attending universities across the country. Afghan women have since demonstrated in major cities against the ban — a rare sign of domestic protest since the Taliban seized power last year.


Killer dubbed ‘The Serpent’ arrives in France from Nepal

PARIS (AP) — Convicted killer Charles Sobhraj, suspected in the deaths of at least 20 tourists around Asia in the 1970s, arrived in Paris as a free man Saturday after being released from a life sentence in a Nepal prison. It was the latest twist in a dramatic life trajectory depicted in a series co-produced by the BBC and Netflix called “The Serpent,″ which aired last year. He has in the past admitted to killing Western tourists around Asia. “I’m fine, I’m glad” to be in France, he told The Associated Press in a brief phone conversation after arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

China blasts US defense bill while Taiwan welcomes it

BEIJING (AP) — China blasted an annual U.S. defense spending bill for hyping up the “China threat” while Taiwan welcomed the legislation, saying it demonstrated U.S. support for the self-governing island that China says must come under its rule. “China deplores and firmly opposes this U.S. move,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted online Saturday, calling the new law a serious political provocation that blatantly interferes in China’s internal affairs. President Joe Biden signed the $858 billion defense bill into law in Washington on Friday. It includes about $45 billion more than Biden had requested as lawmakers look to offset inflation and boost the nation’s military competitiveness with China and Russia.


China sanctions 2 US citizens over action on Tibet

BEIJING (AP) — China has sanctioned two U.S. citizens in retaliation for action taken by Washington over human rights abuses in Tibet, the government said Friday, amid an ongoing standoff between the sides over Beijing’s treatment of religious and ethnic minorities. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Todd Stein and Miles Yu Maochun, along with their close family members, would be banned from entering China. Any assets they had in China would be frozen and they would be barred from contact with people or organizations within China. The notice said the measures were in response to the U.S. sanctioning two Chinese citizens “under the excuse of the ‘Tibet human rights’ issue.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said China was responding to what it considered a violation of the “basic norms of international relations” and that Stein and Yu “behaved egregiously on Tibet and other China-related issues.” “We would like to stress once again that Tibetan affairs are purely an internal affair of China, and the U.S.


Hong Kong leader aims to reopen border with China next month

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s leader said Saturday that China has agreed to a reopening of the city’s border with the mainland, which has been largely closed by pandemic restrictions, and that he is aiming for a mid-January start. Chief Executive John Lee, returning from a trip to Beijing where he met President Xi Jinping and other officials, told reporters at the Hong Kong airport that the two sides would develop a plan to reopen the border in a gradual and orderly manner. The announcement came as China is easing a “zero-COVID” policy that has restricted entry to the country, isolated infected people and locked down areas with outbreaks.

N. Korea fires ballistic missiles after US-S. Korea drills

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters on Friday, its latest weapons demonstration that came days after U.S. and South Korean warplanes conducted joint drills that North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal. North Korea has conducted an unprecedented number of missile tests this year in what some experts call an attempt to bolster its weapons capability and pressure its rivals to make concessions such as sanctions relief in future negotiations. Recently, the North also claimed to have performed major tests needed to acquire its first spy satellite and a more mobile intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S.

Tomahawks part of Japan’s record defense spending next year

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s defense spending will jump 20% to a record 6.8 trillion yen ($55 billion) next year as the country prepares to deploy U.S.-made Tomahawks and other long-range cruise missiles that can hit targets in China or North Korea under a more offensive security strategy. The planned purchase of Tomahawks at 211.3 billion yen ($1.6 billion) is a centerpiece of Japan’s 2023 budget plan approved Friday by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet and shows his government’s determination to rapidly arm itself with more strike capability under the new strategy. Additionally, Japan will pay the United States 110 billion yen ($830 million) for equipment and software needed to launch Tomahawks, as well as fees for the technology transfer and staff training in the coming year, defense officials said.