Displaying items by tag: Asia

Thursday, 23 May 2024 22:03

Iran: five days of mourning for president

On 21 May Iran began five days of national mourning for President Ebrahim Raisi, as it grappled with the news of his sudden death at a time of heightened regional tensions and domestic uncertainty. Raisi, foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, and six others were killed in a helicopter crash in a remote part of the country on 19 May. The shock incident wiped out two of the country's key political figures, raising questions about what the future might be after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Thousands of mourners gathered for the first funeral event; the next day, declared a national holiday, a funeral was held in Tehran, with high-ranking foreign dignitaries attending. Funerals were held in two more cities on 23 May, and Raisi will be laid to rest in his hometown Mashhad on 24 May. However, many Iranians have celebrated the president’s death, with fireworks set off in several cities and people dancing in the streets. Raisi’s hardline administration was characterised by brutal punishments and a harsh crackdown on female dress codes. See

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On 20 May, ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan announced plans to seek arrest warrants for Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli ministers, and also for three senior Hamas officials. Hamas is charged with atrocities on 7 October and mistreatment of hostages, while Israel is accused of the starvation of Gaza's civilians. Khan, known for his conservative approach, has said that he has not seen compelling evidence that Israeli courts were probing alleged violations of international law). There have been predictable responses from supporters of both sides, but there is a long history of war crime charges facilitating peace by marginalising hardliners. That might help to advance the frustratingly stalled ceasefire negotiations. Within Israel, whose officials’ conduct in Gaza has increasingly made it a pariah state in the minds of many worldwide, the proposed charges will strengthen the movement for a leadership change. Far from an impediment to a ceasefire, Khan’s actions could be a spur.

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Thursday, 23 May 2024 21:57

Myanmar: growing resistance to the junta

On a scorching day in Karenni state, from a hilltop overlooking an army base, former army captain Nay Myo Zin uses loudspeakers to address soldiers loyal to Myanmar's ruling military aiming to persuade them to defect, claiming that the regime's fall is imminent. The country is at a critical juncture, with the junta’s brutal repression being challenged by ethnic groups and a new generation of insurgents. Over the past seven months, the resistance has made significant gains, capturing up to two-thirds of the country. Since the 2021 coup, which ousted the elected civilian government and imprisoned leader Aung San Suu Kyi, tens of thousands, including many children, have been killed, and 2.5 million displaced. This is an under-reported conflict, not only because of the world’s focus on Ukraine and Gaza, but also because there is no press freedom and foreign journalists are rarely admitted to the country.

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The Israeli military has claimed it now controls the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, a crucial point for aid entry and civilian exit amid the ongoing conflict with Hamas. An Israeli tank brigade has secured the crossing. The UN has expressed concern about the significant restriction of Gaza's main aid routes, but the White House has announced the expected reopening of Kerem Shalom, Hamas has criticised the seizure of Rafah, viewing it as a move to thwart ceasefire negotiations led by Egypt and Qatar, which proposed a temporary halt in hostilities and the release of hostages. Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Hamas's ceasefire claims as inadequate, focusing on stringent security conditions for any deal. UN secretary-general António Guterres said a ceasefire was ‘essential to stop the unbearable suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and of the hostages and their families’.

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Japan now has about 8.48 million ‘akiya’, or abandoned homes - over 13% of all residences. They are increasingly common across the country, particularly in rural areas. This problem, exacerbated by Japan's aging population and low birth rates, makes it difficult for the government to rejuvenate rural communities, hampering efforts to attract younger people interested in an alternative lifestyle or investors eyeing a bargain. Some owners, for tax reasons, find it cheaper to retain the home than to demolish it for redevelopment. The government has implemented several initiatives, including financial incentives for families and individuals willing to move to and rejuvenate these rural areas. The akiya market is complicated by high demolition costs and increased property taxes for vacant land, which discourage property development and maintenance. To combat these challenges, local governments operate ‘akiya banks’, hoping to attract buyers with the potential of low purchase costs and the opportunity to refurbish these homes.

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Thursday, 02 May 2024 21:21

Gaza: where do truce negotiations stand?

On 29 April senior Hamas representatives headed to Egypt for talks aimed at halting Israel's ongoing military operations in Gaza. Although previous talks have yielded few results, both sides have expressed a willingness to pursue a ceasefire. A new Israeli proposal includes discussions on restoring calm and the release of Israeli captives, potentially in phases. Hamas has been urged by a number of countries, including the USA and the UK to accept this new proposal, but seems reluctant to do so. The talks have gained urgency amid Israeli threats of a ground assault on Rafah, which might be suspended if negotiations progress. For Benjamin Netanyahu, the problem is that if he concedes too much, he would face opposition not just from opposition parties but from some of his own ministers.

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Thursday, 02 May 2024 21:02

Afghanistan: gun attack on mosque kills six

On 29 April a gunman attacked a mosque in western Afghanistan, killing six people. The mosque, reportedly belonging to Afghanistan's minority Shia community, was targeted during prayer. Among the victims was a prayer leader. IS has claimed responsibility for the attack, consistent with their history of targeting Shia communities. Despite the Taliban government's pledge to protect religious and ethnic minorities since assuming power in August 2021, little has been done. The deadliest recent attack linked to IS occurred in 2022 in Kabul, resulting in 53 deaths, primarily girls and young women. A UN report in January noted a decrease in IS attacks due to Taliban counter-terrorism efforts, but said that the group still had ‘the ability to project a threat into the region and beyond’ - as shown by the deadly attack in a Moscow nightclub in March, for which IS has claimed responsibility.

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Thursday, 25 April 2024 21:52

India: world’s biggest election explained

On 19 April Indians commenced voting  for their next parliament, with Narendra Modi seeking a third term. Opinion polls favour his BJP party and its allies over an opposition alliance of over two dozen parties including Congress. The election is unfolding amidst bitterness, with opposition leaders alleging an unfair playing field. The numbers are mindboggling: a staggering 969 million voters (almost one-eighth of the world’s population) are eligible to vote, electing 543 MPs. The process will run in seven phases over six weeks: results will be announced on 4 June. Election commissioner Rajiv Kumar has vowed to ‘take democracy to every corner of India’, with some polling booths in the unlikeliest of places. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, is seen as a key battleground. The outcome of this monumental electoral process will shape India's political landscape for the next five years.

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Thursday, 25 April 2024 21:47

Climate change: Asia most affected

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has reported that Asia bore the brunt of climate change and weather-related disasters in 2023. Floods and storms caused significant casualties and economic damage, while heatwaves intensified. Asia's temperature rose almost 2 degrees Celsius above the 1961-90 average; many countries experienced record heat in 2023. 79 water-related disasters, primarily floods and storms, resulted in over 2,000 deaths and nine million people affected. Floods were the leading cause of death. Hong Kong witnessed record rainfall due to a typhoon, and glaciers in high Asian mountains suffered significant mass loss. The Himalayas and Hindu Kush experienced below-normal precipitation, while southwest China faced drought. Japan had its hottest summer on record. Recent severe floods in China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have underscored the urgency for improved weather services. The WMO stressed the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

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This year’s Easter celebrations in the Middle East were subdued. In Gaza City, Christians who have found refuge in the Holy Family Church brought palm branches to the Palm Sunday service. One of their priests said the congregation has been ‘enduring relentless Calvary for months’. SAT-7 broadcast Easter services live from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. The church’s pastor said, ‘In Palestine our Good Friday has lasted way too long, but Easter reminds us that the final word belongs to God… Our belief in the God of the Resurrection means that ultimately goodness, righteousness, and justice will prevail’. There were few foreign pilgrims in Jerusalem and most West Bank Christians were denied access under tightened security rules. SAT-7’s Turkish channel broadcast a service from a church in Istanbul which had been attacked by two gunmen during a Sunday service on 28 January; one man was killed in the incident. SAT-7 wanted to show solidarity with the congregation after such a traumatic event. SAT-7’s Easter programming is especially important for those in countries where people cannot celebrate openly because of persecution and restrictions on religious freedom.

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