Asian Correspondent http://asiancorrespondent.com Asian Correspondent Thu, 28 May 2015 11:28:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Philippine economic growth slows to 5.2 percent in 1Q http://asiancorrespondent.com/133216/philippine-economic-growth-slows-to-5-2-percent-in-1q/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133216/philippine-economic-growth-slows-to-5-2-percent-in-1q/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 11:28:30 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133216 Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Officials say Philippine economic growth slowed in the first quarter of this year largely due to sluggish government spending.

National Statistician Lisa Grace Bersales said Thursday the country’s gross domestic product grew by 5.2 percent in the first quarter, down from 5.6 percent a year earlier and 6.6 percent in the last quarter of 2014.

Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan says the slow pace of public spending particularly in construction has resulted in an overall growth that was lower than government and market expectations.

Balisacan says the economy is expected to expand faster in the coming months as public spending picks up.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima says the government was “less concerned” about the quarterly figures “than getting the foundations of our growth right.”

 

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‘There are no Rohingyas in our history': Nationalists rally in Yangon http://asiancorrespondent.com/133212/there-are-no-rohingyas-in-our-history-nationalists-rally-in-yangon/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133212/there-are-no-rohingyas-in-our-history-nationalists-rally-in-yangon/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 09:56:31 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133212 Pic: Michele Penna.

Pic: Michele Penna.

Last week, when Burma rescued 208 boat people drifting off its coast it was not difficult to predict that political troubles were at hand, for any new arrival is associated by many there with the Rohingya issue, one of the most sensitive topics in a country which abounds with contentious problems.

The most immediate reaction to the boat crisis was a march organized by nationalist groups in front of the Kyaikkasan sports center, in Yangon, on May 27. In the early afternoon a few monks and a long queue of people dressed in white t-shirts marched under a grey sky, fists in the air.

Once inside a large grassy square, two rows of supporters carrying flags lined up on each side of a podium and soon enough speakers were addressing the public about Burmese traditions and history. Even the rain that poured right after the speech began and transformed the streets in shallow torrents failed to cool the inflamed atmosphere: nationalist passions, it seems, are water-proof.

The major concern of the protesters is that some of the people who have been rescued might wind up staying in the country as Rohingyas, a minority that is currently stripped of its citizenship. They are referred to by authorities as ‘Bengalis’ and according to the United Nations are among the most persecuted minorities in the world. Thousands of them have been forced to live in camps, deprived of the possibility of receiving even basic services.

In 2012, clashes between the Buddhist majority and the Rohingya minority erupted in Rakhine State in western Burma (Myanmar), leading to a number of deaths and an estimated 140,000 people being displaced.

Pic: Michele Penna.

Pic: Michele Penna.

Two years later the United Nations claimed they had credible information about the death of 48 Rohingyas and called on Yangon to investigate the matter. The government replied that such accusations were unacceptable: Ye Htut, spokesman for the office of President Thein Sein, told the Irrawaddy that “it was sad to see a statement issued by the UN, not using information from their local office staff, but quoting unreliable information and issuing the statement.” He also added that by acting in this fashion the UN would tarnish its reputation among Burmese citizens.

The people who rallied yesterday certainly did not have much faith in the UN. Many of the banners on display explicitly attacked the institution: “UN, stop making story on Rohingya. Boat People are not Myanmar,” said some. “Boat people are not Myanmar. Boat people are Bangladesh,” stated others.

A deal reached on May 26 between Yangon and Dhaka for the repatriation of 200 of the rescued people did not seem to offer enough guarantees to the protesters.

“Usually they say they will send them back, but we cannot trust whether the government will do it or not,” a middle aged man told Asian Correspondent.

“There are no Rohingyas in our history,” argued Raung Myat Thu, who said he is a politician but was taking part to the protest as a private citizen.

“They are migrant workers from Bangladesh. If they were from our country they would speak our language,” he added.

Pic: Michele Penna.

Pic: Michele Penna.

Mr. Raung did not spare harsh words for Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who has become an icon of the pro-democracy movement. According to him, the leader of the National League for Democracy opposes nationalist movements simply because she was once accused by the government of not loving her country on the ground that she is married to a foreigner.

This might not be the last time we hear about nationalist protests, for the boat people crisis is far from over. According to a UNHCR report, “some 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis boarded smugglers’ boats between January and March this year – almost double the number over the same period in 2014.” Following a crackdown on trafficking by Thai authorities, smugglers abandoned their ships at sea leaving thousands of people stranded

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India swelters as heatwave death toll tops 1,400 http://asiancorrespondent.com/133209/india-swelters-as-heatwave-death-toll-tops-1400/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133209/india-swelters-as-heatwave-death-toll-tops-1400/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 08:24:38 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133209 Pic: AP.

An Indian coconut seller sleeps on his pushcart under the shade of a tree on a hot summer day in New Delhi, India. Pic: AP.

Doctors in India are on high alert as a weeks-long heatwave that has claimed more than 1,400 lives shows no sign of abating in the coming days.

Officials say the soaring temperatures – reaching up to 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) have claimed 1,412 lives so far. That number is likely to rise in the coming days.

The southeastern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana have been hit the hardest.

At least 852 people have died from the stifling heat in Andhra Pradesh since May 13, a government statement said. In neighboring Telengana at least 266 have died from heat-related causes.

Photographs in the local and International press this week have shown streets in Indian cities literally melting in the relentless heat.

IndiaHeatwaveRoadMelt

Eating onions, lying in the shade and crowding into rivers, residents have been doing what they can this week to stay cool and hydrated in the sweltering heat.

Officials are warning people to stay out of the sun, cover their heads and drink water. Doctors were on alert Thursday for heat-related illness, while volunteers were distributing salted buttermilk or raw onions — both thought to be hydrating.

Meteorological officials say the heat will likely continue for several more days, warping roads, scorching crops and endangering construction workers, farmers and anyone else laboring outdoors.

An Indian man takes bath under the tap of a water tanker on a hot day in Ahmadabad, India. Pic: AP.

An Indian man takes bath under the tap of a water tanker on a hot day in Ahmadabad, India. Pic: AP.

The arrival of monsoon rains should provide some relief to southern areas next week, but will take a few more weeks to make their way to northern India. There are fears that some areas will be hit be drought before the rains arrive.

A similar heatwave in 2010 is thought to have killed around 300 people.

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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Chinese artist detained over Xi Jinping ‘anus face’ portraits http://asiancorrespondent.com/133206/chinese-artist-detained-over-xi-jinping-anus-face-portraits/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133206/chinese-artist-detained-over-xi-jinping-anus-face-portraits/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 07:46:20 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133206 This depiction of China's President Xi Jinping has not gone down well with authorities. Pic: AP.

This depiction of China’s President Xi Jinping has not gone down well with authorities. Pic: AP.

A Chinese artist has been detained for posting humorous portraits of President Xi Jinping online.

Dai Jianyong’s wife Judy Zhu says the artist, who is known for posting offbeat photos to his Instagram account, was detained near their Shanghai home. She says police are accusing Dai of creating a disturbance with his art.

Dai is best known for what he calls his “chrysanthemum face“ photos, in which the subject scrunch up their eyes and mouth. The flower can also be used as a slang word for anus in Chinese, so the style can be roughly translated to ‘anus face’.

The images which most likely to have landed Dai in trouble are those that depict President Xi making the an… err… ‘chrysanthemum face’, while wearing a moustache. Dai also printed stickers with the offending Xi portrait.

Some media outlets have said Xi resembles Hitler in the image, though we’re not so sure about that.

Chinese authorities have tightened their grip on political dissent and have cracked down on Chinese artists who supported pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong last year.

Dai faces up to five years in prison.

Here are some samples of his Xi portraits taken from his Instagram account:

A photo posted by 戴建勇 (@coca96) on

A photo posted by 戴建勇 (@coca96) on

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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Thai court jails 6 ‘yellow shirt’ leaders over 2008 protests http://asiancorrespondent.com/133205/thai-court-jails-6-yellow-shirt-leaders-over-2008-protests/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133205/thai-court-jails-6-yellow-shirt-leaders-over-2008-protests/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 07:08:39 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133205 Sondhi Limthongkul. Pic: AP.

Sondhi Limthongkul. Pic: AP.

Six anti-government ’yellow shirt’ protest leaders have been sentenced to 2  years in prison for storming the prime minister’s office compound in Thailand in 2008.

Former media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul and five other People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) leaders were guilty of trespassing at Government House.

Thousands of people took over the premier’s office and occupied the grounds for weeks, calling for the prime minister to quit. Yellow shirt protesters also took over Bangkok’s airports for two weeks, but no one has been charged for that.

The court says it reduced the leaders’ original sentence of three years’ imprisonment because of the defendants’ cooperation.

The 2008 protests eventually succeeded in bringing down the coalition government, with Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjaviva taking over as prime minister in mid-December 2008.

The once-influential People’s Alliance for Democracy has been sidelined in recent years, with many former supporters put off by the group’s right wing leanings and the actions of Sondhi.

(READ MORE: One year on: Future looks grim under Thailand’s ruling junta)

Meanwhile, a ruling junta spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that elections will not take place in Thailand until 2016 at the earliest.

“The Prime Minister expects the elections will be held in September (2016),” said Colonel Werachon Sukondhapatipak.

The announcement quashed any remaining hopes of a swift handover of power to a civilian government by the junta. Even the September 2016 election date looks tenuous at this stage, with the junta hinting that it could be pushed back even further if its draft constitution is not ratified by the people in an upcoming referendum.

Some commenters say the junta is using the elections to hold the Thai people to ransom, forcing a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum.

The military took power in May last year when it toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra after months of sometimes violent street protests.

Junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha says the new charter will bring an end to Thailand’s years-long political deadlock. Critics say it is undemocratic and a thinly veiled attempt to end the Shinawatra family’s involvement in politics.

(READ MORE: Thai junta allows constitution referendum, delays elections even further)

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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Asian football federation backs Blatter, wants FIFA elections Friday http://asiancorrespondent.com/133199/asian-football-federation-backs-blatter-wants-fifa-elections-friday/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133199/asian-football-federation-backs-blatter-wants-fifa-elections-friday/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 03:43:56 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133199

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) says it still supports Sepp Blatter’s bid for another term as FIFA president, and opposes any move to delay Friday’s scheduled elections.

Soccer’s world governing body was thrown into turmoil Wednesday when senior office holders from the Americas were among officials arrested by Swiss police in a luxury Zurich hotel to face racketeering charges.

In a statement on its website, the AFC expressed its “disappointment and sadness” at Wednesday’s events but also said it “reiterates its decision taken at the AFC Congress in Sao Paulo in 2014…..to support FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.”

The European federation UEFA had called for Friday’s elections in Zurich to be postponed due to the arrests and allegations, but the AFC said it was “opposing any delay.”

While the AFC is backing Blatter, many are calling for his resignation.  The chairman of the English Football Association says he should leave his job immediately.

Dyke said he was unconvinced by Blatter’s declaration that FIFA can regain the trust of soccer fans by stepping up efforts to root out corruption.

“Blatter has put out a statement saying now is the time to start rebuilding the trust in FIFA — there is no way of re-building trust in FIFA while Sepp Blatter is still there,” Dyke said early Thursday in Zurich. “Sepp Blatter has to go. He either has to go through a resignation, or he has to be out-voted or we have to find a third way.

“I think the time has come where the damage this has done to FIFA is so great that it can’t be re-built while Blatter is there so UEFA has got to try to force him out.”

Blatter is seeking a fifth, four-year term in Friday’s election. His opponent is Prince Ali of Jordan, who said the arrests of the FIFA officials in Zurich show that the world soccer body needs new leadership.

Prince Ali said “we cannot continue with the crisis in FIFA.”

The prince said “FIFA needs leadership that governs, guides and protects our national associations. … Leadership that restores confidence in the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world.”

 

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Images of sleeping MPs get reporters banned from Burma’s parliament http://asiancorrespondent.com/133196/images-of-sleeping-mps-get-reporters-banned-from-burmas-parliament/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133196/images-of-sleeping-mps-get-reporters-banned-from-burmas-parliament/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 03:07:58 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133196 Journalists have been banned after this embarrassing image went viral on social media.

Journalists have been banned after this embarrassing image went viral on social media.

Burmese journalists have been barred from observing parliament sessions after embarrassing images of politicians dozing off during session went viral on social media.

Local and foreign media workers said the doors of the media observation room were locked Tuesday.

“After the Lower House session was over [on Tuesday], they locked the door to the room where we sit before the Union session began,” Aung Thu Ra, a BBC reporter, told The Irrawaddy. “We had to sit on chairs outside, where we couldn’t see what was happening in the Parliament.”

Democratic Voice of Burma reports that Kyaw Soe, the director-general of the Union Parliament, said journalists were being punished for taking the embarrassing images and for photographing military MPs casting votes.

Members of parliament were also angered in April when one media outlet published images of one military MP voting on behalf of an absent lawmaker.

Journalists have complained that they cannot properly report on proceedings in parliament as they are forced to rely on the live television feed. Others say authorities should address the issues being reported on, not punish the media.

While this week’s viral photographs are an embarrassment for Burmese lawmakers, dozing politicians are nothing new in the Southeast Asian nation.

In 2012, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to nod off during a historic speech by President Barack Obama.

Hillary Clinton appeared to doze off at a historic event in Burma in 2012.

Hillary Clinton appeared to doze off at a historic event in Burma in 2012.

The speech was given during the first-ever visit by a U.S. president to Burma, and it didn’t help matters that Clinton was sitting next to opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi at the time.

It was unclear Thursday whether reporters would regain access to the media observation room in the near future.

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India gets first transgender college principal http://asiancorrespondent.com/133194/india-gets-first-transgender-college-principal/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133194/india-gets-first-transgender-college-principal/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 02:18:10 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133194 Manobi Bandypadhyay. Image via Facebook.

Manobi Bandypadhyay. Image via Facebook.

It has been a big week for Manobi Bandypadhyay, who has finally realised her dream of becoming India’s first transgender principal after a years-long struggle.

Manor will will head the Krishnagar Women’s College in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. According to local official Dipak K. Kar, Banerjee is expected to start her new job on June 9.

Transgender activists have hailed the decision as a major step forward for a transgender community that usually faces widespread discrimination.

In 2006, after Manobi changed her gender and her name, authorities refused to recognise her new identity.

“There were taunts at work about my sex change. At home, my parents and siblings were worried sick whether my body would be able to cope with the changes,” she told the BBC.

With perseverence, things got better for Manobi as people came to terms with her new identity, which was eventually recognised by a new government in West Bengal in 2011.

While discrimination is still widespread, things have been looking up for India’s transgender people in recent years. In 2009, election authorities allowed transgenders to mark their gender as ‘other’ on voting forms.

Last year, India’s Supreme Court declared the transgender community as a legal third gender, granting them minority rights and privileges to education, employment and health benefits.

Manage, however, recognises that there is still a long way to go. She told the Times of India: “Even today parents think that this is a mental health issue. A few days back, a boy from Burdwan committed suicide when he couldn’t stand the pressure from his parents, who wanted him to take psychiatric help because he was a transgender.”

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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Chinese and US authors protest major book fair, censorship http://asiancorrespondent.com/133203/chinese-and-us-authors-protest-major-book-fair-censorship/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133203/chinese-and-us-authors-protest-major-book-fair-censorship/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 01:00:03 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133203 Publisher Bao Pu speaks to supporters at a literary protest and reading for silenced Chinese writers on the steps of the New York Public Library Wednesday. Pic: AP.

Publisher Bao Pu speaks to supporters at a literary protest and reading for silenced Chinese writers on the steps of the New York Public Library Wednesday. Pic: AP.

NEW YORK (AP) — Chinese and American authors are protesting a major U.S. book fair’s focus on China that they say ignores the country’s problems of censorship and intimidation.

Jonathan Franzen, Xiaolu Guo, Andrew Solomon, Ha Jin and others gathered Wednesday outside the main New York Public Library to demand China free Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and professor Ilham Tohti from prison and allow free speech.

Organizer PEN American Center says this week’s BookExpo America features a Chinese delegation hand-picked by the government.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman says the government protects citizens’ right to publish but those exercising that right must abide by Chinese law.

The BookExpo says it’s important for China to be allowed to engage in cultural and commercial exchange.

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Roads melt in India as heatwave death toll tops 1,100 http://asiancorrespondent.com/133175/roads-melt-in-india-as-heatwave-death-toll-tops-1100/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133175/roads-melt-in-india-as-heatwave-death-toll-tops-1100/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 23:42:20 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133175 An Indian man takes bath under the tap of a water tanker on a hot day in Ahmadabad, India. Pic: AP.

An Indian man takes bath under the tap of a water tanker on a hot day in Ahmadabad, India. Pic: AP.

More than 1,100 people have died in India in recent weeks that has seen temperatures approach 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

The heat is so intense in some areas that roads have begun to melt.

Temperatures, which are expected to drop later this week, have soared since mid-April. Officials said Tuesday that the southeastern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana have been hit the hardest.

More than 852 people have died from the stifling heat in Andhra Pradesh since May 13, a government statement said. In neighboring Telengana 266 have died from heat-related causes, Bhambal Ram Meena, a top official in the disaster management department, said.

IndiaHeatwaveRoadMelt

The Hindustan Times carried a frontpage image (above) showing a pedestrian crossing in Delhi melting in the heat.

Daily temperatures in both states have hit between 45 and 48 degrees Celsius (113 and 118 degrees Fahrenheit). Officials have urged people to stay indoors as much as possible.

“The majority of the victims are people who have been exposed to the sun directly, usually aged 50 and above and from the working classes,” P Tulsi Rani, special commissioner of Andhra Pradesh’s disaster management department, told AFP.

“We are asking them to take precautions like using an umbrella, using a cap, taking a huge quantity of liquids like water and buttermilk, and wearing cotton clothing.”

The arrival of monsoon rains should provide some relief to southern areas next week, but will take a few more weeks to make their way to northern India. There are fears that some areas will be hit be drought before the rains arrive.

A similar heatwave in 2010 killed around 300 people.

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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Buddhists in Burma deny boat people are Rohingya Muslims http://asiancorrespondent.com/133189/buddhists-in-burma-deny-boat-people-are-rohingya-muslims/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133189/buddhists-in-burma-deny-boat-people-are-rohingya-muslims/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 11:39:49 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133189 Nationalist Buddhist monks shout slogans during a protest rally in Yangon, Wednesday. Pic: AP.

Nationalist Buddhist monks shout slogans during a protest rally in Yangon, Wednesday. Pic: AP.

YANGON, Burma (AP) — Several hundred protesters in Burma’s main city are denying that boat people arriving on Southeast Asian shores are Rohingya Muslims, a religious minority the government and many others in the predominantly Buddhist nation say does not exist.

About 30 radical Buddhist monks led the rally Wednesday in Yangon. Protesters carried banners reading, “The boat people are not from Burma” and “The United Nations and the international media are making up stories!”

Burma has experienced a surge in Buddhist nationalism since it began moving from dictatorship toward democracy four years ago. Hundreds of Rohingya have been killed and 140,000 forced to flee their homes.

In recent weeks, 3,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis fleeing persecution and poverty at home have landed in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

MORE: US, Thailand begin search flights for stranded Rohingya migrants

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Singapore: Reform training sought for rogue teen Amos Yee over blog, video http://asiancorrespondent.com/133188/singapore-reform-training-sought-for-rogue-teen-amos-yee-over-blog-video/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133188/singapore-reform-training-sought-for-rogue-teen-amos-yee-over-blog-video/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 11:26:15 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133188 Singapore teen blogger Amos Yee, center, speaks to reporters while leaving the Subordinate Courts after being released on bail, Tuesday. Pic: AP.

Singapore teen blogger Amos Yee, center, speaks to reporters while leaving the Subordinate Courts after being released on bail, Tuesday. Pic: AP.

SINGAPORE (AP) — Prosecutors say they are seeking reform training for a Singapore teenager who is refusing probation and who made public again the video and blog posts a court deemed offensive earlier this month.

The court on May 12 found 16-year-old Amos Yee guilty of offending Christians in a YouTube video and transmitting online an obscene image of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher.

(READ MORE: Heavy sentence will send ‘chilling signal to society': Amos Yee’s lawyers)

Last Thursday, his case investigation officer discovered that Yee had made his offending video and blog post publicly viewable once again, actions which deputy public prosecutor Hay Hung Chun said were contemptuous of court.

Yee’s defense counsel asked for time to speak with Yee and his parents, and the judge is likely to decide on Yee’s next steps in court on Tuesday.

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Thailand revokes former PM Thaksin’s passports http://asiancorrespondent.com/133186/thailand-revokes-former-pm-thaksins-passports/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133186/thailand-revokes-former-pm-thaksins-passports/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 10:02:23 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133186
Thaksin Shinawatra

Thaksin Shinawatra. Pic: AP.

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai authorities have revoked two passports belonging to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra following an interview he gave in South Korea last week.

The foreign ministry said Wednesday that police advised them that the passports be canceled because the interview could impact Thailand’s “security, safety and pride.”

In an interview with the South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper that was widely circulated in Thai media, Thaksin suggested that Thailand’s Privy Council, which advises the nation’s constitutional monarch, had engineered months of anti-government protests that culminated in a May 2014 coup.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief, has insisted he staged the coup himself.

Thaksin was ousted in another coup in 2006, and has lived in exile since being convicted on corruption charges in 2008.

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Pakistan detains owner of alleged ‘fake degree’ mill http://asiancorrespondent.com/133183/pakistan-detains-owner-of-alleged-fake-degree-mill/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133183/pakistan-detains-owner-of-alleged-fake-degree-mill/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 09:06:00 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133183 ...

Axact chairman and CEO Shoaib Sheikh.

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A senior Pakistani security official says investigators have detained the owner of a software company accused of running a global network in selling fake degrees.

Shahid Hayat said on Wednesday that authorities also seized hundreds of thousands of fake degrees from an Axact company office in the southwestern port city of Karachi.

Pakistani authorities are investigating the company and its owner, Shoaib Sheikh, on charges of marketing online degrees from nonexistent schools and universities.

Axact is said to have made millions of dollars from the scam and was supposedly going to launch a TV channel in Pakistan when a New York Times report exposed the alleged fraud earlier this month.

Hayat says Sheikh and several others were detained after the case was registered on charges of fraud, forgery and cybercrime. The company has repeatedly denied what it calls “baseless” allegations.

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US, Thailand begin search flights for stranded Rohingya migrants http://asiancorrespondent.com/133182/us-thailand-begin-search-flights-for-stranded-rohingya-migrants/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133182/us-thailand-begin-search-flights-for-stranded-rohingya-migrants/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 05:57:56 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133182 Migrants wait to be be rescued by Acehnese fishermen on their boat on the sea off East Aceh, Indonesia, last week. Pic: AP.

Migrants wait to be be rescued by Acehnese fishermen on their boat on the sea off East Aceh, Indonesia, last week. Pic: AP.

Thailand and the United States have begun military surveillance flights in a race against time to locate stranded Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants stranded on rickety boats in the Andaman Sean and the Bay of Bengal.

U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Tuesday that U.S. Navy P8 aircraft flew over the weekend with Malaysian support.

More than 3,500 migrants have already landed in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand this month, but thousands more are believed to be trapped at sea in boats abandoned by their captains.

Human traffickers have also abandoned jungle camps on land. Malaysia was exhuming remains Tuesday from graves at a suspected transit point used by traffickers near the Thai border.

The sea search operation is especially difficult as many of the migrant boats resemble the thousands of fishing vessels in the region. Harrowing testimonies from surviving migrants have emerged describing people dying from starvation, dehydration and disease on the boats and being thrown overboard.

Human Rights Watch published the harrowing accounts of some survivors this week:

One Rohingya girl told Human Rights Watch: “We spent two months on that boat, more people kept coming to the big boat, small boats all the time. We [the women] were under the boat, it was so small. I couldn’t see outside the boat, just feel it go up and down. People were throwing up, I felt dizzy and uncomfortable the whole time.”

Another Rohingya girl said: “When I got to the big boat … I cannot explain my feeling I was so scared. We were about 16 people in one small room. The doors were always locked. The smugglers put the food and water through a small hole, we never saw them.”

Efforts to save the migrants have been stepped up since Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to offer them temporary asylum.

Thailand said Tuesday it had begun air reconnaissance missions looking for stranded migrant boats in the Andaman Sea.

Thailand is hosting a regional meeting on the crisis in Bangkok on Friday.

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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George W. Bush writes letter of support to jailed Burmese student http://asiancorrespondent.com/133180/george-w-bush-writes-letter-of-support-to-jailed-burmese-student/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133180/george-w-bush-writes-letter-of-support-to-jailed-burmese-student/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 05:12:41 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133180 George W Bush

Former U.S. President George W. Bush. Pic: AP.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush has written a letter of support to a student protester jailed after a violent crackdown on student protests in Burma (Myanmar) earlier this year.

Phyeo Phyeo Aung was among thousands of students who embarked on a weeks-long protest against Burma’s controversial education law.

The protests, which began late last year, ended badly for the students when a stand-off with authorities descended into chaos and violence in Letpadan in early March.

(MORE: Shocking images, videos emerge from brutal student crackdown in Burma)

Phyeo Phyeo Aung, general secretary for the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions and a member of the Bush Institute’s Youth and Leadership Forum, was one of many students arrested in Letpadan that day and has been languishing in jail ever since.

In a letter of support written earlier this month, Bush offers words of encouragement to the jailed student.

“We admire your courage and your passion for bringing about a transparent and accountable education system in Burma. We stand with you and hope that you will soon be released,” he  wrote.

A photograph of the letter was tweeted by ‘Democratic Voice of Burma’ journalist Angus Watson Tuesday:

The trial of 70 students arrested in the crackdown began earlier this month.

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Johnny Depp could face 10 years in jail for bringing dogs into Australia http://asiancorrespondent.com/133178/johnny-depp-could-face-10-years-in-jail-for-bringing-dogs-into-australia/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133178/johnny-depp-could-face-10-years-in-jail-for-bringing-dogs-into-australia/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 04:25:54 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133178 Johnny Depp. Pic: AP.

Johnny Depp. Pic: AP.

Australian officials say Johnny Depp could face 10 years behind bars or a AUS$340,000 (US$264,000) fine for smuggling his dogs into the country.

The Hollywood star brought the two Yorkshire terriers – Pistol and Boo – into Australia on a private jet earlier this month.

When their presence in the country was revealed on Facebook Australia’s Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce ordered that they be flown back to the US or be put down.

He had this to say at the time: “If we start letting movie stars even though they’ve been the ‘sexiest man alive’ twice to come into our nation, then why don’t we just break the laws for everybody?

“It’s time that Pistol and Boo buggered off back to the United States.”

Depp, who is in Australia to film the next installment in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ series, duly obliged.

Politicians in Australia, however, aren’t letting the matter go. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a Senate hearing this week turned its attention to the high profile case, where it was agreed to be a “very serious” matter. One committee member went so far as to describe it as a “complete balls up”.

The pilot of the jet could face a two year prison term.

Depp’s representatives quashed rumors last week that the actor had walked out of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ set.

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UN official: Nepal quake victims need shelter before rains http://asiancorrespondent.com/133173/un-official-nepal-quake-victims-need-shelter-before-rains/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133173/un-official-nepal-quake-victims-need-shelter-before-rains/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 03:17:05 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133173 Nepalese people, whose homes was damaged in the April 25 earthquake, construct a temporary shelter made out of galvanized sheet in Bhaktapur. Pic: AP.

Nepalese people, whose homes was damaged in the April 25 earthquake, construct a temporary shelter made out of galvanized sheet in Bhaktapur. Pic: AP.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A senior U.N. official who just returned from Nepal says the top priority now is finding temporary housing for hundreds of thousands of people before monsoon rains begin.

The rainy season in South Asia runs from June through September and Magdy Martinez-Soliman, assistant administrator of the U.N. Development Program, said “it’s a daunting task” to protect half a million families from the monsoons and the coming winter.

Martinez-Soliman said Tuesday a major assessment of damage and reconstruction needs is currently underway by experts from the World Bank, UNDP, the European Union and many other organizations.

While most photos have focused on devastated urban areas, Martinez-Soliman said “the disaster is predominantly rural.”

He said the main losses are 500,000-600,000 homes that are destroyed or unsafe as a result of damage.

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Top study destinations in Canada – your home away from home http://asiancorrespondent.com/133166/top-study-destinations-in-canada-your-home-away-from-home/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133166/top-study-destinations-in-canada-your-home-away-from-home/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 22:51:28 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133166 In an increasingly globalised world the opportunities for travel, to study or work abroad, are immeasurable and ever increasing. Destination choice has boomed within the last few decades and now wannabe travellers can fulfil their dreams in every corner of the earth. But if you are looking to study or work abroad, how do you go about picking your destination? Researching every school, university and college in the world is just an impossible and endless task, but at the other end of the spectrum closing your eyes and pointing wildly at a map is not going to get you very far either!

Canada - a stunning and awe inspiring place to study. Pic: Camosun College.

Canada – a stunning and awe inspiring place to study. Pic: Camosun College.

When making the all-important decision of where to relocate your life in order to pursue your dreams of study, there are several important factors to take into consideration – what is the quality of life like in the area, are the living costs affordable, are there employment opportunities, does the environment match your preferences and interests – cosmopolitan cities or stunning landscapes? Then there’s the course or program itself – knowing that you’re getting a high quality education from a respected institution, and coming out the other side as a highly employable graduate makes all the difference. These are all important points to consider, because if you’re going to take the leap to study abroad then you want to get it right, to make it the unforgettable experience of a lifetime that it should be!

Whilst destinations like the USA and Europe may always be popular, for their well-known universities and cities, it always pays to look past that initial bubble, to dig a little deeper, and for those that do they are aptly rewarded. For many years now Canada has been growing as a superb destination for international study. Not only does Canada boast a world-class community of education institutions, on the forefront of research, teaching excellence and with highly employable graduates, but it also plays host to some of the most stunning and diverse study destinations in the world.

Canada is known for its beauty and diversity – from ski slopes and impressive mountain ranges to rolling prairies and buzzing cities, Canada truly has something for everyone. The people are well known for their friendly and tolerant nature and the society benefits from high levels of multiculturalism and diversity. The country speaks both English and French, with official bilingual status. Canada is home to 3 of the world’s top 12 best students cities – Montréal, based in the French speaking province of Quebec, is known for its status as the cultural capital of Canada with its unique mix of European sophistication and American energy; Toronto, the largest city in Canada, is one of the world’s most multicultural cities and is a hotspot for entertainment, media and creative industries; and Vancouver provides the perfect combination of city living and outdoor adventure, with British Columbia being a fantastic, affordable, friendly and beautiful place to visit and study in.

Study in Canada. Pic: Camosun College

Study in Canada. Pic: Camosun College

Education in Canada is first rate and is known globally for its quality and excellence. The education system puts Canada firmly on the map for its highly distinctive nature. In Canada, education is within provincial jurisdiction and the curriculum is overseen by each province, with minimal Federal involvement. This results in different education laws and systems seen in each of the provinces and territories, with different courses & levels offered and differing course durations. Undergraduate degrees can take 3 or 4 years, depending on the institutions, whilst postgraduate study lasts between 1 and 3 years.

Many provinces foster wide support of articulation and credit transfer across courses and institutions, promoting transparency in program recognition and facilitating the mobility of qualified individuals. Quebec differs greatly from the other provinces in terms of their education system, with a structure that is more akin to that of the USA, with different term times and length of study.

Aside from the distinct nature of the education system, Canadian education makes its mark on a global scale for its innovation and quality. In 1875 Mount Allison University in New Brunswick was the first university in the British Empire to award a baccalaureate degree to a woman, Grace Annie Lockhart, who received a Bachelor of Science and English Literature, and who earned her place in the history of revolutionary education. To this day Canada still prides itself in forward thinking education and leading institutions, with 3 universities ranking within the world’s top 50 and 10 in the top 200 – an accolade only matched by a handful of other countries. Ontario and British Columbia are the current powerhouses of Canadian education, representing 1/3 of all higher education institutions between them.

Rich countryside and buzzing cities. Pic: Carleton University

Rich countryside and buzzing cities. Pic: Carleton University

There is also great variety in subjects of study available in Canada, with aboriginal studies being widely offered in locations such as Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and areas of British Columbia. Many institutions have a specific focus on indigenous culture, an area that is close to the heart of Canadian communities.

For those considering studying abroad, who are yet to make up their minds on the destination dilemma, Canada represents a strong choice. Not only can students choose from varied and exciting programs of study at world-class and highly respected institutions, but they can also benefit from affordable tuition fees & living costs, awe inspiring & diverse scenery, and a welcoming & friendly community. So if you find yourself with the world at your feet but with no idea how to choose which direction to travel in, put your best foot forward and set your course for Canada!

Read on for more information about some of the top choices for education in Canada:

CAMOSUN COLLEGE – VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Located in stunning Victoria, British Columbia, Camosun College is a progressive post-secondary institution, highly regarded for its quality programming, professional and experienced staff, and most of all the dedication to its students and their pursuit to become qualified in their passions. Camosun College welcomes over 1,100 international students each year from over 40 countries and over 1,100 Aboriginal students from over 50 nations. Students join a community of 18,000 learners across a range of 160 innovative certificate, diploma, bachelor’s degree and continuing education programs. Read the full profile…

MOUNT ROYAL UNIVERSITY – CALGARY, ALBERTA
Mount Royal University was established more than 100 years ago in 1910. Today, around 12,000 students gather each year to follow a variety of programs and courses, featuring primarily undergraduate degrees, with a limited number of diplomas and post-degree certificates. Mount Royal prides itself on delivering a highly personalised education to students from all over the world, with particular emphasis on student support to help students meet their academic goals. International students choose Mount Royal for its friendly campus, hands-on learning techniques and small class sizes. Courses combine real-world experience with academic study, and often include the opportunity to incorporate work placements, internships, practicums and community service learning.

CARLETON UNIVERSITY – OTTAWA, ONTARIO
Carleton University is a diverse and inclusive institution providing high-quality education to students from more than 140 countries. Carleton’s wide range of academic programs, beautiful campus and cosmopolitan city make for an extraordinary place for international students to come and live and study. Carleton offers 65 programs of study in areas as diverse as public affairs, journalism, film studies, engineering, high technology and international studies. More than 2,000 professors and staff members constitute a diverse and dedicated team serving 28,000 students. Carleton’s creative, interdisciplinary and international approach to research has led to many significant discoveries and creative works in science and technology, business, governance, public policy and the arts.

 UNIVERSITÉ LAVAL – QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC
Université Laval, located in Quebec, is the oldest centre of education in Canada and was the first institution in North America to offer higher education in French. The mission of the university is training, equipping, and guiding the decision makers of tomorrow. Through the advancement and sharing of knowledge, its culture of excellence, and its global outlook, Université Laval’s academic community contributes to the development and international profile of Quebec. Still today, with the world at a crossroads, Université Laval plays a bigger role than ever in Québec City and on the national and international scene, both as a catalyst for change and a visionary institution where knowledge, curiosity, and innovation are part of everyday life.

UNIVERSITY OF THE FRASER VALLEY – BRITISH COLUMBIA
Located in the beautiful Fraser Valley just east of Vancouver, British Columbia, the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) is a fully accredited, public university that welcomes 15,000 students each year. UFV has campuses and locations in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, Hope and Agassiz, and is recognized nationally for student success, an excellent learning environment, creative integration of programming, and work with local communities. UFV is large enough to offer variety, yet with small class sizes that allow students to get to know their instructors and learn in a hands-on environment. More than 100 programs are offered, including two master’s degrees, 15 bachelor’s degrees, majors, minors, and extended minors in more than 30 subject areas, plus more than a dozen trades and technology programs.

UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA – OTTAWA, ONTARIO
The University of Ottawa (uOttawa) is ranked among the top 2% of universities worldwide, and among the top 10 most research-intensive universities in Canada. The institution, at a crossroads of cultures, languages and perspectives, is the largest French-English bilingual university in the world, meaning that students can study in English, in French, or in both languages. uOttawa is home to 10 faculties that offer more than 450 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs to over 43,000 students from across Canada and 150 countries.

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Cambodian court acquits Ukraine lawmaker of rape http://asiancorrespondent.com/133162/cambodian-court-acquits-ukraine-lawmaker-of-rape/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133162/cambodian-court-acquits-ukraine-lawmaker-of-rape/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 11:18:36 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133162 Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian court has acquitted a senior Ukrainian lawmaker of rape in a case he says was cooked up by political opponents.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court says Mykola Kniazhytsky is not guilty of raping a teenage woman in 2011. The case drew a brief flurry of media interest in Ukraine after Interpol issued a red notice seeking the lawmaker’s arrest back in March.

Kniazhytsky, a fierce critic of Moscow who chairs the Ukrainian parliament’s culture and faith committee, says he wasn’t in Cambodia on the day of the alleged assault and accuses opponents aligned with Russia of trying to blacken his reputation.

He said Tuesday that the Cambodian verdict “is a relief for my mother and my wife.”

The court said the plaintiff has a month to appeal its ruling.

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Controversial Philippines Mayor Rodrigo Duterte hits back at critics http://asiancorrespondent.com/133161/controversial-philippines-mayor-duterte-hits-back-at-critics/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133161/controversial-philippines-mayor-duterte-hits-back-at-critics/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 10:51:06 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133161 Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Pic: AP.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Pic: Edwin Espejo.

Days after a New York-based human rights group issued a call for the Philippine government to investigate him, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte dared his critics to directly file criminal cases against him in court.

The catch, however, is that they will have to face him in court.

Duterte has been linked to a clandestine assassination squad that has been targeting criminals and known drug pushers in Davao City. He is rumored to have once pushed a drug dealer out of a flying helicopter.

“I will cross examine. Each and every case of 1,000 deaths. I will let you s**t in your pants. You want to experience it? Come to Davao and take hold of shabu (methamphetamine). I will execute you in front of city hall,” said the mayor who has been described by Time magazine as ‘The Punisher’.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) however said, “Duterte’s public support for the extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals should prompt a long overdue investigation into Duterte’s possible role in those deaths.”

“Duterte has a long history of inflammatory public statements that would seem to encourage the extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals,” HRW added in a press statement.

HRW claimed more than 1,000 people had been executed in Davao City since the late 1990s.

(READ MORE: A man of many names: Davao’s controversial, colorful Mayor Duterte)

“The Philippine government should take a zero-tolerance approach to any public official who publicly endorses extrajudicial killings as an acceptable means of crime control,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Duterte, a former city prosecutor, has been mayor of the Philippine southern city for more than 20 years.

The controversial Philippine mayor has been making inroads in Philippine national politics after he crashed into the list of probable presidential candidates next year.

He is advocating federalism in his ‘listening tour’ that has brought him to several key cities in the country, including a quick visit to the large community of overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong.

He is running third in at least two major polling firms making surveys on probable presidential candidates.

His supporters have been pushing Duterte to announce his presidential bid but the mayor has been playing coy.

(READ MORE: Southern Philippines Mayor Duterte emerges as presidential prospect)

The Davao City mayor once said he will rebel against his own government if elected president.

“I will declare a revolutionary government,” he previously declared.

On Sunday during his regular TV program, he said he will turn Manila Bay into a dumping ground of executed criminals and thugs.

“I don’t want to be president. I don’t want to kill people. So don’t elect me as president,” Duterte added.

Despite his links to extrajudicial killings that have already spread in major cities and urban centers in the country, Duterte still enjoys popular support of Davao residents and is believed to corner the bulk of Mindanao votes should he run for president.

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Malaysian police find body at abandoned border trafficking camp http://asiancorrespondent.com/133158/malaysian-police-find-body-at-abandoned-border-trafficking-camp/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133158/malaysian-police-find-body-at-abandoned-border-trafficking-camp/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 10:03:51 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133158 An abandoned cage is photographed at a camp found in Wang Burma at the Malaysia-Thailand border outside Wang Kelian, Malaysia on Tuesday. Pic: AP.

An abandoned cage is photographed at a camp found in Wang Burma at the Malaysia-Thailand border outside Wang Kelian, Malaysia on Tuesday. Pic: AP.

Malaysian forensics teams given the grim task of exhuming 140 suspected graves say they have found one body at an abandoned jungle trafficking camp on the border with Thailand.

The operation follows a similar discovery earlier this month by police in Thailand who unearthed dozens of bodies from shallow graves on the Thai side of the border.

The graves are suspected to contain the bodies of Rohingya Muslim migrants who were held in the jungle camps for ransom by trafficking syndicates. Authorities say the camps were abandoned as little as a fortnight ago.

Police official Mohammad Bahar Alias told reporters at the site that the exhumed corpse would be sent to a hospital in northern Perlis state for a post mortem.

The camp also contained what police called “human cages” made of wood and barbed wire that were likely used to hold migrants.

(READ MORE: Will Aung San Suu Kyi break her silence on Burma’s Rohingya crisis?)

Authorities believe that some of the graves may contain more than one body, which could push the death toll significantly higher than 140.

The years-long plight of the Rohingya has returned to international headlines in recent weeks, as thousands remain at sea on rickety boats after fleeing persecution from Buddhists in Burma (Myanmar). An estimated 3,500 have come ashore recently in Malaysia and Indonesia, which have offered them temporary asylum, though the lives of those that remain in sea are at serious risk, human rights groups have warned.

A Muslim official gives water to a Rohingya survivor from a detention camp near the Thai-Malaysian border, in a hospital in Padang Besar, Songkhla province, southern Thailand, earlier this month. Pic: AP.

A Muslim official gives water to a Rohingya survivor from a detention camp near the Thai-Malaysian border, in a hospital in Padang Besar, Songkhla province, southern Thailand, earlier this month. Pic: AP.

Those that chose the overland route to Malaysia through Burma and Thailand faced an entirely different set of dangers to those that travel by boat. TIME reports: “Often, according to TIME interviews with more than 20 Rohingya who have taken the same trafficking route through Thailand into Malaysia, the agreed-upon price for the journey is jettisoned once the victims reach the jungle camps on the border. There, they are essentially held to ransom until family members either back home or in Malaysia pay much higher sums. Food is scarce and beatings common, say survivors.”

Many of those victims found at the Thailand trafficking camp are believed to have died from disease or starvation.

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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Massive heatwave kills more than 700 in India http://asiancorrespondent.com/133154/india-heatwave/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133154/india-heatwave/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 09:21:41 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133154 A man finds a novel way to cool off at a railway station in Jammu. Pic: AP.

A man finds a novel way to cool off at a railway station in Jammu. Pic: AP.

More than 700 people are reported to have died in a heatwave that has swept across India in the past week.

The southeast of the country has been hardest hit, with authorities in Andhra Pradesh reporting more than 550 heat-related deaths in the past four to five days.

India recorded its highest maximum temperature of 47 degrees Celsius – 117 degrees Fahrenheit – at Angul in Odisha on Monday, CNN reported.

However, other sources said that day temperatures in Telangana’s Khammam district soared to more than 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit) on Saturday.

Officials say they expect the death toll to rise in the coming days.

“The majority of the victims are people who have been exposed to the sun directly, usually aged 50 and above and from the working classes,” P Tulsi Rani, special commissioner of Andhra Pradesh’s disaster management department, told AFP.

“We are asking them to take precautions like using an umbrella, using a cap, taking a huge quantity of liquids like water and buttermilk, and wearing cotton clothing.”

Poorer people have been hardest hit by the heatwave, with many of the victims believed to be beggars and homeless, while those working in direct sunlight are also at risk.

Temperatures are not expected to drop until later this week, with some meteorologists predicting they will rise again before the monsoon rains hit. The rains should provide some relief to southern areas next week, but will take a few more weeks to make their way to northern India.

Health authorities have asked people not to go outside at midday to avoid getting sunstroke due to high temperatures and blistering winds.

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China downplays South China Sea island reclamation project http://asiancorrespondent.com/133153/china-downplays-south-china-sea-island-reclamation-project/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133153/china-downplays-south-china-sea-island-reclamation-project/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 05:44:15 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133153 A Chinese vessel, top center, is used to expand structures and land on the Johnson Reef, called Mabini by the Philippines and Chigua by China, at the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Pic: AP.

A Chinese vessel, top center, is used to expand structures and land on the Johnson Reef, called Mabini by the Philippines and Chigua by China, at the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Pic: AP.

BEIJING (AP) — China is comparing its controversial island reclamation project in the South China Sea to ordinary construction going on in other parts of the country, such as the building of roads and apartments.

Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun on Tuesday said the issue has been exaggerated by those seeking an excuse to take unspecified actions in response — a clear reference to the United States.

Yang’s comments follow an incident last week in which a Chinese navy dispatcher warned-off a US Navy P8-A Poseidon surveillance aircraft as it flew over Fiery Cross Reef, where China has conducted extensive reclamation work. The U.S. crew replied that they were in international airspace.

Yang said surveillance activities have been growing in frequency but declined to say what additional measures China might take in response.

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Malaysia denies entry to Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong http://asiancorrespondent.com/133151/malaysia-denies-entry-to-hong-kong-student-activist-joshua-wong/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/133151/malaysia-denies-entry-to-hong-kong-student-activist-joshua-wong/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 05:15:00 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=133151 Prominent Hong Kong student protest leader Joshua Wong. Pic: AP.

Prominent Hong Kong student protest leader Joshua Wong. Pic: AP.

Malaysian immigration officials have denied entry to Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong after he was detained on arrival at Penang Airport Tuesday morning.

Wong, who was a key figure in Hong Kong’s ‘umbrella revolution’ protests late last year, had reportedly traveled to Malaysia to speak at a number of forums ahead of next month’s Tiananmen Square anniversary.

The local English-language news outlet  tweeted: ‘Wong claimed he was dragged away by officers, was heard “don’t use violence”’, later tweeting:

Wong confirmed on his Twitter account that he was not allowed to enter Malaysia because of a “government order”.

He also reportedly sent a voice message to Hong Kong media before he boarded his return flight, saying: “Today I was invited by the civil society in Malaysia to share my experience and my views on the Umbrella movement and the June 4 incident. Now the Malaysian government has denied me entry and demanded I return to Hong Kong. I’m getting on the return flight.”

Wong, 18, who has kept a low profile since his role in the 79-day Occupy sit-ins in Hong Kong, announced at the weekend that that he will serve a new term as head of the ‘Scholarism’ group he founded to fight national education in Hong Kong’s schools.

The exact reason a “government order” was issued to prevent him from entering Malaysia was unclear at the time of writing.

The teenager has certainly been a thorn in the side of authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing. In 2012 he led more than 100,000 on the streets of Hong Kong to protest against mandatory nationalistic education.  Wong won that battle, with Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung backing down on the planned education reforms.

Last year’s universal suffrage protests didn’t result in such a clear cut victory, but Wong certainly unsettled the powers that be in Beijing, with state media branding him an “extremist”.

In Hong Kong, though, he is considered a superstar by many and it could be this popularity, as well as his ability to rally massive crowds to his causes, that unnerved the Malaysian government.

Speculation was rife on Twitter Tuesday as to why Wong had been denied entry, with many reacting angrily to his detention and deportation:

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