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Top Asian News 4:16 a.m. GMT

March 21, 2021 GMT

Thai police use tear gas, rubber bullets to break up protest

BANGKOK (AP) — Police in the Thai capital used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets Saturday night to break up a rally by pro-democracy protesters calling for the release of detained activists, constitutional changes and reform of the nation’s monarchy. The rally held outside Bangkok’s Grand Palace was a continuation of student-led protests that began last year and have rattled Thailand’s traditional establishment, which is fiercely opposed to change, especially with regard to the monarchy. The rally organizers had said they planned to have demonstrators throw paper planes with messages over the palace walls. The demonstrators, who numbered close to 1,000, managed to break through a barrier made of shipping containers outside the ceremonial palace stacked two high.

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After testy meeting, China says will discuss climate with US

BEIJING (AP) — China said Saturday it had agreed with the U.S. to take up climate change and a handful of other issues, a sign of small but possible progress at recently concluded talks that were otherwise marked by acrimonious public exchanges over the divisions between the world’s two largest economies. China’s official Xinhua News Agency said in a dispatch from Alaska, where the two-day meeting wrapped up Friday, that China and the U.S. had decided to set up a working group on climate change and hold talks “to facilitate activities of ... diplomatic and consular missions” and on issues related to each other’s journalists.

Wary Philippines says 200 Chinese vessels at disputed reef

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government expressed concern after spotting more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels it believed were crewed by militias at a reef claimed by both countries in the South China Sea, but it did not immediately lodge a protest. A government body overseeing the disputed region said late Saturday that about 220 Chinese vessels were seen moored at Whitsun Reef on March 7. It released pictures of the vessels lying side by side in one of the most hotly contested areas of the strategic waterway. The reef, which Manila calls Julian Felipe, is a boomerang-shaped and shallow coral region about 175 nautical miles (324 kilometers) west of Bataraza town in the western Philippine province of Palawan.

Strong quake shakes Japan; minor injuries, no major damage

TOKYO (AP) — A strong earthquake struck Saturday off northern Japan, shaking buildings even in Tokyo and triggering a tsunami advisory for a part of the northern coast. No major damage was reported, but several people had minor injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey put the strength of the quake at magnitude 7.0 and depth at 54 kilometers (33.5 miles). The shaking started just before 6:10 p.m. The quake was centered off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, in the country’s rugged northeast, which was heavily damaged during the huge earthquake and tsunami of 2011 that left more than 18,000 people dead. Japan’s Meteorological Agency issued an advisory for a tsunami up to 1 meter (yard) in height for Miyagi prefecture immediately after the quake, but lifted it about 90 minutes later.

UN official: Myanmar people want UN sanctions, peacekeepers

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The people of Myanmar have huge expectations from the United Nations and the international community following the Feb. 1 coup, with many calling for sanctions and some urging the U.N. to send peacekeepers to stop the killings of peaceful protesters seeking a return to democracy, the top U.N. official in the country said Friday. Acting resident and humanitarian coordinator Andrew Kirkwood said in a video briefing to U.N. reporters from Myanmar’s largest city Yangon that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and other U.N. officials have been very consistent about what’s really needed: “collective member state actions in the Security Council.”

Striking Myanmar rail workers move out as protests continue

MANDALAY, Myanmar (AP) — Residents of Myanmar’s second-biggest city helped striking railway workers move out of their state-supplied housing Saturday after the authorities said they would have to leave if they kept supporting the protest movement against last month’s military coup. Mandalay residents carried the workers’ furniture and other household items to trucks, van and pickup trucks. The state railway workers last month went on strike as key and early supporters of the civil disobedience movement against the Feb. 1 coup that toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The military regime has sought to force them back to work through intimidation, which included a nighttime, gun-firing patrol last month through their housing area in Mandalay and a raid in the railway workers’ housing area in Yangon.

Pakistan Prime Minister Khan tests positive for coronavirus

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has tested positive for the coronavirus two days after he received his first vaccine dose, officials announced Saturday. Dr. Faisal Sultan, Khan’s special assistant on health, said the prime minister has quarantined himself at his private home on a hilltop in an Islamabad suburb. The government tweeted a statement from Sultan saying the vaccine had not been effective because Khan had received it so recently, and it was only the first of two required doses. There has been a spike in COVID-19 cases in the capital and in eastern and northern Pakistan, where authorities on Saturday reported daily totals of 42 new deaths and 3,876 new coronavirus infections.

India, US to expand military engagement, defense ties

NEW DELHI (AP) — Top defense officials from India and the United States pledged Saturday to expand their military engagement, underscoring the strengthening defense ties between two countries concerned over China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh met in New Delhi and agreed to deepen defense cooperation, intelligence sharing and logistics. “India is an increasingly important partner in rapidly shifting international dynamics. I reaffirm our commitment to a comprehensive forward-looking defense partnership with India as a central pillar of our approach to the Indo-Pacific region,” Austin said. Austin is making the first visit to India by a top member of President Joe Biden’s administration.

Maine’s baby eel fishermen hope for normalcy in 2021

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine’s baby eel fishermen are hopeful for a more stable season in 2021 as they seek one of the most valuable natural resources in New England. The fishermen seek the eels, called elvers, so they can be sold as seedstock to Asian aquaculture companies. They are then raised to maturity and sold as food, such as sushi. Maine has the only significant fishery for the eels in the U.S., and they sometimes fetch more than $2,000 per pound. The season starts Monday, just over a year after the coronavirus pandemic upended the 2020 season. Prices for the eels plummeted last year because of disruption to the worldwide economy caused by the early stages of the pandemic.

Bus crash in central Sri Lanka kills 14 people, injures 31

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A passenger bus plunged off a road in central Sri Lanka on Saturday, killing 14 people and injuring more than 30. Police said the bus fell off a precipice near the town of Passara, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) east of Colombo, its stated destination. Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said an initial investigation indicated driver negligence caused the accident. The driver was among the dead. Local media reported more than 70 passengers were on the bus.