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Top Asian News 3:15 a.m. GMT

November 20, 2021 GMT

Bowing to protests, India’s Modi agrees to repeal farm laws

NEW DELHI (AP) — In a major reversal, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Friday that he would repeal the controversial agriculture laws that sparked yearlong protests from tens of thousands of farmers and posed a significant challenge to his administration. Farmers, who form one of India’s most influential voting blocs, have camped out on the outskirts of the capital since November of last year to demand the withdrawal of the laws, which they feared would dramatically reduce their incomes. Modi’s surprise decision, in a televised national address, came ahead of elections early next year in key states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab that are significant agricultural producers and where his Bharatiya Janata Party is eager to shore up its support.

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EXPLAINER: Why did Modi repeal India farm laws after a year?

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise announcement Friday that he will withdraw agriculture laws that triggered a year of farmer protests, in what is seen as a major climbdown by his government. The nationwide demonstrations were the biggest challenge faced to date by his government. Experts say elections could be a major reason behind the sudden decision. ___ WHY DID MODI’S GOVERNMENT WITHDRAW THE LAWS? Experts say elections are a major reason. Farmers form the most influential voting bloc in India and politicians have long considered it unwise to alienate them. They are also particularly important to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party but have been up in arms since the laws were passed in September last year.

China says ‘not aware’ of tennis player Peng Shuai issue

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BEIJING (AP) — China’s Foreign Ministry stuck to its line Friday that it wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding Peng Shuai, the tennis professional who disappeared after accusing a former top official of sexually assaulting her. Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters the matter was “not a diplomatic question and I’m not aware of the situation.” The ministry has consistently disavowed knowledge of the issue since Peng made her accusation more than two weeks ago. The 35-year-old former top-ranked player in women’s doubles won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. Peng also participated in three Olympics, making her disappearance all the more prominent with Beijing set to host the Winter Games starting Feb.

Wife of jailed ex-Interpol chief says friend risks same fate

LYON, France (AP) — The wife of the former Interpol president who disappeared in Beijing in 2018 and was imprisoned says she fears that a similar fate could await China’s latest candidate for a role with the international police body. China confirmed this week that it intends to seek a seat on Interpol’s 13-member governing body, but didn’t say who its candidate will be. Overseas lawmakers and rights activists fearful that China wants to use Interpol’s reach and influence to pursue critics in exile said the candidate is a senior Chinese police official, Hu Binchen. The wife of imprisoned former Interpol President Meng Hongwei, Grace Meng, told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that she and her husband know Hu well and that they were friends.

EXPLAINER: What drives high-profile disappearances in China

BEIJING (AP) — The disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai in China following her accusation of sexual assault against a former top Communist Party official has shined a spotlight on similar cases involving political dissidents, entertainers, business leaders and others who have run afoul of the authorities. A look at those cases and the background on such actions. ___ WHAT HAPPENED TO PENG SHUAI? Despite an outcry in the tennis world and global media, Chinese officials have not directly addressed the accusation posted online by Grand Slam doubles champion Peng more than two weeks ago. Peng said she was sexually assaulted by Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and member of the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

Voters cast ballots in bellwether Malaysian state election

Malacca, Malaysia (AP) — Voters wearing masks cast their ballots on Saturday in a Malaysian state election that pits Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s Malay party against its allies in the government for the first time amid a widening rift. The poll in southern Malacca state is seen as a bellwether for voting behavior that could shape political alliances in national elections, which are not due until 2023 but are widely expected to be called next year. The state poll will see a three-way fight between a camp led by Ismail’s United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, another by ally parties Bersatu and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, and the opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim.

Key aid group says Afghanistan’s most pressing need is cash

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Afghanistan is facing a looming humanitarian crisis as aid organizations struggle with ways to pay doctors, nurses and others on the ground because there is currently no way to transfer salaries to bank accounts there, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said. ICRC President Peter Maurer’s comments echo those of the U.N.’s special representative for Afghanistan, who warned this week that the country is “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe” and that its collapsing economy is heightening the risk of extremism. The country’s economy is estimated to have contracted by 40% since the Taliban took control in August.

Pakistan drops draft on chemical castration for rapists

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistani government dropped a controversial clause allowing for chemical castration of convicted rapists from a proposed bill, after a council of clerics said such a punishment was against Islam, a lawmaker from the ruling party said Friday. Maleeka Bukhari from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party said the state-run clerical council, which advises the government on religious issues, had at the last minute advised that the clause be deleted. The clause was dropped before the draft bill was sent to parliament for voting, she added. Earlier on Wednesday, the government had backed dozens of bills in a hurry, and some local media incorrectly reported that the castration clause was approved.

Pakistan again lifts ban, fourth so far, on China’s TikTok

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s media regulating authority on Friday again lifted a ban on TikTok, this time after four months, following assurances from the popular Chinese video-sharing service that it would control the spread of indecent content. It was the fourth time in the past 15 months that Pakistan Telecommunication Authority imposed and lifted such a ban. Pakistan first blocked TikTok, which is very popular among Pakistani teens and young adults, in October 2020 over what it described as widespread complaints about allegedly “immoral, obscene and vulgar” content on the app. The regulatory agency said in a statement on Twitter that TikTok had assured Pakistan it would also block users who upload “unlawful content.” The app, owned by China’s ByteDance, has been downloaded almost 39 million times in Pakistan.

Thailand’s festival honoring rivers also pollutes them

BANGKOK (AP) — Thais flocked to rivers and lakes on Friday to release small floats adorned with flowers and candles in an annual festival honoring the goddess of water, with many of the hundreds of thousands of floats ending up clogging and polluting the country’s waterways. Within hours, workers began trawling the rivers to fish out the offerings, as paying tribute to the divinity is increasingly proving to be ecologically hazardous. The Loy Krathong festival allows believers to symbolically float their misfortunes away on “krathongs” and start another year of life with a clean slate. The festival is celebrated on the night of the full moon of the 12th lunar month, which traditionally marks the end of the rainy season.