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Top Asian News 2:29 a.m. GMT

August 25, 2021 GMT

Biden holds to Kabul Aug. 31 deadline despite criticism

U.S. President Joe Biden declared Tuesday he is sticking to his Aug. 31 deadline for completing a risky airlift of Americans, endangered Afghans and others seeking to escape Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The decision defies allied leaders who want to give the evacuation more time and opens Biden to criticism that he caved to Taliban deadline demands. “Every day we’re on the ground is another day that we know ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both us and allied forces and innocent civilians,” Biden said at the White House, referring to the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate, which is known for staging suicide attacks on civilians.

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At-risk Afghans fearing Taliban hunker down, wait to leave

A knock at the door could spell doom. Every passing hour seems endless. That’s the new reality for many Afghans who feel they have most to fear from the Taliban and have gone into hiding or are staying off the streets since the fighters swept to power this month. Those hunkering down include employees of the collapsed government, civil society activists and women. They are desperate for news that they might be granted asylum somewhere else. They fear a massive rollback of women’s rights, or they are distrustful of the Taliban’s promises that they won’t seek revenge on former adversaries and that they want to form an inclusive government as the U.S.

Some Afghans vow to resist Taliban from mountain enclave

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In a mountain valley north of Kabul, the last remnants of Afghanistan’s shattered security forces have vowed to resist the Taliban in a remote region that has defied conquerors before. But any attempt to reenact that history could end in tragedy — or farce. Nestled in the towering Hindu Kush, the Panjshir Valley has a single narrow entrance and is the last region not under Taliban control following their stunning blitz across Afghanistan. Local fighters held off the Soviets in the 1980s and the Taliban a decade later under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a guerrilla fighter who attained near-mythic status before he was killed in a suicide bombing.

Harris shifts focus to pandemic response in hard-hit Vietnam

HANOI (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris turns her focus to the coronavirus pandemic and global health during her visit to Vietnam, a country grappling with a worsening surge in the virus and stubbornly low vaccination rates. The more infectious delta variant is driving record highs in infections in Vietnam and prompted a recent lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City, the nation’s business hub and the epicenter of the latest outbreak. Harris is expected to offer further U.S. support to help the nation expand its vaccination rate, which hovers around 2%, during meetings Wednesday morning with Vietnamese officials. She’ll also emphasize the opportunity for greater collaboration to address climate change and discuss an increase in U.S.

Hong Kong to amend law to step up film censorship

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday said they plan to amend a film censorship law to forbid screenings of movies deemed contrary to national security. The proposed changes to Hong Kong’s Film Censorship Ordinance would step up censorship of movies in the semi-autonomous city, expanding an ongoing crackdown on political dissent that has led to the closure of various pro-democracy organizations and the arrests of dozens of activists. The amendments would require a censor to determine whether a film contains elements that endanger national security. Older movies that were previously allowed to be screened could also have their approvals revoked on national security grounds.

Indian troops kill 2 rebel commanders, 3 others in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Indian government forces killed two senior rebel commanders and three other militants in two separate counterinsurgency operations in disputed Kashmir, police said Tuesday. The killings come during an intensified government offensive against anti-India rebels in Kashmir, which is divided between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan and claimed by both. Rebels have also killed several members of India’s governing party in the region and carried out attacks on Indian troops. Police and soldiers raided a village in the northwestern Sopore area late Monday and engaged at least three militants hiding in a house in a gun battle, police said.

Japan seeks support for Fukushima nuclear water release

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s government adopted an interim plan Tuesday that it hopes will win support from fishermen and other concerned groups for a planned release into the sea of treated but still radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant. The government decided in April to start discharging the water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023 after building a facility and compiling release plans under safety requirements set by regulators. The idea has been fiercely opposed by fishermen, residents and Japan’s neighbors including China and South Korea. Under the plan adopted Tuesday, the government will set up a fund to buy fisheries products and freeze them for temporary storage to cushion the impact from negative rumors about the discharge.

Ex-Myanmar military leader Than Shwe recovers from COVID-19

Bangkok (AP) — The former longtime military ruler of Myanmar, Than Shwe, and his wife have been released from a capital city hospital after both being successfully treated for COVID-19, a hospital official said. The 88-year-old and wife, Daw Kyaing Kyaing, were discharged from the Thaik Chaung military hospital in Naypyitaw on Friday, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press. Than Shwe was hospitalized earlier this month, and his wife a short time later, and both were treated in a VIP section of the hospital under tight security. The government has not yet officially commented on their cases, and independent media in Myanmar initially reported that their hospitalization was a precautionary measure as the country grapples with a new wave of the coronavirus, fueled by the virulent delta variant.

Thailand legalizes kratom, popular plant-based painkiller

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand on Tuesday decriminalized the possession and sale of kratom, a plant native to Southeast Asia whose leaves are used as a mild stimulant and painkiller and which has a following in the United States for its pain-relieving qualities. Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin said thousands of legal cases for the possession or sale of kratom were being dropped, and 121 inmates convicted in such cases would be released immediately. Possession of kratom had been punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of as much as 200,000 baht ($6,077) for quantities of 10 kilograms (22 pounds) or more.

Possible Havana syndrome case delays Harris trip to Vietnam

HANOI (AP) — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip from Singapore to Vietnam was delayed several hours Tuesday by an investigation into two possible cases of the so-called Havana Syndrome in Hanoi, administration officials said. The investigation was in its early stages and officials deemed it safe for Harris to make her scheduled stop in Vietnam, which is part of her trip across Asia meant to reassure allies about American foreign policy amid the tumultuous evacuation of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The Havana Syndrome is the name for a rash of mysterious health incidents first reported by American diplomats and other government employees in the Cuba capital beginning in 2016.