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Top Asian News 1:53 a.m. GMT

January 4, 2022 GMT

Hong Kong news site to shut; pro-Beijing lawmakers sworn in

HONG KONG (AP) — A group of lawmakers loyal to China’s Communist Party were sworn in to Hong Kong’s Legislature on Monday following an election without opposition candidates, as yet another pro-democracy news outlet announced it could no longer operate amid a growing crackdown on freedoms in the territory. The former British colony that was returned to China in 1997 was once known as a haven for dissent and freedoms of the press and expression not seen on the mainland. But the central government in Beijing has clamped down in the last year, leading to the closure of independent news outlets, the removal of monuments to dissent, and a poorly attended election swept by pro-Beijing politicians.

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Seoul: North Korea defector likely made rare border crossing

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A person who crossed the border from South Korea into North Korea on New Year’s Day was likely a defector who had slipped through the same heavily fortified frontier in the other direction to settle in South Korea in late 2020, the military said Monday. South Korean surveillance equipment detected an unidentified person moving into North Korean territory across the eastern portion of the border on Saturday. The military said a security camera showed a person earlier Saturday crawling over a barbed-wire fence along the southern edge of the border. On Monday, the Defense Ministry said in a statement it suspects an earlier North Korean defector was the border crosser and that it is trying to confirm related information.

Live updates: Oregon reports over 9K new cases after holiday

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Australia’s COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations hit new records

SYDNEY (AP) — New virus cases in Australia surged to record levels on Tuesday, increasing the strain on hospitals and testing centers across the country. In New South Wales, Australia’s most-populous state, 23,131 new cases were reported, an increase on the record of 22,577 cases on New Year’s Day. There were 1,344 people in hospitals, up 140 on the previous day and 78 more than the record previously set in late September. The new cases were detected from 83,376 tests, a positivity rate of 28%. Victoria state reported 14,020 cases on Tuesday, eclipsing the record of 8,577 set on Monday. There were 516 people in hospitals, including 108 in intensive care.

India vaccinates teens aged 15 to 18 as virus cases rise

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian health authorities Monday began vaccinating teens in the age group of 15 to 18, as more states started to enforce tighter restrictions to arrest a new surge stoked by the infectious omicron variant. State governments across India administered doses at schools, hospitals and through special vaccination sites amid a rapid rise in coronavirus infections, particularly in the country’s densely populated cities. Data from the health ministry showed India confirmed over 33,000 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours. Deaths increased by 123, bringing the total to nearly 482,000. Authorities are saying that even as cases have started to rise rapidly, hospitalizations have not gone up.

Prime Minister Morrison upbeat amid Australia virus surge

SYDNEY (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday said his country’s health system can cope with the new wave of coronavirus infections as Victoria state reported a record number of new cases and hospitalizations surged in New South Wales. Morrison spoke in two television interviews before Monday’s figures were released. Victoria reported 8,577 new cases, a record for the state which eclipsed the previous peak of 7,442 on New Year’s Day. New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, saw a slight decline in case numbers from a record 22,577 on Saturday to 20,794 on Monday. But the number of people in hospitals rose to 1,204 from 1,066 the day before.

Powerful earthquake shakes northern Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A powerful earthquake struck Taiwan on Monday evening, shaking buildings in the capital and across much of the northern part of the island. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured magnitude 6.2 and was centered at a depth of 28.7 kilometers (18 miles) below the ocean east of Hualien city on the island’s east coast. Walls creaked as office buildings shook in Taipei, the capital. Lights swayed and mirrors and pictures fell to the floor. The USGS said economic losses were expected to be low despite the strong shaking.

S Korea: Unidentified person crosses border into North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s military said Sunday that an unidentified person crossed the heavily fortified border into North Korea. The person was earlier spotted by surveillance equipment at the eastern portion of the border, known as the Demilitarized Zone, but avoided capture by South Korean troops on Saturday night. The surveillance later detected the person crossing the border, Joint Chiefs of Staff officers said. South Korea sent a message to North Korea on Sunday morning to ensure the safety of the person, but the North hasn’t responded, the officers said requesting anonymity citing department rules. It was unclear if this was a rare case of a South Korean hoping to defect to the North, or it could be a North Korean who briefly entered the South Korean territory for some reason before returning to the North.

Hong Kong news outlet to close amid crackdown on dissent

HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong online news site said Sunday that it will cease operations in light of deteriorating press freedoms, days after police raided and arrested seven people for sedition at a separate pro-democracy news outlet. Citizen News announced its decision in a Facebook post Sunday. It said it would stop updating its site on Jan. 4, and it would be shuttered after that. “We all love this place, deeply. Regrettably, what was ahead of us is not just pouring rains or blowing winds, but hurricanes and tsunamis,” it said in a statement. “We have never forgotten our original intent.

NKorea’s Kim vows to boost military, maintain virus curbs

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to further bolster his military capability, maintain draconian anti-virus measures and push hard to improve the economy during a speech at a key political conference this week, state media reported Saturday. A state media report on Kim’s speech at the five-day plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party didn’t carry any specific comments on dealings with the United States and South Korea. Some experts say this implies Kim has no interest in resuming talks with Washington and Seoul anytime soon and would rather keep his country’s borders closed while seeking a stronger self-reliant economy to overcome pandemic-related difficulties.