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Top Asian News 4:39 a.m. GMT

December 19, 2021 GMT

Typhoon death toll in Philippines rises to nearly 100

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The governor of an island province in the central Philippines said at least 49 people died in the devastation wrought by Typhoon Rai in just half of the towns that managed to contact him, bringing the death toll in the strongest typhoon to batter the country this year to nearly 100. Gov. Arthur Yap of Bohol province said 10 other people were missing and 13 injured, and suggested the death toll may still considerably increase with many mayors unable to reach him due to downed communications. In a statement posted on Facebook early Sunday, Yap ordered provincial mayors to spend money to rapidly secure food packs and drinking water, which was an urgent problem given that water stations have not been able to operate during power outage.

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Hong Kong votes for legislature with only loyalists approved

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong was voting Sunday in the first election since Beijing amended the laws to reduce the number of directly elected lawmakers and vet candidates to ensure that only those loyal to China can run. The semi-autonomous territory was rocked by pro-democracy protests in 2014 and 2019, but they were crushed by security forces, followed by the imposition of a sweeping national security law that silenced most of the city’s opposition activists and led others to flee abroad. Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Minister Erick Tsang warned Saturday that foreign forces may be attempting to undermine the elections after overseas activists urged a boycott of the vote.

Osaka arson suspect identified, buildings to be checked

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TOKYO (AP) — Japanese police on Sunday identified a 61-year-old man as a prime suspect behind a fire that engulfed a mental clinic in an eight-story building where he was a patient, killing 24 people who were trapped inside. The government also announced plans to inspect tens of thousands of similar buildings nationwide. Authorities believe the massive death toll at the downtown Osaka building on Friday was largely because the fire made its only emergency stairway unusable. Osaka police, which are investigating the case as arson and murder, identified the man as Morio Tanimoto. He is being treated in serious condition after he was rescued from the fire, police said.

Hong Kong election defines dramatic changes by Beijing

HONG KONG (AP) — Elections for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council on Sunday mark the culmination of Beijing’s campaign to rein in the body that had once kept it from imposing its unrestrained will over the semi-autonomous territory. Since the city was handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997, with a promise by Beijing to keep Western-style freedoms for 50 years, demands for expanded democracy inspired protest movements in 2014 and 2019. But they were largely ignored and subsequently crushed by security forces. Here’s a look at the events that resulted in the dramatic changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system: THE 2014 “UMBRELLA MOVEMENT″ Also known as “Occupy Central” for the business district where pro-democracy protesters gathered, the movement got its name from the umbrellas activists used to shield themselves from police pepper spray.

Pakistan to rally Muslim countries to help Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan is rallying Muslim countries to help Afghanistan stave off an economic and humanitarian disaster while also cajoling the neighboring country’s new Taliban rulers to soften their image abroad. Several foreign ministers from the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation are meeting in Islamabad on Sunday to explore ways to aid Afghanistan while navigating the difficult political realities of its Taliban-run government, Pakistan’s top diplomat said Friday. The new Taliban administration in Kabul has been sanctioned by the international community, reeling from the collapse of the Afghan military and the Western-backed government in the face of the insurgents’ takeover in mid-August.

Russian military planes evacuate 200 people from Afghanistan

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian military transport planes on Saturday delivered a shipment of humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan and flew back 200 Russians, Afghan students and others, the defense ministry said. The ministry said that three Il-76 cargo planes will make stopovers in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before flying to Moscow. It said the planes were carrying citizens of Russia and Kyrgyzstan who wanted to leave Afghanistan, and Afghan students enlisted in Russian universities. Saturday’s mission is the latest in a series of such Russian flights since August. Previous flights have delivered humanitarian cargo and evacuated a total of 770 citizens of Russia and other ex-Soviet nations.

Senate confirms big slate of Biden ambassadors to end 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate confirmed more than 30 ambassadors and other Biden administration nominees early Saturday after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed to schedule a vote on sanctions on the company behind the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany. With many senators anxious to go home for the holidays, Schumer, D-N.Y., threatened to keep the Senate in for as long as it took to break a logjam on a broad array of diplomatic and national security nominees. Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago, was confirmed to serve as ambassador to Japan by a vote of 48-21.

Indonesia raises Semeru volcano alert, fearing new eruption

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian authorities raised the alert level for the highest volcano on Java island, saying Mount Semeru could blow up again after a sudden eruption earlier this month left 48 people dead and 36 missing in villages that were buried in layers of mud. Indonesia’s geological agency said Saturday it picked up increasing activity that could trigger an avalanche of lava and searing gas, similar to the Dec. 4 eruption, which was preceded by heavy monsoon rains that partially collapsed a lava dome on the 3,676-meter (12,060-foot) mountain. About 8 million cubic meters (282 million cubic feet) of sand from the volcano’s crater clogged the Besuk Kobokan River, which is in the path of the lava flow, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Arifin Tasrif said.

NKorea calls for unity on anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday commemorated the 10th anniversary of former leader Kim Jong Il’s death with calls for greater public loyalty toward his son and current leader Kim Jong Un, who is struggling to navigate the country out of deepening pandemic-related hardships. In his 10 years at the helm of North Korea since his father’s death, Kim Jong Un, 37, has secured the same absolute power enjoyed by Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather and state founder. Despite massive economic shocks caused by draconian anti-virus measures and long-dormant diplomacy with the United States, North Korea shows no signs of political instability and few outside experts question Kim’s grip on power.

China vows to respond after US enacts Xinjiang sanctions

BEIJING (AP) — China will take all necessary measures to safeguard its institutions and enterprises, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday after the U.S. Senate passed a law barring imports from the Xinjiang region unless businesses can prove they were made without forced labor. The spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said the measure approved Thursday “indicates that the U.S. has no scruples about smearing China by every means.” “The relevant actions seriously undermine the principles of market economy and international economic and trade rules, and seriously damage the interests of Chinese institutions and enterprises,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing. “China strongly deplores and rejects that and urges the U.S.