Top Asian News 3:00 a.m. GMT
TOKYO (AP) — Fans will be banned from Tokyo-area stadiums and arenas when the Olympics begin in two weeks, the city’s governor said Thursday after meeting with organizers of the pandemic-postponed games. That means the Olympics will be a largely TV-only event, after the Japanese government put the capital under a COVID-19 state of emergency because of rising new infections and the highly contagious delta variant. The declaration was made by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and the spectator ban was agreed to by Japanese Olympic organizers, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, and the metropolitan government of Tokyo. It was a serious blow for Japanese taxpayers and local organizers of the games, which already had been postponed from 2020 by the coronavirus.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Thursday the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan will end on Aug. 31, delivering an impassioned argument for exiting the nearly 20-year war without sacrificing more American lives even as he bluntly acknowledged there will be no “mission accomplished” moment to celebrate. Biden pushed back against the notion the U.S. mission has failed but also noted that it remains unlikely the government would control all of Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves. He urged the Afghan government and Taliban, which he said remains as formidable as it did before the start of the war, to come to a peace agreement.
HERAT, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban on Thursday seized another key Afghan border crossing, this time with Iran, according to an Afghan official and Iranian media. The seizure is part of a Taliban surge as American troops complete their pullout from Afghanistan. It was the third border crossing the insurgents have taken in the past week, after previously seizing crossings with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The development came as President Joe Biden said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on Aug. 31. The Taliban wins have caused some countries to close their consulates in the region, while Tajikistan has called up reservists to reinforce that country’s southern border with Afghanistan.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s attorney general said Thursday that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin remains in power until it can be proven in Parliament that he has lost majority support. The country was in political limbo after the United Malays National Organization, the largest party in the governing alliance, pulled its support for Muhyiddin. The head of UMNO urged Muhyiddin to step aside for an interim leader to take over until a general election can be held safely during the coronavirus pandemic. It marked the culmination of months of tensions since Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after initiating the downfall of the reformist government that won the 2018 election.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — There is no sign that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been inoculated against the coronavirus and his country hasn’t received any foreign vaccines, South Korea’s spy agency said Thursday. The National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that it hasn’t detected any information that North Korea has acquired vaccines, according to Ha Tae-keung, one of the legislators who attended the session. He quoted the NIS as saying there were no signs that Kim has been inoculated. COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, said in February that North Korea could receive 1.9 million doses in the first half of the year.
BANGKOK (AP) — A week into an ambitious but risky plan to open the Thai resort island of Phuket to vaccinated visitors, signs were encouraging that the gambit to resuscitate the decimated tourism industry was working, even as infections elsewhere in the country surged Thursday to record highs. After seeing fewer than 5,000 foreign travelers over the first five months of the year, the island off Thailand’s southwest coast, whose economy is 95% reliant on the tourist industry, welcomed 2,399 visitors during the first week of July. The so-called Phuket sandbox plan relies on a strategy of vaccinations, testing and restrictions — measures that officials are hoping are strict enough to mitigate any COVID-19 threat, while still providing enough freedom for tourists to enjoy a beach vacation.
BEIJING (AP) — One member of a group of elephants that left a nature reserve and wandered close to cities in China’s southwest has been tranquilized and returned to the reserve after leaving the herd. The elephants attracted nationwide attention after they left the reserve in Yunnan province last year and walked more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) north. They reached the outskirts of Kunming, a major city, before turning south again, but still are far from the reserve. A lone male elephant that left the herd more than a month ago was captured Wednesday near the city of Yuxi and sent back to the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, about 280 kilometers (175 miles) away, according to the government.
BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday criticized what it called the “politicization of sports” after British lawmakers urged a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics unless China allows an investigation of complaints of human rights abuses in its northwest. A boycott “will not succeed,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. The British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee called for the government to urge British companies to boycott the Beijing Games, scheduled for February. The appeal adds to pressure on China’s ruling Communist Party over reports of mass detentions and other abuses of mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
BEIJING (AP) — The northern Chinese port city of Qingdao has deployed thousands of boats and powered scoops to deal with a massive algae bloom that is threatening sea life, tourism and water transport. The thick layer of plants that has coated waters and clogged beaches appeared last month and is reportedly the heaviest on record. Such blooms can displace critical food sources for ocean animals while giving off a strong smell. State media reported Thursday that the outbreak has spread over around 9,290 square kilometers (3,600 square miles). The Xinhua News Agency said authorities have deployed about 7,300 vessels that have thus far collected 240,000 tons of algae.
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan on Thursday received 1.13 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Japan in the second such donation this year. Once desperately lacking jabs, Taiwan has benefited from vaccine diplomacy, receiving near 5 million doses from the United States and Japan following its worst outbreak starting in May that was being driven by a more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. Taiwan has also accused China, which claims the self-ruled island as its renegade territory, of intervening to block the delivery of vaccines. China denies it as an attempt by the island’s government to shift responsibility for a recent surge.