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Top Asian News 2:04 a.m. GMT

June 26, 2021 GMT

AP Exclusive: Diplomats say China puts squeeze on Ukraine

GENEVA (AP) — China pressured Ukraine into withdrawing its support for a call for more scrutiny of human rights in China’s western region of Xinjiang by threatening to withhold Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines destined for Ukraine unless it did so, diplomats told The Associated Press on Friday. Ukraine briefly joined a statement by over 40 countries, presented by Canada at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, urging China to allow immediate access for independent observers to Xinjiang. Some human rights groups have alleged Chinese mistreatment of Muslim Uyghurs and others in the region. On Thursday, Ukraine pulled its name off the list of supporting states after Chinese authorities warned Kyiv that they would block a planned shipment of at least 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Ukraine unless it did so, said diplomats from two Western countries.

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AP PHOTOS: Hong Kong’s famous Peak Tram closing for remodel

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s Peak Tram is a fixture in the memories of many residents and tourists, ferrying passengers up Victoria Peak for a bird’s eye view of the city’s many skyscrapers. Enthusiasts and others have been rushing for one last ride before the Peak Tram closes for renovations. The tram will stop service on Monday for a six-month makeover, in part to reduce waiting times for the growing crowds. Cedric Yu, who said he hadn’t ridden the tram for years, called it a collective memory for Hong Kong people and part of the city’s history. “Taking the Peak Tram just now reminds me of my childhood memories,” he added.

Late Philippine leader hailed for integrity, guts vs China

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Late Philippine President Benigno Aquino III was hailed Friday for his integrity in a Southeast Asian nation long plagued by corruption and for standing up to China over long-raging territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Hundreds of people lined up at a Catholic church in Manila despite coronavirus restrictions to pray before a silver urn with the cremated remains of Aquino, who died Thursday at age 61 of kidney disease arising from diabetes. “I just want to show my support and big thanks to Pnoy,” Ivy Roque, a 41-year-old call center employee said, using Aquino’s nickname.

Is Japan’s remarkable vaccine drive in time for Olympics?

TOKYO (AP) — After months of frustration and delay, Japan has hit the remarkable benchmark of 1 million vaccines a day. But with the Olympics set to start in less than a month, and only a small portion of the country vaccinated, a question lingers: Is it enough? The vaccination pace is quickening even as the young remain hesitant amid an anti-vaccination misinformation campaign and officials have slowed vaccination reservations as demand outpaces supply. Add in continued political and bureaucratic bungling and the arrival of highly contagious coronavirus variants, and there are worries that the government’s effort to ramp up vaccinations before the Olympics will fall short.

Taliban gains drive Afghan government to recruit militias

KOH DAMAN, Afghanistan (AP) — For two days the fighting was blistering. Rockets and heavy machine gun fire pounded Imam Sahib, a key district on Afghanistan’s northern border with Tajikistan. When the explosions died down and Syed Akram finally emerged from his home earlier this week, three of his neighbor’s children had been killed, and a tank was burning on a nearby street corner. Several shops and a petrol station were still smoldering. In the streets, the Taliban were in control. There were maybe 300 of them, he said. That had been plenty to overwhelm the government troops defending the town, who had numbered fewer than 100.

Afghans who worked as interpreters for US troops hold rally

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A small group of Afghans who worked as interpreters for the U.S. military rallied on Friday near the American Embassy in Kabul, protesting the red tape that stands in the way of their leaving Afghanistan. The protest comes amid a push to get Afghan interpreters and others who helped the U.S. out of the country as American and NATO troops complete their pullout. The protesters in Kabul said they are victims of a bureaucratic nightmare as they try to escape abroad. Many — even those who have not been directly threatened — say they fear for their lives, despite assurances from the Taliban they would not be targeted.

Security chief named Hong Kong No. 2 official amid clampdown

HONG KONG (AP) — China on Friday promoted Hong Kong’s top security official to the territory’s No. 2 spot as Beijing looks to the government of the Asian financial hub to clamp down on free speech and political opponents to restore stability following anti-government protests. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Secretary for Security John Lee would replace Matthew Cheung as the city’s chief secretary, while police chief Chris Tang would take over Lee’s role. Raymond Siu Chak-yee, Tang’s deputy, will be the new head of the police force. Hong Kong’s government has long been lauded for its professionalism and efficiency, but its image has been battered in recent years by its banning and suppression of pro-democracy protests and its hard-line enforcement of Beijing’s security policies.

Fire at martial arts school in central China kills 18 people

BEIJING (AP) — A fire swept through a martial arts school in central China early Friday, killing 18 people and injuring 16, authorities said. Children may be among the victims. The fire has been extinguished, and police have detained the person in charge of the school. Four people were severely injured and 12 have light injuries, according to a short statement from authorities in the city of Shangqiu, which oversees Zhecheng county in Henan province, where the fire occurred. Provincial and city authorities would investigate. An official who picked up the phone in the local government office in Yuanxiangzhen in the afternoon said he did not know the ages of the students and also did not know if the school boarded students.

Death row inmates in Sri Lanka protest ex-lawmaker’s pardon

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — About 150 death row inmates were on a hunger strike Friday to demand their sentences be commuted after Sri Lanka’s president pardoned a former lawmaker who had been condemned for an election-related killing. Several inmates protested on the roof of a prison in the capital, Colombo, holding up banners demanding equal treatment and bail consideration. “Grant pardon to us like you did to terrorists and notorious politicians,” one banner said in local script. The former lawmaker’s surprise release Thursday after he was pardoned by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has drawn widespread criticism, including from the U.N. human rights office and the U.S.

Parts of Sydney going into lockdown as virus outbreak grows

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Parts of Sydney will go into lockdown late Friday as a coronavirus outbreak in Australia’s largest city continued to grow. Health authorities reported an additional 22 locally transmitted cases and imposed a weeklong lockdown in four areas, saying people could leave their homes only for essential purposes. The outbreak of the highly contagious delta variant was first detected last week, and 65 people have been infected. “If you live or work in those local government areas, you need to stay at home unless absolutely necessary,” said Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales state. She said the lockdown, which was due to go into effect just before midnight, would have a significant impact on businesses, especially in the central business district of the city of more than 5 million people.