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Top Asian News 4:56 a.m. GMT

December 30, 2021 GMT

How democracy was dismantled in Hong Kong in 2021

HONG KONG (AP) — As the days of 2021 dwindled, so did any remaining traces of democracy in Hong Kong. On Wednesday, a vocal pro-democracy media outlet -- one of the last openly critical voices in the city -- closed after a police raid. Earlier in December, the opposition was shut out from elections under a new law that puts all candidates to a loyalty test. And monuments commemorating the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were taken down. Again and again throughout the year, the city’s authorities and the central government in Beijing stamped out nearly everything the pro-democracy movement had stood for.

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Hong Kong pro-democracy news site closes after raid, arrests

HONG KONG (AP) — A vocal pro-democracy website in Hong Kong shut down Wednesday after police raided its office and arrested seven current and former editors, board members and a journalist in a continuing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Stand News said in a statement that its website and social media are no longer being updated and will be taken down. It said all employees have been dismissed. The outlet was one of the last remaining openly critical voices in Hong Kong following the shuttering of the Apple Daily newspaper, which closed after its publisher, Jimmy Lai, and top editors were arrested and its assets frozen.

Asia keeps omicron at bay, but a surge may be inevitable

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TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Much of Asia has largely managed to keep omicron at bay even as the variant rages in other parts of the world, but the region that is home to most of the globe’s population is bracing for what may be an inevitable surge. Strict quarantine rules for arrivals and widespread mask wearing have helped slow the spread of the highly contagious variant in Asia. Countries such as Japan, South Korea and Thailand quickly reinstated entry and quarantine restrictions in recent weeks after relaxing them in the fall. But cases are mounting, and experts say the next few months will be critical.

North Korea calls for troops’ greater loyalty to Kim

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Thursday urged its 1.2 million troops to unite behind leader Kim Jong Un and defend him with their lives, as the country celebrated the 10th anniversary of Kim’s ascension to supreme commander of the military. The anniversary comes as North Korea is holding a key multi-day political conference in which officials are expected to discuss how to address difficulties brought by the pandemic and long-dormant diplomacy with the United States. In a lengthy editorial, the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said that North Korea’s military commanders and soldiers must become an “impregnable fortress and bulletproof walls in devotedly defending (Kim) with their lives.” It also called for building a more modernized, advanced military that serves as a “reliable guardian of our state and people.” The editorial said all of North Korea’s troops and people must uphold Kim’s leadership to establish a powerful socialist country.

Fire damages front doors of Australia’s Old Parliament House

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A fire damaged the front doors and exterior of Australia’s Old Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday. The cause of the fire wasn’t immediately clear, although a group of protesters championing Indigenous rights had been gathering outside the building. Some protesters told media the fire began as a traditional smoking ceremony that got out of control. But one witness told Melbourne radio station 3AW that he heard protesters chanting “let it burn.” Social media footage showed flames leaping up the doors, a thick plume of smoke rising above the building, and police dragging protesters away from the front steps.

China urges US to protect its space station from satellites

BEIJING (AP) — China is calling on the United States to protect a Chinese space station and its three-member crew after Beijing complained that satellites launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX nearly struck the station. A foreign ministry spokesman accused Washington on Tuesday of ignoring its treaty obligations to protect the safety of the Tiangong station’s three-member crew following the July 1 and Oct. 21 incidents. The Tiangong performed “evasive maneuvers” to “prevent a potential collision” with Starlink satellites launched by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the government said in a Dec. 6 complaint to the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

Indonesia allows boat with 120 Rohingya refugees to land

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian authorities decided Wednesday to allow a boat carrying 120 Rohingya Muslims to land after drifting for days off the country’s northernmost province of Aceh. The decision was made because of the severe conditions experienced by the passengers, who are overwhelmingly women and children, said Armed Wijaya, who heads a refugee task force at the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Law and Security. “The Indonesian government has decided, in the name of humanity, to accommodate the Rohingya refugees currently adrift at sea near Bireuen district,” Wijaya said in a statement. Local authorities had earlier said they would push the boat back to international waters despite calls from the United Nations refugee agency and human rights groups that it be allowed to land.

Coronavirus cases surge across Australia as omicron explodes

SYDNEY (AP) — Coronavirus cases surged across Australia on Wednesday as an outbreak of the omicron variant exploded, prompting Prime Minister Scott Morrison to schedule an emergency national cabinet meeting. The surge has already overwhelmed testing stations, prompted new vaccine mandates and caused at least one state to cut back on elective surgeries. New infections in Sydney and surrounding parts of New South Wales state skyrocketed to more than 11,000, up from 6,000 a day earlier. Victoria state also reported a record 3,700 cases, up by more than 1,000 from the previous record set on Tuesday. Morrison said the nation’s leaders would meet ahead of schedule on Thursday.

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China calls on US to protect space station from satellites

BEIJING (AP) — China is calling on the United States to protect a Chinese space station and its three-member crew after Beijing complained that satellites launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX nearly struck the station. A foreign ministry spokesman accused Washington on Tuesday of ignoring its treaty obligations to protect the safety of the Tiangong station’s three-member crew following the July 1 and Oct. 21 incidents. The Tiangong performed “evasive maneuvers” to “prevent a potential collision” with Starlink satellites launched by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the government said in a Dec. 6 complaint to the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.