Top Asian News 4:45 a.m. GMT
PARIS (AP) — Sorrow for the dead and dying, fear of more infections to come and hopes for an end to the coronavirus pandemic were — again — the bittersweet cocktail with which the world said good riddance to 2021 and ushered in 2022. New Year’s Eve, which used to be celebrated globally with a free-spirited wildness, felt instead like a case of deja vu, with the fast-spreading omicron variant again filling hospitals. “We just need enjoyment,” said Karen Page, 53, who was among the fed-up revelers venturing out in London. “We have just been in so long.” The mostly muted New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world ushered in the fourth calendar year framed by the global pandemic.
SRINAGAR, India (AP) — A stampede at a popular Hindu shrine in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 12 people and injured 12 others on New Year’s Day, officials said. An investigation has been ordered into what caused the stampede early Saturday at the Mata Vaishnav Devi shrine, where thousands of Hindu devotees were gathered to pay their respect in the hilly town of Katra near southern Jammu city. No other details were immediately available. Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi expressed his condolences in a message on Twitter. “Extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to a stampede,” Modi wrote. Pilgrims often trek on foot to reach the hilltop temple, which is one of the most visited shrines in northern India.
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 didn’t carry any 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 self-reliant economy to overcome pandemic-related difficulties. “The increasingly unstable military environment on the Korean Peninsula and international politics have instigated calls to vigorously push forward with our national defense build-up plans without any delay,” Kim said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
SHEDAI CAMP, Afghanistan (AP) — In a sprawling settlement of mud brick huts in western Afghanistan housing people displaced by drought and war, a woman is fighting to save her daughter. Aziz Gul’s husband sold the 10-year-old girl into marriage without telling his wife, taking a down-payment so he could feed his family of five children. Without that money, he told her, they would all starve. He had to sacrifice one to save the rest. Many of Afghanistan’s growing number of destitute people are making desperate decisions such as these as their nation spirals into a vortex of poverty. The aid-dependent country’s economy was already teetering when the Taliban seized power in mid-August amid a chaotic withdrawal of U.S.
TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Emperor Naruhito offered prayers for those who died during the pandemic, taking to video for the second straight year for his New Year’s greeting on Saturday, having canceled public palace gatherings to curb coronavirus infections. Sitting before a bonsai tree with his wife Masako, Naruhito praised and thanked doctors and other health care workers, and expressed concern for countries lacking access to vaccines and adequate hospital systems. “By treasuring more than ever the connections among people, sharing our pain and supporting each other, I hope from the bottom of my heart that we will overcome these hard times,” he said.
SYDNEY (AP) — New coronavirus infections soared again in Australia on Friday to a record of more than 32,000, just days after surpassing 10,000 for the first time. Experts say the explosion is being driven by the highly contagious omicron variant and a recent relaxation of restrictions in Sydney and other areas. More than 15,000 of the new cases were reported in Sydney. Another 5,000 cases came from elsewhere in New South Wales state, while almost 6,000 were confirmed in Victoria state, home to the second largest city of Melbourne. While hospitalizations and deaths have been increasing from the surge, so far they haven’t reached comparative levels seen in previous outbreaks.
HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airlines is suspending cargo flights for a week due to stricter quarantine requirements for air crews, potentially adding to strain on global supply chains. Long-haul flights to Europe, across the Pacific and to Riyadh and Dubai are suspended through Jan. 6, the airline said Thursday. It promised to try to help customers “mitigate the disruption.” Hong Kong is tightening up virus restrictions after confirming its first cases of community transmission of the omicron variant of the coronavirus on Friday, tied to a Cathay Pacific crew member who had returned from the United States on Christmas Day.
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — China opened an embassy in Nicaragua on Friday for the first time since 1990, acting just over three weeks since President Daniel Ortega’s government broke off relations with Taiwan. Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said there is an “ideological affinity” between the two countries. Moncada also thanked China for donating one million doses of the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine. Ortega established relations with China in 1985, but after he lost the presidential election in 1990, the government of Nicaragua’s new president, Violeta Chamorro, recognized Taiwan. The Nicaraguan government broke relations with the Taiwanese on Dec. 9 and last week it seized the former embassy and diplomatic offices of Taiwan, saying they belong to China.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani security forces raided two militant hideouts in a former Taliban stronghold near Afghanistan, triggering shootings that killed four soldiers and two insurgents, the military said Friday. The first raid was carried our in the Tank district in the northwest, killing two militants, the statement said. The other strike was carried out in the North Waziristan district, capturing a militant before four soldiers died in the fighting. The military said troops seized a cache of weapons during both raids. The military provided no further details about the slain soldiers and detained militants. North Waziristan served as a militant stronghold for decades.
BANGKOK (AP) — Members of a China-centered Asian trade bloc that takes effect Jan. 1 are hoping the initiative, encompassing about a third of world trade and business activity, will help power their recoveries from the pandemic. The 15-member Regional and Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, includes China, Japan, South Korea and many other Asian countries. It does not include the U.S. or India. The deal slashes tariffs on thousands of products, streamlining trade procedures and providing mutual advantages for member nations. It also takes into account issues such as e-commerce, intellectual property and government procurement. But it has less stringent labor and environmental requirements than those expected of countries in the European Union or the smaller Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes many of the same countries but not China.