US to lift sanctions on Burma
After a meeting at the White House with Burma’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, President Barack Obama announced that the US would lift sanctions imposed nearly two decades ago against the country’s military junta. The decision, aimed at advancing Burma’s transition to democracy, was criticised by some human rights groups. But Suu Kyi urged American businesses to invest, telling a Washington audience: ‘Economic success is one of the ways that we can persuade everyone in our country, including the military, that democracy is the best way forward for our union.’
Australian Aboriginal MP vows to fight for change
Australia’s first Aboriginal woman elected to the lower house of parliament has vowed to bring the ‘fighting spirit’ of her Wiradjuri clan to the country’s political system. In her maiden speech, Labor MP and former teacher Linda Burney – dressed in a traditional kangaroo-skin cloak – condemned calls by some senators for the Racial Discrimination Act to be watered down. Ms Burney, of mixed Caucasian and Aboriginal parentage, made history when she became the first indigenous MP elected to the parliament of New South Wales.
Forest-burning is a sin, says Indonesian fatwa
Indonesia’s highest Islamic authority ruled it a sin for people to purposely burn forests to clear land for growing crops. Slash-and-burn farming affects huge swathes of land and causes air pollution across the region. Indonesia has long been accused of not doing enough to stop it, but officials hope the fatwa will help to reinforce laws against the practice. According to US research, air pollution resulting from intentional forest fires in Indonesia may have caused 100,000 premature deaths last year, mainly in Indonesia, and in Malaysia and Singapore.
Norwegian freed by Philippines militants
A militant group in the southern Philippines, Abu Sayyaf, released a Norwegian man after a year of captivity during which two Canadians seized with him were beheaded. Kjartan Sekkingstad said he was repeatedly warned he would be next. A ransom was reportedly paid for the hostage, who said he had survived more than a dozen clashes between government forces and his captors. In one firefight, a bullet hit the backpack he was wearing.
Labour activist sentenced in Thailand
A British labour activist, Andy Hall, was found guilty of defamation and computer crimes by a Thai court over accusations of abuse against Natural Fruit, a Thai company. He was given a suspended prison sentence of three years and fined 150,000 baht (about $4,300) in a case that aroused fears that labour rights in Thailand would suffer. Hall contributed to a report for a Finnish advocacy group that said Natural Fruit, Thailand’s biggest grower of pineapples, mistreated Burmese migrant workers and paid them less than the minimum wage.
China’s glass bridge closes, two weeks after opening
A 430-metre-long glass pedestrian bridge in China – claimed to be the world’s longest and highest – was forced to close, just 13 days after it opened, due to overwhelming visitor numbers and the company’s lack of management experience. Thousands flocked to the bridge, which spans a 300-metre-deep canyon in China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, when it opened in August, far outstripping its 8,000-person-per-day capacity. A spokesperson said facilities including the online booking system, parking and landscaping would be upgraded.
Miss Japan won by half Indian Priyanka Yoshikawa
A half-Indian woman crowned Miss World Japan says she will use her new role to ‘change perceptions’ about interracial identity. Priyanka Yoshikawa, 22, is an avid kick-boxer and qualified elephant trainer as well as a beauty queen. She said she was proud of her joint heritage, and felt equally Indian and Japanese. Only about 3 per cent of babies born every year in Japan are biracial, or hafu, the Japanese word for half. This is the second consecutive year that a biracial person has won a beauty pageant in Japan.