Month in brief

Koreas hold first three-way meeting

North Korea, South Korea and the United Nations Command held their first three-way meeting in the border village of Panmunjom to discuss demilitarising the border between the two Koreas, following the endorsement last month by Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in of a military pact that includes stopping military exercises and establishing a no-fly zone near their border. The meeting assessed progress in removing landmines and guard posts within the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), adjustments to border surveillance equipment, and ways to mutually verify demilitarisation efforts.

India’s pollution warning

Indian government scientists have launched a new system to warn about bad air three days before dangerous deterioration occurs. At an event in New Delhi, Dr Harsh Vardhan, the union environment and science minister, unveiled the Air Quality Early Warning System, which was developed by scientists at Dr Vardhan’s Ministry of Earth Sciences in collaboration with experts from Finland and the US.The three-day warning will allow the environment ministry to take ‘steps over and above what is happening’ in order to bring air quality under control.

Malasyia abolishes death penalty

Malaysia’s decision to abolish the death penalty following a surge of public opposition means more than 1,200 people on death row will be reprieved. Currently, death sentences – carried out by hanging – are mandatory for murder, kidnapping, possession of firearms and drug trafficking, among other crimes. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both welcomed the news, with HRW saying the move would increase pressure on other countries in the region to follow suit.

Blasphemy sentence overturned

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in a landmark case which has provoked violence across the country. Following the acquittal of Asia Bibi – condemned in 2010 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a row with her neighbours – widespread and violent demonstrations by hardline Islamists erupted, with calls for the deaths of the judges involved, and the ousting of PM Imran Khan’s government.

Japan: no to more foreign workers

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to invite as many as half a million foreign workers into the country has met with resistance from the people. More than 100 protesters marched through Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district, waving imperial army flags and calling for the plan to be withdrawn.The country’s diminishing population means that sectors such as elderly care, construction and agriculture struggle to fill vacancies, and Mr Abe’s proposed legislation will allow migrants to take these jobs from next year.

Chinese blogger detained

A blogger in China was held in police custody for five days for ‘being disrespectful to the national anthem’. Yang Kaili, 20, posted a video of herself humming marching music before reciting the first line of the national anthemwhile flailing her arms. Last year Beijing introduced a law decreeing that anyone who ridicules ‘March of the Volunteers’ can be detained for up to 15 days. Ms Yang has since apologised in a social media post, promising to conduct ‘self-rectification’ and ‘seriously watch patriotic publicity films’.

The point of art

Karachi artist Bilal Asif has created what he hopes will be the world’s largest ever swing made entirely from pencils – 30,000 of them – and resting on huge posts that resemble pencils. He plans to register his work for The Guinness Book of World Records though he insists that the swing is not just about breaking records, drawing a link between his art and his quest to promote ‘a message of peace’ from Pakistan to its neighbours abroad.

Sharks are back

A school of blacktip reef sharks has been spotted in Maya Bayon the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi Leh, giving a boost to conservationists’ hopes that the bay’s tourist-damaged ecosystem can be restored. Officials at the Nopparat Thara Beach-Phi Phi Islands National Park reported sightings of the sharks swimming in the bay – made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach –which is temporarily closed to visitors. Their appearance suggests the environment is being renewed as fresh coral is planted on reefs.

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