MONTH IN BRIEF - October
Ardern triumphs at the polls
Following a landslide win for New Zealand’s ruling centre-left Labour Party in the October election, the country’s next Parliament is set to be the most inclusive ever, with several people of colour, members from the rainbow communities and a high number of women. The party was given a resounding mandate as voters rewarded Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her decisive response to the Covid-19 crisis. Although she has the numbers to govern alone, she is in talks with former ally the Green Party to build a wider consensus.
Car blast in Ghor
A car bomb targeting an Afghan police HQ in the country’s western province of Ghor killed at least 12 civilians and wounded more than 100, including members of the security forces. The Oct. 18 strike – which came amid a recent surge in fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan government – happened in Firozkoh, the capital of Ghor, a province that had previously witnessed less violence than some other regions of Afghanistan. So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Myanmar insurgency: upping the ante
Insurgents from western Myanmar have claimed responsibility for the recent abduction of three ruling party candidates in Rakhine state, and demanded the release of detained student protesters in return for freeing them. The ruling National League for Democracy said the two women and one man were abducted while campaigning in Rakhine before an election scheduled for Nov. 8. Most parliamentary seats in the western region are held by Rakhine nationalist opponents of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and the insurgency that has plagued the area intensified this year.
U-turn on TikTok
Pakistan decided to lift a ban on popular social media app TikTok after the company promised to block all accounts involved in disseminating ‘obscenity and immorality’. The decision follows Pakistan’s earlier veto of TikTok for failing to bar ‘immoral and indecent’ content. The app, which has around 20 million monthly active users in Pakistan, was the third most downloaded app in the country in the past year, after WhatsApp and Facebook.
HRW slates N. Korea’s justice system
Torture, degradation and coerced confessions are rife in North Korea’s pre-trial detention system, according to a recent report by the US-based rights group Human Rights Watch. Drawing on interviews with dozens of former detainees and officials to highlight what it called ‘inhuman conditions’ at detention facilities, HRW aimed to shed light on North Korea’simpenetrable criminal justice processes, about which little is known. The nuclear-armed country has been accused of widespread rights abuses by the UN and other critics.
Bangladesh’s clothing crisis
The Covid-19 pandemic has brough disaster for Bangladesh’s garment industry. Despite being the world’s second-largest clothing producer after China, its industry leaders say international retailers are delaying buying decisions, demanding steep price cuts or not placing orders at all. In the financial year that ended in June, Bangladesh’s garment exports totalled US$27.94 billion down 18% from the previous year. While there was a surge in demand for knitwear items, which account for half of Bangladesh’s total garment exports, nearly half of factories producing knitwear products are finding it difficult to remain open.
Freedom for moon bear
The charity Animals Asia has come closer to its goal of ending bear bile farming in Vietnam, with the recent rescue of a black bear (also known as a moon bear) from the district of Phúc Thọ. Following 18 years in captivity, the male Asiatic bear, named Uno, was rescued from life in a cage. Uno is one of nine bears thought to be held captive on bile farms in the area, according to Vietnam’s Forest Protection Department (FPD).
Pet blessings in the Philippines
Animal lovers in Manila had their pets blessed in a drive-through ceremony to celebrate the feast of Saint Francis and World Animal Day. Pet-owners queued in their vehicles as they waited for a priest to sprinkle holy water on their four-legged friends, as the blessing was organised to observe physical distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Philippines has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia, with the country’s health department reporting 3,190 new cases on Oct. 18, bringing the total to 322,497, with 5,776 deaths,