MONTH IN BRIEF – October 2020

MONTH IN BRIEF - September

Squaring up to ‘the Lady’

A female MP in Myanmar is taking on Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘chaotic and autocratic’ National League for Democracy in the country’s forthcoming election, having been ousted from the party last year. Thet Thet Khine, a former student activist, doctor and businesswoman who hopes to attract voters to her People’s Pioneer Party, insists Myanmar needs to work with, not against, a military accused of genocide. While voters are predicted to return the NLD to power at the Nov. 8 polls – only the second since Myanmar emerged from decades of military rule – Ms Thet Thet Khine may still make her mark.

Miners dead in KP

At least 20 miners have died following a rockslide at a marble quarry in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The accident took place in the Ziarat Ghar area of the tribal Mohmand district late on September 7.Mine-related accidents have become a regular occurrence in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, due to negligence over safety measures. Miners are often forced to work over 10 hours shifts without safety gear, which is in violation of Pakistan’s labour laws.

Beijing ups ante over Taiwan

China has intensified its rhetoric over Taiwan, saying that any backing for the island’s independence is ‘doomed to fail’, and threatening reprisals against US diplomatic visits there.

Although Taiwan has been ruled separately from China since the end of a civil war in 1949, Beijing regards it as a part of Chinese territory pending reunification. The island is a flashpoint with Washington, which promises military support to the elected government of President Tsai Ing-wen and has sent two envoys to Taipei in as many months.

Low-income, high-flying

The results of India’s biggest engineering entrance exams brought two surprises, as eight of the top 24 scorers came from the southern state of Telangana – the most for any region – andan unprecedented 709 students from poor and tribal communities in the state passed the exam.The children are first-generation learners, whose parents who are agricultural labourers, domestic workers, drivers, security guards, and roadside tea sellers. Parents often spend at least half a million rupees a year on coaching, meaning that engineering colleges are usually dominated by upper-caste and high/middle income students.

Storm damage

The after-effects of tropical storm Noul have left 11 people dead and one missing in Cambodiafollowing heavy rains, lightning and strong windsthat battered the country as a result of the storm that lashed the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.Noul’s impact caused flash floods in parts of Cambodia’s five provinces – Preah Sihanouk, Koh Kong, Oddar Meanchey, Pailin and Pursat – and the floodsimmersed 1,825 houses, forcing nearly 500 residents to leave their homes in search of safety on higher ground.Flooding has also caused damage to roads and crops.

Making power while the sun shines

Increasing numbers of Australians are fitting rooftop solar panels in what is expected to be another record year for growth in green power generation. Australia already has one of the world’s highest rates of rooftop solar, driven by falling installation costs, plentiful sunshine and rising electricity costs. Now the country is set to match 2019’s record for 6.3 gigawatts of new renewables capacity this year, the Clean Energy Regulator said in a report, with the contribution of new small-scale solar power at 2.9 gigawatts. Around 29% of suitable households now have panels on their roofs, according to the report.

AI service

Artificial intelligence is helping to minimise human contact and ensure social distancing in South Korea, with a trolley-like robot serving customers at a Seoul restaurant. Customers place their orders through touchscreens on their tables, after which the 1.25m-tall robot, known as Aglio Kim, brings the food and drink using its visual SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping) capabilities to navigate its way. The robot, developed by South Korean telecoms company KT Corp, can serve up to four tables at once, as it is equipped with food trays that can carry up to 30kg and an LCD screen and speaker that communicate in both Korean and English.

Singing dogs sighted

A rare ‘singing’ dog, believed to have become extinct, may have been found in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea in Indonesia. The animal, known for its unique barks and howls that are comparable to the harmonic calls of a humpback whale, are severely inbred due to a lack of new genes. None had been seen in their natural habitat for 50 years until 2016, when an expedition located and studied 15 wild dogs in Papua. A new expedition returned to the site in 2018 to collect biological samples to confirm whether theywere predecessors of the ‘singing’ dogs.A comparison of DNA extracted from their blood indicated very similar genome sequences, meaning the two dog types are much more closely linked to each other than any other canine, according to research published in the journal PNAS.

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