Push to ban books such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from schools in Ireland – dpa international

Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird on a bookshelf in a west of Ireland home (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A county council in Ireland is calling on the education ministry to review the school curriculum for books containing allegedly offensive language. The council in Meath, a county adjoining capital Dublin, in Ireland’s east, is petitioning the Department of Education and Skills to consider culling novels such as “Of Mice and Men” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the latter a Pulitzer Prize-winning anti-racism parable. Citing conversations with mixed-race families, councillor Alan Lawes said on Friday that the books caused students to use “certain racial slurs” against classmates. “I don’t think 12-year-olds have the mental capacity to deal with such books,” Lawes said, discussing the council’s request on Newstalk, a Dublin radio station.  Ex-diplomat Eamon Delaney said on the station that people should be “wary of banning books … it is censorship.”

German-registered fishing boat detained by Ireland’s navy – dpa international

The Atlantic Ocean seen from the coast of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A German-registered boat was detained overnight by Ireland’s navy for “alleged breaches of fishing regulations,” the Irish Naval Service and Irish Defence Forces said in a statement on Friday. The intercepted vessel is being escorted to port by an Irish navy ship named after poet William Butler Yeats, where it will be handed over to police, the navy said. The vessel was stopped in the Atlantic Ocean around 250 nautical miles (463 kilometres) north-west of Malin Head, the island of Ireland’s northernmost point. The waters where the vessel was detained are rich in cod, haddock, whiting and plaice, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a United Nations body.

Claims of Saudi donations resurface in ex-Malaysian PM’s graft trial – dpa international

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arriving at Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 10 2020 for one of his ongoing corruption trials (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Allegations of lavish contributions from Saudi Arabia re-emerged on Wednesday during one of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s ongoing trials over alleged theft of public money and related abuses of office. When lurid corruption claims were first levelled against Najib Razak in 2015, the then-prime minister said the largesse involved, said to be around 700 million dollars, was donated from the world’s biggest oil producer. In court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Najib’s defence team said that letters purportedly from Saudi royals meant Najib had no reasonable cause to question the source of money flowing into his bank account. The missives, the defence said, were shown to Malaysia’s central bank and anti-corruption commission before representatives of the latter travelled to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter with several princes.”If the letters were not genuine, there would have been denial on the spot,” said defence lawyer Harvinderjit Singh, who added that he was not claiming the donations took place.

Singapore ends two-month virus lockdown, though some curbs remain – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore on Tuesday began allowing activities that “do not pose high risk of transmission” to resume after two months of lockdown, despite reporting the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in East Asia. Some offices and factories resumed operations, children went back to school, while places of worship began to open their doors.  Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday that the relaxation will likely prove “a big relief to all” but one that is “certainly not without its risks.” The wealthy city-state, an investment and trade hub whose seaport and airport rank among the world’s busiest, has diagnosed 35,292 cases of the new coronavirus, more than any country in East or South-East Asia except for China. Most of the cases are among foreign migrants confined to dormitories, though the related death toll, at 24, is one of the world’s lowest.

Malaysia criticised over ‘crackdown’ on media, NGOs, undocumented migrants – dpa international

Billboard in Kuala Lumpur showing Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR – The United Nations has labelled recent round-ups of undocumented foreign workers as “alarming” and called on the Malaysian government “to refrain from raiding locked-down areas.” “The current crackdown and hate campaign are severely undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country,” said Felipe Gonzalez Morales, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. According to Malaysia’s Health Ministry, several “clusters” of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have been found in migrant worker communities, leading to the areas being cordoned off.  Around 200 migrants from countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia were nabbed by police in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, the latest in a series of raids that have seen least 1,800 people detained in the month of May.

Singapore’s home help migrants face ‘hidden plight’ due to Covid-19 – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — A lockdown imposed in Singapore to stall the spread of the new coronavirus has led to increased incidences of domestic helpers being overworked or abused, according to a group that operates a helpline for migrant workers. The Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME) said on Friday that calls to the helpline had jumped by 25 per cent since the restrictions were introduced on April 7. Most businesses were closed, forcing Singaporeans to work from home. In turn, some domestic workers – often young women from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines who cook and clean for the city-state’s well-to-do families – face “increased work hours as employers are home at almost all hours of the day, leading to an increase in household and caregiving duties,” HOME stated.

Pandemic panic could see surgeries and vaccinations postponed – dpa international

Waiting area inside the traditional Chinese medicine section of Tung Shin Hospital in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — The coronavirus pandemic could see 28.4 million elective surgeries cancelled or postponed worldwide, with potentially deadly consequences for cancer patients, according to a report published on Thursday. “Patients’ conditions may deteriorate, worsening their quality of life as they wait for rescheduled surgery,” said Aneel Bhangu, consultant surgeon at the NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Global Surgery at Britain’s University of Birmingham. “In some cases, for example cancer, delayed surgeries may lead to a number of unnecessary deaths,” said Bhangu, one of a group of doctors and academics across 11 countries who authored the report, which was published in the British Journal of Surgery. Based on information shared by doctors at 359 hospitals in 71 countries, the study was prompted by Britain’s National Health Service announcing in March that “non-urgent” surgeries would be cancelled for a period of 12 weeks.

Singapore’s Covid-19 caseload tops 25,000 with more migrants infected – dpa international

A Singapore mall popular with expats from the Philippines (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Health Ministry on Wednesday announced 675 new cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, taking the national total to 25,346. Almost all the wealthy city-state’s cases are among low-wage foreign workers confined to dozens of crowded dormitories. Health Ministry data published on Tuesday showed 22,334 dormitory cases, while on Wednesday the ministry added that “the vast majority” of the day’s new cases are in the workers’ accommodation. Singapore aims to test all 323,000 dormitory residents – mostly young men working in sectors such as construction and hailing from countries including Bangladesh, Indonesia and Myanmar. 

Journalist faces Malaysian police grilling over migrant coverage – dpa international

A near-deserted street in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s communications and multimedia minister said on Sunday that he will ask officials not to “act against” a journalist facing police action for an article reporting on the arrests of hundreds of migrant workers. “I may not like ur piece but I will defend ur right to write it,” wrote Saifuddin Abdullah, responding on Twitter to a post by journalist Tashny Sukumaran – in which she said she has been summoned for questioning about a Friday report in the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper. On Sunday, which is World Press Freedom Day, Saifuddin said he is “looking into” a telecommunications law under which the journalist will be questioned and which non-governmental mouthpiece Reporters Without Borders brands part of “a draconian arsenal” of codes undermining media freedom. A group of 586 undocumented foreign workers were rounded up by police on Friday during an operation to test around 3,000 migrants for Covid-19.

Malaysia to loosen Covid-19 lockdown curbs, PM says in May Day speech – dpa international

Barista at work in Kuala Lumpur café during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Starting May 4, Malaysia will wind back restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday. Acknowledging that curbs imposed since mid-March were hurting commerce, Muhyiddin said during a Labour Day speech that “we must find ways to balance between healing the nation’s economy and addressing Covid-19.” A total of 6,002 people in Malaysia have contracted Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, with 102 people dying in thr country and more than 230,000 people globally. Almost 70 per cent of people who tested positive in Malaysia have recovered, according to Ministry of Health data, with new case numbers dropping to an average of 57 a day over the past 10 days.