KNOCK — When Pope Francis lands in Dublin on Saturday morning, he will encounter a land much changed from the one that gave predecessor John Paul II a euphoric welcome nearly four decades ago. “Devotion was at its peak, there were around 450,000 people here in Knock to see the pope,” said Bernard Byrne, 74, sitting inside his souvenir shop next to the parish church in Knock, a village in the west of Ireland. Behind him loomed statues of the Virgin Mary and framed photos of Francis, who will visit the Catholic pilgrimage site on Sunday, emulating John Paul II.
JAKARTA –The presidential election in Indonesia next year may see a reprise of the testy 2014 contest between President Joko Widodo and retired general Prabowo Subianto after both men registered their candidacies Friday. The incumbent, popularly known as Jokowi, selected a 75-year-old cleric as his running mate, a move designed to shore up his support from Islamists as he seeks a second five-year term leading the world’s most populous Muslim country. Jokowi is the early favorite to win the April election as a former political outsider who has spent his first term focusing on infrastructure projects. He is the first president from outside Indonesia’s political and military elite since the dictator Suharto resigned in 1998.
JAKARTA – Relief workers and soldiers worked to restore electricity, distribute tents and set up temporary kitchens Wednesday as officials raised the death toll in a 6.9-magnitude earthquake on the Indonesian island of Lombok to 131.
An additional 26 fatalities were confirmed from Sunday’s temblor as relief teams were finally reaching some villages and mountainous areas that had been inaccessible due to landslides, collapsed bridges and other damage. But as emergency crews comb more of the eastern Indonesian resort island, the death toll “will continue to grow,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the Indonesian Disaster Management Agency. “There is a lot of damage,” Nugroho told a news conference in Jakarta, adding that another 1,500 people were injured and 155,000 were displaced from their homes.
JAKARTA – The death toll in Sunday’s 6.9-magnitude earthquake on the Indonesian island of Lombok has risen from 98 to 105, a number that is likely to increase as relief and rescue teams struggle to reach cut-off villages in the worst-hit areas. “It is estimated that the number of victims will increase because the evacuation of victims affected by the [collapsed] buildings is still [being] carried out,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the Indonesian Disaster Management Agency, which put the number of those displaced by the disaster at 84,000. On Tuesday, rescue workers pulled a man alive from the rubble of a mosque that collapsed during evening prayers when the earthquake struck at 7:46 p.m. on Sunday. A 23-year-old woman was also rescued from the rubble of a minimart in the town of Pemenang.
JAKARTA – Medical equipment, tents and other supplies Monday were being rushed to the Indonesian island of Lombok after a devastating earthquake killed at least 98 people and left about 20,000 people homeless, disaster relief officials said. The earthquake Sunday evening, coming only a week after another deadly earthquake in Lombok, knocked down bridges, left roads blocked and damaged communications infrastructure, making it difficult for emergency crews to reach some hard-hit areas. Arifin Hadi, spokesman for the Indonesian Red Cross, said that “the disaster on Lombok is big, there are many houses down, there needs to be roads cleared.” Hadi said the Red Cross has sent nurses, doctors and drinking water to Lombok. “We have 11 water trucks there now, we will send 10 more from Surabaya” (Indonesia’s second biggest city, in the east of island of Java).
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s opposition and its 92-year-old autocrat-turned-reformer prevailed in Wednesday’s election, upsetting the coalition that has ruled the country for the last six decades. Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, won 113 seats in the country’s parliament — one more than needed to form a government and dislodge Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been in office since 2009 and whose Barisan Nasional, or National Front, has held power since the country gained independence from Britain in 1957. By 10 p.m. Wednesday, thousands of opposition supporters had poured into the streets of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and other cities in anticipation of a formal announcement of victory. “We have in fact achieved a substantial majority,” Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister who became a front man for the opposition, said at a news conference at 2:30 a.m. Thursday. “I hope tomorrow we will have a swearing in of the prime minister.”
KAMPUNG BUKIT, KEDAH, MALAYSIA — With police investigating him under Malaysia’s new anti-“fake news” law, Mahathir Mohamad, the nearly 93-year-old former prime minister turned opposition frontman, says his country faces its dirtiest election on Wednesday. The governing coalition “will cheat like mad, they will steal votes, but still I think we can win,” Mahathir said in an interview with The Times, stepping off a makeshift stage and into a nearby BMW waiting to take him to yet another campaign rally. Defying his age, Mahathir had just wrapped up a half-hour stump speech in this farming area about a 20-mile drive from Aloh Setar, the capital of Kedah state, his home base. Kedah has typically been a government stronghold, although the green flags of Malaysia’s Islamist party also flutter along its roadsides. Mahathir wants to swing the state, and enough rural Muslim Malays across the country, to his four-party opposition grouping known as the Alliance of Hope.
SINGAPORE — If China and the United States continue their charge into a full-on trade war, few regions will be as vulnerable to the resulting economic turbulence as Southeast Asia. That’s why the 10 governments of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Singapore this week are hashing out ideas about how the region can duck any shrapnel if the world’s two biggest economies keep firing protectionist salvos at each other. “Considering that China and the U.S. are ASEAN’s first and third trading partner respectively, the early exchange of blows between Washington and Beijing would be watched nervously across all ASEAN capitals,” said Tang Siew Mun, head of the ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a Singapore-based research organization.
BELCOO, NORTHERN IRELAND — On the short bridge between Blacklion and Belcoo stand two clues that the crossing links not only a pair of towns, but two countries. The road-sign speed limits for Blacklion in the Republic of Ireland are in kilometers per hour. In Belcoo, in Northern Ireland, miles are used. Over the last two decades — particularly since the 1998 peace deal which ended three decades of civil war in Northern Ireland — Belcoo, population 540, and Blacklion, population 194, have are effectively operated as one town. “There are no barriers, it’s how people want it,” said Eugene McCann, who runs a well-stocked grocery store and post office in Belcoo, his hometown.
CASTLEBAR — Sometime around AD 600, a handful of Irish monks decided that the rigors of fasting and penance on the mainland were not exacting enough. Waiting until the seas were calm enough, they are believed to have rowed to Skellig Michael, a small, pyramid-shaped island seven miles off Ireland’s southwest coast. There, the holy men built a monastery and found the raw seclusion they were after. A millennium and a half later, the site’s ruins are one of Ireland’s best-known heritage and tourist attractions, an antique allure made all the more vivid by the colonies of seabirds that flock to the island’s crags and crevices, and by the puffins and gulls sheltering in the monks’ long-abandoned stone structures. But since 2015, some of those visitors are as likely to be dressed as Chewbacca and waving lightsabers as they are to be conversant in the ways of early Christian eremites or the nesting habits of kittiwakes or gannets.