Irish political party accused of breaching coronavirus restrictions at funeral – dpa international

DUBLIN — Leaders of Irish political party Sinn Féin were among hundreds who gathered in Belfast on Tuesday for the funeral of Bobby Storey, a senior figure in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who died nine days ago aged 64. After the funeral was criticised on social media for seeming to breaching rules meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in Northern Ireland – which cap funeral attendances at 10 people – some of Sinn Féin’s political rivals took aim. Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann, a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), said at a Tuesday press conference that “no person” is “above the regulations and guidance we have laid down on how we combat Covid-19.” Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) parliamentarian Gregory Campbell called for “police action,” claiming that Sinn Féin leaders “showed no respect” for the restrictions – which it previously said should be applied without exemption. A police spokeswoman later told The Belfast Telegraph newspaper that officers will review footage of the funeral. Though Sinn Féin shares control of Northern Ireland’s devolved administration with the DUP, the two parties are ideological rivals. The DUP – and Swann’s UUP – oppose Sinn Féin’s aim of ending British rule in Northern Ireland.

Survey suggests tilt back towards polarisation in Northern Ireland – dpa international

On the bridge between Belcoo in the north of Ireland, part of the U.K., and Blacklion in the Republic of Ireland. The signage denoting the U.K. is in miles per hour while the Republic of Ireland is in kilometers per hour (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — People in Northern Ireland are more likely to identify with either Britain or Ireland since the 2016 British vote to leave the European Union, going by the latest annual Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. A majority of the region’s 1.8 million people view themselves as either “nationalist” or “unionist”  in the latest survey, which saw 1,200 people canvassed in late 2019 and early 2020 by researchers from Ulster University and Queens University Belfast (QUB). In 2018, half of those surveyed eschewed identifying as either nationalist or unionist. Paula Devine of QUB said “it is striking that 2019 also saw a strengthening of unionist and nationalist identities and growing pressure on the so-called middle ground.”

Singapore PM warns of impact on Asia of US-China power rivalry – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fears rising tensions between the US and China could undermine security and economic growth across Asia and called on both sides to pull back from confrontation. Lee flagged his concerns in an article titled “The Endangered Asian Century” published  in the US journal Foreign Affairs, which has a history of running watershed essays by policymakers involved international relations.Fearing that smaller Asian countries could be forced to take sides if intransigence grows between the world’s two biggest economies, Lee called for cooperation between the US and China, even as tensions rise over the coronavirus pandemic, trade, the disputed South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. “The two powers must work out a modus vivendi that will be competitive in some areas without allowing rivalry to poison cooperation in others,” Lee implored.

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.

Malaysia’s ex-leader Mahathir expelled from own political party – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — In the latest twist to a turbulent six-decade career in politics, Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was sacked on Thursday from the political party he co-founded in 2016. A statement from the United Indigenous Party of Malaysia, known by its Malay acronym Bersatu, said that 94-year-old Mahathir’s membership had been “revoked with immediate effect” Mahathir, who was party chairman, was fired along with four other parliamentarians for not supporting Malaysia’s government, which is headed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the Bersatu president. The five lawmakers took to the opposition benches during a brief May 18 parliamentary sitting. Mahathir, who was first elected to parliament in 1964, was the world’s oldest government leader before he unexpectedly quit in February.

Malaysian PM self-isolates after possible Covid-19 exposure – dpa international

Muhyiddin Yassin seen giving a speech at an anti-government rally in Kuala Lumpur in November 2016 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin tested negative for Covid-19 on Friday but will spend the next two weeks in self-isolation after attending a meeting involving an official who later tested positive for the disease. A Friday statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said that Muhyiddin, who took office in March, “is required to undergo a quarantine at home for 14 days beginning this afternoon.” The meeting took place on Wednesday, the office stated, without identifying the attendees aside from Muhyiddin. Malaysia has confirmed 7,137 coronavirus cases and 115 related deaths. Over 80 per cent of those infected with the coronavirus have recovered.

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.

Malaysia’s parliament holds brief first sitting under new government – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s parliament convened briefly on Monday for its first session since Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as prime minister in March. Citing the new coronavirus pandemic, the government limited the sitting to a brief address by King Abdullah, who praised the country’s health workers and repeated his earlier assessment that Muhyiddin has the backing of a parliamentary majority. The ring-fenced session, during which neither motions nor debate were allowed, scuppered an attempt to regain power by Muhyiddin’s predecessor, 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who last week proposed holding a no-confidence vote in Muhyiddin. Mahathir’s shock February 24 resignation was followed by a frenetic week-long power struggle, during which Mahathir re-entered the fray to return as leader after it became apparent that Anwar Ibrahim, another leading member of Mahathir’s alliance, did not have enough support among parliamentarians to lead the country.

Malaysia’s economy hit hard by coronavirus, even before lockdown – dpa international

Supermarket shelves being stocked during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s economy contracted by 2 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the final quarter of 2019, according to official data released on Wednesday. The decline was attributed to the impact of the coranavirus pandemic, which spread from China, Malaysia’s biggest trade partner, in late 2019 and prompted South-East Asia’s third-largest economy to impose a strict lockdown on March 18. “Our exports to China have (dropped sharply) since the beginning January 2020,” said Mohd Uzir Mahidin, chief statistician at Department of Statistics, adding that the downturn has also affected the tourism industry. Malaysia’s economy grew between 4.5 per cent and 7.4 per cent a year from 2010 onwards, according to World Bank data. The quarterly decline announced on Wednesday brought year-on-year growth down to 0.7 per cent, the lowest since the 2008-9 global financial crisis.

Malaysia’s under-pressure leader extends some virus curbs to June 9 – dpa international

During Malaysia's lockdown, restaurants were allowed to serve food for takeaway or delivery, much if it done by motorcycle couriers (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the new coronavirus in Malaysia will remain in place for another month, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced on Sunday. Schools and places of worship remain closed until June 9, as does Malaysia’s border. Muhyiddin’s government imposed a strictly enforced lockdown from March 18 until last Monday – when some rules were relaxed to allow people exercise outdoors, dine in at restaurants and return to work in sectors not previously deemed “essential.” Muhyiddin justified the relaxation by saying that Malaysia’s economy was shedding the equivalent of a half a billion dollars a day. He said on Sunday that “the number of new cases has remained low and under control, and there has been a high rate of recovery.”