Australia and Indonesia try to mend fences – Nikkei Asian Review

Indonesians protesting in Jakarta in Feb. 2015 against Australian government efforts to prevent the execution of  2 Australian citizens on drug trafficking charges (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — Two neighbors with a fractious history sought to put recent disputes behind them as Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed at the weekend to restore military cooperation and reduce restrictions on some exports ahead of a possible free trade deal later this year. “Great result for Australian farmers. It will now be easier to export more sugar and beef to Indonesia,” Turnbull tweeted on Sunday, referring to Indonesia’s agreement to reduce tariffs on Australian sugar to 5% and allow more live cattle exports from Australia to the country of 250 million people. Widodo’s Feb. 25-26 visit to Sydney was his second trip to Australia since he took office in 2014, and the first since he personally showed Turnbull around Jakarta in November 2015. That meeting came shortly after the Australian prime minister took power in Canberra, on the back of an internal Liberal Party coup against incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

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Jakarta’s municipal election, a test of Muslim-Christian relations, goes to a runoff – Los Angeles Times

Woman voting at polling station in central Jakarta in the city's Feb. 15 gubernatorial elections (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — After a tense campaign marred by religious protests and phone-tapping allegations made by a former president, Indonesia’s capital will have to wait two more months to learn who will run the city of 10 million people. Incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as “Ahok,” will face a runoff election in April against a former education minister who was backed by Islamist protesters, turning the election into a test of religious tolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent and an ally of President Joko Widodo, won around 40% of the votes cast Wednesday according to preliminary counts. That was roughly the same as his rival, Anies Basdewan, a Muslim whose reformist credentials came under scrutiny when Islamist supporters sought to have the sitting governor jailed over a speech in which he allegedly insulted Islam.

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Philippines’ Catholic leaders grapple with Duterte presidency – National Catholic Register

Rodrigo Duterte (red shirt) speaking at Manila’s Rizal Park on May 7, 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — After Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s succession of tirades against the country’s Catholic Church leaders, bishops hardly expected a presidential climb down, even after their entreaty asking the government to ease up on a violent anti-drugs campaign. In less than eight months, more than 7,600 people, mostly drug traffickers and drug users, have been executed extrajudicially, often by a gunshot to the head, their bodies left on the blood-strewn street as a warning. Some have been killed in police operations and some have been murdered by unidentified paramilitary squads. The bloodshed prompted a February pastoral letter signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, which said, “This traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. But the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers.”

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Tepid end to Jakarta election campaign – Nikkei Asian Review

Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat meet supporters after a televised Feb. 10 candidate debate (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — A tumultuous election campaign for the job of running one of the world’s biggest, most traffic-clogged and flood-prone cities drew to a relatively placid close over the final weekend before the Feb. 15 vote. Candidates in the race for the Jakarta governorship ended a last televised debate by grinning cheek-to-cheek in a group selfie photograph. As staged as it was, it was a rare cordial moment in a combative campaign. It came the day before Islamist groups held a last-ditch rally against the sitting governor, who they accuse of blasphemy. The rally drew a much smaller turnout than the hundreds of thousands of people who flocked to two similar protests in late 2016 against the incumbent governor, adding to the sense that the contentious election campaign had left participants drained. “It has been divisive but I am happy that the debate in the end is focusing on policies and programs, it takes the tensions down a bit,” said Sandiaga Uno, a candidate for vice governor and running mate of Anies Basdewan, one of two challengers seeking to oust the embattled incumbent, Bakuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as “Ahok.”

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Ireland has become a mecca for U.S. tech companies. Can Trump lure them home? – Los Angeles Times

The Trump golf resort at Doonbeg, Co. Clare, Ireland (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

DOONBEG — Every time President Trump rails against big “pharma” over the jobs that have been shipped overseas, his pledges to streamline regulations and lower taxes to lure them home prompt grimaces 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. More than 50,000 people are employed with pharmaceutical and medical device companies here in Ireland, with most of the companies refugees from America. Baxter, a medical equipment manufacturer based in Deerfield, Illinois, employs a thousand people in Ireland. Pfizer, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson all have substantial Irish operations. Dublin’s Silicon Docks neighborhood earned its nickname after Facebook, Google, Twitter and other U.S. tech companies set up in glossy offices, often mammoth European headquarters, close to the River Liffey. They are among an estimated 700 U.S. companies which, attracted by Ireland’s low corporate tax rate and English-speaking work force, have helped drive a multinational invasion on the Emerald Isle that once turned it into the “Celtic Tiger” of Europe, employing around 170,000 people in all.

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Myanmar by-elections test government support – Nikkei Asian Review

Former student leader Min Ko Naing (in white) and Tin Oo, a senior NLD member, chat before constitutional reform rally in Yangon on May 17 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy government are gearing up for their first electoral test since taking power last year, with April 1 by-elections looming for a small number of parliamentary seats. “Many of the vacant seats are in the NLD’s stronghold areas,” noted Nay Yan Oo, a Myanmar analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The seats being contested were vacated when their occupants were appointed to various roles in the NLD government. Regulations require that lawmakers who join the administration must give up their parliamentary seats. There are 18 seats at stake, with 95 candidates from 24 parties seeking the support of 2 million voters.

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Who will speak up for Myanmar’s unwanted Rohingya? – National Catholic Register

Rohingya child at Thay Chaung fish market inside a Rohingya ghetto near Sittwe. The nearby docks are a departure point for Rohingya refugees going by boat to Thailand and Malaysia (Photo; Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — Numbering around 1 million people living in western Myanmar, along with several hundred thousand refugees and migrants in neighboring countries, there are few peoples in the world as marooned as the Muslim Rohingya. Most are stateless, denied citizenship by Myanmar due to a 1982 law dictated while the country, then known as Burma, was run by the army. But the end of dictatorship in 2011 and the rise to power of an elected government last year — headed by one of the world’s best-known former political prisoners Aung San Suu Kyi — has done little to help the Rohingya. “They have been suffering, they are being tortured and killed, simply because they uphold their Muslim faith,” said Pope Francis in his latest weekly audience Feb. 8.

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Plight of the Rohingya strains ASEAN unity – Nikkei Asian Review

Indonesian protestors denounce Myanmar's treatment of the Muslim Rohingya minority during a Nov. 25 demonstration outside the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta. (Photo" Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — A Feb. 3 report by the U.N. Human Rights Council featured harrowing accounts by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh of army abuses in northern Rakhine, including the gang rape of women and murder of children. In response to the report, Myanmar’s government, which is led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, initially softened its prior outright denials of military abuse and promised to investigate the allegations. But on Feb. 7, it said it needed more information from the U.N. Naypyitaw’s earlier denials had prompted criticism from around the world. On Jan. 20, Yanghee Lee, the U.N. human rights envoy to Myanmar, said: “For the government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the government appears less and less credible.”

Previously, Myanmar railed against a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the Rohingya crisis, held in Malaysia on Jan. 19, during which Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak reiterated harsh criticisms of Naypyitaw’s policies, saying: “The killing must stop, the burning of houses must stop, the violation of women and girls must stop.” He had earlier urged international intervention in Myanmar and accused the government of “genocide” against the Rohingya.

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Myanmar’s Rohingya – stateless, and to some, nameless – Nikkei Asian Review

Anuar Begum and child sit behind Anuar's mother Zeinab, inside clinic at Thay Chaung , outside Sittwe in Rakhine State (Photo: Simon Roughneen, April 2014)

YANGON — Myanmar’s minority Muslim Rohingya are holding fast to their identity in the face of official discrimination, public scorn and military action. Excluded from Myanmar’s 2014 census unless they assented to the epithet “Bengali,” most of the country’s roughly 1.1 million Rohingya live as virtual aliens in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. How long they have lived in Rakhine State and under what name is a highly contentious matter in Myanmar. “The Arakanese people and the Myanmar people do not accept the term Rohingya,” said Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party, the biggest party in Rakhine State. Like the Myanmar government, Aye Maung refers to the Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying that the Rohingya are foreigners. Rohingya disagree. “Nobody can deny us to call ourselves by our name, that is our right,” said Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.

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Pressure grows on Aung San Suu Kyi over Rohingya – RTÉ World Report

U.K. foreign secretary Boris Johnson at Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda on  Jan. 21 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

RANGOON – More than a year after Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory in Burma’s first valid national election in a quarter century, the former political prisoner is looking increasingly aloof from her own history as a victim of human rights abuses. The plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority in the west of Burma, or Myanmar as it is officially called, is well known. Denied citizenship and regarded as Bengali immigrants, the Rohingya not only have been subject to decades of official discrimination but have been largely scorned and ostracized by most Burmese people. Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal opinion on the Rohingya is unknown, she says little to the press these days, but since taking up her role as Burma’s de facto leader last year, she has done little to alleviate their plight — bar ask officials not to refer to them as “Bengali,” a term the Rohingya do not accept as it implies that they are immigrants from Bangladesh.

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