Dozens of bodies pulled from mud as relief effort in Indonesia slowly expands – Los Angeles Times/RTÉ

JAKARTA — Aid workers described scenes of destruction and desperation Monday in areas of central Sulawesi they reached for the first time since a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami leveled parts of the Indonesian island, blocked roads and turned solid ground into mud. Just outside the hard-hit town of Palu, the regional capital and hub of the relief effort, volunteers retrieved the bodies of 34 students from a Bible school in the town of Sigi Biromaru, said Aulia Arriani, head of communications at the Indonesian Red Cross. The Red Cross team had “a hard time to evacuate the bodies as they had to walk through mud for one-and-a-half hours,” Aulia said. At least 1,203 people were killed after Friday’s quake, according to an unofficial count by volunteers, nongovernmental groups and hospitals in Palu. The tremor unleashed a tsunami as high as 20 feet crashing into the coastline, destroying roads and bridges, downing cellphone towers and washing away thousands of houses.

Indonesia’s quake-tsunami death toll tops 800, with several coastal towns still to be heard from – Los Angeles Times/RTÉ

JAKARTA — Anisah Firdaus Bandu’s mother called her in tears from her hometown of Palu on Friday evening when a magnitude 7.5 earthquake jolted the island of Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia. Since then, with cellphone towers and other infrastructure damaged by the quake and an ensuing tsunami, Anisah hasn’t heard from her parents, who are among thousands believed unaccounted for in the disaster that has left at least 800 people dead, officials said Sunday. “My mother cried a lot, she tried to pick up my father at his office,” said Anisah, a civil servant in Jakarta, the capital. “I really tried hard to reach them till now but I can’t.” As anxious relatives tried to place phone calls in vain and clamored to board military or relief flights to Palu, a town of some 380,000 people, emergency crews struggled to reach the worst affected areas, including a string of coastal towns that remained cut off by washed-out roads and downed communication lines.

Nearly a hundred dead, thousands evacuate after earthquake on Lombok in eastern Indonesia – Los Angeles Times/RTÉ

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).

Another election, another round of musical chairs in East Timor – RTÉ World Report

DILI — Celebrating with party supporters at the headquarters of his National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, or CNRT, Xanana Gusmao was his usual mix of backslapping and banter last Tuesday. “I’m anti-smoking, don’t be like me,” he said, laughing, before lighting one up. He could afford to be a bit facetious given that three days earlier the coalition he leads won a parliamentary majority in what was the second election in less than a year in East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste. The last vote in July 2017 led to a minority government led by Mari Alkatiri of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, or Fretilin. But Gusmao and his coalition allies in the Alliance for a Parliamentary Majority blocked Alkatiri’s budget, and soon after, in January, the government fell, only 4 months after it was sworn in. Alkatiri, a Muslim of Yemeni descent in what is one of only two Catholic majority countries in Asia, told me that he thought his party would win at least 30 seats, up from 23 last year.

Malaysia’s opposition bids to end government’s 60 year hold on power – RTÉ World Report

GEORGE TOWN — Not many people give Malaysia’s opposition much hope of ending the Barisan Nasional’s 13 election winning streak, when the country goes to the polls next Wednesday May 9th. “For a government to rule for 60 years in a democracy, it shows there is something wrong with the country,” said Harindra Singh, a volunteer canvasser with the Democratic Action Party, the biggest of the 4 parties that make up the opposition coalition. The Barisan Nasional, or National Front, has governed Malaysia since independence from the UK in 1957. In the last elections held almost 5 years ago to the day, the Front lost the popular vote by 3% but still won enough of a majority of parliamentary seats to once again form a government.

Despite being governed by former political prisoners, Burma still jails prisoners of conscience – RTÉ World Report

RANGOON — One of Burma’s thousands of former political prisoners, Bo Kyi fled to Thailand after he was freed from jail in 1997. He then spent the best part of 2 decades keeping track of and lobbying for the release of others jailed in his homeland for opposing the country’s former military dictatorship. His Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), or AAPP, opened an office in Rangoon, after Burma, officially known as Myanmar, after the army surprisingly handed power to a civilian government in 2011.  The high point of that transition came in 2015 when the National League for Democracy, the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, probably the world’s best known political prisoner since Nelson Mandela, won parliamentary elections. But now, three weeks after the AAPP opened a museum in Yangon commemorating those jailed fighting for democracy, Bo Kyi is angry.  “We have a hybrid regime, we do not have democratic government, we still have political prisoners,” he said.

Malaysia and Singapore push “fake news” laws – RTÉ World Report

SINGAPORE — The recent exposé of how polling firm Cambridge Analytica mined Facebook for information on voters was focused mainly on the United States. But the investigation, which aired on the UK’s Channel 4 last month, has caused ructions in Malaysia after Mark Turnbull, a Cambridge Analytica executive, was filmed bragging that they helped the governing coalition retain power in the country’s last elections in 201, apparently by using social media to profile voters and deliver campaign messages. “We’ve done it in Mexico, we’ve done it in Malaysia and now we’re going to Brazil,” Turnbull said. With another election due anytime between now and August, Malaysia’s opposition predictably seized on that claim. The government in turn said it had nothing to answer for, blaming Mukhriz Mahathir, a former ally turned opposition member, for personally hiring Cambridge Analytica.

Ahead of historic meeting with Southeast Asian leaders, Australia cuts boundary deal with East Timor – RTÉ World Report

JAKARTA — East Timor is a tiny country, with a land area around the same as the North of Ireland and a population of 1.3 million people. Its existing oil and gas reserves will be depleted in less than a decade, and with little sign of growth in other parts of the economy, it badly needs this deal with Australia How much money it ends up getting will depend on fluctuating oil and gas prices and on what subsequent deal is worked out to extract and process the underwater oil and gas. The companies with rights to drill in the field have floated, pun intended, the idea of a floating platform in the Timor Sea to process the gas there. But Australia wants to pipe to Darwin and use existing facilities, which would mean an 80% revenue cut for East Timor. The Timorese want pipe to East Timor and process there, giving a Dili 70% revenue cut but potentially allowing the Timorese to develop spin-off industries that could modernise its economy.