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At least 54 dead after earthquake rocks Indonesia – Los Angeles Times

View of Banda Aceh from tsunami evacuation tower, built on the coast after the 2004 disaster (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Aid workers, soldiers and others tore through the rubble of collapsed buildings in the northwestern Indonesian province of Aceh on Wednesday in a frantic search for people trapped by an earthquake that killed at least 97 people. early Wednesday morning, officials said. Maj. Gen. Tatang Sulaiman, chief of the army in Aceh province, said four people had been pulled from the rubble alive by late Wednesday.. Another four or five still believed to be buried, but he didn’t say if they were dead or alive. By sundown, local disaster relief officials said the number of injured had reached 600. The number of victims was predicted to increase “because some people are still stuck under the damaged buildings,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said. The magnitude 6.5 quake was centered about six miles north of Reuleut, a town in northern Aceh, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The worst damage occurred in Aceh’s Pidie Jaya district, where hundreds of people were rushed to hospitals and dozens of buildings were flattened. Local officials appealed for emergency relief supplies and heavy equipment to move debris and aid in the search for survivors.

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Asian executives mull future with Trump – Nikkei Asian Review

Indonesia's investment co-ordinator Thomas Lembong, right, and media entrepreneur Steve Forbes in Jakarta on Nov. 29. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — On the face of it, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his soon-to-be American counterpart U.S. President-elect Donald Trump could not be more dissimilar. Widodo, or “Jokowi” as he is known, is understated, self-effacing and wry, while Trump is abrasive, brash and loquacious. Before entering Indonesian politics, Widodo was a furniture exporter, while Trump, a real estate mogul, has long been one of the best-known U.S. businessmen. During a five-minute phone call on Nov. 28, it was reported that the two leaders hit it off. “It seems because both are lifelong businessmen they really connect well, there is good chemistry,” said Thomas Lembong, chairman of the Indonesia Investment Co-ordination Board, the government investment agency, speaking to media at the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Jakarta. “They had a very cordial telephone conversation,” added Lembong, who was Indonesia’s trade minister before a cabinet reshuffle in mid-2016. If true, the rapport between Trump and Widodo could offset any Indonesian disappointment over the incoming U.S. administration’s intention to ditch the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a far-reaching free trade pact between the U.S. and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries. Indonesia was not among the initial 12 signatories to TPP, but had wanted to join the bloc. In the wake of Trump’s announcement, Lembong said Jakarta would continue to try to liberalize its trading arrangements with other countries. “President Jokowi reaffirmed our commitment to free trade, to international investment. We are very committed to concluding our free trade agreements with the European Union, with Australia. Our economic agenda remains unchanged,” Lembong told the Nikkei Asian Review.

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Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis stirs regional protests – Nikkei Asian Review

(Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — The spiraling humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State is prompting anger among Muslims across Asia. Last week, thousands of protestors in several regional capitals slammed Myanmar’s treatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority — even going as far as labelling the country’s de facto leader, a former political prisoner and now State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, as a “butcher” over the military’s brutal crackdown in Muslim-dominated borderlands close to Bangladesh. In Indonesia, home to more Muslims than any other country, around 400 demonstrators, including members of some Islamic political parties, gathered in front of the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta on Nov. 25, shouting demands that Aung San Suu Kyi hand back the Nobel peace prize she was awarded while under house arrest by the Myanmar military in 1991. “I’m sorry Ms. Suu Kyi, we know you accept the Nobel peace prize, but where is the peace in Myanmar? There is no peace in your country for Muslims,” said rally co-ordinator Julkifli Ali.

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Malaysian opposition gains strength – The Interpreter/RTÉ World Report

91 year old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest serving leader, greets protestors near Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers on Saturday afternoon (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — For fifth time in less than a decade, thousands of yellow-clad supporters of an electoral reform movement called Bersih (Malay for ‘clean’) jammed streets in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday in their latest demonstration seeking change. But for the last year and a half, the group, which is backed by Malaysia’s opposition parties, have been seeking change at the top – the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak over lurid corruption allegations involving a state development fund called 1MDB. Najib is accused of trousering around $US700 billion allegedly siphoned off from 1MDB, public money that was supposed to help Malaysia meet its target of becoming a developed country by 2020 but which allegedly ended up in the prime minister’s personal bank accounts. Najib claimed the money was a Saudi Arabian donation, most of which was repaid. As well as being cleared of wrong-doing by the attorney-general, the prime minister has parried all comers so far, including his own deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who was fired after criticizing the boss over the allegations of financial impropriety.

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Thousands rally in Malaysia to demand the scandal-plagued prime minister resign – Los Angeles Times

Protestors gathering near one of Kuala Lumpur's main rail stations om Nov. 19 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR – The rally was a show of strength by Najib’s opponents but looked unlikely to shake his hold on power, which has weakened amid allegations that around $700 million in public money was deposited into bank accounts in his name. The scandal over a state development fund Najib set up in 2009 has drawn the attention of law enforcement agencies from around the world. The Justice Department alleged in July that “an international conspiracy” helped siphon $3.5 billion from the fund, known as 1MDB. Some of the money is alleged to have been used to set up a Hollywood production company led by Najib’s stepson that made, among other films, “The Wolf of Wall Street” – a story of financial corruption. Najib, who was in Peru on an official visit, has said he never took money “for personal gain” and called the deposits a donation from Saudi Arabia that he mostly repaid. The corruption scandal has gripped a country that has otherwise been a bulwark of political stability in Southeast Asia, long embraced by the West for its moderate brand of Islam. Stung by the criticism, Najib has recently played up Malaysia’s growing ties with China and castigated Western powers for interfering in former colonies. In recent months, as calls for his resignation have grown louder, several leading opposition politicians have been charged or jailed on a variety of offenses including sedition and breaches of communications laws. Among those facing prison was Rafizi Ramli, an opposition parliamentarian who joined the demonstration, saying Najib “will try to cling to power because [otherwise] he will go to jail.”

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Asia ponders whether Trump will walk the talk – Nikkei Asian Review/FT

Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita Speaking to U.S. investors in Jakarta in Sept. 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — After the most divisive election campaign in decades, tens of thousands of Americans have protested and rioted against the winner in cities across the country, prompting international concerns about an increasingly divided superpower. During his campaign, Trump called Mexicans “rapists,” appeared to mock a disabled reporter, threatened to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and faced accusations of sexually assaulting women. Clinton was subject to an FBI investigation over her use of a private email account while working as secretary of state, while a foundation run with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was suspected of soliciting cash from foreign governments in return for contacts in the U.S. government. China crowed over the debacle. “The innumerable scandals, rumors, conspiracy theories and obscenities make it impossible for a person to look away,” said state media outlet Xinhua News Agency. Alongside its unrivalled economic and military strength, the U.S. has relied on intangible “soft power” to influence other countries. Joseph Nye, the Harvard University scholar who coined the term, calls it “the ability to get what one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” But Nye noted that American prestige in Asia has been undermined. “The lack of civility in the presidential debate and the nativist, xenophobic nature of a number of Trump’s statements have already had a negative effect on American soft power in Asia and elsewhere,” he told the Nikkei Asian Review.

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Asia takes in The Donald’s ascent – Nikkei Asian Review

Participants at a discussion at a US embassy election event in Jakarta on Nov. 9 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — As Donald Trump spoke to a raucous, cheering crowd of supporters in New York after winning the US presidential election, Asia reacted to his unforeseen triumph over frontrunner Hillary Clinton with a mixture of surprise and optimism. “We just don’t know how a Trump presidency would be with regard to Asia, with regard to security issues such as the South China Sea,” said Richard Heydarian, a Philippine political scientist, referring to the Republican candidate’s perceived isolationism and threats to force U.S. allies in Asia to fend for themselves. Trump pledged again to put “America first,” echoing one of his campaign mantras, but in remarks aimed at “the rest of the world, the president-elect said “we will deal fairly with everyone.” That pledge includes another loud-mouthed septuagenarian president, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, who has repeatedly insulted President Barack Obama since taking office in mid-2016. The prospect of the two aging chest thumpers facing off could lead to trouble, Heydarian said. “Obama was very calm and rational in the face of Duterte’s comments [calling the US president “a son of a whore”]. How will Trump react if Duterte says the same?”

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As US votes, Europe and Asia ponder fate of trade deals – Nikkei Asian Review

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan and Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla at an EU-Indonesia business conference in Jakarta on Nov. 8 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — Stalled efforts by the U.S. and European Union to forge a trans-Atlantic trade pact will remain on ice for the foreseeable future — regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election, according to the EU’s agriculture commissioner. Failure to finalize the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership pact reflects growing protectionist sentiment in both the U.S. and Europe, and mirrors problems besetting its U.S.-Asian counterpart, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Negotiations on the TTIP will not resume until the new U.S. administration — led by Democrat Hillary Clinton or her Republican rival Donald Trump — settles into office, said Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. “These are on hold at the moment until we know what the new policy position of the U.S. will be,” Hogan said on Tuesday in Jakarta, on the final leg of an EU trade mission to Asia. “We have had a lot of political rhetoric from both candidates, probably to a greater extent from Mr. Trump who has expressed himself as anti-trade, Mrs. Clinton has said less than positive things about trade as well.”

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A most unusual election – Nikkei Asian Review

Asian interest? Books about presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for sale in Jakarta on the eve of the November 8 election (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — America’s quirky electoral college system is meant as “a compromise between election of the president by a vote in Congress and election of the president by a popular vote of qualified citizens,” according to the U.S. National Archives. “In a global perspective, the most common format is a two-round system. This involves the public choosing between a greater range of candidates to begin with. The finalists (usually two) then go head-to-head for the presidency in a final vote,” said Toby Green, an elections expert at the University of East Anglia. The system helps ensure the dominance of the two main parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. In 1992, although independent candidate Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote nationwide, he did not win any electoral college votes. The overall national vote does not usually equal the electoral college vote outcome. For example, Barack Obama win 51% of the nationwide vote in 2012, but 61% of the electoral college vote. In 2008, Obama won 53% of the popular vote but 68% of the electoral college vote. In four elections since 1800, the winning president has lost the popular vote — the last time in 2000 when George W. Bush won a cliffhanger election by getting Florida’s electoral college votes.

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Riots mar end of Islamist protest against Jakarta governor – Los Angeles Times

Protestors at the barbed wire and police barricade erected in front of Indonesia's presidential palace (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – One protester died and several were injured after tens of thousands of Muslims flooded the streets of Jakarta to protest against the city’s Christian and ethnic Chinese governor after allegations that he insulted Islam. President Joko Widodo said after midnight that he was “disappointed” by the violence — demonstrations that raised fears that anti-Chinese sentiment, which erupted in deadly violence in 1998, could once again flare. Widodo urged the protesters to disperse, saying that the accusations against the governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, would be handled by the police. “The demonstration shows that this can easily be mobilized, especially among the poor in Jakarta,” said Charlotte Setijadi, an expert on Chinese Indonesians at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. An estimated 2% to 3% of Indonesia’s 250 million people are of Chinese descent, and though prominent in business, they have historically been weak politically. Rumors spread Friday that the city’s ethnic Chinese community could be targeted by angry mobs, with police struggling to curtail a group of protesters trying to break into the governor’s residence in the north of the city.

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