INDIANS DECRY EXTRAVAGANT WEDDING FOLLOWING MODI’S CASH CRUNCH
An Indian mining tycoon took over a royal palace and flew in Brazilian dancers at a reported cost of US$75 million to celebrate his daughter’s wedding. Up to 50,000 guests were expected at Bangalore Palace to celebrate the marriage of Gali Janardhan Reddy’s daughter on Wednesday. Indian media criticised the extravagance at a time when many are struggling to find the cash to buy food following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to make 500 and 1,000 rupee bills – 85 per cent of the cash in circulation – no longer legal tender in an effort aimed at tackling tax evaders and “black” money.
WHAT NEXT: A Reddy aide defended the lavish expenditure. “It is unfortunate that a daughter’s wedding has been made an issue out of envy and rivalry,” Manju Swamy said. “[Her parents] wanted to celebrate the event in a way that befits the family’s status in society.” The 49-year-old Reddy, a former minister with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), spent three years in jail for his alleged involvement in a mining scam before being released on bail last year. The cash policy has hit hundreds of millions of people – mainly the poor and middle class. Critics argue wealthy tax evaders are untouched as they keep their money offshore.
INDONESIA SAYS IT’S NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR LOSING SECOND WORLD WAR SHIPWRECKS
Indonesia is refusing to take the blame for the disappearance of at least six British and Dutch second world war shipwrecks - considered war graves - that investigators believe may have been salvaged for scrap. The Netherlands launched a probe into how three Dutch navy ships seemingly vanished from the Java Sea. Divers in 2002 discovered the long-lost wrecks of three Dutch ships, 60 years after they were sunk by Japanese forces.
WHAT NEXT: Indonesian authorities sought to distance themselves from the mystery. “The Dutch government cannot blame the Indonesian government because they never asked us to protect those ships,” said Bambang Budi Utomo, head of the National Archeological Centre under the Ministry of Education and Culture. “As there was no agreement or announcement, when the ships go missing, it is not our responsibility.” Naval warships and war graves are protected under international law and the desecration of such shipwrecks is illegal. Britain, meanwhile, has asked Indonesia to investigate the disappearance of three of its vessels.
PHILIPPINES’ DUTERTE CONSIDERS LEAVING ICC AFTER WEST’S FLAK OVER DRUG WAR
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he might withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), citing criticism from Western nations over killings unleashed by his war on drugs. Duterte expressed frustration about the West’s criticism of his drug war. Russian President Vladimir Putin removed his country from the ICC on Wednesday and Duterte said he might do the same. “They are useless, those in the international criminal [court]. [Russia] withdrew. I might follow. Why? Only the small ones like us are battered.”
WHAT NEXT: The ICC received an ear-bashing from the Philippine leader for showing concern about his war on drugs. An ICC prosecutor last month said the Hague-based tribunal may have jurisdiction to prosecute the perpetrators of the killings. He said other countries, namely the US, are worse. “The killings is endless,” he said, referring to conflicts in the past and current. “The amount is splattering … Just because it is America, it does not mean that it is good.” Critics have long argued the ICC only targets critics of the West, routinely ignoring allegations of war crimes against the US and others over questionable policies, such as the Iraq invasion.
VIETNAM EXTENDS RUNWAY ON DISPUTED ISLAND IN SOUTH CHINA SEA
Vietnam is extending a runway on an island it claims in the South China Sea in apparent response to China building military facilities on artificial islands in the region, a US think tank claimed. Satellite images taken this month showed Vietnam had lengthened its runway on the Spratly Island from about 760 metres to more than 1km, Washington’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said.
WHAT NEXT: AMTI said the upgraded runway would be sufficiently able to accommodate maritime surveillance aircraft and transport planes in addition to combat aircraft. Reports in August said Vietnam had discreetly fortified several islands within the disputed South China Sea with mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China’s runways and military installations, which according to analysts, was the most significant defensive move Vietnam had made in decades. Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry rejected the claims, saying the information was “inaccurate”. Vietnam’s latest move appeared to underscore Hanoi’s concerns about China’s pursuit of territorial claims in disputed areas.
HONG KONG LOCALISTS DISQUALIFIED OVER CONTROVERSIAL PRO-INDEPENDENCE OATH
Hong Kong is in the midst of a judicial and political maelstrom with two pro-independence lawmakers this week disqualified from the Legislative Council over their controversial oath-taking. Youngspiration’s Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, during the oath-taking on October 12, swore allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and pronounced China as “Chee-na”, a derogatory term with wartime connotations. They also displayed a banner declaring “Hong Kong is not China”. Citing the city’s Oaths and Declarations Ordinance, Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-Cheung concluded the pair had not faithfully taken the oath or recognised the principle of “one country, two systems”. The decision came just days after Beijing issued an interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law requiring all elected officials to “sincerely” take their oaths or face disqualification, which prompted protests by legal professionals in Hong Kong.
WHAT NEXT: The Youngspiration pair’s disqualification hangs in limbo after they launched an appeal against the decision. Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal confirmed their seats would not be declared vacant until the result of the case, set to be heard Thursday. The city’s legal experts called for clarification surrounding the constitutional foundation for the disqualification ruling, and political parties have started to consider potential candidates for a by-election in the seats of New Territories East and Kowloon West. Meanwhile, 13 other pro-independence lawmakers have been targeted for additional judicial reviews over their problematic oaths last month.
NORTH KOREAN OFFICIALS REQUEST CHINA TO PROHIBIT ‘KIM FATTY THE THIRD’ IN MEDIA
Mainland Chinese websites are censoring “Kim Fatty the Third”, a popular nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, after officials in Pyongyang reportedly complained about it in a meeting with their Chinese counterparts.
Internet searches on Baidu and Weibo for the words “Jin San Pang” returned no results. The nickname pokes fun at Kim’s girth and status as the third generation of the Kim family’s rule. Relations between China and North Korea have been strained by the North’s nuclear weapons programme, but Beijing still supports Kim’s government.
What next? North Korean officials, fearing that Kim would find out about the nickname, are said to have recently lodged a formal request with China to prohibit names disparaging Kim from appearing in the media. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday that reports of the banning of “Jin San Pang” didn’t “comply with facts”. “We disapprove of referring to the leader of any country with insulting and mocking remarks,” he added. “Kim Fatty the Third” is so widely used that it is sometimes suggested by auto-complete algorithms on web search sites. While searches for “Jin San Pang” returned no results this week, Baidu left untouched results for other versions of the nickname, such as “Kim Fat Fat Fat”.
NAJIB RAZAK ADDRESSES MALAYSIA TO DENOUNCE ANTI-GOVERNMENT RALLY
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak took the unprecedented step on Friday evening of addressing the country on national radio to denounce an anti-government rally planned for Saturday.
The broadcast came just hours after the arrest of the protest leaders from prominent Malaysian electoral watchdog, Bersih, who are calling for the resignation of Najib over allegations of corruption surrounding debt-riddled 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Police raided Bersih’s offices in the afternoon before taking away Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah and the secretariat’s manager Mandeep Singh to police headquarters for questioning.
Bersih is calling for Najib to step down and for an independent investigation into 1MDB, which racked up RM42 billion (HK$8.96 billion) of debts in a space of five years. Najib chaired 1MDB’s advisory board during that time. Opposition MP Gobind Singh Deo of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) declined to comment on the arrests.
“But I will be going for the rally ... as well as the entire leadership of DAP,” he told the South China Morning Post. Human rights lawyer Siti Kasim was also undeterred. “I will still march tomorrow with my friends. If they think the arrests are going to intimidate me, [the police] are wrong,” said Siti. “I am marching tomorrow because I want the government to clean up its act all across the board.”
Earlier yesterday, the co-founders of an independent news website that has reported extensively on the 1MDB scandal were charged with offences including “intent to annoy”.
Facing up to one year in jail, the editors of the website Malaysiakini appeared before a recently set up “special cyber court” in Kuala Lumpur. The charges relate to a video posted on the site of sacked ruling party member Khairuddin Abu Hassan accusing the attorney general of being close to cabinet ministers, which he argued would undermine his independence to investigate government corruption. Attorney general Mohamed Apandi Ali has cleared Najib of wrongdoing, saying US$681 million transferred into his personal bank account was a gift from the royal family in Saudi Arabia .
Malaysiakini editor-in-chief, Steven Gan, and co-founder, Premesh Chandran, say they have been harassed by Najib supporters. Gan said he would challenge the charges and prove “we did not commit any crime but were merely doing our job as journalists”.
Additional reporting by Eddie Morton