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Anniversary of disappearance of Lao agronomist Sombath Somphone
December 15 marks the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone in 2012. Sombath was last seen on a CCTV camera being stopped at a police checkpoint in the capital of Vientiane. Foreign governments, including the United States where Sombath studied, and civil society organizations have repeatedly called on the Lao government to launch an impartial and thorough investigation into Sombath’s disappearance. Lao officials insist their investigations have not turned up any information about Sombath.
Malaysian prime minister leads protest against Myanmar’s “genocide” of Rohingya Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak led a December 4 rally against increasing violence and persecution faced by the Muslim minority Rohingya in Myanmar. Najib called the ongoing crackdown by Myanmar’s military in western Rakhine State a “genocide” against the Rohingya, lambasted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for her alleged complacency, and called for intervention by the United Nations, International Criminal Court, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Myanmar receives continued pushback from Annan and others over Rohingya treatment
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar government have received considerable criticism from the international community amid increasing violence and reports of human rights abuses in Rakhine State. Accusations of “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya in Rakhine State have led to calls for the government to do more to protect the Rohingya, as well as some to question Aung San Suu Kyi’s status as a Noble Peace Prize laureate. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he is “deeply concerned” about the alleged abuses, but the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State—of which Annan is a member—has not yet issued recommendations to address the ongoing violence.
Philippine vice president resigns from cabinet
Vice President Leni Robredo resigned from her cabinet position as the chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council on December 5. Robredo decided to resign after she was uninvited from attending cabinet meetings amid a rapidly deteriorating working relationship with President Rodrigo Duterte stemming from Robredo’s outspoken criticism of many of Duterte’s policies. Robredo remains vice president despite her resignation from the cabinet and says she will work to support Duterte’s positive initiatives for the benefit of the Filipino people.
Thai king shuffles membership of privy council
King Maha Vajiralongkorn on December 6 appointed a new 11-member privy council, with 8 councillors from the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s council retaining their positions, including council president General Prem Tinsulanonda. The three new appointees are all military generals, reflecting a preference for the military government and an apparent attempt to balance among military factions in Thailand’s political elite.
Indonesia arrests 11 for treason ahead of latest protests against Jakarta governor
The Indonesian national police force arrested 11 people on December 2 in connection with an alleged plot to gather support to impeach President Joko Widodo during the latest protest calling for the arrest of Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama on blasphemy charges. The arrested suspects included Rachmawati Sukarnoputri, sister of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri; Ahmad Dhani, a popular Indonesian rock singer; and two former army generals. Eight of the suspects were released the following day, while three remained detained for further questioning.
Cambodian opposition leader tried in exile, deputy pardoned after reconciling with prime minister
King Norodom Sihamoni on December 2 pardoned acting opposition leader Kem Sokha at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Sokha had been in hiding since being sentenced to five months in prison for refusing to appear in court to answer questions related to defamation charges involving his alleged mistress. Additionally, exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy was tried in absentia on December 9 for conspiring to incite chaos in Cambodia by posting false documents on his Facebook page. A verdict in Rainsy’s case is expected on December 22.
Indonesian police foil planned terrorist attack
Indonesian police on December 10 thwarted a possible terrorist attack on the presidential palace in Jakarta. Police say the plan was to use a female suicide bomber to attack the palace during a weekly ceremony open to the public. Four people suspected of being members of the network of Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian currently fighting for the Islamic State in Syria, were arrested in connection with the plot.
Mahathir reaches out to former rivals at opposition party conference
Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad attended the December 5 annual conference of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the largest party in Malaysia’s opposition coalition. The visit was unprecedented, as the traditionally ethnic Chinese DAP and Malay nationalist Mahathir were harsh critics of one another during Mahathir’s 22 years as prime minister. Mahathir now leads the recently formed Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia party and is attempting to integrate it into the coalition opposing the long-ruling United Malays National Organization, Mahathir’s former party.
Singapore, Malaysia move forward on high-speed rail link
Singapore and Malaysia on December 13 signed an agreement finalizing the requirements, frameworks, and governmental arrangements needed to build a high-speed rail line linking Kuala Lumpur with Singapore. A joint statement by Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak welcomed the “historic” commitment to the “marquee” high-speed rail project. The 217-mile, eight-station line—which is planned to be completed within ten years—will cut travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes.
Vietnam signs civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India
Vietnam and India signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement on December 9 that would strengthen cooperation between the two countries and provide Indian support for capacity building and training of Vietnamese nuclear scientists. Vietnam has existing deals with Japan and Russia to construct nuclear power plants in Vietnam.
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