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Half-brother of North Korean leader killed in Malaysia
Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, died after an attack at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13. Malaysian police have arrested four people in connection with the suspected poison attack and are seeking four North Korean men who fled Malaysia the day of the attack. North Korea's ambassador to Kuala Lumpur has questioned the integrity of the investigation, claiming it was politically motivated, but Malaysian officials dismissed the accusations as “baseless.”
Jakarta gubernatorial election heading to a runoff after incumbent fails to win a majority
Unofficial results from Jakarta’s February 15 gubernatorial election have incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama winning 43 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff election. Anies Baswedan, a former minister of education and culture, came in a close second with 40 percent. Agus Yudhoyono, a former army officer and son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, bowed out of the race after receiving only 17 percent of the vote. Analysts expect Yudhoyono’s supporters to favor Baswedan in the runoff election on April 19.
Prominent opposition senator in the Philippines charged with drug-related crimes
The Philippine Department of Justice on February 17 filed three drug-related complaints against outspoken opposition senator Leila de Lima, with a hearing scheduled for February 24. The courts issued a warrant for de Lima’s arrest on February 23. De Lima is being charged for alleged involvement in an illegal drug trafficking ring inside the New Bilibid Prison while she served as justice secretary in the previous administration. The charges are seen as a personal attack against de Lima, chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, who has been a vocal opponent of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
Philippine Catholics protest extrajudicial killings and reintroduction of death penalty
Thousands of Catholics took to the streets of Manila on February 18 to protest the extrajudicial killings associated with President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and his plans to reinstate the death penalty. Police estimate that 10,000 people took part in the march—dubbed the “Walk for Life” prayer rally—which was endorsed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). The rally took place almost two weeks after the CBCP released a pastoral letter read aloud at churches across the Philippines, which said that killing people was not the answer to the trafficking of illegal drugs.
Cambodian opposition party leader resigns from leadership role
Sam Rainsy, the exiled president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), resigned as party president on February 11 in response to legislation introduced in the National Assembly that was widely viewed as a direct attack on Rainsy and the CNRP. The legislation, now approved, allows the assembly to dissolve political parties if party leaders commit “serious mistakes.” Courts in Cambodia, over which the ruling party has significant influence, had convicted Rainsy on a series of defamation charges, which prompted him to seek exile in France. The CNRP will vote in April 2018 to elect a new party president, with party vice president Kem Sokha serving as acting party president in the interim.
Myanmar claims former army officer ordered killing of prominent lawyer
Myanmar’s presidential office announced on February 15 that it believed Aung Win Khaing, a retired army lieutenant colonel, was responsible for planning the January 29 assassination of prominent lawyer and ruling party adviser U Ko Ni at Yangon International Airport. The presidential office said the assassination was intended “to destabilize the state,” and claimed that Aung Win Khaing paid his older brother, Aung Win Zaw—who hired a gunman to shoot U Ko Ni—$73,000 for the assassination. The whereabouts of Aung Win Khaing are unknown.
Exercise Cobra Gold under way in Thailand
The annual Exercise Cobra Gold—the largest multilateral exercise in Asia—began on February 14 and will conclude on February 24. Twenty-nine nations are taking part in this year’s exercise, along with about 3,600 U.S. personnel. The size and scope of the exercise has been scaled back since the 2014 coup, but Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command and highest-ranking U.S. attendee since 2014, kicked off this year’s exercise. Harris reiterated the deep and enduring relationship between Thailand and the United States in a statement opening the exercise.
Duterte to review mine closure order after industry backlash
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte on February 18 said he will review an order to close more than half of the country’s mines for environmental violations, less than a week after saying he supported the decision. Philippine environment secretary Regina Lopez on February 2 ordered the closure of 23 of the country's 41 mines and the suspension of 5 others after an audit uncovered numerous environmental violations. In response, an industry group questioned the fairness of the audit, and mining companies have threatened legal action. The closure order is now on hold while the government’s Mining Industry Coordinating Council—cochaired by Lopez and the finance secretary—undertakes a review of the audit.
Mining standoff continues in Indonesia despite government’s offer to lift copper export ban
The Indonesian government on February 17 offered to end a five-week copper export ban and grant U.S. mining company Freeport-McMoRan a one-year export permit on the condition that Freeport switch from its current contract to a special mining permit that requires higher taxes and royalty payments and the divestment of 51 percent of its Indonesian subsidiary. In response, Freeport declared that it can no longer meet its contractual obligations on copper shipments and the head of its Indonesian subsidiary resigned. Freeport remains unwilling to abandon its current contract and has threatened to take Indonesia to arbitration if a compromise cannot be reached within 120 days. Indonesia’s Grasberg mine—the third-largest copper mine in the world—produces about 3.5 percent of global supply and is under contract to Freeport until 2021.
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