Tokyo, Jul 21 (AP/UNB) — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition appeared certain to hold onto a majority in Japan's upper house of parliament following Sunday's election, with exit polls indicating he could even close in on the super-majority needed to propose constitutional revisions.
NHK public television said that Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its partner Komei were sure to win from 67 to 77 seats in the upper house, and that the two-thirds majority needed for constitutional revision could be within reach if the bloc is joined by supporters from another party.
Up for grabs were 124 seats in the less powerful of Japan's two parliamentary chambers. There are 245 seats in the upper house — which does not choose the prime minister — about half of which are elected every three years.
If the exit polls prove accurate, the results would match or even exceed pre-election polls that indicated Abe's ruling bloc was to keep ground in the upper house, with most voters considering it a safer choice over an opposition with an uncertain track record.
Opposition parties have focused on concerns over household finances, such as the impact from an upcoming 10% sales tax increase and strains on the public pension system amid Japan's aging population.
Abe has led his Liberal Democratic Party to five consecutive parliamentary election victories since 2012.
He has prioritized revitalizing Japan's economy and has steadily bolstered the country's defenses in the backdrop of North Korea's missile and nuclear threats and China's growing military presence. He also has showcased his diplomatic skills by cultivating warm ties with President Donald Trump.
Abe hopes to gain enough upper house seats to boost his chances for constitutional revision, his long-cherished goal before his term ends in 2021.
But Abe and his conservative backers also face challenges because voters seem more concerned about their jobs, the economy and social security.
The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and three other liberal-leaning parties teamed up in some districts. They stressed support for gender equality and LGBT issues — the areas Abe's ultra-conservative lawmakers are reluctant to back.
At a polling station in Tokyo's Chuo district on Sunday, voters were divided over Abe's 6 1/2-year rule.
A voter who identified himself only as a company worker in his 40s said he chose a candidate and a party that have demonstrated an ability to get things done, suggesting he voted for Abe's ruling party and its candidate, as "there is no point in casting my vote for a party or a politician who has no such abilities."
Another voter, Katsunori Takeuchi, a 57-year-old fish market worker, said it was time to change the dominance of Abe and his ultra-conservative policies.
"I think the ruling party has been dominating politics for far too long and it is causing damage," he said.
Dera Ismail Khan, Jul 21 (AP/UNB) — A female suicide bomber struck outside a hospital in Pakistan on Sunday as the wounded were being brought in from an earlier shooting against police, in a complex assault claimed by the Pakistani Taliban that killed a total of nine people and wounded another 30.
Salim Riaz Khan, a senior police officer in Dera Ismail Khan, said gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on police in a residential area, killing two. He says the bomber then struck at the entrance to the hospital, killing another four police and three civilians who were visiting their relatives. He said eight police were among the wounded, and that many of the wounded were in critical condition.
Inayat Ullah, a local forensics expert, said the female attacker set off 7 kilograms (15 pounds) of explosives packed with nails and ball-bearings.
The blast damaged the emergency room and forced it to shut down, according to a hospital official, who said the wounded were taken to a military hospital. The official spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed the attack but did not acknowledge that the bomber was a woman. The group has launched scores of attacks going back nearly two decades, but almost all of them were carried out by men.
Pakistan's military has carried out several major operations in recent years against the Pakistani Taliban and other militants in areas along the porous border with Afghanistan. The violence has declined, but the militants still make their presence known through occasional attacks, mainly targeting security forces and religious minorities.
Hanoi, Jul 21 (AP/UNB) — The United States said it's concerned by reports of China's interference with oil and gas activities in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where Vietnam accuses Beijing of violating its sovereignty.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that China's "repeated provocative actions aimed at the offshore oil and gas development of other claimant states threaten regional energy security and undermine the free and open Indo-Pacific energy market."
Vietnam on Friday demanded China remove a survey ship from Vanguard Bank, which it says lies within Vietnam's 200-mile exclusive economic zone. China claims the South China Sea almost in its entirety and has rattled smaller neighbors by constructing seven man-made islands in the disputed waters and equipped them with military runways and outposts.
Chinese coast guard vessels also have been reported near a drilling rig in the same Vanguard Bank area where Vietnam has contracted Russia's Rosneft to develop gas fields.
"Vietnam has made contact with China on multiple occasions via different channels, delivered diplomatic notes to oppose China's violations, and staunchly demanded China to stop all unlawful activities and withdraw its ships from Vietnamese waters," Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement Friday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang earlier in the week urged Hanoi to respect China's sovereign rights and jurisdiction, "and not to take any move that may complicate matters."
In May 2014, Chinese and Vietnamese vessels engaged in a dangerous confrontation when China's national oil company moved its oil platform into waters Vietnam considers its territory.
Ortagus calls on China to "cease its bullying behavior and refrain from engaging in this type of provocative and destabilizing activities."
Dubai, Jul 21 (AP/UNB) — In an audio recording released by a maritime security risk firm, a British naval officer can be heard saying that the transit of a British-flagged vessel through the Strait of Hormuz must not be impaired under international law, just before it is seized by Iranian forces.
The same recording has an Iranian naval officer telling the Stena Impero to change course, saying: "You obey, you will be safe."
The audio released Sunday by Dryad Global shows how the British navy was unable to prevent the ship's seizure by Iranian forces on Friday.
Iranian officials say the move came in response to Britain's role in seizing an Iranian supertanker loaded with some 2 million barrels of crude weeks earlier.
Friday's incident comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
Lisbon, Jul 21 (AP/UNB) — Portuguese authorities say 1,000 firefighters are working to contain wildfires that have injured eight firefighters and one civilian.
Portugal's Civil Protection Agency says Sunday that firefighters are combating flames that broke out Saturday across three fronts in the district of Castelo Branco, 200 kilometers (124 miles) northeast of Lisbon, the capital.
Authorities say the injured civilian has been evacuated to a hospital and that firefighters are being supported by 10 firefighting aircraft and hundreds of vehicles.
This is the first major wildfire in Portugal this year.
In recent years, the country has witnessed some of its deadliest fires on record, with 106 people killed in 2017. That year's death toll prompted the Portuguese government to back stronger firefighting prevention measures, leading to no wildfire deaths in 2018.