Taipei, May 18 (AP/UNB) — Gay couples in Taiwan plan a mass wedding registration after lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage, a first in Asia and a boost for LGBT rights activists who had championed the cause for two decades.
Legislators pressured by LGBT groups as well as by church organizations opposed to the move on Friday approved most of a government-sponsored bill that recognizes same-sex marriages and gives couples many of the tax, insurance and child custody benefits available to male-female married couples.
That makes Taiwan the first place in Asia with a comprehensive law both allowing and laying out the terms of same-sex marriage.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, a supporter of the law, tweeted: "On May 17th, 2019 in Taiwan, LoveWon. We took a big step toward true equality, and made Taiwan a better country."
"It's a breakthrough, I have to say so," said Shiau Hong-chi, professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan.
Thousands of people, including same-sex couples, demonstrated Friday morning in the rainy streets outside parliament before the vote. Many carried rainbow-colored placards reading "The vote cannot fail." About 50 opponents sat under a tent outside parliament and gave speeches favoring marriage between only men and women.
Taiwan's Constitutional Court in May 2017 said the constitution allows same-sex marriages and gave parliament two years to adjust laws accordingly. The court order mobilized LGBT advocacy groups pushing for fair treatment, as well as opponents among church groups and advocates of traditional Chinese family values that stress the importance of marriage and producing offspring.
Religion, conservative values and political systems that discourage LGBT activism have slowed momentum toward same-sex marriage in many Asian countries from Japan through much of Southeast Asia, although Thailand is exploring the legalization of same-sex civil partnerships.
"This will help spark a debate in Thailand, and hopefully will help Thailand move faster on our own partnership bill," said Wattana Keiangpa of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said Taiwan's action should "sound a clarion call, kicking off a larger movement across Asia to ensure equality for LGBT people and pro-active protection of their rights by governments throughout the region. No more excuses!"
At least 20 same-sex couples are planning a mass marriage registration in Taipei on May 24, a spokesman for the advocacy group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan said. The newlyweds and hundreds of invitees will hold a mass party a day later on a blocked-off boulevard outside the presidential office, the event organizer said.
The law will give a boost to Jay Lin and his partner, who hope to marry and assume joint custody of their two 2-year-old sons. They plan to register after May 24.
"A lot of gay parents are excited about that already," said Lin, a Taipei-based online streaming service founder.
"I think once more people are married and more families are more comfortable being out in public, that will naturally have a beneficial impact on society and on people's minds," Lin said.
Taiwan's acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships began in the 1990s when leaders in today's ruling Democratic Progressive Party championed the cause to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society.
Although claimed by China as its own territory, Taiwan is a self-governing democracy with a vibrant civil society dedicated to promoting rights for sexual and ethnic minorities, women, the handicapped and others.
Mainland China, ruled by the authoritarian Communist Party, remains much more conservative and officials have repeatedly discouraged even the discussion of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Despite that, news of Taiwan's new law was a major trending topic on social media in China, with more than 100 million views on the Twitter-like microblogging site Weibo.
Opponents in Taiwan raised fears of incest, insurance scams and children confused by having two mothers or two fathers. Both sides of the issue have held colorful street demonstrations and lobbied lawmakers.
"This is going to cause a lot of morality problems," said Lin Shih-min with the Taiwan political action group Stability of Power, which opposed the law. "From the point of view of the children, they have the right to grow up with both a mother and a father."
In November 2018, a majority of Taiwan voters rejected same-sex marriage in an advisory referendum. However, legislators favoring the bill, and voting separately on each item largely along party lines, said it followed the law as well as the spirit of the referendum.
"We need to take responsibility for the referendum last year and we need to take responsibility for people who have suffered from incomplete laws or faced discrimination," ruling party legislator Hsiao Bi-khim said during the three-hour parliament session.
India, May 17 (AP/UNB) — India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken his ruling party's fight to the state of West Bengal, where it hopes to retain a majority in staggered general elections concluding this week.
The battle pits Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party's divisive Hindu nationalism against the Trinamool Congress Party, headed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the top elected official in West Bengal.
West Bengal shares a language and border with Muslim-majority Bangladesh, making it a key battleground.
BJP has backed a bill that would make it easier to deport millions of Bangladeshis who migrated to India while easing a path to citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsees and Jains — notable non-Muslim — migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Banerjee has called the bill a "conspiracy" to make more people stateless refugees.
Ratodero, May 17 (AP/UNB) — Nothing seemed unusual to Rehmana Bibi, the mother of 10-year-old Ali Raza, when the boy came down with a fever at their home in the dusty, largely neglected district of Larkana in southern Pakistan.
Bibi took her son to a local doctor, who prescribed paracetamol syrup for Raza and told her there was no need to worry. But she panicked after being alerted that several children who initially came down with a fever had tested positive for HIV in nearby villages.
Alarmed, Bibi took Raza to a hospital where medical tests confirmed the boy was among about 500 people, mostly children, who authorities say tested positive for the virus, which can lead to AIDS. A local physician who has AIDS has since been arrested and is being investigated for possibly intentionally infecting patients.
"We were in great pain the day we heard about our son testing HIV positive," she told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Bibi said it was heartbreaking to learn that her child contracted HIV at such a young age. She said all her family members have been tested for the virus that attacks the immune system, but Raza was found to be the only victim.
Bibi said she has had sleepless nights from worrying and has been looking after her son since early this month when he was confirmed HIV-positive. She said she wants to see her son healthy and fully recovered as soon as possible.
Sikandar Memon, head of the AIDS Control Program in Sindh province, said officials have screened 13,800 people from Larkana and 410 children and 100 adults tested positive for HIV.
Nationwide, Pakistan's Health Ministry has registered over 23,000 HIV cases. Pakistani health officials have said HIV is usually spread in the country by using unsterilized syringes.
Authorities say the HIV outbreak in Larkana was apparently started when local physician Muzaffar Ghangharo, who has AIDS, infected patients in early April. Ghangharo was arrested earlier this month after Raza and others tested positive for the virus. Police are still trying to determine whether Ghangharo knowingly spread the disease to others.
Larkana is the home district of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a bomb and gun attack in the garrison city of Rawalpindi in 2007. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, also served as prime minister in the 1970s. He was hanged by military dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq.
Dubai, May 17 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia accused Tehran of being behind a drone strike that shut down a key oil pipeline in the kingdom, and a newspaper close to the palace called for Washington to launch "surgical" strikes on Iran, raising the specter of escalating tensions as the U.S. boosts its military presence in the Persian Gulf.
Concerns about possible conflict have flared after the U.S. dispatched warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged but unspecified threat from Iran. There also have been allegations that four oil tankers were sabotaged Sunday off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack on the Saudi pipeline.
Fears have grown out of President Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions — the latest levied as recently as last week — that have crippled Iran's economy. But Trump took a soft tone Thursday, a day after tweeting that he expected Iran to look for talks. Asked if the U.S. might be on a path to war with the Iranians, the president answered, "I hope not."
Saudi Prince Khalid bin Salman, who is King Salman's son and the country's deputy defense minister, tweeted that the drone attack on two Saudi Aramco pumping stations running along the East-West pipeline were "ordered by the regime in Tehran, and carried out by the Houthis" — a reference to the Yemeni rebel group.
A state-aligned Saudi newspaper went further, running an editorial calling for "surgical" U.S. strikes on Iran in retaliation. Iran has been accused by the U.S. and the U.N. of supplying ballistic missile technology and arms to the Houthis, which Tehran denies.
The front-page editorial in the Arab News, published in English, said it's "clear that (U.S.) sanctions are not sending the right message" and that "they must be hit hard," without elaborating on specific targets. It said the Trump administration had already set a precedent with airstrikes in Syria, when the government there was suspected of using chemical weapons.
Ali Shihabi, who runs the Saudi-leaning Arabia Foundation in Washington, said there's a sense that if the Iranians can get away with targeting Saudi oil infrastructure, then "the whole security infrastructure in the Gulf will be called into question and security premiums on oil will rise."
He said it would seem that Riyadh would like to coordinate with Washington how it responds to Iran, but "eventually what may happen is that just Saudi Arabia and the UAE may have to do something."
"Nobody is going to start a war with them (Iran), but I think they should be defanged and, you know, things like their naval capabilities, things like their missile capabilities should be downgraded at least to make their capacity to inflict such dangerous activity more painful, more costly," Shihabi said.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also is defense minister and controls major levers of power in the Sunni kingdom, has not commented publicly on this week's incidents. In a Saudi TV interview in 2017, he said the kingdom knows it is a main target of Shiite Iran and there is no room for dialogue with Tehran.
A top Emirati diplomat said late Wednesday the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen would "retaliate hard" for attacks on civilian targets, without elaborating.
However, Anwar Gargash also said the UAE is "very committed to de-escalation" after the alleged sabotage of the tankers off the country's coast. He declined to blame Iran directly, although he repeatedly criticized Tehran.
In response to the oil pipeline attack, the coalition said it launched airstrikes on Houthi targets in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa, killing at least six people, including four children. At least 40 other people were wounded, according to Yemen's Health Ministry.
Residents of Sanaa scrambled to pull wounded people from the rubble of a building hit by the airstrikes. Fawaz Ahmed told The Associated Press he saw three bodies — a man, a woman and a child, all buried together.
The coalition, which includes the UAE, has been at war with the Houthis since 2015, carrying out near-daily airstrikes. The pipeline attack marked one of the rebels' deepest and most significant drone strikes inside Saudi territory since the conflict began.
Washington already has warned shipping companies that "Iran or its proxies" could be targeting maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf region and said it deployed an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers there to counter the threat.
Last week, U.S. officials said they had detected signs of Iranian preparations for potential attacks on U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East but did not provide any evidence to back up the claims.
The U.S. State Department has ordered all nonessential government staff to leave its embassy and consulate in Iraq. Germany and the Netherlands both suspended their military assistance programs in the country in the latest sign of tensions.
Iraq is home to powerful pro-Iranian militias, while also hosting more than 5,000 U.S. troops. The U.S. military's Central Command said its troops were on high alert, without elaborating.
European nations have urged the U.S. and Iran to show restraint. Also, a senior British officer in the U.S.-backed coalition fighting the Islamic State group, Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, said earlier this week that there had been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria. His comments exposed international skepticism over the U.S. military buildup.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said during a visit to Tokyo that Iran has the right to respond to the "unacceptable" U.S. sanctions, but has exercised "maximum restraint."
Speaking about Iran's nuclear deal with world powers, Zarif was quoted as also saying: "A multilateral deal cannot be treated unilaterally."
Iran recently said it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new nuclear deal is not reached by July 7. That would potentially bring it closer to being able to develop a nuclear weapon, something Iran insists it has never sought.
Beijing, May 16 (Xinhua/UNB) - More than 1,300 years ago, Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang traveled thousands of miles to the revered Indian monastery of Nalanda, where he studied Buddhism for five years under the guidance of Abbot Silabhadra.
The two legendary Buddhist masters' interactions were much more than personal exchanges. Their conversations have been considered one of the highlights of the long-running dialogue between the two ancient Asian civilizations.
In the ancient Greek language, Asia means "the Land of Sunrise." Over the millennia, the continent has been the cradle of many diverse civilizations on the Mesopotamia Plain, in the Indus Valley and Ganges River Valley, as well as along the Yellow River and the Yangtze River.
In olden times, dynamic business exchanges along the ancient Silk Road trade routes and enlightening pilgrimages by Buddhist monks or Muslims have made dialogue between civilizations not only a reality, but also a tradition.
Today, as delegates from Asia and beyond gathered in Beijing for the first Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations (CDAC), which opened on Wednesday, a brand new platform for exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations is taking shape.
History shows that civilizations thrive as they learn from each other. In the current world, dialogue among civilizations, especially on the Asian continent, carries unique significance.
In his speech at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization headquarters in 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, "Civilizations have become richer and more colorful with exchanges and mutual learning. Such exchanges and mutual learning form an important drive for human progress and global peace and development."
During the medieval period of Europe, the Abbasid Caliphate of the Arabic world launched a movement to translate ancient classics that recorded Greek and Roman knowledge.
The translation movement saved the old wisdom from perishing with the fall of the Roman Empire, and enabled the European cultures in later times to revive in the Renaissance.
For Asian countries, exchanges between civilizations can also help them rediscover their identity on the world stage in this new and changing era.
There was a time when Asia was the envy of the world, a land of great empires and home to ancient philosophers, poets and writers. Algebra, the astrolabe, paper and printing were invented here.
Over the past decades, Asian nations have shaken off the yoke of imperial colonialism, achieved independence, accumulated miraculous economic and social progress, and inched back to the center stage of the international arena.
A recent Financial Times report predicts that Asian economies, as defined by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, will be larger than the rest of the world combined in 2020 for the first time since the 19th century.
As a whole, Asia is capable of making larger contributions to human civilization and world prosperity.
At present, platforms and mechanisms for regional cooperation such as the Boao Forum for Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are maturing. The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and beyond, also heralds a stronger connectivity of peoples and cultures.
The dialogue conference came with the recent public invoking of "clash of civilizations" worldview in the West, which is dangerously irresponsible and may lead to hatred and confrontation.
Beijing's message is loud and clear. It has chosen conversation over confrontation with a deep belief that boosting inter-civilization dialogue can help nations around the world shrink trust deficits, promote mutual understanding and friendship, and thus bolster their cooperation.
In this age of growing interdependence when the international community is grappling with a string of non-traditional security threats such as terrorism, refugee crises and climate change, no single nation or civilization can stand alone.
To meet common challenges and create a better future for all, China looks to culture and civilization to play their role, which is as important as the role played by economy, science and technology, said Xi while addressing the opening of the CDAC.
The conference, he added, is convened just for this purpose, as it creates a new platform for civilizations in Asia and beyond to engage in dialogue and exchanges on an equal footing to facilitate mutual learning.
And in that process, dialogue and cooperation are the only sure path leading towards a better world for all, or in Xi's words, a community with a shared future for mankind.