Karachi, Jul 30 (AP/UNB) — Heavy monsoon rains have lashed Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi, triggering floods and killing six people. Authorities closed schools.
Dr Seemi Jamali, spokeswoman at the city's Jinnah Hospital, says the deaths were caused by electrocution as power cables got inundated with water.
The heavy rainfall began on Monday and continued on Tuesday and sewage flooded most of the streets in Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province.
According to the Meteorological Department, more heavy rains are expected next week.
Every year, many cities in Pakistan struggle to cope with the annual monsoon deluge, drawing criticism about poor planning. The monsoon season runs from July through September.
Since the beginning of monsoon rains this month, dozens of people have been killed because of flash floods, electrocution and roofs collapsing.
Kuala Lumpur, Jul 30 (AP/UNB) — Malaysia's sports-loving Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah called for racial unity as he was installed Tuesday as the country's 16th king under a unique rotating monarchy system.
It was a double celebration for Sultan Abdullah from central Pahang state, who turned 59 the same day. He was picked as Malaysia's new ruler in January, after Sultan Muhammad V from northeast Kelantan state abruptly resigned after just two years on the throne in the first abdication in the nation's history.
Nine ethnic Malay state rulers take turns as king for five-year terms under the world's only such system, which has been maintained since Malaysia's independence from Britain in 1957.
In his coronation speech, Sultan Abdullah warned that any attempt to sow racial discord in the country was akin to "playing with fire that will burn not only oneself but also burn down the whole village.
"Unity and national harmony are the country's pillars of strength. Do not ever stoke racial misunderstanding by raising matters that can threaten national unity and harmony," he said.
Garbed in black and gold regalia, Sultan Abdullah voiced confidence that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's government is able to tackle economic and social challenges in trying to rebuild the country after winning last year's elections.
A large number of ethnic Malay Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of Malaysia's 32 million people, still support the opposition. While carrying out economic and institutional reforms, Mahathir's multiethnic alliance has to quell fears among Malays that their privileges under decades-old affirmative action that favors them in jobs, business and education will be eliminated.
Ethnic Chinese and Indians comprise about 30 percent of the population.
Mahathir in his speech acknowledged minor incidents of racial strife and said the government has set up an advisory body to strengthen racial unity. He said the government will step up efforts to bolster the economy and fight corruption to ensure that "no one is above the law."
Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan also attended the ceremony at the national palace, steeped in centuries-old Malay tradition.
British-educated Sultan Abdullah is a prominent figure in sport bodies. He is a council member of the world football governing body FIFA, president of the Asian Hockey Federation, and an executive board member of the International Hockey Federation.
He took over after Sultan Muhammad V, 49, quit shortly after marrying a 25-year-old former Russian beauty queen last November. Sultan Muhammad however, reportedly divorced his wife recently.
Known as the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, or He Who Is Made Lord, Malaysia's king plays a largely ceremonial role, since administrative power is vested in the prime minister and Parliament. The monarch is highly regarded as the guardian of Islam and Malay tradition, particularly among the Malay Muslim majority. He is also the nominal head of the government and armed forces.
All laws, Cabinet appointments and the dissolution of Parliament for general elections require his assent. The king also issues pardons for criminals.
Bangkok, Jul 30 (AP/UNB) — Top diplomats from the Asia-Pacific region started gathering Tuesday in the Thai capital to discuss issues of concern to the area, including security on the Korean peninsula and China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The meetings in Bangkok are hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, chaired this year by Thailand. Thai officials say there will be 27 meetings in all through Saturday, and 31 countries and alliances will participate.
The core ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting brings together the group's top diplomats, but they are likely to be overshadowed by the big power players attending the adjunct meetings, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Foreign Ministers' Meeting.
The heavy-hitters in Bangkok this week include U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Other ASEAN dialogue partners include Australia, India, the European Union, Japan and South Korea.
Most attention will be on these side meetings, in which ASEAN will play a supporting role, if any.
A representative of North Korea will be present in Bangkok, a Thai foreign ministry spokesman said last week, though it is not clear if Pyongyang is sending its foreign minister. Washington has downplayed Pyongyang's recent launch of medium-range missiles and expressed interest in reviving talks on North Korean denuclearization, so sideline talks are a possibility.
Reports say that the United States is also willing to hold a sidelines meeting with Japan and South Korea to discuss the bitter trade dispute between the two East Asian nations that threatens to disrupt Seoul's electronics industry by hindering its purchase of semiconductor components.
The dispute also draws on long-standing bitterness over Japan's actions toward Korea during World War II and threatens to poison relations at a time when Washington would prefer to see a united front in dealing with North Korea.
ASEAN's own most pressing concern arguably involves Beijing's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea, which pits it against the claims of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
The dispute is long-running, but flared up again earlier this month when Vietnam accused China of violating its sovereignty by interfering with offshore oil and gas activities in disputed waters.
Vietnam can count on having some allies at this week's meetings but may have to operate outside the conventional ASEAN framework by forming a de facto maritime bloc with Indonesia, which has aggressively dealt with Chinese poachers in its waters, and the Philippines, still smarting over a June incident in which a Chinese fishing vessel hit a Philippine fishing boat and fled the scene as 22 Filipinos escaped their sinking vessel.
It's unlikely ASEAN will agree on any major statement against China since it operates by consensus, which in practice means a single member can exercise veto over the group's decisions and declarations. Beijing can count on the support of allies such as Cambodia and Laos, and reluctance by others to defy Asia's superpower.
Beijing also is disinclined to flout legal norms that might restrain its actions, say critics, citing as an example the Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling on the South China Sea case brought by the Philippines.
The struggle for influence between the U.S. and China looms larger than ever over this year's meetings, with their trade disputes fueling the rivalry.
Beijing's attempts to project its influence even further afield through its Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious global development program of major infrastructure projects, has sharpened the sense of unease among some parties.
The U.S. has countered with its own vision strategy for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, which Beijing regards as directed against it.
ASEAN leaders at their summit meeting in June adopted a five-page "ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific" statement that sought to find a middle ground. But some analysts suggest it is less an assertion that the regional grouping is a player in its own right than a weak effort to keep on the good side of both Washington and Beijing.
"Its significance is in the monumental opportunity squandered," said Benjamin Zawacki, author of "Thailand: Shifting Ground between the U.S. and a Rising China."
"The increasing tension between Washington and Beijing does afford ASEAN more, rather than less, influence and room to maneuver, but it is influence and room that ASEAN would rather not have and will choose not to use," he said. "ASEAN is most comfortable when it has the least influence and room to maneuver, for such provides a ready justification for its indecisiveness, inertia, and utter obsession with neutrality."
Beijing, Jul 30 (AP/UNB) — China blamed Western forces and defended police conduct after Hong Kong endured another weekend of violent clashes between protesters and police.
Some "irresponsible people" in the West have applied "strange logic" that made them sympathetic and tolerant to "violent crimes" but critical of the police force's "due diligence," a Chinese government spokesman said at a news briefing Monday.
"At the end of the day, their intention is to create trouble in Hong Kong, make Hong Kong a problem to China, in order to contain China's development," said Yang Guang, spokesman for the Chinese Cabinet's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, without mentioning any specific individuals or countries.
He added that such attempts will come to nothing because Beijing will tolerate no outside interference in Hong Kong's affairs.
Residents of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory began protesting in early June for the government to withdraw an extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their legal rights would be threatened. The government suspended the bill, but the protests have expanded to calls for democracy and government accountability.
Police on Sunday repeatedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets to drive back protesters blocking Hong Kong streets with road signs and umbrellas.
The protesters have demanded an independent inquiry into police conduct at the protests, which they say has been abusive.
At least one woman was knocked down when police used rods Saturday to disperse crowds in Hong Kong's Yuen Long area, where officers later charged into a train station swinging batons. Protesters were "holding iron poles, self-made shields and even removing fences from roads," police said in a statement that accused demonstrators of putting officers' lives in danger by surrounding an occupied police vehicle.
Yang said the Chinese government firmly supports the police in Hong Kong.
"We understand the huge pressure facing the Hong Kong police and their families," he said, "and would like to salute the Hong Kong police who have been fearlessly sticking to their posts and fulfilling their duties against all odds."
Hong Kong's government and police force have said the protests have placed considerable strain on their officers, who are dispatched in large numbers for the protests, which occur at least once a week and generally go late into the night despite repeated appeals to disband. Hong Kong authorities said these pressures made it difficult for police to act immediately when a band of white-clad assailants beat people inside the Yuen Long train station on July 21.
Protesters said the slow police response to that attack indicated that officers were colluding with the attackers — an allegation that authorities have refuted. Last Monday, police arrested six men in connection with the attack, including some linked to triad gangs.
Pro-Beijing lawmakers in Hong Kong said the "general wishes" of the city's residents are for the violence to stop immediately.
"Regardless of your stance, I think all this violence should not continue because it brings no benefit to any person," said legislator Starry Lee.
Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker, said she fears the Chinese government's statements will further inflame demonstrators.
"I'm so worried that what happened in Beijing this afternoon will actually help fan the fire of what's already been a tsunami of protests in Hong Kong," Mo said, noting that the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office appeared to fully support the police and Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam.
Rawalpindi, Jul 30 (AP/UNB) — A Pakistani military plane on a training flight crashed into homes near the garrison city of Rawalpindi before dawn Tuesday, killing at least 17 people, most of them on the ground.
Fires, damaged homes and debris were visible in Mora Kalu village on the outskirts of Rawalpindi after daybreak. Troops and police cordoned off the residential area to search for plane debris and investigative evidence after the rescue efforts had ended.
Five soldiers, including two army pilots, and at least 12 civilians were killed, the military said in a statement.
Farooq Butt, an official at the state-run emergency service, said an additional 15 people were injured. Rescue officials said the death toll could rise since some of those injured were critical.
"We have shifted all the bodies and injured persons to hospitals," he told The Associated Press. "Most of the victims received burn injuries and children are among the dead."
Residents say they woke up when they heard an explosion and saw debris of a burning plane near their homes. Army helicopters were seen hovering over the crash site later.
"My sister, her husband and their three children were killed when the plane crashed into their home," said Mohammad Mustafa, as he sobbed near his sister's badly damaged home. He said rescuers and troops quickly reached the area after the crash.
Abdul Rehman, a medical doctor, said at least three homes were badly damaged and the pilots' bodies had been retrieved.
The military said the army aircraft was on a routine training flight when it crashed, but had no information on the possible cause.
Pakistan's military has been on maximum alert since February when India launched an airstrike inside Pakistan, saying it was targeting militants who were responsible for the suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Pakistan at the time retaliated and shot down two Indian air force planes. One Indian pilot was captured and later released amid signs of easing tensions.