- Obama in first US presidential visit to Malaysia since 1966
- Thailand makes rare arrest of protest leader
- Flash floods kill more than 80 in north Afghanistan
Posted: 25 Apr 2014 11:01 PM PDT
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) - US President Barack Obama arrives in Malaysia on Saturday, hoping to energise aloof ties with a Muslim-majority nation whose government is under the microscope for wide allegations of abuse of power and the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Obama becomes the first serving US president to visit since Lyndon Johnson in 1966 as he tours Asia to fortify alliances amid concern over China's rise and push his troubled plans for a Pacific-wide trade pact.
Washington is keen to emphasise its relations with economically successful, moderate-Muslim Malaysia as the United States battles image problems in the Islamic world.
But Malaysia is a close trading partner of China and has resisted key aspects of Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement on trade.
Obama also will have to tread a fine line between courting Prime Minister Najib Razak while acknowledging huge segments of society in multi-cultural Malaysia that are fed up with his corruption-plagued coalition which has been in power for 57 years.
But the reality is one of a "corrupt and authoritarian regime," opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said in a statement Saturday that urged Obama to voice support for "freedom and democracy" in Malaysia.
"It would be an opportune moment to live up to the ideals Obama espoused in his campaign and the early days of his administration," Anwar said.
Najib's government has come under growing criticism for harassing opponents and stifling free expression, particularly after elections last year in which it lost the popular vote to Anwar's opposition.
Najib clung to power via what critics say is a skewed electoral system favouring his coalition.
After his visits to Japan and South Korea, Obama is due to arrive in Malaysia late Saturday afternoon.
Accusations of repression
Anwar was convicted March 7 and sentenced to five years in jail on controversial sodomy charges that he says are politically motivated and which the US State Department has questioned.
A number of other activists, opposition politicians and rights groups face a range of charges including sedition, while Christians complain of official intimidation.
In an interview with government-controlled The Star newspaper published Saturday, Obama said mildly that the most successful countries are those that "uphold the human rights of all their citizens, regardless of political affiliation, ethnicity, race or religion".
Obama will not see Anwar -- National Security Advisor Susan Rice will -- but he will meet late Sunday with representatives of several groups critical of the government.
During the visit, Obama is expected to stress growing security ties with Malaysia, which is among several nations with competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, where Beijing's assertiveness has sparked alarm.
Najib is believed to be keen for a dose of Obama's star power in the face of domestic criticism and the loss of MH370 which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
His government has come under international criticism over the missing plane and a response that has been seen as secretive and incompetent.
Obama will meet Malaysia's king on Saturday and attend a state dinner.
On Sunday, he visits the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur and holds a bilateral meeting with Najib, before a "town hall" meeting with youth leaders from around Southeast Asia.
He leaves Monday morning for a visit to the Philippines. - AFP
Posted: 25 Apr 2014 10:55 PM PDT
Bangkok (AFP) - Thai authorities have made a rare arrest of one of the leaders of the country's anti-government protest movement on charges including insurrection and inciting unrest, an official said Saturday.
Former opposition lawmaker Sakoltee Phattiyakul is one of only a handful of prominent protesters to have been detained despite dozens of arrest warrants.
He was arrested at around midnight at Bangkok's main airport while returning from a trip overseas.
"He faces five serious accusations including insurrection, trespassing, inciting unrest and obstruction of an election," said Tarit Pengdith, director-general of the Ministry of Justice's Department of Special Investigation (DSI).
Sakoltee, considered a "core protest leader", was undergoing interrogation and would be taken to the Criminal Court where the authorities would oppose his bail, Tarit said.
Leaders of the anti-government movement have flouted arrest warrants to deliver fiery speeches, lead marches, block roads and besiege government buildings in their bid to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Sakoltee led protesters to storm the building of broadcaster Thai PBS late last year.
The movement wants to replace Yingluck's government with an unelected "people's council" that would oversee reforms to tackle alleged corruption and rein in the political dominance of her billionaire family.
Top protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban faces several arrest warrants linked to the rallies including for treason, as well as murder charges linked to a deadly crackdown on opposition demonstrations in 2010 when he was deputy prime minister.
Yingluck meanwhile is accused of dereliction of duty linked to a loss-making rice subsidy scheme and the improper transfer of a senior civil servant. Both cases could lead to her removal from office within weeks.
Posted: 25 Apr 2014 09:34 PM PDT
Mazar-i-Sharif (Afghanistan) (AFP) - Flash floods in northern Afghanistan after two days of torrential rain have killed more than 80 people, officials said Friday, with scores more missing as helicopters searched for stranded villagers.
Local officials told AFP that 43 people died in Jowzjan province, 33 in Faryab province and six in Sar-e Pul province.
The floodwaters swept through villages and fields, engulfing thousands of homes and leaving many people seeking safety on the roofs of their mud-brick houses.
"We have been able to recover 43 bodies," Jowzjan provincial police chief Faqir Mohammad Jowzjani told AFP.
"Rescue helicopters have evacuated some 200 people, but many people are still trapped on roofs of their homes and some are also missing."
Faryab governor Mohammadullah Batash said the death toll in the province, which borders Turkmenistan, was expected to rise.
"We have a confirmed toll of 33 people dead and 2,152 houses destroyed, several districts have been badly affected," he said. "Rain is still continuing, which is hampering relief efforts."
In Sar-e Pul, another northern province, the flooding killed at least six people with more than a dozen still missing, said governor Abdul Jabar Haqbeen.
Local officials reported shortages of drinking water, food and medicine, as the central government's disaster management agency said it was assessing emergency needs.
The floodwaters destroyed farmland and also killed livestock across the remote region.
Flooding often occurs during the spring rainy season in northern Afghanistan, with flimsy mud houses offering little protection against rising water levels.
Afghanistan is set to release preliminary presidential election results on Friday, and Ashraf Ghani, one of the leading contenders, was quick to call for help for the flood victims.
"With great regret, we have been informed that heavy flooding has caused casualties and destroyed properties in some northern provinces," said a statement from his campaign.
"We extend our deepest sympathies to the people affected and demand urgent action by the government and relief organisations to help the affected people."
Two weeks ago, a landslide triggered by heavy rains and a small earthquake swept through two villages in the northern province of Takhar, killing four people and destroying around 100 houses.
In the last major flooding in Afghanistan, 40 people died in August in flash floods in eastern and southeastern provinces and some districts of the capital Kabul.
Neighbouring Pakistan suffered the worst floods in its history in 2010 when almost 1,800 people died and 21 million people were affected.
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