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Kyrgyzstan crisis: No clear leadership after days of unrest

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Unrest has gripped the country since thousands of people protested against the results of a parliamentary election.

As Kyrgyzstan slid deeper into a political crisis, several people were barred from leaving the country as Russia described the current situation, with the country lacking clear leadership, as “chaotic”.

Border guards were given a list of people barred from leaving the country, ostensibly to ensure security amid unrest that has toppled the government. Russia’s Tass news agency described the people in that list as “high-ranking” officials.

The closures on Thursday came as Russia, which has an airbase in Kyrgyzstan, said Moscow had obligations under an existing security treaty to prevent the situation from totally breaking down. Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB security service, spoke to Kyrgyzstan’s new acting security chief on Wednesday.

“The situation looks like a mess and chaos,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a briefing.

The former Soviet republic, landlocked and bordered by Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, has seen thousands protest against the results of the October 4 parliamentary election.

The results of that election, which handed victory to establishment parties, have now been annulled, something the opposition had been calling for.

But the demonstrations peaked when, soon after the vote, opposition protesters seized government buildings and freed jailed ex-President Almazbek Atambayev.

The rallies have forced the Kyrgyz cabinet to resign, leaving the country with no clear leadership.

Three opposition groups have each proposed candidates for an interim prime minister who would need to oversee a repeat vote in the coming months, local media said.

In addition to Sadyr Zhaparov, an opposition politician who was released from jail and appointed acting prime minister, businessman Tilek Toktogaziyev has also made his ambitions clear.

Omurbek Babanov, a former prime minister, has also emerged as a contender.

Meanwhile, the outgoing parliament has itself split into two groups that were meeting separately outside the headquarters ransacked by protesters.

The group that met overnight in a hotel only included 40 MPs, whereas important decisions such as naming a cabinet require a 61-vote majority.

MP Elvira Surabaldieva posted a video from the meeting online, saying it had failed to pass a motion to impeach President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, who has clung to power despite the resignation of Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov’s administration.

The embattled president has not appeared in public in recent days, although his office said he remained in the capital, Bishkek. He has appealed for calm and issued several statements calling for talks between rival political factions.

One person has been killed and more than 1,000 have sought medical help since the unrest broke out, as Bishkek residents scuffle with protesters and looters.

Kyrgyzstan’s central bank allowed financial institutions to reopen on Thursday since their closure on Tuesday, as business associations warned the nation of 6.5 million could face food shortages if banks and tax offices remained shut and public safety could not be guaranteed.

Kursan Asanov, the acting interior minister who took over this week after running in the election as an opposition candidate, said police, boosted by vigilante groups, had managed to prevent mass looting in the capital.

He promised to stop any attempts to further destabilise the country where violence killed hundreds after the removal of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010 in another revolt.

Kursanov also urged parliament to convene and install a legitimate cabinet, describing the current situation as stable but tense.

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Malaysia rulers to meet amid talk of emergency declaration

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Malaysia’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah will meet the country’s sultans to discuss proposals put forward by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the palace said on Saturday without elaborating on their content, amid reports that Muhyiddin wants to impose a state of emergency.

Muhyiddin met the king on Friday to present a proposal that would lead to the suspension of parliament, sources told the Reuters news agency. The potential move has been widely condemned by the country’s opposition politicians and greeted with alarm by Malaysians.

The king would meet the other rulers “soon”, Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin, the Comptroller of the Royal Household, said in a statement. The prime minister’s office has not commented on the proposal.

Muhyiddin has faced questions over his support in the 222-seat parliament since he was appointed prime minister in March, and pressure has grown since the opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said last week he had secured the backing required to become prime minister.

Malaysia is also battling a sudden resurgence in the outbreak of COVID-19.

The country now has more than 24,000 cases of COVID-19, more than double the number a month ago. Upwards of 700 and 800 cases a day have been reported for the past week and on Friday the country recorded 10 deaths, the highest since the pandemic began.

Malaysia has endured a sudden resurgence of COVID-19 and new restrictions were imposed earlier this month [Mohd Rasfan/AFP]

COVID-19 spike

Most have been in Sabah, where a state election took place on September 26, but the outbreak there has also helped seed clusters in the peninsula – a two-hour flight across the South China Sea – and Kuala Lumpur and Selangor – the country’s richest state – have been under a partial lockdown since October 14.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he was “deeply concerned” at the reports of an emergency.

“A state of emergency is declared when there is a threat to our national security,” he said in a statement. “But when the government is itself the source of that threat then a state of emergency is nothing more than the descent into dictatorship and authoritarianism.”

On Friday, Muhyiddin’s cabinet held a special meeting that included the chief of police and head of the armed forces. He then flew to the east coast for a two-hour audience with the king. Local media reported unnamed sources within the government saying an emergency was necessary because of “political instability” and the COVID-19 outbreak.

In an open letter, seven former presidents of the Malaysian Bar Council said Malaysia’s success in tackling earlier waves of the disease showed existing laws were sufficient.

“There is no violence, or threat to the security of our nation,” they wrote, urging the government to reconsider the situation.

“If the predominant objective of the suggested declaration is to suspend parliament, and to gain emergency powers then it will obviously be an unlawful design which, if unchecked, will disenfranchise and deceive Malaysians.”

Budget vote

The next session of Malaysia’s parliament is scheduled to begin on November 2, with the government facing its first test within days when the budget is presented on November 6.

A failure to pass the spending plans could be seen as a vote of no-confidence in the government and lead to a general election.

During the last session in July, Muhyiddin, who governs in a loose alliance with a number of ethnic Malay and Islamic parties, won the vote to replace the speaker by a majority of just two.

Multi-ethnic Malaysia was last governed under an emergency in 1969, after race riots in Kuala Lumpur left scores of people, most of then ethnic Chinese, dead.

Under the order, the constitution was suspended, parliament dissolved, and the functions of government moved under a National Operations Council. A curfew restored order to the streets, but the media was muzzled and prominent opposition politicians were arrested under provisions that allowed for indefinite detention.

Parliament reconvened in February 1971, and political life resumed, but the actual emergency ordinance was not fully repealed until 2013.

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Galapagos sees record rise in penguins, flightless cormorants

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A drop in tourism and weather patterns associated with La Nina are thought to have helped the bird species in the remote archipelago.

The population of Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants, two species endemic to the remote islands, has seen a record increase, according to study results released on Friday.

The Galapagos penguin is one of the smallest species of penguins in the world, measuring up to 35 centimetres (14 inches) and the cormorants on the islands are the only type to have lost their ability to fly. They have developed diving skills instead.

“The number of cormorants has reached a record number, according to historical data dating back to 1977, while the number of penguins is at the highest since 2006,” said a statement from the Galapagos National Park, which carried out the census.

The population of Galapagos penguins, the only ones living on the earth’s equator, increased from 1,451 in 2019 to 1,940 in 2020, it added.

Flightless cormorant numbers increased from 1,914 to 2,220 over the same period.

The COVID-19 pandemic has kept tourists away from the Galapagos, helping the species that live on the archipelago recoup [File: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP]

The Galapagos Islands lie 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) off the coast of Ecuador and are home to species found nowhere else in the world.

The study was carried out by the park and the Charles Darwin Foundation in September. The main colonies present on the Isabela and Fernandina islands and the Marielas islets which are to the west of the archipelago have been classified as a natural heritage site.

Paulo Proano, Ecuador’s minister of environment and water, said the census results reflect the “good state of health of the population” of the Galapagos’ birds.

The park said the presence of the La Nina climatic phenomenon, which helps to provide more food for the birds, had contributed to the increase in their populations.

Another factor was the coronavirus pandemic, which has reduced disturbances to their nesting areas because of the drop in tourism, the park added.

The islands, which served as a natural laboratory for the English scientist Charles Darwin for his theory of the evolution of species, takes their name from the giant tortoises that live there.

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US to base Coast Guard ships in western Pacific to tackle China

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The United States will deploy Coast Guard patrol ships in the western Pacific to counter what it described as “destabilizing and malign” activities in the region by China, the country’s top security adviser said on Friday.

The US Coast Guard was “strategically homeporting significantly enhanced Fast Response Cutters … in the western Pacific,” White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said in a statement.

Describing the US as a Pacific power, the statement added that China’s “illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and harassment of vessels operating in the exclusive economic zones of other countries in the Indo-Pacific threatens our sovereignty, as well as the sovereignty of our Pacific neighbors and endangers regional stability”.

It said US efforts, including by the Coast Guard, were “critical to countering these destabilizing and malign actions.”

The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the statement, which came just ahead of a planned visit to Asia by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) and Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne pose prior to their bilateral meeting in Tokyo on October 6, 2020 ahead of the four Indo-Pacific nations’ foreign ministers meeting. – (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / POOL / AFP)

Pompeo led a meeting of the so-called Quad in Tokyo this month. Washington hopes the grouping of the US, Japan, India and Australia can act as a bulwark against China’s growing assertiveness and extensive maritime claims in the region, including to nearly all of the South China Sea.

On Sunday, Pompeo will begin a five-day tour of India – where he will be accompanied by US Defense Secretary Mark Esper – and then he will continue on to Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. Maritime security and a “free and open Indo-Pacific” will be high on the agenda, the State Department said.

Incursions

In July, Esper condemned a “catalogue of bad behaviour” in the South China Sea over the previous months, accusing the Chinese military of having sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat, harassing Malaysian oil and gas vessels and escorting Chinese fishing fleets into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

O’Brien added that the Coast Guard, which is under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was also studying whether to permanently station several of its patrol ships in the area of American Samoa in the South Pacific.

Last month, Indonesia protested after Chinese coastguard ships travelled into its exclusive economic zone, which is situated between its own territorial waters and international waters and where the state claims exclusive rights to develop natural resources.

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea as its own. Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Philippines also claim the parts of the sea nearest to their shores.

The US Navy regularly conducts what it calls “freedom of navigation” operations in the disputed sea – angering China, which has developed military outposts on islands and islets.

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