Top Asian News 3:41 p.m. GMT
BANGKOK (AP) — Thais chanted prayers Wednesday as the country’s stock market and currency tumbled and the prime minister canceled an overseas trip amid concerns about long-ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s health. His son, the crown prince, returned home from Germany, as Thais in pink shirts — a color associated with the king — gathered outside Siriraj hospital in Bangkok, which has been his home for much of the last decade. The royal palace said in a statement late Wednesday that the 88-year-old king’s blood pressure had dropped, his liver and kidneys were not working properly and he remained on a ventilator.
HONG KONG (AP) — A swearing-in ceremony to kick off Hong Kong’s legislative session descended into farce Wednesday as newly elected pro-democracy lawmakers intentionally mangled their oaths in a show of defiance against Beijing. The new crop of lawmakers, elected last month amid swelling anti-China sentiment, object to the oath’s requirement to pledge allegiance to the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” and its Basic Law constitution. So they came up with creative ways to get around it. Sixtus Leung, 30, of the radical Youngspiration party draped a blue flag with the words “Hong Kong is not China” over his shoulders.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The fiasco of Samsung’s fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 smartphones — and Samsung’s stumbling response to the problem — has left consumers from Shanghai to New York reconsidering how they feel about the South Korean tech giant and its products. Samsung Electronics said Tuesday it would stop making the Note 7 for good, after first recalling some devices and then recalling their replacements, too. Now, like the makers of Tylenol, Ford Pintos and other products that faced crises in the past, it must try to restore its relationship with customers as it repairs the damage to its brand.
NABATIYEH, Lebanon (AP) — Shiite Muslims world over are observing the Ashoura, a holy day of mourning and the sect’s most important religious ceremony commemorating the death in 680 AD of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein. Hussein was killed along with 72 friends and family members in the battle of Karbala, in present-day Iraq. Shiites contend that Hussein’s father Ali was unfairly passed over for leadership of the young Muslim caliphate after the death of the prophet. Hussein’s death at Karbala was a crucial blow to their rebellion and one of the turning points that spawned Islam’s Sunni-Shiite divide. Here is a look at some of the ceremonies taking place on Wednesday: LEBANON Hundreds of men and boys, and several women lashed their foreheads and backs, drawing blood during an open air procession in the southern Lebanese town of Nabaityeh to mark the Ashoura, which falls on the 10th day of the month of Muhharam on the Islamic calendar.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A bomb targeting Shiite worshippers in northern Afghanistan killed at least 14 civilians on Wednesday, an official said. Regional police spokesman Sarwar Hussaini said 26 others were wounded in the attack, which targeted the group as they were leaving a mosque following ceremonies to commemorate Ashoura, a major religious observance for Shiites. Munir Ahmad Farhad, spokesman for the governor of Balkh province, said the bomb appeared to have been remotely detonated. Meanwhile, the death toll from a Tuesday night attack on Kabul’s biggest Shiite shrine rose to 17 people, including a policeman. Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said another 62 people, including 12 policemen, were wounded in that attack.
TOKYO (AP) — An extensive blackout struck Tokyo on Wednesday, affecting government offices and halting trains in the Japanese capital just before the evening rush hour. Tokyo Electric Power Co., a utility serving the Tokyo region, said officials are investigating the cause of the blackout. The company, known as TEPCO, said smoke was detected at its unmanned power substation in Niiza city, near Tokyo, and officials are looking into whether it’s related to the blackout. TEPCO said as many as 350,000 households and offices were temporarily out of power. Electricity was restored to most of them later. Japanese television showed black smoke billowing from the substation in a business district.
BEIJING (AP) — China on Wednesday protested the attendance of the U.N. human rights chief at a ceremony honoring an imprisoned Chinese scholar and rights activist, saying the official had ignored Beijing’s contention the man was a “violent terrorist.” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein had “confused right and wrong” and “blatantly supported terrorists,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a daily briefing. The statement reflected China’s contention that Ilham Tohti had been part of a criminal gang that sought to split the western region of Xinjiang from China. On Tuesday, he was given the Martin Ennals Award bestowed by 10 rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch at a ceremony in Geneva.
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday he has ordered his defense chief not to prepare for joint exercises with the U.S. military next year as he moved to realize his threat to scrap a high-profile symbol of his country’s treaty alliance with Washington. Duterte, however, reiterated he would not abrogate a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S. that provides a security umbrella for the Philippines. He has said, however, that he’ll chart a foreign policy not dependent on Washington. “I insist that we realign, that there will be no more exercises next year, ‘Do not prepare,’ I told Defense Secretary Lorenzana,” he said in a speech at the anniversary of the country’s coast guard, referring to his defense chief.
SRINAGAR, India (AP) — The Indian army said a three-day standoff with suspected rebels ended Wednesday after government forces killed two militants inside a building in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. The building was extensively damaged in the fighting. Maj. Gen. Ashok Narula called the operation “tricky” and said the fighting was protracted because “the building was huge and we didn’t want collateral damage.” A soldier and a police official were injured in the initial fighting. On Monday, militants positioned themselves inside the building in a sprawling government compound near saffron-rich Pampore town on the outskirts of the disputed Himalayan region’s main city of Srinagar.
GENEVA (AP) — Swiss federal prosecutors have opened criminal proceedings against Falcon Private Bank Ltd. on suspicion it failed to prevent alleged money laundering linked to the Malaysian state fund 1MDB. The move follows the arrest of the bank’s branch manager in Singapore last week, and fines and other penalties imposed on the bank by Swiss and Singaporean financial market regulators that were announced Tuesday. Switzerland’s attorney general said in a statement Wednesday that his office suspects “deficiencies in the internal organization” at Falcon. Investigators in Singapore, Switzerland, Hong Kong and the U.S. have been probing allegations that people close to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak stole more than $1 billion from 1MDB.