Top Asian News 9:28 p.m. GMT
KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — A tiny young woman crouches just outside the airport, crying softly into her thin shawl. It’s cold out, but her sleeping toddler is heavy and warm in her arms. Travelers swarm around: Himalayan trekkers load up expedition backpacks. A Chinese tour group boards a bus. A dozen flight attendants in crisp blue suits and heels click by. Saro Kumari Mandal, 26, covers her head completely, a bundle of grief. Hundreds of young Nepali men excitedly wave final goodbyes to friends and family. On this day 1,500 will fly out of the Kathmandu airport bound for jobs mostly in Malaysia, Qatar or Saudi Arabia — jobs that are urgently needed by the people of this desperately poor country.
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Christmas is approaching and pilgrims and tourists have begun to arrive, crowding the souvenir shops that line the narrow streets and alleys of Bethlehem, the biblical town revered as Jesus’ birthplace. But when visitors choose to take a piece of the Holy Land back home with them, they better check the labels. Many souvenirs — including the West Bank town’s trademark rosary beads — are imported from abroad, mainly China. A small number of souvenir shops are now trying to fight the trend, stocking their shelves almost exclusively with locally made products. Shopkeepers say that while their wares may be more expensive, the quality is much better and they give an important boost to the struggling economy.
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Army Capt. Matthew Ball relied heavily on his Afghan interpreter during a yearlong mission in one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous areas, entrusting him daily with his life. The interpreter received death threats from the Taliban for helping American troops, and has now been in hiding for nearly four years. He ventures out only in the cloak of darkness. “I’m living my days in hell. Even if someone is not really looking at me, I feel so paranoid, like this guy is going to kill me,” Qismat Amin said in an interview with The Associated Press via an internet call.
TORONTO (AP) — The parents of a Canadian man held hostage in Afghanistan say a recently released Taliban video of his family marks the first time they’ve seen the two grandchildren, who were born in captivity. Canadian Joshua Boyle and his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, were kidnapped in 2012 while travelling in northern Afghanistan. In the video, they beg for their governments to intervene on their behalf. Coleman — sitting with two young children — urges governments on all sides to reach a deal to secure the family’s freedom. Boyle’s parents, Patrick and Linda Boyle, said in statement Wednesday that the video is the first glimpse at the kids.
BEIJING (AP) — Taiwan on Wednesday condemned the African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe’s “abrupt” move to break their diplomatic ties, while rival China welcomed the defection of one of the self-governing island’s small number of allies. Just 21 countries and governments now have official ties with Taiwan. Most of the world and the United Nations do not formally recognize the island as a condition of maintaining relations with China, which considers Taiwan a part of its territory. Beijing and Taipei have competed for allies for much of the nearly seven decades since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, when the defeated Nationalist government fled across the Taiwan Strait.
WASHINGTON (AP) — No one knew what was in the baggie. It was just a few tablespoons of crystalline powder seized back in April, clumped like snow that had partially melted and frozen again. Emily Dye, a 27-year-old forensic chemist at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Testing and Research Laboratory, did not know if anyone had died from taking this powder, or how much it would take to kill you. What she did know was this: New drugs were appearing in the lab every other week, things never before seen in this unmarked gray building in Sterling, Virginia. Increasingly, these new compounds were synthetic opioids designed to mimic fentanyl, a prescription painkiller up to 50 times stronger than heroin.
TANGERANG, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian police said three suspected militants who were planning a holiday season suicide bombing were killed in a gunbattle Wednesday on the outskirts of Jakarta in the second imminent attack to be foiled in less than two weeks. A residential neighborhood was evacuated after bombs were found in a house rented by the men. Police said they had found five low-explosive bombs made from potassium nitrate and defused three so far. Indonesia’s TVOne reported numerous controlled explosions have occurred at the location. The men planned to stage their attack on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve, said Jakarta police chief Mochamad Iriawan.
BEIJING (AP) — The dense smog that has smothered much of China for five days may finally soon clear, forecasters and state media said Wednesday, giving relief to hundreds of millions of people breathing dangerously polluted air and struggling under the government’s emergency measures. The national weather authority forecast that nighttime winds will push out much of the pollution that has left Beijing and dozens of other cities under a five-day “red alert,” the highest level in China’s four-tiered warning system. Schools were closed, flights canceled and factories and highways shut down in attempts to improve the air quality. But the prolonged red alert disrupted the lives of many in Beijing’s capital.
NEW DELHI (AP) — Leading opposition figure Rahul Gandhi demanded an investigation into allegations that two Indian conglomerates paid millions of rupees as bribes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2013-14 when he was governing a western state. Gandhi, the Congress Party vice president and scion of India’s Nehru-Gandhi family, said the allegations were found in diary notes and computer records of the Sahara Group and the Birla Group and were in possession of income tax authorities. “Why these accusations are not being probed?” Gandhi asked Wednesday at a party meeting in Gujarat state. Modi was the state’s top elected official before he became prime minister in May 2014.
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — James Taylor has canceled his February concert in Manila, saying reports of summary executions of suspected drug offenders in the Philippines without judicial proceedings are “deeply concerning and unacceptable.” The American singer-songwriter tweeted Wednesday that he had been looking forward to performing in Manila and that it saddened him to cancel the concert. He apologized to his Filipino fans and said all tickets sold for the Feb. 25 performance at Manila’s Mall of Asia Arena would be fully refunded. Taylor said his scheduled concerts in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand would not be affected. Since taking office in June, President Rodrigo Duterte has overseen a crackdown on illegal drugs that has left more than 6,000 people dead, alarming Western governments and human rights watchdogs.