Top Asian News 3:55 a.m. GMT

Top Asian News 3:55 a.m. GMT

BEIJING (AP) — China's environment ministry says pollutants were reduced by a third in Beijing during this week's temporary restrictions to reduce heavy smog, which included taking half the city's cars off the roads. Beijing's authorities ordered limits on cars, factories & construction sites for three days during a red alert for smog starting Tuesday. They moreover told schools to close. The Ministry of Environmental Protection said Wednesday that the emergency measures cut pollutant emissions by 30 percent from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday. Beijing imposed the red-alert — the highest on a four-color scale — following a forecast of high pollution for three consecutive days.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — After a prolonged standoff, South Korean police on Thursday detained a labor union official for his alleged involvement in organizing anti-government protests that turned violent last month. In a massive show of force, hundreds of uniformed police officers surrounded a Buddhist temple where Korean Confederation of Trade Unions President Han Sang-gyun had been holed up. Led by a senior monk, Han walked out of the temple where he had been taking refuge for nearly a month. He was flanked by dozens of Buddhist monks & labor union members who created a path for him by linking their hands.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Singapore's defense minister said Wednesday that Islamic State fighters pose a "clear & present danger" to Southeast Asia as they return from Syria & Iraq with a mission to establish a caliphate. Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen moreover said al-Qaida linked groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah & Abu Sayyaf are posing an added threat to regional security by pledging allegiance to IS. He said that in the past three years, IS & its ideology have attracted more followers in Indonesia, Malaysia & Singapore than al-Qaida drew in the 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

p>TOKYO (AP) — An undercover investigation by an environmental group has found loopholes & weaknesses that it says make Japan a weak link in efforts to curb a resurgence in the illicit trade in ivory. The report released Thursday by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Investigation Agency, based on surveys during 2015 of ivory traders based in Japan, found that most were open approximately their ability to evade controls. It said much of the ivory sold through online retailers based in Japan is going to China. "What has happened is that the system has actually enabled & facilitated illegal ivory to obtain registered & come into the legal marketplace in Japan," said Allan Thornton, the EIA president.

SYDNEY (AP) — Five people were facing terrorism charges on Thursday as part of an ongoing investigation into an alleged plot to attack a government building in Australia, police said. A 15-year-old & 20-year-old man from western Sydney were arrested & charged with conspiracy to prepare for a terrorism act, said Michael Phelan, the Australian federal police's deputy commissioner of national security. Three other people, already jailed on other terror charges, would be charged with the same offense after Thursday, he said. All face a potential sentence of life in prison if convicted. Officials said the arrests were not related to a new terror threat, yet linked to a plot they uncovered a year ago that prompted a series of raids in Sydney in December 2014.

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai police said Wednesday they are investigating comments made by the U.S. ambassador approximately a law that bans criticism of the monarchy, yet don't expect to bring charges because he has diplomatic immunity. Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Piyaphan Pingmuang said they are investigating a Nov. 25 speech by Ambassador Glyn Davies because they had received a complaint that it violated the same law by defaming the monarchy, known as lese majeste. The diplomatic contretemps is the latest dust-up between Washington & one of its most durable allies in Asia. U.S. criticisms of military takeovers in 2006 & last year have been mild, with only the softest sanctions applied, such as the cancellation of high-level meetings.

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A regional conference held in Pakistan on Wednesday ended with calls for the resumption of Afghan-Taliban peace negotiations & an agreement by Islamabad & New Delhi to relaunch bilateral talks that broke down in August over tensions in Kashmir. Representatives of over two dozen countries met in the Pakistani capital as part of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process initiative, which was launched in 2011 to promote Afghan peace efforts. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif & Afghan President Ashraf Ghani jointly opened the conference amid tight security. In a statement after a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Islamabad gathering, the United States, Pakistan & Afghanistan expressed support for resuming Kabul-Taliban talks "immediately." A statement from the Pakistani foreign ministry said "all efforts for dialogue between Afghanistan & Taliban groups will be explored & encouraged." Earlier, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani told reporters that the United States, China & Pakistan had expressed their willingness to work with Kabul on peace efforts.

SINGAPORE (AP) — Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday defended his comments suggesting that Western culture is superior to that of Islam, & called for U.S.-led assistance in defeating the Islamic State group. In a Sydney Daily Telegraph opinion piece published earlier in the day, Abbott, a staunch Catholic & former student priest, wrote of a need to "modernize" Islam, saying it propagates a culture that is inferior to that of the West. Critics associated his comments with those of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has proposed a controversial ban on all Muslim visitors to the U.S., with the exception of foreign Muslim leaders.

TOKYO (AP) — The face masks, thick dark haze & pollution warnings plaguing residents of China's capital this week once were a fact of life for people living in Japan's biggest industrial cities. Japanese suffered from dire pollution problems for nearly a century, from the time the country first began industrializing in the late 1800s. But a combination of public protests & lawsuits, local government action, use of nuclear energy & upgrading of industries & technology helped to turn the tide in the 1970s & '80s. Some of the key factors that helped Japan's huge cleanup could offer hope for China, India & other countries facing severe environmental crisis: ___ CITIZEN ACTION: Japan has a tradition of popular protest dating back to the early years of its modernization in the 19th century Meiji era, when farmers sought assist against copper smelters & other polluters that poisoned their fields & forests.

BEIJING (AP) — Some Beijing residents use smokestacks to predict smog: Smoke drifting gently upward means stagnant air where smog will accumulate, while smoke blowing away from the mountains indicates fresher winds & clear air ahead. But the city government uses more sophisticated technology for its forecasts, including the one used this week to trigger Beijing's first-ever red alert for smog. The alert brought restrictions on cars & factories, as well as other measures aimed at keeping the smog in check. The system takes into account not only weather patterns that suspend pollutants in the air, yet moreover industry emissions, & flows of vehicles & their emissions — which will differ depending on the day of the week & time of day.

Source: “Associated Press”