Asian Insider Dec 9: Hong Kong’s biggest protest in months, volcano on NZ’s White Island, Malaysia’s big weekend

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

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In today’s bulletin: Hong Kong had its biggest mass protest in months; at least five people were killed when a volcano in New Zealand suddenly erupted; Malaysia’s PKR is hanging by a thread after a weekend of disunity; “dotard” and “rocket man” make a comeback; and more.

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PROTESTERS BACK OUT IN FORCE

Hong Kong had its largest mass protest in months as hundreds of thousands marched in the streets on Sunday. The protest was a sign of the continued support the anti-government movement continues to have and a likely indication that unrests are not about to end. As protests have grown increasingly violent, and clashes with police grew in intensity, turnout had dwindled - prompting some to question if the movement was starting to fade. And while Sunday’s protest was largely peaceful, there were also some concerning developments. Hours before the march, authorities confiscated a semi-automatic Glock pistol and 105 bullets. This was the first time in six months of protests that a handgun had been seized.

Read more top stories about Hong Kong today

Hong Kong police to take both 'hard' and 'soft' approaches against protests: Commissioner

Biggest Hong Kong protest in months signals more unrest in 2020

Hong Kong protesters bring cartoon characters and Internet memes to life

VOLCANO ERUPTION IN NEW ZEALAND

At least five people were killed and scores of others reported injured or missing after a volcano on New Zealand’s White Island - a tourist destination - erupted suddenly on Monday. Several visitors were on the island when the volcano went off with some spotted near the rim of the crater. Such unexpected eruptions are not unusual for what is a very active volcano.

It wasn’t the only bad weather event in New Zealand in the past week: Hundreds of tourists stranded in New Zealand town cut off by mudslides, flooding

CIVIL WAR IN MALAYSIAN POLITICS

On Wednesday, it appeared that Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the largest party in Malaysia’s ruling coalition, had averted disaster. Party president Anwar Ibrahim - the named successor to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad - deputy party president Azmin Ali had agreed on a truce to halt hostilities between their two warring factions. This peace would not survive the weekend. At the party’s congress on Saturday, the Azmin camp staged a walkout over what was perceived as attacks during speeches from the podium in the Anwar camp. Now the party’s fate hangs in the balance. It has not splintered in name but the now open feud - ostensibly a power play over who gets to be prime minister -  is leaving no one looking very good.

Don't miss the analysis from Malaysia Bureau Chief Shannon Teoh: What does this mean for Malaysia’s succession planning?

US AND NORTH KOREA BACK TO NAME CALLING

The bromance between US President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is starting to show signs of strain. After falling “in love” in Singapore last year, the two have recently reverted to their pre-meeting name-calling. Mr Trump is again calling Mr Kim “Rocket man” and Mr Kim has brought back his preferred insult for Mr Trump: dotard. That is taking place against a backdrop of more frequent weapons tests by Pyongyang. On Sunday, Pyongyang announced it conducted an important test at a missile engine site, a sign that North Korea could be preparing to restart long-range missile tests. Pyongyang had earlier promises a “Christmas present” for the US. All eyes are now on Jan 1. In April, North Korea gave the US set a year-end deadline to pitch a deal on denuclearisation. It is not clear what would happen if, as it now seems likely the case, the US misses that deadline.

Read the analysis from US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh: Jitters as Pyongyang reverts to sabre-rattling rhetoric

SAUDI ROLLS BACK MORE GENDER SEGREGATION POLICIES

Restaurants in Saudi Arabia no longer have to have separate entrances for women and men, nor partition the eatery to keep single men and women apart. The move is the latest in what has been a gradual roll back of gender segregation policies that have lasted for decades. In August, it began allowing women over 21 to receive passports and travel abroad without permission from a male “guardian”. In announcing the latest change, the government said it was to attract investments and create greater business opportunities. Such social reforms remain a sensitive topic in the kingdom, reflected in how the Kingdom announced the move quietly, in a statement by the Municipal and Rural Affairs Ministry.

Read more about social reforms in Saudi Arabia: 

Saudi Arabia eases travel restrictions on women

Saudi Arabia allows foreign men and women to share hotel rooms

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-old driving ban on women

IN OTHER NEWS

FINLAND’S NEW PM IS 34: Finland's Social Democrats elected a 34-year-old former transport minister to the post of prime minister on Sunday (Dec 8), making her the youngest head of government in the country's history.

XINJIANG: All students at Xinjiang’s controversial training centres have graduated from its three-prong programme involving learning Chinese, picking up vocational skills and deradicalisation, and the autonomous region will now embark on another phase of training that is more ad-hoc, say its top officials on Monday.

AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES: Thousands of firefighters burned grassland in eastern Australia on Monday (Dec 9) in a desperate bid to starve an anticipated new front of bush fires of fuel before forecast searing temperatures on Tuesday.

ART CAN BE BANANAS: A performance artist shook up the crowd at the Art Basel show in Miami Beach on Saturday (Dec 7) when he grabbed a banana that had been duct-taped to a gallery wall and ate it. The banana was, in fact, a work of art by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan titled "Comedian" and sold to a French collector for US$120,000 (S$163,000).

That’s it for today, Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

-Jeremy