Asian Insider Jan 3: High tensions after US strike killed Iranian general, Wuhan pneumonia-like outbreak puts Asia on alert and Jakarta struggling to contain its flood crisis

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

Hi,

In today’s bulletin: we look at how conflict might erupt in the Middle-East after the United States took out its deadly adversary, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani; Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan raised their border vigilance after a mysterious illness affected about 30 people who were at a produce and wildlife market in Wuhan; and Jakarta struggles to keep heavy downpour out of the city by making it rain elsewhere through cloud seeding.

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DEATH OF IRANIAN GENERAL MAY SPARK CONFLICT IN MIDDLE-EAST

Qassem Soleimani, the feared Iranian general who through proxy militias extended his country’s power across the Middle East, has been killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad. The death of the man, who led the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force, heightened fears of an armed conflict between the US and Iran that could easily pull in other countries. Tensions have been building for months, complicated by widespread protests in Iraq and Iran. 

Read more:

Our US Bureau Chief in Washington, Nirmal Ghosh, on why the prospect of a US-Iran war has become very likely  

Popular in Iran but a deadly adversary of the United States

HEALTH ALERT OVER CHINA PNEUMONIA OUTBREAK

On New Year's Eve, officials in the Chinese city of Wuhan announced that several clinics and hospitals in the city had received patients suffering from pneumonia and the cause was not known. Twenty-seven people were reported to have been infected, with seven of them seriously ill. They were believed to have fallen sick after visiting a market that sold birds, pheasants, and snakes, along with organs of rabbits and other wildlife.

Don't miss:

In Singapore, those returning from Wuhan will be subjected to health screening at the Changi Airport

MOVE TO STOP MORE RAIN IN FLOOD-HIT JAKARTA

The Indonesian government will start cloud seeding to the west of the capital - inducing rain using chemicals sprayed from planes - to prevent approaching rainfall from pounding the region. The move comes as rescuers are still mounting a desperate search for those missing after flash floods and landslides sparked by torrential rains have killed at least 43 people across the Jakarta region, leaving whole districts under water and hundreds of thousands homeless. This is Jakarta’s worst flood since 2013.

Read more:

Singaporeans in Jakarta told to brace for more floods 

ANIMALS ARE THE BIGGEST CASUALTIES IN ENVIRONMENT DISASTERS

Close to half a billion animals in Australia's New South Wales state may have been killed in wildfires since September, according to a research by the University of Sydney. Many of the mammals, birds and reptiles have either been directly killed by the fires or indirectly through loss of habitat. Distressing images of injured or dead Australian native animals - including koalas and kangaroos - have been flooding social media streams as the wildfires sweep through south-eastern Australia. The human death toll since the fire season began months ago in the southern hemisphere winter stands at 20.

Don't miss:

Australian Navy races to rescue thousands still trapped

Son received bravery medal for firefighter who died 

ASIAN INSIDER VIDEO EXCLUSIVE

Three political warlords and dozens of their kin were found guilty in December over the slaughter of 58 men and women, including dozens of journalists, in a brazen act that horrified the world more than a decade ago. The Philippines court found Andal Ampatuan Jr, a former town mayor, and his brothers, Zaldy, a former governor, and Anwar, a former vice-mayor, guilty of the mass killing and sentenced them to a maximum 40 years in prison, without parole. But has justice been served after a decade-long trial? The Straits Times US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh explores the issue with the CEO and Executive Editor of Rappler.com, Maria Ressa.

Read more:

Fearful wait for justice a decade after Philippine massacre

IN OTHER NEWS

BEIJING: China will keep its inflation target unchanged this year at around 3 per cent.

HONG KONG: The city’s Law Society and Bar Association have condemned abusive graffiti sprayed by protesters on a court building that insulted a judge by name.

NEW DELHI: Our India Correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta reports on the valiant efforts of the volunteer medical brigades who soldier on amid the violent protests relating to the citizenship law.  

It’s not exactly Star Wars but in a galaxy far, far, away, a star and a planet orbiting it now have new names, thanks to Singapore Anglo Chinese School (Independent) student Jordan Sun Jing Tai. Singapore was among over 110 countries, including Malaysia, France and Australia, which took part in the NameExoWorlds II Project organised by International Astronomical Union as part of the union's celebration of their 100th anniversary last year.

Thank you for reading the Asian Insider, and for being a reader of The Straits Times.

Have a great weekend and see you again next week!

Ooi Boon