- - Thursday, December 8, 2011

THAILAND

American goes to prison for Thai royal insult

BANGKOK | An American who translated a banned biography of Thailand’s king and posted the content online while living in Colorado was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in a Thai prison Thursday for defaming the country’s royal family.

The verdict is the latest so-called lese majeste punishment handed down in the Southeast Asian kingdom, which has come under increasing pressure at home and abroad to reform harsh legislation that critics say is an affront to freedom of expression.

Thai-born American Joe Gordon, 55, stood calmly with his ankles shackled in an orange prison uniform as the sentence was read out at a Bangkok criminal court.

Judge Tawan Rodcharoen said the punishment, initially set at five years, was reduced because Gordon pleaded guilty in October.

Defense attorney Arnon Nampa said Gordon would not appeal but would apply for a royal pardon.

PAKISTAN

Report on bin Laden’s time in Abbottabad due in weeks

ISLAMABAD | A judicial commission investigating how Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan undetected for years until his killing by U.S. Special Forces said Thursday it would complete its report within weeks.

“It is hoped that the recording of the evidence will be completed by the end of December and the writing of the commission report as early as possible,” retired senior Supreme Court Judge Javed Iqbal told a news conference.

The Pakistani government set up the five-member panel after Navy SEALs conducted a secret raid on a compound in the garrison city of Abbottabad on May 2, killing bin Laden and then flying off without informing Islamabad.

Parliament demanded an independent investigation into how bin Laden had been able to hide and whether there was any government or military collusion.

CHINA

Gates discussing new nuclear reactor

BEIJING | Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates confirmed Wednesday that he is in discussions with China to jointly develop a new and safer kind of nuclear reactor.

“The idea is to be very low cost, very safe and generate very little waste,” the billionaire said during a talk at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

Mr. Gates has largely funded a Washington state-based company, TerraPower, that is developing a Generation IV nuclear reactor that can run on depleted uranium.

The general manager of state-owned China National Nuclear Corp., Sun Qin, was quoted in Chinese media last week saying Mr. Gates was working with it to research and develop a reactor.

LAOS

Commission puts off decision on Mekong River dam

BANGKOK | Four Southeast Asian nations on Thursday again postponed a decision on Laos’ plan to build the first dam across the Mekong River’s mainstream amid a barrage of opposition from neighboring countries and environmental groups.

The Mekong River Commission, a regional management forum, said the countries would approach Japan and international agencies to further study the impact of the proposed $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam.

The commission’s decisions are not binding, and there are signs that Laos is starting preparations for the project.

In what has become Southeast Asia’s biggest environmental battle, opponents say the dam in central Laos would open the door for a building spree of as many as 10 other dams on the 3,000-mile-long river in Laos and Cambodia, degrading its fragile ecology and affecting the livelihoods of millions of residents.

But Laos, an impoverished country eager to gain revenue from hydroelectric power, has been pushing for its construction despite strong opposition from longtime communist ally Vietnam, environmental groups and villagers along the river.

THAILAND

Fugitive ‘Red Shirt’ leader surrenders in Thailand

BANGKOK | A fugitive leader of Thailand’s “Red Shirts” protesters who escaped a police raid by rappelling down a hotel facade in a scene captured by network news teams surrendered Wednesday after 20 months on the run.

Arisman Pongruangrong, a pop singer-turned-activist known for hotheaded speeches that sometimes were interpreted as incitements to arson, faces five serious charges that include terrorism.

He denied wrongdoing and said he was turning himself in because he now has confidence in the country’s judicial system.

The Red Shirts movement opposed the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and generally supported former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who had been ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Thailand’s new government, led by the sister of the still-fugitive Thaksin, is considered closely aligned with the Red Shirt protesters, though Arisman denied that his surrender was timed to seek lenient treatment under the new administration.