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South-East Asian countries are backing away from the death penalty

MALAYSIA IS HARDLY known for the leniency of its punishments. Sharia (Islamic law) applies in some states and canings offer a violent public spectacle. Even so, the country’s new government no longer wishes to deal in death. On October 10th Liew Vui Keong, a minister, announced that the death penalty would be abolished, although the necessary legislation has yet to be introduced in parliament. That would leave only four countries in South-East Asia still conducting executions: Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. And even among these hold-outs, there are signs of change.

Vietnam, with a population of more than 95m, is by far the most prolific executioner in the region (see chart). It does not normally disclose the number of prisoners put to death. But last year it reported that 429 had been executed in a 151-week period between 2013 and 2016, a much higher number than had been estimated previously. Singapore, the next on the list, carried out...

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Citizens of Kazakhstan are just one click away from jail

AS THE WORLD’S largest landlocked country and surrounded by a sea of authoritarianism, Kazakhstan goes to extraordinary lengths to put itself on the map—and show what a normal, upstanding country it is. Its 78-year-old ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, obsesses over hosting conferences, conventions and expositions: Banyan was once in Almaty, the commercial capital, for the world arm-wrestling championship. Last year Astana, the grandiose capital laid out by Mr Nazarbayev, hosted Expo 2017. Kazakhstan’s pavilion, topped by a giant blue orb, was quickly nicknamed the “Death Star”. “Normal” does not come naturally to Mr Nazarbayev’s Kazakhstan.

Still, it can try. A fortune is spent on public relations to polish the country’s democratic credentials. At the start of the decade it triumphantly hosted a summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) a group that promotes free elections among other things....

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South Korea’s president is struggling to “democratise” the economy

CHO IMHO is angry. Perched on an enormous black leather chair, the director of South Korea’s association of small businesses throws up his arms in despair as he discusses the government’s economic policy. Mr Cho reserves particular ire for the recent increase in the minimum wage to 7,530 won ($6.65) an hour, 16% more than it was a year ago. The leap is the centrepiece of the government’s plan to revive the economy by boosting the incomes of the poor; further hikes are planned. Mr Cho claims many of the firms he represents are considering shutting down. Others have shed staff. “It’s crazy, a disaster,” he says.

Mr Cho is a proud right-winger from Daegu, a nest of South Korean conservatism. His aversion to the policies of the left-leaning president, Moon Jae-in, is perhaps not surprising. But in recent months a spate of disappointing employment data and loud protests from businesses have stirred unease within the government. The finance minister, for...

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If invited, Pope Francis could go to Pyongyang

Pope Francis and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met today. According to a South Korean presidential spokesman, the pontiff expressed encouragement for the peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula. "Move forward without stopping. Do not be afraid," he said. Now the ball is in North Korea’s court. The Vatican and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations.

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