THAILAND-HMONG: Thai soldiers on Monday began the repatriation to Laos of about 4,000 Hmong asylum-seekers, despite international concerns that they will face persecution in their home country. The U.S. State Department issued a statement (late Sunday) calling the forceful repatriations a "serious violation of the international humanitarian principles." The statement urged Thai authorities to suspend the operation and called on Laos to "treat humanely any Hmong who are involuntarily returned." A Thai government spokesman (Panitan Wattanayagorn) denied that the Hmong were being forcefully returned.
He said under Thai law the Hmong are illegal immigrants and are being treated according to law. The Human Rights Watch representative in Thailand (Sunai Pasuk) called the repatriation a serious breach in international standards.
IRAN: A senior Iranian opposition leader has criticized a government crackdown on nationwide opposition protests that killed at least eight people Sunday. Reformist Iranian cleric Mahdi Karroubi issued a statement Monday asking how Iran's clerical establishment could order the killing of its own people on the holy day of Ashura. Iran's state-run Press TV says eight people were killed Sunday in anti-government protests that coincided with the climax of Ashura, a solemn Shi'ite festival. It gave no further details. Some sources say the death toll was higher.
Opposition groups say police shot dead four protesters in Tehran and killed another four in the northwestern city of Tabriz.
They also reported clashes in other major cities as tens of thousands of opposition activists rallied in defiance of government warnings not to use Ashura as an excuse to hold protests. Sunday's unrest was the worst in Iran for half a year.
News Updates:Iranian opposition groups say authorities have arrested at least five prominent reformists as part of a new crackdown on anti-government protests. Opposition Web sites say three advisers to Iran's opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi were detained Monday, including his top aide, Ali Riza Beheshti.
US-AIRLINE INCIDENT: The Nigerian man charged with attempting to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day is scheduled to appear in a Michigan court Monday. On Sunday, authorities moved Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to a federal prison from a hospital where he was treated for burns. The 23-year-old Nigerian claims he was trained by al-Qaida operatives in Yemen. He allegedly tried to ignite explosives just before Northwest Airlines Flight 253 landed in Detroit on a trip from Amsterdam Friday. The device failed to explode and Abdulmutallab burned his leg before other passengers and flight crew restrained him. The suspect is listed in a U.S. government intelligence database, but he was not on the so-called "no-fly list." Officials are reviewing security and trying to determine how Abdulmutallab boarded a U.S.-bound plane with potential explosives.
CHINA-UK-EXECUTION: Two cousins of a British citizen facing execution in China for drug-trafficking made a final appeal for his life and visited him Monday. Akmal Shaikh, a 53-year-old father of three, was convicted in 2008 of attempting to smuggle 4 kilograms of heroin into Urumqi, a city in China's far western Xinjiang region. He is due to be executed on Tuesday.
Shaikh's family says he suffers from mental health problems (bipolar disorder) and that he was tricked into participating in the drug-smuggling scheme.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is among those appealing for clemency.
China's highest court has already rejected an appeal.
SOMALIA-CHINA-PIRATES: The official Chinese news agency says a Chinese cargo ship seized two months ago off Somalia has been released by its hijackers and its crew of 25 is safe.
Xinhua quotes the Chinese Marine Search and Rescue Center as saying the vessel (the De Xin Hai) is under protection of the Chinese naval escort fleet.
The report made no mention of the payment of a ransom of nearly $4 million. The money was said to have been dropped by helicopter on the deck of the ship.
VIETNAM-DISSIDENT: A Vietnamese court sentenced a former army officer Monday to five-and-a-half years in prison on a conviction of subversion.
Tran Anh Kim, a former lieutenant colonel, was accused of working to overthrow the communist state by joining the Democratic Party of Vietnam and "Bloc 8406," organizations that promote a multi-party state.
The 60-year-old could have faced the death penalty, but prosecutors asked for a lenient sentence, citing his distinguished military record.