Australia has recalled its ambassador from Indonesia after the country executed two Australian nationals for drug smuggling offences. In addition to Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, Four Nigerians, one Indonesian and one Brazilian were also executed by firing squad in the early hours of Wednesday. One Philippine woman’s execution was called off at the last minute, after new evidence and an appeal from the Philippine government. Indonesia has received widespread criticism over the executions. Chan and Sukumaran were first convicted in 2006 over a plot to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Indonesia to Australia. Australia had campaigned against the execution of Chan and Sukumaran for several years. It was announced on Wednesday that following the extension of courtesies to the families of the executed, Australia’s ambassador would be withdrawn. The withdrawal is the first time Australia has withdrawn an ambassador over an execution of one of its citizens abroad.
The Conservative Party will seek to pass a law curbing tax rises should it win a majority in next week’s general election, Prime Minister David Cameron is to announce today. Under the Prime Minister’s pledged legislation, no rises in income tax, VAT or national insurance would be able to occur before 2020. Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband is later to say that Conservative cuts to the welfare budget would mean cuts to tax credits. Labour has already said that it expects VAT to rise, and that it would raise the top rate of tax from 45 percent to 50 percent. With just over a week to go to the election on 7 May, no party holds a visible majority in the polls.
US President Barack Obama has accused China of “flexing its muscles” in the South China Sea while in discussion with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. President Obama reiterated US commitment to defending Japanese territory, but emphasised that a strong US-Japan relationship should not be seen as a provocation by China. China, meanwhile, expressed its concerns after leaders from Southeast Asian Nations expressed worries over China’s programme of land reclamation in the South China Sea. Nations at the ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur said after a summit this week that island reclamation ‘eroded trust’ in the region. China has expressed a desire to resolve the issue of territorial disputes outside of the ASEAN group, on a bilateral country-by-country basis.
Political stories make most headlines again today. The Prime Minister’s pledge of “no tax rises for five years” makes the headlines in The Daily Telegraph. The Prime Minister is on Wednesday to pledge no rises in income tax, VAT, or national insurance over the next five years, and to enshrine his pledge in law. The Financial Times leads with the same story, writing that such a law would “tie hands of chancellor”. The FT notes that the announcement “comes after data show weak growth”. Ed Miliband’s interview with comedian and writer Russell Brand is the top story in The Guardian, meanwhile, with the paper dubbing the move “Miliband’s tactical gamble”. Miliband discussed the value of voting with Brand, the paper reports. Miliband also took the opportunity to warn of Conservative spending cuts. The Times leads with news of Labour MP Margaret Hodge, whom the paper writes was “given £1.5m shares from tax haven”. Hodge, known for her attacks on tax avoidance, received the shares from Liechtenstein. Hodge claims that any sale of shares was carried out above-board and that all taxes were paid in full. The Independent continues to lead with news from Nepal, writing in its headline that the death toll has hit 5,000 “as survivors freeze in Himalayas”. Rescue efforts in remote areas have been hampered by “Aftershocks, landslides and heavy rain”, the paper reports.
British Media on China
On kidnappers in Hong Kong: The ongoing hunt in Hong Kong for six kidnappers who fled with £2.35 million in ransom money receives coverage from the BBC and The Guardian. The BBC writes that while under British rule, “a number of high-profile kidnappings targeting the city’s richest families shocked the public.” Such cases have been rare under Chinese rule, the BBC reports. The Guardian’s agency piece reports that violent crime fell in the city by 10 percent over 2014, while the number of robberies fell by 38 percent over the same period.