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Japanese journalist detained in Myanmar returns home

Japanese journalist detained in Myanmar returns home

CHIBA, Japan - A Japanese freelance journalist detained by security forces in Myanmar in mid-April and accused of spreading "fake news" regarding anti-military protests returned to Japan on Friday after being released the same day. Upon his arrival at Narita airport near Tokyo on Friday night, Yuki Kitazumi, 45, told reporters, "I would like to express my gratitude for people who supported me because many people made an effort (to secure my release)." Feeelance journalist Yuki Kitazumi speaks to reporters at Narita airport near Tokyo on May 14, 2021 after returning to Japan following his release in Myanmar.  He had been detained by security force in Myanmar since mid-April. (Kyodo) "I wanted to report on what was going on in Yangon, but I'm frustrated about not being able to do it," he said, expressing his feelings about returning home. Kitazumi also described a menacing atmosphere during interrogation, with his questioner pounding the desk and threatening him with prison. He was not allowed to use a pen while in prison, so he tried to repeat events and details in his mind to keep the memories alive. Kitazumi said he plans to stay in Japan for a while, although he aims to cover developments in Myanmar, saying, "There are lots of things that people in Myanmar asked me to convey to the world." At around 5:30 p.m. Thursday, prison officials told Kitazumi to pack his belongings because he was going home the following day. Japanese Embassy staff met with him at Yangon international airport and found him in good health, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters in Tokyo. The journalist was arrested in Yangon on April 18 and a military spokesman said Thursday night he had been moved from prison to a police facility. Freelance journalist Yuki Kitazumi speaks to reporters at Narita airport near Tokyo on May 14, 2021 after returning to Japan following his release by security forces in Myanmar. (Kyodo) According to a state-run newspaper on Friday, Kitazumi had been indicted for supporting the anti-coup civil disobedience movement and riots, and for not complying with visa regulations. The military junta decided to release Kitazumi "in consideration of cordial relations between Myanmar and Japan up to now and in view of future bilateral relations, and upon the request of the Japanese government special envoy on Myanmar's national reconciliation," according to state-run TV on Thursday night. Before Kitazumi was freed, Motegi said Friday morning that the journalist would be released and return to Japan by the end of Friday at the earliest. "It was the result of efforts made by Ambassador Ichiro Maruyama and other people who tried to seek the early release (of the Japanese journalist) through various channels," Motegi said at a meeting of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. Yuki Kitazumi raises a three-finger salute, a symbol of Myanmar's anti-coup movement, in this undated photo. (From Yuki Kitazumi's Facebook page)(Kyodo) The journalist, who previously worked at the Tokyo-based Nikkei business daily, had covered anti-government protests and posted information deemed to be critical of the military on social media. Kitazumi had been detained previously while covering an anti-military protest on Feb. 26, but he was released later in the day. Related coverage: Japanese journalist indicted in Myanmar on "fake news" charge Japan envoy speaks with journalist held in Myanmar Japan demands release of journalist held in Myanmar

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Coronavirus

Japan to expand COVID-19 state of emergency to 3 more prefectures

Japan to expand COVID-19 state of emergency to 3 more prefectures

The Japanese government decided Friday to expand a COVID-19 state of emergency covering Tokyo and other areas to three more prefectures, a surprise move that comes as infections continue to surge ahead of the capital's hosting of the Summer Olympics. Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima will be under tougher restrictions, including a ban on restaurants serving alcohol, from Sunday to May 31, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a task force meeting. The government had initially looked to put Okayama and Hiroshima under a quasi-emergency while keeping the one in place in Hokkaido but changed course at the urging of a panel of experts. As planned, it added three prefectures -- Gunma, Ishikawa and Kumamoto -- from Sunday to June 13. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (L) and Shigeru Omi, head of a government subcommittee on the coronavirus response, attend at a press conference in Tokyo on May 14, 2021. The Japanese government decided the same day to add Hokkaido, as well as Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures to the ongoing coronavirus state of emergency from May 16. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo The experts voiced concerns over the spread of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus and the increasing strain on hospitals, Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the coronavirus response, told a parliamentary hearing. Shigeru Omi, an infectious disease expert who heads a government subcommittee on the coronavirus, said it was necessary to send a "strong message" by expanding the state of emergency, as more than a year of on-and-off restrictions have had a numbing effect on the public. The abrupt shift could fuel criticism of Suga's sluggish response to the pandemic and call his leadership into question ahead of a general election to be held by the fall, as well as deepen concerns over staging the Tokyo Olympics from July 23 to Aug. 8. Related coverage: Japan to impose tougher COVID-19 restrictions in 5 more prefectures Suga promised the games can still be held safely, telling a press conference, "We will ensure the proper virus measures are in place for athletes and staff to participate so they won't have to worry." "By taking thorough steps to protect the lives and health of the Japanese people, I believe it is possible to realize a safe and secure games." In areas placed under the state of emergency, restaurants are being told to close by 8 p.m. and refrain from serving alcohol or offering karaoke services. Department stores and other major commercial facilities are also being told to temporarily shut or close early, and attendance at concerts and sports events has been capped at 5,000 or 50 percent of venue capacity.   People wearing masks walk in Okayama, western Japan, on May 14, 2021. (Kyodo)  Coronavirus cases have been on the rise nationwide in recent weeks, with the daily number of new infections topping 6,000 for the fourth straight day on Friday. The northern main island of Hokkaido saw a record 712 cases on Thursday. There have been a growing number of reports of COVID-19 patients dying at home as it becomes increasingly difficult to find available hospital beds. The spread of coronavirus variants and a slow vaccine rollout have exacerbated the situation.   Japan has the worst vaccination rate among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, having administered at least one shot to just 3 percent of its population of 126 million. "It will be difficult to improve the situation unless we take the strongest measures possible," said Satoshi Kamayachi, an executive board member of the Japan Medical Association who sits on the expert panel. Suga meanwhile denied the need to declare a nationwide state of emergency, as the National Governors' Association has suggested, saying the government will take targeted steps in specific areas. People on the street reacted to the decision to expand the state of emergency with a mixture of resignation to living under tougher restrictions and exasperation at the government's lack of urgency as infections continued to surge through the Golden Week holidays through early May. "They're always behind the curve," observed Shigeru Ogura, a 74-year-old retiree who was taking a walk near the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima. Suga declared a state of emergency, the third since the start of the pandemic, in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo from April 25 to May 11, later adding Aichi and Fukuoka from Wednesday and extending it to May 31. The quasi-emergency allows governors to single out municipalities with measures including telling restaurants to close early with a fine of up to 200,000 yen ($1,825) for noncompliance, while the state of emergency covers entire prefectures and carries a fine of up to 300,000 yen. The following is a chronology of major events related to the novel coronavirus and Japan. Jan. 9, 2020 -- Chinese state-run media reports novel coronavirus detected in patient. Jan. 15 -- Japan confirms 1st coronavirus infection. Jan. 30 -- World Health Organization declares global emergency. Feb. 3 -- Quarantine starts on cruise ship Diamond Princess, which arrived at Yokohama Port, group infection later confirmed among passengers, crew members. Feb. 13 -- Japan confirms its 1st coronavirus death. March 4 -- Domestic infections top 1,000, including those on Diamond Princess cruise ship. March 11 -- WHO declares novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. March 13 -- Japan's parliament enacts legislation enabling the government to declare a state of emergency over the coronavirus. March 24 -- 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games postponed to 2021 due to pandemic. April 5 -- Deaths from COVID-19 in Japan top 100. April 7 -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declares state of emergency for Tokyo, six other prefectures. April 16 -- State of emergency expanded to entire nation, infected people in Japan top 10,000. May 2 -- Deaths in Japan top 500. May 25 -- State of emergency fully lifted. July 22 -- Japan's domestic travel subsidy campaign begins, excluding Tokyo, to help revive tourism industry battered by coronavirus. Sept. 19 -- Japan eases restrictions on crowd size at professional sports matches, movie theaters and other events. Oct. 1 -- Tokyo added to travel subsidy campaign. Oct. 29 -- Domestic infection cases top 100,000. Nov. 22 -- Coronavirus deaths in Japan top 2,000. Dec. 14 -- Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announces halt of travel subsidy program during the New Year holidays. Dec. 21 -- Domestic infections top 200,000. Dec. 22 -- Coronavirus deaths in Japan top 3,000. Jan. 7, 2021 -- Suga declares second state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures effective the following day through Feb. 7. Jan. 13 -- Suga declares state of emergency for seven more prefectures including Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka and Tochigi. Domestic infections top 300,000. Feb. 2 -- State of emergency extended to March 7 in 10 prefectures. Feb. 8 -- State of emergency lifted in Tochigi. March 1 -- Emergency lifted in six prefectures, including Osaka, ahead of planned end on March 7. March 22 -- Emergency lifted in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures. April 23 -- Suga declares third state of emergency in Tokyo and three western prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo effective April 25 through May 11. Quasi-emergency measures implemented in Ehime prefecture. April 26 -- COVID-19 deaths top 10,000. May 2 -- Domestic infections top 600,000. May 7 -- State of emergency extended to May 31. May 9 -- Quasi-emergency measures implemented in Hokkaido and central prefectures of Gifu and Mie. May 12 -- Suga declares state of emergency for Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures. May 14 -- Suga declares state of emergency for Hokkaido and 2 western prefectures of Okayama and Hiroshima. Quasi-emergency measures implemented in Gunma, Ishikawa and Kumamoto prefectures.

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