Michael Sullivan

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The drug cartels in Southeast Asia have weathered the pandemic in part because of good planning. And business is booming despite border closures that have stymied legitimate commerce, as Michael Sullivan reports from Thailand.

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There are protests in Thailand's capital today. Anti-government demonstrators in Bangkok are demanding the country's prime minister step down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Non-English language spoken).

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Thailand's capital is on a kind of lockdown. But it's not the pandemic; it's politics. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in Bangkok to push their demands for the military-backed government to step down.

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Thousands of Thais gathered Sunday in the capital, Bangkok, for the largest anti-government demonstration since the 2014 coup that brought the military to power.

Protesters, many dressed in black, thronged the streets around the Democracy Monument at Ratchadamnoen Avenue and Dinso Road.

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Malaysia's former Prime Minister Najib Razak has been found guilty on all counts in the first of his multiple corruption trials over a massive scheme to divert billions from a state investment fund to several personal accounts, including his.

The landmark criminal case involving the 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, has not only ensnared Najib, but other prominent Malaysian figures and Goldman Sachs, one of the world's largest investment banks.

Lack of testing, mixed messages from the government and a rush to reopen.

No, not the U.S., but Indonesia, which has been hit far worse by the coronavirus than any country in Southeast Asia — more than 80,000 confirmed cases with over 3,200 dead, as of Thursday.

Epidemiologists say it didn't have to be this way.

"We have a lot of big, missed opportunities," says Pandu Riono at the University of Indonesia. "If you want to protect the people, do something seriously and do something right."

Indonesia's central government, he says, hasn't done much of either.

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Tourism is such a significant part of Thailand's economy. Because of the pandemic, millions in that industry have lost their jobs, and there are fears there might never be a full recovery there. Michael Sullivan reports.

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Vietnam has been a bright spot during the COVID-19 pandemic — and has largely reopened for business. Thanks to aggressive contact tracing, quarantines and testing, it's managed to keep its confirmed coronavirus cases to just 317, with no deaths, according to government figures.

Doctors in a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City are struggling to save a patient from becoming the country's first COVID-19 fatality.

It's the moment international aid groups have been dreading for months — the coronavirus has reached the sprawling refugee camps in the Cox's Bazar district of southern Bangladesh, home to roughly a million Rohingya refugees.

Bangladesh officials said on Thursday that at least two people living in or adjacent to the camps have tested positive for the coronavirus and have now been quarantined amid fears of a humanitarian disaster if the virus spreads unchecked.

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Myanmar's Muslim minority Rohingya had few friends before COVID-19, and now they have even fewer. Boats full of refugees are being turned away by Malaysia over fears that they will spread the virus onto its shores. Michael Sullivan reports.

In Indonesia, one of the countries in Southeast Asia hardest hit by the coronavirus, some residents are refusing to allow COVID-19 dead to be buried in their communities, despite government assurances that doing so is safe.

The United Nations' outgoing chief human rights monitor for Myanmar is calling for an investigation into allegations of ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the southeast Asian country's Rakhine and Chin States.

"While the world is occupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar military continues to escalate its assault in Rakhine State, targeting the civilian population," Yanghee Lee said in a blistering farewell statement.

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Vietnam shares a border with China, yet it has reported no deaths from COVID-19 and just 268 confirmed cases, when other Southeast Asian nations are reporting thousands.

Experts say experience dealing with prior pandemics, early implementation of aggressive social distancing policies, strong action from political leaders and the muscle of a one-party authoritarian state have helped Vietnam.

On a March morning at the Maetaeng Elephant Park in Thailand's northern Chiang Mai province, the elephants and their handlers, called mahouts, were entertaining visitors with tricks. Elephants painted pictures with their trunks and deftly back-kicked soccer balls into a net.

Maetaeng is one of the biggest wildlife camps in the north, with 85 elephants. They are also available for guests to ride or go trekking with in the surrounding hills.

Forget toilet paper. What about beer?

Authorities in Bangkok on Thursday banned alcohol sales for 11 days in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus during the Thai New Year, or Songkran, which begins on Monday.

More than half the country's known cases are in the capital city. Authorities in Chiang Mai, Phuket and several other provinces have also called for similar bans.

Online child sexual abuse is rising as countries close schools and impose various levels of lockdown to contain the new coronavirus pandemic, children's rights advocates in Southeast Asia warn.

Three Southeast Asian nations — Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar — are using fears over the coronavirus to double down on repressive measures aimed at silencing critics or opponents.

In Thailand, general-turned-prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha declared a state of emergency on March 26, granting him broad powers to protect the "safety of the people." It allows him to confine people to their homes, prohibits public assembly and includes additional powers of arrest and search and seizure.

Malaysia has the largest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia with more than 2,900 and counting. This week, Malaysia's government also had a serious public relations issue after an ill-conceived plan went online.

Pepper is believed to originate from southern India. But some chefs, including the late Anthony Bourdain and the Michelin-starred French chef Olivier Roellinger, have been drawn to pepper produced in Cambodia, specifically in the province of Kampot. That's where a near-ideal combination of sea, soil and climate produces a very aromatic, nuanced — and expensive — spice.

Some 60 million people rely on Southeast Asia's Mekong River for their sustenance. But the Mekong is under threat.

While China is building dams that sharply reduce the water flow and sediment downstream, other countries along the river share some of the blame.

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Indonesia says it will not allow citizens who went to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq to return home, calling them a threat to national security. This is a controversial decision in the world's most populous Muslim nation. Here's more from Michael Sullivan.

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So is Myanmar conducting a genocidal campaign against Rohingya Muslims?

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