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From The Asian Reporter, V31, #3 (March 1, 2021), page 2.

Most World Cup qualifying games in Asia postponed

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) says the majority of the region’s 2022 World Cup qualifying matches in March will be postponed to May and June — with a few exceptions that include Japan, Australia, and Saudi Arabia. "Taking into consideration the existing travel and quarantine restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic across the continent, the AFC and FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) have jointly agreed to postpone the majority of the upcoming Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022," AFC said in a statement. There are four games that will go ahead. On March 25, Saudi Arabia will host Yemen in Riyadh while Tajikistan and Mongolia will also play. Five days later, Mongolia will travel to Tokyo to take on Japan and Australia heads to Nepal. No second-round qualification matches have been played since November 2019. The race is now on to finish that second round, with most of the 40 teams involved having four games remaining before the current deadline of June 15. AFC said it has been working with member associations grouped together to help them make their own arrangements and play out the remaining games at one venue. The Korea Football Association (KFA) said it has held discussions with the AFC as well as representatives of its Group H opponents: North Korea, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, and Sri Lanka. South Korea is interested in hosting the remaining games in its group. "We are considering it," said the official, adding that applications have to be sent to the AFC by March 5, with the final decision on the host venues announced ten days later. The winners of the eight groups in the second round, along with the four best-performing second-place teams, will progress to the third round of qualification that is scheduled to start in September.

Spy agency: North Korea hackers targeted vaccine tech

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean hackers attempted to steal information about coronavirus vaccines and treatments, South Korea’s intelligence service says, but it denied a lawmaker’s claim that vaccine maker Pfizer Inc. was targeted. Ha Tae-keung, a member of parliament’s intelligence committee, told reporters that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) told him and other lawmakers during a closed-door briefing that North Korea hacked Pfizer to obtain COVID-19 vaccine technology. After Ha’s comments made headlines, the NIS said it didn’t mention any pharmaceutical company by name when it told lawmakers that North Korean hackers were going after coronavirus vaccine information. In an unusual rebuke, the NIS public affairs office called Ha’s comments "wrong." Ha stood by his claim when contacted by The Associated Press, saying NIS documents he was shown said "North Korea stole Pfizer (vaccine information) and attempted to steal (technology) from South Korean vaccine and pharmaceutical firms." He said the lawmakers were required to return the documents at the end of the briefing. Ha said the wording about Pfizer "was so clear that I didn’t even ask about that verbally" during the briefing. The NIS, which has a mixed record on confirming developments in North Korea, rarely comments on North Korea-related information it provides to lawmakers at private briefings. Ha suggested the NIS was likely trying not to anger North Korea too much. Kwon Bo-young, a public relations manager at Pfizer’s South Korean office, said in a text message that it was checking Ha’s claim with its global headquarters. While North Korea has denied involvement, it has been linked to a slew of prominent cyberattacks in recent years, including a 2013 campaign that paralyzed the servers of South Korean financial institutions, the 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures, and the WannaCry malware attack of 2017. Acquiring coronavirus vaccines is crucial for North Korea, whose public healthcare system is in shambles. Many outside experts are highly skeptical about North Korea’s claims to have had no coronavirus cases, but say the country likely has avoided a widespread outbreak thanks to more than a year of stringent lockdowns.

Throttle problem suspected in Indonesia crash

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A malfunctioning automatic throttle may have caused the pilots of a Sriwijaya Air jet to lose control, leading to the Boeing 737-500’s plunge into the Java Sea last month, Indonesian investigators said. National Transportation Safety Committee investigators say they are still struggling to understand why the jet nosedived into the water minutes after taking off from Jakarta on January 9, killing all 62 people on board. The investigators issued a preliminary report that provided new details of the pilots’ struggle to fly the plane from almost as soon as it became airborne. The lead investigator, Nurcahyo Utomo, said the left engine’s throttle lever moved backward on its own while autopilot was engaged, reducing the power output of that engine before the jet plunged into the sea. He said pilots of previous flights had reported problems with the automatic throttle system on the 26-year-old jet. The pilots’ last conversation with air traffic control was about four minutes after takeoff, when the crew responded to an instruction to go up to 13,000 feet. The plane’s flight data recorder showed the plane reached an altitude of 10,900 feet and then began declining, Utomo said. While on autopilot, power to the left engine was reduced while the right engine’s power remained steady. The pilot fought to bring the plane up, but it rolled onto its left side, Utomo said. A minute later the data recorder showed that the automatic throttle had been disengaged as the plane pitched down. The flight data recorder stopped recording a few seconds later. Divers were able to recover the crashed plane’s flight data recorder, which tracks hundreds of parameters showing how the plane was being operated, but were unable to find the memory unit from the cockpit voice recorder, which could tell investigators what the pilots were doing.

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