This week we shine the spotlight on Malaysia:
CURRENCY AND CARS
While other emerging-market currencies in Asia are halting their slide, the Malaysian ringgit is continuing its precipitous fall, Malaysian financial newspaper the Edgereports.
The Malaysian currency has experienced a steady depreciation for months against the U.S. dollar. Despite a minor rally recently, it's now trading at 4.18 ringgit for $1, up from 3.5 in February of this year.
The Edge writes that this fall is particularly damaging for the country's automobile industry, as domestic car producers must compete with foreign brands. Several other currencies in emerging markets have fallen in value this year, including those of Indonesia, Brazil, Russia and Vietnam, but have mostly recovered.
FIGHTING THE HAZE
As thick haze continues to blanket Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Indonesia, the governments in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur have struck a deal to combat the environmental disaster, Singaporean daily The Straits Times reports.
Illegal land and forest fires in the Indonesian island of Sumatra result in clouds of haze polluting the region every year, forcing disruption and closures in Malaysia and Singapore.
But under the agreement, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia will implement new standards for environmentally sustainable palm oil production and increase cooperation to curb fires in the region. Many of the fires occur in palm oil plantations, and a joint aircraft operation by the three countries is currently underway to tackle the haze. The agreement was recently signed at a meeting between Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his Malaysian counterpart Prime Minister Najib Razak, at the Indonesian presidential palace in Bogor.
MIRACLE IN MALAYSIA
Malaysian free daily tabloid The Sun reports that hundreds of believers are flocking to the scene of an alleged miracle at a church in Subang Jaya, a city just southwest of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. A statue of the Virgin Mary at the St. Thomas More Catholic Church is said to have grown 7.2 centimeters taller since it was blessed Oct. 7, causing parishioners to believe it was divine intervention.
The statue — which some said also smiled and shed tears — was acquired in Vietnam. Though the statue has already drawn hundreds of pilgrims from across the region, local priests are awaiting confirmation from the Vatican. The Catholic Church must officially confirm that a miracle has happened before it can be recognized, a complex process that can take years.
Two endangered Malayan tapirs will soon be flying to Japan as part of a conservation project, writes Kuala Lumpur-based daily New Straits Times. Im and Bertam, a 2-year-old male and 3-year-old female respectively, will be sent to Nagasaki Bio Park for a decade-long conservation and research program.
The two tapirs are part of a wider agreement between Malaysia and Japan, with the latter committing to research, breeding efforts and eco tourism to protect Malaysian wildlife. Japan is engaged in other conservation projects abroad, and one effort is to protect endangered sea turtles in Indonesia, The Jakarta Post reports.
There are only about 1,100 to 1,500 Malayan tapirs left on the Malaysian peninsula, with deforestation and the illegal animal trade the main contributors to their population decline.
PRESSURE BUILDS ON PM
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is feeling the heat to resign amid a widening corruption scandal. Leaders within the ruling party are growing increasingly impatient with Najib, who is accused of siphoning millions linked to a state-owned development fund.
The Financial Times reports that senior figures within the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Malaysia's long-time ruling party, are withdrawing their backing of the embattled leader. The government has prosecuted political opponents both within and outside the party, but Najib is facing calls to resign from former party members and even former Prime Minister and UMNO leader Mahathir Mohamad.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin told UMNO members to be "more expressive" and to "do what is best for the nation." Najib denies any wrongdoing.