Julie McCarthy

In the Philippines, Congress granted President Rodrigo Duterte special temporary powers on Tuesday to manage the COVID-19 crisis that continues to surge in the country of 110 million people.

To date, there are 552 confirmed cases, and 35 deaths.

The measure granting Duterte the new powers was the first to be approved by Philippine lawmakers using Zoom, the remote teleconferencing service, and puts the country under a "state of national emergency."

The world's fourth most populous country is bracing for a spike in cases of coronavirus infection, after health experts say a sluggish government response has masked the serious of the outbreak.

Updated at 9:30 a.m. ET

At the direction of President Rodrigo Duterte, a fierce critic of the United States, the Philippines announced Tuesday that it would scrap a security pact that allows American forces to train there.

Duterte's foreign secretary, Teodoro Locsin Jr., tweeted Tuesday that the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S. would be terminated — a move that could have consequences for a counterinsurgency against Islamist extremists in the country's south.

Updated at 12:15 p.m. ET

A volcano that has thrown a blanket of ash over much of the Philippines' main island of Luzon in recent days is somewhat quieter, but tremors continued and authorities warned people that a deadly new eruption was still possible.

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A brief period of calm in Hong Kong is over.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

INSKEEP: Demonstrators protested in major malls, scuffling with police and members of the public. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports on how Hong Kong's year is ending.

Fires are laying waste to wide swathes of land across Australia on scales that are tough to comprehend. In the southeastern state of New South Wales alone, where about 60 fires remain ablaze, the infernos have consumed some 4,000 square miles of land — or an area roughly eight times the size of Los Angeles.

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It looks like things are getting worse in Hong Kong. A fiery standoff at one of the city's major universities culminated with police storming the barricades before dawn this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF THUMPING, CLANGING)

Violence erupted this weekend around a besieged Hong Kong university, as protesters threw petrol bombs and fired arrows at police in an attempt to keep control of the campus.

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The Constitution of the United States says an official may be impeached for a few things, quote, "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

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Updated at 11:10 p.m. ET

Chaotic scenes overtook the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, as protesters and police engaged in running street battles in a march billed as a rally against global totalitarianism. It also launched the 17th week of pro-democracy demonstrations aimed at China's tightening grip on the territory.

Hong Kong is bracing for more rallies and unrest this weekend as two important anniversaries loom, sparking fears that anti-government protests might once again boil over into violence on the streets.

Saturday marks five years since the start of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement that unsuccessfully sought free and open elections in Hong Kong, a former British colony that reverted to Chinese control in 1997.

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Amid weeks of mass anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong that have frequently turned violent, Beijing on Tuesday issued a stark warning to protesters: "those who play with fire will perish by it."

The remarks, at a news conference in Beijing, were made by Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council.

He said China has "tremendous power" to put down the protests and warned that anyone who engages in "violence and crimes ... will be held accountable."

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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that the extradition bill that prompted weeks of street demonstrations is "dead," admitting that the government's handling of it was a "total failure."

The measure would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to face trials in courts controlled by the Communist Party, sparking fears of politically motivated prosecutions targeting outspoken critics of China.

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Olowan Magarang recalls the moment he knew it was time to flee his home in Marawi, on the southern Philippines' island of Mindanao. It was in May 2017, two days into a siege by militants aligned with the Islamic State.

"I spotted ISIS fighters moving up my brother's four-story house, carrying long guns and high-caliber weapons," he says.

Magarang was living in what became ground zero — the epicenter of months of fighting — when Philippine troops waged house-to-house combat against hundreds of ISIS-affiliated fighters in Marawi.

Samira Gutoc cannot help but stand out from the crowded roster of candidates in the Philippines' midterm elections. The ebullient 44-year-old is a Muslim, and the only woman among the opposition's slate of eight candidates running for the Senate.

Half of the 24 seats in the upper chamber and all of the 297 seats in the House of Representatives will be chosen in Monday's polling. The Elections Commission says 62 million voters have registered, and if history is any guide, more than 70% of them will turn out.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte harbors a no-holds-barred hostility toward the Catholic Church and he's been hurling barbs at it as he stumps for candidates in the upcoming midterm election.

"Almost 90 percent of the priests are homosexual," he has declared. He also insinuated that others have secret relationships with women.

He cast bishops as "greedy" and urged people to "rob" and even murder them.

Sleigh bells, snowy skies and a glowing fire evoke an idyllic Christmas. But the tropics can be just as festive as any wintry holiday this time of year.

The Philippines boasts the longest yuletide season in the world. September inaugurates the start of what is known as the "Ber" months (September, October, November and December) when parades, parties and concerts crowd the calendar of a season that is as visually resplendent as it is long.

The Philippines and the United States have reached a rare meeting of the minds: Both are enthralled that church bells seized by the U.S. have been returned to the Philippines after 117 years.

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This week, the United States and the Philippines end a 117-year-old feud over church bells. American soldiers seized the bells during the U.S.-Philippines War. And now those bells will be formally returned at a Manila air base.

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