Nearly 800 desperate migrants from Burma and Bangladesh were rescued from a sinking vessel by fishermen off Indonesia’s coast on Friday as the boat people crisis in south-east Asia continued to escalate.

Human Rights Watch condemned Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia for playing a deadly game of “human ping pong” in refusing to allow more dangerously overladen boats carrying thousands fleeing poverty and persecution to land on their shores.

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The prime minister, Tony Abbott, has made a final public appeal to the Indonesian government to spare the lives of two Australian citizens sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

“While Australia respects Indonesia’s sovereignty, we are asking that Indonesia reconsider its decision to execute two Australian citizens,” Abbott said in a statement, a day after one of the men, Andrew Chan, had his plea for presidential clemency rejected.

His accomplice, Myuran Sukumaran, had a similar bid turned down earlier this month.

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Two and a half days after the plane carrying their loved ones vanished from radar screens over the Java Sea, the anguished relatives crowded into a room already assumed the worst. But the confirmation came in a particularly brutal way: live television coverage showed a half-naked, bloated body floating in the sea.

Many people began crying hysterically. Several fainted and had to be carried out of the room at Surabaya’s airport, the starting point for the ill-fated AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ8501 that departed early on Sunday morning. “You have to be strong,” said the mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, as she comforted relatives. “They are not ours, they belong to God.”

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The Indonesian maid at the centre of a high-profile abuse case has testified at the start of her former Hong Kong employer’s trial.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih says she was “tortured” by employer Law Wan-tung for eight months last year.

Her case drew global attention in January when she returned to Indonesia in a critical condition and was admitted to hospital.

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People and businesses working in the live cattle export trade have launched a class action lawsuit against the federal government over its temporary ban of the trade to Indonesia in 2011.

The class action, filed late on Monday with the federal court, is seeking compensation that could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

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