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Seaweed farmers in hot water as Zanzibar struggles

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎5 hours agoGo to full article
Women harvest seaweed at their farm in the Muungoni area, south of Stone Townin ZanzibarZanzibar (Tanzania) (AFP) - Waist deep in sparkling blue water off the white beaches of the Indian Ocean spice island of Zanzibar, seaweed farmer Mtumwa Vuai Ameir gently ties seedlings to wood poles.
 
 

Indonesia takes aim at palm oil after forest fires

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎6 hours agoGo to full article
Plantations on Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo have expanded in recent years as demand for palm oil has skyrocketed, resulting in the destruction of vast tracks of jungleIndonesia is pushing to ban new palm oil operations after last year's haze-belching forest fires were partly blamed on the industry's expansion, but producers are warning the move could hit the economy and green groups are sceptical. President Joko Widodo in April proposed a halt on granting new land for palm oil plantations in the world's top producer of the edible vegetable oil, a key ingredient in many everyday goods, from biscuits to shampoo and make-up. In a statement, he said that "palm oil concessions available at the moment are already adequate" and urged producers to concentrate on using better seeds to increase their yields.
 
 

China trains 'fishing militia' to sail into disputed waters

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎6 hours agoGo to full article
Fishing boats with Chinese national flags are seen at a harbour in Tanmen, Hainan provinceBy Megha Rajagopalan BAIMAJING, China (Reuters) - The fishing fleet based in this tiny port town on Hainan island is getting everything from military training and subsidies to even fuel and ice as China creates an increasingly sophisticated fishing militia to sail into the disputed South China Sea. The training and support includes exercises at sea and requests to fishermen to gather information on foreign vessels, provincial government officials, regional diplomats and fishing company executives said in recent interviews. "The maritime militia is expanding because of the country's need for it, and because of the desire of the fishermen to engage in national service, protecting our country's interests," said an advisor to the Hainan government who did not want to be named.
 
 

Ding to face Selby in snooker World Championship final

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎9 hours agoGo to full article
China's Ding Junhui, pictured on January 14, 2014, is just one match away from becoming Asia's first world snooker championChina's Ding Junhui will face Mark Selby in the World Championship final on Sunday when he bids to become the first Asian player to win snooker's most prestigious title. The 29-year-old Ding reached his first World Championship final in record style, with a break of 123 completing a decisive 17-11 victory over experienced Scottish cueman Alan McManus at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre in northern England on Saturday. Later in the day, 2014 world champion Selby, the world number one, prevented an all-Asian final when he defeated Hong Kong's Marco Fu 17-15.
 
 

Worker dies after falling ill at World Cup stadium site

 
‎Yesterday, ‎April ‎30, ‎2016, ‏‎11:03:44 PMGo to full article
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — World Cup organizers say a worker has died after falling ill on the site of one of the stadiums being constructed for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
 

Kenya torches world's biggest ivory bonfire to save elephants

 
‎Yesterday, ‎April ‎30, ‎2016, ‏‎9:50:01 PMGo to full article
A ranger stands in front of burning ivory stacks at the Nairobi National Park on April 30, 2016Eleven giant pyres of tusks went up in smoke Saturday as Kenya torched its vast ivory stockpile in a grand gesture aimed at shocking the world into stopping the slaughter of elephants. Lighting the fire in Nairobi's national park, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta demanded a total ban on trade in ivory to end the "murderous" trafficking and prevent the extinction of elephants in the wild. "The height of the pile of ivory before us marks the strength of our resolve," Kenyatta said, before thrusting a burning torch onto the ivory.
 
 

More than 80% of Syrians live below the poverty line: UN

 
‎Yesterday, ‎April ‎30, ‎2016, ‏‎9:29:30 PMGo to full article
A Syrian family living in an unfinished building in the Daf al-Sakhr neighbourhood on the outskirts of Damascus on December 16, 2015The number of Syrians living below the poverty line has almost tripled after five years of conflict, according to a report published this week. Around 83.4 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line compared with 28 percent in 2010, the report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the University of St Andrews said. An estimated 13.5 million people in Syria needed humanitarian aid by late 2015, and more than 4 million of these were in Damascus and Aleppo provinces.
 
 

China lays out firm conditions for improved ties with Japan

 
‎Yesterday, ‎April ‎30, ‎2016, ‏‎3:14:14 PMGo to full article
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, left, shakes hands with China's Premier Li Keqiang during a meeting at the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing Saturday, April 30, 2016. (Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP)BEIJING (AP) — China laid out firm conditions Saturday for improved ties with Japan, telling Tokyo's visiting foreign minister that there could be "no ambiguity or vacillation" in meeting Beijing's demands over historical interpretation, relations with Taiwan and other key matters.
 
 

Pomp as Sweden's king celebrates 70th birthday

 
‎Yesterday, ‎April ‎30, ‎2016, ‏‎3:12:41 PMGo to full article
Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf speaks from the Lejonbacken terrace at the Royal Palace in Stockholm during his 70th birthday celebrations on April 30, 2016Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf celebrated his 70th birthday Saturday joined by royals from Europe and beyond, as Swedes lined the streets to wish him many happy returns. Neighbouring Norway's royals did not however attend, staying at home as their nation reels from a deadly helicopter crash which killed 13 oil workers the day before. On a day of pageantry and colour, the Swedish king was cheered by onlookers as he reviewed the royal guard.
 
 

North Korea sends another US citizen to prison

 
‎Yesterday, ‎April ‎30, ‎2016, ‏‎5:08:33 AMGo to full article
Kim Dong Chul, center, a U.S. citizen detained in North Korea, is escorted to his trial Friday, April 29, 2016, in Pyongyang, North Korea. A North Korean court has sentenced an ethnic Korean U.S. citizen to 10 years in prison for what it called acts of espionage. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea sentenced a U.S. citizen of Korean heritage to 10 years in prison with hard labor after convicting him of espionage and subversion, the second American it has put behind bars this year.
 
 

Study analyzes impact of Washington state coal-export plan

 
‎Yesterday, ‎April ‎30, ‎2016, ‏‎12:25:36 AMGo to full article
FILE - In this May 29, 2012, file photo, a train hauling coal to British Columbia heads north out of Seattle between office buildings, condos and the downtown waterfront. On Friday, April 29, 2016, state and local regulators are releasing a sweeping review of a coal export terminal proposed along the Columbia River in southwest Washington. The analysis is expected to study impacts that extend well beyond the facility site in southwest Washington, from global-warming effects of burning the exported coal in Asia to rail impacts as the coal is from the Rockies throughout the state. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)SEATTLE (AP) — A coal-export terminal proposed along the Columbia River in southwest Washington state could have unavoidable, significant impacts on greenhouse gases emissions, vessel traffic and rail safety, according to an environmental review released Friday.
 
 

US: China rejects Hong Kong port call by US aircraft carrier

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎8:36:10 PMGo to full article
FILE - In this photo Dec. 1, 2014 file photo, the aircraft carrier USS John Stennis seen near Bremerton, Wash. China recently denied a request from the U.S. aircraft carrier Stennis for a port visit in Hong Kong, the State Department said Friday, April 29, 2016, in an apparent sign of mounting tension in the disputed South China Sea. (Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun via AP)WASHINGTON (AP) — China recently denied a request from a U.S. aircraft carrier for a port visit in Hong Kong, the State Department said Friday, in an apparent sign of mounting tension in the disputed South China Sea.
 
 

Kenya demands total ivory ban to stop elephant slaughter

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎6:12:40 PMGo to full article
Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) personnel and soldiers stack elephant tusks onto pyres in preparation for a historic destruction of illegal ivory and rhino-hornsKenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday demanded a total ban on trade in ivory to end trafficking and prevent the extinction of elephants in the wild. Quite simply, we will not allow it," Kenyatta said in the keynote speech at a meeting which groups African heads of state and conservationists to boost awareness of the threat of poaching. Africa is home to between 450,000 to 500,000 elephants, but more than 30,000 are killed every year on the continent to satisfy demand for ivory in Asia, where raw tusks sell for around $1,000 (800 euros) a kilo (2.2 pounds).
 
 

How France sank Japan's $40 billion Australian submarine dream

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎4:12:47 PMGo to full article
An employee looks at the propeller of a Scorpen submarine at the industrial site of the naval defence company and shipbuilder DCNS in La MontagneBy Tim Kelly, Cyril Altmeyer and Colin Packham TOKYO/PARIS/SYDNEY (Reuters) - In 2014, a blossoming friendship between Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe looked to have all but sewn up a $40 billion submarine deal. Then French naval contractor DCNS hatched a bold and seemingly hopeless plan to gatecrash the party. Almost 18 months later, France this week secured a remarkable come-from-behind victory on one of the world's most lucrative defense deals.
 
 

Kenya calls for ivory sales ban as it prepares to burn tusks

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎3:47:18 PMGo to full article
Traditional Maasai tribesmen pose for a photograph near elephant tusks, part of an estimated 105 tonnes of confiscated ivory to be set ablaze, stacked onto a pyre at Nairobi National Park near NairobiBy Edmund Blair MOUNT KENYA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenya wants a ban on all sales of elephant ivory, its president told other African leaders and conservationists at talks on Friday on how to save the continent's embattled elephant and rhino populations. "The future of the African elephant and rhino is far from secure so long as demand for their products continues to exist," said President Uhuru Kenyatta, adding any sale, even in legal domestic markets, increased risks to the animals. Kenya would seek a "total ban on the trade in elephant ivory" at a meeting on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in South Africa later this year, the president told the "Giants Club" summit.
 
 

London mayor rivals tackle housing in 'Box that Rocks'

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎3:27:52 PMGo to full article
Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, pictured, and his Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith were grilled on the key issue gripping London voters on Thursday, with exactly a week to go in the race for control of western Europe's biggest cityThe two men battling to become London's new mayor confronted the city's housing crisis in the campaign's biggest event, as they faced 6,000 citizens in a thunderous Olympic arena. Labour candidate Sadiq Khan and his Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith were grilled on the key issue gripping London voters on Thursday, with exactly a week to go in the race for control of western Europe's biggest city. In one of the most striking events of the campaign, they were put to the test by London Citizens, a giant and influential agglomeration of largely faith-based local groups seeking to improve life in their communities.
 
 

Image of Asia: Watering the garden in Sri Lanka

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎3:09:55 PMGo to full article
An Sri Lankan man waters his vegetable garden cultivated on the banks of river Kelani in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, April 29, 2016. Many Sri Lankans living in urban areas maintain kitchen gardens for their daily consumption. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)In this photo by Eranga Jayawardena, a man waters his vegetable garden cultivated on the banks of the Kelani River in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Many Sri Lankans living in urban areas maintain kitchen gardens for their daily consumption.
 
 

Global stocks lower mixed after Wall Street slide

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎10:37:28 AMGo to full article
A currency trader walks by the screen showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, April 29, 2016. Asian stocks were mixed Friday after Wall Street slid and Japan's central bank surprised markets by putting off possible additional stimulus. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)BEIJING (AP) — Global stock markets mostly fell Friday after Wall Street slid and Japan's central bank surprised markets by putting off possible additional stimulus.
 
 

Australia at odds with Pacific neighbors over harsh immigration policy

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎10:23:29 AMGo to full article
Protesters from the Refugee Action Coalition hold placards during a demonstration outside the offices of the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection in Sydney, AustraliaBy Colin Packham SYDNEY (Reuters) - Lawyers for 850 asylum seekers held in a controversial detention center in Papua New Guinea said on Friday they planned to seek potentially billions of dollars in compensation, as Australian officials prepared to travel to PNG for emergency talks. PNG announced this week the closure of the detention center it operates on behalf of Australia, which has pursued a hardline immigration policy criticized by the United Nations and international human rights organization.
 
 

Russia, China in agreement on North Korea, South China Sea

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎9:21:52 AMGo to full article
Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi shakes hands after a joint press conference held at the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, China, Friday, April 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)BEIJING (AP) — Denouncing what they see as outside interference in the South China Sea and Korean Peninsula, the foreign ministers of Russia and China voiced mutual support Friday as they seek to counter the influence of Washington and its allies, particularly in Asia.
 
 

South Korea: Suspected midrange North Korean missiles fail

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎9:50:04 PMGo to full article
People walk by a TV news program showing an image published Sunday in North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper of North Korea's ballistic missile that the North claimed to have launched from underwater, at Seoul Railway station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, April 24, 2016. North Korea said Sunday that it successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine and warned of its growing ability to cut down its enemies with a "dagger of destruction." South Korea couldn't immediately confirm the claim of success in what marks Pyongyang's latest effort to expand its military might in face of pressure by its neighbors and Washington. The letters on the screen read: "North Korea said it successfully test-fired a ballistic missile." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea attempted unsuccessfully to launch two suspected powerful intermediate-range missiles on Thursday, South Korean defense officials said, bringing the number of apparent failures in recent weeks to three.
 
 

UN commission predicts stable growth for Asia-Pacific region

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎8:11:55 PMGo to full article
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A new U.N. report says that growth for Asia-Pacific economies is broadly stable and expected to rise 4.8 percent in 2016 and 5 percent in 2017, up from an estimated 4.6 percent growth in 2015.
 

Refugee baby Serbia Merkel in transit across Europe

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎7:04:35 PMGo to full article
A baby named Serbia Merkel Al Mustafa sleeps in the "Krnjaca" collective centre, in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, April 28, 2016. Serbia for the country where she was born just a few days ago, Merkel for the German leader where her Syrian refugee parents want to go in their desperate attempt to escape the war and poverty. The Al-Mustafa family is among hundreds of migrants stuck in Serbia after the official closure of the Balkan route for passage. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)KRNJACA, Serbia (AP) — She has wide brown eyes, rosy cheeks and thick black hair. Her name is Serbia Merkel al-Mustafa.
 
 

South Asia clothing industry can employ millions more women, boost growth: World Bank

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎7:03:18 PMGo to full article
By Rina Chandran MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - South Asia's clothing and textiles industry can create millions of jobs for the region's working-age women, boosting economic growth and helping improve children's health and education, a World Bank report said. The industry is already the most female-intensive in much of the region, women making up 71 percent of its workforce in Sri Lanka, 35 percent in India and 34 percent in Bangladesh. In Pakistan, its share of women workers is second to agriculture.
 

New killings in Bangladesh leave LGBT community full of fear

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎5:36:05 PMGo to full article
The Facebook page of Roopbaan magazine, a LGTB rights publication, is seen on the screen of a cell phone in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, April 28, 2016. The killing of two gay rights activists in the Bangladeshi capital has driven the country's already secretive and small gay community underground, wondering if they can trust a government that considers their status to be criminal, rights groups said. (AP Photo)NEW DELHI (AP) — The killing of two gay rights activists in the Bangladeshi capital has driven the country's already secretive and small gay community underground, wondering if they can trust a government that considers their status to be criminal, rights groups said.
 
 

Kenya prepares to torch tusks in bid to stamp out ivory trade

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎4:52:27 PMGo to full article
Volunteers in Kenya carry elephant tusks to a site where they will be burnedThousands of elephant tusks are being piled high into pyres as Kenya prepares to torch its vast ivory stockpile hoping to stop trafficking and prevent extinction of elephants in the wild. Time is running out: at current rates of elephant killing, conservationists warn large herds of elephants will be wiped out within decades from all but the most protected of parks. Following a regional summit on Friday to boost awareness of the threat of poaching and push efforts to end trafficking of ivory entirely, Kenya will take the symbolic step of torching almost the entirety of its stores, seven times the size of any stockpile destroyed so far.
 
 

Fear of incarceration hamper Thai fight against human trafficking: activist

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎4:48:02 PMGo to full article
By Alisa Tang SINGAPORE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Migrant workers who fall prey to human traffickers often avoid reporting their cases to Thai authorities for fear of being incarcerated, leaving them unable to earn money to send home or pay back debts to brokers, a leading activist said on Thursday. Migrant workers from Myanmar and also Cambodia commonly borrow money to pay recruitment fees to illegal brokers to be smuggled into Thailand or to registered brokers for the paperwork to go legally. Once they start their jobs, they are often not paid for several months as their salaries are used to pay those debts, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking and broker exploitation.
 

After hostage beheading, is Philippines facing IS threat?

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎3:11:55 PMGo to full article
This image made from undated militant video, shows Canadians John Ridsdel, right, and Robert Hall. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that the decapitated head of a Caucasian male recovered Monday, April 25, 2016, in the southern Philippines belongs to Ridsdel, who was taken hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants in September 2015. (Militant Video via AP Video) NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDITMANILA, Philippines (AP) — Months before Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded retired Canadian mining executive John Ridsdel in the tropical jungles of the southern Philippines, they showed him pleading for life in a video with three other hostages that demanded a record-high ransom.
 
 

India asks Britain to deport liquor tycoon

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎3:02:14 PMGo to full article
Vijay Mallya is being pursued by a group of mostly state-run lenders over loans made to his collapsed carrier Kingfisher AirlinesIndia's foreign ministry said Thursday it has asked Britain to deport the embattled former airline boss Vijay Mallya, who faces a money laundering investigation. Mallya, a part-owner of the Force India Formula 1 team who used to run a liquor empire, left India on March 2 owing more than $1 billion and is believed to be in Britain. Last week India revoked his passport, after he repeatedly failed to appear before investigators looking into financial irregularities at Kingfisher Airlines, which ceased operating in 2012 leaving millions of dollars in unpaid bills.
 
 

Nikkei leads global sell-off after Bank of Japan inaction

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎2:09:15 PMGo to full article
A woman walks past an electronic stock indicator of a securities firm in Tokyo, Thursday, April 28, 2016. Japanese stocks rallied Thursday as the latest economic data spurred hopes for more central bank stimulus, leading gains in other Asian benchmarks after the Fed left interest rates unchanged. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)HONG KONG (AP) — Japanese stocks led a global sell-off Thursday after the country's central bank dashed investors' hopes for more stimulus. The yen was also in the spotlight, surging by 3 percent against the dollar in the wake of the inaction from the Bank of Japan.
 
 

China won't allow chaos or war on Korean peninsula: Xi

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎1:33:23 PMGo to full article
China's President Xi Jinping is photographed by a smartphone at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in BeijingBy Michael Martina BEIJING (Reuters) - China will not allow chaos and war to break out on the Korean peninsula, which would be to no one's advantage, Chinese President Xi Jinping told a group of Asian foreign ministers on Thursday. North Korea's drive to develop a nuclear weapons capability, in defiance of U.N. resolutions, has angered China and raised tension in the region. On Thursday, South Korea's defense ministry said North Korea had fired what appeared to have been an intermediate range ballistic missile that crashed within seconds of the test launch.
 
 

Trump vows 'America first' foreign policy

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎11:31:31 AMGo to full article
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel April 27, 2016 in Washington, DCRepublican White House frontrunner Donald Trump promised a top-to-bottom overhaul of US foreign policy Wednesday to put "America first" and make its allies pay up. In a major foreign policy speech short on specifics that left Washington experts scratching their heads, Trump warned that Europe and Asia may have to defend themselves. "'America First' will be the major and overriding theme of my administration," Trump told supporters, co-opting the slogan of America's pre-World War II isolationists.
 
 

Myanmar's Mr Clean says he takes 'red tape road' to profit

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎4:38:22 AMGo to full article
Serge Pun, head of First Myanmar Investment (FMI), talks to reporters at Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX) in YangonBy Timothy Mclaughlin YANGON (Reuters) - Scaffolding around the 139-year old Burma Railway Headquarters, a red-brick colonial relic at the center of a half billion dollar property development in central Yangon, hasn't seen much action since the project was announced four years ago. Serge Pun, the 63-year-old project developer and one of Myanmar's richest men, says his Landmark development - which includes office, residential and hotel space - has been strangled by red tape and costly delays all because of his adherence to clean business. "It has been a very long and arduous red tape road," Pun said in an interview.
 
 

Australia's tough immigration policies hit in middle of election campaign

 
‎Thursday, ‎April ‎28, ‎2016, ‏‎12:37:30 AMGo to full article
File photo of protesters reacting as they hold placards and listen to speakers during a rally in support of refugees in central Sydney, AustraliaBy Jane Wardell SYDNEY (Reuters) - Papua New Guinea and Australia will hold urgent talks about the fate of 900 asylum seekers after PNG announced the closure of the island detention center holding them, leaving Australia's tough immigration policies in disarray in the midst of a general election campaign. PNG's High Commissioner to Australia Charles Lepani said on Thursday talks would take place early next week, but responsibility for what to do with the men rested with Australia which has remained firm against taking any of the detainees.
 
 

Female suicide bomber wounds 13 in Turkey's Bursa

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎7:27:30 PMGo to full article
A man gives first aid to an injured man following a bombing in Bursa, northwestern Turkey, on April 27, 2016A suicide bomber blew herself up in the Turkish city of Bursa on Wednesday, wounding 13 people in the latest attack to strike the country, officials said. The bombing took place near Bursa's 14th century Grand Mosque, a historic symbol of the city that was the first capital of the Ottoman empire. "A woman packed with a (bombing) mechanism believed to be a suicide bomber blew herself up.
 
 

Ending slavery in Thailand needs local solution and unions, activist says

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎7:26:08 PMGo to full article
By Alisa Tang BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The fight against slavery in Thailand's multibillion-dollar seafood industry will fail unless solutions are "localized" and workers are granted the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, a prominent British activist said. Thailand's reputation has suffered in recent years after numerous investigations by news organizations and rights groups into human trafficking, slavery and violence in its seafood industry.
 

Sutton quits British Cycling after sexism row

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎5:51:40 PMGo to full article
Former technical director Shane Sutton, a key figure in the success of British cyclists at the Beijing and London Olympics, has denied allegations of bullying and discriminationShane Sutton resigned as technical director of British Cycling on Wednesday following allegations he had used sexist and discriminatory language towards team riders. "I believe it is in the best interests of British Cycling for me to step down from my position as technical director," the 58-year-old Australian said in a statement issued by the national governing body. "It is absolutely crucial that, as our athletes begin their final preparations for Rio, they are able to do so free of distraction," said Sutton in his resignation statement.
 
 

Piracy falls worldwide but Nigeria is a concern: watchdog

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎3:16:10 PMGo to full article
An armed Somali pirate stands on the shore near Hobyo town in 2010 looking at the hijacked Greek cargo ship MV Filitsa anchored off the coastPirate attacks on the high seas continue to fall but a global watchdog warned Wednesday of "unacceptable violence" by seaborne bandits off West Africa. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in its quarterly report that it recorded 37 incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea worldwide in the first three months of 2016, down from 54 in the same period last year. World piracy has been on the decline since 2012 after international naval patrols were launched off East Africa in response to a spate of violent attacks by mostly Somali-based pirates.
 
 

China and Turkey vow greater anti-terrorism cooperation

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎2:19:19 PMGo to full article
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu(L) holds a talk with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi(R) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in BeijingTurkey will not allow its soil to be used for activities that damage China's security, the two countries' foreign ministers agreed on Wednesday, following recent disputes over China's Muslim Uighur ethnic minority that had soured ties. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Uighurs keen to escape unrest in China's western Xinjiang region have traveled clandestinely via Southeast Asia to Turkey, where many see themselves as sharing religious and cultural ties. Beijing says some Uighurs then end up fighting with militants in Iraq and Syria.
 
 

Malaysia proposes to amend environment act to curb haze from forest fires

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎1:00:10 PMGo to full article
Forest fire is seen from a helicopter operated by the National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) over Langgam District, Riau province on the island of SumatraMalaysia is proposing to amend an act to allow the government to seize control of land where big fires are discovered, as part of its long-term efforts to curb haze from slash-and-burn forest clearing techniques usually linked to palm oil plantations. The palm oil sector in top producers Indonesia and Malaysia has been facing criticism for deforestation and its land-clearing methods that send vast plumes of smoke across Southeast Asia every year. Indonesia has already taken measures to reduce the industry's environmental impact, with the latest being a moratorium on new palm oil concessions.
 
 

Thailand is used to hot Aprils, but not this hot!

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎12:53:33 PMGo to full article
In this Tuesday, April 26, 2016 photo, an elephant opens its mouth while being sprayed water to cool off at Dusit Zoo in Bangkok, Thailand. Authorities are telling people to stay out of the blazing sun to avoid heat stroke. April in Thailand is typically hot and sweaty but his year's scorching weather has set a record for the longest heat wave in at least 65 years. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)BANGKOK (AP) — Animals at Bangkok's zoo are being fed special frozen fruit pops. People are flocking to shopping malls just to soak up the air-conditioning. Authorities are telling people to stay out of the blazing sun to avoid heat stroke.
 
 

FIFA boss wants North-South Korea friendly

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎12:29:14 PMGo to full article
North and South Korea's U-23 teams played each other in 2010, the flags of both countries displayed here before kick-off, but the last time there was a match between the national teams was in 2005FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Wednesday he was willing to try and set up a football match between North and South Korea as a way of easing hostility on the divided peninsula. On a visit to South Korea which coincided with a recent upsurge in tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang, Infantino said such a match would highlight the spirit of football as a game "beyond borders" that can unify rather than divide. "We should bring everyone together around a football pitch... I'm ready to help and assist in whatever way is necessary," Infantino told reporters.
 
 

Tibetans in exile re-elect Lobsang Sangay as prime minister

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎11:19:32 AMGo to full article
Lobsang Sangay, the incumbent prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, speaks to media after being re-elected for second term in office in Dharmsala, India, Wednesday, April 27, 2016. (AP Photo /Ashwini Bhatia)DHARMSALA, India (AP) — Lobsang Sangay has been re-elected prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile in voting held last month, officials announced Wednesday, with Sangay saying the election shows that Tibetans in exile "are practicing democracy, whereas China is not."
 
 

The Latest: Asia shares fall on doubts over oil prices

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎8:43:01 AMGo to full article
A man watches an electronic stock board showing Japan's Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo, Wednesday, April 27, 2016. Asian stocks were mixed Wednesday after an overnight surge in oil prices raised questions about the outlook for the energy sector. Investors are watching for the outcome of policy meetings by the U.S. Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)NEW YORK (AP) — All times local:
 
 

US Pacific Fleet expands use of 3rd Fleet commanders

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎4:47:43 AMGo to full article
U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift, right, talks to sailors on board the USS Momsen in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. The U.S. Pacific Fleet commander says he plans to expand the role of the U.S. 3rd Fleet commander and her staff. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) — The U.S. Pacific Fleet commander said he plans to expand the role of the U.S. 3rd Fleet commander and her staff in the Asia-Pacific region.
 
 

Water trains bring scant relief to drought-ravaged Indian state

 
‎Wednesday, ‎April ‎27, ‎2016, ‏‎1:31:08 AMGo to full article
Cracked soil at Manjara Dam is seen in OsmanabadBy Rajendra Jadhav LATUR, India (Reuters) - Haribhau Kamble, an unemployed laborer in India's richest state of Maharashtra, is forced to queue for hours in scorching heat to fetch water even as the government puts on trains to ship water to the region parched by back-to-back drought years. Like Kamble, millions of Indians have been hung out to dry in the state with the worst drought in four decades ravaging crops, killing livestock, emptying reservoirs and slowing hydroelectric power output. Mismanagement of water resources, with powerful politicians pushing for bigger supplies to industries, have made the situation worse, experts say.
 
 

S. Korea: N. Korea almost completes nuclear test preparation

 
‎Tuesday, ‎April ‎26, ‎2016, ‏‎7:50:46 PMGo to full article
Participants set the portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a rally denouncing North Korea's nuclear test and missiles and North Korea's female military human rights in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. The rally is a part of an annual event called North Korea Freedom Week which held from April 24-30. North Korea is believed to have placed a new, powerful mid-range missile on standby for an impending launch, a news report said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea's president said Tuesday that North Korea has almost completed preparations for a fifth nuclear test, and the country has reportedly placed a new midrange missile on standby for an impending launch.
 
 

Cambodian elephant tour agency eases animals' workload

 
‎Tuesday, ‎April ‎26, ‎2016, ‏‎6:25:57 PMGo to full article
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The owner of a company that provides elephant rides to tourists at Cambodia's fabled Angkor Wat temple complex has reduced the working hours of his animals after one collapsed and died in the debilitating heat enveloping Southeast Asia.
 

Image of Asia: Greetings from the Dalai Lama

 
‎Tuesday, ‎April ‎26, ‎2016, ‏‎3:57:18 PMGo to full article
An elderly Tibetan woman, who was among those waiting to receive the Dalai Lama, gets emotional as the spiritual leader greets devotees upon arrival at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics near Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. The Tibetan leader presided over a convocation event at the institute. (AP Photo /Ashwini Bhatia)In this photo by Ashwini Bhatia, an elderly Tibetan woman who was among people waiting to receive the Dalai Lama gets emotional as the spiritual leader greets devotees upon arrival at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in India. The Tibetan spiritual leader presided over a convocation event at the institute near Dharmsala, the Himalayan hill town where he has lived in exile.
 
 

PM Hun Sen says all Cambodians must help deal with drought

 
‎Tuesday, ‎April ‎26, ‎2016, ‏‎3:31:23 PMGo to full article
A couple herds their cows near a pond during a severe dry spell on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Cambodia's prime minister says the country's people must mobilize to help deal with the worst drought in the last four decades, which has left roughly two-thirds of the country's 25 provinces short of water for drinking and other necessities. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The prime minister Tuesday called upon all elements in Cambodian society to mobilize to help deal with the worst drought in at least four decades, which has left about two-thirds of the country's 25 provinces short of water for drinking and other necessities.
 
 

 

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Future of scandal-hit Mitsubishi Motors in doubt - again

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎15 minutes agoGo to full article
TOKYO: Sales are falling off a cliff. Its reputation is in tatters. And even its top executive is talking about whether the automaker will survive.

Mitsubishi Motors' future is hanging in the balance for the second time in a decade after a bombshell admission that it has been cheating on fuel-economy tests for years.

Mitsubishi Motors' future is hanging in the balance for the second time in a decade after a(Photo:AFP)

The crisis is threatening to put the company into the ditch permanently, but some analysts think the vast web of shareholdings among Japanese firms may just save it from the scrap yard.

"I really think the future of Mitsubishi Motors is grim," said Hideyuki Kobayashi, a business professor at Hitotsubashi University, who authored a book about the company's struggles with an earlier cover-up.

"It would be silly to buy a Mitsubishi car after this (scandal). This isn't the first time this has happened."

In 2005, the maker of the Outlander SUV and Lancer cars was pulled back from the brink of bankruptcy after it was discovered that it covered up vehicle defects that caused fatal accidents.

The vast Mitsubishi group of companies stepped in with a series of bailouts, saving the embattled firm.

But it is not clear if they would be so willing to help this time around as the automaker faces possibly huge fines, lawsuits and customer compensation costs.

The scandal has shone a light on the cozy relationships between Japanese firms -- including the big equity stakes they hold in each other - which have come under renewed scrutiny in recent years.

Critics say these mutual investments promote complacency and insulate mediocre management from criticism, while Japan's premier is pushing to unwind this web of investment ties to help improve the country's woeful corporate governance record.

'VERY DISAPPOINTING'

Mitsubishi's president acknowledged this week that his firm's existence was "at risk", but its top shareholder revealed little about its intentions.

"Mitsubishi Motors has come a long way since past problems, so this is very disappointing," said Shunichi Miyanaga, head of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), which holds over 12 percent of the automaker's shares.

"We need to think about the brand image of the Mitsubishi Group, its social responsibility and accountability for performance."

The under-fire firm will also have to grapple with the likelihood of paying damages to Nissan.

More than half of some 625,000 affected vehicles so far - all mini-cars sold in Japan - were produced for Nissan, which uncovered the problems with Mitsubishi's fuel-economy data.

This week, Mitsubishi admitted its faulty testing stretches back a quarter century, longer than first thought, so the odds that cars sold overseas were involved has soared - along with the potential scope of the crisis.

Unnamed employees also falsified data to make cars look more fuel efficient than they were, it has said.

"We don't have the full picture yet on how the company would compensate" customers, said Seiji Sugiura, a senior auto analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Institute.

"All Mitsubishi cars on the road right now could be subject to compensation costs, which would be massive."

The company, which sold about one million vehicles globally last year, has the least amount of cash among Japan's major automakers and lacks the size of rivals such as Toyota and Honda to help weather the storm.

Sales in Japan have dived by nearly half since the scandal broke last week, and the damage to its reputation threatens to hammer its finances.

But "the Mitsubishi brand remains strong in foreign markets, especially in Thailand which has been a significant source of profit for the company. There is also a new factory in Indonesia", Sugiura said.

"There is foundation to build a recovery if the company doesn't get entangled in wrongdoing overseas."

A desperate Mitsubishi may also embrace a foreign suitor if top shareholders abandon it.

Taiwan's Foxconn recently snapped up struggling electronics giant Sharp, although foreign takeovers of Japanese firms are rare.

The stakes are high given the Mitsubishi companies' longstanding links, including distribution and product ties, according to Sugiura.

"The group companies also have to protect their own interests," he said.

"Lots of business would be affected in the group if the automaker collapses."

 

4 suspected illegal immigrants arrested in Singapore waters

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎16 minutes agoGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Four suspected illegal immigrants aged between 23 and 39 were arrested in an operation jointly conducted by Police Coast Guard (PCG) and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on Saturday (Apr 30). 

In a news release issued on Sunday, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) said that a speedboat - suspected to have been used for the smuggling of illegal immigrants and duty unpaid cigarettes - was seized, along with 532 cartons of the said cigarettes. 

Speedboat seized Apr 30

Duty unpaid ciggs Apr 30
 

Police said the speedboat was detected at 11.53pm inside Singapore waters heading towards the shoreline of Tanah Merah. After alerting the various land and sea resources, PCG successfully intercepted the boat, authorities added. 

The four suspects will be charged on Monday with entering Singapore unlawfully, said SPF. 

 

South Korea trade slump deepens, April exports fall 11.2%

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎24 minutes agoGo to full article
SEOUL: South Korean exports fell at a faster pace in April than March in annual terms as fewer working days ate into shipments already suffering from weak global demand and low global commodity prices, government data showed on Sunday (May 1).

Preliminary data showed April's exports slid 11.2 per cent down from a year earlier to US$41.05 billion, while imports also dropped a faster 14.9 per cent to US$32.21 billion, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said.

South Korea's exports, the main driver of the national economy, suffered their sharpest drop in(Photo:AFP)

This produced a US$8.84 billion trade surplus, inching down from a US$9.86 billion surplus seen in March.

Exports have been falling since January last year, and declined 8.1 per cent in March.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast exports to fall 11.0 per cent last month after an 8.1 per cent decline in March. Imports had been expected to drop 12.5 per cent after a 13.9 per cent slump in the preceding month.

"April exports worsened slightly on temporary factors like less working days amid negative conditions like a sluggish global economy, low oil prices and product price falls," said the ministry in a statement.

April this year had 1.5 less working days compared with a year ago.

The average export value per working day was US$1.82 billion in April, edging up from the average value of US$1.79 billion in March.

The ministry said shipments fell to nearly all of South Korea's main markets. Destination breakdowns will be released later in the day.

Exports of ships rebounded in April while smartphones continued to see strong demand, the ministry said without providing details, while other key product exports fell.

 

China April official factory activity expands but at slower pace

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎33 minutes agoGo to full article
BEIJING: Activity in China's manufacturing sector expanded for the second month in a row in April but only marginally, an official survey showed on Sunday (May 1), raising doubts about the sustainability of a recent pick-up in the world's second-largest economy.

The official Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) was 50.1 in April, easing from March's 50.2 and barely above the 50-point mark that separates expansion in activity from contraction.

To match SPECIAL REPORT CHINA-LABOUR/

Analysts polled by Reuters had predicted the reading would improve to 50.4, after upbeat March data fueled hopes that the country's prolonged economic slowdown was easing.

The findings were "a little bit disappointing", Zhou Hao, senior emerging market economist at Commerzbank in Singapore, wrote in a note.

"To some extent, this hints that recent China enthusiasm has been a bit overpriced and the data improvement in March is short-lived."

While production expanded modestly (52.2) and at nearly the same pace as in March, growth in domestic and export orders faded slightly, though remaining in positive territory.

In a sign of caution over the outlook, factories continued to draw down heavily on inventories of finished goods.

Factories also appeared to be stockpiling less raw materials, possibly due to recent skyrocketing price increases for products such as steel, which have been linked in part to a recovery in the property market.

Indeed, South Korea reported April demand from China was the worst in three months, with exports to its biggest market tumbling 18.4 per cent on-year.

And China's factories continued to shed workers, with staff cuts quickening from the previous month. The official PMI survey, which tends to focus on larger, state firms, has shown persistent declines in employment for the last 3-1/2 years.

FALSE HOPE?

March data had spurred hopes that the long suffering manufacturing sector was bottoming out, with growth in industrial output and profits improving.

That in turn had led economists to wonder if the government and central bank would begin to take a less aggressive policy approach after a more than one-year long blitz of fiscal, monetary and administrative stimulus measures.

To be sure, the property recovery appears to have spurred demand for building materials from cement and glass to steel, and a recent rebound in commodity prices is bringing in more cashflow for some companies to service their mountains of debt.

However, home sales are now tumbling in some big cities such as Shanghai as authorities try to curb rapid price rises, and sizzling steel and iron ore markets cooled last week after China's securities regulator ordered commodity futures exchanges to control speculative trading.

Analysts also worry that recent signs of improvement may be largely driven by companies and local governments taking on more debt, putting the chances of a stable recovery at risk.

China's Big Five banks reported last week that their bad loans had increased by 53.2 billion yuan (US$8.21 billion) in the first quarter.

Activity in China's services industry, meanwhile, remained strong but grew at a slightly slower pace, with the official reading at 53.5 in April, compared with 53.8 in March.

Beijing is banking on a stronger services sector to help offset the long slump in "old economy" sectors such as heavy industry and to provide jobs for laid-off factory workers.

 

Australia readies key election budget

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎38 minutes agoGo to full article
SYDNEY: Australia's conservative government is pledging to drive economic and jobs growth when it hands down its budget on Tuesday, with an eye firmly on upcoming national elections that are shaping up to be a tight race.

The budget is seen as a key test for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a former investment banker who ousted his predecessor Tony Abbott in a party coup in September, ahead of the polls which are widely expected in July.

A violinist performs in a shopping arcade in the central business district of Sydney on April 21,(Photo:AFP)

Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison face the tough task of balancing the need to stimulate a resources-heavy economy as it exits an unprecedented mining investment boom with calls to rein in the budget deficit and government debt.

"We must live within our means," Turnbull said in mid-April while stressing the need to create jobs and invest in innovation to spur growth.

"The only way to ensure we have great jobs in the future, to ensure that we have the revenues that will enable us to deliver the great schools and great hospitals, is to have a strong and successful economy."

Tumbling commodity prices, despite recent recoveries, and lower tax receipts are already hurting government revenue, with the nation's budget deficit ballooning to A$37.4 billion (US$28.9 billion) last year.

Deloitte Access Economics partner Chris Richardson said he expected the budget position to deteriorate further, with total deficits over the next few years to 2018-19 to total A$129 billion, A$21 billion worse than official forecasts from December.

And although Australia is among only a handful of countries with triple-A credit ratings, Moody's this month warned the coveted status could come under pressure if government debt levels keep rising.

VOTER-FRIENDLY BUDGET

The looming election means some analysts' calls for the government to raise revenue by lifting taxes and cutting spending are unlikely to be heeded, as politicians woo voters with more pocket friendly policies.

Some big ticket items, including an increase in the goods and services tax, changes to tax breaks for property investors and a capital gains tax discount have all been ruled out.

But other tweaks, such as cracking down on multinational tax avoidance, lifting the tobacco excise and changes to the age pension have been mooted as likely.

The budget would also contain a further Aus$1 billion to refinance military deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, The Australian newspaper reported.

"We expect the budget to have little in the way of significant structural policy measures," ANZ economists said in a budget preview.

"Rather, it will bank the recent good fortune of better-than-expected economic conditions and set the scene for the upcoming election campaign."

Improved economic conditions have included a 40 percent rise this year in the price of iron ore, Australia's largest export, after the key steel-making metal sank below US$40 per tonne in December.

The country, which has successfully avoided falling into recession for almost 25 years, posted a better-than-expected GDP reading of 3.0 per cent last year, while the jobless rate slipped to 5.7 per cent in March - the lowest in two-and-a-half years.

But Australia's economy still faces an uncertain period ahead as growth slows in its largest trading partner China.

A recently strengthening local dollar could also hurt non-mining sectors as the economy transitions away from its dependence on resources investment.

The Reserve Bank of Australia, in the meantime, has kept interest rates at a record-low of 2.0 per cent, with some economists flagging further cuts to stimulate the economy if inflation remains soft.

 

Five years after bin Laden, Al-Qaeda down but far from out

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎1 hour agoGo to full article
DUBAI: Five years after the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the network he founded is far from dead even if it has suffered a series of setbacks.

Replaced as the preeminent global jihadist power by the Islamic State group, Al-Qaeda nonetheless remains a potent force and dangerous threat, experts say.

Yemeni security forces inspect unexploded ordnance confiscated from Al-Qaeda militants in the Lahj(Photo:AFP)

With last year's Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and a wave of shootings in West Africa, Al-Qaeda has shown it can still carry out its trademark spectacular attacks.

And in Syria and Yemen its militants have seized on chaos to take control of significant territory, even presenting themselves as an alternative to the brutality of IS rule.

By the time US special forces killed bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, the group he founded in the late 1980s had been badly damaged, with many of its militants and leaders killed or captured in the US "War on Terror".

Dissention grew in the jihadist ranks as new Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri struggled in bin Laden's place, until one of its branches, originally Al-Qaeda in Iraq, broke away to form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

After seizing large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, the group declared an Islamic "caliphate" in areas under its control, calling itself simply the Islamic State.

IS has since eclipsed its former partner, drawing thousands of jihadists to its cause and claiming responsibility for attacks that have left hundreds dead in Brussels, Paris, Tunisia, Turkey, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and on a Russian airliner over Egypt.

'MEDIA WAR MACHINE'

Its self-declared "emir" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has won pledges of allegiance from extremist groups across the Middle East and beyond, with especially powerful IS affiliates operating in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and in Libya.

Jean-Pierre Filiu, a Paris-based expert on Islam and jihadist groups, said IS has been especially effective at using new technology to surpass its less tech-savvy rival.

"Al-Qaeda propaganda has become invisible on social networks thanks to the media war machine that Daesh has managed to successfully create," Filiu said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

"Al-Qaeda has lost everywhere to Daesh, except in the Sahel" desert region of northern Africa, he said.

William McCants, of the Brookings Institution in Washington, agreed that Al-Qaeda had lost some ground to IS, but said the organisation has recovered.

"Al-Qaeda has a strong showing in Syria and in Yemen," he said.

In Syria the group's local affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, is one of the strongest forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime, holding large parts of the northern province of Idlib.

The local branch in Yemen, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has meanwhile seized significant territory in the south and southeast as the government struggles against Iran-backed Shiite insurgents who have taken the capital Sanaa and other areas.

AQAP suffered a setback last week when Yemeni troops recaptured the key port city of Mukalla it occupied for more than a year.

ATTACKS IN PARIS, WEST AFRICA

But AQAP remains the key jihadist force in Yemen with thousands of members compared with only several hundred affiliated with IS, McCants said.

AQAP, considered by Washington to be Al-Qaeda's most well-established and dangerous branch, has also claimed responsibility for one of the group's most important attacks abroad in recent years.

In January 2015 gunmen stormed the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo with assault rifles and other weapons, killing 12 people in an attack claimed by AQAP.

Another branch, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has carried out assaults on hotels and restaurants in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast since November that have left dozens dead, including many foreigners.

The attacks in west Africa "have reasserted the regional presence of AQIM and shown its expanding reach," New York-based intelligence consultancy The Soufan Group said in March.

"AQIM has used the attacks to challenge the influence of the Islamic State, to demonstrate and build its local support and to show that it is united after earlier damaging divisions," it said.

The International Crisis Group also argues that although IS has reshaped the jihadist landscape, Al-Qaeda "has evolved" and its branches in North Africa, Somalia, Syria and Yemen "remain potent, some stronger than ever".

"Some have grafted themselves onto local insurrections, displaying a degree of pragmatism, caution about killing Muslims and sensitivity to local norms," said the Brussels-based think-tank.

Al-Qaeda chiefs in Yemen and elsewhere have condemned IS for some of its actions, including bombings of Shiite mosques.

'JIHAD WILL LAST DECADES'

The United States clearly still sees Al-Qaeda as a key threat, pursuing a vigorous drone war against the group in Yemen.

The strikes have killed many senior operatives, including Al-Qaeda's second-in-command Nasir al-Wuhayshi in June 2015. In March a US strike on an AQAP training camp in Yemen killed at least 71 recruits.

Writing for French news website Atlantico in early April, former intelligence officer Alain Rodier said that while IS may have stolen the spotlight, Al-Qaeda may be in a better long-term position.

By rushing to declare its caliphate and establish its rule, IS has made itself an easier target, with thousands of its supporters killed in air strikes launched by a US-led coalition and by Russia.

Its harsh rule has also alienated potential supporters, while groups like Al-Nusra have instead sought to work with local forces in areas under their control.

"The death of Al-Qaeda's founding father in no way meant the end of his progeny," Rodier wrote. "This jihad will last for decades."

 

Armed guards at India dams as drought leaves farmers dry

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎1 hour agoGo to full article
TIKAMGARH, India: As young boys plunge into a murky dam to escape the blistering afternoon sun, guards armed with guns stand vigil at one of the few remaining water bodies in a state hit hard by India's crippling drought.

Desperate farmers from a neighbouring state regularly attempt to steal water from the Barighat dam, forcing authorities in central Madhya Pradesh to protect it with armed guards to ensure supplies.

India is in the grip of its worst water crisis in years, with about 330 million people, or a quarter(Photo:AFP)

India is officially in the grip of its worst water crisis in years, with the government saying that about 330 million people, or a quarter of the population, are suffering from drought after the last two monsoons failed.

"Water is more precious than gold in this area," Purshotam Sirohi, who was hired by the local municipality to protect the stop-dam, located in Tikamgarh district, told AFP.

"We are protecting the dam round the clock."

But the security measures cannot stop the drought from ravaging the dam in the parched Bundelkhand region, with officials saying it holds just one month of reserves.

Four reservoirs in Madhya Pradesh have already dried up, leaving more than a million people with inadequate water and forcing authorities to truck in supplies.

Almost a hundred thousand residents in Tikamgarh get piped water for just two hours every fourth day, while municipal authorities have ordered new bore wells to be dug to meet demand.

But it may not be enough, with officials saying the groundwater level has receded more than 100 feet (30 metres) owing to less than half the average annual rainfall in the past few years.

"The situation is really critical, but we are trying to provide water to everyone," Laxmi Giri Goswami, chairwoman of Tikamgarh municipality, told AFP.

"We pray to rain gods for mercy," she said.

In the nearby village of Dargai Khurd, only one of 17 wells has water.

With temperatures hovering around 45 degrees Celsius, its 850 residents fear they may soon be left thirsty.

"If it dries up, we won't have a drop of water to drink," Santosh Kumar, a local villager told AFP.

FARMERS HARD HIT

Farmers across India rely on the monsoon -- a four-month rainy season which starts in June -- to cultivate their crops, as the country lacks a robust irrigation system.

Two weak monsoons have resulted in severe water shortages and crop losses in as many as 10 states, prompting extreme measures including curfews near water sources and water trains sent to the worst-affected regions.

Many dejected farmers are now moving to cities and towns to work as daily wage labourers to overcome their financial losses and support their families.

At a scruffy, makeshift camp in north Mumbai, in one of the worst-affected states, dozens of migrants who have fled their drought-stricken villages queue to fill plastic containers with water.

Migrants from rural areas usually come to the city in January or February to get jobs on construction sites, but in March and April the number of arrivals kept increasing.

"There are some 300-350 families here. That's a total of more than 1,000 people," said Sudhir Rane, a volunteer running the camp in Mumbai's Ghatkopar suburb.

"There is a drought and there is no water back home so more families have come here this year," he told AFP.

Babies cling to mothers lined up to register with officials. They are allocated a small space in the dusty wasteland, where wooden posts combine with tarpaulin sheets to make rickety tented homes.

"We had no choice but to come here. There was no water, no grain, no work. There was nothing to eat and drink. What could we do?" 70-year-old Manubai Patole told AFP.

"We starved for five days. At least here we are getting food."

'BETTER TO BREAK STONES'

Weather forecasters in New Delhi this month predicted an above-average monsoon, offering a ray of hope for the country's millions of farmers and their families.

But many, like Gassiram Meharwal from Bangaye village in Madhya Pradesh, are not optimistic as they struggle to cultivate their crops.

Meharwal's two-acre farm has suffered three wheat crop failures in as many years, leading him to lose an estimated 100,000 rupees ($1,500).

"Our fields are doomed, they have almost turned into concrete," he said.

Thousands of acres of land in his village go uncultivated and fears are mounting for the cattle, which face a shortage of fodder.

Desperate for income, 32-year-old Meharwal, who supports eight members of his family including his children and younger brothers, left to work as a labourer in the city of Gwalior, four hours away.

"There is no guarantee that it will rain this year. Predictions are fine but no one comes to your help when the crops fail," he said.

"It is better to use your energy breaking stones."

 

'Obama out': President gets in final laughs with US media

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎1 hour agoGo to full article
WASHINGTON DC: President Barack Obama cracked jokes and poked fun at rivals Saturday in his last appearance as US leader at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, ending his performance with a mic drop and the words "Obama out."

The black-tie event -- at which the president, followed by a bona fide comedian, regale journalists and their celebrity guests with insider jokes about government and the media -- is an annual inside-the-beltway ritual.

US President Barack Obama poked fun at himself, the Democratic and Republican presidential(Photo:AFP)

Obama poked fun at himself, the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates and reporters. On a serious note he praised Washington Post former Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian, released in October after 18 months in an Iranian prison.

Obama made fun about how he has aged on the job and how in his final year his approval ratings have been rising. "The last time I was this high, I was trying to decide on my major," Obama said, a reference to smoking pot in college.

Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican White House frontrunner and a frequent event guest, was absent on Saturday.

However billionaire Republican former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who toyed with the idea of entering the presidential race, was at the event.

"Mike, a combative, controversial New York billionaire is leading the GOP primary and it's not you," Obama told Bloomberg.

"That has to sting a little bit. Although it is not an entirely unfair comparison between you and The Donald. Mike was a big city mayor. He knows policy in depth, and he is actually worth the amount of money that he says he is."

Trump was the target of some pointed jabs at the 2011 dinner, and said he would not attend this year's event, suggesting that the media would misreport his mood.

But Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was present.

"Bernie, you look like a million bucks. Or, to put in terms you will understand, you look like 37,000 donations of $27 each," Obama said, a reference to the flood of small contributions to Sanders' insurgent campaign.

"I am hurt though, Bernie, that you have distanced yourself for me. That's not something that you do to your comrade."

Obama ended his presentation by saying "Obama out" followed by a microphone drop, a celebrity and pop culture way of saying that the performance was so good there is nothing to add.

Hollywood celebrities at the event included actors Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington, star of the Washington-based TV show "Scandal," Helen Mirren, Bryan Cranston and singer Aretha Franklin.

 

Taiwan sends patrol ships after boat seized by Japan

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎1 hour agoGo to full article
TAIPEI: Taiwan Sunday sent two patrol ships to waters surrounding a Japanese atoll amid a dispute over the seizure of one of the island's fishing boats.

The detention of the "Tung Sheng Chi 16" near Okinotori-shima last week angered Taiwanese officials, who say Tokyo has no authority over the area.

Taiwan has sent two patrol ships to waters surrounding a Japanese atoll amid a dispute over the(Photo:AFP)

A Taiwanese coast guard ship and another from the Council of Agriculture departed from the southern port of Kaoshiung Sunday.

"Japan has no right to ban our fishing boats from the area," Taiwan's coast guard adminstration said in a statement.

"The government will resolutely defend the rights and freedom of our fisherman in international waters."

The mission will last for one to three months.

Between 100-200 Taiwanese boats fish in the waters around Okinotori-shima each year.

Japan say it has exclusive rights in the 200 nautical mile area surrounding the uninhabited atoll in the Philippine Sea.

But in addition to Taiwan, China and South Korea also reject the Japanese claim.

Taiwan's defence ministry said it also plans to deploy warships to "appropriate waters" but spokesman David Lo declined to elaborate.

The maritime row is straining normally friendly relations between Taipei and Tokyo.

It follows a stand-off more than three years ago over a chain of islands in the East China Sea, when coastguard vessels from both sides attacked each other with water cannons.

The islands -- known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese -- are controlled by Japan but claimed by both China and Taiwan.

But in 2013 Japan and Taiwan forged a fisheries agreement covering the waters off the island chain.

 

France to build Australia subs but US to arm them

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎2 hours agoGo to full article
SYDNEY: Australia may have awarded France a bumper contract to build its next generation of submarines, but its highly secretive combat system will come from close ally the United States.

French shipbuilder DCNS last week beat off Germany and Japan to secure the Aus$50 billion (US$39 billion) deal to design and build the 12 subs, a scaled down conventionally-powered version of its 4,700-tonne Barracuda, to be named Shortfin Barracuda.

A computer-generated image of the 4,500 tonne Barracuda shortfin submarine that French firm DCNS is(Photo:AFP)

But it will have little to do with armaments and the complex combat system, which American defence giant Lockheed Martin -- which is in the running to be involved -- said was "essentially the eyes, ears and sword of the boat".

Australia has made clear it prefers the American AN/BYG-1 system, along with the joint Australian-US heavyweight Mark-48 torpedoes as its main weapon.

A decision has yet to be made on which company will be responsible for integrating the system -- essentially to detect, acquire and track targets -- with US defence contractor Raytheon also said to be a contender.

Given the close relationship and the fact that its technology will be used, Washington was always going to take a keen interest in Canberra's choice to build the boats.

Senior US officials were heavily involved in the competitive evaluation process and it was peer reviewed by retired US Navy Vice-Admiral Paul Sullivan and retired US Navy Rear Admiral Tom Eccles.

Washington reportedly at first favoured Tokyo over France or Germany for the sub build because of its existing close ties to the US Navy, along with regional security issues at a time of a rising China.

Japan expressed "deep regret" at not being selected, but analysts said the decision largely boiled down to capability.

France has extensive background in building submarines for others while Japan still lacks experience in exporting military hardware.

"I genuinely think the decision was made on technical grounds," said Stephan Fruehling, deputy director of the Military Studies Program at the Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs.

He added that suggestions that the US had concerns about allowing its most advanced weapons systems to be installed on European-made subs made little sense.

"The sensitive stuff in the combat system is the software and the French don't need to see that," he said. "They provide the big boxes and cabling but the integration of the software is done by the US."

A breakdown on the cost of the combat system has not been provided, but analysts said it would be included in the Aus$50 billion ballpark figure provided by Canberra, accounting for less than a third.

INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP

Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Crawford School of Public Policy, agreed that France won on merit with strategic considerations secondary.

"The Australian government has recognised France as the best option in terms of capability -- the challenge now is to ensure that this is much more than a commercial deal, that it is also a partnership of deep strategic trust," he said.

He stressed Canberra must also now "take the initiative to assure the Japanese that a close strategic partnership is about more than submarines".

Australian submarines operate across huge areas, from the cold Southern Ocean to the tropics, and so require range and endurance to cope with wide-ranging geographic and oceanographic conditions.

Besides matching the capabilities of the existing Collins-class which are due to be replaced, the new generation subs need to offer superior sensor performance and stealth capabilities.

David Shackleton, an Australian vice admiral and former chief of navy, said that while stealth and range was key, the combat system was as crucial and with the US helping refine the one used on the Collins-class, it made sense to deepen that relationship.

"While there are other navies with which Australia?s submarines will operate, it will take them a long time, if ever, to achieve the intimacy shared between the Royal Australian Navy and US Navy," he recently wrote for the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

He added that the two militaries enjoyed an "unprecedented degree of collaboration in research and development, tactical development and mutual training of an advanced nature".

"When all of these factors are put together, acquisition of a US Navy combat system for Australia's future submarines does matter, and it makes a lot of sense."

 

Two rockets hit Turkish town near Syria border, injuring two: Sources

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎2 hours agoGo to full article
DIYARBAKIR: Two rockets from Islamic State controlled Syrian territory struck the Turkish town of Kilis on Sunday, injuring at least two people, security sources said.

The town which is just across the border from Syria has come under repeated rocket fire in recent weeks. On Saturday, it was hit by three rockets but there were no casualties.

(Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Alison Williams)

 

Recent rise in yen 'extremely worrying': Japan finance minister

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎2 hours agoGo to full article
TOKYO: Japan's finance minister said late Saturday the recent sharp rise in the yen is "extremely worrying", adding Tokyo will take action when necessary.

The remarks, which suggest Tokyo's possible market intervention, came after the Japanese unit surged to an 18-month high against the dollar in New York Friday.

The surge of the Japanese yen to an 18-month high against the dollar in New York, is "extremely(Photo:AFP)

It extended the previous day's rally, which was boosted by a surprising monetary decision made by the Bank of Japan.

On Thursday, the central bank shocked markets by failing to provide more stimulus, confounding expectations it would act after a double earthquake and a string of weak readings on the world's number three economy.

The dollar tumbled to 106.31 yen in New York Friday, its lowest level since October 2014, from 108.11 yen.

The greenback had bought 111.78 yen in Tokyo before the BoJ announcement on Thursday.

"The yen strengthened by five yen in two days. Obviously one-sided and biased, so-called speculative moves are seen behind it," Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters at Haneda airport.

"It is extremely worrying," he said.

The finance minister left on a trip, which will also take him to an annual Asian Development Bank meeting in Germany.

"Tokyo will continue watching the market trends carefully and take actions when necessary," he added.

A strong currency is damaging for Japan's exporting giants, such as Toyota and Sony, as it makes their goods more expensive overseas and shrinks the value of repatriated profits.

Aso has reiterated that Japan could intervene in forex markets to stem the unit's steep rise, saying moves to halt the currency's "one-sided, speculative" rally would not breach a G20 agreement to avoid competitive currency devaluations.

Japan last intervened in currency markets around November 2011, when it tried to stem the yen's rise against the greenback to keep an economic recovery on track after the quake-tsunami disaster earlier that year.

 

Future of scandal-hit Mitsubishi Motors in doubt – again

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎2 hours agoGo to full article
TOKYO: Sales are falling off a cliff. Its reputation is in tatters. And even its top executive is talking about whether the automaker will survive.

Mitsubishi Motors' future is hanging in the balance for the second time in a decade after a bombshell admission that it has been cheating on fuel-economy tests for years.

Japanese automaker Mitsubishi has admitted it manipulated pollution data in more than 600,000(Photo:AFP)

The crisis is threatening to put the company into the ditch permanently, but some analysts think the vast web of shareholdings among Japanese firms may just save it from the scrap yard.

"I really think the future of Mitsubishi Motors is grim," said Hideyuki Kobayashi, a business professor at Hitotsubashi University, who authored a book about the company's struggles with an earlier cover-up.

"It would be silly to buy a Mitsubishi car after this (scandal). This isn't the first time this has happened."

In 2005, the maker of the Outlander SUV and Lancer cars was pulled back from the brink of bankruptcy after it was discovered that it covered up vehicle defects that caused fatal accidents.

The vast Mitsubishi group of companies stepped in with a series of bailouts, saving the embattled firm.

But it is not clear if they would be so willing to help this time around as the automaker faces possibly huge fines, lawsuits and customer compensation costs.

The scandal has shone a light on the cozy relationships between Japanese firms – including the big equity stakes they hold in each other – which have come under renewed scrutiny in recent years.

Critics say these mutual investments promote complacency and insulate mediocre management from criticism, while Japan's premier is pushing to unwind this web of investment ties to help improve the country's woeful corporate governance record.

'VERY DISAPPOINTING'

Mitsubishi's president acknowledged this week that his firm's existence was "at risk", but its top shareholder revealed little about its intentions.

"Mitsubishi Motors has come a long way since past problems, so this is very disappointing," said Shunichi Miyanaga, head of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), which holds over 12 percent of the automaker's shares.

"We need to think about the brand image of the Mitsubishi Group, its social responsibility and accountability for performance."

The under-fire firm will also have to grapple with the likelihood of paying damages to Nissan.

More than half of some 625,000 affected vehicles so far – all mini-cars sold in Japan – were produced for Nissan, which uncovered the problems with Mitsubishi's fuel-economy data.

This week, Mitsubishi admitted its faulty testing stretches back a quarter century, longer than first thought, so the odds that cars sold overseas were involved has soared – along with the potential scope of the crisis.

Unnamed employees also falsified data to make cars look more fuel efficient than they were, it has said.

"We don't have the full picture yet on how the company would compensate" customers, said Seiji Sugiura, a senior auto analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Institute.

"All Mitsubishi cars on the road right now could be subject to compensation costs, which would be massive."

The company, which sold about one million vehicles globally last year, has the least amount of cash among Japan's major automakers and lacks the size of rivals such as Toyota and Honda to help weather the storm.

Sales in Japan have dived by nearly half since the scandal broke last week, and the damage to its reputation threatens to hammer its finances.

But "the Mitsubishi brand remains strong in foreign markets, especially in Thailand which has been a significant source of profit for the company. There is also a new factory in Indonesia", Sugiura said.

"There is foundation to build a recovery if the company doesn't get entangled in wrongdoing overseas."

A desperate Mitsubishi may also embrace a foreign suitor if top shareholders abandon it.

Taiwan's Foxconn recently snapped up struggling electronics giant Sharp, although foreign takeovers of Japanese firms are rare.

The stakes are high given the Mitsubishi companies' longstanding links, including distribution and product ties, according to Sugiura.

"The group companies also have to protect their own interests," he said.

"Lots of business would be affected in the group if the automaker collapses."

 

Interests of Singaporean workers must come first: Chee Soon Juan

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎2 hours agoGo to full article
SINGAPORE: In this uncertain economic climate, the interests of Singaporean workers must come first before foreign workers, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief and Bukit Batok by-election candidate Chee Soon Juan said in his May Day message to Singaporeans.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of his walkabout around Bukit Batok on Sunday morning (May 1), Dr Chee said if he were elected, he would call on the Government to “retrench foreign workers first, Singaporean workers last”.

Chee Soon Juan walkabout

Dr Chee also reiterated the importance of a retrenchment insurance scheme, which SDP had proposed previously.

“When they get retrenched, they need some kind of assistance, some kind of protection. They need some kind of shock absorber, because when your bills keep piling up, and all of a sudden you find that you don’t have any income, what are you going to do? What are your children going to do?”

Under the proposed scheme, which will be funded by the Government, employers and employees, workers will receive financial assistance after being laid off. 

“In this way, you help the retrenched workers tide through the difficult times, and at the same time, help them to find a job,” he said.

Dr Chee also reiterated his commitment to being a full-time Member of Parliament (MP), who would be “constantly on the ground” to listen to residents.

He also promised to hold more than one Meet-The-People session every week, as doing so once a week was “not enough”, he said.

 

Rare rallies in Vietnam over mysterious mass fish deaths

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎2 hours agoGo to full article
HANOI: Hundreds of people demonstrated in Vietnam on Sunday against a Taiwanese firm they accuse of causing mass fish deaths along the country's central coast, with some also blaming the government for a sluggish response to a major environmental disaster.

Though an official investigation has found no links between the fish deaths and a US$10.6 billion coastal steel plant run by a unit of Taiwan's Formosa Plastics , public anger against the company has not abated.

Demonstrators, holding signs, say they are demanding cleaner waters in the central regions after ma

Hundreds gathered in Hanoi holding banners that said: "Formosa destroying the environment is a crime" and "Who poisoned the central region's waters?"

Others said: "Formosa out of Vietnam!" and took aim at the government for being aloof in what it now describes as one of its worst environmental disasters.

Demonstrations are rare in Vietnam and uniformed and plain-clothes police are usually quick to suppress them. On Sunday they cleared traffic to allow demonstrators to do a lap of a big lake in the heart of Hanoi.

Huge numbers of dead fish have appeared at farms and on beaches since April 6, impacting 200 km (124 miles) of coastline in four provinces, with no known cause.

The environment minister has demanded Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh dig up its waste pipe at the steel project to enable government to monitor its discharge.

The government's initial probe said the cause could be "red tide", when algae blooms and produces toxins, or a release of toxic chemicals by humans.

What has stoked public anger was a comment by a Formosa official who said Vietnam had to choose between catching fish and shrimp and building a modern steel industry.

"Here is Vietnam's territory and there shall never be any case in which a Formosa steel plant has the right to tell the Vietnamese people to choose," protester Cao Vinh Thinh said.

Several hundred protesters marched in Ho Chi Minh City, the economic hub, according to multiple accounts on Facebook, which is used by 30 millions Vietnamese.

State-controlled media has not reported any of the demonstrations.

Social media and witnesses said protests also took place in central Quang Binh province on Friday, with fishermen throwing fish on the highway after failing to sell their catch. The accounts could not be verified by Reuters.

The government on Saturday ordered the trade and agriculture ministries to help buy seafood caught during deep-sea fishing.

(Reporting by Ho Binh Minh; Additional reporting by Nguyen Ha Minh; Editing by Martin Petty and Kim Coghill)

 

Three Turkish soldiers killed, 14 others wounded in PKK attack in the southeast - army

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎2 hours agoGo to full article
ISTANBUL: Three Turkish soldiers were killed and 14 others were wounded on Sunday in an armed attack by Kurdish militants during a military operation in the southeastern town of Nusaybin, Turkey's army said in a statement.

Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast has been hit by waves of violence in clashes between government security forces and members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) after a ceasefire fell apart last July.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Alison Williams)

 

Job placement programme has helped Bukit Batok residents: Murali

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎2 hours agoGo to full article
SINGAPORE: A community job placement programme, launched by People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate for the Bukit Batok by-election Murali Pillai, has successfully helped some Bukit Batok residents who were laid off or are looking for work, he said on Sunday (May 1).

The programme, unveiled as part of Mr Murali’s campaign manifesto, taps on a network of community volunteers from Bukit Batok and the “Jurong family”.

Murali on walkabout

At least two residents have received help under the programme, Mr Murali said after a walkabout at Bukit Batok interchange. Mr Murali was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

One of the residents, Mr Razali, was retired but wanted to return to work as he was still in good health. Mr Murali said he managed to get two job offers for him, and Mr Razali is now considering both offers after going for interviews.

Another resident, Ms Ng, had lost her job. Mr Murali said he put her in touch with a trainer, who is running a skills competency course at the Singapore Management University. Ms Ng has agreed to take up the course to upgrade her skills, he said.

“We hope to match affected residents with appropriate jobs. So thankfully through these examples, it seems that we have the workings of the system that will enable us to address the concerns of the affected residents,” said Mr Murali.

When asked for his response to remarks made by the Singapore Democratic Party’s Dr Paul Tambyah on Saturday that the PAP campaign should not be engaging in character assassination, Mr Murali said he would like to focus on his own agenda.

“Today we talked about the job placement programme, which I believe can make a difference to a number of Bukit Batok residents who are affected by the gloomy economic climate. And here we see an example of how the community can work together … and come together to help affected Bukit Batok residents.”

 

Indonesia takes aim at palm oil after forest fires

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎4 hours agoGo to full article
JAKARTA: Indonesia is pushing to ban new palm oil operations after last year's haze-belching forest fires were partly blamed on the industry's expansion, but producers are warning the move could hit the economy and green groups are sceptical.

President Joko Widodo in April proposed a halt on granting new land for palm oil plantations in the world's top producer of the edible vegetable oil, a key ingredient in many everyday goods, from biscuits to shampoo and make-up.

Plantations on Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo have expanded in recent years as(Photo:AFP)

In a statement, he said that "palm oil concessions available at the moment are already adequate" and urged producers to concentrate on using better seeds to increase their yields.

Plantations on Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo have expanded in recent years as demand for palm oil has skyrocketed, bringing huge profits to companies and healthy tax revenues to the government.

But the rapid growth has been blamed for the destruction of tropical forests that are home to many endangered species, and forest fires that occur every year during the dry season due to illegal slash-and-burn clearance.

The 2015 blazes were the most serious for some years, worsened by dry weather caused by an El Nino phenomenon, and cloaked large stretches of Southeast Asia in toxic smog for weeks, causing hundreds of thousands to fall ill, disrupting air travel and fuelling anger at Jakarta.

The proposed moratorium on new concessions is the latest move by Widodo aimed at reducing environmental destruction caused by the industry and halting the annual smog outbreaks.

But the Indonesian Palm Oil Association warned that the ban could damage a mainstay of Southeast Asia's biggest economy that supports 24 million jobs, directly or indirectly.

"Palm oil is a strategic sector which contributed $19 billion in exports in 2015," said Tofan Madji, a spokesman for the group, which represents some 650 companies.

"It contributes to economic growth, especially in remote areas."

"FORESTS WILL KEEP BURNING"
 

Activists were cautious about the proposal, with Greenpeace Indonesia warning it would not be effective unless the government introduces a tough regulation, rather than just a weaker "presidential instruction".

The details of the proposed moratorium are still being discussed, and it is not yet clear when it will be adopted, the environment ministry said.

Kiki Taufik, Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner, also warned of implementation problems as various parts of government would need to work together for a ban to operate smoothly.

"This is probably one of the hardest parts. Lack of coordination among officials is common and it often leads to bad implementation of regulations," Taufik said.

Implementation of laws is also difficult due to heavily decentralisation of power across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, with rules set in Jakarta often flouted by local administrations.

A moratorium on new logging permits on primary forest and peatlands -- defined as areas not logged in recent history -- has been in place since 2011, but campaigners say it has sometimes been ignored when local governments grant concessions.

The palm oil plan follows a 2015 ban on new development on all peatlands after swathes of carbon-rich peat were drained for use as plantations in recent years, creating highly flammable areas.

The government has also pledged to punish more than 50 companies accused over last year's forest fires. But it suffered a setback in December when a court rejected a $565 million lawsuit against a pulp and paper company accused of failing to prevent the blazes.

Some believe that little can be done to stop the annual fires when there is still money to be made from palm oil.

"The main cause of forest fires is greed," said Herry Purnomo, a scientist at the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research.

"As long as people want a quick return, quick money, the forest will keep burning."

 

For Obama, it's time for one last laugh at annual Washington dinner

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎4 hours agoGo to full article
WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama will add "comedian" to his resume for a final time on Saturday as he aims to take down the house in his last appearance at the annual White House correspondents' dinner, a night of playful ribbing of both politicians and the news media.

The black-tie event, which Obama has previously joked is "a night when Washington celebrates itself," brings together journalists and media moguls with Hollywood stars and power brokers from Capitol Hill and beyond.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with WHCA President Lee at the White House Correspondents Associ

White House hopeful Bernie Sanders, Vice President Joe Biden and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde were among the politicos mingling with celebrities, including actress Emma Watson of "Harry Potter" fame and singer Gladys Knight.

For Obama, who was scheduled to speak around 10:20 p.m. ET(0220 GMT Sunday), it was his final correspondents' dinner as a sitting president. Comedian Larry Wilmore, who hosts a show on the cable outlet Comedy Central, will take to the podium after the president's remarks.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Friday not to rule out surprises from Obama, who has polished his comedic timing over seven prior dinner appearances.

"I know that the president will certainly poke a little fun at himself," Earnest said, adding that he thought some "good-natured ribbing of his friends will occur as well."

In previous years, Obama has taken on Washington gridlock, political rivals and presidential hopefuls with usually light-hearted, but sometimes pointed, jokes.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who did not attend, could nevertheless once again face the president's barbs, as he did in 2011 when he was weighing a White House bid.

At that dinner, which he did attend, Obama skewered him for questioning whether the president was U.S.-born. Obama then speculated about the changes the boisterous billionaire would bring to the White House, including bikini-clad women in the front fountain and gold columns by the entryway.

Wilmore said he plans to talk about the presidential election and Obama's legacy. "I'll definitely bring up race," Wilmore, who is African-American, told cable network C-SPAN. "That's going to be an issue in a lot of different ways."

The dinner, a long-standing tradition, has morphed from a relatively low-key gathering of journalists and their sources into a glamorous red-carpet affair. It has drawn criticism from some who feel that partying with sources is not conducive to hard-hitting journalism.

Other invitees this year included singer Aretha Franklin, actor Morgan Freeman and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller of the Denver Broncos.

(Reporting by Megan Cassella; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Mary Milliken and Marguerita Choy)

 

Five killed in Texas floods as severe weather lashes central U.S

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎4 hours agoGo to full article
AUSTIN, Texas: A grandmother and four of her grandchildren were killed and another person was missing in floods in Texas caused by storms that unleashed tornadoes, damaging hail and torrential rains on several central U.S. states, officials said on Saturday.

The flood victims in Palestine, Texas, 100 miles (160 km)southeast of Dallas, escaped a house where flood waters had reached the roof line and were then swept away, Palestine police Captain James Muniz said.

US Texas floods

"They were able to get out but they were washed away," he said, adding their bodies were recovered on Saturday.

Those killed were identified as Jamonicka Johnson, 6, Von Johnson Jr., 7, Devonte Asberry, 8, Venetia Asberry, 9 and Lenda Asberry, 64, the city said. Palestine police took the bodies to Tyler, Texas, for autopsies, officials said.

A man, about 30 years old, remained missing elsewhere in Anderson County, according to the sheriff's office.

Seven homes were evacuated and temporary shelters were established, officials said. The city received 7.5 inches (19 cm) of rain in less than an hour, which caused the floods.

"I don't recall ever seeing this much water rise so fast and in such a short period of time," Palestine Mayor Bob Herrington said in a statement where he also offered condolences to the family of the five victims.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch extending from east Texas into much of Mississippi and a severe thunderstorm watch for New Orleans and the southern Louisiana region.

"Strong to severe thunderstorms are expected today into this evening across the lower Mississippi Valley, Tennessee Valley, Ozarks and the Ohio Valley," it said.

Strong winds in the Houston area downed trees and cut power lines, the service said. As of 10:30 a.m. local time, more than 4,200 customers in the region were without power, CenterPoint Energy reported.

There were seven reported tornadoes from the storm system on Friday in Texas and Oklahoma, it said. A twister caused damage to several structures and ripped through mobile homes in Ninnekah, about 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Oklahoma City, local news reports said.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Andrew Roche, Susan Thomas and Marguerita Choy)

 

Survivor rescued 13 days after deadly Ecuador quake

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎4 hours agoGo to full article
QUITO: Crews have rescued a 72-year-old survivor of Ecuador's deadly earthquake almost two weeks after it struck the South American country, Venezuela announced.

A visiting Venezuelan search team located Manuel Vasquez, who had been trapped under rubble since the 7.8-magnitude quake that killed 660 people, the Venezuelan embassy in Quito said on its website.

A rescuer with his sniffer dog searches for quake victims amid the ruins of a collapsed hotel in(Photo:AFP)

They found Vasquez "making sounds in a partially collapsed building" on Friday in Manabi province while doing inspections for structural problems, it said.

The April 16 quake was the worst to strike Ecuador in decades, causing buildings to collapse and damaging roads and other infrastructure in tourist areas along the coast.

Vasquez was admitted to hospital with kidney trouble and lost toes. He was also dehydrated and disoriented.

Ecuador welcomed hundreds of rescue teams, doctors, nurses, firefighters and other support staff after the quake from a slew of countries.

President Rafael Correa has announced a series of drastic economic measures aimed at paying for what he estimates will be the $3 billion cost of rebuilding the shattered country.

 

A coronation for North Korea's Kim Jong-Un

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎5 hours agoGo to full article
SEOUL: After four years of top-level reshuffles, purges and executions, Kim Jong-Un will formally cement his unassailable status as North Korea's supreme leader at a landmark ruling party congress this week.

The first gathering of its kind for nearly 40 years is really a coronation of sorts – recognising the young 33-year-old leader as the legitimate inheritor of the dynastic dictatorship started by his grandfather Kim Il-Sung and passed down through his late father Kim Jong-Il.

A landmark ruling party congress is really a coronation of sorts for Kim Jong-Un, recognising the(Photo:AFP)

"This congress means everything for Kim Jong-Un," said John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul.

"It is the most public, historic setting in which he can demonstrate that he is fully in charge, and that everyone follows his orders," Delury said.

"Nominally, it's for the party, but really this congress is for Kim," he added.

Kim wasn't even born when the last congress was held in 1980 to crown his father as the heir apparent to founding leader Kim Il-Sung.

When his own turn came, following the death of Kim Jong-Il in December 2011, there were numerous doubters who suggested the Swiss finishing school graduate lacked the survival skills needed for the Machiavellian world of North Korean power politics.

But he proved them wrong, purging the party, government and powerful military of those seen as disloyal, and displaying a ruthless streak that notably led to the execution of his powerful uncle, and one-time political mentor, Jang Song-Thaek.

POLICY PIVOT

He also adjusted his father's "songun", or military first policy, to a "byungjin" policy of pursuing nuclear weapons in tandem with economic development.

The nuclear half of that strategy has dominated the run-up to the party congress, starting with a fourth nuclear test in January that was followed by a long-range rocket launch and a flurry of other missile and weapons tests.

"The objective of all that was clear from the start," said Victor Cha, Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

"It was a race to have a credible nuclear deterrent in place, as a crowning achievement, before the congress opens," Cha said.

But there was an embarrassing stumble in the home straight, with the failure in recent weeks of three separate efforts to test fire a powerful, new mid-range ballistic missile capable of striking US bases on the Pacific island of Guam.

NUCLEAR TEST PROLOGUE

One final act might still play out before the party gathering begins on May 6, with many predicting a fifth nuclear test to underline the North's status as a genuine nuclear power.

Then, once the congress gets underway, comes the question of what, beyond Kim's leadership qualities, the gathering will seek to spotlight.

The optimist's scenario is that, with a confirmed nuclear deterrent in the bag, Kim will announce that the North's security is ensured and the focus can now switch to the other half of his "byungjin" strategy -- economic development.

"The key is not whether such a strong North Korean deterrent force is a reality, not even whether Kim believes it, but whether he will set out this position as the philosophical basis for a new direction in policy," said Robert Carlin, a visiting scholar at the Centre for International Security and Cooperation in California.

In his very first public address, at a military parade in April 2012, Kim had said he was determined that North Koreans would "never have to tighten their belts again".

The need to raise living standards has been a constant refrain of his annual New Year addresses, although analysts note that they have been largely devoid of any specific policy initiatives.

So while the party congress does provide the platform for a genuine policy shift, it can just as easily become a stage for tired, self-congratulatory rhetoric that offers little in the way of change.

NEW, YOUNG LEADERS?

Whatever the tone, the content of the speeches, especially Kim's keynote address, will be closely scrutinised as will any personnel changes, with analysts looking for a younger crop of officials to take over leadership positions.

The North's chief diplomatic ally, China, which has become increasingly frustrated with Pyongyang's refusal to restrain its nuclear ambitions, will be among the closest observers.

"Any North Korean rhetorical emphasis on living standards and peaceful development over nuclear chest-thumping and threats... will be interpreted by Chinese state media as evidence that things are moderating," said Adam Cathcart, a University of Leeds specialist on China-North Korea ties.

"There may also be more willingness to work with newly-promoted officials who are somewhat younger and presumably more pragmatic," Cathcart said.

 

NTUC fund to get up to S$200 million boost to support mid-career workers

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎5 hours agoGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Up to S$200 million more could soon be available in the NTUC-Education and Training Fund, with the goal of helping 30,000 mid-career workers a year in learning new skills, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Speaking at this year's May Day Rally on Sunday (May 1), Mr Lee said the Labour Movement intends to raise S$50 million to work with universities to support these workers, including professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), in training.

workers Singapore file

The Government will, in turn, match S$3 for every dollar NTUC raises – up to S$150 million.

The scheme is an extension of what NTUC has been doing with polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs). It will start first by partnering Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and will focus on short courses to help working people keep up with technology and industry development.

The programme will commence in August, and will start with 28 courses in key growth areas like data analytics and digital electronics.

Union members will be able to enjoy course fee subsidies of up to S$250 from the fund – on top of the S$500 SkillsFuture credit provided by the Government.

NTUC plans to eventually expand the programme to more universities and develop more programmes to cater to more workers, Mr Lee added.

TRANSFORMING INDUSTRIES

In his speech, Mr Lee outlined how Singapore will deal with changes in industries, jobs and the workforce amid a slow global economy.

Mr Lee noted that industries are changing rapidly, with new business models disrupting existing ones. He cited examples like online retailers Taobao and Amazon, home-share booking site Airbnb, and private-car hire services like Uber and Grab.

“I don’t think we can stop this phenomenon and I don’t think we should try to stop it,” he said. “We would end up hurting ourselves … we are all consumers, and these businesses and services have improved our lives because they make things more convenient, they give us more options and better deals.”

Instead, Singapore will make sure that businesses with new models compete on fair terms with existing ones. For example, authorities are reviewing regulations to ensure a more level playing field between traditional taxi operators and apps like Uber and Grab.

More fundamentally, the Government is helping industries and companies to compete by supporting them as they transform, such as setting aside S$4.5 billion dollars over five years for the Industry Transformation Programme in this year's Budget, Mr Lee said.

TRANSFORMING JOBS

But as the economy is being transformed, the jobs that are available will also change, stressed Mr Lee.

That is why even while the economy is growing, retrenchments have gone up, he said, adding that this loss is not only felt among rank and file workers but also supervisory and management jobs.

This is even though there is a steady flow of quality investments coming into Singapore at the same time.

“Our problem is not not enough jobs. Our problem is to match the jobs – the workers, the skills, the expectations, with what jobs are available and what skills are in demand. That means we have to prepare our workers for the jobs that are available.”

For PMETs who have been retrenched mid-career, Mr Lee said the new Career Support Programme has seen promising signs in its first five months.

The initiative sees employers provided with wage support for one year, to defray the cost of hiring. About 200 mature PMETs have participated in the programme, with half of them securing employment.

But Mr Lee also stressed that with changing industries and jobs, the shape of the workforce is also changing and he called for the Labour Movement to be strengthened.

While it traditionally catered to blue collar workers, the Labour Movement needs to adapt to meet new needs and stay relevant, with a growing number of PMETs in Singapore, he said.

Today, about half the workforce is made up of PMETs. By 2030, this will grow to about two-thirds. 

He also called for employers to be bolder, as the unions try to negotiate collective agreements to include PMETs.

“Don’t believe that if you don’t have the Labour Movement involved with the PMETs, you can deal with the PMETs one by one and you would have no problem,” said Mr Lee.
 

“Work with us, work with the union movement, so that over time, in Singapore we'll have a different Government and a different Labour Movement.”

 

China trains 'fishing militia' to sail into disputed waters

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎6 hours agoGo to full article
BAIMAJING, China: The fishing fleet based in this tiny port town on Hainan island is getting everything from military training and subsidies to even fuel and ice as China creates an increasingly sophisticated fishing militia to sail into the disputed South China Sea.

The training and support includes exercises at sea and requests to fishermen to gather information on foreign vessels, provincial government officials, regional diplomats and fishing company executives said in recent interviews.

Fishing boats with Chinese national flags are seen at a harbour in Tanmen, Hainan province

"The maritime militia is expanding because of the country's need for it, and because of the desire of the fishermen to engage in national service, protecting our country's interests," said an advisor to the Hainan government who did not want to be named.

But the fishing militia also raises the risk of conflict with foreign navies in the strategic waterway through which US$5 trillion of trade passes each year, diplomats and naval experts say.

The United States has been conducting sea and air patrols near artificial islands China is building in the disputed Spratlys archipelago, including by two B-52 strategic bombers in November. Washington said in February it would increase the "freedom of navigation" sail-bys around the disputed sea.

BASIC MILITARY TRAINING

The city-level branches of the People's Armed Forces Department provide basic military training to fishermen, said the Hainan government advisor. The branches are overseen by both the military and local Communist Party authorities in charge of militia operations nationwide. 

The training encompasses search and rescue operations, contending with disasters at sea, and "safeguarding Chinese sovereignty", said the advisor who focuses on the South China Sea.

The training, which includes exercises at sea, takes place between May and August and the government pays fishermen for participating, he said.

Government subsidies encourage fishermen to use heavier vessels with steel - as opposed to wooden - hulls.

The government has also provided Global Positioning Satellite equipment for at least 50,000 vessels, enabling them to contact the Chinese Coast Guard in maritime emergencies, including encounters with foreign ships, industry executives said.

Several Hainan fishermen and diplomats told Reuters some vessels have small arms.

When "a particular mission in safeguarding sovereignty", comes up government authorities will coordinate with the fishing militia, the advisor said, asking them to gather information on the activities of foreign vessels at sea.

ROW WITH INDONESIA

That coordination was evident in March, when Indonesia attempted to detain a Chinese fishing vessel for fishing near its Natuna Islands in the South China Sea. A Chinese coast guard vessel quickly intervened to prevent the Indonesian Navy from towing away the fishing boat, setting off a diplomatic row. Beijing does not claim the Natunas but said the boats were in "traditional Chinese fishing grounds".

China claims almost all of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei also have conflicting claims over the islets and atolls that constitute the Spratly Archipelago and its rich fishing grounds.

State-controlled fishing companies dominate the fleets that go regularly to the Spratlys and are recipients of much of the militia training and subsidies, industry sources said.

China has by far the world's biggest fish industry, but depleted fishery resources close to China's shores have made fishing in disputed waters an economic necessity, fishermen and industry executives say.

State-owned Hainan South China Sea Modern Fishery Group Company says on its website it is "both military and commercial, both soldiers and civilians". One of its aims, the company says, is to let the "Chinese flag fly" over the Spratlys.

"Defending sovereignty is primarily the government's concern," said Ye Ning, the company's general manager, in an interview at his office in Haikou. "But of course, regular folks being able to fish in their own countries' waters should be the norm. That goes for us too."

The company provides fishermen who sail to the Spratlys with fuel, water, and ice, and then purchases fish from them when they returned, according to a written introduction to the company's work executives provided to Reuters.

'LOT MORE RISKY'

"It's gotten a lot more risky to do this with all kinds of foreign boats out there," said Huang Jing, a local fisherman in the sleepy port town of Baimajing, where a line of massive steel-hulled fishing trawlers stretches as far as the eye can see.

"But China is strong now," he said. "I trust the government to protect us."

Chen Rishen, chairman of Hainan Jianghai Group Co. Ltd, says his private but state subsidized company dispatches large fleets of steel-hulled trawlers weighing hundreds of tonnes to fish near the Spratly Islands. They usually go for months at a time, primarily for commercial reasons, he said.

"If some foreign fishing boats infringe on our territory and try to prevent us from fishing there ... Then we're put in the role of safeguarding sovereignty," he said in an interview in Haikou, the provincial capital of Hainan.

China does not use its fishing fleet to help establish sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: “This kind of situation does not exist.”

China had taken measures to ensure the fishing fleets conduct business legally, he told a ministry press briefing last month.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

Chen said his fishermen stop at Woody Island in the Paracel islands, where China recently installed surface-to-air missiles, to refuel and communicate with Chinese Coast Guard vessels.

They look forward to using similar facilities China is developing in the Spratly Islands, he said.

China has been pouring sand from the seabed onto seven reefs to create artificial islands in the Spratlys. So far, it has built one airstrip with two more under construction on them, with re-fuelling and storage facilities.

"This all points to the need for establishing agreed protocols for ensuring clear and effective communications between civilian and maritime law enforcement vessels of different countries operating in the area," said Michael Vatikiotis, Asia Director of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, which is helping claimant states design such confidence building measures.

A regional agreement on communications and procedures when rival navies meet at sea applies only to naval ships and other military vessels, he said.

(Additional reporting by Greg Torode in HONG KONG. Editing by Bill Tarrant)

 

UK royal Kate appears on cover of Vogue's 100th anniversary edition

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎6 hours agoGo to full article
LONDON: The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, will appear on the cover of the 100th anniversary edition of the British version of fashion magazine Vogue, following in the path of her husband's late mother, Princess Diana.

Late on Saturday Vogue revealed the cover of its June edition on its website, which goes on sale on Thursday, showing a smiling Kate in a rural outdoors setting wearing a green hat, brown jacket and white blouse.

Britain's Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, visits the Taj Mahal in Agra

Another photo show her in a red and black stripy top, leaning on a wooden fence.

"I am hugely grateful that we have been able to continue with our tradition of outstanding royal portraiture," Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman said.

Two of the pictures of Kate from the photo-shoot, which were taken in January by British photographer Josh Olins, will be displayed at London's National Portrait Gallery as part of an exhibition in May to mark Vogue's 100th anniversary.

Diana, the mother of Kate's husband Prince William, featured several times on Vogue's cover, but Vogue said this was Kate's first fashion photo-shoot. Queen Elizabeth and other royals have appeared inside the magazine, but not as cover models.

Kate's clothing choices sometimes lead to a surge in sales of similar items, and Vogue said she had selected items for the shoot from designers including Britain's Burberry and French maritime-themed label Petit Bateau.

(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Bernard Orr)

 

Venezuela hikes minimum wage 30% amid raging inflation

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎7 hours agoGo to full article
CARACAS: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday night increased the country's minimum wage 30 percent, amid rampant inflation that has destroyed purchasing power in the crisis-hit country.

As of May 1, the minimum wage will jump to 15,051 bolivars per month - US$1,505 at the strongest official exchange rate but just US$13.50 at the black market rate.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro smiles as he speaks to supporters during a rally to celeb

Maduro also increased a monthly food ticket to 18,585 bolivars - around US$17 at the black market rate.

The president celebrated that the rise would be the twelfth since he was elected president in April 2013 after the death of his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez.

"Only a president like Nicolas Maduro, son of Hugo Chavez (could achieve this)," said the president in an hours-long address on state television.

Critics counter that the repeated wage hikes reveal the government's utter failure to stem inflation and a deep recession.

"This man's 'increases' are a joke. Inflation is rocketing!" said opposition leader Henrique Capriles on Twitter, adding that inflation in the month of March was at 20 percent.

Since Maduro took over, the bolivar has fallen 98 percent against the dollar on the black market rate. Inflation is in triple-digits.

The president claims a U.S.-backed opposition is waging an "economic war" against him by fanning inflation and hiding scarce goods.

The wage hike takes effect on May Day, traditionally celebrated by the left as International Workers' Day, when Maduro supports are scheduled to march in capital Caracas.

(Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Marguerita Choy)

 

Hand injury set to delay Kerevi's Australia bow

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎7 hours agoGo to full article
MELBOURNE: Samu Kerevi's hopes of breaking into the Wallabies squad for the June internationals against England have been thrown in doubt after he suffered a broken hand in the Queensland Reds' win over the Cheetahs on Saturday.

The powerful outside centre, widely tipped for international duty after showing good form in the Super Rugby season, came off early in the second half of the Reds' 30-17 win at Lang Park and shed tears on the sideline as he iced his wrist.

The 22-year-old would undergo surgery on Tuesday and was expected to be out of action for up to four weeks, the club said in a statement.

That would leave Fiji-born Kerevi, cousin of former Wallabies forward Radike Samo, in a race to be fit for the first match of the three-test England series in Brisbane on June 11.

"He's got a level head on himself," Reds captain James Slipper told reporters.

"We all know he's a future Wallaby so he just needs to keep being consistent, stay humble and keep working hard."

Kerevi's injury soured the rebuilding Reds' second win of the season and comes ahead of a difficult assignment against the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Mulvenney/John O'Brien)

 

Jaguares claim first home win with 11-try romp

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎8 hours agoGo to full article
BUENOS AIRES: Argentina's Jaguares notched up their second win in Super Rugby and first at home with a 11-try romp for a 73-27 win over South Africa's Kings at Velez Sarsfield on Saturday.

Pumas number eight Leonardo Senatore led the way with a hat-trick of tries as the Jaguares celebrated their return home from a defeat to the Sunwolves in Tokyo by snapping a seven-match losing streak in some style.

"It was a good win, we've had a few bad games recently so we had to play some good rugby," said skipper Martin Landajo, one of nine try scorers for the hosts.

"We did it here at home so we're happy but this is a long tournament so we need to keep improving."

"It's a relief to have got such a win, we had tried some of these things in other matches and they didn't come off so it's like a new beginning," he added.

Centre Juan Martin Hernandez's fine first-minute try set the tone for a blistering opening quarter from the Jaguares as he followed up his chip over the defence to score in the corner.

Four tries in 18 minutes left the Port Elizabeth-based Kings shellshocked and six before the break gave the Puma-laden home side a 40-15 halftime lead.

Flyhalf Elgar Watts kicked a penalty and tries by flanker Chris Cloete and centre Stefan Watermayer off an interception kept the visitors' tails up.

The dominant Jaguares maintained their scoring rhythm in the second half, however, and their superior handling skills at speed helped them to five more tries to the joy of a passionate home crowd of about 12,000.

"We try to do that in this tournament, sometimes it works well, sometimes not so well. Today was alright," Landajo said.

"Our opponents also helped with a defence that wasn't as asphyxiating, so it was a bit of that and our own merits. We had talked during the week about confidence, and not losing ours, to try and play as we want."

Flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez finished with a personal tally of 23 points from nine conversions and a try after a brilliant performance in which he orchestrated the attack with aplomb and set up at least two other scores.

The Kings, who returned to Super Rugby this season after one previous campaign in 2013, had second half tries from flanker Thembelani Bholi and lock Steven Sykes but they only served to make the scoreline more respectable.

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

 

Facing long odds in California, Cruz courts state's Republicans

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎8 hours agoGo to full article
BURLINGAME, Calif.: U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz made a plea to the California Republican Party on Saturday to line up behind him in the state's June primary in his uphill battle to stop front-runner Donald Trump from grabbing the nomination.

At the same party convention that was the backdrop for chaotic protests against Trump on Friday, Cruz tried to woo party members with support for their long-time issues, like lower taxes and a harder line on immigration. Former California Governor Pete Wilson gave Cruz his endorsement as he introduced the U.S. senator from Texas.

Cruz speaks at the California GOP convention in Burlingame, California

Cruz received more applause at the convention than either Trump or the third-place candidate, Ohio Governor John Kasich, who also spoke on Friday.

"If we're fractured and we're divided, Hillary Clinton wins and the campaign is lost," he said, referring to the Democratic Party's front-runner in the Nov. 8 election for the White House.

Now mathematically eliminated from securing the nomination on the first ballot at the party's convention in Cleveland in July, Cruz aims to stop Trump from receiving the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination outright, forcing a contested convention.

However, the prospect of him being able to do so has grown increasingly slim. Trump, a billionaire businessman and former reality TV star, has continued to notch up wins in the nation's nominating contests, including a five-state sweep of the latest string of contests last Tuesday.

Cruz has downplayed the severity of the losses and in his speech Saturday looked forward to upcoming contests, which he has said will put him on the path to thwarting Trump.

"California is going to decide this Republican primary," he said, referring to the state's June 7 contest.

Trump has been at odds with the party's establishment and has called the system for nominating its candidate "rigged."

Critics say he has played on the fears of his supporters, especially on immigration, by proposing a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and accusing illegal Mexican immigrants of being rapists and criminals.

On Thursday and Friday, anti-Trump protests erupted outside the candidate's California events. On Friday, he was forced to halt his motorcade and go through a back entrance to a hotel to give a speech to the convention and avoid several hundred loud protesters gathered outside.

Cruz hopes to slow Trump's march towards the nomination in Indiana's primary on Tuesday. The state awards its 57 delegates on a winner-take-all basis by congressional district, possibly granting Cruz a windfall of pledged delegates.

A Real Clear Politics polling aggregation in the state shows Cruz just behind Trump, 35.2 percent to 37.5 percent.

Polls show Cruz has more of a challenge in delegate-rich California, where he lags Trump 28.3 percent to 45.7 percent.

In an indication of efforts to court the state, Cruz on Wednesday made the unusual move of naming a vice presidential running mate, onetime presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, who was formerly a chief executive of the California technology company Hewlett-Packard Co.

Fiorina ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in the state in 2010, losing to the Democratic incumbent.

(Writing by Alana Wise; Editing by Mary Milliken and Chizu Nomiyama)

 

Monday finish on the cards in weather-hit New Orleans

 
‎Today, ‎May ‎1, ‎2016, ‏‎8 hours agoGo to full article
REUTERS: Third-round play at the weather-disrupted Zurich Classic of New Orleans was suspended for the day after just 75 minutes of action on Saturday, setting up the possibility of a Monday finish at the TPC Louisiana.

The golfers were called off the course at 2:15 p.m. ET (1815 GMT) because of approaching thunderstorms and four hours later officials abandoned any further prospect of play after 1.2 inches (30 millimetres) of rain had drenched the already sodden course.

PGA: The Barclays-Third Round

Weather-permitting, play is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. ET (1230 GMT) on Sunday with preferred lies in operation due to the soggy conditions.

However, local forecasts predict a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms on Sunday, and an 80 percent likelihood on Monday.

The tournament has been severely behind schedule since the opening round on Thursday when nearly five hours of play was wiped out by thunderstorms.

When the weather-delayed second round was finally completed on Saturday morning, American journeyman Brian Stuard held a one-shot lead after recording four birdies in his last nine holes.

Seeking his first PGA Tour victory, Stuard continued to benefit from a putter he picked up last week in San Antonio as he fired a flawless four-under-par 68 on a rain-softened layout.

That left him at 12-under 132, a stroke in front of American Jamie Lovemark (66) and Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela (69), who both completed their rounds on Friday.

Stuard, who has twice been a runner-up on the PGA Tour but has mainly struggled on the U.S. circuit this season, was delighted to maintain his bogey-free form this week with a new putter.

"I had been having a hard time feeling like I was getting lined up right with my putts," the 33-year-old told PGA Tour radio.

"I just picked this one up last week and it felt like I could just set it down and it was right where I was looking. It's a nice feeling."

Asked about the prospect of a first PGA Tour win, Stuard replied: "Obviously it would be great, but there's a long ways to go so (I'll) just kind of focus on the next shot and see what happens."

Australian world number one Jason Day, who was also among the players who had to finish off the second round on Saturday, carded a 68 to sit five strokes off the pace.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Both)

 

Phase 1 of Tuas Terminal construction begins

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎9:30:00 AMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Construction of the first phase of Singapore’s mega-port terminal in Tuas officially began on Friday (Apr 29).

When completed, the 20 deep-water berths will be able to handle about 20 million standard-sized container units yearly and will have a total capacity of 65 million units.

tuas terminal caisson

A major component of Singapore’s Next Generation Port vision, the Tuas Terminal will incorporate new features. For example, land will be optimised by utilising both above and underground spaces for complementary purposes like storage facilities. The safety and security of port waters will also be enhanced through a next generation traffic management system.

tuas terminal phase 1
 

(Image: MPA Singapore)

Productivity will also be increased and labour costs reduced through the use of technology like automated yard cranes and port equipment.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan marked the start of construction by launching the first caisson at the site on Friday.

A total of 222 of such concrete caissons will form the permanent wharf structure at the Phase 1 development. Each caisson is about 28 metres tall, equivalent to the height of a 10-storey Housing and Development Board (HDB) block, making it one of the largest in the world.  

To overcome resource constraints, engineering teams will be pre-fabricating the caissons on site, in a factory-like environment.

The use of soil improvement techniques will also allow dredged materials from the deepening of basins and excavated earth from other land construction projects to be reused as reclamation fill materials for the project. This will result in cost savings of about S$1 billion.

The mega-terminal will be developed in four phases over 30 years, with Phase 1 scheduled to be completed by the early 2020s.

Works began in February last year, when the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) signed a S$2.42 billion agreement with DIAP-Daelim Joint Venture for the Phase 1 development. The scope of work includes reclaiming 294 hectares of land, dredging the Tuas basin and Temasek Fairway, as well as constructing the wharf structure.

“The Tuas Terminal is the centrepiece of Singapore’s Next Generation Port vision and demonstrates our strong commitment to strengthening and sustaining our leadership position as a global hub port and International Maritime Centre,” said MPA Chief Executive Andrew Tan.

“Qe hope that complex projects of this scale can inspire the next generation of engineers to join the profession and help shape our future.” 

 

India denies visas to China dissidents hoping to join democracy meeting

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎9:25:11 AMGo to full article
NEW DELHI: India has declined to issue visas to two Chinese activists hoping to attend a conference on promoting democracy, days after it revoked a visa for an exiled ethnic Uighur leader who China says backs militant violence.

Lu Jinghua, a U.S.-based dissident, and Ray Wong, a pro-democracy activist, had applied for Indian visas to attend the meeting this week in the northern hill town of Dharamsala, the base of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

India rejects accusations that it is caving into Chinese pressure to stop dissidents travelling to the country.

On Monday, India said it had cancelled a tourist visa it had granted to exiled Uighur leader Dolkun Isa, who was due to attend the same conference.

China blames unrest that has killed hundreds of people in its far western region of Xinjiang on Uighur militants looking to establish an independent state for the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

Some Uighur activists says government restrictions on human rights fuels discontent, not radical Islam. China denies violating human rights.

A senior Indian government official said there were valid reasons for the denial of visas to the two Chinese activists.

Lu's visa documents were illegible and there was inconsistency about the purpose of her visit, the official said. Lu told Indian television on Thursday that she was stopped from boarding her flight in New York.

Wong's documents included data inconsistencies, said the official, who declined to be identified.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government has sought to be more assertive with its neighbours, including China, and increase its influence, but it is also keen to deepen economic ties with China and attract its investment.

Uighur activist Isa is executive chairman of Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, which promotes democracy and human rights.

China accuses Isa of backing armed separatists in Xinjiang and its foreign ministry told media this week that Isa was wanted by Chinese police and was also on an Interpol "red notice" wanted list.

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani and Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Robert Birsel)

 

Vietnam tells Taiwan firm to dig up waste pipe amid "red tide" disaster

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎9:20:26 AMGo to full article
HANOI: Vietnam has told owners of a Taiwanese-built steel plant to dig up a controversial waste pipe, even after it found no evidence tying its discharge to mass fish deaths that have triggered health fears and public anger.

Huge numbers of dead fish have appeared at farms and on beaches in central Vietnam since April 6, impacting 200 km (124 miles) of coastline, with no known cause of what the government is calling one of its worst ever environmental disasters.

A farmer shows dead fish and dead shrimp on his shrimp farm in Mekong Delta's Bac Lieu provinc

Environment Minister Tran Hong Ha declared illegal the waste pipe operated by Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh, a unit of Formosa Plastics, after officials examined water samples around the site.

"We propose to have measures in place to monitor this system after it is elevated, for easy access and surveillance," Ha told Formosa officials and reporters on Thursday.

Ha's comments suggest the government retains doubts despite tests that show Formosa, a major investor leading the US$10.6 billion steel project, was not behind the pollution.

Public outrage was also evident on social media, the only real channel through which Vietnamese get to vent in a country tightly controlled by the Communist Party.

In a statement on Friday Ha admitted the government lacked experience in dealing with disasters and had been slow to act. He called it a "very huge and serious environment disaster".

The government has banned sale and distribution of non-living aquatic products in four affected provinces.

Its probe said toxic discharge caused by humans or "red tide", when algae blooming at an abnormal rate produce toxins, may have killed the fish.

Facebook, which is used by some 30 million Vietnamese, is seeing an outpouring of anger directed at Formosa and criticism of the government's sluggish response.

Many used the hashtag #toichonca, which means: "I choose fish".

The hashtag emerged after a Taiwanese official at Formosa Ha Tinh said Vietnam had to choose between "catching fish and shrimp and building a modern steel industry". He later apologised.

In a government letter issued on Friday, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said authorities had yet to find the cause, and acknowledged public concerns.

Vietnam's seafood exports, which totalled US$6.6 billion last year, will not be hurt, the industry's body said. Top buyers are the United States, Europe and Japan.

A petition on the White House website is urging President Barack Obama to raise the issue with Vietnam's leaders when he visits next month.

 

Dortmund's Hummels seeks move to rivals Bayern Munich

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎9:20:13 AMGo to full article
REUTERS: Borussia Dortmund centre back Mats Hummels has told his club that he wants to join Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich after the season ends.

Earlier this week, Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge disclosed that his club were already in talks with the Dortmund skipper over a move.

Mats Hummels, team captain of Borussia Dortmund, reacts during their German first division Bundesli

Dortmund confirmed in a statement that the 27-year-old Germany international, who is under contract till June 2017, had submitted an official transfer request.

"Defender Mats Hummels Borussia Dortmund has communicated his desire to leave the club in the summer and wants to join league rivals Bayern Munich next season," Dortmund said on their website.

"So far, Bayern Munich has not made an offer. As a precaution, it is pointed out that... no exit clause has been agreed and the player is logically tied to Borussia Dortmund until June 30, 2017."

A switch to Bayern would represent something of a homecoming for Hummels, who came through the ranks at the Bavarian club before moving to Dortmund in October 2008.

Dortmund are currently second in the Bundesliga table, trailing Bayern by seven points.

(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

 

More than 100 suspected drug offenders arrested in islandwide raid

 
‎Friday, ‎April ‎29, ‎2016, ‏‎9:09:13 AMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: More than 100 suspected drug offenders were arrested in a four-day, islandwide anti-drug operation by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB).

The operation, which started on Monday (Apr 25), was supported by the Singapore Police Force and covered Ang Mo Kio, Boon Lay, Bukit Batok, Geylang, Jurong, Tampines, Tiong Bahru, Toa Payoh, Woodlands and Yishun, according to a press release.

drugs in metal can

About 200g of heroin, 150g of cannabis and 120g of Ice were also seized, along with the 103 suspects arrested, it added. 

In one of the operations carried out on Tuesday near Tampines Street 44, drugs were found concealed within metal cans. The cans were found after a 28-year-old Singaporean suspected drug trafficker and his 30-year-old Singaporean female companion were arrested in the area, CNB said.

Four packets of Ice weighing about 13g, concealed within a metal can, were recovered from the man. Within his residence, CNB officers recovered about 80g of Ice and a small amount of cannabis, concealed within other modified metal cans, it added.

drugs metal can
 

Drugs found in a modified metal can. (Photo: CNB)

Investigations into the drug activities of all the arrested suspects are ongoing, said CNB. 

 

 

 

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