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AP WAS THERE: US drops atomic bombs on Japan in 1945

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:06:56 AMGo to full article
FILE- In this Sept. 5, 1945, file photo, the skeleton of a Catholic Church, foreground, and an unidentified building, center, are all that remaining the blast center area after the atomic bomb of Hiroshima, Japan. On two days in August 1945, U.S. planes dropped two atomic bombs, one on Hiroshima, one on Nagasaki, the first and only time nuclear weapons have been used. Their destructive power was unprecedented, incinerating buildings and people, and leaving lifelong scars on survivors, not just physical but also psychological, and on the cities themselves. Days later, World War II was over. (AP Photo, File)EDITOR'S NOTE: On two days in August 1945, U.S. planes dropped two atomic bombs — one on Hiroshima, one on Nagasaki, the only times nuclear weapons have been used. Their unprecedented destructive power incinerated buildings and people and left lifelong physical and psychological scars on survivors and on the cities themselves. "Practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death," an AP story reported. A few days later, Japan announced its unconditional surrender. World War II was effectively over.

Fears grow over Nepal's 'anti-women' constitution

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎09:41:30 AMGo to full article
File picture shows Nepalese activists during a protest in Kathmandu demanding equal citizenship rights in the new constitutionNepal's proposed new constitution has sparked fury from women who say their citizenship, property and other rights are being curtailed by the document designed to draw a line under centuries of inequality. Forty-year-old shop owner Rama Bista says the charter poses a major step back for women, in a country that has long favoured men. Bista, who is married to an Indian man based in Nepal, has spent the last four years trying to secure citizenship for her two sons -- their legal right under the current constitution.

China's island-building faces scrutiny at Asia security talks

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎09:28:56 AMGo to full article
Alleged reclamation by China on what is internationally recognised as the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea, otherwise known as the Mabini Reef by the Philippines and Chigua Reef by ChinaBeijing faces pressure over its island-building in the South China Sea during high-level Asian security meetings this week that will include the top US and Chinese diplomats. China is expanding tiny reefs into islands and topping some with military posts to reinforce its disputed claims over the strategic sea, fanning fears of a regional arms race and possible conflict. Southeast Asia's human-trafficking problem and concerns over North Korean missile launches are also expected to be among the issues discussed at the talks in Kuala Lumpur.

AP PHOTOS: Editor selections from Asia

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎08:28:14 AMGo to full article
In this July 31, 2015 file photo, members of the delegation from Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics candidate city react after the city was elected to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games at IOC meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, Pool, File)Beijing was awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics, beating the Kazakh city of Almaty 44-40 in a surprisingly close vote to take the games back to the city that hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. The Chinese capital — the first city to host both the winter and summer games — was seen by the International Olympic Committee as a secure, reliable choice that also offered vast commercial opportunities in a new winter sports market of more than 300 million people in northern China.

HSBC profits fall 3.8% in Q2, Brazil sell-off agreed

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎08:07:49 AMGo to full article
HSBC's quarterly profit fell to $4.36 billion from $4.54 billion in the same period last year, while the half yearly figure fell from $9.746 billion to $9.618 billionHSBC announced Monday that net profit fell 3.8 percent in the three months to June, as the company agreed to sell its Brazilian business for $5.2 billion to Brazil's Banco Bradesco. Europe's biggest bank announced in June that it would cut its global workforce by up to 50,000 as it exits Brazil and Turkey. The moves come as HSBC tries to boost profits and move past recent scandals, including the rigging of foreign exchange markets.

Cheers as UN irons out roadmap to end poverty

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎06:19:51 AMGo to full article
Jubilant UN member states put the finishing touches to a hugely ambitious roadmap aimed at wiping out poverty worldwide by 2030 and taking on climate changeJubilant UN member states put the finishing touches to a hugely ambitious roadmap aimed at wiping out poverty worldwide by 2030 and taking on climate change. World leaders will attend a Sustainable Development Summit at the UN September 25-27 to adopt a sustainable agenda document, firing the starting gun on efforts to improve the lives of one billion people living on less than $1.25 a day, mainly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Negotiators set out 17 new sustainable development goals seeking to end poverty, promote wellbeing and safeguard the environment -- all by 2030.

Kiradech wins Paul Lawrie Matchplay on final hole

‎02 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:11:28 PMGo to full article
Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat, pictured on May 22, 2015, won his second European Tour title of the year when he defeated Robert Karlsson on the final hole to clinch the Paul Lawrie MatchplayThailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat won his second European Tour title of the year on Sunday when he defeated Robert Karlsson on the final hole to clinch the Paul Lawrie Matchplay. The 26-year-old Thai, already a two-time tour winner after capturing the 2013 Malaysia Open and this year's Shenzhen International, was three up with four holes to play. Kiradech held his nerve on the 18th where he putted from four feet just after Karlsson had dragged his birdie attempt wide.

Madagascar mess-ups keep tourist 'paradise' marooned

‎02 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎09:51:42 PMGo to full article
File photo shows Lemurs being fed by a caretaker at Antananarivo's Tsimbazaza Zoo MadagascarBy Lovasoa Rabary and Drazen Jorgic ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Perched on the muddy bank of a river meandering through rolling green hills, the Lemurs' Park near Madagascar's capital is rated one of the city's top attractions, but you would not know it from the number of visitors. On a Saturday in what is meant to be high season, only a handful of tourists are in the park to catch a glimpse of the furry creatures endemic to the tropical forests of this vast Indian Ocean island. Tour operators blame the latest drop in visitor numbers on mass cancellations that followed a month-long Air Madagascar strike that grounded all internal flights.

France, Britain present united front as anger soars over migrants

‎02 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎07:35:22 PMGo to full article
A French gendarme films migrants trying to enter the Eurotunnel in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on July 31, 2015France and Britain vowed Sunday that a cross-Channel migrant crisis was their "top priority" in a united front that belied simmering anger over an issue which has become a political hot potato. Heightened security has curbed the number of attempts by migrants in the port city of Calais trying to make it through an undersea tunnel to Britain, with only 400 bids Saturday night, a police source said, compared to 2,000 earlier in the week. Around 3,000 people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are camped in Calais hoping to smuggle themselves into Britain, and the costly crisis has strained ties across the Channel.

Ending migrant crisis 'top priority', vow Britain and France

‎02 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎01:53:36 PMGo to full article
Police clash with nationalist counter demonstrators as people rally to support migrants trying to cross into England through the channel tunnel from France, near an entrance to the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone, on August 1, 2015France and Britain vowed Sunday that a cross-Channel migrant crisis was their "top priority" in a united front that belied simmering anger over an issue which has become a political hot potato. Beefed-up security has curbed the number of attempts by migrants in the port city of Calais trying to make it through an undersea tunnel to Britain, with only 400 bids Saturday night, a police source said, compared to 2,000 earlier in the week. Around 3,000 people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are camped in Calais waiting to smuggle themselves into Britain, and the costly crisis has strained ties across the Channel.

Pacific trade talks fail to clinch TPP deal

‎01 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎07:55:54 PMGo to full article
People pass an advertisement protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Washington, DC on July 23, 2015Delegates negotiating a vast Pacific free-trade agreement have failed to reach a final deal after several days of intense talks in Hawaii, dealing a setback to US President Barack Obama. The delay complicates his efforts this year to secure the historic accord, which risks becoming dragged into the 2016 presidential election debate. US Trade Representative Michael Froman, in a statement late Friday on behalf of the 12 countries involved in the talks on the island of Maui, insisted that significant progress had been made on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, the most ambitious trade deal in decades.

Kerry in Egypt on first leg of Mideast tour

‎01 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:43 PMGo to full article
US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Iran nuclear agreement in Washington, DC on July 28, 2015US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Egypt on Saturday to relaunch a strategic partnership with Washington's longtime ally, at the start of a regional mini-tour, a correspondent said. Kerry's trip, which ends on August 8, will not include Israel, one of Washington's closest allies and a fierce critic of the July 14 deal between the Islamic republic and world powers. During his stop in Cairo, Kerry will meet his counterpart Sameh Shoukri for a "strategic dialogue" between the allies, which have had a tumultuous relationship since Egypt's 2011 revolution.

Migrant bids to reach Britain fall as security tightened

‎01 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎06:57:52 PMGo to full article
A French gendarme films migrants trying to enter the Eurotunnel in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on July 31, 2015French police said Saturday around 300 migrants in Calais attempted to reach Britain via the Channel Tunnel overnight, a significant drop from previous nights after security in Calais was beefed up. On Thursday night, French authorities faced more than 1,000 attempts by migrants camped out in the port of Calais to reach the undersea tunnel.

Having made Olympic history, Beijing faces challenges

‎01 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:50:08 AMGo to full article
China's Vice Premier Liu Yandong, center, celebrates with Beijing Mayor and Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid President Wang Anshun, left, and Liu Peng, right, Minister of the General Administration of Sport of China, after Beijing was awarded the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, defeating Almaty in the final round of voting, at IOC meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, July 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, Pool)BEIJING (AP) — Having made history as the first city to win hosting rights for both the Summer and Winter Olympics, Beijing now faces a slew of challenges, from ensuring adequate snow in a bone-dry region to ramping up support for winter sports in a nation where few people ski or skate.

Pacific trade ministers fail to reach deal in Hawaii talks

‎01 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎07:06:56 AMGo to full article
Ministers from 12 nations negotiating a Pacific Rim trade pact hold a news conference in Lahaina, Hawaii, Friday, July 31, 2015, saying they made significant progress in reaching an agreement. The ministers, from left, are Australia Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb, Brunei Second Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Lim Jock Seng, Canada Minister of International Trade Ed Fast, Chile Director General of International Relations Andres Rebolledo, Japan Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Akira Amari, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, Malaysia Minister of International Trade and Industry Mustapa Mohamed, Mexico Secretary of the Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, New Zealand Minister of Trade Tim Groser, Peru Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism Magali Silva and Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Hng Kiang Lim. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Trade ministers from a dozen Pacific Rim nations failed to reach a deal on a new trade agreement that would cover nearly 40 percent of the global economy, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said Friday.

Kerry off to Mideast with Egypt, Iran deal, Syria on agenda

‎01 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎04:30:38 AMGo to full article
Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, after Kerry testified before the committee's hearing on the impacts of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on U.S. Interests and the Military Balance in the Middle East. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry departed for the Middle East on Friday for security talks in Egypt and discussions in Qatar with Arab foreign ministers whose countries are wary of the nuclear deal struck with Iran. He will not visit Israel, America's foremost Mideast ally and the primary foreign opponent of the Iran agreement.

Pacific trade ministers wrapping up talks at Hawaii resort

‎01 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎01:01:43 AMGo to full article
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Japan's Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Akira Amari pose during a group photo session during a break in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement in Lahaina, Hawaii on Thursday, July 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Ministers from a dozen Pacific Rim nations meeting at a Hawaii resort Friday were wrapping up four days of talks on a new trade agreement that would cover nearly 40 percent of the global economy.

Back to Beijing for 2nd Olympics in 14 years

‎31 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎04:11:26 PMGo to full article
China's Vice Premier Liu Yandong, second left, is greeted by Wang Anshun, left, Beijing mayor and president of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid, as other members of the delegation from Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics candidate city react after Beijing was elected to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games at IOC meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, July 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, Pool)KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Throughout more than 120 years of Olympic history, no city has hosted both the winter and summer games. Now, Beijing will be the first do it — and in the span of just 14 years.

Image of Asia: Crossing the river after monsoon flooding

‎31 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎03:28:15 PMGo to full article
Nepalese rescue team helps local people cross a river after a foot bridge was destroyed by floods in Thulakhet, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Kathmandu, Nepal, Friday, July 31, 2015. Landslides caused by heavy rains buried several mountain villages in Nepal on Thursday as bad weather hampers the search for others, authorities said. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)In this photo by Niranjan Shrestha, rescuers help residents cross a river after a foot bridge was destroyed by floods in Thulakhet, Nepal, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Kathmandu. Rescuers on Friday also were searching for more victims of landslides in mountain villages hit by heavy monsoon rains. Authorities counted at least 30 dead as of Thursday, and the searchers were looking for at least 11 others in one hard-hit village, Lumle. The seasonal monsoon brings heavy rains each year that cause flooding in Nepal's southern plains and landslides in the mountains.

Hungarian minister: over 100,000 migrants so far in 2015

‎31 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:46:54 PMGo to full article
A boy from Syria sits on a bench in a park in Kanjiza, close to the Serbian border with Hungary, Serbia, Friday, July 31, 2015. Hungary's foreign minister said Friday that over 100,000 illegal migrants have reached the country so far this year, nearly all of them entering through its southern border with Serbia. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — More than 100,000 migrants have reached Hungary so far this year, nearly all of them entering through its southern border with Serbia, the Hungarian foreign minister said Friday.

Reaction to Beijing's victory as 2022 Winter Olympic host

‎31 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:28:23 PMGo to full article
China's Vice Premier Liu Yandong, center, celebrates with Beijing Mayor and Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid President Wang Anshun, left, and Liu Peng, right, Minister of the General Administration of Sport of China after Beijing was awarded the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, defeating Almaty in the final round of voting, at IOC meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, July 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, Pool)KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Reaction Friday to the IOC's decision to pick Beijing as host city of the 2022 Olympics by a vote of 44 votes to 40 over Almaty, Kazakhstan:

Muted reaction in Almaty as Kazakh city's Olympic bid fails

‎31 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:27:53 PMGo to full article
A woman reacts as she watches the Olympic vote in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Friday, July 31, 2015. Beijing has been selected to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, becoming the first city awarded both the winter and summer games. Beijing defeated Almaty, Kazakhstan, in a vote of the International Olympic Committee on Friday. (AP Photo/ Pavel Mikheyev)ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — Within minutes of the announcement that Almaty's bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics had failed, it was almost as if it had never happened.

UK leader pledges to send help to France to control migrants

‎31 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:19:23 PMGo to full article
Migrants stand along a road leading to the Channel Tunnel, in Calais, northern France, Thursday, July 30, 2015. Undeterred by an influx of French riot police, a surveillance helicopter, or a ninth death this summer among the tens of thousands who attempt to cross the Channel, the migrants came in groups of a dozen or more. Men and women, some hiding their faces beneath bandannas, walked single file to sneak over a bent fence along the train tracks leading to the tunnel and ultimately to England. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister David Cameron offered Friday to send sniffer dogs and fencing to help control the surge in migrants trying to cross into Britain, pledging to work closely with French authorities to get a grip on the crisis.

French court confirms law aimed at ending cockfighting

‎31 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:59:50 PMGo to full article
In this photo dated Wednesday, July 29, 2015 cocks fight during a sparring session in St Anne, Reunion Island. France’s top court has ruled that a law aimed at extinction of cockfighting in some parts of France is constitutional. The Constitutional Council confirmed on Friday, July 31, 2015 that the creation of new cockfighting rings _called cockpit_ is banned. Cockfighting is legal only in regions where it’s considered as a deeply-rooted tradition, especially in northern France and overseas. (AP Photo/Fabrice Wislez)PARIS (AP) — France's top court has ruled that a law aimed at ending cockfighting in France is constitutional, rejecting an appeal by supporters of the tradition.

China down again, other Asian stocks mostly up after US data

‎31 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎06:01:51 AMGo to full article
This July 6, 2015 photo shows a Wall Street sign near the New York Stock Exchange. Most major global markets rose Thursday, July 30, 2015, after the U.S. Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged at a record low, corporate earnings mostly did better than expected and investors awaited U.S. economic growth figures. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — China's stock market extended its loss for a second day while other Asian stocks were mostly up Thursday after data showed the U.S. economy posted solid growth during the second quarter.

US spied on Japan government, companies: WikiLeaks

‎31 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:38:08 AMGo to full article
Senior members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government were targets of wiretapping by the US, according to documents released by WikiLeaksThe US spy agency targeted Japanese politicians, its top central banker and major firms for years, WikiLeaks said on Friday, in the latest revelations about Washington's snooping on allies. The intercepts exposing US National Security Agency activities follow other documents released by the whistleblower group that revealed spying on allies including Germany and France, straining relations. Japan is one of Washington's key allies in the Asia-Pacific region and they regularly consult on defence, economic and trade issues.

MLS attendance on rise with big-name international players

‎31 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:30:26 AMGo to full article
Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer, jokes with well-wishers during a news conference for the MLS Soccer All-Star game Monday, July 27, 2015, in Denver. The MLS all-star squad will face the Tottenham Hotspur Wednesday in the 20th annual mid-season classic for the league. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)DENVER (AP) — Kaka and David Villa are raising the profile of Major League Soccer. Clint Dempsey and the U.S. national teams have done their part, too.

UN adopts resolution to fight wildlife poaching

‎31 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:07:36 AMGo to full article
Staff members of the Kenya Wildlife Services do the inventory of illegal elephant ivory stockpiles in Nairobi on July 21, 2015The United Nations called on its member states Thursday to work harder in combatting poaching of endangered species such as elephants and rhinoceroses. The General Assembly resolution was the first of its kind but not legally binding. The assembly expressed concern over what it called a steady rise in the level of rhino poaching and alarmingly high levels of killings of elephants in Africa.

China accuses US of 'militarizing' South China Sea

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎11:13:15 PMGo to full article
BEIJING (AP) — China's Defense Ministry on Thursday accused the U.S. of militarizing the South China Sea as Beijing makes increasingly bold moves to assert its claim to virtually all of the sea's waters, islands and reefs.

When is a jackal not a jackal? When it's really a 'golden wolf'

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎11:02:51 PMGo to full article
A golden jackal is seen in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania in this undated handout pictureScientists said on Thursday a comprehensive genetic analysis found that these populations are made up of two entirely distinct species, with those in Africa different from the others. The scientific name for the golden jackal is Canis aureus. The researchers proposed renaming those in Africa Canis anthus, or the African golden wolf.

Platini kicks off political fight for future of FIFA

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎06:22:01 PMGo to full article
FILE - In this May 28, 2015 file picture, UEFA-President Michel Platini speaks during a news conference after a meeting of the European Soccer federation UEFA in Zurich, Switzerland. Michel Platini has launched his campaign to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president, aiming to give the scandal-hit governing body "the dignity and the position it deserves." Platini, the UEFA president and a FIFA vice president, wrote to member federations in Europe on Wednesday July 29, 2015 saying he will stand in the election and is counting on their support. (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP,file)GENEVA (AP) — Michel Platini hopes he made a decisive move early in the seven-month campaign to become FIFA president.

Grevin's first Asian museum waxes lyrical over K-pop

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎05:28:53 PMGo to full article
People take photos with a waxwork model of US President Barack Obama on the opening day of the first Asian outpost of France's famous waxwork museum, Musee Grevin, in Seoul on July 30, 2015Psy, Paris Hilton and Queen Elizabeth II all made it, but South Korean President Park Geun-Hye turned down her chance of immortality in the first Asian outpost of France's famous waxwork museum, Musee Grevin, that opened in Seoul Thursday. The new museum's focus is firmly on the world of entertainment and, in particular, stars of the "Hallyu" or "Korean Wave" of pop songs and TV melodramas that have become the country's most potent cultural export. As a result, waxworks of global icons like Michael Jackson and Madonna rub shoulders with the likes of actress Choi Ji-Woo -- star of one of the original Hallyu dramas "Winter Sonata" who enjoys a major fan following in Japan.

China says U.S. 'militarizing' South China Sea

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:05:52 PMGo to full article
Still file image from a United States Navy video purportedly shows Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly IslandsChina's Defence Ministry on Thursday accused the United States of "militarizing" the South China Sea by staging patrols and joint military drills there, ramping up the rhetoric ahead of a key regional security meeting in Malaysia next week. China has repeatedly urged Washington not to take sides in the escalating maritime dispute over the area, where the Asian giant last year stepped up its creation of artificial islands, alarming neighbors and provoking U.S. criticism. Washington has demanded China halt land reclamation and militarization of the disputed area and pursue a peaceful resolution according to international law.

Almaty 2022 Winter Olympic bid at a glance

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎06:06:36 AMGo to full article
Sochi 2014 figure skating bronze medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan addresses a press briefing the Almaty 2022 Olympics bid in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Malaysia is hosting the 128th International Olympic Committee executive board meeting where the vote for the host cities of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games and for the 2020 Youth Olympic Winter Games will take place. (AP Photo/Simon Yap)KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The International Olympic Committee will vote Friday on the host city for the 2022 Winter Games, choosing between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Fur trade a goldmine for China's Olympic bid city

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎05:49:51 AMGo to full article
Racoons look out from a cage at a farm that breeds animals for fur in Zhangjiakou, in China's Hebei province, on July 21, 2015China's proposed Winter Olympics co-host boasts pristine ski slopes carpeted with artificial snow, but the city once dubbed the country's "fur capital" is also home to tens of thousands of caged rabbits and mink bred for their skins. The Chinese bid, the favourite to win the right to host the 2022 games on Friday, combines ice sports in Beijing with skiing events in Zhangjiakou, some 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of the capital.

U.S. says Europeans could help more in South China Sea dispute

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:31:10 AMGo to full article
By David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a rare admonishment of a close ally, the United States urged the European Union on Wednesday to speak out more forcefully to support Washington in its dispute with China over building and militarization of man-made outposts in the South China Sea. Amy Searight, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia, said Washington welcomed EU calls for a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes in the sea and respect for international law. "It would be helpful if the EU would be a little more clear in terms of backing up these principles," she told a discussion on U.S. and EU policies toward East Asia at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Afghanistan says Taliban leader dead, urges peace talks

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎12:52:36 AMGo to full article
National Counterterrorism Center image of Mullah OmarBy Mirwais Harooni and Jessica Donati KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan said on Wednesday that Mullah Omar, the elusive leader of the Taliban movement fighting to topple the government, died more than two years ago. The announcement came a day or so before a second round of peace talks had been tentatively scheduled, and news of the fate of the one-eyed Omar could deepen Taliban divisions over whether to pursue negotiations with Kabul and who should replace him. Omar had not been seen in public since fleeing when the Taliban was toppled from power by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001, and there has been speculation for years among militant circles that he was either incapacitated or had died.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar is dead, Afghanistan says

‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎08:42:08 PMGo to full article
Afghan soldiers keep watch near the rubble of the house belonging to Mullah Omar close to the mosque where he founded the Taliban movement 20 years ago in the village of Sangesar, on December 11, 2014Taliban supremo Mullah Omar died two years ago in Pakistan, Afghanistan said on Wednesday, after unnamed government and militant sources reported the demise of the reclusive warrior-cleric. The insurgents have not officially confirmed the death of their spiritual leader, who has not been seen publicly since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban government in Kabul. Rumours of Omar's ill-health and even death have regularly surfaced in the past, but the latest claims -- just two days before fresh peace talks with the insurgents -- mark the first such confirmation from the Afghan government.

Two held for killing five elephants in Kenyan reserve

‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎07:08:08 PMGo to full article
Elephants socialise near a watering hole at the Tsavo National Park on July 20, 2011Two suspected poachers have been arrested in Kenya over the killing of five elephants in Tsavo National Park, wildlife authorities said Wednesday. The Kenya Wildlife Service said a major manhunt was in progress to catch the rest of the poaching gang following the discovery of the bodies of a female adult and four young adult elephants, all with their tusks missing. The killings took place in Tsavo West National Park, which borders Tanzania.

For dating apps in Asia, love by numbers or chaperone

‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎04:45:57 PMGo to full article
Move over Tinder -- a crop of dating apps in smartphone-addicted Asia is offering to recruit friends for group dates or send along a chaperone to steer the course of romanceMove over Tinder -- a crop of dating apps in smartphone-addicted Asia is offering to recruit friends for group dates or send along a chaperone to steer the course of romance. While dating apps developed in the West encourage one-on-one, often no-strings-attached meetings, many in Asia are as much about old-school courtship or friendship in a region where meeting a stranger in a bar can still be a taboo. You couldn't go on dates if your parents didn't know the guy," said Valenice Balace, who developed the Peekawoo service in the Philippines two years ago.

Cameron on landmark first visit to Vietnam

‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎04:16:24 PMGo to full article
Prime Minister David Cameron (right) and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung review an honour guard during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Hanoi on July 29, 2015David Cameron hailed rapidly growing trade with Vietnam Wednesday during the first visit by a British Prime Minister to the communist country, as a number of key business deals were signed. Bilateral trade between the two countries has doubled in the last three years, but it still represents just 0.5 percent of the UK's total global trade, Cameron said in Hanoi. "That indicated the enormous opportunity that there is... we believe there is much more to come," he said, at a press briefing after talks with Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

2 Indians among recipients of 2015 Magsaysay Award

‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎03:15:51 PMGo to full article
Indian anti-corruption campaigner Sanjiv Chaturvedi, talks to reporters at his residence after his name was announced among this year's recipients of the Philippines' Ramon Magsaysay Award, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, July 29, 2015. The award foundation announced Wednesday that Chaturvedi, 40, who began investigating and blowing the whistle on government anomalies as a forest service officer in 2005, had won the award for emergent leadership for his "exemplary integrity, courage and tenacity" in exposing government corruption. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)MANILA, Philippines (AP) — An Indian anti-corruption campaigner and a fellow countryman who recycles clothes for the poor are among this year's recipients of the Philippines' Ramon Magsaysay Award, often regarded as Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Image of Asia: Welcoming Turkey's president to Beijing

‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎03:07:58 PMGo to full article
A child plays with Chinese and Turkish national flags before a welcome ceremony for Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Wednesday, July 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)In this photo by Ng Han Guan, a child plays with Chinese and Turkish national flags before a welcome ceremony for Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. About two dozen children waved the flags and hoisted flowers when Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping passed them after inspecting an honor guard. Following the formal welcoming ceremony that included a 21-gun salute and marching band, the two leaders met for more than two hours. Erdogan's visit comes amid tensions over China's treatment of its Uighur minority and sensitive negotiations surrounding the possible purchase of a Chinese missile system.

China says to fight terror, people smuggling with Turkey

‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:35:18 PMGo to full article
By Ben Blanchard BEIJING (Reuters) - The leaders of China and Turkey agreed on Wednesday to strengthen cooperation in fighting terror and people smuggling, a senior Chinese diplomat said, following friction between the two over Uighurs from China's Xinjiang who have fled to Turkey. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority that calls Xinjiang home, have left China in recent years, traveling to Turkey via Southeast Asia, having first illegally crossed the Chinese border. Hundreds of people have died in unrest in Xinjiang in the last three years, blamed by Beijing on Islamist militants.

Global stocks rise ahead of Fed, keep wary eye on China

‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎10:25:25 AMGo to full article
TOKYO (AP) — Global stock markets rose Wednesday as Chinese shares rebounded after a record sell-off and attention turned to a Federal Reserve meeting that might give clues about the timing of a U.S. interest rate hike.

Japan-based advertising firm wins Olympic TV rights in Asia

‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:54:10 AMGo to full article
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The International Olympic Committee has awarded exclusive Olympic broadcast rights in 22 Asia-Pacific countries to Japan-based advertising agency Dentsu Inc.

Turkey's Erdogan heads for China for talks amid Uighur strains

‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:29:56 AMGo to full article
Uighur women pray during a demonstration outside the Chinese embassy in Ankara on July 9, 2015Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan headed for China on Wednesday after securing NATO's backing for Ankara's fight against Islamic State militants, but facing tensions with Beijing over China's mostly Muslim Uighur minority. Ankara is expanding a cross-border campaign against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, and also attacking positions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq after deadly attacks inside Turkey.

Can we save forests and produce palm oil? Scientists seek answer

‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:10:48 AMGo to full article
By Megan Rowling BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Despite promises by many big companies that produce, trade and use palm oil to clean up their supply chains, complaints are still pouring in over the conversion of forests into plantations from West Africa to Southeast Asia, experts say. A fledgling effort to balance forest protection and oil palm production aims to ease those tensions by enabling companies to meet growing demand for the cheap, edible oil, while ensuring villagers can feed their families and curbing climate-changing emissions from deforestation at the same time. Led by an independent team of 50 scientists, a draft version of the "High Carbon Stock Study" - commissioned by a group of Asian oil palm growers, agribusiness giant Cargill and consumer goods firm Unilever - was released last month for consultation.

Warplanes attack air base near Yemen's Aden

‎28 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎06:43:20 PMGo to full article
By Mohammed Ghobari and Mohammed Mukhashef SANAA/ADEN (Reuters) - Warplanes attacked Houthi militia in control of Yemen's largest air base north of Aden on Tuesday, seeking to expand territorial gains made by Saudi-led coalition forces since they captured the southern port city last week. Witnesses said big explosions were heard at the al-Anad base, 50 km (30 miles) from Aden, which has been held by the Iranian-allied Houthi movement for much of a fourth-month-old civil war and commands the approaches to Aden. A Saudi-led Arab coalition allied with southern secessionist fighters retook much of Aden last week in the first significant ground victory in their campaign to end Houthi control over much of Yemen and restore exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

AP Sources: Michel Platini will run for FIFA president

‎28 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎04:47:14 PMGo to full article
UEFA President Michel Platini watches the preliminary draw for the 2018 soccer World Cup in Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, July 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Ivan SekretarevGENEVA (AP) — Michel Platini will run for FIFA president and plans to announce his intentions this week.


Channel NewsAsia 



At least 12 killed as Syrian jet crashes into market

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:50:20 AMGo to full article
BEIRUT: At least 12 people were killed when a Syrian army fighter jet crashed into a busy market place in the rebel-held northwestern town of Ariha on Monday, a monitor said.

Most of the dead were civilians on the ground in the town in Idlib province, which fell to a coalition of Islamist insurgents in May, according to the UK-based Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks violence across Syria.

Scores were also injured, it said. There was no immediate reaction from the Syrian army.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

- Reuters


Italy arrests fugitive Mafia godfather's henchmen

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:47:24 AMGo to full article
ROME: Italian police on Monday (Aug 3) arrested 11 suspects linked to the fugitive head of the Sicilian Mafia, including a former boss who ran a secret message system for the mobster using a sheep-based code.

Matteo Messina Denaro, 53, who has been on the run since 1993, used a farm in Mazara del Vallo to communicate with his henchmen via the aged-old method of "pizzini", paper containing messages often written in cipher, police said.

Among those arrested was former boss Vito Gondola, 77, whose job it was to call the clan members to alert them to each new message, which was placed under a rock in a field at the farm and often destroyed on the spot after reading.

"I've put the ricotta cheese aside for you, will you come by later?" he would say on the telephone - a phrase investigators said had nothing to do with dairy products.

"The sheep need shearing ... the shears need sharpening" and "the hay is ready", were among other code phrases used to alert the gang to a new message hidden in the dirt.

The police investigation, which followed the passing of messages between 2011 and 2014, used hidden cameras and microphones around the farm near Trapani in western Sicily to follow the movements of the clan -- and discover Denaro's fading glory.

Gondola is caught in one conversation telling another mobster that Denaro - once a trigger man who reportedly boasted he could "fill a cemetery" with his victims -- was losing control over the latest generation of criminals, who "disappear without saying anything".

Three of those arrested were more than 70 years old.

The only known photos of Denaro date back to the early 1990s. He is believed to be the successor of the godfathers Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano, who are both serving life sentences, but less is known about him.

The 11 suspects arrested "were the men who were closest to Denaro right now," said police official Renato Cortese, adding that it was "too early to say" whether the sting would help investigators close in on the fugitive.

- AFP/ek


China seeks hearts and minds with Tibetan resettlements

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:45:39 AMGo to full article
NGABA, China: Nineteen-year-old Longsel Tsondre sees nothing romantic about the itinerant life his Tibetan herder family left behind when the government in his remote corner of southwestern China offered to resettle them a few years ago.

"It was pretty tough out there. There was no development and we were quite poor," he told reporters on a rare government-organised trip to Ngaba, a heavily Tibetan part of Sichuan province traditionally strongly defiant of Chinese rule.

A Tibetan herdsman rests at her tent in Aba Tibetan and Quango Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, August 1, 2015. REUTERS/Natalie Thomas

"Now it's better. We don't go to the mountains to herd the yaks and horses. Now we dance every day," he said, after performing a Tibetan dance for a bus-load of Chinese tourists.

It's a positive image China wants the world to see, one aspect of a controversial programme to resettle into permanent homes Tibetan herders who have wandered these parts for centuries.

China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since troops took over the region in 1950, and those controls often extend to ethnic Tibetan areas in other parts of China.

The government rejects criticism that it has repressed Tibetan religious freedom and culture, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.

The government says resettlement gives herders access to health care and schooling and lets them benefit from China's booming economy by offering new job opportunities, like working in tourism.

Ngaba, known as Aba in Chinese, erupted in a wave of anti-China self-immolation protests in 2011, becoming one of the most serious challenges against Chinese rule in years.

While not officially off limits to foreign reporters, unlike what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region, where all reporting trips need government permission, visits are very difficult due to tight security.

Late last week, the government took a small group of foreign journalists to Ngaba, arranging interviews with officials and resettled herders, though all in the presence of government minders.


None of the herders spoke out against the resettlement programme during interviews with reporters. Shuke Sonam, 27, whose family now runs a guest house, said Tibetans living in tents previously would often be soaked by rain.

"Now we have such nice houses, and because we're taking in guests from other places, it's improved our awareness about life," she said.

Bai Yingchun, deputy head of the Ngaba prefecture's propaganda office, said "absolutely nothing was forced" in the resettlement programme.

"The lives of the herders in the Tibetan areas are very free. It's not like what the outside world says," he said. "They don't have any restrictions at all."

Activists have expressed concern that China's main aim with such programmes is to control a restive population, and that Tibetans have been given little option but to cooperate.

"It's much easier to enforce administrative control over settled communities than over nomads in the grasslands, and also the Chinese authorities have aligned the policy with specific political objectives of eliminating separatism and eliminating expressions of Tibetan nationalism," said Kate Saunders, spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet.

Officials stuck to the government line in criticising the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, whom China regards as a dangerous separatist. The Dalai Lama denies espousing violence and says he only wants genuine autonomy for Tibet.

Chen Weide, deputy head of the Sichuan external publicity office, said Tibetans were allowed to freely practise their religion. But when asked about the Dalai Lama, he said: "He wants to split up China, that's not allowed.

"You can have religious beliefs and that's fine but the Dalai Lama does not represent religion."

Robbie Barnett, director of modern Tibet studies at Columbia University, said it was misguided policies like banning worship of the Dalai Lama which negated any support the government may get from improving services like education for Tibetans.

"It does seem in a general way that the (Communist) Party has put support of Tibetans from all social areas in jeopardy with the number of policies that have been seen as remarkably culturally insensitive."

(Additional reporting and writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Nick Macfie)

- Reuters


HSBC sees China economy growing seven percent this year despite sell-off

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:40:17 AMGo to full article
LONDON: HSBC said it still expected China's economy to grow by about 7 percent this year despite the country's recent stock market sell-off, which it said would have a limited impact on its revenues.

"We're still reasonably confident that Chinese economic growth will be at the numbers we thought previously," said HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver. "While we probably haven't fully seen the impact of bad debts from the sell-off in the stock market ... we're still very much looking for 7 percent or 7.1 percent GDP growth this year for China."

HSBC reported a jump in wealth management and equities revenues in the first half of this year, helped by a boom in Hong Kong. Gulliver said those area could have a more muted performance in the third quarter due to the China stock market sell-off, but he said the impact would be limited.

(Reporting by Steve Slater, editing by Sinead Cruise)

- Reuters


Turkey's main opposition accuses Erdogan of blocking coalition efforts

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:35:30 AMGo to full article
ISTANBUL: Turkey's main opposition leader has accused President Tayyip Erdogan of blocking efforts to form a coalition government and warned him against taking the country to new elections through "blood politics" by reopening conflict with Kurdish militants.

The ruling AK Party, founded by Erdogan, holds its final day of initial talks with the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP) on Monday as it tries to find a junior coalition partner after losing its parliamentary majority in a June election.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a joint media briefing with Indonesia's President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia July 31, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

The domestic uncertainty comes as Turkey carries out air strikes against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camps in northern Iraq and Islamic State fighters in Syria, in what the government has called a "synchronised fight against terror".

"I say this with all sincerity: Prime Minister (Ahmet) Davutoglu really is willing to sit down and form a coalition and save the country from its problems," CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu told Haberturk TV late on Sunday.

"But the person sitting in the post of presidency is not allowing it," he told the Turkish broadcaster in an interview.

Erdogan's opponents accuse him of launching military action against the PKK to rally nationalist support and undermine the pro-Kurdish opposition, whose strong showing in the June election helped deprive the AKP of its majority.

The government says the campaign against the PKK, which has left a peace process on the brink of collapse, was launched in response to a series of killings of military and police officers blamed on the Kurdish militants.

"The biggest reason why the peace process is derailed is Erdogan. He has openly objected to it," Kilicdaroglu said. "If there is an aim to take the country to elections through blood politics, that would be extremely costly."

The June election prevented the AKP from being able to govern alone for the first time since it came to power, plunging Turkey into political uncertainty not seen since the fragile coalition governments of the 1990s. Parties have until Aug. 23 to agree a working coalition or face a new election.

Erdogan has made little secret of his preference for single-party rule. Opponents say he wants another election to enable the AKP to win enough of a majority to change the constitution and grant him greater powers as an executive president.

Speaking to journalists travelling with him on a trip to Asia last week, Erdogan warned of what he saw as the dangers of fragile coalitions and extolled the virtues of single-party rule.

Four Turkish soldiers were killed and dozens were wounded in separate PKK attacks over the weekend in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast as violence escalated.

(Additional reporting by Ercan Gurses; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Andrew Heavens)

- Reuters


China and Asia on shaky ground as factories step back in July

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:35:24 AMGo to full article
SYDNEY: Headwinds for the world's second-biggest economy intensified at the start of the third quarter, with manufacturing conditions in China deteriorating to their worst in two years in July and triggering fresh slides in global commodity prices.

Similar business activity surveys for Taiwan, South Korea and Indonesia - all heavily reliant on Chinese demand - reflected varying degrees of weakness that is clouding hopes for a convincing global recovery in the second half of the year.

A man watches a board showing stock prices at a brokerage office in Beijing, China, July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

With Greece's latest debt squeeze resolved, for now, investors' focus will shift back to sluggish European growth and whether the U.S. economy has healed enough to withstand its first expected increase in interest rates since 2006.

As emerging economies appeared on track to post their smallest share of global growth in years, the hope is for continued recovery in the United States and Britain. Manufacturing surveys for both countries, along with Europe, are due later in the day.

Both U.S. and UK data in recent weeks has been mixed, adding to doubts about whether they are on a sounder and sustainable footing.

"We believe the macro environment remains challenging for emerging market assets amid headwinds of low commodity prices, concerns over China and a looming Fed tightening cycle," Barclays strategists wrote in a daily note in clients.

China's factory activity shrank more than initially estimated in July as new orders fell, dashing hopes that the world's second-largest economy may be steadying, a private survey showed on Monday.

The final Caixin/Markit China Manufacturing PMI came in at 47.8 in July, from 49.4 in June, sinking deeper below the 50-mark that divides growth from contraction.

A similar official factory survey at the weekend was also weaker than expected, suggesting growth had stalled.

Both indicators signaled a slowdown in factory activity at a time when Beijing has been intervening heavily to prevent a full-blown crash in the country's stock markets.

"My view is that they are distorted numbers due to the stock market panic. If that's the case, it's a transitory dip and given the amount of stimulus that has been put in place, we should expect a bounce back in the August numbers," said ING economist Tim Condon.

"But the economy can hardly afford much of a headwind, so probably it brings forward the timing of when people expect the next (policy) move from the authorities."

China's central bank has already cut interest rates four times since November and repeatedly loosened restrictions on bank lending in its most aggressive stimulus campaign since the global financial crisis.

Analysts at Nomura expect another 50-basis-point cut in banks' reserve ratio and one more quarter-point easing in interest rates, likely in August.

Yet, a senior Chinese central bank official predicted that downward pressure on the economy will persist in the second half of the year, saying growth in infrastructure spending and exports were unlikely to pick up.

The frosty state of China saw South Korean exports fall for a seventh month in July, while economic growth in Taiwan cooled to its slowest in three years in the second quarter.

China's slowdown is also forcing Western companies to take a hard look at their businesses, leading many to reduce investments, costs and product lines.

"In terms of external demand, loose monetary conditions and lower energy prices should support a pick-up in global activity in the coming quarters," Krystal Tan, Asian economist at Capital Economics wrote in a report.

"However, the pace of recovery is likely to be gradual, suggesting a strong rebound in Asia's export performance is still some way away."

Providing a bit of relief, manufacturing activity in Japan and India both picked up in July thanks to new orders, though analysts questioned if the momentum can be sustained.

Japan's Manufacturing PMI climbed to a five-month high of 51.2, from 50.1, while India's Manufacturing PMI rose to a six-month high of 52.7, from 51.3.

"While this is a generally positive set of data, upcoming PMI data releases will indicate whether the manufacturing sector can sustain this momentum," said Pollyanna De Lima, economist at Markit and author of the Indian PMI survey.

(Editing by Kim Coghill)

- Reuters


General Atlantic to take stake in HERE mapping business: source

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:35:16 AMGo to full article
FRANKFURT: Buyout group General Atlantic is set to take a stake in mapping business HERE later this year, which a consortium of German premium carmakers has agreed to buy from Nokia , a person familiar with the transaction said on Monday.

The exact size of the stake has not yet been determined, the source said, adding that contracts on the sale of a HERE stake to the investor would be finalised in the coming weeks.

Sources have said in the past that General Atlantic could take a 30 percent stake in HERE, but it remains unclear whether General Atlantic's stake will end up around that size.

(Reporting by Arno Schuetze; Editing by Maria Sheahan)

- Reuters


Greek banks stocks dive on stock market open

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:23:04 AMGo to full article
ATHENS: Shares in Greece's two biggest lenders National and Piraeus dived on Greek stock market open on Monday, following a five-week shutdown of the market.

At 0739 GMT (3:39 a.m. EDT), National Bank and Piraeus Bank dived 30 percent, reaching their daily volatility limits, and were among the top losers on the Athens Stock Exchange .

A security officer stands at the entrance to the Athens' stock exchange , Greece July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Alpha Bank and Eurobank were also down 29.9 percent each.

Athens bourse has been shut since June 26 as part of capital controls imposed to ward of a collapse of Greece's banking system and keep the country in the euro.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou)

- Reuters


German carmakers buy Nokia maps to fend off digital rivals

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:20:21 AMGo to full article
FRANKFURT/HELSINKI: German carmakers BMW , Audi and Mercedes , will pay around 2.5 billion euros (US$2.75 billion) to buy Nokia's maps business, a transformational deal that will help them to develop self-driving cars.

Daimler BMW and Audi will each hold an equal stake in the business, known as HERE, keeping it from falling into the hands of a new rivals which are emerging from Silicon Valley.

A view of Nokia's annual general meeting in Helsinki, Finland, on May 5th, 2015. REUTERS/LEHTIKUVA/Roni Rekomaa

The premium carmakers agreed to pay 2.5 billion euros. The deal has an enterprise value of 2.8 billion euros, including liabilities worth nearly 300 million euros, Nokia said. The transaction is likely to close in the first quarter of 2016.

BMW, Audi and Daimler, which invented the modern motorcar in 1886, want to own the customer relationships that otherwise could shift to challengers such as Uber , Google or Apple .

"With the joint acquisition of HERE, we want to secure the independence of this central service for all vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and customers in other industries," Daimler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche said.

Intelligent mapping systems like HERE's form the basis on which self-driving cars linked to wireless networks can perform functions such as recalculating a route if data about a traffic jam or an accident is transmitted to the car.

In the future, such mapping systems will have a role to play in collision detection and other features of self-driving cars.


HERE is the leading supplier of high-resolution digital maps for most of the world's top automakers and also supplies Internet customers including Amazon , Yahoo and Baidu .

It competes with Google and also with Dutch navigation firm TomTom .

Created via Nokia's US$8.1 billion acquisition of Navteq in 2008, HERE at first aimed to create new consumer services for mobile phone users, but has switched course to focus on automakers, which now account for a majority of sales.

Nokia, which subsequently wrote down the value of HERE to around 2 billion euros, said it expected to book a gain on the sale to the automakers, including cumulative foreign exchange translation differences, of around 1 billion euros.

Mikko Ervasti, analyst at brokerage Evli said the price was perhaps a bit lower than what some had speculated and could be seen as a "slight disappointment".

Shares in Nokia slid 0.9 percent in early trading. TomTom shares rose more than 5 percent.

Operating systems for self-driving vehicles, as well as services associated with autonomous driving such as car-sharing, recharging and parking services, may become money-spinners for carmakers evolving beyond manufacturing.

Self-driving and connected car services could become a US$50 billion market, analysts at Exane BNP Paribas have estimated.

Andreas Tschiesner, head of McKinsey's automotive practice in Germany, said: "The automotive industry is facing a big disruption through connectivity and connected driving technologies. These features will become an important source of differentiation."

Nokia is shedding the maps business to help it focus on integrating its 15.6 billion-euro purchase of Alcatel Lucent , a deal that will create the world's second largest network equipment maker.

(Writing by Eric Auchard in Frankfurt; Additional reporting by Jussi Rosendahl in Helsinki and Leila Abboud in Paris. Editing by Jane Merriman)

- Reuters


Greek stock market opens 23 percent down after five-week shutdown

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:00:16 AMGo to full article
ATHENS: Greece's stock market fell sharply on Monday after being shut down for five weeks under capital controls imposed by the government in Athens to stop a flight of euros from the country.

The main index was down nearly 23 percent in early trading. National Bank of Greece , the country's largest commercial bank, was down 30 percent, the daily limit.

A security officer stands at the entrance to the Athens' stock exchange , Greece July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The overall banking index was also down its limit.

The bourse was last open for trading on June 26.

(Reporting by Jeremy Gaunt Editing by Michele Kambas)

- Reuters


Kerry seeks to convince Gulf Arabs on Iran deal

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎09:55:23 AMGo to full article
DOHA: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began talks with Gulf states in Qatar on Monday, seeking to convince them of the merits of last month's nuclear deal with Iran and to discuss the battle against Islamic State militants and the war in Syria.

Most Gulf Arab states are worried that Iran's July 14 accord with the United States and other powers will hasten detente between Tehran and Washington and embolden Tehran to support paramilitary allies in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference after a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo August 2, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool

Last month, world powers agreed to lift sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on a nuclear programme the West suspects was aimed at creating an atomic bomb, but which Tehran says is peaceful.

Speaking in Egypt on Sunday, Kerry said the United States had labelled Iran the world's number-one state sponsor of terror, but this was precisely why it was so important to ensure Tehran did not obtain a nuclear weapon.

"There can be absolutely no question that if the Vienna plan is fully implemented, it will make Egypt and all the countries of this region safer than they otherwise would be or were," he said, adding that he would discuss ways to ensure the future security of the region in Doha.

In Doha, Kerry will meet members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which groups Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.

He will also hold a trilateral meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, which U.S. officials say will focus on the war in Syria.

Russia has been trying to bring about rapprochement between the Syrian government and regional states including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to forge an alliance to fight Islamic State.

Kerry said last month that with Lavrov he planned to discuss combating Islamic State militants and the role Iran could play.

U.S. officials say Kerry's diplomatic outreach in Doha is a follow up to a summit with Gulf Arab leaders called by President Barack Obama at Camp David in May, which was snubbed by the leaders of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

At that meeting Obama responded to anxieties among Gulf states about the nuclear deal with Iran by vowing to back them against any "external attack" and pledging that the United States would consider using military force to defend them.

Obama stopped short of offering a formal defence treaty that some Gulf countries had sought. Instead he announced more modest measures, including integrating ballistic missile defence systems and beefing up cyber and maritime security.

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department approved the sale of 600 Patriot anti-missile missiles to Saudi Arabia at an expected cost of US$5.4 billion as well as US$500 million worth of ammunition for various weapons systems.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Heavens)

- Reuters


HSBC beats forecasts as Hong Kong drives 10 percent rise in first-half profit

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎09:45:23 AMGo to full article
HONG KONG: HSBC Holdings beat expectations with a 10 percent rise in first-half profit on Monday, driven by a strong performance in Hong Kong, and said it had agreed the sale of its unprofitable Brazilian unit.

It said it had agreed to sell Banco Bradesco SA , Brazil's second-biggest private-sector bank, for a higher than expected 17.6 billion reais (US$5.2 billion), as it seeks to cut underperforming businesses.

A Swiss International aircraft flies past the HSBC headquarters building in the Canary Wharf financial district in east London in this February 15, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Files

Europe's biggest bank said pretax profits in the first six months of the year were US$13.6 billion, up from US$12.3 billion a year earlier and well above analysts' average forecast of US$12.5 billion according to a poll conducted by the bank.

Profits were driven by an investing frenzy in Hong Kong among individual customers amid China's soaring markets earlier in the year, the bank said.

HSBC has become increasingly reliant on Hong Kong for profits as its businesses in Europe, the United States and other emerging markets slow, and has said it is considering moving its headquarters back to the former British colony.

The market turmoil in China in recent weeks, however, could mean a gloomier outlook for the second half for HSBC.

The bank said its performance in July was "satisfactory", but Chairman Douglas Flint said the banking environment remained "challenging" and the economic environment was particularly uncertain in China and the euro zone.

China's stock markets have been a boon for the lender, driving profits for the bank's broking business in Hong Kong via the Stock Connect trading link with Shanghai as mainland shares soared prior to their June crash.

"HSBC's wealth management revenues in Hong Kong from equities, mutual funds and asset management increased significantly," Flint said.

Ian Gordon, analyst at Investec Securities in London, said the bank was unlikely to maintain that growth in the next few quarters.

"The bank's profits benefited from the boost from Stock Connect before the market turned, so I wouldn't extrapolate the same level of performance into the third quarter and beyond," he said.

Asia now accounts for two-thirds of HSBC's profits, and Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver has pinned the lender's fortunes on a 'pivot' to the region and its fast-growing economies.

HSBC is speeding up a cull of unprofitable units and countries by cutting almost 50,000 jobs - half of them from selling businesses in Brazil and Turkey.

It is close to selling its loss-making Turkish business to Dutch lender ING Group for around US$700-US$750 million, sources have told Reuters.


HSBC also said it had increased to US$1.3 billion from US$550 million the sum set aside to cover costs from various regulatory probes into banks' rigging of foreign exchange markets worldwide.

The lender's shares were unchanged in Hong Kong on Monday early afternoon, against a 1 percent drop in the city's benchmark Hang Seng index .

HSBC said its investment bank had a good start to the year, led by growth in equities and a 21 percent rise in foreign exchange trading revenues.

Gulliver said the bank had cut assets by US$50 billion on a risk-adjusted basis in the first half of the year, mostly in the investment bank, as part of its plan to shrink the business. It said US$30 billion of assets were redeployed in higher returning areas.

That helped lift its core capital ratio to 11.6 percent from 11.1 percent a year ago, which analysts said could help lift its future dividend payouts.

Cutting costs remains a challenge, however, and costs rose 7 percent from a year ago, which the bank said was due to high regulatory and compliance costs and spending to grow revenues. HSBC said it added more than 2,200 compliance staff in the first half alone.

(Additional reporting By Steve Slater in London; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Susan Fenton)

- Reuters


Greece to extend stock short-selling ban: regulatory source

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎09:45:17 AMGo to full article
ATHENS: Greece will extend a short-selling ban on stocks that went into effect when capital controls were imposed on June 29 and expires on Monday, a source at the country's securities regulator told Reuters.

"There will be an extension of the full ban on short-selling," the official said, declining to be named. " A decision will be announced later on Monday."

Trading on the Athens bourse was suspended in late June as part of capital controls imposed to stem a debilitating outflow of euros that threatened to collapse Greece's banks and hurl the indebted country out of the euro zone.

The stock market will open for trade at 0730 GMT (3:30 a.m. EDT)on Monday after a five week shutdown.

(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

- Reuters


Israel approves jailing Jewish militants without trial to resolve lethal arson

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎09:30:29 AMGo to full article
(This August 2 story has been corrected in paragraph 10 to change number of Palestinians held in detention to 391 as of May)

By Dan Williams

Student protesters carry a sign that reads "They killed the toddler" during a protest at the University of Jordan in Amman August 2, 2015, to condemn Friday's arson attack in the West Bank. REUTERS/Majed Jaber

JERUSALEM: Israel's security cabinet approved on Sunday the detention of citizens suspected of waging violence against Palestinians without trial in a crackdown aimed at capturing the perpetrators of a lethal West Bank arson attack blamed on Jewish militants.

The extension to Israelis of so-called "administrative detention", a practice commonly applied to Palestinian militant suspects and condemned internationally, laid bare authorities' frustration at failing to curb Jewish ultra-nationalist attacks.

Friday's torching of a Palestinian home killed a toddler and seriously injured his parents and brother, causing an outcry abroad and vows by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to crack down on what he deemed "terrorism" by "criminals in our nation".

There was no claim of responsibility for the arson at Duma village, in the occupied West Bank. Graffiti in Hebrew reading "revenge" daubed at the site was consistent with past vandalism and other hate crimes by bands of young Jewish zealots targeting Arabs, Christians, peace activists or Israeli army property.

With no arrests yet made for the arson, some Israeli commentators on Sunday questioned the resolve of security services which, when responding to Palestinian attacks, often round up suspects en masse as part of accelerated investigations.

Such detainees are sometimes held without trial for months, a measure Israel says is required to prevent further violence in the absence of sufficient evidence to prosecute, or where going to court would risk exposing the identity of secret informants.

Netanyahu's security cabinet, comprised of senior ministers, decided to extend such arrests to Israelis as well "to take all steps necessary to bring those responsible to justice and prevent such attacks from occurring in the future," a statement said.

It said the methods approved included "the use of administrative detentions in appropriate cases," with the approval of the state attorney general.

The cabinet called the arson "a terror attack in every respect" adding that security officials had been ordered "to take all steps necessary to bring those responsible to justice and prevent a recurrence of such attacks in the future."

According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, 391 Palestinians were in detention without trial as of May.

The measure, which foreign critics see as a blow to due process of the law, has rarely been used against Israeli citizens.

"To the best of my knowledge, there have been no instances of Israelis being held in administrative detention in recent years," said B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli.

Israeli officials say the Jewish zealots elude discovery by operating in small networks that are hard for informants to penetrate, avoiding electronic communications that might be monitored, and clamming up when detained for interrogation.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Janet Lawrence and Digby Lidstone)

- Reuters


Greek blue chip stock index futures open down 15.2 percent

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎09:30:21 AMGo to full article
ATHENS: Greek blue-chip stock index futures opened sharply down on Monday ahead of the stock market's open, with the nearest contract expiring on August 21 down 18 percent at 202 points, after falling 15.2 percent on the first trade.

The stock market will open for trade at 0730 GMT (3:30 a.m. EDT) on Monday after a five week shutdown.

Trading on the Athens bourse was suspended in late June as part of capital controls imposed to stem a debilitating outflow of euros that threatened to collapse Greece's banks and hurl the indebted country out of the euro zone.

(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos)

- Reuters


Western companies look hard at China as growth slows

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎08:25:28 AMGo to full article
LONDON: The Chinese slowdown is forcing many Western companies to take a hard look at their businesses there, leading many to reduce investments, costs and product lines and to tackle increasing bad debts.

Double digit growth rates during the first decade of the millennium lured scores of Western companies to invest heavily in China. But in recent years growth has slowed sharply, hitting demand and raising doubts about the financial health of Chinese companies.

Dumex milk powder products of Danone are seen on display on shelves at a supermarket in Beijing, February 17, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

A recent equities market rout has dashed hopes China will, in the coming years, return to the robust growth it saw in the past.

“We had five fabulous years in China, of course, where we grew strong double-digit, and it has been gradually slowing down. Currently, in China we had negative order intake,” said Frans van Houten, chief executive of Dutch electronics group Philips NV , on a call with analysts on Monday.

“Going forward, we need to be much more modest on expectations with regard to China growth; that's just being realistic,” he said.

The size of China’s economy means executives are not talking about withdrawing from the market but they say business cannot continue as normal.

“I'm optimistic long-term and medium-term that China will come back. Short-term, we need to manage through the drought that we see,” said Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of Swiss-based industrial conglomerate ABB .

ABB is carefully managing costs and working hard to convince customers its products offer value despite premium prices. Stuart Rowley, vice president at Ford Motor Company , said his company had responded to the softening market by cutting production.

Such actions have knock-on impacts on suppliers, which are also often Western. French auto components group Valeo said slackening demand from Chinese car factories was forcing it to review its growth plans.

“We see the growth rate slowing down. And in the summertime, some of our customers are extending their summer holidays ... Of course, we adapt hiring and CapEx (capital expenditure) to current market conditions,” said CEO Jacques Aschenbroich.


Will Hallyer, partner with Strategy Consultants OC&C, said the toughening conditions were prompting companies to shift their focus from boosting market share to ensuring their operations were profitable or at least reducing any losses.

“It had been more of a land grab mentality - buy a position, invest heavily in growth and have confidence that at some point you’ll be able to make money,” he said.

“As the market slows down, it accelerates the shift toward people thinking hard about making sure they have a business that makes money,” he added.

Strategies vary across companies and sectors.

Some have focused on cost reductions - General Motors flagged "material cost performance" in China to investors. Acting CEO of Sweden's Volvo AB Jan Gurander said this was easier to achieve in China than in Europe, where workers enjoy more protections and factory shutdowns can be politically sensitive.

Others, including BMW and eyewear manufacturing Luxottica , are trying to attract increasingly cautious Chinese consumers with price cuts.

Some companies are rethinking their product lines. French dairy group Danone told investors it was offloading its Chinese business, Dumex, which operates in a highly competitive, commoditized market, to a joint venture partner to allow it focus on marketing its international brands which offer the potential for higher margins.


The deteriorating Chinese environment is also forcing companies to think harder about credit risks.

Swedish lockmaker Assa Abloy Ab’s Chinese unit is heavily exposed to the hard-hit construction industry. Chief Financial Officer Carolina Happe said the time it took for Assa’s Chinese customers to pay had increased by a month in the past year, to 99 days. That compares to a group average of 55 days. The change could lead to increased bad debt provisions, she said.

Volvo issued a warning to investors last year that it would have to take a 650 million Swedish Crown (US$75 million) charge for expected credit losses in China. Gurander told investors in mid July his company was having tough discussions with dealers about outstanding debts but it was hard to know if the situation was stabilizing or not.

Growing credit risks are also prompting some Western banks to rethink their exposure to China. Sergio Ermotti, CEO of Swiss-based UBS AG , said it had stopped lending money to onshore clients in China.

But even as they moderate their ambitions in China, companies retain an eye for growth opportunities. Some are hoping the stock market drop could help them snap up local companies cheaply.

But with many Chinese companies still supported by government interventions like cheap credit, bargains are few, executives said.

“There are many, many companies for sale, and we are looking to many of those. Still they haven't felt the heat of the downturn in full yet. That means that they (the owners) expect to get paid,” Assa Abloy CEO Johan Molin told investors.

(Additional reporting by Tom Pfeiffer and Ben Hirschler in London; Editing by Giles Elgood)

- Reuters


Taiwan school textbook row highlights antipathy to 'one China'

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎08:20:21 AMGo to full article
TAIPEI: Protests in Taiwan over textbook revisions which students say aim to brainwash them into accepting a "one China" view of history underscore the island's growing sense of independence from its vast neighbour and geopolitical foe.

Hundreds of youths stormed the ministry of education compound on Friday and dozens were still camped out in the courtyard on Monday in a bid to repeal changes to history books likely to hit school shelves this week.

The move follows months of smaller protests in which students have thrown paint balloons, shouted slogans and staged sit-ins in front of the ministry. Last month, dozens were arrested for scaling ladders and breaking into the building. One later committed suicide, though the motivation was unclear.

The protests, the largest in over a year, reflect a surge of nationalism among Taiwan's youth, who are far more likely than their elders to identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.

They also come ahead of January elections in which the youth movement will likely help sweep in a party which leans towards independence from China, something Communist Party rulers in Beijing will never condone, even though the island is self ruled.

"We are Taiwan. China is China," Liu Tzuhao, 18, said in front of a makeshift memorial to the suicide victim at the protest site.

Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party fled to the island after losing the civil war against China's communists in 1949. China has since viewed Taiwan, which goes under the official name of Republic of China, as a renegade province and has not ruled out the use of force to bring it under its control.

"We are Taiwanese and should study Taiwan's history," 17-year-old Keanu Hsu declared during a forum hosted by the ministry before school begins at the end of August.

When ministry officials at the forum light-heartedly asked the students what name could replace Republic of China, they shouted "Taiwan" in response.

History teacher Chang Wen Lung said the textbooks warped historical episodes such as agreements establishing Republic of China sovereignty over Taiwan after World War Two and denigrated the influence of Japan, the island's colonial ruler for decades prior and traditional foe of Beijing.


The protests echo last year's Sunflower Movement, in which thousands of young people occupied parliament for weeks to oppose growing economic ties with China.

They also reflect the same fears about Beijing's "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and which Beijing aims to impose upon Taiwan.

Months of pro-democracy protests on Hong Kong streets last year threw that formula under a harsh light and became a huge embarrassment for Beijing.

The ministry has called for dialogue and the two sides are expected to meet later in the day, though hopes for a breakthrough are not high. One student threw a rubber sandal at Education Minister Wu Se-Hwa on Friday when he emerged to address them. Over the weekend the ministry website was inaccessible after a suspected hacking.

"We understand there's controversy behind the textbooks," Wu told Reuters in a recent interview. "We hope it can contribute to positive discourse in the classroom rather than on the street."

Wu said teachers could choose how much of the revised books should be used and said that points of controversy would not be part of national examinations.

Such concessions have yet to appease opponents, who say the revision process lacked transparency and the committee was stacked with unification advocates under China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, who has overseen a number of trade deals with the mainland.

"It's ridiculous," said protester Peng Cheng, 18. "One country cannot have two kinds of history."

(Additional reporting by J.R. Wu; Editing by Nick Macfie)

- Reuters


Brazil's Bradesco confirms purchase of HSBC's Brazilian business

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎08:00:39 AMGo to full article
SAO PAULO: Banco Bradesco SA , Brazil's No. 2 private-sector bank, agreed to purchase HSBC Holdings Plc's business in the country, according to a securities filing early on Monday.

Bradesco was advised on the deal by its own investment banking unit Bradesco BBI, JPMorgan Chase & Co and N M Rothschild & Sons Ltd.

A man walks past a Banco Bradesco branch in downtown Rio de Janeiro August 14, 2014. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

(Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

- Reuters


Asian stocks near 2015 lows on China worry, dollar steadies

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎08:00:34 AMGo to full article
HONG KONG/TOKYO: An index of Asian shares outside Japan fell close to this year's lows on Monday thanks to a deepening selloff in commodities and fresh concerns over slowing growth in China, while the dollar held its ground against a basket of currencies.

In line with weaker Asian stocks, financial spreadbetters expected a slightly lower open for Britain's FTSE , Germany's DAX and France's CAC .

In a blow to risk sentiment, a private survey showed China's factory activity shrank more than initially estimated in July, contracting by the most in two years as new orders fell.

"We believe the stock market panic in early July chilled economic activity, which is what the manufacturing PMIs picked up," ING economist Tim Condon said in a research note ahead of the Caixin PMI release.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell more than 1 percent before paring losses to be down 0.9 percent. The biggest losers were financials and cyclicals. The index's low for this year was on July 8.

Closely-watched Shanghai shares shed 1.9 percent .

Japan's Nikkei slid 0.3 percent and South Korea's Kospi fell 1 percent. Australian stocks dropped 0.4 percent.

"We believe the macro environment remains challenging for emerging market assets amid headwinds of low commodity prices, concerns over China and a looming Fed tightening cycle," Barclays strategists wrote in a daily note in clients.

Recent flows data confirmed that trend. Net foreign selling from emerging Asia has reached nearly US$10 billion over the past two months with only India seeing some tiny inflows.

Although outflows have pummeled stock markets from Korea to Taiwan, valuations suggest more downside is likely.

On Wall Street on Friday, the Dow lost 0.3 percent and the S&P 500 shed 0.2 percent, due to a drop in energy shares.

In currencies, the dollar held broadly steady after sliding Friday on disappointing U.S. wage growth data. The greenback was firm at 123.97 yen . The euro was little changed at US$1.1097 .

While recent dollar moves have been buffeted by U.S. economic data, the broader trend was seen staying on the upside after the Federal Reserve last week left the door open for a possible interest rate increase in September.

The U.S. dollar has rallied 7.75 percent so far this year against the world's main trading currencies , after a 12.8 percent rise last year.

And "the dollar's recent rally may just be getting started," according to research from the BlackRock Investment Institute.

"Since the 1970s when the Bretton Woods fixed-currency regime ended and currencies began floating, a typical dollar rally has lasted roughly six to seven years," according to Russ Koesterich, BlackRock global investment strategist, who noted dollar rallies tend to be self-reinforcing, leading to greater inflows into U.S. assets in expectation of further dollar appreciation.

That traditionally is also a headwind for emerging markets, which have an inverse relationship to the dollar.

Commodities too were singing the emerging market blues.

Crude oil continued to flounder after posting its biggest monthly drop since 2008 in July on China's stock market slump and signs that top Middle East producers were pumping out crude at record levels.

U.S. crude was down 0.7 percent at US$46.81 a barrel after losing 21 percent in July.

Copper prices fell 10 percent in July, the worst month since January and are now at their lowest levels since June 2009.

Overall the Reuters commodity index fell 10.8 percent in July, its biggest monthly fall since September 2011.

Bonds were the sole bright spot. The benchmark U.S Treasury 10-year note yield held firm at 2.21 percent while 10-year Japanese bond yields stabilized at 0.41 percent, within reach of a two-month low.

(Additional reporting by Clive Mckeef in NEW YORK)

- Reuters


Noble Group fields financing offers, refutes rumours on lack of funds

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎06:27:03 AMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Noble Group, Asia's biggest commodity trader, said it has been approached by a number of parties about potential financing and investment options and refuted rumours that it would not be able to fund a US$735 million bond redemption due this week.

Singapore-listed Noble has been grappling with waning investor confidence this year after being accused by Iceberg Research in mid-February of inflating its assets by billions of dollars.

(Photo: REUTERS/Bobby Yip)

It has rejected the claims and commissioned a report by PwC to review its accounting practices in an attempt to soothe investor concerns that appeared to accelerate last week when its shares slid nearly 30 per cent. Since mid-February they are down by about 60 per cent.

In Monday's (Aug 3) statement, Noble stressed that it has ample cash and liquidity to meet its obligations and operate its business. It can fund the US$735 million bond redemption due Aug 4, and will still have readily available cash of well over US$1 billion, it said. It also said it has US$15 billion in bank lines.

It also said that management has been approached by a number of parties in terms of potential financing, and strategic and/or investment options. While there was no guarantee of a deal in the near future, the board was committed to maximising shareholder value, it added.

Noble said it would bring forward the publication of its second-quarter results and the report by PwC on its accounting practices to Aug 10.

It also said in the statement that contrary to allegations that it needed to increasingly depend on fair value gains for profitability, its fair value gains fell in the second-quarter while operating income and profits remained positive.

Responding to Noble’s latest statement, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) said on Monday it will continue to “closely monitor developments in Noble including trading of its shares”.

“We stand ready to take action against any market misconduct including any suspected manipulation,” it said. SGX last week issued a “Trade with Caution” alert on Noble following sharp drops in the share price.

(Reporting by Rujun Shen; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)



Republicans begin pivotal debate week with New Hampshire forum

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎06:20:26 AMGo to full article
WASHINGTON: Republican presidential candidates will test their messages in New Hampshire on Monday, with the exception of Donald Trump, in a pivotal week on the 2016 campaign trail that will be dominated by their first head-to-head debate on Thursday.

Fourteen of the 17 candidates are to face off in Manchester, N.H., for the Voters Issues Forum, a two-hour event at Saint Anselm College in which each candidate will be asked questions by a moderator based on a random draw.

Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks at the National Urban League's conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida July 31, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity

Most of the leaders in the Republican field are to participate, including Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, but not poll leader Trump, who declared he would not attend in outrage over an editorial published by the Union Leader, the Manchester newspaper that is one of the sponsors of the event.

Others not planning to attend are former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, who just jumped into the race last week.

The event will serve as a way for each candidate to see how they do against each other ahead of the first official Republican debate of the 2016 season, on Thursday night in Cleveland.

The first debate has been controversial because under rules set up by the sponsor, Fox News, and backed by the Republican National Committee, only the top 10 candidates based on an average of recent national polls will be allowed on stage at the 9 p.m. event.

The remaining seven will face off earlier in the day, at 5 p.m., a time when far fewer viewers will be tuning in.

Sparks are already flying in anticipation of that event. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, expected to be one of the top 10, told CNN on Friday that Trump's rise to the top of the polls reflected a "a temporary sort of loss of sanity, but we're going to come back to our senses and look for someone serious to lead the country at some point."

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, not in the top 10, said he would be participating in what he called the "happy hour debate."

"You've got the Donald Trump debate. Everybody's going to be, 'How will he perform? What will he say?' Well, when I'm in the first debate, which is the 'happy hour debate,' at five o'clock, start drinking. By nine o'clock, Donald may make sense to you, if you drink enough," he told NBC News.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Andrew Hay)

- Reuters


New cocktails to test limits of cancer drug pricing

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎06:05:40 AMGo to full article
LONDON: New cancer drug cocktails set to reach the market in the next few years will test the limits of premium pricing for life-saving medicines, forcing company executives to consider fresh market strategies.

The growing reluctance of governments and private insurers to fund very expensive drugs - even remarkably effective ones - points to a showdown as manufacturers mix and match therapies that harness the immune system to fight tumors.

Several companies acknowledge discounts will be needed when drugs costing more than US$100,000 each are combined. That could give firms with multiple products in-house an edge over those having to negotiate pricing arrangements with partners.

Dozens of new cancer combinations will be launched over the next few years, with ones for lung cancer, melanoma and other solid tumors taking off strongly after 2018, drug company pipelines suggest.

Pricey immunotherapies, offering long-lasting responses, are already starting to change practice, as doctors use so-called checkpoint inhibitors like Merck's Keytruda and Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo in melanoma and lung cancer.

These drugs release the brakes on the immune system, allowing the body's defenses to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

But the real promise lies in combining treatments, either by using two checkpoint medicines together or by adding a different kind of drug. Both approaches will drive up prices.

Giving all U.S. patients whose cancer has metastasised, or spread, Opdivo and another Bristol immunotherapy called Yervoy, for example, would cost US$174 billion, based on a combined list price of US$295,000 for just under a year's treatment.

Cancer specialist Leonard Saltz, who presented the calculation in a speech to the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting two months ago, said the conclusion was obvious - these drugs cost too much.

Some pharmaceutical executives, while insisting they need a decent return for their risk-taking, admit he has a point.

"There's got to be a limit. One drug plus one drug can't equal the cost of two drugs," Novartis pharma head David Epstein told Reuters. "We recognize the need for oncology drug pricing to become more rational."

Roche, which is the world's biggest cancer drug supplier and is working on more immunotherapy combination trials than any other company, agrees there is a problem.

"We need to keep the system sustainable," said Roche Chief Executive Severin Schwan. "That is also in our interest."


The strains on healthcare budgets are clear. Worldwide cancer drug spending increased 10 percent in 2014 to US$100 billion, up from US$75 billion five years earlier, with oncology now accounting for 14.7 percent of total drug spending in Europe and 11.3 percent in the United States, according to IMS Health.

That has already prompted Roche to strike deals in parts of Europe capping costs per patient for its two targeted breast cancer drugs Perjeta and Herceptin, a template Schwan said was likely to be duplicated with the new immunotherapy products.

Other firms are pursuing other ways to keep prices affordable, with AstraZeneca preparing a cut-price version of one promising cocktail component.

The British drugmaker struck a deal last month to develop a cheap copy, or biosimilar, of Roche's established drug Avastin, which will go off patent at the end of the decade.

"Having the ability to include biosimilar Avastin will decrease the purchase price and give us a competitive advantage in terms of discounting," said Mondher Mahjoubi, AstraZeneca's head of oncology.

"The name of the game is going to be combinations in immuno-oncology and the more internal assets we have, the more flexibility we will have in pricing."

Most of the current buzz around checkpoint inhibitors centers on drugs blocking a protein known as Programmed Death receptor (PD-1), or a related one PD-L1, which tumors use to evade the body's natural defenses, plus another called CTLA-4.

But an alphabet soup of second-generation therapies is waiting in the wings, with names like OX40, LAG3 and TIM3, pointing to many new potential combinations.

It all means increasingly tough choices for healthcare providers, under intense pressure from patients and their families to provide access to modern treatments.

IMS data shows monthly cancer therapy costs have increased by 39 percent over the past 10 years in inflation-adjusted terms, similar to the 42 percent increase in overall response rates. But there has also been a 45 percent increase in the time that patients are on therapy, pushing up costs further.

Price is a growing issue for doctors, particularly in the United States where out-of-pocket costs can threaten to bankrupt some patients, as well as for pharmacy benefit managers, who negotiate drug prices for health plan members.

Investors are also watching developments closely.

"It's inevitable that prices will come under pressure, although because it is cancer and there is high unmet medical need, this might delay the squeeze," said Mirjam Heeb, co-manager of the JB Health Innovation Fund.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

- Reuters


New rules for the domestic investors in the Greek stock market

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:10:17 AMGo to full article
REUTERS: The Greek stock market will reopen on Monday after a five-week shutdown brought on by capital controls imposed at the height of the cash-for-reforms crisis with international lenders.

Local investors will face restrictions aimed at stemming capital flight. The rules have been approved by the European Central Bank to avoid a new deposit flight from Greek banks.

A European Union flag flutters outside the Athens stock exchange, Greece, July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The ECB is concerned that if Greeks remove too much money from domestic banks, it may be required to raise more emergency fund for the banks.

Following is a summary:


Local investors, like all Greeks, will not be allowed to withdraw money from a deposit account in a Greek bank beyond 60 euros a day. This was part the capital controls. It means that there will be no money from such deposits for buying securities.


They can buy shares with fresh money from abroad or cash that they have at home or in a deposit box or from new bank accounts opened after the stock market rules decree was issued last Friday.

Domestic investors can also buy shares with money coming from security sales or dividends or cash remaining with their security firms.


Foreign investors may trade in the Greek stock market without any new regulation. They are free to buy and sell, export and import money from trading.

(Reporting Lefteris Papadimas, editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

- Reuters


China July factory activity shrinks most in two years: Caixin PMI

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:05:29 AMGo to full article
BEIJING: China's factory activity shrank more than initially estimated in July, contracting by the most in two years as new orders fell and dashing hopes that the world's second-largest economy may be steadying, a private survey showed on Monday.

The report followed a downbeat official survey on Saturday which showed growth at manufacturing firms unexpectedly stalled, reinforcing views that the cooling economy needs more stimulus even as it faces fresh risks from a stock market slump.

Workers install the chassis along a production line at a truck factory of Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Co. Ltd (JAC Motors) in Hefei, Anhui province May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Fears of a full-blown market crash have added a new sense of urgency for policymakers in Beijing, with many analysts expecting more support measures to be rolled out within weeks.

The final, private Caixin/Markit China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) dropped to 47.8 in July, the lowest since July 2013, from 49.4 in June.

That was worse than a preliminary "flash" reading of 48.2 and marked the fifth straight month of contraction, as indicated by a reading below 50.

New orders reversed into contraction last month after growing in June, while factory output shrank for the third consecutive month to hit a trough of 47.1, a level not seen in more than 3-1/2 years.

The survey showed deteriorating business conditions forced companies to cut staffing levels for the 21st straight month. Factories also had to reduce selling prices to a six-month low due to increasing competition, squeezing profit margins.

"We believe the stock market panic in early July chilled economic activity, which is what the manufacturing PMIs picked up," ING economist Tim Condon said in a research note ahead of the Caixin PMI release.

But Condon said the factory weakness may be transitory if unprecedented stock market support measures from Beijing in recent weeks succeed in halting panic selling.

The official factory Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) at the weekend was also weaker than expected, falling to 50.0 in July from June's sluggish growth reading of 50.2. The official survey focuses more on larger companies.

While growth in the services sector picked up slightly, offsetting some of the drag from persistent factory weakness, services companies reported new orders were cooling and said they were cutting jobs at a faster pace.

China Glass Holdings Ltd on Friday became the latest in a growing list of firms issuing profit warnings due to weakening demand, saying it expected to post a first-half loss.

China's slowdown is also forcing many Western companies to take a hard look at their businesses there, leading many to reduce investments, costs and product lines and to tackle increasing bad debts.

“We had five fabulous years in China, of course, where we grew strong double-digit, and it has been gradually slowing down. Currently, in China we had negative order intake,” Frans van Houten, chief executive of Dutch electronics group Philips NV , told analysts last week.

“Going forward, we need to be much more modest on expectations with regard to China growth; that's just being realistic,” he said.

Chinese shares dipped on fears of weaker China demand for commodities.


The People's Bank of China (PBOC) has already cut interest rates four times since November and repeatedly loosened restrictions on bank lending in its most aggressive stimulus campaign since the global financial crisis.

Beijing has also intervened heavily in recent weeks to try to stabilise tumbling stock markets, which has raised questions over its commitment to free-market reforms, seen as essential for its planned transition from an export-led economy to one based on consumption and services.

While there is little evidence yet that the 30-percent stock market slump since mid-June has hit spending, analysts say wild price swings will rattle consumer and business confidence and could dampen activity in the financial services sector if Beijing can't keep investors from fleeing the market.

Buffeted by softening investment growth, unsteady domestic and foreign demand and a cooling housing market, China's growth is widely expected to grind to its lowest in a quarter of a century this year at 7 percent, from 7.4 percent in 2014.

After months of weakness, industrial output, retail sales and investment all grew slightly more than expected in June, raising hopes that earlier policy easing measures were finally starting to take effect.

In an acknowledgement of the difficulties that lay ahead, China's Politburo, the decision-making body of the Communist Party, promised last week to step up policy adjustments to keep growth stable.

If the stock market steadies, ING's Condon said Beijing will still need a continued turnaround in its housing market to hit its 7 percent growth target for this year.

However, while home sales and prices are showing signs of improving slowly in bigger cities after a year-long slump, a massive overhang of unsold homes could keep real estate under pressure well into next year, deterring developers from starting new construction.

(This version of the story corrects fourth paragraph to say lowest since July 2013, not November 2011)

(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom and Koh Gui Qing; Editing by Kim Coghill)

- Reuters


Volkswagen overtakes Toyota as world's biggest carmaker

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎04:42:23 AMGo to full article
MUNICH: Volkswagen overtook Toyota as the world's largest carmaker by sales in the first half year, achieving its long-held ambition three years ahead of target.

But staying on top will be a challenge for the German maker of the Golf and Polo, as deliveries are falling in China, destination of a third of its global sales, making it overly reliant on relatively stagnant western European demand.

"The hunt for scale only makes sense if it boosts synergies, something VW hasn't really been able to achieve," said Stefan Bratzel, head of the Center of Automotive Management think-tank. "Dependence on China is VW's weak spot and managing such a large group inevitably poses problems."

VW has been pushing for greater scale under Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn's eight-year reign, propelled by adding brands and factories and roaring sales in China.

The German group on July 17 reported 5.04 million deliveries in the first half year. By comparison, Toyota said on Tuesday it sold 5.02 million cars between January and June, a 1.5 per cent decline on year-ago levels.

Toyota, due to announce first-quarter earnings next Tuesday, said sales were dragged down by a slowdown in emerging markets and increased taxes on mini vehicles in Japan.

VW's rapid expansion has masked under-performance in the United States and Brazil, where it has been slow to upgrade models and adjust its offerings to market trends, analysts say.

Although boosting market share and brand awareness, VW's race for volume has triggered a costly proliferation of models and equipment, especially in its core passenger-car brand where profit margins have languished amid growing inefficiencies.

With over 310 models and nearly 120 factories worldwide, VW's size may be turning into a disadvantage, forming the backdrop to a leadership crisis in April when ex-chairman Ferdinand Piech was ousted after publicly criticising CEO Winterkorn.

VW's top management has since been trying to regain the initiative, though other top players, notably its unions and stakeholder Lower Saxony, are seeking to influence the course of its move to a leaner structure as VW is pushing €5 billion of cost savings in its core division.

Wolfsburg-based VW last year started shifting its focus to boosting earnings quality to help fund growing technology needs and plant upgrades.

VW has a goal of "moderately" raising deliveries from last year's record 10.14 million cars. The group will publish first-half results on Wednesday.

- Reuters


Clinton unfazed by possible Biden White House run: Aide

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎04:30:10 AMGo to full article
WASHINGTON: A top Hillary Clinton staffer told CNN Sunday (Aug 2) that the former first lady's campaign team is unfazed by news that Vice President Joe Biden is giving serious consideration to a White House bid.

"We'll let him make his decision," Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton's campaign spokeswoman, told CNN. "However hard it is to secure the Democratic nomination is however hard it is. We have no illusions. We never thought that this was going to be easy."

US Vice President Joe Biden. (Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

News late Saturday that Biden is exploring a White House run had US pundits and politicos - including some already declared candidates - handicapping his odds of wresting the Democratic nomination from Clinton, widely viewed as the top contender. A New York Times columnist reported on Sunday that his son Beau Biden, who died in May, at the end of his life encouraged his father to run for the US presidency.

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump was among those weighing in Sunday on Biden's odds. "I think that Biden would have a good chance at beating her now," Donald Trump, the leading contender in the Republican race, told CBS television.

Controversy over Clinton's use of a private email server for State Department business may have tarnished her candidacy for some voters - at least temporarily. "I think that the email scandal is going to be a devastating blow for Hillary," said Trump, who made the rounds of various political chat shows.

"I think she's got some very big problems," he said Sunday. "And you look at her poll numbers, they're coming down like a crashing rocket."

Biden, 72, has run, unsuccessfully, for the White House twice before, but news reports said he has said he feels more prepared than ever for the presidency. Trump, 69, said however, that he was less than convinced that Biden could prevail in a general election contest.

"I don't think that he's going to be that effective as a campaigner," the outspoken Republican business mogul said. Democratic contender Bernie Sanders, 73, told ABC on Sunday he was unconvinced Biden offers Americans a substantially different option to Clinton.

"I think the American people who are seeing the middle class of this country disappearing, massive levels of income and wealth inequality, (and) a campaign finance system which is literally corrupt... want to go beyond conventional establishment politics," the socialist lawmaker told ABC News.

Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic party and an outspoken booster for a Biden White House run, told ABC that the vice president's family seems generally supportive of his making another presidential bid. "This isn't some snap decision. He really is weighing how this would impact his family, he said. "My sense around the country is there's tremendous support there. He's got to gauge that. And then he's got to do a gut check," Harpootlian said.

In addition to apparent public unease over her emails, Clinton has been dogged by problems about her family foundation. Republicans in Congress also have been holding her feet to the fire over her handling of the deadly 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya which left three Americans dead.

She is scheduled to testify in Congress in October over the Benghazi affair. Palmieri played down recent polls that have showed that voters find her boss, 67, less than trustworthy.

"She has the most money, and she's beating every Republican in most of the polls. So you can't really ask for much more than that," she said.

- AFP/rw


Mexico City prosecutor confirms killing of news photographer

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎04:10:25 AMGo to full article
MEXICO CITY: A prominent Mexican news photographer was among five people found dead in a middle-class neighbourhood of the capital on Friday, the city's prosecutor told reporters at a Sunday press conference.

Ruben Espinosa, who a month ago claimed in interviews that he felt threatened by the governor of eastern Veracruz state, was the lone male among five victims that police discovered bound, beaten and shot in the head in the capital's Narvarte neighbourhood.

An activist holds up a picture of photojournalist Ruben Espinosa during a protest against his murder at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City, Mexico August 2, 2015. REUTERS/Henry Romero

The murders prompted hundreds of photographers, other journalists and activists to gather at the capital's Angel of Independence monument, many holding signs or cut-out photos of Espinosa with cameras slung over their shoulders.

One sign said "Violence is the language of the state," another called for Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte to resign.

Protestors in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz, and Guadalajara, Mexico's second biggest city, also took to the streets to mourn Espinosa's death.

Mexico City prosecutor Rodolfo Rios said at a press conference that Espinosa's family members told investigators that the photographer had been residing in the capital for two months and had moved to the city to look for work following eight years living in Veracruz.

Rios said his office was working together with the division of the federal attorney general's office dedicated to crimes against freedom of expression.

"All lines of investigation are open," he said in response to a question about Espinosa's early June statements that he felt threatened by Duarte, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of President Enrique Pena Nieto.

The governor said in a brief press release on Sunday that he "lamented" the deaths, including Espinosa's, and voiced his support for the investigation led by the Mexico City prosecutor's office.

The prosecutor said robbery and the deliberate targeting of the women were also possible motives being considered.

Espinosa, who was 31 years old, had specialised in documenting local social movements in Veracruz, many of which are critical of the PRI and Duarte in particular.

He shot a cover photograph of Duarte for an issue of leading Mexican news magazine Proceso in February of 2014 that was accompanied by the headline, "Veracruz, lawless state."

Espinosa worked for Proceso as well as the Cuartoscuro photo agency.

Veracruz is one of Mexico's most dangerous states for journalists, with 17 killed since 2000 according to journalism advocacy group Article 19. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 11 have been murdered since 2010 during Duarte's term as governor.

The prosecutor's office said three of the women found killed lived in the apartment where they were found, one of whom was a native of Colombia, while the fourth was a domestic worker.

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Jean Luis Arce, additional reporting by Joanna Zuckerman; Editing by Chris Reese and Andrew Hay)

- Reuters


US to defend Syrian rebels with airpower, including from Assad

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎04:05:22 AMGo to full article
WASHINGTON: The United States has decided to allow airstrikes to defend Syrian rebels trained by the U.S. military from any attackers, even if the enemies hail from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. officials said on Sunday.

The decision by President Barack Obama, which could deepen the U.S. role in Syria's conflict, aims to shield a still-fledging group of Syrian fighters armed and trained by the United States to battle Islamic State militants - not forces loyal to Assad.

A fighter from the Free Syrian Army's Al Rahman legion fires his weapon on the frontline against the forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

But in Syria's messy civil war, Islamic State is only one of the threats to the U.S. recruits. The first batch of U.S.-trained forces deployed to northern Syria came under fire on Friday from other militants, triggering the first known U.S. airstrikes to support them.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to confirm details of the decision, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, said the United States would provide offensive strikes to support advances against Islamic State targets.

The United States would also provide defensive support to repel any attackers.

U.S. officials have long played down the idea that Assad's forces - which have not fired on U.S.-led coalition aircraft bombing Islamic State targets in Syria - would turn their sights on the U.S.-backed Syrian rebels. But they cannot rule out the possibility, perhaps in an unintentional clash.

The Pentagon and the White House declined to discuss the decision on rules of engagement or confirm comments by the unnamed U.S. officials.

White House National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said only the U.S.-trained forces were being provided a wide range of support, including "defensive fires support to protect them" and pointed to Friday's U.S. airstrikes as proof.

"We won't get into the specifics of our rules of engagement, but have said all along that we would take the steps necessary to ensure that these forces could successfully carry out their mission," Baskey said.

Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Elissa Smith also declined comment on the rules of engagement, saying only that the U.S. military's programme focuses "first and foremost" on combating Islamic State militants.

"We recognise, though, that many of these groups now fight on multiple fronts, including against the Assad regime, (Islamic State) and other terrorists," Smith said.

The U.S. military launched its programme in May to train up to 5,400 fighters a year in what was seen as a test of Obama's strategy of getting local partners to combat extremists and keep U.S. troops off the front lines.

The training programme has been challenged from the start, with many candidates being declared ineligible and some even dropping out.

Obama's requirement that they target militants from Islamic State has sidelined huge segments of the Syrian opposition focussed instead on battling Syrian government forces. The United States has sought to avoid a direct confrontation with Assad.

Once the Syrian rebels have returned to the battlefield, the U.S. recruits and other fighters aligned with them have turned into targets of rival militants.

Al Qaeda's Syria wing is suspected of being behind the attack on Friday against them at a compound in Syria, which was also being used by members of a Western-aligned insurgent group, known as Division 30.

U.S. recruits have hailed from Division 30. Nusra Front last week claimed to have abducted Division 30's leader but U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had not undergone U.S. training

One of the most powerful insurgent groups in northern Syria, Nusra Front has a record of crushing rebel groups that have received support from Western states, including the Hazzm movement that collapsed earlier this year.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Andrew Hay)

- Reuters


Star Wars meets Uniqlo as Fast Retailing, Disney expand product tie-up

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎04:05:17 AMGo to full article
TOKYO: Fast Retailing Co Ltd's Uniqlo clothing chain said on Monday that it was expanding its collaboration with Walt Disney Co to offer a wider range of products and that it would open a flagship store at the Florida Disney World's shopping complex next spring.

The Japanese apparel retailer, which now offers T-shirts featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse, will extend its Disney-themed lineup to offer at stores worldwide items ranging from its Ultra Light Down collection and flannel shirts to umbrellas and toys.

A man rides an escalator at the Uniqlo flagship store in Tokyo April 9, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

It will also use characters from the blockbuster movies "Star Wars," "Toy Story," "Avengers" and "Frozen."

The move could add to awareness of Uniqlo's brand as its global expansion gathers pace, with Fast Retailing expecting to have more Uniqlo outlets overseas than in Japan by this autumn.

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim)

- Reuters


Former Afghan warlord set to take offensive to Taliban

‎03 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎04:01:09 AMGo to full article
KABUL: A self-proclaimed "kingmaker" and bulwark against the Taliban with a penchant for creating friends out of yesterday's foes, the colourful General Abdul Rashid Dostum, vice-president and former warlord, makes his call to arms from his imposing concrete redoubt in northern Afghanistan.

"We will clear out the Taliban from Faryab!" booms the moustached 61-year-old, a Macy's jacket slung over his shoulders despite the sweltering heat of Jowzjan province, a stone's throw from Turkmenistan and neighbouring Faryab province where Islamist insurgents have been plaguing government forces.

General Rashid Dostum (centre) greets his supporters. (Photo: AFP/FARZANA Wahidy)

Faryab is where the general has decided to make his next visit as vice-president - a position far removed from his days as a feared warlord with a reputation for brutality earned during the civil war of the 1990s.

"Once I go there, God willing, I will encourage the people and they will get it back" from the hands of the Taliban, he bellows. "You will see - even the women will be throwing rocks at the Taliban. I have more than a million supporters there."

Even among an Afghan political class that has welcomed several warlords into the fold, Dostum, the uncontested leader of the Uzbek ethnic minority, stands out for his showmanship.

Guests at his headquarters in Sheberghan, the capital of Jowzjan, are greeted by two-by-three metre portraits of the general hung on the walls - as well as smaller versions on patches stitched onto the shoulders of his personal guard.

His confidence knows no bounds. "Ghani won because of my campaigning here. There are two million votes here," he said of his boss, President Ashraf Ghani. "I am the kingmaker."

Asked about the offensive in Faryab, Dostum insists he had proposed the plan to the government six months earlier.

But the bluster cannot conceal the undeniable political and military weight of Dostum. He hopes to leverage his popularity in the fight against the Taliban, even if it means making friends with former enemies.

Like, for example, Atta Muhammad Nur, a former warlord from the Tajik community and strongman of the province of Balkh, which neighbours Jowzjan.

Allies against the Taliban during the 1990s, the fall of the regime in 2001 saw violent clashes between their forces for control of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

But they seem to have turned a new page. Dostum and the considerably less ostentatious Nur have made it a common cause to defend their northern region, according to local reports. A source close to Dostum denied an alliance, all the while confirming "a cooperation" between their forces "at a local level".


Militarily, Dostum can count on government troops. About 5,000 soldiers have been deployed in Faryab province, which was until recently known for its stability but has descended into fierce fighting despite nascent peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban.

But in a country where a warlord is not worthy of the name without a militia, Dostum now finds himself in a bind: as vice-president he is not allowed to make use of extra-governmental forces.

He insists he has 9,000 volunteers ready to fight in Faryab, but says: "But what can I do? The president does not allow it." Content to be a player on the national stage these days, the general complies. No militia, then - but he is happy to provide material aid to the troops.

His headquarters, two hours' drive from the frontline, houses dozens of soldiers.

"We have been waiting here since mid-July, since Eid," said Sergeant Nassib. "We want to defend our homeland, Afghanistan", he adds, sitting on his worn mattress.

Asked what he makes of peace talks with the Taliban - which are set to resume soon despite divisions in the movement following confirmation last week of the death of its leader Mullah Omar - Nassib becomes thoughtful. "If the Taliban want peace, we're ready, we want peace," he relents

- AFP/rw


Jeremy Clarkson and "Top Gear" presenters sign with Amazon for new car show

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:20:26 PMGo to full article
LONDON: Sacked BBC "Top Gear," host Jeremy Clarkson has signed a deal with Amazon to present a new motoring show alongside his former co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May.

Clarkson was fired from the BBC for physically attacking a member of Top Gear's production staff in March.

Former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson poses next to a South African taxi at the Ticketpro Dome before the Clarkson, Hammond and May Live Show held in Johannesburg on Jun 10, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/STEFAN HEUNIS)

Amazon said the new show, to be overseen by the trio’s long time executive producer Andy Wilman, will be available on its subscription streaming service Amazon Prime next year and run for three seasons.

It gave no further details of the as-yet unnamed show.

Clarkson, 55, was replaced as lead presenter of the globally popular Top Gear show - aired in more than 200 countries and watched by 350 million viewers worldwide - by television presenter and DJ Chris Evans.

Clarkson, who had generated both controversy and profits for Britain's publicly-funded broadcaster, had been on a final warning over accusations last year that he had used racist language while filming the show.

Last October, the show sparked a diplomatic incident between Britain and Argentina, which went to war in 1982 over the Falkland Islands.

A Top Gear television crew was forced to flee Argentina after driving a Porsche 928 GT with the registration number H982 FKL, which some people suggested could refer to the Falklands conflict.

(Reporting by Stephanie Addison; editing by Kate Holton)

- Reuters


Johnson fireworks lead Australia's fightback in third test

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:15:17 PMGo to full article
BIRMINGHAM: A snarling Mitchell Johnson, finding the pace and venom that demolished England in the last Ashes, dragged Australia back into the third test on Thursday as wickets tumbled again on the second morning at Edgbaston.

The left-armer jumpstarted his side's fightback with two wickets in his hostile first over with England, replying to Australia's paltry 136, losing two more before lunch to reach 221 for seven, a lead of 85.

Johnson brought up 300 wickets in tests when he struck twice in three vicious balls to remove Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes, giving the tourists the shot in the arm they needed after a dismal batting display on the first day.

Joe Root kept his cool to compile 63 but fell chasing a wide delivery from Mitchell Starc.

Another capacity-crowd had barely settled into their seats when Johnson produced rip-snorters to send back Bairstow and Stokes to leave England five down.

The recalled Bairstow had eased England past Australia's first innings total by neatly guiding Josh Hazlewood to the cover boundary but the next over got a nasty welcome back to test cricket after an 18-month absence.

Johnson steamed in and directed a bouncer that was homing in on Bairstow's throat, the startled batsman fending it off with glove to be caught behind.

Two balls later Stokes also got a taste of 'chin-music', unable to get out of the way of another thunderbolt and falling in the same fashion as Bairstow.

Root, as he did in the first test in Cardiff when he hit a first innings century, appeared well-set and brought up his 50 in 49 balls.

But when a wayward Starc sent another delivery wide of off stump Root could not resist and got an edge to Adam Voges at first slip, his slow trudge off the field a sure sign of his rashness.

Nathan Lyon, the leading wicket taker in the series, took his third wicket of the innings when Jos Buttler fell lbw and the off spinner also caused Moeen Ali all manner of the problems but the batsman survived to reach the interval unbeaten on 23.

The five-test series is level at 1-1.

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

- Reuters


Former Thai DPM's return from monkhood sparks political concerns

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:08:46 PMGo to full article
BANGKOK: Former Thai deputy prime minister and protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has vowed to step back from politics, but said he would continue working towards political reform within the confines of the law.

The fiery former secretary-general of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) was speaking to the media on Thursday (Jul 30) at his first public appearance since leaving the monkhood, where he spent more than a year.

Suthep Thaugsuban gives a traditional greeting to the media during a press conference in Bangkok on Jul 30, 2015 to launch his new Foundation for People's Democratic Reform. (Photo: AFP/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)

Suthep, who was deputy prime minister under the Abhisit government from 2008 to 2011, returned to prominence when he led prolonged street protests that eventually toppled the Yingluck administration in early 2014.

But there is criticism from the PDRC’s rival political group, the Red Shirts, that his return could increase political tensions, and retrigger agitation on the streets.

The Thai government has warned Suthep to avoid inciting unrest and refrain from political activity, and Suthep has reassured supporters he will not return to politics but work in his capacity as chairman of the PDRC Foundation to pursue the non-profit group's goal of political reform and social change.

“We are working for the Thai people,” said Suthep. “We want to see the current government complete successful nationwide reforms. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as reform happens before elections are held.”

Suthep's PDRC movement, towards the end of 2013 and early 2014, applied political pressure on Thailand’s former Yingluck-led government to remove the influence of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

He also wanted to replace the Yingluck administration with an unelected "People’s Council". The rallying cry was for "reforms before elections".

He also says he would not seek amnesty for past crimes that include treason and terrorism - crimes that could hand him a life sentence or even the death penalty.

- CNA/ec


2,000kg of durian served at party to celebrate SG50

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:06:58 PMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Durian aficionados were treated to approximately 2,000 kilograms of the fruit with varieties such as Mao Shan Wang, D24 and Green Bamboo over a two-day party in Singapore.

Other seasonal fruits such as mangosteen, lychee, rambutan and mango were also dished out to more than 1,000 invited guests on Wednesday evening (Jul 29).

Durians - comprising Mao Shan Wang, D24 and Green Bamboo - were served at Standard Chartered's annual party. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)

The tenth installment of the fruit buffet - held at Clifford Square - is the largest ever organised by Standard Chartered Bank (SCB). It was held in conjunction with the bank's celebrations of Singapore's jubilee year.

Durian aficionados waiting in line for their serving of the seasonal fruit at Clifford Square. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)

Self-professed durian lover Mrs Ety Tan, who can eat up to two durians in a sitting, said she has been attending the annual affair for close to six years. "Every year, we will come and this is one of the events that we normally will not miss," she said.

(Photo: Xabryna Kek)

The bank said it sees durian season as a fruitful opportunity to engage its customers. "As a tropical country, Singapore does not have the four seasons but we have the durian season to look forward to," Kenneth Tham, SCB's head of Commercial Clients, Singapore said of the bank's thorny tradition.

The SCB-organised feast is just one of many held this durian season. Last Saturday saw a sell-out crowd at the Durian Mob 2015 event organised by Dr Leslie Tay who runs the popular ieat.ishoot.ipost food blog. The picnic at Marine Drive involved a five-course durian degustation menu.

This year's bumper crop has seen durian sellers slashing the price of the fruit to about S$15 to S$16 per kilogramme for Mao Shan Wang in mid-June. The main durian season in East Malaysia typically straddles June through August.

- CNA/xk


Music video celebrates Udham Singh for avenging Jallianwala Bagh killings

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:05:35 PMGo to full article
NEW DELHI: An Indian pop group has made a music video honouring a freedom fighter who assassinated a British official in revenge for a 1919 massacre, at a time of renewed calls in India for reparations from Britain for the excesses of colonial rule.

The animated video tells the story of Indian freedom fighter Udham Singh, who shot dead Michael O’Dwyer for sanctioning the killing of hundreds of Indian protesters during a festival in Punjab, a massacre that hardened opinion against British rule.

The four-minute video by the group The Ska Vengers takes its title, "Frank Brazil", from an alias used by Singh during an overseas undercover trip. It traces the activist's life between the Amritsar massacre and his shooting of the British official in London.

The video is due to premiere on music channel VH1 India on Friday, 75 years to the day after Singh was executed in London for the assassination of O'Dwyer four months earlier.

O'Dwyer was the British Lieutenant Governor of Punjab when the Jallianwala Bagh killings took place in the city of Amritsar. Singh travelled to England to avenge the atrocity and shot O'Dwyer dead in public in a London hall.

Taru Dalmia, The Ska Vengers' vocalist, said the group was inspired by American blues singer Bessie Smith's famous death song "Send me to the 'lectric chair".

In the new song, the fiery pro-independence protagonist says he doesn't care if he spends 99 years in jail or is sent to the electric chair.

India's 200-year long colonial subjugation ended in 1947 but remains a touchy topic. Earlier this month, opposition lawmaker Shashi Tharoor said Britain owes India reparations for the economic and social torture the South Asian country suffered under British rule.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visits Britain later this year, praised the speech, but he did not say whether he supported Tharoor’s demand for an apology.

Singer Dalmia said he agreed with Tharoor's sentiment, adding that colonial excesses were too often forgotten in the countries that suffered them.

"Europe has a debt to pay, but more than that (in) the formally colonized countries, the debates have stopped," he said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron came under criticism for not apologising for the Jallianwala killings when he visited Amritsar in 2013, although he mourned the event.

The band will tour in Britain next year for the first time.

(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

- Reuters


Conoco results beat estimates, cuts capex amid low oil price

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:05:33 PMGo to full article
REUTERS: ConocoPhillips , the largest U.S. independent oil and gas company, reported quarterly results that beat analysts' expectations Thursday and said it would cut capital expenditure as low crude oil prices persist.

The Houston-based company said it would cut 2015 capital spending to US$11 billion from US$11.5 billion, and also lowered its forecast for operating expenses.

Conocophillips CEO Ryan Lance in New York April 8, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Chief Executive Officer Ryan Lance said Conoco was preparing for "lower, more volatile prices."

Crude prices have tumbled about 20 percent since June 23 on expectations of new supply from Iran following its recent nuclear deal with world powers, as well as on slowing Chinese demand and growing inventories.

Conoco lost US$179 million, or 15 cents per share, in the second quarter, after earning a profit of US$2.1 billion, or US$1.67 a share, in the same quarter a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items related to tax and impairment charges, Conoco had a profit of 7 cents a share. Analysts, on average, had expected a profit of 4 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Second-quarter output from continuing operations, excluding Libya, was 1.595 million barrels oil equivalent per day (boed), an increase of 39,000 boed compared from a year ago.

Conoco said it was on track to achieve the higher end of its 2015 production growth target of 2 percent to 3 percent, helped by higher output from U.S. shale fields.

(Reporting by Anna Driver; Editing by Alden Bentley and Bernadette Baum)

- Reuters


Procter & Gamble sales fall for sixth straight quarter

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:05:27 PMGo to full article
REUTERS: Procter & Gamble Co , the world's largest consumer products maker, reported its sixth straight fall in quarterly sales, as the stronger dollar continued to weigh on the value of sales from overseas markets.

Shares of the maker of Pampers diapers and Tide detergent were down marginally at US$80.43 on Thursday.

Tide detergent pods, from Procter & Gamble, are seen at the Safeway store in Wheaton, Maryland February 13, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

P&G also said it expected sales to fall in the low-to-mid single digits next year due to the strong dollar.

The company said on Tuesday that David Taylor would replace A.G. Lafley as chief executive in November, as it looks to reverse the trend of falling sales.

P&G has sold off about 50 brands since 2014 in an attempt to streamline its portfolio and focus on faster-growing product lines.

The latest round of divestitures comprised 43 brands, including Wella and Clairol hair care products, which P&G sold to perfume maker Coty Inc for US$12.50 billion this month.

Revenue fell 9.2 percent to US$17.79 billion in the fourth quarter ended June 30 from a year earlier, as the company recorded a 9 percentage point hit from the strong dollar.

Analysts on average were expecting revenue of US$17.98 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The currency has risen about 20 percent in the 12 months through June 30, reducing the value of overseas sales when they are translated back into dollar terms.

P&G, which gets roughly two-thirds of its revenue from international markets, has been raising prices to offset the impact of the dollar, but customers have been turning to cheaper local alternatives as a result.

Peer Colgate-Palmolive Co reported its fourth straight quarter of falling sales on Thursday and said the strong dollar was the main reason for the decline.

Net income attributable to P&G fell 80 percent to US$521 million, or 18 cents per share in the fourth quarter, the company said.

P&G recorded a US$2.03 billion charge in the quarter for a change in the accounting method of its Venezuelan operations, reflecting its inability to convert currency or pay dividends.

Excluding items P&G earned a profit of US$1 per share, beating the average analyst estimate of a profit of 95 cents.

(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Jennings)

- Reuters


Jeremy Clarkson and "Top Gear" presenters sign with Amazon for new car show

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:55:19 PMGo to full article
LONDON: Sacked BBC "Top Gear," host Jeremy Clarkson has signed a deal with Amazon to present a new motoring show alongside his former co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May.

Clarkson was fired from the BBC for physically attacking a member of Top Gear's production staff in March.

Amazon said the new show, to be overseen by the trio’s long time executive producer Andy Wilman, will be available on its subscription streaming service Amazon Prime next year and run for three seasons.

It gave no further details of the as-yet unnamed show.

Clarkson, 55, was replaced as lead presenter of the globally popular Top Gear show - aired in more than 200 countries and watched by 350 million viewers worldwide - by television presenter and DJ Chris Evans.

Clarkson, who had generated both controversy and profits for Britain's publicly-funded broadcaster, had been on a final warning over accusations last year that he had used racist language while filming the show.

Last October, the show sparked a diplomatic incident between Britain and Argentina, which went to war in 1982 over the Falkland Islands.

A Top Gear television crew was forced to flee Argentina after driving a Porsche 928 GT with the registration number H982 FKL, which some people suggested could refer to the Falklands conflict.

(Reporting by Stephanie Addison; editing by Kate Holton)

- Reuters


More resources to be devoted to care for those with dementia: Health Minister

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:52:11 PMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: More resources will be devoted to care for those with dementia in the coming days, according to Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Thursday (Jul 30).

In his address at the ASEAN Neuroscience 2015 event, Mr Gan said neuroscience is “one of the frontiers in medicine that is rapidly evolving”. He added the effective management of neurological diseases is important, as Singapore faces the prospect of an ageing population.

File photo: A hospital in Singapore (TODAY)

With the prevalence of dementia among senior citizens above 60 years at around 10 per cent, and as the projected number of acute stroke patients is expected to increase, MOH has rolled out various initiatives like upgrading Memory Clinics in its hospitals, he added.

“We will be expanding the capacity of our dementia nursing home beds and community-based dementia care services such as dementia day care centre. We will also develop more Eldersit teams, which is a home-based service that engages clients with dementia in cognitive activities while providing respite for their caregivers,” said Mr Gan.

Neurological disorders have also been identified by the Ministry of Health (MOH) as one of its key areas for research in the next five years, he noted.

Over the next two days, experts from multidisciplinary fields from around the world will come together to discuss the current issues faced in neuroscience. Some of the topics that are on the agenda include learning about comprehensive patient care, and how best to manage clinical neuroscience conditions.

Said Dr Bernard Chan, co-chair of the organising committee for ASEAN Neuroscience 2015: "If the MOH is supportive in getting more resources, the local neurologists, neurosurgeons and the other medical specialists like geriatricians, rehabilitation physicians will be very excited and will be very keen to collaborate, and improve the quality of service and care for the patients in Singapore."

There are hopes that this exchange of knowledge and international collaborations will strengthen ties among ASEAN partners and develop a cohesive medical community in the region.

- CNA/kk


Turkish military campaign aims to prevent Kurdish unity in Syria - Demirtas

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:50:20 PMGo to full article
ANKARA: The main aim of Turkey's recent military operations in northern Syria and Iraq is to prevent Kurdish territorial unity and not to combat Islamic State, the leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition HDP said on Thursday. In an interview with Reuters, Selahattin Demirtas accused President Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling AK Party of dragging Turkey into conflict in revenge for the AKP losing its majority in a June 7 general election.

That election saw the HDP win enough votes to enter parliament as a party for the first time, ending more than a decade of single-party rule in the NATO member country.

The leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas answers a question during an interview with Reuters in Ankara, Turkey, July 30, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

"The AK Party is dragging the country into a period of conflict, seeking revenge for the loss of its majority in the June election," Demirtas told Reuters in the capital Ankara.

"HDP passing the threshold and the AK Party losing its parliamentary majority are being used as a pretext for war."

Turkey launched near-simultaneous air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camps in northern Iraq and Islamic State fighters in Syria last Friday, in what Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has called a "synchronised fight against terror".

But its assaults on the PKK have so far been much heavier than its strikes against Islamic State, fuelling Kurdish suspicions that its real agenda is keeping Kurdish political and territorial ambitions in check, something the government denies.

"Turkey carried out a couple of air strikes against the Islamic State just for show, without causing serious damage to it, nor is Islamic State feeling serious pressure from Turkey," Demirtas said.

"Turkey's operations do not aim at taking measures against Islamic State. The main objective is to prevent the formation of a Kurdish entity in northern Syria," he said.


Ankara is uncomfortable with the steady advance of Syrian Kurdish PYD forces, helped by U.S. air strikes, against Islamic State. Around half of Syria's 900 km (560 mile) border with Turkey is now controlled by Kurds.

Erdogan and the AKP worry that those advances will embolden Turkey's own 14 million Kurdish minority and rekindle a three-decade insurgency by the PKK, deemed a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and Europe.

After Ankara agreed to open its air bases to the U.S.-led coalition last week following years of reluctance, Turkey and Washington are working on plans to provide air cover for Syrian rebels and sweep Islamic State fighters from a strip of northern Syria along the Turkish border.

But the move will also ensure that territory remains out of the hands of the PYD, preventing Syria's Kurds from joining up areas under their control into what could otherwise become a strip of Kurdish land running from the Iraqi border almost to the Mediterranean.

"Erdogan stressed in the past that they would never allow the unification of Kurdish cantons in northern Syria. Jarablus is the only obstacle for this unity," Demirtas said, referring to a Syrian town on the edge of the proposed "safe zone".

Turkish officials have said the aim in Syria is to push Islamic State away from the border and their operations will not target Syrian Kurdish groups.

They say the strikes against PKK camps in northern Iraq, meanwhile, are a response to increased militant violence in recent weeks, including a series of targeted killings of police officers and soldiers blamed on the Kurdish militant group.

At least nine members of the security forces have been killed over the past week by suspected Kurdish militants.

The PKK has said the air strikes are an attempt to "crush" the Kurdish political movement and create an "authoritarian, hegemonic system" in Turkey.

(Reporting by Gulsen Solaker and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Giles Elgood)

- Reuters


SMEs to get help in attracting and retaining talent

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:45:55 PMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: With the tight labour market being a key concern for local businesses, SPRING Singapore on Thursday (Jul 30) launched the Human Capital Movement to help small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) attract and retain talent.

Under this initiative, SPRING is building a community of SME Human Capital Advocates, who will share with SMEs best human resource (HR) practices and facilitate peer learning activities. It also seeks to provide SMEs access to HR expertise through the appointment of a pool of volunteer HR directors. So far, 10 HR directors from the private and public sectors have been recruited for this.

File photo: Office workers in the central business district of Singapore. (AFP/Simin Wang)

"SPRING Singapore has arranged for us to have regular sessions, be it in learning forums or in one-on-one sessions with the CEOs. I think it's really useful for both parties to learn from one another," said Group HR Director of Zalora Southeast Asia, Mr Foo Chek Wee.

These volunteers will share with SME bosses or HR managers their perspectives and experiences of talent development and human capital strategies for business growth.

"These HR volunteer directors have years of experience and that interaction will help SMEs level up," said Mr Christophane Foo, executive director of Human Capital and Organisation Development at SPRING Singapore.

The effort also includes HR Capability Building, where SPRING will work with management consulting firm Hay Group to develop a new diagnostic tool for SMEs to better access their current state of HR maturity.

Speaking at the official launch of the initiative, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said local SMEs need to embrace a mindset change in realising the importance of talent development.

"In 2014, SPRING and Hay Group conducted a pilot study with close to 180 SMEs on your HR Maturity," he said. "The results from the pilot showed that most of the SMEs did not have strong HR practices and all were especially weak in the area of training and development. And this needs to change.

"I believe that human capital will increasingly become the most valuable asset of any organisation, big and small. To do well, SMEs need to make their investment in people a core priority. Otherwise, their capacity to grow will be constrained by the human capital they have built," he added.

The HR Diagnostic tool will help SMEs identify gaps in their HR management and the steps needed to address them. It aims to reach out to 1,000 SMEs in the next three years. In addition, SPRING will also work with SMEs in branding themselves as the employers of choice.

SPRING will also work with partners like the trade associations, and chambers and institutes of higher learning to highlight good career opportunities in SMEs.

- CNA/kk/ek


Shelling in eastern Ukraine kills four civilians, soldier

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:45:14 PMGo to full article
KIEV: Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists accused each other on Thursday of shelling civilian areas near the rebel-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine despite a ceasefire, with four civilians and one soldier killed.

A Ukrainian military spokesman told a news briefing that two men were killed in Dzerzhynsk, north of the regional hub, when separatists opened fire from Horlivka, 7.5 km (4.7 miles) away.

The state prosecutor said one Ukrainian serviceman was also killed in the attack,

Separatists, in turn, accused Ukrainians of using tanks and artillery in an overnight attack on Horlivka in which a man and a woman were killed.

The casualty reports could not be independently verified.

More than 6,500 people have been killed since the fighting broke out in April last year. Attacks have lessened since a peace agreement was brokered in Minsk, Belarus, in February, but both sides accuse each other of violating the ceasefire.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Louise Ireland)

- Reuters


Blackstone sells stake in Indian auto parts maker to consortium

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:40:19 PMGo to full article
REUTERS: A fund run by U.S. private equity firm Blackstone Group has sold its 97.9 percent stake in Indian auto components maker Agile Electric Sub Assembly to a group of buyers, including Japan's Igarashi Electric Works, for an undisclosed amount.

The other buyers are Indian investment bank MAPE Securities and two funds run by financial firm Tata Capital, according to a statement from Tata Capital.

Stephen A. Schwarzman, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Blackstone Group in New York February 27, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

(Reporting by Karen Rebelo in Mumbai; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

- Reuters


Afghan peace talks postponed amid reports of Mullah Omar's death - Pakistan

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:35:22 PMGo to full article
ISLAMABAD: A second round of peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban militants due to be held in Pakistan have been postponed amid reports of the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar's death, the Pakistani foreign office said Thursday.

"In view of the reports regarding the death of Mullah Omar and the resulting uncertainty, and at the request of the Afghan Taliban leadership, the second round of Afghan peace talks, which was scheduled to be held in Pakistan on 31 July 2015, is being postponed," the statement said.

(Reporting By Katharine Houreld; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

- Reuters


US stock futures little changed as investors await GDP data

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:35:20 PMGo to full article
REUTERS: U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Thursday ahead of second-quarter gross domestic product numbers that will give clues regarding the health of the economy even as the Fed left the door open for a possible interest rate hike in September.

* The U.S. economy and job market continue to strengthen, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday, but left rates unchanged.

A specialist trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

* The Fed has maintained near-zero interest rates for nearly a decade and has said it will raise rates only when it sees a sustained recovery in the economy.

* The U.S. economy is expected to have expanded during the second quarter. The gross domestic product data, expected at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT), is projected to have risen at a 2.6 percent annual rate in April-June, compared with a contraction of 0.2 percent annual rate in January-March.

* U.S. stocks closed stronger on Wednesday after the Fed statement. The S&P 500 has bounced about 2 percent higher in the past two days following a near-3 percent drop over the preceding week that had been caused in part by a rout in China's stock markets.

* More than halfway through the second-quarter earnings season, analysts expect overall earnings of S&P 500 companies to edge up 0.8 percent and revenue to decline 3.9 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

* While earnings are expected to increase this quarter, valuations remain a concern. The S&P 500 is trading near 16.9 times forward 12-month earnings, above the 10-year median of 14.7 times, according to StarMine data.

* Companies scheduled to report during the day include Mondelez International before the bell and Expedia , LinkedIn and Western Union after the close.

* Facebook shares fell 1.2 percent to US$95.85 in premarket trading after the social media company's quarterly profit fell due to higher costs.

* Whole Foods Market slumped 13.7 percent to US$35.22 after same-store sales growth cooled.

* Skechers USA jumped 12.1 percent to US$144 as the sports shoe maker and retailer reported a better-than-expected rise in quarterly revenue.

* Cigna was up 2.4 percent at US$148.85 after the health insurer's quarterly profit rose.

Futures snapshot at 7:23 a.m. ET:

* S&P 500 e-minis were down 1.5 points, or 0.07 percent, with 99,984 contracts traded.

* Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 3.25 points, or 0.07 percent, on volume of 13,870 contracts.

* Dow e-minis were down 11 points, or 0.06 percent, with 12,369 contracts changing hands.

(Editing by Don Sebastian)

- Reuters


Air India staff arrested over people smuggling operation

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:34:20 PMGo to full article
NEW DELHI: Indian police said on Thursday (Jul 30) they have arrested two Air India employees after uncovering a people smuggling operation at New Delhi airport that apparently targeted Nepalese quake victims.

A senior police officer at the airport said staff at the national carrier were suspected of helping Nepalese women promised jobs in wealthy Gulf countries to evade immigration procedures.

A woman walks through heavy monsoon rainstorm at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. (Photo: AFP/Chandan Khanna)

So far 28 women have been identified, most of whom police said were from areas of Nepal badly affected by a major earthquake in April, which killed thousands and left many more homeless.

M I Haider, deputy commissioner of police at the airport, said the scam was exposed on July 21 when a group of seven Nepalese women transiting Delhi airport en route to Dubai were found with their travel documents stamped even though they had not yet cleared immigration control.

Police briefly detained the women and arrested two Air India ground staff, who admitted under questioning that they had been paid US$90 per person to arrange the forged documents.

A police statement named the two as Manish Gupta and Kapil Kumar. The airline did not return calls for comment.

"Security personnel caught a group of seven Nepalese women who had been issued their international boarding passes and travel documents without following the proper procedure," Haider told AFP.

"The questioning of the detained women and the arrested duo also revealed that there were at least 21 other Nepalese women in Delhi waiting their turn to fly out of the country via the same route."

Police found the 21 women when they raided a hotel in Delhi and they will be returned to Nepal along with the other seven, Haider said.

Two suspected traffickers were also arrested, both Nepalese nationals.

"The open border between Nepal and India makes it easy for people to travel across, and agents exploit this route to traffic people," a spokesman for Nepal's home ministry Laxmi Prasad Dhakal told AFP.

"We have an agreement with India to not allow Nepali nationals without our stamp in their passport to travel from their airport."

The women had travelled to India from Nepal by bus after being promised work in Gulf countries.

They flew from Delhi to the western city of Ahmedabad before boarding a flight to Dubai via Delhi - a convoluted route apparently aimed at evading immigration procedures.

Haider said it was unclear what their fate would have been had they made it to their destination.

Thousands of Nepalese leave the impoverished country every year to seek work abroad, where rights groups say many face abuse or even torture at the hands of their employers.

Many have their passports taken on arrival, meaning they are unable to leave.

There have also been concerns about increased levels of people trafficking in the chaos that followed the devastating earthquake.

"These rescued women, aged between 20 and 35 years, don't really know what really awaited them there," Haider said.

- AFP/ec


Foodfare to review price caps at hawker centre if necessary

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:33:30 PMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Following sharp criticism from hawkers on the price caps to be imposed at its new Bukit Panjang hawker centre, NTUC Foodfare said on Wednesday (July 29) that these limits, which were intended to keep basic meals affordable, would be reviewed from time to time if necessary, to take into account the cost of ingredients and inflation. Stallholders can also submit requests to adjust the price ceilings, it added.

Foodfare was appointed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) to operate the Bukit Panjang hawker centre, which is the second of 20 new hawker centres to be managed by social enterprises and cooperatives.

File photo of the Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre. (Photo: TODAY/Robin Choo)

Tender documents for the hawker centre, which is slated to open by the end of this year, state that each stall should offer at least two items that are capped at certain prices. The price of dishes such as fishball noodles, nasi lemak and chicken rice are capped at between S$2.50 and S$2.70. The price ceilings for Western food are higher, such as S$5.80 for pasta.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, Foodfare said: “These caps are not to be held indefinitely and reviews would certainly be made should raw materials price increase or other cost pressures make it necessary for the adjustments.”

It reiterated the rationale for the price caps, saying that it “wants a public hawker centre to have affordable food for everyone”. Interested hawkers would have to submit, in their bids, the amount of rent they can pay - this will make up 40 per cent of the assessment criteria. The remaining 60 per cent involves “(food) pricing, food variety and concept, experience and taste”, Foodfare said.

In 2012, the Hawker Centre Public Consultation Panel proposed having social enterprises manage new hawker centres, and having the operator setting aside stalls for the lower income and special needs persons to set up low cost businesses. Hawker centres are currently managed and run by the NEA.

The first of 20 new hawker centres will open at Ci Yuan Community Club in Hougang Avenue 9 next Thursday. It will also be managed on a not-for-profit basis by Fei Siong Food Management. Stall holders at this hawker centre are required to offer at least two products that are priced at S$2.80 or lower. A Fei Siong spokesperson said all stallholders will pay a total of S$2,200 each month, including rental.

The hawkers are required to operate their stalls for 12 hours a day and “work with the management to ensure their days off do not disrupt the business operations and dining experience”, the spokesperson said. “The stallholders’ commitment is a key fundamental to the success of their operations and the hawker centre,” she added.


The new hawker centre management model came under the spotlight this week after Minister of Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan responded to a Facebook post by Mr Douglas Ng, a hawker who attended a tender briefing by Foodfare.

Mr Ng, who runs a stall at Golden Mile hawker centre, spoke out against the price caps. “Do you actually think that a quality hawker will come out with quality food when they use quality ingredients and if the cost of food is so high…If the basic ingredients are so expensive, how can we expect hawkers to make a living?” he said. Responding to Mr Ng on Monday, Mr Balakrishnan reiterated the steps that his ministry has taken to reduce rental costs for hawkers. He added that he had “made it clear to Foodfare that they are not to charge high rents”.

Speaking to TODAY, Mr Ng, 24, said there is a lack of transparency in how the price ceilings are derived. “Why is it that Western food can be sold at double the price of fishball noodles? It makes all of us want to sell pasta instead…then how do we preserve hawker heritage?”

Makansutra founder and food writer KF Seetoh also took issue with the price caps and the lack of a guideline on rental bids. “When top restaurants raise prices for the rich, not many really care, but when the hawkers do, the loud and richer ones make noise and cry foul… Please don’t politicise our hawker food and don’t kill our hawker culture,” he said.

Other hawkers also raised concerns such as the required operating hours and higher overhead costs at these new hawker centres.

Ms Li Ruifang, 31, who owns 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles at Tekka Centre, had failed with her bid to run a stall at the hawker centre at Ci Yuan Community Club. She said: “Although we only open for business seven to nine hours a day, we spend another five hours preparing food and washing the stall. I will have to double my manpower or increase my own (working) hours just to make this ruling, and that will increase costs.”

Mr Melvin Chew, who runs Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap at Chinatown Food Complex, added: “Hawkers at the new food centres have to pay plate collection and dishwashing fees, use common utensils and uniforms. They are run like food courts, not hawker centres.”

An NEA spokesperson said that while the respective managing enterprises have the prerogative to decide on the price caps, it will monitor the implementation of the new management model and the concerns that may be raised by hawkers.

It added that it is open to the idea - which has been suggested by some hawkers - of concession passes for seniors and low-income individuals, in place of price caps, should the operators decide to take it up.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story said NTUC Foodfare would review price caps at its new Bukit Panjang hawker centre from time to time following sharp criticism. NTUC Foodfare has clarified that such reviews are part of its standing policy, not a response to criticism.

Read the original TODAY report here.

- TODAY/cy


SMEs to get help with expanding abroad through e-commerce

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:32:47 PMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Singapore businesses could have an easier time selling their products on online retail platforms, as trade agency IE Singapore partners e-marketplaces to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) expand their global reach.

The e-marketplaces include US-based Amazon, China's T-Mall and Malaysia's Lelong, which together have an online customer base of almost 700 million. IE said it is engaging these platforms so that Singapore firms can list their products on these websites more easily.

Under the collaboration, Singapore retailers can benefit from a waiver of set-up fees with Lelong and cluster with other Singapore brands to attract more shoppers on T-Mall.

IE also said more than 30 Singapore companies from F&B, retail and consumer electronics are now in talks with Amazon for product listing. Meanwhile, 13 food companies are on-board with T-Mall with over 150 product listings. Six Singapore SMEs are the first to list on Lelong, with 15 more in the pipeline.

IE Singapore Chief Executive Officer Teo Eng Cheong said: "We hope that by reducing these costs and by making it more convenient for them to go to these existing marketplaces, more companies will come on board and try out.

“(We hope that) over time (they will) develop their ecommerce strategy and have an effective way of reaching out to new customers. (We also hope they will) have a good combination of both online and offline strategies so that together they can retain customers and expand the customer base."

Going forward, IE said it is working to support the growth of companies in the area of e-commerce fulfilment, IT and digital infrastructure to strengthen the e-commerce sector ecosystem in Singapore.

Mr Teo added: "Be it in the payment mechanism, or in deliveries and logistics, these are new businesses which I think some companies could go into. And we hope to encourage Singapore companies to do that, (by going) into e-services, like search engine optimisation, and big data analytics and so on. We hope to have more Singapore companies going into these areas and they'll complement the whole e-commerce ecosystem."

- CNA/xk


Egypt court postpones Jazeera retrial verdict

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:32:24 PMGo to full article
CAIRO: An Egyptian court postponed on Thursday (Jul 30) its verdict in the retrial of three Al-Jazeera journalists accused of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, in a case that has sparked a global outcry.

Australian Peter Greste, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were jailed last year for "spreading false news" during their coverage of the turmoil after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Egyptian Al-Jazeera English journalist Baher Mohammed, left, whispers in the ear of Al-Jazeera English journalist Mohammed Fahmy, outside Tora prison, in Cairo, Egypt on Jul 30, 2015. (Photo: AP/Nariman El-Mofty)

Greste, who has since been deported, and Fahmy received seven years in the initial trial, while Mohamed was jailed for 10 years.

An appeals court ordered a retrial, saying the verdict lacked evidence against the three journalists working for the Doha-based network's English channel.

On Thursday the court did not hold its much-anticipated session, with a defence lawyer saying he had been told it was postponed.

The ruling is now expected on Aug 2, state news agency MENA reported. Earlier some relatives and lawyers said it was set for Aug 8.

"We are outraged that the verdict has been adjourned as today was meant to be the final court hearing for our colleagues," Al-Jazeera said in a statement. "Journalism is not a crime."

Thursday's session had been keenly awaited by rights groups and families of the defendants.

"The entire world has its eyes turned on Egypt because this is a decisive trial for media freedom," the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday.


Mohamed said the postponing of the verdict was "very strange".

"It's disturbing that the trial was postponed without informing our lawyers," he told AFP outside the court. "I don't want to predict anything about the verdict. Anything could happen."

An angry Fahmy said the delay was an insult to the defendants and their families. "It was a very difficult week waiting for the verdict. I brought a bag with blue clothes and toothbrush, and now it's a more difficult week" ahead, he said.

"We have been in a nightmare for 19 months ... I see the postponement as another insult to us, our families, our lawyers because no one informed us officially."

If convicted, the journalists can appeal to Egypt's Court of Cassation, which can uphold or cancel the ruling. If it cancels the verdict it will examine the case itself.

Greste has already been deported under a law allowing the transfer of foreigners on trial to their home countries but he is being retried in absentia.

Fahmy and Mohamed were freed on bail earlier this year, having spent more than 400 days in detention.

Fahmy has renounced his Egyptian nationality, hoping that he too would be deported like Greste.

"If this trial is fair, me and my colleagues have to be acquitted," Fahmy told AFP on Wednesday, adding that a court committee had acknowledged that there had been "no fabrication" in their coverage.


The court had also been due to give its ruling Thursday on five Egyptian co-defendants sentenced previously to up to 10 years for being members of the Brotherhood and for "damaging the public image of Egypt".

The three journalists were arrested in December 2013 during a crackdown on supporters of Morsi, who was ousted by then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after mass street protests against his year of divisive rule.

The initial trial came against the backdrop of strained ties between Egypt and Qatar, which supported Morsi's government.

The journalists were also accused of working without valid media accreditation.

Fahmy has since lashed out at Al-Jazeera, accusing it of negligence and backing the Brotherhood. He has sued the network for US$100 million.

Al-Jazeera has repeatedly denounced the trials as "political".

The network's Arabic-language channel had condemned Morsi's removal and the subsequent police crackdown that left hundreds of people dead and thousands jailed.

Rights groups say journalists in Egypt are facing unprecedented threats from the regime installed by Sisi.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 18 journalists are locked up in Egypt, the most since it began keeping records in 1990.

"I will continue the fight for press freedoms until the end. This is not just about the three of us. It's about journalists in the whole world," said Mohamed.

- AFP/ec


Investigators scramble to analyse wreckage for MH370 link

‎30 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎01:30:11 PMGo to full article
SAINT-ANDR : Investigators scrambled on Thursday (Jul 30) to study plane wreckage that washed up on a tiny Indian Ocean island, fuelling hopes that one of aviation's greatest enigmas could finally be solved: the mystery of missing flight MH370.

The two-metre (six-foot) long piece of wreckage was found on the French island of La Reunion, offering up bittersweet hope of closure to the families of 239 people who disappeared in March last year on the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777.

Police and gendarmes carry a piece of debris from an unidentified aircraft found in the coastal area of Saint-Andre de la Reunion, in the east of the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on Jul 29, 2015. (Photo: AFP/Yannick Pitou)

A small suitcase was also found near the wreckage. The suitcase was closed and in a badly-damaged condition, according to media reports. "It is really weird, it gives me the shivers," said Johnny Begue, a member of a beach clean-up crew who discovered the plane debris on Wednesday.

Damaged suitcase

Australia, which has led a fruitless 16-month search for MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, said the discovery of what appeared to be part of a wing, was an "important development".

"No theory is being ruled out, including that it comes from a Boeing 777," local government officials on La Reunion said in a statement.

But as local French air transport police studied the debris and experts from Malaysia headed to the scene, authorities warned against jumping to conclusions.

"Whatever wreckage is found needs to be further verified before we can further confirm whether it belongs to MH370," Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters in New York, saying he hoped for answers "as soon as possible".

France's civil aviation investigating authority BEA has been asked to coordinate an international probe into the origin of the debris, said the statement from La Reunion officials.


Malaysia later on Thursday announced it was sending a second team of experts to the French city of Toulouse, the site of the nearest BEA office, where the debris will be shipped to by France.

“A Malaysian team is on the way to Toulouse now,” said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in a statement. “It includes senior representatives from the Ministry of Transport, the Department of Civil Aviation, the MH370 investigation team, and Malaysia Airlines.”

Najib promised that more information will be made public as soon as possible. "I promise the families of those lost that whatever happens, we will not give up,” he added.

Flight MH370 was travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it mysteriously turned off its route and vanished on Mar 8 last year.

Authorities involved in the search at sea, guided by the analysis of signals from the plane that were detected by a satellite, believe it eventually went down in the southern Indian Ocean.

But no confirmed physical evidence has ever been found and Malaysian authorities in January declared that all on board were presumed dead.

"This obviously is a very important development and if it is indeed wreckage from MH370, it starts to provide some closure for the families of the people on board," said Australia's Transport and Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss.


Malaysia's deputy transport minister, Abdul Aziz Kaprawi, also said investigators in Malaysia who examined photos of the object believed it could be a Boeing 777 flaperon, a wing component.

"It is almost certain that it is similar to that of a Boeing 777," he told AFP.

He said the Malaysian team headed to La Reunion included experts from its Department of Civil Aviation and Malaysia Airlines, who would be joined by representatives from Boeing, and that verification could be completed within two days.

Excitement over the discovery was tempered by suggestions it could be from planes that went down in the region before, including a South African Airways Boeing 747 that crashed near the island of Mauritius in 1987, killing all 159 people on board.

Malaysia Airlines said it remained "too premature for the airline to speculate (on) the origin of the flaperon".

La Reunion lies about 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) from the area considered the most likely impact zone, but experts said it could have drifted there.

"From the information that we know about the oceanography and our computer modelling, it is completely consistent with the possible path of the debris originating from the current search area," said Charitha Pattiaratchi, an oceanographer with the University of Western Australia.


The discovery sparked more emotional turmoil for relatives of those missing.

"I'm hopeful, in another respect, I'm not. I guess while you don't know, you still hope," said Sara Weeks, sister of MH370 passenger Paul Weeks of New Zealand.

"We need to know what happened... at least if it's confirmed as a part of the plane then we can go onto the next stage which is still pretty similar to where we were before - what happened, where's the rest of the plane and where's my brother."

Angry next of kin have accused Malaysia's government of incompetence, secrecy, and insensitivity toward relatives, and many have questioned the focus on the Indian Ocean, saying other possibilities were being ignored.

Speculation on the cause of the plane's disappearance has focused primarily on a possible mechanical or structural failure, a hijacking or terror plot, or rogue pilot action.

However, nothing has emerged to substantiate any scenario, sustaining a flow of conspiracy theories, with books, documentaries and a thriving online debate positing a range of possibilities.

These include suggestions that the plane was diverted to Kazakhstan, or commandeered to be used as a "flying bomb" headed for US military installations on the Diego Garcia atoll, and was shot down by the Americans. The United States has dismissed this.

"We have had many false alarms before, but for the sake of the families who have lost loved ones, and suffered such heartbreaking uncertainty, I pray that we will find out the truth so that they may have closure and peace," said Najib.

- AFP/CNA/ec




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