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 In The News provided by Koinonia House


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Koinonia Institute presents its 2014 Strategic Perspectives IX Conference in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho on DVD, intel and insight to understand the times.


DVD Set - 10 discs
Run time approximately 21 Hours
Dr. Chuck Missler: The Spiritual Entrepreneur
L.A. Marzulli: On the Trail of the Nephilim
Bill Salus: Nuclear Showdown in Iran: Revealing the Ancient Prophecy of Elam
Mark Biltz: The Blood Moons
Joseph Farah: ISIS SHMISIS: God's Mideast Peace Plan
Bob Cornuke: Amazing New Discoveries that Change Everything about the Location of Solomon's Temple
Louis Powell: China - The Sleeping Dragon
Ron Matsen: The Re-emergence of Assyria


Also featuring: Trevor MacDuff, Chris Corlett, Jeff Altus, Gordon McDonald, William Welty, Avi Lipkin, Dan Stolebarger, Kings Highway/Debbie Holland, Steve Elwart, John Loeffler, and Jay Seegert

 

Price R799.00

 

 

Strategic Perspectives Conference

Run time approximately 21 Hours

 

  • Avi Lipkin - Russia, Ukraine, ISIS at the Gates
  • Dr. William Welty - Surviving God’s Discipline of a Nation
  • Dr. Dan Stolebarger - The Future is Now: Koinonia Institute Small Group Fellowship
  • Ron Matsen - The Reemergence of Assyria?
  • The King’s High Way Panel - The King’s High Way Ministries with Debbie Holland and Tim Tyler
  • Louis Powell - China: The Sleeping Dragon
  • Mark Biltz - The Blood Moons 
  • Dr. William Welty - I, Jesus an Autobiography 
  • Steve Elwart - WWIII: A Hundred Year Old Prophecy 
  • Joseph Farah - ISIS-SCMISIS: God’s Middle East Plan 
  • Dr. Chuck Missler - The Spiritual Entrepreneur: The Encroaching Darkness 
  • John Loeffler - Stumbling Toward an Omega Point 
  • Jay Seegert - Evolution: Problem or Problematic 
  • L.A. Marzulli - On the Trail of the Nephilim 
  • Bill Salus - Nuclear Showdown in Iran: Revealing the Ancient Prophecy of Elam
  • Bob Cornuke - Amazing New Discoveries: The Temple

Also featuring bonus workshop sessions:

  • Trevor MacDuff - Discipleship
  • Chris Corlett - Education is an “Everyman” Strategic Perspective
  • Jeff Altus - Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act?
  • Gordon McDonald - Guard Your Heart
  • Louis Powell - Koinonia Institute

Copyright © 2014

 

 

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Not friends yet, but Japan and South Korea are talking

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:20:26 PMGo to full article
South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, left, talks with Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida before their meeting at the foreign ministry's Iikura guest house in Tokyo Sunday, June 21, 2015. (Issei Kato/Pool Photo via AP)TOKYO (AP) — Foreign ministers from Japan and South Korea held a rare meeting Sunday on the eve of the 50th anniversary of their countries normalizing relations marred by Japan's colonization and World War II conquest.
 
 

Local triumph as Prayad takes Queen's Cup

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎04:40:59 PMGo to full article
Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand holds takes the Queen's Cup at Santiburi Samui Country Club in Koh Samui on June 21, 2015Bangkok (AFP) - Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng swept to victory on home soil at the Queen's Cup in Koh Samui Sunday, shooting a six-under par 65 on a day that proved a nightmare for Japan's Akinori Tani.
 
 

South Korea reports three new MERS cases, Thailand says none

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎07:38:05 AMGo to full article
A woman wearing a mask to prevent contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) walks at an underground shopping district in SeoulSEOUL/BANGKOK (Reuters) - South Korea reported three new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome on Sunday, bringing the total to 169 in the largest outbreak outside Saudi Arabia, but Thailand said it had no new infections. South Korea's Health Ministry late on Saturday reported the 25th fatality, a patient who had suffered a heart ailment and diabetes. Thailand, which discovered its first case last week, says 175 people were exposed to its single patient, with no new infections reported so far.
 
 

A contentious quest for Kevazingo, Gabon's sacred tree

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:02:14 AMGo to full article
The hard wood of the Kevazingo tree, a famous species in Gabon, is in high demand especially in Asia and illegal logging has rocketedBitam (Gabon) (AFP) - "Nobody should sell this wood. The elderly man, born around 1930, sits on his porch at Bendoussang in the north of the densely forested equatorial country, troubled when fellow villagers sell the hardwood -- sometimes from trees five centuries old -- to sawmills and collectors. Better known in the West as Bubinga, Kevazingo is much sought after in Gabon and Cameroon, but unlike the equally prized and abundant Okoume, it is rare and trees take many years to mature.
 
 

South Korea reports three new MERS cases

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:36:23 AMGo to full article
South Korea reports three new cases of MERS as authorities remain vigilant about the spread of the virus whose pace appear to have slowedSouth Korea reported three new cases of MERS Sunday as health authorities remained vigilant about the spread of the virus, which appeared to have slowed in recent days. The two medical staff include a doctor who treated a MERS patient at Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, seen as the epicentre of the outbreak, where more than 80 were infected. Another was a medical worker who took X-rays of a MERS patient in another hospital in Seoul.
 
 

Rising unemployment piles up problems for Indonesian president

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:35:57 AMGo to full article
Indonesian youths fill up job application forms on laptops provided by organizers at the Indonesia Techno Career in JakartaBy Eveline Danubrata and Cindy Silviana JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian companies are shedding jobs as they grapple with the weakest economic growth in six years, adding to the troubles facing President Joko Widodo, who was elected last year on pledges to dig the country out of a rut. Government data might suggest no cause for alarm - unemployment was 5.81 percent in February, up only slightly from 5.70 percent a year earlier - but the official numbers are notoriously unreliable and don't adequately cover the informal sector, which is two-thirds of Southeast Asia's biggest economy. Recent reports of heavy lay-offs across the country paint a bleaker picture, and business executives, recruitment firms and jobseekers say it is getting worse.
 
 

China, US set for 'vigorous' talks on tough issues

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:01:39 AMGo to full article
Alleged on-going reclamation by China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, on May 11, 2015The United States is vowing not to "paper over" differences with China at key talks this week weighed down by thorny issues of trade, cyber spying and tensions in the South China Sea. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will host China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Vice Premier Wang Yang for a private dinner on Monday, before the talks kick off at the State Department the next day. The world's two leading economies remain at odds over China's claims to much of the South China Sea and Washington has repeatedly urged Beijing to stop building artificial islands in the key waterway.
 
 

U.S., India discuss intellectual property concerns

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎03:20:42 AMGo to full article
India's Finance Minister Arun Jaitley speaks with Timothy Geithner, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, at the Council on Foreign Relations in New YorkBy Idrees Ali WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Saturday that senior Obama administration officials had raised U.S. concerns with him about India’s handling of intellectual property rights during his U.S. visit this week. Jaitley held talks with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker during a tour that has taken him to New York and Washington, including meetings with CEOs and think tanks. While offering a mostly upbeat assessment of his trip so far, Jaitley said discussions with U.S. counterparts had also touched upon contentious issues between the two countries.
 
 

Not friends yet: Japan, S. Korea mark 50-year treaty

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎02:35:59 AMGo to full article
TOKYO (AP) — Foreign ministers from Japan and South Korea are holding a rare meeting Sunday on the eve of the 50th anniversary since their countries normalized relations marred by Japan's colonization and World War II conquest.
 

Angelina Jolie: We're living in era of 'mass displacement'

 
‎20 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎09:20:26 PMGo to full article
U.S. actress Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, listens to a question during a news conference following a visit to the Midyat refugee camp in Mardin, southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border, Saturday, June 20, 2015. Marking World Refugee Day Jolie visited the camp which is sheltering those who have fled the 4-year conflict in neighbouring Syria. The UN refugee agency has said the number of Syrian refugees seeking its help now tops two-million - and could be far higher. Turkey is the world's biggest refugee host with 1.59 million refugees, according to the most recent U.N. figures. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)MARDIN, Turkey (AP) — After visiting a camp for Syrian refugees in southeastern Turkey on Saturday, actress Angelina Jolie said the world is living through an era of mass displacement.
 
 

Thailand says 175 exposed to MERS patient; South Korea reports no new case

 
‎20 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎02:04:45 PMGo to full article
People wear masks to prevent contracting MERS at the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi provinceA total of 175 people were exposed to Thailand's only case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the patient's condition has improved, the health ministry said on Saturday. In a statement, the ministry said it had been in touch with all 175 and had instructed them to stay away from public spaces and for medical personnel to monitor their health. In South Korea, the health ministry said that no new cases of the disease had been recorded in the country for the first time in 16 days.
 
 

South Korea reports no new MERS cases for first time in 16 days

 
‎20 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎01:12:53 PMGo to full article
South Korea reported no additional deaths and no new cases from its MERS outbreak, raising hopes the country is winning the battle to contain the deadly virusSouth Korea on Saturday said that there had been no new cases of MERS reported for the first time in 16 days, raising hopes the country is winning the battle to contain the deadly virus. Six more patients had recovered and were released from hospital, cutting to 106 the number now undergoing treatment, while restrictions on more than 700 people were lifted Saturday, leaving some 5,200 people in quarantine. One of those who had recovered was 37-year-old doctor Park Kyu-Tae, who also contracted the virus at Samsung Medical Centre -- one of the epicentres of the outbreak -- on May 27.
 
 

Nigeria LNG exports reach $85 bn in 15 years

 
‎20 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎10:57:09 AMGo to full article
Nigeria's Liquefied Natural Gas company has generated $85 bn exports since its inception 15 years ago, it saysNigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company Limited (NLNG), a joint venture between the government and foreign oil majors, has generated some 85 billion dollars from exports since its inception 15 years ago, the company announced late Friday. Between 1999 when we came on stream and now, we have realised some 85 billion dollars from exports of liquefied natural gas to buyers in Europe, America and Asia," chief executive Babs Omotowa told reporters in Lagos.
 
 

Cybertheft adds to US-China tensions ahead of upcoming talks

 
‎20 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎09:30:43 AMGo to full article
FILE - In this May 17, 2015, file photo, Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shake hands prior to a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. Tensions between the U.S. and China are growing over its island-building in the South China Sea and over suspicions that Beijing was behind a massive hack into a federal government server that resulted in the theft of personnel and security clearance records of 14 million employees and contractors. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP, File)WASHINGTON (AP) — Tensions between the U.S. and China are growing over its island-building in the South China Sea and over suspicions that Beijing was behind a massive hack into a federal government server that resulted in the theft of personnel and security clearance records of 14 million employees and contractors.
 
 

Vietnam questions suspected hijackers of Malaysian tanker

 
‎20 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎07:25:05 AMGo to full article
A Vietnam Cost Guard ship is anchored in the southern province of Phuc QuocVietnam's marine police on Saturday said they were questioning eight foreigners suspected of being the escaped pirates who commandeered a Malaysian-flagged tanker in the South China Sea for a week. The unarmed men docked on Tho Chu island, off southwest Vietnam, on a lifeboat Friday morning after "saying they encountered an accident at sea", Major General Ngo Ngoc Thu, deputy commander of the Vietnam Marine Police, told AFP. Malaysian authorities have been searching for eight men since Friday when they escaped the MT Orkim Harmony in a lifeboat.
 
 

The Latest: Second round at US Open in the books

 
‎20 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:18:36 AMGo to full article
Jordan Spieth hits out of a bunker on the 18th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Chambers Bay on Friday, June 19, 2015 in University Place, Wash. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (AP) — The latest from the U.S. Open (all times local):
 
 

Global 'terror' death toll soared in 2014: US

 
‎20 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎01:59:18 AMGo to full article
A hostage runs towards police in Sydney on December 15, 2014 from a cafe where a gunman had taken hostages and displayed an Islamic flagIslamic jihadists fuelled a huge spike in terror attacks last year with the global death toll soaring 81 percent in more than 1,100 assaults a month, the United States said Friday. There were 13,463 attacks in 95 countries in 2014 -- up by a third from the year before -- with Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan bearing the brunt of extremist violence, the State Department said in a report. The largest number of attacks were carried out by Islamic State (IS) militants, who unleashed 1,083 assaults last year as part of a deadly march across Iraq and Syria.
 
 

Three DR Congo guards shot dead while protecting elephants

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎10:11:32 PMGo to full article
Elephant hunting is often organised by international criminal networks to supply the illegal ivory market, mainly in Asia, with some profits thought to fund regional conflicts and militantsTwo Democratic Republic of Congo soldiers and a wildlife conservation guard have been shot dead in Garamba National Park while attempting to protect elephants from poachers, the park's management said Friday. The three men died Thursday "when they were ambushed by a group of heavily-armed poachers, believed to be South Sudanese," the African Parks NGO said in a statement. "The three men sustained multiple bullet wounds and died instantly," added African Parks which runs the national park along with the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature.
 
 

World shocked at enduring racism, gun violence in US

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎09:34:09 PMGo to full article
Police lead suspected shooter Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North CarolinaBEIJING (AP) — Often the target of U.S. human rights accusations, China wasted little time returning such charges following the shooting at a historic black church in South Carolina that left nine people dead. Elsewhere around the world, the attack renewed perceptions that Americans have too many guns and have yet to overcome racial tensions.
 
 

Blatter says FIFA officials should pass integrity checks

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎08:52:37 PMGo to full article
LONDON (AP) — Sepp Blatter believes FIFA's top officials should be required to pass integrity checks as the governing body remains mired in scandal.
 

S. Korea says MERS outbreak shows signs of subsiding

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎03:37:08 PMGo to full article
South Korea reported no additional deaths and no new cases from its MERS outbreak, raising hopes the country is winning the battle to contain the deadly virusSouth Korea said Friday that the MERS outbreak that has killed 24 people appears to have begun subsiding, as it reported one new case -- the lowest rate of new infections in two weeks. This brought to 166 the total number of confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the country since the first was confirmed on May 20 in what is the largest outbreak outside Saudi Arabia. The number of people in quarantine had fallen 12 percent from Thursday to 5,930, a day after Thailand reported Southeast Asia's first case of the deadly virus since the disease was confirmed in South Korea.
 
 

Image of Asia: Muslims gather for Ramadan Friday prayers

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎02:22:13 PMGo to full article
Indonesian Muslim men gather during the first Friday pray of the fasting month of Ramadan at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, June 19, 2015. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn till dusk. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)In this photo by Achmad Ibrahim, Indonesian Muslim men gather for the first Friday prayers during Ramadan at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta. The mosque is the largest in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, and commemorates the country's independence. Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar.
 
 

Omani MERS patient's relatives tested for virus in Thailand

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎11:14:15 AMGo to full article
A man holds his child while walking past an information banner on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) at the entrance of Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi province, Thailand on June 19, 2015Thai authorities on Friday said two relatives of an Omani man found to have MERS were being tested for the deadly virus in the kingdom. Thailand, a booming medical tourism hub popular with Middle Eastern patients, on Thursday confirmed the Omani, 75, had MERS, days after he arrived at a Bangkok hospital for treatment for a heart condition. On Friday the Omani patient was "getting a bit better", said Thailand's Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin at a press conference on the outskirts of Bangkok.
 
 

Hijacked Malaysian oil tanker rescued, pirates flee

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎10:32:43 AMGo to full article
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Pirates who hijacked a Malaysian oil tanker last week have fled on the ship's lifeboat after being pursued by a Malaysian navy ship, an official said Friday.
 

Hijackers of Malaysian tanker escape, one crewman shot

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎08:45:24 AMGo to full article
Pirates who commandeered a Malaysian-flagged tanker in the South China Sea for a week have escaped from the vessel in a lifeboat, giving warships the slip under cover of night, the country's naval commander saysRoyal Malaysian Navy chief Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar also said the 22 crew members of the MT Orkim Harmony were unscathed except for an Indonesian seamen who was being treated for a gunshot wound to the thigh. "All eight robbers escaped by using the MT Orkim Harmony's lifeboats," Abdul Aziz said in a statement, adding that a range of Malaysian naval and coast guard assets were now searching for the pirates near Indonesia's Natuna Islands. The vessel was the latest to be targeted by increasingly bold pirates behind an upsurge of sea hijackings in Southeast Asia in the past two years that have typically targeted smaller tankers carrying valuable petrol, diesel or gas oil.
 
 

U.S. to face differences with China head on at talks next week

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎08:32:43 AMGo to full article
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel answers reporters' question during a news conference in SeoulBy David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it would not "paper over" differences between the United States and China when top officials of the world's two largest economies meet to discuss financial and political strategy in Washington next week. Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, set the scene for contentious exchanges at the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) by stressing that differences over the South China Sea, cyber security and human rights would be high on the U.S. agenda. Speaking after revelations of massive cyber attacks on U.S. government computers in the past two weeks, which U.S. officials have blamed on Chinese hackers, Russel said cyber security issues would be raised throughout the talks from Monday to Wednesday in Washington.
 
 

Thai airline shares, hoteliers fall on first MERS case, aviation safety downgrade

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:09 AMGo to full article
By Viparat Jantraprap BANGKOK (Reuters) - Shares of Thai aviation firms and hoteliers fell on Friday after Thailand confirmed its first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), further dampening tourism sentiment already hit by an international aviation agency's safety rating downgrade. Airports of Thailand Pcl dropped 4.2 percent, national carrier Thai Airways International Pcl eased 2.3 percent and hotelier Central Plaza Hotel Pcl plunged 6.6 percent, all extending losses for a second day. ...
 

Malaysian hijacked oil tanker rescued, pirates flee

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:05:46 AMGo to full article
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Pirates who hijacked a Malaysian oil tanker last week have fled on the ship's lifeboat after being pursued by a Malaysian navy ship, officials said Friday.
 

Asia shares, except China, piggyback on US rally, Fed relief

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:34:09 AMGo to full article
The handheld device of trader John Panin is reflected in his glass as he works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, June 18, 2015. U.S. stocks moved higher in early trading Thursday, extending gains a day after the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged from historically low levels. Health care stocks were among the biggest gainers. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares pushed higher Friday following a rally in U.S. markets, but China's benchmark sank again on worries over the potential impact of a flurry of initial public offerings and moves by regulators to curb margin trading.
 
 

MERS outbreak shows old habits die hard in South Korea

 
‎19 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎04:15:11 AMGo to full article
South Korea is currently battling with an outbreak of the MERS, which has killed 24 people while 166 cases have been confirmed -- the largest outbreak of the disease outside Saudi ArabiaSouth Korea's growing MERS outbreak has laid bare the country's poor handling of disasters despite President Park Geun-Hye's pledge to overhaul public safety measures following last year's ferry disaster, experts say. "Bureaucratic inefficiency, disregard for a crisis manual and the lack of training and education to deal with a crisis all remain the same," he told AFP.
 
 

Elephant DNA may spur crackdown on illegal ivory trade

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎10:40:06 PMGo to full article
A Sri Lankan artist paints an elephant sculpture made from elephant dung in the village of Pinnawela, some 90kms north-east of Colombo, on July 24, 2013Scientists can now match DNA from elephant dung to DNA extracted from ivory to track down the source of large, illegal shipments of tusks and trinkets across borders, researchers say. The illegal trade fuels the killing of some 50,000 African elephants each year and results in 40-50 tons of seized ivory. Much of the demand for ivory comes from Asia, where it is carved into signature seals, jewelry, cigarette holders and other trinkets, making big profits for traffickers.
 
 

THE LATEST: Obama welcomes pope's call for climate action

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎09:48:52 PMGo to full article
Environmental activists display a banner as they prepare to listen to speeches inside a Roman Catholic church to coincide with Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change Thursday, June 18, 2015 in Manila, Philippines. In a high-level, 190-page document released Thursday, Francis describes ongoing human damage to nature as "one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity." The solution, he says, will require self-sacrifice and a "bold cultural revolution" worldwide.(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)9:45 p.m. (1945 GMT, 3:45 p.m. EDT)
 
 

US 'troubled' by China plans to keep building on islands

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎09:03:46 PMGo to full article
FILE - In this May 11, 2015, file photo, this aerial photo taken through a glass window of a military plane shows China's alleged on-going reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China will complete land reclamation projects on its disputed South China Sea territorial claims as planned within "upcoming days," the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP)WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is troubled by China's plans to keep building on artificial islands in the South China Sea, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia said Thursday.
 
 

Bangladesh beats India for only 4th time in ODIs

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎09:00:30 PMGo to full article
Bangladesh’s Mustafizur Rahman, left, celebrates with teammates Nasir Hossain, right, and Shakib Al Hasan, center, the dismissal of India’s Ravichandran Ashwin during the first one-day international cricket match between them in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, June 18, 2015. (AP Photo/ A.M. Ahad)DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh beat India for only the fourth time in 30 one-day internationals and took a big step on Thursday to qualifying for the 2017 Champions Trophy.
 
 

Macedonia backs law to cope with flood of migrants

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎08:42:46 PMGo to full article
Migrants try to board a train at a station in Demir Kapija, south-eastern Macedonia, on June 18, 2015, on their way to the Serbian borderMacedonian lawmakers on Thursday amended the country's asylum law in a bid to better cope with the thousands of migrants who have been pouring in the Balkan country, heading towards the EU. The changes are designed to facilitate the transit of migrants, allowing them to register with the authorities and then within 72 hours either seek asylum or leave Macedonia, which is not an EU member. "Border police have been returning on daily basis 2,000 to 3,000 migrants who are trying to enter Macedonia from Greece," Interior Minister Mitko Cavko told the deputies.
 
 

New study identifies elephant poaching hotspots in Africa

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎08:18:00 PMGo to full article
FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 file photo, a Maasai boy and his dog stand near the skeleton of an elephant killed by poachers outside of Arusha, Tanzania. Investigators who collected DNA from the tusks of slain elephants and painstakingly looked for matches in the vast African continent have identified two large areas where the slaughter has been occurring on an industrial scale, Tanzania in the east and a cross-border region encompassing several nations in the central-western part of Africa, according to a study published on Thursday, June 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Jason Straziuso, File)JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Investigators who collected DNA from the tusks of slain elephants and painstakingly looked for matches in the vast African continent have identified two large areas where the slaughter has been occurring on an industrial scale, according to a study published on Thursday.
 
 

Analysis: Obama Asia policy faces toughest test on trade

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎07:57:29 PMGo to full article
WASHINGTON (AP) — Critics have long predicted that President Barack Obama's policy to shift America's focus toward Asia is doomed. The legislative battle over his trade agenda could prove the acid test.
 

Keeping tradition intact, Ascot goes international

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:55:31 PMGo to full article
Larisa Katz poses for a photo during Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot in Berkshire, west of London, on June 18, 2015. The five-day meeting is one of the highlights of the horse racing calendarPomp, pageantry and a vast array of elaborate hats make Royal Ascot a truly English affair â - but Britainâ s most prestigious horse race meeting is attracting a growing international contingent. More than 300,000 people are expected during the course of the five-day extravaganza in Berkshire, southeast England, attended yearly by Queen Elizabeth II -- with Ladies Day on Thursday a sartorial highlight of the upper class social calendar. Taiwanese couple Chinghan Wang and Tienjen Hsieh, who are studying in London, said they spent about a month researching and preparing their outfits.
 
 

Thailand confirms first MERS case as virus spreads in Asia

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:32:02 PMGo to full article
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is considered a deadlier version of the SARS virus which killed hundreds of people in 2003, forcing Asian nations to check the temperature of passengers as they arrive at airports to combat the virusThailand on Thursday said a 75-year-old man from Oman was confirmed to have MERS in Southeast Asia's first case of the virus since an outbreak in South Korea that has killed 23 people. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has spread at an alarmingly rapid pace in South Korea since the first case was diagnosed on May 20, infecting 165 in what is the largest outbreak outside Saudi Arabia. Thailand, a booming medical tourism hub popular with Middle Eastern patients, announced its first positive MERS case Thursday after around 20 people earlier tested negative for the virus.
 
 

Former UN climate chief sees agreement in Paris talks

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎04:58:38 PMGo to full article
Yvo de Boer, director general of the Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute, gestures during an interview at the Asian Development Bank headquarters in suburban Mandaluyong, east of Manila, Philippines Thursday, June 18, 2015. The former U.N. climate chief expressed confidence that global climate talks in Paris later this year will produce an agreement, putting the world on track to begin the process of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A former U.N. climate chief expressed confidence Thursday that global climate talks in Paris later this year will produce an agreement, putting the world on track to begin the process of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
 
 
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Japan and South Korea aim for three-way summit with China by December

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎07:35:15 PMGo to full article
TOKYO: The Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers agreed on Sunday to aim for a three-way summit with China by the end of the year, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said, paving the way for the first one-on-one meeting between Tokyo and Seoul's leaders.

Japan's Fumio Kishida met his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, to try to mend ties strained by a territorial dispute and a feud over "comfort women" forced to work in Japan's wartime military brothels.

South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (L) talks with Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida before their meeting at the foreign ministry's Iikura guest house in Tokyo June 21, 2015. REUTERS/Issei Kato

The strain in relations is complicating efforts to boost security cooperation between Japan and South Korea, two of the United States' main Asian allies, as the region copes with an unpredictable North Korea and an assertive China.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have not held bilateral talks since taking office. However, Sino-Japanese ties, similarly frayed by an island dispute and Japan's wartime legacy, have seen a thaw since Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their first summit last year.

Japan's ambassador to South Korea, Koro Bessho, said in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun daily on Saturday that he was certain that a meeting between Abe and Park would be held on the sidelines of a trilateral summit involving Japan, South Korea and China.

"We have managed to confirm our intention of maintaining dialogue despite difficult problems existing between the two countries. It was a meaningful meeting," Kishida told reporters.

On the issue of "comfort women", Kishida and Yun reiterated their positions, a Foreign Ministry official said.

South Korea says Japan has not properly atoned for its wartime past, including its role in forcing Korean women into prostitution at military brothels, while Japan says the matter of compensation for comfort women has already been settled.

Kishida's meeting with Yun took place a day ahead of the 50th anniversary of the signing of a treaty that normalised ties between the two countries.

The South Korean government announced on Sunday that Park would attend a ceremony in Seoul to mark the occasion and the Japanese government said Abe will take part in a corresponding reception in Tokyo, both taking a symbolic step to improve ties.

Just a few days ago, they were widely expected by local media to send their messages to the events without showing up.

(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg in TOKYO, Jack Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Nick Macfie and Digby Lidstone)

- Reuters

 

Egypt appoints first ambassador to Israel in three years

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎07:32:10 PMGo to full article
CAIRO: Egypt appointed its first ambassador to Israel since 2012 on Sunday, signalling improving ties between states that both see the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, as a threat.

Former Islamist president Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood recalled Cairo's ambassador to Israel in Nov. 2012 over an Israeli attack that left Hamas's military commander dead and kickstarted weeks of violence.

"President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a republican decree appointing new diplomats abroad which included ... Ambassador Hazem Khairat ... as Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv," state news agency MENA reported on Sunday.

Former army chief Sisi was elected president last year after he ousted Mursi in 2013 following mass protests against the latter's rule. He has since presided over a systematic crackdown over Islamists.

Egyptian courts have declared Hamas, its armed wing Qassam Brigades and the Brotherhood as terrorist organisations, although the ruling against Hamas was reversed in June.

"We have been informed by the authorities in Egypt that it is dispatching an ambassador to Israel," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday at a joint news conference with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Jerusalem.

Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

- Reuters

 

Al Jazeera says its journalist Ahmed Mansour remanded in custody in Germany

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎07:30:19 PMGo to full article
REUTERS: The pan-Arab television network Al Jazeera said on Sunday that one of its best known journalists, Ahmed Mansour, had been ordered to remain in custody after appearing before a judge in Germany.

Mansour was arrested in Berlin at Egypt's request, in a case that could embarrass Germany and renew questions about Cairo's crackdown on dissent.

(Reporting by Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

- Reuters

 

Rosberg gets the jump on Hamilton in Austria

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎07:25:17 PMGo to full article
SPIELBERG, Austria: Nico Rosberg won the Austrian Grand Prix for the second year in a row on Sunday with his championship-leading Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton losing out at the start and having to settle for second.

Hamilton's lead in the Formula One standings was cut to 10 points after eight of 19 races, the Briton making a poor getaway from pole position and being beaten into the first corner by the determined German.

Mercedes Formula One driver Nico Rosberg of Germany stands next to his team mate Lewis Hamilton of Britain (L) as he celebrates with the trophy after winning the Austrian F1 Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring circuit in Spielberg, Austria, June 21, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

The victory was Rosberg's third of the season, to Hamilton's four, and left him on 159 points to his rival's 169.

Asked why he did not drive every race like that, Rosberg smiled: "I will try from now on," he told reporters. "It's an awesome feeling of course to win again here. The start made the race.

"It really worked out perfectly today," added the German, who turns 30 next weekend.

Any hopes of a chase to the end disappeared when Hamilton, who finished 3.8 seconds behind, collected a five-second penalty for crossing the white line as he left the pits on the 35th of the 71 laps.

The double world champion recognised that he was never close enough even without the penalty.

"Nico did a fantastic job today. He was quicker during the race, I had a bad start which lost me ground," said Hamilton in podium interviews conducted by former F1 racer Gerhard Berger. "I was pushing as hard as I could."

A small consolation for Hamilton was the fact that he led for three laps while Rosberg pitted, allowing him to equal triple champion Jackie Stewart's 45-year-old record of leading 17 successive races.

Brazilian Felipe Massa finished a distant third for Mercedes-powered Williams after holding off Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who lost crucial seconds on his one pitstop when the right rear wheel gun jammed.

"I just managed to keep the line and not make any mistake and just use a little bit of experience," said Massa, who started on pole last year, after his 40th career podium.

Vettel's team mate Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren's Fernando Alonso collided and crashed into the barriers after the second corner, bringing out the safety car for five laps.

The McLaren ended up on top of the Ferrari, fortunately without hitting Raikkonen's head or hands, and perched on the barriers.

Stewards investigated after the race and decided to take no further action against either driver.

SCARY MOMENT

Alonso, who had started on the back row after collecting a 25-place drop following engine and gearbox changes, said the collision with his former Ferrari team mate was a scary moment.

"Kimi had a lot of wheel spin out of turn two. We were overtaking him and he lost the car on the left. I was on the left. I could not see anything. I looked in the mirror and saw a car under my car," he said.

The Spaniard waited for Raikkonen to get out of the car before they walked away together. Never one to waste words, the Finn described the incident as 'not ideal'.

Williams's Valtteri Bottas finished fifth, ahead of 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Nico Hulkenberg in a Force India and Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado seventh for Lotus.

Max Verstappen, the 17-year-old Dutch rookie, was eighth for Toro Rosso after struggling to control his car on worn tyres at the end and Mexican Sergio Perez made it a double points finish for Force India.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo grabbed a consolation point for the unhappy hosts with 10th place.

Only 14 of the 20 cars finished, with both Honda-powered McLarens out of action after just 10 laps.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

- Reuters

 

Box Office: 'Jurassic World' Bites Into US$102 Million, 'Inside Out' Scores With US$91 Million

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:14 PMGo to full article
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - These are the weekends that record-breaking summers are made of.

The North American box office sizzled as Disney and Pixar's "Inside Out" and Universal's "Jurassic World" duked it out at the multiplexes. After shattering records for domestic and international debuts, "Jurassic World" became only the second film in history to top US$100 million in two separate weekends.

Cast member Chris Pratt poses at the premiere of "Jurassic World" in Hollywood, California, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The dinosaur sequel nabbed first place with a massive US$102 million, pushing its domestic total to US$398.2 million. "Jurassic World" has now passed "Jurassic Park" (US$357.1 million) as the highest-grossing domestic release in the franchise's history when not adjusted for inflation.

Its dominance ended one of the most remarkable winning streaks in cinema history, putting a period to Pixar's run of first place finishes. Every previous film released by the studio bowed in the top spot on domestic charts.

Not that Disney is complaining. Buoyed by rapturous critical notices, "Inside Out" scored the second best debut ever for Pixar, behind only "Toy Story 3's" US$110.3 million opening, and the highest opening weekend ever for an original, non-sequel property, passing "Avatar's" US$77 million start. The brainy family film picked up US$91 million from 3,946 playdates. That was a significant jump on the US$60 million-plus opening that Disney had projected for "Inside Out."

"Inside Out," which unfolds largely inside the mind of a young girl struggling to come to terms with her family's move to San Francisco, represented a big gamble for Pixar. Produced for US$175 million, it had a concept that defied an easy sales pitch and could have gone soaring over the heads of younger moviegoers. Instead, critics praised the film as ranking alongside such previous Pixar greats as "Up" and "Wall-E" in pairing cinematic daring with emotional uplift.

Disney's distribution chief Dave Hollis praised the studio's marketing team for conveying the twisty concept in a series of upbeat ads and for getting the word out early that the picture was not to be missed. "Inside Out" first screened for movie theater owners and press at CinemaCon in April and followed that up with a high-profile premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

"There was a critical mass building of people saying 'wow it's so original, it's Pixar doing what Pixar does best,'" said Hollis. "That critical mass tipped over into the consumer mindset."

Analysts argue that the positive response was one of the major reasons "Inside Out," like "Jurassic World" before it, soared past projections.

"This is another example of word of mouth spreading fast for a movie and people getting behind in a big way," said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.

It wasn't just reviews. Production delays on Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur" forced that movie to abandon its original 2014 release date, putting a two-year gap between the animation studio's films and driving interest in its latest title.

"It speaks to the power of Pixar," said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. "Audiences see that name and they know it stands for quality. You can't say that about any other company that does animation. They're more hit and miss."

Opening weekend crowds for "Inside Out" were 56per cent female and 38per cent under the age of 12. Families comprised 71per cent of the audience.

There was one casualty at the box office. Open Road's "Dope" did not perform as well as the studio had hoped. The Sundance Film Festival favorite sparked a bidding war when it debuted in Park City, but the picture's off-beat sensibility (it's a comedy about nerds living in South Central), was difficult to convey to audiences. "Dope" pulled in a disappointing US$6 million from 2,002 locations, good enough for a fifth place finish.

Open Road Chief Marketing Officer Jason Cassidy noted that the film played well with critics and audiences, which could help it "leg it out" in coming weeks.

"When you have two movies doing almost US$200 million in the marketplace, it's tough for much else to cut through," said Cassidy. "The great news is we have a great movie that plays great."

In third place, Fox's "Spy" showed some staying power, slipping 29per cent in its third weekend to US$10.5 million and bringing its stateside total to US$74.4 million. Disaster film "San Andreas" nabbed the fourth position on charts after snagging US$8.2 million and pushing its domestic haul to US$132.2 million.

Among art house releases, new indie distributor The Orchard kicked off the sex comedy "The Overnight" to an estimated US$61,523 this weekend on three screens in New York and Los Angeles, for a per-screen average of US$20,507. The company plans to expand the film next weekend and will have it playing on more than 300 screens by the July 4th holiday.

In its second weekend, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" expanded from 15 locations to 68 theaters, bringing in US$351,678. The dramedy about a young cinephile who befriends his critically ill high school classmate has earned US$645,090 so far.

Final numbers have yet to be calculated, but the overall box office will annihilate the figures put up a year ago when "Think Like a Man Too" and "Jersey Boys" opened.

"This is an example of the market expanding when it needs to accommodate two big movies," said Contrino.

- Reuters

 

Greek finance minister says 'we're heading for a deal'

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎07:05:12 PMGo to full article
ATHENS: Greece's leftwing government believes it can reach a deal with its creditors, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said on Sunday after almost eight hours of meetings to thrash out proposals ahead of a last-ditch summit with European leaders on Monday.

Asked by reporters if he was confident of reaching an agreement, Varoufakis said: "Always, we're heading toward a deal." He gave no details.

Greece needs an agreement with its creditors to unlock aid and avert the threat of default at the end of the month.

(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos, writing by James Mackenzie, editing by Deepa Babington)

- Reuters

 

Greece submits fresh plan on eve of EU emergency summit

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:59:59 PMGo to full article
ATHENS: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras presented new proposals to European leaders on Sunday (Jun 21) aimed at ending his country's debt crisis, on the eve of a summit that could determine whether Greece crashes out of the eurozone.

In a telephone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Tsipras detailed a "mutually beneficial deal", the Greek premier's office said in a statement.

File photo of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. (Alexei Danichev/RIA Novosti)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi urged the two sides to seize a "window of opportunity", saying all conditions were in place for them to reach a "win-win accord".

Athens said its new proposals were aimed at reaching a "definitive solution" to the five-month standoff between Athens and its creditors - the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank - as fears deepened over a potential "Grexit" from the eurozone.

The heads of the 19 eurozone countries will hold an emergency summit on the crisis in Brussels on Monday under pressure to prevent Greece from defaulting on its debt with a June 30 payment deadline fast approaching.

'SANITY WILL PREVAIL'

The head of Greece's biggest bank said she thought "sanity will prevail" on Monday. "To enter into such uncharted waters and take up all the risk both for the eurozone and for Greece for two or three billion (euro) difference, I think it's insane," National Bank of Greece chief Louka Katseli told BBC radio.

Greece's anti-austerity government met on Sunday to refine its proposals, while a European source said Tsipras and Juncker "held talks Saturday and will again speak Sunday", adding that there were many exchanges and "informal work under way to find a solution".

Failing a deal, Greece is likely to default on an IMF debt payment of around €1.5 billion (US$1.7 billion) due on Jun 30, setting up a potentially chaotic exit from the eurozone.

Last Wednesday the Greek central bank put the risk in stark terms saying: "Failure to reach an agreement would ... mark the beginning of a painful course that would lead initially to a Greek default and ultimately to the country's exit from the euro area and, most likely, from the European Union."

The IMF was called in to help rescue Greece at the end of 2009 when the debt-plagued country could no longer borrow on international markets.

The EU's involvement in the huge bailout, which was to provide €240 billion (US$270 billion) in loans in exchange for drastic austerity measures and reforms, runs out at the end of this month, but IMF support was supposed to continue to March 2016.

Talks between Greece's radical-left government and its lenders have been deadlocked for five months over the payment of the final €7.2 billion (US$8.2 billion) tranche of the bailout, with talk also turning to an extension of the European help.

For the Greek government any extension of the bailout should be about kickstarting the country's devastated economy and not further austerity. They also want an easing of the country's crippling debt burden, which officially stood at €312.7 billion (US$355.1 billion), or 174.7 per cent of gross domestic product, in March.

The international lenders have rejected a series of proposals from Athens, insisting on their own mixture of cuts and reforms. Minister of state Nikos Pappas, who is close to Tsipras, said the counter-proposals would be "unacceptable to whichever Greek political party" was in power.

'BRIDGING THE GAP'

Alekos Flambouraris, another Tsipras minister, said on Saturday that Athens would propose reworked measures that "bridge the gap", while also predicting that Greece's creditors would not be satisfied with the gestures, Greek media reported. "You'll see they won't accept loosening budget (restrictions), or our proposal on the debt," he said of two main sticking points in the talks.

But the country's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose flamboyant style has irked many of his European counterparts, turned the tables by putting the onus on the leader of paymaster Germany to do a deal. "The German chancellor has a clear decision to make on Monday," he wrote in an op-ed for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"On our side, we will come with determination to Brussels to agree to further compromises as long as we are not asked to do what the previous (Greek) governments have done: accept new debt under conditions that offer little hope for Greece to repay its debts," he wrote, without specifying the compromises.

Demonstrators around Europe on Saturday took to the streets to protest against spending cuts and austerity measures taken by their governments, and expressing solidarity with Greece.

- AFP/de

 

Cycling: Spilak wins Tour of Switzerland

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:37:41 PMGo to full article
BERN, Switzerland: Slovenia's Simon Spilak produced a stunning final stage time trial to snatch victory in the Tour of Switzerland on Sunday (Jun 21).

Dutchman Tom Dumoulin won the 38.4km stage against the clock in Berne but Spilak overhauled Britain's Geraint Thomas and Thibaut Pinot of France to win by just five seconds overall.

Britain's second-placed Geraint Thomas (L), winner Simon Spilak from Slovenia (C) and third-placed Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands (R) celebrate on the podium after the ninth and last stage of the Tour of Switzerland. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP)

Katusha's Spilak, 28, came second on the stage, 18sec behind Giant-Alpecin's Dumoulin, with time trial great Fabian Cancellara having to settle for third at 19sec in his home race. Thomas took fifth on the stage but 18sec behind Spilak having begun the day just 13sec ahead of the rider from Slovenia.

Those two were expected to battle for overall victory with Pinot, who started the day in yellow, but the Frenchman was 1min 50sec slower than Dumoulin on the stage and slipped to fourth overall, one place behind the Dutchman.

For Spilak, a one-week race specialist, it was his second victory in Switzerland having also won the Tour de Romandie in 2010.

He finished second at Romandie in the last three years and was also third at Paris-Nice earlier this year but he has never managed to turn his stage-racing form into into a challenge at one of the three-week Grand Tours.

- AFP/de

 

Tennis: Kerber targets Wimbledon after debut grass win

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:16:31 PMGo to full article
BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: Angelique Kerber suggested that she is back to her best in time for Wimbledon after lifting her first grass court title in a compelling final against Karolina Pliskova in Birmingham on Sunday (Jun 21).

The German's 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) win sets her up well for the Grand Slam starting in a week's time and also prevented the Czech from taking over her place in the world's top ten.

Germany's Angelique Kerber with the Maud Watson Trophy after beating Czech's Karolina Pliskova 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 during the Aegon Birmingham Classic Women's Singles Final at the Edgbaston Priory Club, Birmingham, England on Jun 21, 2015. (Photo: AP/Rui Vieira)

Pliskova has served 320 aces, more than any other woman this year, including 11 more here, but Kerber's movement, tenacity, flat counter-hitting, and competitive nous managed to frustrate her dangerously improving 23-year-old opponent.

To achieve it she had to come from a set and a break of serve down in the second set, and then from 5-6 down in the decider plus the disappointment of losing a 5-3 lead, in a match which was intriguingly unpredictable.

"It was an amazing match, and for a final it was perfect," Kerber said. "It sounds good to have my name on the trophy next to Billy-Jean King and Martina Navratilova, and I am proud of what I have achieved this week.

"I just tried to fight point by point and being able to win this will give me great confidence in my preparation (for Wimbedon)."

There were moments though when it seemed the six-foot one-inch Pliskova might dominate the match with her steep serving and fierce straight driving down both lines.

Although making a leaden-footed start, she recovered from 3-5 down to save four set points, to sneak the tie-break by seven ponts to five with a winning first serve, and to break Kerber immediately in the second set.

At that stage Kerber's fighting qualities became most apparent, as she broke twice in a row with some carefully constructed rallies before levelling at one set all, and then breaking again to go 4-2 and 5-3 ahead in the decider.

It was here that Pliskova too showed her fighting qualities, saving two break points in both the fifth and the seventh games, and another break point in the eleventh.

She also caused Kerber to throw an unused ball away angrily by breaking back with a mishit retrieve under great pressure, the ball ballooning over the unlucky German's head for a lobbed winner.

In the end it all hinged one point in the final tie-break - the one which took Kerber to a mini-break ahead at 5-4 up after some tenacious containment which eventually caused Pliskova to drive a backhand a little too long. Kerber nervelessly won the next pair of points on her own serve.

"I did everything I could," said Pliskova, who is playing well enough soon to break into the top ten anyway. "So I am not really disappointed to play a match like this in a final.

"I had the feeling Angelique was everywhere, and every lefty is tough on grass. She moves so well and plays flat shots which is important on this surface. I will go away happy."

Kerber will go away with $124,000 and clutching the Maud Watson trophy - the prize which was presented to the first Wimbledon winner back in 1884. She will hope that it is an omen.

- AP/ec

 

Syria fuel shortages due to rebel infighting threaten lives - MSF

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:15:17 PMGo to full article
AMMAN: Disruption of fuel supplies due to fighting between rebel groups in northern Syria is threatening the closure of hospitals and paralysing the work of ambulances and rescue services, an international medical charity said on Sunday.

Islamic State militants have closed a checkpoint under their control in the countryside north of the city of Aleppo to trucks carrying fuel to areas in northern Syria held by other rebel groups.

A man drains refined fuel from a barrel displayed for sale inside a damaged non-functioning petrol station in Aleppo January 13, 2015. REUTERS/Nour Kelze

Medecins Sans Frontieres said in a statement obtained by Reuters and to be released later that it had received distress calls from health centres in rebel-held areas in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces to say they were running out of fuel needed to run life-saving equipment.

"With so many hospitals now at a risk of closure, the lives of many Syrians are in even greater danger," said Dounia Dekhili, MSF Programme Manager for Syria, where the charity conducts an extensive humanitarian operation.

"Fuel is needed to run water pumps for clean water, to run incubators for newborns and to run ambulances for lifesaving care," she said.

Work by civil defence workers who were helping rescue survivors of air bombardments in rebel-held areas could be halted if the shortages continue, MSF said.

Islamic State militants, seeking to choke off fuel supplies heading to its rivals battling for control of the area, had almost completely barred oil truckers from passing through the gateway of Tel Qarah.

The checkpoint, near the Turkish border, separates territory run by Islamic State fighters and their rivals, residents and traders in the area said.

Hundreds of private trucks used to pass through the crossing daily, carrying crudely processed oil bought from fields under the control of Islamic State in eastern Syria, to sell to the rest of northern rebel-held Syria.

It was the major source of fuel for those areas largely cut off from supplies from President Bashar al Assad's government.

Rebels from a coalition of Western backed and Islamist groups fighting to beat off the Islamic State offensive said the closure was causing severe hardship to civilians.

The fuel shortages began to bite almost a week ago and have pushed prices of diesel needed to run electricity generators, bakeries and hospitals. A litre of diesel now cost two dollars, up from less than half a dollar, residents said.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

- Reuters

 

Erdogan warns of risks, new poll if Turkey government coalition delayed

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:10:33 PMGo to full article
ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday cited instability among neighbouring states to urge political parties to form a coalition government quickly, or face the prospect of holding another election.

"Surrounded by a veritable ring of fire, Turkey must be strong to avoid harm and help its brothers, so we must quickly complete the post-election period," he said.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a graduation ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, June 11, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Turkey hosts nearly 2 million refugees who have fled the war in neighbouring Syria. Erdogan has been an outspoken critic of his Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and is also worried about recent gains by Syrian Kurds along the Turkish border.

The AK Party (AKP) that Erdogan founded and led until he became president last year lost its parliamentary majority in a June 7 election, ending more than a decade of single-party rule and curbing his ambitions to create a more powerful presidency.

AKP officials have privately said Erdogan may view a snap election as the best hope for the AKP to win back a majority and help him realise his vision for the presidency.

Lawmakers will be sworn in on Tuesday, after which Erdogan will mandate the Islamist-roooted AKP, parliament's biggest party, to try to form a coalition government within 45 days.

"It's possible this process may take until the middle of August. I believe Turkey cannot endure such a loss of time, so I want to see a coalition government formed as soon as possible, the president told a meeting of exporters.

"If politicians are unable to sort this out, then the people are the only recourse to resolve this," he said, referring to the prospect of a snap election if coalition talks fail.

Erdogan's critics have accused him of interfering in coalition talks and violating a constitutional requirement to remain neutral, but he insists he is within his mandate.

Separately, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said a coalition with the Republican People's Party (CHP), the second-biggest party in parliament, was unlikely but signalled one with the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) could be possible.

"If you look at election promises, there are difficulties with the CHP taking a role in the government," he said in an interview with CNN Turk.

"When you look at the MHP since June 7, you see increasingly positive, realistic statements ... There are difficulties with the MHP, but conveniences as well."

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

- Reuters

 

Global brands stretched by India's food safety record

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:10:29 PMGo to full article
TALOJA, India/ MOGA, India: At a McDonald's plant outside Mumbai, 200 workers walk through air dryers and disinfectant pools, then get to work making the day's 25,000 patties from chicken painstakingly sourced in a country with one of the world's worst food safety records.

To safeguard its multibillion-dollar brand, McDonald's says more than 100 checks it applies across its international operations are then carried out after that.

Security guards stand guard outside a corporate office of Nestle India Ltd. in New Delhi, India, June 8, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

India's tainted water, patchy cold storage network and a retail sector made up of tiny local grocers present a major risk for international food brands, whose reputation can suffer globally from one local slip.

This can mean educating hundreds of small, often illiterate, farmers - critical in a fragmented farming sector that in some cases still uses "night soil", or human faeces, for composting.

"There are thousands of farmers you need to reach out to, each with maybe an acre, two acres of land," said Vikram Ogale, who looks after the supply chain and quality assurance for McDonald's India.

"Think of a situation where you have 1,000 farmers and ... you have to educate them, convince them."

But even that is sometimes not enough.

Swiss food group Nestle is currently battling India’s biggest food scare in a decade and an unprecedented branding crisis in the country, after regulators reported some packets of its noodles contained excess lead, a finding the company disputes.

Its woes have laid bare the risks of operating in a country where it is difficult to build a watertight supply chain, and where state food safety infrastructure is minimal, at best.

Nestle, like other major brands conscious of the damage a food scare can create, says it carries out extensive testing and manages parts of its procurement processes electronically so ingredients, milk for example, are tagged and traceable. It steam sterilizes spices and transports edible oil in stainless steel tankers to avoid metal contamination.

It uses external audit firms to check suppliers.

Wal-Mart , which operates as a wholesaler in India, says its checks mean rejecting 10-11 percent of produce daily.

TRACE ELEMENTS

While all major international firms producing packaged food or fast food say they use trusted suppliers, most acknowledge their suppliers often rely on other providers, who then sub-contract to others and so on, making it a daily struggle to control the source of every last ingredient.

Nestle, for example, buys much of its spices from a supplier that itself sources spices from over 10,000 farmers. Spices like turmeric and chilli powder have in the past been connected to lead poisoning, though there is no evidence that is the source of Nestle's woes this time.

McDonald's imported its french fries from the United States until about seven years ago, while it sought out farmers and educated them on hygiene and best practice.

But not all ingredients can be easily imported, and the need to keep costs low inevitably pushes firms to source locally, forcing them to constantly educate and check standards of suppliers, and suppliers' suppliers.

McDonald's says it can trace all its ingredients, but for many, that is a challenge in a country where one in five food samples tested by the government is found to be contaminated, adulterated or mislabeled.

"International brands have standards, but what they can really control is from when they have access to the raw materials," said Umesh Kamble, a supplier in Mumbai, who sells his products to restaurants in the country.

Nestle is now pushing ahead with India's first ever national recall, pulling some 27,400 tonnes of its popular Maggi noodles off India's shelves, a process that will take at least 40 days.

But India's understaffed and under-resourced government infrastructure has left it in bureaucratic limbo.

It is still awaiting the full results of government tests and details on how they were carried out before it can fix any glitch or rebuild its brand.

At Nestle's plant in the north Indian town of Moga, food analysts at its best-equipped lab in the country are unable to explain the discrepancy between internal tests and those run by the government that found high quantities of lead.

Since the scare began in May, it has tested 833 Maggi noodle samples at independent accredited labs, and 1,857 samples at its own high-end facilities. The tests, representing 165 million packets, revealed nothing out of the ordinary.

"We are in the dark ... We are not privy to how they (the government tests) were done," Satish Srinivasan, the 49-year-old head of Nestle's Moga factory, told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Martinne Geller in LONDON and Clara Ferreira Marques in MUMBAI; Editing by Clara Ferreira Marques and Will Waterman)

- Reuters

 

Greece offers new proposals ahead of emergency summit

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:10:15 PMGo to full article
ATHENS/BRUSSELS: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made a new offer on a reforms package to foreign creditors on Sunday, signaling eleventh-hour concessions to break a deadlock that has pushed Greece to the brink of bankruptcy.

After months of wrangling and with anxious depositors pulling billions of euros out of Greek banks, Tsipras's leftist government showed a new willingness this weekend to make concessions that would unlock frozen aid to avert default.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras waves hand as he gets into a car after a wreath-laying ceremony at the statue of Russian-born founder of modern Greek state Ioannis Kapodistrias in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 19, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

French President Francois Hollande, on a visit to Milan, confirmed Greece had submitted new proposals. EU diplomats said the proposal had not arrived but representatives from the country's European and IMF creditors were set to meet at 1500 GMT (11.00 a.m. EDT) on Sunday to discuss it.

It was not immediately clear how far the new proposal yielded to creditors' demands for additional spending cuts and tax hikes, but the offer was a ray of hope that a last-minute deal may yet be wrangled before Athens runs out of cash.

A day before emergency meetings including a summit of euro zone leaders in Brussels, Tsipras was holed up in a marathon cabinet meeting and discussed the new offer with the leaders of Germany, France and the European Commission by phone.

"The prime minister presented the three leaders Greece's proposal for a mutually beneficial agreement that will give a definitive solution and not a postponement of addressing the problem," a statement from Tsipras's office said.

Tsipras, elected on a pledge to end austerity, has defiantly resisted demands to cut pension spending. But Greek officials have suggested Athens may be willing to consider raising value-added-taxes or other levies to appease the lenders.

"There is no time to lose. Every day counts. Talks and negotiations must continue so that an agreement is reached," Hollande told a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Locked out of bond markets and with bailout aid frozen since summer last year, Athens is quickly running out of cash. The deputy finance minister on Sunday confirmed Athens had enough money to pay public sector wages and pensions this month.

But Athens also urgently needs access to funds to avoid defaulting on a 1.6 billion euro IMF loan that falls due at the end of the month. As the crisis gets pushed from one meeting to the next, each side has put the responsibility on the other's shoulder for finding a deal.

Money has drained out of Greek banks after a breakdown in talks last weekend, and Greece might have to impose capital controls within days if there is no breakthrough.

Sources in Frankfurt and in Brussels said the European Central Bank's board would discuss the liquidity of Greece's banking sector at 0830 GMT on Monday. The sources said Greek pre-orders for deposit withdrawals for Monday had already reached 1 billion euros - after savers pulled over 4 billion euros out of their banks last week.

European ministers have played down the prospect of a final agreement on Monday but hope a political understanding can be reached in time for a full deal by the end of June.

NO TO BLACKMAIL

For a deal to work, Tsipras will need a solution that is acceptable to his party or else may be pushed to call a snap election or a referendum to secure a mandate for an agreement.

His Syriza party was due to hold a rally in Athens on Sunday to send "a loud message of resistance" against demands for more cuts and tax hikes in a country battered by years of recession.

Under the austerity measures imposed by the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank in two bailouts, Greece's economic output has fallen 25 percent, wages and pensions have been slashed, and one in four Greeks is jobless.

The Greek government has argued the austerity imposed on the southern European country had made the crisis worse. A senior Syriza lawmaker said on Sunday that previous ideas put forward by Juncker would have led to a "social holocaust".

"Democracy cannot be blackmailed, dignity cannot be bargained," the Syriza party said in a statement on Sunday, announcing its planned protest.

"Workers, the unemployed, young people, the Greek people and the rest of the peoples of Europe will send a loud message of resistance to the alleged one-way path of austerity, resistance to the blackmail and scare-mongering."

But the mood has also hardened in Germany, which has contributed more money than any other country to bailing out Greece. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure from within her ranks not to give in to Greek demands, even if that means contemplating Greece leaving the euro zone.

Merkel's Bavarian allies warned against giving in to Greece, with senior Christian Social Union lawmaker Hans Michelbach saying he saw no realistic chance of an agreement on Monday.

"If the EU lets the government in Athens get away with its intransigence, we can bury the euro," Michelbach said in a statement on Sunday.

"Either Greece declares itself willing for a viable solution or the country must leave the euro. The euro zone could cope with the consequences of a Greek exit," he said.

(Additional reporting by James Mackenzie, Renee Maltezou, George Georgiopoulos, Karolina Tagaris, Caroline Copley, Isla Binnie and Alastair Macdonald; writing by Matthias Williams and Deepa Babington; Editing by Sophie Walker)

- Reuters

 

France says Iran deal "still not clear" 10 days before deadline

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎06:00:21 PMGo to full article
JERUSALEM: France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday it was "still not clear" whether a world powers deal could be reached on Iran's nuclear programme by a June 30 deadline.

In talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who urged him to "stand firm" on an agreement that Israel has criticised for not guaranteeing Tehran will not obtain a nuclear bomb, Fabius told reporters:

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem June 21, 2015. REUTERS/Dan Balilty/Pool

"We need to be extremely firm, at the stage where we are now, things are still not clear."

(Reporting by John Irish; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Alison Williams)

- Reuters

 

Fiorentina name Sousa as coach

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:51:06 PMGo to full article
ROME: Fiorentina have appointed Portuguese Paulo Sousa as their coach, the Italian Serie A club said on Sunday.

The 44-year-old Sousa was a former Portugal midfielder and manager of English clubs Queens Park Rangers, Swansea City and Leicester City.

FC Basel's coach Paulo Sousa smiles ahead of their Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match against Porto in Basel, February 18, 2015. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

He left Switzerland's Basel last week after one year in the job.

"Fiorentina is delighted to announce that an agreement has today been reached with Paulo Sousa for him to become the new first-team coach," Fiorentina said in a statement on their website.

"Sousa will be in Florence tomorrow to complete the formalities."

Sousa, who won the Champions League as a player with Juventus and Borussia Dortmund, replaced former Italy striker Vincenzo Montella.

Montella was sacked by Fiorentina earlier this month after leading them to fourth place in Serie A last season.

(Reporting by Ed Osmond, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

- Reuters

 

Murray outclasses Anderson to take fourth Queen's title

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:51:02 PMGo to full article
LONDON: Andy Murray warmed up for Wimbledon by winning back-to-back matches at the Aegon Championships on Sunday as he scooped his fourth title at Queen's Club by dismantling big-serving South African Kevin Anderson 6-3 6-4 in the final.

To the delight of the home crowd, the world number three showed no sign of weariness when returning to court two hours after completing his semi-final against Viktor Troicki which had been held up by rain the previous evening.

He had resumed at 3-3 in the first set against the Serb and quickly established control to come through 6-3 7-6(4).

Murray was confident his return of serve would enable him to cope against the lanky Anderson, who went into the final having thundered down 96 aces in his three previous matches.

So it proved, even though Anderson fired down two more aces in his first service game and soon reached three figures for the week.

The top seed's returning nevertheless enabled him to make a crucial breakthrough once in each set and his own serve never let him down.

A range of dropshots and lobs also proved too subtle for Anderson, and also suggested that Murray was in fine fettle ahead of Wimbledon which starts on June 29.

The first break came in the fourth game, when Murray confidently returned a 141 mile-per-hour serve, forcing his unseeded opponent to net a volley.

Anderson was broken with a series of superb shots to fall 3-2 behind in the second and was unable to recover.

Murray sealed victory when the South African went wide on a service return, allowing the Briton to join John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick from the modern era as four-times Queen's winners.

The Scot's titles have come in alternate years - 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015.

"Both matches today were good performances and I played a little bit better as the week went on," Murray said in an on-court interview.

"It's been a great week for me and hopefully I can continue that form through to Wimbledon."

Murray even believes he is in better form than two years ago, when he won Wimbledon by beating Novak Djokovic in the final.

"I'm playing better than then, I feel," he added.

"But it's extremely difficult to win these events when everyone is improving all the time.

"You are playing against some of the greatest players that have ever played so you need to keep working hard and I still feel there are things I can improve on."

Anderson will also hope for a good run on the All England Club grass after an impressive tournament.

"I played some good tennis throughout the week and I can take a lot of positives from it," he said.

(Reporting by Steve Tongue, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

- Reuters

 

Three Kenyan soldiers injured in bomb attack on truck - police

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:35:52 PMGo to full article
MOMBASA: Three Kenyan soldiers were wounded on Sunday when their truck hit a make-shift bomb that police said had been planted by insurgents from Somali Islamist group al Shabaab.

The blast took place in the same region - Lamu County on Kenya's northern coast - where last Sunday al Shabaab fighters killed two soldiers during an attack on a Kenyan military base. Kenyan troops repelled the attack, killing 11 militants.

Joseph Boinnet, Kenya's police chief, said on Twitter the three soldiers were wounded when the Kenyan Defence Forces truck "hit an IED".

A police official in Boinnet's office said the improvised explosive device was "planted by al Shabaab militia".

"It appears the group which attacked Baure Military camp are still in area an may be regrouping for more attacks against security establishments," said the official, adding that KDF is carrying out operations in the area to "flush them out".

Al Shabaab fighters have staged several cross border raids in Lamu County since last June, including two attacks in the town of Mpeketoni, in which militants killed at least 60 people a year ago.

Although Mpeketoni is inland from Kenya's Indian Ocean coastline, the attacks froze the tourism industry in Lamu, which had been popular with tourists from Europe and North America.

Al Shabaab, which seeks to overthrow the Western-backed Somali government and impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law, has frequently targeted neighbouring Kenya in recent years, saying it is retaliating for Kenya's participation in an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Alison Williams)

- Reuters

 

Israel's Netanyahu takes aim at French peace initiative

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:35:44 PMGo to full article
JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefaced talks about a French-led peace initiative on Sunday by saying foreign powers were trying to dictate terms to Israel for a deal with the Palestinians.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, on a two-day visit to the Middle East, urged Israel not to prejudge his efforts and warned of the dangers of continued stalemate.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem June 21, 2015. REUTERS/Dan Balilty/Pool

Fabius wants to see the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which collapsed in 2014, relaunched through an international support group comprising Arab states, the European Union and U.N. Security Council members.

Netanyahu, in public remarks to his cabinet, said "international proposals they are trying to force upon us" did not take into account Israel's security needs.

"They are trying to shunt us towards indefensible borders, ignoring what will happen on the other side," Netanyahu said, voicing his often-stated argument that militants would take over areas vacated by Israel unless strong security arrangements were negotiated.

His remarks, made hours before he was to host Fabius, were widely interpreted in Israel as directed at France's proposals.

At a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Fabius said the conflict could be "set ablaze" if there was no movement towards peace.

"The aim is to present a number of ideas and I haven't done that yet, so let's not prejudge," he said, speaking alongside his Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki.

France has so far focussed with Arab states on a possible U.N. Security Council resolution that would set negotiating parameters and establish a timeframe, possibly 18 months, to complete talks.

Netanyahu said that "the only way to reach agreements is through negotiations between the two sides, and we will firmly reject attempts to force international dictates on us".

But Fabius responded: "This word 'diktat' is part of neither French vocabulary nor the French proposals."

In December, the United States voted against a Palestinian-drafted resolution calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian state by late 2017.

But this month, U.S. President Barack Obama said the absence of a peace process and the conditions raised by Netanyahu for Palestinian statehood would make it hard for Washington to continue to defend Israel at the United Nations.

Maliki voiced support for the French initiative, saying Palestinians "need a commitment from the major powers and those with a direct interest".

(This story has been refiled to remove erroneous reference to West Bank in dateline)

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

- Reuters

 

NSmen celebrate Father's Day at SAFRA Jurong

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:32:22 PMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Over 200 National Servicemen celebrated Father's Day with their families at SAFRA Jurong on Sunday (Jun 21).

Dads partnered their children as they negotiated an obstacle course and took part in various other activities. There were also special messages from the children thanking their fathers for the sacrifices they made in defending the country.

Over 200 National Servicemen celebrated Father's Day with their families at SAFRA Jurong on Sunday (Jun 21).
Handwritten Father's Day messages by NSmen's children at SAFRA Jurong.

With SAF Day coming up on Jul 1, servicemen are in for a variety of treats. They will get special movie deals at Shaw Theatres and enjoy discounted use of some facilities at SAFRA. Some of the promotions will last till end of August.

"We know that many NSmen are fathers themselves and they have to juggle many responsibilities - caring and providing for their families, their children and being role models to their children,” said Minister of State for Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman, who is also deputy president of SAFRA.

“They also have to juggle the commitment to their National Service duties. These are challenges that our NSmen as fathers face and they do this because they want to ensure a secure and bright future for their families."

- CNA/ec

 

Hungry Taylor battles into quarter-finals

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:10:15 PMGo to full article
Ireland’s Olympic boxing champion Katie Taylor reached the European Games quarter-finals on Sunday and said she was hungrier than ever to add another major title to her glittering collection.

Lightweight Taylor - an Olympic, five-times world and six-times European champion - is among the leading names across all of the 20 sports in the Azeri capital of Baku.

Ireland's Katie Taylor reacts as she is declared the winner over Russia's Sofya Ochigava after their Women's Light (60kg) gold medal boxing match at the London Olympic Games August 9, 2012. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

In front of a strong contingent of vocal Irish support at the atmospheric Crystal Hall, Taylor registered a unanimous points decision over Bulgarian Denitsa Eliseeva to reach the quarter-finals at the inaugural games.

“I’m more hungry now than I ever was,” she told reporters. “I want to leave a great legacy behind me and I want to continue to win major championships.

“It’s just such a privilege to be representing my country again in such a big competition. The first fight is always hard in every competition just to get the ball rolling.

“I think in the next fight I’ll be a lot sharper but you just need to blow out in the first fight and get it out of the way.

“I’ve boxed that girl a few times before and she’s such a top boxer. It was a great performance and I’m delighted. She’s a great warrior and I’m just delighted to be through to the quarter-finals.”

At 28, Taylor has already cemented her place as a great of the sport and will again be the woman to beat in what is a strong division.

“I think it’s the same for every competition, I think there’s pressure on me in every competition and it’s no different here.”

Earlier on Sunday, dangerous Frenchwoman Estelle Mossely progressed comfortably while Russia’s Zinaida Dobrynina was particularly impressive in advancing to the last eight.

Dobrynina, 24, is a potential semi-final opponent for Taylor and the Irish fighter said the emergence of a new generation of female boxers was fuelling her motivation.

“It’s always great to have new challenges,” she added. “I think I have a lot to prove to some of those younger boxers. I’d love to stamp my authority on some of those young boxers coming up as well.

“But it’s so great to see so many young female boxers coming through and the talent is outstanding out there.”

Taylor will face Sweden's Ida Lundblad, 19, in Wednesday's quarter-final.

Ends

(Reporting by Tom Hayward)

- Reuters

 

Taylor Swift boycotts Apple streaming over payments

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:09:46 PMGo to full article
NEW YORK: Pop superstar Taylor Swift said on Sunday (Jun 21) she will not allow her latest album on Apple's new streaming service to protest its "shocking" lack of artist compensation during a free trial period.

The move by Swift, one of the most outspoken critics of streaming leader Spotify, delivers an early blow to Apple's bid to dominate the booming sector.

Recording artist Taylor Swift performs during The 1989 World Tour live at Heinz Field on Jun 6, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images for TAS/AFP)

Swift said that the tech giant, which is launching the new Apple Music on Jun 30, will not pay for songs streamed during a free three-month trial period for new subscribers.

"I find it to be shocking, disappointing and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company," Swift wrote in a posting on Tumblr.

Swift, whose "1989" was by far the top-selling US album last year and remains high on the charts - insisted that she was speaking for all artists and not just herself.

"These are not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child. These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much," Swift wrote.

Swift said that her move was in part "about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt."

Apple holds a massive influence over the music industry through iTunes, the premier place to buy songs or albums digitally.

The company is now hoping to become a powerful force in streaming as it watches consumes flock to unlimited, on-demand online music.

Apple has not gone public with details on the payout structure, but is known to have been involved in intense negotiations with major record labels.

Prosecutors in New York and the neighbouring state of Connecticut have started an initial probe on whether major labels are colluding with Apple to stop licensing content to rivals.

Swift said that "1989" would not appear on Apple Music, although she stopped short on pulling her entire catalogue.

Last year, she withdrew all of her music from Spotify - which, controversially, offers a free tier that is supported by advertisements.

Spotify says that it nonetheless pays back artists and has given out US$3 billion in royalties since the Swedish company's launch in 2008.

Apple plans to charge US$9.99 a month after the three-month trial.

- AFP/ec

 

Nanyang Community Club launches NDP countdown app on family day

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:08:09 PMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Those who felt a longing for the good old kampung days took a walk down memory lane on Sunday (Jun 21) morning.

They sampled food from the days of yore and played kampung games such as Tikam, which was popular during the 1960s. This was part of a family day event held at the Nanyang Community Club.

Nanyang Community Club launches a countdown message app for the 2015 National Day Parade on Sunday (Jun 21). (Photo: Our Home at Nanyang's Facebook page)

The community also launched an app, the Nanyang SG50 Countdown Message Mobile App, in conjunction with Singapore's 50th birthday. The app will deliver a countdown message every day till National Day contributed by residents and students.

- CNA/hs

 

Tennis: Murray crowned king of Queen's for fourth time

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎05:06:51 PMGo to full article
LONDON: Andy Murray swept to a record-equalling fourth Queen's Club title with a majestic 6-3, 6-4 demolition of South Africa's Kevin Anderson in Sunday's (Jun 21) final.

Murray joins John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt as the only four-time winners of the Wimbledon warm-up event in the Open era.

Britain's Andy Murray wins a game against South Africa's Kevin Anderson during their men's singles final match at the ATP Aegon Championships tennis tournament at the Queen's Club in west London on Jun 21, 2015. (Photo: AFP/Leon Neal)

It is Murray's third ATP title of 2015 after his victories on clay in Madrid and Munich, earning him a cheque for €381,760 (US$433,507) and continuing his superb form since marrying Kim Sears in April.

With 34 career ATP titles, including six on grass, Murray moves up to 18th on the Open era list - level with Arthur Ashe, Michael Chang and John Newcombe.

Even more significantly, it is Murray's first title on grass since his historic Wimbledon triumph in 2013.

That career-defining success two years ago came after his third victorious campaign at Queen's and, with Wimbledon just eight days away, Murray's ruthless 64-minute rout of the world number 17 shows he is in the mood to mount a sustained challenge for a second All England Club crown.

After heavy rain forced his semi-final against Serbia's Viktor Troicki to be suspended on Saturday, Murray knew he would have to do double duty to win the title.

He completed the first part of his hectic schedule in just over an hour, dispatching Troicki 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) before heading back to the locker room for two hours' recovery time.

Anderson was well rested after blitzing his way into his first Queen's final with 34 aces against Gilles Simon on Saturday to take his tally for the tournament to 96.

He had enjoyed notable victories over Hewitt and French Open winner Stan Wawrinka en route to the final.

NO FATIGUE

But Murray had won four of his previous five meetings with the 6ft 8in (2.03m) South African and maintaining his 100 percent record in Queen's finals proved no problem.

Murray had already won twice in one day this year, seeing off Lukas Rosol and Roberto Bautista Agut to clinch the Munich title last month.

And there was no sign of any fatigue as the Scot made a dynamic start, unloading crisp ground-strokes and reading Anderson's serve well enough to secure two break points in the fourth game.

Anderson turned to brute force in response, slamming down a 141mph (227kmph) serve, but Murray managed to keep it in play and the rattled South African lost his cool as he buried a mistimed smash into the net.

That was all the incentive Murray needed and he kept Anderson completely out of sync with his astute use of drop shots before one whipped forehand cross-court winner that bent away from his opponent as if on a string.

Anderson reached 100 aces for the tournament before the set was over, but Murray was never seriously troubled as he closed it out with a perfectly measured backhand slice.

Anderson could sense his hopes of becoming the first South African to win Queen's since his childhood idol Wayne Ferreira in 1992 were starting to slip away.

The 29-year-old had lost six consecutive finals since winning his second ATP title at Delray Beach in 2012, and Murray ensured his opponent's barren sequence continued as he pressed home his advantage with a break in the fifth game of the second set.

Again it was a Murray drop shot that did the damage, catching Anderson behind the baseline after the South African had been pulled out of position by a precise lob.

Unfurling one outrageous winner after another, Murray couldn't be stopped and it was only a matter of minutes before he was hoisting the giant silver trophy high into the sky.

- AFP/ec

 

Travellers drive winds of change in Singapore's tourism industry

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎04:58:25 PMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Street art is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the modern metropolis that is Singapore, but the canvas is expanding with more public space allocated to street art in recent months.

It offers visitors an alternative way of exploring a country, through art.

Tourism industry analysts say this presents an opportunity for Singapore to improve and add to its attractions to offer increasingly well-travelled and discerning visitors that authentic, local experience they seek.
File photo of tourists at Merlion Park in Singapore. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

"It gives you an idea of the place and what the locals or the people who live in the area think about the place,” said Ms Jaclynn Seah, founder of The Occasional Traveller. “It tells a different story about the place itself than what you get in a travel brochure."

These sights are getting increasingly popular, particularly among millennials - a term referring to those born between 1981 and 1995.

Based on a report done by McKinsey, commissioned by Singapore Tourism Board (STB), there are about one billion millennials in Asia, making up about one-quarter of the region's total population.

But already, they account for 35 per cent of the total travel expenditure in the region, spending some S$280 billion a year on international travel. This is even before they have reached the peak of their earning years.

Observers say this presents significant opportunities for the travel industry, with millennial spending expected to hit some S$460 billion by 2020.

For industry watchers, the term 'millennial traveller' refers to more than just a demographic group. They see it as an emerging mindset in a region of rising affluence.

"As Asia's middle class starts to evolve they climb up the wealth and income spectrum, it's only natural that they become more discerning in terms of taste and palette. And that certainly extends into travel," said Mr Leong Wai Ho, chief economist at Barclays.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

With visitors to Singapore becoming more well-travelled, a growing number now prefer to customise their own itineraries. They are also willing to journey off the beaten path in search of what makes a city tick.

"People come visit a place for different reasons. Some of them come to see the touristy attractions and they enjoy that,” said Ms Seah. “I like to see what makes the country tick, what makes the country so unique in itself. Not everybody just wants to see the country’s best parts.

“People want to know what is the heart of the country and I think the only way to do that is to go off the beaten track, so to speak, talk to the locals, or just find other things aside from the attractions."

Travel website Tripadvisor - a key source of information for millennial digital natives - recently released Singapore's top ten landmarks, as voted by travellers.

While the iconic Marina Bay Sands Skypark and Singapore Flyer came up tops, lesser known places such as the NUS Baba House, Bukit Brown Cemetery, and Kranji War Memorial also made it to the list.

Singapore Tourism Board says it is looking to attract more visitors that fit this profile.

"More of the discerning travellers are looking for off-the-beaten-track, more immersive experiences that they do not get to experience normally in their own country or other in destinations,” said STB assistant chief executive Yap Chin Siang,

“Many of the characteristics that the millennial travellers exhibit, the need for personalised in-depth experiences, they do fit into Singapore's target audience profile."

Meanwhile, older attractions are adapting to the changing visitor profile. Just a month ago, the Singapore Zoo welcomed four koalas to the family.

The furry friends are already a hit among both locals and tourists. Since the exhibit was open to visitors on May 20, some 60,000 have come just to the see the koalas, and another half a million more are expected till the end of the year.

About 1.7 million visitors came to the Singapore Zoo in 2014. Two out of every five were tourists - almost double the number about a decade ago when the ratio was one tourist to four locals.

The growth is on the back of strong marketing efforts as well as more activities that educate and entertain the visitors such as animal feeding, behind-the-scenes, and personalised guided tours.

"When they come in the past, the zoo was probably very passive. Visitors just walk around and they look at the animals and their antics and think 'Oh it's fun and it's cute' and they're quite happy,” said Ms Isabel Cheng, chief marketing officer at Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

“In order to stay relevant, we really need to come up with things that can engage them. It's no longer about passive viewing. We have interactive exhibits, we have activities and we have experiences that they can enjoy and leave and still feel like 'Wow, I had a good time!'"

STAYING LONGER, SPENDING MORE

Singapore Tourism Board says increasingly sophisticated travellers tend to stay longer and spend more.

On average, visitors to Singapore stayed for 3.7 days in 2014, up from 3.5 days the year before. Meanwhile, tourism receipts in 2014 increased slightly to S$23.6 billion from S$23.5 billion the year before, despite a drop in visitor arrivals.

However, in 2014, total visitor arrivals saw a drop of three per cent on-year, amid political uncertainty and aviation accidents in the region. This decline has spilt over into 2015 - with the numbers dropping by 5.4 per cent in the first four months of the year.

Despite current headwinds, STB says it expects arrivals to grow by up to four per cent annually over the next few years, and spending to grow even faster by up to six per cent. To help drive the numbers, STB says it's working with the industry to enhance the local tourism landscape.

"Unlike other destinations that may boast of more natural attributes and can continue to build more and more, Singapore has no such luxury,” said Mr Yap. “We have to focus on building deep. This means having to continue developing new tourism products, refreshing existing ones and injecting complementary tourism experiences.

“Going forward, STB intends to be even more aggressive and work with our industry to develop more compelling tourism experiences by providing them with greater funding support."

MEETING THE CHANGE

Attractions aside, hotels too are tailoring their services to meet the changing preferences of travellers.

At Hotel Jen, for travellers who crave authentic local experiences, it has Jen's Heart Map where hotel staff can recommend places for guests to visit for the quintessential Singapore experience they cannot afford to miss.

"It's a huge map of Singapore where every month we run a promotion where people share their favourite places - where they get the best fish noodles, where they have their char kway teow,” said Hotel Jen general manager Clifford Weiner.

“We really look for places where you and I living here, have your local experiences, and that's what we're trying to share through the staff with the customer."

With evolving traveller preferences, economists say this offers the overall tourism landscape an opportunity to reinvent itself.

“It offers the industry a chance to see if we can level up our existing offerings to perhaps offer a more niche type of bundling in the travel services we offer,” said Mr Leong. “It's not about offering one niche or a couple of niches, but broadening the tourism appeal that is important.

"It's how we leverage ourselves, organise ourselves better to provide that offering for specific needs and also general needs and how we can cater to those at the same time. This sophistication and variety will help in getting people to stay more and spend longer.”

From a modern metropolis to nostalgic heritage quarters and pockets of greenery, industry observers say Singapore has much to offer all in one compact location. The island city-state will need to leverage on bundling these contrasting experiences to create an overall value proposition that is competitive, sustainable and truly unique to Singapore.

- CNA/ec

 

Singapore Airlines flight from Mumbai makes emergency landing at KLIA

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎04:58:13 PMGo to full article
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: A Singapore Airlines (SIA) aircraft, flight 425, made an emergency landing at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), Sepang, after encountering a technical problem.

A Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) spokesman said the Boeing 777-200
aircraft had departed from Mumbai, India at 8.44am and expected to arrive in
Singapore at 4.44pm, made the emergency landing at KLIA at 4.05pm.

A Singapore Airlines plane. (AFP/File - Miguel Medina)

"The plane landed safely and all its passengers and crew were also reported
to be safe, with no injury sustained," he said when contacted.

The spokesman said the cause of the incident was still being investigated.

- BERNAMA/hs

 

Motor Racing: Rosberg wins again to cut Hamilton's lead in title race

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎04:56:00 PMGo to full article
SPIELBERG, Austria: Nico Rosberg celebrated his 30th birthday with a third win in four races on Sunday (Jun 21) when he beat Mercedes team-mate and series leader Lewis Hamilton to triumph in an incident-filled Austrian Grand Prix.

The German driver, who left his twenties behind on Saturday, repeated his 2014 success when he came home a comfortable 3.8 seconds clear of the defending world champion and reduced his lead from 17 points to 10.

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's German driver Nico Rosberg (L) celebrates on the podium after the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria on Jun 21, 2015, during the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix. (Photo: AFP/Andrej Isakovic)

After eight of this year's 19 races, Briton Hamilton, who picked up a five seconds penalty in the race, has 169 and Rosberg, who won last year's Austrian event, 159. It was Rosberg's third win of the season and the 11th of his career.

Brazilian Felipe Massa came third, 17 seconds adrift of the two Mercedes men, six-tenths of a second ahead of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, Finn Valtteri Bottas in the second Williams and German Nico Hulkenberg, who one week after winning in the Le Mans 24 Hours race, finished sixth for Force India.

Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado was seventh for Lotus ahead of Dutch teenager Max Verstappen of Toro Rosso, Mexican Sergio Perez in the second Force India and Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who picked up a point for Red Bull, after starting down the grid.

The race began with drama as Rosberg sped into a first corner lead and almost immediately a spectacular collision between two-time champion Fernando Alonso and 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen caused the race to be halted with the introduction of a safety car.

Alonso's car landed on top of Raikkonen's car. Both drivers were unhurt and walked away, shaken but not injured.

It was another hugely disappointing day for the struggling McLaren-Honda team. On top of Alonso's first lap crash, Briton Jenson Button had to make an early retirement in the other car with engine problems.

In dry and mild conditions in the Styrian Alps, Rosberg made a perfect start as the lights went out, drawing alongside pole-sitter Hamilton to take the lead at the first corner.

The world champion attempted to re-gain the lead at the next two turns, but Rosberg defended adroitly while, behind them, a serious collision involving Raikkonen and Alonso caused the race to be stopped and run behind the safety car until the debris was cleared.

Alonso's McLaren Honda appeared to crash into Raikkonen's Ferrari from the rear and rose to land on top of the Finn's car as they skewed into the barriers. Both men were unhurt and walked clear from the debris.

Button saw the crash. He said: "It looked like Kimi tried to get on the power, went one way, tried to correct and went the other way ... A horrible accident. I'm glad they are OK. A pity for us, as it'll make the test a lot trickier next week."

Briton Will Stevens of Manor Marussia also retired with an oil leak on the opening lap and, after the hiatus for the safety car, when the racing resumed, the rest of the field trod delicately to avoid more mayhem.

At the front, Rosberg managed a comfortable 2.8 seconds lead ahead of Hamilton with Vettel third, but more than six seconds adrift, ahead of Massa and Hulkenberg. By lap 30, as the two Mercedes men began lapping the field, they were more than 12 seconds clear of Vettel's Ferrari and in a race of their own.

Button, fighting his dejection, made a wry observation on his retirement and McLaren's woes. "I don't know what's worse: doing the whole race 30 seconds behind the back of the field or stopping on lap two.

"It's a pity, reliability-wise. We haven't broken anything, but there was something wrong and it could've gone that way so that's why we stopped." Alonso's car, which was running with an updated package, was "now in the bin", said Button.

He added: "It's been a pretty bad weekend for all of us, but we won't let it get us down."

Alonso was required to undertake a medical examination after which he said: "It was obviously quite scary. The start was very good. Kimi had a lot of wheel spin out of turn two. We were overtaking him and he lost the car on the left.

"I was on the left. I could not see anything. I looked in the mirror and saw a car under my car. I jumped quickly to see he was OK. I saw he was - and so I was happy."

The leaders made their scheduled pit stops after 33 and 34 laps respectively, Hamilton crossing a white line as he exited, for which he was given a five-second penalty. Behind them, Vettel lost time when his right rear wheel caused problems at his stop.

- AFP/ec

 

US, allies target Islamic State with 18 air strikes in Iraq - US

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎04:55:28 PMGo to full article
WASHINGTON: U.S. and coalition forces launched 18 air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq on Saturday, with four each in Tal Afar and Mosul, the U.S. military said in a statement.

The air strikes hit near nine Iraqi cities in all, destroying Islamic State buildings, tactical units, heavy machine guns and vehicles, the Combined Joint Task Force said in a statement Sunday.

Near Haditha, two air strikes hit a militants' safe house and an Islamic State headquarters, it said. Other cities affected were Baghdadi, Ar Rutbah, Baiji, Fallujah, Makhmur and Sinjar, it said.

In Syria, three air strikes near Tal Abyad on Saturday hit three Islamic State tactical units, destroyed three fighting positions and a heavy machine gun, the military coalition said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alison Williams)

- Reuters

 

Passengers unhappy after Scoot flight delayed for more than 21 hours

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎04:54:12 PMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: There was frustration for Scoot passengers again after a flight set to depart from Singapore to Perth on Saturday (Jun 20) evening was delayed by more than 21 hours. This is the airline's second flight delay in three days.

Scoot said in a statement: “(Flight TZ8) was delayed at Changi Airport due to a technical issue and we regret that the delay has inconvenienced our guests.”

Viewers who got in touch with Channel NewsAsia said the budget airline had made them board and disembark the plane several times while offering up a variety of “excuses”, and offered only travel vouchers as compensation.
Eight hours after the scheduled departure time of TZ8 on Saturday (Jun 20), passengers are told by a Scoot ground handler that the next possible flight out would only leave the day after. (Photo: Jhai)

Scoot statement on TZ8

Videos of the scene at Changi Airport on Saturday evening show angry passengers demanding compensation while a ground handler admits to not being able to do anything, as “we are guided by Scoot”. These were allegedly taken after the ground handler announced that the flight had been rescheduled to 9.50am on Sunday morning.

Channel NewsAsia understands that before the announcement was made, passengers had had to board and disembark the plane several times.

Video: Angry passengers after TZ8 delay

In a letter addressed to Scoot that was seen by Channel NewsAsia, a passenger called “Cole” said they were asked to board and leave twice, saying the airline offered up six different excuses for the delays.

“First it was that the plane was delayed, then came that the tyre was worn out, then came the pilot being unable to fly because you had stretched over the time limit,” wrote Cole.

The passenger also complained that the airline had merely offered travel vouchers in compensation, and eventually asked Singaporeans to go home.

“We have already paid way more than what we budgeted for, just to stay in Changi Airport for over 10 hours for meals, and to make things worse, we had to pay two-way cab fare, which is already about $50, and you are giving us a voucher to subject us to this trouble all over again?” Cole wrote.

Angry passengers at TZ8 flight

Perth resident William Forde, another passenger who shared photos and a video with Channel NewsAsia, said the flight had been rescheduled a total of seven times and throughout the ordeal, many passengers had stuck together: "The duty of care provided and inhumanity of this business model is alarming, but the way people came together to protest as one was inspiring and unheard of in Singapore".

Said Mr Forde: "We were refused temporary accommodation even though many of us had not eaten, and by then the flight had been delayed for close to 21 hours.

"Some of us requested that the elderly and those with children be given a flight first, but we were rejected at every turn by a Scoot rep. As a result of our protest we were only given a S$10 meal voucher and a letter of disruption, which had details of the next flight out. But we were told these were still 'tentative'".

Two viewers also called the Channel NewsAsia hotline on the issue, with one saying that the last time they were asked to board the flight to Perth at 7.45pm, they were “sent off again” and “told the flight would not be taking off and would be cancelled”.

“The management just walked away without providing hotel accommodation to transit passengers and Singaporeans were asked to go home,” said the caller. “They also said the decision was final – take it or leave it. People were unhappy."

The flight finally departed for Perth at around 10.40am on Sunday. Earlier, another flight scheduled to fly from Hong Kong to Singapore on Friday was grounded for more than 24 hours before taking off on Saturday evening.

- CNA/hs

 

SG Heart Map: Stunning photos of Singaporean homes on display at Old Airport Road

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎04:53:54 PMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Trinkets on a cabinet, rows of HDB blocks and Singapore’s colourful suburban landscape - these are just some of the images that remind Singaporeans of home.

They feature in a collection of stunning photos captured through the lenses of some of the country’s renowned photographers, which is now on display at an SG Heart Map HomeScapes Photography exhibition. It was officially launched by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Sunday (Jun 21) evening at Old Airport Road. The exhibition will be on display until Jul 5. Ms Grace Fu, chairman of the SG50 Environment and Infrastructure Committee, also graced the event.

The HomeScapes Photography exhibition, featuring works by Singapore's renowned photographers, is part of the SG Heart Map tour which launches on Jun 27.
View from a window by local photographer George Wong. His photos are on display at the SG Heart Map HomeScapes Photography exhibition, which launched on Sunday (Jun 21). (Photo: SG Heart Map's Facebook page)

"The photographs have managed to capture the spirit of home and the meaning of the community around us,” said Mr Goh. “And I'm surprised to see so many beautiful things which normally we find very mundane and ordinary. Through the lenses of the students and the photographers, they were able to capture this. Today's activities have put meaning to that.

“I also like the photographs of the facade of HDB flats all over Singapore. When they're put together, you can see the beauty, the attention to detail, which our HDB has put into the public housing projects. All in all, I think it's a good exhibition which has captured the emotion, and not just the physical infrastructure of Singapore. "

The exhibition is part of the SG Heart Map tour which will kick off on Jun 27. The SG Heart Map is a compilation of 50 locations across the island that hold the most significance to Singaporeans. Some of the areas include Tiong Bahru, Orchard Road and Gardens By the Bay.

Free guided tours to these places will be held over three weekends – Jun 27-28, Jul 4-5 and Aug 7 and 10 August. A new date, Aug 8, has been added to accommodate more people.

The SG Heart Map tour covers five routes - the Scenic South-east tour, the Enchanting South-west Tour, the Captivating North-east Tour, the Adventurous North-west Tour and the Charming Central Tour. Led by Singapore Tourism Board-licensed guides, the bus tours will bring Singaporeans on a journey to re-discover the island. Each participant will receive a goodie bag, containing items like the map and itinerary of the various tours.

Channel NewsAsia got a sneak preview of the South-East tour on Sunday, which began at the Singapore Sports Hub - one of 50 places on the SG Heart Map. Participants on this tour will get a chance to meet and greet some of Singapore's sports icons. On Sunday, it was C Kunalan - one of the nation's most celebrated athletes - who gave the media a tour of the Singapore Sports Museum.

Said Mr Kunalan: "Sports was a big thing in those days. But of course now, it's even better. And this Hub is going to be something that will turn on people's hearts, I think. So the idea of putting this (museum) as part of the SG Heart Map, I think it's very, very good. People will start coming to this place. As you can see, there's something in it for everyone in the family - walking around and reminiscing about the old stadium."

Each route will also include stops at hawker centres like Changi Village, for participants to sample popular local dishes. There are also various activities planned at stopovers. For example, participants can contribute their own photos of what reminds them of home, at the HomeScapes photography exhibition.

Besides this exhibition, art installations by selected artists will be unveiled at the Singapore Discovery Centre later in June. All artworks will be showcased at a finale at The Float @ Marina Bay in November.

For details, log on to www.heartmap.sg.

- CNA/hs

 

UN appoints Senegalese diplomat to mediate peace talks in Burundi

 
‎21 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎04:40:17 PMGo to full article
BUJUMBURA: The United Nations on Sunday appointed a Senegalese diplomat to facilitate talks between rival factions in Burundi's political crisis after the opposition accused the previous mediator of bias.

The tiny east African country was plunged into turmoil in late April after President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would seek a third term. Opposition protesters took to the streets for weeks, saying the move violates the constitution and a peace deal that ended an ethnically charged civil war in 2005.

The U.N. said in a statement that Abdoulaye Bathily, who is already the U.N.'s Special Representative for Central Africa, would arrive in Bujumbura on Sunday to help mediate talks.

"The Secretary-General has requested ...Abdoulaye Bathily, to offer good offices in Burundi in support of regional efforts to reduce tensions and help Burundians peacefully settle their differences," the U.N said in a statement, referring to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The previous U.N. mediator, Said Djinnit, left the role after only a few weeks having faced criticism from the opposition that he was he was biased towards the government, a charge he dismissed. Djinnit remains U.N. special envoy to the Great Lakes region.

A series of elections have been delayed by weeks of unrest and violent clashes between police and protesters, alarming a region which has a history of ethnic killing.

Government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba welcomed Bathily's appointment but warned Bujumbura would not budge on the timings of forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, due to take place on June 29 and July 15.

(Reporting by Clement Manirabarusha; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

- Reuters

 

Schools reopen in quake-devastated Nepal

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎10:48:31 AMGo to full article
KATHMANDU: Thousands of children, many still traumatised from losing homes and loved ones, returned to class on Sunday (May 31) as Nepal's schools formally reopened following a devastating earthquake that claimed more than 8,600 lives.

Many children attended lessons in temporary classrooms made of bamboo or in tents on playing fields after their schools were destroyed or badly damaged in the quake that struck on Apr 25.

Nepalese students sing a song in the classroom of a school in Bhaktapur on the outskirts of Kathmandu. (Photo: AFP/Prakash Mathema)

Eight-year-old Sahaj Shrestha clung to his father as they walked together through the gates of state-run Madan Smarak School in the Kathmandu valley.

Sahaj's mother Mina Shrestha said their son has been too terrified to leave their side, even to go to the toilet, since the quake destroyed their home and forced them to live in a tent.

"Aftershocks are still continuing. It is difficult not to be nervous about sending the children to school again," Shrestha told AFP.

"But the teachers have assured us that it is safe here, and at least his mind will be fresh if he meets his friends and studies," she said.

Classrooms made of bamboo have been built on the school's football field, while some lessons were held in buildings marked "safe" since the quake by engineers.

Teachers sat with the younger children as they drew or played, some relieved to return to some semblance of normality. "We've been staying home for so long, it is nice to play here and meet my friends again," said nine-year-old Muskan Bajracharya.

In senior classes, students were encouraged to talk about the quake or share stories about what happened to their families.

"We are not holding any formal classes and have trained the teachers to help the children overcome the trauma of the quake and adjust to (being back at) school," said principal Govinda Poudel.

The 7.8-magnitude quake damaged nearly 8,000 schools, while some 90 per cent of them are estimated to be have been destroyed in the worst-hit rural districts of Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk and Nuwakot.

The quake struck on a Saturday afternoon when schools were closed. Many had been preparing to open the following week for the new semester.

"I don't even want to imagine what would have happened if it was a school day," said Sakuntala Bhlon, 37, whose two children study in classes five and eight.

The reopening had been declared for May 17, but was delayed after a second major 7.4-magnitude quake rattled the country on May 12.

For some schools, however, reopening so soon after the quake has proved impossible, with temporary classrooms still being built, and continuing concerns about safety and space.

"It is impossible for me to reopen right now. The school ground is filled with debris and we don't have an open space," said Lila Nanda Upadhyay, principal of Rupak Memorial International School in the Kathmandu valley.

Dilli Ram Rimal, director general of the education department, said he hoped more would reopen in coming weeks.

"We understand that not all schools have the resources to reopen," he said. "But education is an important part of the recovery and we need to begin the process."

- AFP/ec

 

Six powers agree way to restore UN sanctions in push for Iran deal: Sources

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎10:46:54 AMGo to full article
NEW YORK/PARIS/ANKARA: Six world powers have agreed on a way to restore U.N. sanctions on Iran if the country breaks the terms of a future nuclear deal, clearing a major obstacle to an accord ahead of a June 30 deadline, Western officials told Reuters.

The new understanding on a U.N. sanctions “snapback” among the six powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - brings them closer to a possible deal with Iran, though other hurdles remain, including ensuring United Nations access to Iranian military sites.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on May 30, 2015 in Geneva. (Photo: AFP/POOL/Susan Walsh)

The six powers and Iran struck an interim agreement on April 2 ahead of a possible final deal that would aim to block an Iranian path to a nuclear bomb in exchange for lifting sanctions. But the timing of sanctions relief, access and verification of compliance and a mechanism for restoring sanctions if Iran broke its commitments were among the most difficult topics left for further negotiations.

U.S. and European negotiators want any easing of U.N. sanctions to be automatically reversible if Tehran violates a deal. Russia and China traditionally reject such automatic measures as undermining their veto power as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

As part of the new agreement on sanctions snapback, suspected breaches by Iran would be taken up by a dispute-resolution panel, likely including the six powers and Iran, which would assess the allegations and come up with a non-binding opinion, the officials said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would also continue regularly reporting on Iran’s nuclear programme, which would provide the six powers and the Security Council with information on Tehran’s activities to enable them to assess compliance.

If Iran was found to be in non-compliance with the terms of the deal, then U.N. sanctions would be restored.

The officials did not say precisely how sanctions would be restored but Western powers have been adamant that it should take place without a Security Council vote, based on provisions to be included in a new U.N. Security Council resolution to be adopted after a deal is struck.

"We pretty much have a solid agreement between the six on the snapback mechanism, Russians and Chinese included," a Western official said. "But now the Iranians need to agree."

Another senior Western official echoed his remarks, describing the agreement as “tentative” because it would depend on Iranian acceptance.

A senior Iranian diplomat said Iran was now reviewing several options for the possible "snapback" of Security Council sanctions against Tehran.

It was unclear exactly how the snapback mechanism would function, and the officials did not discuss the precise details. It was also unclear how the proposal would protect the United States and other permanent Council members from a possible Chinese or Russian veto on sanctions restoration.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power has made it clear that Washington does not want Russia's and China's recent slew of vetoes on resolutions related to Syria to be repeated with an Iran nuclear agreement.

France’s Ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud said in Washington last week that, under a French idea, sanctions would be reinstated automatically in the event of non-compliance, avoiding the threat of a veto.

Under that idea, which Araud said had not to date been approved by the six powers, the onus would be on Russia or China to propose a Security Council vote not to re-impose sanctions.

Russian and Chinese officials did not respond immediately to requests for confirmation that they signed off on the snapback mechanism.

REVIEWING THE OPTIONS

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Geneva on Saturday. They discussed progress and obstacles to an agreement in the Iran nuclear talks a month before the deadline for a deal aimed at reducing the risk of another war in the Middle East.

Restoring U.S. and EU sanctions is less difficult than U.N. sanctions because there is no need for U.N. Security Council involvement.

For their part, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran have wanted assurances that Washington cannot unilaterally force a sanctions snapback - a risk they see rising if a Republican wins the U.S. presidency in 2016.

A senior Iranian diplomat confirmed that discussions of specific snapback options were underway. He told Reuters Tehran was preparing its own "snapback" in the event the Western powers fail to live up to their commitments under the agreement.

"At least three or four different suggestions have been put on the table, which are being reviewed," he said. "Iran also can immediately resume its activities if the other parties involved do not fulfill their obligations under the deal."

He added that it was "a very sensitive issue."

If Iran accepts the proposed snapback mechanism, there are other hurdles that must be overcome, including IAEA access to Iranian military sites and nuclear scientists and the pace of sanctions relief.

Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and rejects allegations from Western countries and their allies that it wants the capability to produce atomic weapons. It says all sanctions are illegal and works hard to circumvent them.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; editing by Stuart Grudgings)

- Reuters

 

Bombs in southern Thailand kill one police officer, wound seven

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎10:42:04 AMGo to full article
PATTANI, Thailand: Roadside bombs in southern Thailand killed one police officer and wounded seven members of the security forces in a region scarred by a long-running Muslim separatist insurgency, police said on Sunday.

The dead officer was part of a bomb disposal team that caught in a secondary blast while attending the site of an earlier bomb attack on Saturday night, police Lieutenant Preecha Prachumchai told Reuters. Four of his colleagues were wounded in the explosion.

The first bomb had wounded three paramilitary rangers out on patrol in the Paklor district of Pattani province, the officer said.

Since 2004, more than 6,500 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in violence in Thailand's three southernmost provinces, where members of the local Muslim Malay population are waging an insurgency against rule by Buddhist-majority Thailand.

(Reporting By Surapan Boonthanom in Pattani; writing by Aubrey Belford in Yangon; Editing by SImon Cameron-Moore)

- Reuters

 

Egypt deploys scholars to teach moderate Islam, but scepticism abounds

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎10:41:36 AMGo to full article
CAIRO: In his battle against militant Islam, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is relying not just on bomber planes and soldiers but on white-turbaned clerics from Al-Azhar, Egypt's 1,000-year-old centre for Islamic learning. He wants clerics to counter radicalism in the classroom.

In a televised speech in January at an Al-Azhar conference centre in Cairo, Sisi called for "a religious revolution" in Islam. Radicalised thinking, he told the audience of Islamic scholars, had become "a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world."

Students revise for a Koran verbal recital exam in one of the Al-Azhar institutes in Cairo, Egypt, May 20, 2015. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

That had to change – and the scholars had a leading role to play, in schools, mosques and on the airwaves.

"You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world is waiting. The entire world is waiting for your next word because this nation is being torn apart."

Surprised by the president's bluntness, the scholars went "white as sheets," some of those in the audience told a Western official.

The president's warning is part of a much larger project. To contain the radical Islamist movement roiling his nation, Sisi has most conspicuously been using the law and brute force. But he is also promoting a more moderate and less politicised version of the faith.

In that struggle the Al-Azhar institution is one of the most important fronts for Sisi – and for the wider region. The outcome of the struggle in Egypt, the intellectual and cultural capital of the Arab world, has ramifications far beyond its borders.

The Al-Azhar mosque was built in the 10th century and is one of the oldest in Egypt. It opened a university that spread Shi'ite Islam until the end of the Fatimid Caliphate in 1171. It later turned into a Sunni mosque and university that taught the four schools of mainstream Sunni Islam.

Today the university's various faculties and research centres have 450,000 students, many from countries across Asia and Africa. It also has a network of more than 9,000 schools across Egypt attended by more than 2 million students.

Al-Azhar's teachers, preachers, and researchers have so far introduced a few small changes. They include tweaking text books and setting up an online monitoring centre to track militant statements on social media so the institute can better refute them. But there is no detailed reform programme yet, and Al-Azhar officials openly acknowledge the magnitude of the challenge ahead.

To be successful, Sisi will need to achieve what many before him have not: balancing tough security measures with education to encourage a more moderate version of Islam. Past experiences in Egypt, Syria, Algeria, and Iraq show that attempts to crack down on extremism can also stoke it. So far the results of Sisi's drive have been mixed.

The president is deeply religious and has a mark on his forehead from years of pressing his head to the carpet in daily prayer. His wife and daughter wear the veil. His reputation for piety was so well known that his predecessor, Mohamed Mursi, a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's first freely-elected president, appointed him army chief in August 2012.

Yet Sisi was also bold enough to seize power from Mursi after the Brotherhood leader became increasingly unpopular. Since then, he has cracked down hard on the Brotherhood. Hundreds of the group's supporters have been killed, and thousands jailed. This month a Cairo court recommended the death sentence for Mursi in connection with a mass jail break in 2011.

Balancing that sort of force with a message of moderation is difficult. Some students at Al-Azhar say they are deeply sceptical of the institution, and of the government's plans. Many dismiss Al-Azhar as a mouthpiece for the state, which favours the military and political elites over the poor masses where militants find most of their recruits.

Some students told Reuters the security crackdown was counterproductive. Cairo's heavy-handed tactics, they say, are radicalising people who may have been open to a message of moderation.

Western officials praise Sisi's calls for action but question whether he has any real plan. "There's a kernel of a very big idea in what Sisi wants to do," said one. "But his vision of it is not exactly clear and it's not clear how it will be implemented."

MODERNISING TEXTS

Critics say Al-Azhar's Grand Imams have long issued religious edicts in support of government policy. During the time of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president for three decades until his overthrow in 2011, the Grand Imam was appointed by presidential decree.

The military government that took over from Mubarak gave Al-Azhar more independence. It allowed an Al-Azhar committee to elect the Grand Imam, though the winner still had to be ratified by presidential decree.

When Mursi came to power in 2012, Al-Azhar criticised his policies and accused the Brotherhood of trying to place its own men into top teaching positions. By contesting and winning faculty seats, the Brotherhood ultimately did gain some influence in the institution.

Since Sisi seized power, though, Al-Azhar has purged Mursi-era professors and teachers, and returned to an appointment system in which the state plays a major role. It has also publicly backed Sisi's crackdown on the Brotherhood and militants. Al-Azhar's Grand Imam, Ahmed al-Tayeb, was one of a few public figures who flanked Sisi as he announced the military takeover in 2013 after days of mass protests against Mursi.

The university has issued new rules stating that any student or faculty member who incites, supports or joins in protests that disrupt learning or promote rioting or vandalism will be expelled or fired.

Beginning in 2013, Al-Azhar also started to simplify its curriculum to make it more compatible with the modern age, said Abbas Shuman, Al-Azhar deputy head. School text book passages describing the spoils of war and slavery have been removed, he said, because they were applicable during the Muslim conquests but are now considered out of date.

An introduction to an online version of a book on Islamic theology now reads: "We present this scientific content to our sons and daughters and ask God that he bless them with tolerance and moderate thought ... and for them to show the right picture of Islam to people."

Sitting in Al-Azhar's headquarter in old Cairo, Shuman said that such changes are reasonable. "Al-Azhar is built on Islamic heritage. But not all of it is sacred," he said.

The university insists that students should not read old religious texts without guidance. And Professor Abdel Fattah Alawari, dean of the Islamic theology faculty at Al-Azhar, said specialised panels had also been created to review books written by professors to make sure they do not lean towards extremism.

Clerics are also trying to modernise methods of communication. Al-Azhar recently started a YouTube channel to counter Islamist propaganda with its own, and has begun using social media to condemn Islamic State atrocities. Sheikhs from Al-Azhar have embarked on tours of youth centres around the country to promote moderate thought and discourage radicalism.

Abdel Hay Azab, president of Al-Azhar's university, said: "Al-Azhar university educates scientists, preachers, doctors and engineers. So when Al-Azhar provides its educational services to society, it has to be with the right vision for religion, which is that religion should not be seen as an obstacle in society."

"FIQH-LITE"

The reforms have not been universally welcomed. Al-Azhar's university campuses saw several violent pro-Brotherhood protests after Mursi was deposed. Some students are opposed to changes to the curriculum.

Yousef Hamdi, a third year student studying Islamic theology, said he was upset that he has not been taught the four mainstream schools of thought on Sunni learning and the differences between them. They include rulings by early prominent clerics such as "using force against oppression and rejecting the ruler."

Like some other students, he feels the reforms mean he is not being taught the full teachings of Islam. The result, Hamdi said, is that some students now seek out books that teach what they feel is pure and traditional Islamic jurisprudence.

"A number of students have become radicalised as a result of that, because they turned to these texts on radicalisation without aid and instruction from Al-Azhar," he said.

Another student, who met with Reuters in the Cairo metro to avoid detection by security services, said the move to a softer version of fiqh – the interpretation of Islamic Sha'ria law – has made people angry. "They want to change the curriculum ... They've turned it into 'fiqh-lite'," he said.

Shuman, Al-Azhar's deputy head, said the curriculum changes have not weakened the fiqh taught. "Sha'ria law allows for rulings that are no longer applicable to the modern age to be reviewed to make it more suitable for this age," he said.

But H.A. Hellyer, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, questioned Al-Azhar's approach. "The students need to be able to contextualise those references properly ... Otherwise they'll end up being susceptible to radicals who'll give them those references, but in a monumentally flawed fashion," he said.

It is not hard to find radical texts. Just outside Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo's old quarter, a maze of alleyways is filled with scores of bookshops that sell both mainstream Islamic titles and books by more extreme Islamist scholars, including Ibn Taymiyya and Sheikh Kishk.

One booklet by Ibn Taymiyya contains stand-alone statements such as "Honesty in faith is not complete without jihad for the sake of God." More moderate Islamic scholars have criticised such statements because they lack any context for when jihad is justified.

Bookshop owners said that they even quietly sell books by Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian Brotherhood leader in the middle of last century who is widely seen as the father of modern radical Islamist ideology.

DOWNSIDE OF TOUGH ACTION

The security crackdown may be undermining the attempted education reforms, hardening the outlook of students already sympathetic to Islamists and ostracising some moderates.

Take the 18-year-old Al-Azhar student who goes by the nickname Abu Obeida al-Ansari. The teenager attended Al-Azhar schools from his early years. Two years ago he joined protests in Cairo against Sisi. The protesters were angry about the fierce security crackdown that killed scores of Brotherhood members and sympathisers. The teenager was later arrested, he said, for standing next to a Brotherhood member in the street as security forces closed in.

Ansari told Reuters via Facebook that Al-Azhar was wrong to back Sisi. He said the institution is "penetrated" by Egypt's security agencies and pro-government thinking, and that it teaches about Sha'ria Islamic law but doesn't implement it.

Ansari said he had also grown disillusioned with the Brotherhood, which he believes buckled too easily under state pressure. He wants to join Islamic State, he said, "whether in Libya, Syria or Iraq, and then return to Egypt to take revenge on every apostate in the army and police who killed and arrested my friends."

He added: "Everybody ought to join jihad ... I learned that from my research, the Fiqh I studied ... and Islamic State fatwas."

Islam Yehya, who is studying Islamic theology at Al-Azhar university, is also angered by Sisi's security crackdown. Security forces, he said, "believe that all Al-Azhar students are terrorists or Brotherhood members. And the truth is that Al-Azhar has Brotherhood, Salafists, liberals and secularists and people who don't know anything about politics."

The tough tactics spark a deep hatred for the police, he said. "Two of my university friends travelled to Syria to join terrorist cells after they were tortured for two months in detention," said Yehya, who spoke at a rundown cafe in Cairo's Nasr City district.

Egypt's government denies allegations of human rights abuses and says the Brotherhood, Islamic State and al Qaeda pose a grave threat to Egypt.

At the same time, security sources say authorities do target universities. One police officer told Reuters that "most of Al-Azhar students are under suspicion" and are regularly monitored. Depending on what is detected, students are either subjected to further monitoring or it is stopped. "Al-Azhar students have the tendency (towards extremism) and are usually a fertile ground to be deceived into joining terrorist cells," the officer said.

Others also take a tough line. Abdul Ghani Hendi, a religious affairs adviser in the Egyptian parliament, thinks Al-Azhar should be completely restructured to allow for self-criticism. "All the thought which dominates the society is extremists' thoughts. We should confess that frankly," he said.

In April, an official at the education ministry burned books in the courtyard of a private school, saying the literature included Islamic texts that incited violence. The action sparked ridicule from Islamists and secularists alike, who pointed out that some of the burned books had nothing to do with Islam.

Nevertheless, Sisi remains committed to his drive against militancy and thinks Al-Azhar can do more to promote a moderate form of Islam. In a recent speech, he said: "We need to move faster and more effectively."

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Hassan; Editing by Michael Georgy, Simon Robinson and Richard Woods)

- Reuters

 

Real vice-president lets slip signing of Benitez as coach

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎10:40:17 AMGo to full article
BARCELONA: Real Madrid vice-president Eduardo Fernandez de Blas has accidentally let slip at the meeting of a fans group that Rafa Benitez will be the new club coach.

Benitez will leave Napoli at the end of the season and has been hotly tipped to take over from Carlo Ancelotti at the Bernabeu but so far there has been no confirmation.

Napoli coach Rafa Benitez talks during a news conference in Naples, Italy, May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

"Ancelotti is an absolute phenomenon and we give him all out appreciation," Fernandez de Blas told the Madrid members group.

"Until three days ago he was the best trainer in the world as two years ago it was Jose Mourinho and from this week onwards it will be Rafa Benitez."

Italian Ancelotti was dismissed a year after he ended 12 years of Champions League failure and led Real to a record-extending 10th European crown, as well as a King's Cup triumph.

Former-Liverpool and Chelsea boss Benitez, who once had a stint as a Real youth team coach, is expected by local media to be named as the new man at the helm of Real next Wednesday.

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

- Reuters

 

No end to Hong Kong political battle as last-ditch meeting fails

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎10:28:08 AMGo to full article
HONG KONG: Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers said on Sunday (May 31) they would "definitely" veto the government's planned political reforms after a last-ditch meeting with Chinese officials failed to reach any agreement.

The package unveiled in April for the semi-autonomous Chinese city would for the first time allow all voters to elect Hong Kong's next chief executive in 2017.

Pro-democracy protesters take turns to speak as they stand behind a huge banner in Hong Kong on May 31, 2015. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

But critics deride the proposal as "fake democracy" because it sticks to a ruling by China that candidates must first be approved by a loyalist committee.

Beijing's restrictions, announced last August, sparked more than two months of mass rallies that brought main roads in parts of the city to a standstill late last year.

Democratic lawmakers said Sunday they had made no progress after meeting top Beijing officials in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

The meeting was widely seen as the last chance for compromise before Hong Kong lawmakers vote on the political reform package in June.

It needs a two-thirds majority to pass and pro-democracy lawmakers make up more than a third of the legislature.

"We came here ... trying to find a way out of the impasse," Civic Party leader Alan Leong told reporters after the four-hour meeting, which was attended by 14 out of 27 pro-democracy lawmakers as well as 40 pro-Beijing legislators and the city's current leader Leung Chun-ying.

"We are left with an unequivocal conclusion that the Central People's Government is not going to yield," Leong said. "We are therefore left with no choice but to definitely veto the government proposal."

Wang Guangya, the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the Chinese State Council or cabinet, said it was "unfortunate" that the democrats were uniting to stop the plan.

"The other side behaved like a bloc, holding on to their strict position ... I don't think it's constructive or healthy," he said after the meeting.

Wang said lawmakers have a "historic responsibility" to cast their vote "with conscience".

Before the meeting Wang had said that any election plan would have to stick to Beijing's ruling.

Another Beijing official, Li Fei, said the vote would test whether democrats are loyal to the principle of "one country, two systems" under which Hong Kong is ruled, local media reported.

Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 but is largely self-governing and enjoys freedoms not seen on the mainland.

Li also warned during the meeting that lawmakers could be "punished" by voters for vetoing the plan, the South China Morning Post reported on its website.

- AFP/ec

 

Netball: Singapore crush Brunei in SEA Games opener

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎10:22:32 AMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: The Singapore netball team opened their SEA Games campaign with a 72-21 demolition of Brunei at the OCBC Arena Hall 1 on Sunday (May 31).

Goal shooter Charmaine Soh led the scoring with 38 points, converting 77 percent of 49 attempts. Pamela Liew scored 18 points while Chen Huifen added 16.

A Singapore netballer takes a shot in the SEA Games opening fixture against Brunei at the OCBC Arena. (Photo: Nadia Jansen Hassan)

Video: Singapore support

They will take on Thailand in the next group match on Monday.

In other matches on Sunday, the Philippines took on Thailand losing 22-62. Malaysia will also be facing Myanmar.

- CNA/rw

 

China rejects US criticism of sea reclamations

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎10:13:31 AMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: China on Sunday (May 31) rejected US demands to stop reclamation works in the South China Sea, saying it was exercising its sovereignty and using the controversial outposts to fulfil international responsibilities.

Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the general staff department in the People's Liberation Army, told a security summit in Singapore that "the situation in the South China Sea is on the whole peaceful and stable, and there has never been an issue with the freedom of navigation."

Admiral Sun Jianguo (seated). (Photo: Jack Board)

"China has carried out construction on some islands and reefs in the South China Sea mainly for the purpose of improving the functions of the relevant islands and reefs, and the working and living conditions of personnel stationed there.

"Apart from meeting the necessary defence needs, it is more geared to better perform China's international responsibilities and obligations regarding maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and relief, maritime scientific research, meteorological observation, environmental protection, safety of navigation, fishery production, services," he added.

China insists it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, a major global shipping route believed to be home to oil and gas reserves, but rival claimants accuse it of expansionism.

"When dealing with maritime disputes with relevant neighbouring countries, China has always kept in mind the larger interest of maritime security," Sun told the annual meeting known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.

"In spite of the sufficient historical and legal evidence and its indisputable claims, rights and interests, China has exercised enormous restraint, making positive contributions to peace and stability of the region and the world at large."

BEIJING 'OUT OF STEP'

Sun was speaking a day after US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter demanded an immediate end to all reclamation works by claimants and said Beijing was "out of step" with international norms with its behaviour in disputed waters.

Carter said "there should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants," adding that "we also oppose any further militarisation of disputed features."

He acknowledged that other claimants have developed outposts of differing scope and degree, including Vietnam with 48, the Philippines with eight, Malaysia with five and Taiwan with one.

"Yet, one country has gone much farther and much faster than any other.

"China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres, more than all other claimants combined and more than in the entire history of the region. And China did so in only the last 18 months," Carter said.

Beijing has accused Washington of carrying out provocative moves in the South China Sea.

The Chinese military this month ordered a US Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft to leave an area above the heavily-disputed Spratly Islands. But the American plane ignored the demand.

Carter said Saturday that US planes and warships will continue patrolling what Washington considers international navigation zones in the South China Sea.

Australia's Defence Minister Kevin Andrews told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on the sidelines of the meeting that Canberra would also do the same.

"We've been doing it for decades, we're doing it currently...and we'll continue to do it into the future," he said.

Representatives from claimant countries as well others from Southeast Asia and Europe urged restraint on all parties in handling the dispute.

Other delegates, including Singapore's defence chief Ng Eng Hen, his British counterpart Michael Fallon, and the European Union's foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini repeated calls by Carter for China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to adopt a "code of conduct" in the disputed waters as soon as possible.

The Singapore summit, which ended on Sunday afternoon, was earlier in the day marred by a brief security lockdown after police shot dead a local motorist who tried to flee a checkpoint near the event venue in a car later found to contain drugs.

After the shooting, police officers initially told people attending the summit that the hotel was on complete lockdown, with no entry allowed. Roads and pathways leading up to the hotel, located in Singapore's leafy diplomatic quarter, were shut off with barricade tape.

But access to the venue was gradually eased on Sunday morning. The conference proceeded normally until it ended at midday.

- AFP/rw/ec

 

International breaks a boon for Chelsea iron man Terry

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎09:50:14 AMGo to full article
SYDNEY: Chelsea captain John Terry thinks quitting international football three years ago helped keep his fitness at a level where he was able to play every minute of the London club's triumphant English league season.

Only four players, three of them goalkeepers, had previously featured in every game of a Premier League title-winning campaign before Terry turned out in Chelsea's 38th and final match of the season against Sunderland last weekend.

Chelsea's player John Terry waves to fans after the team arrived at Don Muang International Airport, ahead of Saturday's soccer celebration match against Thailand's All Stars as part of the team's post-season tour, in Bangkok, Thailand, May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

"I was delighted to play every minute," the 34-year-old told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.

"At my age you get written off as well, so it was nice on a personal note to play all the games.

"I don't know what it's down to. The manager and the staff deserve credit for the way we train.

"(Not playing) internationals as well, I feel I've benefited from those couple of days off.

"So the manager and the staff deserve a lot of credit and me as well, obviously, for staying fit and keeping my form and staying in the side."

Terry quit international football in 2012 after the Football Association banned him for four matches when he was accused of making a racist remark to Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand. He was cleared of the allegation in a London court.

His reference to people writing him off could have been directed at former Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez.

The Spaniard said Terry would not be able to continue playing twice a week after dropping his captain for an FA Cup semi-final in 2013.

Terry is clearly delighted to have been reunited since with Portuguese Jose Mourinho, under whose guidance he has won three of the four Premier League winners' medals he owns.

The central defender, who played his first match for Chelsea in 1998, said he does not see the end of the road for their successful manager-captain partnership just yet.

"I'm hoping that's going to continue for a few more years at least," he said. "I'm hoping to finish my career at Chelsea. I'm hoping I can do that under the manager and still be playing."

Chelsea play Sydney FC in a post-season friendly on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

- Reuters

 

Saudi-led coalition warplanes hit bases in Yemeni capital Sanaa

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎09:20:15 AMGo to full article
SANAA: Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition struck military bases aligned with Yemen's Houthi rebels in the capital Sanaa overnight and early Sunday morning, residents said.

The raid hit an air base near Sanaa airport and a military installation overlooking the presidential palace compound.

A Houthi militant stands amidst debris from a house of a Houthi leader Rafiq Rafiq, which was destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike, near Sanaa May 30, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

The Saudi-led coalition began air strikes in Yemen in March in a campaign to restore Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power. He fled in March, after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa in September and then thrust into central and south Yemen.

Houthi television reported that the rebels fired 20 rockets at Saudi Arabia's southwestern border city of Najran on Saturday.

A Saudi Ministry of Interior spokesman said a border guard was killed and seven others were wounded on Saturday in the Najran region due to rocket attacks from inside Yemen.

"At 18:30 on Saturday as a border guard patrol was on duty at Al-Harth sector in Jazan region, it was hit by military shells launched from Yemeni territory," the spokesman said.

The United Nations has said that more than 1,870 people have been killed and more than 7,000 wounded in the conflict since March 19.

(Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari; Writing by Amena Bakr; Editing by Noah Browning and Jane Merriman)

- Reuters

 

Man shot dead after incident near Shangri-La hotel: Police

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎09:03:41 AMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: One person was shot dead and another two detained after an incident in the vicinity of the Shangri-La hotel early Sunday (May 31) morning, police said.

In a statement, the Singapore Police Force said that a "trio was earlier stopped at a Police vehicular checkpoint set up along Ardmore Park. When asked to open the car boot for checks, the driver suddenly accelerated the vehicle towards Anderson Road.

A police car blocks a road leading to the Shangri-La hotel after police shot a man dead in an apparent drug-related incident outside the venue, according to a police statement. (Photo: AFP/ ROSLAN RAHMAN)

"Despite Police warnings to stop, the driver continued to crash through Police barricades, endangering the lives of the officers.

"Police opened fire at the vehicle to stop further danger. The vehicle subsequently stopped at the junction of Orange Grove Road and Anderson Road."

ROAD CLOSURES

Substances believed to be drugs were found on one of the persons arrested, the statement added. Orange Grove Road, Anderson Road and Ardmore Park are temporarily closed to facilitate police operations.

The police say they are "in control of the situation", and have advised that members of public stay away from the area.

Police maintain heavy presence in the vicinity of Shangri-La hotel.

Police Statement

Latest update on Shangri-La incident

11am update: Orange Grove Road and Anderson Road have opened to vehicles.

11.45 am update: Police and officers from the Singapore Armed Forces' Chemical Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Explosives (CBRE) Defence Group searched the vehicle involved in the incident at the vicinity of Shangri-La hotel and did not find any explosives, arms or weapons in the vehicle, according to a statement from the police.

"A bag containing white powdery substances believed to contain controlled drugs was recovered in the vehicle, " the police said.

The statement added: "The driver of the Singapore-registered red Subaru Impreza, a 34-year-old man, was pronounced dead at scene. Two men, aged 26 and 31 who were passengers in the vehicle, have been arrested.

"The 31-year-old man sustained injuries during the incident and was conveyed to hospital conscious. Substances believed to be controlled drugs and an item believed to be a drug-taking utensil were found on the men arrested.

"The driver and one of the passengers are wanted by the authorities for various offences. All three subjects are Singaporeans. No weapons were found on the three subjects."

2pm update: Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean issued a statement on the incident. He said: "Police have kept me informed of the situation which they have brought swiftly under control. Investigations so far indicate it is a situation related to drugs.

"Police will act firmly, according to the law, with anyone who breaks the law, to make sure they maintain public safety and security."

- CNA/rw

 

PM Lee sends Vesak Day greetings

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎09:00:00 AMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (May 31) extended his wishes to Buddhists ahead of Vesak Day on Monday.

“The Prime Minister sends his greetings to all Buddhists on the occasion of Vesak Day," a statement from the Prime Minister's Office said.

- CNA/rw

 

Police arrest suspected IS 'coordinator' in Bangladesh

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎08:15:13 AMGo to full article
DHAKA: Police in Bangladesh arrested a suspected member of Islamic State (IS) in Dhaka, a senior officer said on Sunday, following the detention days earlier of two other suspects, including an IT manager at a subsidiary of Coca-Cola Co.

The suspect picked up on Saturday night was a coordinator for IS in Bangladesh, Shaikh Nazmul Alam, a deputy commissioner of Detective and Criminal Intelligence Division, told Reuters.

"We arrested him with hundreds of training related videos for Islamist extremists, and also a large number of books on al Qaeda and IS translated into Bangla," Alam said.

Police said the detained man was Abdullah Al Galib, a former member of Hizbut Tahrir, and a follower of Ansarullah Bangla Team, two militant Islamist groups in Bangladesh.

"We have been following him for a long time and arrested him yesterday night from Banani, a posh area of the city," Alam said.

Police have arrested more than a dozen people suspected of links with Islamic State, amid growing fears that the group could be extending its influence among Muslims in South Asia.

(Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

- Reuters

 

Qatar's long journey home begins with loss in NZ

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎08:05:21 AMGo to full article
WELLINGTON: Joao Rodriguez's well-taken first half goal ensured Qatar's long build-up to a 2022 World Cup on home soil got off to a shaky start when they suffered a 1-0 defeat to Colombia in the under-20 equivalent tournament in New Zealand on Sunday.

Rodriguez, who plays for Portugal's Vitoria Setubal, finished off a superbly timed passing move and slotted home past goalkeeper Yousuf Hassan in the 25th minute of their Group C opener at Hamilton's Waikato Stadium.

Despite picking up the pace in the second half, the loss was an early setback to Qatar's journey to the 2022 World Cup with coach Felix Sanchez stating his job was to develop a team that would provide the bulk of the squad for that tournament.

"These boys will be at a great football age in 2022, by which time they will be 25, 26, and there is a huge desire among all those who work with the team for them to be competing in their home World Cup," the Spaniard told FIFA's website.

"It is a long journey but it will be enriching for them to experience this U-20 tournament, which is the closest you can get to the World Cup itself."

The Gulf side won their first Asian under-19 title last year to qualify for this tournament and had a lengthy buildup, with camps in Austria, New Zealand and Australia over the last two months.

Sanchez also stacked his squad with Europe-based players with six of Sunday's starting side playing for Belgian second division side AS Eupen, which is owned by Qatar's ASPIRE Sports Foundation and used as a stepping stone for their young players.

In the first half on Sunday, however, they were outclassed by the South Americans, who dominated possession and territory and were too slick in their passing and movement off the ball.

Sanchez's side improved in the second half and stretched the Colombian defence but Jassim Al Jalabi and Ahmed Alsadi wasted golden opportunities to score, with Colombia keeper Alvaro Montero diving low to his left to thwart the latter.

In Dunedin, 10-man Mali beat nine-man Mexico 2-0 in a fiery Group D match that came alive in the second half.

Mali's Hamidou Maiga received his second booking in the 56th minute for a clumsy challenge before Mexico forward Diego Gama, who had come on as a second-half substitute, was shown a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident.

Defender Oscar Bernal followed him two minutes later for his second booking, allowing Mali to capitalise with Adama Traore scoring in the 77th minute before Dieudonne Gbakale sealed the win three minutes later.

Portugal's Gelson Martins scored in the opening minute before Andre Silva and Nuno Santos found the net in stoppage time to give the two-times champions a 3-0 win over Senegal in their Group C clash in Hamilton.

In Group D, Gaston Pereiro's 57th minute goal gave Uruguay a 1-0 victory over Serbia in Dunedin.

(Editing by John O'Brien/Peter Rutherford)

- Reuters

 

Trip Down Under no jaunt for Mourinho's Chelsea

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:16 AMGo to full article
SYDNEY: Even with his third Premier League title in the bag and the season over barring Tuesday's exhibition match against Sydney FC, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho's appetite for success remains undimmed.

The Portuguese was on vintage form when the English champions arrived in Australia on Sunday for a match expected to attract a crowd in excess of 83,000 to Sydney's Olympic stadium.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho greets the crowd at the stadium after their friendly soccer match against Thailand All-Stars in Bangkok, Thailand May 30, 2015. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

His players were mobbed at the airport on arrival from Bangkok by a crowd Belgian international Eden Hazard described as "very crazy".

And it is that passion, Mourinho said, which made it crucial the trip Down Under was not treated as a jaunt.

"We feel always responsibilities," he told reporters.

"We were in Bangkok, we went to the stadium and there were 45,000 fans with a blue shirt. You cannot lose, you cannot go for fun, you have to go for a result.

"We are still celebrating, yes, we are already thinking about next season, yes, but Tuesday is our last game of the season as a club so we want to try give a good show."

That did not mean Chelsea would abandon the miserly defence on which the London club's fourth title in a decade was built.

"It's important to park the bus all the time in football because if you don't concede goals you have more chances to win," he said.

"But I can give a tip to (Sydney FC) coach (Graham) Arnold, my three attacking players will be Loic Remy, Diego Costa and Hazard. So even if we do park the bus, be careful."

Already looking forward to next season, Mourinho said he would be without Brazilians Willian and Filipe Luis as well as Colombian midfielder Juan Cuadrado for the start of the campaign as they would need rest after the Copa America.

Winning the Champions League title, a feat Mourinho has yet to achieve with Chelsea, will clearly be high on the agenda.

"It's always difficult to win the Champions League, which is why all the big guys don't do it seven, eight times in their careers," he said.

"This season we were better than last season and next season we hope to be better than this season. Hopefully we get our chance.

"Enjoying football is winning," he added. "That's what I want to do for the rest of my career. This season was a great example, it was a third Premier League for me ... but a first for many of our young players.

"To see their pride and to see the fans going back to victories is the reason I am in the game."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

- Reuters

 

Asia playing increasing role in global affairs: Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎07:25:10 AMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: In a speech to delegates at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Sunday (May 31), Singapore's Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen pointed out a change in power dynamics at the world stage, where Asia plays an increasing role in global trade, international finance and military security formerly dominated by the United States and leading western powers.

"The international system as we know it is in flux for Asia today. China and India are no longer poor, at least not in aggregate terms, and certainly not marginalised by the Cold War or sequestered behind the Bamboo Curtain," said Dr Ng.

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. (Photo: AFP/Stefanus Ian)

"China is now the world's second largest economy in nominal terms. India's GDP has more than tripled since the turn of the century, exceeding countries like Canada and Russia. Japan is also the third largest economy in the world."

Dr Ng pointed out new institutions and bold initiatives have emerged from this shift and will serve as "new engines to drive development in this region in this new century." He cited the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - which have set up the New Development Bank last year, as well as the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), capitalised at US$100 billion.

The Minister also expressed Singapore's hope to see the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) come in to effect, as the Trade Promotion Authority bill - which will facilitate the TPP's finalisation and conclusion - is making its way through the US Congress.

"Singapore certainly hopes that the TPP will form one of the driving forces that shape the economic future for this region."

TRANSNATIONAL CHALLENGES

Besides the globalisation, Dr Ng also touched upon transnational challenges, including religious extremism, cybercrime and human trafficking.

"Religious extremists and non-state actors like Al Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), piracy, cybercrime and trafficking of humans, drugs, and weapons of mass destruction, are also affecting this part of the world, home to the largest Muslim population globally," said Dr Ng.

He also encouraged both established and rising powers to ensure a rules-based system is maintained with respect for sovereignty and international law "as the fundamental tenets for stability in this new century".

Citing events in the East and South China Sea, Dr Ng call them "manifestations of this change in power dynamics," adding the region's uncertainties have resulted in "increased tensions and even actual incidents at sea and in the air".

"Even as the hierarchy of power dynamics alter across regions and between individual states, we have to ensure that the security architecture remains inclusive and operates on rules and norms that have the consensus of the international community at large," he said.

Dr Ng concluded that key players such as the US, Europe, China, India, Japan and ASEAN have "a critical role to play in this evolution, where new rules and norms are proposed".

- CNA/rw

 

China capital to roll out tough anti-smoking laws

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎07:20:37 AMGo to full article
BEIJING: Beijing will ban smoking in restaurants, offices and on public transport from Monday, part of unprecedented new curbs welcomed by anti-tobacco advocates, though how they will be enforced remains to be seen.

Health activists have pushed for years for stronger restrictions on smoking in China, the world's largest tobacco consumer, which is considering further anti-smoking curbs nationwide.

Giant "No-smoking" signs are seen on the exterior of the National Stadium, also known as the Birds' Nest, as part of an anti-smoking campaign, in Beijing, China, May 30, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Under the rules, anyone in China's capital who violates the bans, which include smoking near schools and hospitals, must pay 200 yuan (21 pounds). The current fine, seldom enforced, is just 10 yuan.

Anyone who breaks the law three times will be named and shamed on a government website. And businesses can be fined up to 10,000 yuan for failing to stamp out smoking on their premises.

"Restaurant staff have a duty to try to dissuade people from smoking," said Mao Qunan, of the National Health and Family Planning Commission. "If they don’t listen to persuasion, then law enforcement authorities will file a case against them."

The government will also no longer allow cigarettes to be sold to shops within 100 metres of primary schools and kindergartens, according to state media.

Smoking is a major health crisis in China, where more than 300 million smokers have made cigarettes part of the social fabric, and millions more are exposed to secondhand smoke. More than half of Chinese smokers buy cigarettes at less than five yuan (80 U.S. cents) a pack.

Parliament passed legislation last month banning tobacco ads in mass media, public places on public transport and outdoors. Many Chinese cities have banned smoking in outdoor public places, but enforcement has been lax.

Bright red banners, typically used to display government slogans, have been posted around Beijing with anti-smoking messages. The city has also set up a hot line on which violators can be reported, the China Daily reported.

The names of people and companies who violate the rules more than three times will be posted on a government website for a month, state radio said.

Anti-tobacco advocates said they were more confident in the government's will to enforce the bans after a series of tougher measures in recent months, including a bigger tobacco tax.

"We couldn’t say this is the strongest law in the world," said Angela Pratt, of the World Health Organization's Tobacco Free Initiative. "But it's certainly up there with the strongest, in that there are no exemptions, no exceptions and no loopholes on the indoor smoking ban requirement."

(Additional reporting by Joseph Campbell and Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie)

- Reuters

 

China capital to roll out tough anti-smoking laws

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎07:20:24 AMGo to full article
BEIJING: Beijing will ban smoking in restaurants, offices and on public transport from Monday, part of unprecedented new curbs welcomed by anti-tobacco advocates, though how they will be enforced remains to be seen.

Health activists have pushed for years for stronger restrictions on smoking in China, the world's largest tobacco consumer, which is considering further anti-smoking curbs nationwide.

A man smokes a cigarette outside an office building in Beijing, China, May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Under the rules, anyone in China's capital who violates the bans, which include smoking near schools and hospitals, must pay 200 yuan (US$32.25). The current fine, seldom enforced, is just 10 yuan (US$1.60).

Anyone who breaks the law three times will be named and shamed on a government website. And businesses can be fined up to 10,000 yuan (US$1,600) for failing to stamp out smoking on their premises.

"Restaurant staff have a duty to try to dissuade people from smoking," said Mao Qunan, of the National Health and Family Planning Commission. "If they don’t listen to persuasion, then law enforcement authorities will file a case against them."

The government will also no longer allow cigarettes to be sold to shops within 100 meters of primary schools and kindergartens, according to state media.

Smoking is a major health crisis in China, where more than 300 million smokers have made cigarettes part of the social fabric, and millions more are exposed to secondhand smoke. More than half of Chinese smokers buy cigarettes at less than five yuan (80 U.S. cents) a pack.

Parliament passed legislation last month banning tobacco ads in mass media, public places on public transport and outdoors. Many Chinese cities have banned smoking in outdoor public places, but enforcement has been lax.

Bright red banners, typically used to display government slogans, have been posted around Beijing with anti-smoking messages. The city has also set up a hot line on which violators can be reported, the China Daily reported.

The names of people and companies who violate the rules more than three times will be posted on a government website for a month, state radio said.

Anti-tobacco advocates said they were more confident in the government's will to enforce the bans after a series of tougher measures in recent months, including a bigger tobacco tax. "We couldn’t say this is the strongest law in the world," said Angela Pratt, of the World Health Organization's Tobacco Free Initiative. "But it's certainly up there with the strongest, in that there are no exemptions, no exceptions and no loopholes on the indoor smoking ban requirement."

(Additional reporting by Joseph Campbell and Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie)

- Reuters

 

Desperate Bangladeshi migrant families await calls for ransom

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎07:05:14 AMGo to full article
TEKNAF, Bangladesh: In Bangladesh's southernmost tip, families cling to scraps of paper with Malaysian and Thai hand phone numbers scribbled on them as their only links to loved ones missing after boarding fishing boats, lured by hopes of a brighter future overseas.

Some of the families have received calls from those numbers, from people claiming to be holding their husbands or sons and asking for ransom to get them home.

Sometimes the captives have phoned themselves in all-too-brief calls, pleading for their families to heed the demands. The families call back but either nobody answers or, if they do, the phone goes dead.

In recent weeks, as reports of mass graves of migrants emerged from Malaysia and Thailand and images of hundreds of starving people abandoned at sea spread around the world, the calls to families in Teknaf have become more persistent.

Khaleda Banu, from a dirt-poor fishing settlement, said a man phoned her four days ago saying her 19-year-old son, missing since November, was alive. She could have him back if she handed over 30,000 taka (250 pounds) as part payment.

But she had already paid that amount months ago when the first call came and nothing had happened. The man hung up and wouldn't answer her calls and now the mother, surrounded by neighbours, is sick with worry.

"My son just slipped away. I was sleeping when he left," she said. She found out later a man claiming to be a recruiter had persuaded him that his carpentry skills would earn him 10 times more money in Malaysia than at home.

She filed a case against the agent who has since been arrested. But the agent can't help her find her son.

Thousands of people, mostly Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, but also Bangladeshis have been trying to slip into Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia for years through people-smuggling networks.

More than 4,000 migrants have landed in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh in recent weeks since Thailand launched a crackdown on people-smuggling gangs. Around 2,000 may still be adrift in boats on the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal, the United Nations said.

The journey for a large number begins in the coastal town of Teknaf bounded on one side by Myanmar from where the Rohingya cross over, and the Bay of Bengal on the other. A hub of the narcotics and smuggling trade from Myanmar, Teknaf is the shortest route to Thailand and Malaysia.

"MALAYSIA AIRPORTS"

The traffickers use a route along the edges of Bangladeshi and Myanmar's waters, darting across the border back and forth to dodge security forces of the two countries, taking advantage of the lack of joint patrolling, officials say.

Some 3,000 fishing boats, most of them long-bowed, ply the waters that are used by traffickers to move their people cargoes. There are 60 jump-off points along a 100-km (60-mile)stretch of powder-white sand, reputed to be the world's longest unbroken beach. Locals refer to the departure jetties as "Malaysia airports".

Some families said that the traffickers had lured their loved ones by not asking for money at the beginning of the voyage to Southeast Asia.

To many in Bangladesh, which exports tens of thousands of workers each year across the world, that seemed too good an offer to turn down, having seen friends and relatives had over huge amounts in previous years to go abroad.

Mohammad Hassan said agents told his son-in-law, who earned a living making fishing nets, that he could pay for the journey after he had found work in Malaysia.

Then, months after he went away, the call came: the agents demanded that Hassan pay a ransom of 220,000 taka (US$2,830) to get him freed from a Thai camp where he was being held.

"I told the man I am a daily wage labourer. Where can I arrange that money? I don't have things to sell."

A week ago, Hassan said, tears welling up, he received a call saying his son-law-law and a father of three had been killed and his body buried on a hillside in Thailand.

"This has become an extortion racket. They are preying on gullible people," said Mohammad Abuzar Al Zahid, commanding officer of the Border Guard Bangladesh responsible for the defence of the Teknaf area.

"These brokers have spread everywhere, in the villages, in towns. They are like veins in your body."

Authorities say the traffickers are part of a network that for years has preyed on the Rohingya, a largely stateless minority in Myanmar.

The gangs promise to deliver the refugees to Muslim-majority Malaysia and in recent years targeted Bangladeshis too. Typically there are about 500 to 600 Rohingya on a boat along with some 200-300 Bangladesh nationals.

FACELESS MIDDLEMEN

Sometimes the gang members don't even bother taking their victims to the sea, keeping them confined below decks in a fishing boat moored in the placid waters of the Naf River and making ransom calls to their families, Zahid said.

From the man who makes the first contact with a potential migrant to the international agents into whose hands he is finally passed, its a web of faceless middlemen who don't know each other and cannot ensure their security, said Zahid based on the interrogation reports of traffickers who had been caught.

"There is a whole support group, the boatmen who take these victims to the cargo ships, the people who sell foodstuffs for the journey and then the people who collect money."

A newspaper quoted the owner of a trawler as saying that his entire 17-member crew, supposed to have gone fishing, had sold the vessel to traffickers in return for getting them into Malaysia.

In Teknaf, there are shops selling large water containers, sacks of puffed and flattened rice, fruit, biscuits and drinks for the job seekers embarking on the journey.

"The administration has only now woken up when graves turned up in Thailand and people are floating in the sea," said former MP from the area, Mohammad Ali. "Law enforcement has been negligible."

But Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said migrants trying to leave the country illegally were partly to blame for their predicament.

"They are tainting the image of the country in the international arena and putting their life into danger," state media quoted her last week as telling government officials, calling the migrants "mentally sick".

"There is sufficient work for them. Still they are leaving the country in such disastrous ways."

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

- Reuters

 

Australia 'concerned' by China's activity in South China Sea: Defence Minister

 
‎31 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎06:37:52 AMGo to full article
SINGAPORE: Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews on Suinday (May 31) said Canberra is concerned by China's reported build-up of military assets on reclaimed land in the South China Sea.

Speaking to regional defence representatives at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Mr Andrews said "underlying tensions are likely to remain in the near-term strategic environment" but urged claimant states in the territorial dispute to exercise caution.

Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue. (Photo: Jack Board)

"Australia urges all parties to exercise restraint, halt reclamation activities, halt provocative actions," he said. "We are particularly concerned by the prospect of the militarisation of artificial structures. Disputes must be resolved peacefully."

Mr Andrews reiterated Australia's opposition to any attempt to "change the status quo" in the South China Sea or any moves that raised regional tension.

He said he was encouraged by the level of interdependence among the region and increasing cooperation in security and trade, but warned that closer ties did not ease the greater risk conflict. "It will not prevent states from engaging in coercive behaviour, nor will it prevent miscalculation," he said.

New Zealand's Defence Minister Gerry Brownless echoed the concerns, stating his country's interest in understanding "the intentions of those undertaking reclamation in the South China Sea".

"Rapid military modernisation in an environment of mistrust is a worrying prospect," said Mr Brownlee, as he called for better transparency, trust and mutual respect.

Both nations' defence ministers spoke about the importance of the freedom of navigation to ensure the safe passage of regional trade and economic growth leading to better integration.

"These challenges are not insurmountable. It is critical that all regional countries work together as parties," Mr Andrews said.

- CNA/rw

 

 
 

 

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