THE JOURNAL consists of selected, most notable and newsworthy POSTINGS OF THE DAY.

Friday, August 31, 2007

31. Malaysiaku Gemilang

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Malaysia's independence, I have chosen a write-up of Malaysia by Zulkifli Ibrahim of Bernama as my story of Malaysia from 1957 to 2007. It traces the history of Malaya, and then Malaysia from the days of independence to a nation planning aggressively to achieve developed nation status by 2020. A feat very,very few nations can proudly say belongs to them. We just have to look at other nations around the world to see how lucky we have been here. No wars and no unemployment. A rich country many envy because of its abundant natural resources. Malaysia is a heaven of sorts in the world. Multi-cultural, peace-loving, with a large showering of rain and shine that makes living a delight.This has been achieved not entirely without criticisms. These criticisms are not frivolous. Some are true and have to be be seriously addressed in the next 13 years before 2020 for Malaysia to be proudly called developed. There should not be a feeling of being alienated in this wonderful country of ours which we all call our motherland. There should be no fear, favour or injustice to any racial group or individual and all problems should be addressed timely and comprehensively by the relevant departments. The civil service should support the private sector to achieve the desired goals of growth and employment, without redundancy and duplication of functions. Corruption should be replaced with love and loyalty to country. And what about Bangsa Malaysia. It is that elusive feeling of oneness, togetherness, and of belonging ... that feeling I think most of us felt at that Blog House forum on Bangsa Malaysia. Now that feeling has to spread wings throughout the nation. That is what Bangsa Malaysia is all about and being Malaysian means. Being one, united in feeling and spirit, but different culturally and otherwise. Assimilation and Homogeneity are important ingredients of the process. And how do we achieve that? When there is equality, justice, fairness, tolerance, respect, acceptance, and no dominance of one over another. These then are for the next 13 years to a developed country. A toast to Malaysia. Malaysiaku Gemilang! And then towards "Gemilang, Cemerlang, Terbilang" for the next 50 years ahead. A VERY HAPPY 50th MERDEKA TO ALL.

In the weeks after the surrender of the Japanese Army in 1945, the people of Malaya cringed in fear, especially those living in villages fringing the jungles.

Then, almost everynight the communist terrorists who claimed to be units of the Malayan People's Anti Japanese Army (MPAJA) armed with rifles and machetes, would burst into the homes of those they suspected to be collaborating with the invaders during the Japanese occupation.

"They are actually the communist terrorists or 'Bintang Tiga' who are out for vendetta. They simply execute the victims on the spot or bundled them into gunny sacks and melted into the night.

"As for the villagers, they were never to be seen again, believed to be tortured and executed," said 75-year-old government pensioner Ismail Mat Salleh, when recollecting the hardship his family faced in the post Second World War era.

These atrocities were well depicted in novels like "Leftenan Nor Pahlawan Gerila", Jungle Has Eyes and Force 136.


"There is no such thing anymore. It is a much different situation now where peace and prosperity is alive in Malaysia," said Ismail who was a young teenager during the chaotic years of the occupation.

Some of the former British colonialists who returned to Malaysia simply could not believe what Malaysia has metamorphosised into today.

Harold Desmond Davies, a scotsman who worked as a rubber plantation planter in Malaya during the Emergency said: "Malaya (Malaysia) has developed tremendously and progressed rapidly.

"During my time (communist insurgency years of 1948-1960), the place to go in Kuala Lumpur then was the Coliseum Cafe where the British planters and miners would hang their carbines and pistols on the gun rack before going for their 'setengah' (drinks).

"Now look at the skyscrappers in the country, not to mention the LRTs, KL's hotel, commercial and corporate district, world's tallest twin towers (Petronas Twin Towers) and Putrajaya.
Malaya has majestically and brilliantly transformed itself into an ultra-modern nation".

Davies, who is visiting an Eurasian relative, told Bernama this here recently.

And what have Malaysians got to say about their own country?

"It is a rather short time span actually. It was only 50 years ago that the Merdeka Stadium reverberated with the shouts of 'Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!' said businessman Alfred Chong.
"Even though some may still label us as a third world country, we are proud of our own country.
"Third world? Look at other nations, several of them are still in chaos and strife-torn, Chong said referring to several Asian, African and former Soviet Union and Yugoslavian countries.

Chong said Malaysia is proud to have its own daughters and sons as the world beaters in sports apart from being renowned scientists, corporate figures and political leaders.

"We have Malaysian doctors, engineers, pilots and giant corporations like Petronas. Not to mention the facilities like Sepang F1 Circuit," he said.

Former teacher Abdul Rahman Ismail attributed Malaysia's transformation to its own people.

"If the colonialists are still here, we will not progress this far. Malaysia would still be a poor country where its natural resources like tin, rubber, palm oil or even petroleum would be siphoned off by the colonial masters.

If the money is gone, how can the nation's leaders develop the country. Hence, the Malays would remain in the villages, the Indians still working in estates and the Chinese operating small grocery shops and kopitiams, said Abdul Rahman.


Businessman K. Muniandy echoed Abdul Rahman's statement.

"It is the effort of all Malaysians actually. The late leaders like Tunku (Abdul Rahman Putra), (Tun) Sambathan, Tun Tan (Cheng Lok) and the others took the initiative to ask for independence peacefully.

Muniandy said he is thankful for being able to earn a handsome living and live in a peaceful country.

"What else do you want, despite several economic hiccups the government is able to provide free education for the schools, good business environment for the local and foreign investors through stability, good healthcare services and many others.

Muniandy said Malaysians need to accept some of the economic drawbacks like the hike in petroleum products, expressway tolls, increase in power, telecommunication and water supply tariffs as it is unavoidable and also happened in other nations.

"These things happen if Malaysians want to progress. Even though the Government attempts to avoid this economic glitches, such events do happen from time to time in other countries too," he said.


Former army colonel Mohd Zaid Agus said Malaysia and its people have managed to survive and progressed economically during the five decades after Merdeka.

"It us Malaysians that fought for ourselves. It is our leaders that mapped our future. The colonial masters simply left us after reaping our rich resources.

"After Merdeka, some international powers expected us to collapse and fell into chaos. However that did not happened," he said.

Mohd Zaid said it was the resolve of the people that the then young nation survived the challenges.

"We battled and won against the Chin Peng-led communist insurgents during the Emergency and in the Confrontation, guerillas from a neighbouring country during the 'Ganyang Malaya' campaign.

Mohd Zaid said Malaysia also survived the 1997 economic downturn and still managed to stage the 16th Commonwealth Games in 1998.

"This proved that us Malaysians are made of sterner stuff," he added.


It boils to one thing -- racial unity and harmony, said social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.

"Malaysians have worked hard to achieve unity and harmony. The Government has installed various programmes for this effort including the National Service Training programme". Lee, who is the National Service Training Council Chairman said this recently.

"This augurs well for a Gemilang Malaysia," he said.

Despite several dark blotches in the annals of the country's history like the May 13 incidents, Malaysia has progressed well into this millennium.

Well done, "Malaysiaku, Gemilang".

Thursday, August 30, 2007

30. Notting Hill Carnival

1. The Notting Hill Carnival, in London, is held every August Bank Holiday since 1966, is the world's second largest street party, after the Rio Carnival in Brazil.

2. The theme of this year's event is Set All Free, commemorating the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade.
3. The long-awaited sunshine brought out the best of the carnival's colour - but it was thirsty work for the participants.
4. Music has always been at the heart of the Notting Hill Carnival, with traditional and contemporary sounds filling the air for miles around.

5. Sewing, gluing, painting - months of hard work goes into the outlandish costumes to make the Notting Hill Carnival stand out in spectacular fashion. ( All photos by kind courtesy of BBC.)

29. 12 Hostages Released

The Taliban freed 12 of their 19 South Korean captives on Wednesday as the wrenching six-week hostage crisis in Afghanistan neared resolution.

The Islamic extremist movement handed over 10 women and two men to tribal elders in three separate releases several hours apart outside the central town of Ghazni. The aid workers were then driven to safety in Red Cross vehicles.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) representative Greg Muller confirmed to AFP that 12 hostages had been released and taken to the Red Crescent Society offices in Ghazni, 140 kilometres (90 miles) south of Kabul.

"They seem after six weeks in detention very much relieved which is a natural reaction after an extremely stressful experience," Muller said.

"But physically they seem in good shape," he added.

Many of the freed women were wearing colourful headscarves and some appeared to be in tears. They covered their faces as they were bundled into Red Cross vehicles. A bearded male hostage grinned broadly.

The freed hostages were among 23 Christian aid workers kidnapped by Taliban militants on July 19. Two male captives were executed by their captors and two female hostages were freed earlier this month.

The South Korean embassy in Kabul said the freed hostages were likely to be flown to the US military base at Bagram, north of Kabul, before leaving Afghanistan "as soon as possible."

Wednesday's releases came a day after the Taliban announced it would free all the hostages in the wake of South Korea's pledge to withdraw its military force from Afghanistan and ban missionary groups from the country.

The agreement came in face-to-face talks between Taliban negotiators and South Korean diplomats in Ghazni. The Taliban said the remaining hostages would likely be freed on Thursday.

The United States welcomed the release, but refrained comment on whether the agreement for their freedom set a dangerous precedent.

"We are very glad that those who have been released so far will be able to return home to their families," said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman.

Amid speculation over whether a ransom was paid, both the Taliban and the South Korean government denied there was any secret deal.

"I strongly deny this. It's not true that money was involved," Taliban commander Qari Mohammad Bashir said.

The hostage-takers said Tuesday it would take several days to free all the captives as they were in different areas.

News of the deal triggered tears of relief from their relatives who have been watching and praying for their lives since they were seized on a bus travelling from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar.

"I am extremely happy. I want to see them and hug them hard now," said Seo Jeung-Bae, 57, whose son and daughter are among those being held.

"I had not doubted for one moment that the Taliban would return my children some day as the Taliban are also human beings and have their own families," he told AFP at the suburban Seoul church where the Christian group was based.

The South Korean government promised to pull out its 200 troops in medical and engineering units from Afghanistan by the end of the year -- something it was already planning to do.

It also promised to stop missionary activities by its Christian groups in Islamic Afghanistan -- again, the government has already imposed a ban on all unauthorised travel to the war-torn nation.

The Taliban killed the two hostages to press their demand for the release of jailed fighters, but the Afghan government rejected any such swap.

The insurgents apparently accepted assurances by Seoul that it was powerless to influence the Kabul government to release prisoners, presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-Seon said in Seoul.

The kidnappings are among a series of incidents blamed on the Taliban, who are waging a bloody insurgency against the Kabul government and its coalition allies that has spiralled in intensity over the past year - AFP.

See Release Appeal on right column.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

28. US Efforts Defended

Two weeks before receiving a major assessment of the war in Iraq, President Bush gave a ringing defense of the war effort Tuesday in a speech that sounded like he'd already made up his mind to stay and fight.

Bush hailed security gains, defended middling progress by Iraqi leaders and argued that the future of the entire Middle East would rise or fall on the outcome.

"It's going to take time for the recent progress we have seen in security to translate into political progress," Bush told a friendly audience at the American Legion's national convention. "Leaders in Washington need to look for ways to help our Iraqi allies succeed, not excuses for abandoning them."

Bush argued that withdrawing American forces would allow the Middle East to be taken over by extremists and put the security of the United States in jeopardy. By contrast, he said, continuing to fight is "the most important and immediate way" to put the strategic, struggling region on a path to democracy, economic expansion and stability that is inhospitable to terrorists.

Democrats criticized Bush's approach.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Bush "continues to stubbornly pursue a flawed strategy" that has failed to deliver in Iraq, diverted attention from battling al-Qaida, and depleted the military's ability to respond to other crises. "A change of course in Iraq is long overdue" and will be pressed by the Democrats who control Congress, Reid said.

The Iraq report due to Congress by Sept. 15 requires Ryan Crocker, Bush's envoy in Baghdad, and the top U.S. general in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, to measure whether the 30,000 additional U.S. forces Bush ordered in January are improving security enough to create an environment for lasting political progress. The pair also is to say whether Iraqis are performing well on mutually agreed benchmarks.

The president said there is reason to be hopeful about Iraqi leaders' efforts, particularly at the local and regional levels. Many benchmarks also are being met in effect without legislation, he said, noting that oil revenues are being shared among provinces without the passage of a law to require it.

He praised a weekend pact among leading Iraqi politicians on some other issues that have blocked national reconciliation. However, the Iraqi parliament still must codify the agreements - something that has repeated fallen apart in the past. The deal was not enough to bring the main Sunni Arab political bloc back into the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The president used Iran's ambitions for increased global power as one argument for why failure in Iraq would cause the region to fall apart and the world to become more dangerous.

He accused Iran's leadership of trying to destabilize Iraq, saying, "I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities." And he said that a precipitous U.S. departure from Iraq would lead Tehran to "conclude that we were weak," accelerate its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and touch off an atomic arms race in the already volatile Middle East.

At least 3,728 military members have died in the more than four-year-old war in Iraq - by JENNIFER LOVEN, AP.


27. Mideast Funds to IDR

Investors from the Middle East are expected to ink an agreement today to commit billions of ringgit into the Iskandar Development Region, making them the pioneer investors.

Iskandar project is an ambitious plan to develop a large swathe of south Johor into a global city.

Malaysia’s reputation as a destination for foreign investment will certainly be burnished with the news that these Middle Eastern investors would be making a significant investment in the project.

Government officials are tight-lipped about the matter but several analysts believe that the initial investment could be more than 3 billion ringgit (US$861.2 million). This investment will kick-start the project.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and other Cabinet Ministers are expected to witness the signing ceremony involving the pioneer investors for IDR in Putrajaya.

Last year, Malaysia attracted more than 20 billion ringgit ($5.74 billion) in foreign investments in the manufacturing sector-–the largest amount in recent years-–and the inflow for the first six months of the year suggests that the 20 billion ringgit benchmark will be breached easily.

The Iskandar Development Region-–a brainchild of the Prime Minister-–was launched late last year and is being designed as a new growth centre for the country. When completed in 20 years, it will become a landmark development with top-class lifestyle and leisure enclaves and is expected to create some 800,000 new jobs.

The IDR, covering 2,217 sq km, is nearly three times the size of Singapore. It is an ambitious plan aimed at making the region bigger than China’s Shenzhen, which has greatly benefited from Hong Kong.

For a start, Johor has allocated about 1 billion ringgit ($287.06 billion) to clean up and rehabilitate three of its most polluted rivers ahead of plans to build Danga Bay, a massive waterfront project with residential, commercial, recreational and social amenities.

It is understood that a long list of local and foreign investors have shown a willingness to pour their funds into this project but Khazanah Nasional has been mindful to consider only investors who share the vision of turning the IDR into a global masterpiece.

Government officials declined to talk about the proposed investment from the Middle East or to name the interested parties.

However, it is learnt that the investors are likely to be from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and have a strong track record in developing green field projects.

It has been speculated that the investors are likely to turn a segment of the IDR into a financial and lifestyle centre, possibly even an Arab enclave in south Johor.

This proposed investment comes at a time when the world has been spooked by the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the United States.

In recent months, there has been strong interest in Malaysia and Malaysian companies by individuals and companies from the Middle East. Saudi Telecom bought a 25 per cent stake in Binariang GSM while more recently, a consortium led by prominent personalities in Abu Dhabi and Kuwait moved to take over construction company Putrajaya Perdana.

Last week, StarBiz reported that over the next two to three weeks, major announcements are expected from some of the biggest funds in the world that are holding billions of dollars of oil money.

Among these funds, the Abu Dhabi Investment Agency alone has investment assets exceeding $500 billion. The agency is jointly owned by Abu Dhabi Investment Council and the National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

The sectors that these investors are eyeing include infrastructure, banking, property, logistics, construction, engineering, tourism, hotels, theme parks and convention centres - Wong Chun Wai, The Star.


26. Total Lunar Eclipse

Astronomers have watched in awe as the world experienced a total lunar eclipse, yesterday.

For more than three and a half hours, the moon moved into the shadow of the earth, slowly becoming engulfed.

Star-gazers across the nation have been thrilled by the phenomenon, which occurs every two or three years.

The eclipse began at 6.51pm AEST, with the moon shrouded into a copper-coloured ball until just after 8.30pm, when it again emerged from the shadow.

While the eclipse is full, the moon appears blood red because only the red component of sunlight is diffracted around the earth onto its surface.

If you missed this eclipse, the next one is not until December 2010 - Sky News.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

25. The 11th Hour

This movie is a must see not only by politicians, biologists and ecologists but by every citizen who sees that there is a future on this earth for all and be able to do something before it is too late!

Huge fires burning forests, devastating floods, dark clouds of industrial smoke, traffic jams, a million cars, deadly earthquakes, devastating floods, melting ice on mountain tops, traffic noise, and crowded malls. That is what you see when the show starts: it's called "The 11th Hour".

Produced and directed by Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the new feature-length documentary film on the extent and gravity of the global environmental crisis is being shown in theaters across the United States and Canada this week.

The 131-minute film is based on interviews with more than 50 world - renowned figures, including the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, physicist Stephen Hawking, Noble Peace laureate Wangari Mathaai, environmentalist Bill McKibben, and Native American leader Oren Lyons.

Using striking images of the earth from aerial photography accompanied by solid music, DiCaprio tells the audience about the environmental destruction of the planet: "The evidence is now clear."

Unlike Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth," an environmental documentary released last year in July, "The 11th Hour" does not merely warn of the consequences of the dangers posed by global warming. It rather attempts to raise the bigger question of whether the existing model of economic development is compatible with the laws of nature.

"The industrial civilization has caused irreparable damage," says DiCaprio in the opening scene. "Our political and corporate leaders have consistently ignored the overwhelming evidence."

In DiCaprio's view, global warming is "not the number one environmental challenge we face today, but one of the most important issues facing all of humanity."

The movie documents a wide range of issues related to environmental destruction, including climate change, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, depletion of ocean habitats, unsustainable patterns of consumption, overfishing, and environmental refugees.

The theme of the movie emphasizes that all these issues are interlinked with each other and that any initiative to solve them must be derived from an integrated approach based in scientific knowledge.

"I keep telling people...'Let us not destroy the forested mountains, because if you destroy the forests, the rivers will stop flowing, and the rains will become irregular, and the crops will fail, and you will die of hunger and starvation,'" says Mathaai. "Now the problem is that people don't make those linkages."

Reflecting on the same theme, Gorbachev sees ecological destruction as a global issue that demands a global response. "We need to think and act differently," he says.

Many among those interviewed by the "11th Hour" team hold a unanimous view that overemphasis on economic growth and greed for profits is largely responsible for the current environmental crises, including global warming.

In support of his thesis, DiCaprio argues that, at this point of human history, the industrialized civilization has become "sick" to the point that it needs "healing."

Like many others in the movie, renowned scientist Stephen Hawking sees ecological degradation as the direct result of irrational human actions and treatment of nature, which amount to collective self-destruction.

"We are committing suicide," he says in an interview.

The movie offers sharp and pointed criticism of American and other industrial nations' dependence on foreign oil. To make a point about U.S. security concerns and their links with foreign oil, DiCaprio has also engaged former CIA director James Woolsey in the movie.

"Winston Churchill had it right about us," Woolsey says. "He said the Americans always do the right thing, but unfortunately it's only after they have exhausted all other possibilities. We have been exhausting some fairly bad possibilities for a long time. I think maybe we are finally ready to get it right."

In giving his views on the state of the planet, Lyons warns the audience that humankind could disappear from the face the Earth due to its ill action, but notes that the Earth itself will survive.
"It will regenerate. The rivers, the waters, the mountains; everything will be green again. Because the Earth has all the time in the world. But we don't. Love the place you live in"-by Haider Rizvi in


Monday, August 27, 2007

24. Patriotism and Loyalty

...and what better way to show patriotism and love for country than by flying the flag of course ! ( Cartoon by Kee in The Star ).


Sunday, August 26, 2007

23. Signing the Poster

Signatures of attendees to the Bangsa Malaysia forum last Saturday night at Blog House. Pix by TV Smith, poster by Mob.


22. Bangsa Malaysia Forum

Yesterday, Saturday 25th August 2007, was an important day in the history of The National Alliance of Bloggers, or All Blogs for short.

A Bangsa Malaysia Merdeka forum entitled " Bangsa Malaysia - The Way Forward " was held at 5pm at Blog House, 66 Lorong Setiabistari 2, Damansara Heights. The main sponsor and event organiser was Haris Ibrahim, a lawyer and blogger, who together with Tony Yew and his organising team did a magnicent job.

The speakers were Dato Zaid Ibrahim, Bernard Khoo, Jayanath Appadurai, Ahirudin Atan, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar and Azmi Sharom.

It was a very interesting forum touching on many aspects of Bangsa Malaysia. The floor also raised many interesting points of race, definitions, inter-racial marriages, multi-culturalism and other points.

After the first part, some light refreshments and food was served. The attendees mingled, made new friends and exchanged views.

This was followed by the second part. The President of All Blogs, Ahirudin Attan, gave a short speech and opened Blog House. Negara-ku was sung, with much feeling for the country, by the entire gathering.

Jeff Ooi read a pantun and Big Dog a poem by Datuk Usman Awang.

Malaysia Berjaya was then sung. Azmi Sharom, Black in Korea, and Walski did their guitar presentations.

Haris Ibrahim then announced the formation of PELITAR, a vehicle to carry his message of Bangsa Malaysia in a road show to various parts of the country.

This first ever get-together of bloggers, ended at about 11pm with a recitation of the Rukun Negara as the basis for the way forward in the creation of Bangsa Malaysia.

It was a very meaningful get together on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Malaysia.


21. Protests and Curfews

Burmese protest in KL

Over 200 Burmese staged a peaceful demonstration outside their embassy along Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, protesting recent arrests of a dozen dissidents by the military junta.

The protesters, comprising activists and refugees, called for the release of 13 student leaders who were arrested on Tuesday, for protesting a newly imposed fuel hike.

On Tuesday, over 100 people staged a march in Rangoon to protest a 500 percent increase in the price of compressed natural gas.

Among those arrested was Min Ko Naing, reportedly Burma’s most prominent political figure, after Nobel laureate Aun San Suu Kyi. Min’s 88 Generation Students Group led Tuesday’s march.

The protest in Kuala Lumpur saw banners calling for the release of Min, student leaders as well as Suu Kyi who has been under house arrest for the past 17 years.

"The history of our struggle is not understood by the world. The world does not know those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. They are our heroes," sang the Burmese before handing over a memorandum to embassy officials. Over 50 police personnel monitored the half-hour protest.

The memorandum, by Democratic Federation of Burma (DFB), also called the junta to "cease all human rights abuses and atrocities" against ethnic minorities such as the Rohingyas, Karens, Karennis, Mons, Chins and Shans.

The DFB is an ad hoc umbrella body representing 11 groups in Malaysia, including the exiled elected parties, the National League for Democracy (LDA) and the National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR).

Party leaders were either arrested or fled the country during a 1988 crackdown by the military.

"The Burmese here are very concerned about the arrests. This is a very brutal act by the military regime," said DFB spokesperson Mohammad Sadek when contacted.

"We hope the Malaysian government can put pressure through Asean. There must be constructive engagement, not silence. Millions of people are suffering," he added.

Burma, formerly the world’s biggest rice exporter, is Asia’s poorest country.This September 18 marks the 45th anniversary of military rule in the country - Bede Hong, Malaysiakini.

And in Bangladesh, a curfew...

Bangladesh security forces have arrested four university professors on suspicion of instigating violent protests that led to a curfew being imposed on six cities, school officials said.

The arrests came in raids early on Friday, as the government said it was temporarily suspending the curfew, which was imposed after three days of unrest.

The 14-hour suspension began at 8am (02:00 GMT), and the curfew was to be re-imposed at 10pm, the information ministry said. There has been no sign of protests since the curfew was imposed on Wednesday evening, and traffic poured onto the streets of Bangladesh's main cities on Friday. Two professors in the northwestern city of Rajshahi, who have in the past publicly criticised the army and the government, were arrested early on Friday, Altaf Hossain, head of the city's university, said. The detained academics were applied physics professors Saidur Rahman Khan, also a former head of the university, and Abdus Sobhan, leader of a left-leaning teachers' group.

Dipannita, daughter of Dhaka University professor Anwar Hosain In the capital, where the protests first began, security forces had earlier on Friday arrested two Dhaka University professors, Yusuf Haider, the school's acting vice-chancellor, said.

He said Harun ur Rashid, dean of the university's social science faculty, and Anwar Hossain, dean of bioscience and general secretary of the university's teachers' association, were arrested. Dipannita, Hossain's daughter, said: "At least 10 army officers came to our house in the night and said that my father had to go with them to the police station." The pair have been vocal in their criticisms of the army and the military-backed interim government, which took power seven months ago following a political crisis that saw the cancellation of national elections.

The students, many brandishing sticks, clashed with police who retaliated with tear gas.
Non-students joined the demonstrations, which quickly escalated into full-scale riots and spread across the country, despite a government decision to close the campus army post.

Protesters were demanding an immediate restoration of democracy and an end to emergency rule when the curfew was declared on Wednesday.

The measure temporarily shut down mobile phone services, cleared streets of protesters and forced people to stay home.

Violence subsided on Thursday as security forces patrolled the streets and the authorities warned they would take stern action against disorder.

All universities and colleges in the six cities, including the 40,000-student Dhaka University, have been closed indefinitely - Al Jazeera.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

20. Amnesty International

Statement from Amnesty International in response to Vatican Secretary of State

Yesterday the Vatican's Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, commented on Amnesty International's policy on sexual and reproductive rights -- including on selected aspects of abortion -- and said that the view of the Vatican is that abortion should not be available to rape victims.

Amnesty International's policy on sexual and reproductive rights does not promote abortion as a universal right and the organization remains silent on the rights or wrongs of abortion. The policy recognizes women's human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations. Amnesty International stands by its policy, adopted in April this year, that aims to support the decriminalisation of abortion, to ensure women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion and to defend women's access to abortion -- within reasonable gestational limits -- when their health or life are in danger.

At its International Council Meeting held in Mexico last week, Amnesty International's leaders committed the organization to strengthening its work on the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and other factors contributing to women's recourse to abortion and overwhelmingly affirmed the organization's policy on selected aspects of abortion. More than 400 Amnesty International representatives from more than 75 countries -- of many different nationalities, ethnicities, ages, religions and cultures -- attended the meeting and affirmed Amnesty International's commitment to women's human rights.

Amnesty International first considered the question of whether there were human rights issues implicated in the question of abortion around two years ago as part of its work on the organization's global campaign to Stop Violence Against Women. Amnesty International's position is consistent with international human rights and humanitarian law and was arrived at following extensive consultation with its membership. Amnesty International actively explored what the human rights issues related to abortion are and found that:

- women are sentenced to death for obtaining an abortion after trials that fail to meet international human rights standards for fair trials in countries such as Nigeria;

- women are arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned for having abortions when the evidence supported their defense of having had a spontaneous miscarriage; and

- women with ectopic pregnancies (when the embryo attaches to the fallopian tube and has no chance of survival but when untreated can cause the fallopian tube to burst, threatening the woman's life and, if she survives, her fertility) were denied life saving medical intervention.

In addition, Amnesty International documented cases of sexual violence in armed conflict that were devastating to women and lead to their ostracization. This trauma and exclusion was exacerbated when the sexual violence (typically in the form of gang rape) resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. Women and girls who were raped, including by family members, in non-conflict situations were also forced to carry the pregnancy to term.

Amnesty International also learned that, unlike in any other situation, medical service providers will often refuse to treat women suffering from complications related to abortion. There is no analogous treatment, i.e., the denial of medical services because the person in need of medical treatment is perceived or alleged to have committed a crime. People who overdose on drugs that are deemed illegal receive treatment, suspects in violent crimes who are shot or otherwise injured in the course of the crime receive medical treatment, and combatants in armed conflict who are hors de combat receive medical treatment. But women are denied this treatment, reflecting the exceptionalism around the issue of abortion.

Amnesty International finds it unacceptable for women to be imprisoned for seeking or obtaining an abortion, or for women to be denied access to abortion services even when the UN Committee on Human Rights has held that forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term that was a result of sexual violence in armed conflict is a form of torture; and in non-conflict situations cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Amnesty International finds the preventable death of 70,000 women per year -- and the denial of medical services in a range of circumstances from ectopic pregnancies to complications from unsafe abortions -- to be unacceptable. These are a violation of a woman's right to life, right to health, right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman degrading treatment and punishment and the right to non-discrimination.

In response to the position of the Vatican's Secretary of State, Amnesty International notes the right of the Vatican to hold its views on abortion and acknowledges human rights issues on which common ground does exist, including work against the death penalty, the release of prisoners of conscience and the abolition of torture. Amnesty International vigorously defends and respects the rights of individuals to exercise their right to freedom of expression and freedom of association. The matter of whether individuals, of any faith, agree with or oppose Amnesty International's policy on sexual and reproductive rights, which includes selected aspects on abortion, is for the individual to decide and should be respected.

I tend to agree with and support the view of Amnesty International that does not promote abortion as a universal right but recognizes women's human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations. I would support the decriminalisation of abortion to ensure women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion and to defend women's access to abortion - within reasonable gestational limits - when their health or life are in danger. Sexual and reproductive rights, which includes selected aspects on abortion, is for the individuals to decide and should be respected.

Friday, August 24, 2007

19. Sharif can come Home

Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif can return home from exile, dealing a fresh setback to his embattled arch foe President Pervez Musharraf.

Sharif said he would come back within weeks to stand in upcoming elections and lead the growing opposition to military ruler Musharraf, who overthrew the industrialist-turned-politician in October 1999.

Hundreds of Sharif's supporters danced jubilantly and sacrificed two goats outside the court after the verdict was announced, chanting "Go Musharraf, go!" "Musharraf is a dog!" and "Long live Nawaz Sharif".

"They have an inalienable right to return and remain in the country as citizens of Pakistan," Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said in his judgement, referring to the ex-premier and his brother Shahbaz.

Sharif and his family went into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000, a year after Musharraf ousted the premier and had him sentenced to life in prison on hijacking, tax evasion and treason charges.

"It is a defeat for tyranny and a day of jubilation for the people of Pakistan," Sharif told a local television station from London, where he and his brother are currently staying.

Sharif said he wanted to return to Pakistan "as soon as possible" and that he would call a meeting of his conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party and other allies.

His return could come before Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting which starts in September, senior party member Chaudhry Nisar Ali said outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad.

But the government warned that Sharif - who served as prime minister from 1990 to 1993, and again from 1997 to 1999 - and his brother would face criminal charges if they were to return.

"They can of course come to Pakistan, but when they land the law will take its course," government lawyer Ahmed Raza Kasuri said.

"We will prove to the world that we abide by the law and constitution and believe in tolerance and fairness. All future steps by the government will be taken in accordance with the law of the land," the spokesman added.

Both Sharif and another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the rival Pakistan People's Party, have said they intend to contest forthcoming general elections due by early next year.

Then-army chief Musharraf ousted Sharif after tensions between his government and the military. The hijacking charge relates to Sharif's bid to stop Musharraf's plane from landing in Pakistan on the day of the coup.

Musharraf says Sharif agreed to leave Pakistan for a period of 10 years and his lawyers presented the court with a document purportedly outlining the deal, but the ex-premier insists that he was coerced into exile.

The president has said that neither Sharif nor Bhutto will be allowed to return to Pakistan, although Bhutto has held talks with Musharraf about a possible power-sharing deal.

Musharraf has been dealt a series of bruising blows by the Supreme Court in recent months amid plunging popular support.

In July the court foiled his attempt to sack chief justice Chaudhry and earlier this month it ordered the release from jail of one of Sharif's top lieutenants, Javed Hashmi.

Musharraf faces further legal challenges against his dual position as army chief and president - AFP.

18. Floods, Floods, Floods!

Floods in the Midwestern states in the US have killed 22 people and caused damage which will cost millions of dollars to repair.

Three people at a bus stop were electrocuted in a lightning strike as the death toll mounted from storms, floods and a smothering heat wave battering the central United States.

Mudslides and murky floodwaters hampered recovery efforts in Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin where at least 23 people were killed after a week of heavy rains that prompted dramatic roof-top rescues.

Meanwhile, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama continued to wither under a record-breaking heat wave blamed for the death of at least 25 people.

Recovery workers in Oklahoma were searching for the body of a high school student who was sucked into floodwaters while running with his cross country team.

Six other people were confirmed dead in the state after the remnants of tropical storm Erin dumped heavy rain there and triggered flooding over the weekend that continued to wreck havoc on the state.

Three people were killed in Madison, Wisconsin on Wednesday afternoon when lightening struck a utility pole and knocked a live wire into a deep puddle at a bus stop, police said.

The Ohio river breached its banks after days of heavy rains and swamped cities and towns across the state. A 74-year-old man died after floodwaters knocked over a gasoline can and the pilot light of a nearby water heater set the gas ablaze.

Texas was spared the brunt of Hurricane Dean's wrath but was still cleaning up from the damage wrought by tropical storm Erin and months of endless rain which caused six deaths last week.

This brought the state's flash-flood deaths to 40 so far this year, which ties the record set in 1989, said Victor Murphy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Thirteen deaths were reported in Memphis, Tennessee and a dozen were reported in Alabama, officials said - AFP.

Also North Korea affected by severe floods. Read here.

And Sudan too. Read here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

17. Abe's Indian Trip

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived here yesterday (Aug 21) for a landmark trip meant to set new strategic and economic orientations for his country's relationship with South Asia's dominant power.

Abe's state visit comes exactly 50 years after his grandfather, prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, became the first Japanese premier to visit India.

Abe, who was just one year old then, is travelling this time with a delegation that includes 12 heads of universities and more than 200 top businessmen.

"Japanese prime ministers have been traditionally reluctant to be seen as communing too closely with businessmen," said a senior Japanese official, who asked not to be identified by name.

"This is the largest industry delegation to accompany a Japanese leader anywhere."

The composition of the delegation underscores Japan's rising interest in India as an investment destination.

Japan's Prime Minister Abe will address a joint session of India's Parliament in a rare honour.

The two countries are likely to announce the speeding up of plans to build a US$90 billion Mumbai-Delhi Industrial Corridor.

Such growing interest is even more obvious given that, at the moment, there are only about 400 Japanese companies in India, compared to the 4,700 more in China.

Suzuki Motor is India's largest carmaker in a consumer goods market that is otherwise dominated by South Korean companies.

A highlight of the visit will be the announcement of plans to accelerate, with Japanese help, the building of a $90 billion industrial and logistics corridor connecting India's western metropolis of Mumbai with national capital New Delhi.

The two countries also hope to vastly expand trade ties that stand at a mere $8 billion, far behind India's trade with the US or China, although it is growing at more than 20 per cent a year.

After a private dinner last night hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Abe will receive a full ceremonial welcome today (Aug 22) in the forecourt of the presidential palace. Later, he will address a joint session of the Indian Parliament.

Plans to accord US President George W Bush a similar honour were dropped last year because of protests from Left groups.

The American leader subsequently addressed Indians from the ramparts of a Moghul-built fort in New Delhi.

Abe is widely expected to make appreciative remarks, if not openly endorse, India's nuclear accord with the US.

Earlier this month, India unveiled details of a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the US, a pact requiring the approval of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Japan is one of the countries in the group, which controls the sale of nuclear fuel, technology and reactors, as well as being the only nation ever attacked with atomic bombs.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon confirmed that nuclear cooperation would be on the agenda for talks, while declining to be drawn into speculating about the results.

Yesterday, a senior Japanese official said Tokyo understood India's requirement for nuclear power both for its energy programme as well as to mitigate the impact of global warming.

"Japan is ready to participate positively in discussions on the matter within the Nuclear Suppliers Group," he said.

Ties between Japan and India, always cordial, have acquired new dimensions since former PM Junichiro Koizumi added a strategic dimension to ties. Annual summit-level talks have become a permanent fixture in their national calendars.

Next month, at India's invitation, Japan's Self-Defence Forces will participate in naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal alongside warships from the US and Singapore.

Four months ago, Indian naval ships joined warships from the US and Japan in an exercise off Yokosuka Base in Japan.

Abe's visit concludes with a trip to Kolkata tomorrow - Ravi Velloor, Straits Times, Singapore.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

16. Today's Short Takes

1. Judges who misbehave to face tribunal

Judges who behave inappropriately in and outside the courtroom will be removed through a tribunal.

Describing them as “not useful to the judiciary”, Chief Justice Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said bad behaviour by judges included “mixing a lot with corporate people”, being biased, consistently not writing grounds for judgment and being very moody and highly temperamental in court.

“Many factors are taken into consideration before a judge is promoted. We consider not only whether he wrote his grounds of decision, but whether he has cleared a lot of cases or not.

“Also important is whether his judicial temperament is still maintained, such as he does not shout and yell at people in public,” the top judge said when approached by reporters after launching the “Ahmad Ibrahim: Thoughts and Knowledge Contribution” seminar yesterday - The Star.

2. Ban on Night Express Buses

Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat has asked the Transport Ministry to ban night express bus service following the number of accidents involving express bus service, including the country’s worst on Aug 13 in Bukit Gantang which claimed 22 lives - NST.

3. Mercenary Attitude of Players

It's a worrying trend when players play beyond themselves in tournaments carrying attractive prize money and yet go out with a whimper in events when the pride of the nation is at stake like the just ended World Championships.

Doubles coach Rexy Mainaky is concerned about this unhealthy trend and intends to change all that.

Coming on the back of another pitiful performance in the World Championships, Rexy said that for starters, the participation of his pairs in super series events will be based on their form in training and will not hesitate to put players in cold storage if they don’t buck-up.

The coach did not waste any time and yesterday, put his players through three training sessions instead of the usual two in order to put to good use the ample free time the players have - NST.

4. Indian 'terror' doctor wins visa case

An Australian court on Tuesday overturned a government decision to cancel the visa of an Indian doctor who was charged over failed car bombings in Britain, Australian media reported.

In a setback for the government, the Federal Court in Brisbane restored Mohamed Haneef's visa, opening the way for him to return to Australia.

Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo said the court ruling had restored his client's life and career, and urged Immigation Minister Kevin Andrews not to appeal the decision - AFP.

15. Endeavour Lands Safely

Endeavour touches down Tuesday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida after its 13-day mission.

The crew of Endeavour (in light blue) and the international space station crew (in dark blue).

The space shuttle Endeavour came home a day early on Tuesday after NASA decided to cut short its mission in case Hurricane Dean shut down Johnson Space Center, which directs the shuttle's re-entry and landing.

The shuttle touched down at Kennedy Space Center at 12:32 p.m. ET, 13 days after its departure on a mission to help assemble parts of the international space station.

"Welcome back. You give new meaning to the term 'higher education,' " mission control told the seven-member crew, which includes former teacher Barbara Morgan.

The spacecraft landed at a speed of about 200 mph at a steeper angle than commercial airliners use, NASA said.

NASA made the decision Saturday to bring the shuttle back early, when forecasts for Dean showed the storm could veer to the north in the Gulf of Mexico and possibly force an evacuation of Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

But Dean, now a Category 2 hurricane, has stayed well to the south, passing over the Yucatan Peninsula early Tuesday.

Endeavour's crew members had to cut short a spacewalk Saturday in their mission to help assemble the international space station and accelerate a number of other activities, such as cargo transfers with the space station, that had been on the docket for Sunday.

The astronauts worked through a series of pre-landing procedures Sunday and Monday, including a thorough inspection of the shuttle's wing leading edges and nose cap for any micrometeorite or orbital debris damage that might have occurred while the shuttle has been in space.

Last week, NASA managers determined that the crew would not have to repair heat shield tiles that were damaged 58 seconds after the August 8 liftoff, when a piece of insulating foam fell off the external fuel tank, ricocheted off a strut and hit the underside of the orbiter just below the right landing gear door.

While the damage site was not large, measuring about 2½ x 3½ inches, the gouge was deep and penetrated all the way through the tile to the base.

"The damage that we saw, after receiving all the engineering tests and analysis, was not a threat to crew safety," John Shannon, deputy shuttle program manager, said last week.

For nearly a week, teams of engineers at multiple NASA centers ran tests and conducted a complex thermal analysis of the gouge to determine if the damaged area could safely withstand the 2,500-degree F temperatures that Endeavour's belly experiences during atmospheric re-entry.

Shuttles with similar or greater tile damage have returned safely to Earth before, most notably Discovery in September 1988.

But in 2003, a piece of insulating foam flew off the space shuttle Columbia's external tank during launch, causing a gash in the leading edge of that shuttle's left wing.

When Columbia re-entered the atmosphere to land 16 days later, searing gases entered the hole, incinerating the spacecraft and its seven astronauts.

NASA has outlined an ambitious shuttle launch schedule to complete assembly of the international space station. If all goes as planned, NASA will fly 14 more missions before the fleet is retired in 2010 - CNN.

14. Retiring at 65

A new law will come into effect to ensure that Singaporeans stay employed longer.

From 2012, a re-employment law will kick in to make it mandatory for employers to offer re-employment to workers who have reached the retirement age of 62.

As a first step, they will have to offer re-employment for workers up to the age of 65.

This will later be pushed to the age of 67.

While not expecting people to work into their 80s and 90s, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday that retiring at 55 or even 62 is far too early.

Besides educating both workers and employers on the value of older workers and financial incentives, Mr Lee said legislation is also needed.

Countering the suggestion that the government should just raise retirement age to solve the problem, Mr Lee said experience has shown that would not be the right solution.

While the legal retirement age is 62, he said one third of men here have already retired before they hit 62 and many women have retired even earlier.

Moreover, a higher retirement age may discourage employers from hiring older workers.

The better approach, Mr Lee said, is to legislate for re-employment to continue beyond the age of 62.

However, making sure that the employer makes an offer to rehire a worker at the age of 62, does not mean he or she will definitely get the same job at the same pay.

The employer will take into account the worker's performance, health and preferences, as well as the company's needs.

"It's more flexible for both the employers and employees... not necessarily the same job, not necessarily the same pay, but employer has to make an offer, taking into account the worker's performance, his health, his preferences and the company's needs, and both sides work out a win-win arrangement," said PM Lee - Channel NewsAsia.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

13. Thais' New Constitution

The draft charter sailed through the national referendum by a margin of about three votes to two - not good enough to reconcile a divided nation but a sufficient mandate to pave the way for a general election in December.

The Election Commission estimated voter turnout of 25 million, or 56.8 per cent of all 44.2 million eligible voters.

The EC's preliminary results from 95 per cent of the poll stations in the country's first-ever national referendum showed that 56.7 per cent of Thais (about 14.3 million voters) voted to support the new constitution, compared to 41.4 per cent (10.2 million voters) who voted against it. There were about 1.9 per cent of spoiled ballots.

But the Northeast region showed it still belonged to the defunct Thai Rak Thai Party's base by a wide margin, with "no" votes of 63 per cent and "yes" votes of only 36 per cent.

The Election Commission announced that it would not officially declare the outcome of the referendum until today (Aug 20) because it needed more time to count all the votes.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont confirmed yesterday (Aug 19) the general election would take place before the end of the year following His Majesty the King's 80th birthday on Dec 5.

"A definite election date will be announced after a royal command for the promulgation of the new constitution and the completion of the legislative process for organic laws relating to elections," he said.

He hinted at a tentative date of either Dec 16 or Dec 23 - both Sundays.

His comments came after three exit polls showed the referendum had passed.

Charter writers have completed writing draft organic legislation. The law required them to do so within 45 days of the July completion of the constitution. The National Legislative Assembly now has 30 days to deliberate on those laws.

Surayud called on political rivals to accept the referendum, saying the majority had spoken - although minority voices would be respected, too.

He ruled out the possibility of the military continuing to engage in politics following the election.

"I don't think anyone can execute a plan for power succession because the people won't allow it," he said in answer to a question about junta chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin's political aspirations.

The vote to approve the charter means the people decided to advance democratic rule through elections. It cannot be construed as an endorsement of military involvement in politics, he said.

"My government will not form a political party nor contest the elections; the future is up to political parties," he said.

"I believe the people cast referendum votes because they want to overcome the political crisis."

Council for National Security chief Sonthi yesterday blamed poor public relations for the small margin of victory in the eyes of the voters.

Interviewed over the phone from Malaysia, Sonthi said the public did not get the message from the government campaign on the constitution draft.

"The campaign also did not reach out to them effectively," he said.

Asked if he believed the result of the referendum showed that Thai Rak Thai's political bases in the North and Northeast regions were still strong, Sonthi said political parties in the rival camp to Thai Rak Thai would face a tough fight in the election.

"What happened (yesterday) is a lesson on how to solve the country's future problems. It is good since we can see through things," he said.

Asked if the referendum result would affect his decision to enter politics, Sonthi said no. "Whatever I do, I do it for the sake of the country and peace."

He said after he retired he would continue to be CNS chief until the government ends its term. He will answer whether he will enter politics on Sept 30.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva called for a fresh start in Thai politics. He asked all groups in the ongoing political conflict to bury their past and start anew.

Abhisit said referendum day should be used as Day 1 for Thailand to move forward.

"I would like the conflicts to become a thing of the past and I don't want our country to further lose its chance to move on," Abhisit said.

The Thai Rak Thai group's leading members held a press conference to announce their acceptance of the results of the referendum and will push for amendments to improve the next constitution.

Chaturon Chaisang said the group would accept the results of the referendum, although they saw that it was not organised in line with democratic principles.

"We will try to help maintain reconciliation in society and will not push for a new referendum," Chaturon said.

"And in the future we will propose amendments to make the charter more democratic."

Advocates of the "Vote No" campaign last night closely monitored the results and were satisfaction at the high percentage of voters rejecting the draft.

"It's a wonderful surprise that the 'no' vote count is as high as 40 per cent," said Asst Prof Somchai Preechasilpakul, dean of Chiang Mai University's Faculty of Law and a prominent anti-charter campaigner.

"Such a close margin between the 'yes' and 'no' votes makes us wonder what the result would be if the plebiscite were held under a democratic atmosphere and a more trustworthy Election Commission."

The Stock Exchange of Thailand's index is set to surge today with the passage of the charter as investors will be buoyed by the prospects of Thailand returning to democratic rule and Friday's move of the US Federal Reserve to cut the discount rate to shore up financial markets - The Nation.

Monday, August 20, 2007

12. Joint Venture Priority

In a major policy shift, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has mentioned that future Government contracts will be awarded to joint venture companies comprising a minimum of at least two races. This most welcome announcement will see more such companies in future bidding for contracts. It not only ensures racial harmony but also ensures that equi-distribution of national wealth. This is a positive move and should earn the praise of the people. Do away with Bumiputraism and replace it with true and genuine Malaysianism. A heartening news for Malaysia's 50th year celebrations. But he also cautions against Ali Baba ventures which is an unrespectful business practice. This will certainly see a rush for joint venture companies coming in the future. It is also an opportunity for Indians, Kadazans, Ibans and other indigenous races to come onstream in the development of the country. Tenders should also be transparent and advertised in all major dailies. Put an end to cronyism and be open. We want more such sincere and genuine leaders of all races who put the nation's interest first and foremost in developing this country.

The Government will give top priority to award contracts to genuine joint-venture companies comprising various races, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said today.

"I'm not saying there must be 30 per cent Bumiputera participation. You decide yourselves. This must be a genuine cooperation... Malay-Chinese, Malay-Indian, Chinese-Indian, everyone.

"We'll give them priority consideration to secure projects," he said when opening the 54th MCA General Assembly at Wisma MCA.

Present were Barisan Nasional (BN) component party leaders.

Abdullah said priority consideration for contracts would be given only if the multiracial joint-venture companies were truly genuine, that is, everyone works together to develop their company.

He said everybody must play their role to make profit, face the losses and risks together.

Abdullah said he had reiterated many times that joint ventures in the form of "Ali Baba" was not acceptable.

Abdullah also urged genuine joint-venture companies to bid for projects abroad. He gave an assurance to support Malaysian genuine companies, with joint venture participation of Malays, Chinese and Indians, seeking business opportunities overseas.

The prime minister's assurance received thunderous applause from the floor.

He said genuine joint-venture companies were still negligible as many were not inclined to setting up such entities.

Abdullah, who is also Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman, also stressed the importance of the country having sincere leaders, taking into account the interests of all races, fair and just in their actions and considering the feelings of others in their decisions.

"Leaders should not harbour intentions to isolate or discriminate any race. This should never be done. If a leader tries to isolate a certain race, he is not fit to be a leader in this country," he said.

The prime minister said the government steadfastly held to the principle of mutual understanding and consensus in resolving an issue.

"If you see how the cabinet discusses all sorts of issues, you will feel proud as leaders exchange views on diverse issues openly," he said.

Abdullah also said the government did not want to see the public and private sectors being dominated by a particular race.

"This is particularly important to negate the current perception that the civil service is monopolised by the Malays and Bumiputeras while the private sector by the Chinese and Indians," he said.

The prime minister also expressed his concern over the requirement to be fluent in Mandarin as a prerequisite to join the private sector as this would prevent many who could not speak the language from getting jobs in the private sector.

"There is no policy to Malaynise the public sector, similarly there is no policy to privatise the private sector to the Chinese.

"All sectors are for all races. This policy must be upheld at all times," he added - BERNAMA.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

11. Typhoon and Hurricane

South China bracing for typhoon

Typhoon Sepat has battered Taiwan with winds and heavy rain and is heading for provinces of south China where hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing.

It disrupted power to some 240,000 homes, uprooted trees and caused mudslides in Taiwan, forcing 1,800 people to evacuate, officials say.

In China, more than 540,000 people have left low-lying areas and flights have been cancelled, state media reported.

Nearly 300,000 were evacuated in Fujian where the storm is due on Saturday.

Sustained winds of 126km/h (78mph) were recorded off Taiwan early on Saturday, local meteorologists report.

Of the homes hit initially by power cuts, nearly 95,000 remained without electricity on Saturday, officials say.

There are unconfirmed reports of one fatality in Taiwan from Sepat, which earlier blew through the Philippines.

In China, the provinces of Zhejiang and Guangdong are also braced for the typhoon which is forecast to spread rain as far north as Shanghai.

Sepat is expected to hit China's coast with sustained winds of 144kp/h (90mph), according to Chinese media.

The typhoon is named after a species of fish.

And hurricane churns up the Caribbean...

Most people in Martinique sat out the storm on Friday.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic are braced for potential flooding as Hurricane Dean passes to the south after gathering force in the Caribbean.

Winds have hit 233km/h (145mph) and the storm may achieve the highest category, Five, with speeds of about 250km/h, by the time it reaches Mexico on Monday.

Dean has claimed three lives on islands in its path, and there are now fears it will directly pass over Jamaica.

Forecasters warn this could be an unusually active Atlantic storm season.

We are just getting ready. Filling up the bath with water, unplugging all the computers at work and covering them with polythene bags. Taping the windows.

In the US, Louisiana has declared a state of emergency, though the chances of the storm hitting are slim.

Governor Kathleen Blanco took the decision amid heightened sensitivity to hurricanes since Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005.

The neighbouring state of Texas has categorised Dean as an imminent threat - BBC.

Hurricane Dean (the swirl in the bottom right) has been gathering force as it rolls west across the Caribbean.

The island of Dominica was among the first to be hit as hurricane winds whipped up the sea.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

10. Earthquake rocks Peru

Powerful aftershocks rattled rescuers as they clawed through rubble Friday in a desperate search for survivors two days after a massive earthquake claimed some 500 lives in Peru. With unidentified bodies still lining the streets of Pisco and other towns in the zone worst hit from the 8.0 magnitude quake, Peruvian authorities launched an international appeal for help to back their own relief operation. At least 300 people were said to have died in Pisco alone as Wednesday's quake destroyed scores of other buildings in the port city. Hardest hit was the San Clemente church, which collapsed with hundreds of mourners inside at a funeral service. Many dead were still believed to be under the rubble, although six survivors were dragged out Thursday raising hopes among rescue workers and anxious onlookers - AFP.

Here are the photos...

1. Local residents and rescuers search through rubble after Wednesday's powerful earthquake, which hit coastal areas of Peru, killing hundreds of people.

2. UN officials said that the death toll was likely to rise as the destruction of buildings in the affected area was "quite total".

3. More than 500 people died in the earthquake.

4. The 8.0-magnitude quake left parts of coastal Peru in ruins, without electricity, water or communications.

5. The province of Ica, south of Lima and close to the epicentre of the quake, was worst hit.

Friday, August 17, 2007

9. The Countdown Begins

About 10,000 invited guests in Tiananmen Square cheered as the countdown clock marked the moment exactly one year before the opening ceremony - AFP.

Monday, August 13, 2007

8. Howard faces Defeat

Australian Prime Minister John Howard may be facing defeat in his own seat of Bennelong at the hands of glamour Labour candidate Maxine McKew, according to a new poll.

A Galaxy Poll conducted for The Sunday Telegraph after last week's interest-rate rise shows voters have solidified their support for former journalist McKew, reflecting national polls that show Howard has been unable to substantially cut Opposition Labour leader Kevin Rudd's big lead.

The poll shows the Prime Minister is now facing a seven per cent swing in Bennelong, putting McKew in a commanding position with 53 per cent of the vote, after distribution of preferences.
The seat needs only a four per cent two-party preferred swing to change hands.

If he was beaten by McKew, Howard will be the first serving prime minister to lose his seat since Stanley Melbourne Bruce in 1929.

The Sunday Telegraph/SBS Insight Galaxy Poll was conducted on the evenings of Aug 8 and 9, based on a large sample of 800 voters. Primary support for Howard is at 44 per cent, unchanged since May and down about six points since the last election.

In contrast, support for McKew is now 47 per cent -- little changed since May but a huge 19 points higher than the vote achieved by the ALP candidate at the last federal election.

The Sunday Telegraph says the fact that Howard has been unable to claw back McKew's lead -- despite Budget tax cuts and family benefits coming on stream and initiatives such as the intervention in indigenous child abuse in the Northern Territory - will reinforce perceptions that voters are no longer listening to the Prime Minister.

Analysts say if Bennelong voters feel the Howard Government will be defeated in the federal elections, which is due before the end of this year, then they may vote in bigger numbers against the Prime Minister because they don't expect him to stay in Parliament if his party loses and they don't want a by-election - by Neville D'Cruz, BERNAMA.

7. Hostage Release Confusion

Hopes that the Taleban in Afghanistan might release two South Korean hostages have been thrown into disarray.
A Taleban spokesman told reporters on Saturday that the two had already been freed - but he now says the timing of the release has yet to be decided.
The women - both of whom are ill - are among 21 South Korean aid workers kidnapped last month.
Taleban spokesman Yusuf Ahmadi on Sunday said the two ill hostages would be freed because of progress made during two days of talks in the central city of Ghazni.
However he added: "The time hasn't been decided. It could be today."
Mr Ahmadi has at times given false information, reports the BBC's Charles Haviland in Kabul.
The Afghan government, stung by criticism over a previous prisoner exchange, has ruled out a swap to secure the release of the Koreans - BBC.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

6. Two hostages freed


Taliban negotiators held two days of face-to-face talks with a South Korean delegation.

Two South Korean women held hostage in southern Afghanistan for more than three weeks have been released by their captors, according to the Taliban.

Two spokesmen for the movement said the women were ill and had been freed as a "gesture of goodwill" after face-to-face talks with a South Korean delegation ended on Saturday. "Our leadership council decided to free unconditionally and as a gesture of goodwill two women hostages who are sick," Yousuf Ahmadi said.

"What I can tell you is the leadership council has said they must be freed, so they're freed," he said. Taliban fighters seized 23 South Koreans - working in Afghanistan as volunteers with a Christian group - on July 19, as they travelled by bus from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar. "These missionaries were warned not to come to Afghanistan as it was a warzone"
Two male hostages have been shot dead since then and their captors had threatened to murder more if demands for the release of Taliban prisoners were not met.

Qari Yusuf Bashir, head of the Taliban's negotiation team, said earlier that Kabul would meet their demands and that the Korean and Afghan sides had already approved an initial "prisoners exchange". Speaking outside the Afghan Red Cross office in Ghazni where the second day of talks were held, he said: "We have great hope that the hostage crisis will resolved today or tomorrow inshallah [God willing]."

The meeting between the Taliban leaders and four Korean officials, which began on Friday, was the first direct meeting since the Koreans were kidnapped.

Dan Nolan, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said a Taliban spokesman told him that the two women were being freed in exchange for a South Korea reconfirming that all its troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of the year.

"There will be more negotiations between the South Koreans and the Taliban ... but the Taliban have made it clear for any more hostages to be released it will only be as part of a prisoner-hostage exchange," he said - Al Jazeera.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

5. Branson Joins Air Asia X

New investor in AirAsia X, billionaire Sir Richard Branson, believes that the long haul budget carrier will join his success list.

"No Virgin Group company has ever gone bankrupt. We started five airlines and all have been successful," he said.

The five airlines are Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Blue, Virgin Nigeria Virgin Galactic and most recently Virgin America.

Branson, who has investments in the travel, entertainment and lifestyle industries, is well known for keeping the "Virgin" brand in his business ventures but has chosen to do otherwise with AirAsia X.

His reason being that AirAsia is a strong brand in the region, and a testament not only for the company but also for the country.

"AirAsia brand is very big, bigger than Virgin out here," said AirAsia Bhd's group chief executive officer, Datuk Tony Fernandes.

AirAsia X, is the brainchild of both Branson and Fernandes.

"An idea conceived two years ago," said Fernandes.

However, both Fernandes and Branson have all along denied the possibility of a partnership between them.

The aviation tycoons have many similarities, among which is a burning desire to prove their sceptics wrong.

However, for AirAsia X, there are two powerful partners working together, said Branson.

Earlier, during the opening speech, Branson said that when he hired Fernandes in 1987 as the financial controller at Virgin Communications London, he saw something special in him.

"But I was foolish enough to lose him two years later," said Branson as Fernandes went to work with Warner Music International London as a senior financial analyst in 1989. Hence, he said he did not want to take his chances when Fernandes approached him with the idea of AirAsia X.

What the future holds for the AirAsia X and their "Dare to Dream" team is something Malaysians will need to wait and see.

For a start, it looks good.

As quoted in "The AirAsia Story" - "Beware of AirAsia, that red flash in the sky travelling at an unimaginable speed" - by M. Saraswathi, BERNAMA.

4. Just for Laughs

A solution to the mounting paperwork in offices ... by Kee in The Star.

Monday, August 6, 2007

3. Foot-and-mouth strain identified

This outbreak has been attributed to a strain that is not normally found in animals but is used in vaccine production and in diagnostic laboratories. Hence it is a case of a lack of biosecurity at an institute, three miles from the farm. I say well done to the scientists working round the clock to identify and isolate the cause and to prevent the disease from rapidly spreading to other farms and animals.

The strain of foot-and-mouth disease found at a Surrey farm has been identified, Defra has said.

The strain detected in infected cattle is identical to that used at the Institute for Animal Health, at Pirbright, three miles from the farm.

Defra could not say the laboratory was the source but has increased the size of the protection and surveillance zones covering farms in the area.

An urgent assessment of biosecurity has begun at the institute.

The strain is not one normally found in animals but is used in vaccine production and in diagnostic laboratories.

In a statement Defra said: "The present indications are that this strain is a 01 BFS67-like virus, isolated in the 1967 foot and mouth disease outbreak in Great Britain."

The strain was used in a vaccine batch manufactured last month by a private pharmaceutical company Merial Animal Health.

The firm shares Pirbright with the government's Institute for Animal Health (IAH), which conducts research into foot-and-mouth and where the strain is also present.

Merial voluntarily halted vaccine production as a precaution.

Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said it was too soon to say anything conclusive about the source of the virus but it was clear which strain was involved.

The UK's chief vet has ordered a single protection zone to encompass both the infected farm premises and the Pirbright site, with a single 10km radius surveillance zone.

There has been a cull of one other herd of cattle adjacent to the farm as a precautionary measure but there were no signs of infection in any animals there, Ms Reynolds confirmed.

She appealed to farmers to be vigilant and to check their animals for any sign of foot-and-mouth disease.

A UK-wide ban on the movement of livestock had already been put in place after foot-and-mouth was confirmed at Wolford farm, near Guildford, on Friday night.

Some 64 cattle have since been culled after testing positive for the foot-and-mouth.

On Saturday evening Prime Minister Gordon Brown chaired his second Cobra emergency committee meeting of the day on the issue after he cut short his Dorset holiday to return to London.

He is due to chair another meeting of Cobra on Sunday morning - BBC.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

2. Korea-Taliban Talks

Release innocent hostages who are no part of any conflict or any solution. Deal with the relevant parties only. What the Taliban is doing only increases world opinion against them.The Afghan government remains stern against making a tit-for-tat trade with the insurgents since releasing five prisoners in exchange for an Italian journalist prompted harsh international criticism in March. South Korea and the United States said a military rescue operation was not an option at the moment but that Washington yesterday left open the "potential" of all possibilities...

The group of South Koreans was kidnapped in Ghazni province on July 19.

South Korean and Afghan officials yesterday searched for a suitable place to hold face-to-face talks with the Taliban hostage takers, a news report said.

The Taliban have agreed to meet Kang Sung-zu, South Korea's ambassador to Afghanistan, claiming they can no longer talk to the "insincere" Afghan negotiators.

There is time pressure on the negotiators because two of the female hostages are seriously ill and could die.

The Taliban have demanded the release of at least eight prisoners in exchange for the South Koreans.

It is an established policy of democratic nations that a government only negotiates with a government.

The crisis has entered the third week since the 23 South Korean church volunteers were taken by the Taliban from a bus between Kabul and Kandahar on July 19. Two male members of the group, which included 16 women and 7 men, have been killed.

Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi claimed late Thursday that the group has been "assured" by South Korean officials that the imprisoned Taliban fighters would be released.

U.S. President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are set to hold summit talks on Saturday. The South Korean abduction will be one of the main topics under discussion, sources said.

Afghan officials, in the meantime, said the venue for the face-to-face meeting between South Korea's ambassador and the Taliban has not yet been agreed.

"The Koreans told the Taliban to come to the PRT, and the Taliban told the Koreans to come to their base," Pathan was quoted as telling the Associated Press after the news conference - by Lee Joo-hee, The Korea Herald.