|Qantas says fleet safe
after ‘unrelated’ mid-air incidents
(AFP) - Dramatic mid-air engine failures that struck two
Qantas aircraft in as many days are unrelated, the airline
said yesterday, adding it was confident of the safety of the
planes it is flying.
Qantas grounded its A380 superjumbos on Thursday after one
carrying 466 passengers and crew was forced to return to
Singapore after an engine exploded during ascent, raining
debris onto an Indonesian island.
The 90-year-old airline suffered a second engine failure the
following day when a Sydney-bound Boeing 747-400 jumbo
carrying 412 passengers and 19 crew experienced problems
shortly after take-off from Singapore.
Unlike the A380 engine blast -- which sent debris flying,
causing damage to the plane’s wing -- the second incident
was a “contained engine failure”, Qantas chief executive
Alan Joyce said.
“We are not concerned about our 747 fleet,” he added. “Those
engines have a long life... We’ve seen inflight shutdowns
take place before... It’s...not a safety issue.”
He pointed to mechanical failure being the source of the
problem, which came six minutes into the flight, causing the
engine to emit sparks and smoke, frightening passengers who
likened the explosion to fireworks.
Those onboard have reported hearing an explosion and seeing
flames on one of the engines minutes after takeoff.
“It was pretty scary,” said Swedish tourist Lisa Ogden. “An
engine on the wing exploded. It looked like fireworks, a
pretty big one,” she told reporters at the airport.
“The plane jumped a bit and the cabin crew were yelling
‘crisis’ and they told everyone to sit down.
“Some were screaming, one or two got up. It felt like
forever but it was one minute then the fire was out,” she
Asked whether he thought the 747 had been sabotaged, Joyce
said: “We do not believe this is sabotage. It looks like a
mechanical failure of the engine”.
On Friday, Joyce said an engine design fault might have
caused the mid-air emergency involving one of the carrier’s
Airbus A380 superjumbos.
Both planes landed safely in Singapore, with no injuries to
Qantas has said it will investigate both incidents, and that
engine checks were still being carried out on the airline’s
six A380s, which Joyce said he hoped to have flying again
The airline has been using other aircraft to pick up
passengers booked onto A380s -- the world’s biggest
passenger jets -- but the problems have delayed hundreds of
passengers in Los Angeles, London and Australia.
The engine failures, which are front page news in Australia,
were earlier described as “unrelated incidents” by Qantas
spokeswoman Olivia Wirth.
Wirth said while both aircraft operated on Rolls Royce
manufactured engines, the planes involved had different
models and there was no apparent connection.
The spokeswoman said travellers should feel “absolutely
safe” on Qantas, despite the recent problems.
“Safety is at the heart of our business, we take these
issues very, very seriously,” Wirth told Channel Nine.
But the latest incidents come after a Qantas Boeing 747
engine failed on a flight from San Francisco to Sydney in
late August, blowing a hole in the engine casing and forcing
an emergency landing.
Australian investigators reported last month that one of the
four engines on that plane, which was carrying 213
passengers and 18 crew, ruptured through the left and right
sides of its turbine case, ejecting debris which hit the
The bureau said its investigation into the flight, which
landed safely at San Francisco International Airport with no
reports of injuries after the failed engine was shut down,
Qantas, known as the ‘Flying Kangaroo’ has never had a fatal
jetliner crash in 90 years. Celebrations to mark its
birthday began in Sydney Saturday.
|ARGOMULYO, Indonesia (AFP) - Rescuers picked through the
rubble of destroyed homes yesterday as officials prepared
for a mass burial of people killed by the violent eruption
of Indonesia’s most active volcano.
Ash, deadly heat clouds and molten debris gushed from the
mouth of Mount Merapi and shot high into the sky, triggering
chaos on the roads as people fled their homes.
The death toll from Friday’s eruption -- its most violent in
more than a century -- stood at 77.
The latest deaths bring the overall toll to 120 since the
volcano started erupting on Java island on October 26, a day
after a tsunami killed more than 400 people in a remote area
off Sumatra island.
The mountain spewed ash over a vast area including the
Central Java provincial capital of Yogyakarta, about 28km to
the south, and continued erupting yesterday, officials said.
Many of the dead were from Argomulyo village, 18km from the
crater, according to emergency response officials and
witnesses, with several children under the age of 10 killed.
Dozens from the village were to be buried in a mass grave in
Yogyakarta, disaster management spokesman Sutopo Purwo
Nugroho said Saturday.
“We will bury them in a place where it’s safe. There’s no
way we will have the burial in their village, as the village
is within the 20-km danger zone,” he said.
Rescuer Utha told AFP as he delivered 10 bodies to the
hospital, “I found three bodies: a child, mother and father,
still in their bed. They must have been sleeping when the
hot ash struck their house.
“We also found a dead man with a phone still in his hand.”
At least 156 people were injured in the latest eruption,
Nugroho said, adding “most suffered burn injuries”.
The ranks of evacuees increased to more than 166,000 people
after officials widened the danger zone from 15 to 20km
early on Friday. Everyone living in the area was ordered to
evacuate their homes immediately.
Kepuharjo village chief Heri Suprapto, who was evacuated 12
days ago with his wife and four of his children, said he was
worried for the safety of people from his village.
“The people from my village are scattered in various
temporary shelters. I cannot monitor them all the time,” he
“We are worried here in shelters. All we do is just wait for
aid,” Suprapto said, adding it was hard to find suitable
milk for his two-year old daughter.
“I can only pray to God. I pray for the mountain to stop
erupting,” he said.
Merapi continued to belch hot ash and gas, government
volcanologist Surono said yesterday.
“The eruption from Merapi has not stopped since November 3,
although its intensity has gone down and up again,” he said.
But he added there was no plan to expand the danger zone
beyond 20 kilometres.
The international airport at Yogyakarta was closed as ash
clouds billowed from the 2,914-metre mountain to the
altitude of cruising jetliners. It would stay closed until
today, said general manager Agus Andriyanto.
“We have to keep the airport closed until 6:00 am tomorrow
(2200 GMT Saturday). We’ll have an evaluation again as there
is a chance we may keep it closed,” he said.
Merapi killed around 1,300 people in 1930 but experts say
the current eruptions are its biggest convulsions since
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced the deployment
of an army brigade to help with relief and reconstruction in
central Java, as the country struggles to cope with dual
A tsunami smashed into villages on the remote Mentawai
island chain following a 7.7-magnitude earthquake off the
coast on October 25, killing 428 people and leaving 15,000
“The military is preparing to deploy one brigade to handle
disaster management,” he told a press conference.
He said the government would buy the cattle that residents
had been forced to leave behind near the volcano, after
locals resisted evacuation because the livestock is their
main source of income.
“We will purchase their livestock at the proper prices,” he
The Indonesian archipelago has dozens of active volcanoes
and straddles major tectonic fault lines known as the “ring
of fire” from the Indian to the Pacific oceans.
|‘Enterprise visa’ plan
LONDON: Prime Mminister David Cameron will promise to set up
an “enterprise visa”, allowing more UK businesses to be set
up by foreigners.
The prime minister will say overseas entrepreneurs with a
“great business idea” and “serious investment” behind them
will be eligible.
Cameron is also due to announce copyright law will change to
attract more hi-tech companies to the UK.
He has already indicated employees of multinational firms
will be exempt from the government’s immigration cap.
The cap - which was a key part of the Conservatives’
election manifesto - is aimed at cutting net immigration
from its current level of 196,000 a year to “tens of
A temporary limit of 24,100 a year will be replaced by
permanent measures from April 2011.
Cameron will tell a business audience in east London on
Thursday: “I can announce today that we will create a new
entrepreneur visa. These entrepreneur visas will mean that
if you have a great business idea, and you receive serious
investment from a leading investor, you are welcome to set
up your business in our country.”
He will add: “The second new announcement I can make today
is to do with intellectual property. The founders of Google
have said they could never have started their company in
“The service they provide depends on taking a snapshot of
all the content on the internet at any one time and they
feel our copyright system is not as friendly to this sort of
innovation as it is in the United States. (BBC NEWS)
|Obama kicks off Asia tour with Mumbai
MUMBAI (AFP) - US President Barack Obama
began a trade-focussed visit to India yesterday in Mumbai
with a sombre tribute to the victims of the 2008 attacks on
the city by extremists.
India’s financial hub is Obama’s first stop on a four-nation
Asia tour which is expected to be heavily weighted towards
strengthening ties with fast-growing economies in the
The trip comes just days after his Democratic Party’s
drubbing in mid-term elections in which the state of the US
economy was a primary source of voter dissatisfaction.
The visit to Mumbai will see Obama and his wife Michelle
become the most high-profile guests to stay at the Taj Mahal
Palace hotel since the attacks two years ago by 10 militants
that claimed 166 lives.
Obama is expected to meet survivors and pay tribute to those
who died at a permanent memorial erected at the luxury
seafront hotel, which was the focus of the militant assault
and where 31 people, including 12 members of staff, were
Security is tight for the visit, with roads closed, a ban
enforced on sea traffic off the coast, and the plaza near
the Taj and Gateway of India monument sealed off.
Some 5,000 security personnel, including US Secret Service,
Indian intelligence officials and elite commandos have been
deployed around the venues for the presidential visit in
At the time of the attacks -- likened by some in India to
those in the US on September 11, 2001 -- the then
president-elect Obama said they demonstrated “the grave and
urgent threat of terrorism”.
He also called for closer ties with India and other
countries to root out and destroy extremist networks.
US officials now say that cooperation with India on
counter-terrorism is at its highest-ever level, despite
India’s misgivings about continued US support for its
longstanding rival and neighbour Pakistan.
The only surviving gunman from the attacks said they were
recruited, trained and equipped by the banned,
Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) with
support from elements in the country’s military and
New Delhi has also questioned how much the United States
knew about the activities of a US-Pakistani national, David
Coleman Headley, who earlier this year admitted scouting
potential targets in Mumbai before the attacks.
In Mumbai, Obama will visit the house where the father of
the Indian independence movement Mahatma Gandhi stayed on
visits to the city. The US president has cited Gandhi as a
From there he meets captains of industry and entrepreneurs
at a US-India Business Council forum, where he will stress
the commercial opportunities offered by Asia, as he seeks to
boost US exports to create jobs at home.
“The primary purpose (of the India trip) is to take a bunch
of US companies and open up markets so that we can sell in
Asia and some of the fastest-growing markets in the world,”
Obama told reporters on Thursday.
US exports to India have quadrupled in the last seven years
to about 17 billion dollars a year, while service exports
have tripled to 10 billion dollars a year.
Relations between the world’s two largest democracies have
warmed considerably in the past 10 years, but there are
niggling disagreements over issues like US controls on the
export of “dual-use” technology with military and civil
Obama moves on to New Delhi today where he will meet Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh and deliver an address to parliament
The next morning he leaves for Indonesia on the second leg
of his tour, which will also take him to the G20 summit in
South Korea and then on to Japan.
Obama not in Pakistan
WASHINGTON (AFP) -
Pakistan’s former president Pervez Musharraf on Friday
voiced disappointment that US President Barack Obama was not
stopping in his country on the sidelines of his maiden visit
“I would take it as a disappointment, yes, indeed,”
Musharraf, a military leader who stepped down in 2008, told
Musharraf also criticized Obama for not speaking about
Kashmir, the Himalayan region disputed between Pakistan and
India, saying: “It doesn’t resonate well with the people of
“They take it that the United States or the president of the
United States is not that concerned about Pakistan’s own
sensitivities and interests,” he said.
Obama was en route Friday for Mumbai and New Delhi on a trip
aimed at convincing India that he wants to push ahead
relations between the world’s two largest democracies after
an early focus on Pakistan and China.
For many US policymakers, it would be unthinkable for Obama
to visit Pakistan on the sidelines of the long-promoted trip
as Obama is hoping to show India that he sees it as a global
power and not simply as a regional player.
But Obama has a delicate balancing act as he has also tried
to convince Pakistan that he sees the country as more than
simply a conduit into Afghanistan for war operations.
Ahead of the India trip, Obama invited Musharraf’s civilian
successor, President Asif Ali Zardari, for a future visit to
Washington and announced that he would travel to Pakistan
next year. The US has tried to dent Pakistan’s rampant
anti-Americanism by last year approving a 7.5 billion-dollar
aid package aimed at building schools, infrastructure and
Last month, the Obama administration also proposed an
additional two billion dollars for Pakistan in military
assistance, despite misgivings in India.
Hidden from world, Myanmar
prepares for rare election
YANGON (AFP) - Shielded from the eyes of the outside
world, Myanmar holds its first election in 20 years today
with the opposition in disarray and the odds stacked heavily
in the favour of pro-junta parties.
Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will spend election day
locked up and her National League for Democracy (NLD) is
boycotting the poll, leaving other opposition parties with
little prospect of victory.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner -- whose current term of house
arrest is due to expire just days after the vote -- swept
her party to power in 1990 but the results were never
recognised by the ruling generals.
This time, one quarter of the seats in parliament are
reserved for military appointees, whatever the outcome.
In many areas, it is a two-horse race between parties
closely aligned with the military establishment.
The main democracy parties still in the running, the
National Democratic Force (NDF) and the Democratic Party
(Myanmar), have managed to field candidates for just a
fraction of the constituencies.
They have faced serious hurdles including financial and
“There is no possibility of a 1990s-style surprise vote and
an opposition party winning the election. It cannot happen,”
the British ambassador to Myanmar, Andrew Heyn, said in
Deepening concerns about the legitimacy of the polls,
foreign election observers and international media have been
barred from coming into the country for the election.
The authorities have invited local journalists and diplomats
on an organised visit to pre-selected polling stations, but
Heyn dismissed it as “choreographed tour”.
Internet users in the military-ruled country have reported
slow connections and sporadic outages for more than a week,
and some suspect the junta may be intentionally disrupting
services to block news on the vote flowing out.
Yet while the election has been widely criticised by
activists and Western nations as a sham aimed at putting a
veneer of legitimacy over military rule, some see it as a
small step towards democracy after five decades of
“The opposition cannot win a victory. Nevertheless, that
doesn’t mean the elections as a whole are inconsequential,”
said Professor David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert at
Georgetown University in the United States.
“This is the first election in 50 years when you’re likely
to have opposition voices in parliament. That is
significant,” he said.
The military has ruled Myanmar with an iron fist since 1962
and few expect it to relinquish the real power any time
Junta chief Than Shwe is not running as a candidate in the
election, but could still become president.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party, a political and
financial juggernaut that is seen as a proxy of the military
regime, is widely expected to come out on top, despite the
“We have only two parties -- the USDP and the NUP -- we have
no choice,” said a 33-year-old hotel receptionist in the
capital Naypyidaw who did not wanted to be named.
“I don’t like either but if I have to choose from the two, I
will choose the USDP,” she said.
Yet where they are in the running, opposition parties say
they are confident of victory.
“The USDP cannot win in our constituencies. People are now
politically aware,” said Khin Maung Swe, a leader of the
NDF, which was created by former members of the NLD who
disagreed with Suu Kyi’s boycott decision. The wild card is
the National Unity Party (NUP) -- the successor to late
dictator Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Program Party -- which is
also contesting most of the seats, despite a 500-dollar
registration fee for each candidate. It could hold the
balance of power in parliament, particularly if it benefits
from a protest vote against the USDP.
More than 29 million voters are eligible to cast their
ballots but a lack of information -- and meaningful choice
-- has left many disillusioned and apathetic in a country
where almost one-third of the population lives below the
“We don’t know much about the election. I don’t know whom I
would like to vote for on the day,” said Daw Kyi, a
67-year-old farmer living in a village near the capital. “As
we are ordinary people, we just want peace.”
Facts about Myanmar
YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar is staging its first election in 20
years today, but the vote has been criticised by the West
and opposition activists as a sham.
Following are some facts about the country:
GEOGRAPHY: The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, formerly
known as Burma, is in Southeast Asia and borders Bangladesh
and India to the west, China to the north and Laos and
Thailand to the east.
AREA: 676,552 square kilometres (270,620 square miles).
POPULATION: 57.5 million (2008, official estimate), 49.2
million (2009, World Bank estimate).
ETHNIC GROUPS: Burman (68 percent), several minorities
including the Shan (nine percent) in the east, the Karen
(seven percent, mainly Christian) in the southeast, the Mon
in the south and the Kachin in the northeast.
CAPITAL: The junta in 2005 moved to an administrative
capital at Naypyidaw in the centre of the country, about 400
kilometres (250 miles) north of the former capital, Yangon.
RELIGION: Buddhist (89 percent), Christian (five percent),
Muslim (four percent, Rohingya -- a Bengali minority),
Hindu, animist (two percent).
HISTORY: Following three Anglo-Burmese wars (1824-26, 1852
and 1885), Britain annexed Burma and made it a province of
British India in 1886. Burma became a separate colony in
1937 but this ended with Japanese invasion in 1942.
After Japan’s World War II defeat, the Union of Burma gained
independence on January 4, 1948.
GOVERNMENT: Military dictatorship. Head of state: Senior
General Than Shwe, who is head of the State Peace and
ECONOMY: Despite rich natural resources (oil, gas, gold,
rubies, teak, copper), almost one-third of the population
lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Myanmar is also the world’s second largest producer of
illicit opium, after Afghanistan.
GDP PER CAPITA: Estimated at 235 dollars (IMF, 2007)
TOTAL EXTERNAL DEBT: 7.3 billion dollars (2007, World Bank)
ARMED FORCES: Up to about 400,000 personnel, according to
REBELS: The country has been plagued by insurgency in ethnic
areas since independence in 1948.
The Karen National Union and the Shan State Army are the
only major ethnic rebel movements that have not agreed to a
ceasefire deal with the military rulers. But there have been
renewed tensions with others such as the Kachin Independence
Army and analysts believe the junta may soon launch a new
offensive against rebels who refuse to transform into border
GOVERNMENT WEBSITE: www.myanmar.com
Philippines to overtake India
NEW DELHI: The Philippines is set to overtake India as
the world’s back office for voice-based customer support and
sales this year, as firms such as Cisco, HSBC, T-Mobile and
BT Plc shift work to the nation to avoid India’s high staff
turnover, and build an alternate support hub.
Better affinity with the American culture, lack of competing
industries for skilled workforce, higher tax incentives and
an overall strategy to derisk from a pure India-based call
centre model are among top reasons for this shift.
Of India’s total BPO exports, nearly 45% comes from
voice-based work, which is expected to be around $5.58
billion this year. However, the Philippines BPO industry
will post almost $5.70 billion of pure voice-based revenues
in 2010, higher than its bigger outsourcing rival, research
firm Everest and the Business Process Association of
Philippines (BPAP) say.
“In standalone voice business, the Philippines will
undoubtedly beat India this year to become the call centre
capital of the world,” says Nikhil Rajpal, partner, Everest
Research India .
Companies such as Cisco and BT are increasingly outsourcing
handling of customer queries and support to cheaper
locations, including the Philippines. Every time a user of,
say, Cisco’s router dials a toll-free customer support
number, his call gets diverted to a customer support
executive sitting in Manila who is paid less than a quarter
of what it would cost to hire somebody with similar profile
in the US.
Experts point out that at this pace, the Philippines can
even overtake India’s $12.4-billion BPO industry in five
years. The $9.5-billion Philippines O&O (offshoring &
outsourcing) industry grew at a compounded 27.6% in the last
On the other hand, India’s BPO industry has showed a CAGR of
11.92% in the last two years. Going by exactly the same rate
of growth over the next few years, India will lose to the
Philippines before 2015. “We will grow at least by 20%
annually in BPO exports over the next five years,” says
Oscar Sanez, the man spearheading the BPO association of
|Legal appeal sent to UN for jailed
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Lawyers for
China’s Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo said they had sent
an appeal to a UN panel in hopes it will find his
imprisonment and his wife’s house arrest to be illegal.
The lawyers sent a petition to the UN Working Group on
Arbitrary Detention which argues that Liu’s detention
violates both international law and China’s own
constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression.
“Liu Xiaobo did not receive a fair trial and his wife, Liu
Xia, did not have any opportunity to challenge her house
arrest,” said Maran Turner, executive director of
Washington-based Freedom Now which is representing them for
“We are submitting this to the UN to present them with a
legal forum to challenge their detentions,” Turner said.
“We urge the Chinese government to immediately release both
Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia from their illegal and unjust
detentions,” she said.
Liu, 54, was sentenced to 11 years in prison last December
on subversion charges after co-authoring Charter 08, a
petition calling for sweeping political reform that has been
circulated online and signed by thousands.
Liu Xia, a poet who has vocally supported her husband’s
work, was put under house arrest soon after the Nobel Peace
Prize was announced in October.
The UN panel, part of the Human Rights Council, is comprised
of experts from around the world tasked with independently
investigating cases of arbitrary detention around the world.
Its findings have no binding power. It found last year that
Myanmar was breaking its own law by detaining democracy
leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.
Turner estimated that the response from the UN panel on Liu
Xiaobo and Liu Xia would take eight to 10 months.
China voiced outrage when Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace
Prize, saying the move by the Norwegian committee was
tantamount to “encouraging crime”.
Nobel laureates have joined forces in urging China to
release Liu. In a recent opinion piece in The Washington
Post, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Czech president
Vaclav Havel said China should view Liu with pride as the
first Chinese Nobel Peace laureate.
US lawmakers and activists have urged President Barack Obama
-- last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner -- to appeal for
Liu’s freedom when he meets his Chinese counterpart Hu
Jintao on the sidelines of a summit in Seoul next week.
Rights groups strongly criticized UN Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon for not raising Liu’s case on a recent visit to
Beijing. The UN leader’s spokesman countered that Ban raises
human rights when the timing is “appropriate”.
Spanish balcony owners try to
cash in on Pope’s visit
MADRID (AFP) - Many residents of the two Spanish cities
which Pope Benedict XVI will visit this weekend are trying
to cash in on his trip by renting balconies with views of
the sites of services for hundreds of euros.
One ad on online advertising site Mercattel offered spots on
the balcony of an apartment promising views of the entrance
to the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona which the Pope
will visit for 300 euros ($420) per person.
“See it and enjoy this unique moment from the first line,”
the ad said.
The Pope will consecrate the Sagrada Familia, Catalan
architect Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, today, a day after he
visited the pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela in
The famously unfinished building, whose spires covered with
glazed ceramics dominate the Barcelona skyline, will receive
the official status of basilica following the consecration
and masses can be celebrated there.
Currently only the building’s crypt has been consecrated by
Another ad offers a balcony on a Barcelona street where the
Popemobile will pass through on its way to the temple that
fits between four to eight people for 400 euros “with free
Ads offering balconies for rent in Santiago de Compostela
have also emerged, including one charging “a very
interesting price” for a veranda overlooking the vast Plaza
Obradoiro outside the city’s cathedral where the pope was to
celebrate mass this week.
But Catalan daily newspaper La Vanguardia said few people
have been able to rent their balconies, in large part
because of the strict security measures put in place around
the sites where the pope will celebrate mass.
Shop owners and residents who live around the Sagrada
Familia must prove their identity and their place of
residence to police to gain access to the area, it said.
Daily El Pais meanwhile reported that 20 percent of hotel
rooms in Santiago de Compostela were still free for the
weekend of the pope’s visit.
They were all sold out last weekend, with demand boosted by
the fact that tomorrow was a national holiday.
Pope calls for Church’s purification, reform
The Pope has also called for “purification” and “reform” of
the Catholic Church, as the wave of abuse accusations
against paedophile priests continues to rock the
|Hu bests Obama in Forbes power list
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Chinese President Hu Jintao has topped US
President Barack Obama on the Forbes list of most powerful
people, with the magazine pointing to Hu’s sweeping powers
and the stinging defeat of Obama’s democrats in legislative
The magazine said Hu was the world’s most powerful person,
saying he “exercises near dictatorial control over 1.3
billion people, one-fifth of world’s population.”
“Unlike Western counterparts, Hu can divert rivers, build
cities, jail dissidents and censor Internet without meddling
from pesky bureaucrats, courts,” it said.
Hu topped Obama, last year’s most powerful person, whose
Democratic Party suffered major losses in congressional
elections on Tuesday.
Forbes said it was “quite a comedown” for Obama, “who after
enacting widespread reforms in his first two years in office
will be hard-pressed to implement his agenda in the next
governments chip away at Internet freedom
HONG KONG (AFP) - The tentacles of government censors are
creeping ever further across the web in the Asia-Pacific
region as officials from Thailand to Australia try to
control what people say and do online.
Aside from China, which has a vast army of censors operating
behind what has been dubbed the “Great Firewall”, other
countries are also taking steps to restrict access to the
A massive cyber attack has crippled the web in
military-ruled Myanmar ahead of today’s controversial
election, IT experts say, raising fears of a deliberate
communications blackout for the vote.
But moves to rein in Internet freedoms in other countries in
the region are often presented as being well intentioned.
Australia proposes introducing an Internet filter to block
sites containing material such as rape, drug use, bestiality
and child sex abuse.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has defended the plan as a
moral move which will bring the web into line with TV and
film which have long been censored by the state.
“My fundamental outlook is this: it is unlawful for me as an
adult to go to a cinema and watch certain sorts of content,
it’s unlawful and we believe it to be wrong,” Gillard said
“If we accept that then it seems to me that the moral
question is not changed by the medium that the images come
Yet the plan has been heavily criticised as setting a
precedent for censorship and has even been attacked by web
giants Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.
Australian anti-censorship campaigner Geordie Guy said while
the filter was not designed to control political dissent it
was a case of the state “putting its foot down on what the
population can see”.
In another Asia-Pacific democracy, the Philippines, several
bills have been filed seeking restrictions on the Internet,
mainly focussed on pornography and the trafficking of women.
And in Thailand, a wide-ranging campaign of government
censorship has shut down thousands of Internet sites.
It is a reflection of the deep political divide in the
country, where 91 people died and nearly 1,900 were hurt in
clashes between Red Shirts and troops during two months of
protests, which ended with a bloody army crackdown in May.
Thousands of web pages have also been removed in recent
years on the grounds that they were insulting to the Thai
In April, a Red Shirt sympathiser was arrested and charged
for allegedly insulting the monarchy on Facebook -- a
serious crime punishable by up to 15 years in jail. He
remains in detention awaiting possible trial.
The editor of the popular Prachatai website could face up to
70 years in jail after she was arrested on charges of
insulting the monarchy and breaching computer law - for
comments posted by users of the site.
John Palfrey, co-director of the Berkman Centre for Internet
and Society at Harvard University, says online censorship
and surveillance are growing around the world.
“This increase in control is taking place concurrently with
the growth of the role that the Internet and digital media
are playing in the ways that people live and societies
function,” he said.
“Oftentimes, these online controls grow out of well-meaning
online protections designed to help keep children safe.
“But the same mechanisms that we use to keep our children
from unwanted content and contact can be used to keep
dissidents from communicating with one another or with the
world outside their own society.
“The tools that prevent harmful forms of pornography from
being published can also keep a political manifesto from
reaching its intended audience.
“The same tools that bring a terrorist to justice before he
can harm his targets can also be used to put a muck-raking
journalist in prison for something that she said in an email
or a web chat.”
Sometimes calls for censorship of the Internet are for
Hundreds of Indonesian radicals rallied in central Jakarta
in June to demand the stoning to death and public caning of
celebrities who allegedly appeared in homemade sex videos
About 1,000 protesters led by radical group Hizbut Tahrir
shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greater) and brandished black
flags and banners with slogans such as “Arrest those who
commit promiscuous sex”.
Cyber sleuths fight computer
SINGAPORE (AFP) - If you’ve just become the victim of
identity thieves or computer hackers, it’s time to call in
someone like Ali Fazeli.
The Iranian expatriate specialises in crime scene
investigations but unlike his glamorised television
counterparts, he packs no gun and the evidence he looks for
does not include DNA, fingerprints or blood.
Fazeli is a digital sleuth operating in cyberspace, trawling
computers, Internet websites and the latest mobile devices
for evidence of corruption and fraud - even
“We are IT security people, private security who specialise
in computer forensics,” the 30-year-old said with a smile.
Fazeli and fellow digital crime fighters have a growing
number of cases to crack in Singapore, a global financial
hub where crooks are using modern technology to steal money
and precious business information.
“I believe cybercrimes, or attempts at cybercrimes in
Singapore, are on the increase given our increasing
connectivity of computer systems and use of the Internet
here,” said Gerard Tan, president of the Association of
Information Security Professionals.
“If you include virus attacks, most of us, if not all users,
would have been targeted or hit at some time, as this is so
common now,” he told AFP.
|Malaysia can be Muslim ‘thought
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Malaysia can be a
global “thought leader”, praising the multicultural nation’s
efforts to avoid religious rifts.
On a visit to cultivate ties with the moderate country,
Clinton told an Islamic university forum in Kuala Lumpur
that Malaysia can be influential among both the world’s
Muslims and the broader international community.
“Malaysia, both by geography, (its) dynamism, the role that
Islam plays, which is a role that is not divisive as it is
in some parts of the world, has a real opportunity to be a
thought leader in a number of significant areas,” she said.
She lauded Malaysia’s “creative approach” to Islamic finance
and noted the presence of civil society group “Sisters in
Islam”, which she said promotes the role of women within
Malaysia’s population is dominated by Muslim Malays, living
alongside large ethnic Chinese and Indian communities. After
serious ethnic violence in 1969, great efforts have been
made to avoid a repeat of the bloodshed.
The chief US diplomat praised the Southeast Asian country’s
efforts to boost the economy while protecting the
environment and “creative ways’ to deal with deforestation.
Clinton made the remarks at the International Institute for
Islamic Thought and Civilisation, where she fielded
questions about US foreign policy in a programme broadcast
on Malaysian television.
When he took office in January 2009, President Barack Obama
vowed to get US relations with the Muslim world on a fresh
footing after the previous administration of George W Bush.
Clinton also told students that the United States was
working hard for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict, in response to an audience member’s comment that
Muslims were frustrated with a sense that America was
She said the US was equally supportive of the Palestinians
and Israelis, backing a secure Israel living alongside a
“It is important for a country like Malaysia to support
Palestinians in their statebuilding,” she added.
Later, Clinton held talks with Malaysian Foreign Minister
Anifah Aman. She was also due to meet Deputy Prime Minister
Muhyiddin Yassin, who is standing in for Prime Minister
Najib Razak, who has chickenpox.
She also met Malaysian women leaders, including top bankers.
Malaysia has positioned itself as a centre for Islamic
finance, a booming trillion-dollar industry which follows
religious laws prohibiting the payment and collection of
Malaysia is the fifth stop on an Asia tour that has taken
Clinton to Guam, Vietnam, China and Cambodia. The tour
includes Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia and
“Few countries have come as far in terms of our bilateral
relationship as the one between the US and Malaysia,”
Clinton’s top diplomat for Asia, Kurt Campbell, said before
the tour began.
He cited “enormous progress on a range of issues --
(nuclear) proliferation issues, political coordination and
Malaysia is also important as a member of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations, an organisation the Obama
administration is trying to re-engage with after blaming the
Bush administration for ignoring it.
Relations with Washington were rocky when Malaysia was led
by Mahathir Mohamad, who was known for his strident
criticism of the West during his two-decade rule, which
ended in 2003.
The US sometimes riled Malaysia with calls to expand
|World’s tallest Hanuman statue at
SHIMLA: Religiosity in India is scaling
Just on the outskirts of this erstwhile summer capital of
the British raj, a giant 108 feet high idol of Hanuman (the
Monkey God) was unveiled at Jakhoo Hanuman temple,
overlooking the entire city.
Given its gigantism, it would not be out of place to say
that monkeys will be omnipresent in this famous tourist
destination which already has a large monkey population.
Deemed to be world’s tallest statue at 108 feet at the
highest altitude of more than 8,100 feet and constructed at
a cost of Rs 15 million, it surpasses the current tallest
statue of ‘Christ the Redeemer’, which measures at 98 feet
and stands at an altitude of 2,296 feet in Rio de Janeiro,
The imposing idol, overlooking the stately deodars, was
unveiled today by chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal,
Bollywood star Abhishek Bachan and the industrialist Nanda.
Speaking on the occasion, chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal
said the Jakhoo temple attracted thousands of visitors every
Their visit to the city was
incomplete without a visit to the temple and paying
obeisance to hanuman, he said.
“The idol which can be seen from various parts of the city,
will not only become a talk of the town, but the world and
will play an important role in attracting tourists to
Shimla,” he added.
Expressing hope that the idol constructed by Naresh Kumar
Verma of Pilani, Rajasthan, would soon find a place in the
record books, he said that he and the people of the city
were grateful to the Nanda Trust for setting up the statue.
The foundation stone of the statue was laid on Hanuman
Jayanti which fell on October 26, 2008, with the intention
that it would be completed in two years.
Bollywood star Abhishek Bachan said the construction of the
statue was an indication that the Indian craftsmen had not
lost their sheen.
He added that it was a momentous occasion to be present at
the unveiling of the statue constructed at a holy spot.
According to Hindu mythology, Hanuman is said to have
stooped at this spot to ask the way to Drona Giri to know
the exact location of the sanjeevini booti that he had set
out to get. (TOI)
Porn surfing ‘a cyber risk’
NEW DELHI: Watching porn in the workplace is a risk to
the nation’s security, the Indian home ministry has warned
In a recent advisory to all officials, the ministry’s cyber
security wing has asked bureaucrats not to click on any
external links on their emails as these frequently open to
pornographic websites, which are a major source of hacking.
The communication also warms against emails with lottery
announcements for the same reason.
Sources in the ministry said nearly two lakh hacking cases
were being reported from different agencies across the
country every day. Most of these were taking place from
China, Pakistan and some African countries, mainly Nigeria,
an official said.
Though the advisory does not specifically mention
pornography, officials said porn surfing was common in
“Despite repeated warnings by the home ministry, officials
of many vital wings of the government keep surfing
pornographic sites during office hours using official
computers, resulting in penetration of spyware from foreign
hackers,” a ministry official said.
The home ministry has in the past asked all ministries and
departments not to keep any file of strategic importance in
There have been reports that foreign hackers recently
penetrated the defence ministry’s computer system and
accessed information related to India’s strategic matters.
One such case is currently being investigated by the Army as
it involved a major who was posted in Arunachal Pradesh.
He had kept a number of important files in his personal
computer, which was linked to the internet. His files had
been hacked by Pakistan’s ISI, resulting in the leak of
vital information. (TOI)
Britain tells Israel it will amend war
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Foreign Secretary William Hague pledged
this week that Britain would act fast to amend a law that
puts visiting Israeli officials at risk of arrest for
alleged war crimes, an embassy official said.
Britain’s top diplomat, who was visiting Israel, made the
remarks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during “a very
productive meeting” that lasted for more than an hour, the
British embassy spokesperson said.
“Hague reiterated the government’s firm commitment to move
as fast as it can on this matter,” the official added.
On Wednesday, the embassy said a draft amendment to the law
would be put before parliament “in the coming weeks”.
“The British government understands that we have a real
problem and we are dealing with it,” spokeswoman Karen
Kaufman told AFP, saying it would take “several months”
before any amendment was passed.
“We will present a draft (amendment) in the coming weeks
with the goal of passing it in this current sitting of
Israel has postponed all strategic dialogue with Britain in
protest at its law on “universal jurisdiction,” which
empowers courts to issue warrants against people accused of
war crimes, including visiting foreign politicians.
Hague later travelled to Cairo, where he said “international
laws, human rights laws on universal jurisdiction will
continue to apply in the UK.”
But he said “we will change the law so that an arrest can
only be made if there is a reasonable chance of success in a
prosecution. Otherwise it means that international figures
cannot visit the UK.”
The Britain-Israel strategic dialogue focuses on defence and
security issues and generally takes place annually.
“The strategic dialogue will be continuing early and as
normal,” Hague said in Cairo.
Hague and Netanyahu also discussed Iran’s nuclear programme,
the spokesperson said, while the premier’s office said they
also talked about prospects for renewing stalled
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“The two... discussed a broad range of common issues,
including the efforts to advance the diplomatic process in
the region,” it said in a statement.
“Israel and Great Britain maintain very close ties on
strategic issues, especially Iran. It was agreed that
another official meeting will be held soon in Israel.”
Earlier, Hague met one-on-one with Israeli Defence Minister
The contents of their meeting were not disclosed, but
Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, which on Wednesday published
an interview with Hague, said he would “take advantage of
his visit to Israel to participate in a secret and closed
discussion on Iran.”
Israel, the United States and other Western countries
believe Tehran’s nuclear programme is aimed at building an
atomic bomb. Iran denies the allegations, saying its
programme is for civil energy purposes only.
The Jewish state, believed to have the Middle East’s sole
but undeclared nuclear arsenal, has refused to rule out an
attack on arch-foe Iran to prevent it going nuclear.
The newspaper Haaretz this week reported Hague would hold
in-depth talks with Israeli officials to assess the efficacy
of international sanctions against Tehran.
The talks, it said, were at Hague’s request and would be
attended by Meir Dagan, head of the Mossad spy agency, Shaul
Horev, who runs Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, and
Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor.