Nation World  


Leaked memos highlight Myanmar nuclear fears
BANGKOK (AFP) - Washington has suspected for years that Myanmar has a secret nuclear programme supported by North Korea, with witnesses reporting suspicious activity as far back as 2004, leaked memos show.
One cable from the US embassy in Yangon, dated August of that year and released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, quoted an unidentified source as saying he saw about 300 North Koreans working at an underground site.
“The North Koreans, aided by Burmese workers, are constructing a concrete-reinforced underground facility that is ‘500ft from the top of the cave to the top of the hill above’,” according to the cable.
“The North Koreans are said to be assembling missiles of unknown origin,” it said, adding that the report alone should not been taken as definitive proof or evidence of sizeable North Korean military involvement with the Myanmar regime.
Another memo, also dated 2004, quoted a foreign businessman as saying that he had seen a reinforced steel bar, larger than for just a factory project, being unloaded from a barge in the same area in west-central Magway Division.
The cable said the source had volunteered to an US Embassy Officer that he had heard rumours that a nuclear reactor was being built near the town of Minbu.
It said that while there was no direct evidence of cooperation between Myanmar’s generals and Pyongyang, there were increasing reports of alleged sightings of North Korean “technicians” inside the Southeast Asian nation.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned in July 2009 about possible nuclear links between Myanmar and North Korea, and earlier this year she said a ship from Pyongyang had delivered military equipment to Myanmar.
Myanmar’s junta -- which recently held a widely criticised election seen as prolonging military rule -- has dismissed reports of its nuclear intentions and brushed aside Western concerns about possible cooperation with North Korea.
A UN report released last month alleged North Korea is supplying banned nuclear and ballistic equipment to Myanmar as well as Iran and Syria.
And a June documentary by the Norwegian-based news group Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) said Myanmar was trying to develop nuclear weapons, citing a senior army defector and years of “top secret material.”
Mobile ‘revolution’ eases poverty
SYDNEY (AFP) - From the rugged highlands of Papua New Guinea to the remote islands of Tonga, a telecommunications revolution in the Pacific is helping ease poverty and isolation in some of the world’s poorest countries.
In just a few years, a wave of market liberalisation has put mobiles and laptops into the hands of millions in the region, with deep implications for business, health and education, and for avoiding earthquakes and tsunamis.
Farmers can now call ahead to check prices in local markets, villagers with no experience of banking can remit money using mobile services, and text alerts warn of giant waves whipped up by the region’s frequent earth tremors.
“They don’t have roads, they still don’t have, in a lot of cases, power, and all of a sudden they’ve got mobile telephones,” said Gavin Murray, of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private-sector arm.
“And anecdotally, it’s having a huge impact on society. It really doesn’t matter who you talk to, in most of these places they are all saying the access to mobile telephony has completely changed their lives.”
The sweeping change has been spearheaded by Irish company Digicel Pacific, backed by some 120 million US dollars in IFC loans, which has ventured into six of the island countries since 2006, with startling results.
Murray said in two-and-a-half years, impoverished Papua New Guinea went from 100,000 mobile subscribers to nearly three million, while the central bank estimated the newly liberalised industry added more than half-a-percent to GDP.
Digicel Pacific CEO Vanessa Slowey said call prices dropped by 60 percent almost overnight in Samoa, the company’s first regional destination, where coverage leapt from just a third to more than 90 percent of the island nation.
Tiny Nauru, where Digicel launched last year, went from virtually zero communications to 95 percent mobile coverage, prompting more than half of the 10,000-strong population to sign up in the first month.
Hariri in ‘Shakespearean’ dilemma on murder probe
BEIRUT (AFP) - Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri faces a “Shakespearean” dilemma over a UN probe into his father’s murder whose pursuit of the assassins could wreak havoc on his country, analysts say.
“He is being asked to choose between the truth on the blood of his father and the stability of the country. He’s not at all in an enviable position,” said Fadia Kiwane, head of political sciences at Saint Joseph University.
Hariri was thrust into the limelight as a political novice after the February 2005 assassination of his father, five-time premier Rafiq Hariri, in a Beirut bomb blast.
“He is in a tight spot because, ever since the assassination, he has been mobilising the whole world to set up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Now, people want him to call off the process,” said Kiwane.
Hezbollah, the most powerful armed movement in Lebanon, says its members are about to be fingered by the tribunal which the United Nations set up in 2007.

Fired ‘bad Santa’ lands new job

SAN FRANCISCO - A San Francisco Santa Claus who found himself out of the job after telling too many naughty jokes has a new gig.
John Toomey, who played Santa at the Union Square store for 20 years, was told Saturday that his “ho-ho-hoeing” days are over because an adult couple complained about his jokes, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The 68-year-old Toomey says he asks older people who sit on his lap if they’ve been good. When they answer yes, he replies: “Gee, that’s too bad.”
If they ask why Santa’s so jolly, Toomey says it’s because he knows where all the naughty boys and girls live.
Toomey said he doesn’t tell such jokes when he is with kids and he had asked Macy’s to reconsider, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel for this Kris Kringle: he has landed a gig with San Francisco restaurant Lefty O’Doul’s to hand out presents at the landmark eatery’s annual toy drive, according to the Chronicle.
Macy’s spokeswoman Betsy Nelson tells the Examiner that the store can’t comment on personnel matters.

Protestors stage noisy rally at summit

‘Hands off medicine’

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Protestors wearing white medical coats staged a noisy protest outside an India-EU summit to demand continued access to cheap medicine for hundreds of thousands of HIV sufferers in poor countries.
“I’ve seen too many people die! We need to have these medicines,” said doctor Tido Von Schoen Angarer, of the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
“Hands off our medicine, the EU must listen,” he said.
The protest was staged as India and the 27-nation bloc continue long-stalled negotiations to strike a Free Trade Agreement, which the doctors fear could threaten India’s ability to provide affordable generic medicines.
The protestors say cheap generic drugs from India are vital to lives, particularly to the 33 million people living with HIV in developing countries.
Generics from India have pushed prices down 99 percent, from 10,000 dollars a year per patient in 2000 to 70 dollars currently. MSF itself buys 80 percent of its AIDS drugs from India, and says it is currently keeping 160,000 people alive on the treatment.
“India is the pharmacy of the developing world,” an MSF protestor said.
India’s government spokesman Vishnu Prakash said drugs produced in the country cost two percent of those produced by the world’s pharmaceutical giants.
India became a key supplier of affordable medicines because until 2005 it did not grant patents, enabling generic versions to be produced freely.
Since 2005 however the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS agreement has forced India to patent drugs, though in a unique law the country calls for patents only in the case of drugs that show an improved therapeutic effect on existing medicines.
Novartis took the Indian government to court over the patent law and lost the case in 2007 but has appealed.
Groups such as MSF now fear that new provisions written into trade deals such as the FTA with the EU -- due to be finalised in the next few months -- will undermine future supplies of cheap generics.
A particular concern is a provision called “data exclusivity”, which would prevent generic manufacturers from relying on existing clinical trial data to register generic drugs for periods of up to 10 years.

Couple caned over extramarital kiss

JANTHO, Indonesia (AFP) - Two people were caned in Indonesia’s Aceh province after being caught having an extramarital kiss, a prosecutor said.
Hundreds of people gathered to watch as Anis Saputra, 24, and Kiki Hanafilia, 17, received eight lashes each at a mosque in the city of Jantho, southeast of the provincial capital Banda Aceh.
“Both were married to other people. The people caught them kissing each other in Aceh Besar district’s forest in October. They were yet to have sexual intercourse when they were caught,” prosecutor Deby Rinaldi said.
“Anis’s wife, who was seven-month pregnant, was away at the time. The woman, Kiki, was already married for two years,” he said.
Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, is one of several areas in Indonesia where sharia laws have been adopted.
In October, two women were caned in Aceh for selling food during the fasting hours of Ramadan.

Sony and Sharp launch e-readers

TOKYO (AFP) - Sony and Sharp upped the rivalry stakes in the heated e-reader and tablet market with the head-to-head launch of their latest devices in Japan, along with tens of thousands of e-book titles.
Sony, battling Amazon and Apple in the electronic book reader race, on Friday launched its Reader range in Japan along with a dedicated virtual library, after launching in 13 other countries including the US.
The move marked a return to Japan for the electronic giant’s e-reader business since it left in 2007 after seeing low demand at a time when Japanese consumers were focused on mobile phone books.
Sharp meanwhile launched its multifunctional Galapagos tablet computer in a bid to rival Apple’s iPad. The device allows users to read e-books, as well as major newspapers and popular magazines, delivered at designated times.
The name is a pun on the term “Galapagos Syndrome” -- in reference to the isolated islands that helped Charles Darwin form his theory of evolution -- and its association with Japan’s tendency to be less influenced by global trends.
Earlier Japanese mobile phones made by the likes of Sharp or Fujitsu were years ahead of their time in terms of offering Internet access, and provided cameras and mobile payment options before others as well as live television.
But smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S and Apple’s iPhone are providing stronger competition with third generation handsets sold in Europe or the United States now working in Japan.
Sharp’s new brand represents a shift for the company from conventional one-off sales of stand-alone products to devices that will continue to “evolve” through software updates, it says.