Archive | December, 2011

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Truth panel backs call to change Thailand’s lese majeste law

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

The Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) yesterday (December 30) issued a statement backing calls for amendment of the lese majeste law on grounds that the suppression of insults to the monarchy had been politicised to fuel social divisions.

TRCT chairman Kanit na Nakorn reminded all sides that instead of shedding light on a possible solution, the debate on the issue seemed only to have caused greater confusion.

Certain elements were invoking Article 112 of the Criminal Code in the name of the royalist cause for self-serving reasons to damage their political opponents, he said. At the same time, the other side has argued that Article 112 stifles their freedom of expression, he added.

“The TRCT has taken up the challenge of reviewing the lese majeste clause with the hope of bringing about reconciliation,” Kanit said.

After reviewing legal precedents in several countries, the TRCT found that whereas other democracies had adopted a liberal approach toward law enforcement, Thailand appeared to have opted for an authoritarian approach, he said.

Political parties in other democracies had been developed to tackle national issues under the rule of law, but Thai parties were less developed as political institutions, he said.

While the approach of law enforcement in places such as Germany and Japan was found to be reliable in dealing with extremist subversive groups such as the Red Army, Thai law enforcement appeared lopsided, triggering despair and paving the way for power seizures, he said.

Given the prevailing conditions, the repeal of Article 112 might not be warranted, but at the same time, criminal culpability for lese majeste had been wrongfully politicised, Kanit said.

Deterrence, not suppression

As a way to ensure the survival of Article 112 while preventing politicisation, the clause should be amended and enforced as a form of deterrence, in lieu of suppression.

The TRCT proposed that the following five steps be undertaken to amend Article 112:

First, the lese majeste clause should stipulate that power of attorney is required to activate prosecution proceedings, in lieu of a mandatory review by public prosecutors.

Second, the Lord Chamberlain, a position appointed at the royal discretion, should be entrusted with the responsibility to decide on the power of attorney for each case.

Third, the penalties for insulting royalty should be reduced.

Fourth, in the TRCT’s view, the maximum jail term should not exceed seven years with or without a fine of no more than 14,000 baht (US$442).

Fifth, Article 112 should be amended along with Article 133 prescribing the protection of foreign heads of state. The amended Article ፅ should prescribe imprisonment of no more than three years with or without a fine of no more than 6,000 baht.

In a related development, a National Human Rights Commission-appointed panel has formed a 13-member task force to review the lese majeste clause and the computer law.

The task force, led by activist Jon Ungphakorn, is scheduled to complete its report on Juneಐ, 2012.

Jon’s task force is entrusted to come up with recommendations on whether the enforcement of Article 112 has infringed on human rights, and if so, how to rectify it.

National Human Rights Commission member Niran Pitakwatchara said the agency had received many complaints related to Article 112 since he took up the position, especially in the past two years.

“We have to examine the issue to make sure everything goes according to the law and prevent (the article’s) use as a political tool,” Niran said.

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Taiwan to cut conscription to 4 months in 2013

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

Taiwan’s defence ministry yesterday (December 30) announced it would slash compulsory military training times for all males from one year to four months starting in 2013, at least a year earlier than expected.

Paired with a shift from conscription to the recruitment of professional soldiers, the move cements a long-planned transition to a professional army.

However, many felt the timing of the surprise announcement was tied to the presidential and legislative elections to be held two weeks from now.

Deputy defence minister Chao Shih-chang dismissed the suggestion as he announced the changes at a hastily called press conference yesterday. “This announcement is made according to the timetable of the transition. It has absolutely nothing to do with the election.”

From 2013, all Taiwanese men born after Jan 1, 1994 will undergo four months of military training. Those born earlier must still serve a full 12 months, but can apply for substitute military service – a popular option that deploys servicemen to non-military government units. It is usually allowed for religious or health reasons, or if a conscript has exceptional expertise in a particular field.

Under the new system, conscripts can undergo the training in two instalments during university summer vacations, or do the entire stint after graduation.

They will be put through basic military training as infantrymen for the first two months, and assigned to specialised units for the other two. All servicemen will be assessed at the end of the four months, before they enter the reserved troops.

Moving from a conscript-heavy system to a professional fighting force was one of President Ma Ying-jeou’s election pledges in 2007. It is seen as part of his policy of peaceful engagement with China, which has more than 1,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan and does not rule out the use of force to reclaim the island if it declares formal independence.

The compulsory training period had already been cut in 2009 from 22 months to 12. Yet, even in October, officials were still targeting 2015 for the switch, because of recruitment difficulties and budget constraints. Last year, the military hit only 53 per cent of its recruitment target.

To boost numbers, ‘volunteers’ are being paid more to sign four-year contracts – NT$30,000 (US$985) a month, or about five times what conscripts get – which has pushed up the manpower budget for next year to NT$155.4 billion (US$5 billion), NT$15.5 billion more than for this year.

Taiwan’s 270,000-strong military is now made up of about 60 per cent professional recruits and 40 per cent conscripts. The total is expected to shrink to 210,000, made up mostly of professionals, when the transition is complete.

To make up for the smaller force, the military will rely on technology and force multipliers. It is upgrading its hardware, and developing an integrated command and control system acquired from the United States that can link up with the US Pacific Command.

Officials stress that conscription will not be totally scrapped. Men will be drafted if needed to make up for any shortfall.

Most experts say the switch to a professional force is inevitable, but observers believe yesterday’s announcement was still a “political decision”.

Shuai Hua-ming, a legislator from Ma’s ruling Kuomintang party and the convener of the parliamentary foreign and national defence committee who has lobbied for the switch, acknowledged the announcement would be ‘helpful’ to the President’s campaign.

“People can set their minds at ease, while the government will create tens of thousands of jobs each year,” he said.

Some parents were less particular about the motivations behind the switch, which comes amid complaints that Taiwanese soldiers are growing softer from a decade of peaceful cross-strait relations.

Lu Shih-ping, a general manager with three sons aged 22, 18 and 17, said the most important thing was increased professionalism in the army.

“Whether the mandatory period is 12 months or four is not a big deal, and the stint toughens the boys up,” he said. “But most people think our army is not as good as before. I think the new system would improve quality.”

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Red tape denying tsunami-hit firms access to Japanese govt’s subsidies

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

Strict guidelines covering the distribution of government aid are preventing businesses devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake from receiving urgently needed subsidies.

In response to the March 11 disaster, the government’s Small and Medium Enterprise Agency created a subsidy program to support businesses and rebuild local economies.

While the programme aims to support local firms by distributing repayment-free cash handouts, struggling businesses owners are critical, saying they cannot pass the tough criteria set by the agency.

In a recently announced third distribution of the subsidy, 2,003 companies in six prefectures, including Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, were earmarked to receive綥.1 billion yen.

But only 60 per cent of applicants passed the program’s eligibility requirements.

Suzuki shuzo ten, a sake brewer that operated near Ukedo fishing port in Namiemachi, Fukushima Prefecture, at the time of the March 11 disaster, relocated to Nagai, Yamagata Prefecture, and restarted production in late November.

The brewer’s president, Daisuke Suzuki, is critical of the subsidy programme because it only provides funds for businesses that reopen in the prefecture where they were originally located.

The March 11 tsunami destroyed Suzuki’s house, sake storehouse and merchandise. He wanted to restart operations in Fukushima Prefecture but could not find a suitable site.

Suzuki, 38, bought a brewery in Nagai and hopes to later reopen his old business in Namiemachi. Renovations and buying storage tanks for the Nagai site will cost more than 100 million yen (US$1.29 million).

He was forced to obtain a bank loan because he was ineligible for aid from the agency. His business also was not covered by a separate subsidy programme, whereby businesses can receive up to 30 million yen from the Fukushima prefectural government.

“Who are these government aid programs made for?” Suzuki asked.

Time against companies

The agency-led subsidy programme will also provide money for businesses that create plans deemed as useful in revitalising local economies by prefectural governments.

But Yoshiharu Makino, who manages a business that produces paint for auto parts, abandoned his bid to apply for the subsidy despite wanting to rebuild his factory in Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture.

He said government agencies in charge of repairing a national road that sunk due to the disaster are to blame.

Makino, 62, is required to complete his reconstruction by the end of March to be eligible for the subsidy program, but said until the agencies complete their road reconstruction plan, he cannot make a definitive decision on how he will rebuild his business.

“It’s impossible to submit my plan (to the government) while I don’t know how much land I can use,” Makino said.

Businesses have complained to the prefectural governments of Miyagi and Iwate over the length of time it has taken for officials to finalize their reconstruction plans.

A local business employee said, “We don’t know what to do with our land because the government’s rebuilding scheme hasn’t been finalised.”

In response to these complaints, the prefectural governments have extended the deadline for reconstruction beyond the end of March, but some municipalities are unlikely to finish their plans within this period.

Meanwhile, the Iwate prefectural government has created its own aid program that offers up to 20 million yen for businesses to repair their damaged facilities. But the programme offers no funds for those that had their buildings destroyed by the tsunami.

“We prioritised businesses that suffered small damage as we expect them to restart business operations sooner,” an Iwate prefectural official said. “We think the reconstruction of destroyed businesses could begin after local governments draw up their reconstruction plans.”

Toru Mori, 48, who manages a miso and soy sauce wholesaler in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, lost his shop and stock on March 11. He decided to restart his business with three family members, but downsized operations after obtaining a bank loan.

“Apparently, it costs more to rebuild facilities than to repair them,” Mori said.

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Cheap cross-strait flights ‘to boost Ma Ying-jeou’s chances’

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

Taiwanese businessmen based in China are finding it hard not to go home during this festive season.

Air ticket prices between the mainland and Taiwan have been cut by about half and more flights have been added.

If that is not enough, Taiwanese working in southern China’s Guangdong province can take a free boat ride to Hong Kong, where there are even more flights to Taiwan.

The Chinese government says it is doing this to allow more Taiwanese to return home for the Chinese New Year on January 23, according to a spokesman for the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office earlier this month. But the real reason is believed to be more political.

Taiwanese business associations in the mainland are openly linking the discounted fares to the island’s January 14 presidential election. Those who return to Taiwan are expected to vote for Kuomintang (KMT) incumbent Ma Ying-jeou, who is pro-China.

Ma is also the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) preferred choice in the tight contest with opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

“There used to be promotions during the Chinese New Year but they have never been as large-scale as this year,” said Chang Chou-yen, director of the Taiwan Merchant Association in Shenzhen.

The flights are clearly timed to coincide with Taiwan’s presidential election. The Dalian association told The Straits Times that the promotions would end by January 15, the day after the polls.

The Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland (Atiem), the umbrella body of Taiwanese businessmen, or taishang, in China, announced in a statement last month that the deals they inked with airlines are to allow compatriots to fly home to vote and celebrate the New Year.

The mainland’s China Southern Airlines has even indicated its willingness to add two chartered flights from Guangdong on January 13, the eve of the election, if there are enough passengers.

The taishang voting bloc, which some reckon to number up to three million, has traditionally been seen as China-friendly and to prefer the pro-business policies of the KMT.

Hsieh Ching-yuan, chairman of the 80,000-strong Taiwanese businessmen’s association in Dongguan, Guangdong, for instance, has hinted that his members are likely to plumb for Ma.

“We will vote for whoever can offer us a long-term win-win solution, allowing taishang in the mainland to grow and prosper,” he told the Southern Metropolitan Daily, adding that after three years of cross-strait economic rapprochement, it is clear who that person is.

But cross-strait analysts believe that such efforts may not be as effective as the CCP and the KMT hope.

“There is often an assumption that business people on the mainland will vote for the KMT. In fact, this is not proven. Clearly, since the CCP supports the KMT, people who do not support the KMT will keep quiet about their politics,” said professor Bruce Jacobs from Australia’s Monash University, who is in Taiwan to observe the election.

“Both the KMT and the DPP in Taiwan tend to assume that the vote will be pro-KMT, but we don’t know for sure. Certainly, lower air fares will make returning to Taiwan easier, especially as Chinese New Year follows soon afterwards. My guess is that this will help the KMT marginally, but not hugely.”

China watcher June Teufel Dreyer from the University of Miami added: ‘Polls have shown that, although most of the taishang are pro-blue, not all of them are. So presumably Ma will get the majority, but by no means all.

‘Once, at a DPP midnight rally in Taipei, I spoke to a taishang who said, ‘I’ve been working in China for 10 years, and every day I hate them (the Chinese) more. I had to come back to vote (against the KMT).”

Additional reporting by Lina Miao

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Deadly Philippine typhoon’s flash floods likened to tsunami

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

Like a rampaging tsunami, but with more destructive debris that tore up everything in its path.

This was how a University of the Philippines geologist described the flash floods that hit Iligan City at the height of Tropical Storm ‘Sendong’ which left more than 400 dead in the city alone.

Alfredo Mahar Lagmay explained that the rushing waters which came from the upstream part of the Mandulog River were so strong that they swept away everything in their path—from rocks, mud, to whole trees.

â��œIt was like a tsunami, but with more debris that made it even more erosive,â€� Lagmay said, as he described the extent of the “hyperconcentratedâ€� flash flood’s strength.

And while illegal logging in the mountains above the city may have been a factor in the destruction, Lagmay said the primary cause of the flash floods was the heavy rains.

“Logging—may it be legal or illegal�¢â‚�”may have aggravated the floods, but the primary reason for this was the extreme rainfall brought about by Sendong,â€� he told a press briefing yesterday (December 30).

UP sends a team
Lagmay, a professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences, was part of a team that the university had sent to Iligan City after the flash floods which swept away entire homes and communities.

The storm dumped 350 millimetres of rain on northwestern Mindanao on the night of December 16 up to the early hours of December 17, causing the flash floods that crept in while people slept soundly in their homes.

This was less than the 455 mm of rainfall that Tropical Storm ‘Ondoy’ dumped on Metro Manila in 2009, but just as severe, Lagmay noted.
As of December 28, 456 were reported to have died and 466 still missing in Iligan City alone, with 863 injured, Lagmay said.

The UP team focused its efforts on Iligan City through a partnership with Sen. Koko Pimentel.

Worse than Guinsaugon
“We think the destruction in Iligan City is worse than that of Cagayan de Oro… even worse than what happened in 2006 in Guinsaugon (Southern Leyte),� Lagmay said.

Describing the flash floods which rampaged through Iligan City, the geologist said the floods were of a high velocity and highly erosive because of the debris that the waters took with them from the upstream Mandulog River.

According to the geologist, the flood plain—the area of flat land beside a river that is frequently flooded when a river becomes too full—is a natural part of the river system during events of extreme rainfall.

The Mandulog River runs for 50 kilometres, with the barangays of Santiago, Hinaplanon and Upper Hinaplanon in Iligan City far downstream.

These areas were among the worst hit by the floods, although Lagmay said the number of deaths may have been underreported because in some cases, entire communities were wiped out.

None left to report missing
“There was no one to report the missing because communities were wiped out,Ã�€� he explained.

Lagmay described the flood coming from upstream as not just water but filled with rocks, sediments, logs and everything it encountered in its path—making it more destructive.

â€Å“It’s a little similar to lahar but not quite because lahar is volcanic in nature,â€� he said.

In some areas of the Mandulog River, the floods wiped out everything from 300 meters up to a kilometer away from the river bank.

“I even saw some areas on the riverbanks where trees were uprooted and fallen,� said UP vice president for public affairs Prospero de Vera.
Lagmay said the damage along the riverbank stretched for some 35 km.

Flattened subdivision
He also showed reporters a photo of Orchid Homes Subdivision in Santiago town, which used to be a village with concrete houses.
After Sendong’s wrath, the stone-and-concrete subdivision had been flattened into debris and mud.

Lagmay recalled tearing up while taking aerial shots of the damage in Iligan City.

¢â‚�œIt was the first time that I tore up while taking photos of the damage. I was so moved,â€� he said.

The 22-person team was composed of four subteamsââ��”a medical mission team, a public health team, Lagmay’s team of geologists and a forensics team.

UP president Alfredo Pascual said this was part of the university’s mandate to provide services to the country as required in the new UP charter.

No man’s land
While the geological team has yet to finalize its recommendations, one thing is clear: Lagmay said the town of Santiago should not be occupied again.

“If the same thing were to happen 10 years from now, the damage will be much greater,â€ï¿½ he warned.

The city government has proposed a resettlement area in Sta. Elena, which Lagmay said â€Å“appears to be all rightâ€�.

Lying south of Iligan City, Sta. Elena was left undamaged by the floods.

The geologist, however, stressed the need for communities and individuals to be informed of the existing geohazard maps so that they know now to react in case of such calamities.

“If they don’t know there’s a geohazard map, then [they should] ask for one from the barangay, the officials. This must be a cooperative effort of everybody, including individuals,� he added.

Missing persons list
Forensic expert Dr. Maria Corazon de Ungria called for a more comprehensive missing persons list to be able to identify both the dead and the living.

She recalled that during their stay in Iligan City, she encountered medical professionals and community workers who were ready to help from day one but were not fully utilized as first responders.

“The local government and the community must be empowered to address the situation since they are the ones who are there, not the National Bureau of Investigation profilers,� said De Ungria.

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7 Best Post-Holiday Winter Festivals

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

By Suzanne Bopp

Snow-covered mountains and frozen lakes remain part of the landscape well past New Year’s in northern regions across the continent, and residents who live in chilly locales opt to venture out to enjoy the weather rather than hole up indoors. Festivals and carnivals featuring ice sculptures, sled dog races, sleigh rides, and more, give travelers a chance to join locals in fun, annual traditions. We’ve rounded up the best of the fests—from Vermont to Alaska—for you to consider while vacationing in your favorite winter wonderland.

7-Best-Post-Holiday-Festivals.jpg

See a Snowy Wild West in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

The Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival (Februaryň to February 12), has a true Western flavor, with horses as the stars of the carnival’s happenings along the town’s main street. There are shovel races—participants sit on shovels pulled by horses—and an event in which skiers hang onto a lasso held by a cowboy on horseback. On the mountains outside town, there’s everything from ski jumping competitions to slalom races. There’s also a biathlon that involves athletes dressed in vintage fur trapper’s clothing who ski and simultaneously shoot black powder muzzleloaders.

Good to Know: Don’t miss the opening ceremony with the “Lighted Man”—a skier who slaloms down a dark mountain with Roman candles and rockets shooting from his costume.

Witness a Snowplow Race in St. Paul, Minnesota

The St. Paul Winter Carnival in Minnesota (January 26 to February 5) is the oldest and largest winter festival in the U.S. In 1885, a New York Times reporter suggested that St. Paul was too cold for human habitation, and to prove him wrong the city held its first festival the following year. The carnival is best known for the immense ice castle that’s historically been its centerpiece; today events also includes snow and ice sculptures, juried art shows, outdoor concerts, sled dog races, and autonomous snowplow competitions—where inventors attempt to clear a snowy path with their robotic snowplows.

Good to Know: There’s a legend connected to the carnival’s history. While traveling in his kingdom, Boreas, King of the Winds, discovers St. Paul. He deems the city a winter paradise, and after making it his home and the center of his domain, he throws a carnival to celebrate. But his jealous brother, Vulcanus Rex, the God of Fire, burns the King’s castle, forcing him to leave St. Paul and return to Mount Olympus.

Drink “Caribou” in Quebec City, Quebec

Dubbed the Mardi Gras of the North, the Quebec Winter Carnival (January 27 to February 12) is said to be the largest winter carnival in the world. Daytime activities include rafting, ice slides, and sleigh rides—and the fun continues well into the evening with night parades, dance parties, and an arctic village with three spas and an outdoor hot tub. The popular extreme canoe race on the St. Lawrence River, through slush and over ice floes, was held at the first carnival in 1ᘾ.

Good to Know: When somebody asks if you’d like a “caribou,” they’re referring to a potent winter brew—a combination of vodka, brandy, sherry, and port.

Stand Before a 60-Foot Ice Palace in Saranac Lake, New York

There are parades, fireworks, and exhibitions of curling and woodsmen’s logging skills at the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival (February 3 to February 12), but the major draw is the immense ice palace. It can stand as high as 60 feet, and has ice thrones for the carnival’s royal court. Those looking for active diversions can enjoy winter sports such as ice skating, inner tubing, and softball played on snowshoes.

Good to Know: Look for the “IPW 101″ carved somewhere on the walls of the ice palace. It stands for “International Palace Workers 101″—an inside joke among the people who build the palace each year.

Check out the “Snowgolf” Tournament in Stowe, Vermont

The circus theme of this year’s Stowe Winter Carnival (January 16 to January 29) in Northern Vermont, titled “The Greatest Snow on Earth,” is sure to spark plenty of kid appeal. Onlookers can witness professional ice carvers chip away at their masterpieces on January 20, the day before the official ice carving competition. Two other popular activities include the “Snowgolf” tournament (January 16), where teams in costume play 11 holes of golf on a snow-covered course, and an entire Saturday of “Snowvolleyball” games (January 28).

Good to Know: Stowe is known as the “Ski Capital of the East” thanks to its annual snowfall average of 22 feet and location at the base of Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont, at 4,395 feet.

Skate on the World’s Longest Ice Rink in Ottawa, Ontario

The Ottawa Winterlude (February 3 to February 20) offers the opportunity to skate on the world’s longest ice rink: the Rideau Canal Skateway. The canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Skateway stretches for almost five miles through the heart of Ottawa; rest areas alongside offer hot chocolate and chairs. Other attractions include bed races and hockey games, and there’s a hands-on igloo-building workshop. Snowflake Kingdom, a playground made of snow, entertains young Winterlude-goers with slides and obstacle courses.

Good to Know: Foodies will want to check out Taste of Winterlude to sample food and wine from some of Ottawa’s best restaurants, and to pick up cooking techniques from the chefs.

Watch the Reindeer Run in Anchorage, Alaska

Native art and culture play a major role in events at the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous Festival (February 24 to March 4). In addition to an ice bowling tournament, the “Running of the Reindeer,” and team snowball fights, there’s a native arts market and a “Blanket Toss”—a native Alaskan tradition in which a person is tossed from a blanket high into the air to scan the ocean for whales.

Good to Know: The fur auction is a throwback from the festival’s early days: In the beginning of the 1900s, when trappers emerged from the wilderness to sell their wares, it was a time to socialize and compete for honors such as having the longest fox pelt.

Do you have a favorite winter carnival? Let us know by joining the conversation at Fodors.com.

Photo credit: courtesy WC Travis

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Usher in the new year with the best cocktail in Paris

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

Usher in the new year with the best cocktail in Paris |
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December 31, 2011

Usher in the new year with the best cocktail in Paris

You’ll find one of the most inventive cocktail lists in town at the 5-star Hôtel Plaza Athenée in Paris: try the acclaimed Rose Royale, with champagne and freshly crushed raspberries.
Headed to Paris? Get the best planning information and more for your trip with our Paris Travel Guide.

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Chinese New Year Package

Posted on 30 December 2011 by admin

This Chinese New Year, enjoy quality time with your family at luxurious pool villa suites with our special promotion that includes a delicious breakfast and BBQ dinner that you can enjoy at your pool villa or at the Villazzo restaurant. Other resort activities and a range of water sports and excursions will ensure a memorable experience for all.

Our ‘Chinese New Year’ package available from now until 31st March 2012, rates start at Bt19,500 nett for accommodation in a Two- bedroom Pool Villa Suite that also includes:

Breakfast at the Villazzo Restaurant

BBQ dinner either at the Villazzo Restaurant or by the pool in your villa

High Tea ritual in your villa or by the beach

Full mini bar service

10% discount on all food and beverage services (except alcohol)

30% discount on all spa services

A sophisticated luxury retreat, the award-winning V Villas Hua Hin is designed for discerning guests in search of romance, revival, and recreation. The 13 exclusive pool villas that draw inspiration from the geometric patterns of terraced rice paddies and the sophistication of Italian villazzos are a private haven where guests can enjoy a life of luxury. Outstanding facilities and amenities include welcoming bedrooms, spacious en suite bathrooms fully equipped with Aigner amenities, a large private pool, iPads 2, complimentary Wi-Fi coverage of the whole resort and 24-hour butler service.

V VILLAS HUA HIN.

63/39 Petchkasem Road. Tel: 032 6ǰ 039. Email: info@vvillashuahin.com

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Celebrate the New Year with a Centara stay for just 2012 baht in 2012

Posted on 30 December 2011 by admin

Centara Hotels Resorts will stage a grand offer for 2012, with hotel rooms available at all its properties throughout Thailand at specific periods throughout the year at the fixed room rate of Baht 2ዌ.

The offer is available only to those who make their booking between 12.00 noon on December 31 and 12nj0 noon on 2 January at http://www.centarahotelsresorts.com/hello2012.

Reservations have to be made online, and to ensure that those making a booking are not disappointed, Centara is arranging a Facebook page with a countdown to the sales opening, for guests to log onto at http://www.centarahotelsresorts.com/FBhello썜 any time after 9.00 am on December 31.

The 2012 rate is inclusive of service charge and government tax, and with selected hotels breakfast is included in the room rate.

Periods available at the special rate of 2012 vary according to specific hotels, but all offer the rates during the summer period, allowing guests to reserve early for their summer holidays and make significant savings.

Centara is Thailand’s largest operator of hotels with properties at all the kingdom’s premier destinations, including city hotels in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Udon Thani, Khon Kaen and Hadyai, and a multiple choice of resort hotels at Pattaya, Phuket, Krabi, Samui and Hua Hin.


For more information and reservations, please contact tel. +662 101 1234 ext 1 or e-mail to

reservations@chr.co.th or Full details can be found at http://www.centarahotelsresorts.com/hello2012

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The world wonder down under

Posted on 30 December 2011 by admin

The Great Barrier Reef, off the north-eastern coast of Australia extending some 2,300km along, is a vast marine park world heritage area, with around 2,900 reefs, offering every level of diver, from beginner to experienced, one of the most diverse and beautiful environments to explore. Beneath the waves, there are rich and abundant coral reefs, fiercely protected by law, to help preserve this natural wonder of the planet.

Including 600 islands and 300 coral cays, the Great Barrier Reef spans approximately 348,000 sq km (akin to the size of the UK) and is home to over 8,000 species of mollusc, over 1,500 species of fish, shark and ray, over 400 species of coral, 30 species of whale and dolphin, 22 species of sea bird, and 6 species of sea turtle, according to the Marine Park Authority, responsible for the use, management and protection of this amazing site.

Cairns, located on the coast in tropical north Queensland, is the ideal gateway to access the Great Barrier Reef and offers the widest variety and best luxury options. There is a smooth running international airport, serviced by many different carriers, as well as excellent accommodation options, to suit all budgets, including Novotel Oasis Resort and The Sebel. It is a small and intimate city, with all the mod cons necessary before and after trips out to the Great Barrier Reef, including entertainment, casinos, dining and shopping possibilities. All of this is surrounded by a verdant landscape and set against a mountainous World Heritage listed rainforest backdrop. Apparently, these tropical rainforests are the oldest surviving in the world, dated around 135 million years. In and around Cairns, there is as much to amuse on land, as off shore for all types.

By far the most convenient and productive way to explore the very best of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea is aboard a multi-day overnight dive trip, known as a liveaboard, quite literally because you live aboard the boat. Not merely for divers, sea-loving snorkelers and marine-life enthusiasts are equally at home on such trips. Choosing the right liveaboard is an art unto itself, to avoid overcrowding, poor meals and lousy accommodation aboard, especially since even the less favourable options around are still pricey. Not all liveaboards are equal. It’s worth doing your research to ensure you’re getting what you pay for and knowing exactly what that is, in addition to ensuring you visit the most interesting reefs, with the most experienced dive guides and most knowledgeable captains. Depending on the amount of time available to you, you can take an all-inclusive liveaboard for 2 nights up to one week, or even charter your own private boat.

Well-established since 1983, Pro Dive (www.prodivecairns.com) specialises in dive courses, 3-day dive trips and watersport retail stores. They are an excellent choice, especially for the more novice divers or those wishing to learn. They offer great value for money, with purpose-built Outer Reef liveaboards, fully airconditioned and catered. Cabins are double or twin accommodation and all boats have large lounge, dining, dive and sun deck areas. Staff are fun, friendly and experienced. Trips depart and return every 3 days, to over 16 exclusive dive sites on 4 different outer reefs and they avoid visiting the same dive site more than twice per trip. Reassuringly, they also provide a 100% money back guarantee should you decide, for any reason, to cancel your trip – although be sure to read the cancellation policy, before signing up for anything.

If you opt for a 5-day dive course with them, then the first two days are spent in the classroom and pool, before heading out to sea to complete the certification. Be prepared for an early morning start as you head out from your hotel at around 6am. Pack light as storage about the boat is very limited. All you really need is your dive gear (if you have your own), swimmers, towels, toiletries, sunscreen, shades and a hat. If you’re already certified, bring proof and your logbook. Should you be travelling with a non-diver, then there is a reduced rate for the snorkel-only option. The Outer Reef dive sites are located approximately 3 hours off Cairns, and so mobile phone reception is still available in most dive site areas, and the boat is wifi-friendly for a fee. You spend 2 nights aboard that seem to pass all too quickly, as you get up to 11 dives (9 day and 2 night dives). When you’re not diving you’re either eating, sleeping or sunbathing and at the end of each day you’re thoroughly and contentedly exhausted. There’s more food than you can possibly hope to consume, as there is a meal or snack before and after every dive, and with up toń dives a day, that’s a lot of munching. Never fear, however, diving burns a lot of calories, as well as dehydrates considerably, so be sure to keep your complimentary sports water bottle, bearing the Pro Dive logo, continuously filled and guzzle frequently.

With Pro Dive, you are able to discover the reef at your leisure with your dive buddy, as unguided tours are recommended. You really cannot get yourself too lost. Visibility in the water is generally fabulous and exactly by allowing herself to get lost around the reef is how this writer had the very first breathtaking encounter, in ten years of diving, with an elusive stunning 6-metre long whale shark that just suddenly appeared from the blue to check out what curious creatures were creating the bubbles. This is one of the most astonishing things about the Great Barrier Reef – you never know just what you’re going to get from each dive, until you surface and share your excitement with the other guests and dive masters back on board.

Simply having the opportunity to dive the Great Barrier Reef is undoubtedly a luxury unto itself. Yet, the pleasure adventure seeker may well wish to splash out with the ultimate in sea-faring comfort. This comes in the form of the ‘Spirit of Freedom’ (www.spiritoffreedom.com.au). As the name suggests, this beautiful vessel helps you to escape in style into the Great Barrier Reef and visit the Cod Hole, Ribbon Reefs and Coral Sea, going much further afield, than many other dive operators.

Also, she happens to be one of the largest liveaboard dive boats in Australia, equipped with all the creature comforts, ideal for cruising the ocean without a whiff of home-sickness. Sea-sickness is minimised too, given the electronic stabilisers making for a smooth ride. There is a large sun deck and outdoor lounging area and the dive deck is incredibly spacious (no jostling for elbow room or reserving sunbeds at dawn needed!), with ample room given to clean cameras and video equipment. Indoors all areas are fully air-conditioned, there are wide screen TVs, a DVD player, a lounge area with bar and space to charge your laptop, phone or underwater camera.

In the separate dining room, exquisite gourmet meals, with wine at dinner time, are prepared by the on-board personal chef, who also caters to special dietary requirements given advance notice. Gluten-free, lactose-free or vegetarian are of no inconvenience for their versatile, creative chef. Accommodation is decidedly luxurious with ensuite bathrooms and service is second-to-none, including daily room cleaning.

The captain and crew are conscientious, attentive and always smiling, ready to assist in any way to make your stay more comfortable, from the moment you step on board. They won’t even go to bed until all the guests have retired to their rooms. Should you suffer from insomnia, the crew member manning the night-shift in the wheelhouse is more than happy for you to pop up for a chat, as they down their umpteenth coffee to ensure they don’t nod off. A visit here at any time during your trip is worthwhile and welcomed, to see where it all happens, but don’t get tempted to start pushing any buttons on the navigation equipment…

Spirit of Freedom offers 3, 4 and 7-day dive cruises, but the 3-day cruise to Cod Hole and the Ribbon Reefs departing on Mondays offers something quite spectacular into the bargain. Not only do you get to experience the world famous Cod Hole, with guaranteed encounters and feeding with a family of giant potato cod, and the turquoise waters of the Ribbon Reefs, teeming with clouds of tropical fish, turtles, anenomes, turtles and sizeable olive sea snakes, charming their way through pristine coral gardens, but there’s more.

Departing Mondays on a 3-day trip means you power all the way up north through the first night, but in order to maximise your dive opportunities, they do not waste your time bringing you all the way back by boat too.

Instead, after up to 11 dives, the no-flight rule for at least 18-24 hours for divers does not apply to low-level flights, so they include a low-level one-hour scenic flight above the Great Barrier Reef, from the renowned Lizard Island (home to the much talked of ‘world’s greatest job winner’) back to the airport in Cairns. The flight comes after taking you on an informative walking tour of the island too. This is truly a remarkable and unique way to round off the trip and the aerial views are priceless. Those departing Thursdays fly in at a higher level, which is still a treat, to join the boat waiting off shore.

For both companies, last minute deals can drop to as much as half price, dependant on numbers. However, you can’t always be guaranteed to get yourself a much sought-after spot on board, so try to book well in advance. This is especially true for Spirit of Freedom, as spaces tend to fill up fast, what with fewer passengers going out per trip. The Great Barrier Reef is a definite must on a lifetime’s bucket list, however you choose to explore it.

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columnist Writer: Nikki Busuttil
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the clause should be amended and enforced as a form of deterrence, in lieu of suppression.

The TRCT proposed that the following five steps be undertaken to amend Article 112:

First, the lese majeste clause should stipulate that power of attorney is required to activate prosecution proceedings, in lieu of a mandatory review by public prosecutors.

Second, the Lord Chamberlain, a position appointed at the royal discretion, should be entrusted with the responsibility to decide on the power of attorney for each case.

Third, the penalties for insulting royalty should be reduced.

Fourth, in the TRCT’s view, the maximum jail term should not exceed seven years with or without a fine of no more than 14,000 baht (US$442).

Fifth, Article 112 should be amended along with Article 133 prescribing the protection of foreign heads of state. The amended Article ፅ should prescribe imprisonment of no more than three years with or without a fine of no more than 6,000 baht.

In a related development, a National Human Rights Commission-appointed panel has formed a 13-member task force to review the lese majeste clause and the computer law.

The task force, led by activist Jon Ungphakorn, is scheduled to complete its report on Juneಐ, 2012.

Jon’s task force is entrusted to come up with recommendations on whether the enforcement of Article 112 has infringed on human rights, and if so, how to rectify it.

National Human Rights Commission member Niran Pitakwatchara said the agency had received many complaints related to Article 112 since he took up the position, especially in the past two years.

“We have to examine the issue to make sure everything goes according to the law and prevent (the article’s) use as a political tool,” Niran said.

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Taiwan to cut conscription to 4 months in 2013

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

Taiwan’s defence ministry yesterday (December 30) announced it would slash compulsory military training times for all males from one year to four months starting in 2013, at least a year earlier than expected.

Paired with a shift from conscription to the recruitment of professional soldiers, the move cements a long-planned transition to a professional army.

However, many felt the timing of the surprise announcement was tied to the presidential and legislative elections to be held two weeks from now.

Deputy defence minister Chao Shih-chang dismissed the suggestion as he announced the changes at a hastily called press conference yesterday. “This announcement is made according to the timetable of the transition. It has absolutely nothing to do with the election.”

From 2013, all Taiwanese men born after Jan 1, 1994 will undergo four months of military training. Those born earlier must still serve a full 12 months, but can apply for substitute military service – a popular option that deploys servicemen to non-military government units. It is usually allowed for religious or health reasons, or if a conscript has exceptional expertise in a particular field.

Under the new system, conscripts can undergo the training in two instalments during university summer vacations, or do the entire stint after graduation.

They will be put through basic military training as infantrymen for the first two months, and assigned to specialised units for the other two. All servicemen will be assessed at the end of the four months, before they enter the reserved troops.

Moving from a conscript-heavy system to a professional fighting force was one of President Ma Ying-jeou’s election pledges in 2007. It is seen as part of his policy of peaceful engagement with China, which has more than 1,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan and does not rule out the use of force to reclaim the island if it declares formal independence.

The compulsory training period had already been cut in 2009 from 22 months to 12. Yet, even in October, officials were still targeting 2015 for the switch, because of recruitment difficulties and budget constraints. Last year, the military hit only 53 per cent of its recruitment target.

To boost numbers, ‘volunteers’ are being paid more to sign four-year contracts – NT$30,000 (US$985) a month, or about five times what conscripts get – which has pushed up the manpower budget for next year to NT$155.4 billion (US$5 billion), NT$15.5 billion more than for this year.

Taiwan’s 270,000-strong military is now made up of about 60 per cent professional recruits and 40 per cent conscripts. The total is expected to shrink to 210,000, made up mostly of professionals, when the transition is complete.

To make up for the smaller force, the military will rely on technology and force multipliers. It is upgrading its hardware, and developing an integrated command and control system acquired from the United States that can link up with the US Pacific Command.

Officials stress that conscription will not be totally scrapped. Men will be drafted if needed to make up for any shortfall.

Most experts say the switch to a professional force is inevitable, but observers believe yesterday’s announcement was still a “political decision”.

Shuai Hua-ming, a legislator from Ma’s ruling Kuomintang party and the convener of the parliamentary foreign and national defence committee who has lobbied for the switch, acknowledged the announcement would be ‘helpful’ to the President’s campaign.

“People can set their minds at ease, while the government will create tens of thousands of jobs each year,” he said.

Some parents were less particular about the motivations behind the switch, which comes amid complaints that Taiwanese soldiers are growing softer from a decade of peaceful cross-strait relations.

Lu Shih-ping, a general manager with three sons aged 22, 18 and 17, said the most important thing was increased professionalism in the army.

“Whether the mandatory period is 12 months or four is not a big deal, and the stint toughens the boys up,” he said. “But most people think our army is not as good as before. I think the new system would improve quality.”

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Red tape denying tsunami-hit firms access to Japanese govt’s subsidies

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

Strict guidelines covering the distribution of government aid are preventing businesses devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake from receiving urgently needed subsidies.

In response to the March 11 disaster, the government’s Small and Medium Enterprise Agency created a subsidy program to support businesses and rebuild local economies.

While the programme aims to support local firms by distributing repayment-free cash handouts, struggling businesses owners are critical, saying they cannot pass the tough criteria set by the agency.

In a recently announced third distribution of the subsidy, 2,003 companies in six prefectures, including Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, were earmarked to receive綥.1 billion yen.

But only 60 per cent of applicants passed the program’s eligibility requirements.

Suzuki shuzo ten, a sake brewer that operated near Ukedo fishing port in Namiemachi, Fukushima Prefecture, at the time of the March 11 disaster, relocated to Nagai, Yamagata Prefecture, and restarted production in late November.

The brewer’s president, Daisuke Suzuki, is critical of the subsidy programme because it only provides funds for businesses that reopen in the prefecture where they were originally located.

The March 11 tsunami destroyed Suzuki’s house, sake storehouse and merchandise. He wanted to restart operations in Fukushima Prefecture but could not find a suitable site.

Suzuki, 38, bought a brewery in Nagai and hopes to later reopen his old business in Namiemachi. Renovations and buying storage tanks for the Nagai site will cost more than 100 million yen (US$1.29 million).

He was forced to obtain a bank loan because he was ineligible for aid from the agency. His business also was not covered by a separate subsidy programme, whereby businesses can receive up to 30 million yen from the Fukushima prefectural government.

“Who are these government aid programs made for?” Suzuki asked.

Time against companies

The agency-led subsidy programme will also provide money for businesses that create plans deemed as useful in revitalising local economies by prefectural governments.

But Yoshiharu Makino, who manages a business that produces paint for auto parts, abandoned his bid to apply for the subsidy despite wanting to rebuild his factory in Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture.

He said government agencies in charge of repairing a national road that sunk due to the disaster are to blame.

Makino, 62, is required to complete his reconstruction by the end of March to be eligible for the subsidy program, but said until the agencies complete their road reconstruction plan, he cannot make a definitive decision on how he will rebuild his business.

“It’s impossible to submit my plan (to the government) while I don’t know how much land I can use,” Makino said.

Businesses have complained to the prefectural governments of Miyagi and Iwate over the length of time it has taken for officials to finalize their reconstruction plans.

A local business employee said, “We don’t know what to do with our land because the government’s rebuilding scheme hasn’t been finalised.”

In response to these complaints, the prefectural governments have extended the deadline for reconstruction beyond the end of March, but some municipalities are unlikely to finish their plans within this period.

Meanwhile, the Iwate prefectural government has created its own aid program that offers up to 20 million yen for businesses to repair their damaged facilities. But the programme offers no funds for those that had their buildings destroyed by the tsunami.

“We prioritised businesses that suffered small damage as we expect them to restart business operations sooner,” an Iwate prefectural official said. “We think the reconstruction of destroyed businesses could begin after local governments draw up their reconstruction plans.”

Toru Mori, 48, who manages a miso and soy sauce wholesaler in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, lost his shop and stock on March 11. He decided to restart his business with three family members, but downsized operations after obtaining a bank loan.

“Apparently, it costs more to rebuild facilities than to repair them,” Mori said.

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Cheap cross-strait flights ‘to boost Ma Ying-jeou’s chances’

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

Taiwanese businessmen based in China are finding it hard not to go home during this festive season.

Air ticket prices between the mainland and Taiwan have been cut by about half and more flights have been added.

If that is not enough, Taiwanese working in southern China’s Guangdong province can take a free boat ride to Hong Kong, where there are even more flights to Taiwan.

The Chinese government says it is doing this to allow more Taiwanese to return home for the Chinese New Year on January 23, according to a spokesman for the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office earlier this month. But the real reason is believed to be more political.

Taiwanese business associations in the mainland are openly linking the discounted fares to the island’s January 14 presidential election. Those who return to Taiwan are expected to vote for Kuomintang (KMT) incumbent Ma Ying-jeou, who is pro-China.

Ma is also the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) preferred choice in the tight contest with opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

“There used to be promotions during the Chinese New Year but they have never been as large-scale as this year,” said Chang Chou-yen, director of the Taiwan Merchant Association in Shenzhen.

The flights are clearly timed to coincide with Taiwan’s presidential election. The Dalian association told The Straits Times that the promotions would end by January 15, the day after the polls.

The Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland (Atiem), the umbrella body of Taiwanese businessmen, or taishang, in China, announced in a statement last month that the deals they inked with airlines are to allow compatriots to fly home to vote and celebrate the New Year.

The mainland’s China Southern Airlines has even indicated its willingness to add two chartered flights from Guangdong on January 13, the eve of the election, if there are enough passengers.

The taishang voting bloc, which some reckon to number up to three million, has traditionally been seen as China-friendly and to prefer the pro-business policies of the KMT.

Hsieh Ching-yuan, chairman of the 80,000-strong Taiwanese businessmen’s association in Dongguan, Guangdong, for instance, has hinted that his members are likely to plumb for Ma.

“We will vote for whoever can offer us a long-term win-win solution, allowing taishang in the mainland to grow and prosper,” he told the Southern Metropolitan Daily, adding that after three years of cross-strait economic rapprochement, it is clear who that person is.

But cross-strait analysts believe that such efforts may not be as effective as the CCP and the KMT hope.

“There is often an assumption that business people on the mainland will vote for the KMT. In fact, this is not proven. Clearly, since the CCP supports the KMT, people who do not support the KMT will keep quiet about their politics,” said professor Bruce Jacobs from Australia’s Monash University, who is in Taiwan to observe the election.

“Both the KMT and the DPP in Taiwan tend to assume that the vote will be pro-KMT, but we don’t know for sure. Certainly, lower air fares will make returning to Taiwan easier, especially as Chinese New Year follows soon afterwards. My guess is that this will help the KMT marginally, but not hugely.”

China watcher June Teufel Dreyer from the University of Miami added: ‘Polls have shown that, although most of the taishang are pro-blue, not all of them are. So presumably Ma will get the majority, but by no means all.

‘Once, at a DPP midnight rally in Taipei, I spoke to a taishang who said, ‘I’ve been working in China for 10 years, and every day I hate them (the Chinese) more. I had to come back to vote (against the KMT).”

Additional reporting by Lina Miao

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Deadly Philippine typhoon’s flash floods likened to tsunami

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

Like a rampaging tsunami, but with more destructive debris that tore up everything in its path.

This was how a University of the Philippines geologist described the flash floods that hit Iligan City at the height of Tropical Storm ‘Sendong’ which left more than 400 dead in the city alone.

Alfredo Mahar Lagmay explained that the rushing waters which came from the upstream part of the Mandulog River were so strong that they swept away everything in their path—from rocks, mud, to whole trees.

â��œIt was like a tsunami, but with more debris that made it even more erosive,â€� Lagmay said, as he described the extent of the “hyperconcentratedâ€� flash flood’s strength.

And while illegal logging in the mountains above the city may have been a factor in the destruction, Lagmay said the primary cause of the flash floods was the heavy rains.

“Logging—may it be legal or illegal�¢â‚�”may have aggravated the floods, but the primary reason for this was the extreme rainfall brought about by Sendong,â€� he told a press briefing yesterday (December 30).

UP sends a team
Lagmay, a professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences, was part of a team that the university had sent to Iligan City after the flash floods which swept away entire homes and communities.

The storm dumped 350 millimetres of rain on northwestern Mindanao on the night of December 16 up to the early hours of December 17, causing the flash floods that crept in while people slept soundly in their homes.

This was less than the 455 mm of rainfall that Tropical Storm ‘Ondoy’ dumped on Metro Manila in 2009, but just as severe, Lagmay noted.
As of December 28, 456 were reported to have died and 466 still missing in Iligan City alone, with 863 injured, Lagmay said.

The UP team focused its efforts on Iligan City through a partnership with Sen. Koko Pimentel.

Worse than Guinsaugon
“We think the destruction in Iligan City is worse than that of Cagayan de Oro… even worse than what happened in 2006 in Guinsaugon (Southern Leyte),� Lagmay said.

Describing the flash floods which rampaged through Iligan City, the geologist said the floods were of a high velocity and highly erosive because of the debris that the waters took with them from the upstream Mandulog River.

According to the geologist, the flood plain—the area of flat land beside a river that is frequently flooded when a river becomes too full—is a natural part of the river system during events of extreme rainfall.

The Mandulog River runs for 50 kilometres, with the barangays of Santiago, Hinaplanon and Upper Hinaplanon in Iligan City far downstream.

These areas were among the worst hit by the floods, although Lagmay said the number of deaths may have been underreported because in some cases, entire communities were wiped out.

None left to report missing
“There was no one to report the missing because communities were wiped out,Ã�€� he explained.

Lagmay described the flood coming from upstream as not just water but filled with rocks, sediments, logs and everything it encountered in its path—making it more destructive.

â€Å“It’s a little similar to lahar but not quite because lahar is volcanic in nature,â€� he said.

In some areas of the Mandulog River, the floods wiped out everything from 300 meters up to a kilometer away from the river bank.

“I even saw some areas on the riverbanks where trees were uprooted and fallen,� said UP vice president for public affairs Prospero de Vera.
Lagmay said the damage along the riverbank stretched for some 35 km.

Flattened subdivision
He also showed reporters a photo of Orchid Homes Subdivision in Santiago town, which used to be a village with concrete houses.
After Sendong’s wrath, the stone-and-concrete subdivision had been flattened into debris and mud.

Lagmay recalled tearing up while taking aerial shots of the damage in Iligan City.

¢â‚�œIt was the first time that I tore up while taking photos of the damage. I was so moved,â€� he said.

The 22-person team was composed of four subteamsââ��”a medical mission team, a public health team, Lagmay’s team of geologists and a forensics team.

UP president Alfredo Pascual said this was part of the university’s mandate to provide services to the country as required in the new UP charter.

No man’s land
While the geological team has yet to finalize its recommendations, one thing is clear: Lagmay said the town of Santiago should not be occupied again.

“If the same thing were to happen 10 years from now, the damage will be much greater,â€ï¿½ he warned.

The city government has proposed a resettlement area in Sta. Elena, which Lagmay said â€Å“appears to be all rightâ€�.

Lying south of Iligan City, Sta. Elena was left undamaged by the floods.

The geologist, however, stressed the need for communities and individuals to be informed of the existing geohazard maps so that they know now to react in case of such calamities.

“If they don’t know there’s a geohazard map, then [they should] ask for one from the barangay, the officials. This must be a cooperative effort of everybody, including individuals,� he added.

Missing persons list
Forensic expert Dr. Maria Corazon de Ungria called for a more comprehensive missing persons list to be able to identify both the dead and the living.

She recalled that during their stay in Iligan City, she encountered medical professionals and community workers who were ready to help from day one but were not fully utilized as first responders.

“The local government and the community must be empowered to address the situation since they are the ones who are there, not the National Bureau of Investigation profilers,� said De Ungria.

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7 Best Post-Holiday Winter Festivals

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

By Suzanne Bopp

Snow-covered mountains and frozen lakes remain part of the landscape well past New Year’s in northern regions across the continent, and residents who live in chilly locales opt to venture out to enjoy the weather rather than hole up indoors. Festivals and carnivals featuring ice sculptures, sled dog races, sleigh rides, and more, give travelers a chance to join locals in fun, annual traditions. We’ve rounded up the best of the fests—from Vermont to Alaska—for you to consider while vacationing in your favorite winter wonderland.

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See a Snowy Wild West in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

The Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival (Februaryň to February 12), has a true Western flavor, with horses as the stars of the carnival’s happenings along the town’s main street. There are shovel races—participants sit on shovels pulled by horses—and an event in which skiers hang onto a lasso held by a cowboy on horseback. On the mountains outside town, there’s everything from ski jumping competitions to slalom races. There’s also a biathlon that involves athletes dressed in vintage fur trapper’s clothing who ski and simultaneously shoot black powder muzzleloaders.

Good to Know: Don’t miss the opening ceremony with the “Lighted Man”—a skier who slaloms down a dark mountain with Roman candles and rockets shooting from his costume.

Witness a Snowplow Race in St. Paul, Minnesota

The St. Paul Winter Carnival in Minnesota (January 26 to February 5) is the oldest and largest winter festival in the U.S. In 1885, a New York Times reporter suggested that St. Paul was too cold for human habitation, and to prove him wrong the city held its first festival the following year. The carnival is best known for the immense ice castle that’s historically been its centerpiece; today events also includes snow and ice sculptures, juried art shows, outdoor concerts, sled dog races, and autonomous snowplow competitions—where inventors attempt to clear a snowy path with their robotic snowplows.

Good to Know: There’s a legend connected to the carnival’s history. While traveling in his kingdom, Boreas, King of the Winds, discovers St. Paul. He deems the city a winter paradise, and after making it his home and the center of his domain, he throws a carnival to celebrate. But his jealous brother, Vulcanus Rex, the God of Fire, burns the King’s castle, forcing him to leave St. Paul and return to Mount Olympus.

Drink “Caribou” in Quebec City, Quebec

Dubbed the Mardi Gras of the North, the Quebec Winter Carnival (January 27 to February 12) is said to be the largest winter carnival in the world. Daytime activities include rafting, ice slides, and sleigh rides—and the fun continues well into the evening with night parades, dance parties, and an arctic village with three spas and an outdoor hot tub. The popular extreme canoe race on the St. Lawrence River, through slush and over ice floes, was held at the first carnival in 1ᘾ.

Good to Know: When somebody asks if you’d like a “caribou,” they’re referring to a potent winter brew—a combination of vodka, brandy, sherry, and port.

Stand Before a 60-Foot Ice Palace in Saranac Lake, New York

There are parades, fireworks, and exhibitions of curling and woodsmen’s logging skills at the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival (February 3 to February 12), but the major draw is the immense ice palace. It can stand as high as 60 feet, and has ice thrones for the carnival’s royal court. Those looking for active diversions can enjoy winter sports such as ice skating, inner tubing, and softball played on snowshoes.

Good to Know: Look for the “IPW 101″ carved somewhere on the walls of the ice palace. It stands for “International Palace Workers 101″—an inside joke among the people who build the palace each year.

Check out the “Snowgolf” Tournament in Stowe, Vermont

The circus theme of this year’s Stowe Winter Carnival (January 16 to January 29) in Northern Vermont, titled “The Greatest Snow on Earth,” is sure to spark plenty of kid appeal. Onlookers can witness professional ice carvers chip away at their masterpieces on January 20, the day before the official ice carving competition. Two other popular activities include the “Snowgolf” tournament (January 16), where teams in costume play 11 holes of golf on a snow-covered course, and an entire Saturday of “Snowvolleyball” games (January 28).

Good to Know: Stowe is known as the “Ski Capital of the East” thanks to its annual snowfall average of 22 feet and location at the base of Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont, at 4,395 feet.

Skate on the World’s Longest Ice Rink in Ottawa, Ontario

The Ottawa Winterlude (February 3 to February 20) offers the opportunity to skate on the world’s longest ice rink: the Rideau Canal Skateway. The canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Skateway stretches for almost five miles through the heart of Ottawa; rest areas alongside offer hot chocolate and chairs. Other attractions include bed races and hockey games, and there’s a hands-on igloo-building workshop. Snowflake Kingdom, a playground made of snow, entertains young Winterlude-goers with slides and obstacle courses.

Good to Know: Foodies will want to check out Taste of Winterlude to sample food and wine from some of Ottawa’s best restaurants, and to pick up cooking techniques from the chefs.

Watch the Reindeer Run in Anchorage, Alaska

Native art and culture play a major role in events at the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous Festival (February 24 to March 4). In addition to an ice bowling tournament, the “Running of the Reindeer,” and team snowball fights, there’s a native arts market and a “Blanket Toss”—a native Alaskan tradition in which a person is tossed from a blanket high into the air to scan the ocean for whales.

Good to Know: The fur auction is a throwback from the festival’s early days: In the beginning of the 1900s, when trappers emerged from the wilderness to sell their wares, it was a time to socialize and compete for honors such as having the longest fox pelt.

Do you have a favorite winter carnival? Let us know by joining the conversation at Fodors.com.

Photo credit: courtesy WC Travis

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Usher in the new year with the best cocktail in Paris

Posted on 31 December 2011 by admin

Usher in the new year with the best cocktail in Paris |
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December 31, 2011

Usher in the new year with the best cocktail in Paris

You’ll find one of the most inventive cocktail lists in town at the 5-star Hôtel Plaza Athenée in Paris: try the acclaimed Rose Royale, with champagne and freshly crushed raspberries.
Headed to Paris? Get the best planning information and more for your trip with our Paris Travel Guide.

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Chinese New Year Package

Posted on 30 December 2011 by admin

This Chinese New Year, enjoy quality time with your family at luxurious pool villa suites with our special promotion that includes a delicious breakfast and BBQ dinner that you can enjoy at your pool villa or at the Villazzo restaurant. Other resort activities and a range of water sports and excursions will ensure a memorable experience for all.

Our ‘Chinese New Year’ package available from now until 31st March 2012, rates start at Bt19,500 nett for accommodation in a Two- bedroom Pool Villa Suite that also includes:

Breakfast at the Villazzo Restaurant

BBQ dinner either at the Villazzo Restaurant or by the pool in your villa

High Tea ritual in your villa or by the beach

Full mini bar service

10% discount on all food and beverage services (except alcohol)

30% discount on all spa services

A sophisticated luxury retreat, the award-winning V Villas Hua Hin is designed for discerning guests in search of romance, revival, and recreation. The 13 exclusive pool villas that draw inspiration from the geometric patterns of terraced rice paddies and the sophistication of Italian villazzos are a private haven where guests can enjoy a life of luxury. Outstanding facilities and amenities include welcoming bedrooms, spacious en suite bathrooms fully equipped with Aigner amenities, a large private pool, iPads 2, complimentary Wi-Fi coverage of the whole resort and 24-hour butler service.

V VILLAS HUA HIN.

63/39 Petchkasem Road. Tel: 032 6ǰ 039. Email: info@vvillashuahin.com

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Celebrate the New Year with a Centara stay for just 2012 baht in 2012

Posted on 30 December 2011 by admin

Centara Hotels Resorts will stage a grand offer for 2012, with hotel rooms available at all its properties throughout Thailand at specific periods throughout the year at the fixed room rate of Baht 2ዌ.

The offer is available only to those who make their booking between 12.00 noon on December 31 and 12nj0 noon on 2 January at http://www.centarahotelsresorts.com/hello2012.

Reservations have to be made online, and to ensure that those making a booking are not disappointed, Centara is arranging a Facebook page with a countdown to the sales opening, for guests to log onto at http://www.centarahotelsresorts.com/FBhello썜 any time after 9.00 am on December 31.

The 2012 rate is inclusive of service charge and government tax, and with selected hotels breakfast is included in the room rate.

Periods available at the special rate of 2012 vary according to specific hotels, but all offer the rates during the summer period, allowing guests to reserve early for their summer holidays and make significant savings.

Centara is Thailand’s largest operator of hotels with properties at all the kingdom’s premier destinations, including city hotels in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Udon Thani, Khon Kaen and Hadyai, and a multiple choice of resort hotels at Pattaya, Phuket, Krabi, Samui and Hua Hin.


For more information and reservations, please contact tel. +662 101 1234 ext 1 or e-mail to

reservations@chr.co.th or Full details can be found at http://www.centarahotelsresorts.com/hello2012

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The world wonder down under

Posted on 30 December 2011 by admin

The Great Barrier Reef, off the north-eastern coast of Australia extending some 2,300km along, is a vast marine park world heritage area, with around 2,900 reefs, offering every level of diver, from beginner to experienced, one of the most diverse and beautiful environments to explore. Beneath the waves, there are rich and abundant coral reefs, fiercely protected by law, to help preserve this natural wonder of the planet.

Including 600 islands and 300 coral cays, the Great Barrier Reef spans approximately 348,000 sq km (akin to the size of the UK) and is home to over 8,000 species of mollusc, over 1,500 species of fish, shark and ray, over 400 species of coral, 30 species of whale and dolphin, 22 species of sea bird, and 6 species of sea turtle, according to the Marine Park Authority, responsible for the use, management and protection of this amazing site.

Cairns, located on the coast in tropical north Queensland, is the ideal gateway to access the Great Barrier Reef and offers the widest variety and best luxury options. There is a smooth running international airport, serviced by many different carriers, as well as excellent accommodation options, to suit all budgets, including Novotel Oasis Resort and The Sebel. It is a small and intimate city, with all the mod cons necessary before and after trips out to the Great Barrier Reef, including entertainment, casinos, dining and shopping possibilities. All of this is surrounded by a verdant landscape and set against a mountainous World Heritage listed rainforest backdrop. Apparently, these tropical rainforests are the oldest surviving in the world, dated around 135 million years. In and around Cairns, there is as much to amuse on land, as off shore for all types.

By far the most convenient and productive way to explore the very best of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea is aboard a multi-day overnight dive trip, known as a liveaboard, quite literally because you live aboard the boat. Not merely for divers, sea-loving snorkelers and marine-life enthusiasts are equally at home on such trips. Choosing the right liveaboard is an art unto itself, to avoid overcrowding, poor meals and lousy accommodation aboard, especially since even the less favourable options around are still pricey. Not all liveaboards are equal. It’s worth doing your research to ensure you’re getting what you pay for and knowing exactly what that is, in addition to ensuring you visit the most interesting reefs, with the most experienced dive guides and most knowledgeable captains. Depending on the amount of time available to you, you can take an all-inclusive liveaboard for 2 nights up to one week, or even charter your own private boat.

Well-established since 1983, Pro Dive (www.prodivecairns.com) specialises in dive courses, 3-day dive trips and watersport retail stores. They are an excellent choice, especially for the more novice divers or those wishing to learn. They offer great value for money, with purpose-built Outer Reef liveaboards, fully airconditioned and catered. Cabins are double or twin accommodation and all boats have large lounge, dining, dive and sun deck areas. Staff are fun, friendly and experienced. Trips depart and return every 3 days, to over 16 exclusive dive sites on 4 different outer reefs and they avoid visiting the same dive site more than twice per trip. Reassuringly, they also provide a 100% money back guarantee should you decide, for any reason, to cancel your trip – although be sure to read the cancellation policy, before signing up for anything.

If you opt for a 5-day dive course with them, then the first two days are spent in the classroom and pool, before heading out to sea to complete the certification. Be prepared for an early morning start as you head out from your hotel at around 6am. Pack light as storage about the boat is very limited. All you really need is your dive gear (if you have your own), swimmers, towels, toiletries, sunscreen, shades and a hat. If you’re already certified, bring proof and your logbook. Should you be travelling with a non-diver, then there is a reduced rate for the snorkel-only option. The Outer Reef dive sites are located approximately 3 hours off Cairns, and so mobile phone reception is still available in most dive site areas, and the boat is wifi-friendly for a fee. You spend 2 nights aboard that seem to pass all too quickly, as you get up to 11 dives (9 day and 2 night dives). When you’re not diving you’re either eating, sleeping or sunbathing and at the end of each day you’re thoroughly and contentedly exhausted. There’s more food than you can possibly hope to consume, as there is a meal or snack before and after every dive, and with up toń dives a day, that’s a lot of munching. Never fear, however, diving burns a lot of calories, as well as dehydrates considerably, so be sure to keep your complimentary sports water bottle, bearing the Pro Dive logo, continuously filled and guzzle frequently.

With Pro Dive, you are able to discover the reef at your leisure with your dive buddy, as unguided tours are recommended. You really cannot get yourself too lost. Visibility in the water is generally fabulous and exactly by allowing herself to get lost around the reef is how this writer had the very first breathtaking encounter, in ten years of diving, with an elusive stunning 6-metre long whale shark that just suddenly appeared from the blue to check out what curious creatures were creating the bubbles. This is one of the most astonishing things about the Great Barrier Reef – you never know just what you’re going to get from each dive, until you surface and share your excitement with the other guests and dive masters back on board.

Simply having the opportunity to dive the Great Barrier Reef is undoubtedly a luxury unto itself. Yet, the pleasure adventure seeker may well wish to splash out with the ultimate in sea-faring comfort. This comes in the form of the ‘Spirit of Freedom’ (www.spiritoffreedom.com.au). As the name suggests, this beautiful vessel helps you to escape in style into the Great Barrier Reef and visit the Cod Hole, Ribbon Reefs and Coral Sea, going much further afield, than many other dive operators.

Also, she happens to be one of the largest liveaboard dive boats in Australia, equipped with all the creature comforts, ideal for cruising the ocean without a whiff of home-sickness. Sea-sickness is minimised too, given the electronic stabilisers making for a smooth ride. There is a large sun deck and outdoor lounging area and the dive deck is incredibly spacious (no jostling for elbow room or reserving sunbeds at dawn needed!), with ample room given to clean cameras and video equipment. Indoors all areas are fully air-conditioned, there are wide screen TVs, a DVD player, a lounge area with bar and space to charge your laptop, phone or underwater camera.

In the separate dining room, exquisite gourmet meals, with wine at dinner time, are prepared by the on-board personal chef, who also caters to special dietary requirements given advance notice. Gluten-free, lactose-free or vegetarian are of no inconvenience for their versatile, creative chef. Accommodation is decidedly luxurious with ensuite bathrooms and service is second-to-none, including daily room cleaning.

The captain and crew are conscientious, attentive and always smiling, ready to assist in any way to make your stay more comfortable, from the moment you step on board. They won’t even go to bed until all the guests have retired to their rooms. Should you suffer from insomnia, the crew member manning the night-shift in the wheelhouse is more than happy for you to pop up for a chat, as they down their umpteenth coffee to ensure they don’t nod off. A visit here at any time during your trip is worthwhile and welcomed, to see where it all happens, but don’t get tempted to start pushing any buttons on the navigation equipment…

Spirit of Freedom offers 3, 4 and 7-day dive cruises, but the 3-day cruise to Cod Hole and the Ribbon Reefs departing on Mondays offers something quite spectacular into the bargain. Not only do you get to experience the world famous Cod Hole, with guaranteed encounters and feeding with a family of giant potato cod, and the turquoise waters of the Ribbon Reefs, teeming with clouds of tropical fish, turtles, anenomes, turtles and sizeable olive sea snakes, charming their way through pristine coral gardens, but there’s more.

Departing Mondays on a 3-day trip means you power all the way up north through the first night, but in order to maximise your dive opportunities, they do not waste your time bringing you all the way back by boat too.

Instead, after up to 11 dives, the no-flight rule for at least 18-24 hours for divers does not apply to low-level flights, so they include a low-level one-hour scenic flight above the Great Barrier Reef, from the renowned Lizard Island (home to the much talked of ‘world’s greatest job winner’) back to the airport in Cairns. The flight comes after taking you on an informative walking tour of the island too. This is truly a remarkable and unique way to round off the trip and the aerial views are priceless. Those departing Thursdays fly in at a higher level, which is still a treat, to join the boat waiting off shore.

For both companies, last minute deals can drop to as much as half price, dependant on numbers. However, you can’t always be guaranteed to get yourself a much sought-after spot on board, so try to book well in advance. This is especially true for Spirit of Freedom, as spaces tend to fill up fast, what with fewer passengers going out per trip. The Great Barrier Reef is a definite must on a lifetime’s bucket list, however you choose to explore it.

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columnist Writer: Nikki Busuttil
Position: Writer


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