Archive | January, 2012

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Thai premier to head new flood agency

Posted on 31 January 2012 by admin

Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will chair a new agency set up soon to oversee an integrated plan for national water management.

The new body will command all related agencies to work together to prevent floods and resolve problems related to them.

The “single command agency” is part of a plan drawn up by the Strategic Formulation Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development. It will be submitted for Cabinet approval shortly.

Increasing complaints about the huge budget allocated for this task–and a lack of detail about overall water management–has prompted the government to accelerate setting up of the new agency.

Virabongsa Ramangura, head of the Strategic Formulation Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development, said an initial task would be to set up the country’s first catastrophe-risk fund with 50-100 billion baht (US$1.6 to $3.2 billion) to ensure compensation for businesses in the event of disasters in the future.

In a speech delivered to the Thai-Japan Association yesterday on “Thailand’s Strategic Measures for Water Resources Management”, Virabongsa said a “single command agency” would seek to increase efficiency in water management now carried out by national, provincial and village-level officials.

To date, water management has been handled by many organisations with overlapping tasks but they have been unable to stop flood problems.

Being chaired by the premier, the new agency would find it easier to manage all agencies under it and achieve its goals. The panel would be made up of representatives from related government agencies as well as water management experts.

“The ‘single agency command’ will be like a Cabinet order which everybody must follow,” he said.

As a short-term measure, it will order government officials to soon start clearing all canals, rivers and water channels.

The National Economic and Social Development Board was considering an outlay of 1.9 billion baht ($61 million) to fund post-flood reconstruction for short and long-term water goals, which the government wanted to see completed on schedule.

“With Prime Minister Yingluck chairing the new body, if there is any delay in implementation of the plan by any agencies, she can ask the Army to undertake water management tasks instead.”

The short-term action plan would be implemented by October. And they were confident any new flood would not be as bad as the one that swamped Bangkok last year.

To cope with any flood, the government would also organise a “grand rehearsal” in August. People from the public and private sectors – related state agencies, industrial estates, etc–would be invited to join this event.

“I am confident Thailand will be able to prevent any [further] flood by at least 75 per cent,” he said.

In regard to long-term measures, infrastructure such as roads and railways needed to be built. Serious work also needed to be done to protect forests.

The government plans to release excess water via several channels this year: to the East via Rangsit and into the Gulf, to the western coast near Samut Sakhon, and through Bangkok via Saen Sab Canal.

Virabongsa said Thailand should have an agency free from political intervention to manage disasters in the future–floods, a tsunami, or storms–as disasters will be a key feature in national development.

President of the Japan External Trade Organisation, Setsuo Iuchi, said Japanese investors were very aware of the government’s moves and hoped to see details and a schedule on flood prevention. Firms were considering whether to keep investing here, or to expand in other Asean countries.

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, chief of Toshiba Thailand, said so far the government hadn’t done anything to stop another flood. Companies had moved to protect factories, but they needed to see a clear plan to ensure transport links and key areas would be safe this year, she said.

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China races to stem toxic spill in river

Posted on 31 January 2012 by admin

China’s environmental authorities were redoubling efforts yesterday to prevent a spill of toxic cadmium from further tainting water supplies of cities downstream.

Seven people have also been detained on suspicion of industrial waste discharge that polluted the Long River in south-west China, the local government said yesterday.

All seven were chemical plant executives who worked in the Guangxi region, including Jinchengjiang Hongquan Lithopone Material Company in Hechi city, said Feng Zhennian, an official with the regional environmental protection department.

Feng, who is also spokesman for an emergency response centre set up to handle the incident, did not identify the seven people or the other suspected polluters at yesterday evening’s press briefing, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The contamination was first detected in Long River, a tributary upstream of the Liu River, on January 15, when cadmium concentration near the Lalang reservoir was 80 times higher than the official limit of 0.005 milligrams per litre, said Feng.

The contamination was initially traced to a plant belonging to Guangxi Jinhe Mining Company in Hechi city. Its waste disposal had continually failed to meet government standards despite repeated citations.

According to industry websites, the company, a subsidiary of Guangxi Non-ferrous Metals Group, makes zinc ingots and zinc oxide used as white pigment for rubber, cosmetics, medicine, ceramics and glass, reported the China Business News.

Cadmium naturally occurs in zinc ore and is a toxic by-product of smelting. Exposure to it can lead to fatal liver and kidney damage.

The source of the pollution was reportedly contained on Saturday, as cadmium concentrations at the Lalang reservoir had returned to normal.

But, Feng said, the pollutants were still flowing downstream to the Liu River and were close to a major drinking water source for Liuzhou – a city south-east of Hechi – with 1.5 million residents.

More water has been discharged from dams, and wells are being dug for alternative water sources, as Liuzhou scrambles to prevent its main waterway from being further contaminated by toxic cadmium coming from the Long River upstream.

Environmental protection workers have also been dumping neutralisers, made from dissolved aluminium chloride, at six locations along the Long River to dissolve the contaminants.

“Judging from the surveillance data, we’re confident the situation is under control and water supplies to Liuzhou will remain safe,” Feng said.

If Liuzhou fails to eliminate the chemical, the pollution will flow on to affect more rivers downstream, including the Pearl River, which supplies drinking water to Macau and Hong Kong, the Chinese media reported.

Ma Tianjie, a Beijing-based researcher from environmental activist group Greenpeace, said the spill was further proof of China’s chaotic development of heavy-metals factories.

“Similar cases of drinking water being polluted with carcinogenic heavy metals are common in provinces with large mining industries, such as Hunan,” the South China Morning Post quoted Ma as saying.

He also warned that cadmium-tainted tapwater would be unsuitable for drinking even if the chemical was neutralised.

The warning is alarming, as Xu Zhencheng, a Ministry of Environmental Protection official, has estimated that despite all efforts, 20 per cent of the Long River’s cadmium pollution will enter the Liu River in the coming week.

“The contamination could be one to two times above the nation’s safe standard for drinking water,” the Southern Metropolis Daily quoted Xu as saying.

China has struggled to control pollution. Hechi and the surrounding area have been repeatedly singled out for inadequate controls on pollution by cadmium, lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. In 썖, a local ‘clean-up’ campaign involving thousands of people did little more than move rocks from mine tailings.

In 2005, more than絤 tonnes of toxins spilled into the Songhua River in north-eastern China after an explosion at a PetroChina plant, forcing the authorities to shut off the tapwater of more than three million people in the city of Harbin.

Last year, it came to light that more than 280,000 tonnes of chromium residue had been dumped into the Nanpan River of south-west Yunnan province for more than two decades. As Nanpan is a main tributary to the Pearl River, the dregs present major health risks to millions in Guangdong province.

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Bangladesh gov’t vows to resist plot to grab power

Posted on 31 January 2012 by admin

The ruling party Awami League’s (AL) leaders yesterday said they, along with the people, would resist any plot by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to capture state power through unconstitutional means.

BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia had been involved in different conspiracies including the 2009 Bangladesh Rifles revolt mutiny in efforts to destabilise the country and disrupt its democratic system, they alleged at a rally in front of the party’s headquarters at Bangabandhu Avenue in the capital.

Now, she (Khaleda) was again hatching a conspiracy to come to power through undemocratic means, AL leaders said referring to a recently foiled army plot to overthrow the government.

Dhaka city AL unit organised the rally demanding that the ongoing war crimes trial be sped up. The rally was chaired by acting president of the unit MA Aziz.

“No conspiracy to bring down the elected government will be successful,” said AL Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif while speaking as the chief guest.

Police had information that BNP had made a plan to carry out subversive activities during its mass processions scheduled for Sunday and that was why they imposed a ban on procession and rally on the day, said Hanif, also a special assistant to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

He urged BNP lawmakers to join parliament and place their demands there instead of piloting street agitations.

Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya, AL city unit general secretary, demanded immediate arrests of those involved with the army plot.

State Minister for Law Qamrul Islam said trial of seven or eight accused of war crimes including former Jamaat ameer Ghulam Azam would be completed by this year.

The city AL unit will bring out processions at 100 wards in the capital today to press home their demands.

Awami Juba League, a youth pro-AL body, held a human chain yesterday from the city’s Motijheel to the Jatiya Press Club, protesting what it said was the opposition’s recent plot to topple the elected government.

The AJL’s acting chairman Omar Faruk Chowdhury announced fresh programmes including human chains in all district towns and upazilas across the country on February 2 and 6.

Referring to the plot of a few in the army against the government, Jubo League General Secretary Mirza Azam said BNP had wanted to topple the government by creating anarchy with the help of Hizb-ut-Tahrir men inside the army.

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Pakistan High Court orders military to produce detainees

Posted on 31 January 2012 by admin

The Pakistan Supreme Court on Monday directed the intelligence agencies to produce seven people in their custody on February 9, DawnNews reported.

An apex court bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain and Justice Tariq Parvez heard a petition filed by a woman whose three sons had been picked up by intelligence personnel for their alleged role in the Oct 2009 attacks on the army GHQ and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency’s Hamza Camp in Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad.

The woman had alleged that her sons and eight other people had been kept in illegal confinement since May 29, 2010, and four of them, including one of her sons, Abdus Saboor, had died in mysterious circumstances.

Raja Arshad, the lawyer of Judge Advocate General Branch and chiefs of the ISI and MI told the bench that the four had died due to illness.

Arshad further said that he was not aware of the nature of the illness but that his clients were ready to conduct port mortems of the bodies.

The chief justice mentioned that the prime minister had appeared before the court and told the lawyer that no one was above the law and the Constitution.

The Constitution provides people protection and guarantees their independence, he added.

Subsequently, the hearing was adjourned to February 9.

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Teaching democracy to the world, election style

Posted on 31 January 2012 by admin

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has entrusted the chief electoral officer (CEO) of West Bengal, Sunil Kumar Gupta, along with his counterparts from Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, with designing courses on election management for training poll officials from other countries.  

Gupta’s inclusion in the high-level team comes in recognition of the success of a peaceful Assembly election held in West Bengal last year. 

The three-member team of Gupta, the CEO of Gujarat Ms Anita Karwal and the CEO of Tamil Nadu Praveen Kumar has been asked to design two courses of five and 15 days’ duration.
 
These will be taught at the India International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Management (IIIDEM) founded by the ECI in New Delhi mid-last year. The courses are likely to commence from March-April.  According to Gupta, they are designing the courses for imparting training to poll officials from  developing and underdeveloped countries across the globe. 

“In formulating the courses, we are keeping in mind both the election management practices followed in India and in other developed democracies in the world. The aim is to design a curriculum that can facilitate the trainees from various countries a holistic knowledge on ways to hold a free and fair election.â€� 

To keep the team members abreast of the global standards in election management, the ECI has also sent two of them – Gupta and Ms Karwal – to an international training session being held in Phuentsholing, Bhutan from 30 January to 11 February.  The session is jointly organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Australian Electoral Commission. Tagged as Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (Bridge), the session is being attended by 25 representatives from countries across the world. 

On returning from the Phuentsholing session, the two CEOs will in turn train a pool of selected election officials drawn from various states. Ultimately, it will be these officials who would conduct the courses for international trainees at the IIIDEM.
 
Meanwhile, the government of Delhi has allotted a five-acre plot at Dwarka to the Election Commission of India (ECI) for setting up a permanent campus for its India International Institute of Democracy and Election Management (IIIDEM). According to ECI sources, the campus will be ready in two years from now. At present, the IIIDEM is housed at Nirvachan Sadan – the ECI headquarters in New Delhi.

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India to ask USA, Pak to extradite accused

Posted on 31 January 2012 by admin

India is all set to ask the United States and Pakistan to extradite nine persons involved in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack that include Pakistani-American terrorist David Headley, LeT founder Hafiz Saeed and two ISI officers.

Government sources said the extradition requests to the USA and Pakistan will be sent �¢â‚�œvery soonâ€� as all the nine persons were directly involved in the conspiracy as well as executing the India’s worst terror strike.

The move comes a month after the National Investigation Agency chargesheeted LeT operative Headley, Hafiz Saeed, Mumbai attack mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Headley’s accomplice and Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Rana and Al Qaida operative Illyas Kashmiri for plotting terror attacks in India, including the Ǻ/11 strikes.

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Getting Indian citizenship a tough task

Posted on 31 January 2012 by admin

Several Kerala women – mostly maids – who migrated to the Gulf for jobs are struggling to get Indian citizenship for their children, born to partners in their host countries.

Sources say more than 500 such cases have been reported from various Gulf countries. Most of the women are from Malabar, in the north of Kerala. There are at least 20 such mothers from within the Kozhikode Corporation’s limits alone.

Most of the mothers involved are aged 30-45, with children aged 5-15. The mothers still work in the Gulf and care for the children, only some of whom get to go to school.

The source said many of these women do not want to return to Kerala and leave their children behind in the host countries. Indian citizenship rules are clear that a child born to an Indian parent, regardless of marital status or the citizenship of the other parent, is an Indian citizen and is entitled to an Indian passport. The problem here seems to have come up for children born after 2004 whose parent or parents failed to register their births with an Indian embassy. Indian law has provisions allowing for the children’s status to be corrected. But most of the mothers are poor, with little education and not much freedom of movement within their host countries, which makes the situation more difficult.

Considering the social ramifications, the matter is being brought before the Non-Resident Keralites Affairs Department. The Kerala State Women’s Commission is expected to seek government support to carry out a detailed survey of the women.

Commission member T Devi said that investigation had brought out the fact that several expatriate women did not have certificates proving they were married to their foreign partners – some of them were duped and fell prey to sexual exploitation.

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Cambodia’s Senate ruling party wins solid victory

Posted on 31 January 2012 by admin

A day after preliminary results of a Senate election showed the ruling Cambodian’s People Party (CPP) winning a solid victory, a senior party official said Monday that better results are expected in upcoming commune council elections.
 
Cheam Yeap, a member of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly and CPP spokesman, said the Senate election was an evaluation for commune council elections in June and that the commune elections would be an evaluation for parliamentary elections in 2013.

“We gained support from other political parties including opposition parties. We expect that the CPP will get better results in the commune council elections,â€� he said.

According to National Election Commission, the ruling CPP won about 78 per cent of the vote in the Senate election with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) getting about 22 per cent.

The CPP is expected to win 46 of the 57 seats up for grabs with the SRP getting 11.

SRP said the party is the most challenging force against CPP.
 
“The party has again confirmed its place as the second-largest in Cambodia, and the only political force capable of mounting a long-term challenge to the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), in power since 1979,” said the SRP statement.

“Only two parties were competing, the CPP and the SRP, the rest being too small to have a chance of winning a senatorial seat. The SRP is the only force which can provide a clear alternative to the CPP,” the opposition added.

Sam Rainsy, leader of the SRP, was forced into exile at the end of 2009.

SRP parliamentarians demand the return of Sam Rainsy for the communal elections of June 2012 and the legislative elections of July 2013.

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Chinese theatre firm to debut rating system

Posted on 31 January 2012 by admin

While the Chinese government has not launched a film rating system on the mainland, a cinema management company plans to provide suggestions for its viewers before they buy tickets.

Bona Star Cinema Management Company, a branch of Bona Films, a privately-owned film studio, distributor and exhibitor, says it will notify viewers of the content of the films screened in its theatres.

“Various types of films are available in Chinese theatres, and some contain violent, bloody and erotic scenes,” notes the company’s official account on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter.

“These films may bring harm to a young audience. Theatres should be responsible enough to inform the viewers of the possible displeasure.”

The company’s general manager Huang Wei emphasized that it is just an effort to improve the theatres’ services.

“We are not creating a film rating system,” he said. “That is the business of the government.”

What the company will do, he says, is add one or two lines on every film’s promotion board in its theatres that provide a warning if the film may contain some content unsuitable for children or old people.

“Chinese cinemas are in fierce competition now, so we just want to provide better service,” Huang says. “I have seen parents taking their little children, 4 or 5 years old, to see war films. I don’t think those films are made for children that young.”

The company will also warn parents of the possible damage of 3-D films to their children’s eyes, Huang says.

He did not reveal the exact date when the service will start.

China’s film industry has been prospering, with an annual box office growth of 30 per cent since 2003, but the mainland has no film rating system yet. The State Council released a draft law on the film industry in December 2011, but it does not mention a rating system.

Ben Ji, a senior insider who has worked in both major Hollywood and Chinese studios for decades, applauded the company’s efforts to improve its service but called for the establishment of a reliable rating standard.

“Viewers need to know what kind of films they are going to see. While the government has not provided a rating system, Bona Star is kind enough to make the move,” he says.

“But in the long term, I believe we need a third party – either the government or an industry guild – which sets up a widely-accepted rating standard to protect both the audiences and the studios’ interests. When every theatre releases its own criteria for ‘disturbing content’, viewers and studios will get more confused.”

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Indian press council chairman warns of action against paid news

Posted on 31 January 2012 by admin

Citing complaints about paid news in the ongoing Assembly polls in five states, Press Council of India chairman Justice Markandey Katju warned all mediapersons, candidates and election authorities of strong action if they were found indulging in it.

“I have been receiving complaints from several quarters that in the ongoing elections in five states, the malpractice of paid news is widespread,� he said in a statement here.

“A severe warning is given to all mediapersons, candidates and the election authorities that strong action will be taken against those indulging in this malpractice which is a blot on democracy,� he said.

The retired Supreme Court judge said the malaise of paid news is “a threat to free and fair elections and it undermines the foundation of democracy and shakes the people’s faith in the media.

“This malpractice will subvert parliamentary democracy in the country, unless ruthlessly stamped out.�¢â‚��

He expressed happiness over the fact that the Election Commission has already set up media monitoring committees district-wise.

“We request these committees to keep a strict watch on suspected cases of paid news and report forthwith to the concerned Election Commission authorities as well as to the Press Council,� the Press Council chief said.

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