Friday, August 10, 2012

NASA Curiosity landed on MARS

Cambodian ambassador ending term early

Cambodia’s top diplomat in the Philippines is ending his tour of duty ahead of schedule reportedly due to his comments regarding the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute.

Department of Foreign Affairs sources told The STAR that Cambodian embassy Second Secretary Tan Chandaravuth handed on Wednesday a note verbale to the DFA, saying Hos Sereythonh is leaving next week.

Sources said the ambassador is also not attending the 45th ASEAN Day celebration at the DFA this morning.

“A new ambassador has been named,” another source said.

A Cambodian daily reported that Hos is ending his term a year ahead of schedule as tensions flare over the West Philippine Sea.

Rasmei Kampuchea Daily cited sources saying that Cambodian ambassadors normally have a three-year term. Hos started serving as ambassador to the Philippines on July 27, 2010.

The report said the move ending Hos’ tour of duty in Manila is related to the tensions over the South China Sea.

The paper said local political analysts in Cambodia believe the ambassador’s early return could be a move by Cambodia to ease tensions between the two Southeast Asian countries.

The Cambodia Daily said Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Koy Kuong said the government was downplaying the ambassador’s return.

The DFA had summoned Hos over comments linked to Manila’s territorial row with China.

Hos was asked to explain his comments accusing the Philippines and Vietnam of playing “dirty politics” over the issue of ASEAN and the South China Sea.

He said it was behind the “inflexible and non-negotiable” position of the Philippines and Vietnam on the inclusion of the West Philippine Sea dispute with China in the Joint Communiqué.

He made the comments in a letter to The Philippine STAR.

Hos did not appear at the DFA to meet with Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio on Tuesday because he had flu.

Sources said the ambassador could not ignore DFA summons, which could be a ground to declare a diplomat persona non grata.-The Philippine Star (August 10, 2012)

Philippines ramps up flood relief efforts

Efforts are under way in the Philippines to help hundreds of thousands of people affected by deadly floods that have paralysed the capital, Manila, and nearby areas.

Officials appealed to volunteers to help distribute supplies to more than 300,000 people at emergency shelters.

At least 19 people have died after a month's worth of rain fell over two days, causing landslides and floods.

A state of calamity has been declared in parts of Manila and other areas.

More than two million people across 30 cities in 16 provinces have been affected by the floods, according to a report from the government's disaster management agency.

"Of the above total affected, 119,751 families/580,079 persons are currently served inside and outside evacuation centres," it said.

More than 300,000 people were being housed in 630 evacuation centres, while other displaced people were with friends and relatives.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman was quoted by Agence France Presse news agency as saying that more volunteers were needed.

"We have the food but we need to pack them, deliver and distribute them in this massive operation," she said.

"Most local government units do a community kitchen, but the volume of evacuees is so big that they have been overwhelmed. We are also appealing for more medicines, blankets, mats and, more importantly, dry clothes."

President Benigno Aquino has ordered the country's trade department to make sure that prices of basic goods remain unchanged in affected areas, local media report.

A number of roads in the capital have remained flooded. Dams and waterways are also still being closely monitored as they reached critical levels, the government said.

The floods left people stranded in their homes all over the city. Rescuers have been trying to reach them by boat but some have refused to leave, scared their possessions will be taken by looters.

Manila and the northern Philippines have been hit by severe weather since Typhoon Saola struck just over a week ago.

In September 2009 Typhoon Ketsana hit the Philippines, causing flooding that killed more than 400 people.-British Broadcasting Corporation (August 09, 2012)

Vietnam fines airline for dancers in bikini-tops

Vietnamese officials have fined a budget airline for having beauty contestants in bikini-tops dance aboard a plane without authorisation, state-run media has reported.

VietJetAir was fined 20m dong ($956; £611) for the Hawaiian-themed dance on its first flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang, Tuoi Tre newspaper says.

Passengers filmed the five women on their mobile phones on 3 August.

Officials say VietJetAir had "violated local aviation regulations".

The decision to fine the airline was reached after officials met on Wednesday, the newspaper reports.

A statement on the company's website says that it wanted to capture a "holiday atmosphere" for its new flight route to Nha Trang, one of the country's most popular holiday destinations.

"Once passengers stepped on board they were met by flight attendants dressed in beach holiday attire [who] performed a sexy Hawaii dance," it said.

Nguyen Trong Thang, chief inspector of the country's civil aviation body, was quoted as saying that the airline "had violated the local aviation regulations by organising unapproved show on a plane".

But he stressed that the mobile phones used to film the dance were in safe mode.

Videos of the women dancing for three minutes that were posted online stirred public debate in the conservative country, reports say.-British Broadcasting Corporation (August 09, 2012)

Most major world economies slowing - OECD

Most of the major world economies are slowing, with Britain the only country to see tentative signs of a pick-up, the OECD said Thursday.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said its composite leading indicators continued to point to "an easing of economic activity in most major OECD economies and slowdowns in most major non-OECD economies."

The individual indicators for Japan and the United States "show signs of a fading growth momentum," the Paris-based OECD, which groups the world's most developed countries, said in its latest report.

The signs from the eurozone, Germany and France "continue to point to weak growth", except in Italy where they point "more strongly to a slowdown."

Data for Britain, however, show "tentative signs of a pick-up in economic activity", making it the only country to show improvement. In Canada they point to "continued weak growth."

In the emerging markets of China, India and Russia, the indicators "continue to point to a slowdown" while in Brazil they suggest "a more moderate pick-up in economic activity than in last month's assessment."-Interaksyon (August 09, 2012 7:55PM)

Gregory Galgana Villar III: From curious to Curiosity

As the Curiosity rover made its historic descent on Mars on Sunday, August 5 (Monday, August 6 in Manila), scientists, engineers, and space buffs around the world waited with bated breath to see if the landing would be successful.

There were hundreds of scientists and engineers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) alone, the mission control for Curiosity. Among them was a Filipino-American, Gregory Galgana Villar III, a 25-year-old engineer, part of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission.

"The environment [at the control room] was very tense, everyone was very anxious...we were getting more and more excited," he recalled.

He was at the Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) control room – a room different from the one shown to the public on NASA's livestream – when the historic moment happened.

When touchdown on Mars was confirmed at 5:14 UTC (10:14 pm PDT), there was jubilation throughout the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"We all just jumped with joy. Everyone was hugging each other, everyone was crying, big smiles. There's this huge sense of relief," he said.

The historic event was Villar’s first rover mission – not too shabby for a Filipino-American curious about science and engineering, now one of the youngest engineers at the JPL.

California to Baguio and back

Born and raised in Long Beach, California to Filipino parents, he attended high school at the St Louis University Laboratory High School in Baguio City. He then went back to California, and took up Physics at the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in Pomona.

During his junior year at Cal Poly Pomona, he was awarded a scholarship under the NASA's Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology (MUST) program, which included an internship at the JPL.

As an intern, he conducted research in astrophysics and planetary science. He eventually got hired as an employee in June 2010, where he first did cost models for future missions.

He has been with the MSL team since January 2011 as an Operations Systems Engineer. His tasks included conducting training exercises for the flight team, which involved simulation of the mission's different phases.

"The objective was to ensure that all of the tools, procedures, processes and interactions between the teams functioned correctly," he told Rappler in an interview Thursday, August 9 (Wednesday, August 8, in California).

'Unbelievable sequence of events'

The successful landing of the rover caused a sigh of relief and a source of joy for the MSL team, including Villar.

Gregory Galgana Villar III beside the NASA logo. Photo courtesy of Villar."It's just an unbelievable sequence of events – I still can't believe it worked! And it's a really big project that will contribute a lot," he said.

The rover is an important step in helping us understand whether the Red Planet has, or can, support microbial life.

"Understanding whether life exists outside of our planet is a very interesting topic and since Mars is the closest planet to Earth, it is logical we start looking there," he said.

Aside from that, the 25-year-old engineer said the high-tech rover alone should pique the interest of people, from its cameras, arms, scientific payloads, and its own laser. "Did you see the crazy landing system? Come on, how cool is that?"-Rappler (August 09, 2012 10:54PM)

Thursday, August 09, 2012

ASEAN mulls humanitarian aid for Myanmar's Rohingya

Southeast Asian nations are considering humanitarian assistance for Rohingya refugees facing persecution in Myanmar, the region's bloc said Wednesday.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations secretary general Surin Pitsuwan said the bloc should be "part of solution to the problem" that escalated in June with a bloody clash that displaced around 60,000 people, mostly Muslim-minority Rohingya.

"I have made a proposal (to our member countries) that ASEAN should once again offer humanitarian assistance, like we did during the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis four-and-a-half years ago," Surin told reporters, referring to a storm that left 138,000 people dead or missing in Myanmar in May 2008.

He did not give any details or name the country where aid could be delivered.

He said the offer to assist the Rohingya had garnered support from several ASEAN members and that Indonesia and Malaysia, both Muslim-majority nations, had also offered to directly assist the Rohingya.

Around 80 people, both Buddhists and Rohingya, were killed during the June violence in western Myanmar's Rakhine state, according to official figures, while rights groups claim higher death tolls.

"Myanmar becoming the chair of the ASEAN will be the focus of the attention of how it is handling such an issue. There must be some roadmap to the solution", Surin said on the sidelines of ASEAN's 45th anniversary celebrations.

"ASEAN cannot be perceived to be standing by without taking any action on such a big scale of humanitarian difficulty," he added.

Bangladesh last week banned three international agencies from providing assistance to Rohingya refugees who had fled from neighboring Myanmar.

 Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya stateless and they are viewed by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Myanmar's government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.-Interaksyon (August 08, 2012 3:38PM)

CNN REPORT: Manila tries to clean up as more rain comes

Survey shows Asia business confidence falters on China

Asia has been a ray of sunshine in the global economic gloom, but a confidence survey released Wednesday shows the region's executives are starting to worry as China's growth slows and exports sink.

The YPO Global Pulse Index for Asia declined 1.8 points to 60.1 in the latest quarterly survey, its lowest level since it began three years ago.

The pollsters at the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), a not-for-profit network of 20,000 chief executive officers, said Asia's confidence level showed a marked decline from previous years.

"During the first several quarters of the survey, Asian confidence averaged nine points higher than the global confidence index reading," the YPO said in a statement.

Terry O'Connor, chief executive officer of retailer Courts Asia and chair of the YPO Singapore Chapter, said the results pointed to slower growth for a region that has so far weathered the global economic headwinds.

"Evidence of that trend accumulated during the past several months, as China reported that second quarter GDP growth fell to 7.6 percent, the Singapore economy actually declined last quarter, and South Korea and Japan both cut their full-year forecasts," he said.

"Nevertheless, it is important to note that the forecast is for a slower pace of growth, not a contraction by any means."

The Global Index dropped 4.1 points to 59.7 in the July 2012 survey, following three quarters of rising confidence.

The United States recorded the sharpest drop of 5.1 points to 60. Confidence amongst young executives in the European Union slipped 2.8 points to 52.0, reflecting the ongoing debt crisis in the eurozone.

In Asia, confidence levels ranged from a high of 70 in Thailand and the Philippines to lows of near 50 in Japan and South Korea. In China, CEO confidence "plummeted" almost seven points to the upper 50s.

The results were based on responses from 1,659 chief executive officers in the first two weeks of July, including 193 in Asia. Most YPO members are aged between 35 and 50, and to join candidates must be 44 or younger.

Carlyle Asia Investment Advisors Managing Director Patrick Siewert, a 56-year-old member of the YPO's Hong Kong chapter, said uncertainty about the drivers of future growth was "very, very high".

"I would observe that though many industry bodies have been predicting relatively good growth rates, that is going to begin to be spotty," he told AFP, referring to six straight quarters of slowing growth in China.

"People have been hanging on these medium-term growth rates for quite a while but now the numbers are coming in quite a bit softer than people would have expected."

A former president of Coca-Cola Asia, Siewert said the region would find it difficult to sustain a confidence premium over the rest of the world in light of soft demand from Europe and the United States for its exports.

Disappointing initial public offerings on regional stock exchanges, especially in Hong Kong, also hit confidence, he said.

"The IPO markets were very indiscriminate and there were a lot of companies that were IPOed that shouldn't have IPOed in the last five to seven years," he said.

Investment banks had ramped up their underwriting divisions but "now that capability is running in place or being laid off".

On the bright side, Siewert said mergers and acquisitions were "alive and well" as cashed-up Western companies sought growth in Asia, and Chinese companies hunted bargains in the United States and Europe.

"You're seeing Chinese companies going to the US and Europe because prices are low, and you're seeing European and North American companies who have cash coming to Asia to buy growth," he said.-Interaksyon (August 08, 2012)

EU set to provide assistance as US gives initial cash aid to flood victims

The European Union (EU) is set to provide humanitarian aid to the Philippines after more than half a million people have been displaced by nonstop monsoon rains in Metro Manila and nearby areas. 

The Delagation of the EU has dispatched a local humanitarian aid expert on the field to assess damages caused by heavy rains, Lubomir Frebort, Chargé d’Affaires of the Delegation, said in a statement. 

The assessment will also “determine possible assistance for the affected population in line with European Union policy of providing humanitarian aid to the victims of both natural and man-made disasters worldwide,” Frebort said.

Frebort also expressed its sympathy and condolences to the families whose kin were hurt and/or died by the rainfall’s effects. 

"The Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines extends its deep sympathy to more than 800,000 people affected by the heavy downpour in three regions,” he added.

Meanwhile, although the United States has already provided $100,000 or P4.3-million as initial cash assistance to local relief efforts, it will likewise conduct an initial damage assessment through the USAID (United States Agency for International Development). 

“Ass a good friend and longstanding development partner, the United States will work with the Philippine government to determine where our assistance is more needed. We remain committed to helping the Philippine people overcome this difficult time,” US Ambassador Harry Thomas said. 

“On behalf of the US government and the American people, I extend my heartfelt sympathies to those who are displaced and who have lost homes and livelihoods due to the floods,” Thomas added.

The US has been a key partner of the Philippines in providing immediate humanitarian response during natural calamities.

For its part, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) has assured that it would continue provide assistance round the clock with more areas in Metro Manila and other provinces still under water.

PRC secretary General Gwendolyn Pang said that it would distribute more relief goods and would conduct hygiene promotion in some 174 evacuation centers where 11,591 families were displaced from home and are now sheltered in schools or covered court.

“Red Cross will also conduct quick assessment of the situation and furthers needs of the affected families in Metro Manila and other flooded areas,” she added.

PRC chairman Richard Gordon on the other hand would distribute relief goods to patients, crew, and staff in the University of Sto. Tomas Hospital, Epifanio Delos Santos Hospital, and University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Hospital.

To recall the UERM hospital, UST hospitals and Philippine General Hospitals have called on all concerned citizens to donate some diesel for their generators that provide power to life-support systems to patients who are in critical condition.

As of Wednesday, the PRC 143 volunteers has rescued some 1,047 individuals and assisting in the evacuation of more than 8,000 in Valenzuela, Rizal, Caloocan, Manila among others.

The Quezon City Red Cross assisted in the search and rescue of the victims of the landslides in Commonwealth where three persons were given first aid and transported to a nearby hospital.

The organization has also provided hot meals to more than 7,500 persons in various evacuation centers.

It also deployed life-saving equipment such as amphibian, rubber boats, ambulances, and trucks and further intensified its rescue and relief operations to assist more people, especially in worst hit areas.-Interaksyon (August 08, 2012 7:54PM)

China offers sympathies to Philippine flood victims

China on Wednesday offered sympathies to the Filipino families affected by heavy rains.

“I am saddened by the big losses that the torrential rains have brought about. The Chinese people are also fighting against the heavy rains and inundation which devastate many parts of China, so my hearts and thoughts are with the homeless and victims,” Zhang Hua, Chinese embassy spokesperson, said in an email to reporters.

“I wish you and your family safe, and hope that normal life can be restored soon,” Zhang said.
China’s Zheijiang province was also hit by Typhoon Haikui early Wednesday and 1.8 million people were evacuated ahead of the storm from parts of Shanghai and Zheijiang, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
The statement served as a break from the heated exchanges between China and the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea dispute.

Tensions between China and the Philippines had been rising in the last months because of conflicting claims over Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.-Black Pearl (August 08, 2012 11:58PM)

Heavy floods hit Manila

Indonesia warns of further South China Sea tension

Indonesia warned Wednesday of a "risk of further tensions" between nations with overlapping claims to swathes of the South China Sea if a "collective and common approach" is not soon agreed.

Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were split in their views on the maritime dispute during the Phnom Penh meeting of foreign ministers in July, and the bloc for the first time in its 45-year history failed to deliver a joint communique.

"This is an issue that demands ASEAN's and China's collective and common approach and action, otherwise the risk of further tensions are very much ahead of us," Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters on the sidelines of ASEAN's 45th anniversary celebrations.

"In the absence of a code of conduct, we may be risking more incidents in the future."

Natalegawa toured the region after the ASEAN summit to push for progress on the long-stalled code of conduct, designed to reduce tensions over fishing, shipping rights and oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi will visit Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia from Thursday, and Natalegawa said he hoped to "compare notes on where we are on the South China Sea" with him.

China claims sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes, but the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims.

Vietnam is scheduled next year to appoint a secretary general to head ASEAN after the five-year tenure of Thailand's Surin Pitsuwan comes to an end.

Vietnam frequently trades diplomatic barbs with China over oil exploration, fishing rights and the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which both countries claim as their own.-ABS-CBN News (August 08, 2012 10:17PM)

ASEAN, US sympathize with flood-hit PH

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States on Wednesday extended their sympathies to the Philippines where at least 1 million people were affected by deadly floods.

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan assured the Philippines, particularly residents of the flood-hit capital Manila and nearby areas, of assistance from the bloc, which celebrates its 45th foundation today.

“We salute the efforts of the Government and other humanitarian actors to save thousands of lives as we convey our assurance that ASEAN stands ready to assist and provide emergency relief as soon as requested,” Pitsuwan said in a statement posted on the ASEAN website.

Pitsuwan said the Jakarta-based ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Centre or AHA Center is closely monitoring the situation and preparing for some response options in case the situation gets worse.

“As the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Coordinator, I will continue to work closely with the AHA Centre to monitor the situation and initiate necessary actions,” he said.

US gives $100,000

Meanwhile, the United States, through its embassy in Manila, said it intends to release $100,000 for relief efforts.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas also extended his sympathies to those affected by the massive flooding.

“On behalf of the U.S. government and the American people, I extend my heartfelt sympathies to those who are displaced and who have lost homes and livelihoods due to the floods,” he said.

The US said it will help assess the damage and determine the immediate needs in Metro Manila and surrounding areas through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

1 million affected

More than one million people in and around the Philippine capital battled deadly floods Wednesday amid relentless monsoon rains, with neck-deep waters trapping slum dwellers and the wealthy on roofs.

Sixty percent of Manila remained under water and vast tracts of surrounding farmland were also submerged as the deluge stretched into its third day, according to the government.
"The roads in some areas are like rivers. People have to use boats to move around. All the roads and alleys are flooded," civil defense chief Benito Ramos told AFP after surveying the megacity of 15 million people from the air.

The death toll from this week's rain in Manila and nearby provinces rose to 20 on Wednesday after four more people drowned, according to authorities.

This brought the confirmed number of people killed across the country since a typhoon triggered heavy rains in late July to 73.-ABS-CBN News (August 08, 2012 10:01PM)

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Malaysian toddler killed in suspected exorcism

Police in Malaysia say a toddler has died after seven of her family members and a maid piled on top of her in a suspected exorcism.

The three-year-old girl's parents were among the adults who carried out the ritual late on Sunday in the town of Bukit Mertajam, a police chief said.

A local newspaper said the ritual lasted 20 hours, but police could not confirm the length of time.

The eight have been arrested, the local police chief Azman Abdul Lah said.

Police broke into the house after receiving a tip-off and found the eight piled on top of the toddler, he said.

The adults - including the girl's grandmother, uncle, aunt and two cousins - were in a dark room under a blanket, he added.

"They were chanting in the room. Police believe they were involved in an exorcism ritual to drive away evil spirits," he told reporters.

The girl died of suffocation, police said, and investigations were ongoing.-British Broadcasting Corporation (August 07, 2012)

Floods paralyse Philippine capital Manila

At least nine people have been reported dead as torrential rain caused flooding that paralysed most parts of the Philippine capital, Manila.

The flooding - neck-deep in some areas - forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, closing schools, offices and the stock exchange.

Nine members of one family died after a landslide hit shanty houses in Quezon City, a government report said.

More than 50 people died when Typhoon Saola struck more than a week ago.

Widespread flooding has been reported in the capital and the surrounding provinces, according to a statement from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

It said "the south-west monsoon enhanced by Tropical Storm 'Haikui' located 300km [184 miles] north-east of Taiwan" was expected to bring more rain.

"Expect landslides and flashfloods in mountainous areas and floods in low-lying areas."

President Benigno Aquino met civil defence officials to discuss the situation. "Everybody who is supposed to do something is doing what he is supposed to do," he said.
The severity of the rain since Monday afternoon - in an already saturated city - has led officials to issue the highest level of alert, says the BBC's Kate McGeown in Manila.


Four members of another family were rushed to hospital in the landslide that killed the family in Manila's Quezon City, according to the government's disaster council.

"This is where my house used to be, this one is the end of our fence," Jessie Bailon, one of those affected by the landslide, was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.
He said that his wife, two children and one grandchild were still missing.

Another resident said that "the ground was shaking" and that he barely made it before the landslide hit his home.

A local police official was also quoted as saying that four people had drowned in another province, but this has not been confirmed.

Weather officials warn that the floods could get worse as the overflowing La Mesa dam, which holds back Manila's main reservoir, spills more water.
"If we put it in a percentage, at least 50% of Metro Manila is flooded," Jean Navarez, from the state weather service, was quoted by AFP as saying.

Residents living in slums and shanty towns on low ground have taken shelter in community buildings, reports said.

Several key roads were impassable and power had also been cut in some areas, mostly as a precaution, officials said.

Dams and waterways in affected areas are also being closely monitored. Rescue efforts are now underway to help stranded residents.
"As of now, it's difficult to rescue the trapped residents, as we are battling strong currents with our life crafts," police rescuer Eric Baran told Reuters news agency.

"It's been raining continuously for over 24 hours now," resident Justin Robertson told the BBC from Quezon City.

"We live on a hill and at the bottom of the hill there is a junction which is covered in water. Most offices and schools are closed today and we've decided to remain indoors as the main roads are either flooded or blocked with broken down vehicles."-Britsih Broadcasting Corporation (August 07, 2012)

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

WORLD NEWS: Sri Lankan navy arrests 37 Chinese fisherman

Sri Lanka has arrested 37 Chinese fisherman on suspicion of fishing illegally off its eastern coast.

A spokesman for Sri Lanka's navy told the BBC two Sri Lankan nationals had been held along with the Chinese.

The navy says it found the men aboard two trawlers fishing in waters off the east coast town of Batticaloa.

China has called for the men to be released. The arrests are being seen as a test of increasingly close ties between Beijing and Colombo.

The fishermen were arrested on Sunday night, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

"They are in our custody and they have not been released yet," navy spokesman Kosala Warnakulasuriya told Reuters news agency on Monday, after Xinhua said the men had been freed.

A Sri Lankan police spokesman told the BBC Sinhala service the two Sri Lankans were due to appear in court on Tuesday. The fate of the Chinese remains unclear.

China's embassy in Colombo had "urged Sri Lankan authorities to handle the issue in accordance with the law, sort out the truth and release the Chinese fishermen as soon as possible", Xinhua reported earlier.

Analysts say the incident is unusual, but Chinese fishermen are increasingly travelling further afield because of a lack of fish closer to home.

China has considerable influence in Sri Lanka, whose location in the Indian Ocean makes it of considerable strategic interest.

Beijing has loaned the country millions of pounds for infrastructure projects, including assistance for a sea port in the south at Hambantota.

Sri Lanka's government says its growing ties with China are purely commercial. But some analysts speculate that Beijing is seeking a naval facility, a prospect that worries Sri Lanka's close neighbour India.-Black Pearl Media (August 07, 2012)

WORLD NEWS: Japan marks Hiroshima bombing amid anti-nuclear calls

Japan is marking the 67th anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima in an annual ceremony.

Tens of thousands of people attended the event, amid growing anti-nuclear sentiment and protests in the country.

A bell marked the start of a one-minute silence at 08:15 local time (23:15 GMT) when the US bomber Enola Gay dropped the bomb that killed 140,000 people.

Mayor Kazumi Matsui called for a nuclear-free world at the event at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

"I call on the Japanese government to establish without any delay an energy policy that guards the safety and security of the people," he said.

Mr Matsui also called for more support for ageing survivors of the WW II attack who are battling health issues caused by radiation from the bomb.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, at the ceremony, said the lessons of Hiroshima must not be forgotten.

"We will establish an energy mix with which people can feel safe in the long- and medium-term, based on our policy that we will not rely on nuclear power," he said.

Mr Noda has been under pressure from anti-nuclear activists since he ordered the restart of two nuclear reactors in June.

All 50 of Japan's nuclear plants were shut after the meltdown at Fukushima, which was triggered by a tsunami and earthquake in March 2011.

The crisis was regarded as the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The ceremony was also attended by a grandson of former US President Harry Truman, who ordered the bombing of Hiroshima and then Nagasaki.

Clifton Truman Daniel is the first of the family to attend the annual ceremony.

Mr Truman said while it was hard to hear the survivors' stories it was important for his family to understand the full consequence of decisions made by his grandfather, says the BBC's Mariko Oi.-British Broadcasting Corporation (August 06, 2012)

UN food agency lowers 2012 global rice forecast

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) revised down its global rice forecast for 2012 on Monday due to low monsoon rainfall in India, but said world output should still be greater than in 2011.

The 2012 forecast has been revised down by 7.8 million tonnes "due to a 22-percent lower-than-average monsoon rainfall in India through mid-July, which is likely to reduce output in the country this season," the Rome-based FAO said.

Production forecasts have also been reduced for Cambodia, Taiwan, North and South Korea, and Nepal, according to the July 2012 issue of the Rice Market Monitor, which was published by the food agency on Monday.

However, world output is still expected to surpass "the excellent results achieved in 2011," with production forecast to total 724.5 million tonnes.

In price terms, rice has remained "surprisingly stable" after gaining two percent in May, in sharp contrast with maize and wheat markets, it said.

"Amid abundant rice supplies and stocks, the likelihood of a strong price rebound in coming months is minimal, but the future direction of rice prices remains uncertain," the agency added.

China, Indonesia and Thailand are expected to see a rise in rice production, while output in Africa may increase by up to three percent and Australia's harvest was 32 percent higher than last year, it said.

While prospects are good in much of South America, low rainfall and shifts towards more profitable products in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay are behind a seven-percent production drop in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The global rice trade is expected to decline by one million tonnes to 34.2 million tonnes in 2012, largely as a result of reduced import demand from Asian countries, the report said.-Interaksyon (August 06, 2012 6:12PM)

Indonesia 2Q growth up 6.4%, beats forecasts

Indonesia on Monday said its economy grew a faster-than-expected 6.4 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, buoyed by robust domestic demand and investment.

Private consumption increased five percent year-on-year, government spending rose seven percent, while investment climbed 12.3 percent, said Suryamin, the head of the Central Statistics Agency.

The data should help alleviate concerns about Southeast Asia's largest economy which posted a 6.3 percent on-year expansion in the first quarter from 6.5 percent in the previous quarter.

The strong growth came even as the global downturn has hit Indonesia's exports, with the country recording its largest monthly trade deficit of $1.3 billion in June.

Exports, which account for roughly a quarter of GDP, increased by 1.9 percent in the second quarter, but imports also shot up by 10.9 percent year-on-year.

The 6.4 percent figure for on-year growth beat the median forecast of 6.05 percent in a Dow Jones Newswires poll of 12 economists and 6.3 percent predicted by Bank Indonesia.

Experts say domestic demand has made the nation of 240 million people with a growing middle class broadly resilient to the global economic slump and eurozone debt crisis that have hit other Asian nations.

But Credit Suisse said in a statement that it was "sceptical that the current pace of economic expansion is sustainable over the long term" because of the slow pace of reforms.

Bank Indonesia will meet Thursday to set the benchmark interest rate, which has sat at an all-time low of 5.75 percent since February.-Interaksyon (August 06, 2012 5:49PM)

World Bank unveils carbon credits from pig farms in Philippines

The World Bank said on Monday it plans to buy carbon credits from pig farms in the Philippines, helping farmers generate extra income by setting up environment friendly waste treatment facilities.

Under the program it will finance the installation of such waste treatment systems that will capture methane gas from pig manure which could be used to generate electricity, thereby reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

The World Bank's Carbon Finance Unit will buy carbon credits from farms that instal such systems, helping farmers secure an additional source of income, it said in a statement.

"This is the first programme of activities from the Philippines to be registered and it is the first... in the animal waste sector in Southeast Asia, a region home to a significant number of the world's pigs," World Bank carbon finance specialist Nick Bowden was quoted as saying.

About 100,000 tonnes of carbon credits could be earned each year through the program, the statement said, without providing details on what price it would pay for credits.

The project, supported by the World Bank and implemented by the state-run Land Bank, will be carried out under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that includes a programme for extracting methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from pig farms.-Interaksyon (August 06, 2012 9:11PM)

Monday, August 06, 2012

2 experts say China's extensive territorial claim lacks merit under modern int'l laws

Two international experts said on Friday that China's extensive nine-dash line claim on virtually the entire West Philippine Sea -- which Beijing anchors on history -- lacks merit under modern international laws.

But rival claimants like the Philippines may find it tough to bring the long-hanging territorial disputes to international arbitration because of the usually long time it takes to resolve such rifts and the need for China's approval before any case could be considered for arbitration, the experts said.

With the Association of Southeast Asian Nations unable to effectively help bring about a resolution because of its policy of deciding by consensus -- which empowers just one of its 10 member countries to block any proposed solution -- the best option for now may be for bilateral or multilateral negotiations or shelving the conflicts to allow joint development of contested areas, according to the experts.

Asked to assess China's nine-dash line territorial claim, University of Chicago Law School Prof. Tom Ginsburg, who specializes on International Law and Political Science, said Beijing's claim did not hold much merit under current international laws.

A recent Chinese move to establish a new city called Sansha under its southern Hainan province to politically administer China's claimed territories in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea was a sort of an acknowledgement of the inadequacy of its nine-dash claim.

"It doesn't have much merit from the point of view of the modern international law of the sea. I don't think you'd find a modern international lawyer who would say it's compatible with the general understandings of the law of the sea," Ginsburg told reporters on the sidelines of the Angara Center for Law and Economics Forum Friday.

China's recent move to bring all its claimed South China Sea areas under the ambit of the recently-established "Sansha City" was "an internal recognition that the nine- dash line on its own is not enough to make a viable claim," Ginsburg said.

"If you do have a populated territory, then the maritime baselines can be calculated from that place. Extending populated areas in the South China Sea is an effective strategy from the law of the sea," he added.

Top arbitration lawyer Yas Banifatemi, of the Paris-based Shearman & Streling, said China's historical basis for its huge territorial claims is a throw-back in time that could no longer be used and cited under modern-day laws, where the international community subscribes to and uphold.

Asked if China's historical basis for its claims would hold water, Banifatemi replied: "No, I don't think so."

"It was something that was done in certain circumstances and certain people in different context and history and economic context and that's over," she told reporters at the conference held in Sofitel Hotel.

"They have to take international law as it exists and to achieve something that is compatible with the principles of international law that exists today," she added.

China, Banifatemi said, "should abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea definitely because China is covered by the provisions of the convention.”

Benifatemi was referring to the 1982 treaty that bestows coastal states, like the Philippines, the right to manage, develop and exploit resources in areas covered by its EEZ.

It is signed by the Philippines, China and 162 other states.

The West Philippine Sea -- a strategic and resource-rich waterway where a bulk of the world's trade pass -- had been a source of conflict among competing claimants such as four ASEAN members -- Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei -- and China and Taiwan. Other ASEAN members are Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

South China Sea is dotted with islands, reefs, cays, shoals and rock formations and is believed to be rich in natural gas and oil deposits.

Analysts feared that the competing claims could spark a military conflict in the region.

In the latest flare-out between Manila and Beijing, the two Asian neighbors had been engaged in a standoff from April to June this year when Chinese vessels intruded into a shoal called Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough, which Philippine officials say is part of its territory.

Vietnam likewise protested what it calls increasing Chinese aggression in the resource-rich waters. Beijing recently tendered bids for several gas and oil exploration areas within Hanoi’s waters.

Further complicating the situation is China’s recent establishment of Sansha City - a move protested by Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Although experts say a major war in the South China Sea is not likely, they have not ruled out accidental and limited armed skirmishes and have urged countries to use diplomatic means to resolve their conflicting claims.

The United States, which has been reasserting its role as an Asia-Pacific power, has declared that the peaceful resolution and freedom of navigation in the waters is in its national interest.

It has been helping the Philippines and Vietnam with military hardware and joint military exercises amid the territorial rifts, which has renewed tensions in the region. -Interaksyon (August 05, 2012)

Sleepy tropical island belies bold China sea claims

China's newest city might appear to be a tranquil outpost in the South China Sea, but the beaches and palm trees of Sansha are at the heart of a growing territorial dispute.

The so-called "city" is on Yongxing, one of many small islands, reefs and shoals that make up the disputed Paracel Islands spreading over the northern part of the sea.

Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes and possesses varying degrees of proven and estimated oil and gas deposits.

The formation of an administration in Sansha, which will be responsible for China's interests in the South China Sea is just its latest salvo.

Taiwan and ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia all make rival claims on areas of the sea, while the United States is also watching China's increased assertiveness cloly.

A US State Department spokesman said in a statement Friday that Washington was "concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea".

The establishment of an administration in Sansha and a new military garrison there "runs counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region", he added.

China reacted swiftly. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the US remarks sent "a seriously wrong signal, which is not conducive to the efforts safeguarding the peace and stability of the South China Sea and the Asia Pacific region".

He said the establishment of Sansha was "completely within China's sovereignty", and called for nations with disputes over territorial claims to stick to friendly negotiations, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Jutting up from lush, green vegetation, a domed colonial-style building is the dominant structure on Yongxing island, a land area of just over two square kilometres.

Adding heft are a mayor, a 45-strong local legislature led by a provincial civil air defense official, a court and, most contentious of all, the new military garrison.

Chinese media reports give varying accounts of how many people live on the island, which is traditionally centered on fishing. But it seems safe to say that the population doesn't much exceed 1,000.

Inhabitants have access to a bank and a supermarket, photos on the Internet show. There is a library painted in a salmon-colored hue and a basketball court shaded by palm trees.

Other pictures depict people relaxing in hammocks outside their modest dwellings. There is also a hotel, but there are unlikely to be many visitors yet.

Xinhua said the island has a port and a small military airport. Aerial photos show an airstrip cutting across one end of Yongxing, stretching far out onto reclaimed land.

Improvements are reportedly in store for the islanders in the form of public housing projects and a new hospital complete with a gynaecology and obstetrics department, suggesting an increase in population is expected.

One obscure claim to fame for Sansha, which falls within China's Hainan province, is that it is simultaneously the country's biggest and smallest city.

While it's the tiniest in terms of land area and population, it becomes the biggest when total area under its jurisdiction is taken into account, a whopping 2.6 million square kilometers across the sprawling South China Sea.

That encompasses not only the Paracels, but Macclesfield Bank, a largely sunken atoll to the east, and the Spratly Islands to the south. All are disputed.

The jockeying for control is complex. China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim the Paracels; China, Taiwan, the Philippines and -- according to some reports -- Vietnam, the Macclesfield Bank; while China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia have various claims on the Spratlys.

China announced the establishment of Sansha, which can be translated roughly as "three sands", with much fanfare in late July. The name derives from the city being supposedly in charge of the three island groups.

"The provincial government will be devoted to turning the city into an important base to safeguard China's sovereignty and serve marine resource development," Luo Baoyou, the Communist Party head in Hainan province, said in a speech marking Sansha's establishment.

While the setting appears beautiful, life on the isolated island must certainly have its hardships, among them the typhoons that churn across the South China Sea in summer.

Xinhua reported that a supply ship, the Qiongzhou III, transports staples such as food and medicine from the mainland. It makes two round trips a month -- if weather allows -- and can carry as many as 200 passengers.

As for unwanted visitors, even they can expect accommodation.

China's Global Times newspaper reported that a detention facility is under construction to eliminate the "headache" of there being no place to put foreign fishermen who infringe China's waters.-Interaksyon (August 05, 2012)

China calls in US diplomat over South China Sea

China's Foreign Ministry has called in a senior U.S. diplomat to protest remarks by the U.S. State Departmentraising concerns over tensions in the disputed South China Sea, in the latest political spat between the two countries.

In a statement released late on Saturday, China's Foreign Ministry said Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Kunsheng summoned the U.S. Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Wang to make "serious representations" about the issue.

The State Department on Friday said it was monitoring the situation in the seas closely, adding that China's establishing of a military garrison for the area runs "counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region".

The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint as Beijing's sovereignty claim over the huge area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves.

Beijing and Washington are already at odds over numerous issues, including the value of China's currency, Tibet and Taiwan.

Zhang said the U.S. statement "disregarded the facts, confused right with wrong, sent a seriously wrong signal and did not help with efforts by relevant parties to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea or the Asia Pacific.

"China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition, urges the U.S. side to immediately to mend the error of its ways, earnestly respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and do more to genuinely benefit stability and prosperity in the Asia Pacific," he added.

A separate statement by ministry spokesman Qin Gang repeated that China had absolute sovereignty over the sea and its myriad islands and had every right to formally set up a city to administer the region, which it did last month.

"Why does the U.S. turn a blind eye to the facts that certain countries opened a number of oil and gas blocks, and issued domestic laws illegally appropriating Chinese islands and waters?" Qin said.

"Why does the U.S. avoid talking about the threats of military vessels to Chinese fishermen by certain countries and their unjustified claims of sovereignty rights over Chinese islands?" he added.

In all, six parties have rival claims to the waters, which were a central issue at an acrimonious ASEAN regional summit last month that ended with its members failing to agree on a concluding statement for the first time in 45 years.

The stakes have risen in the area as the U.S. military shifts its attention and resources back to Asia, emboldening its long-time ally the Philippines and former foe Vietnam to take a bolder stance against Beijing.

The United States has stressed it is neutral in the long-running maritime dispute, despite offering to help boost the Philippines' decrepit military forces. It says freedom of navigation is its main concern about a waterway that carries $5 trillion in trade -- half the world's shipping tonnage.-Interaksyon (July 05, 2012)

PHL rotary wing capability to improve with acquisition of 21 UH-1 'Huey' units

The Philippine Air Force (PAF)'s ability to provide logistic, medical, and fire support to hard pressed ground troops will be greatly enhanced as an additional 21 UH-1 "Huey" helicopters is now on the way for the country's military aviation arm.
Department of National Defense (DND) Undersecretary for finance, munitions, installation, and materiel Fernando Manalo said this contract is worth P1.2 billion.
He added that this acquisition proposal is presently undergoing evaluation at the government procurement board.
Once approved by the above-mentioned body, Manalo said the entire 21 helicopters will be delivered before the end of 2012.
"If the contract is signed before end of August, we can assure people there will be 21 UH-1 'Huey' available (for the PAF) before end of the year," the DND official stressed.
The arrival of these helicopters would greatly boost the PAF's helicopter fleet whose number have been depleted through the years through series of air mishaps or lack of spare parts.
Between 50 to 70 UH-1 "Huey" are still in active service with the PAF.
UH-1 "Huey" is a military helicopter powered by a single, turboshaft engine, with a two-bladed main rotor and tail rotor.
The UH-1 was developed by Bell Helicopter to meet the United States Army's requirement for a medical evacuation and utility helicopter in 1952. It first flew on Oct. 20, 1956.
Ordered into production in March 1960, the UH-1 was the first turbine-powered helicopter to enter production for the United States military, and more than 16,000 have been produced worldwide.
The first combat operation of the UH-1 was in the service of the US Army during the Vietnam War.
The original designation of HU-1 led to the helicopter's nickname of "Huey".
In September 1962, the designation was changed to UH-1, but "Huey" remained in common use.
Approximately 7,000 UH-1 aircraft saw service in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, primary missions included general support, air assault, cargo transport, aeromedical evacuation, search and rescue, electronic warfare, and later, ground attack.
During the conflict, the craft was upgraded, notably to a larger version based on the Model 205. This version was initially designated the UH-1D and flew operationally from 1963.-Black Pearl (August 06, 2012 12:34AM)