Saturday, August 17, 2013

Indonesia unveils growth-boosting election year budget

Indonesia's president unveiled an ambitious 2014 draft budget Friday aimed at boosting a slowing economy before elections next year as his scandal-plagued party struggles to claw back popularity.

Once a darling with investors, Southeast Asia's top economy has this year been faced with slowing growth, high inflation and a plunge in the value of the rupiah.

With the economy set to be a key battleground at presidential and legislative polls in 2014, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is desperate to restore the nation's financial health.

Announcing the $173-billion budget to parliament, Yudhoyono insisted the package would ensure that "Indonesia will be in a better position to overcome the challenges that may emerge".

The main themes of the budget were boosting consumer spending, a main driver of Indonesia's economic boom, overhauling the nation's ageing infrastructure to encourage investment, and narrowing current account and budget deficits.

He said the government would implement a "keep buying strategy" to make sure consumer spending remained strong, something economists believe is key to maintaining economic growth as global demand for Indonesian commodities weakens.

"We acknowledge our infrastructure is far from perfect," he conceded, vowing that major road, port and airport projects would be completed.

Investors often complain that doing business in the sprawling archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is complicated by potholed roads, a creaking train network, leaky old boats and poor aviation infrastructure.

He also said the country would look at new markets to try to put the brake on a widening trade deficit, blamed on falling Chinese demand for Indonesian exports such as coal and palm oil.

Yudhoyono insisted he had already helped to lift some of the strain off the budget by hiking the price of fuel by up to 44 per cent in June, reducing huge subsidies that were blamed for making the budget deficit balloon.

The budget still needs parliamentary approval.

The president's ruling Democratic Party faces a tough time at next year's elections following a string of scandals affecting leading party figures and without any obvious successor for Yudhoyono.

The president cannot stand in 2014 as he is constitutionally barred from running for a third term. - Channel News Asia

Vietnam activists 'to form multi-party democracy'

A group of activists in Vietnam have expressed their intention to form a new political party to promote multi-party democracy in the communist country.

They include members of the Communist Party, which has a monopoly on political power under the constitution.

The move comes as officials have recently detained dozens of bloggers for dissent.

A court recently reduced the sentences of two activists accused of spreading anti-state propaganda.

In Vietnam, questioning the ruling party's monopoly on power is considered a serious crime.

Correspondents estimate that close to 38 activists, including bloggers, have been arrested for anti-state activities this year.

But the government has increasingly come under pressure from a number of bloggers over human rights issues and governance issues.

The activists include two prominent members of the Communist organisation Fatherland Front. They are planning to call their party the Democratic Socialist Party.

Their declaration follows months of unusually lively debate over the political system, after the ruling party asked for public feedback on its proposals for mild reform of the Soviet-style constitution, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in neighbouring Bangkok.

The new party is still just an idea, and even if it gets organised, it is hard to guess how much it will be allowed to do, or how long it will be allowed to exist, our correspondent adds.

Meanwhile, an appeals court in Long An province has reduced the sentences of two activists.

Nguyen Phuong Uyen, 21, was sentenced in May to a six-year sentence. But on Friday the court ordered that instead she should receive a suspended sentence of three years, meaning that she was immediately freed.

The sentence of the other activist, Dinh Nguyen Kha was reduced to four instead of eight years.

Both were arrested last year, with rights groups criticising their trials. -British Broadcasting Corporation

Singapore's June retail sales down 6.9% on-month

Singapore's retail sales fell 6.9 per cent in June from a month ago on a seasonally adjusted basis.

The decline is due mainly to a 33.8 per cent drop in sales of motor vehicles.

Compared to a year ago, retailers of motor vehicles also reported a 26.9 per cent decline in sales.

Analysts said sales of motor vehicles had plunged in June this year as car loan curbs on used cars kicked in.

Excluding motor vehicles receipts, retail sales went up by one per cent in June compared to May.

Sales registered from telecommunications apparatus and computers fell 8.6 per cent in June compared to May while sales of watches and jewellery fell 4.4 per cent.

Sales from department stores and food and beverage also saw marginal declines.

Selena Ling, head of treasury research & strategy at OCBC Bank, said this possibly reflects a mild impact from hazy conditions in late June, which could have deterred some discretionary spending.

On-year, retail sales declined four per cent in June.

Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales climbed 2.6 per cent. - Channel News Asia

Seventeen dead, hundreds rescued after ferry sinks in Philippines

At least 17 people were killed but hundreds were rescued after a passenger ferry sank following a collision with a cargo vessel in the central Philippines, a coastguard commander said.

"We don't know if there are still people missing," Rear Admiral Luis Tuason told local radio early on Saturday, citing a discrepancy between the actual numbers killed or rescued and the ferry's manifest, which showed 692 crew and passengers on board.

Tuason, the acting chief of the coast guard, said 690 people were rescued, but coast guard officials on Cebu island, the site of the accident, said only 575 people were brought ashore. They said officials had counted 17 bodies and that two coast guard vessels and a naval ship would continue to search for more survivors overnight.

The figures could not be immediately reconciled.

The 40-year-old ferry, St Thomas of Aquinas, is allowed to carry up to 904 passengers. It sank minutes after colliding with the cargo vessel about a kilometre (a half mile) off Cebu around 9 p.m. (1300 GMT) on Friday.

"It happened fast, we felt that the cargo ship hit us and minutes later we noticed our ship was listing," Aldrin Raman, a passenger, told reporters. "I grabbed a life vest and jumped overboard. I saw many passengers doing the same."

He said fishermen rescued him and several other passengers who had jumped into the sea. Local officials said dozens of fishing boats helped in the rescue.

One of the crew members on the ferry told radio the ship sank within 10 minutes of the collision.

"The collision left a gaping hole in the ferry and water started rushing in, so the captain ordered abandon ship," he said. Most of the passengers were already wearing life jackets before the ship sank, he said.

Another passenger, Jerwin Agudong, told the dzBB radio station that several people were however trapped and could not jump overboard. "It seems some were not able to get out. We saw dead bodies on the side," he said.

Scores, sometimes hundreds, of people die each year in ferry accidents in the Philippines, which has a notoriously poor record for maritime safety. An archipelago of 7,100 islands, ferries are the most common form of transportation.

Overcrowding is common, and many of the vessels are in bad condition. The country is also hit by several typhoons each year.

The Philippines was the site of the world's worst peacetime sea disaster in December 1987. The ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with the tanker Vector in the Sibuyan Sea, killing 4,375 on the ferry and 11 of the Vector's 13-man crew. - Reuters

Friday, August 16, 2013

US military seeks more Philippine access

The United States has formally asked for greater access to civilian and military facilities in the Philippines to deploy aircraft, ships, troops and equipment in a first round of talks on a new security deal, Philippine officials said on Thursday.

The Philippines and the United States held a day of talks to boost regular visits by U.S. forces to its former colony to enhance the Philippine military's ability to maintain maritime security and tackle disasters.

Relations have warmed considerably between the allies as the Philippines looks to the United States to help counter China's assertiveness amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Officials said the talks focused on allowing the rotation of ships, aircraft and troops and the storage of equipment. But there would be no mention of troops numbers in any agreement and it would be up to the Philippine and U.S. militaries to decide on the size and duration of any deployment.

"The specific areas where they will be, or the activities and exercises, will be listed, but not the number of troops, not the operational details," Carlos Sorreta, a senior foreign ministry official, told reporters at the main army base in Manila.

Pio Lorenzo Batino, a defence department undersecretary, said a new security pact would "not talk about the exact size and shape of the visiting troops and equipment from the United States".

The talks coincide with a renewed U.S. military presence in the region as Washington shifts its foreign, economic and security policy towards Asia.

Friction between China and the Philippines, and other countries in the region, over disputed territories in the oil- and gas-rich sea has increased since last year despite diplomatic efforts to forge an agreement on maritime conduct.

A small group of left-wing, anti-U.S. activists gathered outside the base to denounce the proposed agreement. They called on legislators to open an inquiry into details of the negotiations being kept from the public.

The talks are to resume in Washington later this month. -ABS-CBN News

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Philippines expected to outperform regional rivals

American banking giant Citigroup sees the Philippines outperforming neighbors in the region and better withstanding external shocks arising from the tapering of the US Federal Reserve’s easy money policy and a slowdown in China.

The Philippines can attain an above-trend gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 7 percent this year and 6.8 percent for next year, said Johanna Chua, the managing director and head of Asia-Pacific economic and market analysis at Citi.

The Hong Kong-based Filipino economist said the Philippines was beating global growth forecast trends and that the stage was set for an investment-led recovery in the country.

Chua said growth in the country was “very resilient,” supported by ample fiscal space for government spending alongside high business confidence levels.

Economic growth in the second quarter would likely be slower than the first quarter, when the domestic economy grew by 7.8 percent year on year, but the growth rate would still be “quite elevated,” she said. In the last decade, Philippine trend growth rate was at less than 5 percent.

The economist said emerging markets in the region continued to face two major external risks: the tapering of the US Federal Reserve’s $85 billion in monthly bond purchases and a structural slowdown of the Chinese economy. Citi sees the tapering of easy money starting by September this year and going down to zero by the middle of next year.

“If we look at and combine both risks, the Philippines stands out as the country most insulated to both, with macroeconomic and financial stability intact,” she said.

“The sudden reversal of capital flows may hurt the domestic growth of some markets but the Philippines is in better shape,” she added. - Philippine Daily Inquirer

Vietnam to sell rice to African Comoros

Vietnam will sell 60,000 tons of rice each year to the African Comoros, with the first shipment to be delivered this month and the final shipment in December 2015, reported local Vietnam News on Wednesday.

The report quoted sources from the memorandum of understanding (MoU) recently signed between the two countries, adding that the MoU will provide a legal foundation for direct rice trading between Vietnam and Comoros, in a move that will strengthen trade ties between the two countries.

According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade, besides rice, Vietnam will export garments, construction materials, automobile parts, and agricultural machinery to this market.

Comoros imports around 70,000-80,000 tons of rice every year.

In the first seven months of this year, Vietnam exported over 4. 2 million tons of rice, earning over 1.88 billion U.S. dollars, according to the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. -Philippines News Agency

ASEAN vows unity on South China Sea: Thai official

Southeast Asian nations on Wednesday vowed unity in pressing China to accept a binding code of conduct for handling disputes in the South China Sea, the Thai foreign ministry said.

Competing claims to the sea have for decades stirred tension in the region and the waterway, which is believed to sit atop vast deposits of oil and natural gas, has long been seen as one of Asia's potential military flashpoints.

Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed "to speak in one voice" while seeking an "early conclusion of a code of conduct", a foreign ministry spokesman told AFP, without giving a timeframe.

The ministers, who held a two-day informal meeting in Thailand's Hua Hin resort town, will meet Chinese officials in Beijing at the end of the month.

"ASEAN will have to speak with one voice and be unified. This does not mean speaking against anyone... ASEAN is united so it's easy to discuss and talk with it," the spokesman added.

"The code of conduct should have the objective of enhancing confidence between ASEAN and China... and preventing any untoward incidents from taking place in the South China Sea."

ASEAN has been trying for more than a decade to secure agreement from China on a legally binding code of conduct.

China claims nearly all of the sea, even waters approaching the coasts of neighbouring countries. It has resisted agreeing to the code, wary of giving any concessions that may weaken its claim.

A regional security forum in June saw ASEAN bridge internal divisions over the code.

Last year, Cambodia, a staunch ally of China and ASEAN's chair at the time, had refused to endorse a Philippine push for a tougher line with Beijing on the issue.

On Wednesday, Cambodia's deputy prime minister agreed to the unified ASEAN position on the code, the Thai spokesman said after the two-day discussions ended.

ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia, as well as Taiwan, also claim parts of the sea.

China has refused to upgrade a 2002 "declaration of conduct" into a legally binding code, instead preferring to negotiate individually with each country.

The Philippines and Vietnam have in recent years accused it of increasingly aggressive actions to exert claims to the sea.

Chinese government vessels seized the Scarborough Shoal, a South China Sea outcrop just 230 kilometres (140 miles) east of the main Philippine island of Luzon, last year. - Channel News Asia

Japan eyes defending allies under attack

A government panel on security issues will propose that Japan defend not only the United States but also other allied nations under attack by exercising its right of collective self-defense, the panel's acting chairman said Tuesday.

Shinichi Kitaoka, who also serves as president of the International University of Japan, said in an interview with Kyodo News the panel will state in its report that Japan can exercise the right when "countries with close ties (with it)" are under attack and it is deemed to do harm to Japan.

Kitaoka indicated the panel will not specify which country to defend in the upcoming report as withholding such details would be helpful in maintaining deterrence.

"There needs to be some kind of vagueness when we talk about security," Kitaoka said.

Some experts say Japan should extend the target of its use of collective self-defense to countries including Australia, the Philippines and India.

The panel, reestablished by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is scheduled to meet Sept. 12 before compiling by the end of the year the report that would advise Tokyo to lift its self-imposed ban on collective-self defense, or coming to the aid of allies under armed attack, in the changing security environment.

Kitaoka also suggested Japan can come to the aid of countries defending sea lanes to ensure oil transport from the Middle East, describing them as "lifelines."

Japan has been particularly concerned about China's assertiveness in the East China Sea where Tokyo and Beijing are at odds over the sovereignty of uninhabited islands known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyu in China. North Korea's nuclear and missile development is also a concern.

Under the government's current interpretation of the pacifist Constitution, Japan does not permit itself to exercise the right because doing so would go beyond the self-defense allowed under the supreme law.

In a 2008 report, a similar panel limited the use of collective-self defense to the United States, saying Japan should be able to defend U.S. naval vessels attacked on the high seas, or intercept ballistic missiles targeting U.S. soil. - ABS-CBN News

UN calls for talks after clash in Myanmar region

The United Nations has called for dialogue after another violent clash in a camp for dispossessed Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar, as its human rights envoy toured the strife-torn area on Tuesday.

At least one person was killed and around 10 injured last Friday in the latest violence in Rakhine state, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said.

Conflict between local Buddhist and Muslim communities in the state last year left some 200 dead and 140,000 homeless.

"UNHCR is reiterating its call for peaceful dialogue and confidence-building between the (internally displaced persons) and government. We believe this is key to avoiding further violence," spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva.

The statement coincides with a visit by the UN's outspoken human rights envoy for Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana, who has made Rakhine his first stop in a 10-day trip to the country.

In March, after anti-Muslim violence spread into central Myanmar and left dozens dead, Quintana said the reluctance of security forces to crack down on the unrest suggested a possible state link to the fighting -- a claim rejected by the government.

Attacks against Muslims -- who make up an estimated four percent of Myanmar's population -- have exposed deep fractures in the Buddhist-majority nation and cast a shadow over its emergence from army rule.

Quintana has visited several areas in Rakhine, including a Rohingya-majority area and a camp for Muslims left homeless in the violence, according to Win Myaing, spokesman for the Rakhine state government.

Tensions in Rakhine have remained high since two outbreaks of violence in June and October last year left around 200 people dead, mainly Rohingya who are seen by many in Myanmar as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Communities were torn apart in the fighting, with whole neighbourhoods reduced to ashes, and a sense of deep distrust among Muslims, Buddhists and the security forces pervades.

In June, five Muslims including three Rohingya women were killed by security forces who opened fire during disputes in two separate incidents in camps in Rakhine.

UNHCR said the latest conflict broke out at a camp for displaced Muslims on Friday when a body was found in a waterway near Sittwe.

An argument between camp residents and local police over the cause of death and handling of the corpse is thought to have led to a violent confrontation in which four Muslims sustained gunshot wounds, with one later dying.

Edwards said in a statement that humanitarian workers were unable to access the area over the weekend, but had been able to re-enter the camp as tensions eased on Monday.

A police source said two people had died of their injuries.

Win Myaing put the number of wounded at 10 and told AFP that "the situation is calm now".

Reformist President Thein Sein last month denied accusations by Human Rights Watch of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. They are denied citizenship by Myanmar, leaving them effectively stateless.

Thousands have fled the camps in Rakhine, with many taking to the seas in flimsy boats and some later drowning. - Channel News Asia

Vietnam, Japan ink workforce training MoU

The Japan Business Association (JBA) in Vietnam's capital Hanoi on Tuesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the country on human resource training.

As a part of the fifth phase of the Vietnam-Japan joint initiative running from July 2013 to December 2014, the 18 month- long MoU is expected to offer Vietnamese laborers more employment and training opportunities in Japan, even managerial-level training as well as to lure more Japanese investment and improve the investment environment in Vietnam.

The MoU was signed between JBA and Vietnam's Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Training, and the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

Addressing the signing ceremony, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan said that he expects the two nations to further expand the fields of cooperation to culture, education and science-technology along with politics and economy. - Philippines News Agency

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Negotiations on for release of abducted Thai nationals in southern Nigeria: official

Negotiations are going on for the release of four Thai nationals abducted by unknown gunmen in southern Nigeria, a government official said on Tuesday.

Emmanuel Chindah, the state commissioner for agriculture, told Xinhua on phone that Nigerian security forces are in touch with hostage-takers, saying the details of their discussion cannot be made public.

He said motive for the abduction is still unknown. "Security operatives are in touch with them (kidnappers), we don't want to disturb them, because it is their job, but we hope that they will be free soon," he added.

Chindah declined to say if hostage-takers are demanding ransom for the release of the captives who were seized last Friday.

A source told Xinhua that top diplomats with the Thai Embassy in Nigeria have since relocated to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, to help free the four Thais.

The four victims, who were abducted on Friday in the southern state of Rivers, worked on a fish farm managed by Omida Farms, an Israeli company.

There have been several abductions of foreign workers in Nigeria over the years but all have been released after negotiations with the abductors.- Philippines News Agency

Malaysia warns biological, toxin weapons serious threats to international peace

Malaysia has warned that the existence of deadly biological and toxin weapons as well as their potential misuse constitute serious threats to international peace and security.

This was expressed by the Malaysian delegation at the meeting of experts of states party to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in Geneva, Switzerland yesterday.

According to a statement made available to Bernama by the Foreign Ministry here, Malaysia believed the threats were also growing with the rapid advancement in the field of science and technology.

Therefore, the statement said, there was a need for scientific and technological cooperation between states party to the convention to fight against infectious diseases and to address the threats of bio-terrorism.

"We are of the view that we must develop oversight frameworks for bio-security. We must also develop preparedness efforts to detect and respond to potential bio-threats," said the statement.

In this regard, Malaysia will be conducting a workshop entitled "Collaboration Across Sectors to Prepare for and Respond to Biological Incidents" that will be held from Aug. 19-22 in Melaka.

The workshop is in collaboration with the United States Department of Defence through the established Cooperative Biological Engagement Programme (CBEP), of the Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) of the United States, in the field of biosecurity.

The statement said Malaysia will be hosting the Biological Weapons Convention Regional Workshop for South and Southeast Asia that will be held in Kuala Lumpur on Sept. 3 and 4.

This regional workshop is in collaboration with the European Union (EU) Council's decision in Support of the Biological Weapons Convention at the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva and the BWC Implementation Support Unit. - Philippines News Agency

China-Russia joint drill to enter final phase

The China-Russia joint anti-terrorism drill Peace Mission-2013 will enter its last phase -- simulated combat on Wednesday, a Chinese military officer said Tuesday.

"In the last phase, we will organize field maneuvers using live fire," said Ma Jixiang, Chinese assistant director of the drill and deputy director of the Combat Department of Shenyang Military Area Command Headquarters. "Now we are making final preparations for the upcoming two days' exercises."

The joint maneuvers, scheduled to run from July 27 to Aug. 15, are conducted at the Chebarkul combined training range in Russia's Ural Mountains.

During the first two phases -- troop deployment and battle planning, the troops practised joint reconnaissance, joint block and control of accident areas, joint support for campaign equipment and live-ammunition exercises, Ma said.

The troop deployment was aimed at dispatching troops to designated areas and putting in place counter-terrorist deployment, and the battle planning was designed to coordinate campaign attempts and formulate combat plans, he said. - Philippines News Agency

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Singapore's economy grows 3.8% on-year in Q2 EmailPrint

Singapore's economy posted strong growth in the second quarter on the back of a robust performance from the manufacturing sector.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said gross domestic product (GDP) grew 3.8 per cent on-year in the second quarter, higher than early estimates of a 3.7 per cent rise.

It is the strongest growth in three years and a hefty improvement from the 0.2 per cent growth recorded in the first quarter. 

On a quarter-on-quarter basis, GDP grew 15.5 per cent, significantly higher than the 1.7 per cent expansion in the previous quarter.

Following the strong performance, the ministry upgraded the GDP growth forecast for 2013 to 2.5-3.5 per cent, better than the previous prediction of a 1-3 per cent growth.

The upward revision of Singapore's growth outlook came as no surprise.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had disclosed the more optimistic GDP forecast in his National Day message last week.

And at a news briefing on Monday, MTI said the revision was due to better-than-expected economic growth in the first half, particularly from non-trade related sectors like finance.

But there are downside risks to growth.

Ow Foong Pheng, Permanent Secretary for Trade and Industry, said: "Our expectations and our forecast for growth for the second half of 2013 are based on a central scenario of 7.5% growth for China. We do not expect a hard landing, but of course these things depend on whether there are unexpected consequences to some policy moves that (the) Chinese government makes."

On a quarter-on-quarter basis, the manufacturing sector soared 32.1 per cent in Q2, a sharp rebound from the 12.1 per cent contraction in the previous quarter.

The construction sector jumped 11.2 per cent, faster than the 10.3 per cent growth in the preceding quarter.

In the services producing industries, the wholesale & retail trade sector expanded by 22.1 per cent, in contrast to the 2.6 per cent contraction in the first quarter.

The transportation and storage sector grew by 19.6 per cent. The finance and insurance sector expanded by 9.2 per cent following a surge of 51.2 per cent in the preceding quarter.

As Singapore's economic growth forecast was upgraded, export growth for the year was revised down.

Non-oil domestic exports (NODX) is now expected to be flat or grow 1 per cent.

The full-year trade forecast was also downgraded to between 2 and 3 per cent.

Trade agency IE Singapore said domestic exports fell 4.9 per cent on-year in Q2 while non-oil re-exports (NORX) jumped 12.2 per cent.

UOB economist Francis Tan said: "We see a discrepancy between the re-exports and the domestic exports. That could be due to two reasons - number one, it could be due to cost competitiveness, so products that are coming in to Singapore are getting re-exported, rather than being value-added in Singapore and getting re-exported as domestic exports. On the second front, it could really be due to the product mix that Singapore is producing for the domestic exports."

With the full-year GDP growth expected to come in at between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent, UOB Economic-Treasury Research says this implies the economy will grow between 3.1 and 5 per cent in the second half of the year. - Channel News Asia

Cambodia strongman edges opposition in early election results

Cambodia's strongman prime minister Hun Sen narrowly won the popular vote in recent disputed elections, according to preliminary official results Monday that were immediately rejected by the opposition.

The nation has been stuck in a political impasse since Hun Sen's long-ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) claimed victory in the July 28 vote, with the military deployed in the capital Phnom Penh last week after the opposition threatened mass demonstrations.

The CPP took some 49 percent of the votes, according to an AFP tally of results-by-province released by the National Election Committee (NEC).

The country's resurgent opposition, which saw its electoral fortunes boosted by the last minute return of leader Sam Rainsy from self-imposed exile, mustered some 44 percent of the votes, the data showed.

The results did not include a seat count, which will determine which party forms the government.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which claims the election was tarnished by widespread fraud, said it was "strongly disappointed" and would launch an objection to the NEC results.

"We will file a complaint against the results in accordance with the law," CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha said at a press conference.

"The CNRP wants to resolve the problems peacefully and we want to have a process that everyone can accept," he said, adding that protests "will be our last resort".

The CNRP has threatened mass demonstrations against the government if an independent inquiry with the United Nations is not held.

Authorities said soldiers in armoured vehicles were deployed in the streets of the capital Phnom Penh for safety reasons and would stay until a new government was formed, but the move was denounced by the opposition as a threat.

Hun Sen's CPP has already said it had secured an estimated 68 of the 123 lower house seats available, a 22-seat deficit from the last election but enough to edge aside the CNRP which was said to have won 55.

If confirmed, it would be the ruling party's worst election result since 1998.

The preliminary NEC results showed the ruling party won some 3.2 million of the 6.6 million votes cast in the election, with the CNRP taking 2.9 million.

The final results, giving the number of seats attained, could be released later this week if no party raised objections, NEC secretary general Tep Nytha told AFP.

He said that if complaints were received, the final tally would be announced by September 8.

While an inquiry into the election has been broadly accepted by all involved, the parties have failed to agree on the terms of operation, particularly UN involvement.

Cambodia's opposition, which has threatened to boycott parliament, last week called on the UN to help resolve the election dispute to protect "the victory" of the people.

The CNRP said Rainsy was expected to meet UN officials Tuesday in New York to discuss the poll.

While an inquiry into the election has been broadly accepted by all involved, the parties have failed to agree on the terms of operation, particularly UN involvement.

Hun Sen -- who has been in power for 28 years -- has vowed to establish a government under his leadership despite the opposition's allegations.

The premier, 61, a former Khmer Rouge cadre who defected from the regime, has vowed to rule until he is 74. - Channel News Asia

Monday, August 12, 2013

Evacuations from Indonesia island after volcano erupts

ERUPTION. This photo taken on August 10, 2013 from the Maurole district of East Nusa Tenggara province with a camera phone shows the Mount Rokatenda volcano spewing a huge column of hot ash during an eruption. Photo by AFP/Stringer

Indonesian rescuers battled Sunday, August 11, to evacuate thousands from an island where a volcanic eruption killed six people the previous day, with the volcano still spewing out rocks and ash at "dangerous levels".

Mount Rokatenda, on tiny Palue island in East Nusa Tenggara province, was sending large clouds of red-hot ash up to 600 meters (almost 2,000 feet) into the air.

"The activity... remains high and at dangerous levels. There are no signs it will stop erupting any time soon," Surono, an official from the state vulcanology agency, told AFP.

On Saturday, August 10, the volcano threw rocks and ash 1.2 miles into the sky and sent torrents of molten lava onto a beach, killing 3 adults and 3 children as they slept.

Activity had been increasing at Rokatenda, one of numerous active volcanoes in the vast Indonesian archipelago, since October and there had been a series of small eruptions before Saturday.

A rescue team was seeking to evacuate some 2,000 people inside a 3-kilometer exclusion zone and a group of "traumatiZed" inhabitants had already left the island, Eduardus Desa Pante, a local disaster management agency official told AFP.

Bakri Kari, one of the team, said rescue efforts were difficult as roads were blocked by ash and people were reluctant to leave their homes.

"It was tough trudging through hot ground covered in ash that was 10 to 20 centimeters thick," he told AFP.

"Everything was burnt by the lava.

"People were scared and many were crying. They wanted to get away from the volcano but at the same time they were reluctant to leave their livestock and homes."

As the volcano began to rumble into life last year, the authorities set up the exclusion zone, with people living inside urged to leave and all activities within the area banned.

Pante said 127 people had already been sent by motor boat to a temporary shelter on Flores island, south of Palue.

"They are traumatized by yesterday's eruption," Pante said, adding he hoped 80 more people waiting at the port could be evacuated on Sunday.

Rescuers had recovered the bodies of the adults killed on the beach but the children had still not been found, he said.

Some 2,000 people had already been evacuated to Flores before Saturday's eruption, leaving around 8,000 people still on the island.

Indonesia has dozens of active volcanoes and straddles major tectonic fault lines known as the "Ring of Fire" between the Pacific and Indian oceans.

The country's most active volcano, Mount Merapi in central Java, killed more than 350 people in a series of violent eruptions in 2010. - Rappler

South Korean bid wins contract to build Myanmar airport

Myanmar has picked South Korea's state-run airport operator to build a new international hub near it's main city, as the once-isolated nation sees booming tourist and business visitor numbers.

A consortium led by the Incheon International Airport Corp (IIAC) was chosen as the preferred bidder to construct the Hanthawaddy International Airport as a second hub for the country's commercial centre Yangon, Myanmar's Department of Civil Aviation said.

The final contract for the $1.1 billion project will be signed at the end of this year, Seoul's transport ministry said in a statement on Sunday confirming the successful bid.

Myanmar, which emerged from outright military rule in 2011, has seen a surge in tourist and business arrivals as reforms in the former pariah state lure holiday makers and potential investors.

The country's main air gateway Yangon International Airport, which is also set for expansion, currently has a capacity of only 2.7 million passengers annually and authorities warned last year that the number of arrivals was set to exceed that level.

Hanthawaddy International -- to be located about 50 miles (80 kilometres) northeast of downtown Yangon -- will be capable of handling about 12 million passengers a year, the South Korean transport ministry said.

The consortium -- also involving four Seoul construction firms -- will build the airport by 2018 and the IIAC will be allowed to manage the property up until 2067, it added.

The IIAC operates South Korea's biggest hub, which handled nearly 40 million passengers last year and has been several times rated the world's best airport by the Airports Council International. - Channel News Asia