Southeast Asia Stay updated with Business News, Pakistan news, Current world news and latest world news with Business Recorder.. Thu, 23 Oct 2014 18:19:39 +0000 SRA Framework 2.0 en-gb New Japan minister hit by S&M bar scandal imageTOKYO: Japan was stung Thursday by its third political scandal in a week after the country's new industry minister -- whose predecessor resigned in disgrace over misspending -- admitted that his underlings had spent office cash at a sex bar.

The new revelations could deal another serious blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose administration is already facing a public backlash over its bid to turn Japan's shuttered nuclear reactors back on while his plan to revive the economy stalls.

On Thursday, newly appointed industry minister Yoichi Miyazawa, a Harvard graduate and former senior bureaucrat in the finance ministry, distanced himself from the affair, saying he wasn't present at the sex club in the city of Hiroshima.

But he acknowledged that some staff at his political office had billed 18,230 yen ($170) as entertainment expenses during a visit in September 2010, Jiji Press news agency said.

"I came to know of that through a media report, and it was true," Miyazawa told reporters in Tokyo.

"It is also true that I myself was not there," he added.

The venue's shows include women being tied up with ropes and male patrons whipping them, according to blog posts written by club visitors.

It was not immediately clear if Miyazawa -- a nephew of late prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa and a cousin of Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida -- would step down.

"(Miyazawa) will handle the case properly," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, in the only comment from Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

- Double resignations -

On Tuesday, Miyazawa was tapped to replace industry minister Yuko Obuchi, who stepped down over claims she misspent political funds, while Justice Minister Midori Matsushima also quit after days of allegations that she had misspent money in what opponents insisted was an attempt to buy votes.

The double resignations marked the first significant problem for Abe since he swept to power in December 2012, ending years of fragile governments that swapped prime ministers on an annual basis.

The revolving door of leaders was linked to plunging approval ratings due to policy failures and various scandals involving senior ministers.

This week's resignations were also a blow to Abe's bid to boost the profile of working women in Japan.

However, Tomoaki Iwai, a political scientist at Nihon University, said Abe would likely survive the latest crisis.

"The spending was inappropriate and embarrassing," and it reflects badly on Miyazawa's supervisory abilities, he said.

But his staff did not break the law, Iwai said, adding that the possibility of criminal charges was a bigger threat to Abe's government.

The industry ministry, which oversees Japan's energy sector, is the face for Tokyo's attempts to convince a sceptical public on the safety of re-starting stalled nuclear power plants -- more than three years after the Fukushima atomic crisis.

All of Japan's 48 operational nuclear reactors are currently switched off. But Tokyo has been pushing to return to a source that once supplied more than one-quarter of Japan's energy, as heavy energy import bills weigh on the country's trade balance.

Meanwhile, Abe's bid to kickstart Japan's long-laggard economy has stumbled after his government raised sales taxes in April to help pay down a massive national debt.

Abe himself was forced to resign in 2007, only a year into his first premiership after several of his ministers were hammered by political scandals.

Then farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka hanged himself that year after becoming embroiled in a scandal over political spending.

Former state minister for regulatory reform Genichiro Sata, another key Abe lieutenant, stepped down over questions about his political spending.

Last year, Sata resigned from a party post after a magazine said he had gone on paid dates with a female university student. The publication ran pictures of him leaving a hotel with the woman.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Shoaib-ur-Rehman Siddiqui) South East Asia Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:24:58 +0000
Hong Kong climbers hang protest banner off landmark cliff imageHONG KONG: A group of climbers unfurled a giant protest banner from a famous Hong Kong cliff Thursday after the city's leader said that full democracy demanded by mass rallies would give the poor too much power.

Climbers unveiled the 28-metre banner off Lion Rock, an imposing hill with a steep cliffside that rises above the densely-packed working class Kowloon area and is often used to invoke the Asian financial hub's "can do" attitude.

The yellow banner featured the slogan "I want genuine universal suffrage" and an umbrella, the symbol adopted by democracy protesters campaigning for full democracy in the southern Chinese city.

Parts of the city have been paralysed for nearly a month by demonstrations and road blocks calling on Beijing to rescind its insistence that Hong Kong's next leader be vetted by a loyalist committee ahead of elections in 2017.

A group calling itself "Hong Kong Spidie" published a video online before the stunt saying they were unfurling the banner to protest recent comments by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

In an interview with foreign media on Monday, Leung said giving the public the right to nominate candidates for the city's top post would result in the poor dominating politics.

"If it's entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you'd be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month," Leung said.

In their video a climber dressed in a Spiderman outfit said: "The small circle electoral committee (who voted for Leung in 2012) and the Chief Executive only care about the rich on Tai Ping Shan and not the poor under Lion Rock".

Tai Ping Shan is the local name for Victoria Peak, the famous hill that dominates Hong Kong Island and boasts some of the world's most expensive properties.

In contrast, Lion Rock overlooks poorer neighbourhoods across the harbour that were historically the first port of call for impoverished immigrants from mainland China hoping to better themselves.

The phrase "Lion Rock Spirit" has since become adopted by Cantonese speakers to encapsulate Hong Kong's renown as a place where hard work and perseverance meant a brighter future.

But the current protests are taking place against a backdrop of rising inequality and soaring housing costs which leave many young people with little prospect of renting, let alone buying, their own homes in a city with one of Asia's widest wealth gaps.

Many protesters lament that the city's "Lion Rock Spirit" has been stifled by a political elite in thrall to big business.

Police Thursday confirmed that 10 climbers were involved in unfurling the banner, adding that that officers were the scene.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Saad Jabri) South East Asia Thu, 23 Oct 2014 09:20:45 +0000
North Korea warns South over planned high-level talks imageSEOUL: North Korea issued a fresh warning Thursday that planned high-level talks with the South might have to be scrapped because of what it called Seoul's arrogant and provocative behaviour.

"Inter-Korean ties are now standing at the crossroads," the North Korean delegation that would participate in the proposed dialogue said in a lengthy statement carried by the North's official KCNA news agency.

The choice facing both sides was to "make the seeds of hard-won inter-Korean dialogue sprout or allow the confrontation to reach an extreme phase and spark off a war", the statement said.

The two Koreas agreed to resume high-level talks during a surprise visit to the South by a top-ranking North Korean delegation earlier this month.

Seoul has proposed an October 30 start date, but the only response from Pyongyang so far has been to warn the talks might not happen at all.

Thursday's statement suggested the peace overtures had been instigated by Pyongyang in good faith, only for Seoul to spurn the opportunity.

It blamed the South for a series of minor military skirmishes on the land and sea border this month, and slammed Seoul's refusal to prevent "human scum" floating anti-North leaflets across the border using giant helium balloons.

The launches by South Korean activists have been repeatedly condemned by the North, which tried to shoot down some of the balloons earlier this month -- triggering an exchange of heavy machine gun fire.

Military talks on October 15 to address rising tensions broke down with the North accusing the South side of behaving "very arrogantly."

Pyongyang has issued several warnings about the prospects for resuming the high-level dialogue, to which Seoul has simply responded by repeating its offer to meet on October 30.

The last round of high-level talks was held in February and resulted in the North hosting a rare reunion of families separated by the Korean War.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) South East Asia Thu, 23 Oct 2014 03:45:43 +0000
Australia ramps up parliament security after Ottawa attack imageCANBERRA: Australia stepped up security around Parliament House on Thursday and Prime Minister Tony Abbott expressed solidarity with Ottawa after a gunman attempted to storm Canada's legislature.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the government would boost security measures around Canberra's parliament buildings on top of a recent tightening of measures imposed after Australia last month raised its terror alert level from "medium" to "high".

"There will be an enhanced Australian Federal Police presence around the building," Keenan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"We will obviously continue to monitor the situation to make sure the deployment around the building is appropriate for what we assess to be the risk."

He stressed there were no specific threats "that we're aware of that would give us cause for concern".

The increased security measures include extra police around the Canadian High Commission, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Abbott said he was confident of responding to any attacks on parliament, with security arrangements at government buildings and military bases constantly under review.

"Security was upgraded at this parliament about six weeks ago in response to credible intelligence of a possible threat to this parliament," the Australian leader said.

"I do want to assure the Australian people that this government will do everything we humanly can to keep our country and its people safe."

The prime minister also expressed solidarity with Canadians, adding: "Australians woke this morning to further confirmation that the threat to free countries and free institutions is very real indeed."

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) South East Asia Thu, 23 Oct 2014 03:38:20 +0000
Nepal calls off search for survivors of deadly Himalayan snowstorm imageKATHMANDU: Nepal on Wednesday called off a search for any more survivors of a Himalayan snowstorm that claimed some 43 lives, after more than a week of scouring the popular trekking region.

Emergency workers have airlifted 518 people to safety, including 310 foreign tourists, since the snowstorm struck the Annapurna Circuit during peak season, catching trekkers, their guides and porters unawares.

"We have decided to call off the operation for now, staying (on) stand-by if there is any information or calls for help," senior tourism ministry official Suresh Acharya told AFP.

"We have not received any additional information of trapped trekkers from the region," he said.

Thirty five bodies have been pulled from the snow since the storm hit last Tuesday, while rescuers believe another eight are still buried in Manang district, officials have said.

"Rescue workers have dug over 10 feet deep in their search, but the bodies (of the eight) have not been found," district official Devendra Lamichanne told AFP.

A team, from the Nepal Army and two Sherpa rescue experts, remain camped in the area to continue searching for the eight, who are thought to be four Canadians, an Indian and three Nepalese, he said.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014
]]> (Saad Jabri) South East Asia Wed, 22 Oct 2014 09:20:15 +0000
Malaysia's defence minister hopeful MH370 will be found imagePERTH: Malaysia's Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Wednesday his country was determined to find missing Flight MH370, as he was briefed by Australian officials leading the complex search deep in the Indian Ocean.

Hishammuddin, who is in the Western Australian port of Fremantle to inspect one of the search ships, the GO Phoenix, said the passengers and crew on board the Malaysia Airlines jet "remain in our thoughts and also in our prayers".

"We must continue to hope because sometimes hope is all we have," Hishammuddin told reporters. "We will find MH370."

The passenger aircraft was carrying 239 people, about two-thirds of them from China, when it disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. No sign of the Boeing 777 has ever been found despite a massive air and sea search.

The jet is believed to have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean after inexplicably veering off course.

Hishammuddin was acting transport minister when the plane went missing and led Malaysia's search for the jet before Liow Tiong Lai replaced him in the transport portfolio in June.

During his visit he toured the GOPhoenix, a Malaysian-contracted vessel which is conducting the underwater search using sophisticated sonar systems.

The renewed underwater probe began in early October and more than 1,200 square kilometres (463 square miles) have so far been scoured without success, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said.

GO Phoenix is expected to leave for the Indian Ocean search site on Thursday after its resupply in Fremantle.

The Australian-contracted Fugro Discovery departed the port last week and is set to arrive in the search zone Wednesday, said the ATSB, which is leading the search.

The Chinese survey ship Zhu Kezhen, which has since left the search zone, and the Australian-contracted Fugro Equator have been mapping the seabed since May before the underwater hunt.

The Fugro Equator is expected to finish its seabed mapping duties on Friday before it is outfitted with a sonar system so it can join the underwater search.

Hishammuddin met officials from the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, the Australian agency coordinating information about the search. He said Malaysia was dedicated in its support for the MH370 search.

"All that could have been done to find the plane at this point has been done," he said.

"This is it, the next phase. The search goes on."

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) South East Asia Wed, 22 Oct 2014 07:25:37 +0000
South Korea urges North to release other detainees imageSEOUL: South Korea on Wednesday welcomed North Korea's release of a US citizen, but immediately urged it to free two other American detainees and a South Korean missionary who was arrested on espionage charges.

Jeffrey Fowle, who was detained in April after apparently leaving a Bible in the bathroom of a nightclub in the North, flew out of Pyongyang on a Pentagon plane on Tuesday.

"Our government welcomes Fowle's release," a South Korean foreign ministry official said.

"We hope other detained figures will be released as soon as possible on humanitarian grounds," the official said, making a particular plea in the case of missionary Kim Jeong-Wook.

The North has rejected repeated requests to free Kim, who was arrested last October after he entered North Korea from China.

At a government-arranged news conference in Pyongyang in February, Kim "confessed" to engaging in anti-government activities with the support of South Korea's intelligence agency.

He was sentenced to hard labour for life.

Seoul dismissed the charges, saying Kim was involved in "purely religious activities".

Foreigners arrested in North Korea are often required to make a public confession which can then expedite their eventual release.

Although religious freedom is enshrined in the North Korean constitution, it does not exist in practice and religious activity is restricted to officially-recognised groups linked to the government.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) South East Asia Wed, 22 Oct 2014 06:41:19 +0000
China to send orbiter to moon and back: report imageBEIJING: China will launch its latest lunar orbiter in the coming days, state media said Wednesday, in its first attempt to send a spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth.

The spacecraft, which has not been named, will launch between Friday and Sunday, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

It is China's first lunar module capable of returning to Earth, which will require withstanding the high temperatures that develop when a probe re-enters the terrestrial atmosphere.

It is intended to test technology to be used in the Chang'e-5, China's fourth lunar probe, which aims to gather samples from the moon's surface and will be launched around 2017, according to China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND).

Beijing sees its multi-billion-dollar space programme as a marker of its rising global stature and mounting technical expertise, as well as evidence of the ruling Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

The military-run project has plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually to send a human to the moon.

China currently has one moon rover, the Jade Rabbit, on the surface of the moon.

The craft, launched as part of the Chang'e-3 lunar mission late last year, has been declared a success by Chinese authorities, although it has been beset by mechanical troubles.

A Xinhua report last week said that the Jade Rabbit had "entered its 11th dormancy as lunar night falls, with its functions degrading gracefully".

According to the Chinese Business View newspaper, the latest probe will be launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

"After flying around the moon for about one week, the spacecraft will return to earth, landing somewhere within our country's borders," the paper said.

"This will mark the first time in the work of the Chang'e series that a craft will have 'returned home' from the moon," it added.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) South East Asia Wed, 22 Oct 2014 06:35:30 +0000
Indonesian president ponders some cabinet picks on anti-graft concern imageJAKARTA: New Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday he was re-evaluating some of his choices for cabinet jobs after an anti-graft agency raised concern about possible problems with some candidates.

Widodo, who won a closely fought July election on promises of clean government, will want to avoid the same type of corruption scandals that tainted his predecessor's final term in office. Three of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's ministers were implicated in corruption cases.

Widodo, who took office on Monday, submitted a list of candidates to fill his cabinet of 33 ministers to two government watchdogs.

The list has not been made public.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) considered some candidates on Widodo's list "problematic" or "potentially problematic", Zulkarnain, the KPK's deputy chairman, was quoted as saying in the Jakarta Post newspaper on Tuesday.

When asked if he had to re-evaluate any of his nominations after the findings of the commission, Widodo told reporters: "It looks like it has to be like that." He declined to identify the problematic candidates.

Widodo had been expected to announce his cabinet as early as Tuesday. He has said he would have 18 technocrats and 15 political appointees in the line-up.

It was not clear when the team would be announced.

Officials from the KPK were not immediately available for comment.

It was not clear if the second anti-graft agency considering cabinet nominations, the Indonesian Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, also raised concerns.

Centre officials were not available for comment.

All eyes are on Widodo's choices to head the main economic ministries.

They will inherit problems in Southeast Asia's biggest economy ranging from a widening current account deficit and cooling investment to the slowest growth since 2009.

Widodo has been tight lipped on his cabinet picks, but two advisers told Reuters on Saturday that former Astra International chief Rini Soemarno was expected to be minister for state-owned enterprises.

Copyright Reuters, 2014

]]> (Shoaib-ur-Rehman Siddiqui) South East Asia Tue, 21 Oct 2014 05:36:04 +0000
Former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam dead at 98 imageSYDNEY: Former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam, a towering figure who led the nation through a period of massive change and remains the country's only leader to be sacked, died Tuesday aged 98.

"A loving and generous father, he was a source of inspiration to us and our families and for millions of Australians," said his children Antony, Nicholas, Stephen and Catherine in announcing his death.

Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott called the Labor stalwart "a giant of his time", and instructed flags around the country to be flown at half mast while suspending normal parliament for the day as a mark of respect.

"Whitlam represented more than a new politics. He represented a new way of thinking, about government, about our region, about our place in the world and about change itself," said Abbott.

Despite being in power for only three turbulent years, Whitlam launched sweeping reforms of the nation's economic and cultural affairs.

He stopped conscription, introduced free university education, recognised communist China, pulled troops from Vietnam, abolished the death penalty for federal crimes and reduced the voting age to 18.

Under his leadership, the last traces of the White Australia policy designed to exclude non-white migrants were also removed, and he became the first Australian leader to visit China, now the nation's biggest trading partner.

But the flamboyant Whitlam was also divisive while in office, with an autocratic reputation, falling out with minister after minister.

Ultimately he became Australia's only prime minister to be sacked, a touchstone moment in the nation's political history.

He led Labor to its first victory in 23 years at the December 1972 election on the back of the famous "It's Time" campaign, before being sensationally fired in 1975 by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, the Queen's representative.

His dismissal was prompted by a refusal by parliament's upper house, where his Labor Party did not hold a majority, to pass a budget bill until the government agreed to call a general election.

To end the impasse, Kerr took the unprecedented step of sacking Whitlam and installing then opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker prime minister.

"I don't think Gough ... I never felt he bore me personal animosity. He regarded that as politics," Fraser said Tuesday of that tumultuous time.

"He wasn't the sort of person who bore grudges. He didn't carry a bitterness into the future. He was a much larger man than that, a more generous man than that."

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014

]]> (Parvez Jabri) South East Asia Tue, 21 Oct 2014 03:23:21 +0000