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Monday, March 14, 2011

Japanese PM: 15,000 rescued in nation's 'toughest' crisis since WW II

Sendai, Japan (CNN) -- Rescuers began a fourth day picking through the rubble of earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged northern Japan Monday, searching for survivors, as the country's prime minister called on people to pull together and face sacrifices following Friday's historic disaster.

"In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan," Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters at a televised news conference Sunday.

"We Japanese had a lot of difficulties in the past, but we were able to overcome those difficulties to reach this peaceful and prosperous society we have been able to build," Kan said. "So with regard to the earthquake and tsunami, I am confident that the Japanese people can be united to work together."

He added, "I ask each one of you, please have such determination, and deepen your bond with your family members, your neighbors and the people in your community to overcome this crisis so that Japan can be a better place. We can do it together."

The cooperation Kan called for will include accepting rolling blackouts in some areas to preserve electricity as emergency workers try to repair power plants damaged by the quake. About 2.5 million households, just over 4% of the total in Japan, were without electricity Sunday, said Ichiro Fujisaki, the nation's U.S. ambassador.

Lights were turned off in most landmarks to save energy, including the Tokyo Tower and the capital's Rainbow Bridge.

The death toll from the tragedy neared 1,600 on Sunday, with more than 1,900 injured and nearly 1,500 missing, the National Police Agency said. The 8.9-magnitude earthquake tore through Japan on Friday, triggering massive waves that ravaged everything in their path.

So far, about 15,000 people have been rescued, the Kyodo News Agency reported Monday, citing Kan.

Japanese officials raised the quake's magnitude to 9.0 on Sunday, but the U.S. Geological Survey kept its magnitude at 8.9.

Residents Sunday hoped they are spared a potential further catastrophe: a widespread release of radiation from nuclear power plants damaged by the quake. Workers were flooding two of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in a last-ditch attempt to head off a catastrophic meltdown of the reactor core.

"I've not slept since Friday because of aftershocks," said Indri Rosid, who lives in Tokyo. "Now I have nuclear plants to worry about. We have an idea of what to do when an earthquake hits, but what should I do in a radiation leak?"

Rosid said she has an earthquake emergency kit that includes a flashlight, documents and canned food. "But I have nothing for a radiation leak because no one teaches you what to do in that case," she said.

The quake and tsunami disabled the coolant systems at Fukushima Daiichi, which is about 260 km (160 miles) north of Tokyo. Japanese authorities have said there is a "possibility" that a meltdown has occurred in the damaged reactors, but said that there were no indications of dangerously high radiation levels in the atmosphere.

The government evacuated more than 200,000 residents from homes close to the plant, and tested 160 people for radiation exposure on Sunday, authorities said.

"We have the cars filled up and ready for an emergency drive back home to Kyushu in case things get ugly," said Fulco Vrooland, referring to the most southwesterly of Japan's islands.

At least 11 workers have been sickened or injured at the Daiichi plant in the quake's aftermath, the plant's parent company, Tokyo Electric Power Company, said Sunday. Two employees are missing, the company said.

Japan also declared an emergency at a second nuclear plant, in Onagawa, where excessive radiation levels have been recorded since Friday, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, radiation levels had dropped to normal levels by early Monday, and the "current assumption" of Japanese authorities is that the increased radiation levels may have been caused by material released from Fukushima Daiichi, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency reported.

Meanwhile, in neighborhoods swallowed by the walls of water generated by the quake, rescuers and shell-shocked residents scrambled to reach survivors Sunday. Japanese troops went door-to-door in the city of Ishinomaki, hoping to find survivors -- but finding mostly the bodies of elderly residents.

In one coastal town alone -- Minami Sanriku, in Myagi Prefecture -- 9,500 people, about half the town's population, were unaccounted for.

And rescuers trudging through water-logged, debris-filled streets found the city of Sendai in ruins. Cars were stacked on top of one another; and a carpet of sludge covered the remains of what used to be homes.

Sendai lies 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of the earthquake's epicenter. Scores lined up at the few gas stations, drug stores and supermarkets that were open, and shelves were largely empty as stores rushed to restock.

'We've been provided some water rations ... and we're still not sure when we are to get more," said Matthew Williams, who lives in Shin-Urayasu near Tokyo. "The city has told us we are able to take a bucket to the local elementary school to obtain some water, but the wait is about three hours."

The worst may not be over. There's a high chance of a magnitude-7.0 quake or above in the next three days because of increased tectonic activity, the earthquake prediction department chief for the Japan Meteorological Agency said Sunday.

The Japanese agency canceled all tsunami warnings Sunday, but said more warnings were likely to be issued because of aftershocks.

The USGS reported scores of such aftershocks. More than two dozen were greater than magnitude 6, the size of the quake that severely damaged Christchurch, New Zealand last month, the agency said.

Japan plans to dispatch 100,000 members of its defense forces to the quake-ravaged region, double the previous number, authorities said Sunday.

"We are extending emergency food, drinks and assistance to affected areas," the prime minister's office said.

At least 48 other countries and the European Union also have offered relief. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived off Japan's coast Sunday morning to support Japanese forces in disaster relief operations, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement.

Friday's quake is the strongest in recorded history to hit Japan, according to USGS records that date to 1900. The world's largest recorded quake took place in Chile on May 22, 1960, with a magnitude of 9.5, the agency said.

CNN's Tom Watkins, Anna Coren, Kyung Lah, Paula Hancocks, Brian Walker, Kevin Voigt and Sean Morris contributed to this report.

Explosion rocks stricken Japanese nuclear reactor, 2,000 found dead in Miyagi

A woman cries while sitting on a road amid the destroyed city of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan March 13, 2011, after a massive earthquake and tsunami that are feared to have killed more than 10,000 people. Picture taken March 13, 2011. — Reuters pic  

TOKYO, March 14 — A new explosion rocked Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex today, sending a plume of smoke into the air.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said it could not confirm whether or not the hydrogen explosion at the plant’s No.3 reactor had led to an uncontrolled leak of radioactivity, according to the Reuters news agency.

But the explosion has not damaged the plant’s No.3 reactor vessel, news agency Jiji said, quoting the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co

The Kyodo news agency reported that some 2,000 bodies were found today on two shores in Miyagi Prefecture following Friday’s devastating earthquake and massive tsunami, as Japan continued to struggle to grasp the whole picture of the disaster.

The findings will significantly increase the death toll from the magnitude 9.0 quake and ensuing tsunami, with police having so far confirmed 1,597 deaths and 1,481 people missing across the affected areas in northeastern and eastern Japan.

About 1,000 bodies were found coming ashore on hardest-hit Miyagi’s Ojika Peninsula and another 1,000 have been spotted in the town of Minamisanriku where the prefectural government has been unable to contact about 10,000 people, or over half the local population.

The official death toll excludes about 200 to 300 bodies in Sendai, the capital of Miyagi, that have yet to be recovered by police and other workers due to the difficulty of reaching them amid the devastation and rubble.

The Miyagi prefectural government has decided to ask for help from other prefectures as work to cremate bodies is falling behind, it said.

About 450,000 people had evacuated by Sunday in Miyagi and five other prefectures but water, food and fuel are in short supply in various locations where they have taken refuge, prompting the government to decide to airlift supplies by Self-Defense Forces helicopters.

While the Miyagi prefectural government has been unable to contact about 10,000 people in Minamisanriku, comprising more than half the town’s population, information has been received that many town residents have evacuated to neighboring Tome city, officials said, adding they are trying to confirm the report.

The whereabouts of about 2,500 tourists who were visiting the quake-hit areas have not been confirmed, the Japan Tourism Agency said.

With the country’s largest recorded quake having crippled some nuclear power plants in the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan, Tokyo Electric Power Co. is set to start an unprecedented rationing of power in the Kanto region surrounding Tokyo in the morning to make up for an expected power shortage.

The region-specific outages, expected to last at least until the end of April, will affect most of the 45 million people in the power firm’s service area in Tokyo and eight prefectures, with railway operators suspending most services in the region through Monday.

The utility, meanwhile, reported to the government that the radiation level at the troubled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant had again exceeded the legal limit following brief rises over the weekend with some of its reactors having lost their cooling functions. — Reuters

Indian poverty demands urgent solution

By M Kulasegaran

KUALA LUMPUR; With the fragmentation of estates in the late 1960s and coupled with the decline in rubber commodity prices from the 1970s, estate labourers of Indian origin began to migrate to the towns and urban areas of Peninsular Malaysia in search of their livelihood.

Thus began a pattern of their lives that saw them exchange the discreet poverty of their estate existence for the grinding poverty of their urban lives.

Their lack of education and the higher cost of living in urban areas meant that these rural-to-urban migrants were hard put to eke out a living. They began to languish in hopelessness, their poverty turning endemic because their children’s low educational attainment, in part due to gloomy home conditions, meant their further immersion in the poverty trap.

Within two decades of this migratory drift from estate sufficiency to urban depression, Indian Malaysians began to top the indices of social pathology.

The unemployment rate, school dropout rate, crime rate, and high incidence of single parents, all testified to social malaise among Indian Malaysians.

Now MIC new president G Palanivel has suggested the urban poor Indians who are earning a meager income to move back to the estates to earn a better and higher income as a temporary solution.

Long term solution needed

Palanivel is out of touch of the real problem of the Indians. A temporary solution cannot work. What is needed is a long term solution to the hard core problem of the Indian poor.

It is suggested that a parliamentary select committee consisting of the government, opposition and eminent personalities to be established to ascertain the real cause of the hardcore poverty among the Indians.

The select committee can then make due recommendations for a permanent and long term solution for those Indians who are suffering in the urban poor net.

Thus a safety net of a sort is needed like a “tongkat” for the community to progress from the slumber.

The committee can and should visit and ascertain the real issues affecting the Indians in all areas where the Indians are residing.

I will raise this issue next week during my turn to speak during the royal address in Parliament.

Will MIC, Gerakan, MCA and PPP support me? Or as usual will they pretend not to hear me for fear of Umno their big brother?

The parliamentary select committee could also look into, among others, the poverty affecting Malaysians as a whole, gangstersim and high criminal activities among the poor, the right of government scholarship for everyone and the growing population of single mothers.

Other issues such as high dependence on alcohol and drugs, unemployment, the over dependence on foreign workers and the need for a minimum wage must also be considered.

M Kulasegaran is Ipoh Barat member of parliament and DAP’s national vice chairman.

Najib not master of his own house?

By Lim Kit Siang

KUALA LUMPUR: Is the continued seizure of 35,000 copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia – 30,000 copies in Kuching Port and 5,000 copies in Port Klang – another example that the Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is not master of his own house and the hollowness of his 1Malaysia policy?

It is four days since the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) has come out with a statement expressing that it is “greatly disillusioned, fed-up and angered by the repeated detention of Bibles written in our national language, Bahasa Malaysia”.

The CFM chairman Bishop Ng Boon Hing and its executive committee in a joint statement on Thursday revealed the power of the “Little Napoleons” in the bureaucracy which could even thwart and veto the prime minister’s order for the release of the Christian scriptures in Bahasa Malaysia.

Why has there been no action by Najib to ensure that his order to release the 5,000 Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia held in Port Klang since March 2009 are complied with without any more delay or hassle?

Instead, we have a home ministry official justifying the seizure of the Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia on the ground that it was based on a Cabinet decision made a quarter of a century ago in 1986.

However, despite the Cabinet decision in 1986, there had been no insuperable problem with the import of Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia for the next two decades.

The prime minister in 1986 was Dr Mahathir Mohamad but it was during the premiership of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the 1986 Cabinet decision became a most polarising issue, not only in Peninsular Malaysia but extending to Sabah and Sarawak as well, seriously undermining national unity and harmony.

Test of Najib’s authority

Are the concerns and fears that Malays may be proselytised to become Christians if Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia are allowed really valid and genuine as to justify the belated implementation of the 1986 Cabinet decision two decades later?

Can the authorities furnish statistics of how many Malays were converted to Christianity in the two decades from 1986?

It would appear that although Najib is the prime minister, he is working under the shadow of the fourth prime minister whose 1986 Cabinet decision has greater power and authority than the order from the current prime minister.

The prohibition of the use of Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia for Malaysian Christians, particularly those who are educated in the Bahasa Malaysia medium in the national education system, makes double mockery of Najib’s 1Malaysia’s nation-building policy as well as the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion.

Now, even the authority of Najib as prime minister is under question – whether he is master in his own house or beholden and subject to the fourth prime minister for a Cabinet decision made 25 years ago which should not have been made in the first place.

It is a test of Najib’s authority as prime minister, his commitment to 1Malaysia policy and the constitutional guarantee of freedom religion whether the prime minister could ensure the release of the 35,000 Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia in Kuching Port and Port Klang without any more delay or hassle.

Lim Kit Siang is DAP’s parliamentary leader and the MP for Ipoh Timor.

Bibles withheld due to court case: Hishammuddin

The Sun

PETALING JAYA (March 13, 2011): The consignment of 30,000 bibles in Bahasa Indonesia is being held at Port Klang and Kuching Port due to a pending court case.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the withholding of the books was due to the pending appeal by the Catholic Herald over the use of the word "Allah" in its publication -- as this term is used in the Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia texts.

"The ministry have since sought the advice of the Attorney-General and the matter is being resolved amicably with the parties concerned," he said, adding that the issue is expected to be resolved in the next few days.

A 2009 High Court ruling had allowed the Catholic Church to use the word “Allah” in the Malay-language section of its news publication, sparking off a series of arson attacks on houses of worship.

The ministry then filed an appeal on the decision in February last year and won a stay, pending a decision by Court of Appeal.

Urging all parties not to listen to wild allegations, Hishammuddin, in a statement today, stressed that the ministry will act based on the law.

He also tried to assure Christians that the bibles are being kept in good condition.

The Home Minister's statement comes following criticisms from the Christian community as well as the Sarawak Government which had demanded that the bibles be released immediately.

Meanwhile, the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) said the 30,000 copies of 'Perjanjian Baru, Mazmur and Amsal' also known as the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, which cost US$26,000 (RM78,000) were meant for Christians in Sarawak.

CFM chairman Bishop Ng Moon Hing claimed that since March 2009, all attempts to import the bible in Bahasa Malaysia through Port Klang and Port of Kuching have been thwarted by the authorities.

"The previous consignment of 5,000 copies of the Alkitab imported in March 2009 is still being held by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Port Klang," Ng said in a statement.

"This is despite repeated appeals which resulted in the Prime Minister making a decision to release the Alkitab in Port Klang in December 2009 which was reported to CFM leaders by several Cabinet Ministers and their aides.

Ng claimed the Prime Minister was informed about the matter during a hi-tea event last Christmas and despite being assured of its release, nothing has been done by the authorities.

"It would appear as if the authorities are waging a continuous, surreptitious and systematic programme against the Christians in Malaysia to deny them access to the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia," he said.

"This is the Christian holy book. If Christians are not allowed to read the holy book in their own language, then we can’t talk about religious freedoms,” he added, referring to the Bumiputera Christians whom he said formed the biggest segment of believers in the country.

Christians make up close to 10% of Malaysia’s 28 million population with large numbers in Sarawak and Sabah, where the Bahasa Malaysia is used in sermons in churches. -- theSun

Japan Issues Fresh Tsunami Warning For Stricken Coast

TOKYO, March 14 (Reuters) -- Japan issued on Monday a fresh tsunami warning for the same region devastated by Friday's massive quake and initial tsunami, local media said.

Kyodo news agency quoted authorities as saying the new tsunami could be up to a height of three-metres and issued an alert for the country's Pacific coast, including Fukushima prefecture, which was hit hard by Friday's disaster.

Berita Harian's shameful tsunami cartoon

Berita Harian has made global news – for the wrong reason.
It published a cartoon on the tsunami in Japan that has been widely seen as appallingly distasteful and insensitive.
Have a look at this report on the CNN website.
The newspaper has since issued a public apology on its website, twitter and Facebook.
I can’t say many Malaysians were surprised by the cartoon, given the paper’s track record and its brand of journalism in the past.