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Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's NOT the end of the world as we know it

Volcano erupts beneath glacier in Iceland

A cloud of smoke and ash rises over the Grimsvotn volcano in Iceland on Saturday.(CNN) -- The Grimsvotn volcano under the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland was erupting Saturday, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

A dark cloud of smoke was rising from the glacier, and scientists were flying over the scene to evaluate the event, according to CNN affiliate TV2 Iceland.

The last eruption of the volcano was in 2004, TV2 Iceland reported.

Last year, another Icelandic eruption, of the volcano Eyjafjallajokull, attracted worldwide attention after its ash cloud disrupted air travel across Europe.

Sitrun Kapitola, manager of the Islandia Hotel Nupar, which is close to Saturday's eruption, said she could see a cloud of smoke over the mountains, and ash was falling around the hotel.

Police were telling her and others that there was no need to evacuate and there was nothing to fear, Kapitola said.

"We see it very well," she said.

"It's nothing compared to the other one," she added, referring to last year's dramatic Eyjafjallajokull eruption.

Tourists at the hotel were excited to see the eruption, watching the events unfold while eating dinner, she said.

"It happens every 10 years," she said. "It mostly produces water."

Grimsvotn is Iceland's most frequently active volcano. In 1783, a 16.7-mile fissure system from the volcano produced the world's largest known historical lava flow over a seven-month period, damaging crops and livestock, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. A resulting famine led to the loss of one-fifth of Iceland's population, according to the Smithsonian website.

NUJ chief: Shut down Utusan Malaysia

(Malaysiakini) National Union of Journalists chief and sacked Utusan Malaysia reporter Hata Wahari has called for his former employer to be shut down and its editors left to suffer for publishing a religiously charged article earlier this month.

penang media forum 220511hata wahariHata (left), who was in Penang for a forum on press freedom organised by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), said this was the only way to make its editors and reporters take responsibility for the unsubtantiated front page article on May 7, and the following ruckus across the nation that ensued.
He added that there were existing laws like the Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publication Act, which could be wielded on Utusan.
This would show that the government was not practising 'double standards' when dealing with an errant newspaper, he added.
Hata said the editor-in-chief of the Umno-owned newspaper could have said 'no' to their political masters bidding to play up this potentially explosive religious issue., which alleged that the DAP was plotting with a group of pastors in Penang to install a Christian prime minister.
The duo were also accused of planning to call for the amendment of the Federal Constitution to install Christianity as the offical religion of the federation.
Based on postings from two pro-Umno bloggers, the controversial article which attracted more than 20 police reports across the country, has been refuted and condemned.
Feel the pain
"In order to make the paper responsible, something must be done to the editors and reporters...similar as what happened to The Star, Sinchew Daily and Watan during Ops Lallang in 1987," he said, in the forum titled 'Media and Ethnicity: Overcoming the Challenges'.
"When they feel the pain of how others felt (during the time of shutdown), they might think two or three times to publish what they did...we must at least shut them down for once," he added.
utusan malaysia kritsian agama rasmiHata said the Utusan had never before embarked on a religious controversy of this scale, but focussed more on 'Malay' issues since the 1960s.
He added that the paper was indeed 'racist and fanatic' over Malay issues but never Islam, and it was bent on highlighting them in all sectors, be it the social, economic or political.
"It was a surprise for me and I felt strange they had started to play on religious issues...I can bet you the previous editors-in-chief would not had allowed this to happen," he said.
He conceded that Utusan was a 'closed' organisation, in that it would never accept any external opinion or influence which is different from its stand, except those that came from its political masters, Umno.
"Whatever we say or whoever says it, the editors in there will not the best thing to do is shut it down!" he urged, in his brief presentation.
When asked how he survived 16 years in the newspaper, before being sacked for criticising his bosses, Hata explained in a roundabout way that he mostly practised self-censorship to survive.

Why Pakatan will not get the Indian votes

By Naragan,

What the Indian voters rejected in GE12 was basically the mandorist approach of Umno. And they rejected it with some vehemence.

The mandorist approach, to put it briefly, is about "powerless and deceitful representation".

MIC is the key mandore of Umno. And this is what the Indian voters rejected, Umno and their Mandores. Lock, stock and barrel.

Now compare - what is happening on Pakatan Rakyat's side.Many of the Indian PR reps got together in Penang last month for a retreat to brainstorm why the Indians were deserting PR, in spite of all the nonsense towards them from Umno.

Don't have to go far. The outcome of the meeting itself tells of the reason. The net outcome was three feeble recommendations - what a bloody shame!

Have a liaison officer for Indian issues, get more involved in the 'Interlok' issue and give more jobs in the state and local councils to Indians. What nonsense, this.

How can Pakatan get the Indian votes back with such a basic strategy worse than the one just rejected by the Indian electorate in GE 12.

The PR reps should have been given the authority to come up with the right formula to solve the core problems faced by the Indian poor and then implement their plan.

Instead they can only do what their Mandores counterparts on the other side do - come up with some ridiculous recommendations. But this group has no plenary powers. They are not empowered. They can do nothing.

They are powerless, no different than their counterparts on the other side of the political spectrum.

If PR wants to regain the Indian support, then enough of this kind of nonsense - deal with the problems squarely.

However it is my opinion that it is not in PR's DNA to be able to do this.

The net of this, is that in time all the Indian votes will desert PR. BN is not going to be the beneficiary of a PR desertion, though they may be hallucinating such.

The third alternative, the Human Rights Party (HRP) has no choice but to grow.

The Indian votes will line up behind the HRP it is only a matter of time.

You cannot stop history.

MIC joins PSD scholarship row

Wee said 363 deserving students had missed out on PDS scholarships this year. — file pic
KUALA LUMPUR, May 22 — The MIC is the latest to complain about unfair distribution of government scholarships, saying the Najib administration should investigate the grouses hurled against the Public Service Department’s (PSD) for the second year running.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong revealed last week that 363 straight A+ students failed to get the scholarships this year although Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had agreed that all students scoring 8A+ and above will receive the PSD scholarships after a similar brouhaha last year.
“The Public Service Department (PSD) has failed to follow the Cabinet directives. The PSD must realise that high achievers are assets to the country,” MIC’s Datuk SK Devamany, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said in a statement.

“MIC wants an independent committee to investigate the scholarship distribution,” he added.
Devamany said the MIC wants an independent probe on the issue.
In the statement, he said students who obtained full A+ (super distinction) and above “were heartbroken to find out that their applications were rejected”.

“Many excellent students were given matriculation or diploma scholarships when they deserve scholarships for a degree programme of their choice.

“The selection criteria should be reviewed to end complaints about injustices of the awards so that it is in line with 1 Malaysia concept and Government’s Transformation Programme,” the deputy minister said.

The issue cropped up last year when the 1,500 scholarships from the PSD were said to have been unfairly distributed. The PSD scholarship programme consists of two schemes, namely the Overseas Undergraduate Scholarship Programme (PILN) and the Local Undergraduate Scholarship Programme (PIDN).

Najib took the decision this year for a problem-free distribution of scholarships by instructing the PSD to work with national oil firm Petronas and strategic development firm 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) to provide safety nets to ensure no deserving Malaysian student was deprived of a scholarship.

But Wee, who is also the MCA Youth chief, reportedly said last Wednesday that government officers who disobeyed Cabinet directives were one of the main reasons why top deserving students failed to get scholarships.

Devamany revealed that 367 students had approached him for help to appeal for scholarships, with 200 of them complaining about unfair selection criteria by the PSD. The other 167 were rejected for matriculation programmes although they scored 6As and 7As, he said.

“Many of them were from poor families and a few underprivileged students from hardcore poor families,” he added.

Najib had set up Talent Corporation to lure back skilled Malaysians abroad for jobs offered by multinational firms keen to set up in Malaysia. Despite the move, which has received tepid response, allies within Najib’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition have said scholarships should be given out to all deserving students without any racial quotas.

But BN parties say the PSD ignored the Cabinet directive by giving out scholarships to those who scored below those who passed with distinctions.

The scholarships offered are based on academic achievements, involvement in co-curriculum activities, socio-economic background of the families and the candidate’s performance during an interview session.
MIC secretary-general S. Murugesan also urged students who scored 9 A+ in the SPM but failed to win PSD scholarships to approach his party by Monday.

“Complaints which were forwarded through the MIC’s deputy ministers will be compiled and escalated to the relevant government agency for their urgent attention,” said Murugesan in a statement yesterday.
Murugesan echoed Wee’s remarks and said he felt “the officers at the administrative level are not being helpful”.

The MIC man also urged the government to provide equal opportunities to all races to study overseas.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin ordered the PSD last Friday to investigate complaints that some SPM top scorers were not offered scholarships.

Muhyiddin, who is also education minister, has stressed that his ministry was not to blame as its list of scholarship candidates had already been forwarded.

The DAP questioned how the government could make a “silly” mistake in not granting scholarships to top students despite spending billions on information technology.

Senarai mangsa tragedi tanah runtuh di Hulu Langat sehingga 5.30 pagi

Sehingga pukul 5.30 pagi ini, kesemua mangsa yang tertimbus telah dikeluarkan oleh pasukan mencari dan menyelamat dengan 16 daripadanya terkorban dan sembilan cedera.
KUALA LUMPUR: Berikut adalah senarai nama 25 mangsa yang terlibat dalam tragedi tanah runtuh di Rumah Anak-anak Yatim dan Anak-anak Hidayah Madrasah Al-Taqwa di Hulu Langat dekat sini.

Sehingga pukul 5.30 pagi ini, kesemua mangsa yang tertimbus telah dikeluarkan oleh pasukan mencari dan menyelamat dengan 16 daripadanya terkorban dan sembilan cedera.

Operasi yang bermula pukul 2.45 petang semalam berakhir kira-kira 5.30 pagi ini  dengan penemuan mangsa terakhir pada pukul 5.05 pagi.
Operasi mencari dan menyelamat dihentikan setakat ini dan  disambung pada 8 pagi ini bagi membuat gerakan terakhir untuk memastikan tidak ada lagi mangsa yang terperangkap.

Senarai nama berikut adalah menurut nama panggilan mangsa di rumah anak yatim berkenaan.
1) Azrel, 8,
2) Nael, 8,
3) Shahrul, 9,
4) Boboy, 10,
5) Farid, 34,
6) Zaim *
7) Angah *
8) Rahimi *
9) Zaid Ashwal, 18,
10) Riz, 9,
11) Lokman, 11,
12) Fahad, 9,
13) Aiman, 10,
14) Hazim, 9,
15) Mustakim *
16) Hasril, 11,
Sembilan yang terselamat iaitu:
1) Khairul, 9,
2) Hairis *
3) Harris *
4) Akmal *
5) Aizat *
6) Alaudin *
7) Irwan, 33,
8) Din, 30,
9) Syafiq, 23,
* umur tidak diketahui
-  Bernama

Tragedies from lessons unlearnt

(NST) - HIGHLAND Towers. Karak Highway. Taman Hillview. Bukit Antarabangsa. And now, Felcra Semungkis. These names alone are enough to evoke the most painful images -- of wrecked houses and cars, of families in grief and of rescue workers pulling out bodies from under piles of soil and rubble.

The continuing failure to prevent fatal landslides is nothing short of a national tragedy, one that highlights a stubborn refusal on the part of developers, local authorities and the public to learn from the harsh lessons of the past.

Few details have emerged so far, but it is, perhaps, no coincidence that this most recent disaster at the Hidayah Madrasah Al-Taqwa orphanage at km14 Jalan Hulu Langat, occurred during a long spell of daily torrential rain.

Landslides are an unfortunate but common feature of the nation's geology, part of the perils of living in a tropical country where heavy rainfall plays a large role in soil erosion and destabilisation.

In recent years, rapid urbanisation, overdevelopment and deforestation have contributed further to the destabilising of soil, with a greater number of heavy, concrete structures being built upon gradually weakened earth. According to a study, 26 landslides were reported in the media between 1993 and 2002.

These events have caused 150 deaths, 30 others injured and thousands more to be evacuated. This works out to more than five deaths in each incident.

Yet there are few signs that we have learned to live with the reality of landslides, the way the Japanese have learned to adapt to life with regular earthquakes.

Rampant deforestation continues with no blanket ban issued on hill slope development. At least one minister has defended the decision to continue development in hilly areas as a way of dealing with a rapidly growing population and increasing land scarcity.

Demand among house-buyers for hill-slope properties has not diminished either, despite warnings from the victims of previous landslides about the potential of heavy personal and economic losses one would incur when such a tragedy occurs.

Some may also point a finger at overzealous developers who fail to be fully transparent when presenting the safety details of their building projects to prospective buyers and local authorities.

The Public Works Department's slope engineering division, set up in 2004, has the expertise in slope maintenance, landslide risk assessment and methods to reduce them.

However, the lack of resources and manpower at local councils have left them ill-equipped to adequately evaluate development plans, to monitor risk areas or to undertake the quick action needed to prevent landslides.

And despite efforts to look into the causes of landslides, most of the studies have been conducted after the fact. Not enough attention has been given to coming up with workable methods and early warning systems that can warn us of landslides and therefore, minimise the loss of life,

One thing is certain, landslides are here to stay.

Lives can only be saved when one finds the right balance between the need for development and the need to protect the public. A balance that can only be attained with knowledge and political wil

Muhyiddin Yassin : Najib Watch Your Back!

By :MCKK64

Loyalty in UMNO is loyalty given when it serves the purpose of the giver. Like truth, loyalty has no place in UMNO and certainly not in Barisan Nasional.

For Pak Lah, this Muhyiddin Yassin was a friend. Someone he felt comfortable with, a friend to be depended upon. When Pak Lah expected Muhyiddin to stand beside him because he was not strong enough to stand on his own, Muhyiddin moved against him in haste and with malice. I say to Najib now….watch your back.

Muhyiddin has calculatingly entrenched himself with Mahathir and Perkasa to overtly advance Ketuanan Melayu as his cause celebre. He has done so in spite of knowing full well Najib’s commitment to make 1Malaysia the corner stone of his administration. A few days back Najib gave a lecture titled “Coalition of Moderates and Inter-Civilisational Understanding” at the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford University. With hand on his heart Najib committed himself to a “ a society that is multi-racial, multi–religious and multi-cultural.

Muhyiddin in the same time frame, was in Kangar declaring that “UMNO’s struggle is to bring development to the Muslim community, which is the majority group in the country! We are certainly a Muslim nation. If PAS campaign about wanting a Muslim nation, we already have it. Ever since independence, our main focus was to champion the cause of Islam”

Najib and Muhyiddin are both in the same foxhole. Now who is braver? Who will blink first? It is not good sense to share a foxhole with somebody braver then you! What does UMNO want to look for in their leader? Najib to lead them towards multi-racial, multi–religious and multi-culturalism or Muhyiddin who champions Islam and Ketuanan Melayu?

Muhyiddin has made his choice. What he did to Pak Lah he will now do to Najib – demi kepentingan Bangsa, Ugama dan Negara!

Let us look at history. UMNO mobilize all its resources after the May 13 Riots to redefine nationalism within Malaysia as being “Malay First”, taking Malaysian away from the multicultural nationalism pursued by Tunku. UMNO successfully galvanized the Malay community in the 1970’s towards policies favouring this “Malay First” sensibilities.

Somewhat akin to the “Ketuanan Melayu” rhetoric’s now being touted by Perkasa and Muhyiddin.

In the 1990’s Mahathir attempted to define the national identity of Malaysia through his Bangsa Malaysia aimed at bringing greater national integration among the various ethnic group within Malaysia. But Mahathir used this Bangsa Malaysia as a means to achieving his own ends: Authoritarian rule at the costs of individual liberty and rights of the people. This saw the explosive birth of the Reformasi movement headed by DSAI, which seek liberal political reform for the nation.

The demand by the people for greater individual liberty and liberal political reforms as against the authoritarian control by UMNO is still the fundamental roots of the problems we have today in Malaysia.

Pakatan Rakyat seeks greater individual liberty and liberal political reform for the masses.
UMNO seeks to maintain its authoritarian control over Malaysia to maintain its hold over Malaysia. To do this UMNO must have two third majorities within parliament. This was lost in the 12th GE. A simple majority enabled UMNO to form government but its loss of five states and 51% of the people’s vote has meant that its “moral right” to rule has been lost. There is now a credible opposition within Parliament.

All that UMNO has done while in government are now subject to scrutiny: Past, present and certainly for the foreseeable future. The abuses and excesses in the past by UMNO are no longer something that the ISA or the OSA can keep hidden from the public domain. Increasingly corrupt practises; money politics and abuses by those holding high public office are being exposed. This deluge of exposure will surely turn into a torrent if not a tsunami should UMNO lose the 13th GE.

And so we come to today.

UMNO need to win the 13th general election. What Najib wants in multi-racial, multi–religious and multi-culturalism is at odds with what UMNO wants.

Munyiddin sees his political advancements towards the Presidency of UMNO and the Prime Ministership as being one with what UMNO wants: i.e. Ketuanan Melayu and having Islam as the official religion of Malaysia – not for its religious connotations but for what Islam could do in advancing UMNO’s cause amongst the Malays.

I remember Muhyiddin with his chest all puffed up standing in Najib’s place with the Australian Prime Minister visited Malaysia recently. I see Muhyiddin jumping to Utusan Malaysia’s defence every time that daily slams the Chinese. Racial gutter politics is Muhyiddin forte. Muhyiddin is a Malay first and Malaysian second! And 1Malaysia is not the way to go! Muhyiddin is the Malay champion.

I think the Ketuanan Melayu and Religious issues have now taken on a life of its own. Nazri’s recent free speech for all utterances is to Muhyiddin favour and will open the floodgates for Perkasa and its maniac racial and religious utterances.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 — Standing by his decision not to haul up Datuk Ibrahim Ali for threatening a “crusade” on Christians, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz has pledged the same treatment for all similar transgressions in the future.
“It is not just the opposition politicians but also those in the Barisan Nasional (BN). In fact, anybody at all… bloggers and so on,” he told The Malaysian Insider when contacted.

“The landscape has changed. Sensitive matters are now being discussed in the open.

And I am eagerly waiting for the first Chinese or non-Malay brave enough (read foolish here!) to test the waters.

Najib is committed to his multi-racial, multi–religious and multi-culturalism but to what end? Muhyiddin will play to the Malay gallery but Najib cannot. Muhyiddin will have Perkasa and Mahathir with him, Najib does not. Najib is UMNO’s President for now but that does not mean he will remain one in the run up to the 13th GE. Najibs high jinks in Mindef will dam him. Rosmah has upset enough wives of Ministers and UMNO’s first tier leaders to not be of any help to Najib. And Altantuya is a demonic sword poised millimeters from his pudgy neck – waiting to swing downward when it suits UMNO.

Najib’s political obituary will start thus:

“Even if it took many years before it became a reality, Altantuya was the nemesis of Najib’s poitical career…….”


Another Fairy Tale Wedding ... In Bhutan

Image(Asia Sentinel) King Jigme tells parliament he is to marry

There will be another royal wedding later this year to rival the colour and pageantry of Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton’s a marriage a few weeks ago. Bhutan’s 31 year-old King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck Friday told his country’s parliament that he would be getting married "later this year".  
Like Kate, his wife-to be, Jetsun Prema, is a commoner, the daughter of an airline pilot but with distant royal connections, who was educated in India and the UK as well as Bhutan.
The wedding will take place in October when this tiny remote Himalayan kingdom of just 700,000 people, squeezed between India and China, will celebrate the marriage of a young man who combines the revered status of a monarch with informality, modesty and active concern for his country’s development.
King Jigme – known in Bhutan as K5, the fifth king – is steering his country into a developed democracy which also meets the goals of Gross National Happiness (GNH). The happiness aims – focussing on goals such as good governance and protecting the environment as well as economic growth, was set some 30 years ago by his father – King Jigme Singye Wangchuck – who told me about them in a 1987 interview
The wedding announcement came at the opening of the parliament’s seventh session – parliamentary democracy was only introduced in 2008 when Bhutan took the huge step of moving from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.
The king, who was crowned in November 2008, arrived in a procession (chibdrel) to the tune of long trumpets or horns. He knelt and kissed the parliament’s floor three times, then ascended his large golden throne. To the accompaniment of deep-throated slow chanting, a welcome ceremony (Zhugdrel Phuensum Tshogpai) was conducted with the members of parliament being given food, drink and token envelopes of money.
The programme said that at 11am "His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo [Dragon King] addresses the Parliament", adding curiously in brackets: "If it pleases His Majesty to address the Parliament" – a remnant of an absolute monarchy, I imagine, where the King cannot be commanded!
Speaking without notes, the king dealt with issues such a tourism, industry, agriculture and hydro-power, adding that traditional values needed to be strengthened and combined with democracy to protect "our small society".
He then had a "small announcement" for the people – it was, he said, "time for me to marry". He had chosen Jetsun Prema (together left, in an official photo), who was in his eyes "beautiful, humble, kind and compassionate" as well as "warm and kind in heart and character".
Later he told me that he had felt quite nervous announcing his planned marriage – it was easier to talk about matters of state that such a personal event, he said.
Jetsun Pema was not in the ornate parliament building, but watched the ceremony on television from her home, waiting for her fiancĂ©’s mobile phone call after the deed was done. Later, in the evening, she made her first appearance as her future husband’s fiancĂ©, at a dinner to open Mountain Echoes, an annual India–Bhutan literary festival that starts tomorrow under the patronage of the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck.
The wedding, the king said, should not be a "grand celebration" but would be "simple in keeping with our age old traditions". He was urged however by Tshering Tobgay, the leader of the parliamentary opposition, to have a large ceremony that could be enjoyed by people from all over the country. William and Kate’s wedding was also billed as being modest and not grand, in keeping with Britain’s economic constraints, but that did not stop it being a spectacular event watched by hundreds of millions of people on television around the world.
King Jigme‘s wedding will not however capture the same television audience, but the setting of Bhutan and the elegance of its Buddhist buildings and national costumes and traditions, ensure that it will have grandeur and style, plus the king’s instinctive informality.
John Elliott blogs at Riding the Elephant. His blog appears on Asia Sentinel.

What now for boat people?

The Star 

The asylum seeker-refugee swap Australia has proposed with Malaysia has raised concerns about the fate of those who are coming here.

FREEDOM from persecution and war is a powerful motivator that makes thousands uproot loved ones or break up their families to leave their home countries in search of asylum every year.

The journey is costly and fraught with danger and at the end of it, asylum seekers face the possibility of repatriation, being thrown behind bars or stuck in immigration detention centres for years.

On March 28, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva reported a dramatic fall in the number of asylum seekers in the industrialised world over the last 10 years. It fell from 620,000 applications in 2001 to 358,800 in 2010.

But, notes the UN Refugee Agency's High Commissioner Antonio Guterres, the root causes of the decline need to be studied to determine whether it is because of “fewer push factors in areas of origin, or tighter migration control in countries of asylum”.

“Overall, it's still the developing world that is carrying the lion's share of responsibility for hosting refugees,” he says.

Malaysia has been drawing economic migrants to its shores for centuries but it was only in 1975 that we came into contact with refugees, when hordes of Vietnamese boat people began arriving along the east coast of the peninsula.

The UNHCR set up office here then and assisted Malaysia in hosting close to 250,000 of them for over two decades before long-term solutions were found. Over 240,000 Vietnamese boat people were resettled and some 9,000 returned home.

Currently, Malaysia is home to around 93,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, of whom 92% are from Myanmar. There are another 4,000 Sri Lankans, 1,050 Somalis, 710 Iraqis and 510 Afghans.

However, unless there is a refugee community in their neighbourhood, few Malaysians notice their presence or might even mistake them for a foreign worker.

They couldn't be more wrong in equating the two: the foreign workers are here for economic reasons, but the refugees have escaped torture and threat to life and are awaiting resettlement to a third country.

Foreign workers can hold jobs as long as they have a work permit. However, asylum seekers have no such right and are subject to harassment by enforcement authorities and detention even if they carry a UN card verifying their refugee status.

As such, they usually take on invisible jobs such as kitchen help in restaurants, factory hands, or labourers on construction sites and plantations, says James Wong, who supports the 300-odd Myanmar community in Kuchai Lama by helping them find housing and jobs.

When he first met them, they were living in squatter settlements in the jungle to avoid the enforcement authorities and danger, says Wong, the head of a training school for welders.

Except for the odd report now and again, international focus has been more on Malaysia's role in preventing/abetting human trafficking rather than on the lives of asylum seekers here.

But this will now change.

Recently, Australia announced an agreement with Malaysia to send 800 asylum seekers here for processing. In exchange, Australia will accept 4,000 refugees who have had their claims processed in Malaysia over four years at a cost of A$292mil (RM935mil).

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said the deal would result in boat people “going to the back of the queue” of those seeking resettlement and would render nugatory what people smugglers try to sell a ticket to Australia.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who is finalising the deal with the consultation of the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), has called the deal a pioneering and cutting-edge solution to tackle people smuggling worldwide.

The agreement is yet to be formalised but many groups here and overseas have already expressed concern.

One question being asked is why Australia a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is making a deal with a country that is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention or its 1967 Protocol.

“If this were an agreement between two countries which had ratified the Refugee Convention and provided fair treatment to asylum seekers and refugees, we could support a reasonable proposal to share responsibility,” says Refugees Council of Australia chief executive officer Paul Power.

On this side, Malaysian Bar president Lim Chee Wee points out that Australia is consigning 800 people to a life of uncertainty and probable suffering, given that there are no legislative or administrative provisions in place for dealing with the situation of asylum seekers or refugees here.

A 2009 Inter Press Service (IPS) report notes that it has become commonplace for the authorities here to use Rela to “periodically arrest and deport' Rohingyas, a Muslim minority.”

As Myanmar does not recognise them as citizens, the practice is to take them to Bukit Kayu Hitam on the Thai-Malaysia border and force them to cross over. The IPS report claims that those unable to pay are turned over to human peddlers in Thailand, who represent a variety of business interests from fishing boats to brothels.

Refugees International (RI) says many refugees interviewed in a recent study claim they had been stopped by police, forced to pay bribes to avoid being arrested and caned for immigration offences.

Looking at these comments, it would seem that Malaysia is an asylum seeker's worst nightmare.

There is no clear policy on their treatment, their lives are a game of roulette and the outcome depends largely on which enforcement authority stops them for a check, according to some refugees.

On March 29, The Star reported Suhakam commissioner Sha'ani Abdullah as saying how one investigating officer (IO) had released a group of refugees they had picked up after police had verified their status with UNHCR. But one from another station thought he could only release them if a deputy public prosecutor okayed it, even though no criminal offence had been committed.

Sha'ani said that if he had not called the IO's senior officer to protest, the refugees would have had to spend the weekend in detention.

His fellow commissioner James Nayagam highlights another incident recently where he queried the detention of a busload of Myanmar asylum seekers who had gone shopping at Masjid India, although they had a letter from the Chin Refugee Committee stating who they were.

“These people are not criminals! They are victims, they should be sent to shelters and not lock-ups,” says Nayagam.

Wong says that when they set up the community in Kuchai Lama four years ago, police harassment was common but over the years, “it has become less with civil society protests and us engaging with them, although it has picked up again the last two months.”

The threat from gangsters hasn't abated though, he says.

For some refugees, it is Rela officers rather than the police they try to avoid, says Tual Khau Lian, 55, who came here in 2004.

“The police are not so bad, they make me feel protected. But I stay away from Rela and never go into the city on weekends.”

While having access to medical facilities is important for Vung Lam Dim, 33 and Suan Cing, 26, who have young children who were born here, the Christian refugees from Myanmar value greatly “the religious freedom here” unlike the persecution they faced at home.

A fellow Chin, Tual speaks warmly about how Malaysians “do not look down on me just because I am a Chin, unlike the soldiers and some others at home.”

It would appear that refugees who have local community support have a slightly better time waiting for resettlement even though many of them live from hand to mouth.

For the Chins in Cheras, the Life Harvest Assembly in Taman Miharja is their bedrock of support.

“We help with finances, job placement and housing,” says Pastor May Kow, who also runs a school for the Chin children.

What began with a Myanmar woman asking whether she could attend the English service even though she couldn't understand the language, led to the setting up of a Myanmar Church there and the rest followed.

While the Government consults with the UNHCR on the agreement with Australia, there is a need to check on how to hasten the time taken to process and register an asylum seeker.

Vizla Kumaresan, of Health Equity Initiatives (HEI), an NGO that deals with refugee rights, says some wait for years just to be registered with UNHCR while others wait much longer to be resettled.

“Some of them were born as refugees, and now have children born as refugees. They just want to start a new life. For the desperate, it's (a boat trip to Australia) a real option.”

The uncertainty and sheer desolation drive them to hazard a eight- to 10-day trip on a trawler in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions.

If Malaysia is going to sign the agreement with Australia, there should be a more consistent policy on refugees, one that eschews harassment and detention for more humane alternatives.

On May 11, a global roundtable in Geneva kicked off a series of regional discussions hosted by the UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights with support from the NGO International Detention Coalition.

The exchange of global best practices provided some viable alternatives; among them:

>The Philippines releases asylum-seekers with no conditions and gives them asylum-seeker certificates;

>Others release on condition, such as reporting in person to renew identity documents, or reporting to the police or immigration at regular intervals; and

>Canada's Toronto Bail Programme individuals are released to a government-funded NGO that provides a full range of services, including help in navigating the asylum and social service systems.

According to the RI study “Malaysia: Invest in Solution for Refugees,” the Government has taken significant steps forward in improving refugee rights.

In the past year, it says there have been no reported attempts to deport Myanmar refugees to the Thai border and there has been a decrease in immigration raids and arrests of registered refugees.

But these advances need to be codified into written government policy otherwise refugees will still be considered “illegal migrants” and therefore subject to arrest and detention.

In calling for Malaysia to “build on this progress by setting up a system of residence and work permits for refugees,” RI also urges the international community to mobilise additional funds for UNHCR and NGOs to use this opportunity to improve refugee rights.

Lorry Driver Regrets Not Fulfilling Son's Last Wish

KUALA LUMPUR, May 22 (Bernama) -- Regret is tugging at the heartstrings of lorry driver Johari Awang, 40.

He was unable to fulfil the last wish of his 11-year-old son Mohd Kamarul Amizan who was killed in the Hulu Langat landslide tragedy on Saturday.

Johari wistfully recounted the request of Mohd Kamarul Amizan, fondly called Boboy, several months ago for a sling bag.

"I was thinking about Boboy a lot these past few days, but I did not have the time to visit him and hand over the bag I had bought for him.

"However, I have to accept it all as fate," said Johari, who learnt of the landslide at 6pm yesterday.

The body of Boboy, the third of five siblings, was the last to be recovered by search-and-rescue personnel, at 5.05am today, following the landslide which hit Rumah Anak-anak Yatim dan Anak-anak Hidayah Madrasah Al-Taqwa in Hulu Langat near here at 2.30pm yesterday.

The tragedy claimed the lives of 16 people, many of them children. Nine people were rescued from the rubble.

SAMM sedia jayakan "Walk For Democracy" (BERSIH 2)

Gabungan Pilihan Raya Bersih dan Adil (BERSIH) telah mengumumkan akan diadakan satu mobilisasi terbesar rakyat yang dikenali sebagai "perarakan demokrasi" (Himpunan BERSIH 2) yang akan diadakan pada 19 Julai 2011, jam 2 petang.

Pengumuman ini telah dibuat oleh Pengerusi Badan Penggerak Mobilisasi Demokrasi PAS Mohamad Sabu, semalam dan turut menyatakan program ini akan berlansung di Kuala Lumpur dan tempat yang spesifik akan diumumkan nanti.

Sehubungan dengan itu, Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia (SAMM) juga telah membuat keputusan hari ini untuk mendokong sepenuhnya program tersebut memandangkan sikap regim yang lansung tidak mem pedulikan 4 tuntutan yang dituntut oleh BERSIH semenjak Himpunan BERSIH kali pertama November 2007 lalu. Selain menambah dua lagi tuntutan yang dikira penting dalam menjamin demokrasi hak rakyat dalam pilihanraya akan datang.

Tuntutan tersebut ialah :

  • Penggunaan dakwat kekal seperti mana yang dilakukan di banyak negara untuk elak pengundian berganda (undi hantu), hanya ada satu alasan tidak melakukan ini iaitu Bn gusar kalah jika tidak melibatkan undi hantu
  • Pemansuhan sistem pengundian pos kecuali untuk para diplomat dan pengundi lain di luar negara;
  • Penyemakan semula daftar pemilih yang lengkap demi memastikan segala kesalahan dan ketimpangan yang sedia ada dapat dihapuskan dan menyediakan satu daftar pemilih yang sebenar-benarnya telus dan meyakinkan;
  • Semua parti yang bertanding sepatutnya menerima akses yang sama rata kepada media yang dikawal kerajaan terutamanya TV dan radio. Iklan politik daripada semua parti mestilah diterima tanpa sebarang sikap pilih kasih. Media juga perlu memberi hak menjawab sekiranya terdapat laporan berunsur negatif yang berkaitan dengan seseorang ahli politik atau parti politik.
  • penyalahgunaan institusi kerajaan dalam pilihan raya sehingga rakyat tidak dapat menilai antara parti politik dan kerajaan.
  • melanjutkan tempoh pilihan raya di peringkat kebangsaan dengan "tempoh yang lebih munasabah" berbanding tempoh lapan hari yang dianggap sebagai terlalu singkat.
Semua tuntutan ini adalah tuntutan munasabah, namun regim seolah pekak dan angkuh tidak lansung mahu mendengar. Tuntutan - tuntutan ini bukan tuntutan baru, ia telah lama berkumandang namun regim terus angkuh. Maka oleh kerana tidak ada jalan lain maka jalan mobilisasi rakyat dipilih.

SAMM bersedia menawarkan diri menyertai jawatankuasa mobilisasi yang akan dibentuk dalam turut sama menjayakan program tersebut. SAMM akan menggerakkan semua poket sel - sel anak muda yang bergabung dengan SAMM untuk turut sama terlibat dalam proses mobilisasi ini. Sememangnya pertahan demokrasi hak rakyat merupakan antara teras utama pendiri SAMM.

Ini merupakan program aman dan dalam ruang hak rakyat yang dijamin perlembagaan persekutuan. Perkara ini dilakukan demi masa depan negara dan menjamin hak demokrasi rakyat. Dalam proses pilihanraya sudah tentu ada menang dan ada kalah namun SAMM sedia melihat mana - mana pihak untuk kalah kepada rakyat namun tidak akan sanggup melihat rakyat tewas kerana penipuan pilihanraya.

SAMM akan bersungguh - sungguh untuk memastikan kelancaran dan kejayaan program ini. Himpunan kali ini dijangka akan menjadi dua kali ganda lebih besar dari Himpunan BERSIS 2007.

Meet the Lynas Corp directors

These are the men behind Lynas Corporation, which is bringing to the folks in Kuantan a controversial rare earth refinery.
Lynas Corporation Board of Directors - Source: Lynas Corp, Annual Report 2010
Unfortunately, we don’t know who really owns the firm as the main shareholders are hidden behind nominees. (See extract below from the Annual Report 2010 of Lynas Corporation.)
Major shareholders of Lynas - mostly hidden behind nominees

‘Racist Uthayakumar a BN agent’

Perak DAP leader A Sivanesan shreds the HRP leader, calling the latter a racist whose logic of winning seats did not make sense.
IPOH: Human Rights Party (HRP) leader P Uthayakumar has been accused of being a Barisan Nasional agent out to destroy Pakatan Rakyat’s chances of taking Perak and Putrajaya in the next general election.

Perak DAP state vice chief A Sivanesan told FMT that HRP just wants to be a spoiler and they do not have the numbers to win the state and parliamentary seats that they have demanded.

“Uthayakumar’s political aim is always focused on attacking Pakatan and its elected representatives but not BN. Why doesn’t he ask BN for the 15 parliamentary and 38 state seats? His political moves and actions indicate that he is a BN agent,” he added.

Sivanesan said he cannot make sense of Uthayakumar’s logic of taking seven state seats and three parliamentary seats in Perak with only Indian votes.

“He is a racist by only talking about Indian rights and will not get the support of the Chinese and Malay voters,” added the Sungkai assemblyperson.

Sivanesan said while Uthayakumar always degraded Pakatan’s Indian elected representatives as being “mandores”, these “mandores however do not betray the people like him.”

“He does not have the numbers (voters) to win the seats and he wants to threaten us by demanding to ride piggy-back on our support to win the seats. If they are so sure of getting all the votes of the Indian community then let them stand on their own and lose their deposits,” he said.

‘Money bait for Hindraf rally’

As for the Hindraf rally in 2007, Sivanesan said the huge turnout was because Uthayakumar and his brother Waythamoorthy had baited the Indians with the promise of monetary rewards.

The brothers promised to file a Four Trillion British Pound law suit against the British government at the British court and claim US$1 million compensation for every Indian residing in Malaysia.

“So, why was the lawsuit not filed to get the so-called compensation as promised. So, it was all a sandiwara on their part to get the support of the Indian community and now Indians have realised the ulterior motive of the brothers and have boycotted all their road shows,” said Sivanesan.

The DAP leader demanded that the brothers show all the accounts for the public funds collected in the name of Hindraf from 2007 till now.

Uthayakumar had wanted to contest in 15 parliamentary and 38 state seats in the coming general election to safeguard the interests of the marginalised Indian community. He had also warned Pakatan that the coalition would lose Perak if it did not come to the negotiation table with HRP.

PSM: What has he contributed?
Meanwhile, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) also saw red over Uthayakumar’s labelling of Indian representatives as “mandores”.

PSM national coordinator K Kunasekaran said: “Uthayakumar is only good at calling Pakatan leaders as mandores and making media statements but what has he done to improve the socio-economic welfare of the Indian community?

“What are his programmes to improve the social status of the Indian community and can he produce his track record of services rendered by him for this marginalised community?”

“HRP is taking a racist stand as a short-cut for political mileage but in the long run it wont get the support of other races and will die off like other mosquito Indian-based parties,” he pointed out.

Ananda’s telco deal under Indian CBI spotlight

The Indian Central Bureau of Investigation is looking into alleged discrepancies in the ownership change in Aircel by Ananda Krishnan's Maxis Communications.

KUALA LUMPUR: Business tycoon T Ananda Krishnan could face Indian investigations over his takeover of Chennai-based cellular company Aircel in 2006.

The Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is looking into alleged discrepancies in the ownership change in Aircel by Ananda Krishnan’s Maxis Communications.

The inquiry, as directed by the Indian courts, is to examine decisions taken by the Indian Telecom Ministry, including the decision to allow the takeover of Aircel by the Malaysian telco giant.

A report in the New Delhi-based Economic Times today stated that the CBI is likely to name former Telecoms Minister Dayanidhi Maran and Maxis over the ownership change. Maran is now the Indian textile minister.

The daily reported that a preliminary investigation is expected to be filed before July 6.

“Yes, we are at an advanced stage of investigations into the case. We will be in a position to file the FIR (first information report) before July 6,” a CBI official added.

During the deal entered by Maxis to takeover Aircel in 2006, the Indian telco was owned by C Sivasankaran. CBI officials investigating the case believed that Sivasankaran was under pressure to strike the deal.

According to the Economic Times report, the CBI is likely to allege in the FIR that actions of Maran in not clearing Aircel’s application for licences and spectrum as a telecom minister caused Aircel to be sold to Maxis.

CBI officials believed, the report added, the delay in granting licence and spectrum to Aircel was a ‘ploy’ to get them to sell to Maxis.

“A person, who was close to the negotiations between Sivasankaran and Maxis at that time, confirmed that pressure was brought upon the former to dispose off his stake,” add the report.

CBI officials also claimed that Ananda Krishnan was close to the Maran family.

Astro’s deal under spotlight too

The report further stated that CBI was also investigating Ananda Krishnan’s satellite station Astro All Asia Networks’ (Astro) Rs830 crore investment in Sun Direct TV to see if it was linked with the Aircel buyover.

Sun Direct is a part of the Sun Group owned by Kalanidhi Maran, southern India’s largest vernacular language broadcaster. He is also minister Maran’s brother.

Economic Times said Dayanidhi Maran refused to comment on the matter.

Economic Times had reported on Feb 15, 2011, that CBI was interested in the transaction between Sun Direct and Astro.

Sun had previously denied any quid pro quo between Dayanidhi Maran and Astro of Malaysia. Sun had also said that the MoU with Astro was signed in 1997 when Aircel was not even in existence.

Ananda Krishnan’s Maxis is Malaysia’s largest cellular phone company with more than 10 million subscribers, with around 40% market share in Malaysia.

As for the agreement between Astro and Sun Network, Ananda Krishnan has been reported as wanting to produce TV channels which cater to the Indian market, especially Tamil diaspora in countries such as US and Europe.

Ananda Krishnan is Malaysia’s second richest man, with a personal worth of more than US$7 billion.

Landslide hits orphanage, 13 dead

Relatives of the landslide victims arriving at Kajang Hospital. – Photo by Jack Ooi
KAJANG, May 21 — At least 13 people were killed when a landslide almost buried an orphanage in Hulu Langat near here this afternoon.

Firemen and villagers manage to rescue nine people alive while another three remain buried in the rubble as at 11pm. A boy was pulled out alive from the rubble at 10.45pm, eight hours after the landslide occured.

Initial reports said the landslide hit the Rumah Anak Yatim Al-Takwa orphanage in Jalan Felcra Semungkus, 14th mile Hulu Langat at about 2.30pm.

Forty-nine students and caretakers were said to be in the building when the landslide hit, but 24 escaped injury.

Rescuers were hampered by the wet soil that was still moving and rain.

As at 10pm, Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani reported from the scene that rescue workers continued to struggle in their effort to dig out the remaining victims.

The heavy rain finally stopped at 9pm, but the huge crowd of onlookers and the narrow road continued to hamper traffic in and out of the scene.

Ambulances are finding it hard to enter or exit the area because of the chaotic conditions.

Visiting politicians are also contributing to the chaos and hampering rescue operations.