Ahad, 27 Oktober 2013

The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Small bomb blasts near rally for India opposition leader


PATNA, India, Oct 27, 2013 (AFP) - Five small bombs exploded killing one person in the eastern Indian city of Patna Sunday, where opposition leader Narendra Modi was shortly set to address a political rally, a police official said.

TV footage showed several small explosions and smoke outside the venue in Patna, in the state of Bihar, where several hundred thousand people were gathering for the rally.

Footage showed people running from the low-intensity explosions.

The rally later went ahead with other leaders of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) taking to the stage ahead of Modi.

Another small explosion also occurred at a railway station in Patna, killing one person, a local police officer said.

"One person succumbed to his injuries after a bomb explosion at platform number 10 of Patna railway station," local police official Manu Maharaj told AFP on the phone.

Maharaj confirmed the four other blasts near the venue, and said police were making several arrests.

Hindu nationalist Modi was named last month as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate for national elections due by May next year.

The chief minister of economically successful western Gujarat state, Modi is popular with the corporate world, with many hoping he can turn revive Asia's third-largest economy, if elected next year.

But he remains a divisive figure, tarred by the religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 in which as many as 2,000 people were killed, mainly Muslims, according to rights groups.

Modi was chief minister at the time and denied any wrongdoing, but one of his former ministers was jailed last year for orchestrating some of the violence.

The Supreme Court once likened him to Nero, the emperor who fiddled while Rome burned.

Modi and leaders of the ruling Congress party are holding a series of mass rallies across the country in a battle to win five key state elections later this year.

Those elections are seen as a crucial test of popularity, with both parties hoping to capitalise on any momentum from the results for next year's elections.

Japan's PM warns China on use of force as jets scrambled


TOKYO, Oct 27, 2013 (AFP) - Japan's leader warned China on Sunday against forcibly changing the regional balance of power, as reports said Tokyo had scrambled fighter jets in response to Chinese military aircraft flying near Okinawa.

Verbal skirmishing between Asia's two biggest economies, who dispute ownership of an island chain, escalated as Beijing warned Tokyo that any hostile action in the skies against Chinese drones would be construed as an "act of war".

"We will express our intention as a state not to tolerate a change in the status quo by force. We must conduct all sorts of activities such as surveillance and intelligence for that purpose," Abe said in an address to the military.

"The security environment surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly severe. This is the reality," he said.

 "You will have to completely rid yourselves of the conventional notion that just the existence of a defence force could act as a deterrent."

Abe presided over an inspection of the military at which a US amphibious assault vehicle was displayed for the first time, an apparent sign of Japan's intention to strengthen its ability to protect remote islands.

The defence ministry plans to create a special amphibious unit to protect the southern islands and retake them in case of an invasion.

"There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by rule of law," Abe earlier told the Wall Street Journal in an interview following a series of summits this month with regional leaders.

"But if China opts to take that path, then it won't be able to emerge peacefully," he said in the interview published Saturday.

"So it shouldn't take that path, and many nations expect Japan to strongly express that view. And they hope that as a result, China will take responsible action in the international community," Abe added.

On Sunday Jiji Press and Kyodo News reported that Japan had deployed jets for two days running in response to four Chinese military aircraft flying over international waters near the Okinawa island chain.

Two Y8 early-warning aircraft and two H6 bombers flew from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean and back again but did not violate Japan's airspace, the reports said.

The Japanese defence ministry was not immediately available for confirmation.

Japan's military is on increased alert as Tokyo and Beijing pursue a war of words over the disputed islands in the East China Sea that lie between Okinawa and Taiwan.

On Saturday China responded angrily after a report said Japan had drafted plans to shoot down foreign drones that encroach on its airspace if warnings to leave are ignored.

Tokyo drew up the proposals after a Chinese military drone entered Japan's air defence identification zone near the disputed islands in the East China Sea last month, Kyodo said.

"We would advise relevant parties not to underestimate the Chinese military's staunch resolve to safeguard China's national territorial sovereignty," China's defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said in comments posted on the ministry's website.

"If Japan takes enforcement measures such as shooting down aircraft, as it says it will, that would constitute a serious provocation, an act of war of sorts, and we would have to take firm countermeasures, and all consequences would be the responsibility of the side that caused the provocation."

Tokyo and Beijing both claim the small uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Japan administers them and calls them the Senkakus. China refers to the islands as the Diaoyus.

One of Abe's first decisions as prime minister was to increase the defence budget for the first time in 11 years.

Tokyo also plans to hold a major air and sea exercise next month to bolster its ability to protect its remote islands.

In the Wall Street Journal interview, Abe said Japan had become too inward-looking over the past 15 years, but as it regains economic strength "we'd like to contribute more to making the world a better place".

The Journal said he made it clear that one way Japan would "contribute" would be countering China in Asia.

Indonesian capital tweets to beat traffic chaos


JAKARTA: Fed up with spending hours stuck in the gridlocked Indonesian capital Jakarta, hundreds of thousands of social media-savvy commuters are tweeting to beat the traffic.

The threadbare public transport system in the capital of Southeast Asia's biggest economy, combined with growing spending power, has spawned vast numbers of motorists who are increasingly turning to Twitter to conquer jams.

Road users in Jakarta, the world's most active city in terms of posted tweets, are using the microblogging service to warn fellow travellers of traffic-choked roads or arrange car pooling.

Resorting to the web is an act of desperation for drivers in the megacity of 10 million, branded the world's most unpleasant place to commute in a 2011 survey by consultancy Frost and Sullivan.

Hendry Soelistyo was an early pioneer of online tools to tackle traffic in Jakarta, where commuters often spend up to five hours a day in a slow-moving sea of cars and motorbikes to get to work.

Four years ago the IT entrepreneur set up lewatmana.com, a website and associated Twitter account through which commuters can share real-time information about traffic conditions.

"Indonesians update their status on Facebook and Twitter all the time, so we thought, why not share information about traffic jams?" Soelistyo told AFP.

Lewatmana, which means "via where" in Indonesian, mainly provides information about jams, but also flags up flooded roads or areas affected by the city's frequent demonstrations.

The platform relies on its users as well as 100 CCTV cameras installed in office windows across the city to monitor traffic and send out pictures via Twitter.

The service, which fires out more than 14,000 tweets a month, has proved a hit and now has around 200,000 followers.

Another attempt to solve Jakarta's traffic woes through Twitter is a car-pooling community called Nebengers, which translates as "hitchhikers" and aims to reduce the number of vehicles in the city centre.

"Nebengers is like a virtual car terminal, where we can hitch a ride to go to school or the office," said founder Andreas Aditya Swasti, 27.

It is rare to give lifts to strangers in Indonesia but Nebengers has still drawn around 4,000 Twitter followers, with more than 400 people using the service every day to either get or give a lift.

People wishing to offer a seat in their car to others who share the same route put a message out two hours before the trip.

Ratna Mayasari, who works in the city centre and offers free lifts from her house in South Jakarta, said it helps to share her one-and-a-half hour commute with others.

"Before, I used to sing or even grumble at the traffic by myself, but now I have found friends to do that with me," she said.

With a dilapidated public transport system incapable of serving the city's population and huge volumes of new cars and motorbikes hitting the streets every day, Jakarta needs all the help it can get when it comes to traffic management.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of motorbikes on the streets increased by 460 percent and the number of cars by 160 percent, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The agency, a state-funded body that gives out Japanese government aid and advice, is helping Jakarta fix its traffic woes.

Attempts by city authorities to reduce the number of vehicles, such as doubling the parking price, have largely proved ineffective. The latest initiative has seen officials deployed to let down the tyres of illegally parked cars and motorbikes.

Public transport, which mostly consists of run-down buses belching toxic black smoke and overloaded trains and minibuses, has proved an unattractive option for a fast-growing middle class that can now afford cars.

New mass transit projects - which have been delayed for decades - are slowly springing back to life, with ground-breaking ceremonies for both the city's first subway and monorail taking place this month.

But with several years before these are up and running, Jakarta's tweeters could find themselves managing the city's chaotic roads for some time yet.

"Where else can you find citizens busying themselves with traffic management? Indonesia is probably the most active, because in other countries, it's the government who is doing this stuff," said Soelistyo. - AFP

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