Jumaat, 27 Disember 2013

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The Star Online: Metro: Central

29 killed in Thailand bus accident

Posted: 26 Dec 2013 05:08 PM PST

BANGKOK: A bus carrying New Year travellers plunged off one of Thailand's highest bridges in the kingdom's northeast, leaving at least 29 people dead, police said Friday.

The accident occurred around midnight Thursday-Friday in Lom Sak district, Phetchabun province while the bus was en route to the northern province of Chiang Rai.

"We suspect the bus driver fell asleep," Major General Sukit Samana, police commander of Phetchabun province, told AFP.

Twenty-eight bodies were found in the ravine and one died in hospital, he said.

Several others were in a critical condition. No foreigners were believed to have been on board.

"The eyewitness who informed the police said the bus went very fast before it plunged into the ravine," Sukit said.

He said more than 100 police, soldiers, civilians and rescue workers had joined the rescue effort.

The bus, which was carrying 40 passengers, was completely destroyed in the accident.

Transport Minister Chadchart Sitthipunt said the bus smashed through the safety barrier of the Phamuang bridge, whose highest pillar stands at 50 metres (164 feet) tall and which links north and northeast Thailand.

"The accident may have been caused by a reckless driver as the bus was travelling at high speed going downhill and it crashed through the bridge railing before plunging into the 50- to 70-metre deep ravine," he said.

The accident occurred as millions of Thais are expected to travel during the New Year period to take advantage of a five-day public holiday starting on Saturday.

Safety standards are generally poor in Thailand and deadly road accidents are common.

At least 20 people were killed in October when a tour bus carrying elderly Buddhist devotees plunged into a ravine in northeast Thailand.

A recent report by the World Health Organization said the country saw some 38.1 road deaths per 100,000 of population, compared to an average of 18.5 in Southeast Asia as a whole. -AFP

Okinawa approves relocation of US airbase in Japan

Posted: 26 Dec 2013 10:07 PM PST

TOKYO: Japan's Okinawa on Friday approved the long-stalled relocation of a controversial US military base, the defence ministry said, a breakthrough that looks set to remove a decades-long source of friction between Tokyo and Washington.

Local bureaucrats signed a document that gives the governor's green light to a landfill, paving the way for the construction of a new base on the coast.

The defence ministry's Okinawa bureau confirmed that it had received the document, which bore the governor's seal, from local government officials.

"The office received the document at 10:50 am. It was approved," said a ministry official at the bureau.

After years of staunch opposition, Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima this week met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who pledged a big cash injection into Okinawa's economy every year until 2021.

Nakaima's nod marks a breakthrough on an original 1996 agreement to shut the Futenma airbase, which is in a densely populated urban area.

The United States affirmed in 2006 it would re-site the base on the coast, but the move has been stymied by opposition throughout Okinawa, which feels overburdened by its outsized share of the American military presence in Japan.

The governor is expected to announce his decision on Friday afternoon on Okinawa, where local residents have already reacted furiously to the news.

In the meeting with the Okinawa chief on Wednesday, Abe pledged an unheralded cash bonanza for the archipelago, at least 300 billion yen ($2.9 billion) for Okinawa's economic stimulus budget every year until fiscal 2021.

The package of proposals also includes halting operations at Futenma within five years and the early return of the land.

Nakaima has been a bitter critic of the central government, which he says is unsympathetic to the southern tropical island, which hosts around half of all the 47,000 military personnel in Japan.

Winning his approval marks a significant achievement for Abe, and one that is expected to burnish his credentials in Washington after years of frustration over the issue.

Observers have pointed to the timing of the deal on the base move and Abe's controversial visit Thursday to the Yasukuni war shrine, seen as a symbol in northeast Asia of 20th century Japan's brutal imperialism.

The visit, the first by a sitting premier since 2006, drew sharp rebukes from South Korea and China, as well as rare criticism from Washington, which said it was "disappointed".

Critics say Abe may be counting on the base deal to remove some of the sting in Washington's reaction.

Abe, who did not visit the Yasukuni shrine during a previous stint as prime minister, returned to power in part by accusing a left-leaning government of jeopardising the US alliance through the feud over Futenma. -AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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