Isnin, 9 Disember 2013

The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

China farmer kills self over fines for children


BEIJING: A Chinese farmer with five children drank a fatal dose of pesticide at a communist chief's house after officials seized his family's annual food supply for violating the one-child policy, reports said Monday.

Ai Guangdong, 45, had more than 3.5 tonnes of corn - the family's entire source of income until next year's harvest - confiscated last week by five officials in Liang'erzhuang, in the northern province of Hebei, the People's Daily Online said.

He went to the party chief's home to discuss the issue, where he drank the pesticide, and later died in hospital, the Global Times reported.

Ai and his wife Xie Yufeng had four daughters and a son, their youngest, and their farm makes them only around 5,000 yuan ($800) a year, according to the reports.

Under China's hugely controversial one-child policy some rural couples are allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl.

But officials have been taking money from them ever since their second daughter was born, Xie said, and demanded 60,000 yuan after the birth of the third child, the People's Daily Online report said.

"We could never afford that," it quoted Xie as saying, adding they were not given receipts for any of the fines they paid.

The village chief had disappeared, along with his family, since the incident, it added.

The local government offered Ai's family 15,000 yuan for aid and funeral costs, and future social security benefits, which the family rejected, it said.

China has implemented its family planning law for more than 30 years, restricting most parents to only one child and at times allegedly brutally enforced.

Fines for violators have become a significant source of income for China's local governments.

In 2012, 24 of the country's 31 provinces and regions collected a total of nearly 20 billion yuan in penalties, Chinese media reported previously. None of the provincial authorities has detailed how the money was spent. -AFP

Access by poor to key drugs at stake in TPP talks


SINGAPORE: Access to affordable drugs for the world's poor will be hampered if a US plan to impose stricter pharmaceutical patents is adopted at talks on a Pacific trade pact, activists say.

Trade ministers from 12 countries entered a third day of talks in Singapore on Monday in an attempt to meet a US deadline to reach a deal on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before the year ends.

The US pharmaceutical industry is pushing for 12 years of "data protection" for a new class of drugs called "biologics", which are developed from living tissues rather than chemicals and are being used to treat illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.

Lobbyists for the industry say the measure, already part of US law, would encourage further research and development by enabling drug firms to recover their investments.

Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam - which together make up 40 percent of the global economy - are currently part of the talks, but the TPP is open to other countries joining in the future.

"The vital lifeline of affordable generic medicines that millions depend on could be severely constrained by the terms of the trade pact," global humanitarian group Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, said on the sidelines of the meeting in Singapore.

President Barack Obama has portrayed the TPP as the economic centrepiece of renewed US engagement in Asia, which also involves a shift in its defence posture in favour of the Pacific theatre.

MSF said the data protection period will prevent drug regulatory agencies in TPP signatory countries from referencing data needed to approve lower-cost generic versions of a protected drug, delaying competition that would lead to cheaper prices.

The World Health Organization says about one-third of the developing world's people do not have access to essential medicines on a regular basis.

Generic drugs manufactured by local firms in developing countries have become popular alternatives to branded pharmaceuticals from the West.

International charity Oxfam said developing countries negotiating the TPP, or joining it in the future, will be the most affected.

"The US is putting the interests of the drug industry above those of public health," said Rohit Malpani, Oxfam policy advisor on access to medicines in a statement this year.

He urged the US to "reconsider this approach because it undermines the sustainability of public health-care programmes and discredits trade itself as a tool for poverty reduction".

Global advocacy group Avaaz said a poll it commissioned showed 62 percent of Americans, 63 percent of Australians, 70 percent of New Zealanders, and of 75 percent Chileans opposed limiting access to generic medicines through the patent proposal.

But the lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) said it was necessary for companies to recover investments and conduct further research into new cures.

It also said data protection should start from the time the new medicine is approved by regulators for release into the market.

Jay Taylor, PhRMA vice president of international affairs, told AFP it takes an average of 10-13 years and more than $1.0 billion in investments to develop a new cure, but not all research projects are successful and some could lead to financial losses.

"We do not view intellectual property (IP) as a barrier to access," Taylor said. "IP is a necessary catalyst for the development of new medicines."

The office of the US Trade Representative, which is leading the TPP talks, said this month it has offered a "differential approach" that will allow developing countries to defer full implementation of certain provisions of the pact.

"We believe the best approach to pharmaceutical (intellectual property rights) issues in the TPP would be one that offers countries flexibility based on their individual circumstances," it said on its website.

The USTR also defended its push to protect biologic medicines, saying that "those drugs require enormous amounts of time and money to develop".

"Before entrepreneurs in the United States and across the world are willing to make the investment in new therapies, they want to know that they will have rights to their own research for a certain period of time in order to see a return on their investments," it said. -AFP

Japan PM Abe's ratings slide after state secrets act


TOKYO (Reuters) - Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slid in opinion polls after his ruling coalition steamrolled through parliament a tough secrecy act that critics fear could muzzle media and allow officials to hide misdeeds.

Shrinking support could push Abe, who took power last year pledging to revive a stagnant economy, to softpedal his security policies until next year's budget is enacted and a sales tax hike from April is safely navigated, some analysts said.

Abe was quick to defend his action, but said he should have taken more time to explain the bill carefully.

"With humility and sincerity, I must take the severe opinion from the public as a reprimand from the people. I now look back and think with regret that I should have spent more time to explain the bill carefully," Abe told reporters on Monday.

"But there have been no rules on designating, releasing, and preserving state secrets. That is where the real problem is."

Support for Abe's government fell 13.9 points to 54.6 percent in a poll by broadcaster JNN, the lowest since he took office, although backing for the main opposition Democratic Party rose just 0.9 point to 6.8 percent and was dwarfed by the 30.3 percent who backed Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

"Abe's support tends to drop when he shows his 'Abe colour'," said Nihon University professor Tomoaki Iwai. "But he knows that. I think he will focus on the economy for a while."

A survey by news agency Kyodo showed support for Abe's cabinet fell 10.3 points to 47.6 percent, its first drop below 50 percent in a Kyodo poll since Abe began his rare second term.

His first 2006-2007 term ended when he quit after a year marked by a big election loss, deadlock in parliament and ill health.


About 82 percent of the respondents to the Kyodo poll, conducted on Sunday and Monday, wanted the secrets act - which some critics have likened to Japan's harsh authoritarian regime before and during World War Two - to be revised or abolished.

"During the parliament deliberations, there were expressions of concern such as 'Secrets will be multiplied endlessly', 'People will be deprived of their right to know', and 'Daily life will be threatened'," Abe said.

"But such things will never, ever happen."

Abe has said the secrecy act is vital to convince allies such as the United States to share intelligence as he sets up a U.S.-style National Security Council to streamline foreign and security policy.

Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters the drop was not unexpected. He attributed the decline to public misunderstanding of the law's content and said the government would continue to explain it to gain support.

The upper house of Japan's parliament late on Friday approved the state secrets act, which toughens penalties for leaks and broadens the definition of official secrets, despite protests by thousands of demonstrators near parliament and criticism from a broad swathe of media and intellectuals.

The law provides jails terms of up to 10 years for public servants or others leaking state secrets. Journalists and others in the private sector convicted of encouraging such leaks could get up to 5 years if they use "grossly inappropriate" means to get information.

Top officials will be able to designate special state secrets in four categories - defence, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counterespionage - that can be kept secret for up to 60 years, and in some cases, longer.

A weekend survey by the Asahi newspaper also showed Abe's support rate falling, by three points, to 46 percent. In another poll by public broadcaster NHK, support for Abe's cabinet dropped 10 points from a month earlier to 50 percent.

Past governments have stretched the limits of Japan's U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution but Abe wants to go further, including by easing a self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defence, or aiding an ally under attack.

(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


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