Isnin, 9 Disember 2013

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

Thai PM calls elections as 100,000 join protests


BANGKOK: Thailand's premier called a snap election Monday to try to defuse the kingdom's political crisis but protesters kept up their fight to topple her government with an estimated 100,000 demonstrators flooding the streets of Bangkok.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has faced more than a month of sometimes-violent street protests by demonstrators who want to suspend the country's democracy in favour of an unelected "People's Council".

Thai opposition lawmakers resigned en masse from parliament Sunday, deepening the political deadlock.

Yingluck, the sister of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, announced in a televised national address Monday that she would dissolve parliament and hold a general election "as soon as possible".

"The government does not want any loss of life," she said, amid fears that the mass rallies could bring fresh violence.

The election move could increase pressure on protesters to agree to some kind of compromise with the government.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra speaks at the police headquarter in Bangkok on December 9, 2013. -AFP

But the leaders of the anti-government movement said that they were not satisfied with new elections, pledging to rid Thailand of the influence of Thaksin, a tycoon-turned-premier who was ousted by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago and now lives abroad.

"The movement will keep on fighting. Our goal is to uproot the Thaksin regime. Although the House is dissolved and there will be new elections, the Thaksin regime is still in place," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told AFP.

"My people want more than dissolution. They are determined to regain their sovereignty," he said.

Thaksin - who once described Yingluck as his "clone" - is widely considered the de facto leader of the ruling party.

Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election in more than a decade and despite the mass protests, many experts believe Yingluck's party is likely to triumph in new elections.

The opposition Democrat Party - which said Sunday its 153 MPs were resigning from the 500-seat lower house because they could not achieve anything in parliament - has not won an elected majority in about two decades.

Around 100,000 people were estimated to have joined the protests by mid-morning, according to the government's Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order, which was set up to deal with the unrest.

Demonstrators marched along several routes through the capital towards the government headquarters - the main target of the rally - paralysing traffic in parts of the city.

Thaksin's overthrow ushered in years of political turmoil and sometimes bloody street protests by the royalist "Yellow Shirts" and the rival pro-Thaksin "Red Shirts".

Tensions remain high in the kingdom after several days of street clashes last week when police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against rock-throwing demonstrators.

The unrest has left five people dead and more than 200 injured. The authorities have said they would try to avoid fresh confrontation.

"Police are unarmed, with only shields and batons. We will not use tear gas, or if we have no choice, its use will be limited," Interior Minister Jarupong Ruangsuwan said in a televised news conference late Sunday.

"The government believes we can control the situation. We will focus on negotiation," he added.

Demonstrators and police have observed a temporary truce since Wednesday for the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is treated as a near-deity by many Thais.

With turnout dwindling, Suthep had called for a final push to bring down the government.

"We want you to come out and march in every road. We will not go home empty-handed," the protest leader said in a speech to supporters late Sunday.

The former deputy premier, who now faces an arrest warrant for insurrection, has vowed to surrender to the authorities unless enough people join the march to the government headquarters.

Thailand's political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite backed by the military against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin.

The former premier went into exile in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction which he says was politically motivated.

The demonstrations were triggered by an amnesty bill, since dropped by Yingluck's ruling party, which opponents feared would have cleared the way for Thaksin's return.

They are the biggest and deadliest street demonstrations since 2010, when dozens of people were killed in a military crackdown on mass pro-Thaksin Red Shirt rallies in Bangkok. -AFP

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


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