Sabtu, 24 Ogos 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro


Dazzling opening for Night Festival

Posted:

HUNDREDS of people crowded the front of the National Museum of Singapore, as the Singapore Night Festival opened with dazzling displays of fire, lights and acrobatics.

Close to 80 free events, from dance performances and art installations to film screenings will be held throughout the civic district over this weekend and the next.

The event will continue tonight and on Aug 30 and 31, from 7pm to 2am.

Stretching from Plaza Singapura to Raffles City and Waterloo Street to Armenian Street and Fort Canning Park, this is the largest night festival yet, and it will cost its organisers, the National Heritage Board, more than S$1mil (RM2.5mil) to produce.

Angelita Teo, 41, festival director and director of the National Museum of Singapore, said it was hoping to draw as many people as last year, when 476,000 attended.

One of the highlights was French dance troupe Compagnie Retou­ramont's performances, which featured dancers moving rhythmically across the museum's facade.

Nearly 100 local artists are performing at the festival this year. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Two measures to help Malay Muslims

Posted:

TWO new measures were announced by the government to help the Malay-Muslim community shrink the income gap and increase its social mobility.

One will give tuition subsidies to Malay students at another four tertiary institutions: Lasalle College of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa), Yale-NUS College and the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University.

The other will hand the Malay/ Muslim Community Development Fund a higher grant of up to S$2.6mil (RM6.7mil) a year to help more low-income families in their community. Currently, it is S$1mil (RM2.5mil).

These measures, announced by Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim last night, form the government's first response to a landmark report on the community's concerns and aspirations, submitted last month.

He asked for more time for him and other Malay-Muslim MPs to reflect on job discrimination.

Dr Yaacob, also the Com­munications and Information Minister, was speaking at the community's Hari Raya Aidilfitri dinner at Sheraton Hotel, in an annual speech taking stock of its progress and charting its future direction.  -The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Samsung, Apple and LG take rivalry to next level

Posted:

SAMSUNG Electronics, Apple Inc and LG Electronics, the world's top three electronics firms, are rumoured to be taking their competition to the next level this fall in the emerging smartwatch market.

Each company is ready to release a smartwatch – Samsung with Galaxy Gear, Apple with iWatch and LG with GWatch – most likely by the end of this year.

Samsung is to release Galaxy Gear at the upcoming IFA trade show during its "Unpacked Episode 2" event, along with LG, which is packing more ammunition on top of its well-received G2 and the G Pad, the new tablet it will unveil at the show.

But industry experts believe the watches themselves are unlikely to tout any unique functions, at most offering a Bluetooth connection to the user's main device.

For this purpose, Samsung will unveil Galaxy Gear as a bundle with its phablet Note 3, according to industry watchers. Previously, LG Electronics had sold the Prada phone in a bundle with a watch.

Galaxy Gear will feature a dual-core Exynos processor, 1GB RAM, a 1.67-inch, 320x320 resolution display, a 2-megapixel camera, and Bluetooth and NFC connectivity.

However, rumours have floated that the watch may leave out some important features such as phone and flexible display. US technology media outlet The Verge reported on Tuesday that the watch would not work as a phone.

Many industry observers also do not believe the phone will be flexible, mostly because other key components including the display, battery and memory chip are not advanced enough to support such a device.

"It may take some time for the smartwatch to become advanced. Still, Samsung is seeking to occupy the market as the company has always been a follower of Apple in mobile technologies. Samsung wants to be ahead of the rival in wearable and TV products," said Kim Hyun-yong, a researcher at E-Trade Korea, a Seoul-based securities firm.

"It will also take some time for Apple's iWatch to come out. It won't be (released) this year," Kim added.

Apple has long been rumoured to be working on introducing an "iWatch". It is said that the company had a team of 100 people working on a watch-like device, and has applied for the iWatch trademark in the United States.

Recently, Apple hired Nike product consultant Jay Blahnik reportedly to lead the iWatch team.

According to the rumours, the iWatch is likely to adopt a flexible display and work as an extended peripheral of iOS devices. For instance, it will reportedly be able to check messages and e-mails, and load fitness monitoring technologies.

LG Electronics, meanwhile, initiated the development early this year, undergoing tests with other arms of the group such as LG Display and LG Chem. Last month, LG sought eight trademarks, for the "G Watch", "G Glass" and "Watch G", among other names including the G Pad.

Some sources said although it is gearing up for the launch of the smart watch, LG is unlikely to unveil it this year.

LG already has some expertise in the likes of smartwatches. In 2008, the company unveiled the LG Prada Link, a Bluetooth-enabled digital watch that can monitor its Prada phone calls as well as read SMSes.

The following year, the company showed off its 3G watch phone LG-GD910 in Europe, enabled with a touch screen and video-calling capability. — The Korea Herald / Asia News Network

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates


Obama studies options after Syria gas attack, consults UK's Cameron

Posted:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and his top military and national security advisers hashed out options on Saturday for responding to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria amid "increasing signs" that the government used poison gas against civilians.

Obama spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron, a top U.S. ally, and agreed that chemical weapon use by Syrian President Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces would merit a "serious response," a spokesperson for the prime minister said in a statement.

Syrian opposition accounts that between 500 and well over 1,000 civilians were killed this week by gas in munitions fired by pro-government forces, and video footage of victims' bodies, have stoked demands abroad for a robust, U.S.-led response after 2 1/2 years of international inaction on Syria's conflict.

Syria sought to avert blame by saying its soldiers had found chemical weapons in rebel tunnels. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called his Syrian counterpart on Thursday to chide the government for not allowing U.N. inspectors access to the site.

Obama has been reluctant to intervene in Syria's civil war, but reports of the killings near Damascus have put pressure on the White House to make good on the president's comment a year ago that chemical weapons would be a "red line" for the United States.

The United States is repositioning naval forces in the Mediterranean to give Obama the option for an armed strike.

The White House declined to list what options were discussed on Saturday and said Washington was still gathering details about the attack.

"In coordination with international partners and mindful of the dozens of contemporaneous witness accounts and record of the symptoms of those killed, the U.S. intelligence community continues to gather facts to ascertain what occurred," it said in a statement.

American and European security sources have said U.S. and allied intelligence agencies made a preliminary assessment that chemical weapons were used by Syrian forces in the attack. The United Nations has requested access to the site.

Obama spoke to Cameron after the White House meeting. A spokesperson for the British prime minister said the two men noted increasing signs of Syrian government culpability.

‪"They are both gravely concerned by the attack that took place in Damascus on Wednesday and the increasing signs that this was a significant chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime against its own people," the spokesperson said.

Cameron also spoke to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper spoke to French President Fran├žois Hollande.

SYRIA REJECTS BLAME

Obama said in a CNN interview broadcast on Friday that chemical weapon use on a large scale would start "getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region."

But Americans strongly oppose U.S. intervention in Syria's civil war and believe Washington should stay out of the conflict even if reports that Syria's government used deadly chemicals to attack civilians are confirmed, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Syrian state television said soldiers found chemical materials on Saturday in tunnels that had been used by rebels, rejecting the blame for carrying out a nerve gas attack.

The state news agency, SANA, said soldiers had "suffered from cases of suffocation" when rebels used poison gas "as a last resort" after government forces made "big gains" against them in the Damascus suburb of Jobar.

The leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, and the head of the rebel Free Syrian Army, General Salim Idriss, denied on Saturday that rebels had used chemical weapons.

Jabra said the "most important cause" of the attack was the silence and inaction of the international community, especially the West.

Kerry called Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on Thursday and told him the Damascus government should have let U.N. inspectors have access to the site of the alleged gas attack, a State Department official said.

"If, as they claimed, the Syrian regime has nothing to hide, it should have allowed immediate and unimpeded access to the site rather than continuing to attack the affected area to block access and destroy evidence," the official said, referring to Kerry's message in the call.

Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said there was growing consensus in the West that Assad's government was responsible.

"It's very clear, I think, that the U.S. and the Western governments think that the regime did it," he said.

"Whether their response would immediately be military or not, I don't know. I suspect that first they're probably going to push for diplomacy, but probably with a pretty short fuse."

Kerry made a series of diplomatic calls to counterparts in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey on Saturday.

In the most authoritative account so far, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said three hospitals near Damascus had reported 355 deaths in the space of three hours out of about 3,600 admissions with nerve gas-type symptoms.

A senior U.N. official arrived in Damascus to seek access for inspectors to the site of last Wednesday's attack.

Major world powers - including Russia, Assad's main ally which has long blocked U.N.-sponsored intervention against him - have urged the Syrian leader to cooperate with U.N. chemical weapons inspectors already in Damascus to pursue earlier allegations.

But Russia said the rebels were impeding an inquiry and that Assad would have no interest in using poison gas for fear of foreign intervention.

Alexei Pushkov, pro-Kremlin chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, said: "In London, they are 'convinced' that Assad used chemical weapons, and earlier they were 'convinced' that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It's the same old story."

'RANGE OF OPTIONS'

The list of participants in the White House meeting underscored its importance. They included Vice President Joe Biden, national security adviser Susan Rice, CIA Director John Brennan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, and Samantha Power, the U.S. representative to the United Nations.

Aides said Kerry, who is on vacation in Massachusetts, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who is traveling in Asia, both participated remotely.

Administration officials were cautious in describing the content of the discussions and warned against expectations of a decision on Saturday.

"We have a range of options available, and we are going to act very deliberately so that we're making decisions consistent with our national interest as well as our assessment of what can advance our objectives in Syria," a White House official said before the meeting.

"Once we ascertain the facts, the president will make an informed decision about how to respond," a White House official said.

Hagel said on Friday the Pentagon was taking measures to prepare for all options. "And that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry out different options - whatever options the president might choose," he said without elaborating.

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. Navy would expand its presence in the Mediterranean to four destroyers from three.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani weighed in on the issue for the first time, saying chemical weapons had killed people in Syria, its ally. Although Rouhani stopped short of saying who he thought had used the weapons, Iran's Foreign Ministry said evidence pointed to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S. Central Command and the Jordanian armed forces were planning to host a meeting of regional defense chiefs from Sunday to Tuesday in Jordan. The group will discuss "the region's dynamic security environment." The meeting was scheduled in June and not called in response to the recent attacks in Syria, a Pentagon spokesman said.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Phil Stewart, Lesley Wroughton, Andrea Shalal-Esa and Paul Eckert in Washington bureau; Megan Davies in Moscow, John Irish in Paris, Madeline Chambers in Berlin, Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai, Asli Kandemir and Dasha Afanasieva in Istanbul and Washington bureau; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Kerry calls Syrian foreign minister, regional counterparts

Posted:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Syrian foreign Walid al-Moualem on Thursday and told him the Damascus government should have let U.N. inspectors have access to the site of an alleged gas attack, the State Department said on Saturday.

Kerry called "to make clear that if, as they claimed, the Syrian regime has nothing to hide, it should have allowed immediate and unimpeded access to the site rather than continuing to attack the affected area to block access and destroy evidence," a State Department official said.

"The secretary further emphasized ... that he had received full assurances from Free Syrian Army commanders that they would ensure the safety of U.N. investigators into the targeted areas," the official said.

Kerry, who participated remotely in a White House meeting on a potential U.S. response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, made a round of diplomatic calls on Saturday to his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, the official said.

"In all these calls, the secretary emphasized the importance of quickly determining the facts and underscored the seriousness and gravity of any chemical weapons use," the official said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Colombia peace talks with FARC rebels to resume Monday -government

Posted:

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's government and FARC rebels will resume peace talks on Monday, the chief government negotiator said, a day after both sides cast doubt on the process by suspending negotiations.

President Juan Manuel Santos will send his team back to talks hosted by Cuba after verifying that the FARC was prepared to head back to the negotiating table, former Vice President Humberto de la Calle said on Saturday.

"The president has instructed us on the decision to return tomorrow to Havana to continue talks on a search for an end to the conflict," de la Calle said, reading a prepared statement.

"It was carefully noted that the FARC had taken the decision to return on Monday at half past eight in the morning to the talks table to continue deliberations as normal."

Santos' decision on Friday to recall his team in Havana came after the FARC declared a pause in talks to study a government proposal on how to ratify a final peace accord. The suspension was a setback after nine months of difficult discussions.

While the walkout was short-lived, such interruptions may become more common as talks progress through the tough five-point agenda. Under discussion now is the FARC's incorporation into the political system, one of the thorniest issues. Santos has said he wants talks concluded by the end of the year.

Both sides have much at stake. Santos has bet his political legacy on bringing peace to the Andean nation, while a military victory for the FARC rebels now looks less likely after a 10-year U.S.-backed military offensive that slashed their numbers to about 8,000 from 17,000.

Colombians are desperate to see an end to the war that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 1964. Santos is also eager to begin negotiating with the National Liberation Army, a smaller rebel group known as the ELN, to cement peace.

Santos called his negotiators back to Colombia on Friday after the FARC said hours earlier it would take time out to study the government´s draft bill that would require any peace deal with the guerrillas to be put to a popular vote.

The FARC, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, has insisted a constituent assembly be formed and be charged with incorporating the content of the peace deals into the country´s constitution. The government has rejected that demand.

The two sides had determined in an initial agreement that led to the start of peace talks that they would decide together how to ratify an eventual peace deal.

Santos, who is widely expected to run for a second presidential term next year, said on Friday he accepted the FARC's right to study the referendum proposal for a short time, but later asserted the rebel leadership would not dictate any stoppages in the talks.

The government is still combating the nearly five-decade old guerrilla movement militarily, having refused to declare a ceasefire.

Thirteen soldiers were ambushed and killed by the FARC on Saturday in the oil-producing province of Arauca, the army said. In July, rebels killed 19 soldiers in two separate attacks. Most of them were protecting an oil pipeline in the country´s northeast.

(Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Helen Murphy; and Peter Cooney)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Nation

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The Star Online: Nation


409 Malaysians arrive safely from Egypt

Posted:

SEPANG: Four hundred and nine Malaysians, mostly students and their family members in Egypt, arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), on three separate flights under Ops Pyramid 2.

The AirAsia X special aircraft bringing in 364 of them arrived at the airport at 7.45am yesterday, and the two Singapore Airlines planes carrying 20 and 25 of them respectively, touched down at 8.05am and 9.30am.

They were received by Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Ahmad Yakob, Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan, Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin and the Education Ministry's second secretary-general Datuk Dr Zaini Ujang.

Kamalanathan said Dr Zaini would lead a delegation to Cairo today for talks with the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education on the status of Malaysian students there.

Altantuya murder case: Sirul Azhar and Azilah give media the slip after verdict

Posted:

PUTRAJAYA: The two men who were tried for the murder of Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu are staying out of the limelight after being set free by the Court of Appeal.

Kpl Sirul Azhar Umar and C/Insp Azi­lah Hadri were quick to give the media the slip right after the verdict was read.

They were taken to the court lock-up through a hidden passageway for their paperwork, and remained in the complex here for about two hours.

At about 11am, two vehicles – believed to be carrying the men separately – were seen leaving the Palace of Justice.

It was said that Sirul Azhar did not return to Perak's Tapah prison yesterday, but was released from the court complex instead.

Meanwhile, after word spread that Azilah was heading to Kajang Prison to collect his belongings, the press quickly set up camp at the prison, about 26km from here, in order to catch up with him.

However, after hours of waiting, pressmen were left disappointed as Azilah was nowhere to be seen.

Prisons Department director Datuk Zulkifli Omar confirmed that the two had been released after completing their documentation.

"Azilah left Kajang Prison at about 11.45am with a family member," he said.

Despite the fanfare surrounding the trial, the media has never been given the opportunity to photograph the faces of the two men, and to date, members of the public have no idea what they look like.

Related stories:

A retrial would have answered questions, says Zaid
Court overturns guilty verdict
Sirul Azhar looks forward to a normal life while Azilah just 'wants to go home'

Cops bust armed robbery gang

Posted:

KUALA LUMPUR: Kajang police have busted a gang involved in armed robberies and carjacking with the arrest of eight suspects in separate raids.

Kajang police chief ACP Ab Rashid Ab Wahab said three suspects, believed to have been involved in an armed robbery in Taman Desa Serdang last month, were detained in Taman Jasmin here on Wednesday.

"The victim in Taman Desa Serdang said four masked men armed with parang escaped with jewellery, cash and handphones," he told reporters here yesterday.

Ab Rashid said that in a follow-up operation, three other suspects, all aged between 22 and 28, were nabbed around Kajang and Bangi on the same day. Among the items seized from the suspects were a Naza Citra and Proton Putra, reported stolen in Sungai Way, parang, watches and jewellery, he said.

Meanwhile, two suspects were detained by the police while trying to break into a Hilux 4X4 vehicle near a used car complex in Batu 12, Cheras, at about 4.20am on Thursday. The suspects, aged 28 and 29, had criminal records. — Bernama

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Metro: Central

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The Star Online: Metro: Central


Lee speaks to youth leaders on how he remains positive

Posted:

BEING proud of what you are doing, and having thick skin: these are the two elements of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's resilience in the face of a hostile cyberspace.

At a dialogue last night with 60 youth leaders, Lee was asked by a participant from the Singapore Kindness Movement how he remains positive, for example on his Facebook page, when online commentators are unkind.

"First of all, you must not be ashamed of what you are doing," he said. "If there are some naysayers, you must decide if you have the majority with you or not."

He said that in cyberspace, "some generally disagree, some are just looking for things to disagree with you about".

"But if you want to do something for Singapore, you should not be deterred because there are some nasty postings. In public life, you must learn to have thick skin at the right places, in the right times."

While noting that it can be intimidating for those not in public life to be flamed online, he said: "I am in public life. You flame me, I'm flame-proof!"

Lee also told the audience that there are limits to how widely, and for how long, his government can consult the public before deciding on policy.

While he thought that the "Our Singapore Conversation" mass engagement exercise was very successful, Lee noted that if there was an emergency or "if you have a difficult situation and you must move quickly, you cannot spend one year talking about it".

Citing as an example the issue of whether to raise taxes, he said "we will never finish the discussion".

"But one day, if I need to, I have to decide and do this, and persuade the people." — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Gay man applies for protection against workplace prejudice

Posted:

A FORMER Robinsons employee filed an application at the High Court for constitutional protection against the workplace discrimination of homosexual men.

Lawrence Bernard Wee Kim San, 40, had previously brought a suit against his former employer in December 2012, claiming to have been harassed into resigning because he is gay. The suit has been dismissed on purely contractual grounds.

In filing the application, Wee cited Article 12 of the Singapore Cons­titution, which states that "all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law". He sought the Court to declare that this is so regardless of sexual orientation.

His lawyer M. Ravi, said that there is a lack of guarantee by the courts for equal treatment under the Constitution for homosexual men, because Singapore has no legislation that prohibits employment discrimination against gays.

"This is a glaring omission," wrote Wee in his affidavit. Ravi said that this is especially so, given that Singapore has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which would protect lesbians. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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Lee speaks to youth leaders on how he remains positive

Posted:

BEING proud of what you are doing, and having thick skin: these are the two elements of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's resilience in the face of a hostile cyberspace.

At a dialogue last night with 60 youth leaders, Lee was asked by a participant from the Singapore Kindness Movement how he remains positive, for example on his Facebook page, when online commentators are unkind.

"First of all, you must not be ashamed of what you are doing," he said. "If there are some naysayers, you must decide if you have the majority with you or not."

He said that in cyberspace, "some generally disagree, some are just looking for things to disagree with you about".

"But if you want to do something for Singapore, you should not be deterred because there are some nasty postings. In public life, you must learn to have thick skin at the right places, in the right times."

While noting that it can be intimidating for those not in public life to be flamed online, he said: "I am in public life. You flame me, I'm flame-proof!"

Lee also told the audience that there are limits to how widely, and for how long, his government can consult the public before deciding on policy.

While he thought that the "Our Singapore Conversation" mass engagement exercise was very successful, Lee noted that if there was an emergency or "if you have a difficult situation and you must move quickly, you cannot spend one year talking about it".

Citing as an example the issue of whether to raise taxes, he said "we will never finish the discussion".

"But one day, if I need to, I have to decide and do this, and persuade the people." — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Gay man applies for protection against workplace prejudice

Posted:

A FORMER Robinsons employee filed an application at the High Court for constitutional protection against the workplace discrimination of homosexual men.

Lawrence Bernard Wee Kim San, 40, had previously brought a suit against his former employer in December 2012, claiming to have been harassed into resigning because he is gay. The suit has been dismissed on purely contractual grounds.

In filing the application, Wee cited Article 12 of the Singapore Cons­titution, which states that "all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law". He sought the Court to declare that this is so regardless of sexual orientation.

His lawyer M. Ravi, said that there is a lack of guarantee by the courts for equal treatment under the Constitution for homosexual men, because Singapore has no legislation that prohibits employment discrimination against gays.

"This is a glaring omission," wrote Wee in his affidavit. Ravi said that this is especially so, given that Singapore has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which would protect lesbians. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Ex-driver fined over man's death

Posted:

A FORMER mini-bus driver who caused the death of a pedestrian by negligence was fined S$8,000 (RM20,632).

Mohd Hanafi Maulud, 53, was also banned from driving for eight years after he admitted to causing Ayasamy Soundarajan's death while making a right turn into Bedok North Road last November.

A district court heard that Hanafi was driving the vehicle along the Bedok Reservoir Road at about 6.20am on Nov 21. As he approached the signalised junction of Bedok Reservoir and Bedok North roads, he noted that the traffic signal showed only a green light without a green right-turning arrow.

Hanafi made a right turn into Bedok North Road and knocked into the 53-year-old pedestrian. Ayasamy was pronounced dead at 6.53am. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting


Tricked into abandoning their babies

Posted:

A trusted obstetrician in China exploited parents' fears to steal their babies to sell.

DONG Genlao, a 24-year-old new father, was giddy over the birth of his child, a robust eight-pounder, until the obstetrician beckoned him into the hallway and lowered her voice.

The newborn had a serious genital deformity and could never lead a normal life, she explained.

"He is not completely male, but not female. It will bring shame on the family," whispered the doctor, Zhang Shuxia, a trusted family friend whom they affectionately called "Auntie." "Don't worry," Dong recalled Zhang telling him. "Auntie can help you."

She advised that Dong and his mother give up the baby, euphemistically, to let him be euthanised, a hidden but widely acknowledged practice in rural China.

In fact, Chinese police believe that Zhang tricked Dong into abandoning the baby so she could sell it. The 55-year-old obstetrician at Fuping County Maternal and Child Healthcare Hospital was arrested last month and charged with trafficking newborns as far back as 2006, when Dong's baby was born.

As many as 55 possible baby thefts from the hospital are under investigation, with Zhang a principal suspect in half of them, according to police statements.

Child trafficking is a huge problem in rural China, where babies are sometimes snatched from their parents' arms and sold to couples unable to conceive or who desperately want a boy. In December, the Public Security Ministry said it had rescued 54,000 children since April 2009, when a nationwide campaign against trafficking began.

Zhang's arrest has devastated families in villages near Fuping, a county of 800,000 in northern China's Shaanxi province, famous for its apple orchards. The doctor, who grew up nearby, has delivered many babies in the area, as did her mother, also an obstetrician.

Her method, authorities and victims say, was cruel and effective: convincing families that their babies were dead or dying, or afflicted with incurable diseases or congenital deformities. She allegedly played off attitudes toward the disabled in rural China, where a lack of support and restrictions on the size of families can make people reluctant to raise a child with disabilities.

Police say the doctor's victims were often friends and neighbors, forced to make heart-wrenching decisions about whether their babies should live or die, thus becoming complicit in their purported deaths. Zhang, the families say, even charged them a fee of about US$10 (RM34) to dispose of the corpses.

Zhang is believed to have frequently preyed on the fears of the grandparents, who in the Chinese countryside are desperate for healthy grandchildren to carry on the family line. The mothers were frequently left out of the loop.

The doctor was detained after one young couple, whose son was born July 16, contacted police.

They said they had been told by Zhang that their baby had hepatitis B and syphilis transmitted through the mother. The husband and wife initially accused each other of infidelity, then went to another doctor, who examined them and found them free of the diseases.

Police recently raided a home 500km away in adjacent Henan province where a family is believed to have purchased the baby from traffickers for nearly US$10,000 (RM33,100). Zhang's cut was reported to be US$3,500 (RM11,600), according to police reports in the official press. The baby was reunited with his parents two weekends ago.

Police have also recovered twin girls born at the hospital in May, saying they were sold, separately, at slightly lower prices - girls being the less favoured gender in China.

Dong, a polite man, sounds more incredulous than angry when speaking about Zhang.

His family knew the doctor through her younger sister, who lived a block away. Zhang would give free prenatal exams for villagers who didn't want to travel to the county seat 40kms away. Dong's family liked her so much they would take a gift of steamed bread when they had their check-ups.

"She seemed like a very warm person. Tall, strong, smart, but down to earth," he said. "We absolutely trusted her and she tricked us."

Five people have been arrested on suspicion of being accomplices to Zhang, and families think others may also have been involved. Zhang was well-connected in local government: Her husband is a recently retired county official and the couple's son works in the county's legal affairs department.

The maternity hospital, which opened in 1996, has a staff of 120 doctors and treats 20,000 patients a year, according to its website.

The allegations are particularly embarrassing from a symbolic standpoint because Fuping is best known as the ancestral home of President Xi Jinping, whose father, Xi Zhongxun, an early Communist Party revolutionary, was born here.

"It is a disgrace for the hometown of our president that they could not protect us," raged Luo Sanliang, a 57-year-old carpenter, who believes his granddaughter was sold by Zhang. "This was a government-run hospital, directly under the control of the county. ... Zhang was a wolf in sheep's clothing, but I blame authorities too."

Zhang was a high school classmate of Luo's wife and used their friendship, he says, to persuade the family in 2006 to give up their granddaughter, born just two weeks premature, saying she would be severely disabled.

"After four days, she saw us at the hospital and said, 'Why haven't you given up on that baby yet?' " recalled Luo. "She brainwashed us. We took the baby out of the incubator and left her on the bed."

The decision to let the baby die devastated the family. "I'm a criminal. I looked into that baby's eyes," he said. His daughter-in-law didn't agree with the decision and barely speaks to him now.

Fan Ningning, 30, who works in a small grocery store, says the entire maternity hospital was under Zhang's control and that other doctors dared not disagree with her. Fan gave birth to two premature infants that Zhang told her to abandon in 2008 and 2009. Both were about eight weeks premature and weighed about four pounds.

"I thought she was big enough and I begged Dr. Zhang to put her in the incubator," Fan said of the girl born in 2008. "But she said the baby couldn't survive."

After a similar experience the next year with a boy of the same size, she switched hospitals. She gave birth to a son in 2011, about seven weeks early.

"He was just about the same size, maybe a little bigger, but nobody at the hospital suggested I abandon him. They put him in the incubator for two weeks and he was fine," Fan said.

A generation ago, unwanted babies in rural China were dumped in a well or smothered. Zhang Wei of the Enable Disability Studies Institute, a Beijing-based advocate for the disabled, said a disabled child still makes life very difficult for rural families.

"The whole burden comes down on the family. There is nobody to help them, no money and no education about what they can do, so they abandon the baby," Zhang Wei said.

Dong, the young father, said the doctor kept up a drumbeat, recounting terrifying stories of families that were ruined financially looking for a cure for the child's condition.

Many families say they simply left their babies behind with the doctor. Dong, though, said he carried the baby out of the hospital himself at 8pm, after night had fallen, and followed Zhang's instructions to leave him in a box set outside.

"I was worried that the baby would get cold and I kept coming back to look. After 30 minutes, I saw the baby was gone," he recalled. "I wanted to find out later where he was buried so I could go to the grave, but they wouldn't tell me."

Until a few weeks ago, Dong hadn't told his wife, Wang Xiaojuan, what had happened. "She's too weak from childbirth. Just tell her the baby stopped breathing," he says Zhang instructed him.

With Zhang's arrest, Dong was forced to tell his wife what he had done. The couple, who now work in southern China, he in a building management office and she in a garment factory, rushed back to Fuping to give a statement to police. They've also given blood samples in the hope that DNA testing can someday identify their boy. Police have promised to look for him, although they say that babies stolen years ago are harder to track down.

"My eyes are swollen crying every day when I think about what happened," Wang said. She said she had forgiven her husband and now wants to move forward.

"Now it is too late to be angry. We just have to find our baby," she said softly. – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

(Tommy Yang of the Los Angeles Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.)

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