Rabu, 20 November 2013

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New Japan islet created in volcano eruption

Posted:

TOKYO: A dramatic volcanic eruption in the Pacific Ocean has created a tiny new islet in Japan's territorial waters, officials said Thursday, the first time in decades the nation has seen the phenomenon.

The navy spotted smoke about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) south of Tokyo on Wednesday and Japan's coastguard later verified the birth of the islet around the Ogasawara island chain.

Video footage showed plumes of smoke and ash billowing from the 200-metre island, and Japan's coastguard said it was warning vessels to use caution in the area until the eruption cools off.

"Smoke is still rising from the volcanic island, and we issued a navigation warning to say that this island has emerged with ash falling in the area," said a spokesman for the maritime agency.

He added that the islet may not last long due to erosion, but if enough volcanic lava surfaces and solidifies it could mark a new entry on the map.

Similar eruptions in the early 1970s and mid-80s created tiny islets in Japan's territory that have since been partially or completely eaten up by the ocean.

Japan's top government spokesman joked that he hoped the outcrop would mark an expansion of Tokyo's maritime territory - a reference to diplomatic rows with China and South Korea over ownership of other islands far from the tiny islet.

"If this becomes a solid island, our country's territorial waters will expand," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga quipped in response to questions about the new addition.

In September Pakistan also witnessed the birth of a new island - a mound of mud and rock 20 metres (70 feet) high and 90 metres wide created by a huge earthquake that hit the country's southwest.

The phenomenon on the coastline near the port of Gwadar caused astonishment when it emerged from the Arabian Sea but experts also said it was unlikely to last long.

Video footage of the Japanese islet can be seen here: http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/videonews/fnn?a=20131120-00000215-fnn-soci

-AFP

Coconut farmers face ruin after Philippine typhoon

Posted:

BURAWIN, Philippines: The super typhoon that slammed through the central Philippines laid waste to a vast region of coconut farmland, eradicating in one fell swoop the livelihoods of tens of thousands of smallholders.

"It's all gone," Glen Mendoza said, gesturing towards the collection of snapped and toppled trees that used to be the small but reliable grove that fed and supported his family.

"My daughter might have to stop going to college," he said. "These coconut trees are our only hope and now they're gone."

Mendoza's plight is shared, not just by the farmers in his coconut-growing town of Burawin, but by tens of thousands of others across the island of Leyte.

A major coconut-growing province, Leyte accounts for one third of all the fruit produced in the fertile centre of the country, according to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

The particular problem facing farmers like Mendoza is that there is no short-term solution to the loss of their groves.

Replanting can begin very soon but, depending on the variety, coconut trees take between five and ten years to reach maturity and bear fruit.

More than 208,000 hectares (515,000 acres) are planted with over 22 million trees in Leyte, providing a living for 122,000 families, or around 600,000 people, said Joel Pilapil, a senior PCA official in the province.

There are no firm estimates yet on the full extent of the damage, but ground reports and aerial views of Leyte and nearby Samar island tell the same story - coconut trees either toppled, snapped or sheared when Typhoon Haiyan scythed across the region on November 8, packing winds of up to 315 kilometres (195 miles) per hour.

"I've spent 21 years in the industry and this is the first time that the damage has been this heavy," Pilapil told AFP in an interview at the PCA's typhoon-damaged building in the town of Palo.

"It hurts... Coconut farming families are going to go hungry," he said

Cipriano Alibay, 73, a farmer in Dagami town near Burawin, used to harvest 3,000 coconuts every three months from his now destroyed two-hectare smallholding.

"My investment is gone. I don't know what to do," he said.

According to Pilapil, the government is ready to provide free seedlings, but the ground must first be cleared of thousands of toppled trees, ruined buildings and other debris.

Trees that are still standing but have no hope of bearing fruit need to be cut down, he said, adding that the clearing operations could take months.

Pilapil said some of the felled trees could provide timber for rebuilding houses destroyed by the typhoon.

As well as the farmers, many others relied on the coconut industry, including Rodolfo Ortega, 54, who buys dried coconut meat - called copra - from farmers and sells it to millers.

Copra extracts can be used in a variety of products, including soap and shampoo.

"It will probably take 10 years before coconut farmers can get on their feet," Ortega told AFP as he and a few of his workers stood idly outside his warehouse in the town of Dagami.

He warned that with so many people dependent on the industry, the government must act fast to prevent social consequences.

"If people have no jobs, that can create social problems," Ortega said, adding that the government should teach farmers to plant alternative crops while they wait for the seedlings to grow.

For coconut farmer Alibay, there is no choice but to keep going.

"We need to be strong in order to go on living," he said. -AFP

'Dead' baby wakes at China funeral parlour before cremation

Posted:

BEIJING: A Chinese baby boy who had been declared dead was saved from being cremated alive when he started crying at a funeral parlour, media reported Thursday.

The parents of the critically-ill boy, who was less than one month old, had agreed to end his medical treatment at Anhui Provincial Children's Hospital in eastern China, hospital sources told Xinhua state news agency.

A death certificate was issued before the baby was sent to a funeral parlour in Hefei, the provincial capital - only for staff there to be alerted by crying on Wednesday.

It was unclear how long he had been at the funeral parlour, or when his cremation had been due.

The baby was immediately sent back to the hospital, several news outlets including the Beijing News reported on Thursday.

"Because the baby still had life signs, we continued to give him transfusion to maintain his life for humanitarian reasons," a hospital staff member told Xinhua.

The baby was born with a "congenital respiratory system malformation", the report added.

The baby was receiving treatment at the hospital late Wednesday, reports said.

A doctor was suspended, a nursing worker laid off and an investigation launched into the incident, the hospital said, according to Xinhua. -AFP

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U.S. Korean War veteran from California detained in North Korea - son

Posted:

PALO ALTO, California (Reuters) - North Korea has detained an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from California visiting the country as a tourist, pulling him off a plane as he was about to leave last month, his son said on Wednesday.

Merrill Newman, a retiree from Palo Alto, California, was taken away a day after he and his tour guide spoke with North Korean authorities during a meeting in which his military service in Korea was discussed, his son, Jeff Newman, said in a CNN interview.

The son, who lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, said his account of his father's disappearance and the meeting that preceded it was based on details relayed to him through another American travelling with his father at the time.

"I understand that my dad was a bit bothered but really didn't go into any detail (about the meeting) with his travelling companion," the son said in the telephone interview.

The younger Newman went public about his father's detention hours after Japan's Kyodo News Service, citing an unnamed diplomatic source in a dispatch from Beijing, reported that an elderly American man who had entered North Korea with a valid visa for sightseeing last month may have been detained. The report did not identify him.

Neighbours of the elder Newman in northern California told Reuters on Wednesday they were concerned about his fate after he travelled to North Korea but failed to return.

The San Jose Mercury News reported earlier that Merrill Newman was taken off a plane as he was about the depart the reclusive country on October 26.

The detention could become another diplomatic bargaining chip for North Korea, which has held Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary, since November 2012. Bae has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labour.

The U.S. State Department echoed U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing and Seoul who said they were aware of the reports but could not confirm them.

Jeff Newman told CNN, however, his family has been in contact with the State Department and had arranged for heart medication needed by his father to be delivered to the North Koreans through Swedish diplomats.

Of the meeting his father had with North Korean officials the day before his detention, Newman said: "The Korean War was discussed and my dad's role in the service, and the meeting concluded."

MINUTES BEFORE DEPARTURE

The elder Newman and his travelling companion went to dinner that night, he told CNN, and "the next morning, they got up, checked out of the hotel, went to the airport, got on a plane. Apparently five minutes before they were ready to depart, an authority came on the plane ... asked to see my dad's passport, and he was asked to leave the plane."

A recent newsletter from Channing House, the Palo Alto retirement home where Merrill Newman lives, identified his travelling companion as another resident, Bob Hamrdla, and said that the two were to be accompanied by Korean-speaking guides at all times on their 10-day trip.

"There has to be a terrible misunderstanding. I hope that the North Koreans will see this as a humanitarian matter and allow him to return to his family as soon as possible," Hamrdla said in a brief statement released by Channing House on Wednesday that provided no further details.

Newman's son said his father had arranged his trip with a travel agent said to have been approved by the North Korean government for travel by foreigners and that he "had all the proper visas."

The elder Newman served as a U.S. infantry officer in the Korean War, later worked as a manufacturing and finance executive and retired in 1984, according to a biography of him in a February 2012 newsletter from Channing House.

Hamrdla, a former assistant to the president of Stanford University who moved into Channing House in 2011, did not return calls. He has led more than 40 study and travel programs to Central Europe, according to a biography on the Stanford website.

A State Department advisory to American travellers warns that "U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea, even accidentally, have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention."

North Korea says the detained man has broken the law, according to Kyodo.

Separately, North Korea said on November 7 that it had arrested a South Korean spy, but it has not provided any more details.

"The South Korean that North Korea claims to be a South Korean spy turned out to be 50-year-old missionary named Kim Jeong-wook," the Donga Ilbo newspaper of Seoul said on its website, citing Kim's family in South Korea and unnamed sources in China.

A U.S. embassy official in Seoul, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he believed the two cases were separate.

U.S. missionaries of Korean descent have a long history of getting into trouble in North Korea and have required high-Profile figures such as former President Bill Clinton to secure their release.

In his visit, Bae brought in what the North said were "propaganda materials" aimed at overthrowing the state. An attempt by U.S. North Korean rights envoy Robert King to secure Bae's release in August was rejected by Pyongyang.

(Additional reporting by William Mallard in Tokyo, Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing, Jumin Park and James Pearson in Seoul, Steve Gorman and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, and Arshad Mohammed and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)

China Supreme Court rules out confession through torture

Posted:

BEIJING (Reuters) - Using torture to extract confessions must be eliminated, China's Supreme People's Court said on Thursday, singling out a widespread practice that has long attracted international condemn.

"Inquisition by torture used to extract a confession, as well as the use of cold, hunger, drying, scorching, fatigue and other illegal methods to obtain confessions from the accused must be eliminated," the Supreme Court said in a statement posted on its official microblog account.

The Supreme People's Court also introduced more stringent rules for death penalty cases, saying adequate evidence must be furnished and that only experienced judges should handle capital punishment trials.

China's government said last week it would work to reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty.

The Supreme People's Court comments were part of a statement on weeding out false charges in legal cases and follows a landmark package of reforms last week, including abolishing forced labour camps and freeing courts from political influences.

But judicial independence in China is often just given lip service, as courts ultimately answer to the Communist Party.

"The problem is always with the implementation," said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch. "In the judicial system in China the public security system is by far the most powerful institution, and there are effectively very few checks and balances on how it exerts its power."

Rights advocates have long called on China to better safeguard the rights of the accused. Coercing confessions through torture and other means is a widespread practice, with some defendants in high-profile cases confessing to crimes in public before trials have taken place.

Torture is also rampant in the ruling Communist Party's own internal judicial system, laid bare in a September case, in which six interrogators were charged with drowning a man by repeatedly dunking him in a bucket of ice-cold water.

The Supreme People's Court also emphasized that courts much not yield to pressure from the media or "unreasonable petitioning by litigants." Public outrage has sometimes swayed verdicts in high profile cases.

The court released a paper late last month calling for an end to corruption in courts and for officials to stop interfering in decisions.

(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan, Li Hui and Natalie Thomas; Editing by Michael Perry)

Afghanistan, U.S. reach draft security agreement

Posted:

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Afghanistan reached a draft agreement on Wednesday laying out the terms under which U.S. troops may stay beyond 2014, one day before Afghan elders are to debate the issue.

A draft accord released by the Afghan government appears to meet U.S. demands on such controversial issues as whether U.S. troops would unilaterally conduct counterterrorism operations, enter Afghan homes or protect the country from outside attack.

Without the accord, Washington has warned it could withdraw its troops by the end of next year and leave Afghan forces to fight a Taliban-led insurgency without their help.

Thousands of Afghan dignitaries and elders are due to convene in a giant tent in the capital Kabul on Thursday to debate the fate of U.S. forces after a 2014 drawdown of a multinational NATO force.

"We have reached an agreement as to the final language of the bilateral security agreement that will be placed before the Loya Jirga tomorrow," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in the U.S. capital, referring to the gathering.

The draft agreement is to take effect on January 1, 2015, and says it will remain in effect "until the end of 2024 and beyond, unless terminated."

A senior U.S. administration official said there has been no decision on the size of any post-2014 U.S. force, however the administration does not foresee a residual force staying in Afghanistan until anywhere near 2024.

Intense negotiations between Kabul and Washington have provoked frustration among the Afghan tribal and political elders who made perilous journeys from all over the country to the capital Kabul for a grand assembly to debate the pact.

Efforts to finalise the pact stalled on Tuesday amid disagreement over whether U.S. President Barack Obama had agreed to issue a letter acknowledging mistakes made during the 12-year Afghan war.

Kerry denied any discussion about the possibility of a U.S. apology to Afghanistan for U.S. mistakes or Afghan civilian casualties, a move that would likely draw widespread anger in the United States.

"The important thing for people to understand is there has never been a discussion of or the word 'apology' used in our discussions whatsoever," Kerry said, adding that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had also not asked for an apology.

It was unclear where the notion of an apology originated.

A U.S. official said that when Kerry declined Karzai's invitation to attend the Loya Jirga, the Afghan leader asked for U.S. reassurances to the council on the future security relationship that would also address civilian casualties.

Kerry suggested outlining the U.S. position in a letter. When Karzai asked if the letter could come from Obama, Kerry said he would check, this official added.

The secretary of state on Wednesday said "it is up to President Obama and the White House to address any issues with respect to any possible communication" between the two presidents.

Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, insisted on Tuesday that an apology was "not on the table."

NATIONAL INTERESTS

The 24-page draft agreement posted on the Afghan foreign ministry's website suggested that the United States had got its way on several controversial issues:

- The pact does not commit the United States to defend Afghanistan from foreign attack, saying rather that Washington "shall regard with grave concern any external aggression;"

- It says U.S. forces "shall not target Afghan civilians, including in their homes" - phrasing that suggests they could enter Afghan homes as long as civilians were not the objective;

- It says U.S. military operations may be needed to fight al Qaeda and says the two countries will cooperate "with the intention of protecting U.S. and Afghan national interests without unilateral U.S. military counterterrorism operations," phrasing that does not absolutely rule out the United States acting on its own.

- It gives the United States the exclusive right to try U.S. forces for criminal or civilian offences in Afghanistan and it grants U.S. military aircraft unfettered over flight rights.

VIOLENCE AHEAD OF GATHERING

U.S. forces arrived in Afghanistan soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and toppled its Taliban-led government which harboured the al Qaeda leaders.

Their presence has generated deep enmity among some Afghans who resent what they see as U.S. violations of their sovereignty and civilian casualties flowing from U.S. military operations.

The drawdown of Western troops has allowed tentative peace overtures between Kabul and the Taliban to gather pace, and Afghan officials arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday to initiate talks.

The Taliban have nonetheless condemned the Loya Jirga as a farce, and security has been tight in Kabul following a suicide bomb attack near the assembly ground over the weekend.

Insurgents fired two rockets at the tent where the last Loya Jirga was last held in 2011, but missed the delegates.

If the two sides cannot agree on a pact, Karzai has suggested submitting different versions of the document for the Loya Jirga to decide on. That caused confusion among Jirga members.

Khan Ali Rotman, who runs a Kabul youth organisation, said if the pact was not in Afghanistan's national interests, "we will raise our voice and not vote for it".

But a Kabul senator, Khan Mohammad Belaghi, said Afghanistan had no choice but to sign:

"We have to have a partnership with a country like the United States and we will vote in favour of it because it can protect us from threats from neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, and the Taliban."

Violence spiralled on the eve of the meeting, with the Taliban attacking two high-ranking police officials.

Gunmen ambushed and killed the police chief of Marja district in the southern province of Helmand on his way to work, said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

Also in the south, guards shot dead a suicide bomber trying to force his way inside the house of the Kandahar provincial police chief, said Hamid Zia Durrani, a spokesman for the police. Later a bomb exploded at a hotel a few doors away, killing three and wounding 14, he said.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni, Katharine Houreld in Kabul and Sarwar Amani in Kandahar, Dylan Welch in Islamabad and Steve Holland in Washington; writing by Maria Golovnina and Lesley Wroughton; editing by Ralph Boulton and Jackie Frank)

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China central bank suggests faster tempo for freeing yuan

Posted:

BEIJING: With a shift in tone and language, China's central bank governor has dangled the prospect of speeding up currency reform and giving markets more room to set the yuan's exchange rate as he underlines broader plans for sweeping economic change.

The central bank under Zhou Xiaochuan has consistently flagged its intention to liberalise financial markets and allow the yuan to trade more freely, even before the Communist Party's top brass unveiled late last week the boldest set of economic and social reforms in nearly three decades.

But since the 60-point reform plan was released, Zhou has suggested urgency in pushing for change, although he has not provided any specific timetable. He promised on Saturday to "pull out all stops to deepen financial sector reforms".

Dariusz Kowalczyk, an economist at Credit Agricole in Hong Kong, said the governor's comments could mean that the People's Bank of China (PBoC) will widen the trading band of the yuan in the near term.

"That probably means there is more upside for the renminbi," he said.

The yuan, also known as the renminbi, has risen this year to 6.09 per dollar from 6.23 at the end of 2012 and hit a record high of close to 6.08 in October.

However, there was little evidence of any newfound freedom for the yuan in trading on Wednesday. On the one hand, the central bank set its daily fixing for the starting point of yuan trade at a record high, but dealers said open market gains were checked by state-run banks selling the currency, probably on behalf of the central bank.

In addition, the daily fixing has been consistently weaker than the spot market, indicating the central bank is trying to rein in the currency's strength.

"The PBoC is still intervening heavily to prevent the yuan from appreciating more," said RBS economists Louis Kuijs and Tiffany Qiu in a client note, referring to dollar trade inflows and speculation that are putting the yuan under pressure to rise.

"Freeing up the currency would imply a very large appreciation versus the dollar, something for which we believe there would not be appetite right now."

BASICALLY EXIT INTERVENTION

Zhou's latest comments were released as part of a public guide book to the Communist Party's reforms, on sale in bookshops for 30 yuan (US$5).

At more than 300 pages, it provides the full text of the Communist Party's blueprint and an explanation of the changes by President Xi Jinping. It includes articles by top officials, such as Zhou.

In the guide book, Zhou says the central bank would gradually expand the yuan's trading band to help make the currency more flexible and market-driven – comments that repeat a long-standing central bank position.

"We will widen the floating range of the yuan exchange rate in an orderly manner and increase the two-way flexibility of the currency," Zhou was quoted as saying.

To that end, the People's Bank of China will "basically" exit from regular intervention on the currency market, he said, going slightly further than in previous comments when he had said it would reduce intervention.

For years, the central bank has bought up foreign exchange, mostly dollars, to curb strength in the yuan fuelled by the country's export engine, building the world's biggest currency stockpile of US$3.66tril.

Such currency intervention has been a key driver of money and credit expansion, fanning inflationary risks and housing bubbles.

The yuan's trading band was last widened in April 2012 to allow the exchange rate to rise or fall 1% either side of the midpoint fixing announced daily by the central bank.

"We must seize the favourable time window to quicken the pace of realising yuan convertibility in capital account," Zhou said.

Full convertibility would allow the free movement of capital across China's borders, a demand of many of China's trading partners. The central bank has pledged to make the yuan "basically convertible" by 2015, but it has not made clear what that means.

Some analysts caution against high expectations for the speed of financial reform, noting some policymakers fear allowing the currency to move freely too quickly could expose the economy to volatile capital flows, such as the ones blamed on the US Federal Reserve's economic stimulus programme.

Analysts expect the central bank to unveil a long-awaited deposit insurance system by the end of this year or early in 2014 to pave the way for freeing up bank deposit rates, which are now subject to administrative caps.

Such a scheme would protect depositors as Beijing is concerned some smaller lenders could go under as banks compete for deposits in a more open regime. Earlier this year, the central bank removed controls on lending rates.

"We will choose a time when conditions are ripe to life controls on deposit rates, which we think is the final step of liberalising interest rates," PBoC Vice Governor Hu Xiaolian told a forum in Beijing on Wednesday.

FAVOURABLE WINDOW

The reforms are aimed at helping Beijing engineer a shift in the giant economy away from investment- and exports-led growth to activity fuelled more by consumption and services.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in forecasting China's economic growth would pick up to 8.2% in 2014 from 7.7% this year, urged Beijing to quicken its reforms while growth is holding steady.

"There is now a favourable window," the OECD said in an update of its global forecasts.

While the Communist Party leaders set the direction for reform in a four-day conclave that ended last week, it will be up to government ministries and agencies to put them into effect.

The head of the country's top economic planning agency promised fast results in an interview with the People's Daily, the Communist Party's official newspaper.

"We should quickly launch a batch of projects in financial, oil, power, railway, telecommunications, resource exploration, public utilities to attract private-sector investment," Xu Shaoshi, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission said – Reuters.

Malayan Flour shares up on 3Q results

Posted:

KUALA LUMPUR: Malayan Flour Mills Bhd's shares rose at midmorning on Thursday after the group posted a strong set of quarterly results on Wednesday.

At 10.36am, its shares were up 10 sen to RM1.42 with some 1.43 millions shares done between RM1.39 and RM1.44.

The FBM KLCI was down 6.83 points to 1,791.86. Turnover was 1.19 billion valued at RM536.133mil. There were 166 gainers, 334 decliners and 276 counters unchanged.

The group said its earnings soared 112% on-year to RM24.89mil from RM11.69mil in the third quarter of the financial year ended Dec 31, 2013, on a turnaround of in its poultry segment.

It also declared a dividend of six sen, less 25% tax, for the reported quarter.

China Nov HSBC flash PMI edges down to 50.4

Posted:

BEIJING: Activity in China's vast factory sector grew at a milder pace in November on shrinking new export orders, a preliminary private survey showed on Thursday, bolstering expectations that the economy could lose some vigour in the fourth quarter.

The Flash Markit/HSBC Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell to 50.4 from October's final reading of 50.9, but for a fourth consecutive months remained above the 50 line which demarcates expansion of activities from contraction.

"China's growth momentum softened a little in November, as the HSBC Flash China Manufacturing PMI moderated due to the weak new export orders and slowing pace of restocking activities," said Hongbin Qu, chief China economist at HSBC.

"The muted inflationary pressures should enable Beijing to keep policy relatively accommodative to support growth," he added in a comment accompanying the PMI.

A sub-index measuring new export orders fell to a three-month low of 49.4 in November from 51.3 in October, reflecting lethargic external demand due to patchy recoveries in developed countries.

Overall new orders also edged down slightly, which could suggest that a revival in domestic demand is not strong enough to offset faltering external orders. Among the 11 sub-indices in the survey, nine pointed to either slower growth or a contraction, including jobs.

China has set an annual economic growth target of 7.5 percent for this year, which officials and economists have said is achievable, though the economy is firmly on track to post its slowest growth in 23 years.

Many economists said the economy is likely to show a weaker momentum in the final three months of this year after a rebound between July and September, due to slowing credit growth and a fall off in restocking demand.

Beijing has made it clear that it would accept a slower growth rate while it pushes ahead with economic reforms to wean the growth away from investment and export towards consumption.

China's top leadership unveiled the boldest set of economic and social reforms in nearly three decades following a four-day conclave ended last week, which are expected to give the world's second-largest economy fresh drivers of growth.

The final HSBC PMI for November is due to be published on Dec 2, a day after the release of an official survey. - Reuters

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Villagers all set to face the floods

Posted:

JOHOR BARU: From storing away important documents and electrical items to having a boat, villagers are getting ready for the floods that come their way every monsoon season.

Housewife Rosliah Hamdani, 51, who has been staying in Kampung Sungai Laut here for the past 30 years, said she had sealed away important documents in a plastic bag.

"When the river started to rise during the rainy season, I decided to put away important documents for emergency evacuation.

"I even started moving electrical items such as computers and printers onto higher shelves and cleared rubbish from the river behind," she said, adding that she lost RM5,000 in home appliances and other valuables during the flood in December 2006 when waters rose to the roof, destroying everything.

In Terengganu, Ismail Zakaria, who grew up in Kampung Permaisuri all his life, a flood-prone area near the Setiu river, has a fishing boat parked right next to his house – just in case.

"I fish as a hobby.

"But during the floods, this boat comes in handy," said the 45-year-old entrepreneur, adding that the worst flood experience saw him, his wife and five children transferred to an evacuation centre.

Meanwhile, Johor executive councillor for public works Datuk Hasni Mohammad said Works Department district offices had been instructed to start preparing for floods.

"I have told them to monitor the irrigation and drainage system and take immediate action to clean up clogged drains in their areas," said Hasni.

Johor Fire and Rescue Department director Datuk Ab Ghani Daud said annual leave for its personnel would be frozen immediately when the floods hit, adding that 1,100 officers, including 40 divers, were told to be on standby in high-risk districts of Batu Pahat, Mersing, Muar and Segamat. Also prepared are 30 rescue boats.

Related stories:
Malaysia bracing itself for onset of annual storms
Airport hall flooded after downpour

Factory worker just wants to move on

Posted:

PETALING JAYA: The woman in the centre of the spurned lover drama only wishes to move on with her life following the capture of her former boyfriend.

Josephine Tholilali Tholan (pic), 26, said yesterday's incident was a living nightmare when her brother was shot in the left arm.

"His capture has put my mind to rest. The man scared my family and me ... I never thought he would resort to such an act," the factory worker said yesterday.

While her family remained shaken, Josephine said they were grateful that her brother Solomon was recovering well at the Kajang Hospital.

"He's been eating well and is on the way to making a full recovery. We hope to have him home soon," she said.

Josephine explained that she made the right decision to break up with the man, given his violent tendencies.

"The shooting left my mother speechless the entire afternoon but she is feeling much better today," she said.

When contacted, the suspect's family members refused to comment on the incident.

Related story:
Suspect in spurned lover drama did not return weapon

MCA division against City Hall move to raise assessment

Posted:

KUALA LUMPUR: Bandar Tun Razak MCA is against City Hall's move to increase the assessment rates for house owners since it has recently announced a surplus budget.

Its chairman Datuk Chew Yin Keen said with the city's continued rapid development, City Hall was also expected to generate more income from commercial properties.

"In its Budget 2013, City Hall has an excess of RM217.7mil in operations cost and income. We are fully against the valuation notice sent to residents and we are also against the proposal to re-evaluate the annual valuation fee.

"Yes, I understand that the rate has not been increased since 1992 but with the abolishment and reduction of several subsidies as well as the implementation of Goods and Services Tax by 2015, the public will be greatly burdened," he told reporters at his office in Wisma Mirama, Jalan Wisma Putra here yesterday.

Chew said the valuation amount in the notice was also not clearly explained.

"Even if they wanted to increase the rates, it should have been very gradual and not a shocking sum," he said.

His division, he said, had started a campaign lasting until Dec 16 to collect 10,000 signatures to protest against the increase, adding that they would be visiting markets, resident associations and other areas.

The petition will be submitted to both City Hall and Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor on Dec 17.

Chew also urged City Hall to hold a public hearing with the residents and other stakeholders before considering any move that could affect those living in Kuala Lumpur.

He also refuted claims that the increase was because the Government wanted to punish city folks for voting against Barisan Nasional in the last general election.

Related story:
RAs join forces to stop rate hike
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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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An artistic guiding light

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Veteran Penang artist's restropective exhibition represents a life's passion for art.

A TEACHER'S work is never done. While many people his age are slowing down and enjoying their retirement years, Tan Chiang Kiong, 81, is still nurturing students to become accomplished artists.

In fact, the veteran artist is still guiding students and teaching at the Chung Ling Private High School in Penang as the Dean for its arts faculty.

"My early involvement in promoting art education has helped the development of children's art education in Penang. My students and their success, especially in art, have also brought me great pleasure," says Tan, who is also the co-founder of the Penang Watercolour Society.

Penang-based artist Tan Chiang Kiong' 'Wooden Hut' (1969).

Wooden Hut (1969)

"Most of all, the development in my own paintings have brought me great satisfaction," he adds.

The octogenarian, who is currently the subject a solo exhibition entitled The Retrospective Of Tan Chiang Kiong: Through His Mind's Eye at the Penang State Art Gallery in Dewan Sri Pinang, is known for his skills in combining Chinese and Western painting techniques. Apart from this retrospective, Tan also received the Salut 55 award from Balai Seni Visual Negara during the gallery's 55th anniversary celebrations in early September. The award recognised his pioneering academic work and contribution to local art in the last five decades.

Tan's restropective at the Penang State Art Gallery is a major exhibition designed to represent his life's work in art.

The exhibition, featuring 81 pieces, revisits his watercolour work and landscape view of Penang in the 1960s right to the man's 1990s career rejuvenation and his present day acrylic projects. Interestingly, Tan made his solo debut in July 1996 (aged 63) in Penang. Over the years, he has kept himself closely involved in the art, academic and exhibition worlds.

"I can draw and paint at any time at any place, be it in the school or at home. When the inspiration comes, I would just start painting," he says.

It can also be said that the spirit of Tan's work is tied to the identity and vibrant culture of Penang.

"I feel that this retrospective is very meaningful because it allows the new generation to understand the growth and development of my art."

The artist, who was born in Machang Bubok near Bukit Mertajam (Penang) in Sept 1932, mentions he wants to continue sharing his knowledge of art with his students.

Penang-based artist Tan Chiang Kiong' The Beauty Of Geese.' (1965)

The Beauty Of Geese (1965)

After graduating with an art degree from National Taiwan Normal University in 1961, he has never looked back.

Tan notes teaching also enables him to remain active and alert. In many ways, he has adopted a sustained practice of a life in art.

The affable artist mentions that the process of art is still an integral part of his daily life.

"My daily life is very routine – go to school to teach painting, my evening walk day in day out. However, I will still paint until I'm not able to do so. The process of producing and painting is very enjoyable and satisfying. From the inspiration comes the need to express," he explains.

Penang-based artist Tan Chiang Kiong' 'Thaipusam' (1985).

Thaipusam (1985)

But does he have any particular period or era that he is particularly fond of?

"I love all my art throughout all eras. At the moment, I like the paintings with acrylic. I find it easier and more effective to convey my message, express my feelings and emotions through this medium," he points out.

A book containing 203 of Tan's selected paintings is also on sale at the exhibition at RM80 each. It will be priced RM100 after the exhibition. Tan donated three of his paintings – In Praise Of Nature, Tranquility and Happy Hour – to the permanent collection of the gallery during the opening ceremony last weekend.

* The Retrospective Of Tan Chiang Kiong: Through His Mind's Eye exhibition ends on Dec 22. The Penang State Art Gallery is open from 9am to 5pm daily except Fridays and public holidays. Admission is free. For details, call 04-226 1461.

Malaysia on show at Singapore Biennale 2013

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A unique curatorial model allows the Singapore Biennale 2013 to feature more Malaysian artists this year than ever before.

THE works of the Malaysian artists showing at the Singapore Biennale 2013 (SB2013) share very few similarities, except perhaps for a common geographical point of origin. Yet, this is exactly what makes their presence at the biennial contemporary art event so exciting: the multiple Malaysias being shown – whether overtly or subtly – through these pieces.

Organised by the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) with the theme If The World Changed, the fourth edition of the Biennale features works by 82 artists and art collectives from 13 different countries.

With nine Malaysians displaying the works at the SB2013, it is the biggest representation of our country at the event thus far, and certainly the first time artists from East Malaysia are specifically highlighted. The Malaysian artists showing currently showing at SB2013 are: Adrian Ho, Chi Too, Chris Chong Chan Fui, Jainal Amambing, Poodien, Sharon Chin, Shieko Reto, Tan Wei Kheng and Zulkifli Yusoff.

"Voices Of Hope" by Tan Wei Kheng is showing at the Singapore Biennale 2013.

Ethnic identity: In Voices of Hope, the Marudi, Sarawak-born Tan Wei Kheng expresses the modern-day perils faced by tribal communities in his home state. The piece is showing at the Singapore Art Museum during the Singapore Biennale 2013.

This large presence was made possible by a collaborative curatorial effort where 27 curators from South-East Asia were brought together to allow a focused look at each country in the region – as such, 93% of the works on display are from South-East Asia. This panel of curators included Malaysians Faizal Sidik and Yee I-Lann.

Yee says she saw her postion as a curator as an opportunity to include as many "worlds" from Malaysia as possible, and was particularly excited about introducing artists from Sabah and Sarawak.

"Personally, I wanted our selection to be as wide and inclusive as it could. I was brought on board because the SB2013 organising committee didn't know anything about art from Borneo, it was a black hole in their research. So I got very excited. This is the first time a Biennale has visited East Malaysia ever," says the Sabah-born artist.

"Longing" by Chi Too is an installation and video work that is currently showing at the SIngapore Biennale.

Longing by Chi Too is an installation/video work. At the Biennale, Chi Too extends the work by inviting
visitors to enter a small, empty room and attempt the spirit level balancing act.

"In the previous Biennales, we didn't have a Malaysian specifically looking out for Malaysian artists, so it is very exciting to see so many Malaysians showing their works this year," she ├Ądds.

What she looked for when selecting artists to be showcased, she shares, were works that had resonance, were current and dealt with real and contemporary issues. This has resulted in a diverse range of works, from those that scream avant garde to those that people may even question is contemporary art.

"The word contemporary is contextual," adds Yee. "I think it's contemporary to include works that may not appear contemporary. We must always have space for work that doesn't fit neatly into categories."

Jainal Amambing's works, for instance, which are naive art paintings of his memories of growing up in a longhouse in Kudat, Sabah, are those don't readily fit into these categories.

"However, within a larger context, Jainal's My Longhouse Story (pic) recognises South-East Asia's tribal component, and is so very contemporary in terms of the experiences it speaks about," says Yee.

For Jainal, showing at SB2013 was an opportunity to share and reflect on his own culture and lifestyle.

"I don't think about what style I paint in; instead, I look at the theme. And the SB2013 theme, If The World Changed, inspired in me thoughts of how the world of my childhood has changed," he says, adding that he is immensely happy to be able to show his works at such a prestigious event.

Artist Chris Chong Chan Fu working on his

Working with professionals from Institut Sains Teknologi in Malaysia, Sabah-raised Chris Chong Chan Fu has made detailed, cartographical illustrations of various 'species' of artificial flowers available today in his Botanic series.

In contrast, Chris Chong Chan Fui, who hails from Kota Kinabalu, merges art and science in Botanic. a series of botanical illustrations that are in fact of artificial flowers. They appear deceptively simple yet provoke thought on the increasing presence of the artificial in our lives.

"Having so many artists from Malaysia showing here is great, because it allows us to show so many different aspects. There's still much more art in Malaysia that needs to be highlighted, and this is a step in that direction," says Chong.

For Shieko Reto, showing at SB2013 was a platform to highlight an issue close to her heart: the plight of the transgender community. Her mixed media installation, Waiting Room (pic), is a recreation of a clinic waiting room, and is a tongue-in-cheek yet poignant reflection on the many episodes of "waiting" a transgender person faces.

"My work is a voice from a minority group, to shine a light on the situation in Malaysia, and being able to raise these issues in an international platform is very important," says Shieko.

The wide array of works by Malaysians, she points out, speak of a variety of experiences and concerns.

"Sharon Chin's Mandi Bunga (Flower Bath), for example, is a very important work. (Chin organised a mass flower bath where participants wore yellow costumes they had designed themselves). While it is about the colour yellow and how it has become politicised in the last few years, she also doesn't want to impose her politics on anyone; it's almost like a group hug," she adds.

Other perspectives include Adrian Ho's paintings, Fruits Of Life and Full Production, which ruminate on the nature and progress by contrasting the benefits of oil palm plantations with the potential damage, while Tan Wei Kheng's Voices Of Hope expresses the threats faced by tribal communities in Sarawak through a large composition of paintings that are both visually-striking and symbolic.

Poodien's digital collage mural Long Live Food! has also been given a new lease of life as it features prominently at the Singapore Art Museum cafe. For reasons unknown, the piece was taken down from the feature wall of the E.A.T. Food Village hall in Publika, Kuala Lumpur last year.

To conclude, Yee says the best thing Malaysians can do for our artists is to engage with these works, and visit the SB2013.

"The exhibits are so South-East Asia. It's all about what's happening in the region, and how Malaysian art joins or doesn't join in that dialogue. For our art to grow, we have to participate, and that includes the audience."

> The Singapore Biennale 2013 is being held until Feb 16, 2014, in a number of arts spaces in the Bras Basah, Bugis precinct, including the Singapore Art Museum and National Museum Of Singapore. Tickets, priced at S$10 (RM25.40) for adults and S$5 (RM12.70) for students and senior citizens, are available at the exhibition venues and online at SISTIC (www.sistic.com.sg). For more info, visit www.singaporebiennale.org.

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The Star Online: Metro: Central

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Unlicensed dentists bite back after ban

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JAKARTA: For more than 30 years, Indonesian dentist Edi Herman has been fixing the teeth of Jakartans in the rusty chair of his tiny shop, advertising his services with a huge poster of sparkling pearly whites on blood-red gums.

He is one of thousands of low-cost, unlicensed dentists, whose small stores with their lurid signs can be found nestling in grimy alleys and wedged between red-tiled houses across the capital.

But after years of horror stories about people suffering terrible damage at the hands of unscrupulous practitioners with neither clean tools nor training, the government moved to ban them from all dental work in 2011.

The unlicensed dentists are fighting back, however. They have managed to get the ban overturned after challenging it in the constitutional court – and are now demanding the right to practice.

"We demand to be granted a licence so we can operate legally. We will never give up our fight," said Dwi Waris Supriyono, chairman of the Informal Dentists' Association.

For Herman, 56, a ban would have destroyed his livelihood and stopped him from practising a trade passed down to him and his brothers by their father.

"The government wants to put us out of business," said Herman, dressed in a faded T-shirt and sarong, as he puffed on a clove cigarette waiting for his next patient at his central Jakarta shop.

Wanting to protect their livelihoods, the informal dentists – who can be found all across Indonesia – argue that they are the only realistic option for many in a country where millions live in abject poverty.

Herman charges only 50,000 rupiah (RM14) for a simple scaling job, and 1,500,000 rupiah (RM446) to fit a brace – four to five times lower than prices at professional, licensed dentists.

It is also much easier to find an informal dentist. The health ministry estimates there are 75,000 of them in Indonesia, compared to 35,000 licensed practitioners.

The government insists that numerous tales of dental disaster at the hands of unlicensed practitioners vindicates its drive to impose a ban.

One such case is that of cleaner Fitri Hayati, whose attempts to get her teeth straightened at two illegal dentists in Jakarta were far from successful.

The 24-year-old was fitted with braces but one tooth has been pushed down so it now looks longer than the others and she said she suffers from "unbearable pain".

"I can't eat or sleep as my whole mouth is in pain since I started wearing these braces," she said.

Senior health ministry official Untung Suseno Sutarjo accused unlicensed dentists of "putting our people at risk for their own gain".

"These practitioners have no qualifications. They use tools which have not been cleaned or sterilised properly."

Informal dentists, known as "Tukang Gigi" in Indonesian – which translates as "Tooth Workers" – have been plying their trade for generations.

In the late 1980s, authorities sought to crack down on them by ordering that they limit their work to making only dentures.

But the new law was largely ignored and they continued to perform many other procedures regardless.

So, in 2011 the government sought to ban them from doing all dental work, a move the informal dentists countered by seeking a judicial review of the new legislation.

Earlier this year the constitutional court sided with them and declared the law against the constitution, which states that every Indonesian has the right to work.

Supriyono, of the Informal Dentists' Association, argues that despite a lack of formal training, unlicensed practitioners often have years of experience and skills passed down from generation to generation.

"Informal dentists have been around a lot longer than the professionals," he said. — AFP

Online bullies' shameful tactic

Posted:

The most common act of Singapore cyber bullies is to alter a person's picture to make it look humiliating or obscene, and then circulate the image online via social media or the WhatsApp messaging platform, according to a local study.

More than one-third of students aged 13 and 14 have been the target of such actions.

Next in line is spreading rumours about a person on social networks, with one-quarter of students having fallen victim to it, said cyberwellness research firm Kingmaker Consul­tancy.

Other ways these bullies torment include intentionally excluding a person from an online group, like an online gaming group, and trolling by hurling vicious remarks, said the Singapore-based Kingmaker.

It polled about 1,800 students aged 13 and 14 between January and October.

Yesterday, Law Minister K. Shan­mugam said the Government plan­ned to put a stop to such behaviour, with new laws to be tabled next year against harassment.

Citing a Microsoft survey from last year, he said Singapore had the second-highest rate of online bullying out of 25 countries among youths aged eight to 17.

China holds the top spot.

In explaining the main bullying tactic, counsellors blame the abundance of free picture-altering apps and the ease of Web access on smartphones. These apps allow users to make a person look ugly, old or bald, or add facial blemishes.

Some also let users superimpose someone's face on a naked body.

One big draw of these apps is that bullies can be cruel while staying anonymous, said Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society.

"Humiliating pictures are also potentially more damaging for victims with low self-esteem and who lack emotional support from friends and family," she said. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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Unlicensed dentists bite back after ban

Posted:

JAKARTA: For more than 30 years, Indonesian dentist Edi Herman has been fixing the teeth of Jakartans in the rusty chair of his tiny shop, advertising his services with a huge poster of sparkling pearly whites on blood-red gums.

He is one of thousands of low-cost, unlicensed dentists, whose small stores with their lurid signs can be found nestling in grimy alleys and wedged between red-tiled houses across the capital.

But after years of horror stories about people suffering terrible damage at the hands of unscrupulous practitioners with neither clean tools nor training, the government moved to ban them from all dental work in 2011.

The unlicensed dentists are fighting back, however. They have managed to get the ban overturned after challenging it in the constitutional court – and are now demanding the right to practice.

"We demand to be granted a licence so we can operate legally. We will never give up our fight," said Dwi Waris Supriyono, chairman of the Informal Dentists' Association.

For Herman, 56, a ban would have destroyed his livelihood and stopped him from practising a trade passed down to him and his brothers by their father.

"The government wants to put us out of business," said Herman, dressed in a faded T-shirt and sarong, as he puffed on a clove cigarette waiting for his next patient at his central Jakarta shop.

Wanting to protect their livelihoods, the informal dentists – who can be found all across Indonesia – argue that they are the only realistic option for many in a country where millions live in abject poverty.

Herman charges only 50,000 rupiah (RM14) for a simple scaling job, and 1,500,000 rupiah (RM446) to fit a brace – four to five times lower than prices at professional, licensed dentists.

It is also much easier to find an informal dentist. The health ministry estimates there are 75,000 of them in Indonesia, compared to 35,000 licensed practitioners.

The government insists that numerous tales of dental disaster at the hands of unlicensed practitioners vindicates its drive to impose a ban.

One such case is that of cleaner Fitri Hayati, whose attempts to get her teeth straightened at two illegal dentists in Jakarta were far from successful.

The 24-year-old was fitted with braces but one tooth has been pushed down so it now looks longer than the others and she said she suffers from "unbearable pain".

"I can't eat or sleep as my whole mouth is in pain since I started wearing these braces," she said.

Senior health ministry official Untung Suseno Sutarjo accused unlicensed dentists of "putting our people at risk for their own gain".

"These practitioners have no qualifications. They use tools which have not been cleaned or sterilised properly."

Informal dentists, known as "Tukang Gigi" in Indonesian – which translates as "Tooth Workers" – have been plying their trade for generations.

In the late 1980s, authorities sought to crack down on them by ordering that they limit their work to making only dentures.

But the new law was largely ignored and they continued to perform many other procedures regardless.

So, in 2011 the government sought to ban them from doing all dental work, a move the informal dentists countered by seeking a judicial review of the new legislation.

Earlier this year the constitutional court sided with them and declared the law against the constitution, which states that every Indonesian has the right to work.

Supriyono, of the Informal Dentists' Association, argues that despite a lack of formal training, unlicensed practitioners often have years of experience and skills passed down from generation to generation.

"Informal dentists have been around a lot longer than the professionals," he said. — AFP

Online bullies' shameful tactic

Posted:

The most common act of Singapore cyber bullies is to alter a person's picture to make it look humiliating or obscene, and then circulate the image online via social media or the WhatsApp messaging platform, according to a local study.

More than one-third of students aged 13 and 14 have been the target of such actions.

Next in line is spreading rumours about a person on social networks, with one-quarter of students having fallen victim to it, said cyberwellness research firm Kingmaker Consul­tancy.

Other ways these bullies torment include intentionally excluding a person from an online group, like an online gaming group, and trolling by hurling vicious remarks, said the Singapore-based Kingmaker.

It polled about 1,800 students aged 13 and 14 between January and October.

Yesterday, Law Minister K. Shan­mugam said the Government plan­ned to put a stop to such behaviour, with new laws to be tabled next year against harassment.

Citing a Microsoft survey from last year, he said Singapore had the second-highest rate of online bullying out of 25 countries among youths aged eight to 17.

China holds the top spot.

In explaining the main bullying tactic, counsellors blame the abundance of free picture-altering apps and the ease of Web access on smartphones. These apps allow users to make a person look ugly, old or bald, or add facial blemishes.

Some also let users superimpose someone's face on a naked body.

One big draw of these apps is that bullies can be cruel while staying anonymous, said Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society.

"Humiliating pictures are also potentially more damaging for victims with low self-esteem and who lack emotional support from friends and family," she said. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Indian camel breeders count losses at livestock fair

Posted:

PUSHKAR: As dusk falls on the desert town of Pushkar in northern India, turbaned herdsmen huddle around fires and lament the downfall of one of the world's largest livestock fairs.

Like many traders, Jojawa trekked hundreds of kilometres to reach the decades-old cattle and camel fair, a journey that took him seven days from his village in the desert state of Rajasthan.

But the way things are going, he expects to go home with his pockets half-empty and some of the 25 camels that he hoped to sell still in tow.

"This year there are fewer buyers and fewer camels," says Jojawa who has been coming to the annual fair for 35 years.

"If it goes on like this, in another four to five years, I'll be finished," adds Jojawa who uses one name.

Official figures for the five-day fair, which finishes this week and has long been a major tourist attraction, show the number of camels on sale has fallen to 4,739, a sharp drop from the 8,000 recorded in 2011, and a fraction of those from previous decades.

"I see more cameras than camels these days," says Ilse Koehler-Rollefson, a German academic turned activist with the non-profit organisation Lokhit Pashu Palak Sansthan (LPPS), which works to support Rajasthan's traditional Raika pastoralists.

She says the Pushkar fair is the only time of year when camel breeders earn a cash income. Camels are normally sold for around 15,000 rupees (RM733) and used on farms or as transport.

But as sales decline, breeding is becoming a less viable way to earn a living, and as a result she sees the traditional values that underpin the market "rapidly disintegrating".

Among the region's most prominent camel herders, the Raika believe the Hindu god Lord Shiva handed them the responsibility to rear camels.

The semi-nomadic herdsmen consider their relationship with the animals as sacred and they are unique among camel herders worldwide for not slaughtering the camels they rear. But all that is changing.

"In the past 10 to 15 years, this taboo against the slaughter of camels has totally disintegrated and now we're at a stage here where in Pushkar most of the camels are actually sold for meat," Koehler-Rollefson says.

"Traditionally it was also taboo to sell female camels, considered the life-blood of a herd, but these days even they are sold for slaughter.

"It's a sell-out. Once the females are gone that's pretty much the end, you're out of the business, you're not going to be back next year," she adds.

As modernisation has swept across India, thanks to an economic boom, the country's camel population has plummeted by 50% over the last three decades.

In 1982, there were more than one million camels nationwide, but numbers dropped to just over 500,000 by 2007, according to the most recent survey by the ministry of agriculture.

Of these, more than 80% live in Rajasthan, where camels have traditionally been used as work animals on farms or as transport for carrying freight. — AFP

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