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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Rescued Japan diver says sea spun 'like washing machine'

Posted: 19 Feb 2014 12:44 AM PST

Semawang (Indonesia) (AFP) - A Japanese scuba diver who survived three days in waters off Bali after going missing with six other women has told how the weather suddenly turned bad and the sea spun "like a washing machine".

Saori Furukawa, one of five Japanese divers rescued Monday, gave her dramatic account as rescuers hunted for a woman still missing and a day after a body of one diver was found.

Furukawa said the weather had seemed "serene" when the group set off Friday from Nusa Lembongan, just east of the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

"At the start of our diving there was no problem in terms of weather and sea conditions," she said in a statement released to Japanese media late Tuesday, adding there were "almost no waves".

But suddenly the group was hit by a huge storm, she added.

"The surface of the sea started to spin like a washing machine and all of us span around together, hand in hand," she said.

The 37-year-old and four others managed to clamber onto rocks and coral reefs after drifting for a long time and were picked up by rescuers on Monday and taken to hospital.

They were found some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from where they set off, although Furukawa was in a different spot to the others.

She had separated from the other divers to try and reach a passing tugboat in the hope it would pick them up, but said that she "couldn't get close".

"The current was running in the opposite direction from the current where the rest of the members stayed, so I was swept further away from them," she said.

She arrived at a rocky outcrop late Saturday and survived for a further two days by drinking rainwater.

Rescuers continued to search for the seventh diver, instructor Shoko Takahashi, who with her Indonesian husband ran the company Yellow Scuba that took the divers out on the expedition.

Her husband, Putu Mahardena Sembah, joined the search Wednesday, telling reporters "I wish we can find" her -- although police cautioned that her chances of survival were slim after five days at sea.

Some 15 rescuers left Semawang beach in south Bali in three boats, while a search and rescue helicopter hovered overhead, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Japanese friends and relatives of the divers, who had travelled to Bali to help in the search, were among the rescuers setting off from the beach, which is lined with scuba diving centres.

Rescue agency officials said they would expand their search area to the neighbouring island of Lombok, as well as hunting near the tourist areas of Sanur and Kuta in southern Bali.

However local police chief Nyoman Suarsika warned: "The chances of finding her alive are very slim now that she has been missing for five days.

"Whether alive or dead, we will try our very best to find her."

The rescued divers were found in the Manta Point area off Nusa Penida island, which is next to Nusa Lembongan.

They are now in hospital in Bali with sunburn and dehydration but doctors say none are in a serious condition.

Koreans gather ahead of longed-for reunion

Posted: 18 Feb 2014 09:34 PM PST

SEOUL: A group of 83 mostly elderly South Koreans accompanied by family converged Wednesday on a coastal resort prior to crossing into North Korea for the first reunion in more than three years for the peninsula's divided families.

Having had their hopes shattered when Pyongyang cancelled a previous reunion last September, many had been wary of the agreement to hold a gathering from Thursday at a mountain retreat in North Korea.

The accord almost fell apart when the North took exception to overlapping joint military drills by South Korea and the United States, and was only saved by some rare high-level talks last week.

The group travelled Wednesday to the resort near the eastern port city of Sokcho, where they were to spend the night before crossing the heavily-fortified border nearby.

With an average age of 84, they were accompanied by 59 family members for physical and emotional support.

The reunion at a complex on North Korea's Mount Kumgang will be the first of its kind since 2010.

Lee Ok-Ran, 84, said she had barely been able to sleep at the prospect of seeing the two sisters she left behind in the North's western province of Hwanghae.

South Korean TV showed her at home carefully packing bundles of gifts, ranging from underwear and analgesic patches to Choco Pies - a South Korean chocolate and marshmallow biscuit snack.

"I've heard Choco Pies are popular and expensive in the North", Lee said.

"Ok-Bin, Ok-Hi, I'm waiting to hug you hard and dance together," she said looking into the camera and calling her sisters' names.

Millions of Koreans were separated by the 1950-53 war, and the vast majority have since died without having any communication at all with surviving relatives.

Because the Korean conflict concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war and direct exchanges of letters or telephone calls are prohibited.

Up to 73,000 South Koreans are wait-listed for a chance to take part in one of the reunion events, which select only a few hundred participants at a time.

The reunion programme began in earnest in 2000 following an historic inter-Korean summit.

Sporadic events since then have seen around 17,000 relatives briefly reunited.

But the programme was suspended in 2010 following the North's shelling of a South Korean border island.

The Mount Kumgang reunion with 180 North Korean relatives will last until Saturday, after which the South Korean group will return home.

Then a group of 88 selected North Koreans will travel to Mount Kumgang to meet 361 of their relatives from the South from Sunday to Tuesday.

For the vast majority it will be the last contact they ever have with each other.

Last year alone, around 3,800 South Korean applicants for reunions died without ever realising their dreams. -AFP

Philippine leader defends controversial 'cyber libel' law

Posted: 18 Feb 2014 09:54 PM PST

MANILA: Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Wednesday defended a controversial cybercrime law penalising online libel, a day after the top court upheld its legality in a setback for campaigners who argue it could curb Internet freedom.

The Cybercrime Protection Act was passed in 2012 to stamp out online scourges such as fraud, identity theft, spamming and child pornography, but its implementation was suspended after coming under challenge from various groups.

However the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that one of its most controversial provisions, the section which penalises cyber libel, "is not unconstitutional".

Aquino defended the ruling, saying the law would not be used to stifle dissent in the Philippines, considered to be one of Asia's most freewheeling democracies.

"Will freedom of expression be stopped? I don't think that is the purpose of the law," Aquino told reporters.

"We were taught in school that your rights end where they impinge on the right of others."

Opponents say the law gives the government sweeping powers to curb Internet freedom due to provisions that impose heavy prison terms for online libel - in a country where major protests have been organised through Facebook and Twitter.

Aquino insisted that the law should apply equally to digital platforms.

"If there was libel on TV, said on radio and written in the newspaper, should that be exempted in another format?" he said.

"But I repeat, if you are saying the truth, why would you fear libel?"

While the Supreme Court ruled against a provision giving authorities sweeping powers to shut down websites or record Internet traffic data in real time, it upheld the online libel provisions.

Critics fear the government could misuse the law to go after journalists who report on official corruption.

"By extending the reach of the antediluvian libel law into cyberspace, the Supreme Court has suddenly made a once infinite venue for expression into an arena of fear, a hunting ground for the petty and vindictive, the criminal and autocratic," the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement.

Groups opposed to the law are set to file a motion for reconsideration but the Supreme Court only rarely reverses its decisions. -AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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