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Bad weather forecast as new images spur MH370 search

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 04:52 PM PDT

Perth (Australia) (AFP) - Thunderstorms and gale-force winds threatened to impede a frantic international search Thursday for wreckage from Flight MH370 after satellite images of more than 100 floating objects sparked fresh hopes of a breakthrough.

Malaysia said the imagery taken in recent days by a French satellite showed "122 potential objects" in the remote southern Indian Ocean, although nothing has yet been pulled from the treacherous seas despite a multinational recovery operation.

Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has cautioned that it was impossible to determine whether the objects were related to the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 which crashed on March 8 with 239 people aboard after mysteriously disappearing.

But the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the search some 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, said they were in an area authorities have pinpointed as a potential crash zone.

"Positions in the satellite information released by Malaysia Remote Sensing Agency were within Wednesday's search area," it said as a fleet of planes prepared to head for the search zone once again before the weather worsens.

Six military planes from Australia, Japan and the United States will fly sorties throughout the day, along with five civil aircraft, AMSA said, in an increasingly frantic hunt for clues to exactly what happened.

The plane deviated inexplicably off its intended course between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, flying thousands of kilometres in the wrong direction, before plunging into the sea. Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted by someone on board.

Five ships are also in the search zone, including Australia's HMAS Success and Chinese vessels Xue Long, Kuulunshan, Haikon and Qiandaohu.

But they are operating in a wild expanse of ocean described by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as "close to nowhere as it's possible to be" where gale-force winds and towering waves are routinely whipped up.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology warned the weather was expected to deteriorate later Thursday.

"Potentially thunderstorms down there as well as winds picking up, and they could get to gale force conditions," said bureau spokesman Neil Bennett.

-- Lawyers fire first salvo -

The new images, provided by European aerospace giant Airbus and depicting some objects as long as 23 metres (75 feet), came as US lawyers fired the first salvo in an expected barrage of lawsuits on behalf of grieving families.

Seeking closure, anguished families of those aboard are desperately awaiting hard evidence, which the aviation industry hopes can also provide clues to what caused one of aviation's greatest mysteries.

But as the search continued, US law firm Ribbeck Law Chartered International said it was getting the ball rolling on potentially "multi-million dollar" lawsuits against Malaysia Airlines and Boeing.

"We are going to be filing the lawsuits for millions of dollars per each passenger based on prior cases that we have done involving crashes like this one," the firm's head of aviation litigation, Monica Kelly, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

A separate statement by the firm, which filed an initial court petition in the US state of Illinois on Tuesday, said the two companies "are responsible for the disaster of Flight MH370".

The airline declined detailed comment.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said Monday that satellite data indicated the plane plunged into the sea in a region off western Australia, possibly after running out of fuel.

- Relatives seek closure -

MH370 relatives have endured more than a fortnight of agonising uncertainty.

Two-thirds of the passengers were from China, and relatives there have criticised Malaysia in acid terms, accusing the government and airline of a cover-up and botching the response.

Scores of relatives protested outside Malaysia's embassy in Beijing on Tuesday and China kept up the pressure, with Premier Li Keqiang urging Malaysia Wednesday to involve "more Chinese experts" in the investigation, according to a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.

While Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted, other scenarios include a hijacking, pilot sabotage or a crisis that incapacitated the crew and left the plane to fly on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel.

Hishammuddin said Razak met Wednesday with Zhang Yesui, a Chinese vice foreign minister sent to Kuala Lumpur over the crisis, and provided him with a full update on the latest information.

Hishammuddin hit back at criticism of Malaysia's handling of the crisis, saying "I think history will judge us well."

Authorities hope to retrieve the "black box" and precious flight data, believing it could hold clues to what happened.

Australian Vice Admiral Ray Griggs said a specialised US Navy black box locator device had arrived in Perth and could be taken to the search area within days.

The clock is ticking, with the battery that powers its locator signal expected to run out in two weeks. - AFP

Philippines, Muslim rebels set for historic peace deal

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 04:44 PM PDT

Manila (AFP) - The biggest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines will sign a peace deal on Thursday aimed at ending four decades of deadly conflict that has condemned millions in the nation's far south to brutal poverty.

The agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and President Benigno Aquino's government envisages a new, southern autonomous region for the Philippines' Muslim minority with locally elected leaders by mid-2016.

"For many years we have been leading the Bangsamoro people's struggle and our people have gone through a lot of hardships," MILF vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar told AFP, using a local term for the Philippines' Muslim minority.

"This agreement is very important to us because this ends the fighting in Mindanao."

Muslim rebels have been battling since the 1970s for independence or autonomy in the southern region of Mindanao, which they regard as their ancestral homeland.

The conflict has left tens of thousands of people dead while Mindanao has become one of the nation's poorest and most corrupt areas, with Muslim and Christian warlords ruling over large parts.

The fighting and poverty has also proved to be fertile conditions for Islamic extremism, with the Al-Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf group and other hardline militants making remote regions of Mindanao their strongholds.

The MILF, which the military estimates has 10,000 fighters, is easily the biggest Muslim rebel group in Mindanao, and Aquino believes a political settlement is the key to securing a lasting peace.

"It is important, it is historic. It is going to be a major contribution for the peace and development of the entire country," Aquino's adviser on the peace process, Teresita Deles, said this week.

Aquino and MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim will oversee the signing of the peace deal during a high-profile ceremony at the presidential palace in Manila attended by about 1,000 people, including Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Malaysia has hosted and brokered the peace talks, which began 17 years ago.

The peace deal outlines plans to create a Bangsamoro self-rule area in Mindanao that would cover about 10 percent of territory in the majority Roman Catholic-populated Philippines.

The autonomous region would have its own police force, a regional parliament and power to levy taxes, while revenues from the region's vast deposits of natural resources would be split with the national government.

The national government would retain control over defence, foreign policy, currency and citizenship.

Fragile peace

However there are no guarantees the peace deal will be implemented by the middle of 2016, a crucial deadline as that is when Aquino is required by the constitution to end his six-year term.

Aquino needs to convince Congress to pass a "basic law" to create the Bangsamoro autonomous region, ideally by the end of this year to allow time for other steps such as a local plebiscite.

But even though Aquino's ruling coalition has a loose majority and he still enjoys record-high popularity ratings, there are concerns politicians could reject or water down the proposed law.

Powerful Christian politicians in Mindanao are regarded as potential deal breakers, while others elsewhere may see political advantage in opposing the deal to appeal to some Catholics ahead of the 2016 national elections.

"There is a danger that this could be hijacked by politically savvy and entrenched politicians," Jesus Dureza, the chief peace negotiator with the MILF from 2001 to 2003, told AFP.

Islamic militants opposed to the peace deal are another threat, and could continue to create enduring violence in Mindanao.

Among the potential spoilers is the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, an MILF splinter group of a few hundred militants that has carried out deadly attacks in the south in recent years.

Troops have been placed on high alert in the south, in case militants seek to distract from Thursday's peace deal with attacks.

The MILF leadership has committed to working with the government to neutralise the threat of the BIFF.

However the MILF will not give up its arms or the identities of its fighters until the basic law has been passed, highlighting the fragility of Thursday's peace deal.

Woman jailed for pimping god-daughter

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A former quality assurance inspector was jailed for 12 months for instigating her teenage god-daughter to have paid sex with a Bangladeshi worker.

The 45-year-old pleaded guilty to instigating the 15-year-old Secon­dary 3 student to have sex with the co-accused, Md Zahangir Alam (Ron­ju) Mohammad Ali Shei­kh, 30, for S$200 (RM520) at Jin Dong Hotel in Geylang last October.

The inspector, who cannot be named so as to protect the minor, was given a concurrent sentence of four months' jail and a S$4,000 (RM10,420) fine after admitting to procuring the girl for prostitution.

A district court heard that the minor met the accused last Sept 30 and mentioned that she was in need of money. The accused then suggested that she have sex with men in return for money, and that she could help her find a man.

The next day, the pair went to Chinese Garden to meet the accu­sed's boyfriend, Bangladeshi natio­nal Md Jewel Abdul Latif, 31, who then invited the co-accused to meet them at the Chinese Garden.

That evening, the accused told the minor to get close to the co-accused and offer him sex for S$200 (RM520), saying S$50 (RM130) of her earnings would have to be given to her.

The minor told the co-accused she was 16, and offered him sex for S$200 (RM520). He agreed and all four took a cab to Geylang where they checked into two rooms on Oct last year.

The minor collected S$200 (RM520) from the co-accused who had sex with her five times.

After checking out of the hotel, the co-accused asked for S$50 (RM130) as he had no money.

The minor obliged. She later handed over S$50 (RM130) to the accused. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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