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The Star Online: World Updates

New-style Indonesian leader takes on world's oldest profession

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 08:30 PM PDT

SURABAYA, Indonesia (Reuters) - She has revamped its parks, kickstarted its port development and given free health and education to its poor. But for Tri Rismaharini, the celebrated mayor of Indonesia's second-largest city of Surabaya, one big challenge remains: shutting down Dolly.

That's the name of a brothel complex established in the 1970s in what is now central Surabaya. Each of Dolly's 60 or so brothels hosts up to 100 sex workers, according to Yayasan Abdi Asih, a local NGO. A thousand more women work at hundreds of smaller brothels in neighbouring Jarak.

The two areas combined are often described as Southeast Asia's largest red-light district. Most of the women hail from impoverished rural areas of East Java, a region of Muslim-majority Indonesia famous for its Islamic boarding schools.

Previous mayors have vowed but failed to close the area.

Rismaharini, 52, who was elected in 2010, has not only revived the fortunes of a once-struggling city. She has also joined the pantheon of new Indonesian leaders known for clean, can-do governance. Their apogee is Jakarta's popular governor, Joko Widodo, better known as "Jokowi", who recently announced he will run for president in July.

But can even a new-style leader prevail against the world's oldest profession? Rismaharini believes so. She has already closed down three of Surabaya's smaller red-light areas, and has set a deadline of June 19 to close Dolly.

"I knew Dolly would be hardest and that's why I've tackled it last," Rismaharini told Reuters.

Surabaya city government provided training in cooking, hairdressing and other skills to 650 sex workers in 2010-13, said its public relations department. Some were given 3 million rupiah (160 pounds) to encourage them to return home and start small businesses.

The scheme, which aims to reach 900 sex workers in 2014, allows women to escape exploitation and "choose the life they want", said Rismaharini, Surabaya's first female mayor.


Gang Dolly ("Dolly Alley"), as it's known locally, occupies a residential area. At dusk, the call to prayer from a neighbourhood mosque is drowned out by music booming from competing brothels.

Its narrow streets are grim but bustling. Pimps wave down passing men into smoky rooms where young woman sit in glassed-off areas, playing with their cellphones until chosen by a customer.

Meme, 27, started working at Dolly three years ago after her husband died in a traffic accident. She takes her customers to a dimly lit room just big enough for a grubby mattress. A tap and plastic bucket serve as a bathroom.

She has seven to 10 customers a night, who each pay the equivalent of $11 (7 pounds). Of this, she gets less than half; the brothel owner gets the rest.

Meme uses her share to pay for the education of her six-year-old daughter, who lives with her parents in Madiun, a four-hour drive south of Surabaya.

She rejected the mayor's offer of 3 million rupiah, which couldn't match her current earnings, although she longed for a change of profession.

"What I want to do is open a grocery store and for that I need at least 100 million rupiah," she said.

Like Meme, many women are reluctant to give up sex work because they have children to support, said Lilik Sulistyowati, 56, the director of Yayasan Abdi Asih, which counsels Dolly's women and trains them to find alternative jobs.

It was not only sex workers who opposed the mayor, she said. Dolly has a thriving ancillary economy of food and drink stalls, minimarts, parking lots and laundries.

"A lot of people depend on the sex trade, and they're the ones who are mainly protesting the closure," Sulistyowati said.

Some women who worked at Surabaya's other red-light areas were now plying their trade in guesthouses or vehicles. This took them away from localized outreach programmes designed to tackle the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, she said.

"When the commercial sex workers are all in one place, they have a routine of getting tested once a month at the local clinic," said Sulistyowati. "Now many of them have ended up on the street or in hotels with no support system."


Residents claim Surabaya's religious leaders are pressuring the mayor to shut Dolly. But Rismaharini says it is not a "heaven or hell" issue.

"As a leader, I have to show (sex workers) there is nothing contemptible about what they do," she said. "It's a matter of securing their children's future."

Children were the "biggest victims", said Rismaharini, who wept during a recent television interview while talking about Dolly. Girls were sucked into underage sex work and boys into pimping, she said.

She rejected reports that sex workers from brothels she had closed were moving to towns and cities elsewhere in East Java.

To prevent HIV cases from rising, city hall planned to increase surveillance of workers selling sex in cars and guest houses, and boost free contraception and public awareness programmes, said its public relation department.

Rismaharini, who has two grown-up children, still keeps a motherly eye on former sex workers who have undergone retraining.

"It's not possible to just let them go," she said. "They're like babies learning to walk."

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

Washington state mudslide death toll climbs to 14 with up to 176 missing

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 08:30 PM PDT

ARLINGTON, Washington (Reuters) - The death toll from a devastating weekend mudslide in Washington state climbed to 14 people on Monday as six more bodies were found, while the number reported missing continued to swell two days after the tragedy, authorities said.

As many as 176 people were reported missing in the massive landslide, and local emergency management officials expressed doubt anyone else would be plucked alive from the muck that engulfed dozens of homes when a rain-soaked hillside near Oso, Washington, collapsed on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, concern lingered about flooding from water backing up behind a crude dam of mud and rubble dumped into the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River by the slide in an area along State Route 530, about 55 miles (90 km) northeast of Seattle.

"The situation is very grim," said Travis Hots, the local fire chief. "We're still holding out hope that we're going to be able to find people that may still be alive. But keep in mind we haven't found anybody alive on this pile since Saturday in the initial stages of our operation."

President Barack Obama, who was in Europe on Monday for a meeting with world leaders, signed an emergency declaration ordering U.S. government assistance to supplement state and local relief efforts in the aftermath of the mudslide and flooding, the White House said.

Several dozen homes were believed to have sustained some damage from the slide, John Pennington, director of the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, told reporters at a command post in the nearby town of Arlington.

More than 100 properties were hit by the cascading mud, 49 of which had a house, cabin or mobile home on them, Pennington said. At least 25 of those homes were believed to have been occupied year round.

"I'm pissed off I'm losing my house. I mean I hate to lose it. I've been working on it for 15 years," said 73-year-old Dennis Hargrave, who drove up from Kirkland, near Seattle, to learn what he could of his vacation home.

"But that's not my concern. My concern is, are my neighbours still alive? Is anybody surviving this?" he said.


The search for victims resumed under partly cloudy skies on Monday after treacherous quicksand-like conditions forced rescue workers to suspend their efforts at dusk on Sunday. Some workers, mired in mud up to their armpits, had to be dragged to safety.

Members of a search team were forced to retreat again from the western edge of the slide area after movement was detected along a 1,500-foot (460-meter) stretch of earth, said Rebecca Hover, a spokeswoman for the county executive's office.

Authorities on Monday also reported a sharp jump in the number of people listed as unaccounted for in the chaos after the disaster, heightening fears the casualty toll could climb even higher. Eight people were injured in the landslide.

The number of people missing had been listed at 18 or more on Sunday, before jumping on Monday first to as many as 108 and then as high as 176, although Pennington said some reports were vague and could involve overlap.

"The 176 I believe very strongly is not going to be a number that we're going to see in fatalities. I think it's going to drop dramatically," Pennington told an evening news conference.

One retired lumber mill worker, Reed Miller, told Seattle television station KOMO-TV that his riverfront house was demolished by the slide, and that his 47-year-old son, with whom he shared the home, was probably swept away with it.

"Well, he was at home. As far as I know he's gone," said Miller, who was at a grocery store in town at the time. "There's no official (word) that he's been found yet, but he could be buried. I just don't know."


The potential number of victims in harm's way was higher on a Saturday, with many people at home, than on a weekday when more residents would have been at work or school, Pennington said. He said search teams were also trying to account for an unspecified number of construction workers who were in the area and motorists who were driving by at the time.

But authorities were hoping many of those reported as missing would turn out to be survivors who were either double-counted or slow in alerting loved ones and local officials as to their whereabouts.

The slide in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains along the Stillaguamish River piled mud, boulders and rubble up to 15 feet (5 meters) deep in some places. It blocked the flow of the river, backing up water behind a natural dam that caused flooding of seven homes upstream of the slide, Pennington said.

"The bad news is that the water continues to rise and homes are inundated up to the eaves in many cases," he said. "If there is a silver lining in that event ... it is that it is a slow, methodical rise. You can see the danger."

Authorities said as the volume and pressure of water behind the dam continued to build, there was a chance that additional downstream flooding and mud flows could be unleashed.

(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Cynthia Osterman, Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker)

Xi tells Obama to adopt 'fair' attitude on China's maritime disputes

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 07:56 PM PDT

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday that the United States should adopt a "fair" attitude on the East and South China Seas, where China is involved in a series of increasingly bitter territorial disputes.

"On the issues of the East and South China Sea, the U.S. side ought to adopt an objective and fair attitude, distinguish right from wrong, and do more to push for an appropriate resolution and improve the situation," state news agency Xinhua cited Xi as saying. It provided no other details.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in the Netherlands, where their talks also took in the situation in Ukraine, North Korea and military-to-military cooperation.

China is in an often angry dispute with some of its neighbours, especially Vietnam and the Philippines, over claims to parts of the potentially oil and gas-rich South China Sea. China lays claim to almost the whole of the sea, which is criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.

China has a separate dispute with Japan in the East China Sea over a group of uninhabited islets.

China has repeatedly urged the United States not to take sides in any of these disputes, and has watched warily as Washington moves to strengthen its military alliances in the region, especially with Tokyo and Manila.

Xi added that he hoped China and the United States deepened their military cooperation and carried out more joint exercises, to help "prevent misunderstandings and miscalculations".

China's Foreign Ministry said the two leaders reached 10 agreements, including one to form rules for safe maritime and airspace military actions in international waters, the official China Daily newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The risks of a mishap in the region were highlighted in December when the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens had to take evasive action in the South China Sea to avoid hitting a Chinese warship operating in support of Beijing's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Mark Heinrich)


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