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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Minister proposes command centre at Changi naval base

Posted: 04 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

HONOLULU: Singapore has proposed hosting a regional crisis command centre that would help co-ordinate governments' efforts after major natural disasters, the city-state's defence minister said.

"We were obviously struck over the last decade by how many disasters there were" in the region, said Ng Eng Hen.

He cited the earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons that have cut a swathe of destruction from the Philippines to Japan.

"We recognised in the first critical 24/48 hours, it is actually very difficult for the affected country to be able to set up a C2 (command and control) centre, for the very reason they're the ones hit," said the minister, in Hawaii for an Asean meeting on Thursday.

With communications knocked out, governments at the centre of a natural disaster often are "overwhelmed" and don't have the ability to manage international offers of help, he said.

"In the discussion we realised what was really needed was a crisis centre that was already set up and operational.

"It could also be scaled up (as needed)," he said.

At the Asean gathering in Honolulu, defence ministers welcomed Singapore's proposal to host the crisis centre at Changi naval base, Ng said.

The agenda for this week's Asean meeting – focused on improving co-operation for humanitarian assistance – has taken on new importance in the wake of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel praised Singapore's proposal for the crisis centre to handle future natural disasters, which are expected to increase in frequency and scale due to climate change.

"This could be an important venue for nations in the region to co-ordinate military responses to disasters and it's an idea that we're going to pursue," Hagel said.

The idea is to "make a coherent picture for everyone to see", said Ng.

"We evolved a concept, we call it 'plug and play'," he added.

"We set up terminals, you bring in your systems, you give the information you feel comfortable with.

"We take all that information, fuse it and then pump it out. It's worked quite well." — AFP

German AP photographer shot dead in Afghanistan

Posted: 04 Apr 2014 07:48 PM PDT

Khost (Afghanistan) (AFP) - An Afghan police commander on Friday shot dead a female German photographer working for the Associated Press on the eve of presidential elections, in an attack that left a Canadian colleague wounded, the news agency said.

The journalists were shot in their car in the Tanai district of Khost province, in the country's east, as they reported on distribution of ballot papers for the election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai.

The incident comes as Afghanistan undertakes a massive security operation to protect voters and polling officials, after the Taliban pledged to disrupt Saturday's ballot with violence.

Anja Niedringhaus is the third journalist working for international media to be killed in Afghanistan during the election campaign, after Swedish journalist Nils Horner and Sardar Ahmad of Agence France-Presse.

"Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an internationally acclaimed German photographer, was killed instantly," AP said in a report from Kabul.

"Kathy Gannon, the reporter, was wounded twice and is receiving medical attention. She was described as being in stable condition and talking to medical personnel."

AP said the police commander opened fire while the two journalists were in their car, travelling with election workers delivering ballots in Khost city.

"As they were sitting in the car waiting for the convoy to move, a unit commander named Naqibullah walked up to the car, yelled 'Allahu Akbar' — God is Great — and opened fire on them in the back seat," the news agency said.

"He then surrendered to the other police and was arrested."

Khost provincial governor Abdul Jabbar Naeemi and other officials confirmed that the attacker was a police commander who was detained immediately after the incident.

"Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there," said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll in the AP report.

A file picture taken on April 5, 2003 shows AP Photographer Anja Niedringhaus.

"Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss."

President Hamid Karzai issued a statement expressing his condolences, and ordered an investigation.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) described the attack as "abhorrent", while the US ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham condemned "the senseless act of violence" that took Niedringhaus's life.

- Series of attacks -

Khost borders Pakistan's restive North Waziristan tribal area, a stronghold of the Haqqani militant network blamed for numerous high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, many targeting foreigners.

Kabul has been rocked by its own string of attacks in the run-up to Saturday's election, which will be the first democratic handover of power in Afghanistan's turbulent history.

Ahmad, AFP's senior Afghan reporter, was killed along with his wife and two of his three children on March 20 when gunmen smuggled pistols into Kabul's high-security Serena hotel and shot dead nine people including four foreigners.

Horner, 51, a veteran of Swedish national radio, was shot dead in March in a Kabul street while researching a story about a January attack on a nearby restaurant which killed 21 people, including 13 foreigners.

In addition to Horner's murder and the Serena assault, a charity's guesthouse has come under attack, along with offices of the Independent Election Commission (IEC).

Most recently, six police officers were killed in a suicide bombing at the interior ministry in Kabul on Wednesday.

Security was tight across Afghanistan ahead of the vote to elect a president to take over from Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from standing again.

Interior Minister Omar Daudzai said all 400,000 of the country's police, army and intelligence services have been deployed to ensure security around the country.

There was a heavy police presence on the largely deserted streets of Kabul on Friday morning, with officers carrying out stringent checks on vehicles.

The Taliban have pledged to attack the poll, urging their fighters to target election staff, voters and security forces.

Former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, runner-up in 2009 Abdullah Abdullah, and former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul are the leading contenders in the eight-man race.

A repeat of the bloodshed and fraud that marred the 2009 election would damage claims by international donors that the multi-billion-dollar, 13-year intervention in Afghanistan has made progress in establishing a functioning state system.

Whoever wins the race to succeed Karzai faces a testing time maintaining stability as Afghan forces take on the fight against the resilient Taliban insurgency without the aid of NATO forces.

The US-led coalition is due to withdraw its 51,000 combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. - AFP

Pakistani baby accused of attempted murder

Posted: 04 Apr 2014 07:58 PM PDT

Lahore (Pakistan) (AFP) - While many children his age are still learning how to crawl, a nine-month-old boy in Pakistan has been accused of attempted murder in a case observers say highlights endemic flaws in the country's legal system.

Baby Mohammad Musa along with his father and other family members was booked for throwing rocks at gas company officials in the working-class Ahata Thanedaran neighbourhood on February 1, the family's lawyer Chaudhry Irfan Sadiq told AFP Friday.

Inspector Kashif Muhammad, who attended the alleged crime scene and has since been suspended, wrote in his report that it was a case of attempted murder.

Appearing in a packed court room with others accused in the case on Thursday, Musa was seen crying as his grandfather Muhammad Yasin held him on his shoulder.

Yasin later fed him milk from a bottle while fielding questions from reporters.

"Everyone in the court was saying 'How can such a small child be implicated in any case'? What kind of police do we have?" the 50-year-old labourer said.

The charge is in direct contradiction with Pakistan's minimum age of criminal responsibility, which was raised from seven to 12 years in 2013 except in terrorism cases.

Yasin accused the police of fabricating the charges because they were colluding with a rival party who wanted to see the accused evicted from their land and had obtained an order to remove their gas connections.

"The police and gas company officials came without any notice and started removing gas meters from houses. Residents started protesting and blocked the road but ended the protest when senior police officers arrived in the area and assured them that no injustice would be done.

"But later we found out that cases have been filed against us," he added.

Judge Rafaqat Ali Qamar ordered the inspector to be suspended and granted the child bail, though he will have to appear at the next hearing on April 12.

But Sadiq, the lawyer, said the charges against the child should have been dropped.

"The court should have simply referred the minor's case to the High Court to drop the charges against the innocent child and acquit him from the case," Sadiq told AFP.

"This case also exposes the incompetence of our police force and the way they are operating," he added.

- Inherent flaws -

Feisal Naqvi, a supreme court lawyer told AFP the naming of family members in police reports was a common tactic employed by complainants in order to exert pressure on parties with whom they were involved in a dispute.

He said: "It's not common for babies to be accused but it is common for other family members to be accused," he said.

"What happens then is that vendettas are going on so everyone gets picked up and gets chucked in jail," he added.

Shoaib Suddle, a retired police chief, added that the system operates via 'first information reports' that date back to British colonial times, which give too much weight to allegations made by accusers.

"The moment they are able to file a complaint, accusers expect that without any evidence people should be locked up and the investigation should follow, whereas the world over it is the other way around," Suddle said.


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