Selasa, 8 April 2014

The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

ICA working on portable device to verify passports of ship passengers

Posted: 07 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

THE Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA) is working on a portable electronic device which could be used to check the passports of ship passengers and make the current system more efficient.

The present clearance-on-board system involves ICA officers physically checking cruise passengers' documents on the ship before they reach Singapore Cruise Centre or Marina Bay Cruise Centre, where passports are then checked electronically.

Tentatively named the Relocatable Clearance System, the machine is in the prototype stage.

If successful, it would be able to wirelessly verify the authenticity and validity of a passport against an electronic database, which can currently be done only at the various land, sea and air checkpoints.

An ICA spokesman said: "We break down immigration clearance into various portions and what we can do on board will speed up the process of certain functions."

The authority is working on ensuring that the device will be able to communicate reliably with its central database, and that encryption of sensitive, personal information will be robust enough to prevent information theft.

The ICA is also looking at extending automated clearance to cruise passengers on ships that dock here overnight or longer.

Currently, only residents and pass holders can use the automated system which lets them get on and off the ship, while foreign passengers use manned checkpoints.

The Singapore Tourism Board is trying to grow the market of visitors on "floating hotels" and its director of cruise Annie Chang said: "With our city's plethora of lifestyle and leisure options, visitors can have exciting, multiple-day shore excursions whenever cruise ships dock here."

A handful of luxury liners operated by Celebrity Cruises and Crystal Cruises already stay here overnight. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Philippine top court approves controversial birth control law

Posted: 08 Apr 2014 03:40 AM PDT

MANILA, April 8, 2014 (AFP) - Millions of poor people in the Philippines will have access to free contraceptives for the first time after the nation's top court on Tuesday approved a deeply controversial birth control law.

The Supreme Court's ruling was hailed by supporters as a triumph in the battle to ease crippling poverty, empower women and curtail a population explosion in the Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people.

But the Catholic Church, which had led a bitter campaign for 15 years against efforts to introduce any form of family planning laws, expressed anger and vowed to continue fighting what it terms "evil" reforms.

"The RH law is not unconstitutional," Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te told reporters as he announced the ruling, striking down more than a dozen petitions against the reproductive health law from church-backed groups.

The legislation requires government health centres to supply free condoms and birth control pills, as well as mandating that sex education be taught in schools.

It also requires that public health workers receive family planning training, while medical care after an abortion will also be legalised.

The issues are so controversial in the Philippines because nearly 80 percent of the population are Catholics, an inheritance of three centuries of Spanish colonial rule.

And while Pope Francis has recently urged a break from the Church's obsession with its ultra-strict dogma, local Catholic leaders have sought to continue with deeply conservative social policies.

The Philippines is the only country where divorce remains illegal and abortions are also outlawed.

"This monumental decision upholds the separation of church and state and affirms the supremacy of government in secular concerns like health and socio-economic development," legislator Edcel Lagman, the main author of the law, said after the ruling.

Deaths in childbirth

Women's rights groups and other supporters of the law said the law would be a powerful tool in cutting the Philippines' fertility rate of 3.54, one of the highest in Asia that has contributed to the nation's brutal poverty.

More than a quarter of the population live on the equivalent of 62 cents a day, according to the government, with many million housed in horrific urban slums and unable to afford contraceptives.

"The full and speedy implementation of the law will be critically important in reducing maternal mortality and ensuring universal access to reproductive health care," the United Nations said in a statement welcoming the ruling.

It noted that the number of women dying while giving birth in the Philippines had remained high over the past two decades, and the nation was expected to miss a 2015 development target to cut maternal deaths to 52 per 100,000 live births.

Between 14 and 15 mothers die each day from complications during childbirth in the Philippines, according to the British medical charity Merlin.

A spokeswoman for Philippine President Benigno Aquino, who defied church threats of excommunication to shepherd the law through parliament in 2012, said the government was ready quickly to start implementation.

The government had been poised to begin implementing it last year, but the appeals to the Supreme Court led to a temporary restraining order.

Nevertheless, the Church and other opponents insisted they would continue campaigning against the law, and potentially lodge an appeal.

Decisions by the Supreme Court can be appealed, but the tribunal rarely reverses its own rulings.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, rejected the ruling.

"We cannot see eye-to-eye with our pro-RH (reproductive health) brethren on this divisive issue, but we can work hand in hand for the good of the country," he said in a statement.

"The Church can continue its mission even with such unjust laws," he added.

Church leaders have helped lead two revolutions that toppled unpopular presidents in recent history.

However church-backed groups have not attracted massive crowds to previous rallies against the law.

Polling over many years has also shown that most Catholic Filipinos have largely embraced less conservative views on social issues.

A survey last month by the respected Social Weather Stations polling group said 72 percent of respondents were in favour of the law.

Ming-era 'chicken cup' breaks record for Chinese porcelain

Posted: 08 Apr 2014 03:02 AM PDT

HONG KONG, April 8, 2014 (AFP) - A Ming Dynasty wine cup broke the world auction record for Chinese porcelain in Hong Kong on Tuesday, after it was bought for $36.05 million (HK$281.24 million) by Shanghai tycoon Liu Yiqian, Sotheby's said.

The tiny white porcelain cup, decorated with a colour painting of a rooster and a hen tending to their chicks, was made during the reign of the Chenghua Emperor between 1465 and 1487.

The sale set a record for Chinese porcelain, according to the auction house, beating the HK$252.66 million ($32.58 million) paid for a gourd-shaped vase from the Qianlong period in 2010.

It also far exceeded the previous world record for Ming Dynasty porcelain, which was set by a blue and white vase that fetched HK$168.66 million in 2011.

Nicolas Chow, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Asia, described the cup as the "holy grail" of Chinese art.

"There is no more legendary object in the history of Chinese porcelain. This is an object bathed in mythology," he told reporters after the sale.

"It has gone to an extraordinarily good home in Shanghai in the collection of Liu Yiqian."

Bidding started at HK$160 million, with Liu making the winning offer by telephone after a lengthy battle among hopeful buyers.

Liu, a taxi-driver turned financier now aged 50, is one of China's wealthiest men and among the country's new class of super-rich scouring the globe for artwork.

He is worth an estimated $1.6 billion and has two museums to his name.

Liu made headlines in the art world when he bought a Song-era scroll for $8.2 million at a Sotheby's auction in New York in September - only to have it dismissed as a fake by experts. He stands by its authenticity.

Liu made his first fortune speculating in Shanghai's newly established stock market in the 1990s, but now runs a huge conglomerate active in several industries.

'Centuries of imperial admiration'

The chicken cup represents the pinnacle of Ming-era porcelain production, according to Sotheby's.

"That period in terms of porcelain production was really the peak of material refinement," Chow told AFP before the sale, adding that later emperors were so enamoured by the design that the chicken cup was copied extensively.

"When you buy a chicken cup... you don't just buy the object, you're buying centuries of imperial admiration for these objects," he said.

Fewer than 20 such cups are known to exist, with just four in private collections, Chow said, adding that this would become the only genuine chicken cup in China upon its return.

An 18th century Qing dynasty vase appeared to set a record auction price for Chinese porcelain of 51.6 million ($86.22 million), when it went under the hammer in 2010. But the item was not paid for.

The vase was later sold in a private transaction for less than half of its hammer price, between 20 million to 25 million, Bloomberg News reported in early 2013.

Hong Kong has emerged as one of the biggest global auction hubs alongside New York and London, fuelled by China's economic boom and demand from Chinese and other Asian collectors.

"We've seen in this entire week, extraordinary prices" for the Sotheby's Spring Sales, Chow said.

"It's an extremely good sign for the present (economic) climate."

A necklace made of 27 jadeite beads broke the world record for jadeite jewellery on Monday, Sotheby's said, selling at HK$214 million - more than twice the estimated price.


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