Selasa, 8 April 2014

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Indonesians vote for new parliament, stage set for presidential poll

Posted: 08 Apr 2014 08:40 PM PDT

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesians began voting for a new parliament on Wednesday in a poll likely to be dominated by the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), boosting the chances of its popular candidate in a presidential election three months from now.

Opinion polls predict the PDI-P will win the most votes although not an outright majority. Its candidate for the presidential election on July 9, Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, widely known as Jokowi, already looks unbeatable.

"I'm very confident. My party will do very well," Jokowi said after voting with his wife in central Jakarta, according to local news website,

Former president and head of the PDI-P Megawati Sukarnoputri appeared to set aside her own ambition last month when she gave the green light to Jokowi to run for president, recognising that his popularity could lead her party back to power.

Indonesia's embrace of democracy since the downfall of former authoritarian leader Suharto 16 years ago has seen four different presidents and repeated change of the leading party.

The Indonesian stock market and the rupiah (IDR=), the best performing currency in Asia so far this year, are expected to react positively to a strong PDI-P showing, analysts said. A larger share of votes would allow the party to create more certainty for the business community under a Jokowi presidency.

The stock market, up 15 percent this year, was closed as Wednesday was declared a public holiday for the vote.

Campaigning has been notable for its lack of policy initiatives to give Southeast Asia's biggest economy a boost.

Though economic growth is still expected to be a little over 5 percent this year, it has weakened partly on the fall in prices for commodities on which the resource-rich country still depends.

Voting in the world's third-largest democracy began in Indonesia's distant eastern islands and will finish two time zones away in the densely populated west at 0600 GMT. Exit polls should give an idea of the outcome fairly soon afterwards.

There were no reports of any violence, but voting was delayed in some areas due to bad weather and logistical problems.

Political parties must secure at least 25 percent of the national vote on Wednesday or 20 percent of the 560 seats in parliament to be able to field a candidate in July's presidential ballot. There are only 12 parties running compared with 38 in the last election in 2009.

Much of the debate has shifted already to who might become the vice-presidential candidate with Jokowi, who has no experience on the national political stage.


According to a Roy Morgan International survey released a week ago, support for Jokowi jumped to 45 percent after PDI-P named him as its candidate last month, from 35 percent before. Jokowi has won admirers for his clean reputation in a country of rampant corruption and his common touch with ordinary people.

The survey showed backing for rival Prabowo Subianto, a former general, holding at 15 percent, while tycoon Aburizal Bakrie trailed with 11 percent.

Support for PDI-P was at 37 percent, it said. A separate survey showed support for both Bakrie's Golkar and Prabowo's Gerindra parties dwindling to less than 20 percent.

Backing for the ruling Democratic Party of outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has fallen to single digits after it was hit by a series of high-profile graft cases last year. Yudhoyono is limited by the constitution to two terms.

Islamic parties, which became popular after the fall of Suharto, have also seen their fortunes fade in the world's most populous Muslim nation, hit by corruption scandals and a strong focus on pluralism in mainstream politics. Five Islamic parties are running this time, compared with eight in 2009.

Rather than policy, the colourful mass rallies of the past few weeks offered free merchandise, food and quite often money to those who attended, along with scantily clad singers and dancers who sought to whip up enthusiasm.

Parties also tapped into Indonesia's obsession with social media by launching politically themed apps and online games. Indonesia is home to the world's third-largest number of Facebook and Twitter users.

The election, a $1.5 billion logistical feat, will see more than 186 million voters flock to half a million polling stations across the vast Indonesian archipelago, according to the election commission.

Voters, nearly a third of them under 30, will choose between 6,600 candidates vying for national parliament seats. On the same day, elections will be held for 19,007 provincial and district level legislative assembly seats.

Most Indonesians view the national parliament as among the country's most corrupt institutions, according to a 2013 Transparency International survey.

It operates, however, within a presidential system where the executive branch has the authority to overrule it.

(Additional reporting by Anastasia Arvirianty, Fergus Jensen and Jonathan Thatcher; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher, Dean Yates and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Venezuela government and foes talk; Vatican to mediate

Posted: 08 Apr 2014 08:40 PM PDT

CARACAS (Reuters) - President Nicolas Maduro's government and Venezuela's main opposition group agreed on Tuesday to begin talks intended to halt the nation's worst political unrest in a decade.

Representatives of the Vatican and South American regional bloc Unasur will mediate, both sides said.

Clashes between security forces and pro-government militants on one side, and hooded opposition demonstrators blocking streets on the other, have killed 39 people since mid-February, according to official figures.

The dead have included government supporters, opponents, and members of the security forces.

Maduro, the 51-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez, led the government team at Tuesday's preliminary talks that were the first sit-down with the Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition coalition since the troubles began.

"We spoke frankly, directly and respectfully. There were moments of tension, but we agreed to start a cycle of meetings," Maduro said after the meeting in a 17th century colonial building that houses the foreign ministry.

"Neither will we try and convert them to Bolivarian socialism nor will they convert us to capitalism," he said, using a reference to Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar.

The formal talks are set to begin on Thursday.

On the agenda will be Venezuela's crime epidemic and economic problems - issues high on the litany of complaints from demonstrators in the streets since early February.

The opposition is also insisting on the release of jailed protest leader Leopoldo Lopez and dozens of imprisoned students.


Tuesday's meeting, brokered by visiting Unasur foreign ministers, may take some heat out of a crisis that has also caused hundreds of injuries and arrests, and proved a further drag on Venezuela's ailing economy.

But they may disappoint hardliners in the opposition, who had been hoping to inspire a "Venezuelan Spring" and view Maduro's exit as the only solution.

MUD leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo said the opposition would ensure that students, who have led the wave of protests, would not be forgotten in the talks.

"We have agreed to the presence of a third party who will help us in this difficult path," he added, referring to the probable involvement of a Roman Catholic Church official.

From jail, Lopez called for a continuation of peaceful protests and expressed scepticism over the incipient talks.

"I believe deeply in dialogue, but in a dialogue of equals, not (with one side) on its knees. For 15 years, we have seen how the dictatorship conducts dialogue," he said in a series of messages posted by his wife on Twitter.

Though there have been no new fatalities for several days, clashes have continued on the streets of Caracas and some other hotspots such as the western city of San Cristobal.

While the students have failed to bring millions of protesters out as they had hoped, they have shown persistence in building barricades on streets and using other nuisance tactics.

Some have been posing naked on social media to protest against the beating and stripping of a student during a melee last week at a university in Caracas.

Maduro accuses the protesters of trying to promote a coup against him similar to a brief toppling of Chavez in 2002.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Ken Wills)

China recruits 'guardian angels' to protect embattled doctors

Posted: 08 Apr 2014 08:15 PM PDT

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's capital Beijing is taking a novel approach to protecting doctors from growing levels of violence from angry patients: volunteer "guardian angels".

The campaign will recruit students, medical workers and other patients to act as middlemen between doctors and those in their care to defuse disagreements and smooth over tensions, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.

Doctors in China have come under increasing threat as the country's healthcare system struggles to cope with low doctor numbers, poor levels of training and rampant corruption inflating the price of care. This has seen a number of fatal attacks by patients on doctors in the past year.

"Patients will understand doctors better after talking with our volunteers," Feng Guosheng, head of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Hospitals told Xinhua, adding services would include "hospital guidance" and "psychological intervention".

China's government stepped up security at hospitals earlier this year, posting police at some centres and increasing surveillance after a rise in attacks. In February a doctor in northern Heilongjiang province was beaten to death by an angry patient, while another was stabbed in October last year.

The Beijing campaign will recruit over 1,500 volunteers to serve a one-year term across 21 hospitals in the capital, Xinhua reported, citing another city official Wei Jiang.

Providing affordable, accessible healthcare is one of the key platforms of president Xi Jinping's new government, but China's healthcare bill is set to hit $1 trillion (597 billion pounds) by 2020, according to a report from McKinsey & Co.

Authorities have previously said they will increase punishment of those who cause disruption in medical institutions and the health ministry in February cracked down on "red envelope" bribes for quicker and better treatment, often a cause of tension as it raises the price patients have to pay for care.

(Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Michael Perry)


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