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How Chinese officials 'like' banned Facebook

Posted: 17 May 2014 10:06 PM PDT

Beijing (AFP) - China's Communist authorities ban their own people from accessing major global social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. But when it comes to self-promotion they are increasingly keen users themselves.

The official news agency Xinhua, the Communist Party's official mouthpiece the People's Daily, and state broadcaster CCTV all have Twitter accounts, as do a host of city and provincial authorities.

When the city of Hangzhou, renowned for its lakes and canals, looked to raise its international profile it turned to Facebook, the world's most-popular social network.

China's Internet users, who now number 618 million, have been blocked from using it since 2009.

But the city's "Modern Marco Polo" competition -- akin to Australia's "best job in the world" contests -- involves no fewer than six Facebook apps.

The winner, to be announced Tuesday, will receive 40,000 euros ($55,000) and a two-week trip to Hangzhou, in exchange for promoting the city on Facebook and Twitter for a year.

Michael Cavanaugh, a consultant for British-based PR Agency One, which has been promoting the contest, told AFP increasing official use of such sites was "inevitable". But he declined to say how the winner was expected to post to them from within China.

- Great Firewall of China -

China's Communist authorities maintain a tight grip on expression -- both on- and off-line -- fearful of any dissent that could spiral into a challenge to one-party rule.

Some Chinese Internet users and businesses use VPNs, or virtual private networks, to bypass the vast censorship apparatus known as the Great Firewall, and state-run media often use foreign bureaux to accomplish the same goal.

Hangzhou itself used a digital agency in Hong Kong, where Facebook is not blocked, to administer its contest -- an increasing trend by cities and provinces within China's borders.

The social media giant is actively seeking business in the country.

"We want to help tourism agencies in China tell the rest of the world about the fabulous things in China that are really not that well-understood," Vaughan Smith, Facebook's vice president of corporate development, told a Beijing audience last month.

Facebook is reportedly in talks to open a sales office in the Chinese capital, and in recent weeks the company has quietly posted Beijing-based job openings on its website, including one for a client solutions manager to "focus on planning, implementing, and optimising advertising campaign spending for the world's top-tier advertisers".

Its executives are making increasingly frequent appearances at high-profile events in China, and the company's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg drew international headlines last September when she met the head of China's State Council Information Office, which oversees propaganda efforts.

Google also seeks advertisers in China and has three offices on the mainland, but pulled out its servers in 2010 in a row about censorship.

Twitter, which is a prominent advocate for free speech online, has shown few signs of interest in setting up in China, although the company's CEO Dick Costolo met Shanghai government officials during his first China visit in March.

Facebook representatives declined interview requests about the company's China business.

Duncan Clark, chairman of Beijing-based tech consultancy BDA, said Chinese local authorities had huge budgets and their tourism advertisements were probably lucrative for the multi-billion-dollar firm.

However, Facebook was unlikely to see them as a way of gaining access to Chinese users, Clark said.

"There's kind of a common-sense, logical middle ground where Facebook and China will agree to trade with each other," he told AFP. "This is business sense. I wouldn't expect that to change."

- Netizens: 'discriminatory' -

Other promotions include the "Rebirth of the Terracotta Warrior" Facebook contest launched last month by Shaanxi province, home to the tomb of China's first emperor Qin Shihuang.

A "Chengdu Pambassador" campaign gave contestants a chance to become a "guest panda keeper" at the southwestern city's giant panda base through a series of Facebook activities.

But critics of Chinese censorship say such schemes give Beijing a soft-power boost through sleight-of-hand.

A co-founder of anti-censorship website who uses the pseudonym Charlie Smith told AFP: "I think the average Western netizen doesn't put two and two together and realise actually, these websites are blocked in China.

"That helps China, for sure, because it gives this impression that Facebook is actually open and free for the people who don't know that it isn't," he added.

The double standards have not escaped the notice of Chinese web users.

The Shaanxi provincial government announced the opening of its tourist board's Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts in a posting on Weibo -- a Chinese version of Twitter -- in February.

Several users angrily responded that they were unable to open the links, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported.

"We're not advocating that domestic tourists visit these pages," a provincial government representative told the paper, drawing even greater fury.

"This way of thinking is discriminatory against Chinese people," wrote one online commentator. "It shows a lack of understanding of the basic rules of tourism promotion. It's very stupid and quite laughable." - AFP

Ferry tragedy undermines South Korea economic 'miracle'

Posted: 17 May 2014 08:57 PM PDT

SEOUL: South Korea's ferry disaster has had a profound psychological impact on Asia's fourth-largest economy, shaking public confidence in the very foundations of the country's "miracle" development model.

The most tangible economic impact has been on domestic demand, as the mood of national grief at the loss of so many lives - most of them schoolchildren - has manifested itself in collective consumer abstinence.

In the month since the 6,825-tonne Sewol capsized with 476 people on board, a self-imposed moratorium on leisure-time spending has been in effect.

On an institutional level, spring festivals were cancelled, corporate entertainment events and retreats indefinitely postponed and music, sports and other cultural events either scrapped or significantly toned down.

On a personal level, many ordinary South Koreans simply stopped dining, drinking and shopping in their usual numbers.

"First of all, public confidence has been hammered," said Chun Sang-Jin, a sociology professor at Seoul's Sogang University.

"On top of that there's a collective sense of grief and guilt that just doesn't sit with drinking, cracking jokes and merry-making," Chun said.

According to data compiled by market researcher FnGuide, South Korean brokerage houses have cut second-quarter earnings outlooks for companies in the telecoms, food and retail sectors.

Credit card companies have reported a drop in transactions of up to 10 percent, while small businesses, shops and restaurants are all feeling the pinch. 

Spending boost, easy loans

The government, which has faced a public backlash in the wake of the Sewol tragedy, has already announced a number of measures, including front-loading this year's budget.

In a bid to boost domestic demand the share of the annual budget to be spent in the first six months of the year has been increased from 55 to 57 percent - meaning an extra 7.6 billion dollars in spending by the end of June.

"A slump in consumption following the Sewol disaster... could dampen a hard-won economic recovery," Finance Minister Hyun Oh-Seok said, promising "pre-emptive" measures to mitigate the fallout.

Low-interest loans were announced for small and medium-sized businesses involved in tourism, transportation and accommodation.

The export and manufacturing sectors are dominant in South Korea, so a dip in the domestic consumer market has a limited impact in terms of the overall economy.

But a protracted slump would have a significant social and political impact.

"There is certainly a worry about just how long this might go on for," said Shin Hoon, policy director of the Korea Foods Industry Association.

So far, 284 people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, but 20 remain unaccounted for and the operation to recover all bodies from the submerged vessel continues - more than one month after it sank.

South Koreans are not easily knocked off kilter, having spent decades living with a volatile, unpredictable neighbour in North Korea.

While the international community buckles with concern over every North Korean provocation, people in the South have become so inured to the constant threat that they tend to shrug it off.

The country has suffered disasters in the past, including a 1995 department store collapse that claimed more than 500 lives and a 2003 subway fire that killed 192.

But the Sewol tragedy has wounded the national psyche in a way that those events did not.

The unprecedented number of children among the dead is a huge factor, with the final death toll expected to include 250 students - all from the same high school.

Then there is the increasing evidence that the disaster was wholly man-made: the result of cut corners, regulatory violations, poor safety training and a woeful lack of oversight - all, or nearly all, attributable to a desire to maximise profits.

Modern South Korea still has deep Confucian routes which, while stressing filial piety and obedience, also insist on parents - and by extension the state - earning that obedience by acting as "ever-watchful and loving guardians". 

A collective guilt

The sense that this Confucian contract was broken may partly explain why national grief over the Sewol has largely been expressed in terms of guilt, apology and remorse, as well as anger.

"We are sorry" reads the giant banner erected above a temporary memorial to the Sewol victims outside Seoul City Hall.

"It was a collective trauma, and there is a collective guilt," said Hwang Sang-Min, a psychology professor at Yonsei University. "And I'm not sure there is anyone who commands the respect or leadership to say 'now let's move on'," Hwang said.

And even when the corner is turned, the legacy of the disaster looks set to endure in the questions it has raised over the formula for South Korea's extraordinary economic success.

The rapid transformation from dictatorship to vibrant democracy and war-torn, impoverished backwater to Asia's fourth-largest economy is a source of great national pride.

But maybe, some are now asking, the unfettered growth came at too high a price, as safety standards were sidelined and regulations ignored in the blind rush for development.

"The Sewol tragedy has called into question all our great achievements ... (and) it feels like the country may never be the same again," the novelist Kim Young-Ha wrote in an op-ed piece for the New York Times.

"We are awash in self-reflection. Has all of our progress been a facade? Are we, in fact, an advanced country?" -AFP

N. Korea reports 'unimaginable' construction accident

Posted: 17 May 2014 08:51 PM PDT

SEOUL: North Korea's state media reported Sunday an "unimaginable" accident at an apartment construction site in Pyongyang, which had resulted in an unspecified number of casualties.

South Korean officials said the incident involved the collapse of a 23-storey apartment building, which already had close to 100 families in residence.

It is extremely rare for North Kora to report negative news of this type, and the despatch from the official KCNA news agency included equally rare apologies from top officials.

KCNA said the accident had occurred last Tuesday and was the result of "irresponsible" supervision by officials in charge of the construction.

An "intensive" emergency rescue effort had been carried out to rescue survivors and treat the wounded, it said.

The KCNA did not provide a death toll or elaborate on the cause of the collapse, but said it had left Pyongyang citizens "greatly shocked".

The agency carried lengthy public apologies by senior officials including the Minister of People's Security, Choe Pu-Il.

"(Choe) repented of himself, saying that he failed to find out factors that can put at risk the lives and properties of the people and to take thorough-going measures, thereby causing an unimaginable accident," it said. 

Kim 'up all night, feeling painful'

A South Korean official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Seoul was aware of the incident which involved the collapse of a 23-storey apartment complex.

"It is common in North Korea that people move into a new apartment building before construction officially ends," the official told AFP.

The official said 92 families were believed to be living in the collapsed building, and the final death toll was likely to be "considerable".

The North's leader Kim Jong-Un "sat up all night, feeling painful" after being told about the accident, according to a senior Pyongyang official quoted by the KCNA.

The young leader "instructed leading officials of the party, state and the army to rush to the scene, putting aside all other affairs and command the rescue operation," Kim Su-Gil, chief secretary of the city committee of the ruling Workers' Party, said in his public apology.

All Pyongyang citizens were "sharing sorrow" with the bereaved families and victims, the official said, calling all to "overcome sorrow with courage".

About 2.5 million people - mostly political elites including senior party members or those with privileged background - are believed to live in Pyongyang.

Pyongyang residents are known to enjoy better access to electricity, food, goods and other services than those living elsewhere in the impoverished and isolated country.

The secretive nation has rarely made public the details - especially death tolls - of major accidents.

But in one exceptional case, the North announced in April 2004 a massive train explosion in the northwestern county of Ryongchon had left 154 - including dozens of schoolchildren - dead and some 1,300 injured.

The accident - caused by damaged electric wires - devastated many nearby towns, prompting Pyongyang to make a rare plea for help from the international community.

The North is under layers of UN sanctions imposed after its disputed nuclear and missile tests, and suffers chronic shortages in food to fuel and medical supplies. -AFP


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A first for Indonesia, ethnic Chinese leader takes charge in the capital

Posted: 17 May 2014 09:11 PM PDT

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's presidential race isn't until July. But there's already one winner.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname "Ahok", has taken over as acting governor of the Indonesian capital Jakarta. He is the first ethnic Chinese to do so in a country that is 95 percent native Indonesian and has the world's largest Muslim population.

A Christian, Ahok succeeds Joko "Jokowi" Widodo who has stepped aside to run for the presidential election on July 9, which opinion polls suggest he will win. Ahok will automatically take over to complete Jokowi's five-year term if he does win.

Indonesia's Chinese make up only about 2 percent of the 240 million population.

Resented for their wide control over trade and business, and suspected of loyalty to China, Indonesian-Chinese have been deliberately kept out of the political and military hierarchy for most of the country's almost 70 years of independence.

The resentment, which has burst into bloody riots in the past, appears to be on the wane, although it's not over.

Even critics of Jakarta's acting governor complain mostly about what they see as his abrasive style of governance, not his background.

"People are voting for a track record today," Ahok told Reuters in an interview in his office in April. "It's not about the race or religion...or some primordial idea of who should run (the country)."


Ahok has been the bad cop to Jokowi's good cop. In contrast to the typically soft-spoken and Javanese Jokowi, Ahok has gained a reputation for being a tough guy not afraid to shake up the city's sleepy bureaucracy.

"The first thing we have to fix here is the testing and evaluating their performance," Ahok said.

"We say to them if they don't want to follow us, they can get out. Sometimes we have to kick them out. Of course they are angry but we don't care."

Ahok, 48, has served as Jokowi's right-hand man since winning the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election when the pair toppled the incumbent with their can-do, transparent ideas on fixing the many problems of the chaotic city, including chronic traffic and flooding.

"I personally don't agree (with Ahok becoming governor) because he's too temperamental," city councillor Boy Bernardi Sadikin told media.

Sadikin is the son of a former Jakarta governor from the 1970s, who many residents believe was the last popular and effective leader the city saw before Jokowi and Ahok.

Videos of Ahok losing his temper with inefficient bureaucrats have gone viral in Indonesia but the public has been largely supportive of the acting governor's no-nonsense style in a country bedevilled by corruption and bureaucratic inertia.

When running in the 2012 Jakarta election, Ahok, who is from the resource-rich Bangka-Belitung province, faced smear campaigns from rivals.

But the at times blatant racist attacks had little effect and Jakarta residents voted in the Jokowi-Ahok team with a 55 percent majority.

Indonesia, the world's third largest democracy, has a history of communal tensions that have at times boiled over into violent attacks specifically targeting the ethnic Chinese minority.

The country saw one of the most horrific attacks on the Chinese community in 1998 as Indonesia descended into political and economic chaos following the Asian financial crisis. Rampaging mobs targeted Chinese-owned businesses and in some cases killed and raped Chinese-Indonesians, forcing hundreds to flee the country.

Hardline Muslim groups, who last year protested the appointment of a Christian woman to a Jakarta district office, have also threatened to protest Ahok's rise to power.

But Ahok believes Indonesia is becoming more pluralist.

"The Jakarta election was a test and...we see more ethnic Chinese running for (public office) now," Ahok said. "One day soon Indonesia will be ready for a non-Muslim or ethnic Chinese leader, even president."

(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Suspected Boko Haram attack Chinese workers in Cameroon; 10 missing

Posted: 17 May 2014 09:10 PM PDT

YAOUNDE (Reuters) - Suspected Boko Haram rebels from Nigeria have attacked a Chinese work site in northern Cameroon, killing at least one Cameroonian soldier while 10 Chinese workers were missing and believed to have been abducted, officials and state media said.

The Chinese embassy in Yaounde confirmed the attack on Friday at a site near the town on Waza, 20 km (12 miles) from the Nigerian border close to the Sambisa forest, a Boko Haram stronghold.

Chinese Embassy political counsellor Lu Qingjiang said one Chinese worker was injured in the attack and 10 were missing, China's Xinhua state news agency reported.

Ten vehicles belonging to China's state-run construction company Sinohydro, which is repairing roads in Cameroon, were also taken in the attack, Xinhua said.

Lu called on the Cameroonian authorities to "not put the lives of Chinese nationals missing in danger in case actions of liberation be launched", Xinhua said.

The Islamist group kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school on the Nigerian side of the border last month and Nigerian troops backed by foreign units are searching the area around the forest for them.

Friday's incident began when power was cut in the evening. A five-hour gunfight followed, a guard at the Waza National Park told Reuters.

"Some of us decided to hide in the forest with the animals," the guard said, requesting anonymity.

The governor of Cameroon's Far North Region, Augustine Fonka Awa, said earlier he believed Boko Haram had carried out the attack. Authorities were investigating reports that at least one Cameroon soldier was killed and 10 people were abducted, he said.

Cameroon state radio said in a report from the region that a Cameroon special forces soldier was killed. It said four others including two soldiers were seriously wounded. As well as at least 10 vehicles, the rebels took a container of explosives belonging to the Chinese company, it said.

In a meeting in Paris on Saturday to improve cooperation in the fight against Boko Haram and other militant groups, French President Francois Hollande said it was becoming a threat to all of West and Central Africa

Boko Haram has staged several attacks in northern Cameroon during its five-year fight to set up an Islamist state. Last month, it attacked a police post killing two people. The rebels kidnapped a French family in February 2013.


Sinhohydro's vice general manager, Lan Ronghe, was quoted by Xinhua as saying the man wounded in the attacks was shot twice, in the shoulder and the abdomen, in the attack on his camp near the Waza park, Xinhua said, citing Lan.

The Chinese embassy suspended visits to the area.

"For companies operating in the northern part of Cameroon in particular, they should instantly start security contingency plans," the embassy said in a statement. At least two Chinese enterprises operate in the region. Xinhua said an engineering unit of Sinohydro operated the camp.

Yan Chang Logone Development Holding Company, a subsidiary of China's Yanchang Petroleum, is exploring for oil.

Cameroon's president, Paul Biya, who is attending the Paris summit, said Boko Haram was becoming not only a regional problem, but also a Western one. Two Italian priests and a Canadian nun were kidnapped in April.

"They have committed one more attack. They attacked businessmen and this comes after the French hostages were kidnapped. As we speak, we are searching for the Italian priests and Canadian nun," Biya said.

Nigerian authorities say Cameroon has not done enough to secure its border because Boko Haram has been using the sparsely populated Far North Region as a transit route for weapons and as a base for attacks in northeastern Nigeria.

Cameroon said in March it would send 700 soldiers to the border as part of regional efforts to tackle the armed group.

Outrage over the kidnapping of the schoolgirls has prompted Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, criticised at home for his government's slow response, to accept U.S., British and French intelligence help in the hunt for the girls.

(Additional reporting by Anne-Mireille Nzouankeu in Yaounde, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Bate Felix in Abuja; Chen Aizhu and Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Alison Williams and Robert Birsel)

More than 3,000 Chinese evacuated from Vietnam after violence - Xinhua

Posted: 17 May 2014 08:00 PM PDT

BEIJING (Reuters) - More than 3,000 Chinese nationals have been evacuated from Vietnam, state news agency Xinhua said on Sunday, following deadly rioting that stemmed from an outpouring of rage over Chinese oil drilling in a disputed area of the South China Sea.

The violence was triggered by China's positioning of a $1 billion oil rig in a part of the South China Sea claimed by Hanoi, a move described by the United States as provocative. It is the worst breakdown in ties between the two Communist neighbours since a short border war in 1979.

The evacuation followed days of clashes between Vietnamese rioters and Chinese workers. Crowds of thousands massed as rioters turned against Chinese workers and Chinese-owned businesses, or those thought to be Chinese, smashing windows, gates and walls and torching vehicles and factories.

The trouble broke out in Vietnam's south on Tuesday after nationalist rage boiled over during protests around industrial parks near Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

Two Chinese nationals were killed in the violence and more than 100 others injured, Xinhua said, citing China's foreign ministry.

China is to send five ships to Vietnam on Sunday to evacuate more Chinese nationals, Xinhua said, citing the transport ministry In Beijing.

Sixteen critically injured Chinese nationals were evacuated from Vietnam early on Sunday aboard a chartered medical flight arranged by the Chinese government, the foreign ministry said in a separate statement.

Workers from the China 19th Metallurgical Corporation, a contractor for an iron and steel plant being built by Formosa Plastics Group, Taiwan's biggest investor in Vietnam, were evacuated back to China early on Sunday, Xinhua said.

On Saturday, China's Foreign Ministry advised Chinese nationals to hold off from travelling to Vietnam and told its citizens in Vietnam to avoid leaving their premises.

Separately, China's Spring and Autumn Airline said it plans to suspend all charter flights from Shanghai to Vietnam from Monday, according to Xinhua.

The airline said it would suspend nine flights carrying 350 passengers to Vietnam over the next month.

Also on Saturday, China's Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng told Vietnamese Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang that he strongly condemned the violent attacks against Chinese nationals and companies in Vietnam. [ID:nL3N0O306X]

Gao called on Hanoi to "improve the country's trade and investment environment", the commerce ministry said on Saturday.

In a meeting during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting held in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, Gao also made "solemn representations" to Vietnam and urged authorities to "bring the relevant issues under control" and create a favourable environment for trade and investment.

Vietnam's lead police investigator has defended security forces and has said "illegal acts" would not be tolerated. Hoang Kong Tu has said adequate measures would be taken to make sure there is no repeat of the violence.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Paul Tait)


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Taiwan approves 'rich man's tax'

Posted: 16 May 2014 08:20 PM PDT

TAIPEI: Taiwan's parliament has approved a so-called "rich man's tax" on nearly 10,000 of the island's wealthiest people in a bid to narrow the widening income gap.

Starting next year, those with annual net income of over Tw$10 million ($333,000), or the richest 1.5 percent of individuals or families, will be subject to a 45 percent income tax rate, up from the current 40 percent, said the finance ministry.
The revised income tax law passed by parliament Friday also includes business tax hikes on banks and insurers as well as more tax deductions for low-income families, salarymen and the disabled, the ministry said.
It is expected to generate an extra Tw$65 billion more a year in revenue for the government, including Tw$9.9 billion from the richest people as well as around Tw$20 billion from the banking and insurance sectors.
Finance minister Chang Sheng-ford has said that the taxation reform was aimed at improving income distribution and was backed by tycoons such as Foxconn Group founder Terry Gou.
Taiwan's income gap reached a record level in 2011, as the wealthiest families earned 96 times more than the poorest, according to the latest official data.
The bottom five percent of families reported an average annual income of Tw$48,000, compared with Tw$4.63 million earned by the top five percent in 2011, based on their income tax filings.

Observers have blamed the rapidly widening gap between the rich and the poor as one of the reasons behind a recent string of anti-government protests. - AFP

Rubber price may follow weak TOCOM next week

Posted: 16 May 2014 08:09 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Rubber prices on the Malaysian rubber market may trade lower next week, following expectations of a weaker Tokyo Commodity Exchange (TOCOM).

A dealer said sentiment in Japan remains weak, reflecting a stronger yen, amid an outlook of more supplies.
"Dealers expect more supply from the producing countries in the market soon because of the end of the wintering season in the region, which will further pressure prices," he said. 
He said the fall in the dollar/yen is probably having the biggest impact, and TOCOM rubber could be trading below 200 yen next week, which could accelerate further selling.
On a Friday-to-Friday basis, the Malaysian Rubber Board's official physical price for tyre-grade SMR 20 at noon rose 12.5 sen to 543.5 sen a kg, and latex-in-bulk gained three sen for 456 sen a kg.

The 5 pm closing price for tyre-grade SMR 20 added 13 sen to 541 sen a kg, while latex-in-bulk increased 4.5 sen to 456 sen a kg. - BERNAMA

Ringgit likely to be steady against US$ next week

Posted: 16 May 2014 08:06 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The ringgit is likely to hold steady at between 3.10 and 3.23 against the US dollar next week, said dealers.

Despite the cautious stance adopted by players amid uncertainties over the ringgit's immediate direction, dealers said the market would gradually react to the announcement of the first quarter gross domestic product announcement.
"The market will absorb the announcement by the central bank," Hong Leong Bank Fixed Income and Economic Research Senior Manager Choong Yin Pheng told Bernama. 
She added that the market is also cautious on expectations of an interest rate hike n the future. 
Malaysia's gross domestic product growth improved significantly to 6.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2014 from 4.2 per cent in the same period last year, anchored by domestic demand and a turnaround in net exports.

For the week just ended, the ringgit closed lower at 3.2325/2355 from 3.2275/2305 last Friday.

Against other major currencies, the ringgit was firmer against the Singapore dollar at 2.5810/5853 from 2.5849/5894, but fell against the yen to 3.1822/1858 from 3.1714/1749.

It was up against the British pound to 5.4309/4376 from last Friday's 5.4554/4612 and closed higher against the euro at 4.4340/4391 from 4.4585/4639 last Friday. - BERNAMA


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Distraught relatives protest over Bangladesh ferry tragedy

Posted: 17 May 2014 05:57 AM PDT

GAJARIA, Bangladesh, May 17, 2014 (AFP) - Anguished relatives protested a decision Saturday to stop searching for bodies of passengers they feared were trapped inside a ferry that sunk in central Bangladesh leaving at least 54 dead, police said.

Two salvage vessels managed to float the sunken ship, MV Miraz, and brought it closer to the shore, allowing divers to search inside of the 90-feet (30 metre)-long boat three days after it sank.

Scores of relatives waiting on a river bank reacted in anger after divers failed to find more bodies, prompting authorities to halt the search, a police officer said. Some have relatives still unaccounted for.

"They chanted slogans against the inland water transport authority," district police chief Zakir Hossain said of the relatives, some of whom have been waiting on the bank since the accident on Thursday.

"Some of them boarded small fishing boats and tried to attack a salvage vessel as soon as the search of the vessel was called off," he told AFP.

The search for bodies in the Meghna river, one of the world's widest, would continue as authorities feared that some could have been washed downstream by strong currents.

More bodies have been discovered "floating in the river", taking the death toll from 45 to 54, Hossain said, adding that at least "12 people are still missing" based on the reports of their relatives.

The exact number of passengers aboard was not immediately known as Bangladeshi ferries do not maintain passenger logbooks.

Authorities initially said the ship was carrying up to 350 people when it embarked for a trip to southern Bangladesh, but later reduced the number to 150-200. Some 40 people have managed to swim ashore.

Survivors blamed the ship's captain for refusing to take shelter from a gathering storm. An investigation has been launched into whether it had been carrying too many passengers.

"We'll take action against the ship's driver and the owner as we have got evidence that the driver defied warnings to continue the journey despite the storm," the country's inland water transport authority chief Shamsuddoha Khandaker said. 

Khandaker and several survivors told AFP that the ship capsized after it was swamped by giant waves, which were unleashed by the early summer storm popularly known here as Kalboishakhi. 

Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, one of Asia's poorest nations, which is criss-crossed by more than 230 rivers.

Experts blame poorly maintained vessels, flaws in design and overcrowding for most of the tragedies.

Boats are the main form of travel in much of Bangladesh's remote rural areas, especially in the southern and northeastern regions.

Myanmar rally calls for charter change

Posted: 17 May 2014 04:20 AM PDT

YANGON, May 17, 2014 (AFP) - Thousands of people joined a rally in Myanmar's main city on Saturday to call for changes to a military-drafted constitution that bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.

The former political prisoner-turned-politician has been campaigning to amend the charter since she became a lawmaker two years ago.

The 2008 constitution blocks anyone whose spouse or children are overseas citizens from leading the country - a clause widely believed to be targeted at the Nobel laureate, whose two sons are British.

It also ring-fences a quarter of the seats in parliament for unelected military personnel, leaving the army with a significant political role despite the end of outright junta rule.

Addressing a crowd at the rally in Yangon, Suu Kyi urged the military top brass as well as rank-and-file soldiers to support a petition campaign to amend the charter.

"I would like you all to consider whether getting more opportunities than ordinary citizens is really fair," Suu Kyi said.

"The main strength of the military forces is weapons. So I would like you to consider whether getting special opportunities because of the power of arms is dignified or good for yourself," she said.

Parliamentary elections due to be held in 2015 are seen as a definitive test of whether the military is willing to loosen its grip on power.

The country's president is selected by the legislature, and Suu Kyi has declared her ambition to lead the country.

Any change to the charter needs the support of over 75 percent of the legislature, so at least some soldiers would have to vote for the reforms.

Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest during military rule in Myanmar, before she was freed after controversial elections in 2010 that her party boycotted.

Since then President Thein Sein has pushed through sweeping changes, including releasing other political prisoners and welcoming Suu Kyi and her party into parliament following landmark by-elections in 2012.

Hero's welcome for PM-elect Modi as he arrives in Delhi

Posted: 17 May 2014 12:50 AM PDT

NEW DELHI, May 17, 2014 (AFP) - Thousands of flag-waving supporters mobbed Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi as he made a triumphant entrance in New Delhi Saturday after securing a historic victory for his Hindu nationalist party.

The 63-year-old flew into Delhi's main airport in the late morning from his home state of Gujarat to bask in the glory of a landslide for the Bharatiya Janata Party and begin organising his cabinet.

The controversial politician, a former tea boy tainted by anti-Muslim riots on his watch as chief minister in Gujarat, has the strongest mandate of any Indian leader in 30 years.

A crowd of party supporters, waiting at the airport since early morning but entertained by a marching band and thumping dance music, burst through police barricades at the sight of his cavalcade.

He emerged from the door, smiling and flashing victory signs, as many strained for a glimpse and showered the vehicle in rose petals.

"Modi is our lion! He will work for the people of India, he will work for development, he will work for every Indian," shouted Om Dutt, a 39-year-old shop owner, reflecting heady expectations of what he will deliver.

As he drove to his party headquarters in the centre of the capital, thousands lined the streets dressed in t-shirts bearing his face, with police having to frequently push back well-wishers.

"I thank the BJP workers wholeheartedly," he said at a festive headquarters flanked by senior party figures such as Rajnath Singh and Ravi Shankar Prasad who are likely to take government roles.

The BJP won the first majority in parliament for 30 years on Friday after a campaign by Modi focused on delivering new jobs, development and clean government.

The triumph redrew India's political map, handing him a huge mandate for change, and heaping humiliation on the ruling Gandhi political dynasty whose Congress party has been in power for 10 years. 

He won't discriminate

In national capitals across the world, leaders readjusted to the change in leadership, with the US and Europe having to quickly embrace a man who has been shunned for a decade.

Modi was boycotted by many Western countries over anti-Muslim riots in 2002 that left about 1,000 dead and a legacy of suspicion that the religious hardliner did too little to prevent the killing.

The strict vegetarian, steeped in the ideology of Hindu nationalism, has always denied wrongdoing and investigators have found no evidence to prosecute him.

The United States, Britain and Australia were quick to extend invitations for him to visit, while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from neighbouring Pakistan rang to offer congratulations on an "impressive victory."

Outgoing Prime Minster Manmohan Singh was set to resign on Saturday, ending his 10 years in charge, and a final televised address thanked the Indian people for their support.

"Today India is a far stronger country than it was a decade ago," the 81-year-old said in a typically low-key speech - a great contrast to the bombastic high-energy style of his successor.

Modi's supporters on Saturday were insistent that their hero had been elected on a mandate to change India by creating jobs, developing infrastructure and battling endemic corruption.

"He won't discriminate, he will take everyone with him," Shubham Anand, a 19-year-old student, told AFP as he stood waiting for Modi in eastern Delhi. "We need a strong government in India," he added.

In his first comments on Friday night, Modi was at pains to stress that he would work for all of India's 1.2 billion people - including its 150 million Muslims - to make this "India's century".

"It is my responsibility to take all of you with me to run this country," Modi said as thousands chanted his name.

Indian newspapers hailed the game-changing election results but said it was vital that Modi allayed the fears of religious minorities who did not vote for him.

"Narendra Modi has scripted one of the most gloriously spectacular political triumphs in the history of independent India," wrote Pratap Bhanu Mehta from the Centre for Policy Research think-tank.

Figures from the Election Commission showed the BJP had secured 279 seats and was projected to win another three in the 543-member parliament, the first majority by a single party since 1984.

The Congress, India's national secular force that has ruled for all but 13 years since independence, was left obliterated, holding just 44 seats - a quarter of its tally in 2009.

The defeat raises questions about the endurance of the Gandhi political dynasty after 43-year-old Rahul, leading campaigning nationally for the first time, suffered such humiliating rejection.


The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

A big load to bear

Posted: 15 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

An unhealthy family lifestyle is one of the main contributors to a rise in the incidence of obesity among children.

ADIWAYU Ansar Zainuddin has been overweight all her life. She was bullied as a child, and wallowed in depression in college because of her weight issues.

"At one point, I just wanted to stay home all the time. I wasn't comfortable with my appearance and I didn't have any nice new clothes I could fit into. I had to keep wearing the same old pair of jeans, because I just couldn't get a new pair," recalls Adiwayu.

It didn't matter to those who teased her that she was born weighing almost 5kg – roughly twice the average weight of a newborn. Her mother had gestational diabetes, a condition in which women without previously diagnosed diabetes exhibit high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. Women with this condition are more likely to deliver macrosomic, or big, babies.

"I've been big ever since the day I was born. When I was 10, I had already hit 70kg. All the women in my family are on the larger side. It could be due to genetics but I think it was also the kind of food we consumed. Processed food and fast food were a big part of our diet.

"We were also taught to finish whatever was on our plates. It's a good habit to have, but if there's a lot on your plate, then you're bound to eat more," says Adiwayu, now 37.

She has accepted her weight battles, but she is now also concerned for her three children, aged six, four and two.

Like her mother, Adiwayu had gestational diabetes during her three pregnancies. The human resources manager is concerned that her three children, who were all born macrosomic, have higher risks of becoming obese and developing diabetes later in life. Her first and third child are of normal weight, but the second one is starting to have weight issues.

Adiwayu's family's weight concerns are becoming increasingly common here. Childhood obesity affects one in seven children in Malaysia. Nearly half a million children below 18 are overweight, according to the 2011 National Health and Morbidity Survey statistics, while 2.6 million adults are obese.

Seeing obesity as a disease

Around the world, obesity is the fifth leading risk for global deaths and a major risk factor for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Wan Noraini Isahak, who has a family history of obesity, is concerned that four out of her six grandchildren are already showing signs of being overweight. She is shown here with her youngest grandchild, aged two.

Wan Noraini Isahak, who has a family history of obesity, is concerned that four out of her six grandchildren are already showing signs of being overweight. She is shown here with her youngest grandchild, aged two.

"People just don't see obesity as a problem. It's not treated as a disease because you don't take medication for being overweight. Some think that it's ok to be that way and that it's merely a cosmetic issue. Over the years, the country has made great efforts to raise awareness on obesity. The only thing we haven't done is to curb temptations," says dietitian and senior manager at the Dietetics and Food Services department at Institut Jantung Negara (IJN) Mary Easaw.

"Food is easily attainable anywhere, anytime now. More often than not, food that is cheap is also of low quality and with high fat content.

"In families where both parents are working, ordering take-outs are often seen as the more convenient choice and most go for value-for-money options. At the end of the day, it's all about making better choices – even if you have to eat out, you can still make a choice between the healthy and the not-so," says Easaw.

Adiwayu does not want her children to grow up overweight because she does not want them to go through the bullying and insecurities she went through. Though she keeps a close eye on what her children eats, Adiwayu admits that it is all too easy to give in to the many temptations around.

Adiwayu's dietery staples include nasi lemak, tosai, roti canai or capati for breakfast, mixed rice or fried noodles for lunch and homecooked meals of rice and side dishes of meat and vegetables for dinner. Despite her health concerns, she says giving up deep-fried food has been hard.

"In my line of work, I go for a lot of trainings and they always have tea breaks in between the sessions. I think that's one of the main contributors to my weight gain," she adds.

Adiwayu has tried different diets to lose weight, and has even considered going for a gastric bypass surgery to shed some pounds. But her husband has advised her against surgery because he says he likes her the way she is.

It has also been challenging to inculcate healthy eating habits in her children.

"I'm careful when it comes to my children. I try my best to keep them away from anything that is too sweet or oily. My husband, on the other hand, thinks that it's ok for them to have junk food once in a while. I want to be a good role model for my children but sometimes I too give in to temptation," she says, admitting to allowing her children to eat fast food and snacks between meals.

When it comes to managing a child's dietary intake, Easaw warns parents against giving in to their child's every whim and fancy.

"Parents are responsible for the overall wellbeing of their child. Nutrition is important. In the olden days, we ate whatever our parents prepared for us. Nowadays, we have situations where the children dictate the family menu and parents willingly meet those demands, even if it means serving less healthy food options, to ensure their children do not go hungry," Easaw shares.

However, parents shouldn't also be too rigid, says Easaw. "Completely denying your children fast food isn't necessarily healthy. For one, they may just have it behind your back. I have a teenage daughter and what I do with her is this: if there's a new fast food product in the market and she asks for it, I'll let her try it once so that she knows what it's all about. The next time around, she'll just have to settle for a healthier choice. And I find that even with fast food, there is always the healthier option available."

For those who find that they do not have the time to cook daily, a good solution would be to prepare their meals in advance.

"If weekends are the only time you have for cooking, you can try preparing a few simple dishes then putting them in the freezer with a use-by date. You can just defrost the portions over the week and serve it with rice," she suggests.

Get moving

While Adiwayu is aware that an exercise regime can help tackle her weight issues, she is guilty of almost always preferring to "sit at home especially after a long day at work." Indeed, more and more families have adopted a sedentary lifestyle in favour of an active one – in essence, anyone who walks less than 5,000 steps a day is leading a sedentary lifestyle, which could be due to hectic working schedules, the "couch potato" syndrome and dependence on digital devices.

Easaw notes that several nations are addressing this rising epidemic of obesity. Singapore – as part of its targeted strategy to engage the working population – had introduced a 12-week weight loss programme in 2009 to help individuals lose weight in a healthy way and sustain it. The programme included nutrition workshops, physical activity sessions, fitness assessments and incentives.

By the end of the 12th week, 99.6% of the 285 participants recorded an improvement in their fitness index and 93.6% lost weight.

Easaw feels that giving people incentives will motivate them to be active. "At work, I do a lot of walking and hauling in the food ingredients and standing as I chop vegetables and fruits. I sweat all day. Asking me to work out after work would be pure torture – anytime I have left for resting, I will rest," says cook Wan Noraini Isahaktm, 50, who is not motivated to exercise even though her weight has led to health issues. At 46, Wan Noraini was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. She is also taking medication for high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Her husband, Mohd Noor Hitam, 62, also has the same ailments and has suffered two different strokes – the first caused a bout of memory loss; the second, partial lower body paralysis, which he has since recovered from.

Two out of their five children are currently obese; one of them, aged 30, suffers from early onset of hypertension. Four of their grandchildren are showing signs of being overweight.

As a cook, Wan Noraini is well aware of the need to favour healthy food preparation methods over matters of taste, but they still like their nasi lemak and ayam goreng (fried chicken). Their battle with weight, as Wan Noraini sees it, is due to genetics as well as a lack of exercise.

"My twin boys are the only ones in the family who are of a healthy weight. They are very active in sports and play a lot of futsal. The rest of us have a lot of catching up to do. I don't know what else we can do except change our lifestyles completely."

Vigilant all the time

Posted: 15 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

In the fifth of six articles on child safety, families who have lost, and then found their children, share their experiences.

THE trauma of being abducted in a car-jacking has diminished over the years, but *Kelly's guard is always up when she is on the street.

Kelly is now in her early 20s and working, but the experience of being abducted when she was seven has taught her to not take her safety for granted.

On that fateful afternoon, Kelly was asleep in the car when her driver stepped out to run an errand.

"My family had hired an acquaintance who is a taxi driver to pick me up and drop me home from school every day. I called him 'Uncle'. His service was like that of a school van, and together with another schoolmate, we would wait for his pick-up every day.

"On that day, after my schoolmate and I had got into the car, Uncle told us that he would be gone for just a moment to buy some food nearby. He then left the two of us in the car with the engine running," recalled Kelly.

The afternoon sun was making Kelly drowsy, and she fell asleep within minutes.

Parents must be aware of the risks of leaving their children unattended.

Keep them close: Parents should be aware of the risks of leaving their children unattended. — M. AZHAR ARIF/The Star

"When I woke up, the car was already moving and beside me was this stranger who looked like a crazy person."

The unidentified man, in his 20s, wore dirt-stained clothes and was barefoot. He just drove and drove without looking at Kelly or saying a word, not even when she started crying.

"I was really scared. I didn't know what to do, so I just started crying. I thought my schoolmate was still in the back seat but when I checked, I only saw her bag. I later found out that she had left the car after seeing the stranger get in. It hit me then that I was all alone with a stranger in the car, driving on to God knows where."

The man, as it turned out, wasn't of sound mind. He kept driving in circles.

"Looking back, I realised that the car doors weren't locked. I guess I could've escaped if I had wanted to, but I was too young to know any better. I just kept crying throughout the whole ordeal," recounted Kelly.

In the meantime, the taxi driver had lodged a police report and alerted Kelly's parents.

Luckily after three traumatic hours, a policewoman stopped the car and Kelly was taken to the police station to wait for her parents.

"To me, the nightmare still hadn't ended. I was still surrounded by strangers. The policemen were really nice to me, but I was still too scared to accept any food or water from them."

It was an hour later before Kelly's mother arrived at the station.

"When I saw my mum, I just screamed and ran up to her and hugged her so tightly. To be surrounded by the people you love; to just feel safe in their arms — there's just no words to describe that feeling," shared Kelly.

At home, nobody was allowed to bring up the incident, which Kelly felt was for the better. While she was often jumpy after that, Kelly said the trauma from the incident subsided with time.

Her family became more vigilant, but they made sure Kelly's routine was not disrupted and things went back to normal.

"I thank God every day that I wasn't physically or emotionally harmed. My family learned the hard way – that adults should never leave children unsupervised at any time.

"Till today, my mum blames herself for what happened, but she shouldn't. What I learned from the incident was that sometimes bad things happen and you can't do anything about it. You just have to move on after that and believe that there is still good in the world."

According to Royal Malaysia Police's (RMP) Sexual and Child Investigation department ACP Hamidah Yunus, parents should never leave their children unattended, even for a moment.

"There have been many cases when parents were so engrossed in their own activities that they forget the risk of leaving their children alone somewhere. According to the Child's Act, these parents can be fined for their negligence and jailed for up to two years for endangering a child's life," she said.

Being alert

Bobbie Ariff had merely taken her eyes off her son for a minute when the five-year-old disappeared. The family was leaving a crowded makeshift fast food outlet at a fun fair in Port Dickson when she realised her son was missing.

"I looked around at all the adults who were with us and none of them were holding my child. I freaked out almost immediately," Bobbie, now in her 50s, recalled.

During the panic that ensued, Bobbie and her husband managed to stay calm and organised family and friends to look after the other children while the rest branched out in search of their missing child.

"It was crowded and noisy; there were children running around and concert music was blaring in the background. I was in tears and was just basically looking everywhere.

"I actually saw two policemen who were doing their rounds and ran up to them frantically asking for their help.

"My mind was literally blank. When you're in that situation, you can't think. Suddenly every little boy was wearing the same coloured T-shirt as my child. ," shared Bobbie, a freelance translator.

It took half an hour of frantic searching before Bobbie and her husband spotted their boy standing by the fence around the fairground's amusement rides.

"Aizam was just standing there staring at the ride; my husband and I spotted him at the same time from two different corners and we just ran towards him and hugged him," Bobbie said.

"The whole ordeal was only half an hour, but it felt like the longest half an hour of my life. I learned that you can never, ever let your guard down even for one second when it comes to watching over your children.

"As parents, your children are your sole responsibility; no one else's. Aizam is now 24, but talking about it still gives me goosebumps."

The onus is also on parents to teach children they should never walk off without adult supervision, says homemaker Nik Yasmin Dianara Kamil, the founder and president of the Child Safety Awareness (CSA) group on Facebook, formed in 2012 out of concern for the safety of children.

"Parents must make it a point to talk to their children about personal safety. Keep reminding them over and over so that they know to ask for your permission before going off on their own, and are aware that they should never follow strangers or accept anything from them.

"Parents should keep an eye out for their children at all times, especially in crowded areas. I've seen a lot of families who allow their children to roam free in shopping malls – they probably think that nothing bad will happen to them, but why take chances?"

* Not her real name.

>This Child Safety Awareness campaign is brought to you by RHB Banking Group in collaboration with The Star.


The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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Laos air force plane crash kills defence minister, 21 others

Posted: 16 May 2014 11:11 PM PDT

VIENTIANE: At least 22 people including the defence minister were killed when a Laos air force plane crashed Saturday, officials said.

The victims included three members of the ruling Communist Party's central committee. Three people reportedly survived the crash.

The plane crashed at about 8am in the north-eastern province of Xiangkhuang, killing Defence Minister Duangchay Phichit, who was also a deputy prime minister and member of the party's politburo, a source close to him said.

Also killed were Public Security Minister Thongban Saengaphon, Vientiane Mayor Soukan Mahalat and party propaganda chief Chuang Sombounkhan, sources confirmed.

The group was en route to a ceremony marking the 55th anniversary of the 2nd Battalion's victory over royalist forces.

Laos has been under communist rule since 1975. – The Nation/ANN

Bangladesh ferry death toll rises to 45

Posted: 16 May 2014 10:18 PM PDT

Gajaria (Bangladesh) (AFP) - Navy divers have recovered 16 more bodies from the wreckage of a Bangladesh ferry as the death toll from the disaster rose to 45 with scores more feared drowned, officials said Saturday.

Two salvage vessels managed to float the sunken ship and brought it closer to the shore, allowing the divers to search inside of the 90-feet (30 metre) long boat three days after it sank following a storm.

"We've concluded our search inside the vessel. Navy divers have scoured every nook and cranny after we lifted the vessel out of water," Bangladesh inland water transport authority chief Shamsuddoha Khandaker told AFP.

"The death toll is now 45. We've searched the vessel and there are fewer chances that any more bodies could be found there," government administrator of the region Saiful Hasan told AFP. Local police chief Ferdous Ahmed confirmed the figure.

Hasan said the search for bodies in the Meghna river, one of the world's widest, would continue as they feared that some bodies could have been washed downstream by strong currents.

Hundreds of distraught relatives gathered by the side of the river for a third day as bodies were brought and laid out for identification. Many have relatives still unaccounted for.

Map locating Munshiganj district in Bangladesh where a ferry capsized leaving hundreds feared dead. - AFP

The exact number of passengers was not immediately known as Bangladeshi ferries do not maintain passenger logbooks.

Authorities have initially said the ship was carrying up to 350 people when it embarked for a trip to southern Bangladesh, but later cut it down to 150-200. Some 40 people have managed to swim ashore.

Survivors blamed the ship's captain for refusing to take shelter from a gathering storm. An investigation has been launched into whether it had been carrying too many passengers.

"We'll take action against the ship's driver and the owner as we have got evidences that the driver defied warnings to continue the journey despite the storm," Khandaker said.

Survivors and officials told AFP the ship capsized after it was swamped by giant waves.

Bangladeshi relatives mourn the victims of a ferry capsize on the river Meghna in Munshiganj district, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Dhaka, on May 16, 2014. - AFP

Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, one of Asia's poorest nations which is criss-crossed by more than 230 rivers.

Experts blame poorly maintained vessels, flaws in design and overcrowding for most of the tragedies.

Taiwan approves 'rich man's tax'

Posted: 16 May 2014 10:15 PM PDT

Taipei (AFP) - Taiwan's parliament has approved a so-called "rich man's tax" on nearly 10,000 of the island's wealthiest people in a bid to narrow the widening income gap.

Starting next year, those with annual net income of over Tw$10 million ($333,000), or the richest 1.5 percent of individuals or families, will be subject to a 45 percent income tax rate, up from the current 40 percent, said the finance ministry.

The revised income tax law passed by parliament Friday also includes business tax hikes on banks and insurers as well as more tax deductions for low-income families, salarymen and the disabled, the ministry said.

It is expected to generate an extra Tw$65 billion more a year in revenue for the government, including Tw$9.9 billion from the richest people as well as around Tw$20 billion from the banking and insurance sectors.

Finance minister Chang Sheng-ford has said that the taxation reform was aimed at improving income distribution and was backed by tycoons such as Foxconn Group founder Terry Gou.

Taiwan's income gap reached a record level in 2011, as the wealthiest families earned 96 times more than the poorest, according to the latest official data.

The bottom five percent of families reported an average annual income of Tw$48,000, compared with Tw$4.63 million earned by the top five percent in 2011, based on their income tax filings.

Observers have blamed the rapidly widening gap between the rich and the poor as one of the reasons behind a recent string of anti-government protests.


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