Monday, July 26, 2004


Bomb blast shakes Indonesian election commission
A bomb has exploded in the offices of Indonesia's election commission just before officials were due to announce the result of this month's presidential election.
No one is believed to have been injured and there has been no serious damage.
Police say the explosion damaged a women's toilet on the first floor of the central Jakarta offices. The blast occured while most people were attending prayers. The building was then evacuated. Until now there had been no incidents of violence throughout Indonesia's parliamentary or presidential elections.
Electoral officials were already running behind schedule in their attempts to announce the final count of the first-round presidential elections.
They were evacuated from the building and the counts suspended officials have only one province to recount before announcing the result.
With about 85 per cent of the vote counted, ex-general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had 34 per cent of the vote, compared with 26 per cent for the incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri and 22 per cent for another ex-general, Wiranto.
Write; Yuumei/LB, July 04

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Arroyo tackles ballooning budget
Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has outlined her government's agenda at the start of a new six-year mandate. In a state of the nation address, President Arroyo admitted the most urgent problem is a big budget deficit. The president identified five key points of her new government program: job creation; anti-corruption measures; social justice; education, and energy independence. In her address Ms Arroyo asked the Philippine congress to pass new tax measures to cut the ballooning budget deficit. President Arroyo also mentioned her government's foreign policy, which she said focussed on protecting the vital interests of the nation, including the eight-million overseas Filipino workers. She said this led to the safe release of Filipino Angelo de la Cruz from his Iraqi captors.
Write; Yuumei/LB, July 04

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Yangtze flood waters rising
Officials in China say water levels in the Yangtze River are reaching warning levels. Runoff from heavy downpours in the provinces of Hunan and Jiangxi is moving down the Yangtze to Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. Flood crests in Wuhan are expected to surpass warning levels. Officials in Hubei are urging workers to be on guard against potential floods and to reinforce all reservoirs, dykes and embankments. In Jiangsu province, China's third largest river, the Huaihe, has caused reservoirs to overflow, sending industrial waste downstream and creating a 30-kilometre belt of contamination. In the province of Yunnan, bordering Vietnam, at least 36 people have died this month in floods, landslides and mudflows. Army helicopters are trying to deliver supplies to Yingjiang County.
Write; Yuumei/LB, July 04

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Islamic banking gains favour in Malaysia
Malaysia's government says it will gradually award full Islamic banking licences to all banks. It's part of efforts to grow the segment and encourage the expansion of such services offshore. Last week, the country's second largest bank Bumiputra-Commerce Bank and RHB Bank announced they have obtained prior approval from the finance ministry to set up full-fledged Islamic banking operations. Malaysia's central bank says it will issue three new licences to foreign banks this year to fast-track the liberalisation of the Islamic financial sector to make the country a key Islamic financial hub in Asia.
Write; LuisB, July 04

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Cook Islands goes green to stay clean
The Cook Islands is trying to solve its rubbish problem by encouraging the recycling of plastics.
Health officials want islanders to take plastic bags and other containers to a waste centre rather than burn them. The only plastic containers that cannot be accepted for recycling by the centre are those that have been used to store weed killer or other poisons. Aluminum and tin cans and glass bottles will also be re-cycled and the islands' major supermarkets are now using bio-degradable bags and are looking at introducing reusable bags.
Write; by LuisB, July 04

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AirAsia's CEO flies humbly high
As governments race to liberalize their airspace amid the explosive growth in Asian budget carriers, one man and his airline are ahead of the curve.
Entrepreneur and businessman Tony Fernandes and Malaysia's AirAsia are already shaking up the region's airline industry with a simple concept - everyone should be able to fly.
The fledgling carrier is a huge success story, in a region that had only one low-cost airline five years ago. Now there are 13 budget airlines in existence or about to launch, including Virgin Blue, Valuair, Tiger Airways and One-Two-Go.
AirAsia expects to carry nearly eight million passengers next year, almost double the estimate for this year. Fernandes puts his success down to a hands-on approach.
"It was strange when I first came to the airline. The pilots freaked out because they suddenly saw their CEO pushing the ladder (to the plane)," Fernandes told CNN.
"The pilots cannot get over the fact that I have a cup of coffee with the guys who carry the bags. My secretary will (even) go out and help clean the planes if we are running into a delay."
Three years ago Fernandes had no involvement with airlines whatsoever. As a Warner Music executive in New York, he hobnobbed with celebrities from across the world.
But after a decade in the music industry, he decided to pursue his childhood dream - running an airline.
"On the way back to London, I saw easyJet on the television. I thought this looked interesting," says Fernandes.
"So I went up to Luton airport and spent two days there watching easyJet in action. I talked to staff and passengers - and thought, right, this is something I want to do."
Without any prior experience, Fernandes and some close associates purchased Malaysia-based AirAsia in 2001.
The airline had been struggling for a number of years. It was operating to only two domestic destinations and was heavily in debt.
Three years ago, Air Asia was relaunched as a budget airline and now flies to Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Macau.
Last year it made a profit of $5.3 million and expects to do substantially better this year.
The company is also planning a $200 million initial public offering in September or October this year. Fernandes believes the open culture at the airline has driven growth.
"There is tremendous camaraderie here - with no hierarchy and a family environment. We cannot ever change that. As soon as we change it we will lose our focus," he says.
"We have marketing and finance people, engineers, cabin crew and pilots all in one office. It means effective communication. You open the office door and you see our planes. If people need help, we all go out there and carry bags (on to the plane)."
He also believes that Asia's budget carriers are opening up the travel market to a new generation of consumers.
Hong Kong, the second busiest airport in Asia, now faces fresh competition from nearby Macau. AirAsia started flying to the former Portuguese territory on July 5, saying that Hong Kong's airport fees were too expensive.
Source; CNN, July 04
Write; by Lorraine Hahn and Ja Wuttithamrong

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Broadband rollout for 99 towns
Nearly 100 Australian towns have moved a step closer to broadband Internet access today, as Telstra announced it would make more local exchanges ADSL-capable under a Government subsidy scheme.
The Federal Government announced last year that it would spend more than $100 million subsidising broadband services for regional and remote Australia under the HiBIS program.
Communications Minister Helen Coonan has announced today that three companies have registered under the scheme and two more, including Telstra, have approval to do so.
Telstra says more than 106,000 customers in 99 towns, most in rural areas, will now gain access to broadband ADSL services for the first time.
The 99 towns selected are those with the highest registered demand for ADSL services.
"More affordable broadband, in line with prices available in metropolitan areas, will now be available for rural, regional and remote Australia, helping businesses and individuals living in those areas stay connected," Senator Coonan said in a statement.
Other firms approved to start providing broadband services under HiBIS are:
- Canberra-based RBBS, which will provide two-way satellite services in high-cost areas across Australia;
- DCS Internet, which will provide wireless broadband services in eastern Victoria;
- E-wire, which will provide cable modem services in parts of WA's south-west; and
- Wideband Services, which will provide wireless broadband services in eastern Victoria.
Source; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, July 04

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Limits on arms exports
Nippon Keidanren should keep this noble ethic.
Nippon Keidanren, the Japan Business Federation, has proposed reviews of restrictions regarding arms exports as well as the principle of the peaceful use of outer space.
Its thinking is that, with the development and shared use of cutting-edge arms technology being advanced beyond national borders, to allow Japan to become isolated in such an era runs the risk of its lagging behind in weapons capability. This is seen as an impediment to national security.
Nippon Keidanren is clearly apprehensive of any change in military threats to Japan and of the economic situation, which it considers to be the cause of a continued decline in arms procurement by the Self-Defense Forces. It, therefore, feels that the future of the arms industry may be in peril.
To date, Nippon Keidanren has twice proposed changes in the three arms-export principles, which prohibit exports to former communist bloc nations, countries under U.N. arms embargoes and those involved in, or likely to be involved in, international conflict.
Within the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party as well, last year's Cabinet decision to introduce a missile defense system prompted work aimed at revising those principles. The goal of this latest proposal, obviously, lies in advancing that trend.
In Europe, there is increasing development of military technology and joint use of arms involving collaboration between industrialized nations. This is also true of the Japan-U.S. missile defense development project, which under the present approach promises to lead to supply of parts to the United States. Under the current rules, however, such transactions are banned.
We earnestly question, however, if actual conditions are grounds for modifying the three principles.
It has been nearly four decades since they were adopted. The benefits to the global community during those years, of Japan's trust and reputation as a ``peaceful nation,'' are immeasurable. Though Japan has often been said to lack a clear foreign policy, it has maintained its ability to speak out on the fields of arms control and disarmament.
It would be tragic to ignore the arms export restrictions in the future. Yohei Kono, speaker of the House of Representatives and veteran LDP legislator, has criticized the Nippon Keidanren proposal, labeling it ``a threat to Japan's very presence in the international community.'' We could not agree with him more.
The business world is also concerned that failure to enter joint development of state-of-the-art armaments will cause Japan to fall behind in other areas of technological development, which would affect demand for consumer goods. We strongly suggest, however, that equal attention be devoted to the downside of making changes in long-help principles of national behavior.
In terms of missile defense, questions remain about how effective the deployment of such a system would be. On this front, it will be vital to proceed with a close eye on the linkage with the situation surrounding North Korea's nuclear development program. Under current conditions, we cannot support hasty changes in arms commitment.
Within the ranks of Nippon Keidanren, there appear to be certain factions with an interest in moving into broad-ranging exports of munitions, other than the advanced technologies.
During calendar 2003, worldwide military expenditures totaled $880 billion, up about 20 percent from a decade ago. In a growth market of this caliber, ``made in Japan'' weapons might sell well. Such business dealings, however, represent a clear step down the dark road to becoming a reviled ``merchant of death.''
Nippon Keidanren head Hiroshi Okuda, also chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., has used the avenue of private sector business to help build Toyota into one of the world's super blue-chip companies. While Nippon Keidanren membership also includes companies in the defense business, we see no need to bow to their every commercial interest.
The forward of the Nippon Keidanren Charter of Corporate Behavior, a document prepared under the auspices of Okuda himself, reads, ``Members should contribute to the sound development of society by supplying quality products and services and in doing so, members must reinforce the importance of business ethics.''
We hope that Nippon Keidanren will keep this noble commitment uppermost in mind, and play its part in helping to chart the course to a future for Japan
Source; The Asahi Shimbun, July 04

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To tout reform, Nazarbayev uses opposition minister
President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s surprise appointment of moderate opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev as minister of information has raised expectations for a comparatively free and fair parliamentary ballot in Kazakhstan this September.
Sarsenbayev, who is co-chairman of the centrist opposition party Ak Zhol (Bright Path), was named to the post on July 12 after apparently securing assurances from President Nazarbayev that he would carry through with a political reform initiative announced last month at a congress of the pro-presidential Otan (Fatherland) Party.

"He guaranteed that the elections would take place honestly and openly, in accordance with the country’s legislation," Sarsenbayev told a July 13 press conference in Almaty. In a July 15 interview with the newspaper Vremya, Sarsenbayev stressed that he had "laid out to the president the position of our party and the democratic forces" on all questions concerning the upcoming elections.

At the Otan congress, Nazarbayev had declared that the September 19 ballot would serve as a "test" for the country’s commitment to political reform. He spoke out in favor of a ministerial cabinet that reflected the political composition of parliament and for parliament to play a greater role in determining the make-up of the Central Election Commission and Constitutional Council. Such concepts have long been championed by Ak Zhol and other opposition groups.

At a July 21 meeting with media executives, Nazarbayev renewed calls for a free-and-fair vote. “We must hold transparent, honest and legitimate elections,” the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency quoted Nazarbayev as saying. “Press freedom must be subordinate to public interests.”
Though this is the fourth time he has served as information minister, Sarsenbayev’s appointment surprised many analysts. A former ambassador to Russia and close confidante of Nazarbayev, Sarsenbayev had in more recent times been one of the government’s most outspoken critics. Last autumn, after warning that family-run political dynasties had no place in Kazakhstan, Sarsenbayev resigned as the country’s ambassador to Moscow. Named the co-chairman of Ak Zhol in November 2003, he had since become the target of an information campaign believed to have been organized by presidential advisor Ermukhamet Ertysbaev.

Sarsenbayev’s appointment appears to be part of an on-going presidential election strategy. Over the past several months, Nazarbayev and his daughter, Dariga, leader of the pro-presidential party Asar, have consistently incorporated opposition ideas into their own policies and campaign proposals. Recently, this tactic was put to most noticeable use in March during debate over the election reform bill. A similar about-face occurred in April, when Nazarbayev vetoed a restrictive media law also criticized by his daughter, Dariga.

Sarsenbayev indicated that he sees himself as a mediator in an existing feud between government and non-state-controlled media in Kazakhstan. Existing tension between the press and government, Sarsenbayev noted in his press conference, stem "from the negative disposition of the authorities themselves. Therefore, my strategic aim as minister is the removal of the negative insistence on conflict [with the press] within the government itself. The economic conditions in our country allow us to live peacefully. Therefore, we should change the psychology of our relations."

One of the latest clashes involved a forged edition of the opposition paper Assandi Times. The paper, and a sympathetic publication, Navigator, an online journal financed by the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan party, charged that the government had planned the forgery in a bid to discredit the opposition. Under threat of a lawsuit, Navigator apologized for making the claim.

However, government-media tension has increased again in recent days, fueled in part by the death of a Navigator editor, Askhat Sharipzhanov, stemming from a traffic accident in Almaty. Some Kazakhstani media outlets have said the circumstances surrounding the incident are suspicious, prompting speculation that Sharipzhanov was murdered.

At least in theory, opposition viewpoints could gain a wider hearing under Sarsenbayev’s new media policy. The minister has told reporters that he planned to guarantee that all political parties are given the standard 15 minutes on television and 10 minutes on radio as specified by law.

This issue could prove important to the fate of the opposition in the parliamentary ballot since Asar draws its strength in large part from the extensive media properties owned by Dariga Nazarbayeva, including Khabar, the country’s largest television network. Opposition groups have complained that the majority of news programming on Khabar is given over to coverage of the pro-government movements, Asar and Otan. In an attempt to deflect such criticism, Nazarbayeva has suspended her role as head of Khabar from July 1 until
September 30, after the conclusion of the elections.
Sarsenbayev has also stated that he would help draft a new media law designed to better protect journalists’ rights. In recent years, international human rights and media monitoring organizations have expressed concern with lawsuits, harassment and physical abuse targeted against independent journalists. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The pro-government Kazakhstanskaya Pravda reported Sarsenbayev as saying that the revised media law would act as a stop-gap measure to end such attacks.

But the prospective bill would go beyond defense of journalist rights. Sarsenbayev also foresees a shake-up of the country’s media market. "Indeed, it isn’t a secret that the majority of media are registered not under the names of their true owners, but under false names and companies. I propose that this become one of the main directions of work for the Ministry of Information in the near future,” Sarsenbayev told reporters. “Besides that, we should develop a competitive environment for the creation and development of new [media] companies."

Already Sarsenbayev has put his statements on media rights to work. The day after his appointment, the new information minister recalled government lawsuits against the independent newspapers Nachnyom s Ponedelnika, Delovaya Nedelya and Turkistan, arguing that they lacked merit. In an unusual show of official contrition, Deputy Minister Ardak Doszhan later made an official apology to Nachnem s Ponedelnika.
At the same time, though, the opposition’s political powers remain relatively checked. Otan and Asar, the country’s two largest political parties, are poised to dominate the country’s election committees - a key consideration given misgivings raised during past elections about the objectivity of these committees.

For now, many local observers see the ultimate test of Nazarbayev’s commitment to free and fair elections in 2004 as whether or not equal access on Khabar will be granted to opposition parties, including Ak Zhol, the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. If so, they say, Nazarbayev will have demonstrated his commitment to true democratic reform. For Sarsenbayev, the test case is no less challenging. Once "correct relations" have been established between the government and media, he said, he will be ready to resign. "I trust that I will be Kazakhstan’s last information minister."
Write; by Ibragim Alibekov: Editor’s Note: Ibragim Alibekov is the pseudonym for a Kazakhstan-based reporter and analyst. July 04
Picture; President Nursultan Nazarbayev