Sunday, December 31, 2006

Two People Killed As Seven Bombs Explode In Bangkok

At least two people were killed and dozens of others injured when seven bombs exploded in various parts of the Thai capital here today, prompting thousands of panic-stricken people to cut short their holiday and rush back home.

Local media quoted police as saying that two people were killed at the crowded Victory Monument when a bomb went off around 6.30 pm while one person was killed in the Klong Toei area near the Na Ranong intersection.

Government spokesman Yongyuth Malyalarp, when contacted, said many people were injured but he could not confirm the number of deaths immediately.

All programmes on local television channels were stopped and only documentaries on the monarch were shown.

This is the first time Bangkok has been rocked by violence since the military ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup on Sept 19.

The explosions came just three days after police arrested eight Muslim men in an early morning raid on an apartment here and found them smoking marijuana and having in their possession weapons and a book on southern separatism.

Southern separatism relates to the Muslim militants waging a guerilla war against Bangkok to seek independence for the three southern provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani where almost 2,000 people have been killed in the last three years.

This is the first time Bangkok has been rocked by bomb explosions although the southern business hub of Hatyai was hit by a series of explosions on Sept 16.

The other explosions today occurred at a parking area of the Seacon Square Shopping Mall, the Big C supermarket in Sapan Kwai, the Tesco Lotus Supermarket in Prachachuen and several police posts.

Bangkok Deputy Governor Wallop Suwandee said all events planned to celebrate the new year countdown have been cancelled.

There was panic among the thousands of city folk and tourists as news of the bombing spread.

Many rushed to their homes and there were long queues for taxis in many shopping complexes in the city, including the luxurious Siam Paragon and Central World Plaza where concerts have been planned for tonight.

Policemen and soldiers were seen at many intersections and major shopping complexes. (D. Arul Rajoo - Bernama)
Picture - Source
Update: Three Killed, Up To 36 Injured In Bangkok Explosions

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What Is So Wrong With This Photo?

Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi With Michelle Yeoh.

The way that some sections of the media are going on and on about the above scene, it would seem that the Prime Minister had committed adultery! Perhaps you the readers would like to share your opinion on the permissibility or otherwise of such a 'gesture.' In today's world, would you consider the above photo as unacceptable or morally incorrect?

Image - Harakah

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Saddam's Body Flown To Home Village

The body of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been flown to his home village of Awja near Tikrit on board a US aircraft.

He will be buried at the same cemetery where his two sons are buried, reports said.

But his family said it wants to bury him in the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi in the west of Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging by Iraqi authorities on Saturday at a compound named Camp Justice in Baghdad. He was tried for committing crimes against humanity over the killing of 148 Shiites in the town of Dujail in the 1980s by a court trained and advised by the Americans.

Saddam Hussein remained defiant till the final moment refusing to wear a hood during the execution. A Sunni cleric and a representative of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki were present during the execution.

Saddam Hussein was captured by invading US forces three years ago.

Fresh attacks

Shortly after the execution, attacks in Baghdad and the southern Iraqi town of Kufa left 70 people dead.

US President George Bush speaking after the execution said: "Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq. But it is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself."

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi expressed concern at the threat of fresh violence. I don't want to only express my personal reservations on the death penalty. I also wish to express my concern for a possible increase in tensions in the area. That is happening in the first hours following the execution. I hope that the situation won't get even worse in the future."

India pleaded clemency for Saddam and said it was disappointed at his execution.

Jubilation

The execution was greeted with jubilation by Iraq's Shias and the Kurds.

"As a Kurd, I like to see Saddam executed because he used chemical weapons and killed five thousands Kurds and killed my brothers and relatives with chemical weapons. I'm happy about the execution,” said Raouf Nuri.

A witness in the Dujail trial Ali Al-Haidariai said, "This day, the day of executing Saddam is a great day in the history of Iraq. It (the day of execution) will be the most painful lesson for the terrorists and Takfiris. The souls of the martyrs will be safe in heaven and the soul of Saddam will be in hell."

Former British ambassador to Iraq Sir Harold Walker adds, "I think the big moment was when he was arrested rather than now but this is the final psychological point following the arrest."

Saddam Hussein in a letter written from prison had described his death as a sacrifice for Iraq. (NDTV.com)
Image - [hdy]**【ツ】

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Some Indonesian Muslims Celebrate Aidiladha Saturday.

Some Muslims in Indonesia celebrated Hari Raya Aidiladha Saturday because they believed that the Aidiladha prayers should be held after the Wukuf in Arafah.

The Wukuf was on Friday as set by the Saudi government.
However, the majority of Muslims in the country will celebrate Aidiladha Sunday together with Muslims in Malaysia.

Despite the opinion differences, no untoward incidents were reported. In South Jakarta, thousands of Muslims performed the Aidiladha prayers at Masjid Agung Al-Azhar and thousands more at Masjid Al-Furqon in Central Jakarta.

Antara news agency reported from Solo in Central Java that nearly 40,000 performed the Aidiladha prayers at the Manahan Solo Stadium while in Yogyakarta, about 1,500 people did so at the Mandala Krida Stadium.(Bernama)

To all Muslim readers of this blog -
Selamat Hari Raya Korban.
Image - Faiz a.k.a. Zak
Update Aidiladha Malaysia: Muslims Celebrate Aidiladha With Prayers

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Saddam's Execution - Pak Lah Hopes There Won't Be Prolonged Violence In Iraq.

The execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must not result in the prolonging of violence and misery that have caused so much suffering to the people of Iraq, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said.

"I fear that the sentencing and execution of Saddam Hussein will worsen the existing sectarian violence that has prevented any meaningful nation building or reconstruction from taking place," the prime minister said in a statement.

He said the people of Iraq should resolve to overcome differences which exist between them and begin to embark upon a new era of national reconciliation and national unity.

"In this regard, I hope that the present Iraqi government will be guided by the principles of justice and fairness in matters of governance, ensuring that all Iraqis are treated equally and with dignity," he said.

Foreign news agencies reported that Saddam was executed shortly after 6 am today in Baghdad for crimes against humanity. Last Tuesday, the Iraqi Appeals Court turned down his appeal.

Abdullah said Iraq had a history of greatness, stability and prosperity.

Thus, he said, the people of Iraq should be allowed to determine for themselves how they wish to bring back peace, stability and prosperity to their great country.

"The international community must assist the people of Iraq in all appropriate ways to enable them to achieve this objective and determine their own future," he said.

The prime minister said that any external interference and presence that contributes to the endless cycle of violence must end immediately, and urged the international community to bear its will on those who continue to refuse the Iraqi people true freedom.

"I pray for the people of Iraq and for peace and stability in Iraq," he said.(Bernama)

***** I'm sure that there are many who share the PM's feelings on this issue. How things will improve in the quagmire that is now Iraq will be the question that will occupy much of the world leadership in 2007. There are many many people who opine that an Iraq without Saddam has become a more dangerous place than it already is. What will become of this cradle of civilization?
Image - Source
World Reaction To The Execution: US welcomes Saddam hanging, Europe opposes execution

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Cheaper Road Tax For All Vehicles From Jan 1st

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak today announced the reduction of road tax for all types of vehicles across the board effective Jan 1.

The reduction of between RM5 and RM 1,059 will be based on engine capacity of each vehicle except those used for commercial transport which will be based on their weight.

The reduction will cost the Government about RM250mil annually.

Najib also announced the streamlining of duty-excise for vehicles effective Jan 1, which aims to make the prices of vehicles more competitive.

***** While we are thankful to the government for this nice new year gesture there will be much more relief for motorists if the authorities could lean on the greedy insurance companies to reduce the cut-throat car insurance premiums we have to cough up every year. Now that will be something that everyone would be really grateful for.
Image - LeoL30

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SADDAM EXECUTED.

U.S.-backed Iraqi television station Al Hurra said Saddam Hussein had been executed by hanging shortly before 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Saturday.

The former Iraqi president ousted in April 2003 by a U.S.- led invasion was convicted in November of crimes against humanity over the killings of 148 Shi'ite villagers from Dujail after a failed assassination bid in 1982.

An appeals court upheld the death penalty on Tuesday. Iraq's government has kept details of its plans to conduct the execution completely secret amid concerns it could spark a violent backlash from his former supporters.

The government had kept details of its plans shrouded in secrecy amid concerns it could spark a violent backlash from his former supporters with Iraq on the brink of civil war.

The execution will delight Iraq's majority Shi'ites, who faced oppression during Saddam's three-decade rule, but may anger some in his resentful Sunni minority.

Some Kurdish leaders had sought a delay so they too could see justice for the man they accuse of genocide against them.
Details from Reuters: HERE
Details from CNN: HERE
Latest from Bernama: HERE
Image - Source

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EPF To Restructure Members' Accounts To Increase Savings For Retirement - A Good Move?

The Employees Provident Fund (EPF) will restructure its members' accounts from Jan 2 2007 in a move to enable them increase their savings for retirement. With the restructure, the number of accounts will be consolidated from three to two, comprising Account 1 (70 per cent of members' savings) and Account 2 (30 per cent of members' saving), its chief executive officer Datuk Azlan Zainol said in a statement Friday.

"Currently, there are three accounts, which are Account 1 (60 per cent of members' savings), Account 2 (30 per cent) and Account 3 (10 per cent)," he added. Azlan said the savings currently in Account 3, which are used for critical illness related withdrawals, will be incorporated into Account 2 initially.

Subsequent contributions after Jan 2 2007 will be channelled into Account 1 and Account 2 in the proportion of 70 per cent and 30 per cent respectively, he added.

This, he said, will result in members having a larger amount for housing, education, 50 years or medical withdrawals. "With the changes, members will have to prioritise their pre-retirement withdrawals carefully. This is because these withdrawals will be made from the same account, i.e. Account 2," he said.

According to Azlan, the restructuring of members' accounts from three to two will bring a multitude of benefits to members in the long run in the form of increased funds for retirement and greater flexibility and control over the management of funds for their current needs.

For the record, Account 1 cannot be withdrawn by members before they reach 55. However, members can invest a portion of their savings in Account 1 in investments managed by approved external fund managers.

Azlan said that effective Jan 2 next year also, for age 55 withdrawal before the actual dividend for 2006 is announced, the EPF will pay the minimum dividend of 2.5 per cent first on the withdrawal amount.

The balance will be paid when the actual rate of dividend is announced, he said, adding that with this move members will receive dividend payment based on the actual rate. Previously, dividend payment was paid based on the last declared rate.

He also said that the supplementary dividend payment will be credited into the member's bank accounts automatically not later than a week after the dividend is declared. Hence, members are requested to ensure that their bank accounts remain active, he added.

Azlan said that in proposing this change, the EPF has taken into consideration that retirement savings of members are depleted on an average of between one and 10 years upon full withdrawals at age 55.

To support this change, he said, the EPF's current IT system will be replaced by a newer IT structure. "As a result of this, members who have made application for withdrawals in the month of December 2006 will face a slight delay in their application process," he said.

However, he gave the assurance that it is temporary problem and these withdrawal applications are expected to be cleared before the end of January 2007. "We appeal to members' patience and understanding while we upgrade our IT system as this is done with their best interest in mind," he said. (Bernama)
Image - Source

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Friday, December 29, 2006

The Ugly Australian.

If you had encountered racist bus drivers, rip-off merchants and dodgy car rental while holidaying in Australia, you are not alone.

While the vast majority of foreign tourists enjoy their stay, it is revealed that about 280,000 visitors a year are unhappy with aspects of their Australian holiday.

Complaints obtained by the Herald Sun newspaper under freedom of information laws show poor service, rudeness and dishonesty being the principal grievances. Australians in front-line tourism roles, especially bus drivers, were the most frequently complained of, said Tourism Australia.

Rip-offs are also a common cause of complaints, with inflated prices and high-pressure tactics upsetting many.

The newspaper said one tourist complained he paid 10 times the going rate for blood-pressure medication bought for him by a tour leader.

Poor-quality rooms charged at top rates are another problem area.

A group of Irish tourists complained that the hostel they had booked looked nothing like the pictures on the Internet, and was not "brand new" as advertised.

Car rental agencies accounted for a number of complaints, including one from an Indian couple who did not receive their A$1500 security deposit back from a car rental agency. Despite a series of letters to consumer authorities, they still had not received the money
five months later.


The complaints followed research showing that many tourists, especially Asian visitors, were unhappy with their experiences on guided tours, the Herald Sun said.

A 2004 report on dissatisfied tourists found that on guided tours, they were forced to spend too much time shopping, the choice of goods was poor and the prices high.

Last year, Australia received a record 5.5 million overseas visitors who spent A$19 billion.

Tourism Australia chairman Tim Fischer told the newspaper that shonky operators let the industry down and members of the public should dob them in.

"The vast majority have great experiences and our back interviewing of them at airports shows they have great experiences," he said. (Neville D'Cruz - Bernama)

Image - scooter_b_69
The original Herald Sun report: Racists, rip-offs spoil stay

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Retailers To Employ 1,000 Jobless Grads Annually. But Why The Delay?

Up to 1,000 unemployed graduates will be offered jobs annually by six retail groups via a commercial training and recruitment scheme initiated by the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs.

The retail groups are three hypermarkets, Tesco, Carrefour and Giant, along with three departmental stores, Jusco, Mydin and The Store.

The first batch of trainees, selected from a pool of unemployed graduates who applied for the scheme, would begin their training for at least six months with those outlets early next year followed by job placements, the minister, Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said.

"The Train and Recruit Programme is a joint public-private sector initiative to reduce the number of jobless graduates in the country by encouraging them to develop a career in the retail sector with outlets such as these as entry points," he added in a statement today.

"Malaysia has a vibrant retail industry with annual growth prospects pegged at around 6.8 per cent, which equates to tremendous employment opportunities with varying levels of skills required to fill the managerial, marketing and administrative posts as new outlets open and existing ones expand.

"Through this programme, we intend to quickly meet the needs of the business community while at the same time promote careers in retailing by giving these graduates hands-on experience in working at world-class retail outlets," he said.

The minister said the scheme also served as a good training ground if these graduates later opted to venture on their own into the retail business.

During the training programme, conducted at the retailers' training centres, trainees will undergo classroom courses on retailing and on-the-job-training which include customer service, merchandise display and inventory management.

Upon completion, trainees will then be interviewed for permanent employment.

Shafie said: "The government has taken active steps to ensure that labour market conditions remain positive and unemployment among graduates kept low via various graduate training schemes.

"To this end, the ministry will continue its efforts in creating more job opportunities while assisting retailers to meet their manpower requirements."

He noted that about a million new jobs were projected to be created under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, of which 2.4 per cent would be from the retail sector.

Interested applicants can apply to the ministry by contacting 03-88826263, e-mail to latihan_graduan@kpdnhep.gov.my or go direct to the participating retailers which will advertise the vacancies from time to time. School-leavers are also welcomed to apply.


***** What the minister said is however not new and in fact as early as August this year he had proudly mentioned this scheme. He even said that 700 graduates would be trained in 2006 alone! He also envisaged that 1500 of them would be trained next year although now he has trimmed that figure to 1000. Either the outlets aren't too serious about the whole thing and are being coerced by the government or the ministry has not been 'on the ball' in getting things done. View the minister's August 8th 2006 statement HERE.

Image - dmc500hats

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Proposal For A Grand Mufti. "No Way!" Says Perak Mufti.

Perak mufti Datuk Seri Harussani Zakaria has strongly rejected the proposal for a grand mufti because he is worried this will destroy the power of the rulers in matters related to Islam.

Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia director-general Dr Syed Ali Tawfik Al-Attas, who had made the proposal, had no right to speak on important issues concerning the religion, he said.

Harussani also said Dr Syed Ali’s view that the absence of a rightful authoritative figure to explain issues relating to Islam had led to the differences in opinion among religious scholars and muftis in the country was inaccurate.

He said this yesterday when contacted by mStar, The Star’s Bahasa Malaysia news portal.

In an earlier interview with mStar, Dr Syed Ali had said introducing the post could check chaos and clash of opinions among parties whose actions were based on individual interests.

In rejecting this view, Harussani said the differences had arisen because some parties who had no right to do so had been given the chance to openly debate on issues related to religion.

Asked to elaborate on whom he felt did not have the right to speak on such issues, he said: “People like (Dr) Syed Ali. He has no power and authority but he wants to talk about religion.

“Muftis are appointed by the Government and sultans. They have the right to speak on religion.”

Harussani said the provisions covering the power of the rulers on religious affairs were stated in the Federal Constitution and any attempt to create the post of a grand mufti could usurp the rulers’ power in this area.

Asked whether a grand mufti could be appointed in accordance with the Sultan who is the current Yang di-Pertuan Agong as proposed by Dr Syed Ali, he noted: “That does not arise because the Yang di-Pertuan Agong only has power in the Federal Territories. This is the problem. People like that cannot speak on Islam because what they say is based only on emotion.” (TheStar)

***** So will the appointment of a Grand Mufti solve a lot of outstanding contradictory and overlapping issues or will it cause more problems? Will the objections to the proposal be solely on constitutional grounds or will power, position and ego play a role? Will the creation of such a post lead to more unanimity and order or will a 'Turf war' be the result? Anyone wants to hazard a guess?
Picture Source
The Government's view: Malaysia Unlikely To Appoint Grand Mufti, Says Najib

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Indonesian Parliament Deputy Speaker Sacked For Taking Second Wife. Should We Emulate Our Abang?

Showing intolerance for polygamy, Parti Bintang Reformasi (PBR) Thursday sacked Indonesian Parliament Deputy Speaker Zainal Maarif for taking a second wife a few days ago.

Zainal, who had served for two years as deputy speaker, had married Yenni Natalia Lodewijk.

The removal was decided by the PBR Central Leadership Committee at its meeting here Thursday, committee head Ade Daud Nasution and its Secretary Rusman Ali told the media.

Among the reasons cited for Zainal's removal was that PBR was protecting the interests of women and discouraged polygamy.

He was also vilified for unsatisfactory performance as party official, lack of coordination with the committee representatives and hardly visiting his constituency, Sumatera Utara I.(Bernama)

***** This to me is an interesting state of affairs. While our 'heroes' here merrily go about taking a second, third and fourth wives, all in the name of Islam, in Indonesia apparently they have taken a bold step to reconcile their faith with practicality and a strict observance of current standards of social expectation and mores.

****** An interesting report from AP, courtesy Malaysia Today.
Malaysian Activists to Study Polygamy.
Opponents of polygamy in Muslim-majority Malaysia said Thursday they will conduct a rare survey in an attempt to prove the practice throws families into emotional and economic turmoil.

Researchers hope to interview 6,000 members of polygamous households over the next 10 months in what could be the most comprehensive survey ever conducted on polygamy in a Muslim society, said Zainah Anwar, director of Sisters In Islam, a Malaysian women's rights group.

"We need evidence-based material to strengthen our advocacy for awareness and reforms, rather than merely use stories or assumptions about polygamy," Zainah said at a news conference.

Islam allows a man to have up to four wives. The practice of polygamy has sparked debate in Malaysia, where nearly 60 percent of the nation's 26 million people are Muslim, because activists say some polygamous husbands neglect their responsibilities to wives and children.

According to government statistics, there were about 13,500 polygamous marriages in Malaysia between 1995 and 2004, or about 1.4 percent of all Muslim marriages, said Norani Othman, a sociologist at the National University of Malaysia.

However, anti-polygamy activists believe the true number is higher because many men fail to report their second or third marriages in order to keep them a secret from their primary families.

Polygamy is illegal for Malaysia's non-Muslim minorities, who are mainly Buddhists, Christians and Hindus.

The new study is significant because recent surveys on polygamy in other Muslim countries have only included a small number of respondents and focused on legal issues, not the financial and social impact of the practice, Norani said.

Researchers plan to ask polygamous families a wide range of questions, including how their expenditure for clothes and other necessities is affected when the man marries another wife, and whether existing wives and children are forced to make financial sacrifices.

The survey will cover other everyday dilemmas, including how husbands divide their time among multiple wives, celebrate holidays and choose which wife to take to social functions. It will also consider whether current laws sufficiently safeguard wives from mistreatment.

Sisters in Islam is aiming to publish its findings in early 2008.
Image - Eric Lafforgue

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Battle Royale Lies Ahead - Rufaqa Vs Islamic Officialdom.

It all started when the government outlawed a new Islamic sect that authorities feared could be a front for the revival of the Al-Arqam cult which was banned in the 1990s as heretical. About 16 members of the "Rufaqa" movement were to be charged before the Syariah court over the next few weeks for spreading deviant teachings. Punishments could range from fines to jail terms or both if the court finds the men guilty.

The government suspects Rufaqa, or "Comrades" in Arabic, could be a cover for the revival of the Al-Arqam movement, banned after winning 10,000 followers and up to 100,000 sympathisers, including some government officials.

Founder Ashaari Muhammad spent two years in jail, but soon after his release formed the Rufaqa Corporation, which runs multi-million-dollar businesses from restaurants to schools, with operations in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Jordan.

Followers of Al-Arqam claim supernatural powers, from averting death to the ability to bring down an aircraft simply by pointing at it.

Other bizarre teachings include a promise to absolve members' sins by transferring them to Ashaari, who is believed to be able to defer death, and the belief that an Islamic messiah from the east will appear just ahead of a prophesied doomsday.

Yesterday however Rufaqa fired the first salvo against what they consider as grave injustice to their reputation and business when they filed three defamation suits for RM150 million.

Today the Selangor Fatwa Council issued a fatwa (edict) declaring Rufaqa Corporation Sdn Bhd (SRC) illegal on grounds that the company was involved in efforts to revive the Al-Arqam movement which was banned in 1995.

State Religious Affairs, Youth and People Friendly Permanent Committee Chairman Datuk Abdul Rahman Palil said the fatwa, dated Dec 10, was made in accordance with Section 47 of the Islamic Religious Administration (Selangor) Enactment 2003.

He said the publication of a book on the former leader of the banned Al-Arqam, Ashaari Muhammad, by his (Ashaari) wife, Khatijah Aam was among the evidence that the company was involved in the movement.

"Although SRC denied its involvement in the publication of the book, they had openly sold the books and held a grand launching in Thailand and Indonesia," he told a press conference here today.

Abdul Rahman said SRC was not just a business entity as indicated by the membership in the company.

He said an information session to explain the fatwa on SRC would be held on Jan 8 for individuals, heads of organisations and the local authorities.

The state government, he added, would continue with measures to curb quarters from spreading deviationist teachings.

***** Once again we see that the civil courts have been dragged into an issue which has been hitherto under the purview of the syariah court. How long the divide can be maintained is difficult to predict, but a country that resolutely maintains two different legal systems simultaneously must be prepared for overlap and the consequences arising from that. Instead of running scared and avoid meeting the challenges, our civil courts should lead the way and show courage in coming out with its judgments.

The questions of law that will be raised and the implications of a civil court hearing will I'm sure be more than just to do with defamation and loss of business. It must necessarily take into consideration the government's use of Islamic laws and whether they have been applied appropriately.

If the protagonists are not summarily arrested under the I.S.A. and sent off to an unknown destination and are given their day in court, then we should all be prepared to witness a battle royale in the near future.
Picture Source
Selangor executive councillor for religious affairs Datuk Abdul Rahman Palil's response: GO AHEAD AND SUE

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Price Of Cement Increased Without Our Knowledge On Dec 1st

Many people may not realise that the price of cement has gone up by 75 sen to RM1.75 in the peninsula and between RM2.95 and RM5.70 in Sabah and Sarawak since Dec 1.

Deputy Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk S. Veerasingam said the increase was approved by the ministry according to the Price Control Act adding that the new price varies depending on the zone the states were in.

For Perlis, Kedah, Penang and Perak, the retail ceiling price for a bag of 50kg cement, which normally cost RM9.90 in the peninsula, is RM10.85 while in Pahang, Selangor, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya it is RM10.95 a bag.

In Terengganu and Kelantan, it is RM11.65 per bag and RM11.20 in Johor.

In Sabah, the price varies according to zones which is between RM15.45 and RM16.25 per bag from RM12.50 previously while the new price in Sarawak is between RM13.75 and RM17.60 from RM11.90 previously.

***** Is this the beginning of price increases on the sly by the government? If this trend is not opposed or checked God knows where it will end. The minister owes an explanation why we were not informed of this huge hike in cement price.
Picture Source

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Asia's Internet, Phone Services To Be Largely Restored Today.

If this information from TheStar (latest news) is true, then we can forget about attempting to use proxy servers as an interim measure for the current internet snarl. Read on..........

......... A Taiwanese telecommunications official has said 95% of Asia's earthquake-disrupted data transmission service and 80% of its phone service will be restored by noon Thursday.

Lin Jen-lung, vice-general manager of Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom Co also said that four ships with crews to repair the two undersea data transmission cables ruptured in Taiwan's powerful earthquake will arrive in the affected area on Jan 2.

The repair work is vital for restoring regular telephone and Internet services throughout Asia.

Earlier, Chunghwa official Wu Chih-ming said repair ships were expected to depart soon from ports in Japan, the Philippines and Singapore.

Image - fbar

***** In the event you still want a proxy server, an easy step-by-step 'tutorial' is available at Walski's myAsylum

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PMR Results Out Today.

For those of you who have kids awaiting the PMR results or if you know someone who is eagerly looking forward to D-Day, then pass this message on.

The PMR results will be released after 10am today, according to the Minister of Education's website.

For those affected by the floods, the ministry has provided the following hotline number for them to call to check their results.

They are:
03-8889 3520, 03-8889 3551, 03-8889 3601, 03-8889 3582, 03-8889 3809, 03-8884 3030 and 03-8884 3095.

Candidates can also call 07-2332263 (Johor), 06-2323789 (Melaka), 09-5715700 (Pahang) and 06-7653161/06-7334144 (Negeri Sembilan).
Image - Iguiguren

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Tabung Haji Receives International Recognition.

The Premier Haj Conference, which ended here last Monday, saw participants praising Tabung Haji (Malaysian Pilgrims Fund) and urging other Islamic nations to emulate the board's approach in managing its pilgrims.

Johor
Mufti Datuk Nooh Gadut, who is also 1427 Hijrah pilgrimage season expert, said the conference mentioned Malaysia several times, particularly the manner in which the country managed its pilgrims via Tabung Haji.

The three-day conference, held to work out the ideal approach to manage pilgrims, was attended by ulama and academicians from international universities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Jordan, Iran, New Zealand and the United States. He said Tabung Haji's approach of using television to raise awareness and educate the Malaysian pilgrims was praised by the conference.

The participants also praised the Saudi Arabian government for undertaking massive projects to build facilities for pilgrims coming from all over the world.
Meanwhile, Indonesia has already emulated Tabung Haji's system in the preparing and management of food for its pilgrims. Tabung Haji catering operations deputy director Badrul Hisham Shafie said representatives from Indonesian authority had come to see how the unit undertook the task.

"Our standard, where the prepared food must be eaten within two hours after it is served, has been followed by other countries," he said. Badrul Hisham said Tabung Haji brought in 86 cooks and 26 supervisors to ensure that the food served to the pilgrims are of good quality.
Image - abdulaziz_muhamad

Related report: Tabung Haji Has No Plans To Shorten Haj Pilgrimage

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

PM's Mystery Yacht - Turkish Company Denies Alleged RM30 Million Order.

Kobra Yatcilik Turizm ve Turizm Limited Co., a Turkish yachting and tourism company, has denied that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has placed an order for the construction of a RM30 million yacht as reported by a Turkish newspaper recently.

In a letter sent to the Hurriyet daily, the company said the article published by the newspaper on Dec 17 was false.

"The honourable Prime Minister of Malaysia does not absolutely have any order for the construction of a cruiser through our company," it said in the letter, a copy of which was sent to Bernama Wednesday.

The article had alleged that Abdullah made a refuelling stop in Bodrum, Turkey recently to inspect the construction of a boat which he purportedly had placed an order four months ago.

In the letter, the company, said "your news report that the referred stop was actually a visit for the purpose of an inspection is not authentic, is circumstantial, hearsay and false".

In the letter, the yacht company referred to an article written by Hurriyet's journalist Yasar Anter published on page 8 which had made reference to the company.

"We wish to attract your attention that this article has not only despaired our company but put us in desolation and misery.

"We wish to take this opportunity and find it our responsibility to inform you of the reality," the company said.

Abdullah had since denied purchasing the yacht, dismissing the report as a blatant lie.

"It is a lie. I don't know where it got such facts," he told reporters during his recent visit to Venezuela. (Bernama)


***** Now that the company implicated in the 'construction' of the yacht has vehemently denied the allegations, should the matter be put to rest? After all it is a question of our PM's political credibility, integrity and honesty. Whom do you believe or want to believe? A journalist from a newspaper in Turkey or your Prime Minister? The choice is yours.

Image - Kenwho

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Trainees Must Report To NS Camps On Jan 1st. A Heartless Order.

National Service trainees posted to the southern states will have to report to their camps on Jan 1st.

National Service Training Department director-general Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid said the training camps were unlikely to be affected by floods as they were on high ground.

"Since the floods started, we have been monitoring these camps in Johor, Malacca and Negri Sembilan. The camps are safe and have been spared by floods," he said during a Press conference here yesterday.

"We have prepared alternative plans, so there should not be any excuse for trainees not to turn up for registration," he said.

Abdul Halim said the 34,313 trainees doing their three-month stint from January to March must be assembled at their pick-up points on this Monday.

"From there, they will be ferried by bus to their respective camps."

Out of the total, 3,413 will either be those from the peninsula doing their training in Sabah and Sarawak or youth from the two states coming over to the peninsula.

NS Training Council chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye told parents not to drop their children at the training camps.

This was because some of them arrived late during previous stints and had caused a delay in the orientation programme.(NST)

****** This is a thoughtless and heartless directive by the big boys at the
National Service Training Department. How do they know what's happening in the home front of each of these young pupils? At this time of stress what with the floods and all, how will their state of mind be? Would they prove more useful helping out at home than spending their time in a camp while being worried sick about what the rest of the family is undergoing?

There should be some leeway for those who have been directly affected by the floods and instead of badgering them to turn up at some faraway camp, it is best to leave the decision for the time being whether to report at the camp now or later to the parents. This to me would seem a more sensible approach than the one-shoe-fits-all order issued by the D-G.

Image - Sam's Digital Shoe Box

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Floods In Johor Worsens. What's Next?

After a general improvement in the last three days, the situation in flood stricken areas in Kota Tinggi and Johor Baharu took a turn for the worse again following intermittent rain since Monday night.

Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) had to shut down electricity in Kota Tinggi District as flood waters rose from 0.3m to 0.6m Tuesday night.

A spokesman from the Johor Police Flood Relief Centre said relief centres were reopened at Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina Pu Sze, Sengkang Hall, Kampung Lorong Arif Jamek Mosque, Sekolah Agama Cahaya Masai and Kampung Bukit Pulai Hall.

He said Kampung Laut, Batu 10 Skudai in Johor Baharu was inundated again with floodwater rising to chest level causing 700 residents to be evacuated to Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina Pu Sze and another 200 to Kampung Lorong Arif Jamek Mosque, Skudai.

The total number of people evacuated in Johor as at 8 pm Tuesday night was 56,877, of which 1,208 were in Johor Baharu, Batu Pahat (24,315), Muar (20,344), Kota Tinggi (5,756), Segamat (3,813), Pontian (381), Mersing (694) and Kluang (366), he said.

The spokesman said that Jalan Kota Tinggi-Mersing at Km12 to Mawai was open to heavy vehicles while light vehicles could use Jalan Kota Tinggi-Desaru to go to Mersing via Felda Sungai Mas.

In Segamat, Jalan Batu 7 Segamat-Tangkak and Jalan Segamat-Gemas is closed to traffic while the stretches of roads closed in Muar are Km3 and Km7 Jalan Pagoh-Lenga, Jalan Bukit Kepong-Labis, Jalan Pagoh-Panchor, Batu 5 Jalan Sungai Mati-Muar and Jalan Muar-Tangkak at Pekan Layang.

In Batu Pahat several roads in Seri Medan were inaccessible namely Jalan Sungai Parit Sikun, Parit Terus and Jalan Seri Pasir. Jalan Muar-Yong Peng-Parit Sulong is impassable to traffic as it is under 0.5m of water.

Jalan Tongkang Pecah-Parit Jalil, Batu 5 Yong Peng-Parit Sulong and Jalan Parit Karjo-Senggarang are impassable to traffic while Parit Sulong is cut off from other areas as flood waters rose to 0.3m, said the spokesman.

He said the death toll in the state was still eight while rescuers made a frantic search for the missing supermarket helper Mohd Lokman Zakaria, 17, who was reported missing on the third day of the flood.

For the victims, the assistance given by government agencies and non-government organisations had eased their burden in coping up with the floods in the last nine days.

The announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak that 33,000 students who were affected by the floods would receive financial aid to buy school uniforms and stationery was a welcome relief to the victims.

Najib who is also the National Disaster Management and Aid Committee Chairman said primary school students would receive RM100 each while secondary school students RM200 each.

The aid will be given before school reopens on Jan 3, he told reporters after visiting a flood relief centre at Sekolah Menengah Datuk Sulaiman, Parit Sulong, Batu Pahat, Johor.

In PAHANG, the number of flood victims seeking shelter at 16 relief centres in Rompin and Pekan districts as at 8 pm dropped to 2,085 compared to 2,699 Tuesday afternoon.

In MELAKA, the number of flood victims at relief centres dropped to 3,756 at 8 pm against 4,047 Tuesday afternoon.
Image - thenamesbee

***** Update 1PM: A 10-year-old boy was
swept away by strong currents while playing in floodwaters in Kg. Parit, Simpang Lima, Muar, at about 12PM.

--- Damages caused by the floods to roads and bridges estimated at RM81 million so far, with Johor accounting for RM44 million - Datuk Seri Samy Vellu.

--- Latest from Bernama:
1) Residents In Flood Affected Areas Get Tap Water
2) Water In Parts Of Johor Rises, Pahang And Melaka Receding

--- Update 12/28/06:
1) Rain Forecast For Johor, South-eastern Pahang, East Coast Until Sunday
2) Prepare For Second Wave Of Floods, Says Najib

--- Update 12/29/06:
1) Johor Weather Uncertain, Pahang, Melaka Improving

--- Update 12/31/06:
1) More Evacuees Return Home As Situation In Flood-hit Areas Improves

2) 52,507 Flood Victims Still At Relief Centres In Johor

--- Update 1/1/07:
1) Joy Of Aidiladha Felt In Johor Despite Floods

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New Policy To Tackle Disasters Soon. Will We Better Prepared In Future?

The present floods that have ravaged our nation has been an eye-opener of sorts for all Malaysians. For far too long have we felt that we've been spared these horrors which happen only in other countries. Either by sheer good luck or God's providence we have largely escaped unscathed all this while. Even then I feel that over the past few years there have been more natural disasters here than say a decade ago.

Therefore it was with relief I read the statement of Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz that the government will draw up a new policy on natural disasters to reduce the dangers arising from them.

Mohamed Nazri said the disasters that had taken place were not only caused by natural phenomena, but were also due to man-made problems which must be handled through preventive measures.

The new policy was still in the discussion stage, he told reporters after launching the Disaster Awareness Day here today. "We have to sit down immediately (to discuss the policy). We can't wait," he added.

Nazri said the policy would apply the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 which stressed on the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction into development policies, planning and implementation.

The framework provides for multi-hazard approach to disaster risk management and was adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction held in January 2005 in Hyogo, Kobe, Japan.

The first Disaster Awareness Day was held to instil public awareness of natural disasters, especially of the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami in the Asia-Pacific region.

Image - sajiltk

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2004's Deadly Tsunami. Thailand Remembers And Mourns.

Thailand's Andaman Sea coastal provinces hit by an unprecedented tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004, held a memorial service Tuesday commemorating the disaster's second anniversary, the state media reports.

Tsunami smashed Thailand's five Andaman coastal provinces and killed over 5,000 people including foreign tourists.

Relatives of the dead -- including international visitors and local residents -- joined Buddhist religious ceremonies at Mai Khao Beach and Patong Beach in Phuket.

They gave food to monks and laid wreaths at the Wall of Remembrance for the tsunami victims at Mai Khao Beach, while 99 Buddhist monks conducted a ritual at Patong Beach.

Thailand's Tourism and Sports Minister Suwit Yordmanee said a candle lighting ceremony will be held Tuesday evening at a park on the Hadyao Beach where 200 people were killed by the tidal waves.

In the southern province of Phang-nga, memorial ceremonies were held at Ban Nam Khem Tsunami Memorial Park and at the Thai maritime police patrol boat, Tor 813, which was carried far inland at Bang Niang in Takhu Pa district.

The police patrol boat was swept by the killer waves beyond the shore as far as two kilometres from the beach.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanond confirmed Monday that funds donated for the tsunami victims totalled Bt92 million (Bt100=RM10) have been under supervision of the Office of the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister's Office.

The allocation of the funds can be checked, the prime minister affirmed, noting that his government has directed the agencies concerned to use all the monies appropriately.

Responding to requests from diplomats of seven countries asking for an examination of the disposition of the donated funds, national police spokesman Pol Lt-Gen. Achirawit Supanphesat said the total monies given to the tsunami body identification fund totalled Bt29 million and that now Bt24 million remains on hand.

Accounts of expenditures can be examined on request, the police spokesman said. (Bernama)
Image - irvmark

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Crocodile Farm Denies Its Reptiles Are On The Loose.

With the 'crocodiles on the rampage' scare adding to the flood woes of our unfortunate citizens, there was some consolation when a crocodile farm in Kota Tinggi denied that its crocs are on the loose.

The Teluk Sengat crocodile farm, Monday denied rumours that some of its reptiles had escaped from their cages due to the unexpected flood in Johor. Its spokesman said the farm and the crocodile cages there were not even flooded. "As such, it is not possible that our crocodiles have escaped," he told Bernama, here Monday.

It was reported Sunday that villages in the Kota Tinggi area had claimed that 15 crocodiles from the farm were on the loose after escaping from their cages. There are about 500 crocodiles in the farm, which are bred for their meat and skin. Rumour has it today that villagers at Kampung Tembiuh, near here shot at least two crocodiles roaming in the area.

However, Kota Tinggi District Deputy Police Chief DSP Muhammad Samsuddin when contacted said the police had not received any reports on such killing.

Johor Lama Assemblywoman Asiah Ariff said she had not also received any information on villagers shooting the reptiles. (Bernama)
Image - thedesignlanguage

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Good News For Alcoholics.

Scientists say they have found a way to stop an alcoholic's craving for drink. A team from Melbourne's Howard Florey Institute discovered blocking the action of the brain's orexin system can also prevent someone relapsing.

Team members say their work could lead to the development of drugs which could act as orexin blockers. Orexin-producing cells are also thought to play a part in regulating feeding, so the researchers believe they could also help treat eating disorders.

Alcohol-related deaths and illness are an increasing problem in the UK. Deaths rose to 8,386 in 2005 compared to 4,144 in 2001, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. And hospital admissions for alcoholic liver disease have more than doubled in a decade, reaching 35,400 in 2004/5.

Detox

Orexin cells are in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The chemical is involved in the "high" felt after drinking alcohol or taking illicit drugs.

In rat studies, a team led by Dr Andrew Lawrence created a compound which was seen to block the "euphoric" effects of orexin. In one experiment, rats that had alcohol freely available to them stopped drinking it after receiving the orexin blocker.

In a second, rats that had gone through a detox programme and were then given the orexin blocking drug did not show any interest in alcohol when they were re-exposed to the kind of environment which they had been conditioned to associate with alcohol use.

Dr Lawrence said: "Orexin reinforces the euphoria felt when drinking alcohol, so if a drug can be developed to block the orexin system in humans, we should be able to stop an alcoholic's craving for alcohol, as well as preventing relapse once the alcoholic has recovered."

He added: "Our research shows that alcohol addiction and eating disorders set off common triggers in the brain, so further investigations may uncover drug targets in the orexin system to treat both conditions." The scientists are now carrying out further studies to discover exactly how the orexin system is activated.

Reducing cravings

Dr Lawrence said: "Before a therapeutic orexin-blocking drug can be developed, we need to ensure that it will be safe to use in the long-term and that issues surrounding a person's compliance in taking the drug are considered."

Bob Patton, a health psychologist at the UK's National Addiction Centre, said: "The results of this preliminary research are certainly interesting; however more research is required to determine if it works on the complex human brain. We already know that [the drugs] Acamprosate and Naltrexone can help reduce cravings and promote abstinence. This study offers a further line of investigation that could eventually help the one million alcohol dependant adults in the UK.

"Of course there will be no magic bullet in the treatment of alcohol disorders; pharmacological treatments work in conjunction with psychological therapies to help address the symptoms of dependence. And in the future, work on the genetic basis for addiction could help to determine which treatments work best for particular individuals." (BBC NEWS)

****** Perhaps this festive period is an opportune time to ponder on the ill effects of injudicious alcohol intake as well as the near future solutions that science may hold for this age-old deadly habit and addiction. Say "NO" to alcohol - it KILLS.
Image - Sir_Loin_of_Beef!
Interesting read: Phases of Alcoholism

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Local Manufacturer Produces Gamat-Based Immune System Booster.

A local manufacturer of health supplements and cosmetics has introduced a product it claims boosts the power of controlling and modulating the immune system and rejuvenating skin cells.

Healwell Pharmaceuticals Sdn Bhd said the 100 per cent natural-based emulsion called Imunol was blended and enriched with purified chlorophyll, desert honey and essential vitamins.

"Imunol's healing property lies with Gamodulin, an immunodulator extracted from gamat (sea cucumber)," the company's executive chairman, Dr Hassan Yaacob, said in a statement here Sunday.

Dr Hassan said the Imunol was formulated using the latest pharmaceutical technology and has been tested on more than 1,000 patients and volunteers over the past two years.

He said the power of Imunol lies in its ability to control and modulate the immune system and rejuvenate skin cells.

It may be used as an adjunct therapy to relieve symptoms of asthma, skin allergies and other related diseases that are resistant to conventional therapy, he added. (Bernama)

Link: Healing Power Of Gamat
Image - i8ashark

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