KUALA LUMPUR: Britain is plugging loopholes in its rigorous points-based student visa system to prevent abuse by those intending to enter and work.
Tougher rules will be enforced from Wednesday on clauses governing English Language ability, the period a student is permitted to work and on entry of dependants.
Fees for international student visas are also being increased from £145 (RM913) to £199 (RM1253).
Britain introduced its points-based visa system last March to prevent the entry of bogus students and to crack down on illegitimate institutions operating there.
The changes involving Tier 4 (student visa) are:
A MINIMUM English Language requirement equivalent to B1 under CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) or a score of 4.5 under IELTS (International English Language Testing System) for students pursuing courses below degree level (excluding foundation degree courses);
HALVING the amount of time a student pursuing below first degree-level course (except for foundation degree course) can work to 10 hours during term time;
RESTRICTING lowest-level courses (A-levels and equivalent) to only “most trusted institutions” and
BANNING dependants of students pursuing non-foundation or below undergraduate degree courses from working.
British High Commissioner to Malaysia Boyd McCleary said he expected the latest changes to have “minimal impact” on Malay- sia, saying that the measures were introduced following abuses by students in other countries. “Malaysia is not the country we are targeting as you have been sending us good students. “We approved 98% of your student visa applications because they followed the guidelines,” he told The Star.
SANTIAGO, Chile – A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile early Saturday, killing at least 78 people, collapsing buildings and setting off a tsunami.
Chilean TV showed devastating images from the country's second city of Concepcion of collapsed homes, a large building completely engulfed in flames and injured people lying in the streets or on stretchers. It said the earthquake destroyed many roads, making it impossible for vehicles to get through, and there was no electricity or water.
Tsunami warnings were issued over a wide area, including South America, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand, Japan, the Philippines, Russia and many Pacific islands.
A huge wave reached a populated area in the Robinson Crusoe Islands, 410 miles (660 kilometers) off the Chilean coast, said President Michele Bachelet. There were no immediate reports of major damage there, she added.
Bachelet said the death toll was at 78 and rising, but officials had no information on the number of people injured. She declared a "state of catastrophe" in central Chile.
In the capital, Santiago airport was shut down and will remain closed for at least the next 24 hours, airport director Eduardo del Canto said. The passenger terminal has suffered major damage, he told Chilean television in a telephone interview. TV images show smashed windows, partially collapsed ceilings and pedestrian walkways destroyed.
In Concepcion, nurses and residents pushed some of the injured through the streets on stretchers. Others walked around in a daze wrapped in blankets, some carrying infants in their arms.
Residents were rummaging through rubble in the coastal city of Santo Domingo, in the region of Valparaiso. One resident said 40 buildings had collapsed but that he didn't believe there were any deaths.
The quake hit 200 miles (325 kilometers) southwest of Santiago, at a depth of 22 miles (35 kilometers) at 3:34 a.m. (0634 GMT; 1:34 a.m. EST), the U.S. Geological Survey reported.
The epicenter was just 70 miles (115 kilometers) from Concepcion, where more than 200,000 people live along the Bio Bio river, and 60 miles (95 kilometers) from the ski town of Chillan, a gateway to Andean ski resorts that was destroyed in a 1939 earthquake.
Several hospitals have been evacuated due to earthquake damage, she said, and communications with the city of Concepcion remained down. She planned to tour the effected region as quickly as possible to get a better idea of the damage.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center called for "urgent action to protect lives and property" in Hawaii, which is among 53 nations and territories subject to tsunami warnings.
"Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter and could also be a threat to more distant coasts," the warning center said. It did not expect a tsunami along the west of the U.S. or Canada but was continuing to monitor the situation.
BANGKOK – Thailand's highest court ruled Friday that ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra abused his power to enrich himself and his family while in office and ordered that $1.4 billion of his telecommunications fortune be seized.
The ruling likely disappoints, if not angers, Thaksin's millions of partisans, boding ill for mending the rifts in Thai society after four years of political unrest centered around him.
However, some analysts suggested the court's decision not to seize all 76 billion baht ($2.3 billion) at stake was a compromise that could foster reconciliation.
Thaksin was deposed by a September 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. The action was meant to quell tensions sparked by months of anti-Thaksin protests, but instead polarized the country.
"The conflict won't go away immediately. This verdict will simply allow the Thai people to cautiously carry on their lives the same way they have for the past two years," said Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a law professor at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "I think we need to wait until the next general election to learn if the conflict will end."
The country had increased security leading up to the verdict, but no major violent reaction was immediately reported. Thaksin, speaking by video link from exile, told his supporters to continue to fight for what he terms justice and democracy, but to do so nonviolently.
The passions Thaksin sparked led to the occupation of the seat of government for several months and seizure of the capital's two airports for a week by his opponents in 2008, and rioting and disruption of a conference of Asian heads of government by his supporters last year.
His so-called Red Shirt supporters continue to rally on his behalf, and have promised a "million-man march" for next month. They seek to force the government of current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a Thaksin opponent, to call new elections.
Anwar can forget about getting justice from the Malaysian judicial system. Rules can be bent, rules can be ignored, rules can be overlooked when it involves Anwar. This is what the man in the street is saying.
We witnessed this nauseating so-called judicial process in both the trials concerning Anwar’s sodomy and corruption trials in 1999. In the first sodomy trial the charges were amended three times because the authorities did not know the definite date to conclusively state when the so-called sodomy was believed to have taken place then.
In the corruption trial, the presiding judge made it so difficult for the defence to mount a serious challenge to the charge. The judge even decided that he should be convinced of the relevance of the point before the defence was allowed to question the prosecution witnesses. It was so outrageously unjust that it led Malaysians to believe that Anwar had to be convicted no matter what.
Are we witnessing a similar scenario in this instance where Anwar is on trial for the second time charged with, of all things, another sodomy?
The way things are moving, it seems, only divine intervention can save him from the injustice he is being subjected to.
Today’s ruling (25 February 2010) by the Federal Court refusing to review an earlier Federal Court decision has an unsettling effect on our system of justice.
Solicitor general II Mohd Yusof Zainal Abiden had argued that the court is not empowered to review its decision. A review can only (be) granted if the applicant manages to prove that “there was an error in law” and only in extremely rare cases is a review granted (Malaysian Insider).
There may not be “an error in law” but what course of remedy is open to the litigant when there was an error in justice? When such error involving justice is so apparent, should the court turn a blind eye to the injustice?
We are made to understand that Rule 137 of the rules of the Federal Court stipulates that the court had limited power to decide on a review of its own decision “to prevent injustice or to prevent an abuse of the process of the court” (Malaysian Insider).
Is this the reason why the law is sometimes referred to as an ass? Does this mean that an injustice and an abuse of the process of court can be tolerated and condoned by the court? Is this what rule of law is all about?
Why is Anwar being denied the list of witnesses? Why is he denied additional information and evidence which is so crucial to his defence? Is it meant to crucify him by all means as many believe it to be?
Shouldn’t the court, in all fairness, order this vital information be given to him so that the three foreign experts who are here can advise Anwar’s team of lawyers as to how to counter the so-called evidence with the prosecution?
Strangely, the court has also ruled that in spite of the fact that there was no penetration according to medical evidence, it will not dismiss the case as there is other corroborating evidence to support the charge.
Normally, penetration is most crucial in the case of rape and sodomy. In such an eventuality, other corroborating evidence may lend credence to the charge but without any positive evidence of penetration what credibility would this charge hold in any fair trial?
In the words of Lord Devlin, the court process “is to provide a civilized method of settling disputes. It is …to remove a sense of injustice.”
Unfortunately, we have not witnessed this truth so far. The injustice has not been removed by any stretch of the imagination.
KABUL – Suicide bombers attacked in the heart of Kabul on Friday, triggering a series of explosions and gunbattles that killed at least 17 people in an area that's home to small residential hotels used by foreigners, police and witnesses said. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying five suicide bombers conducted the early morning attacks on two buildings used by foreign citizens, while police said the attackers numbered at least three. Police said Indians were among those killed.
At least 17 peopel were killed in Friday's attack and 32 wounded, said Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, head of criminal investigation for the Kabul police. He said three of the dead were police officers and most of the civilians who were killed were Indians.
The targets were two residential hotels. A car bomb flattened the Hamid Guesthouse and assailants also attacked the nearby Park Residence, Sayedzada said. An Associated Press reporter saw police carry seven bodies from the Park Residence.
"I saw foreigners were crying and shouting," said Najibullah, a 25-year-old hotel worker who ran out into the rain-slickened street in just his underwear when he heard the first explosion.
Najibullah, whose face and hands were covered in blood, said he saw two suicide bombers at the site. "It was a very bad situation inside," he said. "God helped me, otherwise I would be dead. I saw one suicide bomber blowing himself up.
Kandahar: The number of US troops killed in Afghanistan has reached 1,000, an independent website said yesterday, with deadly bombings in the south and east highlighting the struggle to stabilise the country. Civilian and military casualties hit record highs last year as violence reached its worst levels since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001, with foreign forces launching two big offensives in the past eight months to stem a growing insurgency.
A website which tracks casualties, www.icasualties.org, said 54 US troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year, raising the total to 1,000 since the Taliban's fall. This compares with eight this year in Iraq, where 4,378 have been killed since 2003.
Afghanistan is high on US President Barack Obama's foreign policy agenda and more American casualties or a military campaign that fails to bring stability to the country in an increasingly unpopular war could harm his presidency.
The militants have made a comeback, pushing out of strongholds in the south into the east and north, and are resisting efforts by President Hamid Karzai's government to impose control.
The second of the offensives, Operation Mushtarak, was launched by Nato-led troops 10 days ago to flush militants out of the Marjah district of Helmand, where they had set up their last big stronghold in Afghanistan's most violent province.
Western forces say they have broken the Taliban's grip and only face pockets of resistance, some of it fierce, in Marjah.
But violence is continuing. A bomb that killed at least seven civilians and wounded 14 near a government building in Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah, underscored the vast security challenges facing Nato and Karzai's US-backed government.
"The blast was caused by explosives attached to a bicycle and was controlled remotely," said Dawood Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand's provincial government.
Karzai condemned three separate bombings in the past 24 hours, including a suicide attack which killed 16 people in eastern Nangahar province. Ghulam Ghamsharik, a former commander in the war against Soviet occupation troops, and a provincial refugee ministry official were among those killed.
MANILA : Nearly seven in 10 Filipinos continue to distrust President Gloria Arroyo despite her efforts at a charm offensive before she steps down this year, according to a survey released Wednesday. The figure of 68 percent of respondents who said they distrusted Arroyo is the highest since she took over from deposed president Joseph Estrada in 2001, Pulse Asia said in releasing the results of its survey.
The results came a day after the Supreme Court cleared Arroyo to run for a seat in parliament in the May national elections, in a move many believe is aimed at trying to remain in power.Arroyo is required by the constitution to step down as president this year.
But critics believe Arroyo intends to become a congresswoman as a step towards having the constitution rewritten to shift the nation's form of government from presidential to parliamentary.
She would then seek to become the nation's first prime minister, her critics allege.
A popular revolt backed by the military installed Arroyo as president in January 2001, replacing the graft-tainted Estrada.
She won a hotly contested second term in 2004, but her nine years in office have been marked by allegations of massive corruption and three failed military coup attempts.
Arroyo's popularity took a further beating when members of a Muslim clan she had supported in the restive south were accused of masterminding the massacre of 57 people in November to eliminate a rival's political challenge.
In recent weeks, Arroyo has embarked on a charm offensive, visiting influential media establishments and inviting foreign journalists to dinner at the presidential palace after snubbing them at official functions for three years.
She has also had advertisements placed in the press promoting her economic achievements and other legacies.
Brinton and Halvey arrive at the Dubai International Airport.
Dubai: The total number of suspects in the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai has more than doubled to 26, including three Australians, revealed Dubai Police, indicating that more suspects could surface in the future.
An additional 15 suspects have been identified in the assassination of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh, according to information released by Dubai Police.
Among the suspects are holders of six British documents, three Irish, three French and three Australian. The information has revealed the first Australian connection to the assassinatan.
Two of the Australians had travelled to Iran by ship in the planning stages of the operation.
Their task in Dubai was to monitor the victim's movements at the airport and another hotel frequented by Mabhouh.
Dubai Police investigators have not ruled out the possibility of the involvement of others in the murder, stressing that the authorities are still conducting a wide search and reviewing other links.
According to Police, European governments have authenticated the passports used by all suspects.
Countries that have been assisting in this investigation have indicated to the Police that the passports were issued in an illegal and fraudulent manner, adding that the pictures on the travel documents did not correspond to those of the original owners.
The new list of suspects includes people who offered prior logistical support and preparations to facilitate the operation and others who played a central role.
Police have also released details of 17 credit cards used by the suspects and where they were issued.
Dubai Police chief Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim told reporters earlier that two Palestinian residents of Dubai "from Mabhouh's group" were being held by the Police.
Meanwhile, the governments of the UK and Ireland have confirmed that all of the newly revealed identities used in the operation were stolen from their citizens living in Israel, and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he expects "full Israeli cooperation" in the investigation.
At least 15 people are confirmed to have died and dozens more are missing, feared buried, following a massive landslide on the Indonesian island of Java.
Rescuers used basic digging tools and later excavators to clear tonnes of mud which engulfed dozens of homes and the workers' quarters at a tea plantation on Tuesday afternoon. The landslide followed days of heavy rain and flooding in the area.
One rescuer said more than 70 people were suspected buried by the landslide which occurred near the village of Tenjoljaya in Ciwidey district, about 35km southwest of the city of Bandung in West Java province.
The winding, muddy mountain roads in the area have hampered efforts to get equipment and rescuers to the scene, and more landslides are expected in the coming days.
"We have six sniffer dogs on site and rescuers are digging manually using hoes and light cutting equipment to reach victims," Dade Ahmad, a West Java police spokesman, said.
"We are still trying to bring in the heavy earth-moving equipment. It's difficult to get to the area, which is on a steep slope."
Priyadi Kardono, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency, said villagers manually recovered six bodies from the mud on Tuesday using farm tools and their bare hands.
He said 25 people were believed to have died in the plantation's factory and office.
Kardono said some 600 villagers from the region have been evacuated to temporary shelters in safer locations, most of them from unaffected nearby villages that are in landslide-prone areas.
Thousands of people have been forced out of their homes by flooding in and around Bandung with some areas reporting the worst flooding seen in several years.
Gay men exchanging rings at their wedding. Clerics from the Anglican church in England on Tuesday
LONDON – Clerics from the Anglican church in England on Tuesday called for an end to rules that stop gay couples marrying in religious venues such as churches or synagogues.
In a letter to the Times newspaper, they said the civil partnership act -which allows same-sex couples to tie the knot is discriminatory as it denies homosexual partners the same choices as straight ones.
"Straight couples have the choice between civil marriage and religious marriage," said the clerics' letter."Gay couples are denied a similar choice.
"To deny people of faith the opportunity of registering the most important promise of their lives in their willing church or synagogue, according to its liturgy, is plainly discriminatory.
"Waheed Alli, a lawmaker sitting in Britain's upper house of parliament, will propose an amendment to equality legislation currently being debated, which would allow gay marriages on religious premises.
It would also remove the ban on religious language in the civil partnership ceremony, the newspaper said. Alli was the first openly gay lawmaker in Britain's upper house of parliament, the House of Lords, when he took up the position in 1998.
Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrives at the European Union council headquarters for a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday. "There is no proof Israel is involved in this [Hamas killing] affair, and if somebody had presented any proof, aside from press stories, we would have reacted," Lieberman said in a statement.
The UAE on Monday welcomed the European Union's (EU) condemnation of the use of fake European passports and credit cards in the assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud Al Mabhouh.
"This stance expresses the EU's respect of the sovereignty of the UAE," said Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
He thanked EU foreign ministers and expressed his confidence that cooperation between the EU and the UAE would continue in this case.
EU foreign ministers yesterday condemned the use of forged European passports, but made no direct reference to Israel.
Diplomatic sources said earlier the statement was intended to censure Israel over its alleged involvement in the killing. Israel is widely believed to be responsible for the killing.
"The EU strongly condemns the fact that those involved in this action (assassination) used fraudulent EU member states' passports and credit cards acquired through the theft of EU citizens' identities," a declaration on behalf of EU foreign ministers said.
"It doesn't matter if (the statement) doesn't mention Israel, the message will be clear. How many countries can it be referring to?" asked a diplomatic source..
Meanwhile, an Israeli man who shares a name with one of the German passport-holding assassins has disappeared, according to an Israeli newspaper on Monday.
Up until Saturday the name Michael Bodenheimer could be seen on a sign at an office building in Tel Aviv but the plaque has since been taken down, Yediot Aharonot said. It published photos of the nameplate to support the claim.
The man has not been interviewed by media since his name appeared on one of several European passports that Dubai Police said were used last month by the killers Al Mabhouh.
Unlike the other passports, the German passport bearing Bodenheimer's name was apparently not forged, according to Germany's Der Spiegel magazine.
The passport was delivered in Cologne on June 18, 2009 to an applicant who presented an Israeli passport issued at the end of 2008 and the marriage certificate of his parents, who were persecuted by the Nazis, it said.
KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies (PAPA) has urged the Government to consider recruiting maids from Papua New Guinea, Myanmar and Timor Leste. Its president Alwi Bavutty said this would ease the dependence on maids from Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines.
“We are submitting this proposal to the Human Resources Ministry due to high demand for maids,” he told Bernama on Monday.
He was commenting on Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam’s statement that Malaysia and Indonesia were currently in talks to find a “middle path” in resolving the outstanding Indonesian maids salary issue after their previous discussions ended in a deadlock.
Alwi said made agencies were allowed to recruit maids form Cambodia and the Philippines following the freeze on maid intake by the Indonesian government since the middle of last year.
Alwi said however, Muslims were barred from employing non-Muslim maids from the two countries.
Supporting the Government’s stand that maid salaries should be based on market forces as well as negotiations between employers and employees, he said it should be a win-win situation for both parties.
“Maids are getting at least RM500 a month. If their work is excellent, employers should raise their pay. Their qualifications should also be taken into consideration,” he added.
Meanwhile, Bocehe Dewe Association, an association made up of 32,000 Indonesian workers, supported a condition imposed by the ministry that all new maids and their respective employers must attend a seminar meant to educate them on their rights and responsibilities.
Its chairman Ambar Setiowibowo said Malaysia and Indonesia should iron out perennial issues like minimum wage, maid abuse and transgression of rules and conditions by employers.
“As we have not agreed on minimum wage, there should be an understanding between employers and maids on a reasonable wage and maids, who performed well, should be rewarded with an increment,” he added.
The German airline cancelled about 800 of its flights on Monday after more than 4,000 of its pilots began the walkout. The airline said it was maintaining many domestic flights and short-haul routes across Europe though many of its long-haul flights to the US, including New York and Denver, were cancelled.
Other flights to Africa, South America and Asia were still scheduled to operate. "Usually we have 1,800 flights a day," Deutsche Lufthansa AG said on Monday.
"For today, we foresee about 1,000 flights planned, but there may be more flights that could canceled during the day," the airline warned. It offers some 160 long-haul flights.
The Vereinigung Cockpit union planned the strike because pilots fear being transferred to the airline's subsidiaries, such as Austrian Airlines or Lufthansa Italia, and subsequently receive lower pay.
The German carrier tried to stave off the strike on Sunday by saying it would offer job security to its 4,000 pilots until 2012 if the union would return to negotiations.
However, it said that talks would be based on condition the union will not seek undue influence on managerial decisions.
German Economy Minister Peter Ramsauer demanded both parties restart negotiations to avert a strike after talks were halted on Friday.
The last Lufthansa flight from the UAE, LH631, left early on Monday morning for Frankfurt International Airport.
Some flights to the UAE such as the Dubai-Frankfurt one have been cancelled. The Dubai-Munich route is still operating.
On a normal schedule, the airline operates a daily service between Dubai and Frankfurt with a jumbo Boeing 747, a daily service between Dubai and Munich with an A340-600 and also six flights a week between Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt.
An airline spokesperson said the operator had moved passengers to other flights, scheduled before or after the strike, and also on alternate airlines.
The airline has said the strike will cost it about 100 million euros (Dh500 million) in cash, in addition to lost ticket sales and possible damage to its reputation.
The German pilots' move follows similar developments at rival carrier British Airways (BA), as airline staff battle to hold onto jobs in an industry battered by the global economic downturn.
A union representing BA cabin crew is re-balloting members after BA won a court ruling to prevent a strike that threatened to strand about a million passengers during the Christmas holiday. The new ballot closes today.
The union lost a court bid on Friday to stop the UK airline imposing cost-cutting plans.
Three suspects in the killing of Hamas militant, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh are shown in this CCTV handout from Dubai police February 15, 2010.
JERUSALEM - Israeli intelligence experts dismissed on Sunday the prospect of lasting diplomatic fallout for Israel or damage to its Mossad spy agency over the spotlight shone on the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai. "The bottom line is that an important deed was done, by whomever, in the war on terrorism," Uzi Dayan, an ex-general and former head of Israel's National Security Council, said on Army Radio.
However, Dubai police have said they are virtually certain that Mossad carried out the killing, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed vowed on Sunday to bring those responsible to justice.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman could face sharp questions from British and Irish counterparts in Brussels on Monday over the alleged use of forged European passports by a hit squad that killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on Jan. 19.
Citing a policy of "ambiguity" with regard to its intelligence activities, Israel has neither confirmed nor denied Hamas allegations that a Mossad team was responsible.
"I intend ... to underline our deep concern about the fake use of passports in Dubai and to seek reassurance and clarification on this very serious issue," Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin told the Irish Times on Friday.
Britain and Ireland called in the Israeli ambassadors last week to discuss the issue, but received little in the way of explanation. The ambassador in London, Ron Prosor, said he was "unable to assist" the British with more information.
France and Germany have also asked Israel for an explanation, but the French and German foreign ministers are not scheduled to attend Monday's foreign ministers' meeting, and it is not clear whether Lieberman will meet their deputies.
Although six Britons in Israel, who said they were identity theft victims, had the same names of members of the alleged hit squad, Israel seemed confident in its no-smoking-gun approach.
"No one recalled his ambassador (to Israel). No one expelled anybody," Dayan said, calling for an investigation into the type of passport Mabhouh used to enter Dubai.
Hamas, an Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, is shunned by the West for rejecting its calls to recognise Israel and renounce violence. Hamas acknowledged that Mabhouh smuggled weapons for it.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, speaking on Saturday, said he did not expect a diplomatic crisis with Europe over the killing "because there is nothing linking Israel to the assassination".
"Britain, France and Germany are countries with shared interests with Israel in countering terrorism," Ayalon said.
Manila: Philippine marines killed six Al Qaida-linked militants on Sunday in an assault on a rebel encampment on a southern island, said a senior military commander. A marine special operations platoon raided an Abu Sayyaf camp outside Maimbung township on Jolo island following intelligence reports that two wanted militant leaders, Umbra Jumdail and Albader Parad, were there, said Lt. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino. Three marines were wounded in the clash.
Officials were trying to verify an initial report that one of the Abu Sayyaf commanders was among those killed, Dolorfino said.
The operation was based on a "very strong intelligence report" that the two militant commanders were at the camp, he said.
Dolorfino said the 30-man marine platoon was backed by other troops deployed to block the escape of the militants from their encampment on Jolo, where the militants have operated for years despite a US-backed military campaign against them.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 fighters, has been blamed for numerous bombings, beheadings and kidnappings of Filipinos and foreigners, including Americans.
It is believed to have received funds from Al Qaida and is on a US list of terrorist organisations.
The US government has offered a $100,000 reward for Jumdail, also known as Dr. Abu, and $15,000 for Parad.
Parad is accused of the abduction of three international Red Cross workers on Jolo early last year. The three, a Filipino, a Swiss and an Italian, were eventually freed by the militants.
LONDON, England - A female soldier who complained about explicit pornographic pictures in an Army restroom yesterday won a sexual harassment case against the Ministry of Defence.
But Lance Sergeant Donna Rayment, 41, driver for the commanding officer of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), was awarded just £7,000 (Dh40,132) in damages after turning down an offer to settle for £60,000.
Rayment was the only full-time female soldier to use the room, but when she complained to her superiors about the six framed pictures of women in "sexually explicit poses", she was ignored. She said her colleagues were "officers but not gentlemen".
Mother-of-one Rayment said: "I had to go and make my cups of tea and they were right there, it was intimidating. The others would smirk at me, even though they were against the rules and I tried to ask them to take them down."
Rayment was awarded £7,000 damages for harassment she suffered in the Army, which she claimed led to her suffering from psychiatric illness.
But her solicitors, not the taxpayer, will have to pay the bulk of the estimated £500,000 legal costs. The judge ordered the MoD to pay Rayment's costs up to January 6 when it made a £60,000 offer to settle and her lawyers, who have conditional fee arrangement insurance, to pay the MoD's costs from then on. That bill could be more than £350,000.
SYDNEY – Australia's prime minister on Friday set a November deadline for Japan to stop its research whaling program that kills hundreds of whales a year in Antarctic waters, or else face international legal action. Australia, a staunch anti-whaling nation, has long threatened international legal action. Two years ago, it sent a ship to Antarctic waters to follow the Japanese whaling fleet and collect videos and photographs it said might be used as evidence in an international forum.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Australia would prefer to use diplomatic means to persuade Japan to end its hunt.
"If that fails, then we will initiate court action before the commencement of the whaling season in November 2010," he told the Seven Network. "That's the bottom line and we're very clear to the Japanese, that's what we intend to do."
Japan hunts hundreds of mostly minke whales which are not an endangered species in Antarctic waters each year under its whaling research program, an allowed exception to the International Whaling Commission's 1986 ban on commercial whaling. Whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan, which critics say is the real reason for the hunts.
Rudd's threat came on the eve of a visit to Australia by Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. Whaling is expected to be a key topic of conversation when Okada meets with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith this weekend. Japanese officials did not immediately have any comment ahead of the visit.
Australia has said it could argue that Japan's whaling is illegal before the International Court of Justice at The Hague or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany.
The whaling is conducted in international waters, but usually within the huge patch of ocean that is designated Australia's maritime rescue zone and that Canberra considers a whale sanctuary.
Don Rothwell, a professor of international law at the Australian National University, was commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2005 to explore Australia's legal options in its fight to end whaling. His report was later presented to both the Australian and New Zealand governments.
Rothwell said Australia could request the courts grant an immediate injunction requiring Japan to stop whaling. Either court would almost certainly grant the injunction, which would remain in place until the case was resolved, he said.
On Wednesday, a group of conservationists clashed with Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Ocean, the most recent in a string of increasingly aggressive confrontations between U.S.-based activist group Sea Shepherd and the whaling fleet.
Sea Shepherd activists threw bottles of butyric acid at Japanese whalers and blasted their ship with paint, while the Japanese returned fire with water cannons. No one was injured, but Japan condemned the conservationists' actions as dangerous and violent. Sea Shepherd officials said they are simply doing what is necessary to protect whales.
Earlier this month, Japan claimed three crew members on one of its whaling vessels suffered face and eye injuries from an acid attack.
On Monday, Sea Shepherd activist Peter Bethune jumped aboard the Shonan Maru 2 from a Jet Ski with the stated goal of making a citizen's arrest of the ship's captain and presenting him with a $3 million bill for the destruction of the Ady Gil.
He was taken into custody by the whalers and will face charges in Japan of trespassing and assault.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said officials had spoken with Bethune by telephone on Thursday and were assured he was being treated properly. Bethune indicated he was happy to remain on board the Shonan Maru II and return to Japan with the vessel, McCully said.
On Feb. 6, Sea Shepherd's ship the Bob Barker and a Japanese harpoon boat collided, causing minor damage to both vessels. And in January, a Japanese whaler struck Sea Shepherd's high-tech speedboat Ady Gil, which sank a day later. No one was seriously injured in those incidents.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A government official says the death toll in a bomb blast in northwest Pakistan's tribal belt has reached 29. Jawed Khan says the attack occurred at a mosque in the Aka Khel area of Khyber tribal region. More than 50 people were wounded.
Earlier reports said the Thursday explosion occurred in the Orakzai area at a cattle market. The two areas border one another, and the market is apparently near the mosque.
Pakistan has suffered numerous bombings over the last few months, many of them apparently in retaliation for an army operation against the Pakistani Taliban in the South Waziristan tribal area.
No group has claimed responsibility for the latest attack.
Anwar Ebrahim, his wife Wan Azizah Wan Esmail (centre) and daughter Nurul Nuha Anwar leave the courtroom in Putrajaya. 'We will soldier on,' Anwar told reporters.
Putrajaya: Malaysia's Court of Appeal refused yesterday to throw out a sodomy charge against opposition leader Anwar Ebrahim, putting his trial back on track to resume this week. Anwar could be jailed for up to 20 years if he is convicted of sodomising a 24-year-old man who was his former aide, effectively ending his political career and his aspirations to become prime minister.
His trial began at the Kuala Lumpur High Court earlier this month with testimony from his accuser, who claimed Anwar forced him to have sex at a condominium in June 2008.
The court had refused Anwar's request for the trial to be abandoned before it even started. Anwar's lawyers insisted the case was a sham orchestrated by the government.
A three-judge panel in the Court of Appeal yesterday unanimously upheld the high court's decision, saying Anwar had "not shown that the charge against him was oppressive and an abuse of court".
A medical examination of the aide conducted after the alleged sodomy showed no conclusive evidence of penetration. Anwar's lawyers argued that trying him for sodomy would be tantamount to abusing the justice system.
Government lawyers have rejected the argument, saying the prosecution has other evidence. Even if consensual, sodomy is a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Anwar said he would file an appeal in the Federal Court, Malaysia's top legal authority.
"We will soldier on," Anwar told reporters. "We have to exhaust all avenues."
Earlier yesterday, more than 200 people, including ruling party lawmakers, demonstrated outside the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur after 50 Australian lawmakers urged Malaysian authorities to drop the charge.
Carrying posters that read "Respect our law", protesters called for Australia to stay out of Malaysia's affairs.
The president of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, arrives at the UN Conference Hall in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
GENEVA – Libya is barring and threatening to expel visitors from 25 European nations in a bizarre escalation of a dispute that began two years ago when Switzerland arrested leader Moammar Gadhafi's son on suspicion of beating his servants.
The new restrictions could affect everyone from oil executives to tourists from the more than two dozen nations, including Switzerland, that allow each others' citizens to visit without showing a passport.
The unexpected move from Libya, which is trying to shed its reputation as an erratic dictatorship, has caused concern in European countries with heavy oil investments there.
Gadhafi's son, Hannibal, was held in a Swiss jail for two days after his arrest in July 2008 because he and his wife were accused of beating up their servants in a Geneva hotel.
Geneva authorities dropped their criminal investigation after the two servants received compensation from an undisclosed source and withdrew their complaint.
Moammar Gadhafi forced Swiss Finance Minister and then-President Hans-Rudolf Merz to apologize in Libya last year and agree to possible compensation claims. Libya pulled most of its money out of Swiss vaults.
And Libyan authorities continue to detain two Swiss citizens after 18 months on charges that Amnesty International and the United Nations have criticized as a form of political revenge.
In response, Switzerland suspended a deal aimed to improve bilateral relations, and initiated a visa blacklist that included Gadhafi and his family. That has drawn the rest of Europe into the dispute because a travel ban from one member of the continent's passport-free Schengen agreement is binding on all.
Libyan visas from Schengen countries are no longer being treated as valid, European governments said. Nine Italians were forced to fly home from Tripoli's airport after being denied entry and three Dutchmen blocked from taking off on a flight to Libya, they said.
European officials said the move was clearly retaliation for cooperation with the Swiss travel blacklist of Moammar and Hannibal Gadhafi, along with other relatives and Libyan government officials.
Libyan government officials refused to comment, but European officials noted that some exceptions were already being made. While Slovakia said some Europeans have been kept at Tripoli's airport for longer than 24 hours, the Italian Foreign Ministry said 55 of its citizens have now been allowed to enter Libya.
The new restrictions apparently don't affect European diplomats or long-term residents of the country. Austria's oil and gas giant OMV, Danish engineering group FLSmidth and Norwegian oil company Statoil said operations in Libya weren't affected.
While it was unclear how long the visa ban would be in place, it may force European countries to pressure Libya and Switzerland to finally resolve its dispute with Libya.
The Schengen visa zone includes France, Germany and Italy as well as non-EU member Switzerland. The Swiss, already isolated by a series of tax spats, are receiving mixed support from their more powerful neighbors, some of whom have extensive interests in Libya's resources-rich economy.
"We don't have problems with Libya, Switzerland does," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Swiss TV. "We are helping Switzerland but it can't take the rest of Europe hostage."
Italy's ENI SpA is one of several companies getting a slice of Libya's 43 billion barrels in crude, the biggest reserves in Africa. ENI has a deal securing its place in Libya until 2047.
"Gadhafi and some ministers have been put on a black Schengen list by Switzerland," said Frattini, who met Tuesday with his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner. "Switzerland thus has set Gadhafi and the ministers on an equal footing with criminals and terrorists."
Kouchner said: "This can't go on. We shouldn't have to fight each time" our citizens want to go to Libya.
France, like Italy a major investor in Libya, strongly advised French citizens to avoid traveling or "even making an airport stop" in Libya. Germany, which is involved in a tense standoff with the Swiss over tax evasion, said it regretted that visas already issued in Libya were also no longer valid but placed no blame on either side.
The Libyan visa restrictions don't appear to affect British travelers and businessmen. Britain and Ireland are among the holdouts to Europe's passport cooperation.
Cecilia Malmstrom, the European Commission's home affairs chief, said European leaders would discuss the situation later this week and "consider the appropriate reaction," while Frattini said he would meet privately with Libyan officials in Rome on Wednesday.
The Swiss Foreign Ministry said it would continue to restrict Libyan visas, but spokesman Adrian Sollberger said the country still wanted to solve its differences with Libya diplomatically.
MANILA, Philippines - There is big possibility that outgoing Philippine President Gloria Arroyo will remain in power even after her term ends in June this year as she will reportedly gun for the speakership of the lower house of Congress, a ranking member of her political party revealed over the weekend.
Arroyo, who took power after a civilian uprising ousted President Joseph Estrada in 2001, won her own six-year term in 2004.
The Philippine Constitution bars a president from seeking re-election prompting Arroyo to stand for election in May as representative in Pampanga.
"I believe that Lakas [Arroyo's party] will not disintegrate because she will be a [representative] and there is a very big chance that she will be speaker," said Malabon City Representative Federico Sandoval II in a television interview.
Sandoval, a member of Arroyo's ruling party, said her decision to seek a congressional seat was a "stroke of genius," saying this will allow Lakas to retain its political power even if former defence secretary Gilbert Teodoro loses.
Teodoro was ranked fourth in the December 2009 survey of the Social Weather Station.
"Nobody ever thought that this could happen — that we'll have an outgoing president who will remain in control of the ruling coalition because she'll be the Speaker of the House of Representatives," he said.
Political analysts agree that Lakas will continue to hold the numbers even if either Senator Benigno ‘Noynoy' Aquino III of the Liberal Party (LP) of Senator Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party (NP) win the elections.
Professor Clarita Carlos, president of the Centre for Asia Pacific Studies and an expert in Philippine political dynamics, said she's seeing a massive defection of Lakas members to the next president's party.
She said she doubts whether Arroyo as speaker would be able to wield the same power and influence or match that of her successor.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal delivers a statement during a joint news conference
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia's foreign minister on Monday expressed doubts about the usefulness of more sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference in the Saudi capital that the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions demands a more immediate solution than sanctions.
He described sanctions as a long-term solution, and he said the threat is more pressing.
The Saudi minister spoke at a joint appearance with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is in the Persian Gulf to shore up support for new sanctions against Iran.
The Saudi minister also said efforts supported by the U.S. to rid the Middle East of nuclear weapons must apply to Israel.
U.S. officials traveling with Clinton said privately they were uncertain what al-Faisal meant, since the Saudi government has been explicit in its support of sanctions against Iran. They said he appeared to be suggesting that sanctions may not be effective and that other action could be required.
Israeli Goel Ratzon sits in a courtroom at the district court in Tel Aviv, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010. JERUSALEM – An Israeli man who kept a cult-like harem of women and fathered dozens of children with them was charged in a Tel Aviv court Sunday with enslavement, rape, incest and other sexual offenses. The 25-page indictment accused 60-year-old Goel Ratzon of setting himself up as a "godlike" figure who preyed on troubled women while treating them like "chattel."
The case has captivated the Israeli public since Ratzon's arrest last month. Several of the women have come forward with details of their unconventional lives, describing their attraction to the man with flowing, long white hair.
Ratzon, who remains behind bars, has denied any wrongdoing and said the women joined him voluntarily.
According to the indictment, Ratzon kept at least 21 women who bore him a total of 49 children. It said he kept the women in a state of near-total obedience in crowded apartments in the Tel Aviv area, taking their welfare checks and making them take bank loans which he then confiscated.
Ratzon created an "image of an omnipotent one who was blessed with supernatural powers and the ability to heal, destroy and cast curses," the indictment said.
Some of the women have said they found him irresistible, and said in recent interviews that he connected with them spiritually.
Many of the women tattooed images of the chubby, bespectacled, Ratzon with his flowing white hair on their bodies. Others tattooed his name on their neck and arms. They gave the children they bore with Ratzon variations of his first name Goel, which means "savior" in Hebrew.
Police were aware of Ratzon for years, but say they couldn't make any allegations stick until three of the women brought complaints to welfare authorities. Ratzon was not legally married to the women.
Ratzon was arrested last month but wasn't formally charged until Sunday.
A protester supporting defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka shouts slogans against the government as police officers try to stop him during a street clash in Colombo
One-time allies, Fonseka and Rajapakse were both considered heroes by Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority for crushing the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were fighting for a homeland for minority Tamils. However, their relationship deteriorated after the war ended in May.
However, Clashes began outside the country's Supreme Court, where opposition supporters gathered to protest the arrest of former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who was taken into custody by military police on Monday on sedition charges.
The opposition says the detention is illegal and an attempt to harass them ahead of new parliamentary elections scheduled for April 8.
Government supporters who decided to hold a counter rally at the Supreme Court threw rocks and chased away the opposition demonstrators. Police were deployed in the area but did not intervene until opposition members started fighting back. They then shot tear gas at them.
"We were walking peacefully when we were attacked by government goons," said Marina Abdeen, an opposition supporter.
An Associated Press photographer said some opposition members had bloody head wounds. A hospital official, Pushpa Soyza, said three civilians and two policemen were treated for minor wounds.
Thousands of opposition supporters demanded Fonseka's release while burning life-sized posters of President Mahinda Rajapakse. They also smashed coconuts, a local tradition based on a belief it could bring divine intervention to their cause.
The clash is the first salvo in what promises to be a bruising pre-election period leading up to the parliamentary poll. It follows an acrimonious presidential election in which Rajapaksa secured a landslide victory over Fonseka.
Vancouver has again topped a list of the top 10 most liveable cities in the world, giving the Canadian west coast city an extra boost as it opens the 2010 Winter Olympics.
In the annual survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Vancouver scored 98 percent on a combination of stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. A score unchanged from last year.The city has also topped the index since at least 2007.
In the 2010 ranking, there was little change in the top positions with Vienna, Melbourne and Toronto still taking the second, third and fourth positions and the top 10 dominated by Canadian and Australian cities which took seven of the 10 slots.
Johannesburg, which is hosting the soccer World Cup finals in June, came in 92nd place, the highest score in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Vancouver scores well across all categories in the survey and the forthcoming Winter Games contribute to a strong score in the cultural and sporting events category," said Jon Copestake, editor of the report, in a statement.
"Johannesburg has had well-documented crime problems, but performs better in other categories, with the highest overall livability rating in sub-Saharan Africa."
The Economist Intelligence Unit survey ranked 140 cities on 30 factors such as healthcare, culture and environment, and education and personal safety, using research involving resident experts and its own analysts.
It said in a statement that these rankings were used by employers assigning hardship allowances as part of expatriate relocation packages.
New York was ranked 56th, two slots behind London which was at number 54, while Los Angeles ranked at number 47. Zimbabwe's capital Harare scored the least, making it the list's worst city, with a rating of 37.5.
Following is a list of the top 10 most liveable cities as ranked by The Economist:
According to malaysia Kini, more than 50 Australian members of parliament, including frontbenchers from both sides of politics, have signed a letter demanding that the Malaysian judiciary drop charges of sodomy against former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.
Michael Danby, chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs subcommittee, delivered the letter to the Malaysian high commissioner, Salman Bin Ahmad, yesterday.
The letter says: “It should be made known to the Malaysian government that in our opinion global esteem for Malaysia will be affected by these charges against Mr Anwar.”
The letter further states: “Many friendly observers of Malaysia find it difficult to believe that a leading opposition voice could be charged with sodomy a second time, and so soon after his party made major gains in national elections.”
Most of the 50 signatories are Labor members, including two frontbenchers, parliamentary secretaries Gary Gray and Laurie Ferguson. The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Anna Burke, also signed the letter.
On the Liberal side, environment spokesman Greg Hunt is the most senior signatory, along with former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull.
Mr Anwar was first charged with sodomy in 1998. He was convicted, but in 2004 Malaysia’s Federal Court overturned his conviction.
Mr Anwar was a former deputy prime minister and finance minister under Malaysia’s long-serving former leader, Mahathir Mohammed. The two fell out bitterly in the wake of the 1998 Asian financial crisis. Since he was released from jail, Mr Anwar has become the leader of the Malaysian opposition, which made sweeping gains in Malaysia’s last federal and state elections.
Such a strong pro-Anwar intervention by so many, and such senior, Australian politicians could well once more inflame the Australia-Malaysia relationship, which went through turbulent times when Dr Mahathir and Paul Keating were their countries’s respective leaders. Since then Australia has trodden softly to ensure Malaysian co-operation on trade, military and intelligence, counter-terrorism and regional efforts to stop people-smuggling.
COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Unidentified gunmen have killed a Filipino-Chinese businessman who was running for the city council in Cotabato City where 57 people were massacred in an election-related incident last November, a radio report said yesterday.
Joseph Kwan Datuwata, 42, and his two children were aboard a pick-up truck as they left their home at Rosary Heights 10 when two gunmen with .45-calibre pistols fired at them at 7am yesterday, Senior Inspector Wally Kasuyo said in the report.
Datuwata shot back and chased his attackers down the street, wounding one, but they fled in a getaway vehicle, said Kasuyo, adding that no one had yet been arrested for the murder.
Police found Datuwata's body and two hand guns in his vehicle, Kasuyo said, adding that policemen rescued Datuwata's wounded children. Doctors later declared the pair stable.
Datuwata is the 63rd person killed ahead of this year's May elections.
"The Philippine National Police are trying to stop more killings prior to the elections," said Kasuyo.
He said more policemen would be fielded to the country's elections hot-spots.
Datuwata was a candidate of the party of mayoral bet Bai Zeny Dilangalen, wife of Congressman Didagen Dilangalen, of the first district of Cotabato.
Dilangalen used to be an ally of former President Joseph Estrada, but changed allegiance to President Gloria Arroyo when the former was ousted in 2001.
Imagine a protected park half the size of the continental U.S., covering a sea-life-loaded swath of the Pacific Ocean and the 607 tropical islands therein. The park's inhabitants live mostly in traditional villages and still remember how to do things much of the world has forgotten, such as make clothes from scratch and live off the land.
This park would, in fact, encompass an entire country - the Federated States of Micronesia (F.S.M.) - and if the archipelago nation pulls it off, it will be the first of its kind in the world. "It's a visionary, radical concept," says Howard Rice, an instructor at the College of Micronesia who came up with the idea. "There's never been a world park. It doesn't exist in the dictionary. It doesn't exist anywhere."
If successful, Micronesia will be the first nation to become a wholly protected area, adhering to development and conservation standards designed to safeguard the country's unique culture and rich marine biodiversity and kick-start its placid economy.
According to Rice, who once operated an eco-tourism company in the Caribbean, developing high-end eco-tourism is the answer to F.S.M.'s perennial job shortage.
Michigan State University (MSU) has already agreed to provide technical expertise for the park, and the National Geographic Society has also issued the project its stamp of approval. This spring, Pohnpei, one of F.S.M.'s four states, will host an economic summit to address the park's planning. (See 25 authentic Asian experiences.)