PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — The Najib administration announced today it will raise electricity prices by an average 7.12 per cent from June 1 in an effort to trim its burgeoning subsidy bill, but promised the hike will not affect some 75 per cent of domestic consumers. Officials said natural gas prices would also rise by RM3.00 per mmBtu each six months until it reached market levels, according to a report by the Reuters news agency. The government said it will still spend some RM25 billion to subsidise the gas bill this year. Power prices will now rise by as much as 2.3 sen per kilowatt hour.
The price charged by state oil company Petronas for power generation will also climb to RM13.70 per mmBtu from RM10.70, government officials said. Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water Datuk Seri Peter Chin today said the 7.12 per cent increase in electricity tariffs was due to the rise in natural gas prices.
Industrial and commercial consumers will experience an average increase of 8.35 per cent in their power bills. However, domestic consumers with a monthly consumption up to 200kWh (lifeline band), along with the next 100kWh (300kWh total), will not be affected by the tariff increase.
Domestic consumers in the 301 to 1000 kWh per month band will experience a “minimal” electricity bill increase, from RM0.07 to RM30.30.
“The lifeline band is maintained at 200kWh/month... around 3.3 million households will continue to enjoy the subsidised unit rate of 21.8 sen/kWh, and encompasses 200,000 poor households,” said Chin.
The increase will not affect 75 per cent of domestic users, he added, sparing around 44.4 million from a total 59.4 million households.
Chin also said the waiving of electricity bills for domestic users who record less than RM20 per month would cease this coming December. The government is currently spending RM122 million to provide free electricity to 900,000 users in this category.
A 10 per cent discount from the standard tariff price will be given to educational institutions which are partially funded by the government.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yackop said that despite the increase in gas prices, the government would still be spending an estimated worth of RM25.64 billion on gas subsidies alone this year. He told reporters that the gas price increase is expected to cause an inflation level of 0.27 per cent this year. “This decision is consistent with the government’s efforts in reducing subsidies in stages until it reaches a market price level,” said Nor Mohamed.
SYDNEY, Australia - An Australian doctor was charged yesterday with endangering his patients' lives after police alleged he infected 50 women with hepatitis C at an abortion clinic. Dr James Latham Peters, 61, who worked as an anaesthesiologist at the Melbourne clinic, was charged with 54 counts each of conduct endangering life, negligently causing serious injury and recklessly causing serious injury. The most serious charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Peters was released on A$250,000 (Dh980,757) bail when he appeared at Melbourne Magistrates Court.
He was not required to enter pleas which relate to 49 patients at the clinic who health officials say contracted the same strain of hepatitis C as Peters between 2008 and 2009.
Hepatitis C can cause serious liver problems, including cirrhosis and cancer. It is spread through the blood.
Police have not released details on how they believe the disease was transmitted. But Bram Alexander, spokesman for the Victoria state Department of Health, said officials investigated the clinic's infection control procedures and didn't find any problems.
"That's precisely why, back in early last year, we referred these matters to the police for further investigation, because our investigation could find no plausible reason as to why the infection took place," Alexander said.
A sprawling shanty-town contrasts with high rise office buildings in the background in Quezon city suburban Manila, Philippines
MANILA, Philippines - For many Filipinos, Manila is a city of dreams. Millions flock to seek their fortune but the city has not been able to cope with the influx, with many often ending up in one of the many slums. After the slums' recent fires, the government is ordering that the area be razed and thousands of "informal settlers" evicted.
Source: Al Jazeera's Marga Ortigas reports on those who feel less than welcome in the Philippine capital.
QUEBEC, Canada -Engineers and geologists are examining dozens of deep holes that appeared in the ground in Quebec City's north end this week, as residents are being urged to leave their homes for safer locations.
Some big enough to swallow a car are collapsing the earth in a Quebec City neighbourhood and leaving experts baffled. About 40 of the holes ranging between six metres wide and about five meters deep have appeared in the last week, prompting an evacuation order from the city.
Soil experts have moved in to take samples to try and figure out what's behind the mysterious collapses in the north-end Quebec City neighbourhood. Officials said the field where the sinkholes began appearing used to be a sandpit.
Daniel Lessard, head of Quebec City's engineering department, says several tests were conducted on the soil and the results should be available in about two weeks. Most of the holes cracked open in a field but another was in a driveway. Some have gotten bigger in recent days.
City officials are being cautious in dealing with the sinkholes because of the potential for danger. A family of four was killed in St-Jude, Que., about a year ago when their house was swept away by a landslide. People in 15 homes and one business have been ordered to clear out.
PARIS, French - Russia has agreed to mediate the exit of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's leader, after leaders at the Group of Eight (G8) meeting in France called on Russia to take the role. Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, told reporters on Friday that "Gaddafi has forfeited legitimacy" and that Russia is ready "to help him go".
Soon after, Mikhail Margelov, Moscow's special representative on Africa told reporters that his country is ready to negotiate Gaddafi's departure.
Margelov explained that Russia is in contact with Gaddafi's entourage, and that they are willing to negotiate Libyan leader’s fate.
"We shouldn't talk to Gaddafi himself but with members of his cabinet, possibly with his sons. And we are making such contacts, so there is a hope for a political resolution," Margelov told reporters at the G8 summit in northern France.
When asked to specify who Russia's main partner would be in such talks, he said, "Can you imagine, if I give you this person's name and his head were to be cut off the next day? But yes, we do have people in Gaddafi's camp."
Russia has been critical of the NATO-led bombing campaign, but after months of violent and bloody clashes, agreed that Gaddafi should step aside. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, thanked Dmitry Medvedev, his Russian counterpart, for helping efforts to resolve the conflict in Libya.
LONDON, U.K - At Oxford University a graduate student is fined for keeping a live chicken at her accommodation, while another received a £78.07 fine for storing a hay bale in her room. Others have been punished for throwing eggs, trashing rooms and even keeping their neighbours awake with their antics between the sheets.
Exasperated deans dish out fines of around £30,000 every year for bad behaviour as well as hundreds of hours in community service penalties, figures revealed yesterday. Fines range from £62 for library charges up to £300 for vandalism and persistent noise pollution.
The students paying the heaviest penalties are those living at the elite St Edmund Hall college, which counts Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer and the late broadcast journalist Sir Robin Day among its former students. Last year, the college collected almost £2,500 in fines. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that across the university, more than half of fines are given out for bad behaviour.
The documents reveal that one Oxford student received a warning after they kept fellow undergraduates awake by having really loud sex, while two male undergraduates were made to complete 10 hours of community service when they were caught throwing eggs in residence.
Amnesty International has said the Syrian government should be put to trial over its alleged "shoot to kill policy" towards anti-government demonstrators. The human rights group has pointed to citizens' videos that apparently show security forces killing and beating civilians. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed across Syria since protests first erupted in mid-March, according to numerous human rights groups Syria has banned international journalists from the country, making it almost impossible to independently verify the veracity of the videos.
HANGU, Pakistan - A suicide bomber in a pickup truck detonated his explosives near several government offices in northwest Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least 26 people, in the latest violence to hit the country since the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
More than 50 people, including six officers, were also injured in the blast near a building housing the local courts in the town, according to the Hangu administration officials.
The officials raised the death toll as rescue operations continued in the area which was cordoned off by security forces. Police and media reports said a vehicle packed with explosive was used in the Hangu attack.
The driver steered the vehicle into a building in the area, the reports said. The reports quoted a senior police official as saying up to 450kg of explosives were used in the bombing.
The explosion destroyed more than a dozen shops and damaged buildings in the area, police said.
The attack in Hangu town in the southern part of Khyber Pakthunkhwa province came a day after a suicide bomber in an vehicle packed with explosives destroyed a police station building on Wednesday in the provincial capital, Peshawar, killing eight people and injuring 39.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the Peshawar bombing as well as a number of previous attacks in the country which includes a further raid last weekend by militants on a naval airbase in the southern port city of Karachi in which 10 military personnel were killed and two surveillance aircraft destroyed.
Ratko Mladic is wanted by a UN tribunal for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war
BELGRADE — Ratko Mladic, who has been arrested in Serbia, is accused of orchestrating the methodical slaughter of up to 8,000 Muslims from the Bosnian “safe area” of Srebrenica, in the worst massacre in Europe since World War Two. Earlier, local media had said police were carrying out DNA tests on a man who identified himself as Milorad Komadic, arrested on Thursday.
A spokeswoman for the executive arm of the European Union said that the arrest showed Serbia "understood the importance of full co-operation with ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] reconciliation with its history and its people".
A family friend told Reuters the 69-year-old Bosnian Serb wartime general was being held by the Serbian intelligence agency.
Mladic is wanted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on charges of genocide during the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict.
He was indicted in 1995 over the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys, and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, in which around 10,000 people died.
The UN indictment against Mladic says he was the operational mastermind behind the massacre, and also cites the establishment of camps and detention centres for Bosnian Muslims as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing. His arrest has been seen as a precondition of Serbia joining the European Union.
MANILA, Philippines - Poachers destroyed about 7,000 hectares of coral reef in Moro Gulf and Sulu Sea in the south Philippines when they harvested more than 21,000 pieces of black corals, which were seized by customs authorities in Manila two weeks ago, a local paper said. "One reef complex - twice the size of Manila district - was decimated. It was like a forest that has been cut down," Ludivina Labe, a senior marine biologist of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Bfar) told the Inquirer.
The size of the damaged coral complex in the south was computed on the number of contraband that was seized in Manila's port area two weeks ago, and the assumption that only one black coral could be harvested from two of three colonies of black corals that cover about one hectare of seabed, explained Labe, adding that thousands of other marine organisms live in coral colonies.
Since corals grow one centimetre a month, it would take more than 25 years to grow the size of the damaged coral colony, said Labe.
Two weeks ago officials of the Bureau of Customs were shocked to find from two container vans that were supposed to carry rubbers, 134 bundles or 21,169 pieces, of "sea fan" black corals; and 15 bundles, or 196 kilograms, of "sea whip" black corals.
The van also contained 7,300 pieces of sea shells and 161 endangered turtles. One turtle that was found dead was 40 inches long, estimated to be 80 to 100 years old. There were also four-year old turtles. The entire contraband was estimated at P 35 million (Dh 2.91 million).
The irreparable poaching occurred at Moro Gulf and the Sulu Sea off Cotabato, long declared as Marine Parks and should have been protected areas, lamented Labe.
When customs officials turned over the seized contraband to officials of BFAR and the department of environment and natural resources on Tuesday, environment officials said the black corals could be returned later to the sea; the dead turtles and other endangered marine species would be given to schools.
The World Wildlife Fund estimated the environmental destruction brought about by this particular incident between $137,000 and $1,200,000.
Many environmentalists believe that country's Fisheries Code of 1998, which bans the gathering and selling of corals, should be amended because violation of the code carries imprisonment from six months to two years and a fine from P2,000 to P20,000 . The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has banned the harvesting of black corals, which are sought by makers of exotic jewellery.
KARACHI, Pakistan -The daring commando-style raid on the Mehran naval airbase in Karachi has raised concerns over the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. If a handful of trained men can keep a maximum security military installation under siege for sixteen hours, it is impossible to believe they can't take control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. On Wednesday, once again blood flowed on a Pakistani street when a suicide bomber rammed his car into a police station in Peshawar in the morning. Every terror attack now is an audacious thumbing of the nose at Pakistan's security capability.
The most worrying and possibly the most humiliating of recent attacks was on Sunday when Tehrik-e-Taliban, in an attempt to avenge Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's death, attacked the high-security naval airbase PNS Mehran near Karachi. That night, Pakistan lost two American-built P-3C Orions, the country's most feared maritime surveillance, early warning and anti-submarine airplane.
The Mehran naval airbase is just a short distance away from one of the stock piles of nuclear weapons that Pakistan has spread across the country. The question is: Could terrorists target one such installation in the future?
Across the border in India too, there is a growing worry about the increasing vulnerability of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Indian security analyst Brahma Chellaney told Headlines Today on Wednesday, "Pakistan has built up a terror infrastructure and now it is reaping a bitter harvest." Even NATO has expressed concern over the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that even though they are confident that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is safe, it is a matter of serious concern nonetheless. NATO is following the situation closely. However, Pakistan is still in a mode of denial.
TRIPOLI, Libya — Nato has carried out its heaviest air strikes against Libya’s capital in more than two months of bombing, amid upbeat comments from France and the United States on progress towards ending Muammar Gaddafi’s rule. Six loud explosions rocked Tripoli late yesterday within 10 minutes, following powerful strikes 24 hours earlier, including one on Gaddafi’s compound, that Libyan officials said killed 19 people and state television blamed on “colonialist crusaders”.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said yesterday that the Nato bombing campaign was making progress and should achieve its objectives within months. An alliance official said Tuesday’s early strike was “the most concentrated to date”.
France, Britain and the United States are leading the air strikes, which started on March 19 after the United Nations Security Council authorised “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces as he sought to crush an uprising against his 41-year rule.
The three countries have declared they will keep up the campaign until Gaddafi leaves power. Juppe’s upbeat assessment came after the United States said the Libyan leader’s departure was inevitable.
“There are more and more centres of resistance (to Gaddafi), especially in the west,” Juppe said during a question and answer session in the French parliament. “Defections are speeding up.”
“I can assure you that our will is to ensure that the mission in Libya does not last longer than a few months.”
France said this week it would deploy attack helicopters to ensure more precise attacks against Gaddafi forces embedded among the civilian population of Libyan cities. Britain said yesterday it was considering doing the same.
Military analysts said these plans and the intensified bombing of Tripoli reflected growing Western worries that Libya’s civil war was dragging on indecisively. But they said the new moves may not be enough to tip the balance quickly.
While critics argue that Nato has overstepped its mandate, rebels have complained Western forces are not doing enough to break Gaddafi’s army. Gaddafi denies his forces target civilians and says rebels, who control the east of the oil-producing country, are criminals, religious extremists and members of al Qaeda.
MANILA, Philippines - The number of unemployed Filipinos grew by 1.4 million, from 9.9 million last November to 11.3 million in March, the Social Weather Stations (SWS), a private survey firm, said. The unemployment rate rose to 27.2 per cent in March, from 23.5 per cent in November. The survey was done on 1,200 respondents from March 4 to 7. Nine per cent of the jobless Filipinos include people who lost their jobs, 10 per cent voluntarily resigned, and seven per cent were new graduates or looking for jobs for the first time.
President Benigno Aquino has been working hard to create jobs for all Filipinos, a spokesman said, yet it is reported that more Filipinos have become jobless since he took office last year.
The global financial crisis bites, Filipino migrant workers face the prospect of losing their jobs abroad and returning home unemployed and often in debt.
A mass influx of returned, unemployed workers could weigh on the Philippines which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Southeast Asia and one of the highest poverty rates, with one-third of the population living below the poverty line.