2011/08/13

Briton charged with robbing Malaysian student during riots

LONDON, August 13, 2011 (AFP) - British police have charged a man with robbing a Malaysian student during riots in London in an incident that was watched by millions of people on the Internet, Scotland Yard said Saturday.

Victim Asyraf Haziq Rosli was filmed being helped up after his jaw was broken during unrest in Barking, east London, only for the men who aided him to then empty his rucksack, in one of the most shocking images of the unrest.

Reece Donovan, from Romford, a town just east of London, who is in his early 20s, has been charged with robbing Asyraf, a Metropolitan Police spokesman said.

Donovan will appear in court later Saturday, the spokesman added.

He was arrested on Thursday after an outcry over the attack on Asyraf.

Asyraf, 20, has insisted he bore no ill feelings about the incident on Monday and intended to stay in Britain until he completes his accountancy studies.

He underwent surgery for a broken jaw on Wednesday following the attack, and he was discharged from hospital on Thursday morning.

The video of the attack has been watched almost three million times on YouTube and the incident was condemned by Prime Minister David Cameron as "disgusting", showing "there are things badly wrong with our society".

British police have arrested more than 1,600 people during four days of rioting, arson and looting which rocked London and other major cities earlier this week.

Secret Indonesia files on Papua guerrilla 'threat'

SYDNEY, August 13, 2011 (AFP) - A confidential report on Papuan separatists prepared by Indonesia's elite Kopassus military unit claimed armed groups stood ready for guerrilla war but had proof of just one weapon for every 10 men.

The report "Anatomy of Papuan Separatists" was published by Australia's Fairfax newspapers Saturday, and claimed the people of the resource-rich eastern province were "easily influenced by separatist ideas".

"Irrational demands for customary rights to land and limited transportation infrastructure (have) hampered economic growth," the report said.

"Obedience and loyalty of Papuans towards their customary/religious leaders is very high, to the point that it has primacy over law and creates opportunities for horizontal conflict."

Based on extensive surveillance operations in the special autonomous region, home to some 2.7 million people, the report contains dossiers on key figures in the Papuan independence movement, and lists its international sympathisers.

US democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, British Labour member of parliament Andrew Smith and ex-Papua New Guinea leader Michael Somare are among the large group of alleged "Free Papua" allies.

The list includes politicians, academics, journalists, aid workers and religious leaders.

Kopassus, an elite special unit accused of widespread abuse mostly under the rule of the late Indonesian dictator Suharto, said there were armed agitators "experienced and able to conduct a guerrilla war/survive in the forest, spread throughout almost every regency in Papua."

But they numbered just 1,129 and had 131 weapons and four grenades between them, the report said.

The Kopassus report maps the main resistance groups, their past actions, and their alleged ringleaders, and is among hundreds of intelligence briefs obtained by Fairfax showing significant surveillance of the restive region on the western half of the island of New Guinea.

About 10,000 Papuans protested for independence from Indonesia earlier this month in the provincial capital Jayapura, calling for a referendum before a heavily armed police presence.

Indigenous Melanesian rebels often armed with little more than bows and arrows are fighting a low-intensity insurgency against Indonesian rule to end what they say is the oppression and exploitation of the Papuan people.

The Indonesian military has long been accused of serious human rights abuses against Papuan civilians, as well as massive corruption in the form of protection rackets for mining operations and illegal logging.

Messages on broken windows reveal Londoners' love and hate

LONDON, August 13, 2011 (AFP) - In riot-hit London, locals have started leaving messages on the boarded-up shop windows, voicing their opinions on the looting, arson and vandalism that has rocked their neighbourhoods.

For some it's a form a group therapy, venting their emotions and reaffirming their faith in their district, while others shrug at the "hypocrisy" of "white liberals" for their part in it.

One such board has become the focal point for messages in Clapham Junction, an area named after Britain's busiest railway station, which is often sold in glossy property magazines as the heart of south London's "nappy valley".

While mothers with strollers normally fill the streets, Monday night saw feral mobs running amok, looting shops, torching buildings in an orgy of violence.

Hundreds of messages have been scrawled on a board put up over one shattered shop window.

They range from anger at the looters: "Rot in hell, bastards", "Looters should be lined up and shot"; peace and love: "Let there be light", "I love Clapham Junction", and soul-searching: "These are our children. Ask the question: what have we done wrong?"

Peckham, a few miles eastwards across south London, is a much poorer and more multi-ethnic neighbourhood.

There, the colourful sticky notes left on a board covering another smashed window have a more pacifist tone -- "Peace", "Peckham is love", "Think of other people before you do any harm" -- and a more political one: "More education for children, less cuts".

"My message is that we love Peckham," said 21-year-old Assad Yousifzi, who fled the war in Afghanistan to live here.

"It's our home, we just want peace. Hopefully this will bring peace and love."

He branded the rioters as "looters and thieves... people from here, young people, 17, 18 years old".

Yousifzi put the unrest down to racism.

"When I go the mosque with my prayer hat on my head, people stare at me in the street as if I was a terrorist," he said.

Mike Uyi, president of the Nigerian non-governmental organisation Global Peace Movement, said: "Everybody has the right to protest, but nobody has the right of violence, stealing, beating up anybody. This is purely criminality."

Marc Wadsworth, who runs the www.the-latest.com "citizen journalism for all" website, seemed dismayed as he looked at the growing wall of notes.

"It's a feel-good for white people who are part of the problem, and not part of the solution," he said, taking a swipe at "hug-a-hoodie, politically-correct liberalism".

"I don't want a group therapy, I want justice. Black and poor people must get a fair piece of the economical pie," he said, otherwise "it will happen again. It's like a volcano."

He said the causes were clear: racism, poverty, and police stop-and-search tactics which he said were 29 times more likely to affect blacks than whites.

Michael, a security guard at a neighbouring shop, said the board was a wall of "shitty white liberalism".

"People come here, make comments about something they don't understand," he said.

"It's a picture of an ideal Peckham, mostly people who put a message here haven't spoken to a stranger in the past year. Hypocrisy!"

An elderly white lady walking with her grandson in a pushchair listens in.

"If they want to kill and burn, send them to Afghanistan or Iraq!" she says.

Tracy Cahoon, from Northern Ireland, has no sympathy for the rioters but understands where they are coming from.

"Kids have got nothing here. They're fighting for something, but they probably don't even know for what," she said.

"There are no jobs, no community centres to keep children happy, teach them art, culture. We always had community centres in Ireland, and we avoided a lot of problems.

"It's not like they're evil, crazy devils, they're human beings!

"It's summertime, they've got no money to go on holidays. There is anger, frustration among the kids."

"I come here and I see all this," she says, clearly moved. "I have a lot of empathy".

Malaysia deports British lawyer for Indian activists

KUALA LUMPUR, August 13, 2011 (AFP) - Malaysia Saturday deported a British lawyer for a group of ethnic Indian activists who allege discrimination of their minority community in the Southeast Asian country, officials said.

British lawyer Imran Khan arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport Friday but immigration authorities prevented him from entering the country and instead sent him back to London 12 hours later.

Immigration Department director general Alias Ahmad confirmed Khan was deported early Saturday as he was a "prohibited immigrant" but declined to comment further.

S. Jayathas, a coordinator for Hindraf, which lobbies for more rights for Malaysia's ethnic Indian minority, said Khan had planned to stay a week to meet community members who have faced difficulties, such as getting identity cards or being forced to convert to Islam.

"They deported him," Jayathas told AFP, adding that officials only told Khan they were following police instructions "from higher authorities" without being given any other reason.

"(His visit) will bring awareness that the Indian minority has been cheated for the past 54 years of their rights... They want to suppress that information," Jayathas said.

Khan and a colleague, who travelled with him but was allowed entry, are planning to file a civil suit against the British government, alleging the discrimination against ethnic Indians started in colonial times when they were brought into what is now Malaysia as plantation labourers.

"We want to use this case to highlight the historical injustices... We have been refused our right to meet our lawyers," Hindraf advisor N. Ganesan told AFP.

Hindraf shot to prominence in 2007 when it brought tens of thousands of ethnic Indians onto the streets demanding better education, job and business opportunities from the Malay-dominated government in an unprecedented protest.

Police put down the protest and arrested five of the leaders under a strict security law, detaining them without trial for almost one and a half years.

Ethnic Indians make up about eight percent of Malaysia's 28 million people, while Muslim Malays account for 60 percent. A coalition led by the United Malays National Organisation has ruled the country since independence in 1957.

Last month, Malaysia deported a French lawyer representing a human rights group in an inquiry into alleged corruption linked to Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The lawyer, William Bourdon, had been in the country to give talks on an investigation into corruption claims on the sale of two Scorpene submarines while Najib was defence minister. The government has denied the allegations.

Getty Museum in LA acquires Herb Ritts photos

LOS ANGELES, August 11, 2011 (AFP) - The Getty Museum in Los Angeles has acquired 69 original photographs by noted fashion photographer Herb Ritts, a collection valued at nearly $1 million, the museum said Thursday.

The trove of photos includes some of Ritts's most well-known images, such as a portrait of Richard Gere wearing a white tank top and smoking in a California garage, an image that contributed to the rise of the actor's sex-symbol status.

Another black and white photograph, "Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood" (1989), features the supermodels nude and intertwined in a group portrait.

Ritts, a Los Angeles native who died in 2002, was known for his black and white portraits of some of the biggest celebrities of the 1980s and 1990s, including Madonna, Tina Turner, Sean Connery and Jack Nicholson.

The collection, for which Getty paid a small amount of the $1 million price, was partly a gift from the Herb Ritts Foundation.

"We are happy to have this opportunity to acquire an important selection of prints by Herb Ritts, whose work in fashion blurred the lines between art and commerce," said Judith Keller, Getty's senior curator of photographs.

The museum's collection also includes images by Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, William Klein, Robert Mapplethorpe, Man Ray and Louise Dahl Wolfe.

John Galliano: Kate Moss wedding dress was 'rehab'

NEW YORK, August 11, 2011 (AFP) - John Galliano, the flamboyant fashion designer who fell from grace after an anti-Semitic outburst in Paris, has said making supermodel Kate Moss' wedding gown this summer was his "creative rehab."

Galliano, long a favorite of arguably the most sought-after model in the world, has been an outcast since a rant in a Paris bar led to him being sacked in February as Christian Dior's creative director and put on trial.

He also was dismissed from his eponymous label, majority owned by Dior.

In the upcoming September issue of Vogue US, Galliano says that dressing Moss reawakened his creative powers, following treatment for addiction to drink, valium and sleeping pills in the United States and Switzerland.

"She dared me to be John Galliano again," the Gibraltar-born and London-bred designer was quoted as saying in his first post-trial comments. "I couldn't pick up a pencil. It's been my creative rehab."

Moss said she commissioned her old friend to create the dress for her July wedding to rocker Jamie Hince in England because his outfits made her happy.

"I've lived in his dresses for years, and they just make me feel so comfortable," she said in Vogue's main cover story on what amounted to a fashionista's royal wedding.

The white dress combined an understated classic look with a slightly translucent skirt.

"When I put the dress on, I'm really happy. I forget everything," Moss said.

According to Vogue, Galliano's rehabilitation extended beyond the dress. He even gave Moss her final dose of encouragement before she exchanged vows.

She wanted "a few words, a story to inspire her -- she loves a bit of direction!" Galliano told the magazine.

"I told her, 'You have a secret: you are the last of the English roses -- and when he lifts your veil he's going to see your wanton past!"

At the party, Moss' father Peter thanked Galliano for the "beautiful dress" and every guest stood to applaud, Vogue's reporter said. "John's eyes well up," the blow-by-blow report noted.

Widely regarded as one of the finest fashion designers of his generation, Galliano faces a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a fine of 22,500 euros ($32,000) if convicted of making anti-Semitic insults, which are illegal in France. Sentencing is on September 8.

Christina Aguilera leads line-up for Jackson tribute

LONDON (AFP) - Pop singer Christina Aguilera and Motown legend Smokey Robinson will head the line-up for a Michael Jackson tribute concert in Britain in October, the organisers have announced.

Several of Jackson's brothers will also perform at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in Wales, as will his nephews who form the boyband 3T, despite opposition among some of the late singer's siblings to the concert going ahead at all.

Fans have until August 16 to register for tickets to the October 8 show, which will cost from £55 (S$108) for a restricted view and £87 for a standard seat, to a top price of £240.

After several delays, the first artists in the line-up were confirmed as Smokey Robinson, Grammy award-winning singer Aguilera, singer-songwriter Cee Lo Green, British singer Leona Lewis and pop act JLS.

Malaysian gets 8 years for abusing Indonesian maid

KUALA LUMPUR, August 13, 2011 (AFP) - A Malaysian has been sentenced to eight years in prison for abusing his maid, three months after his wife was jailed for scalding the woman with a hot iron, a report said Saturday.

A. Vealu, a grass-cutting contractor, was convicted of exploiting a 26-year-old maid from East Java, who was found with burn injuries after being abandoned by Vealu and his wife last year.

A district court in northern Penang state passed the verdict Friday but Vealu, 42, was not jailed immediately and is pending appeal, the New Straits Times reported.

His wife, S.M. Poongavanam, was sentenced in May to eight years in jail after she was found guilty of grievously injuring the maid with an iron in September last year.

The maid, who was discovered by a roadside, had also accused Vealu of repeatedly raping her. Lawyers could not immediately be reached Saturday.

Abuse cases, especially of Indonesian maids who make up the brunt of domestic helpers in Malaysia, have frequently surfaced in recent years, and led Indonesia to stop sending maids to Malaysia for two years.

An agreement to take better care of their welfare was signed between the two countries in May, ending the ban. About 170,000 women work as maids in Malaysia, according to the Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies.

Earlier this week, Tenaganita, a migrant labour activist group, called on Cambodia to stop sending maids, who have filled the void during the Indonesia ban, until Malaysian laws are changed to better protect them.

The call follows news reports on the recent death of one maid -- though police say she was not abused and died of pneumonitis -- and the alleged abuse of another, including having her head shaved bald.

Tenaganita said in a statement that many of the Cambodian maids, who have complained to the group of overwork and abuse, are below 21 years old -- the legal age of work -- and remain "in a condition of forced labour with practices of modern day slavery."

2011/08/11

Apple crowned world's most valuable company

SAN FRANCISCO, August 11, 2011 (AFP) - Culture-changing technology outshined crude oil on Wednesday with iPhone and iPad maker Apple eclipsing ExxonMobil as the most valuable company in the world based on the value of its stock.

Despite an overall dismal day on the stock exchange, Apple ended trading with its stock priced at $363.69 per share for a total "market capitalization" of $337.2 billion.

ExxonMobil's stock price slipped to $68.03 per share to give the international petroleum giant a valuation of $330.8 billion.

Apple dethroned software giant Microsoft in May of last year to become the largest US technology company in terms of market cap -- the number of shares outstanding multiplied by the stock price.

Apple stock has risen steadily over the past few years as chief executive Steve Jobs piloted the release of a string of hit products starting with the iPod in 2001, followed by the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad last year.

Apple's ascension to most valuable company was seen as remarkable given that the California company was floundering and seemingly heading into oblivion before Jobs returned to the helm about 15 years ago.

Hulu to stream shows in Japan this year

SAN FRANCISCO, August 11, 2011 (AFP) - Online video-streaming service Hulu has announced plans to being streaming television shows and films in Japan later this year in the firm's first move into a market outside the United States.

"Since the very beginning of Hulu, we have had our aspirations firmly set on serving audiences around the globe," California-based Hulu said in a blog post.

"We recognize that entertainment fans beyond the US have the same desires as those on our home shores: find and watch the world's premium content when, how, and where they want," the message continued.

Hulu's service in Japan will be subscription based, with pricing and other details revealed at launch. Subscribers will pay monthly for access to films and television shows online.

Hulu portrayed Japan as a country with "an unfulfilled market need with respect to premium feature film and TV content" as well as lots of high-speed Internet connections ideal for streaming video.

"We believe Japan is a vibrant market for premium video content distribution online, and are committed to our Japanese service for the long-term," Hulu said.

"We have opened offices in Tokyo, with a dedicated Japanese team designing and running the service, and are hard at work finalizing preparations for launch later this year," the company added.

Those interested in Hulu subscription service in Japan were referred to www.hulu.jp for information.

Hulu, which broadcasts television shows through on-demand streaming, said earlier this month that it had 875,000 paid subscribers and was on track to approach half a billion dollars in revenue in 2011.

Hulu's owners have been seeking to sell the company, and have met with prospective buyers including Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, according to media reports. IPad and iPhone maker Apple was reportedly eyeing Hulu.

The site is owned by a trio of traditional media companies -- Disney, NBC Universal and News Corp. -- and Providence Equity Partners, a private equity firm.

Founded in 2008 and only available in the United States, Hulu lets users watch a selection of shows streamed onto their computers for free with advertisements.

Subscribers to a Hulu Plus premium service pay a fee to access a more extensive assortment of shows that can be viewed on connected televisions, gaming consoles, and mobile devices including Apple's iPhone and iPad.

Malaysian PM warns nationals after London attack

KUALA LUMPUR, August 11, 2011 (AFP) - Malaysia's prime minister has warned his country's citizens in riot-hit London to be on their guard following an attack on a Malaysian student that has sparked worldwide revulsion.

Asyraf Haziq Rosli, 20, was sitting dazed on an east London street with a broken jaw after Monday's attack, only to then be robbed a group of people who had been pretending to help him.

The episode has gained global attention as an example of the lawlessness on London streets after it was recorded via amateur video and posted on the Internet.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a posting on his Twitter account late Wednesday that he was "concerned" by the attack.

"I hope Malaysians in London and the surrounding areas will be wary and look after their own security," he said.

Asyraf had been on his way to buy food to break his daily fast for Ramadan, the month in which Muslims refrain from food and drink in the daylight hours.

British Prime Minister David Cameron also has condemned the attack, vowing Wednesday to restore order after days of looting and rioting in parts of London and other cities.

"When we see children as young as 13 looting and laughing, when we see the disgusting sight of an injured young man with people pretending to help him while they are robbing him, it is clear that there are things that are badly wrong in our society," he said.

The attack has shocked Malaysians and triggered an outpouring of sympathy for Asyraf, who remains in hospital with a broken jaw.

Meanwhile, 10 Malaysian students have moved to an apartment building offered by their university as a safe location in central London, the Star newspaper said.

The British High Commission in Malaysia says 13,500 Malaysians study in Britain.

The Malaysian Foreign Ministry has urged nationals to be alert and avoid high-risk areas in London.

Tiger Airways cleared to resume Australia flights

SYDNEY, August 11, 2011 (AFP) - Budget carrier Tiger Airways will resume flying in Australia later this week after aviation authorities Wednesday lifted a costly six-week ban imposed over safety concerns.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) said the airline, a subsidiary of Singapore's Tiger Airways, could take to the air again whenever it wanted after it imposed new conditions on the carrier, including extra pilot training.

"Finally after a long period of being away from the Australian market, we are back. And we are very pleased to say that we are back," Tiger's acting chief executive Chin Yau Seng told journalists.

It plans to resume flights from Melbourne and Sydney on Friday.

CASA grounded the airline from July 2 after flights twice approached Melbourne airports too low, and following warnings about pilot proficiency, training and checking, and fatigue management.

But the regulator said Tiger had demonstrated it could comply with new conditions on its air operator's certificate, including additional simulator and ground training for pilots, and meet all safety requirements.

"We had concerns with the training Tiger was giving their pilots," CASA's director of aviation safety John McCormick said.

Tiger, which had repeatedly vowed to fly again in Australia, said it had already resumed ticket sales and would begin flights within the limits set by CASA, which restrict it to flying a maximum of 18 services a day in August.

Increased future operations must be approved by the regulator.

Chin Yau Seng said he was not in a position to disclose how much the suspension had cost, including compliance and legal costs, but said it was in the order of Sg$2 million (US$1.6 million) per week.

He said flights would begin with a simplified programme focusing on the most popular and profitable routes from Melbourne and Sydney.

The airline will also reduce its Australian operating fleet from 10 to eight Airbus A320 aircraft, redeploying the other planes to the company's other businesses.

"Tiger Airways Australia is committed to a safe, viable and long-term future in Australia," Chin Yau Seng said.

"We remain committed to regaining the confidence and trust of our customers, through an enhanced focus on punctuality and convenience, while offering our well known affordable fares."

Investigations into the two low-flying incidents by Tiger flights are ongoing.

But a preliminary investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau into the June 7 case said the error was due to an incorrect lowest descent altitude in the commercial navigational database.

It also said the flight crew did not initially notice that the altitude displayed in front of them was 500 feet below what they had been cleared for.

In the second incident on June 30, a Tiger plane descended some 400 feet below the minimum safe altitude, although a preliminary report has not been finalised.

In both cases the aircraft landed safely and no one was injured.

McCormick said CASA would meet regularly with the airline to review ongoing safety performance and compliance with the conditions on its operations, and that he would be confident flying with the carrier.

"And I'd put my family on it as well," he said.

The ban had raised fears about Tiger's future but Singapore Airlines, which has a 32.9 percent equity stake in Tiger Airways Holdings, has stated it has no plans to reduce its holdings.

Tiger's international services to and from Australia were not affected.

SingTel net profit down 3%

SINGAPORE, August 11, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore Telecom said Thursday its first quarter net profit fell 3.0 percent, weighed mainly by lower contributions from its Indian mobile associate Bharti Airtel.

Weaker currencies in countries where SingTel holds strategic stakes in mobile phone firms also helped weigh on the bottom line.

SingTel, Southeast Asia's biggest phone company by revenue, said in a statement that net profit in the three months to June amounted to Sg$916 million ($755.6 million), compared with Sg$943 million the year before.

The figure came short of the Sg$943.8 million net profit tipped by a Dow Jones poll of five analysts.

SingTel's group revenue gained 7.4 percent to Sg$4.61 billion.

"Our geographical diversity helped reduce the impact of foreign exchange volatility on our quarter's results, with the stronger Australian dollar offsetting the effects of weaker regional currencies," said SingTel chief executive Chua Sock Koong.

"Our Singapore and Australian businesses continue to perform well, especially in the mobile segment," she said in a statement.

Outside its Singapore home market, SingTel has a wholly owned subsidiary called Optus in Australia.

SingTel also holds key stakes in six regional mobile operators: Advanced Info Service in Thailand, India's Bharti Airtel, Globe Telecom in the Philippines, Telkomsel in Indonesia, Warid Telecom in Pakistan and Pacific Bangladesh Telecom.

The company said pre-tax earnings contributions from these associates in the three months to June fell an annual 10.1 percent to Sg$472 million, pulled down in large part by India's Bharti, which also has operations in Africa.

Bharti's pre-tax contributions tumbled 27 percent to Sg$154 million due to higher investments in its third-generation network, losses in its Africa operations and the Indian rupee falling 10 percent against the Singapore dollar.

SingTel is subjected to volatility in foreign exchange rates as it reports earnings in Singapore dollars.

SingTel also said its regional mobile subscriber base reached 416 million as of June 30, up 19 percent, or 64.4 million new clients, from a year ago.

2011/08/10

Recession fears as Singapore GDP shrinks in Q2

SINGAPORE, August 10, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore's economy contracted in the second quarter as global electronics demand slumped, the government said Wednesday, raising the prospect of a second technical recession in three years.

Data from the trade ministry showed gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 6.5 percent on a quarter-on-quarter annualised basis, a sharp reversal from the strong 27.2 percent growth in the first quarter.

Year-on-year, economic growth moderated sharply to 0.9 percent compared with 9.3 percent in the first quarter ended March, the ministry said in a statement.

Singapore's export-led economy last sank into a technical recession in the second-half of 2008 as the US subprime mortgage meltdown pushed the global economy into a downturn.

A technical recession occurs when economic output shrinks for two straight periods on a quarterly basis.

Singapore's economy, however, rebounded strongly to grow 14.5 percent in 2010.

The trade ministry narrowed its 2011 growth outlook to 5.0-6.0 percent from 5.0-7.0 percent, reiterating the revised forecasts first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday.

Economists are not ruling the possibility of Singapore slipping into its second technical recession in three years if global demand does not improve.

"Singapore could experience a technical recession with another contraction in the third quarter," Song Seng Wun, a regional economist with CIMB Research, told AFP.

"With a very small domestic demand, it is still very dependent on external demand for goods and services."

The trade ministry painted a gloomy picture in the months ahead for the city-state's main export markets.

"Weighed down by structural factors, growth in developed economies continues to be sluggish," the ministry said.

"In addition, the recent downgrade of US sovereign debt rating has led to financial market volatility and increased uncertainties," it added.

"Should these situations worsen, Singapore’s economic growth could be lower than expected."

The second-quarter contraction was induced mostly by a 23.7 percent quarterly decline in the manufacturing sector which remains a key economic engine for Singapore.

Weaker shipments of semiconductor chips, a major Singapore export, was the main cause, the ministry said.

Japan may get new PM this month: media

TOKYO, August 10, 2011 (AFP) - Japan may have a new leader by the end of the month, its sixth in five years, newspapers said Wednesday, as embattled Prime Minister Naoto Kan signalled he would resign soon.

Kan, who took office in June last year, is under intense pressure from the conservative opposition and some members of his own party to step down over his handling of the March 11 quake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

Support for his cabinet has fallen to around 15 percent, the lowest level since his centre-left party took power almost two years ago, when it ended a half-century conservative reign in a landslide election.

Kan, 64, promised weeks ago that he would step aside once three laws are passed -- an extra budget for disaster reconstruction, a bill to help finance it with new bonds, and a law to promote renewable energy.

The supplementary budget bill was enacted last month, and the two major parties have agreed this week to also pass the other two bills by August 26, paving the way for Kan to leave the scene.

Kan signalled on Wednesday that he plans to stick by his pledge when the bills are passed, telling lawmakers in the Diet: "I would like to implement firmly what I have said after they are enacted."

Senior officials of his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) have been pushing ahead with plans to replace Kan as party leader and therefore as Japan's premier, the Nikkei financial daily said.

"The possibility that the prime minister will resign by the end of the month has grown," said the newspaper, while the Mainichi daily also said that top DPJ officials aim to designate a new prime minister this month.

The Nikkei quoted an unnamed cabinet minister as saying that "one idea is to hold a leadership election on August 28".

Japanese media have mentioned Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda as a leading candidate for the top job.

Sumio Mabuchi, who was transport minister when Japan was embroiled last year in a bitter territorial island row with China, is also seen as a possible candidate.

Public opinion polls have favoured the former high-profile foreign minister Seiji Maehara, but he has not yet voiced clear intentions.

Malaysians charged over Australian drug racket

SYDNEY, August 10, 2011 (AFP) - Police in Australia investigating a major heroin and methylamphetamine smuggling racket arrested five Malaysian men and seized drugs worth Aus$4 million (US$4.1 million), officials said Wednesday.

The alleged ringleaders, aged 48 and 28, were arrested late Tuesday in Sydney -- one en-route to the city's airport and the other at a restaurant in the Chinese quarter, police said.

"It is alleged the principals of the syndicate travelled to Australia from Malaysia for the sole purpose of overseeing the establishment of a new ice (methylamphetamine) distribution network," police said.

The pair were charged with supplying a commercial quantity of heroin.

Police said they had seized about two kilograms of heroin and two kilograms of ice in connection with the ring, valued at a total of about Aus$4 million.

Two other men, aged 38 and 39, were arrested in Sydney and charged with offences including commercial drug supply, participating in a criminal group and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

A fifth suspect, 23, was apprehended in southern Victoria.

"This investigation has disrupted the Australian distribution network set up by this alleged syndicate and has potentially prevented large quantities of drugs from entering our streets," said Asian Crime Squad Commander Scott Cook.

Australia lifts six-week ban on Tiger Airways

SYDNEY, August 10, 2011 (AFP) - Australian aviation authorities on Wednesday lifted a six-week flying ban on the local unit of Tiger Airways after the budget carrier agreed to new conditions including extra training for pilots.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) said the airline, a subsidiary of the Singapore-based carrier, could take to the air again whenever it wanted.

"Tiger can resume operations at a date and time of their choosing," CASA's director of aviation safety John McCormick said.

The regulator said Tiger had demonstrated it could comply with the new conditions on its air operator's certificate and meet the necessary safety requirements.

The conditions relate to pilot training and proficiency, pilot rostering and fatigue management, the revision of operational manuals and amendments to the airline's safety management system.

They include additional simulator and ground training for pilots.

"We had concerns with the training Tiger was giving their pilots," McCormick told reporters.

CASA grounded the airline from July 2 after flights twice approached airports in Melbourne too low, and following warnings about pilot proficiency, training and checking, and fatigue management.

A preliminary investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau into the first low-flying incident said the error was due to an incorrect lowest descent altitude in the commercial navigational database.

It also said the flight crew did not initially notice that the altitude displayed in front of them was 500 feet below what they had been cleared to fly.

In the second incident, a Tiger plane descended some 400 feet below the minimum safe altitude, although a preliminary report into that incident has not been finalised.

In both cases the aircraft landed safely and no-one was injured.

The carrier has repeatedly vowed to fly again and on its website says its domestic Australia flights are suspended until August 11.

The ban raised fears about Tiger's future but Singapore Airlines, which has a 32.9 percent equity stake in Tiger Airways Holdings, has stated it has no plans to reduce its holdings.

Tiger's international services to and from Australia were not affected.