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President Tony Tan, PM Lee offer condolences over Aceh quake

SINGAPORE: President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Dec 7) sent their condolences to Indonesian President Joko Widodo over the earthquake in Banda Aceh that killed at least 97 people.

The 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck the Pidie Jaya district in Aceh province on Wednesday. It was the second time in just over a decade that tragedy had struck the province’s east coast, following the 2004 tsunami disaster.

The full text of both letters below:

His Excellency Joko Widodo
President
Republic of Indonesia

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the people of Singapore, I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the earthquake in Pidie Jaya Regency, Aceh on Dec 7, 2016.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Indonesia during this difficult period.

Yours sincerely,

TONY TAN KENG YAM

Dear President Jokowi,

I was saddened by the tragic loss of lives and widespread damage caused by the earthquake in Pidie Jaya Regency, Aceh on 7 December 2016.

On behalf of the government of Singapore, I express my heartfelt condolences to those who have lost their loved ones. Singapore stands ready to assist Indonesia in whatever way we can.

Yours sincerely,

LEE HSIEN LOONG 

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Singapore's maritime sector given boost with new lab aiming to cut fuel costs

SINGAPORE: A new research laboratory developing clean energy solutions promises to be a boost for Singapore’s maritime sector. 

The facility, which was launched on Wednesday (Dec 7), is located at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), with offshore engineering firm Sembcorp Marine investing S$ 10 million in the laboratory. It aims to develop novel solutions in fuel emission management, energy efficiency and green shipping.

Such innovation takes on an additional importance as by 2020, new emission regulations will require shipping firms to be greener in their operations. The cost of meeting the regulations is expected to be high for companies as they need to overhaul existing engine systems of ships to satisfy emission rules.

NTU Professor Freddy Boey said: “The International Maritime Organisation has set stringent guidelines that will come into effect in 2020. They regulate the amount of pollution ships emit, and especially the type of fuel they use. 

“But at current fuel prices, eco-friendly fuel alternatives cost about 40 per cent more than regular fuels.”

With the new laboratory, these costs are expected to be pared down through innovations like a dual-fuel engine capable of burning traditional and clean fuel.

“As coal and other fossil fuels become depleted at an alarming rate, we see a rising interest in gas as a viable and also cleaner energy alternative. In the longer term, the focus will no doubt be on overcoming the cost and efficiency constraints of harnessing renewable energy,” said Sembcorp Marine’s chief executive, Wong Weng Sun. 

Researchers will study ways to retrofit ships to operate using two fuel types simultaneously so as to reduce harmful emissions while keeping costs low, NTU said.  

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SGX confirms delays in opening of Nikkei Index, derivatives trading

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Exchange (SGX) on Thursday (Dec 8) confirmed a delay in the opening of the Nikkei 225 Index Futures and trading in some derivatives contracts, which has since “normalised”.

It said that members have been informed in its 8.47am update, before saying that the market will open at 10am for the affected derivatives contracts. 

In its 10.23am update, the bourse said that all trading on its derivatives market has normalised. 

This delay is the latest to affect the Singapore stock exchange. In July this year, hardware issues triggered the shutdown of the securities market, and saw SGX abort two attempts to reopen the bourse.  

Two years ago, SGX witnessed another disruption after a power supply malfunction forced it to suspend trading for several hours in November. 

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Two Indian sailors die as warship tips over in Mumbai dockyard

MUMBAI: Two Indian sailors died when a warship tipped over while undocking in Mumbai on Monday (Dec 5), an official said, the latest deadly accident to hit the navy in recent years.

Fourteen other personnel received minor injuries and were taken to hospital following the incident, Commander Rahul Sinha, a spokesman for India’s navy, said in a statement.

“At about 1.50pm (0820 GMT) today INS Betwa, a frigate of the Indian navy was in the process of undocking in naval dockyard when she slipped from her dock blocks and tilted,” said Sinha.

“Immediate action was taken to get all personnel to safety. Two sailors however succumbed to injuries post the incident. An inquiry has been ordered,” he added.

Sinha, who said the warship was being undocked for maintenance work, told AFP that one of the deceased had fallen off the frigate during the incident and drowned while the other had been inside the ship when it tipped over.

“A post-mortem examination will be carried out to ascertain how the sailor died,” said Sinha.

India’s navy has been hit by several accidents in recent years. In March last year two Indian navy pilots died when their plane crashed into the sea 25 nautical miles off the holiday state of Goa.

A fire aboard a nuclear submarine killed two officers off the Mumbai coast in February 2014. Eighteen sailors were killed in August 2013 when INS Sindhurakshak, also a submarine, burst into flames in Mumbai harbour.

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Up to S$2b of Singapore Saving Bonds on offer in 2017

SINGAPORE: Up to S$ 2 billion of Saving Bonds will be offered in 2017, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced on Thursday (Dec 1).

The first bond of 2017 will be issued on Jan 3, MAS said in a media release, adding that up to S$ 150 million will be available during the first issue. A new savings bond will be issued every month.

The 10-year average annual return from the bond is above 2 per cent, MAS said.

Those interested can apply for the first bond through DBS, POSB, OCBC or UOB automatic teller machines (ATMs) or through DBS or POSB’s Internet banking portal from 6pm on Dec 1 until 9pm on Dec 27.

Interested investors must have an Individual Central Depository (CDP) Securities account with Direct Crediting Service (DCS) activated in order to apply for a bond, MAS said.

“In 2016, we have issued S$ 276 million in Savings Bonds. The maximum issuance size is a limit and not a target. We have revised the issuance size for 2017, taking into account the subscription amounts in 2016,” an MAS spokesperson said.

MAS said it is “encouraged” by the take-up. Since the launch of the programme in September 2015, 35,000 individuals have invested S$ 987 million into 15 Savings Bonds issues.
Said the spokesperson: “Our goal is to make available to the public, a safe and flexible instrument for long-term savings. The programme has appealed to investors across a wide range of ages, and the majority of them are smaller savers. Investing in Savings Bonds also appears to be the first foray into investments for many individuals. This is in line with MAS’ objective of improving the availability and take-up of simple, low-cost investment products.” 

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Two shows involving 'excessive nudity' withdrawn from M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

SINGAPORE: Organisers of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival on Monday (Dec 5) announced that they have decided to withdraw two shows from the upcoming edition of the festival in January, after the performances were deemed by the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) to have “excessive nudity”.

In a media statement, organisers said they had been in consultation with the artists of Undressing Room and Naked Ladies – by Ming Poon and Thea Fitz-James respectively – following IMDA’s assessment that both works had exceeded the R18 rating under the Arts Entertainment Classification Code.

“While the artists have expressed their willingness to amend their performances to meet IMDA’s classification requirements, the festival believes that any adjustments and abridgments to the art works to fit these guidelines will result in significant changes that will affect the original artistic intent,” organisers said. Those who have purchased tickets for the shows would be given full refunds.

“WORKS JUDGED ON NOTION THAT NUDITY EQUALS PORNOGRAPHY”

Undressing Room, starring dancer Ming Poon, is described on the ticketing website as a “one-to-one performance where the performer and an audience-participant execute a ritual of undressing each other in total silence”.

Naked Ladies, meantime, is billed as a performance lecture about the history of the naked female body in performance; combining striptease and storytelling, and one where performer Fitz-James uses her own body as a canvas, projecting images of nudes across her own skin.

Organisers of next year’s Fringe Festival – themed “Art and Skin” – said they did not want to compromise on the artistic integrity of the performances and hence axed them. “Both works, in their original forms, are well-crafted pieces exploring issues of vulnerability and identity. We want to reiterate our stance that we do not believe the works to be ‘lewd’ – to use the term bandied around by some complainants – nor was there any artistic intent to titillate. Both pieces are thoughtful and sensitive; they advocate body positive messages as well as a sense of personal candour and community trust.

“Sadly, these works have been judged based on the preconception that nudity equates pornography. The unfortunate irony of IMDA’s assessment of the works having ‘excessive nudity'” is that both works actually make deliberate attempts to distinguish nudity from sexualised connotations. Ultimately, the licensing process – along with the online furore surrounding these works – deems that society at present is not ready for these cutting-edge, intelligent works.”

In a statement to the media, IMDA noted the withdrawal of the applications to stage the shows. “Even though the original performances clearly exceeded the Arts Entertainment Classification guidelines, IMDA was prepared to consider a modified performance which could be performed under an R18 rating,” a spokesperson said.

IMDA said it cited specific examples of how the performances exceeded the guidelines, in its Dec 1 reply to an open letter from a group of arts practitioners known as Arts Engage.

In IMDA’s response, the spokesperson noted how Undressing Room involves the performer and audience-participant completely undressing and then touching each other. “Disallowing these scenes can hardly be considered retrograde moral policing; it is an objective application of existing guidelines,” the spokesperson said.

“WE BELIEVE IN CONSTANT DIALOGUE”

Last month, a blog post surfaced, accusing the M1 Fringe Festival of hosting pornography disguised as art. Referring to Ming Poon’s show, the post on the “Singapore Affairs” blog said: “If the Government allow this (sic), isn’t this a solicitation for a public sex act? This is as good as prostituting the performing art sector and is downright revolting.”

It also questioned the motivations of festival director Sean Tobin, saying: “As a foreigner who has no vested interest in Singapore’s well-being, why is he allowed to meddle in such divisive issues?”

The post was shared on the conservative Singaporeans Defending Marriage And Family Facebook group with a call to members to write to ministers to stop the shows.

In response, organisers of the festival defended Mr Tobin, calling him a “champion of Singapore arts, community theatre and arts education” who has curated a “thought-provoking and diverse programme”.

They also said they believe in having constant dialogue and engagement with detractors. ”While we do not agree with their strategy of writing anonymous letters, we would like to understand their concerns better, and come to a better understanding – if not acceptance – of each other,” they said, inviting those who have queries about the festival’s works to get in touch.

“We have been moved and encouraged by the numerous supporters who have spoken up for the spirit of the festival, and who recognise that celebrating diversity means respecting one and all-including those who differ from our ideals. Clearly, our public is more progressive and open-minded than some would want us to think,” organisers added. 

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China labels Trump call “petty action” by Taiwan: Phoenix TV

BEIJING: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was a “petty action” by Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Saturday, Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television reported.

The conversation was the first such contact with Taiwan by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China”.

“This is just the Taiwan side engaging in a petty action, and cannot change the ‘one China’ structure already formed by the international community,” Wang said at an academic forum, the station said.

“I believe that it won’t change the longstanding one China policy of the United States government. The ‘one China’ principle is the cornerstone of the healthy development of Sino-U.S. ties, and we hope this political basis is not interfered with or damaged in any way.”

Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan at the end of a civil war with the Communists in 1949, and Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring under its control what China views as a wayward province.

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive policy issues, and China generally lambastes any form of official contact by foreign governments with Taiwan’s leaders.

China is deeply suspicious of Tsai, who won election in January, and believes she wants to push for the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing. Tsai has said she wants to maintain the status quo with China and wants peaceful relations.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Singapore's manufacturing economy expands for third straight month

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s manufacturing economy continued on its uptrend, with the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) in expansion mode over the last three straight months.  

According to data from the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM) released on Friday (Dec 2), November’s PMI came in at 50.2, up 0.2 point from the previous month. 

A reading above 50 means the manufacturing economy is expanding, while a reading below that indicates a contraction.

This comes on the back of slight improvements in new orders, new exports and factory output. 

However, the electronics sector grew at a slower pace, with the electronics PMI dipping by 0.3 point to come it at 50.5. This was due to slower expansion of new orders, new exports and factory output.

Singapore’s continued expansion of the manufacturing industry comes on the back of stronger PMI numbers from China, which is a key trading partner for the city-state. 

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Singapore can observe International Day of Persons with Disabilities with 'pride': Minister

SINGAPORE: On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Singapore can observe this special day with “pride”, said Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in his blogpost on Saturday (Dec 3). 

Mr Tan said that in 2016, Singapore had celebrated the “indomitable spirits and triumphs” of the country’s Paralympians at the Rio Paralympics, and began work on the third Enabling Masterplan – a five-year roadmap that guides it towards building an inclusive society for people with disabilities.

The Ministry of Education also announced this year the extension of the Compulsory Education Act to children with special needs from 2019, while Singapore has submitted the initial report on the Convention on the Rights Persons with Disabilities to the United Nations which it ratified in 2013, he added.

“The progress we have made to support persons with disability would not be possible without the many caregivers, voluntary welfare organisations, corporate partners and supportive individuals,” Mr Tan said.

“Thank you for walking with us on this journey to build a caring and inclusive society.” 

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UN imposes new sanctions on North Korea to slash cash from exports

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday aimed at cutting the Asian country’s annual export revenue by a quarter in response to Pyongyang’s fifth and largest nuclear test in September.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution to slash North Korea’s biggest export, coal, by about 60 percent with an annual sales cap of US$ 400.9 million or 7.5 million metric tonnes, whichever is lower.

The U.S.-drafted resolution also bans copper, nickel, silver and zinc exports and the sale of statues by Pyongyang.

The United States was realistic about what the new sanctions on North Korea – also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – will achieve, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the council after the vote.

“No resolution in New York will likely, tomorrow, persuade Pyongyang to cease its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. But this resolution imposes unprecedented costs on the DPRK regime for defying this Council’s demands,” she said.

“In total, this resolution will slash by at least US$ 800 million per year the hard currency that the DPRK has to fund its prohibited weapons programs, which constitutes a full 25 percent of the DPRK’s entire export revenues,” Power said.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. It conducted its latest nuclear test on Sept. 9.

“Sanctions are only as effective as their implementation,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council. “It is incumbent on all member states of the United Nations to make every effort to ensure that these sanctions are fully implemented.”

China, believed to be the only country buying North Korean coal, would slash its imports by some US$ 700 million compared with 2015 sales under the new sanctions, diplomats said.

Over the first 10 months of 2016, China imported 18.6 million tonnes of coal from North Korea, up almost 13 percent from a year earlier. North Korean exports to the end of 2016 will now be capped at US$ 53.5 million, or 1 million metric tonnes.

While China said it was opposed to North Korea’s nuclear tests, U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi accused the United States and South Korea of intensifying confrontation with North Korea by scaling up military exercises and presence.

He described the planned U.S. deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea as “neither conducive to the realization of the goal of de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula nor helpful to the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula.”

The U.N. resolution blacklisted 11 more individuals, including former ambassadors to Egypt and Myanmar, and 10 entities, subjecting them to a global travel ban and asset freeze for ties to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

It calls on U.N. states to reduce the number of staff at North Korea’s foreign missions and requires countries to limit the number of bank accounts to one per North Korean diplomatic mission amid concerns that Pyongyang had used its diplomats and foreign missions to engage in illicit activities.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jonathan Oatis)

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