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India says to bring back workers facing 'food crisis' in Saudi

NEW DELHI/DUBAI: India said on Sunday it will send a government minister to Saudi Arabia to try to bring back more than 10,000 Indian workers who are facing a “food crisis” because they are unable to afford meals after being laid off from their jobs.

Low oil prices have forced the Saudi government to slash spending since last year, putting heavy pressure on the finances of local construction firms which rely on state contracts.

As a result, some companies have been struggling to pay foreign workers and have laid off tens of thousands, leaving many with no money for food let alone for tickets home.

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday said over 10,000 Indians in Saudia Arabia and Kuwait were facing a “food crisis” because of economic hardships, while appealing to an estimated 3 millions Indians living in Saudi Arabia for help.

“Large number of Indians have lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The employers have not paid wages, closed down their factories,” she tweeted on Saturday.

One of the country’s two junior foreign ministers, V.K. Singh, will travel to Saudi Arabia next week.

Swaraj said on Saturday that India’s other junior foreign minister, M.J. Akbar, would take up the issue with the authorities in the two Middle Eastern countries, saying the government was monitoring the situation on an hourly basis.

“While situation in Kuwait is manageable, matters are much worse in Saudi Arabia,” she said in a tweet.

Separately, the Consulate General of India in Jeddah said on its official Twitter feed on Saturday that it had distributed 15,475 kg of food over the past three days in association with the Indian community.

It posted pictures of Indian people queuing up to collect the food packets.

The hardships faced by Indian migrants come amid rising protests about working conditions in Saudi Arabia.

Hundreds of foreign workers at construction firm Saudi Oger staged a public protest in Jeddah at the weekend to demand seven months of unpaid wages, Saudi Arabia’s Arab News reported. They were dispersed by police after disrupting traffic.

Saudi Oger did not respond to a telephone call and an email seeking comment.

The Saudi government says it investigates any complaints of companies not paying wages and if necessary, obliges them to do so with fines and other penalties.

(Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy, Douglas Busvine and Andrew Torchia; Editing by Rafael Nam and Kim Coghill)

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MAS examining Goldman Sachs' role in bond deals for 1MDB

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s central bank said on Saturday (Jul 30) it is examining the extent of involvement by Goldman Sachs’ local unit in bond deals for Malaysian state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has been questioning banks and financial institutions since last year as part of investigations into possible money laundering in the city-state linked to 1MDB..

“MAS supervisory examination into the extent of Goldman Sachs (Singapore) Pte’s involvement in the 1MDB bond deals is still ongoing,” an MAS spokeswoman said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Last week, Singapore said it had seized assets worth S$ 240 million (US$ 179 million) as part of a money laundering probe linked to 1MDB and would take action against some of the biggest banks based in the city-state for handling transactions linked to the Malaysian fund.

“MAS will take decisive regulatory actions against any financial institution or individual in Singapore that has breached regulations or failed to meet the expected anti-money laundering standards,” MAS said in the statement.

A Goldman Sachs spokesman in Hong Kong declined to comment on the Singapore inquiry.

The US government alleged this month that billions of dollars were diverted from bond deals arranged by Goldman, for the personal use of officials and some people associated with the state fund.

U.S. prosecutors have filed civil lawsuits to seize more than $ 1 billion in assets they said were tied to money stolen from the Malaysian fund.

1MDB has said in the past it is not a party to the civil suits, does not have any assets in the United States, nor has it benefited from the various transactions described in the civil suits. 1MDB was not available for comment on Saturday.

Goldman Sachs, which earned close to US$ 600 million to arrange and underwrite the 1MDB bonds, has not been accused of any wrongdoing by US authorities.

These bond deals were arranged and underwritten by Goldman Sachs International.

The Wall Street Journal, which earlier reported the MAS inquiry, also said U.S. authorities had issued subpoenas to Goldman Sachs for documents related to the bank’s dealings with 1MDB..

1MDB, founded by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 shortly after he came to office, is being investigated for money laundering in at least six countries including the United States, Singapore and Switzerland. 

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President Tony Tan leads well wishes for former President S R Nathan

SINGAPORE: President Tony Tan Keng Yam has expressed sadness at hearing former President S R Nathan’s hospitalisation following a stroke on Sunday morning (Jul 30). “Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family,” said Dr Tan in a Facebook post.

Mr Tan and his wife Mary visited Mr Nathan at SGH at about 2.30pm.

Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean also visited Mr Nathan at about 3.20pm.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan Jin expressed his well wishes in a Facebook post. “Our thought and prayers are with Mr SR Nathan and his family,” Mr Tan said.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu posted the hashtag “#prayforSRNathan” on her Facebook post.

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Indonesia executes foreign convicts despite protests

CILACAP: Indonesia on Friday (Jul 28) executed four drug convicts, three of them foreigners, by firing squad, an official said, drawing swift condemnation from rights groups as Jakarta pushes on with its campaign of capital punishment.

Ten others expected to have faced the firing squad, including nationals from Pakistan, India and Zimbabwe as well as Indonesians, were not put to death but officials said they would be executed at a later stage.

Authorities did not give a reason for the reprieve, but the prison island where they were expected to be executed in outdoor clearings was hit by a major storm as the other sentences were carried out.

The executions, which saw an Indonesian and three Nigerians face the firing squad, were the first in the country since April last year when authorities put to death eight drug convicts, including two Australians.

President Joko Widodo has defended dramatically ramping up the use of capital punishment, saying that Indonesia is fighting a war on drugs and traffickers must be heavily punished.

Noor Rachmad, deputy attorney general for general crimes, said the latest executions were “done not in order to take lives but to stop evil intentions, and the evil act of drug trafficking”.

He added that “the rest (of the executions) will be carried out in stages”, saying that the timings had not yet been decided.

Amnesty International condemned the executions with the group’s Rafendi Djamin labelling them “a deplorable act”.

“Any executions that are still to take place must be halted immediately. The injustice already done cannot be reversed, but there is still hope that it won’t be compounded.”

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the European Union had also voiced opposition to the plan in recent days.

Friday’s executions, which happened at 12.45am (1.45am Singapore time), came after a day of frenetic activity, with distraught relatives travelling to Nusakambangan island to say farewells to their loved ones and ambulances carrying coffins over to the heavily guarded penal colony.

EXECUTION DRIVE

The executed Indonesian was named as Freddy Budiman, while the three others, Nigerians, were: Seck Osmane, Humphrey Jefferson Ejike Eleweke and Michael Titus Igweh.

Eleweke’s lawyer, Afif Abdul Qoyim, told AFP the execution should not have gone ahead as his client this week filed a legal appeal. “When this process in not respected, that means that this is no longer a country that upholds the law, nor human rights,” he said.

Two people whose cases had raised high-profile international concern among rights groups were not executed.

The first was Pakistani Zulfiqar Ali, whom rights groups say was beaten into confessing to the crime of heroin possession, leading to his 2005 death sentence.

Syed Zahid Raza, the deputy Pakistani ambassador in Indonesia, hailed his reprieve as a victory and said it was due to diplomatic efforts in Jakarta and Islamabad.

The other was Indonesian woman Merri Utami, who was caught with heroin in her bag as she came through Jakarta airport and claims she was duped into becoming a drug mule.

At Cilacap, the city closest to Nusakambangan, family members were initially shocked to learn on Thursday morning their relatives would be executed in a matter of hours, having initially thought it would take place a day later.

Some distressed relatives protested their loved ones’ innocence, while 10 women’s rights activists rallying in support of Utami were detained.

It was the third batch of executions under Widodo, and means 18 drug convicts – mostly foreigners – have been put to death since he became leader in 2014.

His execution drive has shocked the international community and disappointed activists, particularly as hopes were high that Widodo, seen as a fresh face in a political world dominated by figures from Indonesia’s authoritarian past, would improve the country’s rights record.

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Singapore Airlines says Q1 net profit nearly triples

SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines (SIA) on Thursday (Jul 28) said its group net profit for the first quarter nearly tripled from the previous year due to lower fuel prices and divestment gains.

Net profit for the three months to June came in at S$ 257 million (US$ 190 million), up 182 per cent from S$ 91.2 million in the same period last year, the airline said in a statement.

On top of an improved operational performance, the group brought in S$ 142 million by selling off a 10 per cent stake in Hong Kong Aero Engine Services Ltd.

SIA said operating costs were down by S$ 161 million to S$ 3.4 billion this year, due to a 28 per cent fall in fuel prices.

Global oil prices have fallen sharply over the past two years due to oversupply and weak demand, standing at less than half their mid-2014 levels.

But SIA said its first-quarter gains were partially offset by losses from Virgin Australia, of which its a stakeholder. Cargo revenue was also down S$ 60 million, or 11.6 per cent.

“The cargo market remains soft, with economic uncertainty in Europe and China. Cargo yields are likely to remain under pressure as overcapacity persists in the industry,” the airline said.

The year ahead remains “challenging” because of weak economic outlook and geopolitical concerns, it added. “Competition remains intense with aggressive capacity injection, and yields will continue to remain under pressure,” said SIA.

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Nursing home patients could benefit from fewer beds in wards: Study

SINGAPORE: While nursing homes in Singapore typically have six to eight beds in a ward, a new study looking at global best practices in nursing homes recommends that single- and twin-bedded wards become the norm. 

In the Economics of Singapore Nursing Home Care study commissioned by Lien Foundation and Khoo Chwee Neo Foundation and unveiled on Thursday (Jul 27), global strategy consultancy Oliver Wyman evaluated the best practices of new models of care and what it would take to offer these types of care in Singapore.

An example of a facility that has seen good results with wards with fewer beds is the Peacehaven Nursing Home run by the Salvation Army. The nursing home has had a facility specifically for the elderly with dementia since 2006, and patients live in single to four-bedded rooms. 

The home said that compared to their other residents in six-bedded wards the conditions of patients in these wards deteriorated at a slower rate. Executive director of the nursing home, Low Mui Liang, noted: “You do not see them lying down in bed like you would see in a hospital setting. With them having to do their own things, you get them walking and attending to their own needs rather than the staff having to attend to them.”

The study comes after plans to replicate this success with a 60-bed, S$ 15 million home in Changi came to a halt last year when it failed to secure government subsidies.

Jade Circle Nursing Home, jointly developed by Peacehaven, the Lien Foundation and Khoo Chwee Neo Foundation, had estimated fees of between S$ 2,800 and S$ 3,500 per month before means testing.

The Health Ministry had said there was a need to ensure the long-term sustainability of such care models and instead offered to provide financial support if the home included rooms with four beds. It also said it was prepared to consider offering a “portable subsidy scheme”, under which the home would set aside a certain proportion of their beds for patients who met the means test criteria for Government subsidies.

According to the study commissioned to look into the costs of the new care model, nursing homes incur an average cost of S$ 106 per resident per day, excluding government subsidies and grants.

It would cost just an additional S$ 8 to S$ 13 per resident per day for the elderly in Singapore to have the option of single or twin-bedded rooms, and S$ 19 million more or 0.2 per cent of the Health Ministry’s 2016 healthcare expenditure of S$ 11 billion each year, the study found.

Oliver Wyman partner and head of health and life sciences Jeremy Lim said a single room in a private nursing home could cost thousands of dollars a month.

Compared to the current estimated costs of S$ 106 a day, the care model proposed by Lien Foundation with single or twin-bedded rooms would have costs of about S$ 114 to S$ 119, according to the study’s estimates.

“It is not a significant rise,” Mr Lim said, “And there will be cost savings downstream but these cost savings will be difficult to currently quantify.”

The team behind the report added that cost savings would also be generated through lower hospitalisation rates as the proposed living arrangement would ensure the elderly had opportunities to be more mobile.

In response to media queries, the Health Ministry said it recognised the privacy single-bedded rooms offered but such efforts had to be sustainable and affordable. It added that it would study the report carefully and hoped to discuss the findings with the Lien Foundation.

The foundation is also gathering views from the public on the type of eldercare services they would like to see in the future. The online survey will be open from Thursday to Aug 18.

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Pakistan police investigate 'honour' killing of British woman

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani police are investigating after a British man claimed his wife had been murdered in a so-called “honour” killing, ten days after the death of a social media star cast a spotlight on the practice.

Mukhtar Kazam registered a complaint with police in Punjab province claiming his wife, 28-year-old Samia Shahid, was murdered in her family’s village while visiting them.

The couple, both British-Pakistani dual citizens, had been married for two years and were living in Dubai, police told AFP, adding that it was Shahid’s second marriage.

“Her parents did not approve,” local police official Aqeel Abbas said, citing Kazam’s complaint.

He said Shahid was visiting her family’s village Pindori in Punjab’s Jehlum district.

“She was killed on July 20. She has been killed for honour,” Abbas said, quoting the complaint.

Officers are now waiting for a post-mortem report, he said, without specifying how Shahid’s husband alleged she was murdered.

In his own statement to police, Shahid’s father denied any charges that his daughter was killed for “honour”, adding that he did not want an investigation as she had died of natural causes.

“Honour” killings – a custom in which a relative is killed by another for bringing the family dishonour – are a near daily occurrence in Pakistan. The victims are overwhelmingly women, with hundreds killed each year.

Earlier this month the murder of social media star Qandeel Baloch by her brother, who said it was for “honour”, provoked international shock and revulsion.

The killing polarised Pakistan and appears to have spurred politicians to take action. Last week the law minister announced that bills aimed at tackling loopholes that facilitate “honour” killings would soon be voted on by parliament.

Rights groups and politicians have for years called for tougher laws to tackle perpetrators of violence against women in Pakistan.

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More businesses putting staff on dementia-awareness training

Organisations like DBS, SMRT, McDonald’s, and Sheng Siong Supermarket are training frontline staff to resolve situations arising from persons with dementia.

SINGAPORE: More businesses – from banks to fast food restaurants and public transport providers – are training frontline staff to deal with customers with dementia.

According to Forget Us Not (FUN), a joint initiative by the Lien Foundation and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital which provides dementia-awareness training, close to 10,000 individuals across 32 organisations have been trained so far.

“We are very encouraged by the response,” said Ivan Loh, FUN’s campaign administrator, adding that the programme was only launched this January.

FUN says this training is important in a rapidly ageing society like Singapore. According to a recent study by the Institute of Mental Health, one in every 10 persons above 60 has dementia. The study also found that there are 45,000 persons with dementia in Singapore, and this is expected to go up to 103,000 by 2030.

COPING WITH ELDERLY CUSTOMERS

Organisations like DBS count many elderly people among its customers, the majority of whom prefer performing to carry out banking transactions in person, at the bank branches. This is why 110 of the bank’s branch managers have undergone training by FUN, and have in turn, trained more than 1,000 of their frontline staff.

“The training equips our branch staff with the knowledge to engage properly with customers who display signs of dementia. They are trained to take extra care and patience with customers who may have dementia, and to always show respect and provide reassurance if the customer is struggling,” said Ms Susan Cheong, Head of POSB.

Besides spotting and assisting elderly customers with dementia, DBS also has staff stationed at bank branches to help walk-in customers with banking transactions. If needed, they also show the customers how they can carry out some transactions from home – using mobile and internet banking.

Kina Neo, a branch manager with POSB, said she has so far not encountered difficult situations involving customers with dementia. But she was has been trained to look out for tell-tale signs in people, some of which include repetitive actions that appear purposeless and speaking incoherently.

“As long as we see this kind of behaviour, we’ll bring them to a quiet place. Then we’ll talk to them in a more friendly and caring tone,” said Ms Neo.

“Most of it – it’s obviously memory issues, going into a shop and forgetting things, or for example, going into a shop, taking out something, and forgetting to pay. Some other tell-tale signs would be for example, looking confused in an environment which is unfamiliar,” added Mr Loh.

While there are other organisations in Singapore with dementia-related outreach efforts, FUN says it is probably the only one involved in training businesses to resolve situations arising from persons with dementia. Apart from DBS, organisations like SMRT, McDonald’s, Sheng Siong Supermarket, and Yishun North Neighbourhood Police Centre have also joined the training initiative.

FUN told Channel NewsAsia that its goal is to help foster a supportive dementia-friendly community, so that a significant number of persons with dementia will be able to avoid institutionalisation and live in their own homes. Such communities have been successfully piloted in the UK, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia.

“DEMENTIA IS NOT PART OF NORMAL AGEING”

Besides being friendly and sensitive towards people with dementia, geriatricians like Dr Carol Tan say it is equally, if not more important to investigate and treat symptoms of dementia, like forgetfulness and confusion.

Treatment, or attempts to reverse the onset of dementia, may be neglected because there is a widespread misconception that dementia is a normal part of ageing, she said.

“Dementia is not part of the normal ageing process – we need to get this straight. In my practice, out of a hundred people who come to see me for confusion, perhaps only less than 5 per cent are the true Alzheimer’s type, with no cure. The reality is 90 out of the 100 – there is a lot that we can do, to improve their memory. The sad part about it is 30 out of that 100 – nobody ever looked and asked,” said Dr Tan, who is the executive chairman and founder of The Good Life Co-operative.

According to Dr Tan, dementia-like symptoms can set in due to medication many seniors take for chronic diseases like diabetes. Many of these dementia cases are reversible and can be prevented with a change in medication or dosage. 

“Once you make a diagnosis of dementia, you are literally condemning someone for the rest of their lives. Nobody wants to go into a nursing home, nobody wants to forget things. It is our duty and responsibility to raise awareness, to give them hope that it doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do, and that first we must search for all the reversible causes.”

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NUS investigating reports of inappropriate orientation activities

SINGAPORE: The National University of Singapore (NUS) is investigating reports of inappropriate orientation activities and will take strong disciplinary action against those found responsible, it said in a statement on Tuesday (Jul 26).

The New Paper on Tuesday reported that freshmen were asked questions which touched on taboo subjects, such as what bodily fluids they like to consume, and some were asked to re-enact a rape scene.

NUS said it expects that “orientation activities are carried out in ways that are fully respectful of the dignity of all those participating, regardless of gender”.

“We do not condone any behaviour or activity that denigrates the dignity of individuals, and that has sexual connotations. Our students, particularly freshmen, must feel safe and secure at all times during orientation. If they decide to opt out of an activity, their wishes must be respected,” NUS said. 

It added that the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) had conducted sessions with students involved in organising and leading orientation activities before the start of the orientation period. During these sessions, do’s and don’ts of orientation, as well as banned activities were meted out, NUS said. 

“Students were also made aware that strong disciplinary actions will be taken against offenders. In addition, all proposed orientation programmes and activities had to be endorsed and cleared by the relevant supervisors, such as Hall Masters and Vice Deans, as well as OSA, before they could proceed. Students were asked to remove inappropriate activities,” the statement said. 

NUS added that separately, OSA had worked with the Deaneries in Faculties, and the Masters of Halls and Residential Colleges on the necessary steps needed to ensure all planned student orientation activities would be acceptable. 

“We are very disappointed that despite these efforts, instances of offensive and completely inappropriate orientation activities that were not submitted nor endorsed have surfaced,” NUS said. “OSA has met with the student leaders of the ongoing and remaining camps, and briefed them on the guidelines for acceptable orientation activities. NUS staff will also be on site at these camps.”

It added that any student who has concerns about the activities carried out at orientation can contact the NUS Office of Student Affairs at osabox15@nus.edu.sg on a strictly confidential basis. 

Feedback about overly sexualised orientation programmes had also been posted on the NUSWhispers Facebook page. OSA responded to this on Jul 21, saying it has taken note of the concerns raised and is working with faculties to find out more. 

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Apple weathers anti-US demo in China, where patriotic protests snowball

HONG KONG: Apple Inc found itself on the receiving end of a small, short-lived anti-U.S. protest this week in China, the tech firm’s biggest overseas market and a country where foreign firms have suffered damaging boycotts following international spats.

A handful of unofficial Apple stores were picketed and social media users encouraged each other to destroy their Apple goods, in a rare instance of the tech firm being targeted as a symbol of perceived injustice following an international ruling against Chinese territorial claims.

Though the protest was small, observers have expressed concern about the impact on Apple in the long term, citing the roughly year-long slump in sales of Japanese cars after a diplomatic dispute that prompted large protests and boycotts.

“There’s not much Apple or any other foreign firm can do to prevent such patriotic protests,” said analyst Nicole Peng at researcher Canalys, who sees no impact to Apple’s sales from the recent protest. “These incidents happen every few years.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

China is the world’s biggest smartphone market and Apple is increasingly reliant on its growing middle class as it competes with domestic makers of cheaper phones such as Xiaomi Inc and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd , in a climate of weakening consumer spending and slowing economic growth.

Adding to Apple’s challenges are brushes with regulators. Its online book and film service was blocked earlier this year, and last month its iPhone designs were ruled to have infringed a local firm’s patent.

Apple’s sales in China fell around 25 percent in January-March from the same period a year prior. On Tuesday, it is scheduled to announce April-June earnings that are widely expected to be lackluster due to a dearth of product launches.

SHALLOW PROTEST

Apple was targeted in the latest protest by virtue of its country of origin, which in turn was regarded as the root of a perceived affront.

Earlier this month, The Hague said it found no legal basis for China’s claim to most of the South China Sea, prompting local media to call the Court a “puppet” of external forces, and accuse the United States of turning the Philippines – which filed the case – against China.

About a week later, on Tuesday, over 100 protesters picketed four unofficial Apple dealers in Suining in the eastern province of Jiangsu for about three hours, urging customers not to buy the genuine Apple goods on sale.

“They chanted, ‘boycott American products and kick iPhones out of China,'” store owner Zhu Yawei told Reuters. “But nothing really happened: no fights, no smashing.”

A video of the protest went viral on Chinese social media, with anti-Apple comments flooding microblogging site Weibo and pictures of what users described as their smashed iPhones – a luxury product in China widely considered a status symbol.

However, among the vitriol was just as much support, with state-controlled media also calling for restraint.

“It’s cheap nationalism and outright stupidity,” said Shan Mimi, a 23-year-old assistant at a Shanghai law firm. “But if you were to offer me an (upcoming) iPhone 7, then I would gladly smash my iPhone 6!”

One young Chinese woman on Weibo said she had smashed her iPhone, accompanying her comment with a photo of a damaged handset. She later told Reuters she had lied.

“I didn’t smash my iPhone. All I did was find a photo (of a smashed handset) on the internet and let off some steam,” said the 21-year-old, calling herself L-Tin. “Boycotting Apple would only make Chinese people lose their jobs – many work for Apple.”

(Reporting by Sharon Shi and Lindsy Long; Writing by Yimou Lee; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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