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Duty-free space at HarbourFront, Tanah Merah ferry terminals expanded

SINGAPORE: Travellers passing through HarbourFront and Tanah Merah ferry terminals will soon be able to enjoy a more integrated duty-free shopping experience in a larger retail space, with new brands and services on offer, the Singapore Cruise Centre (SCC) said on Thursday (Dec 22). 

It has reconfigured and expanded the retail space at the arrival and departure areas of the two terminals to about 6,000 sq ft. 

The duty-free shops will be run by luxury travel retailer DFS Group, which has been awarded the master contract that will commence on Apr 1, announced SCC.

This is the first time that SCC is consolidating several separate contracts for existing duty-free concessions across six categories – including liquor and tobacco, perfumes and cosmetics, fashion and travel accessories and confectionery concession – into a single contract.

Currently, DFS Group operates two duty-free shops in each of the two terminals while Heinemann Asia Pacific runs one store at HarbourFront and two at Tanah Merah. 

Under the new master contract, DFS will operate all seven stores for the next five years, with a two-year extension option.

A single duty-free operator would be able to “maximise space productivity by offering an optimal mix of merchandise to meet customers’ needs, focusing on categories with higher yield, as well as enjoying economies of scale from lower cost with a wider range of offerings”, said the cruise centre.

It added that the revamped duty-free stores – with designs inspired by the traditional seafront buildings nestled among Singapore’s coastline – will offer unique products from more than 150 brands, food and whiskey tasting stations, and new e-commerce, collection and home delivery platforms.

SCC said that some of the stores would open in April, although it declined to give specific dates. 

The HarbourFront and Tanah Merah terminals serve 6.3 million ferry passengers and 560,000 cruise passengers annually, according to the SCC.

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Alert on 3 health products found to contain undeclared potent substances: HSA

SINGAPORE: The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) issued an alert on Thursday (Dec 22) on three health products which have caused serious adverse reactions, and in one case, resulted in a woman being hospitalised. The products were found to contain undeclared potent substances, including sibutramine, which is banned.

One of the products is called Ananda Thukha Remedy for Diabetes. A woman in her 60s took it and ended up with agranulocytosis, a serious blood disorder in which a patient has a low white blood cell count and is prone to falling ill from infections. She was hospitalised for almost two weeks.

The woman had bought the product from a shop in Peninsula Plaza after her friend recommended it. HSA has seized the product from the retail store for further investigations.

Ananda Thukha Remedy for Diabetes. (Photo: HSA)

Another product called 1 Day Diet was touted as a “100% pure natural” slimming product with “quick effect” and “no side effect”.

However, a healthy woman in her 30s who purchased the product online had experienced breathing difficulties, an increased heart rate and excessive sweating of palms after taking the capsules for less than two weeks.

HSA said this was due to the ingredient sibutramine, which has been disallowed for sale in Singapore since 2010 due to “serious safety concerns”. The use of sibutramine may cause serious adverse effects like high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, hallucinations and mood swings.

1 Day Diet. (Photo: HSA)

HSA is also warning members of the public against Bee Brand Qi Li Xiang, supposedly for body aches. But a man in his 50s, who took the product for about a month, ended up with low blood pressure and low levels of the hormone cortisol – symptoms typically associated with steroid consumption, and if left untreated, could lead to serious health complications.

HSA added that Bee Brand Qi Li Xiang contained dexamethasone, which could cause high blood pressure, cataracts, increase risk of infections and Cushing’s syndrome if taken over a long term without medical supervision.

Bee Brand Qi Li Xiang’s inner packaging. (Photo: HSA)

Associate Professor Chan Cheng Leng, acting group director of the Health Products Regulation Group at HSA, said: “Consumers need to be wary of complementary health products that offer quick cures and relief of chronic illnesses. Do not be enticed by their false promises as they may contain undeclared potent ingredients that can pose serious health risks.” 

The authority added that members of the public should exercise caution when purchasing health products online, or from other unfamiliar sources, even if it is from friends of family who meant well.

As for retailers, those caught selling illegal health products could be prosecuted under the Health Products Act, Poisons Act and/or Medicines Act. Under the Health Products Act, for instance, offenders could face a fine of up to S$ 100,000, up to three years’ jail or both.

HSA also urged members of the public who have information on the sale or supply of illegal products to contact its enforcement branch at 6866-3485, or email hsa_is@hsa.gov.sg.

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Thousands of Fijians shelter in evacuation centres from floods, landslides

SYDNEY: Thousands of Fijians sheltered in evacuation centres and tents on Tuesday as heavy rain and floods cut roads, covered sugarcane fields and caused landslides, said the South Pacific nation’s disaster office.

Across the archipelago nation 1,716 people sought refuge in 46 evacuation centres and another 1,817 were living in tents, said the national disaster management office director, Akapusi Tuifagalele, in a video statement posted on the Fijian government’s YouTube account.

“There are no reports of fatalities or serious injuries,” he said, but added that the township of Rakiraki, in the north of the country’s largest island, had suffered major flooding and that many roads and fields were under water nationwide.

The main road joining the capital, Suva, with Fiji’s international airport at Nadi, was cut by floodwaters a spokeswoman at Suva police station told Reuters.

Another video posted Tuesday showed Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama visiting the Navua district in the east of Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu.

“To those suffering in the aftermath of the recent TD04, I want to assure all of you that my Government is working overtime to reach you,” he said on Twitter, referring to the storm by the number it was assigned by Fiji’s weather bureau.

Fiji’s Meteorological Service said in a bulletin that the tropical depression driving the rain was now weakening.

The worst-hit areas in western Fiji were still recovering from February’s devastating Cyclone Winston, aid worker Peter Egesa, CARE Australia’s emergency response manager.

Winston was the worst storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere. It killed 43 people in Fiji and left tens of thousands of people homeless.

Cyclones typically sweep through the tropical Pacific between November and April, with the peak season between January and March. This season Fiji’s weather bureau expects “elevated” cyclone activity in the region, and predicts three cyclones to hit the archipelago.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Singapore shocked by 'vicious attack' on Berlin Christmas market: MFA

SINGAPORE: Singapore is “shocked” by a possible terror attack at a busy Christmas market in central Berlin on Monday (Dec 20), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said on Tuesday.

A truck ploughed into the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in the German capital, killing at least 12 people and injuring 48 more. 

MFA said in a statement that Singapore is “shocked by what appears to be a vicious attack”.

“We express our deepest condolences to the bereaved families, and wish the injured a speedy recovery. We also express our solidarity with the people of Germany during this period of grief.”

A REMINDER OF “CONSTANT NEED FOR VIGILANCE”: NG ENG HEN

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said he had written to his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen to express his condolences.

Dr Ng said he had met Dr Von der Leyen at a dialogue in Bahrain a week ago, where they spoke on a panel on the impact of terrorism beyond the Middle East. Both ministers had called for joint collaboration and efforts to deal with the threat of terrorism.

“Investigations are ongoing to determine the cause of the crash in this tragedy, but each time such episodes occur, they remind us of the constant need for vigilance and that no place is safe until the source of exported terrorism is stopped,” he wrote in the post.

NO REPORTS OF SINGAPOREANS AFFECTED

According to MFA, the Singapore Embassy in Berlin has contacted registered Singaporeans in Berlin and is also in close contact with the local German authorities to ascertain whether there are any Singaporeans affected by the incident.

There are no reports of any Singaporeans directly affected or injured by the incident so far, it added.

The ministry advised Singaporeans in Germany to monitor the local news closely and heed the instructions of local authorities, as well as to register with MFA if they have not done so. 

It added that Singaporeans should be vigilant and take the necessary precautions such as avoiding crowded places, especially the incident site near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and alert family and friends to their safety.

Singaporeans who require urgent consular assistance should contact the Singapore Embassy in Berlin at +49 30 2263430 / +49 152 2341 2182 or by emailing singemb_ber@mfa.sg. They can also call the 24-hour MFA duty office at +65 6379 8800/8855 or email mfa_duty_officer@mfa.gov.sg

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China to return seized US drone, says Washington 'hyping up' incident

BEIJING/WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.: China will return an underwater U.S. drone seized by a naval vessel this week in the South China Sea, both countries said on Saturday, but Beijing complained that Washington had been “hyping up” the incident.

The drone, known as an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), was taken on Thursday, the first seizure of its kind in recent memory. The Pentagon went public with its complaint after the action and said on Saturday it had secured a deal to get the drone back.

“Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.

The incident drew criticism from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to take a more aggressive approach in dealing with Beijing.

The drone, which the Pentagon said was operating lawfully and was clearly marked as U.S. property, was collecting data about the salinity, temperature and clarity of the water about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, off the Philippines.

It was seized on Thursday just as the USNS Bowditch was about to retrieve it, U.S. officials said.

The Defence Ministry said a Chinese naval vessel discovered a piece of “unidentified equipment,” and checked it to prevent any navigational safety issues before discovering it was a U.S. drone.

“China decided to return it to the U.S. side in an appropriate manner, and China and the U.S. have all along been in communication about it,” the ministry said on its website.

“During this process, the U.S. side’s unilateral and open hyping up is inappropriate, and is not beneficial to the smooth resolution of this issue. We express regret at this,” it added.

Trump, a Republican who takes office on Jan. 20, waded into the dispute on Twitter on Saturday.

“China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act,” Trump said in a tweet early on Saturday from his seaside resort club Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, where he plans to spend the holidays.

HEIGHTENED CONCERNS

The drone incident has raised fresh concerns about China’s increased military presence and aggressive posture in the disputed South China Sea, including its militarization of maritime outposts.

New satellite imagery shows China has installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea, a U.S. research group said this week.

Without directly saying whether the drone was operating in waters Beijing considers its own, China’s Defence Ministry said U.S. ships and aircraft have for a long period been carrying out surveillance and surveys in “the presence” of Chinese waters.

“China is resolutely opposed to this, and demands the U.S. stops this kind of activity,” it said.

China will remain on alert for these sorts of activities and take necessary steps to deal with them, the ministry said without elaborating.

The Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, earlier cited an unidentified Chinese source as saying they believed the issue would be resolved smoothly.

Trump has previously complained about the South China Sea build-up. He has threatened to declare China a currency manipulator and force changes in U.S.-Chinese trade policy, which he says has led to the greatest theft of American jobs in history.

Trump has also raised questions about whether Washington would stick to its nearly four-decades-old policy of recognising that Taiwan is part of “one China.”

He irked Beijing by taking a congratulatory phone call from President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan after his Nov. 8 election victory. China lodged a diplomatic protest.

The 10-minute telephone call was the first of its kind since U.S. President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China.”

President Barack Obama said on Friday it was fine for Trump to review Washington’s policy toward Taiwan, but he cautioned that a shift could lead to significant consequences in the U.S. relationship with Beijing.

After China said it would return the drone, Jason Miller, a spokesman for Trump, tweeted a link to a news story, saying: “@realdonaldtrump gets it done.”

There was, however, no evidence that Trump had played any role. U.S. officials said the negotiations took place in Beijing during the overnight hours in the United States.

Miller did not respond to requests for comment.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Jonathan Landay in Washington, Josephine Mason and Meng Meng in Beijing; editing by Ian Geoghegan, G Crosse)

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Competition watchdog accepts capacity commitments by SIA, Lufthansa in proposed joint venture

SINGAPORE: The Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) on Monday (Dec 12) said it has accepted voluntary commitments from Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Deutsche Lufthansa, in clearing their proposed joint venture. 

The joint venture involves co-operation between SIA and Lufthansa regarding scheduled air passenger services between some European countries – specifically Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium – and Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia in Asia-Pacific.

These commitments include:

  • Maintaining seat capacity levels on the Singapore-Frankfurt and Singapore-Zurich routes at levels that existed prior to the proposed joint venture;
  • Increasing seat capacity on the Singapore-Zurich and Singapore-Frankfurt routes by an additional specified number of seats by a certain date;
  • Carrying a minimum number of Singapore passengers on the Singapore-Frankurt and Singapore-Zurich routes in each calendar year; and 
  • Appointing and independent auditor to monitor compliance with the voluntary commitments and report periodically to CCS.

CCS had sought public feedback in April this year after receiving a notification of the proposed joint venture on Feb 5, 2016, in line with what competition commissions in other countries do in such cases.

With these commitments, CCS said it is of the view that the competition concerns that were previously identified on these routes will be addressed, and that the proposed joint venture will result in economic benefits to Singapore. 

“In particular, the commitments would ensure an increase in capacity and frequency on flights between the Singapore–Frankfurt and Singapore–Zurich routes, and would lead to increased passenger numbers and tourists to Singapore, and accordingly benefit Singapore’s economy,” CCS said. 

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425 cadets commissioned as SAF officers

SINGAPORE: A total of 425 officer cadets of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) were commissioned as officers on Saturday (Dec 17). It is the culmination of 38 weeks of rigorous training at the Officer Cadet School.

The commissioning parade at the SAFTI Military Institute was reviewed by President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

In his speech, he noted the unconventional security challenges of today, such as extremist ideologies, terrorism, piracy and pandemics. “In particular, terrorism as a menace is clear and present in Singapore. Perpetrators have proven capable of executing attacks anywhere, anytime, and even under heightened security,” said Dr Tan.

Against this backdrop, he reminded the officer cadets to remain vigilant and alert to protect loved ones.

“It is a daunting task, but you will have the support of decades of foresight, preparation and wisdom of leaders who have walked before you,” said the President. 

He encouraged the newly minted officers to be good role models as they take on leadership roles and to be the inspiration for future leaders and soldiers of the SAF. “Defence is a mantle that we must pass down from generation to generation, to ensure that Singapore’s future is secure and prosperous,” he said.

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Analysts slash Singapore growth forecast in 2016 to 1.4%: MAS survey

SINGAPORE: Analysts have slashed their growth forecast for Singapore’s economy for 2016 to 1.4 per cent from 1.8 per cent – the third time this year they have cut their forecast, according to a quarterly survey released by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on Wednesday (Dec 14).

While in line with the Government’s forecast of 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent growth, it would be Singapore’s weakest annual growth since 2009.

The economy expanded by 1.1 per cent in the third quarter, lower than the median forecast of 1.7 per cent by analysts in the September survey. For the fourth quarter of 2016, the economists said they expect the economy to expand by 0.8 per cent.

The analysts also cut their growth forecast for 2017, lowering it to 1.5 per cent from an earlier prediction of 1.8 per cent. 

The manufacturing sector is now expected to expand by 0.8 per cent this year, up slightly from 0.7 per cent in the previous survey. The accommodation and food services industry is expected to grow 1.9 per cent, up from 1.4 per cent.

Analysts were less upbeat about other major sectors. The wholesale and retail trade industry is now expected to expand 0.1 per cent this year, down from 2.1 per cent. The growth forecast for the finance and insurance industry was also cut to 0.5 per cent from 2 per cent, while the forecast for the construction sector was cut to a 2.3 per cent growth from 3 per cent.

INFLATION FORECAST UNCHANGED

Inflation for the year is expected to come in at -0.5 per cent, unchanged from the analysts’ forecast in the previous survey. For the fourth quarter of 2016, inflation is expected to be zero per cent.

Core inflation – which excludes accommodation and car prices – is expected to be 0.9 per cent, slightly down from 1 per cent predicted in the previous survey.

Headline inflation for next year is likely to be 1 per cent, unchanged from the previous survey, while MAS core inflation is expected to be 1.3 per cent, down slightly from the earlier forecast of 1.4 per cent.

Looking ahead, economists said they expect the unemployment rate to be 2.1 per cent at year-end, down from the 2.2 per cent in September’s prediction.

The MAS Survey of Professional Forecasters is conducted every quarter after the release of detailed economic data for the preceding three months. The median forecasts in the latest report were based on the estimates of 22 economists and analysts, MAS said. 

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'I like to keep things fresh': Taufik Batisah on evolving as an artiste

SINGAPORE: It has been more than 12 years since Taufik Batisah became a household name across the country, but the 2004 Singapore Idol winner is still a big feature in the local entertainment scene.

The 35-year-old first made a name for himself as a musician, but is now keen to exercise his acting chops once more. 

He will be starring in Mediacorp’s Channel 5 weekly drama series Tanglin from Dec 30, and sees this as an opportunity to grow.

“I like to keep things fresh for the audience so that they look at me in a different light, and they won’t get jaded of hearing me just singing,” he told Channel NewsAsia in an interview. “I want to explore my options and see how it goes.”

The last time Taufik featured in an English TV drama series was when he starred in the 2005 show Shooting Stars, alongside Singapore Idol co-stars Sylvester Sim and Olinda Cho.

While he has made his big screen debut in Malaysian films Soulmate and Dukun Doktor Dani, Taufik is “privileged” for this chance to act in English TV dramas again. 

“The beauty of doing a drama is you have the time to develop your character and if you do something badly, you can figure out and you can improve along the way. So today you might have not done so well in the scene, but then you have the space to improve tomorrow, or the next week when you shoot again,” he said.

“But for film, it’s like you’re stuck. You have to do it to deliver, and if you don’t deliver during that time, you’re going to look bad on-screen. The good thing about drama which I like is that I get to practise and hopefully I can develop my acting chops over time.” 

In Tanglin, Taufik plays Khairul, a charismatic, charming businessman who can be scheming and unscrupulous when it comes to work and love pursuits.

Despite describing Khairul as a “nonchalant douche” who “doesn’t have a filter”, Taufik admits that there are other aspects of his reel life character’s behaviour that mirrors his. 

“In terms of getting work done, I too am a little bit ruthless,” Taufik explained. “When it comes to my music and entertainment, I am my harshest critic. Even if someone else thinks the work is good, and I don’t think it is, I will figure things out to improve.”

A familiar face within the cast of Tanglin is seasoned actress Masturah Ahmad, who plays a motherly figure to Taufik in both TV dramas he has been involved in – Tanglin and Shooting Stars. He will also be working alongside Nathaniel Ho, who was a fellow contestant during Singapore Idol.

And Taufik has nothing but praise for his co-stars.

“It’s been great, the cast and production team, they’re all so cool. Very helpful and welcoming. That’s a privilege because they’re already been many episodes in and I’m relatively new.”

CONCERT IN THE WORKS?

Besides honing his acting skills, Taufik continues to work on his singing career. Time and schedule permitting, he hopes to organise a concert for his fans in 2017.

In the more immediate future, Taufik will be part of Singapore’s largest countdown street party on New Year’s eve, which will be held at Suntec City’s Fountain of Wealth on Dec 31. 

Taufik will return to perform in this year’s New Year’s eve celebrations. (Photo: Sherlyn Goh) 

Taufik will be doing a collaboration with DJ Rave Republic, with whom he plans to do a remix of a song.  “It’s going to be a huge party. This is a free concert, the acts are done by familiar faces,” he added.

The party focuses on local talents such as Gentle Bones, Shigga Shay, Tay Kewei and Najib Ali.

“We just want everybody to come down and have fun with us,” said Taufik. “I am excited to see how the stage and the setup is gonna be at the fountain itself.”

Taufik’s debut appearance on Tanglin will be on Dec 30, at 8.30pm on Channel 5. 

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