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Myanmar's Suu Kyi breaks silence on killing of top lawyer

YANGON: Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has broken a month long silence on the daylight assassination of her advisor, calling his killing a “great loss” for the country’s democracy struggle.

Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer and critic of Myanmar’s powerful military, was shot dead on 29 January outside Yangon airport in a murder that sent shockwaves through the country’s young civilian government.

A taxi driver, Ne Win, was also killed trying to stop the gunman who was arrested. Authorities say he was hired by a former military officer now on the run.

Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party branded the killing a political assassination and “terrorist act” against their policies.

But Suu Kyi, a close friend of Ko Ni, remained silent in the wake of the incident.

On Sunday she made a rare public appearance at a memorial service organised by her party for the two victims.

“Losing U Ko Ni is a great loss for our NLD. He worked together with us for many years through his beliefs,” she told a packed hall in Yangon, describing both he and the taxi driver as “martyrs”.

A constitutional expert, Ko Ni was a prominent critic of the military’s continued political influence including their control of key security ministries and guaranteed seats in parliament, something the NLD hopes to one day overturn.

He also condemned the increasing Islamophobia that has swept through the nation in recent years, stirred up by hardline Buddhist nationalists.

That Suu Kyi said so little about the killing surprised some observers, but since her government took power last May after years of army-led rule, her administration has taken on something of a bunker mentality.

Suu Kyi rarely gives policy speeches, releases statements or holds press conferences.

Her young administration has had to deal with both soaring expectations of the electorate and a series of crises.

Some of the worst fighting in decades has broken out between the military and ethnic rebels, hampering her dream of forging a nationwide ceasefire.

Meanwhile the UN says security forces “very likely” committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing towards the Muslim Rohingya minority in a security crackdown last year.

Suu Kyi has defended the military’s Rohingya crackdown, much to the dismay of many of Myanmar’s western allies, who saw the country’s transition from dictatorship to quasi-democracy as a rare success after the failures of the Arab Spring.

At the memorial, Suu Kyi stayed clear of politics but she did appeal for patience, arguing her government has only been in power for 10 months after decades of junta rule.

“Our citizens who have been struggling hard for many decades may think it’s a very long time. But for the history of a country, for the history of a government, 10 months or one year is not much. This is just a short period,” she said.

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Singapore's manufacturing output up 2.2% in January

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s manufacturing output in January rose 2.2 per cent from a year ago, on the back of strong growth in the precision engineering and electronics clusters.

Excluding the more volatile biomedical manufacturing, output grew 7 per cent, according to data released on Friday (Feb 24) by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).

On a month-on-month seasonally-adjusted basis, industrial production fell 6 per cent in January, it added. 

Output of the precision engineering sector grew 24 per cent on-year last month, with the machinery and systems segment posting 40.3 per cent growth mainly due to higher export demand for semiconductor-related equipment, EDB said. 

The output of the electronics sector also climbed 14.8 per cent over the same period, with the semiconductors and computer peripherals segments growing 25.8 per cent and 3.7 per cent respectively. However, the other segments registered declines, the agency said.

The chemicals cluster’s output grew 3.5 per cent year-on-year last month, and the growth was led by the petroleum (20.7 per cent) and petrochemicals (17.4 per cent) segments due in part to the low base last year when there were some plant maintenance shutdowns. 

Additionally, declines were seen in the transport engineering (3.8 per cent), biomedical (13.5 per cent) and general manufacturing industries (13.8 per cent) clusters, EDB figures showed. 

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Malaysia rolls out red carpet as Saudi king kicks off Asia tour

KUALA LUMPUR/DUBAI: Malaysia welcomed Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday for the start of a rare, month-long Asian tour, where the monarch will build ties and seek to draw more investments to the oil-rich gulf nation.

The visit is the first by a Saudi king to Malaysia in more than a decade, as the Arab nation courts Asian investors for the sale of a 5 percent stake in state firm Aramco in 2018, expected to be the world’s biggest IPO.

Malaysian state television on Sunday showed live footage of the octogenarian king descending from his plane on an escalator flown in with his delegation. He was received by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak before being whisked away in a heavily guarded convoy for a state ceremony at Malaysia’s parliament grounds.

The leader was greeted in parliament with a 21-gun salute, local media reported.

King Salman also plans to visit Indonesia, Brunei, Japan, China, the Maldives and Jordan “to meet with the leaders of those countries to discuss bilateral relations and regional and international issues of common concern,” a royal court statement carried on Saudi Arabia’s state media SPA reported.

Government sources with knowledge of the visit said a 600-strong delegation will accompany the king on his four-day visit to Malaysia, where cooperation on energy developments will be on the agenda.

State oil firm Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) and Saudi Aramco will sign an agreement on Tuesday to collaborate in Malaysia’s Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) project, a boost for the Southeast Asian economy which has been reeling under weak global oil prices.

Relations between the two countries have been in the spotlight over the last two years after Saudi Arabia was dragged into a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal at Malaysian state fund 1MDB, founded by Najib.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing in the money-laundering case which is now being investigated by several countries including the U.S, Switzerland and Singapore.

A Malaysian government inquiry found that nearly US$ 700 million transferred to the Prime Minister’s bank account in 2013 was a donation from the Saudi royal family and most of it was returned.

The last time a Saudi king visited Malaysia was in 2006, when King Abdullah, King Salman’s half-brother and predecessor, flew in with a 300-member delegation.

“Saudi Arabian investment in Malaysia is expected to create thousands of jobs and we are proud that Malaysian firms have been chosen to undertake projects at some of the most prestigious locations in Saudi Arabia,” Najib said in a statement on Friday.

Besides travelling with his own private escalator, King Salman has also flown in two personal cars. His entourage has also completely booked out three luxury hotels in Kuala Lumpur for the duration of the visit.

After Malaysia, the King is expected to travel to Jakarta and Bali in Indonesia from March 1-9 with an even larger entourage of 1,500 people, followed by a trip to Japan from March 12 to 14, officials in those countries said.

King Salman is expected to spend the last two weeks of March on holiday in the Maldives, according to a Maldives diplomat. Local newspaper Mihaaru reported that three resorts have been reserved for his stay.

(Additional reporting by William Maclean in DUBAI; Editing by Praveen Menon and Lincoln Feast)

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China say North Korean issue fundamentally between US, North Korea

BEIJING: China on Friday dismissed renewed pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump over its role in North Korea, saying the crux of the matter was a dispute between Washington and Pyongyang.

Trump told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that China could solve the national security challenge posed by North Korea “very easily if they want to”, turning up pressure on Beijing to exert more influence to rein in Pyongyang’s increasingly bellicose actions.

China has made clear that it opposes North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and has repeatedly called for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and a return to negotiations between Pyongyang and world powers.

It has also insisted it is dedicated to enforcing U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

“We have said many times already that the crux of the North Korean nuclear issue is the problem between the United States and North Korea,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing, responding to Trump’s remarks.

“We hope the relevant parties can shoulder their responsibilities, play the role the should, and together with China play a constructive role for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and for its denuclearisation,” he added.

China announced on Saturday last week it was banning imports of coal from North Korea, after it tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile.

North Korean state media issued a rare reproach of China on Thursday saying its main diplomatic backer was “dancing to the tune” of the United States for halting its coal imports because of its nuclear and missile programmes.

The North’s state-run KCNA news agency did not refer directly to China by name but in an unmistakable censure it accused a “neighbouring country” of going along with North Korea’s enemies to “bring down its social system”.

Asked about the report, Geng said the U.N. sanctions were a clear signal of opposition from the international community about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and that China would enforce them.

However, he also described China and North Korea as being friendly neighbours.

“We are willing to work with North Korea to promote the stable and healthy development of relations,” Geng said, adding North Korea was well aware of China’s position on its nuclear programme.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Singapore dollar hits all-time high against Malaysian ringgit

SINGAPORE: The Singapore dollar hovered at an all-time high against the Malaysian ringgit on Friday (Feb 24), peaking at 3.1687 earlier in the day before easing back to 3.1643 in afternoon trade.

An outperformance of the Singapore currency, rather than a weakening in the ringgit, was behind the movements in the SGD/MYR, analysts told Channel NewsAsia.

Alongside broad-based strength in other Asian currencies such as the South Korean won and the Taiwan dollar, the Sing dollar edged up as overnight comments from US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pulled down the US dollar.

Speaking to CNBC in his first televised interview since taking office, Mnuchin said he wanted to see tax reform passed before Congress’ August recess, but later acknowledged on Fox Business Network that such a timeline was “very aggressive”. US president Donald Trump previously said he would announce a “phenomenal” plan by early March to cut business taxes.

“Overnight comments from Mnuchin seem to suggest that the tax reforms will only be read in August. If that’s the case, dollar strength will only come later,” said Mr Christopher Wong, senior FX strategist for Maybank.

“Even on Trump’s point of declaring China as a currency manipulator, Mnuchin said there’s no plan to do that so there seems to be a contradiction in there,” Mr Wong added. “This sets the stage for Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress on Feb 28, which markets will be keeping an eye on for more details of his tax reform and infrastructure plans.”

Little clarity on the US president’s proposed fiscal stimulus has reined in the US dollar’s rally since the start of the year, allowing Asian currencies to take a slight breather.

On Friday, even a below-par industrial production report failed to dampen the spirits of the Sing dollar, which was last seen at 1.4050 per US dollar in afternoon trade. Earlier in the day, the local dollar hit 1.4091 against the greenback, its highest since Nov 10.

“The outperformance of the Sing dollar occurred way before the data release but even that had little impact. Simply because the big swing this month in industrial production was due to the biomedical manufacturing, which is typically quite volatile,” Mr Wong said.

Amid expectations of further bouts of US dollar weakness, analysts expect the Sing dollar to continue outperforming.

“The narrative surrounding Trump and his agenda is fraying and that’s causing these movements. With a little bit of recovery in risk sentiment given the push back in moves that could inflate trade tensions, we see low-yielding currencies like the Sing dollar doing better,” said Mr Julian Wee, senior markets strategist for Asia at National Australia Bank.

On the other hand, the Malaysian ringgit will likely continue to underperform most of its Asian counterparts.

One reason for that is Bank Negara Malaysia’s (BNM) lack of adequate foreign exchange reserves to “smooth out the depreciation” of the currency amid a strong dollar environment, Mr Wee noted.

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Man injured after falling from height at Orchard Central

SINGAPORE: A young man was injured at Orchard Central on Friday afternoon (Feb 24), after he reportedly fell from a ledge on the fourth floor.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) confirmed that a man was sent to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.It added that it was alerted to the incident at about 4.05pm. 

Blood was seen on the ground and the man appeared to be unconscious, according to an eyewitness.

Blood seen on the ground where the man fell.

Hole on a fourth floor ledge where a man is said to have fallen from.

“A lot of people were trying to do CPR on him. They kept trying and trying for a good 15 minutes at least,” said Devi Rajaram who was at the scene. “He was just motionless.”

She added that there was “whitish” debris on the floor.

Another eyewitness, Mike Tan, told Channel NewsAsia that he was having coffee with a friend when they heard a scream and saw the man falling. He said he called for an ambulance at 4.02pm and was instructed to look for an automated external defibrillator. 

The SCDF said CPR was administered by its paramedics on the way to the hospital which was on standby to receive him.

The area on the ground floor where the man fell has been cordoned off and a link bridge on the fourth floor is now closed.

Link bridge leading to Orchard Gateway is closed.

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China reports more severe form of bird flu, threat to poultry: WHO

GENEVA: China has detected an evolution in the H7N9 avian flu virus that is capable of causing severe disease in poultry and requires close monitoring, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

Samples of the virus taken from two infected humans were injected into birds in a laboratory and became “highly pathogenic” for poultry, it said.

But that designation applies only to birds, not humans, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said, and there is “no evidence that the changes in the virus affect the virus’ ability to spread between humans.”

A total of 304 new laboratory-confirmed human infections were reported in mainland China between Jan. 19 and Feb. 14, along with 36 deaths, the WHO said in its latest update on Monday.

The evolution of the virus may mean that the disease will become more apparent in some flocks, if birds begin to die off, making detection and control easier.

“This is the first time these changes have been detected. These are the only two cases in Guangdong province, China. So far, there have been no reports if similar changes have occurred elsewhere,” Lindmeier said.

“It is a reminder that we have to keep looking closely,” he told Reuters.

Animal health experts say bird flu infection rates on Chinese poultry farms may be far higher than previously thought, because the strain of the deadly virus in humans is hard to detect in chickens and geese.

In all, since the “fifth wave” of the virus, first identified in 2013, began in October 2016, 425 human cases have been recorded in China, including 73 deaths officially reported by authorities, according to WHO figures.

“Most of these cases had known exposure to poultry or its environment, that is the main important link to this influenza type,” Lindmeier told a news briefing.

In all since 2013, there have been 1,200 laboratory-confirmed cases in China, including more than one-third since October, he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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Singapore, UK renew bilateral Economic and Business Partnership

SINGAPORE: Singapore and the United Kingdom on Tuesday (Feb 21) renewed the bilateral Economic and Business Partnership (EBP), the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) announced in a news release. 

This paves the way for greater economic cooperation and new business opportunities in both countries, said MTI.

The renewed partnership was signed by Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang and the UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, after their meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Mr Fox is in Singapore from Feb 20 to 22 on an official visit. 

Both sides affirmed the robust and multi-faceted bilateral relations between both countries, and discussed the strengthening of economic cooperation and trade links. 

“Against a backdrop of rising protectionist sentiments, Singapore and the UK, as like-minded and forward-looking partners, will stay the course on free and open trade.,” said Mr Lim. “We will work together to promote the development of an open global trading environment.”

The renewed EBP builds on the original agreement – signed in Oct 2011 – to facilitate regular and strategic dialogue at the senior officials’ level, MTI said. New areas of cooperation under the renewed partnership include collaborating on trade policy capacity-building initiatives, and establishing a working group to deepen trade and investment ties. 

The UK is Singapore’s fourth-largest European trading partner, with total bilateral trade valued at S$ 11.4 billion. Singapore is the UK’s largest trading and investment partner in ASEAN, and is a gateway to the region for many British businesses, according to MTI. 

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Targeted measures in Budget 2017 to help industries: Lawrence Wong

SINGAPORE: Budget 2017, announced on Monday (Feb 20) by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has a “very targeted approach” to helping industries, said Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong.

Speaking on the sidelines of a recording of the Singapore Budget Forum 2017 at Mediacorp on Tuesday, Mr Wong noted that the economy is still growing overall. “Last year’s growth was in fact better than 2015, and this year’s projection is that the economy will continue to grow by 1 to 3 per cent. We are not in a recession. Our economy is still growing, but we recognise that the growth is uneven and there are some sectors which are going through a down cycle. That’s why the measures are focused on these particular sectors like marine and process, offshore engineering including construction. And I believe the targeted measures will help these particular industries” he said.

Some trade associations such as the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry had expressed disappointment that the Budget did not have more near-term measures to help businesses in a challenging environment, but Mr Wong said across the board, the Government is continuing many of the short-term measures put in place to help businesses cope with rising costs. These include the Wage Credit Scheme, the Special Employment Credit – which it is enhancing – as well as the SME Working Capital Loan programme.

There were also concerns that changes to the diesel tax system and a 30 per cent hike in water prices announced in the Budget will impact the bottomline of firms, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Said Mr Wong: “We are mindful of the concerns that businesses have over costs. We have put in place broad-based measures which are continuing from before, as well as targeted measures for specific industries. And we will continue to monitor the environment and if there is a need to, we will see what more we can do to help businesses.”

Mr Wong clarified that a permanent 2 per cent cut in the budget caps of all ministries and organs of state announced in the Budget does not reflect a reduction in Government expenditure. Instead, the Government is better allocating resources to projects with higher priorities.

“What the 2 per cent cut does is, it takes resources from the cut in expenditure and it allocates them to areas of priority. So ministries that have projects that are of national importance or of priority to them, their projects will still be funded,” he said.

Catch the Singapore Budget Forum 2017 on Thursday at 8pm SG/HK on Channel NewsAsia and 9.30pm SG/HK on Channel 5.

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Vietnamese man believes sister held over North Korean murder

HANOI: A Vietnamese man said on Sunday (Feb 19) he believes his sister is one of the suspects arrested in Malaysia in connection with the murder of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Nam was assaulted at Kuala Lumpur International Airport with what was thought to be a fast-acting poison. Malaysian police have said that among those arrested was a woman with a Vietnamese travel document.

Vietnamese authorities have said only that they are investigating and are in touch with Malaysia.

Joseph Doan confirmed that his sister’s name was Doan Thi Huong and that she was born in 1988 in Nam Dinh province, southeast of the capital Hanoi. Those details are the same as those released by Malaysian police.

“We only hear on the Internet and everyone else hears on the Internet but judging from the picture it looks like her. I can’t be a 100 per cent certain because we haven’t met her yet,” he said in Nam Dinh.

The rice farmer said his sister appeared to be the woman whose image was captured in a grainy airport CCTV image wearing a white shirt with the acronym ‘LOL’ on it. He said Vietnamese authorities had been in touch and had been supportive.

Doan said his sister had left home when she was 18 and only came home occasionally and without letting anyone know when she would be back. “Whenever she comes home I can only tell her to study and work hard,” he said.

South Korean and US officials have said Kim Jong Nam was assassinated by North Korean agents.

Malaysian police said on Sunday that four North Korean suspects in the murder fled Malaysia on the day of the killing.

Malaysian police arrested a North Korean man on Friday in connection to the murder, while a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian woman have also been arrested. A Malaysian man is being detained to facilitate the investigation.

(Editing by Michael Perry)

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