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Japan to extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea

TOKYO: The Japanese government has decided to extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea by two years, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said on Friday.

Tokyo will continue its prohibition of all trade between Japan and North Korea and ban on all North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports, Kyodo News reported earlier.

North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, the latest it has test-fired in recent months.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

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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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Singapore urges ASEAN to stand firm against decriminalising drugs for medical use

SINGAPORE: The war against drugs in ASEAN was given a boost on Thursday morning (Oct 20) with the launch of a 10-year plan to combat drug abuse, as well as a message for the region to stand firm against legalising drugs.  

The ASEAN Work Plan on Securing Communities Against Illicit Drugs was officially adopted at the opening of the fifth ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters, held in Singapore.  

At the start of the two-day conference, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean highlighted the dangers of approving the use of certain drugs for medical reasons.  

Mr Teo said some counties have tried to “normalise and decriminalise drugs”. “We must guard against this as the consequences are serious,” he added.  

He also cited a recent report of how a children’s hospital in Colorado, United States, had seen a doubling of marijuana poisoning cases among children, two years after marijuana was legalised. Mr Teo urged fellow ASEAN countries to prepare for this global debate and push for a zero-tolerance approach and prevent harm from drug abuse.  

“As the global debate on drug matters intensifies, what we say as a region will matter,” he said.

Mr Teo also spelt out three areas where ASEAN can work on, to realise a drug-free ASEAN. They included boosting efforts to educate and protect the young from drugs, strengthening laws against drugs and syndicates as well as getting ASEAN to work more closely with one another.  

According to Mr Teo, one of the challenges that must be tackled by the region is the growing trend of buying drugs online. He cited the 2015 Global Drug Survey, which found one in 10 drug users had bought drugs online at least once – twice the number, as compared to those surveyed in 2013. 

Another concern is the presence of the Golden Triangle – lined by Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The Golden Triangle is one of the world’s busiest illegal drug-producing areas, occupying 22 per cent of the world’s land used for opium poppy cultivation, Mr Teo said.  

The 10-year work plan against drugs will be reviewed in 2020 and 2024, to ensure plans are up to date with the evolving nature of the drug problem. Singapore is also set to take visiting ASEAN officials on a trip on Friday to a local drug rehabilitation centre.

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Man arrested for using 'criminal force' against public servant after Eunos accident

SINGAPORE: A 38-year-old man has been arrested “for using criminal force against a public servant” following an accident at the junction of Eunos Link and Ubi Avenue 2 on Friday morning (Sep 23). 

Police said they were informed of the accident at about 7.30am, and the incident involved a bus and a car. No injuries were reported, and investigations into the cause of the accident, as well as the man’s actions against the public servant, are ongoing.

Police added that the man who was arrested was the driver of the car. Channel NewsAsia understands that he was uncooperative and deterred a public servant from carrying out his duties. 

The car appeared to be badly damaged and mounted a kerb following the accident. 

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it despatched an ambulance to the scene after being alerted to the accident at 7.30am. 

“A man in his 30s was assessed by the paramedic. Subsequently he was handed over to the police,” a spokesperson for SCDF said. 

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Indonesia hopes to guard against Zika virus with airport larvae traps

JAKARTA: The Indonesian Health Ministry on Thursday (Sep 15) installed larvae traps around airport terminals as one of the measures to prevent the spreading of Zika virus amid outbreak in neighboring country Singapore.

At Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, one of the busiest airports in Southeast Asia, authorities prepared about 1,000 larvae traps, placing them in the garden, arrival and departure hall, offices, toilets and all public areas across three terminals.

The trap provides an artificial ground for mosquitoes to lay eggs and the chemical in the container will kill the larvae in it. Health officials hope through this way it will effectively reduce the population of mosquitoes.

This is the latest measure carried out by the Indonesia air transport hub following a Zika outbreak in neighboring Singapore. It enforced thermal scanning on all passengers arriving from the city state since last month.

Singapore reported its first locally-infected Zika patient on Aug 27 and since then, the number of reported infections has soared to more than 300. Thailand has recorded about 200 cases of Zika since January, increasing fears that Indonesia, a country of 250 million population, could be exposed to the virus.

“There are about 6,000 passengers arriving from Singapore almost everyday. We monitor and check the body temperature of arrival passengers with thermal scanners, no one so far has been detected (as a possible virus carrier),” said Susanto a health official.

“Apparently, not all of them show overheating symptoms like dengue, some of them could be suffering from fever that is under 38 degrees. So the most important thing to do is not let mosquitoes spread around the airport area, therefore we installed these larvae traps in the whole airport area,” the health official added.

The installation is part of the Indonesian government’s disease prevention program called “3M”.

“The airport, as the entrance (to the nation), is important when it comes to protecting us from Zika. This method can help. We will continue the effort because it is part of the government’s “3M” prevention measure. This is one of the methods that is effective in eradicating the population of mosquitoes,” said Oscar Primadi, head of the communication department of Health Ministry.

“So, I would like to reiterate that, we will advocate this method to the public as it has been proven to be an efficient technology. We will do anything we can to curb the growing of the mosquitoes,” Primadi added.

The Zika virus, which has spread through the Americas and the Caribbean since late last year, is generally a mild disease but is a particular risk to pregnant women. It has been linked to microcephaly – a severe birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.

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Jakim director supports fatwa against Pokemon Go

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Islamic development authority has urged Muslims not to play the “harmful” and “dangerous” Pokemon Go mobile game.

Pokemon Go was released on Saturday (Aug 6) in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian nation, sending scores of people outdoors in search of cartoon monsters to “catch” on their mobile phones.

The following day, the director of the Department of Islamic Development of Malaysia (Jakim), Othman Mustapha, issued a statement supporting a Federal Territories-level fatwa (Islamic legal ruling) issued days earlier against the game.

“The decision (by the Federal Territories’ authorities) is in line with the views of the law in other Muslim countries which have prove Pokemon Go is the cause of incidents that endanger people to the point of threatening their lives,” he said.

“This game will also cause negative effects on children and teenagers. Therefore, Jakim urges Muslims in this country to avoid playing Pokemon Go.”

There have been reports from around the world of accidents and robberies affecting distracted Pokemon Go users.

Iran has banned the game altogether while other countries have issued warnings about the app.

On Sunday, a man was given a traffic summons in the Malaysian state of Pahang for using Pokemon Go while driving. 

Malaysia’s Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai posted on Twitter the same day warning Pokemon Go users not to play the game and drive. 

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