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Hotel booking site RedDoorz raises S$1.4m from Temasek-backed venture

SINGAPORE: Online budget hotel booking platform RedDoorz has raised US$ 1 million (S$ 1.4 million) in venture debt from InnoVen Capital, a joint venture between Temasek Holdings and United Overseas Bank (UOB).

The announcement on Tuesday (Apr 4) follows a string of venture debt financing agreements that InnoVen has inked over the past year as part of its goal to provide up to US$ 500 million in venture debt financing to start-ups in China, India and Southeast Asia.

InnoVen Capital, first formed in India about nine years ago, was rebranded in 2015 following a buyout by Temasek Holdings and UOB, with each committing up to US$ 100 million in paid-up capital. The start-ups that have since come under its radar include various sectors such as e-commerce and financial technology (FinTech).

Venture debt, a relatively new concept in Southeast Asia, is a type of financing for start-up firms which may not yet have the cash flow or assets to use as collateral for loans. It is an alternative to bank loans or raising capital by selling stocks to investors.

Mr Chin Chao, InnoVen’s CEO for Singapore and Southeast Asia, said: “We are constantly on the lookout for companies that have a solid track record and good backing, and the unit economics of RedDoorz have been impressive.”

For Singapore-based RedDoorz, the venture debt deal announced on Tuesday is an extension of the start-up’s Series A funding round, which was led by the likes of World Bank’s private financing arm International Finance Corporation and Singapore venture capital firm Jungle Ventures.

Founded by entrepreneur Amit Saberwal in 2015, RedDoorz has about 500 properties, mainly in Indonesia, listed on its online platform. Moving forward, the start-up is betting on rising disposable income and increased travel spending within Southeast Asia to fuel its expansion beyond Singapore and Indonesia.

“In the last one year, our revenue has grown 12 times while maintaining best-in-class unit economics. With this additional funding, we aim to leverage the strength of Southeast Asia’s economies to grow RedDoorz to become the largest online budget accommodation brand in the region,” said Mr Saberwal in a press release.

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Gambia frees nearly 100 prisoners from Jammeh era

BANJUL: Gambian authorities have released 98 prisoners, mostly from the notorious Mile 2 prison, an Interior Ministry spokesman said on Friday, as the country seeks to turn a page on the authoritarian era of ousted former president Yahya Jammeh.

The release follows the freeing of about 170 prisoners two weeks ago.

Gambian President Adama Barrow last month replaced the head of the military, a pillar of his predecessor Jammeh’s government, and dismissed several senior military officers. The former head of prisons was arrested.

Barrow won an election in December, but Jammeh refused to accept the result. Jammeh eventually fled into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January, after coming under pressure from regional leaders who sent troops to Gambia to force him to leave.

Rights groups say Jammeh’s opponents were tortured, and some died, in detention centres including the Mile 2 Central Prison in Banjul.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lamin Baba Njie said by telephone that 79 people had been released from Mile 2, and a further 19 from other prisons.

“The releases are part of the prisons reform agenda,” he said.

(Reporting by Lamine Jahateh; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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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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Australia, US agree to deal exempting Australian citizens from travel ban

SYDNEY: Australian dual-nationals will not be affected by U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order blocking visitors from seven Muslim-majority nations, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Tuesday.

“Australian passport holders will be able to travel to the United States in the same way they were able to prior to the executive order,” Mr Turnbull told Sky News television.

“I’ve just received that official confirmation.”

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook)

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Singapore's December manufacturing output jumps 21.3% from previous year

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s manufacturing output in December surged 21.3 per cent from a year ago, on the back of strong growth in electronics and pharmaceuticals output.

Excluding the more volatile biomedical manufacturing, output grew 16.1 per cent, according to data released on Thursday (Jan 26) by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB). 

On a month-on-month seasonally-adjusted basis, industrial production rose 6.4 per cent in December 2016 compared to the previous month.

Overall, manufacturing output rose 3.6 per cent in 2016 over 2015.

STRONG ELECTRONICS, BIOMEDICAL PHARMACEUTICALS OUTPUT

Output from the key electronics cluster increased 49.4 per cent in December from a year ago. This was largely supported by the semiconductors segment, which saw output rise by 94 per cent. For the whole of 2016, output of the electronics cluster expanded 15.9 per cent compared to 2015. 

The biomedical manufacturing cluster, meanwhile, expanded 44.9 per cent year-on-year in December, said EDB. The growth was mainly due to the pharmaceuticals and medical technology segments, which expanded 53.8 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. The whole cluster grew 13.6 per cent in 2016 compared to the year before.

The precision engineering cluster saw an increase of 6.1 per cent in December compared to the same month last year. The machinery and systems segment grew 8.5 per cent with higher export demand for semiconductor related equipment, while the precision modules and components segment recorded higher output of industrial rubber, dies, moulds, tools, jigs and fixtures and metal precision components, added EDB.

In the chemicals cluster, output rose 4.1 per cent on a year-on-year basis in December 2016. This was supported by higher output in the petrochemicals (18.4 per cent), petroleum (16.7 per cent) and specialties (4.1 per cent) segments. For the whole of 2016, output in the cluster fell 0.9 per cent compared to 2015.

In 2016, the general manufacturing industries’ output declined 2.5 per cent from a year ago, although it grew 2 per cent year-on-year in December 2016. EDB said this was mainly attributed to the 22.8 per cent growth in the food, beverages & tobacco segment. However, growth in the cluster was moderated by declines in the miscellaneous industries (-10.6 per cent) and printing (-14.6 per cent) segments. 

Data showed that transport engineering remained a drag. Production in the marine and offshore engineering segment declined 26.1 per cent year-on-year in December, with lower output in oilfield and gasfield equipment as well as ship building and repair jobs. However, the aerospace and land transport segments grew 15 per cent and 11.5 per cent respectively.

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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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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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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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Countering religious fundamentalism: Lessons from Malaysia

SINGAPORE: Individuals tend to be drawn to fundamentalist ideology out of a desire to escape personal, familial, or social problems, rather than out of religious piousness, said Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

This understanding can inform how authorities should counter the influence and spread of religious fundamentalism, noted Mr Zahid, who shared key lessons from Malaysia in a keynote address at the Asia-Europe Counter-Terrorism Dialogue on Tuesday (Nov 1).

“Young girls, as young as 14 years old, from Malaysia were also influenced. She was caught at the airport when she was about to board the plane. She was so attracted by the young, handsome, bearded potential husband,” he said, adding that the girl had been radicalised through materials on the internet.

“Why was she influenced? It’s not because of religious belief… It’s because of escapism, because they would like to get out of the problems that they are facing in their family, in the society, with employers.”

BATTLING TERRORISTS ONLINE

To curb the influence of the Islamic State or Daesh in the cyberworld, Mr Zahid says Malaysia works with ASEANAPOL (ASEAN police) and INTERPOL to monitor social media. In addition, Malaysia has established a counter-messaging centre (CMC) for the Southeast Asia region, in a collaboration with the CMC in the United Arab Emirates, the US State Department, and the FBI.

“Terrorists worldwide are well-connected. In this region, (terrorists from) Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Southern Thailand – they have launched Katibah Nusantara. This is a borderless terrorist organisation in this region. It is very dangerous, if something is not done to curb their activities,” he added.

Mr Zahid also emphasised that governments, enforcement agencies, and organisations must work together – through anti-money laundering laws and targeted financial sanctions – to prevent the financing of terrorism.

Malaysian DPM and Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in a dialogue session with Gunter Krings, Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of the Interior (right) and RSIS professor Rohan Gunaratna (left). (Photo: Linette Lim)

255 TERROR SUSPECTS DETAINED SO FAR

Beside prevention efforts, Mr Zahid also touched on what Malaysia is doing to rehabilitate radicalised individuals.

To date, 255 people have been detained in Malaysia for their involvement in “terrorist activities”, said Mr Zahid. Those detained between 2001 and 2011 totaled 240, and within this group, 234 have been successfully deradicalised, he added.

Mr Zahid said that these individuals – who have been released – are being tracked with electronic monitoring devices, and no reengagement has occurred.

“We are assimilating them back into society, back into their families, although they are facing a lot of problems. We are also providing them micro-credit facilities so that they are able to start a new life,” he said.

Terrorist recruitment is also happening in prisons, said Mr Zahid. In one recent example, a single detainee in Malaysia managed to recruit seven prisoners and seven prison wardens as his followers. These individuals have now been isolated in a separate rehabilitation centre, he revealed.

Mr Zahid also shared the experience of having to table a new Bill to claw back emergency security and enforcement powers it lost, after it repealed the Internal Security Act in 2012.

“It took me about eight hours and 38 minutes to debate (the Bill) in Parliament. It was very tough, because (it was challenged by) some good parliamentarians who are regarded as so-called human rights fighters… But what about the human rights of the victims (of terrorism), of enforcement agencies’ personnel?”

The two-day dialogue, organised by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Singapore, also saw the launch of a publication titled ‘Countering Daesh Extremism – European and Asian Responses’ by the two organisations. 

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Philippines artists draw inspiration from nature and fishermen for the Singapore Biennale

SINGAPORE: After living for 25 years in the United States, Philippine artist Gregory Halili returned to Manila to share the plight of his country’s fisher folks whose lives have been impacted by climate change.

“I recently went to a pearl farm. Pearls – the shell itself – indicate how healthy the ecosystems are. There are still shells out there, but these folks are not catching how much they used to catch,” Mr Halili said.

He decided to depict their worries on mother of pearl – carefully painting the eyes of pearl divers and fishermen on the iridescent material. When completed, more than 50 such “eyes” will be lined across a darkened room at next month’s Singapore Biennale, to appear like stars or boats out in the sea at night.

Lives of Philippine’s coastal communities reflected on mother of pearl.

Mr Halili revealed that he covered rough terrain to reach some of those communities. But the greatest challenge, he said, is carrying the weight of their stories and doing them justice.

“Learning about who they are, and how they live, and to know the facts, like how difficult their lives really are – it’s really emotionally painful,” he added.

An eye painted on mother of pearl by Gregory Halili.

Ms Joyce Toh, curatorial co-head at the Singapore Art Museum said the works of Filipino artists have a certain potency of emotions because of a connection to their subjects.

“Filipinos are a very passionate people, and I think this is something that comes through in the work, when I say that the work has a certain potency of emotion,” she said. “There’s a kind of emotional charge with them so it’s not just perhaps a visual expression but it’s coming from a real place.”

“Often, the artist also has a certain human bond human connection with their subjects or people that they have spoken to. So they are really trying to in a way convey these stories to a wider audience, to the Biennale audience … they are trying to bring out this story to a wider audience.”

She added the artists are responding to issues that are very close to home and close to the heart such as those that deal with nature, environment and injustice because these are things that they not only see but also feel the impacts directly.

This includes Ryan Villamael whose work for the Biennale is also intensely personal. Using the craft of paper-cutting on discarded maps, he envisions his intricate cartographical constructions as instruments of self-discovery.

Ryan Villamael’s past work titled ‘Isles’.

According to Villamael, part of the inspiration is from his father whom he has not seen since he was a child.

“When you use maps, it’s very personal material and idea but at the same time, it talks a lot about a particular history, a particular point in time, in history. There’s also a personal take on it. My dad is an overseas Filipino worker, and I think it’s also a way of mapping myself. And my place,” the 29-year-old said.

Because of their sheer size, his works will be hung from the ceiling at the Singapore Art Museum instead of being confined in his signature bell jars.

Another artwork to be featured at the event is an oil painting of orchids by artist Patricia Eustaquio. It came about after she encountered a young German explorer in the Philippine forests, hunting for orchids.

Patricia Eustaquio working on her Biennale installation – an oil painting of orchids.

“People used to hunt them, more than 100 years ago. People from the west would go to the jungles of the tropical countries and they would risk their lives and just try to hunt for these orchids in the wild and it became such a prize for them. And today, they’ve been so cultivated that there are thousands and thousands of new hybrids,” said Ms Eustaquio.

In the midst of creating her artwork, the Philippine artist also did research on the Singapore Botanic Gardens – a UNESCO world heritage site that boasts the world’s largest orchid display.

“I discovered that the orchid species is the second largest family of flowers in the world and that you can find it all the way from London to the depths of the Philippines jungles,” Eustaquio shared. “It was interesting to discover that the Margaret Thatcher orchid is one of the hardiest orchids in the Botanic Gardens,” she added.

The two stars of her work include an endangered species from Palawan called Paphiopedilum fowliei and a hybrid, which she had personally named.

Organised by the Singapore Art Museum, the event will take place from Oct 27 to Feb 26.

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