Boy drowns while mum on smartphone

BEIJING — A tragic video has gone viral on Chinese social media showing a four-year-old boy drowning in a pool while his mother plays on her smartphone a few metres away with her back turned.

The surveillance footage comes from the pool of a resort in Xianyang, Shaanxi province.

It shows the mother focused on her phone while her son desperately splashes around just behind her back.

Somehow, neither the mother nor fellow swimmers notice that the boy is drowning.

Eventually, the mother puts down her phone to go look for her son, walking the wrong way.

Unable to locate him, the mother asked for help from resort staff.

It took them over 30 minutes to locate the boy’s body at the bottom of the pool.

Surveillance footage shows that he struggled in the water for three minutes before drowning.

According to local reports, the pool has a 30cm shallow end and a deep-end that gradually sinks down to 1.3m in depth.

The sections are divided by a low wall. The boy drowned at a depth of 1.1m.
— Agencies

Death of Rafsanjani blow to moderates

DUBAI — Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died on Sunday at the age of 82, a big blow to moderates and reformists deprived now of their most influential supporter in the Islamic establishment.

He had been described as “a pillar of the Islamic revolution”.

His pragmatic policies — economic liberalisation, better relations with the West and empowering elected bodies — appealed to many Iranians but were despised by hardliners.

Few have wielded such influence in modern Iran but since 2009 Rafsanjani and his family faced political isolation over their support for the opposition movement which lost a disputed election that year to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani headed the Expediency Council, a body which is intended to resolve disputes between the parliament and the Guardian Council.

He was also a member of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that selects the supreme leader, Iran’s most powerful figure. His absence from that debate, whenever it happens, means the chances of a pragmatist emerging as the next supreme leader are reduced.

His death ahead of May’s presidential elections is a blow to moderate president Hassan Rouhani who allied himself with Rafsanjani to win the 2013 election and went on to resolve Iran’s long standoff with the West on the nuclear programme.

“The soul of the great man of the Revolution, symbol of patience and resistance has gone to Heaven,” Rouhani tweeted.

Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies programme at Stanford University, said his death could not have come at a worse time, as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office.

“With what is happening in the US and the possible instability that is going to come in US policy you needed a voice of reason and pragmatism that had some heft to it. He was that voice,” he said.

“Losing that voice is going to make it more likely that any mishap or miscalculation by the Trump team will beget a more unreasonable, more radical, more potentially destructive response by the Iranian regime.”

Trump had said during his campaign for the White House that he would scrap Iran’s pact with world powers — under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in return for lifted sanctions — describing it as “the worst deal ever negotiated”. — Reuters


Tube strike hits millions of Londoners

LONDON — A strike on the London Underground caused major disruption yesterday as almost all stations in the city centre shut and services were cancelled in a dispute over jobs and ticket office closures.

Millions of passengers were forced to take overcrowded buses or overland trains, or work from home, after the 24-hour walk-out by the RMT union.

All 11 lines were affected in the action, which began on Sunday evening, with four completely closed and many others running a severely reduced service limited to the suburbs.

In a message on Twitter, Mayor Sadiq Khan said the strike was “totally unnecessary” and was “causing misery to millions of Londoners”. He urged both sides to resume negotiations.

But the RMT say they are protesting against a “crisis” in the service after more than 830 job cuts meant there were not enough staff to run stations safely.

The strike is the latest in a series of walkouts since 2014 over the dispute, as ticket offices across the network have been closed.

“The strike action is being solidly supported on every line, at every station and on picket lines right across the Tube network,” said RMT general secretary Mick Cash.

“This action has been forced on us by savage cuts to jobs that have reduced London Underground to an under-staffed death trap at a time of heightened security and safety alert.”

Steve Griffiths, chief operating officer for London Underground, said the company had agreed that more staff were needed in stations and had started recruiting 200 more.

“There is no need to strike. We had always intended to review staffing levels and have had constructive discussions with the unions,” he said.

“Taking into account existing vacancies and natural turnover this means that over 600 staff will be recruited for stations this year.”

London Underground is the world’s oldest subway network, having opened in 1863, and carries 1.34 billion passengers a year.— AFP

in brief

‘Driver who rammed

soldiers likely IS supporter’

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a Palestinian truck driver who rammed a group of soldiers in Jerusalem, killing four and wounding 15 others, was likely a supporter of Islamic State. “We know the identity of the attacker, according to all the signs he is a supporter of Islamic State. We have sealed off Jabel Mukabar, the neighbourhood from where he came, and we are carrying out other actions which I will not detail,” Netanyahu said in a statement. In the incident on Sunday, a Palestinian rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers on a popular promenade in Jerusalem, killing a female officer and three officer cadets. Police said three of the dead were women. — Reuters

Chinese police kill

three ‘rioters’ in Xinjiang

BEIJING — Chinese police shot dead three “rioters” in the restive Xinjiang region after they resisted arrest, state media reported yesterday in the second such incident in less than a fortnight. The shooting happened on Sunday following a manhunt for three suspected members of a “violent terror group” linked to a 2015 attack in Pishan county. It also came less than two weeks after three “rioters” were shot dead for allegedly attacking a Communist Party office in Xinjiang. — AFP

16 held over Kardashian

Paris robbery

PARIS — French police arrested 16 people in raids early yesterday over the robbery of US reality TV star Kim Kardashian in Paris last year. Police swooped in the Paris region and the south of France following the discovery of DNA at the luxury Paris residence where Kardashian was tied up and robbed of jewellery worth around €9 million (RM42.4 million) in October. Money and documents were also seized in the raids. A gang of armed and masked men had burst into the residence in a chic area of the capital where 36-year-old Kardashian and her entourage were staying during fashion week. — AFP


Danube fisherman hauling suicide jumpers to safety

BELGRADE — Putting her backpack down, she climbed over the fence and jumped into the rushing waters of the Danube below: the 16 year-old girl was the 29th attempted suicide to be saved by Renato Grbic, a Belgrade fisherman and restaurant owner.

On that October day, “she was lucky I was nearby with a friend to pull her out,” said her rescuer, an athletic 55-year-old.

“I was sitting in my taverna when a neighbour ran in and said someone had jumped from the bridge. So, I took my boat … I pulled her out,” Grbic recalled in an interview.

Built in 1946, the Pancevo Bridge has the notorious distinction of being a hot spot for Belgrade’s most desperate.

Until 2014, the road and rail bridge was the only crossing point over the river in the Serbian capital and was spared during the 1999 Nato bombing campaign against Serbia over its war with ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The city’s central Brankov Bridge is another draw for suicide bids, but the Sava River flowing underneath “is a pool” compared with the Danube, said Grbic.

The mighty Danube may conjure up romantic visions of epic waterway tours through enchanting European countryside in some of the 10 countries it flows through.

But Europe’s second longest river will carry anyone who wants to jump into it for many kilometres, and in winter, its temperature is barely above zero degrees Celsius.

“Life expectancy” before fatal hypothermia “is 15 to 20 minutes,” Grbic said, whose family of river fishermen has lived at their waterside residence for four generations.

On the section where his tavern “At Renato and Goca” is located, the Danube is almost 1km wide. In the winter mist, it is hard to make out even the other side of the bank.

Some victims die of cardiac arrest when jumping or hitting the water some 20m down, such as a 73-year old man two years ago.

“Those who survive have a survival reflex. They scream, swim,” Grbic, a married, father-of-three grown-up sons, said.

Every year, the authorities register 25 to 30 suicide attempts off Belgrade bridges.

“But these are only registered cases,” said Sasa Knezevic, deputy chief of Belgrade’s river police unit, adding the figures peak towards the end of the summer.

Police usually act to prevent suicides when they spot potential cases through video surveillance, but the closest river police station is about 15 minutes upstream, said Grbic.

Grbic said he spent 90 per cent of his time fishing. His 29 rescues of Pancevo Bridge jumpers span nearly two decades and his efforts have won him official recognition.

A wall in his restaurant is adorned with elaborate certificates for bravery awarded by local authorities, as well as newspaper articles about him. He was also among around 200 Serb nationals recognised for their outstanding achievements in 2008.

Serbia is in the top third of European countries with the highest number of suicides, at 16.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the most recent World Health Organisation data for 2012. — AFP

Emerging tech to improve life for handicapped

LOS ANGELES — Emerging technology is giving new hope for the handicapped — harnessing brainwaves for the physically disabled and helping the visually impaired with “artificial vision” are just the start.

Many systems showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas are aimed at improving quality of life for people with disabilities.

BrainRobotics, a Massachusetts-based startup, showed its prosthesis which can be controlled by residual muscle strength of an amputee with better efficiency than similar devices, according to developers.

Bicheng Han, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University who founded the group, said the goal is to “provide low-cost functional prosthetics” at a cost of around US$3,000 (RM13,432), or far less than the tens of thousands of dollars for similar devices.

Robotics engineer Kacper Puczydlowski said the hand, which could hit the market next year, is “the most natural to use” and gets its ability by analysing muscle function and using a classification algorithm for specific hand functions, such as grasping objects or pointing fingers.

“An average user, with at least 50 per cent of their residual muscle, should be able to be trained in under a month, within their home,” he said.

Over time, the group wants to use technology from its sister company BrainCo to harness brain waves for improved function.

BrainCo already markets a headband which helps identify patterns of brain waves to help improve focus and treat children with learning disabilities.

Several technologies are also being developed for the visually-impaired.

Israeli startup Orcam showed its device called MyEye, which can be attached to arms of eyeglasses and is being marketed by French eyewear giant Essilor.

The device aims to give greater independence to those with trouble seeing: it has a tiny camera and whispers into a user’s ear, and has the ability to read texts and identify people and objects on supermarket shelves.

The company was founded by Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram, who are also the co-founders of auto tech firm Mobileye, which is developing systems for accident avoidance and self-driving vehicles.

Danish-based manufacturer Oticon showed its new hearing aid, which works with objects in a connected home. Using wireless Bluetooth connectivity, it can alert users to a doorbell or smoke detector — or let the wearer known when coffee is ready.

South Korean group Hyundai showed its exoskeleton, known as H-MEX, which can offer mobility to the handicapped.

It can allow a paraplegic to stand and even walk up stairs, according to engineer Jung Kyungmo.

The exoskeleton covers the entire spine and back of the legs, attaching at the waist, thighs and knees. The company has no plans for a consumer version, but is working with hospitals and researchers.

French-based startup Japet introduced its Atlas exoskeleton, or brace, which takes pressure off the vertebral column for people with chronic back pain, according to co-founder Damien Bratic.

The brace uses small motors and analytics that can help in rehabilitation.

Bratic said the device could be available this year or in 2018 and that the company hopes to develop similar devices for cervical support and for muscle disabilities. — AFP


Anwar — lights and shadows

LAST week, this space was devoted to an attempt to understand the political persona of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. This time the focus is on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, presently serving a jail sentence for sodomy.

The late Barry Wain, the New Zealand journalist who covered Southeast Asia for the Asian Wall Street Journal and Far Eastern Economic Review, was right about his discernment in the early 1980s on meeting up with Mahathir and Anwar.

He said the two were the best Malaysian politicians he had encountered and at the time he first took their measure, he foresaw that they would have the biggest impact on their country’s destiny.

Wain turned out to be prescient.

The dynamics of their separate-yet-intertwined careers and their 16-year collaboration (1982-1998) while Mahathir was prime minister have composed the warp and woof of Malaysian political history since the seminal May 13, 1969 riots.

Wain caused a stir in 2009 with the publication of his book, Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times, in which he alleged that RM100 billion was lost during Dr Mahathir’s 22 years (1981-2003) reign as prime minister through direct financial losses in hubristic ventures — cornering the international tin market and central bank speculation in currency markets — and through write-offs on grandiose projects.

Anwar would never have countenanced such ventures. But for at least 12 of Dr Mahathir’s 22 years in power, he was a mute accessory — either as a full member of Dr Mahathir’s Cabinet or as deputy prime minister — to the decisions that resulted in the alleged losses.

When Anwar began in 1995 to demure in Cabinet over executive actions and policy stances of his boss, his doubts were brushed aside by Dr Mahathir, then at the top of his imperial form.

That an attempt to describe Anwar’s political persona would inevitably involve a discussion of Dr Mahathir’s career is because of the former’s enlistment in the latter’s government, an entanglement — that ought to be the more accurate term for it — whose opportunity cost was high to Anwar and the Malaysian opposition.

Anwar Ibrahim, president of the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (Abim) three years after its founding in 1971, was in 1982 headed for the presidency of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

Incumbent president Datuk Mohd Asri Muda, a nationalist more than an Islamist, was in trouble with the clerics in PAS who were growing more assertive, buoyed by the example of the Iranian regime where mullahs held sway.

However, in April 1982, Dr Mahathir deflected Anwar from PAS by persuading him to join Umno and be a candidate in the general election that month.

Getting Anwar to join was a coup by Dr Mahathir who aimed to outflank the worldwide rise in Islamic consciousness triggered by the 1979 Khomeinist revolution in Iran by co-opting into government the leading young Islamist leader in Malaysia.

By early 1982, Anwar, though not a party member, was not only prime candidate to supplant Asri as PAS president, he was also de facto leader of the opposition by dint of his leadership of non-governmental organisations and opposition parties that had come together in March 1981 to fight amendments to the Societies Act, widely regarded as repressive towards civil society.

That impressive spell thrust Anwar into the front rank of opposition leaders. It came when his stewardship of Abim had already gained Anwar international stature as an Islamist figure of modernist leanings.

His steering of the groups ranged against the Societies Act amendments catapulted him to de facto leadership of the opposition, though Lim Kit Siang was its putative head owing to the latter’s position as parliamentary opposition leader.

Thus, it was a huge jolt when Anwar joined Umno in April 1982.

Mohamed Sabu, now president of Amanah, and an exco member of Abim in 1982, would later reveal that Anwar had — in an attempt at placation of a shocked and dismayed Abim council — informed doubters that by joining Umno he would become prime minister in 11 years.

Of renowned French leader Charles de Gaulle, it was said he was not good at seeing what was across the room from him but was acute at telling what’s coming round the street corner.

The same could be said about Anwar’s bifocal vision: He was uncanny about what’s coming up over the horizon but blase about what’s in the same room with him.

A kindred weakness besets his attitude to individuals purporting to be allies and collaborators: He is unable to see each as anything other than facilitator or impediment to his ambition to be prime minister. This makes for poor judgment of character.

True, a charismatic leader has to draw support from the broad spectrum of political society, and enlist in his cause the allegiance of sundry underlings.

But a binary evaluation of all comers as either facilitators or impediments runs the risk of sudden and inexplicable disruptions to friendships and ties, a frequent feature of Anwar’s career.

Singular among prominent politicians, Anwar is unable to retain the loyalty of allies, longstanding and newfound ones.

Today, Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, who has been an avowed loyalist since his recruitment as political aide to Anwar in 1984 on Dr Mahathir’s recommendation, is closer to Dr Mahathir than to Anwar.

This inability to plumb the depths of allies and collaborators mirrors his long journey in Islamist politics.

Anwar used this powerful vehicle to rise to prominence in Malaysia and in the Islamic world. But Islamist politics is a banana peel. It’s bound to trip up politicians of Anwar’s significantly democratic inclinations.

Last month, in an article in the British newspaper Guardian, Anwar quoted approvingly the pronouncement of Rached Ghannouchi, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading Islamic thinkers: “We are leaving political Islam … We are Muslim democrats.”

Ghannuochi espoused this formulation at his Ennahda party conference in May last year.

This may be timely for Tunisia, the place where the Arab Spring began in January 2011, at this point of the country’s evolution as a Muslim polity.

But it’s much too late to beguile the movement for the Islamisation of politics and administration in Malaysia that Anwar seeded from the early 1970s, and had helped embed in government when he was part of it for 16 years.

That movement would arrive at an apotheosis of sorts if the Umno-led government takes over the tabling, as it intends to at the next parliamentary session in March, the motion to further empower Shariah courts that had originated with PAS.

This motion, its non-Muslim and Muslim opponents credibly contend, is the penultimate step in the conversion of Malaysia to an Islamic state. The next step is the application of Shariah on all citizens, non-Muslims included, which the government has assured will not happen.

The man who should have been PAS president, which presumably he would have liberalised and joined Umno instead which he proceeded to Islamise, now thinks it is better to be a Muslim democrat rather than an out-and-out Islamist.

The lights and shadows, not least the speculation about his sexual orientation, have clung to Anwar in a way that has made it fiendishly difficult to sort out the man.


Police omnipresence and acts of terror

IT took only one shooter to kill 39 people and injure another 70 in a targeted venue on New Year’s Day in Istanbul although 17,000 police personnel were on duty.

According to Turkish media, the killer arrived in a taxi, retrieved a bag from the trunk and removed the automatic gun and began to shoot. The first to die was a policeman just outside the upscale nightclub, bodyguards and a tour guide standing near the entrance.

On entering the Reina nightclub, the gunman sprayed bullets at random at the crowd. The killing spree lasted seven minutes, shortly after 1am.

This incident clearly demonstrates that police omnipresence in large numbers by itself does not prevent acts of terror and violence. The public must understand that they too play the role of whistle blowers when they have information on individuals or groups involved in activities related to terror and extremists movements.

Information on such movements is priceless to law enforcement agencies in preventing acts of aggression and violence.

Since Malaysia is not immune to threats from Islamic State (IS) and related terror groups, we cannot take our safety for granted. The prime minister, deputy prime minister, inspector-general of police and other key leaders have issued media statements on numerous occasions that the threat by IS and related groups cannot be underestimated and is indeed very real.

Although the police and other law enforcement agencies are on the alert 24/7 to gather intelligence data, and to detect and apprehend members of terror cells, this alone cannot guarantee our safety and security.

Acts of terror and violence can be prevented if society provides valuable information on suspected or known terrorists or extremists. Furthermore, police intelligence can only be effective if whistle blowers are willing to come forward and share information.

Civil society is always expecting the police to engage with the public. Our police have been practising this strategy of engaging with the public in various capacities and settings for many decades now.

In my opinion, the public also has a responsibility and moral obligation to engage with the police in preventing unwarranted horrific and merciless killings of innocent children, men and women by terror and extremist groups.

It appears that contemporary society is reluctant to engage with the police unlike society prior to the new millennium. Perhaps it’s time to study why this might be so.

Society must change their mindset and start to engage with the police in matters not limited to only traditional crime but acts of terrorism as well. It cannot be limited to the police taking the lead in engaging the public.

Both police and the public must take equal responsibility to engage with each other. We are most fortunate that no suicide bombers and shooters have targeted our large public gatherings which would have been ideal for terror groups to make an impact.

Thousands of police personnel may have prevented violent acts by terror groups but this cannot be taken for granted based on the Istanbul or similar incidents. Acts of terror and violence are colour blind. It does not discriminate based on nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, age group, and social class. It only aims to create maximum destruction of life in order to create fear in society.

We must not submit to fear and fulfil the wishes of terror groups. Therefore, we must engage and bond with our men and women in blue to curb terror and extremists groups from flourishing in our society.





Kudos for setting up bus lab to improve industry

MINISTER in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri said a lab will be set up next month to look into the many issues and challenges facing the bus industry.

Many of those participating in the bus lab are likely to be bogged down by their own misconceptions initially. A paradigm shift will empower them to see matters as they really are.

For example, the word “speeding” is used too freely. Driving at high speeds is not dangerous when the driver, vehicle, road, traffic and weather are operating optimally.

For buses, it will remain a backyard industry as long as they are parked by the roadside overnight throughout the country. Apart from bus stations, they must be bus depots allowing buses to be parked and cleaned overnight, and with facilities to check and rectify faults.

These depots will have shower facilities and sleeping capsules for the drivers. They are sound-proof and totally dark, allowing the drivers to wake up fresh.

As bus depots cannot be built overnight, these sleeping capsules can be placed at or near bus stations, and also at the many rest and service areas along expressways, which will benefit many tired truck drivers as well.

It is well known that many accidents involving heavy commercial vehicles were due to drivers dozing off behind the wheel, and stopping beside the road to take a nap had caused many passing vehicles to crash into them.

Many drivers will opt for a good sleep if it is convenient and affordable, but a hotel room is not cheap. If the authorities allow, they will be no shortage of entrepreneurs offering sleeping capsule facilities throughout the country.


Kuala Lumpur


Lone forge burns bright on Hanoi’s blacksmith street

SITTING before a bright orange flame, Vietnamese blacksmith Nguyen Phuong Hung prods a fire pit with a long metal rod before he hammers, bends and contorts glowing steel into a giant drill bit.

Hung, who toils away in his tiny corner stall in downtown Hanoi, is the last remaining blacksmith on Hanoi’s Lo Ren street, named after the masters of metal it was once known for.

But his kind of intimate knowledge of the forge is dying out.

Today most of the metal tools and housewares for sale on the busy street are mass produced, often with cheaper Chinese materials, extinguishing an age-old tradition that has been passed down in Hung’s family for generations.

“My dad said he got the job from his father. He said if I was a blacksmith, I would never go hungry,” 56-year-old Hung said from his cramped stall on the motorbike-clogged street in the Old Quarter, surrounded by metal scraps.

Lo Ren has been the go-to strip for metalworks in Hanoi since the end of the 19th century.

It was initially known for farming tools before the street’s storied blacksmiths started making more complex objects to support the industrialisation boom under the French, who built railways and bridges.

It was under French rule that the street was christened Lo Ren street (Blacksmith Street), or “Rue des Forgerons”, according to author and historian Nguyen Van Uan.

The tradition burned bright for much of the 20th century, but shops like Hung’s have been replaced by wholesalers in recent years, their shiny polished metal items now more common than Hung’s handmade delights.

Nguyen The Cach, 71, switched to selling factory-produced metalware from his shop on Lo Ren a few years ago.

“This job (being a smith) consumes too much energy, we are not healthy enough to do it, that’s why it’s fading,” he said.

Vietnam’s better educated, smartphone-wielding younger generations, meanwhile, show less interest in taking up their parents’ artisan crafts.

Over the years, Hung and his friends have seen all the other blacksmith shops shutter. His tiny store is the last window onto a bygone era.

Wearing a cap, T-shirt and wool gloves, Hung spurns protective gear like goggles or masks that one might recommend to a man working so close to searingly hot flames.

He says he’s the best in town, and takes customised orders for anything from nails to hammers to drills to hardware for the home. He even recently finished an order for ankle cuffs for a local police station.

The secret to his success? A combination of engineering school lessons, some four decades of experience, and of course everything he learned from his father.

“Chinese products are not as good as mine. I always have to adjust and fix Chinese chisels (for my clients). Mine are second only to products made in Japan.”

For the time being, he continues to attract loyal customers.

“The quality of drills made by Hung is always good, they don’t easily break,” said Nguyen Thanh Trung, who runs a construction business. “I’ve always come to him, I have no reason to choose a different blacksmith.”

Though the work is physically taxing, Hung says he won’t be turning his back on the profession that runs in his blood.

But he knows his shop will also one day shutter: his son has said he won’t be taking up his father’s tongs. — AFP

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