TOKYO — Japanese Emperor Akihito’s uncle, Prince Mikasa, who served in China during World War Two and criticised the war waged in his older brother’s name, was laid to rest yestrday in solemn ceremonies attended by royals, the premier and other mourners. Mikasa’s death at the age of 100 — the oldest Japanese royal in recorded history — leaves just four heirs to the Chrysanthemum throne. Mikasa’s 93-year-old widow, Princess Yuriko, followed in a wheelchair. Akihito’s heir, Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Crown Princess Masako, were in attendance along with dignitaries including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy. In line with tradition, Akihito and Empress Michiko did not attend. — Reuters
BANGKOK — Thailand’s junta chief yesterday pleaded for trust in his rice policy, as a price slump deepens anguish among poor farmers fiercely loyal to the government he toppled.
Rice is Thailand’s staple dish and one of its main agricultural exports, but also carries immense political value as farmers are the backbone of a pro-democracy movement that the junta has suppressed.
A global oversupply has seen rice prices tumble, hitting as low as 5-6,000 baht (RM600-RM720) per tonne leaving many farmers with big losses.
This week the junta approved a rescue package of at least US$1.3 billion (RM5.5 bil) in subsidies for farmers who agree to delay selling their crops to avoid a glut.
But it is an awkward policy for a junta that has pursued toppled ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra through the courts for a similar subsidy scheme.
“I know that farmers are suffering but my government is doing its best,” coup-leader turned premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha said yesterday.
“I’m not forcing anyone to do anything or destroying the rice business, but if we keep doing things the old fashioned way we will keep facing the same problems,” he added.
He also hit out at political “PR stunts” in an apparent reference to Yingluck who on Thursday was greeted by tearful farmers as she toured the rural northeast — Thailand’s top rice basket and her political heartland.
With prices plummeting, some desperate farmers have started selling sacks of rice on Facebook and Instagram.
Yingluck’s flagship rice-pledging policy saw her government buy padi from farmers at nearly twice the market rate in an effort to drive up global prices.
It cemented her popularity among many farmers but led to huge stockpiles of unsold rice and galvanised protests against her government that led to the 2014 coup.
Since then, the junta has tangled her in legal cases and blocked a political comeback. — AFP
She faces a US$1 billion (RM4.2 billion) fine and up to 10 years in prison in a negligence trial over the rice scheme, which prosecutors say was riddled with graft.
But she retains the loyalty of rice farmers.
On Friday Yingluck was swarmed by supporters, many handing her rice stalks or 20 baht (RM2.40) notes, outside the Bangkok court where her trial is being held.
“I am overwhelmed with farmers’ golden hearts. Even though they are seriously suffering and don’t have money to spend … they still came to offer me moral support,” she told reporters. — AFP
SEOUL — South Korean President Park Geun-Hye yesterday agreed to be questioned in a formal corruption probe, portraying herself as an over-trusting, “lonely” leader who dropped her guard with a close friend arrested for fraud.
In a highly personal televised address to the nation, Park said the scandal involving her long-time confidante Choi Soon-Sil was “all my fault”, but denied reports linking her and Choi to a religious cult.
“It is hard to forgive myself and sleep at night with feelings of sorrow,” Park, 64, said, her voice trembling.
Choi, 60, is alleged to have used her closeness to the president to meddle in state affairs, and her lawyer has said he expects prosecutors to look into whether she inappropriately received classified documents and benefited unlawfully from two non-profit organisations.
“It is very miserable and regrettable that a particular individual is said to have taken profits and committed several unlawful acts, while we are working on a job in hopes of helping the national economy and people’s lives,” Park said, referring to Choi.
Park said she would not seek to hide behind presidential privilege if required to give testimony.
“If necessary, I am willing to sincerely respond to prosecutors’ investigations,” she said.
South Korea’s constitution does not allow a sitting president to be prosecuted, but some senior officials have suggested questioning as part of a wider investigation is permissible.
Choi was formally arrested on Thursday on fraud charges, but public anger has largely focused on allegations that she meddled in affairs of state and had access to confidential documents, despite having no official position or security clearance.
Park, who appeared close to tears at times, said she had been living a “lonely life” as president and had turned to Choi for company and help.
“Looking back, I allowed my guard to drop as she stood by my side during difficult times,” she said.
“I trusted my personal relationship, but was careless and not tough enough with my acquaintances,” she added.
The South Korean media has portrayed Choi, whose late father was a shadowy religious leader and an important mentor to Park, as a Rasputin-like figure who wielded an unhealthy influence over the president.
“There have been claims that I fell for a religious cult or had (shamanist rituals) performed in the Blue House, but I would like to clarify that those are absolutely not true,” Park said in her address on Friday.
Reacting to her address, the main opposition Democratic Party insisted her changes had been cosmetic and warned that it would begin a campaign for her ouster unless further steps were taken.
“She does not seem to understand the gravity of the whole situation,” said party leader Choo Mi-Ae. “She is only interested in maintaining her grip on power.”
BATAM — The death toll from a speedboat accident in Indonesia has climbed to 54, an official said yesterday, after dozens of bodies were found floating in the ocean.
Search teams yesterday pulled another 36 corpses from the sea around Batam island, south of Singapore, near where the boat struck a reef and sunk more than two days ago, local police chief Sam Budi Gusdian told reporters.
The overcrowded speedboat was carrying three crew and 98 passengers, mostly Indonesian migrant workers, from Malaysia to Batam at the time of the accident.
Authorities managed to save 41 passengers and had hoped to find more alive before making the grisly discovery.
“Forty-one people have been found alive while six remain missing. The rest died,” Gusdian said.
Only 12 passengers have been formally identified, he said. Among the dead were two young girls.
Police said the passengers were likely illegal Indonesian migrant workers returning from jobs in Malaysia, and the boat was over capacity at the time of the accident.
One of the crew members managed to survive and was being questioned by police, Gusdian said.
The Indonesian archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is heavily dependent on boat transport, but safety standards are lax and fatal accidents common.
More than 60 people died in December when huge waves capsized a ferry charting a course through Sulawesi province.
GENEVA — At least 240 migrants have drowned off the coast of Libya within the last 48 hours, possibly as an unintended consequence of European efforts to stop people-smugglers and to train Libyan coastguards, the UN’s migration agency said on Thursday.
Five rescue ships, coordinated by the Italian coastguard, were within sight of the migrants but, despite attempts to rescue them, most died, the International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) chief spokesman, Leonard Doyle, said.
“Two rubber dinghies, which is what they are, rubber dinghies, packed with migrants, totalling over 300 we think in all … have succumbed to the waves off Libya in very bad weather,” he said.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said he was “deeply saddened by another tragedy”, and many lives could be saved if European countries volunteered to take in more refugees rather than leave them to make the risky boat trip.
“The Mediterranean is a deadly stretch of sea for refugees and migrants, yet they still see no other option but to risk their lives to cross it,” he said in a statement.
Migrant arrivals in Italy surged to 27,388 in October, more than the two previous Octobers combined, and bringing this year’s total to more than 158,000, IOM’s Italy spokesman, Flavio di Giacomo, said.
Migrants have told the IOM that smugglers say European training of Libyan coastguards means that rescue missions will soon be handed over to Libya and so any rescued migrants will be taken ashore in Libya rather than in Italy, Giacomo said.
That might be causing the rush, despite the bad weather, he said.
According to Doyle, the use of dinghies, especially unsuitable for the long sea crossing in bad weather, was partly due to European navies capturing and destroying many of the fishing boats that smugglers had been using.
“In the absence of those boats and with the migrants determined to leave, and the smugglers interested in making money off them, they have been putting them in completely unsafe rubber dinghies,” he said.
Survivors from one dinghy, whose passengers included about 20 women and six children, all believed to be from West Africa, said they set off from Libya at about 3am on Wednesday, but the boat sank after a few hours.
Twelve bodies were recovered, including three babies, and about 27 survived, di Giacomo said.
Another two women said they had survived the sinking of a second dinghy at about the same time. Theirs was carrying about 130 people, they said.
The IOM said the latest deaths meant 4,220 migrants had died in the Mediterranean so far this year, compared with 3,777 in the whole of 2015.
Separately, Italy’s coastguard said rescuers pulled about 766 people to safety from boats in difficulty in the central Mediterranean, and found the dead body of one woman. — Reuters
SEMPORNA — Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari has been urged to name the Malaysian leader who he claimed was involved in the kidnap of 21 people in Sipadan, Sabah in 2000.
Senallang assemblyman Datuk Seri Nasir Tun Sakaran said Misuari must name the leader, as an allegation must be accompanied by evidence.
“We ourselves do not know who he meant … but if he knows, then he should name the person,” he told Bernama.
He stressed the country and government could not have colluded with any party in carrying out the criminal act which left a negative impact on Malaysia and the local community.
“Our country has laws; if there is proof, show it,” Nasir insisted.
Yesterday, Philippines’ GMA News Online reported a claim by Nur Misuari that Malaysia had been using its people in kidnap for ransom activities.
Nur Misuari reportedly said he had proof to back his claim and would bring those involved to justice, including to the international courts.
Speaking to the press after meeting President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, he said the decision to stop all communication and negotiation with Malaysia forever was due to a conspiracy involving a Malaysian, which destroyed his honour and integrity.
Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee, who is also Beluran Member of Parliament, said the burden of proof lay with Nur Misuari.
Kinabatangan member of parliament Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin said he was not surprised by Nur Misuari’s accusation as he had heard this conversation along five-foot-ways and coffeeshops.
The Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club deputy chairman said if the allegation had basis, the authorities must act to prevent further incidents.
However, police have denied a Malaysian was involved in the kidnapping in Sipadan.
Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said Nur Misuari should not involve Malaysians in the kidnapping.
Meanwhile, the Sabah Suluk Solidarity Council (SSSC) said it regretted the allegations made by Nur Misuari.
Its secretary, Mohd Zaki Harry Susanto said it was a serious allegation and should not be taken lightly.
“We fear the remarks will arouse hatred towards Malaysia and will heighten security threats against Sabah.” — Bernama
KUALA LUMPUR ― The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) has suggested setting up a Charities Commission to regulate the financing of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) following the controversy surrounding foreign funding.
IDEAS chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan said it was not necessary to ban foreign funding for NGOs and that there were clear differences between them and political parties.
He said the proposed Political Donations and Expenditure Act (PDEA) were aimed at regulating funding for political parties.
“Forming a Charities Commission is the better approach, as opposed to taking the PDEA wholesale. Having such a commission is the normal practice in developed countries,” Wan Saiful said in a statement.
“The United Kingdom’s Charity Commission could be one potential model to consider. Its board members are independent and their interests and previous affiliations are even listed online to ensure any conflict can be highlighted by the public.
“The commission’s aims are to ensure NGOs provide truthful information on their activities and expenditure. This strengthens public confidence in the NGO community and increases the government’s understanding of this sector.”
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low, who heads the National Consultative Committee on Political Financing that recommended the PDEA, recently told Malay Mail Online that civil society groups with “political” agendas, or who were clearly aligned to political parties, should not be allowed to receive foreign funding.
Low’s remarks were in response to fellow minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said’s call for the PDEA to be extended to civil society groups, following claims that United States billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF) funded several local NGOs, such as Bersih 2.0 and Merdeka Centre, as well as news portal Malaysiakini.
Wan Saiful, who’s also a member of the political financing committee, questioned Low’s definition of ‘political’ NGOs.
“Does this mean any organisation interested in pursuing matters such as transparency and good governance is also deemed politically inclined?
“What about local chapters of international bodies like Transparency International or Amnesty International? Will they no longer be able to receive foreign funds from their headquarters?” Wan Saiful questioned.
He said NGOs were usually set up to advance social causes like the environment, the economy, welfare or health and that such issues “can indeed be political”.
Bersih 2.0 chair Maria Chin Abdullah was probed yesterday under the offence of undermining parliamentary democracy over a news report regarding alleged foreign funding.
Maria said she was questioned under Section 124C of the Penal Code, which she said is usually linked to the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act.
Section 124C, which carries the penalty of a maximum 15-year jail term for the offence of attempt to commit activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy, is included in the list of security offences where Sosma is applicable. Sosma allows for preventive detention.
Maria said she would leave it to the police to carry out investigations and would answer in court if necessary.
Police are also investigating Malaysiakini under the same section of the Penal Code.
Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan said Inspector General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar texted the portal’s chief news editor R.K. Anand yesterday to inform them about the move.
“That’s according to the IGP in a text message to us. [And] no, they have yet to call me for questioning,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Section 124C of the Penal Code prohibits the “attempt to commit an activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy,” punishable with maximum 15 years’ jail.
Khalid also confirmed with Malay Mail Online that Malaysiakini was being investigated under Section 124C of the Penal Code.
“It depends on our findings. Soon you will know,” Khalid said, when asked whether Malaysiakini journalists will be detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) 2012.
Malaysiakini has said that the OSF grant was used to produce the “Realiti Sarawak” and “Sekilas Bumi Kenyalang” programmes by its video arm, KiniTV, and that the grant only constituted a small portion of its revenue.
PETALING JAYA — The boys at Beautiful Machines have taken their latest creation to a new level.
The Sunway-based custom motorcycle builders are newbies in the business but have been making an impression on the scene since 2012.
Their latest custom motorcycle — Monster — is set to rock Japan and the world when it features at the annual 25th Yokohama Hot Rod Custom show next month.
This is Malaysia’s first entry in the prestigious auto custom show scheduled for Dec 4.
Beautiful Machines have been turning heads at the annual Art of Speed and Port Dickson Bike Week over the years, bagging titles along the way.
Beautiful Machines owner and designer Rajay Singh said the achievement was a recognition for the nation.
“I don’t see it as a wow factor only for Beautiful Machines. It’s a wow factor for the country. To be part of Yokohama Hot Rod is huge and we’re glad to be there with the big boys,” Rajay, 42, said.
“It’s really interesting how we got the gig. The bike was featured during this year’s Art of Speed and those running the Yokohama event took a look at Monster and said it should be in Japan.
“They were impressed the moment they saw it.”
The motorcycle was originally a 1993 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail but underwent serious “surgery” for over four months. The bike was modified further after Art of Speed to give it the extra edge.
Rajay said Monster was not only about its radical killer look but its performance.
“We don’t want it to be just a show bike. It’s a working eye candy and it will blow your mind. We have installed a supercharger among others and every component on the bike is built by hand,” said Rajay.
The team comprises chief mechanic Eng Chin Guan, fabricators Azman Mat Hassan and Azrine Zakaria, designer Julian Oh and engineer Irwan Mohd Azlan.
The motorcycle was shipped to Japan yesterday.
As biking enthusiasts are still in awe over the nation’s first and sole representation at the event in Japan, Rajay is already planning for the team’s next big project — to conquer Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the United States.
Racing has taken place at the Bonneville Salt Flats since 1914.
There are several major land speed events there including Bonneville “Speed Week” in mid-August followed by “World of Speed” in September and “World Finals” in early October.
“We aim to be the first Malaysian motorcycle to break the land speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats. We believe it can be done as we have the engineering expertise and the motorcycle is designed for speed,” he said.
Rajay thanked Art of Speed founder Asep Ahmad for giving Beautiful Machines and other custom builders a platform to showcase their capabilities.
“Asep got the Japanese guys to come and see our bike during Art of Speed and the whole Art of Speed itself is a great avenue for bike builders to show their stuff,” he said.
“There are many good builders out there and we hope through our participation in Japan, more eyes will be on Malaysia.”
WASHINGTON — In a blow to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, a US judge upheld a Pennsylvania state law that could make it difficult for his supporters to monitor Election Day activity in Democratic-leaning areas.
Trump has repeatedly said Tuesday’s presidential election may be rigged, while providing scant evidence, and has urged supporters to keep an eye out for signs of voting fraud in Philadelphia and other heavily Democratic areas.
Democrats worry that could encourage Trump supporters to harass minority voters that could determine whether Trump or his opponent, Hillary Clinton, wins the presidency. Voting-rights advocates said they are already receiving reports of harassment.
Democrats have launched a legal blitz in an attempt to shut down Trump’s poll-watching efforts, arguing that Republican monitoring efforts amount to “vigilante voter intimidation” that violates federal law. — Reuters
WASHINGTON — The FBI and US intelligence agencies are examining fake documents aimed at discrediting the Hillary Clinton campaign as part of a broader investigation into what US officials believe has been an attempt by Russia to disrupt the presidential election, people with knowledge of the matter said.
Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has referred one of the documents to the FBI for investigation on the grounds that his name and stationery were forged to appear authentic, some of the sources who had knowledge of that discussion said.
In the letter, Carper is quoted as writing to Clinton, “We will not let you lose this election,” a person who saw the document told Reuters.
The letter is one of several documents presented to the FBI and the Department of Justice for review in recent weeks, the sources said..
A spokesman for the FBI confirmed the agency was “in receipt of a complaint about an alleged fake letter” related to the election but declined further comment. — Reuters