Simply insane

SURELY these offences would have meant the bus driver or any repeat offender should not have been behind the wheel of the bus in the crash on Sunday. All summonses were issued from 2011 to 2015.

Fractured blacklist system

Even as road accidents mount nationwide, an inefficient electronic system where police data on errant motorists to be blacklisted is not immediately available to the Road Transport Department (RTD) is stymieing efforts to keep erring drivers off the road.

Investigations into an express bus smashing into 10 cars along the North South Expressway on Sunday shockingly revealed a suspect blacklisting system that needs police to send such information to the RTD and the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD).

It is shocking that the agencies do not share information at the press of a button as they should in this day and age to identify menacing motorists who need to be kept off our roads.

In actuality, police hand over details of those constituting a road safety risk to RTD — acting as a centralised blacklisting agency — once a month, solely using discretion on who is deemed most likely a threat to motorists.

SPAD is also supposed to pass information to RTD on public transport vehicles that fall short of safety requirements but police are not privy to this information.

Clearly, there have been cracks in the system through which motorists, especially commercial vehicle drivers, have slipped through to pose a clear and present danger to law-abiding motorists.

A startling point emerging from the incident over the weekend was that the bus with faulty brakes had accumulated 63 summonses over five years through 25 drivers. The driver in the incident had nine summonses to his name between 2011 and last year.

How the bus and driver were not blacklisted and not on the RTD radar is incomprehensible.

Why were the bus owners not hauled up for allowing such a tardy state of affairs that could have led to deaths on the road?

And why are police and RTD officials carrying out infrequent urine tests to identify drug users among commercial vehicle drivers and not checking them for outstanding summonses?

Would this not seem as if frequent offenders are “protected” by weaknesses in the manner agencies overseeing road safety are carrying out their duties?

Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Ab Aziz Kaprawi’s admission that the existing blacklisting system has failed is enough to warrant the immediate introduction of a full-proof traffic offence database.

The key seems to lie in the Automated Awareness Safety System which will seek to integrate the Automated Enforcement System and the Kejara points demerit systems.

But this promised pairing is still far on the horizon, with no clear date for implementation except for a vague promise that it may be done by the year’s end.

And until then, motorists should keep their eyes on the road and their rear-view mirrors for road monsters who may turn their day into a living hell.

A fractured system of self-preservation is still the “best” available to thousands who ply roads nationwide daily, praying they will not be the next victim of wayward drivers let loose by an inadequate system.

Surely, the public can expect to stay safe on roads without depending on divine intervention alone?

Dallas sniper plotted bigger assault, say police

DALLAS — The US military veteran who fatally shot five Dallas police officers last week was plotting a larger assault, authorities said, disclosing how he had taunted negotiators and written on a wall in his own blood before being killed.

Protests against US police tactics continued for a third straight day on Sunday, with scores arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after authorities warned that violence during street demonstrations over the fatal police shootings of two black men last week would not be tolerated.

Dallas police chief David Brown told CNN on Sunday Micah X. Johnson had improvised as he used “shoot-and-move” tactics to gun down officers during a demonstration on Thursday, the deadliest day for US law enforcement since Sept 11, 2001.

Brown said a search of Johnson’s home showed the gunman had practised using explosives, and that other evidence suggested he wanted to use them against law enforcement officers.

“We’re convinced that this suspect had other plans,” he said. The fatal police shootings of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana last week led the 25-year-old Texas shooter to “fast-track” his attack, Brown said.

Johnson, a black veteran who served in Afghanistan, took advantage of a spontaneous march that began toward the end of the protest over those killings. Moving ahead of the rally in a black Tahoe SUV, he stopped when he saw a chance to use “high ground” to target police, Brown said.

Johnson was killed by a bomb-equipped robot but Brown said before then he sang, laughed at and taunted officers, and said he wanted to “kill white people” in retribution for police killings of black people.

“He seemed very much in control and very determined to hurt other officers,” the police chief said.

Brown said police were caught off guard when protesters broke away from Thursday’s demonstration, and were thus exposed as they raced to block off intersections ahead of the marchers.

Johnson’s military training helped him to shoot and move rapidly, “triangulating” his fire with multiple rounds so that police at first feared there were several shooters.

Brown defended the decision to use a robot to kill him, saying that “about a pound of C4” explosive was attached to it.

He said Johnson had scrawled the letters “RB” in his own blood on a wall before dying. “We’re trying to figure out through looking at things in his home what those initials mean,” Brown said.

The mass shooting amplified a turbulent week in the United States, which was again convulsed by the issues of race, gun violence and use of lethal force by police.

Even as officials and activists condemned the shootings and mourned the slain officers, hundreds of people were arrested on Saturday and Sunday as new protests against the use of deadly force by police flared in US cities.

Protesters faced off with police officers wearing gas masks on Sunday evening in Baton Rouge. Media, citing Baton Rouge police, reported that at least 48 people were taken into custody after demonstrators clashed with police following a peaceful march to the state capitol.

Speaking in Madrid during a European tour, US President Barack Obama said attacks on police over racial bias would hurt Black Lives Matter, a civil rights movement that emerged from the recent police killings of African-Americans but has been criticised for vitriolic social media postings against police, some of them sympathetic to Johnson. — Reuters

Hundreds join funeral of murdered Cambodian critic

PHNOM PENH — Hundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral yesterday of a leading Cambodian political commentator gunned down in broad daylight, a killing that has sent fear rippling through civil society.

Kem Ley, a political analyst and pro-democracy campaigner, was shot dead on Sunday as he drank coffee at a convenience store at a petrol station in the capital Phnom Penh.

The slaying of the 46-year-old comes as tensions boil between premier Hun Sen and the country’s political opposition, who accuse the strongman ruler of tying them up in spurious legal cases and deploying thugs to intimidate them.

Buddhist monks led a large crowd, many wearing black and white, at a temple in Phnom Penh where Kem Ley’s body was laid out, covered by Cambodia’s national flag and strewn with flowers.

One distressed mourner cut his arm with a razor blade in front of the victim’s body, in an act of protest at the murder of the respected analyst.

Several women carrying joss sticks wept over the body, their hands clasped in prayer.

A man who identified himself as Chuob Samlab — an unlikely Khmer name which translates as “meet to kill” -— was later taken to a Phnom Penh court amid tight security after allegedly confessing to shooting Kem Ley over an unpaid debt.

But the suspect’s motive as well as his name have been questioned by activists in a country where the rule of law is threadbare and criticism of powerful figures carries great risk.

Authorities suspect he is using an alias but insist they have the right man.

“No parents would give their kid that name,” General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the ministry of interior, told AFP.

But based on CCTV footage he is “the real killer”, he said.

The brazen murder has rattled the activist community in the capital, where Kem Ley’s advocacy group — “Khmer for Khmer” — did much of its work in support of land and worker rights as well as grassroots democracy.

“I always worry for my safety … but the murder of Kem Ley deepens our fear now,” Am Sam Ath, of rights group Licadho, said.

“But even with the fear I will continue my work. We already know what may happen to us,” he said.

Another civil society worker said it was “crucial” that justice is served.

“However all too often in Cambodia we see farcical judicial proceedings where the real perpetrators enjoy impunity,” Chak Sopheap said. — AFP

US police: Dallas shooter planned larger attacks

DALLAS — The Dallas gunman was plotting a major bomb attack, authorities said Sunday, urging calm after more than 200 people were arrested in a new night of protests over police violence against blacks.

Anger around America over the deaths of two black men at the hands of police in recent days — the stated reason for the black Dallas gunman’s deadly rampage targeting white officers — showed no signs of abating.

President Barack Obama cautioned protesting Americans against casting all police as racially biased.

Obama has ordered flags at half-staff 67 times in response to tragedies, more than any other president before him, and may address that grim record when he speaks at an inter-faith memorial service today.

Vice President Joe Biden will also attend, along with Obama’s predecessor and ex-Texas governor George W. Bush, who will deliver brief remarks, and his wife Laura.

The Dallas community’s “unity is reflective of who we are as Americans” during these trying times, said Obama, who will meet privately with the families of the five fallen police officers and those wounded.

The past week’s violence has shocked a country seemingly inured to its epidemic of gun violence and injected new urgency into the national debate on race relations and how white police deal with black suspects.

“The best way to honour the memory of Alton Sterling, the Dallas law enforcement officers and Philando Castile is to protect the people here,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said, referring to those killed in recent days.

Protesters will not be “allowed to incite hate and violence, to engage in unlawful activities,” he added.

People inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement — which arose in response to police using lethal force against unarmed blacks — took to the streets in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco in largely peaceful protests.

But authorities said a full-scale riot broke out in Saint Paul, Minnesota and resulted in 102 arrests. Protesters blocked a freeway and attacked police with rocks, bottles, fireworks, Molotov cocktails and metal bars.

Twenty-one officers were injured in the hours-long melee, one of them when a rioter dropped a 25-pound (11kg) chunk of concrete on his head from a bridge or overpass, police spokesman Steve Linders said.

It was in a Saint Paul suburb that one of last week’s deaths occurred.

In Baton Rouge, where the other death took place, one officer was injured and 102 protesters were also arrested, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said. Among them was activist leader DeRay McKesson, who livestreamed the incident. He was released on bond Sunday.

“The only people that were violent last night were the Baton Rouge police department,” McKesson told reporters outside the jailhouse. “The protesters remain peaceful both here and across the country.”

Both killings were caught on horrific videos that quickly went viral.

In a similar case, a black man was shot dead by police Saturday in Houston, the largest city in Texas.

City police said that Alva Braziel was carrying a gun, and was believed to have pointed it at officers, but in surveillance footage from a nearby gas station, he appears to put his hands up and turn around.

More than 500 people have died from US police bullets so far in 2016, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

Chilling new details about Dallas shooter Micah Johnson fleshed out a still sketchy portrait of the 25-year-old US Army reservist and Afghanistan war veteran who apparently supported black militant organisations, some classified as hate groups, and died in the standoff with police.

Johnson opened fire Thursday evening with a powerful rifle during a peaceful protest against the shooting deaths of the two men in Louisiana and Minnesota, triggering hours of chaos in the downtown section of this major Texas city.

A search of his Dallas-area home turned up bomb-making materials and a manual in which he wrote about military tactics.

Police now say he had been planning something big long beforehand, and that last week’s deaths were a trigger.

Investigators believe that “the suspect had been practicing explosive detonations and that the materials were such that it was large enough to have devastating effects throughout our city and our North Texas area,” Dallas police chief David Brown told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Johnson toyed with police as he negotiated with them during a standoff after he first started shooting.

“We had negotiated with him for about two hours. And he just basically lied to us, playing games, laughing at us, singing, asking how many did he get and that he wanted to kill some more,” Brown said.

Johnson insisted on speaking only to a black police officer when he began negotiating, Brown said.

He knew the route of the Dallas march, triangulating police and started taking them out with his high-calibre rifle.

At one point earlier, Johnson, apparently wounded in the exchange of gunfire with police, wrote the letters “RB” in his own blood on a wall at the community college where he was holed up.

Brown said it was not immediately clear what those letters meant.

Sharpshooters could not get a view of Johnson as he hid behind a brick wall, so police used a bomb carried by a robot.

“I’ll do it again if presented with the same circumstances,” Brown said. — AFP

Tropical storm kills nine in China

BEIJING — Nine people were killed and 18 are missing after wind and driving rain bought by the remains of super typhoon Nepartak swept into China over the weekend, the government said yesterday.

The deaths were all in the southeastern province of Fujian, where the typhoon made landfall, the civil affairs ministry said in a statement on its website.

Total economic damage has been put at 900 million yuan (RM537.5 million), with 16,000 hectares of crops destroyed and more than 900 houses wrecked, the ministry said.

In Taiwan, the storm caused at least three deaths and more than 300 injuries.

The storm is expected to worsen already severe flooding in parts of central and eastern China as its remnants slowly make their way inland.

Typhoons are common at this time of year in the South China Sea, picking up strength over warm waters and dissipating over land.

Typhoons used to kill many people in China but the government now enforces evacuations and takes precautions well in advance, which has helped save many lives. — Reuters

Obama visits Spain on symbolic but curtailed trip

MADRID — Barack Obama wrapped up a lightning visit to Spain on Sunday, an abbreviated first presidential trip to the country overshadowed by the fatal shooting of five police officers in Dallas.

Obama squeezed in the trip after a key NATO summit, before dashing home to deal with the aftermath of the wrenching attack.

Greeting Spain King Felipe at the Royal Palace in Madrid, Obama acknowledged that “we’ve had a difficult week in the United States.”

The US president cut a two-day visit to Spain down to one and cancelled a trip to Seville with the king altogether, after a black army veteran killed five white police officers.

Obama, who prides himself on his measured approach, is usually loath to alter travel plans.

But the shooting — just blocks from the site where John F. Kennedy was assassinated — has pushed a country crackling with political tension to the edge.

Obama, speaking in Madrid, renewed his appeal for calm and cautioned those protesting police killings of black Americans against blanket criticism, saying the majority of officers do a good job.

“If the rhetoric does not recognise that, then we’re going to lose allies in the reform cause,” he said.

On Saturday, speaking in Warsaw just before Air Force One departed for Spain, Obama insisted the country’s divisions were overplayed.

This was not, he insisted, the crisis-ridden era of the 1960s, when US cities burned, the Vietnam War raged and the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King were slain.

But his decision to shorten the trip is a tacit acknowledgement that the United States faces a combustible mix of deteriorating race relations, hyper-charged election politics and seemingly never-ending gun violence.

In recent months, videos of deadly mass shootings, or of white police officers killing black civilians, have become routine.

“Whenever those of us who are concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system attack police officers, you are doing a disservice to the cause,” Obama said in Madrid, as protests against police brutality continued around the country.

Obama will attend an interfaith service in honour of the five slain officers today.

Before leaving Spain, he visited a US and Spanish Naval Station at Rota, a base at the mouth of the Mediterranean, and addressed US personnel stationed there.

Since the time of the Greeks, Romans, Moors, Phoenicians and Visigoths, the Bay of Cadiz has been seen as a prime piece of geopolitical real estate.

During the Cold War nuclear weapons were positioned there. Today, Rota has taken on renewed importance with the deployment of four US Aegis destroyers.

They form an integral part of a guided European missile defence system much despised by Russia.

The transfer of the system to NATO control was a key part of an alliance summit in Warsaw which stressed deterring Moscow from destabilising eastern Europe.

Obama thanked the US personnel for their service and listed all the challenges NATO allies faced, from terrorist attacks to “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine” which he said threatens peace in Europe.

He also boarded the US Ross, one of four destroyers temporarily stationed in Rota that launch guided missiles, to greet uniformed soldiers waiting at a red carpet flanked by decorative wooden missiles.

Obama’s visit comes as Spain remains mired in a months-old political crisis, with two general elections resulting in no clear victor.

The two centre-left and centre-right parties that have dominated Spanish politics since the return of democracy in the late 1970s have, in the face of insurgent leftists, so far been unable to form a government.

Obama met acting premier Mariano Rajoy as well as opposition leaders.

Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) won a repeat general election on June 26 but fell short of an absolute majority and needs to support of other parties to form a government.

“I will make all necessary efforts to quickly form a government,” Rajoy said to reporters after meeting Obama.

Meanwhile, dozens of people braved the heat Sunday at noon to protest outside the US embassy, some carrying signs against the TTIP free trade deal being negotiated between the US and EU, and banners that read “Obama go home” or “War”. — AFP

N. Korea threatens action over US anti-missile system

SEOUL — North Korea threatened yesterday to take “physical action” after the United States and South Korea announced they would deploy a sophisticated US anti-missile defence system to counter the growing menace from South Korea.

Seoul and Washington on Friday revealed their decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in South Korea following recent North Korean missile and nuclear tests.

The two allies have not yet revealed exactly when and where the system, which fires projectiles to smash into enemy missiles, would be deployed but said they were in the final stage of selecting a potential venue.

“We will take a physical counter-action to thoroughly control THAAD … from the moment its location and place have been confirmed in South Korea,” the artillery bureau of North Korea’s military said in a statement, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korea’s military, which has “sufficient latest offensive strike means”, will take “more merciless and powerful successive corresponding measures against the US keen to ignite a war by deploying THAAD”, it said.

It also warned South Korea of “miserable self-destruction” as a consequence of deployment of the THAAD system.

“We once again warn the enemies that it is the steadfast will of the Korean People’s Army to make merciless retaliatory strikes to reduce South Korea to a sea in flames, debris once an order is issued,” the statement said.

Seoul denounced the “ridiculous threats” by the North, which had staged serious provocations including a nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February.

“North Korea must recognise who is threatening peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and first apologise for its provocations,” defence ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told reporters.

Pyongyang also test-fired what appeared to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile a day after the announcement by Seoul and Washington, sparking swift international condemnation.

Saturday’s launch followed Pyongyang’s back-to-back tests of a powerful new medium-range Musudan missiles on June 22 — theoretically capable of reaching US bases as far away as Guam.

Tensions are high since Pyongyang carried out its fourth nuclear test in January, followed by a series of missile launches that analysts said showed the North was making progress toward being able to strike the US mainland.

The planned deployment of the powerful anti-missile system has angered the South’s neighbours including China, which said on Friday the move would “seriously damage” regional security in northeast Asia.

President Park Geun-hye, however, defended the move as a “purely defensive” action aimed at protecting the South.

“The international community will be aware that we have no intention to target or threaten another country … we are taking a purely defensive measure to protect our country and our people,” Park said in a meeting with advisers.

She also urged support from South Koreans over the deployment of ”powerful” weapons, in the face of growing protest in the areas said to be potential venues.

On Saturday, some 3,500 residents of Chilgok county in the southeast protested against the possible deployment, saying the region had not been properly developed since US troops were stationed there in 1960.

Nearly 30,000 US troops are permanently stationed across the South — a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with a ceasefire instead of a peace treaty.

About 3,000 residents in the central county of Eumseong are also set to stage a mass rally to protest against the lack of information provided to the public about the potential dangers posed by the defence battery and its impact on the local economy. — AFP

Thai journalist charged under draconian charter law

BANGKOK — A Thai journalist and four activists were charged yesterday under a draconian law banning criticism of the junta’s new constitution which will be voted on in a referendum next month.

Taweesak Kerdpoka, a reporter with the news outlet Prachatai, was arrested on Sunday morning alongside four members of the New Democracy Movement, one of the few activist groups that dare to challenge the military since generals seized power two years ago.

“Their actions were violating the referendum Bill Article 61 clause 2,” police colonel Amnuay Pongsawat, from Ban Pong district in central Ratchaburi province, said.

He did not elaborate on how their actions had broken the law, but the men face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The clause outlaws critical discussion of the junta’s new draft constitution, which will become Thailand’s 20th in less than a century, if passed.

Prachatai editor Chiranuch Premchaiporn said Taweesak was travelling in the same car as the activists to report on their activities.

Police stopped the car and found documents that they deemed were in breach the referendum law.

“He is a reporter that covers human and environmental rights,” she said. “He was just doing his job.”

Thais will vote on the the new charter on Aug 7, the first return to the ballot box since the 2014 coup.

The junta says the document is the antidote to Thailand’s caustic political divide.

But politicians on both sides of the divide have dismissed it as an attempt to further entrench the military’s hold on power through an appointed senate.

Video posted online showed the five shackled men making their way to court yesterday morning as supporters handed them roses.

The activists could be heard shouting: “Voting ‘no’ is our right, it is not against the law”.

A message from Taweesak on his Facebook page read: “Being arrested for referendum campaigning is bad, but what should we call being arrested for reporting on the referendum campaign?”

Prachatai has a history of investigative journalism that frequently riles Bangkok’s ultra-nationalist establishment.

Last year, its editor Chiranuch lost an appeal against a conviction under the country’s notorious royal defamation law for failing to speedily remove reader comments deemed critical of the monarchy.

Since the military’s takeover Thailand has undergone a major rights crackdown, with scores of activists jailed and skyrocketing lese majeste convictions.

The kingdom has been handicapped by more than a decade of political deadlock and violence including two military coups. — AFP

China says no S. China Sea talk at Asia-Europe summit

BEIJING — The South China Sea is not on the agenda and should not be discussed at a major summit between Asian and European leaders in Mongolia at the end of the week, a senior Chinese diplomat said yesterday.

The Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, will be the first important multilateral diplomatic gathering after the July 12 ruling by an arbitration court hearing a dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea.

Tensions and rhetoric have been rising ahead of the ruling in the Dutch city of The Hague, a case which China has refused to recognise or participate in. Beijing says the court has no jurisdiction and China cannot be forced to accept dispute resolution.

China has repeatedly blamed the United States for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, where its territorial claims overlap in parts with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou signalled discussion of the South China Sea would not be welcomed at the event, which happens once every two years, as it’s designed to discuss issues between Asia and Europe.

“The ASEM leaders summit is not a suitable place to discuss the South China Sea. There are no plans to discuss it there on the agenda for the meeting. And it should not be put on the agenda,” Kong told a news briefing.

However, Beijing-based diplomats involved with preparations for ASEM say it is inevitable the South China Sea dispute will be raised at the summit, which is expected to be attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The United States has conducted freedom of navigation patrols close to Chinese-held islands, to Beijing’s anger, while China has been bolstering its military presence there.

Kong said that if there are tensions in the South China Sea it is because certain countries outside the region have been putting on shows of force and interfering.

“There is no reason to get the South China Sea issue into this ASEM meeting citing freedom of navigation and security interests as causes of concern. It’s got no leg to stand on,” he added.

Ahead of the ruling, Philippine nationals in China this weekend received mobile phone text messages from their embassy, warning them not to discuss politics in public and to avoid engaging in discussions on social media. They were advised to carry their passports and residency permits with them at all times and to contact the embassy or Chinese police if there are any untoward incidents.

China says much of the building and reclamation work it has been doing in the South China Sea is to benefit the international community, including for civilian maritime navigation.

The official China Daily said yesterday that China will soon start operations of a fifth lighthouse in the South China Sea, on Mischief Reef.

Taiwan is also watching the case closely.

Its single holding of Itu Aba is the biggest feature in the Spratlys and the one some analysts believe has the strongest claim to island status and an exclusive economic zone.

“If the ruling touches on our sovereign rights we will respond strongly,” said deputy foreign minister Leo C.J. Lee to lawmakers in a parliamentary committee session yesterday.

The coast guard, which directly oversees Itu Aba with the support of the military, will not “soften” its defence of the island, coast guard chief Lee Chung-wei added. — Reuters

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