Singapore shrouded in smog

SINGAPORE — Acrid smog blanketed Singapore yesterday as the city-state was hit by the year’s first major outbreak of haze, an annual crisis sparked by forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia.

Singapore’s air quality index reached unhealthy levels with conditions deteriorating through the day, marking the worst return of the haze since vast parts of Southeast Asia were affected in 2015.

Last year’s haze outbreak was among the worst in memory, shrouding Malaysia, Singapore, and parts of Thailand in acrid smoke.

The blazes are started illegally to clear land, typically for palm oil and pulpwood plantations, and Indonesia has faced intense criticism from its neighbours over its failure to halt the annual smog outbreaks.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency said the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was at 165 as of 4pm yesterday. The reading for the 24-hour period, however, was on the higher band of the moderate range.

PSI levels above 100 are deemed unhealthy and people are advised to reduce vigorous outdoor activity.

A cloud of greyish smoke swept across the island, accompanied by a strong smell of burning foliage.

Visibility from high-rise offices and other vantage points was virtually zero. An AFP photographer said he could hardly see the skyline from one of the city’s highest points at Mount Faber.

Smog was also visible in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of neighbouring Malaysia, over a few days last week but did not breach unhealthy levels.

An area in Perak had briefly tipped over to the unhealthy range for a few hours last week, according to local media.

Singapore last September closed schools and distributed protective face masks as the air pollution index soared to hazardous levels following three weeks of being cloaked in smoke from Sumatra.

Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said on its website that the number of “hotspots” in Sumatra — which sits across the Malacca Strait from Singapore — had increased in the past 48 hours.

A hotspot is an area of intense heat detected by satellites, indicating a blaze has already broken out or that an area is very hot and likely to go up in flames soon.

As of midnight local time on Thursday, there were 68 hotspots on Sumatra, up from 43 two days earlier, the agency said.

In the Indonesian part of Borneo island — another area where large numbers of smog-belching fires occur every year — there were 31 hotspots as of midnight Thursday local time, it added. — AFP

French court suspends burkini ban

PARIS — France’s highest administrative court on Friday suspended a ban on full-body burkini swimsuits that has outraged Muslims and opened divisions within the government, pending a definitive ruling.

The Conseil d’Etat gave the ruling following a request from the League of Human Rights to overturn the burkini ban in the Mediterranean town of Villeneuve-Loubet on the grounds it contravenes civil liberties.

The court said in a statement the decree to ban burkinis in Villeneuve-Loubet “seriously, and clearly illegally, breached the fundamental freedoms to come and go, the freedom of beliefs and individual freedom”.

Under the French legal system, temporary decisions can be handed down before the court takes more time to prepare a judgment on the underlying legality of the case.

The ban, which spread to more than a dozen coastal towns, had exposed cracks within the Socialist government’s unity as Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended it on Thursday while some ministers criticised it.

The issue has shone a light on secular France’s difficulties responding to homegrown and foreign militants following Islamist attacks in Nice and a Normandy church in July.

It has also made French cultural identity a hot-button issue along with security in political debates as the country switches into campaign mode ahead of a presidential election next April.


Thousands bid farewell to Nathan

SINGAPORE — Over 20,000 people, including Singapore President Tony Tan, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Japanese premier Shinzo Abe, paid their last respects to Singapore’s sixth and longest serving president S.R. Nathan on Thursday and yesterday.

The also conveyed their condolences to Urmila Nandey, Nathan’s wife.

A crowd gathered outside Parliament House as the State funeral procession began at 2pm. Nine uniformed officers from the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Police Force transferred the casket onto a ceremonial gun carriage.

The carriage left Parliament House escorted by police outriders and other vehicles. People clapped as the procession passed by.

It passed three landmarks closely associated with Nathan and his long career in public service — the City Hall, Fullerton Hotel and the NTUC Centre.

Groups of primary school students were seen near the Commonwealth MRT station.

Students from Singapore Polytechnic Annabelle Sang, 18, and Chelsea Teo, 18, were among those who gathered along the route.

“We couldn’t make it for the lying-in-state at Parliament House because we had exams, so we decided to come today,” said Sang. “Mr Nathan made a lot of contributions, and helped Singapore a lot.”

Teo added: “He might not be in the public eye a lot, but I believe he’s definitely contributed a lot to Singapore, and has won a lot of medals too.”

Steven Phua, 63, a retiree, was also along the procession route. He had been to Istana to sign the condolence book and also paid his respects at Parliament House.

“He has done so much for Singapore in terms of security. I thought he handled the Laju incident very well,” Phua, a former air traffic controller, said.

“At that time there was no protocol on terrorism, security was non-existent, not like today. I’m proud of him, he’s an unsung hero.”

The procession ended at the National University of Singapore’s University Cultural Centre (UCC), where the State funeral service was held.

On arrival here, a “line of honour” made up of 48 servicemen from the SAF military police command greeted the gun carriage at the main foyer. As the gun carriage passed, the servicemen inverted their weapons and bowed their heads as a mark of respect. This is the highest form of respect the SAF can pay to the deceased.

The coffin bearers then carried the casket into the UCC. They slow-marched to the playing of G.F. Handel’s “Dead March from Saul” by the SAF military band.

Those following the procession included chief mourner Osith Ramanathan, Nathan’s son, as well as family members. The accompanying pallbearers included two ministers, Lawrence Wong and Masagos Zulkifli, representatives from the People’s Association, and two family friends.

The casket entered the UCC hall as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra played J S Bach’s “Air” from the Overture No 3 in D Major. The casket was placed on a bier for the rest of the funeral service.

Prime Minister Lee, veteran diplomat Tommy Koh, and Ambassador-at-Large Gopinath Pillai are among the seven people who delivered eulogies at the service.

A private cremation service was held at the Mandai Crematorium after the State funeral. — Today

Malacca triple murder victims buried

MALACCA — The three family members murdered in a pre-dawn amok attack, were buried at the Bertam Malim cemetery yesterday.

More than 500 people comprising family members, friends and the members of the public attended the funeral of Hassan A. Wahab, 70, his wife Mariah Baharin, 60, and their son Muhammad Taufeq, 22.

Those present included state assembly Speaker Datuk Othman Muhammad, Malacca’s police chief Deputy Commissioner Datuk Ramli Din, Malacca Tengah police chief Assistant Commissioner Shaikh Abdul Adzis Shaikh Abdullah and community leaders.

The atmosphere at the graveyard was sombre, and many did not budge despite the heavy rain.

On Thursday, the three were found murdered in their home in Kampung Bertam Malim at about 6.30am. Three other family members were found seriously injured and are undergoing treatment in hospital.

About five hours after police responded to the emergency at the home, a suspect, believed to be a relative, was arrested at the Bukit Rambai mosque. — Bernama

Senior citizen charged with durian sellers murder

BUKIT MERTAJAM — A senior citizen was charged with the murder of a durian seller over the quality of fruits sold, at the magistrate’s court yesterday.

Self-employed Ooi Chang Ang nodded when the charge was read out to him in Hokkien. The 60-year-old faces the mandatory death sentence upon conviction. No plea was recorded.

He was charged with killing Ong Ting San, 61, at a house in Taman Sri Kijang, Bukit Mertajam, between 4.45pm and 5.15pm on Aug 18.

Defence counsel Rafael Abdullah, when addressing the court, said his client experienced pain at the back of his head and sought the court’s permission to be sent to hospital for an examination before being sent back to the lock-up.

Magistrate Jamaliah Abd Manap granted the application and set Nov 25 for mention of the case.

It was earlier reported that businessman Ong collapsed when fleeing from an armed assailant following an attack near his durian stall in Taman Sri Kijang.

Passers-by rushed him to the Seberang Jaya Hospital when he succumbed to injuries about six hours later.

The suspect was arrested when he reported to the central police station in Seberang Perai the day after the attack.

Annual asset declaration more effective, says MACC

KUALA LUMPUR — The Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) welcomes the renewed interest to review asset declaration from the current five years to annually.

However, the discretion for such a move lies solely with the Public Service Department (PSD).

“An annual asset declaration could be more effective than the current five-year declaration,” MACC deputy chief commissioner (management and professionalism) Datuk Seri Mohd Jamidan Abdullah said.

“The move could help provide a clearer picture of assets under the name of an individual.”

But Mohd Jamidan was quick to affirm that such a decision rested solely with the PSD.

“It’s not up to us to decide on that as the commission does not have the powers to push for such a change. It’s up to the PSD.”

In light of recent events, he added, there had been a renewed interest in asset declaration and the department may be considering a review of their current policy.

On Monday, Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said he declared his assets to the Prime Minister annually and said public declarations would open officials to attacks by criminals.

Mohd Jamidan said public declarations were not necessary and could potentially put officials at risk of being targeted by criminals.

“That is a real threat, it cannot be discounted. They also have a right to privacy and they may want to keep their declarations private as a safety measure

“But when making declarations, even internal ones, they are placed on record and the individuals would be held accountable accordingly,” he said.


More nabbed in Bank Rakyat graft probe

PETALING JAYA — Bank Rakyat president Datuk Mustafha Abd Razak and one of his bank executives were among four men whom graftbusters yesterday obtained remands to facilitate investigations into their alleged corrupt practices.

The other two were the managing director of a publishing company and one of its employees.

They were produced before magistrate Nik Isfahanie Tasnim Wan Abdul Rahman in Putrajaya

where Malaysia Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC) officers secured a three-day remand to futher detain the four to assist investigations.

The four were among eight picked up separately by MACC officers in the city on Thursday.

After a preliminary investigation, MACC released four after their statements were recorded.

The four released were two female lawyers, a book writer and the wife of a bank officer.

“More suspects are being identified over the alleged offences,” MACC investigations director Datuk Azam Baki told Malay Mail.

“Since this was a tip-off from the public, we need to run our own investigations and background checks before determining other possible suspects.”

Sources said the MACC was looking at Bank Raykat’s exchange tender system

Further investigations are over a contract for the publication of a book on a national leader which never saw print despite a RM15 million deal awarded to a city-based publisher.

Azam had said the money was paid to a company owned by an individual who was alleged to have ties with 48-year-old Mustafha.

MACC froze several bank accounts totalling RM8.1 million, including those belonging to Mustafha, in the course of investigations.

In an unrelated event, Bernama reports MACC obtained a remand to detain a project manager, a manager of an oil exploration company and six contractors for five days to assist in investigations into a RM76 million pipeline project.

The remand order for the five men and three women was also granted by Nik Isfahanie.

The eight, aged between 35 and 60, were detained in Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Ghafar Baba’s son says ‘no’ to Pribumi

KUALA LUMPUR — Former PAS man Tamrin Abdul Ghafar said yesterday he will not be joining Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s new party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

Tamrin, the son of former deputy prime minister and Umno strongman, the late Tun Abdul Ghafar Baba, also said he will no longer be a part of the secretariat of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Citizens’ Declaration.

“I have decided that I will not join the new party being formed by TSMY,” Tamrin said in a statement, referring to Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is Pribumi’s protem committee president.

“I am also withdrawing myself from the secretariat of the Citizens’ Declaration which is headed by Dr Mahathir,”
he added.

When contacted, the former Batu Berendam MP declined to explain, saying only that he gave it serious thought beforehand.

Govt serious about child protection, says Azalina

KUALA LUMPUR — The taskforce reviewing child protection laws will include lawyers, psychologists and child protection advocates, its newly-appointed head, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman, said yesterday.

The minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said it will also comprise representatives from the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

She said others to be considered include MPs, representatives of the Bar Council and the Shariah Lawyers Association, academicians, individuals from women’s rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as those qualified to review child protection laws.

“I would like to thank Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak for entrusting me with the responsibility of heading the taskforce,” she said in a statement issued yesterday.

She said the taskforce was the government’s way of showing its commitment towards protecting the rights of children and listening to the people.

“It also shows the government’s commitment in ensuring that issues relating to women and children are handled well.

“It proves the government is always considerate, listening and taking the opinions from various invested parties like NGOs, especially relating to women and children,” she said.

On Thursday, Najib in announcing Azalina’s appointment had said that he would personally oversee the taskforce.

Calls for tough child protection laws arose after the media reported on British paedophile Richard Huckle who preyed on underaged and minors during his
stay here.

Following a lengthy trial, Huckle was convicted in June and ordered to serve 22 life sentences in the United Kingdom for sexual crimes against impoverished victims, aged six months to 12 years, many of them Malaysians.

Prior to Huckle’s arrest by British authorities in December 2014, the Briton had operated under the radar in Malaysia since March 2006, allegedly abusing close to 200 children.

It was reported that Huckle, dubbed in the UK as Britain’s worst paedophile, had preyed on pre-pubescent children by posing as a student, photographer, English teacher and even philanthropist.

After his case came to light, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry set up a hotline urging those with information on paedophiles and child sexual abuse to come forward.


Govt urged to address issue of universal conversion

PETALING JAYA — The government’s move to give civil courts full jurisdiction in divorce and custody cases involving spouses who convert to Islam has led to discussions on the issue of unilateral conversion.

Lawyer Fahri Azzat, welcoming the announcement on Thursday by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, said the proposed amendments had taken a long time coming as the idea was first discussed in 2009.

“Firstly, the general idea that the converting spouse should be held accountable under civil law is an excellent notion,” he said.

Fahri said this could resolve the issue of conflicting orders such as was the case with his client S. Deepa who obtained a civil order in the custody battle over her two children with her former husband, Izwan Abdullah, obtaining a Shariah court order.

However, he was wary of the issue of unilateral conversion in which the converting spouse had the right to convert his/her child.

Fahri believed children should have the right to decide even before they become majors.

Najib had said the government will table a bill amending the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 when Parliament resumes in October.

Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) executive committee member Ivy Josiah, who welcomed the announcement, wants the government to address the issue of unilateral conversion.

“Several years ago a few proposed amendments to the Federal Constitution, the Islamic Family Law, and the Law Reform Marriage and Divorce Act 1976 were put on the table, but did not see light of day. The heart of the matter is to look at what happens after unilateral conversion,”
she said.

Josiah said unilateral conversions should be stopped with the proposed amendments rendering previous cases involving this null and void.

“One cannot stop the spouse from converting (as a matter of freedom of religion) but unilateral conversion of children should be stopped. Let them be raised in both faiths with children deciding once they have reached 18 years of age,”
she said.

“Hopefully with these amendments, there will be more clarity for the authorities, and civil (court) orders will be honoured,’’ she said.

Lawyer M. Kula Segaran said the draft laws should be widely circulated among parliamentarians, NGOs and the Malaysian Bar Council.

“In this manner, a more detailed study and feedback can be obtained for thorough and fair amendments. This will also ensure that the issue, which has caused much hardship to Indira and others, could be addressed once and for all,” he said in a statement.

He added that a non-partisan Parliamentary committee could be established to address the issue as well.

“The draft laws should be widely circulated among parliamentarians, NGOs and the Malaysian Bar Council,’’ he added.

Kula, the Ipoh Barat MP, was eager to know of the proposed amendments to understand its implications on spouses caught in such a predicament.

Deepa’s case was similar to that of M. Indira Gandhi, a kindergarten teacher, whose husband K. Pathmanathan converted to Islam in March 2009, and subsequently converted their three children.

Deepa married Viran Nagapan in March 2003 but he converted to Islam in 2011, assuming the name Izwan Abdullah.

Izwan subsequently converted their two children without her knowledge.

On Feb 10, Deepa was awarded custody of their 11-year-old daughter Sharmila with Izwan awarded custody of son
Nabil, eight.

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