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Deadly Volvo yacht race ‘like a slalom’– competitor

HONG KONG: Teams competing in the Volvo Ocean Race had to slalom their way around numerous fishing boats while approaching Hong Kong on the fourth leg of the journey, French sailor Franck Cammas told AFP, after a collision left one Chinese fisherman dead.

The gruelling 5,800-nautical mile stage from Melbourne, Australia to Hong Kong was won by local group Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag in a historic victory. But news that a rival team had crashed into a Chinese fishing boat cast a cloud over celebrations.

Nine people were rescued following the accident Saturday, which tore a hole in the side of the American-Danish team’s boat, Vestas 11th Hour Racing, and sank the fishing vessel.

Hong Kong police said a 50-year-old man from China who was in charge of the fishing boat was airlifted to hospital but pronounced dead on arrival.

All Vestas crew members were safe but the incident forced the team to officially retire from the fourth leg.

Franck Cammas, one of France’s most successful sailors who was with China’s Dongfeng Race Team, said they were attempting to catch up with the second-placed Vestas when the accident happened.

He said there was always a risk of collision on approach to the coast but a high number of boats in the water made the final stretch particularly challenging.

“We were in the middle of countless fishing boats. There were two areas previously that were just as dense. This was the last area before we got to Hong Kong,” the 45-year-old, who skippered the winning Groupama IV in the 2011-2012 race, told AFP.

He added that these kinds of accidents were “extremely rare” because vessels usually have equipment on board to help spot other boats. AFP

“We had to slalom a little bit… We were almost at the boat’s maximum speed, around 20 knots, with boats where everyone is concentrating on controlling the sails, with a lot of water in your face too, so it’s going fast, and there’s a lot of noise.”

The teams were also exhausted after battling the seas for more than two weeks, he said.

When a mayday call was issued, Dongfeng immediately offered assistance to the American-Danish team but were told their help was not needed.

Dongfeng’s French skipper Charles Caudrelier was quoted just minutes after finishing as saying conditions had been dangerous.

“It is always very dangerous when sailing in these fishing areas when there are so many boats and some have no lights,” he said, according to the race website.

The Volvo Ocean Race is one of the world’s toughest sailing events.

The 2017-18 edition is the longest in the competition’s 44-year history, stretching over eight months and 45,000 nautical miles around the globe. The event ends in The Hague in the Netherlands in late June.

It is the first time Hong Kong has hosted part of the race, and teams had the navigational challenge of dodging numerous islands on their journey north from Melbourne.

Race director Phil Lawrence said it remained unclear what caused the collision but there were questions around whether the fishing boat was showing navigation lights or using equipment to detect other vessels.

“We don’t have answers to those questions yet but of course those are central question(s) to the ongoing investigation,” he said.

Initial reports said the nine rescued were in good condition, he added, but the Vestas crew were “very shaken and deeply saddened by the incident”.

Hong Kong police said an investigation was underway.

AFP

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NKorea delegates conduct pre-Olympics inspection

SEOUL: North Korean delegates arrived in South Korea on Sunday to inspect venues and prepare cultural performances for next month’s Winter Olympics, in the first visit by Pyongyang officials to the capitalist South for four years.

Television footage showed a group of seven officials led by Hyon Song-Wol, the leader of the North’s popular Moranbong band, crossing the heavily-fortified border on a bus before arriving at Seoul train station about an hour later.

The stony-faced officials, surrounded by hundreds of Seoul police officers, then boarded a train to the eastern city of Gangneung, where one of the planned musical concerts is due to be held.

Hyon, a star singer and also the leader of the 140-member Samjiyon Orchestra chosen to visit the South, was seen leaving the train station in Gangneung without talking to throngs of journalists.

The two-day visit is the first by Pyongyang officials to the South since before left-leaning South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who advocates dialogue with the North, took office last May.

The trip comes two weeks after the neighbours agreed to send Pyongyang’s athletes, cheerleaders, artistic troupes and other delegates to the Games, due to begin in the South’s alpine resort of Pyeongchang on February 9.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) on Saturday endorsed the deal, saying the North would send 22 athletes in sports ranging from figure skating to short-track speed skating.

The two nations also agreed to march together at an opening ceremony under a unification flag—a pale blue silhouette of the Korean peninsula—and to form a joint women’s ice hockey team.

Under the cross-border deal, the orchestra led by Hyon will hold two concerts—one in the capital Seoul and another in Gangneung —during the Olympics.

Seoul will also send skiers to the North’s Masikryong ski resort for joint training with North Korean counterparts, and hold a joint cultural event in the scenic Mount Kumgang area north of the border, according to the deal.

The delegation led by Hyon will inspect venues in Gangneung on Sunday and those in the capital Seoul on Monday before returning to the North on the same day.

Another team of delegates will visit the South next week to check logistics for North Korean athletes, while Seoul will also send its own officials to the North’s ski resort to inspect the venue.

‘Peace Olympics’
Seoul and organisers hope that the Games, which they have promoted as the “Peace Olympics,” could ease tensions on the peninsula that surged to new heights in recent months over the North’s nuclear standoff with the US.

The North last year staged a nuclear test and test-fired multiple long-range missiles believed to be capable of reaching the US mainland.

The North’s ruler Kim Jong-Un also traded colorful personal insults and threats of war with US President Donald Trump, sparking fears of another conflict on the peninsula once devastated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Moon has tried to use the Winter Games as an opportunity to defuse tension, even asking the US to postpone an scheduled joint military exercise during the event —a request Washington accepted.

Kim, who had remained silent to repeated calls by Seoul to take part in the Olympics, abruptly announced an intention to join in his New Year address.

But the recent moves also irritated many in the South, who accused Seoul of making too many concessions to the hostile, wayward neighbour that regularly issues military threats against the South.

The deal over the unified women’s ice hockey team sparked fury in the South, where critics accused Seoul of robbing some of its own players of the opportunity to compete at the Olympics for the sake of politics.

Tens of thousands have joined online petitions on the presidency’s website urging Moon to scrap the plan.

Even as two Koreas reached deals over the Olympics, the North’s state media accused the dovish Moon of “brown-nosing” the US and threatened to withdraw its offer to join the Olympics if Seoul did not show enough respect.

AFP

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Bong Go’s ‘intervention’ in Navy frigate project ‘inappropriate, illegal’ -- Alejano
Alejano said that despite denial from the Palace and Go himself, his supposed act of calling for a meeting with the Project Management Team handling the acquisition project was a clear intervention.
At least 17 killed in New Delhi factory fire

NEW DELHI: At least 17 workers were killed Saturday in a fire at a factory on the outskirts of India’s capital, officials said.

The blaze started in the basement of a three-storey plastic manufacturing facility in the Bawana industrial area on the northern edge of New Delhi, which officials suspect was also used to store fireworks.

The fire quickly spread upwards from the basement, trapping nearly two dozen workers on the upper floors, said an official at the capital’s emergency service.

Rescuers took nearly two hours to put out the fire as the search and rescue operation continued late into the night.

“Seventeen bodies have been retrieved from the building,” Praveen Kumar, an official at Delhi’s emergency service headquarters, told AFP.

Two people suffered injuries and were taken to hospital, he added.

Rescuers were uncertain about the fate of the other workers. Most of the victims died due to asphyxiation, officials said.

The government has launched an investigation to determine the cause of the fire.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply anguished” by the accident.

“My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives. May those who are injured recover quickly,” he tweeted.

Deadly workplace accidents are common in India, where there are poor safety standards and lax enforcement of regulations.

In November, a massive fire at a plastic factory in the northern city of Ludhiana left 13 people dead, including three firefighters who were killed when the building collapsed.

Thirteen workers were killed in November 2016 in New Delhi after a makeshift factory was gutted in a fire.

AFP

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US lawmakers in bid to end shutdown stalemate

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers will launch a last-ditch bid Sunday to end a budget impasse before hundreds of thousands of federal workers are forced to start the work week at home with no pay.

The impact of the shutdown that began at midnight Friday has been largely limited so far, closing sites like New York’s Statue of Liberty, but the effect will be acute if the stalemate runs into Monday.

Republicans and Democrats have traded bitter recriminations over who is to blame for the failure to pass a stop-gap funding measure by a January 20 deadline, a year to the day since Donald Trump took office as US president.

Highlighting the deep political polarization, crowds estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands took to the streets of major US cities Saturday to march against the president and his policies.

Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell on Saturday set a key vote for a funding measure for 1:00 am (0600 GMT) Monday, with both houses of Congress set to reconvene Sunday.

“I assure you we will have the vote at 1:00 am on Monday, unless there is a desire to have it sooner,” he said in a statement.

At the heart of the dispute is the thorny issue of undocumented immigration.

Democrats have accused Republicans of poisoning chances of a deal and pandering to Trump’s populist base by refusing to fund a program that protects 700,000 “Dreamers”—undocumented immigrants who arrived as children —from deportation.

Trump, in return, has said Democrats are “far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants than they are with our great Military or Safety at our dangerous Southern Border.”

The shutdown’s effects meanwhile are set to intensify.

Essential federal services and military activity are continuing, but even active duty troops will not be paid until a deal is reached to reopen the US government.

‘Holding pattern’
There have been four government shutdowns since 1990. In the last one in 2013, more than 800,000 government workers were put on temporary leave.

“We’re just in a holding pattern. We just have to wait and see. It’s scary,” Noelle Joll, a 50-year-old furloughed US government employee, told AFP in Washington.

A deal had appeared likely on Friday afternoon, when Trump—who has touted himself as a master negotiator—seemed to be close to an agreement with Democratic Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer on protecting Dreamers.

But no such compromise was in the language that reached Congress for a stop-gap motion to keep the government open for four more weeks while a final arrangement is discussed. And Republicans failed to win enough Democratic support to bring it to a vote.

Congress reconvened for a rare Saturday session, where leaders of both sides were meant to hammer out their differences to prevent the shutdown from stretching into Monday. Instead, they traded accusations of responsibility for the shutdown.

Schumer said trying to negotiate with Trump “was like negotiating with Jell-O.”

“It’s impossible to negotiate with a constantly moving target,” he said. “President Trump is so mercurial it’s been impossible to get him to agree to anything.”

Meanwhile, McConnell said Schumer “took the extraordinary step” of preventing the legislation from passing and thus “plunging the country into this totally avoidable mess.”

Anti-Trump protests
Republicans have a tenuous one-seat majority in the Senate, and on Friday needed to lure some Democrats to their side to get a 60 vote supermajority to bring the motion forward. They fell ten votes short.

The measure brought to Congress would have extended federal funding until February 16 and reauthorized for six years a health insurance program for poor children—a long-time Democratic objective.

But it left out any action on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, that affects Dreamers.

White House officials insisted there was no urgency to fix DACA, which expires March 5.

As US lawmakers wrangled over government funding, protesters turned out in cities including Los Angeles, New York and Washington to express their opposition to Trump, and their support for women’s rights.

Protestors hoisted placards with messages including “Fight like a girl” and “A woman’s place is in the White House” and “Elect a clown, expect a circus.”

AFP

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Pope urges end to violence against women

TRUJILLO, Peru: Pope Francis on Saturday urged Latin America’s faithful to fight rampant violent crime against women including murder, while holding mass in Trujillo, Peru’s largest northern city.

“I wish to invite you to combat a plague across our Latin American region: the numerous cases of violent crimes against women, from beatings to rape to murder,” the visiting pontiff told thousands in Trujillo’s main colonial-era square.

Half of the 25 countries with the greatest number of murders of women are in Latin America, according to UN Women.

In Argentina, the pope’s homeland, there were at least 254 murders of women in 2016 that authorities think were gender-related, which helped spark the online campaign #NotOneMore murder.

“There are so many cases of violence that stay silenced behind so many walls,” Francis said, arousing cheers from the crowd. “I’m calling on you to fight against this source of suffering including legislation and a culture that rejects every type of violence.”

The northwestern city Trujillo is still struggling to rebuild after deadly devastating floods one year ago.

More than 130 people were killed across Peru between January and April 2017 in heavy rains, floods and landslides fueled by the El Nino weather phenomenon, which also left at least 300,000 homeless. Hardest-hit was Peru’s northern coastal region.

Francis acknowledged that many families still could not rebuild their homes after the floods —then warned of the “storms” of organized crime.

The high crime rate means fewer educational and work opportunities, preventing young people “from building a future with dignity,” Francis said.

The mass took place on a stretch of beach in Huanchaco, a town in Trujillo some 560 kilometers (350 miles) north of Lima. Huanchaco is popular with surfers and known for its distinctive reed watercraft known as “caballitos de totora.”

The pope then boarded his Popemobile to visit Trujillo’s impoverished “Buenos Aires” neighborhood, which was especially hard hit by last April’s flooding.

“We will see if the pope brings along some blessings. And if we can recover completely from everything lost in the floods. We need him to bring some mercy,” said local resident Lidia Garcia.

As on Friday, Francis was accompanied by Peru’s president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

On Sunday he is slated to hold another beachside mass in Lima.

‘Threatened’ Amazon natives
The visit is a change of pace after a politically charged first day in the South American country where the pope railed against “great business interests” for endangering the Amazon and its indigenous people.

And he lashed out at corruption in politics.

“There is so much damage done by this… thing that infects everything,” Francis said. “And it’s always the poorest and the environment that get the short end of the stick.”

On Friday, he sounded a stark warning about the future of the rainforest and tribe members, saying they had “never been so threatened.”

Bare-chested tribesmen, their bodies painted and their heads crowned with colorful feathers, danced and sang for the pope when he arrived in the Peruvian city of Puerto Maldonado.

Thousands of indigenous people had traveled to meet the pontiff from throughout the Amazon basin region of Peru, Brazil and Bolivia.

Pope Francis, 81, arrived Thursday afternoon in Peru, the second and last leg of a week-long South American visit.

During the first part of his visit, in Chile, Francis highlighted the plight of vulnerable immigrants, offered an apology to victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, prayed with survivors of Augusto Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship, and called for protection of Chile’s persecuted indigenous people.

AFP

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At least six dead as Kabul hotel attack ends – officials

KABUL: Gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul killing at least six people, including a foreigner, sparking a twelve hour fight with security forces that left terrified guests scrambling to escape and parts of the building ablaze.

Afghan security forces killed four attackers during the night-time siege, interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told Tolo News, during which people trapped inside the landmark hotel were seen climbing over balconies to escape.

“The attack is over,” he said.

“Five Afghans and one foreigner have been killed,” interior ministry deputy spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told AFP, adding around 150 people were rescued, including more than 40 foreigners.

“The body of the foreigner, a woman, was recovered from the sixth floor as the last attacker was being killed,” he added.

But an official with Afghanistan’s spy agency told AFP the attack was “not over yet” with attackers “still shooting on security forces”.

Dramatic images broadcast on Afghanistan’s Tolo News showed thick black smoke and flames billowing from the top of the six-floor hilltop Intercontinental hotel —which is not part of the global InterContinental chain.

Several people could be seen climbing over a top-floor balcony using bedsheets to escape, with one losing his grip and plunging to the ground.

Officials said four gunmen burst into the hotel on Saturday night, opening fire on guests and staff and taking dozens of people hostage.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest assault in the war-torn Afghan capital, which followed a series of security warnings in recent days to avoid hotels and other locations frequented by foreigners.

It was not clear how many people had been inside the hotel, which was attacked by Taliban militants in 2011.

During the night special forces were lowered by helicopters onto the roof of the landmark building, Rahimi told AFP.

A guest hiding in a room said he could hear gunfire inside the 1960s hotel where dozens of people attending an information technology conference on Sunday were staying.

“I don’t know if the attackers are inside the hotel but I can hear gunfire from somewhere near the first floor,” the man, who did not want to be named, tolf AFP by telephone.

“We are hiding in our rooms. I beg the security forces to rescue us as soon as possible before they reach and kill us.”

His phone was switched off when AFP tried to contact him again.

‘Fleeing like crazy’
Afghan Telecom regional director Aziz Tayeb, who was attending the IT conference, said he saw the attackers enter the hotel as he was walking towards the exit.

“Everything became chaotic in a moment. I hid behind a pillar and I saw people who were enjoying themselves a second ago screaming and fleeing like crazy, and some of them falling down, hit by bullets,” Tayeb told AFP.

Local resident Abdul Sattar said he had spoken by phone to some of his friends who are chefs and waiters at the hotel and had been trapped inside.

“Suddenly they attacked the dinner gathering… (then) they broke into the rooms, took some people hostage and they opened fire on some of them,” he told AFP.

Rahimi said the attackers were armed with small weapons and rocket-propelled grenades when they stormed the hotel, which is a popular venue for weddings, conferences and political gatherings.

The last major attack on a high-end hotel in Kabul was in March 2014 when four teenage gunmen raided the Serena, killing nine people including AFP journalist Sardar Ahmad.

The Intercontinental was previously targeted in June 2011 when a suicide attack claimed by the Taliban killed 21 people, including 10 civilians.

Security at the Intercontinental is relatively lax compared with other luxury hotels in Kabul.

Even before the attack was over, authorities were questioning how the assailants got past the hotel’s security, which was taken over by a private company three weeks ago, Danish said.

“We will investigate it,” he said.

A hotel employee told AFP that as he fled the staff living quarters located in a building next to the hotel he saw the new security guards running for their lives.

“They didn’t do anything, they didn’t attack. They had no experience,” the man said on the condition of anonymity.

AFP

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Terrified children, empty streets in Syria’s Afrin as Turkey attacks

AFRIN, Syria: As soon as Turkish warplanes began bombing raids over Afrin on Saturday, terrified residents of the Syrian Kurdish enclave dashed to take cover in the cellars of their homes.

They had been bracing for a Turkish assault over the past week as Ankara escalated its rhetoric against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which controls the area.

“My four-year-old son is terrified every time he hears the sound of an airplane,” said Nisrin, a housewife in Afrin who asked that her real name not be used.

“What crime did he commit, that he has to live in terror? This boy who has seen nothing of life yet?”

The YPG said at least 10 people—seven of them civilians—were killed and 25 were wounded in Saturday’s raids.

When the bombing began, Nisrin and her relatives rushed to hide in a lower level of the building, following instructions issued by the Kurdish authorities.

“We’d prepared our basements to protect our children and young people, and also stocked up on essentials like milk and medicine for the children and elderly, who can’t handle this,” Nisrin added.

Turkey and allied Syrian rebels on Saturday began an air and ground operation, dubbed operation “Olive Branch”, aimed at ousting the YPG from Kurdish-majority Afrin.

A reporter inside Afrin contributing to AFP said residents quickly disappeared from the town’s streets when the Turkish bombardment began at around 4:30 pm local time (1430 GMT).

YPG military vehicles took their place instead.

Local authorities enforced a curfew on Saturday, banning civilians from gathering in public and shuttering businesses and schools.

‘Psychological warfare’
“I don’t know how to describe what I felt in the moments after Turkish warplanes began flying over Afrin and bombing civilians,” said Randa Mustafa, a teacher in her 40s.

“The children are scared. Our men, women, and young people are peaceful. What crime did they commit?”

She accused Turkey of trying to sow discord among Syrians and waging “psychological warfare” against the people of Afrin.

Ankara vehemently opposes the YPG, accusing it of being the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a rebellion in southeast Turkey for more than three decades.

Turkey said earlier there were casualties, but that they were all Kurdish militants.

“We took steps to protect civilians, including digging bomb shelters and tunnels to use during emergency situations,” said Heve Mustafa, who co-chairs Afrin’s executive council.

“The biggest fear we have is that international forces on the ground in Syria which claim they’re here to fight terrorism and find a solution to the Syrian problem will turn a blind eye,” Mustafa said.

Several world powers have deployed forces in northern Syria, among them regime ally Russia. There are also troops from the US-led coalition fighting jihadists.

Russia said on Saturday it was withdrawing its soldiers from areas around Afrin.

“The only option the autonomous administration has is resistance. Nothing else. We will not allow a Turkish occupation of Syrian territory,” Mustafa said on Saturday. AFP

A YPG statement echoed this stance, saying the Kurdish fighters had “no choice” but to fight back against Turkey’s “barbaric aggression”.

Afrin was long known for its abundant olive groves and fragrant soap, and as the first area where Kurdish authorities implemented the self-rule model they later used across parts of northern Syria.

After regime forces withdrew from Kurdish-majority areas in 2012, local authorities took over and established autonomous institutions, including schools and police forces.

Jamil, a 22-year-old communications engineer in Afrin, said he could not believe Turkey had dubbed its assault operation “Olive Branch”.

“(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan called it ‘Operation Olive Branch’ precisely because Afrin is the town of olives and peace,” he said.

“But by giving it this name, he proved to us that he doesn’t want peace or security.”

AFP

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Iron out the devil in the details

GIL H. A. SANTOS

IN my last column I suggested the priorities for the Asean 10 to consider for 2018 to realize the predicted forecast that these developing nations will be the fastest growing in the next decade.

But in reality, that is easier said than done.

Like strategic planners and public policy formulators know, the devils are in the details of the planning and actual implementation of those priorities.

Let’s take the case of agricultural and fisheries production and modernization, among the 650 million population of the area, and still growing, guesstimated at 2.5 percent annually.

This case alone, involves education of the farmers and fisherfolk of the region, changing their mindset so they knowingly and voluntarily want to adopt/accept modern methods and devices of mass production, industrialization, and learn/internalize basic corporate or cooperative management.

It also requires that the governments liberalize foreign investment rules to attract sufficient financing for this sector, drastically reduce local corruption and strengthen local governments to enforce laws.

Additionally, the governments must extend easy financial or banking access for the emerging entrepreneurial sectors—the small business startups—which is now attracting new college graduates and young professional in Asean.

In Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines, the average farmer and fisherman are marginalized. They enjoy the benefits of free public elementary education. But their dropout rate is presumably high because they are the poorest of the poor.

A big number of their children do not go back to farming and fishing because their governments encourage them to work in the US, Europe, the Middle East and major cities in Asia and the Pacific for better income. They are the labor exports. Their yearly remittances to their families form part of their governments’ hard currency revenues and international reserves.

They are the major contributors to their countries’ consumer spending trend.

Of course, academic and scientific researchers will disagree with me and contend I have no formal survey to make my conclusions. But if in the Philippines alone, there are some 3,000 overseas Filipino workers who leave daily as contract workers in the Middle East, Europe, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, the Central Asian cities, and as crew members of international shipping, it is a no-brainer to conclude the same is true of four other Asean member countries.

Industrializing Asean agriculture and fishery also needs enlightened political leaders to encourage inventors and innovators with additional safeguards for their patents and new inventions because piracy of their creations is definitely a threat in this age of globalization.

Private industries, on the other hand, must do their part by paying considerable remuneration for inventors to live decently while working on their creations full time so the countries—and the unified or integrated Asean 10—can catch up with the industrial world.

Then, there is a need for the Asean economies to get fast access to accurate international market information in real time. This will need the experienced information gatherers—reporters if you wish—plus top political, economic, technology and environmental analysts for correct interpretation of all factors directly and indirectly affecting prices and market/financial movements/developments.

The experienced communicators/reporters/analysts will help insure the competitiveness of the Asean enterprises in the world market and enable Asean members to diversify their manufactured goods, or change to alternative markets, as fast as will be tactically needed whenever that imperative arises.

So how do we launch and jump-start this Asean prioritization move?

It must be endowed with the strong collective political will of the 10 Asean heads of state to do it. Hopefully within a year, at least, with working agreements between agricultural and fishery educational institutions and top government cabinet officials, and the currently operating government and private news media of the region can begin the operation.

But while the media in almost all of the Asean 10 are functioning, they will have to boost their manpower with practicing professional economists, geopolitical experts, technologies and environmental scientists who will provide the fast and accurate interpretations of developments and trends impacting on the region.

The outputs of these experts must include peeks in the immediate and long-term future of the Asean. It is also probable that private industries will support this because they can benefit from these, as long as their executives can see how the information are directly or strategically relevant to their businesses.

I know from where I write because we tried this when I was consultant to the

Philippine News Service more than 25 years ago. We failed because the geopolitical and economic environment was different then and the Cold War was still taking its toll in the region. Asean unity was a dream then.

However, this 21st century is more conducive to this type of initiative because of the current Chinese diplomatic and trade offensive following its rise to become the second top economic power in the world.

The nuclear threats from North Korea, the flashpoints in the Middle East and

South China Sea, the present war against international terrorism, the pending economic shifts in Europe with Brexit looming, the dropping confidence of the Americans themselves on their elected President Donald Trump and the deteriorating physical environment of the planet earth are, among other factors, also pushing this inevitable

Asean development to reality.

This is the time to push this so Asean economic integration can be realized sooner and induce inclusive growth of the area. At the same time, it offers the world its agriculture and marine resources as source of food, organic medicine, and young manpower in the next decades.

The odds, to me and other incurable optimists/hopefuls, now is better than any in the past.

Singapore is this year’s Asean chair and host of the 32nd Asean summit

conferences. To Thailand and Vietnam will pass the summitry gavel in the next couple of years. On them will depend how much ironing job they will exert to clear the devil out of the details.

gilsmanilatimes@yahoo.com

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Canada pharma tycoon and wife were murdered, private detectives say

MONTREAL: Private investigators hired by the children of late Canadian pharmaceutical tycoon Barry Sherman concluded that he and his wife were murdered, the Toronto Star reported Saturday. The 75-year-old chairman of Apotex and his 70-year-old wife Honey were found dead in their Toronto home on December 15. Apotex is the largest maker of generic drugs in Canada, and the Shermans’ fortune was estimated at more than $3 billion. Toronto’s homicide unit, which took over the investigation into the “suspicious” deaths, earlier said that they had been strangled to death, but stopped short of calling them homicides. The Shermans’ bodies were found hanging from a railing around a basement pool, the theory being that the Apotex chairman killed his wife Honey, hung her body and then hanged himself by the pool’s edge, Canadian media reported in December, citing a police source. Sherman’s four children however said that a murder-suicide made no sense, and hired criminal lawyer Brian Greenspan to help, the Star reported.

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