Asean Summit, Malaysia on Nov 21, 1015

Asean Summit, Malaysia  on Nov 21, 1015
Asean Establishes Landmark Economic and Security Bloc
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) - Text version)

“….. Here is the prediction: China will turn North Korea loose soon. The alliance will dissolve, or become stale. There will be political upheaval in China. Not a coup and not a revolution. Within the inner circles of that which you call Chinese politics, there will be a re-evaluation of goals and monetary policy. Eventually, you will see a break with North Korea, allowing still another dictator to fall and unification to occur with the south. ….”

“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."
"Update on Current Events" – Jul 23, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) - (Subjects: The Humanization of God, Gaia, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Benevolent Design, Financial Institutes (Recession, System to Change ...), Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Nuclear Power Revealed, Geothermal Power, Hydro Power, Drinking Water from Seawater, No need for Oil as Much, Middle East in Peace, Persia/Iran Uprising, Muhammad, Israel, DNA, Two Dictators to fall soon, Africa, China, (Old) Souls, Species to go, Whales to Humans, Global Unity,..... etc.)
(Subjects: Who/What is Kryon ?, Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" Managed Business, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)

North Korean defector criticises China in rare Beijing talk

North Korean defector criticises China in rare Beijing talk
North Korean defector and activist Hyeonseo Lee, who lives in South Korea, poses as she presents her book 'The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story' in Beijing on March 26, 2016 (AFP Photo/Fred Dufour)

US under fire in global press freedom report

"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy, Recalibration Lectures, God / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) - (Text version)

… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Thai king's favourite dog dies, after 'insult' arrest

Yahoo – AFP, December 29, 2015

Tongdaeng, the favourite dog of Thailand's ailing monarch has died, days
 after a man was arrested for allegedly making a satirical online remark about
the beloved canine (AFP Photo)

The favourite dog of Thailand's ailing monarch has died, days after a man was arrested under the kingdom's strict royal defamation laws for allegedly making a satirical online remark about the beloved canine.

The dog, called Tongdaeng (Copper), became both a household name and a publishing sensation in Thailand after King Bhumibol Adulyadej adopted her as a stray puppy and penned a heartfelt book about her attributes in 2002.

She was praised for her loyalty and obedience, with the book widely interpreted at the time as a parable about how Thais should live and remember their place within the kingdom's rigid society.

King Bhumibol, 88, is the world's longest-
serving monarch and is widely revered in
 Thailand where his economic and social
 teachings are extensively promoted 
(AFP Photo/Indranil Mukherjee)
Her death was announced in a statement from the veterinary faculty of Kasetsart University late Monday.

"While Khun Tongdaeng was sleeping and relaxing, she died peacefully on 26 December 2015 at 11:10pm at Klai Kangwon Palace," the statement read.

It said she had been ill for the last few years and was just over 17 years old when she passed away.

"Khun" is an honorific in Thailand, roughly translating to "ma'am", and was frequently used by officials and local media when referring to Tongdaeng.

Her death was splashed across Thai newspapers Tuesday, with local media reporting that the king had been informed.

The dog regularly featured in palace photographs while the book about her outsold bestsellers such as Harry Potter in Thailand.

A privately funded animated film based around Tongdaeng and her attributes is currently showing at Thai cinemas.

In his book, Bhumibol described Tongdaeng as a "respectful dog, with proper manners" who was "humble and knows protocol

"She would always sit lower than the king," the book added.

Criticism banned

King Bhumibol, 88, has spent much of the last two years in hospital and is rarely seen in public. But the world's longest-serving monarch remains widely revered in Thailand where his economic and social teachings are extensively promoted.

The monarchy is also shielded from any debate and criticism by one of the world's harshest royal defamation laws.

A 10-metre high sculpture of "Giant John", one of the characters of the film 
"Khun Tongdaeng: The Inspirations", sits outside a shopping mall in Bangkok,
December 9, 2015 (AFP Photo/Nicolas Asfouri)

Anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent, can face up to 15 years in jail on each count.

Analysts say uncertainty as the king's reign enters its twilight years is a major factor in the political chaos that has beset Thailand for the much of the last decade, as competing elites jostle for influence.

Lese majeste prosecutions have soared since the army, which styles itself as the champion of the monarchy, grabbed power in a coup last year.

The boundaries for what counts as a royal insult have also expanded dramatically.

Earlier this month Thanakorn Siripaiboon, 27, was arrested for allegedly making a "satirical" Facebook post about the king and his dog, according to his lawyers.

As is often the case in lese majeste cases, the authorities did not give details on what the post said.

Thanakorn also faces lese majeste, sedition and computer crimes charges for clicking "like" on a doctored photo of the king and sharing it, plus an infographic on a growing corruption scandal engulfing the military.

Related Article:

Question: Dear Kryon: I live in Spain. I am sorry if I will ask you a question you might have already answered, but the translations of your books are very slow and I might not have gathered all information you have already given. I am quite concerned about abandoned animals. It seems that many people buy animals for their children and as soon as they grow, they set them out somewhere. Recently I had the occasion to see a small kitten in the middle of the street. I did not immediately react, since I could have stopped and taken it, without getting out of the car. So, I went on and at the first occasion I could turn, I went back to see if I could take the kitten, but it was to late, somebody had already killed it. This happened some month ago, but I still feel very sorry for that kitten. I just would like to know, what kind of entity are these animals and how does this fit in our world. Are these entities which choose this kind of life, like we do choose our kind of Human life? I see so many abandoned animals and every time I see one, my heart aches... I would like to know more about them.

Answer: Dear one, indeed the answer has been given, but let us give it again so you all understand. Animals are here on earth for three (3) reasons.

(1) The balance of biological life. . . the circle of energy that is needed for you to exist in what you call "nature."

(2) To be harvested. Yes, it's true. Many exist for your sustenance, and this is appropriate. It is a harmony between Human and animal, and always has. Remember the buffalo that willingly came into the indigenous tribes to be sacrificed when called? These are stories that you should examine again. The inappropriateness of today's culture is how these precious creatures are treated. Did you know that if there was an honoring ceremony at their death, they would nourish you better? Did you know that there is ceremony that could benefit all of humanity in this way. Perhaps it's time you saw it.

(3) To be loved and to love. For many cultures, animals serve as surrogate children, loved and taken care of. It gives Humans a chance to show compassion when they need it, and to have unconditional love when they need it. This is extremely important to many, and provides balance and centering for many.

Do animals know all this? At a basic level, they do. Not in the way you "know," but in a cellular awareness they understand that they are here in service to planet earth. If you honor them in all three instances, then balance will be the result. Your feelings about their treatment is important. Temper your reactions with the spiritual logic of their appropriateness and their service to humanity. Honor them in all three cases.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

S. Korea, Japan strike deal on 'comfort women'

Yahoo – AFP, Park Chan-Kyong, December 28, 2015

South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se (R) and his Japanese
counterpart Fumio Kishida meet at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on
December 28, 2015 (AFP Photo/Jung Yeon-Je)

South Korea and Japan reached agreement Monday on their dispute over wartime sex slaves that has soured relations for decades, as Tokyo's leader hailed a "new era" in ties with Seoul.

Japan offered a "heartfelt apology" and a one-billion yen ($8.3 million) payment to Korean women forced into Japanese military brothels during World War II.

Now the two countries, both close US allies, "will welcome a new era", Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo after speaking by phone with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.

The fate of the 46 surviving South Korean "comfort women" is a hugely emotional issue in South Korea, and a source of much of the distrust that has marred relations with its former colonial ruler Japan for decades.

The deal would be "final and irreversible" if Japan fulfils its responsibilities, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se said after talks in Seoul with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida.

Kishida said the issue was "one that deeply hurt the women's honour and dignity with the involvement of the (Japanese) military at the time, and from this viewpoint the Japanese government keenly feels its responsibility".

Abe, he said, extends "his feeling of heartfelt apology and regret to all of those who as comfort women have suffered great pain, both mentally and physically, that is difficult to heal".

"I think the agreement we reached is historic and is a ground-breaking achievement," Kishida said.

South Korean former "comfort woman" Lee Yong-Soo (C), who was forcibly
 recruited to work in Japanese wartime brothels, and supporters demonstrate near
the Japanese embassy in Seoul on October 30, 2015 (AFP Photo/Jung Yeon-Je)

The US also welcomed the agreement, with National Security Advisor Susan Rice calling it "an important gesture of healing and reconciliation that should be welcomed by the international community".

As part of the agreement Seoul will try to relocate a statue symbolising comfort women which currently stands in front of the Japanese embassy through consultations with relevant NGOs, South Korea's Yun said.

He said Seoul would also refrain from bringing up the comfort women issue again in international forums such as the United Nations.

"I am very pleased to declare the successful conclusion of the difficult negotiations before the year is out, the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties," Yun said.

Mixed reactions

Up to 200,000 women, many of them Korean, are estimated to have been sexually enslaved by Japan during World War II.

Japan has long maintained that the dispute was settled in a 1965 agreement which saw Tokyo establish diplomatic ties and make a payment of $800 million in grants or loans to Korea, which it ruled from 1910-1945.

Kishida said Monday the one-billion-won payment was not compensation but a project to restore the women's dignity.

South Korea has said the 1965 treaty did not cover compensation for victims of wartime crimes such as comfort women, and did not absolve the Japanese government of legal responsibility.

But when Park met Abe in Seoul last month for a rare summit, they agreed to speed up talks on the issue.

Previously Park had rebuffed all bilateral summit proposals, arguing that Tokyo had yet to properly atone for its wartime past and colonial rule.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hailed the landmark agreement on 
wartime sex slaves and welcomed a "new era" of ties with South Korea (AFP
Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno)

Former sex slaves had mixed reactions.

"What we have been demanding is legal compensation from Japan," said 88-year-old Lee Yong-Soo.

Yoo Hee-Nam, another former comfort woman, told Yonhap news agency she was not satisfied but would accept the government's decision.

Amnesty International said the agreement should not mark the end of the road in securing justice.

"The women were missing from the negotiation table, and they must not be sold short in a deal that is more about political expediency than justice," said Hiroka Shoji, its East Asia researcher, in a statement.

Lee Won-Duk, a professor at South Korea's Kookmin University, said the deal, pushed by Washington, would help the two countries improve ties.

"With today's agreement, South Korea and Japan passed the critical point in their row," added Jin Chang-Soo, a researcher at Sejong Institute in South Korea.

But Kan Kimura, an expert on Japan-Sourea relations at Japan's Kobe University, struck a note of caution.

"This is an agreement between the two governments, but not between the two societies. So the next focus is whether the South Korean government can persuade its public to accept the deal," Kimura told AFP.

Saudi Arabia proposes economic reforms

Saudi Arabia has run a massive fiscal deficit in 2015, due to low oil prices. Now the Saudi Finance Ministry has announced plans to reduce subsidies on energy, and investments to try to diversify the economy.

Deutsche Welle, 28 December 2015

On Monday in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Finance released a 10-page report summarizing the state of the Kingdom's finances and economy, with government budget figures and estimates for this fiscal year and next. The report shows a staggaring fiscal deficit of 367 Saudi riyals (SR) for FY 2015 (about $98 billion or 89 billion euros) - nearly 38 percent of the government's total expenditures.

"Oil revenues are expected to reach SR 444.5 billion, representing 73 percent of [the government's] total revenue" for FY 2015, the statement said, highlighting the petrostate's continued extreme dependence on oil exports.

A barrel of Brent crude was trading at $36.73 on Monday, down 3 percent on the day - an 11-year low. The last time the price of oil was anywhere near this low was for a brief time in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, and before that, in 2004.

Saudi F15 bombers at Khamis Mushayt
airbase in November, whence targets
in Yemen have been attacked
Total Saudi government revenues were estimated at SR 608 billion, of which non-oil revenues such as customs duties, investment dividends, and documents fees totaled SR 163.5 billion. While non-soil revenues remain a small part of the budget, they've increased 29 percent compared to FY 2014, the report said.

Over budget

"Actual expenditure for the current fiscal year is expected to reach SR 975 billion," or 13 percent more than had been budgeted, according to the finance ministry. It attributed much of the overspending to increased expenditures for military and civil service salaries.

A large, unexpected spending contingency arose beginning in March 2015, when Saudi Arabia embroiled itself in an expensive military intervention in neighboring Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, against members of a non-Sunni tribe, the Houthi, which had launched a successful rebellion against Yemen's contested government.

Running down savings

The Saudi central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), has plenty of money set aside for a rainy day - or more accurately, for a few years of deficit spending. It owns a vast stock of foreign currencies, deposits with banks abroad, and investments in foreign securities, much of it dollar-denominated.

The oil refinery at Ras Tanura
is Saudi Arabia's biggest
SAMA reported the total value of its assets at the end of November as SR 2,441,282 million (about $651 billion). That's a lot of money, but the finance ministry knows it can't carry on spending it down at the current rate of fiscal deficits for many more years. That means it has to start thinking about increasing non-oil revenues and cutting wasteful spending, since oil prices are not expected to recover soon.

Reforms planned

That's why the finance ministry outlined an ambitious set of economic, fiscal and structural reforms in its new report. In addition to collecting more revenue from sources other than oil sales, it aims to become more systematic about controlling government costs - both by increasing the efficiency of major project expenditures and by reining in the growth of wages, salaries and allowances.

The government says it intends to introduce policies over the next five years to "achieve wide structural reforms in the national economy and reduce its dependence on oil," the statement said. This will include a range of privatizations, and efforts to reduce red tape and improve transparency and accountability.

The government also plans to focus spending on development projects and programs that "serve the citizen directly," listing education, health, security, social and municipal services, water and sanitation, electricity, roads, electronic transactions, and scientific research as planned investment categories.

Taxes and subsidies

Saudi Arabia does not collect income taxes, since it takes in so much money from oil sales through the government-owned oil company that it has not felt the need to do so. But Monday's statement suggests that the finance ministry realizes that this cannot go on forever.

Yemen's Houthi tribe follows a version
 of Shiite Islam that many of Saudi Arabia's
 Wahabi Sunni preachers consider apostasy
The statement says the ministry will review current levels of fees and fines, introduce new fees, and complete "the necessary arrangements for the application of the value added tax (VAT)... in addition to... additional fees on harmful goods such as tobacco, soft drinks and the like."

So it appears there are still no income taxes planned, but the general concept of collecting taxes is making headway in Riyadh. The finance ministry also plans to establish a unit responsible for public debt management, in order to improve the Kingdom's ability to borrow both domestically and internationally, "thus contributing to the market for sukuk and local bonds," Monday's statement said.

Another significant category of reforms mentioned in the document is a review of subsidies, including "revision of energy, water, and electricity prices gradually over the next five years, in order to achieve efficiency in energy use, conserve natural resources, stop waste and irrational use."

It's a long overdue acknowledgment of the pernicious effects of supplying petrol and electricity nearly for free to Saudi residents, leading to notoriously wasteful habits such as leaving cars idling for extended periods with air conditioners on while people shop at the mall. Petrol in Saudi Arabia costs around 15 cents per liter - far too little to motivate conservation.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Acehnese Pray Together to Mark Tsunami Anniversary

Jakarta Globe, December 26, 2015

Acehnese people pray at a mass grave for tsunami victims in Ulee Lheue,
Banda Aceh, on Saturday. (Antara Photo/Ampelsa)

Jakarta. People in Aceh on Saturday marked the 11th anniversary of the deadly tsunami that hit the province and other areas along the Indian Ocean by staging prayer meetings at mosques and public places.

The Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people in 14 countries. Aceh was hit hardest and suffered immense devastation, with waves of up to 30 meters high surging inland and destroying everything in their path, killing some 130,000 people.

Thousands of local people joined by officials attended a prayer meeting at At Taqwa Grand Mosque in Kutacane, in Southeast Aceh district, on Saturday, while journalists held a separate event in Banda Aceh on Friday night to commemorate 27 colleagues who lost their lives in the disaster.

Others visited graves to read verses from the Koran or attended dzikir meetings that revolve around Islamic devotional chants.

"We will never stop praying for them,” coordinator Salman Madira of the event for journalists said on Friday, as quoted by "They had such big spirits and high dedication to journalism."

Related Articles:

“… Mass Human Death

The final one, dear Human, is the hardest one for my partner and the one we wish to leave you with in this channeling tonight. This is the one that my partner doesn't want to even have me talk about. It's the appropriateness of mass death. For you, built in to your very essence is the honor for life, and the sorrow when it passes. It's correct and appropriate that this is there, and never let it be tempered. But the wisdom of understanding is also needed to help you get past some challenges of the Human heart.

"Dear Kryon, was the tsunami really necessary?" Yes it was. Almost 200,000 Human Beings passed over. It's an event that for you is filled with horror, sorrow, emotion, and challenge. Back in 1989, we told you of those that might have to leave the earth en masse, and here it is. Yet even my partner [Lee] asks the questions, "Why the children? Why the poorest parts of the earth? Why the seeming inappropriateness of all this death?"

And I say to you the same thing I said with respect to Terri: Do you understand yet that death is often as precious as life on this planet of many energies and lessons? They are not gone! They're all here [speaking from Kryon's perspective]. They're having a great time! They're joyful! It seems like a moment ago they leaned into the wind of birth with us beside them. We said, "How would you like to participate in an event that will change the compassion factor of the planet so that energies can move forward and provide faster acceleration of vibratory shift? How would you like to help create peace on earth through a consciousness shift within Gaia itself? And they said, "Show us the way!"

Do you understand why we are in love with humanity... that you would love the earth and the Universe so much that you would go through these things? So much of what you see is horrible tragedy, yet you're looking at the heroes of humanity as they deliver a gift that will change the very fabric of Gaia through the compassion created as a wave of humanity responds to their plight.

They knew the potentials and they went through with it. Even the children knew, for they're old souls within their divinity. There was so much compassion created at that time, in that one week, the earth has never seen anything like it in your lifetime. Billions of Humans were involved with a compassion that instantly went to the core of the planet. It went into the earth and it's still there. It changed the actual energy of where you walk and it planted a seeds that will grow that will indeed emerge later in Israel, and those surrounding Israel.

And that's what it's about. Yet some of you didn't want to hear that, did you? But they're here, with me now... and with you as well. How could you fit them all in this room, you might ask? They can fit on the head of a pin! That's interdimensional talk. They can go home in your purse or your pocket! That's interdimensional talk, too. And they've got a message for you that we've given before, but you can't hear it enough: "We did our part - now you do yours, Lighthouse! For the ones who remain are the only ones who can manipulate the tools we have helped create."

When you go home tonight, you're not going to be in a survival situation - in a tent in a tribe with no lights or clean water, with no food. You're not going to be in sorrow or despair. Instead, you go home to a warm place with plenty of food and friendship and the love of family. That's why you're the Lighthouses, because you have time for it. You've got the intellect for it. You're not in survival mode, as is so much of humanity on the earth. You have the education for it and the intuition for it. Now, do you understand why there are so many Lighthworkers in the western world? It's because your culture has created a situation where there's abundance of these things, and it allows you to lead the way in changing the energy of earth, instead of having all your time spent just trying to survive. Does this help you understand the responsibility of what you have before you?

Strike the light and send it to the Sudanese. Strike light and send it to those dark places with governments where there's corruption. Strike the light and send it to the scientists and researchers who already have the cures for the more virulent diseases on the planet, but can't begin their work due to the barriers of certain leadership and their old ways. Strike the light and send it to Israel and Palestine and get on with this solution! This is why you're here, and this is the agreement you made when you arrived and selected the culture you live in.

Achievable in your lifetime, it is. Peace and compassion will prevail. You shall see. You shall see.

And so it is.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

India's Modi on surprise 'goodwill' Pakistan visit

Yahoo – AFP, 25 December 2015

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi (R) shakes hands with Pakistan
 Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif upon his arrival in Lahore on December 25, 
2015 (AFP Photo)

Lahore (Pakistan) (AFP) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise "goodwill" visit to arch-rival Pakistan on Friday, with the first such trip in a decade seen as a step towards normalising ties between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Modi, who announced the trip via Twitter while in Kabul, met in Lahore with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, who was celebrating his birthday and the wedding of a grand-daughter, for a two-and-a-half hour visit seen by analysts as a positive step.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) 
and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
 meet in Lahore on December 25, 2015
(AFP Photo)
A meeting of their top diplomats is now set for January in Islamabad, indicating a potential thaw in ties between two countries that have fought three wars, along with countless close calls, since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

Television footage showed an Indian Air Force jumbo jet land at Lahore's Allama Iqbal International Airport in the late afternoon on Friday, moments after Sharif himself arrived by helicopter.

The Pakistani premier, flanked by his cabinet ministers, received Modi on the tarmac where military officers lined up along a red carpet.

Both leaders wore their national dress and made their way to Sharif's helicopter, which flew them to the Pakistani leader's palatial residence south of the city.

They were seen smiling as they walked alongside each other and chatted in Sharif's living room.

Shortly thereafter, Modi was seen off by Sharif at the airport.

'Purely goodwill'

Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry later told a news conference that it was a "purely goodwill visit".

"Both leaders agreed that it was extremely important that the leaders of both countries should understand each other's point of view so that the doors of prosperity could open for their people," Chaudhry said.

He said Modi gave Sharif birthday greetings and the meeting took place in a "cordial atmosphere", and added that the two countries' foreign secretaries will meet in Islamabad next month.

Senior Indian officials and politicians also spoke positively of the meeting, with foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup tweeting that the meeting had set a "positive spirit in the neighbourhood".

Activists of the Indian Youth Congress in New Delhi burn a poster of Indian 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi to protest his visit to Pakistan on December 25,
 2015 (AFP Photo/Chandan Khanna)

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, meanwhile, tweeted: "Neighbours' relations should be like this."

The last visit to Pakistan by an Indian prime minister was in 2004 by then leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is credited with bringing about a thaw in relations with Islamabad.

Modi and Sharif have had a stop-start diplomatic relationship since the Indian premier's surprise invitation to Sharif to his inauguration in May 2014.

Initial optimism about a revival of ties was short-lived as the two countries traded heavy fire across their disputed border in the Himalayan territory of Kashmir which claimed dozens of lives on both sides.

But this month, they agreed to resume high-level talks that would cover peace and security as well as territorial disputes, including over Kashmir.

'Extremely welcome move'

A brief meeting on November 30 between the two leaders on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in Paris, followed by talks between the two countries' national security advisers in Bangkok, appeared to have broken the ice.

It was unclear, however, when Modi's visit itself was planned.

And though officials have remained tight-lipped about the agenda, the meeting was hailed by regional observers.

"It's an extremely welcome move and it shows that the baby steps promised at the Paris summit between the two prime ministers have transformed into a much bigger step, which holds big promise for both countries," said Imtiaz Gul, head of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies.

Pakistani security personnel stand guard during the arrival of Indian Prime
 Minister Narendra Modi at the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore on 
December 25, 2015 (AFP Photo/Arif Ali)

Earlier Friday, in a speech to the Afghan parliament, Modi urged closer cooperation between India, Pakistan and other neighbours over Afghanistan.

He also made a veiled reference to Pakistan on the issue of cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan will succeed only when terrorism no longer flows across the border, when nurseries and sanctuaries of terrorism are shut, and their patrons are no longer in business," Modi said.

India's main opposition Congress party, however, was quick to criticise Modi's "irresponsible" decision.

In Pakistan, opposition senator Sherry Rehman said that while most Pakistanis backed better ties, parliament had not been consulted and it was unclear what concessions Islamabad was ready to make.

"It's a small step because we don't know what kind of sustainable progress is based around it. We don't know if this is more than a grand gesture," she told AFP.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (L) and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa
 Akinci, pictured on July 28, 2015, expressed hopes for reunification in a Christmas Eve
televised message which was also posted on YouTube (AFP Photo/Stavros Ioannides)

Related Article:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Brunei's sultan bans Christmas in hardline shift

Yahoo – AFP, December 23, 2015

The Dorchester hotel in London, owned by the Sultan of Brunei, is decked out
 with Christmas decorations, in contrast to Brunei where Christmas celebrations
are banned (AFP Photo/Ben Stansall)

Christmas is just around the corner, but there are no tinsel-laden trees or Santa hats in the oil-rich sultanate of Brunei, where celebrations have been banned under a shift towards hardline Islamic law.

The all-powerful Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world's richest men, announced last year he would push ahead with the introduction of sharia law, eventually including tough penalties such as death by stoning or severed limbs.

Religious leaders in the oil-rich sultanate warned this month that a ban on Christmas would be strictly enforced, for fear that Muslims could be led astray.

"Using religious symbols like crosses, lighting candles, putting up Christmas trees, singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings... are against Islamic faith," imams said in sermons published in the local press.

Punishment for violating the ban is a five-year jail sentence, and the government warned last year that Muslims would be committing an offence if they so much as wore "hats or clothes that resemble Santa Claus".

Although Christians are free to celebrate, they have been told not to do so "excessively and openly", in a directive that has had a chilling effect on the Southeast Asian nation, which sits on a corner of Borneo island.

Businesses have been warned to take decorations down and authorities have stepped up spot checks across the capital. Hotels popular among Western tourists that once boasted dazzling lights and giant Christmas trees are now barren of festive decor.

"This will be the saddest Christmas ever for me," a Malaysian expatriate resident told AFP, requesting not to be named for fear of reprisals from authorities.

"The best part of Christmas day is waking up and having that feeling that it is Christmas, but there's just none of that here and you just feel deprived."

"All this is just because of what the Sultan wants. In 2013, I saw many Muslims together with Christians having a good time at their house parties. Everything was normal and good," he said.

The all-powerful Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world's richest men, 
announced last year he would push ahead with the introduction of sharia law, 
eventually including tough penalties such as death by stoning or severed 
limbs (AFP Photo/Mohd Rasfan)


Most people are too scared to speak up about the ban, and while some privately gripe about the rule they know there is little to be done.

"I will be working on Christmas after church. We just have to cope," a Filipino waitress -- one of Brunei's many guest workers -- told AFP.

Some people dared to post pictures on social media depicting Christmas cheer using the hashtag #MyTreedom, part of a global campaign to highlight oppression against Christians.

At least one church in the capital sported decorations that were visible from the street, a rare glimpse of holiday cheer in the otherwise decoration-free city.

"The ban is ridiculous. It projects this image that Islam does not respect the rights of other religions to celebrate their faith," said a Muslim mother in the capital, also too scared to provide her name.

"Islam teaches us to respect one another and I believe it starts with respecting other religions even if what is being banned are ornamental displays."

Others were more tempered, and urged the prohibition to be respected.

"It is an Islamic country and so with respect to the law, churches need to keep decorations indoors," said a Christian Bruneian, unfazed by the strict rules.

"The meaning of Christmas for us isn't all about Christmas decorations."

Controversy at home

The Christmas prohibition does not 
extend to the business interests of the
sultan, who owns the Dorchester Hotel
in London (AFP Photo/Ben Stansall)
However, the prohibition does not extend to the business interests of the sultan, whose estimated $20 billion fortune includes the historic Beverly Hills Hotel -- part of his Dorchester Collection with branches in London, Paris, Milan and Rome.

It is Christmas as usual this year in the upscale Le Richemond hotel in Geneva where guests are greeted by lavish displays in the hotel lobby, include bowls overflowing with pine branches, ornaments and candles aplenty.

The Le Meurice hotel in Paris advertises a Christmas eve seven-course gourmet menu for 650 euros -- before drinks -- while the Beverly Hills Hotel is decked out for the holidays too.

Before unveiling the hardline law, the sultan had warned of pernicious foreign influences such as the Internet and indicated he intended to place more emphasis on Islam in the conservative Muslim country.

Strict rules against homosexuality in the sharia law, punishable with death by stoning, sparked a backlash among A-listers including Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres and business tycoon Richard Branson, who called for the hotels to be boycotted.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Indonesia punishes firms over deadly forest fires

Yahoo – AFP, December 22, 2015

Indonesia is punishing more than 20 companies in an unprecedented move for
starting deadly forest fires that killed 19 people (AFP Photo/Adek Berry)

Jakarta (AFP) - Indonesia is punishing more than 20 companies in an unprecedented move for starting deadly forest fires that killed 19 people, a government official said Tuesday.

Three companies have been shut down permanently after having their licences revoked over their role in the blazes that choked vast expanses of southeast Asia with acrid haze and cost Indonesia $16 billion.

It is the first time the government has revoked company licences over forest fires, an annual occurrence caused by slash-and-burn land clearance.

The environment ministry also froze the operations of 14 companies and said they face closure if they do not meet the government’s demands over fire prevention.

Several other companies have been given a strong warning and will be put under close supervision.

"We have sanctioned 23 companies in total, ranging from administrative sanctions to license revocation, while 33 others are still in the process, they could have their licenses revoked too if they are found guilty," environment ministry official Kemal Amas told AFP.

The ministry has been investigating 276 companies in total since the fires broke out in September.

Three companies have been shut down permanently by Indonesia after having
 their licences revoked over their role in the blazes that choked vast expanses of 
southeast Asia with acrid haze (AFP Photo/Adek Berry)

"We need firmer law enforcement so that this catastrophe does not repeat itself, it’s been going on for 18 years but nobody has learnt their lesson," Amas said.

Amas said the ministry was also working hard to restore the forests and farmland destroyed in the fires.

Activists welcomed the government’s new commitment to punish firms.

The Indonesian Forum for Environment said it was unheard of for the government to revoke licences, as many companies previously avoided facing trial.

"The minister has the courage to not only freeze the companies' operation but also chase the owners in a civil case, this is great and this must be guarded carefully," Kurniawan told AFP.

"In the past some people were named suspects, but for them to actually lose their licenses, this is the first time," he said.

More than half a million people suffered acute respiratory infections in Indonesia because of the haze, while many in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia also fell ill.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Bangladesh orders mass arrests over 2013 factory disaster

Yahoo - AFP, December 21, 2015

The Rana Plaza garment factory building collapsed in Savar, on the outskirts
of Dhaka, in April 2013 killing more than 1,100 people

A Bangladesh court Monday ordered the arrest of 24 people and seizure of their assets after they failed to turn up to face murder charges over the collapse of a garment factory that killed more than 1,100 people.

Senior judicial magistrate Mohammad Al Amin issued the warrants after his court accepted the murder charges against the 24 fugitives for the collapse in April 2013 of the Rana Plaza factory compound, one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

"The court accepted the charge sheet against 41 people who have been charged with murder over the Rana Plaza disaster," prosecutor Anwarul Kabir told AFP.

"The court issued arrest warrants against 24 of them as they have absconded. It also ordered the seizure of their property," he said, adding police have been asked to report on their arrests by January 27.

Factfile on the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in
Bangladesh that killed over 1,100 garment workers. 

Kabir said the court had accepted the charges against four government factory and building inspectors despite attempts by their departments to shield them from prosecution by citing public servant immunity rules.

The case was delayed by "several months" due to the non-clearance by the various departments, Kabir said, adding that prosecutors now expect the trial to start by April next year.

Among the 41 who have been charged with murder is Sohel Rana, the owner of the nine-storey complex on the outskirts of Dhaka which collapsed on April 24, 2013, at the start of the working day.

Rana, who is in custody awaiting trial, became Bangladesh's public enemy number one after survivors recounted how they were forced to start work despite complaints about cracks developing in the walls the previous day.

At least 1,138 people are known to have died in the tragedy, the worst in the country's history. Rescue workers struggled for weeks to retrieve the bodies from the ruins but several people are still unaccounted for.

More than 2,000 people were injured, including many who lost limbs.

Seven owners of factories housed in the complex and 12 government officials responsible for safety and inspections were also charged with murder.

Bangladeshi property tycoon Sohel Rana is among
 the 41 who have been charged with murder over
 the 2013 factory collapse

Workers 'slapped'

Rana's parents, who jointly owned the building with him, and the mayor and councillor of the town of Savar where it was located, were also charged.

Those facing arrest including "associates of Rana" who "slapped and forced" the workers to join the shift, Kabir said.

In a separate case Rana and 41 others have been charged with violating building codes and with illegally extending the six-storey building, which was initially approved as a shopping mall, into a nine-storey factory complex.

The disaster highlighted appalling safety problems in Bangladesh's $30 billion garment industry and triggered global concern as protesters marched to demand action from Western retailers.

A host of such retailers had clothing made at the five factories housed at Rana Plaza, including Italy's Benetton, Spain's Mango and the British low-cost chain Primark.

The disaster prompted sweeping reforms including new safety inspections and higher wages in the industry which employs about four million workers.

Two groups of top retailers such as Walmart and H&M have since launched drives to clean up the sourcing factories. They hired engineers to review fire, building and electrical safety in thousands of garment plants.

Under the clean-up campaign, engineers have identified safety problems in each of the plants, and drawn up recommendations for upgrades as well as setting deadlines for the owners to implement remedial measures.