CEYLANPINAR, Turkey: Shelling and gunfire resounded in the area of northeast Syria's Ras al Ain town on Friday (Oct 18), a day after Turkey agreed with the United States to pause its offensive in Syria for five days to let Kurdish-led forces withdraw.
From the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar across the border from Ras al Ain, the sound of machine-gun fire and shelling was heard in the area of Ras al Ain. Smoke rose from one part of the Syrian town.
The truce was announced by US Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan, and was praised by President Donald Trump, who said it would save "millions of lives".
If implemented it would achieve all the main objectives Turkey announced when it launched its assault on Oct 9 - control of a strip of Syria more than 30km deep, with the Kurdish militia, once US allies, obliged to pull out.
It was also unclear if the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would fully comply with the agreement, which would leave Turkish forces in charge of a swathe of territory that the Kurds once held with US military support.
SINGAPORE: PBT Engineering has been awarded a contract to design and install 5.5km of railway noise barriers under the third phase of the railway noise barrier programme, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Friday (Oct 18).
This phase will cover 16 locations, spanning from Pasir Ris to Kembangan stations along the East-West MRT Line and from Jurong East to Khatib stations along the North-South MRT Line.
“When completed in 2023, the noise barriers are expected to reduce noise levels from passing trains by about 5 to 10 decibels,” LTA said in a news release.
The tender was announced in December last year.
With the inclusion of this phase, the total length of noise barriers installed across Singapore will be 27km.
The type of noise barrier depends on the noise level and profile of the tracks, LTA said. Semi-enclosed barriers will be installed at turnout sections, where trains switch tracks, as they can handle higher noise levels. Installing such noise barriers usually takes three times as long as vertical barriers, which will be installed along plainline or straight tracks.
LTA said the installation of the noise barriers has “gained momentum due to the implementation of early closures and late openings” for stations along the North-East and East-West lines.
“The additional engineering hours have provided LTA and SMRT with more track access time for maintenance and improvement works, including the installation of noise barriers.”
Phase 3 of the installation works is set to be completed in 2023. Phase 1 was completed in 2018, while on-site works are currently ongoing under Phase 2 with completion expected to be by the third quarter of 2020.
SINGAPORE: Two dentists from Phoenix Dental Surgery were charged on Friday (Oct 18) with cheating and falsification of accounts related to false Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) and MediSave claims.
The offences are said to have taken place between 2014 and 2015, with claims involving 23 patients amounting to more than S$54,000, the police said in a news release.
Dr Andy Joshua Warren, 34, and Dr Teo Eu Gene, 36, are accused of cheating polyclinics into disbursing subsidies by submitting CHAS claims for dental procedures which they did not perform.
Dr Warren is also accused of cheating the Central Provident Fund into disbursing money from patients’ MediSave accounts by submitting claims for day surgeries which he did not perform.
Both dentists were also charged with falsifying patients’ medical case notes to support these false claims.
Certain dental treatments involving surgery and performed due to medical reasons are claimable under MediSave.
Under CHAS, pioneers and citizens whose per capita monthly household income is S$1,800 and below get subsidies for dental treatments at private clinics.
The subsidy amount, which ranges from S$11 to S$266.50, is deducted from the patient's bill. The dentist then submits a claim to the Government for the subsidy.
In 2016, two of Phoenix Dental Surgery clinics were suspended from participating in CHAS after audits by the Ministry of Health.
According to the ministry, the Ang Mo Kio and Marine Parade clinics had submitted claims that did not comply with its rules and guidelines. This included a number of claims for procedures that were not performed, it said.
If convicted of cheating, the dentists can be jailed for up to 10 years or fined. If convicted of falsifying accounts, they can be jailed for up to 10 years, fined, or both.
RIYADH: Thirty-five foreigners were killed and four others injured when a bus collided with another heavy vehicle near the Muslim holy city of Medina, Saudi state media said on Thursday (Oct 17).
The accident on Wednesday involved a collision between "a private chartered bus ... with a heavy vehicle (loader)" near the western Saudi Arabian city, a spokesman for Medina police said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
Those involved were Arab and Asian pilgrims, according to local media, who carried pictures of the bus engulfed in flames and with its windows blown out.
The injured have been transferred to Al-Hamna Hospital, SPA added, and authorities have launched an investigation.
The accident comes after four British pilgrims were killed and 12 others injured in Saudi Arabia when their bus collided with a fuel tanker in April 2018. They were on their way to the holy city of Mecca.
In January 2017, six Britons, including a two-month-old baby, were killed in a minibus on their way to Medina after making a pilgrimage to Mecca.
As part of efforts to diversify its oil-dependent economy, the ultra-conservative kingdom wants to foster a year-round religious tourism sector that includes millions of pilgrims.
Up until last month, the country only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events, but tourists are now allowed to visit as part of the drive to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.
In September 2015, a stampede killed up to 2,300 worshippers - including hundreds of Iranians - in the worst disaster ever to strike the Hajj annual pilgrimage.
Earlier that month, 100 people were killed when a construction crane toppled into a courtyard of Mecca's Grand Mosque.
SINGAPORE: Veteran opposition leader Chiam See Tong has stepped down as secretary-general of the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) after 23 years at its helm, following the election of its new Central Executive Committee (CEC) on Wednesday (Oct 16).
“Mr Chiam has given to politics for 40 years already. It’s time for him to have a rest," Mrs Lina Chiam, SPP's chairman prior to Wednesday's election, told reporters after the event.
Mrs Chiam was re-elected to the CEC, although her official position is still undetermined.
"I think he has given all what he can for Singaporeans, what he can do to his ability," she added.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, the party paid tribute to its outgoing leader: "The Party would like to send its best wishes to our founding Secretary General Mr Chiam See Tong for his decades of service to the party and to Singapore."
The post also thanked the outgoing CEC.
"We are confident that the renewed party leadership will uphold the Party motto of service before self and always have the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart," the post said.
Mr Chiam’s departure from the party’s top decision-making body was announced during the biennial SPP Ordinary Party Conference on Wednesday, during which 12 members were elected to form a new CEC.
Although Mr Chiam will no longer lead the party, he will still remain a member, Mrs Chiam said.
Of the 12 members elected, four are new to the committee: Mr Jose Raymond, Mr Ariffin Sha, Mr Eman Lim, and Mr Jalil Wari.
“The meeting went on very well, amicably,” said Mrs Chiam. “Everybody was like a family and we all voted consciously and happily.”
Mr Chiam, 84, is the longest-serving opposition MP. He started his career in politics as an independent candidate in 1976 and was elected to the Potong Pasir constituency in 1984.
Mr Chiam has been with the SPP since 1996, after an acrimonious split led to his departure from the Singapore Democratic Party, which he had founded in 1980.
Mr Chiam last contested in the general elections in 2011, where he left his Potong Pasir stronghold to lead an opposition team in the five-member Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
According to media reports, SPP members indicated at a prior meeting the possibility of leadership going to either Mr Raymond, a former Singapore Environment Council executive director and press secretary to Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, or Mr Steve Chia, SPP’s organising secretary who headed the National Solidarity Party at one point.
Mr Chia was also elected to the CEC on Wednesday.
According to Mr Raymond, the official positions of the CEC members will be announced within three weeks from the date of the Conference.
SINGAPORE: Shoppers no longer have to pay for plastic bags at seven FairPrice and Cheers outlets, as NTUC FairPrice's month-long trial to charge for plastic bags came to an end on Wednesday (Oct 16).
A FairPrice spokesman said it is "still too early to provide meaningful data" on the results of the trial and the consumer sentiment study.
Between Sep 16 and Oct 16, shoppers had to pay 20 cents per transaction at the participating FairPrice, FairPrice Finest and FairPrice Extra stores if they wanted plastic bags for their purchases, and 10 cents per transaction at the Cheers and FairPrice Xpress outlets.
The proceeds were donated to the Singapore Children's Society and The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund.
Adding that more updates will be available next month, the spokesman said: "We will study and analyse the survey findings, along with customer feedback, to develop a well-informed and sustainable action plan to reduce plastic bag use."
Manager of Zero Waste SG, Pek Hai Lin told CNA that volunteers who were on the ground at participating outlets to help inform people about the initiative observed that about 50 per cent of shoppers brought their own bags over time.
Zero Waste SG collaborated with NTUC on the trial.
"Even though there were some comments that reflected that some people were unhappy with the charge, most of the comments and responses showed that people were receptive to it," she said.
"From preliminary observations, this shows that the charge translates to effective behavioural change in reducing the demand for plastic bags."
Reactions from customers were mixed when the trial launched in September. Some believed the cost was too low to make an impact on shoppers' behaviour, and others questioned why the charge was implemented on a per-transaction basis.
Ms Pek hopes NTUC FairPrice will upscale the initiative, and that other supermarkets will adopt a similar approach as well.
"Also if they charge per bag instead of per transaction, this will definitely have a bigger impact on the change in demand for plastic bags," she added.
Amid calls from environmentalists and members of parliament to explore a plastic bag charge, the month-long trial was implemented because the supermarket chain thought it was "the right time for (it) to do something different", said CEO Seah Kian Peng at the launch in September.
"At the end of this one month, we will put all this together and see how we should rework ... or come up with a new scheme that we can then implement across the island," he said.
Ms Pek stressed that even though Singaporeans need plastic bags to bag their trash, that does not mean retailers cannot charge for plastic bags, citing South Korea and the United Kingdom as examples where there are plastic bag charges although residents use them to bag waste.
"Even if we don't need to buy plastic bags and there is seemingly no cost for us, there is obviously an externality cost for all of us. With a charge, this cost is transferred to the user," she said.
"The idea is that if the resource is not free, people will not take it for granted, or use plastic bags flippantly."
MADRID: Police in Spain said Wednesday (Oct 16) they arrested 30 people overnight across Catalonia for their roles in clashes with police during protests over the jailing of nine separatist leader over a failed 2017 independence bid.
Pro-independence groups staged sit-ins outside Spanish government offices in a number of Catalan cities late Tuesday, with around 40,000 people taking part in Barcelona and 9,000 in the separatist stronghold of Girona, according to municipal and regional police.
The protests ended in clashes with police in many cities.
In Barcelona, police charged hundreds of masked demonstrators who threw projectiles at officers and set garbage containers and cardboard boxes on fire.
Catalonia's regional police, the Mossos d'Esquadra, said 14 people were arrested in the port of Tarragona, six in Barcelona and ten others in other Catalan cities for disobeying authority and causing a disturbance.
Monday's ruling unleashed a wave of protests, with Catalan separatists enraged by the Supreme Court's decision to hand heavy prison sentences of between nine and 13 years to leaders convicted of sedition over the 2017 separatist push.
That culminated in a banned independence referendum and short-lived declaration of independence in October of the same year.
SINGAPORE: For many who have been through Singapore's education system, sexuality classes involved workshops with external counsellors, social workers or healthcare professionals, where students were given lessons on how to build healthy relationships and steer clear of sexually transmitted infections.
However, that approach has changed in recent years with a dwindling number of schools engaging external entities to provide supplementary sexuality education classes for their students. Instead, schools have been opting to stick with the Ministry of Education's (MOE) programme.
Replying to a parliamentary question in 2015, then-Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah said just seven schools engaged four approved external providers in 2014 at a cost of S$20,000 to conduct sexuality education programmes for students.
Since 2009, schools spent about S$460,000 on such supplementary programmes, or an average of S$8 per student, she added.
The small number of schools engaging external providers for supplementary sexuality education programmes has since dropped to zero.
According to the MOE, schools have not engaged them since 2017.
“This is largely because schools feel that the MOE sexuality education programme is able to meet the developmental needs of students,” said Mdm Choy Wai Yin, director of the guidance branch under the student development curriculum division of MOE, in response to reporters queries.
“Since students these days are increasingly likely to turn to and confide in their teachers – even on sensitive or personal matters – teachers are better able to support them and help manage their concerns, including on sexuality issues,” she added.
Associate Professor Jason Tan of the National Institute of Education (NIE) Department of Policy and Leadership Studies said he thinks schools have stopped engaging external providers because they “are harder to control”.
External sexuality education vendors were last in the spotlight in 2014, when a Hwa Chong Institution student wrote a letter to her principal to criticise a Focus on the Family (FOTF) Singapore programme for being sexist and for perpetuating gender stereotypes.
The incident spurred former Hwa Chong students to start a petition, calling on the school to suspend the workshop immediately.
MOE eventually clarified that the workshop on relationships did not fall under the ministry's sexuality education programme, even though FOTF Singapore had been approved by MOE to run sexuality education programmes in schools.
MOE said FOTF Singapore was appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development for this workshop, and also announced that the programme would "cease its run" by the end of 2014.
In 2010, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) pulled its Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme out of schools.
According to media reports at the time, the instructor's guide for CSE had lines that condoned homosexuality, and stated that anal sex was 'healthy' if consensual and done with a condom.
Complaints from concerned parents prompted the ministry to suspend all programmes run by external vendors in 2009, and start vetting these groups.
Before the incident, schools used to have the autonomy to hire external vendors of sexuality education programmes.
Prior to the 2009 suspension, the organisations that provided external programmes to schools included AWARE, the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association, Family Life Society, Fei Yue Community Services and Focus on the Family Singapore.
MOE declined to provide an updated list of approved external sexuality education vendors.
According to MOE’s website, for an external provider of supplementary sexuality education programmes to be approved, they have to meet various criteria.
For example, the external provider should not advocate “any religious stands” in the programmes, and the content of the proposed programme should avoid “touching on any sensitivities related to any ethnicity, gender or religion”.
The external provider should also have “in-depth knowledge” of sexuality-related matters and trainers should have relevant working experience in the field of social services, health, education or counselling.
“Teachers and MOE-approved external trainers should respect that they are in a position of trust with respect to students and ensure that schools are not used as arenas for advocacy on controversial issues,” read the website.
READ: School teachers, counsellors trained to manage LGBT bullying 'sensitively': MOE
In the past, some sexuality education providers have had a religious affiliation. Dr Tan suggested that most schools would now prefer to opt for a secular approach.
“And then of course, you’re not allowed to have providers that provide contrarian messages, that’s stated very clearly in the guidelines. It’s an easier option for the schools to stick largely to the MOE-designed curriculum,” he added.
FOTF Singapore confirmed that its programme on pornography and addiction is one of the approved MOE supplementary programmes.
“We equip parents to be the primary educators and role-models of healthy sexuality and relationships - and part of that includes teaching on boundaries and body safety, as well as respect for self and others,” said Ms Judith Alagirisamy, a family life strategist at FOTF Singapore.
SEX ED CURRICULUM REGULARLY REVIEWED
Mdm Choy said MOE conducts “regular reviews” of the sexuality education curriculum to “ensure that lessons remain current and relevant to emerging trends”.
“Lesson scenarios and real-life case-studies have been updated to cover online risks such as social networking dangers and sexual grooming,” she added.
Mdm Mohana Ratnam, a senior character and citizenship education (CCE) officer with MOE who taught sexuality education in schools for about 15 years before being posted to MOE headquarters, said the sexuality education curriculum is “nimble and flexible”, and that it “responds to the changing needs of society”.
She explained that the programme has three main areas - to help students learn social and emotional skills to understand themselves and build healthy relationships, to integrate these skills with accurate, current and age-appropriate knowledge on human sexuality, and to establish that parents play a primary role in sexuality education.
Although the three key messages are “evergreen”, Mdm Mohana said MOE is aware of the changing environment around teens, and in particular, the influence of social media.
“We acknowledge that students are on social media networks and they are hearing and seeing things. We want to make sure that accurate information is being presented to them,” she said.
“These discussions do happen in the classroom, on the influence of these technologies and media on self-image, esteem, friendships and relationships. This is a very good conversation piece in the classroom for them to hear perspectives on what presents as beauty, for example.”
According to Mdm Mohana, teachers are “quite professional” and able to respond quickly to news circulating on social media during character and citizenship education (CCE) classes, which includes the sexuality education syllabus.
Estimating that it could take teachers anywhere between a few days to a week to respond to current events in class, she explained that teachers receive bi-weekly news updates, and they can then make use of these resources to come up with lesson packages.
Dr Tan said school programmes need to engage in “an honest and extended discussion” about alternative sources of information on human sexuality.
“The Internet is so pervasive in teenagers’ lives that you can’t pretend they don’t consult the Internet. Of course, you have no idea at all what they see, what information they are consulting for, and what they do with that information,” he added.
FOCUS ON ABSTINENCE
Mdm Mohana also stressed that the sexuality education syllabus is consistent across teachers and schools because the teachers undergo training and are guided by the syllabus.
“For sexuality education in particular, school leaders will select the teachers, and then they are specially trained so that they are comfortable, they are confident, and they are convinced that this is something that is necessary and important to bring to the classroom,” she added.
In terms of content, according to MOE’s website, the ministry believes that “abstinence before marriage is the best course of action for teenagers”, and the programme teaches students the possible consequences of sexual activity and that pre-marital sex is not desirable as there are inherent risks.
“A practical approach is adopted” to reduce the incidence of sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies among youths, said the website.
“Sexuality Education teaches students facts about contraception, repercussions of casual sex, and the prevention of diseases from a health perspective. This is in addition to teaching teenagers about building healthy relationships and how to say “no” to sexual advances.”
According to the website, the syllabus also teaches students what homosexuality is, and the current legal provisions concerning homosexual acts in Singapore.
Associate Professor Jude Chua, head of policy and leadership studies at NIE said focusing on the health benefits of abstinence is a “sensible approach”, because “the desire to avoid disease is a compelling reason that can be appreciated by any sound-thinking person, and has good reach”.
“At the same time, parents can do their part to inform their children, and they may themselves be informed by religious or cultural considerations that their own children are also attuned to,” he added.
“The latter may also help children understand that sexual restraint is not just about avoiding harms, but can be a more effective way to secure some goods are best enjoyed with trust, exclusivity, security, dedication and responsibility.”
Yvonne (not her real name) said she found that the most effective way to dissuade her students from sexual activity was to illustrate how much it costs to be responsible.
“When they have a grand scope of how much it costs to get pregnant and to deal with it, it is often a very sobering piece of knowledge for mature students,” she added.
“And unfortunately that is not addressed. My students don’t know where they can get contraception from, they don’t know what the options are, or they think contraception maybe only lies in the hands of the guy and not the girl.”
"IT DEPENDS A LOT ON THE TEACHER"
Teachers that reporters spoke to also shared that within the classroom, the content and quality of sexuality education remains largely dependent on the facilitation skills of the member of staff involved rather than the syllabus.
Yvonne told reporters that the CCE team at her school found that for a lot of the topics addressed in sexuality education, the quality of the classroom discussion depended on whether the teacher “was comfortable talking to students about it”.
She explained that many classes involved scenario-based learning, and materials from MOE highlighted “what was perceived as pertinent points between a boy and a girl”.
“We would go through points like how does a guy show interest, how should a girl reciprocate, what happens when a guy makes his advances, how a girl should respond,” she said.
Teachers would then offer up talking points to students, and ask them how they would respond if they were in the different situations, said Yvonne.
“How would you let him down nicely, or how would you respond to somebody who rejects your advances? Again, this is actually quite nuanced and the outcome of it depends a lot on the person who is facilitating the discussion, which obviously does not always work out,” she added.
Janet (not her real name) told reporters that there is an element of the teacher’s own experience in every lesson. “So most of it comes from the teacher’s own perspective sometimes, rather than what is shown on the screen,” she said.
“There are some teachers who just stick to the slides because they are afraid of sharing too much. It can become a personal topic when the students are very interested in your own experience, and some teachers might not be ready to share these things,” she added.
"At the same time, there are some teachers who are very open to sharing, and then it can become quite a vibrant discussion. I think it depends a lot on the teacher and the dynamics of the students, and how mature they are.”
SINGAPORE: A 65-year-old man was arrested on Monday (Oct 14) on suspicion of falsifying his company’s accounts to cover up misappropriating more than S$1.74 million.
On Jul 4, police received a report that an account manager with a company had purportedly stolen money belonging to the firm, the Singapore Police Force said in a news release on Tuesday night.
“Preliminary investigations revealed the man had signed the company’s cheques and encashed them without his employer’s approval,” the force said.
“He also falsified the company’s accounts to cover up his misappropriation of more than S$1,740,000.”
He is set to be charged in court on Wednesday with criminal breach of trust as a servant and falsification of accounts.
If convicted of criminal breach of trust, he could face a maximum jail sentence of 15 years and a fine.
The offence of falsification carries a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine.
WASHINGTON: The White House's alleged effort to pressure Ukraine so alarmed former national security advisor John Bolton that he alerted a lawyer, his former aide said on Monday (Oct 14), according to US media.
Bolton also warned that President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who has emerged as the point man in the president's alleged drive to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden, is "a hand grenade who's going to blow everyone up", his aide Fiona Hill told lawmakers, according to reporters.
The remark, which was also reported by NBC News, came after Trump's former top Russia adviser Hill sat for an hours-long closed door deposition before US lawmakers probing whether to impeach the president.
Reporters could not independently verify the report.
Following a "sharp exchange" with US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who was working with Giuliani on the pressure campaign, Bolton instructed Hill to notify a National Security Council lawyer, according to reporters.
Referring to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Bolton also said that "I am not part of whatever drug deal Rudy and Mulvaney are cooking up", the Times reported, citing two sources familiar with Hill's deposition.
Her testimony came after allegations that Trump pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens in a Jul 25 phone call, which sparked an impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives.
The White House's call memo shows Trump sought a "favour" from Zelensky. Democrats who control the chamber say it was a demand to investigate Biden - the president's potential 2020 election rival - and a Ukrainian firm that hired Biden's son Hunter.
On Monday evening, Giuliani said: "I don't know Fiona and can't figure out what she is talking about," and that the State Department arranged all his contacts with Ukraine, according to reporters.
Last week, the Times reported that Giuliani was himself under federal investigation for his dealings with Kiev on Trump's behalf.
Trump in September fired Bolton, who is known for his hardline stances on Washington's archenemies, particularly Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.
Hill left the Trump administration shortly before the July call with Zelensky.