TAIPEI: Taiwan's high court on Thursday (Apr 26) upheld the conviction of a former Chinese student on charges of recruiting spies for Beijing, saying his actions had posed serious threats to the island.
The decision comes as cross-strait tensions rise, with China accusing Taiwan of moves towards formal independence.
The self-ruling democratic island has never formally declared a split from the mainland and Beijing still sees it as a renegade province to be brought back into the fold, by force if necessary.
Zhou Hongxu, 31, who graduated from a top Taiwanese university in 2016, will serve out the 14-month jail term handed down by a lower court after his appeal was rejected.
"The defendant's actions posed serious threats to our territory and national security, given the disharmony and even hostile situation between the two sides," said high court spokesman Chiou Jong-yi.
The court had shown leniency in sentencing since Zhou had confessed and his attempt to recruit spies had been unsuccessful, he added.
Taiwan and China have spied on each other since 1949 when nationalist troops fled to the island and set up a separate government after losing a civil war on the mainland to communist forces.
Taiwan's National Security Bureau chief Peng Sheng-chu has said that Chinese espionage is "more serious than before". Local media report up to 5,000 people may be spying for China on the island.
Zhou was instructed by officials in Shanghai in late 2015 to recruit "Taiwanese government personnel and other people of influence" while he was studying and working in Taiwan, according to Thursday's ruling.
Zhou had attempted to recruit a man working in the Taiwanese government from August 2016, promising payment of at least US$10,000 per quarter before the man turned him in to local authorities.
China last week staged live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait - the narrow waterway separating the Chinese mainland from Taiwan - following weeks of naval manoeuvres in the area.
Chinese officials said the drills were to safeguard Beijing's territorial sovereignty and issued a fresh warning Wednesday that they would take further actions if "Taiwan's independence forces were to continue their reckless course".
Taipei accused China of being "extremely irresponsible" and said it was threatening peace in the region.
Beijing is deeply suspicious of President Tsai Ing-wen's traditionally pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party and has cut off official communication with Taipei since she came to power in 2016 as she refuses to accept that the island is part of "one China".
Chinese officials have also railed against Premier William Lai in recent weeks who has repeatedly declared his personal support for Taiwan's independence.
SINGAPORE: A group of army medics have drawn praise after stopping to help four children and a school van driver in a traffic accident along Mandai Avenue on Wednesday morning (Apr 25).
The police were alerted to an accident along Mandai Avenue towards Sembawang Road at about 6.40am.
A 14-year-old boy was taken conscious to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, while another three children aged between 10 and 12 were taken conscious to KK Women's and Children's Hospital.
Servicemen from the combat medic specialist course of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Medical Training Institute were on their way to an outfield exercise when they came across the incident at around 6.40am, according to a Facebook post by the Singapore Army.
ME3 Ng Jaan Woei "immediately decided to stop the convoy" after "seeing the four children crying and the driver at the side of the road", according to the Singapore Army.
Along with 3SG Delwin Tay Yong Xi, he attended to the students and driver, including one boy who had a "bad cut" on his forehead and cuts on his legs "due to shattered glass from the school van".
Another boy had a cut on his forehead and his left elbow, according to the Singapore Army.
Meanwhile, ME2 Muhammad Zulhilmi led a group of trainees and instructors to help remove a fallen lamp-post at the scene that was causing traffic congestion, so that emergency services could get there more quickly.
Photos of the incident showed a fallen lamp-post lying across one lane of the road.
The Singapore Army said it "would like to wish the children a speedy recovery and commend our servicemen for being ready to step forward".
3SG Tay said that his role as an army medic also extended towards caring for civilians.
"I'm a medic, and I know I need to get my job done," he said in the Singapore Army post. "My job is to treat the ones who sustained injuries and take down information so that there will be a smooth transition from us to the doctors."
Police investigations into the accident are ongoing.
GUADALAJARA, Mexico: A Mexican rapper and YouTube star with hundreds of thousands of followers confessed to dissolving the bodies of three missing film students in acid, authorities confirmed on Wednesday (Apr 25)
Christian Omar Palma Gutierrez - also known as "QBA" - is one of two people detained over the deaths of Salomon Aceves Gastelum, 25, Daniel Diaz, 20, and Marco Avalos, 20.
Gutierrez admitted to state prosecutors that he disposed of the bodies after the trio's kidnapping, torture and murder in western Jalisco state last month.
"He has participated in three other previous murders," chief investigator Lizette Torres told reporters.
Gutierrez said he received 3,000 pesos (US$159) a week to work for the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel, one of the most powerful in Mexico, having been recruited by a friend three months ago.
Two separate Facebook pages belonging to Gutierrez have a combined 140,000 followers, while his YouTube channel has nearly 125,000 subscribers and millions of views.
In songs with titles such as "Death Has No Schedule", Gutierrez sings about violence, weapons and drugs, almost always in a threatening tone.
His professionally-shot videos are littered with images of poor neighborhoods where young gang members take drugs and show off weapons - while others feature the rapper and his friends showing off in luxury vehicles or on motorcycles.
Torres confirmed the videos formed part of the criminal investigation into the murders.
Prosecutors said Gutierrez and the other suspect will be charged with aggravated kidnapping, while five more suspects remain at large.
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia: At least 10 people have been killed and dozens more injured in a huge blaze at an illegal oil well in Indonesia, authorities said on Wednesday (Apr 25).
An oil spill sparked a huge fire about 1.30am (2.30am, Singapore time) in a residential area on Sumatra island's Aceh province, destroying at least three houses and still burning out of control mid-morning.
"The [fire] is still soaring high and has not yet successfully been extinguished," said Saiful, head of Aceh's Ranto Peureulak subdistrict.
At least 10 bodies have been recovered and the death toll is expected to rise, police said, while injured victims were being treated at local hospitals.
Firefighters were at the scene, with state-owned oil company Pertamina assisting their efforts.
Police said the victims were collecting oil from around the entrance of an oil wellbore when the blaze erupted.
It was not known how much oil was spilled or what ignited the fire.
East Aceh is dotted with numerous small-scale oil mining operations, which are often run illegally by local villagers.
Although authorities said the operation was illegal, deadly fires are not uncommon in Indonesia, a sprawling country of more than 260 million people where safety regulations are often flouted.
In October, 47 people died after a blaze tore through a fireworks factory outside Jakarta.
Workplace safety is often lacking in Indonesia and there are also concerns about lax building standards.
This year, Jakarta temporarily halted all elevated transportation projects after a dozen major accidents killed five and wounded dozens more.
That directive followed a balcony collapse at the Jakarta Stock Exchange building which injured dozens.
SINGAPORE: Singapore's last polar bear, Inuka, has been put down on “humane grounds” after a second health examination in three weeks found that its health had not improved despite intensive treatments.
The 27-year-old polar bear was put into “deep sleep” under anaesthesia at around 7am on Wednesday (Apr 25) and was not revived, said Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, deputy CEO and Chief Life Sciences Officer of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).
Any form of treatment would have caused it more stress and prolonged its suffering, Dr Cheng added.
“Today’s medical examination revealed that the open wounds on his paws and abdomen had not significantly improved despite additional treatment over the last three weeks. These wounds, which were quite deep, would have caused pain and discomfort to Inuka, and would only be aggravated as his arthritis worsened,” WRS said in a statement.
“The vets had hoped that the treatment instituted since the last checkup would have resulted in more improvement, and as it was not the case, it was clear that Inuka’s health and welfare state was compromised and the responsible course of action was not to prolong Inuka’s suffering,” WRS added.
KEEPERS ENSURED INUKA WAS COMFORTABLE
Mr Mohan Ponichamy, deputy head keeper and one of Inuka's primary caregivers, said the keepers spent the entire night with Inuka, ensuring it was comfortable.
"In preparation of anaesthesia, he needed to be isolated. We spent almost the entire day with him (to) make sure he was calm. We hand-fed him with water. He was responsive and could still follow signals," Mr Mohan said.
"From his point of view, he was in deep sleep, surrounded by all his keepers who care deeply about him. Having been born and lived in Singapore for the past 27 years where a whole generation of Singaporeans have grown up with him, we bade him farewell. It is a very sad moment for us ... but I think we have done the right thing by him and he is no longer suffering," Dr Cheng added.
A private memorial service will be held on Thursday. An autopsy will be done to fully understand Inuka's condition, and the zoo said it may also preserve its body parts for educational purposes.
Inuka’s exhibit will be refurbished and redesigned to house sea lions, the zoo said. The changes will be made over the next few months.
QUALITY OF LIFE
At 27 years old, Inuka was about 70 in human years. It was put on the Zoo's geriatric health plan five years ago and monitored closely on a daily basis. Keepers also assessed him visually every week, the Zoo said.
When asked if the Zoo had considered letting Inuka die naturally, Dr Cheng said that it is not the Zoo's policy to do so.
"In the wild when animals who die naturally, it can be long and drawn out. It could be old or they ... might not be as fast as they used to be or as healthy as they used to be. If you’re an animal that has to hunt other animals to survive (and) you can’t do that anymore, you could go hungry, you could last for weeks and months before you die," Dr Cheng said.
"For animals under our care, we shall never allow that. We will always be looking after for them, taking care of them. So that means that we could actually try to treat the conditions over a period of time."
Treatment could go on for "months and years" and the keepers look out for quality of life of the animal at the same time.
"We have many indicators that allow us to assess if he is having a good life. When we look at all the indicators, the big ones are the health indicators, could we have treated the sore or the pads more? We could have, but in the end it’ll just be the treatment itself will cause him more stress and more discomfort. It would not necessarily allow him to heal back and will certainly be prolonging his suffering unnecessarily," Dr Cheng added.
The polar bear had been kept under close watch and away from its exhibit since Tuesday. It was found to be less active in recent weeks and preferred to rest than playing and interacting with its keepers.
Inuka was born in the Singapore Zoo in 1990 and was the first polar bear to be born in the tropics. It had lived beyond the average life expectancy of 15 to 18 years of polar bears in the wild and 25 years in captivity.
The zoo said in 2006 it will not bring in any more polar bears to Singapore – a decision that was reaffirmed last month and is in line with its focus on featuring tropical wildlife and threatened Southeast Asian species, WRS said.
BRUSSELS: International donors are expected on Wednesday (Apr 25) to pledge billions of dollars for Syria after the UN's special envoy warned of a looming humanitarian disaster in the rebel-held region of Idlib.
The UN's aid agency says some US$8 billion is needed from the gathering of ministers and aid organisations in Brussels for work both inside Syria and with refugees in neighbouring countries.
As forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad wage a new offensive against Islamic State jihadists entrenched in a southern district of Damascus, the conference will also try to re-energise the floundering UN-led peace process in the hope of ending the bloody war, now in its eighth year.
Idlib, on the Turkish border in northwestern Syria, is held by an array of rebel, Islamist and jihadist forces and has seen an massive influx of people fleeing the conflict.
"We were and are concerned on the humanitarian side by Idlib. Because Idlib is the big new challenge, 2.5 million people," UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura told the first day of the conference on Tuesday.
"We hope that this would be an occasion for making sure that Idlib does not become the new new Aleppo, the new Eastern Ghouta, because the dimensions are completely different."
Some 6.1 million people are now internally displaced in Syria, more than five million have fled the country and 13 million including six million children are in need of aid, according to the UN. More than 700,000 people have been displaced since the start of this year alone.
The head of UN aid agency UNOCHA Mark Lowcock said the gathering needed to raise some US$8 billion for work inside Syria and with refugees in neighbouring countries, warning that some programmes may have to be cut back if funds are not forthcoming.
"We are quite desperately short of resources," he told reporters, saying UNOCHA managed to raise only half of the funds it needed in 2017.
Europe is also keen to use the conference to restart UN-led talks in Geneva which have made little progress in eight rounds, with Assad's government paying little interest and Russia, Iran and Turkey launching a rival process in the Kazakh capital Astana last year.
Russia and Iran are Assad's key allies and their military intervention in Syria is widely seen as tipping the balance in the civil war.
Mogherini and de Mistura both called on Moscow, Tehran and Ankara to do more to reach a ceasefire.
"The main message is that Syria is not a chessboard, it's not geopolitical game," Mogherini said.
Moscow has repeatedly defended its Syrian ally at the UN, most recently over the suspected chemical attack in the town of Douma, blamed by Western powers on Assad's forces.
Britain's development minister Penny Mordaunt is expected to urge delegates at the conference to step up the pressure on Moscow.
"In wielding its UN veto 12 times on Syria, (Russia) has given a green flag to Assad to perpetrate human rights atrocities against his own people," Mordaunt will say, according to her office.
"We're here to address the urgent humanitarian needs in Syria and the wider region, but all of us here know that the only solution to end the suffering in Syria is a political settlement that brings peace."
A UN Security Council retreat in a secluded farmhouse in Sweden at the weekend, called in a bid to overcome its paralysis on Syria, had lowered the "temperature" but failed to find a political solution, Mistura said.
But it is not clear how effectively the Brussels conference will be able to mobilise political pressure on Assad and his backers.
As with previous editions, neither the Syrian government nor opposition groups will be represented and it also remains unclear who, if anyone, will come for Russia, Turkey and Iran.
JAKARTA An Indonesian court on Tuesday (Apr 24) sentenced the former speaker of parliament, Setya Novanto, to 15 years in jail for his role in causing state losses of around US$170 million, linked to a national electronic identity card scheme.
The case has shocked Indonesians, already used to large corruption scandals and has reinforced a widely held perception that their parliament, long regarded as riddled with corruption, is a failing institution.
"The defendant is found guilty of conspiring to commit corruption and is sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined 500 million rupiah," Yanto, the head of a panel of five judges, told the Jakarta court. The fine is equivalent to US$36,000.
Novanto would be barred from holding public office for five years after serving his sentence and have to repay US$7.3 million he was accused of plundering, added the judge, who goes by one name.
In a session that ran for more than three hours, judges read out dozens of case notes, including descriptions of where the former speaker held meetings to divvy up cash made from a mark-up on a contract for the identity card.
Novanto showed little emotion as the judge read the verdict.
After a quick consultation with his legal team, he told the court he would take some time to consider whether to appeal the sentence.
Novanto is accused of orchestrating a scheme to steal US$173 million, or almost 40 per cent of the entire budget for a government contract for the national identity card.
Prosecutors, who had questioned 80 witnesses in the case, had sought a jail term of at least 16 years for the former speaker.
Novanto, who had been implicated in five graft scandals since the 1990s but never convicted, was detained by investigators last November after repeatedly missing summonses for questioning over the case, saying he needed heart surgery.
Indonesians have to contend with high levels of graft in many areas of their lives and the country placed 96th among 180 countries in Transparency International's annual corruption perceptions index last year, on par with Colombia and Thailand.
SINGAPORE: The majority of claims seen at the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) since it was launched in April last year have involved disputes over salary payments and allowances, the State Courts said in a media release on Tuesday (Apr 24).
Non- or short payment of salaries and allowances made up 78 per cent of the claims seen, the release said. Other common ECT claims were for overtime pay (37 per cent) and salary in lieu of notice (27 per cent).
Launched on Apr 1 last year, the ECT was set up to hear statutory and contractual salary-related claims at the State Courts instead of the Labour Court in the Ministry of Manpower. It hears claims surrounding issues such as payment of allowances, bonuses, commissions, salary in lieu of notice and retrenchment benefits.
Since the launch, the State Courts has seen 1,190 employment claims filed at the ECT, as of Mar 31, 2018, the release said.
More than 80 per cent of ECT cases have been concluded, with three out of four claims resolved at the case management conference stage without having to go for a full hearing, it said.
The ECT also granted 732 money orders, while other cases were either dismissed or withdrawn.
"The efficient resolution of cases is possible as the ECT process, which is judge-led and designed with simplified procedures, allows for a speedy low-cost avenue to settle employment disputes," said the media release.
It added that the majority of statutory and contractual salary-related claims were concluded within six months from the date of filing.
The ECT also hears claims from employees outside the scope of the Employment Act, including professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) who earn more than S$4,500 per month.
Since its launch, PMEs have made up about 25 per cent of those who had filed claims, said the State Courts.
"They would previously have had to pursue their claims through the civil courts, which was not always the most cost-effective option for lower value claims," it said.
The tribunal has jurisdiction to hear claims up to S$20,000 or up to S$30,000 if the dispute has undergone mediation assisted by the unions.
ECT TO HEAR WRONGFUL DISMISSAL CLAIMS IN 2019
The adjudication of wrongful dismissal claims will be transferred to the ECT in 2019, added the media release.
Currently, these claims are heard by the Ministry of Manpower.
"As dismissal-related claims are usually coupled with salary issues, the affected employee has to go to two different parties to resolve their issues," said the media release.
This is part of an ongoing review by the ministry to "further streamline" the dispute resolution process for employees and employers.
ISTANBUL: An earthquake struck Turkey's southeastern province of Adiyaman early on Tuesday, injuring 13 people and causing damage to buildings, state-run Anadolu news agency said.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the earthquake, which struck at 0034 GMT, had a magnitude of 5.2 and occurred at a depth of 10km.
Anadolu said the 13 injured were transferred to hospitals but were not in serious condition. Images posted on social media showed serious damage to numerous houses.
The quake was followed by eight small aftershocks, Anadolu said.
Elementary and high schools closed for the day, other local media said.
BEIJING: Thirty-two Chinese tourists and four North Koreans died in a major bus accident in North Korea, China's foreign ministry said on Monday (Apr 23), with two Chinese nationals seriously injured and left in critical condition.
Chinese visitors make up about 80 percent of all foreign tourists to North Korea, says a South Korean think-tank, the Korea Maritime Institute, which estimates that tourism generates revenue of about $44 million each year for the isolated country.
Chinese diplomats have rushed to the scene of Sunday's accident in North Hwanghae province, the foreign ministry said.
In a Twitter message earlier on Monday, Chinese state television's English-language channel said a tour bus had fallen off a bridge, killing more than 30 people, but later deleted the message.
State television's main Chinese-language news channel showed images of a crashed blue bus with its wheels in the air, in footage taken in pouring rain in the dark.
It showed at least one person being treated in hospital, but gave no details of casualties.
In a separate statement, China's health ministry said it was sending a team of medical experts, along with equipment and drugs, to North Korea, to help treat survivors.
The North Hwanghae province that borders South Korea is home to Kaesong, an ancient Korean capital thronged by tourists.
North Korea is a popular, if offbeat, tourist destination for Chinese, especially those from the country's northeast.
China said more than 237,000 Chinese visited in 2012, but stopped publishing the figures in 2013.
China is North Korea's most important economic and diplomatic backer, despite Beijing's anger at Pyongyang's repeated nuclear and missile tests and support for strong United Nations sanctions against North Korea.
North and South Korea are in the final stages of preparations for a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In at the border truce village of Panmunjom on Friday.