GUATEMALA CITY: Guatemala's presidential election appeared to be headed for a runoff as partial results on Monday (Jun 17) gave centre-left candidate Sandra Torres an early lead but far short of the majority needed to avoid a second round against a conservative rival.
With votes tallied from 42 per cent of polling stations, preliminary results from Sunday's election gave former first lady Torres 24.18 per cent of the vote, followed by conservative Alejandro Eduardo Giammattei with 15 per cent, the electoral tribunal said.
The presidential race, which groups 19 candidates, appeared all but certain to be headed for a second round of voting on Aug 11. The head of the electoral tribunal said late on Sunday it could take approximately two weeks to have definitive results from across the Central American country.
Guatemala's next president will face the daunting challenge of curbing drug gang violence that has ravaged the country and helped spur illegal immigration to the United States, stoking tensions with President Donald Trump.
Torres, of the centre-left UNE party, has led the race to succeed President Jimmy Morales, a conservative former television host whose term has been blighted by accusations of corruption made by UN-backed investigators.
Nevertheless, Torres also has high negative ratings and may struggle to win a direct run-off if supporters of the many right-of-centre candidates unite against her.
In third place with 12.11 per cent was Edmond Mulet, a former UN official whose conservative candidacy gained traction in recent weeks.
Torres, who wants to send troops into the streets to fight drug gangs, and use welfare programs to tackle poverty, extended a hand to Guatemala's business elite when voting on Sunday.
"We have to sort out our problems here, and part of the reason for the migration is the lack of jobs, the gap in wages between the United States and here," she said. "We need to work with the business community to revive the economy."
Rampant violence and widespread discontent over corruption and impunity in the country of 17 million have prompted more and more Guatemalans to flee for the United States.
The surge of departures has undermined Trump's pledge to curb illegal immigration, and the US president has responded by threatening to cut US aid to Central America.
That prospect has caused alarm in Guatemala, where the legacy of the bloody 1960-1996 civil war still casts a long shadow over the country's development.
Rain fell on Guatemala City during Sunday's vote and results suggested there was considerable discontent among the electorate about the choice of candidates on offer. More than 12 per cent of votes cast were blank or spoiled ballots, the early count showed.
Morales, who is barred by law from seeking re-election, took office in 2016 vowing to root out corruption after his predecessor was brought down by a probe led by the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).
Instead, Morales himself became a target of a CICIG probe into allegations of campaign finance wrongdoing and was subject to impeachment proceedings in 2017.
He survived the attempt to oust him, and then engaged in a bitter dispute with the CICIG before finally terminating its mandate, effective from September.
None of the top contenders has unequivocally backed the CICIG, with Torres saying she would consider holding a referendum on whether it should remain in Guatemala.
Fernando Escalante, 41, an industrial design adviser, said the next president must continue the fight against corruption.
"I fear all the progress we've made could be lost, but maybe it's time for us Guatemalans to take on the task," he said.
Questions of legitimacy have dogged the 2019 contest since two of the front-runners were forced out, including Thelma Aldana, a former attorney general who tried to impeach Morales with the CICIG. The government accused Aldana of corruption, leading to her exclusion last month.
SINGAPORE: A tuition teacher on Monday (Jun 17) admitted to molesting a 15-year-old girl who attended his mathematics classes.
The 48-year-old Indonesian, who is also a Singapore permanent resident, cannot be named due to a court order.
The court heard that the divorced man taught secondary school students in group classes that were conducted thrice a week at his home.
On multiple occasions, he asked the victim, who was in Secondary 3 at the time, to stay back after class, claiming that he wanted her to complete her homework.
He molested her at least five times after the other students had left, in offences committed between February and March last year.
On the first occasion in February last year, sometime after the class ended at 9pm, the tutor asked the victim to stay behind to do homework.
When he was alone with the teenager, he slid his hand under her clothes and molested her for about 30 seconds.
He did this again a second time that month. In March, the tutor again molested the girl in the same way, before lifting her shirt.
"After being molested by the accused, the victim felt molested, uncomfortable, shocked and speechless by the accused’s actions," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Delicia Tan.
"She kept the incidents of molest to herself because she was afraid to speak up and did not know how to react."
Two days after the March incident, the girl confided in a male friend.
The 17-year-old friend told the victim's school about it, and the school informed her mother.
The girl's mother took her to a police station to lodge a report soon after.
The tutor pleaded guilty on Monday to three charges of using criminal force with intent to outrage her modesty, with another two charges taken into consideration for sentencing.
The prosecutor asked for a sentence of 25 months' jail and two strokes of the cane per proceeded charge, pointing out that the offences had occurred on "a number of separate occasions".
Defence lawyer Chua Eng Hui asked for one stroke of the cane per charge, saying that his client was remorseful and had pleaded guilty from the start.
District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim asked for a victim impact statement, a statement relating to any physical, psychological or psychiatric harm suffered by the victim as a result of the offence, and adjourned sentencing to next month.
For each charge of using criminal force on the teenager to outrage her modesty, the tutor can be jailed for up to two years, fined, caned, or given any combination of these punishments.
SINGAPORE: A 28-year-old police sergeant was found with a gunshot wound to his head on Sunday (Jun 16), said the Singapore Police Force on Monday.
The incident happened at the Yishun North Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) at 31 Yishun Central.
The officer reported for duty at 7.30pm on Sunday and drew his service pistol from the armoury, police said in a press release.
"He was later found alone with a gunshot wound to his head at the rest area of the NPC at around 9.30pm with his service pistol beside him. He was conveyed unconscious to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and subsequently succumbed to his injury at 10.26pm."
Police have classified the case as unnatural death, and no foul play is suspected. The case is being investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department.
"The police are assisting the family in their time of grief," police said.
In January this year, a 48-year-old Aetos auxiliary police officer was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head at Woodlands Checkpoint.
On Sep 9, 2018, a full-time police national serviceman died six days after he was found with a gunshot wound to his head at the Protective Security Command in Ulu Pandan.
In both instances, no foul play was suspected.
DUBAI: Iran said on Friday (Jun 14) it was responsible for maintaining the security of the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf, state radio reported, adding that blaming Tehran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman was alarming.
"We are in charge of maintaining security of the Strait and we rescued the crew of those attacked tankers in the shortest possible time ... US Secretary of State (Mike) Pompeo's accusations towards Iran is alarming," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.
The United States blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday that drove up oil prices and raised concern about a new US-Iranian confrontation.
It was not immediately clear what caused the explosions that forced the crews to abandon ship and leave both the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous adrift in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran.
The blasts, south of the Strait of Hormuz, followed last month's sabotage attacks on vessels off the Fujairah emirate, one of the world's largest bunkering hubs. Iran has distanced itself from the attacks.
Almost a fifth of the world’s oil passes through the Strait - some 17.2 million barrels per day (bpd). Consumption was about 100 million bpd in 2017, data from analytics firm Vortexa showed.
Brent crude futures rose 0.6 per cent to US$61.69 per barrel in Asian trade on Friday, having gained 2.2 per cent the previous day, though at one point they had surged as much as 4.5 per cent in the wake of the attacks.
Iran's key regional rival Saudi Arabia said that Riyadh was committed to providing reliable oil supplies to global markets.
One source said the blast on the Front Altair, which caught fire and sent a huge plume of smoke into the air, may have been caused by a magnetic mine. The firm that chartered the Kokuka Courageous tanker said it was hit by a suspected torpedo, but a person with knowledge of the matter said torpedoes were not used.
The US military released a video late on Thursday that it said showed Iran's Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) removing an unexploded mine from the side of the Japanese-owned oil tanker.
The US military's Central Command also released photographs showing the apparent mine, which attaches to the side of a ship magnetically, before it was removed later in the day.
Tension between Iran and the United States has risen since May last year, when US President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers that aimed to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iran has repeatedly warned it would block the Strait of Hormuz if it cannot sell its oil because of US sanctions.
Tensions have increased further since Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran and acted at the beginning of May to force Iran's oil customers to slash their imports to zero or face draconian US financial sanctions.
Iran's oil exports, its economy's lifeblood, have dropped to about 400,000 bpd in May from 2.5 million bpd in April last year.
SINGAPORE: Two men and a woman were arrested on Wednesday (Jun 12) in two separate cases of loan shark harassment after a vehicle was splashed with paint and tomato sauce was thrown onto a gate.
Police officers were called to a flat along Bedok North Avenue 4 after reports that tomato sauce was splashed across the gate of a home. Graffiti was also scrawled on the wall of the staircase landing beside the unit.
A 31-year-old man and 23-year-old woman were arrested by officers from Bedok Police Division, the Singapore Police Force said in a news release.
Officers seized a bottle of tomato sauce, a black marker and a mobile phone as part of their investigations.
The other incident took place along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4. Police received a report that paint was thrown over a vehicle and that "loan shark-related notes" were affixed to the vehicle.
A 46-year-old man was arrested in a joint operation between the Criminal Investigation Department and Ang Mo Kio Police Division.
"Preliminary investigations revealed that the man is believed to be involved in at least two other cases of loan-shark harassment," police said.
All three of them will be charged in court on Friday.
First-time offenders found guilty of loan shark harassment may be fined up to S$50,000, jailed for a maximum of five years and caned.
“The police have zero tolerance against loan shark harassment," the force said.
"Those who deliberately vandalise properties or cause annoyance and disruption to public safety, peace and security will be arrested and dealt with severely in accordance with the law.
"Members of the public are advised to stay away from loan sharks and not to work with or assist them in any way."
SINGAPORE: Jeffrey Ong Su Aun, the lawyer who allegedly went missing along with S$33 million, was charged on Thursday (Jun 13) with forgery, while more firms have come forward on S$16 million worth of transactions purportedly involving him.
Ong, 41, the managing director of law firm JLC Advisors, was given eight additional charges of forgery for the purpose of cheating.
He had already been charged earlier this month with one count of cheating involving S$6 million.
He was accused of deceiving CCJ Investment into believing that it had entered into a loan agreement with Suite Development, inducing CCJ Investment to disburse a sum of S$6 million.
Ong appeared in court via video-link on Thursday wearing a red top and glasses. The additional eight charges are linked to the same firms CCJ Investment and Suite Development.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Khoo told the court that on top of the additional charges, the prosecution was applying for another week's remand.
Explaining the reasons, he said: "Apart from S$33 million concerning Allied Tech, three other clients of Ong's law firm have also come forward to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) to inform them regarding unauthorised transactions."
This was regarding money held at Ong's firm, JLC Advisors. The total sum involved is S$16 million, according to the prosecution.
"The CAD requests time to conduct fund-tracing as well as ascertain exactly which of the transactions are unauthorised and as such we would be grateful for a further week of remand," said the prosecutor.
The judge allowed his request and set the date for the next hearing for Jun 20.
Ong has not been charged over the S$16 million nor the S$33 million, both of which allegedly involve his law firm.
His firm held an escrow account - an account where funds are held while two or more parties complete a transaction - for engineering firm Allied Technologies.
Allied Tech had filed a police report over an unauthorised payout of S$33 million from its escrow account, which Ong allegedly authorised before going missing.
Allied Tech's allegations came to light in a Singapore Exchange filing on May 23, after which the Law Society issued a notice of intervention into JLC's client accounts and took over control of funds held by JLC.
For each count of cheating or forgery for the purpose of cheating, Ong could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.
LONDON: The 10 candidates running to replace Britain's outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May face the first round of voting on Thursday (Jun 13) - when at least one will get the chop.
Conservative MPs hold their first secret ballot in the governing party's leadership contest as they begin whittling down the contenders.
All 313 lawmakers can vote and any candidate who does not garner the support of 16 colleagues will drop out.
If they all clear that hurdle, the one with the lowest number of votes is knocked out.
May, who remains prime minister, stepped down as party leader on Friday, having failed to deliver her plan for taking Britain out of the European Union after nearly three years in the post.
Bookmakers have ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson as their odds-on favourite to win the contest to replace her.
The former London mayor broke his silence to launch his campaign on Wednesday, saying he would only take Britain out of the EU without a deal as a "last resort" as he promised to unify a country deeply divided over Brexit.
A cross-party effort to block a chaotic end to the 46-year partnership failed on Wednesday, potentially leaving more room for manoeuvre for a future premier.
Johnson said that if parliament blocks Brexit completely, "we will reap the whirlwind and we will face mortal retribution from the electorate".
DRUGS AND BACKBITING
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom are considered Johnson's closest challengers.
The contest so far has been dominated by revelations of past drug-taking by candidates and bickering over the best way to resolve the Brexit impasse.
But Thursday's voting will reveal each candidate's current level of support.
The ballot takes place in a Houses of Parliament committee room between 10am (0900 GMT) and 12pm (1100 GMT), with the results expected to be announced around an hour later.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, former pensions secretary Esther McVey and ex-immigration minister Mark Harper are considered the three most vulnerable to dropping out.
McVey is pursuing a no-deal Brexit, arguing that the agreement struck by May keeps Britain too closely tied to the EU, while Hancock is against no-deal.
Harper says an extension would be needed beyond the Oct 31 deadline to secure a deal but he would be prepared to leave the European Union without one rather than remain in the bloc.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid launched his campaign on Wednesday, pledging to get a revised version of May's deal through parliament by Oct 31.
"We can't risk going with someone who feels like the short-term, comfort-zone choice," the interior minister said, recounting his story of growing up in Britain as the son of Pakistani immigrants.
Javid, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab have enough publicly-declared backers to make it through to the second round.
International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, the contender most vehemently against leaving the EU without a deal, also hopes to make it past the first hurdle.
The survivors face their first live television debate on Sunday in a 90-minute programme on Channel 4.
They have another round of hustings before Conservative MPs on Monday before Tuesday's second ballot, when the bar rises from 16 backers to 32, again with the contender with the fewest votes dropping out.
After further rounds of voting next week, the party hopes to be down to the last two by the end of Jun 20.
After weeks of hustings around the country, the 160,000 grass-roots Conservative party members pick the winner, with the result announced in the week beginning Jul 22.
May will then step down as prime minister and the new leader of the largest party in parliament will be appointed as PM by Queen Elizabeth II.
SINGAPORE: Retrenchments rose in the first quarter of the year, driven by losses in the manufacturing sector, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Thursday (Jun 13).
According to MOM, retrenchments increased from 2,510 in the previous quarter to 3,230 in the first three months of 2019.
This, the ministry added, was driven by manufacturing (from 380 in the previous quarter to 1,040) and primarily affected production and related workers from electronics.
Electronics formed 18 per cent of retrenchments in the first quarter, followed by services industries such as wholesale trade (16 per cent) and transportation and storage (10 per cent).
Overall, the labour market held up in the first quarter, said MOM.
Total employment rates climbed higher than that of the same period last year, growing by about 10,700, excluding foreign domestic workers.
The services sector was the main driver of total employment growth, while construction posted its first employment gain in three years, reflecting an increase in both public and private sector construction activities.
"The tightness in the labour market may ease, as job vacancies declined for the first time in two years and retrenchments rose in this quarter," MOM said.
RESIDENT LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DIPS
The resident unemployment rate held steady at 3 per cent, while long-term unemployment rate declined from 0.8 per cent in December 2018 to 0.7 per cent in March 2019.
Among retrenched residents, professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) continued to make up the majority (69 per cent), as they form a higher share of the workforce, and were more prone to retrenchments
The six-month re-entry rate among retrenched residents rose for the second consecutive quarter to 66 per cent.
However, citizen unemployment rate rose slightly from 3.1 per cent in December 2018 to 3.2 per cent in March 2019. Seasonally adjusted overall unemployment rates remained unchanged at 2.2 per cent.
MORE JOB VACANCIES THAN SEEKERS, DESPITE DECLINE IN VACANCIES
The seasonally adjusted number of job vacancies declined from 62,300 in December 2018 to 57,100 in March 2019, the first decline after seven consecutive quarters of increase.
However, in the first quarter of the year, there continued to be more job vacancies than job seekers, despite the seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons dipping slightly from 1.10 in December 2018 to 1.08 in March 2019.
SCDF ragging trial: I've never witnessed a 'kolam' ritual but I would've stopped it, says station commander
SINGAPORE: The commander of the Tuas View Fire Station, where full-time national serviceman (NSF) Kok Yuen Chin was pushed into a pump well and drowned, said on Thursday (Jun 13) that he had never seen nor participated in the "kolam" ragging ritual before.
Taking the stand in the trial against his subordinates, rota commander Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon and deputy commander First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, Major (MAJ) Huang Weikang told the court he had never seen a kolam incident before, although he knew what it entailed.
It means that "someone eventually will end up in the pump well", he explained.
MAJ Huang's subordinates are contesting a charge each of causing grievous hurt to 22-year-old Corporal (CPL) Kok by a rash act, by not stopping their men from putting him in the well. CPL Kok was pushed in and drowned, with officers retrieving his body 36 minutes after he fell in, on May 13 last year.
MAJ Huang, who was the fire station commander at Tuas View Fire Station from August 2016 to December 2018 and is now a senior fire investigator at the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), said he had never been a victim of ragging nor been part of a kolam ritual himself.
He told the court he was not at the fire station on the fateful day as it was a Sunday and he was not working.
I WAS PUZZLED, SAID MAJ HUANG
"I remember that night, I was at home," he said, describing when he first heard about the incident. "At about nine plus, I received a call from (rota commander) Kenneth."
He said he wondered why Chong called him as it "was odd" for him to call him at night unless it was important.
Swallowing, MAJ Huang said: "I cannot remember his exact words, but he told me something along the lines of CPL Kok falling into the kolam and (how they could not) find his body."
"Initially, I was of course puzzled over why CPL Kok was in the pump well. And what did they mean (when they said) they could not find his body?" MAJ Huang continued.
"The pump well is very narrow, (it has a) circular structure, so I was confused by that statement so I probed further, asked him what happened again and I think Kenneth updated that he was trying to suck out the water to find him (CPL Kok)."
MAJ Huang said that the pump well is used to test that the pumps of the fire engines are able to draw water from an open source and use that water. The well was usually filled almost to the brim, with a barricade around it to prevent people from falling in, he added.
MAJ Huang said he told Chong to continue with the rescue operation as the former called his superior to tell him about the incident.
He then made his way to the fire station, while receiving calls from both SCDF headquarters' operations centre and Chong.
When he got there, there was "a lot of equipment all over the place", with officers standing around and paramedics attending to CPL Kok. CPL Kok was taken to hospital where he died, and the cause of death was drowning.
"THERE ARE STORIES WE CAN'T PROVE"
MAJ Huang told the court that if he had been in the control room when the term "kolam" was mentioned, he would have "definitely (been) more alert as to why in a celebratory moment there was the mention of the word kolam and what it might suggest".
When asked why he would have been more alert, MAJ Huang said: "I mean, these (kolam activities many years ago) are stories we can't prove, but it's at the back of the head that the guys in front of you - in a celebration moment ... they might do it ... to CPL Kok. They might put him into the kolam."
He added that if he had seen the men carrying CPL Kok towards the pump well, he "would have stopped it because this is an act of ragging and it's a dangerous act of ragging".
The men would have stopped, he said, "because it's an order".
MAJ Huang told the court that ragging "runs counter to SCDF's philosophy of caring for its personnel" and that NSFs who join the force are told about ragging and other common offences they might encounter.
Defining ragging, MAJ Huang said it referred to any action, physical or verbal, that could cause bodily harm to a person, whether or not the subject is willing.
He said he would not have left the scene when the men were gathered around the pump well, as Nazhan did, and instead would have asked them "What do (you) think (you) are doing here?"
There were anti-ragging posters placed around the fire station, in the dormitory as well as near the lockers as these were where groups gathered and where there could be a risk of ragging, said MAJ Huang.
He also said he would not have left the matter to those under him in rank, he said.
"They are already doing something I'm uncomfortable with, to delegate my responsibility to them might not be the best option for me," said MAJ Huang.
He told the court that he knew Chong to be "a responsible rota commander", hardworking and going out of his way to complete tasks assigned to him, while Nazhan was "quite involved in the rota" as he would be present with his officers even during physical training.
"CPL Kok is a very good boy," he said. "You tell him things, he is very obliging, he will listen to you. He will follow instructions."
CPL Kok's father sat in the court on Thursday, watching the videos of his son smiling in the control room during the cake-cutting ceremony for his Operationally Ready Date, and being carried towards the pump well.
The trial is slated to run until Jun 21.
WELLINGTON: A New Zealand court stopped a murder suspect being extradited to China Tuesday (Jun 11), saying it could not send a suspect to a country where torture was "widespread" and "systemic".
The Court of Appeal quashed a ministerial decision to extradite Kyung Kim to China, saying to do so when there was a risk he would be tortured breached New Zealand's international obligations.
The 99-page judgement, which included a damning assessment of Beijing's justice system, comes amid huge protests by Hong Kong residents against laws allowing extraditions to mainland China.
Kim's lawyer Tony Ellis said the decision was a precedent-setting human rights victory.
"It is a judgement that has profound human rights importance which will resonate throughout the Common Law world, it is not just important in New Zealand," he said in a statement.
Kim, a Korean national who has lived in New Zealand for 30 years, is accused of murdering 20-year-old Chinese woman Pei Yun Chen while he was visiting Shanghai in 2009.
Kim was arrested in New Zealand in 2011 and Beijing asked for his extradition after giving assurances that he would not face the death penalty if convicted.
After a lengthy legal process that included two ministerial reviews, New Zealand in 2015 decided to extradite him - the first time it had agreed to a suspect being sent to face trial in a Chinese court.
But Tuesday's 99-page court ruling halted that process and ordered a third ministerial review, while raising questions about the Chinese legal system.
While the three-judge appeal panel conceded "a cultural shift away from torture in the PRC (People's Republic of China) is under way", it gave little weight to Chinese assurances Kim would receive a fair trial.
"Torture remains widespread and confessions obtained through torture are regularly admitted in evidence," the judgement said.
"It logically follows, we consider, that there are inadequate systems in the PRC to prevent torture."
It added: "Torture is illegal yet remains widespread because of cultural and systemic features of the PRC criminal justice system."
Other issues identified by the judges included political influence on the criminal justice system and the harassment of defence lawyers.
Kim spent five years in jail after his arrest and is currently on bail in Auckland.
His case will now go back to Justice Minister Andrew Little for review, although Kim's lawyer Ellis argued there was little chance of extradition given the "profound and important" questions posed by the Court of Appeal judgement.