TEHRAN: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani came out strongly in favour of talks Monday (Aug 26) as his top diplomat came under fire from hardline media for a surprise visit to a G7 summit.
"I believe that for our country's national interests we must use any tool," Rouhani said in a speech aired live on state television.
"And if I knew that I was going to have a meeting with someone that would (lead to) prosperity for my country and people's problems would be resolved, I would not hesitate.
"The main thing is our country's national interests," he said to a round of applause from those gathered at an event marking government achievements in rural areas.
Rouhani's remarks came as his government faced criticism over the visit of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the French seaside resort of Biarritz on Sunday for meetings on the sidelines of the G7 summit.
Zarif was invited to Biarritz by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been leading efforts to de-escalate tensions between Iran and its arch-enemy the United States.
Iran's economy has been battered by US sanctions imposed since last year when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between the Islamic republic and world powers.
The ultra-conservative Kayhan newspaper strongly criticised Zarif's visit on Monday in an article that called the trip "improper".
'WEAKNESS AND DESPERATION'
Kayhan said the fact that the minister's visit was the second to France in a matter of days sent "a message of weakness and desperation".
"These improper measures are taken in the fantasy of an opening but it will definitely have no outcome other than more insolence and pressure," it added.
The reformist Etemad newspaper, however, described Zarif's trip to France as "the most hopeful moment" for Iran in the 15 months since the US withdrew from the nuclear deal.
"Given Macron's attempts over the last two months, one can be hopeful that Trump's response to Macron's ideas has been the main reason for Zarif's ... trip to Biarritz," it said.
The spike in tensions between Iran and the United States has threatened to spiral out of control in the past few weeks, with ships mysteriously attacked, drones downed and tankers seized.
Rouhani said his government was ready to use "both hands" of power and diplomacy.
"They may seize our ship somewhere ... we will both negotiate ... and we may seize their ship for legal reasons," he said, referring to an Iranian oil tanker seized off Gibraltar that has since been released and a British-flagged vessel still impounded by Iran in the Gulf.
"We can work with two hands ... the hand of power and the hand of diplomacy," said the Iranian president.
"We must use both our power, our military and security power, economic and cultural power and our political power. We must negotiate. We must find solutions. We must reduce problems.
"Even if the probability of success ... is 10 per cent, we must endeavour and go ahead. We must not lose opportunities."
SINGAPORE: A Singaporean man admitted on Monday (Aug 26) that he had given a bribe to obtain a driving licence in Malaysia, driven vehicles with fake Malaysian licence plates in Singapore and incurred parking fines, as well as a string of other related offences.
Zhang Weida, 35, pleaded guilty to 30 charges, most of which are traffic-related.
The court heard that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had been investigating him for various offences when they found two Malaysian driving licences inside his black BMW.
Investigations found that Zhang had paid an unknown contact RM7,000 (S$2,310) in order to obtain a genuine Malaysia-issued driving licence in 2009.
Zhang said he had been introduced to this person by a friend in Kuala Lumpur, and the contact claimed he knew someone from the Road Transport Department of Malaysia.
"The accused (Zhang) understood this to mean that the unknown contact would bribe an unknown Malaysian government official to obtain the said driving licence without the accused having to take any driving test. He was agreeable to such a course of action," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Stephanie Chew.
He paid the contact the money via Western Union transfers and collected the licence in his name from another person at a Sheng Siong outlet in Singapore that year.
After he was nabbed, Zhang admitted that he had not taken any driving or theory tests in Malaysia to get the licence.
A police officer investigating Zhang discovered that he had bought and driven two cars bearing Malaysia-registered licence plates in Singapore, even though he does not have a qualified driving licence.
The Suzuki Swift Sport and BMW 320i were impounded in May last year by the Urban Redevelopment Authority due to outstanding parking fines.
LICENCE PLATES WERE FAKE
After seizing the vehicles, LTA vehicle engineers found that the licence plates for both cars were fake and that they had previously been registered in Singapore.
Zhang had bought the Suzuki Swift from a Malaysian car dealer and owned it since April last year.
In that same month, he drove the car with its false licence plate along the Pan Island Expressway and passed through an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantry without an in-vehicle unit installed.
Because of the outstanding ERP and parking fines Zhang incurred while using the vehicle, the owner of the Malaysia-registered car with the real corresponding licence plate numbers was stopped and denied entry into Singapore at Woodlands Checkpoint.
The owner, a woman identified as Ms Wong in court documents, had also received letters from URA asking her to settle the fines. She lodged a police report and had to prove her innocence to the authorities.
Zhang had bought the BMW from a Malaysian car dealer, and had it since May 2017. The car, which also had false licence plates, was booked for illegal parking violations on three different occasions in 2018 in Singapore.
Zhang was also booked in February 2017 for parking a Lexus with a Malaysia-registered licence plate illegally along Jalan Sultan.
He later admitted to using a foreign-registered vehicle and other various traffic offences.
USED FORGED DOCUMENTS TO EXTEND SEX WORKER'S STAY
Zhang also pleaded guilty to using forged documents in a bid to extend the stay of a sex worker from China whom he was living with in Singapore.
He had paid an unidentified man 500 yuan (S$97) per forged document, which he bought on seven or eight occasions.
She filed a police report in August 2017 saying that Zhang had sent her a picture of a letter with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority's letter head, stating that she had been charged and convicted for remaining unlawfully in Singapore.
The court heard that Zhang had previously been convicted of related offences. In 2005, he was found guilty of driving without a licence and fined and banned from driving.
In 2010, he was convicted of various offences including cheating, driving without consideration and without a licence.
He will return to court for mitigation and sentencing on Sep 16.
SINGAPORE: Stallholders at new hawker centres will pay lower rentals in the first two years, under a staggered rent scheme announced by the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Monday (Aug 26).
They will pay 80 per cent of stall rentals in the first year of the hawker centre’s operations, and 90 per cent in the second year. Full rental rates kick in from the third year.
The scheme will apply to the 13 new social enterprise hawker centres (SEHCs) that will be completed by 2027, starting with the one at Bukit Canberra in Sembawang which is scheduled to open in the second half of 2020.
Two years is generally the time it takes for new hawker centres to raise customer awareness and build a regular clientele, said NEA, referencing regular reviews conducted.
In addition, three of the existing seven SEHCs – at Yishun Park, Jurong West and Pasir Ris Central – will also benefit from a 10 per cent rental remission for six months. New stallholders who begin their tenancy between Sep 1, 2019 and Feb 29, 2020 are eligible.
According to NEA, the median rent across the seven SEHCs is S$2,000, which means stallholders at the three newer hawker centres can save around S$200 a month.
“The discount is a bonus, it will be good to have and it will help in some way or another,” said 35-year-old hawker Kenny Wong, who has been running his noodle shop at Yishun Park Hawker Centre for eight months.
“NEA has been implementing new changes and improvements in the management here every three to four months,” he added. “I will rely on them for that because we only know how to make food, and I don’t know anything about management.”
Another hawker at Yishun Park, 42-year-old Michael Quinn, said that “the subsidies really help.”
“I think it really benefit (us) because compared to restaurants where you can buy premium ingredients, here you’re trying to find the middle ground and sell people decent food at reasonable prices,” said the former Marche chef who now runs a western cuisine stall.
“So far, the feedback has been good, the customers are quite nice and the weekend here had a lot of activity … I think they're doing their best to try to promote and bring people in.”
The other four existing SEHCs have been operating for more than two years and are “doing well”, said NEA, which is why there is no need to extend the staggered rent scheme to them.
“Based on the principle that the need about two years to stabilise, these centers are actually all in their third year and beyond. In fact, of the four, two of them are in their second term of operation,” said NEA.
“If they are already established, there is no reason to subsidise them.”
ADJUSTING TENDER EVALUATION FOR UPCOMING HAWKER CENTRES
The social enterprise management model of running hawker centres was introduced with the aim of keeping food prices low while making the hawker trade sustainable.
Under this management model, operators also provide services like centralised dishwashing and cleaning.
Such hawker centres came under the spotlight last year when some stallholders complained about the extra fees levied on top of rental and other charges such as tray-return fees.
It prompted the NEA to take a closer look into how these SEHCs are run, with Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor saying last October that she had asked the agency to “quickly iron out the problems” concerning cost and contractual terms.
On Monday, NEA said it is fine-tuning the criteria for evaluating tender proposals from socially-conscious enterprises interested to operate the upcoming hawker centres.
Currently, operators who propose lower stall rentals and operating costs are considered more favourably.
“In future tenders for new hawker centres, even greater consideration will be given to the proposed total costs to stallholders,” said NEA.
“At the same time, on the business side, proposed initiatives that drive footfall to the hawker centre will also be considered in the tender evaluation, as footfall will ultimately drive patronage and the business success for the hawkers.”
On the staggered rent scheme, NEA said it will be in addition to the subsidy for centralised dishwashing service, which has been in effect since Jan 1.
Under this scheme, NEA co-funds the cost of dishwashing service with stallholders at 50 per cent for the first year and 30 per cent for the second year.
These efforts are aimed at addressing the key challenges identified, which are the high median age of hawkers, the “hard and physical” nature of hawker life and the opening of hawker centres for all three meals, said NEA.
“We will always make sure that these hawker centres will fulfil our social objectives of ensuring that our residents have access to affordable food in a hygienic environment,” said Dr Khor, who visited Yishun Park Hawker Centre on Monday.
“At the same time, we have to safeguard the well-being of our hawkers, make sure that they can make a decent living and that our hawker centres remain as vibrant social spaces, community dining rooms for Singaporeans.”
RIO DE JANEIRO: Many high-profile figures seeking to denounce the fires in the Amazon - from Madonna and Cristiano Ronaldo to Leonardo DiCaprio and Emmanuel Macron - have unwittingly ended up misleading millions on social media, either sharing photographs of the region that are years old or images taken in other parts of the world.
Official figures show nearly 73,000 forest fires were recorded in Brazil in the first eight months of the year, the highest number for any year since 2013. Most were in the Amazon.
"Our house is on fire. Literally. The Amazon, the lung of our planet which produces 20 per cent of our oxygen is burning," France's President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter, posting a photograph of a burning forest accompanied by the hashtag #ActForTheAmazon.
"It is an international crisis. Members of the G7, let's talk in two days about this emergency," Macron said ahead of a planned summit this weekend in Biarritz.
But the photograph used by the French leader does not show this year's fires. A reverse image search showed that it was taken by the American photojournalist Loren McIntyre, known for his work for National Geographic.
Although the image search tool does not reveal when exactly the photograph was taken, McIntyre died in 2003, meaning the image is at least 16 years old.
Chile's president, Sebastian Pinera, also ended up tweeting a misleading image to issue a warning about the fires, using a photograph by Reuters journalist Nacho Doce from 2013.
Leonardo DiCaprio shared two pictures that proved to be inaccurate - the first was the same one shared by Macron while the second was shot in the Peruvian city of Puerto Maldonado in 2016.
Peru is not currently affected by the fires, though authorities are "on alert".
Actor and rapper Jaden Smith, son of superstar Will Smith, posted a dramatic image on Instagram that shows a vast forest on fire as huge columns of smoke rise from it. But the photo, which has garnered more than 1.5 million likes, dates back to 1989.
Argentine actress and singer Martina Stoessel also shared an old photo with a Twitter post saying, "How sad to see this...". That picture was shot by Getty Images photographer Mario Toma in 2014.
F1 driver Lewis Hamilton and Brazil soccer captain Dani Alves also posted one of the most widely shared misleading images - the picture taken by photographer McIntyre before 2003.
Meanwhile, tennis star Novak Djokovic shared the 1989 photo posted by Smith.
Portuguese soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo sounded the alarm on Instagram, alerting his 180 million followers that "the Amazon Rainforest produces more than 20% of the world's oxygen and its been burning for the past 3 weeks." But the photo accompanying his message was taken on Mar 29, 2013 by Lauro Alves, from the Brazilian agency RBS, in the non-Amazonian state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Barca striker Luis Suarez also posted an old photo dating back to 2015 and shot by journalist Nacho Doce.
Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin and Cuban-American singer Camila Cabello also shared the McIntyre photo tweeted by Macron, DiCaprio and Alves.
US superstar Madonna posted the same 1989 image (15) shared by Smith and Djokovic, writing on Instagram: "President Bolsonaro please change your policies and help not only your country but the entire planet. No economic development is more important than protecting this land."
"We need to WAKE -UP!!" she wrote.
SINGAPORE: A karaoke lounge waitress who got into a fight with a colleague in the locker room was fined S$4,500 on Friday (Aug 23).
Joanne Teo Qian Ting, 43, was not on good terms with the victim, Tiv Chan Thou, who worked with her at Supreme Orchard KTV in Orchard Towers.
At about 3am on Oct 14 last year, the two women were in the locker room of the KTV lounge when Teo walked past her colleague on the way out. She folded her arms across her chest and bumped into the victim.
Teo then challenged the victim to a fight, but the other woman refused and tried to avoid her by walking back into the locker room.
However, Teo pushed the woman to the floor. When she got up, Teo kicked her repeatedly, the court heard.
She then grabbed the victim by the hair, dragged her to the ground and slammed her head against the floor and lockers before biting her right ring finger.
The assault, which lasted 1 minute and 50 seconds, was captured on closed-circuit television camera.
When Teo led the victim out of the locker room by her hair, lounge employees separated the pair and called the police.
The victim was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where she was admitted for two days.
A medical report stated that her injuries included a laceration over her finger and she was given emergency surgery, along with stitches for the wound.
She was also given nine days' medical leave.
Teo pleaded guilty to one charge of voluntarily causing hurt. She could have been jailed for up to two years, fined a maximum of S$5,000, or both.
SINGAPORE: A former branch manager at a food court was jailed 10 months on Friday (Aug 23) for pocketing more than S$34,600 from the company over eight months.
Neo Say Lam, 42, started working at Food Junction in Century Square shopping mall in August 2017.
His duties included the collection of cash sales from all tenants, depositing these into the company's bank account, monitoring tenant sales and managing the branch's petty cash.
Between September 2018 and May 2019, Neo began taking portions of the end-of-day sales from the food court tenants for himself instead of depositing the entire sum.
He took between S$100 and $200 for his own use. In total, he embezzled S$34,637.79 from the Food Junction outlet to pay off his gambling debts.
A Food Junction human resource manager filed a police report in May this year, saying Neo had stolen cash from the company.
Neo pleaded guilty to one charge of criminal breach of trust by misappropration.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Asoka Markandu asked the court to sentence Neo to between 10 and 12 months' jail, saying he had made no restitution and had said he was unable to do so.
Neo, who was unrepresented, told the judge that it was his first time committing such an offence.
"I just wish that your honour will consider to lighten my sentence as my father just passed on and my mum is wheelchair-bound," said the man. "I would like to faster serve my sentence and reunite with my family."
The judge granted him a phone call after the hearing, before serving his sentence.
For criminal breach of trust by misappropriation, he could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined.
WELLINGTON: As New Zealand lawmakers vigorously debated fuel prices in parliament this week, speaker Trevor Mallard called for order while feeding baby Tūtānekai his bottle.
The six-week-old son of Labour MP Tāmati Coffey and his husband, born via a surrogate mother last month, was being cuddled by his father in the debating chamber on Wednesday (Aug 22) when the speaker offered to hold him.
"There are times when I can be vaguely useful," Mallard told Reuters, adding that he tried to help care for lawmakers' babies when possible.
The newborn joins many other babies in the legislature after Mallard relaxed rules in 2017 to make parliament more child-friendly.
About a dozen MPs have had infants in a parliamentary baby boom, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last year became New Zealand's first premier to take maternity leave and the world's second elected leader to give birth in office.
Her daughter Neve Te Aroha made headlines in September when she accompanied Ardern to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
But worker rights advocates told Reuters that few New Zealanders get the same rights to balance caring for their families with work, and they hope the high-profile parliamentary babies will bring a wider change in working conditions.
Tania Te Whenua, a Māori lawyer who is working on a case for New Zealand's largest union, the Public Service Association, alleging discrimination against indigenous Māori women employees, said she had felt hostility in previous workplaces over her young children visiting her at work.
"The ability to have, nurture and raise children is a celebrated aspect of Māori culture ... and to be made to feel as though that is frowned upon in the workplace leaves Māori feeling like the outsider," she said.
She expressed support for the parliament speaker's family policies.
Mallard, a political veteran, and father of three adult children, with six grandchildren, hoped more employers would follow his lead.
"What I've found is that it adds to the positive atmosphere of the workplace," he said, adding that he regularly encountered babies in the halls of power and even the indoor parliamentary swimming pool.
Their presence provides a boost to morale, evidenced from the eagerness of official messengers to swap their usual document deliveries for the task of taking an infant into parliament instead, he said.
"When there's a baby to be carried in ... there's a fair bit of competition to do the job," said Mallard.
SINGAPORE: The Government needs to move decisively to accelerate the rail industry's transformation, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Dr Janil Puthucheary on Thursday (Aug 22), citing the "unprecedented pace" in which the MRT network is expanding.
With several new rail lines including the Thomson-East Coast and Jurong Region Lines coming over the next decade or so, the authorities are working with rail operators and the National Transport Workers' Union on manpower development plans, which will be finalised later this year.
“Over the next 10 years, as a result of all these new lines and all these new services, and these new service standards, we will need more than 2,000 new engineers and technicians … As we build this more extensive rail network to serve Singaporeans, we will need to equip rail workers with the skills to help them excel in their role,” he said.
Dr Janil was speaking at the inaugural Land Transport Industry Day, which brought together about 300 leaders from the public transport and point-to-point operators, unions and associations.
The event aims to promote greater engagement and foster stronger partnerships between stakeholders in the industry.
CLOSE PARTNERSHIP WITH STAKEHOLDERS
Dr Janil said the close partnership the Government has with the labour movement and industry partners has laid a strong foundation for transformation efforts.
For example, a tripartite platform was set up to look at strategic and regulatory issues in the point-to-point sector as part of the larger Land Transport Industry Transformation Map.
“Apart from just dispute management, I hope these platforms will also help to catalyse the development of best practices among operators to better safeguard the interests of commuters and drivers.
"This is a model of close collaboration that can and should be extended to other parts of our land transport landscape,” he said.
COMPANIES RECOGNISED FOR INNOVATION
At the event, three companies were recognised for providing innovative ways to meet the needs of the land transport sector.
The top three winners of the Singapore Mobility Challenge walked away with cash prizes and project funding of between S$5,000 and S$15,000.
The competition was launched in June this year by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and public transport operators SMRT and SBS Transit. It attracted 112 submissions from 21 countries.
Taking the top prize was local company Azendium, which proposed a customised, integrated manpower planning system, which uses data analytics to assign staff to train and bus operations and maintenance schedules.
For example, the system will allocate more experienced staff to handle more difficult tasks. This could increase the efficiency of operations and potentially reduce train delays.
The second prize went to Israel-based company Silentium, whose technology can reduce the noise from the LRT network by up to 90 per cent using predictive cancelling waves.
Another Singapore company, Carmen Automotive, won the third prize for its system, which can predict when vehicles need to be maintained, in turn minimising service disruptions.
A new programme was also launched to encourage small- and medium-sized enterprises to come up with innovative solutions for problems in the land transport sector.
Under the Gov-PACT programme, companies will propose solutions in various areas, for example detecting corrosion in lamp posts, measuring street lighting levels and maintaining bus tyres.
Shortlisted proposals will get support from LTA and Enterprise Singapore to develop their products, conduct pilot runs and commercialise their projects.
SINGAPORE: Five people were taken to hospital after a multi-vehicle accident along Bras Basah Road on Wednesday (Aug 21) afternoon.
Police said they were alerted to an accident involving four vehicles.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it received a call about the incident at 75 Bras Basah Road at around 4.30pm, and dispatched three ambulances.
"There were a total of five casualties," said SCDF, adding that one was taken to the Singapore General Hospital and the other four to Raffles Hospital.
According to police, they were a 36-year-old male pedestrian, two male drivers, aged 54 and 56, and two female passengers, aged 23 and 38.
All five were conscious when taken to the hospitals.
Investigations are ongoing, police said.
Photos of the incident showed a black car with its rear badly smashed in.
Another vehicle was seen on the pavement outside the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, smashed against the hedge border.
Emergency responders and an ambulance were also at the scene, with a section cordoned off with police tape.
Eyewitness Charles Tan said the accident caused a major traffic jam in the area, and a lot of honking could be heard.
There was also damage to the railings of the cathedral and shattered glass all over the road, said the 55-year-old, who gave his occupation as manager.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) first tweeted about the incident at 4.35pm, warning of an accident on Bras Basah Road towards Raffles Boulevard after Prinsep Street. It told motorists to avoid the right lane.
In a subsequent tweet at around 5pm, the authority warned of traffic congestion until Grange Road. Another update at 6.45pm warned of congestion until Bideford Road.
HONG KONG: The family of a missing employee of Britain's consulate in Hong Kong said Wednesday (Aug 21) that authorities told them he was detained while returning from a business trip but do not know why, where or how long he will be held.
The consulate has refused to name the man or give details about the incident and a Chinese official said he was "not aware" of the situation.
But the family wrote on Facebook that his name is Simon Cheng and that he had traveled to Shenzhen in Guangdong province, an hour outside Hong Kong, for a one-day business meeting on Aug 8.
That night, Cheng returned via high-speed train and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through customs.
"We lost contact with him since then," according to the Facebook post.
It said Hong Kong's Immigration Department, after consulting with the city's trade office in Guangdong, "told us verbally that Simon has been administratively detained, but said that they could obtain no information on why, where and for how long he was to be detained."
The family said it has received no notice of administrative detention. Lawyers have confirmed that Cheng's case is being handled by the Shenzhen Municipal Public Security Bureau, but failed to ascertain where he is now, the family said.
"We feel very helpless, and are worried sick about Simon. We hope that Simon can return to Hong Kong as soon as possible," the family post said.
Hong Kong police confirmed they had opened a missing persons case on August 9.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: "I am not aware of the relevant situation."
WEEKS OF RALLIES
The incident comes as the financial hub faces its worst political crisis in decades.
Pro-democracy protesters have staged weeks of rallies that have often descended into violent clashes with police.
Beijing has taken an increasingly hard line against the protests, which it sees as a direct challenge to its rule.
It has also repeatedly warned Britain -- the former colonial ruler of Hong Kong -- against "interference" in the protests, and relations between the two countries have been increasingly strained over the issue.
The demonstrations were triggered by a controversial extradition law but have broadened into a call for wider democratic reforms.
China had promised to respect the freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory after its handover from Britain in 1997.
Hong Kong enjoys liberties unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech, unfettered access to the internet and an independent judiciary.
But the ongoing protests have raised fears of a Chinese crackdown.
Known for its high-tech market, the metropolis of Shenzhen sits behind China's "Great Firewall", which restricts access to news and information.
With Beijing attempting to shape the narrative of the unrest in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities have increased their inspections at the border, including checking the phones and devices of some passengers for photos of the protests.