June 25, 2017

Tags Posts tagged with "protest"


PUBLIC holidays – a time for rest… and a time for protest?

While Labour Day went by without too much fanfare in Singapore, the occasion was politically-charged in many other parts of the world. People took to the streets to call for better working conditions, while labour unions aired their grievances to politicians.

And with the rise of the far right in the US and across Europe, this year’s protests were also uncomfortably tinged with anti-immigrant sentiments. Have May Day protests become an even more potent political force? We look at significant ones from this year:

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1. Paris, France: Going too far against the far-right

Image by Wikimedia Commons user David Monniaux.

Divisive elections and large gatherings can be an explosive mix, as the French found out on May Day. A peaceful march near the Bastille monument escalated into violence rapidly, as protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at the police, who responded with tear gas.

Six officers were injured, with one suffering third-degree burns. The tensions came on the heels of the terrorist attack at Champs Elysees that killed an officer, stoking fears about national security in an increasingly volatile country.

The majority of protestors claimed to be marching against presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigrant rhetoric. There are suspicions that the crowd was hijacked by a group of about 150 agitators, who were upset that Ms Le Pen had made it to the final round of polls. But their outburst might have turned into political mileage for the far-right stalwart, who has long condemned violent riots in the country.


2. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Garment workers ‘sew’ dissent

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Thenetparadigm.

The Cambodian government had officially banned labour unions from marching on May 1, but for disillusioned citizens, disobedience was the only option. Thousands of garment workers took to the streets to demand an increase in their monthly wages and better working conditions. Police on site did not interfere with the march.

The apparel industry is one of Cambodia’s biggest sources of income, generating $6 billion for the country annually. It has long relied on suppressing wages to maintain a competitive edge globally, but this has come at the cost of entrenching some 600,000 workers in poverty.

Over the years, the Collective Union Movement of Workers, a Cambodian labour union, has achieved small victories for garment workers, such as a $13 raise in the minimum wage effective this year. But until they obtain their requested minimum wage of $171 per month, the workers will take their grievances far beyond May Day.


3. Jakarta, Indonesia: Flowers on fire

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Jonathan McIntosh.

Around 40,000 protestors flooded the streets to demand higher wages, and improved working conditions. Workers marched toward the presidential palace, while other activists carried signs advocating for the rights of female domestic workers.

But the peaceful labour demonstrations in Jakarta were marred by the burning of flower boards left for Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja. A group of trade unionists from Indonesian Electric Metal Workers Federation and the Confederation of All Indonesian Workers Union (KSPSI) destroyed the boards and set them on fire. Trade unions have opposed Ahok as they are unhappy with the minimum wage set by his administration for Jakarta. Some have interpreted their actions as politically motivated and an unwarranted distraction from the advocacy of labour rights. “Jakarta today – a handful of people trying to tarnish the labour struggle…this is shameful” said a netizen on twitter.

Defeated in the 2017 Jakarta elections, Ahok and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat got only 43 per cent of the votes. His rivals accused him of making blasphemous statements against Islam. Indonesian prosecutors had called for him to be jailed.


4. Istanbul, Turkey: Reminder of a gruesome history 

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Mstyslav Chernov.

May day protests in Turkey turned violent as the Turkish police fired tear-gas and rubber-bullets at demonstrators in Istanbul. Among those who attempted to reach Taksim Square Mosque, 200 were detained by authorities. Experts say that tensions were heightened especially after a crackdown and a failed coup on July 15 last year.

Clashes erupted in various parts of the city as demonstrators, led by members of left-wing parties and trade unions, took to the streets.

Taksim Square was the place that demonstrators gathered to celebrate Labour Day until 1977, when the protests turned ugly, with dozens killed on “Bloody May Day”.

Turkey’s Western allies say Ankara has sharply curtailed freedom of speech and other basic rights in the crackdown that followed a failed coup last year.


5. Oregon, United States: Pepsi takes centre stage

Screenshot from Twitter user Doug Brown.

And on the lighter side of things – Kendall Jenner’s infamous Pepsi ad got disproven in real life. In a May Day protest in Portland, someone actually attempted to hand a can of Pepsi to law enforcement, in nearly the same fashion that Jenner did in the now widely-spoofed video.

But no, the crowd did not erupt into cheers. Rather, the officer simply did not react to the gesture. And other protesters pelted the police with Pepsi cans instead. Not so refreshing, after all.


Featured image by Flickr user Johan Fantenberg. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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ONE legend of Valentine’s Day says that Valentine was a Christian priest who lived around 300 AD in Rome. Marriage for young men was outlawed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II, who thought single men unencumbered by a wife and family would make better soldiers. Thinking the edict unjust, Valentine defied the emperor to continue secretly performing marriages for young couples. He was found out and executed in the end.

Leaving aside the question of how true the story is, it seems that opposition have always played a part in the Valentine’s Day narrative; not necessarily out of romance. For the people of these countries, they had cause to protest in the name of some other love:


1. Islamabad, Pakistan – court banned Valentine’s Day celebration


Image from Facebook user Sam Mugabe.

Pakistani florists and restauranteurs aren’t too happy. The Islamabad High Court banned all celebrations of Valentine’s Day in government offices and public spaces, with immediate effect. For the first time, flowers and heart-shaped balloons could not be sold on the streets of Islamabad. This came in response to a private petition arguing that Valentine’s Day was un-Islamic, as it promoted immorality, nudity and indecency under the guise of spreading love.

While conservative Pakistanis cheered the court order, younger and more liberal residents voiced their dissatisfaction at what they perceived as state interference in a non-issue. Many Pakistanis managed to circumvent this law, by celebrating the occasion in groups or holding private parties indoors.

At least one person was happy with the ban. USA Today reported that Ms Mehak Haque, 23, a communications student in Lahore, found Valentine’s Day to be “a dreadful day for all the single people out there… There is unwarranted pressure on those who don’t have a Valentine date or aren’t seeing anyone.”

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2. Surabaya, Indonesia – students protested against Valentine’s Day


Image from Facebook user Surabaya Kita.

“Say No to Valentine!”

Students from one Muslim school in the city of Surabaya held a protest against Valentine’s Day on Monday (Feb 13). Protestors ranged from 13 to 15-year olds and included many girls wearing the hijab, or headscarf. They denounced Valentine’s Day as a Western occasion that encourages casual sex; something incompatible with Indonesian values.

Such sentiment is not new. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has often seen Islamic clerics and religious leaders deride Valentine’s Day as a celebration of sexual immorality. In 2015, Indonesia’s Islamic clerical body even threatened to issue a fatwa, or a ruling under the Islamic law, against the sale of condoms, following reports they were sold together with chocolate to mark Valentine’s Day.

Despite these objections, many in Indonesia still enjoy the occasion, particularly in major cities such as Jakarta where cards and chocolates are widely available.


3. Mecca, Saudi Arabia – no longer so disapproving of Valentine’s Day

Saudi arabia

Image from Facebook user Sujit Pal.

While some Islamic countries are tightening regulations for Valentine’s Day, Saudi Arabia has done just the opposite. It kept to its efforts for reform under the leadership of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Salman, aimed at making Saudi Arabia more open to the world. This year for instance, flower shops throughout the Arab city, Jeddah, were selling custom-made Valentine boxes, including balloons and flowers, starting at 550 Saudi riyals (around SGD$209).

This is in stark contrast to previous years when religious police patrolled flower shops and confiscated  offending red roses they found. In 2012, more than 140 people were arrested for celebrating the event. This year however, celebrations were possible after the cabinet banned the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice from pursuing, questioning, requesting identification from or arresting suspects in April last year.

However, some florists in the kingdom still chose to avoid participating in the holiday to prevent controversy. “We have experienced problems in the past and I am not willing to go through the same dilemma again,” an anonymous florist in the city of Riyadh told Arab News.


4. New York, USA – charity drive named after a banned Valentine’s Day custom


Image by Facebook user Sofitel New York.

Here’s a Valentine’s Day nugget: New York Trend, a weekly news publication of New York city and Long Island, reported on 7 Feb that New York’s luxury hotel, Sofitel New York, was holding a charity drive named “Une Loterie d’Amour”, which translated to A Love Lottery. Like the legend of Valentine the priest, the hotel seemed to be making good out of a bad case. Because the charity drive, which lasted from Feb 1 till Feb 14, actually shared the same name as an old, outlawed French Valentine’s Day custom.

Hotel guests who donated to The Bowery Mission – which provided for poor and homeless New Yorkers – got to pick one of the red valentine envelopes hung from the window display at the hotel’s Gaby Brasserie Francaise restaurant. The envelopes were differentiated based on the currency denomination of the donation – USD$10, USD$25, USD$50, USD$100, USD$250 and USD$500. Prizes written inside ranged from one complimentary cocktail, a dinner or dessert for two, to a two-night Sofitel Los Angeles stay at Beverly Hills.

The historical “Une Loterie d’Amour” however, was not so loving. Singles of both sexes and all ages would enter houses opposite each other in the middle of February and shout through the windows for their desired partner. Unfortunately, should the female partner not come up to the man’s standards, the match was called off for him to continue with his search. Vengeful women left high and dry would gather before a ceremonial bonfire to hurl vulgarities at as well as burn the belongings of the men who did the rejecting. Behaviour got so bad during the Love Lottery that the authorities felt the whole custom had to be stopped.

Though Sofitel New York’s “Une Loterie d’Amour” shared faint echoes of the banned tradition, such as approaching a window and picking a prize, it is not confirmed if it drew inspiration from the past. More likely,  thankfulness, rather than hurt feelings, rounded off the modern “Une Loterie d’Amour”.


5. Paris, France – say no to love locks

love lock

Image by Facebook user Briony Wemyss.

Inscribed your name and your lover’s on a padlock, clip it to the railing of a bridge and throw the key into the river. This is the love lock – 21st century’s grand gesture of romantic love.

But there are those who thought walls of love locks on monuments unsightly and structurally hazardous to boot. In June 2014, part of Paris’s iconic bridge, the Pont des Arts, collapsed due to the sheer weight of the locks.

Two Parisian residents, Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff, had observed how the trend got out of hand from 2008 and decided to launch a “No Love Locks” campaign in January 2014. For four years running, it declared Valentine’s Day a “No Love Locks Day”.

Its 2014 petition, which called for a ban of love locks in France gathered more than 11,000 signatures. Though no formal ban was instituted, the city cleared all 45 tonnes of padlocks from the Pont des Arts in June 2015. Later in the same year, transparent panels replaced the mesh wires to discourage love locks from being clipped to the grilles.

The campaign continued because the problem has not been isolated to Pont des Arts. The organisers counted at least “10 bridges… the entire quay along the Seine, and several landmarks including the Eiffel Tower” affected by love locks. They were convinced that “only a ban will begin to make a permanent change in Paris, and save their historic landmarks”.


Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin Gill. (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

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by Suhaile Md

MY CHINESE friend once told me that a practising Muslim will support ISIS. He hates ISIS with a passion. I consider myself a practising Muslim. I quietly wondered if he hated me.

If I really know my own religion, he continued, I would either support ISIS, or convert. It’s the western education that prevented me from becoming like them. There’s a reason why Muslims don’t get into sensitive roles in the army, or civil service, he said.

I did not know how to respond to that. It hit a sore point.

Muslim loyalty to Singapore has been in question for a long time. For years after National Service (NS) was instituted in 1967, Muslims were not called up for conscription. The policy was eventually reversed. But the feeling of being untrustworthy has remained among some people here.

When I attended my brother’s passing out parade at the Civil Defence Academy in 2015, all I saw was a sea of brown faces. I remember the Chinese uncle sitting with his family in front of me, looking around and noting: “Wah, we are a minority here.” Singapore is 74.3 per cent Chinese.

I guess I was lucky to have served in the Army instead. But while serving, the feeling that I was not trusted because of my religion intensified at times. Sometimes my NS job required me to drive to other military camps that had no halal food catered in the cookhouse because there weren’t any Muslims posted to that unit. In the cookhouse at my camp, the Muslim queue was about as long as the non-Muslim queue, even though less than 15 per cent of Singaporeans are Muslim.

Why? Security reasons, I heard. 

I met national servicemen in the army who were Chinese nationals just a year or two before enlistment. They could not speak a word of English – I always needed a translator. I always wondered if they understood the pledge, the national anthem, or what they were defending? Yet they serve in the army when many of my Muslims friends who grew up here can’t.

Someone once told me Muslims shouldn’t complain. Go online and you’ll see similar sentiments: Look at other countries, they don’t treat their minorities as well as Singapore does, so be grateful.

So I should just shut up about how I feel here, in my own home? Swallow my words? Do they hate my voice? Such comments confound me, frustrate me. I am not from those countries, how is it even relevant here? 

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I am not ISIS

In junior college, my class saw a documentary on violence against women in Pakistan. In a particular scene, a man used Islam to justify burning his wife. I was the only Muslim in the room. A few classmates glanced at me. I don’t think they could help it. Still, it was enough to get me tense.

But I understood their curiosity, and concern even. After all, supposedly non-violent-me based my life on the same Quran (holy book) as the violent man. So I marched into class the next day, notes filled with quotes and arguments, ready to defend myself. I told my classmates context matters. A violent man will find any justification. Hate the man, not my faith. Not me.

Hate the man, not my faith. Not me.

Not much has changed in the years since. Every time there’s a terror attack somewhere, it’s expected that as a Muslim, I take a moral stand against ISIS or its like. 

A tall order, given that there have been at least 140 terrorist attacks by ISIS, or inspired by it, in 29 countries in the 30 months since the group declared its caliphate in June 2014. Most recently, one of its followers shot up a nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve.

On average, that’s just over an attack a week. And it does not include other brutal groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria or Al-Shabaab in Somalia. It’s hard to apologise so frequently, publicly, for something I have no hand in and do not believe in.

There were times I got fed up and remained silent, especially on social media. ISIS is evil. It burns people alive and blows out their brains. It should be obvious that like everyone else, I am just as disgusted by these. Why do I have to continually prove my humanity by repeatedly condemning the same acts over and over again? Every time I disassociate myself from them, I am clumped together again the next time they attack, guilty by association. It gets tiring.

Still that does not mean I do not own the problem of extremism (read more here). Many Muslims do so too (here’s a list) because our faith demands that we speak out against oppression, inhumanity and injustice.

Taking a moral stance against extremism also means we speak up against the oppression of Palestinians by the Israelis and the inhumane treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar. 

Which is why we find it hard to quietly accept that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be warmly welcomed in Singapore next month. Or when Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has yet to condemn the atrocities being committed in her country, enjoyed a friendly tour here recently. 

When I speak out on such issues, I’ve had non-Muslim acquaintances dismiss it saying it’s just politics, just business. Funnily enough, these are the same people who ask me why Muslims don’t speak out against violence. As if my conscience can be turned on or off at their convenience.

Sometimes it feels as if Muslim voices only matter when it suits an agenda. Sometimes, it even feels like Muslim suffering overseas does not matter at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it, there are economic and security considerations Singapore needs to make. I understand why the G does not officially speak up on these issues, why it has an official policy of non-interference, while quietly allowing non-governmental donations to help Palestinian and Rohingya victims. At times the G donates a small sum too. There are pragmatic, political considerations.

But where does that leave its citizens, who feel slighted? The pragmatic and the political can leave a bitter aftertaste. Extremists capitalise on this, blurring complexities, obliterating nuance, drawing thick lines in the sand between Muslims and the rest of the world.

This divide is made stronger every time someone asks me if I’m a Muslim first or a Singaporean first. The question stops short of asking outright: Where does my loyalty lie?

It’s a ridiculous question, like asking if I’m a son first or a brother. I can’t imagine life outside either role. I don’t know where one relationship ends and where the other begins.

It’s a ridiculous question, like asking if I’m a son first, or a brother. I don’t know where one relationship ends and where the other begins.

Likewise, I don’t know where the Singaporean part of me ends and where the Muslim part begins. Besides, I thought we are Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion.

So why the need to squeeze me into two categories – Singaporean and Muslim? It’s suffocating. I am Muslim Singaporean, Singaporean Muslim. I am both, at once. Don’t break me into two, please.

Thankfully, I have non-Muslim friends who get it.

Like Young-hwi, who in my absence, of his own accord, made sure the restaurant that the group booked was halal. Or the former classmate, Jianwei, who apologised to me for particular nasty racist comments on Facebook. The comments weren’t even directed at me personally and the commenters were online trolls in no way related to him. My friend had no obligation. Yet he apologised, to let me know that my concerns mattered to him, that he cared.

I wish more people around the world stand up for Muslims like my friends did. But the popular support and rise of anti-Islamic right wing figures like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders from the Netherlands scare me. Most troubling was the recent successful presidential election of Donald Trump in the United States, in spite of his anti-Muslim prejudice.

At the end of the day though, do I think the world hates me? No, but sometimes it feels that way.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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BECAUSE we think that Singaporeans shouldn’t indulge in navel-gazing, we’re continuing to bring readers news of events in places, big and small. Consider this a geography lesson!


1. Medellin, Colombia – Plane crashed due to depleting fuel


Image a screenshot from Google maps.

On Monday (Nov 28), LaMia Flight 2933 crashed into a hillside near Medellin, killing 71 on board, including a team of Brazilian soccer players. Only three players from the team, which goes by the name Chapecoense, two crew members, and a journalist survived the crash.

Investigators suspect a shortage of fuel as the cause of the plane crash. There wasn’t much fire damage on the wreckage and this indicates that the jet’s fuel tank was dry when it hit the ground. Bolivian’s authorities have suspended LaMia’s operating licence and will be replacing the aviation authority’s management for transparent investigation.


2. Irbil, Iraq – ISIS uses water as weapon against Iraq


Image a screenshot from Google maps.

About half a million of Iraqis in Mosul have no access to water now. It seemed that ISIS, now in a fierce face-off with Iraqi troops,  had deliberately cut off water supplies that serviced many neighbourhoods in Iraq’s second-largest city. United Nations Humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande said ISIS did this to “force people to retreat with them in order to use them as human shields”. A spokesman for Iraq’s counterterror forces also mentioned that ISIS “shuts and opens water as they please”.

Some Mosul residents have come together to build makeshift wells. Every household had to wait for days before it’s their turn to extricate jugs of unclean water.


3. Canberra, Australia – Second protest over the asylum


Image a screenshot from Google maps.

Protestors gathered at the Parliament House in Canberra for the second time on Thursday (Dec 1) to rail against the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers who are being ferried by boat  to offshore detention centres in  Papua New Guinea and Nauru. About 30 demonstrators shouted that the detention approach was “separating families” and “killing innocent lives”. Another 13 demonstrators stood in a pond in which they dyed red to symbolise blood while holding their placards. There were also two protestors who abseiled down the Parliament House unfurling a banner that states, “close the bloody camps now”. And six protestors glued their hands to a railing in the public gallery, which resulted in the security guards using hand sanitisers to detach them from the railing.


4. Haiti, The Caribbean – United Nations finally apologises for spreading Cholera


Image a screenshot from Google maps.

Haiti suffered through a 2010 earthquake and then had to contend with the spread of cholera which killed over 10,000 people over nine months. Now six years later, the United Nations has apologised for not doing enough to stop the spread of the disease, said to have been brought in by Nepalese peacekeepers.  It was said that there was a leaking sewage pipe at the UN base.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who made the apology said the international body wouldn’t accept any legal responsibility. He claimed that the UN is protected by diplomatic immunity.


5. Indiana, United States – Trump saves 1,000 jobs at Carrier

Image a screenshot from Google maps.

President-elect Donald Trump managed to finalise the deal to save 1,000 jobs at Carrier on Tuesday night and he was quick to announce it to everyone, including his Twitter followers. In February, Carrier told its workers that it would close a plant in Indianapolis is and move to Mexico. Trump seized on the issue during his campaign trail and negotiations to stop 2,100 jobs from moving to Mexico started after he was elected. The Indiana governor is offering Carrier $7 million over 10 years in tax breaks to save the jobs from moving to Mexico.


Compiled by Iffah Nadhirah Osman

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin GillCC BY-SA 2.0

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Morning Call, 0830, clock

THE remark by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that an insular United States would risk “a very big negative in terms of destabilising the global trading and strategic system” not only highlights the economic uncertainty surrounding a Trump administration, but also stresses Singapore’s reliance on globalisation. And in response to this uncertainty and this reliance, Mr Lee said that Singapore welcomes China’s engagements with the world, through the One Belt, One Road initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, though in a more globalised world “however strong an economy, not all roads will lead only there.”

Mr Lee was speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit, where globalisation, trade, and the importance of selling their benefits were key themes. Trade and foreign ministers from 21 economies in the Asia-Pacific region – in particular – reiterated their commitment to free trade, concluding that “open trade policies are essential for sustained recovery and boosting growth for the coming years.” Four priorities were also set out: to strengthen regional economic integration, to enhance the regional food market and food security, to help small businesses innovate and modernise, and to develop workers.

Around the world, there were protests against political leaders. In Malaysia, protestors in the Bersih 5 march demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak over an alleged corruption scandal involving the investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Bank. Donning yellow shirts, between 15,000 and 30,000 of these protestors were met by the “red shirts” – an ethnic-Malay rightist group – and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and former Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin were also in attendance. The crowd was urged by the Bersih leaders to continue the fight against the status quo, until a national election in 2018 but expected as soon as next year.

In South Korea, for the fourth straight weekend, hundreds of thousands took to the streets, demanding the resignation of President Park Geun Hye, for allowing a personal friend with no government position to meddle in state affairs. A group of conservative demonstrators gathered in defence of the president, but with an approval rating at a record-low five per cent, the anger among South Koreans is palpable.

In Indonesia – in response to the massive demonstrations last week against Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Governor Ahok – more than 10,000 gathered at the country’s capital in an appeal for unity in diversity. Governor Ahok has been under fire for alleged blasphemy against Islam, though his supporters argue that the move is a political ploy to block him from seeking re-election in February next year. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has echoed these sentiments, on the role of “political actors” in the demonstrations.

And finally, closer to home, the average Singapore resident uses 151 litres of water every day, and almost a third of this amount goes down the shower drain. Both Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli and Prime Minister Lee have emphasised the importance of spending less time in the shower and the persistently low water levels in the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor, Singapore’s main water source. National water agency PUB is working with researchers and industries to cut water usage through technology, information campaigns, and labelling schemes, yet individuals and companies must do their part.


Featured image from TMG file.

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8:30am alarm
8:30 am clock face

THE HEADLINES this morning come from the Singaporean neighbourhoods:

SkillsFuture in the neighbourhoods: Through two initiatives – SkillsFuture Engage and the SkillsFuture Network – the G wants to reach out to Singaporeans in all neighbourhoods, especially those who need advice on how to plan their learning or to find jobs near their homes. Under the new SkillsFuture Engage, for instance, a team of advisors will be sent around Singapore to guide people to pick relevant courses and training, so as to prepare for future careers. Adding that everyone needs to “keep refreshing and improving our skills,” Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam appealed to more Singaporeans to adopt lifelong learning too.

Voting for preferred colour schemes of HDB blocks: Voter turnout rates to decide the colour scheme for blocks of flats have increased over the years. These rates hover between 30 and 40 per cent today – an increase from about 20 per cent from a decade or two ago – and town councils have also noted that residents want to have a bigger say not only in colour schemes, but also in the types of amenities, estate development, and the construction of covered walkways.

Community gardens in private estates: There are nearly 1,000 community gardens in Singapore, and the largest of its kind in a private estate – the Eng Kong and Cheng Soon Community Garden, in Bukit Batok – was officially opened yesterday. Applicants ballot for the 90 $50-a-year-plots available, all of which have been taken up. At the opening, Senior Minister of State Sim Ann said: “The intention is to make use of a temporarily unused piece of land on which the residents can practise their love for community farming and enjoy a little bit of recreational activity.”

Vulnerability to burglaries: If you are a flat-dweller who shares a common corridor from which homes can be easily accessed through windows, or a new BTO-flat owner who leaves your doors unlocked for contractors, or a landlord who sublets your home, then you are most vulnerable to burglaries. Cases of housebreaking might have fallen, but the Singapore Police Force has launched an islandwide initiative to raise awareness on the need to secure homes against burglary and theft.

In other news, in his first Leaders’ Retreat, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will meet with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to review the progress in bilateral relations, and to further economic and tourism cooperation. The inauguration of the Kendal Industrial Park – a joint venture between Singaporean company Sembcorp Development and Indonesian developer Jababeka – is a highlight of the retreat, in addition to the signing of four memorandums of understanding.

Affairs around the world are less cordial. Anti-Donald Trump protests have continued to spread across the United States, as thousands of demonstrators – who, in particular – take umbrage with the inflammatory rhetoric of the new President-elect – took to the streets in different cities. In South Korea, close to a million demonstrators marched in Seoul to protest against allegations that President Park Geun-hye had allowed a personal friend with no government position to interfere with state affairs. This was the third weekend protest rally since the president acknowledgement and apologised for seeking advice from her friend, yet even after dismissing her most senior and closest advisors, Ms Park’s approval rating has fallen to just five per cent.



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At least two police officers were shot in Texas on Thursday during a protest against police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, KDFW TV in Dallas reported.

The condition of the officers was not known, the station said.

Soon after, CNN reported that at least three Dallas transit officers had also been shot during the demonstration.

Some reports later put the number of police casualties at up to nine.

Broadcaster KABC reported that shots were fired during demonstrations at Belo Garden Park in Dallas.

Footage shows protesters walking and chanting and then suddenly turning and running back towards the cameraman.

The cameraman starts to run in the direction of where police sirens appear to be heading, then several loud booms are heard.

The reported shootings come amid protests across the U.S. over the killing by police officers of two black men in as many days in separate incidents.


Featured image and video by REUTERS.

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From right to left: Ms Han Hui Hui, Mr Koh Yew Beng, Ms Low Wai Choon leaving the State Courts

by Wan Ting Koh

SO HAN Hui Hui and her two co-accused were found guilty of their public nuisance charges. Han was also convicted for organising a demonstration without the approval of the Commissioner of Parks. In the same breath, the judge dished out sentences for the three, who appeared in the docks of the state courts this afternoon (June 27).

Han, a 24-year-old blogger, was fined $600 for her public nuisance charge and fined $2,500 for organising a demonstration without approval. Her two co-defendants, 61-year-old Koh Yew Beng and 56-year-old Low Wai Choo were fined $450 each for public nuisance.

Han, Low and Koh were thrust into the spotlight after a CPF protest event they held in Hong Lim Park on Sept 27, 2014 clashed with a charity carnival held by Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Proms @ The Park 2014.

The trio were charged with disrupting a community event by shouting loudly, chanting slogans, waving flags, holding placards, blowing whistles loudly, and beating drums. Eight others were charged in court but were let off with conditional warnings while two others, fellow blogger Roy Ngerng, 35, and Chua Siew Leng, 43, pleaded guilty ahead of Han’s trial in October last year. They were fined $1,900 and a $300 respectively.

When the judge asked the three if they had anything to say, Han said that the trial already had a “foregone conclusion” hence she had prepared a letter of appeal. Low attempted to protest the verdict, saying she didn’t feel that it was “a fair trial”.

“I feel we should be discharged,” said Low. “We are just like a little bird in your hand… We are at your mercy.”

“We are just like a little bird in your hand… We are at your mercy.”

– Low Wai Choo, one of Han Hui Hui’s co-defendants

“It is not that we are public nuisance at all,” added Low, appealing to Judge Chay’s conscience, “We shouldn’t be charged.”

In considering the sentence, the prosecution took into account the previous sentences of Ngerng and Chua and noted that had “pleaded guilty at an early stage of the proceedings” hence they received a discount of their fines. The prosecution said that in the case of Han, which mounted to a total of $3,100, would hence be “appropriate”.

During the #ReturnOurCPF protest, Han and Ngerng had led a few hundred people in a march around the park and disrupted the carnival when children who have Down’s syndrome were performing on stage. The court heard that the heckling grew more intense with the arrival of the guest of honour, Minister for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, to the point that the mother of one of the performers had described later in the trial that “it’s just like a wedding function, and someone brings a coffin around.”

Throughout the seven days of the trial, which were over two tranches – one in October last year and the later one this February – a total of 14 prosecution witnesses were called, including the organiser for the YMCA event, the emcee for the day, two mothers of the performers, representatives of National Parks Board (NParks) and the police. The three accused, who represented themselves, frequently had to be directed back to relevant lines of questioning by Judge Chay.

The trial also hit some high notes when Low and Koh both became emotional in the process of cross-examining the prosecution witnesses. A tearful Low had charged NParks officials who appeared on the witness stand as the cause of her predicament, claiming that “because of your negligence, I am here in court today being tried as a criminal”. Koh accused YMCA’s event emcee, one of the witnesses, of lying, claiming that he had heard clearly the emcee shouting “We love CPF” to antagonise the protestors.

In his grounds of decision, judge Chay Yuan Fatt found that the demonstrators had “disrupted the performances of the YMCA event”. “The height of the disruption occurred during a performance by a group of special needs children who were visibly affected and distraught,” he added.

He rejected Han’s defence that she was not the organiser of the demonstration or that she had no control over the demonstrators, adding that she was “at the very least one of the organisers”.

As to the trio’s defence that their acts did not amount to public nuisance since they were committed at the Speakers’ Corner, the Judge rejected, saying that the argument was “fallacious” as they had “marched beyond the boundaries of the Speakers’ Corner”.

Added the Judge Chay: “This is a case where, ironically and regrettably, the accused persons while ostensibly championing the rights of a class of persons, did so by blithely trampling on the rights of another group of persons.”

Han said that she had filed her appeal and added that she “appealed for both conviction and sentencing”.


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NOT to be facetious, but journalists have a hard life. Especially if you are one who reports on politics and human rights.

Killings, kidnapping, and imprisonment appear to now be par for the course. The world watched in horror when ISIS started beheading various journalists back in 2014, and nothing much seems to have changed since.

Insults are also rife, with many – including Trump, Corbyn, and Duterte – using the strongest terms to condemn journalists. Philippine president Duterte appears to be the most egregious offender, as he approved the assassination of journalists in a press conference this week. You can read about his hit list here.

While journalists may not be the most likeable people, freedom of the press is crucial to a functioning democracy, and such abuses – even by countries that profess to be its biggest champions – is a cause for concern. And we’re not just saying that because we are journalists too.

Use the map below to read about some indignations that the press has suffered through this week, then check out our selection of quotes relating to other world news.


Republican House Speaker in support of Donald Trump

“It’s no secret that he and I have our differences. I won’t pretend otherwise, and when I feel the need to, I’ll continue to speak my mind. But the reality is, on the issues that make up our agenda, we have more common ground than disagreement.”

— Mr Paul Ryan, current Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and member of the Republican Party, on his new-found support for presidential candidate Donald Trump

On Thursday (June 2), House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed his support for the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for President, in his column for the Janesville Gazette newspaper. Despite the speaker’s previous criticisms on Trump’s proposals, including the ban which calls for a ‘total and complete shutdown’ of borders to Muslims, Mr Ryan explained that he has confidence that Trump can actualise his plans for the betterment of the lives of his people. In response, Trump replied in a tweet: “So great to have the endorsement and support of Paul Ryan. We will both be working very hard to Make America Great Again!”


Venezuelans’ protest for food

“We know this month has been really critical. It’s been the month with the lowest supply of products. That’s why families are anxious.”

— Mr Miguel Perez, a top official of Venezuela’s government, on the Venezuelans’ protest near the Caracas’ presidential palace, as food supplies dipped to a lowest last month.

Despite owning 20 per cent of the global oil reserves, Venezuela is facing a severe shortage of basic food necessities including milk and flour. This prompted hundreds of citizens to hit the streets where they chanted angrily “We want food!”. While President Nicolas Maduro blamed his enemies at home and abroad for the shortages, critics have attributed the economic crisis to unsuccessful policies especially in the areas of price and currency controls, reported Reuters. Meanwhile, crime incidents such as looting and lynching have risen amidst the economic chaos. The opposition has voiced that they wish to call for a referendum this year to recall Maduro.


Rise in number of refugees and deaths

“According to some, unconfirmed, accounts, the recent increase in numbers is linked to efforts by smugglers to maximise income before the start of the holy month of Ramadan, in the coming week,”

— Mr William Spindler, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman, explaining the increase in the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.

The UN refugee agency has reported that at least 2,510 refugees have died since the start of the year, with last week being the deadliest week, accounting for at least 880 deaths due to shipwrecks off the Libyan and Italian coasts. According to figures provided by UNHCR, the death toll for the five-month period increased by 25 per cent from last year. In response, Mr Spindler said in a statement: “This highlights the importance of rescue operations as part of the response to the movement of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean, and the need for real, safer alternatives for people needing international protection.”


7-year-old Japanese boy found alive in forest

“We have raised him with love all along, I really didn’t think it would come to that. We went too far.”

— Mr Takayuki Tanooka, father of 7-year-old Yamato Tanooka, expressing regret for going overboard in an attempt to discipline his son.

Yamato Tanooka was told to get out of the car as a punishment for throwing stones at people and cars, however he was out of sight within minutes when his parents returned for him. His parents had merely wanted to discipline him, but it turned out to have gripped the nation with fear as a manhunt of 180 rescuers and search dogs were deployed to look for the missing boy in a forest in Hokkaido. The boy survived the ordeal – nearly a week just on water – and was found at an empty hut within the premises of the military drill compound by a soldier. The incident has made Mr Takayuki Tanooka reflect on his parenting style, and on a larger scale, it triggered the nation to relook into its child-raising and disciplinary methods.


US backs rebel fighters against ISIL

“Coalition airplanes dropped … ammunitions, light weapons and anti-tank weapons to rebels in Marea,”

— Mr Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), in a report saying that the United States had airdropped weapon supplies for the rebel fighters to battle against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

Recently, violence has escalated in the areas near Marea, prompting the UN to beef up military operations as over 8,000 lives may be threatened. Syria has also approved the UN and the Red Cross in providing humanitarian aid to some 11 of the 19 besieged areas, including two other besieged areas – Daraya and Douma. It will be the first time Daraya is receiving food supplies since 2012.


Compiled by Cindy Co and Claris Ng.

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin GillCC BY-SA 2.0

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Han Hui Hui graphic.

by Wan Ting Koh

HAN Hui Hui was back in court today to cross examine one of her accusing witnesses. After four hours, the first half of the #returnourCPF protest trial basically came down to three statements, uttered repeatedly by the prosecution witness, Samantha Wong Yuwei, who was the case’s investigating officer. The statements were:

  1. “I am not in a position to comment on this.”
  2. “I cannot recall.”
  3. “I don’t understand your question.”

Throughout the hearing, Ms Wong used these statements no less than 30 times to deflect the barrage of questions levelled at her by Han, a 24-year-old blogger, whose claim to fame was to speak up against the G’s Central Provident Fund (CPF) policy last year before the General Election.

She asked Ms Wong if she was biased against her, and her two co-defendants, Low Wai Choo, 55, and Koh Yew Beng, 60. Han was firm, adamant, and was only occasionally shrill. At one point, she questioned the Attorney General Chamber’s decision to bring the charge against her.

Ms Wong’s reply: “I am not in a position to comment”.

Han is back in court after a three-month interim since last October to give her account of what transpired two years ago at a Hong Lim Park incident. She held a CPF protest rally which clashed with a charity carnival held by Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Proms @ The Park 2014.

Han and her two co-defendants are facing public nuisance charges for disrupting a community event by shouting loudly, chanting slogans, waving flags, holding placards, blowing whistles loudly, and beating drums. Eight others were charged in court but were let off with conditional warnings while two others, fellow blogger Roy Ngerng, 34, and Chua Siew Leng 44, pleaded guilty ahead of Han’s trial in October last year. They were slapped with a $1,900 and a $300 fine respectively.

This morning, despite keeping her composure, the judge found her line of questioning repetitive, and asked her to change her tack for irrelevant lines of questioning at times.

She painted herself as an innocent victim who was being unfairly persecuted. She blamed the authorities, including the NParks officers and police officers who were present at the event that day – even the YMCA itself. She claimed that the authorities had failed to prevent her and her co-accused from marching.

“If the authorities said that it was illegal to march, [then we would not have marched.] Then we won’t be charged. Now we are. Is this a fair trial or entrapment?” said Han. She alternatively questioned why the police did not investigate other people for their part in the incident.

Said Han: “Why didn’t you investigate YMCA or Y-Star, because they did not even have a permit to perform that day. Who decides who to investigate and who not to investigate? The reason is because PAP hired you to investigate us right?”

The case will resume this afternoon with Han continuing her cross-examination of Ms Wong. Afterwards, her co-defendants will have their chance to cross-examine Ms Wong.


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