Suddenly spikes in blog hits usually tell you something that you may not know at your side of the world – and that was what happened here at Simply Jean today. While half the world is trying to make sense of iPad, Maxi Pads and the likes, another storm, albeit not technological, is brewing at another part of the world.

A pregnant man. Or rather, another pregnant man. Again.

Quite obviously, this isn’t the first time that an event like this had happened. In the not too distant past, Thomas Beatie, became the headlines when he declared to the whole world that he was expecting because his wife allegedly could not conceive. Biologically female, and not having undergone hysterectomy, it is of little surprise that he is able to conceive; since all he needed was just a donor sperm.

Of course, there were public objections when Thomas and his wife broke the news on TV but many others seem to be more vocal about Scott Moore and his partner Thomas (not to be confused with the earlier Thomas Beatie) this time round, at least according to the number of comments objecting to their being.

However, the stories are a little different. While Thomas Beatie of the first couple, was the husband and the pregnant man; here, Thomas of Scott Moore, who is also the husband, is not the pregnant one. Instead, his lawfully married wife, Scott Moore, is the one who is expecting – which seems to be logical and conforming to expectations of society.

Only thing is, Scott Moore (male sounding name but female legally), born Jessica, spots short hair and a beard.

Almost within a week, news of this spread like wild-fire and ugly comments could be read everywhere. If such an event, that happened in California – where it is supposedly one of the most gay-friendly places in the world, could spread all the way to Singapore – more than 18 hours by flight on the other side of the world, it’s really got to be a huge thing there.

So, how would the reactions be like should such a thing happen in Singapore? Firstly, I’d think that it’s going to be a hush-hush event – seemingly upholding a long-held policy in many organizations – don’t ask, don’t tell. But, should any couple be even as adventurous to let the media get wind of it… well, we probably had a taste of it not too long ago.

Remember the AWARE incident? It was just a lot of talk, without any forms of manifestation, but it got Singaporeans into a frenzy. Bring in the churches and it nearly became a riot in the making. Inevitably, a pastor got a little carried away and was accused of getting the church to rally behind the father-mother-family model, which was seemingly harmless, but hinted that he was beginning to mix religion and secular activities.

In the midst of the gunfire, a Nominated Member of Parliament, Siew Kum Hong, was accused of taking sides (with the supposedly pro-lesbianism stand) and was subsequently not renewed for another term in Parliament; although this event purportedly did not contribute to his non-renewal.

On the contrary, Singaporeans are generally mindful of their own businesses, especially in times when people are more concerned with getting hold of the next condominium or government HDB flats at low affordable prices and hoping to sell it for a 200% profit. No double, news of pregnant men may disturb the tranquility for a while – perhaps getting a shot from pro- and anti-same genetic sex marriage camps (a female in Singapore can be considered legally male if she has met certain criteria in her transition), most people should probably get back to getting about their own businesses in no time.

After all, kaypoh* news do have very short shelf-lives compared to blunders made by prominent persons. Unless the pregnant man happens to involve a prominent figure, it will probably be whisked under the carpet before you can say “Majulah Singapura”.

Photo of Scott Moore and Thomas are copyrights of its respective owners. Obtained from website on 30 January 2010.

* kaypoh – colloquial for “nosey”


Is a cure for AIDS a good thing? Someone asked recently.

It almost seems like a rhetoric question and that as long as no cure or vaccine has been found, it will always be a feared disease. Whenever the topic of HIV/AIDS is brought up, it’s often hushed away because most people think that it is a taboo and should not even be discussed in the open. Sadly, that’s how misconceptions are formed and this begets fear which in turn begets discrimination.

So, what really is HIV? And what is AIDS?

Most people have a tendency to think that HIV = AIDS. This can’t be further from the truth. In layman’s term, HIV, which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is the particle that gets transmitted into your body typically through direct open (wound) contact with blood of an infected person. This means HIV can be transmitted through the sharing of needles, direct transfusion of blood from an infected person, or through sexual contact, which sometimes result in minute tissue tears which becomes the entrance for the viral particles.

AIDS, on the other hand, is the consequence where the person’s immune system gets compromised and is unable to defend the body of other infections. HIV, which affects the immunity of the infected person, often results in AIDS, but it is possible that an HIV-infected person may never get full-blown AIDS if he keeps his body in check. Therefore, it can still be possible for an HIV-infected person to still lead a normal life like everyone else.

While reported cases of AIDS or HIV infection arose from sexual contact, there are also various means of acquiring the disease, such as through open wound contact with blood of an infected person. Although there had been very little reports on incidences of HIV due to the latter, this can be a very real risk in countries where the level of hygiene isn’t very high. As a result, people end up getting HIV infection through reuse or sharing of needles, which is not just limited to drug abusers, but also to patients who had to receive blood transfusion. This is indeed very sad.

While there is very little that we can do to change the perception of others, we can take a first step by understanding the causes and spread of HIV ourselves. So with this, I am going to burst the first myth of the day (which was in part made popular because of the recent Section 377A brouhaha):

HIV and AIDS affects only gay men and drug users

The truth is, it affects everyone, including you and me; which means that anyone can get HIV as long as any of their sexual partners have HIV. Sadly, many people still throw caution in the air when faced with temptations; thinking that “it can never happen to me since I have never struck 4D or Toto* in my life”.

Thankfully, some people are working towards the spread of such awareness that we are ultimately responsible for our lives. At the same time, there’s also been more spread of love (and forgiveness) towards people who have unfortunately acquired the disease.

This year’s theme is hence aptly named “Your life, your canvas”. If you would like to show your support for this cause, please join in the Twibbon Campaign and add a red ribbon to your Twitter Pic :) And oh, when you support the campaign, do click on “Allow” instead of pressing the [ENTER] key because the default is “Deny” :(

Argh. The ribbon is choking me… *cough cough*

Kidding. But seriously, please, do show your support for the campaign, because it’s not only about showing your commitment to awareness, but also showing your support for people who have unfortunately acquired the disease and for them to move on bravely.

And meanwhile… have I told you what we have installed for commemorating World AIDS Day in Singapore? More coming up after the break… :)

This is a pro bono article for the awareness of AIDS, which is supported by the Health Promotion Board. Go on and show your support by just adding that cute little twittibon on your profile pic! :)

* 4D and Toto are lotteries that are conducted by the Singapore Pools on a twice/thrice weekly basis respectively


This week seems to be a week of tributes as following the tribute to Starbucks RC2, Michael Jackson has now left us. For good. This has shocked me quite a fair bit because he had been preparing for his London shows and I was so looking forward to him kicking off a possible world tour later on. I think he has, in his own ways, redefined pop – just like how Elvis Presley is the King of Rock; Michael Jackson is indeed a King of Pop – a talented musician beneath all that plastic surgery – a true music artist in the heart, at least in my perspective.

News reports stated that he has died of cardiac arrest, and paramedics were unable to revive him when they arrived at his home in Holmby Hills. He had been preparing for his London tours since 2 months ago and there had been worries about his health particularly since he had been rushed to an LA hospital earlier.

I remember him for his Black or White MTV (and yes, the MTV which shows him morphing into a Panther), his moon-walk, crotch-scratching and all his other Sing-a-longable songs. How did you remember him by?

Lastly, may God be with him as he leaves us in this sudden manner and may he rest in peace. Secretly, I am still hoping that this is not true :(

LOS ANGELES – MICHAEL Jackson, the child star turned King of Pop who set the world dancing to exuberant rhythms for decades, died on Thursday, a Los Angeles County Coroner’s office spokesman confirmed Thursday. He was 50.

‘Pop star Michael Jackson was pronounced dead by doctors this afternoon after arriving at a hospital in a deep coma, city and law enforcement sources told The Los Angeles Times,’ the newspaper reported on its website late on Thursday.

Jackson had been taken ill at his home and found not breathing by paramedics who rushed him to a hospital, the paper said.

The paper’s report followed news of Jackson’s death first reported by the TMZ entertainment website, which said that the singer suffered a cardiac arrest. There was no immediate comment from spokespersons for Jackson.

Known as the ‘King of Pop,’ for hit albums that included ‘Thriller’ and ‘Billie Jean,’ Jackson’s dramatic stage presence and innovative dance moves were imitated by legions of fans around the world.

His one-gloved eccentric style also earned him plenty of critics and another nickname, ‘Wacko Jacko.’

Jackson, who had lived as a virtual recluse since his acquittal in 2005 on charges of child molestation, had been scheduled to launch a comeback tour from London next month.

TMZ said on its website that Jackson suffered a cardiac arrest on Thursday afternoon at his Holmby Hills home and paramedics were unable to revive him. ‘We’re told when paramedics arrived Jackson had no pulse and they never got a pulse back,’ the site said.

Earlier, the Los Angeles Times said the singer had been rushed to a Los Angeles-area hospital by fire department paramedics.

The newspaper said paramedics performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the singer’s home before taking him to the UCLA Medical Centre hospital.

Jackson had been due to start a series of concerts in London on July 13 running until March 2010. The singer had been rehearsing in the Los Angeles area for the past two months.

The shows for the 50 London concerts sold out within minutes of going on sale in March.

His lifetime record sales tally is believed to be around 750 million, which, added to the 13 Grammy Awards he received, makes him one of the most successful entertainers of all time.

There were concerns about Jackson’s health in recent years but the promoters of the London shows, AEG Live, said in March that Jackson had passed a 4-1/2 hour physical examination with independent doctors. – REUTERS

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Lifestyle/Story/STIStory_395605.html

Article extracted on 26 June 2009

This is quite a brave heading but as things started to unfold over the past few weeks, there’s a chance that China may not be entirely at fault for the melamine in the milk – at least we don’t think that melamine had been deliberately added into the milk to fake the protein test.

The first thing that came to my mind was – why melamine? There are a thousand and one proteins out there that can probably fake a protein test (milk is periodically tested to ensure that there is sufficient amounts of certain proteins in it) and to use melamine probably requires some level of sophistication on the part of the China factory on hind sight. To suddenly find melamine in every almost single thing imaginable now means that the factories in China have syndicates all over the world, or that something went wrong in some fundamental food chain that led to the surfacing of melamine everywhere.

While the Chinese authorities have taken responsibility for the presence of melamine in the milk and that “the chemical was added to milk before being sold to dairy manufacturers in a bid to falsely boost protein readings”, I felt that there is more than meets the eye. *plays transformer song*

There was a dead gave away when melamine was also found in lactoferrin, one of the export products from New Zealand. Unless there is a worldwide conspiracy on the use of melamine in their products, it is unlikely that the factories in New Zealand have also added melamine into their products to fake a protein test. However, if you look at the common denominator of the products, the answer lies in the cows. To be more precise, it lies in the food of the cows.

Melamine is a by-product of cyromazine and is formed in the bodies of mammals that have ingested cyromazine. Cyromazine is a pesticide that is commonly used to control pests in plants. If cows have been given such plants as part of their diet, it could be possible that melamine is formed in their bodies and passed out in their milk and urine. This is particularly evident in the latest report of vegetables being tainted with melamine, which probably has no purpose when used on plants. However, it was also reported that cyromazine may also be converted to melamine on plants through photodegradation, resulting in dealkylation and thus the formation of melamine. This can be found in Lim et al., 1990 L.O. Lim, S.J. Scherer, K.D. Shuler and J.P. Toth, Disposition of cyromazine in plants under environmental conditions, J. Agric. Food Chem. 38 (1990), pp. 860–864.

Thus, the real culprit at the end of the day could be the pesticide, cyromazine, through use of it leads to the metabolite, melamine being formed in milk, urine and on plants through photodegradation. To this, I felt that the Chinese government was probably too quick to admit to the accusation that their factories could have played a vital role to fake protein tests. Of course, it may still be possible that the factories somehow manage to find out that melamine had always been present in milk and perhaps thought that it’s an inexpensive way to boost their protein test results. The truth of it, will probably be known after a thorough investigation had been carried out.

Melamine-tainted veggies

KOTA KINABALU – THE Malaysian Health Ministry is now on high alert over melamine-tainted vegetables imported from China.

‘We have learnt from Korea that they have detected a high level of melamine in vegetables they import from China,’ said Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai.

‘We have launched a level 4 check on all food products from China where we will take samples to ensure the products are safe for consumption before releasing it into the market,’ he told reporters after attending the Sabah MCA convention on Saturday.

Mr Liow assured that melamine-tainted food products in the country were at the permissible level of 2.5 parts per million (ppm), whilst baby products contained one ppm. – BERNAMA

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/SE%2BAsia/Story/STIStory_286024.html?vgnmr=1

And the milk scare continues:

China milk scandal spreads

SEOUL – SOUTH Korea, Australia and Japan on Saturday pulled melamine-contaminated sweets and drinks from supermarket shelves amid a widening scandal over Chinese milk products tainted with the toxic chemical.

Authorities in Seoul ordered Mars and Nestle to pull three products after melamine, which is usually used for making plastics, was detected in snacks made in China by the multinationals.

The industrial chemical had been found in M&M’s milk chocolate snack and Snickers peanut Fun Size, both produced by Mars, and Kit Kat chocolate bars imported from Nestle Tianjin in China, Korea Food and Drug Administration said.

‘Mars is recalling these products because it is legally obligated to do so following the announcement by the Korean Food and Drug Administration (KFDA),’ Mars said in a statement.

Melamine has been blamed for making thousands of infants ill and killing four in mainland China after it tainted baby milk powder in one of the country’s worst ever product safety scandals.

China is struggling to limit the damage to its food safety reputation as a growing number of countries have decided to suspend imports of Chinese milk products or withdraw them from sale over the scandal.

Mars said while it was complying with the South Korean request, the melamine levels detected were too small to pose a health risk, and called for a standard reporting limit of the industrial chemical across Asia.

‘Minute traces of melamine are commonly found throughout the global food chain and melamine levels below 2.5 ppm are not deemed to indicate adulteration with melamine,’ it said. There was no immediate comment from Nestle Korea.

A KFDA official said South Korea does not allow any level of melamine in food. ‘No melamine in food is our standard,’ he said.

World Health Organisation food safety expert Peter Ben Embarek said earlier this week that many countries had only recently fixed limits for melamine in food as ‘melamine has nothing to do with the food chain’.

The chemical was added to milk before being sold to dairy manufacturers in a bid to falsely boost protein readings, Chinese authorities have said.

A fourth Chinese milk product has been withdrawn from sale in Australia after tests revealed it was tainted with melamine, Food Standards Australia New Zealand said in a statement.

‘Consumers are advised not to consume Kirin milk tea made in China,’ the organisation said.

The Australian food watchdog has already recalled White Rabbit sweets and Chinese-made Cadbury chocolate eclairs, while importers of Lotte Koala Biscuits have undertaken a precautionary withdrawal of the product.

A Japanese importer, meanwhile, began recalling Chinese chocolates suspected of being contaminated with melamine.

The western Japanese city of Osaka said a test showed the chemical had been detected in ‘Chocolate Pillows’ imported from China by Osaka-based NS International.

While there had been no reports of health problems, the city ordered the importer to recall some 86,000 packages of the chocolates on the grounds that the company may have violated the food sanitation law.

A growing number of countries throughout Asia as well as Africa are banning products over the scandal but it has also hit Europe.

The European Union recently banned all imports on Chinese milk-related products for children such as biscuits and chocolate on top of a long-standing embargo on Chinese dairy products like milk and yoghurt. – AFP

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Asia/Story/STIStory_285829.html

Article extracted on 5th October 2008

Some time back, I wrote about Malaysia adopting the through-train process in immigration; which apparently is a trial that just ended. Malaysia, after realising that many people are going in without getting their passports stamped, decided to get the cards back into the menu. For some countries, some of the important information may include address, health status and amount of money brought in. However, for the man-on-the-street like me, what’s important is that I have proof that I did pass through the proper customs since there’s usually (not always) a customs stamp on the card itself.

I just hope when the new rules kick in, the custom officers will be sufficiently notified and not just throw my white immigration form into the dustbin. You know lah… it’s just one of those things that can happen. =)

Embarkation cards for foreigners from Aug 15 a security measure

KOTA TINGGI – ALL foreigners, including Singaporeans, will have to fill in immigration embarkation cards when they enter Malaysia from Aug 15.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said the move, which will apply at all entry points nationwide, is to enhance security in the country.

‘The police felt that there was a gap in their information and record keeping and that it was good to have the form,’ he told reporters here on Sunday.

Since Jan 20, all foreigners have been exempted from the need to fill up such cards.

Mr Syed Hamid said the exemption was merely a test period to see whether the country could do without it.

‘People come in and while we punch the data in, quite a number of people just walk through without any records of them coming into or leaving the country,’ he said.

Johor Immigration Department deputy director Johari Yusof said Singaporeans would also be required to fill in embarkation cards when they cross the the Causeway and the Second Link.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Tourist Guide Council president Jimmy Leong said the new ruling showed inconsistency of policies.

‘The Government should carry out research before implementing anything,’ he said, pointing out that the new ruling would definitely slow down the traffic at the Causeway as well as the Second Link. — The Star/ANN

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest%2BNews/S-E%2BAsia/STIStory_259817.html

Article extracted on 21st July 2008

News reports of Malaysia’s de facto opposition Anwar Ibrahim sodomizing one of his aides have hit the stands again. Apparently, an aide of Anwar’s had lodged a police report alleging that he was sodomized by the former. This was similar to the allegations that landed him in jail in 1998. Police investigations are now ongoing.

Could it be that old habits die hard? Or could Anwar be set up by the current government in an attempt to dampen his efforts of over throwing the former? Even if police investigations are being carried out, would there be a chance that the outcome will be in the favour of the current government? Until the whole story is out, it’s really hard to tell.

PUTRAJAYA – MALAYSIA’S opposition Parti Keadilan Raykat has moved its de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim into a ’safe but undisclosed location’ after he had received death threats.

His wife and PKR president Satin Seri Wan Azizah Ismail said this at a press conference on Sunday afternoon, just hours after an aide of Mr Anwar’s had lodged a police report alleging he was sodomised by the one-time deputy prime minister.

Mr Anwar was was sacked by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad over similar allegations in 1998.

Federal CID director Comm Datuk Mohd Bakri Zinin said the police would conduct a thorough and fair investigation in the sodomy allegations.

They will also investigate the allegations before taking a statement from Mr Anwar, he said.

Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi reiterated that the Barisan Nasional Government was not behind the latest allegation of sodomy against Mr Anwar.

Stating that he was shocked on hearing the police report lodged by an aide of Mr Anwar on Saturday night, Mr Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he would leave the police to conduct investigations on the allegations and to take the necessary action.

He said he or the Government did not instruct the police to take any action. On Anwar’s statement that the allegations were a complete fabrication to kill his political career, as in 1998 when he was sacked as Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Abdullah said the Government had nothing to do with the police report.

‘We are not involved. Umno and Barisan Nasional did not plan to trouble, disturb or accuse him.

‘I believe even my friends like Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib (Tun Razak) did not have any intention to do such a thing to him,’ he told reporters here on Sunday after launching the Bumi Hijau programme.

Mr Abdullah said the alleged victim has the right to lodge a police report if it had really happened.

When asked if Mr Anwar would be arrested following the latest allegation, Mr Abdullah said he did not want to speculate on the matter and would leave the matter to the police.

Meanwhile the aide, who had started working at PKR about three months ago to help in the 12th general election, had lodged a police report alleging sodomy by the PKR leader at about 5.45pm on Saturday.

The man, in his 20s, is being treated at a hospital in Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Anwar called for an urgent press conference at 1.20am Sunday morning to deny the allegations.

In a statement read out by PKR vice-president Sivarasa Rasiah at a hotel in Shah Alam, he described the allegations as ‘total fabrication’.

The statement, which was also faxed to media offices, said: ‘The police report lodged against me today is a complete fabrication. I believe we are witnessing a repeat of the methods used against me in 1998 when false allegations were made under duress.’

Sources said police were waiting for the medical report from the hospital before proceeding with investigations.

They also said Mr Anwar was expected to be called up by the police to have his statement recorded.

DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang posted in his blog early on Sunday morning that he had spoken to Mr Anwar over the phone and ‘he is expecting the worst.’

Mr Anwar and his adopted brother Mr Sukma Darmawan Sasmitaat Madja were found guilty by the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Aug 8, 2000 on the charge of sodomising Anwar’s former family driver, Mr Azizan Abu Bakar, at Mr Sukma’s apartment in Tivoli Villa, Bangsar, between January and March 1993.

Mr Anwar was sentenced to nine years’ jail while Mr Sukma received six years and ordered to be given four strokes of the rotan. Mr Sukma was also convicted by the High Court on a charge of abetting Mr Anwar in the commission of the offence.

In 2003, the Court of Appeal dismissed their appeals.

Mr Anwar was first convicted for corruption on April 14, 1999 and was jailed for six years. He should have been released on April 14, 2003 after a one-third remission but had to start serving his sentence for the sodomy offence, which the court ordered to be served consecutively.

Mr Anwar was freed in 2004 after the Federal Court acquitted him of the charge of sodomising his former family driver. — The Star/SANN

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest%2BNews/S-E%2BAsia/STIStory_252879.html

Article extracted on 29th June 2008

Yes, a friend and myself were there when the protest took place. It was quite an eye opener considering that none of us have ever seen a real life demonstration – at least not in spanking clean Singapore. There were actually a few distinct groups of people – the elderly ladies, the *ahem* rainbow people (who forbid us to take photos), and there was this really big group of people seated right outside the Gwanghwamun station (photos in camera, but using other’s laptop, will post some pictures when I get my laptop running).

I am not sure how it will look like on TV, but it was a rather “peaceful” protest in that we didn’t see people carrying kerosene bottles and hurling them at the police. In fact, there was a depiction of a man on a cross with red paint splashed all over him. I wasn’t sure what that was meant to signify, but yes, it was rather noisy with all the shouting over the PA and loud traditional music. When the crowd crossed the street, they literally put traffic to a halt. There were some container trucks that we thought were put up by the protesters, but it turned out that it was the police who wanted to prevent the people from heading to the government offices.

There was a lot of screaming and shouting, which I thought meant “no beef!” and “down with the president!”, which turned out to be quite close. The people were indeed unhappy that the newly elected president has allowed the import of American beef, which they believe is laced with strains of prions that causes the mad cow disease. Before the demonstration started full scale, we decided to head off just in case things turn ugly. We passed by a lot of people from the press (ourselves included, pseudo-press. that is) and some others apparently from the armed forces – but looking very relaxed.

I wonder if the demonstrators needed to apply for a permit for it. For a rally of this scale, there’s enough people to fill up the entire Orchard Road starting from Orchard MRT station all the way to the Istana; and there’s no way that the Singapore government will ever approve of such a permit, althought I’d wonder if (1) there are enough people who are willing to protest, and (2) if there is enough space in all the detention centers *ahem* and prisons to put all these people under arrest. After all, this is Singapore – spanking clean.  

SEOUL – TENS of thousands of flag-waving South Koreans packed central Seoul on Tuesday, demanding the scrapping of an agreement to resume US beef imports and the resignation of new President Lee Myung Bak.

The entire cabinet earlier offered to quit to take responsibility for weeks of turmoil over the deal, which opponents say exposes Koreans to the risk of mad cow disease.

But demonstrators pressed on regardless with what they have billed as their largest protest to date.

Police erected greased barricades of shipping containers in the heart of the capital to block access to government buildings and the presidential palace.

They estimated crowd numbers in Seoul at less than 30,000 just before 7pm (1000 GMT), when the rally was officially to begin, but more and more groups were still arriving.

Among them were about 50 mothers, some pushing baby strollers and chanting ‘Down with Lee Myung Bak.’ ‘I am not interested in politics but in the health of our family,’ said Ms Lee Sun Hee, a 32 year-old housewife.

Police said up to 200,000 people nationwide, including 150,000 in Seoul, were expected to take part in Tuesday’s candlelit protests. Some 37,000 riot police were being mobilised, 20,000 of them in Seoul.

‘Today’s protests are to pass judgement on the Lee Myung Bak government which keeps ignoring people’s demands despite a month of candlelit protests,’ said activist spokesman Park Won-Suk, claiming one million people would show up nationwide.

The US and South Korean governments say the risk of the human form of mad cow disease is virtually non-existent but they have failed to persuade thousands of Korean consumers.

Lee, a conservative former business executive elected last December by a record margin, admitted as such.

‘We will be more humble in listening to the people and serve them with all our might,’ the president, whose approval ratings have tumbled below 20 per cent, promised Tuesday.

Prime Minister Han Seung Soo and the cabinet offered their resignations to Lee ahead of the mass protest.

A presidential spokesman said no decision had been made yet about ministerial changes and the current cabinet would stay in office for the time being.

Yonhap news agency said Lee is expected to replace four or five ministers as he grapples with the backlash over his April agreement to resume US beef imports, which were halted in 2003 over mad cow fears.

Mr Lee is seeking to modify the beef deal but says he cannot renegotiate it, as protesters demand, since this would jeopardise US approval of a separate free trade pact.

US legislators have warned they will not ratify the free trade agreement unless Seoul first opens its beef market.

The White House said on Tuesday that the offer from South Korea’s cabinet to quit was an ‘internal matter’ and that it still hoped for a beef deal.

The beef protesters have been joined by left-leaning opponents of the broader trade deal and by critics of Mr Lee’s market-friendly economic reform agenda.

The radical Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said about 100,000 of its members would take part in Tuesday’s rally, before voting on whether to launch an indefinite walkout next week.

Mr Lee won power with pledges to revitalise the economy but has been grappling with the global credit crunch and soaring oil and raw material prices.

‘Under the volcano of mass protests lies huge magma – public anger over economic instability and Lee’s shaky leadership,’ said Choi Jin of the Institute of Presidential Leadership.

The beef deal was struck on the eve of Lee’s first summit with US President George W. Bush in April. Opponents say the government failed to secure enough safeguards against the supposed dangers of mad cow disease.

Seoul has sought to ease anger by delaying the resumption of imports and calling on Washington not to export beef from cattle more than 30 months old, seen as more vulnerable to possible infection. — AFP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 11th June 2008

A strong aftershock hit China’s quake lake in southwest Sichuan – as predicted earlier on by authorities. There’s no known casualties and the scale of the quake was also not known yet. It’s rather sad that as China prepares for the Beijing Olympics that tragedy had to strike.

Here in Taiwan, no shockwaves were felt, but then again, quakes are part of the everyday life of the average Taiwanese. In fact, some quakes were felt just a week ago and that it happens at such regular intervals that most people got used to it.

BEIJING – A STRONG aftershock was felt at China’s ‘quake lake’ in southwest Sichuan on Monday, state media reported.

The aftershock struck the swollen Tangjiashan quake lake just after 11am Singapore time on Monday, Xinhua news agency reported, quoting one of its reporters at the scene.

Xinhua reported that the magnitude of the aftershock was not immediately known, and its impact on the dam was under surveillance.

Chinese soldiers used anti-tank weapons to blast away rocks and mud holding back waters in an earthquake-formed lake that threatens more than 1 million people living downstream.

Television and official Web sites showed People’s Liberation Army troops firing 82mm recoilless guns at debris on Sunday.

Troops dislodged enough debris to speed the drainage of waters in Tangjiashan lake, although the level continued to rise with the inflow from the blocked river behind the dam, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Another 120 troops were sent to continue the operations on Monday, Xinhua said.

Early on Monday, the water level had reached more than 2m above a spillway carved into the dam last week to divert water and release pressure on the unstable dam wall, Xinhua said.

Authorities were on alert both for increased rainfall and new aftershocks that could weaken the dam or send more debris plunging into the lake.

Prof David Petley, a geography professor at the University of Durham in northeast England, warned the situation at the lake appeared to be reaching crisis levels.

‘The teams on the dam are fighting a desperate battle now,’ Prof Petley said. ‘The outcome is very uncertain.’

Rising water levels indicate the outflow is not fast enough, he said. At the same time, news photos show worrisome signs, he said, pointing to indications that the top of the dam was holding, instead of eroding slowly as it should, while the channel further down was eroding too quickly.

That potentially could place increased pressure on the dam by suddenly sucking down large volumes of water, overwhelming the barrier, Prof Petley said.

‘I am increasingly concerned about the state of play as the level of the lake continues to rise and the channel at the crest of the dam does not appear to be eroding,’ he said.

Other threats
New landslides sparked by a magnitude 5 aftershock on Sunday underscored the threat of flooding.

More than 250,000 people downstream have been evacuated in recent weeks, adding to the turmoil created by last month’s massive earthquake in China’s Sichuan province. Many were living in improvised camps on surrounding hillsides, surviving on instant noodles and suffering from heat, mosquitoes, and a lack of water for bathing.

The Tangjiashan lake was formed when rubble from a massive landslide set off by the deadly May 12 earthquake blocked the flow of the Tongkou River, also known as the Jianjiang.

Wooden houses, boulders and other debris have also been blasted to speed the flow of water into the spillway. Other troops have been deepening the channel and digging on a second spillway.

Managing the Tangjiashan lake has become a priority for a government working to head off another catastrophe even as it cares for millions left homeless after the 7.9 magnitude quake in Sichuan province. More than 1.3 million people live downriver from Tangjiashan.

The death toll from the quake climbed on Sunday to 69,136, with 17,686 people still missing.

The Tangjiashan lake is the largest of more than 30 created by last month’s quake. Government experts quoted by state media have played down the threat of imminent flooding, though a variety of factors could set off a dam collapse: rain, aftershocks, landslides and increased leakage from the barrier.– AP, AFP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 9th June 2008

Malaysia has put off plans to ban sale of petrol to foreign-register vehicles within 50km of their north and south borders. This is partly because of the repercussions on the businesses around these petrol kiosks that thrives on the businesses of foreigners, particularly at the Singapore borders. In addition, Datuk Seri Najib cited that there was a need to find a new effective date because he now realized that Singaporeans do not mind paying the market rate. Moreover, Malaysians who are working in Singapore are known to own Singapore-registered cars. One Malaysian, however, felt that the ban on her refueling in Malaysia is fair because she’s working in Singapore and should not be enjoying the subsidy.

I am not sure if the other Malaysians working in Singapore agrees with her. =)

I thought the ban should be rethought because it’s rather silly for Singaporeans driving back to Singapore to try to figure out where the 50km mark is. I am assuming there are indicators along the North-South highway, although I am not sure if this can’t be said for those who enjoy the "smaller roads". This isn’t fun if you are running on an almost empty gas tank.

MALAYSIA has put off plans to ban foreign-registered vehicles from filling up on subsidised petrol in its border areas with Singapore and Thailand, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday.

The ban was originally to start today for Thai-registered vehicles in the north and on June 9 for drivers of Singapore-registered cars in the south.

But Datuk Seri Najib, who is in Singapore to attend a security summit, told reporters that an anti-inflation Cabinet committee would meet tomorrow to review the plan.

‘We have to find a new effective date because there are other matters, like for example, can we have separate pumps because the Singaporeans are saying that they don’t mind paying the market rate,’ he said.

His comments indicated that the government may allow foreigners to buy higher-priced fuel, whereas the earlier plan was to impose a total ban on foreigners buying fuel.

He said that the postponement was made following requests by Singaporeans.

Many Malaysians who work in Singapore have also complained that they should be allowed to enjoy subsidised rates for their Singapore-registered vehicles, he added.

The move is part of Malaysia’s measures to curb soaring subsidies, which are expected to cost the government RM45 billion (S$19 billion) this year as global oil prices skyrocket.

It bars foreign-registered vehicles from refuelling at petrol stations within 50km of the country’s borders with Singapore and Thailand. The penalty for station owners who flout the rule is a fine of up to RM250,000 or a jail term of three years.

Separately, the Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore, speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, said that the Malaysian government is conscious of the ‘practical issues’ that have arisen from the proposed ban.

There are many Malaysians who own Singapore vehicles, including some who live in Johor Baru but travel daily to work here, Datuk N. Parameswaran said.

They should not be ‘penalised’.

‘Being Malaysian, they should be able to enjoy a Malaysian facility extended to Malaysians,’ he said.

Mr Parameswaran said that government officials meeting tomorrow will discuss suggestions that Malaysians who own Singapore-registered vehicles be allowed to buy petrol by flashing their identity card, the MyKad.

‘That’s a very practical possibility,’ he added.

It had been reported that some Malaysians who own Singapore-registered vehicles were upset by the ban.

But others, like Ms Jenny Leong, thought it was fair.

‘I work in Singapore and live here, so I shouldn’t get to enjoy the subsidy,’ said the 60-year-old financial consultant, who is a permanent resident here.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CAROLYN QUEK

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 2nd June 2008

Once this ban kick in probably this Friday, will you cut down on trips to Malaysia? Probably there will be a traffic jam this Thursday at the causeway. I think this ban will mostly affect motorists who visit Johor once or twice a week just to buy cheap petrol. With the current all time high petrol price, buying cheap petrol from Malaysia have become so attractive that makes Singaporeans make the trip there. So by implementing this, will it deter people from visiting Malaysia and triggering a downturn in their economy in the long run?

Some Singaporeans said they may cut back on trips to Malaysia once the proposed ban on the sale of petrol and diesel to foreign registered vehicles within a 50-kilometre radius of Malaysia’s borders takes effect.

The ban is expected to kick in as early as this Friday in a move to prevent abuse of heavy fuel subsidies.

However, Malaysia’s Domestic Trade Minister, Shahrir Samad, said on Tuesday that the ban is a temporary one. It will be lifted once a new subsidy mechanism to replace the existing scheme, where everyone is subsidised, is put in place.

Still, the move is expected to affect hundreds of motorists who regularly cross over the border for cheaper oil.

Malaysia’s diesel and petrol prices are among the lowest in Asia due to high government subsidies.

The ban is expected to affect up to 300 petrol stations in the country. And Singaporeans who head to Johor Bahru for cheaper petrol will be the most affected.

For example, Loy Cheong, a businessman who is a regular traveller across the border, said he will cut back on his trips.

Mr Cheong, Business Development Manager, Medo Enterprises Holding, said: “Buying cheap petrol is one of the privileges and what attracts the Singaporean to go there. But with this implementation, it may deter people from visiting Johor.

“We go normally once a week or once in every two weeks. But if they implement this, maybe we will go less often, like once a month.”

Also facing problems are Malaysians who are Singapore permanent residents.

Koh Ming Li, a Singapore permanent resident, lives near the border and has been coming to Singapore almost every day for the past two years for work.

He said: “The problem now is that it prohibits me from driving directly into JB. And as for the 50-kilometre radius from JB, I would say (there’s) almost no petrol kiosks within JB that I can pump petrol from.”

Petrol kiosk operators who violate the ban face the possibility of a S$110,000 fine (RM$250,000) or a three-year jail term or both.

- CNA