Singapore court awards man $3 mln after bad reference denies him new job

Tue, 2017-08-15 08:24

SINGAPORE: A Singapore court has awarded a man S$4 million ($2.96 million) in compensation after an unflattering reference from his former employer, AXA Life Insurance Singapore, cost him an opportunity to work elsewhere.
Ramesh Krishnan, who worked with AXA Life Insurance as an adviser and agent from 2005 until 2011, won an appeal in July last year against a 2012 High Court decision, which dismissed his defamation and negligence suit against his former employer.
In a High Court ruling on Monday, Judge George Wei noted the Court of Appeal’s judgment last year that AXA had breached “its duty of care” in providing a reference check for Krishnan to Prudential Assurance Company Singapore, with whom Krishnan was seeking employment, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which regulates the insurance industry.
The Court of Appeal last year deemed the reference “incomplete, misleading and unfair” and noted AXA’s allusion to Krishnan’s low client persistency ratio, a gauge of insurance business retention, did not provide sufficient information on how this ratio was calculated.
It also said letters AXA sent to both MAS and Prudential alluding to potential ethical violations by Krishnan were baseless.
The Court of Appeal ruled this reference had caused Prudential not to employ Krishnan and sent the case to the High Court for damages.
Judge Wei on Monday determined damages worth S$4.03 million based on the loss of earnings Krishnan would have received through a conditional package offered by Prudential.
Krishnan had initially sought S$63 million based on his estimation of lost compensation and aggravated damages, while AXA had asked that a nominal S$1 be awarded.
A spokesperson for AXA said the company is currently seeking legal advice about the court decision. ($1 = 1.3621 Singapore dollars)

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After suicide attack, Manchester learns lessons for future emergencies — official

Tue, 2017-08-15 09:00

LONDON: Manchester, a city in the north of England, was put on the global map in May when it suffered a devastating suicide bombing at a packed pop concert with US singer Ariana Grande.
Since then, the first directly elected mayor of the Greater Manchester region has commissioned an independent review of the city’s response to the attack, and recently appointed a chairman, with interim findings due out early next year.
Another way Manchester aims to strengthen its planning for emergencies is by employing its first Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), under its participation in the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) network, a global initiative set up by the Rockefeller Foundation to build urban resilience in cities around the world.
In Britain, the 100RC cities also include Belfast, Glasgow, London and Bristol.
“I think the city is still in mourning,” said Greater Manchester’s new CRO, Kathy Oldham, referring to the May attack by UK-born Salman Abedi, which killed 22 people and injured 116, one of a spate of attacks in Britain in recent months.
“We’re still coming to terms with what happened,” Oldham told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
Efforts to deal with the aftermath include supporting bereaved families, working with communities to prevent radicalization, and helping schools look after traumatized young people.
“It’s very important to us that we learn from what happened so that anything that happens in the future, we can deal with perhaps even better than we did at the time, but also that we can share that both with other cities in the UK and through the global network,” said Oldham.
The support Manchester received from other 100RC cities was “phenomenal,” she said.
Paris, in particular, was “incredibly generous” in sharing its knowledge and experience after suffering similar attacks on citizens in recent years, she noted.
Images of individuals offering cups of tea and spare beds to those caught up in the Manchester Arena bombing, as well as huge public gatherings to commemorate the victims in the days after the attack went viral on social media.
Oldham, who has lived in the city since arriving as a university student, said the community’s response “really stands out as something that makes Manchester very special.”
“It’s a huge privilege to work with communities that respond in that way,” she added.
Oldham trained as a doctor and worked on the 2012 London Olympics, besides leading Manchester’s participation in the United Nations’ “Making Cities Resilient” campaign which recognized the city as a role model in 2014.
She is no stranger to issues affecting resilience — from sudden shocks such as attacks and disease outbreaks, to slower-burning stresses like homelessness and unemployment.
“The UK has a very strong history of preparing for emergencies,” she said.
Having been in the CRO role for just a few weeks, Oldham’s first priority is to talk to communities, and analyze data and evidence to map out how resilience is developing in the city and how it can be improved, in order to craft a comprehensive strategy to make Manchester stronger.
It aims to become Britain’s foremost digital city, for example, and has said it will create a 2 million-pound ($2.6 million) fund to expand digital skills.
It is also planning a green summit on how to preserve the city’s environment, and has established a housing task-force to review high-rise blocks after the fatal Grenfell Tower fire in London, said Oldham.
The official is keen to find ways of adding value to existing initiatives, such as a flood-basin project in the Salford area by the River Irwell, which caused serious flooding in 2015.
In addition to building the basin to collect water from the river when it overflows, there will be green space for locals to use, including a wetland area where school children can plant trees and learn about nature, as well as sports pitches.
In this way, the basin becomes multi-purpose and serves as a hub for the community, said Oldham.
“We can really generate more value out of it, and more benefit and greater resilience — and that’s just one example,” she said. ($1 = 0.7712 pounds)

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Firefighter apologizes for ‘dumb joke’ about Charlottesville

Associated Press
Tue, 2017-08-15 03:00

PHILADELPHIA: A Philadelphia firefighter says he was drunk and making a “dumb joke” about the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when he posted a picture of himself holding a torch and wearing a Confederate flag hat on Facebook.
John Deluisi tells WTXF-TV ( ) he uploaded the picture, which he captioned “Headed to VA,” in response to another post referencing the Charlottesville rally, where torch-carrying protesters decried the planned removal of a Confederate statue. Three people died amid the turmoil Saturday, including a 32-year-old woman who was part of a crowd of counter-protesters struck by a car.
The Philadelphia Fire Department says it is investigating Deluisi’s post and could take disciplinary action.
Deluisi removed the picture. He apologized and said he is disappointed in himself.

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Modi urges India to reject violence in name of religion

Tue, 2017-08-15 10:05

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged India on Tuesday to reject religious violence, after a series of attacks against minorities sparked debate about whether a surge of Hindu nationalism is undermining the country’s secular ideals.
In a speech from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort marking the 70th anniversary of India’s independence, Modi also listed his government’s achievements, including a fight against corruption.
The speech was light on foreign policy, making no mention of arch-rival Pakistan or of China. India has for nearly two months stationed hundreds of troops along its northern border with China because of a territorial dispute.
Modi has spoken out against attacks by right-wing Hindus, many of whom back his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against minority Muslims and lower-caste Hindus accused of killing cows, considered holy by the majority Hindus.
But the setting of his denunciation of violence on Tuesday was significant.
“We will not tolerate violence in the name of faith,” Modi said before a teeming crowd at the fort and a huge television audience.
Modi made much of the progress India has made since independence from British rule in 1947.
But he also expressed pain over the death of at least 60 children in a state-run hospital last week amid shortages of supplies — a reminder much remains to be done on India’s journey to development.
Since coming to power in 2014, Modi has found it difficult to balance the competing demands of groups from his nationalist Hindu power base and those Indians striving to build a modern, secular country befitting its growing economic influence.
Manoj Joshi, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think-tank said Modi was playing “good cop, bad cop” by condemning communal violence but doing little to rein in elements of his ruling party.
“There is an obvious gap between slogan and implementation. It’s a deliberate gap and it’s just for the record,” he said.
Modi also spoke at length about delivering a “new India” by 2022, underlining his confidence of winning the next general election, due by 2019.
Strong growth and economic reforms have bolstered Modi’s popularity and helped his party sweep state elections in recent years, leaving the opposition severely weakened.
Still, to keep up with the demands of India’s 1.3 billion people, the government needs to create millions more jobs a year, which it is struggling to do.
“A certain level of triumphalism … brought Modi to power,” analyst Ajai Shukla told NDTV. “Now he realizes people are expecting answers. He felt the need to convey an aura of progress.”
Modi was conciliatory toward the Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir, where violent protests against Indian rule have erupted over the past year, saying neither “name-calling nor bullets” would be enough to pacify the region.
What was needed, he said, were “hugs” for Kashmiris.
Kashmir has been divided between Pakistan and India, and a source of conflict between them, since their creation upon the partition of British-ruled India in 1947.

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Suspected Islamist militant killed in Bangladesh raid

Associated Press
Tue, 2017-08-15 03:00

NEW DELHI: A suspected Islamist militant was killed in an explosion inside a hotel in Bangladesh’s capital during a raid Tuesday on an alleged hideout.
Police chief A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque said that the man died in the explosion during the raid that began early Tuesday.
Police identified the man as Saiful Islam, a college student. Details of his allegiance to any Islamist groups were not immediately clear.
Some officials said a portion of the wall of the hotel fell from the force of the blasts.
It was not immediately clear if any other suspects were in the Hotel Olio International in downtown Dhaka.
The police chief said they would examine whether the suspect was a member of Jumatul Mujahedin Bangladesh, or JMB, a banned group responsible for many attacks in recent years.
Bangladesh has been experiencing a rise in Islamic militancy in recent years. Banned Islamist groups have targeted liberals, atheists and foreigners.
Hoque said it appeared the suspect had been planning an attack as the country was mourning the death anniversary of its independence leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was assassinated in a military coup in 1975 along with most of his family. The day is a national holiday in Bangladesh.
Hundreds of people placed wreaths at a portrait of Rahman in front of his home-turned-museum, where the assassination took place. The museum is close to the hotel where Tuesday’s raid occurred.
Last year, in a major attack, suspected JMB members killed 20 hostages, including 17 foreigners, in a restaurant in Dhaka. The Daesh group claimed responsibility for the attack but authorities have rejected the claim and blamed the JMB.
Since the 2016 assault, authorities have reinforced a crackdown on militants and killed more than 50 suspects.
Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority nation that is ruled by largely secular laws based on British common law.

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India opens 1st Partition museum 70 years after bloody event

Tue, 2017-08-15 03:00

AMRITSAR, INDIA: In the 70 years since India and Pakistan were created from the former British Empire, there has never been a venue focused on the stories and memorabilia of those who survived that chaotic and bloody chapter in history — until now.
A new museum on the Partition of the Indian subcontinent opens this week, as the two South Asian giants mark seven decades as independent nations.
“If you look at any other country in the world, they’ve all memorialized the experiences that have defined and shaped them. Yet this event that has so deeply shaped not only our subcontinent but millions of individuals who were impacted has had no museum or memorial 70 years later,” said Mallika Ahluwalia, CEO of the Partition Museum .
The exhibitions, housed in the red-brick Town Hall building in the north Indian border city of Amritsar, include photographs, newspaper clippings and donated personal items meant to tell the story of how the region’s struggle for freedom from colonial rule turned into one of its most violent episodes, as communal clashes left hundreds of thousands of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs dead and another 15 million displaced from their ancestral homes.
An antique pocket watch that belonged to someone killed in mob violence in Pakistan. Woven fabrics from craftsmen of the time. A traditional rope cot carried by a refugee across the border. And many old black-and-white family snapshots.
Screens show video interviews with the now-elderly survivors. The last of the museum’s 14 galleries is called the Gallery of Hope, where visitors are invited to scribble messages of love and peace on leaf-shaped papers before hanging them on a barbed-wire tree. The idea, Ahluwalia said, was to have visitors participate in the “greening” of the tree and to think of peace and reconciliation between the torn nations.
“You end up feeling so grateful to that generation who, I think, helped rebuild the nation, despite having suffered such trauma,” Ahluwalia said.
She said she wanted to create the museum after years of hearing her 83-year-old grandmother’s tales of the subcontinent before it was divided, before she had to flee her Pakistani home as a 13-year-old girl.
“What must it have felt like for her, to one day come from, you know, a relatively affluent family, have a normal background, and the next day all you have left of your things is a small suitcase,” Ahluwalia said. The personal experience led her to believe it was important to set up the museum, “especially as we saw that generation leaving us.”
The fact that it will be India’s first Partition museum makes it even more crucial, she said. Tickets are priced low at 10 rupees (25 cents) for Indians and 150 rupees ($2.30) for foreigners to encourage more visitors.
The museum is a nonprofit trust that has raised money from individuals such as Indian ad guru Suhel Seth and companies including Airtel and the Hindustan Times. The Punjab government donated the space.
While the bloody events of Partition became a foundational part of India’s history and identity, sparking countless works of art, literature and film, there has been no official expression of regret, and India’s leaders have been cautious in mentioning the communal violence that coincided with the country’s earliest days. There are no memorials to those who perished. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made no mention of Partition itself while regaling the country’s freedom fighters in his annual Independence Day speech to the nation.
Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan suggested the topic has simply been too painful for many to dwell on, and that reconciliation would need to be two-sided to work. Even the museum, he said, should reflect realities on both sides.
“If a nation-state becomes the repository of memory, it becomes a one-sided memory,” Visvanathan said. “We have to acknowledge the mutuality of violence. There is no one truth. No one victim.”
The museum is located in the heart of Amritsar, best known for its famed Sikh Golden Temple, because the Punjabi city was one of the first points of arrival for millions of refugees to India.
Dozens of people donated items to the museum, including 81-year-old Sohinder Nath Chopra, who included an autobiographical novel set in his old village near Gujranwala in Pakistan. His family had been warned by a Muslim cleric to flee the village as weaponized mobs went on killing sprees against Hindus and Sikhs in the newly declared Islamic republic.
He was 12 years old as they crossed the border into India, and remembers “big arches welcoming the refugees.”
“Hindi film songs were being played loudly,” Chopra told the Associated Press. “There were people standing on both sides, holding bread, vegetables, water. And everybody started crying.”

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China warns it ‘won’t sit idle’ if US harms trade ties

Tue, 2017-08-15 05:55

BEIJING: China warned on Tuesday that it “will not sit idle” if the United States takes actions that impair trade ties after President Donald Trump launched a probe into Beijing’s intellectual property practices.
The commerce ministry issued a statement voicing “serious concern” and warning that any US trade protectionism “will definitely harm bilateral trade relations.”
The statement, posted to the ministry’s official website, added that Beijing would “definitely adopt all appropriate measures to vigorously defend the lawful rights and interest of China.”
Trump on Monday signed a memorandum directing US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to determine whether Chinese policies hurt American investors or companies — with retaliatory measures a possible outcome.
The president insisted that “Washington will turn a blind eye no longer” to Beijing’s “theft” of US industrial secrets — long a concern of major foreign corporations seeking a share of the huge Chinese market.
The probe comes at a time when US-China relations are already strained over North Korea, with Trump last week still suggesting that he might soften his position on trade if Beijing were to do more to help rein in its nuclear-armed neighbor.

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Maduro orders Venezuela military drill after Trump threat

Tue, 2017-08-15 04:49

CARACAS: Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro on Monday ordered his armed forces to carry out a national exercise next week in response to US President Donald Trump’s threat of possible military action.
“I have given the order to the armed forces’ joint chiefs of staff to start preparations for a national civil-military exercise for the integrated armed defense of the Venezuelan nation,” he told thousands of supporters in a Caracas rally.
The drill will take place August 26 and 27, he said.
Maduro’s government has seized on Trump’s warning last Friday that he was looking at a range of scenarios against Venezuela, “including a possible military option if necessary.”
Venezuelan Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino called it “crazy,” saying it showed America had “dropped its mask” in terms of wanting to attack his country.
The Maduro administration says Trump’s words bolster its oft-repeated claim that Washington has designs to grab control of Venezuela’s proven oil reserves, the largest in the world.
The threat, made in response to Venezuela’s deepening economic crisis and Maduro’s moves toward what the US labels a “dictatorship,” has been rebuffed by all of Latin America — even countries opposed to Venezuela.
The Pentagon said it had received no orders from Trump to ready any sort of military action against Venezuela.
US Vice President Mike Pence, who is touring allies in Latin America to marshall joint action against Caracas, said Trump’s warning stood — but he hoped a “peaceable solution” would be found.

The Caracas rally stretching in front of Maduro took up the president’s exhortations against the United States with cries of “Yankee go home!“
The leftist leader vowed to “defend the country with tanks, planes, missiles.”
Venezuela, an ally to Cuba and Russia, reportedly bought Russian anti-aircraft defenses and tanks years ago, under Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez.
Pence, on his first stop of a tour taking in Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama, said the United States intended to prevent Venezuela becoming a “failed state.”
“We will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles, but it’s important to note, as the president said, that a failed state in Venezuela threatens the security and prosperity of the hemisphere,” Pence told reporters in the Colombian city of Cartagena.
He told CNN in an interview that Venezuela risked becoming “a greater problem for narcotics traffic” and “greater migration” — both of which he said directly threatened the security and economy of the US.
On Sunday, Pence stood by Trump’s threat of possible military action, saying the US president “says what he means and means what he says.”
But he expressed hope a “peaceable solution” could be found.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has led criticism of Maduro, told Pence on arrival “that the possibility of a military intervention shouldn’t even be considered.”

Many Latin American countries have bitter memories of past US adventures in the region. Those include invasions, gunboat diplomacy and the propping up of military dictators.
Even the Venezuelan opposition coalition on Sunday rejected “the use of force, or the threat of applying such force, by whatever country against Venezuela.”
China, too, said it stood against foreign powers interfering in other countries.
Maduro, in a later televised event with various ambassadors stationed in Caracas, said he wanted a regional “closed-door presidential summit” to talk about Venezuela and Trump’s threat.
“The threat of war can only dissipate with dialogue,” he said.
Washington has already imposed unilateral sanctions on Maduro and nearly two dozen of his officials for what it sees as a shift to “dictatorship.”
The sanctions came in response to a new loyalist body, an all-powerful Constituent Assembly, that supersedes the legislature controlled by the opposition.
The body has joined with the loyal supreme court to quash dissent and arrest opposition politicians.
Venezuela’s economy is heavily reliant on oil exports. Shipments to the United States — its biggest paying customer — account for 40 percent of its crude production, but only eight percent of US oil imports.
The US sanctions so far have targeted individuals and not Venezuela’s oil industry, which would have consequences for US refineries.

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Hong Kong democrat arrested for “misleading” police after abduction claims

Tue, 2017-08-15 05:42

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police said on Tuesday they had arrested a prominent member of the opposition Democratic Party for “misleading police” after he claimed he had been assaulted and illegally detained by mainland Chinese agents in the city.
Howard Lam was shown on local television being taken away by police in a van with handcuffs in the early hours of Monday morning. He was questioned at a police station, with evidence taken from his home including a tablet computer, mobile phones and a pair of sunglasses.
“We believe the information he gave is false,” Cheng Lai-ki, a superintendent of police, told reporters. The police said in a statement that Lam had been arrested for “misleading police.”
Lam had last week held a press conference, claiming he had been beaten by mainland Chinese agents in Hong Kong before being dumped on a beach in what activists said was a shocking breach of Hong Kong’s autonomy by Chinese authorities.
Lam, who remains in police custody, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. But the Democratic Party disputed the police claims and continued to stand by Lam’s version of events.
“Up to now, I can see no cogent evidence for me to disbelieve Howard Lam,” Albert Ho, a senior member of the Democratic Party, told Reuters.
Ho was also critical of the police for turning an alleged victim of a brutal assault into a suspect without making clear their grounds for doing so.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, was handed back amid promises that Beijing would grant the city a large degree of autonomy and freedoms not allowed in mainland China, under a so-called “one country, two systems” arrangement.
Lam, a longstanding and active member of the city’s largest and most established opposition political group, the Democratic Party, said he had also been warned in a telephone call not to give an autographed photograph from Barcelona’s star footballer Lionel Messi to the widow of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Lam said he was confronted by men speaking Mandarin, the main language in mainland China but not widely used in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong, outside a sports store. Lam wasn’t, however, able to give concrete evidence to back up his claims the men were Chinese agents.
Lam had said the men took him away and interrogated him in a nine-hour ordeal. He also showed reporters wounds on his body, including welts and a series of metal staples that he said the men had punched into his skin for being “unpatriotic.” He was knocked out and eventually found himself dumped on a remote beach, Lam added.
But in CCTV footage carried on local television, a man in sunglasses and a medical face mask with a passing resemblance to Lam was shown walking freely in the area at the time of the purported abduction.
Lam, when shown the footage, said on local television before his arrest that he believed the man in the footage was not him.
Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said she was confident the police would investigate the matter fully.

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Bugs on the menu at Swiss supermarket

Mon, 2017-08-14 18:45

GENEVA: Switzerland’s first insect-based food aimed at humans will go on sale next week following a revision of the country’s food safety laws, a supermarket chain said Monday.
Switzerland’s second-largest supermarket chain, Coop, announced it would begin selling an insect burger, and insect balls, based on protein-rich mealworm.
The products, made by a Swiss start-up called Essento, will be available in a handful of Coop branches, including in Geneva, Bern and Zurich, as of August 21, according to a statement.
Switzerland is the first European country to authorize the sale of insect-based food items for human consumption, a spokeswoman for the country’s food safety authority told AFP.
Swiss food safety laws were changed last May to allow for the sale of food items containing three types of insects: crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms, which are the larval form of the mealworm beetle.
These insects, long used in animal feed, must be bred under strict supervision for four generations before they are considered appropriate for human consumption, according to Swiss law.
Local production will thus take a few months to get started.
In the meantime, imports are possible under strict conditions — the insects must be raised in accordance with the Swiss requirements at a company submitted to inspections by national food safety authorities.

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