Province in smog crisis
A province at the heart of a Southeast Asian smog crisis last year has declared a state of emergency after being blanketed in thick haze from forest fires, officials said yesterday. Thousands have fallen ill, transport has been disrupted and schools closed after days of fires in Riau Province on Sumatra Island, where blazes are deliberately lit every year to clear land for palm oil and wood pulp plantations. More than two dozen people suspected of starting fires in rainforest and peatland have so far been arrested, national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said. Declaring an emergency allows Riau to seek help in tackling the blazes from the central government, and Nugroho said aircraft were preparing to drop water on fires and carry out “cloud-seeding” to chemically induce rain.
Court blocks Gandhi killers
The Supreme Court in New Delhi halted the freeing of four more killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi yesterday after a political uproar over a state government’s plan to release all seven. The court issued a temporary restraining order against releasing the four, who are serving life in jail over Gandhi’s assassination in 1991 by a Tamil female suicide bomber. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week rejected the Tamil Nadu chief minister’s moves to set all seven free, saying it was against all principles of justice as the murder was “an attack on the soul of India.” The court last week blocked the release of three of the men convicted of plotting the assassination after Singh’s comments and his government’s urgent legal action against the move.
Lawmaker sorry over photos
An embarrassed lawmaker has apologized after he was photographed looking at pictures of scantily dressed models on his tablet computer during a budget speech in parliament. Pro-democracy politician Albert Ho (何俊仁) was snapped flipping through multiple photographs of bikini-clad women while Financial Secretary John Tsang (曾俊華) delivered a one-and-a-half-hour-long budget speech on Wednesday. “It just so happened that at that time, I casually saw the photos,” said Ho, who failed in a bid to become the territory’s leader in 2012. “I have learned a lesson, I should not commit such a mistake again,” he told reporters, adding that he had apologized for the incident.
Terror suspect detained
Authorities have detained an Indonesian national for alleged “terrorist-related activities” in the oil-rich sultanate, a media report said yesterday. The suspect, identified as “Daniel, alias Awaluddin Sitorus,” was detained on Friday last week and is believed to be a member of the Indonesia-based militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Brunei Times said. JI has been blamed for a number of attacks in Southeast Asia, with the deadliest being the Bali bombings of October 2002 that killed 202 people. Awaluddin is suspected of plotting to help militants enter and use Brunei — which shares the huge island of Borneo with Malaysia and Indonesia — as a “safe haven” and to channel financing to militants abroad, the newspaper said, citing Brunei security officials. Brunei authorities could not immediately be reached for comment. Awaluddin, who the newspaper said was in his 40s and used aliases including Abu Yasar and Dani Sitorus, had stood trial in Indonesia a decade ago over a plot to bomb three churches in the city of Medan in May 2000. He was acquitted.