Wednesday, May 23, 2012

China overtakes US in smartphone market



Squeezing cash from China's billion phone app market



The BBC's John Sudworth meets the Chinese entrepreneurs targeting the world's biggest mobile phone market.

At some point in the past few months, China's billionth mobile phone customer switched on his or her handset for the first time.

The mobile network growth here has been remarkable, with some 80 million new subscribers coming online every year for the past decade.

But in some ways the real communications revolution has only just begun.

This year, China will overtake America as the world's biggest smartphone market.

And for many Chinese, the smartphone offers them their first personal route to access the internet - by some estimates 40% of those connecting to the web in China now do so solely via a mobile phone.

That offers IT developers, and mobile phone app makers in particular, an extraordinary opportunity.

'No better place'
In a small Shanghai office, with a few dozen employees beavering away at their computer screens, Guanxi.me is one startup company joining the gold rush. 

Mobile phone 
It's estimated that 40% of those connecting to the web in China now do so solely via a mobile phone (source: BBC News)
 
"There's no better place to be than China," chief executive Alvin Wang tells me.

"There'll be an extra 200 million new smartphone users in the next 12 months. We want to be on those phones."

The app Alvin is developing allows users to build social networks and then, using geo-location data, track and meet those contacts in the real world.

"People are social animals but today's technology is more geared to replacing face-to-face contact. 

We want to enhance and increase face-to-face contact," Alvin says.

Guanxi.me is free to download, and that's important in China. 

Here, smartphone users are much less likely to pay to download an app than their Western counterparts.

Cheryl Wu  
Cheryl Wu is a typical young Chinese smartphone user (Source: BBC News)

Cheryl Wu is typical of many young smartphone users in China.

She has a job in real estate and spends her evenings meeting and socialising with friends; posting, tweeting and messaging her way through her nights out using a series of apps on her smartphone. 

All of those apps, though, have been downloaded free of charge. 

She particularly likes the Weishin voicemail app she tells me, because it's fun, convenient and free.

'In-app' sales
So how, then, do you make money as an app developer in China?

One way is to try to target "in-app" sales; give away the app for free, get users hooked, and then sell them the chance to enhance their experience for a small fee.

It's a model used most successfully by the bigger developers of mobile games technology and the idea is simple.

Although users in China may be willing only to pay a few cents for the enhanced service, when you're talking millions of users, that can soon add up to a lot of money.

But for non-gaming app developers, advertising revenue is the way forward, and July Cheng, a young mother based in Shanghai, is showing how easy it can be.

Her home-made app, developed for her twins, has become a surprise overnight success with tens of thousands of downloads. 

July Cheng and family 
Young mother July Cheng developed her children's flashcard app for her twins; she now makes more than $1,000 a month (Source: BBC News)
 
For each one, July is paid a commission from the pop-up-ads linked to the app, and she now earns more than $1,000 a month this way.

"You just need one mobile phone, one PC and your good ideas," she tells me.

The holy grail for app developers, though, may well be finding ways to hitch a ride on China's booming luxury brand sales.

Apps like Guanxi.me have valuable social networking databases that could prove very attractive to high street retailers.

Couple that with the phone's geo-location data, and suddenly the mobile phone offers advertisers a way to get personalised offers into the hands, or onto the smartphone screens, of customers at the moment they pass by the shop door.

“Once you start to become successful, your app will be copied" Michael Clendendin Red Tech Advisors

Copy cats
This kind of technology is being developed in many markets, of course, but it is in China, with the sheer scale of the mobile market and the country's booming sales of luxury brands, that the opportunities might prove the most attractive.

One major challenge remains however, and it's an old one: the country's notoriously weak protection for intellectual property.

"Once you start to become successful, your app will be copied," Michael Clendendin from industry analysts Red Tech Advisors tells me.

"I've no doubt about that, so the only way for you to survive in China is to try to pre-empt that by partnering with one of the bigger companies that might steal your app."

That will need to change if China is really going to unlock the creative potential offered by its ever growing mountain of mobile hardware.

Guanxi.me's Alvin Wang thinks it will, in part because Chinese companies will themselves join the chorus of international voices demanding a strengthening of legal protection.

"It's going to take a little time, I'm not saying overnight this is going to be the oasis for intellectual property protection," he says.

"But over next five to 10 years, there will be an increasing awareness from government, and pressure from Chinese companies themselves, to make sure real innovation is protected."

(Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-18119515)




China overtakes US as largest smartphone market



Carlos Barria / Reuters  (source: MSNBC)
People enter a subway station in People's Square, Shanghai April 28, 2011. 


 Suzanne Choney  23 November 2011, 2:26pm EST  Source: MSNBC Behind the Wall
For the first time, China has surpassed the United States to become the world's largest smartphone market by volume.

"The United States remains the world’s largest smartphone market by revenue, but China has overtaken the United States in terms of volume," said Neil Mawston, Strategy Analytics executive director. "China is now at the forefront of the worldwide mobile computing boom. China has become a large and growing smartphone market that no hardware vendor, component maker or content developer can afford to ignore.”

The research firm said that smartphone shipments reached a record 24 million units in China during the third quarter of this year, compared to 23 million units in the United States.

China, of course, is already the world's largest country, with a population of 1.3 billion; the United States' population is 313 million.

“China’s rapid growth has been driven by an increasing availability of smartphones in retail channels, aggressive subsidizing by operators of high-end models like the Apple iPhone, and an emerging wave of low-cost Android models from local Chinese brands such as ZTE," said Tom Kang, Strategy Analytics director.

Indeed, Android phones are coming to dominate much of the world: Another report, from Canalys, said that Google's mobile OS has almost 50 percent of the global smartphone market, dominating in the Asia-Pacific region.
While Apple's phone is popular in China, it is not prevalent.

"Nokia currently leads China’s smartphone market with 28 percent share, while HTC heads the United States smartphone market with 24 percent share," Kang said.

"The relatively slow migration to higher-speed networks in China to date reflects the fact that smartphone penetration is still low — but rising fast," Wireless Intelligence noted at the end of the second quarter of this year.

"Smartphones are thought to account for around 10 percent of China's total base, but the exact figure is hard to calculate due to the large number of 'grey market' smart devices in the market. China Mobile, for example, says it already has 5.6 million iPhone users on its network, even though the devices can only currently access the operator's (older) 2G ... network and the device is not retailed by the operator."

(Source:  http://behindthewall.msnbc.msn.com/u-s)


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Record breaking Lego Tower in Seoul



Record breaking Lego tower in Seoul

Mon, May 14, 2012 2:48 PM SGT - AFP 0:46 | Source: AFP and Yahoo! News Singapore
 
The world's tallest Lego tower with more than 50,000 bricks stands in front of Seoul's Olympic Stadium. The Lego tower measuring 31.9 meters took five days to build and broke the previous record set in France at 31.6 meters.


(Source: http://sg.entertainment.yahoo.com/video/singaporeentertainmenthub-25804852/record-breaking-lego-tower-in-seoul-29288383.html#crsl=%252Fvideo%252Fsingaporeentertainmenthub-25804852%252Frecord-breaking-lego-tower-in-seoul-29288383.html)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Protruding Legs from Suitcase in Hong Kong


Hong Kong is ruled under the principle of ONE country with TWO systems which is different political system from mainland China. Since Hong Kong is situated close to China, majority of the Mainland Chinese residents travel to Hong Kong frequently to shop for large quantities of baby milk powder, Chinese herbs, medicine, fashionable and branded goods. 

Since after melamine-tainted milk powder scandal in 2008, the Mainland Chinese parents don't trust the standard of food safety and regulations in China anymore thus, many of these Chinese parents travel to Hong Kong to purchase baby milk powder. Moreover, the imported products including branded goods, from the Western countries to China are extremely more expensive than other countries including Hong Kong. It's all because of high import tax imposed by the Government in China. As such, many of the Mainland Chinese take the opportunities to shop for branded goods when they travel to Hong Kong and overseas countries.

Whenever the Mainland Chinese travel to Hong Kong, they will bring their empty suitcase along and utilize the whole day trip, just for shopping only.

In this video, a couple of Mainland China was spotted pulling the suitcase with a pair of protrudent legs. At one glance, people would thought, it's a dead body in the suitcase but in fact, their child was too tired and sleepy thus, the parents transformed from a typical suitcase into a "baby stroller" which was also used to keep all their purchasing products as well. What's a brilliant idea...


*** There are no translation and subtitles available in this video. But, I believe you can understand the visual aid. ***


 
(Source: www.appledaily.com.hk, Hong Kong)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Foreign Banks Reject U.S. Millionaires due to Tax Evasion Rule


Beginning January 1st, 2013, according to the latest regulations set by the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca), all the foreign financial institutions based outside of the U.S. have to report all the income, investments, insurance policies, mortgages and interest rates earned from the banks and investments accounts of their American clients. As such, many of these foreign banks in Singapore have announced that they aren't accepting American clients due to additional costs, burden and complicated issues in dealing with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

We don't know if the American Expats and other Americans who work in overseas countries, will be facing similar dilemma from foreign banks outside the U.S.

Singapore is currently one of the fastest and strongest growing economies in Asia region, after Hong Kong, China and Indonesia.


U.S. Millionaires Told Go Away as Tax Evasion Rule Looms


Go away, American millionaires. 

That’s what some of the world’s largest wealth-management firms are saying ahead of Washington’s implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, known as Fatca, which seeks to prevent tax evasion by Americans with offshore accounts. HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA), Deutsche Bank AG, Bank of Singapore Ltd. and DBS Group Holdings Ltd. (DBS) all say they have turned away business.



U.S. Millionaires Shunned by Bankers as Tax-Evasion Law Looms
U.S. dollars being counted. Photograph: Imaginechina via AP Images




U.S. Millionaires Shunned by Bankers as Tax-Evasion Law Looms












A view from SkyPark atop Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Photographer: Sam Kang Li/Bloomberg 



Bank of Singapore CEO Renato de Guzman

Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg
Renato de Guzman, chief executive officer of Bank of Singapore Ltd.




Bank of Singapore CEO Renato de Guzman
Renato de Guzman, chief executive officer of Bank of Singapore Ltd., said in industry meetings of private bankers he attends in Singapore, not accepting U.S. clients is “quite a prevailing sentiment”. Photographer: Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg 




Asia’s Largest Private Banks Shun US Millionaires as Fatca Looms
Bank of Singapore, which managed $32 billion at the end of 2011, is the private banking arm of Southeast Asia’s second-largest lender, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. Photographer: Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg 


“I don’t open U.S. accounts, period,” said Su Shan Tan, head of private banking at Singapore-based DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest lender, who described regulatory attitudes toward U.S. clients as “Draconian.” 

The 2010 law, to be phased in starting Jan. 1, 2013, requires financial institutions based outside the U.S. to obtain and report information about income and interest payments accrued to the accounts of American clients. 

It means additional compliance costs for banks and fewer investment options and advisers for all U.S. citizens living abroad, which could affect their ability to generate returns. 

“In the long run, if Americans have less and less opportunities to invest overseas, it would be a disadvantage,”Marc Faber, the fund manager and publisher of the Gloom, Boom and Doom report, said last month in Singapore. 

The almost 400 pages of proposed rules issued by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in February create “unnecessary burdens and costs,” the Institute of International Bankers and the European Banking Federation said in an April 30 letter to the IRS, one of more than 200 submitted to the agency. The IRS plans to hold a hearing May 15 and could amend how and when some aspects of the rules are implemented. It can’t rescind the law.

Bank Transparency

The government needs to be tougher on offshore tax crimes than it has been, said U.S. Representative Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat and one of the original sponsors of the legislation. Fatca, introduced after Zurich-based UBS AG (UBSN) said in 2009 that it aided tax evasion by Americans and agreed to pay $780 million to avoid prosecution, is already helping to improve banking transparency, he said. 

“People should know, and the IRS should know, what money is being held offshore and for what purpose,” Neal said. “I don’t think there’s anything unreasonable about that.” 

UBS, the world’s biggest non-U.S. private bank according to London-based industry tracker Scorpio Partnership Ltd., said in 2008 it would discontinue offshore accounts for U.S. citizens. The firm now refers them to its wealth-management offices in the U.S., or to its Swiss Financial Advisers unit, which complies with U.S. and Swiss regulations, said Serge Steiner, a spokesman for UBS. The company continues to provide Americans outside the U.S. with services other than securities investments, including consumer and commercial loans, foreign-currency spot trading and precious-metals transactions, he said.

‘Too Complex’

Investments in products offered by third parties that non-U.S. citizens can purchase through UBS or other banks also may be restricted.
“Most of the hedge funds I know in Asia won’t take American clients,” said Faber. 

Bank of Singapore, the private-banking arm of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. (OCBC), ranked strongest in the world for the last two years by Bloomberg Markets magazine, has turned away millions of dollars from Americans because it doesn’t want to deal with the regulatory hassle, according to Chief Executive Officer Renato de Guzman. The bank had $32 billion under management as of the beginning of the year. 

“It’s too complex, too challenging,” de Guzman, who at 61 has more than 35 years of banking experience, said in an interview in Singapore in March. “You probably should have a dedicated team to handle them or to understand what can be done or what cannot be done.”

Rejecting Americans

At industry meetings he attends in Singapore, not accepting U.S. clients is “quite a prevailing sentiment,” de Guzman said. There are 18 private banks operating in Singapore, including units run by UBS, Credit Suisse Group AG, Deutsche Bank (DBK) and HSBC, he said. 

“We have enough business in Asia, so we don’t want to make our lives too difficult,” de Guzman said. 

Asia has the world’s fastest-growing number of people with more than $1 million in investable assets, according to a report last year by Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and Capgemini SA. Its number of millionaires climbed 9.7 percent in 2010 to 3.3 million people, higher than the 8.6 percent growth in North America. The combined wealth of Asian millionaires increased to $10.8 trillion, topping Europe for the first time, the report said. 

Singapore is Asia’s largest wealth-management center, with $512 billion in offshore assets in 2010, data compiled by the Boston Consulting Group show. Bank of America is the world’s No. 1 wealth manager, with $1.9 trillion under management, followed by Morgan Stanley and UBS, with $1.6 trillion, according to Scorpio.

HSBC, Deutsche Bank

HSBC decided last July that it would no longer offer wealth-management services to Americans from locations outside their home country after tax authorities stepped up a probe of the London-based bank’s U.S. clients. 

Americans would be “better served” by private bankers in the U.S., Goh Kong Aik, a spokesman for the firm in Singapore, said in an e-mail. He declined to say whether those who already have private-banking accounts abroad will be allowed to remain customers, except that they would be helped through an undefined“transition process.” 

Deutsche Bank said it terminated securities accounts held abroad by people with U.S. residency as of mid-2011. The action didn’t include checking or savings accounts and didn’t affect citizens living outside the U.S. The Frankfurt-based bank said“only a small number of customers” were affected. 

Spokesmen for Credit Suisse, France’s BNP Paribas SA (BNP) and Amsterdam-based ABN Amro Bank NV, also among the top 10 non-U.S. global wealth managers, said their banks are studying the issue and haven’t decided what to do with American account holders.

Collateral Damage

“Bank accounts, investment accounts, mortgages and insurance policies are being refused to American clients, and those with accounts are seeing them closed or have been threatened with closure,” Marylouise Serrato, executive director of American Citizens Abroad, a Geneva-based organization, wrote in an e-mail. 

U.S. citizens who live in countries that aren’t served by U.S. banks may find themselves unable to bank at all, and implementation of the law in its current form could cause collateral damage to American businesses abroad, she said. 

“Americans either will not be allowed to enter into international partnerships or live and work overseas, and will be replaced by foreign nationals who do not have these limitations,” Serrato wrote. “The extensive reporting requirements of Fatca will be destructive to those who wish to do business internationally as well as to those Americans who are legitimately living and working overseas.”

‘Turned Away’

That view is shared by Richard L. Weisman, Hong Kong-based head of law firm Baker & McKenzie LLP’s global tax practice. 

“U.S. expatriates already face severe U.S. tax rules related to their non-U.S. income and investments,” Weisman said. “Fatca will increase the extent to which they are turned away by non-U.S. financial institutions.” 

Tan of DBS said she refers Americans seeking private-banking services to U.S. institutions with operations in Singapore such as Citigroup Inc. (C), Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and JPMorgan Chase & Co., which are able to open securities accounts for Americans because they’re regulated by U.S. authorities. Such accounts allow purchases of investment products without restricting Americans to cash and time-deposit accounts. 

While that may be easy for Americans in Singapore, those who live elsewhere face obstacles. Before Fatca, U.S. citizens in Bangkok or Manila could find investment opportunities through non-U.S. banks such as HSBC. Now their only option is to fly to cities where U.S. firms operate.

Limited Choices

If Americans choose to bank with a non-U.S. firm such as HSBC, their investment choices are limited. At the HSBC branch in the bank’s Asia regional headquarters in Hong Kong, Americans can hold only savings deposits. They’re prohibited from opening accounts to trade local stocks or buy products available to non-U.S. customers, including 45 equity funds investing in China or other geographies and industries. There’s only one comparable emerging-markets equity option available on HSBC’s U.S.-based investors’ website. 

Financial institutions that choose not to accept American customers still must determine whether new or existing clients are so-called U.S. persons in order to comply with Fatca, according to Michael Brevetta, director of U.S. tax consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in Singapore. 

The definition includes citizens, green-card holders and non-Americans deemed U.S. residents by being present in the country for at least 183 days over a three-year period, which makes them subject to U.S. tax on their worldwide income, according to the IRS.

Compliance Costs

The compliance costs for banks, asset managers and insurance companies “could stretch into the billions of dollars,” Brevetta said. Private-banking firms in Hong Kong and Singapore already have operating costs between 88 percent and 90 percent of their revenue, compared with 70 percent at Swiss banks, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated in a September report. 

Penalties for not complying will be stiff. Non-U.S. firms that don’t make required disclosures will be subject to 30 percent withholding of certain dividends, interest or proceeds from the sale of assets they or their customers receive from U.S. sources, according to Baker & McKenzie’s Weisman, who has conducted workshops and seminars on the proposed rules for current and potential clients in Hong Kong and Singapore. 

“Overwhelmingly, financial institutions outside the U.S. don’t like it, for obvious reasons,” Weisman said, calling the withholding tax a “stick” the U.S. is wielding. “The U.S. is outsourcing a tax-compliance function, which is enormously expensive.”

Renouncing Citizenship

Americans who don’t comply with Fatca are deemed“recalcitrant,” and income they receive from U.S. sources also is subject to a 30 percent withholding tax, said Jason Choi, a Singapore-based tax lawyer with Latham & Watkins LLP.
Renouncing citizenship is an option chosen by increasing numbers of Americans. A record 1,780 gave up their U.S. passports last year compared with 235 in 2008, the IRS reported. 

Royal Bank of Canada (RY), the sixth-biggest wealth manager with $435 billion under management as of the beginning of 2011, said it sees an opportunity as competition is exiting, including in emerging markets, where it manages $60 billion. 

“We are one of the few wealth managers to hold a Securities and Exchange Commission license offering U.S.-compliant investment advice in Switzerland and London and see an opportunity in accepting tax-compliant U.S. persons as clients outside of the U.S.,” said Barend Janssens, the Singapore-based head of the bank’s wealth-management unit for emerging markets.

Tax Evasion

Coutts, the wealth division of U.K. government-owned Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, plans to comply with Fatca and to continue accepting tax-compliant U.S. persons, according to Tim Winter, associate director of the U.S. Competence Centre at Coutts. The London-based bank has invested since July 2010 in a“global program of work established to support the implementation of Fatca,” he said in an e-mail. 

The Swiss government has been in talks for more than a year with U.S. authorities, who, after obtaining data on about 4,700 UBS clients, are now investigating 11 other firms, including Zurich-based Credit Suisse (CSGN) and Julius Baer Group Ltd., for alleged assistance in U.S. tax evasion. 

Credit Suisse continues to “work hard” to resolve the probe, CEO Brady Dougan said in an interview April 25. Julius Baer exited its U.S. private-client business between 2009 and 2011, said Jan Vonder Muehll, a bank spokesman in Zurich.

Wegelin Forfeiture

Wegelin & Co., a Swiss private bank established in 1741, became the first Swiss lender to face criminal charges in the U.S. crackdown on offshore firms suspected of abetting tax evasion. It had to sell its assets in January to Switzerland’s Raiffeisen Group to save its non-U.S. business before the U.S. indicted the firm in February. The St. Gallen-based private bank helped Americans hide more than $1.2 billion in assets and evade taxes, wooing clients spurned by UBS, according to an indictment filed in federal court in New York. 

U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain ordered Wegelin to forfeit $16 million on April 24, allowing the U.S. government to take the amount from Wegelin’s U.S. account, held at UBS in Stamford, Connecticut. Albena Bjoerck, a spokeswoman for Wegelin, declined to comment. 

Spokesmen for Citigroup, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan all declined to comment on how Fatca is affecting their business, with some citing company policies not to discuss government regulation. Standard Chartered Plc (STAN), France’s Societe Generale SA, Barclays Plc (BARC) and Hong Kong-based Hang Seng Bank Ltd., which all have wealth-management businesses, also declined to comment.

‘Pain for Americans’

The restrictions on products available to Americans may not matter to a savvy investor, according to Hugh Young, who helps manage $70 billion in Asian equities in Singapore for Aberdeen Asset Management Plc. 

“The financial institutions can restrict you from some of the best products, but you have others of the best,” he said. 

Still, the limitations create complications that act as an investment deterrent, said Philip Marcovici, a retired U.S. tax lawyer who advises wealthy families and governments. 

“It’s a pain for Americans to invest in markets outside of the U.S.,” he said. 


To contact the reporter on this story: Sanat Vallikappen in Singapore at vallikappen@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chitra Somayaji at csomayaji@bloomberg.net

(Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-08/u-s-millionaires-told-go-away-as-tax-evasion-rule-looms.html)



My Older Post:

Friday, May 4, 2012

90% Asian school-leavers suffer Myopia


This is an interesting article but to me, it's more an eye-opening for all of the Asian parents.

As many of the Asian parents become highly educated and bring home more household disposal incomes to their families, these working parents begin to pamper and shower their children with high-tech gadgets like watching televisions, playing computers, video games, latest mobiles, etc. at very young child-age. There are some parents even introduce these high-tech gadgets to their children since they are toddlers. Children will move forward and sit nearer to television and computer screens as they get excited while watching TV programmes and playing video games. Thus, children's eyesight will be getting worse due to over exposure to the radiation and brightness of the screen lights.

As such, more young children begin to develop short-sightedness by the time they reach between four to five years old. Twenty years ago, during my generation, only a handful group of my friends began to develop short-sightedness when we reached between 12 to 13 years old while in contrast, every child in today's generation has the high possibility to suffer with short-sightedness (myopia) by the time they reach the elementary (primary) schools. Although I am reaching mid-thirties, my power of my eye sight keeps increasing as I frequently spend my surfing time on my laptop from morning till night. So, will there be any consequences for Asians who suffer with short-sightedness at young age or during teenagers? Scientists couldn't prove the consequences of suffering with short-sightedness to the age-related but they said that 10 to 20 per cent out of 90 per cent of short-sightedness might suffer with a condition called high and seriousness of myopia, which can lead to blindness from their research study.


So, why are these Asian parents shower their children with high-tech gadgets instead of spending the time with their children with outdoor activities? Are these Asian parents too busy with their careers thus, they provide high-tech gadgets as a replacement for their leisure entertainment to their children? When is the appropriate age to introduce these high-tech gadgets to children? 

I always believe that children should not be forced and emphasized on education only. Education doesn't guarantee them to land better careers and earn higher incomes. They should learn to enjoy their childhood lives, socialize with other children and encourage them to help with household chores so that, they can grow to be more independent and responsible adults who are not able to take care themselves but they are able to dedicate themselves to the society as well.


East Asians short-sighted for snubbing outdoors: study

Snubbing the outdoors for books, video games and TV is the reason up to nine in ten school-leavers in big East Asian cities are near-sighted, according to a study published on Friday.

Neither genes nor the mere increase in activities like reading and writing is to blame, the researchers suggest, but a simple lack of sunlight.

Exposure to the sun's rays is believed to stimulate production of the chemical dopamine, which in turn stops the eyeball from growing elongated and distorting the focus of light entering the eye.

"It's pretty clear that it is bright light stimulating dopamine release which prevents myopia," researcher Ian Morgan of the Australian National University told AFP of the findings published in The Lancet medical journal.

Yet the average primary school pupil in Singapore, where up to nine in ten young adults are myopic, spent only about 30 minutes outdoors every day -- compared to three hours for children in Australia where the myopia prevalence among children of European origin is about 10 percent.

The figure in Britain was about 30 to 40 percent and in Africa "virtually none" -- in the range of two to three percent, according to Morgan.

More than other groups, children in East Asia "basically go to school, they don't go outside at school, they go home and they stay inside. They study and they watch television," the scientist said.

The most myopic school-leavers in the world are to be found in cities in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, where between 80 and 90 percent were affected.

Of these, 10 to 20 percent had a condition called high myopia, which can lead to blindness.

"Most of what we've seen in East Asia is due to the environment, it is not genetic," said Morgan, contrary to the common belief 50 years ago.

The researchers, collating the findings of studies from around the world, stressed that being a bookworm or computer geek does not in itself put you at risk.

"As long as they get outside it doesn't seem to matter how much study they do," explained Morgan.

"There are some kids who study hard and get outside and play hard and they are generally fine. The ones who are at major risk are the ones who study hard and don't get outside."

The scientist said children who spent two to three hours outside every day were "probably reasonably safe". This could include time spent on the playground and walking to and from school.

"The amount of time they spend on computer games, watching television can be a contributing factor. As far as we can tell it is not harmful in itself, but if it is a substitute for getting outside, then it is," said Morgan.

He said ways must be found to get children to spend more time in reasonably bright daylight without compromising their schooling.

"It is going to require some sort of structural change in the way a child's time is organised in East Asia because there is so much commitment to schooling and there is also a habit of taking a nap at lunchtime, which is from our perspective prime myopia prevention time."

(Source: http://sg.news.yahoo.com/east-asians-short-sighted-snubbing-outdoors-study-231607917.html)

Study: Most myopic school-leavers in Asia

Study says long hours spent by children studying and lack of outdoor light to blame for 90% short-sightedness rate.
Last Modified: 04 May 2012 17:11  Source: Al Jazeera English


Share5







A new study has found that up to 90 per cent of school-leavers in Asia's major cities are suffering from myopia, or short-sightedness.

Of these affected, scientists said that 10 to 20 per cent had a condition called high myopia, which can lead to blindness.

The study, published in The Lancet medical journal, linked the eye damage with the long hours spent by Asian students studying as well as the lack of outdoor light.

Ian Morgan, a researcher in the Australian National University, said "most of what we've seen in East Asia is due to the environment, it is not genetic", contrary to the common belief 50 years ago.

Morgan said children who spent two to three hours outside every day were "probably reasonably safe".

The ones who are at major risk are the ones who study hard and don't get outside," he said.

"The amount of time they spend on computer games, watching television can be a contributing factor. As far as we can tell, it is not harmful in itself, but if it is a substitute for getting outside, then it is."

According to the study, the most myopic school-leavers in the world are to be found in cities in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

Researchers found that the average primary school pupil in Singapore, where up to nine in 10 young adults are myopic, spent only about 30 minutes outdoors every day - compared to three hours for children in Australia where the myopia prevalence among children of European origin is about 10 per cent.

The figure in Britain was about 30 to 40 per cent and in Africa "virtually none" - in the range of two to three per cent, according to Morgan.

More than other groups, children in East Asia "basically go to school, they don't go outside at school, they go home and they stay inside. They study and they watch television", Morgan said.

He said ways must be found to get children to spend more time in reasonably bright daylight without compromising their schooling.

"It is going to require some sort of structural change in the way a child's time is organised in East Asia because there is so much commitment to schooling and there is also a habit of taking a nap at lunchtime, which is, from our perspective, prime myopia prevention time," Morgan said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies 
(Source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2012/05/20125416826870694.html)

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bersih 3.0 Global Malaysians Protest


On April 28 2012, it's another historical day for all Malaysians of different races and religions, came together as united in their yellow outfits to protest in a peaceful Bersih 3.0 demonstration, which is also called as the Sit In rally or Duduk Bantah in Malay). According to the internet news, more than 80,000 Malaysians protestors participated in the rally in Kuala Lumpur and some other states in Malaysia. At the same time, more Malaysians from over 70 cities worldwide also participated in Bersih 3.0 rally.


Bersih is the Malay word for Clean. Bersih 3.0 is the 3rd rally after 2011 Bersih rally and 2007 Bersih rally. Malaysians demand for clean and fair electoral poll as well as to protest against Lynas Corporation to cease rare earth project in Kuantan, Malaysia. Apart from that, Malaysians also demand to have the rights to vote while living in overseas countries. 

To me, Bersih 3.0 rally is a new experience for many of my friends, from young to elderly, who participated for the first time in their lives. They demanded for a reform in government, free from corruption and dirty tactics in politics as well as protested for transparency in electoral poll in Malaysia. Even though most of the protestors were afraid to be brutally attacked by teargas, water cannons and police officers but they still showed their courage to voice out their rights.

(This picture hasn't been edited) A huge crowds of Malaysians Protestors demanded for a change during Bersih 3.0 peaceful demonstration in Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on April 28, 2012 
(Photo: Bersih 3.0 official, FB)


However, the Bersih 3.0 peaceful demonstration in Hong Kong was totally in contrast. I really and highly respect at the Hong Kong police officers. They  should be acknowledged and highly praised for their dignity and efficiency in their duties. When the Malaysian organizer arranged for Bersih 3.0 rally in Hong Kong, the police officers were being informed about 100 supporters beforehand but, the crowds turned up to be four times larger than what they were expected on the actual day. Still, the Hong Kong police officers showed their professionalism and were very helpful by deploying more police officers to help out. The Hong Kong police officers also guided our Malaysians supporters and ensured their traffic safety all the way to Consulate General of Malaysia in Wan Chai, Hong Kong before handing over a memorandum.

More than 400 Malaysians participated in Bersih 3.0 rally in Hong Kong with full assistance from Hong Kong Police Officers (Photo: Kwek Kai Yeong, FB)





How I wish if our Malaysian police officers, PDRM could learn to be more ethical and professional in their jobs, just like the Hong Kong Police Force. They should have protected the safety of the people rather than acting violently and attacking at unarmed protestors during Bersih 3.0 peaceful demonstration in Malaysia.



Pictures tell the story: A video compilation of more than 80,000 Malaysians protestors throughout Malaysia, were united to voice out for fair and clean general election as well as to protest against Lynas Corporation to cease constrution of a factory for rare earth project in Kuantan, Malaysia during Bersih 3.0 rally on April 28, 2012.


(Video by user ID: Lumierasia from DailyMotion)


A video compilation of GLOBAL Bersih 3.0 rally which was held in over 70 cities worldwide and participated by Malaysians in the overseas countries and Malaysia on April 28, 2012.




More than 400 Malaysians participated in Bersih 3.0 rally in Hong Kong on April 28, 2012. The peaceful protest received the full cooperation from the Hong Kong Police Force, who had to deploy additional officers to manage the crowds that was four times larger than the officially permitted size. A high praise to Hong Kong Police Force for their dignity and efficiency in their duties. They guided and ensured all these Malaysian protestors to cross the streets safely before reaching Consulate General of Malaysia. The whole journey took about 15 minutes, by foot from Sogo shopping mall in Wan Chai, Hong Kong.

(News video by Malaysiakini) 



Malaysian police fire teargas at electoral reform protesters
Rights groups accuse government of contempt for basic freedoms as officers fire upon crowd of tens of thousands

By Kate Hodal in Kuala Lumpur and agencies
Source: guardian.co.uk,
 

   
   
   
   
   
Malaysian protesters confront riot police.  (Video: Guardian UK)

Malaysian police have arrested more than 100 protesters involved in one of the largest political protests in the country's history.

Riot police in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, fired water cannon and several dozen teargas rounds after protesters demanding electoral reform tried to break through barriers at Merdeka Square, in defiance of a court order.

A police spokesman estimated there were about 25,000 demonstrators at the protest, although some Malaysian news organisations put the numbers as high as 100,000.

"Look at how many of us there are today – this just proves how sick we are of the corruption of this government," said demonstrator Charles Chan, 33.

"The lies and cover-ups have gone on too long. Even if the next government isn't perfect, it will at least be a change – as long as Najib allows Malaysia a clean election."

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who many hope will win the upcoming election, rallied the enthusiastic crowds as one of Bersih's leaders, Ambiga Sreenevasan, said: "We all want change today."

Baton-wielding police detained dozens of people, with Malaysian media reports saying as many as 100 were arrested.

Video footage by independent news website Malaysiakini showed angry demonstrators overturning a police car that had allegedly hit two people. Several people elsewhere were seen to have fainted, although no serious injuries were immediately reported.

Some commentators believe the violence could force the prime minister, Najib Razak, to delay elections that must be held by next March but which could be called as early as June.

Najib, whose ruling coalition has held power for nearly 55 years, saw his approval rating fall sharply after the last major electoral reform rally by the Bersih ("Clean") movement in July 2011 when police were accused of a heavy-handed response.

The violence on Saturday occurred shortly after a Bersih leader declared the protest a success and asked people to go home. "They [the police] asked the crowd to disperse but did not give enough warning," said Aminah Bakri, 27, with tears streaming down her face from the teargas. "They do not care."

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director, condemned the police crackdown. He said: "By launching a crackdown on peaceful … protesters on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian government is once again showing its contempt for its people's basic rights and freedoms."

Bersih, an independent movement whose goals are backed by the opposition, has a history of staging influential rallies.

Malaysians have demanded more freedoms and democratic rights in the former British colony, which has an authoritarian streak. But despite the huge demonstration , there was no indication that Najib's National Front coalition would agree to meet their demands.

"If [elections] are not clean, not fair, show the evidence," Najib was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama, on Saturday. "We do not want to be elected through cheating. We are a government chosen by the people. The majority of the people chose us because they know [we] are better [than the opposition]."

Najib has replaced tough security laws – ending indefinite detention without trial – relaxed some media controls, and pushed reforms to the electoral system, which critics have long complained is rigged in the government's favour.

A bipartisan parliamentary committee set up by Najib this month issued 22 proposals for electoral reform, including steps to clean up electoral rolls and equal access to media.

But Bersih has complained it is unclear if the steps will be in place for the next election. The government says it has already met, or is addressing, seven of Bersih's eight main proposals for the election, which will introduce the use of indelible ink to cut down on fraud.

Bersih says the proposals do not meet most of its key demands, including lengthening the campaign period to at least 21 days from the current seven days and allowing international observers at polling stations.

The National Front, which has governed Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957, suffered its worst performance in 2008 elections, when it lost more than a third of parliament's seats amid public complaints about corruption and racial discrimination.

(Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/28/malaysian-police-fire-teargas-protesters?intcmp=239)


Bersih 3.0 in Hong Kong 
April 29, 2012  by Anita Anandarajah  Source: The Malaysian Insider

APRIL 29 — Tagged “Hong Kong 3.0 Edition”, the Bersih rally here was an exercise in contrasts. 

I would not have dared to venture anywhere near Dataran Merdeka had I been home. But there I was with my four-month-old in her baby carrier in the heart of Causeway Bay, Hong Kong’s busy shopping district, an area I would usually avoid because of its thronging crowds. 

Why did I decide to go? Because I needed to be a part of the movement that might see my Malaysia come to a turning point. I wanted to experience a civil protest, one where I would not have to fear for my life. 


Supporters gathering outside Sogo in Causeway Bay at 2pm. — Picture by Anita Anandarajah 


There must have been about 500 supporters gathered in front of the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay at 2pm. Banners and placards calling for clean and fair elections drew the attention of tourists who took the opportunity to have photos taken with the yellow-shirted supporters. 

The atmosphere was friendly, like a neighbourhood party as the group of mostly young professionals exchanged hellos and took photos. 

For some it was a family affair as families took to the streets with strollers and baby slings. 

A mother of two boys aged eight and 10 decided to stop by en route to a tournament as her elder son had been following the Bersih updates from Kuala Lumpur. He had watched some of it on the telly last year and Wikipedia-ed for more information. 

Shukri Omar, 56, and his family were in the city for a five-day holiday when they learned of the rally. Their 23-year-old son Ahmad Syauqi was tasked with mapping out the route to Sogo and procuring the Bersih 3.0 T-shirts which they all wore. 

Shukri was happy to make it to the rally. “I am very proud to see so many young people here. It is a good sign. A good beginning,” said Shukri, who is from Shah Alam. 

A group of 30 Malaysians residing in China made their way from Guangdong, Dongguan, Zhongshan and Shenzhen to show their support. “We might not be in Malaysia but our heart is still in Malaysia. We love Malaysia. We want our votes to count. We want a legitimate government,” said one supporter. 

When the “NegaraKu” was sung, the crowd stood at attention and sang with pride. The national anthem was sung thrice, along with “Setia” and “Ubah”. 

The true stars of the afternoon were the Hong Kong police who performed an excellent job keeping our group in order. Only five officers were seen at any one time but an officer I spoke to said about 50 policemen had been deployed. 

Their main task was traffic control as we made our way on foot to the Malaysian Consulate in Wan Chai, which is a 15-minute journey. It seemed like they were protecting us from being run down more than anything else. 

Malaysians united by a cause. — Picture by Anita Anandarajah 


We marched to the consulate to the chants of “Bersih, bersih, bersih!” as well as “Stop Lynas! Save Kuantan! Save Malaysia!” 

We managed to hand over a memorandum demanding free and fair elections to the vice consular general. 

The turnout had exceeded expectations. The organising committee of today’s rally had expected 100 people when it applied for a police permit two weeks ago, said organising committee member Brendon Tam, 36. Last year, 80 people showed up. We had the weather on our side. 

We had the police on our side. We had a strong show of solidarity. It was a good day for Malaysians in Hong Kong. 

And in true Malaysian style, the rally ended with makan at the Cinta-J restaurant located behind the Consulate. 

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist. 

(Source: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/opinion/article/bersih-3.0-in-hong-kong/)



Malaysia Split Over Violence at Bersih Rally

By Shibani Mahtani and Celine Fernandez  April 30, 2012, 8:30 PM SGT
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Shie-Lynn Lim/The Wall Street Journal
Police form barricades at the Bersih rally calling for greater electoral transparency on Saturday, April 28.

Two days after Malaysian riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse approximately 50, 000 demonstrators rallying for electoral reform, political opponents in the country—preparing for a crucial election that could be called as early as June—are locked in argument over who is to blame for the violence.

Saturday’s rally, the third organized by Malaysia’s Bersih group, was already slated to be a tense confrontation between Prime Minister Najib’s coalition and the broadly antigovernment demonstrators seeking “free and fair elections,” including allowing overseas Malaysians to vote.

In days leading up to the rally, the group pushed for their gathering to be held at the historical Merdeka Square, despite repeated police and government warnings to keep away from the area. On Saturday, riot police barricaded the Square, pushing back against demonstrators who dismantled some of the barriers. Police officials have said the police action was only taken once the barricades were breached.

Government officials have played down the severity and extent of the violence involved in Saturday’s protest, with opposition voices jumping on the occasion to widely condemn what they say is a sign that Mr. Najib’s government remains heavy-handed in response to civil dissatisfaction.

“A group of protesters tried to provoke a violent confrontation with the police, but overall at this stage it would seem this afternoon’s protest passed off without major incident,” said Minister of Home Affairs Hishammudin Hussein on Saturday evening.
Shie-Lynn Lim/The Wall Street Journal
Bersih protestors at a mass rally calling for more transparency in elections in Kuala Lumpur on April 28.
“Despite opposition claims to the contrary, the government fully respects peoples’ right to peaceful protest, which is enshrined under Malaysian law,” he continued.

At a news conference Monday, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim labeled the police’s use of tear gas and water cannons an “utter disappointment.”

“Just because some people decided to move to Dataran Merdeka (Merdeka Square), that an offense or crime in this country?” said Mr. Anwar in a news conference Monday. “It is the right of the people.”

Bersih leaders say the violence started only after police action and that their intention was for a peaceful rally.

“[Malaysians] did not come there for violence. All purported acts of violence took place only after the tear gas was fired,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, one of the co-founders of the Bersih group, in a news conference after the rally. 

“All purported acts of violence took place only after the tear gas was fired. Until then, we had complete control over the situation.”

“There ought to be an independent inquiry in relations to [the way police handled the rally] – it must be absolutely impartial,” said South Australian Senator Nicholas Xenophon, who is part of a an international fact-finding mission on Malaysia’s elections.

Opposition leaders have also called for an independent inquiry into Saturday’s police action, but some government voices have blamed Mr. Anwar for the provocation—saying it was the opposition that pushed the protesters to move into Merdeka Square. Multiple videos posted on YouTube show opposition leaders signaling hand gestures that could be read as calls to break the barricades, though Mr. Anwar and his deputy Azmin Ali deny this, and say they were telling protesters to disperse.

Looming over the event is an election that has to be called before 2013 but will likely be much sooner. Analysts say questions arising from this weekend’s protest could hurt the credibility of both Mr. Najib’s ruling Barisan Nasional, which is seen as heavy-handed and disproportionate even after implementing reforms, and equally, the opposition, which is seen as irresponsible and provocative.

“There are too many questions left hanging,” said Bridget Welsh, a professor at the Singapore Management University and a longtime observer of Malaysian politics. “But it is ultimately [Mr.] Najib who… has to take responsibility for what happened as the prime minister.”

In comments to the press, Mr. Najib said that the police were the “victims” of the rally’s violence, rather than the protesters or observers at the rally.

“The minute [Mr.] Najib called the police the ‘victims,’ it was the nail in the coffin of his ability to call himself a reformer,” Ms. Welsh said. “But [opposition] tactics make you wonder how much you can trust them as well.”

Analysts say that Mr. Najib may still choose to call elections early, emerging from this Bersih chapter relatively unscathed. A similar rally last year was markedly more violent, with the detention of more than 1,600 members of Bersih. International condemnation of that police action prompted Mr. Najib to enact a series of political reforms, including repealing the Internal Security Act.

But economists, too, say they would rather see an election sooner than later. Economists from the World Bank’s Malaysia branch have raised their concern over the uncertain timing of the elections, a process that they say could upset investor confidence and delay legislation needed for further economic growth.

(Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/searealtime/2012/04/30/malaysia-split-over-violence-at-bersih-rally/)



Najib Faces Early Polls Dilemma After Malaysia Protests


Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will decide whether to proceed with early elections after police clashed with demonstrators seeking faster and more radical changes to the country’s voting rules.

Police fired tear gas and fought with protesters in Kuala Lumpur as they marched at the weekend calling for “reform” and cleaner elections. All 512 people, arrested for defying a new government ban on street rallies, were later released, Assistant Commissioner of Police Ramli Mohamed Yoosuf said by phone, estimating the crowd size at between 40,000 and 50,000 people.


Police Clash With Malaysian Protesters
Malaysian activists from Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), background, sit on a street as they face riot police during a rally in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, July 9, 2011. Police fired tear gas and detained hundreds of activists as those demonstrators massed Saturday across Malaysia's main city demanding electoral reforms in the country's biggest political rally in years. The "Bersih" means "clean" in Malay. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)


Malaysia Protesters Face Water Canons
Protesters charge at a police vehicle as it sprays them with its water cannons in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, April 28, 2012. Malaysian police fired tear gas and chemical-laced water Saturday at thousands of demonstrators demanding an overhaul in electoral policies that they call biased ahead of national polls expected soon. At least 25,000 demonstrators had swamped Malaysia's largest city in one of the Southeast Asian nation's biggest street rallies in the past decade. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)


Malaysia Protest
Protesters lie down on a major intersection in the central business district in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, April 28, 2012. Thousands of people gathered near Kuala Lumpur's Independence Square to seek sweeping changes in polling regulations to curb fears of fraud in elections that many speculate will be held in June. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)


“There will be a lot of pressure on Najib” from within and outside Malaysia to go ahead with elections this year, Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at the Singapore Management University, said by phone yesterday. “If he goes without reform, he opts for a very high-risk strategy where the opposition will gain more support and the electorate will become even more polarized.”

Preparations for an election have begun, Najib said in December. His ruling National Front coalition, which has governed Southeast Asia’s third-biggest economy for five decades, may call a vote as early as May or June, according to four officials who spoke last month. The poll required by early next year comes in the face of decelerating growth and a resurgent opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim.

 Water Cannons

“This was not a peaceful rally and the motive was clearly to riot,” Inspector-General of Police Ismail Omar told reporters today. “Police will investigate and take action against all those who have been involved in the rally, directly and indirectly.”

Najib told the official Bernama news services yesterday that he didn’t know whether the protest might delay Malaysia’s 13th general election and expressed regret that violence occurred.

Gross domestic product growth may ease to 4 percent this year from 5.1 percent in 2011 on a weak global outlook, slower than regional rivals Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, according to the Asian Development Bank. While the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index hit a record on April 3, its 2.6 percent gain this year lags benchmarks in neighboring countries.

Police used water cannons as some marchers threw shoes, bottles and chairs while trying to break through barricades to enter a square where the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, or Bersih, wanted to hold a sit-in. Najib’s government enacted legislation this month banning such protests after police detained more than 1,600 people during a similar rally in July.

Market Impact

More than 250,000 people attended the protest, Bersih co-chairwoman Ambiga Sreenevasan was quoted as saying by the Malaysiakini news portal yesterday, dismissing the police figure as too low.

The ringgit halted four days of gains to drop 0.2 percent to 3.0262 per dollar in Kuala Lumpur today, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Malaysia’s benchmark stock index closed 0.2 percent higher.

The protest “may have some impact in terms of risk premium for the ringgit,” said Sim Moh Siong, a currency strategist at Bank of Singapore Ltd. “It introduces a bit more uncertainty in terms of the election timetable and what that means for further reforms being introduced by the government.”

Arrests during last year’s rally led to a temporary drop in the prime minister’s approval rating. A delayed vote would prevent him from taking advantage of a swell in support that followed increases to civil servant salaries and cash payments to poor households.

Indelible Ink

The government can’t understand why the demonstration was necessary as seven out of the movement’s eight demands have already been addressed, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in an e-mailed statement after the rally.

“The independent Election Commission has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the next elections are free and fair and meet the highest international standards,” he said.“Alongside electoral reforms, the government has implemented the most significant package of political reforms since Malaysia’s independence, including the repeal of outdated security laws, new measures to enhance media freedoms and changes to allow greater student participation in politics.”

Indelible ink has been introduced to stop people voting twice, the electoral roll has been “thoroughly scrutinized”and the election campaign period extended to a minimum 10 days, the minister said.

Approval Rating

Bersih, whose name means “clean” in the Malay language, is demanding that Election Commission officials resign after so far implementing just one of its demands, the use of indelible ink, in time for the next vote, Ambiga said April 24. The group also wants it to introduce absentee ballots, a minimum 21-day campaign period and more comprehensive review of the electoral roll to remove dead people and duplicate voters.

Najib’s approval rating in peninsular Malaysia fell to a two-year low of 59 percent a month after last year’s protests, according to the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research. It increased to 69 percent in February after the government announced it would give cash handouts of 500 ringgit ($164) to households with monthly incomes of 3,000 ringgit or less, and overhaul security laws. The margin of error was 3.07 percent.

In 2008, when eight days of campaigning preceded elections, Najib’s National Front coalition won by the narrowest margin since independence in 1957. A Bersih rally held three months before that vote increased momentum for the opposition, according to Joseph Chinyong Liow, associate dean of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

‘Heavy-Handed’

While barring street protests, Malaysia’s Peaceful Assembly Act enacted this month still allows gatherings elsewhere if organizers give police 10 days’ notice. The authorities said they offered Bersih organizers the use of several stadiums around Kuala Lumpur for their weekend protest, though Ambiga claimed this came too late.

Police began cordoning off Kuala Lumpur’s Independence Square on April 27 after getting a court order preventing people from entering the area where Bersih planned a sit-in. Crowds marched in groups toward the square from different parts of the city, including the 88-floor Petronas Twin Towers, Southeast Asia’s tallest building.

“Our monitoring teams reported witnessing the use of an array of heavy-handed tactics by the police, including the indiscriminate discharging of multiple rounds of tear gas without any obvious provocation, and arbitrary use of water cannons,” Christopher Leong, Malaysian Bar Council vice president, said in a statement. “The monitoring teams also witnessed numerous acts of police brutality, such as assault of arrested persons.”

By contrast, Home Minister Hishammuddin said police acted with “professionalism” and “restraint under difficult circumstances.”

Some 13 police officers were hospitalized, Ismail said. At least 117 rally-goers were treated, according to cases reported to Bersih, steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah, said in a text message to Bloomberg today.

(Source: http://webfarm.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-29/najib-faces-early-polls-dilemma-after-malaysia-protests.html)




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