Quake sparks blackout in North Sumatra

A mild earthquake jolted the western coast of North Sumatra on Sunday evening, causing a blackout across the regency of Tarutung.

Local manager of the state electricity company PLN, M Simbolon, said the quake was responsible for the power failure, but he was not certain as to how the tremor could trigger a blackout..

“We remain in the dark about which part of power system that has been disrupted by the earthquake,” Simbolon said as quoted by kompas.com.

PLN officers were locating the cause of the power failure, which occurred amid a heavy

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said the magnitude-5.2 quake was also felt in Sibolga, Toba Samosir and North Tapanuli regencies, stirring panic among residents. No damages have been reported following the tremor.

The epicenter of the quake was located nine kilometers northwest of Tarutung at a depth of 10 kilometers beneath the earth. A number of aftershocks followed later in the day.

Indonesia’s Trianingsih wins Hong Kong marathon

National long-distance runner Trianingsih dominated the women’s division at the Hong Kong marathon to win the race Sunday.

Trianingsih of Central Java clocked two hours and 47 minutes, to finish two minutes faster then her closest rival. Her time, however, failed to beat her personal best of 2:43 she set in the Kenya marathon last year, let alone the meet record of 2:36.

Trianingsih’s coach Alwi Mugiyanto said the victory would give her protégé a morale boost as she prepares for the Asian Games in Guangzhou in October. In the continental sporting meet the double 5,000 meter and 10,000 meter gold medalist will compete in the 10,000 meter race and marathon.

“The race is a good lesson for Trianingsih,” Alwi told Antara, adding that her trainee would need more exposure at international events ahead of the Asian Games.

Australia on tsunami watch following Chile quake

Australia has been put on a tsunami watch following a massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Chile.

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning Saturday night for a "potential tsunami threat" to New South Wales state, Queensland state, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. Any potential wave would not hit Australia until Sunday morning local time, it said.

The Bureau of Meteorology says a tsunami has been observed off the coast of Chile that may threaten Australia.

The earthquake struck early Saturday in central Chile, shaking the capital for a minute and a half.

Police detain 93 Afghan asylum seekers

Local police in Sukabumi, West Java, say they are detaining 93 Afghan asylum seekers suspected of trying to reach Australia.

Lt. Col. Herukoco, chief of Sukabumi district police, says police stopped three minibuses carrying the Afghans including five woman and three children early Saturday.

Herukoco, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, says the group told police they left their war-ravaged homeland to start new lives as refugees in Australia.

He says the group did not have Indonesian visas and has been transferred to an immigration detention center while their identities are confirmed

The world's strongest earthquakes

Here is a list of deadly earthquakes that registered at least an 8.5 magnitude, not including the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck central Chile early Saturday.

- May 22, 1960: A magnitude 9.5 earthquake in southern Chile and ensuing tsunami killed at least 1,716 people.

- March 27, 1964: A magnitude 9.2 quake in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and ensuing tsunami killed 128 people.

- Dec. 26, 2004: A magnitude 9 quake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra triggered a tsunami that killed 226,000 people in 12 countries, including 165,700 in Indonesia and 35,400 in Sri Lanka.

- August 13, 1868: A magnitude 9.0 quake in Arica, Peru (now Chile) generated catastrophic tsunamis; more than 25,000 people were killed in South America.

- January 31, 1906: A magnitude 8.8 quake off the coast of Ecuador and Colombia generated a tsunami that killed at least 500 people.

- November 1, 1755: A magnitude 8.7 quake and ensuing tsunami in Lisbon, Portugal killed an estimated 60,000 people and destroyed much of Lisbon.

- July 8, 1730: A magnitude 8.7 quake in Valparasio, Chile, killed at least 3,000 people.

- August 15, 1950: A magnitude 8.6 earthquake in Assam, Tibet, killed at least 780 people.

- June 15, 1896: A magnitude 8.5 quake Sanriku, Japan, caused a tsunami that killed at least 22,000 people.

- November 11, 1922: A magnitude 8.5 quake on the Chile-Argentina border killed several hundred people.

- November 7, 1837: A magnitude 8.5 magnitude quake in Valdivia, Chile generated a tsunami that killed at least 58 people in Hawaii.

- October 20, 1687: A magnitude 8.5 quake in Lima, Peru destroyed much of the city

8.8-magnitude earthquake hits central Chile

Can't escape from quake: In this image provided by TVN a crushed car can be seen in a parking garage in Concepcion Chile following the earthquake early Saturday morning.  (AP Photo/TVN via APTN)Can't escape from quake: In this image provided by TVN a crushed car can be seen in a parking garage in Concepcion Chile following the earthquake early Saturday morning. (AP Photo/TVN via APTN)

A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake capable of tremendous damage struck central Chile early Saturday, shaking the capital for a minute and a half and setting off a tsunami.

Buildings collapsed and phone lines and electricity were down, making the extent of the damage difficult to determine. At least 6 people were killed, President Michele Bachelet said.

"We have had a huge earthquake," Bachelet said, speaking from an emergency response center in an appeal for Chileans to remain calm. "We're doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately."

Bachelet said early reports were that six people had been killed, and "without a doubt, with an earthquake of this magnitude, there will be more deaths."

She urged people to avoid traveling in the dark, since traffic lights are down, to avoid causing more fatalities.

The quake hit at 3:34 a.m. (0634 GMT; 1:34 a.m. EST) and was centered 200 miles (325 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Santiago, at a depth of 22 miles (35 kilometers) the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The epicenter was just 70 miles (115 kilometers) from Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city, where more than 200,000 people live along the Bio Bio river, and 60 miles from the ski town of Chillan, a gateway to Andean ski resorts that was destroyed in a 1939 earthquake.

An Associated Press Television News cameraman said some buildings have collapsed in Santiago, where power was out in parts of the city. An important church was among the buildings that came down in the central city of Providencia, where window glass shattered into the streets and people ran from multistory buildings, according to TV Chile.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for Chile and Peru, and a less-urgent tsunami watch for Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Antarctica. It said a tsunami could also hit Hawaii later in the day.

"Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter and could also be a threat to more distant coasts," the center said.

The U.S. west coast tsunami warning center said it did not expect a tsunami along the west of the U.S. or Canada but was continuing to monitor the situation.

The largest earthquake ever recorded struck the same area of Chile on May 22, 1960. The magnitude-9.5 quake killed 1,655 people and left 2 million homeless. The tsunami that it caused killed people in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines and caused damage to the West Coast of the United States.

Makeshift bomb found in West Java mosque

Police investigation is underway after a makeshift bomb was found at the grand mosque of Kasepuhan Sultanate in Cirebon, West Java, on Saturday.

The bomb was found inside a plastic bag by two caretakers of the mosque inside the main room of the mosque. They immediately reported the finding to the police.

Police arrived at the scene at around 12:30 p.m. and immediately combed the area.

News portal kompas.com reported that the bomb consisted of gasoline, 50 thumb-sized firecrackers, pieces of broken glass and a timer.

According to Chief Brig. Agus Ridho, one of the member of the police bomb squad, the bomb had been activated but failed to go off.

Last week, Swadaya Gunung Jati University campus in Cirebon was evacuated following bomb threats that were sent to the local police chief and university lectures.

Adj. Comr. Ari Laksamana Widjaya, chief of Cirebon City Police, said that they have yet to find a connection between the finding and the threats.

Bad weather hampers search for missing victims in Bandung landslide

Bad weather hampered the search for scores of victims people feared buried under a landslide in a tea plantation area in Bandung, West Java, an official said.

“Fog occurs during the day along with rain. We are worried of another landslide [during such weather],” spokesman of the National Disaster Management Agency Priyadi Kardono said Saturday as quoted by tempointeraktif.com.

Priyadi said that as of Saturday search workers have recovered 26 bodies and were searching for 19 more believed to buried.

He said that the agency has formed three groups of workers; one for the search, another to help the refugee and the other to open access the disaster location.

Days of heavy rain prompted the landslide Tuesday at the mountainous in the village of Tenjolaya in Ciwidey district, which is around 60 kilometers from Bandung. Half of the road leading there is only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles or off-road motorbikes.

“We have deployed four more heavy machines to help open access to the area,” said Priyadi.

Three injured in Bali house blast

Three people were reportedly in critical condition after a blast occurred at a residential house in Jl. Sesetan, Denpasar, Bali, on Saturday morning. Authorities have yet to make any statement on the cause of the incident.

South Denpasar Police chief Adj. Comr. Gede Ganefo told news portal kompas.com that the blast heavily damaged the house and a restaurant and a kiosk nearby.

“The owner of the house was severely injured. His wife and a restaurant customer were also shocked,” he said.

The owner of the house, Wayan Darnata, was inside the house when the incident occurred at around 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Thaksin supporters denounce Thai court verdict

Supporters of populist former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra denounced a court order to seize $1.4 billion of his assets, and vowed Saturday to pursue a nonviolent struggle for what they said would be a people's democracy.

But analysts and editorials widely speculated that the Supreme Court's decision not to seize all 76 billion baht ($2.3 billion) of Thaksin's vast fortune will at least temporarily ease political conflicts that have plagued the country for the past four years.

The court ruled Friday that Thaksin abused his power to enrich himself and his family while in office and ordered that $1.4 billion of his telecommunications fortune be seized.

Thaksin was deposed by a September 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. The action was meant to quell tensions sparked by months of anti-Thaksin protests, but instead polarized the country.

"What Thai people feel at the moment is that justice in this society is fading away," said Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, chairman of the pro-Thaksin Pheua Thai party. Referring to the advent of constitutional monarchy in 1932, he said that Thailand has been waiting for 78 years "for power to really belong to the people."

Chavalit called on every sector of society to engage in nonviolent protest. Despite warnings by the government that violence might erupt, no incidents were reported on Judgment Day, as Friday was dubbed.

Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a law professor at Bangkok's Thammasat University, contended that the verdict was fair.

"I think the situation has loosened up from before, when there was speculation that all of Thaksin's assets might be seized," he said. "People who are neutral could find it acceptable."

The English-language Bangkok Post said in its Saturday editorial that "now that issue of Thaksin's billions has been legally settled, it is time to give the wounds a chance to heal. The alternative would be intolerable."

Thaksin and his supporters maintain he was overthrown because he challenged the country's entrenched elite while helping the poor masses whose backing was key to his two landslide election victories. Critics say during his 2001-2006 rule, Thaksin subverted democratic institutions, enriched himself and disrespected Thailand's revered king.

"I am putting a curse on myself. If I cheated, let me die within seven days. If I didn't cheat, let Thai people have democracy in March. Amen!" Thaksin said Saturday in an SMS message to his followers from Dubai, his current residence in exile.

Thaksin almost certainly will remain a key force in the Thai political arena.

His so-called Red Shirt supporters continue to rally on his behalf, and have promised a "million-man march" in Bangkok for March 14. They seek to force the government of current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a Thaksin opponent, to call new elections.

The Supreme Court ruled that in four of five cases presented to it, the 60-year-old billionaire politician had used his authority as the country's leader to implement policies that benefited him, sometimes at the expense of the state.

With other cases pending against him and his family, it is unclear when the assets the court did not seize might be released. An unknown amount of Thaksin's fortune is banked overseas.

The Supreme Court said seizing all the assets "would be unfair as some of it was made before Thaksin became prime minister."

The most straightforward case of what is termed "policy corruption" involved a US$127 million low-interest government loan to Myanmar in 2004, which the court ruled Thaksin had promoted with the intention of securing its purchase of satellite services from Shin Satellite, then controlled by Thaksin's family.

The other rulings charged that telecommunications policies had resulted in benefits for companies he controlled.

Some predicted that even without Thaksin, the country's turmoil will continue because of deeply rooted injustices in society.

"The Red Shirts are self-organized and self-funded and are fighting for democracy, not for Thaksin. Yes, the majority love Thaksin, but that is not the same thing. They love him because he had pro-poor policies," said Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a radical republican living in England.

He said the Red Shirts "will be strong as ever and maybe a bit more angry."

"One side has to be defeated. Hopefully the democratic side will win," he said.

World coffee conference says supplies tightening

Coffee industry leaders say world supplies are growing tighter as demand grows.

The weather has also been a problem, according to coffee producers, experts and officials from 77 countries gathered at the International Coffee Organization's World Conference in Guatemala City.

The organization's secretary-general says consumer countries have stocks of about 25 million bags, each weighing 130 pounds (60 kilograms). Nestor Osorio calls that level very tight.

The group says world coffee exports totaled 28.4 million bags between October and January. That was a 9.2 percent decrease from the same period a year earlier.

Brazil's Silva plans 1M more homes for the poor

Brazil's president says he plans to provide funding for the construction of an additional 1 million homes that will be owned by the poor in Latin America's largest nation.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's program that helps the poor buy apartments initially envisioned construction of 1 million homes. But Silva told business executives Friday in El Salvador that he will expand it to eventually build twice that many.

The popular program - known as "My Life, My Home" - funnels loans from state banks to poor Brazilians who probably would never be able to own homes without the help.

The campaign was announced amid the global financial crisis and has also helped Brazil's important construction sector.

Three dead, two injured after car crashes into wall

Three teenagers died and two others severely injured after their car crashed into a concrete wall of a house on Jl. Latuharhary, Menteng, Central Jakarta, last night.

News portal tempointeraktif.com reported that the victims were on a Toyota RAV4 SUV heading from Jl. Rasuna Said to Jl. HOS Cokroaminoto when the accident happened at 10:58 p.m. Friday.

The victims, allegedly not wearing their safety belts, were thrown out of the vehicle during the crash.

The dead victims were identified as Rio (19) of Kedoya Baru, West Jakarta; Nikita (18) of Jl. Puspa and Yanuar Trayadi (17) of Taman Ratu Indah, West Jakarta.

The other injured victims, identified as Lesia (16) and Nicolas (15), were taken to MMC hospital in Kuningan, South Jakarta.

US lawmaker: Toyota withheld crash lawsuit evidence

A US congressman said Friday that internal Toyota documents show the automaker deliberately withheld key vehicle design and testing evidence in lawsuits filed by Toyota drivers injured in crashes.

In a letter to Toyota's top North American executive, House of Representatives oversight committee Chairman Edolphus Towns accused Toyota of shielding its testing data on potential problems with Toyota vehicles. Towns wrote that Toyota chose to enter hefty settlements with plaintiffs to avoid disclosing the database, which the lawmaker said was referred to as the "Books of Knowledge."

The Toyota documents "show a systematic disregard for the law and routine violation of court discovery orders in litigation," Towns wrote in the letter to Yoshimi Inaba.

Towns asked Inaba to respond to the issues raised by the documents by March 12.

Toyota said in a statement that it is confident it acted appropriately in product liability lawsuits and it looks forward to addressing Towns' concerns. The automaker said it is not uncommon for companies to object to demands for documents made in lawsuits.

"Consistent with that philosophy, we take appropriate steps to maintain the confidentiality of competitive business information and trade secrets," the statement said.

Inaba and Toyota President Akio Toyoda appeared before the committee on Wednesday, the second of two House hearings this week on Toyota's recall of 8.5 million vehicles over safety concerns. Toyota turned over thousands of internal documents before the hearings. A third Toyota hearing is scheduled for next week in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Lawmakers and federal safety regulators have accused Toyota of concealing safety problems over cases of sudden unintended acceleration due to gas pedal problems. The company has pledged to be more responsive to customer complaints and safety warnings.

The oversight committee also subpoenaed records from Dimitrios Biller, the former managing counsel of Toyota's U.S.-based product liability group. Biller, who worked at Toyota from 2003 to 2007, dealt with lawsuits against the company for vehicle rollover crashes.

In a July lawsuit filed in Los Angeles,Biller accused Toyota of conspiring to withhold evidence in the rollover cases and forcing him to resign when he told the company it had a legal duty to release evidence to plaintiffs' attorneys.

The lawsuit says Biller was harassed by Toyota and suffered a "complete mental and physical breakdown." He made a wrongful discharge claim and agreed to a $3.7 million severance package.

According to memos Biller provided to the committee, Toyota had a database covering design problems and "countermeasures" that it developed to resolve the rollover problems. It could be searched by vehicles or component part, an was kept by Toyota's technical center. Biller said he discovered the database while working on a case, and warned that it should be released during litigation.

Biller wrote in an e-mail that he agreed to a $1.5 million settlement in 2006 to avoid disclosure in a roll-over case. He also warned that the company needed to keep better track of cases of unintended acceleration.

In an October statement, Toyota said Biller's actions were motivated by personal financial interests and denied that he resigned due to legal ethics concerns.

His actions while defending Toyota in rollover lawsuits are "wholly inconsistent" with allegations raised in his claims against the automaker, Toyota said.

Also Friday, the Canadian government called for an investigation into the recall of 270,000 vehicles made by Toyota in Canada for safety concerns, and a conservative member of parliament asked that Toyota executives appear before legislators.

Toyota officially said Friday that it will extend nationwide some recall-related services that it was offering to customers only in the state of New York.

The added services will be tailored to a customer's needs and can include quick scheduling of repairs, pick up and return of their vehicle by the dealer, driving a customer to work, or providing alternate transportation such as a loaner or rental car.

The services will be offered to all Toyota and Lexus owners in the U.S. whose vehicles are covered by sticky pedal, floor mat, antilock brake or drive shaft-related recalls.

Dealers or owners will be reimbursed for their recall-related expenses. The reimbursement is in addition to $7,500 to $75,000 that the company already is paying dealers as part of the recalls.

Toyota said it reached agreement with Attorneys General in other states to offer the services. The services initially were announced Wednesday as part of an agreement between Toyota and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, but an executive later told a congressional committee they would be extended nationwide.

Investigation: Chinese gymnast underage in 2000

China should be stripped of its bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics because one member of the squad has been found to be underage, international gymnastics officials said Friday.

Dong Fangxiao was 14 during the Sydney Games, according to FIG, the international gymnastics federation. Gymnasts must be 16 during the Olympic year to compete.

Another gymnast on the 2000 squad, Yang Yun, also was suspected of being underage after she mentioned on a television interview that she was 14 in Sydney. But all of her official documentation indicated she was 16 in Sydney.

The FIG has "canceled" all of Dong's results from Sydney, and forwarded the results of its investigation to the International Olympic Committee. Because the case involves the Olympics, it is up to the IOC to decide if China should lose any medals.

The IOC has said previously it would take "necessary measures" if any gymnasts were found to be underage. The U.S. team was fourth in that event at the Sydney Games.

Questions about the eligibility of Dong and Yang for Sydney arose during the FIG's investigation into the eligibility of members of China's team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The 2008 gymnasts were eventually cleared, but the FIG said it wasn't satisfied with "the explanations and evidence provided to date" for Dong and Yang.

"We can confirm that we have received the ruling from the FIG in the case concerning Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun, and we take due note of their decision," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. "Clearly, we need to take time to consider the findings before the Executive Board can consider the matter. We would like to thank the FIG for their work and we would refer further inquiries to them."

The FIG also wiped out Dong's results from the 1999 world championships, and it is making China pay the costs of the 16-month investigation "for not having adequately controlled the birth dates of the gymnasts." The FIG also issued a warning to Yang, who will be allowed to keep her bronze medal on the uneven bars.

Dong's accreditation information for the Beijing Olympics, where she worked as a national technical official, listed her birthday as Jan. 23, 1986. That would have made her 14 in Sydney - too young to compete. Her birth date in the FIG database had been listed as Jan. 20, 1983.

Dong's blog also says she was born in the Year of the Ox in the Chinese zodiac, which dated from Feb. 20, 1985, to Feb. 8, 1986. Dong has not denied that, but she refused to answer any questions about her age, telling The Associated Press, "I've left the gymnastics team."

Yang said in a June 2007 interview that aired on state broadcaster China Central Television that she was 14 in Sydney. She later told the AP that she had misspoken, declining further comment.

The FIG's three-person disciplinary commission spent 16 months investigating the cases of Dong and Yang. Besides providing documentation, Dong and Yang, along with their parents and two Chinese gymnastics officials, met with the commission for two days in December in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Search workers recover more bodies in Bandung landslide

Search workers have recovered a total of 23 bodies in a landslide that hit a tea plantation in Bandung regency, West Java, with more are believed to be buried under the ruble, an official said Friday.

Priyadi Kardono, spokesman of the National Disaster Management Agency, told tempointeraktif.com that five more bodies have been found on Thursday.

More than 1,000 rescuers with sniffer dogs have been searching the plantation near the village of Ciwidey after Tuesday’s landslide crushed homes, offices and a processing plant.

Some village houses and plantation buildings survived unscathed above where terraced rows of tea plants cleaved off the hillside and slid to a plain below.

Scores of houses as well as the plantation office and warehouse were rolled and crushed as they slid down the hillside with a swath of top soil and mud hundreds of meters wide.

Jakarta threatens to revoke parking operator permits for breaching tariffs

The Jakarta city administration threatens to revoke permits of six off-street parking operators for ignoring warnings for official tariff rates implementation.

“We will hold inspection today. If they still violate the regulation, we will send them the last warning before revoking their permits,” the head of the parking unit, Benjamin Bukit, told tempointeraktif.com on Friday.

The parking unit, which issued operation permits in 584 locations across the city, had reprimanded parking operators that have breached tariff regulations in 77 locations. However, six operators have still ignored the warnings.

According to the parking rates stipulated in the 2004 gubernatorial decree, the regulation, a parking fee inside buildings and multi-story parking lots for cars and minibuses is Rp 2,000 (US 21 cents) for the first hour and Rp 1,000 for each following hour.

The parking units have received mounting complaints from the public regarding parking rates over the last weeks. Many shopping centers have applied tariffs twice as high as the official rates.

President joins mass prayer at national monument

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will attend a mass prayer event held in commemoration commemoration of the Prophet’s birthday at the National Monument Park in Central Jakarta on Friday morning.

Hundreds of participants have crowded the park since early in the morning, causing traffic congestion in nearby areas.

In his speech at the holiday at the State Palace on Thursday evening, Yudhoyono called on Thursday for the need to maintain polite and ethical manners while exercising democracy as Prophet Muhammad had shown.

Yudhoyono said civilized democracy was among the legacies Muhammad had passed on to his followers and the human race.

“Democracy that we build must uphold ethics, politeness and morality, rather than democracy that is based on hostility and intention to disgrace others,” he said.

Germans investigate Catholic school sex abuse

German prosecutors have opened investigations into allegations of sexual abuse at two Roman Catholic schools - the first legal action since reports of priests abusing students surfaced in January.

Senior prosecutor Andrea Titz in Munich is investigating claims of abuse against a member of a Benedictine-run boarding school in Ettal, Bavaria, her office said in a statement Thursday.

Barnabas Boegle, the abbot of the Ettal Monastery, which runs the school, stepped down Wednesday after eight former students said they had been abused by school priests in the 1950s, 70s and 80s.

News organizations also reported Thursday that Bonn prosecutors are investigating the former director of the Jesuits' Aloisius Kolleg school. The prosecutor's office could not immediately be reached for comment.

The daily paper Die Welt wrote that a student who is still enrolled at Aloisius Kolleg was allegedly abused in 2005 by former director Father Ludger Stueper. Several other alumni from Aloisius have also come out and accused Stueper of sexual abuse.

In addition, the number of students at several Catholic schools across Germany who claim they were sexually abused by priests has jumped to 150, a lawyer said.

Ursula Raue, an attorney appointed by the Jesuit Order to handle the charges, told the Associated Press that since seven alumni of the private Catholic Canisius Kolleg in Berlin first reported abuses in January, the accusations have "taken on a dimension of unbelievable proportions."

Raue said victims have identified 12 Jesuit priests by name and accused women in some cases.

SBY calls for polite democracy

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called on Thursday for the need to maintain polite and ethical manners while exercising democracy as Prophet Muhammad had shown.

In his speech at the commemoration of the Prophet’s birthday at the State Palace, Yudhoyono said civilized democracy was among the legacies Muhammad had passed on to his followers and the human race.

“Democracy that we build must uphold ethics, politeness and morality, rather than democracy that is based on hostility and intention to disgrace others,” he said.

The President added that the nation wished to see democracy that rejected tyranny of the strong and those who were keen on forcing their will against other people, which he said would undermine justice.

He also underlined that democracy in the reform era always gave a room to deliberation for consensus. The practice prevailed in the past and was misused to stifle opposition.

Woman saves herself, newly born baby from mudslide

A woman was stretched to the limit to save her one-day-old baby and herself from mudslide that has killed 26 people near a tea plantation in Tenjolaya village in the West Java regency of Bandung.

Yati, 37, defied severe bleeding and her struggling husband as she carried her baby away from the avalanche of mud that began to bury their house on Tuesday. She walked four kilometers away to find a safe place in a higher ground.

“She was recuperating after delivering her baby, but fought it out to escape from her house. She had to leave her husband who was drowned in the mud,” Hadi, who is providing Yati a shelter, was quoted by Antara on Thursday.

Yati, who works for the tea plantation company, and her baby are receiving a medical treatment from a local midwife.

“She is recovering and her baby is fine,” Hadi said, adding that Yati’s husband survived the mudslide and had been reunited with her family.

The landslide buried six neighborhood units in Tenjolaya village on Tuesday. Rescue workers have unearthed 26 bodies and are still searching for 19 more people who are feared to be buried under the mud.

Healthcare, education to be open for more foreign investment

Indonesia is inviting more foreign investment into the healthcare and education sectors in a bid to improve services as well as the quality of Indonesian human resources, according to Investment Coordinating Board chairman Gita Wirjawan.

Speaking before U.S. businesspeople in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, Gita revealed that the current negative list of investment limited foreign hospitals in three cities, i.e. Jakarta, Surabaya in East Java and Medan in North Sumatra.

“In the new negative list, we will remove such a limitation. Investors can invest in any place they consider feasible,” Gita told businesspeople here, adding that the new negative list would be ready in the next one or two months.

Foreign ownership in hospitals, meanwhile, would be capped at 67 percent.

In an interview with The Jakarta Post in New York on Thursday, Gita argued that opening up the healthcare sector to foreign investment would benefit customers more, with better services and prices because competition would force even existing hospitals to improve services.

In addition, he said, having more foreign hospitals in the country would eventually reduce the number of people going to hospitals overseas, and therefore, it would save some foreign exchange.

“The value of foreign exchange that could be saved may be small, a few hundreds US dollars a year, but we value more the benefits for our people, i.e. better services and availability of alternatives,” Gita said.

In education, Gita explained that the government would try to attract notable foreign universities to enter the country by establishing cooperation with local universities.

He said that he would especially target foreign universities because Indonesia is still lagging behind other countries in the region in tertiary education.

“We are already good in basic education, i.e. elementary schools to high schools. But we are still lacking in tertiary education and also vocational schools,” he said.

Foreign universities, however, cannot establish their own universities in Indonesia because the national education law apparently did not allow universities and schools to make profit.

Therefore, Gita suggested that they established a local legal entity that could provide teachers, advisory services and even research facilities to universities in Indonesia. That way, they could make money and recoup their investment.

In addition to healthcare and education, Gita revealed that Indonesia would also open its logistics and courier services to foreign participation, arguing that this area is an important soft infrastructure for Indonesia to move into the higher degree of economic development.

Foreign investors, however, are not allowed to take majority ownership in this sector, except one company TNT which has already got a government approval to take a 51 percent stake in a joint venture investment.

Official: Climate change treaty unlikely this year

Industrialized and developing countries are not likely to reach a treaty this year on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which have sparked fears of weather-related disasters, the UN climate chief said Thursday.

Yvo de Boer, who announced last week he would resign July 1, said there was not enough time to recover from the disappointing summit in December in Copenhagen, where world leaders failed to agree on a legally binding climate pact.

Bickering between rich and poor countries over emissions cuts and financial assistance undermined the talks and forced them to settle on a voluntary plan.

"I think Copenhagen demonstrated that sometimes if you try and go too quickly, you actually achieve less progress," de Boer told The Associated Press in an interview.

De Boer spoke on the sidelinesof an annual UN conference of environmental ministers. The conference is being held on the Indonesia island of Bali, where de Boer oversaw a historic agreement to start climate talks in 2007.

More than 190 nations will reconvene in Cancun, Mexico, later this year for another attempt to reach a binding agreement to keep the Earth's average temperature from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above levels that existed before nations began industrializing in the late 18th century.

UN scientists have said any temperature rise above that figure could lead to catastrophic sea level rises threatening islands and coastal cities, the killing off of many species of animals and plants, and the alteration of agricultural economies of many countries.

De Boer said more time was needed to establish a framework of mitigation steps, along with financial and climate change aid that can convince developing countries to support a new deal.

He said the focus should shift toward reaching an agreement at a summit next year in South Africa before the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Bank Century inquiry has no legal implication: Govt

The government insists that the House of Representatives’ inquiry into the Bank Century bailout has no legal implication on those some political parties said were held responsible for the policy.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto said Thursday the inquiry was a political process and therefore the parties’ findings of alleged violations committed by then Bank Indonesia governor Boediono, who is now the Vice President, and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati in the bailout policy were debatable.

“It must be understood that the dynamics at [the House in] Senayan were a political, not legal, process. Debates occurred out there could not be separated from the views of the political parties,” Djoko said at the presidential office.

He said the political parties had given an impression that the figures they named in their findings were already guilty, which he deemed was improper.

“The legislative body is a political institution, not a legal one. Finding someone guilty or not is beyond the House’s authority,” Djoko said.

He added, however, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had opted to refrain from immediately reacting to the findings. The President will respond to the inquiry results in a speech to be delivered in the near future.

Mulyani and Boediono authorized in November 2008 the bailout worth Rp 6.76 trillion (US$716 million), which was deemed controversial as it ten folded the original estimation.

Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar said the Golkar Party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the Prosperous Justice Party and the People’s Conscience Party could face libel charges for naming Boediono, Mulyani and other officials in their conclusion statements read out in the inquiry committee hearing on Tuesday.

“We expect our friends to respect the law…revealing the names can be considered a libel. We regret this,” he said.

Presidential aide meets Golkar leader

Golkar Party deputy chairman Priyo Budi Santoso confirmed Thursday he had received presidential special staff Felix Wanggai, but denied the meeting was part of a political lobby on the Bank Century bailout.

Priyo said Felix visited him at his office at the House of Representatives earlier on Thursday for a discussion on regional autonomy, special autonomy for Aceh and Papua and law enforcement in border areas.

“We only talked a little bit about the current hot topic, which is the Bank Century bailout, but we did not discuss Golkar’s opinion of the case or whether Golkar would change its mind. It was just a casual meeting,” Priyo said, adding that Felix was his junior at the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.

Golkar, fellow President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s coalition partner the Prosperous Justice Party, and opposition sides the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the People’s Conscience Party demanded in their conclusion of their inquiry into the bailout a legal process against Vice President Boediono and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati for their role in the controversial policy.

Priyo, also a House of Representatives deputy speaker, said he also asked Felix to remind him to the President during the 45-minute talk.

“The meeting was unscheduled. I wonder why the press noticed it,” he said.

Previously another presidential special staff, Andi Arif, had met with PDI-P secretary-general Pramono Anung and deputy chairwoman Puan Maharani.

Govt to solve energy crisis facing Kertas Leces

The government insists on maintaining the ailing state paper producer PT Kertas Leces, saying the energy shortage problem plaguing the company will be resolved with construction of a new coal boiler plant later this year.

The new coal boiler plant, consisting of five power boilers, two chemical recovery boilers and three steam turbins, will help the company save US$ 94 per ton of paper.

“The convertion of gas into coal will resolve one of Kertas Leces problems.The new boiler plant will allow the company to resume its business,” secretary to the minister of state enterprises Said Didu told reporters on Thursday.

He declined to disclose the total investment for the plant .

Kertas Leces, located in Surabaya, produces 600 tons of paper daily. Currently it operates only 30 percent of its total capacity due to shortage of gas and raw material.

The Ministry of State Enterprises data reveals that Kertas Leces has suffered losses from 2006 even though its sales has remained good. In 2008, its sales reached Rp 792.84 billion, but booked Rp 49.4 billion in losses.

New Kalimantan military command to be inaugurated in April

The Indonesian Military (TNI) will officially split its Kalimantan military command into two in April at the earliest, an officer says.

Maj. Gen. Tono Suratman, the Tanjungpura military commander overseeing Kalimantan, said Thursday preparations for the establishment of the new military command were 40 percent completed.

“The two military commands will be operational in April at the earliest or July at the latest,” Tono was quoted by Antara.

Following the separation, the existing Tanjungpura military command will be based in Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan, and oversee the province, and Central Kalimantan. The division will also reinstate the Mulawarman military command, which will be based in the East Kalimantan capital of Samarinda and oversee also South Kalimantan.

The Mulawarman military command was dissolved and merged into the Tanjungpura military command in 1984 as part of efficiency-driven military rationalization. The Indonesian Military liquidated eight military commands that year.

Tono said the Mulawarman military command would have at least 2,000 personnel.

TNI is also preparing another military command in Papua, which will be based in Sorong, West Papua.

Khojaly tragedy remembered in RI

Azerbaijan Embassy in Jakarta organized a photo exhibition Thursday to remember hundreds of people who were massacred by Armenian troops in Khojaly on the night of Feb. 25 to Feb. 26 in 1992.

Khojaly is a small town in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is currently occupied by Armenian troops.

Like Indonesia, Azerbaijan, which is situated in South Caucasus, is a Muslim-majority state.

On Feb. 25 night 18 years ago, Armenian troops with the support of former Soviet Union’s infantry guards regiment No. 366 attacked the sleeping town of Khojaly and killed hundreds of unarmed men, women and children.

“It was genocide. Armenian troops killed 613 people, including 106 women, 63 children and 70 old men,” Azerbaijan Ambassador to Indonesia Ibrahim A. Hajiyev said in his speech at the commemoration of Khojaly tragedy at his office

Scores of students from Harapan Ibu Islamic school and their teachers visited the embassy to see the photo exhibition.

Many people in Indonesia do not know much about this Khojaly tragedy.

“It’s a tragic. We in Indonesia do not know much about this Khojaly tragedy. I have been trying to raise awareness about this event in Indonesia during the last few years,” Imas Choirun Nisa Fujiati, a Harapan Ibu school teacher who is also the national coordinator of the Justice for Khojaly in Indonesia, told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the event.

Besides photo exhibition, a documentary film on Khojaly was screened during the event.

Human Rights Watch had described the Khojaly tragedy as “the largest massacre to date in the conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In 1992, the New York Times reported “truck loads of bodies” and published full details about how Armenians “scalped” their victims in Khojaly.

Meeting held to discuss Turkey's alleged coup plot

Turkey's leaders met with the country's military chief on Thursday to discuss the government's unprecedented crackdown on high-ranking officers accused of plotting to topple the country's Islamic-rooted government.

The rare three-way meeting by President Abdullah Gul; Gen. Ilker Basbug, the military chief; and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential palace apparently was called to discuss tensions caused by the crackdown.

As they met, a Turkish court formally charged eight more military officers of plotting to topple the government, increasing the number of officers who have been charged and jailed to 20 - including five admirals and three generals.

Police also escorted several other officers - including former chiefs of the navy and air force and the ex-deputy chief of the military - to the court house for questioning on Thursday.

The showdown between Turkey's governing Islamic political movement and the country's fiercely secular military officers has worried businesses and investors, shaking the markets amid calls from opposition parties for early elections to end the turmoil.

Wiretap evidence and the discovery of alleged plans for a military coup drafted in 2003 - a year after the current government was elected - led to the detention of about 50 military commanders by police on Monday. The court must decide whether to formally charge, arrest and jail them. Some are accused of plotting to blow up mosques and kill some non-Muslim figures to foment chaos and trigger a military takeover.

The purported recordings of the plotters were posted on several leading Web sites.

In one, a top officer accuses the political leadership of trying to "tear down the country and carry it into another (Islamic) regime." He vows: "I will unleash (my forces) over Istanbul. ... It is our duty to act without mercy."

Mulyani defends her decision to bail out Century

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said that she, as the chairwoman of the Financial System Stability Committee (KSSK), had succeeded in preventing a crisis by saving Bank Century from collapse, while acknowledging that there may have been flaws in the process.

"I think all parties agree that there was a crisis, which is a big development. And according to the mandate and authority given under the regulation-in-lieu-of-law on the Financial System Safety Net, the chairperson's job is to prevent a crisis," she said in a press conference Wednesday.

"We will also learn what are stated as indicators of violation point to which laws and regulations so we can arrange the consequences. As far as we are concerned, of all information given to the inquiry committee we tried to run all tasks and responsibilities to prevent a crisis and manage the economy based on existing laws," she added.

Mulyani also said she made the bailout decision based on data provided on that day, which could not be compared to today. "If the comparison is made this day where they have 24 hours to conduct an investigation, review all parties, it's not a crisis," she said.

"So there might be imperfect information that if reviewed 18 months later could be perfected, I say it was administrative violation, or clumsiness. It's not a big sin," she said.

"We in the KSSK consider that I ran my authority as cleanly as possible. I used all sources to guide us all to stay in the corridor of laws as public officials," said Mulyani.

She refuted the statement that the Finance Ministry let Century officials go. "We did not let them go. The finance minister banned them, the finance minister formed the coordination team comprising the National Police, Attorney General's Office, Justice and Human Rights Ministry and Foreign Ministry to chase the assets. How could they be considered as letting go?" she said.

She expected the political, legal and administrative processes could be done objectively to ensure public officials feel secure when performing their tasks. "I am sure that the processes will run in line with each corridor," she said.

Mulyani also responded to speculation that she might be replaced as the finance minister. "Cabinet make up is the President's portfolio. So the President will carefully consider what is good for the government and the people," she said.

Bali Police shoot, arrest villa burglars

The Bali Police have shot and apprehended three villa burglars operating in the province.

The three were identified as Gede Tarup, Merok, and Lalu Hendra.

They were arrested on Monday after breaking into a villa on Jl. Labuan Sait, Kuta.

"They have burglarized 30 villas across Bali mostly belonging to foreigners," Bali Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Sri Harmiti said Wednesday.

South Tangerang mayor hopefuls begin campaigning

Four of seven candidates running for election as mayor of South Tangerang made various promises on Wednesday in a dialogue organized by an NGO.

The four hopefuls were Tangerang Education Agency chief Achmad Suwandhi, South Tangerang administration economic affairs expert Ayi Ruhiyat, former Ciputat district chief Muhamad, and Ogan Kemiring Ilir deputy regent Iskandar.

Ayi Ruhiyat said if elected he would develop South Tangerang municipality with improvements to security, education and public welfare.

Muhamad, the head of administrative department at Tangerang regency administration, said he would develop ties with neighboring administrations to deal with the garbage problems faced by the new municipality.

Achmad Suwandhi, the sibling of Tangerang mayor Wahidin Halim, said the bureaucracy at the administration needed to be reformed to help the city become autonomous.

Iskandar asked all South Tangerang residents to seek ways to care better for each other to reduce the social gap.

Three other hopefuls — South Tangerang Red Cross chairwoman Airin Rachmi Diany, former Ciputat district chief Yayat Sudrajat and Tangerang municipality secretary Harry Mulya Zain — were not present at the dialog.

The elections are scheduled for October.

Ministry to evaluate regional autonomy

Ten years since Indonesia created its first autonomous region, the Home Ministry has decided to evaluate the implementation of the regional autonomy law.

Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi said Wednesday the assessment aimed to analyze the performances of 205 autonomous regions and their 127 mother regions.

“We will focus on evaluating the regions’ prosperity, the quality of their administrations and public services and their competitiveness,” he said.

The project aims to produce data that would be used to map and categorize the performances of regional administrations. Gamawan said the ministry would then develop programs and strategies to improve the performance of administrations in these regions.

The assessment will also pave the way for the issuance of policies to regulate the establishment, abolishment and merging of autonomous regions, he said.

“The [Home Ministry] will also identify strategic issues in formulating several policies that will aim to improve the performances of autonomous and mother regions,” he said.

Since the deliberation of the 1999 Law on Regional Autonomy, the country has granted autonomy to 205 regions, comprising seven provinces, 164 regencies and 34 cities.

Gamawan said the number of autonomous regions had mushroomed and that the government felt it was important to slow this trend by imposing a moratorium on the establishment of new autonomous regions.

The ministry plans to make improvements to regulations covering the requirements and procedures involved in the establishment of such regions.

PKS plays down its differences with Democratic Party

The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) says the differences it has with the Democratic Party over the Bank Century bailout should not be interpreted as signs of friction.

"Our partnership is a mature one that has been nurtured over the last five years, so having differences is normal," PKS legislator Andi Rahmat told The Jakarta Post at the House of Representatives in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Members of the PKS concluded last night that the bailout was riddled with graft and administrative errors, while the Democratic Party said otherwise.

Andi said the differences between the two parties would be difficult to resolve because they had substantially different approaches to the bailout.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party's Ruhut Sitompul said having the PKS in the coalition was like grooming a dangerous tiger cub.

Freeport has yet to help Papua: DPD

PT Freeport Indonesia has not helped develop human resources in Papua, particularly in the Amungme and Kamoro tribes, a member of the Regional Representatives’ Council (DPD) says.

During a meeting at the Mimika regent’s house, council member Mervin Sadipun Komber questioned if any members of the Amungme and Kamoro tribes, the traditional owners of the communal reserve land used for the company’s mining activities, had earned doctoral or master’s degrees.

“If there were any, how many were there?” Mervin asked.

Freeport Indonesia (FI) had not helped develop human resources since it commenced operations in Papua, he said.

No one from either the Amungme or Kamoro tribes held post graduate academic titles, Mervin said.

Komber, a representative from West Papua, said the meeting was part of a tour of Papua undertaken by nine of the council’s members, aiming to accommodate aspirations from the provincial and Mimika regency administrations in three sectors — minerals and coal, infrastructure and electricity.

Council members questioned Freeport Indonesia’s corporate social responsibility programs, especially in providing education to members of the Amungme and Kamoro communities.

The entourage arrived in Jayapura to meet Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu and visited border areas between (Indonesian) Papua and Papua New Guinea. The group also met the Jayapura mayor.

“Papua is deprived of infrastructure, especially road networks that are needed to open up isolated areas across the province.

“Today, we visited Mimika to take in the aspirations and current issues in Mimika, for example in community development, corporate social responsibility [CSR] programs, mining and the environment, human rights in Mimika and Papua, and whether FI has made people around the mining area prosperous,” Bambang said.

Mimika Regent Klemen Tinal said developing Papua was as simple as ending isolation, especially in the central mountainous region and southern Papua.

To develop central Papua, Klemen said Mimika was a strategic regency, given that it could link the entire central mountainous region.

However, so far Freeport had not contributed a cent to the development of Mimika, he said.

Royalties and taxes derived from the companies operations were regulated by law, but Mimika regency administration had never received direct assistance from it and its closure was not a problem for the administration, he said.

Issues related to Freeport’s mining operations that needed immediate attention included the ecological and environmental damage it caused, as well as promised benefits from the mining that had not materialized in communities around mining concession areas, he said.

Mulan Jameela pledges not to marry secretly

JP/P.J. Leo

All this talk about banning unregistered marriages has prompted singer Mulan Jameela, also a single mother, to pledge that she will not remarry in a secret or hide the identity of her future husband.

“I will tell the [public] for sure. Why should I hide it from you [journalists]?” said Mulan, as quoted by vivanews.com on Monday.

However, the singer of hit Makhluk Tuhan Paling Seksi (The Sexiest Creature of God) admitted she didn’t have a partner and would never marry without telling the public. “Marriage should not be hidden. Who doesn’t want to marry?” the 31-year-old singer said.

The mother of two said she had to put her children’s needs ahead of hers.

“I give everything to my children. They are the most important people who will guide my decisions.”

The House of Representatives is currently deliberating a bill that will, amongst other things, ban unregistered marriages locally called nikah siri (secret marriage).

Ulemas and artists who support polygamy have rejected the plan to ban nikah siri while most women are in favor of it.

Woman minister calls for equality at work

Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Linda Amalia Sari Gumelar said Tuesday she would fight for equality between women and men in the workplace.

"The rights of women as workers are often overlooked," she said. "We will coordinate with the manpower and transmigration minister, the health minister and companies to fight for women’s rights."

Linda said companies must abide by regulations to allocate a leave of absence when female workers gave birth.

Irwan Hidayat, a traditional health drink entrepreneur, said he agreed with the minister.

"We employ 2,500 workers, 90 of them are women," he said.

He said his firm gave female workers a leave of absence when they had their period and gave birth.

Landslide hits plantation area, hundreds affected

Hundreds were left homeless after a landslide hit a workers' housing area in Dewata tea plantation on Ciwidey, Bandung, West Java on Tuesday.

News portal kompas.com, quoting an employee at the plantation said that hundreds of people were in need of tents after the landslide hit the workers’ barracks at around 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Doni, the employee, said the victims were having difficulty contacting the outside world using cellular phones after a receiver tower collapsed in the landslide.

News channel TVOne quoted local police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Imron Yunus who said that four people had died in the incident and at least 56 were buried under the rubble.

The plantation owns barracks to provide housing for its hundreds of workers.

Air traffic controllers strike begins in France

Disgruntled would-be passengers are complaining about hundreds of canceled or delayed flights as air traffic controllers begin a four-day strike across France.

France's civil aviation agency has ordered airlines to cut back half of the flights in and out of Paris' Orly aiport and one in four at Charles de Gaulle amid staffing shortages caused by the walkout.

Five unions of air traffic controllers called the four-day strike to protest conditions of plans to integrate European air traffic control. Workers fear losses of jobs and civil servant benefits.

The strike beginnng Tuesday comes amid a seasonal school holiday in France. Union leaders are hoping to pressure President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservatives ahead of regional elections next month.

Navy captured undocumented boat

The Indonesian Navy said Tuesday it had captured an undocumented boat carrying more than 250 cubic meters of logs.

Makassar Navy seabase commander Bambang Wahyudin said the boat, along with seven crew members, was detained last Thursday 120 miles (190 kilometers) southeast off Makassar on its way from Pomala, Southeast Sulawesi to Celukan Bawang, Bali.

"Our officers were patrolling when they saw the suspicious boat. It turned out it had no documentation," he said.

Legal action against the crew members was underway, he added.

Toyota execs to face tough questions in Congress

Toyota executives face tough questioning Tuesday at the first congressional hearing on the Japanese automaker's acceleration problems and the company's handling of the safety problem.

In an opinion piece published by The Wall Street Journal, Toyota's president acknowledged the automaker had stumbled badly.

"It is clear to me that in recent years we didn't listen as carefully as we should - or respond as quickly as we must - to our customers' concerns," wrote Akio Toyoda, who is the grandson of the company's founder.

In his opinion piece, Toyoda vowed to oversee "fundamental changes" in the way the automaker handles current andfuture safety problems. He said he was looking forward to discussing the "back-to-basics" approach Wednesday when he is scheduled to testify before U.S. lawmakers.

Rhonda Smith, who experienced six miles (10 kilometers) of interstate terror, when her Lexus suddenly zoomed to 100 mph (160 kph), will set he mood for Tuesday's hearing.

The Sevierville, Tennessee, woman shifted to neutral. She tried to throw the car into reverse. She hit the emergency brake. Nothing. Then, her Toyota-made car miraculously slowed down before she crashed.

Smith's description of her nightmare ride in October 2006 will prede safety experts, Toyota's U.S. president and the secretary of transportation in testimony Tuesday. Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigative panel will be armed with preliminary staff findings that Toyota and the government failed to protect the public.

Rep. Bart Stupak of Michin, chairman of the subcommittee, wrote Toyota that the company had misled the public by failing to reveal that misplaced floor mats and sticking gas pedals accounted for only some of the acceleration problems. He said the company resisted the possibility that electronics problems were the cause.

And he tod Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a letter that his agency lacked the expertise and will to thoroughly investigate Toyota, which has recalled 8.5 million vehicles to fix acceleration problems in several models and braking issues in the 2010 hybrid Prius.

Tuesday's hearing, along with a second House earing Wednesday, present a high bar in the company's attempts to convince the public it cares about safety.

James Lentz, president and chief operating Officer of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., won't have the benefit of speaking to consumers in company ads Tuesday.

Rather, he'll have to convince customers of company sincerity while facing expected hostile questioning from lawmakers venting their anger before television cameras.

The atmosphere outside the hearing won't be pleasant for the company, either. Toyota revealed Monday that federal prosecutors and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are now investigating the company's safety problems and what it told government investigators.

This has created new public relations challenges for Toyota plus the prospects - however likely or unlikely - of hefty federal fines or even indictments against executives in the U.S. and Japan. They also complicate Toyota's ability to discuss details driving its recall of millions of vehicles because anything executives say could be used against the company inside a courtroom.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hear from company president Toyoda, who is expected to speak to the committee through a translator.

Dozens of Toyota dealers from around the U.S. plan to lobby members of Congress Tuesday and Wednesday to stress the automaker's safety efforts and remind lawmakers that the company is a source of jobs in every congressional district. The visits, coordinated with Toyota, will also involve factory employees.

LaHood, who testifies Tuesday, is expected to assure Americans that the government is addressing the possibility that electromagnetic interference played a role in the acceleration problems.

LaHood also will remind Americans that his agency is investigating whether Toyota acted quickly enough in reporting defects and took appropriate action to protect consumers. The government has demanded that the company turn over a wide range of documents.

Stupak said Monday that documents and interviews demonstrate that Toyota relied on a flawed engineering report to reassure the public that it found the answer to the acceleration problem.

In his letter to Toyota, he said a review of consumer complaints shows company personnel identified sticking pedals or floor mats as the cause of only 16 percent of the unintended acceleration reports.

Some 70 percent of the acceleration incidents in Toyota's customer call database involved vehicles that are not subject to the 2009 and 2010 floor mat and "sticky pedal" recalls.

In a letter to LaHood, Stupak raised questions about whether the transportation agency lacked the expertise to review defects in vehicle electronics and said it was slow to respond to 2,600 complaints of sudden unintended acceleration from 2000 to 2010.

As regulators looked into reports that accelerator pedals were becoming jammed in floor mats on Lexus ES350 sedans, a Toyota safety official told colleagues that government officials didn't appear concerned.

"I ran into a lot of different investigators and (Office of Defect Investigations) staff and when asked why I was there, when I told them for the (Lexus) ES350 floor mats, they either laughed or rolled their eyes in disbelief," wrote Chris Santucci, a former government transportation safety employee.

House investigators said they believe Toyota intentionally resisted the possibility that electronic defects caused unintended acceleration in their vehicles and then misled the public into thinking its recalls would fix all the problems.

Toyoda contends the automaker simply did a poor job of diagnosing the safety issues. "While we investigated malfunctions in good faith, we focused too narrowly on technical issues without taking full account of how our customers use our vehicles," he wrote in the Journal.

Documents turned over by the company could raise concerns in Congress over whether Toyota put profits ahead of customer safety and pushed regulators to narrow recalls' scope.

Toyota has said its "first priority is the safety of our customers" and promised changes, including an outside review of company operations, more focus on responding to customer complaints and improving communication with federal officials.

In his letter to Lentz, Stupak wrote that the committee's "preliminary assessment is that Toyota resisted the possibility that electronic defects could cause safety concerns, relied on a flawed engineering report, and made misleading public statements concerning the adequacy of recent recalls to address the risk of sudden unintended acceleration."

Names mentioned in Century case won't become suspects: Police

Names cited by the House of Representatives' inquiry committee as responsible for the Bank Century case will not automatically be considered suspects in the case, the National Police said Tuesday.

"The inquiry committee is not a law enforcer. If it says there is an indication [of crime] it must be proved under the law by the police," said head of criminal investigations Ito Sumardi after signing an agreement to pursue tax cases with the Finance Ministry.

The inquiry committee on Tuesday night will name the individuals it considers to be responsible for bailing out Century with Rp 6.76 trillion (US$730.08 million) of funds.

"We must put the presumption of innocence first. Whoever is named by the inquiry committee, we will look at the facts, then investigate them. If there are crime-related issues, then we will announce them as suspects or witnesses," Ito said.

PKS wants Yudhoyono's understanding on Bank Century case

The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) expects President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to understand that the party's decision to announce the names of those most responsible in the Bank Century bailout case is for the sake of the coalition.

"Mentioning names is inevitable based on the facts we have found," PKS chairman at the House of Representatives Mustafa Kamal told reporters in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The bailout is considered controversial as it ballooned to ten times its original estimate, to Rp 6.76 trillion (US$716 million).

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani and former Bank Indonesia governor Boediono, now vice president, approved the bailout in November 2008.

Yudhoyono's Democratic Party members were unhappy with their coalition partners who insist on naming Boediono and Mulyani as those most responsible for the bailout.

The PKS is one of the government coalition parties along with other parties including the Golkar Party, the United Development Party (PPP), the National Mandate Party (PAN), and the National Awakening Party (PKB).

Democratic Party secretary-general Amir Syamsuddin considered coalition partners that took a different stance as showing signs of disloyalty.

Oil drops below $80 after 3-week rally

Oil prices retreated below $80 a barrel Tuesday in Asia as investors mulled whether sluggish U.S. crude demand justified a 14 percent rally over the last three weeks.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was down 34 cents to $79.97 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 25 cents to settle at $80.31 on Monday.

Oil has jumped from $69.59 a barrel on Feb. 5 on investor optimism that the global economy will rebound strongly from recession last year. Yet growing inventories of crude, gasoline and diesel fuel suggest demand in the U.S. remains weak.

Some analysts expect crude demand in the U.S. and Japan will gradually follow overall economic growth and lift prices. Goldman Sachs expects crude to trade between $85 and $95 for most of this year.

"Continuing growth in the two largest developed market economies suggests that the economic recovery is still on track." Goldman Sachs said in a report. "We expect that Japanese oil demand will break the trend of the past decade and grow in 2010."

In other Nymex trading in March contracts, heating oil fell 0.2 cent to $2.077 a gallon while gasoline rose 0.1 cent to $2.1168 a gallon. Natural gas gained 2.4 cents to $4.919 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude was down 43 cents at $78.18 on the ICE futures exchange.

Tax office, police sign MoU to pursue tax cases

The Finance Ministry's Directorate General of Taxation signed a memorandum of understandings (MoU) Tuesday with the National Police to increase law enforcement on tax cases.

The MoU was signed by director general of taxation M. Tjiptardjo and head of criminal investigations Comr. Gen. Ito Sumardi, supervised by Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri.

The MoU, renewing a similar MoU made a few years ago, allows police investigators to be placed in tax offices nationwide, Bambang said.

"We will send investigators to regional tax offices," he said.

Mulyani said the MoU would help to raise tax revenue, which accounts for almost 70 percent of state revenue.

Emirates to fly Jakarta-Dubai twice daily

United Arab Emirates airline Emirates will increase its Jakarta-Dubai flights to twice daily starting next month, the airline country manager said Tuesday.

"Our flights will support the Indonesian government's plan of increasing inbound arrivals from the Middle East countries by up to 100,000 travelers in 2010," Emirates' country manager Mohammad Al Nahari said.

The additional services will increase the airline’s seat capacity by more than 2,600 per week, he said

The airline has appointed VFS Global, a specialist partner for diplomatic missions, to assist Emirates in handling Dubai visas.

"The partnership with VHS Global will offer a huge benefit to our passengers who require a visa to enter Dubai," Al Nahari said.

Golkar to mention 20 names in Century case

The Golkar Party will mention 20 names they deem the most responsible for the controversial Bank Century bailout.

"These people are from Bank Indonesia, the Financial System Stability Committee (KSSK), the Deposit Insurance Agency (LPS), and Bank Century," Bambang Soesatyo, a Golkar member of the House of Representatives’ inquiry committee on the Bank Century case, said in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Bambang added his party had concluded that the bailout was riddled with graft, crime, banking fraud and money laundering practices.

The bailout is considered controversial as it ballooned to ten times its original estimate, to Rp 6.76 trillion (US$716 million).

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani and former Bank Indonesia governor Boediono, now vice president, authorized the bailout in November 2008 during a joint meeting known as the KSSK meeting.

Drug smuggler arrested at Jakarta airport

Customs office at Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta announced Tuesday that they had arrested an Indian national for allegedly smuggling seven kilograms of ketamine into the country.

Gatot Sugeng Wibowo, the Customs office chief of investigations, said Tuesday that the suspect, identified as Najamudeen Kamaludeen, had been arrested on arrival on a Singapore Airline flight on Monday afternoon.

X-ray scanning found that the suspect had hidden the drug under 10 wooden picture frames and six leather bags.

Earlier this month, customs officer at Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar, Bali, arrested a 35-year-old Indian national for allegedly carrying 9.8 kilogram of ketamine inside a water heater.

Ketamine is an anesthetic used for animals and humans, but its psychedelic side effects make it a popular recreational drug.

Editorial: Mud-slinging matches

The wealth of public officials is in the spotlight. Recently it was the former director general of taxation who is now chairman of the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK), Hadi Poernomo.

According to a government assessment in 2008, most of Hadi’s fortune (Rp 26.58 billion) came from donations, Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) reported last week.

This is a shocking revelation because unless we have a bunch of extremely generous donors among us, even a top civil servant cannot accumulate such huge wealth.

Credit is due to the anti-graft agency since the revelation is in line with the government’s agenda to curb corruption.

The fight against graft suffered aa relapse late last year when the National Police and Attorney General’s Office (AGO) were found to have colluded to undermine the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). These authorities are two of the most important law enforcing bodies in Indonesia.

Where else can we place our hopes when these judicial institutions have apparently drifted so far from their missions, as businessman Anggodo Widjojo demonstrated with his telephone conversations that were broadcast live on television?

The spotlight on Hadi is a twist in irony, since the BPK is one of the agencies assisting the House inquiry committee to find irregularities behind the controversial Rp 6.76 trillion Bank Century bailout.

The 2-month inquiry, broadcast live on national television, was initially expected to target Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Vice President Boediono, the two top officials responsible for the bailout decision, when the latter was the governor of Bank Indonesia.

Hadi was one of the director generals removed by Sri Mulyani under her 2006 reform program.

This is a classic case where the “pot is calling the kettle black”.

Hadi is the latest person under the spotlight, on the sidelines of the inquiry.

Earlier, legislators from two of the most vocal parties in the bailout were charged with corruption.

Emir Moies of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was reported to have made several suspicious transactions with Bank Century. While admitting that he had made several transactions with the bank, Emir insisted that none were illegal.

Inquiry chairman Idrus Marham of the Golkar Party was also reported to the National Police by the Association of Village Unit Cooperatives (Inkud) for suspected graft in the procurement of transportation for 60,000 tons of rice from the customs office in 2003.

Mud-slinging between opposing political groups continues with demands to question House’s Golkar Party chairman Setya Novanto who is reportedly responsible for the procurement.

Following Soeharto’s fall in 1998, new laws were issued obliging public officials to declare their wealth.

However, four presidents after Soeharto, it seems easy for public officials to get around these laws
with impunity. The arrogance of power that was nurtured under Soeharto seems to be too strong to overcome. Following closely is the preservation (if not escalation) of corruption.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who just entered his second term in office, has his hands full in working to make his battle cry from his election campaign into a reality. But Yudhoyono needs to be more resolute to curb this social ill. Otherwise, he will not live up to his words.

RI Ambassador to Qatar, NU figure Rozy Munir dies at 67

Indonesian Ambassador to Qatar Rozy Munir, a leading figure in the country’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and a former minister during Abdurrahman Wahid’s administration, died Monday morning aged 67.

“Father died at 7:50 a.m.,” his son, Avianto Muhtadi, was quoted as saying by Antara state news agency on Monday.

Munir, who had been diagnosed with liver cancer a month ago, was treated at Pelni Hospital in Jakarta for about three weeks.

His remains will be flown to Mojokerto, East Java, for burial.

A graduate from the University of Hawaii and a lecturer in economics at the University of Indonesia, Munir was appointed investment and state-owned enterprises minister by then president Wahid, his superior at NU. He was also a member of the National Censorship Agency.

Munir was known among NU members as the man behind the success of the International Conference of Islamic Scholars (ICIS) in 2004 and 2006, according to the organization on its website, NU Online. The conferences, initiated by NU, were attended by Muslim scholars from more than 100 countries.

Former women’s empowerment minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa, also a prominent figure from NU, hailed the late Munir as a great teacher.

“Pak Rozy’s hobby was to look for young people to be taught managerial skills,” she was quoted as saying by vivanews.com.

“Over the last five years Pak Rozy sent more than 300 students from pesantren to learn about administration in the United Kingdom,” she added.

Munir, born on April 16, 1943, was the head of NU’s foreign affairs division before being appointed ambassador to Qatar by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2007.

He is survived by his wife, Mufida Munir, his three sons, Avianto Muhtadi, Benny Saaf and Citra Fitri, and three grandchildren.

A number of NU figures such as Salahuddin Wahid, Abbas Muin, Bina Suhendra, Nasihin Hasan
and Cholil Nafis were seen visiting Pelni Hospital.

Letters: Consequences of the power cuts

The government and senior officials of state-owned oil and gas company PLN don’t appear to appreciate the actual tragic consequences of the numerous power cuts that happen here in North Sumatra and many parts of Indonesia. I’m sure most people consider the frequent unexpected power cuts are just an inconvenience. However, the power cuts can cause far more serious events, which I mention below.

People have died or have been severely injured as a result of power cuts — yes, people have died! It doesn’t take much to realize how this can happen and there are many possible causes. During power cuts, traffic lights do not work so, of course, there will have been more road accidents.

During nighttime power cuts, there is no street lighting, so again more road accidents, involving all types of vehicles and pedestrians, especially so when it is raining.

People tend to be more tired as a result of power cuts, whether daytime or at night, due to
the disturbance of their routine, so they are less able to concentrate and this can lead to more accidents. Hospitals are unable to run normally; when there are unexpected cuts, it can cause disruption in operating rooms and severely injured patients may have to wait longer for emergency treatment. How many people have died or been badly burned as a result of fires caused by candles, oil lamps or small generators, which have had to been used during power cuts?

There’s the problem of extra pollution caused by the many small generators being used by businesses and households. It’s not only the engine exhaust fumes, but there’s also the problem of noise pollution, especially at night when neighbors are disturbed by the sound of nearby generators.

However, there is one group of people who have certainly benefited from the many power cuts – burglars and thieves! For them, the frequent night blackouts have made it much easier for them to enter homes or to rob individuals on the streets. Therefore, the crime rate will have risen, and so too the number of deaths and injuries caused by such criminal activities.

Solving the power issue in Indonesia is a major problem as it is generally accepted that most public sector organizations in this country are rife with corruption and are often managed by unprofessional and self-interested individuals. It is also accepted that in public sector organizations, jobs at all levels are “bought” by the highest bidder and so the best-qualified applicants are often not even considered. Consequently, such organizations are mismanaged by unqualified individuals whose main aim in life is to profit from their “investment”, as it certainly won’t come from their salaries, which are often quite low.

If the power situation was taken as a serious matter by the government and truly solved, I’m sure that there would be more foreign investment in Indonesia.

Letters: Lion Air service

On Feb. 12, my family and I were at Terminal 2 of Soekarno Hatta International Airport.
We planned to take a Lion Air flight to Palembang.

The flight was scheduled to leave at 5:05 p.m. We arrived at the check in counter at 4:30, and were told that they had closed at this time. We were then directed to get assistance at counter 12, where we joined a queue. The person behind the counter was very busy, all the while looking down while people queued in line waiting for help. We were almost completely ignored.

Finally I got her attention and quickly asked for help in order to try to get on the flight or the next one.

The response was abrupt, and gave me the feeling that she didn’t have the time to even find out what I needed. She took my tickets and quickly said to come back at 7 p.m.

I said to her “If I am going to get on the 7:30 o’clock flight, it will be too late. She didn’t answer, but just told me to come back at 7. We came back to counter no. 12 at 6:30 p.m. and I stood there in front of the same person. She was still looking busy, ignoring me.

By this time it was 7.05 p.m. Finally she said we had to pay an additional amount for new tickets. We rushed to the ticket counter etc, but by the time we got through customs the plane had taken off already. We didn’t make it to Palembang that night, but had our money refunded minus a certain percentage and arrived home in Kemang at around 10 p.m.

Our experience with Lion Air’s customer service was a nightmare. Normally, the motto of
many businesses is “customer is king”, but the way we were treated it seemed like the Lion Air motto is “customer is beggar”.

Wings Air to expand network in western Indonesia

Regional airline Wings Air aims to expand its network in western Indonesia after opening new routes in the central and eastern part of the country recently.

“We will open new short routes in western Indonesia to lead the market in the next two year,” Wings Air director of general affairs Edward Sirait said Friday as reported by Antara news agency.

He said this would be made possible with the delivery by 2011 of 15 Franco-Italian ATR 72-500 twin turboprops out of a total order of 30 new aircraft.

Currently Wings Air operates one ATR 72-500 in western Indonesia with two others being
operated in the eastern and central parts of the country.

Wings Air also operates 2 Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft and 5 Boeing MD-80 aircraft.

The airline, a fully owned subsidiary of privately run Lion Air, started to serve the route linking Bandung in West Java with Yogyakarta on Friday, it said in a press statement issued Saturday.

During the opening ceremony at the Husein Sastranegara Airport in Bandung, Wings Air also launched another route linking Yogyakarta with Surabaya in East Java.

Two other routes, linking Surabaya with Semarang in Central Java and Denpasar in Bali, were
also launched although these two routes started operation on Thursday.

Wings Air flight IW 1811 leaves Adisutjipto Airport in Yogyakarta at 12:05 P.M. and arrives in Husein Sastranegara Airport at 1:05 P.M. The aircraft returns to Yogyakarta as flight IW 1812 departing at 1:30 P.M. and arriving at 2:30 P.M.

The Bandung-Yogyakarta route has a one-way airfare of Rp 290,000 (US$31.16), said Wings Air director of general affairs Edward Sirait.

He said starting Saturday the aircraft with a capacity of 72 passengers would have a daily route of Semarang-Surabaya-Denpasar-Surabaya-Yogyakarta-Bandung-Yogyakarta-Surabaya- Denpasar-Surabaya-Semarang.

Edward was confident that the use of the Bandung-Yogyakarta sector would grow significantly.

“Both cities are known not only as business cities but also student cities and destinations for culinary tourism,” Edward told Antara news agency.

As for new routes, Edward said the airlines planned to link Bali with Labuan Bajo and Maumere in East Nusa Tenggara and Bima in West Nusa Tenggara.

Wings Air also plans to link the North Sumatra provincial capital of Medan with Sibolga, in North Sumatra, and Lhokseumawe in Aceh.

Other new routes would include linking Medan with the secondary town of Gunungsitoli and Nias as well as Meulaboh in Aceh, and the Padang-Bengkulu route.

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