Alonso tops opening Monaco GP practice sessions

Fernando Alonso was fastest in Monao Grand Prix practice on Thursday, while Michael Schumacher's return to the famed street circuit after four years out saw the Mercedes driver finish fifth.

Alonso marked Formula One's 60th anniversary by topping both sessions, with the Ferrari driver's afternoon lap of 1 minute, 14.904 around the Mediterranean principality the quickest of the 24 cars.

Schumacher's Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg was just over one-enth of a second off the pace for second ahead of weekend favorite Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.

Felipe Massa finished in front of his former Ferrari teammate Schumacher - a five-time winner at the iconic racing track - who set a fastest time of 1:15.143 from 59 laps.

Robert Kubica of Renault finished ixth ahead of 2008 winner Lewis Hamilton, who was nearly four-tenths faster than teammate and overall F1 leader Jenson Button. Button was ninth behind Adrian Sutil of Force India.

Mark Webber, coming off a victory in Barcelona, rounded out the top-10 for Red Bull with a lap of 1:15.620 as gray clouds shadowed the circuit and cooled off the crowds that had gathered on moored trackside yachts to watch.

Button comes into the season's sixth race with 70 points to lead Alonso by three, while Vettel is third with 60 points and Webber next with 53.

There were few incidents over the two sessions as Schumacher managed to regain control after losing grip on a number of occasions.

Only the new drivers on the circuit came close to hitting one of the tight barrier's on the track. HRT's rookie pair of Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna both escaped trouble as Chandhok lost grip in Massenet in the morning to lightly tap the barrier after spinning out. Senna, who finished more than 7 seconds back of Alonso in a troublesome car, came to a halt around the corner after Mirabeau in the afternoon.

Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber went off at Mirabeau in the sunny morning session and lost his front wing with a missed exit at the Swimming Pool.

Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari lost control coming out of the Tunnel and had to cut across the chicane to regain control at one point.

Pope's Portugal trip a bid to move beyond scandal

Pope Benedict XVI wrapped up a trip to Portugal on Friday with an appeal to spread the faith, capping a pilgrimage marked by an explicit admission of church guilt in the clerical abuse scandal with a fresh bid to move beyond the crisis.

Benedict celebrated Mass on Friday in the northern city of Porto, his final stop in a four-day trip designed to boost the faithful in a country that is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic but where only about 20 percent of the people regularly go to church. Portugal's north is its most conservative, staunchly Catholic region, and Benedict came to pay tribute to efforts by the local bishop to make the church stronger presence in the country.

"We must get over the temptation of limiting ourselves with what we have, or think we have as surely ours," Benedict said. "How much time has been lost, how much work has been pushed back because we didn't pay attention to this?"

Authorities were preparing for 15,000-200,000 to attend Friday's Mass, celebrated in front of city hall with Porto's main avenue filled with flag-waving faithful shouting "Viva o papa!" On Thursday, some 400,000 pilgrims turned out for the spiritual highlight of Benedict's trip, a Mass in the famous shrine city of Fatima on the anniversary of the day when three shepherd children reported visions of the Virgin.

Benedict dealt with the scandal head-on en route to Portugal, telling reporters on board the papal plane that the crisis was caused by the "sins within the church," his most explicit admission of Church culpability to date. But Benedict moved on to other issues during his various speeches and homilies, which touched on the increasing secularization of Europe and the need to uphold traditional church teaching on key matters of life and family.

In Fatima, Benedict called abortion and same-sex marriage some of the most "insidious and dangerous" threats facing the world today. Vatican officials cast the turnout in Fatima as evidence that Benedict had turned a page in weathering the abuse scandal, which has dogged him for months.

One issue Benedict didn't address at length in any of his speeches or homilies was the European financial crisis and the crippling effect it is having in Portugal. During his visit, Prime Minister Jose Socrates announced tax hikes in a bid to allay market fears about its high level of debt.

The crisis is being felt acutely in Porto, known for its production of Portugal's famous sweet port wine but perhaps more importantly as the hub of the country's industrial north. Its traditional manufacturing sector, especially textiles and footgear, has declined over the past 20 years, putting many out of work.

The plight of Portugal's low-paid blue-collar workers - Portugal's minimum monthly wage, earned by more than 300,000 people, is euro475 - is expected to worsen with the new austerity measures designed to reduce the state debt.

Benedict made a few vague references to the tough times, but only explicitly referred to the financial crisis in comments to reporters on the first day in which he renewed his call for a more ethics-based world financial order.

Porto Archbishop Manuel Clemente referred to the economic difficulties in his welcome to the pontiff Friday, saying the the church was "urgently" being called on to provide charity to the needy.

Asian stocks sharply down in opening trade

Asian stock markets plunged in early trade Friday following massive losses on Wall Street amid fears over the Greek debt crisis.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average dropped 396.48 points, or 3.7 percent, to 10,299.21.

With the Greek crisis hammering global financial markets, the Bank of Japan said Friday it will offer two trillion yen ($22 billion) in short-term loans to commercial banks to boost liquidity.

"We would like to ensure stability in financial markets by providing ample funds to banks," Bank of Japan official Yuichi Adachi said.

South Korea's Kospi dropped 2.9 percent to 1,635.25, while Australia's benchmark lost 2.1 percent Friday.

Investors dumped shares across the board in Asia after the Dow Jones industrials plunged 1,000 points at one point Thursday - the biggest drop ever during a trading day - on fears that Greece's debt problems could halt the global economic recovery.

Apart from Greece's debt crisis, a simple typographical error may also have contributed to the massive U.S. selloff, and the Securities and Exchange Commission said it was reviewing what happened. The Dow later recovered some of its earlier losses, closing at 10,520.32, down 3.2 percent.

"The root cause for the massive selloff worldwide is fears that Greece's debt crisis could spread to other euro-zone economies," said Kazuhiro Takahashi, equity strategist at Daiwa SMBC Securities Co. Ltd.

In currencies, the dollar was quoted at 91.57 yen in Tokyo on Friday, up from 90.53 yen in New York late Thursday.

Asian stocks extend rally on EU bailout

Asian stocks mostly rose for a second day Tuesday as investors added to a global buying blitz after a nearly $1 trillion plan to contain Europe's debt crisis.

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average gained just 0.1 percent to 10,539.01 after jumping 1.6 percent on Monday. South Korea's Kospi climbed 0.6 percent to 1,688.4 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.4 percent at 4,618.2.

Benchmarks in mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore also advanced, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index retreated 0.5 percent to 20,341.28.

Overnight on Wall Street, stocks rocketed to their biggest gain in a year. The Dow Jones industrials surged 3.9 percent to 10,785.14.

Investors were reassured after the European Union and the International Monetary Fund agreed to create a nearly $1 trillion rescue fund to support European nations burdened by heavy debt. The size of Europe's response was greater than most analysts had expected, and it signaled that policymakers are ready to take major measures to protect the euro and keep Europe's problems from spreading.

Markets were also relieved that the Federal Reserve and other central banks stepped up with financial support to corral what analysts warned was a growing financial crisis.

Financial issues in Sydney gained with National Australia Bank Ltd. up 0.7 percent.

Banks didn't fare as well in Tokyo. Losses for the sector were led by Mizuho Financial Group Inc., which shed 2.9 percent on reports that Japan's No. 2 bank would raise 1 trillion yen ($11 billion) by issuing new shares.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index shot up 4.4 percent to 1,159.73. Like the Dow, it was the best day for the S&P 500 index since March 23, 2009. The Nasdaq composite index rose 109.03, or 4.8 percent, to 2,374.67.

Benchmark crude for June delivery was up 18 cents to $76.98 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.69 to $76.80 per barrel on Monday.

In currencies, the dollar fell to 93.04 yen from 93.29 yen late Monday. The euro held steady at $1.2791.

Asian stocks down on disappointing US jobs data

Asian stock markets fell in early trading Friday as disappointing U.S. jobs data sparked fresh concerns over a recovery in the world's biggest economy.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average dropped 192.49 points, or 1.8 percent, to 10,428.06.

South Korea's Kospi shed 0.7 percent to 1,683.17. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.7 percent at 4,646.10.

Sentiment in Asia turned downbeat as the Labor Department report Thursday showed U.S. claims for jobless benefits were not falling fast enough to signal steady job growth. High unemployment remains a primary obstacle to a U.S. economic recovery.

The U.S. government said first-time claims for jobless benefits dipped to 444,000 last week from an upwardly revised 448,000 the previous week - the consensus in the markets was for a drop to 440,000.

The disappointing job report triggered selling on Wall Street on Thursday, with the Dow Jones industrial average falling 113.96 points, or 1.1 percent, to 10,782.95.

Terrorists' weapons from the Philippines, police say

National Police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri said Friday the rifles and bullets seized from terrorist suspects arrested recently were mostly smuggled from the Philippines.

"One of the suspects had been assigned to take 21 rifles from Mindanao, the Philippines, but we arrested him before he left," Bambang told the press.

The police's counterterrorism squad has arrested 58 suspects and killed 13 others across the country since January this year.

The latest raid was conducted on Thursday at a battery shop in Sukoharjo, Central Java, where the squad nabbed three suspects.

The police claimed many of the suspects had undergone training in Mindanao, home to Muslim separatist rebels in the Catholic-predominantly Philippines.

Man dies in prolonged rival groups fight in Papua

A 25-year-old man, Tenius Tabuni, died on Friday after being ambushed by a group of people in an extended communal conflict involving two ethnic groups in Kwamki Lama village, Papua.

The victim died from fatal injuries due to arrow shots. Four other people were also injured in a related attack and were treated at a local hospital.

Antara news agency reported that the fights erupted in nearby woods at approximately 10:30 a.m.

Police intervened and temporarily stopped the fight with warning shots, but the fight continued later that day.

Police have deployed personnel to prevent further clashes.

Clashes erupted early this year between people from Gapura, known as the lower group, and those from Mambruk complexes, known as the upper group.

The conflict has continued sporadically as both groups continue to fight using traditional weapons, despite a traditional peace ceremony held in late January.

House officially endorses Bambang Hendarso new National Police Chief

The House of Representatives decided to endorse Comr. Gen Bambang Hendarso Danuri as the National Police chief at a plenary session Wednesday following a positive result of a House fit and proper test Monday.

House Speaker Agung Laksono said he hoped the new police chief would carry out the National Police Law with full responsibility.

The House will send the test result to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono so that the President can install Bambang Hendarso as soon as possible.

Earlier in the session, chairman of House Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, Trimedya Panjaitan, said all House factions accepted Bambang Hendarso, who is currently the head of the National Police detectives unit, as the new National Police chief to replace retiring Gen. Sutanto. (dre)

Terrorist suspects targeted independence day ceremony: Police

The National Police has revealed that terrorist suspects in its custody planned to assassinate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other high-ranking officials during an independence day ceremony at the State Palace scheduled for Aug. 17, and then immediately declare the nation a sharia state.

"Testimonies from the suspects and seized evidence disclosed that they had chosen that option to assassinate the President," National Police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri said at a press conference Friday.

He said terrorists planned to announce publicly that Indonesia was no longer a democratic state and would became a Sharia nation immediately after the President was killed.

Bambang said the alleged terrorists had decided to attack the President at his palace on that day after learning that his personal security guards would not be carrying live rounds in their firearms.

So far this year, the police's antiterrorist task force, called Detachment 88, has killed 13 terrorist suspects and arrested 52 others.

The latest in these raids saw the police arrest three suspects at a battery shop in Sukoharjo, Central Java.

Lampard wary of spirited but stricken Portsmouth

After seeing Portsmouth upset Tottenham to reach Saturday's FA Cup final, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard knows his side cannot afford to be complacent against a financially struggling opponent which now stands in the way of a league and cup double.

Portsmouth has defied the odds by reaching a second final in three seasons, amid an off-field meltdown that saw the 2008 FA Cup winners recently seek bankruptcy protection before being relegated from the Premier League.

In contrast, Chelsea's free-flowing attacking football produced a first championship crown since 2006.

Lampard says that "it would be a shame to not focus on the last game."

Lampard accepts Portsmouth had "a very spirited end to the season even with the difficult circumstances."

Indonesia reaches Thomas Cup final

Winning team: Indonesian doubles player Nova Widianto (left) hits a  return as his teammate Alvent Yulianto stays on guard. The doubles  steam won 21- 14, 22-20 over their Japanese rivals on Friday to assure  Indonesia of a place in the Thomas Cup final. – Antara/Maha Eka Swasta

Makeshift doubles team of Nova Widianto and Alvent Yulianto overcame a stiff challenge from Japanese duo of Noriyasu Hirata and Hiroyuki Endo 21-14, 22-20 on Friday to help Indonesia reach the Thomas Cup badminton team championship final.

Nova and Alvent squandered four match points in the thrilling match at Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur before regaining their composure to give Indonesia an unbeatable 3-1 lead.

Indonesia has won the trophy for a record 13 times but will be making its first final appearance since 2002. The national team will play either defending champion China or host Malaysia.

First singles Taufik Hidayat gave Indonesia an early 1-0 lead with an easy 21-9, 21-14 win over Kenichi Tago. World number one Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan made a short work of Kenichi Hayakawa and Kenta Kazuno 21-9, 21-11 to double the margin.

Simon Santoso looked to settle the issue beyond doubt when he took the first set in the second singles match against Sho Sasaki. But the Japanese fought back to sweep the next two sets for a 19-21, 21-13, 21-11 to keep his team’s hopes alive.

Mulyani: I'll always be back to Indonesia

Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani, who will soon serve as a managing director of the World Bank, said Friday that she would never leave Indonesia.

“I'll always be back to Indonesia. During my stay overseas for a period of time, what I'll do will be for the sake of Indonesia,” she said at a ceremony of the groundbreaking for the construction of Central Java and Yogyakarta directorate general of customs and excise building in Semarang.

Giving reasons behind her remarks, Mulyani said, “Because here is my home.”

For Mulyani working at the World Bank was only a matter of different place and function.

“The new job constitutes her private struggle to develop Indonesia. I hope that what I'll do will be the best for Indonesia because I believe God has determined all human plans,” she said.

Mulyani: I'll always be back to Indonesia

Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani, who will soon serve as a managing director of the World Bank, said Friday that she would never leave Indonesia.

“I'll always be back to Indonesia. During my stay overseas for a period of time, what I'll do will be for the sake of Indonesia,” she said at a ceremony of the groundbreaking for the construction of Central Java and Yogyakarta directorate general of customs and excise building in Semarang.

Giving reasons behind her remarks, Mulyani said, “Because here is my home.”

For Mulyani working at the World Bank was only a matter of different place and function.

“The new job constitutes her private struggle to develop Indonesia. I hope that what I'll do will be the best for Indonesia because I believe God has determined all human plans,” she said.

Thai govt warns of violence if protests persist

Thailand's government warned protesters Saturday that more violence could erupt if the entrenched demonstrations that have paralyzed areas of the capital for nearly two months did not end soon.

The warning came in the wake of double nighttime attacks that killed two policemen and wounded 13 people, denting hopes that a reconciliation plan offered by the government last week would resolve the crisis peacefully.

Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn said that if the so-called Red Shirts didn't end their occupation of Bangkok's prime commercial district "some people who don't wish to see reconciliation take place may take this opportunity to launch another attack."

He described the unknown assailants responsible for several attacks in the capital as "ill-intentioned people who used terror to try to ruin the conciliatory atmosphere." Violence tied to the protest - including clashes between demonstrators and security forces - has killed 29 people and wounded nearly 1,000.

On Friday, protest leaders had signaled they generally agreed with the reconciliation plan and might soon end the protracted demonstrations. Protest leaders denied Red Shirt involvement in the attacks and urged security forces be withdrawn from the streets, noting they only served as "lightning rods" for those trying to provoke violence.

They also indicated their occupation would continue while they sought a deal with the government, saying the two were not mutually exclusive.

"No matter who and whatever is trying to obstruct us, we will carry on our protest (in central Bangkok)," Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader, said Saturday.

The protesters say they agree in principle with a proposal by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve Parliament and hold new polls - their key demands - but want more specific details and assurance that Abhisit has the full support of his coalition partners and other political actors.

"One mouth speaks of reconciliation while the other 99 mouths keep talking about cracking down," Weng said.

He called on the government to revoke emergency decrees that give the military powers to restore order and that ban public gatherings.

As Weng spoke, a long column of pickup trucks loaded with protesters arrived from northeastern Thailand to reinforce the Red Shirt "occupation zone."

"At the moment, we are waiting for more clarity from the Red Shirts. If they agree in principle (with the reconciliation plan), they must end the protest. They have to make the decision soon," the government spokesman said in a telephone interview.

Late Friday night,the relative calm that had prevailed for several days was broken by more violence near where grenades exploded on April 22 and killed one person and wounded dozens. The area, a short distance from the Red Shirt encampment, is guarded by many police and soldiers.

A witness, Decha Phoonpanang, said either a mall explosive or gunshots whizzed past him, shattering the glass storefront of a bank and hitting two policemen - one in the stomach - and a man in the leg.

Slightly more than two hours later, about three explosions could be heard in an adjacent street that fronts a park, with police officers saying they believed them to be grenades.

The official Erawan Emergency Center on Saturday said two policemen were killed. Most of those wounded were believed to be police.

Other activists who oppose the Red Shirts have denounced the government's peace offering as a capitulation and have demanded that Abhisit clear their encampments or step down.

With some factions on all sides opposing a settlement, it is difficult to pinpoint an obvious suspect in the new violence.

The standoff in Bangkok has hammered the economy, decimated the tourist industry and ground government machinery to a near halt.

Abhisit unveiled a proposal that included new elections on Nov. 14 - about a year before his term would end - if the protesters left their encampment. The Parliament must be dissolved at least 45 days before the elections.

But the date of the dissolution of Parliament has become a sticking point, with the Red Shirts insisting it be specified and Abhisit saying only it would happen in time for the November election, but possibly as early as September. No date would be fixed if the Red Shirts did not agree to the plan, the prime minister has said.

The timing is crucial because a key reshuffle of top military posts is scheduled for September, and the protesters don't want Abhisit at the helm then. It's not clear if a caretaker government, which would run the country after Parliament is dissolved, would be allowed to make the appointments.

The military holds tremendous power in Thailand, and the Red Shirts, who draw most of their supporters from the rural and urban poor, view Abhisit's government as the illegitimate product of back-room deals and military pressure on legislators.

The protest group includes supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 military coup following accusations of corruption and abuse of power.

Yudhoyono invited coalition partners on Thursday night

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono met with leaders of coalition parties on Thursday night in order to mend relations between the parties and the government.

At the meeting the President formed a Coalition Parties Forum he directly chaired.

“I has been appointed to be in charge of the forum's daily activities,” Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie, who alto attended the meeting, said in Semarang as quoted by on Friday.

Aburizal explained that there were several agreements reached during the meeting and one of them was about a different coalition concept.

If previously the coalition parties were asked only to help safeguard the government policies, in the new concept they will be asked to participate in setting the policies, he said. “They will be involved from the planning stage,” he said.

The President, Aburizal said, also explained that the forum was not intended to unify the coalition parties' opinions, but simply to deal only with crucial problems, which require common supports.

Before Mother's Day, African grannies meet on AIDS

Eunice Vilakati is everybody's grandmother in her neighborhood.

Not only is she caring for her own two granddaughters orphaned last year, but a changing number of neighbors' children also come to the widow in this nation devastated by the AIDS epidemic.

"When you arrive at my place you can be mistaken that all these children are my children," she said as she joined grandmothers from across Africa days before Mother's Day to share advice and support.

The UN children's organization puts the number of orphans in this country of about 1 million at 100,000, largely due to AIDS and the virus that causes it. The UN says HIV prevalence in impoverished Swaziland is nearly 40 percent, the highest in the world.

Aylwen Dlamini, from a Swazi grandmother's group, said, "Grandmothers are forced to provide home-based care for the sick, they also support immediate neighbors in case of illness and HIV counseling."

The Stephen Lewis Foundation, named for and led by a former UN envoy for AIDS in Africa, provides money for housing and schooling for children orphaned by AIDS and helps people living with AIDS and HIV.

At an opening ceremony for the grandmothers' gathering, Elizabeth Rennie of Canada's Ubuntu Grand Women organization, said: "Canadian grandmothers are the voice of African women in Canada. We're here to learn from our African peers by listening, caring and learning, and won't rest until the African story is told."

She said the aim of the gathering in Swaziland on the eve of Mother's Day was to pay tribute to grandmothers and their courage in the face of the AIDS pandemic.

Swaziland's queen mother, Ntombi Twala, said at the opening ceremony that Swazi grandmothers were ready to learn from their counterparts from around the world about how to tackle HIV and AIDS.

Vilakati, the Swazi grandmother, was open and friendly at the gathering Friday, greeting strangers like friends.

She cooks and sells food and collects bottles for recycling to feed her family. She said she also has sought training at a clinic because so many of her neighbors rely on her for advice about AIDS. And some, she said, have died in her arms.

Selong Belanak: The remote charm of southern coasts

Unlike the western coasts of Lombok, Selong Belanak and Lombok’s other southern coasts are still unexplored. That is just one of the many reasons to go there.

Kuta beach of Lombok offers white sand and fewer tourists.

When my friend Anin suggested we visit our friend Ana in Selong Belanak, I did not take it seriously and responded immediately because I thought that Lombok was just Senggigi and the famous Gili Islands.

But when she said that the area we would visit was remote (there is no cell phone signal), I quickly said yes.

Holiday without technology intrusion is heaven on earth.

It was luck knowing that Ana’s schedule and mine aligned. To make things short, we finally met in Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport to fly to Lombok together. While the Bali-Lombok flight was only about 20 minutes, it took about two hours to reach Selong Belanak from Selaparang airport, Ampenan.

The April sun scorched on the road, but it was cool inside the car. The ride passed along paddy fields and hills that flanked the road. At certain areas, the road was bumpy and steep.

When the car was climbing another hill, Ana turned her head to me and said, “Hey girl, get ready for the view.”

As the car reached the peak, we were stunned by the blue azure water that sends waves to a pocket-shaped white sandy beach enveloped by lush green hills. A small island was popping out in the middle of the bay, just like a beauty spot.

The area is still relatively untouched by tourists. The only accommodation in the beach’s vicinity was Villa Sempiak, Ana’s workplace. After getting our bags into Ana’s room, we headed to the beach. The white sand was smooth carpet on our feet and the water pleasant.

At night, the ocean sounded a special kind of music with waves hitting the shores. Sounds of nocturnal bugs were amplified in the peaceful atmosphere. The area was free of pollution, including noise and light pollution and a good place to become more familiar with the map of astronomy.

Sitting there at two o’clock in the morning, I tried to find Crux constellation of the southern sky and one that I’m most familiar with, but to no avail. With so many stars in the night sky, they flickered as if they were in a blinking competition.

In the morning, I took a walk on the beach with my friends. There is a fishermen’s village just near the beach and it is was teeming with activities at five o’clock that morning. A group of men pushed boats to sea.

A couple of black storks flew around, trying to catch small crabs or fish, oblivious to the stray dogs that ran around barking. The sun rose from the hills, a sign for us to start our exploration on Lombok’s southern area.

For the journey, Ana asked her friends Amak Susi and Amak Kasturi to accompany Anin and I. Amak is the local word for common men. For men of noble birth, the word is Lalu. Public transportation in Lombok is rare and tourists usually rent a motorcycle or a car in Mataram to get around.

Our first stop was Sade, a traditional village of the Sasak tribe. The village has 150 houses and is inhabited by about 700 residents. Our guide said that usually residents intermarried among their cousins because there was a fine of three buffaloes if the men married with women of other villages.

Selong Belanak beach seen from a hill nearby reveals a refreshing  azure water and greeneries.

There are three types of buildings in the village: houses, rice barns and beruga (Lombok traditional gazebo).

According to our guides, only women are allowed to enter the rice barns. Legend has it that the men would become ill if they entered them.

The houses have low roofs so that guests honor the house owners by bowing before entering, the guide said. The house has two floors. The first floor is for parents and the sons, while the second is allocated for the daughters’ room and the kitchen.

From Sade village, we headed to Kuta beach of Lombok, which was quite deserted. There were only three teenagers who approached us to sell us bracelets.

As we walked along the beach, our feet stumbled on the shells washed ashore. We gathered them and it did not take a long time to find a handful of beautiful shells.

While we were at Kuta beach, several boats were coming in. A group of men and women were closing in on a boat that had just touched the beach. While men were pulling the boat ashore, the women were handling the catch of the day. The women hauled baskets of fish out of the boat and carried them on top of their heads. A basket of fish were left on the sand, tempting the children to play with them.

Another deserted beach to visit is Mawun Beach, which also haspocket-shaped terrain. Unlike Kuta Lombok, a free beach, there is parking fee at Mawun Beach.

It was noon when we got there and the sun was scorching mercilessly. Fortunately, there is a big tree just a stone’s throw away on the shoreline. We sat there, sharing the shade with a group of foreign tourists with surfboards.

Nothing needs to be said when nature exercises its charm. The waves move back and forth, the wind blows an airy breeze and leaves rustle. Time seems to stop. But when the sun tilts to the west, it is a sign for us to get on our feet and head back home.

USNS Mercy sets sail starting Pacific partnership 2010

The United States Pacific Partnership 2010 program has commenced with the departure of the Military Sealift Command (MSC) hospital ship, USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), from its homeport in San Diego, early May for a tour of six nations, including Indonesia.

"Pacific Partnership 2010 is the fifth in a series of US Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance endeavors aimed at strengthening regional relationships with host and partner nations in Southeast Asia and Oceania," said a statement on the official website of the US embassy in Jakarta.

The mission is made possible through the collaborative efforts of the Pacific nations as well as non-governmental organizations and military personnel.

Pacific Partnership 2010 will visit six nations during the five-month deployment. USNS Mercy is the lead ship and will visit Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Timor-Leste, while two additional Navy ships will visit Palau and Papua New Guinea.

At each of the visits, military and civilian personnel will participate in civic action projects and community service engagements, all part of the goodwill the ships will bring to the nations.

"This is clearly a mission that develops partner nation capabilities, operating with host nations and our allies to provide assistance in developing the ability to respond during a time of crisis," said US Navy Vice Admiral Richard W. Hunt, commander, US 3rd Fleet, who was on hand to bid the crew farewell.

USNS Mercy was originally built and used as an oil supertanker but was subsequently delivered to the Navy's Military Sealift Command in Dec. 1986. It has since been outfitted as a fully functional hospital ship.

More recently, Mercy came out of the shipyard in San Francisco in March, where it was refurbished and updated to best serve the mission this year. The ship has a full spectrum of surgical and medical services, is capable of maintaining up to 5,000 units of blood, and has a total patient capacity of 1,000 beds.

At each visit the ship makes, teams of military and civilian specialists will deliver valuable medical, dental, biomedical repair, engineering, and veterinary services based on the needs, as identified by the host nations.

A majority of these services are done at sites in the country, however some services, such as surgery, are done onboard the Mercy.

President already has name of Mulyani's successor: Anas

A senior Democratic Party politician expressed confidence Saturday that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono already held the name of the person he would appoint to replace outgoing Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

"I am certain the President already knows who will replace outgoing Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati," Anas Urbaningrum, chairman of the PD faction at the House of Representatives (DPR), said in Jakarta as quoted by Antara news agency.

Speaking at a discussion on Sri Mulyani's resignation from the Cabinet organized by a private radio station, Anas explained that it was the President's prerogative right to appoint a candidate to replace Sri Mulyani, although other parties could also propose a name.

Anas said the Democratic Party had suggested that the President pick Sri Mulyani's successor not from a political party but from professionals who had competence, honesty, and ability to maintain good political communication with parliament and political parties.

"If we are asked to name a candidate, we would say we do not have any particular name to propose because we leave it entirely to the President," Anas said.

He added that the resignation of Sri Mulyani from the Cabinet as finance minister would not have a significant impact on politics.

KPK meets with Century monitoring team

KPK: (JP/R.Berto Wedhatama)

One of the KPK deputy chairmen, Chandra M. Hamzah, said Wednesday's meeting had been made open to the public.

All four KPK leaders were attending the meeting.

Other than Chandra, Bibit Samad Riyanto, Haryono and M. Jasin were also present at the meeting, which was led by Priyo Budi Santoso from the Golkar Party.

The team intended to discuss the development of the antigraft body's investigation into the case, which revolves around a bailout that increase to ten times its original estimate, to Rp 6.76 trillion (US$716 million).

The bailout was authorized in November 2008 by Vice President Boediono in his capacity as the then Bank Indonesia governor and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

Official: Suspect in custody in NY car bomb attack

Bomb attempt: This still photo from a surveillance camera, released  by the New York City Police Department, Sunday, shows the Nissan  Pathfinder used in the attempted attack on Times Square passing through  Times Square on Saturday. (AP/Henny Ray Abrams)B

A law enforcement official says a suspect has been taken into custody in the failed Times Square car bomb attack.

The official spoke to The Associated Press early Tuesday on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

The propane-and-gasoline bomb was found Saturday in an SUV parked near a Broadway theater showing "The Lion King."

A bomb squad dismantled it. The area was evacuated for 10 hours. No one was hurt.

The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, was taken into custody late Monday by FBI agents and New York Police Department detectives while trying to leave the country, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other officials. He was identified by customs agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport and was stopped before boarding a flight to Dubai, Holder said early Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Shahzad is a naturalized U.S. citizen and had recently returned from a five-month trip to Pakistan, where he had a wife, according to law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation into the failed car bombing.

Shahzad was being held in New York overnight and couldn't be contacted. He has a Shelton, Conn., address; a phone number listed there wasn't in service.

The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan was handling the case and said Shahzad would appear in court Tuesday, but the charges were not made public.

Law enforcement officials say Shahzad bought the SUV, a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder, from a Connecticut man about three weeks ago and paid cash. The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.

The vehicle identification number had been removed from the Pathfinder's dashboard, but it was stamped on the engine, and investigators used it to find the owner of record, who told them he had sold the vehicle to a stranger.

As the SUV buyer came into focus, investigators backed off other leads, although Holder said U.S. authorities "will not rest until we have brought everyone responsible to justice," suggesting additional suspects are being sought.

Nukes, trade underpin Kim Jong Il's China visit

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il met with China's president and was expected to meet with its premier Thursday for talks aimed at securing economic aid in exchange for his country's return to international nuclear negotiations, reports said.

Kim's visit has been shrouded in secrecy, with Chinese officials refusing to confirm for a third day that he was in the country. He has been seen by journalists several times since arriving in China on Monday aboard a special armored train.

On Wednesday evening, a fleet of North Korean-flagged limousines escorted by police was seen outside the Great Hall of the People, where Korean news agencies said Kim met with President Hu Jintao that evening and would meet with Premier Wen Jiabao and other leaders Thursday. Another meeting with Hu was possible, the agencies said. Kim was then expected to watch a North Korean remake of the Chinese opera "A Dream of Red Mansions" with Chinese officials.

Security was also very high around the Diaoyutai State Guest House in western Beijing where foreign leaders often stay on official visits. Police, soldiers and plainclothes agents surrounded the compound of lakes and villas. Police closed the road in front and parked a bus at the main gate to block journalists' view.

Thursday's discussions are expected to center on further financial help from China, which already is the biggest source of food and fuel aid for impoverished North Korea and its main bulwark against tougher international sanctions.

China told North Korea it would provide "sufficient" economic aid after the North promised not to stoke regional tension during the six-month Shanghai World Expo which opened last weekend, a Seoul-based activist said Wednesday, citing unidentified informants in Pyongyang.

"China needs to soothe North Korea," said Ha Tae-keung, who runs Open Radio for North Korea, a Seoul-based radio station specializing in North Korea affairs.

Kim decided to visit China to obtain a reconfirmation of aid shipments urgently needed by his country because of deepening food shortages, Ha said.

China is widely seen as having the most clout with Kim's hard-line communist government. Kim has visited China five times since succeeding his father as ruler in 1994, the last time in 2006.

Chinese investment in North Korea has been growing, especially in natural resources, although economic chaos - most recently a botched currency reform effort - limits such opportunities.

Fearing the regime's implosion and mass unrest on its border, China is expected to accede to new aid requests, said Cai Jian, deputy director of the Center for Korean Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University. The sides may also start implementing economic agreements signed during the Chinese premier's trip to North Korea last year, Cai said.

While Beijing won't link the issues explicitly, it will expect Kim to show new willingness to rejoin long-stalled six-nation talks sponsored by China under which North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear programs in return for aid, Cai said.

An announcement during Kim's visit of a return to the negotiations could bring new talks by June, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. The participants also include South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

North Korea quit the talks a year ago and then conducted a nuclear test that drew tightened U.N. sanctions.

On Tuesday, a Chinese official at a U.N. conference reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty underscored Beijing's hopes for a new round of talks.

"China has been committed to promoting diplomatic solutions of the Korean peninsula nuclear issue and the Iranian nuclear issue," said Li Baodong, China's main delegate to the monthlong conference.

Kim's trip also comes amid increasing speculation in South Korea that North Korea may have torpedoed a South Korean warship in disputed waters in March, killing 46 sailors. On Tuesday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak stopped just short of blaming the North.

North Korea has denied involvement in the sinking, accusing Seoul of spreading false rumors to shore up sanctions against the North and muster conservative votes ahead of mayoral and gubernatorial elections.

Golkar favors Anggito, Darmin to replace Mulyani

Priyo Budi Santoso: JP/Wendra Ajistyatama

The Golkar Party has tipped either Anggito Abimanyu or Darmin Nasution as a replacement for Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who is set to begin her tenure as one of the World Bank’s managing directors in June.

Anggito is the current head of the finance ministry fiscal policy department and has been appointed the deputy finance minister, while Darmin is the interim Bank Indonesia governor.

"We need a credible replacement. Anggito Abimanyu and Darmin Nasution ... these two names have the needed credibility," Golkar senior politician Priyo Budi Santoso told reporters at the House of Representatives on Thursday.

Priyo added that Golkar had yet to propose any name to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono concerning Mulyani’s successor.

SBY approves Mulyani’s new assignment

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono: (JP/R. Berto Wedhatama)
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has approved Finance Minister Sri Mulyani’s resignation that will allow her to take the World Bank managing director post.

Speaking in a televised media conference at the State Palace on Wednesday, Yudhoyono said Mulyani’s departure was “a big loss” but ensured that her successor would carry on the financial and tax reforms she had initiated during her tenure.

“As a finance minister Ibu Sri Mulyani has worked very hard to develop an appropriate fiscal policy and reform our financial system to discipline the use of the state budget and improve accountability. She kick-started tax reform which has resulted in a steady increase in state revenue from taxes over the last few years.

“She has been our vanguard of diplomacy in international forums, particularly the G20 and during a time of global crisis she worked hard along with the government to shield Indonesia from the adverse impacts of the crisis,” Yudhoyono said.

The President said he received a letter of request from World Bank president Robert Zoellick on Mulyani’s appointment on Friday last week and met with him to discuss the matter further.

Yudhoyono said he had received Mulyani’s resignation earlier on Wednesday.

The World Bank’s move came on the heels of a political crisis which centers on the House of Representatives’ demand for legal measures against Mulyani and Vice President Boediono in connection with the Bank Century bailout in November 2008.

UK's top 2 parties locked in election standoff

Gordon Brown: UK Labour Party leader Gordon Brown,  look's on while on stage as he await's the  outcome of the vote hoping to be elected as a Member of Parliament for  Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Constituency count at Kirkcaldy, Scotland,  Friday. AP/Scott Heppell

Britain's two main parties were locked in a power struggle Friday after an inconclusive election - with Labour's Gordon Brown suggesting he would try to form a coalition and Conservative leader David Cameron insisting the prime minister no longer had a mandate to govern.

Cameron - whose Conservatives outpolled Labour but fell short of winning a majority in Parliament, according to TV projections - claimed that voters had rejected Labour in Britain's national election Thursday.

"Our country wants change. That change is going to require new leadership," Cameron said early Friday, acknowledging negotiations may be needed to determine who will form the next government. "What will guide me will be our national interest."

Speaking earlier in Scotland, Brown vowed to "play my part in Britain having a strong, stable" government - the clearest sign yet that he would try to cling to power and seek an alliance with the third-place Liberal Democrats. He also pledged action on election reform - a key demand of his would-be partners.

Both men seemed relatively subdued, reflecting not just a tiring campaign but also a political culture that prizes strong government and views ambiguous election outcomes as unfortunate.

Political wrangling and a period of uncertainty appear ahead for one of the world's largest economies - a prospect that could unsettle global markets already reeling from the Greek debt crisis and fears of wider debt contagion in Europe. Britain's budget deficit is set to eclipse even that of Greece next year, and whoever winds up in power faces the daunting challenge of introducing big cuts to slash the country's huge deficit.

In London, bond trading started in the middle of the night - six hours earlier than normal - as traders tried to capitalize on early forecasts. UK government bonds rallied in the hope that the Conservatives might manage to form a government.

Official results early Friday showed the Conservatives overtaking Labour in the number of seats won, 226-175, according to broadcaster ITN, with the Liberal Democrats capturing 36 seats.

An analysis by Britain's main television stations suggested the Conservatives will win 305 of the 650 House of Commons seats, short of the 326 seats needed for a majority. Labour was expected to win 255 seats and the Liberal Democrats 61, far less than had been expected after their support surged during the campaign.

The biggest Labour scalp to be lost in the election was former British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who earlier quit her Cabinet post after a widespread expenses scandal. Smith was caught attempting to bill the public for porn movies watched by her husband.

But Labour won the northern England seat of Rochdale - where Brown last week made the biggest gaffe of the campaign, caught on an open microphone referring to an elderly voter as a "bigoted woman" after she buttonholed him on immigration. Brown later visited her home to apologize.

Turnout for Thursday's vote appeared to be high but hundreds of people across the country were prevented from voting when polls closed at 10 p.m. The head of Britain's Electoral Commission said legal challenges to some ballot results were likely from those turned away.

Police had to go to one polling station in east London after 50 angry residents denied the chance to vote staged a sit-in protest. Voters in Sheffield, Newcastle and elsewhere in London also complained that they had been blocked from voting.

The biggest surprise of the night was the poor performance of the Liberal Democrats, whose telegenic leader Nick Clegg had shot to prominence due to stellar TV debate performances and had been expected to play the role of kingmaker. Instead, the party appeared doomed to keep its perennial third-party status.

Robert Worcester, an analyst for pollster IPSOS Mori, said the Liberal Democrats' poor showing could be attributed to a low turnout by their supporters. "They said they would vote and they didn't," he said.

Still, projecting elections based on exit polls is risky - particularly in an exceptionally close election like this one. Polls are based on samples - in this case 18,000 respondents - and always have some margin of error. In addition, thousands have also already cast postal ballots but those results don't factor into the exit polls.

Conservative leaders were adamant that the results meant Brown must go.

"No way this man, who has failed this electoral task, can contemplate forming a government," Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles said of Brown.

But senior Labour figures lost no time in reaching out to the Liberal Democrats in hopes of blocking Cameron.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said, given the election results, Labour and the Liberal Democrats were "honor bound" to talk to each other.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, also Labour's election chief, noted that in a "hung parliament" - one in which no party has a clear majority of seats - the sitting prime minister is traditionally given the first chance to form a government.

In an apparent opening pitch to the Liberal Democrats, Mandelson backed their call for an end to the existing system in which the number of districts won - not the popular vote - determines who leads the country.

"There has to be electoral reform as a result of this election," Mandelson said. The current system, he said, "is on its last legs."

Still, Cameron appears to have a chance of returning rightwing icon Margaret Thatcher's party to power after 13 years in the political wilderness - even though he may have to seek deals with smaller parties.

In theory, a majority requires 326 seats. However, in practice Cameron could govern as a minority government with a dozen or so fewer because of ad hoc alliances he could form for key votes, and the fact that some parties would be unlikely to join a discredited Labour camp.

The Conservatives were ousted by Labour under Tony Blair in 1997 after 19 years in power. Three leaders and three successive election defeats later, the party selected Cameron, a fresh-faced, bicycle-riding graduate of Eton and Oxford who promised to modernize its fusty, right-wing image.

Under Brown, who took over from Blair three years ago, Britain's once high-flying economy, rooted in world-leading financial services, has run into hard times. In addition, at least 1.3 million people have been laid off and tens of thousands have lost their homes in a crushing recession.

Despite the uncertainty, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - a known supporter of Cameron - said on his Twitter feed he'd already called the Tory leader to congratulate him.

"Even though results aren't in we know the Conservatives had a great day," Schwarzenegger wrote.

Sjahril says Susno asks him to stay in Singapore

Susno Duadji (JP/P.J. Leo)

"Yes, the man contacted me, asking me to stay," Sjahril, who is also a former diplomat, told reporters before undergoing a questioning session at the National Police headquarters in Jakarta.

When asked if the man was a legislator, Sjahril said he did not know the man.

Sjahril also refused to mention where the meeting took place.

Sjahril's lawyer, Hotma Sitompul, added the man came to Sjahril only a day before he returned to Indonesia on April 13, 2010.

Few hours after Sjahril's meeting with the man, Hotma said, Susno was arrested at the Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International Airport by a number of National Police's internal affairs officers.

Susno was about to leave for Singapore but he has denied the trip was to meet with Sjahril.

Susno said he wanted to have a medical check-up in Singapore.

After Sjahril arrived in Indonesia, he was brought to the National Police headquarters where he underwent questioning.

Sjahril testified before detectives, according to a recently leaked police document, he once handed over Rp 500 million (US$54,000) in cash to Susno at his house.

The money was allegedly a bribe in connection with a case involving an arowana fish farm in Riau, when Susno was still National Police chief detective.

Post-Mulyani, Boediono in the crosshair

Boediono and Sri Mulyani: (JP/P.J.Leo)

Mulyani and Vice President Boediono have been the target of attacks from legislators at the House of Representatives in the aftermath of the legislative body's investigation into the Bank Century bailout case.

During a plenary session in early March, House legislators deemed Mulyani and Boediono responsible for the bailout that ten-folded to Rp 6.76 trillion (US$716 million), because it was them who authorized the bailout in November 2008, at which time the vice president was Bank Indonesia governor.

Speculations were then rife that Mulyani could be removed, while Boediono could be impeached.

In the latest development, Mulyani has accepted the job offer from the World Bank and will end her term as a minister starting in June. Many critics believe Mulyani's removal is a political compromise between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and one of his coalition partners, the Golkar Party, whose chairman, Aburizal Bakrie, has been involved in numerous public spats with Mulyani.

Golkar executive Priyo Budi Santoso denied an agreement had taken place between Yudhoyono and Aburizal to oust Mulyani. However, he admitted Mulyani's departure could somewhat “politically freeze” the implications of the Bank Century case against her and Boediono.

However, Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) Secretary General Anis Matta said calls that Mulyani's removal was a favorable exit strategy were wrong.

“If we take a look into the Bank Century case, the biggest responsibility falls on Pak Boediono. He has more responsibility than that of Sri Mulyani,” Anis told reporters at the House in Jakarta on Friday.

Anis also disagreed with Priyo's remarks for freezing the Bank Century case politically.

“Any political implication, including the right for the legislative body to express its opinion for an impeachment, will depend heavily on the results of the supervision conducted by a House monitoring team,” he said.

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