Vietnam target at least 60 golds at SEA Games

Vietnam are targetting 60 to 70 gold medals at next month's Southeast Asian Games in Singapore and are banking on a strict training regime and heavy curfew to achieve the mark. Vietnam are expected to send at least 440 athletes to take part in 27 sports at the June 5-16 biennial multi-sport Games for the 11-nation block. The identities of the athletes remains shrouded in secrecy with local media revealing competitors were going through final preparations at the national sports training centre in Hanoi. The Voice of Vietnam outlet reported on Tuesday that athletes were only able to go out on Wednesday and Sunday and were spending the majority of their time practising. … [Read more...]

Indonesia to stop sending domestic workers to Mideast: reports

A family member of beheaded Indonesian maid Siti Zainab holds a poster bearing her portrait, in Bangkalan, East Java province, on April 15, 2015 Indonesia will stop sending new domestic workers to 21 Middle Eastern countries, reports said on Tuesday, after the recent execution of two Indonesian women in Saudi Arabia angered Jakarta. The ban affects countries including Saudi Arabia -- a major destination for Indonesian maids -- United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Egypt, and will come into effect in three months' time, Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri was cited as saying in local media. Jakarta, which has long complained about the treatment of Indonesian maids in the Middle East, had already placed a moratorium on sending new helpers to Saudi Arabia in 2011 following the beheading of a worker. The new move is meant to be permanent. Maids already working in the affected countries will be allowed to stay and continue in their positions. Indonesia's anger at the executions of its … [Read more...]

Ailing Thai king makes rare public appearance

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej leaves Siriraj hospital for Coronation Day celebrations, in Bangkok, on May 5, 2015 Thailand's revered but ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej made a rare public appearance on Tuesday, leaving the hospital where he has been convalescing for much of the past few months. A heavily guarded convoy carrying the wheelchair-bound 87-year-old monarch left Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital for the Grand Palace, the sprawling complex in the heart of the old quarter that is the seat of the Chakri dynasty. The palace visit was made on Coronation Day, a Thai public holiday that marks Bhumibol's official coronation in 1950, three years after his reign began following the death of his brother. The appearance of the world's longest serving monarch after a recent no show will be a source of relief for many Thais who revere him as a semi-divine figure. He had been expected to appear publicly for his birthday in December, a time when the monarch traditionally addresses his people. … [Read more...]

China military says army yet to fully embrace rule of law

People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers shout as they practise with knives during a training session on snow-covered ground at a military base in Heihe, Heilongjiang province March 18, 2015. China's armed forces, the largest in the world, have yet to become a military which fully follows the law, its official newspaper said on Tuesday, underscoring the problem of rooting out deeply-seated corruption. Weeding out graft in the military is a top goal of President Xi Jinping, chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls China's 2.3 million-strong armed forces. Serving and retired Chinese military officers have said military graft is so pervasive it could undermine China's ability to wage war, and dozens of senior officers have been taken down. In a front page commentary, the People's Liberation Army Daily said that the concept of rule of law had yet to fully take root. "At present, the laws and rules system for our military has basically been formed, but the concept of … [Read more...]

Renowned New Zealand chef Nadia Lim in Vietnam

Nadia Lim, the well-known New Zealand food writer and cook, is visiting Vietnam from May 4 to 8 to take part in activities to celebrate 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Lim paid a visit at Ho Chi Minh City's Ba Chieu Shelter Monday afternoon and learned how to cook bun bo Hue (Hue beef noodle) together with some of the children there. This is Lim's second visit to Vietnam. Last year she visited Ho Chi Minh City and enjoyed a variety of Vietnamese foods. She was impressed by the fact that many Vietnamese families often eat together. During her visit to the shelter, the New Zealand consul in Ho Chi Minh City, Tony Martin, gave a donation of VND100 million for disadvantaged children there. Earlier on Monday morning, Nadia Lim taught students at the Saigontourist Hospitality College how to make a common sorbet made in New Zealand from grilled oat, pineapple, mango, and coconut. The most important thing in cooking is "taste, taste and taste," she told Thanh … [Read more...]

Forget tanks. It’s Russia’s ruble that’s conquering East Ukraine

A woman carries walks back to the village of Nikishino in Ukraine, on April 21, 2015. Photo: AFP As a wobbly cease-fire keeps eastern Ukraine’s warring factions apart, Russia’s ruble is conquering new territory across the breakaway republics. In Donetsk, the conflict zone’s biggest city, supermarkets have opened ruble-only checkout counters to serve the fighters in camouflage lining up along pensioners. Bus and tram tickets come with a conversion from Ukraine’s hryvnia to the Russian currency. Gas-station workers are paid in rubles because that’s what their rebel customers use to fuel their armored jeeps. "There are no problems in shops, they all accept rubles," said Natalya, 36, a hairdresser buying groceries for her parents, who declined to give her surname for fear of reprisals. "They don’t always have small change, but they can give you chewing gum or a cigarette lighter instead." The ruble’s creeping advance shows how the troubled … [Read more...]

Saigon’s new walking street is a real hoopla

Ho Chi Minh City opened its Nguyen Hue walking street last Wednesday, and many people have already joined in the fun. Crowds throng Nguyen Hue despite the baking sun. The street will be off-limits to vehicles all weekend and holiday nights, as it was the whole of the opening day. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre Children scamper on the street, possibly one of the few free, large playgrounds for them anywhere in the city. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre Japanese tourists shoot a selfie in front of a water fountain, the biggest attraction on the street. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre A tourist takes a photo of a water fountain. Photo credit: Thanh Nien Lights add color to the water at night, when the fountains also dance to music. Photo credit: Voice of Ho Chi Minh City Another colorful dance. Photo credit: Voice of Ho Chi Minh City People flock to a fountain at night. Though it is prohibited, some people step inside the fountain with children to take photos or even a shower. Photo: Cong … [Read more...]

Vietnam police gun down drug smuggler near Laos border

A photo provided by Son La Police shows officers checking the guns and bags of heroin left by smugglers from Laos on the night of May 3, 2015. Vietnamese police shot dead a suspected heroin smuggler at the Laos border Sunday night after efforts to stop a 28-strong gang turned into a gun battle. An officer from Son La Province in Vietnam’s northern mountains said his unit is looking for the other members of the gang after seizing four guns and nearly 53 kilograms of heroin. The police team, including officers from the Ministry of Public Security, was guarding the area when the 28 armed men crossed the border. When they found they were under ambush, some of them fired at the police. Tran Anh Tuan, director of Son La police, said his team was "forced" to fight back and brought down one of the adversaries. But the others escaped. It is not clear if the men were Laotian or Vietnamese. The police said drug smuggling from Laos to Vietnam has intensified of late, and smugglers try … [Read more...]

Bad weather disrupts links with avalanche-hit Nepal village

Collapsed and damaged houses are pictured from a helicopter after last week's earthquake at Sindhupalchok District, Nepal May 3, 2015. Bad weather has cut links with a remote village in Nepal where dozens of villagers and trekkers are believed to be buried under an avalanche set off by last month's devastating earthquake, officials said on Tuesday. The death toll from the April 25 earthquake in the Himalayan nation has reached 7,557, the government said. About 100 bodies were recovered on Saturday and Sunday at Langtang village, 60 km (37 miles) north of Kathmandu, which is on a trekking route popular with Westerners. The entire village, which includes 55 guesthouses for trekkers, was wiped out by the avalanche and rescuers are digging in the snow for signs of about 120 others believed buried. Gautam Rimal, assistant chief district officer in the area where Langtang is located, said authorities had not made contact with Langtang for more 24 hours because of bad weather. "We hope … [Read more...]

Ethnic minority group keeps centuries-old bark clothes as treasure

The Sedang used to wear bark clothes at important events like welcoming a new communal house or a new rice crop. Today they only use them at major festivals. Photos: Pham Anh The Sedang ethnic group in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum calls their centuries-old bark clothes "traditional treasure." "In the old days, our ancestors made clothes and blankets from bark fibers. A blanket could be exchanged for a one-meter-long pig while a dress could sell for more than 10 grams of gold," said A Dah, an elderly man in Dak On Village, where Sedang people have been living for centuries. To make clothing, villagers said their ancestors chopped a native tree called loong phoong into logs of about two meters long and removed the bark. Then they peeled the skin layer between the outer bark and the wood before soaking this skin in water for two months. The Sedang then used pestles to beat the skin into a pulp and dried it in the shade to make wood fibers, which were then woven to make … [Read more...]

Binh Dinh’s banh beo: A taste of culinary finesse for only 50 cents

Banh beo, the steamed rice pancake, in Binh Dinh looks very similar to other versions which can be easily found in many parts of the central region. The cakes are thick and small, with lots of toppings. But they taste distinctively different. Even though they are made from rice flour only, just like in other places, they have this mysterious, light fragrance. Their toppings consist of finely chopped Chinese chives and green onions mixed with peanut oil, tuna floss, finely ground peanuts and fried shallots. One last touch: a seasoned fish sauce which is a bit sweet and sour, and mixed with chili and garlic, is poured onto the cakes. Banh beo has always been one of my most favorite snacks since I was a kid. Since I moved to big cities for study and work years ago and have tried different versions of banh beo with refined looks and flavors, those raw-looking, uneven cakes made by old ladies in my hometown are still the best. And, what's more, a dish full of cakes in Binh Dinh comes … [Read more...]

The more, not the merrier: Poor village scrambles to feed its many children

Children play in Mo Ba Village in Thai Nguyen Province. Photo: Thuy Hang Ngo Thi Linh has six siblings, but she still describes her family as small. That is according to the standard of natives in Mo Ba, a small mountainous village in the northern province of Thai Nguyen. Families here, on average, have 10 children each. Linh, now a third grader, says she has learnt to take care of herself. She will have to ride a bicycle to school alone very soon since her parents are having their hands full with her two younger siblings and farming. "My dad and mom have to grow corn plants and raise buffallos too," she said. Her eldest brother already quit school to help graze the family’s buffalos and one of her sisters is married, at a very young age. There are many other low-income families like hers across Mo Ba, one of the most blighted places in the whole country. The 500-strong village is around 30 kilometers from Thai Nguyen Province's center, but the roads leading here zig-zag … [Read more...]

How not to build a power plant: a tale from Java island

Rice farmer Wari in his field in Ponowareng village, Batang regency, Central Java province. It’s a bucolic scene: a farmer sits cross-legged on a path between shimmering rice paddies, resting in the hot, afternoon sun. His tanned face stares out at the still water in the flooded fields and beyond to the gray expanse of the Java Sea. But the farmer, Wari, isn’t happy, and the Indonesian postcard view belies a battle that has divided local communities, split families and become a wind-vane for the growth prospects of Southeast Asia’s largest economy. What Wari is looking at is the site of a planned coal-fired power station. He’s one of 74 farmers from four villages in Central Java’s Batang regency who refuse to sell their land for the $4 billion Japanese-Indonesian project. Their resistance has held up construction for four years, a delay that President Joko Widodo has promised to end. "I don’t want to sell," said Wari, 51, who uses one name and … [Read more...]

Vietnam rice boom puts pressure on farmers

Farm hands, wearing conical hats, harvest rice grain at a farm in Can Tho Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bloomberg Rice farmer Nguyen Hien Thien is so busy growing his crops that he has never even visited Can Tho, a town only a few kilometres from his farm in the southern Mekong Delta. "When I was a child, we grew one crop of rice per year -- now it's three. It's a lot of work," 60-year-old Thien, who's been farming since childhood, told AFP. Experts say Vietnam's drive to become one of the world's leading rice exporters is pushing farmers in the fertile delta region to the brink, with mounting costs to the environment. The country is already the world's second largest exporter of the staple grain. But intensive rice cultivation, particularly the shift to producing three crops a year, is taking its toll on farmers and the ecosystem. "Politicians want to be the world's number one or two rice exporter. As a scientist, I want to see more being done to protect farmers and the environment," … [Read more...]

Second patient dies in France’s artificial heart trial

An employee of the French Carmat company showing an artificial heart, in the Velizy suburb of Paris on September 24, 2009 The second person in France to receive a much-hyped new-generation artificial heart has died eight months after receiving the transplant, biomedical firm Carmat said Tuesday. The 69-year-old man, who wished to remain anonymous, was terminally ill when he received the experimental heart that was seen as a long-term solution for patients with end-stage heart failure. Carmat, which designed what it calls the world's most-advanced artificial heart, said the patient was admitted to hospital on Friday with "circulatory collapse". A medical team noted the heart was not functioning correctly and transplanted a new device, however the patient died on Saturday from post-operative complications. Artificial hearts have been in use for many years as a temporary fix for patients with chronic heart problems. However Carmat hopes to provide a longer-term solution to tens of … [Read more...]

Former HP CEO Fiorina enters 2016 race, takes shot at Clinton

Former Hewlett-Packard Co Chief Executive, Carly Fiorina, is interviewed by Robin Roberts on ABC's program 'Good Morning America,' in New York City, May 4, 2015. Former Hewlett-Packard Co Chief Executive Carly Fiorina on Monday announced she is running for president, and took a shot at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who she said represents a political class that Americans are "disgusted" with. Once one of the most powerful women in American business, Fiorina registers near the bottom of polls of the dozen or so Republican hopefuls and has never held public office. She is positioning herself as an outsider with real-life experience earned through years in the corporate world. Fiorina, 60, said the former first lady and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, belong to an out-of-touch political elite. "She reminds people that there is a huge disconnect between that political class and the hopes and concerns of hard-working Americans everywhere," she told reporters on a … [Read more...]

France, Saudi Arabia: Iran nuclear deal must avoid destabilizing region

Negotiators of Iran and six world powers hold meeting on Iranian nuclear deal at the historic basement of Palais Coburg hotel in Vienna April 24, 2015. France and Saudi Arabia believe that any future deal between Iran and six major powers must ensure not to destabilise the region further and threaten Iran's neighbours, the two countries said ahead of a summit in Riyadh on Tuesday. Saudi Arabia invited French President Francois Hollande, whose country is deemed to have a tough stance in Iran nuclear negotiations, to Riyadh to discuss regional issues with Gulf Arab leaders who fear a rapprochement with Tehran could lead to further detribalization in the region. "France and Saudi Arabia confirmed the necessity to reach a robust, lasting, verifiable, undisputed and binding deal with Iran," President Hollande and Saudi Arabia's King Salman said in a statement after meeting on Monday. "This agreement must not destabilise the security and stability of the region nor threaten the security … [Read more...]

Russian missile sale to Iran involves unseen deals with Israel

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. Last month, when President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced plans to sell a powerful anti-missile system to Iran before the lifting of international sanctions, Israel was quick to join the U.S. in expressing shock and anger. But behind the public announcements is a little-known web of arms negotiations and secret diplomacy. In recent years, Israel and Russia have engaged in a complex dance, with Israel selling drones to Russia while remaining conspicuously neutral toward Ukraine and hoping to stave off Iranian military development. The dance may not be over. Critics of the Russian move say it undermines efforts to apply pressure to Iran by removing one building block of a sanctions regime that will be hard to put back together. It would also enhance Iran’s defenses against a potential U.S. or Israeli attack, as both countries have said they’d consider using force if diplomacy fails. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister … [Read more...]

Merkel defends German intelligence cooperation with NSA

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a news conference after talks with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, May 4, 2015. Photo: Reuters Chancellor Angela Merkel defended Germany's BND intelligence agency on Monday against accusations it illegally helped the United States spy on officials and firms in Europe. In her first public comments on a scandal that has gripped Germany for weeks, Merkel said it was still unacceptable for friendly nations to spy on each other - a reference to her dismay over reports the NSA had tapped her cell phone up to 2013. She ardently backed BND cooperation with the U.S. National Security Agency in fighting terror even as Germany's top public prosecutor launched an investigation. Spying on behalf of the NSA has upset many in Germany where surveillance is a sensitive issue due to abuses by the Nazis and East German Stasi. "We've quite correctly got controls on the BND in parliament and I consider that to be … [Read more...]

Vietnamese elephant injured by poacher’s snare recovers after treatment

Khajohnpat Boonprasert, an elephant veterinarian from Thailand’s National Elephant Institute, treats the wounds on the male elephant at the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center in April. Photo: Ngoc Quyen A young elephant rescued from a poacher's trap in the Central Highlands is currently in better condition after being treated for severe wounds. Dak Lak Province's Elephant Conservation Center said the male, around three years old, was found by residents in the Yok Don National Park in February with trunk and leg wounds. The elephant was then brought to the center for medical treatment. On April 18, Khajohnpat Boonprasert, an elephant veterinarian at Thailand’s National Elephant Institute, and two Thai mahouts arrived at the center to help treat the elephant as requested. They anesthetized the elephant, cleaned the wounds and dressed them. After one week of treatment, the elephant got better. As his wounds start to heal, he walks more easily than before. Pham Van … [Read more...]