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Indonesia Lifts Demand on Freeport to Build Papua Smelter - Media
Monday 16 February 2015 4:20pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

Reuters News

photo: An aerial view shows the site of the Grasberg Mine, operated by US-based Freeport-McMoran, in Papua. (Reuters Photo/Muhammad Yamin)

JAKARTA - Indonesia has dropped its demand that Freeport-McMoran Inc build a $1.5 billion copper smelter in Papua province, saying a regionally owned enterprise would take on the project instead, website Detik.com reported, quoting the mining minister.

The ministry in December said Arizona-based Freeport, which runs the world's fifth-largest copper mine in Indonesia, should agree to build the Papua smelter in five years if it wanted a mining contract extension beyond 2021.

The latest decision could ease pressure on Freeport, which has already agreed to a $2.3-billion expansion by 2017 of its copper smelting facility in East Java, currently the only one in the country.

The government has been pushing the company to comply with rules that force miners to process and refine minerals domestically.

"If Freeport is burdened in two locations it would be uneconomical," Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sudirman Said said on Sunday, according to the Detik website.

A regionally owned enterprise would build the Papua smelter and could team up with other investors on the project, the ministry said in a document obtained by Reuters.

An investor from China has already approached the Papua administration, Detik's report cited Said as saying, without providing details.

"A smelter on its own is not economical so we are building an (industrial) zone to make it more attractive," Said said.

A ministry spokesman was not immediately available to confirm the comments.

The 650-hectare industrial zone in Papua's Mimika area is not far from Freeport's concentrate pipeline and already has a port and eletrical infrastructure, according to the document.

The zone will also include a cement packaging plant, a liquefied petroleum gas filling plant, a fertilizer plant and a petrochemicals plant.

"This is a win-win solution," Said said, adding that Freeport would be contractually required to supply copper concentrate to the Papua smelter.

"Whoever is tasked to build the smelter in Papua, Freeport Indonesia will form a business-to-business contract with them to supply concentrate," Freeport Indonesia CEO Maroef Sjamsuddin said in the document.

Freeport is expected to produce 2 million tonnes of copper concentrate from its Indonesian operations in 2015, up from 1.4 million tonnes in 2014.

Indonesia aims to develop 4.5 million tonnes of copper concentrate processing capacity nationally, Said said, up from 1.2 million tonnes at present. (Reporting by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Joseph Radford)

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Indonesia Becomes The Latest Battleground for North Korean Human Rights
Monday 16 February 2015 4:17pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Hankyoreh (South Korea)

North Korea’s embassy in Jakarta vehemently protesting event discussing human rights abuses

Indonesia is the latest setting for a diplomatic clash between Seoul and Pyongyang over human rights in North Korea.

North Korea is strenuously objected to the holding of a North Korean human rights-themed event, with an official visiting the site from its embassy in Jakarta to read a protest statement out loud.

The event, a symposium on the topic of “international coordination to improve human rights in North Korea,” was organized in Jakarta on Feb. 10 by South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission, in conjunction with its Indonesian counterpart and the Indonesian Academy of Sciences.

Prior to the event, the North Korean embassy sent a message of vehement protest to the Indonesian government claiming the symposium had been “planned to spread negative feeling through unconfirmed rumors about North Korea,” the Indonesian weekly magazine Tempo reported recently.

Tempo also reported that North Korea’s ambassador to Indonesia, Ri Jong-ryul, had met with an Indonesian government official in his office and requested that Jakarta “take action to prevent the staging of gatherings to oppose North Korea.”

In a written response to the embassy, the Indonesian foreign ministry said, “as a democratic nation, we cannot forbid an event that has already had legal permission,” Tempo reported.

An unusual response followed, with a representative of the North Korean embassy visiting the event site to read aloud a statement of protest to reporters, the US service Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

North Korea’s sensitive response was based on its determination that the international community’s ongoing focus on its human rights situation is directly targeting leader Kim Jong-un, the RFA report said.

By Son Won-je, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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Nikkei: Afer-School Programs: More Southeast Asian Parents Investing in Their Children
Monday 16 February 2015 3:32pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

Nikkei Report

KOSUKE TERAI, Nikkei staff writer

photo: Children practice playing the piano at a Yamaha music school in Jakarta.

TOKYO -- More parents in Southeast Asia are signing up their children for language and music lessons as well as other after-school programs.

At the Plaza Indonesia shopping center in central Jakarta, you will find a fully booked 6-year-old boy. Three days a week, he will be at Rockstar Gym for futsal lessons, while on the other four days he goes to English language school.

His single mother, 42, pays roughly 5 million rupiah ($391) every month for the lessons. That is about a third of her monthly wage. She thinks of it as an investment in a son who will grow up to be athletic and English-proficient.

The mother works at a trading company, and her monthly salary is about what a manager at a nonmanufacturing company would make.

According to a Rockstar general manager, the number of enrollees has increased 100% in the past two years, to around 3,000.

There are two major factors at play here -- an expanded middle class that can afford these types of lessons and official school curricula that are falling behind the times.

According to an estimate by U.K. research company Euromonitor International, the number of middle class households in six major ASEAN countries in 2014 increased 70% from 2000, to roughly 100 million. A middle class household is defined as one that has between $5,000 and $35,000 worth of disposable income per year. Currently, the middle class represents 71% of all households.

Rising living standards in the countries, however, is apparently outpacing education standards.

According to a 2012 survey conducted by the Japan Research Institute, 93% of households in Jakarta sent their children to after-school programs, while the figure reached 95% in Ho Chi Minh City. The high percentages reflect the poor quality of standard education in those two metropolises and the fact that not many of their schools offer worthwhile extracurricular activities.

In more advanced Tokyo, Singapore and Bangkok, around 80% of households enroll their children in extracurriculum programs.

Yamaha, a Japanese brand known for its pianos that also operates music schools, saw the number of children enrolled in its programs in Asia excluding Japan expand 17%, to 140,000, during the five years through 2014. Berlitz, the U.S.-based language instruction provider, has seen the number of enrollees double between 2000 and now to about 100.

Blame it on globalization. Parents are now insisting that their kids learn a second language. At least. A 14-year-old girl in Bangkok started taking English lessons at Berlitz when she was 6. She began learning Chinese in May and hopes to start Japanese lessons soon. The girl's mother said she wants her daughter to be proficient in a number of languages so she will be ready for the global opportunities of tomorrow.

A survey conducted by American MasterCard in 2014 shows 47% of Thai households have sent children to foreign language classes. The figures were 46% in Vietnam, 21% in Indonesia and 17% in Japan.

Georgette Tan, group head of communications for Asia/Pacific at MasterCard, was responsible for the survey. She said more parents think that down the road, proficiency in foreign languages will help their children land jobs, get promotions and possibly earn more money.

However, language lessons do not come cheap. They can amount to several hundred dollars per month. That's a lot in Southeast Asia.

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Indonesia's Trade Balance in Surprising Surplus in Jan as Imports Slide
Monday 16 February 2015 3:26pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

Reuters News

* Jan exports -8.09 pct y/y vs -4.60 pct in Reuters poll

* Jan imports -15.59 pct y/y vs forecast -6.00 pct

* Trade balance at $709 mln surplus vs forecast $140 mln deficit

By Nilufar Rizki and Gayatri Suroyo

photo: Workers guide a container for unloading at Tanjung Emas Port in Semarang, Central Java on dec. 4, 2014. (Antara Photo/R. Rekotomo)

JAKARTA - Indonesia posted an unexpected surplus in January after imports slumped, signalling continuing weakness in consumption at a time when exports are flagging.

Southeast Asia's largest economy is off to a weak start this year with exports and imports in January falling more sharply than expected and down for a fourth straight month.

Data from the statistics bureau on Monday showed imports in January dropped 15.59 percent from a year earlier, far worse than the 6 percent fall expected by analysts in a Reuters poll. Exports shrank 8.09 percent versus a forecast 4.6 percent fall.

"We are just a little concerned about the import numbers. While the trade surplus is a positive, the collapse in imports could indicate that domestic demand is under pressure as well," said Gundy Cahyadi, economist with DBS Bank in Singapore.

Agustinus Prasetyantoko, a professor at Universitas Katolik Atma Jaya in Jakarta, said the trade surplus resulted from a sharper drop in imports than exports. "This indicates that though the trade balance is improving, economic activity is actually slowing."

Economists had forecast a trade deficit of $140 million.

Indonesia's gross domestic product expanded at its weakest pace in five years in 2014 on weak exports and investment. The country's main driver of growth, private consumption, also slowed in the last quarter dampened by high interest rates.

On the flip side, the slide in global oil prices to their lowest in almost six years has helped the net oil importer reduce its import bills. Oil and gas imports in January dropped 40.42 percent from a year earlier.

Imports of consumer goods fell 20.25 percent, while imports related to investments in areas such as raw materials and capital goods also plunged.

The rupiah strengthened to 12,735 per dollar, shored up by the country's improved trade balance, but the stock market was unchanged after the data, down 0.4 percent.

Indonesia has been struggling to turn its annual trade balance back to a surplus since 2012. That, and a deficit in its services sector, has put the country's current account balance in negative territory for three years.

On whether a trade surplus can be sustained, Prasetyantoko noted the government's upcoming infrastructure projects.

"This will increase imports of raw materials so imports will probably rise later. If exports cannot pick up, then the chance of a full year trade surplus is small." (Reporting by Adriana Nina Kusuma; Additional reporting by Jongwoo Cheon in Singapore; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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WSJ: AirAsia’s Growth Model Under Strain
Monday 16 February 2015 3:22pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Wall Street Journal

Grappling With Indonesian Affiliate’s Crash, Airline Also Struggles With Partnerships

By Kathy Chu, Gaurav Raghuvanshi and Megumi Fujikawa

When Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes bought the struggling AirAsia Bhd. in 2001, his goal was to build a budget airline group that could take advantage of the explosive travel growth he saw coming in the region.

To do that, Mr. Fernandes made AirAsia into the McDonald’s of the aviation industry, bridging Asia’s checkerboard of sovereign states and aviation rules by rolling out franchise-like joint ventures under the AirAsia brand, in countries from Thailand and the Philippines to India.

In roughly a decade, that model turned AirAsia into a group encompassing nine carriers, of which the three listed companies had $2.3 billion in revenue in 2013. While the number of annual airline seats in the Asia-Pacific region has doubled to 1.7 billion during the past decade, the number of seats available on budget airlines increased tenfold to 400 million, according to the CAPA-Centre for Aviation.

But as the AirAsia group grapples with its biggest crisis yet—the aftermath of the December crash of a plane operated by its Indonesian affiliate—that franchise model and the growth on which it was premised could be under strain.

AirAsia’s once heady traffic growth is slowing as competition increases, causing profit to shrink at AirAsia’s Malaysian flagship company. AirAsia Thailand has become unprofitable and AirAsia carriers in Indonesia and the Philippines are restructuring, creating challenges for the Malaysian group.

In 2014 the AirAsia group carried 50 million passengers, CAPA estimates, 9.3% more than the previous year but the slowest growth since the airline began operations under Mr. Fernandes in 2002.

Analysts expect AirAsia Bhd.’s earnings to be hurt by the AirAsia Flight 8501 crash, which killed all 162 people on board, when the company posts results at the end of February.

Meanwhile, cultural and regulatory tussles have hampered AirAsia’s efforts to expand its franchises further in markets such as Japan and Vietnam.

There “is a limit to bringing all AirAsia’s business ways into the Japanese market,” said Shinzo Shimizu, a senior vice president at former joint-venture partner ANA Holdings Inc., after the partnership fell apart in 2013.

AirAsia said last year that it was setting up a second Japanese joint venture with different partners.

A spokeswoman for the AirAsia group declined to comment for this article.

Mr. Fernandes, known for his no-nonsense attitude and his trademark uniform of jeans and a red cap, overhauled AirAsia after he bought it in 2001 from the Malaysian government for one ringgit (28 U.S. cents) and the assumption of 40 million ringgit ($11 million) in debt.

He established the first joint venture in Thailand in 2003, taking a minority stake to comply with Thailand’s rules barring foreigners from owning more than 49% of an airline.

It now has similar stakes in franchises in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and India, as well as AirAsia X, its long-haul carrier.

Despite the minority stakes, AirAsia exercises a high degree of control over its joint ventures, dictating matters from branding to in-flight retail. The control has rankled some partners, but it also has been responsible for the airline’s success in training pilots and flight attendants, and negotiating contracts for aircraft, former employees say.

“Even from the inside, you would not see much of a difference between AirAsia Malaysia and AirAsia Philippines,” said Dany Bolduc,who worked for the Kuala Lumpur-based flagship for two years until 2013, managing in-flight sales of items such as caps and T-shirts across the group. “The model has to be consistent across the markets [in which] they operate.”

Analysts say one of AirAsia’s greatest achievements has been persuading regulators in the countries where it operates to let it keep the AirAsia name despite its minority-partner status.

“AirAsia has successfully branded itself,” said Yeah Kim Leng, dean of the business school at Malaysia University of Science and Technology. “It has really standardized the service quality, corporate culture and expectations that customers have.”

But the franchise model has some drawbacks for AirAsia’s affiliates, which grapple with higher costs than the Malaysian flagship. Affiliates may pay the flagship fees for things including maintenance and leasing planes. Cost per available seat kilometer, a common measure of aviation costs, was $3.99 in the quarter ended in September for AirAsia’s Malaysia operations, compared with $5.14 for Indonesia and $5.24 for Thailand, according to AirAsia filings.

“No matter what, the cost is going to be higher than the main company,” said Brian Thomas Hogan, managing director of XSQ Aviation Consultancy and a former chief executive adviser of Zest Air before its partnership in the Philippines with AirAsia.

Other would-be partners have balked at AirAsia’s attempts to control them.

For ANA of Japan, one source of friction was that AirAsia relied heavily on website bookings, which account for about 85% of the AirAsia brands’ ticket sales, though in Japan reservations through travel agents were more common, a spokesman for ANA said.

AirAsia also wasn’t willing to alter a system that required passengers to check in at least 45 minutes before departure, even though other major Japanese airlines had a 15-minute cutoff, the spokesman said.

The Malaysian group said when the partnership dissolved that the companies had “a fundamental difference of opinion between its shareholders about how the business should be managed, from cost management to where the domestic business operations should be based.”

AirAsia scrapped plans for a highly publicized partnership in Vietnam in 2011, saying it was unable to get Vietnamese regulatory approval to use the AirAsia brand, which it said was “fundamental to the successful conduct of the business model.”

A person familiar with the proposed joint venture with VietJet Aviation JSC said cultural clashes were also responsible for the dissolution of the partnership.

“Vietnamese people have their own way of thinking about how to manage the company, and AirAsia thought it could do it the AirAsia way,” this person said.

—Anh Thu Nguyen, In-Soo Nam and Shibani Mahtani contributed to this article.

Write to Kathy Chu at kathy.chu@wsj.com, Gaurav Raghuvanshi at gaurav.raghuvanshi@wsj.com and Megumi Fujikawa at megumi.fujikawa@wsj.com

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Government Spending in Spotlight
Monday 16 February 2015 3:04pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Jakarta Post

Tassia Sipahutar and Satria Sambijantoro, Jakarta



Having achieved lawmakers’ approval, the government must now step up the disbursement of state funds and improve its capacity to channel the money into growth-generating projects, economists say.

After a month of deliberation, lawmakers and the government finally approved the revised 2015 state budget late on Friday, which, in contrast to previous budgets, has a strikingly high allocation of funds for infrastructure development and social spending.

Atma Jaya University economist A. Prasetyantoko argued that the failure to optimize the disbursement of state funds would lead to the economy growing at a yearly pace of only 5.3 percent compared to the government’s target of 5.7 percent.

By tackling infrastructure bottlenecks that range from roads and dams to power plants, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo aims for 7 percent economic growth over his five-year term. The economy expanded by 5 percent last year.

“[The government] must improve coordination among ministries as well. That way it can expedite funding disbursement and achieve a faster disbursement rate,” Prasetyantoko said on Sunday.

As much as Rp 290 trillion (US$22.67 billion) has been earmarked for capital spending across ministries and agencies — more than double last year’s allocation — which includes growth-generating infrastructure projects.

The funds will be used, among other things, to construct roads (Rp 57.82 trillion), to manage water resources (Rp 30.53 trillion) and to develop regional infrastructure (Rp 500 billion).

“[With the new budget], the government is apparently trying to say, ‘Hey, we are very serious about developing the economy’,” Ari Kuncoro, the dean of the University of Indonesia’s (UI) School of Economics, said recently.

However, the massive expansion in funding has also raised new concerns over the capacity of related ministries and agencies to make the best use of the money.

“The next question will be about the implementation because we still need to see whether [the government] can really disburse the huge funds earmarked for infrastructure,” Ari added.

Data from the Finance Ministry reveals that state budget disbursement rates never reached 100 percent between 2010 and 2013, ranging at around 90 percent during that four-year period.

Similar rates were also recorded on the expenditure of ministries that were connected to economic activities. The Transportation Ministry—which is slated to receive more than Rp 20 trillion in additional funds— posted an absorption rate of only 78.9 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry posted a rate of 57.5 percent in 2011 and the Public Housing Ministry — now named the Public Works and Public Housing Ministry — booked a 67.5 percent disbursement rate back in 2012.

The two ministries stand to receive Rp 5 trillion and Rp 33.31 trillion, respectively, in extra funding, as shown by the revised state budget.

Gadjah Mada University (UGM) economist A. Tony Prasetiantono said that low absorption was not a new issue and that it had been a problem since the era of former finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

According to Tony, the problem is a Catch-22 situation for the ministries. “Many of the tender processes are slow because there is an element of fear that they will be entangled in corrupt activities if the processes are carried out in haste,” he said.

He proposed that the government offer more incentives for private investors to attract their participation in the projects, adding that the government should also develop “a business sense”. <--

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‘Domestic Workers’ Conditions At Home No Less Worrying’
Monday 16 February 2015 3:00pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Jakarta Post

Indra Budiari, Jakarta

photo: Flush and brush: Protesting activists from various NGOs gather at the House of Representatives to press their demand that the newly sworn-in lawmakers expedite the passage of a bill on the protection of domestic maids on Sept. 1, 2014. JP/Wendra Ajistyatama

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo vowed to stop sending Indonesians to work as housemaids abroad, because the poor treatment they received was humiliating for the nation. The President, however, apparently did not realize that the situation at home is no better.

Speaking at a congress of the Hanura Party in Surakarta, Central Java, over the weekend, the President said he felt humiliated during a recent visit to Malaysia when he raised the issue of Indonesian migrant workers, including housemaids, with his host Prime Minister Najib Razak.

“This is about our [nation’s] dignity. In my bilateral meeting with Malaysia, I did feel very ashamed,” said Jokowi, as quoted by Antara news agency.

National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) member Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, however, reminded the President that the situation was no better at home, citing the absence of legal protection for domestic workers.

The House of Representatives has not been able to pass a bill on domestic workers’ protection although it was presented to the House 11 years ago, she said.

“How come we expect other countries to protect [housemaids] when even in their own country they are unprotected?” the former House member said in a discussion at the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH) on Sunday.

Housemaids are also prone to mistreatment. Based on data released by the National Network for Domestic Workers Advocacy (Jala PRT), there were 332 cases of mistreatment and violence against domestic workers in 2013, slightly increased from 322 cases in 2012.

Domestic worker Santi also spoke in the discussion, which was held to commemorate National Domestic Workers Day. The 35-year-old said the government did little to protect workers like her. There is almost no legal protection, including in relation to the minimum wage and other workers’ rights, for those in her profession.

“It is sad that our profession is not categorized as ‘worker’ and has no legal basis,” Santi noted.

Santi, who works for a Japanese family, said that she received Rp 1.8 million (US$141) per month for working from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, and added that she also had to work on national holidays.

“When I asked my boss why I don’t get a day off during national holidays, he argued that there were no clear regulations about my profession that prohibit me from working during holidays,” she said.

Another housemaid, Ana, said that she earned Rp 1.2 million per month for working from Monday to Saturday for a family in Kemang, South Jakarta, and added that the money was not enough to cover her and her 5-year-old daughter’s daily needs.

“My boss also reduces my salary if I do not show up for work, even when I told him that my daughter was very sick,” she said.

She said that the salary included her meals and transportation allowance, adding that she was not allowed to eat anything from her boss’ house.

Budi Irianti, a housewife, said she was not aware that there was a National Domestic Workers Day in Indonesia.

“My maids do not work on Sunday, but if the domestic workers’ day fell on a work day, I don’t think I could give them the day off because the commemoration is still not common yet,” Budi said.

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Govt, House Agree to Scrap Public-review Mechanism in New Regional Elections Law
Monday 16 February 2015 2:57pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Jakarta Post

Haeril Halim and Margareth S. Aritonang, Jakarta

Illustration: nefosnews.com

The government and the House of Representatives have agreed to drop a public-review mechanism from the newly passed Regional Elections Law, arguing that the procedure would limit the ability of political parties to select qualified candidates.

The public review was a new procedure introduced in the law that has also mandated concurrent local elections for regional heads.

The chairman of House Commission II overseeing governance, regional autonomy, state apparatus and agrarian affairs, Rambe Kamarulzaman, said the revision, which was currently being discussed at the House, aimed at reinstating the right of political parties, or coalitions of political parties, to independently select their preferred candidates for local leadership posts.

However, Rambe dismissed suggestions that the recent maneuver on the local election law would remove the public's right to give input to political parties regarding the proposed candidates, as people could exercise their political rights at the polls by selecting their "best candidate" on the ballot papers.

"Only political parties have the right to decide who should and should not be endorsed on the local leaders' tickets [not the public]. The House and the government have the same shared vision on [the exclusion of] a public-review mechanism," Rambe said over the weekend.

Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, who is a politician from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), supported Rambe's arguments.

"Don't let the public-review mechanism annul the right of political parties to endorse candidates or independent candidates in local elections. The plan is also meant to protect the dignity and authority of political parties that have screened their candidates through a number of tests," Tjahjo said.

Tjahjo added that political parties would do their best to select qualified candidates to be endorsed as candidates "to make sure that people can choose the best from among the best candidates" by the time the local election was held.

Separately, executive director of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), Titi Anggraini, lashed out at the House and the government for planning to scrap the public-review mechanism, saying the plan must be rejected.

Titi said the public-review mechanism was established based on the spirit of transparency and aimed at ending the elite-based endorsement system of local-leadership candidates, which had been ongoing for decades among political parties.

Titi acknowledged that the public-review mechanism stipulated in the new law was far from perfect as more discussions at the House were needed to find the best way to implement it in the future.

"Instead of scrapping it, the House of representatives should find ways to improve public participation. The concept stipulated in the new local election law is not yet in its optimal form but for sure the spirit of its establishment could trigger many positive things in the future," Titi said on Sunday.

Titi said that if political parties had high confidence that they could select the best candidates for regional leadership posts then they should not be afraid of holding a public review to confirm their abilities to the public.

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JP: No Polri Decision by Jokowi for a Month
Monday 16 February 2015 2:40pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Jakarta Post

Haeril Halim, Jakarta

photo: Street theater: Supporters of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo stage a theatrical demonstration at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Central Jakarta on Sunday. They made fun of the Jokowi camp, which has been divided between politicians wanting him to inaugurate graft suspect Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan as the National Police chief and ordinary voters who want him to seek another candidate. JP/P.J. Leo

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo may have enough political backing to nominate a new National

Police (Polri) chief, but the nation is likely to wait at least one month for an end to the prolonged uncertainty.

The President told his Great Indonesian Coalition on Saturday that he would nominate a new police-chief candidate regardless of the result of Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan's pretrial motion at the South Jakarta District Court. The court is expected to issue its ruling on Monday.

The House of Representatives will enter a recess period and resume activities on March 18. After the President submits the name of the new candidate to House Commission III, a plenary session will formally decide whether to endorse the candidate.

"It's impossible to insert such an item in the agenda of the last plenary session on Wednesday [Feb. 18]. It's only possible to process it after March 18," said Desmond Junaidi Mahesa, a legislator from the Gerindra Party faction on Sunday.

South Jakarta District Court judge Sarpin Rizaldi is scheduled to issue his verdict on Budi's pretrial petition on Monday. Budi has asked the court to void his status as a graft suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

The President has breached his own promise to issue his final decision on the fate of Budi made last week. He later said he would postpone his decision until Monday.

Meanwhile, former Supreme Court chief justice Harifin Tumpa warned Judge Sarpin that approving Budi's request had no legal basis.

Harifin said the Criminal Law Procedures Code (KUHAP) limited the scope of a pretrial petition to only challenge improper arrests and the unilateral stoppage of an investigation by law enforcement institutions because any other acts carried out by investigators must be tried in court.

"The judge [Sarpin] must stick to his authority as allowed by the existing law. I don't think there is such a legal basis [to authorize a judge to approve a pretrial petition to challenge a suspect's legal status]," Harifin said.

Meanwhile, University of Indonesia (UI) legal expert Junaedi said the Supreme Court could impose sanctions on Sarpin if he insisted on declaring Budi's graft-suspect status as "illegitimate".

"He [Sarpin] could be demoted as happened to the judge who handled a pretrial hearing involving PT Chevron Pacific Indonesia," Junaedi said.

Meanwhile, in a significant departure from its previous stance, senior Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggles (PDI-P) politician Hasto Kristyanto said that the party would support whatever decision Jokowi made with regard to Budi's candidacy.

"As Vice President Jusuf Kalla said earlier, any decision on the matter is up to President Joko Widodo. The PDI-P will always support the President as long as the decision is based on the Constitution. We don't want to make things worse," Hasto said over the weekend as quoted by kompas.com.

Meanwhile, NasDem Party politician Patrice Rio Capella said party founder and leader Surya Paloh would respect Jokowi's decision on Budi's fate.

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The Guardian: Indonesia Has Death Penalty Double Standard, Says Brother of Spared Maid
Monday 16 February 2015 2:37pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Guardian

‘Indonesia is begging for its citizens to escape the death penalty, meanwhile Indonesia’s firing squad executes inmates, it’s not fair,’ says brother of domestic worker saved from death penalty in Saudi Arabia

By Kate Lamb in Java

photo: Satinah Binti Jumadi Ahmad is on death row for killing her employer in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The family of an Indonesian domestic worker on death row in Saudi Arabia has criticised the perceived hypocrisy of the Indonesian government, which has paid “blood money” to save her but which refuses to countenance stopping the execution of two Australians in Bali.

In the case of Satinah Binti Jumadi Ahmad, 41 – an Indonesian domestic worker sentenced to death by beheading for robbing and murdering her employer’s wife – the Indonesian government has been lobbying hard for her life to be spared.

Last year the government, together with contributions from business, paid 7m riyal (US$1.9m) in legally recognised “blood money” requested by the victim’s family. According to sharia law in the kingdom, the family of a victim can accept this instead of an execution.

The Indonesian government also lodged a formal appeal to Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah to pardon Ahmad.

Paeri al-Feri, 44, said he was grateful the government was working so hard to save his sister, but considered the government’s actions a double standard.

“On the one hand, Indonesia is begging for its citizens to escape the death penalty, meanwhile Indonesia’s firing squad executes inmates, it’s not fair,” said al-Feri. “How can you plead for a lighter sentence or even freedom from other countries if the death penalty still exists in Indonesia?”

As Indonesia prepares to execute drug traffickers Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 33, Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, has vowed to fight for 229 Indonesian nationals on death row abroad.

The ministry has pledged that Indonesian nationals facing capital punishment overseas will be provided with full legal and consular assistance.

Al-Feri, who runs a recycling service in Semarang, Central Java, said: “Other countries might think: ‘Look at Indonesia still executing people while they ask for freedom for their own citizens.’ ”

“I think there should be a better solution.”

The Indonesian foreign ministry has defended its position, describing the use of capital punishment as within the bounds of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“The way we see [it] is that the issue of capital punishment is still part of our law and this is still in line with the context of international law … where capital punishment can be used in the more serious of crimes,” a foreign ministry spokesperson, Armantha Nasir, told Guardian Australia.

Consecutive legal attempts to have the death penalty for Chan and Sukumaran – who were charged for their part in a plot to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Bali to Australia – commuted to life have failed.

In an apparent effort to appear tough on what he has described as a “drug emergency”, the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, has ignored calls from the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, the Australian government and human rights activists to cancel the executions.

Widodo has repeatedly stated there will be no clemency granted to drug offenders.

In an 11th-hour plea, the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, refused to rule out withdrawing the Indonesian ambassador to express Australia’s anger over the planned executions.

After a decade in Bali’s Kerobokan prison, official preparations are underway to transfer the two Australians to Nusakambangan island where they will be executed by firing squad alongside other criminals, including foreigners.

The date of the executions is yet to be determined but the attorney general’s office has asked they be conducted “as soon as possible”.

Under Indonesian law, Chan and Sukumaran will be given 72 hours’ notice before they are killed.

Al-Feri only recently learned of the death penalty facing the two Australians, but empathised immediately with their families.

“It breaks your heart, crying inside, constantly and desperately figuring out how to help her out. And the two [Australians] must have families, and their families must feel the same,” he said. “We should ask ourselves if we have a family member facing the death penalty, how would you feel? It’s hard.”

Ahmad left her small home town in Central Java for Saudi Arabia 12 years ago to take a job that would allow her to send more money back home. She was arrested just three months after arriving.

Ahmad has claimed she killed her employer’s wife in self-defence after sustained physical and emotional abuse.

In February last year, just months before the blood money was submitted, the Indonesian government paid for Ahmad’s only child, daughter Nur Afriana, 21, and al-Feri and his wife to travel to Saudi Arabia.

For 10 days they stayed at the embassy and were able to visit Ahmad in prison once.

“We hadn’t seen her for a long time, we cried, we talked about our families, friends, what’s going on at home,” recalled her brother. “She told Nur to take care of herself, she’s a big girl now.”

Since that visit the only contact Afriana has with her mother is via long-distance phone calls.

“She usually says to me to be brave and be patient. She says that I should not miss five times daily [Islamic] prayers and to pray for her release,” Afriana told Guardian Australia.

Afriana hoped her mother, who has not been home since she was nine years old, would one day be released from prison.

“Why is life in prison not enough?” asks Afriana. “Don’t the people who execute inmates also commit sin?”

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The Age: Protests, Boycotts Against Bali Events Mounting
Monday 16 February 2015 2:34pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Age

Steve Lillibuen

photo: Musician David Franciosa had been booked to do performances in Bali for corporate gigs but has cancelled due to the impending execution of the two Australian Bali 9 members. Photo: Paul Jeffers

David Franciosa, the Melbourne singer-songwriter, has cancelled two lucrative corporate events in Bali as calls to boycott holiday plans and business arrangements in Indonesia gather pace.

As Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are pushed closer towards the Indonesian firing squad, Franciosa knew he had to make a stand.

"How can I visit a country that's going to murder our own citizens?" said Mr Franciosa, who co-wrote the 2008 pop hit Perfect with Vanessa Amorosi.

Mr Franciosa, 39, became a well-known classical singer after his early start in pop music. He had two events booked at an Indonesian hotel this August, but he's since called off both performances, cancelled his flights and told his thousands of social media followers about it. He's also urging other Australians to show their compassion and join him in the boycott.

"It's not just tourism, but people need to reconsider doing business with this country," he said. "It's about human rights. Our voices might be heard louder together."

The singer's efforts come as Foreign Minister Julie Bishop warned how Australians could reconsider travel plans if the executions of the Bali nine ringleaders are carried out - a warning initially dismissed by the Indonesian Foreign Ministry. "I doubt a foreign minister from a friendly country and who is respected in the region made a statement like that," said ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir.

Mr Franciosa said he was motivated to act now because he was haunted by the 2005 execution of Melbourne's Van Tuong Nguyen for drug smuggling in Singapore.

"My greatest regret was that I wasn't in a position to help back then. This time, I thought I can actually do something about it. I'm not normally political, but it's an overt act of murder. I have to stand up and be counted."

Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry, who represented Van Nguyen in 2005, has been visiting both death row inmates in Bali in recent days, but vowed to never return after seeing what is happening.

"Leaving Bali tonight. Never coming back," he tweeted.

Many more Australians on social media have pledged to cancel their own holiday plans to Indonesia after Victorian upper house member Fiona Patten, who leads the Australian Sex Party, started a #BoycottBali campaign. She says boycotts can be effective against countries where tourism is a large source of revenue.

Australia's two-way trade relationship with Indonesia is worth just over $5 billion annually, according to Austrade, but tourism is a huge factor with over a million Australians visiting the country last financial year.

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Australia Vows to Exhaust All Options to Save Bali Drug Smugglers
Monday 16 February 2015 2:29pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

Agence France Presse

Australia will pursue all legal options to save two of its citizens from execution in Indonesia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott vowed Monday amid reports the death penalty judges asked for bribes.

"I don't want to peddle false hope but I do want everyone to understand... we are straining every fibre to help these people," Abbott told reporters.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, on death row since 2006, face execution by firing squad as ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine group trafficking heroin from Indonesia's Bali island into Australia.

Chan, 31, and Sukumaran, 33, recently lost their final appeals to Indonesian President Joko Widodo for clemency despite arguing that they had rehabilitated themselves in prison.

No date has been announced for their executions, but governments with death row prisoners in Indonesia have been invited to the foreign ministry later Monday for an explanation of the process after a clemency appeal is rejected.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the six judges who handed down the death penalties were accused by the pair's lawyers of offering lighter sentences in exchange for money.

The allegation is made in a letter from the lawyers to Indonesia's judicial committee claiming a breach of ethics, the newspaper said.

The lawyers added that the judges came under pressure from "certain parties" to deliver death sentences, the daily said.

Asked about the corruption report, Abbott said he would not comment on legal argument.

"What we understand is that there are still legal options available to these two Australians and their legal teams," he said.

"We certainly appreciate that the Indonesian government doesn't normally go ahead with executions of this type while there are legal options still available.

"We'll be trying to ensure that all legal options are exhausted before something dreadful, final and irrevocable takes place."

Muhammad Rifan, a former lawyer for the pair, has reportedly said they were to be given life sentences but there was "intervention" and they were handed the death penalty.

Widodo has been a vocal supporter of capital punishment and has pledged a tough approach to end what he has called the nation's "drug emergency".

Abbott said he had made "a further personal representation to President Widodo because we are obviously wanting to leave no stone unturned here".

"Like millions of Australians, I feel sick in the pit of my stomach when I think about what is quite possibly happening to these youngsters," he said.

But he said he did not want to turn the issue into a battle with Jakarta, "because if we do turn this into a test of strength, I think we are much more likely to back the Indonesians into a corner than to get the result we want".

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she said had considered a last-minute trip to Indonesia to plead for clemency, but had been talked out of it by diplomatic staff who said it could "potentially be counterproductive".

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N. Sumatra Anti-Corruption Activist Injured in Airsoft Gun Attack
Monday 16 February 2015 2:23pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Jakarta Globe

By Arnold Sianturi

photo: Airsoft guns come in all shapes and sizes. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Medan, North Sumatra. An anti-corruption activist in Medan, North Sumatra, was hospitalized on Sunday after four unknown people opened fire on him with airsoft guns.

Muchtar Efendy, secretary of the North Sumatra People’s Fight Against Corruption Movement (Gebraksu), a local NGO, was shot near the house of a colleague and is currently being treated at Delima Hospital in Martubung, North Sumatra. He suffered injuries to his arm, thigh and leg.

“After the shooting, we found eight airsoft gun pellets,” 41-year-old Muchtar said at the hospital on Sunday. “There were four of them [attackers] and they just drove off fast after they’d seen me slumping. I don’t know any of them.”

Muchtar said his attackers opened fire when he was leaving his colleague’s house at the Permata Hijau residential complex in Martubung at around 1:30 a.m. local time, with his friends.

Four people on motorbikes approached the group and started shooting.

“I thought they wanted to ask directions, but then they started firing,” said Muchtar. “I tried to run but eventually I got hit.”

Muchtar claimed that the attack must have something to do with his involvement in Gebraksu’s antigraft activities. The organization is currently overseeing three alleged graft cases in Medan and Langkat district, also in North Sumatra.

“Our activities must have made some people angry and they must’ve ordered someone to attack me,” Muchtar said, adding that he had asked his wife to submit a report to the Medan Police.

Medan Police chief Sr. Comr. Nico Afinta said the police would investigate the shooting, but added that it this point it was still not clear whether the attack was indeed related to Muchtar’s involvement with Gebraksu.

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The Guardian: Australia and Indonesia by The Numbers: How Do They Compare?
Monday 16 February 2015 1:43pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Guardian

A comparison of the two countries on various metrics, including size, population and the economy

By Nick Evershed

photo: Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, meets with the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, in Jakarta, in October 2014. Photograph: Tatan Syuflana/AP

With an estimated population of 249.9 million in 2013, Indonesia’s population is almost 11 times larger than Australia’s 23.1 million.



Source: World Bank

Economy

Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP) of $1.56tn, measured in current US dollars, is substantially larger than Indonesia’s GDP of $868bn.



Source: World Bank

Military

Australia spends much more on its military than Indonesia – $US24bn in 2012, about 1.6% of GDP. Indonesia spent $US7.8bn, around 0.9% of GDP.



Source: SIPRI databases

Geography

Both Australia and Indonesia are large island nations with vast coastlines. Australia is larger at 7,692,024 square kilometres to Indonesia’s 1,922,570. Here is a size comparison of the two countries:



Source: Geoscience Australia, National Geographic

Quality of life

The UN publishes the Human Development Index, which combines health, education and income into a single index (HDI).



Indonesia is ranked at 108 out of 187, with an HDI of 0.684 in 2013. This is below the average for the Asia-Pacific region, but is a significant increase over the 1990 value of 0.479, showing the quality of life in Indonesia is improving.

Australia is second only to Norway on the list with an HDI of 0.933.

Incarceration

Australia has a higher incarceration rate than Indonesia as at 2014, with 144 prisoners per 100,000 people compared to Indonesia’s 66 prisoners per 100,000.



Source: International Centre for Prison Studies

Trade

Indonesian exports to Australia were worth about US$6.3bn in 2012, which is 2.97% of total exports. This makes Australia Indonesia’s ninth largest trading partner when ranked by gross export value.

Australian exports to Indonesia were worth about US$5.1bn in 2012, which was 2.1% of Australia’s total exports. This makes Indonesia Australia’s 10th largest trading partner when ranked by gross export value.

Source: Observatory of Economic Complexity

Aid

Australia provided A$574.1m in aid to Indonesia in the 2013-14 financial year, and expects to provide A$605.3m in 2014-15.

Source: DFAT

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WSJ blog: Indonesia Faces a Crossroads in Corruption Battle
Monday 16 February 2015 1:29pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Wall Street Journal (blog)

Indonesia Real Time

By Sara Schonhardt

photo: Workers display placards reading ‘Save KPK’ during a rally in Jakarta on Feb. 6, in protest against Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision to put forward Budi Gunawan, a three-star police general, as his sole pick for police chief. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

JAKARTA–The ongoing battle between Indonesia’s anticorruption agency and its police has raised fears among much of the public that the antigraft commission could crumble just over a decade after its formation.

But Tony Kwok, a former commissioner at Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, says the dustup could be an opportunity to transform the corruption-busting agency and the way Indonesia goes after graft.

When Hong Kong’s ICAC started out in the 1970s – largely to combat a corrupt police force – it too went head to head with the police. That led to confrontations not entirely dissimilar to what the KPK is facing now, says Mr. Kwok, who joined the ICAC in 1975 and now advises anticorruption commissions around the world – including Indonesia’s KPK. The Hong Kong police took to the streets at that time to protest against arrests by the anticorruption body and threatened to go on strike.Advertisement

With the support of then-Hong Kong Governor Murray MacLehose, the police and the ICAC agreed to a partial amnesty in 1977 that would stop the ICAC from investigating corruption cases prior to the amnesty. During a recent visit to Jakarta, Mr. Kwok said the governor’s backing was vital to passage of the reprieve and that an end to the current crisis in Indonesia will only be brought about with the support of President Joko Widodo.

“If the president is not showing his support for the KPK, it means he is not supporting fighting corruption,” he said.

Mr. Widodo took office last year promising clean governance, transparency and more openness to foreign investors. But he’s been mostly silent on the current conflict, raising concerns about his commitment to fighting graft in a country that ranked 107 out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s latest corruption index.

The president has appointed a team of nine individuals, including academics and a former KPK commissioner, to advise him on how to deal with the current scuffle, but it serves merely as an advisory body with no formal authority. Meanwhile, public criticism of the way Mr. Widodo has handled the dispute has grown.

Mr. Kwok believes the Hong Kong amnesty ultimately helped reform the police force and established the ICAC as one of the world’s most successful corruption-busting bodies. And while he acknowledged that amnesty would not be an easy decision and would likely be criticized by the public – he said something similar is the way for Indonesia to prevent confrontations between the police and the KPK in the long term.

He has seen enough anticorruption agencies to know what makes for success in battling graft, and he believes the KPK is on the way to success.

“They seem to have the dedication, the independence and professional sense to deal with cases” that involve high profile officials, said Mr. Kwok. “When you want to start fighting corruption, first you should be seen to demonstrate you can deal with big fish. If you focus on education, prevention, you’re wasting your time.”

But the KPK’s duties and its independence need expanding beyond dealing with just high profile cases, he said – the KPK can only take up cases when there is alleged loss of 1 billion rupiah (about $78,500) or more to the taxpayer.

The KPK should also be granted sole responsibility for dealing with corruption cases, Mr. Kwok added. (Currently the Attorney General’s Office has a mandate to investigate corruption too.) And it should be subject to a system of checks and balances to help maintain its credibility.

“This is a golden opportunity for Jokowi – for the entire country – to change the system once and for all,” he said, referring to the president by his nickname.

“This is critical, what the president will say about how he will solve this crisis,” added Mr. Kwok calling the moment “a crossroads” that could see Indonesia take the path to becoming a corruption free country or revert to the most corrupt country in the world.

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WSJ: Indonesia Court Rules in Favor of Police Chief Nominee
Monday 16 February 2015 1:25pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Wall Street Journal

Court Decision Removes Roadblock to Inauguration as National Police Head

By Ben Otto And Anita Rachman

photo: Thousands of people demonstrate in Jakarta on Feb. 11 to support Budi Gunawan's nomination as chief of police. Photo: Zuma Press

JAKARTA—An Indonesian court ruled Monday in favor of a police chief nominee who had been named a suspect in a corruption case, removing one roadblock to his inauguration under President Joko Widodo’s new administration.

The South Jakarta District Court ruled invalid a decision by Indonesia’s antigraft agency to name Budi Gunawan, a three-star general and head of training and education at the National Police, a suspect.

The independent Corruption Eradication Commission had made its decision in January, just days after Mr. Widodo announced that Mr. Gunawan would be his only nominee to lead Indonesia’s powerful police force.

The agency said it suspected Mr. Gunawan of amassing wealth through bribes years earlier while serving as the police’s head of career development.

Mr. Gunawan said he had been cleared of any wrongdoing by an internal police watchdog, and he challenged his being named in a pretrial motion. Mr. Widodo, facing public protest, postponed the inauguration pending a possible graft case.

The court said Monday that the Corruption Eradication Commission’s decision to name Mr. Guanawan a suspect was “not based on law.”

The antigraft agency and Mr. Widodo didn’t immediately comment on the court’s decision. A advisory team to Mr. Widodo said recently that in light of a likely court case facing Mr. Gunawan, the president would likely nominate a different candidate to lead the police.

Write to Ben Otto at ben.otto@wsj.com and Anita Rachman at Anita.Rachman@wsj.com

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PN Jaksel Terima Gugatan BG, Pimpinan KPK Berkoordinasi
Monday 16 February 2015 12:01pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

Suara Pembaruan

photo: Pimpinan KPK bersama sejumlah karyawan KPK saat melepas Wakil Ketua KPK Bambang Widjojanto diperiksa oleh Bareskrim Polri, Selasa (3/2). (sumber: BeritaSatu TV)

Jakarta - Kuasa hukum Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK), Chatarina Muliana Girsang, mengatakan pihaknya akan berkoordinasi dengan pimpinan KPK terkait putusan Pengadilan Negeri Jakarta Selatan (PN Jaksel) yang menerima gugatan Komjen Pol Budi Gunawan (BG).

Dirinya tidak dapat memastikan apakah penyidikan KPK terhadap BG bakal dihentikan pascaputusan hakim PN Jaksel yang menyatakan status tersangka BG tidak sah dan tidak mempunyai kekuatan hukum mengikat.

"Kita punya beberapa langkah yang akan dilakukan. Tetapi perlu dikordinasikan," katanya.

Kuasa hukum BG, Maqdir Ismail, mengatakan dikabulkannya permohonan BG menandakan adanya kesalahan dalam pelaksanaan sistem hukum Indonesia.

Menurutnya, gugatan hukum melalui praperadilan yang diajukan BG ditujukan bukan untuk BG saja tetapi seluruh bangsa Indonesia. Sebab, tujuan utama praperadilan yang diajukan adalah untuk mengoreksi pelaksanaan sistem hukum Indonesia.

"Kita berharap yang dimenangkan adalah kita semua. Bangsa Indonesia," kata Maqdir.

Dalam putusannya, hakim tunggal Sarpin Rizaldi mengabulkan sebagian permohonan pemohon dan menyatakan langkah KPK menetapkan tersangka sehari sebelum uji kepatutan dan kelayakan tidak sah dan tidak memiliki kekuatan hukum mengikat.

"Mengabulkan permohonan pemohon praperadilan untuk sebagian," kata hakim Sarpin, membacakan putusan di Pengadilan Negeri (PN) Jaksel, Senin (16/2).

Hakim Sarpin menyatakan, mekanisme penyelidikan, penyidikan, penetapan tersangka berdasarkan Surat Perintah Penyidikan (Sprindik) No : Sprin.Dik-03/01/01/2015 tanggal 12 Januari 2015 terhadap BG tidak sah.

KPK juga dinyatakan tidak berwenang menangani perkara BG karena kapasitas BG selaku Karobinkar bukan penyelenggara negara maupun penegak hukum.

"Termohon tidak dapat membuktikan apakah pemohon penegak hukum dan penyelenggara negara," kata Sarpin.

Sedangkan permohonan BG yang meminta berkas perkara dari KPK diserahkan kepada Polri ditolak. Hakim Sarpin juga menolak eksepsi termohon untuk seluruhnya.

"Menolak eksepsi termohon untuk seluruhnya," kata Sarpin.

Penulis: Erwin C Sihombing/FEB

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Indonesia to Ban Sale of Flight Tickets at Airports
Monday 16 February 2015 5:42am WIB (JoyoNews2)     

Channel NewsAsia

by By Devianti Faridz, Indonesia correspondent,Channel NewsAsia

photo: File photo of Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in East Jakarta, Indonesia.

JAKARTA: Purchasing flight tickets over the counter will soon be banned at airports across Indonesia.

The country's Transport Ministry said it wants to reduce crowds and get rid of ticket scalpers at terminals.

However, the Indonesian Consumers Foundation have criticised the ministry's move, saying that it would make it harder for passengers who want to buy tickets at the last minute for emergencies.

Members of the public whom Channel NewsAsia spoke with had mixed reactions.

"If passengers can prepare ahead they would buy tickets a day in advance. But if someone has an emergency and needs to rush to the airport, they usually buy tickets at ticketing booths,” said one. “Time is of the essence. So ticket booths are still needed."

But another member of the public said: "I agree with the policy as it will encourage people to be more disciplined and the move will also eradicate ticket scalpers. If everything follows regulations and procedures, it will create more order and ensure safety."

Initially, the ticket sales ban was to have come into effect on Sunday (Feb 15), but Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan had given airport management and airlines another three months to comply with the new rules.

“In the next three months, airlines will still be able to sell their tickets at airports, but they have to make sure they are not linked to any ticket scalpers,” said Transport Ministry spokesperson Julius Andravida. “If we find out they’re involved in illegal activities, that same day they need to move out.”

In a few months, airlines will only be able to sell their tickets online, at travel agents or at a site outside of the passenger terminal.

However, Mr Jonan is pushing all airlines to provide ticket vending machines and turn their ticket counters into customer service counters instead. Mr Jonan also warned that he will replace any airport management director if they do not comply with this regulation by the middle of this year.

In response, airport management group Angkasa Pura 2 said in a press release that they will gradually close ticket sale counters at 13 of its airports by May this year.

A Garuda Indonesia airline official said that new rules will not affect much of their business, as only 15 per cent of their overall sales are from airport booths.

Similar claims have also been made by other major airlines.

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Reusters: In Indonesia, Fresh Cchance to Break Gas Pump Monopoly
Monday 16 February 2015 5:29am WIB (JoyoNews2)     

Reuters

By Nicholas Owen and Fergus Jensen

JAKARTA - Government price-fixing has largely shut them out for decades, but foreign oil companies at last see an opportunity to sell gasoline on a mass scale in Indonesia.

President Joko Widodo's scrapping of gasoline subsidies has removed one of the biggest obstacles stopping motorists filling up at pumps owned by foreign firms.

And with more than one million new cars and almost 8 million motorcycles sold yearly, Southeast Asia's biggest economy is a potentially lucrative market forecast to become the world's largest importer of gasoline by 2018.

"Of course we are looking at expansion," Emmanuel Dujeu, head of downstream operations at Frances's Total (TOTF.PA) in Indonesia, told Reuters.

State-oil firm Pertamina [PERTM.UL] has dominated sales of gasoline, also known as petrol, because subsidies meant it sold fuel cheaper than anyone else.

But Widodo's move to float prices in January changes this.

"It's going to open up a lot more opportunities for foreign players," said Suresh Sivanandam at consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

Soon after Indonesia liberalized its downstream market in 2001, Shell (RDSa.L), Total and Malaysia's Petronas opened filling stations.

But because of Pertamina's cheap prices, foreign firms' sales were limited to rich drivers, prepared to shell out for fuel that was less likely to clog their engines, and to industry, prevented by law from using subsidized fuel.

Foreign-run petrol stations had to partly rely on sales from shops on their forecourts to top up earnings.

In 2012, after nearly a decade of disappointment, Petronas sold its filling stations.

With improved prospects, Total sees a chance to grow.

"We are looking at how we could do this," Dujeu said.

Asked about Shell's plans, a spokeswoman said it regularly reviewed its fuels portfolio in countries where it operated.

Pertamina officials did not respond to requests for comment.

NOXIOUS FUEL

Indonesia is the world's eighth-largest consumer of motor petrol. In Asia, only China and Japan use more.

Pertamina accounts for about 90 percent of the 70 billion liters of fuel sold annually, while Shell and Total account for barely 10 percent between them.

Despite the removal of subsidies, Pertamina's low-grade, RON88 petrol, known locally as Premium, is still the cheapest.

However, motorists now pay a much smaller premium for buying foreign firms' RON92 petrol, and more of them are choosing it.

Crucially, market pricing means they won't suddenly find their fuel becoming relatively more expensive if oil rallies, because the state firm should raise its prices too.

Moreover, Widodo wants to phase out sales of low-grade Premium altogether in a bid to end smuggling of cheap fuel.

"As that happens, the market will become larger for the foreign players," said Kaushik Das of consultancy McKinsey.

Only Pertamina has access to RON88, because it's so noxious few refineries produce it.

"FAIR PLAY"

But ending Pertamina's near-monopoly may still be tricky and restrictions are planned on firms selling fuel, such as making them hold minimum reserves, build storage depots and open filling stations in remote places.

I Gusti Nyoman Wiratmaja Puja, the energy ministry's director-general for oil and gas, said these regulations would ensure "fair play".

But the big question right now is what the government might do when oil spikes.

Fuel prices are politically sensitive in Indonesia and nobody knows if Widodo, fearful of protests, will return to market-distorting subsidies.

Still, Asheesh Saastry at Boston Consulting Group reckons price liberalization will spark action.

"We would expect a lot more interest from the majors to increase market share."

(Additional reporting by Wilda Asmarini; Editing by Ed Davies)

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Indonesia's Double Standards: Why Has Local Drug Kingpin Avoided Execution?
Sunday 15 February 2015 3:38pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

Daily Mail (Australia)

All three were convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to death... so why has local drug kingpin avoided execution while Bali Nine pair prepare for brutal death by firing squad

Lillian Radulova for Daily Mail Australia

* Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan could be executed within days

* While their pleas for clemency were rejected, an Indonesian meth manufacturer and supplier evaded the death penalty

* His Supreme Court appeal decided the death penalty violated the country's constitution and human rights

* Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called out the country's double standards

* Chan and Sukumaran are expected to be moved to Nusa Kambangan, a prison island off central Java known as 'Indonesia's Alcatraz'

* The men will be given the required 72 hours notice of their executions

photo: This is despite Hangky Gunawan, an Indonesian ice manufacturer who was convicted in 2007 and was handed the death penalty before his appeal - which followed directly after the Bali Nine duos' - won him both a reduced sentence and most importantly, his life

As the Bali Nine pair on death row come to terms with their imminent execution, the Indonesian justice system is being accused of hypocrisy after a local ice manufacturer avoided the death penalty.

While Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are facing the death penalty for attempting to smuggle drugs into Australia from Bali, local kingpin Hangky Gunawan has been given only a jail sentence for a similar crime.

Despite hundreds of pleas for clemency for Sukumaran and Chan, Indonesian president Joko Widodo maintains that his hard-line stance against drug dealers will not budge.

But the story of Hangky Gunawan, an Indonesian ice manufacturer who was convicted in 2007 and was handed the death penalty before his appeal - which followed directly after the Bali Nine duos' - won him both a reduced sentence and most importantly, his life, Fairfax reports.

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This is despite Gunwan, who owned the drug-producing business based in Surabaya, East Java, and organised ice's distribution, was caught by police with over 11kg of the drug.

When Chan and Sukumaran lodged their final appeal to the Supreme Court in Jakarta in 2011, numbered case 37 and 38, Gunwan's appeal for life was directly after theirs, numbered 39.

But while the Australians' judicial review were rejected, in Gunwan's it was decided that the death penalty violated both the Indonesian constitution, the country's human rights and quoted the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to Fairfax.

His prison sentence was subsequently reduced to 12 years and Gunwan was saved from execution.

The result presents a stark contrast to the trials endured by Chan and Sukumaran who are expected to be moved to Nusa Kambangan - a prison island off central Java - where prisoners on death row are executed.

From there they will be given 72 hours' notice of their execution by firing squad.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also called out Indonesia's justice system for its hypocrisy after Mr Widodo offered 'optimum protection' for over 200 of his citizens who face death sentences overseas - some of them being drug smugglers.

'I should also just observe today that millions of Australians are feeling very, very upset about what may soon happen to two Australians in Indonesia,' Mr Abbott said.

'My plea even at this late stage is for Indonesia to be as responsive to us as it expects other countries to be to them when they plead for the lives of their citizens on death row overseas.'

Australia has not decided how it would respond to the executions, including whether to withdraw its ambassador, but Mr Abbott told The Daily Telegraph newspaper: 'We will find ways of making our displeasure known.'

Indonesia's Foreign Ministry has confirmed it has invited all embassies with citizens to be executed this month to a meeting on the formalities on Monday.

A date for the executions won't be provided at the meeting, but the provision of 72 hours notice will be discussed, as well as access to the prisoners for family and logistics over foreign media coverage.

Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir says officials representing Ghana, France, the Philippines and Nigeria have also been summoned.

When Indonesia executed five foreign nationals last month, the meeting with relevant embassies took place one day before Attorney-General HM Prasetyo announced the execution date.

That announcement signalled the 72-hour notice period.

But in this case, the prisoners have to be transferred from jails all over Indonesia to the execution location, Nusakambangan island, off Central Java.

Authorities have permission to move Chan and Sukumaran from Bali's Kerobokan jail, but haven't set a date.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Friday suggested the depth of feeling in Australia is so strong that Australians may boycott Indonesia if the executions go ahead, but she denied that she was urging for a boycott.

'I knew that there was very deep concern in the Australian public about the likely executions of Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan, and that Australians will make their own decisions as to whether they want to travel to a country that does have the death penalty,' Ms Bishop told Macquarie Radio on Saturday.

Boycott calls were growing on social media before Ms Bishop's remarks and politicians have received a flood of letters about the executions.

Ms Bishop's opposition counterpart Tanya Plibersek told the Seven Network she didn't think this was helpful.

'I'm really not sure that boycotting Bali is going to make much of a difference to the attitude in Jakarta,' Ms Plibersek said.

Chan and Sukumaran have been disturbed by the evident preparation for their execution as prison guards broke open the lock to their jail cells to conduct a search.

Artist Ben Quilty says Sukumaran is no longer sleeping as he waits with dread for a final knock on his door to take him to his execution by firing squad.

Quilty said goodbye the 33-year-old to at Kerobokan prison in Bali for the last time on Thursday.

'He knows someone will knock on his door in the middle of the night. I offered to bring him valium but he said 'no'. He is completely free from drugs and won't even take sleeping pills,' Quilty told ABC radio.

The Australian artist, who in 2011 won the Archibald Prize, has been Sukumaran's mentor since 2012, helping him develop a talent for painting.

Australia's efforts to stop the executions have so far failed, along with desperate legal bids.

Their Sydney families are in Bali, where they have spent the past three weeks paying daily visits to the men in Kerobokan jail.

Over the past decade they've been imprisoned there, Chan and Sukumaran have transformed into model inmates, who have helped scores of others rehabilitate and get drug-free.

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Jokowi Must Act Firmly or Lose Ttrust: Expert
Sunday 15 February 2015 3:33pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Jakarta Post

Fedina S. Sundaryani, Jakarta

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo could lose the public's trust if he continues dragging his feet over the fate of Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan as the next National Police chief, an analyst has said.

Chief researcher at Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) Djayadi Hanan said that the President could further alienate his supporters through his indecision, putting him in a perilous situation given that he already lacks political support from his coalition.

"The President is already in a 'triple minority' position: he is supported by the smaller coalition, he is not in control of his political party and he is the 'new kid on the block'. There is a huge risk that postponing this decision will make him

seem incompetent to the public," Djayadi said in a discussion on Saturday.

Djayadi also warned Jokowi against making the wrong move regarding Budi, arguing that the most damage would be done by appointing the police general to the post of National Police chief.

"That would prolong the controversy, because [Jokowi] has promised to strengthen the antigraft campaign. He also risks further damaging the relationship between the Corruption Eradication Commission [KPK] and the police. The public will likely distrust the police force even more," he said.

Meanwhile, Constitutional law expert Refly Harun said Jokowi would risk nothing by making a drastic decision on Budi.

Refly said that the President would not face impeachment proceedings if he decided to drop Budi's inauguration.

He explained that Jokowi would only violate the Constitution if he refused to inaugurate a separate group's nominee whom the House of Representatives had agreed upon.

"The President has the prerogative to name a candidate who will then be endorsed by the House, so if he decides to withdraw the candidate, he will not have violated the 1945 Constitution," he said.

Refly said that moreover, the House could not start impeachment proceedings as Jokowi would have in fact prevented a graft suspect from holding the top police position.

The 1945 Constitution rules that the President can only be relieved of his position for treason, corruption or other major criminal acts.

Refly added that the process would be trickier if Budi was found guilty for graft after he had been inaugurated, as Jokowi would need the House's consent before removing him from his position according to Article 11 of the National Police Law.

"It is justifiable not to inaugurate someone on the grounds that he is to be brought before a court," he said.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Jokowi held a closed-door meeting in Surakarta, Central Java, with leaders of political parties in the Great Indonesia Coalition, including Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairperson Megawati Soekarnoputri and NasDem party chairman Surya Paloh.

Although Jokowi was tight-lipped earlier in the day, he acknowledged upon his return to Jakarta that the National Police chief candidacy was one of the topics discussed in the meeting.

When pressed about when he would announce his decision, the President shot back: "Can't you be patient for just one more day?"

NasDem secretary-general Patrice Rio Capella said that during the meeting, Jokowi and the party leaders had agreed that a decision on the fate of Budi could only be made after the South Jakarta District Court issued its verdict on the pretrial motion filed by the three-star police general against the KPK's naming him a suspect.

The court is expected to hand down its verdict on Monday.

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JP: Riau Police Arrest Hunters, Investigate Ivory Trade Network
Sunday 15 February 2015 3:30pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Jakarta Post

Pekanbaru -- The Riau Police are investigating a possible international ivory-trade network following the arrest of a group of hunters in possession of ivory tusks suspected to be intended for sale.

Provincial police chief Brig. Gen. Dolly Bambang Hermawan said on Saturday his office's Special Crimes Unit would investigate the case, starting from the elephant-hunting syndicate up to the dealers and buyers in the international network.

"It's possible that the arrested hunters were planning to sell the ivory in underground local and international markets. We have to trace the buyers and all involved in this crime," Dolly said in Pekanbaru on Saturday as quoted by Antara.

The police arrested eight hunters in Pekanbaru on Tuesday and confiscated eight pairs of ivory tusks measuring up to 40 centimeters long.

At the time of the arrests, the poachers were trying to sell one pair of tusks extracted from a wild male elephant that had been killed in the Mandau district of Bengkalis regency.

"This group is very cruel. They shot the elephants in the head and took the ivory. I suspect that they are part of a syndicate that operates in Riau and Jambi," said the police's special crimes chief Sr. Comr. YS Widodo.

The group also killed elephant cubs for their organs.

The tusks would have been sold at a price of Rp 10 million per kilogram.

Seven of those arrested have been named suspects, including one member of the Indonesian Target Shooting and Hunting Association (Perbakin) suspected of masterminding the crime.

The hunters confessed that they had also killed elephants in Tesso Nilo National Park two weeks ago and in the neighboring province of Jambi last year.

The suspects were charged under Article 21 of the 1990 law on natural conservation, which carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and Rp 200 million in fines.

Following the arrest of a Perbakin member, the Riau Police have, as a precaution, confiscated firearms from the association's members.

"We have pulled a total of 28 firearms from Riau Perbakin members. This is to prevent them from being misused," Dolly said.

Perbakin hunters, he added, would from now on need to request permission from the police whenever they wanted to use the firearms for hunting.

"This is to monitor where and when the firearms are being used to prevent further elephant killings," he said.

The population of Sumatran elephants has been dwindling rapidly as a result of poaching and deforestation; the species' habitat has also shrunk by around 70 percent over the past 25 years.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has reported that Riau has no major protected areas for its approximately 700 elephants. Instead, Sumatra's elephants exist in small pockets of jungle surrounded by homesteads, oil palms, timber plantations and logging concessions.

More than 145 Sumatran elephants had died mysteriously and tragically over the past decade, said Syamsidar, a spokesman for the WWF's Riau Program.

"While some were killed in conflict with human beings, others have been slain by illegal ivory traders. Only a very few of them have succumbed to illness," Syamsidar said.

He lamented that in more than 100 elephant death cases, only a few had been investigated and brought to court.

The last illegal ivory trading case that was brought to court was in 2005, and other cases of elephant killings had been reported in court, he added.

The WWF has recorded 43 cases of Sumatran elephant poaching in Riau in the past three years. However, no arrests have been made.

"We're expecting a lot of the Riau Police," he said.

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ST: Indonesia Will Stop Sending Its Women to Work as Maids Overseas, Says Jokowi
Sunday 15 February 2015 3:21pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Straits Times

Zubaidah Nazeer Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta

photo: Indonesian and Fillipino maids at a maid agency in Singapore. Indonesia president Joko Widodo said the country will stop sending its woman to work as maids overseas to preserve its dignity. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

President Joko Widodo said Indonesia will stop sending its women to work as maids overseas to preserve the country's dignity, and he is working on a target to enforce this.

"I have given the manpower minister a target to come up with a clear roadmap on when we can stop sending female domestic workers. We should have pride and dignity," he said in a speech at the Hanura party's national congress in Solo, Central Java, late on Friday night.

Mr Joko, who visited Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines last week, said he felt ashamed and upset when discussing the issue with Malaysia.

"There are only three countries in the world supplying domestic workers; two are in Asia, and one in Africa. One of those in Asia is Indonesia. This is a matter of dignity. It was really shameful (speaking about this) during our bilateral with Malaysia," he said.

His comments signal renewed commitment after Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, in November last year, gave a timeframe of five years to end the practice.

This prompted Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri to address possible concerns about a total ban. He said Indonesia wants to ensure workers who work abroad, such as babysitters or caregivers, are properly trained.

Mr Joko's comments are not the first by an Indonesian leader.

In 2012, his predecessor, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, promised to provide one million jobs by 2013 to encourage Indonesian women to return to the country, as part of a wider aim to increase formal sector jobs and ease poverty. The programme did not take off.

Noting the high number of Indonesians working abroad illegally, Mr Joko promised to step up protection for workers by getting those who were illegal to return home, and also enforcing stricter rules on employers.

He said that as many as 2.3 million Indonesians are working abroad, mostly in Malaysia. Of this number, 1.2 million are illegal workers.

"About 1,800 people have been picked up to be sent home, 800 of whom have been transported by Hercules aircraft. In the following weeks, we will get more back," he said, adding that he expects the number repatriated to grow, with continued efforts.

But some worker protection agencies call the move discriminatory, and say it does not solve the root of the problem.

Migrant Care executive director Anis Hidayah said it violated the right of Indonesians to get a decent job.

"This is a knee-jerk reaction discriminating women, fuelled by a misguided patriarchal view," she said.

"The solution to ending the vulnerability and plight of Indonesian migrant domestic workers is for the country to actively protect its workers, not to avoid the problem and limit any form of employment," she said.

zubaidah@sph.com.sg

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WSJ blog: A Short History of Valentine’s Day in India
Sunday 15 February 2015 3:13pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

The Wall Street Journal (blog)

India Real Time

By Suryatapa Bhattacharya

photo: An Indian flower seller arranges varieties of roses at a roadside stall ahead of Valentine’s Day in Siliguri on February 13, 2015. Diptendu Dutta/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

It’s been a rough year for love in India.

Kissing protestors demonstrated in November against alleged harassment from Hindu hardliners who said public displays of affection are not part of Indian cultural values, even though some say the kiss originated in India.

One college lecturer was asked by the college authorities to justify her actions when caught in a lip-lock with her husband at the “Kiss of Love” protest.Advertisement

Before that, Hindu activists warned women to beware of ‘Love Jihad’ that they said was a conspiracy to convert females to Islam through marriage. Critics said the idea was nonsense.

Zafarul Islam Khan, president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an association of Muslim organizations in India, said the campaign was “a weapon for hate-mongering” by Hindu groups who were putting a spin on interreligious marriages to “malign one community.”

And there’ll be no escaping scrutiny for the amorous this Valentine’s Day that falls on Saturday.

A conservative Hindu group’s leader said volunteers with the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha (All India Hindu Assembly) will fan out across malls, metro stations and parks in Delhi to find romancing partners and bring them back to their offices to wed in accordance with Hindu tradition.

“We will gently explain this is against our culture. If you are really in love, we will help you get married and make you swear never to let your heart or eyes stray again,” said Chandra Prakash Kaushik, president of the assembly.

Conservative Hindu groups in the past have protested celebrations of Valentine’s Day in India, warning that it is a cultural import from the West and can lead to “a moment’s happiness, immoral behavior and destruction.”

Here’s a brief timeline of Valentine’s Day travails in India.

2009: Hindu hardliners were reported to have attacked women in a pub in Mangalore in the weeks leading up to Feb. 14. Some women were physically assaulted and dragged out by their hair in the attack that was filmed.

2010: Pune city police issued warnings against “indecent acts” on Valentine’s Day telling couples to avoid public displays of affection from Feb. 3 to 14, according to a report in the Indian Express newspaper. “Any public show of affection that is tantamount to obscenity,” was banned, according to the report.

2012: Let’s turn Valentine’s Day into “Worship Your Parents Day” proposed a self-styled Hindu godman, Asaram Bapu.

Suggested celebrations included school children offering flowers, sweets and garlands to their parents.

2014: About 200 tourists gathered around a bonfire under the full moon at a Valentine’s Day beach party to accuse police of beating them, according to the Bangalore Mirror.

2014: According to a report in the Hindu newspaper, members of the hardline Hindu organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad threw rotten tomatoes at dozens of couples gathered by the banks of the Sabarmati river in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.

To be sure, India is not to the only country grappling with Valentine’s Day.

Pakistan’s media regulator in 2014 asks television and radio stations to avoid offending religious sentiments and corrupting the nation’s youth in their Valentine’s Day broadcasts.

The Bangkok Post reported that the government this year urged teens to think dinner plans instead of sex with their partners on Valentine’s Day.

Indonesia’s top Islamic authority urged the government to look into incidents where condoms were on sale for Valentine’s Day with boxes of chocolates, saying it offended conservative sentiments.

“We reject the condomization of society,” said Ma’ruf Amien, chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema, an Islamic organization representing different Muslim groups.

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Reuters: Anwar Back in Jail But Problems Mount for Malaysian PM Najib
Sunday 15 February 2015 3:06pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

Reuters News

By Trinna Leong and Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah

photo: After Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy conviction, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak faces mounting critics within his party and the opposition. – The Malaysian Insider pic, February 15, 2015.

KUALA LUMPUR - The biggest political threat to Malaysia's government is behind bars after a court upheld a sodomy conviction for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, but more thorny problems confront Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Anwar, jailed for five years on Tuesday on a charge he called politically motivated, has for years represented the greatest challenge to Najib's coalition, which has ruled the multi-ethnic Southeast Asian country since independence in 1957.

The bespectacled former finance minister and deputy prime minister cemented a three-party opposition alliance which took on the coalition at the last polls in 2013, costing the ruling bloc the popular vote in its worst-ever electoral performance.

Deserted at the polls by ethnic minority Chinese and urban voters, Najib's party will now face the fallout of sharper polarisation over Anwar's jailing, amid widespread perceptions that his prosecution was motivated by political vengeance.

"There's something rotten about the whole thing," said former cabinet minister Zaid Ibrahim. "It's not good for the country and democracy, never mind Najib."

"Even to prosecute Anwar for these kind of affairs is just unreasonable, it carries such a heavy sentence," he added.

The government denied interference in Anwar's case.

While Anwar's jailing could bolster Najib's standing among hard-liners at home, foreign investors are likely to be alarmed at a time when Malaysia is facing sliding oil and gas revenues.

The United States was "deeply disappointed" with Anwar's conviction, which "raised a number of serious concerns about rule of law and the fairness of the judicial system", said U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.

But more damaging for Najib than foreign reproach over Anwar is likely to be criticism at home of his leadership, especially from within his own party.

"He has put the opposition challenge away for a couple more years, but his immediate problems are from internal critics and it will probably get worse," said Ibrahim Suffian, the director of the Kuala Lumpur-based research firm Merdeka Center.

Unfortunately for Najib, his biggest critic is former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who led Malaysia for 22 years until 2003 and remains influential.

"PLEASE RESIGN"

Najib is a self-described moderate who came to power with reformist plans. The more conservative Mahathir has made no bones about what he thinks of Najib's premiership.

Last year, in a savagely critical blog post, Mahathir said he was withdrawing support from Najib. This month, Mahathir said there was "something rotten in the state of Malaysia" and openly questioned Najib's handling of the country.

"If you don't perform and people say you're no good, please resign," Mahathir told news portals.

"As for Najib, I don't know if he is performing."

Najib has quietly set aside his liberal agenda, dashing hopes for social reform and the scrapping of old security laws used to stifle dissent.

But it is not only Najib's leadership that his critics have questioned. His personal life has come under scrutiny amid reports of his family's lavish spending.

There is also suspicion of mismanagement at state investment firm 1MDB. Najib is chair of its board of advisers. Concern over 1MDB's $11.6 billion of debt has pressured the ringgit and the country's sovereign credit rating.

Now that Anwar is out of the picture, Najib's detractors in the ruling party could set their sights on him, analysts and government insiders say.

"Anwar's exit is quite a big risk for Najib," said Wan Saiful Wan Jan from the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs.

"UMNO leaders will be more vocal about Najib's flaws," he said, referring to the ethnic Malay party at the heart of the ruling coalition.

A source close to the government said Anwar's jailing was "not in the prime minister's domestic or international interests".

Malaysia next election must be held by 2018 and sympathy for Anwar could stoke support for the opposition.

"This is a silver lining for the party in a way ... it's Pakatan's opportunity to show they can function without Anwar," said Wan Saiful, referring to the diverse Pakatan Rakyat alliance.

Anwar's politician daughter, Nurul Izzah, said the opposition must stay united.

"We have no chance if we do not present a cohesive union," Narul told Reuters.

"Everyone has to step up. This is not Anwar Ibrahim's personal quest. He has been attacked for 17 years because we got together to challenge the government." (Additional reporting and writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Ferenandez, Robert Birsel)

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Malaysia PM Under Scrutiny over Wealth, Opposition Crackdown
Sunday 15 February 2015 2:51pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

Agence France Presse

Dan Martin

photo: Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks during a joint press conference at the prime minister's office in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur on Feb 6, 2015. (Photo: AFP/Files/Mohd Rasfan)

Malaysia's premier is under mounting scrutiny for cracking down on opponents, troubles in a sovereign wealth fund and questions over his family assets, with even ruling-party conservatives questioning his leadership.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, 61, took the helm of the multi-ethnic country's long-ruling regime in 2009, promising to soothe racial tensions and bolster democracy.

But he is under fire from progressives for abandoning such pledges and from ruling-party hardliners over 1MDB -- a sovereign wealth fund he launched which is believed to be in a precarious state.

"People are beginning to doubt whether he is the sort of leader who can address Malaysia's problems," said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, head of Malaysian think-tank IDEAS.

Malaysia also drew international criticism after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for five years last week on a sodomy conviction widely considered politically motivated, the latest in a crackdown on Najib's opponents.

1MDB, meanwhile, has missed repeated deadlines to pay down billions of dollars in debts, with questions swirling around the whereabouts of huge sums.

1MDB said a $560 million loan payment was finally made last week, after a Malaysian billionaire was reportedly drafted in to stump up the cash.

Also last week, a New York Times investigative report detailed multi-million-dollar purchases of luxury US real estate by a close Najib family associate and 1MDB figure, financier Low Taek Jho.

It also said documents showed millions of dollars in earlier jewellery purchases for Rosmah Mansor, Najib's wife, who is widely ridiculed in Malaysia for her luxurious tastes.

In a statement to AFP, Najib's office said the report raised "false allegations".

"The prime minister does not have, nor has he ever had, a financial interest in, or any sort of agreement related to, the properties mentioned in the article," it said.

It added that "no purchases by the prime minister or his family involved funds from 1MDB".

But Malaysia's opposition and other government critics, who allege decades of widespread government graft, have called for Najib to detail the sources of his wealth and for an independent audit of 1MDB.

The government is yet to respond to such calls.

Fears that the fund could collapse and rattle Malaysia's financial system have exacerbated economic unease in the energy-exporting country.

Sagging oil prices have dragged the ringgit currency to six-year lows and are expected to crimp economic growth this year while the government struggles to contain a troubling deficit.

Most experts expect the economy to avoid serious harm.

Leading criticisms of 1MDB is Mahathir Mohamad, who was premier from 1981-2003 and still casts a long shadow at 89.

That is potentially worrisome for Najib -- Mahathir engineered the ouster of his own chosen successor, installing Najib.

Mahathir wrote on his widely read blog last week that "there is something rotten" in Malaysia, and on Thursday suggested Najib should resign.

"The country is currently facing a lot of problems but the government is not admitting it. They are in denial," he said.

Political observers say such pressure is part of a battle for influence and spoils in the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), pitting Najib against forces seeking to take the country even further to the right.

"The danger for Najib on 1MDB is that people in his own party realise the magnitude of money going around, and that the cake is not being shared equally," said Rafizi Ramli, the opposition's leading graft whistle-blower.

Analysts say Najib appears secure for now. No other UMNO figures are seen rivalling him, the son of a Malaysian founding father.

A British-educated Anglophile known for his impeccable, high-priced suits, Najib has proven his ability to survive scandal, with the help of UMNO's firm grip after 58 years in power.

These include widely alleged multi-million-dollar kickbacks to Malaysian officials in the 2002 purchase of French-made submarines when Najib was defence minister.

The government has long resisted a full inquiry into the affair.

But UMNO is increasingly being rejected by voters, fed up with corruption and authoritarianism.

Najib's government has responded by hurling sedition and other charges at dozens of critics, mainly opposition politicians.

Meanwhile, Najib has tolerated divisive racial and religious rhetoric by Islamists, which analysts view as a bid by UMNO, a Muslim party, to sow sectarian fears and justify its crackdown.

Wan Saiful said Najib intended to bring in reforms but misjudged resistance in UMNO, and is now in full retreat from conservatives seeking a tougher hand on dissent and strengthening of policies favouring majority ethnic Malays that many experts say shackle the economy.

Wan Saiful warned that if ethnic divisions in particular were not checked, it could "generate a vicious cycle" of racial enmity, scaring off foreign investment and sending Malaysian money abroad.

Najib's office defended his record but added "he believes there is still more work to do, and his efforts are on-going," while blaming unspecified opponents for spinning "baseless smears and rumours for pure political gain."

Najib's government and national carrier Malaysia Airlines also remain under fire from relatives of flight MH370 passengers over the plane's still unexplained disappearance last year with 239 people aboard, with many alleging a cover-up.

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Myanmar Army Kills a Dozen Ethnic Rebels in Firefight: State Media
Sunday 15 February 2015 2:48pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

Agence France Presse

photo: Myanmar's military has for several days carried out airstrikes and ground assaults on rebel positions in retaliation for an attack on a key army headquarters in the Kokang region (AFP Photo/Ye Aung Thu)

Around a dozen ethnic rebels have been killed in a firefight with Myanmar troops and a further eight captured after renewed clashes in northern Myanmar near the Chinese border, state media said Sunday.

Myanmar's military has for several days carried out airstrikes and ground assaults on rebel positions in retaliation for an attack last week on a key army headquarters in the Kokang region.

That assault, on the main city of Laukkai, left dozens of soldiers dead in some of the heaviest recent clashes between government forces and rebel groups anywhere in a nation riddled with ethnic insurgencies.

On Saturday morning government troops clashed with Kokang "renegade groups" who had "infiltrated" Laukkai, state-run the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

After fighting ended in the evening the military seized nearly 100 "small weapons... and 13 bodies of the armed group," the report said, adding a further eight seriously wounded rebels were detained.

Authorities said unrest flared in Kokang, Shan State, on February 9 shattering nearly six years of relative calm, in a serious blow to the quasi-civilian regime as it looks to forge a historic nationwide ceasefire to end the country's myriad ethnic minority conflicts.

Clear accounts of a week of conflict in the mountainous, remote Kokang area bordering China are hard to ascertain.

An unknown number of people have fled the Kokang unrest, with those of ethnic Chinese origin crossing the border into China, while some have made their way to the northern Shan city of Lashio.

Between 300-400 Burmese refugees from the fighting were expected later Sunday in Lashio, an unnamed official at the Information Ministry told AFP, joining around 500 who have arrived since Friday.

The Kokang rebels have been joined by the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)and the powerful Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which have both continued to battle the government's forces in other areas of Shan and nearby Kachin states.

It is unclear what provoked the latest round of violence, which coincided with the country's celebrations of its symbolic Union Day Thursday.

Myanmar's information minister Ye Htut has blamed local Kokang rebel leader Phone Kya Shin for the fighting and called on Beijing to reign in any local officials who might be helping the group on their side of the border.

Despite the flare up of violence, the government, the military and a handful of ethnic armed groups signed a commitment Thursday to continue talks, laying out an aim to build a union with "federal principles", but a long hoped for nationwide ceasefire deal remains elusive.

Fighting in resource-rich Kachin, which erupted in 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire crumbled, is seen as a significant barrier to reaching an agreement. It has seen some 100,000 people forced into displacement camps.

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Indonesia Condemns Killing of Three Muslims in North Carolina
Sunday 15 February 2015 2:42pm WIB (JoyoNews2)     

ANTARA News

Jakarta - The Indonesian government has strongly condemned the killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina, the US, on Thursday (Feb 12).

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Arrmanatha Nasir said during a press briefing here on Friday that the Indonesian government condemned the killings and hoped the police would investigate the case thoroughly.

"We condemn every violation directed at certain groups; violation is not a solution," he remarked.

At the moment, the government is communicating with the Indonesian Consulate General in New York, the US, to ensure the protection of Indonesian nationals in North Carolina and other states.

A district prosecutor was quoted as saying by the BBC on Wednesday that there was no evidence suggesting that the victims, Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad, and her sister Razan, were targeted because of their religion.

The police are still investigating the motive of the killer even as the victims families have condemned the shooting as a hate crime. Initial indications are that the gunman, Craig Hicks, was involved in a dispute over parking.

Several world leaders have also condemned the shooting. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized US President Barack Obama for his silence on the killings of the three Muslims.

He remarked that politicians were responsible for events in their countries and should clarify their stance on them.

More than 5,000 people attended the funeral of the students who were shot dead in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.(*)

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