Sunday, December 4, 2011

scmp: Public's videos could hold clues to how blaze began

Public's videos could hold clues to how blaze began

Police call for mobile phone or camera footage of flames taking hold of Fa Yuen Street market

Police investigating last week's deadly fire in a Mong Kong street market, which claimed the lives of nine people, are calling on members of the public to come forward with mobile phone or camera footage they took as the flames took hold, in the hope that it contain vital clues.

Detectives believe the fire, which ripped through Fa Yuen Street market in the early hours of Wednesday, may have been the work of an arsonist, but they have yet to identify any suspects.

"We have received five or six such clips taken by members of the public in relation to the fire," Superintendent Brian Lowcock of Kowloon West police said. "We hope that if other members of the public have taken clips of the fire, please contact us and provide us with the videos."

In the videos received by the police there were scenes of fire scorching the stalls, but no one could be seen in them.

The fire - the deadliest since the 1997 handover - has been classified as suspicious, though Lowcock does not rule out the possibility that it could have been an accident. He said that if arson was pinned down as the cause, a cash reward for information could be offered.

He also rejected a report in a Chinese-language newspaper yesterday that a suspect, of South Asian origin, had been identified.

The government also said it would speed up a crackdown on subdivided flats in old tenements, a phenomenon which may have contributed to the deaths and injuries in Wednesday's fire.

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said 334 buildings more than 30 years old would be inspected in the coming six months. They all contain subdivided flats and are near market stalls. She said officials might break into flats where entry was blocked. Lam yesterday visited a building seriously damaged by the fire. She said seven of the 14 flats there had been turned into 20 cubicle homes, some of whose walls could have blocked an escape route for victims.

The bureau will table an amendment to the Buildings Ordinance in the Legislative Council on Wednesday. It would strengthen the government's powers of prosecution by allowing the Housing Department to apply for a warrant to search premises.

Meanwhile, Director for Food and Environmental Hygiene Clement Leung Cheuk-man said on a Commercial Radio programme that the government was exploring the feasibility of introducing a demerit system for market stall operators who broke rules. Under such a scheme they could lose their licences if convicted multiple times of breaching rules.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok said introducing a demerit system was a logical response, but it would take time to work out details of such a mechanism, including the number of offences that would lead to a licence being terminated.

He said a balance should be maintained between safety and guaranteeing the livelihood of grass-roots stall owners. "If we can reduce fire risks, it will not be necessary to get rid of the stall operators," he said.

"A complete ban is a pessimistic way to handle the tragedy."

Nine people remain in hospital following the fire, five critically ill.

We want to help

Many of the families who lost loved ones in the Fa Yuen Street fire were poor. Many of those injured will struggle to pay for their rehabilitation. The smoke has yet to clear on the extent of the personal devastation. The SCMP Heart of Hong Kong Relief Fund is appealing for donations to help those affected. Please give generously to bring help to the fire victims.

Donation methods

  • By cheque payable to "SCMP Charities Ltd". Please write "Mong Kok fire" on the back of the cheque.
  • By direct transfer: HSBC 502-676588-001. Please add a transfer note of "Mong Kok fire".

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

scmp: Arson suspected in fatal Mong Kok fire





Arson suspected in fatal Mong Kok fire

At least nine people died and 30 were injured, including a one-year-old baby, in a suspicious fire on Wednesday morning that tore through roadside stalls in Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, engulfing nearby old tenement buildings.
Police did not rule out the possibility of arson. Crime squad officers are investigating its cause.

The fire, which broke out at 4.40am, was brought under control at 11.11am before finally being extinguished at 1.28pm. The fire scene was closed off at 2pm - with hoses still spraying water on nearby buildings in case there were sparks.

The Fire Services Department, which used 12 water jets and 12 breathing apparatus teams to fight the blaze, upgraded the fire alarm from No 3 to No 4 – the second-highest category.

Four charred bodies were found at the staircase of two tenement buildings nearby. Three males and six females were believed to have been killed in the blaze, police said at the scene.

Anna Tsang Yim-sheung, Mong Kok police deputy-district commander, said the fire was suspicious and did not rule out the possibility of arson.

“We will consider all the evidence. This is a very serious offence. We will use all our resources to investigate,” she said.

Acting chief fire officer for Kowloon Sze To Yat-san said: “When we arrived, the fire was very serious. On one hand, we had to put it out. On the other, many residents called for help. We deployed some officers to stage a rescue operation.

“We need a large number of firefighters in a short period of time. So we upgraded the fire alarm from category three to four,” he said.

“The smoke was thick and the stench was heavy. I could hear people screaming for help. I heard the sound of explosions, too,” one male resident said.

At least 13 injured residents were sent to Kwong Wah Hospital. A 23-year-old man was in a critical condition, while a 27-year-old woman was still receiving emergency treatment. Others were rushed to Princess Margaret Hospital, Tung Wah Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen expressed his sadness – after visiting victims in Kwong Wah Hospital.

“This is not the first time. Last year there was also a fire in Fa Yuen Street. It was discussed in the District Council. We have taken measures to separate the [hawkers'] booths from the residential blocks.

“We have also restricted the amount of stock stored [in the stalls] and the expansion [of the stalls]. We have done all these things, but apparently this is not enough.

“We need to review these measures to prevent similar incidents happening again,” he said.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong expressed his condolences to the victims and their families after visiting the scene with Director of Fire Services Andy Chan Chor-kam.

Firefighters are still searching for residents and bodies.

Earlier, detectives from the West Kowloon crime unit visited the scene. Government chemists arrived around 1pm to investigate.

At 1pm, local residents still could not go home, so they sat and waited at the scene.

Acting-secretary for Home Affairs Florence Hui Hiu-fai said at least 70 families had registered at three inter-departmental help desks set up by the government. Residents and families should call tel: 2399-2159 for assistance.

Boundary Street Stadium has been opened to provide shelter for affected families.

Police also set up a hotline: 2398-6329 for inquiries about casualties. Witnesses can also call to provide information.

It is not the first time hawker stalls in Fa Yuen Street have caught fire. In December last year, some stalls near the scene began burning. The fire developed into a category 3 blaze, injuring six and destroying 80 stalls. Some 200 residents were evacuated. Stall owners suffered a loss of more than HK$20 million.

A 33-year-old man was arrested for a series of arsons afterwards, including fires in Nathan Road, Fa Yuen Street, Sai Yeung Choi Street North and Cheung Sha Wan Road.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

scmp: Nokia Siemens to cut staff by a quarter


嘩 ...

Nokia Siemens to cut staff by a quarter

Nokia Siemens Networks, the world's second-largest maker of mobile phone network equipment, is axing 17,000 jobs, nearly a quarter of its workforce, to help save about 1 billion euros (US$1.35 billion) a year.

NSN, which has struggled to make a profit since being set up in 2007, did not say where it would make the cuts, part of wider changes that analysts said looked aimed at gearing up the company for an initial public offering.

NSN was formed by Finnish group Nokia and German congolmerate Siemens in the hope of building enough scale to lead an industry dominated by Swedish company Ericsson and, increasingly, by Chinese entrants.

It has faced aggressive pricing from rivals and an economic downturn that has forced telecoms companies to cut spending.

The job cuts form part of plans for the company to focus on mobile networks and move out of fixed-line infrastructure.

“This is a big move. I believe the goal is an IPO,” said Swedbank analyst Jari Honko. “That cannot be done with the current structure and operation models.”

Nordea analyst Sami Sarkamies said the savings from “drastic restructuring measures” would boost Nokia's annual earnings per share by up to 0.10 euro.

NSN raised 1 billion euros in late September from its parents to strengthen its balance sheet. Chief Executive Rajeev Suri said the venture would not need any further financing at this stage.

“As we look towards the prospect of an independent future, we need to take action now to improve our profitability and cash generation,” Suri said in a statement.

He said the company would focus on where it has scale adding: “We are a strong Number 2 in mobile broadband.”

Shares in Nokia were 1.9 per cent weaker, while Siemens was down 0.8 per cent by 4am HK time.

Siemens and Nokia have both said they want to make the venture more independent and see a listing as one of the options within a few years.

In July, they abandoned plans to cut their stakes in the venture after private equity firms failed to meet their asking prices.

Siemens has been looking for an exit since Peter Loescher took over as group chief executive shortly after operations between the two started.

In the third quarter, the venture made an underlying operating profit of 6.0 million euros on sales of 3.41 billion compared with a loss of 116 million euros in the same quarter a year earlier.

NSN employs about 74,000 people globally, with around 7,000 of those in Finland.

Finnish economy minister Jyri Hakamies told reporters: “It is clear that it is very severe news from a Finnish jobs perspective. The changes for both [Nokia and NSN] are massive and they raise a lot of concern.”

Nokia itself has cut more then 10,000 jobs this year, including site closures in many countries.

The scale of the cuts stunned labour unions in the home countries of both parents.

“These numbers are shocking,” said Antti Rinne, leader of Finnish labour union Pro.

German union IG Metall called employees to arms. “The latest plans are a declaration of fight against the employees,” said IG Metall official Michael Leppek.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

scmp: Women 'used as bait' in sex probe

Women 'used as bait' in sex probe

Police accused of being reckless for not publicising attacks on victims who had been drinking in Lan Kwai Fong until after 'sexual predator' was arrested

Police have been accused of using women as bait after a serial sex attacker labelled a "dangerous sexual predator" was jailed for 5-1/2 years.

Billy Chan Ho-leung pleaded guilty to five charges of indecent assault last December and January.

The labourer targeted women in bars in Lan Kwai Fong, followed them when they left alone and assaulted them in dimly lit places as they walked home.

But police did not release any details of the assaults, despite appeals to do so by one of his victims, until after his arrest in June.

The senior police officer who headed the investigation has defended the move as a professional judgment call. "I have no regrets whatsoever about the way the case was handled. It was proven to be the correct way because we got the guy convicted," said Assistant district commander for Central district Kenneth Pemberton.

But legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing and Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor said the police had threatened public safety by not publicising the attacks.

The revelation of the case comes after police were criticised for delaying the release of information about a series of stabbings in Tseung Kwan O in early October and a series of indecent exposure cases in Kwun Tong on October 18 and 19.

Chan was jailed on November 4 for the five attacks.

The District Court heard Chan had committed the offences while on probation for indecent assault and that one of his victims had been assaulted twice.

Judge Stephen Geiser rejected a defence claim that Chan had mental problems, saying psychiatric reports indicated he was a dangerous sexual predator.

One victim told the Sunday Morning Post Chan attacked her in a lane off High Street, Sheung Wan, as she walked home early on January 1 after celebrating the New Year with friends.

She had asked police to warn other women by publicising the attack.

"I remember going to the police in January and asking them to warn women in the area," said the woman, an expatriate who is now thinking of leaving Hong Kong because of the trauma of her ordeal.

"They told me they didn't want to create a panic or tip off the attacker, fearing that he might flee Hong Kong.

"I was sure they were doing a good job trying to find him, but I felt I needed to try to warn women about this. I knew I would feel terrible if the same thing happened to another woman and I had kept quiet."

The woman was so worried he would strike again that in March she contacted the Sunday Morning Post, which published her story.

At the time, police said there was no evidence a serial attacker was involved and said no other sex attack had been reported in the vicinity either before or after she was attacked. But when the man was caught on June 8, and matched with DNA from blood taken from the victim's coat, it emerged he had indecently assaulted another woman in December in Po Hing Fong, Sheung Wan, about a kilometre from the later attack.

Only when the man was in custody did police issue a press release asking for other victims to come forward.

Legislator Emily Lau said the police had been wrong not to warn the public at the time of the assaults.

"If there is somebody like that lurking around, the public should know," she said. "It is really reprehensible of the police not to inform the public and I definitely condemn them."

Lau plans to initiate a Legco debate on press freedom on November 23, when she will mention the police practice of not informing the media and the public in such cases.

She said the issue was also due to be discussed by the Legislative Council's security panel on November 25.

Law Yuk-kai, director of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, said the police had shown "a totally misplaced priority".

"It means they are using women as prey, and that is irresponsible," Law said.

"To bring someone to justice is one police priority, but preventing [more] people falling prey is even more important and that is why it is important for police to release information."

Law said he hoped to meet police to offer help on updating what he called was the "obsolete and outdated practices" on the release of information.

"The police really need to revise their guidelines and draft them with public consultation or else they will not address the people's security needs and the need of the public and the media to know," he said.

"The police cannot be stationed on every corner to take care of everyone. People have to fend for themselves and information is power. It is wrong to say law and order is only a matter for the police. It is important they release this information as soon as possible. In withholding information, they are doing the public a disservice."

Hong Kong Police would not comment on the case but said certain factors - the public's right to know and operational strategies such as covert operations, and privacy of individuals - were considered before information was released in some cases, including rape or kidnapping.

"Nevertheless, the police will release related information to the public according to the special requirement of particular cases. When disseminating information, the police will take into consideration the public's right to know and comply strictly with the relevant ordinances and the requirements of the Code on Access to Information."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

scmp: Revolt looms over competition law

Revolt looms over competition law

Pan-democrat says camp will review their support for proposed anti-monopoly legislation, after government makes concessions to business lobby

The government risks losing the support of pan-democratic lawmakers for its embattled competition bill after yesterday announcing concessions to make the proposed legislation more acceptable to business.
Six changes have been made to the bill in response to concerns raised by the business sector, but at least three of the four major chambers said they were still not satisfied.

However, the dilutions have prompted Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah - a core member of the 23-vote pan-democratic camp - to reconsider his support for the bill, which aims to curb anti-competitive behaviour and provide a level playing field for companies in Hong Kong.

"I am surprised and disappointed at the concessions, which will drastically reduce the effectiveness of the bill," said Tong, vice-chairman of the Legco committee scrutinising the bill. "I need a rethink of our stance, which used to be solid support."

The pan-democrats plan to meet Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung today to discuss the bill.

So said the government had made the concessions in the hope of speeding up Legco's vetting of the bill, which is seriously behind schedule to meet a hoped-for vote next July.

"We hope to be able to address the business concerns, in particular those of the SMEs, while maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of the bill," said So, who on Tuesday will brief the Legco committee on the amendments.

Tong was most alarmed that the government had cut the proposed maximum penalty - from 10 per cent of global turnover for the entire period of anti-competitive behaviour to 10 per cent of Hong Kong turnover for a maximum of three years. He also decried the watering-down of payments that businesses would have to make for lesser infractions.

Another change took away the right of individuals and companies to lodge complaints of anti-competitive behaviour directly with the proposed competition tribunal.

Previously, they could go either to the tribunal or the proposed competition commission. Now, they can complain only to the commission, which will refer cases to the tribunal. The commission is an administrative body; the tribunal is a court.

Other changes include the introduction of a warning notice for non-serious anti-competitive agreements, such as restrictions on advertising and collective refusal to supply goods; setting a market threshold to protect small businesses; and excluding mergers from two conduct rules - concerted practices and abuse of substantial market power. But no companies will be treated leniently if they have infringed any one of four key rules, including price-fixing and market-sharing.

Three major chambers, including the General Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese Manufacturers' Association, welcomed the changes, especially the deletion of the provisions for private lawsuits. But they said the threshold of HK$100 million for non-serious anti-competitive agreements was too low to offer protection for small businesses.

A government source said there would be a review of the law "a few years after its implementation" and would not rule out that the right to file private litigation could be reinstated at that time.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

scmp:One pilot missing in Xian air show crash

One pilot missing in Xian air show crash

Aviation expert blames outdated engines for fighter's failure, but another cites controls

A mainland-made JH-7 fighter-bomber plunged nose-first into the ground at an air show in Xian yesterday morning. One pilot who ejected was injured, while the other was missing, state media reported.
China Central Television showed footage of the plane falling from the sky and bursting into flames when it hit the ground. The reports identified the plane as a "Flying Leopard" - also known as the JH-7 - a two-seater stalwart used by the Chinese Air Force.

Xinhua quoted air show director He Liang as saying the plane plunged into a wetland near the Pucheng Neifu Airport in Pucheng county at about 10.45am, during the first day of the show staged by the China International General Aviation Convention. One pilot managed to eject, but the other was still missing, he added. He said no one on the ground was hurt.

People two kilometres away could see heavy smoke billowing above the airport, Xinhua said, adding that the show had continued.

The Ministry of National Defence said that no People's Liberation Army aircraft took part in the air show.

Andrei Chang, chief editor of the Canadian-based Kanwa Defence Review, said this meant that the plane had only recently rolled off the production line and had not yet been delivered to the air force.

"It means the two pilots are test pilots for its manufacturer, the Xian Aircraft Industry Corp, because it was on display at the company's production base," Chang said. "I am not surprised by today's accident because the JH-7's Mk 202 engine is too old and outdated."

The JH-7, fitted with British Rolls-Royce Spey Mk 202 engines, was first seen at the 1996 Zhuhai air show.

However, Antony Wong Dong, president of the International Military Association in Macau, said the accident might have been caused by a failure of flight control systems.

"The Mk 202 is very reliable. A nosedive should not be caused by an engine problem, it is a flight control issue," Wong said.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

scmp: Planners think big for Kowloon East

Planners think big for Kowloon East

New central business district's main draws include a railway system and huge office spaces, but it will need to shed its image as drab and hard to reach

A HK$12 billion monorail system and the rebranding of a "dull and remote" district are key elements in plans to turn Kowloon East into the city's second central business district (CBD2), double the size of Central, officials said yesterday.
The area which includes Kwun Tong, Kowloon Bay and the old Kai Tak airport site will be home to offices - including 11 government departments - spanning 5.8 million square metres of total floor space, or double the area provided in Central, Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told a news conference yesterday.

But the area will not rival Central for the most prestigious, prime office sites, officials said.

The new site will become the best choice for grade-A office space for companies that do not need a base in the traditional but overcrowded business districts like Central and Wan Chai.

"This is not Central the second. The most important business district will remain in Central," Lam said.

"From the perspective of positioning, it is essential for most financial institutions to stay in Central. For one thing, the West Wing of the government headquarters will be turned into offices of the Securities and Futures Commission, which will be a nominated tenant in the lease. That will keep many institutions close to it," she said.

In his policy address on Wednesday, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said increasing the supply of office space was vital to maintain Hong Kong's competitiveness, but Central lacked room for expansion. Rising demand pushed up rents and lowered the vacancy rate last year.

Another key attraction for the new district, renamed Kowloon East, will be its nine-kilometre, emission-free monorail system with 12 stops connecting Kowloon Bay and Kwun Tong MTR Station via Kai Tak.

Officials said the rail system would cost about HK$12 billion to build. Subject to public consultation and detailed design, the system - operating at an interval of two minutes with expected daily passenger traffic of about 200,000 - could start operating by 2023.

Lam said a footbridge system, to be financed by five private developers, would link major business towers in Kowloon Bay. The government will consider other pedestrian connections there and in Kwun Tong.

Lam said rebranding was also key to the planned CBD2's success because the former industrial area had a reputation for being dull and remote.

"The first thing we have to do is to remove a road sign outside the [Eastern Harbour Tunnel] that tells motorists they are heading to Kwun Tong industrial district," she said.

Architecture, street art and green projects will also play a role in helping the area evolve into a quality business district, the secretary added.

David Tse Kin-wah, from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said he supported the scheme, adding that the monorail was the "most crucial" element for success.

Kowloon East, he said, was likely to attract architectural firms, construction companies, bank back-up services, information technology outfits and logistics operators who favoured larger floor spaces, which would be in ample supply in the district's renovated industrial buildings.

scmp:Buyers may have unfair advantage under new HOS

Buyers may have unfair advantage under new HOS

Authority advisers say revived scheme arrangements such as a fixed premium will almost guarantee profits

The newly revived subsidised Home Ownership Scheme gives flat buyers advantages denied to owners under the old scheme, and this may be considered unfair, Housing Authority advisers warned yesterday.
Their comments came after Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen announced in his policy address on Wednesday that the HOS, suspended in 2002, would be revived with changes in pricing and resales practices. The Housing Authority will build an annual average of 5,000 flats between 2016 and 2020 for households earning no more than HK$30,000 a month.

Under the old scheme, a flat owner had to pay a premium to the authority when reselling it on the private market. This was deemed necessary because the authority had sold it to the buyer at a steep discount. If the discount was 30 per cent, for example, the gain in market price had to be shared with the authority, which would be paid 30 per cent of that gain.

Under the new arrangement, the premium - the difference between market price and discounted purchase price - would be fixed at the time of purchase. The flats would be priced with reference to applicants' mortgage repayment ability, suggested as a 40 per cent mortgage-toincome ratio. If the market goes up by the time the flat is resold, most of the rise in market price can be recouped after deducting the fixed premium.

Wong Sing-chi, a Democrat and a member of the authority's subsidised housing committee, said the new scheme almost guaranteed that flat buyers, the lucky few, would make a profit. "This will create new social conflict," he said. "The old scheme owners would find it unfair."

Wong suggested giving a resale discount to the old scheme owners.

A caller to a radio programme sounded the same warning. "The new scheme mixes people's investment needs and housing needs," he said. "It's a Mark Six for the public."

Housing secretary Eva Cheng said that while she had taken note of these concerns, the scheme could help people to buy a home on the private market. "We understand there are views that the new scheme would offer 'double subsidies'," she said.

"The new principle of the future HOS is to facilitate upward mobility. We won't forget to make it balanced, so that the arrangement is fair to existing HOS homeowners and acceptable to society."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

scmp: Tsang relaunches HOS in policy addres

Tsang relaunches HOS in policy address

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen announced in his final policy address on Wednesday the relauch of the Home Ownership Scheme shelved nine years ago.
The subsidised housing scheme is designed to help aspiring homebuyers who have been priced out of the residential property market.

Tsang said the resumed HOS would involve construction of 17,000 flats over four years from 2016 to help families who earn less than HK$30,000 a month buy homes. An amount of between 2,500 and 6,500 flats would be made available each year and the government's long-term target was to set the amount at around 5,000 flats a year.

Under the HOS, the government builds small-and-medium flats and sells to buyers at subsidised prices. The scheme was shelved in 2002 as part of efforts to rejuvenate the then-battered property market.

Its resumption comes amid a rising property market in Hong Kong. Property prices have risen by about 12 per cent this year – surpassing records in 1997 – because of a small supply of flats, low interest rates and abundant liquidity.

“We share the public's concern about rising property prices and the difficulty in buying affordable small and medium flats. The pressure is most felt by families whose household income exceeds the limits for public rental housing application but who may not be able to afford owning a flat,” he said.

“In response to the aspirations of low and middle-income families to buy their own homes, the government now puts forward a new policy for the resumption of the HOS,” Tsang added.

He said the first batch of new HOS flats was expected to be ready for pre-sale in 2014 or 2015. They would be between 400 and 500 square feet in size and be priced at around HK$1.5 million to HK$2 million.

He said flat prices under the resumed scheme would be set with reference to the mortgage repayment ability of eligible households, rather than to the market price of a comparable flat in the private market in the previous scheme.

The flats would be restricted from re-sale to open market for the first five-years after purchase – the same period as previous subsidised housing schemes.

He said the Housing Department had started preliminary planning and investigations for sites identified in Sha Tin, Tsuen Wan and Yuen Long, and would commence similar work for other sites shortly to start the first phase of the project.

Tsang said the actual number of flats to be built or put up for sale each year would be flexible depend on demand at the time.

“When there are enough reasonably priced small and medium flats in the private market, we will adjust the number of subsidised flats to be built and sold for the year. We may even stop building and selling such flats,” he said.

This was Tsang's seventh and final policy address since he took office in 2007. He singled out housing as the first policy area to deal with in the blueprint. The policy address was made at the first Legislative Council meeting held in the new government headquarters in Tamar.

Tsang also pledged to increase the land supply, enhance the existing urban renewal scheme and provide 15,000 new public housing rental units each year in a bid to address recent public concerns over housing.

Tsang said he had set a target of providing 40,000 residential units of various types a year on average. To achieve the target, he proposed plans to look out for new lands from industrial sites, green belt areas in the New Territories, and 150 hectares of agricultural land in North District and Yuen Long, now mainly used for industrial purposes or temporary storage, or deserted.

"Even when demand for land declines, land development will continue. The newly-developed land will be kept in the government's land reserve and made available when appropriate. By doing so, we will be able to supply sufficient land for more than 40,000 units each year when demand rises,” he said.

Thursday, July 28, 2011 Extra security at fair for porn star



Extra security at fair for porn star

More guards hired for promotion where visitors will have the chance to hug Japanese adult-film actress

Extra security guards have been hired by a company at a comic and games fair where visitors will get the chance to hug a Japanese porn star.

"We will have four security guards. Last year there were only one or two of them," said Kiang Yu-him of Game One, which will have porn star Maria Osawa and two young models, from Hong Kong and Taiwan, greeting guests and offering hugs on stage to the first 40 people.

It is the first time that an adult performer has featured at the five-day Ani-Com and Games Hong Kong exhibition, which starts at the Convention and Exhibition Centre today, but Kiang promised that everything would be kept under control.

On other days of the fair, teenage models Jeana Ho Pui-yu and DaDa Chan Ching will turn up as game girls. Kiang expects the appearance of the models to boost business by 20 per cent.

But all the beauty on show won't hide the fact that game fanatics will have to pay more for products.

Prices this year are up by HK$100 to HK$200.

The cost for a set of special edition Gundam game cards has soared from HK$988 to HK$1,580.

In another corner of the fair, 30 "maids" will serve as saleswomen at the "Maid Bookstore". Among them are secondary school pupils taking on a summer job.

"We will serve the customers, introduce books and help them find the comics they want," said Jennifer Yu, 18.

They will be earning HK$50 an hour, well above the minimum wage of HK$28 an hour.

Of interest for comic fans is the release today of World of Mercenary,the latest creation by local artist Tony Wong Yuk-long. Monotone limited editions will be available at the fair.

For fans who can't make the fair, Jade Dynasty is accepting pre-orders for limited edition figures, some of which have already sold out.

Meanwhile, Lego has set up a big aquarium filled with nine fish and four seahorses made of plastic bricks. Part of the income earned from selling two packages of tropical fish will be donated to Wold Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong.

"The limited editions, such as space shuttles and Harry Potter castles, will only be sold to the fans who line up early and get tickets," said Yvonne Lam Wing-ki, product manger of Lego Hong Kong.

Yesterday evening, more than 1,000 people were queuing outside the fair venue to be the first to snap up favourite comic superheroes and limited edition online video games. The line extended from the main entrance of the exhibition centre to the nearby Great Eagle Centre.

Saturday, July 23, 2011 At least 16 die in train plunge after crash


At least 16 die in train plunge after crash

At least 16 people were killed yesterday when a high-speed train ran into another in Zhejiang province in the worst accident to date on China's high-speed railway network.

Six carriages plunged off a bridge. As well as those killed, at least 89 people were injured. The crash happened between Taizhou and Wenzhou at 8.34pm.

Citing Shanghai railway bureau sources, China National Radio said a train travelling from the provincial capital Hangzhou to Fuzhou ran into the other train, which had been brought to a halt by a lightning strike.

Two coaches of the train from Hangzhou and four coaches of the stalled train were derailed.

Photos posted by internet users on theShanghai Times Sino microblog showed some of the derailed coaches resting upside down and badly damaged.

Friday, July 8, 2011 Ex-official warns of crackdown risks






Ex-official warns of crackdown risks

The most senior Chinese official jailed over the 1989 Tiananmen protests warned the Chinese government on Friday that its sustained crackdown on dissent will only bring more instability.

In an interview with reporters on Friday, Bao Tong, the most trusted aide to purged Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang and now an outspoken critic of the government, said he believes Chinese leaders are filled with insecurity about the country's social order.

China's Communist Party has muzzled dissent since February, secretly detaining dozens of lawyers and activists, worried that uprisings across the Arab world could inspire challenges to its one-party rule ahead of a leadership succession late next year.

"A government that snatches the legitimate rights of the ordinary people, I think this kind of government will never be stable," said Bao, 79. He was jailed for seven years for his opposition to the government decision to send in troops to crush the pro-democracy demonstrations, and remains under close watch by security officers around his home in the west of Beijing.

"I think the measures they have taken are wrong. It will backfire on what they want to achieve."

The transition is due to start late next year, when Vice President Xi Jinping is likely to take over from President Hu Jintao.

Bao was once a political high-flyer, and as secretary to the party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee held a rank equivalent to a cabinet minister.

Bao said it was imperative that Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao "create the conditions" for future leaders, which means "not creating problems".

"What they're doing now is only increasing the obstacles," he said. "On the approach that they are taking now, on what kind of consequences it will mean for the future, I think it will cause more trouble for the new leaders."

"If they start implementing democracy and the rule of law, it'll be much easier for the incoming leaders. There'll be less risks and less resistant forces."

Bao was harsh on Hu, whose government he says has reneged on its promises of democratic reform, and for its treatment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who was jailed in 2009 for 11 years for subversion.

"He's telling the world that China's laws don't count. Only I, Hu Jintao, matter. That's why I say I'm thoroughly disappointed in Hu Jintao," said the healthy and alert Bao, sitting in front of a picture of his former boss Zhao.

Zhao died in 2005 after more than 15 years under house arrest.

Bao was more sympathetic to Wen and applauded the premier's recent calls for democracy and human rights, most recently last month in London. .

"One thing I haven't figured out is what the motive of his comments are," Bao said. "Is it just for the sake of speech or is he really prepared to take action on what he has said?"

"I hope he is prepared to do what he says. But he has not much time left, if he doesn't act quickly, people will say in the future that he's worked for 10 years and all he achieved was just empty talk for a decade, with nothing to show for it," he said. "That will be a pity."

Bao said he had high hopes for Vice President Xi.

Xi is the son of reformist former vice premier and parliament vice-chairman Xi Zhongxun, making him a "princeling" â€" one of the privileged sons and daughters of China's incumbent, retired or late leaders.

"I hope he will make a difference. I hope he will not be ... a second Hu Jintao. He should be Xi Zhongxun's son, have his own mind and know that his own father has worked a lifetime for the ordinary people, and that his father suffered."

"I hope he remembers his father's experiences and not betray his father. Of course ... as a friend of his father's, I'll also put more pressure on him."

"The world's greatest politicians were made because of pressure from the people," said Bao. "An emperor that has no pressure will definitely be corrupt."

Thursday, July 7, 2011 Beijing denies rumour of Jiang's death


Beijing denies rumour of Jiang's death

TV report of China leader's death fuels political rumour mill

Chinese state media denied rumours on Thursday that former president Jiang Zemin had died after a Hong Kong television station said he had, sparking a wave of speculation about a leadership transition due next year.

"Recent reports of some overseas media organisations about Jiang Zemin's death from illness are pure rumour," Xinhua news agency quoted "authoritative sources" as saying.

Jiang, 84, is in poor health. Three sources with ties to China's leadership told Reuters that he is in intensive care in Beijing at the No 301 military hospital after suffering a heart attack.

In the opaque world of Chinese politics, the health of a leader is fodder for rumours about how the balance of power is shifting at the highest levels of the government.

Current President Hu Jintao retires from office from late next year in a sweeping leadership overhaul, and the rumours about Jiang's health underscore the uncertainties around this.

Hong Kong's Asia Television interrupted its main newscast on Wednesday evening to announce solemnly that Jiang had died, and followed with a brief profile. It kept up the news for several hours on a ticker and then said it would air a special report on Jiang's life late in the evening.

It later cancelled the report, and withdrew the ticker after failing to get official confirmation.

Meanwhile, the Shandong News website in northeast China posted a black banner with white characters, saying "Our Respectable Comrade Jiang Zemin Is Immortal". The site was no longer accessible on Thursday.

Searches on a popular Chinese micro-blogging site with terms ranging from "Jiang Zemin" to the Yangtze River [Jiang's surname means "river"], are blocked, a sign that China's censors are concerned about public debate about his health.

Premature reports about the demise of Chinese leaders are hardly new. In the 1990s, Hong Kong and Japanese media reported several times that paramount leader Deng Xiaoping had died.

Jiang Zemin's passing â€" on the surface at least â€" would likely have limited impact on the direction of China's politics and economic development.

He retired long ago, handing over the Communist Party's top job to Hu in 2002 and his other posts over the next two years. Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao have since led the country on a decade-long charge that saw it grow from an economy the size of Britain to one that has surpassed Japan.

But the prospect of Jiang's passing would add a breeze of uncertainty to a transition that is widely thought to hand power from Hu to a new generation led by Xi Jinping, currently vice president. That would take place at the 18th Communist Party Congress expected sometime in the autumn of next year.

Xi, anointed as Hu's heir apparent at the congress in 2007, was considered acceptable to both the Hu and Jiang camps.

But in China, the death of a senior leader can be cause for worry, and even spell disaster, for proteges and allies who are no longer protected.

Hu would no longer have Jiang acting as a counterweight to his influence over the future make up of the next leadership.

"New leaders are selected by old leaders," Zheng Yongnian, professor of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore. "He's one of the important selectorate. After he passes away, other current leaders will become more influential."

He could also settle scores or take down other rivals with links to Jiang, if necessary.

Past leaders can have considerable clout in China. Deng wielded power as paramount leader despite having given up all his posts except the honourary chairman of the Chinese bridge association.

Jiang consolidated his own grip on power after Deng died in 1997. By the time Jiang retired his last post â€" as head of the military commission â€" in 2004, he had already stacked the Politburo with his people.

"Front and back, left and right, up and down. No matter where Hu looks, there is a Jiang man," said one source at the time the leadership line-up was announced back in 2002.

In Jiang's case, there are quite a few allies still in place in the leadership who might now have cause for concern, should Hu assert himself.

"If he dies, the situation becomes very delicate," said one source with ties to leadership circles who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject.

Among the Jiang allies still in senior posts are: Wu Bangguo, parliament chief and the second ranking person in the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee; Jia Qinglin, who heads a parliamentary advisory body and is ranked fourth; and Li Changchun, who oversees propaganda and ideology and is ranked fifth.

How exactly it will play it out, is unclear. With the Party Congress only about 15 months away, Hu's window to further consolidate his grip on power is considerably shorter than Jiang had as he prepared to step down.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 Boy killed as subway escalator reverses





Boy killed as subway escalator reverses

Thirty injured in Beijing; malfunction blamed on cost-cutting use of shopping-mall model

A 13-year old boy died and 30 were injured when an escalator suddenly reversed direction at a station on Beijing Subway's Line 4 yesterday morning. Two people remain in critical condition.

Witnesses said the escalator malfunctioned at the Beijing Zoo Station at about 9.30am. "When we were about to reach exit A, we heard a 'kahk' and the ascending escalator suddenly reversed," a tourist from Heilongjiang told Beijing News from hospital. "Nobody was able to stand. We all fell together.

"My daughter was found underneath [the victims]. Now she can't move."

Zhang Lexiang , an escalator engineer and deputy general secretary of China Elevator Association, said he was not surprised by the accident. He said his association had received many reports about similar incidents in recent years, most frequently at public transport hubs such as subway stations.

He said manufacturers had been improving the safety of escalators for decades, with computers and digital sensors making reversals almost impossible.

To save money, however, subway lines on the mainland bought cheap, light-duty escalators designed for shopping malls.

Such escalators cost a third of the price of a heavy-duty escalator, Zhang said, but using them in a public transport hub could be fatal. The burden of heavy passenger loads for long hours would not only shorten the life span of electric motors and transmission systems, but breach the design limits of safety mechanisms.

Zhang said all developed countries mandated the use of heavy-duty escalators in public transport hubs. Hong Kong, for instance, requires specifications many times higher than the mainland.

"The mainland produces more than 95 per cent of the world's escalators," Zhang said. "We sell most heavy-duty models overseas. [But] we can't find a single buyer in the mainland's public sector."

In December, an escalator at Guomao station on Shenzhen's Metro reversed, injuring 24 passengers.

Line 4 is operated by Beijing MTR Corporation, a joint venture formed by Beijing Infrastructure Investment, Beijing Capital Group and Hong Kong's MTR Corporation.

Beijing MTR declined to confirm that the escalator had reversed.

The escalator was manufactured by US-based Otis. A spokesman at the company's China headquarters, in Tianjin , said it had launched an investigation.

The MTR Corp, which holds a 49 per cent stake in the Beijing Subway joint venture, said the escalator involved in the accident was owned by a company under the Beijing municipal government.

"The escalator, though inside the subway, is rented out by the company to the subway," an MTR spokesman said. It was maintained by Otis, he said.

Additional reporting by Martin Wong

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 Academic accused of misconduct


Academic accused of misconduct

Graft-buster charges former HKU head of surgery over alleged misuse of funds to pay a domestic helper, an embezzlement cover-up and false travel claims

A former head of surgery at the University of Hong Kong medical faculty has been charged with misconduct by the ICAC for misusing the university's funds to hire a domestic helper.

Professor John Wong (pictured), 70, head of the surgery department from 1982 to 2008, was also accused of covering up a subordinate's embezzlement so she could escape disciplinary action and pocket full payments from the staff provident fund when she resigned. Another charge alleges Wong cheated on overseas travel expenses through false accounting in a firm he set up.

Wong will appear in Eastern Court tomorrow to face two charges of misconduct in public office and two of false accounting, pending transfer to the District Court, a spokesman for the Independent Commission Against Corruption said.

Wong was the head of surgery when the alleged offences took place. The department set up the Skills Development Centre in 1995, with a donation from the Jockey Club, to provide medical training to all surgical specialties, medical students, interns, nurses and doctors. The centre also received public donations and Hospital Authority sponsorship. One of the misconduct charges alleges Wong authorised the use of more than HK$730,000 from the centre's bank account to pay a domestic helper - who also worked as a driver - between January 29, 2002 and January 30, 2007.

Another misconduct charge alleges Wong failed to report to the university that his subordinate had stolen more than HK$2.6 million from the centre's bank account. He then allegedly loaned money to the female subordinate to replenish the bank account and cover up the theft. The commission said he had also allowed her to resign without being investigated or disciplined by the university so that she could receive full payments from the staff provident fund worth more than HK$690,000.

The other two charges allege Wong falsified entries in the director's report and accounts of Unisurgical Limited - a company he set up in 2005 and of which he was sole shareholder and effectively director. The charges relate to the director's report and accounts for the year ending March 2006, and March 2007, in which more than HK$690,000 and HK$74,000, respectively, in overseas travel expenses were claimed.

The spokesman said the case had arisen from a corruption complaint, and the university had given full assistance to the investigation.

Wong has been released on ICAC bail pending his court appearance tomorrow.

In September 2009, the former dean of the medical faculty, Lam Siu-kum, was sentenced to more than two years in prison for inducing patients to make donations and payments of almost HK$4 million to his company.

The university reviewed financial transactions at its medical faculty after Lam's case came to light.

Saturday, June 25, 2011 Party thrives as path to progress (with 明報報道)




Party thrives as path to progress

Communism is dead or in retreat in most countries, but in China the movement just gets stronger

While communist movements in most parts of the world have long lost their appeal to the majority, the Communist Party of China says its membership now exceeds 80 million, almost matching the population of Germany.

The number of party members reached 80.27 million last year, Wang Qinfeng , deputy head of its Organisation Department, said in Beijing yesterday in the run-up to its 90th anniversary next week.

The party recruited 3.075 million new members and received more than 21.017 million registered applications last year, he said.

Some 32,000 left the party, most of them expelled. Wang did not give reasons for the expulsions but it has long been used as a penalty for misconduct and corruption by cadres.

The party has been striving to recruit young members to shed its ageing image. Last year, 43.87 million party members were aged 46 and above, accounting for 54.7 per cent of its membership. Its 14.85 million retirees outnumbered the 6.99 million industrial workers and 6.81 million government officials.

However, most new recruits are not joining for ideological reasons, but to take advantage of the greater convenience party membership affords them.

Zhao Buzhen , a 29-year-old professional who has applied for membership, said yesterday he wanted to join because it would be good for his career.

University campuses are a key recruiting ground for party members. Professor Hu Xingdou , from the Beijing Institute of Technology, said party membership used to be used as a reward for young people who excelled at university.

While membership brings convenience, party membership also has negative connotations in a system where official corruption is rife. An article in the Southern Weekly on Thursday said student cadres from Shanghai Jiao Tong University decided to launch a campaign to ask students to make their party membership public after jokes circulated on the internet saying that that many were too ashamed to admit that they were members.

Only 18.03 million, or 22.5 per cent, of the party members are women; ethnic minorities make up 5.4 million, or 6.6 per cent. The largest group is farmers, who number 24.4 million.

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中共黨員8000萬 去年3.2萬人「出黨」