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."