Indonesia is "cash cow" for cigarette industry, says SEATCA

World Health Organization (WHO)Bangkok - Of South-East Asia's 125 million cigarette smokers some 46 per cent are in Indonesia, the only country in the region that has no legislation banning cigarette advertisements, the South-East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) said Monday.

The anti-smoking group said Indonesia has become a "cash cow" for Philip Morris International (PMI), the owner of Indonesia's PT HM Sampoerna Company which last year claimed 30 per cent of the Indonesian market and an estimated revenue of 1 billion dollars.

Hong Kong airline backs down on face mask ban for cabin crew

face maskHong Kong - Hong Kong's main airline, Cathay Pacific, on Saturday backed down on its refusal to allow its flight attendants to wear face masks to protect themselves against swine flu. The change of policy came after the confirmation of East Asia's first swine-flu case in Hong Kong on Friday night and an appeal from the city's health secretary, York Chow.

It also came after the chairwoman of the Flight Attendants Union sent out an appeal to her 5,000 members to defy the face-mask ban.

Asian Development Bank to set up 3-billion-dollar emergency fund

Development bank projects lowest growth in Bangladesh in five yearsBali Island, Indonesia - The Asian Development Bank plans to set up a 3-billion-dollar fund to help developing member countries cope with the global economic crisis, its president, Haruhiko Kuroda, said Saturday. The fund would provide emergency loans faster and cheaper than under the bank's existing programmes, Kuroda said.

Asian labourers have little to celebrate on May Day

Labor DayBangkok - Asia's unemployment rates may not look as shocking as those in the United States and Europe, but this May Day the region's labour force had little to celebrate and plenty to fear. Real unemployment figures are notoriously hard to come by in Asia, a continent where few out-of-work labourers receive unemployment benefits so joblessness is poorly registered.

But with economies slowing, exports to the West in decline and factories closing or cutting back production, rising unemployment is starting to show even in official statistics.

APEC calls for immediate steps vs swine flu, but no travel ban

Swine FluManila - Asia-Pacific transport ministers on Wednesday called for immediate steps to contain the spread of a deadly swine flu virus outbreak, but they did not call for a travel ban in the countries affected by the disease. At the end of the 6th Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) Transportation Ministerial Meeting in Manila, the ministers expressed concern over the spread of the swine flu virus, which now affects seven countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Communist rebels abduct soldier in southern Philippines, army says

PhilippinesManila - Communist rebels abducted a Philippine army soldier who visited a clinic for a medical check-up in a southern province, an army spokesman said Wednesday. Troops have been dispatched to rescue Private Ronnie Trinidad from the guerrillas in Compostela Valley province, 930 kilometres south of Manila, Lieutenant Franco Ver Lopez said.

Trinidad went to a clinic in New Bataan town Tuesday after experiencing stomachaches and was accompanied by another soldier, who bought supplies for their battalion, Lopez said.

Asian Development Bank to help improve flood management in region

Asian Development Bank to help improve flood management in region Manila  - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said Wednesday it was providing a 2-million-dollar grant to help improve flood management in the region in a bid to reduce rising human and economic costs of water-related disasters.

The Manila-based ADB said the regional assistance will come from the Japan Special Fund, which is financed by the government of Japan.

Wealthy Asians consider private jets to avoid swine flu risks

Wealthy Asians consider private jets to avoid swine flu risksHong Kong - Wealthy Asian travellers are considering flying by private jet to avoid the risk of swine flu exposure on commercial flights, a news report said Wednesday.

Private jet service Asia Jet has seen a 40-per-cent rise in inquiries about its flights, at a cost of 5,900 US dollars an hour, since the swine flu scare spread Monday to Asia, the South China Morning Post reported.

Enquiries had come from across the region for the Hong Kong-based company's fleet of Gulfstream jets, said chief executive Justin Lee Firestone.

WHO vows to intensify fight against malaria in Asia-Pacific

World Health Organization (WHO)Manila- The World Health Organization (WHO) vowed on Friday to intensify the fight against malaria in Asia and the Pacific amid growing signs of the disease developing greater resistance to commonly used drugs.

The Manila-based WHO Western Pacific Office expressed concern over the situation in the Thai-Cambodian border where a strain of malaria that is increasingly resistant to artemisinin, the most effective drug available to fight the disease, has proliferated.

Oxfam: Climate crises to affect 375 million by 2015

global warmingBangkok - Natural disasters caused by climate change are expected to affect 375 million people by the year 2015, threatening to overwhelm the current humanitarian aid system, a confederation of internatonal aid groups warned Tuesday.

Oxfam International Tuesday launched its report entitled The Right to Survive, studying the potential impact of climate change on the current humanitarian aid system.

60 companies in polluted Hong Kong sign up for carbon reduction

low-carbon lifestylesHong Kong - Sixty companies in energy-hungry Hong Kong have signed up for a programme to promote low-carbon lifestyles, a environmental conference heard Monday.

The government-backed campaign run by environment activists the Climate Group aims to find ways to lower high-rise Hong Kong's carbon footprint, which is reckoned to be one of the world's biggest.

Speaking at the launch of the one-year campaign Monday, environment secretary Edward Yau appealed to businesses and individuals to help make it a success.

Big fish "tortured" in Asian seafood restaurants

Asian seafood Hong Kong - The waiter serves up a generous helping of hyperbole with his sales patter as he points to a giant garoupa gawping out of the glass of a neon-lit fish tank on the pavement outside a seafront restaurant in Hong Kong.

"This is a very special fish - it is more than 100 years old," he says, gesturing to the fish struggling to turn its metre-long body in the confines of the tank.

"If you want to eat it, it will cost you around HK$500,000 (64,500 US dollars). You will need a very big party."

China announces 10-billion-dollar regional investment fund

ChinaBeijing- China announced a 10-billion-dollar investment fund Saturday for supporting infrastructure development in the 10-nation South-East Asia region.

Addressing the opening of the Bo'ao Forum for Asia, a regional economic meeting on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, Premier Wen Jiabao said the world economic crisis requires Asian nations to build confidence and strengthen cooperation.

"We should accelerate the development of regional and subregional transport, power and communication infrastructure to gradually achieve interconnectivity and form a network," Wen said.

Asian stocks jump on Japan stimulus, machinery orders

Topix index Tokyo  - Asian stocks bounced up Thursday as investors were cheered by news from Japan, where the government prepared to unveil a 154-billion-dollar economic stimulus package and its machinery orders unexpectedly rose.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average surged 3.74 per cent to 8,916.06, a day after falling 2.69 per cent on concerns over upcoming corporate earnings reports. Thursday's gains erased the Nikkei's losses for the year.

Japan's broader Topix index of all first-section issues also rose 3.26 per cent to 841.81.

WHO calls for disaster-resistant hospitals, health facilities

WHO calls for disaster-resistant hospitals, health facilities Manila  - The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday urged Asian countries to invest in building disaster-resistant hospitals and health facilities, which are critical lifelines during calamities and other emergencies.

WHO said governments must ensure that hospitals and other health facilities can withstand earthquakes and other calamities amid increasing natural and man-made disasters.

It also stressed the need to ensure that health workers are trained to treat injuries and care for those affected by emergencies.

Asia growth to slow to lowest rate in more than a decade

Asia growth to slow to lowest rate in more than a decade Manila  - Economic growth in developing Asia was expected to slow to its lowest rate in more than a decade due to the global economic crisis, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said Tuesday.

The Asian Development Outlook, the annual report of the Manila-based ADB, forecasts economic growth in Asia to slide to 3.4 per cent, down from 6.3 per cent last year and 9.5 per cent in 2007.

The report said that if the global economy experiences a mild recovery next year, the economic growth for the region could expand 6 per cent in 2010.

Asia seeks a bigger say in global financial cleanup

Asia seeks a bigger say in global financial cleanupBangkok - Six months ago, when the financial crisis started in US and European markets, there was still hope that South-East and East Asia would prove immune to the latest hiccup in capitalism.

The region suffered its own financial crisis in 1997-98 when weak financial systems, overborrowing and ballooning current account deficits led to plummeting currencies, widespread bankruptcies, mountains of private and public debt, and a massive financial cleanup sponsored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and pushed by the West.

WHO calls for intensified campaign against TB in Asia-Pacific

WHO calls for intensified campaign against TB in Asia-Pacific Manila - The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday urged governments in Asia and the Pacific to boost their national health systems, which are vital in the fight against tuberculosis (TB), especially drug-resistant cases.

The Manila-based WHO Western Pacific Office said that effective TB control has been hampered by weaknesses in national health systems, such as chronic staff shortages and inadequate financial resources.

Nuclear free zone in Central Asia enters into force Saturday

Nuclear free zone in Central Asia enters into force Saturday New York  - The first nuclear weapon free-zone in the northern hemisphere will enter into force Saturday, which calls on the five Central Asian states to forswear nuclear weapons and abandon all nuclear activities.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the event, saying it is of particular significance because it encompasses a region where nuclear weapons previously existed.

Third undersea cable planned to bring faster internet to Asia

Taipei  - Several Asian countries plan to jointly build a third Asia-Pacific undersea cable to bring faster internet service to the region, Taiwan media reported Thursday.

The countries plan to jointly invest 500 million dollars to lay the Asia-Pacific Cable Network 3 (APCN3), according to the Economic Daily News and the Commercial Times, which cited unnamed Chunghwa Telecom Co sources.

The APCN3 would link Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The main companies involved in the venture - including Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom, China's China Unicom Ltd and China Telecom Corp, Singapore's Starhub Ltd and Japan's KDDI Corp - were expected to sign a contract next month.

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