Jumaat, 17 Disember 2010

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Indonesia graft fight falters, investors still keen

Posted: 17 Dec 2010 01:19 AM PST

JAKARTA, Dec 17 — Indonesia's selection of less aggressive candidates to head anti-graft institutions and  failure to make progress on big corruption cases show its  drive to reduce graft has faltered — but that is doing little to deter foreign investors.   

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono attracted voter support and increased investor confidence last year on hopes he would  make further progress in his second term in reforming  graft-ridden institutions in one of Asia's most corrupt countries.   

But the continued depth of the problem has been  highlighted in recent months by the success of vested  interests in weakening anti-graft body KPK, and by revelations of an allegedly corrupt tax official who bribed his way his way out of prison.    

Analysts say Yudhoyono is unlikely to achieve much reform of corrupt legal or tax systems that increase risk for investors, but impressive stability in managing Indonesia's finances and strong economic growth will draw further portfolio and foreign direct investment (FDI).   

"When you weigh up the risk factors, the opportunities in Indonesia are a lot greater. While there is corruption, actually there is corruption everywhere," said Julia Goh, an economist at Malaysian bank CIMB, whose Indonesian subsidiary  saw third quarter profits jump 46 percent and its shares triple in 2010.   

Fund managers say corporate governance is the biggest risk  for equity investors, but that has not stopped a 41 per cent rally in Jakarta stocks to record highs this year.   

An exception was top coal miner Bumi Resources , whose stock slumped about 30 per cent by mid-year on concerns over governance and high debt, but that was seen as a buying opportunity despite the risks and the stock has rebounded.   

"It will always be an issue. Over the last year or two  markets have been less focused on the corruption issue because of the favourable environment," said Chua Hak Bin, director of global research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Singapore.   

"This issue may come back to haunt — it's probably a bit worrying that investors have been willing to push it aside, not just corruption but other reforms, and as valuations get higher investors may get more demanding."   

While corruption acts as a drag on the economy, booming exports of commodities such as coal and rising consumer spending mean solid six percent growth is expected again next  year.    

For bond investors, who have piled into government debt to drive down 20-year yields by 1.45 percentage points this year, this growth plus falling government debt levels and the prospect of a ratings upgrade to investment grade status next year are likely to outweigh any graft risk.   

Corruption has not stopped the government's finances from improving and so long as it does not hit the currency or lead to a political backlash, it may continue to be overlooked by investors with a short time horizon, Chua said.   

Just PR   

Criticism of the government's progress has been rising. The Indonesian public's perception of Yudhoyono's battle on graft, on a 0-100 scale, slid to 34 in October from 84 a year earlier, a poll by the Indonesia Survey Institute showed.   

The KPK, which had achieved some success and struck fear into government officials since being set up in 2003 with jail sentences for "untouchables" such as members of parliament, an in-law of the president and a former central bank governor, saw its leader convicted this year for 18 years on murder charges.   

Two KPK deputies had graft charges against them dropped after evidence they were framed by police, prosecutors from the attorney general's office and a businessman whose brother was a KPK target, but they could still face prosecution.   

The weakened body has since been aiming to take on smaller regional cases than going for big fish in Jakarta, according to anti-graft watchdog Indonesia Corruption Watch.   

Campaigners hoped a new KPK chief would revitalise efforts, but the choice last month of softly spoken academic  Busjro Muqoddas by the parliament — fearful of further convictions of parliamentarians — left many disappointed.   

This was followed up by Yudhoyono's choice of a former deputy attorney general to become a new attorney general, leading to even more dismay, as an insider from an institution widely considered corrupt was not seen as likely to clean it up.   

"Indonesia has no priority nor road map, and probably doesn't want any significant change. The corruption fight is being done at the periphery to appease the public," said Teten Masduki, of anti-graft group Transparency International Indonesia.   

Transparency International's 2010 corruption perception index for Indonesia stood at a score of 2.8 for 2010, the same as last year, and a worse rating in its scale of 0 to 10 than  Thailand's 3.5 and Malaysia's 4.4.   

"In business you need to build relationships of trust and support. But here it feels like everyone is opportunistic, trying to get something out of everything you do," said the foreign head of an IT firm. "You cannot work well like this."   

The central bank told Reuters the risks for doing business were seen as the biggest obstacle to an investment grade rating.   

Money open doors       

Pessimism among the public has turned to anger after the revelations of junior tax officer Gayus Tambunan, being tried for bribing a judge to avoid charges of taking millions in payments from firms to slash their tax bills.    

Photographers spotted Tambunan sporting a wig at a tennis tournament on the resort island of Bali — when he was meant to be in jail. It turned out he had bribed the jail's head warden to slip out of the prison's doors more than 60 times and told a court it was a common practice his cellmates also did.   

The grim picture of entrenched corruption has for years put firms off from investing directly, but FDI has grown a third to about US$14 billion (RM44 billion) in 2010, from existing mining firms and manufacturing newcomers, with more seen coming from North Asia to tap buoyant consumer demand and abundant mineral resources.   

While some nations may be willing to deal with graft, there are also signs more Western firms are willing to take on the risks in Indonesia, which has had success in tackling other threats such as Islamic militant groups and currency volatility.     

The world's biggest food group Nestle said this month it will invest in a new plant to produce Milo to meet growing local demand, while the government says US equipment maker Caterpillar Inc is considering making Indonesia its Southeast Asian production base.   

Executives said they had learned to work around the problem.   

"It adds time and complexity. Who needs to be paid what, it's such a complex situation. Every way you turn someone else must be paid," said a managing director of a Western software firm, who declined to be identified given the sensitivity.   

"Thankfully we don't deal with it directly, we use other people for that. We cannot be seen to be engaged with anything  like that."    — Reuters

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Leaked cables shed light on Thai succession risks

Posted: 17 Dec 2010 12:44 AM PST

SINGAPORE, Dec 17 — Confidential US Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks have shed unprecedented light on the biggest political risk faced by investors in Thailand — the prospect of a royal succession intensifying social conflict.

Strict lese-majeste laws make it hard for investors to make informed predictions, but the issue of succession looms large at a time of deepening tension in Thailand following the worst political violence in its modern history over April and May.

While 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-serving monarch, commands supreme moral authority in Thailand, the leaked cables show doubts among key royal advisers about the suitability of his son and heir, 58-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (picture).

General Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the privy council and a former prime minister, Anand Panyarachun, another former prime minister, and privy councillor Siddhi Savetsila all expressed concern about the prince as the likely heir in private conversations, according to a leaked cable written by former US Ambassador to Thailand Eric John.

"All three had quite negative comments about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn," John wrote in a memo dated January 25, 2010, and posted on the Guardian newspaper's website on Thursday.

There has been no public comment by those quoted in the leaked cable on whether the comments attributed to them are genuine.

"We're not in a position to comment on the authenticity and accuracy of these documents because they did not originate from us," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdihe.

Although talk of the Thai monarchy's role and possible problems on the horizon are taboo and illegal, the topic is followed closely in Thailand's financial markets, which fell briefly last year on concerns over the King's health.

Siddhi, an Air Chief Marshall, acknowledged that "succession would be a difficult transition time for Thailand", the US ambassador said in the memo.

"While asserting that the Crown Prince will become King, both Siddhi and Anand implied the country would be better off if other arrangements could be made. Siddhi expressed preference for Princess Sirindhorn," John wrote.

Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is highly respected by Thais, while there is widespread disapproval of the prince's lifestyle.

"Anand suggested only the King would be in a position to change succession, and acknowledged a low likelihood of that happening."

Analysts say privately that there could be a prolonged period of turmoil and even civil unrest if the succession does not go smoothly.

"It's the big issue, there is no doubt about it, and it comes up often in private discussions with our clients but it is not something to be aired in public," said a Singapore-based regional analyst at an international investment bank, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Another major bank said in a report that succession worries impose a political risk discount on Thai assets.

Thailand's financial markets are among the world's strongest this year. Stock prices are up more than 40 per cent and the Thai baht is trading at 13-year highs, making Thailand among several emerging markets vulnerable to a correction.

The prince and Thanksin

Prem, widely believed to have helped orchestrate a 2006 bloodless coup that ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said over lunch with John that the prince probably maintained "some sort of relationship" with Thaksin, a divisive figure reviled by Thailand's establishment.

Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon particularly popular among Thailand's poor, was convicted in absentia on corruption-related charges and lives abroad to avoid jail.

He is a figurehead of the red-shirted anti-government protest movement whose supporters clashed with authorities in April and May during nine weeks of protests in which at least 91 people were killed and more than 1,800 wounded.

But Prem doubted the prince would come to Thaksin's support in the future.

"He does not enjoy that sort of relationship," he was quoted as saying in the leaked January 2010 cable.

Suggestions of ties between Thaksin and the prince are contentious. Thaksin's supporters have repeatedly clashed with the royalist military, now led by a general known to have the backing of Queen Sirikit. Thaksin and his allies have been accused of republicanism, which they deny.

The queen and the coup

A separate US cable released this week quoted late former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej as saying the Queen had encouraged the 2006 coup that toppled Thaksin and plunged Thailand into its current political crisis.

As a constitutional monarchy, the palace is officially above politics, but Samak said the Queen was supporting street protests against his government, dominated by a pro-Thaksin party.

Samak, premier for seven months in 2008, "showed disdain for Queen Sirikit, claiming that she had been responsible for the 2006 coup d'etat...", the US ambassador said.

"Samak viewed himself as loyal to the King, but implied that the Queen's political agenda differened (sic) from her husband's," he added in the cable.

In another cable, a palace insider told the US ambassador the "yellow shirt" protests against Samak's government and the occupation of his offices had "irritated" the king, who explicitly told the army chief not to launch a coup.

The November 2008 cable described the Queen's attendance at the October 13, 2008, funeral of a yellow-shirt protester killed during a demonstration as a "significant blunder" that jeopardised the public's perception of palace neutrality.

Such candour on the monarchy is a rarity in Thailand.

Siddhi noted "that something as simple as excessive motorcade-related traffic jams caused by minor royals was an unnecessary but enduring irritant," the US ambassador wrote.

The king was admitted to hospital on September 19, 2009, and has been undergoing physical rehabilitation. Some palace insiders say he may be released soon, possibly on Sunday. — Reuters

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Utusan Online - Luar Negara

Utusan Online - Luar Negara

Buku bongkar operasi Israel


Buku bongkar operasi Israel

Buku bongkar operasi Israel

Seorang anggota polis sempadan Israel melepaskan gas pemedih mata ke arah penduduk Palestin yang mengadakan tunjuk perasaan di perkampungan Issawiya, Baitulmaqdis Timur pada 30 November, 2010. Insiden itu merupakan antara penindasan yang dilakukan oleh tentera Israel terhadap penduduk Palestin yang tinggal di Tebing Barat. - REUTERS

BAITULMAQDIS 17 Dis. - Sebuah buku yang memaparkan kisah sebenar dan menyiarkan koleksi gambar-gambar tentera Israel semasa bertugas di Tebing Barat dan Genting Gaza akan diterbitkan Isnin ini.

Buku berjudul Breaking the Silence itu yang sebahagiannya mengandungi kisah-kisah memalukan, sebahagian lagi sekadar makluman tetapi pengakuan oleh berpuluh-puluh askar Zionis yang bertugas di wilayah Palestin itu di dalam buku itu menunjukkan hakikat sebenar penjajahan Israel ke atas wilayah Palestin itu.

Judul Breaking the Silence menggunakan nama yang sama dengan penerbitnya merakamkan pengakuan sekumpulan anggota tentera tempur veteran Israel dan gambar daripada askar Zionis Israel yang pernah berkhidmat di Tebing Barat dan Genting Gaza.

Ia akan mula dijual pada 21 Disember ini bersempena 10 tahun kebangkitan Intifada kedua Palestin dan diterbitkan dengan tujuan memahami dasar keseluruhan ketenteraan Israel menerusi pengalaman anggota-anggota tenteranya.

"Buku ini mendedahkan pelaksanaan operasi ketenteraan Israel di Tebing Barat dan Genting Gaza serta impaknya ke atas mereka yang tinggal di wilayah itu, sama ada penduduk Palestin, pendatang haram Yahudi dan askar Israel sendiri," demikian pengenalan dalam satu salinan awal yang diterima AFP.

Sasaran jualan adalah kepada penduduk Israel dan cuba menunjukkan polisi sebenar operasi adalah berbentuk serangan termasuk rampasan kawasan, kawalan ketat ke atas penduduk awam Palestin dan mencetuskan ketakutan.

Ia jelas berbeza dengan dakwaan tentera Zionis Israel yang menyatakan bahawa segala tindakan yang diambil pihak tentera Israel adalah berbentuk mempertahankan diri.

"Kami menuntut tentera Israel bertanggungjawab atas tindakan di wilayah Palestin itu yang dilakukan oleh kami dan di atas nama kami," tegas kumpulan itu.

Tentera Israel dalam reaksinya berkata, buku Breaking the Silence memberi pandangan yang tidak adil dan tujuan pendedahan itu dipersoalkan.

Kumpulan tentera itu telah banyak kali diingatkan supaya menyerahkan keterangan dan bukti kepada pihak berkuasa agar penyiasatan penuh dan profesional dapat dijalankan. - AFP

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Assange janji dedah lebih banyak maklumat


Assange janji dedah lebih banyak maklumat

Assange janji dedah lebih banyak maklumat

LONDON 17 Dis. - Pengasas WikiLeaks, Julian Assange (gambar) berikrar untuk membersihkan namanya daripada segala tuduhan jenayah dan akan terus bekerja kuat untuk mendedahkan lebih banyak maklumat rahsia selepas dibebaskan dengan ikat jamin, semalam.

Assange dan peguamnya berkata, usaha untuk mengekstradisinya dari Britain ke Sweden untuk disiasat atas kesalahan jenayah seksual, sebagai satu tindakan jahat dan bermotif politik.

"Saya mahu meneruskan kerja saya dan pada masa yang sama akan membuktikan bahawa saya tidak bersalah, selain terus membongkarkan semua rahsia sulit di seluruh dunia.

"Terima kasih saya ucapkan kepada semua yang masih menyokong saya dan pasukan saya, walaupun ketika saya berada di dalam tahanan pihak berkuasa," kata Assange.

Tambah Assange, beliau ada mendengar khabar angin yang mendakwa Amerika Syarikat (AS) merancang untuk mendakwanya atas kesalahan melakukan aktiviti perisikan.

Tindakan Assange mendedahkan beribu-ribu dokumen kabel diplomatik AS dalam laman webnya telah menimbulkan kemarahan Washington, malah, ramai pihak mendakwa beliau ditangkap kerana tindakannya tersebut.

"Kami menerima maklumat daripada seorang peguam AS yang mendakwa, saya akan didakwa oleh AS kerana melakukan risikan," katanya kepada Sky News, hari ini.

Pembebasan Assenge tertangguh selama beberapa jam sebelum wang ikat jamin berjumlah AS$374,000 (RM1.17 juta) berjaya dikumpulkan daripada penyokongnya termasuk pengarah filem terkenal, Michael Moore.

Seorang hakim kanan mahkamah Britain sebelum itu menolak rayuan peguam yang mewakili Sweden supaya Assenge terus ditahan dipenjara sementera menunggu untuk diekstradisi.

Assange turut diarahkan oleh mahkamah untuk melapor diri kepada polis, dikenakan perintah berkurung serta diwajibkan mengenakan penanda keselamatan. - AFP

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Berita Harian: Dunia

Berita Harian: Dunia

5 lagi web bocor rahsia diwujud

Posted: 17 Dec 2010 02:17 PM PST


ASSANGE menunjukkan kertas mahkamah mengizinkannya dibebaskan atas ikat jamin di Mahkamah Tinggi, London.

ASSANGE menunjukkan kertas mahkamah mengizinkannya dibebaskan atas ikat jamin di Mahkamah Tinggi, London.

OpenLeaks, Brussels Leaks, TradeLeaks, Balkan Leaks, IndoLeaks beroperasi

LONDON: Web pembocor maklumat, WikiLeaks, kini menjadi inspirasi kepada orang lain untuk turut mewujudkan portal yang menjalankan fungsi sama seperti Julian Assange.

Amerika Syarikat dan pihak berkuasa lain sudah bertindak bagi menghukum WikiLeaks dan Assange atas penyiaran beribu-ribu kabel diplomatik yang memalukan Washington kerana mencetuskan pelbagai perbahasan mengenainya di seluruh dunia.

Assange yang mengasaskan WikiLeaks pada 2006 baru dibebaskan daripada tahanan di London selepas dibenarkan ikat jamin berhubung kes pencabulan wanita di Sweden. Ketika diwawancara majalah Forbes, beliau berkata: "Memang benar, bukan mudah untuk melakukannya tetapi kami akan rasa dibantu jika lebih ramai orang terbabit dalam industri ini."

Hasilnya, sejak beberapa minggu lalu, lima lagi web berteraskan misi membocor maklumat wujud iaitu OpenLeaks, Brussel Leaks, TradeLeaks, Balkan Leaks dan IndoLeaks.

OpenLeaks diwujudkan oleh bekas pembantu Assange, Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Web itu masih belum ada apa-apa kandungan kecuali logo berbunyi 'Coming Soon.'
Domscheit-Berg enggan membincangkan sebab membuka portal baru tetapi menuduh WikiLeaks keluar daripada misi asal.
Domscheit-Berg berkata, OpenLeaks sudah ada di Twitter dan memulakan tugas awal 2011.

Brussels Leaks pula sudah ada laman web dan Twitter bertujuan mendedahkan perkara tersembunyi dalam sistem Kesatuan Eropah (EU).

"Ianya bertujuan mendedahkan maklumat penting kepada umum. Itulah sebabnya kami akan 'senyap' untuk beberapa minggu," kata laman web itu.

Web TradeLeaks sudah ditonton 60,000 kali beberapa jam selepas dilancarkan bertujuan membocorkan maklumat perniagaan. Ia diasaskan oleh Ruslan Kogan, pemilik perniagaan elektronik Australia, Kogan Technologies.

Balkan Leaks pula dibentuk oleh Atanas Chobanov, seorang ekspatriat Bulgaria di Paris, bertujuan mempromosi ketelusan dan memerangi rasuah di rantau Balkan.

Pengguna boleh menghantar dokumen ke laman itu menerusi sistem rahsia yang hanya disiarkan kepada umum selepas disahkan. Moto organisasi itu ialah 'Rantau Balkan tiada lagi rahsia.'

Laman IndoLeaks sudah menyiarkan laporan bedah siasat tragedi negara pada 1965 yang dianggap dokumen kontroversi, lapor akhbar Jakarta Post.

Ia juga menyiarkan dokumen sensitif mengenai perbincangan Timor Leste pada 1975 antara bekas Presiden Indonesia, dengan bekas Presiden Amerika, Gerald Ford. – Agensi

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Lelaki amuk untuk bunuh diri

Posted: 17 Dec 2010 01:09 PM PST


14 cedera kena tikam penganggur dalam bas ketika waktu puncak

TOKYO: Seramai 13 remaja sekolah cedera selepas seorang lelaki mengamuk dengan menikam penumpang sebuah bas sekolah dan bas awam, semalam.

Penyerang dikenali sebagai Yuta Saito, 27, yang kemudian ditahan polis dan memberitahu: "Saya mahu tamatkan riwayat hidup sendiri," lapor agensi berita Kyodo.

Dia juga memberitahu polis bahawa dia mengganas kerana tidak ada teman wanita, dirinya hodoh, ketagih telefon bimbit, ada masalah di tempat kerja dan 'lebih teruk daripada sampah kerana sekurang-kurangnya sampah itu dikitar semula.' Media melaporkan, penyerang menaiki sebuah bas sekolah dekat Toride, sebuah bandar di timur laut Tokyo, menikam sekumpulan pelajar dalam bas itu sebelum keluar dan naik sebuah bas awam.

Antara yang cedera termasuk lapan pelajar sekolah menengah, empat lagi dari sekolah rendah dan dua wanita dewasa, lapor Kyodo.

Saito ditahan polis selepas beberapa penumpang dapat menghalangnya mengganas di bas kedua, kata pegawai Stesen Toride itu di Ibaraki dekat Tokyo.

"Saya nampak (pelajar) keluar dari bas dekat kami, tetapi dalam keadaan mencurigakan. Kemudian, penyerang mendekati kami dengan pisau.
"Lelaki itu menggunakan pintu belakang untuk masuk dalam bas. Mulanya saya sangka pelajar bergaduh, tetapi apabila saya dengar mereka menjerit, saya tahu ada sesuatu yang tidak kena," kata seorang pemandu bas kepada televisyen NHK

Jepun mempunyai kadar jenayah rendah berbanding banyak negara maju lain, tetapi ada jenayah ganas berlaku sekali-sekala yang menyebabkan penduduk risau dengan isu nilai sosial.

Dua tahun lalu, orang ramai dikejutkan dengan penangkapan seorang lelaki berusia 28 tahun kerana disyaki membunuh tujuh orang apabila melanggar mangsa dengan trak selain menikam tujuh orang lagi di kawasan elektronik popular, Akihabara. – Agensi

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Kosmo Online - Dunia

Kosmo Online - Dunia

Hakim benarkan pengasas WikiLeaks diikat jamin


Hakim benarkan pengasas WikiLeaks diikat jamin

Hakim benarkan pengasas WikiLeaks diikat jamin

JULIAN ASSANGE menuju ke bilik perbicaraan di Mahkamah Tinggi London semalam.

LONDON - Pengasas laman web WikiLeaks, Julian Assange dibenarkan diikat jamin oleh seorang hakim Mahkamah Tinggi, Duncan Ouseley semalam.

Hakim tersebut membuat keputusan itu selepas menolak satu rayuan yang meminta Assange dipenjarakan semasa dia berusaha menentang penghantarannya ke Sweden dari Britain.

Dia dikehendaki di Sweden atas dakwaan merogol dan mencabul dua wanita.

Penyokong-penyokong Assange perlu membayar ikat jamin AS$317,000 (RM993,801) untuk membebaskannya.

Assange perlu mematuhi beberapa syarat ketat termasuk mematuhi perintah berkurung selama dua jam setiap hari, melaporkan diri kepada polis pada setiap hari dan memakai penanda elektronik.

Laman web miliknya sebelum ini menyiarkan satu siri kabel diplomatik Amerika Syarikat (AS) yang mengandungi maklumat sulit melibatkan perbualan diplomat-diplomat AS dengan pemimpin-pemimpin dunia.

Lebih 250,000 kabel diplomatik didedahkan di laman tersebut.

Maklumat mengenai senjata nuklear AS juga didedahkan di laman berkenaan. - Agensi

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Google cipta aplikasi gambar organ dalaman manusia


Google cipta aplikasi gambar organ dalaman manusia

Google cipta aplikasi gambar organ dalaman manusia

PENGGUNA akan dapat melihat bentuk dalaman organ manusia menerusi Google Body Browser.

NEW YORK - Enjin carian Internet, Google, sedang mencipta satu aplikasi tiga dimensi (3-D) yang membolehkan pengguna melihat anatomi tubuh manusia, lapor sebuah akhbar semalam.

Dikenali sebagai Google Body Browser, aplikasi tersebut yang akan dilancarkan tidak lama lagi berfungsi seperti peta dunia Google dengan pengguna boleh melihat bahagian luaran, organ dalaman serta tulang manusia.

Pengguna boleh memanipulasi aplikasi untuk melihat gambar organ manusia.

Satu klip video pengenalan mengenai cara aplikasi tersebut berfungsi telah disiarkan di Internet baru-baru ini.

Seorang penulis blog yang menyaksikan klip video berkenaan berkata, dia teruja dengan potensinya.

"Kita dapat melihat bagaimana aplikasi ini dapat membantu pembelajaran anatomi manusia," katanya.

"Pada tahun lalu, saya dapat menggunakan satu aplikasi serupa dan ia memudahkan pelajar mempelajari sistem tulang manusia," tambah penulis blog tersebut. - Agensi

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The Star Online: World Updates

The Star Online: World Updates

Italy's Berlusconi says will see out his term

Posted: 17 Dec 2010 07:13 AM PST

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Friday he was certain he would see out his term in 2013 after narrowly surviving a confidence vote this week.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi salutes during an European Union leaders summit in Brussels December 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

Tuesday's no-confidence motion left the government clinging on by just three votes and most political commentators predict early elections next year -- two years ahead of time -- unless Berlusconi can broaden his conservative coalition to centrists.

Exuding his trademark confidence, Berlusconi said he would govern until the end of his term. "I am absolutely certain that I will complete the legislature," he told reporters after a European Union summit. "I am certain I have the numbers."

The no-confidence motion was put forward by the centre-left opposition and lawmakers loyal to Gianfranco Fini, the lower house speaker who bitterly split from Berlusconi last summer.

Fini suffered a humiliating blow as the 74-year-old prime minister scraped through. But most analysts have called the vote a Pyrrhic victory for Berlusconi that is unlikely to avert a fresh crisis in the next few weeks and a snap vote next spring.

The Union of the Centre (UDC), heirs to the old Christian Democratic Party, have so far rejected Berlusconi's offer to join his ruling coalition, closing ranks instead with Fini's breakaway Future and Freedom (FLI) group.

Berlusconi denied widespread allegations of vote-buying to secure the support of wavering rebel deputies in Tuesday's motion, with opposition lawmakers describing the atmosphere in parliament as a "cattle market" or "football transfer season".

"There was no buying of players, I didn't offer jobs in government nor a reward. We only talked common sense," he said.

(Writing by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Copyright © 2010 Reuters

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Kabul silent over Obama's Afghan war review

Posted: 17 Dec 2010 07:13 AM PST

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's leaders, overlooked in the summary of a "brutally honest" U.S. war strategy review, did not offer any response to the long-awaited report on Friday in a sign of the often uneasy ties between Kabul and Washington.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks at a mosque during an Ashura procession in Kabul December 16, 2010. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)

The five-page summary of the two-month review, which did not mention Afghan President Hamid Karzai at all, was released on Thursday but has been criticised by Afghans and aid groups as overly optimistic.

U.S. President Barack Obama's review found NATO-led forces were making headway against the Taliban but serious challenges remained. It said the insurgents' momentum had been arrested in much of Afghanistan and reversed in some areas.

Karzai, Obama's main ally in the war, was briefed about the contents of the review before the summary was released. While other Afghan politicians, aid groups and even the Taliban have criticised the report, Karzai remained steadfastly silent.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a visit to Afghanistan, gave his support to Obama's review. He said the review included a dissection of relations with Karzai but did not give any details.

Karzai was criticised as a weak and erratic leader in U.S. government cables released on the WikiLeaks website this month.

"I can tell you this, the review just conducted was thoroughly, even brutally, honest. We looked at all aspects of this struggle," Mullen told a news conference in Kabul.

Before the review's release, a statement from the presidential palace said Obama had telephoned Karzai to discuss the findings and the two leaders had agreed security had been improved in many areas but needed to be consolidated in others.

Karzai's spokesmen did not respond to repeated emails and telephone calls on Friday.

Obama and Karzai have had a sometimes-tense relationship and critics accuse the Afghan president of failing to clamp down on corruption and improve governance. Karzai also had a rocky relationship with Richard Holbrooke, Washington's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who died this week.


The flaws in Karzai's government have been highlighted by critics as a major obstacle to ending the conflict, with a lack of justice for ordinary people eroding military gains, a report from British think tank Chatham House said.

Afghan politicians and aid groups working in the country also warned Washington's review had a narrow focus on military gains and did not substantively address some of the conflict's drivers, including corruption and insurgent havens in Pakistan.

"There is always more pressure or more focus on the military side, while I think we forget the human part of life in Afghanistan which is delivering of services," said Fawzia Kufi, an outspoken member of parliament

The review said the United States was on track to begin a gradual withdrawal of its troops -- now numbering about 100,000 in a total foreign force of 150,000 -- from July 2011, after a big military campaign in the Taliban's southern heartland.

But it comes at the end of the bloodiest year since U.S.-backed Afghan forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, with almost 700 foreign soldiers killed, two-thirds of them American.

Civilian casualties are also at record levels and once relatively peaceful northern and western parts of the country are seeing increasing violence.

On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a rare public statement worsening violence was making it harder than at any time in the past three decades -- in during which the country saw the battle against Soviet occupation and a brutal civil war -- for aid groups to reach those in need.

"We seem to be entering a more and more murky phase of the conflict," ICRC spokesman Bijan Farnoudi said in Kabul.

The Taliban were also critical of the review on Friday, saying it ignored the reality of a spreading insurgency.

"The review is aimed at creating baseless hope among nations," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an emailed statement, referring to countries with troops in Afghanistan.

"The substance of these schemes and strategies do not coincide with the ground realities in Afghanistan."

(Additional reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: http://www.reuters.com/news/globalcoverage/afghanistanpakistan)

Copyright © 2010 Reuters

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