Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts

Obama calls for replacing sequester with balanced approach

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama urged Congress on Saturday to replace automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester with what he called "a balanced approach," which combines "smart" cuts with reforms.

The appeal came the day after the president, complying with the law, signed an order bringing arbitrary cuts worth US$85 billion into force as well as a report by his Office of Management and Budget detailing the cuts to each agency.

Obama has called the sweeping cuts, stemming from a 2011 debt ceiling agreement, "dumb".

The across-the-board cuts were triggered automatically following the failure of efforts to clinch a deal with Republicans on cutting the deficit.

But in his weekly radio and Internet address, he argued there was still time to find a smarter solution to the nation's debt problem.

"I still believe we can and must replace these cuts with a balanced approach - one that combines smart spending cuts with entitlement reform and changes to our tax code that make it more fair for families and businesses without raising anyone's tax rates," Obama said.

He said the budget deficit, now exceeding US$1 trillion, can be reduced without laying off workers or forcing parents and students to pay the price.

"A majority of the American people agree with me on this approach - including a majority of Republicans," the president argued. "We just need Republicans in Congress to catch up with their own party and the rest of the country."

Under the sequester, 800,000 civilian employees of the Defence Department will go on a mandatory furlough one day a week and the navy will trim voyages. The deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf has been cancelled.

Defence contractors may be forced to lay off workers and some federal health spending could be hit.

Cuts will also be made to special needs education and preschool for less well-off children. National parks could close and wait times could hit four hours at airport customs posts.

But the president insisted that despite public bickering, Republicans and Democrats actually had more in common than they were willing to let on.

"I know there are Republicans in Congress who would actually rather see tax loopholes closed than let these cuts go through," Obama said. "And I know there are Democrats who'd rather do smart entitlement reform than let these cuts go through. There's a caucus of common sense. And I'm going to keep reaching out to them to fix this for good."

- AFP/xq

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Italy's lefti-wing leader suggests loose alliance to end deadlock

ROME: Italian left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani on Friday held out the prospect of forming a minority government based on a loose alliance in parliament following inconclusive elections, as Europe puts on pressure for a quick solution.

"I am calling it a government of change, which I would take the responsibility of leading," the Democratic Party leader said in an interview with La Repubblica daily, warning that Italy's "governability (is) at risk".

"Like all governments, it will ask for the confidence of parliament," he said.

But Bersani rejected out of hand the possibility of a grand coalition arrangement with Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right forces, after a new anti-establishment party upset the traditional balance of power between Italy's right and left by winning big in the polls early this week.

Bersani said the government he is proposing would have key objectives, including easing austerity measures, creating jobs, helping the poorest and cutting government costs -- echoing at least some of the demands made by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

But since a Democratic Party-led coalition did not manage majorities in both houses of parliament, the new government would depend on the support of other parties in the upper house -- an arrangement that analysts have warned would prove "highly unstable" at a time when Italy is facing an acute economic crisis.

Stefano Folli, editorialist for Il Sole 24 Ore business daily, said it would "hand over the government" to the whims of the populist Five Star Movement.

Most analysts say there will have to be new elections within months to resolve the impasse.

It is unclear whether the Five Star Movement would support Bersani after its leader, former comedian Beppe Grillo, said his movement "is not going to give a vote of confidence to the Democratic Party or to anyone else".

Not everyone in his movement agrees with this rejection, however.

The party captured a quarter of the vote with a campaign that mixed advocacy on environmental causes and grassroots local issues with a crusade against political sleaze, drawing many austerity-weary Italians to its ranks.

The party has spooked Europe with its promise to hold a referendum on the euro and cancel Italy's debts, prompting European leaders to urge Italy to stick to its fiscal commitments and form a government as soon as possible.

A deputy from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) called on Friday for Italy to leave the euro if it could not stick to EU rules after its inconclusive election.

"If one can't succeed in persuading the people of a country that they have to stick to the commitments they have themselves signed up to in terms of how the common currency works, then you can't demand new elections from outside, but the country must return to its own currency," said Klaus-Peter Willsch.

Markets were jittery in trading on Friday, with the Milan index plunging 1.58 percent -- the worst performer among major European stock markets.

The technocratic cabinet of outgoing premier Mario Monti, who won praise abroad for his budget discipline and economic reforms but became increasingly unpopular at home, will stay in place until a new government is formed.

A centrist coalition led by Monti came in fourth place, garnering far too little support to be able to cobble a majority in alliance with the left.

Bersani meanwhile ruled out another possibility -- the formation of an emergency coalition with his long-time arch-rival Berlusconi -- saying: "The hypothesis of a grand understanding does not exist and will never exist".

The scandal-tainted Berlusconi on Friday made an appearance at his appeal trial in Milan against a tax fraud conviction linked to his business empire.

A verdict in the case is expected later this month, along with a ruling in another trial in which Berlusconi is a defendant on charges of having sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of office while he was still prime minister.

Italy's new parliament must convene by March 15 at the latest under the rules of the constitution. After parliament meets, formal negotiations can begin with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on a new government.

Guglielmo Meardi, a professor at Warwick Business School in Britain, said Italy was "used to parliamentary instability... and should stay on the rails until the autumn, when fresh elections could be held."

- AFP/al

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SingPost sets up S$10m fund to help low-wage employees

SINGAPORE: SingPost is setting up a $10 million "Inclusivity Fund", which will benefit its low-wage workers.

Over 70 per cent of the fund will go to helping the workers cope with the rising cost of living. This will include retention awards and enhancements to their wages.

Part of the fund will also go into training to help them upgrade their skills.

Staff with school-going children can also stand to benefit from bursaries and scholarships.

The fund will be disbursed over five years and benefit some 3,400 workers.

The company will also be investing about S$30 million to enhance its delivery and improve processes.

- CNA/xq

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Rehabilitative care innovation can alleviate manpower crunch: govt

SINGAPORE: The government said the use of technology not only accelerates the rehabilitation process of patients, but also helps ease manpower shortages in healthcare.

The latest in "rehab innovations" for those with disabilities are on display at the inaugural Rehab Tech Asia exhibition in Singapore.

The showcase includes a robot arm which allows users who are paralysed in their upper bodies to do daily functions, such as drinking a glass of water.

Laurie Piquet, director of rehabilitation development at KINOVA, said: "When we demonstrate this to users, often the first comments that we have are, 'that's the first time I'm drinking a glass of water by myself'."

The innovation from Canada is compatible with any powered wheelchair and can be controlled by a joystick or through neck movements.

A special wheelchair also improves mobility by making it easier for users to climb stairs and cross pavements.

Other than technology for patients to use, there are also devices for caregivers.

"The Body Up", distributed by Lifeline, is a transfer assist device for bed-ridden patients. The contraption can be used to lift a patient who weighs less than 120kg.

With a growing demand for special needs care, those in the field of rehabilitation said such technology can alleviate problems of manpower shortage.

Dr Kong Keng He, senior consultant at department of rehabilitation medicine at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said: "It is still very hospital-centric. The patient goes to the hospital to get treatment. I think it will be better off to make it more patient-centric. Deploy this treatment, whether it is rehabilitation, back to the community. And it's always possible for community centres, day rehabilitation centres to acquire these equipment and to have patients to receive their therapy there."

Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor agreed, saying the high cost of some technology may be offset by productivity gains in the long run.

She said: "Where it is viable and applicable, I think we should adopt them because it's helpful in terms of improving, accelerating the rehabilitation experience as well as in terms of better use of manpower, improving productivity, and this is something we need to look at. Where it is still costly, I think technology will develop and we will have to continue to monitor this."

With the recent enhancements made to the Senior's Mobility and Enabling Fund, Dr Khor said the subsides should encourage the elderly to go for rehabilitation services within the community.

On how the fund will be disbursed to help home care patients, especially those who are not in touch with intermediate- and long-term care providers, Dr Khor said the Agency for Integrated Care will work with the operators to help spread awareness of the fund. The agency will also work with the grassroots organisations and Community Development Councils to publicise the fund among needy residents.

- CNA/xq

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Keppel secures contracts worth S$200m from repeat customers

SINGAPORE : Keppel Offshore & Marine (Keppel O&M), a unit of Keppel Corp, said its subsidiaries have secured two contracts worth a combined value of S$200 million from repeat customers.

In a filing with the Singapore Exchange on Tuesday, Keppel Corp said its Brazil subsidiary, Keppel FELS Brasil, secured a contract with MODEC and Toyo Offshore Production Systems to integrate the topside modules of a Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) unit.

Integration works for the FPSO will take place from the third quarter of 2014 to the third quarter of 2015.

The project will be carried out at BrasFELS, Keppel FELS Brasil's yard in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In Singapore, Keppel Shipyard won a contract from SBM Offshore to build an internal turret for a newbuild FPSO. Work on the project is scheduled to complete by the third quarter of 2014.

Keppel did not provide a breakdown of individual contract values.

- CNA/ms

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ESM Goh calls on S.Korea new leader

SINGAPORE: Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong called on the President of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Madam Park Geun-hye in Seoul on Monday evening.

Mr Goh had attended President Park's inauguration ceremony earlier in the day as Singapore's representative.

Mr Goh conveyed the well-wishes of President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mr Lee Kuan Yew on President Park's inauguration and encouraged President Park to visit Singapore at her earliest convenience.

Mr Goh and President Park reaffirmed the excellent relations between Singapore and the ROK and discussed ways to enhance bilateral cooperation.

They noted that the Korea-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) had heralded a rapid increase in bilateral trade and affirmed their desire to harness the momentum to further advance economic cooperation, including through strengthening the bilateral FTA and enhancing air connectivity.

Mr Goh and President Park also discussed developments in the region.

They noted that Singapore and the ROK shared common strategic perspectives on many international issues and agreed that countries in the region should focus on enhancing cooperation.

This would contribute to stability and growth in the broader Asian region.

- CNA/fa

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Pope celebrates emotional last Sunday prayer

VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI delivered an emotional last Sunday prayer in St Peter's Square, saying God had told him to devote himself to prayer but assuring supporters he would not "abandon" the Church.

Tens of thousands of supporters turned out for the historic prayers ahead of the pope's formal resignation on Thursday, often interrupting the pope with their clapping, cheering and chanting.

"The Lord is calling me to climb the mountain, to dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church," the pope told the crowd from the window of his residence in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

"If God is asking me to do this, it is precisely so I can continue to serve with the same dedication and love as before but in a way that is more appropriate for my age and for my strength."

The 85-year-old leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics has said he will step down because he no longer has the strength of mind and body to carry on.

His shock resignation ended an eight-year pontificate dominated by the priest child sex abuse scandal and efforts to counter rising secularism in the West.

He thanked the crowd with a final unscripted call, telling them: "We will always be close!"

The Vatican and Rome police estimated the numbers at more than 100,000 people -- many times more than usually attend the traditional Sunday prayer.

"Holy Father, We Love You", read one banner seen in the crowd. One read: "Thank You, Your Holiness" and another said: "Dear Father, We'll Miss You".

"I have come to support the pope and to ask for his blessing," said Joao-Paulo, a 26-year-old trainee priest from Brazil who came with fellow seminarians.

Birgit Marschall, 37, a teacher from Germany, said: "He is an intellectual who speaks in simple language, who writes what we have in our hearts."

Claire Therese Heyne, a 34-year-old theology student from the United States, said the pope "must have had a very strong reason" to leave.

"It is an act of courage and humility," she said.

Benedict will be only the second pope to resign of his own free will in the Church's 2,000-year history, and the first to do so since the Middle Ages.

But Gianpaolo, 33, said Benedict had been "less courageous" than his predecessors, and many people looked ahead to the pope's successor and stressed the need for major reforms.

"The Church has to have a major reflection after this resignation. Something has changed inside the Church and this decision reflects this," said Gianpaolo, who came with his two sons.

Forty-five-year old Linda came from Wales in Britain for the event, saying: "He was not so open as the last popes before him. A new pope should be more open to people, to new ideas."

There was tight security in and around the Vatican, with more than 100 police officers and snipers on surrounding buildings, as well as two field clinics and hundreds of volunteers to help pilgrims.

The security is being seen as preparation for the pope's final general audience in St Peter's on Wednesday where around 200,000 people are expected.

Some Italian media have speculated his health may be far worse than the Vatican revealed, and others have said an explosive report into the "Vatileaks" scandal may be to blame.

The Vatican's Secretariat of State -- effectively the government of the Catholic Church -- took the unusual step on Saturday of issuing a formal statement condemning "completely false news stories".

The Panorama news weekly and the Repubblica daily said a report by a committee of cardinals into the leaks of confidential papal papers last year had uncovered allegations of intrigue, corruption and blackmail in the Vatican.

No clear favourite has emerged to succeed Joseph Ratzinger. But many observers say the cardinals, who make the choice, may plump for a much younger candidate who is a more pastoral figure than the academic Benedict.

A series of meetings of cardinals starting Friday will determine the date of the start of the conclave to elect a new pope. The Vatican has hinted that it could be brought forward to early March since there is no papal funeral.

Conclaves can last for days before a candidate wins a two-thirds majority.

The Vatican has said Benedict will retire to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome for the next two or three months while a former monastery inside the Vatican is renovated.

Benedict has said he will live "hidden from the world" but Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi has said he could provide "spiritual guidance" to his successor and will likely continue to publish his theological research.

- AFP/fa

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Maldivain ex-leader exits Indian embassy: New Delhi

NEW DELHI: Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed left the Indian embassy in the capital Male on Saturday, an Indian official said, 10 days after he sought refuge in the mission in a bid to avoid arrest.

Nasheed's exit came after a Maldivian court earlier this week postponed his trial for abuse of power when he was in office and India sent an envoy to the nation of 330,000 Sunni Muslims to try and end the political standoff.

"He (Nasheed) entered India's mission on February 13th of his own volition and decided to leave on his own," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said in New Delhi.

Nasheed, 45, is accused of abusing his powers after he won the first free elections in 2008 in the Indian Ocean holiday destination. The pro-democracy campaigner was ousted last year following a mutiny by police and troops.

"He is not planning to go back (to the embassy). He has ended seeking refuge there," Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party spokeswoman Shauna Aminath told AFP.

Nasheed, a famed global warming activist, has condemned the charges of abuse of power against him as a "politically motivated sham".

The Maldivian court postponed the hearing scheduled for last Wednesday after police said they were unable to arrest the former president and bring him before the magistrate, according to Nasheed's party.

Presidential spokesman Masood Imad had confirmed the hearing had been cancelled but said that the case was still pending.

Nasheed's taking refuge at the Indian embassy in Male had strained relations between India and its tiny neighbour.

The Maldivian foreign ministry last weekend summoned Indian High Commissioner (ambassador) D.M. Mulay and accused India of allowing Nasheed to use its embassy for political activities.

India had appealed to its neighbour to guarantee "the integrity of the electoral process" before the presidential election set for September, but had strongly denied interfering in politics in the Maldives.


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ECB says banks to repay US$80.5b in ultra-cheap loans

FRANKFURT: The European Central Bank said on Friday that 356 eurozone banks will repay early 61.1 billion euros ($80.5 billion) of a second batch of ultra-cheap three-year loans made available to them a year ago in emergency liquidity measures.

Under the ECB's special long-term refinancing operations or LTROs, which it launched to avert a looming credit crunch in the single currency area, banks had the option of repaying any part of the money after just one year.

"Accordingly, on February 27 ... 61.1 billion will be repaid in the tender by 356 counter parties," the ECB said in a short statement.

The LTROs, injections of liquidity into the banking system with ultra-long maturities of three years, were launched in two batches -- 468 billion euros in December 2011 and 529 billion euros in February 2012.

At the time, they were widely credited with pulling Europe back from the brink of a dangerous credit crunch.

Both rounds of LTRO included provisions to allow early repayment after one year, if banks so chose, with the first repayment window opening on January 30, and the second on February 27. After that, repayments can continue on a weekly basis, depending on demand.

At the first repayment of the first batch on January 30, 278 banks repaid 137 billion euros.

- AFP/al

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Chingay Parade expected to draw 150,000 spectators

SINGAPORE: Organisers of this year's Chingay Parade are expecting a crowd of 150,000 people to turn up for the event.

After 15 months of preparation, performers are finally ready for the stage.

Rehearsals for the parade started on Thursday, and the parade will start at 8pm on Friday and on Saturday.

The Chingay Parade will kick off with an opening act - a giant centipede made up of 60 performers from Guangdong, China.

The performers hail from all corners of the globe including stilt-walkers from France, who will perform with a local youth group.

Other acts include traditional dances from South Korea and the Philippines.

The parade will culminate in a finale involving 1,000 Singaporeans and a fire torch.

- CNA/de

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Football: Manchester Utd chief executive David Gill to step down

LONDON: David Gill is to step down as chief executive of Manchester United on June 30, the English football giants announced on Wednesday.

In a statement on the club's official website, the 55-year-old Gill said his post-season exit would allow the Premier League leaders to "refresh themselves with new management and ideas".

United added that executive vice chairman Ed Woodward would replace Gill.

Gill is a vice-chairman of England's governing Football Association and one of his country's most highly regarded football administrators.

United co-chairman Joel Glazer said Gill, who will remain on the board at Old Trafford, was stepping down in part to advance his bid for election to the executive committee of European football's governing body, UEFA.

Gill himself made no comment about his post-United future in the statement, saying only it had been a hard decision to end 16 years of day-to-day involvement at Old Trafford, having joined the club as financial director in 1997 before becoming chief executive in September 2003.

"I've experienced some incredible highs, such as the Treble in 1999 and the League and Champions League double in 2008, and lows, like losing the title with the last kick of the season last year," he said.

"But that is what makes this club and this sport so compelling. It has been a very hard decision because I love this club and, as the fans' banner says, it is, 'more than a religion'.

"However, I have always been conscious of the fact that, as a member of staff, I was always just a temporary custodian of this marvellous institution.

"I am also of the view that all businesses need to refresh themselves with new management and ideas and after 10 years in charge, I believe it is appropriate for someone new to pick up the baton."

United manager Alex Ferguson, who has been at Old Trafford since 1986, paid tribute to Gill.

"I have been at United for over 26 years and for 23 of those years, my boss has been one of only two men: Martin Edwards, who brought me to the club, and David Gill," he said. "I have enjoyed working with both.

"Him stepping down is a big loss to me but the fact that he is staying on the board encourages me that the reason for his departure is heartfelt, that he believes it is time for the club to move on."

Glazer gave his backing to Gill's attempt to be elected to UEFA's executive committee.

"I hope that the decision he has made will be to the benefit of the game in Europe as a whole, as he seeks election to UEFA's executive committee," he said.

- AFP/de

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Companies paying more bills on time

SINGAPORE: Companies are paying more bills on time, according to the Commercial Credit Bureau.

The bureau said the number of prompt commercial payments rose to 51.59 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year. That is up by a moderate 2.29 percentage points from 49.3 per cent in the previous quarter.

Prompt payment means a company has paid at least 90 per cent of its total bills within agreed upon payment terms.

It was the first time in two years that 50 per cent of prompt commercial payment transactions were recorded. This comes on the heels of a slight economic uptick in the fourth quarter last year. The Ministry of Trade and Industry estimates the economy grew by 1.1 per cent year-on-year in Q4 2012.

Year-on-year payment promptness also increased 12.09 per cent per cent from 39.5 per cent last year. Payment promptness was at its peak in Q3 2012 when it made up 61.2 per cent of all commercial transactions in Singapore.

But the number of slow payments (when a company pays less than 50 per cent of its bills on time) increased slightly last quarter, up 0.79 percentage points to 40.99 per cent.

The construction industry saw the biggest drop in defaults. Slow payments fell 8.24 percentage points to 41.19 per cent quarter-on-quarter. A year-on-year comparison shows a decline of 17.11 percentage points in payment defaults.

With heavy government investments in industrial projects and a strong pipeline of nationwide rail transit and road infrastructure projects, the downward trend in slow payments is likely to continue into the next quarter.

The retail industry - traditionally the worst paymaster - also saw defaults fall on the back of strong seasonal sales in December.

The retail sector registered 54.73 per cent slow payments, a decrease of 4.98 percentage points from Q3 2012.

The wholesale sector registered the lowest proportion of slow payments at 35.7 per cent a 4.68 percentage point increase from the previous quarter.

- CNA/fa

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Budget to include schemes to develop manpower for SMEs: Teo Ser Luck

SINGAPORE: The upcoming Singapore budget will include schemes to develop a larger pool of Singaporean workers to cater to the needs of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck on Monday.

Mr Teo revealed this during a visit to a Soup Spoon outlet on Monday morning.

The minister said that the Singapore government is looking at how to help SMEs expand while managing business costs, given the rising cost of manpower in Singapore. Special attention will also be paid to smaller SMEs, he said.

"It is important for us not just to tighten labour, but to invest in our own resources, our local talents, to groom them and to grow them and to feed them into the pipeline for SMEs. That creates job opportunities for them, (and) also a career path for many of our local Singaporeans," said the minister.

Mr Teo said details of the schemes will be announced after Budget Day next week.

The Soup Spoon, for example, has rolled out initiatives to streamline business operations and improve workflow.

The food chain lowered rentals by reducing their outlets' kitchen sizes by two-thirds. It also adopted a new manpower scheduling system late last year, which helped the company optimise its workers by allocating manpower according to demand. The system has helped save the company an estimated S$150,000 annually in manpower costs.

The company's management has also expressed hopes to centralise the use of its part-timers so that it can be even more efficient in deploying workers to its 18 outlets.

Part-timers now form the majority, or 60 per cent, of the company's 300-strong staff, a twofold increase in proportion from the 30 per cent the company had in 2010.

With its revenue growing by 25 per cent annually since 2007, The Soup Spoon says it is focused on improving its productivity.

"For a lot of the food based companies, growth largely comes from outlets. So if you try to grow more outlets, and if you know (that) there are constraints like high rentals and low manpower, then the more you grow the more your problem grows significantly... It's a business model review (problem)," said Andrew Chan, managing director of The Soup Spoon.

- CNA/jc

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Investment in research encourages young scientists to return to S'pore

SINGAPORE: Singapore has committed more resources toward research, innovation, and enterprise.

It recently hosted the inaugural Global Young Scientists Summit, which brought many bright sparks of the international scientific community together.

Several young researchers came back to Singapore to further their research, even though they hold qualifications from prestigious universities overseas.

Ng Hui Khoon, who has a PhD in physics from the California Institute of Technology, said: "At the same time when I was looking for a post-doctoral position, the Centre for Quantum Technologies was just being set up in Singapore as well. So this was a very good opportunity for me. They were hiring people, they were having this huge research lab that was getting a lot of prominence in the world. So this in itself was actually a very attractive thing for me."

Graduate student Reuben Ng is studying ageing and public health at Yale University's School of Public Health. He hopes his work can help Singaporeans age positively.

He said his area of study is focused on helping older people prepare for retirement psychologically because that has been associated with longer life and better health.

"Because most of the time we focus on physical variables on old people and I think it's equally important to look at mental health and psychological variables," he said.

"We're doing this thing known as non-invasive intervention, for longer lives and healthier lives, so it's not just having an injection, or eating a pill but how you can change your mental health, how you can change your mindset so that it could lead to longer and healthier lives at a lower cost."

Mr Ng added: "I think in Singapore, we are facing an ageing population so I want to come back and contribute that way. I think first of all, most of my research has been based in the US and I want to come back and do studies so that we can have an evidence base so we know what we can do to make a difference to older people here in Singapore. Building the evidence base provides a bedrock on which policy decisions or programme decisions can be made on."

Biomedical researcher Khoo Xiaojuan hopes to inspire a new generation of scientists by joining the teaching faculty at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

She said: "What Singapore has to do is to organise, maybe invite people from different aspects of academia. So not just from the universities or research institutes, but those doing other things in the biomedical, pharmaceutical industry - people who are doing teaching, or have set up their own companies, and invite them to come back to talk about their experience."

Ms Khoo said this will go some way in changing mindsets that science is boring.

- CNA/xq

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Govt looking to up support for social enterprises running hawker centres

SINGAPORE: The government is exploring ways to boost support to social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations, which are set to manage hawker centres of the future.

This comes after a government-appointed hawker centre consultation panel recommended that social enterprises run hawker centres of the future, with the aims of giving the disadvantaged jobs, and providing the community with affordable food.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan shared this at the official launch of Kampung @ Simpang Bedok, Singapore's first hawker centre to be run by a social enterprise.

In February last year, social enterprise Best of Asia took over the management of the centre.

Some of the changes include the use of space to allow patrons to shop, or just hang out. The management plans weekly flea markets and band gigs to draw in the crowd.

Deirdre Murugasu, leader of Best of Asia said: "All along, there are many Singaporeans who are unable to actually expand even if they are very good hawkers, there's no succession planning. This place is a place for them to all try out. Make it, don't make it, we're there to help them."

There are 32 stalls at the centre. Best of Asia offers various forms of help to stall holders - including charging them partial rent.

Full rentals range between S$1,500 and S$4,000, based on individual assessments of stall holders.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "This is a very important new start and we'll have to see how this develops over the years to come. The key thing is for it to remain viable, for it to provide good livelihood to people who may be disadvantaged or who may otherwise have an opportunity to start their own businesses. And also for good-hearted people with business ideas and imagination to help others to create a multi-disciplinary team to make this place viable, attractive and hopefully a model for the future."

Hawker centres run by social enterprises can help boost community ties.

Kasmah Sukor, a cook at Pitstop @ Haniff said: "I see that we are working together, helping each other. Everybody tries to support each other in any way we can. That is why I feel that we have the kampung spirit to help out and work. That is what I like about this place."

The government hopes that the 10 new hawker centres in the next five years would be run by social enterprises.

It will look into ways to best support such a model, to ensure long-term sustainability and viability.

- CNA/xq

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Former MM Lee Kuan Yew misses Lunar New Year dinner

SINGAPORE: Former Minister Mentor and Member of Parliament (MP) for Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency (GRC), Mr Lee Kuan Yew did not attend the annual Lunar New year dinner at his GRC on Friday evening.

Senior Minister of State for Law and MP for the area, Ms Indranee Rajah told grassroots leaders and residents at the dinner that Mr Lee was not feeling well and had extended his apologies for not being at the event.

Mr Lee thanked all residents for attending the event.

On behalf of the gathering, Ms Indranee wished Mr Lee a speedy recovery and hopes he feels better soon.

Channel NewsAsia understands from grassroots leaders in the division that this is the first time Mr Lee has missed the Tanjong Pagar division's Lunar New Year dinner celebrations.

- CNA/xq

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Cordlife Group posts S$5.6m net profit in fiscal Q2

SINGAPORE: Cord blood and tissue banking service provider Cordlife Group posted a net profit of S$5.6 million for its fiscal second quarter, boosted by a one-time disposal gain of $2.7 million.

Excluding the disposal of its 10 per cent interest in China-based stem cell company, China Stem Cells (South) Company, Cordlife's underlying net profit grew over 50 per cent to S$3 million.

Revenue for the quarter rose 24 per cent to S$8.8 million.

Cordlife attributed the higher revenue largely to successful marketing efforts to educate expectant parents on the benefits of its cord blood banking services.

Going forward, the group is optimistic that it could benefit from policies to boost fertility and birth rates in Singapore.

The firm said the extension of Child Development Accounts, as well as the higher Baby Bonus, will allow more parents to afford to store their children's cord blood stem cells as an additional medical treatment alternative.

Jeremy Yee, executive director and CEO of Cordlife Group, said: "The Population White Paper was a very interesting one.

"What we look at, at the end of the day, is the fact that the government essentially is going to spur more investment by putting in more infrastructure in place so that the population can grow.

"More incentives have been given to parents to have more children. So all these are positives."

Cordlife's shares closed on Thursday almost 5 per cent higher at 66 cents.

- CNA/al

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Bank of England says UK economic recovery in sight

LONDON: The Bank of England forecast on Wednesday that the British economy would experience a "slow but sustained" recovery, but 12-month inflation would top 3.0 percent in the summer months.

Gross domestic product (GDP) was expected to grow by about 2.0 percent by the end of 2014 and remain positive despite some volatility amid the ongoing eurozone crisis, the central bank said in its latest quarterly report.

"The UK economy is therefore set for a recovery," said BoE governor Mervyn King, who will be replaced by Canadian central bank boss Mark Carney in July.

"That is not to say that the road ahead will be smooth. This hasn't been a normal recession and it won't be a normal recovery.

"The bank does not expect a triple-dip recession but said GDP was likely to continue at below pre-financial crisis levels for around another two years."

The BoE report will likely ease concerns over the outlook, after a 0.3-percent contraction in the fourth quarter of 2012 left Britain on the brink of its third recession since 2008.

The bank's monetary policy committee (MPC) last week froze its key interest rate at a record-low 0.50 percent and maintained its quantitative easing cash stimulus.

In addition, last year Britain launched an £80-billion ($123.7 billion, 102 billion euros) "funding for lending" initiative -- which is aimed at providing banks with cheap funding to stimulate lending to households and businesses, and thereby boost growth.

"The MPC continues to judge that the UK economy is set for a slow but sustained recovery in both demand and effective supply, aided by a further easing in credit conditions -- supported by the bank's programme of asset purchases and the funding for lending scheme -- and some improvement in the global environment," the report said.

"But the risks are weighted to the downside, not least because of the challenges facing the euro area."

The British central bank added that household budgets would be squeezed further, with 12-month inflation set to strike 3.0 percent in the coming months and hold above its official 2.0-percent target level for another two years.

Official data had shown on Tuesday that consumer prices index (CPI) annual inflation was 2.7 percent in January for the fourth month in a row, driven partly by rebounding food and drink prices.

- AFP/al

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Thailand warns of possible threat to US consulate

BANGKOK: Thailand said on Tuesday that it had tightened security around the US consulate in the northern city of Chiang Mai in response to warnings of a possible terrorist threat.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she had "instructed security officials to step up security protection" at the diplomatic facility.

"The US embassy did not make any special request but we have to be vigilant and cannot be reckless," she told reporters.

A Thai senior intelligence official who did not want to be named said the government had received information late last week about a possible threat.

"We have learned that Al-Qaeda linked Salafists (ultra-orthodox Islamists) may be planning an attack on the US consulate in Chiang Mai," he told AFP.

"It's difficult to find them because there are a lot of tourists in Chiang Mai and also it's hard for them to find weapons to mount an attack," he said.

The heightened security comes as Thailand and the United States stage 11 days of annual joint military exercises known as Cobra Gold.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Bangkok, Walter Braunohler, declined to comment on the reported threat but said the consulate in Chiang Mai was open as usual.

"We continue to take every precaution necessary," he added.

- AFP/al

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Police face flak over Kumbh Mela tragedy as organiser quits

ALLAHABAD, India : Survivors of a stampede that killed 36 people at India's Kumbh Mela on Monday blamed the tragedy on baton-charging police and the slow response of medics as the massive festival's chief organiser resigned.

The crush at a train station on Sunday evening at Allahabad marked a tragic end to the most auspicious day of the 55-day Hindu festival in the state of Uttar Pradesh which had drawn some 30 million people.

Local officials said the railings on a bridge at the station had given way, while witnesses said police had charged the crowd with heavy wooden sticks known as lathis and triggered panic among pilgrims leaving the world's biggest gathering.

"I saw the police pushing the crowd and they were ... beating the pilgrims," Abhijit Das, a 29-year-old pilgrim from West Bengal who was at the station when the disaster happened, told AFP.

There was also criticism of the response to the disaster, with relatives recounting how the emergency services took hours to reach the scene. At least 10 corpses wrapped in white sheets could be seen on a platform several hours later.

Among the victims was an eight-year-old girl called Muskaan whose distraught parents said she had died while waiting nearly two hours for help.

"Our daughter still had a pulse. Had the doctors reached in time she would have been saved, but she died before our eyes," Bedi Lal, the child's father, told the NDTV news channel.

Speaking from his hospital bed after suffering leg injuries, Shashi Bhaduri recounted the mayhem at the scene.

"Suddenly there were at least a hundred people on top of me. My legs are so badly injured that I cannot even lift them now," he said.

Apart from Muskaan, the dead included 26 women and nine men.

After the state government ordered an investigation into the tragedy, one of the driving forces behind the festival said he was resigning as a matter of honour.

"I have resigned as the chairman of the festival committee," said Mohammad Azam Khan, who is also a cabinet minister in the state.

"Although the stampede happened beyond the scope of my jurisdiction, I am deeply disturbed and step down on moral grounds," he told AFP.

Hindus believe a dip in the sacred waters of the River Ganges cleanses them of their sins. This year's Mela is enormous even by previous standards, with astrologers saying a planetary alignment seen once every 147 years made it particularly auspicious.

Police had been stretched in controlling the vast crowds as they reached their peak on Sunday, with officials saying the numbers had passed the 30 million mark by the evening.

A spokesman for the state government said the crush began after joints broke on railings attached to the bridge.

Railways Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal attributed the accident to the sheer weight of numbers at the train station.

"There are limitations of a railway system," he told reporters. "Even if we have trains at 10-minute intervals, managing three crore (30 million) people may not be possible."

Asked about the police tactics, the minister said: "We have no evidence of lathi-charge."

The Kumbh Mela, which began last month and ends in March, takes place every 12 years in Allahabad while smaller events are held every three years in other locations around India.

In 2003, 45 people died in a stampede during the festival in the western town of Nasik.

At the Kumbh Mela on Sunday, 30,000 volunteers and 7,000 police were on duty, urging pilgrims to take one short bath and then leave the waters to make space for the flow of humanity that stretched for kilometres.

The event has its origins in Hindu mythology, which describes how a few drops of the nectar of immortality fell on the four places that host the festival - Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar.

- AFP/ms

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