Channel NewsAsiahttp://www.channelnewsasia.comChannel NewsAsia Singapore was established in March 1999 by MediaCorp, and is an English language Asian TV News channel. Positioned to Understand Asia, it reports on global developments with Asian perspectives. Channel NewsAsia brings viewers not only the latest news but also the stories behind the headlines. NewsAsiahttp://www.channelnewsasia.com129137en-usBritish boxing board to review Fury licence, 14 Dec 2017 00:47:44 +0800LONDON: Tyson Fury could have his boxing licence reinstated when the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) meets next month, a move that would allow the controversial fighter to make a dramatic return to the ring.

UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) has cleared the 29-year-old former world heavyweight champion to return, after an absence of over two years, following his acceptance of a backdated two-year ban over a positive test for a banned steroid.

Tyson Fury

Fury, who has denied any wrongdoing, has spoken of his desire to "reclaim the world titles which are rightfully mine" but can only box again with the permission of the BBBofC.

"Tyson Fury's boxing licence suspension will be considered by the stewards of the board in January," the board said on Wednesday.

Fury, who has not fought since his shock win against Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015 to become the undisputed heavyweight world champion, said he was looking forward to getting back into the ring.

"I'm a fighting man through and through and I've never backed down from anyone in my life and I was certainly not going to back down from fighting this dispute," he said.

Fury immediately laid down a challenge to British compatriot Anthony Joshua, who successfully defended his IBF and WBA titles against Carlos Takam in October.

Fury tweeted: "@anthonyfjoshua where you at boy? I'm coming for you punk ent no1 blocking my path now!"

The boxer had been charged along with his cousin Hughie, who also failed a test for nandrolone in February 2015.

Both have strongly denied the nandrolone charges, saying the positive tests were a result of eating wild boar that had not been castrated.

The British board in a statement said fellow heavyweight Hughie "has no outstanding matters with the BBBofC at this time", but general secretary Robert Smith said they were yet to hear from the Fury camp.

Before he makes any return, Fury will need to appear before the board so that he can be assessed both physically and mentally.

"We have to be satisfied about Tyson's physical wellbeing, that he is fit to fight, and that's not just medically, that's physically as well," Smith told Britain's Press Association.

"It's well reported he's not in physical condition to return straight away, so he's got a bit of work to do."

Tyson Fury also failed a test for cocaine in September 2016 and later admitted using the recreational drug to deal with depression related to his injury and UKAD problems.

UK jobless rate holds at lowest since 1975, 14 Dec 2017 00:31:08 +0800LONDON: Britain's unemployment rate remains at a 42-year low, official data showed on Wednesday (Dec 13), but workers' wages are still being eroded by inflation.

The jobless rate - or the proportion of the workforce that is unemployed - stood at 4.3 per cent in the three months to the end of October, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.

UK jobs

That was unchanged from the three months to September, and the lowest rate since 1975.

Average weekly earnings rose by 2.5 per cent year-on-year in the three-month period to October, but lagged behind Britain's annual inflation rate of 3.1 per cent.

Adjusted for inflation, workers' weekly earnings fell 0.4 per cent year-on-year from August to October - a further erosion of purchasing power.

Britain's Consumer Prices Index 12-month inflation rate hit a near six-year high last month, fuelled by the rising cost of air fares, computer games and recreational goods, the ONS revealed on Tuesday.

Inflation has soared in 2017 as a Brexit-hit pound ramps up import costs, which led the Bank of England to raise its key interest rate for the first time in a decade last month.

"The consumer squeeze which has been evident since last year's referendum continues, as pay adjusted for inflation is still falling," noted Hargreaves Lansdown economist Ben Brettell.

Sterling tumbled in the wake of last year's shock Brexit referendum, while Britain is on course to leave the European Union in March 2019.

Some 1.4 million people were unemployed at the end of October. That was down 26,000 on a year earlier.

The BoE is expected ON Thursday to leave borrowing costs at 0.50 per cent following its final monetary policy committee (MPC) meeting of 2017.


"The tight squeeze on consumers continues as earnings growth remains clearly below inflation," noted Howard Archer, chief economic advisor at the EY ITEM Club research group.

"It is a nailed-on certainty that the Bank of England will keep interest rates unchanged at 0.50 per cent on Thursday.

"Following consumer price inflation rising to 3.1 per cent in November, pay still only creeping up in October and the labour market showing signs of faltering, dilutes the case for the Bank of England to hike interest rates again in the near term."

The MPC had last month voted 7-2 to ramp up interest rates to 0.50 per cent from a record low of 0.25 per cent in order to tackle high inflation.

That was the first BoE hike since before the financial crisis, when the rate was ratcheted up as high as 5.75 per cent in July 2007.

Rashes, fever seen in children who allegedly drank fake infant formula: Parents PacificThu, 14 Dec 2017 00:21:16 +0800SINGAPORE: Parents whose children have consumed potentially fake formula milk have come forward with their accounts. 

One father claimed that his 10-month-old daughter developed a fever and red rashes after drinking what he suspected was counterfeit formula milk, reported the New Straits Times on Wednesday (Dec 13).

kid after drinking fake baby milk

"There were red spots everywhere on her body, on her face, hands and even her back," said the 33-year-old graphic designer who wanted to be known as Koh.

According to Koh, he and his wife became worried after reading about fake infant formula on the news.

More than 200 boxes of counterfeit Enfalac A+ Step 1 were confiscated by Malaysian authorities on Sunday. 

Manufacturer Mead Johnson later issued a statement informing consumers how to tell packets of fake infant formula from the real ones.

"Knowing that we have been using this brand all this while, we started to question whether we have been feeding our baby with a counterfeit version," Koh said. He then realised that the description of the counterfeit milk powder's packaging matched what they had been feeding their daughter.

(kc) fake milk formula

Another parent, Seila Nawi, wrote on Facebook that her child was admitted to the hospital for two weeks in October after her child "turned red and was feverish".

"Mikael had diarrhoea 11 times in a day.

"He also vomited up to nine times. I couldn't just ignore that, could I?" said Nawi in a Facebook post.

According to Nawi, while her child was hospitalised, there was blood in his stool.

Koh also added that his daughter was admitted in a hospital for a few days in September after his daughter developed a high fever.

Prior to the incident, Koh fed his daughter baby milk formula bought from "reputable outlets in Singapore", said the New Straits Times. 

"Only from the fourth month onwards, I started buying my own formula milk from the same Chinese medicine shop since the price was slightly lower than that of the supermarkets," he said.

Koh believes that his daughter may have developed health issues due to her prolonged consumption of the fake formula. 

However, he maintained that he was not blaming any specific company and hoped that parents will be cautious when buying formula milk. 

"I am here not to point fingers at the company or the retailer. It is a reputable company and proven to be a good brand for babies," Koh said, adding that he may lodge a report with the authorities.


Meanwhile, the Malaysian Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism will order the alleged fake formula milk to be pulled from the shelves.

Minister Hamzah Zainuddin said that the ministry was waiting for the test results done on the seized infant formula to come back before deciding on the next course of action.

“I hope the report will be out soon. We have to wait and only after it is confirmed can we take the necessary action.

“We will also discuss the matter with the health ministry, which is responsible for approving the product to be sold, “ he told a press conference on Wednesday.

Hamzah was also asked about the delay in conducting the raid as the complaints about the fake infant formula had been received by the ministry since Oct 14. 

Hamzah responded that investigations had to be carried out by the ministry and Mead Johnson Malaysia before the raid could be conducted.

fake milk formula

He advised parents to exercise caution when buying formula for their children and to buy the product at established outlets.

Closer to home, the Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said on Monday that all formula milk samples here have met the required food safety standards and that it will continue to monitor the import of the products to Singapore. 

Three Florida men charged after shark-dragging video goes viral, 14 Dec 2017 00:17:51 +0800FLORIDA: Three Florida men were charged with animal cruelty on Tuesday (Dec 12) after a viral video showed them laughing and smiling as a shark gets dragged behind a high-speed boat.

Michael Wenzel, 21, Robert Lee Benac, 28 and Spencer Heintz, 23, were all charged with two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office in a news release. Wenzel and Benac were also charged with one count each of illegal method of take, a misdemeanor.

Shark being dragged

The charges resulted from a four-month long investigation into the video and "other disturbing images on social media involving shocking disregard for Florida’s natural resources", the commission said.

Officers conducting the investigation after the video surfaced in July confirmed numerous criminal violations, resulting in felony and misdemeanor charges.

The video was posted by Miami charter fisherman Mark Quartiano, who goes by "Mark the Shark", after two Instagram users sent it to him, according to a report on CNN. 

Three men in the video are seen laughing and smiling as the animal visibly struggles in the boat's wake. One of the men was on video saying that the shark looks "almost dead".

The video racked up thousands of views and comments on social media, many of them expressing outrage.

Florida wildlife investigators found that the men first shot the shark, then dragged it at high speed, causing its death, according to the CNN report. 

Commission Chairman Bo Rivard said these charges should "send a clear message to others that this kind of behaviour involving our fish and wildlife will not be tolerated".

"These actions have no place in Florida, where we treasure and conserve our natural resources for everyone," he added. 

'Apprentice' star turned Trump aide leaves White House, 14 Dec 2017 00:03:47 +0800WASHINGTON: Reality TV star turned political operative Omarosa Manigault is to leave the White House, officials said on Wednesday (Dec 13), the latest departure as Donald Trump's administration turns one year old.

The fiery former star of Trump's show The Apprentice will leave early next year, press secretary Sarah Sanders said.


"Omarosa Manigault Newman resigned yesterday to pursue other opportunities. Her departure will not be effective until January 20, 2018" said Sanders.

"We wish her the best in future endeavors and are grateful for her service."

Although one of the most prominent African Americans in the Trump administration, raking in US$179,700 a year, colleagues often questioned her role in the White House.

She could be seen at presidential photo ops, walking the corridors and occasionally in the White House briefing room, but the impact of her Office of Public Liaison was unclear.

Her departure comes shortly after it was revealed that she held a bridal shower in the White House.

Swiss church bells ring out after dark as court upholds nighttime chiming, 13 Dec 2017 23:50:12 +0800ZURICH: A Swiss church can let its bells ring out in celebration after the country's highest court overturned a restriction on its peeling chimes demanded by a local couple.

More than 2,000 residents campaigned against the limits on the 250-year-old Protestant Reformed Church in Waedenswil, near Zurich, after a legal spat broke out three years ago.

Swiss church

An unnamed couple who lived closed to the church had sought a halt to the hourly and quarter-hourly clangs between 10pm and 7am. They also wanted the early morning ringing to be delayed from 6am to 7am, which the church voluntarily agreed to.

A local court in 2015 granted their demand to halt the quarter-hourly chimes but kept the hourly beats. The restriction was not implemented after local parishioners and the town council took their appeal to the Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne.

The court struck out the restriction on Wednesday (Dec 13), saying reducing the number of night time chimes would not have a significant effect on quality of life, while the nightly clanging was firmly rooted in Waedenswil's culture and part of the local tradition.

"We are delighted with this decision, not just for us, but for the town and the whole community," said Peter Meier, a member of the church's council.

"The bells are an important part of the town's feeling of home, and have long given a rhythm to people’s lives here."

He said he was pleased an independent survey which showed that 79 percent of people in Waedenswil were not disturbed at all by the sound of bells in the night had been recognized by the court.

"We are celebrating the church's 250th anniversary this year, and this is a very nice present to not have this hanging over us any more," he said.

Chinese man clings onto 24th-storey window grille to escape raging fire: Reports PacificWed, 13 Dec 2017 23:49:38 +0800YUZHONG, Chongqing: A man in China was captured on video clinging onto a tiny ledge after climbing out of a 25th-storey balcony to escape a raging fire, according to various local media reports. 

With his apartment in Yuzhong district engulfed in flames, the man is seen escaping to the unit below his, holding on to anti-theft metal bars outside the apartment window on the 24th floor.  

Chongqing fire window

Mobile phone footage of the incident, which has gone viral on China social media platform Weibo, showed the man clinging onto the bars for about 90 seconds.

He can be seen trying to kick in the window of the 24th-storey apartment in an attempt to get to safety, as piece of debris and fire fall around him. 

Chongqing fire 3

Soon after, the video shows firefighters smashing the glass and rescuing the man. 

According to Chongqing Daily, the fire broke out at 11.55am and was extinguished at 12.42pm. No casualties were reported. 

Yuzhong fire department said the fire started at a unit on the 25th floor. The cause of the fire and the extent of property damage are under investigation, it added.

US Fed Reserve set to raise rates at final meeting of 2017, 13 Dec 2017 23:45:33 +0800WASHINGTON: The US central bank on Wednesday (Dec 13) was poised to raise the benchmark interest rate for the third and final time this year, meaning the focus will now shift to the policy plans for next year.

The widely expected move will come as inflation begins to show some flickers of life - including in a report on consumer prices released earlier Wednesday - but not enough to settle the disagreements among Federal Reserve officials about the near-term threat posed by rising prices.

US Federal Reserve(Photo:AFP)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen was due to hold a press conference after the two-day meeting, which analysts will watch closely for signals about the likely pace of interest rate increases next year.

Stocks rose in early trading ahead of the decision, with the Dow and S&P 500 gaining 0.2 per cent above their record levels on Tuesday, while the tech-rich Nasdaq gained 0.4 per cent.

The Fed's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee got one more inflation measure to contemplate before making their final decision, which showed the annual rate for the closely-watched Consumer Price Index edged above the central bank's two percent target in November.

However, rising gasoline prices were the main culprit, as was the case with the Producer Price Index released on Tuesday, and other areas of the data showed inflation pressures may be weakening.


"After yesterday's PPI, inflation concerns were more elevated heading into the CPI report but this report did not validate those concerns," RDQ Economics said in its data analysis, noting that the core rate, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, "continued to be stuck in a rut."

And the Fed's preferred inflation measure, the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, remains well below two percent and shows few signs it will rise soon. The 12-month core PCE is just 1.4 per cent.

Yellen has acknowledged that central bankers are somewhat baffled by the absence of inflation, largely attributing it to transitory factors, as economic growth and falling unemployment have failed to push prices higher.

The CPI report "will keep alive the debate over how much upward pressure on inflation is likely from the tight and tightening labor market," said Jim O'Sullivan of High Frequency Economics.

Some on the Fed have argued for faster rate increases to ensure they head off any inflation in the pipeline, but economists say they won't get much help from the latest data.

"The report is certainly not weak enough to stop the Fed from tightening today, but it could result in the tone of the statement being slightly less hawkish than it would have been with a consensus-like reading," O'Sullivan said.

Analysts also will be focusing on the Fed's quarterly economic forecasts to see how much sentiment among the central bankers has shifted. The September forecasts called for three rate hikes in 2018.

The Fed debate occurs as Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill work towards moving a massive tax cut plan over the finish line, which could boost the economy and fuel inflation.

Some economists say a near-term boost from the tax plan could cause the Fed to raise rates more quickly, but they note that central bankers may wait until a final version is approved before adjusting their forecasts.

This will be Yellen's last press conference as President Donald Trump opted to replace her when her term ends in early February. She will preside over one more FOMC meeting in January.

Bitcoin fever exposes crypto-market frailties, 13 Dec 2017 23:45:17 +0800LONDON/NEW YORK: As bitcoin raced to another record high on Tuesday, one of the biggest providers of digital currency wallets, Coinbase, went down under the weight of traffic, leaving many of its more than 10 million customers unable to access their funds. At the same time, Bitfinex, the world's biggest bitcoin exchange by trading volume, said it was under a heavy denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, meaning its servers had been intentionally flooded with junk online requests, taking down its website and crippling its services.

The latest outages show how the market infrastructure for an immature and volatile instrument that millions of investors have piled into may be ill-equipped to cope with sudden shifts in demand, which is worrying some investors.

A collection of Bitcoin (virtual currency) tokens are displayed in this picture illustration

During a particularly volatile period of trading on Dec. 7, bitcoin surged from below US$16,000 to US$19,500 in less than an hour on Coinbase's exchange GDAX, while it was changing hands at less than US$16,000 on another, Bitstamp.

As trading volume surged, GDAX and Coinbase went down at least 10 times because of "record-high traffic", Coinbase said. "More people are engaging with our platform than ever and that bodes well for the future of the digital currency. At the same time, it does create extreme volatility and stress on our systems," the company's director of business operations, David Farmer, said.

"We can confirm that there has been no unusual or suspicious activity. All we know right now is that there is a large amount of traffic," he told Reuters.

Bitfinex said it had been under a sustained DDoS attack since last week.

"While last week the platform traded continuously, to effectively perform emergency maintenance, we took the website down for a brief time today (Tuesday) to mitigate further issues for customers," a spokesman said.

"We are constantly improving our systems to ensure that we're able to both accommodate the immense volume of trading that occurs on our platform while also fending off sustained DDoS attacks," he said.


Daniel Masters, founder of Global Advisors Bitcoin Investment Fund, worries the exchanges would struggle to cope if there were a sudden rush for the exit.

"The ability of these platforms to handle volume is yet to be tested properly," he said. "What happens if this market turns into a lot of sellers? The liquidity itself could be an issue."

Charles Cascarilla, chief executive of New York-based company Paxos, which operates cryptocurrency exchange itBit, told Reuters that dealing with spikes in volume was a problem faced by all exchanges, not just cryptocurrency platforms. "Clearly the reality is the world of cryptocurrency is growing at an exponential rate right now and everyone is doing their best to expand infrastructure, but it is hard to know what would happen in a hypothetical scenario," he said.

Cameron Winklevoss, co-founder of the Gemini exchange, an early bitcoin investor and an outspoken supporter of the cryptocurrency, said the risk the wider market would suffer badly if one exchange went down no longer existed, as trading volume had become more evenly spread.

"We are definitely beyond the too-big-to-fail situation," he told Reuters. "That was a problem we had five years ago when Mt. Gox accounted for 95 percent of volume."

"Most of the exchanges are doing a good job. This is a 24/7 market, there is no session close and there is no downtime."

Mt. Gox, the world's biggest bitcoin exchange at the time, collapsed in 2014 after hackers stole 650,000 bitcoins, triggering a collapse in the bitcoin price.

The demise of Mt. Gox left more than 24,000 customers unable to access hundreds of millions of dollars of cryptocurrency and cash. More than three years later none has recouped a cent.


Some investors had said they were worried the launch of bitcoin futures by the world's biggest derivative exchanges could exacerbate volatility by prompting some traders to take out large positions betting on a price fall in the future.

The Chicago-based Cboe Global Markets Inc. futures launched a futures contracts on bitcoin on Dec. 10 and CME Group Inc will launch a rival contract a week later. So far this week, the launch of futures by Cboe does not appear to have created any additional volatility, with price moves less violent than last week's wild trading. But Tim Swanson, a bitcoin expert and founder of Post Oak Labs, a technology advisory firm, said he was concerned that if the futures liquidity increases there could be an incentive for someone with a large bet against bitcoin to disrupt or attack the network to make money from the ensuing price fall.

CME Group and Cboe declined to comment.

Flooding the bitcoin network with tiny transactions could potentially send the price down sharply, said Swanson, as could sending many sell-signals to the market that are not honoured - so-called spoofing, which is illegal in regulated markets.

A surge in bitcoin trades in recent weeks has also left the blockchain network that the cryptocurrency relies on to process and verify transactions struggling to keep up.

As of Wednesday at 1445 GMT, more than 125,000 bitcoin transactions remained unconfirmed.

In the past week, more than half a million new users have opened wallets with retail-focused bitcoin wallet provider Blockchain, the firm said, taking the total number of users to more than 20 million, from 10 million last year.

The London-based company has also been struggling to keep up, citing "record traffic levels" last week.


Created in 2008, bitcoin uses encryption and a shared blockchain database that enables the anonymous transfer of funds outside of a conventional centralised payment system.

But there is little evidence to suggest buyers are using bitcoin as a means of exchange and payment. On the whole, they buy the cryptocurrency as a speculative investment, attracted by massive price gains, said Garrick Hileman, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge's Judge Business School.

As a result, some banks say they are worried that a collapse in bitcoin would have a knock-on effect on investments by individual investors in other asset classes. Deutsche Bank said in a report on Dec. 7 that a bitcoin crash - and the impact it could have on retail investors' confidence - was one of the biggest risks to markets in 2018.

Periods of high volatility are not uncommon in other currencies and asset classes, particularly in commodities and emerging markets. But bitcoin's volatility is extreme, and frequent: the one-day price move has been more than 10 percent on nine days in the past three months.

Moves of a similar magnitude for the U.S dollar, for example, are extremely rare. Its biggest one-day move against a major currency was in January 2015 when the Swiss central bank abandoned a cap on the franc, sending the dollar down 18 percent.

Some bitcoin watchers, such as Swanson, also worry about the risk of one of the big exchanges being suddenly shut by authorities.

In July, U.S. authorities shut down the website of the BTC-e exchange, saying it had "facilitated transactions involving ransomware, computer hacking, identity theft, tax refund fraud schemes, public corruption, and drug trafficking".

BTC-e, which is no longer operating, could not be reached for comment.

The top three exchanges out of more than 100 - Bitfinex, GDAX and bitFlyer - are home to more than 60 percent of all trading, according to data provider Bitcoinity.

Another issue specific to the market is the risk of hacking and theft. More than 980,000 bitcoins have been stolen from exchanges, Reuters has found, with the Mt. Gox heist accounting for the majority.

Last week, a Slovenian cryptocurrency mining marketplace, NiceHash, said it had lost about US$64 million worth of bitcoin in a hack of its payment system.

(Reporting by Jemima Kelly and Anna Irrera; additional reporting by Amanda Cooper; editing by David Clarke)

T-Mobile to launch new television service in 2018, acquire Layer3 TV, 13 Dec 2017 23:45:11 +0800NEW YORK: U.S. No. 3 wireless carrier T-Mobile US Inc will launch a new television service in 2018 and acquire television technology company Layer3 TV Inc for an undisclosed amount as part of its plans, it said on Wednesday.

The announcement follows T-Mobile's announcement last week that its board approved its first-ever buyback program, a month after the company and rival Sprint Corp ended deal talks.

FILE PHOTO - The logo of T-Mobile Austria is seen outside of one of its shops in Vienna

Chief Financial Officer Braxton Carter said at the time that the company was focused on smaller, "tuck-in" acquisitions, noting that such deals would be another use of cash.

Layer3 TV integrates television, online video content and social media and is available in five cities across the United States, T-Mobile said.

T-Mobile shares were up 1.3 percent at US$64.30 in Wednesday morning trading.

(Reporting by Anjali Athavaley; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Susan Thomas)

Norway first country to switch off FM radio, 13 Dec 2017 23:37:25 +0800OLSO: Norway on Wednesday (Dec 13) completed its transition to digital radio, becoming the first country in the world to shut down national broadcasts of its FM radio network despite some grumblings.

As scheduled, the country's most northern regions and the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic switched to Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) in the late morning, said Digitalradio Norge (DRN) which groups Norway's public and commercial radio.

Norway FM radio

The transition, which began on Jan 11, allows for better sound quality, a greater number of channels and more functions, all at a cost eight times lower than FM radio, according to authorities.

The move has however been met with some criticism linked to technical incidents and claims that there is not sufficient DAB coverage across the country.

In addition, radio users have complained about the cost of having to buy new receivers or adapters, usually priced around 100 to 200 euros (US$117 to US$235).

Currently, fewer than half of motorists (49 per cent) are able to listen to DAB in their cars, according to DRN figures.

According to a study cited by local media, the share of Norwegians who listen to the radio on a daily basis has dropped by 10 per cent in one year, and public broadcaster NRK has lost 21 per cent of its audience.

"It's a big change and we have to give listeners time to adapt to digital radio," the head of DRN, Ole Jorgen Torvmark, said in a statement.

"After each shutdown (in a region), we noticed that the audience first dropped but then rose again," he added.

The transition concerns only national radio channels. Most local stations continue to broadcast in FM.

Other countries like Switzerland, Britain and Denmark are due to follow suit in the coming years.

Jewish groups in Germany urge crackdown on anti-Semitic acts, 13 Dec 2017 23:35:10 +0800BERLIN: Jewish groups in Germany are pressing the authorities to crack down on anti-Semitic acts following the burning of Jewish symbols and Israeli flags at protests.

The American Jewish Committee Berlin, the JSUD group of Jewish university students, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and the German-Israeli Society have called for tougher law enforcement and for new laws to make it easier to ban or disband anti-Semitic demonstrations.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top German officials have condemned anti-Semitic acts seen at demonstrations against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and vowed to prosecute illegal acts.

The American Jewish Committee Berlin said a new study by an Indiana University professor showed broader efforts were also needed to fight anti-Semitic attitudes among Muslim migrants from Syria and Iraq.

German has opened its borders to more than 1 million migrants mainly fleeing Middle East wars since 2015, sparking concerns about a further bump in already increasing anti-Semitism.

"Politicians must guarantee that anti-Semitic attitudes will not be tolerated and that infractions to laws and regulations will be prosecuted," said the group's director, Deidre Berger.

She reiterated a longstanding call for the German government to appoint an anti-Semitism commissioner to focus attention on the issue.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas and Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller vowed during a menorah lighting at the Brandenburg Gate on Tuesday to combat all forms of anti-Semitism, while demonstrators continued to voice anger at the U.S. move at a separate event near Berlin's main train station.

The Central Council of Muslims in Germany has also condemned anti-Semitic actions.

Indiana University's Guenther Jikeli, the author of the study, said group interviews of 68 migrants aged 18 to 52 conducted last year revealed widespread anti-Semitic attitudes. They showed rejection of the state of Israel and ignorance about the murder of 6 million Jews in Europe by the Nazis during World War Two, he said.

"There are strong anti-Semitic views among refugees that need to be addressed because otherwise they could become the norm," he told Reuters TV.

Kurds and other refugees persecuted as minorities in their home countries had more nuanced views and more clearly rejected anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli perspectives, he said.

Fabian Weissbarth, spokesman for AJC, said the study should spur efforts to tackle anti-Semitism among migrants to ensure the findings were not misused by anti-immigrant far-right groups like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

"If we don't address it as a society, then the AfD will, and that will lead to hate and incitement," he said. "We need a differentiated view that recognises that not all refugees are the same, and we need to look at solutions, such as integration measures, what needs to be included in integration courses, and changes in how social workers and politicians react."

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Harry Potter in the sky? Bid to inspire young stargazers, 13 Dec 2017 23:32:02 +0800LONDON: British astronomers have come up with a new set of constellations inspired by modern-day figures such as Harry Potter and Usain Bolt in an attempt to teach children about the layout of the universe.

The eight new constellations in the Look Up to The Stars project are the brainchild of The Big Bang Fair, a science education event for young people and astronomers at the University of Birmingham.

Harry Potter stargazing

The proposals include Harry Potter's glasses, a tennis racket for Serena Williams, a spaceship for astronaut Tim Peak, a blue whale for naturist David Attenborough and a book in honour of Nobel-winner Malala Yousafzai.

The eight constellations invented are a bid "to get more young people interested in the universe," The Big Bang Fair said in a statement.

Existing constellations are based on the zodiac and figures from ancient Greek and Roman mythology which "aren't necessarily proving successful in enticing children today to look up at the stars," it said.

A survey quoted by The Big Bang Fair found 29 per cent of seven to 19-year-olds admitted they would not be able to recognise a single classical constellation.

The survey also found 72 per cent of children admitted they had never looked for a constellation at night.

"We really hope these new creations will help people of all ages develop their interest in space and astronomy," Emma Willett, who led the University of Birmingham research team, said in the statement.

Obamacare sign-ups gain steam as 2018 deadline nears, 13 Dec 2017 23:30:16 +0800NEW YORK: More than 1.07 million consumers selected 2018 Obamacare individual insurance plans on the website during the week ended Dec. 9, the U.S. government reported on Wednesday, indicating a pick up in the pace of enrollment as the Dec. 15 deadline nears.

Of the consumers who signed up, 388,984 were new to the Obamacare individual insurance program, with both figures increasing from the previous week when 823,180 people signed up in all.

FILE PHOTO: A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro

That brings the total so far to 4.68 million consumers ahead of the deadline for 2018 enrollment in the 39 states that use the federally run website. The remaining states and Washington D.C. run their own programs and set their own deadlines.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

'Three Billboards' leads 2018 Screen Actors Guild nominations, 13 Dec 2017 23:30:11 +0800LOS ANGELES: Small-town dramedy "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" led the 2018 Screen Actors Guild nominations on Wednesday with four nods, including the top prize for best ensemble.

Interracial romance "The Big Sick," racial thriller "Get Out," mother-daughter comedy "Lady Bird" and period race drama "Mudbound" were also nominated for best ensemble.

Director McDonagh and cast member Rockwell pose for a portrait while promoting the movie "Thre

The winners will be announced at a live televised ceremony on Jan. 21.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Nick Zieminski)

OPEC now sees oil market in balance within a year, 13 Dec 2017 23:25:33 +0800PARIS: Supply and demand in the global oil market are likely to balance out by the end of 2018 thanks to a pick-up in demand, notably from the transport sector, OPEC said on Wednesday (Dec 13).

Demand is projected to grow by 1.51 million barrels per day (mb/d) next year, compared to an already higher-than-expected 1.26 million increase this year, to reach 98.45 mb/d, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said in a monthly report.

OPEC logo

"Expansion in the transportation sector is expected to provide the bulk of oil demand growth," the report said.

Expected strong economic expansion across the world will also underpin industrial and construction fuel demand, the cartel said.

OPEC's own crude output is likely to edge up to 33.2 mb/d next year from 32.8 this year, a smaller increase than previously thought.

Falling output in Angola, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates meant that OPEC pumped 133,000 barrels per day less in November than the previous month, according to secondary sources.

OPEC and some non-members of the cartel, including Russia, last month extended an output cut agreement until the end of 2018 in the hope of re-balancing the oil market and underpinning the price of crude.

Non-OPEC oil producers will pump around 990,000 barrels of crude per day more next year than this year as US shale oil producers ramp up output, the report predicted.

OPEC nevertheless believes that an overhang of global stocks will dwindle next year, "arriving at a balanced market by late 2018".

Electronic waste at new high, squandering gold, other metals - study, 13 Dec 2017 23:25:15 +0800OSLO: Electronic waste rose to a record 45 million tonnes worldwide in 2016, squandering valuable metals such as gold and copper since few trashed televisions, cellphones or other products get recycled, a U.N.-backed study showed on Wednesday.

Rising incomes and falling prices for everything from solar panels to fridges drove up the amount of e-waste - defined as anything with a plug or a battery - by 8 percent from 41 million tonnes in the last assessment for 2014, it said.

Packed electronic waste are seen outside at a recycling warehouse, in Mexico City

The weight of e-waste in 2016 was equivalent to about 4,500 Eiffel Towers, according the joint study by the U.N. University, the International Telecommunication Union, and the International Solid Waste Association.

Raw materials in the 2016 scrap were worth an estimated 55 billion euros (US$64.61 billion), including metals such as gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium, it said.

Yet only 8.9 million tonnes were documented to have been collected and recycled in 2016. Most e-waste ended as rubbish in landfills even though recycling would make economic sense in most cases.

"What is still shocking ... is that only 20 percent is going in the official collection and recycling schemes," Ruediger Kuehr, head of the U.N. University's Sustainable Cycles Programme, told Reuters.

Overall, e-waste was projected to climb to 52.2 million tonnes in 2021, the study said. China was the biggest source of the scrap with 7.2 million tonnes in 2016, ahead of the United States.

The report said many people junked gadgets, often to buy an upgraded model or because repairs of anything from a toaster to a smartphone were more expensive than buying a replacement.

"There has been much debate and criticism of the growing 'throwaway society', characterized by consumerism and the trend to throw away and buy something new rather than keep and repair," the report said.

Kuehr said the low rates of e-waste collection and recycling were a surprise when 67 nations covering two-thirds of the world population had legislation about processing e-waste.

Australia, New Zealand generated the highest amounts of e-waste per inhabitant at 17.3 kilos (38 lbs) each, for instance, but only 6 percent were formally collected and recycled.

Europe had the highest collection rates, at 35 percent.

Kuehr urged Christmas shoppers to take account of recycling when choosing gifts. "In Christmas shopping more and more equipment comes with a plug or battery ... facilitating the increase of the e-waste mountain," he said.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Sharma's third double ton leads India to series-levelling win, 13 Dec 2017 23:20:13 +0800MOHALI, India: Skipper Rohit Sharma became the first batsman to hit three double centuries in one-day internationals as he powered India to a 141-run win over Sri Lanka in the second match on Wednesday (Dec 13).

Sharma's unbeaten 208 steered the hosts to an imposing 392-4 and then restricted Sri Lanka to 251-8 to level the three-match series at 1-1 in Mohali.

India cricket

His epic knock, laced with 12 sixes and 13 fours in 153-ball stay, led the Indian charge after they were invited to bat first in overcast conditions.

Sharma reached 200 in the 50th over, bowled by opposition skipper Thisara Perera. His first hundred came off 115 balls, and his second off just 38 balls.

"It was a great day. Winning the game was important for me and the team after that loss in Dharamsala," Sharma said after his first win as Indian captain.

"In the first two 200s as well I got the century in the 38th over and I kept telling myself to hold my shape and hit through the line.

"I did pretty similar things in the earlier ones too - getting 50 off 70 balls. This wicket was superb to start off, the longer I stayed the easier it became to bat on," said Sharma.

The right-hander scored 209 against Australia in Bangalore in 2013, and followed that double-hundred with his highest score of 264 against Sri Lanka a year later in Kolkata.

Martin Guptill (New Zealand), Virender Sehwag (India), Chris Gayle (West Indies) and Sachin Tendulkar (India) have recorded a double century each in ODI cricket.

Sharma made a bright start with his opening partner Shikhar Dhawan (68) after the Indian batsmen's horror showing in the opening ODI, when they were skittled out for just 112.

"All three came at crucial times. 264 is obviously very close to me. I've said it many times, but I honestly cannot pick one," Sharma said of his three double tons.

"The Australia one was a decider, the Sri Lanka 264 - I came back after a three-month layoff after a big injury, and this one also - after a humiliating loss, we wanted to come back as a team, as a batting unit especially."

Sharma's 213-run stand for the second wicket with Shreyas Iyer, who scored 88, also stood out on a hazy day in Mohali.

Dhawan, who hit nine boundaries during his 67-ball knock, was caught at mid-wicket off Sachith Pathirana.


The wicket though proved to be a minor blemish on India's innings as Sharma dominated the bowlers with the attack-minded Iyer for company.

Iyer also changed gears after completing his maiden fifty in just his second ODI, smashing the Sri Lankan bowlers around the park.

Perera got three wickets with his medium-pace bowling but was still hit around the park by Sharma.

Sri Lanka were never in the chase after losing their openers for just 30 runs as Angelo Mathews top-scored with an unbeaten 111. Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal claimed three wickets.

"We had a plan A, B and C but none of that clicked for us which was the most important thing," said Perera.

"If you want to chase a score as big as this, you need starts and scores in the middle order as well. But none of it clicked for us.

"Angelo did really well for us, but it wasn't enough. We'll come back hard in the decider," he said.

The third and deciding match will be played in Visakhapatnam on Sunday.

France proposes age-of-consent rule for Facebook users, 13 Dec 2017 23:20:12 +0800PARIS: All French children under the age of 16 will have to seek parental approval to open an account on Facebook or any other social network under draft legislation presented on Wednesday (Dec 13).

The requirement is part of a French bill that seeks to adapt data privacy regulations and improve access to the information internet companies gather, store and in many cases sell to other firms about people's online activity.

FILE PHOTO - The Facebook logo is displayed on the company's website in an illustration photo

"Joining Facebook will involve parental authorisation for minors aged under 16," Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told reporters.

She was presenting the outlines of a data privacy bill that was approved at a weekly cabinet meeting. It now goes to parliament for approval before it can become law.

The bill aims to ensure easier access for users to all the data companies collect so they can more easily seek to have certain details amended or deleted.

The minister said signing up to join a social network would involve ticking a box to confirm that approval from parents or rightful guardians had been obtained, and that the box-tick amounted to a declaration governed by law.

It was not clear how enforceable such a process would be.

Zalando seeks more brand partnerships to fend off Amazon, 13 Dec 2017 23:10:15 +0800BERLIN: Europe's top online-only fashion retailer Zalando is stepping up its fast-growing brand partnerships programme, building on ties with the likes of Nike and Superdry to repel the challenge of U.S. interloper Amazon.

The German company's share price has come under pressure as Amazon's big push into fashion has prompted Zalando to increase investment in logistics and technology to keep pace, forcing it to trim profit forecasts.

FILE PHOTO: A Adidas shoebox stands above a Zalando cardboard box on a staged scene in Berlin

But Zalando sees its new business line giving it an edge over its U.S. rival.

Launched in Berlin in 2008, Zalando has grown fast to sell almost 2,000 brands in 15 countries via a classical e-commerce model, buying in stock to be sold online and shipped from its vast warehouses.

It is complementing that with a partner programme that it began ramping up two years ago to increase choice, charging fashion labels a commission for selling additional stock through the Zalando website and shipping the goods direct to customers. The brands, meanwhile, can keep control of pricing and presentation.

Initially confined to Germany, Zalando has been rolling the programme out to other countries, signing up 700 brands to account for nearly 10 percent of the total value of goods sold on its site, with a long-term target of 20-30 percent.

Carsten Keller, Zalando's managing director of partner solutions, expects the scheme to support profitability and cement relationships with brands, some of which remain wary of listing on Amazon, where third-party sellers compete on price.

"The brands are put in the driving seat. They keep control over the assortment, prices and brand representation. It is a very different environment to other market places like eBay or Amazon," Keller told Reuters.


German shoe brand Birkenstock is withdrawing from Amazon because of concerns over counterfeit products, while luxury brands last week won the right in Europe to stop retailers selling their products on online platforms.

Zalando says the partner scheme's expected profitability should help the company to reach a long-term target for an operating margin of 10 percent. But analysts have their doubts, on average forecasting 5.9 percent by 2020, up only slightly from the close to 5 percent Zalando expects in 2017.

British rival ASOS, by comparison, forecasts a stable operating margin of 4 percent but is growing sales faster than Zalando and is seen as better insulated from Amazon's advance thanks to a focus on fashion-mad youngsters.

"We think expectations look demanding, as does the company's longer-term margin guidance, given Zalando's desire to push for market share, more intense online competition and expansion into lower-margin regions," said RBC analyst Richard Chamberlain.

Keller, a former McKinsey consultant who joined Zalando last year, says the partner programme was born because Zalando realised it was losing millions of potential sales when it ran out of stock on top-selling items.

"It is growing with very high momentum. We doubled it over the past 12 months," Keller said. "It adds substantial value and has a positive effect on the bottom line."

Nike is particularly pleased with the arrangement - so much so that its executives mentioned it three times on a recent analyst call.

"Our partnership with Zalando is creating growth and shaping the digital marketplace in and beyond Europe,” said Elliot Hill, who runs Nike's wholesale and direct-to-consumer businesses.

Zalando is attracting brands that do not normally sell wholesale, such as Inditex's Oysho, while also persuading others to offer exclusive ranges. Nike, for instance, released new colours of its classic Air Force 1 shoe for the German site.


"Amazon is a strong competitor, but is more transactional, offering more basic and discounted fashion. Zalando gets edgier stuff," said Macquarie analyst Andreas Inderst, who has an "outperform" rating on Zalando.

"It is a virtuous cycle because the more consumers come to the home page, the more Zalando can leverage consumer insights through data analytics, the more brands are attracted."

Zalando is offering its partners data about who is buying what and where, as well as helping brands with their marketing strategies, online content, logistics and inventory management, buying two software firms that help brands with digital inventory management.

"In an Amazon or eBay environment, brands lose contact with their consumers because they do not get their hands on consumer data," Keller said.

Some analysts remain sceptical that Zalando will be able to fend off Amazon for long. Amazon more than doubled its share of the western European market for online fashion in five years to 6.5 percent in 2016, just behind Zalando on 7.4 percent, Euromonitor data shows.

Amazon has signed up more than 350 brands in Europe in the past year and is running a pilot with Nike in the United States in return for more control over its goods on the site.

"At the moment, Zalando has better brands and Amazon doesn't have as broad a range of current-season products," said Berenberg analyst Michelle Wilson, who rates Zalando a "sell".

"But it is only a matter of time until Amazon can convince brands they won't destroy their brand equity."

(Editing by David Goodman)

Wall Street scales higher on tech gains; Fed's rate decision awaited, 13 Dec 2017 23:10:10 +0800REUTERS: Wall Street indexes advanced on Wednesday as technology stocks gained and traders took positions, overlooking concerns of benign inflation ahead of a likely interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve later in the day.

Western Digital gained more than 3 percent and was the biggest tech gainer after the company agreed to settle a dispute with Toshiba.

Apple , Facebook and Paypal rose between 0.9 percent and 2 percent, boosting the Nasdaq.

At 9:32 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 33.54 points, or 0.14 percent, at 24,538.34 and the S&P 500 was up 3.77 points, or 0.14 percent, at 2,667.88. The Nasdaq Composite was up 23.10 points, or 0.34 percent, at 6,885.42.

S&P futures dipped 0.3 percent overnight on reports of Democrat Doug Jones winning a bitter fight for a U.S. Senate seat in deeply conservative Alabama on Tuesday.

A Jones victory could mean trouble for U.S. President Donald Trump's policy agenda as it narrows the Republicans' already slim majority in the Senate.

Jones is expected to take office in early January. Though his election will not effect the pending votes in Congress on a tax overhaul, it could add pressure on Republicans to get the bill through before the year end.

"With a less Republican seat in Alabama, that is going to expedite the Congress and the Senate to pass the tax bill before the year end, probably by next week," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial.

"It could be on Trump's desk, so that's going to keep the stock market positive."

Technology stocks were the biggest gainers among the major S&P sectors while financial and energy stocks were the biggest laggards.

The Fed is widely expected to raise interest rates by 25 basis points, but more significantly, it may give its strongest hint yet on how the Trump administration's tax overhaul could affect the U.S. economy.

Investors will pay close attention to how it aims to balance a stimulus-fueled economic boost with the ongoing weak inflation and tepid wage growth that has curbed some policymakers' appetite for higher rates.

"I suspect that they (the Fed) will probably elaborate on the tax cuts and future spending of the infrastructure and how they will relate to future inflation," Cardillo added.

A Labor Department report showed underlying consumer inflation slowed in November amid weak healthcare costs and the biggest drop in apparel prices since 1998.

There are concerns among some policymakers that the factors behind the tame inflation could prove more persistent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,448 to 999. On the Nasdaq, 1,344 issues rose and 836 fell.

(Reporting by Rama Venkat Raman and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

ATM machine-maker Diebold's CEO steps down, 13 Dec 2017 22:55:09 +0800REUTERS: Diebold Nixdorf Inc, one of the world's largest ATM makers, said on Wednesday that President and Chief Executive Andreas Mattes is stepping down, effective immediately.

Diebold said Chief Financial Officer Christopher Chapman and Chief Operating Officer Juergen Wunram will serve as interim co-presidents and co-CEOs.

Mattes, who served as CEO for slightly over four years, was behind Diebold's US$1.9 billion takeover of Wincor Nixdorf in 2016, which gave the combined company a market share of about 35 percent.

Diebold said its board has formed a search committee and retained executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles to find new CEO.

The company also reaffirmed its full-year 2017 revenue forecast of about US$4.6 billion and adjusted earnings forecast of US$1.05-US$1.15 per share.

(Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza)

Novartis generics arm says may sell or end some products, 13 Dec 2017 22:45:14 +0800ZURICH: Swiss drugmaker Novartis's Sandoz generics business is in the process of selling or closing some products in the United States, it said on Wednesday.

"In response to high price pressure, we are optimizing our U.S. portfolio. This includes the sale or discontinuation of certain non-core products and concentration of investment in strategic areas that will drive growth and improve access," it said in a statement in response to a report by the Swiss newspaper Handelszeitung.

FILE PHOTO: Swiss drugmaker Novartis' logo is seen in Stein

"As we continue to refine our portfolio, it is clear that the U.S. market is a very important market for Sandoz and will continue to be in the future," it added.

Reuters had reported last month that Novartis was working with Centerview to examine options for its dermatology business, including a possible sale, as it trims non-core assets.

(Reporting by Paul Arnold, Editing by Michael Shields)

US says hacker to plead guilty for role in 2016 cyber attacks, 13 Dec 2017 22:35:28 +0800REUTERS: The U.S. Department of Justice has caught one of the people involved in creating the Mirai botnet, a network of infected electronics equipment used to knock major websites offline in massive 2016 cyber attacks, according to court papers.

Paras Jha has agreed to plead guilty to computer-crimes charges in the case, according to federal court documents unsealed in Alaska on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Man holds laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture

The Mirai botnet was used to infect large numbers of internet-connected devices including webcams and video records, which were then turned into a digital army of bots that launched a series of attacks on websites and Internet infrastructure.

Those attacks included one in October 2016 on an internet infrastructure firm known as Dyn that disrupted access to major Internet firms including Twitter, Paypal and Spotify.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Writing by Jim Finkle in Toronto; Editing by David Gregorio)

Accused NYC bomber to formally face terrorism charges as soon as Wed, 13 Dec 2017 22:35:24 +0800NEW YORK: The Bangladeshi man accused of attempting a suicide bombing in one of New York City's busiest commuter hubs is expected to be formally charged as early as Wednesday with supporting a foreign terrorist organisation and other crimes.

Akayed Ullah, a 27-year-old supporter of the radical group Islamic State, will appear from Bellevue Hospital before a judge via video conference as soon as Wednesday, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office. He is recovering from injuries he suffered when his homemade bomb ignited but failed to detonate.

A member of the FBI enters the crime scene beneath the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal followi

Three people suffered minor injuries when Ullah attempted to detonate a pipe bomb secured to his midsection in a pedestrian tunnel under the sprawling Port Authority transportation complex, where many commuters from New York's suburbs arrive on buses and transfer to local subways.

Officials have declined to describe Ullah's condition.

"I did it for the Islamic State," Ullah told police who interviewed him after the blast, according to papers filed by federal prosecutors on Tuesday.

Ullah, who has lived in the United States since 2011, began his self-radicalisation in 2014 when he started viewing pro-Islamic State materials online, prosecutors said. He carried out his attack because he was angry over U.S. policies in the Middle East, they said.

Inside Ullah's passport, which was recovered from his home, were handwritten notes, including one that read, "O AMERICA, DIE IN YOUR RAGE."

Bangladesh's counter-terrorism chief told Reuters on Wednesday that his country had found no evidence linking the suspect to militants in his home country.

"We have collected evidence and information from his family members: his wife, father-in-law and mother-in-law," Monirul Islam, head of the Bangladesh police's counter-terrorism unit, said in an interview. "In Bangladesh we have not found any connection or have not been able to identify any of his associates who were or are involved with any terrorist groups."

His attack was the latest inspired by militants to hit the largest U.S. city. In October an Uzbek immigrant killed eight people by racing a rental truck down a bike bath.

In October, an Afghan-born U.S. citizen was convicted of planting two bombs in New York's Chelsea neighbourhood in 2016, one of which exploded and wounded 30 people.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Daniel Trotta; Additional reporting by Krishna N. Das and Serajul Quadir in Dhaka; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

South Korean leader starts fence-mending trip to China PacificWed, 13 Dec 2017 22:32:32 +0800BEIJING: South Korean President Moon Jae-In began his first state visit to China on Wednesday (Dec 13) to soothe relations strained by the US deployment of an anti-missile system that has angered Beijing.

Moon is also expected to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis during his four-day trip, which includes talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday.

The US deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea has angered China, which considers(Photo:AFP)

The US military installed the powerful THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system in the South earlier this year to guard against threats from the nuclear-armed North.

The move angered Beijing, which considers the deployment a threat to its own security.

China slapped a string of measures against South Korean businesses and banned group tours to the South, in moves seen as economic retaliation.

But last month, the two countries issued identically-worded statements on their mutual desire to improve relations.

It did not state any specifics, but Beijing has demanded that Seoul formally promise not to deploy any more THAAD launchers and not to join any regional US missile defence system.

Moon's office said ahead of the trip that the president, who took office in May, wanted to "normalise" ties with Beijing, and that the visit would be a turning point towards a "more mature" relationship.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Moon had arrived in Beijing, and would meet with South Korean residents and attend a business roundtable on Wednesday.

Ties recently showed some - albeit limited - signs of thaw as China's state tourism board approved last month Seoul-bound group tours from some parts of the country.

"China and the ROK (South Korea) have reached some consensus on dealing with the (THAAD) issue in the current stage," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Tuesday.

"We hope that the issue can continue to be handled properly and that the two sides can bring China-South Korea relations totally back to the track of sound and steady development," Lu added.

China has also urged the United States, Japan and South Korea to suspend joint military drills in the region in return for North Korea to halt its nuclear activities - an idea consistently rejected by Washington and Seoul.

Beijing has pressed for talks to peacefully resolve the crisis.

Moon's visit comes hours after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington was ready to talk to North Korea "without preconditions", though it remains determined to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arsenal.

Trump to make final tax push as Republican negotiators near deal, 13 Dec 2017 22:30:10 +0800WASHINGTON: U.S. President Donald Trump will make a final push on Wednesday to shepherd a Republican tax overhaul across the finish line, hosting congressional negotiators for lunch before a speech in which he will make closing arguments for the legislation.

Republican tax writers from the Senate and House of Representatives worked into Tuesday evening to reconcile differences between the separate plans passed by each chamber, as important details, including a final corporate tax rate, remained in flux.

Republican leaders are aiming to vote on the sweeping legislation before Christmas. That timetable became more crucial after Tuesday's upset win by Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in Alabama's special U.S. Senate election.

Jones' victory trims the Republicans' already narrow Senate majority to 51-49, which could make it more difficult for them to push through legislation.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday will call on Republicans to delay the tax vote until the newest senator can be seated, likely in early January.

Republicans were still trying to finalize important details without increasing the deficit impact of legislation, which could add as much as US$1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, according to independent estimates.

Both House and Senate bills proposed slashing the corporate rate to 20 percent from 35 percent, but negotiators were discussing on Tuesday whether to raise that rate to 21 percent in the final bill, lawmakers said.

Tax writers were also still determining a top rate for individual taxpayers and weighing how to best scale back popular individual deductions for mortgage interest and local tax payments that the Senate and House bills treated differently.

"We're still talking," No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn said late Tuesday of a possible 21 percent corporate rate.

Trump is seeking to sign a tax bill by the end of the year to achieve Republicans' first major legislative victory since they took control of both chambers of Congress and the White House in January.

After hosting Republican lawmakers for lunch, Trump will deliver his speech on tax legislation alongside five middle class families who would benefit, senior administration officials said.

He was expected to counter claims the Republican tax plan would largely benefit corporations and the wealthy by highlighting how it would also cut rates for lower- and middle-income taxpayers, who could see additional benefits, such as higher wages, result from the corporate rate cut, the officials said.

Independent government analyses by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which assists congressional tax writers, and the Congressional Budget Office, which examines the budget impact of legislation, both concluded that wealthier taxpayers would disproportionately benefit from the Republican proposals.

When asked who stands to benefit most from Republican tax legislation, more than half of American adults selected either the wealthy or large U.S. corporations, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, Doina Chiacu; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Steve Orlofsky)

Want cheaper British car insurance? Mind how you shop, 13 Dec 2017 22:10:19 +0800LONDON: Ever wondered what your shopping habits say about your driving? Britain's big supermarkets have.

The two biggest, Tesco and Sainsbury's , are offering discounts on financial products such as car insurance based on the predictability of people's shopping, a step beyond the traditional route of price cuts in return for brand loyalty.

FILE PHOTO:Shopping trolleys are seen at a Tesco Express in southwest London

Banks and insurance companies around the world are exploring using customers' data to better price financial products but few have links to supermarkets accounting for almost half of a country's grocery market as Tesco and Sainsbury's do.

Sainsbury's Bank Chief Executive Peter Griffiths told Reuters the supermarket chain's bank customers, of which there are 1.8 million, can get cheaper offers on products such as home and car insurance based on what else they buy and how they shop.

"Our strategy is to be the bank for the Sainsbury's shopper, and we're uniquely placed to use the power of data to offer better prices and products,” Griffiths said.

The supermarket chain said in one example it uses data from its Nectar card loyalty scheme to track shoppers whose regular, predictable pattern of visits to stores shows they plan ahead, characteristics associated with being a more cautious and safer driver.

Such people are offered cheaper car insurance.

The practice is entirely legal but some experts say it is too intrusive.

"People like me have been warning about this sort of thing for a very long time; we'd been talking about it as a theoretical for a while and waiting for real examples," said Paul Bernal, an expert in internet privacy and companies' use of personal data at the University of East Anglia.

Bernal said the trend rings a number of alarm bells. If the data provide an overly accurate picture of the customer's lifestyle and behavior, that could breach their privacy, while if the data are, conversely, misleading, that could lead to the customer being unfairly treated, he said.

The retailer does not look at individual items purchased when pricing insurance policies, but rather a range of 'anonymised' purchases that can collectively show behavioral tendencies, Sally Marshak, a spokeswoman for Sainsbury's, said.

Tesco, Britain's largest retailer whose bank holds 8 million accounts, similarly uses data from its Clubcard loyalty scheme to offer discounts of up to 25 percent on car, home and pet insurance products.

"We use a range of data and criteria when assessing a customer's eligibility for our products, however, as an extra help for customers, for some of our products we also use Clubcard data to offer them even better value," Chris Sibbald, a spokesman for the company, said.

Campaigners like Bernal said the practice could leave some customers worse off based on their behavior, in ways they might not understand. For example, those who do not buy the right products or shop in the right way could miss out on discounts without realizing.

The retailers said they took that into account. "We're not just looking at how people fill up cars at Tesco petrol stations and whether they do that at night, because they might be a taxi driver for example and there's a reason for it, but together with other data you can build a picture," Sibbald said.

Both supermarket groups said data are only used to offer discounts to some shoppers, never to increase prices.

"We're trying to understand people's shopping habits, and then see how can you use that to tailor the products and offer some of them a better price. The key thing is we don't use it to up-price people," Sibbald said.


Tesco and Sainsbury's are Britain's two biggest retail chains, with a combined market share of the 192 billion pounds (US$256.76 billion) a year grocery market of 45 percent, according to consumer research company Kantar Worldpanel.

They both have long-established loyalty schemes allowing customers to earn points and rewards for spending on groceries, giving them a rich database of shopping habits to help with marketing. Sainsbury's, for example, offers shoppers who buy pet food discounts of up to 12.5 percent on pet insurance.

It is not unusual for companies to gather and use information in this way.

Life insurers are exploring analyzing social media to lower rates for people who are upbeat on Twitter, for example, while some motor insurers offer discounts to motorists who exhibit safe driving behavior after installing a tracking device.

But campaigners say the supermarket chains could end up with an unfair advantage due to the power of the data they hold.

The retailers' banking units offer in-store shoppers a range of banking products such as credit cards, insurance and loans, taking advantage of the regular contact with potential customers at a time when Britain's big banks are slashing branches.

"The thing people don't understand about big data is that it is fertile and generates new data, so the more a company knows about your spending habits, the more valuable each new piece of information is in predicting your actions," said Joe McNamee, executive director at European Digital Rights (EDRi), a Brussels-based association of civil rights organizations focused on digital rights and freedoms.


One potential source of protection is a new set of laws, the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which is aimed at overhauling how companies handle customer data and comes into force in May 2018.

Britain's government published a draft bill in September that would implement the bulk of GDPR.

While the rules are intended to harmonize data protection laws across Europe, they also give people better access to data held on them by companies and oblige companies to do more to get permission to obtain such data.

GDPR includes some restrictions on companies 'profiling' customers by using data about them to predict their preferences or actions, requiring customers to offer their consent.

Supermarket chains comply with the rules by including a privacy policy in the terms and conditions of loyalty card schemes that customers consent to when signing up.

UEA's Bernal said most shoppers likely do not realize those implications.

"There is an issue around informed consent here, I don't think people realize what they are signing up to, if they even read the terms and conditions at all," he said.

It remains to be seen whether the implementation of the new rules will do enough to stave off concerns about privacy and competition as big companies benefit exponentially with each new recorded purchase.

"I've not seen many examples like this," said EDRi's McNamee about the supermarkets' use of data to price financial products. "The issue of big data is something that society hasn't got to grips with yet, but there are big companies now that know more about you than you know about yourself."

(US$1 = 0.7478 pounds)

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Renault gears up for driverless cars by buying magazines, 13 Dec 2017 22:00:40 +0800PARIS: French carmaker Renault has bought a stake in a glossy magazine publishing group, its first foray into media, as it prepares to keep travellers occupied in the era of driverless cars.

Renault billed its move into media as the first among the world's automobile manufacturers, who are carrying out advanced testing of self-driving cars in France and other countries.

Logo is seen on a Renault vehicle at a dealing centre Renault store in Minsk

"This project is totally in line with Renault’s strategy, which aims to offer new, high-quality connected services and to improve the customer experience," Renault chairman Carlos Ghosn said in a statement on Wednesday.

Renault, which is conducting trials of semi-autonomous cars and plans to put totally self-driving vehicles on the road as soon as 2021, says entertainment will become a bigger chunk of business as drivers switch from speedometers and steering wheels to pastimes such as in-car entertainment and dining.

"When going from place to place – whether alone or with family or friends – we listen, look, and pay attention (to) the world around us," Ghosn said.

"This is already true of travel in today's cars, and will be even more true in the autonomous, and driverless car of tomorrow," he added.

Renault did not disclose how much it is paying for the 40 percent stake in the group which produces five publications including Challenges, an equivalent of the Fortune business magazine, as well as Historia and Sciences & Avenir.

"This project will enable millions of drivers and their passengers to have completely free access to a choice of high-quality information and content," Renault said.

(Reporting by Gilles Guillaume and Laurence Frost; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Alexander Smith)

L'Oreal turns to plant-based hair dye as natural cosmetics thrive, 13 Dec 2017 22:00:36 +0800PARIS: L'Oreal is launching its first wholly plant-based hair dye as cosmetics companies look to win over customers who are becoming increasingly wary of chemical ingredients.

The French company, the world's biggest maker of skincare and beauty products, said on Wednesday the new range based on ingredients such as henna would be aimed at professionals for use in salons across Europe from May 2018.

FILE PHOTO: A scientist speaks in front of a World map made of hair at cosmetics company L'Ore

The organic cosmetics boom has been driven by rising numbers of younger consumers rejecting chemical-based products in favor of plant-based ones.

The natural and organic beauty market was worth around US$11 billion worldwide in 2016, consultants Ernst & Young said, adding that it was likely to double by 2024.

L'Oreal believes the natural beauty market already stands at 24 billion euros (US$28.2 billion) and is growing at 12 percent a year, said Marion Brunet, the international manager of L'Oreal's professional-products business.

"There's very strong demand from women to move toward healthier formulas," Brunet said, adding that a branch of cosmetics that used to be the preserve of more militant "green" consumers 15 to 20 years ago had spread across society.

The vegan range, called Botanea, is sourced from three plants found in India and is not available for mass market consumption yet, as the different shades need to be mixed to measure.

Revenue growth at L'Oreal - founded almost 100 years ago by a chemist as a hair dye company - has benefited from a make-up boom in the age of "selfies" on social media, while its luxury brands such as Lancome are also doing well.

But its professional products division has lagged, however, with like-for-like sales growth down 0.3 percent in the nine months to September, while other areas including the smaller active cosmetics business, which caters to dermatological conditions, expanded.

L'Oreal, which spent 3.3 percent of its 26 billion euros (US$30.6 billion) in sales last year on research, rivals large groups such as Estee Lauder.

But small start-ups in skincare and beauty have acquired visibility and are reaching a greater audience through online sales and marketing in recent years.

L'Oreal sold The Body Shop earlier this year to Brazil's Natura Cosmeticos, after the label, one of the pioneers in the field of natural-based cosmetics, struggled against rising competition.

(Reporting by Sarah White; editing by Richard Lough and Louise Heavens)