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-usMalaysia may take action against WhatsApp admins for spreading fake news: Report PacificThu, 27 Apr 2017 12:51:00 +0800KUALA LUMPUR: WhatsApp group administrators could face legal action in Malaysia if they failed to curb the spread of false information among members, according to national daily Beritan Harian.

Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Johari Gilani said the existing law under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 could be invoked to take action against the administrators, particularly if they “jeopardise national security”, the newspaper reported.

WhatsApp was blocked by a judge in response to the company's alleged failure to cooperate with(Photo:AFP)

Under the Act, punishable offences include spreading false news, defamation, incitement, fraud and disclosure of communications prohibited under the Official Secrets Act.

"The administrator may be called to assist with investigations,” said Johari. “Whether action is taken depends on the facts and evidence of each case."

He added: “If the admin was directly involved or allowed false information to spread intentionally, he will be punished.”

According to Beritan Harian, Johari said WhatsApp admins need to be more responsible for the control of its members so as not to spread false information and should be a “gatekeeper to filter news before sharing” on WhatsApp or on social media.


Meanwhile, deputy president of the Malaysian Consumers Association, Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman, said the proposal to impose sanctions against WhatsApp admins should be implemented immediately.

Beritan Harian cited him as saying that false information not only causes annoyance in the community but is a threat to national security.

"In India, the government is introducing a new law which administrators of WhatsApp could be jailed if members of the group are spreading false news,” he told the newspaper.

Mohd Yusof, however, said the sanctions against the administrators involved should not be too heavy, adding that a warning would be sufficient for the first offence. He also added that many other approaches can be taken to monitor the spread of false information, such as Sedition Act 1948, Defamation Act 1957 and the Computer Crimes Act 1957 and the Penal Code, Beritan Harian reported. 

Thai mother saw daughter's Facebook Live murder PacificThu, 27 Apr 2017 12:37:50 +0800PHUKET: The distraught Thai mother of a baby girl killed by her boyfriend in a murder he broadcast on Facebook Live has described the harrowing moment she stumbled across the video and rushed to alert police.

The killing on Monday (Apr 24) evening caused revulsion both in Thailand and around the world, sparking renewed debate about what can be done by social media giants to more quickly remove live broadcasts of violent crimes, suicides and murders.

Jiranuch Trirat, a 22-year-old mother from Phuket, was left devastated after her boyfriend killed(Photo:AFP)

Jiranuch Trirat, a 22-year-old from Phuket, was left devastated after her boyfriend Wuttisan Wongtalay hung their 11-month old daughter Natalie from the side of an abandoned building before taking his own life.

He broadcast Natalie's murder on Facebook Live, a video that Jiranuch came across that evening.

"I was with my older brother and he was logging onto his Facebook," she told AFP on Thursday from a Phuket temple where daily prayers were being held for Natalie ahead of her cremation on Saturday.

"He was scrolling down and suddenly we saw the live broadcast. I turned to take a look and saw him (Wuttisan) drop my daughter with the rope and I couldn't continue to watch."

The horrifying realisation of what was unfolding sparked a desperate search by relatives and police, with the bodies of Wuttisan and Natalie found just a few hours later.

The murder video remained on Facebook for around 24 hours, prompting cries for the social network to move more swiftly to take down clips of grisly crimes and killings.

But Jiranuch said she harboured no ill will towards Facebook, stating the social network had little initial control over what users choose to upload.

"I don't blame Facebook. They are not part of the problem, we can choose to broadcast happiness or sadness," she said.

What prompted Wuttisan to take such a horrifying step remains a mystery.

Jiranuch said the two frequently argued, particularly over her ex-husband with whom she has a son nicknamed Sanook - the Thai word for fun.

"He often abused my son Sanook," she said.

But Wuttisan had always been kind to their daughter Natalie, she added, looking after her in the day while she took classes at a nearby school.

As for what her boyfriend did, Jiranuch said: "I forgive him because holding onto anger for a long time will not get my daughter back."

Vinegar offers hope in Barrier Reef starfish battle PacificThu, 27 Apr 2017 12:34:01 +0800SYDNEY: Coral-munching crown-of-thorns starfish can be safely killed by common household vinegar, scientists revealed Thursday in a discovery that offers hope for Australia's struggling Great Barrier Reef.

The predatory starfish is naturally-occurring but has proliferated due to pollution and run-off at the World Heritage-listed ecosystem, which is also reeling from two consecutive years of mass coral bleaching.

A diver injects a crown-of-thorns starfish with vinegar on the Great Barrier Reef in the hopes of(Photo:AFP)

Until now other expensive chemicals such as bile salts have been used to try and eradicate the pest -- which consumes coral faster than it can be regenerated -- but they can harm other marine organisms.

Tests by James Cook University, in collaboration with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), showed vinegar was safe, effective and cheap.

Study head Lisa Bostrom-Einarsson said crown-of-thorns were injected with vinegar at four sites on the reef over six weeks, causing them to die within 48 hours with no impact on other life.

"We recorded live coral cover, abundance of coral disease, fish abundance and diversity, fish diseases and the abundance of closely related invertebrates before, during and after the six-week study period and found no detrimental effects," she said.

Keeping crown-of-thorns under control however is a tough ask, with dive teams needing to individually inject each starfish before it dies and breaks-up.

But despite the labour-intensive job, it is far more efficient than extracting them from the water before killing them.

A major study of the reef's health published in 2012 showed cover had halved over the past 27 years and attributed 42 percent of the damage to crown-of-thorns starfish.


GBRMPA director of tourism and stewardship Fred Nucifora said the new method would be used to target reefs identified as having high conservation and tourism values.

"Culling crown-of-thorns starfish is a critical management activity to protect coral cover and boost reef resilience, particularly in the wake of coral bleaching," he said.

Earlier this month, scientists revealed the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) long Barrier Reef was suffering its second consecutive mass bleaching event due to warming sea temperatures, and said some coral had "zero prospect" of recovery.

The reef contributes more than Aus$7.0 billion (US$5.2 billion) a year to Australia's economy, supporting the livelihoods of some 70,000 people, and there have been warnings that dying coral could cost the region more than a million tourists a year.

Bostrom-Einarsson said while the innovative new method was good news, it would be tough to wipe out starfish altogether.

"There are millions of starfish on the Great Barrier Reef and each female produces around 65 million eggs in a single breeding season," she said.

"It would take a massive effort to try and cull them all individually, but we know that sustained efforts can save individual reefs."

Vinegar has now been added to the GBRMPA's list of approved control chemicals, meaning operators can apply for permits to start controlling the starfish.

Police arrest nine more democracy activists in Hong Kong, 27 Apr 2017 12:31:37 +0800HONG KONG: Nine democracy activists were arrested in Hong Kong Thursday over an anti-Beijing protest, according to campaign groups, in the latest swoop by police as protesters say they are being persecuted.

Concerns are growing that the semi-autonomous city's freedoms are under threat from Beijing, fuelling calls from some activists for greater autonomy or even a complete split from China.

The protest outside China's liaison office in Hong Kong saw scuffles as demonstrators charged(Photo:AFP)

Pro-independence activists Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung were arrested and charged Wednesday over causing chaos in the legislature after being barred from taking up their seats as lawmakers last year.

And last month nine pro-democracy activists -- including student protesters and lawmakers -- were charged for their roles in mass 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement rallies.

The spate of arrests come ahead of an expected visit by China's President Xi Jinping to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of the city by Britain back to China in 1997 on July 1.

"I believe the police have set out to arrest all street activists so they won't dare to protest when Xi Jinping visits," pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong told AFP.

Nine activists were arrested Thursday over their participation in a rally in November against China's decision to intervene in the row over whether to disqualify Yau and Baggio, according to their party offices.

That protest outside China's liaison office in Hong Kong saw scuffles as demonstrators charged barriers and police used pepper spray to drive them back.

The rally was triggered after Beijing announced it would make a special interpretation of Hong Kong's constitution to determine whether Yau and Baggio should be prevented from taking up their seats after staging an anti-China protest during their oath-taking.

Beijing's final ruling, two days after the rally, effectively ensured the pair were barred.

Two of the activists arrested Thursday belong to new pro-democracy party Demosisto, founded by student leaders Wong and Nathan Law, who is now a legislator.

Others include members of the long-standing pro-democracy party League of Social Democrats (LSD), as well as student or former student protesters.

The charges include illegal assembly and obstructing a police officer, LSD said.

Derek Lam of Demosisto was the only activist so far to emerge from the Western police station Thursday morning, and said he was charged with inciting others to cause disorder in public.

Police were unable to immediately confirm the arrests and charges.

"It is ironic that, as the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China approaches, the territory's autonomy looks increasingly fragile," said Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong.

Wang warned that the "heavy-handed" approach could backfire, pointing to 2014's mass protests, prompted by restrictions imposed by Beijing on fully free leadership elections.

Commentary: Police around the world learn to fight global-scale cybercrime, 27 Apr 2017 13:00:00 +0800From 2009 to 2016, a cybercrime network called Avalanche grew into one of the world’s most sophisticated criminal syndicates. It resembled an international conglomerate, staffed by corporate executives, advertising salespeople and customer service representatives.

Its business, though, was not standard international trade. Avalanche provided a hacker’s delight of a one-stop shop for all kinds of cybercrime to criminals without their own technical expertise but with the motivation and ingenuity to perpetrate a scam. At the height of its activity, the Avalanche group had hijacked hundreds of thousands of computer systems in homes and businesses around the world, using them to send more than a million criminally motivated emails per week.

People pose in front of a display showing the word 'cyber' in binary code, in this pictur

Our study of Avalanche, and of the groundbreaking law enforcement effort that ultimately took it down in December 2016, gives us a look at how the cybercriminal underground will operate in the future, and how police around the world must cooperate to fight back.


Successful cybercriminal enterprises need strong and reliable technology, but what increasingly separates the big players from the smaller nuisances is business acumen. Underground markets, forums and message systems, often hosted on the deep web, have created a service-based economy of cybercrime.

Just as regular businesses can hire online services – buying Google products to handle their email, spreadsheets and document sharing, and hosting websites on Amazon with payments handled by PayPal – cybercriminals can do the same. Sometimes these criminals use legitimate service platforms like PayPal in addition to others specifically designed for illicit marketplaces.

And just as the legal cloud-computing giants aim to efficiently offer products of broad use to a wide customer base, criminal computing services do the same. They pursue technological capabilities that a wide range of customers want to use more easily. Today, with an internet connection and some currency (bitcoin preferred), almost anyone can buy and sell narcotics online, purchase hacking services or rent botnets to cripple competitors and spread money-making malware.

The Avalanche network excelled at this, selling technically advanced products to its customers while using sophisticated techniques to evade detection and identification as the source by law enforcement. Avalanche offered, in business terms, “cybercrime as a service,” supporting a broad digital underground economy. By leaving to others the design and execution of innovative ways to use them, Avalanche and its criminal customers efficiently split the work of planning, executing and developing the technology for advanced cybercrime scams.


With Avalanche, renters – or the network’s operators themselves – could communicate with, and take control of, some or all of the hijacked computers to conduct a wide range of cyberattacks. The criminals could then, for example, knock websites offline for hours or longer. That in turn could let them extract ransom payments, disrupt online transactions to hurt a business’ bottom line or distract victims while accomplices employed stealthier methods to steal customer data or financial information. The Avalanche group also sold access to 20 unique types of malicious software. Criminal operations facilitated by Avalanche cost businesses, governments and individuals around the world hundreds of millions of dollars.


To date, cybercrime has offered high profits – like the US$1 billion annual ransomware market – with low risk. Cybercriminals often use technical means to obscure their identities and locations, making it challenging for law enforcement to effectively pursue them.

That makes cybercrime very attractive to traditional criminals. With a lower technological bar, huge amounts of money, manpower and real-world connections have come flooding into the cybercrime ecosystem. For instance, in 2014, cybercriminals hacked into major financial firms to get information about specific companies’ stocks and to steal investors’ personal information. They first bought stock in certain companies, then sent false email advertisements to specific investors, with the goal of artificially inflating those companies’ stock prices. It worked: Stock prices went up, and the criminals sold their holdings, raking in profits they could use for their next scam.

In addition, the internet allows criminal operations to function across geographic boundaries and legal jurisdictions in ways that are simply impractical in the physical world. Criminals in the real world must be at a crime’s actual site and may leave physical evidence behind – like fingerprints on a bank vault or records of traveling to and from the place the crime occurred. In cyberspace, a criminal in Belarus can hack into a vulnerable server in Hungary to remotely direct distributed operations against victims in South America without ever setting foot below the Equator.


All these factors present significant challenges for police, who must also contend with limited budgets and manpower with which to conduct complex investigations, the technical challenges of following sophisticated hackers through the internet and the need to work with officials in other countries.

The multinational cooperation involved in successfully taking down the Avalanche network can be a model for future efforts in fighting digital crime. Coordinated by Europol, the European Union’s police agency, the plan takes inspiration from the sharing economy.

Uber owns very few cars and Airbnb has no property; they help connect drivers and homeowners with customers who need transportation or lodging. Similarly, while Europol has no direct policing powers or unique intelligence, it can connect law enforcement agencies across the continent. This “uberisation” of law enforcement was crucial to synchroniSing the coordinated action that seized, blocked and redirected traffic for more than 800,000 domains across 30 countries.

Europol's EC3 cybercrime centre head Steven Wilson said targeting those involved in child

Through those partnerships, various national police agencies were able to collect pieces of information from their own jurisdictions and send it, through Europol, to German authorities, who took the lead on the investigation. Analysing all of that collected data revealed the identity of the suspects and untangled its complex network of servers and software. The nonprofit Shadowserver Foundation and others assisted with the actual takedown of the server infrastructure, while anti-virus companies helped victims clean up their computers.


Police are increasingly learning – often from private sector experts – how to detect and stop criminals’ online activities. Avalanche’s complex technological setup lent itself to a technique called “sinkholing”, in which malicious internet traffic is sent into the electronic equivalent of a bottomless pit. When a hijacked computer tried to contact its controller, the police-run sinkhole captured that message and prevented it from reaching the actual central controller. Without control, the infected computer couldn’t do anything nefarious.

However, interrupting the technological systems isn’t enough, unless police are able to stop the criminals too. Three times since 2010, police tried to take down the Kelihos botnet. But each time the person behind it escaped and was able to resume criminal activities using more resilient infrastructure. In early April, however, the FBI was able to arrest Peter Levashov, allegedly its longtime operator, while on a family vacation in Spain.

The effort to take down Avalanche also resulted in the arrests of five people who allegedly ran the organisation. Their removal from action likely led to a temporary disruption in the broader global cybercrime environment. It forced the criminals who were Avalanche’s customers to stop and regroup, and may offer police additional intelligence, depending on what investigators can convince the people arrested to reveal.

The Avalanche network was just the beginning of the challenges law enforcement will face when it comes to combating international cybercrime. To keep their enterprises alive, the criminals will share their experiences and learn from the past. Police agencies around the world must do the same to keep up.

Frank J. Cilluffo is director at the Centre for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University. Alec Nadeau is presidential Administrative Fellow at the Centre for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University. Rob Wainwright is director of Europol and honourary fellow at the Strategy and Security Institute at University of Exeter. This commentary originally appeared in The Conversation. Read it here.

10,000 homes to get smart shower devices for real-time information on water usage, 27 Apr 2017 12:08:00 +0800SINGAPORE: A device that lets you know how much water you are using while taking a shower will be installed in 10,000 new homes over the next few years, Singapore’s national water agency, PUB said on Thursday (Apr 27).

The agency has put out a call for proposals to supply these smart shower devices, under a pilot project called the Smart Shower Programme to be launched in the first quarter of next year.

shower head

“Such behavioural nudges could potentially change users’ habits and bring about reduction,” said PUB.

Citing a study conducted with the National University of Singapore from July 2015 to March 2016, PUB said households can save about 5L of water a person a day when provided with real-time information on water usage during showers. This could help households save about 3 per cent of their monthly water bill, PUB added.

The Request-for-Proposal, which will be launched on Apr 28 and will close at the end of May, aims to leverage economies of scale to mass-produce the devices, PUB said.

The agency also said it hopes to tap on ideas from the industry to improve the features of existing smart shower devices available in the market. This includes alternative ways of providing real-time feedback on water consumption during showers, and allowing users to download the data to their smartphones, tablets and laptops so they can monitor their progress in reducing water usage.

“Showering typically comprises 29 per cent of a household’s monthly water consumption. There is great potential to achieve substantial savings if we can change the user’s behaviour during his/her shower time,” said PUB’s Director of Water Supply (Network) Michael Toh.

“Water is a precious resource, and everyone is encouraged to make water conservation a way of life. By making users more aware of their water usage in their daily activities, we hope to encourage people to adopt good water-saving habits and use water wisely, reducing their water bill,” he added.

Are films like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the answer to superhero fatigue?, 27 Apr 2017 11:58:56 +0800TOKYO:  It was the anti-superhero film that nobody saw coming. Guardians of the Galaxy was predicted by everyone – from industry higher-ups to your neighbour’s grandmother – to be the ultimate Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) bomb, no thanks to its outlandish comic book premise and obscure characters like a gun-toting talking raccoon and a sentient walking tree. But as history and Hollywood happy endings would have it, the cinematic adventure of this band of space misfits ended up one of the biggest hits of 2014.

What could have been a colossal misstep for Marvel had instead become one of its biggest successes. Defying the odds, Guardians of The Galaxy rose to the challenge and became the game-changer of the superhero genre. 

Chris Pratt went to great lengths to build an action hero's physique for his role as Peter(Photo:AFP)

Its critical and box office triumph triggered a profound change of course for the MCU, arguably opening the doors for the likes of Deadpool (2016) and Logan (2017) to enter the realm and combat genre weariness. Before Guardians, the MCU, albeit one of Hollywood’s most lucrative franchises thanks to mainstay heroes like Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor, was, all things considered, fairly tame save for the stray alien invasion. With the expected churn of safe-but-sure sequels and tried-and-tested cross-platform appearances, both fanboys and film-goers were facing a future of inevitable superhero fatigue.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige himself acknowledged how these motley crew of intergalactic anti-heroes paved the way for MCU to take more creative risks going forward.

He revealed in previous interviews how Guardians Of The Galaxy were a definitive turning point for the studio.

“The success of Guardians just boosted our confidence to continue to go in new, fun, weird directions, and I think that led to Doctor Strange, and certainly (and) ultimately, leads to the things we’re doing in Infinity War,” Feige told comic book fansite Heroic Hollywood.

Breaking down the success of Guardians, Feige explained how the film allowed the studio to continue to expand with “unique and tonally different things.”

“And also that – which was always something we really believed but it was certainly firm proof –  the popularity of a character in publishing in no way indicates the future success of movies… The character doesn’t need to have been one of the most popular characters ever in our comics as long as they’re just a cool idea. You could make a great movie.”

He went on to stress how the MCU powers-that-be are ready to test the audience with all sorts of inter-dimensional magic they can conjure up.

“It was really Guardians, and then Strange and now Guardians 2, which is saying, ’Okay, the audience is going to stay with us on this.’ Why even attempt to make a movie out of the infinity gauntlet if you can’t really do a lot of the crazy things that happen in that Jim Starlin imagination,” he continued.

Indeed, unlike their more famous merchandise-friendly big name counterparts, the D-list characters that make up the Guardians of the Galaxy — a comic series that wasn’t widely known even among a lot of comic fans before Marvel decided to turn it into a movie — was not in and of itself a draw for audiences. Moreover, the intergalactic space opera genre was something that was pretty far from Marvel’s wheelhouse. Indie filmmaker James Gunn at the helm and a then-fairly unknown Chris Pratt — best known for playing lazy, overweight man-child Andy Dwyer in television’s Parks And Recreation — as leading hero Star-Lord weren’t exactly safe bets either.

In the end, numbers don’t lie. With a staggering worldwide box office take of US$773 million, it was obvious that cinema-goers were ready to embrace the weird and the wonderful. Now that audiences have shown with their dollars that these type of comic book movies are appealing, Marvel Studios were more than happy to capitalise on quirk and not hold back on future MCU entries taking more unusual paths.

Pratt told Channel NewsAsia he believes the secret to the original film’s success is the nerve and willingness to innovate within the typically risk-averse world of superhero blockbusters.

“I think it takes incredible courage from a director to make a different movie from the one that worked,” he said during our interview in Japan ahead of the premiere of Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2. “Most people were expecting the (first) movie not to do well. And then it did really well, so how do you defy people’s expectations again? And also make a great movie because now people have high expectations? By doing what we did in the first movie (which is) doing something unexpected, doing something different.”

Keeping things interesting and novel, according to Pratt, is especially important when it comes to making sure a film doesn't fall down the dreaded bad sequel rabbit hole.

“I think that people are tired of seeing the same movie in superhero movies, which is a good guy or a team of good guys, facing a new bad guy. A lot of the same tropes have been used over and over again," he said. “And what I think is really beautiful about Guardians is that it really transcends the genre. It becomes not so much about good versus bad, but a story of relationships, of this family that you learn to love and the conflict within that family.”

Breaking the superhero movie mould by choosing character and story over capes and tights seem like an obvious remedy to superhero fatigue. But perhaps what really works in the Guardian series’ favour, besides its refreshing tongue-firmly-in-cheek humour, is its genuineness.

As writer-director of both the original and the sequel, Gunn tells Channel NewsAsia the answer to the series’ global appeal lies in “authenticity”.

“A lot of spectacle films these days are more concerned with the explosions than the people,” he shared. “I think I honestly care more about the characters. My love for the characters come off, and the actors’ love for the characters come off. You can feel it when you see the movie. That and the work we put into it, that’s what really matters.”

Perhaps the biggest secret to combat superhero fatigue is to not see yourself as a superhero movie in the first place.

“It's a story first and foremost about characters and their stories, and who they are and nobody can ever get fatigued by that,” said Gunn. “At the same time, I also feel like we are outside of the whole concept of superhero fatigue, because we really aren’t a superhero movie, we are much more like Star Wars in many ways than we are like the Avengers. As long as movies are good, we don’t care if it’s a western or superhero movie or a mafia story or whatever, it works for me.”

Pratt summed it up best, years ago on the set of the original Guardians film: “It's not a superhero movie – it's a space opera.”

Trump tells Canada, Mexico he won't terminate NAFTA: White House, 27 Apr 2017 11:45:35 +0800WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump told the leaders of Canada and Mexico on Wednesday (Apr 27) that he will not terminate NAFTA but will renegotiate it with them, a White House statement said.

The announcement came as White House officials disclosed that Trump and his White House advisers were considering issuing an executive order to withdraw the United States from the trade pact with Canada and Mexico.

Trump Trudeau

The White House said Trump spoke by telephone with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that he would hold back from a speedy termination of NAFTA, in what was described as a "pleasant and productive" conversation.

"President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries," a White House statement said.

"It is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date through renegotiation. It is an honor to deal with both President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Trudeau, and I believe that the end result will make all three countries stronger and better," Trump was quoted as saying in the statement.

Mexico's peso and Canada's dollar fell against the U.S. dollar, with the peso shedding about 1.5 percent in just over an hour, while Canada’s “loonie” lost about 0.45 percent. Stocks in both U.S. neighbors also weakened, with Mexico’s benchmark IPC index falling more than 1 percent in 15 minutes.

The White House has been considering an executive order as early as Trump's 100th day in office on Saturday, but there was a split among his top advisers over whether to take the step.

Such an order could unravel one of the world's biggest trading blocs. News of the potential presidential action drove the Mexican and Canadian currencies lower.

Trump had threatened to renegotiate the NAFTA pact during the election campaign as he said it had destroyed American jobs, although he has backed off tough action in trade since taking office in January.

“There is some discussion,” said another source with direct knowledge of the discussions. “There are some who are pushing for things sooner rather than later but that’s the same on every issue.”

A disruption in trade between the three NAFTA partners could wreak havoc in the auto sector and other industries, hitting profits at companies that have benefited from zero-level tariffs and Mexico's relatively low labor costs. It would also hit U.S. agricultural exports hard.

"To totally abandon that agreement means that those gains are lost," said Paul Ferley, an economist at Royal Bank of Canada.

Chicago Board of Trade corn futures fell 5 cents a bushel, reflecting concerns that the pact was under real threat.

Trump has repeatedly vowed to pull out from the 23-year-old trade pact if he is unable to renegotiate it with better terms for America. He has long accused Mexico of destroying U.S. jobs. The United States went from running a small trade surplus with Mexico in the early 1990s to a $63 billion deficit in 2016.

Trump has stopped short of a formal threat to kill NAFTA so far, but legal experts say he likely has the authority as president to give a 60-day notice that America is exiting the pact. It was under an executive order signed by Trump on Jan. 23 that the United States pulled out of the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Details about the draft order on NAFTA were not immediately available.

Trump has faced some setbacks since he took office in January, including a move by courts to block parts of his orders to limit immigration.

Withdrawing from NAFTA would enable him to say he delivered on one of his key campaign promises, but it could also hurt him in states that voted for him in the election.

"Mr. President, America's corn farmers helped elect you,” the National Corn Growers Association said in a statement. "Withdrawing from NAFTA would be disastrous for American agriculture."


The first administration source told Reuters that there were diverging opinions within the U.S. government about how to proceed and it was possible that Trump could sign the executive order before the 100-day mark of his presidency.

The source noted that the administration wanted to tread carefully.

“There is talk about what steps we can take to start the process of renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA,” this source said.

Mexico had expected to start NAFTA renegotiations in August but the possible executive order could add urgency to the timeline.

The Mexican government had no comment on the draft order. The country's foreign minister said on Tuesday that Mexico would walk away from the negotiating table rather than accept a bad deal.

Trump recently ramped up his criticism of Canada and this week ordered 20 per cent tariffs on imports of Canadian softwood lumber, setting a tense tone as the three countries prepared to renegotiate the pact.

Canada said it was ready to come to talks on renewing NAFTA at any time.

"At this moment NAFTA negotiations have not started. Canada is ready to come to the table at any time," said Alex Lawrence, a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. 

Obama to get US$400,000 for Wall Street speech, 27 Apr 2017 11:19:30 +0800NEW YORK: Former United States president Barack Obama is set to receive US$400,000 for a speaking engagement at a Wall Street conference, according to media reports on Wednesday (Apr 26).

In what will be one of his first paid speeches, Obama will be a keynote speech at investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald’s healthcare conference in September, the Washington Post reported.

Barack Obama

This is reportedly twice as much as what Hillary Clinton charged Goldman Sachs for three speeches after she left the State Department.

Reaction has been mixed to the news, as Obama was a critic of Wall Street’s excesses during his time in office. An op-ed in the Washington Post by Aaron Blake said the speech “sets a dubious precedent” as the Democrats are “trying to be the anti-Wall Street party”.

Whereas Samuel Sinyangwe, a well-known American activist, tweeted: “White men made millions for crashing the economy. Obama should get at least 400k to speak on how he saved it.”

Obama made a return to the public arena on Monday, speaking to students at the University of Chicago, where his presidential library will be built.

British Airways offloads couple at military base over business class row, 27 Apr 2017 11:10:28 +0800LISBON: British Airways offloaded a couple from a London to Jamaica flight at a Portuguese air force base Wednesday after a row broke out over their demands for an upgrade to business class, military officials said.

"The pilot decided to land in Lajes in the island of Terceira because of a dispute between cabin crew and a couple who wanted to be transferred from economy class to first class," an air force spokesman told AFP.

File photo of a British Airways Airbus A380 at Heathrow airport in London

He said the couple, from Britain, had filmed the spat on a mobile phone.

"The British couple will remain in Terceira and will be questioned by police," he said.

The Boeing 777 had left London for the Jamaican capital Kingston late Wednesday.

Tuas West Extension MRT stations to open Jun 18, 27 Apr 2017 10:00:11 +0800SINGAPORE: Four new MRT stations on the new Tuas West Extension (TWE) will begin operations on Jun 18, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Thursday (Apr 27).

Comprising four aboveground stations – Gul Circle, Tuas Crescent, Tuas West Road and Tuas Link – the TWE is expected to serve 100,000 commuters daily.

Gul circle MRT station

Commuters working in the Jurong and Tuas industrial estates can expect significant time savings, LTA said. For example, a journey from Ang Mo Kio to Tuas West can be cut from about 1 hour and 40 minutes to slightly more than an hour with the new extension.

Tuas Link MRT station

LTA also said it will enhance the existing bus service network to further improve transfers for commuters and accessibility to the area. Operational details of the TWE and improvements to the bus network will be announced in the coming weeks, it said.

The TWE will operate on the new signalling system to be used on the rest of the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL). Besides the four stations, the TWE project also includes the construction of the Tuas viaduct, which opened on Feb 18 this year, as well as a 26-hectare integrated depot, which provides stabling and maintenance facilities for up to 60 trains, including the additional 13 NSEWL trains purchased for the TWE.

Tuas West extension

An open house for the new extension will be held on Jun 16, where all four stations will be opened from 12pm to 8pm. Members of the public can ride the trains along the TWE for free, and take part in games and activities, LTA said.

To raise awareness about the TWE, LTA will hold roving exhibitions in the weeks leading up to the opening. The exhibitions will be held for 10 days at four stations on the East-West Line: Between 7am and 9am at Jurong East, Boon Lay, Pioneer and Joo Koon; and between 11am and 1pm at Boon Lay and Joo Koon. 

TWE exhibitions

Employment growth in 2017 expected to stay modest, uneven across sectors: MAS, 27 Apr 2017 12:00:00 +0800SINGAPORE: Employment growth in 2017 is expected to be largely unchanged from last year, said the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in its latest macroeconomic review published Thursday (Apr 27).

Overall employment growth was flat in the second half of 2016, in contrast to the 28,700 increase in the same period in the previous year.

Office workers walk to the train station during evening rush hour in the financial district of Sing

Resident employment expanded in the second half of 2016, with a total of 11,400 residents securing jobs, mainly in sectors such as accommodation and food, finance and insurance, as well as administrative and support services.

However, this was offset by a 11,700 reduction in foreign employment, leaving overall employment largely unchanged.

Growth was uneven across sectors, with employment gains in the services industries offset by contractions in manufacturing and construction.

"Subdued external demand, together with domestic factors including business restructuring, tightened foreign worker policy and population ageing has lowered labour demand and supply in recent years," said the report.

It added that employment growth is expected to remain uneven across sectors: Stronger in social services areas such as healthcare and education - which are seeing higher manpower requirements - but weaker in manufacturing and construction.

Unemployment rates could also increase slightly this year for both overall and resident rates amid soft labour demand, the report said.

For wages, MAS predicted that resident wage growth could decrease this year, averaging closer to 3 per cent, lower than the 3.7 per cent growth seen last year.

Singapore's growth in 2017 to be fuelled by external demand: MAS, 27 Apr 2017 12:00:00 +0800SINGAPORE: Trade-related sectors - especially those associated with information technology - will drive Singapore’s economic growth in 2017, according to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

In its half-yearly macroeconomic review released on Thursday (Apr 27), the central bank said Singapore's GDP was expected to come in at about 1 to 3 per cent this year. 

Ships are anchored along the shipping channel off the waters of Singapore(Photo:CNA)

MAS said the faster pace of global economic activity should benefit trade-related sectors. For instance, electronics are expected to see a boost from new mobile phone product launches.

Recovery in the rest of the manufacturing sector, however, is expected to remain “patchy” in the near term, said the central bank.

Meanwhile, the review also found that the outlook for Singapore’s trade partners was looking up. For instance, stronger labour numbers from the US suggested consumption growth remained supported, said MAS.

Growth in Asia was also projected to expand by a stronger 4.8 per cent in 2017, with external demand re-emerging as a growth driver for the region.

On the home front, the report predicted domestic-oriented sectors would register more muted growth. 

MAS noted that domestic economic activity had improved over the last two quarters, although this was uneven across the different industries. 

Looking forward, retail and food services will face cyclical and structural challenges amid a soft labour market, subdued consumer confidence and greater competitive pressures, it said.

For the year as a whole, average prices are expected to be higher than 2016. Singapore's inflation as measured by the consumer price index (CPI) is forecast to come in at 0.5 to 1.5 per cent, while core inflation, which excludes the cost of accommodation and private road transport, is projected to be 1 to 2 per cent.

Energy-related items will be the main driver of the projected rise in the CPI. Other domestic business costs are also likely to rise "modestly" this year, partly due to administrative price increases such as the hike in water prices, MAS said. 

However, the central bank added that amid the soft economic environment and labour market, the impact of higher external and domestic costs on consumer prices should be muted.

Formula One: Hamilton determined to avoid Sochi 'screw-up', 27 Apr 2017 07:46:58 +0800SOCHI, Russia: Lewis Hamilton will arrive in Sochi ahead of this weekend's Russian Grand Prix determined not to lose any more ground in his tightly-contested battle with Sebastian Vettel in this year's title race.

The three-time world champion knows that even the smallest of errors, by driver or team, can decide the outcome after revealing that he suffered from a minor issue in Bahrain that may have cost him pole in qualifying.

Lewis Hamilton Apr 27

The Briton said his Mercedes car had a slight problem with the engagement of its Drag Reduction System (DRS) during the decisive session and this may have handed his team-mate Valtteri Bottas his maiden pole position.

"It's painful," said Hamilton, talking about his realisation that just a fraction of a second may have been so costly in that race.

"I lost two tenths from Turn 10 to 11 when the DRS didn't engage in qualifying and I lost half a tenth out of the last corner. So, I should easily have been on pole."

Hamilton's pain was moderated by the knowledge that four-time champion Vettel was faster in the race in his Ferrari, even though his advantage was only marginal as the Englishman stormed after him in the closing laps.

"I lost position at the start, solely my fault," added Hamilton. "Then you've got the time lost in the pit-lane and you practice and practice and practice and practice and practice - and you only have 20 opportunities this year.

"So when you screw up, man, it's painful. There's no other way of saying it. When you guys mess up in your job, I don't know how you feel about it, but particularly when it has big consequences, potentially, I'm sure you feel gutted as well.

"And so I try to handle it the best way I can, but it eats you up a little bit inside and you've just got to end up trying to cope and move forward."

Hamilton's DRS failed to engage on the back straight in Bahrain and, he hopes, he can avoid a similar weekend of frustration back at the Sochi Autodrome, a part-street circuit built around the Olympic Park that hosted the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, by the Black Sea.

History suggests he should start the race as favourite as Mercedes won all three of the previous contests in 2014, 2015 and 2016, Hamilton triumphing in the first two and retired champion German Nico Rosberg last year.

The Mercedes team also enjoyed one-two finishes in 2014 and 2016 while Vettel can point to one podium finish with Ferrari, taking second place in 2015.

It is expected to be a very different contest this time with Ferrari a greater threat in race trim even if Mercedes can maintain their run of three pole positions at the circuit.

After three rounds this year, Vettel and Ferrari have won twice and Hamilton and Mercedes once, an outcome that has put Vettel on 68 points ahead of Hamilton on 61 ahead of the Russian race.

A rueful Hamilton added: "I don't remember thinking it was necessarily my fault we did not win in Australia, not in the sense that I ran out of tyres and had to pit ...

"But in Bahrain there were certain things and if they were perfect, I would have been in a far better position to fight for the win.... And I didn't put myself in that position.

"It's only a small percentage, which is what racing should be all about, but we want to operate at the top end."

PM May hosts EU leaders as Brexit positions harden, 27 Apr 2017 07:34:17 +0800LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May hosted a "useful working dinner" with key EU Brexit negotiators on Wednesday (Apr 26), as the bloc hardens its position ahead of a summit to lay down its "red lines".

May greeted European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker outside 10 Downing Street ahead of their first face-to-face talks since she triggered the two-year process of withdrawing from the European Union.

Theresa May Apr 27

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier also attended what Downing Street described afterwards as a "useful working dinner", joined by Britain's Brexit minister David Davis and finance minister Philip Hammond.

The EU has toughened its strategy, making new demands over financial services, immigration and the bills Britain must settle before ending its 44-year-old membership in the bloc.

Ahead of the meeting May's spokesman predicted the rights of EU citizens would be on the table, although Downing Street gave little detail of the dinner discussions.

"The PM had a constructive meeting this evening with President Juncker of the European Commission.

"Following the UK's letter of notification under Article 50, she reiterated the UK's commitment to achieving a deep and special partnership with the European Union," a statement from the prime minister's office said.

The EU's latest draft negotiating guidelines, agreed on Monday by Barnier and European diplomats, point to months of difficult talks ahead as Brussels seeks to ensure Britain does not get a better deal outside the bloc than inside.

According to the document, seen by AFP, the other 27 EU countries will seek to hold Britain liable for the bloc's costs for at least a year after it leaves in 2019 - longer than was previously proposed.

Britain will also be required to give EU citizens permanent residency after living there for five years, in a challenge for May's Conservative government, which has vowed to limit immigration.

The guidelines recommend that Britain's dominant finance industry will not necessarily be covered by any future trade deal with the EU and that it must also stick to the bloc's rules if it wants easy access to EU markets.

May has committed to pulling Britain out of Europe's single market to end free movement of EU citizens into Britain, but says she wants to form a new partnership with the bloc.

Ahead of the dinner Davis said there would be "difficult issues to confront" in the negotiations, but the chief Brexiteer asserted that Britain "has a very good reason to feel optimistic".


After starting the Article 50 process of leaving the EU last month, May is seeking to shore up her mandate for the Brexit talks in a snap election on Jun 8, with polls suggesting her Conservatives will return with an increased majority.

In recent weeks, she has held talks with senior EU figures, including European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and European Council chief Donald Tusk, who visited Downing Street on Apr 6.

But Poland's EU transport commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska warned in an interview with Germany's Die Welt newspaper that Britain "can't have everything in the end. They can't have their cake and eat it".

And Ireland's EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan said Britain was no competition for the bloc when it came to securing trade deals.

"It will be a long time before the UK gets a third country deal ahead of the EU. There's been clear evidence of that in recent times," he told reporters in Brussels. "Size matters when it comes to trade deals."

The leaders of the other 27 EU nations will meet on Apr 29 to set down the bloc's red lines, though the talks will not begin until June.

Twitter gets lift from uptick in user numbers, 27 Apr 2017 06:54:19 +0800WASHINGTON: Twitter shares surged on Wednesday (Apr 26) after its quarterly update showed improving growth in user numbers, offsetting concerns over a decline in revenue and another net loss for the social network.

The first quarter results came in better than most forecasts for Twitter, which has struggled to keep pace in the fast-moving world of social media.


The closely watched metric of monthly active users grew nine percent from the same period a year ago to 328 million. Twitter said daily active usage rose 14 per cent without offering a specific figure.

Net loss narrowed to US$62 million from US$80 million a year earlier for Twitter, which has never reported a profit.

Revenues meanwhile fell eight per cent to US$548 million - which would normally be troubling for a social media group, but the figure was not as bad as feared.

"This past quarter has given us a lot of confidence in our focus and execution and excitement for our path ahead," Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey told a conference call.

Dorsey said Twitter remains "focused on making progress" toward achieving profitability, but offered no specific goal.

"We're delivering on our goal to build a service that people love to use, every day, and we're encouraged by the audience growth momentum we saw in the first quarter," he said in the earnings release.

Twitter shares rallied 7.8 per cent to close at US$15.82, the highest level since February, suggesting an easing of fears about the path forward for the micro-blogging service.


Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research said in a tweet: "Much better results today from Twitter, across several categories. MAU (monthly active user) growth best for two years (though still historically low)."

Dawson added in a blog post that Twitter still faces challenges from revenue declines but that "the improved user growth and some signs of increased advertiser investment are more reassuring for long-term growth."

Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research said Twitter's results were "better than expected, with generally positive user trends" but that it still faces a difficult road ahead.

"Twitter may need to raise additional cash to fund its business given the degree to which it needs to continue spending to support an optimal business plan," Wieser said in a research note.

"Investor sentiment around Twitter will undoubtedly swing wildly around recent momentum in any given direction, making the stock itself riskier than the company in many ways."

Twitter has been seeking to broaden its appeal beyond its core user base of celebrities, politicians and journalists, ramping up efforts in video and live sports, notably.

But the company has failed to live up to early expectations, while Facebook and other social networks have been growing at a faster pace. As a reminder of Twitter's woes, Facebook-owned Instagram on Wednesday reported it has 700 million users, while the leading social network itself has more than 1.8 billion.


It remains to be seen if Twitter will reap benefits from the prolific tweeting of President Donald Trump, who uses the network to connect with his base, and often to make policy announcements.

Twitter chief operating officer Anthony Noto told analysts on the conference call there is "some evidence that we benefitted from our new and resurrected users" who follow politics.

He suggested the trend was being driven both by political players' growing use of the platform, and the fact major news organizations are increasingly migrating onto Twitter.

"As you know, we believe Twitter is the best at showing you what's happening in the world and what's being talked about," he said.

"Having the political leaders of the world as well as news agencies participating in driving that, is an important element to reinforcing what we're the best at."

Advertising continued to make up the lion's share of Twitter revenue - but ad revenues were down 11 per cent from a year ago to US$474 million.

A tweet from Twitter's investor relations arm noted that "we continue to expect revenue growth to meaningfully lag audience growth in 2017."

Football: Dortmund stun Bayern in German Cup semi-final, 27 Apr 2017 06:19:27 +0800MUNICH, Germany: Borussia Dortmund fought back to stun bitter rivals Bayern Munich 3-2 on Wednesday (Apr 26) to reach the German Cup final and shatter the Bavarian giants' dreams of the double.

A brilliant strike from Ousmane Dembele 15 minutes from the end settled the semi-final tie at Munich's Allianz Arena which had seen Dortmund trail 2-1 at half-time.

Dortmund Apr 27(Photo:AFP)

"This is the biggest moment of my career with Dortmund. It's hard to come to Munich and get a win," beamed Dembele, 19, who only joined Borussia for the start of the season.

The result is a dramatic turn-around for Thomas Tuchel's Dortmund who were hammered 4-1 by runaway leaders Bayern in Munich in the Bundesliga just three weeks ago.

"We came from 2-1 down and still won - that's crazy," beamed Tuchel. "We had completely written off our 4-1 defeat in the league. We played well for 20 minutes and then we let it slip.

"After the break, we kept improving and improving, from the 60th minute we were very good. We certainly had a bit of luck too."

The loss is a disaster for Bayern's coach Carlo Ancelotti following the Bavarian giants' Champions League quarter-final exit at the hands of Real Madrid.

The cup exit in Munich leaves Bayern winless in their last five games following back-to-back losses to Real, plus draws with Mainz and Leverkusen in the league.

Ancelotti's Bayern are eight points clear in the Bundesliga with four games left.

However, their dreams of repeating last season's league and cup double, under Ancelott's predecessor Pep Guardiola, are over.

"I think it's too early to talk about the season, we're still trying to win the Bundesliga," said Ancelotti when asked about the down-turn in fortunes this April.

"We're disappointed, we had our chances to go 3-1 up. This is not a good moment, but we have to focus on the Bundesliga."

In a repeat of last year's final at Berlin's Olympic Stadium, which Bayern won in a penalty shoot-out, Marco Reus put Dortmund ahead after 19 minutes following a mistake by Munich's Javi Martinez.

The Spanish international's lazy back pass was snapped up by Dortmund midfielder Raphael Guerreiro, whose snot hit the post and Reus drilled the rebound.

Martinez made amends by equalising with a header nine minutes later before Mats Hummels put Bayern 2-1 ahead at half-time.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made it 2-2 on 69 minutes when he headed home a superb Dembele cross.

That paved the way for the French teenager to hit the winner with a curling left-foot shot to break Bayern's hearts.

"That is a huge disappointment," said Bayern's stunned captain Philipp Lahm. "You could see when it was 2-2 that we really wanted to reach the final. We didn't play well in the first 15 minutes, but then we improved. First, we have to absorb this setback."

Dortmund will play in a fourth consecutive final on May 27, when they face Eintracht Frankfurt, who reached the final on Tuesday with a penalty shoot-out win over Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Football: PSG rout Monaco to reach French Cup final, 27 Apr 2017 06:13:39 +0800PARIS: Edinson Cavani celebrated his new contract with his 45th goal of the season as holders Paris Saint-Germain demolished an inexperienced Monaco 5-0 to reach next month's French Cup final against Angers.

Julian Draxler prodded PSG ahead on 26 minutes at the Parc des Princes and Cavani, who on Tuesday signed an extension through to 2020, swiftly doubled the lead as Unai Emery's side dominated their understrength opponents.

Monaco Apr 27

Safwan Mbae bundled into his own net just after half-time and Blaise Matuidi tapped in a fourth before Marquinhos rounded out a resounding victory in the final minute.

PSG thrashed Monaco 4-1 at the start of the month to lift their fourth straight League Cup title and are chasing a third successive sweep of the domestic trophies in France.

However, Monaco lead the reigning champions on goal difference with a game in hand in Ligue 1 - Leonardo Jardim's team also face Juventus next week in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.

With the Portuguese prioritising Europe and Saturday's league clash against Toulouse, Andrea Raggi and Valere Germain were the only regulars to start for Monaco in the French capital.

Abdou Diallo forced Alphonse Areola into an excellent save to his right with a header on 20 minutes, but the floodgates opened for PSG once Morgan De Sanctis gifted Draxler the opening goal.

Monaco's 40-year-old reserve goalkeeper spilled a straightforward effort from Angel Di Maria, allowing Cavani to nip in and divert the ball across goal for Draxler to slot home.

The Uruguayan continues to edge closer towards Zlatan Ibrahimovic's 50-goal haul from last season. He moved to within five of the Swede's total with a lovely flick to steer a pass from Di Maria into the far corner.

The Argentine winger, whose poor form had seen him linked with a move to China in January, has been a revelation since the turn of the year and nearly added a third as his teasing low cross bounced back off the post.

Mbae compouded Monaco's problems when he turned another Di Maria delivery into his own net on 51 minutes, while Matuidi was the beneficiary of the former Real Madrid and Manchester United star's unselfishness as he turned in a fourth two minutes later.

Marquinhos swept in a fifth after Maxwell's drive hit Matuidi and dropped invitingly into the Brazilian's path and PSG will now fancy their chances of landing a record 11th French Cup title.

On Tuesday, Angers reached the final for the first time in 60 years - and just the second in club history - after a 2-0 home win over Guingamp.

Thomas Mangani struck in the first half at a packed Stade Raymond Kopa and goalkeeper Alexandre Letellier saved Jimmy Briand's 88th-minute penalty, before Karl Toko Ekambi struck in stoppage time.

Fed, wary of inflation, could lean against Trump's tax cut, 27 Apr 2017 06:07:16 +0800WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump's plan to slash business and household taxes could shift the US economy into higher gear, but it may have one effect the White House would not welcome - interest rates ratcheted higher than expected by a wary central bank.

The Trump administration says hundreds of billions of dollars fed into the economy via deep cuts in business taxes and more generous exemptions for individuals will unleash a wave of investment and make the US economy more competitive than ever.

US Federal Reserve Building(Photo:AFP)

But the plan, if approved in the form Trump officials outlined on Wednesday (Apr 26), could add inflationary fuel to an economy already running near full capacity, a risk Federal Reserve officials have been warning about since Trump got elected.

Confronted with the prospect of massive cuts that would slash the corporate tax rate to 15 per cent from 35 per cent and overhaul the personal tax code, Fed officials will need to start debating if they can maintain a measured pace of rate hikes or they might need to move faster, say analysts and economists who follow the US central bank.

The Fed aims to hold inflation at around two per cent, and is close to that threshold, with its target short term rate expected to rise two more times, to about 1.5 percentage points, by the end of the year.

Trump has said he hopes low rates will continue, a potential source of friction with the Fed if officials do decide they need to move faster because of his policies.

An estimated up to US$700 billion a year in tax cuts could threaten to derail such a scenario, especially if not all of that money finds its way into productive investments, or drives price and wage hikes.

"The premise is that all the tax savings get plowed into high-return investments to generate growth. But if they don't and they just get churned around into M&A and other financial engineering things, it's even worse because you're raising risks elsewhere in the economy," said Mark Mazur, former US treasury assistant secretary for tax policy during the Obama administration, now head of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Centre in Washington.

Uncertainty as to whether and in what shape the plan will get implemented adds to other challenges the Fed faces in trying to chart its course over the next several months.


The threat of a government shutdown and renewed debate over the federal debt ceiling late this summer or early in the fall will test both the new administration and the Fed's ability to set its policy course.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers need to pass a series of bills to keep the government running, but are sparring over issues such as whether to fund a border wall with Mexico.

Government closures, forced budget cuts, and a tense 2013 debt ceiling debate have thrown the Fed off course before, dragging down economic growth and idling hundreds of thousands of workers.

Taken together, the coming discussions will be critical for the Fed and for world markets looking for proof Trump can oversee a functioning government, said David Stockton, a former Fed research director now with the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

"If you have a shutdown followed by a serious flirtation with default ... some of the optimism built into household and business confidence could deflate and deflate pretty quickly," Stockton said. "If all of a sudden it begins to look like even with one party in control nothing seems to be happening, it could be a shock."

For the Fed, those would be self-inflicted wounds in an otherwise calm economic environment.

From healthy corporate profits to strong consumer confidence and geopolitical developments like the recent French election results, events have been breaking in favour of steady US growth and job gains - and a gradual pace of Fed rate increases.

Policymakers currently foresee two more rate increases this year, a view investors largely accept in how they have priced different securities.

So far, policymakers have been hesitant to mold their thinking too much around speculation about what Trump might do because details have been scant and Congress' reaction uncertain.

With the scope of the tax plan now revealed and fiscal deadlines on the horizon, that is now likely to change - for better or worse.

Though the Republicans now control both the White House and the Congress, there is no guarantee they will easily reach agreement on either spending or tax plans, or on the debt ceiling.

Divisions in the GOP doomed Trump's first stab at healthcare overhaul, and some Republican lawmakers are likely to oppose either raising the debt limit or cutting taxes too much because of the larger deficits that would produce.

"The next few months are going to be make or break. They are going to have to show they are going to get something done," said IHS Markit economist Chris Christopher.

Football: Eriksen stunner fires Spurs, Huth helps Arsenal, 27 Apr 2017 05:19:51 +0800LONDON: Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen netted a superb 30-yard goal to down Crystal Palace 1-0 on Wednesday (Apr 26) and keep Tottenham Hotspur's Premier League title hopes alive.

Leaders Chelsea, who beat Tottenham 4-2 in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday, went seven points clear by beating Southampton on Tuesday, but Spurs' win trimmed the gap back to four points.

Tottenham Apr 27

"It was unbelievable - a very good performance," Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino told Sky Sports at Selhurst Park. "It was good to get the three points and be alive in the race for the title. The challenge is to keep going."

Eriksen struck in the 78th minute and Arsenal also left it late, Robert Huth's 85th-minute own goal giving Arsene Wenger's men a 1-0 win that left them four points off the Champions League places.

Palace had won six, drawn one and lost one of their previous eight league games and had the best of the first half at Selhurst Park, Christian Benteke working Hugo Lloris and Andros Townsend firing over.

Pochettino took decisive action at half-time, sending on Son Heung-Min and Moussa Sissoko in place of Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama.

Palace lost Mamadou Sakho to a potentially serious injury in the 57th minute, the in-form centre-back, who is on loan from Liverpool, stretchered off after twisting his left knee.

"He has hyperextended the knee," said Palace manager Sam Allardyce, whose side remain 12th. "It is certainly serious enough to keep him out for who knows how long. We won't know until we diagnose it, but if it is ligament (damage), it may be the end (of his loan spell)."

Dele Alli scored a glorious goal for Spurs at Selhurst Park last season, but he squandered a good chance shortly before the hour, volleying wide from Kyle Walker's right-wing cross.

Eriksen came to the rescue with 12 minutes to play, gathering Harry Kane's pass and arrowing a glorious shot into the bottom-left corner to secure an eighth successive league win.


Huth's unwitting intervention allowed Arsenal to prolong the momentum from their dogged 2-1 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals on Sunday.

On a subdued night, and in front of many empty seats at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal went closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half with an Alexis Sanchez shot that cannoned back off the crossbar.

Wenger threw on Danny Welbeck, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey in the second half, ditching the back-three system he has been using of late.

Victory looked likely to elude the hosts until five minutes from time when Nacho Monreal's shot took a huge deflection off Huth and looped over Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal.

The win lifted Arsenal one place to sixth, four points behind fourth-place Manchester City and three points below fifth-place Manchester United.

Arsenal have played the same number of goals as City and United, who meet in the Manchester derby on Thursday.

"Leicester were hard to break down, but we were patient and did not give away any chances," said Wenger, whose side visit Spurs in the north London derby this Sunday.

"Every win gives you a little more momentum. I don't have a preference for the Manchester derby. We don't have to look much at the others. We just have to look after ourselves. The target is clear for us."

The evening's other game also ended 1-0, Marten de Roon's eighth-minute goal seeing off bottom club Sunderland to give Middlesbrough a glimmer of hope in their battle for survival.

It was Boro's first win in 17 league games and took them to within six points of safety with four games to play, while Sunderland remain 12 points adrift of the survival threshold.

English Premier League results:

Arsenal 1 Leicester 0
Middlesbrough 1 Sunderland 0
Crystal Palace 0 Tottenham 1

Football: South America confederation lost US$140m to graft, 27 Apr 2017 04:49:59 +0800SANTIAGO: The head of South American football confederation CONMEBOL said on Wednesday (Apr 26) the body lost more than US$140 million to graft under former managers indicted in a US corruption investigation.

Between 2010 and 2014 "CONMEBOL was defrauded of more than US$140 million," its president Alejandro Dominguez told AFP after unveiling the findings of an external audit at the confederation's congress.

Gianni Infantino(Photo:AFP)

South American football officials have been heavily implicated in the US-led investigation into corruption in world football which led to the downfall of FIFA president Sepp Blatter in 2015.

Dominguez of Paraguay was appointed to root out graft in CONMEBOL after investigations indicated officials had pocketed millions of dollars in bribes for awarding sponsorship and marketing contracts.

Three former presidents of CONMEBOL - Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay and two Paraguayans, Nicolas Leoz and Juan Angel Napout - have been indicted in the US investigation, accused of accepting bribes.

Figueredo and Leoz are under house arrest pending investigations. They are among some 40 international officials detained in the so-called "Fifagate" scandal.

The audit released on Wednesday details "suspect operations recorded in the 2010 to 2014 period under the managements of Nicolas Leoz and Eugenio Figueredo."

The transactions "represent institutional diversion of funds for personal gain," the report says.

Wednesday's CONMEBOL congress in the Chilean capital Santiago was attended by FIFA chief Gianni Infantino, who took over the organisation following Blatter's resignation.

"There have been some complicated, very difficult times (in football), but it's all over. Now we have to concentrate on the future, we have to show we are transparent," Infantino said.

"I must congratulate the new CONMEBOL on its new spirit and new way of working."

After taking over as the head of CONMEBOL last year, Dominguez oversaw changes including a separation of political functions and day-to-day management and term limits for officials.

He also limited the length of contracts between CONMEBOL and its sponsors.

US stocks dip as Trump releases tax overhaul plan, 27 Apr 2017 04:31:39 +0800NEW YORK: Wall Street stocks finished slightly lower on Wednesday following mixed earnings and after the White House unveiled details of its long-awaited tax reform plan.

Tax cuts have been Wall Street's top priority since the election of President Donald Trump. But analysts characterised the muted reaction to the announcement as a pullback after a strong rally the last two days.

NYSE Apr 27

"We got a big run up on the past few days as details of the tax plan had been leaked out and there was a bit of modest selling on the news," said Alan Skrainka, chief investment officer at Cornerstone Wealth Management.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 21.03 points (0.10 per cent) to end the session at 20,975.09.

The broad-based S&P 500 also slipped 1.16 points (0.05 per cent) to end at 2,387.45, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index finished at 6,025.23, dipping 0.27 points from Tuesday's record when it closed above 6,000 for the first time.

Dow member Boeing dropped 1.0 per cent after reporting a 7.3 per cent drop in revenues to US$21 billion, falling short of the US$21.3 billion expected by analysts. It was only the second time in 21 quarters the company disappointed expectations.

Procter & Gamble lost 2.5 per cent after it revealed declines in sales and profits, saying challenging geopolitical and economic conditions hit consumer demand.

US Steel plunged 26.7 per cent after reporting a loss of US$180 million in the first quarter and slashing its forecast for full-year earnings to US$260 million from the prior US$535 million.

Twitter surged 7.9 per cent as monthly active users grew nine percent from the same period a year ago to 328 million.

Other companies releasing earnings included United Technologies, which gained 1.2 per cent, Chipotle Mexican Grill, which gained 2.0 per cent, Edwards Lifesciences, which surged 10.5 per cent, and Seagate Technology, which slumped 16.8 per cent.

Oscar-winning 'Silence of the Lambs' director dies, 27 Apr 2017 04:25:55 +0800NEW YORK: Jonathan Demme, Oscar-winning director of "The Silence of the Lambs" whose four-decade career produced a staggering array of work from romantic comedy to social and political documentaries, died on Wednesday (Apr 26). He was 73.

Demme passed away in New York surrounded by his family after a battle with cancer, his publicist announced. He will be laid to rest in a private, family funeral.

Jonathan Demmy Apr 27

He remains best known for the smash-hit 1991 horror-thriller starring Anthony Hopkins as serial killer Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling. The movie was box office gold and a dazzling critical success.

It swept the 1992 Academy Awards, winning five Oscars including best picture, best actor for Hopkins and best actress for Foster.

"I am heart-broken to lose a friend, a mentor, a guy so singular and dynamic you'd have to design a hurricane to contain him," Foster wrote in a statement published by Variety magazine online.

"JD, most beloved, something wild, brother of love, director of the lambs. Love that guy. Love him so much," she wrote.

Demme's publicist said he died from complications from esophageal cancer and is survived by his three children, Jos, 21, Brooklyn, 26, Ramona, 29.

The director's success with "Silence of the Lambs" gave Demme the commercial springboard to direct "Philadelphia" in 1993, a ground-breaking Hollywood blockbuster that won Tom Hanks his first Academy Award for playing a gay lawyer fired for contracting HIV and fighting for justice.

US critics say the movie changed the way Hollywood portrayed the AIDS crisis and revolutionised mainstream film's portrayal of gay and lesbian characters.

Demme's most recent feature film was the less well received "Ricki and the Flash," starring Meryl Streep as a divorced mom who ditches her family to follow her dream of rock-n-roll stardom before a crisis compels her to return.


"Jonathan passed away early this morning in his Manhattan apartment, surrounded by his wife, Joanne Howard, and three children," Demme's publicist said in a brief statement.

His death sparked an outpouring of grief for a deeply respected director, also recognized for highlighting causes such as the plight of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and Haiti.

"My man Demme was the kindest, most generous. A MASSIVE soul. He lived in love. And rests in peace," wrote director Barry Jenkins, whose coming of age drama "Moonlight" about a poor African-American boy won this year's best picture Oscar.

Born on Feb 22, 1944 on Long Island, New York, Demme went to high school in Miami and briefly studied chemistry at the University of Florida in the hope of becoming a veterinarian.

It was after flunking science studies that he turned to writing movie reviews and got a publicity job at a film company. He later met director Roger Corman, who asked if he could write a screen play.

"I fell backwards into it almost," he said of his career in an interview with National Public Radio in 2007.

Demme directed a total of 20 feature films and 12 documentaries, not to mention music videos such as the 1984 "Stop Making Sense," and chalked up a raft of writing and production credits. Much of his work had a political or social tinge.


Besides thrillers, romantic comedies and a farce about the wife of a mobster, his real love was for documentaries. Subjects included Nelson Mandela, former Democratic president Jimmy Carter, and Bruce Springsteen.

"I'm not really in the business of making fictional films and I'm drawn to ones that I consider to be special and exciting in a certain way, and in the meantime I'll be perfectly happy just to make documentary after documentary," he told NPR.

But there were also flops. His 1998 movie "Beloved" starring Oprah Winfrey, based on the Toni Morrison novel about a slave visited by the spirit of her dead daughter, bombed.

There were also lacklustre reviews for his 2004 remake of "The Manchurian Candidate" starring Streep and Denzel Washington, set in the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

In 2013, the Americans For Immigrant Justice charity announced that it was honoring Demme with an award for decades of tireless work on behalf of Haitian refugees and vulnerable immigrants.

In place of flowers, Demme's family has requested donations to the Florida-based charity.

United's Rashford aims to become complete forward, 27 Apr 2017 04:20:06 +0800REUTERS: Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford aims to become a complete forward under the tutelage of manager Jose Mourinho, saying he has improved despite playing as a winger this season.

Rashford, who made his United debut under Louis van Gaal in February last year, was moved out to the wing by Mourinho to accommodate striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the start of the campaign.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford arrives before the match

The 19-year-old England international believes his new role under the Portuguese coach has helped him become a far more rounded player, saying the profile of a forward in the game has evolved over the years.

"For me the development has been going great all the way through," Rashford told The Daily Telegraph.

"I didn't feel uncomfortable in the wide role, but when something is different it takes a while to get used to it.

“You look at all the strikers in the world now, I can only think of two, three who are No 9s – (Tottenham Hotspur's Harry) Kane, (Bayern Munich's Robert) Lewandowski, (Barcelona's Luis) Suarez. The qualities a striker needs now are different to what they used to be.”

Rashford has made 45 appearances this season and will be in line to start at centre forward against Manchester City in the Premier League on Thursday after Ibrahimovic was ruled out for the rest of the season with a cruciate knee ligament injury.

The 35-year-old Swede, having enjoyed a successful career in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France before arriving at Old Trafford, has been a great role model for Rashford.

"His influence on the younger players, especially, is fantastic," added Rashford. "You will see the benefits in years to come. What I have learnt from him is irreplaceable."

United are fifth in the league, trailing fourth-placed City by one point in the race for a Champions league qualifying spot ahead of Thursday's crunch Manchester derby.

(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Football: Madrid hit Deportivo for six, Barca relegate Osasuna, 27 Apr 2017 03:51:28 +0800BARCELONA: Real Madrid again made light of the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo as they crushed Deportivo la Coruna 6-2 to maintain the upper hand in the La Liga title race on Wednesday (Apr 26).

Madrid and Barcelona are locked on 78 points at the top of the table, but Real have a game in hand over their title rivals.

Barcelona Apr 27

Barca remain top thanks to their better head-to-head record as Lionel Messi struck twice to relegate Osasuna in a 7-1 thrashing.

Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane made nine changes in all from the side that lost 3-2 to Barca on Sunday to reignite the title race.

Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and the injured Gareth Bale were left out the Madrid squad for a third straight away league game, but again their absence wasn't missed.

"It is the hardest job for a coach. When they play like they did today and then maybe they won't play in the next game," said Zidane.

"We know I have a phenomenal group of players and all of them are ready for the challenge between now and the end of the season."

Alvaro Morata smashed home at the near post to give the visitors the perfect start after less than a minute.

James Rodriguez then added a second from Lucas Vazquez's cross as Madrid threatened to run riot inside the first 20 minutes.

However, the European champions have now kept just one clean sheet in their last 15 games and their defence was breached once more when Florin Andone turned home Gael Kakuta's mishit shot 10 minutes before half-time.

Vazquez, though, restored Real's two-goal lead before half-time and Zidane's men could even have reached double figures in a dominant second period.

Morata unselfishly teed up Rodriguez for his second of the night before Isco sealed a stunning individual display by smashing home 13 minutes from time.

Joselu got another goal back for Deportivo with a fine looping header, but fittingly Real had the final say when Casemiro's piledriver slipped under Deportivo 'keeper Przemyslaw Tyton.


At the Camp Nou, Barca fans paid homage to Messi's brilliance against Real in scoring the winner and his 500th goal for the club with the last kick of the game in Sunday's El Clasico.

The five-time World Player of the Year responded by opening the scoring two minutes later as he pounced on an error in the Osasuna defence to stroll through on goal and lift the ball over the advancing Salvatore Sirigu.

Andre Gomes has been the scapegoat for many of Barca's most disappointing defeats this season.

But the Portuguese had arguably his best night in a Barca shirt as he drilled home Ivan Rakitic's cross to make it 2-0 on the half hour.

"We had the chance to use a lot of players that have played fewer minutes," said Barca boss Luis Enrique. "It is a game that boosts those individuals, the team as a whole and gives us hope for the end of the season."

Roberto Torres's free-kick briefly brought Osasuna back into the game three minutes into the second half.

Barca, though, simply went through the gears with a four-goal burst in 10 devastating minutes.

Firstly, Gomes slotted home his second of the night after Gerard Pique's initial effort came back off the post.

Messi then curled in his 49th goal in 47 appearances this season from the edge of the area.

And the Argentine instantly made way for 19-year-old Carles Alena to keep him fresh for Saturday's Catalan derby at Espanyol.

Alcacer then finished on the stretch for Barca's fifth.

And when Denis Suarez was felled in the area seconds later the cry went round the Camp Nou for Javier Mascherano to take the spot-kick.

Rakitic obliged by stepping aside to let the Argentine take it and he smashed the ball into the roof of the net for his first goal in 319 Barca appearances.

Alcacer rounded off the scoring four minutes from time when he latched onto Suarez's fine through ball to round Sirigu and slot into an empty net.

Osasuna's relegation was confirmed after Leganes beat Las Palmas 3-0 to move six points clear of the drop zone.

And Real Sociedad boosted their chances of qualifying for the Europa League with a 3-2 win at Valencia.

Spanish La Liga results:

Barcelona 7 Osasuna 1
Leganes 3 Las Palmas 0
Valencia 2 Real Sociedad 3
Deportivo la Coruna 2 Real Madrid 6

Tennis: 'Best feeling in world' as Sharapova wins on return, 27 Apr 2017 02:32:59 +0800STUTTGART, Germany: Maria Sharapova marked her return from a 15-month doping ban on Wednesday (Apr 26) with a rusty 7-5, 6-3 win over Roberta Vinci in Stuttgart, describing victory as the "best feeling in the world".

Sharapova, the former world number one and five-time Grand Slam champion, brushed off a nervous start to eventually claim a convincing win on her controversial comeback having tested positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

Maria Sharapova Apr 27

"It's the best feeling in the world to walk out (on court), it's been a stage of mine since I was a young girl and it was very special," said Sharapova who celebrated her win with a succession of fist pumps and a broad smile before blowing kisses to all corners of the Porsche Arena.

"I have been waiting for this a long time."

Sharapova was given a wildcard to play in Stuttgart tournament, where she has been champion three times, a move which drew a barrage of criticsm from rivals who believed she was receiving preferential treatment.

She fired 39 winners and 11 aces past 34-year-old Vinci, one of many to have voiced her concerns over the Russian benefitting from wildcards.

After receiving warm applause from the crowd, which included one fan who held up a Russian flag bearing the words 'Welcome back Maria, Sharapova, dressed in an orange top and lilac-coloured dress, initially struggled.

She quickly found herself 2-0 down before she broke back to level at 2-2.

As was to be expected after her long break, Sharapova laboured to find her shots and Vinci profited from several mistakes.

But the 30-year-old Russian started to move her Italian opponent around the court and found her range with a pair of aces.

Sharapova finally broke the Italian in the 11th game and then held her service, converting her second set point in exactly an hour.

Vinci had lost to Sharapova in both their previous meetings and the Italian trailed from 2-0 down in the second set on Wednesday.

Sharapova quickly moved to 5-3 ahead up with an ace and extended her domination in the following game, racing into a 40-0 lead and converted her first match point for victory in one hour, 45 minutes.


"I've been doing this for so long and this was my first match for a while, so when you are in the moment, you block everything else out," said Sharapova.

"I'm competitive by nature, even when things aren't working out. That's when I am at my best, when I forget about everything, just be me and just compete."

Sharapova will now play fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova in Thursday's second-round.

"It's going to be tough, but every match I play now is important for me," she said.

Vinci had been one of the most out-spoken critics of Sharapova before the tie but she sought to draw a line under the controversy after her defeat.

"I lost. She had a wildcard. She won. She's happy, I'm so sad, but that's it," said the Italian. "I don't want to think about the wildcard. I'm done."

Vinci added: "She's a great player and although she was out for a long time, she's not back from injury. She was really focused, really aggressive, she played well and deserved to win."

Sharapova has also been granted wildcards into the Madrid and Rome tournaments and she will need similar generosity from Roland Garros if she is to make the main draw of the French Open, where she is a two-time champion.

On Wednesday, the French Tennis Federation repeated that they will not make a decision until next month.

"There is a date which has been fixed. There is no reason to make an exception for Maria Sharapova," said FFT president Bernard Guidicelli.

"We will meet with the tournament director Guy Forget on May 15. The decision will be taken and communicated at 1900 (1700GMT) on Facebook on May 16.

"I know that there is strong expectation from the media and fans but we are not casting. This is not a rock-opera."

With the likes of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova sidelined - and potential heir Eugenie Bouchard struggling - women's tennis needs pulling power and Sharapova ticks all the boxes for event organisers.

But many remain to be convinced. Bouchard was quoted in an interview in Istanbul as describing her childhood idol as a "cheater".

Second round:

Anett Kontaveit (EST) bt Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 2-6, 7-6 (7/1), 6-1
Simona Halep (ROM) bt Barbara Strycova (CZE) 6-2, 6-3

First round:

Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) bt Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (CRO) 6-4, 6-2
Elena Vesnina (RUS) bt Daria Kasatkina (RUS) 7-6 (7/2), 6-2
Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) bt Tamara Korpatsch (GER) 6-2, 6-4
Maria Sharapova (RUS) bt Roberta Vinci (ITA) 7-5, 6-3
Johanna Konta (GBR) bt Naomi Osaka (JPN) 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 6-1
Coco Vandeweghe (USA) bt Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/3) 

Trump moves to review status of America's nature preserves, 27 Apr 2017 02:26:12 +0800WASHINGTON: After moving to unstitch climate change rules, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday (Apr 26) opened the door to undoing the federally protected status of some of America's vast nature preserves.

He signed an executive order reviewing decisions by predecessors Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to designate public land a "national monument" under a 1906 law known as the Antiquities Act.

Trump nature Apr 27

"Today I'm signing a new executive order to end another egregious abuse of federal power and to give that power back to the states and to the people where it belongs," Trump said at the signing ceremony.

He singled out Obama for using the monument designation to assert federal control over 107 million hectares, including maritime zones, particularly in the Pacific.

"That's larger than the entire state of Texas," Trump complained. "The antiquities act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it's time we ended this abusive practice," he said.


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the outcome of the review was not pre-ordained. His department is to provide an interim report in 45 days, then a fuller one in 120 days.

But it conceivably could roll back protections fixed under the Antiquities Act - brought in under president Theodore Roosevelt, keen on conserving America's natural heritage - and set the scene for fierce legal challenges.

"National monument" land has come to be synonymous over the years with a bar to drilling for fossil fuels on public land, or other commercial activities.

While Republicans in Utah and other states are keen to lift protections they see as too expansive and undermining economic opportunities, environmental groups and Native Americans are deeply opposed.

In the past, areas that presidents have tagged as "national monuments" were later transformed by Congress into full-fledged National Parks - the Grand Canyon and Death Valley among them.

Since the Act came into force more than a century ago, only three presidents - all Republicans - did not use its powers: Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.

Under Trump's review, only "monuments" of 40,000 hectares or more will be examined.

A key area will be the Bears Ears National Monument, a 530,000-hectare zone in Utah Obama proclaimed in 2016.

Another will be the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument also in Utah - a spectacular tract of canyons, ridges and a river - designated by Clinton in 1996.

The Republican senator for Utah, Orrin Hatch, has railed against the national monument decisions made in Washington, saying his state should have more say over how the land is protected.

In a Washington Post opinion piece, Hatch said Obama "ignored the best interests of Utah and cast aside the will of the people - all in favour of a unilateral approach meant to satisfy the demands of far-left interest groups."

Other presidents, too, went too far, Hatch said, adding that Trump "stands ready to undo the harm brought about by their overreach."

Trump proposes major tax cuts, 15% corporate rate, 27 Apr 2017 02:05:04 +0800WASHINGTON: The Trump administration on Wednesday (Apr 26) unveiled plans to dramatically cut taxes for US businesses and individuals, slashing the corporate rate to 15 per cent, but the once-in-a-generation overhaul is headed for a tough fight in Congress.

As Donald Trump's presidency nears the symbolic 100-day mark, the Republican is seeking to follow through on a flagship promise to overhaul the tax code to boost the US economy, businesses and families, including middle-class and working-class Americans.

Trump tax

"Under the Trump plan, we will have a massive tax cut for businesses and massive tax reform and simplification," US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced from the White House.

Corporate tax rates would be more than halved, from the current 35 per cent to 15 per cent, and tax brackets for individuals would be compressed from seven to just three - 10 per cent, 25 per cent and 35 per cent.

Gary Cohn, the president's chief economic advisor who unveiled the plan along with Mnuchin, dubbed it "the most significant tax reform legislation since 1986, and one of the biggest tax cuts in American history."

But the long-anticipated overhaul - whose details remained unclear beyond those headline measures - could face stiff opposition in Congress, including from some Republicans, with lawmakers sharply divided over the prospect of fuelling already-rising deficits.

"This isn't going to be easy. Doing big things never is," Cohn admitted. "We will be attacked from the left and we will be attacked from the right. But one thing is certain: I would never ever bet against this president."


Slashing taxes on income and business was a key part of Trump's election platform.

Mnuchin declined to set a deadline for the reform passing Congress, but he said the administration was "determined to move this as fast as we can and get this done this year."

Mnuchin and Cohn said there was fundamental agreement on the core principles of the plan, although particulars were still being worked out with lawmakers.

A key element is the repatriation of corporate profits from overseas.

"We will have a one-time tax on overseas profits which will bring back trillions of dollars that are offshore to be invested here in the United States," Mnuchin said. That rate has yet to be finalised.

The tax plan's impact on the deficit and debt will be key to winning backing on Capitol Hill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan hailed the reform as "progress," even though Mnuchin signalled it would not include a tax on imports, something Ryan had lobbied for among fellow Republicans.

"It's basically along exactly the same lines that we want to go," he told reporters.


But Democrats sounded an immediate warning to the White House.

"If the president's plan is to give a massive tax break to the very wealthy in this country, a plan that will mostly benefit people and businesses like President Trump's, that won't pass muster with we Democrats," Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

He also warned that a plan that dramatically shrinks tax revenues would "explode the deficit."

Analysts have said cutting the top marginal corporate tax rate by 20 percentage points could add a whopping US$2 trillion or more to the deficit over a decade.

The administration has said its tax cuts will spur growth - its goal is three per cent - thus bringing in tax revenues to make up the difference, a calculation known as "dynamic scoring" which the Trump administration supports.

"The difference between 1.6 per cent, 1.8 per cent GDP and three per cent is staggering," Mnuchin said earlier. "It's trillions of dollars of revenues. It's tons of jobs."

Economists however say this growth effect is not supported by evidence from prior tax cut efforts.


Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist and former head of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office who served in previous Republican administrations, said dynamic scoring is wishful thinking.

"There has never been any single credible analysis of dynamic scoring that suggests that taxes pay for themselves," Holtz-Eakin told AFP.

The tax cuts could be limited to a 10-year period, but Mnuchin said that would be less than ideal. "If we have them for 10 years, that is better than nothing," he said. "But we'd like to have permanency to it."

Mnuchin said the lower corporate rate is aimed at helping small businesses, not the wealthy.

And he assured that rich Americans and businesses would be prevented from using loopholes to help them avoid paying their fair share.

Tennis: Nadal cruises in Barcelona Open, Murray gets walkover, 27 Apr 2017 01:50:53 +0800BARCELONA: Rafael Nadal began his quest for a 10th Barcelona Open title in commanding fashion, whilst Andy Murray moved into the last 16 without hitting a ball on Wednesday (Apr 26).

Fresh from winning a record 50th clay court title at the Monte Carlo Masters on Sunday, Nadal swept aside Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Silva 6-1, 6-2 in his first appearance on the newly-baptised Rafael Nadal court.

Rafael Nadal Apr 27

"An honour to see this," Nadal tweeted before the match on a rain-interrupted day in the Catalan capital alongside a picture of the court's new title.

"An honour to see this," Nadal tweeted before the match on a rain-interrupted day in the Catalan capital alongside a picture of the court's new title.

"The first match in any tournament is difficult, but it all went well," added Nadal. "The court was very slow and the conditions weren't how I like, but it was a solid match."

Nadal will face South African Kevin Anderson on Thursday.

Murray had an even easier route into the next round as Bernard Tomic pulled out of their second-round clash with a back injury.

The world number one was a late entry into the draw after suffering a shock defeat in Monte Carlo to Albert Ramos-Vinolas last week as he seeks time on court after recently returning from an elbow injury.

However, the Scot will have to wait until Thursday to begin his campaign against Feliciano Lopez, who eased past fellow Spaniard Albert Montanes 6-2, 6-2.

Fifth seed David Goffin, who fell to Nadal in the semi-finals in Monte Carlo last week, remained on course for another last-four meeting with the 14-time Grand Slam champion after a 7-5, 6-0 win over Georgia's Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Football: FIFA confirms video refereeing at 2018 World Cup, 27 Apr 2017 01:35:45 +0800SANTIAGO: FIFA president Gianni Infantino confirmed on Wednesday (Apr 26) that video assistant referees will be used at next year's World Cup in Russia for the first time.

"We will use video refereeing at the 2018 World Cup because we've had nothing but positive results so far," he said at a congress of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) in Santiago, Chile.

Gianni Infantino

"In 2017, when everyone in the stadium or at home can see within seconds if the referee made a mistake, we can't have a situation where the only one who can't see it is the referee."

Video assistance was introduced to support referees with "game-changing" decisions for the first time in a FIFA competition at the Club World Cup in Japan in December.

The four areas covered by the video replay official were goals, penalties, red cards and cases of mistaken identity.

Infantino had already said he wanted video refereeing for the next World Cup, but that "little hiccups" would have to be worked out first.

That included slow decision-making by video assistant referees, he said at a meeting of the International Football Association Board in March.

But that is only a matter of training, he said at the time. "The referees ... will be able to take decisions much faster when they use it more often," he said.

CONMEBOL said on Wednesday it was considering ways of boosting attendance at the 2019 Copa America, South America's top international tournament, which will take place that year in Brazil.

Proposals include raising the number of competing countries to 16 from the usual number of 12, CONMEBOL's vice-president Arturo Salah said.

It has also been suggested that European countries be invited to take part. "The Copa America with European teams would be like a World Cup. That is a discussion for another time," Infantino said.