Seven Civilians Killed as Indian Police Fire on Kashmir Protesters

Indian security forces shot dead seven civilians and wounded dozens of others on Saturday during a protest over the killing of three militants in a gun battle in restive Kashmir, the authorities said.

A defense spokesman, Col. Rajesh Kalia, said the police operation had been spurred in response to intelligence reports about the presence of militants in a village in Pulwama district, south of the state’s summer capital, Srinagar.

“During the operation, militants fired upon troops, leading to a gun battle in which three militants were killed,” he said.

A senior police officer told Reuters that large numbers of civilians then gathered at the site, leading to clashes between with security forces, in which seven people were killed and about 50 others injured.

A witness, Mohammad Ayuob, said Indian troops had fired at the civilians when they tried to retrieve the body of a militant.

Jammu and Kashmir is mainly Hindu India’s only Muslim-majority state. India and Pakistan both rule the region in part but claim it in full. India has accused Pakistan of fomenting trouble in its part of Kashmir, a charge that the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, denies.

The Himalayan state has been particularly tense over the past few months as the Hindu nationalist party of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has pulled out of local government, leaving a power void.

Widespread protests have broken out in Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir over the killings. Security has been tightened and troops have rushed to potential hot spots. A curfew was imposed in Pulwama town and surrounding areas, according to news media reports.

The separatist group Hurriyat Conference called for a three-day strike and protests across Kashmir.

“Bullets and pellets rain,” its chairman, Mirwaiz Omar, posted on Twitter, adding that supporters would march toward an army cantonment on Monday so that the Indian government could “kill all of us at one time rather than killing us daily.”

The authorities have suspended train services in the Kashmir Valley and shut down mobile internet services to try to prevent the unrest from spreading.

Indian security forces say they have killed 242 militants this year. In addition, 101 civilians and 82 security officials have also died, according to officials. The death toll is the highest in more than a decade.

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Afghan President Slaps Aide After Elite Guards Assault Petitioner

HERAT, Afghanistan — It was supposed to be a grand moment for President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan — the opening of a new trade corridor that brought his landlocked country a link to Europe through Central Asia, and promised him some rare positive news as a re-election campaign approaches.

But what grabbed the headlines after Thursday’s event was chaos and violence.

Members of the president’s staff, in front of hundreds of people, assaulted a young member of the crowd who wanted to hand a petition to the president. Videos posted on social media in the days since portray an even more chaotic scene, with the president screaming at and slapping one of his own aides for mistreating the young man.

Mr. Ghani’s elite guards, the Presidential Protective Service, continued to assault the man once he was taken out of the president’s sight, footage suggests, and he remains in detention.

It was not an isolated incident. Those who guard senior Afghan officials — undoubtedly a difficult task in one of the most dangerous countries in the world — have repeatedly assaulted civilians, including journalists. In most cases, there is no indication that anyone was held accountable, further fueling a widespread culture of violence with impunity.

The meeting this past week, attended by diplomats and dignitaries, happened in the western city of Herat, where Mr. Ghani inaugurated what is called the Lapis Lazuli Corridor. The corridor makes it possible for Afghanistan to export its goods to Europe through Central Asia — a priority for Mr. Ghani not just to boost his own trade, but also to build regional consensus around peace in Afghanistan.

As Mr. Ghani finished his speech at a packed hall and walked from the stage, Raees Wafa, 18, stood up in the crowd and shouted that he wanted a minute with the president to give him a petition about injustice against his own family, video from the event shows.

The young man was unlikely to have posed an immediate physical threat — before being allowed near the Afghan president, he would almost certainly have gone through multiple checks by the Presidential Protection Service.

Participants said Mr. Ghani walked toward Mr. Wafa, apparently to tell him it was not the time for such a petition as he had to entertain foreign dignitaries. A cellphone video circulating on social media shows the moment after: Mr. Ghani appears to be screaming and smacking someone.

“The young man said injustice had been committed against him and he wanted his voice heard. At his moment, Mr. Ghani’s guards or his protocol people covered the guy’s mouth and were trying to take him outside,” said Toorkhan Zarifi, an elder from Herat’s Shindand District who was at the hall.

“The president got near his staff and he was angry,” he added. “He slapped one of his own men in the face and body and then left the hall.”

Despite Mr. Ghani’s anger at how the young man was treated, his guards did not let go. Another cellphone video that came out a day after showed senior members of his guards dragging the young man by his collar into a military vehicle.

Afghan officials said the elite guard’s priority is the protection of the president in a country where even the most secure corners have been infiltrated for assassinations. The guards make split-second decisions to subdue potential threats. It was possible from the way the young man had behaved that he was causing a distraction for what could be a bigger plot, they said

“The principle on which the president’s guards are advised to act is that they should never do anything against the law and that they should never use violence against the people,” said Shah Hussain Murtazawi, a spokesman for Mr. Ghani.

Dunya Gul, the brother of Mr. Wafa, said that a local strongman had grabbed the family’s land in Paktia Province. They were forced to flee their homes seven years ago to settle in Herat and have not been able to get justice. His brother had taken it upon himself to raise the family’s voice with the president.

“The guards of the president took him out of the hall and beat him up outside the hall,” Mr. Gul said. “The intelligence agency has been holding him since.”

Afghan officials would not comment on why Mr. Wafa remained in detention, or on what charges.

“He is a civilian and wanted the Afghan president to listen to him, but the president’s bodyguards beat him,” said Bellal Sidiqi, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s independent Human Rights Commission, urging the government to investigate the incident and hold the guards accountable.

“The Human Rights Commission is concerned about the increase of such violence in Afghanistan.”

Mohammad Saber reported from Herat, Afghanistan, and Mujib Mashal from Bangkok, Thailand. Fatima Faizi contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

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Medical schools ‘rigged women’s results’

At least nine Japanese medical schools manipulated admissions, in part to exclude female students, a government investigation has found.

The inquiry was launched in August, after the prestigious Tokyo Medical University (TMU) was found to have tampered with the scores of female applicants from as early as 2006.

Reports cited concerns that many women would not go on to practise medicine.

Japan’s education minister said the scandal was “deeply disappointing”.

“I want the universities to make immediate and courteous responses regarding the situation of the applicants,” Masahiko Shibayama was quoted as saying by the Kyodo news agency after the report was published on Friday.

Japan’s government has been trying to boost women in the workforce and especially into senior positions. The medical schools’ sexism scandal has come as a setback.

The revelations about TMU in August sparked a national outcry, and in response the education ministry looked at the entrance exams of 81 medical schools.

According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper – 10 universities were identified has having held “inappropriate entrance exams” – meaning students were treated different based on characteristics including their age or sex.

It said nine universities, including TMU, Kitasato University and Juntendo University, were guilty of such practices. A tenth, the St Marianna University School of Medicine, was also named but has denied any wrongdoing.

“Each university must deal with the matter swiftly and thoroughly,” Mr Shibayama said, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

The investigation found other improper practices, including universities favouring the children of alumni and being biased against those who had sat the entrance exam multiple times.

Back in August the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper quoted an unnamed source saying officials at TMU had adopted a “silent understanding” to reduce the number of female entrants over concerns female graduates were not going on to practice medicine in employment.

“Many female students who graduate end up leaving the actual medical practice to give birth and raise children,” the source told the newspaper.

Earlier this week Juntendo University said it set the bar higher for women because they were better at communication than men and would have an advantage in the face-to-face interview component.

Twenty-four women are calling for the TMU to pay them 100,000 yen ($880; £700) in compensation. More than 40 applicants from the 2017 and 2018 entry rounds have now been accepted for entry after the university made contact with 101 candidates, AFP news agency reports.

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6 more Umno MPs leave the party, adding to recent exodus

PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Six Umno federal lawmakers have announced that they are leaving the party on Friday (Dec 14), joining the recent exodus of MPs.

A letter signed by the six men to inform the Malay nationalist party of their departure was sent to Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa.

According to sources, the letter was sent at 3.50pm to inform Umno that they were quitting effective Friday.

The lawmakers are from Perak, Kelantan, Selangor, Terengganu, Johor and Penang.

They joined the five of six Umno MPs in Sabah who quit on Wednesday.

Umno, which was the lead party in the Barisan Nasional coalition that governed Malaysia for 61 years until seven months ago, has been hit by a series of defections since it lost power at the May general election.

Umno won 54 federal seats in May, but this dwindled to 43. including the five Sabah defections on Wednesday.

After the six MPs hopped away on Friday, Umno would be left with 37 MPs in Parliament.

Two of these former Umno MPs have joined Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

He has said that he is willing to consider the entry of former Umno lawmakers into his party, but that they must first abandon Umno and must not be implicated in corruption cases.

On Friday, too, another party in the ruling Pakatan Harapan alliance, Parti Amanah Negara, said it is willing to accept former Umno lawmakers into its fold.

Party hopping is allowed under Malaysia’s electoral system.

Meanwhile, former Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, a lawmaker from Negeri Sembilan, on Friday called for an “immediate” party election for a new leadership following the exodus of lawmakers and other party members.

Mr Khairy retweeted and agreed with a post calling for Umno to hold an extraordinary general meeting for a new party election.

The initial tweet had called on the Umno supreme council and Youth and Women wings to demand the resignation of party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, seen by some as being an ineffectual leader.

“Agreed. Immediate party election,” Mr Khairy tweeted.

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Man dies in accident involving two lorries on AYE, one driver arrested

SINGAPORE – One man died and another has been arrested after an accident between two lorries on the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) late on Friday night (Dec 14).

In response to queries, the police said that they were alerted to the accident on the AYE towards the Marina Coastal Expressway at 11.37pm.

A 29-year-old passenger was trapped in one of the lorries and was rescued by the Singapore Civil Defence Force using hydraulic rescue tools.

He was unconscious when taken to the National University Hospital, where he died from his injuries, police said.

The Straits Times understands that both lorries had been changing lanes at the same time, when one of the lorries collided headfirst into the rear of the other.

The force of the impact sent the lorry in front crashing into a large road sign on the road shoulder.

A video uploaded to Facebook shows the front of the first lorry badly damaged, with the road sign bent from the crash.

Police said they arrested a male lorry driver, also 29, for causing death by negligent act.

ST understands that the driver and the deceased were both from the lorry at the rear, and that no one else was injured in the accident.

Police are investigating the incident.

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Disputed Sri Lanka PM quits amid crisis

Mahinda Rajapaksa has resigned as Sri Lanka’s prime minister, seven weeks after he was appointed in a surprise move that sparked a political crisis.

Mr Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s former president, signed his resignation letter in a ceremony at his house.

His son, Namal, told the BBC his father had quit to ensure national stability.

The resignation could bring to an end a nearly two-month-long power struggle that has dented confidence in Sri Lanka’s stability.

In October, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked then prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, replacing him with Mr Rajapaksa.

Mr Wickremesinghe is expected to return to office on Sunday.

His party’s spokesman Harin Fernando told the BBC: “The president has agreed to swear in Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister tomorrow at 10 am.”

He said this would end the political deadlock, remarking that the the country and its economy had suffered “huge damage” since the crisis began 50 days ago.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court said Mr Sirisena had acted illegally in November by dissolving parliament and calling snap polls with nearly two years to go until elections were due.

Throughout the crisis, Mr Wickremesinghe has always maintained he is the rightful PM.

The crisis, which has provoked brawls in parliament and sparked large protests, has been closely watched by regional power India, as well as the US, China and European Union.

Mr Rajapaksa, who dominated Sri Lankan politics for a decade until 2015, has an uneasy relationship with the West over the bloody end to the country’s civil war in 2009, when thousands of civilians were killed. Both government forces and the Tamil Tiger separatist rebels are accused of grave human rights abuses and crimes.

On Wednesday, parliament passed a vote of confidence in Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister.

His party and its allies have a simple majority in parliament – and have argued from the beginning that President Sirisena’s actions were unconstitutional.

What are the roots of the saga?

Mr Sirisena was once a party ally of Mr Rajapaksa, and served in his government.

But in 2015, he teamed up with Ranil Wickremesinghe to defeat him in an election and the pair went on to form a coalition government.

However the relationship between president and prime minister turned sour and Mr Sirisena in October turned on Mr Wickremesinghe, sacking him in favour of Mr Rajapaksa, his old ally-turned-rival-turned-ally.

He called Mr Wickremesinghe arrogant and linked him to a controversial central bank bond sale, which is alleged to have led to the loss of 11bn Sri Lankan rupees ($65m; £50m). The president also alleged that a cabinet minister was involved in a plot to kill him and that police had obstructed an investigation.

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CNB seizes 4kg of cannabis, arrests 4 suspected drug offenders

SINGAPORE – The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has seized about $50,000 worth of drugs, including 4kg of cannabis and arrested four men over suspected drug offences.

The bureau said in a statement on Saturday (Dec 15) that 4kg of cannabis can feed the addiction of 571 abusers for a week.

The drugs were seized in an operation CNB conducted on Friday. Its narcotics officers were deployed in the area around Hougang Avenue 7. They then followed a 31-year-old Singaporean man to a medical facility near Keng Lee Road.

The suspect was seen meeting a 26-year-old Singaporean man and a 24-year-old Malaysian man.

The 26-year-old later departed in a taxi, while the other two suspects left the medical facility together in a Malaysia-registered car.

The car was intercepted along Keng Lee Road by CNB officers from the Special Task Force and the two suspects were arrested.

About 1.88kg of cannabis was recovered from the car.


Some 1.88kg of cannabis was recovered from the car intercepted along Keng Lee Road. PHOTOS: CENTRAL NARCOTICS BUREAU

The drugs were placed on the front passenger seat floorboard where the 31-year-old Singaporean was seated.

Around $1,100 in cash was recovered from the 24-year-old Malaysian.

Narcotics officers then raided the 31-year-old man’s Hougang residence, where another 2.13kg of cannabis, 92g of Ice and 56g of new psychoactive substances were recovered.

Another team of CNB officers raided a shophouse unit along Geylang Road, where the 26-year-old suspect who left the medical facility earlier was arrested.

A 29-year-old Singaporean man was also arrested at the Geylang shophouse.

CNB is currently investigating the drug activities of all the suspects.

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China’s Sea Control Is a Done Deal, ‘Short of War With the U.S.’

NEAR MISCHIEF REEF, South China Sea — As the United States Navy reconnaissance plane banked low near Mischief Reef in the South China Sea early this month, a Chinese warning crackled on the radio.

“U.S. military aircraft,” came the challenge, delivered in English in a harsh staccato. “You have violated our China sovereignty and infringed on our security and our rights. You need to leave immediately and keep far out.”

Aboard the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, flying in what is widely considered to be international airspace, Lt. Dyanna Coughlin scanned a live camera feed showing the dramatic evolution of Mischief Reef.

Five years ago, this was mostly an arc of underwater atoll populated by tropical fish and turtles. Now Mischief Reef, which is off the Philippine coast but controlled by China, has been filled out and turned into a Chinese military base, complete with radar domes, shelters for surface-to-air missiles and a runway long enough for fighter jets. Six other nearby shoals have been similarly transformed by Chinese dredging.

CHINA

TAIWAN

Hong Kong

VIETNAM

LAOS

Gulf of

Tonkin

“The Nine Dash Line”

China’s territorial claim

Paracel Islands

PHILIPPINES

Scarborough Shoal

Manila

South China Sea

CAMBODIA

Spratly Islands

Subi Reef

Mischief Reef

Fiery Cross Reef

Half Moon Shoal

West London Reef

Sulu

Sea

200 miles

By The New York Times

“I mean, this is insane,” Lieutenant Coughlin said. “Look at all that crazy construction.”

A rare visit on board a United States Navy surveillance flight over the South China Sea pointed out how profoundly China has reshaped the security landscape across the region.

[Our reporters are investigating China’s growing influence around the world]

The country’s aggressive territorial claims and island militarization have put neighboring countries and the United States on the defensive, even as President Trump’s administration is stepping up efforts to highlight China’s controversial island-building campaign.

In congressional testimony before assuming his new post as head of the United States Indo-Pacific Command in May, Adm. Philip S. Davidson sounded a stark warning about Beijing’s power play in a sea through which roughly one-third of global maritime trade flows.

“In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States,” Admiral Davidson said, an assessment that caused some consternation in the Pentagon.

How Beijing relates to its neighbors in the South China Sea could be a harbinger of its interactions elsewhere in the world. President Xi Jinping of China has held up the island-building effort as a prime example of “China moving closer to center stage” and standing “tall and firm in the East.”

In a June meeting with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Mr. Xi vowed that China “cannot lose even one inch of the territory” in the South China Sea, even though an international tribunal has dismissed Beijing’s expansive claims to the waterway.

The reality is that governments with overlapping territorial claims — representing Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei — lack the firepower to challenge China. The United States has long fashioned itself as a keeper of peace in the Western Pacific. But it’s a risky proposition to provoke conflict over a scattering of rocks in the South China Sea, analysts say.

“As China’s military power grows relative to the United States, and it will, questions will also grow regarding America’s ability to deter Beijing’s use of force in settling its unresolved territorial issues,” said Rear Adm. Michael McDevitt, who is now a senior fellow in strategic studies at the Center for Naval Analyses.

An unexpected encounter in the South China Sea could also set off an international incident. A 1.4-million-square-mile sea presents a kaleidoscope of shifting variables: hundreds of disputed shoals, thousands of fishing boats, coast guard vessels and warships and, increasingly, a collection of Chinese fortresses.

In late August, one of the Philippines’ largest warships, a cast-off cutter from the United States Coast Guard, ran aground on Half Moon Shoal, an unoccupied maritime feature not far from Mischief Reef.

The Chinese, who also claim the shoal, sent vessels from nearby artificial islands, but the Philippines refused any help. After all, in 2012, the Chinese Coast Guard had muscled the Philippines off of Scarborough Shoal, a reef just 120 nautical miles from the main Philippine island of Luzon. Another incident in 1995 brought a Chinese flag to Mischief Reef, also well within what international maritime law considers a zone where the Philippines has sovereign rights.

Could somewhere like Half Moon Shoal be the next flash point in the South China Sea?

“A crisis at Half Moon was averted, but it has always been the risk with the South China Sea that a small incident in remote waters escalates into a much larger crisis through miscommunication or mishandling,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. “That’s why this is all so dangerous. It’s not just a pile of rocks that can be ignored.”

‘Leave immediately!’

On the scratchy radio channel, the Chinese challenges kept on coming. Eight separate times during the mission this month, Chinese dispatchers queried the P-8A Poseidon. Twice, the Chinese accused the American military aircraft not just of veering close to what Beijing considered its airspace but also of violating its sovereignty.

“Leave immediately!” the Chinese warned over and over.

Listen: Click the audio icon to hear the Chinese challenge.

Hannah Beech and Adam Dean for The New York Times

Cmdr. Chris Purcell, the American squadron commander, said such challenges have been routine during the four months he has flown missions over the South China Sea.

“What they want is for us to leave, and then they can say that we left because this is their sovereign territory,” he said. “It’s kind of their way to try to legitimize their claims, but we are clear that we are operating in international airspace and are not doing anything different from what we’ve done for decades.”

In 2015, President Xi stood in the Rose Garden at the White House and promised that “there is no intention to militarize” a collection of disputed reefs in the South China Sea known as the Spratlys.

But since then, Chinese dredgers have poured mountains of sand onto Mischief Reef and six other Chinese-controlled features in the Spratlys. China has added at least 3,200 acres of new land in the area, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative run by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Descending as low as 5,000 feet, the surveillance flight this month gave a bird’s-eye view of the Chinese construction.

On Subi Reef, a construction crane swung into action next to a shelter designed for surface-to-air missiles. There were barracks, bunkers and open hangars. At least 70 vessels, some warships, surrounded the island.

On Fiery Cross Reef, a complex of buildings with Chinese eaves was arrayed at the center of the reclaimed island, including an exhibition-style hall with an undulating roof. It looked like a typical newly built town in interior China — except for the radar domes that protruded like giant golf balls across the reef. A military-grade runway ran the length of the island, and army vehicles trundled across the tarmac. Antenna farms bristled.

“It’s impressive to see the Chinese building, given that this is the middle of the South China Sea and far away from anywhere, but the idea that this isn’t militarized, that’s clearly not the case,” Commander Purcell said. “It’s not hidden or anything. The intention, it’s there plain to see.”

In other spots, reclamation could also be seen on Vietnamese-controlled features, such as West London Reef, where workers dragged equipment past piles of sand. But dredging by Southeast Asian nations is scant compared with the Chinese effort.

In April, China for the first time deployed antiship and antiaircraft missiles on Mischief, Subi and Fiery Cross, American military officials said. The following month, a long-range bomber landed on Woody Island, another contested South China Sea islet.

A Pentagon report released in August said that with forward operating bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea, the People’s Liberation Army was honing its “capability to strike U.S. and allied forces and military bases in the western Pacific Ocean, including Guam.”

In response to the intensifying militarization of the South China Sea, the United States in May disinvited China from joining the biannual Rim of the Pacific naval exercise, the world’s largest maritime warfare training, involving more than 20 navies.

“We are prepared to support China’s choices, if they promote long-term peace and prosperity,” Mr. Mattis said, explaining the snub. “Yet China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness of our strategy.”

Projecting Power

For its part, Beijing claims the United States is the one militarizing the South China Sea. In addition to the routine surveillance flyovers, Mr. Trump has sent American warships more frequently to waters near China’s man-made islands. These so-called freedom of navigation patrols, which occur worldwide, are meant to show the United States’ commitment to maritime free passage, Pentagon officials say.

The last such operation by the United States was in May, when two American warships sailed near the Paracels, another contested South China Sea archipelago. Beijing was irate.

“Certain people in the U.S. are staging a farce of a thief crying, ‘Stop, thief!’ ” said Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman. “It is self-evident to a keener eye who is militarizing the South China Sea.”

The United States says that it does not take any side in territorial disputes in the South China Sea. On its maps, China uses a so-called nine-dash line to scoop out most of the waterway’s turf as its own. But international legal precedent is not on China’s side when it comes to the dashed demarcation, a version of which was first used in the 1940s.

Radar domes that protruded like giant golf balls could be seen across Fiery Cross Reef.

Adam Dean for The New York Times

In 2016, an international tribunal dismissed Beijing’s nine-dash claim, judging that China has no historical rights to the South China Sea. The case was brought by the Philippines after Scarborough Shoal was commandeered by China in 2012, following a tense blockade.

The landmark ruling, however, has had no practical effect. That’s in large part because Rodrigo Duterte, who became president of the Philippines less than a month before the tribunal reached its decision, chose not to press the matter with Beijing. He declared China his new best friend and dismissed the United States as a has-been power.

But last month, Mr. Duterte took Beijing to task when a recording aired on the BBC from another P-8A Poseidon mission over the South China Sea demonstrated that Chinese dispatchers were taking a far more aggressive tone with Philippine aircraft than with American ones.

“I hope China would temper its behavior,” Mr. Duterte said. “You cannot create an island and say the air above it is yours.”

Missed Opportunities

Perceptions of power — and Chinese reactions to these projections — have led some analysts to criticize President Barack Obama as having been too timid in countering China over what Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the former head of the United States Pacific Command, memorably called a “great wall of sand” in the South China Sea.

Critics, for instance, have faulted the previous administration for not conducting more frequent freedom of navigation patrols.

“China’s militarization of the South China Sea has been a gradual process, with several phases where alternative actions by the U.S., as well as other countries, could have changed the course of history,” said Alexander Vuving, a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu.

Chief among these moments, Mr. Vuving said, was China’s takeover of Scarborough Shoal. The United States declined to back up the Philippines, a defense treaty ally, by sending Coast Guard vessels or warships to an area that international law has designated as within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“Seeing U.S. commitment to its ally, Beijing might not have been as confident as it was with its island-building program,” Mr. Vuving said. “The U.S. failure to support its ally in the Scarborough standoff also demonstrated to people like Duterte that he had no other option than to kowtow to China.”

With most of the Spratly military bases nearing completion by the end of the year, according to Pentagon assessments, the next question is whether — or more likely when — China will begin building on Scarborough. A Chinese base there would put the People’s Liberation Army in easy striking distance of the Philippine capital, Manila.

From the American reconnaissance plane, Scarborough looked like a perfect diving retreat, a lazy triangle of reef sheltering turquoise waters. But Chinese Coast Guard vessels could be seen circling the shoal, and Philippine fishermen have complained about being prevented from accessing their traditional waters.

“Do you see any construction vessels around there?” Lieutenant Coughlin asked.

“Negative, ma’am,” replied Lt. Joshua Grant, as he used a control stick to position the plane’s camera over Scarborough Shoal. “We’ll see if it changes next time.”

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Illegal gambling syndicate agents collected up to $20m in 9 years

SINGAPORE – Agents of one of the largest organised crime syndicates uncovered in Singapore collected between $9.7 million and $20.2 million from people for about nine years since 2007, a district court heard on Friday (Dec 14).

One of the agents, Lim Teng Kok, who worked as a part-time hawker stall helper, pleaded guilty to three offences under the new Organised Crime Act, which was passed in Parliament in 2015 and took effect in June 2016.

Under the Act, enforcement agencies have more powers to disrupt the activities of organised crime groups and stop them from getting a foothold in Singapore.

Lim, 68, also admitted to two other charges involving illegal gambling activities.

He was linked to the illegal gambling syndicate whose members were among the first people to be charged with offences under the Act on Nov 29, 2016.

Reports in The Straits Times stated that more than 30 suspects involved in illegal remote gambling services were arrested earlier that month, following one of the largest police operations against a criminal syndicate.

On Friday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Teo Lu Jia said Lim started buying illegal 4D from a man known only as Ah Tee from 2001 to 2002.

Lim then worked as an illegal 4D collector for him in 2005. Two years later, Lim was told he could earn more money if he worked directly under Ah Tee’s boss, a man known as Ah Peng, later established to be Lean Kay Cheong, now 62.

According to court documents, Lean later recruited Lim, and as part of the arrangement, Lim would have to source for his own punters to place illegal 4D and Toto bets with him. These punters also placed bets directly with Lim.

DPP Teo told District Judge Ng Peng Hong: “The accused would get a commission of 10 per cent of the total bets collected from his own punters. If the accused’s punters struck lottery, he would receive an additional 5 per cent of the winning amount.”

She added that Lim later had 80 punters placing illegal bets with him. Over time, he became a “master agent” and recruited a pool of about 15 agents under him. These agents would then collect illegal bets from punters.

The court heard that Lim earned more than $200,000 in commission between 2007 and 2015 in total.

DPP Teo urged Judge Ng to sentence him to five years and four months’ jail with a fine of $288,000. She said the court should send a strong message to deter others from committing similar offences.

Defence lawyer Steven Lam pleaded for his client to be handed a jail sentence of between three years and eight months and four years, with a $200,000 fine. He said Lim committed the offences due to dire financial circumstances and had to raise funds to treat his daughter’s kidney failure.

Lim was offered bail of $15,000 and is expected to be sentenced on Jan 15 next year.

Several other offenders linked to the syndicate were dealt with in court earlier. One of them, newspaper vendor Or Poh Soon, 55, who collected bets and sourced for punters, was the first person to plead guilty to offences under the Organised Crime Act. He was sentenced to two years’ jail and a fine of $50,000 in June this year.

The syndicate was allegedly led by three brothers: Steven Seet Seo Boon, 54; Eric Seet Seow Huat, 63; and Philip Seet Sian Thian, 70. The cases involving the trio, Lean and some other members are still pending.

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Couple's missing winning 4-D ticket found and returned by Nanyang Polytechnic student

SINGAPORE – Thinking it was a piece of litter no one wanted, he picked up the 4-D ticket from the floor of the bus to throw it away as he prepared to alight.

But the bus bin was full and, after taking another look at the ticket, Nanyang Polytechnic student Bryan Lee found that it was clean and not crumpled. He then realised someone might have dropped the ticket.

It turned out that the 18-year-old had picked up a winning ticket that storekeeper Neo Hock Wah’s wife had lost on the same day last month.

The story had a happy ending as the two parties managed to meet each other with the help of a Lianhe Wanbao reporter after a report was published in the Chinese evening daily about Mr Neo’s missing ticket.

Mr Neo, 55, told The Straits Times on Thursday (Dec 13) that his wife had spent $10 to buy the number “1989” on Nov 7, after the storekeeper had dreamt of the numbers a few days before.

It was the couple’s second time buying the number since the dream. They do not often spend money on 4-D.

His wife took a bus at around 6pm to head to Yishun for dinner with their son, and while on the bus she snapped a photo of the ticket to show her husband that she had bought it.

When the 51-year-old housewife was alighting, she dropped her wallet, and the ticket likely fell out then.

Later that night, after the winning numbers were announced, the couple discovered that they had won $2,500, but their ticket was nowhere to be found.

The couple then tried to ask Singapore Pools if they could still collect the money with the picture and surveillance footage from the store as evidence, but were denied.

They were about to give up hope when friends suggested they contact Stomp or Lianhe Wanbao, which they did.

Enter Mr Lee, who was taking the same bus on the same day as Mr Neo’s wife.

After seeing the Wanbao article, the business management student contacted the reporter who put him in touch with the couple. They met on Nov 19 evening at a Burger King outlet in Woodlands.

He told ST on Friday: “My priority was to find the owner. Just because I can collect the lottery money does not mean that was the right thing to do.”

Mr Lee said that Mr Neo’s wife told him she had been worrying for days and had lost sleep over the missing ticket. He was very glad that he could “make someone’s day”.

Mr Neo and his wife decided to give the Good Samaritan a $200 red packet, which he reluctantly accepted, after initially declining several times.

The storekeeper said he was very grateful to Mr Lee for returning the ticket, and gave him the money out of gratitude and goodwill.

Said Mr Lee: “I don’t think this is anything to be proud of or commended for. Returning a lost belonging is just what I am supposed to do.”

He added that he intends to look for an organisation he supports to donate the money to.

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