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@Jackie San

SILKYARA TUNNEL (November 24, 2023): Just a few metres of rock and earth separate Indian rescue teams from 41 workers who have been trapped inside a collapsed road tunnel for nearly two weeks, officials said today, vowing to get all the men out safely.

After a series of rapid advances, hopes that the men’s freedom was imminent were dashed late Wednesday when the drilling machine powering through tonnes of rock and concrete ran into metal rods, but those have now been cleared.

An AFP reporter could see sparks flying as workers in the entrance of the tunnel welded together the final sections of steel pipe, to make the tube that will provide a safe exit for the trapped workers.

Rescue teams have stretchers fitted with wheels ready to pull the exhausted men through 57 metres of pipe once it has been driven through the final section of rubble blocking their escape.

“We have to (drill) 14 metres further inside the tunnel,” Bhaskar Khulbe, a senior government official overseeing rescue efforts, told reporters today, adding that the “trapped workers are in good frame of mind”.

Officials have repeatedly predicted they were within a few hours of a breakthrough, but a government statement has also noted that any timeline is “subject to change due to technical glitches, the challenging Himalayan terrain, and unforeseen emergencies”.

Ambulances are on standby and a field hospital has been prepared to receive the men, who have been trapped since a portion of the under-construction Silkyara tunnel in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand caved in 13 days ago.


Syed Ata Hasnain, a senior rescue official and retired general, said their efforts were “like battle”.

“By any means, we must get these brave men out”, he told reporters this afternoon, adding that “all resources” needed were being utilised.

“This is a war that is being fought to save the sons of India who have been toiling up there in the mountains,” Hasnain said, adding that the final stretch was critical.

“We are going to be very, very careful in further progress”, he said.

The area outside the tunnel has been a flurry of activity, with worried relatives gathering and rescue teams stopping to pray at a Hindu shrine erected at the entrance.

National Disaster Response Force chief Atul Karwal said his teams had been rehearsing how — once the steel pipe breaks through — they would bring the men out as quickly and safely as possible.

“The boys will go in first,” he said Thursday. “We have put wheels under the stretchers so that when we go in, we can get the people out one by one on the stretcher — we are prepared in every way.”

Rescue efforts have been hit with repeated delays caused by falling debris, fears of further cave-ins and drilling machine breakdowns.

Arnold Dix, president of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association, who is at the site assisting the rescue, said engineers had even faced having to cut through construction vehicles buried in the earth when the roof first collapsed.

Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said work was on a “war footing”.

“We are trying to overcome all the obstacles soon, and bring all the workers out safely,” Dhami said. 








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@Jackie San

The variety of juicy grape that Yuki Nakamura is harvesting as the sun rises over his farm took scientists 33 years to develop and can sell for 15,000 yen a bunch in Tokyo department stores.

But in the view of Japanese farmers and officials, the chunky emerald-green Shine Muscat, one of many fruit varieties created by Japan, has been "stolen" by China and South Korea.

"The great things about Shine Muscat are that each grape berry becomes big, it's easy to grow, and it's sweet but not too much," Nakamura told AFP in the country's central Nagano region.

Calling the grapes his "partner", the 35-year-old said he wants to export to places such as Hong Kong and Thailand, where Japanese fruits are popular.

But waiting on the shelves there -- and online -- are copycats grown by China and South Korea that are nearly the same as Shine Muscat grapes, but much cheaper.

According to the Japanese government, China and South Korea took Shine Muscat seedlings out of Japan and grafted them onto local vines to produce fruit that looks and tastes -- almost -- as good.

Customers definitely "look at the prices", said Sau, a fruit vendor in a busy market in Hong Kong where Japanese Shine Muscats often cost two or three times as much as their Chinese counterparts, even with a weak yen making Japanese imports cheaper.

"But you can taste the difference," the vendor, who only gave her first name, told AFP.

"Japanese Shine Muscats are refreshing, sweet, and have stronger grape flavour. Chinese ones are sweet, but lack the grape flavor."

The Chinese Shine Muscat copycats were discovered in 2016, a decade after the variety's registration in Japan, when the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) investigated samples.

But Japan cannot stop China or South Korea from growing the fruit because Tokyo -- some say naively -- failed to register the variety overseas within the six years required under international rules.

This was confirmed by South Korea's agriculture ministry, which told AFP that the "current situation permits Shine Muscat grapes to be grown and distributed here without royalty requirements".

Chinese authorities did not respond to requests to comment.

Japan cannot export grapes to China itself because of Beijing's quarantine rules, so Chinese growers are not technically cannibalising Japanese sales.

"But we would expect licensing fees... would be over 10 billion yen ($69 million) a year, assuming we obtained rights in China," Yasunori Ebihara, director of plant trademark protection at the Japanese agriculture ministry, told AFP.

The ministry admits that Japan also failed to register new kinds of Japanese-origin strawberry, cherry and citrus varieties that have been found in China, South Korea and also Australia.

The first auctions for seasonal fruits routinely attract massive sums in Japan, with a single pair of premium melons fetching five million yen (then $45,500) in 2019.

"Fruits are special for Japanese people," Ebihara said. "Japanese consumers seek sweet, big, beautiful fruits in a fancy box. Therefore, Japanese farmers make efforts to produce better quality, sweeter and more delicious fruits."

Japan has been developing new fruit varieties since the 1920s.

Fuji apples -- named for Japan's famous volcano -- emerged in the 1930s as a cross between two varieties and are now among the world's most popular.

But the full-scale mission started after World War II, and continues to this day at NARO's research sites across the country.

On a recent sunny autumn day, researchers were harvesting dozens of new pear varieties, measuring their sweetness and hardness with special equipment, as well as with the occasional bite.

Takehiko Shimada, head of NARO's fruit variety research unit, said it takes years of painstaking work to develop a new variety fit to hit stores.

"It's normal" that it took over 30 years to produce the Shine Muscat, he said.

The research organization has begun using DNA analysis to try to catch copycats of new fruit varieties.

"There are genome sequences that only the Shine Muscat has, so we can check whether (a grape) has such a sequence and determine whether it is a Shine Muscat," Shimada said.

Japan tightened its rules in 2020, prohibiting registered seeds and seedlings from being taken abroad. Violators can face a prison term of up to 10 years or a fine of up to 10 million yen.

Japan is also making efforts to better protect domestic growers against foreign copycats.

Back on the farm, Nakamura is happy that Shine Muscats are well-known across Asia.

"But I don't like it when I see that something Japan worked so hard to produce is easily brought overseas and sold there."






@Jackie San




@Jackie San

LHOKSEUMAWE (November 25,n 2023): Indonesian police and fishermen said today they have begun patrolling parts of the country’s westernmost province to prevent Rohingya refugees from landing on its shores, after nearly 1,100 members of the persecuted Myanmar minority arrived this month.

Thousands from the mostly Muslim minority risk their lives each year making sea journeys from refugee camps in Bangladesh, often in flimsy boats, to try to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.

As sailing conditions eased this month, more than half a dozen boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya people from Bangladesh arrived in Aceh province, including some that locals tried to turn back to sea.

Police in East Aceh, a regency of more than 350,000 people that saw 36 Rohingya arrive on Sunday, said they have now imposed round-the-clock patrols.

The force “has instructed its subordinate police precincts with coastal areas to intensify surveillance, both along the coastline and in the waters of the Malacca Strait, to prevent the entry of Rohingya immigrants”, it said in a statement.

“The police are patrolling 24/7 to prevent Rohingya immigrants from landing in East Aceh,” said police chief Andy Rahmansyah.

In North Aceh, head of Tanoh Anoe village Amiruddin Ismail told AFP patrols were stepped up on Friday night after fishermen reported sighting a Rohingya boat three kilometres off the coast of Muara Batu town.

Fishermen, local police and military units all conducted patrols along the coast until the alleged boat was no longer seen, he said.

Fishing community head in North Aceh’s Dewantara district Naharuddin, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, confirmed the patrols to AFP.

“We immediately conducted surveillance along the coastline. While fishermen went to sea… we requested them to keep an eye out,” he said.

xperts have expressed concern Indonesia will be the next country to toughen its borders to prevent Rohingya landings, with Malaysia, Thailand and India all deterring their arrivals.

Many Acehnese have long been sympathetic to the plight of their fellow Muslims.

But some say their patience has been tested, claiming the Rohingya consume scarce resources and occasionally come into conflict with locals.

More than a million Rohingya have fled Myanmar since the 1990s, most in the wake of a 2017 military crackdown that forced many to settle in camps in Bangladesh.

Indonesia is not a signatory to the United Nations refugee convention and says it is not compelled to take in refugees from Myanmar.







@Jackie San




@Jackie San

The National Soft Power Development Committee has clarified its idea of staging the Songkran Festival for the whole month of April 2024, saying the water-splashing festivities will still be held on April 13-15 as per tradition, while other cultural events will be organised nationwide during the entire month.

The move follows heavy criticism that the idea is impractical and a month-long water splashing event would be a huge waste of water and increase road accidents. 

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Pheu Thai Party leader and chairwoman of the committee, previously said the committee had wanted to promote Songkran to become one of the world's best festivals.

" We will not splash water only for three days but the whole month with events to be held nationwide," she said.

The committee expects the extended festival to generate 35 billion baht for the economy, she wrote on her Facebook page.

Surapong Suebwonglee, the committee's vice-chairman, said that during Songkran, each province normally organises its own activities separately.

But the Songkran Festival will now be listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage item by Unesco, he said, quoting the Ministry of Culture.

The official announcement will be made at Unesco's Intergovernmental Committee meeting for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Botswana on Wednesday.

" Therefoe, the committee agreed that next year's Songkran Festival should be co-hosted by 77 provinces throughout the month of April, rather than being held separately. But it is not about water-splashing the whole month," Dr Surapong told the Bangkok Post.

" Water-splashing activities in each province will still be held in their usual tradition, but throughout the whole month we will also organise events to promote the country's soft power.

" For example, water-splashing will take place on April 13-15 in Bangkok. Afterwards, other cultural events will be organised to promote soft power in various locations in the capital such as on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, and Lumpini Park, " he said.

Each province will present ideas for events during the extended holiday for consideration by the committee this week, Dr Surapong said.

Pheu Thai explained on its Facebbok account that plans are in place to transform Songkran into a global event under the theme "World Water Festival - The Songkean Phenomenon", with festivities to be rolled out gradually during April in the expectation of attracting more than 35 million foreign tourists and generating some 40 billion bath.

Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang said on Sunday that if activities are to be held in all 77 provinces nationwide throughout April, there may not be enough police to keep order, though soldiers would be on stand-by to assist of necessary.

On his Facebook, Nattavudh Powdthavee, a professor of economics at Nanyang Technology University in Singapore, said the traditional three days of Songkran was time enough to transform the water splashing into something extraordinary, with the brevity of the period meaning that those who don't like getting drenched can still tolerate it.

" If we make every single day of April a Songkran Festival Day, its value will diminish and people will be bored," he posted.








@Jackie San



@Jackie San

Have you ever wondered what LGBT and being an “ally” mean? Knowing some key terms and concepts, like the difference between “sex,” “gender,” and “sexual orientation,” are ways to be an ally.

The term "LGBT technically stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. It includes both sexual orientation (LGB) and gender identity (T). But, it’s sometimes used as an umbrella term for anyone who does not identify as straight (heterosexual) or cisgender, so it’s important to know other sexual and gender identities the term covers. Below, we break down a few basic terms and concepts. These are just some of the many terms that are used to define sexual orientation, as well as gender identity and expression. A word of caution: Be careful not to impose any of these terms onto others. Let others identify themselves in ways that make them feel safe and authentic to their true selves.


  • Sex — Genetic and physical body characteristics people are born with, labeled male or female.
  • Gender — A social and cultural expression of sex; not the biological sex people are born with.
  • Intersex — People who are born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit typical definitions of “male” or “female.”
  • Sexual Orientation — Romantic, emotional, and/or sexual attraction to others.
  • Gender Identity — An internal feeling of being male, female, or something else.
  • Gender Expression — Ways of showing gender to others, such as through mannerisms, clothes, and personal interests.
  • Questioning — Individuals who are unsure about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
  • Ally — An individual or organization that openly supports and affirms the rights and dignity of LGBT people.

Sexual orientation:
  • Lesbian/Gay — Individuals who are romantically, emotionally, and/or sexually attracted to the same sex/gender.
  • Bisexual — Individuals who are romantically, emotionally, and/or sexually attracted to multiple sexes/genders.

Gender identity and expression: 
  • Cisgender — Individuals whose gender identity/expressions is similar to that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.
  • Transgender — Individuals whose gender identity/expression is different from that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.
  • Transitioning — When individuals begin to express their authentic gender, which differs from that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Individuals who are transitioning may express their gender identity through changes in clothes, hairstyle, and makeup/accessories and may undergo medical or surgical treatments.
  • Two-Spirit — Created specifically by and for some Native American communities. Native American people who (a) express their gender and/or sexual orientation in indigenous, non-Western ways, and/or (b) define themselves as LGBTQI in a native context.


A global divide on admission of LGBTQ communities remains but is narrowing, a new study shows.

he global push for gay rights around the world has been a long, slow struggle – in some Middle Eastern and African countries, for example, same-sex acts today can bring the death penalty. But public acceptance is increasing, even in culturally conservative countries, according to a global study released on Thursday.

People in the United States, India, South Korea and Mexico have registered the largest gains in public acceptance with gay rights since 2002, according to findings released from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Pew conducted its polling in 34 countries, including the U.S. The study finds public opinion around the world on the acceptance of gay rights is still divided by country, region and economic development, despite substantial change in laws and norms surrounding issues such as same-sex marriage and the rights of LGBTQ communities around the world.

Pew released its survey in June, celebrated as Pride Month in many countries. Pew first began international polling on the acceptance of gay rights in 2002, and 2013 is the last year the organization conducted its study. As in 2013, the data released today reflect public acceptance of gay rights is shaped by the country where people live. People in Western Europe and the Americas are generally more accepting than people in Eastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, while people in Asia-Pacific countries are split on the topic.

Those differences are shaped by the economic development of countries, as well as individuals' age, education levels and religious and political views, says Jacob Poushter, the study's lead author and Pew's associate director of global attitudes research.

"Generally, more educated, younger and less religious respondents voiced greater acceptance of homosexuality than those who are less educated, older or more religious," Poushter said in an email.

Pew's study found substantial changes in public opinion. In the United States, for example, 72% today say homosexuality should be accepted, a sharp increase from 46% in 1994 and 51% in 2002, Poushter says.

Among other countries showing major increases in public acceptance of homosexuality since 2002:

  • South Africa, which shows a 21-point increase in public acceptance;
  • South Korea, where a 19-point increase is shown;
  • In both Japan and Mexico, just over half said they accepted homosexuality; in 2002; nearly 7 in 10 respondents in today's study now approve.
  • Even in India, where today a minority (37%) today say they accept homosexuality, that level of approval is a 22-point increase.

  • Pew conducted the survey from May 13 to Oct. 2, 2019, polling 38,426 people in 34 countries.

    The phrasing Pew used in its survey was, "And which one of these comes closer to your opinion? Homosexuality should be accepted by society OR Homosexuality should not be accepted by society." Pew began polling this question in the U.S. in 1994 and expanded globally in 2002.

    Pew researchers acknowledge the word "homosexuality" can today be considered archaic but say the word is the most applicable and translatable when asking the question across societies and languages, and has been used in other cross-national research, including the World Values Survey.

    Pew's study also found that people in wealthier and more developed economies are more accepting than countries that are less wealthy and developed. Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, nations with a per-capita gross domestic product of more than $50,000, registered among the highest levels of acceptance. By comparison, less than 2-in-10 respondents in Nigeria, Kenya and Ukraine have per-capita GDPs of less than $10,000, express acceptance.

    "Country wealth, measured by GDP per capita, is a still a driving force for attitudes towards acceptance of homosexuality in society, with people in wealthier countries expressing more acceptance than those in less developed economies," Poushter said.


    'Open minded' Thailand banks on LGBT tourists, 'boys love' exports

    BANGKOK -- Thailand's tourism sector is taking LGBT travelers more seriously, hoping their spending on events and medical treatments gives the country a post-COVID economic jolt.

    The Thai economy grew 2.7% in the first quarter of 2023 from a year earlier, and the central bank expects it to expand 3.6% for the whole year. Authorities say the tourism sector, which accounted for about 20% of the economy before the pandemic, will play an essential role.

    LGBT tourists spend an estimated $200 billion worldwide a year, according to research conducted by Out Now Consulting, an agency that provides gay marketing services to big companies.

    This prospective gold mine has encouraged the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to hone its LGBT marketing strategy, which includes holding roadshows targeting LGBT communities in Europe, Asia and the U.S.

    Thailand has long been a destination for LGBT tourists, but it is only recently that the tourism authority started promotions targeting LGBT groups.

    This year, the tourism authority is sponsoring Pride events in more areas, such as Phuket and Pattaya, in addition to Bangkok. Thailand is celebrating Pride Month throughout June with parades, concerts and other LGBT events, with thousands of people from around the world taking part in a Bangkok Pride parade on June 4.

    The foreign tourists did not come just for the parade. According to TAT research, many were long-haul travelers who often spend days at destinations holding events they want to attend.

    "The TAT has realized the importance of [LGBT] groups and will continue to do research to serve their demand," a TAT official said.

    Thailand has long attracted wealthy medical tourists due to its high medical standards and competitive prices. Now the country's medical sector is working to attract LGBT medical tourists from Asia and elsewhere.

    Bangkok's Bumrungrad International Hospital, one of Thailand's leading hospitals, in 2021 opened a Pride Clinic that offers integrated medical and wellness services to the LGBT community, ranging from hormone treatment to gender-affirming treatment.

    Currently, around 70% of the clinic's clients are Thais, Napas Paorohitya, Bumrungrad's chief marketing officer, told Nikkei Asia. She said foreign clients come from the U.S., Canada, Bangladesh, Australia, China, Vietnam and Singapore.

    The clinic promotes its services in Asia, particularly in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, "our strategic markets with strong spending power," Napas said.

    One LGBT respondent in a TAT research project said medical services geared toward the community help Thailand project a welcoming image.

    "Thailand is well-known for being at the forefront of surgery that allows people to change their sex," the respondent said. "That says a lot about its open-mindedness."

    The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery estimates Thailand's cosmetic and gender-affirming treatment industry to be worth an annual 36 billion baht, a figure the society expects to grow by 15% to 20% a year.

    Meanwhile, Thailand plans to capitalize more on its LGBT-related soft power. The country has emerged as Asia's biggest creator of "boys love" dramas. Last year, exports of these gay romance series and movies exceeded 1.5 billion baht.

    Earlier this year, the Ministry of Commerce held a business-matching event in Bangkok so Thai producers of boys love content could meet and talk with importers from Japan, South Korea and China. The fair generated 158 business partnerships that are expected to lead to more than 3.6 billion baht in exports of LGBT-themed content, according to Ratchada Thanadirek, a deputy spokeswoman for the government.


    "Thailand is one of the most tolerant countries in Southeast Asia, and has a thriving LGBTQ+ scene. But are there limits to what's acceptable?"

    Thailand is one of Asia’s most LGBTQ+-friendly nations. It’s close to approving same-sex civil partnerships, has a thriving transgender community, boasts hospital services tailored to LGtbQ+ patients, and big Thai companies even offer medical leave for gender reassignment surgery. But that doesn’t mean Thailand’s necessarily an LGBTQ+ travel utopia. Thailand still has a complicated relationship with those communities that’s important to understand before you visit.

    Transgender people in Thailand

    Very few countries are as welcoming to transgender people as Thailand. It has one of the world’s largest transgender communities, is the biggest destination for gender reassignment surgery on the planet and is a hugely popular tourism destination for transgender people.

    Thailand has been so open to transgender people that many transmen and transwomen from across Southeast Asia leave their home countries, where their sexuality is not accepted, and take up residence in Thailand. Thailand is particularly well known for its many transwomen, known locally as “kathoey”.

    Whereas in many countries transgender people are marginalized – pushed to the fringes of society – in  Thailand they are very much part of the mainstream. On any given day in a big Thai city, such as Bangkok, tourists will likely encounter many transgender people working in offices, hotels, restaurants, and shops. Thousands of people attend Thailand’s annual Miss International Queen, the world’s largest transgender beauty competition.

    However, transgender residents in Thailand still face more obstacles and injustices than cisgender people and are sometimes discriminated against in education, recruitment, and in the workplace. It’s also claimed that some transgender people are paid less and offered fewer benefits than their cisgender colleagues.

    For transgender tourists, however, Thailand is justifiably a prime destination. In the big cities, and popular tourist resort towns, transgender travelers are commonplace and it is very rare for transgender tourists to face harassment or abuse.

    Gay and lesbian acceptance in Thailand

    Thailand is becoming more hospitable for gay and lesbian people. The Thai Government has approved a same-sex civil partnership bill to increase the legal rights of gay and lesbian couples, and Bangkok’s top private hospital, Bumrungrad, opened a clinic specifically for LGBTQ+ patients in 2021. Well-known Thai communications giant, DTAC, announced many new benefits for LGBTQ+ employees in June 2021, including marital leave and family health packages for same-sex couples in civil partnerships.

    Homophobia still exists, of course, as it does in every country, but it is rare in Thailand, and becoming less common as young Thai people are reared in a nation that’s increasingly inclusive of gay and lesbian people.

    The widespread warmth in Thailand towards the gay and lesbian community was highlighted in April 2021 after a Thai gay couple received death threats from Indonesian internet users for posting photos of their wedding. That prompted a flood of online support and affection for this couple from Thai netizens, as well as Thai media reports defending them.

    This explains why Thailand has become a hugely popular tourist destination for gay and lesbian travelers in the last 20 years. As well as acceptance, the country has a lively LGBTQ+ social scene with every major Thai city and beach resort home to many gay and lesbian venues. Bangkok’s Silom district, which teems with gay bars and nightclubs, is widely considered the largest gay entertainment area in Asia.

    Public displays of affection

    In general, all public displays of affection are much rarer in Thailand than in most Western countries. While Thai couples of all sexual orientations will commonly hug or hold hands in public, anything more intimate than that is unusual. Thais are naturally quite private and reserved and tend to keep their strongest emotions – from affection to anger – for the privacy of their homes. Visitors are advised to follow suit and leave the canoodling for the hotel room.

    General safety for LGBTQ+ Travelers?

    LGBTQ+ travelers to Thailand should take the same precautions they would in any other country. Hate crimes or discrimination against LGBTQ+ visitors are very rare, however, as in many other countries, social viewpoints are less liberal outside of the main cities, and people in rural Thailand are less accustomed to seeing same-sex couples.

    From a safety perspective, LGBTQ+ visitors in Thailand should consider the same issues as all other travelers. Scams, drink spiking, petty theft and road accidents are the four biggest threats to all tourists in Thailand. Where possible, it is best to book day tours, watersport activities, or long taxi trips through the concierge of your hotel, to minimize the risk of being caught up in one of the many scams that target tourists in Thailand.

    Drink spiking isn’t rampant in Thailand, but it’s common enough in its busy tourist precincts that you should try to always keep your drink in your hand. Also, keep a close eye on your possessions as petty thieves in Thailand often focus on foreigners.

    When it comes to road safety, Thailand has the world’s second-highest rate of road fatalities, and the worst rate of motorcycle fatalities – unless you’re an experienced rider, don’t hire a motorbike. Finally, if you are confronted by a Thai police officer, be polite and show them a photocopy of your passport, which you should always carry with you.








    @Jackie San

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