Quick To Kiss China’s A**! Wednesday, Mar 26 2008 

The Singapore government has been quick to support China on its handling of the recent unrests in Tibet. I’m not surprised coz its pretty much the same here even when the protests are peaceful. The most recent example of course is the tak boleh tahan protests.

As for the unrests in Tibet, the Singapore government’s rush to support China without actually knowing what happened, especially what triggered the recent events, is quite pathetic, to put it mildly. Even then, blindly supporting China’s handling of the unrests, and Tibet in general, without acknowledging the underlying causes and roots of Tibetans’ anger, makes the Singapore government look like one of China’s biggest ass-kissers!

We do know what the Tibetans are generally frustrated, upset and pissed-off about as these series of videos show……

20 Mar 2008

5 Aug 2007

13 Mar 2008

15 Mar 2008

16 Mar 2008

17 Mar 2008

How Sovereign Wealth Funds Were Left Nursing Multibillion-Dollar Losses Monday, Mar 24 2008 

by Richard Wray, The Guardian, 22 Mar 2008

· Investments in banking stock rapidly go sour
· Singapore group pours £9bn into leaking coffers

The financial crisis enveloping the world banking sector has left the sovereign wealth funds, controlled by governments from Singapore and China to Abu Dhabi and Kuwait, nursing multibillion-dollar losses after helping to bail out major western banks.

In recent months, banks including Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and UBS have turned to investment funds, including the Government of Singapore Investment Corp (GIC), its sister fund, Temasek, and China Investment Corp, for funding that western investors were unwilling to give as stockmarkets plunged.

But the dramatic fire sale of the US investment bank Bear Stearns and subsequent stockmarket run on HBOS this week have depressed banking stocks further and deepened the climate of fear in the world’s stockmarkets.

Singapore’s GIC, for example, which with funds of more than $330bn (£166bn) is one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, spent more than £5.5bn on a 9% stake in UBS last year. Shares in the Swiss bank are down 46% so far this year. It spent a further $6.88bn in January as part of a $14.5bn funding round for the embattled US bank Citigroup,

Two months before, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), which with assets estimated at up to $900bn is reckoned to be the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, invested $7.5bn in Citigroup bonds that will convert to shares in 2010 and 2011 at prices from $31 to $37.

But since then Citigroup has become one of the most high-profile casualties of the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US, and its share price has plunged as low as $20 – nearly 40% lower than when the ADIA made its investment.

The pain shows no sign of letting up. Two months ago, Citigroup announced it had plunged into the red over the past three months of 2007 and sliced its dividend almost in half as it wiped more than $18bn off the value of its assets because of exposure to sub-prime mortgages. But Wall Street analysts reckon the firm could record a further $15bn write-down for this financial quarter.

China Investment Corporation’s investment in Morgan Stanley, made just before Christmas, is also facing a significant loss. The securities it picked up for $5bn will convert to stock at $48 to $57 a share in two years’ time. At present, however, Morgan Stanley’s share price is closer to $42.

Another Beijing-backed money manager, China Development Bank, has also suffered as the stake in Barclays it bought in July has plunged in value. When it acquired the 3.1% shareholding, the bank’s shares were trading at about 680p each. On Thursday, they were at 429p.

The Singaporean fund Temasek is also nursing losses on the 2.1% Barclays stake it bought last year, although its investment in the London-listed bank Standard Chartered has fared better. The bank, which has little involvement in the US sub-prime crisis, has weathered the storm better than many of its peers.

The losses sustained by sovereign wealth funds are relatively insignificant when compared with the $3.2tr they are believed to have at their control. Morgan Stanley reckons that with the price of commodities such as oil set to remain high, this amount will balloon to $12tr by 2015. But the losses may dampen their appetite for further involvement in bailing out western banks.

Western politicians are increasingly concerned about the power of sovereign wealth funds in their markets. Earlier this week the US government agreed voluntary principles with ADIA and Singapore’s GIC to regulate their investments.

VIDEOS: Al Jazeera’s “The War In America” Wednesday, Mar 19 2008 

Five years on from the start of the war in Iraq Al Jazeera visited the USA to guage public mood towards the conflict. In a special four part documentary we talked to, among others, grieving mothers, politicians and the man widely regarded as coining the phrase “axis of evil”, who still supports the war.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Al Jazeera English news report – Iraq war enters sixth year

Treated Like Common Criminals For Peacefully Exercising Their Constitutional Rights Wednesday, Mar 19 2008 

Below are passages I have selected from a 2005 book by Kevin Y.L. Tan (one of Singapore’s leading public law scholars and legal historians) titled An Introduction to Singapore’s Constitution. Its a bit of background about the Constitution and especially for this post about the Tak Boleh Tahan protest last Saturday with regards to Freedom of Assembly.

“Although many people have heard the words ‘constitution’, ‘constitutional’ and ‘constitutionalism’, few know what they mean….Today, we use it to refer to the most important and basic rules concerning a country’s government and legal structure. It is the supreme law of the land and is superior to all other laws. Put another way, the Constitution is the Mother of All Laws since it is the basic legal foundation of any society.”

“Peoples all over the world have struggled to place government on a more democratic footing and to hold them accountable for their actions. That is why we have constitutions.”

“In the modern state, government is large and the state possesses vast powers of coercion. As individuals, we worry that the state may become so overwhelming and powerful that we end up living under tyranny. We worry that those who govern us will succumb to Lord Acton’s axiom ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. This is why we draft constitutions to break up and divide these powers between different branches of government and subject them all to the law.”

“Ideally, a constitution must organize, separate and control the arbitrary exercise of power. Given the political realities of a single-party dominant system of government in Singapore, the limiting powers of the Constitution are weak indeed. Other than the sovereignty provisions under Part III and the elected president provisions – which require a two-thirds majority in a national referendum – everything and anything in the constitution is amendable by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. This special majority has been easily obtained since 1968 when the PAP secured an almost hegemonic grip on power….This allows the ruling party to change the Constitution almost at will and the ease with which the amendments are constantly made erodes its sanctity as the supreme law and its legitimacy as the nation’s legal beacon of light….if Singaporeans are looking to their Constitution to help control and limit government, they will come away disappointed for they will discover that control on government is not achieved through the haloed words of a sanctified and revered national document or the activist intervention of the courts.”

“Article 14(1)(b) guarantees that all citizens ‘have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms’. This is subject to Article 14(2)(b) which allows Parliament to restrict the right in the interest of the security of the country or public order….Restrictive legislation exists in the form of: the Penal Code (unlawful assembly); the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (empowering the Minister to make rules regulating public meetings and processions in public places); the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act (regulating the licensing for public entertainment including lectures, talks, addresses, debates and discussions in a public place); the Societies Act ( which renders a meeting of an unlawful society an offence) and the Public Order (Preservation) Act and the Preservation of Peace Act (which gives the authorities power to disperse assemblies in gazetted areas in the interest of public order).”

Here are accounts, from participants of the protest, of what happened when they were brought to the Police Cantonment Complex……

Part 3 of Confessions of a Protester World Consumer Rights Day, Chia Ti Lik, SGpolitics.net, 17 Mar 2008

The earlier process of surrendering personal items into a transparent bag took some time.

There was also some delay due to Siok Chin and Dr. Chee’s firm exchanges with the police.

At one stage, there was also so much tension that they placed 3 guards within the lock up cell with us.

Station Inspector Tan Kok Ann was uncomfortable about us grouping in a circle to talk. He entered the lock up and insisted on standing amongst us when Dr. Chee refused his suggestion to sit down on the bench.

All that took up some time such that by the time we were settled down people were then taking turns to go to the toilet. Accompanied of course.

I also went to the toilet under guard. I had to pass through a total of 4 or so gates. Each one was locked. I was accompanied all the time by a police officer.

The toilet bowl squarely faced the door. If the policeman stood at the door, there was no way I could get out of his sight. I approached the cubicles only to find that they were bathing cubicles. I did not see any urinals. There was only one cistern and flush and one washbasin. These were in a single straight line from the door. There were no windows. No side doors. No trapdoors. Nothing.

The Policeman remained there. I passed my urine under police guard. After that i was led back to the cell. This was repeated with each and everyone of us under guard.

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Part 4 of Confessions of a Protester World Consumer Rights Day, Chia Ti Lik, SGpolitics.net, 17 Mar 2008

“I am exercising my constitutional rights.”

“I am responsible for my own actions.”

“I myself will answer for what I did.”

It came statement taking. I was amongst the first to be called. I was led to another room where I would sit down facing an officer in front of a PC.

The Officer taking my statement was polite. He revealed that he would be asking me a number of questions. He told me that I could decline to answer them.

I must say frankly that I co-operated with the police. I answered the questions the best that I could. However, any questions that turned towards pinning blame on other persons, I declined to answer.

Each time I was faced with a difficult question, I repeated my position to the Police officer. I am exercising my constitutional rights. I will take responsibility for my own actions.

There were of course attempts by the officer to allude persuasion and instigation by persons within the SDP persuading people to take part in the protest.

Honestly since I was there to support a valid course. I answered that I was there on my own accord. I will answer for my actions.

The Officer then asked why i was there. I told him that I was there to protest against price hikes. I was there to speak on behalf of Singaporeans.

I was asked whether I went to the protest because of SDP’s encouragement and instigation. I told them that i went on my own accord.

I was asked how I came to know about the protest. I named the Sammyboy forums. [Samsters can feel really proud this time!]

I was asked if I knew of SDP’s website, of course I did but I realised that I did not really know SDP’s website very well. Seriously, I did not have time to surf around. Therefore even sammyboy forum’s access was done through saved links and not by way of typing the address.

I was asked who I went there with. How I got there. All these I declined to answer.

After signing my statement, the officer questioned me on my personal belongings. He then told me that he would have to confiscate my phone and my camera. I told him of private photos in my camera which I would have to delete, of course in his presence and that I would only surrender them if I was allowed to delete them.The officer claimed that the IO would decide whether it could be done. We waited some time after he contacted the IO.

The answer was no.

I explained the need to have certain private matters kept confidential. I asked again the relevance of private matters for the offences being investigated.

The answer again was no.

I told the officer that I was resisting and picked up my bag of belongings and tucked them under my arm. I stood up and made my way to the door. The officer ordered me to sit down. He told me that this was a lock up and asked me where did I intended to go? I thought of Kastari. But I was missing a limp.

I then decided to reason it out with the senior officer when he came. A total of 4 officers came to my room. Station Inspector Tan Kok Ann and the officer taking my statement gave me their gentleman’s word that my personal data would not be messed around with. After I extracted the promise and assurance from both of them, I surrendered my Tak Boleh Tahan shirt, my phone and my camera. I was then given a yellow T-shirt in exchange with compliments from the Singapore Police Force.

I was then led to a smaller lock up. There I found Ghandi and Dr. Chee. Soon thereafter the rest followed.

I thought I was tough but I soon found out that though 4 officers were needed for me to surrender my stuff, 5 were needed to forcibly pry John’s Tak Boleh Tahan shirt off.

When we were in the smaller cell. We heard Siok Chin’s raised voice arguing with the police.

To be continued in part 5

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Police behaviour away from public eye, Singapore Democrats, 17 Mar 2008

Far from the good guys that they try to portray of themselves, police behaviour on 15 Mar 08 was despicable.

For one they treated Mr John Tan, SDP’s assistant secretary-general, without regard for his safety. As Mr Tan had difficulty getting into the police vehicle several officers, thinking that they were away from the public eye, dragged him in a very rough manner (see video).

Inside the police van, despite being told that Mr Tan was suffering from a frozen shoulder, they forced his hands behind his back to handcuff him. Mr Tan turned pale with pain.

In the meantime, one of the protesters kept shouting that Mr Tan was diabetic and asked the officers to take it easy.

When he arrived at the station, Mr Tan was obviously in need of medical assistance.

The officer who arrested Ms Chee Siok Chin got ahold of her finger and bent it. Ms Chee cried out “You’re breaking my finger! You’re breaking my finger!” which was recorded on video.

Another protester was treated in a similarly shameful manner. Mr Seelan Palay fell over as he was led to the police vehicle. The officers proceeded to drag him by the arms into the van, causing him to hit his head against the steps of the van.

Mr Chong Kai Xiong, another one of the protesters who was arrested, had three of his left fingers sprained when an officer grabbed and twisted them during the arrest.

At the police station, the police demanded that the protesters remove their “Tak Bolen Tahan” T-shirts and hand them over for investigation.

In the first place, did the police not have enough video footage and photographs showing the protesters wearing their T-shirts?

Secondly, could they not have taken photographs of those arrested while they were in custody? Why the insistence that the shirts be seized?

Mr John Tan asked to call lawyer Mr M Ravi for legal advice first to see if the police had the right to seize the T-shirts.

The Investigating Officer refused and called in four of his colleagues, who proceeded to pin Mr Tan against the wall and literally ripped the shirt off. As a result, Mr Tan sustained scratches to his arm.

The police also demanded that the protesters hand over their cellphones. When Mr Chia Ti Lik initially refused, four officers were called in.

But there was one officer who stood out in his utter lack of respect for the uniform he wore. Station Inspector Tan Kok Ann, a stout man with a crew cut, was flippant as he was dishonest.

When the protesters were standing around and talking with each other in the holding celling, SI Tan insisted that everyone had to be seated. Dr Chee Soon Juan asked that the officer leave the cell as they were in the midst of a private conversation.

But SI Tan refused and stood right in front of the group.

Later in the evening, the Station Inspector came in and told the group that everyone was free to leave after bail was posted. All except Ms Chee Siok Chin whom he said was being held back for further investigation.

Upon hearing this, the group decided not to post bail in order to remain in the police station with Ms Chee. They asked to see her as she was kept separate from the men.

Officer Tan Kok Ann turned down the request as, according to him, those arrested could not communicate with each other. This was obviously a fabrication as all the male protesters were kept in the same room and were freely talking among themselves.

In addition, when Ms Chee was arrested in September last year over the Burmese issue and was taken to the Tanglin Police Division, she was allowed to communicate with Mr John Tan, Mr Gandhi Ambalam, and Dr Chee who were also arrested.

However, after hearing that the rest would not post bail if they did not get to see Ms Chee first, Officer Tan quickly returned and told the group that everyone, including Ms Chee, would be released together.

As if pleased with himself for his great performance that day, SI Tan Kok Ann did a little jig in front of those in the holding cell. Yes, in full uniform.

Chee Siok Chin To Police: Produce Evidence Or Retract Statement Wednesday, Mar 19 2008 

Chee Siok Chin - Pseudonymity
Police forcefully removing Chee Siok Chin. For more photos & reports, see my posts here and here

Chee Siok Chin to police: Produce evidence or retract statement, Singapore Democrats, 18 Mar 2008

The allegation made by the police that I had “tried to bite a female police officer when the latter tried to arrest her” and that I had “attack(ed)” her is a serious one. It is also a lie.

The statement made it look as if I had resisted arrest by trying to bite one of the police officers as they were leading me to the police van. The numerous clips that have been posted on the Internet have proven that this never took place.

The press statement issued by the police is malicious. Its intent is obvious.

If the police have evidence that I had attacked or even attempted to attack an officer, then they should produce it.

Otherwise they must retract the slanderous and scandalous statement, failing which I shall consider taking action against them.

Chee Siok Chin
CEC Member
Singapore Democratic Party

PHOTOS: More Of Tak Boleh Tahan! Sunday, Mar 16 2008 

Here are more photos of the events that transpired on 15 Mar 2008. Read the Singapore Democrats’ response to the statement by the police.

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The protesters arriving at Parliament House while the media take pictures

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Gathering in front of Parliament House

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Arranging the grocery items which symbolise the rash of price increases and the rising cost of living which Singaporeans have had to put up with.

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Addressing the media. The second photo shows the cameraman from the local pro-government news media, Channel News Asia (CNA). Frankly, I don’t know why they bother to record what’s happening because they will either show a few seconds of what went on along with a bias report OR nothing at all.

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Family, friends and supporters standing under the shade near the group.

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These four photos show plainclothes policemen video recording. The first and second photos are quite obvious. In the third, the two chaps on the right are policemen. And in the fourth, its the two guys away from the crowd.

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Gathered together for a group photo.

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Yap Kheng Ho aka Uncle Yap, in a blue cap and red T-shirt, a supporter of the SDP, video recording while the plainclothes policemen video record him and the rest of the group.

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Protest placards arrive. And there’s CNA again as you can see in the fourth photo. Sheesh.

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Police officers approach the group and tell them to disperse saying that its illegal. While CASE gets away with it. Sheesh…and double sheesh!

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The protesters listen to the police officers but continue to peacefully walk followed by the media, family, friends, supporters, etc, etc.

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They are again told to stop and disperse.

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Protesters crossing the road.

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They are stopped again by the police in front of Funan shopping mall. The two guys on the extreme right are from CNA (yep them again!) and the two next to them are the police.

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These 8 photos show the police surrounding the peaceful protesters before making the arrests (and that’s putting it mildly!).

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Dragged away into waiting police vans.

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People outside Funan watching. The chap carrying the placards away is a policeman.

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Forcefully removed and dragged away into police vans with the eyes of the people and the media on them.

PHOTOS: Singapore Police Manhandle & Drag Away Peaceful Protesters Saturday, Mar 15 2008 

These are some of the photos I took today of the Tak Boleh Tahan! Protest. More photos and reports on the way.

For now, I want to show you these photos in which the peaceful protesters were manhandled and dragged away like wild animals into waiting police vans. It was a sickening display of the use of force by the police on people who were protesting peacefully.

16 Mar update: For more photos, click HERE

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Parliament House. 10mins past 2.

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Tak Boleh Tahan protesters arrive. They are surrounded by the media.

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Taking a group photo in front of Parliament House along with protest placards. The groceries in front of the group symbolises the rash of price increases Singaporeans have had to put up with.

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After Parliament House, the protesters proceed to walk peacefully but are stopped by the police, who are mostly in plainclothes, in front of Funan shopping mall.. The chap in white, facing Chee Soon Juan, is a senior police officer.

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Female police officers arrive.

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Yap Kheng Ho aka Uncle Yap being forcefully removed into a waiting van at Funan taxi stand

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Yap is followed by Chee Siok Chin, John Tan, Seelan Palay & Chia Ti Lik of SG Human Rights, Chee Soon Juan and other individuals from the group of peaceful protesters.

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About 10 individuals were dragged away and bundled into the waiting police vans at Funan’s taxi stand.

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Crowd of onlookers watching events transpire.

Media Release: A peaceful protest abruptly stopped, Singapore Democrats, 15 Mar 2008

Today is World Consumer Rights Day. The Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) is organising a special event tomorrow (16 March 2008, Sunday) to “promote the basic rights of all consumers”, and to “raise the profile of the consumer rights movement in Singapore”.

True to the cause championed by CASE, the SDP also organised a peaceful “Tak Boleh Tahan!” protest today, similarly fashioned to last year’s CASE event during which crowd wearing specially designed T-shirts congregated in front of the Parliament House, holding various placards in their hands, then walked around the Singapore River, etc.

There were about 20 odd people participating in today’s event, wearing the red T-shirts with the words “Tak Boleh Tahan” in white. In addition, there was a contingent of children holding red balloons, walking side by side with the grown-ups or being pushed along in their baby strollers.

In front of the Parliament House, the group also highlighted the recent price hikes by displaying an array of consumer goods which included a loaf of “no-frilled” bread, a pack of rice, a tin of Milo, instant noodles, biscuits, condense milk and cooking oil, etc.

The atmosphere was pleasant and joyful until the police showed up to give the protesters their warnings, and asked them to disperse or risked being arrested.

Apparently uneasy with those images and messages prominently featured on the placards, the police tried to seize them from the protesters. As the group proceeded towards the Funan Centre, plain-clothes police surrounded the protesters and started making their arrests.

While the protesters locked their arms together to safeguard their properties, the police picked the first protester, forcefully pulled him out from the tightly inter-locked group, and swiftly dragged him to one of the police vans parked nearby. Then they went back to work on their 2nd victim. Making their arrests one by one, it took the police several rounds of spectacles in front of a big crowd of onlookers gathered around to finish their most important job of the day.

Finally, about 15 protesters, including Ms Chee Siok Chin were bundled into the police vans and sent to the Cantonment Police headquarters. Later on, when some family members of protesters went to the police HQ and tried to find out more about the list of people getting arrested and their charges, the police refused to give any information.

Meanwhile, lawyer M Ravi is representing the group when the protesters continued to be held up for holding a peaceful protest until they were abruptly stopped by the police by force.

For videos and other photos, read TOC’s Protesters arrested for World Consumers Rights Day Event

Police Statement on unlawful assembly on 15 March 2008

VIDEO: Riz Khan Talks To Anwar Ibrahim & Lim Kit Siang Thursday, Mar 13 2008 

Congratulations To Malaysia’s Opposition Parties On Their Wins AND Denying BN The Two-Thirds Majority!!

Malaysia Opposition Win Shows Power Of Cyberspace

Tak Bolek Tahan!! Protest This Saturday Wednesday, Mar 12 2008 

Tak bolek tahan!, Singapore Democrats, 12 Mar 2008

Event: Tak Boleh Tahan! Protest Rally
Date: 15 Mar 08, Saturday
Time: 2:00 pm
Place: Parliament House beside Singapore River
Attire: Red top
Contact us at: speakup@singaporedemocrat.org

Tak Boleh TahanTak boleh tahan! Loosely translated: “I can’t take it anymore! That’s the theme for the protest rally this Saturday.

If you feel the way we do and you don’t want to take it lying down anymore, put on a red T-shirt and join us at Parliament House by the Singapore River.

The prices of basic foodstuff like rice, cooking oil, bread, milk powder, sugar, etc have all shot up.

Bus, MRT and taxi fares have all gone up.

Fuel prices have skyrocketed.

The Government’s raising of the GST to 7 percent and its setting up of ERP gantries all over the island have all contributed to the inflation rate that is at its highest in a quarter of a century.

The result is that the crushing burden on working folks gets even more unbearable.

Our elderly poor continue to break their backs just to eke out a miserable existence. Many cannot even afford three square meals, some even having to live off scraps on hawker centre tables.

The PAP’s young, arrogant, and heartless ministers then tell them that they should forget about retiring.

What about our workers? They are made to work harder and longer, and for less pay. Many of them have to sign contracts that don’t allow medical leave, no bonuses, and demand 72-hour-work weeks.

They have no unions to speak for them as the NTUC is headed by a PAP minister.

The problem is worsened by the indiscriminate taking in of foreign workers to compete with Singaporeans to suppress wages.

Despite all of this, the ministers brazenly help themselves to an 85 percent increase in salaries last year with the prime minister paying himself more than $300,000 a month!

The PAP is like a grotesque monkey on our backs, keeping Singaporeans bent and strangulated.

We know many of you are incensed. We know you cannot take this anymore. Tak boleh tahan!

As citizens you don’t have to keep quiet. You can demonstrate your anger in a peaceful manner at Saturday’s rally. If fact it is your duty to stand up and speak out.

At the same time, the Singapore Democrats are launching our Campaign Against Repression and Exploitation of Singaporeans 2008 (CARES ’08).

The Tak Boleh Tahan! protest rally will kick-off the SDP CARES ’08. As consumers of many of the Government’s services, we have the right to demand fair prices, and to put a stop to the exploitative price hikes of the PAP Government.

There comes a time when we have to stop talking and start doing. Remember, we reap what we sow.

Related articles from SDP:

SDP applies for protest rally on World Consumer Rights Day, 7 Jan 2008

Ravi wants reason from police for permit rejection, 1 Feb 2008

Chee Soon Juan to Wong Kan Seng: Take your ministerial oath seriously, 13 Feb 2008

SDP urges Wong Kan Seng to respond to appeal, 21 Feb 2008

Wong Kan Seng says no to rally against price hikes but SDP to proceed, 10 Mar 2008

“It Is Time For Burma’s People To Decide How To React To The Junta” Tuesday, Mar 11 2008 


Al Jazeera English 10 Oct 2007 – Part 1

Junta’s Snub Signals Failure of Gambari’s Mission, Wai Moe, The Irrawaddy, 10 March 2008

Burma’s military junta has spoken: there will be no role for the United Nations in determining the course of the country’s political transition to what it calls a “disciplined democracy.”

This is the message that the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) sent to the international community and the Burmese people through its treatment of the UN special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari.

The Nigerian diplomat, who has just completed his fifth visit to Burma, proposed a more inclusive process of political change in the country, and offered to send monitors to ensure that the outcome of the junta’s planned referendum on a draft constitution is accepted as legitimate. The junta said no to both suggestions.

Gambari met with National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi twice during his five-day trip, but was denied a meeting with the junta’s supreme leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe. Instead, he met with members of the regime’s “Spokes Authoritative Team,” consisting of Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, Foreign Minister Nyan Win and Culture Minister Maj-Gen Khin Aung Myint.

There were also brief meetings with other NLD leaders, representatives of ethnic groups, and officials from the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and National Unity Party (NUP).

As he did during Gambari’s last visit to Burma in November 2007, Kyaw Hsan used the occasion of his latest meeting with the UN representative to send a clear message that the junta does not appreciate international interference in its affairs.

The state-run mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar, published the full text of Kyaw Hsan’s indignant reaction to Gambari’s role in releasing a statement from Aung San Suu Kyi following his last visit.

“Sadly, you went beyond your mandate,” said the information minister in his carefully worded reproach. “Some even believe that that you prepared the statement in advance and released it after coordinating with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” he added.

He went on to accuse the UN envoy of trying to “frame a pattern desired by western countries.”

Kyaw Hsan also took issue with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s calls for a more inclusive constitution-drafting process, pointing out that the NLD walked out of the National Convention two years after it first convened in 1993.

The constitution, finally completed last year, is in no further need of revision, insisted Kyaw Hsan. “The majority of the people do not demand to amend it,” he told Gambari. But analysts say that most of delegates at the convention were handpicked by the junta and only a few representatives from political parties were allowed to attend the convention. Before the NLD walked out of the National Convention in November 2005, only 99 of the 702 delegates were elected officials.

After meeting with Kyaw Hsan’s team, Gambari met with a member of the commission responsible for holding the referendum, Thaung Nyunt, who flatly rejected a proposal for international monitoring of the forthcoming referendum in May.

“U Thaung Nyunt replied that holding the referendum for the constitution is within the State sovereignty. Besides, there were no instances of foreign observers monitoring events like a referendum,” said a report in The New Light of Myanmar.

U Lwin, secretary of the NLD, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that Gambari explained to his party that he came to Burma with a mandate from the UN Security Council.

“He also told us about his meetings with the regime officials on previous days,” said U Lwin, who declined to provide any further details.

Meanwhile, observers in Burma said that the junta’s snub of Gambari showed that the generals were not interested in listening to the international community.

“It is very clear that they [the junta] will do everything their own way. No matter what the international community says, they negate all voices,” said a Burmese political observer in Rangoon, adding that the chances of a national reconciliation talks taking place now are non-existent.

“It is time for Burma’s people to decide how to react to the junta,” he added.

Other observers said it was time for the international community to send a stronger message to the junta through a UN Security Council resolution.

Aye Thar Aung, an Arakan leader, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that the military junta will only cooperate with proposals which support their stands. “Dialogues between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta official, Aung Kyi, were just a kind of cosmetic approach under pressure from Burmese people and the international community,” he said.

“The UN Security Council should really do something,” he added.

Larry Jagan, a British journalist who specializes in reporting on Burmese issues, also said that the junta has clearly demonstrated its indifference to international opinion.

“It is clear from Kyaw Hsan’s lecture that the regime is little interested in the international community’s concerns,” Jagan told The Irrawaddy on Saturday. “The UN is not being imaginative enough to try and expand a UN role around Mr Gambari. So I think the UN role in Burma in the area of mediation is effectively finished,” he said.

“What they would be worried about is the Burma issue will be raised again in the United Nations Security Council,” Jagan added.


Al Jazeera English 10 Oct 2007 – Part 2

UN’s Burma role runs out of steam, Jonathan Head, BBC’s East Asia correspondent, 10 March 2008

The mission of the UN special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, which began with high hopes nearly two years ago, is now over.

That much is clear after this, his fifth visit since May 2006.

After a break of almost a year, Mr Gambari returned to Burma last September, armed with the full weight of the international community’s revulsion over the scenes of unarmed demonstrators being gunned down by Burmese soldiers on the streets of Rangoon.

His mission was backed by all UN member states, even China, which has long rejected putting outside pressure on the military government. It is hard to imagine a stronger mandate.

Mr Gambari had three main objectives. The first was to get a dialogue going between the generals and opposition figures, especially Aung San Suu Kyi who has been kept in complete isolation in her home in Rangoon since 2003.

This, he hoped, would eventually lead to a more credible process of democratisation than the military’s tightly-controlled Seven Stage Roadmap to Democracy.

He also pushed for the release of all political prisoners, including those detained during the September uprising, and he asked for the UN to be allowed to set up a joint poverty alleviation drive with the government.

Short-lived optimism

Reeling from the blast of international outrage, the generals appeared to be willing to accommodate Mr Gambari at first, designating the admittedly low-ranking Labour Minister Aung Kyi to liaise with Ms Suu Kyi, and releasing some detainees.

But this conciliatory mood lasted less than a month.

On his next visit in late October, Mr Gambari was shunned by Senior General Than Shwe, the key decision-maker in the ruling military council.

It was a bad sign. The meetings between Aung San Suu Kyi and the labour minister went nowhere, and then stopped altogether.

Mr Gambari remained upbeat, and said he had been given a promise by the generals that he could return to Burma anytime he chose.

But for the next four months they stonewalled him. And now we know why.

The Seven Stage Roadmap, which, with no timetable, had always seemed like a military-fabricated illusion, suddenly got one.

Without warning, the government announced that there would be a general election by 2010, with a referendum on the new constitution it has spent the past 14 years drawing up no later than May this year.

This was unexpected. And it left Mr Gambari with no hand left to play when he was finally allowed back this month.

Critics were quick to point out the obvious flaws in the military’s plan.

The constitution was drawn up by about 1,000 appointed delegates, who were confined to a purpose-built convention centre during the long drafting process.

The public had no input, and details of the constitution were still unclear even when the referendum was announced.

What is known is that the charter will reserve 25% of the seats in a new parliament for the armed forces, and that Aung San Suu Kyi will be specifically barred from holding government office because she was once married to a foreigner.

Criticising the draft constitution is punishable by up to 20 years in prison; criticising the referendum could get you three years behind bars; and about 2,000 political prisoners remain in captivity.

It is impossible to conceive how a free vote could take place in such conditions.

Pariah regime

But that hardly matters to Than Shwe and his colleagues. Now the government has something it can flourish in the faces of those who insist it takes concrete steps towards democratic rule.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gamely urged the generals to make their roadmap to democracy and its constitution more inclusive, but over the weekend they threw his suggestion back in Mr Gambari’s face.

“It is impossible to review or rewrite the constitution,” said Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, who is usually the mouthpiece for the more hard-line thinking inside the government.

He then went on to accuse Mr Gambari of bias, lashing out at him for carrying out a letter from Aung San Suu Kyi last November.

The diplomat who was supposed to represent the will of the international community was being publicly scolded by a pariah regime.

It was a telling sign of how little clout the UN envoy now carries.

His proposals to include the opposition in the political process, and to have international observers monitor the referendum, were instantly rejected.

Despair and resignation

This could well be Ibrahim Gambari’s last visit. It is hard to see why he would wish to put himself through such humiliation again. So what will happen in Burma?

After miscalculating the results of the 1990 election, which they lost by a huge margin to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, the generals are unlikely to leave much to chance this time.

The date of the referendum will only be announced 21 days beforehand.

There will be no discussion of the constitution’s merits. There will be heavy mobilisation in support of it by the military’s political wing, the USDA.

They may even make identifiable boxes for yes and no votes at the polling stations, to intimidate opponents.

Then they have two years in which to prepare for the election – two years in which the opposition will continue to be harassed and jailed.

Some opposition figures are now debating whether it is worth continuing to confront the military, at such high cost.

They argue that perhaps the best option is to use the generals’ willingness to embrace change, however limited, and try to push a little further.

There is a sense of despair and resignation, after the brief euphoria last September.

There is of course always the possibility of unexpected events interfering with the military’s plans – a power struggle at the top, or another mass uprising driven by economic desperation.

But recent history will have taught the Burmese people that they cannot count on such miracles.

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