Beef over Australian army land grab prompts new site search

Malcolm Turnbull has ordered the Department of Defence to find alternative sites for foreign military training in Queensland after outrage over plans to take over as many as 60 grazing properties in prime cattle country – part of a US$2.2 billion deal with Singapore. The state agriculture minister Bill Byrne, a former military commander at one of the areas in question, Shoalwater Bay, said: “This has been a shemozzle from the beginning and there are still big questions to be answered.”

Australian PM orders Department of Defence to look elsewhere after backlash against foreign military training plan

What next? The Liberal National Party joined state and federal Labor, Katter’s Australian party and One Nation in publicly criticising the process for the land expansion, after the federal government signed the deal with Singapore in May last year to train 14,000 of its troops. The parties all warned the loss of drought-resistant grazing land in areas that contain up to 100,000 head of cattle would have a dramatic and harmful impact on the beef industry. Opposition leader Bill Shorten said farmers and the public were duped by Turnbull, who touted the deal before last year’s election. “Not only were locals not consulted, they were completely left in the dark about the potential impacts of this acquisition before the election.”

Culling of 24 free-ranging chickens in Singapore ruffles feathers

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) revealed that it put down 24 chickens that were wandering around the Thomson View block of flats in Sin Ming Avenue, after getting 20 complaints last year from residents there – mainly about noise. “Free-ranging chickens can pose a potential threat to public health, especially if their population is left unchecked. There is a likelihood of an incursion of bird flu,” the AVA said.

Culling of 24 free-ranging chickens in Singapore ruffles feathers

What next? The news of the culling in Sin Ming sparked an outcry. Louis Ng, founder of Animal Concerns Research & Education Society, echoed the views of many online users to say that the killing was the “worst solution”. He warned against such a “knee-jerk” response and added that other measures could have been taken, such as getting people to adopt the chickens. However, Assistant Professor Frank Rheindt, from the National University of Singapore, said the authorities did the right thing. “Every day in Singapore and across the world, hundreds of thousands of chickens are killed for human consumption, so I do not believe there is a valid ‘animal rights’ argument against the culling.”

Communist rebels end ceasefire over Duterte government’s ‘rights abuses’

Philippine Maoist rebels said they would end a five-month ceasefire, accusing President Rodrigo Duterte’s government of treachery and human rights abuses. The move comes after a third round of peace talks aimed at ending decades of bloodshed wrapped up in Italy last week with no deal on a permanent cessation of fighting. The Communist Party of the Philippines said it would continue to support the peace negotiations, but ordered its 4,000 fighters to resume “military campaigns and tactical offensives” against government forces from February 11. Soldiers and police had used the truce as a licence to “engage in hostile actions” including “human rights violations” in rebel-influenced rural villages, it said.

Philippine communist rebels end ceasefire, accuses Duterte’s government of human rights abuses

What next? The Duterte government was “dismayed” by the announcement, Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser to the peace talks, said in a statement. But Dureza said he would urge Duterte to abide by the government’s own ceasefire. A presidential spokesman said the peace talks, which are due to resume in Oslo on April 2, would go ahead.

Embattled ex-UN chief ends presidency bid

Following what some saw as a largely lame duck decade as United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon has abruptly ended his attempt to seek South Korea’s presidency following a string of bad publicity. Ban was widely expected to run in elections due this year, but his putative candidacy ran into a series of problems. “I will give up my pure intention to bring about a change in politics under my leadership and to unify the country,” he told reporters at a hastily arranged press conference.

‘I’m sorry’: former UN chief Ban Ki-moon won’t run for South Korea presidency

What next? Although he never officially declared he was running, Ban embarked on a series of public appearances and repeatedly spoke of the need to bring about a “change in politics” in the country. But he struggled to secure party backing and blamed politicians for what some analysts say was self-inflicted misfortune. Pictures of him trying to put two banknotes at once into a ticket machine and wearing a bib to feed a woman in a care home drew ridicule and anger. He was also angry with reporters when asked about the controversial comfort women deal between South Korea and Japan. “My pure patriotism and aspirations have fallen victim to slander that was close to personality slaughter,” he insisted.

Sri Lanka arrests astrologer who predicted President Sirisena’s death

An astrologer who made several predictions that Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena would die has been arrested. Police said Vijitha Rohana Wijemuni was arrested for making false predictions and comments that could mislead the public. He posted several videos on Facebook predicting Sirisena would die of illness or accident before January 27. His predictions raised concerns of top government officials, and Media Ministry Secretary Nimal Bopage asked police to investigate.

Sri Lanka arrest astrologer who predicted President Sirisena’s death

What next? Most Sri Lankans follow astrologers’ advice, but the suspect, Vijitha Rohana Wijemuni, is a former navy sailor convicted of attempting to assassinate India’s former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1987. In a letter sent to the police chief, Bopage said he suspected a possible coup and assassination attempt were behind Wijemuni’s sustained campaign on the internet during the last few months. He is the only person who has been investigated, though the government did not say if he was thought to have acted alone. Wijemuni served two and a half years in prison for hitting Gandhi with a rifle in Colombo. After being released from jail, Wijemuni turned to politics and contested for parliamentary elections in 2000, before becoming an astrologer.

Thai cops probe Laos drug lord’s ‘celebrity links’

Thai police swooped on the Bangkok home of popular actress Napapa Thantraku – one of a dozen locations raided in a widening probe into the celebrity and business links of alleged Laos drug lord Xaysana Keopimpha. Xaysana was nabbed last month at Bangkok’s main airport. Police believe Napapa’s husband Akkarakit Worrarojcharoendej accepted several cars from one of Xaysana’s drug couriers, including a Lamborghini.

Thai cops probe Laos drug lord’s ‘celebrity links’

What next? Thai authorities say 42-year-old Xaysana’s sprawling drug empire funnelled meth produced in Myanmar to Thailand and Malaysia. The head of the Narcotics Control Board said Xaysana lived an extravagant lifestyle in Laos. “He is a celebrity in Laos and used businesses such as hotels and luxury car sales as a cover up,” explained Sirinya Sitdhichai. A photo of him posing with relatives of a former Lao prime minister surfaced shortly after his arrest. The ex-premier’s daughter-in-law said the photo was taken “by accident” and that Xaysana was only a casual acquaintance. Officers remain tight-lipped on which other high-profile Thais may be involved. “The next operation may be 100 times more exciting than this,” Sommai said after Thursday’s raids.