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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Historic mass in Turkish-held north Cyprus 'like a miracle'

Yahoo – AFP, Tom Little, 19 April 2014

A Greek Cypriot priest (L) and a Turkish Cypriot Imam walk next to each other
 during a Good Friday mass in the St George Exorinos church in Famagusta
on April 18, 2014 (AFP Photo/Achilleas Zavallis)

Famagusta (Cyprus) (AFP) - With a nighttime procession lit by the glimmer of devotional candles and the flash of smartphone cameras, a church in Turkish-held northern Cyprus hosted its first Easter mass in nearly 60 years.

Hundreds of Greek Cypriots crossed the Green Line to attend the ceremony at Famagusta's church of St George Exorinos, in the part of the Mediterranean island occupied by Turkish forces since 1974.

Bishop Vassilis, wearing robes embroidered with gold and white and accompanied by a top Muslim cleric from the Turkish Cypriot community, led a tearful ceremony around the gardens of the 14th century church in Famagusta's mediaeval walled city.

Greek Cypriots attend a Good Friday
 mass in the St George Exorinos church
 in Famagusta on April 18, 2014 (AFP
Photo/Achielleas Zavallis)
Crowds of worshippers who had crossed for the historic service pressed around as the bishop delivered a mass urging reconciliation on the divided island.

Good Friday is one of the holiest dates in the Orthodox calendar, but for Pavlos Iacovou, who helped organise the service, the fact that the mass was taking place in the Turkish-held side of the island made the day "like a miracle".

He fled his hometown as an 18-year-old in 1974, when Turkey seized Cyprus’s northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

"We didn’t believe it would take 40 years to return. We thought it was only for a few days, and then we would be able to go home," he said wistfully, remembering the bustling town of his childhood, where his family owned a seafront hotel.

The Famagusta of Iacovou’s remembering is an idyllic place, where Turkish and Greek Cypriots coexisted peacefully, but it was intercommunal troubles before the island gained independence from Britain in 1960 that ended religious services at St George Exorinos 58 years ago.

Many of the Greek Cypriots who attended had fled the town in 1974, but despite the painful memories a jovial atmosphere settled on the church ahead of the service.

Orthodox priests milled around as smartly dressed families set out chairs in the gardens, enjoying the sunshine.

Throughout the afternoon hundreds of worshippers queued patiently to enter the tiny church to light candles and hear the liturgy.

One of the volunteers helping to marshal the crowds in the gardens estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 people had attended the service throughout the afternoon.

'An island for everyone'

Resting under the shade of a tree in the gardens as the service was relayed to those outside by loudspeaker, Constantinos Lordos, 74, a former Greek Cypriot MP, remembered coming to the church as a boy.

“This is a very touching ceremony for me. My mother used to bring me here for various ceremonies, especially for the Easter services,” he said.

He too was forced to leave his hometown, but he said he bore no bitterness. "I feel that the island belongs to all of us, it doesn't belong to anyone in particular,” he said, smiling.

The worshippers crowded onto pews in the dimly lit church were joined by a clutch of Turkish and Greek Cypriot politicians, as well as several foreign dignitaries, including the US ambassador and a representative of the UN.

Greek Cypriots light candles before the
 start of a Good Friday mass in the 
St George Exorinos church in Famagusta
 on April 18, 2014 (AFP Photo/Achilleas
Zavallis)
Among those inside the church were the mayor-in-exile of Famagusta Alexis Galanos and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Oktay Kayalp, who worked together to set up the mass.

"Without exaggerating the importance, I think this is one step ahead" towards a solution to the division of Cyprus, Gallanos said.

Events where Greek and Turkish Cypriots can meet are a message to negotiators in the island’s UN-brokered peace talks that relaunched in February, Kayalp said.

For some marking Good Friday at St George’s, a solution cannot come quickly enough, as the desire to return to their hometown has not faded over the years.

Nicolas Nicolaou, a 50-year-old businessman, was 10 when he and his family escaped Famagusta, and he had brought his own two young children to see the place where he still feels deeply rooted.

"It is like a dream for us, and we hope that one day we will be back here."

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Online Petition to Revise Child Protection Law Approaches 60,000 Supporters

Jakarta Globe, Bayu Marhaenjati & SP/Natasia Christy, Apr 18, 2014

Almost 60,000 people have signed a petition for changes in the
Child Protection Law. (JG Screen Grab/Change.org)

Jakarta. In the wake of the recent sexual assault of a kindergarten student at Jakarta International School, an online petition seeking for the revision of the country’s Child Protection Law has garnered nearly 60,000 supporters in three days.

The petition at change.org, which was created on Tuesday by a woman named Fellma Panjaitan, asked for a revision of the 2002 Law on Child Protection, which hands convicted sexual assailants a prison sentence of three to 15 years.

Through the petition, Fellma is calling on the House of Representatives to revise the law and hand out harsher punishments for perpetrators of sexual assault, saying the current sentence is far too short to even begin to compensate for the life-long trauma these criminals inflict on their victims.

“Help me [change the law] to so perpetrators will be severely punished. There should be no compromise for sexual predators. We need to participate in building a safe environment for our children,” Fellma wrote on the website.

The appeal has collected more than 59,000 supporters as of 2:30 p.m. local time, and is near the 75,000 needed for the petition to be sent to the House’s Commission VIII, which oversees social affairs and women’s empowerment.

Arief Aziz, founder of Change.org Indonesia, said none of the site’s petitions have garnered this many votes in such a short time.

The case of the alleged sexual assault on a 6-year-old boy by two janitorial staff members at one of the city’s top international schools has gripped the entire country since reports surfaced earlier this week.

Jakarta Police have named two suspects in the case: Agun Iskandar and Virgiawan Amin.

Jakarta Police Spokesman Sr. Cmr. Rikwanto said investigators are still looking into the possible involvement of three other bathroom attendants, including Afrischa Styani, Aswar and Zainal Abidin. Laboratory tests on Aswar and Zainal are currently being processed.

Meanwhile, Lydia Freyani Hawadi, directorate general of early- and non-formal education at the Education and Culture Ministry, said the ministry has formed an investigative team to audit JIS’s kindergarten and its learning process.

Lydia further explained that the school’s early childhood education campus is actually illegal as JIS has only been issued a permit for its elementary and high school levels.

“JIS thought the license to run a kindergarten is equivalent to that of the elementary-school level issued by the Elementary and Secondary Education Directorate. However, these permits are different,“ Lydia said.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Taiwanese Tourists Hurt in Japan Deer Rampage

Jakarta Globe - AFP, Apr 14, 2014

A sika deer window-shops on the Japanese island of Miyajima.
(JG Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Tokyo. Visitors to one of usually-safe Japan’s most celebrated spots are being warned to be on the lookout, after two Taiwanese tourists were injured in a rampage by a wild deer.

The two, both 54-year-old women, took a tumble Sunday morning after being startled by the creature near the railway station in Nikko, an area known for its historic temples, a police spokesman said Monday.

The animal charged towards the pair before bolting into a nearby shop, where it smashed dozens of bottles and then ran off into nearby woods, the spokesman said.

“The tourist season will be in full swing soon,” he said. “We wanted to get the word out and tell people what happened.”

Nikko, alongside the capital Tokyo and the ancient city of Kyoto, is one of the most popular destinations for foreign tourists in Japan, a country where violent crime is rare and few visitors ever report falling victim to any kind of attack.

Agence France-Presse

Indigenous children surprise travelers to Taiwan with flash mob

Want China Times, CNA 2014-04-14

Flash mob performers pose for photos at Taipei Main Station. (Photo/Hotel Royal)

A flash mob organized by members of one of Taiwan's indigenous tribes surprised travelers at Taipei Railway Station on Sunday with traditional songs and dances and the traditional costumes they wore.

Many spectators were touched by the angel-like voices of the members of the flash mob, all Puyuma children.

"They made me tear up within five seconds after they started," one passenger at the station told reporters from Public Television Service.

Asked about what they sang, a member of the flash mob said the songs extolled the beauty of their land in Taitung County in southeastern Taiwan and the return of brave Puyuma warriors from battles they won.

The performance was in fact part of a charity program initiated by the Hotel Royal Chihpen in Taitung to help indigenous children residing in remote mountainous parts of the county live their dreams.

Most members of the flash mob, comprised of a dancing troupe and a choir, had never been outside Taitung due to their secluded living environment, the organizer of the show said.

With assistance from the Taitung County Tourism Bureau and Uni Air, the indigenous children took their first-ever flight to Taipei to show urban dwellers in Taipei the beauty of Taitung through song and dance, the organizer said.

The Puyama, one of 14 indigenous tribes in Taiwan, reside mainly in Taitung County.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Opinion: Election result bodes well for 'Indonesia's Obama'

The opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle has become the largest party in parliament. The victory heralds the rise to national prominence of presidential candidate Joko Widodo, writes DW's Grahame Lucas.

Deutsche Welle, 9 April 2014

 Grahame Lucas - Grahame Lucas is the Head of South East Asia
Service/Asia Magazines of DW.

This election marks the national emergence of a new superstar in Indonesian politics. The hugely popular governor of Jakarta, The 52-year-old Joko Widodo, is already being hailed as the "Obama of Indonesia."

He has helped his party to victory at the parliamentary elections. So-called "quick counts," which have been reliable indicators of the final results in the past, give the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) some 19 percent - making it the largest party in the new parliament. The result is significant because it marks the first time a former ruling party has returned to power in Indonesia, Southeast Asia's most powerful economy, through the ballot box. Moreover, it has set Widodo on course for the presidency at the elections in July.

The outcome also indicates that a shift is taking place in Indonesia's political system. The country is clearly experiencing its "yes we can" moment with the success of Joko Widodo. He is a fresh breath of air on the political stage in a country still findings its way as a democracy 15 years after the end of the Suharto dictatorship.

A steep trajectory to power

Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, as he is widely known, has demonstrated that he can appeal to millions of ordinary Indonesians across traditional political divides. From small beginnings, he has shot to the top of the political tree in just two short years - untainted as he is by the scandals which have rocked the country recently. Elected as governor of Jakarta in 2012, he has cultivated a youthful image, visited the slums of the capital and pledged to help the poor while at the same time proclaiming his love of rock music. Interestingly enough, many people commented on social media that they would have liked to vote for Jokowi, but searched for him in vain on the ballot papers.

Of course, his name was not to be found there because he was not contesting a seat. In other words Jokowi pushed all the right buttons to convince Indonesia's young population that he is the right man not just for Jakarta but also for the country. He has portrayed himself as a consummate "man of the people." In this regard, he has been displayed remarkable talent. His election as president appears inevitable.

The poll also shows that while the "Jokowi effect" was not as strong as some polls suggested, voters are turning away to some extent from their traditional party allegiances. They have punished the ruling Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono because of a wave of corruption scandals which have swamped the present government. Moreover, the five Islamic parties in the world's largest Muslim country have chalked up a poor result, making only slight gains - probably at the expense of the ruling Democratic Party. Voters have thus displayed a new sense of independence previously unheard of in the country. The vote has been a vote against both religious intolerance and corruption.

As yet untested

But with so much hype surrounding Jokowi, little attention has been paid to his ability to lead a nation of 240 million people - the largest Muslim country in the world. Jokowi lacks political experience at the highest level and is untested in dealing with Indonesia's highly complex domestic politics. Traditionally, political parties have tended to follow the dynastical model found widely in Asia. Dominated by particularly powerful families or personalities, they have tended to serve their own interests rather than those of the electorate. This may put them on collision course with the populist Jokowi, the self-proclaimed man of the people.

If Jokowi is elected president with a mandate for change in July, it is difficult to predict how a consensus between voters' desire for a sweeping reform and the interests of the self-centered and well-entrenched political parties in parliament can be forged. Jokowi would have huge expectations to live up to.

Another factor is simply that no-one knows what Jokowi actually stands for. In Jakarta, he has been both tough and pragmatic. In recent months he has gone to great lengths to avoid clear statements about the policies he would follow in power.

Indeed, Jokowi's charisma, say his critics, has completely eclipsed his party's manifesto. Against this background, the success of the PDI-P, which owes everything to its new superstar, will do much to overcome disenchantment with democracy. But Jokowi should note the painful lessons that Barack Obama had to learn. It is very easy to disappoint those with unrealistically high expectations.

Jakarta governor Joko Widodo. (JG Photo/Safir Makki)
              

Monday, April 7, 2014

In Malang, Celebrating Nyepi With a Javanese Infusion

Jakarta Globe, Dyah Ayu Pitaloka, Apr 06, 2014

The various ceremonies that make up the Nyepi ceremony for Hindus in Malang,
 East Java, are a colorful blend of Balinese and Javanese culture. (JG Photo/
Dyah Ayu Pitaloka)

Malang. Rice cakes wrapped in palm leaves, or ketupat, is a usually a treat reserved for the Islamic holiday of Idul Fitri, but for Hindus in Malang, East Java, ketupat serves as a customary dish in celebrating Nyepi, the day of silence.

Ketupat and lepet, a similar type of rice cake, but mixed with coconut gratings and other ingredients and packed into an elongated shape rather than the boxy bulk of the ketupat, symbolizes the phallus and the womb — the two primary elements of conception.

Last week, 33 educational institutions and temples in Malang participated in a ceremony on Balekambang Beach to celebrate one of the biggest holidays in the local Hindu calendar.

The ceremony, called Jala Nidhi Puja, is held before Nyepi and it beautifully displays the diversity of Indonesia. In Sanskrit, “jala ” means sea, “nidhi ” means sanctity and “puja ” means ceremony.

(JG Photo/Dyah Ayu Pitaloka)

Dance of virgins

For years, thousands of Hindus in Malang have been meeting at Balekambang Beach in their worship dress. The women typically wear a kebaya and batik sarong with white head scarves. Others put on traditional Malang dresses.

On this particular Friday, nine teenage girls in colorful kebayas moved to the rhythm of the Javanese gamelan, dancing in a circle around a dancer in the instantly recognizable black and white Balinese sarong. The dance, called Nata Muda Karana , is considered as a sacred gesture to the gods, and may only be performed by virgins.

“Before we dance, we have to fast and follow a vegetarian diet for three days,” said Risa Sinta Dewi, one of the dancers. “We practice the dance for about three months.”

Risa goes to Tri Murti, a junior high school in Pakisaji, Malang, where the dance has been taught from generation to generation. According to Tri Murti’s dance teacher, Sri Wahyuni, the dance is usually performed in the middle of the first ceremony.

“This dance was created in 1973, combining elements of Bali with gending Java” — a type of gamelan music — “and the Vedas,” the oldest scripture of Hinduism, Sri Wahyuni says. “I am the second generation to pass it on to my students.”

(JG Photo/Dyah Ayu Pitaloka)

A different offering

Apart from the use of ketupat and the Javanese gamelan, Hindus in Malang also decorate their offerings differently from their better-known counterparts in Bali.

Every offering contains five mandatory elements: leaves, flowers, fruits, water and incense.

Suharsono, the chairman of the Indonesian Hindu Association (PDHI) in Malang, said that they customized their offerings according to the things that flourished in their hometown, but staples like yellow rice, bananas and yellow palm fronds were a common element.

Another way their offerings differ from those in Bali is that the bananas aren’t sliced thin, but rather offered up whole.

“We can’t decorate our offerings as beautifully as Balinese offerings,” Suharsono said, “but its religious function is the same.”

These offerings are served in a purification ceremony called Utuhnya . Each participating institution arranges its own offering and puts them in a palanquin, which they set loose at sea after the communal prayer.

(JG Photo/Dyah Ayu Pitaloka)

The Majapahit touch

Ismoyo Temple, which stands majestically in the center of the Ismoyo Island, has for years been witness to the Jala Nidhi Puja procession, and last Friday it did so again.

The roof of the temple, which was built in 1985, resembles a set of tapered stairs, in the style reminiscent of a typical Majapahit building. Even so, other ornaments that are carved on the temple reflect architectural and cultural influences from Bali.

“The building combines elements of Bali and Java, but the worship function is the same as in Balinese Hinduism,” Suharsono said.

Acculturation between Hindu and Javanese traditions has occurred since the time of the Majapahit, running from flourished from 1293 to around 1500 CE, when Hindu spread rapidly along with the might of the Majapahit.

Following the collapse of Majapahit kingdom in the 16th century, Hinduism spread to various places and blended with the local culture.

Dwi Cahyono, an archaeologist at the University of Malang, said there were various relics that reflected the cultural mix: layered roofs that first appeared during the Majapahit era are now commonly seen in mosques, such as the Mosque of Demak.

(JG Photo/Dyah Ayu Pitaloka)

Ogoh-ogoh

Taur Agung Kesanga , the second ceremony before Nyepi, took place at Karang Tengah in Malang’s Glangang Pakisaji subdistrict last Sunday, a day before Nyepi.

Some 1,500 villagers, 850 of them Hindus, built their own ogoh-ogoh , or papier-mache monster statues, to represent evil spirits.

It is customary to burn all ogoh-ogoh before Hindus start fasting during Nyepi, as a symbol of cleansing and starting the new year afresh.

“By burning down ogoh-ogoh, we invoke to the gods or negative elements in the universe not to bother us during Nyepi,” said Sucipto, head of Karang Tengah village.

After Taur Agung Kesanga, residents immediately went home. Nyepi started at the stroke of midnight on Sunday, and ran until Monday afternoon — again, differing from the Balinese observation of the holiday, which runs from 6 a.m. on the day of Nyepi to 6 a.m the next day.

But like their Balinese counterparts, Hindus in Malang are not allowed to engage in any worldly activities during this time and are encouraged to meditate.

The roads along Karang Tengah look darker than usual. Adults usually stay indoors all day, while teens meditate in temples. Only mosques and churches keep the lights on.

“Our Muslim neighbors also turn off the lights and do not hang out in the road, out of respect for Nyepi,” Sucipto.

The series of observations concluded on Tuesday with a ceremony to rekindle a fire and spirit called Ngembak Geni .

For this ceremony, worshipers usually head to the temples of Badut, Kidal and Singosari.

On Tuesday morning, people came from far and wide carrying trays of crops and food as a form of homage to their ancestors and a symbol of hope for abundant blessings in 1939 Saka year.

The Javanese influence is also strong here, and Ngembak Geni has adopted a lot of the traditions from the Idul Fitri celebration.

For one, those celebrating it go around to the homes of their relatives and neighbors to seek forgiveness.

“The kids will also get sangu ” — pocket money — “from relatives and neighbors, just like during Idul Fitri,” Suharsono said.

And so, for another year, the Hindus of Malang marked Nyepi in their own unique way — one rich in tradition and proud of its pluralist roots.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Gunmen Abduct Chinese Tourist From Borneo Resort: Report

Jakarta Globe – AFP, Apr 03, 2014

A police boat is seen in Semporna, Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo in this file
photo. (rifqy/https://www.flickr.com/photos/rifqy/)

Kuala Lumpur. Gunmen have abducted a Chinese tourist and a Filipino worker from a dive resort on Malaysia’s Borneo island, a report said Thursday, at a time of heightened tensions between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing over missing Flight MH370.

The incident also adds to growing concerns about security in that part of the island after last year’s bloody armed assault by Islamic guerillas from the southern Philippines. The two women were taken at around 10:30 p.m. local time Wednesday from the Singamata Reef Resort in eastern Sabah state after it was raided by up to six gunmen, according to The Star newspaper.

Gao Huayun, 29, from Shanghai, who was holidaying with about 60 other tourists from China, is believed to have been abducted from her room and forced into a boat, the report said.

The 40-year-old Filipino resort worker was not named and it is unclear how she was taken.

The paper said the women were discovered missing after the resort, which is built on stilts near the town of Semporna, ordered a roll call as police arrived minutes after the gunmen had fled.

Resort staff could not immediately be reached for further comment, while Sabah police chief Hamza Taib said he was on his way to Semporna and would have more details later.

The Chinese consulate on Borneo was unavailable to comment.

It comes as relations between Malaysia and China are fraught over the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which went missing last month with 239 people aboard, mostly Chinese. The aircraft has yet to be found, and Chinese families have accused Malaysia of mishandling the tragedy.

The eastern part of Sabah — whose pristine dive sites are a top tourist attraction — has seen several kidnappings despite increased security. More than 200 heavily armed followers of a self-proclaimed Philippine sultan landed in Sabah in February last year, claiming it for their leader.

Dozens were left dead after a nearly month-long standoff as Malaysian armed forces moved in to clear out the guerrillas.

In 2000, armed Philippine gunmen took 21 hostages at the internationally renowned scuba diving destination of Sipadan island, including 10 tourists from Europe and the Middle East.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Indonesian Island Sees Future in Age-Old Horseback Battle

Jakarta Globe – AFP, Angela Dewan, Apr 02, 2014

Sumbanese tribesmen participate in the annual ‘pasola’ festival, a ritual
 mock battle on horseback in Ratenggaro village located in Indonesia’s island
of Sumba. (AFP Photo)

Ratenggaro, East Nusa Tenggara. Two teams of tribesmen on horseback charge at each other hurling bamboo spears in a thousand-year-old ritual on the Indonesian island of Sumba aimed at producing a prosperous rice harvest.

Spectators, their mouths reddened from chewing betel nut, scream them on from the sidelines of the show in Ratenggaro village, reaching for their machetes when a rider is struck at close range and the referee calls foul play.

The annual pasola — which comes from the word “spear” in a local tribal language — takes place over four weeks in February and March in western Sumba, an island in the center of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.

Traditionally it was a barely disguised form of human sacrifice in which tribesmen would aim to spill each other’s blood onto the fields. It has evolved into a mock-up of such battles and people are not usually badly hurt, although accidental deaths do occasionally occur.

The spectacle attracts few foreign tourists — only around 10 were at the recent pasola in Ratenggaro and up to 100 normally attend larger ones. But now officials are hoping to use it to boost the economy of the desperately poor island, which is dependent on subsistence rice and corn farming and woven rattan goods that yield few profits.

“It’s a major attraction and has huge potential for development,” said Bona Fantura Rumat, from the tourism board of East Nusa Tenggara province, which includes Sumba.

Despite its pristine beaches, azure seas and traditional villages, last year Sumba attracted around 2,500 tourists — compared to more than three million who visited the nearby resort island of Bali. Rumat said plans are afoot to promote the pasola more, improve infrastructure by building better roads and start flights to more destinations in Indonesia to make Sumba easier to reach, as well as to Darwin in northern Australia.

Adapting tradition

The ritual itself has already been adapted to make it more palatable to visitors.

In the past it would typically end with a field drenched in human and horse blood, and it was a great honor for local villagers to die while taking part. At the recent Ratenggaro pasola, no one reported much more than a scratch and the villagers now use blood solely from sacrificed animals, instead of a mix of human and animal blood as they did in the past.

Before the pasola, men in a darkened hut chopped off the heads of chickens, draining their blood into buckets as a mystic chanted. A dog and pig whose blood had already been drained were roasted on a fire, to be shared and eaten after the festivities.

The spears have also been blunted and metal tips removed. In Ratenggaro, policemen armed with rifles ensured that no one was hacked to death — although a minor punch-up still ensued.

There have also been changes in the planning of the event. It traditionally only began the day after a certain type of seaworm swam to the shore — which signified the end of wet season and the beginning of crop planting — but now elders decide on the date in advance so tourists have enough time to plan their trips.

They still collect the worms, however — the more there are the better the harvest — and the slimy blue and green creatures are cooked into patty cakes.

Risk of swift Westernization

Despite the changes, many Sumbanese believe the pasola is still as spiritually rich as ever and have given a cautious welcome to the idea of increasing tourism.

“If there is anyone who takes part in the pasola with an unclean heart, then harm will come to them,” said Ratenggaro village elder Agustinus Pandak, wearing a bright orange weaving wrapped around his head.

“They might fall off their horse, be hurt when struck by a spear. But this won’t happen if the rider is at peace with himself and his heart is full of love,” he said.

Pandak added he was happy for steps to be taken to attract more people to the pasola, “as long as it’s developed with respect to our culture.”

For many foreigners who do make the journey to Sumba, the island’s underdeveloped tourism industry is precisely what they like about it.

“If it develops, I hope they go for dirt-cheap accommodation and luxury resorts, because anything in between you’ll get a mass appeal and swift Westernization, pushing every ounce of local culture out the window,” said Swedish backpacker Christoffer Kullman, 26, who was at the Ratenggaro pasola.

His travel companion, Linus Strandholm, experienced at first-hand that the modern version of the pasola is not entirely safe — he was struck in the chest by a spear and hit in the head with a rock.

“I’ve saved the rock as a souvenir,” he said, adding it was all part of the experience.

Agence France-Presse


Sunday, March 30, 2014

SBY Meets With Families of Migrant Workers Facing Death Sentences Overseas

Jakarta Globe, Mar 30, 2014

President Yudhoyono meets with the families of migrant workers on death
row in Central Java on March 30, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Twitter/@sbyudhoyono)

Jakarta. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Sunday met with families of Indonesian migrant workers facing the death penalty abroad, in the wake of recently announced negotiations to save the life of a worker who admitted to killing her Saudi employer — the latest in a string of high-profile cases involving Indonesian migrants.

“As you know, the government is making serious efforts to seek forgiveness from Saudi Arabia and the victim’s family,” Yudhoyono said at the meeting in Hotel Gumaya, in Semarang, Central Java, as quoted by news portal Detik.com.

Satinah Binti Jumadi Ahmad, 41, of Ungaran, Central Java, was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia after admitting to slaying former employer Nura in 2007 and fleeing with 37,970 riyal ($10,125). She is scheduled for execution on April 4 if the Indonesian government cannot collect the proper sum of diyat, or blood money, by that date.

The al-Garib family initially requested 10 million riyal in 2011, but the Indonesian government managed to negotiate the amount to 7 million — with 5 million to be paid now and another two due in the next to years.

The families of Siti Zaenab, Tuti Tursilawati and Karni, all awaiting execution in Saudi prison, were also in attendance at the meeting, as were Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi, Education and Culture Minister Muhammad Nuh, presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha and foreign affairs advisor Daniel Sparingga.

On Friday, Yudhoyono sent an envoy to Saudi Arabia to meet with the al-Garib family before the execution deadline: Head of the task force on migrant worker protection (Satgas TKI) Maftuh Basyuni, accompanied by a team of Foreign Ministry and Manpower Ministry staffers. They delivered the 5 million riyal, according to a report published on the Cabinet Secretary’s official website, setkab.go.id.

Yudhoyono said that 246 Indonesian migrant workers were facing the death penalty abroad, but that 176 had been freed during his time in office.

“We have freed 176 people from death sentences,” he said, according to news portal Detik.com. “That is not a small number considering how hard it is to ask forgiveness for even one person.”

He said that the central government sought clemency for Indonesians facing foreign death sentences as a matter of principle rather than as the result of political pressure.

Satinah’s brother, Paeri Al Fery, expressed gratitude for Yudhoyono’s actions.

“Thank you for your help, mister President,” Paeri said. “Thank you for coming to Semarang. Please pray for us.”


Indonesian migrant workers wait to exit a boat at North Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok
 port in this file photo. The workers were sent home from Saudi Arabia. (JG Photo/
Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)



SBY visits ‘sacred’ megalithic site

The JakartaPost, Jakarta, Archipelago, February 26 2014

Talk from the top: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gives a speech after
 touring the Gunung Padang megalithic site in Cianjur, West Java, on Tuesday.
 The President and his entourage visited the site following research by a team
including the President’s special staffer Andi Arief. Antara/Novrian Arbi

The mystery that shrouds Gunung Padang Megalithic Site seemed to attract President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who went to one of the country’s most-talked about tourist spots in Karyamukti village, Cianjur regency, recently.

The President, First Lady Ani Yudhoyono and their entourage arrived at the site, which is located at an elevation of 885 meters above sea level, on Tuesday noon, Antara news agency reported.

State Secretary Sudi Silalahi, Public Works Minister Djoko Kirmanto, Coordinating People’s Welfare Minister Agung Laksono and Cooperatives and Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Minister Syariefuddin Hasan all joined the President and his wife to climb hundreds of steep steps, which ascend five tiers.

The Mount Padang Independent and Integrated Research Team (TTPMGP) has found evidence that a structure, which dates back thousands of years, exists below the mountain.

Disaster and Social Relief Affairs presidential advisor Andi Arief, who facilitates TTPMGP, said the tiers concealed a pyramid that predated the Egyptian pyramids by more than 10,000 years.

Arief’s statement had caused controversy among scientists. The team is still researching the matter after local residents objected the excavation for fear that the site would be damaged.

While at the site, which measures 900 square meters, Yudhoyono said the research must be completed so it could become a complete site like Borobudur.

“This is a huge undertaking and needs to be planned, budgeted and scheduled. It needs leadership and the right policy. We hope the task is finished soon,” Yudhoyono said as quoted by Antara.

He added that the law had given mandate to the West Java provincial administration to manage the project. “But, the central government will assist,” said Yudhoyono.

“I express my highest appreciation to the tireless researchers. Many of them don’t believe it, some are annoyed but everyone is firm. This is a good beginning despite it being unfinished,” said Yudhoyono.

Yudhoyono and entourage were at the site for around three hours.

Gunung Padang has become popular with domestic tourists in recent years.

At the site’s information center visitors are told that the terraced site was first recorded by Dutch researcher NJ Krom in 1914 before being rediscovered by local farmers in 1979.

The geological structure of the stones is columnar jointing, each stone varies in size and is prismatic.

It is believed the site was a place to carry out rituals and the top was considered the most sacred part.

Before undertaking ritual, people would clean themselves in a pond located in the south of the site.

The West Java provincial administration has called on the Cianjur regency administration and the local community to help protect the megalithic site, especially from vandalism, as well as to attract more tourists.

Locals are very protective of the site and remind visitors not to litter or eat there.

Entry costs Rp 2,000 (17 US cents).

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Exclusive: 'locked-up' Saudi princesses' message for Obama

Channel 4, Fatima Manji, 28 March 2014

"He should be ashamed to meet a leader that has four grown women locked up" - the message from two Saudi princesses to President Obama as he meets with their father, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.


In an exclusive on-camera interview with Channel 4 News, we talk to Princesses Sahar and Jawaher, who say they have been held under effective house arrest, by their father, the king, for more than a decade.

Princesses Sahar and Jawaher are the daughters of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. They say they have been held in the royal compound in Jeddah for the last 13 years, and their sisters Maha and Hala are also being held in separate villas. They claim they are not allowed to travel or leave their home.
If he does that to his own children, how do you think the rest of the country is? - Princess Jawaher
Princesses Sahar and Jawaher claim they have little communication outside of their gates - "no-one is allowed in or out." They say the internet is their only window onto the world. Via Skype, they tell Channel 4 News they are "cut off, isolated... and alone" and that "our father, the king, is responsible."

Their mother Alanoud Al Fayez, who is divorced from the king, first went public with their story two weeks ago, giving her first broadcast interview to Channel 4 News. Since that interview was broadcast, the princesses say restrictions on them have been tightened and they are no longer even allowed to make trips with armed guards for food, as they were previously.

They say food is now becoming scarce in their home, that they are desperate for the world to listen to their story and for someone to help.

Their only hope is that our report will make a difference, and that is why they wanted to broadcast this interview. Princess Sahar says: "This is a risk we're taking, we're happy to do it, we understand full well the repercussions, but we don't know what's going to happen."

Princess Sahar said to reporter Fatima Manji "why are we, grown women, held against our will? I believe we are now hostages."

Her sister, Princess Jawaher, said: "If he does that to his own children, how do you think the rest of the country is?"

The Saudi embassy in London has so far only responded to these claims by saying "this is a private matter".


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Malaysia Airlines' ticket sales suspended by 2 websites in China

Want China Times, Staff Reporter 2014-03-29

A screenshot of the notice on the Elong site announcing the suspension
of Malaysia Airlines ticket sales. (Internet photo)

Two Chinese ticketing websites announced that they have suspended sales of Malaysia Airlines' flight tickets until the company reaches an agreement with the families of the 153 Chinese passengers on the missing plane MH370, reports the Chinese-language Beijing Times newspaper.

One of the two websites Elong said it made the decision because two of the passengers on the plane that disappeared March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur bought their tickets through their site. The firm said that they have also been dissatisfied with the airline's response to and handling of the incident. It began the suspension Thursday and will not lift it until the families reach an agreement with the airline. People who have already bought the airline's tickets through the site can still use them or get a full refund from Elong. The Chinese firm will also provide compensation of 100,000 yuan (US$16,100) to each of the families of the two passengers who were booked on the flight through the website.

Another website Ly.com also announced a suspension for an indefinite period of time and offered full refunds for customers who wanted to cancel flight tickets and tours they had bought through the ticketing website. The refunds are available to all customers no matter whether or not Malaysia Airlines have agreed to refund tickets.

The Malaysian civil aviation authority pledged to continue the search for the plane for as long as it takes, citing the example of an Air France plane, for which search teams spent two years looking before recovering the black box of the crashed flight in 2009. Several countries have been taking part in the search effort for the missing plane, and there has been no talk of putting an end to the search as yet.

The black box of the missing flight is set to run out of battery in ten days. The air operations commander of the Royal Malaysian Air Force Lieutenant General Datuk Seri Ackbal Abdul Samad said the search area for the missing plane has been narrowed. A ship specializing in probing has also joint the search effort.

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