Indonesia executes six drug convicts, five of them foreigners

Indonesia executes six drug convicts, five of them foreigners
Widodo has pledged to bring reform to Indonesia

Ban appeals to Indonesia to stop death row executions

Ban appeals to Indonesia to stop death row executions
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has pleaded to Indonesia to stop the execution of prisoners on death row for drug crimes. AFP PHOTO

Pope: 'Death penalty represents failure' – no 'humane' way to kill a person

Pope: 'Death penalty represents failure' – no 'humane' way to kill a person
The pope wrote that the principle of legitimate personal defense isn’t adequate justification to execute someone. Photograph: Zuma/Rex

Obama becomes first president to visit US prison (US Justice Systems / Human Rights)

Obama becomes first president to visit US prison   (US Justice Systems / Human Rights)
US President Barack Obama speaks as he tours the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

US Death Penalty (Justice Systems / Human Rights)

US Death Penalty (Justice Systems / Human Rights)
Woman who spent 23 years on US death row cleared (Photo: dpa)



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"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy, Recalibration Lectures, God / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) - (Text version)

… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Thousands in shelters as Indonesia flood death toll hits 60

Yahoo – AFP, Haeril HALIM, Ganis Bungsu, January 4, 2020

Indonesian villagers use inner tubes to deliver supplies across a river at Banjar
Irigasi in Lebak, Banten province (AFP Photo/SAMMY)

Jakarta (AFP) - Indonesian rescue teams flew helicopters stuffed with food to remote flood-hit communities on Saturday as the death toll from the disaster jumped to 60 and fears grew about the possibility of more torrential rain.

Tens of thousands in Jakarta were still unable to return to their waterlogged homes after some of the deadliest flooding in years hit the enormous capital region, home to about 30 million.

In neighbouring Lebak, where half a dozen people died, police and military personnel dropped boxes of instant noodles and other supplies into remote communities inaccessible by road after bridges were destroyed.

"It's tough to get supplies in there... and there are about a dozen places hit by landslides," Tomsi Tohir -- the police chief of Banten province, where Lebak is located -- told AFP.

"That is why we're using helicopters although there aren't any landing spots."

Local health centre chief Suripto, who goes by one name, said injured residents were flowing into his clinic.

"Some of them were wounded after they were swept away by floods and hit with wood and rocks," he said.

Around Jakarta, more than 170,000 people took refuge in shelters across the massive urban conglomeration after whole neighbourhoods were submerged.

Map of Jakarta showing the areas affected by flooding (AFP Photo)

Torrential rains that started on New Year's Eve unleashed flash floods and landslides.

Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency said on Saturday that two people were also killed after flash floods and landslides hit a village in North Sulawesi on Friday.

The agency said Saturday the total death toll had climbed to 60 with two people still missing.

"We've discovered more dead bodies," said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Agus Wibowo.

'Trauma healing'

Jakarta shelters filled up with refugees, including infants, resting on thin mats as food and drinking water ran low.

Some had been reduced to using floodwater for cleaning.

"We're cleaning ourselves in a nearby church but the time has been limited since it uses an electric generator for power," said Trima Kanti, 39, from one refuge in Jakarta's western edges.

In hard-hit Bekasi, on the eastern outskirts of Jakarta, swamped streets were littered with debris and crushed cars lying on top of each other -- with waterline marks reaching as high as the second floors of buildings.

People wait to get fresh water from a truck in their flood affected village in Bekasi, 
West Java (AFP Photo/REZAS)

On Friday, the government said it would start cloud seeding to the west of the capital -- inducing rain using chemicals sprayed from planes -- in the hope of preventing more rain reaching the city region.

Water has receded in many areas and power was being restored in hundreds of districts.

The health ministry has said it had deployed some 11,000 health workers and soldiers to distribute medicine, disinfectant hygiene kits and food in a bid to stave off outbreaks of Hepatitis A, mosquito-borne Dengue fever and other illnesses, including infections linked to contact with dead animals.

Visiting hard-hit Lebak, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said the government would help rebuild destroyed schools and construct temporary bridges, while offering assistance to victims.

"We're also asking for NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to help with trauma healing," Muhadjir told reporters on Saturday.

Electrocution, drowning

Around Jakarta, a family -- including a four- and nine-year-old -- died of suspected gas poisoning from a portable power generator, while an eight-year-old boy was killed in a landslide.

Indonesia's disaster agency said the death toll from the heavy flooding had 
climbed to 60 (AFP Photo/BAY ISMOYO)

Others died from drowning or hypothermia, while one 16-year-old boy was electrocuted by a power line.

Jakarta is regularly hit by floods during the rainy season, which started in late November.

But this week marked Jakarta's deadliest flooding since 2013 when dozens were killed after the city was inundated by monsoon rains.

Urban planning experts said the disaster was partly due to record rainfall.

But Jakarta's myriad infrastructure problems, including poor drainage and rampant overdevelopment, have worsened the situation, they said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has announced a plan to move the country's capital to Borneo island to take pressure off Jakarta, which suffers from some of the world's worst traffic jams and is fast sinking due to excessive groundwater extraction.)

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Palau bans 'reef-toxic' sunscreen

Yahoo – AFP, Bernadette Carreon, January 1, 2020

Reefs all over the world are being affected by the toxins in sunscreens (AFP Photo/
DONALD MIRALLE)

Koror (Palau) (AFP) - Palau's pioneering ban on "reef-toxic" sunscreens took effect Wednesday as the tiny Pacific island nation introduced strict environmental measures that also include one of the world's largest marine sanctuaries.

"We have to live and respect the environment because the environment is the nest of life, and without it nobody in Palau can survive," President Tommy Remengesau told AFP as the new laws took effect.

Palau, which lies in the western Pacific about halfway between Australia and Japan, is renowned for its marine life and is regarded as one of the world's best diving destinations, but the government is concerned its popularity is coming at a cost.

Remengesau said there was scientific evidence that the chemicals found in most sunscreens were toxic to corals, even in minute doses.

With Palau's popular dive sites regularly packed with tourists there were concerns a build-up of these chemicals would irreparably harm the reefs.

From New Year's day, any reef-toxic sunscreen imported or sold in Palau will be confiscated and the owner will be fined US$1,000.

"When science tells us that a practice is damaging to coral reefs, to fish populations, or to the ocean itself, our people take note and our visitors do too," Remengesau said.

Map locating Palau. The tiny Pacific island nation's pioneering ban on 
"reef-toxic" sunscreens took effect on New Year's Day (AFP Photo/Gal ROMA)

"Toxic sunscreen chemicals have been found throughout Palau's critical habitats, and in the tissues of our most famous creatures.

"We don't mind being the first nation to ban these chemicals, and we will do our part to spread the word. With better education and awareness, more jurisdictions will have the confidence to take this necessary action.

"The science is clear, and once that message has spread, we will be the first of many."

Along with the sunscreen ban, Palau’s much-touted marine sanctuary came into effect on January 1, closing 80 percent of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to fishing and other marine activities including mining and shark finning.

"It is a very ambitious and worthy goal for Palau's future," Remengesau said. The marine sanctuary prohibits commercial fishing in about 500,000 square kilometres (190,000 square miles) of ocean.

The legislation also requires most foreign fleets working in the limited fishing area to land their catch in Palau and then pay an export tax.

Environment Minister Umiich Sengebau said the law ensures Palau has first rights to purchase fish caught in the area to satisfy the local demand before exports are allowed.

Remengesau said the ban was needed to "let the ocean heal" after years of mass commercial fishing in the Pacific that has seen stocks of some species such as bluefin tuna fall to critical levels.

It follows Palau's establishment of the world's first shark sanctuary in 2009 to prevent finning -- a practice that sees fish have their fins hacked off before they are thrown back into the sea to die.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Asia's first LGBT-focused streaming service tackles taboos

Yahoo – AFP, Catherine Lai, December 30, 2019

GagaOOLala brings more than 1,000 feature films, shorts, web series, and
documentaries to people across Asia, where censorship and traditional attitudes
mean there has been little in the way of gay content in the mainstream
media (AFP Photo/Roslan RAHMAN)

Singapore (AFP) - A rom-com about a lesbian flight attendant and a romance in a gay spa are among the shows featured on Asia's first LGBT-focused streaming service, which is pushing boundaries in an often highly conservative region.

GagaOOLala brings more than 1,000 feature films, shorts, web series, and documentaries to people across Asia, where censorship and traditional attitudes mean there has been little in the way of gay content in the mainstream media.

After launching in 2017 in Taiwan, a beacon for gay rights since becoming the first place in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage, it has expanded to 21 territories including several that still criminalise homosexuality.

"One of the main impetuses for me to create GagaOOlala, (is) to kind of dispel a lot of the myths and misconceptions that a lot of people might have about LGBT people," said Jay Lin, a prominent LGBT rights activist in Taiwan who founded the platform.

"We're not all living really tragic lives -- we're entrepreneurs, we're fathers," the 46-year-old, who is raising twin boys with his partner in Taipei, told AFP.

With about 280,000 members, made up mainly of gay people but also including a significant number of straight women, its success comes as some progress is made on LGBT rights in parts of the region.

As well as Taiwan's move to legalise same-sex unions in May, India's Supreme Court last year struck down a colonial-era ban on gay sex.

Dire rights situation

But the gay rights situation remains dire in other countries where the platform operates -- making its presence in those markets all the more important, supporters say.

Gay sex is still banned in Singapore as it is in Malaysia, where in the past year women and men have been caned under Islamic laws for having same-sex relations.

The tiny, oil-rich sultanate of Brunei introduced death by stoning for gay sex as part of a harsh new sharia penal code earlier this year –- but later rolled it back following a storm of criticism.

Censorship also persists in some countries, with Malaysia's film board this year cutting gay sex scenes from "Rocketman", the movie-musical based on the life of British singer Elton John.

The platform -- which is planning a global launch next year -- has not run into any regulatory hurdles so far, according to Lin, but he acknowledged the need to tread carefully in more conservative places.

The service often relies on closed chat groups, social media and LGBT influencers for promotion instead of advertising openly.

Lin's team started by building up GagaOOlala's library with Western content, but has since branched out, making an effort to find content from across Asia.

Earlier this year GOL Studios, a sister platform, was launched to help LGBT filmmakers find talent and funding, as well as distribute and market their work.

Homegrown content

The platform ramped up its production of original content this year, making its first Thai film, its first lesbian feature film in Japan and a Germany-Spain co-production.

"As we have developed..., we have realised that actually a lot of Asians also want to see Asian faces, and watch Asian stories and watch films take place in places or cities that they're familiar with," said Lin.

For streamers focusing on niche areas like GagaOOLala, original shows are key to building their brands.

Lin said interest in the platform jumped after the recent release of the "Handsome Stewardess", a series about a Taiwanese, tomboyish lesbian who takes a job as a flight attendant to pursue her new love interest to Singapore.

"The Teacher", another original about a gay educator who is in love with an HIV-positive married man, also proved a hit, bagging best supporting actress at the Golden Horse awards, dubbed the Chinese-language "Oscars".

GagaOOlala is not alone in relying on original content to draw in viewers and boost its profile.

Bryan Seah, head of original productions at Southeast Asia-focused streamer Hooq, said people felt "pride" at seeing local performers on screen.

Viewers were sending a message that "I want to see my favourite Indonesian actor, I want to see my favourite Filipino director, fronting something that has the scale and ambition to match the best Korean content", he said.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Indonesia mourns 15 years after Boxing Day tsunami

Yahoo – AFP, December 26, 2019

Nurhayati, 65 (R), who lost her 17-year-old daughter in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami
and is still traumatized, prays at a cemetery containing mass graves in Siron, in
Indonesia's Aceh province on December 26, 2019 (AFP Photo/CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN)

Banda Aceh (Indonesia) (AFP) - Thousands of mourners flocked to mass graves Thursday in Indonesia's Aceh province to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, one of the worst natural disasters in history.

On a grassy field in Aceh Besar district where at least 47,000 victims were laid to rest, family members and relatives prayed, scattered flower petals and comforted each other.

Among them was Nurhayati who lost her youngest daughter in the disaster.

"I came here every year because I miss her so much, she was only 17, just started college," the 65-year-old told AFP, sobbing.

"It's been 15 years but even until now every time I see an ocean, even on TV, I shudder and feel like a big wave would be coming soon," she said.

Many people who lost loved ones in the disaster do not know where they were 
buried. Here, a woman walks past people praying at a cemetery containing mass 
graves in Siron, in Indonesia's Aceh province (AFP Photo/CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN)

Almost 170,000 were killed in Aceh province alone when a 9.1 magnitude undersea quake struck the predominantly Muslim province on December 26, 2004, triggering massive tsunami waves that also killed another 50,000 people in countries around the Indian Ocean, even as far as Somalia.

Some half a million people were left homeless by the catastrophe that destroyed much of the province.

Muhammad Ikramullah was only 13 when the tsunami hit, killing his parents and younger sibling. He spent years moving around, living with relatives and his parents' friends until he was able to provide for himself.

A cemetery in Ulee Lheue, Banda Aceh, contains mass graves of victims from the 
2004 tsunami which killed 220,000 people in countries around the Indian Ocean -- 
most of them in Indonesia's Aceh province (AFP Photo/CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN)

"I am still traumatised, I don't think I will ever forget what happened," the 28-year-old said.

The remains of his family have never been found, but like most people who visit the mass grave every year, Ikramullah only wanted to pray for his loved ones even though their bodies might not be buried there.

Years after the disaster, bodies are still being discovered. In 2018, the remains of dozens of people were found in a newly built housing complex.

Some have never found where their family members were buried.

Indonesian tsunami survivor Jony, 48 (R), and his daughter (L) pray at a cemetery 
containing mass graves in Siron, Aceh province, on the 15th anniversary of the disaster 
which killed 170,000 people in the province (AFP Photo/CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN)

"I don't know where my mother was buried," Jony China told AFP.

"But I keep coming here because I have a feeling she was close," he said.

Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to it position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where tectonic plates collide.

Last year a tsunami triggered by a volcanic earthquake killed nearly 500 people in Banten province.

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“… Mass Human Death

The final one, dear Human, is the hardest one for my partner and the one we wish to leave you with in this channeling tonight. This is the one that my partner doesn't want to even have me talk about. It's the appropriateness of mass death. For you, built in to your very essence is the honor for life, and the sorrow when it passes. It's correct and appropriate that this is there, and never let it be tempered. But the wisdom of understanding is also needed to help you get past some challenges of the Human heart.

"Dear Kryon, was the tsunami really necessary?" Yes it was. Almost 200,000 Human Beings passed over. It's an event that for you is filled with horror, sorrow, emotion, and challenge. Back in 1989, we told you of those that might have to leave the earth en masse, and here it is. Yet even my partner [Lee] asks the questions, "Why the children? Why the poorest parts of the earth? Why the seeming inappropriateness of all this death?"

And I say to you the same thing I said with respect to Terri: Do you understand yet that death is often as precious as life on this planet of many energies and lessons? They are not gone! They're all here [speaking from Kryon's perspective]. They're having a great time! They're joyful! It seems like a moment ago they leaned into the wind of birth with us beside them. We said, "How would you like to participate in an event that will change the compassion factor of the planet so that energies can move forward and provide faster acceleration of vibratory shift? How would you like to help create peace on earth through a consciousness shift within Gaia itself? And they said, "Show us the way!"

Do you understand why we are in love with humanity... that you would love the earth and the Universe so much that you would go through these things? So much of what you see is horrible tragedy, yet you're looking at the heroes of humanity as they deliver a gift that will change the very fabric of Gaia through the compassion created as a wave of humanity responds to their plight.

They knew the potentials and they went through with it. Even the children knew, for they're old souls within their divinity. There was so much compassion created at that time, in that one week, the earth has never seen anything like it in your lifetime. Billions of Humans were involved with a compassion that instantly went to the core of the planet. It went into the earth and it's still there. It changed the actual energy of where you walk and it planted a seeds that will grow that will indeed emerge later in Israel, and those surrounding Israel.

And that's what it's about. Yet some of you didn't want to hear that, did you? But they're here, with me now... and with you as well. How could you fit them all in this room, you might ask? They can fit on the head of a pin! That's interdimensional talk. They can go home in your purse or your pocket! That's interdimensional talk, too. And they've got a message for you that we've given before, but you can't hear it enough: "We did our part - now you do yours, Lighthouse! For the ones who remain are the only ones who can manipulate the tools we have helped create."

When you go home tonight, you're not going to be in a survival situation - in a tent in a tribe with no lights or clean water, with no food. You're not going to be in sorrow or despair. Instead, you go home to a warm place with plenty of food and friendship and the love of family. That's why you're the Lighthouses, because you have time for it. You've got the intellect for it. You're not in survival mode, as is so much of humanity on the earth. You have the education for it and the intuition for it. Now, do you understand why there are so many Lighthworkers in the western world? It's because your culture has created a situation where there's abundance of these things, and it allows you to lead the way in changing the energy of earth, instead of having all your time spent just trying to survive. Does this help you understand the responsibility of what you have before you?

Strike the light and send it to the Sudanese. Strike light and send it to those dark places with governments where there's corruption. Strike the light and send it to the scientists and researchers who already have the cures for the more virulent diseases on the planet, but can't begin their work due to the barriers of certain leadership and their old ways. Strike the light and send it to Israel and Palestine and get on with this solution! This is why you're here, and this is the agreement you made when you arrived and selected the culture you live in.

Achievable in your lifetime, it is. Peace and compassion will prevail. You shall see. You shall see.

And so it is.

Kryon

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Indonesian martial art pencak silat gets UNESCO heritage status

Yahoo – AFP, Agnes Anya, December 15, 2019

Indonesians engage in pencak silat, a martial art indigenous to Southeast Asia,
in Jakarta. The sport has been added to UNESCO's list of "Intangible
Cultural Heritage" practices (AFP Photo/BAY ISMOYO)

Anwar bin Sholeh had something to cheer when he showed up at a Jakarta training centre to practice pencak silat -- the Indonesian martial art was added to UNESCO's prestigious heritage list.

"It's an honour that pencak silat has been recognised internationally," the 38-year-old, who has been practising the art since elementary school, told AFP.

"This will motivate us to preserve our traditions and culture," he added.

Dating back to as early as the 6th Century, one legend has it that the ancient martial art -- which blends self-defense and artistic elements -- originated after a woman watched a tiger do battle with a giant hawk, and copied their techniques to fight off a pestering group of drunken men.

The term pencak silat describes hundreds of indigenous combat styles in Southeast Asia, with fighters wielding a terrifying array of weapons such as knives, sickles and machetes.

Pencak silat practitioners go through their paces in the Indonesian 
capital, Jakarta (AFP Photo/BAY ISMOYO)

It has gained greater awareness outside Indonesia after being featured in Star Wars and John Wick films in recent years.

"I'm glad that Pencak Silat is now not only recognised in Hollywood," said practitioner Rian Irawan bin Maswan Hasan.

"It's a unique martial art because it is not only for health and self defense, but it also builds solidarity and brotherhood among it members," he added.

The inclusion on UNESCO's list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage" practices was decided during a committee meeting in Bogota last week.

"In addition to their sporting element, traditions of Pencak Silat also encompass mental-spiritual, self-defence and artistic aspects," the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization said.

Pencak silat practitioners drill during a training session in Jakarta (AFP 
Photo/BAY ISMOYO)

"The moves and styles of Pencak Silat are strongly influenced by various elements of art, involving a unity of body and movement fitting the accompanying music."

The martial art was featured at last year's Asian Games, where host Indonesia swept the gold medal tally.

Traditional Pencak Silat covers a broad range of styles and can be different from what appears in official sporting competitions with set rules.

"Many tradition-based silat practitioners could not take part in those competitions because the standards are very different," said 43-year-old Hasan.

Indonesian batik and Wayang puppet theatre are among the Southeast Asian nation's other entries on the UNESCO list.

Indonesia boosts Christmas security over potential terror threat

Yahoo – AFP, December 17, 2019

Despite being a Muslim-majority nation, many Indonesians are happy to take part
in Christmas festivities regardless of their religion -- although conservative Islamic
groups frequently target public displays (AFP Photo/ADEK BERRY)

Jakarta (AFP) - Muslim-majority Indonesia will deploy nearly 200,000 security personnel nationwide ahead of Christmas to guard against potential terror attacks, police said Tuesday.

The Southeast Asian archipelago of 260 million has significant numbers of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists who have been targeted by radical Islamist groups.

On Tuesday, authorities said some 192,000 police and military personnel would be deployed to secure Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations across the country -- including in easternmost Papua, a predominantly Christian region.

The deployment, which comes after a recent spate of attacks, is more than the 167,000 personnel deployed last year.

"As many as 10,000 personnel will be deployed in Jakarta" alone, said National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono

"Based on intelligence data, there are potential risks... so we're taking preventive measures but we are also ready to take proactive action," he added.

Many past attacks in Indonesia, which has dozens of groups loyal to Islamic State's violent ideology, have been against police and other state symbols.

Authorities routinely arrest suspected IS-linked militants ahead of alleged planned attacks.

In October Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered beefed-up security after two militants from an IS-linked terror group stabbed his chief security minister. He survived the assassination attempt.

Last month a suicide bomber blew himself up at a police station in Sumatra, killing himself and wounding six civilians.

Hundreds of suspects were rounded up after the attacks, which came more than a year after a suicide bomber family killed a dozen congregants in attacks at churches in Indonesia's second-biggest city, Surabaya.

On Tuesday the country's new chief security minister Mahfud said high security was also meant to ensure Christian communities could celebrate Christmas without being targeted by groups keen to disrupt the festivities.

"We need to anticipate as early as possible things like intolerant incidents and burning down houses of worship," the minister, who goes by one name, told reporters.

Conservative Muslim groups frequently raid shopping malls and other public places to protest against Christmas displays or seasonal attire worn by Muslim employees.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Foot fetish: Nibbles a specialty at Indonesian restaurant

Yahoo – AFP, November 22, 2019

Indonesian diners have lunch while fish nibble dead skin from their feet at a
restaurant at Wedomartani village in Yogyakarta (AFP Photo/OKA HAMIED)

Yogyakarta (Indonesia) (AFP) - As he scarfed down a traditional Indonesian meal, Adi Karyanov got himself the two-in-one special at a new restaurant offering pedicures by fish.

The tables and chairs at Soto Cokro Kembang in Indonesia's cultural capital Yogyakarta sit in ankle-deep water, home to thousands of little fish that nibble dead skin off the feet of diners.

"I felt the fish biting my feet -- it was ticklish but nice," Karyanov said.

"They make it fun to eat here. It's kind of unique."

Many spas across southeast Asia have for years touted a fishy pedicure as an unproven but novel way of treating various skin conditions.

But restaurant owner Imam Nur, who opened in June, has gone a step further by offering it alongside his traditional Javanese "sole food".

Nur credits his father for coming up with the idea for the open-air restaurant, which has some 7,000 Red Nile Tilapia swimming around its patrons.

A diner wades through a fish pond to her table to have a 
lunch while fish nibble at her feet at a restaurant in Indonesia
(AFP Photo/OKA HAMIED)

"We initially opened this restaurant just for locals living nearby," he said.

"But what's happening now is beyond what we had initially planned. It's become like culinary tourism. Many people are coming here from different cities."

Pressing fish into service to remove dead skin is not without controversy.

Some cities in North America and Europe have banned it over concerns about bacterial outbreaks, while People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has warned over both the health risks and possible cruelty to animals.

Still, visitors like Anna Widia were keen to give the fish treatment a whirl.

"I've never seen any place like this," she said.

"And it's big enough to bring the whole family."

Friday, November 1, 2019

Saudi's new tourism industry faces huge training challenge

Yahoo – AFP, Aziz EL MASSASSI, October 31, 2019

Conservative Saudi Arabia has launched a drive to attract tourists to places such
as UNESCO World Heritage site Madain Saleh (AFP Photo/FAYEZ NURELDINE)

Riyadh (AFP) - Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to tourists, but faces huge challenges to train an estimated one million staff needed to operate the sector, according to the head of one forthcoming mega-project.

The ultra-conservative kingdom announced in September that it would offer tourist visas for the first time, relaxing rules that had largely restricted visits to business travellers and Muslim pilgrims.

But despite a slick global advertising campaign, Saudi tourism infrastructure is still scant -- in contrast to its ambitions to welcome 100 million visitors by 2030.

The Red Sea Project, to be built across an archipelago of 90 islands and stretching into nearby deserts and mountains, will open for business in 2022, its CEO John Pagano said at a major investment forum in Riyadh.

"The challenges are going to be related to investing in our people, training the workforce that we need for the future," he told AFP on the conference sidelines.

"A million people will be working in the tourism sector, so we need a country-scale initiative to train tourism professionals."

The first phase of the mega-project off the Saudi port city of Jeddah envisages 14 luxury hotels built on five islands, with resorts in the mountains beyond.

Unlike other destinations around the Red Sea, led by Egypt and Israel, Saudi Arabia is opting for a luxury tourism model along the lines of the successful industries in Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

"We are going to limit the number of visitors because over-tourism is a major cause of environmental damage," Pagano said.

But he added that the Red Sea project alone promises to deliver 70,000 jobs and $5.9 billion towards Saudi GDP annually.

"In Saudi Arabia, tourism makes up just 3.4 percent of GDP so there is a huge opportunity to grow in an industry that currently doesn't exist," he said.

Developing tourism is one of the major planks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's drive to wean the economy off its decades-long dependence on oil revenues.

The Crown Prince has sought to shake off his country's ultra-conservative image, lifting a ban on cinemas and women drivers as well as allowing concerts and sporting extravaganzas.

But Saudi Arabia, which forbids alcohol and enforces strict rules on gender segregation, may not be the easiest sell for global tourists.

To encourage visitors, authorities announced they would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together, and that foreign women were not obliged to wear the body-shrouding abaya that is still expected in public for Saudi women.

"The best way to face the challenges is to open the country up, show what's happening," Pagano said. "This country is going through a major transformation, every day you see new things happening that people said would never happen."

"By the process of tourism we are going to change the perception of the wider public, by people coming, physically experiencing what Saudi Arabia has to offer."

Indonesia's halal tourism bid faces pig pushback

Yahoo – AFP, Albert Ivan Damanik, with Haeril Halim in Jakarta, October 31, 2019

Contestants in a pig-catching competition show off their prize in Muara,
Indonesia (AFP Photo/Albert Ivan Damanik)

Indonesia's bid to lure more visitors by spreading halal tourism across the archipelago is facing a backlash, with a Christian celebration of pigs -- forbidden for Muslims -- the latest act of dissent.

The weekend festival-cum-protest in Sumatra, featuring pig racing, chubbiest hog contests and a porcine fashion show, comes as holiday hotspot Bali pushes back against rolling out more Muslim-friendly services on the Hindu island.

Critics say a government plan to cash in on halal tourism -- part of a broader campaign to replicate Bali's success nationwide -- is another threat to minority rights in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation.

And critics have warned that the sprawling nation of 260 million -- where nearly 90 percent of the population follows Islam -- is taking hard-right turn with a conservative cleric now installed as vice-president and hardliners growing increasingly vocal in public life.

Indonesia's reputation for tolerant Islam has been under fire for years.

Pushing halal tourism in areas with religious minorities -- including Christians, Buddhists and Hindus -- may do more harm than good, warned Ali Munhanif, an expert on political Islam at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta.

Indonesian children gather around a caged pig at the Lake Toba 
Festival in Muara, on Sumatra island (AFP Photo/Albert Ivan Damanik)

"The phenomenon signals an effort to institutionalise conservatism," he said.

"Bali successfully manages its tourism sector without using a 'Hindu' label.

But advocates say halal tourism is misunderstood.

"There is a public misperception that halal tourism is Islamisation. That is wrong and it's why some people overreact to the concept," said Zainut Tauhid, Indonesia's deputy minister of religious affairs.

"It is about providing necessary facilities for Muslim visitors such as prayer rooms. So it is facilitation rather than Islamisation."

'Divide people'

That view isn't shared by some around Lake Toba, a scenic crater lake in Sumatra where the weekend pig festival was held.

Indonesian children take part in a pig-themed colouring contest (AFP Photo/
Albert Ivan Damanik)

Most locals are Batak, a Christian ethnic group that puts pigs at the centre of its traditional cuisine, with hog farming a key source of income.

Last month, provincial governor Edy Rahmayadi raised eyebrows when said he wanted to boost tourism with Islam-friendly facilities and services.

That included opening more halal restaurants and mosques, as well as banning the public slaughter of hogs, with the governor saying the practice could turn off Muslim visitors.

"This idea to bring in halal tourism is going to divide people," festival organiser Togu Simorangkir told AFP

"It's a step back for tourism here," he added.

About 1,000 people dropped by the event, including children who scribbled in pig-themed colouring books and adults watching as hogs were judged on their plump proportions.

"Batak culture is particularly known for its pigs," said higher schooler Edo Sianturi.

A blindfolded boy takes part in a pig-catching competition during a 
festival in Muara (AFP Photo/Albert Ivan Damanik)

"We've been raising them and earning a living from them for generations."

Visitor Sabrina Singarimbun, a Muslim student in a head-covering hijab, was keen to see which best-dressed pig would win the festival's fashion contest.

"I disagree with the (halal tourism) idea because it's Batak culture here and most people aren't Muslim," she said.

'Tourism is about happiness'

Elsewhere, halal tourism is often seen as a lucrative business opportunity.

Thailand and Taiwan are among regional destinations tapping the halal tourism sector, which a 2017 study found will be worth some $300 billion annually.

This month, Indonesia ushered in new halal labelling rules for consumer products and services, as the government eyes travellers from other Islamic nations to rev up its much-touted "10 New Balis" tourism push, which includes Lake Toba.

But efforts to cater to Muslim visitors has drawn controversy.

A farmer splashes water over pigs in their pen during the Pig and Pork Lake 
Toba Festival in Muara (AFP Photo/Albert Ivan Damanik)

This summer, officials in Lombok -- an island next to Bali that has many Muslim-friendly services -- quickly rolled back plans to set up separate camping areas for male and female hikers in Mount Rinjani National Park after a public backlash.

Two restaurants in Makassar on Sulawesi island, meanwhile, were forced to close after a Muslim group in July complained that the smell of their pork dishes was wafting over to nearby mosques and halal restaurants.

Back in North Sumatra, the governor's spokesman Muhammad Ikhsan said his boss was misunderstood.

"He just wants to make Lake Toba a friendly place for Muslim visitors," Ikhsan said, adding that he hoped it would also curtail the environmental impact of pig farming.

"What we want is just to make things organised, not to make it a halal place."