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PETALING JAYA: Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) is confident that it has a good chance of retaining the Semenyih state seat in the by-election scheduled for March 2.

Prime Minister and Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he also believed that Malay support for the party in the state constituency was still strong.

“However, we have to remember that there may be more than two parties contesting, so the Malay votes might split.

“Of course that can be very bad for some parties, but based on our assessment we’re convinced that we still have a good chance of winning,” he said after chairing a Bersatu meeting, here today.

The by-election is being called following the death of incumbent Bakhtiar Mohd Nor on Jan 11.

Nomination is set on Feb 16, while early voting is on Feb 26.

Selangor Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman Amirudin Shari had reportedly said that the coalition would stick to its earlier decision that Bersatu should field its candidate in the by-election to retain the seat.

Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir, who is also PH chairman, said the meeting also discussed the current political situation in the country and the public perception of the government.

“The government administration is running well despite a little misunderstanding and misinterpretation by the media,” he said.

Earlier, Dr Mahathir also received 5,000 application forms to join Bersatu from several state representatives.

In another development, the prime minister said his remarks criticising Israeli’s atrocities against the Palestinians had received support from several Muslim world leaders.

“I think a number of them were very happy with our statement and action. I’ve had some conversation with some leaders and they’ve expressed happiness over our stand and support us,” he said.

Malaysia is standing firm on its decision to ban Israeli athletes from taking part in the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships, resulting in the country being stripped of the right to host the event scheduled for July 29-Aug 4 in Kuching. — Bernama

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KUALA LUMPUR: The National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) today announced a 4% dividend for two savings products under its National Education Savings scheme, namely, SSPN-i and SSPN-i Plus, for 2018.

PTPTN chairman Wan Saiful Wan Jan said the dividend would involve an allocation of RM114.55 million and to benefit 3.91 million PTPTN depositors.

“The 4% rate is based on the net returns on investment on deposits received and PTPTN is still able to maintain competitive dividend rates despite challenging economic situation.

“By giving competitive dividend, SSPN is expected to be more competitive and become the people’s preferred savings instrument,” he said while announcing the 2018 SSPN dividend here today.

He said apart from competitive dividend, depositors were also given incentives in the form of tax relief of up to RM6,000, takaful coverage of up to RM1 million and guaranteed by the government as well as Shariah-compliant.

“With tax relief and takaful coverage, depositors actually gain more than the 4% dividend and during the tabling of the 2019 Budget, the tax relief incentive for SSPN has been increased from RM6,000 to RM8,000 for year assessment of 2019,” he said.

Wan Saiful also said that last year, PTPTN had achieved RM1.13 billion in deposits which was the highest number of savings recorded since the establishment of SSPN while a total of 678,839 of new accounts opened by depositors. — Bernama

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BATU KAWAN: The Penang state government plans to build seven centralised accommodation transit (CAT) in an effort to resolve the issue of the presence of foreign workers in residential areas.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said of the seven projects, two would be built on the island while five would be located on land belonging to the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) on the mainland.

“Six of the project plans have already been approved while another is still being reviewed.

“We are implementing these projects in efforts to solve social problems, step up safety and prevent crimes which occur following the influx of foreigners in the local neighborhoods,” he told reporters here, today.

Earlier, Chow launched the first CAT in Penang namely Bukit Minyak Westlite which was constructed by workers’ accomodation managing company, Centurion Corporation Limited, through its subsidiary Westlite Accommodation.

Also present were State Housing, Local Government, Town and Country Planning Committee chairman Jagdeep Singh Deo Penang and Centurion Corporation Limited Residential Business managing director Tony Bin. — Bernama

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KUALA LUMPUR: Selangor police chief, Datuk Mazlan Mansor was today appointed Bukit Aman Commercial CID director with immediate effect.

The Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said the appointment of Mazlan was to replace Datuk Saiful Azly Kamaruddin, who had been holding the post.

He said Mazlan is still heading the Selangor police contingent and will continue to carry out duties as Selangor CPO until a replacement for him has been found.

“Based his experience as Perak CCID in 2005, I am sure he was prepared for the transformation agenda of CCID itself,” he said after attending the handing over of duty ceremony for senior police officers and the presentation of the National Warriors Service award at the Police Training Centre, here today.

Apart from that, Kedah police chief Datuk Abd Rahim Jaafar was also appointed as Bukit Aman Management director with immediate effect.

“He (Abd Rahim) is replacing Datuk Abd Jalil Hassan who was acting on the post earlier and I believe Abd Rahim will empower further the governance of the management department to regulate various aspects among them, training, career development, retirement and welfare of the police force.

“Abd Rahim will also return to Kedah to carry out the duties of Kedah police chief while we find a replacement for him.

In another development, Mohamad Fuzi said police would be taking action against Pakatan Harapan (PH) Cameron Highlands by-election candidate M. Manogaran for wearing a shirt with the PH logo at a polling centre based on an Election Commission (EC) report.

“We will study the aspect of the offence on whether it is related to the responsibiity of police, EC or the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC),” he said.

Meanwhile, on the result of a urine sample of the Defence Minister’s son, the IGP said the matter was being handled by the Kuala Lumpur Narcotics CID.

“I was told the report is still not back yet from the Chemistry Department and I want the urine result of Mohamad Sabu’s son to be expedited,” he said. — Bernama

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KUALA LUMPUR: Police have classified the case of a married couple who died in a fire at a house in Taman Desa Vista, Sepang, yesterday as a murder.

Selangor police CID chief, SAC Fadzil Ahmat said according to the preliminary post-mortem report on the wife, there were injury marks on her head caused by a hard object.

“Based on this and the evidence obtained at the scene of the incident, the case has been reclassified as murder and is being investigated under Section 302 of the Penal Code,” he said when contacted by Bernama, here.

Fadzil said the post-mortem report on the male victim had not been received yet, while police were now still recording statements from a number of individuals to facilitate the investigation.

Yesterday, Wan Mohd Baharul Nizam Wan Bakar, 35, and Norwahidah Abdul Hamid, 28, were found dead in a fire at a one-storey terrace house in Taman Desa Vista, Sepang.

Both were civil servants attached to the National Registration Department in Putrajaya.

Sepang district police chief, ACP Abdul Aziz Ali in a statement yesterday said that firemen were forced to break the grille and front door that were locked from inside.

“When they entered the master bedroom, they found the man in the toilet while the woman was found dead on the bed and with burn marks on her body,” he said.

A Fire and Rescue Department spokesman said Norwahidah died at the scene of the fire, while her husband who was receiving treatment from the Emergency Medical Response Service team could not be saved.

The Kuala Lumpur International Airport Fire and Rescue Station received a call on the fire incident at 1.13pm. — Bernama

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WASHINGTON: Early 2020 presidential candidate Kamala Harris introduced herself to American voters Monday by drawing a sharp contrast with Donald Trump, offering a robust defense of her progressive positions a day after formally declaring her White House bid.

By launching her campaign a year before any primary votes are cast, the Democratic senator from California leapfrogs several party luminaries waiting in the wings, and a few already in the race, to become the de facto frontrunner.

It is a burgeoning field that may ultimately feature dozens of candidates seeking to oust President Donald Trump.

Harris immediately took her campaign to Iowa, the state that votes first in the nominating process, holding a televised town hall from Des Moines where she eviscerated the Trump administration for “lighting that fire” of racial division and seeking to “vilify” young immigrants.

“There is a lot of work to do,“ she told a crowd at Drake University, deftly handling questions from health care to criminal justice reform to gun safety to the war in Afghanistan.

A crowd of more than 20,000 watched her kick off her campaign Sunday in Oakland, California. But her prime-time town hall brought her into the living rooms of many more Americans.

Complicating the launch, billionaire former Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz said hours after her announcement that he is seriously considering entering the race — as an independent.

The self-described “lifelong Democrat” told CBS news show ‘60 Minutes’ that he will run as a “centrist independent outside of the two-party system.”

Not only is Trump unqualified to be president, Schultz said, but Republicans and Democrats are failing the American people by engaging daily in “revenge politics.”

Schultz’s announcement drew sharp rebukes from Democrats, who warned he would siphon off Democratic votes and clear Trump’s path to re-election.

“I urge him, for the good of the country, to reconsider this bad idea,“ tweeted House Democrat Brendan Boyle.

Trump, clearly aware that a Schultz run could help the sitting president, appear to seek to goad him into the race, declaring the coffee king “doesn’t have the ‘guts’ to run for President!”

But another billionaire businessman, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, strongly urged Schultz to halt his independent antics.

“In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up re-electing the president,“ said Bloomberg, who himself considered an independent run three years ago but ultimately backed off.

Schultz, at a book signing in New York, stressed he was not aiming to split the Democratic vote.

“I am not running against the Democrats,“ although the party has shifted “far, far left,“ Schultz said, insisting “nobody” wants to see Trump out of office more than he does.

‘Speaking truth’

Harris, 54, and Schultz, 65, join several candidate already in the race, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, New York’s Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, House Democrat Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Obama-era housing secretary Julian Castro of Texas.

The compelling Oakland speech and follow-up town hall was a double-barrelled show of strength by Harris and most likely a calculated shot across the bow to those still on the 2020 sidelines, notably the four Bs mulling a run: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke.

Harris, a former state attorney general, said her platform will include several progressive policies like debt-free college, a “green new deal” addressing climate change and “Medicare for all,“ which would allow Americans to opt into government-run health coverage.

Harris rarely mentioned Trump by name, but he was clearly a target.

She said projecting presidential authority “means speaking with integrity (and) speaking truth, and speaking in a way that expresses and indicates some level of interest and concern in people other than oneself.”

On immigration, she blasted Trump’s “inhumane” policy that has led to child separations at the border, and said he has failed young immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

“They’re serving in our military, they are living productive lives, and this administration has decided to vilify them and to trade on them for the sake of this president’s medieval vanity project called a wall,“ she said.

Harris’s father is from Jamaica and her mother is Indian. If elected, she would become the first African American woman president in US history.

One distinct advantage for Harris is the shift that her home state has made in the primary calendar.

For years, California — the nation’s most populous state — voted near the end of the process, meaning nominees were often decided before a single Californian cast a vote.

But the state has moved its primary forward to March 3, 2020, which would give the Golden State a dramatically more powerful say in determining the nominee. — AFP

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MANILA: In a rare move, the largest group of Catholic bishops in the Philippines has sought forgiveness for its lengthy silence over “disturbing issues”, such as the president’s bloody war on drugs and his attacks on the church and its doctrines.

The church is highly influential and an important source of moral guidance in the Philippines, where about 80% of a population of 105 million are Roman Catholic.

Although known for speaking out in times of crisis and to rebuff doctrinal challenges, the bishops’ silence over President Rodrigo Duterte’s lambasting of the church and God, as well as his bloody crackdown on drugs, have raised questions about their unity and commitment to values.

“Forgive us for the length of time that it took us to find our collective voice,“ the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said in a pastoral letter, issued late on Monday.

“We too needed to be guided properly in prayer and discernment before we could guide you.”

In the letter headlined, “Conquering Evil with Good”, the bishops admitted silence over “disturbing issues about which you may have felt you urgently needed our spiritual and pastoral guidance”.

It was not immediately clear why the CBCP issued the letter, which followed a plenary assembly.

It opposed efforts led by Duterte’s allies to lower the age of criminal liability for children, and said it had seen a “culture of violence has gradually prevailed in our land,“ referring also to a deadly church bombing on Sunday.

The popular Duterte’s tirades against the Catholic church are now famous. A self-confessed victim of sexual abuse by a priest, Duterte has called God “stupid”, characterised as “silly” the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and accused bishops of concealing their homosexuality.

The bishops said they understood the need to fight crime and drugs, but were concerned “when we started hearing of mostly poor people being brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers,“ while bigger players were left alone.

Police say they have killed more than 5,000 people, all in self-defence, while trying to arrest drug dealers and deny that any were executions, as alleged by human rights groups.

Some bishops have taken individual stands against the crackdown, denouncing it in sermons, issuing pro-life statements and supporting marches and calls for church bells to be rung in protest, but these remained sporadic efforts within the church.

Asked about the letter, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte was serving and protecting the people.

“Rather than attack the president ... I’d rather they issue a statement that they are praying for the president to succeed in his endeavour,“ he said. — Reuters

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KUALA LUMPUR: The police have set up a committee to assist the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) in its investigation into the uncovered human trafficking camps and graves in Wang Kelian in Perlis, at the common border with Thailand, three years ago.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said the process of setting up the RCI was going on.

“Members have been appointed by the government and it is necessary to obtain the consent of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong,” he said, adding that the police were making the appropriate preparations for the RCI process.

Mohamad Fuzi spoke at a press conference after the pinning of ranks for senior police officers and the presentation of the Jasa Pahlawan Negara awards at the Police Training Centre here.

Last Sunday, the government agreed to set up the RCI.

Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the list of members would be presented to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to obtain His Majesty’s consent.

The RCI is expected to present its report in about six months after it begins its investigation.

In May 2015, the police reported the discovery of human trafficking camps and graves in the hilly area of Wang Kelian.

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‘Separation of powers vital in civil service’

PUTRAJAYA: The separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary is needed to ensure the integrity of the public service is not disputed.

“The separation of powers in a democratic country is very important to protect the freedom of all parties and also to avoid abuse of power,” Chief Secretary to the Government Datuk Seri Dr Ismail Bakar said in his speech at the launch of the National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP) at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre.

He urged all public sector personnel to show a courageous and fair attitude and the willingness to take risks in determining that integrity and governance are not compromised.

Earlier, Ismail said 40% of offenders arrested by graft busters between 2011 and 2015 were civil servants.

In this respect, he said, the NACP will be the guiding document for civil servants, and will go a long way towards helping rehabilitate the rakyat’s negative perception towards those in the public sector.

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SAN FRANCISCO: A newly discovered FaceTime bug lets people hear and even see those they are reaching out to on iPhones even if the other person hasn’t answered their phone.

When a phone number is dialed on FaceTime — the iPhone’s internet-based voice and video calling feature — the caller can swipe up from the bottom of the screen and tap an option to add a person, according to video demonstrations.

If the caller then enters their own number as that of the added caller, a group call begins even though the person being called hasn’t even answered.

The caller can then eavesdrop on the person being called, and in some demonstrations even watch them through the camera app. Declining a call breaks the connection.

The bug, initially outlined by Apple product and review website 9to5Mac.com, was reported by several media outlets.

A video posted at Twitter account @BmManski showing how simple it is to take advantage of the flaw and listen in on an iPhone being called using FaceTime, logged nearly two million views and was shared 14,000 times by late evening in California.

Some Twitter users offered advice to disable the FaceTime application until a fix was in place.

An Apple support page listed Group FaceTime calling as “temporarily unavailable” as of 7.16pm here due to an ongoing “issue” that was not specified.

An Apple statement quoted in US media said the iPhone maker was aware of this issue and has “identified a fix that will be released in a software update later this week.”

“Disable FaceTime for now until Apple fixes,“ Twitter co-founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey advised in a tweet.

Dorsey’s message included a forwarded post by technologist Andy Baio.

“Want to see a really bad bug?” Baio asked in his post.

“You can FaceTime any iOS device running 12.1 and listen in remotely—WITHOUT THE OTHER PERSON ANSWERING THE CALL.”

Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

FaceTime software enables voice or video calls using iPhones, iPads, iPod Touch, and Macintosh computers.

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