Monthly Archives: May 2017

After summits with Trump, Merkel says Europe must take fate into own hands

Europe can no longer completely rely on its allies, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday, pointing to bruising meetings of G7 wealthy nations and NATO last week.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi (2-L) at the G7 Summit expanded session in Taormina, Sicily, Italy May 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

MUNICH: Europe can no longer completely rely on its allies, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday, pointing to bruising meetings of G7 wealthy nations and NATO last week.

    Merkel did not mention by name U.S. President Donald Trump, who criticised major NATO allies and refused to endorse a global climate change accord, but she told a packed beer tent in Munich that the days when Europe could completely count on others were “over to a certain extent”.

    “I have experienced this in the last few days,” she said.  “And that is why I can only say that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands – of course in friendship with the United States of America, in friendship with Great Britain and as good neighbours wherever that is possible also with other countries, even with Russia.”

    “But we have to know that we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans,” Merkel said.

    The two-day G7 summit in Italy pitted Trump against the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Japan on several issues, with European diplomats frustrated at having to revisit questions they had hoped were long settled.

    The American tycoon-turned-president backed a pledge to fight protectionism at the end of the G7 summit on Saturday, but refused to endorse the climate pact, saying he needed more time to decide.

    But EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Sunday he was more optimistic now than after the U.S. election last November after EU leaders held talks with Trump in Brussels.      “What I am absolutely sure after this meeting is that despite some extraordinary … expressions, behaviours, etc, etc, our partners in the G7 are much more responsible than the first impression after the election in the United States,” Tusk said in the Slovak capital.

    At the NATO summit on Thursday, Trump intensified his accusations that allies were not spending enough on defence and warned of more attacks such as this week’s Manchester bombing unless the alliance did more to stop militants.

    Turning to France, Merkel said she wished President Emmanuel Macron success, adding to applause: “Where Germany can help, Germany will help, because Germany can only do well if Europe is doing well.”

    France is Germany’s second-biggest trading partner and the presidential election victory of the pro-European centrist reformer Macron over far-right protectionist rival Marine Le Pen in early May has sparked hopes that Berlin will ally with Paris in spearheading a broad-based economic revival in Europe.  

(Reporting by Joern Poltz, additional reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova in Bratislava; Writing by Michael Nienaber, editing by Susan Thomas)

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Discover the laidback charms of the Golden Triangle, Thailand in 36 hours

THAILAND: Descending from China in grand, graceful arcs, the upper Mekong unfurls in a tranquil, lulling sheen. Only battlement ruins to the south betray the region’s heritage, a blood-soaked clash of empires, contested by Thai, Burmese, Laotian and Khmer armies for centuries. Fortresses and royal cities are now all but swallowed by jungle and farmland.

The once-remote Golden Triangle at the northern tip of Thailand is now a haven for peaceful contemplation in dozens of temples and shrines, from gilded palaces to secret grottoes, where you can meditate to the sound of water dripping on limestone or the chattering of monkeys. One mountain outcropping has become a favourite for passing elephants, who gaze over the mists to Myanmar and Laos beyond.

Over the last few decades, the area has been rediscovered. As they reclaim it from the drug smugglers and blissed-out backpackers who made it notorious in the 1970s, travellers today find a bracing climate — it can be 25 degrees cooler at night here than in the coastal cities — along with natural beauty, verdant courtyard lodgings, riverfront restaurants and street markets where a handful of fat, juicy grilled cicadas can cost just a dollar.

Near the centre of Chiang Saen, hop onto a rental at Fat Free Bicycle Shop, (around 450 baht, or US$13 a day) and weave past temples, food stands and antiques stalls. Roads are spacious and in excellent condition throughout the district, traffic is sedate, and even the occasional swarm of motorbikes will let you pass. Stalls on the main street, Phaholyothin Road, offer simple, carefully prepared dishes, from chicken grilled on bamboo stalks to river fish steamed with herbs. With fresh-squeezed fruit juice, you’ll pay about 130 baht. More adventurous palates can venture into the Sinsombun Market to sample specialties such as fresh frog legs or wasp larvae smoked in the nest, which are white and puffy, like popcorn.

Ride along the shaded 8-century-old city walls that guarded the capital of the long-gone Lanna state. At the historic park, the 14th-century Wat Pa Sak (“wat” means “temple”) pulls together motifs from Thai, Khmer, Burmese, Laotian, Hindu and Buddhist cultures, its spire still pointed toward heaven. Admission: 100 baht.

Back in town, monks in saffron robes frequent the compound of the 13th-century Golden Buddha, one of the oldest and largest in Thailand, and the remains of its original temple, Wat Phra That Chedi Luang. Off to the side, some of the more reputable dealers in regional crafts sell indigenous weavings, and Buddha statues that make up in shipping fees what they are discounted for in price.

Toast three countries, and the elephants below, from a plush open-sided platform overlooking the Mekong. The hilltop pavilion for the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort lays out a pricey, custom menu from local to Western, all of it with an elegance incongruous with the rough-hewed setting. The nam prig ong kap moo (spicy minced pork with crackling) puts an elegant spin on a rugged northern favourite from outdoor grills; pla nueng ma now is local bass dressed with chilies and coriander from the garden down the hill (18,000 baht for two). The Anantara front desk is a reliable source of information in English on local guides, drivers and the rental of cars, motorbikes and bicycles.

A monk at Wat Phra That Chedi Luang. (Photo: Chang W Lee © 2017 The New York Times)

As the morning mist clears, grab a cardamom and ginger coffee with a sweet rice cake for 90 baht from a vine-wreathed stall outside the funky House of Opium gift shop. An early departure is necessary for a road trip to the scenic, hilly Doi Tung region, largely inaccessible until recently. Driving is possible on the good but narrow roads; finding your way through the hairpin turns and wandering livestock is not. A good driver will know when to trust the GPS and when to ignore it. (One day with car and guide, 4,500 baht.)

Brave the swarms of macaques at the tiny Yunnanese village and temple Wat Tham Pla to find a steep staircase flanked by gleaming dragon claws. After a brisk climb, you will reach the Fish Tail Cave, a hundred moist, chalky yards ending in a devotional space of utter silence. On a small ledge to the side, a humble chipped and age-spotted bust with an enigmatic smile looks more animist than Buddhist. On the way back, you’ll face grand views of the Burmese ridges that become the Himalayas. At the stairs’ base, youngsters scamper around a fish pond where you can buy crumbs for the lake carp, an offering to the local goddess of mercy.

Vendors sell products at Sinsombun Market in Chiang Saen. (Photo: Chang W Lee © 2017 The New York Times)

Winding roads lined with craft shops end at the newly restored headquarters of one of Southeast Asia’s last warlords. Khun Sa may be reviled as a drug gangster who flooded the United States with cheap heroin in the 1970s, but here he receives a statesman’s deference in homespun displays tracing his rise to commander of an army, receiving emissaries from prime ministers and kings. Pose with a stern life-size effigy in his original office.

Nestle into an open-air island of Gallic hospitality complete with art nouveau posters and tumblers of absinthe. Lavallee Restaurant serves a mélange of backyard herbs and vegetables with grilled meats. Phone ahead to place an order (about 350 baht per person). An attached gallery sells handicrafts of the local Akha people, who often show off their traditional dress as well. Just over a footbridge, a much grander gallery proclaims itself in a riot of colour and sculpture. The nationally famed artist Sriwan Janehuttakarnkit presides over the barn-size Sridonmoon Art Space, filled with wall-size expressionistic paintings of musicians, parties, skeletons and jungles with happy elephant families.

In the northern tip of Thailand, walk amid the elephants and find a temple for peaceful meditation. (Photo: Chang W Lee © 2017 The New York Times)

Revered as national icons, the elephants that once roamed this part of Thailand have faced hard times lately. But here, a few dozen find a haven in a preserve with plenty of space to wander. Guests of the superluxe Four Seasons Golden Triangle Tented Camp can ride them on a two-hour trek that starts at 10,000 baht per couple. Nonguests who donate 6,000 baht to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation can visit the camp, and with luck see the elephants trundling up the path to tuck into tall stalks of sugar cane.

With night-time strollers and a karaoke bar on one side, the moonlit Mekong on the other, you can lounge on rattan mats and cushions as the last long-tail craft drift by. The Roeng Poy sidewalk cafe stays open late, bringing out grilled fish, sturdy curries, pungent salads and magnum-size bottles of beer in such large portions and on such tiny tables that sharing is the only option. About 300 baht.

A Buddha at Golden Triangle Park on the Mekong riverfront. (Photo: Chang W Lee © 2017 The New York Times)

Shelter from the morning rain and rising heat by this shaded cliff overlooking Wat Pra That Pukhao, where 5th-century worshippers made their altar; now on display is a small stuccoed Buddha of great antiquity. Several long flights of steps connect this rough-hewed temple to an extensive complex of temples on the heights, where dozens of Buddhas gleam and monks explain devotional rituals. Most visitors head straight to an elaborate ceremonial gateway built for photo ops of the panoramic upriver views.

A huge contemporary museum details the career of that most influential local crop, the opium poppy. Old-school displays at the Hall of Opium Museum tell the story through non-Western eyes, as the engine of an imperialism that captured almost all of East Asia and made the area the epicenter of a gruesome global trade. The emphasis here is on the present, the human toll of addiction and efforts to keep the culture of the area’s hill tribes intact. Admission, 300 baht.

Just before you arrive at Chiang Rai’s airport, the White Temple depicts the Buddhist cycle of life and death. Outside is a dazzling and ornate monument, white and mirrored; inside, a vast mural of modern delusions that distract us from the divine, including cell phones and pop stars. Enter via a footbridge that spans a writhing, grasping throng of the tormented. Free to Thai citizens; otherwise, 50 baht.

The Anantara Golden Triangle and Elephant Camp (Soi San Tan Lueang 2, Wiang,, a five-star resort, offers local music performances, cooking classes and overlooks a meadow with elephants at play or in grave contemplation, and a menu of ways to commune with them. Around 30,700 baht.

Buakum Resort (7 Moo 1, Tumbon Wiang,, a ten-minute walk from the river, is a cluster of cosy cottages around a much-loved ornamental garden. Around 580 baht.

By Donald Frazier © 2017 The New York Times

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BA cancels flights from London as global IT outage causes chaos

British Airways has cancelled all its flights from London’s two biggest airports until Saturday evening after a global computer system outage caused confusion and chaos, with thousands of passengers queuing for hours and planes left stuck on runways.

The British Airways logo is seen behind barbed wire at Heathrow Airport, west of London May 24, 2010. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/Files

LONDON: British Airways has cancelled all its flights from London’s two biggest airports until Saturday evening after a global computer system outage caused confusion and chaos, with thousands of passengers queuing for hours and planes left stuck on runways.

The airline, which said there was no evidence the problem had been caused by a cyber attack, said terminals at Heathrow and Gatwick had become extremely congested because of the IT failure and all BA flights scheduled before 1700 GMT had been cancelled.

“Please do not come to the airports. We have experienced a major IT system failure that is causing very severe disruption to our flight operations worldwide,” said BA, part of Europe’s largest airline group IAG.

“We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience this is causing our customers and we are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.”

The problems, which passengers said had affected flights across Britain, came on a particularly busy weekend with a public holiday on Monday and many children starting their school half-term breaks.

“It’s a complete nightmare. There’s just hundreds and thousands of people accumulating in the departures bit,” Roshni Burt, who was flying from Heathrow to Bahrain with her young son, told Reuters.

She arrived at the airport at 0730 GMT, queued for hours at the check-in where the baggage drop-off system stopped working and then waited at the departure gate for two hours until passengers were told the flight was cancelled.

All the affected passengers were corralled through a single gate so they could go back through border checks and then re-book flights.

“We are now in a massive scrum trying to get to this gate. BA staff didn’t know what’s going on,” she said. “Border control aren’t going to be able to deal with all these people. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

BA is the latest airline to be hit by computer problems. Last month Germany’s Lufthansa and Air France suffered a global system outage which prevented them from boarding passengers.

In September last year BA apologised to passengers for check-in delays caused by operational glitches that delayed flights at Gatwick and Heathrow, in a repeat of a similar incident that affected London-area flights for the airline last July.

In August a power surge near U.S. airline Delta’s Atlanta headquarters caused computers to crash and led to widespread delays across Delta’s entire network.

Passengers at British airports on Saturday said they had boarded flights but then were stuck on the runway.

“Still on the tarmac at Leeds. #britishairways reckon Heathrow is so backed up we can’t set off. No way we’ll make our Vegas flight,” one passenger David Raine wrote on Twitter.

Another, journalist Martyn Kent, wrote: “Sat on plane at Heathrow for hour and a half now. @British_Airways Captain describes IT problem as ‘catastrophic’.”

Heathrow Airport, one of the world’s busiest, said in a statement: “We are working closely with the airline to assist passengers who have been affected by the British Airways issue and have extra customer service colleagues in terminals to assist those passengers already at Heathrow,”

In February IAG reported its annual operating profit rose 8.6 percent to 2.5 billion euros and said its British Airways transatlantic business, based at Heathrow, had held up well compared with Europe’s highly competitive budget market.

(Additional reporting by Eric Auchard; Editing by David Clarke, Greg Mahlich)

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Opening of Apple's first Singapore store attracts hundreds

SINGAPORE: Apple fans turned out in force on Saturday (May 27) as the US tech giant’s first brick-and-mortar store in Singapore opened its doors.

Ahead of the official opening at 10am, an Apple representative said there were more than 200 people queuing around Knightsbridge Mall along Orchard Road, with some in line as early as 5pm on Friday.

First in line: Mr Peter Xiang, from China, flew in specially for the opening of Apple Orchard Road. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

First in line was Mr Peter Xiang who has been in line for more than 10 hours. The 25-year-old Chinese national, who has been to several Apple Stores in China, decided to fly to Singapore on May 23 for the opening.

“I’ve been on standby here for more than 10 hours. No matter, I’m still excited (but) a little tired now,” he told Channel NewsAsia. “Looking forward most to (getting a) Apple T-shirt and maybe I will buy something. Maybe some accessories.” 

Students Timothy Wang and Afreen Akbany were in the queue for more than 10 hours to be one of the first to enter Apple Orchard Road. (Photo: Tang See Kit) 

Also in the line for more than 10 hours are Mr Timothy Wang and Ms Afreen Akbany, both 17-year-olds studying at ACS International.

Mr Wang said the tech giant’s retail outlets stand out for their great customer service and well-planned in-store designs. “I’ve been to several Apple stores in the US and in Hong Kong, but this is certainly prettier because this is in Singapore … They have really good customer service too so I’m excited about finally having an Apple Store here.”

For 20-year-old Tim Shao from China, live trees taking up prominent spots within are what makes the new store in Singapore unique.

“The designs of all the Apple stores are uniformed so in terms of the layout, this is nothing special,” he told Channel NewsAsia. “What’s unique is the trees here and this is the Apple Store version 2 design that only started last year. This is not available in the US.”

Apple’s senior vice president of retail Angela Ahrendts was seen at the opening of Apple Orchard Road on Saturday. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

The two-storey Apple Orchard Road is also the first official Apple store in Southeast Asia.

“Generally, Apple stores in Hong Kong, Tokyo and many other cities have turned out to be a destination retail space. Tourists as well as locals are often drawn to the stores to experience the offerings as well as to enjoy the new concepts,” said Mr Desmond Sim, head of CBRE Research for Singapore and Southeast Asia.

“Hence, it is not surprising that this will also be the same for the first Singapore store.”

Apple has nearly 500 stores in 20 countries worldwide and as of April, welcomes more than a million visitors a day. It expects the newly unveiled Singapore store, which it sees as a “modern-day town square”, to be one of its most popular around the world.

Apart from having its core products like the iPhone on display prominently on the first level, the store will also be conducting free hands-on educational sessions on topics such as photography and coding. These sessions will be conducted in a space called the Forum on the second level, which is equipped with a large screen and break-out tables.

Industry experts say the incorporation of activity-based and experiential-based concept stores is synonymous with brands such as Apple. It also serves as a strategy for brick-and-mortar retailers in their battle against e-commerce.

“The business of retail is not only about pure transactions but it has a high experiential component that consumers yearn for and is drawn to. This is especially so for new technology for lifestyle,” said CBRE’s Mr Sim. “Not to mention that the business of retail is also a very visual business. Design of stores will attract crowds.”

The crowd seen at the opening of Apple Orchard Road. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

One unique design at the Singapore Apple Store that has caught much attention is the two curved stone staircases which drew inspiration from Apple’s new campus in Cupertino.

Industry experts expect the Apple Orchard Road, which opened after much reported delays, to be a boost for Singapore’s prime shopping belt and neighbouring stores.

Ms Christine Li, research director at Cushman & Wakefield, said: “Before Apple Store came to town, people could have been a bit bored of Orchard Road because there is little differentiation between Orchard Road and, say, a suburban shopping centre as people see more or less the same brands and retail offering.

“I personally believe that Orchard Road is not dead, but it needs to be exciting and entertaining in order for locals and tourists to visit it repeatedly,” she added. 

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Westwood flies high as Poulter bemoans “pathetic” putting

Two of English golf’s favourite sons experienced mixed fortunes at the BMW PGA Championship on Friday, Lee Westwood boosting his title chances while Ian Poulter called his putting “absolutely shocking”.

Britain Golf – BMW PGA Championship – Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Surrey, England – 26/5/17 England’s Lee Westwood on the 16th during the second round Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic

VIRGINIA WATER, England,: Two of English golf’s favourite sons experienced mixed fortunes at the BMW PGA Championship on Friday, Lee Westwood boosting his title chances while Ian Poulter called his putting “absolutely shocking”.

Former world number one Westwood, who is making his 24th appearance in the European Tour’s flagship event but has yet to lift the trophy, followed up his opening 70 with a three-under 69 in the second round.

“I played well both days,” the 44-year-old told reporters after his five-under aggregate of 139 left him two strokes adrift of clubhouse leader Thomas Pieters of Belgium.

“I’ve only made two bogeys in two days, it’s looking good. Hopefully, I keep playing like this and stay in contention.”

Poulter fought back well after slumping to a first-round 76, battling his way to a 69 to all but extinguish fears that he might miss the halfway cut.

However, the player known as “Mr Ryder Cup” for his exploits in the biennial team event, was far from satisfied with his one-over-par tally of 145.

“I had 34 putts,” said Poulter. “I’m really frustrated. It was absolutely shocking today. Not good enough. Unacceptable.

“I don’t know how many words to describe how poor I thought it was. It was pathetic, it really was.”

Poulter was especially unhappy that he failed to cash in on a series of makeable putts on the back nine.

“I had chances all the way down the stretch coming in,” said the 41-year-old. “I holed a 20-footer on 10 which was great. I holed a 15-footer for eagle on 12 and from there on in I had really good opportunities to birdie all the way back to the clubhouse.”

Never one to dwell too long on a negative, however, Arsenal fan Poulter quickly put a positive spin on the fact that he will not be among the late starters in Saturday’s third round.

“Going to have to get up at five in the morning but the plus is I’ll be able to watch Arsenal beat Chelsea tomorrow (in the FA Cup final at Wembley),” he joked.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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