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Former Malaysian PM Najib presents his opening testimony

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Former Malaysian PM Najib presents his opening testimony | The Thaiger
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PHOTO: Voice of America

Former Malaysian PM Najib Razak was in the witness box for the first time yesterday defending himself on criminal charges linked to a multibillion-dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB (1 Malaysia Development Bhd).

Najib, who unexpectedly lost a general election last year to his former mentor and former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad, is now facing dozens of graft and money laundering charges over allegations that he received aboutUS $1 billion.

Najib stands accused of illegally receiving 42 million ringgit (about US$10 million) from former 1MDB business unit SRC International. A judge ruled prosecutors had successfully established a case against him over the matter and was ordered to present his defense last month.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to the charges of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power in the SRC case.

Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who leads Najib’s defense team, maintains that his client had no reason to believe that proceeds of any illegal activity were transferred to him.

“Najib was not involved in any corrupt arrangement involving funds of SRC and did not solicit any bribes from any person.”

Najib yesterday read from his 243 page written testimony, in Malay. His testimony, prepared in a Q&A format, began with how he set up 1MDB in 2009 and how the fugitive Malaysian financier Jho Low, said to be at the centre of the scandal, came to be associated with the fund.

The former PM looked noticably aged since his times as Malaysian prime minister.

“Low portrayed himself as someone influential in the Middle East countries who I believed was able to facilitate investments and partnerships between them.”

Low has been charged in Malaysia and the US over the alleged theft from 1MDB. Low has denied any wrongdoing. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World | Reuters

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Cambodia

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia

The Thaiger

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Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | The Thaiger

Tropical nights, curious mountain silhouettes, sprawling rice paddies and pungent cuisine. And some snow-topped mountains as well. The Thaiger has selected the Top Ten of these camera-worthy towns. Southern Asia is a concoction of the ancient, very modern, traditional and enigmatic.

Amongst the islands, megacities and spectacular scenery there are also some very pretty towns that deserve your days pottering around and investigating. Some of them you would have never heard of. Here’s our Top Ten, in no particular oder…

Old Phuket Town, Thailand

Most tourists head for the beaches, but the southern Thai island of Phuket offers a lot, lot more these days up and down the west coast and across to the island’s east coast as well, not just Patong.

The historic old quarter of Old Phuket Town, located in the central east coast of the island, is lined with Sino-Portugeuse colonial shophouses, built during the island’s tin-mining boom of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Twenty years ago you couldn’t give them away. Now the old shop-houses are hot property and getting spruced up and re-used for a new generation of tourists and culture vultures. There are plenty of hip shops, cafés, restaurants, bars, art galleries and book shops. The area is also filled with Chinese temples, crumbling mansions and cultural museums.

Check out the weekly Sunday night ‘Lard Yai’ market along Thalang road for some local market vibes in amongst some local ephemera, astonishing Thai street food, some local performers and a few bargains. Kicks off around 4pm. If it rains during the island’s wet season (May to November), you’ll get wet but it’s always around 30 degrees C and you can duck undercover anywhere around the Old Town’s sidewalks.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Galle, Sri Lanka

On the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka is the walled town of Galle, an important trade port for centuries.

The UNESCO-listed fortress has been through three bouts of colonial rule – the Portuguese from 1505-1658, the Dutch from 1658-1796 and the British from 1796-1948. These days, many of the old merchant houses are renovated into museums, boutique hotels, shops, restaurants and bars.

The dining scene has grown in breadth and popularity, with fresh seafood, excellent Sri Lankan curries and egg hoppers (dome-like pancakes).

There’s also plenty to see as you walk off all that food. The Dutch Reformed Church, Sudharmalaya Temple, Galle Clock Tower, Galle Lighthouse, Meeran Mosque and the old Spice Warehouse.

Then head down the southern coastline to enjoy the surf, diving, whale-watching or just laying around Unawatuna Beach.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

City of Vigan, Philippines

Experience a rich history of Spanish colonial-era architecture in the city of Vigan. It lies on the west coast of Luzon island in northwestern Philippines. Vigan was established by the Spanish in 1572. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage City.

Conquistador Juan de Salcedo developed a modern grid plan for the city, and Spanish architects designed beautiful churches, grand mansions and schools with unique windows and dark timber interiors.

Most of the colonial buildings are situated around the Plaza Salcedo, including the St Paul’s Cathedral. This beautiful Baroque structure was first built in 1641 and then restored after several earthquakes and fires.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Hoi An, Vietnam

Located on the central coast of Vietnam, about 40 minutes drive south of Da Nang, Hoi An’s Old Town has an international reputation as a haven for photographers, architecture lovers and lovers of food. Added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1999, the town was a former French colonial trading port that has been a commercially vital town for Vietnam since the 16th century. It’s now more important to Vietnam as a commercially vital tourist magnet.

The rambling narrow streets of Hoi An feature rows and rows of charming mustard coloured old trading houses. Many are now trendy restaurants, bars, design boutiques, coffee shops and tailors. Seemingly with a production designer preparing the town as a set for a ‘colonial asian’ movie, lush foliage spills from the rooftops and silk lanterns light up the town at night. It’s right out of a picture book.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

George Town, Malaysia

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the sprawling historic quarter of George Town on Penang island showcases its many cultural influences over the centuries. You’ll also find some similarity with Phuket’s Old Town, just 600 kilometres north, but with a broader cuisine and more colonial influence.

George Town’s colourful heritage traces back 500 years when the former British colony was a prominent hub of trade on the Malacca Strait, enabling cultural exchange between Malay, Chinese, Indian and European residents. The town still resinates with influences from all of these cultures.

There is an eclectic mix of pastel-hued shophouses, Chinese mansions, churches and temples, colonial buildings, food and fortresses.

George Town deserves its reputation as the “food capital of Malaysia” and remains one of the best food cities in Asia – from street food to hawker centres, chintzy local restaurants to fully renovated mansions serving up high end fusion cuisine. Like the architecture, the local cuisine captures George Town’s multicultural history.

If you’re heading to George Town, take your appetite.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Luang Prabang, Laos

The former capital of Laos on the banks of the Mekong River, is the picturesque Luang Prabang, home to temples and dramatic natural scenery.

It’s either one of Southeast Asia’s most spiritual places or an emerging party town for the backpacker set, or both. Either way Luang Prabang makes a dramatic first impression.

The town is hugged by mountains as it rests at the bottom of a valley in central Laos. The location was the first kingdom in Laos from the 14th to 16th centuries, Luang Prabang was long a strategic location along the famed Silk Route. Since then the French have also had their time as colonial overlords which has resulted in a fusion of European and Laotian architecture creating a distinct townscape.

Although Vientiane, on the Thai border, is now the capital, Luang Prabang, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, continues to be the country’s cultural and artistic capital.

In addition to the graceful architecture, Luang Prabang is also home to beautiful natural attractions including the Kuang Si Waterfalls and Phousi Mountain. There are also more than 30 Buddhist temples, the Royal Palace Museum, night markets, river boat rides and biking tours.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Kampot, Cambodia

Think Cambodia and you automatically think ‘Angkor Wat’, but Cambodian travellers are falling in love with the southern charms of Kampot.

The serene coastal town, on the southern coast along the Gulf of Thailand, is getting a reputation as one of the prettiest small towns in the region. Think colourful French colonial shophouses, tidy pedestrian-friendly streets, river activities and a feast for the cameras. You can spend your days kayaking, mountain trekking, biking, river cruises, paddle-boarding, or you could take a day trip through the countryside’s lush paddy fields, cave temples and waterfalls.

Kampot has a growing foodie reputation as a culinary playground with everything from traditional Khmer cuisine to vegan delights. The town still has a bit of a ‘rough’ reputation but is well worth a visit and certainly deserves its place amongst the top ten prettiest towns in Asia.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Kota Gede, Indonesia

Among the oldest parts of Yogyakarta in central Java, Kota Gede is known for its silver industry, cute laneways and photogenic architecture.

The location’s history goes back to the 15th century, when Yogjakarta was the seat of the Mataram Sultanate, the last kingdom before the Dutch colonised Java island. Wealthy merchants built palatial homes in the Kalang style, a mix of Dutch structural elements, traditional Javanese layouts and local craftsmanship.

Travellers in the 21st century can now walk along Jalan Kemasan and browse through boutiques, art galleries and silver workshops showcasing the famous jewellery and elaborate tableware. For a little history, travellers can also venture out to Yogyakarta’s most famous UNESCO-listed landmarks – the Prambanan Temple and the eighth-century Borobudur Temple.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Mawlynnong, India

In amongst one of the world’s most chaotic and messy countries, lies Mawlynnong, located in the East Khasi Hills of northeastern India, which has been named the “Cleanest Village in Asia”. Go figure!

The village lives up to its reputation thanks to the Khasi community who call the town ‘home’ and take great pride in keeping the village pristine. The town is famous for its meticulously pruned gardens.

There’s a popular 85 foot high tree house called Sky View constructed of bamboo that overlooks the jungle canopies all the way across the plains of Bangladesh to the south. There’s also the Mawlynnong Waterfall, while a living tree root bridge creating a scene from Game of Thrones or an Indiana Jones movie.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Ghandruk, Nepal

Ghandruk is a mountain village at the foothills of the Himalayas in central Nepal. The village is more than 2,000 metres above sea level, the highest in our Top Ten list.

The village is about a five-hour hike from Pokhara, a pretty lakeside city in central Nepal that acts as the starting point for the popular Annapurna Circuit (and also worthy of a visit for a few days).

You’ll find traditional tea houses, a mountain-top temple, horseback riding and the local customs of the Gurung people who live here.

Members of this Nepalese community have served in the British Army’s Gurkha regiments during many conflicts and you should make time to visit the Old Gurung Museum which provides lots of fascinating historical insights.

And the village has quite a spectacular backdrop with Mounts Annapurna, Machhapuchhre and Himalchuli looming large as you look over your shoulder.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

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Environment

Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino dies

Greeley Pulitzer

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Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino dies | The Thaiger

The last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia has died after a battle with cancer. The rhino, named Iman, died at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Sabah on Saturday afternoon

Malaysia’s cultural and tourism minister announced that it was “…with great sadness that the Sabah Wildlife Department announces the death of Iman, the last Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia.”

“The death was natural and the immediate cause was categorised as shock. Iman was given the very best care and attention, from her capture in 2014 right up to the moment she passed. No one could have done more.”

Iman nearly died several times in the past due to blood loss from uterine tumours.

“The team at the sanctuary provided round the clock support and successfully brought her back to good health and egg cell production on several occasions.”

Sabah’s Wildlife Department director said Iman’s death came sooner than expected.

“But we knew that she was starting to suffer from the growing pressure of the tumours into the bladder.”

Earlier in the day a veterinarian at the sanctuary had suggested using morphine, as other painkillers were becoming ineffective. Iman’s carcass is being preserved, and there is still hope of obtaining egg cells for a proposed Malaysia/Indonesia collaboration on this species.

SOURCE: the star.com.my

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Insurgency

Thai security officials search for attackers after 15 killed on Tuesday in Yala

Greeley Pulitzer

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Thai security officials search for attackers after 15 killed on Tuesday in Yala | The Thaiger

The 4th Army continues to hunt down suspects responsible for Tuesday’s brutal gun attack on a security checkpoint in Yala’s Muang district. The attack left 15 village defence volunteers dead and five others injured. The attack is believed to be a retaliation for extrajudicial killings of two insurgent suspects in Pattani’s Sai Buri district last week, according to a source.

Gunmen attacked and killed 15 people at the security checkpoint in southern Yala Province late on Tuesday night. The victims’ weapons were stolen in the raid. Security officials say there were at least 10 attackers. They approached on foot through a rubber plantation to attack a defence volunteer booth at about 11.20pm.

Eleven locals, mainly defence volunteers, were shot dead. Four wounded died later in hospital. Three other are being treated and remain in hospital. Only two volunteers survived unharmed. The dead include village and district officials and a police captain who was supervising southern border investigations.

The insurgents scattered road spikes, set fire to tyres, cut down a tree and bombed a power pole to prevent pursuit. This also hindered emergency services rushing to the scene. Three rescue vehicles were disabled.

Police say the attackers stole an assault rifle, two shotguns and five pistols.

Lt Gen Phonsak Phunsawat, the 4th Army chief, has offered condolences to families which lost loved ones in the attack.

The Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has also condemned those behind the attack has asked security officials to rethink strategies in the region.

SOURCES: Bangkok Post | The Guardian

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