Singapore tries to slow spread of 'shoe box' apartments


Singapore is trying to slow the explosion of “shoe box” apartments outside its central district,   fearing  that the rampant growth of the tiny units could squeeze out families and increase traffic as more people are packed into smaller spaces.

Surging prices and scant space have sent apartment developers and renters flocking to the units, which measure about 538 square feet or less. The pint-sized apartments will number about 11,000 in Singapore by the end of 2015, more than four times as many as existed there in December, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Though they cost more per square foot than ordinary apartments, shoe boxes have been marketed to young, single professionals as an easy and efficient option in the costly country. Singaporean websites offer tips on making the itty-bitty apartments look bigger with strategically placed mirrors and pale colors.

“They aren’t designed for family living, unless you consider claustrophobia a desirable trait in your children,” Ryan Ong, editor of the Singaporean financial news website MoneySmart, quipped in an article this spring. “You know who tolerates shoe box apartments? Singles who intend to stay that way.”

The small digs are also desirable for developers seeking to maximize profit. More housing developments are turning to shoe boxes, with the tiny units making up 50% to 80% of apartment units in some new developments, the Urban Redevelopment Authority said Tuesday.

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Singapore retains harsh death penalty policy after review

After a yearlong review, Singapore officials announced in Parliament that mandatory death sentences in a dozen categories of serious offenses will be retained because they have broad public support and have proved effective in deterring crime
After a yearlong review, Singapore officials announced in Parliament on Monday that mandatory death sentences in a dozen categories of serious offenses will be retained because they have broad public support and have proved effective in deterring crime.

The review, which kept executions on hold for more than a year, did result in authorities allowing courts discretion to issue life sentences instead of death in some cases involving minor drug dealers who provide substantial assistance to the Central Narcotics Bureau.

Singapore has been criticized by anti-death-penalty groups as having the highest per capita execution rate in the world in the few years when the city-state has released information about its exercise of capital punishment. Officials reported in 2004 that 138 people had been executed over the previous five years, in a population of 5.3 million.

As part of the parliamentary discussion of the death penalty review and minor legal amendments, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean reported that 35 prisoners are on death row, 28 of them for drug offenses and seven for murder.

"The death penalty has been an important part of our criminal justice system for a very long time," Teo told Parliament, according to Channel NewsAsia. "Singaporeans understand that the death penalty has been an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for very serious offenses, and largely support it. As part of our penal framework, it has contributed to keeping crime and the drug situation under control."

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U.S. exempts seven countries that consume Iran oil from sanctions


WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration announced Monday that it had exempted seven countries that are major consumers of Iranian oil from threatened U.S. sanctions aimed at punishing Tehran for its disputed nuclear program.

Officials said India, South Korea, Turkey, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Africa and Sri Lanka had reduced their purchases of Iranian crude sufficiently to cut Tehran’s exports without upsetting global oil prices. In March, the Obama administration similarly exempted 10 European countries and Japan from sanctions, saying they too had done enough to wean themselves from Iranian energy.

U.S. officials said Iran now exports at least 700,000 barrels per day fewer than last year’s exports of 2.5 million barrels a day, cutting into a crucial source of revenue. U.S. and European officials have sought to squeeze Iran’s energy sector as part of the international campaign to pressure Iran to stop enriching uranium that could be converted for use in nuclear weapons.

“We are sending a decisive message to Iran’s leaders: Until they take concrete actions to satisfy the concerns of the international community, they will continue to face increasing isolation and pressure,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement Monday.

Another round of Western sanctions is  due to begin July 1, including an embargo on purchases of Iranian oil by all European Union members. Mark Dubowitz, an energy specialist at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank, said the new embargo could cut Iran oil exports to below 1.2 million barrels per day, less than half last year’s output.

Although the tightening sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy, Iranian negotiators have shown little sign in two rounds of international talks that they may slow down their nuclear development. Many countries believe Iran is enriching uranium so it can become capable of producing a nuclear bomb if it decides to do so. Iran maintains it is interested only in peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Obama administration officials didn’t say how much the seven countries had cut their oil purchases. In March, U.S. officials signaled that they were seeking reductions of 15% to 22% of purchases.

Several large countries, including India and Turkey, said publicly that they were reluctant to reduce imports of Iranian oil because of their long reliance on the Islamic regime. They appear to have met the minimum level of cooperation that Washington demanded, however.

Many of the countries have begun buying additional oil from Saudi Arabia to make up for their Iranian supplies.

The cutbacks by the seven nations haven’t raised global oil prices, largely because of the economic slowdown in both Europe and China, as well as increased supply from several countries, including Iraq and Libya.

Two importers of Iranian oil that have not yet been granted exemptions are China and Singapore.

China has been increasing purchases of Iranian oil in the last two months, after a sharp reduction earlier in the year. But Beijing has forced Tehran to grant it substantial price cuts. Since price cuts reduce Iran’s profit, China may ultimately be granted an exemption, some analysts believe. The tiny nation of Singapore imports relatively small amounts of Iranian oil overall.


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Photo: Indian motorists crawl along a road in Hyderabad. Credit: Mahesh Kumar A. / Associated Press

Singapore restricts window washing after maids plunge to deaths

Singapore restricts window washing upon deaths
After a grim streak of foreign maids falling to their deaths, Singapore has insisted on new restrictions on window washing, hoping to stop the tragic trend.

The new rules were issued Monday by the Ministry of Manpower, which warned that foreign workers hired from countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines may not be used to towering buildings and their dangers. Singaporean media have spread alarming photos of foreign maids squatting or inching along sills, trying to clean windows in perilously high apartments.

Nine people have fallen and lost their lives since January, five of them while washing windows, two while hanging laundry. The other two deaths are still being investigated.

"Sometimes they know something is dangerous, but they do it because they want to work hard," one Indonesian maid in Singapore told the Associated Press last month. Maids may also face pressure from their employers to take on unsafe tasks.

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Panetta explains Pentagon's 'pivot' toward Asia

SINGAPORE -- As the U.S. seeks to reassert its role as a Pacific power after a decade of distant ground wars, the Obama administration has run into a problem: It’s hard to convince allies and rivals that the enhanced military commitment to Asia is sufficiently serious.

The Pentagon will replace older warships and add eight new ships to the Pacific fleet by 2020, but it plans only modest increases in other U.S. forces to a vast region that is increasingly anxious about China’s growing political and military clout and North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

In a policy speech Saturday to an annual gathering of Asian defense officials, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta sought to reassure allies that the "pivot" to the western Pacific and East Asia that President Obama promised during a visit to the region in November represented a substantial new effort, and not political spin.

Panetta urged his counterparts not to focus on the figures alone, but to look at America’s renewed commitment to protecting some of the world’s most vital shipping lanes.

"I would encourage you to look at the increasing technological capabilities of our forces as much as their numbers in judging the full measure of our security presence and the measure of our commitment," Panetta said at the conference.

He said advanced new weapons systems -- including F-35 fighter jets now under development and fast-attack Virginia-class submarines -- will provide "our forces with freedom of maneuver in areas in which our access and freedom of action may be threatened."

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Japan joins multilateral free-trade talks, hopes to boost economy

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
REPORTING FROM TOKYO –- Desperate to jumpstart an already moribund economy further crippled by the March earthquake and tsunami, Japan announced plans to join talks for a multinational, Asia-rim free-trade initiative.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda signaled that he was prepared to take what many consider a gamble to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which would open up much-needed markets for faltering Japanese exports while angering other entrenched interests, such as the nation’s powerful farm lobby.

Signaling the division that surrounded the move, Noda deliberated for a day before using a nationally televised news conference Friday to announce that Japan will take part in the accord talks.

On Saturday, Noda left to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Honolulu, where officials said he would convey Japan's decision to take part in the free-trade pact talks to President Obama.

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