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FREETOWN – Sierra Leone’s government has declared a five-day lockdown in the country’s north to step up efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic, while making an exception for Christmas.

“Muslims and Christians are not allowed to hold services in mosques and churches throughout the lockdown except for Christians on Christmas Day (Thursday),” Alie Kamara, resident minister for the Northern Region, told AFP.

The lockdown announced Wednesday is designed “to intensify the containment of the Ebola virus,” he said, adding: “We are working to break the chain of transmission.”

Deputy communication minister Theo Nicol said “the lockdown for five days… is meant for us to get an accurate picture of the situation,” adding: “Other districts will carry on with their own individual lockdown after this if they deemed it necessary.”

Ebola has killed more than 7,500 people, almost all of them in west Africa.

Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are the three nations worst-hit by the epidemic, and Sierra Leone recently overtook Liberia as the country with the highest number of Ebola infections.

Kamara said shops and markets would be closed throughout the period, and “no unauthorised vehicles or motorcycle taxis” would be allowed to circulate “except those officially assigned to Ebola-related assignments.”

Among “key objectives” is to allow health workers to identify patients, Kamara said.

Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency on July 31 after the Ebola outbreak and imposed restrictions on the movement of people.

As of Wednesday six of the country’s 14 departments have these restrictions in place.

On December 12, the government announced a restriction on large Christmas and New Year gatherings.

Several residents in the country’s north told AFP by telephone that locals had largely been conforming to the new strictures.

– ‘Bleak Christmas’ –

“The streets are deserted and people are staying indoors or sitting in their backyards,” said Felix Koroma, in Makeni, in the district of Bombali.

“Although the district is predominantly Muslim, it is traditional for Muslims to join with Christians to celebrate Christmas but from what I can deduce, its going to be a bleak occasion,” he added.

Sarah Tucker, in Port Loko district said the only activity she could see was “medics moving from house-to-house” looking to remove the sick from their homes.

But some residents said they had not been given adequate warning to stockpile supplies.

“The notice given was too short and it was difficult for us to keep food in the house,” a resident of Magburaka, in Tonkolili, who wished to remain anonymous, told AFP.

“The lockdown is good but we are worried over what to eat until it ends.”

The lockdown came after it was announced that a fourth member of the UN mission in neighbouring Liberia had been hospitalised after testing positive for the virus.

The UN employee tested positive on Tuesday and was immediately transferred to an Ebola treatment unit, Karin Landgren, the special representative of UN chief Ban Ki-moon, said.

“UNMIL is taking all necessary measures to mitigate any possible further transmission –- both within the mission and beyond,” Landgren said, referring to the United Nations Mission in Liberia.

A UN statement said its mission had stepped up surveillance “to ensure that all people who came into contact with the staff member while symptomatic are assessed and quarantined”.

Liberia tops the number of Ebola deaths in the world with 3,376 fatalities but has seen a clear decrease of new transmissions in the past month.

Mobile operators in 4G push

Posted by pakin On December - 25 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Chiefs want spectrum auction next year

The heads of the country’s three major mobile operators have vowed to cooperate on the joint development of the fourth-generation (4G) infrastructure as a core telecommunications network resource in a drive to promote the government’s digital economy policy and accommodate mobile internet.

Advanced Info Service (AIS), Total Access Communication (DTAC) and True Move have joined forces to apply psychological pressure on what they call “powerful people” to decide the future of the nation’s telecom industry quickly.

The chiefs of the three operators urged powerful people to push ahead with the planned 4G spectrum auction next year. They said they were ready to invest a combined 100 billion baht in the first phase of 4G network development.

The operators view 4G as a main engine to drive the economy and enhance the telecom infrastructure to prepare for the Asean Economic Community.

“Telecom infrastructure is the only national resource the government can sell off through auction and raise money, with private operators pooling investment on behalf of the state and the country,” AIS chief executive Somchai Lertsuttiwong said.

He said development of the 4G network would set the basic technological foundation to drive the country’s economic growth and develop a digitally based economy.

“With every 10% increase in mobile data usage penetration, GDP is expected to grow by 1.5%,” said Sigve Brekke, DTAC’s interim chief executive.

Thais spend an average of 3.1 hours on data services per day per person, Mr Brekke said.

“Fourth-generation technology will be a critical building block for the country’s economic and social development,” said Suphachai Chearavanont, president and chief executive of True Corporation, the parent of True Move, adding that the private sector would be the main engine of economic growth and development.

“Spectrum auctions for 4G services will pave the way for nationwide deployment of 4G and for consumers, organisations and state agencies to enjoy higher speeds when accessing mobile services across the country,” he said.

Mr Suphachai said private mobile operators were ready to be used by the government to accelerate the development of 4G infrastructure and stimulate economic growth.

He urged policymakers to increase the spectra available for 4G, including the 2300-, 2600- and 700-megahertz spectra, allocate more licences for auctions to serve data-hungry consumers and make more efficient use of spectra.

“At least 20 MHz of bandwidth is required to provide efficient 4G service,” said Mr Suphachai.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) initially planned to put up a total of 42.5 MHz of spectrum for 4G comprising 25 MHz of the 1800-MHz spectrum and 17.5 MHz of the 900-MHz spectrum for auction in August and November, respectively.

But the junta ordered the NBTC to suspend the schedule for one year and amend several impractical sections of the Frequency Allocation Act first.

“With 130% growth in mobile data traffic this year, the country needs 4G technology to be the main driving force for the growth of mobile internet users,” Mr Brekke said.

DTAC proposed surrendering its unused 25 MHz of the 1800-MHz spectrum to the NBTC ahead of the expiry of the concession for the 4G auction.

The second-ranked operator boasts the most bandwidth with 50 MHz of the 1800-MHz spectrum.

Its concession with CAT Telecom will expire in 2018.

“We want to return our unused spectrum to the watchdog for auction, as it will ultimately benefit the country and the long-term future of the telecommunications industry,” Mr Brekke said.

The heads of the three mobile operators agree that allocating spectra via auction is likely to be the most economically efficient and transparent method.

Mr Suphachai also said generating the highest amount of revenue from the auction process should not be the primary focus of the government.

The objective of the auction is to ensure the winning bidders will use the spectra most efficiently and effectively, encouraging investment in network deployment and implementation of new services, he said.

Charter drafters back MMP system

Posted by pakin On December - 25 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

More smaller parties, coalition govt likely

The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) has decided to drop the current electoral system of MPs, opting for a German-style voting system which is likely to blunt the power of big parties and encourage coalition government.

Under this MMP model, 250 MPs will be drawn from constituencies and 200 from the party list, for a total of 450 MPs in all.

The number of constituency MPs will be calculated from the population, or roughly 250,000 people per MP. The constituencies will be bigger than in the previous general election under the abrogated 2007 charter. Under the party list system, voting will be conducted across eight electoral regions.

The voters will be given two ballots, one for choosing a constituency MP and the other for the political party they support.

It may look similar to the current electoral system, but it is not. The new system will ensure all votes are counted and political parties are fairly represented in parliament, he said, noting the number of House seats each party will win depends on the number of party votes it receives.

“For example, if party A receives 10% of party votes, in principle it should receive a total of 45 House seats (10% of the 450 seats).

However, if party A has won 25 seats from the constituency system, it will get only another 20 seats from the party list system.

“If party A has already won over 45 seats from the constituency system, let’s say 50 seats, it will not get any seats from the party list,” he said.

However, Gen Lertrat said in some cases the actual number of MPs in parliament may exceed the 450-seat threshold because voters may not choose constituency candidates from the political party they opt for on the second ballot.

Gen Lertrat said the CDC has also agreed constituency MPs do not have to be members of parties. Checks-and-balance mechanisms to be strengthened in the new charter will ensure MPs would have proper qualifications.

The new system favours smaller parties and will boost their chances of getting seats in parliament. It also makes it harder for big parties to win a majority.

“Small political parties will have a better chance. The government is likely to comprise several parties. The MMP system is unlikely to destabilise the government because large political parties are likely to get a large number of House seats too,” he said.

Meanwhile, National Legislative Assembly president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai played down the CDC decision not to consider a proposal to introduce direct elections for the prime minister and cabinet.

The proposal was put forward by the National Reform Council’s political reform committee chaired by Sombat Thamrongthanyawong. It was opposed both by the NRC and by CDC chairman Borwornsak Uwanno.

Mr Pornpetch said Wednesday it is too early to say that the CDC rejected the proposal because the committee has yet to come up with a draft, which will not be ready until April next year.

He said the CDC is also required to listen to all sides especially ideas put forward by the NRC because the reform council, under the interim charter, will vote to accept or reject the draft charter.

Mr Pornpetch also described as “the colour of the debate” a clash between Mr Sombat and Mr Borwornsak over the direct election plan.

He also said the exchange of words could only mean no single group of individuals can influence or manipulate the drafting of the charter.

Ministry to upgrade Koh Phangan

Posted by pakin On December - 22 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

The Tourism and Sports Ministry plans to zone tourism on Koh Phangan and upgrade the island’s image from that of the notorious full moon party destination.

Sugree Sithivanich, deputy governor for marketing communication of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said the ministry has talked to local tourism operators to help change the island’s reputation.

Koh Phangan should be promoted as a green island and serve as a role model to develop Koh Lanta and Koh Lee Pae.

After a survey, Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul sees much potential for the island. The TAT will be a key player promoting a new image for Koh Phangan.

The island’s five zone areas are lifestyle and trends, nightlife, historic and eco-tourism, the life of fishermen and seafood, and meditation, spa and learning.

Koh Phangan is host to the renowned full moon party on Rin Nok beach on the full moon of every month. The island has two sister islands — the larger Koh Samui in the south and the smaller Koh Tao in the north.

“The rebranding of Koh Phangan is proceeding. The half-moon and dark moon parties have been called off. We found that there have many interesting activities and tourism sites on the island,” Mr Sugree said.

People on Koh Phangan make shrimp paste once a year, which costs around 1,400 baht per kilogramme. This is part of their way of life and it’s interesting to know why the shrimp paste can cost so much, he said.

The TAT said more than 80% of operators on the island were local people. They share the same idea that they want to change the island’s image and fend off exploitation by investors.

Besides, they think that zoning will make tourists stay longer and draw more people to the island, not only those who come for the parties.

Operators and villagers want to see Koh Phangan offer a variety of tourism products such entertainment and nightlife and also conserve the natural environment and local culture.

They do not want any coastal road loop like those on other developed islands. They want Koh Phangan to be a green island. Some locals have started organic farming for their own consumption as well as selling the produce, said Mr Sugree.

In 2013, there were 738,313 tourist arrivals, of which 110,564 were Thai and the rest foreign, generating around 8.10 billion baht.

There are 7,821 hotel rooms, of which 1,000 are in five-star hotels with an average room rate of 6,000 baht per night during the peak season. Average length of stay was 5.5 days while spending per head per day was 2,015 baht.

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