Avalanches sweep Everest as Nepal quake kills hundreds


Nepalese rescue workers and onlookers gather at the collapsed Darahara Tower in Kathmandu on April 25. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, reportedly killing more than 150 people and leaving hundreds trapped under rubble. Early reports also indicated that climbers may be stuck on Mount Everest and other peaks in the Himalayas. The temblor was centered 81 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of the capital Kathmandu, was 15 kilometers deep and hit at 11:41 a.m. local time. More than 150 people died in the earthquake, CNN reported, citing government officials. Many people were trapped under the 19th century Dharahara Tower, a nine-storey structure in Kathmandu that collapsed in the quake, India’s CNN-IBN channel reported. Authorities closed Kathmandu’s international airport and diverted flights. People living in Kathmandu fled their homes when the initial temblor hit, and remained out in the open as powerful aftershocks continued to rock the city. Aside from the main … [Read more...]

Road closures cause severe traffic congestion in downtown HCMC

Traffic congestion at the corner of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and Le Quy Don.

Heavy traffic jams block a street in Ho Chi Minh City Friday evening. Photo credit: Thanh Nien, Vnexpress Heavy traffic jams blocked most of the main roads in Ho Chi Minh City Friday evening after the city enclosed a large downtown area to prepare for celebrations of the upcoming national holidays. The traffic congestion started at around 6 p.m., almost immediately after the first barriers were put up to block some downtown roads. The red strip marks the area closed to traffic Cach Mang Thang Tam, one of the busiest streets in the city, saw the most severe congestion, with long lines of vehicles stretching more than two kilometers. At nearly 7 p.m., traffic police had to lift the barriers on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street in an attempt to ease the gridlock. The congestion reportedly started to clear after nearly two hours late. Earlier on Thursday, the Transport Department said that downtown sections of Cach Mang Thang Tam, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Nguyen Binh Khiem, Nguyen Huu … [Read more...]

Powerful Nepal quake kills at least 108, toll expected to rise


People stand on the runway outside the International Terminal after a earthquake hit, at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal, April 25, 2015, in this handout courtesy of Dhany Osman. A shallow earthquake measuring 7.9 magnitude struck west of the ancient Nepali capital of Kathmandu on Saturday, killing more than 100 people, injuring hundreds and leaving a pall over the valley, doctors and witnesses said. The most powerful quake to hit the impoverished Himalayan nation in 81 years also caused damage in neighboring Indian states and Bangladesh and triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain. A shallow quake is usually more dangerous because the amount of energy released is focused over a smaller area. People wait at a school after a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck, in Kathmandu, Nepal, April 25, 2015. A Nepal police spokesman said the death toll stood at 108 according to an initial estimate, most from the Kathmandu Valley. There was little … [Read more...]

United States seeks access to Philippine bases as part of Asia pivot


U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter answers reporters' question during a joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart Han Min Koo at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, April 10, 2015. The United States has asked for access to Philippine military bases in eight locations to rotate troops, aircraft, and ships as Washington shifts its forces to Asia and as China expands its military presence in the South China Sea. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a speech in Arizona, has outlined Washington's next phase in its Asia "pivot", deploying its most sophisticated destroyers, bombers and fighters to the region. The Asia "pivot" has already seen U.S. Marines rotating through the Australian tropical city of Darwin, the country's closest city to Asia, for training. At least eight locations in the Philippines have been identified as possible sites where U.S. troops, planes and ships will be rotated through a series of military training and exercises, Philippine … [Read more...]

Thang co, the ethnic style hotpot

Photos: Le Nam

Thang co means "a pot of water" in the Mong language. But it is more than just water or a typical pot. It is a giant cast-iron pan containing lots of innards, bones, fat and meat from a cow, buffalo or horse. In fact, the Mong are believed to have invented the food to make use of what was left of the animals after their best parts had been taken. A Mong man in Ha Giang Province said they do not use a lot of seasoning in thang co, only salt and a pepper-like spice locally known as mac khen. When everything becomes really soft, it is time to eat, he said. thang co like hotpot, meaning each have their own bowl and keep dipping into the pot. They only cook or eat the food in spring or at festivals and periodical markets. However, in recent years it has been on the menu in many restaurants in the northern highlands region to serve tourists, of course with a few changes in the recipe to tone its taste down. But the best bowl of thang co is always served at outdoor markets, … [Read more...]

Eye of the storm: Vietnamese photographer sees beauty in nature’s violence


Dang Tuan Trung never runs away from a storm. The 47-year-old architect is, perhaps, the first known storm chaser in Vietnam, where an average of six to seven typhoons strike every year. Over the past 12 years, the man has encountered lots of storms, and luckily survived them all without any fatal injuries. He first took photos of storms in 2003 when he was on a business trip in the central province of Nghe An, Trung told news website VnExpress. That day a storm was almost right behind his back, so he had to take shelter at a gas station where he killed time by watching how the sky looked during its rage. He then was "stricken" by the violently beautiful scene, and knew that he must capture that on camera. Trung said he always tracks weather forecast in order to keep himself informed of when a storm will arrive. During Vietnam's typhoon season, between July and November, he is always ready to run. 'Feeling alive' The hobby photographer said it is not easy to "catch" a storm, … [Read more...]

At $50, this fake Apple Watch offers features the real one lacks


A replica Apple Watch on sale in China's Shenzhen City. In Shenzhen's famous Huaqiangbei electronics shopping district, you won't need to stand in any lines or make an appointment for these smartwatches. At 299 yuan—that's less than $50—you can pick up a smartwatch that looks quite similar to Apple's own creation, complete with replica Digital Crown and touch screen. Like the Cupertino original that went on sale today for seven times the price, the generic offering spotted in this bustling Chinese city features an activity tracker, chat apps, Web browser, and Bluetooth connectivity. A brief demo unveiled shortcomings in the browser with only the text loading on screen. What this no-name watch provides that Apple doesn't is phone calls right from the watch—without the need to connect to your smartphone—through a built-in microphone and surprisingly clear speaker. Its 3-megapixel front-facing camera adds another feature that won't be found on the wrists of … [Read more...]

Weekly roundup: World’s oldest woman, human trafficking, anti-pollution protest


122-year-old Vietnamese now oldest woman in the world Nguyen Thi Tru in Ho Chi Minh City has been verified as the world's oldest woman, the World Records Association announced. Make for Vietnam: How US cafe and fast-food chains adapt American food and beverage chains have been customizing their menus for the local market, with many surprises. Kidneys, wives for sale: Human trafficking on the rise 3,862 Vietnamese victims have been trafficked for forced labor, prostitution and organ trade since 2011, officials say. Farmers dump dead fish onto the street to protest pollution Farmers in central Vietnam took to the street to protest sand extraction activities that have polluted a local bay. Plastic bag pollution continues unabated in Vietnam In Ho Chi Minh City, nine million or more than 50 metric tons of plastic bags are being used every day. Vietnam War: The legacy of Agent Orange As April 30 approaches, marking 40 years since the Vietnam War, many people still feel … [Read more...]

Mercy pleas for Indonesia death row inmates as families arrive


Children of Filipina drug convict and death row prisoner Mary Jane Veloso, Mark Darren, 6 (lower front C), Mark Daniel, 12 (C), along with other relatives arrive in Cilacap, to visit Nusakambangan maximum security prison island, on April 25, 2015 Families of foreign drug convicts set to be hauled before the firing squad in Indonesia issued desperate mercy pleas on Saturday, as France warned of "diplomatic consequences" if one of its nationals is executed. Consular officials and relatives were arriving at a town near Nusakambangan, the high-security prison island where Indonesian executions are carried out, and where all of the death row convicts are now congregated. The foreigners -- two from Australia, one each from Brazil, France and the Philippines, and four from Africa -- have all lost appeals for clemency from President Joko Widodo, who argues that Indonesia is fighting a drugs emergency. Paris stepped up pressure on Jakarta Saturday, with President Francois Hollande warning … [Read more...]

Vietnam’s bad debts rise to 3.49 pct in January: report

Commercial banks in Vietnam reported bad debts at 3.49 percent of their outstanding loans in January 2015, up from 3.25 percent the previous month, a state-run newspaper quoted a central banker on Saturday as saying. But the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) estimated the bad debts in the system at 4.75 percent in January, down from 4.83 percent in December 2014, Deputy Governor Nguyen Thi Hong was quoted by the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper as saying. "The gap between these two figures is narrowing," Hong was quoted as telling a parliamentary session on Friday, referring to the estimate based on banks' reports and the central bank's own assessment. She gave no values of the debts. Vietnam is recovering from a toxic debt headache and real estate slump caused by unrestrained lending and costly investments by state-run firms in non-core areas. Its non-performing loans (NPLs) ratios have been among Asia's highest. The SBV has moved to consolidate the banking sector by increasing … [Read more...]

No U.S.-Japan trade breakthrough expected during Abe visit: White House

The White House on Friday dashed hopes of a breakthrough on U.S.-Japan trade when President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet in Washington next week, further delaying a major 12-nation Pacific trade pact. "We're not there yet," said Caroline Atkinson, Obama's deputy national security adviser. A deal between Japan and the United States is vital to clinching a Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, as their economies account for 80 percent of the group. Obama also sees the TPP, which would cover a third of world trade, as an important counterweight to China's growing clout in the region. Atkinson said substantial progress had been made in intense, high-level negotiations in Tokyo this week but more work was needed, especially on the thorny issues of autos and agriculture. "We expect the leaders ... to have the opportunity to discuss what should be the next steps together. But we do not expect any announcement of a final deal," she told reporters in a conference call … [Read more...]

Killing of U.S. al Qaeda media frontman seen as big blow for militants


American al Qaeda member Adam Gadahn is shown in this image captured from an undated video courtesy of Intelcenter. The killing of an American who directed al Qaeda's media campaign from his Pakistani hideout is likely to be a big blow for the militants, especially as they wage a propaganda war with Islamic State. American al Qaeda member Adam Gadahn, who faced treason charges in the United States, was killed early this year in a strike on an al Qaeda camp in Pakistan, near the Afghan border, U.S. officials said on Thursday. "He was highly important. He was the man on their media front line," said Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani author and expert on the Taliban and al Qaeda. "Given the success of ISIS in media and social media, he would have been much needed, especially in communicating with English-speaking audiences and on web sites and so on," he said, referring to Islamic State. Gadahn, for whom the United States had offered a reward of $1 million, was believed to be in his late … [Read more...]

‘Landmark verdict’ for abused China wife who faced death


A Chinese court has commuted the death sentence of a woman who killed her abusive husband, with a rights group labelling the move a 'landmark verdict' A Chinese court on Friday commuted the death sentence of a woman who killed her abusive husband, her lawyer told AFP, with a rights group labelling the move a "landmark verdict". The case of Li Yan, who in 2010 beat to death her husband -- who had physically hurt her and three previous wives -- has thrown the spotlight on domestic abuse, a largely taboo subject in China. Her case was sent back to a court in China's south-western Sichuan province last June, her brother previously told AFP. Ziyang Intermediate People's Court has now re-sentenced the 44-year-old to death with a two-year reprieve, her lawyer Wan Miaoyan said -- which means the penalty is likely to be commuted to life in prison, as is the norm in China. "I can confirm that the sentence has been changed from an immediate death sentence to a death sentence reprieved for … [Read more...]

As Yemen bombing subsides, Saudi may struggle with peacemaker role


A man flees after igniting an unexploded shell which landed from a nearby missile base after the base was struck by a Saudi-led coalition air strike, near Sanaa April 23, 2015. Saudi Arabia has bombed Yemen for four weeks but may be little closer to imposing influence in its war-torn neighbor. As the kingdom winds down the campaign it led against Yemen's Houthis, a militia allied to its regional rival Iran, Riyadh faces a test of its diplomatic skills in trying to arrange talks among Yemen's fractious elites. The bombs have helped prevent the Houthis from fully seizing Aden, Yemen's main port, but have yet to reverse their decisive military gains over recent months, when they took the capital, joined forces with army troops loyal to former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh and emerged as the country's most powerful force. Saudi Arabia says it has stopped its main air campaign but will still bomb Houthis and Saleh loyalists if they make military moves. Air strikes have not ceased but their … [Read more...]

Euro zone warns Greece no cash till full reform deal

Euro zone finance ministers warned Greece on Friday that its leftist government will get no more aid until it agrees a complete economic reform plan, as Athens lurches closer to bankruptcy. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis faced a harsh morning in which euro zone ministers bemoaned talks they felt "were going nowhere" and one minister said that maybe it was time governments prepared for the plan B of a Greek default. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chaired the meeting in the Latvian capital, slammed the door on Varoufakis' proposal for early cash after partial reforms. "A comprehensive and detailed list of reforms is needed," Dijsselbloem told a news conference following a meeting in Riga. "A comprehensive deal is necessary before any disbursement can take place ... We are all aware that time is running out." He also said a remaining 7.2 billion euros in frozen bailout funds would no longer be available after June, and Greece's creditors would not talk … [Read more...]

Vietnam Jan-April actual FDI up 5 pct y/y at $4.2 bln


Vietnam received an estimated $4.2 billion in actual foreign direct investment (FDI) in January-April, up 5 percent from the same period in 2014, the Planning and Investment Ministry said on Friday. However, new FDI pledges in the first four months fell 17.1 percent from a year ago to $2.68 billion, with most of the funds going to processing industries and property projects, the ministry's Foreign Investment Agency said in a statement. Additional funds to existing projects fell 35.7 percent to $1.5 billion, it said. FDI inflows are an important source of foreign exchange for Vietnam to offset its trade deficit. The country also said last year it was still short of funds needed for infrastructure projects. … [Read more...]

Samsung hints at new smartwatch on Apple Watch launch day


A man walks at the Samsung Electronics' headquarters in Seoul January 7, 2015. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd teased the market with hints of a new version of its Gear smartwatch on Friday, the same day that rival Apple Inc's long-awaited wearable devices went on sale. The South Korean tech giant's official blog post showed images of smartwatch with a round face - which would be a first for Samsung - and naming several partners, including Baidu Inc, Yelp Inc and CNN. Samsung also said it would release a wearable software development kit for third-party developers ahead of the launch. The blog post came as the Apple Watch went on sale without the fanfare typical of the U.S. firm's major product rollouts. Apple's offering is still expected to sell much better than any rival products to date. Researcher IHS expects shipments of more than 19 million Apple Watches this year, more than five times the number of all smartwatches shipped globally in 2014. Samsung has launched six smartwatches … [Read more...]

Pride and obscurity: the historic crew of Vietnam’s ‘Tank 390′


Replicas of Tank 390 (L) and Tank 843 (behind R), the first tanks credited with crashing through the gates of Saigon's presidential palace 40 years ago, on display at Ho Chi Minh City's Reunification Palace When Tank 390 crashed through the gates of Saigon's presidential palace 40 years ago, it heralded the end of Vietnam's war. But the men who manned it have since lived in obscurity, poor yet forever bonded by the history they created. On April 30, 1975, the four-man tank team had come under heavy fire and lost contact with their commanders as they entered central Saigon during a lightning-fast offensive by communist forces from the North. But their thoughts were firmly on victory as they barrelled into the compound -- now known as Independence Palace -- according to retired captain Vu Dang Toan, the commander of Tank 390, a Chinese-made T59 first deployed in Vietnam in the 1960s. "If we had been scared, how could we have crashed through that gate? Our aim was to quickly occupy … [Read more...]

Vietcombank sees 2015 profits flat on higher sour loan provisions

Vietcombank, Vietnam's top lender by market value, said it expects a solid expansion in lending this year but forecast flat profits as it makes more provisions for underperforming loans under new central bank rules. The Hanoi-based bank, 15 percent owned by Japan's Mizuho Corporate Bank, estimated pretax profit at 5.9 trillion dong ($274 million), up just 0.4 percent from last year. Vietnamese lenders are factoring in higher provisions due to a central bank ruling on tougher bad debt classification, known as Circular 2, which takes effect this month. "Our gross profits would likely climb 11 percent if we didn't factor in higher provisions but due to Circular 2, we need to and we want to be on the safe side," Le Hoang Tung, head of the Secretary of the Board department, told Reuters. "But that's the target. Actual profit may be higher thanks to solid credit growth," he said. The bank aims to expand lending by 13 percent and lift its assets by 11.5 percent this year. The estimates … [Read more...]

Former street child, now Ho Chi Minh dragon dance troupe owner picks boys off streets


Luong Tan Hang (R) teaches a boy in his lion dance troupe how to hold and hit his drumsticks. Photo: Lam Ngoc A popular lion and dragon dance troupe in Ho Chi Minh City was founded by a street boy and it has opened its arms to thousands of other boys from the streets. Luong Tan Hang, now 53, started Hang Anh Duong after studying and training with another troupe in the city for 13 years. He had to earn a living from age 10 by selling lottery tickets on the street. More than a year later he asked to join Tinh Anh Duong dance troupe, which not only to taught him dancing but also helped him learn how to read and write besides feeding him. "My life became less hard." Hang said he loves martial arts and so learned quickly and was given special training to be a teacher in the troupe, before he left and started his own 30 years ago. "And immediately I thought about street boys." Hang said none the boys who come to him have a home and many are thieves or drug addicts. Hang checks the … [Read more...]