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S.Korea to go ahead with fire drill despite N.Korea threat

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2010 at 10:26 am

South Korea’s military said Saturday it would go ahead with a live-fire drill on a border island bombarded by North Korea last month, despite the North’s threat to strike back again with deadlier firepower.

A South Korean Navy vessel berths at a Movement Sea Base (MSB) off the South Korea-controlled island of Yeonpyeong near the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea on December 17, 2010.

But an AFP photographer on Yeonpyeong island said the atmosphere was calm and a media report said the one-day training exercise — scheduled for sometime between Saturday and Tuesday — may be delayed till next week.

“There is no change in our stance with regards to the live-fire exercise,” a defence ministry spokesman told AFP. “We cannot confirm… whether we will carry out the exercise today.”

The North threatened Friday to “deal the second and third unpredictable self-defensive blow” if the artillery exercise goes ahead.

“It will be deadlier than what was made on November 23 in terms of the powerfulness and sphere of the strike,” it said.

Pyongyang disputes the Yellow Sea border drawn after the 1950-53 war and claims the waters around Yeonpyeong and other frontline islands as its own maritime territory.

The November 23 bombardment killed two marines and two civilians and damaged dozens of homes. It came after a firing drill into the sea by South Korean marines based on the island.

The North’s latest warning sharply raised the stakes in the regional crisis.

Russia urged South Korea not to go ahead with the exercise and China, the North’s sole major ally, said it opposed any action that would raise tensions.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun summoned South Korea’s ambassador Yu Woo-Ik Friday afternoon to express concern at the planned drill, Yonhap news agency quoted a diplomatic source as saying.

South Korea, outraged at the first shelling of civilian areas since the war, has fortified Yeonpyeong with more troops and artillery and vowed to use air power against any future attack.

Its military has said artillery will be aimed away from the North as usual during the upcoming drill, but it would respond strongly if provoked.

But a military source quoted by Yonhap said the firing might be delayed a day or two.

“Weather conditions are the most important factor in deciding the time for a drill. Early next week will be the most likely time to hold it because the weather should improve,” the source said.

Asked why weather was a factor, a military spokesman cited comments by a government source in Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

“The live-fire exercise itself will end in 1-2 hours, but since we have to prepare for North Korea’s provocation afterwards, there is a good possibility the exercise will be delayed to when the weather is good all day long,” the source was quoted as saying.

“It is highly likely that the drill will be held early next week.”

The South’s close ally the United States plans to send some 20 US soldiers to play a supporting role in the drill.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley Friday again defended the South’s right to hold the drill in the face of North Korea’s “ongoing provocations”.

But he said Washington trusts that the South “will be very cautious in terms of what it does”.

Pyongyang’s disclosure last month of an apparently working uranium enrichment plant — a potential new source of bomb-making material — has also heightened regional security fears.

The North’s website Uriminzokkiri said the drill could spark nuclear war.

“It is clear if war breaks out again in this land, a grave nuclear disaster will take place which will bear no comparison to the Korean War.”

US troubleshooter Bill Richardson said he urged North Korean officials during his current visit to Pyongyang to let the South go ahead with the drill.

“I’m urging them extreme restraint,” the New Mexico governor told CNN, saying he was “very, very strong with foreign ministry officials” during a dinner on Friday.

“I think I made a little headway,” Richardson said. “My sense from the North Koreans is that they are trying to find ways to tamp things down.”

Analyst Andrei Lankov said that for the first time in decades, a new war appeared to be a distinct probability.

Lankov, a professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said the Pyongyang regime seemed determined to escalate provocations, and South Korean society was in “unusually bellicose mood” after the last Yeonpyeong attack.

But in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, Lankov said “the hard truth is that restraint is the only option for South Korea”.

Source: SGGP

Tour prices to jump ahead of lunar new year

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2010 at 9:37 am

Tour prices to jump ahead of lunar new year

QĐND – Wednesday, December 15, 2010, 21:6 (GMT+7)

 The price of Tet or Lunar New Year tours are set to jump by up to 10 percent, forecast tour operators.

The operators attribute the prospective increases to growing demand and likely higher transport and accommodation costs.

The length of the break – seven days – and the arrival of overseas Vietnamese and international visitors are the major reasons for higher price, explained Vietravel Communication Department director Nguyen Minh Man.

“Customers for the 2011 Lunar New Year – from February 1 – will increase by 30 percent,” Man said.

“High demand will see accommodation and transport costs soar, so tour prices will jump by 7-10 percent”, he added.

A representative of the Lua Viet Tours Company agreed that tour prices will increase by Tet holiday because of higher air travel costs.

The company says the prices for air tickets out of Vietnam have increased between 50 USD and 150 USD.

Despite higher costs, tour operators are trying to keep prices down.

“More expensive air tickets are beyond our control. However, we’ve still managed to keep our tour prices low to avoid sudden changes in price,” said Man.

Outbound tours to Hong Kong (China), mainland China, the Republic of Korea and Japan remain favourite destinations.

Tours to neighbouring countries remain popular due to their price of just 10 million VND (476 USD). Moreover, these tours have not been affected by the dong’s devaluation, said Director of Lua Viet Travel Company Nguyen Van My.

The Vietnam Railway Corporation is set to increase its prices by 20-25 percent on peak days over the Lunar New Year Festival.

Source: VNA/ Photo: Vneconomy

Source: QDND

Egypt security on alert ahead of tense election

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Egyptian security forces were on high alert Saturday, on the eve of a general election, after activists clashed with police at the end of a campaign marred by violence and a crackdown on the opposition.

Egyptian protesters stand on a security fence under the watchfull eyes of the riot police during a demonstration organized by the Muslim Brotherhood in downtown Cairo, May 2010.

Thousands of activists demonstrated in support of their candidates throughout the Nile Delta and in the south of the country as campaigning for the vote came to an end on Friday night, said security officials.

Several of the rallies turned violent after supporters of rival candidates hurled stones at each other, they said.

Activists for the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group clashed with police in the southern Bani Suef governorate, and at least 15 protesters were arrested.

Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsud, a lawyer for the Islamist group, said 22 of its members were arrested on Friday across the country.

The Brotherhood is expected to win far less than the fifth of parliamentary seats it captured in the last election in 2005, after at least 1,200 its supporters were arrested in the weeks before the vote.

Most of them have been released, but the group says more of its supporters are rounded up each day as they put up posters and hand out fliers.

The Brotherhood is fielding 130 candidates for the 508 elected seats after more than a dozen of its candidates were disqualified by the election committee.

The public prosecutor is investigating complaints by the ruling National Democratic Party that more of the Islamists should be disqualified because they are misrepresenting themselves as independents.

The group registers its candidates as independents to circumvent a ban on religious parties.

Several administrative courts have ordered the cancellation of elections in 24 of 254 districts after court orders to reinstate disqualified candidates, many of them Brotherhood members and other independents, were ignored.

Rights groups say the election has already been compromised by the arrests of opposition members and campaign restrictions on their candidates.

Amnesty International called on Egyptian authorities to safeguard the rights of voters in the election.

“The Egyptian authorities must uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and ensure that peaceful protesters are not arbitrarily arrested and detained,” the London-based rights group’s Middle East director, Malcolm Smart, said in a statement last week.

Voter turnout is expected to be low as usual in Egypt, where elections are often marred by violence and ballot fraud, according to rights groups.

The government insists the election will be fair and the electoral committee says it granted more than 6,000 permits to local civil society groups to monitor the vote and the ballot counting.

The NDP, which has dominated parliament for more than three decades, is expected to gain seats in parliament at the expense of the Brotherhood. It is running about 800 candidates.

Campaign restrictions on the remaining Brotherhood candidates and a low voter turnout amid fears of violence and widespread suspicion about the election’s integrity are expected to reduce the Islamists’ share.


Source: SGGP

Protests in Kabul ahead of much-delayed election results

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 at 6:49 am

Afghan election candidates took to the streets of Kabul on Wednesday to protest against a polling process they say was corrupt and shameful ahead of the expected announcement of final results from the September 18 vote.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) has said it would announce the winners of 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, or wolesi jirga , after a delay that lasted more than two months due to investigations into fraud complaints.

The credibility of the eventual result will weigh heavily on U.S. President Barack Obama’s review of his Afghan war strategy, due to be released next month, amid rising violence and sagging public support, especially after a fraud-marred presidential election last year.

Consistent allegations of vote fraud in both polls have raised questions about the credibility of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government at a time when U.S. and NATO officials have been re-examining their long-term commitment in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010

The protesters, mostly candidates who failed to win a seat and their supporters, have organized a string of demonstrations in the capital and warned that failure to address grievances about the poll would only push Afghans toward the insurgency.

Some of the protesters, including a handful of women and turban-wearing men, looked like they had travelled from outside Kabul.

“We have gathered here today to protest against the illegal election,” said lawmaker Noor ul Haq Olomi, from southern Kandahar province, the Taliban’s heartland.

“It doesn’t matter who is winning or losing, we will continue to protest until the officials in the government hear us and the Afghan people learn about the widespread fraud that happened during this election.”

Disgruntled candidates, lawmakers and supporters have in recent weeks called for the September poll to be scrapped and a new election ordered.

A U.N.-backed election watchdog said on Sunday nearly one in 10 winning candidates had been disqualified for fraud.

Sunday’s disqualifications by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) cleared the way for the Afghan government’s IEC to release the final results.

There were more than 6,000 complaints lodged with ECC and the IEC has already thrown out almost a quarter of the 5.6 million votes cast as invalid. The IEC also is being investigated by the attorney general’s office over election fraud.

Late on Tuesday, Afghan television also reported two election officials had been suspended by the attorney general’s office for “making statements against the national interest”. The attorney general’s office declined immediate comment.

Source: SGGP

Thaksin to increase activities ahead of Thai polls: party

In Uncategorized on October 14, 2010 at 2:28 pm

BANGKOK, Oct 14, 2010 (AFP) – Thailand’s fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is preparing to step up his political activities from exile ahead of elections next year, his party said Thursday.

In a video link to a meeting of the opposition Puea Thai Party on Wednesday, the former billionaire telecoms tycoon offered his assistance in the poll battle, said spokesman Prompong Nopparit.

“He said he is ready to give advice about economic problems, advice to candidates during campaigns and advice about party policies,” Prompong said.

By law Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva must hold an election by the end of 2011.

Thaksin, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, drew wide support from Thailand’s rural poor during office but was deposed by a military coup in 2006 and faces allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

He has been in self-imposed exile but still commands the loyalty of thousands of supporters, including many members of the “Red Shirt” opposition movement behind mass street protests in Bangkok in April and May.

Thai courts have issued a series of arrest warrants for Thaksin for charges including terrorism — an accusation linked to the violent street rallies. The authorities have accused him of bankrolling the protests and inciting unrest.

Thaksin has said the terrorism charges are “politically motivated”.

In his push for a return to Thailand, he has regularly used video messages to encourage fans but his broadcasts diminished during the April-May protests, which left 91 people dead in clashes between troops and demonstrators.

Prompong said he expected Thaksin to address the party “only at appropriate times.”

“He hasn’t spoken much recently because he wants reconciliation. He does not want this government to be suspicious about him,” the spokesman said.

Source: SGGP

US carrier to visit S.Korea ahead of joint exercise

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 at 11:27 am

SEOUL, July 19, 2010 (AFP) – A US aircraft carrier and three destroyers will visit South Korea this week ahead of a naval exercise to deter North Korea following the sinking of one of Seoul’s warships, officials said Monday.

The 97,000-ton USS George Washington, based in Yokosuka, Japan, will arrive Wednesday at the southern port city of Busan for a five-day port call, the US military said in a statement.

Three destroyers from the US carrier’s strike group, including the USS McCampbell, will also visit South Korean ports on the same day, it said.

“Our presence here is a testament to the strength of our alliance and our constant readiness to defend (South Korea),” the US carrier’s commanding officer, Captain David Lausman, said in the statement.

Seoul and Washington are going ahead with war games this month to deter Pyongyang.

Details of planned bilateral exercises will be announced this week when US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visit Seoul.

They will hold talks with their counterparts Wednesday in a show of solidarity amid tensions with North Korea over the sinking of South Korea’s Cheonan warship in March.

The South and its US ally, citing findings of a multinational investigation, accuse the North of torpedoing the warship and killing 46 sailors.

The North angrily denies involvement and says a UN Security Council statement on July 9 — which condemned the attack without specifying the culprit — proves its point.

Source: SGGP

Numerous challenges still ahead, says Party chief

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Numerous challenges still ahead, says Party chief

QĐND – Sunday, June 27, 2010, 21:11 (GMT+7)

In spite of overcoming the toughest times of the global economic crisis, the country still faces numerous challenges that require the whole nation’s efforts. 

Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh made the remark at a meeting with voters in the northern province of Thai Nguyen on June 26 after the National Assembly (NA) wrapped up its 7th session. 

Political stability is the most important condition to boost the country’s comprehensive renovation process in an effective and sustainable way, the Party chief told the local voters. 

Development and socio-political stability are related matters, he said, affirming that if the country wants to develop, the country needs the socio- political stability. And, vice-versa, development creates foundations for stability. 

For their parts, the voters showed their agreement with the NA’s major decisions at the recent session, including its suspended decision on the North-South express railway project as well as its request for further study into the Hanoi master plan. 

The voters said that they are pleased with the high sense of responsibility and democracy shown by the NA delegates and feel confident about the NA performance. 

In a frank and open atmosphere, they expressed their concerns over the implementation of the criminal code and the law education in schools. 

In addition, they asked the state to continue developing transport infrastructure, irrigation network, schools and clinics for ethnic minority groups in mountainous areas.

Source: VOV

Source: QDND

Liberals draw one seat ahead of Labour in Dutch vote

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2010 at 10:44 am

THE HAGUE (AFP) – The Liberals were one seat ahead of Labour with 88 percent of the vote counted early Thursday after cliff-hanger general elections in the Netherlands, the far-right Party for Freedom the big winner in third place.

The Liberal party (VVD) led by Mark Rutte, which had campaigned on the need for deep spending cuts, and the Labour party (PvdA) of Job Cohen had been tied for hours at 31 seats each in the 150-seat parliament after Wednesday’s polls.

Women in traditional dresses vote in general elections in Staphorst. AFP photo

But with a greater percentage of the votes counted, published partial results showed the Liberals with 31 and Labour on 30.

Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV), which demands an end to immigration from Muslim countries and a ban on new mosques, took its number of lawmakers from nine in the last parliament to 24, and could hope to enter a coalition government.

The far-right leader with his distinctive shock of fair hair called the result of Wednesday’s elections “magnificent”.

“The impossible has happened,” he told a televised party gathering. “We are the biggest winner today. The Netherlands chose more security, less crime, less immigration and less Islam.”

Pushed into fourth place was the Christian Democratic Action party of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. The CDA, which has been in almost all Dutch governments since World War II, lost 20 seats to end at 21, and was the big loser in the election.

Balkenende, who had headed a centre-left coalition since 2007, acknowledged defeat by resigning both his party’s leadership and his seat in parliament.

“I have informed the party chairman that I will lay down my party membership with immediate effect,” said Balkenende, 54, adding that he was taking “political responsibility” for the state of affairs.

The Liberals, who had 21 seats in the outgoing parliament, had topped opinion polls for several weeks.

Labour lost two seats compared with the previous elections in 2006.

The election was the first in a eurozone country since the Greek financial crisis erupted and has been closely watched to see how the public reacts to Europe’s wave of austerity.

The Liberals had led pre-election polls with their promise to cut public spending by about 45 billion euros (54 billion dollars) over the next four years and by 20 billion euros a year from 2015. But their support appeared to drain away in the final 48 hours of lobbying.

Rutte had also promised to eradicate the public deficit, which was 5.3 percent of GDP last year, shrink the government and parliament, lower income taxes and cap civil servant pay rises while raising the retirement age by two years to 67.

Labour had promised more “careful” savings, the retention of social benefits and higher taxes for the rich.

Rutte has set a target date of July 1 for the establishment of a new government. “We do not exclude any party,” he said in a debate Tuesday night when asked about a possible coalition with the far right.

He was previously reported as saying that a coalition with Labour was unlikely. Cohen has ruled out cooperation with the PVV.

The maverick Wilders has earned notoriety around the world with his campaign to ban the Koran in a bid to “stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands”.

Wilders, who has called Islam a fascist religion and likens the Koran to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, is known abroad for his 17-minute commentary, “Fitna”, which was termed “offensively anti-Islamic” by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

He goes on trial in the Netherlands in October on charges of inciting racial hatred against Muslims. He was barred from entering Britain in 2009 to stop him spreading “hatred and violent messages.”

Voters marked their ballots with red pencils at some 10,000 polling stations in an election called after the government collapsed in February in a spat over military aid to Afghanistan.

The voter turnout was put at 74 percent, the lowest since 1998.

With none of the competing 18 parties able to rule alone, the party that emerges on top will lead coalition negotiations.

Official results will be released next Tuesday.

Source: SGGP

Greek unions call fresh protests ahead of austerity vote

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Greek unions mobilised Thursday for new demonstrations against draconian austerity cuts as the government raced to push the unprecedented measures through parliament a day after deadly rioting.

A protest near the Parliament building in the center of Athens.

The main unions called their members to new protests from 6 pm (1500 GMT) undeterred by the deaths of three people, reportedly including a pregnant woman, in a firebombed Athens bank the previous day when demonstrations degenerated.

Condemning “the fires, blind violence, vandalism”, the million-member GSEE private sector union said in a statement “we are determined to pursue and extend our struggle to meet our fair demands.”

As the government insisted it would not back down on the austerity drive, eurozone leaders scrambled to keep Greece’s debt crisis from spreading to other highly indebted countries like Spain and Portugal

The European Central Bank held one of its most crucial meetings ever in Lisbon to rein in the Greek debt crisis while eurozone leaders prepared to meet on Friday in Brussels to contemplate the future of their embattled bloc.

As unions prepared for a fresh round of demonstrations, Greek lawmakers were debating the government spending cuts and tax hikes with voting on the legislation due to begin in the afternoon.

Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou told parliament the austerity drive, which eurozone countries and the IMF have demanded in return for a bailout, was the only option.

“The only way to escape bankruptcy is to accept the aid money, which reaches 110 billion euros… and the precondition is to agree on the three-year austerity plan,” Papaconstantinou said during the debate.

Average Greeks voiced sadness and bitterness in the streets of central Athens as the nation was still reeling from the shock killing of the bank workers.

“I’m sad and I’m angry because those people who threw the Molotov cocktails don’t respect the lives of other people,” said Chris, a 30-year-old who works for a small private company and who participated in the demonstrations.

Anita, who works in a bank not far from the bank that caught fire, said that the firebombing blamed on young hooligans was “the saddest thing that could ever happen to Greece”

“I was working in my bank, we saw the fire, it could have happened to me”,” she said. “This has nothing to do with the protests, the demonstration was peaceful.”

As protestors marched on Wednesday against the government’s plans to avert national bankruptcy and the strike shut down much of the country, some demonstrations turned violent.

Demonstrators tried to storm the parliament and hooded youths hurled petrol bombs at stores and businesses in central Athens, prompting police to respond with tear gas and charges.

Police said two women and one man died at a branch of the Marfin bank which caught fire after rioters broke a window and threw Molotov cocktails inside.

One of the women who died was four months pregnant, according to doctors quoted by the Greek press.

At least two other buildings — the Athens prefecture and one used by tax officials — caught fire after other firebomb attacks on the margins of the protests.

The general strike was the first major test of the Socialist government’s resolve to push through unprecedented measures since agreeing to a 110 billion euro (143 billion dollar) EU and IMF debt bailout at the weekend.

Officers arrested at least 12 people in Athens and another 37 in the northern city of Thessaloniki, where protestors also targeted stores and banks in the city centre before riot police dispersed them.

The violence in Athens sparked concerns on global financial markets that Greece’s huge bailout could veer off course and that its debt crisis could engulf other countries.

The euro dived to the lowest level for more than one year as the deadly protests in debt-plagued Greece cast a shadow over the future of the eurozone and the single currency, dealers said.

Moody’s ratings agency on Thursday warned that the fallout from the Greek debt crisis presented a risk of “contagion” for the credit rating of banks in Britain, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Spain helped investors immediate fears of contagion after the government successfully raised 2.345 billion euros in the country’s first debt sale since its credit rating was cut last week.


Source: SGGP

US, China change tone but disputes lie ahead

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2010 at 6:50 am

Weeks after warning that ties were in disarray, China is signaling a readiness to work with the United States but fresh disputes could set back relations just as quickly, analysts say.

A US official adjusts Chinese and US flags in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo)

China on Monday praised the “positive attitude” of President Barack Obama after he voiced support for a greater relationship with the rising Asian power in receiving its new ambassador.

The calls for cooperation come despite two angry Chinese protests since the beginning of the year after Obama approved an arms package to Beijing’s rival Taiwan and met with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

“This was a nice symbolic movement on which the two countries could agree to change the tenor,” said Nina Hachigian, a China expert at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think-tank.

“It was optically very easy to show that relations are improving,” she said. “But there are plenty of things coming up that could derail the relationship.”

Chief among them is currency. Some 130 lawmakers have called on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to declare that China is manipulating its yuan’s value for trade advantage — and have threatened legislation if he does not.

The Treasury will make its decision in a report due on April 15. It comes days after Obama holds a major summit in Washington on nuclear security to which China’s leaders have not yet RSVPed.

“If it finds China to be a manipulator, China will find it very irritating and relations could turn rocky again,” Hachigian said.

Other potential disputes include human rights, climate change and Internet freedom after Google reported cyberattacks by China.

Dean Cheng, a research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, cautioned that Obama’s meeting with the new ambassador, Zhang Yesui, was more a matter of atmospherics.

“Let’s be honest — no one was expecting the president of the United States to rip up the credentials of the ambassador and tell him to get out of his office,” Cheng said.

He said the real test of relations would come in laying the groundwork for the next dialogue between the United States and China, for which Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are expected to head to Beijing in late May.

The real work between the two nations comes in “working group discussions and meetings and here we do have unfortunately relatively little movement,” Cheng said.

On one key issue, Clinton and her deputy James Steinberg said China was recognizing a threat from a nuclear Iran. Obama said Tuesday he hoped for an international consensus on new sanctions within weeks.

But Cheng noted that China has longstanding objections to sanctions against Iran, one of its oil suppliers.

“The point is we (the US and China) have very different perspectives,” he said. “It is the job of diplomats to lie for their country and to lie well to put the best face forward on what might be quite an ugly pile of nonsense.”

China’s leaders largely had a favorable image of former president George W. Bush. When Obama took office in January 2009, he set a goal of expanding cooperation between the world’s largest developed and developing nations.

But China faced a backlash in Washington after its treatment of Obama during his maiden trip last year. China made no symbolic gestures such as freeing dissidents and did not even broadcast Obama’s one public forum nationally.

Charles Freeman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said US and Chinese leaders may have decided to tone down populist sentiment pressing for tougher responses against the other country.

“I think there’s a recognition in both capitals that you really don’t want to let this get too out of hand,” Freeman said.

“If nothing else, both countries recognize they can’t afford to get the relationship wrong,” he said.


Source: SGGP