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Obama to sign end to military gay ban

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2010 at 8:27 am

 The United States stood on the cusp of letting gays serve openly in its military for the first time, as the US Congress sent President Barack Obama a bill to bring about the historic shift.


Senators voted 65-31 to approve House-passed legislation to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise of 1993 requiring gay soldiers to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face dismissal.


“It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed,” said Obama, who vowed during his 2008 White House bid to lift the ban.


Obama was expected to sign the measure this week with great fanfare, launching a White House and Pentagon certification process to ensure the smoothest possible transition at a time when Washington is fighting two wars.


Eight of the White House’s Republican foes backed the change — perhaps the biggest such shift in the US military since racial integration began in 1948 — while three Republicans and one Democrat missed the vote.


The measure, its passage assured when it cleared a procedural hurdle by a 63-33 margin earlier, fueled bitterly divisive debate in the already polarized Senate.


“The first casualty in the war in Iraq was a gay soldier. The mine that took off his right leg didn’t give a darn whether he was gay or straight. We shouldn’t either,” Democratic Senator Carl Levin said before the ballot.


“We cannot let these patriots down. Their suffering should end. It will end with the passage of this bill. I urge its passage today,” said Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.


“It isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” countered Senator John McCain, the top Republican on Levin’s panel and Obama’s defeated 2008 White House rival and a fierce foe of lifting the ban.


“To somehow allege that it has harmed our military is not justified by the facts,” McCain said. “Don’t think that it won’t be at great cost.”


Passage triggered a time-consuming process that calls for lifting the ban only after the president, the secretary of defense, and the top US uniformed officer certify that doing so can be done without harming military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention.


Republicans have scoffed that the leaders involved have already stated their support to ending the policy.


“They have already made up their minds,” said Republican Senator James Inhofe.


The Pentagon issued a study this month that found a solid majority of troops were not bothered by the prospect of lifting the ban and that the military could implement the change without a major disruption or upheaval.


The repeal effort enjoyed broad support from the US public, as well as from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and US Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen.


Gates — who had warned that US courts would step in and perhaps force a hasty end to the policy unless lawmakers acted — said the Pentagon would “carry out this change carefully and methodically, but purposefully.”


Mullen, whose emotional February testimony to Congress in favor of repeal has been credited as a signal moment, said ending the ban was “the right thing to do.”


“No longer will able men and women who want to serve and sacrifice for their country have to sacrifice their integrity to do so,” he said, promising: “We will be a better military as a result.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill had enacted the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy when he was president, said the repeal would strengthen US support for human rights internationally.

Activists listen during a rally on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on Capitol Hill, December 10.

“This is a historic step forward for all Americans, a step toward a more perfect union and a more perfect reflection of our core values,” she said.

In the years since the ban was enacted as a compromise, some 13,000 US troops have been ousted, and critics have pointed out that many were trained at great expense, like fighter pilots, or had hard-to-find skills, such as Arabic translators.

But opponents of the legislation have cited testimony from US military service chiefs who warned against a quick repeal, citing concerns about unit cohesion.

General James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps and an opponent of lifting the ban, has warned repeal could jeopardize the lives of Marines in combat by undermining closely knit units.

Newly minted Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Republican Senators Jim Bunning, Judd Gregg, and Orrin Hatch did not vote on repeal.

Source: SGGP

Bin Laden warns France over Afghan war, veil ban

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2010 at 7:41 am

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden threatens in a new audio tape to kill French citizens to avenge their country’s support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and a new law that will ban face-covering Muslim veils.


In the tape obtained by satellite television station Al-Jazeera and then posted on its website on Wednesday, bin Laden said France was aiding the Americans in the killing of Muslim women and children in an apparent reference to the war in Afghanistan. He said the kidnapping of five French citizens in the African nation of Niger last month was a reaction to what he called France’s oppression of Muslims.


“How can it be right that you participate in the occupation of our lands, support the Americans in the killing of our women and children and yet want to live in peace and security?” said bin Laden, addressing the French.

This image made from video broadcast on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2001 shows Osama bin Laden at an undisclosed location.

“It is a simple and clear equation: As you kill, you will be killed. As you capture, you will be captured. And as you threaten our security, your security will be threatened. The way to safeguard your security is to cease your oppression and its impact on our nation, most importantly your withdrawal from the ill-fated Bush war in Afghanistan.”


The authenticity of the tape could not be immediately verified but the voice resembled that of the terror group leader on previous tapes determined to be genuine.


French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux told the parliament hours after the message was posted that the risk of a terror attack against the country was real and authorities’ vigilance is “total,” according to a report on newspaper El Figaro’s website.


But he added that the threats “would merely fit into the pattern of different threats that have already been made against our country and our citizens, at home and abroad. It currently appears that these comments don’t do more than justify our keeping up our response in the face of the terrorist threat.”


Tapes by bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, have recently been posted on Al-Jazeera website rather than on sites run by militant Muslims as has been done for years. The shift appears to reflect the unexplained technical difficulties or closures experienced by the militant sites in recent months.


France has about 4,000 troops deployed in and near Afghanistan.


“You need to think of what happened to America as a result of that unjust war,” bin Laden said, again addressing the French and referring to the war in Afghanistan. “It’s on the verge of bankruptcy … and tomorrow it will retreat to beyond the Atlantic.”


France passed a law this month that will ban the wearing of face-covering burqa-style Muslim veils in public starting in April. Many Muslims have expressed fears the law would stigmatize them.


“If you deemed it your right to ban (Muslim) women from wearing the hijab, then should not it be our right to expel your invading men by striking their necks?” bin Laden said.


Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of bin Laden’s group, has claimed responsibility for the abductions of five French citizens in Niger and is believed to have taken them to neighboring Mali. The French hostages, as well as a Togolese and a Madagascar national were kidnapped on Sept. 16 while they were sleeping in their villas in the uranium mining town of Arlit.


“The kidnapping of your experts in the Niger is a reaction to your oppression of Muslims,” said bin Laden.


Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb grew out of an Islamist insurgency movement in Algeria, merging with al-Qaida in 2006 and spreading through the Sahara and the arid Sahel region. It has increasingly been targeting French interests.


In July, the group said it executed a 78-year-old French aid worker it had taken hostage three months before. It said the killing was retaliation for the deaths of six al-Qaida members in a French-backed military operation against the group.


Also in July, the French military said it provided technical and logistical assistance to help Mauritanian forces thwart an attack by suspected al-Qaida members in northwest Africa. It said the operation left six extremists dead.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy later described that operation as a “turning point” and said France would provide training, equipment and intelligence to local troops working to fight militants in the Sahel.

A series of warnings has put France and other European countries on high alert in recent weeks, prompting the U.S. State Department to advise American citizens living or traveling in Europe to take more precautions. Speculation on the source of a potential terror threat in France has focused on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Source: SGGP

Thai PM in court as party faces ban threat

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2010 at 6:24 am

BANGKOK, Oct 18, 2010 (AFP) – Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva arrived at court amid tight security Monday as his ruling party fights to avoid a political ban that could bring fresh upheaval to the deeply divided kingdom.


Abhisit will be a witness for the defence at the Constitutional Court in what could be the final hearing in the case, which centres on accusations of misuse of a 29-million-baht (900,000 dollar) state grant in 2005.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (C) arrives at the Constitutional Court in Bangkok on October 18, 2010. AFP

The Democrat Party — Thailand’s oldest party — could be dissolved if found guilty, while the premier, who was its deputy leader at the time, could be handed a five-year ban from politics, alongside other executives.


Abhisit looked relaxed as he arrived but made no comment to the throngs of reporters gathered outside the court, where there was a heavy police presence.


Thailand’s Election Commission (EC) in April called for the ruling party to be abolished over the accusations, as well as a separate case alleging an undeclared political donation.


The call coincided with the country’s worst political violence in decades, which ultimately left 91 people dead and almost 1,900 wounded in a series of street clashes between opposition protesters and armed troops.


The Democrats are accused of paying 23 million baht to advertising firms, despite only having permission to spend 19 million on billboard marketing.


Abhisit has rejected accusations that a member of his party had attempted to influence the judiciary over the case.


The opposition’s allegations that a Democrat lawmaker met an aide of a Constitutional Court judge ahead of the hearing — and was captured on video — were splashed on the front pages of local media Monday.


Judicial rulings have played a pivotal role in shaping Thailand’s political landscape in the past.


The Democrats came to power two years ago after court decisions ousted allies of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was himself unseated in a 2006 military coup.


Two premiers were forced from office by the judiciary in 2008 — one of whom, Samak Sundaravej, was removed for taking payments for hosting TV cooking shows.


Uncertainty over the government comes at a difficult stage for the country, which remains bitterly torn in the wake of deadly opposition protests by the opposition “Red Shirt” movement.


The Reds accuse Abhisit’s government of being undemocratic because it came to power with army backing in a parliamentary vote after the controversial court rulings, and their protests have called for immediate elections.


Some observers questioned whether Abhisit’s backers in the military and Bangkok-based elite would allow the Democrats to be toppled.


Former Thai diplomat Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an author and fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said he did not believe the party would be disbanded.


However, he said one potential motive for dissolution would be as a gesture to the Reds to rebuff allegations of double standards in the legal system.


Pavin said “even then, they will have a plan B”, with rumours that a new party would swiftly rise from the ashes of the old.

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Source: SGGP

US lifts Gulf of Mexico deepwater drilling ban

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2010 at 8:10 am

The United States lifted a ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico imposed after the BP oil spill, but set operators tough new safety conditions, officials said.


“We have decided it is now appropriate to lift the suspension on deepwater drilling for those operators that are able to clear the higher bar that we have set” for safety, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.


President Barack Obama ordered a six-month freeze on deepwater offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after a blowout on the BP Deepwater Horizon undersea well that killed 11 rig workers and sparked the worst oil disaster in US history.


The moratorium was due to expire at the end of next month.

Oil rigs are seen in the Gulf of Mexico in August 2010.

The new rules, which were laid out by the Interior Department two weeks ago, toughen up companies’ obligations on drilling and workplace safety, well containment and spill response, said Salazar.


Key among the tough new rules is an obligation for the CEO of any company wishing to drill in deep water to “certify that the rig has complied with all new and existing rules,” he said.


Executives from the companies involved in the BP-leased well that blew out have blamed each other for the accident which happened some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coast of Louisiana.


But even if the moratorium was being lifted, deepwater drilling was not expected to resume soon, said Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM).


Oil and gas companies need time to implement the new rules and draw up applications for offshore leases “and it will obviously take us time to review those applications and do due diligence,” said Bromwich.


American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard welcomed the lifting of the drilling ban but worried that “a de facto moratorium could be created by delays in the processing and approval of permits, which will reduce production, government revenues and American jobs.”


Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, where residents were hard hit by the moratorium on drilling, was relieved that the ban had been lifted, but voiced concern that a slow-moving permitting process would end up smothering the local oil and gas industry.


We hope that the new regulations and new policies will make drilling safer for both the people working offshore and the environment in the future.


“At the same time, we hope the regulations will not delay the permitting process for deepwater or other drilling, which ends up smothering the industry,” Nungesser said.


Republican Congressman Darrell Issa also urged the government to “avoid a de facto moratorium-by-regulatory-delay … that would be just as damaging to the Gulf economy as a blanket moratorium.”


A study in July estimated that a six-month moratorium would cost more than 8,000 jobs in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas and wipe out nearly 2.1 billion dollars in economic activity in the Gulf states.


Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, who has called the moratorium a “reckless” move that endangered the environment and jobs, welcomed Tuesday’s announcement as “a step in the right direction.”


“But it must be accompanied by an action plan to get the entire industry in the Gulf of Mexico back to work,” including an acceleration of the permitting process, she added.


Environmental groups, meanwhile, said the ban had been lifted too soon.

“Scientists haven’t even assessed the full ecological impact of the BP disaster and yet the government is in a rush to allow oil companies to get back to drilling. It is irresponsible to say the least, reckless at worst,” said Greenpeace USA director Phil Radford.

Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the moratorium should have stayed in place.

“To ensure a disaster like this never happens again, we must know what caused it in the first place. We?re still waiting for that answer and until we get it, the moratorium should remain in place,” he said.

The Sierra Club said the moratorium had been only a temporary fix, and the real solution was to wean the United States off oil.

“The only way to make sure we don?t see another drilling disaster is to end our dependence on oil,” said Sierra Club president Michael Brune.

“The BP disaster was a wake up call, but our leaders keep hitting the snooze button,” he said.

Source: SGGP

UAE ban on BlackBerry data a security badge of honor

In Uncategorized on August 4, 2010 at 7:20 am

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 3, 2010 (AFP) – Security experts said Tuesday that banning BlackBerry data service in the United Arab Emirates smacks of political backlash and could be a testament to how hard it is to snoop on that network.


“The BlackBerry security model is very different from other phones,” said Kevin Mahaffey of Lookout mobile security firm.


“It is end-to-end and the encryption is so strong nobody knows how to monitor it.”

A user tries out the new Blackberry Torch 9800 smartphone after it was unveiled at a news conference August 3, 2010 in New York City. AFP

Canada-based Research In Motion built its own platform for business customers that encrypts BlackBerry email messages and routes them in a way that keeps the data off limits from even telecom firms that carry the transmissions.


“They have such good security that I think some countries are uncomfortable with the fact that they can’t intercept it,” said Lookout chief executive John Hering.


While iPhones have been all the rage with smartphones users thrilled by games, social networking, video watching and other casual uses, BlackBerry has remained a favorite for business people craving secure wireless communications.


BlackBerry smartphones can be hard targets for countries that do electronic snooping in the name of national security.


RIM on Tuesday denied allegations it had offered some governments access to customers’ data and not others, as it faced a ban in two Gulf States and India.


The UAE has said that BlackBerry services including messenger, web browsing and email will be suspended because they “allow individuals to commit violations” that the country cannot monitor.


People who use BlackBerry handsets as personal smartphones don’t enjoy the same protections as companies that contract with RIM to deploy the devices to employees.


BlackBerry security is designed to let business users “transmit information wirelessly while also providing them with the necessary confidence that no one, including RIM, could access their data,” according to RIM.


RIM uses a special layer of coding to shield email as it is routed to the company’s servers and then on to intended recipients, according to Mahaffey.


BlackBerry also uses encrypted validation to identify handsets connecting to the network, according to Peter Beardmore of Russia-based computer security firm Kaspersky Lab.


“BlackBerry is a more highly secured device,” Beardmore said.


“There are a wide variety of services available through the BlackBerry network that you are going to be hard pressed to find in other services.”


Typical smartphones route email through telecom service providers, which can intercept data for governments.


Text messages, voice calls, and Internet browsing activity are up for grabs on all smartphones because telecom service providers can see that activity, said Nicholas Percoco, vice president of SpiderLabs at Trustwave Information Security firm.


Online purchases, banking and other financial dealings should be protected by encryption that is standard practice for such transactions.


Percoco wondered whether the move against BlackBerry in the UAE was political backlash.


Two years ago, RIM charged that an update issued by UAE’s largest telecom service provider, Etisalat, was actually spyware, and that it enabled unauthorized access to information stored on users’ smartphones.


Microsoft makes ActiveSync software for businesses that can encrypt email sent with iPhone, Android, or Windows smartphones, Percoco noted.


Secure, encrypted connections can be made wirelessly from laptops with the help of VPN software from Cisco. Good Technology sells software to protect messages on mobile phones.


“This whole thing may not be security charged, it may be politically charged,” Percoco said.


“From a security standpoint, it doesn’t really jibe,” he continued. “It looks like basically RIM wouldn’t let them put a bugging device in the phone.”

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Source: SGGP

HCM City urges online game ban

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 at 3:16 pm




HCM City urges online game ban


QĐND – Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 21:0 (GMT+7)

The HCM City People’s Committee has asked the Government to ban online game imports and advertisements nationwide in an attempt to crack down on games that contain violent content.


“The committee proposes that online games not be allowed to develop because of their negative influence on youth,” writes committee chairman Le Hoang Quan in a letter sent to the Government.


He also asked the Ministry of Information and Communications to create criteria for a rating system that would be based on the games’ content, including violence, gambling or pornography.


Companies producing the online games that are allowed to be used would have to submit a social impact assessment to the appropriate authority.


In order to divert youth’s attention away from online games, the city also recommends that all adverts related to online games be banned, similar to the ban on tobacco and alcohol adverts.


The city also recommends that gamers not be allowed to play from 11 pm to 6am every day.


Under the proposal, gamers, like mobile phone subscribers, would be required to submit personal information declaration and registration.


They would only be allowed to play three hours a day, which could be managed and controlled through internet service providers.


Quan also suggested that cities with a high proportion of gamers be permitted to independently investigate and make decisions on online game content and services.


Source: VNA


Source: QDND

German cabinet expands naked short selling ban

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2010 at 2:08 am

BERLIN (AFP) – Germany’s cabinet on Wednesday approved a draft law expanding a ban on naked short selling which angered its international partners to include all stocks traded in Germany, officials told AFP.


The ban “concerns securities that are registered on a regulated German market,” a finance ministry spokesman said.

A trader is seen at Germany’s stock exchange in Frankfurt. AFP photo

It also encompasses certain trades on currencies that are not used for hedging purposes, although this can be implemented in times of crisis, not as a permanent measure — a slight watering-down of the original proposals.


A previous version of the draft law had envisaged a complete ban on short selling currency derivatives.


Last month, Germany rocked its European partners and roiled markets worldwide by unveiling, out of the blue, a ban on naked short selling of sovereign bonds and credit default swaps.


The surprise move, by Germany’s financial regulator, was introduced unilaterally and without informing other G20 countries.


Naked short selling is effectively a bet that a certain stock or government bond will go down on the markets. But unlike conventional short selling, a trader does not even borrow the stock or bond before it is traded.


The practice came under fire as the Greek debt crisis escalated. Many analysts said that such trades artificially inflated Greece’s funding costs.


Critics of the practice also say it can create highly damaging volatility on financial markets.


However, most short selling takes place in London and it is not a common practice in Germany.


Defending the ban at the time, Berlin said it wished to “send out a clear signal to the markets that we want to act where we are able to … in order to tackle excessive speculation.”


The draft bill now passes to the German parliament, where Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a clear majority. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was due to hold a news conference at 11:30 am (0930 GMT).

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Source: SGGP

Ban on sewage needed to keep most lakes clean

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2010 at 5:11 pm




Ban on sewage needed to keep most lakes clean


QĐND – Friday, May 21, 2010, 21:7 (GMT+7)

The Hanoi Committee has announced that the second phase of a mass clean up of the city’s lakes will start later this month.


“Most of the lakes have varying levels of pollution,” said Ngo Thai Nam, deputy director of the Hanoi Environment Protection Department (EPD).


Waste water and algae are just two of the problems currently affecting the nine lakes that have been earmarked for treatment in the phase including Giang Vo, Van Chuong, Thien Quang, Nghia Tan, Van Quan, Ho Vo, Den Lu, Giap Bat and Ao Lam Du.


Pollution has become a big problem for people living by the lakes. In March this year, local citizens were subjected to the smell of rotting dead fish in Truc Bach.


An investigation by the EPD showed that the fish died due to seriously polluted water and tens of other lakes were affected by the same problem.


To date, 65 lakes in Hanoi remain to be dredged and cleaned, but there are no plans for operations at 33 others, including Thuy Su, Kim Lien and Me Tri.


The project started in September 2009 with a total investment of VND2.6 trillion (136.8 million USD). It is planned to finish in September this year. In the first phase, 46 lakes were treated and the quality of water improved.


“Water quality is getting better but sometimes it is only a temporary fix. In some cases, the problems return due to a lack of preservation,” said Nguyen Le, general director of the Hanoi Water Drainage Company.


Professor Vu Hoan, chairman of the Union of Science and Technology Associations said that the city had tried a number of treatment techniques but the pollution still returned.


Nguyen Van Luong, director of the Hanoi EPD, said the best way to solve the problem was to ban the release of all untreated sewage into the city’s lakes.


“Comprehensive management of the lakes is needed but this is complicated at the moment as it involves local authorities, co-operatives and individuals,” he said.


Educating local people on how to protect the environment was also an important task, Luong added.


There are several waste water treatment facilities, but they do not have the capacity to deal with the city’s waste.


Source: VNA


Source: QDND

Ban Ve Hydro-power Plant joins national grid

In Uncategorized on May 20, 2010 at 5:09 pm




Ban Ve Hydro-power Plant joins national grid


QĐND – Thursday, May 20, 2010, 21:1 (GMT+7)

PANO – Electricity produced from Ban Ve Hydro-power Plant was merged into the national grid on May 19th serving as an effective contribution of Nghe An Province to mark the 120th anniversary of birth of the late President Ho Chi Minh.


In the first phase, the only two generating groups, No1 and No2 are operating with the capacity of 100MW and 90MW, respectively. Total capacity of this VND 6,740 billion power plant is 320 MW.


Ban Ve Hydro-power Electric Plant provides not only electricity for domestic consumption but also supplies electricity to Laos. Besides, power supply, the plant also servers as a water reservoir for irrigation and for local people’s domestic use.


Translated by Hoang Anh


Source: QDND

Unchecked toys remain on market after ministry ban

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 at 4:14 pm




Unchecked toys remain on market after ministry ban


QĐND – Thursday, April 22, 2010, 21:42 (GMT+7)

Many toys without safety labels remain on the market although the Ministry of Science and Technology banned such items on April 15.


Hoang Lam, deputy director of the Quality Assurance and Testing Centre No 3 (Quatest 3), said toys must be tested for aromatic amine, formaldehyde, pH level, physical safety, and poisonous content on paint, fabric, plastic and metal.


Trusted agencies for tests are Quatest 1, 2, 3 and Standard Approval Centre (Quacert).


“Toys for kids under 16 years old have to be checked and labeled safe before they come to market,” said Tran Tuyet Nhung, deputy director of the Assessment Department under the General Department of Standards, Measurement and Quality.


But toyshops in HCM City and Hanoi are full of unchecked items that can be seen at Tan Dinh and Binh Tay markets, shops on Phan Dinh Phung street in HCM City , or Hanoi ’s Hang Ma, Cha Ca, Luong Van Can streets.


Nguyen Truong Son, deputy head of Hanoi ’s Market Watch Division 2, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that his division had not seen any of the new labels, which were supposed to be issued by the ministry.


HCM City Market Watch Division is currently carrying out checks on toys. About 90 percent of the toys are of Chinese origin, with no information or instructions in the Vietnamese language, the division said.


Lam said it would take a long time to conduct inspections on items imported to the country before April 15. “Distributors of toys are reluctant to send goods to testing agencies for tests as well,” he said.


Nhung said there were still no labels on goods from exporters and distributors.


Source: VNA


Source: QDND