Mayhem in Narayanganj

Mayhem in Narayanganj

Narayanganj city Mayor Selina Hayat Ivy and around 50 others were injured as supporters of local Awami League lawmaker Shamim Osman attacked Ivy and her followers, leading to a clash on Bangabandhu Road in Narayanganj's Chashara.

The entire area turned into a battlefield as the followers of the two leaders got locked in chase and counter-chase.

There had been tension in the city over the last few days as Osman took a stance against the mayor's decision to evict illegal hawkers from footpaths, locals said.

At a rally on Monday afternoon, the AL lawmaker said the hawkers could not be evicted until they are rehabilitated, and that they would do business on footpaths from 5:00pm to 10:00pm on Tuesdays till February 21.

Ivy, meanwhile, declared that she would not allow hawkers to occupy footpaths.

Around 4:15pm yesterday, Ivy along with city councillors and her followers took position in front of the Nagar Bhaban. They then marched in procession towards Chashara where several groups of hawkers had already taken position.

When the procession reached Sayam Plaza in the area around 4:30pm, some of Ivy's followers tried to evict hawkers from the footpaths, leading to an altercation.

As the two sides got involved in a scuffle, Jubo League leader Niazul Islam, who is loyal to Osman, came forward and threatened Ivy's supporters brandishing a firearm.

At this, Ivy's supporters got agitated and roughed him up, said locals.

Minutes later, Awami Swechchhasebak League city unit President Jewel Hossain, also loyal to Osman, arrived at the scene and Ivy's supporters also beat him up.

When local AL leaders and activists -- loyal to the AL MP -- arrived at the scene, the hawkers joined them. They then attacked Ivy and her followers, leading to chase and counter-chase.

Brickbats hurled by Osman's supporters and hawkers hit Ivy's leg. Her supporters shielded her and took her to Narayanganj Press Club.

Narayanganj Press Club Secretary Sharifuddin Sabuj was also injured during the clash.

Gunshots were heard and some were seen brandishing firearms at that time. Panicked pedestrians ran for cover and shopkeepers shuttered their outlets, locals said.

Later, police swung into action, fired blank shots and charged baton. The law enforcers eventually brought the situation under control.

When Osman's followers gathered in front of Haque Plaza, about 200 yards from Sayam Plaza, around 5:00pm, the AL lawmaker came out of the Rifles Club and addressed them.

He alleged that shots were fired at his leaders and workers, leaving many of them wounded.

We did not take the law into our own hands,” he claimed.

At a press briefing at Narayanganj Press Club in the evening, Ivy said, “We were attacked without any provocation. From the Rifles Club, Shamim Osman gave the order to shoot. His men fired shots one after another.

He launched the attack on innocent people with the help of the administration. I demand withdrawal of the deputy commissioner and the superintendent of      police.

She said Jubo League leader Niazul, who was spotted brandishing a firearm, is Osman's follower.

Talking to a private TV channel, Osman refuted the allegations against him.

He, however, said he knows Niazul, who is the owner of a big market.

Even though he was seen brandishing a pistol, it is to be ascertained whether he fired any shot or not,” he added.

Niazul, a resident of the city's Chadmari area, worked as a contactor from 1996 to 2001.

According to police, he had been accused in a case over the murder of a local BNP leader in 1988. But the case was withdrawn later.

Niazul, who introduces himself as a Jubo League leader, is brother of Jubo League activist Nazrul Islam alias Sweet, who was killed in a shootout with law enforcers.

Asked about Ivy's allegation, Narayanganj Additional Superintendent of Police (administration) Mohammad Mostafizur Rahman said, “We did not take any sides. We tried to prevent the feuding groups from attacking one another. We performed our duties”.

The situation is normal now. Some police personnel were also wounded during the clash,” he added.

Of the injured, at least five were sent to Dhaka Medical College Hospital in a critical condition. Thirty others were treated at Narayanganj General Hospital, said Asaduzzaman, medical officer at the hospital.

Meanwhile, Narayanganj Union of Journalists and Narayanganj Press Club said they would stage a demonstration in the city this morning, protesting the attack on the press club secretary.

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No job for China Harbour in future

No job for China Harbour in future

Finance Minister AMA Muhith yesterday said China Harbour Engineering Company Limited has been blacklisted for offering bribes to government officials and would not get any contracts in the future.

The government will take a decision about the ongoing projects where the Chinese company is involved, he said.

The company had previously got the contract for expansion of the Dhaka-Sylhet Highway.

Muhith was talking to journalists at his secretariat office.

Replying to a question on whether the company was blacklisted, Muhith said, “Blacklisted. Of course.

Queried on whether China Harbour will be able to do other works in Bangladesh, he replied, “No, No. They can't.

Regarding other projects the company is involved in, the finance minister said, “Let's see what can be done. Normal rule is blacklisted means blacklisted.

When asked whether the company offered bribes to government officials to get the contract or to increase amount for work, he said, “They have already got the contract. I think [they offered bribe] only to please [officials] so that they [company] can misappropriate money.

About punishing the officials who were given the bribe, he said, “No, certainly not. Because, they [the company] offered it to the secretary and the secretary gave it to us.

When asked who the secretary is, he replied, “Communication [road transport and bridges ministry] secretary.

Queried about the amount of bribe, the finance minister said, “I forgot the amount. Maybe 50 lakh. He, however, did not mention the currency used.

He also said they were proud of the secretary for his actions.

Contacted, MAN Siddique, who went on leave preparatory to retirement (LPR) as the secretary of Road Transport and Bridges Division last October, said: “This incident did not happen during this tenure. It may [have] happened later.

Declining to give any more details, Siddique said, “You better talk to the incumbent secretary.

The Daily Star could not reach incumbent Secretary Nazrul Islam even after sending texts.

However, sources at the road transport and bridges ministry said China Harbour gave the bribe money “as a gift” to the newly appointed secretary of the ministry in November last year.

The secretary did not receive the money, and the ministry later sent it to the Chinese embassy in Dhaka with a letter, they added.

On Monday, the finance minister had said: “[The expansion of] Dhaka-Sylhet Highway, somehow, we had to drop it. Because, the party who got the contract, they came up, in the very beginning, with offer of bribe, open bribe.

So, we gave the money, which they gave to some of our officials, back to the Chinese embassy and naturally blacklisted the company. The government decided to fund the expansion work of the 226km Dhaka-Sylhet road to a four-lane highway on its own, Muhith said.

Bangladesh and China signed a memorandum of understanding during the Chinese president's visit to Bangladesh in 2016.

Under the deal, China had promised to give soft loans of $21. 5 billion for 26 projects, including the Dhaka-Sylhet four-lane highway project.

China also selected China Harbour Engineering Company Limited for the project and asked Bangladesh to sign a commercial contract with the company.

Soon, the negotiation process started between the company and the Roads and Highways Department (RHD), finance ministry sources said.

Bangladesh estimated Tk 10,000 crore as the cost of the project, but China Harbour demanded near about Tk 20,000 crore, they said.

The Bangladesh government planned to sign loan agreements for eight of the 26 projects with China's Exim Bank within 2017. This project was one of them, but the loan agreement for it was not signed, sources added.

Earlier, the government on October 9, 2016, signed a primary deal with China Harbour. RHD Chief Engineer Ibne Alam Hasan and the company's Vice-President Tang Qiaoliang inked the agreement at a hotel in Dhaka.

On September 21, 2016, the cabinet committee on economic affairs approved RHD's proposal, allowing China Harbour to carry out the project.

China Harbour is one of the few Chinese companies to establish good relations with some local firms and government officials.

Arriving in Bangladesh in early 1990s, this firm now uses its local connections to get projects. It even has the ability to increase costs in the middle of a project's implementation, some contractors and sources in RHD told The Daily Star.

They [China Harbour and their local agents] are smart and well-connected. They can easily reach a minister or an influential figure in the government in a bid to get contracts,” said the owner of one of the country's largest construction firms, requesting anonymity.

He said agents of the companies regularly visit ministries and meet officials. You can also find them at the RHD office, trying to woo officials.

Allegation of bribing Bangladeshi influential people is not new about the Chinese company.

The company had earlier bribed Arafat Rahman Koko, younger son of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, and Ismail Hossain Saimon, son of former shipping minister late Akbar Hossain, to get the construction work of the New Mooring Container Terminal at Chittagong port.

The two were awarded six-year jail for laundering the bribe money to Singapore. The Anti-Corruption Commission later brought back the money.

Additional Chief Engineer of RHD Abul Kashem Bhuiyan, who is involved in Dhaka-Sylhet expansion project, denied any malpractice in the project. It is beyond my knowledge. Nothing like that [bribing] happened here. It may happen somewhere else,” he told this newspaper.

Asked about the local agents of China Harbour, he said the firm has local agents whom he did not know.

According to Kashem, the Chinese firm demanded far more money than what RHD had estimated for the expansion work.

We calculated every cost keeping in mind inflation and price escalation of materials, but the company came up with such a rate that was not acceptable,” he explained.

He said local experts, including a teacher from Buet, was involved in the pricing procedure.

RHD Chief Engineer Alam said he was surprised to know about it and declined to comment.

On February 8 last year, the cabinet committee on economic affairs awarded the Chinese company the job of developing an economic and industrial zone for Chinese investors in Chittagong's Anwara.

On December 8, 2016, China Harbour and another Chinese company entered into preliminary agreements with Bangladesh to develop three components of Payra seaport with $510 million.

On September 21 that year, the cabinet committee again selected China Harbour for implementation of another project, which includes construction of a marine drive and a 160km four-lane expressway and land reclamation from Sitakunda to Cox's Bazar.

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Three-wheelers to join ride-hailing bandwagon

Three-wheelers to join ride-hailing bandwagon

They had called a strike demanding a ban on fast-growing ride-hailing services in order to ensure their long-held dominance on the streets and keep competitors at bay. But CNG-run auto-rickshaw drivers are now coming to terms with the changing reality and accepting the technological transformation.

They have started joining a new mobile app platform called "Hellow".

The mode of transport, which has drawn a lot of flak over the years because of high fares and poor customer service, will start using the app from March.

A local software company, Top II, started the test run yesterday. As many as 500 CNG-run auto-rickshaws have so far been registered with the service expected to be launched in a month and a half, said Rakibul Hasan, director marketing of the firm.

The safety of the commuters and government-approved fares would be maintained, he added.

According to the government-set rate, fare for the first two kilometres is Tk 40 while it is Tk 12 for each of the next kilometres. The waiting charge is Tk 2 for every minute.

Commuters have to spend close to double for availing a ride-share service like Uber or Pathao cars. For motorbikes, the fares are more or less similar.

Actually, we are trying to modernise the auto-rickshaw service as its demand is still high despite the ride-hailing services," said Rakibul.

CNG-run auto-rickshaw drivers are often criticised for charging way more than the government-set fares and behaving badly with passengers.

We have addressed these issues and arranged training session for many drivers over the last four months. We want to make it clear that the platform will not have any indecent drivers," Rakibul told The Daily Star.

Leaders of the Auto-rickshaw Workers' Oikya Parishad said the drivers also have understood the challenges and they are now willing to cooperate.

Sometimes, people get scared even at the mention of the words 'CNG driver'. We want this situation to change," said Shakhawat Hossain Dulal, general secretary of the platform.

It will take time but at least we are giving it a try," he said.

Talking to this correspondent, Fathema Khatun, who uses Uber to go to work, said she hopes that the CNG fare would go down significantly if the vehicles are run using any app.

Drivers will share 15 percent of their revenue of each trip with Top II, Rakibul said.

Dulal, however, said they have not yet finalised anything about the issue.

The inception of Pathao and Uber, when launched in 2016, was a much-desired relief for commuters against the “hard to get” auto-rickshaws. is resulted in a drastic drop in CNG auto-rickshaw demand.

Late in November last year, CNG drivers even demonstrated across the capital and the port city demanding withdrawal of the Pathao, Uber and other ride-sharing service.

CNG-run auto-rickshaws started losing customers since ride- sharing services began,” said Rokeya Prachi, communication director of 'Hellow' authorities.

Prachi, who is also a national film award winning actress, said, “Riders were also not comfortable with the auto-rickshaws for many reasons. We have worked on those issues following a survey.

She also said auto-rickshaw drivers will get adequate passengers if their vehicles can be brought under this app-based service and hoped that this will end squabbling over fares.

The app will now come under the “Ride-sharing Service Guidelines 2017” approved by the government yesterday.

Prachi said they also have plans to launch car and motorcycle services through their app, which will be in Bangla.

At a recent press conference, Top II said their service will be available round the clock and the drivers will be bound to go anywhere in the city.

Within a short time we will introduce a customer care service," said Rakibul.

Currently, there are only 13,000 government registered CNG-run auto-rickshaws in the city. The total number of the vehicles is over 25,000.

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3 lakh pieces yaba seized at St Maritn’s Island

3 lakh pieces yaba seized at St Maritn’s Island

Being tipped off that a big consignment of Yaba pills was being taken to St. Martin's Island, members of Coast Guard conducted the drive at the west beach of the island and recovered the contraband pills worth Tk 12 crore, said station commander of St. Martin's Island Coast Guard Lt Jahid Al Hasan.

However, sensing the presence of the law enforcers, the drug peddlers fled the scene, Jahid added.

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'Trump fit for duty, should hit gym'

'Trump fit for duty, should hit gym'

US President Donald Trump passed a test for signs of dementia and is in overall excellent health, but needs to shed weight by cutting calories, fats and carbohydrates and starting a daily exercise routine, the White House physician said on Tuesday.

Trump, who was coy about sharing medical information during his unconventional 2016 run for office, used his first presidential medical exam - conducted on Friday at Walter Reed National Medical Center - to try to put to rest lingering questions about his mental fitness for office.

Trump asked his physician, Dr Ronny Jackson, to add a cognitive screening test to the exam, and authorised him to release a battery of data from the tests.

Trump, 71, is known to enjoy high-fat foods like fried chicken, hamburgers and steak - and, while he plays golf, he does not have a daily exercise routine.

Jackson said Trump is going to try to lose 10 to 15 pounds (4. 5 to 6. 8 kg) by eating better and starting to exercise.

The Navy doctor exhausted reporters’ questions during an unusually lengthy hour-long session, at Trump’s request, and said he did not withhold any information in the interests of privacy.

He said, ‘I want you to get out there and I want you to talk to them and I want you to answer every single question they have,'” Jackson said of Trump.

Trump’s mental fitness for the job had come under intense scrutiny after a recently published, controversial book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” portrayed him as childlike and mercurial.

Past presidents are not known to have been tested for mental acuity while in office - including Ronald Reagan, who five years after leaving the White House in 1989 was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, an incurable, degenerative brain condition.

Jackson, who speaks with Trump a few times a day and travels with him, said he did not think the president needed cognitive testing based on medical guidelines - but added the 30-question Montreal Cognitive Assessment at Trump’s request.

The test looks for signs of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Sample questions include asking the patient to draw a clockface, putting in all of the numbers and setting the clock hands to a specific time. The test does not assess psychiatric fitness.

Trump scored 30 out of 30 on the test, Jackson said. The president is mentally very sharp, very intact,” the doctor said.

Dr Ronald Petersen, an Alzheimer’s expert at the prestigious Mayo Clinic, said he could not comment specifically on the president’s cognitive health. wever, he did say that, in theory, a perfect score on the Montreal test does not necessarily rule out cognitive decline. It is “just one measure in a clinical judgment,” he said in an email.

Trump is considered overweight and borderline obese at 6 feet 3 inches (1. 9 meters) tall and 239 pounds (108 kg). His blood pressure was 122/74, within normal bounds, and his cholesterol was on the high side, Jackson said.

But the physician said Trump’s cardiac health was excellent, noting the president had undergone an exercise stress test, and said he consulted cardiologists about Trump’s coronary calcium score.

Jackson credited the results to genetics. It’s just the way God made him,” he told reporters.

Jackson said he would increase Trump’s daily dose of Crestor, a cholesterol-lowering drug, and bring in a nutritionist to work with White House chefs. The doctor said he would also design a daily exercise program for Trump.

He’s more enthusiastic about the diet part than the exercise part, but we’re going to do both,” Jackson said, adding that he might enlist first lady Melania Trump to help.

Ranit Mishori, an attending physician at Georgetown University-Providence Hospital in Washington, said Trump received more screening and diagnostic tests than are generally recommended for someone at his age and with his medical history.

With his reported eating habits and lack of exercise, it made sense for the White House to “release all of this data to show that . he is in good health,” Mishori said.

Even without red flags from test results, Mishori said it was clear that Trump faces some risks.

He is a male and he is in his 70s and he is overweight, borderline obese, and he has high cholesterol. Those four factors alone put him at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease,” she said.

Mishori disagreed with Jackson’s assessment that Trump would be healthy for the rest of his term and possibly a second four-year term.

This was a bit of a snapshot in time,” she said. I don’t think this can be a definitive sign that he will be in this same state of health for the remainder of his term.

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HC stays by-polls to DNCC

HC stays by-polls to DNCC

Moved by two separate writ petitions, the bench of Justice Naima Haider and Justice Zafar Ahmed stayed the by-polls for three months and issued a rule seeking explanation why the by-election process should not be declared illegal.

Jahangir Alom, chairman of Beraid union parishad, and Ataur Rahman, chairman of Bhatara union parishad, filed the two petitions, challenging the legality of the schedule of the polls to the posts of the mayor and the councillors of 18 new wards under the city corporation.

The stay comes at a time when the Awami League and the BNP have already picked their mayor candidates -- Atiqul Islam and Tabith Awal respectively -- for the by-elections scheduled for February 26. Possible candidates from other parties have already started wooing voters.

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Deconstructing bitcoins: Future of money or a fraud?

Deconstructing bitcoins: Future of money or a fraud?

Bitcoin’s popularity in Asia has had a positive influence on other alternative cryptocurrencies such as ethereum and litecoin. Clearly there is a great demand for such digital money, even though its volatility hurts.

Asia has reacted both warmly and violently to the rising interest and craze in cryptocurrencies.

Asian regulators have either out rightly banned the use of the most popular cryptocurrency – mostly bitcoins – in their respective countries, or issued warnings to people against its pitfalls. pan is the only exception in Asia – having legalised its use last year.

Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan made his millions (US$100 million) in record time and lost them too within a week, the Statesman reported. His example has come in handy to warn those reposing blind faith in the future of cryptocurrency.

On the other hand, Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, who is arguably Asia's richest too, and who transformed India's telecom sector with his Reliance Jio Network is reportedly contemplating floating another version of the cryptocurrency – JioCoin.

What is Bitcoin?

A cryptocurrency is a virtual currency which is encrypted and anonymous, making it secure and hard to track. It has no physical manifestation and exists only as a unique string of numbers and characters in the memory of computers. These currencies are traded on online exchanges only geared towards cryptocurrencies, reports Dawn.

Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency which was started in 2009 by an anonymous group or person who go/goes by the name of Satoshi Nakomoto, who vanished from the online community in 2010.

What makes Bitcoin unique is that unlike conventional currencies, no central bank or government issues cryptocurrencies and it is not legal tender - you cannot use it to pay your taxes for example. Instead the value and volume of transactions all depend on the community that trades in them. Like physical currencies, however, digital currencies are backed by trust. Whereas paper currencies require their users to trust that national state banks will stand by the value invested in them, cryptocurrencies require a more dispersed form of trust - that their algorithm will prevent fraud and in the demand and supply from other users.

Bitcoin can also be used anonymously since unlike credit cards or a bank account, there is no associated address or ID registered with your Bitcoin account -- and this is all part of the appeal of cryptocurrencies. However, Bitcoin isn't as anonymous as its fans and suspicious authorities state -- it can be possibly traced to you through your IP address, service provider or spending patterns for instance.

There are currently 16. 78 million Bitcoins in circulation with a limited number of new Bitcoins added every day. And anyone with a high-powered computer and some know-how can obtain these. Bitcoins are 'mined' by powerful algorithm-crunching computers which 'discover' new bitcoins - essentially the solving of complex mathematical puzzles through computing power. These are, in turn, validated by the 'blockchain' - a virtual grid containing nodes representing users that act as the collective validation system.

Unfortunately, mining Bitcoins requires a lot of electric power. According to the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, 10 US households can be powered for a day by the energy consumed by a single Bitcoin transaction.

What are the risks?

Most financial experts consider cryptocurrencies as highly speculative instruments. This is because they are not backed by any asset or issuer. The valuation of cryptocurrencies is not transparent and there is little information to help consumers gauge the fair value, the Straits Times reported.

At the same time, the prices of cryptocurrencies are highly speculative and can fluctuate greatly within a short period of time.

There is a high risk of a sharp reduction in prices. In the worst-case scenario, the cryptocurrency could be rendered worthless, and investors run the risk of losing all their capital.

Only time will tell if cyrptocurrency is a fraud or our collective future.

Bangladesh Bank has banned the use of Bitcoin by issuing a circular on its website. The circular reads that Bitcoin is not an authorised and legal currency in any other country in the world.

Transaction with this currency may cause a violation of the existing money laundering and terrorist financing regulations," the circular reads.

Besides, these currencies do not conform to Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947, Anti Terrorism Act 2009 and Money Laundering Prevention Act, 2012, the notice adds.

Bangladeshis have been asked to refrain from performing, assisting and advertising all kind of transactions through the virtual currencies like Bitcoin to avoid financial and legal damages.

In India, there are at least 15 bitcoin exchange forums, with the majority being set up over the past two years. According to investigation agencies, with the demand and price of cryptocurrencies on the rise, cyber criminals have found innovative ways to dupe those looking to invest.

Meanwhile, the Indian government has formed a committee to fast track the process of making a law to regulate trade of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoins in the country. India's main concern is to ensure clean money is being used to trade, and to prevent the misuse of cryptocurrencies by terror groups and other anti-national elements.

Amidst this, cryptocurrency dealer Pluto Exchange has announced the launch of India's first mobile application for transacting in virtual currencies.

Other Asian countries have been more harsh.

Bank Indonesia (BI) teamed up with the National Police to prevent transactions using cryptocurrency bitcoin in Bali after the central bank declared it an illegal form of payment in Indonesia, the Jakarta Post reported.

The country has warned against owning, selling and trading in cryptocurrency.

Owning virtual currencies is very risky and inherently speculative," the central bank said in a statement. The digital tokens "are prone to forming asset bubbles and tend to be used as method for money laundering and terrorism funding, so it has the potential to affect financial-system stability and harm the public.

The move highlights the challenge faced by regulators as they seek to manage potential risks from the global cryptocurrency mania while lacking the authority to prohibit its use, Bloomberg reported.

The Pakistan government has outlawed cryptocurrency and the State Bank of Pakistan's official stance is that it does not intend to legalise bitcoins or cryptocurrencies in the future, the Dawn reported.

However, this hasn't stopped an underground exchange of cryptocurrencies from mushrooming in Pakistan. One can trade in bitcoins on websites, Facebook and WhatsApp among other mediums.

The other hurdle for Bitcoin is its volatility. Although initially put forward as an eventual global substitute for sovereign currency, speculation saw its value jump more than 1900 percent in 2017 - at the beginning of the year its value was a mere US$1,000 - only to fall to below US$12,000 and then recover to around US$15,000 in a matter of days in December.

Bitcoin's popularity has had a positive influence on other alternative cryptocurrencies such as ethereum and litecoin and given birth to a whole host of new cryptocurrencies. Clearly there is a great demand for such digital money. Each one has tried to differentiate itself with new features: ZCASH, DASH and Monero lend an extra layer of anonymity, even more than other 'cryptos'.

Then there are cryptocurrencies that are geared towards specific uses. Ripple, for example, has been tailor-made to facilitate banking transactions. Filecoin and Siacoin are meant to focus on monetary exchanges on distributive storage while even the fast-food chain Burger King is coming up with its own cryptocurrency. There even are a few rappers who have issued their own cryptocurrency.

Blockchains, the underlying technology that powers Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, shows more promise on the acceptability and legalisation side.

While some merchants are still hesitant to accept cryptocurrency, one businessman in Sabah has signed and sealed the sale of a piece of land in Sabah's east coast Libaran Island using Bitcoin, the Star has reported.

The deal, worth half a Bitcoin (about RM38,000), was transacted between one of Sabah's top tourism entrepreneurs Alexander Yee and his friend Polycarp Chin.

Malaysia's Second Finance Minister Johari Abdul Ghani said recently that there would be no blanket ban on cryptocurrencies as such action would only curb innovation and creativity in the financial sector.

The Korea Herald quoted a Yonhap report saying nearly 2 million South Koreans are estimated to have used cryptocurrency apps in the past week (Jan 7-15).

A total of 1. 96 million people may have used apps that allow them to handle digital currencies, such as bitcoin and ethereum, last week, up from 140,000 tallied between Oct. 30 and Nov. 5, according to data from WiseApp, an application analytics company.

Cryptocurrencies have rapidly gained popularity in recent weeks among South Korean investors hoping to make quick money, prompting the government to announce a plan to rein in the frenzy over virtual currency in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

Last week, the Ministry of Justice announced that the government is preparing a bill to ban cryptocurrency exchanges at home.

In an opinion piece the Kathmandu Post suggested that instead of banning bitcoins, Nepal could study its underlying technology and could create a blockchain to form a regulated digital currency of its own.

Digital currencies are the future of transactions. Humankind cannot remain reliant upon paper money and metal coins. In an era of science where there are possibilities of colonising and terraforming distant planets, paper money and metal coins could be huge hurdles for humans if they are to be used as modes of transaction for any exchanges. The digital world is in need of digital money," wrote a contributor for the Kathmandu Post.

Unlike China and South Korea, whose regulators have clamped down hard on the cryptocurrency, Japan has welcomed it with open arms.

Bitcoin is recognised as legal tender in the world's third-biggest economy and nearly one third of global bitcoin transactions in December were denominated in yen.

According to various media reports, in April, Japan passed a law recognising bitcoin and other virtual currencies as legal tender while also stressing the need for transparency and financial stability.

The virtual currency bitcoin has recently seen its price skyrocket. A growing number of experts are saying the price increases are a bubble with little real economic foundation that will eventually burst and bring the price crashing down. Individual Japanese bitcoin investors - of whom there seem to be many - should take extra caution in handling the digital currency, the Japan News reported.

The price for 1 bitcoin in January 2017 was about US$1,000, but it rose dramatically during the year, briefly touching a high above US$19,000 in December.

It is difficult to predict how the bitcoin market will fluctuate from now on, but there is no mistaking the fact that it is becoming considerably capricious and unstable.

Prof. Naoyuki Iwashita of Kyoto University told the Japan News: "Whether [the price] goes up more or comes crashing down tomorrow, it won't be surprising. Only God knows.

Investors need to bear this in mind.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has issued two warnings about investing in these currencies in the past five months, the Straits Times reported.

It is also concerned about what are known as initial coin offerings, when digital tokens are offered to investors in much the same way that shares are in a new listing.

The MAS noted last August that if a digital token constitutes a product regulated under Singapore securities laws, then any offer of digital currency must comply with the Securities and Futures Act and the Financial Advisers Act.

Exemptions may be granted if it is a small offer of securities, or if the offer is made only to institutional or accredited investors.

According to a report in the Nation, in Thailand, the bitcoin frenzy is still in the early stage, with a few cases of potential frauds being pursued by the Department of Special Investigation.

In these cases, innocent investors have been lured into investing in bitcoin and other digital units with a promise of lucrative returns. These cases, which are essentially Ponzi money schemes, are illegal under Thai law, even though bitcoin and the like are not outlawed at this stage.

In addition, some Thai establishments, such as coffeeshops and bistros, have offered to accept bitcoin at their own risk due to their perceived trendiness and the entrepreneurs' personal obsessions with the new currencies.

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NKorea to send 230-strong cheering squad to Olympics

NKorea to send 230-strong cheering squad to Olympics

Nuclear-armed Pyongyang agreed last week to send athletes, high-level officials, performers and others to next month's Pyeongchang Games, taking place just 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the peninsula.

Seoul has long sought to proclaim the event a "peace Olympics" in the face of tensions over the North's weapons programmes -- which have seen it subjected to multiple UN Security Council sanctions -- and the discussions represent a marked improvement.

Inter-Korean relations have been strained for almost 10 years," the North's chief delegate Jon Jong-Su said as the meeting started on the southern side of the border truce village of Panmunjom. We hope that ties can open," he added.

Three officials from each side took part and the results will be discussed by both Koreas with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday.

The IOC must approve extra Olympic slots for the North's athletes after they failed to qualify or missed deadlines to register.

An official at Seoul's unification ministry said the North offered to send 230 cheerleaders to the Olympics, and made clear it also intended to take part in the Paralympics in March.

In another meeting on Monday the two reached an agreement over a trip by a 140-member North Korean orchestra to the South to hold concerts in the capital and in Gangneung, one of the Games venues.

The series of talks comes after the North's leader Kim Jong-Un abruptly announced his willingness to take part in Pyeongchang Games, which run from February 9 to 25, in his New Year speech.

The move was seen as a bid to ease searing tensions on the peninsula and was rapidly welcomed by Seoul.

Last year the nuclear-armed North tested missiles capable of reaching its "enemy" the US and Kim traded threats of war with US President Donald Trump.

Following Kim's offer, Seoul last week suggested a unified team in women's ice hockey and a joint appearance at the opening and closing ceremonies.

But the proposal has met a frosty reception in South Korea, where critics accused the government of robbing some of its own ice hockey players of the opportunity to compete at the Olympics for the sake of political purposes.

Tens of thousands have signed dozens of online petitions on the presidency's website urging leader Moon Jae-In to scrap the plan.

Our players trained so hard for years to compete at the Olympics. and a joint team with the North would render such efforts a waste for many of them," said one of the petitions.

Seoul should not force players to "make a sacrifice for the sake of the country", JoongAng Ilbo, a major Seoul daily, said in an editorial on Wednesday, after the team's coach Sarah Murray said her players would suffer as a result of any such move.

I am kind of shocked this happened so close to the Olympics," she said, adding team chemistry would suffer.

South Korea only qualified for the ice hockey tournament as hosts, rather than on merit, and are not seen as medal contenders.

Earlier this week the Yonhap news agency quoted an anonymous sports ministry official as saying there were no plans for unified teams in any other disciplines.

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