24 June 2017 20:17

Barack Obama kicked off a 10-day family holiday in Indonesia that will take in Bali and Jakarta, the city where he spent part of his childhood, officials said Saturday.

The casually dressed former president arrived in Bali with his wife Michelle and their two daughters, a local military commander said.

"They arrived late last night and went straight to the hotel in Ubud," a local military commander, I Gede Widiyana, told AFP.

Obama woke up early and did some exercise in the lush green riverside resort, Widiyana said, but it was not known how the family would spend their time in the quiet and artsy Ubud area.

Next week, the family is slated to depart for Yogyakarta, where they are expected to visit ancient Borobudur temple. They will spend two days there before flying to Jakarta.

Obama spent four years until 1970 as a boy in Jakarta after his divorced mother married an Indonesian. 

Many Indonesians felt a strong bond with Obama because of his exposure to Indonesia and its culture, even making him a two-meter bronze statue that was placed in his former school.

The statue of "Little Barry" — as Obama was known to his Indonesian school friends — depicts the boy Obama dressed in shorts and a T-shirt with a butterfly perched on his hand.

The foreign ministry said Obama's visit to holiday in Indonesia came after several invitations from President Joko Widodo.

While in the capital, Obama will meet Widodo on June 30 and give a speech at an Indonesian diaspora convention the next day.

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Tunggul Kumoro  22 June 2017 16:05

The 44th President of the United States Barack Obama is scheduled to made his first visit to Indonesia since stepping down from the presidency, this Idul Fitri weekend.

Obama, who spent four years of his childhood in Menteng, Central Jakarta, visited Indonesia in 2009 when he was still the President of the US. This time, Obama and his family are planning a trip to Indonesia and visit Jakarta at the invitation of President Joko Widodo. In addition, he reportedly will bring his family on a holiday in Bali.

"There has been a confirmation, he (Obama) will arrive on June 23 afternoon, for a vacation," said Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika in Denpasar, Bali, Wednesday. He added that Obama's arrival in Bali is almost at the same time as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak who comes for similar purpose.

On the other side, Bali Police Chief Ins. Petrus R. Golose has confirmed that the former president of US will roam in the island without a special security from the police.

"There is no particular request (from Obama), the security will remain the same," said Petrus.

Obama reportedly is going to be in Bali for five days before he goes to Jakarta on June 30 and attends the 4th Indonesian Diaspora Congress on July 1 in South Jakarta.

"We don't know yet whether he will be in Nusa Dua, Kuta or in Gianyar," said Udayana Military Commander Maj. Gen. Komaruddin.

Another rumor also revealed by Yogyakarta Department of Communications and Informatics Spokesperson Amiarsi Harwani, saying that Obama will come to Yogyakarta to see Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X. However, there has been no further information confirming the news.

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  22 June 2017 12:23

by Jocelyne Zablit

It's early morning, just after breakfast, and six-year-old Cayley is wide awake, eagerly anticipating her daily dose of cannabis.

The black labrador, tail wagging, laps up the liquid tincture owner Brett Hartmann squirts into her mouth, a remedy he uses morning and evening to help alleviate Cayley's anxiety.

"Ever since I started her on CBD (cannabidiol — a marijuana extract), her separation anxiety has disappeared," says Hartmann, 30, of his pet, a service dog he acquired while in college because he had epilepsy.

Hartmann, who lives near Los Angeles, said he turned to medical marijuana for Cayley after he no longer needed her to accompany him everywhere, having himself overcome his epilepsy with the help of the drug.

"I just allowed her to retire and... I don't think she handled the transition too well," Hartmann, who also has his ageing dachshund on cannabis, said. "But CBD has really helped."

With the multi-billion dollar medical and recreational marijuana industry for humans blossoming in the United States, so is a new customer base — animals.

"We are seeing about 20 percent growth every single month," said Alison Ettel, founder of Treat Well, a company in California that specializes in non-psychoactive medical cannabis products for animals and humans.

Treating thousands of animals

She said owners of animals — from dogs, cats, lizards, turtles, alpacas, horses to farm animals — are increasingly turning to cannabis to help treat ailments ranging from cancer and heart murmurs to arthritis and ear infections.

And the feedback, Ettel says, is more than encouraging.

"We probably get at least one to five cancer patients a day and the results we're seeing are just blowing my mind," she said, claiming the drug can help improve life expectancy.

When she started in the business about a decade ago, Ettel said she would treat about 20 animals a year, mostly dogs.

Today, with medical marijuana legalized in 29 states — plus the District of Columbia — the number of four-legged patients has skyrocketed.

"Now we are treating thousands of animals," she said.

But despite the rush to cash in on the booming industry, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level and marijuana laws on the state level don't apply to pets.

That has translated into pet owners having to get a marijuana card for themselves in order to purchase cannabis for their pups, as veterinarians are barred from prescribing marijuana.

The legal grey area and the lack of substantial studies on the effect of cannabis for pets also means that owners and dispensaries have had to tread carefully on dosages.

"We start very very low and very very slow to try and find the appropriate dose," said Melinda Hayes, founder of Sweet Leaf Shoppe, a medical cannabis delivery service.

"The last thing you want to do is for your dog or pet to be uncomfortable."

Does it really work?

Proponents say the advantage of cannabis for ailing pets as opposed to painkillers or other traditional drugs is that when properly used, it has no known serious side effects.

"Other medicines can take a toll on an animal's kidney, liver and other organs," Hayes said.

Another advantage, she added, was the lower cost of medical cannabis compared to some medication.

Veterinarians are cautioning against viewing cannabis as a miracle drug.

"There are no studies on dogs or cats, much less guinea pigs or other species, so I don't know what the potential benefits could be, if any," said Ken Pawlowski, a veterinarian and head of the California Veterinary Medical Association.

While a pet may feel better after ingesting medical marijuana, he warned that did not mean its illness was gone.

"Is the underlying disease actually being treated or is it getting worse?" Pawlowski said. "The dog can feel better because it's high and actual known therapy that could help could be overlooked."

But pet owners like Hartmann are undeterred, while acknowledging that people need to be better educated on how to use the drug.

"We have so many success stories," said Hartmann, who works as a cannabis consultant. "For the longest time I was anti-cannabis and was not a proponent of it until I started using it for my epilepsy. It helped me restore my body and it totally makes sense to use it for my dogs."

"I have people who roll their eyes all the time and I say 'You're just going to have to see it to believe it.'"

Agence France-Presse

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  21 June 2017 12:04

by Kiki Siregar

Hulking excavators claw at riverbanks on Sumatra island in the hunt for gold, transforming what was once a rural idyll into a scarred, pitted moonscape.

It is one of a huge number of illegal gold mines that have sprung up across the resource-rich archipelago as the price of the precious metal has soared, luring people in rural areas to give up jobs in traditional industries.

Now authorities in Jambi province, which has one of the biggest concentrations of illegal mining sites in Indonesia, have started a determined fightback, combining a crackdown with attempts at regulation.

Declines in the price of rubber, which provided a livelihood for many in the area who had worked on plantations tapping the commodity, has driven many locals to more lucrative — and dangerous — gold mining.

Iwan, a 43-year-old who works at an illegal site by the Tabir river, left his job on a rubber plantation to become a gold miner two years ago but said life was still difficult.

"This year has been tough because there are days when we don't find any gold," the miner, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP.

"But it's still better than being a rubber farmer because rubber is very cheap nowadays."

The illicit industry in Jambi started off in a handful of places with small-time prospectors panning for gold, but has exploded to about 100 sites in recent years.

With authorities apparently doing little to stop the boom in its early years, miners became increasingly bold and began openly using excavators. 

Mining in the province is usually carried out at open sites next to rivers, where workers dig shallow pits in the hunt for gold deposits that typically build up next to waterways. 

Miners' lives at risk

In Jambi, the wildlife-filled jungles have been degraded by the expansion of mines and plantations to devastating effect. 

But it is not just the environment that is suffering, miners are putting their lives at risk.

Burning mercury mixed with raw ore to extract gold is common, but can cause serious neurological damage. Miners sometimes develop problems such as tremors and persistent coughing from inhaling the fumes.

In recent months, authorities have stepped up their fight back. 

Police have raided mines, authorities have initiated programs to offer training in farming techniques in a bid to lure workers away from prospecting, and have appointed village heads who are firmly against the practice. 

But officials quickly realized that cracking down alone was not the solution. They are also taking steps to regulate the industry by offering would-be miners a route to working legally.

Under a plan introduced by the local government in December, individual miners and small groups can apply to open up a pit in a "People's Mining Area". 

Workers can mine in an approved area after obtaining a permit, said Karel Ibnu Suratno, a senior official from the Jambi government.

He said authorities would be able to oversee the work, meaning that environmental damage would be limited, and local government coffers would get a boost as miners would have to pay tax on the gold they find.

The scheme "is meant to improve people's lives" by ensuring the miners themselves get the profits, rather than the wealthy individuals providing financial backing for the sites who usually remain in the shadows, said Suratno.

"Most of them don't earn much but mining is the only source of income they have," he added.

'All I can do'

The government is facing an uphill struggle to clamp down on the industry however. Since the introduction of the "People's Mining Area" initiative, only one area has successfully applied for a permit.

Authorities have sometimes faced retaliation when they attempt to crack down.

After some people allegedly involved in trading illegally-mined gold were arrested in Jambi last year, the local police station was set on fire in a suspected revenge attack.

Activists believe that going after the miners themselves does not really tackle the root cause of the problem, and authorities need to catch the wealthy financiers.

"It's hard to stop illegal mining here as long as the people who finance it are not known, and have not been caught," said a local environmental activist, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

But campaigners say perhaps the biggest challenge is that so many in an area with few employment opportunities have come to rely on illegal gold mining.

"This is all I can do to earn a living," said miner Iwan.

Agence France-Presse

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  21 June 2017 10:30

NASA revealed Monday 10 new rocky, Earth-sized planets that could potentially have liquid water and support life.

The Kepler mission team released a survey of 219 potential exoplanets — planets outside of our solar system — that had been detected by the space observatory launched in 2009 to scan the Milky Way galaxy.

Ten of the new discoveries were orbiting their suns at a distance similar to Earth's orbit around the sun, the so-called habitable zone that could potentially have liquid water and sustain life.

Kepler has already discovered 4,034 potential exoplanets, 2,335 of which have been confirmed by other telescopes as actual planets.

The 10 new Earth-size planets bring the total to 50 that exist in habitable zones around the galaxy.

"This carefully-measured catalog is the foundation for directly answering one of astronomy's most compelling questions -- how many planets like our Earth are in the galaxy?" said Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist and lead author of the latest study.

The latest findings were released at the Fourth Kepler and K2 science conference being held this week at NASA's Ames research center in California.

The Kepler telescope detects the presence of planets by registering minuscule drops in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it, a movement known as a transit.

The findings were compiled from data gathered during the first four years of the mission, which scientists processed to determine the size and composition of the planets observed.

The scientists found that the newly discovered planets tended to fall into two distinct categories — smaller, rocky planets that are usually around 75 percent bigger than Earth, and much larger, gaseous planets similar in size to Neptune.

NASA said the latest catalog is the most complete and detailed survey of potential exoplanets yet compiled. The telescope has studied some 150,000 stars in the Cygnus constellation, a survey which NASA said is now complete.

“The Kepler data set is unique, as it is the only one containing a population of these near Earth-analogs — planets with roughly the same size and orbit as Earth,” said Mario Perez of NASA's Astrophysics Division. “Understanding their frequency in the galaxy will help inform the design of future NASA missions to directly image another Earth.”

The mission ran into technical problems in 2013 when mechanisms used to turn the spacecraft failed, but the telescope has continued searching for potentially habitable planets as part of its K2 project.

As of next year, NASA will continue its scan of the galaxy using Kepler's successor, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which will spend two years observing the 200,000 brightest nearby stars for Earth-like worlds.

Scientists also hope the James Webb Space telescope, which will replace the Hubble telescope in 2018, will be able to detect the molecular make-up of atmospheres of exoplanets, including the possibility of finding signatures of potential life forms. 

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  20 June 2017 09:46

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines began joint naval patrols in their region Monday as threats from extremist groups increase.

The "trilateral coordinated maritime patrol" was launched amid continuing battles between Philippine troops and Islamist gunmen loyal to the Islamic State group, who have seized part of the city of Marawi in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Indonesia's military chief Gatot Nurmantyo said the patrols are timely as his country tries to stop any militants from Marawi escaping to Indonesia while posing as refugees.

The three neighbors agreed in May 2016 to conduct the joint patrols and share intelligence, after a series of kidnaps of foreigners by the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamist group based mainly in the southernmost Philippine islands who beheaded several victims after ransoms were not paid.

"The series of piracy attacks accompanied by kidnappings that occurred frequently in the Sulu (Sea) waters have had a huge security impact on surrounding coastal countries ... and have pushed us to conduct a coordinated patrol among three countries," said Nurmantyo when the joint patrol was launched at the Indonesian island of Tarakan off Borneo island.

The three countries also set up maritime command centers — in Tarakan for Indonesia, Tawau for Malaysia and Bongao for the Philippines — to collect information and coordinate the patrols.

This will enable the closest ship from any nation to be sent to answer distress calls and allow for hot pursuit, Nurmantyo said.

The launch was attended by the three countries' defense ministers and marked by an Indonesian navy sail-past and a fly-past of Sukhoi fighter jets.

Agence France-Presse

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  19 June 2017 19:23

Four foreign prisoners have tunneled out of jail in Bali, including an Australian man who was going to be freed within months, police said Monday.

The escape is the latest in a spate of audacious prison breaks in country, where last week dozens of inmates swam out of a facility on another island during a flood. 

An Australian, Bulgarian, Indian and Malaysian are missing from the Bali jail, police said, adding they are believed to have fled when Muslim prisoners were performing the dawn prayer. 

"It seems that they have escaped through a 50 x 75cm hole at the prison's outer wall which have led to their escape," Bali Police spokesman Hengky Widjaja told AFP.

Increased checks in the airport, port and bus terminals are being launched to apprehend the prisoners, who include Australian Shaun Edward Davidson. 

The 33-year-old, who was serving a one year jail term for immigration offences, fled the prison even though he was due to be released in under three months, police said.

He was with Bulgarian Dimitar Nikolov Iliev, who was sentenced to seven years prison for money laundering in 2016, Indian Sayed Mohammed Said and Malaysian Tee Kok King, who were both serving jail terms over Indonesia's tough laws on drugs.

Jailbreaks are common in Indonesia where most prisons are overcrowded.

The escape in Bali comes just days after dozens of inmates swam through flood waters to escape an Indonesian jail in Jambi province after one of its walls collapsed. Most were later recaptured.

Last month, more than 440 inmates fled a jail in Pekanbaru City on the island of Sumatra after prison guards let them out of their cells to pray. Only about half were caught. 

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