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SEOUL, Nov. 18 - Hyundai Asan Corp., the company that pioneered inter-Korean commercial ties, said Tuesday that its loss from the suspension of its North Korea tour programs is estimated at nearly 1 trillion won (US$909 million) over the past six years.

The company said on the eve of the 16th anniversary of starting the tours to Mount Kumgang on North Korea's east coast that it has also been forced to reduce its workforce by up to 73 percent.

Before visits were stopped, the company employed 1,084 people to handle tours to Mount Kumgang and the city of Kaesong, but the staff has been slashed to just 285. Kaesong was the capital of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

The estimate is based on the assumption that some 300,000 tourists would have visited the scenic mountain and seaside resort on an annual basis if the ban was not placed. For Kaesong, Hyundai Asan said the loss in earnings was calculated on the premise that some 100,000 people would have visited the city per year.

Seoul banned all tourists from visiting the isolated country after a North Korean guard shot a South Korean visitor dead in July 2008 at Mount Kumgang. South Korea said the North must formally apologize for the mishap and assure that the tragedy will not occur in the future.

Tourists first started visiting the mountains in November 1998 and by 2008, over 1.93 million made the trip to the North.

"The halt in tourism to the mountain resort has cost the company 809.4 billion won, while losses brought on by a ban on tourism to the ancient city of Kaesong on the west coast, has ballooned to 125.2 billion won with the total reaching 934.7 billion won," the company said. They added that if tours do not resume soon, the loss in earnings will reach the 1 trillion won mark.

The halt in tourism is particularly painful because the company, part of the larger Hyundai Group, invested 226.8 billion won in various facility investments and US$486.69 million to acquire land and operational rights from Pyongyang.

Hyundai Asan said that despite troubles, it has a plan in place that can restart tours in two months, with its top executives still hoping that cross-border relations will improve so operations can resume.

WASHINGTON, Nov 18 - For the fourth consecutive time, Tianhe-2, developed by China's National University of Defense Technology, has retained the top spot as the world's fastest supercomputer, according to a biannual Top 500 list of supercomputers released here on Monday.

The updated list came on the heels of an announcement Friday by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that it will spend 325 million U.S. dollars on building two supercomputers, which will be three to five times faster than Tianhe-2.

Although the United States clearly wants to regain the supercomputing crown from China, Jack Dongarra, professor of the University of Tennessee and Top500 editor, insisted that there is no connection between the two announcements.

"The (U.S.) systems will be operational in 2018. It's just a coincidence," Dongarra wrote in an email to Xinhua, adding that there will be additional announcements to come from the DOE.

And before that, there will be no machine that can dethrone the Chinese supercomputer, he said.

Tianhe-2, which means "Milky Way-2" in Chinese, can operate at 33.86 petaflops per second (Pflop/s), the equivalent of 33,860 quadrillion calculations per second.

The National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou in south China, where Tianhe-2 is installed, is reportedly making an update to increase the system's speed to more than 100 Pflop/s.

Titan, installed at the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, remains the No. 2 system with a performance of 17.59 Pflop/s. Sequoia, installed at the DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is again the No. 3 system with a performance of 17.17 Pflop/s.

Japan's K computer is the No. 4 system with 10.51 Pflop/s, followed by Mira, installed at the DOE's Argonne National Laboratory, which has a performance of 8.59 Pflop/s.

In fact, the top10 list was almost the same as the one published six months ago. The only new entry was at number 10, a 3.57 Pflop/s Cray Storm system installed at an undisclosed U.S. government site.

"These machines in the top10 are very expensive and provide extreme computing power. Perhaps we have enough computing power for the moment and not enough funding for the next generation just now," Dongarra said, noting that the interest and need by science for these systems and more powerful systems will not end.

In terms of overall systems, the United States remains the top country with 231, but this number is down from 233 in June 2014 and down from 265 on the November 2013 list, nearing the country's historical low number on the list.

China still occupies the No. 2 position as a user of supercomputers, ahead of Japan, Britain, France, and Germany. But the number of systems installed in the Chinese mainland has fallen to 61, compared with 76 on the previous list.

The Top500 list is considered one of the most authoritative rankings of the world's supercomputers. It is compiled on the basis of the machines' performance on the Linpack benchmark by experts from the United States and Germany.

BANGKOK, Nov 17 --  The dean of the Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University confirmed today that human body parts in parcels destined for the United States came from the Siriraj Medical Museum. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014 15:31

NESDB projects 1% GDP growth

BANGKOK, Nov 17 -- The Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) projects that the Thai economy will grow by 1 per cent this year and 3.5-4.5 per cent next year as the government is speeding up its investment, the global price of crude oil is declining, and Thai exports are recovering. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014 15:28

Interior Minister wants media to cooperate

BANGKOK, Nov 17 -- Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda asked the mass media to help create a positive atmosphere in the country.

Gen Anupong said he has no problem with any symbolic and peaceful gathering.

BANGKOK, Nov 17 - Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a Pheu Thai Party legal aide, has asked the prime minister to probe the operations of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) relating to its stance on the past sales of assets of bankrupt financial institutions.

CAMERON HIGHLANDS, Nov 17 - No more high rise buildings like hotels or condominiums in Cameron Highlands says Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel.

"A programme to plant one million trees will be activated. We are discussing with the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro Based Industry and Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water. We do not want high rise buildings in Cameron Highlands," he told reporters after meeting non governmental organisations to discuss environmental issues involving Cameron Highlands, here Sunday.

He said one million trees will be planted in Cameron Highlands, especially hill slopes to reduce soil erosion and avoid landslides.

Palanivel said the programme to plant trees would start in stages for over a three-year period with the cooperation of Persatuan Pencinta Alam Malaysia (MNS), Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands (Reach) and Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam (Peka).

He said the ministry would also acquire 11 plots of land along the river banks of Sungai Bertam, Ringlet here, currently owned by individuals, under the Land Acquisition Act 1960, he said.

Palanivel said the land acquisition was to enable works to be carried out in the area, especially to deepen the river, since the government had already allocated RM40 million for the purpose.

Asked about the proposed relocation of residents occupying the river banks and river reserves especially in Lembah Bertam, Ringlet where landslides and mud flood hit the area recently, and the refusal of residents to move to a new area, Palanivel said it was the responsibility of the state government to take the necessary steps.

Meanwhile, the President of Reach, R. Ramakrishnan said land on the highland was not designated for tourism but Cameron Highlands has become a tourist attraction because of the cool weather conditions.

"Development carried in the area is illegal because the issuance of temporary occupation licence (TOL) was freezed in 2007. We need the commitment of the state government and the federal government to save Cameron Highlands," he said.

Ramakrishnan said Reach, MNS and Peka would like to take Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to Cameron Highlands so that he (Muhyiddin) can witness what has happened to the area.

Peka President Sharifah Sabrina Syed Akil said enforcement was either lacking or not being carried out effectively in Cameron Highlands.

"If they have money and machinery, they just do it. There is no proper enforcement action," said Sharifah.

Ramakrishnan and Sharifah Sabrina were also not satisfied with the discussion with Palanivel and a number of government agencies with regard to follow up action after the Ringlet town was hit by landslides and a mud flood when water from a nearby river overflowed after a heavy downpour.

In the incident, five people died and five others were injured while 203 residents from 47 families in Kampung Baru and Bertam Valley were evacuated to the Ringlet community hall.

Monday, 17 November 2014 13:51

S. Korean part-time workers top 2 mln: data

SEOUL, Nov. 17 - The number of part-time workers in South Korea has topped the 2-million mark, data showed Monday, as the government is striving to create more jobs amid concerns that Asia's fourth-largest economy may relapse into a slowdown.

Monday, 17 November 2014 13:50

China to promote Silk Road travel in 2015

SHANGHAI, Nov 17 - China will promote travel to countries along the Silk Road in 2015, according to the latest decision by the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA).

Monday, 17 November 2014 13:47

Tourists flock to shivering North, Northeast

CHIANG RAI, Nov 17 -- As temperatures atop Phu Chi Fah in the northernmost province of Chiang Rai dropped to 14 degree Celsius before dawn Sunday, about 1,000 Thai and foreign tourists braved the chilly weather to see the sun rise and the sea of fog. 

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