KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 29 - AirAsia group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes said the company was still in the dark over what happened to AirAsia Indonesia Flight QZ8501 which went missing Sunday morning.

He told a press conference in Surabaya, Indonesia, the point of departure of the Singapore-bound Airbus A320-200, that the plane was in good condition and had undergone scheduled maintenance in November.

"This is a massive shock to us...unbelievable," said a sombre-looking Fernandes at the media conference which was telecast live over Indonesian television monitored here.

To a question, Fernandes said he did not want to speculate on what happened to the missing plane with 162 people aboard, stressing that "we don't know what went wrong".

The Malaysian aviation magnate said he left it to the search and rescue operation teams to locate the six-year old aircraft, which left Surabaya at 5.35 am but lost contact with Indonesian air traffic control at 7.24 am. It was scheduled to reach Singapore at 8.20 am, all local times.

Those on board comprised 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, a French national and one Briton.

Fernandes said the priority now was looking after the next-of-kin of QZ8501's passengers and crew.

In a series of tweets earlier, he said:

"I, as your group CEO, will be there through these hard times. We will go through this terrible ordeal together."

Fernandes also said he was touched by the massive show of support, especially from fellow airlines.

"This is my worst nightmare," said the entrepreneur as he was making his way to Surabaya "where most of the passengers were from as with my Indonesian management".

Monday, 29 December 2014 15:48

New Year celebrants start leaving Bangkok

BANGKOK, Dec 29 –  Many New Year travellers started leaving the capital by train and bus over the weekend as Hua Lamphong, the capital’s main railway station, and the Mo Chit and southern bus terminal, are doing brisk business. 

BANGKOK, Dec 29 --  The number of Japanese tourists visiting Thailand in 2014 declined considerably in relation to revious years, but Thailand plans to encourage more Japanese to tour this country in the coming year, according to Anek Srichivachart, president of the Thai-Japanese Tourism Promotion Association. 

Monday, 29 December 2014 15:31

PM confident 2015 economy will improve

BANGKOK, Dec 29 -- Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said Sunday his government is speeding solutions to the people's livelihood problems and he is confident that Thailand’s economy will improve in the year ahead. 

NARATHIWAT, Dec 27 --Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered officials and agencies responsible for implementing development projects in the South to accelerating them without delay and severe punishment would be imposed if any projects were found to receive no progress.

Monday, 29 December 2014 15:16

EC "no comment" on election supervision only

BANGKOK, Dec 27 -- Election Commission (EC) chairman Supachai Somcharoen offered “no comment” after the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) proposed that the EC should be responsible only for supervising elections while the Interior and the Education ministries should take joint responsibility in organising election.

Thailand’s car sales in November stood at 73,068 units, a decline of 21.8 percent from the corresponding period of 2013, according to an announcement issued by Toyota Motor Thailand.

Total sedan sales in November were 29,242 units, down 27.7 percent from the same period last year, while sales of vehicles for commercial purpose were at 43,826 units, a decline of 17.4 percent, said the announcement.

It said sales of one-tonne pick-up trucks stood at 35,644 units, down 22.6 percent, due to high household debt, forcing spending by the household sector to slow down as well.

Automobile sales during the first 11 months this year were at 792,328 units, down 34.9 percent year-on-year, according to the announcement.

Car sales are usually high in December every year, but the Consumer Confidence Index in November still retreated due to the public’s worries over global economic uncertainty.

Thailand’s exports and the tourism sectors have not fully recovered and falling purchasing power is also due to the falling prices of agricultural products.

It is likely that car sales this month would remain steady.

Manas Jamveha, director-general of the Comptroller General’s Department, said most of Thailand’s economic growth is derived from upcountry which is worth approximately Bt8.5 trillion, about 70 percent.

The regional economy has grown much more than Bangkok during the past decade, Manas said, adding that this year’s regional economy is projected to grow 2.8 percent, less than last year when it expanded 4.5 percent, due to the declining prices of agricultural products.

The lower northeastern provinces are expected to enjoy highest growth at 3.7 percent in 2014 due to border trade expansion, he said.

It is projected that provinces in the lower North would grow the least at 1.3 percent, said Manas.

He said it is projected that regional economy would grow 4.7 percent during the calendar 2015.

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 27 - The first Malaysia-China Combined Joint Military Exercise "Peace and Friendship 2014", which ended here today (Friday), opened t another important portal in developing interoperability and building confidence between the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) and China's People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the exercise, Malaysia's Joint Forces Commander, Lieutenant General Datuk Seri Ackbal Abd Samad said the current global trends seemed to demonstrate much emphasis on interdependence and cooperation, to achieve promosing results and heighten sustainability.

"Those many man hours spent on exercise created a positive environment for good interection and it greatly enhanced the spirit of togetherness between both members of the armed forces," he said at the MAF Joint Warfare Centre's Auditorium, Kem Haigate.

Ackbal was pleased to note the hard work throughout the exercise, adding that coupled with individual capability and professionalism by both forces, had driven the exercise to great height.

"Images of exercise participants interacting closely and cooperating intimately in this exercise, project picture of unprecedented goodwill and immersed confidence building existed for many days working together," he said.

The five-day exercise, from Dec 22, was designed to enhance regional security and foster cooperation between the two armed forces and the main focus was to share experiences and challenges related to Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Relief (HADR).

The exercise was conducted in Table Top Exercise (TTX) manner with seminar concept which is a formal presentation by MAF and PLA representatives followed by discussions on particular subject matters.

It was also a platform for both countries to discuss on the modules that will be conducted during the Field Training Exercise (FTX) in Exercise Peace and Friendship 2015, which includes module such as HADR, Combined Joint Escort, Combined Joint Search and Rescue (SAR) and Combined Joint Rescue of Hijacked Vessel.

Attending the closing ceremony was China's Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Huikang, Director General, Campaign Training Bureau, Operations Department, General Staff Headquarters, PLA, Senior Colonel Han Lin, Deputy Director General Campaign Training Bureau, Operations Department, General Staff Headquarters, PLA, Senior Captain (Navy) Jiang Ke and senior officers from MAF.

Speaking at the ceremony, China's Deputy Chief, Foreign Affairs Office, Ministry of National Defence, People's Liberation Army, Major General Hu Changming said, the success of the first TTX by the two armed forces, marked the extension of military-to-military cooperation into new areas and a new era of development for the relations of the two armed forces.

"It is the finishing touch to the 40th anniversary celebration of establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Malaysia. It also sets a new starting point for the military-to-military interactions in next year,'he said.

While describing the TTX as "opening a new chapter in our friendly cooperation", Hu attributed the success of TTX as the results from the care and support given by the political leadership as well the military leadership of the two countries.

"This TTX has been valued, invested and supervised by military leaders of the two sides. It is an important programme planned for the year of 2014, an essential part of the 40th anniversary celebration , an effective approach to deepen the practical cooperation between the two armed forces," he said.

SEOUL, Dec 27 -- A local civic group asked the prosecution Friday to look into suspicions that government officials got free upgrades from the country's top airline, Korean Air Lines Co., which is at the center of controversy over an air-rage incident.

Cho Hyun-ah, the eldest daughter of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho, resigned earlier this month after a national uproar over her conduct aboard a Seoul-bound Korean Air flight at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

She ordered the cabin crew chief of the plane that was already on the taxiway to disembark because she was displeased with the way she was served her macadamia nuts -- in an unopened pack instead of on a plate. She chastised the crew for not following the service manual for first-class passengers.

The flight, with some 250 other passengers aboard, had to return to the gate to deplane the purser, causing an 11-minute delay in its arrival at Seoul's main gateway, Incheon International Airport.

The civic group's move came after allegations surfaced that several ranking transportation ministry officials were bumped up to business class regularly for free.

"Such allegations could be interpreted as bribery," People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said in a press release, adding that Korean Air executives suspected of giving such privileges to ministry officials could face breach of trust charges.

The ministry said it will launch an internal inspection into the mounting allegations and will take appropriate disciplinary measures against those who received free upgrades.

Also Friday, a Seoul court issued an arrest warrant for a transport ministry official accused of leaking details of the ministry's investigation into the incident to a Korean Air executive, saying his detention is necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence.

The transport ministry official surnamed Kim, who formerly worked for Korean Air, is suspected of having talked over the phone with the executive surnamed Yeo dozens of times over the three days following the start of the ministry's probe into the incident on Dec. 8.

HANOI, Dec 27 -Senior Chinese and Vietnamese officials agreed in Hanoi on Friday to properly settle the maritime disputes and control their differences through dialogues.

The consensus was reached in a meeting between China's top political advisor Yu Zhengsheng and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

"The maritime issue is highly complicated and sensitive, which requires negotiations to manage and control differences," said Yu, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

"Magaphone diplomacy can only trigger volatility of public opinion, which should be avoided by both sides," said Yu, who is in Hanoi for a three-day official visit.

He proposed both countries to enhance political trust and build consensus, strengthen guidance in public opinion, and promote substantial cooperation in various areas.

"We are ready to beef up coordination with Vietnam, enhance personnel training and media swaps, to lay solid public opinion foundation for the development of China-Vietnam ties," Yu said.

Nguyen Tan Dung, for his part, said Vietnam expects joint efforts with China to properly settle maritime disputes in a candid and friendly spirit, and especially promote substantial progress in their negotiations regarding the maritime demarcation of the bay mouth of Beibu Gulf.

He agreed to treat China in an honest and candid manner, and further facilitate bilateral cooperation in such fields as economy, culture, education and youth exchanges.

Yu is visiting Hanoi from Thursday to Saturday at the invitation of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee and the Fatherland Front of Vietnam.

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