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Girls allowed


Voting age in Indonesia is 17 unless you’re married. Women can marry from the age of 16 but men not until 19, meaning women get a year’s head start.

Me and my motorcade: no. 03

Singh’s wings


In our regular series on how world leaders travel, we look at Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His choices of transport are relatively modest but sport security features that are taken to the extreme.
A white-bearded former economics professor, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the opposite of the brash new Indian. Singh is legendary for his frugality and humility and these traits are visible in the way he would prefer to travel. Though sales of imported luxury cars by Audi, BMW and Mercedes have been growing at 70 to 80 per cent a year during his term, when Singh took office in 2004 he refused to accept the armoured BMW ordered by his predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Singh said he would prefer the indigenous Hindustan Motors Ambassador – modelled on the Morris Oxford and hardly changed since 1957 – though he eventually relented when it was insisted that the car was essential for his security. Similarly, while the number of private jets in India has grown to more than 200, until recently the premier flew in a rickety Boeing 747 borrowed from Air India and refitted with a makeshift cabin. All that changed this summer though, when Singh took possession of three new Boeing Business Jets.

In 2002, the Indian government bought four custom-built BMW 5i sedans to replace the PM Office’s old Hindustan Motors Ambassadors. The PM’s new armour-plated car can withstand a blast from a landmine, is equipped with bulletproof windows capable of repelling high-calibre handgun fire – useful in a country where two prime ministers and as many as a dozen prominent politicians have been assassinated since 1947 – and has a closed-circuit breathing system to protect the occupants from poison gas. It has a top speed of more than 180km/h – as well as 80km/h on flat tyres. The three additional BMWs are used as decoy vehicles.

Singh flies with a massive entourage including office tea-boys, journalists and secret service officers. But travelling with the PM became a more exclusive affair in August, when he acquired three Boeing Business Jets. Singh’s new plane can accommodate up to 48 passengers and he has his own bedroom and an internet-enabled office. Like Air Force One, the plane is equipped with a jammer to thwart enemy radar and infra-red counter measures to defend against missile attacks. Additional fuel tanks and blended winglets for improved fuel economy give the plane a range close to 11,000km and a maximum speed of 890km/h, so Singh can fly to most parts of the world without a stopover. He also has at his disposal the old Air India Boeing 747 and and Embraer 135 Legacy.

When Singh needs to visit locations that aren’t served by a commercial airport, he travels in a Russian-made Mi-17 military helicopter. It can carry up to 32 people, and its 1,545 kilowatt engine and large rotors give it a ceiling of more than 5,500m – essential for trips to the disputed Siachen glacier in Kashmir, where India has been engaged in a 20-year war with Pakistan. It has a top speed of 250 km/h, a range of 950km, and can climb 8m a second.

Blog busters


Bloggers in Malaysia have broken the state’s control of politics, much to the chagrin of the government and its lapdog press. They have opened debate and cleared the way for the return of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (pictured right).

Top three controversial sites:

01 – by Raja Petra Kamarudin, whose blog keeps raking up the muck. He was locked up under internal security laws in September this year for allegedly insulting Islam.
02 – by Jeff Ooi, who won a seat in the March general election thanks to a strong following for his blog.
03 – by Ahirudin Attan, an editor who defected from the state-controlled press.

Proper gander

North Korea

China has announced it will allow citizens to visit the socialist paradise of North Korea from next spring to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Chinese-North Korean diplomatic relations in a year of “Chinese-North Korean Friendship”. People- flow from South Korea, however, has slowed since a tourist was shot at Kumgang Mountain.

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