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Clothing Sellers Urge Calm in Cambodia After Deadly Protests

Welcome to As It Is from VOA Learning English. I’m Mario Ritter inWashington. After a huge strike by clothing workers in Cambodia turneddeadly, international clothing sellers are calling for calm. At the same time,activists are calling for the release of detained demonstrators.

Also, we hear about cuts to government price supports in Malaysia and theireffect on the economy. Cambodia’s labor unrest and Malaysia’s budgettightening are next on As It Is.

Big Name Companies Release an Open Letter

Garment workers in Cambodia have gone on strike to demand higher wages. It has been almost two weeks since the strike turned violent. Military forceskilled five protesters when they fired into a crowd near the capital, PhnomPenh. Forty others were injured. Steve Ember has this report on the reactionof clothing manufacturers.

Major clothing manufacturers with factories in Cambodia have written an openletter. The letter expressed concern about the recent shootings of factoryworkers.

Adidas, Gap, H&M, Levi's and Puma were among those that signed thedocument, dated on January 7th. It was sent to the Cambodian government,manufacturers and labor union leaders.

The seven companies behind the letter say they are responsible for 70percent of garment orders from Cambodia. The letter said, “We stronglyoppose all forms of violence. It is with great concern that we have observedboth widespread civil unrest and the government’s use of deadly force.”

Workers are demanding a doubling of the lowest monthly pay to $160. Thefactory owners have rejected this.

Ath Thun is president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’Democratic Union. He said the letter was a “credible” form of pressure on thegovernment and unions to negotiate a pay raise for workers. He alsosuggested that clothing retailers sell their products for higher prices so thatfactories can pay more to their workers.

Ken Loo is secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association inCambodia. Last week, he said that factories would consider agreeing to awage increase if the government orders one.

However, he warned that the factories will move out of the country if strikescontinue. Factory owners say the stoppage in work has cost about $200million.

Workers say wages of $80 a month are not enough because of the rising costof living in Cambodia.

The protests have led to many arrests. Last week, human rights activistscalled for the release of 23 people detained in the unrest. I’m Steve Ember.

The Malaysian Government Cuts Subsidies

Malaysian officials are cutting price supports on fuel, natural gas and sugar in an effort to get government debt under control. Now, those cuts are beingblamed for rising prices across the country. Some critics say officials shouldinstead target government waste. June Simms has the story from reporterMahi Ramakrishnan in Kuala Lumpur.

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The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur arenamed for the state-owned oil company thatprovide much of the Malaysian government'srevenue.

The Malaysian government has been spending moremoney than it collects since the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s. Last year, it took a step to reduce spendingby cutting huge fuel subsidies. The spending hadhelped to keep fuel prices low.

The government has said it will launch a long-delayedGoods and Services Tax next year. And it recentlyannounced plans to raise fees for use of roads,electricity and public transportation. Economist YeahKim Leng supports the moves.

“It’s important that the government rationalize the subsidies because it nowmakes up more than half the fiscal deficit and that in itself is not sustainable”.

Only about one tenth of Malaysia’s working population actually pays incometax – a tax based on earnings. And payments from the state oil company,Petronas, are responsible for as much as 40 percent of the government’sincome.

“This so-called over reliance on the national oil company is actually notprudent.”

The political opposition says it is not against cutting subsidies or otherspending cuts in theory. But opposition politician Rafizi Ramli says thegovernment should cut waste. He says the government’s own reports show ahuge waste of public money year after year.

“Unless there is a discipline to get rid of wastages, corruption, to re-look at theprocurement practices of the country, it's like pouring money into a blackhole.”

Still, international studies have shown that Malaysia is comparatively lesscorrupt than other countries in Southeast Asia. In December, Prime MinisterNajib Razak did announce some cuts in spending for Members of Parliamentand civil servants.

I’m June Simms.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Date

Next hear what happened in America on this date in history.

January 15 marks the birth date of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Junior. Mr. King was the son of a Baptist clergyman in Atlanta, Georgia. He alsobecame a clergyman, and soon developed into the best-known African-American civil rights leader.

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Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Memorial is on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Doctor King first gained national attention in the mid-1950s in Montgomery, Alabama. He helped to organizea peaceful and effective resistance to racial separationon the city busses.

Martin Luther King is remembered as a gifted speaker. He gave his most famous speech on August 28th, 1963, at the civil-rights March on Washington in theNation's Capital:

“I have a dream - that one day on the red hills ofGeorgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

In 1964, Doctor King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But, on AprilFourth, 1968, he was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee where he hadgone to support striking city workers.

The third Monday in January is observed each year as a national holiday in theUnited States in honor of the civil rights leader.

Calendars Anyone?

And Finally this note.

Recently, we received our supply of VOA wall calendars for 2014. This year, the calendars not only show all 12 months of the New Year, but includebeautiful pictures of the Washington, DC area. They also have pictures of allthe Presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. To get your calendar,simply send an e-mail to us at learningenglish@chinavoa.com. Make sure toinclude your mailing address when you write. We have several hundred 2014calendars. But when they are gone, they are gone. So write to us today!

Thank you for joining us today. Tell us what you want to hear about on ourshow. Go to LearningEnglish.chinavoa.com and click on “Contact Us.”


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