Sunday, March 20, 2016

US president in Cuba after 88 years; Singapore office rents may fall 25%; Ten years of Twitter

1 US president in Cuba after 88 years (Dan Roberts in The Guardian) Barack Obama descended on Cuba with a pomp unmatched by the Pope on Sunday, becoming the first American president to visit Cuba in nearly a century, and the first since a revolution led by Fidel Castro toppled a US-backed strongman in 1959.

As he arrived, Obama used a Cuban phrase meaning “what’s up?” when he tweeted: “¿Que bolá Cuba? Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.” A giant American delegation, estimated at somewhere between 800 and 1,200, swept into Havana this weekend, intent on closing a final chapter in cold war history and sealing the diplomatic legacy of Obama’s presidency.

Joined by first lady Michelle Obama and his two daughters, Obama toured Old Havana by foot, walking gingerly on the slippery wet stones in front of the Havana Cathedral. The downpour notwithstanding, a few hundred people gathered in the square erupted in applause and shouted Obama’s name as the first family stepped forward.

Hundreds of tourists have been bumped outside the city, and even the Rolling Stones, who initially wanted Revolution Square for their concert venue on Friday, had to work their date around the president’s arrival, which coincides with his daughters’ spring break.

For many American journalists, also on their first ever trip to an island just 90 miles from Florida, this is a Berlin wall moment: a step toward liberation worthy of Nelson Mandela, at whose funeral Obama and president Raúl Castro famously first shook hands.

But while the US trade embargo has done much economic damage to the island, where even international ships were once forbidden from docking if they wanted future entry to American ports, Cuba was not hermitically sealed from the world like some Caribbean North Korea; it has been walled off primarily from the giant neighbour to the north.

3 Singapore office rents may fall 25% (Straits Times) Singapore office rents may decline as much as 25 per cent in a prolonged slump that may last until the end of 2018, as demand slows, according to Daiwa Securities Co.

Daiwa expects 2018 to be a highly risky year for lease renewals and forecasts that rents will continue to fall until then, David Lum, an analyst at the brokerage said in a note to clients. Mr Lum forecasts a 25 per cent drop in rents from the peak in the first quarter of 2015 through the fourth quarter of 2018, while predicting office values will slide 14 per cent during the same period.

Daiwa joins other analysts in forecasting declines for the Singapore office sector as the outlook for global economic growth remains cloudy and a large supply outstrips demand for prime space. Singapore prime office rents may fall up to 20 per cent this year after declining 15 per cent last year, according to Jones Lang LaSalle Inc, while office values may see similar declines as rents this year after falling 6 per cent in 2015.

Mr Lum downgraded real estate investment trusts tied to offices to negative from neutral, and lowered all individual stock ratings to underperform from hold.

3 Ten years of Twitter (Hannah Henderson & Michael Ertl on BBC) Ten years after Jack Dorsey launched Twitter with the words "just setting up my twttr", the micro-blogging site has become a feature of millions of people's lives - but for some it has been life changing.

From a 140-character marriage proposal to inspiring a revolution from the comfort of a sofa, people have been sharing their stories to mark 10 years of Twitter.

The first Twitter marriage proposal: When American Greg Rewis was thinking of an unusual way to propose to his then girlfriend Stephanie, he decided to tweet her after she had turned him down on a private messaging service.

"The proposal started as a joke. I was talking to Steph on an instant messenger and asked her if she wanted to marry me. She said that I had never asked her in a proper way. So I posted on Twitter and told her to refresh her feed. It simply looked like it was the right moment. It was quite a shock when I found out that this was the first proposal on Twitter. Had we known it was the first time, we would have made it more impressive. I would have planned everything way better.

"We now live together and split our time between Phoenix and California, but I have to travel a lot for work. We still use Twitter to stay in touch and actually we live-tweeted our wedding a year after the proposal in 2009."

Marwa Mammoon, from Egypt, is a BBC journalist, but in 2011 she was a stay-at-home mum. Pregnant with her second child and unable to take part in public demonstrations during the Egyptian revolution, she activated her Twitter account and changed her life.

"I was sitting at home but I was being politically active" she said. "I would pick a new topic every couple of weeks, such as female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and other women's issues which mattered in the Arab world and would write about them. I didn't realise what influence I had. Then before I knew it, I was named on Twitter as one of the most influential women in the Arab world.

"The next day all the political parties in Egypt were trying to get me to join them. I was broke and needed a job though so I sent out a funny tweet appealing for a job. I wasn't a journalist, I had worked in marketing but ended up working as a chief editor of a website which was set up by an American investor." The website was a success and after a few years Marwa left to work for the United Nations. She then worked Radio Netherlands before joining the BBC.

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