Jumaat, 20 Mei 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Majority of Americans support gay marriage in poll

Posted: 20 May 2011 09:04 PM PDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fifty-three percent of Americans support making gay marriage legal, according to a Gallup poll released on Friday, a marked reversal from just a year ago when an equal majority opposed same-sex matrimony.

Marriage equality supporter Gus Thompson holds gay pride and American flags at a demonstration outside the appeals hearing on California's Proposition 8 at the 9th District Court of Appeals in San Francisco December 6, 2010. Fifty-three percent of Americans support making gay marriage legal, according to a Gallup poll. (REUTERS/Stephen La/Files)

The findings are in line with two national polls earlier this spring that found support for legally recognized gay marriage has gained a newfound majority among Americans in recent months.

Gallup said Democrats and political independents accounted for the entire shift in its survey compared to last year, when only 44 percent of all respondents favoured gay marriage, while 53 percent were opposed. The percentage of Republicans favouring gay marriage held steady at 28 percent.

Same-sex marriage remains a highly contested issue in U.S. politics, but homosexual couples have won the right to legally wed in five states -- Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa -- and Washington, D.C.

The growing support for gay marriage comes after President Barack Obama signed into law legislation in December to repeal the ban on openly gay people serving in the military under a 17-year-old law known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Gallup noted the policy change, but said it was unclear if that influenced Americans' attitudes about same-sex unions.

"The trend toward marriage equality is undeniable -- and irreversible," Joe Solmonese, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

Maggie Gallagher, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, said the poll shows her fellow opponents of gay matrimony have been "shamed" into silence.

"Polls are becoming very sensitive to wording, and the wording being used in the media are not predicting accurately what happens at the actual polls when people vote," she said.

In a sign of a generation gap, Gallup found 70 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 support gay marriage, compared to only 39 percent among those 55 and older.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll in March showed 53 percent of Americans said same-sex marriage should be legal, and 51 percent said the same thing in a CNN Poll released in April.

By comparison, a 1996 Gallup found that 68 percent of Americans were opposed to same-sex marriage, a figure that has trended downward ever since.

The Gallup poll was based on phone interviews conducted from May 5 to May 8, with a random sample of 1,018 adults 18 or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It can be found at http://www.gallup.com/poll/147662/First-Time-Majority-Americans-Favor-Legal-Gay-Marriage.aspx,

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman, Greg McCune, and Eric Walsh)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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FACTBOX - Ties between North Korea and China

Posted: 20 May 2011 09:04 PM PDT

REUTERS - A secretive convoy from North Korea reached the northeast Chinese city of Changchun on Saturday, in what may be the latest stop by the North's ruler Kim Jong-il as he seeks to shore up ties with his country's sole major supporter.

Neither Beijing nor Pyongyang has said whether he, or possibly his son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un, is visiting China. Both sides are habitually secretive about such trips, and there have been no definitive sightings.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (C) leaves a hotel in Mudanjiang in northeastern China, in this picture taken by Kyodo May 20, 2011. (REUTERS/KYODO)

Here are some facts about their ties.


Communist China was a key backer of North Korean Communist forces in the Korean War, and sent soldiers across the border into Korea from October 1950. China continued to support North Korea following the armistice, and in 1961 the two signed a treaty which calls for either to aid the other if attacked. It remains in force, but its potential application is ambiguous.

After China's rapprochement with the West and then its establishment of formal diplomatic ties with South Korea in 1992, ties between Beijing and Pyongyang frayed.

But Beijing still sees North Korea as a strategic buffer against the U.S. and its regional allies. In recent years, China has sought to shore up relations with the North with increased aid and trade and many visits there by leaders.


Tensions spiked on the peninsula last year. In March, Seoul said Pyongyang was undoubtedly to blame for sinking a South Korean navy ship, killing 46 sailors. The North denies sinking the vessel.

Then in November, North Korea shelled a South Korean island near disputed waters on the west coast of the Korean peninsula, killing four people and sparking another crisis.

During both confrontations China did not publicly criticise North Korea, and instead urged restraint from all sides. Beijing also chided the United States for holding joint military exercises with South Korea in seas across from China's coast.


China has pressed North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, and the issue has previously produced cracks in their relationship.

In October 2006, North Korea held its first nuclear test explosion, defying public pleas from China. Beijing condemned the test and supported a United Nations Security Council resolution that authorised sanctions against North Korea. It backed more sanctions after the North's second test in May 2009.

China has sought to defuse confrontation by hosting six-party nuclear disarmament talks since August 2003. The now-stalled negotiations bring together North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

North Korea has in recent months drawn back from its earlier renunciation of the talks and said it wants to rejoin negotiations over international aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament. But there are no plans for their resumption.

Beijing has urged the United States, Seoul and their regional allies to be more flexible in negotiating with North Korea so the six-way talks can resume.


China's trade and aid are crucial to North Korea's survival. In 2010, trade between China and North Korea was worth $3.5 billion, up 29.6 percent from 2009, according to Chinese customs statistics. China's imports from North Korea in 2010 grew by 50.6 percent to $1.2 billion, and its exports to North Korea grew 20.8 percent to $2.3 billion.

In 2010, China's bilateral trade with South Korea was worth $207.2 billion, according to Chinese statistics.

North Korea has dramatically increased its economic cooperation with China over the past two years to surmount international sanctions imposed for its nuclear and missile tests in 2009 and growing estrangement from South Korea.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper has reported that China and North Korea will soon launch two joint development projects on their border.

A construction project to develop an island called Hwanggumpyong in the lower reaches of the Tumen River starts on May 28, and construction of roads connecting Hunchun in China and Rajin-Sonbong in North Korea on May 30, the paper said.


China's 1,415-km (880-mile) border with North Korea includes stretches of rivers that freeze over in winter, and in past years many North Korean refugees have crossed over, sometimes then making their way to other countries and then South Korea.

Outside groups have earlier estimated their numbers to be from tens of thousands to 300,000. Beijing worries that economic collapse or political turmoil in North Korea could unleash a surge of refugees into China.

Tighter security and fences along the border have made it more difficult for North Koreans to flee into China.

(Sources: Reuters; "China Monthly Exports and Imports"; International Crisis Group; Andrew Scobell, "China and North Korea: From Comrades-in-Arms to Allies at Arm's Length"; U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea; Congressional Research Service, "China-North Korea Relations")

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Sanjeev Miglani)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Mystery North Korean visitor in China under veil of security

Posted: 20 May 2011 08:34 PM PDT

CHANGCHUN, China (Reuters) - A secretive convoy from North Korea reached the northeast Chinese city of Changchun on Saturday, in what may be the latest stop by the North's ruler Kim Jong-il as he seeks to shore up ties with his country's sole major supporter.

Neither Beijing nor Pyongyang has said whether he, or possibly his son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un, is visiting China. Both sides are habitually secretive about such trips, and there have been no definitive sightings.

But the tight security and unscheduled train movements echoed the script of past visits by 69-year-old Kim Jong-il, who visited twice last year to woo his powerful neighbour.

This latest mystery visit from the North comes as China's Premier Wen Jiabao prepares for a weekend summit in Tokyo with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, both foes of Pyongyang, which rattled the region last year and has drawn closer to Beijing for support.

Beijing has sought to steady ties with Seoul and Tokyo but also sees North Korea as a strategic buffer against the U.S. and its regional allies. In recent years, China has sought to shore up relations with the North with increased aid and trade and frequent visits there by leaders.

The arrival in China on Friday of a distinctive train from North Korea prompted South Korean officials and media to conclude it was carrying Kim Jong-un, anointed last year as heir apparent to his aging father, but speculation then shifted to it being the father.

On Saturday morning, the train reached Changchun, the capital of Jilin province in China's northeast, where the station's exit for official guests was cordoned off by police.

A convoy of a dozen or so cars which included a black limousine with darkened windows then took the mystery guests to the heavily guarded South Lake Hotel, accompanied by an ambulance, several mini buses and police vehicles.

In the past, such visits have been shrouded in mystery, and China or North Korea have acknowledged a visit only near or after its end.

Kim Jong-il travels by train due to his fear of flying, and visited China last May and August. During his last trip, he met Chinese President Hu Jintao in Changchun and told him that Pyongyang remained committed to duclearisation as per previous international agreements.

In November, however, the North showed a U.S. nuclear physicist what it said was a uranium enrichment programme, which could open a second route to make a nuclear bomb along with its plutonium programme.

That announcement, say Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, shows the North is not serious about its push to restart aid-for-disarmament nuclear talks, stalled for over two years.

Kim Jong-il is widely believed by South Korean officials and experts to have suffered a stroke in 2008, and analysts had thought his visits last year were aimed at shoring up support for a handover of power to his youngest son, Jong-un.

But the elder Kim's health appears to have improved significantly since the visits to China last year, prompting diplomats and analysts to re-evaluate their assessment of the pace of succession.

Recently published images of the so-called "Dear Leader" show him looking portly and well-fed, a far cry from the sickly figure photographed in parliament in 2009.

(Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan in Harbin, China; Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul; Additional reporting and writing by Chris Buckley in Beijing; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Comedy, a serious matter

Posted: 20 May 2011 01:17 AM PDT

If you are wondering just how popular the talent show search for the best comedian, Maharaja Lawak or MRL is, you have to look at the figures of subscribers and viewerships of this show.

In fact, the popularity of MRL goes hand in hand with the subscription of Astro Mustika package which includes the Astro Warna channel. Apparently, the subscription had shot up to more than 600,000 over the period of one and half months while the viewership of the show has increased to 800,000 at last week's episode alone.

MRL has been an instant hit since it was introduced a month ago and the rave reviews by the media has made it even popular. MRL is currently aired over Astro Warna every Friday at 10pm live from Studio Finas in Jalan Ulu Kelang.

One man who should be applauded for all this is non other than the executive producer and director of MRL, Michael Christian Simon who also conceptualised MRL and the ever popular Raja Lawak which concluded its fifth season recently.

"Our comedy world seems to be alive again with Maharaja Lawak or MRL (talent show search for the best comedian) where only the cream of the comedians are pitted against each other.

"Its nice to see families coming together and laughing away every week during the recording of the show. MRL is the zenith of Raja Lawak and its popularity has caught on like wildfire. Many are excited to see their favourite comedian competing with other comedians," said the 42-year-old creative producer who produced Raja Lawak and Maharaja Lawak under his own label, Homegrown Productions.

According to Michael who has 16 years of experience in the broadcasting industry, apart from the attractive cash prize, "at the end of it all, the viewers just want to have a good time laughing at the jokes."

Now in its sixth week, the tough fight seems to be between Jozan (funnymen Johan and Zizan, who got second and third place in Raja Lawak Season 1), Nabil (the Raja Lawak champ for season 2), Jambu (comprised of Taukeh and Yus, the Raja Lawak champ season 1) and Sepah (made up of Shahmira, Nadzri and Mohd. Noor who are the champion of Raja Lawak season 3).

These four have been the main focus of the much-anticipated show and interestingly enough, the SMS votings are also pointing in the same direction. "These four are clearly the crowds favourites. Besides displaying funny jokes and witty lines, some of the comedians have resorted to slapstick jokes which surprisingly went down well with the viewers.

Nabil is very creative and intelligent. His jokes are more for the niche market and he is a brilliant stand-up comedian which is very rare in our country," said Michael who refused to disclose the exciting element for the final MRL which will conclude in June.

Those who have been following the show would know that the 'dark horse' is the group Jambu while the contestant whom viewers love to hate is the 'petite-looking' Amir from Kelantan is still in the running.

But Jambu will not have an easy time as Jozan, a commercially sought after group and former champion, Nabil is giving Jambu a tough fight.

"It's not easy to make people laugh especially when you set high standards in MRL. And to ensure the punchlines do not exceed the duration specified is another challenge but these four groups have never failed each week," said the former TV3 producer.

As to how many people will go to the finals, Michael said, one things for sure "its definitely not four. Maybe more, who knows.

"We have yet to finalise the details. But one thing for sure, before the MRL finals, the comedians will go for a road tour to three destinations - Penang, Kuantan and Johor," said Michael who was once the creative director of the popular reality show, Malaysian Idol.

All the MRL contestants are being judged by three juries every week. They are film producer Mamat Khalid, Ahmad Idham and popular comedian Saiful Apek. Apart from laughs and the good time, MRL which is hosted by actor/comedian AC Mizal offers lucrative cash prize of RM300,000 for first place, RM200,000 for second winner and RM100,000 for third place.

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Rahim Maarof sticks up for Aiman

Posted: 20 May 2011 01:01 AM PDT

Veteran rocker Rahim Maarof did not take too well when his protege Aiman from Group B was eliminated two weeks ago during the Mentor Season 5 semifinal qualifying round. Rahim was clearly disappointed with the result which was telecast live from Majlid Bandaran Shah Alam and decided to throw a challenge to the Head of jury, veteran musician and arranger Datuk Ramli M.S to be a mentor for the next Mentor season.

Many were caught off guard and baffled by Rahim's statement at the end of the show when he voiced dissatisfaction and challenged Ramli. However, when asked what prompted him to say what he said, the rock singer who popularized the song Cinta Kristal said the comment was made in jest. "I was half-joking. But the challenge did cross my mind. I felt Ramli M.S should be given the chance to groom a talent and see how he fares.

"The comment was not intended to create a controversy but I just want him to know how difficult it was for me to groom someone like Aiman who knows zero about singing. At least Aiman showed a marked improvement but sadly this point was not highlighted," said Rahim who had made a similar controversial statement earlier on in Mentor.

During the earlier rounds, Rahim will never failed to snap back when Aiman is criticized. However this time around, his protege Aiman only managed to accumulate 190 marks and failed to qualify for the next round.

Aiman, who is one of three proteges competing in the Mentor Group B and sang I'll B and Sesuatu Janji, lost to Erra Fazira's protege Salmah A Asis (Salma) and Edry Abdul Halim's protege Nursyafiqah Nasratullah Mohd Nor (Iqa). "To train a green singer like Aiman takes a long time. I am pleased with his progress and I believe all his supporters could see this transformation through out the show," said Rahim who admits Aiman has received much exposure during the Mentor show.

He added, because of the Mentor exposure, Aiman has received many offers for radio advertising. "There is a lot going on for him after Mentor. I'm glad his talent is noticed and both of us will sit down to plan his next course of career move," said Rahim.

All said, Rahim said, he still has regards of Ramli who has earned a reputation as a remarkable arranger and musician.

When asked how he felt about Rahim's comments, the cool, level-headed Ramli felt it was natural for Rahim to react that way. "Everyone wants to win in any competitions. Rahim's outburst is understandable. But he must know that I am not a professional singer to be a mentor in the show so I have to decline his challenge. Anyway, I can't sing and what I studied are mostly theories with no practical lessons for singing. What I have is 35 years of experience as a musician," said the 54-year-old arranger.

He added, when he first met Aiman, he had chosen him over Iqa. "Aiman is tall and has the right personality. He just has to work on his vocals. But sadly, his progress is too slow compared to Iqa," said the most sought after arranger.

The other proteges who will be competing in the semi final rounds are Nurshiha Mohd Zikir (Shiha) who is Datuk Sharifah Aini's protege and Afdlin Shauki's protege Ratnah Awal or Ratna. Both are from Group A.

The new season of Mentor have created a buzz when a few heavyweights have been chosen as mentors. However, the format remains the same where marks are given from a professional jury (50 per cent), SMS voting (30 per cent) and public jury (20 per cent). The public jury comprises music students, journalists, and semi-professional musicians.

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Kim Clijsters returns to French Open 5 years later

Posted: 20 May 2011 05:59 PM PDT

PARIS (AP) — Kim Clijsters smiled sheepishly Friday while recounting the unusual way she managed to hurt her right ankle and a toe recently, nearly forcing her to skip the French Open yet again.

Of all the ways for an athlete to get injured, the champion at the past two Grand Slam tournaments sent herself to the sideline while dancing at her cousin's wedding.

"I was in bare feet, because I was wearing high heels, and I couldn't dance in my high heels," Clijsters explained in a matter-of-fact way, two days before the French Open starts. "So then I landed on another girl's foot, and I twisted my ankle. Then, while I'm walking off, limping, somebody stepped on the outside of my small toe, as well, and I still have a problem there."

Then she added: "But I'm here."

Yes, the 27-year-old Belgian is back at Roland Garros as a competitor for the first time since 2006, an absence that came about because of injuries and what turned out to be a temporary sabbatical from tennis while she got married and gave birth to a daughter.

Still, Clijsters certainly is someone to keep an eye on in a French Open women's field that is missing the Williams sisters.

It's also missing a true favorite.

Justine Henin returned to retirement. Nine of the top 12 seeded players — including No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki — haven't won a Grand Slam title. Maria Sharapova hasn't appeared in the semifinals at any of the past 12 major tournaments. Defending champion Francesca Schiavone has lost four matches on clay this season.

At least Schiavone and contenders such as Sharapova, who won last week's Italian Open, and Wozniacki, who reached Saturday's final at Brussels, have been adjusting to the slow, slippery surface lately. Clijsters was the French Open runner-up in 2001 and 2003, but she last played on clay in April 2010.

Indeed, since losing to Henin in the 2006 French Open semifinals, Clijsters' clay-court resume consists of four matches, with two wins and two losses. After her wedding mishap last month, she pulled out of European clay tuneup tournaments; her last match anywhere was March 30.

Hardly ideal preparation.

Not to mention the heavily taped ankle that she hopes won't hamper her too much.

Still, no one seems ready to dismiss Clijsters' chances over the coming weeks.

"Well, it's always difficult to not play for a few weeks and come back, (with) a Grand Slam being your first tournament," said Sharapova, who has won the other three major tournaments once each but never been past the semifinals in Paris. "But, you know, she has a tremendous amount of experience behind her back."

Or as 2010 French Open runner-up Sam Stosur put it: "People like that don't play the tournament unless they're feeling ready."

Clijsters gave herself Friday off, but she'll practice Saturday.

When she set foot on the main stadium court at Roland Garros to hit balls Thursday, she got a rush of anticipation.

"I felt like a little girl again," Clijsters said. "It was a nice feeling to have."

She is seeded second and will play 100th-ranked Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus in the first round.

Largely because the type of movement it requires is different, clay never has been Clijsters' favorite — or best — surface.

All four of her Grand Slam titles came on hard courts at the U.S. Open or Australian Open.

"I just prefer, I think, the impact that your strokes have on a hard court. I know that if I hit a shot, forehand inside-out, on a hard court, eight out of 10 (times), it won't come back; on clay, five out of 10 or eight out of 10, it will come back," she said. "You have to have a little bit more patience. You have to just be ready to accept a lot of balls back."

After so much time away from the French Open, Clijsters says she's come to accept the particulars of playing on clay.

And maybe even relish it.

"I enjoy the challenge, I think, more now. I know why I never felt that comfortable is because of the movement and everything, but I feel it's the same for everybody," Clijsters said. "I enjoy the challenge of trying to win every rally."

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Westwood threatens to close down Twitter account

Posted: 20 May 2011 05:58 PM PDT

CASARES, Spain (AP) — Top-ranked Lee Westwood is considering closing his Twitter account after becoming dismayed at the amount of abuse directed at himself and fellow golfers by "idiots" on the social networking site.

Westwood is a regular user of Twitter along with a number of his teammates from Europe's Ryder Cup side, but he said the service was being used for the wrong purpose.

"It's losing its meaning," Westwood said. "It's social media, not social slagging. It seems to have turned into that for some people."

Flamboyant Englishman Ian Poulter, who will play Westwood in the last 16 of the World Match Play Championship in Spain on Saturday, has been the target of heavy criticism on Twitter, while 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie has closed his account.

England football star Wayne Rooney recently joined Twitter and this week threatened to put a user "to sleep in 10 seconds" after being sent abusive messages.

"It's just pathetic," Westwood said. "It's there to interact with people and give them an idea of stuff they might not ordinarily be able to engage with. But some always take it too far and spoil it."

Second-ranked Luke Donald said the "negative media" toward Poulter was frustrating but intended to continue tweeting.

"That's not the tool it was meant for ... but it hasn't got to that point for me yet," Donald said.

Graeme McDowell, the fifth-ranked Northern Ireland player, said Twitter abuse "goes with the territory."

"People open an account and all they want to do is abuse celebrities and sportsmen to try to get a response," McDowell said. "You try not to encourage them, and generally I just block them, but if you want to stay on it you're going to have to accept some absolute trash that people talk.

"It's downright evil, some of the stuff."

Westwood and Poulter often exchange messages over Twitter to wind each other up, but the top-ranked player said that wouldn't be happening ahead

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Watson ensures Warne signs off with win in IPL

Posted: 20 May 2011 05:55 PM PDT

MUMBAI, India (AP) — A superb performance by Australia allrounder Shane Watson helped Rajasthan Royals captain Shane Warne sign off his professional career with a memorable 10-wicket victory over Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League on Friday.

Watson hammered an unbeaten 89 after having taken 3-19 as Rajasthan scored 134 without loss off only 13.1 overs in reply to Mumbai's mediocre 133-5 at the Wankhede Stadium.

Watson's solid partnership with Rahul Dravid (43) left a Mumbai side led by Sachin Tendulkar frustrated as the ball was punished to all parts of the ground.

Mumbai stays in contention for the playoffs despite a third consecutive defeat, with 16 points from 13 games. Rajasthan, already out of contention, finished its 14 games with 13 points.

"When someone of the class of Shane Watson plays like that, he shows you how good he is," Warne said after his last game. "I have had four great years in the IPL and hopefully I have helped Indian cricket and the young players here."

Watson smashed six sixes and nine fours during his 47-ball knock to complete what was only the third 10-wicket victory in four editions of the IPL and the only one this season.

He set the tempo with two sixes in the second over of the innings bowled by off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. He also lofted three sixes off Sri Lankan pace bowler Lasith Malinga, who normally concedes few runs, and one off another seamer, Dhawal Kulkarni.

"It has taken me a little while to do that," Watson said after recording his first half-century of this IPL. "It's always nice when two parts of your game come together."

Earlier, Mumbai was helped to a fighting total by Rohit Sharma, who produced a brisk knock of 58, his 11th IPL fifty and the third of this edition.

Sharma smashed a six and five fours off 47 balls before he fell in the last over of the innings to Warne, who had announced his retirement earlier during the tournament.

Warne bowled well in the middle overs to finish with figures of 1-30, restricting old adversary Sachin Tendulkar, who could not hit a boundary off him during his 35-ball 31.

Warne also used his other bowling resources well. The Rajasthan bowlers managed to even restrict a well-set West Indian allrounder Kieron Pollard, who made 20 off 18 before becoming Watson's third wicket of the innings.

On Saturday, Kings XI Punjab plays Deccan Chargers at Dharamshala while Delhi Daredevils hosts Pune Warriors.



Rajasthan Royals 134 for no loss in 13.1 overs (Shane Watson 89 not out, Rahul Dravid 43 not out), def. Mumbai Indians 133-5 in 20 overs (Rohit Sharma 58, Sachin Tendulkar 31, Shane Watson 3-19).

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Freelancing – a necessity, a choice or a trend?

Posted: 20 May 2011 06:06 PM PDT

"WHAT do you do for a living?" Chances are, all of us have been asked this question countless times by someone we had just met. Chong, 39, is no exception. There were many times Chong, a work-from-home father, had thought of answering, "I'm a civil and structural engineer on sabbatical leave", when parents at his son's school asked him what he does for a living. He nevertheless says that he's a stay-at-home-dad who freelances and this more often than not, draws some stares of scepticism from the parents.

Like everything else, there are pros and cons of holding a freelance job. Interestingly, freelancing has gained significant popularity in the past decade boosted largely by the quest for flexible working hours.

And this has been further enhanced by the demand for freelancers, be it in publishing, writing or communications which has made freelancing a viable option for many, mainly mothers looking to juggle their time between work and children and retirees who still have much to contribute but do not want to be saddled with long-term contracts. In fact, there are also many who hold both a full-time job while occasionally freelancing to fatten their pockets.

Michael Tan, co-founder of YourPartTime.com, an online service provider for part-time workers, says the main difference is that freelance jobs are usually undertaken on a project basis. The strongest appeal of a freelance job, says Tan are personal satisfaction of doing what one really likes to do, time flexibility and for some, side income.

"We serve three type of markets the undergraduates, housewives and retirees. Undergraduates like to earn some side income during their semester break, housewives like the flexibility of working from home while retirees want the side income and to keep themselves occupied," Tan says. YourPartTime.com currently serves 40,000 jobs seekers and 2,500 employees.

Freelance is also helpful for those looking to bridge the short-term job gap while they look for better job opportunities or have left their jobs due to lack of creative satisfaction.

My time, my schedule

Many believe freelancing is a blessing, a luxury. Being able to decide when and how often to work is something many people can only dream of, especially if there are many financial obligations that make a freelance job seem inaccessible.

"I can take control of my life and schedule... and can spend time with my young children," says Soong, who used to work as an accountant for a multi-national corporation. She quit her job seven years ago to spend time with the children and currently does freelance book-keeping for sundry shops near her housing area.

"My schedule is mine. I work when I want during the day or in the evening after tucking in my children. I get to go to the supermarket at 11 in the morning on a Thursday. How about a movie at 11am? It is empty everywhere because everyone's at work. I also get to spend time with my children every evening at the playground," Soong says, adding that the flexibility was one big reason she left her job.

"I've been lucky to live the life I've been dreaming of, working on various select projects, taking Fridays off"

These days, for many, given the rising cost of living, freelance jobs offer a chance to supplement one's income. This is true for Jessica Hiew, an auditor in her early 30s who has been teaching yoga part-time for about 2 years over the weekends.

"It was a struggle initially because of my work, but after a while I got used to handling the yoga classes. I get to exercise and teach students at the same time. What better way to indulge in my hobby?," Hiew says, adding that it also helps pay the bills.

The proliferation of blogs has brought about another opportunity to earn some bucks. Writing a blog regularly can earn bloggers some money from Google Adsense, Nuffnang and other channels. Locally, the most common way of making money from one's blog is via advertisement. At times, bloggers will also be offered opportunities to write advertorials which pay slightly more than the advertisement pay-per-click.

In addition, freelance job opportunities have already increased given that there are many tasks that can be done via the Internet these days.

Could there be cons?

Still, when it comes to building long-term career goals, freelancing could fall short especially when done over a long period of time, unless of course, one is so successful that they build a business around it. Also, full-time employees, unlike freelancers, enjoy various benefits such as medical and insurance benefits, Employees Provident Fund contributions, Social Security Organisation (Socso) coverage and various other perks from their employers. However, even that is gradually changing. According to Tan, last October, the Government introduced the Work Regulations (Part-Time Workers) 2010 to allow part-time employees to be entitled to salaries and relevant benefits such as EPF contributions, Sosco medical benefits and leave. These will be pro-rated based on the time spent on the job by the workers those who work between 2.5 hours and 5.5 hours a day or during weekends qualify as part-time employees.

The new set of rules, under the Employment Act 1955, are designed to better regulate and protect part-time workers, and will serve as incentives to galvanise the idle workforce estimated at 6.8 million.

To hold down a freelance job and make it work well for you, discipline and self-motivation are crucial. In this regard, an observer says the absence from office or a work setting where everyone else shares a common goal could lead to boredom or a lack of motivation.

Then, there's also perceivably more stability in being employed full-time in terms of job and financial security. When will work come in? When will you get paid? For many, this fear of working for a bad paymaster is real. "My previous employer did not pay me in a timely fashion. Once, it had been over 2 weeks since the payday and I was still not paid. She kept pushing it off. So, I quit the job soon after. They only paid me after 6 weeks!" says an irate Will Chong.

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Transforming Felda

Posted: 20 May 2011 06:05 PM PDT

BY 2015, Felda Global Group, the commercial entity of Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) is envisaged to emerge as a dynamic agri-business and multinational organisation with strong upstream and downstream activities, a well-recognised brand, diversified activities and a leadership especially in agri-based new technologies.

Under its current five-year transformation programme, Felda Global Group (comprising Felda Global Ventures Holdings Sdn Bhd (FGV) and Felda Holdings Bhd) has been tasked to undertake the strategic mission while at the same time ensuring steady growth of sustainable businesses to support Felda, its ultimate shareholder.

Running a unique company like Felda Global Group so far has been interesting, an eye-opener as well as challenging, says group president and chief executive officer Datuk Sabri Ahmad to StarBizWeek recently.

"The five-year key performance indices (KPIs) I set when I took up appointment as group president in July last year will be the immediate yardstick to measure whether Felda Global's transformation programme is going to be successful."

The target is to double Felda Global's pre-tax profit in the next five years, adds Sabri. In 2009, FGV and Felda Holdings posted pre-tax profits of RM203mil and RM804mil respectively.

Furthermore, a bigger portion (about 30%) of Felda Global's revenue should come from added value products such as margarine, oleo chemical derivatives and specialty fats rather than from the upstream plantation division where the current heavy dependence is on.

"Our growth strategies include to fully unlock the values in agri-businesses which are related to palm oil and rubber via expansion particularly in Asean through new investments, joint ventures and M&As," explains Sabri.

In addition, the group will be looking at exploring niche businesses like micronutrients as well as renewable energy projects using palm biomass waste as the new "green technology" income-generating operations for Felda Global.

Should the Group be able to expedite all the tasks, Sabri says that "We will be well on our way to becoming a successful, globally integrated and diversified agri-business MNC by 2015."

In terms of size, Felda Global currently oversees and supports the largest oil palm operations in the world, exceeding 850,000ha.

"No other company in Malaysia or in the world, does that. When I was at Golden Hope Plantations Bhd, our landbank was only about 200,000 ha. The biggest company before the 2007 GLC-plantation companies merger (Golden Hope, Sime Darby Bhd and Kumpulan Guthrie Bhd) did not even top 300,000ha," says Sabri who joined Felda Global Group in July last year.

Furthermore, Felda Global is involved in the whole value chain of the industry upstream, midstream and downstream from producing seedlings to refining and logistics right down to marketing and distributing packed products and cooking oils.

Sabri adds, "Felda has many strengths. This is particularly in the upstream operations where we have world-class R&D facilities from the iconic Tun Abdul Razak Agricultural Research Centre in Tekam, Pahang to our biotechnology centre in Nilai, Negri Sembilan. Downstream, our bulk storage facilities are also the largest and most advanced in Malaysia while our cooking oil, Saji, is a market leader."

However, Sabri says the real challenge in running Felda Global is that, it is a commercial entity with profit-oriented target but the business objectives were founded on a social mission by virtue of Felda whose charter is to serve the settler community.

Felda services its overheads and implements various programmes from internally generated funds. "Therefore, there exists, for Felda Global Group, the added dimension of having to ensure a strong and sustainable business to support this."

"This also means that Felda Global Group has many stakeholders in its business and it is always a challenge for us to balance the interests of all of them," explains Sabri.

Having said that, the ultimate litmus test, however, will be the reception from all Felda Global's stakeholders.

He points out that Felda Global's business activities already impact more than one million people across many geographies.

The proceeds are channelled to various social and developmental programmes initiated by Felda. At the same time, Koperasi Permodalan Felda (KPF a co-operative whose membership comprises Felda settlers, staff and their respective families) has a majority stake in FGV's 49% subsidiary, Felda Holdings.

Therefore, Sabri says Felda Global's commercial success will have spill-over effects to the settler community. "The first generation will enjoy higher income through their investments in KPF and the second generation will benefit from Felda's skill development programmes as well as enjoy better career opportunities within the growth areas."

"Should all our stakeholders respond positively to the transformation, we would deem ourselves to have achieved our objectives," adds Sabri.

He says Felda Global Group returns over RM1bil, the direct profit from its management of Felda's land, to Felda annually

"FGV was only launched in mid-2009, but if you were to look at Felda Holdings (the predecessor of the commercial entity of the Felda Group), we have reported billion-ringgit returns since the nineties," says Sabri.

"In the last few years, the pre-tax profit stood at around RM800mil annually," he says.

There are many aspects of its plantation operations which are unique to Felda Global Group, adds Sabri.

"To begin with, we only own some 11,000ha under our R&D subsidiary where we conduct our field trials. Our mills receive fruits from oil palm plantations owned by Felda and estates owned by settlers, altogether totalling some 850,000ha."

"We manage Felda's land on their behalf but we have no control over the management of the settler estates.

Therefore, it is also a very big challenge for Felda Global Group to increase the oil extraction rate at our palm oil mills as this is a function of good estate management," explains Sabri.

In addition, the plantations and estates were developed from land given by state governments to Felda for land development and settlements.

"These are not necessarily prime land for agriculture and neither are they always in the best locations. This is unlike the scenario at most other commercial plantation companies as they acquire their landbank through a careful selection process taking into account soil suitability, topography, land status and rainfall patterns to ensure that the planting can yield the best returns from their investment in the land," adds Sabri.

Felda currently has a skewed age profile where a large percentage of its palm trees are between 19 and 25 years old.

"A considerable number are above 25 years old. This is much lower in most other plantation companies. "Therefore, we are pursuing an aggressive replanting programme, at a rate of 4% to 6% every year to ensure that FFB production remains at desired levels," says Sabri.

Under Felda Global's five year transformation programme, the idea is to undertake about 30,000ha of replanting annually with a capex of about RM450mil.

At the same time, Felda Global would like to see better productivity as much as 23% average OER at its 71 mills and FFB yield of 25 tonnes per ha at Felda estates.

According to Sabri, Felda Global Group is a truly sustainable plantation operator who practises the three sustainability principles People (for its 112,635 settlers), Profits (for Felda's financial well being) and Planet (adopting green practices in its day-to-day operations)

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Unlocking value
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Unlocking value

Posted: 20 May 2011 06:03 PM PDT

July will mark the completion of Datuk Sabri Ahmad's first year as Felda Global Ventures Holdings Sdn Bhd group president/CEO and managing director of Felda Holdings Bhd. StarBizWeek recently caught up with him to get an insight on the progress of the country's very high-profile plantation conglomerate and his vision to transform the group into a champion in the global agri-business sector.

Herewith are some of the excerpts from the interview:

StarBizWeek: Is it true that you are an advocate of the Blue Ocean strategy ... "Go where profits and growth are and where the competition isn't". How would you describe your leadership and management style in Felda Global Group?

Sabri: Yes, I'm a strong advocate and promoter of Blue Ocean strategy.

I am very much a people-person and my approach is consultative rather than dictatorial, even while I push hard for things to be done.

In that respect, I am most fortunate to have a very capable management team from diverse backgrounds public and private sectors, locals and multinationals. They are the reason that I am very confident that the Felda Global Group will make giant strides in the next few years.

How would you describe the five-year Felda Global transformation programme and its significance?

We actually modelled our transformation programme after the Government's Economic Transformation Programme, where we conducted a Strategic Lab for one full month from September to October last year. The outcome is a 300 plus-page programme of action comprising 45 key initiatives based on 7 Strategic Thrusts (refer to Felda Global's transformation programme chart).

Based on the estimated value creation of the transformation initiatives, the key focus areas will be projects under Thrust 1, Thrust 2 and Thrust 4.

Thrust 1: Improving the productivity of current plantation assets and monetising by products with focus on harvesting efficiency and yield enhancement (more for domestic);

Thrust 2: Expanding land bank and diversifying to other crops (global); and

Thrust 4: Enhance value creation from existing investments (global).

By 2015, we expect these three Thrusts to contribute about 93% of additional pre-tax profit to the group.

How do you implement the programme and how do the respective businesses under Felda Global support it?

We have created a Transformation Management Office which is tasked with driving the transformation initiatives.

The Key Initiatives (KIs) are grouped into three clusters: Multicrop, Downstream/Logistics and Corporate Centre, reflecting the three sub-Labs.

Each cluster has its own project director, project coordinator and several team leaders. They are responsible for ensuring the KIs are successfully implemented and that targets are achieved according to the agreed timelines. The respective business heads play a very important role as enablers and facilitators to support the various teams undertaking the projects where it involves their respective business activity.

What are the major challenges facing Felda Global in pursuing the transformation programme? Also, what measures have you put in place to ensure it will succeed?

Any corporate transformation programmes entails a mindset change.

We have 19,000 employees, many of whom have served long and loyally in the Felda Group. We also have many mid-career hires, subject matter experts from local and multinational companies as well the fresh graduates. Given the diverse cross-section, ages, backgrounds and scattered locations of our employees, this is, naturally a huge challenge.

To overcome this, we employ both the carrot and stick approach. We have a targeted communications programme in place to share the Group's vision, strategies and corporate developments as a means of engaging our employees and motivating them to buy into the transformation programme.

We are also formulating a gain-sharing incentive plan to reward those involved in achieving spectacular targets. At the same time, we are shaping a better working culture by stretching Key Performance Indices (KPIs) and tracking these rigorously.

We also adopt a pro-active approach by zooming-in on problematic areas and directly removing any roadblocks and bottlenecks that hinder performance.

The second challenge is capital investment.

There are numerous proposals contained within the KIs, many of which require capital investment. Obviously, one of the major challenges lie in deciding where to invest and what is the right form of investment to make for these projects.

In this respect, we have to adopt the utmost prudence. That means employing even more stringent criteria than what we have now for selection of investment. This includes capital budgeting for new projects as well as determining just how much investment would be sufficient to modify process and delivery systems in order to strengthen operational efficiency. It also applies equally to the selection of suitable business partners to achieve our growth objectives.

The third challenge is operating the business in an increasingly complex global environment.

Given that we have businesses in 12 countries, we conduct detailed scenario planning covering political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal aspects. We establish good risk management practices to help us prepare for any eventuality.

At the same time, we are identifying suitable business partners to ensure long-term sustainability in the host country. Where necessary, we streamline the business structure to ensure better governance and reporting.

The final challenge will be recruiting and retaining talent

We already have a robust Talent Management Programme in place. We are enhancing this to ensure that we have the required human capital capabilities and capacity to support the growth agenda.

We are also improving the current Performance Management System.

Related Stories:
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Transforming Felda
Tapping renewable energy

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The Star Online: Nation

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Umno Youth, Perkasa stage gathering in support of Utusan

Posted: 20 May 2011 06:53 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: About 100 Umno Youth and Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa (Perkasa) members gathered in front of Utusan Melayu (M) Berhad office in Jalan Chan Sow Lin here Friday, to express support for its newspaper which has been accused of publishing lies over issues involving opposition parties.

The gathering which began at about 2pm after Friday prayers was filled with cries of "Hidup Melayu", "Hidup Perkasa" and "Selamatkan Utusan", with some participants also holding posters with the words, "Utusan Perkasa Melayu", written on them.

Seven Umno Youth representatives led by its assistant secretary Datuk Megat Firdaus Megat Junid and seven Perkasa representatives led by its secretary-general Syed Hassan Syed Ali handed a memorandum expressing their support for Utusan Malaysia to the newspaper's deputy editor-in-chief II, Ahmad Abd Hamid.

Syed Hassan told reporters that one of the four main points contained in the memorandum stated that since its establishment, Utusan Malaysia had always fought for the agenda of national development and sovereignty.

"It also champions Malay and Islamic interests that are stipulated under Article 152 (2) and 153 of the Federal Constitution," he said and hoped that Utusan Malaysia staff would keep up their spirits in the face of provocation and opposition from groups with vested interest and narrow politics.

Megat Firdaus, meanwhile, said that Utusan Malaysia had contributed a lot to the nation by creating public awareness on issues and concerns, providing the latest information including on politics, and in educating the people, especially children.

"But does Suara Keadilan discuss history and provide educational input for its readers? It's all politics and lies," he said.

"We the 700,000 of us in Umno Youth will defend Utusan till the end," he added.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Youth had prior to this, sounded that its members would also gather on Friday at the same place (in front of Utusan) and hand a memorandum rejecting the alleged politics of lies by Umno Youth.

However, they postponed the gathering to another date, said its information chief Rozan Azen Mat Rasip, because of the anti-Lynas demonstration, also planned for Friday by the opposition and NGOs, and that Umno Youth and Perkasa members would also be at Utusan Friday.

Cheras police chief ACP Mohan Singh when contacted, said the gathering in front of Utusan was peaceful. - Bernama

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Johns Hopkins medical programme in M’sia will be a big lure: PM

Posted: 20 May 2011 06:27 AM PDT

WASHINGTON: The opening of the world-renowned teaching and research medical institution Johns Hopkins University in Serdang, Malaysia this September would be a big lure, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister said it was expected to attract students, not only from other nations in the region, but also from Middle East and the Indian sub-continent.

"I am confident the Johns Hopkins medical programme will be a phenomenal lure," he said at an event to mark the establishment of the Johns Hopkins Dr Mohan Swami Institute for International Medical Education at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, about an hour's drive from here.

Najib arrived here Friday after a three-day working visit to New York.

Also present at the event Friday were Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin, Malaysian Ambassador to the United States Datuk Jamaluddin Jarjis, Tan Sri Mohan Swami and top leadership of the university, including Edward D. Miller, the Chief Executive Officer of Johns Hopkins University.

The Johns Hopkins medical programme will be offered in collaboration with Perdana University and offer the first private teaching hospital with world-class medical facilities to be established in Serdang under the Mohan's Chase Perdana group.

Najib said he was pleased to note that to staff all these facilities, there had been very good response not only from the local faculty in Baltimore but from others around the world, to teach, work and practice in the Malaysian campus.

According to the premier, his administration had embarked on a plan to actively seek out and encourage Malaysians abroad to return home and at the same time stepping up efforts for skills training at home.

"That is the one reason why I am personally so excited about this partnership and why I couldn't be more pleased with your decision to establish not only a graduate medical school, but also the first private teaching hospital and, more so, a centre for cutting edge clinical research," he added.

Najib said the establishment of the university would encourage more top graduates of Malaysia's universities to stay home, as they now had the chance to participate in the world's best medical school curriculum and advanced clinical research without leaving their country.

Dr Mohan said the first intake of students would be in September, with 100 students reporting at its temporary campus near the Mardi headquarters while a permanent campus was expected to be ready by 2013.

"We hope to take 75 students from Malaysia. About 50 JPA (Public Service Department) scholarship holders are expected to study in our university," said Dr Mohan who was the first Chancellor of HIHT University in India in 2008.

Dr Mohan, who is also the Executive Chairman of the Bursa Malaysia-listed Turiya Berhad, said the total development programme, including building a 600-bed teaching hospital, would be around RM2.4bil.

The Perdana university, which will offer post-graduate studies beginning next year, is to be built on a 52-hectare site in Serdang and is a totally private-funded initiative by Turiya Berhad and Chase Perdana working closely with the Public Private Partnership Unit (3PU).

The project was specifically mentioned in the 2011 budget presented by Najib on Oct 15 last year. - Bernama

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Malaysian ship carrying aid to Gaza gets fresh supplies

Posted: 20 May 2011 05:50 AM PDT

PETALING JAYA: Fresh rations and water have been provided to the passengers and crew of the Malaysian ship carrying aid to Gaza.

Perdana Global Peace Foundation spokesperson Shamsul Azhar thanked the Egyptian authorities for their assistance adding that the supplies, provided Friday morning, were currently sufficient.

MV Spirit of Rachel Corrie (formerly known as MV Finch) has been anchored for the past four days just off the El-Arish Port in Egypt.

"We will be allowed to berth. It's just a matter of waiting. At the moment, everything is fine with the crew and passengers.

"However, their spirits are a bit low as some of these activists are experiencing their first time spending so many days at sea," he said on Friday.

When asked about a media report on Thursday that the ship was ordered to leave the port's waiting area, Shamsul said there had been a lot of confusion.

"It's not that they didn't let us berth. It's just that there are certain procedures they have to follow before they allow us to berth," he said, adding that the Malaysian Embassy in Cairo was helping to speed the process by talking to the Egyptian authorities.

The ship is carrying 7.5km of PVC pipes to help repair Gaza's devastated sewerage system.

It was forced to divert to El-Arish Port after it came under fire from Israeli naval forces when it tried to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza strip.

The ship is skippered by Malaysian Captain Abdul Jalil Mansor who is assisted by four crew members, Zainuddin Mohamad and Mohd Jaffery Ariffin from Malaysia, and Indian nationals Sharma Chandan Shimla and Pal Satya Prakash.

Also onboard are Bernama reporter Mohd Faizal Hassan, New Straits Times reporter Iskandar Alang Bendahara, a volunteer from Felda, Mohd Radzillah Abdullah, and humanitarian activists Derek Graham and Jenny Graham from Ireland, and Julie Levesque from Canada.

Meanwhile, Bernama reported that Matthias Chang, 61, leader of the Malaysian humanitarian aid mission to Gaza has gone on a hunger strike since Thursday evening in protest against the refusal of the authorities here to allow the ship to enter El-Arish Port.

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Malaysia to send aid to Gaza despite obstacles: Najib
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Mahathir: Foundation to send aid to Palestine

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'Nur Kasih' hits cinemas

Posted: 20 May 2011 01:38 AM PDT

When a few entertainment journalists generated a boycott on Remy Ishak recently over something he said, the actor was left baffled and confused. The incident happened after Remy said something along the line, "entertainment reporters do not do their homework." And the next thing Remy know, he was on the boycott list.

"It was all a miscommunication and I never expected things would turn out this way. I had no intention to incur the wrath of the reporters. I am sure I can explain myself if only I'm given the chance," said Remy after the preview of Nur Kasih The Movie at KLCC recently.

According to Remy, he has always enjoyed a good rapport with most entertainment journalists but somehow this time around, he was a bit unlucky when the two female journalists miscontrued what he said.

"I've made a public apology and I want to say it again that I am very sorry for what had happened. Im very humbled by the incident and I promise it will never happen again," said the Malacca-born who earned his popularity through the TV3 series, Nur Kasih, directed by Kabir Bhatia in 2009.

Remy who was first introduced by indie film director Osman Ali in 2006, hope to put the sad episode behind him and move on. He will be busy making promotion rounds of Nur Kasih The Movie which will hit the cinemas on May 19.

"Nur Kasih The Movie should please a lot of cinema goers and fan of Nur Kasih the TV series s it has a lot of winning elements.

There is a few twists here and there but basically it is family-oriented movie," said Remy whose real name is Zalimei Mohammad Bin Ishak.

The 32-year-old actor, who is reputed to enjoy a fling with the leading actress of the movie, Tiz Zaqyah, described Nur Kasih The Movie as "the best thing that ever happened to his acting career so far."

"As for Tiz (pictured above), we are as close as any good friends can be. We are always photographed together because we are invited to the same function. I can't predict what the future holds for us but I dont deny we enjoy a good chemistry on and off screen. Only God knows what happens next," said the actor who used to work as a bell boy at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel before finding his way to be an actor.

In fact, many would be surprised to know this handsome hunk who is dubbed as the answer to 'Malayasian Hero' had done many odd jobs before he got the first taste of the glamour world.

His resume mentioned that Remy was just a simple village boy who used to be a fishmonger, rubber tapper, a labourer doing landscape planting trees and building bridges and a waiter at a 5-star hotel. Remy, however, took the bold way out by leaving his family to start a challenging life in Kuala Lumpur when he was 18.

However, a prominent part in the movie, Anak Halal in 2007 changed Remy's destiny and soon he became the new heart throb of the Malay movie world.

For Remy who has acted in movies like Anak Halal, Evolusi KL Drift 2 and Cun, fame has given him more than what he bargained for.

"Im happy with fame comes money and job offers but the gossips are really killing me," said the actor who has been linked with several secelbrities like Ummi Nazeera, Maya Karin and the latest is Tiz Zaqyah.

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