Isnin, 11 Julai 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

British tabloid targeted police investigators - NYT

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 07:50 PM PDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Five senior British police investigators discovered that their mobile phones were targeted soon after Scotland Yard opened an initial criminal inquiry of phone hacking by The News of the World in 2006, The New York Times reported on Monday.

The disclosure raises questions about whether the police officers had concerns about aggressively investigating the tabloid for fear that their own secrets would be divulged by the paper, the Times reported.

A sign is seen outside the News International Limited complex, in London January 27, 2011. (REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/Files)

Damaging allegations about two of the senior officers' private lives were revealed by other news outlets, the report said.

Employees of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp's now-shuttered News of the World tabloid have been accused of hacking into personal voicemail and paying bribes to British police and other officials for information that became news scoops.

"We are not providing a running commentary regarding the investigation," said a Metropolitan Police spokesman in London. Asked if the Met is aware of the allegations, he said: "I am aware of the story."

The lead police investigator in the initial phone-hacking case, Andy Hayman, resigned from the Metropolitan Police in December 2007.

Members of Parliament are trying determine why investigators decided to strictly limit the initial phone-hacking inquiry in 2006, The New York Times said.

Hayman, assistant commissioner John Yates and several other senior police officials will face questions at a hearing of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday, the newspaper reported.

The committee is looking into whether the fact that the police officials' phones had been hacked had any impact on the scope of their initial investigation, the Times reported, citing two members of the panel.

The committee is also concerned about whether the investigators had a conflict of interest because they themselves were victims of the people they were investigating, the newspaper said.

(Reporting by JoAnne Allen in Washington and Karolina Tagaris in London; editing by Christopher Wilson)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Brown a hacking target as Murdoch delays BSkyB bid

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 07:19 PM PDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Allegations that former British prime minister Gordon Brown was a target of illegal data gathering by Rupert Murdoch's newspapers have piled pressure on the media baron as he tries to prevent investors pulling out of his News Corp empire.

News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch holds a copy of The Sun as he is driven away from his flat in central London July 11, 2011. (REUTERS/Luke MacGregor)

Murdoch and the British government tried to draw the financial and political sting from a newspaper phone-hacking scandal by referring his $14-billion bid for the profitable pay-tv operator BSkyB to a lengthy commission inquiry.

Nevertheless, News Corp shares closed down about 7.58 percent at $15.48 in U.S. trading on Monday, for a fall of almost 15 percent in four days.

U.S. News Corp shareholders suing over the purchase of a business run by Murdoch's daughter filed a revised complaint, saying the British phone hacking scandal reflected how the company's board failed to do its job.

But several major shareholders told Reuters they continue to have confidence in the company and one major investor in the company said the share selloff was overdone.

Donald Yacktman, chief investment officer of Yacktman Asset Management Co of Austin, Texas, the ninth-largest shareholder in News Corp, said the hacking furore "does slightly reduce the predictability of the cash flows, but the impact on the cash flows is minimal at best".

By referring News Corp's bid for the 61 percent of BSkyB it does not already own to the competition regulator, the British government hoped to shield it from a tide of outrage over allegations that reporters for Murdoch's News of the World accessed the voicemails of murder and bomb victims and others.

But the stream of allegations continued.

Tuesday's Guardian newspaper quoted a letter from the Abbey National bank to another Murdoch paper, the Sunday Times, which said there was evidence that "someone from the Sunday Times or acting on its behalf has masqueraded as Mr Brown for the purpose of obtaining information from Abbey National by deception".

News International "noted" the allegation and requested more information.

The Guardian also said Murdoch's mass-selling Sun had obtained details from Brown's infant son's medical records.

The Sun revealed in 2006 that Brown's son Fraser had cystic fibrosis. Murdoch's Times quoted a source at News International saying the story had been obtained from a "legitimate source".

Police confirmed to Brown, who was finance minister and prime minister between 1997 and 2010, that his name had been on a list of targets compiled by Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator at the centre of the voicemail hacking allegations against the News of the World.

"The family has been shocked by the level of criminality and the unethical means by which personal details have been obtained," Brown's spokeswoman said in a statement.

Murdoch, who had already taken a shock decision last week to shut the News of the World, Britain's biggest-selling Sunday paper, and has flown to Britain, had tried to seize the initiative again by withdrawing News Corp's offer to spin off BSkyB's Sky News channel.

The withdrawal of the offer, made to get the deal approved, opened the way for the government to refer the matter to the Competition Commission, whose investigation is likely to take a year or more.

"It's a smart tactical move," said Ian Whittaker, media analyst at Liberum Capital, noting that it also freed the government from a politically unacceptable but apparently unavoidable decision to approve the deal in the current climate.

"It gets the government off the hook. But there's still a very strong chance that in the end it will not go through in the short term or medium term. There are enough players out there that are opposed," he told Reuters.


Murdoch's News Corp wields influence from Hollywood to Hong Kong and owns the U.S. cable network Fox and the Wall Street Journal as well as the Sun, Britain's biggest selling paper.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for his closeness to Murdoch's media empire; he is a friend of Rebekah Brooks, the News International chief executive who was editor at the News of the World during much of the alleged hacking; and he chose another former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, as his communications chief.

Coulson, who quit in January over the scandal, was arrested last week for questioning in connection with phone-hacking and allegations that his reporters illegally paid police for information.

Cameron has defended his choice of Coulson and noted that Brown's Labour party also courted Murdoch when it was in power.

But on Monday he fired a warning shot at Murdoch, saying that News Corp needed to focus on "clearing up this mess" before thinking about the next corporate move.

The referral of the bid may ease the political pressure on Cameron as it meets a main demand of the opposition Labour Party, which had been threatening to drive a wedge into the coalition by forcing a vote in parliament on Wednesday.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the government had moved reluctantly. "They are doing it not because they want to, but because they have been forced to," he said, urging Murdoch to "drop the bid for BSkyB".

Cameron's deputy Nick Clegg, from his Liberal Democrat coalition partners, also urged Murdoch to reconsider the bid for the 61 percent of BSkyB that it does not already own.

Other allegations emerged on Monday that News of the World had bought contact details for the British royal family from a policeman and tried to buy private phone records of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Police declined comment.

"Do the decent thing, and reconsider, think again about your bid for BSkyB," Clegg told BBC News, addressing Murdoch, after meeting relatives of one of the victims of phone-hacking, a murdered schoolgirl.

Eight people, almost all journalists, have been arrested so far in a police inquiry into the allegations, which include one that a company executive may have destroyed evidence. News Corp's British newspaper arm denies any obstruction of justice.

A referral to the Competition Commission means the deal could be blocked on grounds of media plurality. But that would be better for Murdoch than if he and his team were found to be not "fit and proper" to run the broadcaster by the broadcasting regulator OfCom -- which has also been asked for a ruling -- as that could see him lose his existing 39 percent of the company.

(Additional reporting by Paul Sandle, Keith Weir, Tim Castle, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Sinead Cruise, Chris Vellacott and Michael Holden; writing by Philippa Fletcher and Kevin Liffey; editing by Michael Roddy)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Egypt protesters reject PM offer of cabinet reshuffle

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 06:48 PM PDT

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said on Monday he would reshuffle his cabinet within a week, but crowds protesting at slow reforms and foot-dragging in prosecuting the ex-president said they were not satisfied.

Egyptians chant slogans against the government and military rulers in Tahrir square in Cairo July 11, 2011. (REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Protesters rejected Sharaf's statement on state television, in which he also said he had asked Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy to speed up measures to restore security and order in Egypt, and threatened to continue their demonstration.

Four days of protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square have brought traffic in the heart of the capital to a standstill.

Separate protests by hundreds of people were also under way in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the city of Suez. Many Egyptians say remnants of the ex-president Hosni Mubarak's regime in the police and judiciary are trying to delay trials of those accused of crimes before the Jan. 25 uprising.

Sharaf said he had decided to "conduct a cabinet reshuffle within a week to achieve the objectives of the revolution." Some cabinet members, mainly technocrats, were appointed in the last days of Mubarak's rule.

Sharaf said he had also decided to reshuffle provincial governors to meets public aspirations.

Protesters who listened to Sharaf's speech on loudspeakers at Tahrir Square immediately rejected his gesture.

"We came to Tahrir (Square) and will not leave it because Mubarak and his regime have not been tried yet," said Nader el-Sayed, a former football player who is among more than 2,000 people camping in the square.

Protesters in Alexandria put up a banner saying: "We reject Sharaf's statement" and said they were considering escalating their protests.

Monday's protests extended demonstrations for swifter reforms that began on Friday. Some protesters have camped out in Tahrir, erecting tents and canopies on traffic islands in the square.


The square was the heart of the movement that brought down Mubarak on Feb. 11. Five months on, many Egyptians are frustrated that Mubarak's trial has yet to start, though other Egyptians are tired of the protests that disrupt their lives.

A banner at one entrance to Tahrir read: "Revolution first and if needed we are ready to sacrifice with our souls whatever is precious for the revolution to continue and not be stolen."

Mubarak's trial is set for Aug. 3, but protesters say the army has been reluctant to put the former president in the dock.

Former interior minister Habib al-Adli has been jailed for 12 years for corruption, but his trial over the killing of protesters continues. Protesters say the Interior Ministry has yet to be purged of officials who backed tough police tactics.

Sharaf also urged the ruling Supreme Judicial Council to hold trials of former officials under Mubarak and policemen accused of killing protesters in public.

Police used live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas during the 18-day uprising. More than 840 people were killed.

The Public Prosecution office, apparently trying to satisfy protesters, posted a list of the legal measures it had taken against senior officials of the Interior Ministry accused of killing protesters, including trial dates.

But that did not placate the protesters.

"I will continue to protest until the demands of the revolution are met. It is not fair that those who killed the protesters are still sitting in their offices ... and have not been tried and sentenced yet," said John Noshy, a 23-year-old student and one of the protesters in Tahrir on Monday.

Some Egyptians, frustrated by months of turmoil, have criticised protesters for again bringing the centre of the city to a standstill and for shutting off a vast administrative building that stands on the edge of the square.

"The protesters during Egypt's uprising were accused of similar accusations," Noshy said. "But when the revolution succeeded in removing Mubarak in 18 days, everyone said it was a great thing and that the protesters were good people."

There was no sign of a police or army presence in the Tahrir Square area.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, Abdel Rahman Youssef in Alexandria, writing by Yasmine Saleh and Sami Aboudi; editing by Tim Pearce)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Poise and polish

Posted: 12 Jul 2011 03:40 AM PDT

She might be a newcomer, but Fathia Latiff is meeting celebrity life head-on and brushing away gossip.

Young actress Fathia Latiff threw a tantrum on the set of TV3 drama Stanza Cinta recently. And mind you, she wasn't acting. It was real, according to a report in a Malay daily.

Sources said, Fathia lost her temper and threw her mobile phone at director Along Kamaruddin.

But when asked to clarify the gossip, Fathia said: "Whoever started the gossip miscontrued what really took place. I had no intention to behave crudely."

According to her, the report was exaggerated.

"It's not as bad as it sounded. I am so upset that people would choose to believe the rumour. What happened was, I had a migraine, was so stressed out after I received a call that I accidentally threw my handphone but it was not at the director as claimed.

"If I were to read what was said of me, I would think it was a crazy act. But I assure you it was really blown out of proportion," said the 24-year-old budding actress whose real name is Nur Fathia Abdul Latiff.

Fathia, who was featured in the award-winning drama Nur Kasih, said she had no intention to show any disrespect towards the director. In fact, she had immediately apologised to him after the incident.

"I try to forget the incident but I still fear people assume I am a swollen-headed, hot-tempered newbie. I'm glad those who are close to me still have faith in me ... like veteran actress Maimon Mutalib who advised me not to bring personal matters to the set," said the part-time model.

Long before Fathia became a starlet, she often made heads turn because of her glamorous filmstar looks.

Ironically, three years ago, she first appeared in a shampoo commercial where she wore headgear and played futsal. Fathia must have made a big impact through the commercial because many acting offers came her way soon after.

"I've loved acting, singing and modelling since I was a kid. Even my parents found it strange that I should like all three fields, all in one go. They were not supportive at first because they wanted me to focus on my studies," said Fathia, a fifth semester law student at the UiTM in Shah Alam, Selangor.

However, she eventually managed to coax her parents to allow her to be in showbusiness – but they had one condition.

"My parents want me to prove to them that I can balance my studies and acting career. They also warned me not to neglect my studies. I can only take acting offers when I am on semester break. If I break this promise, I have to say goodbye to acting," said the actress of Arab and Indonesian descent who has been featured as the leading actress in three dramas Musang Berjanggut, Hani and Laila Asyikin.

Despite the strict condition imposed, Fathia is aware of the reason behind it.

"My mum (Badriyah Sheikh Hassan Badjenid) always reminds me that acting is just a temporary phase. She said, a lot of newcomers will come and go and you can't be there all the time.

"She also cautioned me, that not everyone will like me so I have to be prepared to take a backseat eventually. What happens if I'm no longer wanted in this industry, where do I go from there?" said Fathia, who is the eldest of four siblings.

For Fathia, to be a lawyer, would be an ideal back-up plan.

"Now that I am in my second year, the course just gets tougher but I have to work hard to maintain my grades. I will pursue my law degree and the acting career will always be a part time job for me."

According to Fathia, strange as it may sound, her family is not even impressed with her acting ability. In fact, she said, they are not even bothered to comment or criticise her acting.

"I am so used to it. They are more interested in my grades than my acting. I have yet to hear my parents giving comments on my acting. I suppose they just don't like me getting involved in this line," said Fathia who credits her author/scriptwriter 75-year-old grandfather Tahir Samad as her mentor.

Fathia already had her first taste of celebrity fame which came in the form of gossip, linking her to handsome actor Fizo Omar.

"Well, I kind of expected this sort of wild gossip. I don't think I should take it seriously because it does me no harm."

On the acting front, she names Lisa Surihani and Scha Al-Yahya as her favourite actresses.

This petite budding star is also one confident actress. She doesn't feel perturbed when compared to her peers or other actresses.

"I don't feel intimidated at all. Why should I be compared to all the other actresses? I'm fairly new and I have not accomplished as much as them. So there is no reason why I should feel intimidated. We are in a different league," added Fathia who finished the drama Hani on TV3, and is current playing the lead role in drama series Stanza Cinta on the same channel. Fathia's stylish and glamorous looks can be seen in new movie Hijab, directed by Pierre Andre, which is scheduled to be release later this year.

"Hijab is so different from the other Malay movies I've watched. It is so original from the script right to the theme and setting. This movie gives a different meaning to faith and I think Hijab is worth checking out," said Fathia.

Stanza Cinta screens every Sunday on TV3 at 9pm.

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Bjorn gets another shot at St. George's

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 06:18 PM PDT

SANDWICH, England (AP) - Thomas Bjorn will get a chance to redeem himself at Royal St. George's after throwing away a chance at winning the claret jug at the British Open on this links course eight years ago.

Three-time major champion Vijay Singh withdrew Monday from the British Open and was replaced in the field by Bjorn.

Bjorn had a two-shot lead playing the par-3 16th when he put his tee shot into the right bunker, then twice watched his shot roll back into the sand. He made double bogey, bogeyed the 17th to lose the lead and closed with a par to finish one shot behind shock winner Ben Curtis.

Singh, who made the British Open as an alternate himself, had been dealing with back problems and had to withdraw from the AT&T National two weeks ago despite still being in contention going into the weekend.

Bjorn might forever be linked with Royal St. George's for the way it ended. He has not played the 16th hole since that day, although Bjorn told Press Association that he has put it behind him - at least for now.

"When I get there, I won't be thinking, 'This is a horror hole.' It's a good hole," Bjorn said. "I just tried to erase it from my memory, but it might just creep into my mind on Sunday if I am playing well."

Bjorn has won 13 times worldwide, including earlier this year at the Qatar Masters. Since losing the Open at Royal St. George's, he had another chance at the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol, losing by one shot when Phil Mickelson birdied the final hole.

"You've really got a problem if you live eight years in the past," Bjorn told PA. "It was difficult for me when I played at Troon in 2004. I really didn't want be there.

But these are the events you want to play in and I'm delighted. At the same time, though, there's some big names who have pulled out and you don't want to see that."

Scott Verplank becomes the first alternate, although he withdrew after the first round of the John Deere Classic last week with an injury and it was not immediately clear if he would fly to England. The next alternate was Ricky Barnes, followed by Heath Slocum.

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The new KLGCC Classic becomes the ninth meet to join the ADT

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 06:00 PM PDT

PETALING JAYA: The PGM-MIDF-KLGCC Classic is the latest Malaysian tournament to join the fledging Asian Development Tour (ADT).

The new event, boasting a prize of RM200,000 (approximately US$66,666), signals the strengthening of the partnership between the ADT and Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Tour.

The latest inclusion will raise the total number of tournaments on the ADT to nine this season.

The PGM-MIDF-KLGCC Classic, the fourth ADT event to be played in Malaysia, will be staged at the prestigious Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club (KLGCC) from Sept 22-25.

Malaysian Industrial Development Finance Berhad (MIDF) will be the main sponsors for the tournament at KLGCC.

Local stalwart S. Sivachandran (pic), last year's ADT Order of Merit champion, and the recent winner of the PGM Malacca Classic, will headline the field at KLGCC. The other rising stars in the region who will compete include Takafumi Kawane of Japan, Hsu Chia-jen of Taiwan, Malaysian Akhmal Tarmizee and Artemio Murakami of the Philippines.

Asian Tour executive chairman Kyi Hla Han hailed the strong support from the PGM, saying its efforts to promote the sport will drive Malaysia to become a powerhouse in Asian golf.

"We are delighted to tie up once again with the PGM who are truly committed towards the development of the game in Malaysia and Asia.

"There is vast potential in Malaysia and since the launch of the ADT last year.

"Malaysian players have made the most of new playing opportunities by excelling in our tournaments.

"Siva is a prime example as he has now won twice on the ADT while others like Akhmal are also showing great potential," Han added.

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MHF turn towards the Dutch to seek hockey improvements

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 05:59 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) will look to the Dutch to improve the hockey structure in the country and also the national team.

For starters, the MHF are hoping that the Dutch hockey authorities will allow at least four to six national players to compete in their national league to gain experience. And on the coaching side they would also like to secure attachments for the local coaches with their clubs.

The MHF president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah earlier this month met with the chief executive officer of Dutch hockey Johan Walkkie in Amsterdam to discuss these issue and seek their help in developing hockey in Malaysia.

MHF secretary Maninderjit Singh who was in Amsterdam as well said the idea to get the Dutch help was mooted by the president and that was the reason for the meeting on the sidelines of the FIH executive meeting.

The Malaysians officials were in Amsterdam for the meeting to make a bid for the FIH Congress to be held in Malaysia next year. They were successful in their bid and the FIH's Congress will be held in Kuala Lumpur from Oct 31-Nov 4. This is the first time the FIH congress will be held in Asia since 1975.

Maninderjit said that the meeting with the Dutch was to seek help not only in regarding the national team and the coaches but also to try and remodel the Malaysian structure at the grassroot level.

"For a country with a population of just over 6.4 million they have almost 250,000 hockey players. They have a vast club structure and almost each club own a turf.

"We hope to conduct a study tour to Holland sometime soon and get more details on their structure. It is not about copying it but to learn and utilise their winning strategies," said Maninderjit.

"The president has got an understanding on the players' attachment and the Dutch will get back to us on the plan later. They are willing to support us and also offer help in other areas as well," he said.

But these initiatives will only take off after the London Olympics next year.

The Dutch league will start in September and there is no way for our players to be involved this year as our national team have their plate full at the moment. The Malaysians will also seek special help in other areas of coaching from time to time and bring in specialised coaches to train the national players.

"Presently we are looking at the Australian league to expose our players. We had two players playing there last month in their league. They are Faisal Saari and Mohamed Shukri Mutalib. We will continue to use the Australian league as well.

"The Dutch league is popular with foreign players and many clubs have either Australia, Indian and Pakistani players in their ranks. It is highly competitive league," he added.

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

US stocks sink on fresh fears about global economy

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 05:57 PM PDT

NEW YORK: July doesn't look so promising anymore.

The European debt crisis appears to be widening, with concerns about government debt defaults spreading beyond Greece to much larger countries like Italy and Spain. If that happens companies that do business internationally could see their revenue and profits decline as European countries and companies curtail purchases. What's more, a widespread financial crisis could cause a credit crunch in Europe and elsewhere.

The concerns sent stocks down. After a rally that sent markets up sharply the last two weeks of June, the Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 24.31 points, or 1.8 percent, to 1,319.49 on Monday.

The Dow Jones industrial average had its biggest percentage drop in nearly a month. It fell 151.44 points, or 1.2 percent, to 12,505.76. And after closing one point off its 2011 high late last week, the Nasdaq composite fell 57.19, or 2.0 percent to 2,802.62.

Italy and Spain, Europe's third and fourth largest economies, have seen bond yields rise sharply. It's the latest sign that investors are less willing to hold the debt of those countries. Italy's largest banks, UniCredit SpA and Intesa, fell sharply on European exchanges. Some investors believe several of Italy and Spain's financial institutions might not pass an upcoming stress-test for European banks.

"What the European Union is trying to do is keep the problem contained at a sovereign level and not have the infection spread to the banking system," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank. "To see a bank drop that much that fast suggests there may be a breach."

That has led to fears in Europe and elsewhere that the aid from international lenders may not be enough to stop a broad deterioration of the European economy.

The S&P fell broadly, led by financial companies. Financial stocks in the index fell 2.8 percent as bank stocks sank. Investment manager Janus Capital Group fared worst, falling 6.8 percent to $9.16. Citigroup Inc. led banks down, declining 5.3 percent to $39.79. If Europe's debt crisis continues to spread, bank lending could seize up. Banks are also expected to report weak earnings beginning later this week.

Of the 500 companies in the S&P index, 492 fell.

The euro fell against the dollar and U.S. government bond prices rose. The euro fell below $1.40 for the first time since May 23 and hit a record low against the Swiss franc. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.95 percent from 3.02 percent late Friday. Bond yields fall when their prices rise.

Markets seemed to be recovering during the last half of June. The last week of the month, the Dow had its best week in two years after several positive reports on manufacturing and consumer spending. All three major indexes were close to their previous highs for the year, reached April 29.

But the run-up just gave markets more room to fall, says Ralph Fogel, an investment strategist at Fogel Neal Partners in New York.

"When markets are at their bottom, they don't listen to bad news. But because we're at the top end, they listen," said Fogel.

The broadening of Europe's debt troubles follows disappointing U.S. employment news and a setback in negotiations over the country's borrowing limit.

The government reported Friday that employers pulled back sharply on hiring in June, compounding fears that the U.S. economy was in even worse shape than previously thought. The unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent.

Weekend budget talks between Republicans and Democrats also stalled, raising the possibility that lawmakers might not reach an agreement on raising the country's debt limit before an Aug. 2 deadline. President Obama said he wouldn't sign a short-term extension to the limit.

"Markets don't like when they don't know what's going on," said Fogel. "They don't appreciate politics."

News Corp. fell 7.6 percent on Monday, the most of any company in the S&P 500, as its phone hacking scandal threatened the approval of its proposed takeover of British Sky Broadcasting, a highly profitable satellite TV company in Britain. The deal will now be reviewed by British competition authorities, which will put off a final decision for several months.

Wells Fargo fell 2.6 percent after the bank offered to settle for $125 million with pension funds that accused it of not warning investors about risky mortgage-backed securities.

Insurer American International Group Inc. fell 3.6 percent after saying it would fire one or more of the banks it used for its recent public stock offering when it sells more stock later this year. The move indicates that the company might not have confidence in its ability to sell more stock at a desirable price.

Gulfport Energy Corp. fell 6.2 percent. The oil and natural gas producer plans to sell 3 million shares to repay debt and pay for acquisitions.

Aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. fell 2.9 percent ahead of announcing its second-quarter results. Alcoa's report marks the unofficial beginning of U.S. earnings season. Aluminum is used in everything from airplanes to beer cans; the company's results typically offer insight into the health of the broader U.S. economy.

The company reported earnings after the market closed. Its income more than doubled as higher sales and prices offset increasing prices for raw materials, the company reported. Alcoa earned 32 cents per share. Analysts expected the company to earn 33 cents per share, according to FactSet. The company reaffirmed its forecast for 12 percent growth in global aluminum demand this year. Alcoa was down 0.4 percent in early aftermarket trading.

Several companies did post gains on Monday. Arch Chemicals Inc. rose 11.7 percent after saying it would be bought by Swiss drugmaker Lonza for $1.2 billion. Arch makes antibacterial products.

Chip-maker Microsemi Corp. was up 2.3 percent after an Oppenheimer analyst upgraded its rating on the company. The analyst cited a growing backlog of orders and improving profit margins.

LinkedIn rose 1.1 percent after web analytics company Comscore said that in June, the professional networking site was second only to Facebook among social networking sites in its number of unique visitors. LinkedIn had 33.9 million unique visitors in June. Facebook had 106.8 million unique visitors.

Six stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was lighter than usual at 3.5 billion shares. - AP

Earlier global market situation

World stocks slump on renewed EU debt concerns

LONDON: Concern that the eurozone's debt crisis could infect Italy and Spain sent global stocks spiraling downward Monday while markets were still reeling from last week's dismal jobs report in the U.S.

Shares in Europe and the U.S. tumbled Friday after Washington announced that the American economy created just 18,000 jobs in June - a fraction of the figure expected. Asian markets followed the trend when they opened Monday.

The downbeat sentiment was worsened by indications that Europe's debt crisis might be spreading beyond the three countries that have already received rescue packages. There have been mounting concerns that after Greece, Ireland and Portugal, much-larger Spain could need a bailout to manage its tremendous debt load.

Now it seems Italy, the eurozone's third-largest economy, could also be affected. On Monday, the Milan Stock Exchange plunged nearly 4 percent - the second session in a row that it has taken a big hit - and the spread between the country's 10-year bond yield and the German benchmark hit a record high. Spain's IBEX 35 index tumbled 2.7 percent.

As the market tensions grew, eurozone officials were meeting Monday to figure out how to get banks to participate in the next rescue of Greece. Those negotiations have been plagued by threats from ratings agencies that they would consider a bank rollover of Greek debt a default.

"It's fair to say that sentiment was shot to pieces by the much-worse-than-expected non-farm payrolls data on Friday, and with concern that the European debt crisis could spread to Italy there's no real incentive to treat this weakness as a time for bargain hunting," said Yusuf Heusen, a sales trader with IG Index.

Those worries are also weighing on the euro, which fell more than 1 percent to $1.4048. Some have said Europe's debt crisis calls into question the future of the common currency, but the slide also reflects investors' preference to park their money in the dollar, which is considered relatively safe in times of uncertainty.

"The euro is likely to remain under downward pressure in the European trading session as the ongoing eurozone debt crisis continues to intensify," said Lee Hardman, a currency economist for Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

On Monday in Europe, France's CAC-40 fell 2.7 percent to close at 3,808, while Germany's DAX lost 2.3 percent to 7,230. The FTSE index of leading British shares closed down 1 percent at 5,929.

One of the biggest losers has been British Sky Broadcasting, which has shed around 2.3 billion pounds ($3.7 billion) in market value since the British government called into question a takeover of the satellite broadcaster by News Corp.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is under scrutiny after revelations that one of its tabloids hacked into the phones of crime and terrorism victims. It shuttered the paper, the News of the World, on Sunday.

Shares in BSkyB closed down 4.6 percent, while the parent company's had fallen 6.7 percent by mid-day in New York.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average lost 0.7 percent to 10,069.53 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng retreated 1.7 percent to 22,347.23. South Korea's Kospi fell 1.1 percent to 2,157.16.

Also dragging sentiment was data released Saturday showing China's inflation accelerated to a three-year high in June even as the overheated economy began to cool. The Shanghai Composite index edged up 0.2 percent to 2,802.69.

The news that the global economy is still struggling pushed oil prices down Monday.

Benchmark oil for August delivery was down $1.25 to $94.95 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. - AP

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News Corp bid for BSkyB referred to regulator

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 05:54 PM PDT

LONDON: A final decision on Rupert Murdoch's biggest takeover battle has been delayed for several months after the British government referred News Corp.'s bid for British Sky Broadcasting PLC to competition authorities, as a phone hacking scandal showed no sign of abating.

The announcement Monday from Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt followed News Corp.'s withdrawal of a promise to spin off Sky News, which had been a condition for buying the 61 percent of the satellite broadcaster that it doesn't already own.

Britain's Competition Commission now must hold a full-scale inquiry into whether the takeover would break anti-monopoly laws. These inquiries usually take six months and Murdoch must be hoping that the current febrile atmosphere surrounding the bid cools down.

"I think it is a smart move, it allows politicians some wiggle room, it takes all the political pressure off," Louise Cooper, media analyst at BGC Partners said. She added that Murdoch had done the government a favor by forcing a competition inquiry - a favor which the media mogul will hope to redeem in the future.

News Corp.'s second dramatic move following last week's decision to close the News of the World, the tabloid newspaper at the heart of the phone hacking scandal, came as the government was facing intense pressure to block the bid from all sides of the political spectrum.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg urged Murdoch to "do the decent and sensible thing" and reconsider the bid for BSkyB, while Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, has threatened a Parliamentary vote on the bid.

Murdoch arrived in London Sunday to personally manage the crisis enveloping his media empire, which has seen the share prices of both News Corp. and BSkyB take a battering over the past few days.

BSkyB shares closed down 4.6 percent at 716 pence ($11.40) on the London Stock Exchange, rebounding from earlier lows. Just a week ago, BSkyB's shares were trading as high as 850 pence, meaning the company has shed around 17 percent of its value, or around 2.3 billion pounds ($3.7 billion).

By midday New York time, News Corp. shares were down 6.8 percent at $16.16, meaning it has lost around $3 billion worth of its value on Monday alone.

Murdoch has a history of getting out of tight situations in Britain, ever since he took control of the News of the World back in 1969. He clearly hopes that taking the proposed takeover out of the political arena may help him get full control of BSkyB.

"News Corp. continues to believe that, taking into account the only relevant legal test, its proposed acquisition will not lead to there being insufficient plurality in news provision in the U.K.," the company said.

A failure to clinch the 7.5 billion pound ($11.9 billion) takeover would be a huge setback for Murdoch, who has built up a global media empire over four decades. The company owns Fox News and the 20th Century Fox film studio, and a raft of newspapers and media outlets all round the world.

As well as being News Corp.'s biggest ever acquisition, full control of BSkyB would have given News Corp. 100 percent of what has become an increasingly profitable enterprise. In the last financial year, BSkyB made a pretax profit of a little under 900 million pounds ($1.43 billion) through its offering of exclusive sports rights and blockbuster movies.

Just a week ago, it looked like the British government was going to wave the deal through, subject to certain conditions, including spinning off the Sky News network. One of the major worries among Murdoch critics was that his stable of news outlets would have too much power over the British media.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister David Cameron said News Corp. needed to resolve the difficulties in its U.K. unit, News International, over the phone-hacking scandal before pressing ahead with the BSkyB bid.

"If I was running this company, BSkyB and News Corp., I would be focused on clearing up the mess that there is in News International, with all the problems that are still coming out," Cameron said following a speech in London. "I suspect there are more problems to come out."

Cameron himself is under pressure too for his close ties to key figures in the scandal, including former News of the World editors, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks.

Coulson has been arrested, while Brooks continues to face mounting pressure to step down from her job as chief executive of News International.

Brooks and several executives have offered to be interviewed by police as witnesses, a source at News International confirmed, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The scandal, meanwhile, gave a small group of News Corp. shareholders new fuel to expand a lawsuit against the company.

The lawsuit, brought by shareholders owning less than 1 percent of News Corp.'s stock combined, accuses the company of large-scale governance failures.

It extends an existing lawsuit and was filed in Delaware Chancery Court by a group led by Amalgamated Bank. Several municipal and union pension funds joined in the lawsuit. - AP

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Italian markets hit by debt crisis contagion fears

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 05:52 PM PDT

MILAN: Italian financial markets slumped on Monday, with the spread between the 10-year bond yield and Germany's benchmark hitting a new record, as investors worried the country may become engulfed in Europe's debt crisis.

Traders fear Italy's banks will take heavy losses on the debt of bailed-out countries like Greece and that government debt will ultimately prove too big to manage without international help.

The bond spread hit 300 points, a record, before edging back slightly. The interest rate on a 10-year Italian bond was 5.64 percent by late afternoon, more than twice the 2.67 percent rate for the German equivalent, considered the safest in the eurozone.

In an effort to keep speculators at bay, the stock market regulator set a limit on short-selling - when traders sell stocks they do not actually own in the hope of buying them back at a lower price.

But the measure, which runs through Sept. 9, failed to support stock markets much, with Milan's FTSE MIB index closing down 3.96 percent.

Banks led the decline - Unicredit dropped by as much as 10 percent and Intesa Sanpaolo by 9 percent, before recovering a bit on closing. Fiat Industrial and Telecom Italian also were among the worst performers.

European Central Bank member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi noted Italian banks were heavily exposed to the sovereign debt crisis - finance ministers in Brussels were discussing Monday how to get the private sector to contribute to the cost of bailout efforts.

"In Italy there is a strong correlation between sovereign debt and bank risk, because of the elevated public debt and because the banks are holding an important quantity of sovereign bonds," Bini Smaghi was quoted as saying by the news agency ANSA.

He said Italian banks were undercapitalized compared with their European counterparts and called for them to raise more cash soon.

The issue is a sensitive one as European financial regulators will reveal on Friday the results of stress tests on 91 EU banks. Mario Draghi, next to take the helm of the European Central Bank, expressed confidence last week that Italian lenders would pass the test, though markets are clearly jittery.

Beyond the banks, investors are also worried about the country's massive public debt, of nearly 120 percent of GDP, and poor growth prospects. Two ratings agencies have warned the country needs to get its public finances in order or risk a downgrade.

The government has introduced a 48 billion ($68 billion) austerity package, now in parliament, to balance the budget by 2014. The market's reaction has been skeptical, however, with stocks and bonds falling steadily since its presentation last week.

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday expressed confidence Monday that Italy will push through the plan.

"I have firm confidence that the Italian government will approve just such a budget ... and, in so doing, Italy will send a signal that it feels committed to consolidation and fighting debt," she said. "The euro in itself is stable, but we have a debt problem in some countries."

Just as Italy needs to project a strong political front, a rift has appeared between Premier Silvio Berlusconi and his finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, raising the specter of political instability.

Berlusconi in an interview with La Repubblica last week said that Tremonti was not a team player.

"He thinks he is a genius and everyone else is an idiot," Berlusconi said. "I put up with it because I've known him for a long time and that's how he is."

Tremonti has been embarrassed by a corruption probe into the activities of a former aide, and last week issued a statement saying he was giving up housing the aide had offered him for the nights he spends in Rome. Tremonti also had to make up with another minister after a microphone caught him calling Renato Brunetta "an idiot" during a press conference presenting the austerity measures.

The two tried to paper it over with a meeting later in the day, issuing a statement saying they had worked on pressing issues including the austerity budget and the government's efforts to balance the budget.

Berlusconi has kept a low profile since an appeals court Saturday ordered his family's investment arm to immediately pay 560 million ($797 million) to a rival in a 20-year-old case involving corruption in the takeover of the Mondadori publishing house. - AP

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Cable fire underneath Penang bridge causes traffic jams

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 05:24 AM PDT

GEORGE TOWN: Hundreds of vehicles were stranded for about two hours on the entrance and exit lanes of Penang Bridge Monday after a cable caught fire.

A spokesman for Penang Bridge Sdn Bhd (PBSB) said there was massive traffic congestion as the cable fire occurred at the peak hour of 5.30pm.

He said traffic improved at 7pm after the fire was put out and repairs were done to the cable.

Penang Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) general manager Abdul Aziz Jaafar told Bernama the cable under the bridge caught fire at 5.25pm.

He said the fire did not affect electricity supply to the state as it was only a standby cable.

"The 132kV cable fire was completely put out at 6.30pm. TNB is investigating the cause," he added. - Bernama

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Sarbaini inquest: Police officer reveals logbook entries

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 03:00 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The inquest into the death of Selangor Customs assistant director Ahmad Sarbaini Mohamed heard Monday that, according to three entries recorded in the Cheras police control centre logbook, a person had reportedly jumped from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) building at Jalan Cochrane here at 10.56am on April 6.

Kpl Nee Itam, from the Cheras police control centre, told the Coroner's court that the first entry at 10.44am read that a police MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) was ordered to go to the MACC building at Jalan Cochrane.

"There was a person trying to commit suicide," she said, reading out the entry at the inquest Monday.

Kpl Nee further revealed that the second entry at 10.49am that day read that the MPV had reached the location.

"At 10.56am, the victim had jumped from the MACC building and may possibly be dead," said the 50-year-old.

Ahmad Sarbaini, 56, who was attached to the Port Klang Customs office, was found dead at the badminton court on the first floor of the MACC building on April 6.

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Haze is back

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 02:56 AM PDT

PETALING JAYA: Major parts of the country were enveloped by haze Monday due to fires in Sumatra and Borneo.

The Meteorological Department website said hazy weather was recorded at 35 out of 40 of its stations with visibility dipping in some areas in the country.

Petaling Jaya recorded a poor visibility level of 2.5km as of 4pm Monday while Sepang and Kuantan had a visibility of 1.5km and 4km respectively.

Normal visibility levels should be more than 10km.

Satellite images showed 217 hotpots in Sumatra Sunday and over 300 for Borneo and 13 for peninsula as of 6am Monday.

The Department of Environment's Air Pollutant Index recorded moderate air quality readings for 36 areas or 73% while the remaining were still within the healthy API reading of between 0 to 50 as of 11am Monday.

The Department would issue another reading at its website later this evening.

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The Ultimate Winner: Li Nanxing's directorial debut

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 04:37 AM PDT

Li Nanxing's own life is the inspiration for his directorial debut in The Ultimate Winner.

FOR many Singaporeans and those who live in the southern region of Malaysia in 1993, their collective memory would be seeing an oh-so-suave Yan Fei as the unbeatable gambling god in The Unbeatables, MediaCorp' first drama series about gambling.

Shot in the vein of Hong Kong gambling classics like God Of Gamblers, the TV series took viewers by storm. Singaporean actor Li Nanxing, who portrayed the ace gambler to perfection with his brooding good looks and winning charm, soon found himself becoming synonymous with the role. Together with Zoe Tay, his love-interest in the series, they are hailed as the King and Queen of Caldecott Hill.

It turned out that it was not just the Singaporeans and the Johoreans who were gripped by the gambling fever brought on by the show's success. The person most emotionally invested in the role was Li himself, who developed a gambling habit and ended up parting with what he described as "a sizable amount" of money.

It would take another eight years after The Unbeatables III, (the third instalment of the hugely popular drama) for Li to hold the poker cards again – this time on the silver screen – in his directorial debut The Ultimate Winner.

The film centres on a gambler, played by Li, who finds himself trapped between the thrills and the quick bucks at the gambling table.

Instead of showcasing fancy card tricks, the first-time director was more interested in delving into human nature and telling a story of lust, greed and power.

The 46-year-old Li, who looked dashing in his black shirt and jeans when he was in Kuala Lumpur recently, revealed that part of the movie was derived from real-life experience, particularly his.

"It may not have happened to you, but those around you. We have a lot of such cases in Singapore. Some of the events in the movie happened to me in real life, especially the gambling part.

"The Unbeatables was so well-received and it spawned a trilogy. I really loved the character Yan Fei. People started calling me that everywhere I went. I got so into the character, thinking that I'm him before I realised that this couldn't go on."

Word had it that at one point, he chalked up a S$2mil (RM4.9mil) debt due to his gambling habit.

Li refused to disclose the figure, saying: "When you lose your direction in life, you tend to listen to no one but yourself. Coupled with an eagerness to get back what you've lost, you would only sink deeper. During scripting, we actually incorporated a lot of what we've seen and heard in real life. So this movie is a representation of what gamblers go through."

Despite tackling a subject matter that he is familiar with, the multiple-award-winning actor, who has 25 years of experience in show business, found himself in foreign territory when it comes to directing.

"I faced huge pressure as I was not familiar with many aspects. I had to rely on professionals and learn from them. I used to just focus on my parts, now I have to take care of other aspects such as editing, but I was lucky to have so many people helping me," said Li.

One of the challenges he faced was shooting car-racing scenes, which were abundant in the film.

"Each of the car costs millions so we had to make sure we carried out safety precautions and we only shot those scenes at midnight when there were no cars on the roads," he said.

It helped that the cast, consisting of his fellow MediaCorp stars and longtime pals like Constance Song, Phyllis Quek, Zheng Ge Ping and Rayson Tan, are seasoned actors.

The younger ones like Dai Yang Tian and Rebecca Lim came with impressive resumes, too. Dai is a rising star in the station while Lim was named Best Actress at last year's Asian Television Awards.

"I was not worried about directing the actors. I didn't tell them what to do. I just told them to be natural in their performances. I watched them perform and then told them how to improve on the scene," said Li.

It was a technique approved by Song, who described the working process as "comfortable".

"Maybe because he is an actor, so he understood the pressure we faced. He's so gentle and never lost his temper once. He talked to us and patiently explained the requirements of the scenes. That helped us a lot," said Song who was at the press conference.

The actress, who looked radiant in a figure-hugging yellow one-shoulder dress, plays socialite Honey Ma, whom Li described as a well-connected person who's seen it all. The character is successful in every aspect but not so in love.

According to Li, Song is the opposite of Ma and he added cheekily: "She has always been a winner in love".

The pair has a love-hate relationship in the film – something Song finds challenging to convey on the big screen

"There're some scenes in which I had little dialogue and had to rely largely on facial expressions," she said.

Is her convincing performance in any way inspired by real life? "Maybe," replied Song coyly, adding: "I'm sure everyone has experienced heartache before, so have I. I can definitely relate to it."

Li also roped in Aaron Chen, a prominent star of the Taiwanese Min Nan drama, who shines here as a two-faced Taiwanese tycoon.

"I needed somebody to showcase the different sides of human nature. I was thinking of getting someone outside Singapore and I straightaway thought of Aaron. He spoke some of his lines in Hokkien," explained Li.

Li, who was tasked with singing the movie's theme song, Zai Hui Shou (Looking Back Again, originally sung by Taiwanese singer Jiang Yuheng), said it gave him sleepless nights.

Another challenge was a love scene. As unbelievable as it may sound, the charismatic actor, hailed as Singapore's answer to Chow Yun-fat, sheepishly said that it's a barrier that he simply can't overcome.

"I just can't bring myself to do it naturally. I'm the conservative kind who thinks that loving glances would suffice …" said Li. As a result, his co-star Song ended up doing many repeated takes for a scene in which she hugged him from behind, simply because she "didn't dare to do it".

Li recalled with a laugh: "I told her to just do it, saying, 'I can't see you from behind'. Still, when she hugged me, I went stiff for a second and my hair just stood up."

Cards, cars, babes and love scenes – they all seem like the right ingredients for a box office success.

"The box office performance is not my concern as my job is to make sure that shooting is completed on time," said Li, adding that they will later promote the movie in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong.

It appears that he has also spent some time thinking of a second movie. "I'm still thinking and looking at different subject matters. We might shoot it a film Malaysia and work with the local actors," he said.

The Ultimate Winner is showing in cinemas nationwide.

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Everyman Hanks

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 12:41 AM PDT

Tom Hanks heads back to school with Larry Crowne.

LET'S say in some alternate reality, Tom Hanks winds up working at a Wal-Mart-style retail chain. Here is how his day goes: He bounds out of his car with a beaming grin, stooping to pick up stray trash in the parking lot.

From afar, he notices a breakable item in danger of falling and strides over to nudge it back to safety on the shelf. Amid giddily greeting customers, he rallies co-workers into a laughing bucket brigade to restock items, turning what should be a dreary job into a game to be savoured.

That is our first glimpse of the title character Hanks plays in Larry Crowne, a timely tale about a man who makes the best of his lot, even when he is downsized out of a job during these hard times and must head back to school to build a new future.

It is all about attitude, says Hanks, getting up each day with the thought that there is action to be had and a party to join into. Hanks, the movie's star, director, producer and co-writer, thinks that is how he would approach life if he were in Larry's place rather than being one of the biggest stars in the world.

"I'd be the gang leader of the common break area. I'd be the guy organising the pinata parties, stuff like that. Absolutely," Hanks, 54, says in an interview for Larry Crowne, (which opens this Thursday in Malaysia) and reunites him with his Charlie Wilson's War co-star, Julia Roberts.

"The concept of putting on a show begins as soon as you wake up in the day," Hanks says. "And Larry, the theatre of his life starts when he goes through those doors, and it's like, 'I'm a team leader, and I'm wearing the red Polo"' – the store employees' uniform.

"When Larry picks up trash in the parking lot, that's the first thing he does, because you've got to have a little pride. And I'm a trash picker-upper. What can I tell you?"

A former US Navy cook who never went to college, Hanks' Larry is a model worker at U-Mart, the retailer where he is a perpetual employee of the month. Fifty-something, divorced, with a house worth less than he owes on it, Larry tumbles into an abyss familiar to millions after management lets him go.

Larry is forced to downsize his life, selling things off, struggling to resolve his mortgage mess, and switching over from a gas-guzzling SUV to a fuel-sipping scooter.

He lands part-time work at a diner while taking classes at a community college as he seeks to boost his employment prospects. Along the way, he fashions a new life for himself, making friends with a circle of oddball classmates and finding romance with his boozy, disillusioned public-speaking teacher (Roberts).

That's a rosy outcome for a middle-aged back-to-schooler, but Larry Crowne co-writer Nia Vardalos says it is the outlook Hanks brings to life.

"This is a very Tom Hanks movie. This is really how the world should work," Vardalos says of Hanks, who was a producer on her unexpected romantic blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding, another story of boundless optimism.

"A man should get to go to school and get a second chance and get to bag Julia Roberts, in a world according to Tom Hanks."

Larry's situation certainly is not one that Hanks has to worry about. He started out at community college himself – "because of lack of money and drive and wherewithal," Hanks says – but the two-time Academy Award winner has been rich and famous for most of his adult life.

Yet he has built a career as an Everyman who inhabits roles with absolute authenticity, whether it is a lawyer dying of AIDS in Philadelphia, a wry, war-weary soldier in Saving Private Ryan, a taciturn hit man in Road To Perdition or a Federal Express worker stranded alone on an island in Cast Away.

Sliding into the skin of a workaday guy down on his luck is just another day at the office for Hanks.

"Granted, yes, I am a well-known, cheesehead celebrity that has been in front of the cameras for a while, so people do know me," Hanks says.

"But part of it is definitely remembering what it was like to be terrified. If you've had any time in your life where the phone didn't ring, and you had two kids and you didn't know if you were going to be able to make your house payment or not, and you had no B Plan of escape, well, you remember what those 3 o'clock in the morning sessions were in the mirror of your living room or bathroom, saying, 'What is happening?' ...

"It's not hard for anyone to empathise, I don't think, with a guy who walks in to work one day thinking everything is hunky-dory and then finding out, 'Sorry, no hard feelings, but you're fired.' I think that's part of the human condition that transcends more than just your station in life."

Hanks has written, produced and directed for television with such miniseries as Band Of Brothers and From The Earth To The Moon. Larry Crowne is only his second time writing and directing for the big-screen, after 1996's That Thing You Do!.

The idea for Larry Crowne came to him long before our current economic mess, though it gained resonance as Hanks shaped the story and Larry's plight began to reflect what was happening to millions of real people.

Larry's eager approach to classes and the easy, hopeful way he glides into his new routine have their roots in Tom Hanks' school days.

"I loved going to school, which is the antithesis of a lot of people. I loved junior high, I loved high school, because there was action there. I never cut a single class of any school I ever went to, because I couldn't imagine that something better was going on somewhere else as opposed to here." – AP

Larry Crowne opens in cinemas nationwide this Thursday.

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Island of doom

Posted: 11 Jul 2011 12:32 AM PDT

A survival competition turns deadly for its participants.

HERE'S the Chinese version of Survivor with a horrific twist. A bunch of adventurous youths are given maps and put on a deserted island for a competition which offers a multi-million dollar cash prize.

Mysterious Island starts off under seemingly fine conditions with eight participants from South-East Asia and the greater China region, who are divided into four groups. Counting the TV host and a videographer, there are 10 people in the entourage.

As the boat nears the island, an accident occurs and all their maps are lost except for one piece. Taking refuge in a dilapidated building, they are shocked to discover that it was once a leprosy settlement.

Then, one by one, the contestants are found dead. The survivors begin to panic as they suspect that the killer is among them.

The 95-minute horror thriller is directed by Chung Kai Cheung (A Decade Of Love and A-1 Headline), who said in the production notes that he took his inspiration from movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Evil Dead. Chung's youthful cast include eye-candy from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and America.

The nubile lasses are portrayed by China's Yang Mi, Hong Kong's Maggie Lee, Taiwan's Janel Tsai and Anya, and US-born Jessica Xu. Also starring Hong Kong actors Jordan Chan, Chui Tien You, Wong Yau Nam and Shaun Tam plus Japanese-born Hong Kong-based Hayama Hiro (also known as Hayama Go).

Various trailers have been released for the movie, most of which do not reveal much of the storyline but lean heavily towards its female lead Yang Mi, who looks perpetually in fear and sounds like quite the screamer.

However, the Chinese media appear more interested in Hong Kong's current hottest headliner Hayama. The dashing Japanese model-turned-actor is the male lead of the stereoscopic softcore sizzler 3D Sex And Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, an adaptation of the classical novel The Carnal Prayer Mat, which details the sexual exploits of a Ming Dynasty scholar.

Taking on a role considered too daring for the current crop of Hong Kong actors, Hayama, who speaks English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and Hokkien, shot to fame in the erotic comedy, which took the Hong Kong box office by storm.

He has previously featured in several Jacky Chan blockbusters such as The Medallion (2003), New Police Story (2004), The Myth (2005), Robin-B-Hood (2006) and Shinjuku Incident (2009).

The characters

> Shen Yi Lin (played by Yang Mi): From inner China, Yi Lin is an office worker who is a dreamer. She is also quite the coward and always gets bullied due to her soft personality.

> Tina (Maggie Lee): Hailing from Hawaii, she is a self-centered and arrogant mixed-blood beauty whose only goal is to win the game.

> Guan Zhi Chun (Janel Tsai): Charming and fascinating, this confident lass is a professional model who will do anything to get what she wants.

> Chen Liang Liang (Anya): A Singaporean doctor who loves outdoor activities and knows martial arts, her main strength lies in her skills of observation and logical reasoning ability.

> Peng Fei (Jordan Chan): Neither lofty nor handsome, this is one guy who likes to surprise the others with bad jokes.

> Shi Nan (Chui Tien You): This Taiwan lad is one fashionable young man with an impetuous and curious personality, which gets him into trouble.

> Masahiro Kato (Hayama Hiro): A robust Japanese with tattoos all over his body and acts like a gangster.

> Zhang Xiao Long (Wong Yau Nam): A muscular rock climber from China who is brave and kind, but sometimes acts recklessly.

> Stanley (Jessica Xu): A dedicated TV emcee, she is open-minded and good at decision making.

> Ken (Shaun Tam): One responsible videographer who is always around to record the primary scene of events with his videocamera.

> Chen Jia Dong (Philip Keung): Owner of the island who is also the organiser of the survival game.Seto Kit Yan

Mysterious Island opens in local cinemas this Thursday.

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