Rabu, 13 Julai 2011

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Longoria's Vegas nightclub closes amid money woes

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 08:13 PM PDT

LAS VEGAS (AP): A Las Vegas nightclub owned by "Desperate Housewives" co-star Eva Longoria is temporary closing its doors amid financial troubles.

Longoria's Beso club within the CityCenter complex on the Las Vegas Strip closed Monday to save money.

Beso LLC bankruptcy attorney Lenard Schwartzer said Wednesday that the restaurant attached to the club will remain open because it is profitable.

He says the nightclub could eventually be renovated and reopened.

Beso LLC filed in January for bankruptcy to remain operating while reorganizing nearly $5.7 million in debt. The federal Chapter 11 filing claimed the nightspot was losing more than $76,000 per month.

Longoria owns nearly one-third of the business but is also listed as an unsecured creditor.

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The Star Online: World Updates

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Syrian military kills four in renewed assaults

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 08:01 PM PDT

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian forces killed four villagers on Wednesday near Turkey, rights campaigners said, in an expansion of a military campaign to crush dissent against President Bashar al-Assad.

A government loyalists holds up a picture of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad during a protest outside the U.S. embassy in Damascus July 11, 2011. (REUTERS/Stringer)

The four were killed in tank-backed assaults on at least four villages in the Jabal al-Zawya region in northwestern Idlib province near the border with Turkey, an activist in Idlib and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Assad, from Syria's Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Islam, is struggling to put down widening demonstrations in outlying rural and tribal regions, in suburbs of the capital and in cities such as Hama and Homs demanding an end to his autocratic rule.

Mass arrests and heavy deployment of security forces, including an irregular Alawite militia known as shabbiha, have prevented demonstrations in central neighbourhoods of Damascus and in the commercial hub of Aleppo.

Military assaults on towns and villages in Idlib began five weeks ago after large demonstrations across the rural province demanding political freedoms, forcing thousands of refugees to flee to Turkey.

"We are seeing a military escalation following the regime's political escalation," the activist in Idlib, who declined to be named for fear of arrest, told Reuters by phone.

He was referring to the arbitrary arrests of thousands of Syrians that intensified in the last two weeks, according to human rights campaigners.

The arrests continued despite the authorities convening what they described as a "national dialogue" conference composed mostly of Assad supporters. Assad loyalists also attacked the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus.

Assad loyalists in the coastal city of Latakia surrounded the British Council on Wednesday, a main institution for Syrians wanting to learn English.

They threw eggs and tomatoes into the compound while shouting profanities against Britain and Prime Minister David Cameron, but did not enter the premises, a witness said.


Syrian security forces arrested at least 30 people, including prominent film directors Nabil Maleh and Mohammad Malas, known for works chronicling malaise under Assad family rule, and actress May Skaf, during a pro-democracy protest in Damascus on Wednesday, rights organisations said.

They were among a group of artists who issued a declaration this week denouncing state violence against protesters and demanding accountability for the killings of civilians and the release of thousands of political prisoners held without trial.

"It was a peaceful protest of leading artists and intellectuals. Security forces and shabbiha surrounded and verbally abused them," a statement by the Syrian human rights organisation Sawasiah said.

This month, singer Ibrahim Qashou was found dead in the Orontes river in Hama with his throat slit, residents said. He had composed a song entitled "Assad leave", which was repeated by hundreds of thousands of protesters in the city.

The attack was reminiscent of assassinations of Assad family critics in the 1980s inside and outside Syria. At that time, the body of Lebanese journalist Selim al-Lawzi was found with his hand dipped in acid in Lebanon.

International powers, including Turkey, have cautioned Assad against a repeat of massacres from the era of his father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, who brutally crushed leftist and Islamist challenges to his rule.

The U.S. and French ambassadors visited Hama in a show of support on Friday. Three days later their embassies were attacked by Assad loyalists. No one was killed in the attacks which were condemned by the United Nations Security Council.

The attacks also drew sharp responses from Washington and Paris, which had led a European drive to rehabilitate Assad internationally in return for stabilising Lebanon.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that Assad had "lost legitimacy" for failing to lead a democratic transition, but stopped short of explicitly calling on him to step down.

In the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, two explosions hit minor gas pipelines, residents said. The official state news agency said a pipeline had caught fire due to either dry weather conditions or a leakage in the line.

The growing numbers of protesters have breathed new life into the Syrian opposition. A meeting of Assad opponents in Istanbul ended on Wednesday with a call for the army to side with the protesters.

(Additional reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore in Istanbul, Mariam Karouny and Oliver Holmes in Beirut; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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French writer denies pressured into DSK complaint

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 07:30 PM PDT

PARIS (Reuters) - A French writer who has accused former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempting to rape her in 2003 denied on Wednesday she had come under political pressure to go press charges.

Tristane Banon, 32, filed the complaint last week over an incident she says took place when she went to interview the former French finance minister in a Paris apartment.

French writer Tristane Banon (L) walks with her lawyer David Koubbi as they leave his office in Paris July 5, 2011. (REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

Many in France ask why she waited eight years to take action against Strauss-Kahn, who was the Socialist Party's leading candidate for the 2012 presidential election until he was arrested by New York police in mid-May on charges of attempting to rape a hotel maid.

Strauss-Kahn has denied the charges in New York and filed a counter-complaint for defamation in France against Banon.

The writer, in her first television interview since taking legal action, Banon denied there was any political agenda behind the move and rejected accusations that she was trying to win public attention for herself.

"The people who know me know that I am neither unstable nor being manipulated, be it by the mayor of my town or by the political parties of the left or right," she told France 2 television.

"If I was doing this to win publicity, it would be a very costly way of doing it," said Banon, who appeared calm and unruffled by questioning.

Banon said at the time of the alleged attack that legal advisors, journalists and her mother, a local councillor representing Strauss-Kahn's Socialist Party, advised her against pressing charges.

Banon was interviewed by French police on Monday in the first step in a preliminary investigation of her accusations.

(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Murdoch, savaged in parliament, pulls British TV bid

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 07:30 PM PDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch withdrew his bid for broadcaster BSkyB on Wednesday, as outrage over alleged crimes at his newspapers galvanized a rare united front in parliament against a man long used to being courted by Britain's political elite.

A protester wearing a caricature giant head depicting News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch sits next to a puppet of Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron outside Murdoch's apartment in central London July 13, 2011. (REUTERS/Andrew Winning)

The Australian-born billionaire's U.S.-based News Corp, thwarted in a key move to expand its media empire in television, said it would keep its 39 percent of the highly profitable pay-TV network, but left investors guessing over whether it might try again to buy up the rest, or even sell up.

The withdrawal removes the most pressing political conflict the company faced. But a police probe and new public inquiries into the scandal and into media regulation as a whole may keep an unflattering spotlight on it and weaken the influence the 80-year-old media magnate has enjoyed in Britain for decades.

"Successive prime ministers have cosied up to Murdoch," said politics professor Jonathan Tonge of Liverpool University.

"Now it's a new era. Political leaders will be falling over themselves to avoid close contact with media conglomerates. This is a turning of the tide. It's parliament versus Murdoch."

While there was no clear legal obstacle to letting the bid proceed via a regulatory review, having won informal government blessing some time ago, even Murdoch's dramatic closure of the scandal-hit News of the World tabloid had failed to stem public anger, leaving the $12 billion buyout politically untenable.

"With such universal political disapproval it would have been foolhardy to carry on," said stock analyst Steve Malcolm at Evolution Securities. "It would be a futile pursuit."

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, under fire over his own ties to former News of the World journalists, threw his government's weight behind an opposition motion on Wednesday that denounced Murdoch's bid to extend his media power while police were investigating whether his journalists hacked into the voicemails of thousands of people in search of stories.

"It has become clear that it is too difficult to progress in this climate," News Corp deputy chairman Chase Carey said, adding that the group, whose top executives have gathered in London, remained "a committed long-term shareholder" in BSkyB.


Shares in News Corp, also owner of Fox television and the Wall Street Journal in the United States, had shed 15 percent in a week on fears of widening damage to its brands and a loss of opportunity in television. They ended the day up 3.8 percent as investors welcomed relief from poisonous publicity.

BSkyB closed up around 2 percent.

Shareholders had been concerned by talk from politicians in the United States and Australia about mounting investigations. In Washington, three senators said on Wednesday that the Justice Department and securities regulator should investigate whether News Corp broke laws in the United States over phone hacking.

There have been reports that families of victims of the 9/11 attacks may have been targets of would-be phone hackers.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said they would review the letters sent by the senators as part of standard practice, but that did not mean an investigation would be initiated.

For a week, Britain has been in uproar since a major turn in the long-running saga of phone-hacking by the News of the World. Rival newspapers published allegations that, far from being limited to spying on the rich or powerful, the practice extended to victims of crimes, including child murders and the 2005 London bombings, as well as to parents of Britain's war dead.

Cameron has been embarrassed by the arrest of his former spokesman -- a former News of the World editor -- and has had little choice but to follow the popular mood against Murdoch and News International, News Corp's powerful British newspaper arm which also owns the best-selling Sun tabloid and London's Times.

"This is the right decision," Cameron said of the withdrawal of the BSkyB bid. "This company clearly needs to sort out the problems there are at News International, at the News of the World. That must be the priority, not takeovers."

A person familiar with News Corp's dealings said Murdoch is now turning his attention to dealing with the political, legal and regulatory fallout from the hacking scandal. Having closed News of the the World and abandoned the BSkyB deal, he has resolved immediate business issues. Any further review of business assets, including possible sale of its UK newspapers, would be considered at a later date, the source said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that News Corp was assembling its legal team of big-name lawyers to lead the damage control efforts, and it includes a former head of U.K. prosecution and a prominent Washington D.C. law firm, Williams and Connolly LLP.

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

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Relaxed Mickelson aims to halt appalling results on British soil

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:33 PM PDT

PHIL Mickelson plans to relax and enjoy the British Open this week and, judging by his appalling 20-year record in the sport's oldest Major, it seems as good as an approach as anything he has tried before.       

Mickelson is undoubtedly one of the best players of the modern era and but for the presence of Tiger Woods, would have won considerably more than the near-50 tournaments on his already impressive stat sheet.       

The American can still point to three Masters wins, a US PGA, five second or joint-second places in the US Open and more than US$62 mil in prize money, not to mention eight appearances for his country in the Ryder Cup.       

Yet when it comes to the British Open, the graceful left-hander with a touch of genius in his wedge is somehow transformed into a Sunday morning hacker.

In 17 Opens, Mickelson has finished in the top 10 only once, third at Troon in 2004, and has had only five finishes inside the top 25.       

At St Andrews, his roll of dishonour reads 40th, 11th, 60th and (last year) 48th. He failed to make the cut at his two Carnoustie Opens while his only previous appearance at Royal St George's in 2003 produced a 13-over tie for 59th.       

"I'm entering this year kind of like a fresh start," Mickelson told a news conference after a breezy morning practice round on Tuesday.

"I'm not going to worry about past performances and I'm going to try to learn and enjoy the challenge of playing links golf and I'm having fun doing that.

"I'm trying to pretend like it's my first time here. I'm trying not to dwell and don't want to look back on my past performances that haven't been what I expect. I'm not trying to fix any past poor play.

Mickelson, whose first crack at the Open came when he tied 73rd as an amateur at Birkdale 20 years ago, said he had been working hard to identify why he has consistently struggled.       

"Learning some of those nuances of the course is something I'm trying to do a little bit more effectively now, so that I can make better decisions while I'm out playing."

Mickelson, a deadly putter on the PGA Tour but regularly off-beam at the Open, said his experience on the sodden links of the Scottish Open last week had helped convince him he was finally making progress on that aspect of the game.       

"I feel very confident heading into this Open Championship on the way I'm going to read and putt the greens." – Reuters       

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Masters champ Schwartzel happy to be given underdog tag

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:33 PM PDT

BOASTING a record in this year's Majors that's the envy of most of his peers, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel should be regarded as one of the favourites for the British Open.

The 26-year-old South African possesses a decent background in links golf and has enjoyed three weeks of ideal preparation in dry, windy conditions for the year's third Major, which starts today.

However, he is as long as 50-1 by some British bookmakers to win at Royal St. George's and continue his impressive run of results in 2011, which includes that memorable victory at Augusta as well as a joint-ninth finish at last month's US Open.

Not that he's bothered.

"In a way, I've always liked playing the underdog and then surprising people," Schwartzel said. "I'm out there to give it my best and see if I can win this tournament.

"Whether my odds are 200-1 or 12-1, it doesn't make any difference to me."

Maybe it's his disappointing record in previous British Opens that's putting off the bookies.

A tie for 14th at St. Andrews last year is his best result on these shores. The seven years before that, he failed to qualify twice and missed the cut four times.

One of those missed cuts was at Royal St. George's in 2003 when, as an 18-year-old player in his first season out of the amateur ranks, he found himself atop the leaderboard early in the first round.

"My first British Open was here - I remember, I think I led after three holes and got such a fright when I saw my name on the leaderboard that was all I can remember," Schwartzel said. "After that, it was a bit of a blur.

"It's what, eight years later. I think I'm a bit more mature and understand the game a bit better."

That development was demonstrated at Augusta in April, when he took advantage of Rory McIlroy's meltdown on the final day to emerge from the pack and win his first Major, by two shots.

His closing 66 included birdies on each of his last four holes to become the third South African to win the Masters, after two-time winner Gary Player (1974,78) and Trevor Immelman (2008).

With Louis Oosthuizen the defending British Open champion, South Africa currently hold two of the four Major titles, helping the sport blossom in the country.

"There's lots of youngsters out there that all of a sudden have a really big interest. I'm sure it's made a big difference to South African golf," Schwartzel said. – AP

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Rory wants to emulate Tiger’s feat of winning British Open after US triumph

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:32 PM PDT

RORY McIlroy will try to emulate Tiger Woods at Royal St George's this week by winning the British Open four weeks after winning the US Open.

Woods was the last to achieve that rare feat in 2000 when he staggered the golf world by winning the US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes and then taking the British equivalent by eight strokes at St Andrews.

The American was 24 when he achieved that feat, two years older than McIlroy, who lifted the first half of the double by demolishing the field to win the US Open by eight shots at Congressional Country Club outside Washington.

Sadly, Woods will not be on hand to challenge golf's new superstar as the fallen idol continues to battle the serious leg injuries that have cast doubts on the rest of the 35-year-old's career.

And with Phil Mickelson rarely a serious contender on links courses, the US threat looks distinctly threadbare with the world's top three players – Englishmen Luke Donald and Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer of Germany – all joining McIlroy atop the betting charts.

The Ulsterman took three weeks off after Congressional, but played two practice rounds at Royal St George's last week before heading home again and only returning on Tuesday.

Asked if the pressure and expectations on his shoulders would be all the greater for having won his first Major at the US Open so handsomely. McIlroy replied: "It's nice to get that first one out of the way and focus on getting more."

"It has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders."

The same cannot be said about Donald and Westwood, the two top ranking players in the world.

Both of them are seeking their first Major titles.

Donald, who won the Scottish Open last week for his third title of the year, is aiming to become the first English winner of the Open since Nick Faldo in 1992 and the first British winner since Scotland's Paul Lawrie in 1999.

Despite a miserable Open record with just one top 10 finish in 10 attempts, he believes that his game is primed to smash his duck in the Majors.

"This is the best I've played," he said of his current purple patch.

"I had a solid year in 2006, won over in the US and ranked up a bunch of Top 10s, but this is the most consistent I've been, I think, throughout my whole game."

Westwood has the best record in the Majors of any player over the last three years, including a third place in the 2009 Open at Turnberry, where he missed a putt at the last hole to get into a playoff with eventual winner Stewart Cink and Tom Watson, and a runner-up slot last year seven strokes adrift of Louis Oosthuiszen.

"Hopefully it's a mathematical progression, third, second, obviously I'm hoping for a first," he said. – AFP

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The Star Online: Business

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Google social net is about preserving leadership

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 05:53 PM PDT

NEW YORK: Google didn't build its new Plus service simply to have an online hangout like Facebook.

Rather, Google's new social-networking endeavor is about trying to gain valuable insights into people's lives and relationships. This could help the company do a better job of targeting ads so that advertisers would pay more and have less reason to spend their money on Facebook.

If it succeeds, Plus represents Google's best shot yet at muscling into a market that has threatened to topple the Internet search and advertising leader, as Facebook leads the way in making the online world social.

Plus is Google's carefully scripted venture into a territory where its previous efforts have been duds.

On the surface, Plus is reminiscent of Facebook - with a Google touch. It lets people share photos and status messages, chat with friends and acquaintances and follow news updates. A prominent feature called circles allows users to organize the people they interact with into groups, such as family, close friends or fishing buddies. Users can choose to share things only among certain circles.

Google Plus is still in a restricted, test phase, and invites to join are highly coveted. Only time will tell if it takes off among the broader public or if it's too little, too late to face off with Facebook and Twitter on the social front - just as Microsoft has failed to surpass Google in search with latecomer Bing.

Google Inc., which reports its latest quarterly results on Thursday, has done quite well without its own social network. Its search engine accounts for two-thirds of queries made in the U.S., and even more in parts of Europe. Its revenue is expected to surpass $36 billion this year, the bulk of it from text ads that appear alongside search results and other Web content.

But online behaviors are changing. People are spending more time on Facebook and other social networks. And they are increasingly relying on their friends' recommendations when deciding where to eat and what movies to watch.

Google, meanwhile, has bungled past social media efforts. A sharing program called Wave was quickly killed off because users didn't know what to make of it. Buzz, a later venture, was the center of a privacy fiasco. Google had been too aggressive about automatically creating circle of friends, which inadvertently revealed whom they've corresponded with on Gmail.

Early response to Google Plus has been positive. But that's no guarantee for broader success. As Google botched one social media effort after another, Facebook grew exponentially.

Today, half of Facebook's 750 million worldwide users log on to the site every day. That's roughly the entire population of the U.S. and U.K combined. More than 250 million people engage with Facebook in some form on outside websites each month around the world. They do this by clicking the ubiquitous "like" and "recommend" buttons on news and other sites or by logging on to websites using their Facebook passwords.

Google's chairman and former CEO, Eric Schmidt, has acknowledged that the company failed to respond to Facebook's threat fast enough. His successor, Google co-founder Larry Page, has made social networking one of his top priorities since he took over in April.

"We don't think it's a coincidence that (Google Plus) was introduced less than three months after Page returned to the CEO post," said Standard & Poor's equity analyst Scott Kessler in a note to clients.

Facebook's greatest advantage is the immense trove of information that its users have shared about themselves through about 4 billion posts and connections they make collectively every day. Facebook knows what people are reading, eating and watching. It knows who's friends with whom, and which friends people trust for recommendations on what shoes to buy and which plumbers to hire.

Google can't index most of this information on its search engine because Facebook doesn't share it. Instead, Facebook has formed a search partnership with Google rival Microsoft Corp. In May, Microsoft's Bing search engine started to use information from people's Facebook preferences to tweak its search results. This means Facebook users who search for shoes or concert tickets on Bing might get results that are tailored to the interests they listed on the site. For people who aren't logged on to Facebook when they search, Microsoft's search engine might still emphasize links that other Facebook users have recommended.

That puts Google at a disadvantage. Unless it can get similar data through a social service of its own, Google is left with a formula that sorts through the pattern of Web links and other computer data to determine where a site should rank in its recommendation. The system has become increasingly vulnerable to manipulation by websites looking to rank higher than their rivals. As a result, Google search results might not be as useful as recommendations drawn from an analysis of what they have already signaled that they like by pressing a Facebook button.

There's another key way that social data can help Google.

On Facebook, companies can target their advertising with razor-sharp precision given all sorts of information that people willingly share, such as a preference for Coke over Pepsi or whether they've ever been married. For example, they can show a particular Cheetos ad only to single men aged 17 to 41 who live in New York, are Yankee fans and enjoy the "World of Warcraft" video game.

"That's Facebook's biggest calling card to marketers," said Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst with eMarketer.

Advertisers are typically willing to pay more for such targeting because they'd be pitching to consumers most likely to buy. Google does a good job already of targeting ads based on what people search for, write about in emails and watch on YouTube. Social data could help Google do even better.

Danny Sullivan, who follows Google closely as editor-in-chief of the blog Search Engine Land, said that if Google Plus succeeds, Google would get "a good insurance policy" amid the rise of social networks.

The need for it became apparent when Google's deal to include Twitter updates in its search results expired recently, Sullivan said. Google has temporarily shut down its "RealTime" search feature, though it told users to stay tuned while it explores how Google Plus will figure into it.

That said, Google Plus doesn't necessarily need to be a Facebook clone.

"Google needs to have a social strategy that is relevant to Google and the way people use Google applications," said Susan Etlinger, analyst at Altimeter Group. "That's very different from how people use Facebook."

Facebook is, for now, an online hangout above all. People go there to scan status updates, chat with a friend or look at the latest photos, without necessarily having something specific in mind.

With Google, people usually have an objective, whether that's searching for a hair stylist or sending an email about an upcoming party. Google's task is to make its existing products social as "social" becomes the norm for online activity, she said.

"Eventually everything is going to be a social network," Etlinger said. "Social capabilities will be in everything on the Web." - AP

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New York Times Co. to repay US$250mil loan early

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 05:51 PM PDT

NEW YORK: The New York Times Co. will repay a $250 million, high-interest loan from Mexican telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim earlier than expected, allowing the company to reduce interest payments.

Companies affiliated with Slim, a shareholder of the Times Co., lent the money at a hefty 14 percent interest rate at the height of the recession in January 2009. It came at a time when credit markets were tight and revenue prospects were bleak because of declines in print advertising.

Since then, the Times Co. has found other sources of cash, including the sale of $225 million in notes late last year at a lower rate of about 6.6 percent. The company also sold most of its midtown Manhattan headquarters for $225 million and is renting back the offices from the new owners. Print advertising revenue remains weak, but the company's flagship newspaper has begun charging for full access to its website.

"Over the past two years we have significantly strengthened the Times company's cash position," said Janet L. Robinson, president and chief executive.

The Times Co. said Wednesday that the early payment of the loan will result in a pretax charge of about $46 million in the third quarter. But the company will save at least $39 million per year in interest and fees over the next three years.

The company plans to repay the $250 million in notes due in 2015 on Aug. 15. It previously planned to repay the notes after Jan. 15, 2012, which was already three years ahead of the original schedule. The total payment will be about $279 million, which includes interest and about $26 million in fees for repaying the loan early.

The company also recently sold more than half of its 17.8 percent stake in the Boston Red Sox for $117 million and said the deal gave it a pretax gain of $64 million. It said earlier this month that it will continue to look for a buyer for the remaining shares it owns in Fenway Sports Group, the parent company of the Red Sox, the Liverpool Football Club and other properties.

Forbes lists Slim as the world's richest man. Slim's fortune is estimated at $74 billion, well ahead of Bill Gates' $56 billion and investor Warren Buffett's $50 billion. Slim built his fortune by amassing a range of retail, industrial and telecom companies. A civil engineer by training, he has bought troubled or government-owned companies of all types, fixed them and resold them for huge profits. Slim and his family own about a 6.9 percent stake in the Times Co., though he has no special voting rights or representation on the Times' board.

Shares of the Times Co., which owns The New York Times, The Boston Globe and other newspapers, increased 11 cents, or 1.25 percent, to close Wednesday at $8.89. The stock had dropped nearly 8 percent to $5.91 on the first trading day after the company announced the Slim loan in 2009. - AP

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Yum reports 10 percent growth in 2Q earnings

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 05:49 PM PDT

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky: Yum Brands Inc., owner of the Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC fast-food chains, said Wednesday that strong sales overseas served up 10 percent growth in its second-quarter profit, even though its U.S. business continued to struggle.

Yum's sales in China rose fast, and its profit there soared. But the company reported across-the-board declines in the U.S., including a 5 percent drop in revenue at Taco Bell restaurants open at least a year.

That chain, which accounts for about 60 percent of Yum's U.S. profit, is struggling to overcome publicity from a dropped lawsuit that claimed the filling in its tacos and burritos didn't contain enough beef to be called that.

Taco Bell called the accusations false and fought back with hard-hitting marketing on television and in newspapers.

But revenue at KFC restaurants in the U.S. open at least a year also fell 5 percent, and Pizza Hut had a 2 percent decline. Company officials said earlier this year they expected the second quarter to be the year's low point in the U.S.

On Wednesday, Yum said it expects things to get better in the U.S. by the fourth quarter, which begins in September.

It also raised its earnings forecast for the full year. Yum now expects to report a 12 percent or greater increase in earnings per share, excluding one-time items. The company previously said it expected at least 10 percent growth.

Louisville-based Yum said it earned $316 million, or 65 cents per share, for the quarter that ended June 11, up from $286 million, or 59 cents per share, a year earlier. Its revenue rose 9 percent to $2.8 billion.

Analysts expected adjusted earnings of 61 cents per share and revenue of $2.7 billion in the quarter.

Operating profit in Yum's key China operations rose by a whopping 25 percent, adjusted for currency fluctuations. The company's operating profit dropped 28 percent in the U.S.

Yum opened 99 restaurants during the quarter in China, where KFC has become a leading fast-food brand. Sales at KFC stores open at least a year in China rose 17 percent.

In Yum's international division, which excludes China, operating profit rose 11 percent, adjusted for currency fluctuations. The company opened 142 new restaurants in 37 countries during the quarter.

For that unit, growth in Thailand and other emerging markets, as well as in France, offset a weak performance by Pizza Hut in the United Kingdom.

Yum operates nearly 38,000 restaurants in more than 110 countries and territories.

The company also owns the Long John Silver's and A&W restaurant chains, both of which are up for sale. - AP

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

From stage  to screen

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 01:25 AM PDT

Singaporean singer and theatre actress Joanna Dong makes her big-screen debut in Forever.

WHEN Singaporean singer-actress Joanna Dong first saw Royston Tan's musical drama 881, she was totally awestruck by its performances and catchy songs. Little did she know that some years later, she would be starring in the stage version of the movie, which recently ended its run in the island state.

Then she saw Wee Li Lin's film, Gone Shopping, and was impressed by the director's vision. Again, little did she know that she would end up as the lead actress in Wee's latest movie, Forever.

"It's very strange how I always end up working with people whose works I appreciate," she said with a laugh in a telephone interview from Singapore. "I get to work with them and appreciate them at an even deeper level."

In the film, Dong plays Joey, a wedding videographer who turns stalker when she finds Mr Right, played by Taiwanese singer-actor Mo Tzu Yi. It's a challenging role, no doubt, and Dong had to go through one round of audition and two rounds of callback to land it. It's also her big-screen debut, although she has long been involved in acting of a different kind – in musical theatre. She was the recipient of the 2008 ST Life! Theatre Awards' Best Supporting Actress for her role in the hit musical If There're Seasons.

"I always thought it would be really cool to be in a film," said Dong. "And I'd also wondered what it would be like to be a part of the process. But I never planned for it, so when the opportunity came, I took it. I was very, very lucky."

So lucky is she that despite Forever being her first screen endeavour, she still shone enough to garner the Star Hunter Award at the Shanghai International Film Festival recently. She was among 10 nominees for the inaugural award that recognises new acting talents.

"There are so many great actors from Singapore who deserve an award," she said. "I just feel that I did the right thing at the right time."

Playing a stalker drunk on love must have been tough for Dong, who admits her only training in acting was in junior college where she studied theatre and drama. But she said she had a lot of help from director Wee, who she described as patient, generous and sensitive.

Wee's first film, Gone Shopping, showed off her keen observation of Singaporeans and life in the island state, drawing out the dreams, aspirations, hopes and disappointments of a society in the fast lane.

"It is a very female perspective of the world, it's quite dream-like, and the line between reality and the psyche of the woman is blurred," said Dong. "And that is amplified in Forever."

Wee's second film tackles the issue of love and romance in a country where the government does not hesitate to give a helping hand to couples and their budding romance.

Wee drew inspiration from the time she made an instructional video for the government and the Registry Of Marriage. But what is love and romance like in Singapore?

Dong explained: "I think for most people of my generation and the generation before me, love and romance are actually an important part of our lives. Everything we see on TV, there are love stories and love triangles.

"I think most Singaporean youth hope to be able to find some kind of romance. In that sense, my character Joey fits that profile, except that she's a bit extreme in the ways that she tries (to find love)."

The Wedding Education Department (W.E.D.) in the film is, in fact, a spoof of a real government department dedicated to helping couples have a happy marriage.

"In Singapore, we have this huge worry about the declining birth rate," said Dong. "The government tries to encourage young people to get married and procreate. So this thing is not just in the public's consciousness informally, but it is also almost legalised and institutionalised. And a lot of people are very concerned about getting married and having a wedding."

Being a singer, she has sung at enough weddings to know what it is like.

"It has become a benchmark for (people's) lives," said Dong. "Getting the perfect marriage and wedding seems to mean that the rest of your life will go perfectly as well."

Asked if she has someone special in her life, Dong admitted she is seeing someone.

But is she stalking him?

"No!" she said, laughing. "I don't believe in forcing someone into love. I just don't believe in that. If someone doesn't reciprocate my affections, then I'd just leave it at that."

But do Singaporean women have a rose-tinted view of love and romance like her character Joey?

"I think there is a (good mix)," she replied. "Many Singaporean women are independent and quite pragmatic. But I think there's always some level of romantic idealism, in the sense that Singaporean women are more likely to marry for love than for money. That's my personal view, but I could be wrong! (Laughs)"

Like her Taiwanese co-star Mo in the film, Dong also started her career in music before anything else. In fact, she still lives a double-life as both a singer and an actress. She sings for the DJ-musician-vocalist group coll.ef (collective effervescence). She is also a pioneer in Singapore of what is known as free vocal improvisation, where the singer improvises to a DJ's tracks.

After Forever, Dong is now working on her debut album, a collection of Mandarin jazz songs. Incidentally, she wrote the lyrics to, and sang, the movie's theme song. She had also released a jazz EP in 2008 called Lullaby Nomad.

She said of her upcoming album: "I'm collaborating with some lyricist friends, and we're writing Mandarin lyrics for these (known) jazz melodies. I think most listeners of jazz are English-speaking. So I'm hoping Mandarin audiences will warm up to the music as well."

> Forever, in Mandarin, distributed by Golden Screen Cinemas, opens tomorrow.

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The love stalker

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 01:25 AM PDT

Singaporean filmmaker Wee Li Lin explores erotomania in her latest dark romantic comedy.

In her latest movie titled Forever, Singaporean filmmaker Wee Li Lin takes audiences into the wacky world of an erotomaniac woman "who falls in love too easily and gets irrationally fixated on the man she loves".

Also known in Mandarin as Wo Ai Ni Ai Ni Ai Ni (literally, I Love You Love You Love You), Forever is Wee's second feature film, the first being Gone Shopping (2007).

Speaking at a press conference held at GSC Mid Valley, Kuala Lumpur, recently, Wee revealed the inspiration for her movie. "I was at a film festival in Italy for my first movie called Gone Shopping and had a meeting with some filmmaker friends. We were talking about strange projects we had done that left a strong impression and I had an interesting story to tell.

"A couple of years ago, I was doing a lot of government videos – anti-drug, anti-smoking, anti-gambling – and I was actually asked to do a video to promote marriage in Singapore. Through the process of making this pro-marriage video, I met this lady who was my client."

Wee became friends with this attractive lady who is about 40 years old, who ironically did not believe in marriage. She had a bad breakup and declared that she did not care to be in another relationship again. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she revealed the novel way in which she punished the man.

"She proceeded to tell me how she stalked her ex-fiance for two years. And all the while I was doing the wedding video for her so I thought it was really ironical. I told this story to my filmmaker friends in Italy and they said I should make a movie out of it," shared Wee, 38, who was initially hesitant about documenting personal details.

The very same night, Wee told the story to her husband, and proceeded to write the entire outline of the film "just for fun" and showed it to her friends over lunch the next day. Wee even managed to make it a husband-and-wife team project by roping in her artist husband Charles Lim as art director.

With funding from the Singapore Film Commission's New Feature Film Fund, Wee's just-for-fun story gave birth to her new movie Forever, a rom-com with a dark twist. The movie starts off on a romantic footing, but things are not what they seem.

Joey (Joanna Dong) is a sweet girl who works as a video consultant commissioned by W.E.D. (Wedding Education Department) to produce wedding videos promoting romance and marriage to young Singaporean singles. Gin (Mo Tzu Yi) is a handsome music teacher from Taiwan. While shooting a romantic wedding video in which she plays the bride and he plays the groom, Joey is thoroughly convinced that Gin is the man of her dreams. Madly in love, the obsessed girl starts stalking Gin to make him see that she is the perfect bride for him. But things get complicated when Gin's feisty fiance Cecilia (Sarah Ng Li Wen) shows up to stake her claim.

Shooting for the quirky romantic comedy began late last year and wrapped early this year, but it was casting that literally took forever as Wee insisted on getting fresh faces to play her main characters.

Having auditioned many young Singaporeans, Wee finally cast Mo as she was taken in by his "shy, cannot-say-no" quality, while Dong's crooning ability prompted a rewrite to include several scenes of her singing.

Singaporean actresses Dong and Ng make their big screen debut in Forever while upcoming Taiwanese star Mo features in his first Singaporean film.

Dong is a theatre enthusiast and recording artiste while Ng is a model-turned-actress. Mo, who has featured in various theatre, TV and cinema productions, will next be seen in Hong Kong crime thriller Smile For Me and Australian movie Triple Happiness.

The prolific award-winning short filmmaker studied film in the United States and worked in television after graduation. Wee started off making short films, documentaries, and public service announcement videos before moving on to full-length features.

A third feature is already in the pipeline for Wee, who is currently working on a new screenplay for a musical comedy called Singapore Cowboy which revolves around a "Singaporean man who wants to be the world's first Asian country singing star".

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Arsenal thump Malaysia in friendly at National Stadium

Posted: 14 Jul 2011 08:54 AM PDT

BUKIT JALIL: Arsenal gave a sneak preview of what their fans can expect in the new season of the English Premier League (EPL) when they swatted aside Malaysia 4-0 in their Tour of Asia warm-up match at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil Wednesday.

It was not the most entertaining of matches but still, the four goals were enough to send the die-hard Arsenal fans among the 60,000-odd in the stadium into ecstasy.

Aaron Ramsey started the rout with a penalty goal in the fifth minute before his England team-mate Theo Walcott added the second in the 37th minute.

Further goals by second-half substitutes Carlos Vela (53rd minute) and Tomas Rosicky (90th) sealed victory for the Gunners, who beat the national team 2-0 the last time they visited Malaysia 12 years ago.

The match was certainly a learning curve for Datuk K. Rajagopal's men, who have a long way to go at the international stage the difference in standards was glaring.

Arsenal saved the best for last when Arsene Wenger unleashed his star players including Samir Nasri, Robin Van Persie and Andrey Arshavin in the final quarter of the match.

Malaysia began the match with eight players from the victorious Suzuki Cup Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championship squad.

The visitors were not even going at full throttle when they got the opening goal, no thanks to centreback Mohd Aidil Zafuan Abdul Razak's foul on Jack Wilshere in the box in the fifth minute.

Aaron Ramsey took the spot kick, putting it past goalkeeper Mohd Nasril Nourdin.

The Arsenal fans erupted in joy. And Wenger's men then thrilled the crowd with some fine touches and flashes of brilliance as they controlled the game.

Rajagopal's men, however, only played well in patches, with flanker S. Kunalan providing the spark from the left with his darting runs.

Although the wily Kunalan found Arsenal right-back Carl Jenkinson a huge obstacle, he did provide the fans with something to cheer about with his sheer persistence to get the better of his physically bigger opponent.

Skipper Safiq Rahim had the best chance of the game but Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny dived full stretch to keep out his dipping 35-metre freekick in the 24th minute.

England international Walcott, who gave the Malaysian backline some anxious moments with his sheer pace and skill on the right, managed to put his name on the score sheet when he lobbed the ball over the onrushing Mohd Nasril in the 37th minute.

Substitute Carlos Vela proved to be a handful for the Malaysian defence with his menacing runs and it was no surprise when he scored the third goal from close range in the 53rd minute.

Rosicky then wrapped up the night's proceedings when he headed in Andrey Arshavin's 90th minute cross from close range.

The Gunners could have scored a bigger win had the Malaysians not defended in numbers.

MALAYSIA: Mohd Nasril Nourdin (Khairul Fahmi Che Mat), Mahalii Jasuli (Helmi Remeli), Mohd Asraruddin Putra Omar (Mohd Azmi Muslim), Mohd Fadhli Shas, Mohd Aidil Zafuan Abdul Razak (Mohd Muslim Ahmad), Safiq Rahim, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Amar Rohidan, Ahmad Fakri Saarani (Abdul Hadi Yahaya), S. Kunalan, Mohd Amirulhadi Zainal (Baddrol Bakhtiar).

ARSENAL: Wojciech Szczesny (Vito Mannone), Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Song, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs (Carlos Vela), Marouane Chamakh (Emmanuel Frimpong), Ryo Miyaichi (Tomas Rosicky), Carl Jenkinson.

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Mumbai rocked by 3 explosions; at least 8 dead

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 07:54 AM PDT

MUMBAI: Police say at least eight people have been killed and 70 others injured in three blasts that have rocked India's financial capital of Mumbai.

An official at the city's Police Control Room said one blast was the crowded neighborhood of Dadar in central Mumbai. The others were at the famed jewellery market Jhaveri Bazaar and the busy business district of Opera House.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of office policy.

The explosions happened around 7pm (9.30pm Malaysian time) Wednesday, when all the neighborhoods would have been packed with office workers and commuters.

The city was the site of a terror seige three years ago that killed 166 people.

The Press Trust of India and several news channel reported that India's Home Ministry had called the explosions a terror attack. No Home Ministry officials could be independently reached for comment.

News channels reported a high alert was declared across the city. - AP

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Malaysia, UK sign five deals

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 06:30 AM PDT

LONDON: Malaysia and Britain signed five deals Wednesday to enhance bilateral relations.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak witnessed the exchange of various memoranda of understanding (MoUs) by the respective companies as part of his four-day official visit here to lock in wider trade opportunities and links for Malaysian and British firms.

Also present at the event were British Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Dr Vince Cable, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman and International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed.

The Land Public Transport Commission of Malaysia inked a pact with the British Department for Transport on co-operation and to accelerate Malaysia's urban rail development such as the My Rapid Transit project in Greater Kuala Lumpur and inter-city opportunities like the current double-tracking project.

Petronas and Petrofac Ltd inked a deal on the development of Cendor Phase 3, comprising in particular the West Desaru fault block, and agreed to collaborate on technical training and other matters.

In the area of higher learning, University of Warwick and National Defence University of Malaysia agreed to work together in implementing the MSc in Engineering Business Management for Defence and Security programme for six years.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and Reading University also made a deal to provide opportunities and strengthen research and academic collaboration in cybernetic engineering, urban planning and staff and student exchange under the Global Outreach Programme.

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Metro watch

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 05:15 AM PDT

Blood donation

THERE will be several blood donation drives today at the multipurpose extension hall, Multimedia University, Jalan Multimedia, Cyberjaya (10pm to 5pm), engineering faculty and Menara SAAS foyer, Universiti Teknologi Mara, Seksyen 2, Shah Alam (9am to 4pm and 9am to 2pm respectively), open hall, SMK Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur (8.30am to 1pm), resource centre, Institut Kemahiran Belia Negara, KM25 Dusun Tua, Hulu Langat (9am to 3pm), Dewan Gemalasari 1, Risda headquarters, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur (9.30am to 4.30pm) and 15th floor, Menara Haw Par, Kuala Lumpur (10.30am to 3pm). For enquiries, visit www.pdn.org.my or call 03-2695 5557/8.

Free screenings

THE Malaysian Urological Association is conducting a free prostate screening programme that includes blood test, urine examination, bladder scan and consultation with doctors from the urology department this weekend at Hospital Kuala Lumpur (urology clinic, Level 1, Institute of Urology and Nephrology) and Hospital Sungai Buloh (surgical clinie, Level 2) from 8am to 5pm. Men above 50-years-old and fit the profile are encouraged to participate and consume fluids before the screening. For details, call 03-4025 1251.

Opening ceremony

THE vassa (Rains Retreat) at Ti-Ratana Buddhist Society, 99 A 1st Floor, Pusat Perniagaan Newcity Business Centre, Off Jalan Meru, Klang will have an opening ceremony on July 15 at 9pm. Devotees are invited to participate in chanting of the Dhammacakkapavattana Suta (Buddha's Great Discourse on Setting in Motion the Wheel of Dhamma) led by venerable monks at the event. Labelled water bottles, medicine, oil, rosaries and such may be brought in for blessing during the three months of vassa. For details, call 016-278 7962 (Foo).

Mind competitions

THE Malaysia Mental Literacy Movement with Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) and Tunku Abdul Rahman College are organising the Mind Competitions on Aug 6 at UTAR's Petaling Jaya campus at 9, Jalan Bersatu 13/4, Petaling Jaya as a prelude to the Malaysia Festival of the Mind VII. Deadline for free registration to participate in the competition is July 25. For details, contact 03-7960 6191, 03-7960 8767, e-mail mmlm@utar.edu.my or fax 03-7960 6550 (Wooi).

Photography exhibition

PAVILION Kuala Lumpur is hosting "Global Footprint: A photography exhibition by Yang Yuan Xing" held in conjunction with the 1Malaysia Contemporary Arts Tourism Festival. The exhibition doubles as a fundraising initiative for the Nasional Autism Society of Malaysia and will be at Hotel Lobby, Level 2 today and tomorrow from 10am to 8pm. For details, call 03-2118 8833 (concierge).

Road closure

THE access road from Sprint Highway to Tropicana City Mall between KM1.5 – KM2.3 will be temporarily closed to facilitate road improvement works from now until Sept 3. Highway users are advised to follow the temporary signages. For details, call 03-7710 0999 (Tropicana City Sdn Bhd security department), 019-333 8138 (Thomas Yeo) or 03-7494 7333 (highway helpline).

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On the hunt for talent

Posted: 13 Jul 2011 05:15 AM PDT

THE National Sports Council (NSC) director general Datuk Zolkeples Embong has advised the participants of the athletics coaching programme to go to the ground and identify new talents.

About 40 participants attended the 12-day Level One coaching certification programme conducted by the Malaysia Amateur Athletics Union (MAAU).

Zolkeples said he agreed to attend the closing ceremony on one condition and the programme director Muhd Musa Noor Mohd accepted the request.

"But I am pleased to see so many participants here. I will be more pleased if the participants would be committed, Instead of collecting the certificates, they should go and scout around for new talents.

"Malaysia has strong tradition in athletics. We were once the powerhouse in Asian. I remmber we won seven gold medals in the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok. Five of the gold medals came from athletics.

"Malaysia's last gold medal in the Asian Games was through Rabuan Pit in 1982. After that we have not won any gold medal.

"Even in the SEA Games, we have lost our supremacy. In Laos, we only won six gold medals. At one time, we were winning 14 to 16 gold medals in the SEA Games. The NSC would like to revive the good old days.

"You, the participants, have a big responsibility to athletics. If all of you can guide and groom some athletes, then we will be able to regain our position as a athletic power,'' said Zolkeples.

Mohd Musa said all the participants were required to be active in coaching.

"They must submit progress report every three months. Their reports must be endorsed by the school as well as the state athletic association.

"They will only be given the coaching certificate after one year,'' said Mohd Musa.

Besides Mohd Musa, the instructors were Mohd Manshahar Abdul Jalil, Liaw Fun Min, Mazlan Abdul Razak and R. Jeganathan.

Mohd Musa was also pleased with the attendance of former and current internationals - Anita Kumar Abdullah, Roslinda Samsu and Shaharudin Hashim - for the course.

Three participants - Hashim Mustaza Ibrahim, L. Chandravijayan and Faizul Azli Abdul Mudzafar - were named as the best candidates.

The Federal Territory Amateur Athletics Association (FTAAA) S. Vegiyathuman was pleased with enthusiatic participants.

"Now we hope to see these coaches to be active in the schools. We also want them to bring their athletes to take part in our programmes,'' said Vegiyathuman.

The participants: Abdul Malek Che Musa, Anita Kumari Abdullah, K. Aravindashan, Azlan Azhar, Catherine Lambor, Chong Hee Kin, Hafizullah Hafifie Abdul Majid, Hilda Ilya Hilmi, Hisham Mustaza Ibrahim, T. Illangovan, ismael Zam Baharom, L. Chandravijayan, Mazrah Zurainie Mohamad, Mohamad Hazuan, Mohamad Faizal Mohamad Noh, Mohd Adnin Tan Abdullah, Mohd Azim Faiz, Mohd Faizul Azli Abdul Mudzafar, Mohd Hairul Azli Hashim, Mohd Jailani Mat Nawi, Mohd Nazri Omar, Mohd Rozi Muda, Mohd Razaidi Ahmad, Mohd Shukri Farhan, Mohd Zahran Abdullah, S. Nambiar, Norihan Hashim, Rosdiana Mat Ludin, Roslinda Samsu, Sakidza Ibrahim, Sallehuddin Mamat, Shaharudin Hashim, M. Veknosparam, Wan Nurul Syahima Wan Azmar, Yap Soon Peng, Zaidi Ismail.

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