Jumaat, 22 Julai 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

North, S.Korea ministers meet as U.S. calls for proof of change

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 09:33 PM PDT

NUSA DUA, Indonesia, (Reuters) - The foreign ministers of North and South Korea met briefly at an Asian security conference on Saturday as the United States maintained Pyongyang had to improve ties with its neighbour before six-party talks on its nuclear programme could resume.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives at Indonesia's Airforce base in Ngurah Rai, Bali July 21, 2011. (REUTERS/Ismar Patrizki/Antara/Handout)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was encouraged by a preliminary meeting between North and South Korean officials on the sidelines of the conference, but added nuclear-capable Pyongyang must prove it has changed.

"We urge North Korea to demonstrate a change in behaviour, including ceasing provocative actions, taking steps toward irreversible de-nuclearisation and complying with its commitments," Clinton said in remarks to the ASEAN Regional Forum on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Secretive and Stalinist North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests in the last five years, sending shockwaves across the region. But they have led to international sanctions which have squeezed the impoverished state.

Friday's surprise meeting between the nuclear envoys of the two sides, which was described as cordial and lasted about two hours, was the first such contact between the two Koreas since the last round of the six-way nuclear disarmament talks in 2008.

North Korea walked out of the talks at the time, but said last year it was in favour of resuming the dialogue, which also includes the United States, China, Russia and Japan besides South Korea.

The South's foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, held a brief meeting with his North Korean counterpart Pak Ui-chun before Saturday's plenary session of the conference, where foreign ministers or representatives from 27 countries were present, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.

It gave no further details.

China, North Korea's only major ally, said Pyongyang had proposed resuming the talks without any preconditions. The official Xinhua news agency said the issue was discussed in talks between the North's Pak and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Bali.

The North's recent moves toward detente may be induced by food shortages.

The impoverished North has reached out to dozens of countries and organisations around the world for aid, complaining that bad weather, rising global food prices and the termination of aid from principal donors South Korea and the United States had slashed supplies.

Washington suspended aid to Pyongyang in 2008, while the South has linked aid to de-nuclearisation. The United States has however said it will soon decide on whether to resume aid.

Tensions between the North and the South rose to the highest level in years when a South Korean navy ship was sunk last year in a torpedo attack, killing 46 sailors. South Korea blamed the North, but Pyongyang denied any role.

The North shelled a South Korean island in November.

South Korea has demanded some expression of regret from Pyongyang about the attacks as indication that the North is serious about reducing tensions and working to bring stability to the Korean peninsula.

(Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Venezuela's Chavez faces second chemo treatment

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 09:02 PM PDT

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Friday he was preparing for a second round of chemotherapy in Cuba to eliminate the risk of malignant cells after completing what he called a successful first session.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez salutes before his departure to Cuba at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas July 16, 2011. (REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

The announcement by the 56-year-old socialist leader that he had surgery in Havana last month to remove a baseball-sized cancerous tumor has called into question his fitness to run for re-election next year in the OPEC nation of 29 million people.

Last weekend, Chavez flew back to the communist-led Caribbean island for chemotherapy after delegating limited powers to his finance minister and vice president.

"I have completed the first cycle of chemotherapy treatment ... this cycle was completed successfully," he said in a phone call to a televised meeting of his ruling Socialist Party.

"We are preparing for a second cycle ... to totally defeat and eliminate any risk of the presence of malignant cells."

Chavez has not said what type of cancer he has or for how long he will be abroad as the guest of his friend and political mentor, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Before he flew out last Saturday he said his doctors had not found any malignant cells -- suggesting the cancer had not spread and thus become more dangerous and difficult to treat.

A former soldier whose workaholic leadership style and image of invincibility have helped him win numerous votes, Chavez is visibly weakened as he plans his re-election bid.

He had two operations last month that he described as complicated: the first for a pelvic abscess and another to remove the tumor. He was away almost a month until returning home a day before Venezuela's 200th independence celebration.


On Friday, the president said he was putting on weight again and was back to 86 kilos (190 lbs).

"I'm at the ideal weight for me ... I was too fat. I'm doing exercise, rehabilitation, and I'm going to bed on time, by 11 o'clock at night at the latest," Chavez said.

"I want to tell the country, the Venezuelan people, that this battle for life continues, with the help of God."

In a message on Twitter, Chavez said Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona had visited him later on Friday. Maradona lived on-and-off in Cuba, undergoing drug rehabilitation, after retiring from professional sport in 1997.

"I am grateful to Diego Maradona for the fraternal visit he paid me this afternoon. We were together with Fidel. Thanks kid!" he wrote on his @chavezcandanga account.

State media in Venezuela then broadcast footage of Chavez meeting several of his senior government officials in Havana, including Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez. The president has been keen to show he is still fully in control despite his illness.

Parliamentary elections last September showed the South American country split down the middle between Chavez supporters and opponents. Now, a fractious opposition coalition senses a chance to unseat a convalescing Chavez in 2012.

Venezuelan pollster Datanalisis said on Friday its most recent poll showed his popularity at 50 percent -- lower than the 52 percent recorded in June, but within the margin of error of 2.42 percentage points.

The polling was conducted at the end of June and start of July, meaning some of the interviews took place before Chavez's June 30 announcement that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

It was not designed to measure how his illness would affect his popularity, said Datanalisis President Luis Vicente Leon.

"We cannot reach a conclusion, Leon told reporters, adding that a full recovery might improve his ratings. "The epic saga of Chavez cheating death could boost his popularity."

(Additional reporting and writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Todd Eastham)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Tamils sceptical of development, voting in Sri Lanka's war-weary north

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 09:02 PM PDT

JAFFNA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's minority Tamils say President Mahinda Rajapaksa's post-war development and infrastructure projects in the former war zone in the island's north have yet to address their real concerns and have not excluded their participation.

Two boys walk past local government election campaign posters in Jaffna, about 304 km (189 miles) north of Colombo, July 22, 2011. (REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte)

Sri Lanka's northern cities hold local polls for the first time in many years on Saturday amid opposition and poll monitor complaints of intimidation.

Healing after a 25-year war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that ended in May 2009, Tamils in the northern city of Jaffna, long the centre of Sri Lanka's Tamil culture, feel there is little to gain from voting.

"There were a number of elections like this and a change has never happened. I have little doubt that this is also going to be the same," said Thuvaraki Nakeswaran, 22, a journalism student who will vote for the first time in her life.

"I will vote for those who think to help Tamils."

She is among 350,000 voters in 16 constituencies registered to elect local leaders. But voting in Jaffna, as it did in war time, will take place with a heavy military presence.

Tamils in Jaffna are reluctant to speak in public due to the presence of government intelligence officers and soldiers, and many Reuters approached gave a brusque "No comment."

Free expression has not been a way of life for decades: either the government or the LTTE routinely killed, beat, harassed or otherwise punished critics via unidentified gangs.

Rajapaksa has launched many infrastructure projects under a rebuilding programme he has dubbed the "The Northern Spring", some of which are rejuvenating roads and railways that fell into neglect during the war.

But building trust between Rajapaksa, who is from Sri Lanka's Sinhalese ethnic majority, and Tamils is a difficult task. No government since independence in 1948 has given Tamils much confidence, and many have grown up around the LTTE's rabidly separatist and anti-Sinhalese doctrine.

"I am your friend; I am your relative; You can trust me," one poster of Rajapaksa says. "We will build our villages together."

The campaign posters of Rajapaksa and candidates from his ally, the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), were all over Jaffna, but those of the opposition were scarce.


The evidence of development and economic revival, which Rajapaksa has said will help Tamils rebuild their lives, are ample in Jaffna. Numerous private banks have opened up in the town and many roads are under construction.

"There is a selfish motive behind the government's development programme and it's Sinhalisation that really has been taking place," a 59-year old man told Reuters on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal.

Sinhalisation, a term espoused by the LTTE, refers to the moving of Sinhalese people into areas the separatist group said were traditionally Tamil-majority, throughout Sri Lanka's nearly three millennia of history.

"All the jobs created through these projects are given to Sinhalese people," the man said. "The government has never involved us in the development projects either through providing job opportunities or giving the contracts to Tamils here."

Thambithurai Hariharan, a 55-year-old farmer, complained that the development has not helped bring down the high cost of living or created jobs for the unemployed.

"Now some agricultural produce is brought here from the rest of the country despite being grown here. That has reduced our profit margins," he said.

(Editing by Bryson Hull and Daniel Magnowski)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

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Olympic Countdown: 1 year to go to London Olympics

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 06:05 PM PDT

LONDON (AP) — The London Olympics will open just over a year from now, amid the stunning and historic backdrops of the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace — all the monuments that make this one of the world's most popular destinations.

For that very reason, these games will have a security presence like no other in the face of a constant terrorist threat.

Wednesday (July 27) marks the one-year countdown to the opening ceremony on July 27, 2012. Next summer, London will be welcoming 10,500 athletes from more than 200 countries, 5,000 officials, 20,000 media personnel and hundreds of thousands of visitors for a 17-day extravaganza featuring 26 sports in 32 venues.

"With a year to go we can safely say we are ready to welcome the world," London Mayor Boris Johnson said.

Venue construction is largely completed, tickets are almost sold out, and the government says the games will come in under the 9.298 billion pound ($15 billion) budget. The Olympic Park is changing the face of a previously rundown area of east London.

Athletes will be competing in iconic venues and locations across the capital.

Fans will see Usain Bolt sprinting down the track in a new 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, beach volleyball players dueling on the sand in Horse Guards Parade, triathletes splashing in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal stepping back onto Centre Court at Wimbledon, archers firing their arrows at Lord's cricket ground and showjumpers clearing fences at Greenwich Park.

Underpinning the sports festival will be one of the biggest security operations ever mounted.

Security at the Olympics has been a critical issue ever since the 1972 Munich massacre, even more so after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. A day after London was awarded the games in 2005, suicide bombers attacked London's transport network, killing 52 people.

The British government is planning for the national terror threat to be "severe" during the Olympics, meaning an attempted attack is highly likely. Security screenings for spectators will be tight and widespread, with airport-style checks at most venues. Away from the competition sites, protecting the Underground subway network and public places will be a major challenge.

"We're already seeing chatter from terror groups regarding the 2012 Games but none of it seems defined at the moment," said a British security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work. "This is to be expected though with an event of this magnitude."

About 12,000 police officers will be on duty each day of the July 27-Aug. 12 games, which have a security budget of 475 million pounds ($770 million).

British officials say the country has the experience and know-how in dealing with terrorism.

"I am as sure as you can possibly be one year out from a games that we have done everything that we need to deliver a safe and secure games," Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson said.

Extra surveillance cameras will also be installed around the park — Britain has some of the most extensive surveillance powers in the world and has become a leader in what critics call "Big Brother" techniques with its more than 4.3 million closed-circuit cameras in operation.

All Olympics workers will be put through a vigorous screening, including checks for terror and other criminal offenses.

Organizers are determined to keep security from being overwhelming. They point to the successful policing of the royal wedding in April of Prince William and Kate Middleton, when a million people lined the procession route from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace.

"We're very good at policing in a friendly and a discrete way," organizing committee leader Sebastian Coe said. "The real challenge is to maintain security to protect the athletes, protect people, protect assets, but at the same time having people leaving your city feeling they haven't been pushed from pillar to post."

Despite the tight security, London wants these games to be a party.

While the Beijing Olympics were marked by a sterile atmosphere, London promises knowledgeable fans, packed venues, "live sites" with giant screens around the city and a "home" crowd of citizens from different nationalities, cultures and backgrounds. It will all kick off with an opening ceremony created by "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle.

"It won't be the same as Beijing," Johnson said. "I've always said it would be different. It would be splendid. It would be brilliant. It would be brilliant in an entirely different way.

"Wait till you see that opening ceremony. I think you will be weeping tears of joy after that opening ceremony. That's my confident prediction."

While Athens struggled to the last minute to finish venues for the 2004 Olympics, and Beijing was battered for its record on Tibet and human rights ahead of the 2008 Games, London has enjoyed a comparatively smooth and crisis-free ride so far.

On the down side, the British public has complained bitterly about the ticket sales process, and London's strained public transport system faces tough challenges to keep the city moving smoothly during the games.

Coe, a two-time 1,500-meter Olympic gold medalist and former 800-meter record-holder, surveys the year ahead like a runner entering the "midway back straight" on the final lap.

"I know from 800s that's where it's won and lost," Coe said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I don't kid myself. This is a crucial part of the race, and how you come out of that 500 to 600 (meters) often determines how you come across the line."

On Wednesday, London will mark the year-to-go milestone with a televised ceremony from Trafalgar Square, with International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge on hand to formally invite the world's athletes to the games. Organizers will present the design of the Olympic medals and, in the Olympic Park, British medal hopeful Tom Daley will perform the first dive into the Olympic pool.

"If we compare with previous games, we are well advanced and this is a very comfortable position," Denis Oswald, the Swiss IOC executive board member who leads the coordination commission for London, told the AP. "This is especially the case when you don't have to worry about construction and you can really concentrate on the operations side."

Olympic organizers say 88 percent of the venues and infrastructure work for the games has been completed. The Olympic Park in Stratford has a set of gleaming new venues, including the main Olympic Stadium, the velodrome, handball arena and temporary basketball arena. The aquatics center, with its sweeping wave-shaped roof, will be formally completed on Wednesday.

Over the next 12 months, organizers will install the track in the stadium, dress up the venues, finish the landscaping and complete the Olympic village on the edge of the park.

The 226-hectare (560-acre) site is the centerpiece of a massive regeneration project that is turning a former industrial wasteland into a huge urban park. Bordered by a giant new shopping center and new transport links, the park is designed to serve as a vibrant new neighborhood after the games.

The future of the 486 million pound ($787 million) stadium, however, remains in dispute. The Olympic Park Legacy Company selected West Ham football club to take over the arena after the games. But rival London club Tottenham, which proposed taking down the stadium and building a new one without the running track, is challenging the decision in court.

Ticketing remains a sore point.

With 6.6 million tickets available to the British public, organizers received 22 million requests in a heavily-criticized first lottery-style allocation — with 1.2 million applicants coming up empty. Another 750,000 tickets were sold in the first phase of the second sales. A total of 3.5 million have now been sold, with tickets remaining only for football, volleyball and wrestling.

"No city has ever sold tickets at that rate," Coe said. "No games, no sporting event in my lifetime can point to that kind of demand. But I don't for one minute diminish or dismiss the level of disappointment."

The IOC singles out transportation as London's biggest Olympic challenge. Organizers are calling these the "public transport games," with spectators traveling to venues by Underground, bus and the new high-speed "Javelin" rail service between St. Pancras station and Stratford.

Billions of pounds have been invested in public transport upgrades. Underground strikes haven't been ruled out. A system of Olympic traffic lanes and routes is still being finalized.

"Transport is a challenge in London in normal times as well, so when you add 300,000 people who are moving from one place to another, it doesn't help the situation," Oswald said.

Citing the transportation problems that marred the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Coe said London's reputation would be severely damaged if the games are mired in traffic gridlock and travel chaos.

"We know this has to work," Coe said.

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Fowler tempted by Champions Tour challenge

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 06:04 PM PDT

WALTON ON THE HILL, England (AP) — After cracking the seniors circuit in Europe, much-traveled Australian Peter Fowler is ready to try his luck on the Champions Tour in the United States.

In 25 years on the European Tour, Fowler only won one event — the BMW International Open in Germany in 1993 — and was never in serious contention at a major.

However, he has quickly found his feet in three years with the seniors, winning tournaments in central England and Switzerland over the last two months and also securing another trio of top-three finishes this season.

The 52-year-old Fowler now fancies taking on the best the U.S. has to offer, possibly starting next season if he can emerge through qualifying school in November.

"Having played all around the world, I'd love to play there and actually experience American golf on a longer-term basis," Fowler said Friday, after shooting a second-round 68 to leave himself two strokes off the lead at the Senior British Open at Walton Heath.

"I've traveled to Asia a lot and I've lived in England. I know how the rest of the world works. I don't really know how America works. But it would be great experience to play with players like Tom Watson on a regular basis. It would be a lovely opportunity."

If he keeps his place at the summit of the European Order of Merit standings, Fowler would be exempt from qualifying and would go straight to the school finals, which take place at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona from Nov. 14-20. After four rounds, Fowler would have to finish in the top five to make the Champions Tour.

Fowler's resurgence after a modest career on the regular tour is all the more remarkable considering he had surgery on his back and hip in 2009.

"My body's feeling much better than it has for a while. I've done a lot of rehab — and I'm still doing it — and the body feels good," Fowler said. "I think it's helping my golf swing because I've got to pay special attention to make sure that my body doesn't move around too much."

"I've played pretty good since November last year."

Fowler, who partnered Wayne Grady to a World Cup win for Australia in 1989, now has his sights on a first major title after his strong start at Walton Heath.

"I've just got to maintain what I'm doing," he said. "I feel comfortable so just more of the same."

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Saiki takes 2nd-round lead at Evian Masters

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 06:02 PM PDT

EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France (AP) — Miki Saiki of Japan took a one-stroke lead at the Evian Masters on Friday, shooting a 5-under 67 in the second round to move to 9 under as the drenched course started to dry under sporadic sunshine.

Saiki heads into Saturday's third round with former Evian champion Ai Miyazato of Japan, Kraft Nabisco winner Stacy Lewis and joint-overnight leader Maria Hjorth of Sweden all poised to launch a challenge at 8 under.

"From yesterday I was hitting the ball really well and it kind of continued today," Saiki said through a translator. "Yesterday there was a lot of rain and you didn't know what you were going to get. Today you had no wind, the greens were consistent."

Two more players, Angela Stanford of the United States and South Korea's Ahn Shin-ae, are also one shot behind Saiki.

Stanford's 6-under 66 included seven birdies as she attacked from the outset.

"Before we went out (we) realized the course could be scoreable with some of the pin placements," Stanford said.

Players were relieved not to have the burden of the teeming rain to deal with, although more showers are forecast for Saturday.

"We didn't have our umbrella up the whole time, so that was nice," Stanford said.

Lewis, meanwhile, picked up her form after crumbling at the end of her rain-soaked first round Thursday. Starting the day at 3 under, the American sank seven birdies in her round of 67.

Lewis, who went 3-over in Thursday's last four holes to drop down the leaderboard, decided she would take to the course with a positive attitude in the morning.

"I could have started today's round with the same attitude, kind of mad and upset," Lewis said.

Instead, she wrote something on her glove to gee herself up.

"I just wrote 'confident'. Just to trust what I'm doing," she said. "I just started making birdies and putts."

Luck had gone against Lewis under the driving rain, but the improved weather came with an unexpected reprieve for her.

"I got a huge break on 13," she said. "I pulled it left, it was a side slope going away from me and plugged in the rough. I was pretty lucky there."

Ahn had a share of the first-round lead with Hjorth and Karen Stupples of England at 5 under.

Ahn was pressuring for a share of the lead again until she hit a wild tee shot into the rough on the 18th, managing only par on a hole that saw birdies sunk throughout the day.

Stupples, the former British Open champion, had three bogeys and is level with Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr — both also former major winners — at 7 under.

Hroth managed a birdie from the edge of the green on the fifth hole, while Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Open champion, hit an eagle on the ninth and followed that up with a birdie on 10.

"The greens are still soft so everyone's going to shoot a low score," Miyazato said, looking ahead to the third round.

Creamer hopes her form continues, as she is without a title since winning last year's U.S. Open.

Creamer was only 18 when she beat 15-year-old Michelle Wie to win at Evian in 2005. She has not won it since, and admits that early success resulted in unrealistic expectations.

"Every year I've come back and I've expected myself to do it over and over again," she said. "In reality I put a little too much pressure on myself."

Meanwhile, Wie's miserable form continued and she missed the cut at 5 over.

The 21-year-old American had shot a 4-over 76 on Thursday and followed that with a 1-over 73, despite birdies on the 17th and 18th.

Seven-time major champion Juli Inkster also failed to make the cut, finishing 3-over.

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The Star Online: Business

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Treasure pulse

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 05:48 PM PDT

Global foreign exchange market

HEADLINE risks remain dominated by US debt ceiling and European peripheral debt crisis this week amid policy uncertainty and potential stalemate. The euro and the US dollar both came under pressure at the start of the week due to debt woes.

Euro/US dollar surged 1.76% this week and traded around 1.4380 levels at the point of writing after the Greek bailout package was well received.

In the United States, there is still very few sign of progress on raising the country's debt ceiling ahead of the Aug 2 deadline. If Friday comes to pass with no major news, we could see panic selling of the US dollar and this would trigger sharp volatility across the financial market. Mixed US economic reports put extra pressure on the greenback while report from Standard & Poor's was another factor causing a new wave of US dollar selling, prompting the US Dollar index to decline by 1.52% to 74.11.

An improvement in risk appetite combined with stronger economic data has helped to lift the British pound 1.05% to above 1.6300-region. With the fate of high beta currencies tied to the European sovereign debt crisis, what is good for the eurozone is good for the United Kingdom. In terms of economic data, pound traders were also pleased to see retail sales rebounded 0.7% month-on-month in the month of June.

The Japanese yen had strengthened 0.78% during the week. Japan posted a merchandise trade surplus of 70.7 billion yen in June, heading back into positive territory after two months of deficits following the devastating natural disasters on March 11.

With improved market sentiment fueling more risk flow, the Australian dollar pushed through the 1.0800 level while the New Zealand dollar reached all time high against the US dollar at 0.8643. Meanwhile, gold posted new record highs this week and reached US$1606 per ounce. This strength is likely to remain until a debt-ceiling deal is reached in the United States.

Inflationary pressures continue to creep higher in Asian economies. Hong Kong's consumer price index grew for the eighth consecutive month in June to 5.6% year-on-year (y-o-y) from 5.2% in May. Elsewhere, Singapore's non-oil domestic exports grew slower than expected at 1.1% y-o-y in June, compared with 7.6% rise in May. China's manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index fell to a 28-month low of 48.9 in July.

Asian currencies strengthened as risk-averse sentiments abated. The Bloomberg-JPMorgan Asia Dollar index rose by 0.41%, while the ringgit strengthened to trade at 2.9800-region. As it stands, volatility in the foreign exchange would remain high in the coming weeks on better sentiment thanks to positive developments at European Union summit.

One of Greece's problems financing uncertainty has been removed while voluntary private investors' participation may avert a credit downgrade and benefit from a more stable financial and economic environment. This should lift investor appetite.

Focus is now on the implementation. Possible jump in appetite for risk, firm underlying ringgit fundamentals and pressure on Bank Negara to hike rates to curb rising prices should push US dollar/ringgit lower. As such, we are of the opinion that US dollar/ringgit could trade in a range of 2.9650 to 3.0100 in the coming week.

US Treasuries (UST) market

During the week, the UST yields aligned higher with the two- and 10-year UST yields increased 4bps and 9bps to trade at 0.387% and 2.997% respectively.

Malaysian bond market

This week, trading in local govvies saw thinner volumes with players preferring to stay on the sideline ahead of June CPI data release and details of upcoming 10-year GII reopening. Domestic inflation accelerated to reach a 37-month high of 3.5% y-o-y in June (May: 3.3% y-o-y) but was slightly lower than the Bloomberg consensus for a 3.6% gain. The increase in price was mainly driven by supply shocks sending food, transport and energy indices to edge higher. At time of writing, details for the upcoming 10-year GII reopening was announced with an issue size of RM4bil. Auction for the mentioned bonds will be held on July 28.

In the Malaysian Government securities (MGS)/GII market, RM9.5bil worth of trades were transacted with a daily average trading volume of RM2.4bil, markedly lower than previous week's daily average of RM4.2bil. Trading activities remained focused on the belly of the yield curve, with RM2.1bil trades done on the five-year benchmark MGS. As of Thursday's close, the benchmark yield curve aligned higher with the three-, five-, seven-, 10-, 15- and 20-year benchmarks closing unchanged to 2 bps higher during the week to close at 3.26%, 3.5%, 3.7%, 3.88%, 4.04% and 4.18% respectively.

In the public debt securities market, a total of RM870mil worth of trades was transacted with a daily average trade volume of RM218mil. The GG/AAA and AA segments contributed 34% and 66% of trades respectively. Within the GG/AAA segment, notable transactions were seen on Cagamas bonds maturing 2012-2014, which closed mixed at 3.41%-3.68% with RM102mil done in total, and Danga Capital 4/15 which closed little changed at 3.86% with RM50mil done.

In the AA segment, trading interest was seen in banking bonds. Yields on CIMB 4/16 closed 3 bps lower at 4.1% with RM100mil done, Sabah Development Bank 8/11 closed 5 bps higher at 3.38% with RM70mil done, while AmIslamic 9/17 closed unchanged at 4.25% with RM40mil done.

Ringgit interest rate swap (IRS) market

Ringgit IRS rates traded 3-5 bps firmer on slightly better global risk sentiment. Trading activities were somewhat lackluster as market awaits mid-week June CPI data (released at 3.50%) and the announcement of the 10-year GII issuance.

● For enquiries contact: fx-research@ambankgroup.com or bond-research@ambankgroup.com

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Eye on stock

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 05:47 PM PDT

AFTER a period of correction process, Hiap Teck Venture Bhd staged a steep rebound in the wake of renewed bargain hunting interest, which witnessed the shares hitting to a near six-month high of RM1.18 during intra-day session before reversing to finish down nine sen to RM1.05 yesterday.

The recent recovery was backed by encouraging trading volumes and it came after prices had re-tested the 20-month lows of 91 sen on July 14 to form a "double-bottom" pattern.

This stock had penetrated the 14-day simple moving average (SMA), 21-day SMA, 100-day SMA, as well as the 200-day SMA on our radar screen, but we could not confirm that the prevailing trend has shifted to bullish just yet as the mid-term descending line remains intact. The outcome may be known soon and investors should take note that a decisive penetration of the mid-term descending line of RM1.18, also yesterday's intra-day peak, will signal a positive turnaround.

The oscillator per cent K and the oscillator per cent D of the daily slow-stochastic momentum index were fast reaching the overbought area after issuing a buy signal on July 14. Elsewhere, the daily moving average convergence/divergence histogram continued to expand positively against the daily trigger line to retain the bullish note. The 14-day relative strength index retained the bullish posture, fluctuating around the 80-86 points band.

Analysis suggests that if the recent buying momentum is genuine and sustainable, a positive breakout will come about soon, which may see prices scaling higher on bullish-extended mode.

To the upside, stiff resistance is expected at the RM1.57 mark, which is the previous major rally peak. Stop-loss exit is pegged at the 90 sen line.

The comments above do not represent a recommendation to buy or sell.

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A probable sideways style on extended consolidation

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 05:45 PM PDT

REVIEW: Despite the steadier US markets overnight, Bursa Malaysia kicked off the week on a soft platform, with the benchmark FBM Kuala Lumpur Composite Index (FBM KLCI) declining 1.02 points to 1,576.23 in early trade on extended correction process.

The broad-market sentiment was frail, as mounting concerns that the US sovereign debt rating may be downgraded and the prevailing European sovereign debt crisis kept many investors at bay.

Apart from that, a slightly easier Asian stocks also prompted institutional players to adopt a cautious stance.

In the absence of support, the local bourse sustained the downward spiral, falling steadily and violated the short-term uptrend line to touch an intra-day low of 1,561.97 in the afternoon before ending at 1,562.58, shedding a huge 14.67 points in lacklustre session on Monday.

Technically, a clear breakdown like this does not bode well for the market the next day. Meanwhile, overnight Wall Street and crude oil prices reversed down in the wake of fresh selling due to lingering global debt situation.

Elsewhere, another mixed showing in regional bourses also weighed on the local sentiment. Combined all together, they set the stage for more declines.

In line with expectations, the key index sank from the opening bell to a low of 1,552.71 in mid-afternoon on follow-through liquidation amid dearth of market-stimulating leads. At this stage, the key index had plunged a total of 44.37 points, or 2.8% from an all-time peak of 1,597.08, established on July 11, and indicators were signalling a grossly oversold condition.

For that simple reason, investors emerged from the sidelines to indulge in bottom fishing and that has helped the local bourse bounce off the ebb later but it was not good enough to lift the key index back to the plus side.

At the end of Tuesday's session, Bursa was still down 6.94 points to 1,555.64.

Nevertheless, bargain hunting activity continued to dominate the floor the following day, as a handsome rebound in World equities, especially overnight Wall Street amid easing debt fears, solid economy data and better-than-expected corporate earnings encouraged investors to return to risky assets.

As usual, blue-chips led the recovery, propelling the FBM KLCI up 6.95 points to 1,562.59 in mid-week.

Thereafter, the local bourse inched higher, adding another 3.22 points to 1,565.81 amid extended bargain hunting nibbling on Thursday before pausing owing to an apparent mild profit-taking activity, losing 0.75 of a point to 1,565.06 yesterday.

Statistics: For the week, the principal index sagged 12.19 points, or 0.8% to 1,565.06 yesterday, compared with 1,577.25 on July 15.

Weekly turnover stood at 4.901 billion units valued at RM9.245bil, versus 3.799 billion shares worth RM7.218bil changed hands a week earlier.

Technical indicators: After issuing a short-term buy at the very oversold area in mid-week, the oscillator per cent K and the oscillator per cent D of the daily slow-stochastic momentum continued to strengthen, ending at the 43% and 30% respectively yesterday. In stark contrast, the daily moving average convergence/divergence (MACD) histogram prolonged the downward expansion in tandem with the signal line to stay bearish. It flashed a buy on July 13.

The past week saw the 14-day relative strength index recovering moderately from the oversold area earlier of the week to a high of 42 points on Thursday before reversing slightly to settle at 38 points yesterday.

Weekly measurements were deteriorating, with the weekly slow-stochastic momentum on the slide and the weekly MACD in danger of slipping below the weekly trigger line.

Outlook: Bursa extended the correction mode due to lack of buying incentives on the horizon, thus resulting the key index violating the short-term uptrend line during intra-week trading. Despite the breakdown, there was certainly no evidence of an unusual liquidation activity on the broad market, with volumes staying on the low side. This may mean that many people still have faith in the market, holding on to their shares. For now, the local bourse is showing signs of stabilising after the recent pullback and this is a positive development that may clear the path for shares to recover. However, some worrisome views about eurozone debt crisis and the global economy are still clouding the marketplace and likely to check gains. Given the mixed scenario, Bursa will probably tread sideways in the immediate term.

Technically, most indicators on our tracking system are looking frail or negative, implying the local bourse may stay in consolidation, if not correction this week.

A crack below the recent lows of 1,552.71 will see the lower 100-day simple moving average (SMA) of 1,542 and the 200-day SMA of 1,527, becoming much weaker. Current resistance is envisaged at the 1,575-1,576 points band, followed by the all-time peak of 1,597.08.

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

Movie coming soon

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 01:28 AM PDT

The Hangover 2 – Best friends Phil, Alan, Doug and Stu are at it again. This time round, the foursome head to Thailand for Stu's wedding. He makes a request that his friends hold a mild, no-nonsense brunch for him instead of a wild bachelor party.

However, no matter how well they plan things out, there's always something that goes awry. Starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong and Justin Bartha.

Perfect Rivals – The story revolves around the lives of rival owners of two popular bak kwa (dried meat) shops, Mei Mei and Chen Hao, who used to be lovers.

While the duo focus on the ultimate bak kwa competition, their children form an unlikely relationship with one another. This Singaporean film stars Ha Yu, Irene Ang, Josh Lai, Mindee Ong and Pamelyn Chee.

Captain America – After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top-secret research project. The project ultimately turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending his country and fellow man. Based on the popular comic, this film stars Chris Evans (as Capt America, pic), Samuel L. Jackson, and Hugo Weaving.

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Ah Beng’s wishes

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 01:28 AM PDT

Jack Lim raises the stakes with new Ah Beng movie.

HE'S baaack! Jack Lim once again steps away from his DJ conti in MYfm for the more complicated world of acting. His new Chinese New Year project, Ah Beng The Movie: 3 Wishes, features his famous on air alter ego, Ah Beng, and the familiar line-up of trademark rants, slapstick comedy and wishy-washy guest list.

And if the God of Prosperity could grant Lim a wish, the radio DJ would like his new movie to eclipse the success of his two previous Chinese New Year offerings – Woohoo! (2010) and Great Day (2011). The two movies raked in more than RM4mil and RM6mil, respectively, at the box office, making them the biggest local Chinese New Year movies of 2010 and 2011.

"We knocked off three Hong Kong movies and one Singapore movie last year," enthuses Lim. "So I'm targetting at least RM6mil in box office takings for Ah Beng The Movie. It's a small target, actually, considering how high our movie tax (40%) is."

Well, small is an understatement. Lim has raised his stakes a lot higher this time with cash-rich sponsors like Proton and Allianz.

"It doesn't matter if my movie makes money or not, I'll still do it," says the passionate actor-filmmaker. "In fact, I'm declaring a 10% bonus for my actors before we begin our shoot."

Ah Beng The Movie: 3 Wishes reunites Lim with his regular collaborators, comprising Gan Mei Yan (Ah Lian), Chen Keat Yoke (Salted Fish Lian), Bernard Hiew (Bobby) and Royce Tan (Rain), who starred alongside him in Woohoo! and Great Day.

For the uninitiated, Gan is Lim's partner on the Myfm breakfast show, who helped bring Ah Lian (and Ah Beng) to life. Their show also spawned a well-received TV series and comic book.

"I'm happy to be working with my friends again," says Lim. "You don't feel that work is hard when you're working with friends."

Made at a production budget of RM3mil, the feel good comedy centres on underpaid security guard Ah Beng (Lim) and his dad and their close encounter with the God of Prosperity on Chinese New Year's Eve. Being poor, Ah Beng's dad could only afford to give a coin-filled ang pow packet to his surprise "visitor" – without realising that the badly dressed man is actually the deity.

Touched by the old man's sincerity and good advice that he should learn to dress well as people like to judge a book by its cover, the God of Prosperity decides to grant him three wishes.

"I've seen the script. It's better than Woohoo! and Good Day," Lim beams proudly. "You'll be surprised by the story when you step into the cinema to watch it."

Director Silver, who helmed the Ah Beng sitcom for three seasons on Astro, is helping Lim in this movie in terms of directing and going through the script. Marketing and distribution of the movie will be handled by RAM Entertainmnet.

According to Lim, Ah Beng The Movie: 3 Wishes will be shot beginning Aug 4, with the Klang Valley as its main location. "We will announce more details, especially on our 1Malaysia guest list, soon," he hints.

So is he feeling the pressure? "I could hardly sleep," admits Lim, whose eyebags are a tell-tale sign. "I'm feeling a big pressure because of the big sponsors that have come on board."

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Chris Evans savors the moment as 'Captain America'

Posted: 21 Jul 2011 11:45 PM PDT

LOS ANGELES (AP): At the back of a lavish Hollywood party where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are serving as the guests of honor, past the likes of Tom Hanks and Nicole Kidman, stands a tuxedoed and remarkably comfortable Chris Evans casually leaning against the bar, hair slicked back, champagne flute in hand.

Though he's been acting in films since he graduated from high school, Evans is among the youngest A-list attendees at the posh British Academy of Film and Television Arts soiree, one of the stops on the royal couple's recent trip to the US.

Yet wait, it seems Evans' coolness might be as much of a facade as his costume in "Captain America: The First Avenger."

"I just thought, 'There's no chance these people will have any idea who I am,"' the 30-year-old actor remarked a week later during an interview to promote the live-action, 3-D rendition of the Marvel comic series.

It's hard to imagine that anyone, including British royalty, isn't aware of Evans, who's already played a Marvel superhero on the big screen: the wisecracking Human Torch in both "Fantastic Four" films.

The announcement that Evans would personify Captain America was met with both suspicion and excitement from fans. It's a feeling Evans understood.

The actor, perhaps better known for his hunky roles in mainstream ensembles like "Cellular" and "Not Another Teen Movie" than his nuanced performances in indies such as "Sunshine" and "London," is "more nervous than anything else" about the Friday debut of "Captain America."

The film, about a scrawny orphan named Steve Rogers who transforms into a chiseled supersoldier after being injected with a top-secret serum during World War II, is the final Marvel film before next year's fanboy-fantasy-come-true, "The Avengers."

"It's a double-edged sword," said Evans. "On one hand, it's terrifying, nerve-racking and intimidating. There's a swirl of negative emotions that arise. On the flip side, it's great. You have to maintain a healthy amount of respect. You have to understand this is where I want to be. It could be so much worse. My life has unfolded in a fortuitous fashion."

Evans, whose father is a dentist and mother is the artistic director of a youth theater in Concord, Massachusetts, spent four months bulking up with a trainer in order to fill out Captain America's uniform. Computer-generated effects were used to shrink his body down for the scenes featuring Rogers before he became the Nazi-fighting peak of human perfection.

In the film, which is set mostly during World War II, Rogers is aided in the battle against an occult-obsessed Nazi commander nicknamed Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) by British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), gadget whiz Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), slick sidekick 'Bucky' Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and overbearing Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones).

For his performance as the patriotic posterboy, Evans was inspired by a childhood friend named Charlie Morris "who always did the right thing." Instead of the snarky silliness that Evans memorably brought to the "Fantastic Four" movies, he instills Rogers with a subdued stoicism. In fact, Evans' casting compelled the screenwriters to craft less goofiness.

"We could dial back on the outright jokes in the script because he brings a likeability and warmth without having gag lines to punch it up," said screenwriter Christopher Markus. "In the beginning, when we were writing in a vacuum, we felt the pressure that he's getting too stiff. Give him a joke. Chris very wisely even took out a few of the wisecracks."

Evans hopes for "a long journey of character development" with Rogers, who will team up in the present day with Chris Hemsworth's Thor, Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury in "The Avengers" next year. The screenwriters also left gaps in his World War II exploits for "Captain America" sequels to flashback to in the future.

"We had to leave room in what we were telling for a career in World War II," said screenwriter Stephen McFeely. "When he comes back in the present day, he has to be a seasoned soldier and a legend. He can't be that having done just one battle. We knew that within the structure of whatever we're doing is that there had to be spaces where you could go."

Evans' reluctance to commit to not only "Captain America" but "The Avengers" and possible sequels - a superpowered endeavor that could last a decade - has been well documented. Evans felt another kind of pressure on set, too. He wasn't comfortable in the bulky Captain America costume until about halfway through the film's production in London last year.

"The first time I put the costume on, I was still apprehensive," said Evans, who has been filming "The Avengers" this summer in Albuquerque, New Mexico "Then it just hits you. You're in it. You're in it now. Halfway through filming, it felt nice and comfortable. It's the source of the character. When you put the costume on, you can't help but feel heroic."

If the movie isn't as successful as "Iron Man" and "Thor," the blame could be placed on Evans, who will also be seen in theaters later this year as a drug-addicted lawyer in the drama "Puncture" and as the womanizing next-door neighbor of Anna Faris' character in the romantic comedy "What's Your Number?" It's not something he likes to think about right now.

"We overanalyze the past and we worry about the future," said Evans. "We don't spend enough time in the moment. I think doing that in this world, even if you have a six-picture deal with Marvel, you can get stuck in a pretty negative place. It's daunting, so you just say to yourself, 'You know what? All I have to do is deal with today."'

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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Dark and dangerous

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 02:04 AM PDT

John Byrne crafts 'period piece' set in Cold War, his first all-new comic series in more than a decade.

JOHN Byrne, one of comics' acclaimed writers and artists, is launching a new ongoing series called Cold War, that explores the nature of espionage during that era and is his first all-new comic series in more than a decade.

The new series from IDW Publishing begins with the four-part story The Damocles Contract and introduces secret agent Michael Swann, formerly of Britain's MI6 and now doing freelance work for the government on jobs with which it doesn't want to be associated.

Byrne, who wrote and illustrated critically lauded runs on Marvel's The Fantastic Four, X-Men and Alpha Flight, along with DC Comics' Superman, is writing and illustrating the new series with Ronda Pattison coloring the art for each 32-page issue.

"After years of working with John on licensed properties like Star Trek, as well as seeing him complete John Byrne's Next Men, I'm happy as can be to have something all-new from JB," Chris Ryall, Byrne's editor and IDW's chief creative officer, said last week.

"Of all the stories John's told over the years, he hasn't really done anything with this level of period detail, spy-story intrigue and sexiness, so I'm happy to have him tell tales in a time period so rife with that kind of storytelling potential."

In the first issue, Swann is asked to stop a British scientist from defecting to the Soviet Union and, in the process, helping them expand their nuclear weapons program.

"He operates on a freelance basis, and occasionally his former bosses call upon him to handle something that is perhaps a bit too messy for Her Majesty's Government to be involved" with, Byrne told AP in an e-mail. "So he knows that when he is called upon, things have reached some dire straits. His response to this is usually very straightforward and brutal."

Byrne said that he's been fascinated by what he called "period pieces," and had been looking to the Cold War as a possible avenue.

"And I'd been thinking for quite a long time that it would be fun to play in those dark and dangerous days of the Cold War," he said. "Skulk around some of those dark alleys visited by the likes of Ian Fleming and John Le Carre. With maybe a little John Steed around the edges." – AP

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Howling at the moon

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 02:02 AM PDT

Moon Knight #3 (Marvel/US$3.99)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev

What started off as a major question mark has now become one of my monthly "must reads". Initially, I had this biased impression that this revamp was a poor Doug Moench-Bill Sienkiewicz imitation despite the presence of a proven creative team in Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev (their Daredevil stint is a classic). A friend of mine (Azhar @ Pekomik Prez) did get Maleev to "admit" that he traces during last year's Singapore Toys & Games Comics Convention, but we can look past that fact.

Hence, when the first issue was released, my expectations were zilch.

However, it took just one page to change my mind and that was the premiere issue's last page – as the sight of Marc Spector @ Moon Knight talking to his "imaginary heroes" left me awestruck!

Having followed Spector from B-grade Batman to Khonshu-devotee, the idea of him being a delusional anti-hero is indeed a refreshing change from the saving the world gigs that most comics offer today.

While Marc Spector is used to holding multiple characters in addition to Moon Knight, the Bendis-Maleev model replaces the cab driver and soldier of fortune personas with a 4-in-1 hero facade.

Apart from being a retired soldier of fortune who thinks he's a big time movie star, Spector's also the Moon Knight, Spidey, Captain America and Wolverine (?). In case you just blurted "What gives?", well it appears that Spector's mind has been hit by a delusional fog.

He now believes that he has the backing of the "Big Three", with the exception that he is also them. We are certainly into looney tunes territory but those familiar with the last Charlie Huston-David Finch run can already attest to Spector's sanity.

How does this make Moon Knight's revamp a worthy read? Since Spector's debut in the pages of Werewolf By Night, he has undergone many changes – concept, powers and spirituality.

Being typecast in a Bruce Wayne mould, Spector has splattered more than flattered – making this (free) fall from grace a befitting play towards the character's actual strengths.

Similar to how Matt Murdock @ Daredevil sizzles everytime his life fizzles, Spector is one of those hard luck heroes who thrives on sentimental votes, and this story practically places him at rock bottom.

Personal problems aside, there's enough action and mystery to occupy the panels and the presence of a decapitated Ultron head should arouse enough suspicions for half-a-dozen issues.

Similar to how Garth Ennis and Geoff Johns have brought out the characters in their respective works, Bendis is portraying how Spector should have been from day one – a flawed hero. The characterisation injected into Spector is certainly unlike his past incarnations, particularly his sense of paranoia – the moment with his assistant in this issue gets my vote for funniest event of the year!

If anti-heroes used to be your cup of tea, reading this might fast track a reunion into familiar territory.

Marvel Universe v Wolverine #1 of 4 (Marvel/US$3.99)
Writer: Jonathan Maberry
Artist: Laurence Campbell

THE title says it all. This against all odds plot pits the ol' canuckle head against foes ... and friends! In case you are having that deja vu feeling, especially after Old Man Logan and countless What Ifs of a similar kind, the only different ingredient here is cannibalism.

In the mould of last year's Marvel Universe v Punisher, this four-parter reenacts the apocalyptic scenario with Wolverine as judge, jury and executioner.

Along the same lines as Marvel Zombies, a mysterious plague gradually transforms heroes, villains and your average Joes and Janes into cannibals (instead of zombies).

While the cause(s) remains a mystery even to Reed Richards, the first notable casualty shocks the whole world – as a Cannibalised Spidey makes the Rhino his Happy Meal on live TV!

While Reed and Hank Pym struggle to whip up a cure, Wolverine loses another friend as Psylocke ends up as someone's "main dish".

The situation worsens when an X-men entourage from Utopia falls off the radar, requiring Wolverine to make a visit to Central Park to investigate. Here's where the culling begins!

While it took me a while to "digest" the Marvel Zombies concept (and I totally detest Marvel Apes), this Marvel Cannibals franchise requires a dose of gastrointestinal medicine to swallow.

Bad as it sounds, the concept of Wolverine in two minds over killing and saving the world is nothing new and smacks of "x-ploitation". Jonathan Maberry is certainly no Jonathan Hickman (a real hotshot writer/artist) and it would take a lot more depth in terms of plot and concept to make cannibalism the new fad in the Marvel Universe.

Hence, it's certainly no surprise as to why their "Direct Competitor" is raking in the popularity votes. Snikt-less!

Fear Itself #4 of 7 (Marvel/US$3.99)
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Stuart immonen

It's official – Bucky Barnes @ Captain America/Winter Soldier is dead. Unless Odin or some time travelling excuse changes this fact, Steve Rogers has every reason now to reclaim his Star Spangled mantle (and just in time for the movie too!). In case you missed last issue, Sin/Skadi (daughter of the Red Skull and now empowered by dark Asgardian mystics) delivered the death blow on Bucky, which certainly added some "oomph" to this (initially) lacklustre mega-crossover.

Fear Itself is the Marvel Universe's main event for 2011, banking on the premise of an ancient Asgardian prophecy relating to the Serpent (who happens to be Odin's brother).

When Sin revitalises one of her father's old "leads", she unleashes the Serpent on Midgard/Earth and becomes the Serpent's herald.

Accompanying her are seven other "hammer wielders", boosted by the Serpent's sorcery.

While the usual combined might of Earth's mightiest heroes would prove adequate to fend off such threats, the situation is different with the Asgardian's exodus from Earth.

As we arrive midway in this seven-parter, the good thing is things are becoming clearer. Apart from clarity on Bucky's status, Odin's rationale for leaving Midgard is explained (a ruse to "trap" the Serpent en route to burning Earth).

There's also a prophecy stating that Thor shall perish during his battle with the Serpent – adding another "excuse" for Odin's brutal behaviour towards his son.

For Thor, his defiance towards his father finally pays dividends as he returns to Earth just in time for the crunch with the Serpent and his crew.

As two "major deaths" in consecutive issues is not Marvel's style, Thor's inevitable demise takes a backseat ... for now.

Amidst all the violence in the backdrop, it is disappointing to see the heroes without a proper game plan against the Serpent's forces.

The head on confrontations may be nice as visuals but the tactical absence is a bummer, especially when you have "strategists" such as Nick Fury, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark together.

> Comics courtesy of Earth638 (No.31J-2, Kelana Mall, Jalan SS 6/12, Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Selangor /Hotline: 03-78048380 / E-mail: earth638@yahoo.com).

Trading post

komiktiam@gmail.com wants to buy:

Green Lantern (Geoff Johns) #19, 20, Green Lantern Corps #23, 33,

Thunderbolts #119 and Captain America (Ed Brubaker) #9

maxteo@hotmail.com has for sale/exchange:

Fantastic Four #587 (bagged), Fear Itself #1 (variant) and FF#1-4

Wants to buy: Blackest Night 3,4 and 6

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Talent for writing

Posted: 21 Jul 2011 11:57 PM PDT

A Tiny Bit Marvellous
Author: Dawn French
Publisher: Penguin/Michael Joseph,
338 pages

I CONFESS: I am a Dawn French fan. I have seen and adore all of her television work. I found Dear Fatty, French's 2008 autobiography, clever, poignant and funny – I laughed out of sheer amusement rather than obligation.

However, I was sceptical when I heard that French had signed a two-novel deal just before the release of her autobiography. Writing autobiographies is rehashing one's life in print with a sense of psychodrama and humour as well as juicy gossip thrown in to get tongues wagging and pages turning (not to mention, huge quantities shifted). But when comediennes start adding novelist to their curriculum vitae, it could either mean their careers are waning or they really do have a talent for the written word.

Thus, I was very curious to see what French's debut novel would be like. Luckily, with A Tiny Bit Marvellous, French does demonstrate plenty of talent for the written word and ensures that her readers are hooked from the start: "My mother is, like, a totally confirmed A-list bloody minging cretin of the highest order. Fact. In fact, I, of this moment, officially declare my entire doubt of the fact that she is in fact my actual mother." Thus begins A Tiny Bit Marvellous.

The opening passage with the colourful language is from the mind of Dora Battle, the 17 (soon to be 18)-year-old protagonist at loggerheads with her mother, Mo, a child psychologist who is about to turn 50.

The two are balanced with 16-year-old Peter Battle, a precocious boy who is so fixated on Oscar Wilde that he calls himself Oscar, much to his parents' amusement and Dora's irritation.

And then there is Dad, who remains a shadowy but vital presence throughout the novel. We aren't told his name and he only has one chapter/diary entry dedicated to him.

Similar to Dear Fatty, which French wrote in the form of letters to those closest and dearest to her, the chapters in A Tiny Bit Marvellous are set out in diary format, with Mo, Dora and Peter getting their turn in telling their bit of the story of a family breaking down.

The plot is simple: The Battles are far from the perfect, fully functional, happy family. In fact, the Battles, like their name, are at war with each other and with their own selves, and are heading for a breakdown. In short, the Battles are your average 21st century family, more at ease chatting with strangers on the computer than they are with each other.

Mo is both annoyed and dismayed by Dora's shut-down behaviour towards her, and is amused and worried by Peter's obsession with Oscar Wilde.

She also thinks that her marriage is slowly but surely dying, as both Mo and her husband (whose name readers only find out at the end of the novel) have been spending too much time at work.

Dora's 18th birthday is coming up and she wants a grand party to celebrate her first step into adulthood.

She also does not want her mother to be involved in the planning of her party, and certainly does not want her parents to know that she is smitten and chatting with (and planning to meet) an older man who she only knows as "X-Man".

Peter, with hormones jumping all over the place, is working through the changes in his body, his guilt of humiliating a fellow schoolmate who is effeminate, and his crush on his mother's colleague, Noel.

So, is A Tiny Bit Marvellous any good? The answer is an unrestrained yes. French did herself a great service by keeping the plot simple, and by giving a chapter/diary entry each to her three main protagonists, she keeps the story flowing and prevents the chapters from being too long and draggy.

The language is kept simple; French uses the simplicity to great effect, reminding her reader that A Tiny Bit Marvellous is based on the minutiae of the everyday and it does not pretend to be anything deeper than a story of a (fictional) family.

And French being French, there is humour in the novel, but it is treated very subtly – I wouldn't bill it as an out-and-out humorous novel.

For those who fancy having a light, easy read that has nothing to do with world politics, A Tiny Bit Marvellous is wholly recommended. It is, just as it says in its title, quite marvellous.

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The Star Online: Nation

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The Star Online: Nation

Malaysia detains French lawyer in graft trial (Update)

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 06:41 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The Immigration Department has arrested a French lawyer representing a human rights group in a court case accusing shipbuilder DCNS of corruption in a US$1.2bil submarine deal with Malaysia.

Immigration director-general Datuk Alias Ahmad said in a statement that William Bourdon was detained at the KL International Airport at 11.30am Friday when he arrived from Penang where he spoke at a dinner.

"Investigations by the Immigration Department revealed that Bourdon had violated the terms of his social visit pass as stipulated by the Immigration Act," said Alias.

Bourdon is expected to be deported back to his country.

AP quoted Cynthia Gabriel, with local rights group Suaram, that Bourdon was taken into custody Friday. Officials couldn't be reached and there was no word on why he was detained.

Bourdon represents Suaram, which filed complaints with a French prosecutor in 2009 alleging corruption in a 114 million euro (US$164mil) fee DCNA paid to Malaysian firm Perimekar Sdn. Bhd.

Gabriel says Bourdon arrived in Penang state Thursday and spoke at a dinner about the case.

He flew to Kuala Lumpur for another forum. Immigration officials detained him after his flight landed.

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Datuk Amar James Wong laid to rest in Limbang

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 06:14 AM PDT

LIMBANG: The late Datuk Amar James Wong, Sarawak's first Deputy Chief Minister, who died last Monday in Kuching, was laid to rest at his family's burial ground at Jalan Pandaruan, here Friday.

About 1,000 people comprising close relatives and local dignitaries in Limbang, had made a beeline to Wong's residence located just across the burial ground as early as 8am to pay their last respects.

Wong's casket was later brought out from his family's residence at about 11am for a final procession along several roads within Limbang town which ended at the burial ground about 30 minutes later.

Dubbed as the grand old man of Sarawak politics, Wong, who died of a heart attack at the age of 89, had an illustrious political career spanning more than 50 years, starting in 1951.

He also played a significant role as one of Sarawak's leaders involved in the negotiation for the formation of Malaysia back in 1963. - Bernama

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MACC revamp vital for public confidence, says Proham

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 06:00 AM PDT

PETALING JAYA: A total revamp of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission's (MACC) structure and operations is vital to restore public confidence, said the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham).

It said the roles of the MACC advisory board and its complaints committee must be reviewed as they were currently only advisory in nature.

Proham chairman Tan Sri Simon Sipaun stressed the necessity for a professional enforcement team that was highly regarded by society.

"MACC must undertake a major community exercise to win the confidence of the general public by ensuring they practice professional standards and are publically accountable," said Sipaun and other Proham committee members in a statement Friday.

Proham welcomed the early release of the Royal Commission of Inquiry's (RCI) report into the death of Teoh Beng Hock, calling it illustrative of the Government's promise of transparency.

They recommended that its findings on MACC investigation and interrogation methods be reviewed, revised and implemented immediately.

They also suggested MACC and other enforcement agencies base their conduct on an understanding of human rights and fundamental liberties.

The Proham committee also advocated that MACC follow international procedures, guidelines and standards in its enforcement work.

More in The Star Saturday

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