Jumaat, 16 September 2011

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Reality TV's Tareq Salahi seeks divorce from Michaele

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 05:55 PM PDT

LOS ANGELES, Sept 16 (Reuters): Reality TV star Tareq Salahi on Friday filed for divorce from his runaway wife Michaele, and accused her of having an affair with Journey guitarist Neal Schon.

Salahi, who appeared with Michaele last year in the Bravo network show "The Real Housewives of D.C.," filed the divorce papers in Warren County Circuit Court in Virginia.

The Salahis, who married in 2003, are best known for sneaking past White House security and into a state dinner in 2009, where they shook hands with President Barack Obama. The fete earned them the nickname, White House gate crashers.

Earlier this week, when Michaele failed to return home Tareq reported her missing or kidnapped to authorities, according to divorce papers posted online at celebrity website TMZ.com.

Tareq said in the court papers that he later learned Michaele was not kidnapped at all, but was in "an adulterous relationship" with Journey guitarist Schon. Tareq is seeking a divorce on those grounds.

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The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Palestinians to seek full U.N. membership - Abbas

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 08:47 PM PDT

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Abbas said on Friday he would demand full membership of the United Nations for a Palestinian state when he goes to the U.N. General Assembly next week, setting up a diplomatic clash with Israel and the United States.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with Arab foreign ministers at Arab League headquarters in Cairo September 12, 2011. (REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Files)

"We are going to the United Nations to request our legitimate right, obtaining full membership for Palestine in this organisation," Abbas said in a televised speech.

"We are going to the Security Council," he added, to rapturous applause from his audience of Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, signalling his determination to press ahead despite efforts by U.S. and European officials to dissuade him.

Both Israel and its main ally, the United States, firmly oppose the initiative, arguing that a Palestinian state can only be created through direct negotiations.

The Palestinians say almost 20 years of on-off direct talks on statehood envisaged by interim peace accords have hit a dead end for reasons including Israel's refusal to stop expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands it took in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and which Palestinians want, along with the Gaza Strip, for an independent state.

The last round of the U.S.-backed talks between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu collapsed nearly a year ago when the Jewish state declined to extend a partial moratorium on West Bank settlement building.

A full halt to such construction on territory the Palestinians say they need for a viable state is one condition they have set for a resumption of negotiations. Israel withdrew settlers from tiny, coastal Gaza in 2005.

Abbas said the U.N. step would not "end the occupation", but would strengthen the Palestinians' hand.

Washington has already said it will veto any statehood resolution in the Security Council and some U.S. politicians have said they will try to cut American aid to the Palestinians, totalling some $500 million a year, if they refuse to back down.

A statement from Netanyahu's office issued after the speech said the Palestinians were "systematically" avoiding direct talks with Israel.

Abbas said recognition as a state would allow a return to peace talks, but on a stronger footing. "Negotiations, no matter how difficult, will be between one state and another."

A flurry of diplomacy led predominantly by the European Union has sought to avert the U.N. showdown by seeking a deal that would bring about a return to talks within weeks, diplomats say. However, the mediation is struggling in the face of long-standing disagreements over the terms of reference.


Failing that, the EU has also been trying to avoid a Security Council confrontation by persuading the Palestinians to accept a diluted upgrade to their status at the United Nations, where they are currently recognized as an "entity".

If Washington does veto the resolution, as expected, the Palestinians could then go to the full U.N. General Assembly. It does not have the power to grant them full membership, but could recognise Palestine as a non-member state.

Such a move would give the Palestinians possible access to other international bodies, including the International Criminal Court, from where it could seek to sue Israel over its longtime occupation of the West Bank.

Abbas said there was no decision on alternative options the Palestinians could pursue in the event of failure.

"If we succeed, and this is what we are working towards, then we must know that the day following the recognition of the state, the occupation will not end," Abbas said.

"But we will have obtained the world's recognition that our state is occupied and that our land is occupied and not disputed territory, as the Israeli government claims," he said.

Abbas' Islamist rivals in the Hamas movement, which governs Gaza, dismissed the plan. A spokesman said any result would be "cosmetic, especially when Mahmoud Abbas said his aim is to return to the negotiations with the occupation after all".

The Arab League on Tuesday threw its support behind Abbas's initiative. Arab foreign ministers, who began efforts in July to organise backing for the Palestinian bid, decided to set up a team comprising the League head and six League members to further pursue the controversial statehood application.

Long criticized at home for appearing weak in the face foreign pressure, Abbas signalled no retreat from his plan.

"You certainly don't believe me," he joked during the speech, adding that he would present the application after delivering his speech to the General Assembly on Sept. 23 -- when Netanyahu is also addressing the gathering

He also stressed that any popular protests in support of his initiative should be peaceful. Israel fears that the U.N. showdown could spark violence across the West Bank and is putting its forces on high alert in the area.

A French government official warned of a race against time.

"What (Europeans) would like is the relaunch of peace talks. Our feeling is that time is running out for peace and even more so with the Arab Spring," he said, alluding to popular revolutions in several Arab countries this year.

"These states will be democratic countries that will have to consider public opinion even more ... Today we still have a window of opportunity for peace but the feeling is that if these renewed peace talks don't happen then the Palestinian territories, which are fairly calm (now), could explode."

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

Haitian lawmakers approve new pick for premier

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 08:47 PM PDT

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitian lawmakers approved the nomination of a U.N. development expert to serve as prime minister on Friday, handing President Michel Martelly a tentative victory in his third attempt to install a new head of government in the earthquake-ravaged Caribbean nation.

The lower house of Parliament unanimously approved Martelly's designation of Garry Conille, 45, a medical doctor who had served as aide to former U.S. President Bill Clinton in the latter's role as special U.N. Haiti envoy.

Conille must still be approved by the Senate. But his approval in the lower house followed the rejection by Haitian lawmakers in June and August of two previous nominees for premier.

That blocked the formation of a new Haitian government for months after Martelly, a former pop star, took office with a promise to lift Haiti out of its misery and turn the poorest country in the America's into a Caribbean success story.

"I thank Parliament, particularly the lower house, for the confidence placed in me," Conille told Reuters after the Chamber of Deputies approved his selection by a vote of 89-0.

"My will is to accompany the president in his commitment to solve the problems facing the Haitian people and I'm ready to serve once the process is completed."

Haiti, known for decades of dictatorship, corruption and instability, faces a huge reconstruction task after last year's catastrophic earthquake and a cholera epidemic.

Both houses of Haiti's Parliament are dominated by senators and deputies whose parties fielded rival candidates to Martelly in a turbulent two-round presidential election that he finally won in a March run-off vote.

The rejection by lawmakers of previous picks for premier made by Martelly, who took office on May 14, have raised concerns among diplomats and donors who say Haiti desperately needs a stable working government to rebuild from the quake.

Some parliamentarians had raised questions about Conille's eligibility for the post because he spent years outside the country, working for the United Nations. Haiti's Constitution requires a candidate for prime minister to have spent five consecutive years in Haiti before taking up the post.

Lawmakers said Conille's residency was not an issue, however, since international treaties signed by Haiti allow nationals working for the U.N. to maintain their residency.

Approval of Conille's nomination in the Senate was expected to come next week.

Haitian authorities estimate the January 2010 earthquake killed more than 300,000 people and wrecked much of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Pressing tasks for the new government include effectively fighting the cholera epidemic that has killed more than 6,000 people since October. It must also try to provide shelter for tens of thousands of earthquake survivors who are still living in makeshift tent camps vulnerable to hurricanes and floods.

(Editing by Tom Brown and Christopher Wilson)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

U.N. Security Council eases sanctions on Libya

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 08:47 PM PDT

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Friday eased sanctions on Libya, including on its national oil company and central bank, to enable key institutions to recover after rebels won a civil war.

Libyan people celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the martyrdom of Libyan resistance hero Omar Al-Mukhtar, near the shrine of his burial place in Benghazi September 16, 2011. (REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori)

The 15-nation council voted unanimously for a resolution that also establishes a U.N. mission in Libya to help the North African nation get back on its feet after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

The resolution begins lifting punitive measures imposed on the oil-exporting country six months ago when Gaddafi was overseeing a crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Despite arguments among council members since then over the application of previous resolutions, especially NATO's bombing of Gaddafi's forces, the council came together after Libya's former rebels established control over most of the country.

In Friday's resolution, the council declared "its determination to ensure that assets frozen pursuant to (U.N. sanctions resolutions) shall as soon as possible be made available to and for the benefit of the people of Libya."

Earlier on Friday, the U.N. General Assembly approved a Libyan request to accredit envoys of the country's interim government as Tripoli's sole representatives at the world body, effectively recognizing the National Transitional Council.

Both actions "make clear the international community's determination to support the new Libyan authorities, and the Libyan people," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

The Security Council resolution lifts all sanctions against the Libyan National Oil Corp and Zueitina Oil Co as part of what British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said was an effort to "help kick-start Libya's economy and encourage economic self-sufficiency."

The British-drafted text also partly eases sanctions on the central bank and other Libyan institutions, although special approval by the Security Council's Libya sanctions committee will still be needed to unfreeze their seized assets.

The committee has already authorized the emergency unfreezing of some $16 billion of Libyan assets, held mainly by Western countries, Security Council diplomats say.

But some measures are being kept "to ensure that previously frozen funds are released in a transparent and responsible way as the situation normalizes and the transition proceeds," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told the council.

Diplomats said one problem with immediately unfreezing all assets was confusion in some cases about exactly who would be able to benefit from them.


An arms embargo will remain in place, but Libya's interim government and the United Nations will be allowed to import light weapons to maintain security.

The resolution establishes a U.N. mission in Libya, which diplomats say will consist of up to 200 people in an initial three-month phase to help the government with a post-conflict transition. Their tasks are expected to include police training and electoral assistance, U.N. officials say.

The resolution does not call, however, for the deployment of peacekeepers or police as part of the new U.N. Support Mission in Libya.

Nor does it call for an end to the no-fly zone a March resolution imposed over the country, although diplomats say Libyan civil airliners will be allowed to fly provided they notify monitors of their flight plans.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, a prominent critic of NATO's air campaign in Libya, called for the prompt lifting of the no-fly-zone and also voiced concerns about human rights violations in Libya.

"It's becoming increasingly clear that crimes were being committed by all parties to the conflict," he said.

The National Transitional Council was represented at the Security Council meeting by Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador whose defection to the rebels in February inspired dozens of his country's diplomats worldwide to denounce Gaddafi.

"A period of terror, of denial of freedom and violation of human rights has now come to an end for the Libyan people," Dabbashi told the council.

He said Libya was the first instance of the much-quoted but seldom-applied U.N. "responsibility to protect" principle, "which was done in a reasonable manner, which saved the lives of thousands of Libyans and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya."

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

Without Djokovic, Serbia trails Argentina 2-0

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 06:38 PM PDT

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - Taking advantage of the absence of the top-ranked Novak Djokovic, Argentina took a commanding 2-0 lead over defending champion Serbia in the Davis Cup semifinals Friday.

Djokovic pulled out of the opening singles against David Nalbandian because of back pain, four days after beating Rafael Nadal in the U.S Open final, and was replaced by Troicki who lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

In the other singles match Friday, Juan Martin del Potro beat Janko Tipsarevic 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.

Argentina needs one more point to reach its first final since 2008. Serbia has never made a comeback after trailing 0-2 after the opening singles.

The doubles are played Saturday. Del Potro won a battle of long rallies against U.S. Open quarterfinalist Tipsarevic, finishing off the 2 hour, 31 minute match with an ace.

"We are in a good position now to win here, but nothing is over," Del Potro said.

Serbia team captain Bogdan Obradovic left open the possibility that Djokovic could play in the doubles to try to keep Serbia alive in the best-of-five series.

"Novak is going to practice a little, get used to the surface and we will see," Obradovic said. "This is a very tough situation for us."

Tipsarevic, who retired with an injury in the U.S. Open quarterfinals against Djokovic after a tough battle, said Del Potro's serve made the difference.

"I feel I didn't play that bad, but Juan Martin played real good," Tipsarevic, who is 0-3 against the Argentine, said. "The key was his serve, which was excellent."

Nalbandian had little trouble against Djokovic's replacement, who had 58 unforced errors on the indoor hard court in Belgrade Arena.

The Argentine dominated the match with precise baseline shots as the 18th-ranked Serb had trouble returning a mix of forehand and backhand winners. Nalbandian wrapped up the match with a neat backhand down the line.

"Djokovic's absence helped us for sure," Nalbandian said. "I found out some 25-30 minutes before the match that he will not play, but I was prepared to play either him or Troicki, it did not matter."

Djokovic also pulled out of Serbia's opening match of the semifinals last year against the Czech Republic because he needed rest after the U.S. Open, where he lost to Nadal in the final.

Troicki was also a late replacement for Serbia on the opening day while Djokovic played the reverse singles.

"We knew for days that Djokovic would not be able to play, so this was no surprise," Troicki said.

"Nalbandian played good and I played bad, that was the key."

Djokovic led Serbia to its first Davis Cup title last year after beating France 3-2 in the final with Troicki clinching the key point.

Serbia has entered the semifinals with a seven-match Davis Cup winning streak.

The last team to beat Serbia in a home tie was Belgium in 2005, which was also the last time Djokovic lost a singles match at home.

Argentina is looking to win its first Davis Cup semifinal away from home. Since the formation of the World Group in 1981, Argentina has made nine semifinal appearances, losing all six while playing away.

Tennis-Nalbandian and Del Potro put Argentina 2-0 up

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 06:15 PM PDT

BELGRADE, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Argentina took a big step towards reaching the Davis Cup final when David Nalbandian and Juan Martin Del Potro secured a 2-0 lead over holders Serbia on Friday.

The home team's hopes of advancing to their second successive final suffered a huge blow before a ball was hit as world number one Novak Djokovic pulled out of the opening singles rubber with pain in his lower back and ribs.

Djokovic, who won the U.S. Open in New York on Monday, arrived in Serbia less than 24 hours before his scheduled tie with Nalbandian and could not recuperate in time.

Replacement Viktor Troicki was no match for the Argentine who played the kind of tennis that made him the world number three in 2006, blowing away his opponent 6-4 4-6 6-2 6-3.

"I was prepared to play either Djokovic or Troicki," Nalbandian told a news conference. "We knew Djokovic might not play because these things can happen in the Davis Cup.

"Either way I think I played really well. The crowd created a great atmosphere out there and I really enjoyed it."

Del Potro then produced a clinical performance against Janko Tipsarevic to win 7-5 6-3 6-4 and put the 2008 finalists in the driving seat.

In the other semi-final in Cordoba, Spain also held a 2-0 lead over France.

Now ranked 74th in the world, Nalbandian revived memories of his heyday as he silenced the normally raucous Belgrade crowd.

He hit a staggering 50 winners and scored 25 points more than Tipsarevic who made 58 unforced errors and converted only three of 12 break points.


The 15,000 home fans had little to cheer and the small but vociferous band of Argentine supporters made most of the noise as Del Potro carried on where Nalbandian left off.

Tipsarevic saved three set points on his serve in the 10th game of the opening set but could not repeat the feat in the 12th as Del Potro capitalised on his fifth set point.

With some dejected Serbian fans leaving the upper tiers of the impressive Belgrade Arena, 2009 U.S. Open champion Del Potro put his foot on the gas pedal and raced through the second set after breaking serve in the fourth game.

He hit a superb backhand cross-court winner and then held serve for the rest of the set, much to the delight of his team mates and captain Tito Vasquez who jumped off their seats with joy almost every time he earned a point.

Del Potro conjured a break of serve in the seventh game of the third set and then held his serve with ease to wrap up the match in two hours 32 minutes, ending it with an ace on his second serve.

Nenad Zimonjic and Tipsarevic meet Juan Monaco and Juan Ignacio Chela in Saturday's doubles, with the reverse singles scheduled for Sunday.

Athletics-Blake runs second fastest 200m of all time

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 06:08 PM PDT

BRUSSELS, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Jamaican Yohan Blake blazed to the second fastest 200 metres of all time at the Brussels Diamond League meeting on Friday, upstaging compatriot and training partner Usain Bolt who clocked the quickest 100m of the season.

Blake, who won the world 100 title in Daegu last month after Bolt was disqualified from the final, stunned the capacity crowd by clocking 19.26, just seven-hundreds of a second behind Bolt's world record set in Berlin in 2009.

Blake, the man seen as the main challenger to Bolt's surpremacy, said he was surprised by the time.

"I knew I could do something crazy... but to be honest I was surprised when I saw the clock at the finishing line," he told reporters.

Bolt, the Olympic 100 and 200 metre champion, failed to deliver in the 100 in Daegu after leaving the blocks too early, and was far from the first to rise on Friday, needing to drive hard to push past fellow Jamaican Nesta Carter.

His time of 9.76 was two hundredths of a second quicker than the previous season best of Asafa Powell set in June.

So who is the world's fastest man now?

"Well, he is the world number one," Blake said referring to Bolt.

"In the 200 metres, well, I would say, yeah, I'm number one."

Bolt, who retained his 200 world title in South Korea, was his usual confident self and said he was not worried by Blake's time.

"Listen, you need to understand, I've done great things. Yohan is coming, he is going to be a great athlete, but I'm not afraid of one athlete," he said.

"I'm still number one. He has to beat me a couple of times before I have to start getting worried. He still has a long way to go," he continued before adding that 2012 would be "an interesting season".

Double Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, who limped out of the 10,000 metres at the world championships, ran the fastest time of the season in 26 minutes 43.16 seconds after a last lap sprint with Kenya's Lucas Kimeli Rotich, who smashed his personal best by almost 30 seconds.

Bekele, out with a ruptured calf muscle since the start of 2010, said he had come close to quitting a year ago, but his friends had given him the strength to carry on.

"Two years is a long time without racing, without training. I am getting back to a good level and after this I will improve, so it was perfect," he said.

For many athletes the Brussels meeting brought the season to a close, but the fast track produced a string of season and personal best performances.

In the women's 100 metres, the one-two-three was a repeat of the world championship final in Daegu last month.

American Camelita Jeter proved she is this season's form sprinter with a time of 10.78, ahead of Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown and Kelly-Ann Baptiste of Trinidad and Tobago.

Jeter was one of 16 athletes to win a trophy and $40,000 for being the most consistent performers over the Diamond League series.

In the 1,500 metres, American Morgan Uceny also took a trophy and cash prize after she clocked a world best for 2011 of 4:00.06.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Hong Leong Bank on a growth agenda

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 05:42 PM PDT

The bank is confident of meeting the targets despite worries of an economic slowdown.

HAVING been through two major bank mergers, Yvonne Chia, managing director and CEO of Hong Leong Bank (HLB), is confident of leading her team on a journey of transformation under the current merger with EON Bank.

Despite concerns over a potential economic slowdown, she remains confident of meeting the value indicators of the merger.

"We had entered the merger fully aware of what was ahead and the potential risks and opportunities. We will still aim, on a combined-bank basis, to grow,'' she tells StarBizWeek. "We are on a growth agenda.''

The HLB group's net profit after tax (incorporating two months' contribution from EON Bank) for financial year (FY) 2010/11 is RM1.135bil while that of stand-alone HLB, excluding consolidation of EON Bank group results and merger-related financials for FY10/11, is RM1.168bil, representing a gain of 16% year-on-year.

"However, if the market does turn, then we have to be adaptive. At the end of the day, we cannot be blindly growing when the market has changed and we must protect our business sustainability.

"I must always be guided by sustainable growth and the long-term franchise value,'' she says. "I just have to be (confident). I just have to do it. I think today, even in a cautious environment, there are always things we can do if we know the clients and segments to pick,'' she says, adding that there are still opportunities in the economy where drastic changes are not likely to happen overnight.

Analysts have varying views on the HLB group, from "buy" to "hold".

HwangDBS Vickers Research, in upgrading its target price on HLB, cites improved efficiencies, higher net interest margin and a larger presence in the hire purchase (HP) as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Strong organic growth, coupled with contribution from its 20% associate Bank of Chengdu, which remains in growth mode in consumer, SME and local corporates, are also factors favouring the merged HLB group, says HwangDBS in its report.

UOB Kay Hian Research has lowered its profit forecast for FY12 and FY13 by 9%, factoring in a lower loan growth (from 16% and 12.5% to 15% and 11% respectively).

"Management is guiding for a loan growth of 10%-15%, driven by financing extended to the consumer sector and SMEs (both of which make up 77% of HLB's portfolio). We are looking at a loan growth of 12% but foresee downside risks arising from weaker economic growth,'' says UOBKayHian in its report.

A key feature of this merger will be Hong Leong's standards of efficiency and productivity, details of which will be revealed over time.

Cost synergies will be derived from sharing of information technology, collapsing of two facilities, people efficiency as well as processes and systems.

Revenue synergies are derived from an expanded customer base and cross-selling of more products and services especially in the consumer and business banking as well as global market divisions.

Revenue synergies are also derived from a lower cost of funds.

"We also have to deepen the return on assets from each client relationship and come up with bundling of products and services to be more sticky' with the clients,'' she says.

Altogether, revenue and cost synergies are estimated by analysts to come up to RM400mil in three years; however, the breakdown is not available yet.

Some analysts opine that it may not be that easy to achieve those synergies in view of the economic slowdown. Others note that there are "rough indications'' of those synergies but question how fast they can be realised.

There is also an estimated cost synergy of 40% in cost savings which some analysts find rather ambitious. However, Chia is not commenting on that at the moment. All she would say is that it is only an estimate and that she hopes to achieve some of those synergies within the first year itself.

"We have to focus on the salient points,'' she explains. The combined workforce is 12,000; the desired numbers would have to be evaluated based on those efficiency standards.

Cost synergies will be front-loaded while revenue synergies will develop over time, she says in HLB's 100-day achievement report. Integration teams are finalising plans to realise these synergies and reports on the achievements will be out every six months.

Some concrete numbers will be useful as analysts ponder over how much more value can be extracted in this challenging environment.

Major cost items for the integration include harmonisation of information technology applications, infrastructure and security systems, relocation and redeployment of branches, overall efficiency improvements and costs to refresh the brand identity.

No more merger expenses

With an emphasis on value-added spending, Chia does not expect more merger expenses which amount to RM111mil so far.

"There are some expenses that have to be capitalised and some that have to be expensed. We will continue to grow our performance,'' she says.

There will be no kitchen sinking per se, but provisioning will be brought to HLB's standards. "My loan loss coverage ratio (indicating the bank's coverage for bad debts) is about 130%,'' says Chia. "After the merger, it was 110%. We may bring it back up to between 120% and 125%.''

"Our first phase of providing common services to the branches of both banks was done well and we are now in the second phase. The immediate item in this second phase is to reap the synergies and value creation, post merger,'' she says.

The first wave involves delivering common customer services while stabilising the business and ensuring the inter-operability of customer-facing functions for most transactions.

Under the second wave, Chia's priorities will include, besides the reaping of synergies, alignment of people, further scale and achievement of standards as well as plans for reconfiguration of branches.

While the enlarged HLB group will be the fourth largest in terms of assets, it has the second largest branch network of 329. The group has no plan to trim the number of branches.

Analysts question the viability of such a plan amid concerns over cost savings.

"The board of HLB believes that the real banking on the ground involves reaching out to the community. To do this, a wide branch network is required. Internally, before this merger, we have been wanting to grow the number of branches to more then 300,'' Chia says.

To make that work, there are factors that go beyond physical presence.

"My challenge, going forward, is how to optimise the use of branch network to drive our value proposition and embed ourselves to the community.

"That requires the presence of entrepreneurial people and savvy branch managers. A culture of being service and community-oriented will help make the difference,'' she says.

Branch set-ups will no longer be based on the traditional concept but integrated with e-banking for greater efficiency.

HLB has rolled out 46 business banking branches that offer customer facing and relationship banking for the SME and business owners.

Customer and staff retention

The merger with EON Bank, which has a strong HP franchise, has caused some concerns over retention of customers and dealers.

This is in view of the fact that HLB had backed away from the HP business at one time, possibly estranging the group from an important link the auto dealers.

Chia recognises the contribution of the HP sector. "The merger with EON Bank is about growth and HP is a sizeable segment in the (EON Bank) group.

"The key thing is not just to grow and sustain the business but also enhance it through portfolio balancing and efficiency of processes.

On the relationship aspect, Chia assures that it is on track. "At many get-togethers recently, we had good engagement and proactive dialogue with the auto dealers as well as at the ground level,'' she says.

In terms of staff retention, Chia's strategy includes focusing on young talent and upgrading of current competencies.

Many competency areas such as in branch management, service and sales as well as credit skills will be in demand.

To underscore the seriousness of the move to enhance human capital, the HLB group has recently set up training academies for branches, operations, sales and credit.

Skill enhancement in product selling, risk management as well as new accounting rules are among some of the required competencies that need to be developed.

On a personal level, she refutes the notion that the HLB work culture is tough and demanding.

"I don't like to procrastinate,'' she says. "I know I can be demanding but those who are ambitious, driven, competitive, willing to learn and work hard will work very well with us.

"To excel, one has to be demanding and to insist on high standards ... that is universal. We attract people who want to do well in life and grow to be successful indivduals,'' she adds.

More mergers and acquisitions?

"We have enough on our plate to work on for the time being,'' says Chia.

However, she is not restricting herself to just that. "We remain opportunistic. If a deal comes, I will look at it,'' she says. "If it makes sense, we will look at it seriously.''

Taking EON Bank as an example, Chia recalls talking to EON Bank at a totally different price when she first joined HLB seven years ago.

"They held out then,'' she recalls. "Since then, regulations and rules have changed.''

HLB paid RM7.30 per share or RM5.06bil for all the assets and liabilities of EON Bank. It had increased its original offer of RM7.20 per share upon protests by certain shareholders.

Reports indicated there had been offers previously but the EON Bank shareholders had held out for better prices.

"Sometimes, it is good to sit down and wait. We never know, when a crisis happens, we have sensible prices to negotiate on.

"A lot of people are expanding and expanding,'' she says. "At the end of the day, it is all about specific cases of how the potential value of acquisitions can be achieved,'' she says.

Among its overseas acquisitions, the bank in Vietnam has turned in its maiden profit while its 20% associate Bank of Chengdu has brought a decent profit contribution of RM211mil in the last financial year.

Chia is full of verve and vitality, and is ever ready take HLB into the next quantum leap. Known to be a tennis buff, she is passionate on how to put HLB on a stronger footing to face the changing financial landscape.

Through detailed and intense planning, she has set up the machinery that not only closely tracks but also implements the merger strategies.

In this respect, she is not short of experience and is aware of all the steps necessary for a successful merger.

It is not just the technical requirements that merit close attention but also the human and communicative aspects. That involves a lot of energy and interest to sit down and engage with the staff, of all ranks, individually as well as at the branch level nationwide.

"I think all CEO roles involve dealing with people. Everything that we do is about dealing with the human psyche,'' she says. "I will try, whenever I can, to reach out to each individual personally and have a heart-to-heart conversation.

"I always believe in confronting (an issue) honestly. My management style is very much based on facts and guided by what is best for the organisation,'' she says.

Despite the seriousness of her role and work pressure, Chia has a sense of humour and likes to tell anecdotes. Being customer focused and market-oriented, she uses these real life anecdotes as a means of relating the customer experience.

She also likes to share a light moment with her staff or people around her as a rallying point. For at the end of the day, she sees their coming together as one team as a vital building block in her foundation for merger value creation.

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Eye on Stock

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 04:51 PM PDT

GENTING Bhd fell to a near 12-month low of RM9.40 on Aug 23, marred by persistent profit-taking activity amid extended correction.

Thereafter, it turned sideways, fluctuating within a moderate range and during the process it re-tested the bottom twice, once on Sept 6 and again on Wednesday before bouncing off slightly to close up six sen at RM9.50 yesterday. Based on the daily bar chart, Genting had stabilised and making an effort to establish a new base above the fairly solid floor of RM9.40 to launch the next recovery phase. Hence, investors can consider accumulating gradually at current levels, if one is optimistic. Otherwise, wait for the confirmation. For now, the 14-day relative strength index appeared trapped below the mid-range. But in stark contrast, the oscillator per cent K and the oscillator per cent of the daily slow-stochastic momentum index had indicated a tentative curving up pictogram at the neutral zones.

Elsewhere, the daily moving average convergence/divergence histogram scaled higher towards the zero thresholds, albeit at a slow pace. It had issued a buy on Sept 7.

Indicators are improving and the price may strengthen. A successful penetration of the RM9.85 barrier will be good, and it may be enroute to the 50-day simple moving average (SMA) of RM10.28. The next upper strong hurdle is resting at RM10.73, where a clear breakout would open the window for the stock to challenge the all-time peak of RM11.98 in the medium term. If the RM9.40 line is violated, then the lower support of RM9 mark and the RM8.75 level would be vulnerable. The comments above do not represent a recommendation to buy or sell.

Market developments not looking good

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 04:49 PM PDT

REVIEW: Despite indicators pointing to a rebound, Bursa Malaysia opened the week on an easier footing, with the FBM Kuala Lumpur Composite Index (FBM KLCI) declining 4.33 points to 1,464.79, as most investors moved to the sidelines following huge losses in US markets overnight.

Wall Street slumped 303.68 points to 10,992.13 on growing doubts about Europe's ability to resolve its sovereign debt crisis and the stronger greenback sparked a sell-off in risky assets, pulling crude futures down US$1.81 to US$87.24 the previous Friday.

Although stocks in South Korea, Taiwan and China were closed for the Mid-autumn Festival, the poor showing in other markets in Asia-Pacific added to the downbeat note.

Against the negative backdrop, the key index drifted deeper into the red, touching a low of 1,443.93 in the afternoon before ending at 1,446.26, shedding 22.86 points on Monday.

Overnight, the Dow started out badly the next day, plummeting 167.37 points to 10,824.76 at one stage before staging a late comeback to post a gain of 68.99 points to 11,061.12, as news that Italy might get financial help from China sparked a bout of short-covering action. Elsewhere, crude oil recovered 95 cents to US$88.19, tracking equities.

As expected, Asian stocks got a lift from the late spurt of buying in US markets, trading higher in early business, but sadly, they later turned mixed, as optimism on China buying huge amounts of Italian bonds were tempered by ongoing concerns about the wider eurozone debt crisis.

Given the lack of clear direction from the offshore peers, the local bourse turned sideways, with the key index fluctuating between an intra-day high and low of 1,452.15 and 1,445.97 respectively; a pretty tight 6.18 points on bargain hunting interest alternated with light selling throughout.

At the closing bell, Bursa Malaysia chalked up 1.74 points to 1,448.00 in sluggish session on Tuesday.

Come Wednesday, the overnight Dow tacked on an extra 44.73 points to 11,105.85 and crude oil prices jumped a hefty US$2.02 to US$90.21 on follow-through nibbling, as investors bet European leaders would soon take action to ease the Greek debt crisis.

In spite of that, Asian markets continued to show a mixed picture, as not all were convinced and unlike the previous day, the local investors wobbled after a brief respite.

Consequently, the blue chips suffered a beating, dragging the FBM KLCI down 10.39 points to 1,437.61 in mid-week.

The key index shed another 6.68 points to end the week at 1,430.93 on extended selling on Thursday, ignoring the overseas rebound, as most investors were reluctant to participate, with prevailing external uncertainty clouding the marketplace.

Bursa Malaysia was shut on Friday for a public holiday.

Statistics: On a week-on-week basis, the principal index fell 38.19 points, or 2.6% to 1,430.93 on Thursday, against 1,469.12 on Sept 9.

Turnover for the four-day holiday-shortened week amounted to 2.883 billion units valued at RM4.887bil, compared with 3.550 billion shares worth RM6.259bil done during the regular previous week.

Technical indicators: The oscillator per cent K and the oscillator per cent D of the daily slow-stochastic momentum index were fast reaching the oversold area but they gave no sign of reversing up yet. It issued a short-term sell at the mid-range on Monday.

The past week witnessed the 14-day relative strength index retracing back from the mid-range to the neutral area yesterday.

Also, the daily moving average convergence/divergence (MACD) histogram had indicated a bearish divergence pictogram and appeared in danger of slipping below the daily signal line.

Weekly indicators were negative, with the weekly slow-stochastic momentum index triggering a sell signal and the weekly MACD retaining the bearish note.

Outlook: The 50-day simple moving average (SMA) and the 100-day SMA deteriorated rapidly after staging a "dead cross" a week ago. Apparently, the former had fallen below the important 200-day SMA and with the latter looking frail and defenceless, another breakdown may be imminent.

Market developments over the past several weeks already do not augur well for the bulls and should another breakdown come about in the near future, it would further fan worries that the local bourse is on the verge of entering a bearish cycle. For now, we remain neutral but will turn bearish once the recent low of 1,423.47 is violated. The lower support is envisaged at the 1,396-1,400 points band, followed by the 1,350-point mark.

Technically, indicators are frail, suggesting Bursa Malaysia may trade range-bound at best in the immediate term and based on the daily bar chart, the market has no chance of coming out of the doldrums, as long as the key index continues to flirt below the 21-day SMA, now resting at 1,468.30 and still declining.

Higher resistance barriers are expected at 1,500 points, 1,516 points, 1,527 points, followed closely by the 100-day SMA of 1,532.

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Triumphing justice themed in comics

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 02:25 AM PDT

Justice League # 1 (DC)(US$3.99)

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artists: Jim Lee and Scott Williams

THE wait is finally over! And yes, DC has delivered on the creative front with this flagship-worthy effort for its revamped universe.

In Jim Lee and Scott Williams, you have an artistic team that has sold eight million copies of a single issue (X-Men # 1), while Geoff Johns has spent the last decade "re-synching" the DC Universe with fanboy expectations.

With such credentials, they could do wonders even to the Legion of Substitute Heroes!

It's all about the dream pairing here – as DC's strongest creative team gets to work on the universe's mightiest heroes and to rewrite 25 years of history. While JL-purists would scream blasphemy at the exclusion of the Martian Manhunter and Cyborg as his replacement, this blotch is overshadowed by the riveting illustrations.

From the Dark Knight evading a team of aerial law enforcers to the Emerald Knight strutting his will power whatchamajig, every single panel here is filled with excitement!

The art also happens to be the saving grace as there's little plot to boast – who needs it with Lee in such commanding form.

This first story arc is premised on (re)uniting a super team with the usual first meetings and slugfests. With this being a brand new beginning, everything is set to "reset" with all the heroes being strangers to one another.

The tale is set five years ago, with Batman setting the tempo with an adrenaline pumping rooftop pursuit of an Apokolips parademon.

The Dark Knight gets sidetracked when law enforcers and Sector 2814's protector (no prizes for guessing who!) steps into the picture.

As expected, Bats and Green Lantern combine well in their "first" adventure together, whilst exchanging notes between themselves.

With the Apokolips-prey blown to bits, the surprise comes in the Lantern taking the lead in the detective field.

He (simply) connects the parademon to a specific Metropolis-based Kryptonian. What's even more surprising is the Dark Knight's accommodating approach – as the duo head for an inevitable showdown with the "new look" Man of Steel.

In between the trio's meeting, the plot weaves into the reintroduction of Victor Stone @ Cyborg. Synonymous with the Teen Titans all this while, Cyborg's elevation into the big league is timely indeed and probably due to his recent Flashpoint escapades.

As for the other Leaguers, notably Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, their impending debuts are mere issue(s) away – as judging by the build-ups, inevitable showdowns with Darkseid and Lex Luthor accommodating everyone.

Old is new again – that's my verdict of this Johns-Lee revamp.

While Batman and Green Lantern's costumes and attitudes have not changed much, Superman minus the red-undies will take some getting used to.

With Lee's magnificent art is a given, it's Johns giving colour and depth to the characters that I eagerly want more of. Overall, it's a positive start and now for the other 51 new titles!

DC Retroactive Justice League America The 90s # 1 (one-shot)

Writer: Keith Giffen and J.M.DeMatteis

Artist: Kevin Maguire

The BWAHAHA days are back and this is a wonderful alternative to the high profile Geoff Johns-Jim Lee revamp. Ironically, this same creative team was in the thick of the action the last time the DC Universe undertook a massive revamp, and their reunion here serves as a timely reminder as to the versatility of the League.

From the Clock King to Power Girl's cat, the whole 1990s bandwagon is brought back, making this one-shot a perfect complement to the classic 1990s run. What attracts me most is the presence of the "late" Blue Beetle and Maxwell Lord, who to me were the pulse of the League (then). Definitely the best offering in this Retroactive blitz.

Kick Ass 2 # 3 (Marvel)(US$2.99)

Writer: Mark Millar

Artists: John Romita Jr and Tom Palmer

AS Dave Liezewski finds self-fulfilment as a Justice Forever member, so do the others – as vigilante acts proliferate across the USA. Two major turning points take place in this issue as someone important learns about Dave's secret identity and the return of "he-who-shall-not-be-named"!

Moonlighting between his studies and crimefighting, Dave relives Peter Parker's college days dilemma. Thinking that he's finally got it made under the Chief's tutelage, Dave's past finally catches up with him – and we're not talking about Katie.

What's even more exciting is the inevitable return of Hit Girl!

Ultimate Comics The Ultimates # 1 (Marvel)(US$3.99)

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Esad Ribic

Marvel squeezes in on DC's revamp hype through this umpteenth Ultimates reboot. Equipped with a white poly bag, the element of surprise is matched with a star-studded cast comprising Asgardians and Excalibur. If this comic came equipped with a dolby sound system, we would all be rendered deaf due to the explosions and rampant battle scenes.

Similar to Justice League, it's lots of "bang and boom" here but very little storyline – despite Hickman's proven track record on team books (Fantastic Four).

Esad's art is always a joy to behold but somehow I feel that he hasn't assimilated his style with most of the featured characters. Only the Asgardians look stunning. Fingers-crossed this story arc will put the Ultimates back on the map, especially after its last disappointing outing.

Comics courtesy of Earth638 (2.31J, Kelana Street Mall, Jalan SS6/12, Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Selangor – next to Giant Hypermarket). Hotline: 03-7804-8380/e-mail: earth638@yahoo.com, Twitter: @earth638.

Sweet sixteen

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 12:49 AM PDT

The Birthday Ball

Author: Lois Lowry

Illustrator: Jules Feiffer

Publisher: Sandpiper, 192 pages

PRINCESS Patricia Priscilla is bored with her royal life and the excitement surrounding her 16th birthday ball. Doomed to endure courtship by three grotesquely unappealing noblemen, she adopts a peasant disguise and escapes her fate – for just one week. In this tale of mistaken identity, creamed pigeons, and young love, the two-time Newbery medallist Lois Lowry compares princesses to peasants and finds them to be exactly the same in all the important ways.

All These Things I've Done

Author: Gabrielle Zevin

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 368 pages

IN 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the 16-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant District Attorney's son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is, until her ex is accidentally poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight – at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her Mafia family.

Shelter (a Mickey Bolitar novel)

Author: Harlan Corben

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile, 288 pages

MICKEY Bolitar's year can't get much worse. After witnessing his father's death and sending his mother to rehab, he's forced to live with his estranged uncle Myron and switch schools. A new school comes with new friends and new enemies and, luckily for Mickey, a great new girlfriend, Ashley. For a while, it seems like Mickey's train-wreck of a life is finally improving – until Ashley vanishes without a trace. Unwilling to let another person walk out of his life, Mickey follows Ashley's trail into a seedy underworld that reveals that this seemingly sweet, shy girl isn't who she claimed to be. And neither was Mickey's father. Soon, Mickey learns about a conspiracy so shocking that it makes high school drama seem like a luxury – and leaves him questioning everything about the life he thought he knew.

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

Author: Kenneth Opel

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 304 pages

GROWING up, twin brothers Victor and Konrad fill their lives with imaginary adventures until the day they stumble upon The Dark Library, where they discover secret books of alchemy and ancient remedies. When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor is drawn back to the mysterious library in search of a cure. He uncovers an ancient formula, beginning a treacherous search for the ingredients to create the forbidden Elixir of Life. The brothers' success depends on how far they are willing to push the boundaries of nature, science and love.

Blood Red Road

Author: Moira Young

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 464 pages

SABA has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sand storms. The Wrecker civilisation has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That's fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother, Lugh, is around. But when a monster sand storm arrives bearing four cloaked horsemen, Saba's world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on a quest to get him back. Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of Silverlake, Saba discovers she is a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. Joining forces with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilisation.


Author: Heather Dixon

Publisher: Greenwillow Books, 480 pages

AZALEA is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her – beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing – it's taken away. All of it. The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation. Every night, Azalea and her 11 sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest. But there is a cost. The Keeper likes to keep things. Azalea may not realise how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

The Thief of Eddis: A Conspiracy of Kings

Author: Megan Whalen Turner

Publisher: Greenwillow Books, 352 pages

SOPHOS, heir to the throne of Sounis, has disappeared without a trace. Eugenides, the new and unlikely king of Attolia, has never stopped wondering what happened to his friend. Nor has the Queen of Eddis, who once offered Sophos her hand. They send spies. They pay informants. They appeal to the gods. But as time goes by, it becomes less and less certain that they will ever see their friend alive again. Battles are fought, bribes are offered, and conspiracies are set in motion. Across the sea, a ruthless empire watches for even the slightest weakness. And Sophos, anonymous and alone, bides his time. Until, drawing on his memories of Gen, Pol, the magus – and Eddis – Sophos sets out on an adventure that will change all of their lives forever.

Geronimo Stilton and the Kingdom of Fantasy #3: The Amazing Voyage

Author: Geronimo Stilton

Publisher: Scholastic Press, 320 pages

HOLEY cheese! Join Geronimo as he returns to the Kingdom of Fantasy for a third amazing adventure! Geronimo learns that the Kingdom is suffering an endless, freezing winter and that the queen of the fairies is in danger. Once there, Geronimo explores fantastical new lands and travels on a magical talking ship. Can Geronimo extinguish a threatening volcano in time to restore peace and springtime to the Kingdom of Fantasy?

Tracing the leak

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 12:26 AM PDT

A look at the reclusive Julian Assange who almost single-handedly brought new meaning to the term 'whistle-blowing'.        

WikiLeaks – Inside Julian Assange's War On Secrecy

Authors: David Leigh & Luke Harding  

Publisher: The Guardian/Public Affairs, 352 pages

WIKILEAKS. The mere mention of the term has the potential to send civil servants in Downing Street, the White House, the Kremlin, why, even Putrajaya, scurrying around trying to impose some sort of damage control. Whisper the name Julian Assange, and you can almost imagine the sweat creasing their brows.

Eye-catching and simply titled WikiLeaks in bold block letters, this book goes inside Wikileaks founder Assange's war on secrecy. Ironically, the book chronicles the life of a man who is very private but tries to make everything else public information. Reclusive, austere and wildly self-involved, Assange almost single-handedly brought new meaning to the term "fanatical hacking".

With a brief introduction by Alan Rusbridger (the editor-in-chief of The Guardian), the authors David Leigh and Luke Harding – both journalists with that newspaper – tell the story by expertly guiding the reader through a step-by-step analysis of how a new war on secrecy secretly unfolded.

The book narrates how WikiLeaks came into existence, who Assange is, what makes him tick, why he did what he did and what the future holds for him. Each chapter divulges, as promised in the introduction, morsels of information that whet your appetite so much that you lick your lips and succumb to turning the page. Reading this book, you may be lulled into thinking that it is fiction writing at its best, when in fact, it is a true story.

Each new chapter of the book (with its catchy title) introduces a new character. The book starts off in Norfolk, Britain, with Assange disguising himself, implausibly, as a hunch-backed woman. The authors then cleverly switch to Iraq where the now infamous Bradley Manning – the 23-year-old US army private and alleged WikiLeaks source – was based. While Assange may be the titular character of the book, the supporting roles played by others, such as Manning, are given equal importance.

The book examines the Internet culture and technology that made mining top secret information possible, moving from high stakes daredevilry to occasional moments of circus comedy. It also brings to light the age-old comedic fact that continuously circulates in White Hall (and here I parapharase from the BBC comedy Yes, Minister): that is, should a folder be marked "Confidential", it will be leaked to the newspapers on the same day the Minister receives it; and if it were marked "Restricted", it will be leaked on the previous day, even before the Minister knows about it!

The book, published by The Guardian, further reinforces the fact that throughout this saga, WikiLeaks' principal partner in the mainstream media has always been The Guardian. It reveals that the esteemed British newspaper's journalists have always had unprecedented access to all the major players depicted in the book, from the angry and embarrassed politicians to Assange himself, who, at one point, was hiding in co-author Leigh's house.

Leigh (an investigations editor) and Harding (a Moscow correspondent) are both uniquely positioned to have first-hand knowledge of what exactly transpired, it seems. Input by people who were actually in the thick of things gives the book an almost faultless flow. This provides an excellent opportunity for everyone who has always wondered what all the hype was about to gain insight into the WikiLeaks scandal and Assange.

Details on the US embassy cables that were leaked are included in the book's appendix. Reading through the cables, you might almost think you're reading something out of a bizarre comedy show. One minute you may burst out laughing and yet, in the next, you may exclaim in disbelief at the ludicrousness of the information.

Besides providing a gripping look into one of the biggest international scandals of recent times, WikiLeaks also reminds people about the giant role that mainstream media (which is often taken for granted and even presumed by some to be obsolete) still plays in most countries. After all, without the mainstream media, WikiLeaks and Assange may not have become household names.

At its core, this book is an extraordinarily detailed and compelling human drama about a man and an organisation that are determined to end secrecy forever. Get it now, read it and take some time to ponder, before pausing and wondering, to leak or not to leak? Because, as we've seen, a trickle of information can soon become a gush.

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Brad Pitt says thoughts on Aniston misunderstood

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 01:19 AM PDT

LOS ANGELES, Sept 15 (Reuters) - A story posted on Parade magazine's website on Thursday in which Brad Pitt talks about his life with ex-wife Jennifer Aniston put the actor in damage control mode, saying his words had been misinterpreted.

The 47-year-old Pitt said in a profile by Parade magazine posted on the publication's website that he is now a "satisfied man" in his relationship with Angelina Jolie.

The "Moneyball" star compares his new life with Jolie, with whom he is raising 6 kids, favorably to the roughly five years he spent married to Aniston.

"It became very clear to me that I was intent on trying to find a movie about an interesting life, but I wasn't living an interesting life myself," Pitt told Parade.

"I think that my marriage (to Aniston) had something to do with it. Trying to pretend the marriage was something that it wasn't," he added.

Those quotes were interpreted by many media outlets as meaning Pitt thought Aniston was uninteresting. But the A-list actor sought to clarify himself in a statement issued later by his talent agency.

"It grieves me that this was interpreted this way. Jen is an incredibly giving, loving, and hilarious woman who remains my friend. It is an important relationship I value greatly. The point I was trying to make is not that Jen was dull, but that I was becoming dull to myself - and that, I am responsible for," Pitt said in the statement.

Pitt and "Friends" star Aniston were married in 2000, and he has largely avoided talking about her since their 2005 divorce.

In the magazine interview, Pitt also said he spent the 1990s "trying to hide out" from celebrity. "I started to get sick of myself sitting on a couch, holding a joint, hiding out," he said.

Although Pitt and Oscar winner Jolie have been together for more than five years, the actor has said they will not marry until gay marriage is widely legalized. He is sticking to that.

"We'll get married when everyone can," Pitt told Parade.

The Parade interview with Pitt, who stars in the upcoming baseball drama "Moneyball," is being published in this Sunday's edition of the magazine.

Coming Soon

Posted: 15 Sep 2011 11:58 PM PDT

Warrior – In a bid to change his life, an alcoholic former boxer trains his youngest son, Tommy, who wants to compete in a mixed martial arts tournament. However, Tommy's older brother, Brendan, is also fighting in the competition. Starring Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Jennifer Morrison and Nick Nolte.

Abduction – Nathan Price has always believed that he is actually living someone else's life. When he comes across an image of himself as a young boy on a missing persons website, Nathan realises that something is amiss. Further investigation leads him to a mystery that involves assassins and the government. Starring Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello, Lily Collins, and Taylor Lautner.

'Hysteria' sex toys stir crowds at Toronto film fest

Posted: 15 Sep 2011 05:35 PM PDT

TORONTO (Reuters): To say Toronto was abuzz with "Hysteria" would be an understatement.

The film, which is based on the true story of the first electronic vibrator's invention in the 1880s, premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday but even before the curtain rose, the movie's stars and director had reporters laughing at a news conference.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, who portrays one of the key characters, said that among the best perks of the job was all the unsolicited "gifts" she received while shooting in London.

"By the time I finished the movie I'd been sent maybe 15 vibrators by different people in London with vibrator stores," said Gyllenhaal. "It was a pleasant surprise."

"It's been happening to me my whole career," joked the film's lead actor, Hugh Dancy, to peals of laughter from the gathered press.

Joking aside, Gyllenhaal said the film presented a serious opportunity to remove some of the taboo behind female sexuality.

"It's about vibrators and women's orgasms, and I don't think people really do talk about it very much, and I do think it does still make us flushed and uncomfortable," said Gyllenhaal.

In fact, director Tanya Wexler who is at the Toronto film festival with her first feature in 10 years, obviously wanted to get the snickering out of the way from the first day of shooting on the film's set.

"I gave everybody, cast and crew, a little bullet vibrator when we started," she told reporters, before adding a little punchline of her own. "It was expensive!"

In "Hysteria," Dancy plays Mortimer Granville, a young doctor with modern ideas who finds himself working with London's foremost expert in women's "hysteria", a catch-all diagnosis for everything from insomnia to bloating.

At the clinic, Granville treats this ailment with a special therapy that involves manual massage. Through this stimulation the woman could achieve a "hysterical paroxysm", what is now called an orgasm, and be temporarily cured.

But the massage technique proves to be taxing on Granville, who develops hand cramps from his work, inspiring him to invent an electronic means of performing the stimulation.

"The most outrageous thing in the movie ... is the premise of the film," said Dancy. "The fact that these medical men were seriously - without any irony, without any deception - diagnosing this nonexistent condition and doing what they were doing manually, and totally failing to see there might be anything sexual about it."

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