Khamis, 29 September 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

EXCLUSIVE - Concern grows over militant activity in Libya

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 09:16 PM PDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As the dust settles after six months of fighting in Libya, U.S. officials are stepping up efforts to identify Islamic militants who might pose a threat in a post-Gaddafi power vacuum.

An anti-Gaddafi fighter fires in the air during the funeral of his comrades who were killed in Bani Walid, in Tripoli, September 29, 2011. (REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)

U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence agencies have recently produced classified papers examining the strength, role and activities of militant activists and factions in post-Gaddafi Libya, four U.S. officials said. Some assessments examine the backgrounds of anti-Gaddafi leaders with militant pedigrees, and explore whether these individuals, some of whom have publicly renounced Islamic militancy, will stand by their pledges against extremism.

During the half-year campaign by rebels to drive Muammar Gaddafi from power, U.S. and NATO officials downplayed fears that al Qaeda or other militants would infiltrate anti-Gaddafi forces or take advantage of disorder to establish footholds in Libya.

Since then, however, the assessment of top experts inside the U.S. government has sharpened.

"It's of concern that terrorists are going to take advantage of instability" in post-Gaddafi Libya, said a U.S. official who monitors the issue closely.

"There is a potential problem," said another U.S. official, who said both the U.S. government and Libya's National Transitional Council were watching closely. Experts around the U.S. intelligence community "are paying attention to this," a third U.S. official said.

Officials said that while the rebellion against Gaddafi continued, it was difficult to collect intelligence on the rebels. But now that Gaddafi's regime has dissolved, U.S. and allied agencies are taking a closer look.

Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA analyst who has advised President Barack Obama on policy in the region, said there was particular worry that Islamic militants could use Libya as a base to spread their influence into neighboring countries such as Algeria or areas such as the Sinai peninsula, where Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip share borders.

"There is a great deal of concern that the jihadi cadre now are going to be exporting their ideas and weapons towards the east and west," Riedel said.

Riedel and current U.S. officials said one high-priority issue is whether militants can acquire, or have obtained, weapons from Gaddafi's huge arsenals, especially surface-to-air missiles that could be used against commercial airliners.


Another key issue is trying to figure out what militant individuals or factions are presently in Libya. At the moment, two officials said, U.S. and NATO experts assess that a "power vacuum" exists while the shaky transitional council tries to organize itself and set up a new government.

In late August, the Open Source Center, a U.S. intelligence unit that monitors public media including militant websites, reported that "in recent days, jihadists have been strategizing on extremist web forums how to establish an Islamic state" in the post-Gaddafi era.

"Many forum members, describing the fall of Tripoli as the initial phase of the battle for Libya, have urged Libyan mujahideen to prepare for the next stage of battle against the (National Transitional Council) and secularist rebels to establish an Islamic state," the center said.

U.S. officials said militant groups have a history of taking advantage of power vacuums to consolidate and expand. The United States and its allies want to avoid a replay of what happened when Afghanistan was governed, patchily, by the Taliban and al Qaeda was able to establish elaborate, semi-permanent training camps.

Another worry is figures with a militant background getting into the higher echelons of the new Libyan government. One new Libyan leader under close scrutiny is Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a former Islamic fighter in Libya and Afghanistan who now commands post-Gaddafi forces in Tripoli.

After allegedly forging ties in Afghanistan with the Taliban and al Qaeda in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Belhadj reportedly was arrested with his wife by the CIA in Bangkok and later extradited to Libya, where he was imprisoned until 2010. He was released under a reconciliation plan promoted by Gaddafi son Saif al Islam.

In an interview this month with the Al Jazeera website, Belhadj said he was subjected to "barbaric treatment" while in CIA custody and later to "many types of physical and mental torture" in Gaddafi's notorious Abu Salim prison.

Asked about his dealings with al Qaeda, Belhadj said, "We have never been in a relationship with them or joined them in any kind of activity because we could never come to an understanding of (philosophies)."

"Libyans are generally moderate Muslims, with moderate ways of practice and understanding of religion. You can find some extreme elements that are different from the mainstream, but this does not in any way represent the majority of the Libyan people."

Secret British intelligence files recovered by anti-Gaddafi forces from the offices of Gaddafi's advisers show that the British kept a close watch on suspected militants in Britain who they believed were linked to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, the main anti-Gaddafi Islamic militant network.

The documents, obtained by Reuters, show that during a February 2005 visit to Libya, British intelligence expressed concern the LIFG might be becoming more militant because some al Qaeda links were emerging. But in a 2008 visit, British officials reported that some UK-based Libyan militants had qualms about closer ties to al Qaeda.

A person familiar with British government investigations of militants said U.K. authorities believe that LIFG, as a group, abandoned violence in 2009, although individual Libyan militants remained active in al Qaeda's central core.

Some U.S. and British experts said today's militants may have no connection with vintage LIFG fighters. They fear that young militants who fought against Gaddafi will be angered if Libya's new government is seen as too close to the West.

(Additional reporting by William MacLean; Editing by Warren Strobel and Doina Chiacu)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

Bahrain jails 20 doctors after democracy protests

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 08:15 PM PDT

MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain jailed 20 doctors on Thursday for between five and 15 years on theft and other charges, the state news agency said, in what critics claimed was reprisal for treating protesters during unrest in the Gulf kingdom this year.

A security court also sentenced a man to death for killing a policeman by driving his car over him several times and joining illegal gatherings for "terrorist goals," the BNA news agency said. Another man was handed a life term for his involvement.

The doctors, who denied the charges, were among dozens of medical staff arrested during protests led by the island's Shi'ite majority demanding an end to sectarian discrimination and a greater say in government.

Bahrain's Sunni Muslim rulers quashed the protests in March, with the help of troops from fellow Sunni neighbours Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. At least 30 people were killed, hundreds wounded and more than 1,000 detained -- mostly Shi'ites -- in the crackdown.

The doctors were charged with stealing medicine, stockpiling weapons and occupying a hospital during the unrest and in addition were jailed for forcibly occupying a hospital, spreading lies and false news, withholding treatment, inciting hatred of Bahrain's rulers and calling for their overthrow.

"We were shocked by the verdicts because we were expecting the doctors would be proved innocent of the crime of occupying the Salmaniya medical complex," defence lawyer Mohsen al-Alawi said, adding the hearing had lasted no more than 10 minutes.

The doctors say the charges against them were invented by the authorities to punish medical staff for treating people who took part in anti-government protests.

"Those doctors who have been found guilty were charged with abusing the hospital for political purposes. Nobody is above the law," a spokesman for the government's Information Affairs Authority (IAA) said.

Ten of the doctors, including senior physician Ali Al-Ekri, were given 15-year terms, two were sentenced to 10 years in prison and the rest to five.

"After today's verdict and those issued yesterday we feel pessimism," Alawi said, adding they would appeal against the decision.

On Wednesday a military court upheld life sentences against Shi'ite opposition leaders for organising protests in a trial described as a "sham" by Amnesty International, which also called the latest proceedings a "travesty of justice."

In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesman said the United States was "deeply disturbed" by the sentencing of the doctors.

"We continue to urge the Bahraini government to abide by its commitment to transparent judicial proceedings, including a fair trial, access to attorneys and verdicts based on credible evidence," spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

The British government voiced concern over the sentences.

"These sentences appear disproportionate to the charges brought," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday.

"These are worrying developments that could undermine the Bahraini government's moves towards dialogue and the reform needed for long-term stability in Bahrain."


A senior Bahraini official said the government was still prepared to hold more talks with all opposition parties on political reforms to try to end protests that threaten to hold up the economy and scratch its business-friendly image.

Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, a senior adviser at the IAA, also said Bahrain had begun receiving some of the $10 billion in economic aid promised by fellow Gulf Arab nations.

"Everything is open for discussion except regime change. That doesn't mean it has to be discussed today (but) the king said reforms are not going to stop," he said. "Other issues can be brought to the table -- when and how, I'm not sure."

Bahrain says it will expand parliament's powers of monitoring government ministers, recommendations that came from a national dialogue held after the U.S. ally crushed pro-democracy protests earlier this year.

But Shi'ite opposition groups, headed by the Wefaq party, want the elected chamber to have real legislative power as well as a new prime minister. The current incumbent, an uncle of the king, has occupied the post since 1971.

The conflict dragged in regional powers; Bahrain accused the opposition of pursuing a sectarian agenda backed by non-Arab Shi'ite giant Iran, just across Gulf waters. The United States, whose Fifth Fleet is stationed in Manama, says the government should talk to Wefaq.

(Additional reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

Seven Syrian troops die as armed resistance emerges

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 08:15 PM PDT

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syria said on Friday that seven of its soldiers and police were killed in an operation against terrorists in the central town of Rastan, where armed resistance has emerged after months of mostly peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

The state news agency reported the deaths in the first official comment on a three-day government offensive to recapture the area from army defectors.

"The units responsible have inflicted big losses on the armed terrorist groups," the agency said, quoting a military spokesman. "The confrontation resulted in the killing of seven personnel, among them two officers, and the injuring of 32, including seven officers, from the army and security police."

Syria's army and security forces have remained mostly loyal to Assad during the six months of protests demanding his overthrow in which the United Nations says 2,700 people have been killed.

But army deserters, many of whom defected because they refused to shoot at demonstrators, have formed rebel units mostly in farming areas around Rastan, a town of 40,000 people which lies 180 km (110 miles), north of Damascus.

One army defector operating in the province of Idlib, northwest of Rastan, said the defectors in the town were using guerrilla tactics against the heavily-armed loyalist forces.

"Rastan has been churning out army officers for decades and there is a lot of experience among the defecting soldiers. Assad is mistaken if he thinks that he can wrap up the attack quickly," he said, adding that agricultural terrain made it difficult for the regular army to seal off the area.

The Rastan area is a recruiting ground for Sunni conscripts who provide most of manpower in the military, which is dominated by officers from Assad's minority Alawite sect.

Residents say that at least 1,000 deserters and armed villagers have been fighting the loyalist forces which are backed up by tanks and helicopters.

Syria says more than 700 soldiers and police have been killed in the uprising which it blames on armed groups backed by foreign powers.

In Rastan, troops and security police "were continuing to chase members of these terrorist groups to restore security and stability to Rastan and its citizens", the news agency said.


On Thursday, Assad supporters threw stones and tomatoes at U.S. ambassador Robert Ford's convoy as he visited an opposition figure in Damascus.

Ford and his party were uninjured, the U.S. State Department said, but several embassy vehicles were damaged and the ambassador had to lock himself in an office to await help from Syrian security.

Syria, which has been irked by Ford's meetings with opposition figures, accused Washington of inciting violence and meddling in its affairs. Washington demanded that Syria take steps to protect U.S. diplomats.

"We condemn this unwarranted attack in the strongest possible terms. Ambassador Ford and his aides were conducting normal embassy business and this attempt to intimidate our diplomats through violence is wholly unjustified," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

"We immediately raised this incident with the Syrian government and we are demanding that they take every possible step to protect our diplomats according to their obligations under international law."

The Syrian government said that once it had been alerted to the confrontation, authorities "took all necessary procedures to protect the ambassador and his team and secure their return to their place of work".

Assad's crackdown on the pro-democracy protests has poisoned relations with the United States, which has imposed fresh sanctions and rallied world pressure on Syria.


The U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams said the era of one-man rule in Arab countries was drawing to a close, and the change sweeping the region would soon take hold in Syria.

"Syria is in the midst of a profound crisis. I do believe strongly that there will be substantial change," Williams told Reuters. "When that will take place it is very difficult to ascertain but I don't think we are talking about years."

At the United Nations, European members of the Security Council softened a draft resolution condemning Syria's crackdown but Russia said it could not support the new text.

The latest version of the resolution showed that drafters Britain, France, Germany and Portugal had deleted a reference to U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay's recommendation that the council consider referring the Syrian government's crackdown to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The United States is expected to support it, envoys said, despite its disappointment about compromises made in an attempt to woo Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington, Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations and Dominic Evans in Beirut; Writing by David Stamp; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters


The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Dream trip

Posted: 30 Sep 2011 12:46 AM PDT

Here's your chance to win a trip to South Korea.

IF you didn't manage to catch any of the Red FM's Runaway DJs on the run, here's a chance for you to get caught up instead in the Korean wave.

With the Korean phenomenon invading Malaysian shores, Red FM is giving one lucky listener the opportunity to be swept away to South Korea.

You could win yourself a trip to the land of K-pop and catch the Asia Song Festival 2011 when you tune in to DJ Arnold (pic) who hosts Red FM Evenings With Arnold (Monday to Friday, 7pm-10pm) all next week.

Organised and sponsored by the Korea Tourism Organization of Malaysia, you can experience this fascinating country through a variety of activities.

Enjoy the serene nature of the country at the hot springs and take walks through the herb gardens and parks. Go on exciting rides at the Lotte indoor theme park before raiding the famous Dongdaemun wholesale market. Be transported to Kyongbok Palace which was built in 1394, the main palace by the first King of Yi Dynasty, and Sarangchae, which is also known as the White House of South Korea.

To top it all off, you can sing your heart out at the Asia Song Festival 2011! This popular music event will feature various artistes from all over Asia and broadcasted in over 30 countries.

Catch performances from K-pop boy band Super Junior, sweet Korean girls from Girl's Generation, sexy J-pop artistes Perfume, charming Leo Ku from Hong Kong, multi-talented Peter Ho from Taiwan, bomb-shell Tata Young from Thailand and the smashing Bibi Chou from China.

Both winner and announcer will be required to document their trip through photos and videos. Check out for more information as well as terms and conditions of the contest.

In the meantime, come and catch the Red FM's Runaway DJs today at the contest finale in Tropicana City Mall, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, at 4pm.

Be part of the excitement in finding out just who gets to drive away with a brand new Proton Inspira. Join the Red FM Malaysia Facebook fan page ( / and follow them on Twitter (@iloveredfm) for all the latest updates.

Red FM is owned and operated by The Star.

Red FM's station frequencies: Taiping, Kedah, Perlis and Pulau Langkawi: 98.1 FM; George Town and Seberang Prai: 107.6 FM; Ipoh, Perak: 106.4 FM; Klang Valley, Negri Sembilan and Tapah: 104.9 FM; Kuantan, Pahang: 91.6 FM; Batu Pahat and Malacca: 98.9 FM; Johor Baru and Singapore: 92.8 FM.

Style and substance

Posted: 30 Sep 2011 12:46 AM PDT

Enjoy high fashion and pick up interior decor tips on some of the new hip shows on Li.

THIS is truly heavenly news for fashionistas. If you're a true blue follower of fashion, here is your chance to enjoy exclusive inside access to the world of haute couture, top trends, style secrets and learn how to be vintage savvy – all thanks to the latest offerings on Li (Astro Channel 706).

But if fashion-related programmes aren't your cup of tea, don't fret. Li's new programme line-up includes a home makeover show for those bored of run-of-the-mill interior design series with cookie-cutter hosts.

These new shows are in line with the channel's aim to bring a new trend of inspired living to its viewers through its diverse programmes which showcase the five aspects of an ideal lifestyle – food, home, wellness, travel and style. Check out what is in store.

> The Antonio Treatment (Oct 5, 9pm): Join Antonio Ballatore, winner of reality TV show Design Star (season four), and his crew of unconventional craftsmen as they transform lacklustre homes into liberal and radical creations.

If you think bright colours of hippie flower-power psychedelia are a tad too bright, get ready to raise an eyebrow (or two) as Ballatore introduces eccentric designs and colours, including hot pink geese decor, aged tin foil ceilings with quaint card deck motif and vintage Hollywood glamour meets rock 'n' roll grit.

In this enlightening docu-series, Ballatore showcases his creativity by designing a stylish vintage home for a family in the 1950s, a southern charm to a cupcake cafe and integrating nature and modern design into a couple's plain condo.

Be inspired by the self-professed "Lady Gaga of interior design" as he impresses with his ingenious ideas, distinctive use of bold colours and eye-popping decorative pieces. Don't be surprised if Ballatore creates a meat-designed living room – inspired by what his idol wore at the MTV Video Music Awards last year.

> All On The Line (Premiering on Oct 9, 10pm): Go behind the scenes of the fast and furious fashion business with Elle's creative director Joe Zee as he gives struggling designers the second chance they desperately need.

Renowned as one of fashion's friendliest ambassadors, Zee has earned impressive accolades, thanks to his creative genius and extensive experiences in leading fashion magazines the likes of W and Allure.

With an illustrious list of celebrity clients and trendsetting transformations – he is responsible for Justin Timberlake's makeover which elevated him from an awkward boyband member to a sharp-suited, sexy solo star, prompting the Frank Sinatra-style comeback – and high-profile collaborations with photographers and directors Annie Leibovitz and Mario Testino.

This docu-series highlights how the top fashion and stylist insider rescues talented designers from the brink of bankruptcy by redesigning their lacklustre lines and presents their revitalised collections to leading retailers.

Armed with Zee's little black book of industry insiders and fashion-powerhouse friends that appear on the show to provide inspiration and dispense valuable advice, designers are placed in an enviable position perfectly primed for their shot at success.

Can Zee help designers create the rack ready lines so loved by buyers, and show them how to sell their creations without selling out? Will the designers take his advice to trim bloated work forces, ditch toxic advisors and abandon size snobbery to develop signature looks for customers of all shapes and builds? Or will old habits die hard and hinder them from sweet success?

> Dresscue Me: Shareen Vintage (Premiering on Oct 20, 11pm): Check out vintage-clothing warehouse owner and designer Shareen Mitchell, the fairy godmother of cost-conscious fashionistas, as she unearths timeless treasures from trash and transforms old, overlooked outcasts into fabulously fashion-forward frocks.

Armed with invaluable insider experience from her years at Mademoiselle and Vogue magazines, the former actress understands what works and what doesn't for women of different shapes and sizes. With her impeccable eye for trends, she manages to pull off high fashion cocktail frocks, hippie robes and eclectic mix of garments without haute couture cost.

In each episode, Mitchell welcomes exclusively female clients into her chic, no-boys-allowed Shareen Vintage boutiques in both downtown Los Angeles and New York. She listens to their stories and gives them the makeover to help them look and feel their absolute best.

Join her on hectic buying trips that include sifting through 2m-high heaps of clothes, and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of her efforts to launch a new line and establish brand presence in the fast and furious New York fashion scene. A case of rags to riches?

> The Day Before (Premiering on Oct 31, 11pm): This high-octane, all-access documentary by French director, cinematographer and fashion maven Loic Prigent gives an exclusive sneak peak at four of today's greatest high fashion houses. Join Prigent as he waltzes through studios, ateliers and PR offices just 36 hours prior to Fall 2010 runway shows from Alexander Wang, Narciso Rodriguez and Jeremy Scott in New York and Nina Ricci in Paris.

Explore the frenetic energy of New York with the meteoric rise of young label Alexander Wang, marvel at Rodriguez's excellent couture craftmanship, indulge in Scott's humorously hip offerings and Ricci's celebration of romantic spirit.

The stakes are high in the surreal world of luxury fashion, where dresses remain unsewn, technical mishaps occur and models go missing mere minutes before the lights dim on the runway.

Watch in suspense as Taiwanese-American Wang undergoes a "chiffon crisis" and see Rodriguez step out of his studio in a panic two hours before his show with two key looks unfinished.

With these rare and refreshing glimpses of the backstage chaos, your heart will soar along with the riotous applause from the awestruck audience when the celebrated designers take their customary bow. – Sheela Chandran


The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

Shine a light

Posted: 30 Sep 2011 01:02 AM PDT

The annual Komas Freedom Film Fest is back with more thought-provoking documentaries.

BEWARE of the J-women! They are the Janda or divorced women who will eat men alive.

And there are so many of them: JAS (Janda Anak Satu or one-child divorcee), JMC (Janda Mencari Cari or husband-hunting divorcee), JAB (Janda Anak Banyak or divorcee with many children), JTA (Janda Tiada Anak or childless divorcee) and countless more – "all waiting to pounce if you are not careful."

Debunking this paranoid myth is what filmmaker Afiq Deen, 24, one of the winners of the Freedom Film Fest 2011 (FFF 2011) film proposal competition hopes to do with his documentary Huruf J.

The prejudice against divorced women still exists today in Malaysia despite the advances of women here, he notes.

"The stigma (of being divorced) is strong regardless of who you are – professional, housewife, rich or poor.

"I first learnt of the J branding from my father. He had just moved to a new house in Alor Setar and was telling me about his neighbours. He then pointed to one house and said: 'This house is owned by a J, stay away. If you go there, people will think you are up to no good.' "

Since then, the J-phenomenon has intrigued him, says Afiq who finds the label disturbing and incongruent to his own experience growing up with his divorced mother.

She did not have an easy experience, he says, especially with the discrimination hurled at her.

"There were so many challenges that she had to face and she worked really hard to take care of us," he adds.

Determined to uncover the stories behind the stigma, Afiq went searching for divorcees who would share their experiences coping with life after the break up of their marriages.

"I would be lying if I said I did not know anyone who fit the stereotype, but generally, divorced women are the complete opposite. Many are inspiring – they have had to face various challenges after their divorce and their experience has helped them grow."

Most surprisingly, he shares, is their undefeated spirit as they calmly picked up the pieces of their lives after divorce.

Where their rights are concerned, he highlights, there are still many legal and civil areas that need to be addressed, but for his debut documentary Afiq chose to focus on the personal stories.

"They are being demonised by society and the mass media, so in some ways, what I want to do with this documentary is to show their real stories so that people will start seeing them as real people before judging them."

First held in 2003, the Komas Freedom Film Festival (FFF) has become an important platform for human rights documentaries that do not often make it to the commercial cinema circuit or television screens due to lack of commercial backing or censorship controls. This year, the festival will screen 20 local and international films focusing on various issues such as the rights of a child; politics of identity; environment and activism; women and religion; election and democracy; sexuality rights; popular resistance; and inter-religious relations.

With its running theme, "Dare To Document", the festival, specifically its film proposal competition, has given many aspiring documentary-makers the opportunity to explore issues close to their heart over the years.

Like Afiq, FFF 2011 winner Liaw Pey Wen will also showcase her first documentary at the festival. Titled Lot, Umah Am (Laut, Rumah Saya or The Sea, My Home) the film details the struggles of the indigenous Orang Seletar fishermen living along the Straits of Johor.

Liaw, who by day is a journalist with a Chinese language daily, became interested in the minority group after she interviewed a scholar, Choo Chee Kuang, on his exhibition of Orang Seletar.

"I realised that there have been few reports and studies on them and their lifestyle. I felt that if we don't do something about it right now, the community and their traditional culture would vanish."

Her work as a journalist does provide some space for her to give a say to the voiceless, she shares, but due to various constraints, she decided to pursue it on another platform.

"I really believe that a documentary would be more effective to raise public awareness on the community, so I submitted a proposal to the FFF competition."

The festival has also been very supportive of young activists and social filmmakers who want to use the video medium to advocate and raise awareness on various causes.

This year is no different and several first-time filmmakers have been given the opportunity to feature their work, including lawyer Joachim Leong with his film on the Bengoh Dam, Ulu Bengoh Under Water, and college lecturer Andrew Ng who with his co-director Evelyne Teh shot In Search Of A Malaysian Identity.

One of the highlights of the festival is the premiere of Jalan Pintas by local actor-director Nam Ron.

Written by theatre performer Fared Ayam, the film deals with graduate unemployment in the country and stars newcomer Auf Razak with special guest appearances by Bront Palarae, Sharifah Amani, Mislina Mustafa, Zahiril Adzim and Beto Kusyairi.

Set in one day, the film follows Bakar in his pursuit of a job and as he encounters failure after failure, he decides to take a "short cut" to correct the so-called injustice of the world.

"It is a deeply personal story as all around me I see friends and my former students who are trapped in this situation where they cannot get a job that matches their skills, but are stuck with student loans as well as family responsibilities.

"Many feel disillusioned and betrayed by the promises of a better life after getting a degree," says Nam Ron.

Although his film is fictional, he hopes that it will initiate discussion on the issue that is affecting young people in the country.

Talk is definitely something that FFF promotes as viewers will also get to opine and exchange views on the themes and subjects depicted in the films through discussions that will be held after each screening.

This year's festival sees the return of Tikar Talk where regional and local documentary filmmakers and activists convene to talk shop.

This year's topic is "Films And Political Change", and special guests of the session are Thai documentary filmmakers Duangporn Pakavirojkul and Thanasit Gerbunsong, as well as the director of Europe's human rights festival One World Festival, Hana Kulhankova.

The Freedom Film Fest 2011 will kick off at the Wisma Bentley Auditorium, Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, tomorrow and Sunday before going on to Penang (Oct 8-9), Perak (Oct 15-16), Johor (Oct 22-23) and Sarawak (Oct 29-30). For a full schedule of films, venues and synopses, and to get your free invite, visit You can also follow FFF2011 updates via Facebook and Twitter.

Documentaries of note

Like Toy Dolls
By Yih Wen Chen , 2010

A touching and powerful mockumentary on the increased frequency of baby dumping in Malaysia.

Using dolls as a metaphor for the babies who are thrown into the trash, abandoned and sometimes killed, this short film depicts their tragic fate.

The film won the BMW Shorties 2010 award.

Aku Siapa?
By Norhayati Kaprawi, 2010

Why do Muslim women in Malaysia wear the hijab? What are the challenges they face?

Through a series of candid interviews with Muslim women, young and old, urban and rural, director Norhayati Kaprawi reveals why Muslim women wear the hijab, and why some don't.

A must watch for those who are curious about the hijab and who want to better understand political Islam and its impact on women in contemporary Malaysia.

The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan
By Jamie Doran, 2010

Bacha Bazi, which translates as "boy's game", is the name of an old Afghan tradition in which pubescent boys dress as women and dance for the pleasure of men.

The custom, particularly widespread in the north of the country, has flourished in recent years as former army commanders and influential businessmen purchase boys as a kind of trophy.

Street orphans and boys from poor families become sex slaves, and in some cases, they are even murdered.

Trangender: Rights and Rites
By Arvind Raj, 2011

Transitioning from a man to a woman is but the first change in Sharan's life. She wants to become a nun by dedicating her life to Bauchara Matha, a deity who is known to be the protector of the transgender community.

The filmmaker follows Sharan as she performs rare rituals that have never been filmed before.

Movies coming soon

Posted: 30 Sep 2011 12:55 AM PDT

Troll Hunter – A group of students goes into the deep mountains of Norway to investigate a series of mysterious bear killings. However, what they discover is more gruesome – and unbelievable – than they could ever handle. This Norwegian film stars Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen and Tomas Alf Lars.

The Three Musketeers – Young D'Artagnan must unite with Porthos, Athos and Aramis, the legendary heroes who are currently down on their luck, to stop a beautiful and cunning woman from seizing the French throne. Starring Logan Lerman, Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Orlando Bloom and Milla Jovovich.


The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Voices of the past

Posted: 30 Sep 2011 12:46 AM PDT

The Echo Chamber

Author: Luke Williams

Publisher: Viking, 372 pages

NARRATED by 54-year-old Evie Steppman, this is the story of family, childhood memories and a great empire.

Steppman was born two months after the due date given by the doctor. Her birth killed her mother. She was blessed with acute powers of hearing as a child – a result of her father always talking to her while she was in her mother's womb. She grew up in Nigeria in the 1950s during the last decade of British rule and now, as an elderly woman, her hearing is starting to fade. She must write her story down before she forgets, but even alone in an attic in Scotland, all is not as quiet as she hopes.

Think Your Way To Wealth

Author: Napolean Hill

Publisher: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 367 pages

Originally published in 1948, this book records the author's encounter with industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who is well-known for his rags-to-riches life story.

Back then, writer Hill was blown away by Carnegie's response to this question: What is the secret of your success? This book is his record of that meeting with Carnegie and includes advice, how-tos and practical steps to achieve success in the business world.

The Small Change Diet

Author: Keri Gans

Publisher: Gallery Books, 211 pages

The author, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, shares her plan for weight loss that she claims will last a lifetime.

The principle behind this strategy is about turning smart habits into second nature. Say goodbye to counting calories and eliminating entire food groups – it is the small adjustments that often make the biggest impact.

Retirement Heist

Author: Ellen E. Schultz

Publisher: Portfolio, 233 pages

This journalist from the Wall Street Journal has been covering the retirement crisis for over a decade.

In this book, she reveals how hundreds of companies are plundering and profiting from employees. Pensions and health coverages have been slashed for millions of retirees, but is it really due to an ageing workforce and spiralling costs as employers would like their staff to believe? Companies are purchasing life insurance policies on employees without telling them, so they can collect the death benefits when the employees die. Is there more behind this retirement crisis story than meets the eye?

Me And My Sisters

Author: Sinead Moriarty

Publisher: Penguin, 446 pages

The three sisters think they have nothing in common, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Julie used to be the carefree one, but now she's a mother of four boys under five years old and her marriage is falling apart. She needs help from her sisters but they don't understand because they have perfect lives themselves – or so it seems.

Sophie has a loving husband, a well-behaved daughter and lots of money. People call her shallow and spoiled, but she doesn't care. Louisa is a successful lawyer with no time for anyone or anything but work. But one mistake made during a drunken night out means that she might lose everything she has spent her life working for.

What are the Devlin sisters to do?

Toxic Free

Author: Debra Lynn Dadd

Publisher: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 241 pages

What toxic chemicals are lurking in the products that you use every day? What toxic chemicals are in your shampoo, fabric softener, clothes, ironing board, coffee, water, vegetables? Do you suffer from unexplained headaches and fatigue? How do you eliminate them from your life?

This book discusses how toxic materials in consumer products affect health and what tools you need in order to minimise your exposure to such harmful substances.


Author: Jillian Lauren

Publisher: Plume, 275 pages

Everything's perfect now that Bebe's musician boyfriend, Aaron, has asked her to move with him to San Francisco to start a new life there. And then, all it took for that dream to shatter was a fatal car crash. He died, she survived – and now she is stuck in Los Angeles with nowhere to go.

It's not easy being a recovering addict and former stripper in such a situation, but support sometimes comes from places you least expect.

Miracle Beach

Author: Erin Celello

Publisher: Nal Accent, 328 pages

Macy Allen had always relied on her horses and her husband, Nash, to pull her through the hard days of her life. She considers her marriage a happy one – one built on trust with no secrets between them.

But after Nash dies in an accident, she uncovers devastating secrets about his life and she is not sure anymore that he is the man she thought she knew. Nash's mother blames her for the accident and when Nash's dad moves to Vancouver in an attempt to feel closer to the son he never really knew, all hell breaks loose.

Then along comes a child who tugs at their heartstrings. But how much of a difference can a child make?

Rebirth of cool on the comic scene

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 07:55 PM PDT

Reborn. The perfect word and theme to sum up this month's comic events, courtesy of the ongoing DC 52 blitz and Marvel's Ultimate Universe revamps. On the surface, DC's star studded reboot appears an obvious choice compared to Marvel's "unknown" white poly-bagged offerings but as the saying goes – never judge a book (comic) by its cover.

Ultimate Comics – All New Spider-Man #1

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sara Pichelli

WOW!" was the exact word I said a decade ago after reading the Brian Michael Bendis/Mark Bagley inspired Ultimate Spider-Man. Back then, the sight of a back to basics Spidey soaked with movie-glitter offered up a refreshing makeover for the wallcrawler.

It was old-is-new again as we got to see a contemporary perspective of Peter Parker's ascend to greatness and the joy of witnessing the recreation of Spidey's rogues gallery.

That exciting ride lasted 160 issues (a remarkable feat by today's standards) but came to a tragic end last month – when Peter died battling the Goblin (Norman Osborn).

While there are some characters that are simply irreplaceable, the "deaths" of Superman and Captain America have shown us that no one is untouchable, more so an Ultimate Universe-version of Peter Parker.

Sadly, it's the Ultimate Peter that seems more appealing and possesses more room for expansion – unlike the mainstream Peter, who is constantly saddled by emotional baggage.

Now that I got that out of my system, it's time to start getting used to the new "Spidey" – Miles Morales.

Miles who? Having a total unknown stepping into the shoes of a comic book legend is an unthinkable act that borders between lunacy ... and sheer brilliance. Fortunately, we have the latter here as the creative team delivers a new spanking wall-clinging concept.

In case you feel that there's too much "push-element" here – my enthusiastic nature stems from the comparisons made to two decades of failed Spidey-mutation attempts (think Spider Woman, Spider Girl, Spider Clone and Spidey 2099) and DC's Dakotaverse.

Miles is the new Spider-Man. Not the new Peter Parker but rather a rookie equipped with his share of life's trials and tribulations, which is similar to how Peter began.

The similarities continue as the African-American teenager shares Peter's penchant for science and has a good heart, which will eventually be occupied with great responsibilities.

While Peter's transformation occurred via a chance encounter with a genetically altered spider during a science field trip, Miles gets bitten by a similar spider at his uncle's house.

Not exactly an ideal environment to become a super hero but Miles' tough surroundings is bound to square him up with dodgy characters, including cat burglars who have just raided an Osborn-related safe.

The connection with the old Spidey extends beyond genetically altered spiders, as Osborn, Aunt May and Gwen Stacy will be assuming significant roles in Miles' life.

Characters aside, the presence of Bendis on the writing board ensures continuity with the past Spidey timeline.

While I was initially disappointed with the absence of regular Spidey artist Mark Bagley, newcomer Sara Pichelli is as big a revelation as Miles is.

Her clean illustration style is perfect for the changes as evident by Spidey's new threads.

I seriously feel that there's a lot of potential here and the "enhanced powers" angle is just the tip of the iceberg. Peter would have certainly given the thumbs up.

Superboy #1 (DC/US$2.99)
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: R.B. Silva

IF we can accept an unknown teenager as the new Spidey, then what more a clone with Kryptonian DNA. In the same mould as Kon El who was the recipient of the best and worse DNA combination possible (Kal-el and Lex Luthor were his donors), this new incarnation revisits the cloning option but with some minor twists.

Apart from the Kryptonian element, the new Superboy also has telekinesis and his future team up with Titans is inevitable. However, the value proposition here is character depth as Superboy's "origin" is spliced and spiced with a lot more behind-the-scenes detail.

While the link between Superboy and Superman is still sketchy at this juncture, their inevitable meeting should be a cracker!

Resurrection Man #1 (DC/US$2.99)
Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artist: Fernando Dagnino

TRUE to his namesake, Mitch Shelley gets another shot at life through this relaunch. In case you have not read his exploits a decade ago, this is one anti-hero whose powers are a function of his death (every time he dies, he comes back with a power that relates to the cause of death).

To colour up his persona, DC did inject some occult and time travel proportions into his adventures with the Phantom Stranger and Vandal Savage. But it never did take off.

The revamp here revisits the occult angle by putting Mitch's soul up for grabs. Apparently the countless resurrection exercises have enhanced his soul, making it a prized possession for angelic and demonic beings.

Apart from Mitch's return, the Body Doubles are back too – and you can expect the trigger happy femme fatales to fast track Mitch's resurrections.

Fear Itself #6 (of 7) (Marvel/US$3.99)
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Stuart Immonen

THE penultimate issue of Marvel's 2011 main event has the House of Ideas unleashing every trick in the book from Midgard to Asgard.

With Thor's "prophesised death" the main attraction, the focus is on getting him back on his feet in time to stop the Serpent's trail of destruction. Elsewhere, Captain America is once again faced with a grim situation as Earth is days away from annihilation while Odin is too stuck up to lift his divine finger.

This is one of those build-ups you see in most action packed movies, with Cap's offensive attitude, Odin's high handedness and Tony Stark's negotiating skills providing the drama. History in the making stuff!

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:, Twitter: @earth638.

This Major Zombie is hard to chew

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 07:54 PM PDT

Major Zombie features eye-catching artwork but a puzzling plot.

Major Zombie: The Blood Trail
Writers/Artists: Lefty, Faezal Tan
Cover: Tan Eng Huat
Publisher: Gilamon Comics

IF you've been keeping tabs on the Malaysian comic scene, you'll probably be familiar with multi-talented Penang-based artist Julian "Lefty" Kam's Major Zombie. Published under the independent Gilamon Comics label, the superhero/adventure series is about, umm, a zombie who's a major? We need to read up on the back story.

The Blood Trail marks the first time we've read a Major Zombie comic (the character has been around since 2003 with two titles Black X'mas and Love And Loss to chew on), and we had plenty of questions as we were reading it.

Why is our undead hero helping strangers in Thailand? Why doesn't anybody bat an eye when monstrous aliens try to sell drugs to people on the street? And why is there a cemetery of super-warriors in Kampung Kerinchi?

You might think that it's pointless to ask these sort of questions in a comic that's mostly about a super-powered zombie beating the royal snot out of supervillains in glorious action-packed fight scenes, but unfortunately that's not the case.

See, a comic's narrative is important in establishing our interest (especially first timers) in the story, and The Blood Trail's not keen on developing its plot with detail.

For some background, we surfed the Internet and discovered that Major Zombie was once Supreme-Man, a sort of A-list superhero.

His life changed when he was infected by a zombie virus after rescuing a girl from the Zombie King's clutches. Yes, Supreme-Man died but from the grave rose Major Zombie. If we read correctly, Kaktus, the girl he saved from the Zombie King, eventually became his sidekick.

In this new book which carries on Major Zombie's adventures, Lefty wrote and illustrated story #1, The Blood Trail while Faezal Tan wrote and illustrated story #2, In The Dead Of The Night.

It feels like the characters are just moved from one scene to the next until we get the satisfaction of watching Major Zombie lay the smack down on the current Villain Of The Day in the climatic boss fights.

This is a shame for two reasons. Firstly, the comic has some solid artwork and excellent action scenes, but they're let down by the writing.

Secondly, the two stories in The Blood Trail actually held a lot of promise. One had Major Zombie chase down a murder mystery involving drugs, strippers and monsters in Thailand; while the other had the hero stopping an undead army.

If these stories were expanded across, say, half a dozen issues, then we might have had a really engrossing story on our hands, but unfortunately they were instead crammed into 24 pages and eight pages respectively.

Oh, one more observation we'd like to note: The Blood Trail's printed on recycled Tetra Pak cartons, giving the pages extra heft and adding an interesting tactile element to your reading experience. The dark brown pages does, however, give the visual impression that you're reading the comic in perpetual twilight, but hey, we're all for saving the world, whether it's by recycling or by beating up monsters.

All in all, we liked the artwork and the series' potential enough to keep an eye out for the next issue.

Major Zombie may not be the best comic we've read, but we're not going to give it up for dead, either.

Major Zombie: The Blood Trail is available at Kinokuniya KLCC. Browse or for more details.


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Muliaina to win 99th cap for All Blacks

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 06:58 PM PDT

WELLINGTON: Fullback Mils Muliaina has been recalled by New Zealand and will earn his 99th cap in the World Cup Pool A clash against Canada on Sunday.

Israel Dagg was previously preferred at fullback but the 23-year-old will now switch to the right wing for the match at Wellington Regional Stadium this weekend.

The 31-year-old Muliaina said the competition in the squad, particularly from Dagg who has been in imperious form and was man of the match in the 37-17 win over France last week, was good for the team as they looked ahead to the knockout stages. "I think the form he has shown has been outstanding. He ... has really taken a step forward and is taking his opportunities," Muliaina told reporters at the team hotel.

"Guys like him and other guys in the team have set a benchmark and we get the opportunity to go out there and make sure we don't drop the standards. It's been a long time since I played test-match rugby so I am looking forward to going out and doing that."

Muliaina said he was not concentrating on the possibility of earning his 100th cap and joining captain Richie McCaw as the only centurions for the All Blacks. McCaw achieved the milestone against France.

"I suppose in a way it is just a number," Muliaina said. "A lot of people want to talk about it and when you're walking the streets you get a lot of people giving advice.

"But you realise how important it is to be in the All Blacks jersey when you haven't played in a few weeks.

"Every time you go out there it's special because you never know when it's going to be your last and I've realised that in the last three weeks," added Muliaina.

"I just have to go out there now and make sure I get another week and another week after that. But first of all I have to make sure I get this week right." Number eight Kieran Read will make his World Cup debut on Sunday after recovering from an ankle sprain he received in the final Tri-Nations match against Australia on Aug. 27.

He joins McCaw and Jerome Kaino in the loose forwards in what is Graham Henry's first-choice combination.

The coach, however, said Read would not play the full 80 minutes and with no specialist loose forward cover on the bench, McCaw and Kaino would probably be required for the entire match.

"He won't play the whole game. It's just a matter of being astute as to when we pull him off the field," Henry said. "I think we'll just see how things go.

"If Reado is not going to play the full 80 that might put a bit of pressure on the other loose forwards to play a full 80 but we'll make good decisions there hopefully."

Scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan will earn his 50th cap on Sunday while Zac Guildford makes his first appearance of the tournament on the left wing.

New Zealand have already won Pool A, qualifying for the quarter-finals where they will play the runners-up of Pool B in Auckland on Oct. 9.

Scrumhalf Murray gets surprise Ireland start

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 06:57 PM PDT

DUNEDIN: Ireland coach Declan Kidney sprung a surprise on Friday when he handed fledgling scrumhalf Conor Murray only his second international start in Sunday's crunch World Cup Pool C game against Italy.

The 22-year-old Munster number nine made his debut off the bench in the August warm-up test against France.

He started in Ireland's opening World Cup match against the United States and was an impressive replacement in the upset win over Australia.

His lack of experience may have been influential in the return of vastly experienced Ronan O'Gara at flyhalf in the only other change from the team who started against Australia.

Jonathan Sexton and Eoin Reddan drop to an also otherwise unchanged bench. "He's a good player," Kidney said of Murray. "I've been lucky that all five halfbacks have been going well so it's very thin margins.

"He's taken things in his stride really ... He got a few chances in the August games, he did well against the United States in difficult conditions and against Australia so I think he warrants his chance. "He seems to be enjoying himself right now."

Brian O'Driscoll, who sat out the win over Russia, returns to captain the team and said he had absolute faith in Murray.

"He's new but he's dealing with it extremely well," said O'Driscoll. "He's a confident young man, very much in his depth in the surrounding and you wouldn't know he has a handful, not even a handful, of tests under his belt."

With Australia expected to gain a bonus-point victory over Russia on Saturday, Ireland will probably need a draw or victory to progress to the quarter-finals as group winners.

"It's win or bust," O'Driscoll said. Beating Australia hasn't changed our original thought that we'd have to beat Italy in the final game. We know the magnitude of the game."

Italy need to win to have any chance of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time and though they have lost their last 15 games against Ireland, the last one, a 13-11 Rome defeat in the Six Nations in February, was hard on them.

"It's been getting closer and closer, it's getting harder and harder," O'Driscoll said. "We totally respect the quality they have but we have to be on our game and they have to deal with that too."

Scots confident they can break down England defence

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 06:55 PM PDT

AUCKLAND: Scotland are confident they have the weapons to break down one of the meanest defences at the World Cup at Eden Park this weekend and snatch a place in the quarter-finals away from England.

The best chance the Scots have of making sure they do not miss out on the last eight for the first time is to beat England in the Pool B clash by eight or more points and hope Argentina beat Georgia with at least four tries on Sunday.

Despite having scored just one try in their last four meetings with England, the Scots are convinced they have the attacking flair to get behind a defensive line that has conceded only a single try so far. "Our focus is about going out there and really getting stuck in to the English side and showing what we can do with ball in hand," attack coach Gregor Townsend told Reuters this week.

"I think we've got some really good attacking threats and even despite the conditions I think we have moved the ball well and we'll see what happens in the match."

Scotland are putting their faith in a revamped backline featuring Sean Lamont and Joe Ansbro in the centres, Max Evans and Simon Danielli on the wings as well as Ruaridh Jackson and Mike Blair as the halfback partnership.

The Scots have played a majority of their rugby in the tournament in wet conditions and although the sun shone throughout their training session on the Eden Park pitch on Friday, more rain is forecast for Auckland on Saturday.

"We've got some good exciting backs outside me that I'm hopefully going to unleash," flyhalf Jackson told reporters on Friday. "We'd like to score some tries and hopefully the conditions will work for that."

Although their task against the 2003 world champions is unenviable, the Scots have upset the odds in the past, most notably in 1990 when David Sole's side beat a highly-fancied England team 13-7 at Murrayfield in a Grand Slam decider.

"It's the biggest game for any Scottish international," added Townsend, who won 82 caps for his country. "The players do feel the emotion playing against England. We managed to get one over on them in 1990 and every year we're trying to repeat that." Coach Andy Robinson wants the Scots to channel those feelings, as well as the bitter disappointment of the last-gasp loss to Argentina last week, into a whirlwind of emotion that could rock the English.

"We've always said we've got to use every emotion," said the former England player and coach. "I really hope it's another cracking test match. For us, it's about finding the answers to breaking down this England team and if we do that, we have the players to finish off."


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Lehman bankruptcy payout plan gains momentum

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 06:00 PM PDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With more than $140 billion worth of claimholders now supporting its proposed bankruptcy exit plan, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc's prospects for getting the plan approved by the end of the year are brightening.

Three months ago, the fallen investment bank was in a battle for control of its bankruptcy with creditors who had their own ideas for how assets should be allocated.

But after a string of successful negotiations with those creditors, including Wednesday's accord with Bank of America Corp and its Merrill Lynch unit, many of Lehman's largest creditors now support a plan that will give creditors $65 billion, on average roughly one-fifth what they are owed.

"It certainly looks like they're moving in the direction of a largely consensual confirmation hearing," said Stephen Lubben, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law.

That is not to say confirmation will be a breeze, Lubben said. Lehman, the largest Chapter 11 debtor in history, may still be in for a "laborious" hearing, he said.

"But if you're taking the big creditors off the table, the hope is you'll only have to deal with a handful of objections from smaller ones," he said.

A Lehman spokeswoman on Thursday said about 50 large creditors with $140 billion of claims now support its plan.

Bank of America and Merrill agreed to support the plan and reduce their derivatives claims against Lehman by $7.5 billion -- about $4 billion in underlying claims and another $3.5 billion in guarantee claims.

Lehman touted the deal in the context of its larger effort to resolve disputes with big bank derivative counterparties.

"When we set out to create the derivatives settlement framework, we were hopeful that we could successfully bring the big banks to the table ... and avoid litigation," Daniel Ehrmann, Lehman's co-head of derivatives, said in a statement.

"This motion today ... brings the total banks with which we have settled to 10 of 13," Ehrmann said.

Among the other creditors who back Lehman's plan are bondholders led by hedge fund Paulson & Co, and other large banks with derivatives claims, such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc .

If enough creditors vote to approve Lehman's reorganization plan in a November 4 ballot, it will go before a bankruptcy court for a confirmation hearing beginning December 6. Court confirmation could allow it to exit bankruptcy and begin payouts in the first quarter of 2012.

Lubben said the bank has every incentive to emerge from bankruptcy as soon as it can.

"If the plan is confirmed and creditors appeal, there's a better chance those appeals will be denied if the plan has already been implemented and distributions have begun," he said.

Lehman's $639 billion bankruptcy in 2008 was a major catalyst of the financial crisis. Its thousands of creditors have asserted well over $300 billion in total claims.

The case is In re Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-13555.

Europe again steps back from brink in debt crisis

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 05:58 PM PDT

BERLIN (Reuters) - Following a now-familiar script, Europe again averted disaster in its debt crisis when German lawmakers rallied behind Chancellor Angela Merkel to approve a stronger euro zone bailout fund on Thursday.

But bigger challenges loom for the euro zone now. Financial markets are already anticipating a likely Greek default and demanding more far-reaching measures to prevent the crisis that began in Athens from spreading far beyond Europe and its banks.

The Bundestag (lower house) overwhelmingly approved new powers for the 440-billion-euro EFSF fund to make precautionary loans, help recapitalize banks and buy distressed countries' bonds in the secondary market.

Despite a rebellion by 15 backbench Euroskeptics, Merkel won 315 votes from her own center-right coalition, enough to avoid the humiliation of having to rely on the opposition Social Democrats and Greens to pass the plan.

"The result of the vote is a strong signal for Europe. The broad majority in parliament clearly shows that Germany is committed to the euro and to protecting our currency," said Hermann Groehe, general secretary of her Christian Democratic party.

The measure was part of a July 21 agreement by euro zone leaders meant to solve the crisis by providing a second bailout for debt-stricken Greece, partly funded by private sector bondholders, and providing more firepower to prevent contagion engulfing bigger EU economies Spain and Italy.

But that deal failed to stop Italian and Spanish borrowing costs soaring, forcing the European Central Bank to intervene in August to buy their bonds, and may yet unravel in Greece, which has fallen behind again on its deficit reduction targets, pushing it closer to default.

"There is a growing realization, even among the more reticent, that the July 21 package is yesterday's war, and we need to go further," a senior EU official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The euro and European shares ticked up and safe-haven German bonds fell after the closely-watched vote in Europe's pivotal power, where public opposition to further bailouts is rife.

But analysts said financial markets and outside powers still want a more comprehensive response from European Union policymakers to the debt crisis.

U.S. President Barack Obama kept up a drum beat of criticism of the EU's crisis management, saying on Wednesday: "In Europe, we haven't seen them deal with their financial system and banking system as effectively as they need to.

EU officials are already working on ways of leveraging up the rescue fund, but kept those legally and politically fraught options under wraps ahead of the German vote to avoid antagonizing waverers in the Bundestag.

Underscoring the sensitivity, German Economy Minister Philipp Roesler, leader of the liberal Free Democrats, junior partners in Merkel's coalition, said on a visit to Brussels after the vote that Berlin does not want to leverage the bailout fund.

The European Commission welcomed German approval of the EFSF boost and said it was confident the ratification process would be complete throughout the 17-nation currency area by mid-October.

Elsewhere in Europe, there was a sense of relief. French President Nicolas Sarkozy telephoned Merkel to congratulate her and invited Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to talks in Paris on Friday to discuss Greece's precarious debt situation. Papandreou met Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday.

Cyprus also back the EFSF's new powers on Thursday, taking the number of states that have approved to 12. Of the remainder only Slovakia's endorsement looks politically tricky.


Despite the German vote, developments in Spain and Italy highlighted the stark challenges still facing the euro zone in coping with the sovereign debt crisis.

Spain's ruling Socialists abruptly shelved plans to boost public coffers by selling part of the state lottery for up to 9 billion euros ($12 billion), in the face of tough market conditions, political opposition and banks' funding concerns.

The backtracking, a day before book building was supposed to begin on the public offering of 30 percent of Loterias, was a blow a few weeks before a November 20 election, which opinion polls show the center-right People's Party sweeping.

Banks involved in the sale, Santander and BBVA, saw the Loterias flotation as a direct rival to their efforts to bolster their capital by enticing Spaniards to withdraw deposits to invest in lottery shares.

Italy meanwhile had to pay the highest yield on a 10-year bond since the introduction of the euro in 1999 at an auction on Thursday, the first long-term sale since Standard & Poor's cut the country's sovereign credit rating.

Rome's funding costs remain under pressure despite ECB bond-buying and a pick-up in risk appetite due to expectations of a stronger euro rescue fund. Analysts say the government's tentative crisis response has harmed investor confidence.

Italy sold 7.86 billion euros of long-term bonds, moving closer to an overall issuance target of 430 billion euros for the year, but the 10-year yield rose to 5.86 percent at the auction, up from 5.22 percent a month ago.

"That's eye-watering yield levels," said David Schnautz, a rate strategist at Commerzbank.

In Athens, senior officials of the troika of European Commission, ECB and International Monetary Fund resumed talks aimed at checking that Greece has met the terms of its bailout program after adopting new austerity measures. The Greek Finance Ministry called the climate "positive and creative".

The government will run out of money to pay salaries and pensions in October unless it receives the next 8 billion euro installment of emergency loans. It pushed an unpopular new property tax through parliament this week despite public anger.

Anti-austerity protesters blocked the entrances to several ministries before the start of the talks.

Around 200 finance ministry employees gathered in front of their ministry, shouting: "Take your bailout and leave."

"The occupations are carried out today when the troika returns to our country and as we face new barbaric measures which were decided and are being decided for further wage reductions ... new tax hikes and mass layoffs," public sector ADEDY said in a statement.

Italy eyes asset sales worth $52 billion: Treasury

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 05:56 PM PDT

ROME (Reuters) - Italy could raise 35-40 billion euros ($47-$52 billion) from sales of real estate and other state-owned assets to cut its public debt, the Treasury said on Thursday.

Real estate sales could be worth between 25 billion and 30 billion euros, and the sale of carbon emission permits could raise 10 billion euros, it said in a statement.

Italy, which has been sucked into the euro zone debt crisis, is struggling to convince markets and ratings agencies that it can reduce its huge public debt equal to around 120 percent of gross domestic product.

On Thursday it opened a seminar on state assets intended to assess their total value and how they can contribute to improving the country's strained public finances.

"Today a big structural reform gets underway to reduce the debt and to help the country's modernization and growth," Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti said.

The Treasury said measures to increase annual income from the management of its assets could reduce the budget deficit by 9.8 billion euros by 2020.

It estimated total state assets were worth 1.815 trillion euros, just marginally below the size of the public debt.

However, successive governments have talked for years about the possibility of raising countless billions of euros from selling assets from all sorts of assets from barracks to beaches, but with few practical results.

On a more modest scale, the Industry Ministry announced on Thursday that the auction to sell Italy's fourth generation mobile frequencies, which closed on Thursday, had raised almost 3.5 billion euros.

Most of the money has already been accounted for in the national budget.


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