Selasa, 18 Oktober 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates


Libya forces corner Gaddafi loyalists in Sirte

Posted:

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan transitional government forces said they had cornered Muammar Gaddafi loyalists in the centre of the deposed leader's hometown on Monday, where desperate civilians were still trying to flee the fierce street fighting.

Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters use a tank to fire on pro-Gaddafi fighters as they advance towards the centre of Sirte October 10, 2011. (REUTERS/Anis Mili)

The protracted battle for Sirte has raised concerns that civilian casualties could breed long-term hostility and make it hard for the National Transitional Council (NTC) to unite the vast North African state once the fighting is over.

"Gaddafi's forces are cornered in two neighbourhoods near the sea, an area of about 2-km square, but there is still resistance," Abdul Salam Javallah, commander of NTC units from eastern Libya, told Reuters on the front line of their attack.

"We are dealing with them now with light weapons because there are still families inside," he said.

Shortly after he spoke, a group of three women, three small children and two male civilians emerged from a house on the front line. They were searched by the rebels and hurriedly got into a car and drove off waving the V-for-victory sign.

Another family of three women and one man, stopping at a checkpoint as they fled Sirte, said they had been trapped in their house by the fighting.

"We didn't know where the strikes were coming from. Everyone is being hit all day and all night. There is no electricity and no water. There is nothing. There is not one neighbourhood that hasn't been hit," said one of the women who gave her name as Umm Ismail.

NTC commanders say they are using only light weapons, but government tanks have also moved into road intersections and pounded Gaddafi positions, while pick-up trucks mounted with heavy weapons as well as foot soldiers darted out of cover to fire wildly up ahead.

At times, NTC units came under fire from their own side, a hazard becoming more acute as the poorly coordinated groups of government volunteers attacking from the east and west close in on one another.

Most of the NTC forces attacking Sirte are from other towns and do not have much help from the inside as they did they when they captured the capital Tripoli on Aug. 23 and ended 42 years of one-man rule by Gaddafi after six months of civil war.

GADDAFI'S MEN FIGHT FOR THEIR LIVES

Many civilians from Sirte are also fighting alongside the remnants of Gaddafi's army in the belief the outsiders will commit atrocities once they capture the city of 75,000 people, which Gaddafi built into a lavish second capital.

"Gaddafi's troops know their way around," said one government fighter in a brief lull in the fighting. "We don't know the city. We don't even know what's in the next street."

Gaddafi is believed to be hiding in the desert to the south.

NTC forces have struggled to take Sirte and a few other bastions of Gaddafi loyalists, which has impeded efforts to set up effective government nationwide and restart oil production, the lifeblood of the Libyan economy.

Several Libyan analysts also say they are worried fault lines are opening up between the Islamist-run Tripoli Military Council, which has nominal control over the capital and is also believed to be backed by Qatar, and groups loyal to interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, a Western-trained technocrat.

The interim government sent out text messages on Monday urging their fighters to report to military bases and join the national army.

Concern is rising in the capital about potential conflict among armed groups that converged on Tripoli in August and have stayed on to demand stakes in a future government.

NTC forces in Sirte took three important landmark buildings on Sunday -- the main hospital, the university and the opulent Ouagadougou conference centre, built to host the summits of foreign dignitaries that Gaddafi was fond of staging.

"Eighty percent of Sirte is now under our control," said Omar Abu Lifa, a commander of government forces attacking Sirte from the west.

NTC forces have repeatedly claimed to be on the point of victory in Sirte, only to suffer sudden reversals at the hands of tenacious enemies fighting for their lives, surrounded on three sides and with their backs to the sea.

In just one field hospital to the east of the city, doctors said they had received 20 dead and 87 wounded over the last two days from fighting. There were many more casualties elsewhere.

One man, a student, who had escaped from the centre of the city, said he had watched from a rooftop on Sunday as Gaddafi soldiers destroyed 10 government pick-up trucks.

"Their morale is very high," said Salam Awad. "They are prepared to fight to the death."

NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said his men had reached Sirte city centre, while the only other major town in the hands of Gaddafi loyalists, Bani Walid in the interior desert to the south, was also under siege from no fewer than five sides.

"I think and I hope, with the help of God, the liberation of these two towns will be completed by the end of this week. God willing," he told a news conference in Tripoli on Sunday.

Sirte holds symbolic significance because Gaddafi turned it from a fishing village into a second capital. He built opulent villas, hotels and conference halls to house the international summits he liked to stage there.

(Additional reporting by Barry Malone and Joseph Logan in Tripoli; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Peter Graff)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Oil spill grows from stricken ship off New Zealand

Posted:

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - An oil spill from a container ship stricken off New Zealand is growing as the weather deteriorates, sending clumps of thick fuel oil on to nearby beaches, officials said on Tuesday.

The 47,230-tonne Liberian-flagged Rena has been stranded on a reef about 12 nautical miles off Tauranga on the east coast of the country's North Island since running aground on Wednesday.

As much as 350 of 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil has already escaped and authorities have warned people off the beaches and from eating seafood.

The district is a popular holiday resort, with long, golden beaches renowned for surfing and nearby waters with an international reputation for big-game fishing.

Booms have been put over some harbour entrances to prevent oil from destroying wetland and wildlife habitats. So far fewer than a dozen seabirds have died and about the same number treated for oil contamination.

Maritime New Zealand said weather overnight had shifted the ship on the reef and continuing heavy swells and strengthening winds were making it too dangerous to stay on board.

"All personnel have now been taken off the vessel as a precautionary measure due to the conditions," the agency said in a statement.

Swells of up to four metres (12 feet) and winds gusting up to 25 knots had moved the ship around on the reef, but also reduced its list to between three and six degrees from the previous 11 degrees.

"There has been more damage to the front part in the vessel, and additional flooding in the forward holds. However, this will to some degree help to settle Rena."

Refloating and salvage of the ship is the responsibility of the owner, Daina Shipping, a unit of Greece's Costamare Inc., and salvage experts, but any plan needs official approval.

The ship was en route to Tauranga, 200 km (120 miles) southeast of New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland, the country's biggest export port and a hub for transshipping cargo, to collect cargo before heading for Singapore.

(Reporting by Gyles Beckford; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Perry under pressure at U.S. Republican debate

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HANOVER, N.H. (Reuters) - Republican Rick Perry hopes to end a string of poor performances and campaign rival Mitt Romney looks to consolidate his newly regained front-runner status at a U.S. presidential debate on Tuesday.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) waves after addressing the Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit in Washington, October 7, 2011. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

The debate will be Herman Cain's first moment in the national political spotlight since gaining momentum with his surprise Florida straw poll win last month, and the former pizza executive is sure to face new scrutiny.

Eight Republican contenders will participate in the debate in New Hampshire, the seventh this year in the party's race for the nomination to face President Barack Obama in 2012.

Three months before Republican voting begins, the pressure will be on Perry to reverse a streak of wobbly debate showings that put his once high-flying campaign into a nosedive.

"Perry will be in the spotlight because he has to put on a better performance," said Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. "The last few debates started to peel back the layers of the onion on Perry -- and he really hasn't held up well."

Perry, the Texas governor, roared past Romney to take the lead in polls after getting in the race in August. But he foundered after several stumbling debate performances where he was hammered over his immigration policies and for ordering young girls be vaccinated for a sexually transmitted virus.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor whose 2008 White House bid failed, has retaken the lead in polls but has still not won over conservatives who remember his past support in Massachusetts for abortion rights and a healthcare mandate.

Romney has been a steady performer in the debates and has gone largely untouched by his rivals, particularly in the three debates last month that focused on Perry.

Some of the other second-tier candidates, including former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, could be trying to get noticed in the debate as time runs out for them to make a move.

'TAKING SOME RISKS'

"I'm expecting some of the second and third-tier candidates to start finally taking some risks to distinguish themselves," Cullen said. "If you're Jon Huntsman or Rick Santorum, your opportunities are starting to become numbered."

The debate begins at 8 p.m. EDT/midnight GMT on the campus of Dartmouth College and will be carried by Bloomberg Television. It will focus on economic issues.

Candidates will sit side-by-side with the moderators in a roundtable format, surrounded by the audience, in an effort to generate more interaction, sponsors said.

It is the second debate this year in New Hampshire, which is expected to hold its influential nominating contest in early January. The exact date remains uncertain as other states jockey to gain influence by jumping ahead in the calendar.

Romney is the early favorite in the state, which borders Massachusetts and where he has a vacation home. A University of New Hampshire poll last week showed him with more than a 20-point lead over second-place Cain.

Huntsman, who has staked his campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire, has gained slightly in the state in recent polls and needs a good debate performance to maintain his momentum.

Staunch social conservatives like Cain, Perry, Santorum and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann might find New Hampshire's more moderate voters a less receptive audience. Also participating in the debate will be U.S. Representative Ron Paul and former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich.

(Editing by Christopher Wilson)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio


Working her magic

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 04:25 PM PDT

A designer turns old duds into fashion-forward frocks, and charms viewers in the process.

SHAREEN Mitchell is called the fairy godmother of cost-conscious fashionistas, and when you watch Dresscue Me, you'll understand why.

A self-taught designer and vintage guru, Mitchell owns Shareen Vintage boutiques in Los Angeles and New York, and she is the star of Li's new reality series.

Having an impeccable eye for trends, Mitchell unearths treasures from trash. She works her magic to breathe new life into old, overlooked outcasts and transforms them into fashion-fashion frocks. Yes, ladies and gents, retro fashion is alive and kicking in Dresscue Me.

At the Shareen Vintage stores, it's high fashion style without haute couture cost, as each priceless piece from the past is kept at under US$200 (RM638).

Armed with invaluable insider experience from her years at Mademoiselle and Vogue magazines, the former actress has a deep understanding of what works – and what doesn't – for women of all shapes and sizes. Her philosophy is to never let a customer leave her shop looking anything less than lovely.

Mitchell welcomes exclusively female clients into her boutiques, touted as the fashion world's best-kept secret. Her "no-boys-allowed" policy – clearly stated on a sign at the store entrance – makes me sad, as that means I will never get to set foot into Shareen Vintage.

As the central character, Mitchell – who looks a little like Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas – cuts a commanding figure. She is stern but fair with her employees, and you can't help but admire her ability to transform junk into wearable pieces of art. But as Mitchell's character is so strong, the show's supporting players – who are meek in her presence – sort of fade into the background.

Her relationship with husband JD also plays into the series, as he provides much-needed support and balance to her artistic temperament. At times, his character is almost too good to be true. Does such a patient and good-natured man really exist?

I enjoy the segments in which customers sashay into Mitchell's shop for retail therapy. The camera zooms in as Mitchell listens to her customers' stories and ultimately gives them the makeover to help them look and feel their best.

It's also fun to follow Mitchell on her hectic buying trips that include sifting through heaps of old clothes. These scenes make you want to go through your neighbourhood's scrap area, hoping for the same discoveries.

Viewers also get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of her efforts to launch a new fashion line and establish a presence in the fast and furious New York scene.

Apart from recessionistas and fashionistas, Mitchell is adored by A-listers including Scarlett Johannson and Andre Leon Talley of Vogue, and costumers for 1960s-themed TV series Mad Men. All of them – including the viewers, I'm sure – find their imaginations fired up by Mitchell's carefully curated discoveries of restored and reconstructed vintage designs.

If you're a budding fashionista, you cannot watch an episode without gushing to yourself: "Gosh, I want that outfit!"

In the second episode, I was thrilled to see the appearance of evanescent TV host Cat Deeley. As a long-time Mitchell client, Deeley stops by to look for a dress she can wear to an awards show.

The duo have a blast catching up, and Deeley walks out with not one, or two, but three garments – an 80s cocktail dress, a high-waisted 80s skirt and a bat-wing top. In my opinion, Deeley anchors So You Think You Can Dance? with much wit and flair, and now you know where she gets her fabulous outfits from.

In the same episode, Mitchell invites her employees to a launch party at another boutique called Madewell, and even throws in a limousine ride to the store.

However, one staff member Marie almost jeopardises the night by arriving late, and Mitchell (nearly) loses her temper. But the success of the event overshadows the mishap.

The happenings in this show are not over-the-top, compared to say Keeping Up With The Kardashians, but you don't tune into Dresscue Me for the drama. You watch the series for its focus on women from all walks of life, and their quest to upgrade their wardrobes without breaking the bank.

And yes, its celebration of vintage couture is awesome.

> Dresscue Me premieres at 11pm on Li (Astro Ch 706) tomorrow.

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports


Smiling Lievremont issues final French line-up

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 07:04 PM PDT

AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Unpredictable to the end, a smiling Marc Lievremont on Wednesday named an unchanged French starting line-up to face New Zealand in Sunday's rugby World Cup final - his last match in charge of Les Bleus.

Having built a reputation as a coach who constantly tinkers with team selections, Lievremont uncharacteristically kept faith with the 15 players who started when France beat Wales 9-8 in the semi-finals.

It was a second consecutive unchanged starting 15 for Lievremont, but he will not name his seven replacements for Sunday's Eden Park clash until later in the week.

"There are still some players slightly injured who didn't train yesterday, so I will name replacements later," the coach told a news conference.

"It was quite clear for me to name the same 15. A simple decision."

Dimitri Yachvili starts at scrumhalf despite the thigh injury that saw him give up kicking duties against Wales, while Morgan Parra, a scrumhalf at test level until this tournament, retains the number 10 shirt.

The replacements must be named before Friday evening.

Both Yachvili and Parra, plus William Servat, are carrying niggling injuries, but Lievremont said he was not overly concerned.

"It is the same as last week with minor injuries ... I expect these 15 players to be on the pitch at nine o'clock on Sunday."

The enigmatic coach said the French preparations had not changed and that he had great confidence in his team before their mammoth task.

"Everything has been more or less the same - our preparation on and off the pitch - and we will use any pressure we are feeling to our advantage."

The French have already faced the All Blacks in this World Cup, going down 37-17 in the pool stage.

"Yes, we've played them before, and we all remember the score there," Lievremont smiled. "But ... we now know the team and that will help us.

"All I am focusing on now is this match, preparing the players and making sure we have the best chance possible.

"I know how we are going to try to win ... but I'll keep those words for my players' ears only."

Team: 15-Maxime Medard, 14-Vincent Clerc, 13-Aurelien Rougerie, 12-Maxime Mermoz, 11-Alexis Palisson, 10-Morgan Parra, 9-Dimitri Yachvili, 8-Imanol Harinordoquy, 7-Julien Bonnaire, 6-Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5-Lionel Nallet, 4-Pascal Pape, 3-Nicolas Mas, 2-William Servat, 1-Jean-Baptiste Poux

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Australia's Sharpe to win 100th cap against Wales

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 07:03 PM PDT

AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Australia lock Nathan Sharpe will win his 100th test cap in Friday's rugby World Cup third-place playoff after being named in the starting line-up on Wednesday.

Australia coach Robbie Deans brought the 33-year-old lock, who made his debut against France in 2002, back into the side after leaving him out for the semi-final defeat to New Zealand.

Deans has overhauled the team that were humbled by the All Blacks at Eden Park last weekend with an entirely new front row and two thirds of his back row also changed.

Kurtley Beale returns at fullback after missing last weekend's match with a hamstring problem, while Berrick Barnes replaces Pat McCabe at inside centre.

Four of the changes were enforced by injuries to McCabe (shoulder), lock Dan Vickerman (shoulder, leg and nose), prop Sekope Kepu (eye) and hooker Stephen Moore (sternum).

Deans decided to drop prop Ben Alexander to the bench to "lighten his load" after an arduous international season, while flanker and former captain Rocky Elsom was left out of the squad altogether.

Ben McCalman takes over at number eight with Radike Samo dropping to the bench and Scott Higginbotham playing on the blindside flank in place of Elsom.

In the front row, Salesi Ma'afu gets his first start of the tournament at tighthead prop alongside hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and James Slipper, who both came off the bench against New Zealand.

Sharpe will be the fifth Australian to record a century of caps after David Campese, George Gregan, Stephen Larkham and George Smith.

Australia lost their only previous World Cup third-place playoff at the inaugural 1987 tournament, going down 22-21 to the Welsh at Rotorua.

Team - 15-Kurtley Beale, 14-James O'Connor, 13-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12-Berrick Barnes, 11-Digby Ioane, 10-Quade Cooper, 9-Will Genia, 8-Ben McCalman, 7-David Pocock, 6-Scott Higginbotham, 5-Nathan Sharpe, 4-James Horwill (captain), 3-Salesi Ma'afu, 2-Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1-James Slipper

Replacements: 16-Saia Faingaa, 17-Ben Alexander, 18-Rob Simmons, 19-Radike Samo, 20-Luke Burgess, 21-Anthony Faingaa, 22-Rob Horne.

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Badminton odyssey for Danish youths in Odense

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 04:24 PM PDT

PETALING JAYA: The focus may be on the world's badminton stars when the Denmark Open begins today but the hosts have not forgotten their juniors.

The inaugural Yonex Denmark Junior tournament will be held concurrently with the US$400,000 Premier Super Series event and Malaysian veteran Wong Choong Hann thinks that it is a good idea to inspire the youngsters.

A total of 650 juniors from all over Denmark will participate in the youth competition at halls around Odense in the morning. In the evening, they will make a beeline to watch their stars in action at the Odense Sports Hall – for free.

And Choong Hann feels that Malaysia should emulate Denmark's efforts.

"I applaud them. They certainly think of the future. A junior player gets to achieve two things at the same time. They get good competition and they will also be inspired by watching their stars in action. The majority may not come if it is only to watch the matches," said Choong Hann.

"This is a great way to inspire the young players. Denmark have the knack of being creative and always try to do their best for their juniors. They know that it is worth investing in the future. I hope Malaysia can do something similar."

Denmark's emphasis on junior development programme paid dividends when Viktor Axelsen was crowned world junior champion last year.

Malaysia could host an Inter-State tournament during the Malaysia Open Super Series next year and this will give shuttlers from all corners of the country an opportunity to compete and also watch their stars in action at the same time.

Meanwhile, Choong Hann is continuing to do his part to give badminton fans a platform to polish their skills.

Choong Hann and his Pioneer Sports Management company partners – Lee Wan Wah, Chan Chong Ming and Chew Choon Eng – have set up their third badminton centre – Tropicana Badminton Academy, in Sungai Buloh.

Their first two centres are at Sunsuria Avenue in Kota Damansara and Endah Parade in Sri Petaling.

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business


M'sia and global markets lower as hopes for quick end to eurozone crisis fade(update)

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 05:50 PM PDT

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian stock market lost its momentum, along with other regional markets, as hopes for a quick solution to the eurozone debt crisis were doused and signs were clear that China's robust growth was moderating.

The benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KL Composite Index (FBM KLCI) lost 25.41 points, or 1.73%, to close at 1,439.94 yesterday. Trading volume was moderate, with 1.34 million shares worth RM1.37bil changing hands.

Among the regional markets, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell the most by 4.23% or 797.53 points to 18,076.46. This was followed by China's Shanghai Index, which fell 2.33% or 56.92 points to 2,383.49.

"The markets remain highly volatile and they have become more sensitive than ever to macro news," an analyst told StarBiz.

"Market players are very cautious, as they keep a wary eye on how policymakers coordinate their stance on managing the current global economic woes," he added.

Overnight, the US Dow Jones Industrial Average ended weaker on heavy selling, after German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that concrete solutions to the eurozone debt crisis would unlikely be made at the European Union summit this weekend.

Moody's warning that France's triple-A credit rating faced increasing risk of a downgrade due to the country's weakening fiscal strength further dampened investor sentiment.

Adding to the negative news was China's economic data, which showed gross domestic product for the third quarter had moderated to a two-year low of 9.1% year-on-year, compared with a growth of 9.5% in the preceding quarter.

On Bursa Malaysia, more than 700 counters were traded in the red, while 173 remained unchanged.

Only 145 counters registered gains, with PacificMas Bhd and Leader Universal Holdings Bhd among the notable ones leading the list.

PacificMas rose 33 sen to RM3.40, while Leader was up 14.5 sen to its 18-month high of 98.5 sen. Both had on Monday received offers from their respective major shareholders to buy their assets.

PacificMas received an offer from OCBC Capital (M) Sdn Bhd, a unit of Singapore-based Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp Ltd, to buy stakes in its five subsidiaries for RM450mil. The offer effectively valued the company at RM2.63 per share.

The offer represented a premium of 13.85% to PacificMas' net asset value (NAV) of RM2.31 per share as at Sept 30, 2011.

It was, however, a discount of 14.33% to the company's last traded price of RM3.07 before the announcement was made public.

"What's attractive about the offer is the potential cash distribution via special dividends as well as a potential capital repayment to entitled shareholders after PacificMas liquidates all its assets and settles all its outstanding liabilities upon completion of the corporate exercise, as it has announced in its statement to Bursa Malaysia," an analyst said.

As for Leader, the buyout offer came from its controlling shareholder, HNG Capital Sdn Bhd, at RM480.1mil, or RM1.10 per share. The offer price was a discount to the company's NAV of RM1.36 per share as at June 30. It was, however, a premium of 30.95% to the company's last traded price of 84 sen prior to the announcement of the offer.

TA Research in its report said the offer was considered "lucrative," as Leader had barely exceeded the RM1 per share threshold over the last four years. The acquisition price, it said, offered shareholders a comfortable capital gain.

"The offeror has proposed to buy out Leader at nine times price/earnings ratio (PER), which we believe is attractive, considering that the average PER for Leader only stood at 6.4 times for the past four years," TA Research explained.

On Wednesday morning Reuters reported from Tokyo that Asian shares rose on Wednesday, but gains were capped by a cut to Spain's sovereign credit rating from Moody's Investors Service that kept investors' risk appetite in check.

A rise in U.S. stocks and a report that Europe will strengthen the region's rescue fund helped improve sentiment, with spreads over a key Asian credit default swaps index narrowing several basis points.

But bearish technicals remained in place to suggest investors were still wary about buying riskier assets.

"It's a familiar pattern these days, to sell stocks whenever there's bad news from Europe and buy them back whenever there's good news, but investors are getting tired of it," said Kenichi Hirano, operating officer at Tachibana Securities, adding that this was one reason for recent thin trade.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.5 percent, while the Nikkei stock average opened up 0.8 percent.

Moody's, one of the big three ratings agencies, on Tuesday cut Spain's sovereign ratings by two notches, saying high levels of debt in the banking and corporate sectors leave the country vulnerable to funding stresses.

The latest step followed Moody's warning on Monday over risks for France to maintaining its top credit rating.

A report on Tuesday by Britain's Guardian newspaper that France and Germany had agreed to boost a euro zone financial rescue fund to 2 trillion euros was later denied by a senior euro zone source, who told Reuters there had been no mention of such a deal.

The MSCI world equity index ended up 0.21 percent on Tuesday, as U.S. stocks rose following the euro zone report, which saw big banks rally despite disappointing results.

Banks' earnings underscored the damage inflicted by the global financial turmoil, with Goldman Sachs Group Inc posting its second quarterly loss as a public company on Tuesday as its investment portfolio lost billions of dollars in value.

Bank of America Corp posted a thirdquarter profit on accounting gains, but its main businesses struggled as income from lending and investment banking fell.

After the U.S. stock market close, index futures sold off following weakerthanexpected quarterly results from Apple Inc .

In Asian credit markets, spreads on the iTraxx Asia exJapan investment grade index , a gauge for whether investor risk appetite is returning, narrowed by about 5 basis points, reflecting a rise in equities.

But other gauges of risk appetite, such as crossyen currency pairs, showed sentiment remained cautious.

The euro and the Australian dollar failed to break this week's highs against the yen and have fallen back to levels a week ago.

The euro dipped 0.1 percent against the dollar after Moody's cut Spain's sovereign rating.

The dollar index, which measures its performance against six major currencies , inched up.

Gold, traditionally a safehaven metal, slumped 1 percent in the last two sessions, reviving an inverse correlation to the dollar. Gold was down 0.1 percent on Wednesday.

A double top on charts, based on the two recent highs formed in late August and early September, prompted technical analysts to turn bearish on the metal's nearterm outlook.

Oil prices fell, with Brent crude down 0.2 percent to $110.93 a barrel, while U.S. crude futures fell 0.3 percent to $88.02.

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Ex-China central c.banker says too early to ease policy

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 05:44 PM PDT

BEIJING Oct 19 (Reuters) China should not ease monetary policy now as such a move would increase inflation risks, Wu Xiaoling, former deputy central bank governor, was quoted as saying by the China Securities Journal on Wednesday.

Growth in the world's second biggest economy slowed to 9.1 percent, its weakest in more than two years, in the second quarter, although other data published on Tuesday suggested domestic drivers remain healthy.

Wu was quoted as telling a financial conference in Beijing that she was not worried about slowing growth and the government needed to focus on reallocating national income and economic restructuring.

Policymakers have set tackling inflation, which hit a threeyear peak of 6.5 percent in July, as a top priority this year.

To combat rising prices and prevent them from stoking social unrest, Beijing raised interest rates five times and banks' reserve requirements nine times in the past year.

Still, annual inflation stood at 6.1 percent in September, well over Beijing's official 2011 target of 4 percent.

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Goldman Sachs commods risk tumbles on tough markets

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 05:36 PM PDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs commodities business generated more revenue in the third quarter but treacherous markets forced it to slash risks, leading to overall losses at Wall Street's top bank.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc's Value at Risk (VaR) for commodities averaged $25 million per day in the third quarter versus $39 million in the second quarter and $29 million in the third quarter of 2010, financial results on Tuesday showed.

The VaR numbers -- which are a measure for how much of a bank's money is at risk on one day of trading a particular asset class -- underscored the difficulties for commodities investors in the just-ended quarter as energy, metals and agricultural markets plunged amid wild price swings.

Like most Wall Street banks, Goldman does not break down profit and loss figures for commodities.

In its earnings report, it posted a wider-than-expected loss of $428 million in the third quarter.

It said the fixed income, currency and commodity (FICC) transactions it executed on behalf of clients fell 36 percent from a year ago to $1.73 billion in the third quarter, citing a lack of confidence among investors and corporate clients.

But Goldman also said it generated more revenue on commodities compared to some asset classes during the quarter.

Aside from interest rates, commodities were the only portion of FICC that generated higher revenue in the third quarter compared to a year ago, Goldman said in the report.

In call with analysts to discuss the bank's earnings, Goldman's Chief Financial Officer David Viniar also said receipts from commodities were better than in the second quarter.

"Commodities improved relative to a difficult second quarter as elevated volatility and macro uncertainty drove higher levels of business," Viniar said.

Commodities suffered some of their biggest losses in years during the third quarter as worries about the European debt crisis escalated, causing the dollar to surge against the euro. Signs that China may no longer be counted on to bump up demand for raw materials as Western economies teetered also sent many investors in the asset class scrambling for the exits.

The Reuters-Jefferies CRB index <.crb>, a global benchmark for commodities, ended the quarter down 12 percent for its sharpest quarterly loss since the 2008 financial crisis.

The tough market conditions have cut into risk and revenues levels for commodities at other major Wall Street banks.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch , another major player on Wall Street, said on Thursday its fixed income, currency and commodities businesses as a whole saw lower sales and trading revenues in the third quarter from thinner client activity and adverse market conditions.

JPMorgan Chase , also a Goldman rival, reported last week that its commodities VaR fell slightly in the third quarter from the second quarter.

Aside from commodities, Goldman's risk taking in equities and currencies trading also fell sharply in the third quarter. In equities, the bank's VaR averaged $24 million versus $35 million in the second quarter and $58 million a year ago. In currencies, its risk levels fell to $15 million from $39 million a quarter ago and $29 million a year back.

However, risk in trading of interest rates instruments, spiked, reaching $90 million from $76 million in the second quarter and $88 million a year ago. That helped the group's overall VaR to finish at $102 million from $101 million a quarter ago and $121 million a year ago.

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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Talk of the town

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 05:18 PM PDT

Stick with this tome, its ideas and its climax are well worth it.

Embassytown
Author:
China Mieville
Publisher: Macmillan, 480 pages

YOU can call writer China Mieville's work many things. Breathtaking? Perhaps. Heavy? Perhaps. Visionary? Debatable. Overly convoluted? Many would agree with you.

But the one thing you certainly cannot call his works is unoriginal: Mieville often has more creative ideas in one chapter of his work than many authors have in their entire book.

A bestselling author (with earlier works including ground-breaking The City And The City, Perdido Street Station and Kraken), his works have won various awards, including three Arthur C. Clarke awards, a Hugo Award, and the 2010 World Fantasy Award. A self-described "new weird" writer (see interview, left), Mieville is determined to push fantasy away from its commercial, clich├ęd aspects, and explore new avenues in storytelling.

This can be seen from his latest novel, Embassytown, an unconventional and gripping science fiction epic about language and cultural clashes.

Embassytown takes place on the planet Arieka, on the outskirts of the universe. There, humans coexist with the planet's enigmatic residents, the Ariekei, who speak an interesting language.

Possessing two mouths, they speak through both as one, and are also only able to hear speech in this manner. Their language is also exceedingly literal: these creatures are unable to lie or speak of things that "are not".

It is in this that the book develops its most interesting idea: to overcome this weakness in language, the Ariekei have turned to humans, turning them into living similes, topics and other figures of speech.

Embassytown follows Avice Benner Cho, an "immerser", a traveller on "the sea of space and time below the everyday". Returning to Embassytown, she soon gets caught up in a crisis of language.

A new ambassador, a member of a select group trained to speak with the Ariekei, has been appointed. This ambassador, however, proves to be unlike any that the humans or the Ariekei have encountered before, and eventually brings about a revolution: one that will have devastating consequences for all involved.

In Arieka, Mieville creates a memorable and fantastically original civilisation. His ideas are mind-boggling, particularly those about the Ariekei, trapped in perpetual truth-telling, so fascinated by lying that the idea sparks festivals and revolutions.

Mieville's depiction of the human society on Arieka is also captivating. There, humans are raised by different parents in shifts, they employ genetically-engineered living weapons, and rely on living breathing masks called aeoli to breathe the planet's toxic air.

Mieville invents so many fantastical concepts it is easy to get lost in his neologisms: fortunately, despite the lack of a glossary, he manages to suck the reader so thoroughly into his world that even his most alien concepts make sense by the end.

One of the novel's most memorable ideas is "floaking", which is described as "the life-technique of aggregated skill, luck, laziness and chutzpah" – a word that can probably describe many people at their jobs.

Embassytown is a real page-turner, difficult to put down, thanks to Mieville's powerful and punchy writing. Civil wars, bedroom intrigue, genetically engineered prophets ... there is always something to grip the reader's attention.

At its heart, though, Mieville's novel explores the nature of language, as well as its understated power.

His truth-speaking Ariekei push its boundaries: since language, after all, defines our universe, does this mean that the universe is ultimately bound by language? Do weaknesses in language ultimately shape our view of reality, and is it possible to exploit these weaknesses for our own ends?

The novel also serves as an exploration of colonialism, and the effects of two disparate civilisations coming head to head. Embassytown suggests that the outcome of such encounters is always revolutionary, with both cultures fundamentally changed, from language to cultural norms and even fundamental values.

The book is not without its weaknesses, however, and these mainly lie with the work's characters. Many of them, while interesting, appear far too briefly and disappear without making a major impact, most notably Avice's radical ex-husband Scile, the simile Hasser, as well as Avice's robot friend Ehrsul. Even protagonist Avice feels underdeveloped: despite a major deal about her being a "traveller of the immer", we are given very little info on what the "immer" really is and how it operates.

Mieville's strengths have always been in his themes and the incredible worlds he creates: it is a shame that, occasionally, the inhabitants of these worlds have to take a backseat to them.

Another minor nitpick is with the plot: while fascinating, the chapters on the Ariekei revolt go on for too long and occasionally drag. The solution to the novel's conflicts, while thematically consistent and clever, also feels a little too simple: it is slightly hard to believe that in all the history of human-Ariekei relations, no one had ever tried attempting what Embassytown's characters did.

All in all, Embassytown proves to be a winner, captivating in its depiction of a fully-developed world where even language is a complex, alien thing. While difficult to get into initially, it is well worth sticking with, due to its whopper of a climax and incredible ideas.

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The Star Online: Nation

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Cuepacs asks for service extension of contract staff

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 06:41 AM PDT

KUANTAN (Bernama): Cuepacs has asked that the government consider extending the service of contract for civil servants ending this Dec 31.

Its president Datuk Omar Osman said they received complaints from contract civil servants in departments, agencies and statutory bodies who were given letters not extending their service.

"Cuepacs will send an official letter to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for his help in extending their contracts for at least two more years," he told reporters after a briefing on current events at Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP) here.

He said this extension period will allow these civil servants, a majority in the management and professional group, to apply for a permanent post or seek other jobs.

He said they hoped that contract civil servants could be absorbed into vacant posts which currently exist in the public service.

Meanwhile, he reminded graduates not to worry about the increased retirement age from 58 to 60 because it will not affect their employment opportunities in the public sector. BERNAMA

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Somalia hands over report on shooting of Bernama cameraman

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 05:13 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The Somalia government on Tuesday handed over to the Malaysian government a comprehensive report on the Sept 2 incident in Mogadishu which claimed the life of a Malaysian television cameraman.

Somali Deputy Prime Minister Mohamed Mohammud H. Ibrahim handed the report to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak at his office at Parliament House, here.

BernamaTV cameraman Noramfaizul Mohd Nor, 39, was killed by a stray bullet when covering a humanitarian mission organised by Putera 1Malaysia Club to help famine-struck Somalis. TV3 cameraman Aji Sarigar Mazlan was injured in the incident.

Mohamed, who is Somalia's foreign minister, conveyed his government's open apology to the people of Malaysia over the incident.

At a news conference, Mohamed gave the assurance that his government will take all efforts to protect Malaysians when they go to Somalia.

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Guan Eng denies blog allegations against son

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 04:33 AM PDT

PETALING JAYA: Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has refuted allegations that his son was transferred out from his school due to an offence.

He said he and his wife were furious that political bloggers and opponents had made false allegations against his son.

"My (Form Four) son had transferred to St Xavier's Institution in Penang from SMK (Cina) Heng Ee because I had promised him he could transfer to the school of his choice if he scored at least 6As in his PMR.

"When he achieved that, he was transferred at the beginning of the school term this year, in January 2011. My son wanted to go to SXI because he did not want to have his hair crew-cut as is required for Heng Ee students, but wanted to keep his hair longer."

Lim said for a young kid to be maligned in such a manner was unacceptable and inhumane.

"My son is very shaken up by these lies. He has also not gone back to school for two days. I feel sad that I am not able to protect my young son," Lim said in a statement Tuesday, blaming pro-Umno bloggers for the allegations.

"If you want to finish me off, do your worst to me but leave my innocent children alone," he said.

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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Celebrity tourism

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 03:27 AM PDT

Actress Angelina Jolie has done much to raise Cambodia's profile, say Siem Reap tour guides.

IN Siem Reap, Cambodia, the Ta Prohm Temple in the Angkor Wat Complex is also popularly known as the Tomb Raider Temple, in honour of the part Hollywood movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has played in popularising the ancient monument after the movie's release in 2001.

The movie has also connected the country to one of its vocal supporters in the form of lead actress Angelina Jolie, who has gone on record for her love of Cambodia on several occasions.

Her feelings are well-reciprocated by the Cambodians, particularly those who have benefitted from the country's growing tourism receipts. In Siem Reap, where the World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat is located, she is regarded as a folk hero of sorts.

This is no idle worship – Cambodians feel connected to Jolie because she has not only been in the country as an actress, but also a benefactor through the years.

During recent floods that have inundated large parts of the country and which threaten to continue doing so, Jolie reportedly donated money to relief efforts.

This is only her latest engagement with the country that she credits for opening her eyes to the world.

She has given millions of dollars and pledged millions more through her charitable foundation to a conservation project in Sam Laut, a mountain range in Cambodia that is home to some endangered animal species.

It was in Siem Reap that she went for her photo shoot as the new face of Louis Vuitton. Say what you will about the commercial aspects of it, the campaign does draw attention.

Home sweet home

Jolie also has a home in Cambodia – a structure built on stilts, like many of the country's traditional homes, in the jungles of Battambang, where her project is located.

But the deepest connection they have with Jolie is for her first adoption of a Cambodian boy, Maddox, in March 2002. The growing-up years of the 10-year-old have been followed with great interest by Cambodians, who see in him the hope that Jolie has helped bring to the country.

According to reports then, it was her adoption of Maddox that made the smooth-sailing decision by Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni to grant Jolie with a Cambodian citizenship, in 2005.

On a recent trip to Siem Reap, I had the opportunity to sit down with a group of tour guides and hotel employees at their breakfast table and listen to their tales of Jolie's contributions to tourism in the province.

Tour guides find it easier to connect with tourists through a common interest in Jolie – their chatter about the actress not only helps to pass the time while on bus trips between destinations, it also goes down well with tourists who are quite interested in knowing what she had been up to in Siem Reap.

Which restaurants does she eat at? Which hotel does she stay at? Which retail shops does she buy from? Which helicopter company does she use? Where does she go when she is in Siem Reap? What kind of person is she? Is she a good tipper?

If you are interested in the answers, do visit Siem Reap and find out from the tour guides – the jolly bunch I was with were at pains to tell me that I mustn't reveal any of the answers or they wouldn't have anything to talk about with their charges.

One indirect contribution of Jolie's towards Cambodia's tourism is her pure presence. A hotel sales executive said that Cambodia's reputation as one of the poorest countries in the world after several decades of warfare, with a majority of citizens living on less than US$1 (RM3) a day, often leads to hesitation among potential tourists as they are concerned about the living conditions.

Never idle

However, such concerns are often allayed by the knowledge that a pampered Hollywood celebrity like Jolie visits Cambodia regularly.

Indeed, while there are obvious signs of poverty, the poor of Siem Reap comport themselves with great pride and show more initiative than desperation. You are more likely to have someone trying to sell you a bunch of bananas than begging on the streets. There are quite a few good hotels featuring good rates and friendly staff.

The number of tourists visiting Cambodia crossed the two million mark in recent years, more than half of which head to Siem Reap for the ancient wonder of Angkor Wat. While the country has been at peace since the 1990s, making it safe for tourists, it is the publicity about a peaceful Cambodia afforded by Jolie's frequent references that has made it easy to attract visitors.

And the more visitors there are, the better the economic situation for the people. As it is, Siem Reap has some of the best public roads in Cambodia, with streetlamps at night that put more developed nations to shame.

With tourism comes greater demand for better-educated Cambodians, and one good sign of this is that there is an increasing number of private but reasonably-priced English-language-medium schools that have sprouted to meet this demand.

Jolie's contributions to Cambodian conservation, tourism and the ultimate well-being of the country encapsulate the power of a celebrity to do good. While there are critics who have cast doubts about her intentions, the benefits of her association are, in the minds of the tourism-related workers I spoke to, real and tangible, and something to shout about.

Her commitment is not easy to match and the returns, as she has testified, are life-changing for the better. If only more celebrities gave back to society in this fashion.

In this column, writer Hau Boon Lai ponders the lives, loves and liberties of celebrities.

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The Star Online: Metro: Central

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Metro watch

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 04:45 AM PDT

CARE FOR THE HEART

Sri Kota Specialist Medical Centre Klang is organising a "One World, One Home, One Heart" public forum on Saturday in conjunction with its World Heart Day Awareness Campaign. It will be held from 8.30am to 1pm. Resident cardiologist Dr Lai Voon Ming and Dr Edward Mah Mun Juen, and dietitian Valerie Kong are the invited speakers. Free pre-health screening will be offered. Refreshments and meals will be provided for registered participants. Admission is free. To book, call 03-3373 3636 ext 7313 / 7335 / 7356.

TREASURE HUNT

The Summit Subang is presenting a Hantu Hunt on Saturday from 8am to 2pm. The treasure hunt offers prizes worth RM15,000. Hunt fee is RM70 per person with a minimum of three and maximum of four persons to a team. For details, contact 016-277 2909 (Black Hawk), 016-686 1107 (Tiger Swan) and 019-263 2708 (Jack Swallow).

HEART TALK

A talk on 'Heart Health Care' by senior consultant cardiologist Tan Sri Dr Robaayah Zambahari will be held at the Banquet Hall, Royal Lake Club, Jalan Parlimen, Kuala Lumpur on Thursday at 6pm. It is an awareness programme organised by Soroptimist International of Kuala Lumpur. Reserve your seat via e-mail: sikl.anniversary@gmail.com

PUBLIC FORUM

Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur will be having a forum on Palpitations and Fainting and Facts About Bypass Surgery on Saturday from 10am to 1pm at the hospital's Block C. Admission is free. Call 03-2296 0773 or 2296 0610 to register.

TALK ON PELVIC PAIN

Abbott Laboratory and Columbia Asia Hospital will be organising a public health talk themed "Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis " on Saturday from 11.30am to 1pm. For details, call Paramjeet at 03-9086 9999 ext 9718.

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Former BJSS student returns as teacher and netball coach

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 04:45 AM PDT

PUAH Pei San has the unique distinction of returning to where she started — playing netball as a teacher and coach.

Since early this year, Pei San, who studied at the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) from 1999 to 2003, has joined the school as a teacher and appointed its netball coach.

However, it was a peculiar situation when she reported at BJSS. Most of the netball players were her teammates and close friends.

"I have to admit that it was difficult but after some time, the players accepted me as one of the coaches. Being former teammates was also good and the players understand me better.

"They have been very cooperative during training and I am enjoying my stint as a coach, It is exciting and challenging. Being a former student of BJSS, I am comfortable with the system and I am enjoying it,'' said Pei San.

Surprisingly, the 25-year-old Pei San, who hails from Klang, was not an active netball player until she joined BJSS in 1999. In fact, she was given the privilege after her sister Puah Pei Ling was selected to be part of the netball team at BJSS.

Until she joined BJSS, Pei San, as a pupil of SJKC Jalan Kapar in Klang, was active in basketball.

However, Pei San said she was encouraged to join the BJSS netball training programme.

"It was a challenge but I was willing to go through the training programme. Fortunately, I also had a good coach in Choo Kon Lee. She was very supportive and moulded me into an accomplished netball player,'' said Pei San.

Soon she was playing in local age group competitions. She has been a regular for BJSS in the Malaysia - Singapore Under-17 series in 2000 and 2001. Malaysia were champions in the series for both seasons.

She made her international debut in the Asian Youth Under-21 championship in 2002. Despite being only 16, Pei San made her presence felt and helped Malaysia finish second in the competition.

However, in the subsequent Asian Youth 21 championship, played in Sri Lanka in 2004, Pei San was a member of the Malaysia team which emerged champions.

Pei San was also in the Malaysian team that finished 14th in the World Youth Under-21 championship in Florida, United States in 2005.

For Pei San, it was her most memorable outing as the 14th placing as the best Malaysia had achieved in the competition series.

Pei San was soon drafted into the Malaysian senior squad. She made her international debut, as a senior, in the Asian championship in 2005. The championship was played in Singapore and Malaysia ended runners-up.

Pei San also played for Malaysia in the World championship in Auckland, New Zealand. She was also in the Malaysian team for this year's World championship in Singapore. However, after attending the first phase training programme, Pei San had to withdraw from the squad because of a knee injury.

"I went for an operation and it took me some time to recover. After the rehabilitation programme, I have fully recovered and started training as well,'' said Pei San, who is hailed as Malaysia's best midfielder.

She is keen to represent Malaysia in next year's Asian championship in Sri Lanka.

"I will be playing in local competitions and also other competitions. I can still contribute to the national team,'' said Pei San.

FACT FILE

Name: Puah Pei San

Date of Birth: April 28, 1986

Education: SJKC Jalan Kapar, Klang (1992-1998)

Bukit Jalil Sports School (1999-2003)

Tengku Mahkota Ismail Sports School (2004-2006)

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (2006-2010)

Current status: Teacher and netball coach (BJSS)

Most memorable moment: Helping Malaysia finish 14th in the 2005 World Youth Netball championships in Florida, USA.

Achievements

2000-2001: Champion in the Under-17 Malaysia-Singapore series

2002: Runner-up in the Asian Youth Under-21 netball championship in Malaysia.

2003: Champion in the Asean Schools netball championship in Singapore

Voted as the Best Midfielder

2004: Champion in the Asian Youth Under-21 netball championship in Sri Lanka

2005: Runner-up in the Asian netball championship in Singapore

Placed 14th in the World Youth natball championship in Florida, USA

2006: Champion in the Asian Youth Under-21 netball championship

2007: Placed 16th in the World netball championship in Auckland, New Zealand

2008: Champion in the Asean University Games

2009: Third in the Asian netball championship in Malaysia

2010: Runner-up in National netball championship in Kuala Lumpur

Voted as the Best midfielder

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