Ahad, 4 Disember 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

West's Afghan resolve tested by economy, crises

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 08:03 PM PST

BONN (Reuters) - The West wants to use an Afghanistan meeting on Monday to signal enduring support for Kabul as allied troops head home, but economic turmoil in Europe and crises with Pakistan and Iran may prompt doubts about Western resolve.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) is welcomed by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the Cologne/Bonn military airport December 2, 2011. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

The goal of Afghanistan's international partners is to leave behind a government strong enough to escape the fate of its Soviet-era predecessor, which collapsed in 1992 in a civil war, and whose president was eventually captured and executed by the Taliban when they overran Kabul in 1996.

Hosts Germany sought to signal Western staying power on the eve of the gathering of dozens of foreign ministers in the German city of Bonn, promising it will continue to give support even after most foreign combat troops leave in 2014.

"We must not repeat the mistakes of history," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told delegates.

"This will not be the end of the international presence in Afghanistan. We will not forget Afghanistan after 2014. Our engagement will last."

Ten years after a similar conference held to rebuild Afghanistan following the West's 2001 invasion after the September 11 attacks, there is no shortage of worries on the horizon, in particular about the Afghan government's ability to provide security for its own people.

But addressing matters such as how to share out the funding of the still-fledgling Afghan police and army, and whether or not to pursue apparently stillborn peace efforts with the Taliban, may have to compete for attention with brewing confrontations pitting Washington against Pakistan and Iran, two of Afghanistan's most influential neighbours.


Pakistan, an insecure but powerful neighbour and perhaps the single most critical player in efforts to end Afghan violence, is boycotting the meeting after NATO aircraft killed 24 of its soldiers in a weekend attack the alliance called a "tragic ... accident".

Many in the West hope Pakistan will use its influence to deliver the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership Washington says is based in Pakistan, to peace talks.

Many worry that an array of militants, in the absence of enough foreign troops and an adequate improvement in local security forces, will plunge Afghanistan back into civil war. Renewed strife might also stir more violence over the border in Pakistan, embroiled in its own anti-government Islamist insurgency.

"There is potentially a perfect storm of problems lying ahead for Afghanistan," said Sajjan Gohel, international security director at the Asia Pacific Foundation think tank in London.

"Afghanistan's security is intrinsically tied to Pakistan. If the problems inside Pakistan worsen that will have a detrimental impact on Afghanistan. The continuing freefall in relations between the U.S. and Pakistan makes the situation even more precarious.

"If relations between the West and Iran also worsen that may be utilised by the clerical regime (in Tehran) to cause problems in Afghanistan."

A U.S. official who travelled to Bonn with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to play down Pakistan's absence.

"I certainly hope that we are not entering a phase with them where they play some sort of spoiler role," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters on Clinton's plane. "We are not proceeding with that assumption at all."

One bright spot at the conference may be the resumption of aid flowing into a World Bank trust fund for Afghanistan.

The United States and other donors stopped paying in to the trust fund when the International Monetary Fund suspended its programme with Kabul in June, but the IMF's decision to reverse course last month may pave the way to replenish the trust.


Iran moved nearer centre stage in Bonn after Tehran said it shot down a U.S. spy drone in its airspace and threatened to respond outside of its borders to the alleged incursion.

International forces in Kabul said the drone may have been one lost last week while flying over western Afghanistan.

Iranian television quoted a military source as saying Tehran had shot down the drone in eastern Iran.

"The Iranian military's response to the American spy drone's violation of our airspace will not be limited to Iran's borders," the military source said, without elaborating.

Iran has been accused in the past of providing low-level backing to the Taliban insurgency, and diplomats and analysts have suggested Tehran could ratchet up this support if it wanted to put serious pressure on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

For their part the Taliban, in a November 30 statement, reiterated a demand for an end to what it called foreign occupation of the country.

The conference was "seeking to further ensnare Afghanistan into the flames of occupation and to turn it into a battleground and perpetual nightmare for the neighbouring countries".

(Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Peru declares emergency to stop protest over mine

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 07:54 PM PST

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Ollanta Humala declared a state of emergency late on Sunday to quell protests against Newmont Mining's $4.8 billion Conga mine project that have hobbled the region of Cajamarca for 11 days.

Andean people protest against Newmont Mining's Conga gold project during a march near the Cortada lagoon at Peru's region of Cajamarca, November 24, 2011. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil

Humala, in a nationwide address, called leaders of the environmental protest intransigent and said the ruling would give security forces added power to ensure that roads, schools and hospitals could reopen after having been shuttered for days by rallies and marches against the proposed mine.

It was the first time in Humala's young presidency that he has used extraordinary powers to defuse a social conflict over mining in Peru, where some 200 disputes nationwide threaten to delay billions of dollars in planned mining and oil projects.

"Every possible means has been exhausted to establish dialogue and resolve the conflict democratically, but the intransigence of local and regional leaders has been exposed - not even the most basic agreements could be reached to ensure social peace and the reestablishment of public services," he said.

Humala campaigned on promises to steer more social spending to rural towns to help calm social conflicts over natural resources while assuring companies they could move ahead with new mining and oil projects.

He has urged mediation to solve the disputes, but nearly a week ago the government was forced to ask Newmont to temporarily halt work on the Conga mine after the protests turned violent. Since then protesters have continued to march and demanded the government permanently cancel the project.

Prime Minister Salomon Lerner negotiated on Sunday for hours with leaders of the protest, who say the mine will hurt water supplies and caused pollution.

But Lerner failed to reach an accord with protesters, prompting Humala to invoke a state of emergency - a tool that his predecessor, former President Alan Garcia, frequently used to quash social protests.

(Reporting by Teresa Cespedes and Terry Wade; editing by Philip Barbara)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Indonesia's Gamalama volcano erupts, thousands flee

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 07:48 PM PST

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Mount Gamalama erupted to spew lava and ash on Ternate in eastern Indonesia, prompting thousands of residents to flee the volcano on one of the former Spice Islands.

There were no immediate reports of casualties after the 1,715-metre-high (5,650-foot) volcano first erupted late on Sunday.

Residents grabbed warm clothing before fleeing their houses, with many taking refuge at the local governor's house.

"We advised residents to use masks and the local authority to close the airport until everything is normalized," said Surono, head of Indonesia's Centre of Vulcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation.

He said many residents were returning to their homes, although authorities were keeping the volcano at the second highest level of alert, he said.

The Sultan Babullah airport in the provincial capital of Ternate shut Monday, said Pujobroto, corporate secretary at PT Garuda Indonesia, which flies twice a day to the city in the Molucca chain of islands.

The volcano has clove groves on its foothills, one of the spices that led the Portuguese and Dutch to settle there several centuries ago, and Ternate city is the business centre for an island group now becoming known for nickel mining.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, is on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and is frequently prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and floods.

(Reporting by Jakarta Bureau; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Ron Popeski)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Havelange resigns from IOC

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 06:31 PM PST

Former FIFA President Joao Havelange has resigned from the International Olympic Committee days before an ethics hearing into his conduct, the BBC reported.

FIFA president from 1974-98 when he was replaced by Sepp Blatter, Havelange was under IOC investigation for his links with FIFA's former marketing agency International Sport and Leisure (ISL).

ISL went bankrupt in 2001 with debts of around $300m. A BBC Panorama television programme alleged in 2010 that Havelange accepted money from ISL for granting lucrative World Cup contracts.

The 95-year-old Brazilian is the IOC's longest-serving member, having joined in 1963. With his resignation the ethics case against Havelange was likely to be dropped, the BBC reported on Sunday.

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Tiger ends two-year title drought with Chevron win

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 03:36 PM PST

THOUSAND OAKS, California, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Tiger Woods ended a frustrating victory drought of just over two years when he clinched the Chevron World Challenge which he hosts by one shot on Sunday, holing a six-foot birdie putt at the last.

A stroke behind fellow American Zach Johnson overnight, Woods fired a three-under-par 69 at Sherwood Country Club to claim the 95th tournament win of his career - but his first since the 2009 Australian Masters.

Woods, whose world ranking plummeted from number one to 52nd while he struggled for fitness and form over the last two years with his private life in tatters, came from one down with two holes to play to post a 10-under total of 278.

He drained a 15-footer at the par-three 17th before coolly knocking in a six-footer on the 18th green and then celebrating with a roundhouse sweep through the air with his right arm.

"It feels great," a jubilant Woods said greenside after his spectacular birdie-birdie finish ended a run of 26 tournaments around the world without victory.

"It was a lot of fun coming down the stretch. Zach put a lot of pressure on me. He turned the tide (on 16), next thing I am one down playing the last couple of holes. Then I made two good putts."

Asked to describe his feelings after ending his lengthy title drought, 14-times major champion Woods replied: "It feels awesome, whatever that is."

Johnson, seeking his first victory since last year's Colonial Invitational, had to settle for second place after closing with a 71.

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Schumacher and Vettel win a fifth time

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 02:53 PM PST

DUSSELDORF: German Formula One stars Michael Schumacher and reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel won the Race of Champions Nations Cup for the fifth successive year on Saturday.

The duo defeated Denmark's Tom Kristensen, eight-time winners of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race, and Finnish rally driver Juho Hanninen, two rounds to nil.

"Five, that's great," said Vettel, who this year wrapped up his second successive F1 world title.

Seven-time F1 world champion Schumacher added: "We're proud to have our names on the trophy once again."

Yesterday, the two drivers will be rivals in the individual event. — AFP

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Proton shares price up, market set to be higher

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 06:21 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: The share price of automaker Proton rose in early morning Monday trade following speculation that Khazanah Nasional may be looking to sell its 42.74% stake in the company to other industry players.

At 10am, Proton's share price jumped 59 sen to RM4.20. Analysts believe the market is set to go higher today but would not see a steep ascent despite last week's bullish run due to a flat close on Wall Street last Friday.

Asian markets presented a mixed picture despite slightly lower US unemployment numbers reported last week and the start of looser monetary policy in China.

However, investors piled into commodities with Nymex crude oil in electronic trade gaining about four-tenths of 1% and hovering at US$101 per barrel while spot gold was trading at US$1,746 to US$1,747 per ounce.

The benchmark FBM KLCI was up a tenth of a percent to 1,490.68 while Singapore's Straits Times Index was down 0.71% to 2,753.65.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 gained 0.37% to 8,676.14 and Shanghai's A share index dropped nearly 1% 2,338.47.

At Bursa Malaysia, advancers outpaced decliners 213 to 170 while 206 other counters were traded unchanged. There were 480.08 million shares traded with a total turnover of RM207.11 million.

Among active stocks, BAT gained 56 sen to RM47.66,, Tradewinds Plantations rose 18 sen to RM4.35 and KLK up 16 sen to RM21.96.

In the currency markets, the ringgit was quoted at 3.137 to the US dollar and 4.210 to the euro.

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Oil extends gains above US$101 on Iran worry

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 04:22 PM PST

TOKYO, Dec 5 (Reuters) U.S. crude futures extended gains above $101 on Monday, helped by firmer equities markets, geopolitical tensions over Iran's nuclear programme and encouraging economic signs in the United States.


* NYMEX crude for January delivery was up 57 cents at $101.53 a barrel by 0006 GMT, after hitting a peak of $101.73 earlier, the highest since $101.75 on Nov. 30. On Friday, it settled up 76 cents at $100.96, wrapping the week up 4.3 percent, after U.S. data showed the U.S. jobless rate dropped to 8.6 percent from 9 percent, raising hopes about the outlook for the U.S. economic recovery.

* London Brent crude for January delivery was up 58 cents at $110.52 a barrel, after settling up 95 cents on Friday.

* Iran warned the West on Sunday that any move to block its oil exports would more than double crude prices with devastating consequences on a fragile global economy. "As soon as such an issue is raised seriously the oil price would soar to above $250 a barrel," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in a newspaper interview.

* Global oil market supply is sufficient, OPEC member Qatar's energy minister said on Sunday. "The prices are determined by the market and currently the supply is enough," Mohammed alSada told reporters on the sidelines of the World Petroleum Congress.

* Libyan oil production should reach about 950,000 barrels per day by the end of this year and 1.3 million bpd by the first quarter of 2012, OPEC SecretaryGeneral Abdullah alBadri said on Sunday.

* Speculators raised their net long positions in U.S. crude oil futures and options positions in the week to Nov. 29, data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) showed on Friday.


* Dow and S&P index futures opened higher on Sunday, suggesting the previous week's rally the biggest in almost three years could be extended in the coming week.

* Japan's benchmark Nikkei average opened up 0.6 percent at 8,697.78 on Monday.

* The euro gained slightly on Monday, after last week's 0.8 percent rise, as markets are hopeful the EU will have taken a step towards fiscal union by Friday.

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Italy PM unveils sweeping austerity package

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 04:17 PM PST

ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Mario Monti unveiled a 30-billion-euro ($40.3 billion) package of austerity measures on Sunday, raising taxes and increasing the pension age in a drive to shore up Italy's strained finances and stave off a crisis that threatens to overwhelm the euro zone.

Packed into a single emergency decree which comes into effect before formal parliamentary approval, the measures followed growing pressure for sweeping measures to restore confidence in the euro zone's third-largest economy.

Monti said the package, divided between 20 billion euros of budget measures over 2012-14 and a further 10 billion euros in measures to boost growth, was painful but necessary.

"We have had to share the sacrifices, but we have made great efforts to share them fairly," he told a news conference, in which he said he had renounced his own salary as prime minister and economy minister.

Deputy Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli said the package should ensure that Italy met its target of a balanced budget by 2013 despite an expected 0.4-0.5 percent contraction in the economy next year and zero growth in 2013.

In a mark of the emotional impact of the cuts, Welfare Minister Elsa Fornero broke down in tears as she announced an end to inflation indexing on some pension bands, a move that will mean an effective income cut for many retired people.

The measures come before one of the most crucial weeks since the creation of the single currency more than a decade ago, with European leaders due to meet on Thursday and Friday in Brussels to try to agree a broader rescue plan for the bloc.

Italy, with stagnant growth and a public debt of around 120 percent of gross domestic product, has been at the centre of Europe's debt crisis since yields on its 10-year bonds shot up to around 7 percent, similar to levels seen when countries such as Greece and Ireland were forced to seek a bailout.

Adoption of the package is seen as vital for re-establishing Italy's shattered credibility with financial markets after a series of unfulfilled promises by the previous centre-right government of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Unions said the cuts will hit poorer workers and pensioners disproportionately hard, but there was little sign of serious political opposition to Monti's plan.


With yields on Italian 10 year bonds near 7 percent and almost 160 billion euros of bonds needing to be refinanced by the end of April, market pressure on Italy has approached breaking point.

"It's not demagoguery to say that the next 10 days will decide whether the euro survives or not," Emma Marcegaglia, head of Italy's main business lobby Confindustria said before the package was announced.

Grilli said around 12-13 billion euros of the 30 billion euro package would come from spending cuts with the rest coming from tax increases.

As well as an end to inflation indexing for many pensioners, the measures will see the minimum pension age for both men and women raised in stages to 66 by 2018 with incentives to keep workers in employment until 70.

Contrary to expectations before the announcement, there was no increase in income tax but a new property tax, expected to raise some 10-12 billion euros, will account for the bulk of the new revenues.

There will be a one-off tax of 1.5 percent on money repatriated to Italy under the so-called "fiscal shield," a tax amnesty passed by Berlusconi's government in 2009 and an extension of a levy planned for bank current accounts to all financial products.

A two-percentage-point increase in value added tax could also be introduced from September next year, while there would also be new taxes on luxury goods like yachts and some gas-guzzling cars.

As part of a crackdown on tax evasion, cash transactions of more than 1,000 euros will be banned, and there were also measures to liberalize business opening hours and open up pharmacies and the transport sector to more competition.

The package also cut a number of local government functions in a bid to reduce the cost of public administration.

Measures to boost growth include tax incentives for companies to employ workers and special measures to favor women and young people

But Monti left for a later date the vexed question of reforming of contracts that hinder companies from laying off workers, a measure seen as key to overhauling the labor market, but which is bitterly opposed by unions.

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The Star Online: Nation

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Freak thunderstorm and strong winds hit KL (Update)

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 06:27 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: A freak thunderstorm and strong winds referred to as a "mini-hurricane" by many, tore through the capital and parts of Selangor, wreaking havoc, uprooting trees and damaging properties.

The hardest hit areas in the 5pm storm were Kepong, Bandar Menjalara and Hartamas.

Road users on the MRR2 highway near Kepong turned to Twitter to report that the rain was so ferocious that many motorists stopped their vehicles on the roadside to wait it out.

A spokesman from the Fire and Rescue Department said while there was very heavy rain, it was the ferocity of the wind which caused more damage as trees were uprooted, branches snapped, billboards and signboards fell, and roof tiles and tents for functions were blown off.

"There were also reports of cars crushed by fallen trees and branches but fortunately, there was no loss of life or injury.

"We had earlier been warned by the Meteorological Department of the possibility of storms in the Klang Valley and had been prepared for this," he said.

Officials from the Fire and Rescue Department and City Hall rushed to clear the debris and remove trees blocking the roads to get the traffic moving.

Massive traffic jams up to 9pm were reported all over the capital and highway entry points into the city as motorists were forced to slow down because of fallen trees, debris and minor accidents.

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Dr Chandra: Parties that subscribe to hudud should not be empowered

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 06:19 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: The effect of hudud law on non-Muslims is very real, said speakers at a forum entitled Hudud: Its implications on non-Muslims in Malaysia' here on Sunday.

International Movement for a Just World president Prof Dr Chandra Muzaffar said parties that subscribed to hudud should not be empowered.

He noted that most countries that have adopted hudud law had failed in protecting their people or their rights.

"Not a single hudud state can be an example to us human kind," he said to during the session entitled Hudud and its legal implication on non-Muslims', which was moderated by Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee.

The forum, which was organised by the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (Insap), was held at Wisma MCA.

Dr Chandra said non-Muslims would also suffer should PAS implement hudud laws.

"It does not recognise the principle of shared rights and responsibilities. They have the notion of protecting you but not according you your rights," he added.

Dr Chandra hit out at PAS for its narrow interpretation of hudud in Kelantan and previously in Terengganu, which he said did not emphasise on forgiveness and reform as stated in the Quran.

"The emphasis should not be on prohibit and punish, as Islam is meant to educate and enlighten. A narrow interpretation can destroy a nation," he added.

Another speaker, Ustaz Mohd Kamal Saidin, who is the religious adviser to the Terengganu Mentri Besar, criticised Kelantan's hudud law guidebook.

He said that the enactment did not follow the proper Islamic hudud guidelines, including on sodomy, rape and the option for non-Muslims that he said was not true.

Ustaz Mohd Kamal also said that it would be unfair to implement hudud law on Muslims but not non-Muslims, and that this would also create confusion.

Lawyer Philip Koh said Malaysia was a secular country and anyone who wanted to change the laws should remember that it should not be restrictive or affect the rights of any one community.

He noted that every faith may have ideas as to how it wanted the laws to be framed to govern society but it should not impede on the rights of those from other faiths.

Koh said the Reid Commission, which was the base of which the Federal Constitution was formed, had clearly stated that Malaysia is a secular nation.

Economist Fui K.Soong said implementing hudud law in Malaysia would not be popular with foreign investors.

The Centre for Strategic Engagement (CENSE) chief executive officer said the dual judiciary systems under the hudud laws meant that businesses would also have to comply with Syariah requisitions.

"It is definitely going to have an impact on foreign direct investment," said Fui.

She urged Malaysians to object to hudud law now rather than wait for it to happen.

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Dr Chua: Pakatan should include hudud it its GE manifesto

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 05:08 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Pakatan Rakyat should include hudud and its implementation in its general election manifesto to make its stand clear once and for all, said MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek.

Dr Chua said it should be included in the opposition's election manifesto and common agenda for transparency and to clear the air over their stands on the issue.

"They should list it down in their manifesto and see if the rakyat agrees or not. Right now there are conflicting signals from Pakatan leaders.

"DAP, on the one hand, is against hudud but yet states that it will support PAS candidates and will go all out to make sure they win.

"Hudud should be stated in their common agenda, since they always never do anything without consulting their partners," he said Sunday at the Hudud: Its implications on non-Muslims in Malaysia forum.

The forum, which was organised by the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (Insap), was held at Wisma MCA.

Dr Chua said the implementation of hudud would affect the country's foreign direct investment, revenue as well the rights of non-Muslims.

He noted that some Muslim MPs, from both sides of the divide, were forced to support PAS, although they did not agree with its implementation.

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

End of era as Bollywood's "evergreen" Dev Anand dies

Posted: 03 Dec 2011 11:37 PM PST

MUMBAI (Reuters): Movie actor and director Dev Anand, known for his joie de vivre as Bollywood's "evergreen hero", has died aged 88, an aide said, bringing the end to an era of Indian cinema.

Anand, whose last film, "Chargesheet", was released in September, was in London with his son, Suneil, when he died on Saturday from a heart attack, aide Mohan Churiwala told Reuters.

"He was never sick. Even when I spoke to him last evening, he sounded fine -- hale and hearty," Churiwala said.

Anand is also survived by his wife, Kalpana Karthik.

Born in Lahore, Anand travelled to Mumbai to work as a clerk in a government office in 1944 and got his first break two years later in the film "Hum Ek Hain". He turned director soon afterwards and went on to deliver a string of hits.

"CID", "Guide", "Hare Rama Hare Krishna" and "Jewel Thief" are movies considered part of Bollywood's essential viewing catalogue, and Anand's unique acting style is widely celebrated.

He is said to have been inspired by Hollywood's Gregory Peck, but his own casual style and the signature nod of his head while delivering lines were often imitated by fans.

Anand refused to retire from Bollywood, often telling interviewers he would work till his last breath. He was working on a new film at the time of his death.

"An era has come to an end," Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan wrote on Twitter. "Dev Anand leaves a void never perhaps to be filled again... his never-give-up belief, his joy of life."

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Charlie Sheen's ex-wife arrested in Colorado

Posted: 03 Dec 2011 04:49 PM PST

DENVER (Reuters) - Brooke Mueller, the ex-wife of actor Charlie Sheen, was arrested for cocaine possession and assault in Aspen, Colorado, the ski resort town where Sheen was arrested for assaulting Mueller in December 2009.

The Aspen Police Department said in a news release that officers were conducting ''a routine walk through'' of the Belly Up bar late Friday night when a woman reported she was assaulted by Mueller.

''The woman identified Brooke Mueller, 34, of Los Angeles, California as the aggressor,'' the release said.

Mueller was arrested at a second bar sometime after midnight and charged with felony possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and misdemeanor assault, police said.

Mueller posted a $11,000 bond and was released. She has a Dec. 19 court date. Her spokesman Steve Honig said she would have no immediate comment on the arrest.

On Christmas Day 2009, police were called to an Aspen home the couple was renting for the holidays and arrested Sheen for assaulting Mueller during an argument. Sheen pleaded guilty to the charge in August 2010 and was ordered to serve 30 days in a California drug and rehabilitation facility.

The couple divorced earlier this year.

Sheen was fired from his role on TV's ''Two and a Half Men,'' sitcom after he ranted against his employers and posted videos on the Web in which he bragged about his ''winning'' ways and the ''tiger blood'' he had running through in his veins.

He will return to television in summer 2012, in a new ''Anger Management'' series on FX.

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Haunting tale

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 02:27 AM PST

When Asian mores clash with Western society, tragedy occurs.

Killing Honour
Author: Bali Rai
Publisher: Corgi, 336 pages

A YOUNG woman with a potentially bright future succumbs to an arranged marriage to a man from the same clan to honour her family's wishes only to be trapped in an abusive union. Woman turns to family for support but is shunned because she is now the husband's property. By then, it is all too late and her fate is a sealed tragedy.

Sounds like an overworked plot? But here's the thing. It isn't the plot in Bali Rai's Killing Honour although it is the backbone to the story. What makes the British author's new book different is that Rai has cleverly approached the common plot from a fresh angle, making it dynamically interesting.

I read Killing Honour in one sitting, with minimal toilet and texting breaks. Then I went to bed only to experience parts of the scenes from the chapters being re-enacted in a series of disturbing dreams. It was pretty haunting, not in a nightmarish way but in way that prompted a sad realisation that some outdated cultural practices are still being honoured in these modern times, and in doing so, sometimes killing honour itself. Ironic but true.

The story centres on a young Punjabi Sikh named Sat who is determined to find his married sister who vanished under suspicious circumstances. Although the in-laws, the Atwals, claim that she has eloped with her Muslim lover, Sat crosses boundaries to discover the truth despite hurdles thrown up from his own family, who believe that their daughter is a disgrace.

With conservative values woven through modern mores set against a background of sex, drugs and brutality, Sat's story begins in Leicester, England, and he narrates it in 28 chapters. Adding to the stark narration are independent, supporting texts randomly interspersed between the chapters.

I love Rai's writing style: easy and fuss free without any serious dips into frilly emotional jamborees given the nature and density of the book's subject. The clean and clinical style makes reading the book much like watching an episode of TV's Criminal Minds.

I felt that Rai's portrayal of his community's sentiments is spot on, recognising them from when a Punjabi friend of mine became somewhat of an outcast for taking a non-Punjabi husband. Many Punjabi friends have told me that they'd only marry a Sikh because it is their community's natural expectation of them. "Race and religion doesn't matter to me but I'd still marry a Punjabi Sikh. If I don't do that, my mother would be very, very upset. It won't be the same again, " a male friend said recently.

Another friend, a British Punjabi, was married off to a girl who was hand-picked by his grandmother from India. The pair was happy for a while, but after a couple of years when her residency came through, she divorced him, almost stripping him off all he owned.

Having said that, when you pick up this book, read it with an open mind. Those with no concept of certain long-held beliefs among Asians may find the key issue in the book totally intolerable in today's world. While arranged marriages and the spirit of keeping the "herd" close among some cultures may be viewed with anything ranging from disbelief to disgust, it probably does work for some people.

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Killer suspense

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 02:24 AM PST

Kill Alex Cross

Author: James Patterson

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 464 pages

JAMES Patterson is by far my favourite suspense-thriller author. What I – and many of his fans, I'm sure – like about his books are the signature short chapters. I love the way he crafts the suspense of the plot and how it builds up as you make your way through the book.

As you start off Kill Alex Cross, the drama begins with the kidnapping of the US President's two teenaged children. Former FBI agent and Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department detective Alex Cross is the first one on the case, much to the chagrin of a shady figure with nefarious intentions and enough power to use the FBI, CIA and even the Secret Service against Alex.

Patterson cleverly drives the story forward with chapters written from the kidnapper's point of view – and what a sinister voice he has created, one that positively drips with disdain.

If you have read Along Came A Spider and Kiss The Girls, you can expect the same chills from Kill Alex Cross. And even if you haven't read a single one of the Alex Cross books, worry not, as this will satisfy your need for a thrill.

The kidnapping isn't the only problem in Washington DC: Terror attacks threaten America's capital with the arrival from Saudi Arabia of a couple set to bring chaos to the city. Elements of jihadism are weaved into the plot, as the couple follows orders and plan attacks. How does this storyline connect with the kidnapping? Patterson cleverly keeps us guessing for a while.

And while Alex has his hands full with both cases, a deadly contagion spreads through the city's water system, unleashing another major disaster. Patterson's words graphically evoke the stress and adrenaline-filled emotions that Alex experiences as he struggles to pull victory from all this chaos.

Kill Alex Cross is definitely a page-turner, with not only the main event of the kidnapping but also the sub-plots keeping you on the edge of your seat guessing at the connections between characters. However, I felt a bit deflated towards the end as the story unfolded to reveal the villain. It didn't have the same wow factor as other books in the series, such as I, Alex Cross and Crossfire, for example.

Kill Alex Cross also offers more revelations of Alex's private life and the warm relationship he has with his family, especially his children. He is settled now and his grandmother, the redoubtable Nana Mama, is still around to put Alex in his place if need be, which always elicits chuckles.

If you are a fan of Patterson's Alex Cross books, make space on your shelf for this one. And if you're new to his work, well, let me share some facts about Patterson that might persuade you to pick up this book: According to Bookscan, Patterson was the bestselling author of the past year bar none, with more than 16 million books sold in North America alone. And in the past three years, Patterson has sold more books than any other author, and in total, his books have sold an estimated 220 million copies worldwide.

To date, Patterson has had 19 consecutive No.1 New York Times bestselling novels, and holds the paper's record for most hardcover fiction bestselling titles by a single author (63), which is also a Guinness World Record. Phew. I'd want this one on my bookshelf just for the bragging rights!

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Grandma in a book

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 02:23 AM PST

A grandson attempts to read a book that Grandma had read, wanting to discover her soul within its pages.

MY son wouldn't stop. He cried interminably, tears seeping out from behind the hands that covered his swollen eyes. Grandma had left. After two weeks of happy times, she had flown away, leaving behind a few strands of grey hair on a pillow and the warmth of her smile in our minds.

My son is learning the truth about being an immigrant.

Like most immigrants, we have only ourselves – the four of us on our big adventure Down Under. That had always sufficed until Grandma came. Her lullabies replaced mummy's bedtime stories. She sang and my two children carolled along, giggling and falling into beds stuffed with soft toys from Grandma. Her lilting voice was much more enjoyable than the theatrical pitch I used in dramatising stories. She sang with love, as if the chance to love would slip away if unhurried, whereas I read as if reading was the last chore of the day – soon to be over with if not to be done away with.

I stood outside the bedroom and watched silently, my heart swelling with delight.

The thrills continued unabated. Grandma roasted a more savoury chicken; even her Ribena was more chilled and sweet. I sniggered at the jealousy slowly emerging, taming it before it began to truly stir. Because, henceforth, I too, was in the comfort zone. Grandma cleaned as I read. She planted the flowers I had bought. Needs were fulfilled before I even got to know of them. With her my children played while I wrote. At night, as I passed their room, she snored as did the kids. They snored in unison, like in a symphony – one waited for the other and when merged, their beats were congenial and their dynamics, harmonious.

With free time in hand, I went about my work, reading faster than ever. The race toward the last page was enjoyable, for it was no longer patchy. It was an uninterrupted sprint from the beginning, as I panted throughout, only to fall onto my back into slumber to dream of more. Books owned me and stories occupied my mind completely. The joy of reading was at its height and I once again became an authors' confidant, listening to their crooning and waiting for their stories to unfold.

That two-week period of leisure was granted silently, understandingly, and selflessly by Grandma. Her stay was a window of opportunity that is rare indeed, because rarely, as in the case of most other immigrants, had I had a chance to read to my heart's content, obsessively and guilt-free. Haruki Murakami's 900-page 1Q84 was read in three days, just in time for me to write a review of it and to start another marathon with Daniel Yergin's (also 900+page) The Quest.

But I was not the only one reading. Grandma read, too. As she guffawed at Chinese writer Yu Hua's hilarity in Brothers, my children were awed by the book-loving Grandma. We love to read, my four-year-old daughter exclaimed. Yes, we do, I answer.

Still, she had to leave. No memories could replace the joy that filled my son's heart when Grandma was around. When night fell, he wailed for Grandma. Her love, unconditional and selfless, had touched his heart. Brothers remains on his bedside table as if keeping it there will stop the image of Grandma from fading away. At least I still have her book and I hope to read it someday, he murmurs, tracing Grandma's invisible finger prints.

Life has returned to normal, as has my reading. I managed to read only five pages of The Quest yesterday. The race is still on but at a much slower pace and in a more hurried mood. As my children had been loved in Grandma's own unique way, I had been pampered. It is utter absurdity. Grandma became my reading aid and an inspirational book lover to my children. My son won't stop. He slogs through the first chapter of Brothers and keeps going. Through it, he hopes to understand how Grandma truly felt while she was reading. He wants to understand not just her book but also to catch a glimpse of her soul.

n Abby Wong thanks her mother-in-law for granting her two weeks of uninterrupted reading pleasure.

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Passion for the craft

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 03:28 AM PST

A lifelong love for art has taken this artist far in life.

IF he had followed the path his father had in mind for him, Raja Azhar Idris, 59, would probably have become the proprietor of a modest soy sauce factory in Perak. But when he was 18, he sold his first paintings for RM1.50 each, and came back with RM50 to show his father – and his fate as an artist was sealed.

He painted on paper, and also on little wooden blocks that people would use as pendants and key chains. "No one knows that the wooden souvenir key chains that you see in Central Market were my invention!" he says in an interview at Yayasan Seni Berdaftar in Kuala Lumpur recently. "I sold so many of those that my father started helping me chop the trees in my backyard for material."

In fact, his little artistic endeavour was so successful his father soon gave up his soy sauce business to help his son full time, as the young man began hawking his wares around the state, in Ipoh, Taiping and Kuala Kangsar.

A year later, barely 20, he decided to go to the big city, KL, to find his place as an artist. He took the train and arrived with nothing but a bagful of art and the address of one of his father's former employees with whom he would stay.

"You could call it fate, because when I got off the train, I ran into a customs officer called Jimmy Orlando. He asked me what I was doing in KL, and I told him I was an artist and I needed to go to this address in Kampung Baru. Turns out Jimmy was an artist too!

"After he took me to my host's house, he introduced me to an area called Benting, across the riverbank from where the Kuala Lumpur Mosque is, which had a night bazaar and all kinds of street vendors selling their things," recalls Raja Azhar.

And so the young artist started setting up a stall there every night, painting and selling what he painted straight away. He made around RM50 every night. Sometimes the municipal council officers would raid the area, looking for vendors without permits, and Raja Azhar would fold up his wares when the warning sounded and wait for the raid to be over.

During the day, he would take his work around to stores on Chow Kit Road. He found a place along Jalan Ampang, where Standard Chartered Bank used to be located, and hung up his paintings on the big trees there to sell.

"I knew a lot of bank directors and business owners would walk past that road to go to the bank, so it was a good place to let my paintings be seen. All I knew was to survive; to produce paintings to sell. I painted every day to keep up with the demand!" he says.

He calls that period the best time of his life. With his earnings, he could afford a place of his own. Along the way, he managed to secure a municipal stall outside the famed Coliseum, and there he caught the tourists and the late night movie-going crowd. Raja Azhar never tired of the artist's life, hard though it was. In 1976, he decided to do his first show. He approached Merlin Hotel, now Concorde Hotel, and they sponsored his first show. Amazingly for such a young artist, he had a collector from Paris buying up half of his paintings and he was invited to exhibit in Paris.

Ever on a quest to improve himself, the young artist enrolled in a personal development course by Datuk Lawrence Chan. Following that, he sold over 50 pieces of his work to Holiday Inn, and secured a commission from the Goodyear Tyre Co. It was full steam ahead from then on. He went to Melbourne, Australia, with his friend, fellow artist Khalil Ibrahim, who was doing a show there. He spent nine months there, the maximum he was allowed to on a visitor's visa. During that time, he painted non-stop to fulfil orders. He realised he had a market in Melbourne, and the only way he could stay there longer than his visa allowed was if he enrolled to study.

Demonstrating the confident can-do attitude that had taken him so far in life already, he interviewed at the Victorian College of the Arts, the most prestigious art college in the country then – and got in. With a three-year fine arts degree under his belt by 1979, the self-taught artist vastly increased his knowledge about his craft.

During this time, he won the St Kilda Art Prize and the Lord Mayor of Melbourne Artist of the Year and The Victorian Artists's Society Artist of the Year titles. Unsurprisingly, Raja Azhar stayed on in Australia for 14 years, and in the last seven years, owned a successful art gallery called the Raja Idris Gallery.

In 1992, he decided to return to Malaysia, and opened his first gallery here called Art Case Gallery at The Crown Princess Hotel in KL. The gallery has since moved to the Great Eastern Mall. "The 20th anniversary of my gallery is coming up," he says with pride.

With such success behind him, you would think that, like many senior artists, he would be more of a manager rather than a hands-on artist nowadays. But Raja Azhar still paints every day. His style is "impressionism with movement", he says, but he has also ventured into sculpture and glasswork. He is also an avid conservator and restorer of art, something he practised while he was in Australia.

"When I finished my fine arts degree, I initially wanted to pursue postgraduate studies," says Raja Azhar. "But I realised an artist's best credentials hang on his walls. You can have the best qualifications in the world, but your work is your best calling card. So I continue to produce art. It's my passion and my life."

He still finds time to curate most of the shows at Art Case as well as exhibitions at other galleries. The latest one is the Rupa Dan Suara (Look And Voice) exhibition that begins today at Yayasan Seni Berdaftar. "It is called thus because 'Rupa' represents the art that you see, and 'Suara' represents the poetry reading that accompanies the artwork," he says.

Along with Raja Azhar himself, who is showing four pieces of sculpture and glasswork, the other artists involved in the show are Anne Samat, Bhanu Achan, Izwan Hilmi, Ng Foo Cheong, Norizan Muslim, Raja Shahriman, Ramli Rahmat, Rosli Zakaria, and Zulkafal Ali. The poet readers are Abdul Ghafar Ibrahim, Ibrahim Ghaffar, Lim Swee Tin, Raja Rajeswari, Sanisudin, Suton Umar R.S., Ramli Rahmat, Rosli Zakaria, and Zulkafal Ali.

The Rupa Dan Suara exhibition continues until Dec 18 at Yayasan Seni Berdaftar, No.333, Persiaran Ritchie, Off Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. The foundation is open Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 9pm; Saturdays, 9am to 1pm; it is closed on Sundays.

Art Case Gallery is at Lot 7, Level 4, Great Eastern Mall, No. 303, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. For more information, e-mail info@artcase.com.my or % 019-311 8804.

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‘Afloat’ again

Posted: 04 Dec 2011 02:16 AM PST

Artifacts, replicas and reconstructions are on show at a display that leads up to the 100th anniversary of the Titanic tragedy.

YOU jump, I jump." This memorable quote from the 1997 hit movie, Titanic, tends to overshadow the real tragedy of the sinking of the RMS Titanic nearly a hundred years ago.

It's not surprising that romantic versions of events and personalities often hold sway. But Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, is a solemn presentation of historical truths with its display of 275 selected items recovered from the shipwreck.

Replica reconstructions, like those of the grand staircase, the first and third class cabins, the verandah café and the boiler room, do create an ambient mood that takes viewers back in time, although it's nothing as spectacular or dramatic as the re-creation of the sinking in the James Cameron movie.

The actual artifacts, however, are more mundane. Objects like a giant wrench, suitcases, mailbags, cupboards, trinkets, bric a brac, personal effects, vials of perfume samples, a porcelain set etched with the logo of the White Star Line, sheet music, menus, postage stamps and currency notes are on display, as are a gimbal (pendulum) lamp, a gold pocket watch and a diamond ring.

These were among the more than 5,500 items owned by RMS Titanic Inc, which recovered them from the seabed some 3,800m below the North Atlantic ocean's surface after the wreck was discovered 741km south-east of Newfoundland on Sept 1, 1985.

The Titanic, under the helm of Captain Edward J. Smith, had set sail from Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912. It stopped to pick up more passengers in Cherbourg (France) and Queenstown (now known as Cobh, Ireland) before barrelling towards New York with 2,224 people on board.

Some 1,513 lives were lost when the ship struck an iceberg four days later. It sank at 2.20am on April 15, two hours and 40 minutes after the crash. Some 711 people survived, excluding one who died on the rescue boat Carpathia. (Source: British Parliament report, 1912.)

Every visitor to the Titanic exhibition is given a boarding pass picked randomly from the original passenger manifest. Mine had the name Major Archibald Willingham Butt, a US presidential military aide and former journalist. He was among the 125 first-class passengers who perished in the tragedy.

The passenger list included millionaire John Jacob Astor IV and his wife; industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim and his mistress; owner of the Macy chain of department stores Isidor Straus and wife Ida; and millionairess Margaret "Molly" Brown, better known as the "Unsinkable Molly Brown".

Millvina Dean was two months old at the time of the tragedy. She died on May 31, 2009, at 97, the last of the Titanic's survivors.

In times of crises, heroes are born. One such was Guggenheim, 46, who boarded the ship at Cherbourg (with his mistress, the singer Leontine Aubart). He was said to have helped many into the lifeboats and reportedly said: "We are dressed in our best and prepared to go down like gentlemen."

Another hero, Ida Straus, preferred to stick to her husband Isidor, saying: "As we have lived, so we will die: together" – certainly more moving than the Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet celluloid love story.

One passenger, Marion Meanwell, was to have travelled on the Majestic, Titanic's sister ship, but was transferred to the Titanic instead because of a coal strike. She did not survive. Another, Howard Irwin, was saved because he had been kidnapped and detained on land, although his bags were on board. Banker J.P. Morgan cancelled his trip at the last minute.

The privileges and luxurious setting of the first class cabin contrasted sharply with those in the third class cabins, which had four spartan bunk beds within a cramped space.

First-class passengers paid US$2,500 (about US$57,200 or RM177,320 today) while third-class "steerage" passengers paid US$40 (about US$900 or RM2,790 today). There were two suites on the B Deck which cost US$4,500 (about US$103,000 or RM333,300 today) each!

The social chasm was great. First class came with amenities such as a Turkish bath, hot and cold water, a gymnasium with a trunk-rotating machine called an electric camel and, yes, even a squash court.

The settings were opulence personified – carved mahogany panelling or French walnut wood; mother-of-pearl inlay; stained glass windows; a 2m-high bronze, arched window, and a chandelier in the rotunda of the 8m-high grand staircase with a bronze cherub.

Third-class passengers had no access to the upper decks and had to put up with the constant trundling noises from the boiler room.

But the best simulation is perhaps the darkened Discovery Gallery, as the transparent floorboards reveal crockery embedded in the "seabed" while a giant screen plays out multiple scenes, some somewhat eerie, of the wreck.

Altogether nine galleries have been created in the 2,500sq m lower level of the museum and they include a 1912 "timeline" capsule which shows life at that time.

The Titanic carried 16 lifeboats, plus four collapsible canvas lifeboats, which were enough for only 1,178 people. More men died because of the "women and children first" policy; 20% of the men on board survived compared to nearly 75% of the women.

All the children in the first and second classes survived; it was probably because they were fewer in numbers. Only 34.18%, or 27 out of 79, of the children in the third-class made it to Pier 54 in New York. Two lucky dogs also survived.

While the bodies of the first-class casualties were recovered, presumably to facilitate inheritance disputes, those from the third class were left buried at sea.

The exhibition also plays silent tribute to the "Black Gang", the boiler-room boys charged with shovelling coal to keep the Titanic going and on course. The ship, which used an average of 850 tonnes of coal a day, was loaded with 5,892 tonnes of coal, or 89% of capacity, which was deemed enough for the voyage.

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is on at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, until April 29, 2012, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ocean liner on April 15, 1912.

A voyage tracing the Titanic's route, culminating in a stopover at the site of the disaster, will also mark the centenary, as well as an April 6 re-release of James Cameron's box-office epic, Titanic, this time in 3D.

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

Keeping an eye on eyes

Posted: 03 Dec 2011 04:26 PM PST

The Health Ministry has introduced new clinical guidelines for the monitoring of diabetic retinopathy.

DOES it surprise you to know that the most common cause of visual loss, including blindness, among working adults in Malaysia is actually preventable?

And as it is a condition that arises as a consequence of having another disease, it is actually preventable on two levels.

The medical condition we are talking about is diabetic retinopathy, which is one of the leading complications from having diabetes mellitus, or more commonly known as just diabetes. As a non-communicable disease, caused by mainly lifestyle factors, diabetes is preventable by living a healthy lifestyle.

However, as it stands at the moment, the Third National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2006 estimated that 14.9% of Malaysians aged 30 and above have diabetes. This means that in a group of around seven adults, one is likely to be diabetic.

And this number is only expected to increase, with the International Diabetes Federation predicting that the number of diabetes patients in Southeast Asia will double by 2025.

If that was not bad enough, the 2007 Diabetic Eye Registry Malaysia reported that over one third of diabetic patients (36.8%) have diabetic retinopathy. Of these, 15.6% had sight-threatening retinopathy, with 9% practically blind already.

Catch it early

Now, there are two important things to bear in mind concerning diabetic retinopathy.

Firstly, it is an almost inevitable consequence of having diabetes. The longer you are diabetic, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around half of diabetic patients will have some sort of diabetic retinopathy after 10 years, while almost all patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus and over 60% of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (the more common variety) will have some degree of retinopathy after 20 years of having diabetes.

Secondly, diabetic retinopathy can be reversed in the early stages of the condition.

However, there are no symptoms during that early stage, and by the time the patient starts having symptoms of the condition — like floaters (dark spots that float across your field of vision), blurred vision, missing areas of vision, and trouble seeing at night — it is already too late to reverse the damage.

That is why it is essential that diabetic patients go for regular eye check-ups once they have been diagnosed, so that any problem with the eyes can be caught at the stage when it is still reversible.

According to Health director-general Datuk Dr Hasan Abdul Rahman, "Late presentation with irreversible blindness continues to be a major challenge in the management of diabetic retinopathy in Malaysia."

Looking at the numbers from the 2007 Diabetic Eye Registry, around 70.9% of diabetic patients have never gone for an eye examination before.

And this is despite the recommendation that all type 2 diabetes patients (comprising 92% of the entries in the registry) should get their eyes examined as soon as they are diagnosed.

Bigger and better

Dr Hasan made the statement in conjunction with the launch of the Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPG) for the Screening of Diabetic Retinopathy at Hospital Selayang recently.

As can be inferred from its name, the CPG is the latest and most updated set of guidelines for healthcare professionals on the best screening procedure for diabetic retinopathy.

As diabetic patients are followed up by general practitioners and non-eye specialists, it is crucial that these healthcare professionals are aware of the proper method to monitor for diabetic retinopathy.

According to Hospital Selayang consultant ophthalmologist, and head of the committee that put together the CPG, Dr Nor Fariza Ngah, this edition of the CPG contains far more information than its predecessor.

"The 1996 CPG was a simple one. Now, we have a new classification, new scheduling for follow-ups, and it is very evidence-based, from both local and international resources," she said.

The contents of this CPG include the risk factors for diabetic retinopathy; a standardised grading for the severity of the disease; recommendations on screening methods, including sample fundus images; the recommended examination and follow-up schedules, including when to refer to an ophthalmologist; and treatment options.

Also included is a list of the 107 government clinics that have a fundus camera — the recommended screening tool for diabetic retinopathy.

A slim booklet of 35 pages, the CPG is aimed at all frontline healthcare professionals, including nurses, assistant medical officers, optometrists, general practitioners and family medicine specialists.

Dr Hasan said during his speech: "I ask two things: number one, to make sure these guidelines are internalised and institutionalised by all our personnel."

He added that he expects the CPG to be treated as a "bible" in the monitoring of diabetic patients for retinopathy.

"Number two, another thing towards institutionalisation is that we must incorporate this CPG into all our teaching hospitals; put it into the curriculum," he said, adding that he is taking the implementation of the guidelines very seriously.

"There is no point having a guideline if it is not practised," he said.

The CPG is also meant for private practitioners.

Dr Hasan said that doctors in the private sector can get it for free from the ministry's Health Technology Assessment Section in Putrajaya, or download it from the ministry's website (http://www.moh.gov.my/v/op).

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It begins with you

Posted: 03 Dec 2011 04:25 PM PST

While HIV treatment has become more accessible to patients, the number of HIV-positive people continues to increase, signaling a dire need for education, especially for healthcare professionals, in order for us to have the right perspective and fully understand the social and healthcare implications for people living with HIV (PLHIV).

HIV and AIDS awareness programme, It Begins With You, recently made further inroads by reaching out to the people of Kota Bharu in conjunction with World AIDS Day 2011.

The Kota Bharu initiative, which was spearheaded by healthcare company MSD, and the Malaysian Society for HIV Medicine (MaSHM), was supported by the Kelantan Health Department, Prihatin, SAHABAT, Kolej Kejururawatan, and the medical, nursing and pharmacy students from Hospital Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Commenting on this latest initiative, Ewe Kheng Huat, managing director of MSD, said, "It is timely that It Begins with You spreads its wings beyond the Klang Valley as we are acutely aware of the need for education and awareness of HIV and AIDS in other regions.

"As much as we have witnessed positive responses in the Klang Valley over these last six years, we look forward to seeing how the Kota Bharu initiative will also contribute to lives being changed, perspectives challenged, and, more importantly, to sow the seeds of commitment among future doctors and healthcare professionals in Kota Bharu.

"We are indeed pleased to be able to launch It Begins with You in Kota Bharu and reach out to the community there. It has been great to see the enthusiasm of our partners – their dedication and excitement are certainly infectious and encouraging. They have rallied together to set out a good HIV and AIDS outreach programme, and we applaud each of them," Ewe added.

Dr Mahiran Mustafa, President of MaSHM and advisor to Prihatin, said: "From 1986 up to 2010, 91,362 HIV-positive cases have been reported, with 12,943 of these lives lost. While HIV treatment has become more accessible to patients, the number of HIV-positive people continues to increase, signaling a dire need for education, especially for healthcare professionals, in order for us to have the right perspective and fully understand the social and healthcare implications for people living with HIV (PLHIV). This is so that we can accord them the respect and care they need.

"One of the key reasons why we are raising awareness on HIV and AIDS in Kelantan is because the state records one of the highest incidences of new infections for HIV. According to figures from the Health Ministry, in Kelantan alone, there were 9,891 HIV-positive patients at the end of December 20092. The increasing number of reported new HIV infections needs to be addressed," said Dr Mahiran.

The Kota Bharu initiative comprised programmes such as educational visits to a shelter home and support centre by the medical, nursing and pharmacy students, spearheaded by Prihatin and SAHABAT, as well as a public event at Kota Bharu Mall to drive the awareness on HIV and AIDS.

The event was launched by Dr Wan Mansor bin Hamzah, the deputy director of the Kelantan State Health Department.

Highlights of the It Begins With You event in Kota Bharu Mall included HIV quizzes for the public to enhance their understanding on HIV and AIDS, a board for public pledges in support of the cause, and a resident clown to entertain the crowd.

Other interesting activities included a colouring competition for children, as well as dikir barat and wayang kulit performances with HIV themes.

It Begins With You was first initiated in 2005 to address the low ratio of doctor to HIV-patient, by raising awareness among medical students of the dire need for more HIV and AIDS treaters. It also seeks to address the stigma associated with the interaction and treatment of people living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV).

The programme continually invites resources and expertise of partner organisations to address these issues and positively impact the lives of PLHIVs. Previous advocacy initiatives included participation of medical students from various universities, namely International Medical University, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Universiti Malaya and Universiti Putra Malaysia.

To continue support towards these universities, HIV initiatives such as a HIV talk and a HIV awareness run were held at the International Medical University in conjunction with their HIV Week in October and November this year.

Note: About Malaysian Society of HIV Medicine

MaSHM was founded in 1998 by group of doctors dealing with HIV and AIDS. The primary aim is to provide and participate in education of HIV and AIDS and raise awareness among the medical and allied professions, patients, schools and the public. It is currently actively involved in conducting training courses and workshops to equip current and future doctors and paramedics with knowledge and skills to diagnose, counsel and treat PLWHAs.

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Obesity is preventable

Posted: 03 Dec 2011 04:21 PM PST

All stakeholders must collaborate in the prevention of obesity.

THE World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted that obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, with at least 2.6 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

Once considered a problem only in high-income countries, the incidence of overweight and obesity are now dramatically on the rise in low- and middle-income countries. It is an ever increasing problem, and worldwide, obesity has more than doubled since 1980.

In 2008, it was estimated that 1.5 billion adults were overweight. Of these, over 200 million men and nearly 300 million women were obese.

Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. All efforts must therefore be made to reduce the extent of the problem and prevent the disease.

The WHO has emphasised that governments, international partners, civil society, non-governmental organisations and the private sector all have vital roles to play in contributing to obesity prevention.

In Malaysia, available data have clearly indicated that the obesity problem has reached alarming proportions. Almost half of all adult Malaysians are overweight or obese; almost a third of primary schoolchildren are overweight or obese; and almost 15% of preschool children are overweight. We do not have an option; we must urgently implement measures to control and arrest the increase in obesity in the country. All stakeholders must make greater efforts to collaborate in these intervention measures.

I would like to share with readers two recent activities related to the problem of obesity that I participated in. Both events highlighted the importance, and urgency, of the prevention of obesity.

Obesity forum to raise awareness

In early November, Nestle Malaysia organised a forum to raise awareness on the increase in prevalence of obesity, as well as to discuss ways to tackle the issue. It was an effort to improve public knowledge about nutrition and to promote wellness among Malaysians.

Several key stakeholders participated in the forum, including representatives from the Health Ministry, the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM), the Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity (MASO), the Malaysian Dietitians' Association (MDA), and the media.

Two presentations were made in the forum, followed by a panel discussion on topics related to the tackling of obesity in the country.

The first presentation summarised findings of a study of the nutritional status and dietary habits of primary schoolchildren. It was a large study, carried out by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 2007/2008, involving more than 11,000 children. The prevalence of overweight and obesity was found to be 26%. There was also a significant increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity compared to a similar survey in conducted in 2001/2002.

The second presentation summarised findings from a study by the Universiti Pertanian Malaysia of the risk of obesity and eating disorders among Malaysian adolescents. It was a much smaller study, and it revealed that the prevalence of overweight and obesity was also found to be close to 26%.

The panel discussion touched on a number of topics related to obesity reduction. These included discussions on the need to further empower people on knowledge about healthy eating and active living; obstacles to achieving a healthier diet and ways to overcome the challenges; making healthier options of foods and meals available, including foods sold in school canteens; and the role of the private sector, non-governmental organisations and professional bodies.

There were some discussions on the current intervention efforts of various stakeholders.

NSM, in collaboration with Nestle, has initiated a dedicated programme targeted towards primary schoolchildren, named its Healthy Kids Programme (www.healthykids.org.my). At the conclusion of the three-year programme, it is envisaged that an educational module to impart simple and practical nutrition messages can be made available to the Education Ministry for implementation to all primary schools.

The Nutrition Month Malaysia initiatives, which commenced in 2002, will again be launched in April 2012 to bring about greater awareness of healthy eating and active living to combat non-communicable diseases, including obesity (www.nutriweb.org.my). It is hoped that all stakeholders will lend support for this nationwide effort.

There are available strategies and action plans such as those outlined in the National Plan of Action for Nutrition (NPAN). Activities specifically directed towards tackling overweight and obesity include the need to increase awareness on obesity among all sectors of the community. The need to establish a childhood obesity prevention programme has also been identified in the NPAN.

A significant recent development is the organisation of a workshop for the prevention of overweight and obesity in Sarawak (November 14-16). It was organised by the Sarawak Health Foundation, with the technical assistance of NSM and MASO.

The expected output from the workshop was a set of programmes and activities that are practical and can be implemented in Sarawak for the prevention of overweight and obesity. It is envisaged that the action plans will be implemented, first on a pilot scale in selected sites, and then refined for implementation in other regions of the state.

The participants of the workshop were from organisations and individuals who are anticipated to participate in implementing the identified intervention programmes and activities.

These included principals and senior teachers from various kindergartens and schools in Kuching; nutritionists, dietitians, health education officers, doctors, nurses, non-governmental organisations, and other relevant stakeholders that are involved in promoting healthy eating and active living.

Workshop participants were divided into four groups according to different settings: kindergartens and primary schools; secondary schools; community; and workplace (government and private sector).

Each group was given the task to brain storm and recommend appropriate action plans for the prevention of obesity in Sarawak. Programmes and activities that are appropriate for the identified settings, ie school, workplace, and community settings were recommended.

It was emphasised to the participants that the key factors to obesity are eating habits and sedentary lifestyle. The proposed activities should be addressing how to increase awareness on these key factors, and to take this knowledge a step further to making behaviour changes so that the public actually practises healthy eating and active living.

Recognising that behaviour changes are difficult, approaches to promotion strategies must be innovative so as to motivate the public to make the required changes. Participants were also reminded to bear in mind that changes must be sustainable. Participants must recognise what the challenges or obstacles are to making these changes, and how to overcome such obstacles.

Workshop recommendations

It was heartening to note that there were active discussions in all the four groups. Numerous recommendations were put forth. It was unanimously agreed that priority should be given towards recommendations targeted at children.

The following paragraphs highlight some of the main recommendations made at the workshop.

There was a clear call by workshop participants to assign nutritionists to preschools and schools. Participants were informed that there are currently 18 nutritionists in Sarawak. This was felt to be grossly inadequate. One nutritionist could be assigned to be in charge of a few schools.

I fully support this recommendation. It is timely that appropriately qualified professionals, i.e. nutritionists, should be assigned to handle all the recommended food and nutrition-related activities in preschools and schools as outlined below.

Workshop participants recommended the immediate implementation of growth monitoring of children in all schools. Standardised weighing scales should be provided to all preschools and schools and teachers trained in the measurement and recording of body-mass index. Nutritionists are expected to work discreetly with parents in arranging for counselling sessions for overweight and obese children.

In the third recommendation, participants recommended the intensification of nutrition education activities in all preschools and schools.

Age-appropriate modules on healthy eating are recommended to be developed for use in schools. Regular awareness sessions aimed at parents and teachers on healthy eating and active living should also be carried out.

The nutritionist assigned to the schools should also provide appropriate guidance and periodic review of foods sold in school canteens.

In parallel with nutrition promotion, participants also called for the intensification of physical activity in all schools. It was recommended that physical education teachers should be assigned to every school, to organise activities related to physical activities, e.g. fitness activities, and sports and games. He is expected to collaborate with nutritionists to conduct active lifestyle activities in the school, and together ensure that the effective conduct of Pendidikan Jasmani dan Kesihatan (PJK) classes.

An interesting, and I thought rather apt recommendation, was the call for the implementation of a 1Sarawak Breakfast Club. In this proposal, preschools are to be provided nutritious breakfast to children. In conjunction with this, brief nutrition promotion activities as well as physical activity sessions could be carried out.

Aside from schools, workshop participants also made recommendations appropriate for the community as a whole. Recommendations were made to conduct regular healthy lifestyle sessions in the community, especially for mothers- and fathers-to-be so that healthy eating can commence in a newly formed family.

Activities were also identified to promote increased awareness of healthy eating when eating out. A systematic set of recommendations was also made to promote healthy eating and active living in the work place.

I certainly hope that Sarawak will be able to implement some of these recommendations soon.

An urgent call for action

Overweight and obesity are likely to become even greater problems in the country. There is an urgent need to take immediate action to tackle the problem.

We need comprehensive obesity prevention programmes, not piece-meal activities. We need to elaborate on the programmes identified in the NPAN; there must be serious efforts to implement these identified activities.

We need to start young, work with kindergartens, reaching out to the kindy operators, teachers, and children. We also need to work on primary schoolchildren, their parents, and the teachers, another "captured" population that is amenable to interventions.

The National Strategic Plan for non-communicable diseases has emphasised promoting partnerships with NGOs, professional bodies, food industry, and all stakeholders to realise the objectives.

The food industry too has a role to play and can make their contributions. We need to have trust so that all stakeholders can work together in these efforts.

We need to act now.

Dr Tee E Siong pens his thoughts as a nutritionist with over 30 years of experience in the research and public health arena. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my.

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