Ahad, 11 Disember 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Pakistani government denies talks with Taliban

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 08:42 PM PST

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's interior minister and prime minister have both denied the government is holding peace talks with its homegrown Taliban, according to media, saying it would do so only if the militants first disarmed and surrendered.

The deputy commander of the Pakistan Taliban, who have been waging a four-year war against the government in Islamabad, said Saturday that the two sides were holding talks, a move that could further fray the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

But both Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik denied the reports.

"Categorically, I'm telling on behalf of the government, no dialogue," Malik told reporters in Islamabad.

Gilani left the door open to negotiations. "Whosoever surrenders and denounces violence, they are acceptable to us," Gilani said in an interview with the BBC.

At the end of September, Pakistan's government pledged to "give peace a chance" and talk with its homegrown militants.

Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, the deputy commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, told Reuters Saturday that talks for an end to the insurgency were under way.

(Writing by Chris Allbritton; Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in PESHAWAR and Qasim Nauman in ISLAMABAD; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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China workshops struggle, but tougher times ahead

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 08:29 PM PST

BEIJING (Reuters) - A broad and bruising downturn is sweeping through China's giant manufacturing sector, ensnaring thousands of factories already fighting for survival in the face of plunging profit margins.

An employee works at the Maanshan steel and iron factory in Hefei, Anhui province in this September 25, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

While the misery has not yet reached levels seen in 2008 when global financial turmoil caused trade to seize up, Chinese exporters across industries are battling hard times as Europe's crisis and tight credit conditions at home pummel sales.

The tough times are clear from China's trade data released this weekend, which showed exports growth in November at its most sluggish in two years. Sales to Europe, China's biggest market, rose in single digits for the third straight month, a sharp slowdown considering growth averaged more than 18 percent in the first eight months of 2011.

"I expect next year to be even worse," said Danny Lau, chairman of Hong Kong's Small and Medium Enterprises Association, whose members include China factory owners. He said factories already report a 15 percent annual drop in orders.

"It's like the whole of Europe has no water, no money. If this continues, it will be extremely troublesome for us."

Most think the worst can be avoided if Europe survives its troubles, but the stakes are nonetheless high: millions of factory jobs are on the line and retrenchment would bring unwanted social instability to China ahead of a once-a-decade transition of China's top leadership due late next year.

Already, a wave of industrial disputes has hit factories around the country, from the manufacturing heartland Pearl River Delta in southern Guangdong province to the Yangtze river Delta near the country's financial capital Shanghai in the east.

Beijing is not taking any chances. It signalled a shift in monetary policy in November by cutting for the first time in three years the amount of cash banks have to keep in reserve to soothe a local credit crunch mostly punishing smaller firms.

It is not clear if the policy turnaround can stem factory closures in China, the world's top exporter in 2010, but Lau is not hopeful. Twelve other company officials Reuters spoke to from sectors ranging from steel to textile were also not optimistic.

China may use a downswing to push manufacturers up the value chain by letting labour-intensive factories shut to make way for more capital-intensive ones, Lau said.

"Officials tell you they won't sacrifice us, but in reality they are sacrificing us," he said. "There's nothing we can do."


On the ground, few businesses appear immune to a swooning economy -- even those that rely on domestic demand -- thanks to massive increases in the price of raw materials and the inability of firms to pass them onto price-savvy consumers.

Price increases among China's raw materials suppliers have averaged 9.7 percent over the last nine months. Consumer goods makers have had to absorb more than half of that, managing an average price increase of just 4.4 percent in the same period.

As was the case in 2008, manufacturers high up the supply chain such as raw material producers, were first to feel the headwinds of cooling demand.

"Our orders for December will fall 10 to 15 percent from November as customers' demand has shrunk," said an official at China's Maanshan Iron & Steel, one of China's largest state-owned steelmakers.

"We are trying to accept small bookings, such as even a 50-tonne deal in an effort to retain the market, but this also leads to higher cost."

In better times, large Chinese steel mills typically take bookings of at least a few thousand tonnes.

The gloom percolates down the supply chain. Taiyuan Heavy Co Ltd, which sells machines to Chinese factories including steel makers, said demand is flat because its customers are struggling.

With businesses suffering, workers are shopping less, and firms from textile mills to car makers feel the squeeze.

Alibaba.com, China's biggest e-commerce firm that sells everything from doors to sweets, had its worst quarter in almost two years from July to September. It expects Chinese consumption to take "considerable time" to rebound.

Textile makers are also worried.

"We are not optimistic about next year," said Chen Shiwei at Jiangsu Miaotong Textile Co. Ltd, a textile mill in China's eastern province of Jiangsu. "Production will definitely slow."

Chinese cotton prices already betray the strain, down 40 percent from February's record peaks.


To be sure, the downtrend is not hitting all firms evenly.

Those favoured by Beijing in subsidised, "strategic" sectors such as green technology have a buffer from economic anxieties, said Keith Olson, director at Environmental Investment Services Asia Ltd, a regional fund focused on environment and clean energy.

Luxury consumption is another bright spot.

Diamond seller Pluczenik Group reckons that China's growing rich make diamonds "a necessity, not a luxury purchase."

"Diamonds aren't like televisions or refrigerators. The demand is fuelled mainly from weddings," said Pluczenik's Chief Executive Tzvi Pluczenik.

Shipping firms are wincing from slowing trade. Maersk Line, the world's top container shipping firm, expects to be in the red this year.

In some ways, the latest wobble in China's economy resembles that in 2008-09, said Rob Subbaraman, chief Asia economist at Nomura in Hong Kong. First exports slow, then firms cut investment, and finally consumers trim spending.

But there are also worrisome differences: major economies have little room to cut interest rates; weak global demand is aggravated by China's tight credit conditions; and Beijing is less prone to big-bang stimulus compared to three years ago.

This means China cannot count on a repeat of 2009 when exports surged on global monetary and fiscal stimulus and spurred an economic recovery, Subbaraman said. Instead, Chinese consumers need to pull their weight and bolster China's economy.

Yet with shoppers elsewhere staying at home, it would be hard to coax typically thrifty Chinese to spend their way into growth. And not all factories can afford the time.

"A lot of factories have gone bankrupt," said Liu Shengqiang, manager of Chiyuan Clothing Factory in Guangzhou.

"My customers in Denmark say one-third of the clothing stores there are closing, so they're not buying. It's the same in the Netherlands and Spain and Italy, and the credit situation is even worse."

(Additional reporting by Terril Yue Jones and Fang Yan in BEIJING,; Melanie Lee, Ruby Lian in SHANGHAI, James Pomfret, Donny Kwok, Alison Leung, Farah Master, Lee Chyen Yee and Leonora Walet in HONG KONG; Editing by Brian Rhoads, Don Durfee and Kim Coghill)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Ex-Panama strongman Noriega returns home to prison

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 08:14 PM PST

GAMBOA, Panama (Reuters) - Manuel Noriega, Panama's drug-running military dictator of the 1980s, was extradited back to the country on Sunday and taken straight to prison to serve a 20-year sentence for the murders of opponents during his rule.

Panama's former dictator Manuel Noriega is seen next to police officers upon his arrival at Renacer prison, outside Panama City December 11, 2011. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Noriega, now 77, was toppled in a U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 and has spent the last two decades behind bars, first in Florida and then in France after being convicted for drug trafficking and money laundering.

Accompanied by Panama's attorney general and a doctor, he was extradited from France to Panama on a commercial flight and flown in a helicopter to the outskirts of a jungle-surrounded penitentiary beside the Panama Canal.

The former strongman arrived at the prison in a police convoy and was whisked into the building in a wheelchair. About half an hour earlier, another convoy had arrived with a wheelchair-bound passenger in an apparent decoy manoeuvre.

"We had to be sure of his security," Interior Minister Roxana Mendez told reporters outside the prison. The doctor who accompanied Noriega on the plane said he was suffering from hypertension and could not walk unassisted.

Noriega did not speak to waiting media, but Reuters photographs showed him at the prison reception area, in a wheelchair and wearing a red shirt.

A physically diminished shadow of the man once known for waving a machete while delivering fiery speeches, Noriega's return is unlikely to have a major political impact on a country that has enjoyed an economic boom in recent years.

Widely reviled when he was Panama's de facto leader from 1983 until 1989, his small cadre of remaining supporters has kept a low profile and even bitter opponents dismiss Noriega as part of a distant, shadowy past.

Much of the focus on Noriega will be on whether he sheds any light on the dictatorship's mysteries, including some 100 unsolved killings or disappearances in the period of army rule from 1968 to 1989.

Noriega was convicted in absentia in three homicide cases involving 11 murders, including the 1985 beheading of Hugo Spadafora, a physician who threatened to reveal Noriega's drug ties, and the 1989 execution-style slaying of nine officers who staged a failed coup.

Sentenced to 20 years in each case, he will serve the terms concurrently. Official photographs of the facility prepared for him at the El Renacer prison showed a spartan, beige-painted cell with a bathroom, table and small bed.

Noriega will also face charges over the 1970 murder of Heliodoro Portugal, an opponent of Panama's military leaders.

"We hope he talks and says where the rest of the disappeared are, what happened to those who were killed," said Portugal's daughter, Patria Portugal.


Noriega qualifies for house arrest due to his age but the decision rests with the government. His lawyer, Julio Berrios, said house arrest would also imply an acceptance of his sentence and mean Noriega could not launch a legal challenge.

Leaders of a civilian movement that protested Noriega's regime in the late 1980s urged the government to keep him in prison, equating house arrest with virtual freedom.

"People who have ... been accused and sentenced for killing people have to serve their sentences, independently of their age," said Aurelio Barria, a businessman who spent the last years of Noriega's rule in exile in fear for his life.

Originally a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) protege, Noriega fell out with Washington over his ties to Colombian drug traffickers and his rigging of elections.

The U.S. invasion in December 1989 came soon after a botched coup that the United States could have used to capture

Noriega, who was briefly held by rebel officers.

His return stirs bitter memories for many Panamanians who suffered under his regime or lost family in the invasion.

"All of Panama was happy when he left," said Osvaldo Quintero, 37, who lives by Noriega's dilapidated mansion in the upscale San Francisco neighborhood and says neighbors oppose his return to the house.

Once the site of parties for high-ranking members of Panama's now-disbanded armed forces, the mansion is crumbling, with neighbors complaining of squatters, rats and mosquitoes.

"For those who have lived here for a long time (Noriega) brings bad memories. It was a political era of this country that we want to forget," said Quintero.

But some miss the security that came with Noriega's iron hand, for example in the El Chorrillo district which was the base for Noriega's central command and has since disintegrated into a gunfire-punctuated gangland chaos.

"Noriega had absolute control of Panama," said Cesar Duran, outside his parked taxi that sports a Noriega sticker on the rear beside the Spanish word for freedom. "We knew he was a dictator ... but there was much more security than now."

(Additional reporting by Lucien Libert and John Irish in Paris and Veronica Gomez in Mexico City; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Market gains at open, Proton shares rise

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 06:28 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: The local bourse's benchmark FBM KLCI opened Monday higher on a technical rebound after key US equity indices surged on a possible push by European policymakers for greater economic integration as well as a proposal to boost the European Financial Stability Fund.

The index was up three-quarters of a percent to 1,471.13 at 9.30am while Asian markets saw gains in morning trade despite there being no definitive conclusion to the euro-zone sovereign debt crisis.

Analysts at Hwang DBS Vickers Research said in a report that the local bourse might recoup parts of its cumulative loss of 28.9 points last week and would likely climb towards the immediate resistance line of 1,475 points ahead.

They said among the counters that might ride on a market bounce-up today include Proton after the automaker's adviser Tun Mahathir Mohamad said Khazanah, which held a 42.74% stake, would be selling to DRB-Hicom at above market price with general ofer likely to be made.

Other stocks that might see interest would be MBSB after reporting that the company should be able to achieve a pretax profit of RM500 million next year instead of 2015 as previously targeted.

At Bursa Malaysia, Proton surged 14 sen to RM4.13, Genting added 18 sen to RM10.80, Petronas Gas gained 16 sen to RM14 and KLK was 50 sen higher at RM22.78.

GAB added 20 sen to RM12.20 and BAT gained 50 sen to RM47.80. Spot gold hovered between gains and losses and traded in a range of US$99 to US$100 per ounce.

Nymex crude oil traded in the range of US$1,708 to US$1,709 per barrel.

The ringgit weakened against the US dollar at 3.153 and versus the euro at 4.210.


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US threat of Airbus sanctions excessive, says France

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 06:24 PM PST

PARIS, Dec 11 (Reuters) A U.S. move to ask the World Trade Organization for permission to impose trade sanctions on Airbus, after rejecting a European Union plan to eliminate subsidies, is "excessive and premature", France's Trade Minister said on Sunday.

The U.S. said on Friday it would ask the WTO to impose sanctions that could total $7 billion to $10 billion annually, marking a low point in the world's biggest trade dispute, largely centered on European aid for the Airbus A350 aircraft.

"This reaction is excessive and premature," a statement from Trade Minister Pierre Lellouche's office said.

"In any case, the U.S. can neither determine unilaterally if the European Union has put into action the conclusions of the Airbus (compliance) panel, nor is it allowed by the WTO to impose sanctions."

An end to the battle over aircraft subsidies could be some way off and a negotiated settlement may be the most likely outcome.

The EU has its own case against U.S. support for Boeing , and resolving that will be part of the final mix.

But U.S. officials exploited a tactical advantage derived from the fact the WTO has already issued a final ruling in the U.S. case against Airbus subsidies, while the EU case against Boeing subsidies is pending.

"We are very confident with regard to the outcome of this (EU) case ... for which the conclusions should be released soon," Lellouche said.

The transatlantic aircraft dispute is the world's largest trade fight, affecting more than 100,000 jobs in an airplane market worth more than $2 trillion.

In early December, the EU presented a plan to comply with a WTO appellate body ruling against European government support for Airbus in a case brought by Washington in 2004.


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Australia's trade surplus narrows in Oct

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 06:20 PM PST

SYDNEY, Dec 12 (Reuters) Australia's trade surplus narrowed by more than expected in October as imports outpaced a flat export performance, and further slippage looms as Europe's crisis hits trade finance while China's redhot growth cools.

Monday's data showed a surplus on goods and services of A$1.6 billion ($1.63 billion) in October, down from A$2.25 billion in September and short of market expectations.

Imports rose 2.4 percent in the month while exports dipped 0.2 percent, though much of the difference was due to swings in gold shipments which are always an erratic item.

Yet, the surplus for the 10 months to October was still a healthy A$16.5 billion, a tide of cash that is underpinning investment in the booming mining industry.

"It tends to get overlooked but that is a lot of money flowing into the economy every month, pumping up incomes and giving resource companies the wealth to spend heavily," said Michael Workman, a senior economist at Commonwealth Bank.

"It's also a bulwark against Europe, which is now forecasting almost no growth at all next year," he added.

Europe's crisis was front and centre last week when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cut rates by a quarter point to 4.25 percent, the second easing in as many months.

Explaining the cut, the RBA said trade across Asia had begun to feel the drag from Europe, while firms and banks were finding it harder to get financing.

"This, together with precautionary behaviour by firms and households, means that the likelihood of a further material slowing in global growth has increased," warned RBA Governor Glenn Stevens on announcing the rate cut.

With the crisis in Europe showing little sign of abating, markets are wagering the central bank will have to ease policy further next year, perhaps considerably.

Interbank futures are fully priced for a cut to 4.0 percent at the RBA's next policy meeting in February and imply rates could be approaching 3 percent by midyear.

Overnight indexed swaps are not quite so aggressive and imply the cash rate could trough around 3.5 percent late next year, an outlook most economists tend to favour.

Even the chance of such an easing should offer support to the struggling housing market. Already, the drop of 50 basis points in mortgage rates will have cut around A$1,200 a year from payments on the average mortgage, making Australia's housing a little less expensive.

Government data out Monday showed the number of home loans approved rose 0.7 percent in October, the seventh straight month of gains, though loans for construction remain subdued.


The weakness in housing is not necessarily a bad thing overall since it is making room for resource investment to enjoy a onceinacentury boom without stoking inflation.

Deloitte Access Investment Monitor estimates a record 935 investment projects are planned or under way worth $894 billion, equal to 69 percent of Australia's A$1.3 trillion in annual economic output.

Of these, 14 are multiyear projects worth more than A$10 billion, and five over A$30 billion, making them relatively resilient to shortterm swings in global growth.

All this spending is set to greatly boost export volumes of iron ore, coal and liquefied natural gas, where the country is on course to be the secondlargest exporter of LNG by 2015.

Earlier Monday, Chinese oil major Sinopec signed a deal with Australia's Origin to supply LNG out to 2035. Japan has also stepped up its demand as a replacement for nuclear power.

The recent economic cooling in China, Australia's single largest export market, is clearly a risk to trade though the impact to date has been surprisingly limited.

Figures out over the weekend showed growth in China's exports slowed in November, yet domestic demand for commodities remained strong.

As a result, imports from Australia were up almost 37 percent on November last year giving China a trade deficit of $4.9 billion with Australia.


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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Exciting battle in store for ARRC season-ender under floodlights

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 03:29 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: The Petronas Asia Road Racing Championships (ARRC) contingent head to the Losail International Circuit in Qatar for the season-ender this weekend.

This is the second time Losail is playing host following last season where Decha Kraisat of Yamaha Thailand Racing was crowned SuperSports 600cc overall champion while Hadi Wijaya (Kawasaki NHK Rextor Manual Tech) bagged the Underbone 115cc category.

Staged under floodlights, the battle for the Underbone 115cc title will be between Indonesian riders Rafid Topan Sucipto and defending champion Hadi.

Rafid of Yamaha CKJ TJM Racing heads to Qatar leading the standings with 211 points, a 49-point advantage over Hadi, having won seven of the 10 races held in Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Japan and China.

Malaysian rider Mohd Rozaiman Mohd Said (Motul Yamaha YY Pang) sits in third place on 79 points.

Interest remains high in the SuperSports 600cc event despite Katsuaki Fujiwara (Manual Tech BEET Kawasaki Racing) having already secured the title in Zhuhai in October.

The focus will be on Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman (Boon Siew Honda Racing Malaysia) who is looking to defend his second place against compatriots Mohd Zamri Baba (Petronas Yamaha Malaysia) and Hafizh Syahrin Abdullah (Petronas Syntium Moto Yamaha Raceline). Azlan has 140 points while Zamri is third on 107 and Hafizh fourth on 94.

Two Wheels Motor Racing Sdn Bhd (TWMR) promotions director Ron Hogg said the race in Qatar would be an interesting one.

"We can expect a keener battle this year as the riders know what to expect. A bit of familiarity will go a long way for the riders," he said.

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Karamjit overhauls Rafiq to claim his 12th MRC title in style

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 04:41 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: Karamjit Singh wrapped up the fourth and final round of the Malaysian Rally Championship (MRC) in Jempol yesterday to claim his 12th MRC title.

The Flying Sikh was unbeatable as he won both legs in Jempol to overhaul Mohd Rafiq Udhaya who held a two-point lead going into the final round.

Karamjit and co-driver Vivek Ponnusamy amassed 44 points over the four rounds while Rafiq-Sean Gregory finished on 42.

In the final leg yesterday, Karamjit completed the race in 1'36:13.2 while Rafiq struggled to finish in 1'42:25. Taking third place were Mike-Maruthi Ariokiasamy in 1'46:09.5.

"It has been a long and hard season. I'm happy that I have picked up my 12th title. It wouldn't have been possible without the help of my team-mates.

"I am looking forward to title No. 13 next year. I believe I still have a few more years of rallying left in me," said the 48-year-old Karamjit.

Rafiq was philosophical in defeat.

"Karamjit is an extraordinary rally driver and to lose to him is no shame at all. Hopefully, we will have better luck next year," said Rafiq.

The organisers of the MRC announced yesterday that the event would have five rounds, instead of four, next year.


1. Karamjit Singh-Vivek Ponnusamy (Penzoil GSR) Mitsubishi Lancer 1'36:13.2, 2. Mohd Rafiq Udhaya-Sean Gregory (MRU Motorsports) Subaru Impreza 1'42:25.5, 3. Mike Ariokiasamy-Maruthi Ariokiasamy (MRU Motorsports) Proton Satria 1'46:09.5, 4. Faidzal Alang-Hazwan Fauzi (Penzoil GSR) Proton Satria 1'54:11.1, 5. Kenneth Koh-Nicole Anne Gill Proton Satria 1'54:29.1.

Championship points
1. Karamjit-Vivek 44 pts, 2. Rafiq-Gregory 42, 3. Cody Crocker-Jagdev Singh (Penzoil GSR) 18, 4. Kenneth-Nicole 14, 5. Mike-Maruthi 14.

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Project squad players free to play in MJHL next year

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 03:29 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Players from the Project 2013 team need not worry about getting a release to play in the Malaysia Junior Hockey League (MJHL) next year.

The team have agreed to release the players for all MJHL matches but they will still have to attend training in mid-week. The Project team are preparing for the Junior Asia Cup in May. This is a qualifying tournament for the 2013 Junior World Cup.

Project 2013 coach K. Dharmaraj said yesterday that only six players would be affected as the rest are all above 19 years of age. The MJHL is for Under-19 players.

The six players eligible for the MJHL are Mohamad Hazrul Faiz Ahmad Sobri, Shazrul Imran Nazli, Mohd Fitri Saari, Mohamed Firhan Ashaari, Shazril Irwan Nabil and Mohamed Hafiz Zainol, all of whom are 18.

"I don't foresee any major problem in releasing these players. Of course we will have our training in mid-week which they will have to attend. We do have a full programme to prepare for the Junior Asia Cup but there are some dates which have not been finalised yet," he said.

The MJHL is expected to start on either Jan 13 or 19. But since the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) plan to implement a zonal system, the tournament could see a delay until the format is confirmed.

The Project squad are already in training and, starting this Friday, will play five matches with the visiting South Korean Sports University team from Seoul.

"This will be good test as the Korean team have the bulk of their national squad in their side. They are supposed to arrive on Dec 15," said Dharmaraj.

In January, the Project boys will play two matches with the China senior team who will be in Kuala Lumpur for a Test series with the national side.

The juniors also hope to play three matches with teams coming for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in February.

"We have matches arranged for the next two months. This will help us reassess the players before we trim the squad for the final phase, which should start after the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup," said Dharmaraj.

The squad will likely move their training base to Malacca for the final phase. The Junior Asia Cup will be held in Malacca from May 11-22.

"We need to get used to the ground there as quickly as possible, Most of the players have played in Malacca during the Razak Cup earlier this year.

"But still we need to start working from Malacca so as to have a slight advantage over the other teams," said Dharmaraj.

The coach is hoping that a planned visit by the Australian Development team will materialise either in late February or March so that his boys will get a chance to play more quality matches.

"We plan to play those matches in Malacca if the Australians do come. If they don't, we have to look at going to Australia for matches. We do need some qualifty matches just before the tournament," he added.

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Enter his world

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 11:12 PM PST

This book sold a million copies in the first month of its release. Add your copy to that number and help make history, implores our enraptured reviewer.

Haruki Murakami
Translator: Jay Rubin
Publisher: Harvill Secker, 925 pages

BETWEEN reality and fantasy is a small window beyond which, if one dares to step through, surrealism awaits. Haruki Murakami seems determined to stay right there within that space, transforming commonplace reality into magical revelation while being careful enough to avoid going over the top with his fantastical stories. That's what makes him special.

With his ability to transform reality at its height in this book, Murakami invites readers to peek through that window into another world – a Murakami world where there exist two moons and where a woman gets pregnant without having sex. In this world, which is a take on the one George Orwell created in 1984, Little People rather than Big Brothers rule, and their omnipresence and omniscience is disquieting.

It is a world I implore you to visit.

Murakami wastes no time in presenting that window right away in the beginning of the story. The lightness of his prose and the mysterious clues he so nimbly and swiftly drops here and there lure you deep into his world. With his female protagonist, Aomame, you get out of a taxi amidst a traffic deadlock on an expressway and enter an emergency exit. After which, you and the pretty protagonist kill a man and find yourself in a different world that Aomame calls 1Q84. You, slightly confused and intrigued, have to stay on, for that exit no longer exists. She's in, and so are you.

That is quintessential Murakami, the way he so swiftly and so coolly captures you. Once he draws you in, however, Murakami is no longer hasty; he takes his time, crooning his story and taking you on one detour after another to unfold it for you. You wait as the male protagonist Tengo Kawana appears, and you like him straight away for Murakami has a knack of making his men highly likeable. They are simple, ordinary, decent-looking and adventurous while also being sensibly cautious. Unable to pull himself away from a manuscript he screens before recommending it for an entry into a writing contest, Tengo is drawn into a writing scandal that could potentially expose a formidable religious cult.

You read on with interest, for now this world has an occult element. Yet, many longueurs disrupt the flow, a result of Murakami's overarching eroticism, garrulous dialogue, and repeated repetition. Just as it is on the verge of turning you off, the story takes a swift turn and Aomame kills another man – a much larger man in size as well as importance. Once again, you have no choice but to stick around because giving up would be regrettable indeed.

Continuing on will lead you into endless twists and turns. And in attempting to reach the end, you have more than borne with Murakami; you have become his collaborator, accepting his surreal vision and agreeing to ignore logic. You longer care how Little People can crawl out of a dead goat's mouth or why Tengo and Aomame, classmates in Year Five, have to be drawn into this strange world in order to be united. Because of that strangeness, it is all right that Little People emerge almost as strangely as they vanish. This strangeness permits two moons to exist side by side, one paler than the other.

Within this strangeness lies the question: "What is reality?" Murakami answers us by stressing that things are not what they seem, and that it is our own perception that determines what reality is for us, whether or not it is reality for others. Aomame thinks she has entered 1Q84. But has she? Or has the world, in fact, remained the same and she is merely, like Murakami, standing at the window, blinded by her own fantasy? "Ho, ho," I can hear the Little People intone from somewhere, as they often do in the book. Do they really exist or are they metaphoric obstacles that Aomame must overcome in order to be united with Tengo, the only guy she has loved since she was 10 years old?

It is customary for authors to explain unanswered questions and to tie up loose ends. But Murakami is un-customary; he is formidable and is oblivious, as his status allows him to be, of convention. He is the perceiver of a dream-like story that he transmits, and we receive it. All he asks, before he begins this surreal journey, is that we believe in him, for if we don't, the journey will be phony.

A total of 925 pages, though not every page is exciting. Still, you will relish this book. It does, after all, provide a prodigious escapade however odd and elusive it may be. Hailed as one of the best books of this year, 1Q84 sold a million copies within a month of its release in October. Add your copy to that number and help make history.

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So bad, they’re good

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 11:10 PM PST

Our columnist continues her recommendations of trilogies with a series that might just get both teens and parents hot and bothered.

ALTHOUGH not written for young adults (the label hadn't even been adopted by publishers when these books were first published), I know many teenagers (myself included) who breathlessly devoured Virginia Andrews' Dollanganger series.

There are five books in all, but I have only read the first three and that's the "trilogy" I'm recommending for teens this Christmas.

I discovered these books in my mid-teens and spent sizeable chunks of my pocket money on them. They were somewhat of a guilty pleasure as they were so terribly trashy. However, my incredibly cool parents did not object to me reading the books – my father read them himself and, if memory serves, was quite as hooked as I was.

So, yes, I am recommending three really lurid and nasty books as Christmas presents. Why? Because I think it's great fun to read something really scandalous and tacky once in a while. I read a lot and sometimes I like my reading material to be the book-equivalent of a delicious and greasy plate of char kuey teow.

The first book, Flowers In The Attic, sees a woman return to her childhood home (a mansion), with her four children (Christopher, Cathy, and fraternal twins Cory and Carrie), following the death of her husband. Corrinne committed some unforgivable transgression in the past that caused her to be disowned and disinherited by her fabulously wealthy parents. She hopes to be forgiven now that she's a penniless widow, but her mother tells her that she can stay only if the children are locked in the mansion's attics, hidden away from their grandfather who would probably die if he knew they existed. Any offspring of Corrinne and her late husband, as far as Corrinne's parents are concerned, would be practically the devil's spawn. Need I elaborate?

Anyway, lots of horrible things follow. Corrinne seems in no hurry to get her children out of the attic, and they spend years there. Of course, the older two hit puberty while imprisoned and have only each other to unleash their raging hormones on. Need I go on?

The children eventually escape but not before Cory dies of arsenic poisoning.

The next book, Petals On The Wind, describes the three children's lives after their escape from their grandparents' mansion. They are adopted by Paul, a kindly doctor whom Cathy eventually has an affair with even though she doesn't really love Paul being totally preoccupied with her brother, Chris. By the way, it seems like every man Cathy comes into contact with falls head over heels in love with her. And then they die. Perhaps she is the devil's spawn after all....

Oh, before I forget, Carrie (the surviving twin) commits suicide because she is convinced that she's the devil's spawn. Now, you must admit that it's a case of not knowing whether to laugh or cry over all the melodrama. It's just the thing though, with a bag of crisps and a big bar of chocolate. So, so bad it's so, so good. And it gets worse, and better!

The third book, If There Be Thorns, focuses on Cathy's children, Jory, Bart and Cindy, an adoptee. By now, Cathy and Chris are living as man-and-wife. Thankfully, Cathy can no longer have children, so there's no danger of producing devil's spawn with Chris. Unfortunately, she seems to have gone one better and produced the devil himself, with Bart.

I won't give away the ending, but rest assured that it's as mad as the rest of the book. In fact, you must have gathered by now that all three books are pretty ridiculous – but only as much as your average soap opera is.

Just remember that it's fiction, it's not meant to be taken seriously, and teenagers need something to breathe heavily over. If you allowed your teens to pant over Twilight's Bella and Edward (What? You don't think paedophilia and stalking are at least as bad as incest?), you have no excuse not to let them wheeze over these books.

Just in case, your kids (or you) get hooked, books four and five are Seeds Of Yesterday and the prequel, Garden Of Shadows. The series has been re-issued by Simon Pulse.

Have a Happy Christmas!

Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.

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Posted: 10 Dec 2011 11:07 PM PST

FOR the week ending Dec 4, 2011:


1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

2. Body Language At Work: Read The Signs And Make The Right Moves by Peter Clayton

3. The Night The Angels Came by Cathy Glass

4. by Guinness World Records Ltd

5. The Secret Letters Of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma

6. Chicken Soup For The Soul: Find Your Happiness: 101 Stories About Finding Your Purpose, Passion, And Joy by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Amy Newmark

7. A Doctor In The House: The Memoirs Of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

8. Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going by Han Fook Kwang, Et Al

9. The Perfect 10 Diet: 10 Key Hormones That Hold The Secret To Losing Weight And Feeling Great – Fast! by Michael Aziz

10. Back To Work: Why We Need Smart Government For A Strong Economy by Bill Clinton


1. The House Of Silk (a Sherlock Holmes novel) by Anthony Horowitz

2. The Time Of My Life by Cecelia Ahern

3. Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer

4. The Sense Of An Ending (2011 Man Booker Prize winner) by Julian Barnes

5. The Fifth Witness (a Lincoln Lawyer novel) by Michael Connelly

6. Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

7. The Story Of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

8. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (movie tie-in) by Stieg Larsson

9. The Litigators by John Grisham

10. Untold Story by Monica Ali

Weekly list compiled by MPH Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur; www.mphonline.com.

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The Star Online: Nation

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Employers to urged to give women opportunities to work part-time

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 03:54 AM PST

Published: Sunday December 11, 2011 MYT 7:54:00 PM

KUALA LUMPUR: Employers are urged to give women an opportunity to work part-time as this is allowed under the Employment (Part-Time Employees) Regulations 2010.

The Minister of Human Resources, Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said Sunday the regulations, which were implemented since October last year, enabled housewives, single mothers, pensioners, disabled people and students of institutions of higher learning to work part-time.

"However, not many employers are giving this opportunity to them. This may possibly be due to the mentality of the employers who want their employees to carry out their work and responsibilities according to the standard working hours," he told reporters after attending the second anniversary celebration of Soroptimist International Club of Sentul, here.

Subramaniam said the regulations, among other things, were enforced to give employment opportunities to work part-time to highly qualified and experienced women to contribute towards national development.

"I hope the employers are more proactive in this matter and provide part-time employment opportunities to those who have responsibilities as a mother or wife to utilise their education in an optimal manner," he said. - Bernama

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Hisham: Carollers don’t need permits but welcomed to inform cops

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 03:45 AM PST

Published: Sunday December 11, 2011 MYT 7:46:00 PM

KUALA LUMPUR: There is no need for Christmas carollers to apply for police permits but they can voluntarily notify the nearest police station of their activities, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said.

He said Bukit Aman had confirmed that there was no need to get a police permit for Christmas carolling.

"(Christmas carollers) can notify the nearest police station if they are concerned," he stated in a tweet on Sunday.

Hishammuddin said he had asked Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar to clarify the matter to avoid any confusion among the people.

It was reported that the Johor police wanted those planning to organise Christmas carolling to apply for permits two weeks before their programme.

Two Catholic churches in Selangor were also reportedly asked to give to the police the contact details of the homeowners they planned to visit.

However, deputy minister Datuk Lee Chee Leong dismissed that there was such a need, saying that more freedom was given to the people in the spirit of the recently passed Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011.

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46 of 110 Pahang flood evacuees return home

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 03:04 AM PST

KUANTAN: Forty-six of the 110 flood evacuees in the Kuantan district were allowed to return to their homes at noon as the floodwaters in the villages have receded, said a spokesman of the Pahang police flood operations room.

These evacuees are from the relief centres at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Bukit Rangin and Sekolah Kebangsaan Galing, he said.

The remaining 64 evacuees are at two other relief centres, 19 of them at the Indera Mahkota community hall and 45 at the Cenderawasih kindergarten, he told Bernama.

The 110 villagers were evacuated in stages from midnight Saturday night after heavy rain caused floods in Kampung Sungai Isap Damai, Sungai Isap Perdana, Kampung Tiram, Kampung Segantang Lada, Kampung Razali, Tanah Putih and Cenderawasih.

The spokesman advised the people in the district, especially in low-lying, flood-prone areas to be prepared to evacuate as the heavy rain was continuing unabated.

He also said that the levels of the major rivers in the state, such as the Pahang and the Kuantan, were at the alert point. - Bernama

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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One adorable ‘Pet’

Posted: 12 Dec 2011 12:48 AM PST

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China unveils rare star power of Oscar entry

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 05:30 AM PST

BEIJING (Reuters) - Zhang Yimou, one of China's bestknown directors, is banking on heartthrob Christian Bale to help boost the country's chances of winning an Oscar, with his latest film on a tragic chapter in the nation's history.

"The Flowers of War", China's Academy Award entry for best foreign language film, centres around a mortician (Bale) who gets caught up in the 1937 Nanjing Massacre and has to save a group of school girls from the clutches of the Japanese.

On the way he becomes involved with a highclass Chinese courtesan, finding both love and personal redemption.

The film, which hits Chinese screens on Friday followed a week later by a limited release in the United States, holds little back in its graphic depiction of the events of more than eight decades ago, a story everyone in China knows well.

To a Chinese audience the almost caricaturelike Japanese soldiers who at one point erupt in glee at finding virgins to rape are partandparcel of what they are taught in school about an event which continues to poison SinoJapan relations.

But the movie is also heavy on the nationalism and saturated with the patriotic pride typical of how the Chinese movie industry views such emotive parts of the nation's history.

Bale, though, said he though it unfair to view it as a propaganda film.

"It's a historical piece. I certainly never viewed it as that myself. I think that would be a bit of a kneejerk reaction. If anybody had that response I don't think they're looking closely enough at the movie," he told reporters.

"It's far more a movie about human beings and the nature of human beings' responses to crisis, and how that can reduce people to the most animalistic behaviour but also raise them up to the most honourable behaviour you could ever witness."

China says invading Japanese troops slaughtered 300,000 men, women and children in Nanjing, then known as Nanking. An Allied tribunal after World War Two put the death toll at about 142,000.

But some Japanese historians say the massacre has been exaggerated and some conservatives deny there was even a massacre.

SinoJapanese ties have been overshadowed for years by what Beijing says has been Tokyo's refusal to admit to atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in the country between 1931 and 1945.

"Obviously there are fewer people in the West who are familiar with the Rape of Nanking. Myself, I knew about it. I owned the book and had never read it. So I came to know far more about it," Bale added.

Billed as the first Chinese movie to star a major Western actor, the country has high hopes it will snag an Oscar.

Zhang downplayed that.

"We can work as hard as possible but really it's up to the gods. I really don't understand what the rules are for getting an Oscar," he said.

While Chinese movie moguls maybe hoping for an ascendance on the world's silver screens to match the country's rise on the global political and economic stage by matching a Hollywood face to the Chinese story, Bale said for him it was more about working with someone like Zhang.

"It seemed like a very natural thing to do. I was excited by the notion of making a Chinese movie, of making a movie with someone as masterful as Yimou. I'm quite myopic in my approach to the movies that I want to make."

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Lindsay Lohan says has learned from mistakes

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 04:41 PM PST

LOS ANGELES: Actress Lindsay Lohan, in her first interview since being sent to jail last month for a probation violation, tells Playboy that she has learned to be accountable for her mistakes.

The Mean Girls star told the magazine in an interview accompanying her 10-page nude pictorial that during the past five years she's come to understand "that ultimately we are responsible for ourselves and our own actions."

Magazine founder Hugh Hefner has said he advanced the street date of the highly-anticipated issue - in which a blonde Lohan channels her idol Marilyn Monroe's famed 1953 Playboy photo spread - in part because photos were leaked online.

The Lohan issue hit Playboy's website on Saturday and the magazine lands on newsstands Dec. 16, one day after Lohan's scheduled interview on Ellen Degeneres' daytime TV talk show. Excerpts of the Playboy interview were released on Saturday.

The former child star whose career has suffered in recent years following arrests for drunken driving, drug possession and theft, told Playboy she would have done things differently in her recent years of trouble.

"Looking back, I probably would have listened to and taken more advice from the people whom I admire and would have followed through with it more," Lohan said.

"My stubbornness at 18 and 19-years-old got in the way," she said. "During the past five years, I've learned that time flies faster than you think, and because you only live once you have to learn from your mistakes, live your dreams and be accountable."

In November, Lohan was sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating her probation on recent criminal charges, but served less than a day behind bars due to overcrowding.

In an excerpt that apparently references her decision to pose nude for the magazine, Lohan said: "Sex and sexuality are a part of nature and I go along with nature. I think Marilyn Monroe once said that."

And the actress, who first gained fame playing twin sisters in 1998 Disney film The Parent Trap, said she doesn't understand why her life has become tabloid fodder.

"I have no idea why there is this fascination with everything I do," she said. "I suppose it is all part of this trend of people wanting to know every single detail of a celebrity's life.

"I mean, once we get to the point where magazines are doing pictorials on my wardrobe to court, that's just so unimportant," Lohan said.

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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Tenacious pioneers

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 11:04 PM PST

Muslim cameleers and their camels helped open up the land Down Under.

GOOL Mahomet was bound for India, where he had been born 73 years earlier. We know he was tall and of a "heavy" build. We know he had a scar on his forehead. We have a photo of him looking straight ahead and another in profile.

We know Gool wanted to return to Australia and was given three years in which to do so. By the time we reach his photo on the exhibition wall, we know very well that Australia owes men like him a debt of great gratitude.

Australia's Muslim Cameleers: Pioneers Of The Inland 1860s-1930s is a wonderful tribute to the thousands of men who left their countries to help create a new one. Without their skills and extraordinary creatures, it would have been even more difficult and dangerous – perhaps impossible – for white people to move inland.

Away from the coast, Australia was inhospitable, to say the least. Horses and other imported beasts of burden were no match for the terrain and the heat. To a few visionaries (most decision-makers would need a lot of convincing) camels were the best, the only solution.

They carried people, supplies and tools. They carried telegraph poles. They could withstand heat and long periods between watering holes. They might not have needed much in the form of comfort but they did need people who understood them. Australia needed cameleers as much as they needed camels.

The exhibition is everything I've come to expect and love from Malaysia's Islamic Art Museum (IAMM) in Kuala Lumpur. There is a huge and varied collection of artefacts, photographs, documents and even a video which gives dimension to a group underappreciated in their time.

Among the artefacts are textiles, including prayer mats. There are weapons for protection and branding irons to keep track of the camels. There are saddles, camel bells and a camel headdress of dyed wool, touchingly decorated with white buttons and glass beads. There are objects and creatures brought back from explorations, for example a white man's first encounter with the strange flora and fauna deep in the country.

There are objects taken from aborigines, the bones of strange animals and even a stuffed "Fat-tailed False Antechinus" which is about the size of a mouse, looks like a possum and has a disproportionately fat tail.

There are stunning photographs, some more than a century old, of cameleers standing next to their camels, barely reaching the great animals' shoulders. Several of the photographs have been enlarged so you can step close and examine the detail, the expressions. One unusual one captures a camel being unloaded from a ship. The hapless creature hangs in mid-air from a crane and one can only imagine what it is thinking after having been ripped from the life it knew, enduring a long sea voyage and now seeing a new world several metres below it.

The visual history consists, too, of wonderful drawings and sketches. Among these is the "first published image of Ayers rock" with camels in the foreground.

I was drawn to an enormous pack saddle near the exit. It seems crude, piled sackcloth and big sticks tied together with rope. However, take some time to examine the knot work and you will come to understand why Andrew Harper of the Outback Camel Company praised these saddles as being "endlessly adjustable and durable".

There are 16 other photographs alongside Gool Mahomet's, from enlarged documents that would allow the cameleers to go home then return to Australia. Gool is the oldest, the youngest is 29. We know their names, ages, hair colour and eye colour. We know that half of them had scars. We know how the documenters saw them in terms of build (Big, Medium, Slight, Heavy and one "Rather Stout") and complexion ("Dark" although there is one "Black", one "Light" and a couple of "Sallows".

The difference is not visible in the photographs. The cameleers represented numerous different origins, cultures and languages are varied but on the forms their nationality is always "Afghan".

Gratitude for the brave cameleers came late, but it did.

Australia's Muslim Cameleers: Pioneers Of The Inland 1960s-1930s is on at the Islamic Art Museum's Special Gallery 2 until Jan 21, 2012. Opening hours are 10am to 6pm, Monday to Sunday. Visit iamm.org.my, e-mail info@iamm.org.my or call 03-2274-2020 for details. A fun activity sheet for children called 'I am a Cameleer' is available at the museum's children's library.

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