Jumaat, 30 November 2012

The Star Online: World Updates

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Stung by U.N. defeat, Israel pushes settlement plans

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 07:21 PM PST

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Hours after the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to grant de-facto statehood to Palestine, Israel responded on Friday by announcing it was authorising 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

An official, who declined to be named, said the government had also decided to expedite planning work for thousands more homes in a geographically sensitive area close to Jerusalem that critics say would kill off Palestinian hopes of a viable state.

The decision was made on Thursday when it became clear that the U.N. General Assembly was set to upgrade the Palestinians' status in the world body, making them a "non-member state," as opposed to an "entity," boosting their diplomatic clout.

The motion was backed by 138 nations, opposed by nine, while 41 members abstained - a resounding defeat that exposed Israel's growing diplomatic isolation.

An Israeli official had earlier conceded that this represented a "total failure of diplomacy" and warned there would be consequences - which were swift in coming.

Plans to put up thousands of new settler homes in the wake of the Palestinian upgrade were always likely, but the prospect of building in an area known as E-1, which lies near Jerusalem and bisects much of the West Bank, is seen by some as a potential game changer.

"E-1 will signal the end of the two state-solution," said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli expert on settlements. He added that statutory planning would take another six to nine months to complete, meaning building there was not a foregone conclusion.

About 500,000 Israelis already live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war - territory the Palestinians claim for their independent state.

The United States, one of the eight countries to vote alongside Israel at the U.N. General Assembly, said the latest expansion plan was counterproductive to the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"This administration - like previous administrations - has been very clear with Israel that these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a Washington speech.

Clinton argued for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but offered no detailed path forward, saying the United States would help whenever they were ready for direct talks.

"If and when the parties are ready to enter into direct negotiations to solve the conflict, President (Barack) Obama will be a full partner to them," she said.


Ahead of the U.N. vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government had argued that the unilateral Palestinian move breached their previous accords and accused the 193-member world body of failing in its responsibilities.

"The General Assembly can resemble the theatre of the absurd, which once a year automatically approves ludicrous, anti-Israeli resolutions," said government spokesman Mark Regev.

"Sometimes these are supported by Europe, sometimes they are not," he added, alluding to the fact that only one European state, the Czech Republic, voted against the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, analysts said the vote exposed the gulf that had opened between Europe and Netanyahu over his handling of the Western-backed administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the depth of EU opposition to settlement expansion.

"The government has failed to appreciate the gravity of the challenge to Israel's fundamental legitimacy in Europe," said Gidi Grinstein, head of the Reut Institute think tank.

"The Palestinian bid in the U.N. is turning out to be a bigger defeat than anticipated."

In many ways, Israel was caught off guard.

Last week, it was fighting Islamist militants in the Gaza Strip, grateful to see much of the West offering support for its determination to stop indiscriminate rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave whose leaders preach Israel's destruction.

The eight-day bombardment ended in a truce that was widely viewed as handing Gaza's Hamas Islamists a PR boost at the expense of Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which has renounced violence in favour of diplomacy.

The West pumped billions into Abbas' administration over the years to bolster a partner for Middle East peace and felt it had to rally to his support in New York. Before the Gaza conflict, the Palestinians said they would win 115 'yes' votes at the United Nations. They ended up with more.


By itself, the U.N. upgrade will make little practical difference to the Palestinians or Israelis. But the new position will enable Abbas to seek membership of the International Criminal Court, or ICC, in The Hague if he wants.

That is what worries Israel.

The Geneva Convention forbids occupying powers from moving "parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies," leaving Israeli officials potentially vulnerable to an ICC challenge. Israel says its settlements are legal, citing historical and Biblical ties to the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The Palestinians say they are in no rush to go to the ICC, but the threat is there, putting pressure on Israel to come up with creative solutions to overcome the peace-talks impasse, which the Jewish state blames on Abbas.

"This U.N. vote is a very strong signal to the Israelis that they can't shove this matter under the carpet for any longer," said Alon Liel, former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "This is a red light for Israel."

With politicians campaigning ahead of a January 22 election, Israel is unlikely to change course.

Opinion polls suggest Netanyahu's right-wing bloc will win a new term in office. The coalition includes pro-settler parties, and the prime minister's own Likud group appeared to shift to the right in primaries this week, making any land-for-peace compromise with the Palestinians look more complex than ever.

His opponents seized on the U.N. vote, with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, aspiring to become Israel's second female prime minister, blaming a failure of initiative.

"When we do not initiate, we are imposed upon," she said.

Israeli officials say the Palestinians themselves must show they are ready to make the sort of concessions that they believe are needed to secure an accord - such as renouncing any right to return to modern-day Israel for refugees and their descendants.

But analysts say that with the elections out of the way, the new government will have a period of calm to try once more to end their decades-old conflict with the Palestinians.

"The strategy toward the Palestinian Authority and statehood is likely to be on the top of the agenda of the next government in the winter," said the Reut Institute's Grinstein.

"The outcome of its strategic reassessment may well be active engagement in upgrading the powers and responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority toward statehood, and eventually recognising the Palestinian Authority as a state."

If E-1 building goes ahead, the chances of talks resuming will be close to non-existent.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis and Dan Williams in Jerusalem and by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Janet McBride and Peter Cooney)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

U.S. demands Iran release hunger-striking human rights lawyer

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 05:24 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday demanded that Iran free jailed human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, who it said has been on hunger strike for more than six weeks, and sharply criticized Iranian authorities for their treatment of the 49-year-old prize-winning lawyer.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said reports of Sotoudeh's rapidly declining health were deeply troubling, and that she had been denied medical care and kept in solitary confinement.

"We demand the Iranian government cease its intolerable mistreatment of Sotoudeh and immediately release her and the more than 30 other female political prisoners detained in Evin Prison," Nuland said in a statement.

Sotoudeh, who last month was awarded the European Union's Sakharov prize for human rights and freedom of thought, was arrested in September 2010 on suspicion of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. She is serving a six-year jail sentence in solitary confinement.

She has defended journalists and rights activists, including Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi and Dutch national Zahra Bahrami, who was hanged in January 2011 on drug trafficking charges.

"We remain concerned for Sotoudeh's well-being given Iran's history of withholding treatment from prisoners and allowing them to die from hunger strikes," Nuland said.

Sotoudeh began a hunger strike on October 17, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. She is protesting against a travel ban placed on her daughter and authorities' limits on visits with her family, the group said.

(Reporting by Alister Bull)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

After long jail term, gaming gangster faces less violent but still murky Macau

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 04:13 PM PST

MACAU (Reuters) - Notorious Macau gangster Wan "Broken Tooth" Kuok-koi emerged from jail on Saturday morning into a very different gambling haven than the one he bullied in the late-1990s.

Former triad leader Wan Kuok-koi, alias "Broken Tooth", leaves in a car after his release from prison in Macau December 1, 2012. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Former triad leader Wan Kuok-koi, alias "Broken Tooth", leaves in a car after his release from prison in Macau December 1, 2012. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Imprisoned for close to 15 years inside the enclave's high security prison, the former triad leader was escorted out by two police officers before being whisked into a white Lexus driven by two men dressed in black. Wearing trousers and a long-sleeved white shirt, Wan ignored requests for comment from a crowd of more than 50 journalists who had gathered outside.

Wan's release comes just after China appointed a new leadership body at a Chinese Communist Party Congress this month where corruption was a dominant theme. Beijing has in recent months sent strong signals to Macau authorities to tighten regulation and promote responsible gaming in the world's casino capital.

It's a far cry from more than a decade ago when Wan, who is in his late 50s, and other triad gangsters ran amok during the final days of Portuguese rule of this southern Chinese outcrop.

The bloody gangland turf wars are a thing of the past, but Macau, transformed into a booming, glitzy strip of casinos, malls and hotels - many owned by U.S. tycoons such as Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn - retains a murky underbelly where dubious money transfers are commonplace and the shadow of triad gangs still hangs.

Triads, or Chinese organised crime societies, remain a vital cog in the gambling industry, as intermediaries and junket operators - recruiting and transporting high-rollers and offering credit and recovering debts around the highly lucrative VIP gaming rooms.

The leading junkets make billions of dollars from Macau's gambling industry, bringing in over 70 percent of total gambling revenue - which has soared to $33.5 billion (21 billion pounds), five times that of Las Vegas, from just $1.7 billion in Wan's heyday. As the money has rolled in, the junket operators have diversified into movies, property and stock broking.

The once monopolistic casino empire of gambling tycoon Stanley Ho has opened up to the Las Vegas big-hitters, but Wan's 14K triad, its branches and rival gangs are still active in Macau, say people close to the industry.

"The triads retain some kind of influence in the majority of the VIP rooms," said a security executive at one of Macau's leading casinos, who was not authorised to speak to the media. "We know there's influence because we see them around the casino floor, inside the VIP rooms. It's not an offence. Unless the police can prove money laundering, they can stay there."


It's not known whether Wan - who was jailed for more than 14 years for attempted murder, loan sharking and money laundering - will return to the business.

Wan's swift exit from the hilltop prison, nestled on a small island a short drive from the neon casino lights, is a marked difference to his heyday when he courted media attention and helped produce a movie called "Casino" about a self-styled triad boss waging violent street battles for control of Macau's casinos.

Wan's family members, lawyers and former associates declined to comment on his plans, though his brother Kuok-hung - himself jailed for five years in 1999 - has carved out a career in the VIP junket business. Wan was visited in jail by his brother and mother earlier this week.

While few predict Wan's release will spark a return to Macau's darker days, the authorities are taking no chances.

Last weekend, a number of Wan's former associates were arrested in a sting operation on suspicion of planning to commit murder. One of those picked up was former police officer Artur Chiang Calderon, who was first arrested in 1998 with Wan over a string of bomb attacks and bloody gang wars.

"We are well equipped to handle all situations," a spokeswoman for Macau's judiciary police said, amid local media reports of tightened security and vigilance at casinos.

"This is Beijing. They want to send a strong message by doing this," said a senior casino executive.

Kenny Leong, chief executive of Nasdaq-listed Asia Entertainment and Resources Ltd and one of Macau's leading VIP gambling room promoters, did not expect much impact from Wan's freedom. "Things are completely different now. Everything is more professionally managed," he said.

"It's a different era from before. Right now, the time is not hitting and killing."

Wan, a stocky man with often garish sartorial taste, is said to be unable to straighten the middle two fingers of one hand after being mangled by meat cleavers in a street fight. Locals say he was a common sight, driving around Macau in a mauve Ferrari.

"He was very, very influential in his time," said a former head of criminal intelligence in the Hong Kong police force, who specialised in anti-triad enforcement. "He was influential because of fear. He was extremely violent and took over a lot of businesses in a violent manner."

Earlier this week, a new, white Toyota Vellfire space wagon pulled out of a gated compound and wound its way up to the heavily-fortified hilltop prison, where a stylish lady with long hair and dark glasses stepped out with a shy-looking, bespectacled teenage son wearing sneakers.

After an hour-long visit, Wan's wife and son declined comment when asked by Reuters how they felt about being reunited as a family. "I have nothing to say," said Wan's wife.

(Additional reporting by James Pomfret, Editing by Ian Geoghegan and Anne Marie Roantree)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

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Arsenal's Frimpong gets green light to join Ghana

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 07:17 PM PST

ACCRA: Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong has been given the green light by FIFA to represent his native Ghana, the national football federation (GFA) confirmed on Friday.

Frimpong, who is currently on loan to English Championship side Charlton Athletic, last year expressed his desire to play for Ghana, the country of his birth, although he has British nationality.

The 20-year-old has already played for the England under-16 and under-17 sides.

The Black Stars qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations from January 19 to February 10 in South Africa. - AFP

Ancelotti 'disappointed' by Pastore

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 07:15 PM PST

PARIS: Paris Saint Germain coach Carlo Ancelotti admitted Friday he was disappointed by the recent performances of Argentine midfielder Javier Pastore.

The 23-year-old Pastore has scored a goal and set up four decisive passes in Ligue 1 this season, but was replaced by Nene at half-time in last weekend's 4-0 win against Troyes, and did not feature in Tuesday's League Cup defeat at Saint Etienne.

"I'm disappointed by his performances, the player is as well I think," Italian Ancelotti told a press conference here.

"He's working hard at the moment, these past few days he's been training twice a day," said Ancelotti, adding that for this reason Pastore would "surely be used tomorrow (Saturday)" for the Ligue 1 trip to Nice.

"It's surely not easy for him at the moment," added striker Ezequiel Lavezzi.

"Like any player when he losses confidence he can't show his characteristics and qualities. If he can play and gain in confidence no one can have any doubts about his qualities as a player."

Pastore joined PSG in a 42-million-euro deal in the summer of 2011. - AFP

Brazil need to be Brazil - not Barca: Scolari

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 07:13 PM PST

SAO PAULO: Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, tasked with delivering home-flavoured World Cup glory in 2014, insisted Friday his team had to develop its own identity and respect Brazilian characteristics, rather than pretend they are Barcelona.

"If we import (Ballon d'Or finalists and Barcelona stars Andres) Iniesta and (Leo) Messi and the players who play in Barcelona then we would play like Barcelona," said Scolari, referring to Spaniard Iniesta and Argentina star Messi.

"But these are not our characteristics. We need a team to play good football - but according to the characteristics of our players," said Scolari, who was in the dugout when Brazil landed their fifth and most recent World Cup title in 2002 in Japan.

Scolari, drafted for a second spell in charge after Brazil sacked predecessor Mano Menezes last week, insisted the Selecao could come good even though the current team lacks top-drawer international experience as they have no World Cup qualifiers to play, having pre-qualified as hosts.

"We have top players - I don't agree we lack experience. Our team has many qualities. What is missing is the opportunity to play against stronger teams to see the reaction of the players in competition," said the former Chelsea handler, who stressed the key was to strike a correct balance of youth and experience.

Asked to respond to earlier comments by 2002 star striker Ronaldo, who said Brazilian football was in the doldrums, Scolari looked vexed and snapped: "I don't know what he is talking about - you have to ask him."

Scolari insisted he had been given a challenge which enthused him - starting with June's Confederations Cup.

"It is an interesting opportunity, especially for me as this competition is in Brazil. It's the first time this tournament has been held in Brazil. We face difficult matches - in the past three years we didn't have any qualifiers so this is an opportunity to see how our players will react at this level." - AFP

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The Star Online: Business

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Ding dong dung, wake up Vietnam

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 05:33 PM PST

I WAS back in Hanoi in early October after a long absence. Change is all over, reflecting the impact of breakneck growth. It so happens my re-visit coincided with the Vietnam Communist Party's (VCP) 175-member central committee (CC) meeting, preoccupied with two main issues: the political future of its Prime Minister (PM) Nguyen Ten Dung, and what to do with recent financial scandals amid slackening of its once red-hot economy in the face of its depreciating dong. Word around Hanoi was that Dung, generally regarded as a pro-West liberal, was under immense pressure to convince his CC colleagues that he deserves a second chance to put the nation back on a firm footing and get the economy on to high-gear once again.

Dung is a survivor. A former governor of the State Bank (Vietnam's central bank), Dung is a street smart politician, having fought with Vietcong guerrillas against the United States, and who once served as the nation's public security chief. He was first appointed PM in 2006 and charged with continuing economic reforms that pushed the war-torn backwater nation into a promising emerging economy. In 2007, he steered the nation into World Trade Organisation, which triggered a new wave of foreign direct investment inflows. Unfortunately, the nation was caught in an inflationary spiral (reaching a high of 23% in August 2011) and that drove the government to tighten policies, slow growth and force a series of devaluations of the dong. Dung stood for re-election to the CC and political bureau, the nation's top policy making body, and was re-appointed PM for a second term in May 2011. He survived it all despite the damaging Political Report and Socio-Economic Report containing "criticism and self-criticism, as part of the party's rectification campaign" against poor economic management; both of which were nevertheless approved at the 11th Party National Congress in January 2011.

The politics

Vietnam politics is unique. I sense from talking to friends in Hanoi at the time of its CC meeting that (i) top leaders from the PM to VCP president to its party chief all acknowledge the government's shortcomings in managing the economy in recent years; (ii) specifically, they all talk openly of the slowest pace of economic growth in 13 years, amid signs of unease over high levels of bad debts in banks and a widening wealth gap; (iii) as a result of poor supervision, some of the largest and most influential state owned enterprises (SOEs) racked-up multi-billion losses, e.g. Vinashin, a vast government-owned shipbuilding group which almost sank in 2010 after straying far from its core business; (iv) growing corruption leading to loss of confidence following a recent series of arrests (and some convictions) of financial executives for wrongdoing, including a prominent tycoon at Asia Commercial Bank close to Dung; and (v) exposure of a series of long-simmering political tensions within the highest echelons of the ruling VCP.

All these serve to underscore why top officials are getting increasingly concerned and sensitive to how they are being perceived by investors and an economically anxious public, especially its growing middle class. Indeed, signs are everywhere: (a) new rules on "no more lavish weddings" to the extent of limiting the number of guests allowed to be present and avoiding hosting banquets in luxury hotels; (b) new laws (for the first time) empowering the National Assembly to force incompetent leaders to step down or face a vote of no confidence; (c) recent convictions against bloggers (and songwriters) for online "anti-government propaganda"; and (d) crackdown on new popular Internet sites in recent months (Vietnam has 34% Internet penetration) viz, quan lam bao or officials doing journalism its anonymous contributors purportedly provide inside "going-ons" information at the highest echelons of power. All these point to the lack of transparency and accountability in public governance.

I am told the prime minister managed to survive because:

● He has enough "support votes" at CC;

● There is no credible successor in sight;

● His ouster would destabilise the Party; so best not to allow "enemy forces to exploit regimes' current problems";

● The government team bears collective responsibility for poor management;

● Best to retain the PM to correct mistakes and move forward.

I am also told "repeated forgiveness" is a commonly accepted way to settle complex problems as Vietnamese as a bowl of pho. Forgiveness heals and prevents the party from splitting. The show must go on. But for how long, where corruption poses a major threat to the legitimacy of one-party politics?

The economy

Vietnam was Asia's new poster child for development. With the war a distant memory, progress achieved since 1986 when it first embarked on the new path of doi moi (reform) has been nothing but spectacular. It has well surpassed the milestone per capita income of US$1,000. Vietnamese now enjoy their new-found wealth. Until lately, Vietnam was among the least impacted by the second round global crisis, with private consumption and diversified exports driving domestic activity. Retail experience in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City includes shopping in malls, like Malaysia's Parkson, for Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Channel, etc and relaxing with refreshments at Starbuck or Circle K, and dinner at Hard Rock Caf The lifestyle is fast changing. But all have not been rosy this hyperactivity came with a cost: high inflation and a growing trade deficit. But Vietnamese learn swiftly from past mistakes and they now appear to be addressing growing pains with the needed commitment, slowly but surely. Four compelling forces help drive the current revival:-

● Political stability, it's ahead of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) according to the World Bank.

● Attractive demography with a population close to 95 million; low labour cost, high literacy (93%) and 65% within the working age.

● Domestic demand driven economy its large, young population riding on rapid early stage industrialisation, realising its new-found wealth, with a deep thirst for housing and consumption.

● Resource rich with a large agricultural base; exports account for up to 70% of gross domestic product or GDP (having risen 2 times in 2004-08). It's the world's largest rice and coffee exporter, a net exporter of crude oil and gas, and exports a wide range of minerals including bauxite, coal, nickel, iron-ore, gold and tungsten.

No wonder it's labelled the "next China" or sometimes, "China plus One" (it's like China but is one-up with cheaper labour) to attract multi-nationals to spread their bets. But it badly needs more physical infrastructure (power, water, highways and, ports); diversified social infrastructure (education, hospitals, housing and welfare safety-net); sound financial infrastructure (money and capital markets); and a strong commitment to realistic macro-economic planning.

Struggling again

Today, Vietnam's economy remains weak and needs additional stimulus and "easier" policies to get back on tract. Its first-quarter growth at only 4% was the weakest in three years, slowing from 6.1% in the preceding quarter and an average annual 7.7% from 2003-2008 period. Latest indicators point to GDP growth in the first half of 4.4% (4.7% in the second quarter), well below the government's 6% full-year target.

FDI was down nearly 30% in the first half and toxic "non-performing loans" in the fragile banking system is at 8.82% as at end-September (up from 6% at end-2011). Independent analysts place the ratio at as high as 15% in the face of 8%-10% suggested by the State Bank in August. For the year as a whole, GDP growth is now expected at 5.2% (against 5.9% in 2011). No doubt, the economy is much weaker but the International Monetary Fund anticipates it to rise to 5.9% next year.

Following a series of determined monetary policy moves to contain inflation, consumer prices rose 7% in October, against 6.5% in September having dropped to a three-year low of 5.04% in August (well off its 23% peak a year earlier). With growth slackening, the government appears determined to keep inflation below 8% for the whole of this year. "We have learned our lesson," declared the PM.

In October, Fitch Ratings maintained its rating for Vietnam's major banks at B (junk status) with a stable outlook among the lowest in Asia. The ranking "reflects difficult domestic operating conditions and other structural issues typically found in low-income emerging markets," Fitch says. Moody's Investors Service downgraded the nation's rating in late September citing moral hazard risks requiring government to pump-in substantial bank capital. Standard & Poor's talks of the need for fewer but stronger banks with credible risk management and a need for greater foreign participation to facilitate transfer of best practices and processes to strengthen domestic banks.

Moving forward

To reset its growth path moving forward, Vietnam needs a second doi moi moving away from reliance on cheap labour and capital and big government, towards serious reforms focusing on banks, SOEs and public spending. The challenges will be absorbing inflation has surged above 20% twice in the past three years, while foreign exchange reserves have slumped and the ding-dong dong has lost more than 20% against the US dollar. Its external debt is more than 40% of GDP and bank credit to GDP is 125%.

Excessive investment in inefficient SOEs has misdirected capital, straying wildly into non-core activities such as property and stocks, both of which have badly faltered. Many of their problems can be traced to the mismanagement of SOEs: 10 largest SOEs ran up debts of US$50bil, or about 50% of GDP in 2010. It is obvious they need more robust and rigorous supervision. Getting the party and politics out of the management and SOEs is the answer. It's about time to experience "creative destruction".

The path back requires the restoration of "the people's faith". Vietnam's 1% interest rate cut in June for the fourth time this year reflects the government's determination to revive the economy. This meant refinancing rate falls to 11%, discount rate to 9% and overnight rate for interbank electronic payments to 12% still high by international standards but leaves much room for further cuts. Slackening growth will make the fight to contain inflation easier. With determined efforts, inflation will slowdown over time. But the economy needs basic reform in major policy areas like health care and education, jobs creation, industrial policy, privatisation (they call it "equitisation"), social safety-net, housing and anti-corruption efforts through "smaller but smarter" government.

In conversations with friends in Hanoi, I sense investors and the public have become more impatient as the government is too slow in delivering. Hence, their economic advancement since has been slow and hesitant. Yet, there is not a cohesive and united group of leaders to bring about the change which everyone talks about so passionately this desire to re-start serious reforms.

What, then, are we to do?

I first visited both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in the early 1980s. One thing hasn't changed over 30 years: then, I hear of the Vietnamese dream for a strong, authoritarian, benevolent and fair leader who can deliver to the nation its past glory. Today, they are still dreaming the same dream. Nothing has changed except the capital cities are buzzing with energy, swarmed by tourists and plagued with convoluted traffic jams signs of growing vitality. But it masks symptoms of a nation with deep rooted woes, desperately in need of firm and honest leadership.

The young now find it harder to get jobs; small businesses have a tough time coping and public projects are often delayed or cancelled. It's curious, when I was there, the best the CC, PB and the party could do was to adopt a new motto for planning future weddings: playful, healthy, thrifty. What a shame they are still dancing around the peripheral. Former banker, Dr Lin is a Harvard educated economist and a British Chartered Scientist who speaks, writes and consults on economic and financial issues. Feedback is most welcome; email starbiz@thestar.com.my.

Brahim’s sees flight catering revenue doubling up

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 05:31 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Brahim's Holdings Bhd could double the revenue of its flight catering division to more than RM300mil once the acquisition of the remaining 49% stake in Brahim's-LSG Sky Chef Holdings Sdn Bhd (BLSG) is completed.

At the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signing between Brahim's and Standard Chartered Bank yesterday, Brahim's executive chairman Datuk Ibrahim Ahmad said post the 100% consolidation of the company and revenue:

"We would expect and increase in topline revenue of more than RM300mil."

Brahim's is buying out LSG Asia GmbH's 49% stake for a total of RM130mil, which will be fully funded via a fully underwritten financing commitment with Standard Chartered Bank.

Standard Chartered Bank director of leveraged finance Royswati Pimal said the bank was providing Brahim's with an RM160mil loan.

"The RM160mil loan comprises of bridge and longer-term notice, meant to finance the acquisition and also refinance the existing indebtness of Brahim's," she said.

BLSG is the holding company of LSG Sky Chef-Brahim's Sdn Bhd (LSGB), which is the operating unit of its in-flight catering business.

Brahim's currently has a 51% controlling equity stake in the 70% stake that it holds in LSGB. The remaining 30% stake in LSGB is held by Malaysian Airline System Bhd (MAS).

"Upon the completion of the acquisition, Brahim's and its partner MAS would have fully Malaysianised the operating company of the world's largest halal flight kitchen.

"This is in line with the national aspiration of positioning the aviation food services sector as a wholly Malaysian-owned business in order to explore opportunities in this growing niche market," he said.

He added that the company would work closely with MAS to enhance new menus and presentation in the in-flight meals, particularly for the A380 aircrafts.

Present at the signing was Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Donald Lim, who said: "Prospects in our aviation industry remain exciting.

"There is a lot of scope for us to tap into the more resilient economic growth in the Asia region, especially when open skies policy comes into play in 2015."

Ibrahim expects the acquisition to be complete by year-end.

"The acquisition is in its final stages. The delayed EGM (extraordinary general meeting) will be conducted on Dec 5.

"On completion, we would be able to recognise the whole 70% of LSGB's earnings," Ibrahim said.

"The imminent privatisation of the QSR group presents an opportunity for Brhim's to raise its profile as amongst the selected few F&B companies that are syariah-compliant," he added.

The food and beverage (F&B) manufacturer and outlet operator caters to more than 30 international airlines out of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), with MAS as its biggest customer.

On a separate note, Ibrahim said the company could see an additional 10% in revenue contribution in the future from its F&B division, with the opening of KLIA 2.

Brahim's 51% subsidiary Dewina Host Sdn Bhd had won the tender by Malaysia Airports (Sepang) Sdn Bhd to operate a premium food court and a separate fast food outlet at the new airport.

"As it is now, the F&B contributes about 3% to 4% in terms of revenue. But now with these new locations that we are getting, there will be an increase of about 10%," he said.

Masteel Q3 earnings lower due to rising production costs

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 05:30 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia Steel Works Bhd (Masteel) sees a 56.5% decline in earnings to RM7.04mil for its financial year 2012 third quarter results due to rising production costs and weaker selling prices.

Masteel recorded a net profit of RM16.2mil in the corresponding period a year ago.

The integrated steel manufacturer achieved better revenue, however, at RM312.9mil or 4.2% higher than RM300.3mil in the third quarter last year.

Managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tai Hean Leng said the company was pleased with what it was able to achieve despite the challenges.

"The group has been able to benefit strongly thanks to our strategic location within the Klang Valley to meet the demand for high tensile steel bars from private, public and private-public works that are currently being undertaken," he said in a statement.

Tai added that with more Economic Transformation Programme projects in the pipeline and the seasonal upswing trend expected from the export markets, "we are optimistic that we will end the year on a positive note".

For its nine-month period, Masteel posted a 44.2% drop in earnings to RM21.2mil from RM37.9mil. Its revenue was 8.8% higher from RM916.7mil a year ago to RM997mil.

Tai said 85.3% of the third quarter sales of steel billets and bars were to local customers.

"While this increase in local demand is welcomed, we know we cannot depend entirely on the domestic market, especially when our increased capacity comes on-stream."

Going forward, Masteel will continue to actively grow its export orders, both in markets it already has a foothold and new markets.

Masteel currently operates a 350,000-tonnes-per-annum rolling mill in Petaling Jaya and a 550,000 tonne per annum steel billet melt shop in Bukit Raja.

The group is building a second rolling mill in Bukit Raja that, once completed at the end of 2013 or early 2014, will increase Masteel's high-tensile steel bars production by 180,000 tonnes per annum.

Masteel has also landed orders to supply steel bars for the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit rail project recently.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Nation

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PPP to hold 59th annual general assembly on Sunday

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 07:24 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: A total of 4,047 delegates are expected to attend the People's Progressive Party's (PPP) 59th annual general assembly at the Putra World Trade Centre here Sunday.

PPP president Datuk M. Kayveas said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would open the assembly, which would also be attended by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

On his policy speech, Kayveas said it would focus on the party's preparations for the general election, among others.

"I will make a short speech, on two or three issues including what needs to be revamped in order for us to garner more support," he told reporters before chairing the party's supreme council meeting here Friday night.

Also present were party vice-president Datuk Maglin Dennis D'Cruz and secretary-general Datuk Mohan Kandasamy.

Kayveas said the PPP Cluster Insurance would also be launched at the assembly.

"It is open to all PPP members; they only have to pay an annual premium of RM15 for a maximum protection of up to RM20,000," he said. - Bernama

MACC chief appointed member of IACA board of governors

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 06:11 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Chief Commissioner Datuk Seri Abu Kassim Mohamed (pic) has been appointed to the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA) board of governors for a six-year term.

The appointment was made in conjunction with the IACA First Assembly of Parties at the United Nations Building in Vienna, Austria Friday.

In a statement, MACC said the appointment to the IACA board was considered one of the highest honours in the field of anti-corruption initiatives.

"It is a great honour to gain acknowledgement from accomplished individuals in the field of anti-corruption, especially from the IACA Commission," the statement quoted Abu Kassim, who is attending the conference in Vienna, as saying.

He is also executive committee member of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities (IAACA).

He said the appointment would further facilitate an exclusive knowledge and expertise reciprocity between the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Academy and IACA.

Eleven candidates from various countries contested for election to the board, including Bulgaria Vice-President Margarita Popova, Russian Federation President's adviser, Sergey N. Dubik, and Korea Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission chairman Dr Young Ran Kimm. - Bernama

Witness does not know he was referred to as DPP in NFC case

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 04:33 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: A former senior police officer told the Sessions Court here Friday he did not know that he was referred to as the deputy public prosecutor (DPP) in the case involving the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC).

Datuk Ahmad Damanhuri Mohd Yusoff, 63, said he only knew it on the day of the hearing of businessman Datuk Shamsubahrin Ismail, who is facing 17 charges under Section 4(1)(a) of the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act 2001 involving RM1.755mil.

He said he was informed about it by the head of the prosecution unit of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Datuk Abdul Razak Musa, from a short-messaging service (SMS) sent by Shamsubahrin to former NFC director Datuk Seri Mohamad Salleh Ismail and former NFC finance manager Hashimah Ahmad.

Ahmad Damanhuri, who is the 18th prosecution witness, told the court that he was not a DPP as claimed by Shamsubahrin, but that he used to deal with the DPP.

"At a meeting chaired by Datuk Salleh, I told him (Datuk Salleh) that I interact and work closely with the DPP, but I am not a DPP," he said.

Ahmad Damanhuri, who was previously head of the examination division of the Police Training Centre (Pulapol), said he also informed Salleh that he was a former senior police officer and of his experience in handling the Al-Maunah case.

Earlier, Hashimah, who is the 17th prosecution witness, said she was not envious of Shamsubahrin, but was not happy with the service he gave to NFC.

"Payment has been made to him (Shamsubahrin), but the result cannot be seen. When he sent SMS requesting for documents, I handed the documents, but there was still no result," she added.

Hashimah said RM1.755mil was paid to Shamsubahrin, who is also facing five charges of cheating Mohamad Salleh.

The hearing before judge Rozilah Salleh continues on Jan 14. - Bernama

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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It's no Joker: Batman's car is for sale

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 04:22 AM PST

LOS ANGELES: It's no Joker: Batman's car is for sale. The original 1966 Batmobile is expected to go under the hammer on January 19, the Barrett-Jackson auto auction house said Thursday.

The iconic vehicle, which was featured in the Batman TV series as well as the movie adaptation starring Adam West, is capable of a quick 180-degree "bat-turn" thanks to two rear-mounted parachutes, the auctioneers said.

"The 1966 Batmobile by George Barris is one of the most famous Hollywood cars in history and it has become a true icon that has been carried from generation to generation of Batmobiles to follow," Craig Jackson, chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson, said in a statement.

"This vehicle not only marks the significant Bat logo that sits on the middle of its door, but a time in television history where they defied the odds of making a car the real star of the show."

The Batmobile, a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car adapted by customizer Barris, features the Batphone, a Bat Eye Switch, Bat Smoke "and many other Bat gadgets," according to Barrett-Jackson.

The auction will take place in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Jackson has reportedly said it could fetch millions of dollars. - AFP

Coming soon

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 01:21 AM PST

Alex Cross – Matthew Fox plays a serial killer who is all about dishing out torture and pain. On his trail is a homicide detective (Tyler Perry, pic) who becomes obsessed with trying to catch the killer. Alex Cross is based on James Patterson's bestselling novels.

The Last Tycoon – This thriller tells the story of a gangster who ruled Shanghai during the 1920s and 30s and features the talents of Chow Yun-fat, Sammo Hung and Francis Ng.

Rough voyage

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 12:33 AM PST

The filmmakers behind Life Of Pi learned that water can be a challenging element to work with. And then there were the four live tigers ...

WATER has never been kind to directors. "Water movies" are notoriously expensive to make – 1995's Waterworld (US$172mil) and 1997's Titanic (US$200mil) being good examples – and often pose logistic problems for both cast and crew.

Taiwanese director Ang Lee was keenly aware of this when he took on the task of adapting Yann Martel's award-winning novel Life Of Pi. After all, nearly three-quarters of the movie takes place at sea.

"Water movies. I learn now why they are always three times over budget!" he said, laughing wryly during a media set visit in Taiwan last year.

He went on to say how it took four days to fill the giant tank used to film the movie's water scenes. "With that amount of water, everything becomes very unreliable. It's very hard to control," he added.

Fast forward to the present and the movie, which has a reported budget of nearly US$100mil (RM306mil), will be released in Malaysia on Nov 29.

It has already garnered ecstatic reviews from critics and was even touted as the "3D phenomenon the Oscars have been waiting for" by Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The set visit began in time for us to witness Lee filming a scene inside a huge water tank at a former airport in the central city of Taichung.

Pi (newcomer Suraj Sharma) was in a boat, staring at the horizon in despair. The lights above were a soft amber, and if it wasn't for the hum of the wave machines or the blue screens around us, we might have thought we were in the middle of the ocean.

"I figured I needed to build something to accommodate the work – to imitate God's work," Lee said about the water tank.

He thought the perfect place to do this was in Taiwan, where he would get all the help he needed from both the Government and local industry.

The tank is the world's largest self-generating wave tank ever designed and built for a motion picture. The 70m x 30m x 4m deep tank had a capacity of 6.4 million litres (1.7 million gallons) and could generate different types of waves – though for the pivotal "storm of God" sequence where the ship Tsimtsum sinks, the water was replaced by CGI.

"We want to bring water work to the next level, so this is a big thing for me. We've never done anything like this before, so we designed (the water tank) along the way. It took us half a year to design and build it, and another month to learn how to use it," he said.

Shooting a film in 3D was also a new experience for Lee.

"I couldn't learn anything from anybody. This is a new deal. You can learn as much as you can Рyou can watch them all Рbut then, first of all, I want to do it differently. Second of all, that's pass̩ now and now it's something else. You have to figure it out yourself and nobody helps you," he said. "It takes extra work but it's an adventure."

To ensure that the movie didn't run way over budget, Lee had to be very sure of what he was going to shoot. We were taken to a small room where the walls were covered with storyboards. Every scene was meticulously mapped out, even to the point of what Pi would be wearing in a certain scene.

Next, we were taken to a small cinema, where we saw the dramatic scene of a sinking ship in 3D animation.

"This is something I don't do by nature or even by second nature," said Lee about this pre-visualisation process. "So, it's a stretch for me. But you have to do it, otherwise you cannot even do a quarter of that film. It's so expensive. If a shot costs you US$300,000 a day, then you have to see it before (you film it)," he said.

Still, despite that, he found that he had to change most of the shots when they were on set.

"We still do guerilla filmmaking," he said. "Like martial arts – if it doesn't work, you figure it out from there."

Exotic locations

Filming in the former French colony of Pondicherry, India, was a must for Lee.

"It's unique and somewhat unfamiliar to the rest of the world. It's like you can just drop a camera anywhere there, turn it on, and the picture will be beautiful," Lee said in the movie's production notes.

There, the crew of 600 (half of them locals) and 5,500 background actors (local residents), filmed at 18 locations in and around Pondicherry including the 1,000-year-old Villanur temple and Munnar, the popular hill station in Kerala on India's south-west coast.

The mysterious meerkat island, which appears at the end of the book, was filmed in Taiwan where the filmmakers found a colony of banyan trees at Taiwan's Kenting National Forest.

Lee was rather proud of the fact that he involved his home country in the production and the crew got to know Taiwan while working there. "I want them to have a good time. I watch what they eat, I go over their menu, watch over their livelihood and how they live in Taichung. In the meantime, I hope that local young filmmakers have a chance to learn from them," he said.

Exotic menagerie

The logistics of location filming and set management aside, working with animals – especially tigers – brings a whole other set of concerns.

The tigers – three French tigers and one Canadian tiger, we were told – were brought to the Taichung set to play Richard Parker. Unfortunately, they left two weeks before we arrived and all we saw were the big cages which used to house them, and the remnants of the zoo set.

King, the fiercest tiger, was cast because it matched the director's vision of Richard Parker, and became the primary physical model for Richard. A special unit shot hundreds of hours of footage on the tigers.

"(The animals) are actually quite inspiring. Eventually we should train actors like animals," Lee said, joking. "Animals don't think your way. You have to think their way. That's how it works."

Looking into the eyes of a tiger is humbling, said Lee, waxing philosophically about the animal – how it is a powerful symbol in Martel's tale, a reflection of nature, God's work and a human being's inner self.

"What's most inspiring to me is that (after everything that happens) the tiger doesn't even look back," Lee added. "That really humbles you … it sort of represents the unrequited love for the unknown, from God to religion. In the end, it doesn't really care what you think."

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Season’s bounty

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 03:19 PM PST

Last week, we promised more good news for bookworms in a Christmassy, gift-giving mood, and here it is: the final part of MPH Bookstores' special offer to Star2 readers.

COME one, come all, come old, young and in between, there must be something here that catches your eye – many titles certainly grabbed our attention, especially when we were writing down the prices and thinking of the special discount we can get with this page....

The titles featured here are part of the MPH Tokens Of Love Annual Catalogue 2012, which brings together unique gifts and offers so that there is bound to be something for everyone. Star2 readers, however, will exclusively enjoy a further 25% discount on the 10 titles from the catalogue that are featured in this section. Just present this page upon payment at any MPH Bookstore in Malaysia (except MPH@KLIA) to get the discount. The offer is limited to five copies per customer per original page (no photocopies allowed) and is valid, while stocks last, until Dec 31, 2012. It is not valid with other promotions and is not exchangeable for cash. Note that cover images published may differ from available stock.

Here's an introduction to the 10 books on offer this week:

1) One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern (RM 59.90)

REPORTER Kitty Logan's life is in utter turmoil: her career has been ruined by a costly mistake she made and she is about to lose her mentor, Constance. At the dying editor's bedside, Kitty asks, "What is the one story you always wanted to write?" The surprising answer is a list of 100 seemingly unconnected names.

After Constance dies, Kitty becomes determined to find out more about these ordinary people that Constance deemed important – and along way, regain her professional credibility as well as her belief in herself.

2) The Columbus Affair by Steve Berry (RM 31.90)

HERE'S another journalist in dire straits – in fact, Tom Sagan is actually contemplating suicide after his career is sabotaged for no reason that he can see. Then a hidden part of his family's history is revealed and Tom realises he might hold the key to a centuries old secret that could shake not only the America the world knows today but the very roots of the Christian and Jewish faiths.

3) The Twelve by Justin Cronin (RM 68.90)

THE New York Times' Sunday Book Review section deemed the first part of this trilogy a "literary superthriller, driven at once by character and plot".

In The Passage, we were introduced to a post-apocalyptic world in which "virals", zombie-like vampires, wander the land looking for flesh. This sequel, unusually, goes back to Year Zero, introducing us to key characters and showing how simple choices can change history.

With a deeper understanding of the virals' origins, there is a sense of greater urgency in the hunt for the original 12 virals that main characters Amy, Alicia and Peter began in The Passage and continue here.

4) Encyclopaedia About Everything (RM 39.90)

WHAT can you tell your child about the world's first civilisation? Craving to fill her soul with the surprising beauty of modern art?

From the vast universe to the tiniest of insects, this encyclopaedia covers just about every question that could occur in your child's inquisitive mind.

5) Bunnies By The Bay (RM 29.90)

ELSIE and her little bunnies pals, Blossom, Bloom and Bud, are all up and ready to have some fun with you! Catch these adorable residents of Cricket Island all together in this enjoyable slipcase. Perfect for little hands, it includes four stunning whiteboard board looks.

6) Surprise Surprise! Places by Jeannette Rowe (RM 19.90)

READ the rhyme, make your guess and lift the flap to see if you're right! Bestselling author and illustrator Jeannette Rowe gets children learning about the world through a fun guessing game.

7) My Jungle Jeep Fold-Out Track And Book by Marjory Gardner (RM32.90)

IT is a book, a wind-up vehicle and a track, all in one easy-to-carry paperback!

This will let your little one (and the, ahem, older ones who remain young at heart) travel through thick jungle or cruise along the glistening beach of a seaside destination.

Gear up an adventurous spirit, take the jeep for a spin along the illustrated track and create fun-filled voyages.

8) My First Stories For Girls (RM 19.90)

ENTER a magical world of enthralling princesses and whimsical fairies with these tales of royal voyages and adventure. Stunning illustrations bring 15 enchanting stories to life.

9) My First Stories For Boys (RM19.90)

WITH 15 tales of monsters, explorers, and other cheeky rascals, My First Stories For Boys caters to any robust bunch of children. Join in the fun as Robby sails his pirate ship, Alex flies a rocket to the moon and James plays a very stinky game of hide-and-seek!

10) My Treasury Of Animal Tales & Rhymes (RM 28.90)

ENTER a world of magic, adventure and mystery in this brilliantly illustrated collection that brings together old-school nursery rhymes and classic animal tales from well-known authors such as Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.

This is a great opportunity to introduce the original tales and rhymes to children who might not know anything but the Disney-fied versions and to spend family time together reading and remembering.

Memorable memoirs

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 03:18 PM PST

Justin Bieber: Just Getting Started
Author: Justin Bieber
Publisher: HarperCollins, 240 pages

CONTAINING stories from pop-sensation Justin Bieber himself, the book is a personal account of his life on the road. From the crazy highs of performing on stage to spending those precious quiet moments with his friends and family, Bieber looks to present readers with a personal backstage pass to his world. The Bieb takes fans travelling all over the world with him, from Tel Aviv to Tokyo, and provides an eye-opening narration of his rise to global stardom.

A Gift of Hope
Author: Danielle Steel
Publisher: Bantam Press, 128 pages

IN her previous memoir, His Bright Light, bestselling author Danielle Steel shared the story of losing her beloved son. In this book, she details how she has transformed that pain into a campaign of service that enriches the lives of others. Taking to the streets with a small team of helpers, she works anonymously to aid the homeless of San Francisco, America. The narration of her experience is candid and inspirational, one that brings attention to the plight of the less fortunate.

8 Habits Of Love
Author: Ed Bacon
Publisher: Grand Central Life & Style, 214 pages

IN what he calls a "spiritual guidebook to living life through love and connection", Ed Bacon details the steps one can take to overcome troubling emotions. Using relatable stories, the author teaches readers to create a full, meaningful life by developing simple habits that can help develop answers to crucial questions such as: How do I know I'm living the life I should be? How do I forgive those who have hurt me? How do I best help others when they need it? And how do I let go of the past and move forward?

Author: Kate Dawes
Publisher: CreateSpac e Independent Publishing Platform, 316 pages

OLIVIA Rowland, having left her Midwestern life behind after graduation, now works in Los Angeles as a Hollywood talent agent. It is here that she meets Max Dalton, Hollywood's youngest and brightest movie producer-cum-director-cum-writer. He is wealthy, successful and hot, and Rowland immediately falls for him. What then ensues is a perilous, yet passionate relationship that challenges their deepest and darkest desires.

Sweet Tooth
Author: Ian McEwan
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, 336 pages

SERENA Frome, a young lady both extremely beautiful and smart, is an agent working with the British intelligence agency, M15, in the 1970s. Her mission: infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer named Tom Haley to further the British government's goal of manipulating the cultural conversation. The operation is code named "Sweet Tooth" and through it, writers deemed to be politically aligned with the government receive funds to their aim.

For Frome everything proceeds according to plan, but that all changes when she falls in love with Haley.

The Omega-3 Effect
Author: William Sears, MD
Publisher: Little, Brown andCompany, 206 pages

DETAILING the function of omega-3s in the body, Dr William Sears gives readers a clear account of how to live a more healthy life by capitalising on the benefits of this particular fatty acid. The brain, heart, joints, skin and immune system – omega-3 plays an essential role in each of these body systems.

From tips on what foods and supplements readers can incorporate into their diet, to easy recipes to follow, Dr Sears makes it practical for approaching the omega-3 solution to health.

Master’s manga

Posted: 29 Nov 2012 03:16 PM PST

A classic series by Studio Ghibli maestro Hayao Miyazaki gets a richly-deserved reissue.

WHEN I was asked to write about some of my favourite "classic" manga, one title immediately popped into my mind: Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.

Yes, THAT Hayao Miyazaki, of Studio Ghibli fame. You know this is going to be good.

Originally published from 1982 to 1994, Nausicaa is an epic adventure set in the ruins of a world ravaged by the Seven Days Of Fire. In this post-apocalyptic landscape, the remnants of humanity have regressed into warring feudal states, and civilisation has to survive in the shadow of a massive fungal forest called the Sea of Corruption, with its poisonous miasma and countless rampaging giant mutant insects.

It all sounds pretty bleak and grim, but like most works from Ghibli's main man, it is really a tale full of hope and humanity. It's less Mad Max and more Totoro, if Totoro was a multi-eyed, armoured (and adorable) maggot the size of Genting Highlands, that is.

The titular Nausicaa is a tomboy princess of a small kingdom that was spared the worst of the post-apocalyptic pollution. Her gentle heart and courageous soul let her befriend the giant monsters in the nearby forests of miasma (a deadly gas released by the plants), but her peaceful days come to an end when a war between two nations threatens the safety of her kingdom and her monster friends.

Without giving too much away, Nausicaa gets caught in the middle of a massive war; saves the lives of friends and enemies using a combination of compassion and heroic ass-kicking; and eventually unravels secrets of the apocalypse and the wasteland.

Along the way, we glimpse the story of another princess who's forced to fight battles she would rather not have to fight, a shaman-priest trying to lead his people to safety aboard flying refugee ships and two ostensible god-emperors struggling against their own mortality.

If Nausicaa was merely a good adventure story, we would have read it and enjoyed it and that would be that. However, it is far more than just a story about a heroine saving the world. There is a reason why it stayed in my mind as one of the best manga titles I have ever read, and why I couldn't resist sharing this decades-old series, just in case some of you missed out on this classic.

It has evocative imagery that manages to be emotional without being shoujo-level sappy (the scene where one bad guy finds redemption brought a tear to my eye). Its characters have depth, and you'll grow to like them all – even the supposed "villains" and "monsters". Most importantly, at its core, Nausicaa is a story that speaks to the better side of humanity.

Miyazaki's favourite themes – caring for the environment, strong female characters saving the day and kindness winning over even the worst of villains – are present here; and the story feels magical despite the death and bloodshed.

This stark contrast wouldn't have worked so well if the artwork hadn't made the world so believable and engaging. Miyazaki uses clean, precise lines to illustrate his world, and every panel is packed with a fantastic amount of detail. Everything – from the dirty uniforms of the soldiers in the war, to the dents on the ancient flying machines, and the alien majesty of the Sea of Corruption and its denizens – is communicated in a robust visual language.

In some moments, you can understand how the princess can actually view a poisonous forest of pollution and its monstrous insect habitants as beautiful, innocent things.

If you're looking to add this to your reading library, the complete series has just been reissued as a hardcover two-volume box set. If anime is more your thing, you can look for the film adaptation, produced by Studio Ghibli, of course. Just be sure to get the newer DVD releases, and not the heavily edited 1980 (mal)adaptation called Warriors Of The Wind.

I wanted to end this review by saying, "get this manga, it will BLOW you away!". But no, Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind is way too classy a series for a terrible pun like that. It is a classic story of good triumphing over evil, wrapped in the context of an epic adventure, set in a world full of wonder and horrors. I cannot recommend it enough.

> The new hardcover Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind box set is now available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. As part of the bookstore's month-long Christmas promotion, you can get a 30% discount off the retail price with a purchase of any other item.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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