Ahad, 1 Januari 2012

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Pope Benedict XVI to visit Cuba March 26-28

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 07:47 PM PST

HAVANA (Reuters) - Pope Benedict XVI will visit Cuba on March 26-28 and perform two open-air masses on the communist island as part of his upcoming trip to Mexico and Cuba, Roman Catholic Church officials said on Sunday.

The 84-year-old pontiff was to fly from Mexico and arrive in the eastern city of Santiago, where he will be met by President Raul Castro, and then go on to Havana on March 27.

Pope Benedict XVI (2nd L) arrives to bless the traditional Crib in St Peter's Square at the Vatican December 31, 2011, after leading the First Vespers and Te Deum prayers in Saint Peter's Basilica. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

He will perform masses in the main plazas -- both known as Revolution Square -- of the two cities and also visit Cuba's most famous religious icon, the statue of the Virgin of Charity in the town of El Cobre, the Church said.

The purpose of the papal visit is in part to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the relic, said to have been found by three fishermen floating in a bay in eastern Cuba.

A replica of the statue on Friday completed a 16-month pilgrimage around the island that was the first such religious display since the 1950s and a signal of improved relations between the government and the Church, which were at odds for many years following the 1959 revolution.

Relations began to warm in the 1990s, a process that was aided by a 1998 visit by Pope John Paul II, and intensified in 2010 when the church brokered a deal with Castro to release political prisoners.

It was not known if Benedict would meet with Fidel Castro, 85, who ruled Cuba for 49 years before his brother Raul Castro, 80, succeeded him in 2008.

The elder Castro now seldom appears in public, but occasionally meets in private with visiting foreign leaders and writes columns about international affairs.

The pope will go to Mexico for three days starting on May 23 before going to Cuba, Mexico church officials said on Sunday.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Philip Barbara)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

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China dissident-lawyer Gao jailed in far west - brother

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 07:31 PM PST

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese authorities have jailed the prominent dissident-lawyer Gao Zhisheng in the remote far west, his brother said Monday, the first confirmation of Gao's whereabouts in nearly two years in a case that has fanned criticism about secretive detentions.

Gao has been imprisoned in the Shaya County Prison in Xinjiang region on charges of "inciting subversion of state power," his brother, Gao Zhiyi, told Reuters by telephone from his home in Shaanxi province, citing a court notice.

Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is seen in Beijing in this January 6, 2006 photo. REUTERS/Stringer

"Now we finally know where he is, I hope we can visit him in a few days, but it's a long way to travel," said Gao Zhiyi.

The court notice amounted to the clearest information of Gao Zhisheng's location since April 2010, when he briefly made contact with friends and foreign reporters after being held in secretive detention for more than a year.

China's state news agency Xinhua reported last month that Gao Zhisheng had been sent back to jail, ending his probation for an earlier conviction. But Xinhua did not say where Gao was, and his family and supporters believe he has been held secretively by authorities for much of the past two years.

A combative Beijing-based rights advocate who tackled many causes anathema to the ruling Communist Party, Gao was sentenced to three years in jail in 2006 for "inciting subversion of state power," a charge often used to punish critics of one-party rule.

Gao was given five years of probation, formally sparing him from the prison sentence. But his family was under constant surveillance and Gao was detained on and off over that time.

His probation was soon to expire when the court announced that he would instead be sent to jail to serve his sentence.

Gao was taken from a relative's home in Shaanxi province in north China in February 2009 -- his family says by security officers -- and had been missing since he resurfaced briefly in April 2010.

Gao's wife, Geng He, and children have sought refuge in the United States where members of Congress have pressed his case.

The United Nations working group on arbitrary detention said in March 2010 that Gao was being detained in violation of international law.

Shaya, where the notice said Gao is jailed, is about 1,100 km (680 miles) southwest of Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

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Syria bloodshed defies Arab monitor mission

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 03:48 PM PST

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian security forces killed eight more protesters and an Arab League organization urged Arab monitors to leave Syria, saying unrelenting bloodshed made a mockery of their mission.

Arab League observers speak to each other in Idlib December 30, 2011. REUTERS/Handout

President Bashar al-Assad's forces, keen to prevent huge protest rallies under the monitors' eyes, have killed at least 286 people since December 23, the day before the mission's leader arrived in Syria, according to activists who tally casualties.

Some of Sunday's eight deaths occurred when security forces fired on protesters in the Damascus suburb of Daria, they said.

The Arab Parliament, an 88-strong advisory committee of delegates from the Arab League's member states, said the violence was continuing to claim many victims.

"For this to happen in the presence of Arab monitors has roused the anger of Arab people and negates the purpose of sending a fact-finding mission," its chairman, Ali al-Salem al-Dekbas, said in Cairo.

"This is giving the Syrian regime an Arab cover for continuing its inhumane actions under the eyes and ears of the Arab League," he said.

Assad's opponents, while welcoming the Arab mission as a rare chance for outsiders to witness events in Syria, had few illusions that the observers could halt a crackdown on dissent that U.N. officials say has cost over 5,000 lives since March.

The monitors are checking Syria's compliance with an Arab peace plan that calls for Assad to withdraw troops and tanks from the streets, release detainees and talk to his opponents.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby had said it should take only a week to see if Assad was keeping his word.


"The presence of monitors has not affected the behaviour of the regime with hundreds killed and no let-up," said Rima Fleihan, from the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC).

The Arab Parliament was the first body to recommend freezing Syria's League membership in protest at the bloodshed.

Arab monitors visiting Deraa, a southern town viewed as the cradle of the nine-month-old revolt, went to the home of Sheikh Ahmad Hayasneh, the elderly imam of the Omari mosque where the first big protests against Assad's 11 years in power erupted in March.

It was unclear if the monitors met Hayasneh, who residents say has been under house arrest for at least five months.

The Arab mission is still short of its planned strength of 150 observers and it relies on the government for transport and security to monitor events across a country of 23 million.

"The team has been escorted with the governor and there is no way for anyone other than security personnel to get anywhere near them," said Ibrahim Aba Zaid, an activist from Deraa.

Some statements by Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, the mission's leader, have suggested a soft approach to the Syrian authorities, although some monitors have not minced their words.

"We saw snipers in the town, we saw them with our own eyes," one observer filmed in Deraa said in Arabic, visibly concerned. "We're going to ask the government to remove them immediately. We'll be in touch with the Arab League back in Cairo."

Dabi later told the BBC the observer's remarks, shown on a YouTube clip posted Saturday, had been misreported.

In another incident, shown on Al Arabiya television, a monitor in the embattled neighbourhood of Bab Amro in Homs appealed to the authorities by telephone to stop firing there.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have taken to the streets in the past week in an apparent effort to show the Arab monitors the depth of their rejection of Assad's government.

"The Syrians want a modern regime in the New Year," read a placard carried by protesters in a suburb of Damascus.

Assad blames the unrest on foreign-backed armed Islamists who officials say have killed 2,000 security personnel.

He retains the support of much of his minority Alawite community and, despite some defections, of the armed forces. While anti-Assad sentiment runs high in the provinces, there have been few protests in central parts of Damascus or Aleppo.

(Writing by Alistair Lyon; editing by David Stamp)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Interesting TV programmes for 2012

Posted: 02 Jan 2012 05:18 AM PST

Programmes to look forward to this year.

TELEVISION viewing has become a great pastime for many these days thanks to the wonderful shows that are available for our pleasure. Now, besides the returning favourites, there are a couple of new series that are worth getting comfortable on the sofa for. Here are some of them.


Revenge – Those of you who have been missing good old fashioned catfight will not be disappointed with this new series. Loosely based on The Count Of Monte Cristo – with a female protagonist this time around – the series follows Amanda Clarke (Emily Van Camp) as she plots revenge on the Graysons for destroying her family 17 years ago.

With a new name and steely determination, Amanda sets her sights on the regal-like Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe), who practically rules over the other priviliged people who live in the Hamptons. But Victoria is not an easy woman to bring down even though she seems too busy planning for one party after another.

What makes the series a must-watch on your list is how they tell the story, that gets you immediately hooked. Revenge begins with a man getting shot and a wedding – whose wedding and who got shot? Well, now, that would be telling.

Hip Hoppin' Asia – A local variety series that sees hip hop artiste Joe Flizzow travelling to different parts of Asia to learn how others define the hip hop experience, and share with them his love for this genre.


Luck – A series from director Michael Mann and Deadwood creator David Milch, which takes a look at the world of horse racing at a California racetrack. Dustin Hoffman leads the cast as Chester "Ace" Bernstein, an intuitive tough guy who has always been involved in gambling – from bookmaking and money laundering to casino operations. Others in the cast include Dennis Farina, Nick Nolte, John Ortiz, Richard Kind, Ian Hart and Kevin Dunn.

Veep – A comedy series set in Washington, DC, Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as former Senator Selina Meyer, who becomes Vice President, only to discover the job is nothing like she expected, but everything she was warned about.


Spartacus: Vengeance – On the heels of the bloody escape from the House of Batiatus that concluded Spartacus: Blood And Sand, the gladiator rebellion continues and begins to strike fear into the heart of the Roman Republic. Gaius Claudius Glaber and his Roman troops are sent to Capua to crush the growing band of freed slaves. And our hero Spartacus is presented with an interesting choice. The lead role is now played by Liam McIntyre, but the series still features blood-soaked action, exotic sexuality, villainy and heroism.


Suits – While the premise of the show is in a law firm revolving around a very sharp lawyer (in a suit, of course) named Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), the series is really about the friendship between Specter and young Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams).

Ross has the ability to read things only once to process the material and remember each word verbatim. This skill is especially handy as he is a college dropout who must find his way as a lawyer, with Specter as his mentor.

The street-smart Ross brings a different kind of edge to the law firm, but that doesn't mean his murky past doesn't haunt him. Adams received a Golden Globe nomination for his work in Suits. Also in the cast are Gina Torres and Rick Hoffman.

Smash – Steven Spielberg is executive producing this series which centres on the drama behind the staging of a Broadway musical. The normal song and dance is expected, but what isn't is how entertaining it is to watch Debra Messing and Jack Davenport play a producer and a choreographer, respectively, while Katharine McPhee showcases talent in portraying a budding star.


Pan Am – See first-hand the action behind the glamorous world of flight attendants, or as they were referred to in the 1960s, stewardesses. The story focuses on four women working at Pan Am, a global airline that flew many of the world's powerful people.

Laura Cameron (Margot Robbie) is about to get married when she decides that being a stay-home wife is not the life she wants. She wants to be like her sister, Kate (Kelli Garner), who is an air stewardess. On the same flight are Maggie (Christina Ricci) and French-born Colette (Karinne Vanasse).

The series is based on executive producer Nancy Hult Ganis' experience working for the airline for seven years. Gunis went on to talk to more than 20 Pan Am stewardesses from that era for a more accurate take on this occupation. By the way, there's a bit of espionage in the series too.

The Firm – In 1993, director Sydney Pollack explored John Grisham's book on the big screen with Tom Cruise. This year, that same material is apparently ripe for a TV series starring Josh Lucas and two Battlestar Galactica alumni, Tricia Helfer and Callum Keith Rennie.


The Nine Lives Of Chloe King – Skyler Samuels plays 16-year-old Chloe King who discovers she has cat-like abilities and is the descendant of an ancient race called the Mai. This turns out to be a good thing, especially when she is hunted by an assassin bent on ridding the world of people like her. Actually, the pilot starts with her dying. Fortunately, she has eight more lives – although she figures it's a good idea not to use up those numbers too soon – and that her safety is a priority with other Mai members. Also, she may be the key to protecting the race and she can't kiss a human without killing him. Even though the series itself was killed off after just 10 episodes, it's still worth watching just to see Samuels in the title role.

Teen Wolf – Yet another teen burdened with an animal-like ability. Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) is attacked by a werewolf and is now cursed to turn into one come full moon.

Universal Channel

Grimm – You know those creatures that the Grimm brothers wrote about in their books of fairy tales. What if they were actual creatures who live among us? Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) learns that he is a direct descendent of the Grimm family. This also means, he has to carry a responsibility that has been carried by members of Grimm before him. As he goes about his job as a police detective, he learns that there is always a darker reason behind a crime. Here's a hint, it has something to do with creatures in the books. At the same time, these so-called being can reform and be a great help to him, like a certain Big Bad Wolf that used to eat up little girls wearing red riding hoods.

BIO Channel

Disney Pixar – Here's a chance to visit Disney Pixar, a company that brought to life films like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, A Bug's Life, Up and The Incredibles.

The man in charge – John Lasseter – has also been busy bringing back some of Disney's classics like The Lion King and The Beauty & The Beast back to the big-screen in 3D format, besides creating new features like the recent Tangled.

This documentary traces the creative process from the storyboard to the silver screen. See the sketches that brought to life the likes of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Bambi And Dumbo, and explore the computer-generated artwork in the more modern classics.

History Channel

Siti Nurhaliza Special – On her 33th birthday (Jan 11), the singer with a golden voice shares her life story – from a child who learned early the meaning of providing for her family to following her passion and finally finding stardom.


Nikita – Nikita has worn many faces over the years on both the film and television screens. Now, she looks like Maggie Q. Nikita, an assassin trained by an agency known as the Division, has escaped its clutches and is now trying to bring it down. Although she is really good at taking down guys and shooting with an aim to kill, Nikita cannot bring down the well-oiled Division without help.

Meanwhile, the agents – especially one very serious one named Michael (Shane West), who happens to be Nikita's trainer – have been directed to take her down.

In all her versions, Nikita is forever grappling with guilt over the things she has done for Division. Hence, this updated version is interesting as she finally does something which is to use the skills taught by the Division to make things right.

Aunty Must Go Crazy – Get ready for a "kampung" version of Amazing Race. This series showcases older participants as they go across Malaysia to compete in all kinds of challenges that any Malaysian would be familiar with, to win cash and prizes.

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Enjoy a new era of entertainment

Posted: 02 Jan 2012 05:18 AM PST

Fox International Channels adds to your entertainment pleasure.

ALL movie buffs out there, hear this! Fox International Channels ushers in 2012 with the launch of new channels on Astro, featuring latest Hollywood blockbusters, original drama series, live events, concerts and award-winning documentaries.

Fans can now enjoy a whole new era of entertainment as Fox International Channels presents its all-new Fox Movies Premium (FMP) (Astro Ch 413) and Fox Movies Premium HD (FMP HD) (Astro Ch 433).

The launch of the new channel is part of Fox International Channels' commitment to further strengthen its lead position in the entertainment genre, where Star Movies and Star Movies HD will be evolving to the new FMP and FMP HD, respectively.

According to Basil Chua, Fox International Channels' director and territory head for Malaysia, FMP is a first-of-its-kind which is also a revolutionary new viewer-centric approach to the movie and entertainment channel.

FMP provides first-run, exclusive and live content, as well as cutting-edge, advanced services. With its unique combination of first-run Hollywood blockbuster movies, acclaimed original series, live concerts and special events, and provocative documentaries, the channel provides an unmatched entertainment experience. The services built around FMP includes a separate HD simulcast channel in Dolby 5.1-channel surround sound.

"With blockbuster premieres, exclusive content and new features such as high-definition viewing, and Dolby 5.1-channel surround sound, FMP and FMP HD are not only changing the way movie lovers will be entertained in Malaysia, but is taking the whole viewing experience to the next level," said Chua during the channel's launch recently.

Viewers will not only get all the Hollywood blockbusters they love, they will also benefit from the new line-up of original drama series, live events, concerts and award-winning documentaries.

"The new FMP channel is a revolutionary new approach to the movie channel genre. We know that our fans demand more than just movies, so, we have created an incredible next-generation channel that we know they will love," added Chua.

"With all the first and exclusive content, together with added features that will enhance our viewing experience, FMP is redefining the 'premium' Pay-TV channel," he said.

Both channels will kick off the new year with the latest Hollywood hits, including the premiere of Tron: Legacy, The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, The Switch, Gulliver's Travels, and original drama series like The Walking Dead. Viewers will also get to indulge in their love for music as FMP and FMP HD will be saluting the King of Pop, the late Michael Jackson, in February.

To bring movie fans closer to their favourite Hollywood stars, both channels will also broadcast every major film awards ceremony of 2012 live and exclusive as part of its special events offering.

The awards season will kick off with the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards featuring Ricky Gervais who returns as host on Jan 16, followed by the 18th Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan 30. The awards fever will continue with the Orange British Academy Film Awards on Feb 13 and the 84th Annual Academy Awards on Feb 27.

At a glance, Sunday Mega Movie slot offers an exciting mix: Indian movie It's A Wonderful Afterlife (Jan 8, 10pm), Vietnamese action movie Clash featuring Veronica Ngo and Johnny Tri Nguyen (Jan 14, 9pm), The Switch (Jan 15, 10pm), The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader (Jan 22, 10pm) and Gulliver's Travels (Jan 29, 10pm).

And to add merry to the Year of the Dragon, it will air Shanghai Knights (Jan 23, 10pm), Ice Age (Jan 24, 10pm), The Last Song (Jan 25, 10pm), Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (Jan 27, 10pm) and X-Men: The Last Stand (Jan 28, 10pm).

Next month, the fun continues with Sunday premieres of I Am Number Four (Feb 5, 10pm) and Season Of The Witch (Feb 12,10pm).

There are also four of the most critically acclaimed Oscar-nominated and winning films to be screened in the two weeks leading up to the Academy Award: Rabbit Hole (Feb 18, 10pm), The Fighter (Feb 19, 10pm), Blue Valentine (Feb 25, 10pm) and Black Swan (Feb 26, 10pm).

And for Jackson fans, there will be Michael Forever tribute concert (Feb 11, 9pm) and Michael Jackson's This Is It (Feb 11, 10.35pm).

The Walking Dead, the year's most critically acclaimed and successful TV series, is scheduled on Fridays at 10pm beginning Feb 11, where viewers can catch up on all episodes from the latest season back-to-back.

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Fiesta time

Posted: 02 Jan 2012 03:25 AM PST

ASTRO subscribers can usher in the new year with the much anticipated return of Astro Fiesta Channels on Astro channel 150-152 in SD and Astro channel 155-157 in HD till Jan 8.

Subscribers are treated to a preview of the all new and exclusive Fox Family Movies channels, which will be available on Astro channel 152 in SD and Astro channel 157 in HD for a limited time (from now till Jan 8). Viewers can look forward to family movies including The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and Toy Story 1, 2, 3.

There is also Star World HD (Astro channel 722), launched on Dec 26, as an addition to the High-Definition channels currently on the Astro B.yond platform.

Astro B.yond customers subscribing to the Astro Variety package can watch many of their favourite shows on Star World HD – American Idol S11, Glee S3, Junior MasterChef Australia S2, Dancing With The Stars, America's Next Top Model S17 and many more.

Fans should not miss the all new TV series of Nickelodeon's Kung Fu Panda: The Legend Of Awesomeness, whereby the first episode will premiere exclusively on the Astro Fiesta channel prior to being shown on the Nickeoldeon channel. Other favourites include Ben 10: Secret Of The Omnitrix, Phineas And Ferb The Movie: Across The Second Dimension and The Amazing World Of Gumball.

Music lovers will be treated to Konsert Aura 3 Diva featuring Malaysia's top three divas Datuk Siti Nurhaliza, Ella and Ramlah Ram and the recent Suara Kami concert with top notch local acts the likes of Yuna, Hujan, Pop Shuvit and international superstars Hins Cheung, RaNia and Nelly.

Other highlights are The 2011 Astro Classic Golden Melody Finals, Vivian Chow Specials, K-Pop Countdown, 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards, MTV World Stage 2011, Elton John – Red Piano, Andrea Bocelli – Concerto: One Night In Central Park, Nirvana – Live At The Paramount and Amy Winehouse: Live In London.

Also in the line-up are movies Kembar Siang, My Sassy Girl 2, Manmadhan Ambu, Engeyum Kadhal and Hindi mega hit Bodyguard.

This year's Astro Fiesta has also included another special line-up of some of the finest documentaries about Malaysia: Discovery Channel's Revealed: Malaysia's Royal Rites, National Geographic's A Leader's Legacy: Tun Abdul Razak and The Untold Truth About Super Mokh.

For more information, log on to www.astro.com.my.

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

S.Korea Dec manufacturing sector activity falls most in 3 yrs

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 04:48 PM PST

Published: Monday January 2, 2012 MYT 8:49:00 AM

SEOUL, Jan 2 (Reuters) South Korea's manufacturing sector activity shrank for a fifth straight month and by the most in nearly three years, a survey showed Monday, providing fresh evidence of cooling global demand in the face of Europe's debt crisis. The HSBC/Markit purchasing managers' index (PMI) on South Korea's manufacturing sector fell to a seasonally adjusted 46.40 in December from 47.12 in November, hitting the lowest since February 2009, Markit Economics said in a statement. It was the fifth month in a row that the index stayed below 50 demarcating expansion from contraction in manufacturing activity, the longest such losing streak since February 2009. "A sharper drop in manufacturing activity over December confirms that Korea's economy is losing steam, with employment contracting over the month for the first time in almost three years," HSBC economist Ronald Man said in a statement. He was referring to the first fall below 50 of the subindex on employment in the manufacturing sector since February 2009, when the world was recovering from the shock of the worst economic crisis in decades. The subindex on employment fell to a seasonally adjusted 49.37 in December from 50.50 in November. The subindex on new export orders received by South Korean manufacturers fell to a seasonally adjusted 45.96 in December, the lowest since early 2009 and also coming below the 50point mark for a fifth consecutive month. "In turn, policy makers should act preemptively to support the economy, and we expect the Bank of Korea to deliver a 25 basispoint cut in the first quarter 2012," said Man, referring to the central bank's interest rate policy. The Bank of Korea downgraded its outlook for Asia's fourthlargest economy in December but maintained its policy priority on fighting inflation, although analysts are increasingly predicting a rate cut later this year.

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Hyundai Heavy targets 20 pct order growth in 2012 to $31bil

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 04:45 PM PST

SEOUL, Jan 2 (Reuters) South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's biggest shipbuilder, said on Monday order growth was expected to more than halve to 20 percent this year as a sputtering global economy threatens to reduce seaborne trade.

The conservative outlook adds to recent order cancellations in the global shipbuilding sector as economic turmoil and tighter bank lending have compounded growing earnings pain for ship owners.

Hyundai, which also makes marine engines and construction equipment, aims to win $30.6 billion in orders and earn 27.6 trillion won ($24 billion) in revenue this year, the company said in a filing to the stock exchange.

A Hyundai spokesman said 2012 order book growth would slow to 20 percent after rising 48 percent in 2011 to $25.5 billion.

Separately smaller rival STX Corp said it aimed to raise orders by 43 percent to 43 trillion won and sales by 14 percent to 33 trillion won this year.

In 2011, the shipbuilder to ship operator sought to raise its order book by 30 percent but growth came in flat due to worsening conditions in the seaborne sector. ($1 = 1152.0000 won)

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INSIGHT - West in political crisis has echoes of 1930s

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 04:43 PM PST

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Dysfunctional politics threatens to deliver a protracted period of slow global growth, possibly lasting well beyond 2012, which will only deepen the political and economic problems for the West.

The global financial crisis that began four years ago has morphed into a political crisis for the United States and Europe. Leaders incapable of wrestling their debt loads to manageable levels or reviving strong economic growth are stoking turmoil in markets and populist unrest among the citizenry.

The political malaise is also hastening the shift of world economic power toward developing countries led by China. At worst, it could cause a second global recession bringing with it political upheaval on a scale not seen since the 1930s.

These unpalatable scenarios are being sketched by a growing number of leading political strategists, academics and economists after an extraordinary year when the once unthinkable came to pass: the United States had its credit rating downgraded while the developing world enjoys upgrades; Europe went cap in hand to Beijing for a financial bailout; and Brazil overtook Britain within the G7 club of major economies.

The shifting international economic order toward developing countries is nothing new. But it has been happening at a faster pace than expected, accelerated by what these analysts have begun describing as Western democracy in crisis.

They see a government credibility problem in the United States and European Union, stemming from a perception that the political elite is too closely tied to the financial elite in the West, and their collusion caused the financial chaos of 2007 and 2008 and its messy aftermath, leaving the average citizen burdened with higher public debt, higher taxes, unemployment and austerity programs.

Left to pay for what voters see as the elite's mistakes, public confidence in government has been undermined, and political paralysis has set in as Western leaders struggle to pull governmental levers that are not working effectively.

In contrast, developing nations have been modernizing their institutions and markets, delivering growth rates in the past decade triple those of the West. By 2020, the Centre for Economics and Business Research in London estimates that India and Russia will have joined China and Brazil in the G7 ranks as the biggest economies in the world based on total GDP output, ousting Britain and France. Only the United States, Japan and Germany will be left from the old G7 that dominated the international order since World War II.

Niall Ferguson, a prominent economic historian now at Harvard, calls this an historic power shift.

"For the better part of 500 years, it was Westerners on both sides of the Atlantic who could say that they had the best economic system, that they developed the best political system and so forth. And those claims have sounded increasingly hollow in our time," Ferguson said in an interview.

The breakdown in public confidence caused by the financial crisis has revealed a deeper problem. "What we're seeing in government is part of a wider crisis of Western institutions," he said.

The Tea Party movement in the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement and riots in Europe all are populist expressions of this breakdown of trust. Institutionally, it is reflected in a U.S. Congress deadlocked over taxes and spending with lawmakers so polarized by different narratives on the causes and fixes for the financial crisis that it is nearly impossible to reach decisions, even though both sides recognize that if left unchanged, their policies will bankrupt the nation, he said.

In Europe, leaders lurch from summit to summit, making partial decisions on fixing a debt crisis and trying to save the 17-member monetary union. But in the process the political elite in Brussels and the capitals are losing touch with their democratic base, which is uncertain it wants to pay the price required for monetary union through deep cutbacks.

Heather Conley, a former U.S. Under Secretary of State for European Affairs and now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said this near political paralysis seen in the United States and Europe is common when governments are at an inflection point.

"Without decisive direction and leadership, we march in place or attempt to muddle through, uncertain of which path to take. The West is at such a moment," she said.

"Only an external shock I fear will force us to take the uncertain (new) path. Or we will become so frustrated that the West will choose leaders who will take us in a radically new direction. I'm not sure our frustration level has reached that level, yet. But Europe may be arriving there soon."

Governments in Greece, Italy and Spain have collapsed or been voted out of power in the past year, and 2012 brings presidential elections in the United States, France and Russia.


The fall-out from Europe's debt crisis is being felt far and wide.

Japan already has endured nearly two decades of lost economic growth and weak political leadership after its financial bubble collapsed in the early 1990s.

George Friedman, geopolitical strategist and chief executive of Stratfor Global Intelligence, sees a distinct risk that China too will join the club of countries in political stalemate, subdued or stalled growth and popular unrest - with potentially serious consequences.

"When the United States, Europe and China go into a crisis of this sort, it can reasonably be said that the center of gravity of the world's economy and most of its military power is in crisis. It is not a trivial moment," Friedman wrote in "Dominoes of Doom" on the website EconomyWatch.com.

China's economy, heavily dependent on exports, is slowing fast. Officials described the global economic outlook as "extremely grim" last month after its annual work conference, signalling deep concern as China enters a year of leadership change.

The Chinese government responded to the global recession spawned by the 2007-2008 financial meltdown with a massive credit expansion that has stoked inflation and fed a property boom. It also increased controls on the economy through state-owned companies, further concentrating state power, which Friedman sees as politically destabilizing as growth slows down.

Witness the past month villagers in southern China in a 10-day standoff with public officials over land expropriation, thousands marching in Haimen city to protest a power plant and a worker sit-in in Dongguan city demanding back pay after their paper plant closed.


The best that can be hoped for in 2012 is a muddling through, where economic growth in the United States averages around 2 percent compared with zero in the euro zone, analysts said. World growth, buoyed by emerging markets, looks set to average around 3 percent.

Martin Sass, founder of the New York based hedge fund M.D. Sass with $7.5 billion under management, is among those pinning his hopes on the elections breaking the stalemate. "I never expected the level of dysfunction in the U.S. and European lawmaking ... and I never saw fundamentals count for so little in the stock market. Politics and contagion were the drivers of this underperforming market, not balance sheets and earnings."

"It is going to take a new election in November (in the United States) to get any legislation through to deal with our problems," Sass said.

If the political system starts functioning effectively again, Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive officer at PIMCO, the world's largest bond fund, said it's not too late for policymakers to catch up and avert serious economic downturn.

But elections alone may not prove the answer. To break the paralysis, political leaders need to offer a new vision, one that rebalances the cozy linkage between finance and politics, otherwise the credibility of the political system will remain compromised, said Scheherazade Rehman, professor of international affairs and finance at George Washington University.

"There has to be a shifting of our institutions. The banking system is at the heart of our economic system and with it extraordinary ties to the political system. We have to rethink the close relationship that caused the breakage," she said.

The political crisis shot to the foreground this year as voters lost confidence in how governments responded to the 2007-2008 financial crisis, global recession and the resulting explosion in sovereign debt levels. Two narratives have emerged of what went wrong. The left casts the banker as the prime villain, unpunished by the political elite who allowed CEOs to violate all the principles of fiduciary and moral responsibility in pursuit of personal gain, which fuels the perception of a political system in collusion with a criminal financial elite it is unwilling to punish.

The right-wing narrative casts big government as the villain for exploiting the crisis to expand its regulatory powers that intrude on free markets, and to spend money on huge bailouts and social welfare programs that have only exploded the budget deficit.

In both narratives, the victim is the average citizen who is left paying a gigantic bill - through high unemployment, higher taxes and lost economic opportunity. Either way, the compact between political governance and economic life has broken.

"The political reaction, whether big government is seen at fault or big business, the reaction is that the system is tainted and there is too much crony capitalism at work," said Raghuram Rajan, finance professor at the University of Chicago and former International Monetary Fund chief economist.

There is a distinct possibility that political dysfunction will continue well after the 2012 elections - held in May for France and November for the United States, while China completes its leadership handover by the spring of 2013.

In the United States, voters could return a divided and polarised Congress again, continuing the legislative standoff. One-party rule may prove little better, if the path chosen toward budgetary discipline is excessive taxation or ultra-steep budget cuts. In France, the election winner's relationship with Germany and fellow EU leaders will prove critical.

Although Western democracy has demonstrated the flexibility to reform when facing severe challenges, the shadow of the 1930s looms large. This uncertainty over whether strong political leadership can emerge in 2012 is haunting markets.

John Browne, senior economic consultant to Euro Pacific Capital, is among the pessimists. He told clients in his year end note that American and European Union politicians have shown utter unwillingness to take tough decisions they know should be enacted to avoid looming global economic disaster.

"With an estimated $6 trillion plus solvency shortfall of the euro zone banks, and $16 trillion in U.S. public debt, it will take leadership of far greater caliber to avert a disaster. Such leadership is nowhere in sight," he said.

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The Star Online: Sports

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Argentine Boero killed in Dakar Rally opening stage

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 03:48 PM PST

(Reuters) - Argentine motorcyclist Jorge Martinez Boero was killed when he crashed on the first stage of the Dakar Rally in Argentina on Sunday, organisers said.

Boero, 38, crashed near the end of the special section among dunes on the Atlantic coast on his Beta RR450 on the stage from Mar del Plata in Buenos Aires province to Santa Rosa in La Pampa in the centre of the country.

The son of a former national motor racing champion and taking part in his second Dakar rally, he suffered serious injuries to his thorax and cardiac arrest.

"The rider suffered a cardiac arrest following his fall and was attended five minutes after the accident by the medical staff, who reached the place of the incident by helicopter," said a statement on the official race website (

"Despite their best efforts, the doctors were unable to resuscitate the pilot (rider), who died while he was being taken to hospital."

The rally, which moved from Africa to South America for security reasons four years ago, is notoriously dangerous and has claimed several lives in the past.

"However experienced the racers may be, they know the Dakar is high risk and that unfortunately this (kind of accident) can happen. Any error can cost you your life," Ignacio Crotto, race coordinator for the province of Buenos Aires, told TN television news.

Boero made huge efforts to be able to take part, including selling his apartment having had to pull out last year after getting lost on the fifth stage in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.

"I'm going to give it everything to get to Lima... What doesn't kill (you), strengthens you," he told friends and family on what was to be his last ever message on his twitter account (@jmboero)

More than 20 competitors have lost their lives since the first Paris-Dakar rally in 1979 with Boero the second in Argentina after Frenchman Pascal Henry in 2009.

There have also been numerous deaths among spectators, organisers including race founder Thierry Sabine and members of the media.

During last year's race a man died after his car was hit by another taking part in the rally and in 2010 a woman watching the rally died after being hit by a participating vehicle.

In the years the race was held in western Africa, there was often the threat from gangs or bandits, finally the cause for the race to be moved to South America.

Previously raced in Argentina and Chile, this year's rally has been extended to include Peru and covers a distance of nearly 9,000 km, finishing in Lima on Jan. 15.

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Zamri shows Olympic mettle

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 03:48 PM PST

MUAR: Terengganu's Mohd Zamri Salleh started his new year with a bang when he sealed the overall win in the national cycling Grand Prix here yesterday.

Zamri, who was kicked out from the national team last year, landed the title after finishing eighth in the final leg yesterday to finish with 49 points.

Terengganu Pro-Asia duo Mohd Nur Umardi Rosli and Mohd Saufi Mat Senan finished second and third respectively with both on 44 points.

The 174.1km race was won by Nur Amirull Fakhruddin Mazuki of Terengganu-Pro Asia in 4'25:42.112 followed by Selangor's Mohd Zulhilmi Afif, 1.371s behind.

Zamri, who is now back in the national fold and in the running for the two spots for the road race in the London Olympic Games, was happy to take the overall win after Umardi could only finish 11th yesterday.

"This is the result of my hard training in Terengganu after I was kicked out from the national team," said the 28-year-old.

A good all-rounder, Zamri hopes his win will boost his chances of making the trip to London in July.

Others in the running for the two Olympic spots are Mohd Adiq Husainie Othman, Anuar Manan, Mohd Harrif Salleh, Amir Mustafa Rusli and Ng Yong Li.

"The course in London is designed for sprinters, but I'm not one. What I can do is help out in the final run towards the finish line, ... if I am given the chance," said Zamri.

Former national champion Mariana Mohamad won the 121.7km women's race ahead of Masziyaton Mohd Radzi of Kedah.

However, it was the Kedahan who walked away with the overall title.

Masziyaton amassed a total of 89 points to be crowned champion while Mariana finished second overall on 71 points.

Sofian Nabil Omar Bakri of Terengganu bagged the boys' title with 85 points despite finishing in 21st spot.


Men: 1. Nur Amirull Fakhruddin Mazuki (Terengganu Pro-Asia) 4'25:42.112, 2. Mohd Zulhilmie Afif (Sel) 1.371secs behind, 3. Muhd Khairul Azizi Abdullah (Ter) 1.420.

Women: 1. Mariana Mohamad (Sel) 3'46:52.300 2. Masziyaton Mohd Radzi (Ked), 3. Muslihah Salim (A. Forces) all same time.

Boys: 1. Mohd Al Azani Zainal (Joh) 3'20:37.782, 2. Muhd Syazwan Aliff Zaidy (Ter) 0.225sec behind, 3. Abdul Ariff Abdul Rahman (Ter) 0.306.


Men: 1. Mohd Zamri Salleh (Navy) 49pts, 2. Mohd Nur Umardi Rosli (Terengganu Pro-Asia) 44, 3. Mohd Saufi Mat Senan (Terengganu Pro-Asia) 44.

Women: 1. Masziyaton Mohd Radzi (Ked) 89, 2. Mariana Mohamad (Sel) 71, 3. Ju Pha Som Net (Per) 54.

Boys: 1. Sofian Nabil Omar Bakri (Ter) 85, 2. Mohd Al Azani Zainal (Joh) 59, 3. Mohd Azrul Taufiq Anuar (Joh) 31.

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Boon Heong enters new year with aim of burying ghost of 2011

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 03:19 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: Top doubles shuttler Tan Boon Heong intends to enter the new year with a positive mindset and bury the nightmare of 2011.

Boon Heong and his partner Koo Kien Keat endured a dismal year, winning only one title – the Malaysian Open GP Gold – in May.

They were largely disappointing in several tournaments, including losing in the first round of the Malaysian and Denmark Opens. They also failed to live up to expectations in the World Championships last August.

Boon Heong-Kien Keat were also powerless against the likes of China's Cai Yun-Fu Haifeng and Koreans Jung Jae-sung-Lee Yong-dae and Ko Sung-hyun-Yoo Yeon-seong.

That prompted the BA of Malaysia to bring in Korean coach Yoo Yong-sung to stop the rot.

The Korean's presence has yet to have its desired effect and the duo have since dropped to No. 6 in the world rankings.

But Kedahan Boon Heong says they are working hard to change things and he is also adamant that the expertise from Yong-sung is gradually paying off.

"We're working extra hard to change things and I thought we did pretty well against Jae-sung-Yong-dae in the Superseries Finals ... it was only due to mistakes in the end that we lost," said Boon Heong.

"Our problem is our inconsistency.

"I don't want to dwell too much on the past. I'm looking forward to the new year, starting with the Korean Open ... which I hope will bring us better fortune."

Fortune certainly seems to be favouring Boon Heong-Kien Keat in the Korean Open, which begins tomorrow, as second seeds Jae-sung-Yong-dae have withdrawn from the competition.

They were initially scheduled to meet the world No. 2 Korean pair in the quarter-finals and a defeat would have seen the duo, who reached the semi-finals of the same tournament last year, slide even further down the rankings.

The Koreans' absence should come as a tremendous relief for Boon Heong-Kien Keat, who have lost 11 of their 12 clashes against Jae-sung-Yong-dae.

But that isn't the case as the Malaysians seemed more concerned about their first round opponents – Koen Ridder-Rudd Bosch of Holland.

"Actually, it doesn't really bother me that the Korean pair have withdrawn because my focus is solely on the first round," said Boon Heong.

"We're trying not to think too far ahead because usually it's the opponents in the first and second rounds that can derail you."

A win over the Dutch pair should pit them against Taiwan's Fang Chieh Min-Lee Sheng Mu in the second round and they should have an easier run-in to the semi-finals where they should face Denmark's Mathias Boe-Carsten Morgensen.

The withdrawal of Jae-sung-Yong-dae has also allowed rising Malaysian pair Goh V Shem-Lim Khim Wah to skip the qualifying rounds and proceed to the main draw.

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Anwar no more Raja Petra’s hero

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 03:08 PM PST

Raja Petra Kamaruddin, in an interview with the media, gives his take on Pakatan Rakyat and its leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, a man he once admired and supported wholeheartedly.

BLOGGER-in-exile Raja Petra Kamaruddin has emerged to give an interview to several media representatives, during which he spoke on a wide range of topics covering the future of Pakatan Rakyat, its leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the prospects of the coalition in the next general election.

The interview appeared yesterday in The New Sunday Times, Berita Minggu, Mingguan Malaysia and online news website Malaysia Today.

His emergence at this crucial juncture is a boon to Barisan Nasional as it prepares for the hustings.

In a nutshell, what he spoke about can be summarised in his own words: "I can support the Opposition, without supporting Anwar.

"It is not a sin or crime if I don't support Anwar," says the political pundit who is more popularly referred to as RPK.

That statement summed up his current position vis-a-vis politics and the big battle for power ahead.

He has lost confidence in Anwar as Pakatan leader.

He believes Pakatan cannot capture Putrajaya and he says the Opposition must look beyond to a time when it can exist and keep going without Anwar.

The key to politics today is to create a two-party system, to lay the foundation for it and not to capture power now.

On a personal note, he believes the Sodomy II trial was fair compared with the first sodomy trial in the late 90s and that Anwar is a victim of a honey trap in the latest tribulations.

Raja Petra is certainly no ordinary blogger.

He was the first man in the country to combine digital technology with a flair for writing and place it at the disposal of the man he admired and supported wholeheartedly Anwar.

He kept the Anwarites' flame alive through the dark years of Anwar's sacking by then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the reformasi struggle and Anwar's imprisonment, with his Free Anwar website.

After Anwar's 2004 release, Raja Petra set up the Malaysia Today website which, with his talent for story-telling, turned into the foremost political news blog.

He "escaped" from the country and ended up as an exile in Britain following several warrants for his arrest.

In addition, several people have also obtained bankruptcy petitions against him.

In Britain, he set up the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM) with lawyer Haris Ibrahim and they proffered several independent candidates, i.e. lawyer Malik Imtiaz but their scheme did not take off because of criticisms from Pakatan leaders and supporters.

The Opposition saw the third force, as MCLM wanted to be, as a trojan horse of Barisan.

His Malaysia Today website is not as widely read as it was before but Raja Petra, as an activist and commentator on political development, remains influential as this wide-ranging interview suggests.

His take on Anwar remains his most important contribution to contemporary politics, as he was such an ardent supporter previously.

He says if Pakatan does not capture Putrajaya, and he gives reasons why it can't do it, Anwar would slide into irrelevance and eventually into oblivion.

The struggle has always been to bring change and not to free Anwar as in Nelson Mandela's case, to fight and bring down apartheid and not to seek his release.

While Raja Petra is by no means a supporter of Barisan, he reserves his harshest criticism to Anwar's failure to lead Pakatan.

He faults Anwar's leadership shortcomings.

He says Anwar is a great speaker at ceramah but he is not an administrator and points to the many times Anwar has gone overseas since he was appointed economic adviser to the Selangor government three years ago.

"Shouldn't you be staying home, running the state? Running the party? Running the coalition?" he said.

He also urges Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to take the "bull by the horns" in introducing reforms and not just scratch the surface or indulge in cosmetic changes.

"Najib must be prepared not only to take a knife but a chainsaw and cut whatever he needs to cut."

Being who he is, supporters of Pakatan would be unhappy with Raja Petra's criticisms of the coalition.

The three parties of the coalition seem to be fighting each other for the spoils of victory in the next general election, he says.

It is a coup for the Government to get no less than Raja Petra himself to line up against Pakatan and its leader Anwar.

His influence on Pakatan supporters was seen in the 2008 general election.

He was out campaigning, asking voters to vote for change.

This time, he is asking voters to not to vote blindly for any "donkey or monkey" but to pick candidates, from either side who would truly serve the rakyat.

In justifying his criticism of Pakatan, he says he is not supporting Barisan and he is not saying Barisan is the best government.

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US nasyid group coming to Malaysia next month

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 03:07 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: American nasyid group Native Deen and Kareem Salama, known as the first American Muslim country music singer are heading here for concerts to promote peace, especially to the young.

However, Nizal.Com Sdn Bhd, which will be bringing the two acts here next month, has yet to set the dates for their performances.

The music of Native Deen, from Washington DC, combines a hip-hop style with lyrical themes grounded in Islam.

The trio, comprising Joshua Salaam, Naeem Muhammad and Abdul Malik Ahmad, use percussion and synthetic sounds.

Their music, produced under the Mountain of Light label founded by Yusuf Islam (previously known as Cat Stevens), seeks to inspire young people to keep their Islamic faith amid the pressures of daily life.

Kareem, whose music is a hybrid of country, pop and rock music, has released three albums; Generous Peace (2006) This Life of Mine (2007) and City of Lights (2011).

He has been featured in major publications and performed at the Global Peace and Unity Event in London in October 2008.

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Ikim to launch Islamic TV channel

Posted: 01 Jan 2012 03:06 PM PST

Monday January 2, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR: Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim) will launch a television channel, TV Ikim, next month, said its director-general Datuk Nik Mustapha Nik Hassan.

He said the broadcasting station would not only propagate Islam but also enhance understanding of the religion.

Currently, Ikim runs a 24-hour Islamic-oriented radio station, IKIM.fm. - Bernama

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf


Posted: 31 Dec 2011 10:37 PM PST

FOR the week ending Dec 25, 2011:


1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

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

3. Chicken Soup For The Soul: Think Positive – 101 Inspirational Stories About Counting Your Blessings And Having A Positive Attitude by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Amy Newmark

4. My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore's Bilingual Journey by Lee Kuan Yew

5. Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story Of His Trip To Heaven And Back by Todd Burpo & Lynn Vincent

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

7. I Moved Your Cheese: For Those Who Refuse To Live As Mice In Someone Else's Maze by Deepak Malhotra

8. Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going by Han Fook Kwang et al

9. The Night The Angels Came by Cathy Glass

10. No Excuses!: The Power Of Self-Discipline – 21 Ways To Achieve Lasting Happiness And Success by Brian Tracy


1. The New Collected Short Stories by Jeffrey Archer

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

3. Aleph by Paulo Coelho

4. The Time Of My Life by Cecelia Ahern

5. Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer

6. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

7. The Sixth Man by David Baldacci

8. The Litigators by John Grisham

9. The Fifth Witness (a Lincoln lawyer novel) by Michael Connelly

10. Empire Of Silver by Conn Iggulden

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

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Delights ahead

Posted: 31 Dec 2011 10:37 PM PST

I'M always excited to greet a fresh new year and think of all the books that will find their way on to my shelves during the coming months. Several highly-anticipated books were published during the last quarter of 2011.

Some, like The Chronicles Of Harris Burdick, The Phantom Tollbooth 50th Anniversary Edition and The Scorpio Races, were featured in my best of 2011 round-up. Others missed my reading deadlines and might be included in next year's list.

In the coming weeks, I will be reading and reviewing Jay Asher's The Story Of Us and Garret Freymann-Weyr's French Ducks In Venice – two books I've been anxiously waiting to read these past couple of months. Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why was a little too melodramatic and whingey for my tastes but I'm really looking forward to his latest – the story of a couple of teenagers who find their Facebook pages online ... 15 years before Facebook was invented.

As for French Ducks In Venice, Freymann-Weyr's very first picture book is illustrated by Erin Mcguire and published by Candlewick Press. Reviews call it a princess story with a difference – focusing on the heroine's talents and personality rather than her looks, and celebrating the qualities of independence, grace and self-confidence. I can't wait, especially as Freymann-Weyr is one of my favourite novelists and her books have never disappointed me.

This month, there's John Green's The Fault In Our Stars to look forward to (my review will be out at the end of February). I have enjoyed all of Green's novels, even if I do find some of his characters insufferable. Green's heroes give (false?) hope to teenage girls everywhere, but I find myself warming more to his supporting characters who are usually funnier and less up their own bottoms.

Bewitching by Alex Flinn will be published on Valentine's Day, but I'm not sure if we should expect a typical happily-ever-after tale even if it does reference all our favourite fairytales. Kendra, a witch and immortal, can't seem to stop meddling in the affairs of others, usually with dire results. In Beastly, Flinn's modern take on Beauty And The Beast, Kendra was the witch who put a curse on Kyle, the handsome and obnoxious teenager. Kendra was also somehow mixed up with the little mermaid, the princess and the pea and Hansel and Gretel. In Bewitching, she attempts to help a girl whose problems include a beautiful and manipulative stepsister. Cinderella? Well, yes, but not quite.

Under The Moons Of Mars will also be published in February. This is a collection of stories and art, created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Edgar Rice Burrough's sci-fi classic, John Carter Of Mars. The movie of that book will of course be released this year and may encourage Malaysians to do some reading.

Also, although The Invention Of Hugo Cabret was published in 2007, I expect it to be given a new lease of life once the Martin Scorsese film is released in Malaysia in March. The same goes for Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and its sequels, once the movie is out, also in March.

A book I just feel in my bones will be one of my favourites this year is The False Prince, the first of a trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen. I've just been given an uncorrected proof and can't wait to get stuck in. Stay tuned for my review in April, which is when the book will be published.

There are many more titles on my must-read list: The second in Laini Taylor's Daughter Of Smoke And Bone trilogy is due out in September, Girl Of Fire And Thorns by Rae Carson, Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (gorgeously illustrated by Maira Kalman), Shadow And Bone by Leigh Bardugo, and Reflections: On The Magic Of Writing, a collection of' articles, lectures and talks by the late, great Diana Wynne Jones.

I haven't listed any picture books (apart from French Ducks In Venice) or middle-grade chapter books, but join me here every Sunday for news and views of all the best releases, for tots, tweens and teens.

Happy reading!

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 star2@thestar.com.my and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.

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Resolve to read!

Posted: 31 Dec 2011 10:37 PM PST

If you find picking up a novel intimidating, why not kick off a year of regular reading with short stories?

THE Galeries Victoria in downtown Sydney is a beautiful building. It is even more during this holiday season with books falling from its high ceiling, literally. That's what this department store chose as its Christmas decoration: books hung in mid-air, as if Santa had clumsily tripped, spilling piles of books from his sack and leaving them behind to remind shoppers that books make great presents.

Look, a book, I pointed out to my daughter. She giggled, less at the majestic sight than at the fond memory of the book I had read to her the night before, Look, A Book! by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood. It is one of her favourite Christmas presents. "And then we can read it again and again," she lilted gleefully at the concluding sentence of the lovely book.

If you take the stairs up from the Galeries' basement where the food court is, the books appear to be wide open right above your head. I could nearly read the words. Books have replaced baubles, and with the help of sunlight from the glass roof, they need no lights to shine. There, in the week before Christmas when the streets in downtown Sydney were swarming with shoppers, I sat on a bench in the Galeries, looking up and admiring the spectacle. I went up to the second floor to admire it further and, of course, to buy some books from Kinokuniya Bookstores.

The sight of the bookstore bustling with activities and crowded with shoppers evoked a strange melancholic feeling. I used to be part of this noble job of choosing books, recommending favourites, and prescribing them for ailments only books can heal. But now, I only buy them. Like those ailing customers I used to serendipitously consult, I might easily get lost among the tens of thousands of book while seeking gems. Yet, I had a plan. Short stories were what I was going after, for they can be read "again and again" and still give the same degree of pleasure as if they are being read the first time.

I needed to venture no further than the front of the store to find my first book. Right there as I stepped in was Alan Garner's Collected Folk Tales. Garner is an old man who tells frightening urban fantasies. My son and I screamed like little kids at the sight of this new book, evoking in our minds the screaming habdabs we read about together on a winter night in Garner's The Owl Service, a fantasy that, in my opinion, is one of the spookiest books I have ever read. This new collection of previously unpublished work and out-of-print folk tales handsomely produced with a gold-embossed purple cover is surely a book to be read and be spooked by it "again and again". I placed it in my basket, still giggling.

My son strode toward the children's section, while my daughter faithfully tailed behind me as if she, too, wanted a shared moment of laughter about books similar to ones I always have with my son. Red being her favourite colour, she quickly picked out the red cover of There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbour's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales.

It looks like a children book, but it is actually a collection of Russian short stories for adults. Eeriness abounds: a woman fills a pit in the forest in the middle of the night; a wizard punishes two beautiful ballerinas by turning them into one hugely fat circus performer; a colonel, heedless of advice, lifts the veil from his dead wife's face; and a despairing father eats human hearts in his dreams to bring his daughter back to life. And it's the perfect time to read this book, when the weather Down Under is schizophrenic, with coldness reigning over all and summer light struggling to pierce through the gloomy clouds. I placed it in my basket, my daughter cheering.

The two books in my basket must have, in a way only books can, informed others a sucker for short stories was out on a buying spree. I was henceforth drawn by an uncanny force to places where they lay. As I lingered by the towering shelves, many began to emerge though only three made it into my basket: Roald Dahl's Tales Of The Unexpected, Amy Bloom's Where The God Of Love Hangs Out and Jack Zipes' Little Red Riding Hood And Other French Tales.

Why short stories? you may ask. And why the search for eeriness? you may wonder. I was taking them on a 10-day camping trip in the wilderness where we would survive without electricity or any other form of modern amenity save a single toilet and a river of crystal-clear water. How did it turn out? As I lay in my red hoodie on a rock in the middle of a river amidst the rustling sound of bamboos, a wombat watched over me. The fox, so they said, knew I was not the real Red Riding Hood though I was reading a book about her.

Happy New Year!

Abby Wong urges you to make regular reading one of your New Year resolutions. Like her, you could start the year off with short stories. For women, she recommends Sarah Hall's The Beautiful Indifference; for men, Steven Millhauser's We Others: New And Selected Stories.

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