Rabu, 12 September 2012

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Insight - Disconnected for decades, Myanmar poised for telecoms boom

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 07:40 PM PDT

YANGON (Reuters) - Blackberrys and iPhones aren't much use in Myanmar, where its only network is frequently jammed, data services are scarce, prices extortionate, lines crackly and most phones don't roam. For decades, its telecoms industry has been a shambles.

It's no surprise this country of 60 million people has the world's second-lowest cellphone penetration after North Korea; SIM cards are made prohibitively pricey to prevent its tiny network from becoming overloaded, while emailing and web-surfing on phones is so rare it's almost a bourgeois concept.

Even getting hooked up to the network is cumbersome. Visitors must rent SIM cards at the airport on arrival while many Burmese can only afford one-time SIMs with a number that expires after a few days when its $20 of credit runs out.

But as Myanmar races ahead with economic reforms, the telecoms sector, riven with graft and mismanagement and lagging behind even Asia's poorest countries, is on the verge of a major shake-up as part of a "reform plan" to liberalise one of the world's last remaining greenfield telcos markets.

Details of the plan are scant, but Myanmar appears to have finally got its act together and insiders say it could announce its plans this week.

Eager to attract foreign investors to one of Asia's poorest countries, the government could make telecoms the first sector to be liberalised. After a year of stumbling and opaque deals that favoured vested local interests, speed and transparency now appear to be the priority.

"We're going to finish it soon, we really cannot wait," Kyaw Soe, a senior official at the Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs, told Reuters. "It's closely related to economic growth of our nation, so this is a priority sector."

Last month, 11 companies from 10 countries, including Japan, Australia, Germany and the United States, were short-listed from 64 applicants to become consultants and prepare a telecoms license tender. The list is now down to three.

Kyaw Soe said a total of four operating licenses would be granted; two for Myanmar companies and two for foreign firms, with 4G services targeted as early as 2013.

A regulator would be formed and state-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunication -- the country's sole operator -- would be privatised to form the Myanmar Telecoms Company (MTC), which would be awarded one of the cellphone licenses, he said. Another would go to Internet service provider Yataraporn Teleport.


A Myanmar telecoms source said it was unlikely the two local firms had the resources to operate alone and would likely form joint ventures, but it was unclear whether more than two foreign firms would be allowed to operate.

Myanmar's low penetration and the hunger for going mobile in a virtually untapped country are mouth-watering prospects for international telecoms firms.

Usage is extremely low, at just 1.24 percent of the population in 2010, compared with 64 percent in Laos, 57 percent in Cambodia and more than 100 percent in Thailand and Malaysia where individual ownership of multiple phones pushes usage above population levels, according to the Asian Development Bank. The Myanmar government says the current level is 5.6 percent, but experts doubt that.

"The potential is clear to see, but whether that is realised depends on regulation," said Ramakrishna Maruvada, regional head of telecom research at Daiwa Capital Markets. "The problem for foreign firms is there's very little detail in terms of timelines and structure, so very little to hang on to."

Among companies that have confirmed an interest in Myanmar are Sweden's TeliaSonera AB, and two specialists in emerging Asian markets, Malaysia's Axiata and Norway's Telenor, which both operate in Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, among others.

"When this opens up, the potential is so big, so we'll expect a lot of interest. There's not many of these markets left in the world," said Telenor Group's Glenn Mandelid.

"If they get the framework in place and there's security for our investment and all the clarity we need... then we'll be interested."

One firm that may have an advantage is Digicel, which operates in 31 countries and has already presented a technical and commercial assessment to the government on how to expand the network to reach the majority of the population within two years.

"We've developed a strong track record on the ground and an excellent knowledge of the needs of the government, consumers and businesses," said Frank O'Carroll, Digicel's vice-president of business development for Asia-Pacific.

"If we get an opportunity to invest in the telecoms sector in Myanmar, we're ready to deploy very, very quickly."

Singapore's SingTel is reported to be interested but told Reuters it would not comment on rumours.

On the ground, things have already started to improve. In response to complaints, prepaid SIMs were reduced from as high as $1,000 a year ago to $250 in some states and made available in Yangon in April

That means people like Thandar Tun, who has three phones on a foldable table offering call services for 25 kyats (3 U.S. cents) a minute are seeing business slip away.

A year ago, about 100 people a day used her phones. She has about 30 today as SIM prices fall and GSM, CDMA 800 and 450 MHz handsets have become status symbols.

"We can see people are slowly changing the way they use phones," Thandar Tun said.


Demand is now soaring and phone shops are fast popping up in Yangon. Inundated with requests, banks have halted loans for prepaid SIMs, which dealers say are now being rationed because MPT's network can't cope.

"We get only 50 SIM cards a week, but people come in asking every day or calling to see when they'll be available," said Aye Myat Moe, sales manager at one branch of E-Lite Tech, a company owned by Tay Za, a Burmese billionaire blacklisted by Western governments because of his ties to the former military junta.

But the devil is in the detail, and those companies lining up to invest are playing a careful game, awaiting regulatory clarity, aware of the catalogue of errors that have taken place in the past 18 months, even as the quasi-civilian government embarked on astonishing political and economic reforms.

Its telecoms policy has been perplexing at best, with no clear plan on how to finance expansion of the network, even though a telecoms law 10 years in the making had already been drafted in cooperation with the International Telecoms Union.

The ministry took the bizarre decision to start expansion even before completing the draft of the new law. In April last year, it announced it would create 30 million new GSM lines by 2016, in cooperation with local firms, some with ties to the former military regime, starting with four million lines to reach 10 percent of the population within a year.

But there have been scant signs of progress, with 23 local companies installing towers and base stations, in return for SIM cards and licenses to sell handsets for use on a tiny network.

A Myanmar telecoms industry expert, who requested anonymity, described the government's approach until now as a "disaster" and said it was crucial the new regulation benefited investors, consumers and the government.


Two other sources with close knowledge said the government realised its mistakes this July, when a revised law sent to President Thein Sein was quietly recalled because it was "deeply flawed".

A senior government official said Thein Sein wants to implement reforms fast, aware of the proven links between telecoms expansion and GDP growth and the urgent need for transparency in a crucial sector.

Expansion and liberalisation would not only create thousands of jobs in a country with chronic unemployment, but it would also allow for mobile money services, like transferring cash that could be collected by a relative in rural areas by showing a simple text message.

"It's not just phones, it's other cross-cutting factors. It's also very important for financial and people-centred development," said the source, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. "It's taken time because we want a healthy level of competition and we want to make sure we get this right."

Clarity on regulation and the tender process is imminent, according to ministry officials, but many questions remain, particularly those regarding financing.

Myanmar is understood to have been offered substantial foreign loans for telecoms development but has not said if it plans to fund any of the expansion -- estimated at $2 billion -- which allow the state to extract revenue from operators.

Experts warn that if private firms finance network expansion, urban centres would have priority over rural areas -- the government's key target -- and operators would be reluctant to share infrastructure.

The World Bank, which has given technical assistance to the telecoms ministry, urged the government to take a balanced approach and send the right message to foreign firms in what could be the first major sector to open up.

"It's important for the government to ensure a stable policy and regulatory framework is established so it encourages credible, world class investors to enter the market and provide citizens with affordable and high quality services," its office in Myanmar told Reuters.

"This is an important opportunity for Myanmar to demonstrate to the world that the country is open and ready for business."

(Additional reporting by Jason Szep in Bangkok, Thu Rein Hlaing and Aung Hla Tun in Yangon; Editing by Ken Wills)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

Former U.S. Army officer pleads guilty to murder conspiracy charges

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 07:25 PM PDT

McALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - A former U.S. Army officer pleaded guilty on Wednesday to taking part in a murder-for-hire conspiracy set up by undercover agents who posed as members of Mexico's ruthless Zetas drug cartel.

Kevin Corley, 29, also pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and weapons charges in U.S. federal court in Laredo, Texas, prosecutors said.

Authorities arrested two others in the scheme and fatally shot a third man, his cousin Jerome Corley, when the months-long investigation reached a head in March.

Corley was an Army first lieutenant from November 2008 to March 2012 who had served in Afghanistan, an Army spokeswoman said. He is from Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The operation began after two men told undercover agents posing as Zetas members that Corley could obtain fully automatic weapons and sniper rifles, a federal criminal complaint states.

Corley met with the undercover agents in September 2011, telling them he was an Army officer and trainer and could enlist an assassination team to raid a ranch and recover 20 kilograms of cocaine stolen by rivals, according to his plea agreement.

He later told the agents he could perform contract killings, according to the plea agreement. Corley offered to carry out the assassination for $50,000 and five kilograms of cocaine and said he would give back the cash if he did not retrieve the cocaine and carry out the killing, according to the plea agreement.

The agents said Corley sold them bullet resistant vests, Army manuals, two AR-15 assault rifles and other equipment.

Also on Wednesday, Shavar Davis, 29, of Denver, pleaded guilty to federal drug and murder-for-hire conspiracy charges for his role in the plot.

Corley and Davis face up to 10 years in prison each on the murder-for-hire conspiracy convictions and 10-year minimum sentences for the drug conspiracy convictions.

(Editing by David Bailey; Editing by Will Dunham)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

Supporters throw stones in Venezuela pre-election clash

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 07:14 PM PDT

CARACAS (Reuters) - Rival supporters in Venezuela's presidential election fought and threw stones on Wednesday before a campaign stop by opposition leader Henrique Capriles less than a month before the October 7 vote.

Both sides blamed each other for the worst flare-up since the campaign began in July. Several people were hurt as dozens clashed around an airport in Puerto Cabello - even chasing each other across the runway - where Capriles had been due to land.

One pickup truck carrying opposition campaign materials was set on fire, and at least one other car was smashed up.

There have already been a handful of clashes on the campaign trail as Capriles tries to unseat President Hugo Chavez and end 14 years of the socialist leader's self-styled revolution.

"These acts are not spontaneous. There is someone responsible," Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state, told a rally after the clashes, blaming the president personally.

"It is him, and I say this directly: it is you who wants this scenario, you who wants to spread fear, you who wants Venezuelans to continue fighting each other."

The election has so far generated much less violence than some locals had feared. But there is a huge number of guns in public hands, and with tempers becoming frayed as voting day nears there remains the risk of a more serious confrontation.

State media said more than 20 people had been hurt, while an opposition TV network gave a lower number of wounded.

Chavez's supporters blamed the opposition for the clash in Puerto Cabello, which closed the main road to the airport and forced Capriles to arrive in the area by a small boat instead.

"We were surprised by a shower of rocks, fireworks and petrol bombs ... which caused a large number of casualties," Rafael Lacava, the local mayor and a Chavez ally, told state TV.

"We were attacked by an advance group, which (Capriles) always sends on ahead when he holds these type of events."

Puerto Cabello is 60 miles (100 kms) west of Caracas in central Carabobo state. Puerto Cabello's mayor is a "Chavista", but the governor of the state is an opposition supporter.

The head of Chavez's campaign team told a weekly news conference in the capital that it had photographs of members of the Carabobo state police "lashing out" at Chavez supporters during the clashes. But he did not show the pictures to reporters.

Chavez did not mention the disturbance during a two-hour televised speech to a campaign event in the evening with members of a social development project called "Mothers of the Slum".

The 58-year-old leads the majority of Venezuela's best-known opinion polls, but they are notoriously controversial and divergent in the country of 29 million people, and one major pollster puts Capriles ahead.

Among the myriad local polling companies, respected Datanalisis had Chavez ahead by 12 points in July, though Capriles' numbers have been creeping up and another well-known pollster, Consultores 21, has them neck-and-neck. Both sides discount unfavourable polls and say their candidate is ahead.

The president remains hugely popular with many of Venezuela's poor majority, partly due to generous oil-funded welfare projects such as subsidized food stores, and because of his own humble roots and folksy charisma.

He frequently accuses opposition leaders of planning to scrap his social "missions" if they win power. Capriles rejects that, saying he will launch new missions, keep the current ones and improve those which he says do not work.

United Nations data support the government's line that poverty has been reduced under Chavez, but the opposition says he should have achieved much more given the huge oil revenue his administration has received since he took office in 1999.

(Additional reporting by Mario Naranjo, Eyanir Chinea and Hugh Bronstein; editing by Philip Barbara)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Business

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KLCI lower in early trade, AirAsia in focus

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 06:16 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The FBM KLCI was in the red in early trade on Thursday, in line with key regional markets, with AirAsia in focus.

At 9.04am, the KLCI was down 0.69 of a point to 1,613.09. Turnover was 24.15 million shares valued at RM23.88mil. There were 56 gainers, 39 losers and 76 counters unchanged.

AirAsia fell below RM3, down eight sen to RM2.94 with 4.78 million shares done. AirAsia-CW lost 1.5 sen to 5.0 sen.

F&N was the top loser, down 20 sen to RM19.20, Pharmaniaga 14 sen to RM7.43, KLCCP nine sen to Rm5.47 and PPB Group eight sen to RM12.32.

Car vendors and dealers call for tax incentives

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 06:08 PM PDT

PETALING JAYA: With the automotive industry's cry for the energy-efficient vehicles (EEV) tax exemption period to be extended pacified, industry players are now shifting their hope on other incentives in Budget 2013 to encourage a more competitive business environment.

Among Perodua managing director Datuk Aminar Rashid Salleh's recommendations for Budget 2013 were soft loans or grants or tax exemptions for local car vendors to assist them in becoming world class manufacturers.

"In addition, we hope that the Government will give incentives to car vendors and dealers for training both domestically and abroad either via joint ventures or partners to upskill their workers," he told StarBiz.

Aminar believed this was needed for the vendors to be globally competitive in terms of productivity, quality, delivery and cost competitiveness to survive full liberalisation of the automotive industry.

To reduce foreign labour employment, he also suggested a special fund allocation or incentives to OEMs for the purpose of training school leavers to help fill the need for semi-skilled labour, especially at the vendor level.

"We (further) implore the Government to have certification programmes and quality standards introduced to ensure that the workmen are properly trained and the consumers are assured of competent workmanship," Aminar said of staff at the after-sales service centres and body and paint outlets. He believed that the industry and consumers would benefit from standardised service from independent centres.

On the industry's effect on the economy, Aminar also recommended the Government "considers giving sales tax exemptions for first-time car buyers of national cars to allow a greater number of Malaysians to own a vehicle as the incentive would help buffer any shortfall in the economy next year due to external factors."

"We also implore the Government to initiate an end-of-life policy for aging vehicles to further enhance road safety while, at the same time, stimulate economic growth," he said, adding that the Government should ideally engage relevant stakeholders, such as consumer associations, auto manufacturers and finance companies, to ensure that the policy was well balanced.

On corporate tax, a point brought up by in other sectors as well, Aminar said: "We also request that the Government consider the reduction of corporate tax to offset the increase in cost to all industries, especially with the introduction of minimum wage next year." He said the reduction in corporate tax would go a long way in helping businesses adopt the rising cost of doing business without having to raise its product or service prices.

Malaysian Automotive Association (MAA) president Datuk Aishah Ahmad said since the Government had extended the duties exemption on hybrid cars below 2,000cc until end-2013, "we are hoping that the 2,000cc and above EEVs could enjoy the same benefits."

"It would be good if the Government also considers reducing duties on motor vehicles which now range between 65% and 105%," she said.

Edaran Tan Chong Sdn Bhd executive director Datuk Ang Bon Beng pointed out that as the automotive industry had been reported to contribute 6% to 8% to the gross domestic product by year 2020 from the current 2.4%, Tan Chong hoped that the Government would take on gradual structural changes for the industry.

"We hope to see changes to some structural issues to boost the growth of the auto industry," he said, "Nevertheless, we expect the government to adopt gradual, instead of drastic liberalization, to ensure market stability."

He also noted that auto players as well as MAA have submitted various proposals to the government under the National Automotive Policy review which will be revealed soon.

Education blueprint is one plan that cannot afford to fail

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 06:07 PM PDT

THE new education blueprint is out and it seeks to address a lot of weaknesses in the "infrastructure" within the education system.

What that predominantly refers to is improving the quality of teachers. Many of initiatives also look at mending the profession and getting the best bang for every ringgit spent on education.

With 16% of total government expenditure funnelled towards education, which is a very high amount on a global comparison, it's a waste to see how poorly students are performing. International measurements place Malaysia at a ranking that is below average for reading, mathematics and science.

The Government owned up to its mistakes in letting standards in education slide and the efforts contained in the blueprint do look tangible enough in trying to get the quality up. A change in the curriculum is slated for 2017.

One of the issues at hand here is whether the action plans in the education blueprint will get the buy-in from teachers. For years, the teaching profession seemingly was the employment of last resort and students today are paying the price for that. The report states that only half of lessons are being effectively taught and to rectify that, the hiring of teachers in the future will be more selective and will come from the top 30% of graduates. Those who are poorly equipped to be teaching effectively will be sent for rigorous training.

The will to improve and penalise poor teachers should not be compromised. The intent is to have those only fit to teach do their job.

Although the report does set out wide-ranging strategies, the education system should not have waited for the rot to set in before springing into action. Changes should have been made on the fly when weaknesses were identified. After all, the repercussions of letting problems simmer like they have, will be translated into a poor stock of human capital, an essential ingredient for any economy's future.

Implementing the education blueprint will now be closely watched and it can be difficult to pull off. Just look at the variety of plans in the past that have not met their marks (such as the original National Automotive Policy) and it's easy to cast some doubt whether the proposals under the blueprint can be executed.

But there are others that have done fabulously well. Examine the banking sector before and after the Financial Sector Masterplan by Bank Negara.

It took the Asian Financial Crisis to get an overall plan going and looking at the banks prior to the crisis and 10 years later, the difference is like night and day.

Maybe it's easier to regulate financial institutions as there are a few dozen banks and insurance companies to oversee but it's no guarantee of success. Apart from a sound plan, an unflinching determination to correct past weaknesses is needed. That was shown when the Financial Sector Masterplan was implemented and the same should take place when re-engineering the education system in the country.

There is no room to pander to political pressure. It will water down what needs to be done as the education blueprint is one plan that cannot afford to fail.

Acting business features editor Jagdev Singh Sidhu saw the slide in the quality of teachers when he was a student at St John's Institution and wonders what is it like today if that trend had continued for more than two decades.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Sports

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Wei Feng stuns Boonsak as other Malaysians fall by the wayside

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 04:35 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: National back-up shuttler Chong Wei Feng pulled off a stunning win over world No. 26 Boonsak Ponsana of Thailand in the first round of the China Masters in Changzhou.

Wei Feng, however, had to battle back from a game down to beat the Thai 11-21, 21-16, 21-12 to set up a second round meeting against seventh seed Wang Zhengming of China.

It will be interesting to see what the 25-year-old Wei Feng has up his sleeves against the world No. 16 Zhengming, who came out triumphant when the two met in the quarter-finals of the Singapore Open in June.

Wei Feng was the only saving grace for Malaysia yesterday as the others – men's singles players Liew Daren and Mohd Hafiz Hashim and men's doubles back-up pair Chan Peng Soon-Ong Jian Guo crashed out in the opening round.

Also ousted were two seeded players – Japan's Kenichi Tago and Dane Jan O Jorgensen.

World No. 28 Daren, touted as a potential replacement for Lee Chong Wei, blamed nerves for his 19-21, 21-17, 21-12 loss to India's world No. 40 Sourabh Varma.

The 25-year-old, who has been working on his fitness since returning from London where he was chosen as a sparring partner for Chong Wei, simply put it down to his lack of matches played in the lead up to the tournament.

"I think nerves had a bit to do with it. This was my first tournament after three months ... so I was a little rusty. I couldn't really get the tournament buzz," said the 25-year-old Daren, who has been working on his fitness since returning from London.

"I'm very disappointed. I should have won. I won the first game and was up 14-9 in the second. Suddenly I became jittery," said Daren.

"I just became too eager to win and my game plan went out of the window. When Sourabh won the second game, my confidence level dropped a notch and I couldn't find a way back."

Like Daren, Hafiz also toiled for an hour before finally succumbing to another India player, V. Gurusaidutt, 21-18, 19-21, 21-13.

Peng Soon-Jian Guo were sent packing by Thailand's Songphon Anugritayawon-Sudket Prapakamol 21-18, 21-18.

First round results

Men's singles: Chen Long (Chn) bt Viktor Axelsen (Den) 20-22, 21-7, 21-8; Wang Zhengming Chn) bt Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (Tha) 21-11, retired; Chen Jin (Chn) bt Anand Pawar (Ind) 21-17, 21-12; V. Gurusaidutt (Ind) bt Hafiz Hashim (Mas) 21-18, 19-21, 21-13; Du Pengyu (Chn) bt Takuma Ueda (Jpn) 21-14, 15-21, 21-11, Hsu Jen Hao (Tpe) bt Jan O Jorgensen (Den) 21-13, 14-21, 21-19; Hu Yun (Chn) bt Chou Tien Chen (Tpe) 21-19, 21-18; Ajay Jayaram (Ind) bt Kenichi Tago (Jpn) 21-13, 21-17; Derek Wong (Sin) bt Wong Wing Ki (Hkg) 21-17, 11-21, 21-19; Zhou Wenlong (Chn) bt Brice Leverdez (Fra) 21-10, 21-16; Kashyap Parupalli (Ind) bt Gao Huan 21-13, 14-21, 21-19; Misha Zilberman (Isr) bt Scott Evans (Irl) 24-22, 21-17; Chong Wei Feng (Mas) bt Boonsak Ponsana (Tha) 11-21, 21-16, 21-12; Sourabh Varma (Ind) bt Liew Daren (Mas) 19-21, 21-17, 21-12; Qiao Bin (Chn) by Chen Yuekun (Chn) 21-10, 21-8; Hans-Kristian Vittinghus (Den) bt Ashton Chen (Sin) 21-17, 21-19.

Men's doubles: Li Gen- Liu Cheng (Chn) bt Phillip Chew-Sattawat Pongnairat (US) 21-14, 17-21, 21-8; Rasmus Bonde-Mads Conrad-Petersen (Den) bt Tarun Kona-Arun Vishnu (Ind) 18-21, 21-12, 21-19; Songphon Anugritayawon-Sudket Prapakamol (Tha) bt Chan Peng Soon-Ong Jian Guo (Mas) 21-18, 21-18; Patiphat Chalardchaleam-Nipitphon Puangpuapech (Tha) bt Pranaav Jerry Chopra-Akshay Dewalkar (Ind) 21-11, 17-21, 21-18.

Women's singles: Minatsu Mitani (Jpn) bt Wang Lin (Chn) 22-20, 21-17; Busanan Ongbumrungpan (Tha) bt Chen Xiao Jia (Chn) 14-21, 21-15, 22-20; Sapsiree Taerattanachai (Tha) bt Kaori Imabeppu (Jpn) 21-15, 21-17; Eriko Hirose (Jpn) bt Han Li (Chn) retired; Nozomi Okuhara (Jpn) bt Yao Xue (Chn) 13-21, 21-10, 21-11; V. Sindhu (Ind) bt Jamie Subandhi (US) 21-15, 21-12.

Nafiizwan soars as Beng Hee crashes in first round

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 04:33 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: National No. 2 Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan produced a stunning effort to rally from two sets down to beat fourth seed Adrian Grant 9-11, 5-11, 11-9, 11-4, 13-11 and earn a place in the quarter-finals.

It was also the saving grace for the Malaysian men as veteran Ong Beng Hee had earlier crashed out. If Nafiizwan had lost, it would be the first time that Malaysia will not have a representative in the quarter-finals since 1995.

But the day certainly belonged to the 26-year-old Nafiizwan, who looked dead and buried after losing the first two sets 9-11, 5-11.

The gritty Terengganu-born player then fought back to take the third and fourth sets 11-9, 11-4.

The world No. 33 nearly blew it in the deciding fifth set after throwing away a 10-7 lead to hand Grant an 11-10 lead.

The 31-year-old Englishman, however, failed to finish off the match when he hit the ball into the tin. Nafiizwan took advantage of his misfortune to nail a gruelling 96-minute match 13-11.

"I got off to a very slow start and at two sets down I just told myself to go all out and take it like a training match, but at higher intensity," said Nafiizwan.

"I slowly got back my confidence and managed to stick to my game plan."

Earlier, the 32-year-old Beng Hee was totally out of sorts as he crashed to a 2-11, 5-11, 2-11 loss to Swiss Nicolas Mueller in just 25 minutes.

"It was a very bad day and I couldn't get my game going at all," said Beng Hee.

"Credit to Nicolas ... he played really well. It's disappointing for me after such a good week in the national championships last week."

The biggest upset of the day, however, was provided by the immensely talented Abdullah Al Muzayen after the little known player from Kuwait recorded a 6-11, 11-4, 11-6, 11-8 win over third seed and KL Open champion Omar Mosaad of Egypt.

Joo Ven heading in the right direction

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 06:38 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Second seed Soong Joo Ven is a "One Directioner" and he's hoping he can channel all his efforts in one direction and win the boys' singles title in Maybank Malaysia International Youth Under-19 championships.

Joo Ven finished second at the Asia Youth Championships in South Korea in July and is counting on making amends by winning on home soil.

So before every match, Joo Ven, like most athletes who are notoriously superstitious, observes a pre-match ritual of walking about the arena listening to his Ipod.

"Yeah ... it's not so much superstition but it's just a ritual that I go through. It gives me something to do before I play my matches. It keeps me calm and helps take the pressure off," said Joo Ven at the Juara Stadium in Bukit Kiara.

While music is known to help calm the nerves, Joo Ven is not shy to say that he's a big fan of the British-Irish boy band who found fame on the UK version of X-Factor.

"I like to listen to pop songs. I'm a big fan of One Direction and I love their song What Makes You Beautiful. But I also like to listen to other radio-friendly hits," he said.

Joo Ven kept the Malaysian flag flying on day two of the tournament as he beat Indonesia's Andrew Susanto 21-12, 21-16.

"My second round opponent was a bit tricky, especially in the second set when we started playing more dangerous shots. But I'm happy to come away with a win," said the 17-year-old who will be be sitting for his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination soon.

He faces 10th seed Pannawit Thongnuam of Thailand in the third round today.

"Thai players, no matter how they rank, are always tricky to play against. I expect it to be a really tough match. But I will try and do my best to win," he said.

In the girls' singles competition, second seed Lim Yin Fun, who is being coached by former international Wong Mew Choo, made short work of her opponent Deline Quek.

The 18-year-old Yin Fun cruised to a comfortable 21-7, 21-8 victory over the Singaporean.

Meanwhile, 14 year-old Thinaah Muralitha­ran of Selangor was the surprise package of the day as she beat sixth seed Sarita Suwanna­kit­borihan of Thailand 21-19, 21-16 in the girls' singles to set up a third round meeting with South Korea's Lee Sun-min.

Second round results

(Malaysians unless stated)

Boys' singles: Khosit Phetpradab (Tha) bt Lee Kwan Ting (Sin) 21-8, 21-12; Soo Zhi Teck bt Apisit Saetiaw (Tha) 16-21, 21-16, 21-14; Tan Kian Meng bt Siriwut Kitjakarndetwut (Tha) 21-8, 21-9; Ng Ka Long (Hkg) bt Ikmal Hussain 21-7, 21-11; Tan Teck Han bt Guo Zheng Sim 21-13, 21-18; Lim Chi Wing bt Wibowo Henrikho (Ina) 21-14, 21-12; Ihsan Maulana (Ina) bt Lee Jia Zii 21-10, 21-15; Chong Yee Han bt Tan Jinn Hwa 21-12, 21-16; Choi Kyu-sol (Kor) bt Shahrul Shazwan 21-9, 21-19; Jae Wook-jung (Kor) bt Teoh Khai Siang 21-14, 21-6; Sitthikom Thammasin (Tha) bt Muhd Ardianto (Ina) 21-15, 21-13; Tan Jia Wei bt Yan Ming Shun (Sin) 19-21, 21-13, 21-17; Hyuk Jin-jeon (Kor) bt Namkul adulrach (Tha) 21-17, 21-9; Pannawit Thongnuam (Tha) bt Eka Fajar Kusuma (Ina) 21-17, 21-17; Soong Joo Ven bt Andrew Susanto (Ina) 21-12, 21-16.

Boys' doubles: Arya Maulana Adiartama-Edi Subaktiar (Ina) bt Lee Jian Yi-Woon Mun Choon 21-7, 21-16; Rafiddias Akhdan Nugroho-Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo (Ina) bt Ahmad Maziri Mazlan-Nik Ahmad Azfar Nik Mazlan 21-12, 21-12; Jeon Hyuk-jin Seo Seung-jae (Kor) bt Eric Jong-Ng Di Hua 21-13, 21-14; Jia Huo Chen-Goh Sze Fei bt Lee Zii Jia- Soh Wooi Yik 21-12, 21-16; Yantoni Edy Saputra-Tedi Supriadi (Ina) bt Ku Meng Soon-Wong Yew Haw 21-16, 21-10; Phutthaporn Bowornwatanuwong-Matee Vejjanughara (Tha) bt Mohd Qusyairi Sazali- Mohd Nur Syazwansyah Suriansa 21-16, 21-13; Lee Chung Hei-Ng Ka Long (Hkg) bt Muhd Asraf Bin Ishak-Sean Lee (Sin) 21-12, 21-13; Choi Sol-kyu Park Se-woong (Kor) bt Eka Fajar Kusuma-Rian Swastedian (Ina) 21-12, 21-14; Ayoda Lutfi Amroyni-Mukti Rahman Sutrisno (Ina) bt Heo Kwang-hee-Jung Jae-wook (Kor) 21-18, 21-16; Tai An Khang-Tan Wee Gieen bt R. Sathiestharan-Tan Teck Han 21-7, 21-11; Darren Isaac Deva Dass-Ong Yew Sin bt Kittinupong Kedren-Dechapol Puavaranukroh (Tha) 21-17, 21-11; Dede Ryan Philip-Marcel Simon bt Muhammad Rian Ardianto-Clinton Hendrik Kudamassa (Ina) 21-16, 25-27, 21-19; Kim Jae-hwan-Kim Jung-ho (Kor) bt Nur Izzuddin Rumsani-Chun Kang Shia 21-7, 21-15; Hafiz Faizal-Putra Eka Rhoma (Ina) bt Tan Zi Jian-Leslie Pang (Sin) 21-16, 21-9; Aldo Abdillah Harsono-Muhd Alfian Firsada Terna Sangaji (Ina) bt Misfahul Muneer Eizlan Shah-Tan Kiang Weng 21-18, 21-8; Arsya Isnanu Ardi Putra-Hantoro Hantoro (Ina) bt Worachard Kertsripan-Siriwut Kitjakarndetwut (Tha) 21-17, 21-15.

Girls' singles: Liang Xiaoyu (Sin) bt Ho Mei Yen 21-10, 17-21, 21-19; K. Bhirentha bt Ivy Ng 21-12, 21-9; Saengchote Natcha (Tha) bt Ting Yao Tee 21-14, 21-15; Kim Hyo-min (Kor) bt Yee Yap 21-12, 21-8; Cheung Mei Ying (Hkg) bt Yap Rui 21-16, 19-21, 21-18; M. Thinaah bt Sarita Suwannakitborihan (Tha) 21-19, 21-16; Sylvia Kavita Kumares bt Pui Yee Eng 21-10, 21-12; Ruselli Hartawan (Ina) bt Tong Xin Lee 21-10, 24-22; Pornpawee Chochuwong (Tha) bt Bae Ji-won (Kor) 21-11, 21-8; Yin Lim Fun Lim bt Deline Quek (Sin) 21-7, 21-8; Sun Lee-min (Kor) bt Jia Jia Tew 21-8, 21-10; S. Kisona bt Ninna Tan (Sin) 21-11, 21-7; Natcha Wongchanachart (Tha) bt Anna Cheong 21-18, 21-10; Zii Yii Lee bt Chiew Sien Lim 20-22, 21-18, 21-19; Ji Lee-min (Kor) bt Alisa Sapniti (Tha) 21-15, 21-15; Lee Ying Ying bt Ruethaichanok Laisuan (Tha) 21-9, 4-0 rtd.

Girls' doubles: Cheah Yee See-Chin Kah Mun bt Pacharapun Chochuwong-Chanisa Teachavorasinskun (Tha) 14-21, 21-16, 21-19; Chae Yoo-jung Kim Ji-won (Kor) bt Goh Yea Ching-Raja Nurnina Qamarina Raja Azlan 21-12, 21-8; Karnjanavadee Bunsomboon-Ruethaichanok Laisuan (Tha) bt Adlina Abdul Wahab-Grace Marie Peter 21-13, 21-17; Joyce Choong-Yap Cheng Wen bt Desaula Gendy-Masita Mahmudin (Ina) 21-7, 21-14; Bae Ji-won-Lee Min-ji (Kor) bt Anna Cheong-Ooi Shi Han 21-14, 21-13; Deline Quek-Tan Ai Ninna (Sin) w.o. Norshahida Baharum-Ti Wei Chyi; Ni Ketut Mahadewi-Ila Alvionitasari Putri (Ina) bt Eng Pui Yee-Thinaah Muralitharan 21-16, 11-21, 21-15; Pornpawee Chochuwong-Alisa Sapniti (Tha) bt Lee Ying Ying-Yap Yee 21-14, 20-22, 21-18.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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S'gor MB no show at Chua's debate, Pakatan entourage stages walkout

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 10:23 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The presence of suspected troublemakers armed with concealed weapons did not stop Datuk Chua Tee Yong from going ahead with holding a debate on the Talamgate controversy.

Police had found four youths behaving suspiciously outside the debate venue at the International Youth Centre at Bandar Tun Razak here Wednesday night.

Cheras OCPD ACP Mohan Singh said they found two retractable rods, a knife and a large bangle on the youths.

They were arrested shortly after the Pakatan Rakyat entourage staged a walkout minutes before the start of the debate.

Chua, the MCA Young Professionals Bureau chief, said even before the debate began, banners highlighting the event between him and Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim were slit, splashed with paint and brought down.

He added Khalid's absence at the debate was anticipated as the latter had not been able to give straightforward answers to the questions raised over the questionable debt-recovering exercise involving Talam Corporation Bhd.

"And he conveniently escaped to Thailand to avoid a showdown," said Chua, who initiated the event.

Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua said the Pakatan team had walked out in protest, pointing out that Chua had not wanted to debate with them, on behalf of Khalid.

Khalid had appointed Batu MP Tian Chua, his political secretary Faekah Hussin, Kuala Selangor MP Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and Selayang MP William Leong as his spokesmen to counter the Talam issues.

Chua had said Khalid was the best person to debate with on the matter as he had all the details.

At the unilateral debate, Chua highlighted the questionable deals where the Selangor government had agreed to acquire a range of Talam properties, said to be over-valued by RM397mil.

He said Khalid failed to keep to his promises to table a White Paper report on the Talam debt-recovery exercise and to provide explanation at the state assembly.

"His threat to sue MCA is merely to gag us. And his promise to get five independent auditors was reduced to one. Until today, Khalid keeps mum over questions whether the KMPG report was an audit report, an advisory, or mere review," Chua said.

In July, Chua questioned how an exercise to recover the RM392mil debt owed by Talam to state-linked entities ended up in deals worth more than RM1bil.

The RM1bil deal includes Talam assets acquired by the Selangor government at RM676mil to offset the debt and a RM392mil grant obtained by Mentri Besar Incorporated to facilitate the debt-recovery exercise.

PM: Evidence Act amendment to protect people

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 09:03 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The Evidence Act amendment is a modern and forward-looking legislation aimed at protecting the people from Internet-based crimes such as cyber bullying, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Wednesday.

"As a government, it is our responsibility to ask: how do we ensure that online reporting is responsible?

"How do we ensure that people do not become the victims of intimidation and cyber-bullying? How do we ensure that freedom co-exists with respect?

"It was with these questions in mind that we amended the Evidence Act. Perhaps it wasn't explained clearly enough what this meant for web-users in Malaysia. And I believe that it is a modern and forward-looking piece of legislation," he said at the National Press Club (NPC) Awards 2012 here.

The amendments to the Evidence Act 1950, including the introduction of Section 114A, became controversial especially in cyberspace when it was gazetted on June 31.

Section 114A was argued to be lopsided as it can liberally bring to court those who publish and replicate or post seditious and defamatory contents in the Internet, regardless of whether or not the material originated from them. - Bernama

Council: Three-quarters of country's HIV-infected in 18-40 age group

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 07:24 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Youths aged between 18 and 40 make the highest percentage of people living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the country.

Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) executive director Roswati Ghani said they numbered 69,747 or 76% of the total number of people living with HIV in this country as recorded at the end of 2010.

"In 2011, one in every four new cases of HIV is a youth aged between 13 and 29," she told reporters at the MAC Charity Open House here Wednesday, which was also attended by celebrities Fahrin Ahmad and Dayang Nurfaizah.

Roswati said among the factors that contributed to the statistics were the fact that majority of people in that age group were leading unhealthy lifestyles.

Hence, she said MAC had, on Sept 6, taken an initiative to launch its very own Red Ribbon Youth Club to tackle the spread of the virus among youth.

"The club can be the best platform to promote healthy lifestyles and disseminate accurate information about HIV and AIDS among youths," she said.

At the open house, the Malaysian AIDS Foundation also received a donation of RM28,297 from the KL Tower management. - Bernama

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Not short of talent

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 02:59 AM PDT

Comedies and dramas, film noirs and apocalyptic thrillers wow audiences.

THEY came in all forms, genres, and styles. Some were lush, bright and colourful, while some were black and white. Some wowed with sharp dialogue, while others were silent, relying on music and images to tell their stories.

There were comedies and dramas, film noirs and apocalyptic thrillers, featuring a cast of superheroes, mad scientists, artists, murderers, ghosts and burger sellers.

These were the films shown during Malaysian Shorts 3, a showcase of short films by Malaysian directors, which was held in Kuala Lumpur recently.

Hosted by Kelab Seni Filem Negara, the event was a testament to the talent, imagination and passion of local filmmakers, who wowed audiences with their unique visions and stories, illustrated on celluloid.

One of the more popular films of the night was Leman, directed by Ahmad Hafiz Rashid, the winner of the Best Malaysian Student Short 2012 award.

Set in a sleepy village several decades ago, the comedy tells of the pompous, attention-hungry Leman, who finds himself in a unique position of power after he discovers he is the only one capable of reading notices written in the Rumi script.

Leman soon finds, however, that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, after his attempts to explain electric lighting take a dark yet hilarious turn!

Another interesting short was Masked, directed by Khairil M. Bahar, which was inspired by a news story where Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim urged martial arts practitioners to assist in fighting crime.

The film, a homage to blockbuster superhero films, featured moody atmospheres and slick fight choreography.

Particularly moving was the short Enough, directed by Vikneswaran, a dialogue-less film about an artist who moves to the city with big dreams, only to have them dashed by the exploitation and cruelty of others.

Unique among all the films shown that night was Langat Di Odu, directed by Bebbra Charles Mailin, which was entirely in the KadazanDusun language from Sabah.

Poignant and moving, the short told of an elderly woman, Nenek, who longed to be reunited with her daughter, Otto, who had run away to marry her lover in India.

When all the films had been screened, audience members were given the chance to vote for their favourite film to win the Audience Choice award.

Leman won third place, while second place went to Lawan, directed by Azizulhakim Salleh, a rib-tickling comedy about two pairs of rival burger stall owners, and the hilarious lengths they go to in order to attract customers.

The first place went to Donna Must Die. Stylistically shot in the style of a film noir, the film tells the story of Fred, a passive-aggressive husband who plots revenge on his hapless wife Donna after she accidentally destroys one of his prized possessions.

Directed by Ismail Jamaludin and Dragos Dulea, the film won over viewers with its combination of quirky comic book visuals, black comedy, and evocative score.

"The inspiration for Donna Must Die came from a time of my life where I was having a lot of problems, with family and so forth," said Ismail, who directed the film in Romania as his final project while studying film there.

The other films include Bonda (directed by Alhafiz Burhanuddin), Tanpa Judul (Azharr Rudin), Conscience (Nadia Khan), Kaizen (Shanjhey Kumar Perumal), Nesan Tak Terukir (Muz Amer) and the animated The Last Man (Hanif Faiq Mohd Hashim).

Writer and filmmaker Amir Muhammad, who hosted the event, said he was pleased with the films screened during Malaysian Shorts 3.

"When you make a short film, you do it for love," Amir said.

"You don't do it because you want a job, or anything like that. Sure, there are competitions, but the main motivation for making a short is always out of affection for the form, or the desire to share.

"It's great that people are still passionate enough to tell stories they want to tell through this medium," he added.

Malaysian Shorts runs approximately every three months at the Help University Auditorium in Pusat Bandar Damansara, Kuala Lumpur. For more information, visit their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MalaysianShorts).

Why so serious?

Posted: 12 Sep 2012 01:22 AM PDT

Some movie remakes take all the fun out of the original stories.

THE recently released remake of Total Recall committed the biggest sin of all remakes – taking all the fun out of the story.

This isn't the first time a remake has committed this error, unfortunately. Take, for example, Martin Scorsese's The Departed, the 2006 remake of the 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller hit, Infernal Affairs. The original was essentially a thrilling cat-and-mouse game between gangsters and the police, with a rather bare-bones plot involving moles in both the police force and the triad. But Scorsese decided to imbue his remake with psychological "complexities" and such, so much so that it took all the fun out of the simple premise.

With the Total Recall remake, not only is Mars missing entirely from the story, all the camp and silliness are also gone. What we have instead is a serious, post-apocalyptic thriller that takes itself way too seriously.

Paul Verhoeven's original movie was a riot of often-ridiculous, humour-laden thrill moments and colours right out of a coloured pencil set. The centrepiece of its cornucopia of sometimes rubbery special effects was a spectacular but very funny head disguise that opens up in horizontal pieces. Then there were its motley band of Martian mutants, from tentacle-handed cab drivers to symbiotic talking growths.

The remake only kept the three-breasted woman, for obvious reasons.

Such remakes beg two questions: Where's the fun? And what other films, which were fun and campy, should never be touched by the grimy paws of Hollywood's remake machine? Let's examine some:

RoboCop (1987)

Another Verhoeven sci-fi actioner that unfortunately does have a remake in the works right now. This satire is all-out silly violence once Detroit cop Murphy, played by Peter Weller, is transformed into the babyfood-guzzling RoboCop. The metalhead police officer's "civic duties" include shooting a rapist in the crotch. This cross between The Six Million Dollar Man and Dirty Harry is set in the landscape of a dying industrial age, just about a decade away from the digital dawn of the new millennium. It's this setting that ties in nicely with the story of a cyborg law-enforcer struggling with both the remnants of his humanity and an evil consumerist corporation. The remake, slated for release next year, will surely benefit from digital enhancements, but it surely cannot tell the same story about industrial decay in this glittering digital age. And it will be missing Verhoeven's daring.

Flash Gordon (1980)

No one, absolutely no one, can claim that they didn't at least snigger at the goings-on in this movie. This is an all-out campy, colourful, overacted joyride that's neither real sci-fi nor space opera. It's just ... well, a flashy, cartoonish version of Flash Gordon. Even the theme song, by Queen no less, is loud, rock-opera nonsense that's catchy as hell ("Flash! ... Aaaahhh ..."). The movie's charm is that it's so bad, it's lovable fun. No remake will ever capture that. No, digital effects would just completely ruin the fun. And seriously, the public today would be merciless towards Ming the Merciless, who is obviously the product of an older age where the Other was always the bad guy.

The Evil Dead (1981)

This covers all three movies in the franchise – The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army Of Darkness. The first movie had the kind of independent reckless abandon that filmmakers early in their careers display before they are gobbled up by Hollywood's blockbuster machine and its mega-budgets. You can witness the same trait in Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, the kind of anything-goes attitude that piles on everything and also the kitchen sink. The Evil Dead series is scary fun because of this, and no remake or big budget can ever capture that lightning in a bottle. It's the signature stamp of a filmmaker trying, by any means necessary, to get that foot in the door. But a remake is already being shot as we speak, produced by Sam Raimi himself. Fede Alvarez, famous for his sci-fi short Panic Attack, is directing. Without Bruce Campbell and his character Ash, it doesn't seem promising.

Judge Dredd (1995)

It is coming. Soon. The remake. The original is something of a Flash Gordon for the 1990s – completely cartoonish, overacted, with a comicbook colour palette. And the moment Sylvester Stallone appears as the titular judge, uttering his opening lines "Aye yam da law! Drop your weapons ...", you know it's another so-bad-it's-fun movie. Stallone seems more like a parody of Judge Dredd. Even the Versace-designed costume cannot do much for him. Yet, this is the kind of movie you sit around on a lazy Saturday night with friends and have a good laugh at. And from the looks of the remake's trailer, it's going to be a grittier Mega City and Judge Dredd (Karl Urban with stubble) this time around, with a plot right out of Indonesian actioner The Raid. Begs the question: Why so serious?!

The Exorcist (1973)

OK, so this is not exactly a fun or campy movie. But one can't help but fear the nightmare that would be The Exorcist remake. Can you imagine, an updated Regan who would probably be an annoying Internet-obsessed teen with a cellphone practically attached to her ear? You'd wish that Pazuzu would finish her off quick and painfully. And those prosthetic make-up effects would surely be replaced with slick CGI ones. Hmm, how many pixels does it take to make realistic pea-soup vomit? The good news is, a remake is impossible because William Peter Blatty reportedly holds the rights to the story of his novel. The bad news is there are talks that a TV series might be produced featuring one of the characters in a whole new story. (Coincidentally, Swedish actor Max von Sydow appears in The Exorcist, Judge Dredd and Flash Gordon.)

China's films struggle for festival exposure

Posted: 11 Sep 2012 08:59 PM PDT

HONG KONG - The Chinese cinema industry may be the second largest in the world, but its films have been absent from major competitions at the most prestigious international festivals in the past year.

Critics say pressure on directors to create commercially successful and politically safe products means less scope for artistic ambition at a time when China's filmmakers are focusing on a booming domestic market.

The Venice Film Festival concluded last week and while the 80-year-old event has traditionally showcased Chinese cinema, there was no representative this year into the final list of 18 selected for its major competition, the Golden Lion.

It was a similar case at this year's Cannes festival, with no Chinese films being selected for the Palm D'or.

"The shame is that the past 12 months have been an exceptional period for Chinese-language cinema," said Stephen Cremin, co-founder of the influential Film Business Asia website tracking trends in Chinese cinema.

"Filmmakers are broadening the range of local genre cinema," he said, referring to an increasing number of Chinese takes on traditional horror, fantasy and gangster film templates.

"Even if many of these experiments have disappointed at the box office, they should still be recognised in a festival context. There is no international festival outside China that has stepped up as a platform," he said.

The last time a mainland Chinese film won the Golden Lion was 2006, when Jia Zhangke's "Still Life" picked up the award, while Chen Kaige's "Farewell My Concubine" in 1993 remains the only Chinese film to win the Palm D'Or.

Chen surprised many this week with his comments at the Toronto International Film Festival, in which he cited a "big cultural gap" preventing Western audiences relating to films "made in the East" and vice-versa.

But critics say his comments put him at odds with a growing trend of international cooperation on financing, production and distribution of films.

The situation in Venice this year prompted festival director Alberto Barbera to call an unprecedented press conference for mainland Chinese media.

At it, he stressed that the event remained supportive of Chinese cinema, despite the scarcity of its films screening there, something he explained as merely a "coincidence". - AFP

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Out of the dreams of babes

Posted: 11 Sep 2012 03:09 AM PDT

New author Roshni Menon talks about writing her first book and realising a dream of her own.

THE-REE, Ge-reen, De-reams," says Roshni Menon, enunciating carefully. "For the longest time as a child, I couldn't say those three words properly. I would say those words as two syllables instead of one."

She laughingly recalls how a friend would tease her endlessly about it. So when she wanted to write a children's book, the three words popped into her head and became the title: Three Green Dreams.

Roshni, 35, is an ENT surgeon by day, and now she adds author to her credentials. She has three children, aged two and a half, five, and seven, and Ria, the heroine of the story, is based on her daughter, also called Ria.

"I know most people write the story first and think of the title. For me, everything starts with the title," Roshni says. She set about fleshing out a story around these three words and came up with a lyrical tale about the adventures of Ria, who travels into the dreams of children from around the world.

Indeed, the number three represents first, the dream of Ria, second, the collective dreams of the children she meets as she goes round the world and third, the dreams of the reader.

Roshni explains that the use of the colour green is not about the environment, although there are elements of that in some of the pages. For example, when Ria visits Soren in Sweden, they talk about saving the earth, but only because Sweden is a country that is all about green energy and recycling.

"I wanted to evoke the different memories conjured up by the colour green for different people. For Malaysians, green is synonymous with Milo, Kickapoo, durian and our trees. In India, green represents young mangoes, pistachios, mint chutney and chillies, and cricket pitches. In Japan, it represents green tea, nori (seaweed) and tennis balls. And so forth.

"When I finished writing the book, I had very definite ideas of how I wanted it to look like. I have always admired Yusof Majid's work, and thought he'd be the perfect person to illustrate my work. I actually asked him via sms whether he'd do it or not!" says Roshni.

She won him over with the story she wrote, and he agreed to produce all the landscapes in the book.

Roshni now needed a character. She looked around for an artist or illustrator who could bring Ria to life. When artist Seeling Tan sent in her proposal for the character, Roshni knew she was the one she wanted to work with.

"Seeling brought to life the character of Ria, and she was everything I pictured in my head," says Roshni. So both artists set to work, individually, based on Roshni's brief and many subsequent discussions.

The end result of that collaboration is 11 landscapes by Yusof, and 18 character drawings by Tan, which were merged digitally for the book. For editing, Roshni approached Daphne Lee, Star2 On Sunday's Tots To Teens columnist who is known for her work in children's literature.

"Working with all these good people was great. I learnt a great deal," she says.

Instead of going the route of seeking a publisher for her book, Roshni decided to self-publish, albeit through a publishing company she formed with two other like-minded friends. She named it Smallprint.

"We noticed there is a gap in the market for quality local children's books. We could do a lot with a publishing company, instead of this being a one-off project. We set up Smallprint with the intention of publishing more books. We want to put out really great books written by Malaysians, but with a global appeal. Right now, there are two projects in progress, and we hope to increase that figure to five next year," she says.

While planning for the future, Roshni also had to be practical about the funding of her current project, Three Green Dreams. She had the brilliant idea of selling off the paintings that Yusof and Tan did for the book during the book launch. And what a success the launch plus exhibition was. She sold off all but two of the paintings, which she kept for herself.

Would she ever ditch her day job and do writing and publishing full time? "I love my job too much!" she laughs. "Writing allows me to escape from the rigidity of the medical profession. I have always loved words, and you could say this is the realisation of my dream. Writing allows the creative side of me to emerge. I hope I am lucky enough to be able to do both."

She says her scientific side makes an appearance in the book as well, when she talks about green colour-blindness when Ria visits Sebastian and Sean in Hong Kong. Also, she explains the words and phrases used throughout the book in a glossary at the end of the book, much like medical glossaries.

"That's the scientist in me, I suppose," she laughs.

As the book is about the colour green, Roshni admits she has been asked whether she planned for it to be a series of books, each about a different colour. "I never thought of that. I just wanted to write a book with the title Three Green Dreams. It is something to think about. But no, there are no red, orange or yellow books in the works yet. My next book, which I have started, is about something else. You will have to wait and see," she smiles.

Three Green Dreams is available at Kinokuniya Bookstores at Suria KLCC; Silverfish Books (03-2284 4837 / silverfishbooks.com) and Cziplee Bangsar (03-2287 7699 / cziplee.com) in Kuala Lumpur; and Borders outlets nationwide.

No real escape

Posted: 11 Sep 2012 03:08 AM PDT

Brutal, horrific pain continues to blight a man who crawled his way out of a prison camp and now devotes his life to human rights.

Escape From Camp 14
Author: Blaine Harden
Publisher: Mantle, 242 pages

THE image of North Korea we have all seen is the aerial shot taken at night. Whilst the lights of South Korea and China burn brightly all around it, North Korea itself is in almost total darkness. A dark hole in a well-lit world.

Go to Google Maps and enter North Korea and another surprise awaits you. This time it is white. In stark contrast to the borderlands of China and South Korea there is simply a white space with a single name: the capital, Pyongyang. Zoom in and an unmarked whiteness fills the screen. No towns, no roads, no physical features, just white space. Above all, no prison camps. For these you have to go to Google Earth.

There are various estimates of how many people are incarcerated in North Korea's camps, but it is pretty safe to say there are at least 100,000 and possibly as many as 300,000.

The camps, of course, do not exist according to the official line. In all that unmapped, unmarked white space there are not really tens of thousands of slaves living just above starvation level. How could there be? Nonetheless, type Camp 14 into Google Earth and you will find lines of grey buildings that have a definite concentration camp air about them.

"There is no 'human rights issue' in this country as everyone leads the most dignified and happy life," said the North Korean News Agency on March 6, 2009.

The body of Shin Dong-hyuk tells a different story. One of his fingers is missing a top joint – cut off by camp guards as punishment for dropping a sewing machine. He has terrible burn scars on his back from being suspended by a rope over a cauldron of fire. His lower abdomen is scarred from the hook that was gaffed through his skin to raise and lower him over the hot coals. That was when he was 13. The most telling scars are those on his lower legs. They come from the high voltage fence that he crawled through to escape from Camp 14.

If the physical scars are brutal, the mental ones will take longer to heal. Shin was born in the camp, one of two children resulting from a union arranged by guards as a reward for his father's skill on a lathe. His father and "wife" were allowed to see each other only a handful of times in a year. His mother treated him brutally. Any idea that being prisoners together caused inmates to bond against a common enemy are rapidly dispelled.

"Outsiders have a wrong understanding of the camp. It is not just the soldiers who beat us. It is the prisoners themselves who are not kind to each other. There is no sense of community."

Instead there is betrayal and distrust. Prisoners are encouraged to snitch on each other. Their reward? Food. In conditions that constantly threaten starvation and where malnutrition is normal, prisoners will do almost anything for extra food.

One night, Shin hears his mother and brother plotting an escape. Angry at them and brainwashed into a culture of snitching, he informs on them. His mother is hanged; his brother is executed by firing squad. Shin is forced to watch.

And what does he feel? Nothing. He feels nothing because they have broken the camp rules and therefore they deserve to die. It is many years before he is able to admit that he had betrayed them and a great deal longer before he is able to forgive himself.

Shin is the only known survivor of the camps to tell his story. There are thousands of defectors from North Korea to the South but only three people ever are known to have escaped from the camps. Escape From Camp 14 is a brutal and horrific story. There are plenty of war stories that glorify escapes from high security prisons but this is not one of them.

Even Shin's escape is hedged with pain. Told by the guards to stay close to a new prisoner and report everything he says to them, he takes the first step to independent thought by befriending the man and keeping his secrets. Through him he learns something of the outside world.

In particular, he learns that in China you can go into a restaurant and order meat, as much grilled meat as you like. That is incentive enough to escape.

So the pair plot and plan, take advantage of a work detail near the perimeter fence and run for it. His colleague dies on the high voltage fence; Shin crawls over his body and with seering electrical burns to his legs makes his way by random chance to China and eventually, South Korea. And there, over a long period of time, his story is finally told.

A happy ending? Not really. Shin is damaged in every sense of the word. He is taken to Los Angeles to join the South Korean community there, but he refuses psychiatric help and returns to South Korea. Adjustment to a materialistic and highly competitive world is virtually impossible. The scars of the camp will take a lifetime to heal although he has found a human rights cause, the camps, to which he has devoted himself.

Escape From Camp 14 is an important book as all survivor testimonies are important. It spells out, as nothing has done before, the sheer duplicity, brutality, horror and inhumanity of the Kim dynasty. Coupled with Barbara Demick's Nothing To Envy, the white space on the map is slowly being coloured in. We can no longer claim ignorance.

Hunger for freedom

Posted: 10 Sep 2012 04:00 PM PDT

AMERICAN journalist Blaine Harden has been in machine-gun bloodbaths in Eastern Europe and covered corruption in the Congo, but says the most powerful story he has ever reported is in his new book, Escape From Camp 14.

Published earlier this month by Viking, the book is a biography of Shin Dong-hyuk who was born in 1982 in a no-exit prison camp in North Korea, where thousands are detained for so-called political crimes.

Shin was raised under conditions of starvation and incredible brutality, taught to consider his mother a competitor for food rather than a loved family member, and escaped the camp only at age 23 – by climbing through an electric fence, insulated against the deadly current by the body of his best friend.

The book details how he walked for a month until he reached China and then South Korea, via its embassy in Shanghai. Later, he moved to California, sponsored by Americans who read a 2008 report Harden wrote about him in the Washington Post.

Now 30, he is in Seoul, posting weekly web videos featuring other defectors from the North.

"I can say without reservation that Shin's story is the most interesting and complex that I've covered," Harden, 60, declares over the phone from Seattle, Washington, the United States. He resides there with his wife Jessie, who works for Boeing, and their nine-year-old daughter Lucinda and seven-year-old son Arno.

He recently took Lucinda to see the fantasy movie, The Hunger Games, which is set in a dystopian world where children kill one another for food, and found horrific parallels to the savagery Shin lived with for most of his life.

"He did not know basic value structures and what it meant to be a human being until he was 23," says the journalist who, like Shin, hopes Escape From Camp 14 can raise enough international awareness to effect change for the better in the North Korean gulags.

The book is certainly making waves: It has been on the New York Times bestseller list for three weeks and received rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.

London's Guardian newspaper calls it "harrowing but important", while the Wall Street Journal describes it as "searing". The Economist and the Washington Post, Harden's former employer, have called for investigations into the prison camps.

A career journalist now with TV channel PBS Frontline, Harden started out at age 25 on the Post, where his first assignment was to write about a horse that had been saved from drowning.

He went on to become its foreign correspondent in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, and in the noughties, was national news correspondent for The New York Times.

He was with the Post again, covering North and South Korea, when he first met Shin via a human rights group in Seoul in December 2008. Given Pyongyang's iron grip on media and reporting in the country, one of the best ways for journalists like him to fill in the blanks is to talk to defectors in South Korea, Harden says.

Shin was then 26 and had recently published his life story in Korean, Escape To The Outside World, which had sold barely 500 of the 3,000 print run.

Over lunch and through a translator, he shared stories of the savagery he encountered daily in the camp, from his schoolteacher beating a girl to death because she was hoarding food – five "unauthorised" grains of wheat – to his cousin being raped by the prison guards.

Shin and his older brother themselves were products of a forced "marriage" between his parents, who met only a handful of times to breed. He has no idea whether he has other relatives still in the camp.

His account could not be verified independently, though human rights activists in Seoul agreed that it rang true.

Shin is after all unique, the only North Korean born in a prison camp to have escaped alive. An estimated 200,000 people are confined to these camps, easily captured in satellite images but denied vigorously by the government in Pyongyang.

Harden says the existence of these camps explains how the North Korean system has been able to outlast other totalitarian regimes. "The reason is they have lost none of their capacity for cruelty," he says.

His 2008 report on Shin for the Washington Post elicited "a remarkable reaction from readers", so over the next nine months, he convinced the younger man to allow him to write a book that would raise awareness of these camps.

They met in southern California in the summer of 2010. Shin was then living under the wing of an American couple but spoke little English. Translation was provided by a friend his own age, Yale graduate David Kim.

"It was an experience like no other, to pry so hard, to get close, to get as much information as possible. He didn't like it, but he understood the need for it," Harden recalls of their sessions, which went on intermittently until February of last year.

Midway through their interaction, Shin revealed a terrible truth: that he was responsible for the death of his mother and brother. He had earlier reported how she and his older brother were hanged to death for attempting to escape when he was 14, and had also spoken of the torture he faced as punishment for their so-called crime.

He had hidden the fact that he was the person who betrayed them to the guards in the first place, but felt he could no longer lie to his friends.

Harden quoted Shin's words at a human rights conference in Washington, DC, earlier this month: "I wanted people to know this is the kind of children they are raising right now in these camps. People whose loyalty is to the guards and who will do anything to get more food."

The effects clearly linger, as the book shows. Shin has difficulty maintaining relationships and has also shied away from learning English. Even now, when he and Harden appear together to promote the book – they split the proceeds evenly – he needs a translator.

"He has said he's not the kind of person who should get an education," the journalist says. "It's a part of his guilt surviving these camps.

"He has also said he's in the process of learning how to be a human being. Those are his words." – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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