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The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Explosions, shooting heard at U.S. base in Afghanistan

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 07:44 PM PST

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Two explosions and shooting were heard at a U.S. base in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Sunday, a Reuters witness said.

The Taliban said they carried out an attack on the compound and inflicted casualties. NATO officials were not immediately available for comment.

Security forces surrounded the area.

"We can confirm there have been multiple explosions in the vicinity of the Jalalabad airfield," the U.S.-led coalition said in a statemen.

"Currently, ISAF officials are on the scene gathering facts, and as more information becomes available, we will release it as appropriate."

In February, a suicide car bomber killed nine people at the base at an airport, almost exclusively used by NATO and the U.S. military.

The United States and Afghan government are scrambling to improve security before most NATO combat troops withdraw at the end of 2014.

(Reporting by Rafiq Shirzad; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

Hearing for U.S. soldier in WikiLeaks centres on prison treatment

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 04:43 PM PST

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - A pre-trial hearing for U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, who is accused of masterminding a massive leak of classified material to the WikiLeaks website, focused on Saturday on a 2011 incident when he broke down and cried in a military brig.

Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (C) is escorted in handcuffs as he leaves the courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland June 6, 2012. REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana

Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (C) is escorted in handcuffs as he leaves the courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland June 6, 2012. REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana

The hearing is to determine whether Manning should face a court-martial on suspicion of leaking thousands of classified documents, including military reports and diplomatic cables.

Manning's lawyers have sought to have the case against him dismissed, arguing that his treatment after arriving at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, in July 2010 was unduly harsh.

Saturday's proceedings, on the fifth day of the hearing, focused on the events of January 18, 2011, when Manning broke down and began crying after falling while guards were removing his shackles in an exercise room.

Defence attorneys allege that Manning became especially distraught that day because guards were bullying him. Manning himself testified earlier that his guards seemed angry on the morning the incident occurred, making him nervous.

One of Manning's guards at the time, former Marine Corps Lance Corporal Jonathan Cline, acknowledged in his testimony that military personnel at Quantico had been irritated by a pro-Manning protest a day before the incident in the exercise room. The protest had snarled traffic around Quantico.

"They were annoyed by it," Cline said. "It would kind of close down parts of the base and it would kind of hinder them or interrupt the way they would travel to get home or to do other things."

Manning faces up to life in prison if convicted of charges he played a role in the leaking of secrets by WikiLeaks, which stunned governments around the world by publishing intelligence documents and diplomatic cables, mostly in 2010.

Prosecutors have alleged that Manning, without authorization while on intelligence duty, disclosed hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, military reports and video of a military helicopter attack in Iraq in which two Reuters journalists were killed.

WikiLeaks has never confirmed Manning was the source of any documents it released.

Manning's lawyers are working with the court on the language of a proposed plea involving less serious charges. A prison term of at least 16 years is under discussion, one of his attorneys said, but until a plea is formally entered and accepted, the length of any prison term is uncertain.

(Reporting By Tom Brown; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

Italian centre-left party heads into decisive primary

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 04:05 PM PST

ROME (Reuters) - The two finalists in a primary to choose the centre-left candidate for prime minister in next year's Italian elections face judgement day on Sunday in a run-off primary after a bitter campaign.

Italian PD (Democratic Party) secretary Pier Luigi Bersani delivers a speech during a political rally with European Socialists in Paris, March 17, 2012. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Italian PD (Democratic Party) secretary Pier Luigi Bersani delivers a speech during a political rally with European Socialists in Paris, March 17, 2012. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

The contest will decide whether Pier Luigi Bersani, 61, or Matteo Renzi, 37, stand in national elections early next year against a still-to-be-chosen centre-right candidate to take over from Prime Minister Mario Monti.

Most polls say the slow-speaking, bald, professorial Bersani will defeat Renzi, who bounces around platforms at rallies in open shirts and jeans.

While markets are wary of Bersani's alliance with a party called Left, Ecology and Freedom, both men have pledged to continue budget discipline started by Monti. They would put more emphasis on economic growth and easing burdens on workers and pensioners.

Bersani, who says he represents experience, won 44.9 percent of the vote in a first-round last Sunday. Renzi, who paints himself as a Kennedy-esque reformer and insists the Democratic Party (PD) needs a big shakeup, got 35.5 percent. There were three other candidates.

A poll by the SWG organisation said Bersani, who is PD leader, would get 53-57 percent in the run-off and Renzi, mayor of Florence, 43-47 percent.

"I don't ask you to like me. I ask you to believe me," Bersani told supporters at a rally on Saturday night, repeating in his stump speech that a steady, experienced hand was what Italy needed in tough financial times.

"A lot of people, and not only in Europe, are watching what happens tomorrow," Bersani told the rally.

The past week has seen bitter argument between the two candidates over whether Renzi violated contest rules by taking out privately-funded advertising urging those who did not participate in the first round to vote for him in the run-off.

Bersani tried to put the spat behind them, saying the party did not need to inflict "friendly fire" on itself.

"As mayor of Florence, I cut costs, I eliminated office cars for city employees," Renzi told a rally on Saturday night in his trademark style, wandering across the stage with a long-lead microphone.

"As prime minister, I will do the rest," he said.

Renzi accused the older generation of the Democratic Party of failing to present a credible alternative, allowing former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre right to govern for so long.

"If the other side wins, nothing will change. If we win tomorrow night, there will be a new Italy," he said.

Monti, favourite of the business community, has insisted that he will not be a candidate next year but has said he will come back if the election does not provide a clear winner.

Another posible future role for him is as president of the republic and guarantor that austerity reforms agreed with Italy's European partners continue.

Italy's gross public debt is equivalent to 126 percent of national output, according to the IMF.

Berlusconi's scandal-plagued right, forced from government by the financial crisis a year ago, is in disarray.

Berlusconi said on Monday he would wait to see who wins the centre-left primary before deciding whether to run himself. He has repeatedly changed his mind in the last few weeks on whether to do so.

Copyright © 2012 Reuters


The Star Online: Business

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Little apparent progress in U.S. "fiscal cliff" talks

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 11:21 PM PST

HATFIELD, Pennsylvania: With barely a month left before the "fiscal cliff," Republicans and Democrats remained far apart on Friday in talks to avoid the across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts that threaten to throw the country back into recession.

While President Barack Obama visited a Pennsylvania toy factory to muster public support for tax hikes on the rich, portraying Republicans as scrooges at Christmas time, his primary adversary in negotiations, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, continued to describe the situation as a stalemate.

The argument will resume on Sunday when Boehner, along with Obama's Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and others, take to weekly political talk shows and pick up further steam next week with a possible confrontation in the House of Representatives between Democrats and Republicans over the timing of a vote on tax hikes.

Lawmakers are nervously eyeing the markets as the deadline approaches, with gyrations likely to intensify pressure to bring the drama to a close.

The markets, in turn watching the politicians, fell as Boehner spoke, but recovered afterward. It was a repeat of the pattern earlier in the week when the speaker offered a similarly gloomy assessment.

The latest round of high-stakes gamesmanship focuses on whether to extend the temporary tax cuts that originated under former President George W. Bush beyond their December 31 expiration date for all taxpayers, as Republicans want, or just for those with incomes under $250,000, as Obama and his fellow Democrats want.

After five days of increasingly confrontational exchanges, the work week drew to a close with an announcement by Democrats of a long-shot effort next week to force an early tax-hike vote in the Republican-controlled U.S. House to break the deadlock.


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she would undertake the rarely successful effort unless Boehner agreed by Tuesday to bring a bill to the floor allowing taxes on the wealthy to rise, something Boehner is highly unlikely to do until he is ready.

"The clock is ticking," Pelosi said at a news conference. "The year is ending. It's really important with tax legislation for it to happen now. We're calling upon the Republican leadership in the House to bring this legislation to the floor next week."

While Boehner offered no immediate response to Pelosi's threat, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, recently elected by Republicans to be the fourth-ranking party leader in the House, told Fox News in an interview not to expect any tax vote next week.

Amid the competing statements from the two sides, there were some actual, albeit modest, signs of potential movement.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threw Republican proposals into the mix for reform of Medicare, the government health insurance program for seniors, which has exploded in cost in recent years and is a major contributor to the country's soaring deficit.

McConnell of Kentucky told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that Republicans would agree to more revenue - although not higher tax rates - if Democrats agreed to such changes as raising the eligibility age for Medicare and slowing cost-of-living increases in the Social Security retirement program.

Rodgers, in her Fox News interview, declined to completely rule out a much-discussed potential compromise in which Republicans would accept some increase in tax rates on the rich, but not to the level desired by Obama.


More House Republicans - although still just a handful -expressed flexibility beyond that of their party leaders about considering an increase in tax rates for the wealthy, as long as they are accompanied by significant spending cuts.

Most House Republicans refuse to back higher rates, preferring to raise revenue through tax reform.

Obama, speaking in Pennsylvania, said he was encouraged by the shifting views of some Republicans, and urged House approval of a bill that has already cleared the Democratic-controlled Senate that would lock in the middle-class tax cuts and raise the rates for the rich.

"If we can get a few House Republicans on board, we can pass the bill. ... I'm ready to sign it," Obama said.

But neither he nor the other principals in the debate budged from their basic positions.

Instead, Obama turned up the pressure on Friday, hitting the road to drum up support for his drive to raise taxes on the wealthy and warning Americans that Republicans were offering them "a lump of coal" for Christmas.

In a visit to the Pennsylvania toy factory, Obama portrayed congressional Republicans as scrooges who risked sending the country over the fiscal cliff rather than strike a deal to avert the tax increases and spending cuts that begin in January unless Congress intervenes.

"We already all agree, we say, on making sure middle-class taxes don't go up. So let's get that done. Let's go ahead and take the fear out for the vast majority of American families so they don't have to worry," Obama said at the Rodon Group factory, which makes K'NEX building toy systems as well as Tinkertoys and consumer products.

In Washington, Boehner said Obama's plan to raise taxes on the rich was the wrong approach.

"There is a stalemate. Let's not kid ourselves," the Ohio Republican said. "Right now we are almost nowhere."

US fiscal cliff fight may knock out December rally

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 11:19 PM PST

NEW YORK: In normal times, next week's slew of U.S. economic data could be a springboard for a December rally in the stock market.

December is historically a strong month for markets. The S&P 500 has risen 16 times in the past 20 years during the month.

But the market hasn't been operating under normal circumstances since November 7 when a day after the U.S. election, investors' focus shifted squarely to the looming "fiscal cliff."

Investors are increasingly nervous about the ability of lawmakers to undo the $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts that are set to begin in January; those changes, if they go into effect, could send the U.S. economy into a recession.

A string of economic indicators next week, which includes a key reading of the manufacturing sector on Monday, culminates with the November jobs report on Friday.

But the impact of those economic reports could be muted. Distortions in the data caused by Superstorm Sandy are discounted.

The spotlight will be more firmly on signs from Washington that politicians can settle their differences on how to avoid the fiscal cliff.

"We have a week with a lot of economic data, and obviously most of the economic data is going to reflect the effects of Sandy, and that might be a little bit negative for the market next week, but most of that is already expected - the main focus remains the fiscal cliff," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.

Concerns about the cliff sent the S&P 500 <.spx> into a two-week decline after the elections, dropping as much as 5.3 percent, only to rally back nearly 4 percent as the initial tone of talks offered hope that a compromise could be reached and investors snapped up stocks that were viewed as undervalued.

On Wednesday, the S&P 500 gained more than 20 points from its intraday low after House Speaker John Boehner said he was optimistic that a budget deal to avoid big spending cuts and tax hikes could be worked out. The next day, more pessimistic comments from Boehner, an Ohio Republican, briefly wiped out the day's gains in stocks.

On Friday, the sharp divide between the Democrats and the Republicans on taxes and spending was evident in comments from President Barack Obama, who favors raising taxes on the wealthy, and Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, who said Obama's plan was the wrong approach and declared that the talks had reached a stalemate.

"It's unusual to end up with one variable in this industry, it's unusual to have a single bullet that is the causal factor effect, and you are sitting here for the next maybe two weeks or more, on that kind of condition," said Sandy Lincoln, chief market strategist at BMO Asset Management U.S. in Chicago.

"And that is what is grabbing the markets."


But investor attitudes and seasonality could also help spur a rally for the final month of the year.

The most recent survey by the American Association of Individual Investors reflected investor caution about the cliff. Although bullish sentiment rose above 40 percent for the first time since August 23, bearish sentiment remained above its historical average of 30.5 percent for the 14th straight week.

December is a critical month for retailers such as Target Corp and Macy's Inc . They saw monthly retail sales results dented by Sandy, although the start of the holiday shopping season fared better.

With consumer spending making up roughly 70 percent of the U.S. economy, a solid showing for retailers during the holiday season could help fuel any gains.

Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati, believes the recent drop after the election could be a market bottom, with sentiment leaving stocks poised for a December rally.

"The concerns on the fiscal cliff - as valid as they might be - could be overblown. When you look at a lot of the overriding sentiment, that has gotten extremely negative," said Detrick.

"From that contrarian point of view with the historically bullish time frame of December, we once again could be setting ourselves up for a pretty nice end-of-year rally, based on lowered expectations."


Others view the fiscal cliff as such an unusual event that any historical comparisons should be thrown out the window, with a rally unlikely because of a lack of confidence in Washington to reach an agreement and the economic hit caused by Sandy.

"History doesn't matter. You're dealing with an extraordinary set of circumstances that could very well end up in the U.S. economy going into a recession," said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors in New York.

"And the likelihood of that is exclusively in the hands of our elected officials in Washington. They could absolutely drag us into a completely voluntary recession."

Moody's downgrades euro zone rescue funds, keeps negative outlook

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 11:15 PM PST

BRUSSELS: Credit ratings agency Moody's cut its rating for the euro zone rescue funds ESM and EFSF to Aa1 from Aaa following its downgrade of France earlier in November, the agency said on Friday.

It said the downgrade of the ESM and the EFSF, which were created to stabilise the euro zone by providing financial assistance to euro area member states in difficulty, was prompted by the high correlation in credit risk among the rescue funds and their largest financial supporters.

Moody's stripped France of its prized triple-A badge this month, cutting the sovereign credit rating on Europe's No. 2 economy by one notch to Aa1 from Aaa. It cited an uncertain fiscal outlook and deteriorating economy.

"Moody's view that there is a high correlation in credit risk among the entities' supporters is consistent with the evolution to date of the euro area debt crisis and the close institutional, economic and financial linkages among the major euro area sovereigns," Moody's said.

The agency said it kept a negative outlook for the new credit rating.

The EFSF and ESM said in a statement late on Friday that they took note of Moody's decision but did not agree with it.

"We disagree with the rating agency's approach which does not sufficiently acknowledge ESM's exceptionally strong institutional framework, political commitment and capital structure," said Klaus Regling, managing director of the ESM and chief executive of EFSF.

Moody's had announced it would review the Aaa rating of the two funds after the downgrade of France.

The euro pared most gains versus the U.S. dollar in late Friday trade after Moody's downgrade. - Reuters


The Star Online: Sports

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Malaysia to have biggest representation in Shenzhen

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 03:32 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will have the biggest representation at the season finale BWF World Super Series Finals in Shenzhen, China, from Dec 12-16 – thus giving the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) a huge lift.

World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei, Liew Daren, Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong, Hoon Thien How-Tan Wee Kiong and Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying will represent Malaysia in the US$500,000 tournament.

Malaysia's previous biggest representation was six in 2008.

BAM coaching and training chairman Ng Chin Chai said that the big number of qualifiers for the Finals was a "small and timely" breakthrough but felt that it was time for Malaysia to start winning major titles.

And he has his eyes set on the World Championships in Guangzhou in next August.

"It has been a reasonably good year for us. Of course, BAM are happy to have a huge number of qualifiers for the Super Series Finals. It is a testament of some changes that we have made so far this year," said Chin Chai.

"We've been giving a lot of emphasis on sending potential players to international tournaments. The back-up players have also been given many opportunities to build the competitive edge in them.

"Things are falling into place for us. Most of our players have improved on their world rankings. The qualification of Daren and Thien How-Wee Kiong is certainly a bonus for us at the Finals."

Daren is currently ranked 16th while Thien How-Wee Kiong are 15th in the world. Kien Keat-Boon Heong are also back at the No. 2 spot in the world while Peng Soon-Liu Ying are enjoying a career high No. 3 ranking.

Except for Chong Wei and Peng Soon-Liu Ying, the others qualified without winning any Super Series titles this year.

"Thien How-Wee Kiong are also lucky because some of the top pairs had split up and did not qualify for the Finals. It paved way for the Malaysians to move in. Still, it's a good breakthrough for them," said Chin Chai.

"Having a large number (of shuttlers) in the Finals is only a minor success for us. We want more players to win Super Series titles and we also want them to start winning major tournaments."

Chin Chai said that he had thrown a challenge to his coaches and players to have the maximum qualification at next year's world meet. The qualifying period for the world meet ends in April.

"Realistically, we can push our players to have maximum representation in four events – men's singles and all the three doubles. We can have three representatives each if our players continue to raise their game," said Chin Chai.

"The only problem we have right now is in the women's singles. Except for Tee Jing Yi, it may difficult for us to get others to qualify for the world meet. Coach Wong Tat Meng is addressing the issue of lack of depth in the women's singles.

"Ultimately, our goal is to have a player become the country's first world champion ... we hope it'll happen soon. This will be our target for next year."

Vountus finds new lease of life training with Razif

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 05:28 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: National discard Vountus Indra Mawan is proof that you can make a living as a professional shuttler.

On Friday, Vountus competed in his first international tournament as a professional player at the Macau Open. He and partner Mohd Fairuzizuan Mohd Tazari emerged as Malaysia's best performers in the Grand Prix Gold when they reached the men's doubles quarter-finals.

The duo, however, could not sustain their form and went down fighting 15-21, 27-29 to Indonesia's Alven Yulianto-Markis Kido.

The 23-year-old Vountus, who was dropped by the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) two months ago, said that he had found a new lease of life after training with Razif Sidek.

"I had to move on after BAM decided to drop me. Fortunately, coach Razif had faith in me. I still want to do well in badminton. Hopefully, I can do better in the future," said Vountus, who will have to find a regular partner soon.

Fairuzizuan's regular partner – Mohd Zakry Abdul Latif – is on a short break after tying the knot recently.

Meanwhile, India's rising singles players R.M.V. Gurusaidutt and K. Srikanth crashed out to China's shuttlers in the semi-finals of the ongoing Macau Open yesterday.

Gurusaidutt lost 16-21, 17-21 to Chen Yuekun while Srikanth bowed out 8-21, 19-21 to Gao Huan.



Men's singles: Chen Yuekun (Chn) bt R.M.V. Gurisaidutt (Ind) 21-16, 21-17; Gao Huan (Chn) bt K. Srikanth (Ind) 21-16, 21-17.

Men's doubles: Lee Sheng-mu-Tsai Chia-hsin (Tpe) bt Shin baek-cheol-Yoo Yeon-seong (Kor) 21-9, 18-21, 21-16; Vladimir Ivanov-Ivan Sozonov (Rus) bt Alven Yulianto-Markis Kido (Ina) 17-21, 21-10, 21-19.

Women's singles: Busanan Ongbumrungpan (Tha) bt Pai Hsiao-mao (Tpe) 21-11, 21-7; Yu Sun (Chn) bt Xuan Deng (Chn) 21-15, 21-10.

Women's doubles: Eom Hye-won-Jang Ye-na (Kor) bt Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth-Rizki Amelia Pradipta (Ina) 21-19, 21-14; Choy Hye-in-Kim So-young (Kor) bt Komala Devi-Jenna Gozali (Ina) 17-21, 21-10, 21-19.

Mixed doubles: Tantowi Ahmad-Lilyana Natsir (Ina) bt Tao Jiaming-Tang Jinhua (Chn) 21-18, 21-18; Mohd Rijal-Debby Susanto (Ina) bt Riky Widianto-Puspita Richi Dili (Ina) 21-7, 21-16.

Coach Peng Huat still going strong even at 75

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 05:20 PM PST

ONE look at Teh Peng Huat and you may think that he is just an ordinary septuagenarian. But wait till you really see him!

The still agile 75-year-old has boundless energy, which comes in handy as he continues to coach young shuttlers at the Berapit Primary School hall in Bukit Mertajam with the hope of unearthing another Lee Chong Wei – his most famous student.

Peng Huat may not be a household name among badminton fans but he has sacrificed so much for the game – all because of his undying love and relentless passion for it.

This man, who spotted and shaped national icon Chong Wei into the player that he is, has also worked with the likes of Chin Eee Hui, Goh Giap Chin, Nelson Heg, Tee Jing Yi, Goh Jin Wei and Cheam June Wei. Rising star Jin Wei, who recently scored 7As in her UPSR examination, is already the national champion in her age group.

* Full story in your copy of The Star today.


The Star Online: Nation

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Brigade to give the disabled a helping hand launched

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 03:27 PM PST

A UNIT to champion the rights of the disabled has been launched after Umno Youth's public complaints bureau received an overwhelming number of complaints from them.

Bureau chief Datuk Muhammad Khairun Aseh said Briged OKU hoped to have 500 members by June next year.

"We will have workshops and training programmes, including music lessons," said Muhammad Khairun, who also chairs the brigade.

He said rocker Amy of Search, who is an Umno member, had agreed to be its music director.

Muhammad Khairun said the brigade aimed to encourage the Government to be more disabled-friendly in its policies.

He said this after Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak launched the brigade on the sidelines of the Umno general assembly at Putra World Trade Centre.

Najib also accepted Umno membership forms from 120 members of the Malaysian Association for the Blind.

On another matter, Muhammad Khairun said the bureau received about 400 cases of Malaysians who were stranded overseas this year.

"Some 50% cannot be processed as they are personal in nature," he said. "However, we managed to solve 80% of the remainder."

‘AIDS victims’ give free hugs to strangers

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 03:18 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: A group of undergraduates posed as HIV/AIDS victims and hugged strangers to help destigmatise the disease.

Some 200 students from Universiti Malaya's Medical Society wanted to convey the message that HIV cannot be spread through touch at a ceremony to mark World AIDS Day in Berjaya Times Square yesterday.

"We want to educate the public about the facts relating to HIV/AIDS and that it cannot be spread through a handshake or hug," said a student.

Youths interviewed at the event expressed concern with the statistics which indicated that those aged between 19 and 39 years represent close to three quarters of all HIV/AIDS cases in Malaysia.

"Youths need to know the importance of safe sex and practising abstinence before marriage," said Sarah Tai, 20, a first-year medical student.

Business administration student Mohd Rahimi Radzi, 23, said he knew of several youths who were HIV positive.

"They need support to deal with the disease and return to their normal lives," he said.

Camelia Sulaiman, 25, who volunteers with an NGO called Positive Warrior, said the stigma against those with the disease must end.

"They are just like any other person who suffers from an illness and should not be treated differently," she said.

The society also joined hands with the Malaysian AIDS Council to launch the Red Ribbon Youth Club, which will spread awareness about the disease on campuses.

The club's ambassador is Aaron Aziz, who is a popular local actor.

"If you think that HIV does not concern you, think again.

"All young people must know how to protect themselves from HIV and it starts by being responsible for your health," said Aaron.

Even straight people get HIV

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 03:18 PM PST

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. After more than 25 years and with 80,000 Malaysians living with HIV/AIDS, there are still those who continue to discriminate and remain seemingly unaware of the disease.

WRITING about HIV/AIDS for more than a decade has been among my most enriching experiences as a journalist.

It goes beyond looking at statistics and being cautiously optimistic when the figures show a decline in the infection rate in this country.

It is about meeting Miss X or Mr Y whose stories of living with HIV are typically written with their identities being kept a secret. It is about hearing their stories and not caring about their past but wanting instead to know how they are fighting to keep illness at bay.

It is about knowing people like Michael Chow and Kirenjit Kaur, who are HIV positive but put themselves out there to make a difference in how the disease is viewed in Malaysia.

And then there is the bunch of tough-as-nails physicians like Datuk Dr Christopher Lee and Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman. Both are relentless in their quest to reduce the numbers and treat patients.

Of course, we cannot forget Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir who gave a withering stare every time a ridiculous remark or question about HIV/AIDS was posed to her when she was Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) president.

Writing about HIV/AIDS keeps one grounded and "human". It can sometimes be frustrating because stigma and discrimination issues still persist despite all the efforts over the past 25 years to remove them.

And it is mind boggling how fellow Malaysians treat each other and make remarks suggesting that people living with HIV/AIDS should be put on an island or place blame on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Since the harm reduction programme among injecting drug users (IDU) was implemented in Malaysia, the number of IDUs being diagnosed with HIV has dropped. Infection from sexual transmission has overtaken it with a ratio of six to four.

Overall, Health Ministry statistics have been showing a downward trend in the number of infections since 2003 due to various preventive actions undertaken over the years.

A total of 3,749 cases were detected last year and 2,544 cases have been recorded in the first nine months of this year.

Heterosexual transmission tops the list with 1,036 infections. This is followed by IDUs (916) while homosexual or bisexual transmission accounts for 424 cases.

In total, 81,879 people were living with HIV in Malaysia between 1986 and Sept 30 this year.

Those living with the virus are really not much different from you and I. With treatment, they go about their daily business and live ordinary lives.

Unfortunately, there are remarks alleging that those who are infected may have made choices that society deems deplorable, wrong and just plain sinful and therefore they deserve it.

There are tonnes of information out there. All it takes is a little initiative to be aware and to stop the blame game.

MAC honorary secretary Hisham Hussein has observed that while Malaysians are aware about the disease, they still attach "tags" such as sex workers, promiscuity and drug users to it.

"They know about safe sex but not the details," adds Hisham who has been active in HIV/AIDS work for close to two decades.

"We need to address the awareness. Ignorance is there. It doesn't matter what your sexuality is. You need to pump in money for education."

Hisham reminds that the number of women infected has increased over the years, currently about one in five of total infections.

"The bulk of them have had only one partner and think they are safe. But are they?"

He stresses that the people should be educated about the principles of practising safe sex.

"We are not telling them to have sex because there are still the moral and religious values. But in reality, one can't stop what goes on behind closed doors."

So the practical thing to do is to inform them to "be fully equipped", Hisham suggests.

On the trend of transmission, he says: "It is shocking and there is a strong denial across the board."

Nevertheless, the Health Ministry finds that HIV in the country is still concentrated among the most-at-risk populations especially IDUs, sex workers and transgenders.

Hisham says there have been strides in battling the disease, including ministry allocation for treatment.

Some RM101.7mil was spent by the ministry in 2011 for programmes that include prevention, promotional activities, harm reduction, screening and anti-retroviral medication.

Hisham adds that the ministry allocated RM100,000 for prevention work among sex workers but none was given to carry out such work with transgenders and men who have sex with men.

The increase in the number of infected women is certainly not caused by gay men, says Marina wryly.

"It is heterosexual transmission," she stresses, adding that politics sometimes gets in the way of how Malaysia addresses the disease.

"There are people who want to make a political point and are therefore uninterested in the facts," she says.

The disease, she adds, needs to be treated as a public health issue.

"It is more immoral that we are not doing work to prevent a disease that is preventable."

Marina also connected the cases of babies being abandoned with risks that can contribute to the HIV problem.

"Obviously, there is no safe sex going on," she points out bluntly.

Lack of scientific understanding of how the virus spreads also has a bearing on the infection rate or vulnerable groups, according to Monash University Sunway Campus School of Arts and Social Sciences senior lecturer Dr Yeoh Seng Guan.

An inaccurate or wrong understanding can involve people of different religions, educational backgrounds, social classes and ethnic groups, he says.

Dr Yeoh adds that Malaysia is no different from other Asean countries when it comes to HIV infection. There are those who are well-educated or informed through public service announcements or self-education about the causes and vectors of the disease, he notes. "And there are those who are still quite ignorant."

For him, what makes Malaysia vulnerable to HIV are perceptions that "it only happens to others and not me", "it is a disease of sinful people" and "it is a disease confined to certain kinds of people."

"Blaming the LGBT or using them to explain the infection rate in the country is a dangerous myth that needs to be continually addressed through sound empirical and ethical health research," he says.

"Already, there is data out there collected by various agencies in Malaysia and elsewhere that problematise this kind of stereotypical thinking. HIV is equally at home with heterosexuals and these 'straight' people have, in many countries, outstripped the LGBT community in terms of infection.

"Stereotyping and scare mongering are not going to help."


The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Jonn’s macabre tree

Posted: 02 Dec 2012 12:42 AM PST

If you ever doubted the power of books in the hands of children, read this little's boy's tale — that he made up in five minutes, no less!

MY son was recently teased by his more athletic classmates for being a bookworm. He did not retaliate. In fact, he could not be bothered, for though he may not be a runner, he is destined to be a writer. He is a content member of a bookish cult, having experienced the thrill books bestow, and is merely awaiting his chance to shine.

And he has.

As part of the year-end assessment in schools in Sydney, Australia, Primary Three and Four students were each given an image as a prompt to create a story. They only had five minutes to write the story and 10 minutes to present it. The class went berserk, as it surely was a difficult feat.

Some stories were funny in their own bizarre way while others were choppy and dull despite being packed with action, as they sounded like computer games. When it came to his turn, my son, given the image of a tree bare of leaves, was calm as he told his story.

The Dead Tree by Jonn Lim:

"On the bank of a sparkling river gurgling with happiness, a leafless dead tree stood. On this gloomy night, the clouds fogged up the entire atmosphere, and thunder struck mountains causing avalanches and earthquakes. Lightning crackled in the sky and for an instant, everything seemed to be in full daylight. Yet, the dead tree remained alive.

"An infuriated mob with their flames and razor-sharp pitchforks ran towards the tree, shouting and screaming with anger. However, the tree was undaunted, and swiftly with its branches, it grabbed every single person and stored them in its trunk. Slowly, the people turned into twigs, and the village was petrified with fear, so no one approached the ghastly beast.

"Anxious and dismayed, everyone locked their houses, windows and chimneys and ran into their rooms, trembling with fear as they hid under their beds. Is this how our lives are going to end? Will we stay in our houses for all eternity? We all know we don't want to, but how do we escape from the tight grasp of the tree?

"As the dark sky witnessed the macabre calamity, a man named Jonathan Kimble racked his brains and finally found a way. Tall and gangling like a feline, Jonathan was as brave as a lion and extremely quick-witted. He also detested evildoers and they caused his fists to clench, icy-blue eyes to flash and usually smooth brown hair to stand up on the end.

"Sneaking up on the tree like a tiger preying, Jonathan threw a torch of fire onto the tree. In a flash, the tree started burning. The scent of ashes and smoke filled the air, and the tree, before bursting into flames, grabbed Jonathan and perished along with him.

"From that day onward, Jonathan's statue was displayed to mark his heroic bravery and courage in tackling that monstrous beast."

Once again, the class went berserk – for a good reason. "The tree is evil," one girl murmured. "I cannot believe he died," another growled, shooting my son a teary look.

The boys asked what "macabre" meant, and the teacher, who seemed rather flabbergasted, explained with great difficulty – though the difficulty came mainly from the fact that a nine-year-old had attempted to use a superfluously elegant word and used it correctly.

The class captain, a soccer player, patted my son on the shoulder as if to praise him for a story well told. In fact, as I found out later and much to my amusement, he said with his eyes twinkling, "At least I still outrun you, Jonn."

No. My son Jonn cannot kick a ball well, but he is not nerdy. He simply loves stories, and is very good at making them up. The story of the dead tree was published in the school's newsletter, and was later submitted for the Young Writer Award. Is Jonn going to win? Hopefully, though that is no longer important. What is important is that he has won over his classmates himself by displaying a literary skill to make up for an athletic skill that he does not have.

When asked by the principal how he can write and tell stories so effortlessly, Jonn replied, "My first gift was a book, and so were the many that followed."

"What else do you do besides reading?"

"I do long jump with my mum."

With his slender build and long legs, Jonn can jump far if given pointers. And he does. Sprinting as fast as he can, Jonn clenches his fist and thinks of nothing but landing as far and as firmly as possible in the long jump sandpit. That is another skill he is now acquiring, secretly, just as he patiently learnt to read when he was four years old, and quietly began honing his writing skills when he was seven.

We give our children skills to teach them self-confidence. I first read Jonn stories, and then I gave him books, then words, then sentences, then writing skills; he acquires from stories quirkiness, aesthetics, humour, cohesiveness, logic, fantasy, and the craft of writing. All these I did not teach him, for how could I when books can do a better job?

"What is your wish, Jonn?

"I wish Roald Dahl was alive."

> Jonn likes to lie in the hammock and read after school; he calls it being meditative, as opposed to meditating.


Posted: 02 Dec 2012 12:33 AM PST

FOR week ending Nov 25, 2012:


1.       Syed Mokhtar Albukhary: A Biography by Premilla Mohanlall

2.       Creating A Purposeful Life by Richard Fox

3.       1D: The One Direction Story by Danny White

4.       Steven Gerrard: My Liverpool Story by Steven Gerrard

5.       The Power Of X Qualifying The 10 Gods by Joey Yap

6.       The Law Of Attraction Classic by Wallace D. Wattle

7.       Unstoppable: The Incredible Power Of Faith In Action by Nick Vujicic

8.       Justin Bieber: Just Getting Started (100% Official) by Justin Bieber

9.       We Got Him!: A Memoir Of The Hunt And Capture Of Saddam Hussein by Steve Russell

10.       Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo & Lynn Vincent


1.       The Hobbit (movie tie-in) by J.R.R. Tolkien

2.       The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

3.       The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

4.       Fifty Shades Of Grey by E.L. James

5.       One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

6.       The Sins Of The Father by Jeffrey Archer

7.       Life Of Pi by Yann Martel

8.       The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

9.       Reflected In You by Sylvia Day

10.       One Shot by Lee Child

> Weekly list compiled by MPH Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur;

Harmless fun or not?

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 02:52 PM PST

A FEW weeks ago, a friend told me about a Malay romance novel he had heard about. "Don't scream, but it's called Sayang Cikgu Ketat-Ketat." Needless to say, I screeched – in both horror and perverse delight.

Sayang Cikgu Ketat-Ketat (Teacher, I Love You Dearly). That really is some title. The English translation sounds fine, but to me, the original sounds sleazy, vulgar and common. According to a translator I'm working with at the moment, it's not standard Bahasa Melayu, and is considered rather naughty if not downright coarse.

The book is about a teenager who falls in love with her teacher and marries him. Complications arise when he receives a text message from an ex-girlfriend who expresses her willingness to be his second wife.

The next time I was in a bookstore with a large selection of books in BM, I scanned the shelves (eagerly) for Sayang Cikgu Ketat-Ketat. I didn't find it but came across a whole lot of other very "interesting" titles, including Asam Pedas Untuk Dia (Asam Pedas For Him), Nasi Lemak Buah Bidara (Indian Plum Nasi Lemak), Miss Pisau Cukur (Miss Razor Blade – slang for "gold digger", it seems), Cinta Sambal Belacan (Sambal Belacan Love) and I Love You Cikgu.

OK, first of all, it seems like BM romance novel authors like using food in their titles ... perhaps they are inspired by Laura Esquivel's Like Water For Chocolate and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Mistress Of Spices. After all, Malaysians love to eat, so these books are probably about how to win the man of your dreams by being a great cook. Fair enough, I suppose.

What I find disturbing is that at least two books have been published about teacher-student romances; there might in fact be more but, in my opinion, two is already two too many, especially in the light of recent statutory rape acquittals, and the 12-year-old bride and her 19-year-old groom....

I have no doubt that students do have crushes on their teachers, but while a teacher-crush might make a good subplot, it should not be the central story, especially not if it ends in marriage where the ages are so disparate.

I think another popular premise is for a servant to be wooed by her employer's son. That's what happens in Badai Semalam (Last Night's Storm) by Khadijah Hashim, which was one of the texts when I did Sastera Melayu for SPM in the Jurassic Era.

Asam Pedas Untuk Dia is also about a servant girl, Ainin Sofiya, who attracts the attention of the young master of the house. In this case, it's her asam pedas that is the guy really likes. Corny, but I can live with the idea of a man's stomach being the way to his heart. However, it gets dodgy from then on because the guy proposes marriage but says that it has to be a secret: His parents and his girlfriends are not to know. Yes, his girlfriendS! Also, he tells poor Ainin that she must not get pregnant and if she does, he will never forgive her. What's really disturbing is that the silly girl, despite not being totally happy with his conditions, accepts them anyway. Are women that desperate to marry?

I actually bought both Sayang Cikgu Ketat-Ketat and Asam Pedas Untuk Dia today. I want to read them for myself to see if the books are as shocking as their synopses make them sound.

I guess it could be argued that these books aren't written for children or even teenagers, but I started reading romance novels when I was a pre-teen so I'm pretty sure that there are impressionable young Malaysian women who are reading books like Asam Pedas and thinking, "So maybe a secret marriage is better than no marriage?" Hopefully, no one is that desperate and I'm being alarmist.

What's your experience with Malay romance novels? Are they harmless fun or do they encourage girls to judge themselves worthy only when desired by men? Share your thoughts at the e-mail above.

In the meantime, as always, 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 the above address and check out her blog at


The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

'Hobbit' star's hopes for gay marriage in Middle Earth

Posted: 30 Nov 2012 06:27 PM PST

WELLINGTON: "Hobbit" star and gay-rights advocate Ian McKellen has expressed hopes of being able to get married in New Zealand.

In a video message to a marriage equality conference in Wellington, where parliament is considering whether to legalise same-sex marriage, McKellen said he supported the "exciting prospect".

"I hope that by the time I get back to Middle Earth I might even be able to get married," he said in the message reported Saturday on the website.

McKellen, who has spent considerable time in New Zealand playing the role of Gandalf in the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" films, referred to the country as his "spiritual home" in the video recorded in London.

He said that as New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, the world has looked to it for "social advancement".

On his website, McKellen describes his most urgent concern as "legal and social equality for gay people worldwide".

He did not attend this week's world premiere of "The Hobbit" in Wellington as he is touring schools in England "attacking homophobia in the playground", GayNZ said. - AFP


The Star Online: Metro: Central

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The Star Online: Metro: Central

Metro watch

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 05:01 AM PST


Yesterday, Metro Watch had incorrectly listed the events organised by Tung Shin Hospital, Kelana Jaya Medical Centre and the National Blood Bank. The events had been carried out last month. Any inconvenience caused is regretted.


MBPJ business permit application form to set up stalls for Chinese New Year next year between Jan 11 and Feb 9, will be on sale on Dec 3 (9am-4.30pm) at Menara MBPJ Licensing Division. There are 139 lots available in Jalan SS2/62, SS2/63, Jalan 1/9, Kampung Cem-paka market and Taman Megah market. Deadline for submission is Dec 6. Priority will be given to Petaling Jaya and its surrounding residents. For details, call 03-7956 6922/03-7956 3352


The Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) and The Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor are co-organising a forum for retiree or those planning to retire, to highlight how one can contribute to society even after retirement today at 9.30am at the ACCCIM seminar room. The talk will be conducted in English. For details, call 03-4260 3090 or visit


Ampang Line LRT will be extended until midnight and the Kelana Jaya Line until 12.30am (Masjid Jamek Station only) to cater for football fans attending the match between Malaysia and Indonesia today. Prasarana will delay the system upgrading exercise of its Kelana Jaya Line to facilitate the crowd movement to Gombak, Petaling Jaya and Kelana Jaya areas. However, the Kelana Jaya Line will start at 8am tomorrow. Fans are encouraged to purchase MyRapid card for extra convenience.


The National Blood Bank is holding blood donation drives today at Putra World Trade Centre (9am-5pm) and Universiti Putra Malaysia, Kolej Serumpun (10am-4pm). Tomorrow, it will be held at The Karma Kagyu Dharma Society Kuala Lumpur (9am-3pm), SMK La Salle Brickfields (9am-3pm), St Jude Church, Rawang (8.30am-1pm), pertubuhan Buddhis Manju-Suddhi Kelenting Buddha, Kajang (9.30am-4.30pm), Pangsapuri Seri Tanjung, Subang Jaya (9am-3pm), Surau AL-Ehsan Casmaria, Batu Caves (9am-2pm) and Endah Parade (11am-5pm).


The 3rd Malaysia Sudoku Championship 2012 is on today (noon-5pm) and tomorrow (8.30am-3.30pm), followed by the prize-giving ceremony between 4.30pm and 5pm, at The Summit Subang USJ, ground floor, main concourse. For details, call 03-8023 3493.


Online registration for the HSBC Charity Partner Walk 2012 to be held on Dec 9 at Padang Merbok Kuala Lumpur closes on Dec 7 at 5pm. To register and further details, visit

Interested participants can also register on the day of the walk from 6am to 7.30 am.

Tree branches block pedestrians from view

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 05:01 AM PST

I AM a resident of SS2. I walk to work from SS2 to Damansara Jaya daily, passing through Jalan SS22/48.

A couple of the houses with their back facing Jalan SS22/48 have trees in the backyard.

The branches of the trees have grown over Jalan SS22/48, thereby blocking the view of pedestrian from oncoming vehicles.

Most of the time, the grass on this stretch of road is quite long and once I have even seen a snake around there on my way back from SS2.

Hopefully the local authority can look into the situation and get someone to prune the tree branches and the grass more often. PEDESTRIAN,

SS2, Petaling Jaya


The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South &amp; East

TAR confident of attracting more visitors to its theme park

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 05:03 AM PST

NUSAJAYA: Theme Attractions and Resorts Sdn Bhd (TAR) has no plans to issue annual passes to attract visitors to its Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park here.

Managing director and chief executive officer Tunku Datuk Ahmad Burhanuddin said the current ticket selling system at the newly opened park worked well for the company.

"We are looking at ways on how to attract more visitors to our park from time to time by working closely with our business associates,' he said.

Tunku Ahmad said this at the signing of strategic partnerships with eight partners worth RM10mil for the duration of three to five years.

The partners are ASTRO, RHB Bank, Coca-Cola, Canon, Panasonic, Dell, Mini Melts and KPJ Healthcare Bhd.

Through these collaborations, the company is well positioned to further enhance visitor's experience at the theme park.

"Since opening its doors on October 26, we have received 35,000 visitors of which 30% are from foreign countries,'' he said.

Tunku Ahmad said with continous promotions and collaborations with travel agents and tour companies, it was confident that the theme park would be able to attract more visitors.

He said with the opening of the Legoland Theme Park Malaysia and the Puteri Harbour Family Indoor Theme, Malaysians from outside Johor also now have good reason to visit the state.

Tunku Ahmad said feedback from hotel operators in and around Johor Baru showed that they recorded good room occupancy rates since the opening of the two new theme parks in September and October.

"We also want to work together with other stakeholders to promote Iskandar Malaysia as a tourist destination in the region,'' he said.

Tunku Ahmad said tour agents and hotels could tailor packages to cater for tourists to visit not only the two theme parks but also other tourist attractions in Johor.

Separately, he said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would be opening the Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park on Dec 6.

TAR is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional Bhd incorporated in 2009 to develop and operate themed attractions and resorts to enhance the leisure and tourism industry in Malaysia.

Contractor shot by lone motorcyclist in Taman Molek

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 05:03 AM PST

JOHOR BARU: A 56-year-old local contractor driving a Singapore registered car was shot on his right foot just before he was about to visit a courier outlet here.

O.Raman, who works in Pasir Gudang and Singapore, said that he parked his vehicle in front of the outlet in Taman Molek when a lone motorcyclist wearing a jacket and helmet approached his car from the left.

"I had just switched off my car engine and the next thing I know, the motorcyclist whipped out a pistol and shot twice from right outside the passenger seat," he said when met by reporters at a private medical centre along Jalan Abdul Samad here recently.

He added that his wife, who was sitting in the passenger seat at the time managed to escape unhurt.

"One of the bullets grazed my leg but another one is still inside my right thigh.

"Now I am worried for my safety and my family's because I do not know when the gunman is going to strike again," he said, adding that he had no idea what was the motive behind the attack.

When met at the scene, a security guard who wished to remain anonymous, working at the office next to the courier outlet said that he rushed outside when he heard the gunshots.

"I only managed to see the motorcyclist fleeing from the scene and noticed the victim getting out of his car to make a call.

"A few minutes later, the victim's friend came and took him away," he said adding that he heard the victim was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Meanwhile, when contacted, Seri Alam OCPD Supt Ruslan Zainuddin said that the incident took place at around 1.20pm and the case was being investigated under Section 307 of the Penal Code for attempted murder.

UTAR to hold Korean language camp

Posted: 01 Dec 2012 05:03 AM PST

JOHOR BARU: With the sudden craze on "Gangnam-style" and K-Pop, the Korean language is becoming increasingly popular.

Fans of this pop culture, both young or old, will be given an opportunity to read, speak, listen as well as write Korean in just a day.

Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman's centre for extension education, will be organising a one-day Korean Language Camp on the 15th of December.

The event will be held at their campus in Petaling Jaya, Selangor between 9am until 5pm.

Be assured of a day filled with fun games and activities, including learning and understanding Korean traditions and songs.

Participants will also be exposed to the "Han'guel" writing system and will gain good understanding on the type of language Korean is while learning basic conversation.

Participants will be charged RM160 for the one day event.

A mystery gift awaits the first 15 participants who register and pay.

For details contact 03-7957 2818 or Email:


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