Ahad, 16 Disember 2012

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Egypt's Islamists aim to build on constitution vote

Posted: 16 Dec 2012 08:21 PM PST

CAIRO (Reuters) - President Mohamed Mursi has won initial backing from Egyptians for a new constitution that he hopes will steer the country out of crisis, but which opponents say is an Islamist charter that tramples on minority rights.

Riot police walk past a banner with a defaced photo of the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, in front of the presidential palace in Cairo December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Riot police walk past a banner with a defaced photo of the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, in front of the presidential palace in Cairo December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

A first day of voting in a referendum on the draft basic law resulted in 56.5 percent 'Yes' vote, Mursi's political party said. An opposition official conceded that Egyptians voting on Saturday appeared to have backed the measure.

Next Saturday's second set of balloting is likely to give another "yes" vote as the voting then will be in districts generally seen as even more sympathetic towards Islamists, and that would mean the constitution should be approved.

But the apparent closeness of the early tally gives Mursi only limited comfort as it exposes deep divisions in a country where he needs to build a consensus for tough economic reforms.

If the constitution passes, national elections can take place early next year, something that many hope will usher in the stability that Egypt has lacked since the fall of Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago.

"The referendum was 56.5 percent for the 'yes' vote," said a senior official in the operations room set up by the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party to monitor voting.

A statement from the opposition National Salvation Front did not explicitly challenge the Brotherhood's vote tally, saying instead that voting malpractices meant a rerun was needed.


Rights groups reported abuses such as polling stations opening late, officials telling people how to vote, and bribery. They also criticised widespread religious campaigning that portrayed "No" voters as heretics.

A joint statement by seven human rights groups urged the referendum's organisers "to avoid these mistakes in the second stage of the referendum and to restage the first phase".

Mursi and his backers say the constitution is vital to move Egypt's democratic transition forward. Opponents say it is too Islamist and ignores the rights of minorities, including the Christians who make up 10 percent of the population.

The build-up to Saturday's vote was marred by violent protests. Demonstrations erupted when Mursi awarded himself extra powers on November 22 and then fast-tracked the constitution through an assembly dominated by his Islamist allies and boycotted by many liberals.

However, the vote passed off calmly, with long queues in Cairo and other places, though unofficial tallies indicated turnout was around a third of the 26 million people eligible to vote this time. The vote is being held over two days because many of the judges needed to oversee polling staged a boycott in protest.

The opposition had said the vote should not have been held given the violent protests. Foreign governments are watching closely to see how the Islamists, long viewed warily in the West, handle themselves in power.


"It's wrong to have a vote or referendum with the country in the state it is in - blood and killings, and no security," said Emad Sobhy, a voter who lives in Cairo.

As polls closed late on Saturday, Islamists attacked the offices of the newspaper of the liberal Wafd party, part of the opposition National Salvation Front coalition that pushed for a "no" vote.

Violence in Cairo and other cities plagued the run-up to the referendum. At least eight people were killed when rival factions clashed during demonstrations outside the presidential palace earlier this month.

"The nation is increasingly divided and the pillars of state are swaying," opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. "Poverty and illiteracy are fertile grounds for trading with religion. The level of awareness is rising fast."

A narrow loss could still hearten the leftists, socialists, Christians and more liberal-minded Muslims who make up the disparate opposition, which has been beaten in two elections since Mubarak was overthrown last year.

They were drawn together to oppose what they saw as a power grab by Mursi as he pushed through the constitution. The National Salvation Front includes prominent figures such as ElBaradei, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and firebrand leftist Hamdeen Sabahy.

In order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more than 50 percent of those casting ballots. There are 51 million eligible voters in the nation of 83 million.

The army deployed about 120,000 troops to protect polling stations. While the military backed Mubarak and his predecessors, it has not intervened in the present crisis.

(Additional reporting by Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad; Writing by Edmund Blair and Giles Elgood)

Related Stories:
Mursi's slim vote win to embolden Egypt's opposition

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

Obama consoles Connecticut town, vows effort to tame violence

Posted: 16 Dec 2012 08:09 PM PST

NEWTOWN, Connecticut (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday demanded changes in the way the country dealt with gun violence, though he avoided the use of the word "gun" itself in consoling the Connecticut town shattered by the massacre of 20 young schoolchildren.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a vigil held at Newtown High School for families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a vigil held at Newtown High School for families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Obama said the world would judge the nation by the way it cared for its children, and that Friday's slaughter left that judgment wanting.

"Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I've been reflecting on this in the last few days. And if we're honest with ourselves the answer's no," Obama told a packed auditorium at Newtown High School at the end of a sombre multi-faith service.

"We're not doing enough and we will have to change."

The emotional prayer vigil capped a day when worshippers sought solace in churches to mourn the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where a gunman used a military-style assault rifle to kill six adults and 20 first-graders before committing suicide.

A more detailed picture of Adam Lanza's stunning attack emerged on Sunday. Police said he was armed with hundreds of bullets in high-capacity magazines of about 30 rounds each for the Bushmaster AR 15 rifle and two handguns he carried into the school. He had a fourth weapon, a shotgun, in his car outside.

All the dead children were either 6 or 7 years old, feeding more emotion into a revived debate about whether stricter gun laws could prevent future mass shootings in the United States.

Obama noted it was the fourth time in his presidency he had needed to console a community after such an attack, following the shootings in Tucson, Arizona in January, 2011; Aurora, Colorado in July; and Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August.

"Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of the nation," Obama said. "I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts."

Obama, who on Friday wiped away tears as he addressed the nation following the killings, sombrely spoke the first names of the 20 children. People in the audience wailed and cried out as they heard the names.

He said he would convene a meeting of law enforcers, parents, educators and others in an effort to prevent future tragedies, but he did not specifically call for tougher gun laws, mindful of the heated debate ahead on the issue.


While townspeople grieved, investigators examined forensic evidence and scoured the crime scene in a process likely to extend for weeks. Many more witnesses needed to be interviewed, possibly including children who survived the attack, state police Lieutenant Paul Vance said.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said the gunman shot his way through a school door "using several rounds" before beginning to kill adults and children inside, then killed himself as police closed in.

"He discharged to make an opening and then went through it, went to the first classroom ... went to the second classroom. We surmise that it was during the second classroom episode that he heard responders coming and apparently at that, decided to take his own life," Malloy said on the ABC show "This Week."

"This sick fellow, you know, clearly mentally ill, killed his mother, proceeded to go on and kill a great number of people," Malloy added.


Townspeople and visitors took solace in church on Sunday. Mass at St. Rose Catholic church was packed. The priest's announcements included news that the Christmas pageant rehearsal would go on as planned, but without 6-year-old Olivia Engel, killed on Friday before she could play the role of an angel.

Makeshift memorials appeared in this affluent town of 27,000 people about 80 miles (130 km) from New York City. The largest, festooned with flowers and teddy bears, sat at the end of Dickenson Drive where Sandy Hook Elementary stands.

As children walked down the street in the rain, carrying their toys and signs, a man sat on the back of his parked car playing a mournful tune on a violin to accompany them.

"This is a time to come together," said Carina Bandhaver, 43, who lives in nearby Southbury.

The children who survived will not have to return to the scene of the massacre. They will attend classes at an unused school in a Connecticut town about 7 miles (11 km) away, school officials said. Classes elsewhere in the town will resume on Tuesday, except at Sandy Hook.


Several Democratic lawmakers called for a new push for U.S. gun restrictions on Sunday, including a ban on military-style assault weapons.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the author of an assault-weapons ban that lapsed in 2004, said she would introduce new legislation this week.

Gun rights advocates have countered that Connecticut already has among the strictest gun laws in the nation.

Police were trying to establish the relationship between Adam Lanza, Nancy Lanza and the school, and whether the mother and her sons were frequent visitors to gun ranges, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation.

In addition to the military-style Bushmaster assault rifle, a civilian version of the weapon used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, police said Lanza carried Glock 10 mm and Sig Sauer 9 mm handguns into the school.

Nancy Lanza legally owned a Sig Sauer and a Glock, handguns commonly used by police, in addition to the long gun, according to law enforcement officials.

Lanza had struggled at times to fit into the community and his mother pulled him out of school for several years to home-school him, said Louise Tambascio, the owner of My Place Restaurant, where his mother was a long-time patron.

(Additional reporting by Edith Honan, Martinne Geller, David Ingram and Chris Francescani; Writing by Daniel Trotta, Jim Loney and Ben Berkowitz; Editing by Will Dunham and Jackie Frank)

Related Stories:
At memorial, Obama pledges effort to reduce U.S. gun violence

Connecticut survivors to attend school in neighbouring town
Democrats vow to push for gun control measures in U.S. Congress
Connecticut survivors to attend school in neighbouring town
Factbox - A profile of weapon used in Connecticut massacre
Factbox - Identities of Connecticut shooting victims

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

Chavez allies sweep Venezuela vote, but Capriles holds seat

Posted: 16 Dec 2012 08:08 PM PST

CARACAS (Reuters) - Allies of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez swept to victory by taking nearly all of Venezuela's 23 states in elections on Sunday, but Henrique Capriles consolidated his position as top opposition leader by winning re-election as governor.

Miranda state Governor and candidate for re-election Henrique Capriles (C) greets supporters before casting his vote during regional election in Caracas December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Miranda state Governor and candidate for re-election Henrique Capriles (C) greets supporters before casting his vote during regional election in Caracas December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda, beat Chavez's former vice president Elias Jaua to retain control of the country's second-most populous state, leaving him as candidate-in-waiting if Chavez's ill health forces him aside.

The ruling Socialist Party, however, extended its control over the South American OPEC nation, snatching four states from the opposition to win 20 of the 23 states.

Possibly benefiting from a wave of sympathy over Chavez's battle to recover from cancer surgery, it staged several upsets, including a victory in the most populous state of Zulia.

The youthful Capriles' re-election will help maintain unity among the historically fractured opposition in a potential election against Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's anointed successor.

Though his supporters whooped for joy, the subdued tone of Capriles' victory speech and long faces of some in his campaign team reflected the reality of the drubbing the opposition took.

"I'm happy for Miranda, but not for our Venezuela," Capriles said, accusing Socialist Party candidates of bolstering their showing by offering handouts to voters and exploiting Chavez's illness. "The day must come when we defeat this abuse of power."

Capriles won by just four percentage points, lower than his camp and most analysts had predicted.

Another prominent opposition leader, Henri Falcon, a former government ally who broke with Chavez in 2010, also won re-election. His broad popularity and appeal to working class voters have left many considering him a potential challenger to the socialist government.

"Nobody here is surrendering," said Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, head of the opposition Democratic Unity coalition.

In southern Bolivar state, the opposition candidate refused to accept the official results that showed him losing on Sunday. He alleged irregularities in the vote count and called on supporters to protest in the street.


The results signalled the continued dominance of Chavez's socialist leadership despite his ill health and in spite of widespread complaints about shoddy roads, unsafe streets and poor electrical services.

The vote date may have hurt the opposition, with plenty of middle-class opposition supporters already starting holidays.

Chavez's brother Adan comfortably held their agricultural home state of Barinas, while the president's former military comrade Francisco Arias unseated a prominent opposition leader, Pablo Perez, in oil-rich Zulia state.

"It's been an immense victory. The map is red in all corners," said Socialist Party campaign coordinator Jorge Rodriguez.

Turnout was a poor 54 percent, reflecting weariness with politics after the recent presidential campaign and the closeness of Christmas. Opposition sympathizers have grumbled that the date was intentionally chosen to heighten voter abstention to the benefit of Chavez allies.


The nation remains focused on Chavez's recovery in Cuba from Tuesday's six-hour operation - his fourth since he was diagnosed with cancer in the pelvic region in mid-2011.

Chavez's struggle with a third bout of cancer has raised the possibility of a return to the polls just months after the October presidential election in which he beat Capriles to win a third term.

Officials say Chavez has regained full consciousness, is giving instructions from his bed, and was following Sunday's vote closely.

"The commander-president continues to stabilize. The trend remains positive," his son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, who serves as science and technology minister, said from Havana.

The official updates of his health are shy on details, however, so speculation is rife that Chavez may be in a life-threatening situation in Havana's Cimeq hospital with both a difficult post-operative recovery and a possible spreading of the cancer.

Chavez, 58, is due to start a new term on January 10, but has named Maduro as his preferred successor should he be incapacitated. That would trigger a new presidential poll within 30 days.

(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Kieran Murray)

Related Stories:
Factbox - Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

L.A. Reid quits 'X-Factor'

Posted: 16 Dec 2012 08:30 PM PST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - L.A. Reid, The X Factor judge, says he is leaving the TV talent show next season after two years on the panel.

Reid, 56, chairman and chief executive of Epic Records, told Access Hollywood, the television program and website, he has decided to leave the Fox reality singing show to return to the record label full time.

"I have decided that I will not return to The X Factor next year," Reid told Access Hollywood late Thursday. "I have to go back and I have a company to run that I've kind of neglected, and it saddens me a little bit, but only a little bit."

He added that the show was "a nice break, it was a nice departure from what I've done for the past 20 years, but now I gotta go back to work."

Fox declined to comment on Reid's departure on Friday.

Reid joined The X Factor when Cowell introduced the show in the United States in September 2011. Reid sat alongside Paula Abdul, former Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger and Cowell.

Cowell fired Abdul and Scherzinger after a disappointing first season and brought in pop stars Britney Spears and Demi Lovato.

But The X Factor audiences have dropped this year to an average 9.7 million from about 12.5 million an episode in 2011.

The show broadcasts a two-part finale next week with the winner earning a US$5 million prize and record contract.

Epic Records, a unit of Sony Music Entertainment, which commands a roster of artists including Avril Lavigne, will sign the winners of The X Factor.

Turn up the radio

Posted: 17 Dec 2012 12:05 AM PST

Top five reasons to tune in to 988 this week.

AS always, 988 has all the trending topics, news and goodies for your daily diet of awesomeness.

The Feature: Monday-Tuesday, 9am-10am

As the year comes to an end, 988's The Feature programme runs a recap on the many engaging topics that have happened around us.

The show has covered a wide variety of issues and current topics in these past months. From workplace sexual harassment to the confession of a pop groupie, this programme is the place for diverse topics.

Street VIP: Wednesday-Friday, 9am-10am

Many know Abin Fang Jiong Bin due to his hit song Bad Guy (Huai Ren), the theme song of popular Taiwan TV drama Morning Glory. Yet, many may not remember Fang as one half of the local pop duo Nian Shao (1997).

Has his solo career been as what he expected?

Music VIP: Monday-Friday, 2pm

Want to find out more about creative exploration and the intimate recording process. Just listen up to Taiwanese singer-songwriter Melody Jiang Mei Qi. Alone in her room, she penned her stories in songs. Now, she's ready to open the door and reveal her world to you.

K-Pop Chuego: Monday-Friday, 3.30pm & Let's KPop: Saturday, 3pm-4pm

MNET's Asian Music Awards (MAMA), held in Hong Kong recently, was aired to over 80 countries worldwide. Without doubt, the star-studded award ceremony was one of the biggest music award shows in the world, with K-pop music successfully advancing beyond Asia.

On screen, the enthralling performances and award-winning cheers were captivating. But, the real thrills happened backstage. Find out all the juicy bits in our exclusive backstage report.

Night Chat: Monday-Friday, 10pm-12am

Storytelling is a signature element of 988's Night Chat program. The highly anticipated spin-off, Night Chat Show: Barcelona. Letter, is a theatre play that promises a different kind of entertainment in storytelling. Limited tickets are available so make sure to stay tuned for opportunities to win these highly sought-after tickets. For more info, log on to www.988.com.my

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

The dilemma of ethics in the bribery and other sectors

Posted: 16 Dec 2012 05:36 PM PST

THIS is the question most of us ask when confronted with an ethical dilemma. Many issues involved are very grey in terms of right and wrong, but where a contemplated action is clearly wrong or unethical there should be mechanisms in place to ensure the best decision is made.

The ethical boundaries in many parts of the world are not very clear due to factors such as prevailing culture or common business practices.

Take the issue of bribery for example. In many parts of the world, the payment and acceptance of bribes is common place and does not even raise a blip on the ethical radar of the individuals involved.

Of course there are many other ethical dilemmas that regularly confront individuals and organisations, for example, actions that cause long term damage to the environment or the use of child labor.

Whatever the issue, organisations that value their reputation should employ processes to carefully examine proposed actions and the potential damage to brand and reputation if the public becomes aware of the issues.

To illustrate, The Age newspaper in Australia recently revealed the findings of a 12-month investigation into the sports ball industry in India.

Australian football manufacturer, Sherrin, via its Indian manufacturer, Spartan, was using children as young as 10, and almost always girls, were being pulled out of school and put to work, stitching Sherrin balls for as many as 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

The stitching of a promotional football took a child more than an hour and earned them seven rupees (12 Australia cents).

In this case, the company acted swiftly to rectify the situation as best it could, but the damage had already been done.

Is the test that should be applied solely a legal test or should it go further to examine whether the contemplated actions are morally and ethically right?

As individuals and organisations, how long do we take to critically examine the potential repercussions of our contemplated actions?

For example, in the mining industry, undertaking a project in a foreign country may have received the legal tick of approval, but what if undertaking that particular project had potentially quite detrimental effects on the environment or the native population in the vicinity of the proposed site?

Does the pursuit of profit and legal clearance alone override any other considerations? Decision-making

During my police career, more and more emphasis was placed on the importance of ethical behaviour, in part due to incidents of unethical behavior coming to light and being subject to public scrutiny, but also because the organisation as whole matured and adopted standards in line with globally accepted corporate governance standards and practices in law enforcement.

A detailed code of ethics was adopted and is the blueprint that outlines the standards of expected behavior. As an extension of the code of ethics and as part of our professional and ethical decision making, we were asked to examine our contemplated actions by adopting the SELF test:

Scrutiny will your decision withstand public scrutiny by the community, Victoria Police, the Office of Police Integrity and other relevant parties?

Ethical is your decision ethical and in compliance with Victoria Police policies, practices or procedures?

Does your decision comply with our Code of Ethics and our professional and ethical standards?

Lawful is your decision lawful having regard to the law, regulations and Victoria Police instructions?

Fair is your decision fair on the community, your colleagues, your family, yourself and others?'

Such a mechanism in the business environment should also be adopted.

Do we as good corporate citizens ask some or all of the following questions before making decisions?

  • Are my actions illegal or unethical?
  • Am I being unfair or dishonest?
  • Would I be unwilling or embarrassed to tell my family, friends or co-workers of my actions?
  • Would my company's reputation be damaged if my actions were revealed in the newspapers?
  • Am I personally uncomfortable about the course of action?
  • Could someone's life, health, safety or reputation be damaged by my actions?
  • Could the intended action appear inappropriate to a third party?
  • If any of your answers to the above questions are Yes', then the decision whether to proceed or not should be much clearer.

    Code of ethics

    With greater focus on the adoption of good corporate governance, all organisations should provide guidance to their employees about the expected standards of behavior in the form of a detailed code of ethics or code of conduct (the code).

    Any code should be tailored to the organisation's needs, be in plain language and provide specific detailed guidance on matters such as, but not limited to, fraud and corruption, confidentiality of information, conflicts of interest, use of technology, whistleblowing, drug and alcohol use, discrimination and sexual harassment.

    Once a code is in place, it should be widely and regularly communicated and be accessible.

    Many organisations make their codes of conduct available on their websites and/or provide ethics hotlines so that employees who are unsure of what to do when confronted with a particular decision can seek assistance to hopefully, arrive at the best decision for themselves and the organisation.

    Regular ethics training is also a must, with the best learning coming from employees being confronted with and working through ethical dilemmas. The combination of strong senior management commitment to the ethics program, a well-written and often communicated code will create and help to maintain a strong ethical culture within your organisation.

    There is ample literature and studies suggesting that the benefits of acting ethically in business are:

  • Increased productivity which translates into improved financial performance. For example employees that are treated fairly work harder resulting in lower production costs and higher profits.
  • Greater customer loyalty brought about by open and transparent disclosure about the limitations of goods and services. The converse translates into a reluctance to purchase again or unwillingness to make recommendations to other potential customers. This has a negative effect on both revenues and profits.
  • Avoiding negative publicity and achieving positive brand image. For example, an organisation that is seen as maintaining high ethical standards and is recognised as an employer of choice, for this and other reasons, will attract and retain the best talent. This helps to build competitive advantage and reduces recruitment and training costs.
  • Creating opportunities through finding business partners that espouse the same or similar ethical values engenders trust.

    This is important because being able to monitor the activities of a business partner is not always possible. One of the key factors being taken into account by companies when deciding to invest in a business or geographical location is the state of the ethical landscape in the organisation or location.

    If there are doubts about the ability to build and maintain trust then the risk of proceeding with that investment may be perceived as being too high.

  • David Lehmann is the Director of Deloitte Forensic at Deloitte Malaysia. Prior to joining Deloitte in 2004, Lehmann completed 23 years of service with the Victoria Police, Australia, with a majority of that time dedicated to the investigation of fraud-related incidents.

    He is a certified fraud examiner and member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), a member of the Australian Institute of Professional Investigators (AIPI) and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS International).


    Selling equity in state firms a central plank of Indian govt's plan to cut fiscal deficit

    Posted: 16 Dec 2012 05:28 PM PST

    NEW DELHI: India will speed up the sale of stakes in state companies to revive the stock market and will push ahead with reforms aimed at spurring an investment recovery in the flagging economy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.

    Selling equity in large public industries is a central plank of the government's plan to bring down a wide fiscal deficit, a major weakness in Asia's third largest economy.

    Last week, the sale of 10% in state miner NMDC raised US$1.1bil and the government is aiming for 300 billion rupees from such partial privatisations by March.

    "We will speed up the disinvestment process, which will also revive our equity markets," Manmohan told a gathering of industry representatives in New Delhi.

    However, he did not give details of a new timetable for the sales, which is due to include energy exploration major Oil India.

    Manmohan's government has recently taken measures to allow in foreign supermarkets and tackle budget-busting fuel subsidies.

    "The steps we have taken are only the beginning of a process to revive economy and take it back to its growth rate of 8% to 9%," he said.

    Economic growth slowed to 5.4% in the first half of this fiscal year and is on track to grow at its slowest rate in a decade.

    Slowing exports and foreign investment have widened the current account deficit.

    Global ratings agencies have repeatedly warned India that it faces a credit downgrade if it does not tackle a high debt burden and the fiscal deficit, which is the largest among major emerging economies.

    Last year, the deficit was 5.8% of gross domestic product, which Manmohan said was "clearly unsustainable".

    He reiterated the official target of reducing it to 5.3% this year.

    "The government is serious about moving in this direction," Manmohan said.

    Raghuram Rajan, the government's chief economic adviser, said that reining in the deficit was essential to attract more investment.

    "Clearly a fiscal path that is credible is the next important step so that we retake the confidence of our investors," he said at the same event.

    Raghuram said he hoped increased buoyancy in the stock market would prompt businesses to start investing more.

    "Business is sitting on a lot of cash. If they start investing some of that the momentum starts picking up," he said.

    Recent reforms have helped Mumbai's benchmark Sensex index rally strongly and it is expected to end 2012 up by about 25%, despite the slow economy, stubbornly high inflation, and a record current account deficit. - Reuters


    Malaysia's blue chips open lower, Genting weighs

    Posted: 16 Dec 2012 05:20 PM PST

    Published: Monday December 17, 2012 MYT 9:20:00 AM

    KUALA LUMPUR: The FBM KLCI was lower in early trade on Monday, weighed by banks and Genting Bhd after the strong run-up last week but plantations advanced after the firmer crude palm oil futures.

    At 9.03am, the FBM KLCI fell 4.85 points to 1,647.13. Turnover was 18.54 million shares valued at RM9.69mil. There were 46 gainers, 46 losers and 75 counters unchanged.

    Reuters reported Japan's Nikkei average climbed 1.3% to an eight-month high in early trade on Monday, boosted by a weaker yen after the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which favours aggressive monetary easing, won Sunday's election by a landslide.

    The Nikkei advanced 123.41 percent to 9,860.97, while the broader Topix index gained 1 percent to 808.91.

    At Bursa Malaysia, Hong Leong Bank fell 26 sen to RM14.50 with just 100 shares done while Public Bank foreign lost six sen to RM15.90.

    Petronas Dagangan and Genting Bhd lost eight sen each to RM22.10 and RM9.21 while UMW and TM fell six sen each to RM11.98 and RM5.77.

    Among plantations, Tradewinds Plantations lost 12 sen to RM3.92 in thin trade but SOP climbed 36 sen to RM6.19, KLK 34 sen to RM21.66 and Genitng Plantations eight sen higher to RM8.63 while PPB Group added four sen to RM11.74.


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    The Star Online: Sports

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    The Star Online: Sports

    Nicol David begins seventh world title bid with ease

    Posted: 16 Dec 2012 07:01 PM PST

    CAYMAN ISLANDS: Nicol David made light of the toughest of first round draws as she made an impressive start to a bid to extend her record of World Open squash titles to seven on Sunday.

    The sport's biggest star needed to overcome Omneya Abdel Kawy, the gifted Egyptian whom she played in the 2010 world final in Sharm El Sheikh - and she did so in little more than half an hour.

    David's 11-8, 11-5 11-5 win suggested she had prepared with an emphasis for making better starts.

    "I've tended to start slowly in some first round matches and I've been looking at that," the Malaysian said.

    "The main thing was to remember the work that I had been doing, and to stick to my game plan."

    That plan was almost certainly to find a tight line with her drives and to keep Kawy away from the front.

    A greater importance though may have been the mental calmness gained from focusing on the plan.

    "You just have to trust in that," she said. "I think I did - and it helped. I played a tight match and I needed to. She's getting back to what she was and is a difficult opponent to get in the first round."

    The unusual draw happened because Kawy was sidelined with injury for many weeks, fell from the top 20, and lost her seeding position.

    But her recent efforts have suggested that her inventive, wrong-footing stroke play is as effective as ever, for in Hong Kong two weeks ago Kawy beat three top six players - Laura Massaro, Joelle King, and Alison Waters.

    She also led briefly in the first two games on Sunday, with flashes of her special brilliance.

    But David soaked them up and then smothered any attempts at repeating them with fast, early and accurate driving, taking advantage of any openings this created with speedy court coverage.

    David's main rivals, Raneem El Weleily of Egypt, Massaro of England, and Waters, also English, all came through safely, although El Weleily dropped a game to the improving Aisling Blake, from Ireland.

    Earlier, there was an upset as Rachael Grinham, a world champion only five years ago in Madrid, missed three match points and suffered a disheartening first round loss to a qualifier.

    The Australian's 3-11, 6-11, 12-10, 11-5, 11-9 defeat was harder to take because of the raucous support for her conqueror - the Caribbean champion Nicolette Fernandes, a Canada-born, British-based 23-year-old from Guyana.

    Fernandez, ranked 60, found it hard to believe she had managed her career-best win. "You have to believe you can win, even if you don't expect to," she said.

    "I don't even remember saving match balls in the third game. But when I got to 10-6 in the fifth and she started coming back I told myself just to keep playing the way I played to get to that point. I am very happy and thankful." - AFP

    'Blade Runner' Pistorius to race in Australia

    Posted: 16 Dec 2012 06:40 PM PST

    SYDNEY: South African runner Oscar Pistorius, known as the "Blade Runner" for his carbon fibre blades, has been confirmed to race in Australia, officials said Monday.

    The double amputee will compete in the Sydney and Perth instalments of the 2013 Australian Athletics Tour in March.

    "Having never competed in Australia before, I am very excited to line up in Sydney and Perth," Pistorius said.

    "I plan to be in pretty solid form when I arrive and it would be great to start my season in style at the meet."

    The news is a coup for Athletics Australia after Olympic gold medallist and world 100m hurdles champion Sally Pearson earlier this month revealed an ongoing back problem would see her skip much of the domestic series.

    Pistorius, the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics when he ran in the 400 metres in London, will feature at the Sydney Track Classic on March 9 and the Go for 2&5 Perth Track Classic on March 16.

    The South African, who reached the 400m semi-finals in London and also ran in the 4x400m relay final in the able-bodied Games, was also the face of the 2012 Paralympic Games.

    "I don't even know where to begin when describing the past 12 months," he said.

    "The Olympics were phenomenal and to be lucky enough to back that up with an amazing few weeks at the Paralympic Games was out of this world."

    Athletics Australia said discussions were under way to bring other key athletes out for the tour. - AFP

    Wiggins named BBC Sports Personality of the Year

    Posted: 16 Dec 2012 06:34 PM PST

    LONDON: Tour de France winner and Olympic time-trial champion Bradley Wiggins was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year at a star-studded live ceremony in London on Sunday.

    The 32-year-old cyclist won ahead of Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis, while tennis player Andy Murray, who triumphed at the Olympics and the US Open, came third in the annual public poll, which received 1.5 million votes.

    "I'm just going to say thank you very much for everyone who picked the phone up and voted," said Wiggins, who became the first British winner of the Tour de France and took his tally of Olympic gold medals to four at the London Games.

    "What a year. And to stand on this stage with these people next to me is incredible."

    Prince William's pregnant wife, Catherine, presented Wiggins with his award at the ExCel Centre, in her first public appearance since she was hospitalised for severe morning sickness about two weeks ago.

    The ceremony capped a memorable year for sport in Great Britain, which was recognised when the country's Olympic and Paralympic squad - who between them won 185 medals during the London Games - were named Team of the Year.

    "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said gold medal-winning cyclist Victoria Pendleton.

    "It was an incredible atmosphere and it's wonderful to be presented with this award, but there are so many people behind the scenes who help us get to where we are today."

    Dave Brailsford was named Coach of the Year for masterminding Wiggins' Tour de France triumph as head of Team Sky and then overseeing a haul of eight gold medals for the host nation's cyclists at the Olympics.

    The Overseas Personality of the Year award went to Jamaica's Usain Bolt, who repeated his 100m-200m-4x100m relay triple from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to cement his legacy as the world's greatest ever sprinter.

    The Duchess of Cambridge also handed a lifetime achievement award to two-time Olympic champion athlete Sebastian Coe, 56, who spearheaded London's successful bid for the Games and then chaired the organising committee.

    The Young Sports Personality of the Year award went to 15-year-old swimmer Josef Craig, who has cerebral palsy and won a Paralympic gold medal in the 400m freestyle S7.

    Martine Wright, who lose both legs in the July 2005 London bombings, was awarded the Helen Rollason Award for achievement in the face of adversity after competing for Britain in the sitting volleyball at the Paralympics.

    Helen Rollason was a BBC Sport presenter who died from cancer in 1999. Aside from the main award, the remaining prizes were decided by a panel of experts. - AFP

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    The Star Online: Nation

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    Devamany willing to quit MIC post if stateless Indians allegation proven

    Posted: 16 Dec 2012 05:26 AM PST

    GEORGE TOWN: MIC vice-president Datuk S. K. Devamany is prepared to resign from his party post if the opposition pact proves that 300,000 Indians are stateless.

    He said the opposition deliberately played with non-existent figures and untruths to confuse the people and fan their hatred towards the Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

    "I ask them (opposition pact) to bring forward the so-called 300,000 Indians, supported by documents, as proof of their allegation. If those are available, I will relinquish my post (MIC vice-president)," he said.

    Devamany, a deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Department and Cameron Highlands MP, was speaking to reporters after opening the 45th delegates conference of the Malaysian Tamil Youth Bell Club Council here.

    Wanita BN wants review of foreign maid recruitment

    Posted: 16 Dec 2012 05:21 AM PST

    KUALA LUMPUR: Wanita Barisan Nasional wants a review in the recruitment of foreign maids which is currently complex and causes difficulties to employers, especially women.

    Its chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said the present system only benefited the employment agencies which imposed high charges that were burdensome to employers and the maids.

    "A new system should be introduced to ensure the cost of hiring a maid is brought down to a reasonable level.

    "This is to prevent profiteering by the agencies and to reduce the burden of potential employers," she said in a statement.

    Shahrizat said Wanita BN also proposed, if necessary, the setting up of a unit or special agency under a ministry, to facilitate the system of recruiting foreign maids and monitoring of issues involving them.

    It's DAP's attempt to widen influence, chauvinistic approach, says Muhyiddin

    Posted: 16 Dec 2012 05:09 AM PST

    PORT DICKSON: The DAP's request for more seats in the next general election boils down to arrogance in wanting to lead the opposition and widen its influence and chauvinistic approach, said Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

    He said if the DAP central executive committee (CEC) election on Saturday was anything to go, the effect would not be good for the society if the party were to contest more seats.

    "This is because they will widen their influence and chauvinistic approach and will not give more consideration to the interests of the Malays," he told reporters here.

    He was commenting on the DAP's request to contest three more parliamentary and 10 more state seats in the peninsula in the next general election.

    Muhyiddin, who is Umno deputy president, said the chauvinistic approach adopted by the DAP was not appropriate for a multiracial country like Malaysia, and he doubted whether PAS and PKR would be willing to compromise over seat allocation.

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    The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf


    Posted: 15 Dec 2012 11:29 PM PST

    FOR the week ending Dec 9, 2012:


    1. Syed Mokhtar Albukhary: A Biography by Premilla Mohanlall

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

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

    4. Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

    5. Chicken Soup For The Soul: The Gift Of Christmas by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Amy Newmark

    6. The Wisdom And Teachings Of Stephen R. Covey by Stephen R. Covey

    7. Creating A Purposeful Life by Richard Fox

    8. 1D: The One Direction Story by Danny White

    9. Stephen Hawking: His Life And Work by Kitty Ferguson

    10. A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story Of Jonestown by Julia Scheeres


    1. Life Of Pi by Yann Martel

    2. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

    3. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

    4. Charm Bracelet by Melissa Hill

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

    6. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

    7. The Sins Of The Father by Jeffrey Archer

    8. The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

    9. One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

    10. The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

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

    Diabolically delightful read

    Posted: 15 Dec 2012 11:28 PM PST

    The Boy Who Could See Demons
    Author: Carolyn Jess-Cooke
    Publisher: Piatkus, 385 pages

    ALEX'S best friend Ruen is about five foot three. He speaks various languages and is fond of Mozart, table tennis and bread and butter pudding. He is also a demon from one of the lowest depths of Hell.

    What do you do with a friend who sometimes keeps good company and makes you laugh, but continuously pressures you to commit murder?

    Such is the dilemma faced by Alex Broccoli, the protagonist of The Boy Who Could See Demons, the latest novel by award-winning Irish author Carolyn Jess-Cooke.

    Thought-provoking and suspenseful, even heart-warming at times, Cooke's novel proves the devil always has the best tunes as it impresses with a gripping tale of friendship, death and identity.

    Cooke, who writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction, is a bestselling author who has been awarded the 2006 Arts Council of England Writer's Award and the 2008 Northern Promise Award, among others.

    While her previous novel, the critically-acclaimed The Guardian Angel's Journal, focused on an angel, Cooke now shines the spotlight on creatures from the other side in her latest novel, which was inspired by the C.S. Lewis classic, The Screwtape Letters.

    While Demons has been described as being in the vein of Mark Haddon's (also award-winning) The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, I personally feel it's more like a cross between horror film The Sixth Sense and comic strip Calvin And Hobbes. A highly unique mix; but then again, this is a highly unique book.

    Demons is the story of troubled Alex, who starts seeing Ruen on the day his father walks out on the family. Taken into psychiatric care after his mother's attempted suicide, Alex is assigned to Anya, a psychiatrist facing inner demons of her own.

    Alex describes Ruen as a shape-shifting demon, capable of taking various forms, which he calls Horn Head, Old Man, and so forth. He also says Ruen wants him to kill somebody.

    Anya tries to help Alex believe that his conversations with Ruen are mere delusions of his troubled mind, but as the case progresses, discovers that Ruen may not be as imaginary as she thinks. How, for example, does Alex know things he could not possibly know, especially about Anya's deceased daughter?

    At first glance, this seems like the synopsis of a horror novel. Thankfully, Demons avoids this route completely, instead delivering a tightly-plotted psychological drama about a boy, his troubled family, and his unlikely "friend".

    Cooke cleverly leaves the answer of Ruen's nature open, never making it absolutely certain whether he is a hallucination or a demon. The novel contains many well-researched scenes where demonic visions are compared and contrasted with both religious experiences and psychological disturbance. For what do we do with people who claim to be guided by invisible voices? Do we medicate, venerate, or exorcise them?

    The strongest part of Demons, however, is undoubtedly its wonderful characters.

    Ruen is done well, his dialogue crackling with wry humour and sinister undertones. His scenes can often be frustrating, but for the right reasons, as the reader is torn between being happy Alex has a friend to talk to and furious at the things Ruen tells him to do.

    Most of the book is narrated by Alex, and Cooke captures his 10-year-old voice capably, portraying him as a lost little boy forced to be more mature than he really is.

    The novel's breakout character, however, is Anya, whose emotional flashback scenes with her daughter capture perfectly the challenges of someone living with schizophrenia. Despite a troubled past, she constantly shows heart and determination, which makes it easy for readers to become invested in her struggle to help Alex.

    She and Alex are beautifully written, fleshed out with various hopes and insecurities, and their interactions are always captivating and fun to read.

    Demons also contains some very heavy subject matter and features a shocking climax. This, thankfully, is balanced by the novel's ending, which is hopeful and highly satisfactory.

    Woven into the plot are references to Shakespeare's Hamlet, an apt mirror to the situation Alex is facing (like Hamlet, Alex is haunted by the supernatural after the loss of a father figure), as well as the Troubles, an Irish political conflict that took place from the 1960s to the 1980s and whose effects linger to this day.

    These references not only flesh out the world of the novel but also serve to enhance one of the novel's major themes, that of mental and emotional anguish. While it may come in various forms, such as troubled family history, mental illness, post-war trauma or negative emotions, Demons suggests that many of us suffer from "demons" of our own, and we must do all we can to stop them from triumphing.

    A diabolically delightful read, which will charm the hell out of you with its strong narrative voice and memorable characters.

    Crime and punishment

    Posted: 15 Dec 2012 11:27 PM PST

    A fascinating look at another facet of that imponderable mystery known as India.

    The Village
    Author: Nikita Lalwani
    Publisher: Penguin/Viking, 241 pages

    AFTER the 2007 Booker Prize for Fiction long-listed The Gifted, this second novel from Nikita Lalwani is an exploration of the nature of identity, punishment, freedom and ideals.

    There are books that entertain by virtue of their storyline or narrative. There are books that seduce us with aesthetic images and the beauty of the prose. There are books that challenge our preconceptions and give us a new perspective on the world. And there are occasionally books that manage to do all three. The Village by Nikita Lalwani is one of those books.

    As the title suggests, this book is about a village. But this is not an ordinary village. In fact, it is an open prison where all the inmates are murderers.

    The author, like the protagonist, travelled to India to make a BBC documentary about a real village very similar to the one depicted in this book and the details from her experience seem almost barely fictionalised. In fact, the reader is left wondering which parts are true and which parts are the fruits of the writer's imagination.

    The author uses the story partially as a questioning of identity. The main character, a young woman named Ray, is of Indian stock, though she lives in England and speaks only some Hindi. Though she shares some of the villagers' physical attributes and cultural references, she is almost as much an outsider as her two British colleagues. We see two sides of Ray – the one looking through the camera and the one seeing with her eyes. She is Indian, but she is not Indian. She is spectator and performer, playing out the role expected of her, trying to be more Indian than she really is.

    The villagers are villagers, but they are prisoners at the same time. When we see the seemingly mundane nature of these people's daily lives and hear their stories from their lives before they committed their crimes, we understand that they were already prisoners in the circumstances of their lives. The inference this reader took away from this book is that, in a way, every village in India is a prison of sorts, with bars made of strict moral codes, caste segregation and often unreasonable expectations.

    The documentarist's camera is used as a device through which we see scenes, often of sublime beauty, even in the simplest of things. The camera focuses on details, highlights them, and in so doing, removes them from their context, transforming them into something else. Then there is the exploration of the documentary maker's deliberate manipulation of images for emotional effect – how the shakiness of the handheld camera adds more raw authenticity and immediacy to a scene. The author shows us how things are twisted and then with her skilful prose, proceeds to manipulate the alerted reader in exactly the same way. There is a thrill and joy in understanding the mechanism and still submitting to its charms.

    In contrast, Ray's own responses to what she sees are more emotionally charged than what is seen through the coldness of the camera lens. She faces challenges living and working with colleagues she barely knows outside the meeting room. Then there is the tension created by the knowledge that almost everyone she sees and meets has killed another human being.

    But by far the most important theme of The Village is its exploration of the role of the prison system and what it means to take somebody's freedom away and remove them from any normal context of human life. It questions the usefulness of the idea of incarceration purely as a form punishment, retribution and revenge. It explores the themes of rehabilitation and forgiveness, of responsibility, both of the criminal for the crime and of the penal system towards the criminal and to society as a whole.

    At a time when members of both sides of the political divide in Malaysia are discussing the merits and usefulness of the death penalty, this book offers an alternative vision of how to punish crime.

    The criminals in this story remain largely integrated in society. They have the responsibility of working and fending for themselves and often of providing a livelihood for their families who live with them as well. In the traditional prison system no such prerogative exists. Prisoners have no real responsibilities towards their own upkeep and don't have bills to pay. They become removed from society, often so far removed that it is almost impossible for them ever to come back and function as normal and productive citizens again. As Lalwani says in her book: "The traditional prison makes the transition back into society even harder."

    In The Village, the prison walls are just a line of stones that even a child could step over. The prisoners have a great degree of personal autonomy. They are allowed to go to the town to work, but must return by 6.30 in the evening. They fraternize with the prison guards, who are only distinguishable from the inmates by their uniforms. There are no re-offenders and no one attempts to escape – perhaps because returning to their previous lives is not an option and they have no better alternative life or place to escape to.

    All told, a fascinating and beautifully written novel that reveals another facet of the imponderable mystery known as India.

    Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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    Sing it loud, sing it live

    Posted: 15 Dec 2012 11:04 PM PST

    HAVING delivered The King's Speech – which received 12 Academy Award nominations and won four – director Tom Hooper was ready to find another challenging project, something that was utterly different.

    He found it when he heard about an adaptation of the musical Les Misérables being developed for the big screen. Even though he had never watched the musical at that point, he was intrigued by it all the same. "A bell went off in my head," he said in an interview transcript provided by UIP Malaysia.

    The 40-year-old Englishman added: "I had never seen it even though my family took me to lots of musicals growing up. When I saw it, the bell rang even louder. There are three or four moments in the musical when you just get chills down your spine, which to me is a sure sign that there is something special about it.

    "What really attracted me to it was the power of the piece. I think if there was something I was very proud of with The King's Speech, it was the emotions it provoked in people. Going and doing that big tour (with the film) where I was endlessly introducing the movie, the most satisfying thing was how it moved people."

    To Hooper, Les Misérables is very much about the heart, to which he attributes the musical's longevity: "It mainlines emotion into your body, and people go back to it repeatedly because it offers the opportunity to re-experience this emotion with extraordinary consistency and predictability. As an experience, it's able to give you the emotion you enjoyed the first time, again."

    One of the first things he wanted to bring to his version of Les Misérables was to add realism to a film in which characters sing to project their emotions. From his own viewing experience, he noticed something artificial about singing on film and wondered if it was because the actors were miming to a playback. He figured that in order to create that realistic feel, he'd have to have his actors sing live during filming.

    Actor Eddie Redmayne, who plays Marius – the student revolutionary who falls in love with Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), who was raised by former prisoner Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) after the death of her mother, factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway) – couldn't agree more with his director.

    According to him, having to sing live removes the barrier that a motion picture musical creates between the audience and the performer, and instead makes the experience more intimate.

    The 30-year-old London-born actor said: "It's wonderful; I couldn't imagine it done any other way. The alternative is that you go into a recording studio a couple of months before you start filming and record an album, basically, and then you go and make a big music video in which you mime to the songs.

    "What one actor does in a scene affects the other actors and how they react. So if we'd already recorded the songs in a studio you can't stray from that and you are completely limited to what your choices are when you are actually doing the scene. And the reality is, we wouldn't have known our characters as well then as we do now.

    "So what's lovely about doing it live is that you have that variety, you have the brokenness of the voice, you have the choice to try it different ways. I think it was absolutely the right decision by Tom."

    All the actors wear a tiny earpiece to listen to a pianist playing live; the pianist in turn follows the tempo and the rhythm set by the actors.

    Redmayne sang a lot when he was younger (he was a choir boy at Eton College), earning a choral scholarship (at Trinity College, Cambridge) before he dropped out after a year. All the same, he had to re-train his voice to suit the singing style needed for Les Misérables.

    "I hadn't really sung for 10 years when I got the part in Les Miz. And what's great about films is that if you have to ride a horse for a part you get the greatest horses and the greatest horseman in the country to teach you to ride.

    "It's the same with Les Miz where I've been able to work with the very best. I've had a wonderful singing teacher, Mark Meylan, and he works with lots of the big West End stars and he's brilliant. They were very nice about my voice at my audition but I'm sure that it's improved significantly since then."

    Les Misérables is based on a book written by Victor Hugo, set against the political and social unrest in 19th-century France. It explores the timeless testament of the human spirit that is dragged through broken dreams and unrequited love while on the road to redemption. There is a flawed hero – Valjean – and an unbending villain, Javert (Russell Crowe).

    Hooper confessed that he never thought he'd be directing a musical when he decided to be a director, but he's glad he did it as it was an unforgettable experience.

    Hooper said: "I don't think this has been done before. We are literally reinventing the genre and the collective excitement of the team is not just because it's such an iconic, extraordinary piece of work but also because we are getting this opportunity to be pioneers in a technique, which hardly ever happens.

    "I'm not sure it will happen again in my lifetime where I'll do something in a genre where I can say we are the first in the way that we are here, and that's a thrill."

    Company loves misery

    Posted: 15 Dec 2012 11:04 PM PST

    Les Misérables centres on despair and the destitute, yet the allure of its more hopeful themes has held millions enthralled.

    IN an ideal world, everyone should receive a second chance, and an act of kindness should be paid with another act of kindness. This rarely happens, unfortunately, which is nothing new these days.

    This stark reality is laid bare in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, in which a man is punished again and again by both society and the law, even after he has served his time in prison. Then there is a woman who is forced to bear the brunt of a judgmental society's scorn just because she is poor and uneducated.

    Author Hugo came out with his huge novel in 1862 with a variety of themes that tackled the conditions men and women endured in 19th-century France, leading to a student uprising to rally against such rampant injustice. Within the pages of the book, a reader realises that if the times were harsh, people were harsher still.

    Hugo breathed life into many characters whose lives juxtapose, resulting in all manner of tragic events, and he invoked issues such as social inequality, gender bias, greed, discrimination, betrayal and poverty through his creations.

    Meet Fantine, a single parent no thanks to an irresponsible boyfriend. Although illiterate, Fantine finds honest work at a factory to support herself and her daughter. Unfortunately, she is sexually harassed by the manager at her workplace.

    She fends him off but her efforts come to naught when the secret of her illegitimate child is discovered. Fired from her job, Fantine has no choice but to resort to prostitution to earn some money. Consequently, her little daughter is robbed of her childhood through no fault of hers.

    While bleakness and tragedy do occupy most of the pages in Les Misérables (well, it is about The Miserable), hope and love shine through in places.

    Meet Jean Valjean, a man who served 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's starving child. Through Valjean, Hugo shows the journey of a man who decides to change his ways after a kindly man treats him as more than an outcast of society.

    The bitter Valjean is put back on the right path, offering compassion and strength to others. But every step he takes on that road is marred by fear and doubt because of the relentless lawman Javert, who is after him for violating parole. Nonetheless, he does find salvation in the end – providing Les Misérables with a sliver of light in a very dark tunnel.

    Fans wax lyrical

    Declan Cashin is a 31-year-old journalist working in London who admits to being a history nerd with a fascination for that era in France. He shared a theory as to why Les Misérables remains a part of the popular culture.

    "(It's) a point when the course of world history and of human social relations really did change on a profound, fundamental level," he said.

    "I think it might also tap into my, indeed all of our, suppressed revolutionary spirits – in an era when we can feel quite powerless to effect change or exert agency over powerful forces and institutions, seeing this story about a popular revolution allows us to rebel and fight in a kind of Sims/Second Life way!"

    Like many from today's generation, Cashin's introduction to Hugo's story began with the songs from the hit musical Les Misérables.

    Although it seems unlikely considering the source material, two French songwriters came up with songs based on the novel. In 1985, an English version of these French numbers became a musical production at London's West End (where it's still playing).

    In 1987, the material travelled to the United States, where it became an even bigger deal, winning all sorts of awards for the Broadway production, and played for 16 years.

    The right notes

    For Rick Bollinger, a 61-year-old retired marketing executive in San Francisco who saw the musical on Broadway in 1997, it is the music that is the high point of the Les Misérables.

    He said: "I listened to the music over and over again on CD – (they are) so quasi-operatic and full of wonderful stories and messages."

    One song that keeps cropping up outside of the Les Misérables scenario is Fantine's lament I Dreamed A Dream. It probably received the most applause when a woman from Scotland named Susan Boyle amazed the world when she sang it on the TV show Britain's Got Talent.

    Philharmonic Society of Selangor chairman and choir director Cheryl Teh commented that the song was very suitable to Boyle's voice, making it that much easier for people to relate to the performer and the song.

    "Susan sang from the heart (with) each and every lyric. With the opening lyrics of I Dreamed A Dream, it felt like the song was written for Susan, especially in the setting of a talent show," Teh said.

    She added that another song from the musical that could work in a modern setting is On My Own – "It could almost be a post break-up song!" – sung by the character Eponine after she realises that the man she loves is in love with someone else.

    It was the songs that captivated Mai Tatoy, 42, a communications professional in Singapore. She saw the musical twice when the production comprising a cast from the United States, Australia and Canada visited Singapore.

    She first fell in love with the music thanks to a friend who gave her a cassette tape containing all the songs. When she finally saw the musical, she fell in love again with what she was watching and also the musical numbers. She then sought out the book.

    She shared: "The themes in Les Misérables are timeless, the struggles (personal and political) are still relevant. I think the mini-plots – the story of Cosette, Eponine and Darius, the revolution – all shaped and made Les Misérables more compelling.

    "It's a complex read in that sense, and it's because of the sheer talent of the stage production team that they made it so true to the book. I think it also resonates because it's a story of hope. And stories of hope always tug at our hearts and never get old."

    Tatoy finds it appealing the way Valjean and Javert are two sides of a coin – one is a forgiving man while the other is vindictive.

    She noted: "I understand Jean Valjean's struggle to do good in a world that may not always be fair and forgiving. I admire him for staying the course, following his conscience, doing the right thing, especially when (it could cost him his) freedom and possibly, an easier life."

    This is echoed by Daphne Wathanasin, a homemaker in Kuala Lumpur who went to school in England.

    Although she didn't relate to anyone when she watched the musical in London, she "wept like mad".

    "It was just a wonderfully told story and I felt for Fantine – so sad to go through so much and sell everything including herself – and for Valjean, who can never really get a break although deep down inside he is a good guy," she said. "Also, everyone came from such poor backgrounds and had to claw their way to a normal life. It makes us all think how much we take for granted and how lucky we are today."

    Screen presence

    The enduring pertinence of the material is what made director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) decide that the time was right to make Les Misérables into a movie.

    Hugo's story has been explored in film before – the book has been adapted for cinema many times; the most recent saw Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush in the leading roles – but never as a musical.

    In making the film of the musical, Hooper recruited a group of talented actors who sing as well – Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert and Anne Hathaway as Fantine, among others.

    Understandably, there are some concerns that some of the magic of the stage production will be lost in translation (for every Chicago, there are several misfires: think The Phantom Of The Opera, The Producers, Evita, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street and Nine).

    Well, there is a massive amount of love for the world's longest-running musical, which reportedly has been seen by more than 60 million people worldwide, meaning the scrutiny is going to be intense. The good news is, despite the tonnes of expectation piled upon Hooper, the film version is already generating Oscar buzz and just earned five Golden Globe nominations.

    At least one fan is not too worried. An optimistic Tatoy concluded: "From the trailer, the quality we expect seems to have carried through to this medium. I think that says a lot about how beloved Victor Hugo's masterpiece is. Everyone who gets to participate in recreating it knows they are involved in something special, moving and worthwhile. So it's always had a certain quality and calibre. I'm sure the film version will be of the same standard."

    Les Misérables opens in cinemas nationwide on Dec 25.

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