Ahad, 24 Februari 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Cuban leader Raul Castro announces he will retire in 2018

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 07:47 PM PST

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Sunday he will step down from power after his second term ends in 2018, and the new parliament named a 52-year-old rising star to become his first vice president and most visible successor.

Cuba's President Raul Castro and newly elected first vice president Miguel Diaz Canel, (R), attend the closing session of the National Assembly of the Peoples Power in Havana February 24, 2013. Castro announced on Sunday he would step down from power after his second term as president ends in 2018, and the new parliament named a 52-year-old rising star to become his first vice president and most visible successor. Castro, 81, made the announcement in a nationally broadcast speech shortly after the Cuban National Assembly elected him to a second five-year term in the opening session of the new parliament. "This will be my last term," Castro said. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

Cuba's President Raul Castro and newly elected first vice president Miguel Diaz Canel, (R), attend the closing session of the National Assembly of the Peoples Power in Havana February 24, 2013. Castro announced on Sunday he would step down from power after his second term as president ends in 2018, and the new parliament named a 52-year-old rising star to become his first vice president and most visible successor. Castro, 81, made the announcement in a nationally broadcast speech shortly after the Cuban National Assembly elected him to a second five-year term in the opening session of the new parliament. "This will be my last term," Castro said. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

"This will be my last term," Castro, 81, said shortly after the National Assembly elected him to a second five-year tenure.

In a surprise move, the new parliament also named Miguel Diaz-Canel as first vice president, meaning he would take over if Castro cannot serve his full term.

Diaz-Canel is a member of the political bureau who rose through the Communist Party ranks in the provinces to become the most visible possible successor to Castro.

Raul Castro starts his second term immediately, leaving him free to retire in 2018, aged 86.

Former President Fidel Castro joined the National Assembly meeting on Sunday, in a rare public appearance. Since falling ill in 2006 and ceding the presidency to his brother, the elder Castro, 86, has given up official positions except as a deputy in the National Assembly.

The new government will almost certainly be the last headed up by the Castro brothers and their generation of leaders who have ruled Cuba since they swept down from the mountains in the 1959 revolution.

Cubans and foreign governments were keenly watching whether any new, younger faces appeared among the Council of State members, in particular its first vice president and five vice presidents.

Their hopes were partially fulfilled with Diaz-Canel's ascension. He replaces former first vice president, Jose Machado Ventura, 82, who will continue as one of five vice presidents.

Commander of the Revolution Ramiro Valdes, 80, and Gladys Bejerano, 66, the comptroller general, were also re-elected as vice presidents.

Two other newcomers, Mercedes Lopez Acea, 48, first secretary of the Havana communist party, and Salvador Valdes Mesa, 64, head of the official labour federation, also earned vice presidential slots.

Esteban Lazo, a 68-year-old former vice president and member of the political bureau of the Communist Party, left his post upon being named president of the National Assembly on Sunday. He replaced Ricardo Alarcon, who served in the job for 20 years.

Six of the Council's top seven members sit on the party's political bureau which is also lead by Castro.

Castro's announcement came as little surprise to Cuban exiles in Miami.

"It's no big news. It would have been big news if he resigned today and called for democratic elections," said Alfredo Duran, a Cuban-American lawyer and moderate exile leader in Miami who supports lifting the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. "I wasn't worried about him being around after 2018," he added.

The National Assembly meets for just a few weeks each year and delegates its legislative powers between sessions to the 31-member Council of State, which also functions as the executive through the Council of Ministers it appoints.

Eighty percent of the 612 deputies, who were elected in an uncontested vote February 3, were born after the revolution.


Raul Castro, who officially replaced his ailing brother as president in 2008, has repeatedly said senior leaders should hold office for no more than two five-year terms.

"Although we kept on trying to promote young people to senior positions, life proved that we did not always make the best choice," Castro said at a Communist Party Congress in 2011.

"Today, we are faced with the consequences of not having a reserve of well-trained replacements ... It's really embarrassing that we have not solved this problem in more than half a century."

Speaking on Sunday, Castro hailed the composition of the new Council of State as an example of what he had said needed to be accomplished.

"Of the 31 members, 41.9 percent are women and 38.6 percent are black or of mixed race. The average age is 57 years and 61.3 percent were born after the triumph of the revolution," he said.

The 2011 party summit adopted a more than 300-point plan aimed at updating Cuba's Soviet-style economic system, designed to transform it from one based on collective production and consumption to one where individual effort and reward play a far more important role.

Across-the-board subsidies are being replaced by a comprehensive tax code and targeted welfare.

Raul Castro has encouraged small businesses and cooperatives in retail services, farming, minor manufacturing and retail, and given more autonomy to state companies which still dominate the economy.

The party plan also includes an opening to more foreign investment.

At the same time, Cuba continues to face a U.S. administration bent on restoring democracy and capitalism to the island and questions about the future largess of oil rich Venezuela with strategic ally Hugo Chavez battling cancer.

(Editing by Kieran Murray and Vicki Allen)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

South Korea's new president demands North drop nuclear ambitions

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 06:36 PM PST

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's new president Park Geun-hye urged North Korea on Monday to abandon its nuclear ambitions, and to stop wasting its scarce resources on arms, less than two weeks after the country carried out its third nuclear test.

South Korea's conservative President-elect Park Geun-hye speaks during a news conference at the main office of ruling Saenuri Party in Seoul in this December 20, 2012 file photo. South Korea's new president faces a hostile North Korea that seeks nuclear weapons, a moribund domestic economy and now new pressure on its exporters and growth prospects from neighbouring Japan's yen devaluation. There is little Park, who will become South Korea's first woman president on February 25, 2013, can do about the North but her first statement on the economy indicated she was willing to try at least to talk down the Korean won's rise. Picture taken December 20, 2012. REUTERS/Woohae Cho/Files

South Korea's conservative President-elect Park Geun-hye speaks during a news conference at the main office of ruling Saenuri Party in Seoul in this December 20, 2012 file photo. South Korea's new president faces a hostile North Korea that seeks nuclear weapons, a moribund domestic economy and now new pressure on its exporters and growth prospects from neighbouring Japan's yen devaluation. There is little Park, who will become South Korea's first woman president on February 25, 2013, can do about the North but her first statement on the economy indicated she was willing to try at least to talk down the Korean won's rise. Picture taken December 20, 2012. REUTERS/Woohae Cho/Files

In her inauguration speech, the country's first female president, also called on South Koreans to help revive the nation's export-dependent economy whose trade is threatened by neighbouring Japan's weak yen policy.

Park, the 61-year-old daughter of South Korea's former military ruler Park Chung-hee, met with the father of North Korea's current ruler in 2002 and offered the impoverished and isolated neighbour aid and trade if it abandoned its nuclear programme.

"I urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay and embark on the path to peace and shared development," Park said after being inaugurated on Monday.

Park, usually an austere and demure figure in her public appearances, wore an olive-drab military style jacket and lavender scarf on Monday and smiled broadly and waved enthusiastically as a 70,000 strong crowd cheered her.

Rap sensation Psy was one of the warm up acts on an early spring day outside the country's parliament and performed his "Gagnam Style" hit, but without some of the raunchier actions.

Park's tough stance was supported by the partisan and largely older crowd at her inauguration.

"I have trust in her as the first female president ... She has to be more aggressive on North Korea," said Jeong Byung-ok, 44, who was at the ceremony with her four-year-old daughter.


North Korea is ruled by 30-year-old Kim Jong-un, the third of his line to hold power in Pyongyang and the grandson of a man who tried to assassinate Park's father.

The North, which is facing further U.N. sanctions for its latest nuclear test, which was its biggest and most powerful to date, is unlikely to heed Park's call and there is little Seoul can do to influence its bellicose neighbour.

Park's choices boil down to paying off Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons plan, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and failed in 2006 when the North exploded its first nuclear bomb. Alternatively, Seoul could try to further isolate the North, a move that resulted in the 2010 sinking of a South Korean ship and the shelling of a South Korean island.

Referring to the fast economic growth under her father's rule, which drove war-torn South Korea from poverty to the ranks of the world's richest nations, Park urged Koreans to re-create the spirit of the "Miracle on the Han".

Park wants to create new jobs, in a country where young people often complain of a lack of opportunities, and boost welfare, although she hasn't spelled out how she will do either.

Growth in South Korea has fallen sharply since the days of Park's father who oversaw periods of 10 percent plus economic expansion. The Bank of Korea expects the economy to grow just 2.8 percent this year and 2.8 percent in 2014.

Park also faces a challenge from a resurgent Japan whose exports have risen sharply after new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe embarked on a policy to weaken the yen currency.

The won has jumped five percent in 2013 against the yen after a 23 percent gain in 2012, boosting the competitiveness of Japanese exports of cars and electronics against the same goods that South Korean firms produce.

Park last week said she would take "pre-emptive" action on the weak yen, but has yet to specify what action she will take.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by David Chance and Michael Perry)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Afghan president to expel U.S. special forces from key province

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 06:21 PM PST

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has given U.S. special forces two weeks to leave a key battleground province after accusations that Afghans working for them tortured and killed innocent people, the president's spokesman said on Sunday.

The decision by Karzai could further complicate negotiations between the United States and Afghanistan over the presence of Americans troops in the country once most NATO forces leave by the end of 2014.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi said villagers in Wardak province had lodged a series of complaints about operations conducted by U.S. special forces and a group of Afghans working with them.

The decision was reached at a Sunday meeting of the Afghan National Security Council, chaired by Karzai, Faizi said.

"The Ministry of Defence was assigned to make sure all U.S. special forces are out of the province within two weeks," he said.

A statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan said: "US Forces Afghanistan is aware of the reporting of Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi's comments today. We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them.

"But until we have had a chance to speak with senior Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan officials about this issue, we are not in a position to comment further."

Sunday's announcement came days after Karzai issued a decree banning all Afghan security forces from using NATO air strikes in residential areas, in a bid to curb civilian casualties.

That was in response to an operation in Kunar targeting four Taliban members which resulted in the deaths of ten civilians, including five children, during an air strike.

Karzai has long warned his Western backers that the killing of civilians could sap support for the foreign troops in the country and fuel the insurgency.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Washington bureau; Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Stephen Powell and Paul Tait)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Mayday mayhem

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 03:32 PM PST

988 is set to prepare fans for the Taiwan band's concerts in Malaysia this weekend.

Special: Feb 25-March 3

Hang on tight, Mayday's (Wu Yue Tian) Noah's Ark-themed concert is coming soon! 988 is set to bring you the best Mayday music tribute. This week, various musicians will be going on air to either sing their favourite Mayday tracks or to dedicate some songs to the Taiwanese band. The concert will be held on March 2 and 3 at the Putra Indoor Stadium in Bukit Jalil National Sports Complex. Get ready to rock and roll with Mayday and 988!

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

Videogames like Super Mario Bros and Street Fighter used to fill our childhood days ... well, at least to those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. In those days, we had to play them on via a game console connected to our television sets. These days, however, millions of games like these are readily available for download to our smartphones and tablets. To many, these games are a great time-filler (or time waster!). And for some people, games have become an obsession, or an addiction. But what exactly is the charm of videogames? Why are they so irresistible?

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

This week, 988 features three creators of some of today's biggest entertainment-based products. Listen to the stories of the people behind the globally successful game Angry Birds, South Korean television game show Running Man and Chinese reality-based talent show, The Voice Of China.

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

Following 988's nightly chat with local indie band Platform 11 and Taiwanese singer-songwriter Yen-J, this week, the station chats with Malaysian duo Fuying & Sam on Wednesday, and Taiwan's Bai Yin on Thursday. The DJs talk about everything under the sun so be sure to tune in to these sessions!

Music VIP: Monday-Friday, 2pm

In 1999, singer Zhou Hui's cover of the song Yue Ding (or Pact, which was originally by Faye Wong) propelled her to stardom. That same year, Zhou Hui was dubbed as one the "four heavenly young queens" of Taiwan Mandopop, alongside Elva Hsiao, Jolin Tsai and Stephanie Sun.

Today, her career may seem less illustrious than the rest as she is hardly in the limelight, but Zhou Hui believes she still has a lot to offer the music world.

For more information, log on to 988.com.my. 988 is owned and operated by The Star.

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Japan's Nishikori captures Memphis title

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 06:44 PM PST

MEMPHIS (Tennessee): Japan's Kei Nishikori, who did not drop a set all week, easily defeated Feliciano Lopez 6-2, 6-3 in the final of the US Indoor Tennis Championships, claiming his third career ATP Tour title.

The 23-year-old Nishikori needed just 67 minutes to earn his second title in four months as he managed to break unseeded Lopez's serve four times on Sunday.

"I'm very happy with the way I played today," said Nishikori.

"To win this title is an amazing feeling. I tried to concentrate on all the important points. I served really well this week. I was practising a lot and it's getting better. Hopefully I can win a couple more titles. It's been a good start to the year."

Meeting for the second time on the Tour, Nishikori started fast, breaking Lopez to begin the match.

Nishikori, who is ranked 22nd in the world, clinched the win when Lopez sent a backhand wide on the second championship point.

Nishikori appeared to injure his elbow on the first championship point but managed to serve out the match.

"I love this place," said fifth seeded Nishikori. "I played an amazing player but I played aggressive today. "For sure I want to come back next year."

He had three aces, one double fault and won 80 percent of his second-serve points.

Nishikori improved to 11-2 in 2013 and avenged his third-round loss to Lopez in Barcelona two years ago.

Nishikori, who earned US$290,000 in prize money, also won in October on his home soil in Tokyo.

Spain's Lopez finished with eight aces, but he also double faulted three times against Nishikori. Lopez dropped to 2-6 in title matches with his last win on the tour coming in 2010.

"To be in a final without playing for a few weeks is great result for me," Lopez, 31, said.

Lopez was trying to become the oldest winner on the ATP Tour this season. - AFP

Kuchar downs Mahan to win WGC Match Play crown

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 04:38 PM PST

MARANA (Arizona): Matt Kuchar denied Hunter Mahan a World Golf Championships Match Play Championship title repeat, triumphing over his fellow American 2 and 1 in Sunday's final at Dove Mountain.

Kuchar, eliminated by Mahan in the quarter-finals of the elite 64-man event last year, avenged that defeat as he prevented Mahan from joining Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners of the title.

Mahan was the first defending champion to return to the final since 2006 winner Geoff Ogilvy of Australia was runner-up in 2007.

Kuchar never trailed in the championship match, and in fact trailed for just three holes the entire week. The victory was his first in a WGC event and his fifth on the US PGA Tour.

Australian Jason Day was third, defeating former champion Ian Poulter of England in the consolation final 1-up.

Kuchar's triumph capped a wild week in the Arizona desert, where a snowstorm that halted first-round play on Wednesday was just the first surprise.

When the first round was finally completed on Thursday, the top two players in the world, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, were on their way home, and the second round saw the next four seeds - Luke Donald, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose - eliminated as well.

The delays, which also included some morning frost delays, made for long days. But after the third round and quarter-finals were contested on Saturday, Poulter was looking a good bet to challenge for the title.

But Poulter, whose match play credentials include an unblemished Ryder Cup singles record as well as a triumph in this event in 2010 and in the World Match Play Championship in Spain in 2011, fell to Mahan in the semi-finals on Sunday morning, when a biting wind made for tough going.

"It was tricky," the Englishman said. "It was a lot windier today. Hunter never gave me too many opportunities. A couple of chip shots weren't quite right, couple of bunker shots weren't quite right. I'm a bit disappointed I didn't press him more."

Mahan never trailed en route to a 4 and 3 victory over Poulter.

He went 1-up at the second hole, and after Poulter squared the match with a par at the fourth, the American immediately regained the advantage with a birdie at the fifth and from there never relinquished the lead.

Kuchar rolled in a five-footer for birdie at the 15th to close out a 4 and 3 semi-final win over Day, who was unable to make his 22-footer to extend the match. - AFP

Ferrer defends Buenos Aires crown

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 04:36 PM PST

BUENOS AIRES: World number four David Ferrer of Spain defended his crown Sunday at the US$490,000 ATP claycourt tournament in Buenos Aires with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 win over Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka.

Ferrer, the top seed, saw off his third-seeded rival before a 4,000 crowd at the Lawn Tennis Club despite dropping serve at the start of the deciding set as he then proceeded to polish off six games on a roll.

The 30-year-old pocketed his 20th career title and second of the year after Auckland.

"It is difficult to defend a tournament but tennis has been kind to me and I am very happy to have done so. I shall savour the moment," said Ferrer.

"Winning 20 titles is tough and I never thought I would get to that total but sometimes you achieve more than you dreamed of."

Wawrinka, 17 on the ATP circuit, was left waiting for his fourth title - his most recent coming in 2011 at Chennai.

Spanish claycourt specialists have won the past five editions of the tournament, with Tommy Robredo successful in 2009, Juan Carlos Ferrero landing the next crown before Nicolas Almagro in 2011 and then Ferrer the past two years. - AFP

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

RHB Research: Hong Leong Bank's H1 net profit above consensus

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 05:50 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: RHB Research Institute said Hong Leong Bank's net profit for the first half ended Dec 31, 2012 of RM986mil (up 32% on-year) was 4% to 4.5% above consensus and its original estimates for the current financial year ending June 30, 2013, when annualised.

It said on Monday the pre-impairment operating profit, when annualised, was 4% below its estimates but this was more than offset by a net writeback in loan impairment allowance and stronger than expected associate contribution.

"Annualised loan growth was just 5.3% as growth was adversely impacted by the drop in trade financing and paydown in project loans. Customer deposits rose 1.2% (annualised) while the loan-deposit and current and savings accounts ratios were 73.5% and 24.7% respectively," it said.

RHB Research said the gross impaired loan ratio improved by 12 basis points on-quarter to 1.49%. An interim gross dividend per share of 15 sen was declared.

"Given the softer loan growth thus far, management thinks FY13 loan growth would likely be around high single digit, as compared to the earlier loan growth guidance of 10%-12%. HL Bank targets to keep net interest margins above 2% and guided for normalised credit cost of 20 to 25 basis points," it said.

RHB Research said the FY13-FY15 net profit projections were raised by 2.5%-3.6% while fair value was raised to RM14.30 from RM13.90. It kept its Neutral call unchanged.

Market mixed in early trade, HLFG, Maybank up

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 05:46 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: The broader market was mixed in early trade on Monday as investors sought for directions following the recent corporate results while HLFG and Maybank were among the major gainers.

At 9.28am, the FBM KLCI was up 0.03 point to 1,622.11. Turnover was 88.31 million shares valued at RM48.10mil. There were 90 gainers and 90 losers while 139 counters were unchanged.

Asian stocks rose, with the regional benchmark index extending last week's advance, as Japanese shares gained on speculation the next Bank of Japan governor will deploy aggressive monetary easing, according to Bloomberg.

MIDF Equities Research said despite a general weakness in the prices of shares listed on Bursa, foreign investors continued to be net buyers of Malaysia equity, for 11 weeks in a row until last week.

"On a net basis, foreign investors bought +RM283mil in the open market last week, compared with +RM437.2mil the week before," it said.

Finance and bank stocks were mixed. HLFG was the top gainer, rising 18 sen to RM13.88 while Maybank added six sen to RM1.44. HL Cap fell 12 sen to RM1.86 while HLBank and Public Bank shed six sen each to RM14.44 and RM15.68.

UMW added 12 sen to RM12.22. Small cap stocks were also on the move, with Ingress rising 13 sen to RM1.55, TN Logistics and NCN, up 11 sen each to RM1.99 and RM4.78.

SP Setia fell 12 sen to RM3.20. Among the plantations, KLK fell the most, down 18 sen to RM20.42, Batu Kawan 10 sen to RM18 while IOI Corp shed six sen to RM4.97.

Asian shares edge higher, yen falls on BOJ report

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 05:23 PM PST

TOKYO: Asian shares edged higher on Monday, with investors still picking up shares battered by last week's steep plunge, while the yen fell to fresh lows on news a reflationary advocate could head the Bank of Japan next month.

The news Japan's government is likely to nominate Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda, an advocate of aggressive monetary easing, as its next central bank governor, is set to be a major factor in financial markets this week.

Markets are pondering whether Italy's weekend elections will produce a stable government, and the implications of that for euro zone cohesion, while Moody's credit downgrade on Britain will play on confidence in the pound and government bonds.

Investors also await testimony on Tuesday from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke for further clues of when the Fed may slow or stop buying bonds. Financial markets were rattled last week after minutes of the Fed's January meeting suggested some Fed officials were mulling scaling back its strong monetary stimulus earlier than expected.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was up 0.1 percent, pulled higher by Australian shares .AXJO which gained 0.6 percent on reassuring comments from U.S. Federal Reserve officials on the bank's current stimulus program, which has helped underpin risk sentiment globally.

South Korean shares .KS11 opened up 0.2 percent, with the nation's new leader, who has shown willingness to talk down the won, being sworn in on Monday.

Tokyo's Nikkei stock average .N225 opened 1.6 percent higher. .T

Early on Monday, the yen touched its lowest since May 2010 of 94.61 yen against the dollar, while the euro rose to a high of 124.83 yen, still off its 34-month peak of 127.71 set early this month.

The Nikkei newspaper reported the Japanese government is likely to nominate Haruhiko Kuroda and Kikuo Iwata, both vocal advocates of aggressive monetary expansion, as BOJ governor and deputy governor.

The dollar fell sharply to below 93 yen last week on media reports that Toshiro Muto, a former financial bureaucrat perceived as less willing to take unconventional steps, was the frontrunner candidate for the top BOJ job.

"The dollar's move this morning is merely a rebound from disappointment on Muto last week. I don't think this topic will be enough to hoist the dollar above 95 yen," said Hiroshi Maeba, head of FX trading Japan at UBS in Tokyo. "No matter who is elected at the BOJ, it will not affect the longer-term trend of a weak yen," he said.

Speculation over the BOJ has been a key factor driving the yen lower recently due to anticipation for strong reflationary measures, but other fundamental factors such as Japan's deteriorating trade balances and signs of firmer U.S. growth also supported a weakening yen trend.

Abe told Americans on Friday "I am back and so is Japan" and vowed to get the world's third biggest economy growing again.

Investors remained cautious before the full official results of Italy's elections come out on Tuesday, worried a potential political stalemate could impede Rome's progress on fiscal reforms.

The euro was up 0.1 percent to $1.3192, off Friday's six-week low of $1.31445.

Sterling fell to a 31-month low of $1.5073 early on Monday and a record low against the New Zealand dollar at NZ$1.8025 following Friday's one-notch downgrade of Britain's prized triple-A sovereign rating by Moody's.

Investors will also seek signs of recovery from the flash estimate of China's manufacturing PMI from HSBC/Markit due later in the session.

Wall Street ended higher on Friday, boosted strong earnings from Dow component Hewlett-Packard (HPQ.N), but the benchmark Standard & Poor's Index .SPX posted its first weekly decline of the year. European shares rose on Friday after data showed German business morale surged at its fastest pace in over two years in February.

Hedge funds and other big speculators cut their bullish bets on U.S. commodities by nearly $13 billion, the most in about 10 months, in the week to February 19 to $69 billion, just before oil and metals prices tumbled last week on rumors a commodities fund was dumping positions, trade data showed on Friday.

U.S. crude was up 0.1 percent to $93.26 a barrel. - Reuters

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The Star Online: Nation

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The Star Online: Nation

Cantopop superstar Lau’s daughter looks like him

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 03:09 PM PST

CANTOPOP superstar Andy Lau has suggested that his eight-month-old daughter looks more like him, reported major Chinese dailies.

The mother of Berjaya Corp's founder Tan Sri Vincent Tan had taken the opportunity to ask Lau about his daughter when the actor-cum-singer attended a function at the Berjaya Times Square on Saturday.

Low Siew Beng, 86, had asked Lau, who was sitting next to her during the function, if it was true that his daughter resembled him.

"I heard that your daughter looks like you. Is that true?" she asked.

Sin Chew Daily reported that Lau had smiled and merely nodded his head.

Asked if his wife, Malaysian Carol Chu, and daughter were in Malaysia with him, Lau again smiled and nodded his head but declined to comment further.

It was reported that the Hong Kong media was willing to pay about RM397,000 for the first picture of Lau's daughter, adding that the superstar had never shown her photograph.

Lau had said on his official fan page that he would not be posting photographs of his daughter.

> China Press reported that a 20-year-old pregnant woman had accused a curry puff seller of molesting her on the pretext of giving her a massage.

It was reported that the 50-year-old man had offered to give the woman, who is eight months' pregnant, a massage at a coffeeshop in Segamat on Friday.

The woman claimed the man massaged her back before touching her private part in the coffeeshop, where she and her 18-year-old sister were the only customers.

After relating the incident to her husband, she lodged a police report.

Other News & Views is compiled from the vernacular newspapers (Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil dailies). As such, stories are grouped according to the respective language/medium. Where a paragraph begins with this > sign, it denotes a separate news item.

Many younger women willing to marry Pak Berahim

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 03:08 PM PST

DESPITE his age and poor health, many younger women are willing to marry veteran radio performer Ibrahim Othman.

The 83-year-old expressed his wish to marry again in a Metro Ahad interview on Feb 10 .

Pak Berahim, as he is called, said he wanted a wife as his seven children have abandoned him.

Ibrahim has been staying at Pusat Jagaan Al-Fikrah Malaysia (Fikrah) in Sungai Sekamat, Kajang, for the past three months as his mobility has been affected by neurological problems.

Ibrahim's wife Kamariah Abdul Majib died in 1985.

"I want a wife. I do not mind her age or if she is local or Indonesian, as long as she sincerely wants to take care of me.

"If she is willing to marry me, she will inherit all my possessions, including a bungalow in Taman Keramat worth between RM1.5mil and RM1.8mil," said Ibrahim who acted in the drama Kebun Pak Awang.

Following the interview, 13 women, including a 23-year-old single mother, have expressed interest in becoming Ibrahim's wife.

> A lorry driver was hacked to death by a group of men for stealing a sack of bananas.

The incident on Saturday saw several men with sticks beating Mohd Khairul Azman Shaufi, 37, resulting in severe head injuries.

Mohd Khairul died at Hospital Jeli in Kelantan at 11.50pm.

Four men, aged between 28 and 37, had been remanded for seven days, Tanah Merah OCPD Deputy Supt Abdul Aziz Mahmud said.

Other News & Views is compiled from the vernacular newspapers (Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil dailies). As such, stories are grouped according to the respective language/medium. Where a paragraph begins with this > sign, it denotes a separate news item.

Paralysed Tan has a genuine friend in Chua to care for him

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 03:07 PM PST

JOHOR BARU: James Taylor's You've Got A Friend rang true for factory worker Chua Bee Yong, who came running to help her friend when he became paralysed after a fall.

Chua, 48, had known Tan Chin Wai, 50, through work for several years.

Six months ago, Tan slipped and fell as he was coming out of a toilet in Singapore.

And just like the lyrics "when you're down and troubled and you need a helping hand", Chua has stood by Tan since then.

Chua, who has four grown-up children who live elsewhere, said she brought Tan to her home in Bukit Indah and has been taking care of him for the past six months.

"It is challenging as I have to bathe, feed and clean him. I have to spend about RM2,000 on medication for him," she said.

While she is at work, Tan's other friends would take care of him.

According to Chua, Tan had fractured his neck during the fall.

"He has to go for another operation which will hopefully improve his condition," she said.

Chua said that she had contacted the Welfare Department, which indicated that Tan would be provided with RM150 monthly.

"That amount is not enough," she said in frustration, but she did not have the heart to abandon Tan.

Johor Baru MCA Public Complaints Bureau deputy chairman Michael Tay said that Tan needed about RM300,000 for the operation.

"Those interested in donating can contact me at 019-7778 935 or bank in their donations to MCA Cawangan Bandar Baru Tampoi account (Hong Leong Bank Berhad, Account No: 08200027036)," he said.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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Final 'Twilight' film sweeps anti-Oscar Razzie awards

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 01:46 AM PST

LOS ANGELES: The last "Twilight" film won the dubious honor Saturday of being awarded seven Razzies, Hollywood's anti-Oscar Golden Raspberry prizes, handed out on the eve of the real Academy Awards.

"Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2" won worst film, worst director for Bill Condon and worst actress for Kristen Stewart, as well as worst supporting actor, worst screen couple, worst screen ensemble and worst remake/rip-off or sequel.

The film fell short of last year's clean sweep of all 10 categories for "Jack and Jill" starring Adam Sandler - who won this year's worst actor for "That's My Boy," which also took the worst screenplay.

Worst supporting actress at the 33rd annual Razzies show - held just down the road from Hollywood's Dolby Theatre where the 85th Academy Awards take place Sunday - went to singer Rihanna, making her big screen debut in "Battleship."

The winners of nine of the 10 categories were chosen by emailed ballots from 657 voting members in the United States and 19 other countries.

The worst remake/rip-off or sequel winner was decided by a poll conducted on movie review website RottenTomatoes.com, where nearly 70,000 votes were cast, according to Razzie organizers.

Nominees who failed to win a Razzie included veteran diva Barbra Streisand for worst actress in mother-son road movie "The Guilt Trip," while Sandler beat rivals including Nicolas Cage and Eddie Murphy to worst actor.

Besides "Twilight," the other films shortlisted for worst movie of 2012 were "Battleship," family movie "The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure," "That's My Boy" and "A Thousand Words" starring comedy veteran Murphy.-AFP

Records and firsts

Posted: 23 Feb 2013 11:22 PM PST

The 85th Academy Awards ceremony will be hosted by Seth MacFarlane, who is best known for creating the animated TV shows Family Guy and American Dad!. The awards are given out by the Beverly Hills, Los Angeles-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

First Oscars

When the Academy Awards were handed out on May 16, 1929, movies had just begun to talk. The inaugural ceremony took place in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles; guest tickets cost US$5. The Best Actress and Best Actor awards went to Janet Gaynor for her performances in Sunrise and Seventh Heaven, both from 1927, and Street Angel from 1928, and to Emil Jannings for The Last Command and The Way Of All Flesh. The Warner Bros film The Jazz Singer received a special award as the "pioneering outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionised the industry".

The Academy had ruled it was ineligible for the best picture award because it was thought it would be unfair to let sound films compete with silents.


This was one of the most celebrated years in American film history, encompassing such classics as The Wizard Of Oz, Stagecoach Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Ninotchka, Wuthering Heights and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Gone With The Wind, director Victor Fleming's almost-four-hour blockbuster, was the longest feature released up to that time and was the year's big Oscar winner. It was also the first colour film to win the Best Picture trophy. The film earned 13 nominations and won eight competitive awards (and two special citations) – of which both were records for the time. It held the record for Oscars until Gigi won nine of them in 1957.


The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award was presented for the first time at the ceremony held in 1938. The honour went to Darryl F. Zanuck. The first special award to honour a foreign language motion picture was given in 1947 to the Italian film Shoeshine. Seven more special awards were presented before Foreign Language Film became an annual category in 1956. The Animated Feature Film award was added in 2001, with Shrek winning the Oscar.

Breaking records

The 1959 epic Ben Hur set an Academy Award record by winning 11 Oscars, a benchmark matched in 1997 by the blockbuster Titanic. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King also won 11 Oscars – from 11 nominations – in 2003.

Meryl Streep holds the record for most acting nominations (17), and has won three. Katharine Hepburn earned 12 nominations and won four times. Ingrid Bergman is next with three Oscars from seven nominations. Jack Nicholson is the most nominated male star, with 12 nominations and three wins. Walter Brennan also won three, but from only four nominations.

2012 facts

The Best Picture award went to The Artist. Michel Hazanavicius also won Best Director for the film and its lead, Jean Dujardin, won Best Actor. Dujardin had the smallest amount of dialogue for a speaking role – a mere two words – of any winning performance in the sound era. For his role in Beginners, Best Supporting Actor winner Christopher Plummer became the oldest winner in an acting category at the age of 82.

An electronic first

In September 2012, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a new online voting system would be used for the 2013 Oscars ceremony. In a transitional process, the academy's 6,000 members also will be able to use traditional paper ballots to nominate and select the 2012 winners. Until now, Oscar ballots have been mailed around the world to academy members – directors, actors, screenwriters, producers and other leading film industry figures – with results tabulated by hand by the Pricewaterhouse-Coopers accounting firm. – Reuters

Hollywood prepares for its Oscars close-up

Posted: 23 Feb 2013 07:57 PM PST

HOLLYWOOD: The stage is set for the 85th Academy Awards on Sunday, with Ben Affleck's Iran hostage drama "Argo" bidding to edge out Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" at the climax of Hollywood's awards season.

The red carpet is rolled out and ready for Tinseltown's finest to strut and preen before the Oscars show, widely seen as one of the least predictable in recent memory following a bumper movie year.

British songstress Adele shone at rehearsals on the eve of the heavily musical night, when she will sing 007 theme "Skyfall" and legendary diva Barbra Streisand will give her first Oscars performance for 36 years.

"Can I get more piano at the very beginning actually?" the 24-year-old said after sound checks at the Dolby Theatre, where the cast of Oscar-nominated musical "Les Miserables" also practiced, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Out front, on the closed-off section of Hollywood Boulevard, armies of technicians and workers have put the final touches to the red carpet where Spielberg, Affleck and dozens of fellow nominees gather before the show.

Spielberg, bidding for his first best picture Oscar since "Schindler's List" in 1994, tops the nominations with 12 nods for "Lincoln" - but "Argo" has cleaned up in Hollywood's awards season so far, despite having only seven.

Although he started the season two months ago in front, Spielberg may have to settle Sunday for the best director award - one that Affleck cannot beat him to, having not been nominated in the category, in a perceived snub.

But again here there could be an upset, with rivals including Taiwan-born Ang Lee for "Life of Pi," David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook," or even Austrian dark horse director Michael Haneke for Cannes-topping "Amour."

One near-certainty Sunday is that "Lincoln" star Daniel Day-Lewis will be named best actor, a record third for the British-Irish actor after wins in 1990 for "My Left Foot" and in 2008 for "There Will Be Blood."

For best actress, the early favourite was Jessica Chastain, playing a CIA agent hunting Osama bin Laden in "Zero Dark Thirty," but the clever money is now on Jennifer Lawrence for her turn in "Silver Linings Playbook."

The best supporting actress race is more open, although Anne Hathaway is probably still the frontrunner for her heart-wrenching turn in "Les Miserables," which is also nominated for best picture.

The most unpredictable race of all is perhaps for supporting actor, with Hollywood legend Robert De Niro tipped by some for playing Cooper's father in "Silver Linings Playbook."

But strong rivals in the category include Austrian Christoph Waltz as a white bounty hunter who frees Jamie Foxx's black slave in Quentin Tarantino's blood-spattered "Django Unchained," as well as Tommy Lee Jones in "Lincoln."

On the foreign front, the clear frontrunner is "Amour," which won the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival for its heart-wrenching portrayal of an elderly couple coping with encroaching physical and mental illness.

Its French female lead, Emmanuelle Riva, could even cause an upset in the best actress category, some critics believe. Riva, who will be 86 on Sunday, is coincidentally also the oldest ever best actress nominee.

"Amour" ("Love") is also among the nine films nominated for best picture, although it is not seen as a favorite there.

On a more colourful note, the best animated feature contest is widely seen as a battle between Scottish-themed princess adventure "Brave" and "Wreck-It Ralph," about a video game villain fed up with being the bad guy.

The fast and fun movie pays subtle homage to generations of computer games, in a feel-good story appealing to both mainstream cinema-goers and hard-core animation filmmakers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. - AFP

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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Claudia Bueno: The light artist from Venezuela

Posted: 23 Feb 2013 04:29 PM PST

An artist uses light and shadows to paint visions of modern life.

THERE'S something almost primal about Claudia Bueno's art. Perhaps it's because we are instinctively drawn to light. Or perhaps the delicate interplay between light and shadows inherent in her works is something we instantly recognise, from dapples of sunlight shining through trees or streetlight shadows dancing along buildings.

Whatever the appeal of this artist's work, there's no denying that her pieces are fascinating to see. Manipulating light, darkness and shadows to create images both literal and abstract, Bueno calls her works light installations or collages. The 30-year-old light artist, who is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, has been dabbling in the art for seven years. Currently based in Kuala Lumpur, this is her first exhibit in Malaysia, which she hopes will be an introduction of sorts to her work.

Bueno says her interest in light art began when she was a fine arts student in university and did a year of study in Spain.

"I had the opportunity then to study set design and animation, and that was the key turning point for me. I was fascinated by the use of light within a space in set design, and I loved the movement of still drawings in animation. When I went back to Venezuela, I started asking, what is my language as an artist? And I went back to those elements of light, space and movement," she explains.

The exhibition, at Wei-Ling Contemporary gallery in KL, showcases works from two series, Forgotten Cities and Extracto.

Forgotten Cities is a reflection on the ubiquitous urbanscapes that have increasingly become a part of modern life. One untitled piece, for instance, uses soft lighting and shadows to depict washing lines criss-crossing messy alleyways, with people silhouetted against doorways. Another similar piece seems both intimate and threatening, as a mother and daughter walking hand-in-hand on a street is contrasted starkly with dark barbed wire fences.

"In this series, I wanted to represent fragments of cities and the memories of places I've lived in. It's about memory, and the poetry of life," she says.

Before coming to Malaysia, Bueno says she lived in Switzerland for three years. The contrast between the cities in both countries, as well as those back home in South America, she says, informed much of her work.

"In Malaysia, I was able to visit cities that tell stories of the past, whereas in Switzerland, everything was so clean and perfect and well-maintained. The cities in South-East Asia remind me of places back home, in that there is a certain lack of polish and maintenance that tell tales of their own history. My main theme is cities that are allowed to age, that are a testimony of time."

One piece, Forgotten City III, is a culmination of these various influences. A delicate collage of familiar city images – electric lines, a woman cycling, chain link fences, balconies, pedestrians – is made dynamic and much larger thanks to the motorised light that moves back and forth, casting different shadows on the wall. It is a beautiful example of creating movement, depth and mood by contrasting light and shadows.

The Extracto series, meanwhile, signals a departure for Bueno from the works she created in the past – the pieces in this collection were all triggered by her move to Malaysia.

"This was the first time I've let colour into my work, it was a big jump for me. When I moved from the grey-and-white, perfect winters of Switzerland to a developing country filled with smells, colours, sights, sounds, it was a real sensorial explosion for me.

"I wanted to let Malaysia into my art. So I started going to Chinatown (in KL's Petaling Street), where the shops are just full of these colourful, crazy things," she explains.

It was in one of those shops that she found her inspiration, a box filled with small glass bottles.

"The bottles led me to think about aspects like essences, extraction, labs, testing, and so on. And then, I went to East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) for the first time, where I saw first-hand the environmental impact of human activities. These two different elements came together in my mind without consciously knowing they were going to meet."

The result is a series of works that explore the meeting point between nature and technology, albeit in subtle and surprising ways. The piece Deep, for example, contrasts organic waves in multiple shades of backlit blue with rigidly-arranged, blue-filled glass bottles (the same ones Bueno encountered in Chinatown).

Water City, which was created for an exhibition in Singapore, uses clear panels painted with blue and black and motorised light to represent a city by the sea. The diffused blue and black shadows thrown against the wall highlight the contrast between the cityscape and the sea, as well as the interplay between the two.

Natural Passage, meanwhile, is more abstract. A painted glass cylinder lit from within throws a revolving image onto the wall; it starts off in soothing shades of green, but steadily grows more dramatic as it is shot through with yellows, oranges and reds. Hypnotic, gorgeous, yet slightly disturbing, it cleverly juxtaposes nature with suggestions of damage and destruction.

"Extracto is about that subtle tension that is created when nature is caught off-guard as elements of technology are introduced. I was trying to present that encounter between pristine nature and these so-called alien elements," says Bueno.

These layers of meaning, however, do not keep her pieces from being accessible, thanks to the sheer visual delight they provide.

"Contemporary art can be rather intimidating to people, but I find that light art is often easily enjoyed. Maybe it's because light is so familiar to us, or produces effects that can be enjoyed visually even if the meaning isn't immediately obvious."

Forgotten Cities and Extracto by Claudia Bueno are showing daily, 10am to 9pm, until March 3 at Wei-Ling Contemporary (G212 and 213A, Ground Floor, The Gardens Mall, Kuala Lumpur). For more information, call 03-2260 1106 / 03-2282 8323 or visit weiling-gallery.com.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

Oh, my woeful back

Posted: 23 Feb 2013 05:23 PM PST

Faulty body mechanics is one of the leading causes of lower back pain, but regular strengthening exercises can help alleviate the problem.

AT some point in our lives, most of us will experience lower back pain, which interferes with work and daily routines. The dull pain can be annoying and persistent, while the shooting or stabbing pain can leave you with limited mobility for days.

The spine comprises seven cervical (neck region) vertebrae, 12 thoracic (upper back) vertebrae, five lumbar vertebrae (lower back), the sacrum and the coccyx. All these help keep our body erect, so it's crucial to take care of the spine.

As we age, bone strength, muscle elasticity and muscle tone tend to decrease. The intervertebral discs begin to lose fluid and flexibility, which decreases their ability to cushion the vertebrae.

The causes of lower back pain are aplenty, and it can occur from lifting heavy objects, sports injuries, pottering around the house or in the garden, a sudden jolt such as a car accident, degenerative conditions, or other stresses on spinal bones and tissues.

If the spine becomes overly strained or compressed, a disc may rupture or bulge outward. This rupture may put pressure on one of the more than 50 nerves rooted to the spinal cord that control body movements and transmit signals from the body to the brain.

When these nerve roots become compressed or irritated, it results in back pain.

Too much or too little exercise, combined with the ageing process, also contributes to lower back pain.

However, in the majority of cases, lower back pain is caused by muscle weaknesses and imbalances, including a tight hamstring and lower back muscle groups, tight hip flexor muscles and weak abdominal muscles.

Most incidences of lower back pain can be treated without surgery. While you can take analgesics to relieve pain, apply ice and heat to reduce inflammation, or opt for surgery as the last resort, exercises to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles are probably the best method for a speedy recovery.

One of my students suffered a slipped disc a day before her holiday to Indonesia's Bintan Island, but thought the excruciating pain was nothing serious. The nagging pain had been there for a while, but like most people, she ignored it, hoping it would go away

On the ferry, she could hardly sit, and once she checked into her hotel room, she collapsed. She was wheeled into the hospital and given opium for a week.

The doctor insisted on surgery, but she flatly refused, and crawled her way to the acupuncturist instead. After a few sessions, the aches miraculously disappeared, but the pain started to radiate along her arm and shoulders.

Something was not right, and not wanting to consult the doctor again, she limped her way to the gym and sought advice. Luckily, she had the foresight to know that exercise could alleviate the pain.

She religiously attended Pilates classes twice a week, struggling at the initial stages. She could barely lift a limb while lying on her stomach, but with determination, encouragement and time, she improved. She also started lifting weights to gain more muscles and strength.

Today, after almost a decade, she's my model student and often acts as my push-up demonstrator. Not only can she do a 60-minute high-impact aerobic class, she can put many a man (and young boys!) to shame with the amount of weights she lifts.

And ladies and gentlemen, my star student is no youngster but someone in her late 60s, and a granny of three! Popo is always immaculately dressed and continues to inspire others.

"I feel I'm much fitter and stronger now than I was in my youth. I can keep up with the classes, and best of all, I know how to take care of my back," she says.

Many of my dance students at Universiti Malaya also have lower back problems, and I tell them it's something they have to live with, as there is a tendency for the pain to recur, especially with the pounding the spine takes while they're dancing.

I used to tape my bony spine for extra cushioning while I did back flips or rolls on the floor.

When you're in pain, simple exercises and yoga stretches do wonders for the spine. One way is to lie supine (face up) with knees bent, and slowly bring one knee into the chest and hold for a few seconds before alternating legs. Or, from supine position, put your calves up on a chair or stability ball, with knees bent. Since the lumbar supports the weight of the upper body, this exercise greatly reduces the pressure on the lower back region.

Another easy exercise is to lie in prone position (on your stomach). Lift one leg at a time and hold for a few seconds, alternating sides. Then switch to lifting off one arm at a time.

When you feel stronger, lift the right leg and left arm off the floor before switching sides. As your back strength increases, lift the upper body off the floor and hold. Switch to lifting both legs off the floor. Never lift both arms and legs off at the same time until you get stronger. Make sure the movement is carried out in a gentle and controlled manner, without jerking the limbs.

A yoga move that is good for any level, and serves as an excellent warm-up exercise is the cat-cow. Start in the quadruped position (hands and knees on the floor). Arch your back and look up as you inhale, and contract your belly and tuck your chin in as you exhale. Do about five or six rounds, then sit back on your heels with your arms outstretched to the front (child's pose) in order to stretch the back.

Here are some handy tips to prevent lower back pain, as suggested by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

·Use backrests and lumbar support when sitting.

·Make sure seats offer optimal seating comfort and support.

·Quit smoking as it reduces blood flow to the lower spine and causes the spinal discs to degenerate.

·Reduce stress and anxiety.

·Change your position from sitting to standing and vice-versa, frequently. Walk around at regular intervals.

·Don't slouch when standing or sitting. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet. Your back supports weight most easily when curvature is reduced.

·Adjust table and work stations to comfortable heights.

·Avoid activities that are clearly associated with previous episodes of pain.

·Always keep loads close to your body, and use proper techniques when lifting, ie bend the knees and pull in your stomach muscles when lifting or lowering an object.

·Allow for adequate warm-ups and cool-downs before and after exercise.

·Always wear protective footwear and avoid exercising for prolonged periods of time on hard surfaces.

·Strengthen the abdominal and back muscles.

·Sleep on your side and put a pillow between your knees to reduce any curve in your spine. Always sleep on a firm surface.

·Maintain proper nutrition and diet to reduce and prevent excessive weight, especially weight around the waistline that taxes lower back muscles. A diet with sufficient daily intake of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D helps to promote new bone growth.

·Avoid harmful movements such as straight-leg sit-ups.

> The writer is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battles gravity and continues to dance, but longs for some bulk and flesh in the right places.

Triggering trouble

Posted: 23 Feb 2013 05:22 PM PST

Inflammation of the tendon or tendon sheath of a finger can lead to a trigger finger.

HAVE you ever had the disconcerting experience of being unable to straighten your finger after bending it? If you have, odds are you have a "trigger" finger.

A trigger finger is a finger that "locks" after it has been flexed (bent).

At times, you can't even straighten it out without the help of your other hand pulling at the offending finger. Some may even hear a loud "click" as the finger is straightened.

A trigger finger is also known as stenosing tenosynovitis in medical speak.

The phenomenon could affect one or more fingers, although it commonly afflicts the little and ring fingers, as well as the thumb.

And bad news for right-handers - it has been found to be more common in the right hand.

It is common for sufferers of the condition to experience pain and stiffness of the affected finger. Often, a small lump of tissue known as a nodule develops at the base of the affected finger.

Approximately two out of 100 people develop trigger finger. Nobody knows what causes it, but there are several factors that can increase one's risk. These include:

·Being a woman

·People over the age of 40 years

·Certain medical conditions

·People whose work or hobby requires repetitive gripping actions, such as musicians, gardeners and construction workers.

Conditions that can increase the likelihood of trigger finger include those affecting the hand, such as Dupuytren's contracture. This describes a thickening of tissues in the palm, and when it progresses, one or more fingers bend into the palm and cannot be straightened.

Long-term medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, amyloidosis, diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome and people on dialysis, can also trigger (excuse the pun) the condition.

In fact, around 10% of people with diabetes develop trigger finger.

Although nobody knows what really leads to trigger finger, it is believed that some sort of inflammatory process is the culprit, with the inflammation leading to swelling of a tendon or its sheath.

In essence, a tendon is a tissue (fibrous cord) that is primarily responsible for attaching a muscle to a bone.

In the case of trigger finger, the tendon comes from a muscle in the forearm that passes through the palm and attaches to the finger bone.

When the muscle pulls on this tendon, the finger bends towards the palm.

A tendon sheath functions to protect the tendon.

Normally, as you bend and straighten a finger, the tendon slides easily in and out of the sheath. In trigger finger, the tendon can slide out of the sheath easily enough when you bend your finger.

However, it cannot slide back in easily (due to the swelling). The finger then remains bent.

The diagnosis of trigger finger is made almost exclusively by history and physical examination alone.

Around one in five cases will improve without any treatment. Simply resting the hand may resolve the problem without the need for treatment.

In certain cases, painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be used to reduce swelling.

For some, splinting by strapping the affected finger to a plastic splint can be utilised to relieve pain and aid recovery. Some people wear the splint just at night. Splinting may be required for at least six weeks.

On occasions, corticosteroid injections are used to reduce swelling, thereby relieving symptoms. The steroid is injected into the tendon, and it is combined with a local anaesthetic to make the injection painless.

In recalcitrant cases, surgery on the affected sheath is carried out. It involves making a 1-1.5cm incision in the palm to perform a "release".

This is a relatively minor procedure that is generally used when other treatments have failed.

The release can also be achieved with the use of a needle, without the necessity of undergoing a "formal" operation.

This is the percutaneous technique. Studies have shown that the percutaneous technique can be as effective and safe as the conventional open method of surgery.

Following surgery, results are noticed immediately. However, with an operation, there is a small risk of some numbness to the finger.

Do not delay seeking formal consultation and treatment. If it is not treated early, the affected finger could become permanently bent, which will make performing everyday tasks difficult.

Early cases can be treated successfully without surgery.

> For more information on trigger finger, visit www.quillorthopaedic.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Young decision-makers

Posted: 23 Feb 2013 05:21 PM PST

Children should be allowed to make some decisions in order to help them develop their sense of self. Find out how you can help your children develop some decision-making skills.

SHOULD I involve my child in decision-making? This question, perhaps, has lingered in the minds of many a parent. Popular culture sees decision-making in children differently. This culture insists that parents make decisions for their children; from what they eat and drink, to what they wear, watch, hear and play.

But did you know that decision-making is, in fact, a very important skill for children to learn, regardless of their age?

Your children can gain several benefits from making their own decisions. Decision-making will influence how they behave and get along with others, as well as shape them into the type of adult they become and the life paths they choose.

When children make good decisions, they will not only feel good, but also experience a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment because they have made those decisions.

On the other hand, if your children make bad decisions, then they may suffer for it, but also learn from the experience. This can help them make better decisions in the future.

So the question is, how can you, as a parent, help your children learn decision-making skills?

Starting the process

Giving your children some decision-making power should be done in stages, and is usually based on age, maturity and previous decision-making abilities.

It is dangerous to give your child complete freedom to make decisions.

Your children constantly make decisions, but you may be inadvertently interfering with this process by stepping in to "correct" them to ensure a good result. This is entirely normal as you do not want your child to fail or suffer embarrassment.

However, the time will come when your child will need to make his/her own decisions and you will not be available for him/her to consult. It is with this moment in mind that you should start training your child to make his/her own decisions now.

To help your children make decisions, you must first educate them about the decision-making process. It is hard to master decision-making, and many adults have not perfected this skill.

Start the process off with baby steps; first, help your child recognise when he/she has made a good or poor choice. When he/she snatched his/her sibling's toy and ran to his/her room with it, was that a good or bad choice? When your child decided to help you with gardening and helped you finish earlier, was that a poor or good choice?

Even better, involve your child when making decisions for the family (eg going on a holiday, buying an appliance for the house), especially if the decisions will also impact them. Try to get their opinion as this will help them build up their own self-confidence by contributing to the family's decision-making process.

Some tips

Here are a few ways to help your kids make decisions that are not impulsive, nor focused on immediate satisfaction:

1. Teach them to pause and think before leaping. A few seconds of thinking can prevent a lot of bad decisions.

Your child must also have an understanding about the issues at hand before he/she is ready to make any kind of decision. You should help and guide your child to identify and analyse the problem before coming up with possible options. Help your child to fully understand the issues at hand whenever he/she is faced with a decision-making dilemma, and then ask him/her how he/she thinks it can be solved.

2. Get them to ask themselves some key questions and evaluate their options. You will want your children to understand their options and decisions; so get them to ask themselves, "Why do I want to do this?" and "What are my options?"

Children often have different motivations and while they may know that doing something is silly, they may feel peer pressure or other reasons to do it anyway.

3. Evaluate the consequences. Get your children to then ask themselves, "What are the consequences of my actions?" or "How much trouble will I get in?"

Children need to weigh the risks and benefits of their decision, both in the short and long term.

4. Understand their decision. The most important question that children must ask themselves is, "Was my decision in my best interests?" Having these concerns, weighing competing options, and making a decision that is in their best interests, is the hallmark of a good decision-making process.

An easy way to remember how to approach the problem-solving and decision-making process is by doing it the IDEAL way:

·Identify the problem

·Describe possible options

·Evaluate every option (weigh the pros and cons)

·Act upon the best option available

·Learn from the experience whether the decision was good or bad

While children will not always make good decisions, they often like to be treated equally and be in control of certain things.

Breathing room

It is important to step back and let your kids choose freely as it is crucial for their development. Of course, you should not let that stop you from stepping in if your child's decision may lead to bodily harm. If there is a possibility of this happening, take back the reigns and make the choice for him/her.

Be sure that you take the opportunity to immediately discuss the reasons why you acted the way you did. In the future, there is a higher chance that your child will remember that his/her initial decision was unwise.

Learning to make consistently good decisions is a process that takes time, and no one can learn it overnight. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, you need to provide guidance to your child in order to help them become independent.

Location and situation

Most children don't do well in busy, chaotic surroundings, so it might be too much to expect your child to make reasoned, thoughtful decisions in such a scenario. Your child will be exposed to stimuli that he/she is not used to, and therefore, have trouble dealing with.

Other than the settings and surroundings, you should also be aware of your own verbal and physical approach when asking your child to make a decision. Try getting down to your child's eye-level by sitting at the table or crouching to talk to him/her; be sure that your discussion is as calm as possible and avoid becoming over-reactive.

Learning from mistakes

More often than not, most parents tend to focus on pushing their children to make the "right" decision in the hopes of shielding them from disappointment.

However, it's important to bear in mind that sometimes, it's the bad decisions that will teach your child the most, provided you do not over-react with negative remarks, or ridicule or belittle him/her.

You should instead offer your support, encouragement and emphasise any valuable lessons that can be learnt by your child's failures and mistakes; also discuss with him/her on how he/she can bounce back in the wake of setbacks and failures by adopting the right approach.

Give him/her the opportunity to discover things through trial and error. This will help your child feel empowered, so that he/she will be better prepared for all the bigger decisions ahead of them.

It is up to parents to guide and help their children develop good decision-making skills and grow up to become independent, responsible, and happy adults.

> Associate Professor Dr M. Swamenathan is a consultant psychiatrist. This article is a courtesy of Malaysian Paediatric Association's Positive Parenting Programme. The opinions expressed in the article are the view of the author. For further information, please visit www.mypositiveparenting.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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