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The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Mexico's ruling party opens door to tax, energy changes

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 08:33 PM PST

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party paved the way on Saturday for possible tax hikes and an overhaul of state oil giant Pemex as it seeks to spur growth in Latin America's second-biggest economy.

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto looks on during Flag Day celebrations at Campo Marte in Mexico City February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Bernardo Montoya

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto looks on during Flag Day celebrations at Campo Marte in Mexico City February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Bernardo Montoya

PRI delegates at a congress in Mexico City voted to change the party's position on refusing to consider the imposition of a value-added tax on food and medicine, and giving the party scope to open up Pemex to more private capital.

President Enrique Pena Nieto wanted the changes, which run contrary to many old tenets of the PRI, so he would have more room to manoeuvre in boosting Mexico's low tax take and revamping its flagging oil industry.

PRI Congressman Javier Trevino said the changes would allow Mexico to modernize its tax system and energy sector, and give it a chance to devote more resources to helping the poor.

"This is a good signal," he said, adding the modifications would allow the PRI to push for constitutional changes to entice foreign investors to the energy sector.

The centrist PRI lacks a majority in Congress, and is likely to face months of tough negotiation before it can lay out detailed plans on tax and energy reform. Those measures are expected to be presented in the second half of this year.

No party has had a majority in Congress since 1997, hindering efforts to enact major change on tax and energy law.

But Pena Nieto surprised many critics when he unveiled a broad pact with the main opposition parties to work together on economic reform shortly after he took office in December.

PRI financial experts are looking at ways of raising the Mexican tax take - currently the lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as a proportion of gross domestic product - by up to 6 points of GDP.

Applying VAT to food and medicine is controversial because the burden would fall most heavily on the poor, about half the country's population. PRI lawmakers say a large chunk of any additional revenue generated must go toward helping the poor.

One option under discussion is applying a reduced rate of VAT on food and medicine. But even if the full rate of 16 percent were levied, it would only boost the tax take by about 1 percentage point of GDP.


In its revised platform, the PRI agreed the state would remain in control of Mexico's energy resources. But it added a section saying it would "design mechanisms to generate greater private-sector participation in energy production."

"But this isn't giving oil to foreigners," said Eduardo Bernal, a PRI delegate at the congress.

Cutting fiscal loopholes, getting the millions of workers in the underground economy - nearly a third of the labour force - to pay taxes and improving states' tax-raising ability are among the measures the government is weighing to increase revenues.

The PRI, which ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000 before regaining power last year, blocked efforts by the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, to extend the VAT to food and medicine during the previous 12 years.

Since the party recaptured the presidency, its leadership has made the case for sweeping change to bolster the economy, which underperformed its main regional peers under the PAN, growing about 2 percent annually for most of the past decade.

Overhauling Pemex, a symbol of Mexican self-reliance that provides a third of the federal tax haul, is particularly sensitive for the PRI, which created the company when President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the oil industry in 1938.

Output of crude has slumped to less than 2.6 million barrels a day from 3.4 million in 2004, and lawmakers worry the oil industry will be left behind unless it can improve performance.

"We plan an energy reform that mulls an opening in areas where we don't have the capacity to do it, so Pemex can make alliances with private capital," said Marco Bernal of the PRI, head of the energy committee in the lower house of Congress.

Pena Nieto aims to make the monopoly more efficient and more independent. He has taken inspiration from Brazil's state-controlled oil firm, Petrobras, part of which has been publicly listed, and said in January the two might pursue joint projects.

But he has had to defend his administration from accusations he plans to privatize the oil industry.

(Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Xavier Briand and Peter Cooney)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Recovery effort ends for Florida man presumed dead in sinkhole

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 07:26 PM PST

SEFFNER, Florida (Reuters) - Florida rescue workers ended their efforts on Saturday to recover the body of a man who disappeared into a sinkhole that swallowed his bedroom while he slept and will demolish the suburban Tampa home due to its dangerous conditions, a rescue spokeswoman said.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies secure the scene surrounding a home where a sinkhole opened up and swallowed a man in Seffner, Florida, March 1, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Blanco

Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies secure the scene surrounding a home where a sinkhole opened up and swallowed a man in Seffner, Florida, March 1, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Blanco

Two nearby houses have been evacuated because the sinkhole has weakened the ground under them, and their residents probably will never be allowed inside again, said Jessica Damico of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

Jeff Bush, a 36-year-old landscaper, is presumed dead after vanishing into the sinkhole that opened suddenly beneath his room on Thursday night. Five other people in the house were getting ready for bed when they heard a loud crash and Jeff screaming.

His brother was rescued after jumping into the hole and furiously digging in an effort to find him.

Authorities used listening devices and cameras at the scene of the 30-foot (9-meter) wide hole in the ground but detected no signs of life.

"There's nothing compatible with life in this situation," Damico said. "There's no way of possible survival."

She said demolition of the home would begin early on Sunday.

"Our data has come back, and there is absolutely no way we can do any kind of recovery without endangering lives of workers," she said.

Jeff Bush's brother, 35-year-old Jeremy Bush, feared earlier on Saturday that his brother was lost forever. A small memorial of balloons and flowers for Jeff Bush had formed near the home on Saturday morning.

"I thank the Lord for not taking my daughter and the rest of my family," said Jeremy, who worked with his brother in landscaping.


Jeremy himself was rescued from the sinkhole by the first responder to the emergency call, Douglas Duvall of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. When Duvall entered Jeff Bush's bedroom, he saw a widening chasm but no sign of Jeff.

"The hole took the entire bedroom," said Duvall. "You could see the bed frame, the dresser, everything was sinking."

Norman Wicker, 48, the father of Jeremy's fiancée who also lived in the house, said "it sounded like a car ran into the back of the house."

Damico said the hole would be stabilized after the house is demolished to ensure the safety of the surrounding area. However, the residents of two neighbouring homes who were forced to evacuate are unlikely to return, she said.

Soil samples showed the sinkhole had compromised the ground beneath the homes, engineers and public safety officials said on Saturday.

The residents of those houses were allowed 20 to 30 minutes in their homes on Saturday to gather belongings. Fire-fighters and residents formed an assembly line to move items out of the houses and into SUVs and trucks.

"They'll most likely never be allowed back in their houses," Damico said.

Before demolishing the home where Jeff Bush lived, workers will try to move part of it to a safe space on the sidewalk to let family members retrieve some heirlooms and personal belongings on Sunday, she said.

The risk of sinkholes is common in Florida due to the state's porous geological bedrock, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

As rainwater filters down into the ground, it dissolves the rock, causing erosion that can lead to underground caverns, which cause sinkholes when they collapse.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Xavier Briand)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

A push for change in China as new leaders take the helm

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 06:38 PM PST

YUANGUDUI, China (Reuters) - For Chen Qiuyang, the new Chinese leadership that formally takes over this month can radically improve her life by doing just one thing: providing running water in her village in a remote corner of the northwestern province of Gansu.

Mao Xinyu (C), grandson of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, is surrounded by journalists as he arrives at the Great Hall of the People to attend a pre-session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing, March 2, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Mao Xinyu (C), grandson of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, is surrounded by journalists as he arrives at the Great Hall of the People to attend a pre-session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing, March 2, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

"We have to carry water from the well on our shoulders several times day. It's exhausting," Chen, who looked older than her 28 years, said in Yuangudui village, resting on a stool outside her home after completing another trip to the well.

Communist Party chief Xi Jinping takes over as China's new president during the annual meeting of parliament beginning on Tuesday and bridging the widening income gap in the vast nation is one of his foremost challenges.

Xi has effectively been running China since assuming leadership of the party and military - where real power lies - in November, and has already projected a more relaxed, softer image than his stern predecessor Hu Jintao.

But there will be pressure on him to tackle problems accumulated during Hu's era like inequality and pervasive corruption, which have given rise to often violent outbursts in the world's second-biggest economy, sending shivers through the party.

Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao will likely address these issues in his last "state of the nation" report at the National People's Congress to nearly 3,000 delegates, whose ranks include CEOs, generals, political leaders and Tibetan monks - as well as some of China's richest businessmen.

China now has 317 billionaires, a fifth of the total number in the world, and is on track to overtake the United States as the largest luxury car market by 2016.

Yet the United Nations says 13 percent of China's 1.3 billion population, or about 170 million people, still live on less than $1.25 a day.

While parliament is a regimented show of unity that affirms rather than criticises policies, income redistribution is likely to be a hot topic, along with other issues like ministry restructuring, corruption and the environment.

In January, the State Council, or cabinet, issued a new fiscal framework designed to make rich individuals and state corporations contribute more to government coffers and strengthen a social security net for those at the bottom.

But tackling China's wealth gap will need more than just taxes. Analysts say state-owned enterprises will have to be privatised and the household registration, or hukou, system that prevents migrants from enjoying the benefits of urban citizens, will have to be dismantled.

"Fiscal reforms and changes to let private firms advance and the state retreat will decide whether this round of reforms can succeed," said Xia Bin, an economist at the cabinet think-tank Development Research Centre and a former central bank adviser.

"There is definitely no way out," he wrote in the latest edition of China Finance, a magazine published by the central bank.


Many groups have said they will make sure that message is heard at the parliament, even though the session typically acts more as a talking shop for decisions already made by the party rather than approving new laws. On its closing day it will formally vote in Xi as the new president and Li Keqiang as new premier.

A group of private businessmen will meet on the sidelines to push for privatisation of state firms, which they view as a "vital second round of reforms", according to a person knowledgeable about their plans.

A separate forum for private steel producers will air grievances about preferential loan access for state firms, even though the state firms were less profitable than their more flexible cousins in last year's volatile steel market.

The champions of the private sector argue that private firms generate nearly 60 percent of China's economic growth and 75 percent of jobs.

Favouring state firms that thrive on political connections rather than market discipline skews the economy, undermining future competitiveness, they say.

Some export-oriented companies have ceased manufacturing and are simply speculating in property or the grey finance market.

"Private firms are having a hard time," said Xu Qing, general manager of Zhongbohong Urban Development Co, a unit of privately owned property and investment firm Boao Hungkai Enterprise Group in Guangzhou.

"I believe top leaders have seen the problems and I'm cautiously optimistic about reforms."

Without reforms, China is at risk of falling into the "middle income trap" after three decades of breakneck growth, the World Bank warned last year.

Growth in the world's second-biggest economy slowed in 2012 to a 13-year low, albeit at a 7.8 percent rate that is the envy of other major economies.

The annual economic growth target is likely to be set at 7.5 percent for this year, the same as in 2012.

Many analysts believe China's growth will be nearer 5 percent than 10 percent by the end of this decade without reform, making it even harder to tackle the gap between the rich and the poor.


China's Gini co-efficient, a measure of social inequality, stands at 0.474 according to official estimates, well above the 0.4 level that analysts view as the point at which social tensions may come to a head.

A 0 score on the Gini scale denotes perfect equality and 1.0 complete inequality.

For now, such statistics are a long way from Yuangudui, where government support boils down to repaving rutted roads, building latrines and subsidising planting of potatoes, a cash crop.

But the villagers are fully conscious of the inequality plaguing China, even if some of them had never heard of Xi Jinping before he showed up last month on a visit.

Most young people have left for the provincial capital of Lanzhou, where they can make 1,000 yuan ($160) a month as construction workers, far more than the income from farming.

"The rich get richer while we in the village are getting poorer," said Guo Lianying, 32, holding out his hands to symbolise the growing gap.

"This is a problem the general secretary has to solve," he added, using Xi's formal title as Communist Party boss.

($1 = 6.2273 Chinese yuan)

(Writing and additional reporting by Kevin Yao and Lucy Hornby; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters


The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Right on the mark

Posted: 03 Mar 2013 03:15 AM PST

With Arrow, hooded vigilante Green Arrow has become the coolest hero on TV.

COMIC book aficionados will know the long history of Green Arrow, a character created by Mort Weisinger and designed by George Papp, who emerged during the Golden Age of DC Comics in the 1940s (along with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash and Aquaman).

The story of Green Arrow and his alter ego Oliver Queen has changed drastically over the years: in the earliest version, Queen was a famous archaeologist specialising in native American culture who would wield his bow and arrow to fight criminals who came to rob him of his precious artifacts.

In later versions, Queen is a billionaire businessman (also a playboy) in Star City who is stranded on an island after falling off a cruise ship. He learns to survive by any means and builds himself a makeshift bow and arrow. When he eventually gets back to Star City, he realises that he can use his skills to fight crime and protect the city from criminals.

Though the character has featured in a number of animated TV series and movies (like the animated series Justice League Unlimited, Young Justice, The Batman and Batman: The Brave And The Bold) and had a significant recurring role in the later seasons of live-action series Smallville, Green Arrow has largely stayed in the comic book realm.

But his name and fame are set to spread beyond the medium, thanks to the new TV series Arrow developed by Greg Berlanti (Green Lantern, Brothers And Sisters), Marc Guggenheim (Flash Forward, Eli Stone) and Andrew Kreisberg (Warehouse, The Vampire Diaries).

In his latest incarnation, Oliver Queen (portrayed by Canadian actor Stephen Amell) returns home to Starling City after being presumed dead for five years following a shipwreck that killed his father and his ex-girlfriend's sister (they don't call Oliver a playboy for nothing).

He is welcomed home by his mother Moira (Susanna Thompson), stepfather Walter (Colin Salmon) who used to be his father's good friend, sister Thea (Willa Holland) and best friend Tommy (Colin Donnell), who pretty soon realise that Oliver isn't quite the same person he was five years ago.

Noticing his badly scarred body, they ask him repeatedly what happened to him on the island but Oliver refuses to talk about his experience, except to say that it was traumatic. The audience, however, gets to see the real story unfold through flashback sequences in every episode. We learn very quickly that the island Oliver was stranded on was fraught with danger; to survive, he had to fight for his life and, if necessary, kill.

We will see how he is rescued by a mysterious stranger (who we later come to know as Yao Fei) who teaches him the art of survival. The flashbacks not only fill in the back story of Oliver's "missing years", but are also relevant to his present-day dealings in each episode.

His stay on the island has transformed Oliver and he returns not only an expert archer and martial arts exponent (with killer six-pack abs and a chiselled body – oh, boy!) but a vigilante, bent on cleaning up his city of criminals, namely a list of people in the criminal underworld that his father handed him just before he died (the two had a moment where the old man came clean to his son about his own wrongdoings, and asked him to help right those wrongs by taking down the people on the list).

So begins Oliver's crusade: in the day he resumes his old persona of the entitled billionaire playboy, but at night, he puts on his hood and assumes the persona of Arrow, the vigilante archer.

(Incidentally, the character retains the essence of the costume worn by the original comic book character: a green hooded costume quite like that of Robin Hood, albeit with a little edge).

The show, however, isn't just a chronicle of the Arrow's "takedown of the week", although he does cross a name off his list in almost every episode. As the show develops, Oliver discovers that there's more to the list than meets the eye, and the people he thought he knew and loved may not be who they claim to be.

And so we have a deeply conflicted and damaged superhero, much like how Batman is portrayed in the Christopher Nolan movie trilogy (which is not a bad way to go, if references have to be made).

In a recent interview with, creators and show runners Guggenheim and Kreisberg shared their vision for the superhero.

"If you look at the history of comic book characters on television, the series that have had the most success are the ones that hue a little closer to the street-level superhero than the more cosmic-level superheroes," Guggenheim says.

Kreisberg adds: "We want everybody to like this show. If you've never picked up a comic book, you have no idea who the Green Arrow is and you have no idea what DC Comics is, you can watch the show and really enjoy it.

"And yet, if you are a huge fan of comics and Green Arrow, you will see enough DNA from the comic books and enough of what makes the comic books special. Much to our delight and surprise, we feel like we've found this magical formula that lets new people come in, and yet also pays homage to the people who've been fans forever."

The two have obviously played their cards right.

And, after a successful first season in the United States, the series pulled in the highest ratings for the CW network with over four million viewers tuning in for the pilot (which was directed with David Nutter who has worked on Game Of Thrones, Smallville and Supernatural among others). When the pilot of the series was screened at Comic-Con last year, it received a nod of approval from fans who, according to reports, applauded at the end of the episode after a particular tense fight scene.

Now, if that's not a validation, what is?

Arrow premieres on Warner TV (HyppTV Ch 162) on March 11.

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Mann of action

Posted: 03 Mar 2013 12:56 AM PST

AS Oliver Queen's sensei on the deserted island in Arrow, Byron Mann's character Yao Fei never cracks a smile. In fact, he seldom looks anything but stern. He is extremely fit and ridiculously rugged, but hardly opens his mouth, speaking only when necessary.

As Mann walks into the interview room at the HyppTV offices in Kuala Lumpur, it feels like he is still in character. Although there is none of that ruggedness (no sign of Yao Fei's beard or long hair), he appears very serious as he extends his hand.

"Hello," he says, "I'm Byron."

A man of a few words, like his character perhaps?

"Well Yao Fei actually will smile," says Mann with a laugh, when asked about his character's sullenness and if they share any similar personality traits.

"You'll see. Yao Fei is so mysterious ... I'm still getting to know him myself, but there are different sides to him."

Mann confesses that he knew very little about his character when he agreed to take on the role literally days before the series began shooting.

"I was actually shooting an episode of Nikita in Toronto, Canada when I got the call. I've worked with the casting directors of the show before and when they called to offer me the role, they didn't even have a name for the character. They had very few details about him. I mean ... I got the call on Saturday and they were set to begin filming on Tuesday.

"So I called producer Mark Guggenheim and asked him to tell me a little about this character and asked what the role was, and he said all he could tell me was that he was an integral part of the development of Oliver Queen (while he is) on the island.

"That was pretty much it. There was no back story and the character begins to unfold as the episodes progress so, really, I am as surprised as you (will be), at the development of the character," says Mann.

Having acted mainly in films (including Street Fighter, Crying Freeman, The Man With The Iron Fists), Mann admits that it was a little difficult "going in blind", not knowing too much about his character.

"In films, you have to know everything there is to know about your character ... right down to where he went to school when he was three years old. That kind of detail, you know. But I guess this is prime time television for you, as I am beginning to find out. Especially on a show like this where there are twists and turns and a lot of mystery ... I think not even the writers know the full story.

"They get a lot of notes from the network and there are a lot of people weighing in on the show so changes happen all the time, at the last minute. Like, I'll be reading a draft of the script where a character appears in the scene with me and we do a lot of things together and in the next draft, he is gone! How do I deal with it?

"Let me tell you my Glenn Close story. I have a friend who worked with Glenn Close on Damages and he told me that she had the same problem. At a certain point, she didn't know what was going on and there was just no time ... the episode was about to shoot and she had no access to the information about her character. What did she do? She picked a motivation ... she just picked a scenario and played that out, hoping that it would be the right choice. And, if it wasn't? Well, it wouldn't be her fault because she didn't get the information," he says.

In Mann's mind, Yao Fei is a survivalist.

"He's an expert archer and a survivalist. He is an animal in the purest sense. He has been on the island for a while and though we are not exactly sure why or how he came there, I think he wants to get out. The story gets more convoluted as it evolves. There are many people on the island ... military-type people that mean him harm and he is using Oliver to help him survive and ultimately, escape," Mann conjectures.

The story of Oliver and his alter ego, the hooded vigilante Arrow, unfolds in two distinct stories: the present-day drama of Oliver Queen after he returns to Starling City and assumes this secret identity as the hooded vigilante; and the back story of his time on the island, surviving against the odds. Yao Fei features in the back story, which is told through flashbacks.

With his action background and knowledge of martial arts, Mann does many of the action sequences (and there are plenty) in Arrow himself. As does his co-star, Stephen Amell. However, archery was something new to both actors.

"I didn't know how to work a bow and arrow. I had to be trained. I mean again ... It was a Monday and on Wednesday we were shooting a scene where I teach Oliver Queen how to shoot. I make a call to the producers and say, 'Hey guys, you have to show me how to do this'. And they go, 'You don't know how to shoot a bow and arrow?' And I said, 'Not really, no'. I mean, who shoots a bow and arrow, really?

"So a couple of hours later, they took me to this archery place and I was trained by a woman who represented Canada at the Olympics. It was a crash course but each time there is any archery being filmed, she is there on set.

"There is a lot of technique and form and posture related to shooting a bow and arrow. You have to get it right, otherwise the arrow will not go straight and you end up hurting yourself. For example, when shooting, your left arm – the one holding the bow – cannot be completely straight or when the string snaps back, it will hit your arm and it is very painful. Both Stephen (Amell) and I have been hit many times," he says.

Both Amell and Mann are actually working the bow in their scenes. With hours of training under their belt, the actors do the draw and release of the bow while the arrows are added in later via CGI.

"It would be too dangerous to actually have us shoot the arrows. We would have shot the producers for sure. No ... not on purpose," he says, laughing.

The very believable action sequences and layered, intricate stories of each episode are what Mann has come to like about the show.

"It is a very ambitious show. They (producers) want action in every single episode and it's really good too. I've shot a lot of (it) and I'd say it's some of the best action scenes on TV. I mean, it's better than Dallas!

"But action takes a lot of time to shoot. Shooting two people talking in a scene is very quick ... with action, you have to shoot pieces, one at a time, so it takes a lot of time. And when we're trying to fit in a lot of great action in every single episode ... it takes more time. We are supposed to shoot an episode in eight days, but a lot of the time we go over and shoot for nine days or maybe 10.

"There was one fight sequence with Deathstroke (a character that is introduced in episode five) which we shot in an hour. It was the last scene of the day and, you know, the producers tell us we have one hour to get it done. And just like the question (about not shooting arrows), they asked us, 'You can't shoot in an hour?' and I was like, 'No, dude. It's hard'. But, we got it done," he shares.

Naturally, Mann is pleased that the series has been received well by both critics and fans (of both comic books and archery). He credits the success of the show to both the stellar writing as well as the mass appeal of the superhero genre in general.

"I think that everyone likes a good superhero story. My theory is that as long as you don't execute (it) poorly, it's going to be OK. And, if you execute it well like I think Arrow has, then you have a good chance of becoming very popular. The superhero complex exists in most of us. We all want to see a hero fighting for justice or correcting injustice, beating down the bad guy. It's a universal thing."

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Right on the mark
Win Arrow goodies!

Win Arrow goodies!

Posted: 03 Mar 2013 12:00 AM PST

HyppTV and Warner TV are giving away Arrow merchandise to lucky readers.

Fill in your personal details and answer the four questions below and you stand a chance to win Arrow Hoodies (Grand Prize, x 5), Arrow T-shirts (consolation prize, x 5), Arrow Mini Darts (x 10), as well as HyppTV pillows, pens, cotton bags, Warner TV folders, HyppTV laptop brush and Warner TV sticky notes (x 10 each).

Send your entries to Star2-HyppTV Arrow Contest, New Media, Level 41, South Wing, Menara TM, Jalan Pantai Baharu, 50672 Kuala Lumpur by March 18.

Please note that the distribution of prizes is at the sole discretion of HyppTV and no correspondence will be entertained.

Name: ................................................................................................................

Address: ................................................................................................................

I/C No: ................................................................................................................

Phone No: ................................................................................................................

E-mail: ................................................................................................................

1. What is the channel number for Warner TV on HyppTV? …………

2. The series Arrow is based on a comic book character. True or False? ....…………………………………………………………………………………....

3. Byron Mann plays the character Yao Fei in the series. True or False? ……………………………………………………………………………………....

4. Warner TV on HyppTV is my destination for world class entertainment simply because: …………………….…………………….…………………….…………………….…………………….…………………….…………….... …….…………………….… (complete slogan in not more than 20 words)

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Wariner, Jackson set up US Indoors 400 showdown

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 07:08 PM PST

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico: Three-time Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner and 2005 world outdoor champion Bershawn Jackson each won 400-meter heats on Saturday at the US Indoor Track and Field Championships.

Wariner, competing in the meet for the first time, was the fastest qualifier for Sunday's final in 46.40 seconds while Jackson was fourth overall in 47.36, setting up a showdown between the rivals in one of the meet's feature races.

Wariner, a five-time world champion, took Olympic 400 gold in 2004 at Athens and was part of two US 4x400 gold medal Olympic relays.

Jackson, who last claimed a US indoor crown in 2010, took bronze in the 2008 Olympic 400 hurdles.

Olympic bronze medalist Janay Deloach Soukup won her third consecutive US Indoor long jump title with a leap of 6.80 meters. She will also compete in the 60m hurdles on Sunday.

London Olympic decathlon silver medalist Trey Hardee failed to finish in his 60m hurdles heptathlon heat Saturday morning, ending the 2009 and 2011 world champion's US title bid.

World junior champion Gunnar Nixon took the US crown with 6,232 points, winning the 60 hurdles in 7.93 seconds after taking the long jump (7.42m) and high jump (2.14m) on Friday to beat Curtis beach by 337 points.

Reigning Olympic champion Jenn Suhr was favored to claim her seventh US Indoor title in a later competition.

Matthew Centrowitz, a 2012 US Olympian who was third in the 1,500 at the 2011 worlds, was fourth-fastest among six qualifiers for the 800m finals in 1:47.94.

Amber Campbell's six-year reign as US indoor women's weight throw champion was ended by Gwendolyn Berry, who effort of 24.70m left Campbell second at 23.68. - AFP

Gulbis outlasts Haas to reach Delray Beach final

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 07:05 PM PST

DELRAY BEACH, Florida: Latvian qualifier Ernests Gulbis outlasted German second seed Tommy Haas 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7/2) on Saturday to reach the final of the $455,775 ATP Delray Beach International Championship.

In a matchup of past Delray Beach champions, Haas squandered three break points in the 11th game of the third set. Gulbis won the last five points to hold for a 6-5 lead, then won six of the last seven points in the tie-breaker.

US top seed John Isner and France's Edouard Roger-Vasselin meet in the other semi-final to decide who will face 109th-ranked Gulbis in Sunday's title match.

Gulbis seeks his third ATP title at the same event where he won his first tour crown in 2010. His only other tour title came at Los Angeles in 2011, also on hardcourts.

Former World No. 2 Haas, ranked 90 spots ahead of Gulbis, was denied a chance at a 14th career title at the same event where he won the 2006 crown. Haas last won a hardcourt title in 2007 at Memphis.

Gulbis, 10 years younger than Haas at 24, split two prior matches with the German, winning a five-setter in the first round of last year's US Open after a 2009 loss on Spanish clay.

Gulbis lost his only prior match against 15th-ranked Isner in the first round at Wimbledon in 2008 and has never faced Roger-Vasselin, who seeks his first career ATP singles final.

Isner, who also has never played Roger-Vasselin, seeks his sixth career ATP title, having won at Winston-Salem and Newport each of the past two years and in Auckland in 2010. - AFP

Djokovic beats Berdych to win fourth Dubai Open

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 05:21 PM PST

DUBAI: Novak Djokovic won his fifth title in six tournaments and extended an unbeaten run to 18 matches as he clinched a fourth Dubai Open title with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Tomas Berdych on Saturday.

The world number one from Serbia underlined his pre-eminence in the world game with an athletically aggressive performance against the world number six from the Czech Republic, who knocked out Roger Federer, the titleholder, in the semi-finals.

Berdych had chances to take control of the first set after making the first break of serve, but missed three chances to consolidate it, and also narrowly failed to convert three crucial break points in the following game.

These moments suggested that the biggest difference between the two men is a mental one, something indicated again near the end when Djokovic coped with a time violation warning from the umpire as he was serving for the match.

Djokovic was clearly delighted to triumph in his first tournament since successfully defending the Australian Open title five weeks ago.

"To prevail like this and to be the last one standing is thrilling for me," he said of his 36th career title.

"It was a very close match and could have gone either way. It was never going to be an easy final because Tomas is a fantastic player. He's been on the tour a long time and is very experienced.

"He beat Federer in an incredible match," Djokovic added, referring to the three match points Berdych saved while halting the Grand Slam record-holder.

Djokovic also believes that his victory on Dubai's fast courts will stand him in good stead with the year's opening Masters event getting underway at Indian Wells next week.

"I haven't always been the player who loves to play on the fast, super-fast surfaces (like this one), but I'm happy because during the week I can also work on my aggressivity, coming into the net, using my serve better," he said.

"That's what I have done in this tournament and in particular over the years. I have been trying to work on a few things that can give me more variety in the game, and I can use that in the tournaments to come."

Djokovic's success on Saturday was also due to tactical prowess.

At times he provoked errors by subtlely making Berdych generate his own pace, and then increased his own pace or counter-attacked at well-timed moments.

There were certainly moments when it seemed that Berdych, a player sometimes troubled by tension, might get himself far enough in front to relax into overdrive.

He made the first break at 2-3, and having lost it in a game of four deuces, almost got another when he chiselled out three break points in the ninth game.

Had he converted any of these Berdych would have been serving for the set, but he missed his best chance at 30-40, with a forehand pulled wide, while Djokovic typically played two fine rallies on the others.

Djokovic also hung tough in the crises. Berdych, by contrast, was occasionally at his most fallible when it mattered most.

He allowed Djokovic's break back for 4-4 after sneaking himself into a great position to make a stolen volley, only to miss the shot. Then when he was serving to save the set at 5-6 he played his worst game of the match.

The second set hinged on a break at a psychologically damaging time. When Djokovic steepled up an enormous, but short lob and Berdych hammered it wide, it put the favourite 5-3 ahead and gave the underdog little time to repair the damage.

Although Berdych did get a break back point at 30-40, courtesy of a rare Djokovic double fault, the world number one played close to his best in four of the next five rallies, closing the match out.

"I gave everything yesterday and didn't have enough today," said Berdych. "And Novak deserved to win.

"Let's see how long this guy is going to be around here. I will try to work hard and come back and try to fight for the win." - AFP


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Buffett: Performance streak may end this year

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 05:21 AM PST

NEW YORK: Berkshire Hathaway may end a long streak of outperforming the S&P 500 this year, Chief Executive Warren Buffett warned shareholders on Friday, even as he said he was still eagerly hunting for acquisitions to grow the ice-cream-to-insurance conglomerate.

In his annual letter to investors, Buffett opened up with a caution that this year, for the first time, the growth in Berkshire's book value per share may underperform the growth in the S&P 500 when measured over a five-year period.

"To date, we've never had a five-year period of underperformance, having managed 43 times to surpass the S&P over such a stretch," he wrote. "But the S&P has now had gains in each of the last four years, outpacing us over that period. If the market continues to advance in 2013, our streak of five-year wins will end."

Buffett said he expects the growth in Berkshire's intrinsic business value will over time exceed the S&P's returns by small margins. But at the same time, he said the firm would continue to underperform in a strong market like this year.

Long-time Berkshire investors said they detected almost a sense of frustration in this year's letter.

"He's gotten away from some of the things that used to just matter to him so much," said Bill Smead, chief investment officer of Smead Capital Management in Seattle. "He has so much capital I don't think he can just rely on a stock portfolio the way he used to."

Just last month, Berkshire struck a deal to put $12 billion of that capital toward the $23 billion cash buyout of ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co. Buffett said he and vice chairman Charlie Munger were not done.

"But we still have plenty of cash and are generating more at a good clip. So it's back to work; Charlie and I have again donned our safari outfits and resumed our search for elephants," Buffett said in the annual letter.

Berkshire reported $47 billion of cash on hand at December 31. Backing out the Heinz deal, and even with Buffett's preferred $20 billion cash cushion intact, that would leave Berkshire at least $15 billion to spend.

Another long-term Buffett investor said he was perfectly content with Berkshire's returns precisely because of all that cash generation.

"It was an accurate assessment on his part in terms of performance, but I'll tell you as a shareholder I'm not terribly disappointed," said Michael Yoshikami, chief executive and chairman of the investment committee at Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California.

"We buy it because it's a cash flow oriented position. If I get outperformance it's a win."


Buffett did not hint at what sort of companies he would like to acquire, except note that one thing he will buy more of are newspapers.

Despite a years-long aversion to the business, Berkshire has of late been buying up papers in smaller communities across the country. Buffett said Friday he will continue to do so.

"At appropriate prices - and that means at a very low multiple of current earnings - we will purchase more papers of the type we like," he said. He also noted that Berkshire would keep buying papers even if they did not meet the firm's stated investment criteria for other companies, as long as the economics of any deal made sense.

Berkshire employs more than 288,000 people worldwide in dozens of business. Buffett serves as chairman, chief executive and chief investment officer. When he leaves, at least four people will replace him in those various roles.

Buffett's annual shareholder letter is one of the most closely read public statements by any investor or executive in corporate America. It often comes out early on a Saturday morning, and Buffett devotees have been known to set aside an entire weekend to read and digest it.

(It was released Friday night this time for scheduling reasons related to SEC filing deadlines).


Buffett also offered a lengthy treatise on the upside - and downside - of companies paying dividends to shareholders, by way of explaining why Berkshire would continue its policy of not paying one out.

Buffett devoted three full pages from the 24-page letter to explaining his philosophy. Destination Wealth's Yoshikami suggested that was a nod to the recent attention on companies like Apple Inc with huge cash piles.

"I think investors aren't necessarily clamoring for dividends, they just want clarity on what you're doing with your cash," he said.

Buffett, in his treatise, made the basic argument that Berkshire has always prioritized using cash to expand its businesses and will continue to do so, particularly if it can find blockbuster deals like the BNSF railroad.

"I have made plenty of mistakes in acquisitions and will make more. Overall, however, our record is satisfactory, which means that our shareholders are far wealthier today than they would be if the funds we used for acquisitions had instead been devoted to share repurchases or dividends," he wrote.

Buffett is asked every year at Berkshire's annual meeting in Omaha about a payout, and most investors have been content to accept his reasoning against one. Smead said he understood Buffett's position but said his philosophy was easier said than followed for most of the investing public.

"I'm a long-term Buffett fan and I don't agree because I know what happens in the lives of most investors and most investors need some cash flow from these wonderful companies that they own," he said.


Berkshire also reported earnings on Friday, posting a larger fourth-quarter profit on derivative gains.

The company posted a profit of $4.56 billion, or $2,757 per Class A share, compared with a profit of $3.05 billion or $1,846 per Class A share, a year earlier.

Year-end book value, Buffett's preferred measure of the stock's worth, rose 14 percent to $114,214 per share.

Earnings were boosted by $1.4 billion in derivative gains during the quarter. Berkshire has in the past sold derivatives to provide credit protection on corporate bonds, and also long-term puts on international stock indexes.

Buffett said Friday that Berkshire continues to wind down that portion of its portfolio, given an aversion to posting collateral if it took on new risks.

Berkshire reported 15 common stock investments that were worth $1 billion or more at year's end. For the first time, this year's list includes not only purchases by Buffett, but by Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, the investment managers Buffett brought in to help oversee Berkshire's portfolio.

Their one investment that met the threshold was the satellite TV operator DirecTV. Each man is now managing about $5 billion, Buffett said Friday.

"Todd and Ted are young and will be around to manage Berkshire's massive portfolio long after Charlie and I have left the scene. You can rest easy when they take over," he wrote. - Reuters


Yahoo to shut down seven products, including Blackberry app

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 05:18 AM PST

SAN FRANCISCO: Yahoo Inc is shutting down seven products, including its mobile app for Blackberry smartphones, as new Chief Executive Marissa Mayer takes a page from Google Inc's play book by eliminating unsuccessful products en-masse.

The product shutdowns, which Yahoo announced on its official company blog on Friday, are part of what the company said are regular efforts to evaluate and review its product line-up.

"The most critical question we ask is whether the experience is truly a daily habit that still resonates for all of you today," wrote Jay Rossiter, Yahoo's executive vice president of Platforms.

The announcement represents Yahoo's second group shutdown of products since Mayer, a former Google executive, became CEO of the struggling Web portal in July. So-called "spring cleaning" announcements, in which multiple products are shut down, have become a regular feature at Google in recent years.

Mayer signaled the company would prune its line-up of mobile apps at an investor conference last month, noting that Yahoo would reduce the 60 to 75 disparate mobile apps it currently has to a more manageable 12 to 15 apps.

Yahoo said its app for Blackberry smartphones would no longer be available for download, or supported by Yahoo, as of April 1.

Yahoo also said that on April 1 it will stop supporting Yahoo Avatars - the cartoon-like digital characters that consumers create to depict them on Web services such as Yahoo instant messenger and Facebook. Consumers who want to continue using their avatar on Yahoo's online services must download the avatar and then re-upload the information to their personalized Yahoo profile.

The other Yahoo products set to be terminated include Yahoo App Search, Yahoo Sports IQ, Yahoo Clues, the Yahoo Message Boards website and the Yahoo Updates API. - Reuters


With record highs in sight, US stocks face roadblocks

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 05:15 AM PST

NEW YORK: If Wall Street needs to climb a wall of worry, it will have plenty of opportunity next week.

Major U.S. stock indexes will make another attempt at reaching all-time records, but the fitful pace that has dominated trading is likely to continue. Next Friday's unemployment report and the hefty spending cuts that look like they about to take effect will be at the forefront.

The importance of whether equities can reach and sustain those highs is more than Wall Street's usual fixation on numbers with psychological significance. Breaking through to uncharted territory is seen as a test of investors' faith in the rally.

"It's very significant," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

"The thinking is, there's just not enough there for an extended bull run," he said. "If we do break through (record highs), then maybe the charts and price action are telling us there's something better ahead."

Flare-ups in the euro zone's sovereign debt crisis and next Friday's report on the U.S. labor market could jostle the market, though U.S. job indicators have generally been trending in a positive direction.

Small- and mid-cap stocks hit lifetime highs in February. Now the Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> and the S&P 500 <.spx> are racing each other to the top. The Dow, made up of 30 stocks, is about 75 points - less than 1 percent - away from its record close of 14,164.53, which it hit on October 9, 2007. The broader S&P is still 3 percent away from its closing high of 1,565.15, also reached on October 9, 2007.

The advantage may be in the Dow's court. So far in 2013, it has gained 7.5 percent, beating the S&P 500 by about 1 percent.


The Dow's relative strength owes much to its unique make-up and calculation, as well as to investors' recent preference for buying value stocks likely to generate steady reliable gains, rather than growth stocks.

But the more defensive stance illustrates how stock buyers are getting concerned about this year's rally. While investors don't want to miss out on gains, they're picking up companies that are less likely to decline as much as high-flying names - if a market correction comes.

The Russell Value Index <.rav> is up 7.6 percent for the year so far, outpacing the Russell Growth Index's <.rag> 5.7 percent rise. Within the realm of the S&P 500, the consumer staples sector led the market in February, gaining 3.1 percent.

There is some concern that growth-oriented names are being eclipsed by defensive bets, said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati.

"This isn't a be-all and end-all sell signal by any means, but we would feel much more comfortable if some of the more aggressive areas, like technology and small caps, would start to gain some leadership here," Detrick said.

Signs that investors are becoming concerned about the rally's pace is evident in the options market, where the ratio of put activity to call activity has recently shifted in favor of puts, which represent expectations for a stock to fall.

"We are seeing some put hedging in the financials, building up for the past month," said Henry Schwartz, president of options analytics firm Trade Alert in New York.

The put-to-call ratio representing an aggregate of about 562 financial stocks is 1:1, when normally, calls should be outnumbering puts.

Investors have no shortage of reasons to crave the relative safety of blue chips and defensive stocks. Although markets have mostly looked past uncertainty over Washington's plans to cut the deficit, fiscal policy negotiations still pose a risk to equities.

The $85 billion in spending cuts set to begin on Friday is expected to slow economic growth this year if policymakers do not reach a new deal. Markets so far have held firm despite the wrangling in Washington, but tangible economic effects could pinch stock prices going forward.

The International Monetary Fund warned that full implementation of the cuts would probably take at least 0.5 percentage point off U.S. growth this year.


Investors will also take in a round of economic data at a time when concerns are percolating that the market is being pushed up less by fundamentals and more by loose monetary policy around the world.

The main economic event will be Friday's non-farm payrolls report for February. The U.S. economy is expected to have added 160,000 jobs last month, only a tad higher than in January, in a sign the labor market is healing at a slow pace. The U.S. unemployment rate is forecast to hold steady at 7.9 percent.

While lackluster data has been a catalyst in the past for stock market gains as investors bet it would ensure continued stimulus from the Federal Reserve, that sentiment may be wearing thin.

Markets stumbled last week following worries that the Fed might wind down its quantitative easing program sooner than expected.

"It shows the underpinning of the market is being driven at this point by monetary policy," Hellwig said.

With investors questioning what is behind the rally, it will make a run to record highs even more significant, Hellwig added.

"There's smart people that are in the bull camp and the bear camp and the muddle-through camp," Hellwig said. "The fact that you can statistically, using historical evidence, make a case for going higher, lower, or staying the same makes this number very important this time around." - Reuters


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Another policeman killed in shootout with intruders in Semporna

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 09:35 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Another member of the Malaysian security forces has been killed, this time in a firefight with armed intruders in Kampung Selamat, Semporna, about 150km from Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, Sabah.

According to a police source, another policeman was also injured in the firefight which began at 8pm Saturday.

Lahad Datu and Tawau Police Special Investigation Divisions have been deployed to the scene.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar, when contacted, confirmed the incident but refused to comment further.

On Friday, two VAT 69 police commandos were killed, while three others were injured in a shootout with the armed intruders in Kampung Tandou.

Twelve of the armed intruders were also killed. - Bernama

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Sabah police chief: Two cops shot in shootout with gunmen in Kg Simunul

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 07:17 AM PST

LAHAD DATU: Two policemen were shot and injured during a shootout with gunmen at Kg Simunul island at 7pm on Saturday.

Sabah police chief Datuk Hamzah Taib said late Saturday that a team of policeman had gone to the island in search of several personalities' following reports that they were in possession of firearms.

"The policemen entered the village and were walking on the stilt boardwalk when they were fired upon and two of our men were injured," Hamzah said as fear gripped people in Sempoorna and Tawau that a group of gunmen had attacked security forces.

He said there were about 10 gunmen.

Hamzah said that follow-up operations are ongoing.

"For now, we believe it is unrelated to the situation in Lahad Datu," he said.

He denied that any police station had been attacked.

The situation is tense in the east coast of Sabah after Malaysian security forces clashed with Sulu gunmen near Lahad Datu on Friday, leaving two police commandos and 12 gunmen dead.

Gunmen will maintain position, want peaceful resolution, says Sulu Sultan spokesman

Posted: 02 Mar 2013 04:12 AM PST

PETALING JAYA: The self-styled Sulu Royal Army will maintain its position and is still hopeful of a peaceful conclusion to the recent stand-off, said Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for the Sultanate of Sulu, said Saturday.

Idjirani, who is also secretary-general of the Sultanate, said that the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, still wanted to discuss the issue of their perceived territorial claim to Sabah.

"We will sit down and plan it out, he is still hopeful for peaceful negotiations," he told The Star in a phone interview from Manila.

"As for the Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, his wife says he is alive and well," he said.

Azzimudie is leading the group of 200-odd gunmen who are holed up in Tanduo.

Idjirani said he had not been in contact with Azzimudie since the skirmish Friday, a fact corroborated by The Star whose numerous calls to the would-be Raja Muda have not connected.

"But it is clear that he and his men were caught by surprise - there was a strike attack by the Malaysian forces," he said, maintaining that Malaysian security forces had shot first.

He dismissed claims that the gunmen had lured Malaysian forces into the blockaded village by waving a white flag as a sign of surrender.

"It is clear that the Malaysian Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) gave full powers and responsibility to the armed forces, who then staged this assault."

Idjirani also said he knew nothing about Najib's discussion with Phillippine President Benigno Aquino III.

"We are not aware of this."


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Jackie Chan's China appointment draws Hong Kong ire

Posted: 01 Mar 2013 08:35 PM PST

HONG KONG: Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan this week joins China's top political advisory body in a move analysts say highlights Beijing's growing "soft power" efforts to project unity between itself and the former British colony.

But the 58-year-old actor, famous in the West for "Rush Hour" and "Police Story", faces a backlash in his hometown where the mainland is viewed with increasing suspicion.

According to professor Sonny Ho, co-director at the Centre for Greater China Studies, Chan was selected to appear at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) because his stardom could help promote ties.

"Jackie Chan is acting under the soft power and united front of the PRC (mainland) government," he said. The "united front" strategy, he said, was a campaign to promote a strong and peaceful homeland, unified with Taiwan.

China's growing clout over the past decade has seen actors from Hong Kong and Macau drafted into patriotic movies that glorify the country's past, from the mighty Han Dynasty to the early Communist Party era, Ho added.

The appointment of the martial arts star however was met with derision online in Hong Kong where Chan's reputation has taken a nosedive in recent years over his pro-Beijing stances such as calling for limits on the right to protest.

Dissatisfaction towards Beijing has risen in recent years over a range of issues from alleged political interference to an influx of mainlanders blamed for driving up property prices and for shortages of baby formula.

The announcement of Chan's appointment was greeted with online derision.

"Yet another movie star turns into a CPPCC member. Since when did this negative social trend become so popular?" one user posted on the Sina Weibo microblog site.

"Sure, add another big dope to a veritable congregation of big dopes," 'ianson' commented on the website of the South China Morning Post newspaper.

The CPPCC is a 2,000-strong advisory body which includes China's other token political parties and a few celebrities, including former NBA basketball star Yao Ming.

The conference, which convenes on Sunday, functions as a high-profile organisation but it is more toothless than China's essentially rubber-stamp legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), which opens its annual session on Tuesday.

However the NPC, with nearly 3,000 delegates, has a higher profile this year as it will confirm the completion of China's once-a-decade power transfer. At the meeting, new Communist Party boss Xi Jinping will be installed as Chinese president, taking over from Hu Jintao.

Chan, who is known for his martial arts skills and daring comedic stunt work, provoked a furious fight-back last December after reportedly suggesting in a Chinese magazine interview that protests in his native city should be restricted.

And in 2009, he landed in hot water for telling a forum that "we Chinese need to be controlled".

Pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmaker Emily Lau said his appointment was more evidence that Beijing was not prepared to take the city's concerns seriously.

"Maybe he represents a certain segment of the population but he has also upset quite a number of people. So if Beijing decides to appoint him, it shows you what kind of views they want to listen to, which is quite unfortunate."

But while increasing numbers of entertainers have allowed themselves to be co-opted by Beijing, Lau was not hopeful many would be willing to voice dissent.

"The last time Hong Kong artists came together was on June 4, 1989 (after the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protests)," she said.

"Now, many of them are very frightened of upsetting Beijing. The mainland is also now the biggest market so they cannot afford to let go of those commercial opportunities." - AFP

Richard Burton immortalized in Hollywood next to Taylor

Posted: 01 Mar 2013 07:36 PM PST

LOS ANGELES - British actor Richard Burton finally received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next to that of his two-time wife, Elizabeth Taylor, on Friday, nearly 30 years after his death.

Welsh-born Burton, who died in 1984, received the career honor as part of the 50th anniversary of ancient Egypt movie drama "Cleopatra," in which he and co-star Taylor began their storied and tumultuous love affair.

The couple's adopted daughter, Maria Burton, accepted the honor of the iconic terrazzo and brass star along Hollywood Boulevard in the historical heart of the U.S. film industry.

Burton was nominated for an Oscar seven times between 1953 and 1978 but never won the prize.

Actor and fellow Welshman Michael Sheen spoke at the unveiling and recalled the awe he felt when Burton and Taylor, one of Hollywood's most famous couples, visited the village where Sheen grew up.

"The same beach that I built my boyhood sand castles (on) and learned to flailingly swim - it was that same beach, that one legendary day, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor descended from the heavens, like gods from Olympus, in a helicopter ... and landed on those sands," Sheen said.

"They stepped out swathed in luxurious fur coats - it was the '70s - and walked among us for too short a time," he added.

Burton, whose star is the 2,941th installed, starred in 11 films with Taylor, including "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in 1966 and "The Taming of the Shrew" in 1967.

The couple's scandalous love affair during 1964's "Cleopatra" was made into a U.S. television movie "Liz & Dick," starring Lindsay Lohan, last year.

Burton and Taylor wed for the first time in 1964 and divorced in 1974. They remarried the following year, but that marriage lasted just nine months.

Burton, who was born Richard Jenkins, was married five times and died in 1984 from a cerebral hemorrhage at age 58. Taylor, who married eight times, died in 2011 at age 79. - Reuters

Final movie in 'Hobbit' trilogy moves to December 2014

Posted: 01 Mar 2013 04:30 PM PST

The final installment of "The Hobbit" film trilogy will be released on December 17, 2014, five months later than planned, Warner Bros. said on Thursday.

"The Hobbit: There and Back Again" had been set to debut in July 2014. It will follow "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which came out in December 2012, and "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," is scheduled to be released on December 13, 2013.

"We're excited to complete the trilogy the same way we started it, as a holiday treat for moviegoers everywhere," said Dan Fellman, president of distribution for Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc .

"The Hobbit" series is a prequel to J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy "The Lord of the Rings," which director Peter Jackson made into three Oscar-winning films about a decade ago.

The first "Hobbit" film was a blockbuster with global sales of $981 million, according to the Box Office Mojo website. The trilogy is financed by Warner Bros. New Line Cinema and MGM. - Reuters


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