Selasa, 19 Mac 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Al Qaeda in Africa says it beheads French hostage - agency

Posted: 19 Mar 2013 08:29 PM PDT

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's wing in north Africa said it had beheaded a French hostage in retaliation for France's intervention in Mali, Mauritania's ANI news agency reported on Tuesday, citing a spokesman for the group.

In what ANI reported was a telephone call to the agency, which has close links to Islamist militants, the commander said Philippe Verdon had been beheaded on March 10 "in response to the French military intervention in the north of Mali", ANI reported.

The death, if proved true, would be a worrying development for Paris, which still has some 14 hostages held in West Africa, including seven in the Sahel by AQIM and its affiliates.

French President Francois Hollande in part justified military action in Mali to prevent the north from being used as a launch pad for terror attacks in Africa and in the West.

Verdon, a French geologist, was captured in the northern Mali town of Hombori in November 2011. A French foreign ministry spokesman said he had no information on the report.

One of AQIM's leaders, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, had pledged revenge after France launched a campaign in January to dislodge the group and other Islamist militants who had hijacked a Tuareg rebellion in the Sahel nation and seized the northern half of the country.

After driving them from the main cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in a swift, nine-week assault, some 1,600 French and Chadian troops began searching for Islamist rebels in their pocket hideouts in the mountainous region of northern Mali.

The AQIM spokesman, who identified himself only as Qayrawani, described Verdon as a French spy, adding that Hollande "bore the responsibility for the remaining hostages".

ANI's director Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Aboulmaaly told Reuters he knew Qayrawani, an AQIM commander who according to him, is of Tuareg origin, had called him from Mali.

When asked by the agency whether Belmokhtar had been killed, he neither denied nor confirmed it. There have been conflicting reports on whether Belmokhtar was killed in the French military campaign against the rebels.


The possible death of Belmokhtar and another AQIM leader Abou Zeid has raised questions about the fate of eight French hostages held by al Qaeda in the Sahel.

The families of four French hostages seized in Niger in September 2010 appealed to Paris earlier this month to open negotiations with AQIM.

Belmokhtar sent a statement on January 20 to ANI after carrying out the In Amenas hostage taking in Algeria threatening to strike at the interests of all those involved in the Mali intervention.

AQIM has previously threatened to kill the hostages if France intervened militarily in Mali and has demanded a 90 million euro ($120.5 million) ransom for their release.

France's Le Monde newspaper this week reported that Paris had changed its policy with regard paying ransoms for hostages.

Citing a former hostage whose husband is still being held by AQIM, the paper said that Hollande had told them in January "it would be unthinkable to give money to groups we are at war with."

A rescue operation ordered by Hollande to free a French secret agent held hostage in Somalia since mid-2009 ended in failure in January after he was killed along with two commandos trying to rescue from al Qaeda-allied Somali militant group al Shabaab.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Michael Roddy and Jackie Frank)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Guatemala tries ex-dictator Rios Montt in landmark case

Posted: 19 Mar 2013 08:17 PM PDT

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt's defence team rejected charges he allowed the slaughter of civilians in Guatemala's civil war, as his country became the world's first to prosecute an ex-head of state for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt looks on in the Supreme Court of Justice during the first session of his trial in Guatemala City, March 19, 2013. The trial of Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity opened on Tuesday, the first time a country has prosecuted an ex-head of state in a national court on such charges. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt looks on in the Supreme Court of Justice during the first session of his trial in Guatemala City, March 19, 2013. The trial of Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity opened on Tuesday, the first time a country has prosecuted an ex-head of state in a national court on such charges. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

For decades, Rios Montt, 86, was not prosecuted for alleged atrocities committed during his 1982-1983 rule in a particularly bloody phase of the country's long civil war, protected as a congressman by a law that grants immunity to public officials.

Rios Montt, who left Congress last year, was finally ordered to stand trial in January when a judge found sufficient evidence linking him to the killing of more than 1,700 indigenous people in a counterinsurgency plan executed under his command.

Prosecutors allege Rios Montt turned a blind eye as soldiers used rape, torture and arson against leftist insurgents and targeted indigenous people in a "scorched earth" offensive that killed at least 1,771 members of the Mayan Ixil group.

The defence team had until now stalled the process with a series of appeals, arguing he did not control battlefield operations and that there was no genocide in Guatemala.

Rios Montt, who sat calmly listening to testimony through large earphones because of hearing problems, made it clear he would have little to say, on the first day of the trial.

"Whatever I say or don't say will be used against me," Rios Montt told reporters before the trial. "I have to keep quiet. I am staying quiet."

In opening statements, prosecutors argued that Rios Montt's government put indigenous people in concentration camps while employing rape and torture to terrify the population.

Nicolas Bernal, one of two eyewitnesses to testify for the prosecution, described the massacre of 35 men, women and children in the village of Nebaj in northwestern Guatemala in March 1982, just days after Rios Montt took power.

"Soldiers came and killed the ones who were working, the ones who didn't manage to escape," he said. "They took out these peoples' hearts, went to their homes and set fire to them."

Rios Montt's lawyer Francisco Garcia said he was innocent.

"We will demonstrate and you all will confirm that there was never a genocide in Guatemala. General Rios Montt is not guilty. He did not participate in the crimes that have been attributed to him," Garcia told the packed court.

In a bizarre twist, Garcia was later dismissed from the case by Chief Judge Iris Yasmin Barrios, citing Garcia's friendship with another judge on the panel. Other lawyers continued with Rios Montt's defence.

A prosecutor said that up to 130 victims and 75 experts are expected to testify during the trial, which is due to resume on Wednesday.


Roughly 200,000 civilians, most of them of Mayan descent, were killed during the 1960-1996 conflict as a string of right-wing governments attempted to rid Guatemala of leftist guerrilla fighters suspected of being in league with communists.

An additional 45,000 people went missing.

Victims and human rights advocates applauded the start of the trial over Rios Montt's 17-month rule.

"Finally we're going to know the truth. It's justice for the survivors and for the world," said Sandra Moran, 53, who was laying flowers outside the court before the trial started. Her uncle was tortured during Rios Montt's government, she said.

A United Nations-backed truth commission report released after the 1996 peace accords found that the army and paramilitary groups were responsible for more than 90 percent of the hundreds of massacres carried out during the war.

"Until quite recently, no one believed a trial like this could possibly take place in Guatemala," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

Pillay said it was the first-ever national trial of a former head of state on genocide charges.

Spanish human rights jurist Baltasar Garzon, who tried to prosecute ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, also praised the trial, saying it was a big step forward for Guatemala.

"Finally, the principal of equality has become visible in a country where impunity has been the norm for a long time," he said, speaking at an event in El Salvador.

However, Guatemalan President Otto Perez, a retired general, reiterated that there was no genocide in the country and said the trial must be fair. "We insist that there be true justice, that there isn't pressure from one side or the other."


A three-judge panel must debate the material and set a date on whether to sentence or exonerate Rios Montt.

Born in Huehuetenango, a province in Guatemala's rural western highlands dotted with indigenous communities, Rios Montt took power in March 1982 when he led a military coup that toppled President Angel Guevara.

He remained politically active after being overthrown in a coup in August 1983, serving in Guatemala's legislature and launching an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2003.

Genocide trials have been rare for ex-leaders in Latin America, which was scarred by bloody civil conflicts and repression. Multiple charges were raised against Chile's Pinochet, but he died in 2006 before standing trial.

Often sporting thick glasses and a gray moustache, Rios Montt has been under house arrest for more than a year. The right-wing party that he founded changed its name this year to distance itself from its past.

Human rights groups filed a complaint against Rios Montt for genocide in 2001 and prosecutors will present hundreds of testimonies, videos and military documents in the trial against the former dictator, a process that could take months.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Editing by Dave Graham, Eric Beech, Cynthia Osterman, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Simao)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Nevada military depot mortar explosion kills seven U.S. Marines

Posted: 19 Mar 2013 07:24 PM PDT

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - A mortar explosion at a U.S. Army munitions depot in Nevada killed seven Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and injured eight other service members during a live-fire training exercise, U.S. military officials said on Tuesday.

Hawthorne Army Depot in western Nevada is seen in this August 30, 2010 satellite image courtesy of Google Earth. An explosion during a training exercise at the military ammunition storage facility has killed "several" people, with U.S. Marines among the dead, U.S. military officials said Tuesday. REUTERS/Google Earth/Handout

Hawthorne Army Depot in western Nevada is seen in this August 30, 2010 satellite image courtesy of Google Earth. An explosion during a training exercise at the military ammunition storage facility has killed "several" people, with U.S. Marines among the dead, U.S. military officials said Tuesday. REUTERS/Google Earth/Handout

A Marine Corps official said a 60mm mortar round exploded prematurely on Monday night during training at the Hawthorne Army Depot in western Nevada. The cause was under investigation.

"The Marines were conducting live fire and manoeuvre training at the Hawthorne Army depot," Brigadier General Jim Lukeman told a news conference in North Carolina. "A mortar round exploded in the mortar tube, causing the deaths of seven. ... We don't know yet what caused this malfunction."

The blast was among the deadliest such training accidents on U.S. soil in recent years. In February 2012, seven Marines were killed when two helicopters collided during an exercise along the California-Arizona border.

The Marines killed on Monday had been undergoing training for the past month at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Centre in Bridgeport, California, and at Hawthorne.

"This type of training is really the type of training that we do to be able to be that force of readiness. It is what's required of our nation's military, to do the things this nation asks us to do," Lukeman said, adding the training was not linked to preparations for a specific impending deployment.

The Marines ordered a blanket suspension of the use of 60mm mortars pending a review after the blast, Marine Corps spokeswoman Captain Kendra Motz said in a statement.

The blast victims were airlifted to Renown Regional Medical Centre in Reno with injuries that included penetration trauma, fractures and vascular injuries, said Stacy Kendall, a spokeswoman for the medical Centre.

Seven Marines and a Navy sailor were wounded. Of those, six were in serious or very serious condition, including the sailor, while a seventh suffered minor injuries and an eighth was treated and released, the Marines said in a statement.


The explosion occurred close to 10 p.m. PDT (0500 GMT Tuesday) during an exercise at the Hawthorne depot, about 92 miles (150 km) southeast of Reno, said facility manager Russ Collier. The Marines described the mortar involved as lightweight, and said it was typically fired from a stationary position.

The identities of the dead, all from the 2nd Marine Division, and injured had not been made public, but will be released after their families are notified.

U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was receiving updates on the accident, Pentagon spokesman George Little said, adding the incident struck a nerve with Hagel, himself an infantry veteran of the Vietnam War.

"This brought back memories of a training accident when he was in the U.S. Army when two soldiers were killed in a training accident, so he takes these incidents very much to heart," Little said.

Hawthorne Army Depot is a 147,000-acre (60,000-acre) site used for the storage and destruction of demilitarized ammunition. Its location in Nevada's isolated high desert is also considered an ideal training environment for Special Operations forces preparing for deployments to Southwest Asia, according to a U.S. military website.

The facility was established as a naval staging area for bombs, rockets and ammunition, and was used by the Navy during most of World War Two. It was transferred to the Army in 1977.

The accident came a week after a U.S. military plane assigned to a Washington state Naval Air Station crashed during a routine training flight, killing all three crew members on board.

Copyright © 2013 Reuters


The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Halim Othman finds the perfect co-host in Adibah Noor

Posted: 20 Mar 2013 03:11 AM PDT

Wake up to a cheerful morning with Suria FM's new duo.

HE has been doing it for 18 years, while she is a novice in the radio industry. However, when you listen to their banter every morning, you will think that the latest duo in town – Halim Othman and Adibah Noor – have been the best of friends since forever.

In case you haven't heard, Halim now has a new partner-in-crime for his early morning show on Suria FM; he and Adibah have been paired together since Feb 4.

And just like that, our morning Ceria Pagi Di Suria is no longer the same.

Adibah's warmth, her witty jokes and contagious laughter seem to go very well with Halim's brotherly nature – the pair cause a riot of sorts in the studio each morning!

For Adibah, 42, after dabbling in the world of singing (which she says is her first love), and then acting, being a radio deejay seemed like a natural choice.

"It has been fantastic so far. I have yet to dread coming in to work (the show starts at 5am!) and I hope I won't have to. In fact, I'm looking forward to it every morning.

"This is my first time ever working as a radio deejay. I was a guest deejay a few times but as a full-time radio person, this is my first," said the charming and lovable lady in a recent interview at the Suria FM office in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

"It wasn't so difficult to do as Halim Othman is the (show's) anchor and we talk on things or issues that are suitable and relevant. Halim is absolutely lovely and he never puts pressure on me at all. I'm just simply a budak baru belajar (new kid learning new things)," Adibah shared.

According to Halim, 45, it was Adibah who "bullies" him instead.

Apparently, one morning when the two were talking about how bullying has become such a serious problem today, Adibah was teasing Halim on air so much that someone called in and told her to stop bullying her partner!

"Seriously, I saw the dark side of her that day!" recalled Halim, laughing.

"Basically, we are discovering a lot of things about each other and we share many similarities as well," added Adibah.

Halim also said that working together for five hours a day is akin to married life.

Adibah noted: "Seriously, I would spend more time with my working partner than my home partner! The amount of time we spend together in the studio is much more than most any married couples out there."

Halim continued: "(The five hours of working together) could be the reason why the chemistry is just right between us; we are having so much fun in the studio. Regardless who my partner is in my show, I need to be fast in learning about him or her.

"And to be honest I'm glad that Adibah is my partner. She's such a fast learner. We have been working for little over a month now but we find it fun to work together."

Adibah reckons that they both are also on the same wavelength when it comes to many issues, which is important in creating a good working environment.

When teased if their relationship in the studio will spill over into their personal life, Adibah revealed that many listeners do want the two of them to end up together (as a real life couple). "For now I'll leave it to fate. Whatever it is, I don't spend time with Halim outside the studio at all," said Adibah with a cheeky smile.

As for her new job, Adibah is quite content with being a deejay for the time being. However, she turned down a year-long contract from the station, opting instead for a six-month deal.

"I do have my own reservations (about being a radio deejay) so I'll give myself six months to see how things are. If everything is okay, then I'll continue for another six months," she explained.

One of the segments on the early morning show features the deejays discussing a particular Bahasa Malaysia or English phrase with their listeners.

"In that segment we would pick obscure words or phrases that most of us have never heard of before and start discussing it with listeners. It is a small way to enrich our knowledge of language," said Adibah who cited Yasmin Yusoff, Constance Haslam, Patrick Teoh, Noraini Ibnu, Maramah Tejo and Prema as her major influences in radio.

Meanwhile, Halim said he never envisioned himself as a radio deejay.

"I have been in the industry for 18 years and am so thankful for the opportunity to be where I am today," he said.

Halim is currently working on a project to give free English lessons to adults around the Klang Valley, and he hopes to kick it off by the end of this month.

Tune in to Halim Othman and Adibah Noor on Ceria Pagi Di Suria on Suria FM, Mondays to Fridays from 5am-10am. Suria FM is owned and operated by The Star.

Astro-On-The-Go launched for overseas Malaysians

Posted: 20 Mar 2013 02:50 AM PDT

From the cobbled streets of Europe to the arid plains Down Under, Malaysians living abroad can now watch Astro from any part of the globe.

IT has only been two weeks since Jessica Francis left for Melbourne, Australia, but she is feeling homesick already.

During the day, she is a student busy pursuing her postgraduate education in dentistry at the University of Melbourne. But as night falls and the cold begins to set in, feelings of yearning and loneliness creep up on the 31-year-old Ipoh, Perak, native.

Although her husband Sanjay Raphael is with her, Jessica still longs to be back home.

"We miss Malaysia very much. We miss our family and friends, the home-cooked food, the culture and the festivals," she says wistfully.

Similarly, both Teartika Abdul Rashid, 26, and her brother Thaqif, 22, agree that after they moved to Sydney five years ago, they have never stopped missing Malaysia. "It's the atmosphere, the warmth and, of course, the food," she shares.

Surely, stories of longing such as these are echoed by many Malaysians living overseas. With this in mind, satellite pay-TV operator Astro recently launched Astro-On-The-Go (AOTG) International to give Malaysians abroad a taste of home.

The service enables users to tune in to their favourite local movies, dramas and live sports and news coverage wherever they are in the world via smartphones, tablets or laptops. The first phase of the launch, held in Melbourne – a city that's home to some 70,000 Malaysians – gave users a free preview of two homegrown channels: The nation's first 24-hour news channel Astro Awani and Astro Arena, its only channel dedicated to local sports.

Chief operating officer Henry Tan explains at the launch that the service is Astro's effort to better serve Malaysians everywhere. Understanding that local programming is hard to come by outside the country, many will miss watching their favourite local shows or finding out about the latest happenings and sporting events in Malaysia.

"You can take a Malaysian out of Malaysia but you can't take Malaysia out of a Malaysian," he says aptly.

Biggest TV revolution

Tan shares that AOTG International is a milestone for Astro as he believes it is the biggest revolution since the invention of TV, besides the switch from black-and-white to colour TV.

"In the past, TV was limited to being a big box in the living room. Today, you can watch it from anywhere in Malaysia and the world. Also, conventional TV used to provide audiences with a shared viewing experience only but now with AOTG, it is available on one's personal screen," he explains.

However, Tan is quick to point out that although the service encourages TV viewing on mobile or online devices, this by no means signifies the end of conventional TV.

"If you look at TV across the world, studies have shown that (traditional) TV viewership is hitting a record high. This is because when people watch shows online, they tend to want to watch it again on a bigger screen, helping to popularise the traditional means of watching TV," he explains.

Launching AOTG on a global scale means that the service is available to Malaysians and non-Malaysians abroad. As such, many may wonder if the local content is on par with international standards.

"I think as Malaysians, we put ourselves down too much ... Some of the offerings that we've done have been highly popular overseas. For example, for Oh My English!, we get people from all over the world writing to us about it. Also, Maharaja Lawak was a hit not only in Malaysia but was a huge sensation in Singapore, too."

Indeed, the pay-TV operator prides itself on being a successful content creator as well as a top broadcaster. Among its past successes are popular reality shows such as Akademi Fantasia, Astro Talent Quest and Miss Astro Chinese International Pageant, just to name a few.

Though AOTG International is mainly targeted at Malaysians abroad, Tan says he would not be surprised if the local content appeals to non-Malaysians, too.

"We broadcast the recent Thaipusam celebration and posted it on YouTube for the first time this year. To our surprise, the video garnered 2.2 million views. People from North America, parts of Europe, and Mauritius were watching us celebrate the festival. So, there is interest," he says.

More to come

The first phase of the launch offers overseas Malaysians a line-up of news and current affairs programmes on Astro Awani plus live coverage of the country's hottest sporting events on Astro Arena. Astro has also committed to providing comprehensive reporting on the upcoming general election on Astro Awani.

As very little news about Malaysia is aired on TV in Melbourne, Sanjay was excited to hear about the service. "I usually depend on online news portals for local news. Now I can watch Malaysian news here. I look forward to news updates on the general election especially."

Teartika, on the other hand, says she can't wait to catch up on all her favourite Bahasa Malaysia dramas while Thaqif is interested in local food programmes. The second phase of AOTG International, scheduled to kick off sometime in the next three months, will see more local programmes like Adam Dan Hawa and Hua Hee Makan besides Oh My English! and Maharaja Lawak on the linear channels as well as popular Astro First movies like Juvana, Husin, Mon & Jin Pakai Toncit and Awan Dania.

Finally, Tan says, phase three of AOTG International will give users the ability to "pull" content, or search for and pick what they want to watch from a library of programmes any time. This Video on Demand (VOD) function will offer up to 1,500 titles for users to choose from.

AOTG was introduced in Malaysia last May and has since racked up more than 500,000 views and 400,000 app downloads. Existing Astro customers in Malaysia can enjoy up to 21 linear channels, live sports events, catch-up content and VOD on AOTG for only RM25 per month.

Meanwhile, non-Astro customers in Malaysia who want to subscribe to AOTG may choose from two bundles. Pack 1 consists of four Bahasa Malaysia channels and Pack 2 consists of four Chinese channels, each priced at RM30 per month or RM5 per day. Alternatively, a la carte channels are available for RM10 to RM15 per month. AOTG subscribers can also choose from a collection of 100 movie titles, priced from RM10 to RM15.

For more information, visit

Nashville: Country music drama with an all-round appeal

Posted: 20 Mar 2013 03:08 AM PDT

Nashville has a solid cast, good music, a wonderful script ... and loads of hunky men.

NOT a fan of country music? Well, if there is one thing that could help open your mind to the genre, it is TV's brand new country music drama, Nashville. I should know – I've never been a fan of country music, apart from occasionally humming along to Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers' Islands In The Stream when it comes on the radio, or maybe Lady Antebellum's Need You Now. But that's about it.

A musical drama about country music seemed a little dodgy to me at first. Images of rhinestones, steel guitars, cowboy boots and a honky-tonk immediately popped up in my mind. Still, I was curious about the show and decided to check it out. Good thing I did because Nashville has, so far, proven to be a compelling drama with rich, fleshed-out characters, a well-written script and great music.

While musical dramas like Glee deliver reworked renditions of pop classics, the music on Nashville is original and pleasantly refreshing. It's a mix of country styles: Alternative country rock, country rock ballads and of course, country pop.

The show was, apparently, envisioned by Steve Buchanan (president of the Grand Ole Opry Group, a Nashville, Tennessee-based entertainment group) as a vehicle to sell new music. As such, renowned musicians were roped in to produce or write the songs for the show – Dan Auerbach, frontman for the Grammy-winning band, The Black Keys has reportedly produced a yet unreleased track for an upcoming episode (he also makes a cameo – watch out for it!), while other songwriters that have been recruited include Elvis Costello and Steve McEwan (who has written for country stars Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney).

Marketing strategies aside though, the series itself is written by award-winning writer Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) while her husband, acclaimed producer and songwriter T-Bone Burnett is the executive music producer. This pretty much explains celebrity castings and cameos like country greats J.D. Souther (who wrote several The Eagles hits like New Kid In Town and Heartache, among others) and Vince Gill.

The story revolves around two female country singers: Rayna James (Connie Britton), the reigning queen of country who's struggling to stay relevant, and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), a rising star who is constantly being reminded how great her competition – i.e. Rayna – is, as a musician and a person.

When the series begins, Rayna is told by her record label executives that ticket sales for her upcoming tour aren't encouraging and the only conceivable way to boost sales is if she pairs up with young Juliette.

Rayna is incensed. She doesn't consider Juliette a true artiste, but more of a flash-in-the-pan young starlet whose songs have little musicality. It doesn't help that her two tween daughters love Juliette. Still, it is the label that calls the shots and Rayna agrees to the match-up, begrudgingly.

So begins a tense relationship between the two. Oh, yes. there's plenty of drama in Nashville. And it's not just the battle between the two ladies – the show is filled with romantic entanglements (Rayna's old flame Deacon Claybourne – played by the ruggedly handsome Charles Esten – gets caught between the women), family issues and politics (Rayna's dad, Lamar Wyat – played to evil perfection by Powers Boothe – is the former mayor of Nashville who is extremely controlling and corrupt).

Of course, there are also loads of skeletons spilling out of closets, like how Juliette's mother is a recovering addict, and Rayna's husband seems to be running away from something. Oh, juicy.

But there is one thing that stops Nashville from going down the soap opera route and that is a strong script and an even stronger cast led by Britton and Panettiere (who knew they could sing?). This is a show driven by women – strong women fighting for success (and not men) and personal fulfilment.

The men, well they're largely eye candy … which brings me to another reason why this show is so watchable: The cast is awfully pretty (and by cast I am singling out the men!).

Apart from Deacon, who I admit can get a little tiresome with his content swooning over Rayna, there is Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio) who, along with Deacon's niece, Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen), are trying to make a name for themselves in the business. Gunnar is a dish.

Yep, if the main plot is about two established singers, the sub-plot is about three young, struggling singers like Scarlett, Gunnar and Scarlett's louse of a boyfriend, Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson).

Some of the best tunes on the show are delivered by Gunnar and Scarlett, who perform as a duo at the Bluebird, an actual cafe in Nashville that is featured on the show.

Nashville premiered in the United States last year to positive reviews. Even Nashvillians (yes, that is a term) have embraced the show for representing their city so authentically – "country-fried but never half-baked" was one of the comments – and not in the cliched way it often is (you know, rhinestones, honky-tonk, etc).

So, release your inhibitions and give Nashville a go. Even if only to drool at the talent (I mean, good looking men. of course)!

Nashville airs on beTV (Astro Ch 712) every Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm. Reader response can be directed to or via Twitter (@MyStarTwo).


The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

KLHC coach Dharmaraj expects difficult task in opening two matches

Posted: 19 Mar 2013 04:45 PM PDT

PETALING JAYA: Defending champions Kuala Lumpur Hockey Club's (KLHC) coach K. Dharmaraj is expecting a tough time in their opening two matches of the Malaysia Hockey League (MHL) which starts on Friday.

KLHC will start their campaign against UniKL on Friday before playing the charity shield match against Tenaga Nasional on Sunday.

The double winners have lost six players to MHL's Premier Division debutants Terengganu and have replaced them with five Pakistanis and an Australian but Dharmaraj still expects a difficult time.

Dharmaraj also pointed out the signing of the six internationals showed that the ambition of the club is to retain their MHL crowns.

Three of KLHC's six signings – Australian Timothy Deavin and Pakistan duo Mohamed Imran and Fareed Ahmad – participated along with five other KLHC players in the recently concluded Sultan Azlan Shah Cup competition which ended on Sunday.

The other three Pakistan signings are Wassim Ahmed, Umar Bhutta and Akhtar Ali.

"I'm losing sleep over our first two matches ... the core players in my team are fatigued after playing in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup," said Dharmaraj.

"We welcomed six new players to the team but we don't have enough time to train and gel as a team. So winning the first two matches will be a bonus."

KLHC were forced to look for foreign players after six of their national stars – Azlan Misron, Mohd Shahrun Nabil, Fitri Saari, Mohamed Amerullah Aziz, Ismail Abu and Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin – left to join Terengganu.

"I won't be surprised if we struggle this season ... losing six players who had been with us for six to seven years makes our title defence harder," said Dharmaraj.

"My biggest worry is to get the team to gel quickly. I only expect the team to fire on all cylinders in the second round of the league."

KL aim to extend dominance in U-16 meet

Posted: 19 Mar 2013 03:27 PM PDT

PETALING JAYA: Defending champions Kuala Lumpur will have home ground advantage when they compete for the top prize and bragging rights in the MHC-Milo-NSC Under-16 hockey championships which kicks off on Saturday.

The tournament, to be held at the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil from March 23-30, will see the boys and girls' competition being held simultaneously for the first time.

The competition format for both the boys and girls remains the same as last year with a two-group round robin competition with the top two teams advancing to the semi-finals to fight for a spot in the finals on March 30 at the Ministry of Education Hockey Stadium in KL.

The boys' competition will see 12 states in the fray for the ninth edition of the championship. Five-time champions KL are in Group A along with Terengganu, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Sabah and Perlis. Group B will have Penang, Pahang, Perak, Johor Kelantan and last year's runners up Malacca.

Since its inception in 2004, KL have won the title five consecutive times since 2008 and K. Embaraj's side will be looking to extend their dominance with another win again.

Ten teams are in the fray for the girls' competition. Last year's runners-up Malacca and Sarawak will not feature in the tournament while Kelantan will return to the fold.

Defending champions Selangor have been drawn in Group A together with Kedah, Pahang, Negri Sembilan and Perak.

Last year's semi-finalists Johor and Penang are pooled in Group B together with Kuala Lumpur, Terengganu, and Kelantan.

Asian boss Momii to oppose dismissal

Posted: 19 Mar 2013 03:27 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The Japanese head of the Badminton Asia Confederation (BAC) was ousted at an emergency weekend meeting, the regional body said on Monday, but a Japan official said the move will be challenged.

A statement by the Kuala Lumpur-based BAC said the organisation unanimously approved a motion of no confidence in Katsuto Momii and dismissed him with immediate effect.

"The members were unanimous in their agreement that Mr Momii failed in his duties as a leader of the Confederation," the statement said, adding the meeting was held on Sunday in Bangkok.

"Mr Momii's dismissal from the presidency and all elected and appointed positions in the BAC will take effect immediately."

The statement did not specify the reasons for the move but it comes amid jockeying for the May 18 election of a new president to the Badminton World Federation, also based in Malaysia's capital.

BAC general secretary Surasak Songvarakulpan of Thailand told reporters one reason was that Momii was not willing to voice support for an Asian candidate for presidency of the world federation.

In the election, Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) president Datuk Seri Nadzmi Mohd Salleh is considered a candidate, as is Indonesia's Justian Suhandinata and Denmark's Poul-Erik Hoyer.

The statement by the 12-member BAC said Nadzmi had been named as their acting president.

Shigemitsu Imai, secretary general of the Nippon Badminton Association, the sport's governing body in Japan, said the organisation opposed the dismissal.

"A court in Malaysia will hold a hearing on this case on April 11," he said.

He added that the extraordinary general meeting was scheduled with "about 10 days" notice despite rules requiring a 60-day notice.

Imai said Momii was "in the stage of putting things in order by following established procedures".

"Probably the other side is getting uneasy about it," he said. — AFP


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JPMorgan hammered over London Whale carrying US$6.2bil loss

Posted: 19 Mar 2013 06:37 PM PDT

THE big one has landed this time, it is called the London Whale carrying US$6.2bil of losses.

Across the continent, the drama has shifted to the United States where the Senate subcommittee on investigations had been hammering JPMorgan bank executives on the losses.

JPMorgan claimed it had kept the Senate subcommittee informed of the mounting losses, which was flatly denied by the subcommittee.

In turn, the subcommittee had lambasted it for 'believing it was too big to fail, ignoring warnings about the escalating losses and deliberately withholding information,'' according to The Guardian.

Chief executive officer Jamie Dimon, who had initially described media coverage of the debacle as a "tempest in a teapot", had already taken the hit by giving up half of his bonus of US$11mil to cover the losses.

These are trading losses and big money is involved. Equally serious are the implications.

Retiring Democratic senator Carl Levin, who chaired the hearing, was quoted as saying the testimony painted "a very disturbing picture, not just at JPMorgan in particular, but about how derivatives are valued."

Besides traders, the blame was also put on a risk model called VaR which cut the appearance of risk being taken into half even as the traders were taking riskier bets, said the report.

The finger pointing and witch hunts now span the two financial centres London and New York.

"Firing a few traders and their bosses won't be enough to staunch Wall Street's insatiable appetite for risky derivative bets or to stop the excesses. More control is needed," said Levin in his opening statement.

The rage of the regulators is evident in all the cases. From hefty fines to salary cuts, they seem hell-bent on teaching these unethical bankers a lesson and drive the fear of repercussions into them.

JPMorgan is America's largest bank with assets of US$2.3 trillion.

It houses the world's biggest investment bank by fee income and a retail bank with US$1.1 trillion of depositors' cash.

The statement that more control is needed is an indication that more restrictions may be on the way.

At the World Economic Forum, Dimon had put up a strong stand that regulators were becoming "overwhelmed" by all that had been happening.

Nevertheless, the regulator spotlight continues to be targeted especially on major banks.

Another telling sign is the constant accusation that banks make big mistakes because they think they are too big to fail.

Serious debate is ongoing in Britain on the breaking up of banks.

The Royal Bank of Scotland, a taxpayer-owned bank, has already cut back its huge investment banking business when it received a £45.5bil state lifeline following the 2008 financial crisis.

There are already restrictions such as separation of proprietary trading; however, in view of the continuing scandals, more restrictions could be on the way.

For the regulators, it is not enough that bankers bear the costs of the mistakes by giving up part of their bonuses.

They want to see a fundamental change in the way business is conducted to avoid a repeat of the same big mistakes that had put a burden on taxpayers, the ultimate bailout channel.

  • Columnist Yap Leng Kuen reckons that enough may not be enough.
  • Analysts trim earnings forecast for BToto

    Posted: 19 Mar 2013 06:35 PM PDT

    PETALING JAYA: Analysts have trimmed their earnings forecast for Berjaya Sports Toto Bhd (BToto) to reflect continuous competition in the gaming industry, but have not made any changes to their dividend forecast.

    In a report to clients, Alliance Research said it was trimming its financial year 2013-2015 earnings forecasts between 5.5% and 6.3% for the numbers forecast operator, mainly to reflect lower revenue forecast in view of the continued competitive environment, and a higher share of losses from its associates.

    It has also trimmed its net dividend per share for 2013 to 16 sen, but is maintaining its dividend forecast for 2014-2015 at 19 sen and 20 sen, respectively. BToto's net profit for the third quarter ended Jan 31 shrank by 23.6% to RM86.1mil, mainly due to lower revenue recorded by principal subsidiary Berjaya Sports Toto Sdn Bhd (Sports Toto).

    Sports Toto recorded a decrease in revenue and pre-tax profit of 9.8% and 15.1%, respectively, compared with the previous year's corresponding quarter.

    For the nine-month period, net profit was flattish at RM309.3mil against RM310.5mil in the corresponding quarter of 2012, attributable to the results of Sports Toto, which recorded a marginal drop in revenue and pre-tax profit of 0.3% and 0.4%, respectively, compared to the previous year's corresponding period.

    Alliance Research pointed out that the group did not declare a dividend payment for the third quarter since it was undertaking a major restructuring, which would lead to the listing of Sports Toto as a business trust (STM Trust) on the Singapore exchange.

    "Given that the group is unlikely to declare more dividends until the listing of STM Trust, we have conservatively anticipated no dividend to be declared in the fourth quarter calendar year 2013," the research outfit said.

    It said stripping out exceptional gains on disposal of investments amounting to RM18.6mil reported in the first quarter of financial year 2013, BToto's nine-month results were below expectations and market consensus.

    The group's nine-month core earnings dropped by 6.4% year-on-year to RM290.7mil, merely accounting for 68% and 70% of its and street full-year earnings forecasts, respectively.

    Kenanga Research in its report, meanwhile, said that Btoto's third-quarter results came in within expectations, with the nine-month core earnings making up 74% and 72% of its full-year estimate and that of market consensus, respectively.

    Ensuring maximum returns Corporate exercises in GLCs included listing on the stock exchange

    Posted: 19 Mar 2013 06:24 PM PDT

    PETALING JAYA: Four out of the 33 government-linked companies (GLCs) earmarked for divestment under the Economic Transformation Programme saw corporate exercises last year, bringing the number of divestments by the Government so far to 15.

    Under the Strategic Reform Initiative (SRI) to reduce the Government's role in business, 33 firms owned by six government-linked investment companies (GLICs) were identified in 2011 as ready for divestment, either through a listing, stake pare-down or outright sale.

    The GLCs involved have decided on the appropriate strike prices to ensure maximum returns on the Government's investments, and the divestments will be automatically triggered when the share price crosses the strike price.

    Of the proposed 33 companies, seven are to be floated on the stock exchange, five will see the Government paring down its stake and 21 will be sold.

    According to the Performance Management and Delivery Unit's (Pemandu) annual report, the Government had targeted to divest its stakes in 24 companies between 2011 and last year.

    Eleven such exercises were carried out in 2011 and four in 2012, translating into a success rate of 63%.

    The four divestments last year were RHB Capital Bhd (RHB Cap), Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGVH), Johan Ceramics Bhd and Tanjung Offshore Bhd.

    The Employees Provident Fund had trimmed its interest in RHB Cap to 40.7% via the latter's RM1.95bil merger with OSK Investment Bank Bhd, which created the country's largest stockbroker and investment bank by assets.

    FGVH's initial public offering (IPO) in June was the world's third largest in 2012 and also Malaysia's third biggest with a market capitalisation of RM16.6bil.

    The listing saw the agri-business giant integrating its upstream and downstream operations in logistics, fertilisers and palm oil.

    In September, Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera completed the sale of its 97% holding in ceramic tile-maker Johan Ceramics to Boustead Holdings Bhd, in which the Armed Forces board owns 61.8%.

    Finally, state-linked private equity firm Ekuiti Nasional Bhd (Ekuinas) sold its 24% stake in Tanjung Offshore and upped its interest in the latter's offshore support vessel unit Kota Bayu Ekuiti Bhd to 93.3%. Tanjung Offshore was Ekuinas' second investment and its first divestment.

    "In spite of positive developments in the GLIC divestment programme, factors such as companies not reaching their sale trigger price, low valuations and uncertain market conditions have hindered the sale of some of the companies under the plan.

    "The Government is also aware that these divestments must be completed at prices which are fair to shareholders. Nonetheless, the outlook remains positive for these divestments to continue once the market has sufficiently recovered," Pemandu said in the report.

    "This SRI will continue to monitor the remaining 18 GLIC companies under the divestment programme.

    "While challenges remain, the SRI is committed to achieving its targets under the programme, and is on track with the implementation of the ministry-level divestment plan.

    "Additionally, state governments are also expected to ramp up their divestments in the coming year," the agency added.

    Besides the 33 firms, Pemandu said some GLICs had taken it upon themselves to sell down their holdings. Khazanah Nasional Bhd listed IHH Healthcare Bhd in July, raising RM6.3bil for Asia's largest hospital operator.

    The state investment fund also sold national carmaker Proton Holdings Bhd to DRB-Hicom Bhd, invited tenders for the purchase of its property investment firm STLR Sdn Bhd, and sold 60 million shares in Tenaga Nasional Bhd worth RM406.8mil via a private placement, cutting its stake to 34% from 35.2%.

    In December, Khazanah opened a three-stage tender process for its entire 45% in Time Engineering Bhd.

    Last August, the Finance Ministry hived off its 40% stake in Kedah Aquaculture Sdn Bhd to SKS Realty Sdn Bhd for RM45mil.

    Permodalan Nasional Bhd has also invited interested parties to tender for a number of its companies, including FEC Cables (M) Sdn Bhd, U-Travelwide Sdn Bhd, U-Insurance Sdn Bhd and Inobel Sdn Bhd.

    At the state government level, Johor has been chosen as the pilot state for the initiative, with Pemandu and Johor Corp (JCorp) having held preliminary discussions on streamlining the firm's key businesses.

    This is part of JCorp's rationalisation programme to focus on its core holdings in oil palm plantations, healthcare, property and the food industry. To date, JCorp has completed several corporate exercises, such as its privatisation of KFC Holdings (M) Bhd and QSR Brands Bhd, and Kulim (M) Bhd's exit of its retail food business. Kulim is also considering selling some of its hotel assets and reinvesting the money to drive earnings from its hospitality business, the report stated.

    Meanwhile, a ministry-level Divestment Plan was drawn last year, with nine firms under four ministries ready for divestment from 2012-2016.


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    Taib denies cousins his land brokers, says he goes by government procedures

    Posted: 19 Mar 2013 07:59 AM PDT

    KUCHING: Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib (pic) has denied his cousins' claims that they were his intermediaries for logging contracts in the state.

    Taib, who was commenting on a video produced by an environmental group, Global Witness, on alleged corruption in land deals in Sarawak, said: "I saw the so-called proof. Could it not be someone trying to promote themselves to become an agent to get favours from me?

    "I think it is a bit naughty of them for using their big power to blacken my name." Taib said when interviewed by freelance journalist Liza Bong who posted the video recording of the interview on YouTube.

    Taib denied that he had been involved in the selling of native customary rights land as alleged in the video and pointed out that when he was the minister-in-charge of forestry in the 1980s, he had made a public declaration to that effect.

    "I made the public declaration that I make nobody as my intermediary because I don't believe in deals and everything has got to be done according to government procedures."

    The 16-minute video, shot with hidden cameras, featured a Caucasian man pretending to be interested in buying land in the state from Tun Abdul Rahman Ya'akub's daughters, Fatimah and Norlia, and having similar discussions with other locals.

    Asked about his cousin's claim in the video that she could easily approach him on land deals, Taib retorted: "Do you know that cousin? You better find out what was the relationship between her father and I. Was it friendly or not? We were fighting at one time. So that cousin cannot be my most trusted but (it is) up to you.

    "If they are trying to create something, find something more credible. They are trying to frame people like me with evidence that can be interpreted by anybody."

    The relationship between Taib and Rahman soured after Taib took over as Chief Minister in 1981.

    In 1987, Rahman formed Permas to take on Taib in the state election but lost.

    Several years ago, the two embraced each other on stage at a function, suggesting that the feud between them was over.

    However, the latest development might open old wounds after Rahman's two daughter looked to have implicated Taib.

    ETP: Economy to be driven by large infrastructure projects

    Posted: 19 Mar 2013 07:13 AM PDT

    PETALING JAYA: The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) has helped improve and provide impetus for the country's economy, according to economists.

    More importantly, they are encouraged by the progress of the ETP and optimistic of a better year for the programme, driven by large infrastructure projects.

    And while there continues to be investment from the Government, there is also investment coming from the private sector, including foreign investors, they said.

    Maybank Investment Bank Bhd chief economist Suhaimi Ilias said the ETP, Strategic Reform Initiatives (SRIs) and Government Transformation Programme (GTP) all aid and add to the country's domestic resilience amidst external uncertainties.

    "The Malaysian economy was able to withstand the global headwinds over the past two years thanks to the implementation of the ETP, SRI and GTP.

    Therefore, we expect the Malaysian economy to remain well supported by domestic demand especially in terms of gross fixed capital formation to record another year of above 5% growth (2013 estimate: 5.3%), as ETP infrastructure projects and investments move into high gear" explained Suhaimi.

    RAM Holdings Bhd chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng said the achievements under the ETP since its roll-out in 2010 have been "quite impressive".

    "Last year, the country's gross domestic product (GDP) bucked global trends by growing faster amidst full employment and below-trend consumer price inflation.

    Other closely watched measures such as the country's global competitiveness and ease of doing business also rose in global standing.

    "We are especially encouraged by the strong pick-up in private investment last year a crucial factor for the economy to achieve a sustained high-growth trajectory over the medium term," Yeah opined.

    MIDF Investment Bank Bhd chief economist Anthony Dass believes that the ETP would be able to maintain the momentum, going forward, provided complacency does not creep in following the current success.

    "In short, the sustainability of the current momentum is vital, and if possible, be raised to new levels to expedite the achievement targets.

    "At the same time, we believe the synchronisation and integration of the GTP with the ETP and SRI remains crucial to avoid the risks of policy frictions, conflicting signals and uncertainty on the commitments," Dass said.

    Maybank's Suhaimi feels that the ETP should "gather momentum from 2013 onwards" despite the seemingly slow pace of realised ETP investment in 2011-2012.

    "Of the ETP investment committed, RM12.9bil were realised in 2011, followed by an estimated RM10bil in 2012 i.e 10.8% realisation rate.

    Realised ETP investment are expected to accelerate this year onwards as the implementation of big ticket' infrastructure and investment projects gather momentum for example Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (KVMRT) Phase 1; oil and gas capital expenditure (capex).

    According to the ETP annual report, in 2012, the country's Gross National Income (GNI) had risen to US$9,970 from US$6,700 in 2009 representing a 48.8% surge in just a two-year period.

    Based on current projections and barring unforeseen circumstances, this gives Malaysia the potential to achieve a GNI per capita of US$15,000 earlier than the 2020 target.

    Private investments surpassed its 2012 target by 9.1% to reach RM139.5bil, driven by high capital expenditure in the manufacturing, services and mining sectors.

    Since the start of the ETP, Malaysia private investment has tripled to record a 22% growth last year as compared to 12.2% in 2011 and an average of 6.7% between 2000 and 2010.

    Under the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley NKEA, the notable milestones are the substantial progress under the KVMRT project and InvestKL surpassing their targets for the year.

    Malaysian Rating Corp Bhd (MARC) chief economist Nor Zahidi Alias expects the GDP growth for 2013 will come in around the same level as in 2012, with considerable assistance from the projects being implemented under the ETP.

    He said as in 2012 it did not expect external demand to show much strength and domestic demand will provide most of the heavy lifting for 2013.

    "Beyond the public investment involved, one of the key points about the ETP has been its role in communicating the potentialities of the Malaysian economy to private investors, both locally and abroad.

    That boost of confidence should not be underestimated, as demonstrated by the surprising strength of private investment in 2012, which we expect to see continued this year," he said.

    A number of important projects highlight the impact of the ETP. They include: * The divestment of 4 GLCs in 2012 * MRT projects to spur growth * River of Life to ease environmental concerns * The Private Retirement Scheme * KLIA2 developments to include new shopping hub * Gumusut-Kakap oil field to reach maximum production * Malaysian Petroleum Resources Corp to transform oil and gas sector

    Govt divested 4 GLCs in 2012

    Four out of the 33 government-linked companies (GLCs) earmarked for divestment under the Economic Transformation Programme saw corporate exercises last year, bringing the number of divestments by the Government so far to 15.

    Under the Strategic Reform Initiative (SRI) to reduce the Government's role in business, 33 firms owned by six government-linked investment companies (GLICs) were identified in 2011 as ready for divestment, either through a listing, stake pare-down or outright sale.

    Of the proposed 33 companies, seven are to be floated on the stock exchange, five will see the Government paring down its stake and 21 will be sold.

    According to the Performance Management and Delivery Unit's (Pemandu) annual report, the Government had targeted to divest its stakes in 24 companies between 2011 and last year. Eleven such exercises were carried out in 2011 and four in 2012, translating into a success rate of 63%.

    The four divestments last year were RHB Capital Bhd (RHB Cap), Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGVH), Johan Ceramics Bhd and Tanjung Offshore Bhd.

    The Employees Provident Fund trimmed its interest in RHB Cap to 40.7% via the latter's RM1.95bil merger with OSK Investment Bank Bhd, which created the country's largest stockbroker and investment bank by assets.

    FGVH's initial public offering (IPO) in June was the world's third largest in 2012 and also Malaysia's third biggest with a market capitalisation of RM16.6bil. The listing saw the agri-business giant integrating its upstream and downstream operations in logistics, fertilisers and palm oil.

    In September, Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera completed the sale of its 97% holding in ceramic tile-maker Johan Ceramics to Boustead Holdings Bhd, in which the Armed Forces board owns 61.8%.

    Finally, state-linked private equity firm Ekuiti Nasional Bhd (Ekuinas) sold its 24% stake in Tanjung Offshore and upped its interest in the latter's offshore support vessel unit Kota Bayu Ekuiti Bhd to 93.3%. Tanjung Offshore was Ekuinas' second investment and its first divestment.

    MRT projects to spur growth

    Many benefits are expected to arise from the Klang Valley mass rapid transit (MRT) project.

    More than 130,000 jobs are expected to open up during the construction period, with the completed tracks generating between RM3bil and RM4bil in gross national income (GNI) per annum.

    The first phase, the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line, will connect Sungai Buloh to the city centre.

    The greater connectivity provided by the new lines is expected to raise property values by an estimated RM300mil in gross development value.

    Ripple positives from this include widened house-buyers' choice, developers' expansion to newer areas, higher pedestrian accessibility and improved amenities.

    Associated activities related to construction are also expected to multiply by 2.5 times to 3.5 times the income amount generated, which means an additional RM8bil to RM12bil per annum.

    River of Life to ease environmental concerns

    The River of Life (RoL) project is a three-part project of cleaning, master planning and beautification, and land development that aims to transform specific areas within Kuala Lumpur facing the Klang River.

    A 110km stretch of the river covering the municipalities under the jurisdiction of Majlis Perbandaran Selayang, Majlis Perbandaran, Ampang Jaya and Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur will be cleaned to make suitable for recreation its current standard of Class III to Class V by 2020.

    The beautification plan will affect landmarks in the area including Dataran Merdeka, Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad and Masjid Jamek in the city centre.

    As part of the redevelopment programme, government land will be tendered out to private investors.

    The Private Retirement Scheme

    To create a much vibrant private pension industry in Malaysia, the Private Retirement Scheme (PRS) was launched to complement and further enhance the country's pension system led by the Employees' Provident Fund (EPF),The Securities Commission issued licenses to eight financial intermediaries to offer wider options for Malaysians' retirement planning.

    PRS is an alternative voluntary retirement savings plan for working Malaysians. It also serves as an avenue for people who are not eligible to be a member of the EPF, such as someone who is self-employed, to plan for their retirement saving.

    KLIA2 developments to include new shopping hub

    The KL International Airport (KLIA) connects more than 50 international flights to over 100 international destinations, handling some 37 million passengers in 2011 alone.

    To fully capitalise on KLIA's retail potential, a shopping hub will be created alongside the new KLIA2 low-cost terminal.

    The key components of the retail hub would be driven by Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd's (MAHB) overall Aeropolis masterplan, which includes retail in KLIA2, a premium landside mall as well as factory outlets.

    The construction of KLIA2, which includes retail area space, is on track to be completed by May as planned.

    Gumusut-Kakap oil field to reach maximum production

    The Gumusut-Kakap field, which recorded its first oil production in Nov 2012, is expected to reach a maximum of 25,000 barrels per day (bpd) after ramping up two wells.

    Located in offshore Sabah as Malaysia's second deepwater development, the field's full development comprises 19 subsea wells, a permanent semi-submersible floating production system with a potential to produce a maximum of 120,000 bpd.

    As one of the entry point projects under the Oil & Gas National Key Economic Area, the production is an achievement after a 14-month planning and execution process.

    The oil production was linked via an interim crude evacuation system to a floating production, storage and offloading unit at the existing Kikeh field, Sabah.

    Malaysian Petroleum Resources Corp to transform oil and gas sector

    In positioning Malaysia as the leading oil and gas (O&G) hub in the Asia-Pacific region by 2017, Malaysia Petroleum Resources Corp (MPRC) was formed to promote, catalyse and transform the sector.

    Set up in 2011, the agency works with the International Trade and Industry Ministry, Finance Ministry, Malaysian Industrial Development Authority, Malaysian External Trade Development Corp, state governments and regional economic corridor authorities to attract private investments.

    MPRC ties up and promotes partnerships between local companies and global multinational companies, research institutions and academia.

    One noteworthy public-private partnership, is the one between the Johor State Government, Holland's Royal Vopak and Dialog Group, to build an independent deepwater oil storage terminal in Pengerang, Johor.

    Besides oil storage, there are other O&G-related industries such as oil refineries, petrochemical and liquefied natural gas terminals under the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC) in Pengerang.

    Areas identified for improvement

    While the ETP has strong support from the government as well as commitment to data transparency, there is room for further improvement in the next stage of the ETP implementation, said the International Performance Review (IPR) panel.

    "We note that the overall key performance indicators (KPIs) achievement indicates that the momentum of the programme has been sustained since its inception in 2010, as reflected in the strong investment pick up during 2012.

    As always, there are areas for further progress, during the next stage under the ETP," it said.

    It said the ETP culture needs to be embedded into the civil service so that responsibility can be progressively transferred from Pemandu, hence helping ensure that achievements and processes are made sustainable.

    Najib: Government has kept its promises on transformation

    Posted: 19 Mar 2013 07:11 AM PDT

    PETALING JAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on Tuesday presented his latest report card for the Government Transformation Programme and Economic Transformation Programme that aims to make Malaysia a high income nation by 2020.

    He said the aims under seven critical areas have been met and with the economy in good shape.

    "We have kept our promises," he said, particularly in giving people access to the best in life good wages, quality education, good public facilities, home ownership among others.

    He also announced that the people's aid handout, BR1M, will be a yearly affair

    Cost of living :

    *Initiatives taken include expanding the 1Malaysia people's aid programme targetted at the people who need them by allocating RM2.34bil benefitting six million Malaysians.

    *1Malaysia school vouchers of RM100 given to 5.24 million students amounting to RM524mil.

    *1Malaysia book vouchers worth RM250 each given to 390,000 students in universities and colleges totalling RM97.5mil.

    *Aid and grants given to the people worth RM37.8bil, including RM22.3bil in subsidies, RM873.5mil incentive payments and RM14.6bil in direct aid.

    *85 1Malaysia shops selling basic goods at prices 20% to 40% below market price and 168 clinics that offer health care at RM1.

    Increasing standard of living among low income households.

    *Poverty rate has been cut by 1.7% but efforts will continue to increase standards of living.

    *Under the programme to end poverty, 106,967 people have been registered for jobs, businesses, and agriculture and have received help.

    *Under the e-Kasih programme 89% or more than 100,000 of those who registered have been lifted from poverty in three years.

    *Government has offered 100,000 units of affordable housing.

    Uplifting rural basic infrastructure

    *More than 3,300km of roads have been built and, 1.4 mil households have clean water supply and more than 470,000 households have access to steady electricity suppy.

    *The government has built and repaired 53,000 homes for the rural poor.

    Improving students' academic achievements:

    *Preschool enrolment is now at 80% in 2012, compared to 67% in 2009.

    *In 2012, 164 schools have been lifted from the low performing ranks.

    Improving public transport:

    *The government has improved the LRT and MRT connections. The people are urged to be patient until the projects are completed.

    *Among others, six coaches have been added to KTM Komuter and GoKL offers free bus service.

    *In the future the people can look forward a high speed train between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore that will take just 90 minutes.

    Eradicating corruption:

    *Initiatives taken have borne fruit. According to Transparency International, in the perception of graft ranking, Malaysia has moved six steps up to 54 in 2012 and third in Asean

    * 14 Special Session Courst established in the last three years and 400 graft cases have been tried and nearly 260 cases decided upon by 2012

    Reducing Crime:

    *Initiatives have been further expanded to ensure greater police presence, particularly in collaboration with resident and community associations and strengthening initiatives such as the deployment of more police personnel to concentrate on "Hotspot" areas to reduce crime.


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