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The Star Online: World Updates

Cyprus seeks 11th-hour deal to avert financial collapse

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 07:11 PM PDT

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades flies to Brussels on Sunday to seek an 11th-hour reprieve from financial meltdown, with a bailout from the European Union and the island's place in Europe's single currency bloc hanging in the balance.

Thousands of bank employees protest outside the Finance Ministry in Nicosia March 23, 2013. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

Thousands of bank employees protest outside the Finance Ministry in Nicosia March 23, 2013. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

Facing a Monday deadline to avert a collapse of the Cypriot banking system, talks in Nicosia to seal a bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund broke up late on Saturday without result.

"Negotiations are at a very delicate phase," the Cypriot government said in a statement.

"The situation is very difficult and the deadlines are very tight," it said. Anastasiades will arrive in Brussels in the mid-morning to continue the talks, it said.

The tone of the statement differed sharply from earlier expressions of cautious optimism during days of intense negotiations between Cypriot leaders and officials from the island's "troika" of lenders, the EU, IMF and European Central Bank.

Its outsized banking sector crippled by exposure to crisis-hit Greece, the EU says the east Mediterranean island must raise 5.8 billion euros (4.9 billion pounds) on its own before it can receive a 10 billion euro bailout.

Without a deal on Monday, the ECB says it will sever emergency funds to Cypriot banks, spelling certain collapse and potentially pushing the country out of the euro zone.

Conservative leader Anastasiades, barely a month in the job and wrestling with Cyprus' worst crisis since a 1974 invasion by Turkish forces split the island in two, is expected to meet heads of the EU, the European Central Bank and IMF.

Finance Ministers of the 17-nation euro zone will meet at 1700 GMT Sunday.

Scrambling to find the funds, officials said Cyprus had conceded to a one-time levy on bank deposits over 100,000 euros, a dramatic U-turn from five days ago when lawmakers angrily threw out a similar proposal as "bank robbery."

A senior Cypriot official said Nicosia had agreed with its lenders on a 20 percent levy over and above 100,000 euros at the island's largest lender, Bank of Cyprus, and four percent on deposits over the same level at other banks.


Finance Minister Michael Sarris spoke of "significant progress" in morning talks, as angry demonstrators outside the finance ministry chanted "resign, resign!"

The EU's Economic Affairs Commissioner, Olli Rehn, said progress was being made, but warned of tough times ahead.

"Unfortunately, the events of recent days have led to a situation where there are no longer any optimal solutions available," he said in a statement. "Today, there are only hard choices left."

In a stunning vote on Tuesday, Cyprus's 56-seat parliament rejected a levy on depositors, big and small, and Sarris spent three fruitless days in Moscow trying to win help from Russia, whose citizens have billions of euros at stake in Cypriot banks.

Rebuffed by the Kremlin, Sarris said the levy was back "on the table."

On Friday, lawmakers voted in late-night session to nationalise pension funds and split failing lenders into good and bad banks - a measure likely to be applied to No.2 lender Cyprus Popular Bank, also known as Laiki.

Cypriot media reports suggested talks were stuck on a demand by the IMF that Bank of Cyprus absorb the good assets of competitor Popular Bank and take on its nine billion euro debt to the central bank as well.

The reports said the Cypriot government was resisting.

A Cypriot plan to tap pension funds had already been shelved, a senior Cypriot official told Reuters, under opposition from Germany, which had warned the measure might be even more painful for ordinary Cypriots than a deposit levy.

It was also far from certain that a majority of lawmakers would back a revised levy, or whether the government might even try to bypass the assembly.

Ordinary Cypriots have been outraged by the levy and stunned at the pace of the unfolding drama. They elected Anastasiades in February on a mandate to secure a bailout and save banks whose capital was wiped out by investments in Greece, the epicentre of the euro zone debt crisis.


But for the past week they have been besieging cash machines ever since bank doors were closed on the orders of the government to avert a massive capital flight. Anticipating a run on banks when they reopen on Tuesday, parliament has given the government powers to impose capital controls.

On Saturday, some 1,500 protesters, many of them bank workers, marched on the presidency, holding banners that read, "No to the bankruptcy of Cyprus" and "Hands of workers' welfare funds".

The levy on bank deposits represents an unprecedented step in Europe's handling of a debt crisis that has spread from Greece, to Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Cypriot leaders had initially tried to spread the pain between big holdings and smaller depositors, fearing the damage it would inflict on the country as an offshore financial haven for wealthy foreigners, many of them Russians and Britons.

The tottering banks hold 68 billion euros in deposits, including 38 billion in accounts of more than 100,000 euros,- enormous sums for an island of 1.1 million people which could never sustain such a big financial system on its own.

"Cypriot banks have for years been taking the kinds of risks that are not allowed in France," Bank of France governor Christian Noyer told the French newspaper Le Journal Du Dimanche. "Nobody wants Cyprus to leave the euro," he said. "The first people to suffer would be Cypriot citizens."

(Additional reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Luke Baker in Brussels, Costas Pitas and Laura Noonan in Nicosia; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Todd Eastham)

Related Stories:
Cyprus bailout talks "at very delicate stage" - government

Factbox - The Cyprus banks that have transfixed the world

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Jury declines to impose death penalty in Puerto Rico murders

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 06:50 PM PDT

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) - A man convicted of killing eight people in a crowded bar in Puerto Rico was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison on Saturday in only the fifth case in which prosecutors have sought capital punishment on the island.

The jury failed to reach a unanimous decision on a death sentence for Alexis Candelario Santana, 41, who was convicted by the same panel earlier this month for the so-called La Tombola killings of October 2009.

The death penalty is banned under Puerto Rico's constitution but applicable in certain federal cases. The island is U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

Although there is strong opposition to the death penalty, crime has become a top public concern in Puerto Rico and the La Tombola killings were seen as particularly brazen and brutal. One of the people slain was a pregnant woman.

Candelario would have been the first person put to death in Puerto Rico since 1927 and the first under the federal death penalty statute.

He was convicted of being the mastermind and a participant of the shooting rampage, in which gunmen opened fire in the La Tombola bar in Toa Baja, a suburb west of San Juan.

Authorities said the shootings were retaliation against the bar owner, who had taken control of local drug sales when Candelario was in prison.

Candelario has been convicted for 10 other killings over the past decade in battles over the drug trade. Prosecutors say he has killed 22 people and attempted to kill another 19 in all.

His case marked the fifth time federal prosecutors sought and failed to get the death penalty imposed in Puerto Rico.

"I express my most profound respect to the jury for the decision it has taken. With it they have sustained the conviction of the Puerto Rican people that capital punishment should not be applied under any circumstances," Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said in a statement.

The governor said he has asked U.S. Attorney Eric Holder not to certify any other federal case in Puerto Rico for the death penalty.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Police confirm second Canadian linked to Algeria gas plant attack

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 06:31 PM PDT

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian police said on Saturday that they had identified a second Canadian among the dead suspects in a January attack and hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant.

Around 70 people died when Algerian troops stormed the Tigantourine desert gas plant near the town of In Amenas and ended the siege. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said at the time that a Canadian gunman had coordinated the operation.

A general view of damage caused by a siege by Islamist militants earlier this month at the Tiguentourine Gas Plant in In Amenas, 1600 km (994 miles) southeast of Algiers, January 31, 2013. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

A general view of damage caused by a siege by Islamist militants earlier this month at the Tiguentourine Gas Plant in In Amenas, 1600 km (994 miles) southeast of Algiers, January 31, 2013. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were dispatched to Algeria to investigate. A spokesman for Canada's national police force said in an e-mail on Saturday that a second Canadian had been identified from the remains of the alleged attackers.

"Our investigation into this matter continues and no further information will be given at this time," the spokesman said.

U.S. intelligence officials had said in January that signs that Canadian citizens were involved in the attack by Islamist militants were of great concern to American authorities.

The possibility that Canadian citizens were involved in the attack on the facility in the Algerian desert raised concerns among security officials about a worrying nexus between North America and North African militants.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Jeffrey Hodgson in Toronto; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters


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Tiger seizes two-stroke lead at Bay Hill

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 06:02 PM PDT

ORLANDO (Florida): Tiger Woods, set to return to the World No. 1 ranking with a victory, fired a six-under par 66 Saturday to seize a two-shot lead after the third round of the US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Defending champion Woods sank 17 of 18 putts within 20 feet of the cup to finish 54 holes at Bay Hill, where he already has won seven titles, on 11-under par 205.

"I played actually halfway decent, hit a lot of good shots," Woods said. "Made a few putts. That was the key today. I was very pleased with how I played."

Woods made five birdies, a bogey and an eagle at the par-5 16th to grab the lead, with England's Justin Rose and Americans Rickie Fowler and John Huh sharing second on 207.

Woods, who has won 50 times in 54 tries when holding the lead entering the final round, seeks his 77th career PGA triumph - five shy of matching Sam Snead's all-time record - in his final tuneup event for next month's Masters.

Five days after revealing that he is dating US ski star Lindsey Vonn, the 37-year-old American put himself in position to overtake top-ranked Rory McIlroy by capturing the US$6.2mil event.

Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has spent a record 623 weeks atop the world rankings.

But Woods has not paced the rankings since October of 2010 after injuries and an infamous sex scandal saw him stumble from the top 50.

Woods has won five titles in the past 12 months, a run that began at Palmer's event last year when he won his first PGA title since the sex scandal. This year, Woods has already collected triumphs at Torrey Pines and Doral.

Woods would become the first player to win the same PGA event eight times with a triumph on Sunday. He is already the first to win eight times at the same course after seven PGA titles and the 2008 US Open crown at Torrey Pines.

With seven titles each at Bay Hill and Firestone and eight wins at Torrey Pines, Woods has dominated multiple events like no player in PGA history. He has never lost a 54-hole lead on any of those favorite courses.

Woods said the greens became bumpier as the day wore on. "They were holding," Woods said. "There were a lot of spike marks up there. It was kind of bouncy."

An example was the 15th green, where Woods said, "I had 'Mount Everest' in my line there. I had to go around it and had dying speed to just drop it in."

Woods began the day four strokes off the pace. He birdied the par-5 fourth and sixth holes, dropping an eight-foot birdie at six. He gave himself a two-footer for birdie at the par-3 seventh and made that.

After starting the back nine with a birdie thanks to an approach from 115 yards that stopped inches from the cup, Woods took his only bogey at the par-4 13th.

Staring at another bogey from a greenside bunker at the par-3 14th, Woods landed his bunker shot inches from the cup to save par, then followed with a 17-foot birdie putt at 15.

At 16, Woods smashed his second shot 183 yards and drained a 19-foot eagle putt to seize the lead.

Woods made another sand save at 18, a hole he had bogeyed in each of the first two rounds. After finding a fairway divot and then a bunker, Woods blasted out and holed a nine-footer for par.

Rose, who began the day with a share of the lead, started strong with two birdies and an eagle in the first four holes but took a bogey at the seventh and made four more bogeys against a lone birdie coming in.

After sinking a 17-foot birdie putt on first hole and a 19-foot eagle putt on the fourth, Rose would miss a 25-foot birdie putt at 16 and a five-foot par putt at 17 on his way to a 72.

Fowler, 24, had six birdies, including three at par-5s, his 67 putting him in Sunday's final group with Woods.

Huh, 22, birdied the 17th on his way to a 71. He just missed becoming the first player since Davis Love in 1999 to birdie the 18th hole in the first three rounds, off an inch to the right from 16 feet. - AFP

Murray rips Tomic while Li Na, Radwanska advance

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 05:00 PM PDT

MIAMI: Britain's second-seeded Andy Murray mastered the tricky conditions and made short work of Australian Bernard Tomic on Saturday to reach the third round of the Miami ATP Masters and WTA tournament.

Tomic managed to win only 10 points in the final set of a 56-minute match dominated by the reigning Olympic and US Open champion, who has a training base in Miami.

"It's very tough conditions," Murray said of his determination to get off to a quick start in his first match after enjoying a first-round bye.

"You're never going to feel great your first match, especially when it's tricky conditions and with his game style, too," added the Scot.

"I don't know if he was tired or struggling with the humidity, but he was playing pretty low-percentage tennis. That played into my hands."

World No. 3 Murray wasn't sure that Tomic deserved the jeers he heard from fans as he faded in the second set.

"You know, it is tough when you're going behind and making quite a lot of mistakes," Murray said. "I have done it before when my head has gone down and you still want to win, but it doesn't always appear that way."

Murray, who lost to top-ranked Novak Djokovic in last year's final, next faces Grigor Dimitrov, who won the first set against Simone Bolelli with the second set level at 1-1 when the Italian retired.

Murray, the 2009 Miami champion, beat the rising Bulgarian star to retain his title in Brisbane in January.

The Scot remained perfect against Tomic, the youngest player in the ATP top 100 at age 20, after having won their only prior meeting 6-3, 6-2 last year in a semi-final at Brisbane.

Murray broke in the fifth game and then held serve for a 4-2 lead, taking full advantage of 14 unforced errors in the first six games by Tomic.

Tomic netted a backhand to hand Murray a second break, and the first set, in the ninth game of the match.

Murray broke Tomic twice in the second set as well, and closed it out with his eighth ace.

In other men's matches, French sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Serbia's Viktor Troicki 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 to reach the third round.

Tsonga seized a 5-1 lead in the tie-breaker but the Serb scored the next five points to earn his second set point. Tsonga denied him with an ace and two points later, Troicki netted a drop volley to hand the Frenchman the first set.

Tsonga needed four break chances but finally took the opening game of the second set when Troicki netted a backhand.

Troicki could never get back on terms, going 0-for-5 on break chances in the second set.

Defending women's champion Agnieszka Radwanska outlasted Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6 (7/5), 2-6, 6-3 to reach the round of 16.

The Polish fourth seed has a chance to become the first repeat women's winner at Miami since Serena Williams in 2007-2008.

Radwanska will next face Sloane Stephens who advanced when Venus Williams withdrew with a back injury.

World No. 1 Serena Williams was set to face Japan's Ayumi Morita in a marquee night match.

Fifth-seeded Li Na of China booked her fourth-round berth with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Varvara Lepchenko.

Li smacked 19 winners and fought off a late comeback bid by the American, who battled back from 4-2 down in the second set to level the frame at 4-4.

Li broke her again in the 10th game to seal the match, belting a forehand winner to end matters. - AFP

Venus withdraws from Miami with back injury

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 04:57 PM PDT

MIAMI (Florida): Three-time Miami champion Venus Williams withdrew from the WTA and ATP Masters Miami hardcourt tournament on Saturday with a lower back injury.

The US 19th seed was to have faced 16th-seeded compatriot Sloane Stephens in a third-round match at the US$8.5mil event.

Williams had opened by defeating Japan's Kimiko Date-Krum 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-4 but said she could not be sure if the tough match played a role in forcing her out of the tournament.

"Yesterday I was having some pain, and then just wanted to see how I felt in the warmup - just not able to play today," Williams said. "It's really disappointing. This is just the kind of tournament you want to play well at.

"But I have faced disappointments in my life and my career. It's not the first, probably not the last, just have to get through it and stay positive."

In 2011, Williams was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, an auto-immune disease that can cause fatigue.

Williams is a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion whose most recent major title came in 2008 at Wimbledon, where she is a five-time champion.

She hopes to play again next month in Charleston, South Carolina. "I've dealt with injuries before in my whole career," she said. "I know how to hopefully recover quickly from them. I'm playing in Charleston, so that's really still my goal, to get ready to play there."

With the walkover, 20-year-old Stephens advanced to a matchup against defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska, who outlasted Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6 (7/5), 2-6, 6-3.

The Polish fourth seed has a chance to become the first repeat women's winner at Miami since Serena Williams in 2007-2008. - AFP


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Cypriot parliament to debate levy only after Eurogroup meeting

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 01:31 AM PDT

Published: Saturday March 23, 2013 MYT 4:32:00 PM

NICOSIA: The Cypriot parliament will not debate a possible levy on bank deposits until after finance ministers of the 17-nation euro zone meet on Sunday, a senior lawmaker said on Saturday.

"We will meet after the Eurogroup meeting. I don't know when," the lawmaker, who declined to be named, told Reuters. - Reuters

Cyprus closes in on EU bailout, U-turn on levy

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 01:14 AM PDT

NICOSIA: Cyprus is expected to make a dramatic U-turn on Saturday to avert the imminent threat of financial meltdown, having signaled it is willing to tax big savers in its stricken banks to clinch a bailout from the European Union.

The island's partners in the 17-nation euro zone scheduled a meeting for Sunday in Brussels, in a strong sign they believe a solution is near.

As hundreds of demonstrators faced off with riot police outside parliament late into Friday night, lawmakers inside voted to nationalize pension funds, pool state assets for a bond issue and peel good assets from bad in stricken banks.

Officials said a deal was imminent to raise 5.8 billion euros demanded by the EU in return for a 10 billion euro ($13.00 billion) lifeline, including some kind of levy on bank deposits, which could be voted on as soon as Saturday.

Without a deal by Monday, the European Central Bank has threatened to cut off cash for Cypriot banks, spelling certain collapse and possible ejection from the euro.

Cyprus moved perilously close to bankruptcy when its parliament threw out the proposed levy on Tuesday, with Cypriots enraged by plans to hit small holdings of ordinary savers as well as large accounts, many held by foreign investors.

In the absence of the bank levy, Nicosia turned to Russia, whose citizens have billions of euros at stake in Cyprus's outsized banking sector. But Finance Minister Michael Sarris returned from Moscow empty-handed. On Friday he said the bank levy was back "on the table".

Party officials told Reuters that discussions were centered on a levy on depositors holding over 100,000 euros, sparing smaller savers. One official said the tax could be limited to big savers at the island's biggest lender, Bank of Cyprus, at a 20 percent rate.

Lawmakers adopted a bill that would pave the way for the government to split its failing lenders into good and bad banks. The measure is likely to target Bank of Cyprus and No. 2 lender Cyprus Popular Bank, also known as Laiki, and would make it easier for the government to safeguard deposits that enjoy a state guarantee of up to 100,000 euros.

"With the process of consolidation, the depositors over 100,000 euros will wait for several years to see how much of their deposits they will collect," said Averof Neophytou, deputy leader of the ruling Democratic Rally party.

"At the same time, this political decision to support this harsh law safeguards 100 percent of the deposits of 361,000 depositors in Laiki Bank," he added, referring to depositors with up to 100,000 euros.

In Finland, an ally of Germany in disciplining euro zone partners, European affairs minister Alexander Stubb told Reuters he was confident Cyprus would accept EU rescue terms "because there are no other options".

The pace of the unfolding drama has stunned Cypriots, who barely a month ago elected conservative President Nicos Anastasiades on a mandate to secure a bailout.

But lawmakers balked at hitting small savers with the bank levy, a rejection of the kind of strict austerity signed up to by Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain and Italy over the last three years of Europe's debt crisis.

Germany warned Cyprus it was "playing with fire". Moody's downgraded its credit rating on deposits in Cypriot banks to Caa3, just two rungs from the bottom on its 11-grade scale of junk debt.

The EU says the only way to find the 5.8 billion euros Cyprus needs to contribute to the bailout of its banks is from the depositors who put money in them.

The tottering banks hold 68 billion euros in deposits, including 38 billion in accounts of more than 100,000 euros - enormous sums for an island of 1.1 million people which could never sustain such a big financial system on its own. Much of the banks' capital was wiped out by investments in Greece.

Many of the biggest depositors are foreigners, including rich Russians, and European politicians are loathe to spend taxpayers' money on a bailout if the depositors take no losses.


With banks in Cyprus closed until Tuesday, Cypriots have been besieging bank cash machines all week. Faced with an almost certain run on banks when they reopen, parliament also gave the government the power to impose capital controls.

"Our so-called friends and partners sold us out," said Marios Panayides, 65, a protester at the parliament. "They have completely abandoned us on the edge of an abyss."

Retailers, facing cash-on-delivery demands from suppliers, warned stocks were running low.

"At the moment, supplies will last another two or three days," said Adamos Hadijadamou, head of Cyprus's Association of Supermarkets. "We'll have a problem if this is not resolved by next week."

The Bank of Cyprus urged the government to go back and cut a deal with the EU under which larger deposits over 100,000 euros would be taxed. It was preferable, it said, to a collapse of the system and ejection from the euro which would wipe out assets.

"There must be no further delay," the bank said.

Taking a first step toward financial consolidation, Cyprus arranged on Friday for the takeover of big Greek units of its two biggest banks by a Greek competitor.

EU officials criticize Cyprus for initially insisting any deposit levy should hit even small savers. Cypriot leaders did not want to shift the whole burden to bigger depositors in the apparent hope of saving Cyprus's offshore banking industry.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers that while she wanted to keep Cyprus in the euro zone, it must first recognize it had no future as an offshore financial center, two parliamentarians told Reuters.

Her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said that muted reactions to the crisis in financial markets showed the euro zone was able to contain the Cyprus problem.

The Dutch head of the euro zone finance ministers' group, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said the group wanted to keep Cyprus in the currency union. But when asked, he did not rule out an exit.

"All kinds of scenarios are possible and the scenarios we're focusing on are to come to a joint solution in which Cyprus is saved but in which the banking sector continues in a smaller but healthier form." - Reuters

Wall Street Week Ahead: Cyprus deal could spur S&P 500 to new peak

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 01:12 AM PDT

NEW YORK: Stocks could break through to all-time closing highs next week - provided a resolution to the fiscal woes of Cyprus satisfies investors.

The island nation accounts for a fraction of euro zone economic output, and yet the wrangling over a 10 billion euro($13 billion) bailout package kept markets on edge throughout this past week. The S&P 500 fell for the first time in four weeks, with weakness linked to uncertainty overseas.

The Cypriot ruling party said Friday that it was close to a deal to raise billions of euros in order to secure a bailout from the European Union to avoid a financial meltdown and a potential exit from the euro.

Euro zone leaders have offered the country 10 billion euros on the condition it raises 5.8 billion euros on its own. The rescue plan is smaller in scope than previous bailouts to euro zone members, making investors worry less about a banking collapse and more about the possibility Cyprus would exit the bloc and drop the euro currency.

The worry "is the psychological knock-on effect of the credible possibility of some (country) saying Cyprus got out, now they are on their own, they devalued their currency, they don't have to go through austerity'," said Art Hogan, managing director at Lazard Capital Markets in New York.

"What is going to stop Greece from doing the same thing? And you start a daisy chain."

Similarly, investors had reacted harshly to proposals by European officials to tax depositors - including those protected by depositor insurance - to fund the bailout. That sparked some selling on the idea that such a plan could set a precedent for dealing with other troubled euro zone economies, and set off bank runs across the continent.

Assuming Cyprus's troubles are solved, investors will turn their attention to economic data due during the holiday-shortened week, with equity markets closed on Friday for the Good Friday holiday.

The data will include orders for durable goods orders and pending home sales for February as well as the final reading of fourth-quarter gross domestic product.

But with the trend of economic data showing a slow improvement in the U.S. economy, few negative surprises are expected next week. That could enable the S&P 500 <.spx><.inx> to once again make a run at its all-time closing high of 1,565.15. After all, for all of the worry about Cyprus, the S&P only dipped 0.3 percent this week and the benchmark index remains up more than 9 percent for the year.

"The story doesn't seem to be weakening and domestically it seems to be growing in terms of strength," said Sandy Lincoln, chief market strategist at BMO Asset Management U.S. in Chicago.

"People are looking at a better backdrop, whether it is the jobs data, the GDP data or the consumer stepping up on the retail sales side in spite of fiscal drag."

Stocks could see another boost in the form of quarter-end "window dressing" in which money managers add outperforming stocks to their portfolios.

"You are coming into the end of the quarter, everybody has some great results. You are going to get some window dressing on some of the stocks that are doing well," said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont.

With earnings season several weeks away, only nine S&P 500 companies are expected to report quarterly results next week, including discount retailer Dollar General Corp and video game retailer Gamestop Corp .

Only a few companies released results this week, but they were disconcerting. Oracle Corp , the world's No. 3 software maker, fell well short of revenue expectations. FedEx Corp , the second-largest U.S. package delivery company, cut its forecast for the year.

According to Thomson Reuters data, of the 491 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported quarterly earnings, 69 percent have topped analysts' expectations, compared with 62 percent since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.

A strong showing next week could push the index past both its record closing high as well as its record intraday high of 1576.09.

But the index has faced stiff resistance in prior attempts to break the mark, climbing as high as 1,563.62 before losing steam. As more attempts to break the mark fall short, the likelihood of a bigger dip that many analysts have been expecting increases.

"Every time it gets up there, it seems to sell off, so you have to get through that resistance point," Mendelsohn said.

"Once we get through that resistance point that will probably bring more buyers in. If you can't get through it, that will probably encourage some of the sellers a little bit." - Reuters


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It has a calming effect, Dompok says of meeting with Pope Francis

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 08:14 AM PDT

PENAMPANG: For Catholics, meeting the Pope once in their lifetime is a dream come true.

Tan Sri Bernard Dompok has been to the Vatican four times, and had an audience with three pontiffs.

"Each time, the experience is different, yet somehow the same. It has a calming effect, one which we could feel deep inside us, for days," he said.

The plantation industries and commodities minister was speaking to reporters here after arriving from the Vatican where he led a Malaysian delegation for last Tuesday's inauguration of Pope Francis as the Catholic Church's 266th pontiff.

"It was solemn. Wonderful. After the Inauguration Mass, the pontiff took time off to meet all the state representatives.

"It was both very touching and unravelling at the same time.

"My wife (Puan Sri Diana) was with me in front of St Peter's tomb inside the St Peter's Basilica.

"We requested the Pope to bless our rosaries. He obliged. And, he asked us to pray for him. It all lasted about a couple of minutes, but it felt like eternity. To us, it was a very special moment," he noted.

Dompok, who is United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) president, disclosed the recent trip meant he had met three popes, namely Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVII and Pope Francis in the last decade.

"I was in a delegation led by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to meet Pope John Paul in 2002. That was the time we brought up the subject of diplomatic ties," he said.

Dompok led a Malaysian delegation for Pope John Paul's funeral in 2005. He was also part of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's delegation to cement diplomatic ties by meeting Pope Benedict, three years ago.

"I am honoured to have been asked to represent the country.

"This trip is different in the sense that Malaysia has now joined the ranks of countries with diplomatic ties with the Vatican," he added.

Malaysia was among the 132 countries which sent representatives for the historic event at the St Peter's Square last Tuesday. The event was attended by about 200,000 people from all over the world.

The relationship enabled Malaysia to be among those seated nearest to the Pope during the inauguration, together with world representatives, including Argentina, United States of America and the Philippines, said Dompok.

"I was flanked by delegates from Iraq and Mozambique," he added.

Last year, Pope Benedict had appointed Archbishop Joseph Marino, an American, to be Apostolic Nuncio for Malaysia based in Kuala Lumpur.

He is also nuncio for East Timor, as well as Apostolic Delegate for Brunei.

"Actually, Malaysia has had good ties with the Holy See for decades. That's why, we have had missionaries on our shores, as early as in the 50s.

"During Pope John Paul's funeral, we were accorded special treatment, even though we had yet to have diplomatic ties," he said.

Dompok's delegation included Malaysia's ambassadors to the Vatican and Italy, Datuk Ho May Yong and Datin Paduka Halimah Abdullah, respectively, as well as his special tasks officer Albert Bingkasan. - Bernama.

SM Chong Hwa gets another RM3mil from govt for school building

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 08:13 AM PDT

KUANTAN: The Government on Saturday announced an additional contribution of RM3mil for the new SM Chong Hwa independent school building here, bringing the total allocation to RM5mil.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak made the announcement at a fund-raising dinner which was attended by thousands of people, including Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan, at Stadium Darul Makmur.

Federation of Chinese Associations president Tan Sri Pheng Yin Huah praised the Prime Minister for his open-minded approach towards Chinese education.

He said Najib did not hesitate to give his approval for the Chinese school to be built.

"In October last year, he had even allocated RM2mil for the school building," said Pheng, who is the school's board chairman.

The RM30mil school is to be built on a 6.07ha land about six kilometres from Kuantan. It is expected to be ready in two years.

Pheng said construction was going smoothly and the school was expected to open for classes in January 2014.

He said RM6mil had been raised at the fund-raising event and funds were expected to exceed RM10mil.

Najib also announced that RM300,000 raised at the dinner tonight would be donated to the Lahad Datu Heroes Fund for the security forces' personnel killed in the clash with the Sulu terrorist intruders in Sabah.

The prime minister said the donation to the fund reflected the loyalty of the Chinese community to the country and appreciation for the sacrifices of the security forces.

Jackie Chan also helped to contribute to the fund-raising by auctioning merchandise.

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Thousands join PM, Jackie Chan at fund-raising dinner for school

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 07:34 AM PDT

KUANTAN: The folks here came out in full force to support the fundraising dinner for the new Chinese independent high school as well as catch a glimpse of their idol, Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan, on Saturday.

A continuous stream of people started arriving at Stadium Darul Makmur as early as 6pm, in anticipation of a night of entertainment.

Joining them were Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor.

School board chairman Tan Sri Pheng Yin Huah said he hoped the event would raise at least RM10mil for the construction of the SM Chong Hwa school which cost about RM30mil.

Besides Chan, the guests were entertained by a star-studded cast including Malaysian Idol Jaclyn Victor, rockstar Rahim Maarof and Astro Talent Quest winner Eric Lim.

Lion dance performers were seen in their sparkling gold-laced costumes.

The stadium was transformed into a glamorous dinner-cum-concert venue complete with a huge stage as hundreds mingled near the grandstand to get a closer view of the performances.

The clear sky and evening breeze was also a welcome respite from the scorching hot afternoon sun earlier in the day.

Just across the road, thousands of people were also seen thronging the last leg of the Jelajah Janji Ditepati roadshow.

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Jackie Chan to join PM in fund-raising programme


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Thousands pack Ellen DeGeneres' Sydney filming

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 12:40 AM PDT

SYDNEY: Hollywood star Russell Crowe and Australian footballers joined US talk show host Ellen DeGeneres in Sydney for the first filming of her popular programme Down Under Saturday.

"I love you guys," DeGeneres told the 3,000 fans who packed an open-air Royal Botanic Garden set which looked out across the harbour to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

"I love this country. I'm moving here," she joked.

DeGeneres arrived in Sydney with her Australian actor wife Portia de Rossi on Friday for the highly-anticipated six-day visit officials are hoping will boost tourism.

Crowe, recruited to instruct DeGeneres in how to use a stockman's whip, produced a map of Australia and did his bit to deliver the tourism message.

"Spending a small amount of time in Australia is not as good as spending a lot of time in Australia," the Oscar-winning actor said.

Also on stage with the popular host were Australian Rules footballers from the Sydney Swans and rugby league star Greg Inglis, who plays for Crowe's South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Hundreds of cheering fans greeted the American comedian when she touched down in Sydney airport, and thousands more queued up for hours for tickets to the taping which were available on a first-in, first-served basis.

"It's all worth it. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we're just so excited that she's here," one woman said after waiting five hours for her tickets.

Authorities hope the visit by the talk show queen to Sydney and Melbourne will showcase the cities to a broad American audience, with Destination New South Wales chief Sandra Chipchase saying the trip was a "golden" opportunity.

DeGeneres spent part of Friday getting up close to koalas and giraffes at Taronga Zoo and her visit has even inspired a response from Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is facing turbulent times in her Labor Party.

"Welcome to Australia TheEllenShow. Hope you get to see as much as possible of our beautiful country. JG," Gillard tweeted.-AFP

Cannes opts for real-life romance for festival poster

Posted: 22 Mar 2013 06:51 PM PDT

PARIS: A 50-year-old photo of Hollywood love match Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward locked in a tender embrace will grace the poster of the Cannes Film Festival this year, organisers said Friday.

The remastered black-and-white shot shows the couple lying in the foetal position in a yin and yang pattern, their bodies stretched out in opposite directions but their heads meeting in the middle, and kissing.

They lie against a dynamic background of black-and-white rays shooting out from their central meeting point - and bold, red letters spell out the festival details.

"To grace the poster for its 66th edition, the Festival de Cannes has chosen a couple who embody the spirit of cinema like no other: Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman," organisers said in a statement.

The photograph was taken during the shooting of the 1963 Melville Shavelson film "A New Kind of Love" in which the couple played the romantic leads.

"For the festival it is a chance both to pay tribute to the memory of Paul Newman, who passed away in 2008, and to mark the undying admiration for Joanne Woodward, his wife and most favoured co-star," they said.

The couple was honoured in Cannes in 1958, the year of their marriage, when their first joint film "The Long Hot Summer" was selected for competition.

As a director, Newman cast his wife in "The Effect of the Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" and "The Glass Menagerie" - both of which were selected for the festival in 1973 and 1987.

The original photo of the pair was remastered by the Bronx agency in Paris, which added a kinetic effect.

"The poster evokes a luminous and tender image of the modern couple, intertwined in perfect balance at the heart of the dizzying whirlwind that is love," said the statement.

"The vision of these two lovers caught in a vertiginous embrace, oblivious to the world around them, invites us to experience cinema with all the passion of an everlasting desire."

Cannes, one of the world's top film festivals, opens on May 15 and will climax on May 26 with awards selected by a jury headed this year by Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg.

Previous festival posters have included portraits of cinema muses, including a photo of Marilyn Monroe blowing out a birthday candle, as well as old, original movie illustrations and new designs. - AFP


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Metro watch

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 07:05 AM PDT


The Eco-B Forum will be held on March 27 at the Plenary Theatre of the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from 9am to 1pm. Four leading regional architects will be sharing on innovations in green architecture including Elora Hardy, BC Ang, Vo Trong Nghia and Yip Yuen Hong. Registrations fees are priced at RM100 for students, RM150 for PAM members and RM200 for visitors. For details, call 03-2693 4182 or email


The left-most lane of Jalan Cheras (Kajang-bound) will be closed in stages on four consecutive Sundays beginning March 17, from 8am to 5am. The closure is between Taman Pertama and BHP Petrol Station and is 120m long. The lane closure is being implemented after a trial closure was previously done, and showed no adverse impact on the Kajang-bound traffic. The closure is necessary to facilitate utility works in the area, which is an essential process in the construction of future MRT stations.


Yayasan Kebajikan SSL Strok will be organising a community health talk entitled "Enjoy Sports Without Injuries" on April 13, from 8.30am to 1pm at SSL Puchong Dialysis and Stroke Rehabilitation Centre. Free health screening including blood pressure, body mass index and musculoskeletal condition assessments will be conducted. Those interested in joining the talk, call Michelle Yap at 03-5582 9181.


Check out beautiful artworks using net fabric by cancer survivor Elaine Therese Lim titled "Songs of the Desert". The art exhibition is open from 10.30am to 10pm at Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac), Sentul West, from today until March 24. Part of proceeds will go be donated to National Society of Malaysia.For details call, 03-4047 9010.


Speakers Dream Toastmasters Club will be organising the Toastmasters Awareness 2013 for public. It will be on March 25 from 7.30pm at Kelab Golf Perkhidmatan Awam, Petaling Jaya. Admission is free. For details call 012-3113026 (Sew).


There will be free health screenings tomorrow, 9am-1pm, at Serdang MCA branch, 21-3, Jalan BS 4/2, Bukit Serdang. It is organised by 1MCA Foundation and co-organised by Serdang MCA, MCA Crisis Relief Squad and the Seri Kembangan JKKKP. For details, call 019-669 6237 or visit,


The Society for Inner Resources Development Malaysia is holding a Youth Career Development Workshop tomorrow, 10.30am to 4.00pm, on the topic of personal development at SIRD centre, 23 Jalan 11/12, Seksyen 11, Petaling Jaya. The workshop is open to youths aged between 18 and 30 years old. For details and registration, call Kamala (012-931 0277) or Sumesh (014-731 9802).

Saturday events

Posted: 23 Mar 2013 07:05 AM PDT

Art on friendship

Soka Gakkai Malaysia and the organising committee of the Malaysia-China Friendship Arts Exchange Exhibition will be presenting a public art exhibition titled "Malaysia-China Friendship ARts Exchange Exhibition", showcasing works by 24 renowned artists of modern and contemporary art from Malaysia and Qingdao province, China. The exhibition will be held at Wisma Kebudayaan SGM, 243 Jalan Bukit Bintang from now until March 31. For details, call 03-9075 6875 or visit

Young calligraphers

Three siblings aged between eight and 15 are having a joint calligraphy exhibition at Mo-Dian Cultural Centre from now till March 26. The young calligraphers, who are the children of Mo-Dian's director Kerk Won Hoo, began writing since they were five years old. Mo-Dian Cultural Centre is located at 18C, Jalan Kapar, Klang. Opening hours are from 11am to 4pm. For details, call 017-358 0121.

Earth Hour

> More than 30 Pavilion Juniors will be pledging to save Mother Earth with their hand prints at Bukit Bintang entrance in Pavilion KL at 8.30pm today. Held for the fifth consecutive year in Malaysia, Earth Hour has reached over 7,000 cities, 152 countries across the globe. It will be turning off all non-essential lights on and around its premises. A line-up of fun activities that include a Glow-in-the-Dark Hand Print pledge to save Mother Earth, as well as a Glow-in-the-Dark Fancy Dress Competition will be held from 8pm-9.30pm.

>In conjunction with Earth Hour, the National Planetarium KL will be having A Night@Planetarium celebration from 7.30pm to 10pm today. Entrance is free of charge. For details, call 03-2273 4303.

> World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) and Sunway Shopping Mall are having the Earth Hour 2013 event at the main entrance of Sunway Pyramid from 8.30pm to 9.30pm today. Several activities including performance by the five finalist bands, quiz and contest giveaways, "Dance with the Panda" workshop, and a Green Parade accompanied by Air Symphony Orchestra, from 4.30pm until 10pm. n Alamanda Shopping Centre in Putrajaya is inviting everyone to participate in its Earth Hour campaign this weekend. Find out what you can do to save the planet and take part in fun green activities. For details, log on to or call 03-8888 8882.

> Suria KLCC encourages all Malaysians to go green in conjunction with Earth Hour 2013. From 8.30pm to 9.30pm, all non-essential lights in the mall will be switched off. Suria KLCC will also support the event which will be launched by Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib. Among the performances put in place for the event are multi-cultural drums show, beat boxer, UV dance routine and drum performance by KL Drumline Corps.

> fahrenheit88 celebrates Earth Hour with the 'GO 60' theme. Shoppers can participate in a special glow-in-the-dark creative event or shop to their hearts' desires with exclusive one-day only discounts and privileges. Besides this, 60 shoppers gathered from social media sites will bring one recycled glass jar and tune up their creativity in decorating their own neon glow jars.

Songket weaving

As part of the launch of its new "Songket" collection, Royal Selangor will be hosting a special songket weaving demonstration at its flagship store in Pavilion KL. Head on over to watch an experienced songket weaver create meticulous, beautiful patterns with gold thread. The weaving machine will also be on display in the store until tomorrow.

Save the elephants

Paying tribute to the recent unfortunate incident involving the Borneo Pygmy elephants, Sunway Pyramid is organising the EleFUN Holiday: A Pygmy Elephant Project until March 31. There will be plenty of fun-filled and educational activities at LG1 main concourse, including the Leo and Leona Walkabout, Go Green With Leo and Friends Workshops, Colour A Pygmy, Pot-a-Plant, Forest Talk and Save Energy Workshops. There will also be displays of Pygmy Elephant sculptures as painted by independent local artists and talents, such as Ellie Ng and Christine Das, and shoppers can donate towards the Borneo Conservation Trust in the Pygmy Elephants' conservation efforts and research.

Kids nutrition camp

In conjunction with Nutrition Month, Prince Court Medical Centre will hold a Kids Camp from 10am to 1pm today. There will be DIY (Do-it-yourself) cooking and drawing contests for children aged seven to 11 and colouring contest for children aged four to six. To take part, call 03-2160 0000 ext 1369 (Azah) or 1102 (Nana).

Screening workshop

Pantai Hospital Cheras will be conducting regular free uroflowmetry screening workshops to educate the public on urinary blockage and its resulting diseases such as urinary tract infection. The workshops will be held every Saturday from 9am to 1pm,, from today until May 25. For details, call 03-9132 2022 ext 1036 (Faridah) or 012-365 3444 (Timothy Lai).

Contemporary art

An art exhibition entitled 'The Women' by Yau Bee Ling will be at Wei-Ling Contemporary at The Gardens Mall from today until April 9. Known for her distinctive layered works, Yau Bee Ling is regarded as one of the most powerful contemporary painters in Malaysia today. Yau Bee Ling's works have attracted attention overseas and in the past has been invited to exhibit her works in Japan, Singapore, Pakistan, China, Hong Kong, Sweden and Bangladesh. Wei-Ling Contemporary is open daily from 10am-9pm. For details, call 03-2260 1106 or 03-2282 8323 or email for more information.

Petronas expo

In conjunction with the Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix this weekend, Petronas Dagangan Berhad (PDB) will be organising the Petronas XTrack event at the Sepang International Circuit (open car park) from 9am to 3pm today and tomorrow. Various activities such as All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) ride, go kart, rally and drift will be conducted with exciting prizes up for grabs. Entry is free. For details, logon to

Jom health carnival

A JOM Sihat Carnival will be held at Tasik Seri Serdang from 8am to 2pm today. There will be aerobics, gotong-royong, colouring contest, health screening, exhibitions, speed boat show, cooking competition, stalls with health food, traditional games for the visitors. For details, call 017-303 7123 or 03-8026 4350.


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Club head: Opposition fanning racial sentiment with short-term self interest

Posted: 22 Mar 2013 09:18 PM PDT

MALACCA: Malacca Barisan Nasional stalwart Datuk Muhamad Ahad has appealed to younger Malaccans to do away with racist sentiments by upholding to the tenets of 1Malaysia.

Muhamad, who is the Barisan National Kota Melaka Parliamentary Supporters Club chairman said time had arrived for youths to scrap the mentality of stereotyping any quarters as the country was moving towards achieving a developed nation status.

"What is the use of being a technology savvy generation when issues are looked into racial charged perspectives.

"We want to be modern in all aspects but some people's mindset is still stuck in stone age. This should be changed accordingly by treasuring all Malaysians regardless of their creed," he said in his speech at a dinner organised by the Combined Youth Establishment of Malaysia better known as PGSM at Dewan Hang Tuah Hall, recently.

Some 1,300 youths from all walks of life congregated at the event.

Muhamad said Barisan was often blamed for creating racial disunity by segregating the people during the five decades of rule.

"But I ask you my learned friends, please touch your heart and tell me that polarisation only flourished after 2008 and now you see younger Malaccans grouping with their own races.

"This is because the Opposition has made inroads into mainstream and gradually twisting certain issues, fanning racial sentiment with short-term self interest above the people," he said.

Muhamad said some detractors have made the youth to believe that certain Barisan leaders were racist and unwilling to entertain the minorities.

"As humans, we in Barisan are not all perfect, probably we too flawed in the past but things are changing for better under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak.

"Opposition leaders too are no angels themselves, they caused the unity to further deteriorate. The younger generation in Malacca now do not mingle like the earlier generations and this is the fault on bigot leaders from the other side of the political divide," he said.

Muhamad urged the youths to be aware of uncouth strategies to "disunite" Malaysians.

"The 1Malaysia formula is a great vision in promoting unity not only to Malaysians but also to the region," he said.

Muhamad noted that 1Malaysia vision had turned into a successful formula where even United Nation was trying to emulate and promote it worldwide.

"The 1Malaysia concept is the workable formula and is prerequisite for realising Vision 2020," he added.

Muhamad also recapped the statement made by BN secretary-general, Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor recently that candidacy for the next general election will be based on people's preference and this augurs well for Barisan.

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Leaders told to play more active role

Posted: 22 Mar 2013 06:12 PM PDT

BERA: Village security and development committee (JKKK) has bigger challenges ahead with the wide access of spreading information – whether true or not – via handphones and Internet communication.

Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said over and above their role to take care of security, safety and the development of the villages, they also have to play their parts to monitor the ongoing wide spreading of information pertaining to the activities of the locals.

Shafie said as the mediator for the Government and the locals, the community leaders should play a pro-active role in monitoring the spread of lies via the short messaging services (sms).

"The other challenges also include monitoring the residents' activities and their activities of leaking information by sending messages via the phones and Internet communication causing unrest among the residents.

"However, if the JKKK can counter the lies spread, either via ceramah or any other type of gatherings, it will help to avoid the situation from becoming worse," Shafie said after chairing the meeting of JKKK leaders in Kampung Bohor Baru.

Earlier, Shafie, Bera MP Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Giat Mara chairman Datuk Shahiruddin Ab Moin were present at the meet-the-people session.

Shafie said the leaking of information via the Internet and cellular phones were uncontrolled and could cause disunity among the people.

Citing example of the irresponsible statement by an Opposition leader Tian Chua by saying that the Lahad Datu incident was the act of the drama stage by Umno, Shafie said this could cause disharmony among the people if not appropriately handled.

"These are the challenges that the JKKK members have to take.

"As a person who is from Semporna, the place where he (Tian) referred to, I am sensitive about the matter because it is a mad move for me (as Umno leader) to create or to stage such drama which had claimed lives," he said.

Shafie said it was irresponsible of the people who claimed that the Government had been slow to act against the intruders.

"We could acted violently by bombing their hideouts and so on.

"However, we must also think of the safety of the members of public and the villagers and we want to avoid bloodshed. This was why we conducted the mopping up and moved the people out of the intruders' areas," he said.

To a question on the involvement of Opposition leader as reported by the Wikileaks, Shafie said he would leave it to Wisma Putra and other related authorities to take action.

"There have been too many assumptions, too many theories and too many opinions. We have to leave it to the right authorities to do the investigation," he said.

Anjung ILP phase two expansion to begin next year

Posted: 22 Mar 2013 06:12 PM PDT

MUADZAM SHAH: The Government has approved an allocation of RM13mil to carry out expansion works on the Anjung ILP Muadzam Shah here.

Deputy Human Resources Minister Senator Datuk Maznah Mazlan said phase two of the project was expected to start next year.

"Among others, the expansion plans include a new building with hostel facilities, workshops, a surau, a canteen and upgrading of a sports track.

"The new facilities would provide a more conducive environment for trainees attending their industrial training courses," she said when met after opening a seminar on stress management here recently.

Also present was Department of Occupational Safety and Health director-general Datuk Dr Johari Basri.

Maznah, who is the Muadzam Shah assemblyman, said phase one of the project costing RM3.9mil was completed last year.

She said among the works carried out were upgrading of the main hall, office, drainage and piping system including refurbishing the surroundings.

"Presently, there are only two workshops to provide training for those attending automotive and welding courses.

"We plan to increase more workshops and courses in the coming years," she said.

Maznah said the new intake for both courses would commence in July involving some 60 new trainees.

She said upon completion, the trainees could look for a job or continue their studies to obtain a higher diploma.

"A skill welder can earn a very good income as there is demand in the market," she said.

Earlier in her speech, Maznah said among the three highest types of occupational illness reported to the authorities last year were loss of hearing (956 cases), lungs ailments (111 cases) and skin diseases (48 cases).

She said there were a total of 1,792 cases reported nationwide with the industrial sector having the highest number with 933 cases, followed by public service sector (153) and services sector (104).

"Worksite accidents recorded a drop in number of cases but commuting accidents to and after work increase at an alarming rate.

"Out of some 59,000 cases reported to Socso in 2011, 25,000 of them involve commuting accidents to and after work, including during lunch break," she said.

Maznah said her ministry viewed the matter seriously as majority of those involved were below the age of 40.

She said out of the total cases of commuting accidents, 1,254 of them were killed while another 16,019 were permanently disabled and unable to return to work.

A rehabilitation centre in Ayer Keroh would provide training to those who lost their ability to return to work from next year, she added.


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