Jumaat, 21 Jun 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Special Report - Deepening ethnic rifts reshape Syria's towns

Posted: 21 Jun 2013 12:04 AM PDT

IDLIB PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) - The villages that dot the valleys and terraced hills of Syria's northwest used to epitomise the country's diversity. Each one was dominated by a different religion or sect. The settlements coexisted - sometimes peacefully, sometimes less so - for centuries, a patchwork of distinct but interwoven communities that, for many Syrians, was central to the nation's identity.

Sawssan Abdelwahab, who fled Idlib in Syria, walks with her children outside the refugees camp near the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern city of Yayladagi in this February 16, 2012 file picture. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/Files

Sawssan Abdelwahab, who fled Idlib in Syria, walks with her children outside the refugees camp near the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern city of Yayladagi in this February 16, 2012 file picture. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/Files

Over the past two years, that order has fallen apart.

In Zambaki, a concrete-block village in a valley near the border with Turkey, Sunni families have moved into homes abandoned by Alawite owners; Sunni instructors teach in the Alawite elementary school; and Sunni religious slogans in black paint mark the walls.

Mohamed Skafe, a 40-year-old Sunni maths instructor remembers how the Alawites began to flee nearly a year ago. As government troops withdrew and rebels took over, he phoned a friend in the village and pleaded with him to stay.

"He told me, ‘Can you protect me?'" Skafe recalled, holding his hands out, palms upward. "I said, ‘I have no guarantee.'"

As the revolt against Bashar al-Assad that began as a mostly secular call for democratic reform descended into civil war, communities have split along religious and ethnic lines. Majority Sunnis have come to dominate the opposition, while Shi'ites and Alawites, the offshoot sect of Shi'ite Islam that Assad belongs to, have largely sided with the government. Other minorities, such as the Christians, Druze and Kurds, have split or tried to stay neutral.

Across the country, violence and fear have emptied entire villages, forced millions of people to flee their homes, and transformed the social landscape.

The involvement of Shi'ite power Iran on one side and the ascendancy of hardline Islamists, including groups linked to al Qaeda, on the other has accelerated the process. For some fighters, the war has taken on an apocalyptic overtone. For others, enmity is rooted in old resentments and suspicions.

During a 10-day journey through rebel-held territory, Reuters saw first-hand how the sectarian divisions are transforming the country. Those splits, and the risk of large-scale communal retribution, are one reason Western powers have hesitated to intervene.

Now, as the United States prepares to arm the rebels, it risks getting entangled in an intricate conflict that often pits neighbour against neighbour. As in Yugoslavia or in neighbouring Iraq, where conflicts were marked by sectarianism and ethnic cleansing, Syria is unlikely to go back to the way it was. Even when the war ends, the reordering of villages and towns will leave behind a very different country, a change which could reverberate through the region.

In Zambaki, in a house once owned by Alawites, a Sunni family of 10 has moved in after fleeing their own homes outside Hama, in central Syria. "The whole village was completely empty. We were in a Turkish camp, but it was so crowded. We decided to come back," one man in the family said, asking not to be named.

"The regime is playing a big game, a very big game. We had Alawite neighbours and I swear we were living like brothers. But the regime played with their minds, and frightened them. We were neighbours."


The Ammar bin Yassir mosque, a turquoise and white complex of Persian-style domes, minarets, arabesques and tile mosaics, stands out among the short brown-and-beige breezeblock buildings of Raqqa. The city is the largest held by Syria's rebels and the mosque was once a destination for Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq.

Now it is filled with Sunni fighters who call themselves al-Muntasereen Billah, or "God's Victors."

Bearded men guard the front gate, next to what they say is the carcass of a Scud missile fired by President Assad's army. Inside, rebels in camouflage fatigues with Kalashnikov rifles walk through the tiled courtyard, laughing and chatting. When they enter the mosque's carpeted interior, they leave their shoes on, a sign of disrespect.

The rebels took over the mosque in March and smashed open tombs said to contain figures revered by Shi'ites, said Abu Hazem, a tall, chain-smoking leader of one of the brigade's units. "They used to say there were important people in here," he said. "But there was nothing. They're empty."

Raqqa, always overwhelmingly Sunni, is now all but empty of Alawites. Homsi al-Hamada, a 73-year-old Sunni Islamic law scholar, said recent developments, notably the intervention of Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah on the government's side, had "stoked the flames of sectarianism." The feelings were always there, but they used to be "covered up," he said, sitting in his home lined with bookcases packed with religious texts.

"At the beginning of the game, the ball was freedom and democracy. The protesters and the regime were playing with this ball," Hamada said.

"Now there are two teams - the first is the regime, Russia, China, Iran, Hezbollah and the Shi'ites, the other is the rebels, the United States, Germany, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Sunnis. Syria has become the ball."

Walking through Ammar bin Yassir, past rooms once used by pilgrims but now housing rebel fighters, Abu Ziad, a 23-year-old student at the university across the road, pointed to pictures of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, on the floor of the mosque's library.

He disappeared for a moment and reemerged with a painting of a black-shrouded figure slumped dead over a white horse, a depiction of Imam Hussein, a central figure in Shi'ite history whose death 1,300 years ago at the battle of Kerbala in Iraq is commemorated with an annual day of mourning.

"All of these pictures came from Iran," Abu Ziad said.

A Sunni fighter standing nearby chimed in: "And they are lies."


The question of identity has always been heated in the Levant, the land at the heart of the Middle East that includes modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and parts of southern Turkey. French and British colonial administrators partitioned the region into nation-states after World War One and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled since the 16th century.

The division was traumatic. After Damascus gained independence from France in 1946, many Syrian politicians spoke of creating a "Greater Syria." Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser called for Arab states from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Aden to unite. Syria and Egypt briefly did.

Modern Syria is an amalgam of diverse religious and ethnic groups. About three quarters of Syria's roughly 23 million people are Sunni Muslim; the rest are Christians, Shi'ites, Alawites, and smaller, sometimes overlapping communities such as the Druze, Ismailis, Kurds, Armenians and Palestinians.

Historian Patrick Seale once wrote that the way Syria's communities coexist described one of the essential puzzles of the Middle East. "Is that world a mosaic, a bewildering babble of ancient communities each at odds with the other? Or is it a unit, essentially one in way of life, language and aspirations?" he wrote in his biography of Assad's father, Hafez, who was president from 1971 until his death in 2000.

Like his father, Assad exploited the threat of a violent breakup of the country to justify the continuation of an authoritarian police state. An overtly secular Alawite, Assad married a Sunni woman. References to sect were not included in censuses in an attempt to foster an inclusive Syrian identity.

When the revolt started, Sunni activists tried to reach out to minorities, framing the uprising as a collective move against oppression for all Syrians.

Opposition figures blame the failure of those efforts on government propaganda characterising the rebels as violent extremists and on the use of Alawite paramilitary militias known as "shabbiha" to harass, maim and kill unarmed protesters.


The threat of a sectarian war has been self fulfilling. Pro-government militias have massacred hundreds of Sunnis in villages from Damascus to the Mediterranean, which some analysts say could be intended to carve a corridor from the capital to the historical Alawite homeland near the coast.

In rebel-held regions, radical insurgents have desecrated Shi'ite holy places and speak of war against "infidels" and "apostates". This month, Sunni rebels killed about 60 Shi'ites in an eastern town in the Deir al-Zor province. "This is a Sunni area, it does not belong to other groups," one fighter shouted in a video purportedly of the attack in the town of Hatla.

The Sunni-led revolt has emboldened the Iraqi branch of al Qaeda, a radical Sunni militant group, to carry out attacks against Baghdad's Shi'ite-led government in recent months. Sunni insurgents in Iraq are reclaiming former strongholds in the desert near Syria. Shi'ites in Gulf Arab countries have started to worry they will be blamed and targeted for Syria's violence.

Lebanon, with its intertwined history, huge population of Sunni Syrian refugees, and dysfunctional central government, has been particularly vulnerable to the spread of sectarian fighting. Dozens have died in clashes between Alawite and Sunni factions in the coastal city of Tripoli, and missiles have been launched at Hezbollah strongholds in Baalbek and Hermel in the Bekaa valley.

Hezbollah's intervention has embroiled Lebanon in the war and nourished sectarian hatreds. As fighters from the Iran-sponsored Shi'ite group joined a campaign to capture Qusair, a Sunni town near Lebanon, Colonel Abdel-Hamid Zakaria, a Free Syrian Army spokesman, said on live television that Shi'ite and Alawite villages would be "wiped off the map" in retaliation if it fell.

"We don't want this to happen at all, but it will be out of everyone's control," he said. "It will be an open, bloody, global sectarian war until the end."

Foreign fighters have arrived to aid both sides. Hardline Sunni Islamists have come from countries as far-flung as Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Britain, Sweden and China. In government-held Damascus, young Lebanese men in fatigues have arrived to defend the shrine of Sayeda Zeinab, a site visited by Muslims of all sects, but particularly revered by Shi'ites. The fighters say rebels often shoot at the shrine, damaging minarets.

Near the shrine, one man, speaking with a clear Lebanese accent, sat in his office surrounded by pictures of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah and Iranian Shi'ite clerics. When asked if he was a member of Hezbollah, he smiled and said he could "neither deny nor confirm" it.

The man, who asked not to be named, described a proxy war of ideologies between Iran and Saudi Arabia playing out in Syria, and blamed the influence of ultraconservative ideologues like Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi school on violence against the shrine. "This is not a war between Sunnis and Shi'ites. It's a war against extremism," he said.


Syria's Christians occupy an uneasy middle ground in the shifting political and military landscape. Some Christians have fled to government-held territory, while others have stayed to take their chances with the rebels. Some have bought guns and joined the insurgency.

The dominance of al Qaeda-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra and other radical Islamist brigades has evoked memories of recent attacks on Christians in Egypt and Iraq. Still, there have been relatively few instances of violence by Sunni fighters against Christians, who the rebels see as less close to Assad than the Alawites and Shi'ites.

In Yaqubiyeh, a village of a few hundred people in Idlib province, Yacoub, an olive farmer, smiled and waved as bearded rebels drove by. "We've been living together for hundreds of years," he said. "We have problems with theft. But what the media says about Jabhat al-Nusra is not true. They are good people. They are very religious, but that's fine."

Abu George, a Christian from the nearby village of Jdeide who farmed plums and olives before the revolt, now works with the Sunni-led Liwa al-Hurra battalion, mostly in the town. He said there were about 15 other Christians in the brigade, accounting for around 5 percent of the fighters. "Many Christians participate in the revolution. When the army left we joined the revolution," he said.

Others in Yaqubiyeh, where thousands of displaced Sunnis have settled in recent months, were more circumspect. One woman, a 40-year-old Catholic, said Christians were mostly left alone, but were still nervous.

"We're living normally, we go pray, we come back, no one bothers us," she said, then leaned closer to a visiting journalist. "There is some theft on our land. They come and go, and none of us knows who does it. We're afraid to talk. Christians can't speak out. You understand me."


In war, such suspicions and resentments can harden quickly. Rebels do not always acknowledge acts of ethnic violence as such. Instead, some describe them as legitimate military actions, or righting historical wrongs.

When Alawites flee insurgent-held areas, rebels and non-fighters alike often say the sect only settled in the area over the past few decades as the result of state favouritism. In Raqqa, a university student described the province's Alawites as "security families," who came to staff Syria's manifold intelligence and police agencies. In Idlib province, a doctor said Alawites were not "original residents," and came because of government land reforms that encouraged them to move into the plains from the coast.

When asked about the destruction of the tombs at the Ammar bin Yassir mosque, Hamada, the Islamic law scholar, claimed Iran had set up Shi'ite centres with government help on what he called Sunni land and prevented Sunnis from studying their religion. "The economic and political interests of Shi'ites and Alawites require them to stand with the regime," he said.

In Zambaki, the new arrangement has an air of permanence. Skafe, the maths instructor, teaches lessons to about a dozen Sunni children in the school, which doubles as a barracks for rebel fighters. Another man, the one living in the Alawite house, sells cigarettes, biscuits and soda out of the old pantry. Across the street, children play and a pregnant woman walks with a child.

The man said he hoped the owners could return one day, and said a court should be set up to determine who worked with Assad and who did not.

"Some people should be allowed to return, the people who haven't worked with the regime. But if you are a criminal, how could you return?" he said.

But Skafe says it would be impossible for any Alawite to come back soon. "Not now. If the circumstances change," he said. What exactly? "I don't know. Right now, I don't know."

(This Special Report is the third in a three-part series. The first part may be accessed here http://reut.rs/1as1LLG and second part here http://reut.rs/19k7e5F)

(Edited by Simon Robinson and Richard Woods)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Greek Democratic Left lawmaker says his party should leave government

Posted: 20 Jun 2013 11:26 PM PDT

Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras addresses the nation from his office in Athens June 21, 2013. REUTERS/Greek Prime Minister's Office/Goulielmos Antoniou/Handout via Reuters

Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras addresses the nation from his office in Athens June 21, 2013. REUTERS/Greek Prime Minister's Office/Goulielmos Antoniou/Handout via Reuters

ATHENS (Reuters) - A lawmaker of the small Democratic Left party said on Friday his party should leave the coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras after an internal row over the future of state broadcaster ERT.

"This is obvious (that they should leave)," lawmaker Yannis Panousis said on an internet broadcast of former state television ERT, whose shutdown sparked Greece's government crisis. "If there is rift and disagreement, then you withdraw them (ministers)," he added.

(Reporting by Harry Papachristou and Lefteris Papadimas)

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Copyright © 2013 Reuters

German foreign minister presses Ukraine on jailed Tymoshenko

Posted: 20 Jun 2013 11:22 PM PDT

KIEV (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle condemned the use of "selective justice" in Ukraine and indicated he would press President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday to let his jailed opponent Yulia Tymoshenko go to Germany for medical treatment.

Speaking to journalists before meeting Yanukovich, Westerwelle said: "From our point of view, Mrs Tymoshenko has full rights to an honest judicial hearing and decent medical treatment. The German proposal for medical monitoring and treatment (in Germany) remains on the table."

German Foreign Affairs Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks during a joint news conference with his Afghan counterpart Zulmai Rasoul at the Presidential Palace in Kabul June 8, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmad Jamshid/Pool

German Foreign Affairs Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks during a joint news conference with his Afghan counterpart Zulmai Rasoul at the Presidential Palace in Kabul June 8, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmad Jamshid/Pool

"It is very important that 'selective justice' is not used in any system of values in Europe. It must not be allowed in either Europe or Ukraine," he said.

Tymoshenko, 52, a former prime minister and Yanukovich's most dangerous political opponent, was jailed for seven years in October 2011 for abuse of office linked to a 2009 gas deal she brokered with Russia.

The Kiev leadership says the deal saddled the former Soviet republic with an exorbitant price for gas supplies.

But the European Union says her jailing smacks of political vengeance and many EU officials say a planned signing of political association and free trade agreements with Ukraine later this year could be in jeopardy unless she is freed.

The Yanukovich leadership says it is committed to European integration rather than forging a closer relationship with Russia in a Russia-led Customs Union and hopes the landmark agreements with the European Union can be signed in November.

But freeing the 52-year-old Tymoshenko, a fierce political campaigner, and lifting other pending charges against her could be risky for Yanukovich as he prepares to make a bid for a second term in office in 2015.

German officials say releasing Tymoshenko so she can travel to Germany for medical treatment for chronic back trouble might present Yanukovich with a way out of the stalemate.

Westerwelle met leaders of opposition parties and Tymoshenko's daughter, Yevgenia, before going on to talks with Yanukovich.

(Reporting by Richard Balmforth and Pavel Polityuk)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Deceived by love

Posted: 22 Jun 2013 12:10 AM PDT

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Erma Fatima directs a telemovie on how women are duped into drug trafficking.

Max-imum viewing pleasure

Posted: 22 Jun 2013 12:10 AM PDT

[unable to retrieve full-text content]GET your adrenaline pumping and your heart racing with the Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts Fighting Championships (MIMMA FC), available exclusively on Maxman.tv. And best of all, it's free.
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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

S P Setia braces for Liew’s departure

Posted: 21 Jun 2013 05:39 PM PDT

EARLY next month, the top brass from the proponents of the massive Battersea project will be in London.

The fact that they are there to launch the second phase defied what a lot of experts in that city thought couldn't be done.

The man who thought the Battersea project would work was S P Setia Bhd's Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin. He took all of one hour to convince his counterparts from Sime Darby Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund that the project was bankable.

Liew candidly says that people there were thinking about what had worked in the city all this time. Project sizes were small and they did not think that the real goldmine of demand actually resided outside the country.

Thinking out of the box, Liew marketed the first phase to where wealth was being generated. Investors from England, South-East Asia and Hong Kong were sought after and they gladly cut the cheque to buy into the latest dream Liew had conjured.

It's his vision, daring and luck that will change the skyline at Battersea and throughout many large-scale projects in Malaysia.

But in under two years, Liew will pack his bags and head out the door at S P Setia. He will leave behind a motherlode of projects that based on current prices is valued at a gross development value of RM70bil.

"I'm not staying on and will not stay past March 2015. There's no turning back, it's over for me. Checkmate," says Liew in an interview with StarBizWeek.

"I'm just doing my job as a CEO, to the best of my ability."

S P Setia is set at least for the foreseeable future. But will it miss the vision and execution that made it what it is today? Can it survive in the long term without the paternal figure of the company?

What S P Setia will lose

Liew is arguably the numero uno in the property business in the country and that's based on what he has done and promises to do for S P Setia.

"A lot of property companies have good landbank but they have not been able to unlock the value of their land like what S P Setia has done under Liew," says an analyst.

S P Setia has been transformed from a run-of-the-mill property company to an award-winning property developer under the stewardship of Liew when he and Datuk Voon Tin Yow bought into the company in 1996.

It has bagged the "Oscars" of the property industry and has been acknowledged to be the country's best employer in a recent survey by Aon Hewitt.

In making the company what it is today, Liew has been honoured alongside Datuk Seri Nazir Razak and Tan Sri Tony Fernandes as among the country's top CEOs.

As it stands, two of Liew's lieutenants will take over. Voon, deputy president and COO, will take over as president and CEO once Liew leaves.

Backing up Voon will be Datuk Teow Leong Seng, currently the CFO and executive vice-president, and the group's other executive vice-presidents.

Many of them have been with Liew for years and according to analysts, know the business and the company like the back of their hands.

Liew too acknowledges that he works in a team with both Voon, Teow and other senior managers. They as a group are instrumental in the success of S P Setia.

"There is no doubt they have the team of people who can run the company but the question is will they stay," says an analyst.

Such questions point to whether the transition will materialise? People wonder if the loyalty of key managers will be to S P Setia or Liew when the time comes.

"Only concern is that whoever takes over must not go after my people because they are people I trained in Setia," says Liew.

"That's why we have the LTIP (Long term Incentive Programme). Whoever goes after my people, they're stupid-lah because they are the backbone of the company. It's not me."

Teow at the sidelines of Invest Malaysia echoes a concern many investors are asking.

"The key concern is whether the people will follow him or leave to join other real estate companies. I am hoping not," Teow says.

Liew, who has a 2.76% stake left in S P Setia, does not pause on telling about the sale of his shares next.

"The remaining stake, or 67.79 million shares left in the company, will be exercised next year on March 19. It will be sold to PNB at RM3.95.

If the market price is higher, I can sell it to the market."

Once that block is sold, the odds of Liew staying on for another year gets close to zero.

"I won't stay until the end of the contract. No pride lah," he says.

"For us, must have pride. The longer I stay, I lose the respect of my fellows."

There is, however, a bunch of unfinished business left at S P Setia for Liew to do.

He wants to stay on as long as necessary to ensure there are no loose ends in the projects he has laid out for the company.

Liew doesn't want his legacy destroyed and wants to ensure that projects such as Battersea, Fulton Lane in Australia and numerous other developments in and out of the country are delivered to its clients.

"I want to make sure if you buy a Battersea unit, you will have it delivered to you," he says.

Once he leaves, the execution risk will fall on his successors and also on Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB).

PNB paid RM3.95 to increase its stake in S P Setia from 32.9%. It now has 64% stake held by its two funds Yayasan Pelaburan Bumiputra and Skim Amanah Saham Bumiputera.

"I don't think PNB will run down its own investment. It may not grow but it will not run it down," he says.

The takeover offer obviously ruffled feathers between PNB and Liew and it's an uneasy truce at the moment. Liew gets on with his job and PNB is the controlling shareholder of the company.

Liew acknowledges that S P Setia will not be the company it is today without the influence of PNB. He may disagree with it on certain policies but finds no fault in the way it went about conducting the general offer.

"The reason why it did it (the takeover), I don't know. But it must have a reason after spending RM6bil to take it over," he says.

PNB did not respond to questions on what happens next for the company after Liew leaves.

As it stands, the signal being sent out by the market is not flattering.

Analysts say Liew's departure has been priced into the stock, and that uncertainty is a drag on the company's stock price. The underperforming stock price is an echo of sorts on worries that the company will not be as dynamic once Liew bolts.

"It will be business as usual but to grow bigger than what it is today without Liew will be tough," an analyst says.

Doubts over the sustainability of the vibrancy S P Setia has generated has seen it underperform other property stocks, and by a wide margin.

Its stock is up a mere 8.4% since the start of the year, compared with the Bursa Malaysia property index which is up 32%.

Other property heavyweights like UEM Sunrise Bhd is up 50% and Mah Sing Group Bhd is 56% higher since the beginning of the year.

That does not make sense for a company that is going to hit record sales this year and hit a profit of RM1bil in 2017 when earnings from Battersea can be accrued.

"If there had been no takeover, we could be trading at RM5.00," says Liew. S P Setia's stock closed at RM3.34 yesterday.

"In the last three months, the other property stocks have moved ahead but they don't have the landbank, profits and sales we have. They also say it's all priced in. We have RM3.5bil cash in Setia and 5,000 acres, not easy to destroy us."

Life after S P Setia

Liew, the youngest son of a lorry driver and rubber tapper, is the quintessential Malaysian success story.

When Voon and he took over S P Setia in 1996, the company then had two projects Bukit Indah Ampang and Pusat Bandar Puchong.

Over the years, Liew grew the company but felt it was better to have a small stake in a large company than the other way around. His stake gradually got diluted as the company grew in size and stature.

His journey also exposed him to a broader thinking, all along absorbing ideas as what to do next in terms of growing the company.

His first taste of high-end development was Duta Nusantara and that gave him the belief that S P Setia can transform itself in the high-end property segment which it is today comfortable with.

Along the way, his grasp of branding and the importance of it saw him advertise the company's name on a global scale. Apart from Battersea, the award-winning Setia Alam township is the flagship development and the showcase of what S P Setia has become today.

Liew's track record has made him a hot commodity in the property business. His son is already in the property business with Eco World Development Sdn Bhd, which recently bought 248.8ha in Iskandar Malaysia for RM534.7mil.

Liew played down chatter that Eco World is the vehicle for him once he steps out of S P Setia but analysts say it will not surprise the market if he does surface in the company run by his son and friends.

And it's not like Liew will retire any time soon, given the zest he still has for the business.

People in the property business understand the value he brings. Liew's reputation is already opening doors for him for life after S P Setia.

"A lot of proposals do come in. Some even ask to work only with me, not PNB but I told them cannot. I'll talk to them, professionally, only after I leave," he says.

"Next chapter of my life is not an issue. I don't worry too much about it."

Until then, Liew will leave behind a system that he, together with his lieutenants, has honed and fine-tuned.

An academy trains a lot of employees of the company, equipping them with language and business skills important in the industry.

"We look for attitude and determination to work. We believe we can train them, that's why we have the Setia Academy," he says.

That's essential in today's cut-throat business world.

"We have to have people of calibre to do it for us. We must at least have 10% of them (employees) who are clever enough to change things and move ahead.

"Another thing is loyalty, but there are two things in loyalty one is to earn respect from the boss; come thick or thin you stay with me. The second aspect is the salary we pay out. If you want people to stay, you must pay," he says.

That loyalty will surely be tested come the day Liew seeks his next business adventure.

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Making a success out of Battersea

Making a success out of Battersea

Posted: 21 Jun 2013 05:39 PM PDT

WITH phase one an unprecedented success story, S P Setia is raring to go further with its prestigious London project, the Battersea Power Station redevelopment.

The first phase, whimsically named Circus West, was dedicated to developing residential units, all 866 units of one- to three-bedroom apartments as well as townhouses.

A month ago, the group has sold 95% or 824 units of its phase one, with £681mil (RM3.51bil) worth of committed sales from international purchasers.

"Phase two is coming," group CEO Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin says.

It will be a retail and entertainment outlet housed within the walls of the art deco power station, with Dubai Mall as the gold standard Liew aspires.

"We want to learn from the Dubai Mall; the thinking, the concept behind the largest mall in the world," he says.

Liew has had the opportunity to learn from the developer of the Dubai Mall, Emaar Properties. "It so happen the chairman is a good friend of mine and he has allowed us to take a peek into the back room' of the development."

It is what baffles Liew about the Dubai Mall that imbued him to emulate the concept in Battersea.

"Why and how could a mall of 3.4 million sq ft in the middle of a desert be so successful?"

Herein lies the irony Emaar Properties had taken a leaf out of Kuala Lumpur's retail development when it came to study what makes Suria KLCC tick, a template which it then built on and turned into the Dubai Mall.

"We learn from each other," Liew speaks of a competitive yet open working relationship with its peers.

A coveted address

"The other reason I wanted to meet (Emaar) was to invite them to open a hotel with us in London," he says.

Emaar Properties has three hotel groups under its belt, one being the super luxurious Giorgio Armani, another targeted at the technology savvy market called Vida and the third which Liew hopes to bring to Battersea The Address.

"I'm very interested in The Address, a three-to-five star hotel which Emaar already has a few," he says, "It's a business-cum-family hotel, a new concept with first-class service."

Battersea needs three hotels, Liew believes, to cater to the melting pot that London is.

"I was thinking of an American hotel because the American embassy is only a ten-minute walk away," he says, naming a few renowned brands like Sheraton or Hyatt.

"That area is also quite close to Sloane Square and Knightsbridge, so an Arab-based hotel would also be good," he envisions.

He, however, has not figured out who to bring in as the third hotel.

Battersea is easily connected, via Chelsea Bridge, to the affluent communities of Chelsea and Knightsbridge on the north bank of River Thames, where Sloane Square is situated.

Battersea, when launched in January this year, was not promoted in the Middle East, Liew points out.

"So if I can convince Emaar to bring in The Address there and launch it in the Middle East, then we'd have at least another 1,000 homes sold in the future," the forward-looking property chieftain says. The homes he refers to would be Battersea's Phase Three.

Nevertheless, to bring in hotels meant the Battersea developer consortium would have to give up a fraction of its premium London landbank.

But Liew is willing.

"Of course, a hotel is a loss leader, the land would be gone but if we think of it the other way round the amount of people it can bring in, maybe it's worth it."

He compares Battersea to Setia Alam, where land was carved out for community purposes such as schools and places of worship.

"Everything we do is for value enhancement, or else we wouldn't have repeat customers whether in Singapore, Melbourne or here."

Hospitality component

With elements such as shopping, recreation, connectivity from the Nothern Line extension and residential units in place, the additional hospitality component could only increase the attractiveness and value of the once abandoned power station.

"Battersea will do very well," he says confidently.

As with other developments in S P Setia's portfolio, whatever the developer introduces must have an appreciative effect on the whole project.

Again, he takes Setia Alam as an example.

"Like in Setia Alam, every time we put in a new element, the value goes up.

"When we first bought the land, people said we were stupid to acquire 4,000 acres," he recalls, "But then we put in the roads and schools, and the value went up."

For this township, Liew explains that the group continues to upgrade its facilities, with the mall and convention centre expansion plans already on the drawing board.

"Our job is to enhance the value because only then will buyers continue purchasing from us," he says of building customer trust and loyalty.

For Battersea, the shopping mall is targeted to be ready by 2018 and the Northern Line extension by 2020. These two years are dog-eared for expected jumps in value.

"But to make it happen, we have to work on it. Build a total concept and make it work for us too."

Liew has his travels to thank for, when it comes to finding inspiration for his projects.

The world was a library of ideas from which he continuously learns and brings back to the S P Setia table.

"I travel a lot. The idea of growing (any project) is there from day one and the search for the elements to grow it it's everywhere.

"When we embarked on Battersea, we knew from the start what we needed to do," he says, "Having the experience of doing big things in Malaysia helps."

That said, no S P Setia development happens by chance. The romanticism of big ideas has to be grounded by the reality of facts and figures.

Although S P Setia, together with its partners in the Battersea project Sime Darby and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), make the biggest landowner in the cosmopolitan London, Liew says his team has done extensive homework to ensure what is planned for is feasible.

For one, Liew is a man who intends to deliver everything he promises.

S P Setia is the biggest developer in terms of gross development value for the 39-acre Battersea project (while) Londoners are used to developing one or two acres, Liew says.

Battersea had been, for decades, passed from one ambitious hand to another without any plans coming to fruition and it finally stands as the largest redevelopment project in England.

"It's so big no one has dared to take it on but with our experience in Malaysia, it is second nature for us."

He adds: "Even though the market is different, the principles are the same. Your cost per sq ft, your building price per sq ft, it's exactly the same."

Liew reveals that the team had done six months of studying London and that the research was enough for them to determine the cost per sq ft for the development, even though they did not have experience building in London.

He says gut feelings play a part when gauging the market's receptiveness towards the development.

Besides learning from other global developers, the market is another key source of clues for S P Setia when deciding the direction of its projects.

To make sure he is not missing a beat, Liew believes in putting the eggs in different baskets differentiating the products to suit the market's various demands and affordability.

"Like in Setia Alam, there's Setia Eco Park and Setia City which is one high-end and one mid-range," he says.

Similarly, in Battersea, S P Setia offers a range of products even within phase one which has studio units as well as duplex townshouses.

Middle Eastern market

He gives a scenario: Let's say for now, phase one is £1,000 per sq ft, how are we going to sell £1,200 per sq ft? Maybe the design has to be a little bit different, maybe smaller apartments with better furniture, or maybe different target markets.

He goes back to reaching out to the Middle Eastern market.

"If I can get The Address to come, the Arabs will come," he says, explaining that the way rooms are laid out in the hotel is meant for big entourage, a major consideration for Arabs who travel with big families.

He also intends to keep to the concept Emaar Properties has for The Address where the hotel and residences portions share common facilities.

Serviced by the hotel operator, the residences could then be priced higher.

"There are many ideas in the world that we can adopt but we need to give them to Setia brand that is, service and product quality."

Of course, S P Setia's ambition is not without its detractors.

Going into Battersea, Liew admits that the local and Singaporean press and analysts did not doubt S P Setia, "it was the international press that doubted us".

When Liew invited Sime Darby and EPF to be partners, he told them very simply but in jest: "If the three of us combined cannot sell 800 units for phase one, the three of us should resign."

For Liew, it was easy to convince old friends EPF former chairman Tan Sri Azlan Zainol and Sime Darby group chief executive Datuk Mohd Bakke Salleh.

"Convincing their boards was the difficult part."

Liew says that Azlan and Bakke were always supportive of what he did, so it was never an issue but the investment committees were the tough part.

For the investment committees, he recalls, it was whether the consortium could achieved sales.

"We felt combined, people will follow us, and we were right."

S P Setia proves critics wrong

Posted: 21 Jun 2013 05:42 PM PDT

VINDICATION comes in many forms. And sometimes, it just keeps coming. Who can blame S P Setia Bhd president and CEO Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin if he's a tad smug about how the naysayers have been proven wrong again and again regarding the property developer's acquisition of a huge oil palm plantation in Shah Alam a decade ago?

That 4,000 acres, then known as North Hummock Estate, is the site for integrated township Setia Alam and its upscale sister township Setia Eco Park.

Both developments have shaped up into award-winning communities with much appeal among home-buyers and investors. Or as Liew puts it, they have become S P Setia's branding.

It certainly didn't start out that way. When the company announced on April Fools' Day in 2002 that it was buying North Hummock Estate for almost RM600mil cash (or RM3.49 per sq ft), the market responded with little humour.

The deal was enormous for a company the size of S P Setia, whose market capitalisation at the time was about RM1.5bil. The company had been looking to buy about 1,000 acres or so of real estate to replenish its land bank, but the owner of the estate was only interested in selling it all or nothing.

In tandem with the proposed acquisition, the developer said it needed to raise capital via a private placement, a special bumiputra issue, a bonus issue and a rights issue.

(It didn't help either that on the same day, S P Setia also disclosed its plan to pay RM52mil cash for a 22% stake in Loh & Loh Corp Bhd, a listed construction company that had carved out a niche in water supply infrastructure works.)

In fact, some investors felt the land deal was too big a purchase for the company. Liew recalls the fund managers dumping the stock and the share price "dropping like a hot brick".

"If you look back at The Star reports in 2002, people were saying, This guy has gone crazy. He's bitten off more than he can chew'," says Liew.

People might have privately uttered something like that, but there were no StarBiz reports with such a quote. Nevertheless, the news reports did reflect some concern, primarily because the proposed capital raising would dilute earnings per shares, and the possibility that the company's bottomline would deteriorate for at least two years before income from the land started kicking in.

With the land acquisition, said an analyst, the group's earnings risk had edged higher.

In response to the announcement of the land purchase, RAM placed S P Setia's bonds on the Rating Watch list, with a developing outlook. Two months later, the rating agency reaffirmed the long-term ratings of the bonds but kept them on the list until the completion of the capital raising, which RAM said played "a critical role in providing balance to S P Setia's financial profile".

Today, such worries seem unnecessary. According to Liew, back in 2002, the best brains in the property business were convinced that S P Setia could extract a gross development value (GDV) of no more than RM5bil from the land. It is currently estimated that when fully completed, Setia Alam and Setia Eco Park would have yielded a combined GDV of RM20bil.

Plus, there were awards to celebrate. For example, Setia Eco Park was twice a gold winner in the Fiabci Prix d'Excellence Awards in 2007 for Best Master Plan and in 2011 for Best Residential (Low-Rise) Development.

Last month, Liew travelled to Taichung, Taiwan, to accept another gold award in the master plan category. This was for Setia Alam. To him, it was detailed planning and teamwork that turned a potential indigestion-inducing buy into a benchmark project.

With a larger-than-targeted tract of land on its plate, S P Setia had little room for mistakes. In this case, the road to success was, well, a stretch of road. More accurately, what made a difference was the company's decision to fund and build the RM150mil Setia Alam Interchange, which allowed direct access from the New Klang Valley Expressway to the two townships.

Other crucial moves were the disposal of about 600 acres to PKNS (the Selangor State Development Corp) to immediately boost cash flow, and teaming up with the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Great Eastern Life Assurance (M) Bhd to develop Setia Eco Park.

Liew attributed these winning measures to others at S P Setia. "I'm only the guy with the guts, the one who pushes, the talker. But these alone can't solve problems. I depend on my people to do that. They are the ones who sit down and come up with solutions," he says.

"It's not just about guts. Teamwork is very key. We have a strong team that come up with the detail, the plans, the right concepts."

Which explains why Liew wasn't the only person from S P Setia at the Fiabci event in Taichung. The company had about 50 people there as part of a nine-day study trip to Taiwan and Seoul, South Korea, to visit commercial and recreational developments such as parks, integrated projects, museums, train stations and convention centres.

Liew says it is a standard practice to bring along employees on study tours whenever the company gets an award overseas. "So not only do we receive an award, we also learn something. We've been to so many places together. That's how we build up our Team Setia. We don't do things alone; we do things as a group."

Of course, the choice to visit these places in Taiwan and South Korea has a lot to do with what S P Setia plans to in the future.

Setia Alam is at the mid-way mark and the next phase centres on the 150 acres earmarked for commercial properties such as office towers, the second stage of the Setia City Mall and a hotel that will be ready by the end of next year. The township also has the biggest convention hall in Shah Alam.

"The next game changer for us will be commercial development," says Liew.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Cycling: Katusha pin hopes on Rodriguez

Posted: 21 Jun 2013 05:46 PM PDT

PARIS: Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez will use his experience of podium finishes at last year's Giro d'Italia and Tour of Spain to spearhead Katusha's Tour de France campaign.

"We have good climbers around him," said team boss Valerio Piva.

Rodriguez, 34, took part in the Tour de Fance for the only time in 2010 when he finished seventh overall after claiming a stage win.

He was second in the Giro in 2012 and third in the Tour of Spain. Katusha team for Tour de France:

Pavel Brutt (RUS), Alexander Kristoff (NOR), Aliaksandr Kuchynski (BLR), Alberto Losada (ESP), Daniel Moreno (ESP), Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP), Gatis Smukulis (LAT), Yuriy Trofimov (RUS), Eduard Vorganov (RUS). - AFP

Tennis: Mahut beats Malisse in veterans' Dutch clash

Posted: 21 Jun 2013 05:48 PM PDT

THE HAGUE: Nicolas Mahut defeated fellow veteran Xavier Malisse 6-3, 6-3 on Friday to reach the 's-Hertogenbosch grasscourt final on Friday.

Mahut, now ranked at 240 in the world after a lengthy battle with a knee injury, will take on Swiss second seed Stanislas Wawrinka for the title on Saturday at the Wimbledon warm-up event.

Wawrinka defeated Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 6-1, 6-4 in his semi-final.

In the women's final, Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens will face Simona Halep of Romania.

Flipkens defeated Spain's Garbine Muguruza, 6-3, 6-1 while Halep eased past another Spaniard, Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-3, 6-2 in her semi-final. - Reuters

Results from the fifth day of the ATP/WTA 's-Hertogenbosch International on Friday (x denotes seeding):



Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI x2) bt Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP) 6-1, 6-4 Nicolas Mahut (FRA) bt Xavier Malisse (BEL) 6-3, 6-3


Simona Halep (ROM) bt Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP x3) 6-3, 6-2 Kirsten Flipkens (BEL x4) bt Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 6-3, 6-1

Racing: Sky Lantern pulls Hughes out of Ascot shade

Posted: 21 Jun 2013 05:38 PM PDT

ASCOT, United Kingdom: Three days of disappointment for Richard Hughes dissolved in an instant when Sky Lantern carried the British champion jockey to a pulsating victory in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot on Friday.

What was billed as a closely-matched affair involving 17 runners became a one-horse race as Hughes scythed through from the rear to win very much as he liked.

So authoritative was Sky Lantern that Hughes gathered up his reins long before the Richard Hannon-trained filly reached the winning post.

The jockey had a hold of Sky Lantern's ear as the combination scored by four lengths from French invader Kenhope, with Just The Judge back in third.

Hughes rode with ice-cool nerves, anchoring the 1,000 Guineas winner at the rear of the field as other fancied runners jostled for a prominent position.

The move paid dividends. As the leaders wilted Hughes picked off his rivals off with the eye of a deadly marksman.

His audacious ride was remarkable for the fact he had failed to enter the hallowed Royal Ascot winner's enclosure for more than 50 races.

"You don't do those things unless the people behind you really trust you," Hughes said.

"Richard (Hannon) said go out and do what you're good at, and that makes all the difference."

Sky Lantern is owned by Hong Kong-based Ben Keswick. "This is a very special day for all of us," he said afterwards.

"I was shouting so much I lost my voice."

Just The Judge was beaten half a length by Sky Lantern when the pair clashed in the 1,000 Guineas in early May, but fell further behind here.

"She ran a good race so we have to be pleased," said her trainer, Charlie Hills.

"I think she wants to go further than a mile now."

Hills had earlier unleashed a two-year-old of rare promise when Kiyoshi, owned by the Qatari Al-Thani family, galloped clean away with the Albany Stakes under jockey Jamie Spencer.

Kiyoshi was last in the early stages before Spencer brought her through to pass her 18 opponents.

Once in front, however, the filly swerved markedly to her right in beating favoured Sandiva by 3 lengths, with Frankel's half-sister, Joyeuse, back in third.

So visually striking was Kiyoshi that bookmakers immediately installed her as favourite for next year's 1,000 Guineas.

She was a second winner of the week for the Al-Thani family of Qatar after Extortionist annexed the Windsor Castle Stakes on Tuesday.

Aidan O'Brien's powerful Ballydoyle stable enjoyed mixed fortunes but still managed to maintain Ireland's momentum at the five-day meeting.

Battle Of Marengo, heavily backed for the King Edward VII Stakes, was ambushed close home by Hillstar after establishing a clear lead in the home straight.

But Leading Light made amends in the Queen Vase (In Memory of Sir Henry Cecil) to register O'Brien's fourth winner of the week.

All 15 jockeys in the race wore black armbands as a mark of respect for Cecil, the famed British trainer who died 10 days ago.

The Cecil stable had a fancied runner in Disclaimer but the colt, who took the lead rounding the final turn, tired late on after fighting his jockey for most of the two-mile race.

Leading Light, by contrast, got stronger as the race unfolded.

He fought off a series of challenges in the home straight before repelling the last of them from Fell Like Dancing with brio.

O'Brien goes into the final day on Saturday as the meeting's leading trainer with four winners. And his son Joseph, who rode Leading Light, shares the lead in the race for the riders' title with three winners.

He is joined on that mark by James Doyle and Johnny Murtagh, who won the Wolverton Handicap aboard Forgotten Voice.

Leading Light's victory also hoisted Ireland's tally to eight winners, which matches that country's best-ever previous haul with one day of the meeting to come. - AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Happy birthday, Superman!

Posted: 21 Jun 2013 02:50 AM PDT

We celebrate the release of Man Of Steel and the 75th anniversary of Superman with a look back at some of his greatest stories.

FROM George Reeves to Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain to Tom Welling by way of Brandon Routh, there has never been a Superman movie or television series that has met my considerably high comics-derived expectations. However, as I write this still fresh from watching Man Of Steel, and I am happy (and surprised) to report that I actually liked the movie!

Sure, it wasn't in the calibre of The Dark Knight, and the best part of it was actually the visual effects, but in my humble opinion, this is THE best Superman movie ever, narrowly edging out Superman II. The action and Kal-El's fights with villains of equal might made it an enjoyable movie outing – and saved me the horror of going through yet another "escape from Krypton" subplot or another lame Lex Luthor appearance.

But I'm not here to review Man Of Steel. Instead, I would like to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Superman's creation (creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster probably never imagined the Man of Tomorrow living on for so many tomorrows!) by going through 10 key stories that have defined the Man of Steel.

Happy birthday, Superman!

The last son of Krypton
Published in: Superman: Secret Origin #1-#6 (2010)
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank

There have been numerous stories written about Kal-El's flight from Krypton and his ascension from Smallville country boy to Metropolis' top reporter. Prior to this six-parter, the benchmark for Superman's early years was John Byrne's Man Of Steel (as well as the World Of Krypton miniseries), and Mark Waid's Superman: Birthright. However, what makes Secret Origin the ultimate reference point is the way it redefined the Super-mythos by injecting depth, believability and nostalgia (Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder would have been proud) into Superman's early years.

The man for all seasons
Published in: Superman For All Seasons #1-#4 (1998)
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale

The four-parter that put Smallville on the map. The beauty of this story lies in the way Loeb juxtaposed a third party's perspective on the Man of Steel with the four seasons. For instance, Spring is represented by Jonathan Kent's thoughts on his son during his pre-Superman days. Lois Lane makes Summer a sizzling one as she recalls her early experiences being saved by the Man of Steel. Lex Luthor puts a different perspective to Fall by driving home into Superman the point that he can't save everyone. And finally, Winter reveals Lana Lang's frustrations and hopes for her once-boyfriend.

The dying Man of Steel
Published in: All Star Superman #1-#12 (2005-2008)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely

Considered one of the greatest Superman tales ever written, Morrison and Quitely's epic story features the beginning of the end to Superman's life! Unlike the copout death at the hands of Doomsday in the 1990s, however, here Superman dies ... slowly, not in an action-packed fight but in a gradual way courtesy of Lex Luthor's devious act of overdosing Superman's cells with solar radiation.

With less than a year to live, the Man of Steel occupies his time by doing long-overdue things – including full disclosure with Lois, levelling with Lex and leaving behind a legacy for humans and Kryptonians.

The man who has everything
Published in: Superman Annual (Vol 1) #11 (1985)
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Dave Gibbons

What if Krypton never exploded and Kal-El lived a happy life there? Moore and Gibbons' For The Man Who Has Everything story answers this question, courtesy of the villainous Mongul's "birthday gift" – a Black Mercy plant.

Superman's 47th birthday party at the Fortress of Solitude is dampened when his "guests" (Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman) find him in a comatose state with the plant feeding off his greatest desires. For Superman, this means a life where he is on Krypton, happily married with kids. Inevitably, this dream environment has to end and the decisive moment where Kal-El bids adieu to his Kryptonian desires is one of those rare moments that sees him at his most vulnerable. This story by the co-creators of Watchmen was also immortalised in the second episode of the Justice League Unlimited animated series.

The secret revealed!
Published in: Action Comics #662 (1991)
Writer: Roger Stern
Artist: Bob McLeod

At long last, the worst-kept secret in comics is finally revealed … to Lois Lane at least. Despite being the Daily Planet's nosiest reporter, Lois took 53 years to find out Clark Kent's not-so-secret identity, thanks to him finally coming clean in Action Comics #662's Secrets In The Night story. After decades of false alarms and U-turns, I never thought this moment would ever materialise, within my lifetime at least. This breakthrough certainly paved the way for bigger things in the Lois-Clark relationship, as they would finally tie the knot five years later.

The city in a bottle
Published in: Action Comics #242 (1958) and #866-#870 (2010)
Writers: Henry Boltinoff and Geoff Johns
Artists: Curt Swan and Gary Frank

Although there has been a gradual introduction of Kryptonian survivors (i.e. Supergirl, Zod, etc.) into the Superman mythos over the years, none of these was as impactful as the discovery of the "bottled city" of Kandor. The existence of a surviving Kryptonian community from Kandor (the capital city of Krypton) emerged in Action Comics #242, via Superman's first encounter with Brainiac. While that initial encounter with Kandor proved inconclusive (as in, the city stayed in the bottle), the 21st century take by Johns and Frank took things one step further, expanding the city to full size and therefore unleashing 100,000 Kryptonians upon Earth! Unfortunately, Superman's "homecoming" occurs at a great cost, as his Earth father, Jonathan Kent, is killed in the aftermath.

Judge, jury and executioner
Published in: Superman (Vol 2) #21-#22 and Adventures of Superman #444 (1988)
Writer: John Byrne
Artists: John Byrne and Jerry Ordway

Superman never kills ... unless he is under the influence of Lex Luthor! Dubbed the Supergirl Saga, this three-parter set in a "pocket universe" has Superman teaming up with that world's Lex Luthor against Phantom Zone criminals General Zod, Zaora and Quex-Ul – a battle which ends with Superman making the terrible and difficult decision of executing all three via fatal exposure to green kryptonite.

Truth, justice, and the American way
Published in: Action Comics #775 (2001)
Writer: Joe Kelly
Artists: Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo

What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & The American Way is another Superman story that recently received the animated movie treatment and rightly so, as this story explores and reinforces the Man of Steel's modus operandi in delivering justice. While Kingdom Come debates the degree of punishment meted out to villains, this tale reaffirms Superman's dream of making dignity, honour and justice a shared reality.

Providing an alternative to Superman's "outdated" methods is a new team of antiheroes called the Elite, led by one Manchester Black. The Elite's "the end justifies the means" approach was mooted as a permanent solution to society's ills – that is, until Superman gave them a taste of the same treatment, and proved that violence is never the answer.

Truth, justice, and the Ukrainian way?
Published in: Superman: Red Son #1-#3 (2003)
Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett

What if the Man of Steel's baby rocket had landed in Russia instead of America? Mark Millar's Red Son story gives Superman's origin story a twist, as Jor-El, in a haste to save his son, miscalculates the Earth's rotation, which results in Kal-El's rocket landing in Ukraine instead of Kansas. Without the Kents' parental guidance, Kal-El grows up under a very strict regime, and instead of growing up to be the Superman we all know, he becomes Russia's Super Soldier, who champions the common worker, Stalin and socialism!

The missing Man of Tomorrow
Published in: Superman (Vol 1) #423 and Action Comics #583 (1986)
Writer: Alan Moore
Artists: Curt Swan, George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger

If I had to choose a "The End" tale for Superman, this would be it!

Moore's Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow story (which is now available as a standalone book) focuses on Superman's mysterious disappearance from the public eye. Set 11 years in the future (1997, to be exact), Lois Lane-Elliot (the last person to see Superman) recollects Superman's final moments through an exclusive interview with a Daily Planet reporter.

The protagonists are Toyman and the Prankster, who discover Superman's secret identity by abducting Pete Ross. Teaming up with Braniac, Metallo and the Kryptonite Man, they storm the Fortress of Solitude for a major showdown. While Superman (with his super friends) succeeds in overcoming the threat, he discovers that the attack was just a smokescreen as the real mastermind, Mr Mxyzptlk, pops up!

However, instead of the usual comical ending involving saying his name backwards, the imp receives his dues in a tragic manner, as Superman accidentally kills him.

The violation of his self-imposed code not to take a life prompts Superman to voluntarily depower himself via Gold Kryptonite exposure.

The interview ends with Lois declaring that "as far as I'm concerned, Superman died in the Arctic". But to find out whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow ... well, go read it and find out for yourself!

Our regular comics contributor, Earth 638 (Tel: 012-6631584, email: earth638@yahoo.com) will be relocating their brick-and-mortar shop onto a virtual plane as of June 25. For more details, visit their Facebook page (Facebook.com/Earth638).

Fuelling your imagination

Posted: 21 Jun 2013 05:00 AM PDT

There's nothing like a good book to fuel the imagination.

The School For Good And Evil
Author: Soman Chainani
Publisher: Harper Collins, 488 pages

Twelve-year-old best friends Sophie and Agatha from the cursed village of Galvadon find themselves kidnapped and sent to the School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains.

Bubbly Sophie, with her pretty dresses and glass slippers, looks set to graduate as a storybook princess from the School for Good. Meanwhile, morbid Agatha, with her plain black frocks and nasty pet cat, seems more suited to the School for Evil.

Yet, to their surprise, the girls find their fortunes reversed in the Endless Woods. Sophie is thrust into the School for Evil, while Agatha is surrounded by handsome princes in the School for Good.

Is it all a terrible mistake or are the girls where they truly belong?

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop
Author: Kate Saunders
Publisher: Marion Lloyd, 290 pages

WELCOME to The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, the most magical place in London.

Eleven-year-old twins Oz and Lily Spoffard move into this wondrous place after their family inherits it along with the house above the shop.

But when their evil immortal uncle comes a-hunting for the secret of the shop's greatest recipe, Oz and Lily discover that the famous chocolate-makers were actually sorcerers and the power of the magic chocolate could destroy the world.

Joining forces with their magical neighbour Caydon, Oz and Lily try to save their unborn sister and the world with help from an invisible cat, a talking rat and the ghost of an elephant.

Better Nate Than Never
Author: Tim Federle
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 288 pages

NATE Foster is a small-town boy with big dreams. He has always wanted to star in a Broadway show. Unfortunately, it looks like nothing exciting is ever going to happen in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where nobody appreciates a good show tune.

So with his best pal Libby's help, Nate breaks his curfew and escapes on a bus to New York City to crash an open-casting audition for E.T.: The Musical.

Nate thinks that would be his best shot at big-time stardom, but does he have what it takes to make his dreams come true?

Infinity Ring #4: Curse Of The Ancients
Author: Matt De La Peña
Publisher: Scholastic Inc., 192 pages

BOOK four of the time travel-themed Infinity Ring series continues to mix genuine historical facts with adventure and fantasy. Curse Of The Ancients revolves around the creation and destruction of the Mayan culture and their greatest legacy: the Mayan Codex.

Sera, Riq and Dak use the Infinity Ring to go back to ancient Mayan times in order to fix breaks in history so that they can prevent future disasters and save the world from the Cataclysm.

But, another problem arises when Riq doesn't want to leave because he has fallen for a young Mayan snake whisperer and jewellery maker named Kisa.

The 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile, 480 pages

IT's the dawn of the 5th Wave and a girl named Cassie Sullivan is armed with an M-16 as she runs from Them on a lonely stretch of highway. They are the alien beings who look human but roam the countryside killing anyone they see.

So, Cassie believes that to stay alive, she has to be alone. That is until she meets the mysterious and beguiling Evan Walker.

Amazon's best teen book in the month of May, The 5th Wave has also been described by USA Today as "a modern sci-fi masterpiece ... that should do for aliens what Twilight did for vampires."

Back And Deader Than Ever (Monster High #4)
Author: Lisi Harrison
Publisher: Poppy, 240 pages

LALA (also known as Draculaura) gets a life and flashes her fangs in the fourth book of this New York Times bestselling series, now that the RADs (Regular Attribute Dodgers) are free to do as they please.

Unfortunately, Daddy Drac drops in for a surprise visit; he is anti-RAD/normie integration and insists that the RADs get their own school.

So to save Merston High, Lala sets her eyes on a glamorous contest by footwear company T'eau Dally shoes; the winner gets a big cash prize and the chance to star in a national campaign as the brand's spokesmodels.

In this battle between father and daughter, will anybody make it to the end in one piece?

The tragic failure of an American dream

Posted: 21 Jun 2013 04:58 AM PDT

This is a gripping thriller that portrays the flipside of the American dream and how ordinary men can veer into madness.

Fallen Land
Author: Patrick Flanery
Publisher: Atlantic, 432 pages

GIVEN its essential nature, it comes as no surprise that the American dream gave way so quickly to the Air-Conditioned Nightmare. A wide variety of American writers, from Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) to Henry Miller (1891-1980) to Don DeLillo (1936-) and beyond, have expended a good deal of ink on investigating why things should have turned out so badly for so many.

Now, on the back of his highly regarded South Africa-set debut, Absolution, Patrick Flanery takes up the challenge of what DeLillo calls "the American mystery" in a new novel that also explores the dark shadows cast by history and old lies, beginning with a race riot and ending, almost a century later, with an execution on death row.

Along the way, he examines the collapse of one man's crude but persuasive value system. The fact that this man stands, in many ways, as a kind of American Everyman is, at times, almost unbearably poignant – a reminder that the tragedy at the heart of Fallen Land is not that of one individual, but of an entire nation.

The condemned man is a former builder and property developer, Paul Krovik. Ever since he was a boy, Krovik has placed his trust in the preachings of a shadowy "great man", whose guiding principles are passed on by Paul's father: "Remember the teachings of the great man, Paul. Regret is nothing but a false prayer. Trust the gleam of your own mind. Be brave: God does not want cowards to manifest His work. Your hands are trustworthy. Society is nothing but a conspiracy against you. If the country is at war, then the average citizen has to look out for his own even more than in peacetime, government be damned."

This half-baked philosophy is both seductive (to a child growing up in the shadow of a forceful parent, especially so) and highly toxic: even before Paul's American Dream runs into financial trouble, he is preparing "not just for attack by foreign terrorists, or governments, but also for the possibility of hostile fellow Americans, for a new civil war, or for an environmental, technological, or biochemical conclusion to the human era on this planet". In short, Paul Krovik, a potentially good man who "loved his wife, still loves her, loves the boys as well, only ever wanted to protect them and still does", has placed himself on a war footing with the entire world.

As his poorly constructed houses begin to fall apart and the lawsuits and debts pile up, his wife divorces him and flees with the children to Florida, leaving him with nothing but a state-of-the-art post-apocalyptic bunker into which he has needlessly thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is when Paul's mind truly begins to unravel, and the violence that ensues comes to seem inevitable.

Like its predecessor, Fallen Land is a book full of sinister echoes, bad history rising from the tainted earth, not so much to infect as to reveal the poisonous currents running just beneath the appearance of normal, even conventional life. The paranoia and innate violence of America's bad dream not only drives Paul to desperate acts, but also poisons Nathaniel, the seemingly contented husband and father who buys Krovik's signature house after the would-be property tycoon goes bankrupt. That it is the men – Paul's domineering father, Krovik himself, Nathaniel – who succumb to violence is not unexpected for, as "the great man" says, "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members." That manhood must be defended against every threat, real or imagined – and in the paranoid imperium, threats are everywhere.

In an epigraph, Flanery picks up on Hawthorne's observation (in The House Of The Seven Gables, of 1851): "In this republican country, amid the fluctuating waves of our social life, somebody is always at the drowning-point." This, we might reasonably contend, is why the American dream always fails: because that dream is founded on a harsh competitiveness and aggression that is bound to push not just somebody, but many, to drowning point. In Fallen Land, Flanery has given us a gripping thriller, and a superb portrayal of how ordinary men can veer into madness, but its real power lies in its recognition of the tragic failure of an American dream that should have tried, at least, to live up to the principle laid down in 1892 in the American Pledge of Allegiance by Francis Bellamy of "liberty and justice for all". – Guardian News & Media

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