Jumaat, 28 Jun 2013

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

The good soldier

Posted: 29 Jun 2013 01:29 AM PDT

Keri Russell may not look like your typical mum in her new TV show, but neither does she look like a spy.

Keri Russell doesn't seem to age. She looks the same today as she did back in 1998 when she played a lovesick college student on the TV series Felicity.

Russell might not look older, but at 36, she's the right age to play a mum in the new FX series The Americans.

Her character has a perfect life: a loving husband, two children, a home in the suburbs. Oh, and an arsenal of weapons hidden in her home.

The series – set during the early days of the Ronald Reagan administration – has Russell and co-star Matthew Rhys playing Russian KGB agents who have posed as good Americans for almost 15 years.

The series deals with how the couple is torn between loyalty to the Motherland and parenthood. Russell's character, Elizabeth, remains the most devoted to Mother Russia.

"I love that I'm not the likable one, the relatable one, on the show," Russell says. "Elizabeth is not the best mum. She loves her children so much but she's not warm and fuzzy. She's had to compartmentalise major aspects of her life for obvious reasons. Raising kids in a place where she doesn't want to live is part of it. She doesn't want her children to be in this place, in this culture."

Russell calls Elizabeth "a good soldier". That point becomes clear early in the series. Nothing – absolutely nothing – is off limits when it comes to spying. She's able to accomplish some missions – some very sexual in nature – because while she's been married for years, to her the relationship is just an act.

There are hints that Elizabeth's devotion is born out of dark elements in her past. But Russell knows her character won't get any sympathy and that she has a tough job ahead.

Russell's finding great fun in unravelling the emotions Elizabeth is feeling. That's because she generally gets cast in much lighter roles without a lot of action.

The Americans is a 180-degree swing from her last TV series, where she starred with Will Arnett in the short-lived Running Wilde. About the only comparison is that she's a mum in both.

The role is so different for Russell that she thought the script was sent to her as a joke, especially considering she had just had a baby and wasn't actively looking for work.

Once it was explained to her that the idea of casting her was to get away from the stereotype of female Russian spies as being lanky, big-lipped and dark, she became intrigued.

"I would ride my bike around Brooklyn and think about the script. It's so not just a straight procedural, but has so many different elements that I'm still figuring it out. In the end, it was a role that interested me. I kept coming back to what this relationship must be like," Russell says. "Then, to top it off, there's the spy fantasy element where you do get to have sex with other people and it's OK.

"The marriage is what interested me the most." – The Fresno Bee/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Snowden's options appear to narrow in bid to evade U.S. arrest

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 09:05 PM PDT

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Nearly a month after Edward Snowden exposed top secret U.S. surveillance programs, the former spy agency contractor looks no closer to winning asylum to evade prosecution at home - and his options appear to be narrowing.

A television screen shows former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden during a news bulletin at a cafe at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport June 26, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

A television screen shows former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden during a news bulletin at a cafe at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport June 26, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Stuck in legal limbo in a Moscow airport transit area and facing uncertainty over whether any of the destinations he is said to be contemplating - Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba - will let him in, Snowden seems to be at the mercy of geopolitical forces beyond his control.

Unseen in public since arriving in Moscow last weekend, much remains unclear about Snowden's overtures to various countries and how they have responded behind the scenes.

Russia may no longer have sufficient reason to continue harbouring Snowden if, as is widely believed, its intelligence services have already questioned him about the classified documents that he has admitted to taking from the National Security Agency.

The leftist government of Ecuador, already sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its London embassy, is reviewing Snowden's asylum request, though officials have sent mixed signals, suggesting the process could drag on for weeks.

Venezuela's new president, Nicolas Maduro, has spoken favourably of granting refuge to Snowden but has taken no action, and he may think twice about risking a setback in tentative steps toward post-Chavez rapprochement with Washington.

And even if Ecuador or Venezuela decide to take Snowden, there is no guarantee that communist Cuba, the likely transit point for any flight from Moscow to those South American countries, would let him pass through and further complicate its own thorny relations with the United States.

Adding to Snowden's troubles, the Obama administration, embarrassed by his disclosures on U.S. surveillance programs and his ability to dodge extradition when he fled Hong Kong last Sunday, is bringing heavy pressure to bear on any country that might consider accepting him, diplomats say.

"Thus far, he has chosen his destinations carefully," said Carl Meacham, a foreign policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "His time, even in those countries, however, may be running out."

Another potential complication is the role of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, whose alliance with Snowden further politicizes his case. British legal researcher Sarah Harrison, a top WikiLeaks lieutenant and Assange confidante, escorted Snowden on the flight from Hong Kong to Moscow and is believed to have remained with him.


Russia remains the chief focus of the diplomatic scramble, and while President Vladimir Putin has clearly delighted in the chance to tweak Washington, there are questions whether he wants a prolonged saga that threatens deeper damage to already-chilly U.S.-Russia relations.

The former NSA contractor's trek took him to Moscow because he had little choice of any other route that would keep him relatively safe from his American pursuers, former Russian intelligence officers and political and security analysts said.

"He has almost nowhere to go. He does not have much of a choice," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs and a member of an influential foreign policy council.

"Considering that he came out with a serious statement that is seen by the United States as treasonous, he needs to lay out an itinerary through countries where he can feel more or less certain that he will not be handed over."

Despite Putin's insistence that Russian intelligence agencies had not been "working with" Snowden, a Russian security service source said they would certainly have interviewed him.

U.S. authorities are already operating on a "worst case" assumption that all of the classified material in Snowden's possession has made its way to one or more adversary intelligence services, U.S. national security sources said.

While top U.S. officials have warned of serious damage to national security interests from Snowden's leaks, Lukyanov suggested that in intelligence terms he was probably not a very valuable prize. "He is not some kind of special agent," he said.

Putin has built his return to the presidency on strident nationalism. If he hands Snowden back to the United States, he could face a backlash from Russians who see the American as a whistle-blowing hero.

"No matter what, we should not give him back. Let him go somewhere, or even stay in Russia - we are a big country and we have room for him as well as (French actor Gerard) Depardieu," said Viktor, a pensioner who was at Sheremetyevo airport on Friday for a vacation flight to Ukraine.


However, Snowden's protracted stay at the Moscow airport may have more to do with his problems reaching a deal with Ecuador than with any Russian desire to keep the American fugitive from moving on, the Russian security source said.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has inserted his small Andean nation into the saga by offering asylum to Snowden, whom he has praised for exposing U.S. espionage efforts. However, he may also be trying to fill the void left by the death of Venezuelan socialist President Hugo Chavez - for a decade Washington's most vocal adversary in the region.

While Ecuador seems like Snowden's best bet as a place of refuge, its intentions are unclear.

Assange said earlier that Ecuadorean diplomats in London had issued a temporary travel document intended for Snowden, whose U.S. passport had been revoked. But the Quito government denied this.

In the meantime, Correa has said Ecuador cannot move forward with the asylum request until Snowden is in the country or makes his way to one of its embassies. Correa has indicated he is not planning to arrange transit for Snowden.

Returning to Quito on Friday from a tour of Asia, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said his government had been involved in talks with the Russian government about Snowden's fate, but without any result.

For now, Venezuela also was not looking promising for Snowden. Maduro has made clear several times that he would take a positive view of an asylum request, though he said on Thursday that "no one has asked us for humanitarian refuge."

Since taking office in April, Maduro has at times used thunderous, Chavez-style, anti-U.S. rhetoric but he has also expressed interest in better relations with Washington.

Without help from a sympathetic government, Snowden's ability to travel is limited. The increasingly grim predicament may explain why his father on Friday said he is reasonably confident the 30-year-old Snowden would return if certain conditions were met.

Those conditions include not detaining Snowden before trial, not subjecting him to a gag order and letting him choose the location of his trial, according to a letter that Lonnie Snowden's lawyer, Bruce Fein, sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

(Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman and Alexei Anishchuk in Moscow, Jeff Franks in Havana, Brian Ellsworth in Quito, and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell, Tiffany Wu and Eric Beech)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

China media warns Philippines of 'counterstrike' in South China Sea

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 08:31 PM PDT

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's state media warned on Saturday that a "counterstrike" against the Philippines was inevitable if it continues to provoke Beijing in the South China Sea, potentially Asia's biggest military troublespot.

The warning comes as ministers from both countries attend an Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Brunei, starting Saturday, which hopes to reach a legally binding code of conduct to manage maritime conduct in disputed areas.

New recruits of the Chinese Navy march with their guns during the parade marking the end of their first training session in Qingdao, Shandong province, March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

New recruits of the Chinese Navy march with their guns during the parade marking the end of their first training session in Qingdao, Shandong province, March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

At stake are potentially massive offshore oil reserves. The seas also lie on shipping lanes and fishing grounds.

Both China and the Philippines have been locked in a decades-old territorial squabble over the South China Sea, with tensions flaring after the Philippines moved new soldiers and supplies last week to a disputed coral reef, prompting Beijing to condemn Manila's "illegal occupation".

The overseas edition of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, said in a front-page commentary that the Philippines had committed "seven sins" in the South China Sea.

These include the "illegal occupation" of the Spratly Islands, inviting foreign capital to engage in oil and gas development in the disputed waters and promoting the "internationalisation" of the waters, said the commentary.

The Philippines has called on the United States to act as a "patron", while ASEAN has become an "accomplice," said the commentary, which does not amount to official policy but can reflect the government's thinking.

"The Philippines, knowing that it's weak, believes that 'a crying child will have milk to drink'," the People's Daily said, accusing Manila of resorting to many "unscrupulous" tricks in the disputed waters.

Beijing's assertion of sovereignty over a vast stretch of the South China Sea has set it directly against Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to other parts of the sea.

The 10-member ASEAN hopes to reach a legally binding Code of Conduct to manage maritime conduct in disputed areas. For now a watered-down "Declaration of Conduct" is in place.

On Thursday, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that countries with territorial claims in the South China Sea that look for help from third parties will find their efforts "futile", adding that the path of confrontation would be "doomed".

Last week, China vowed to protect its sovereignty over the Second Thomas Shoal, known in China as the Ren'ai reef. The Philippines is accusing China of encroachment after three Chinese ships, including a naval frigate, converged just five nautical miles (nine km) from an old transport ship that Manila ran aground on a reef in 1999 to mark its territory.

Last year, China and the Philippines were locked in a tense two-month standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, which is only about 124 nautical miles off the Philippine coast. Chinese ships now control the shoal, often chasing away Filipino fishermen.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Michael Perry)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Snowden needs legal guarantees to return to U.S., father says

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 04:50 PM PDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden might voluntarily return to the United States if given assurances of his constitutional rights, his father said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.

A television screens the image of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden during a news bulletin at a cafe in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport June 26, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

A television screens the image of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden during a news bulletin at a cafe in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport June 26, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Lonnie Snowden was "reasonably confident" his son, who faces espionage charges in the United States for alleged leaking of secret surveillance information, would return if certain conditions were met, the June 27 letter said. It was written by a lawyer on Snowden's behalf, and was obtained by Reuters.

The younger Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, should not be detained or imprisoned before trial, should not be subject to a gag order, and should be tried in a venue of his choosing, the letter said.

Edward Snowden, a U.S. citizen, fled the United States to Hong Kong in May, a few weeks before publication in the Guardian and the Washington Post of details he said he provided about U.S. government surveillance of Internet and phone traffic.

He has not been seen since he arrived in Moscow on Sunday, but Russian officials said he was in a transit area at Sheremetyevo airport. He has requested political asylum in Ecuador.

Representatives for the Justice Department could not be reached immediately for comment on the letter.

Lonnie Snowden said he was concerned that his son was being manipulated by others, including people from the anti-government secrecy group WikiLeaks, he said in an interview on NBC television earlier on Friday.

"I am concerned about those who surround him," he told NBC. "Wikileaks - if you look at past history - their focus isn't necessarily the Constitution of the United States. It's simply to release as much information as possible. So that alone is a concern for me."

Snowden's father said he has not had contact with his son since April, NBC reported.

"I love him. I would like to have the opportunity to communicate with him. I don't want to put him in peril," he said in the interview.

Snowden said he did not think his son had committed treason, even though he said Edward Snowden broke U.S. laws in releasing details about the federal monitoring programs.

"He has betrayed his government, but I don't believe that he's betrayed the people of the United States," he said.

(Additional reporting by Douwe Miedema; editing by Vicki Allen and Jackie Frank)

Related Stories:
The Snowden affair: Whatever happened to the blame game?

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Cycling: 2014 Tour to further boost British cycling

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 06:10 PM PDT

PORTO-VECCHIO, France: With the 100th Tour de France about to get underway on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, the start of next year's race is not on the minds of many.

However, the organisers behind the 2014 Grand Depart in Yorkshire, in northern England, are very much looking forward as they get ready to make their own bit of Tour history.

The Tour has visited the British Isles three times before, most recently in 2007, when it set off from London.

Now it is the turn of Yorkshire, which contains major cities like Leeds and Sheffield as well as the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales and the Pennines, "the backbone of England".

"It is the biggest event that will ever have happened in Yorkshire," Welcome to Yorkshire Chief Executive Gary Verity told AFP.

"The biggest annual sporting event in the world, not only the greatest, the longest, the hardest, the toughest cycle race in the world, but the biggest free-to-watch sporting event on the planet. For us, it will be a very proud moment."

The 2014 Tour will begin with a flat stage from Leeds to Harrogate on July 5 before a ride from York to Sheffield through the hills of the Peak District.

There will then be a third stage in England from the university city of Cambridge to London before the race returns to France.

Verity agreed that the recent success of British cycling, from Bradley Wiggins' triumph on the 2012 Tour de France to the country's track triumphs at the London Olympics helped bring the race back to the UK and should help create a successful legacy for the region.

"The tremendous success of British cycling has I think taken cycling to a new level in the UK which makes it more conceivable to put a successful bid together for a Grand Depart," he said.

"Without that, it would have been very difficult for sure. Clearly, Bradley Wiggins' success last year was tremendous for us in terms of timing, and then obviously with the success of the Olympics it became clear that there was a sensible conversation to be had about the Tour coming to the UK quite quickly, which has now happened.

"Yorkshire will continue to get a payback from this event for many, many, many years to come," he said of his hopes for a successful legacy in a country which has gone cycling mad in recent times.

"How do you put a price on the inspiration this can give to children? The fact that you as a child could be stood on the side of the road in Yorkshire when the world's greatest sporting event comes right past where you are. It's huge."

Verity is therefore keeping his fingers crossed that Chris Froome can follow in the footsteps of Wiggins and become the second consecutive Briton to win the famed yellow jersey.

"Obviously, if Froome wins this year's Tour, to have two Brits winning it back-to-back would give us a huge fillip for our event next summer," he added. - AFP

Tennis: Kerber suffers Internet abuse after Wimbledon woe

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 06:06 PM PDT

LONDON: German seventh seed Angelique Kerber was the target of a torrent of abuse on social media after her Wimbledon exit on Friday.

Kerber, who made the semi-finals in 2012, was knocked out by Estonia's Kaia Kanepi, 3-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 in the second round despite leading by a set and 5/1 in the second-set tie-breaker.

Her Facebook page received a string of abusive messages including a death threat as well as one wanting her to break her arms while another demanded the tie be investigated for match-fixing.

"Fat cow, burn in hell," said one message with another screamed

"I wish you broken hands".

Another described her as a "fat, German cow".

"Just embarrassing Angelique. Horrible horrible performance today. Very disappointed," one of the less abusive posts.

Kerber did not address the abuse in her post-match press conference, but admitted she hadn't seized her chances to clinch the win.

"I had my chances in the second set but I didn't take them. In the third she was playing unbelievable and I couldn't do anything. I mean, she won today. Well done to her," said the German. - AFP

Golf: McIlroy fails again in Irish Open

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 06:01 PM PDT

MAYNOOTH, Ireland: World number two Rory McIlroy's troubles with his driver continued as he failed to make the cut in the Irish Open at Carton House on Friday.

McIlroy continues to struggle with the driver, revealing he will meet Nike technical staff again next week before the British Open at Muirfield.

The 24-year posted a second round 72 for a two-over par tally to miss the cut by two shots in windy and overcast conditions.

In 43 stroke-play rounds this year on either the European or PGA Tours, McIlroy has only managed to break 70 on 11 occasions.

"I am spending more time with Nike's technical staff as this was a new driver I had in the bag this week but it still wasn't 100% what I want," he said.

"So I am testing with them again next week.

"I am still confident in my ability to hit the golf ball and hit good shots but then confidence comes from hitting good shots and seeing the ball go in the hole, and shooting good rounds and posting good results.

"I guess in that way the results are not great but from being on the golf course and seeing some good shots today I am definitely more positive now than this time yesterday."

And unlike earlier this year when McIlroy added the Valero Texas Open in the week prior to the Masters, McIlroy will not be tempted to add either next week's French Open or the following week's Scottish Open to his schedule.

"No, I am not going to add a tournament as I am going to take the next two weeks off," he said.

"I have a couple of commitments, including my cousin's wedding next weekend, and then I'm planning to play a first practice round at Muirfield next Monday week, and the start of the week before The Open week," he said.

"If I didn't have these couple of things to then I would probably add a tournament but I just need to find a little consistency in my ball-striking.

"I hit quite a few good shots out there but there are a few bad ones in there and it's those bad ones that are costing me, and I wasn't sharp enough around the greens.

"I was confident when I played in San Antonio because I found something on the range on the Friday night and had a really good weekend that gave me a lot of confidence."

Florida's Peter Uihlein (68) and England's Robert Rock (66) head the Euro 2m event on nine under par.

Six players - Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal, Sweden's Oscar Floren, Holland's Joost Luiten, Portugal's Ricardo Santos and Ireland's Shane Lowry - share third place at seven under par.

Scotland's Scott Henry recorded a new Carton House course record of an eight-under-par 64 and two shots fewer than the previous mark set by four players including Denmark's Thomas Bjorn on route to victory in 2006. - AFP

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The Star Online: Business

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HSL secures RM228mil job from Eastbourne

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 04:08 PM PDT

PETALING JAYA: Hock Seng Lee Bhd (HSL) announced yesterday that it had secured a contract from Eastbourne Corp Bhd worth RM228mil.

The contract is for the construction works of an 18-storey commercial and office building with a two-level basement as well as related infrastructure works at Petra Jaya, Kuching, Sarawak.

The 30-month contract is due for completion by the first quarter of 2016.

"The contract is expected to contribute positively to the earnings and net assets of the HSL group for the financial years ending 2013 to 2016," it said in its announcement to Bursa Malaysia.

AmResearch analyst Thomas Soon said the contract brought HSL's total new order for the year to RM381mil. This is inclusive of about RM1bil out of a total of RM1.8bil of jobs in hand, which are currently still outstanding.

"We maintain our new order assumption of RM600mil, which we deem to be easily achievable," he said.

This is in comparison to the RM525mil achieved in the financial year ended Dec 31, 2012.

Given the job opportunities available within and without the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), Soon remains optimistic about the company's prospects over the next two to three years.

The potential major jobs include the remaining phases of the RM1.7bil Kuching central sewerage system, of which Soon estimates Phase 2 to be worth RM800mil.

"Notably, we have learnt that HSL has started the testing and commissioning of the Kuching central sewerage treatment plant," he said.

Given its central role in the entire project, Soon believes the company could secure the operation and maintenance (O&M) part of it as well, which would provide recurring income for the group.

The O&M portion could be contracted out along with the award of Phase 2, he said.

Other projects include an RM1bil water supply and treatment plant project between Sibu and Tanjung Manis, and the US$600mil to US$700mil (RM1.8bil to RM2.2bil) Balingian power plant.

"We understand HSL could be in the running for ancillary works to the tune of RM300mil to RM400mil for the power project," Soon said.

MPHB Cap eyes top 10 spot

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 05:05 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: MPHB Capital Bhd (MPHB Cap), a spin-off of Multi-Purpose Holdings Bhd (MPHB), is targeting to be a top-10 general insurance player in Malaysia by end-2015.

The group, predominantly a general insurance company, is confident that the internally generated funds would be able to see through its growth plans.

Its initial public offering (IPO) yesterday, which came on the heels of a renounceable offer for sale of 715 million shares in MPHB Cap by MPHB to the shareholders of MPHB on the basis of one MPHB Cap share for two MPHB shares held, was not open to the public.

Insurance arm Multi-Purpose Insurans Bhd's chief executive Ong Kok San said: "The authorities require us (as an insurance company) to have RM100mil in minimum paid-up capital, which we have satisfied.

"At the same time, based on our risk-based capital, our capital adequacy ratio is over 200%, so we are confident that we don't need extra funding for the expansion."

Ong believes that reaching the top-10 category from its present 13th ranking among 26 local general insurance companies is not a very onerous task.

"We have our strategies in place to penetrate the market further. We just need a bit of push," he said after the listing ceremony.

The company would focus on fire and travel insurance, where the margins were better compared with the motor insurance segment, Ong added.

Among its key strategies are to expand into the retail market with new products and schemes, increase distribution channels via bancassurance with more local and foreign banks, and expanding its network agency by 10% per annum for the next three years.

It will also grow its bumiputra broking market and enhance its e-commerce platform as an alternative distribution channel.

MPHB Cap now has a market share of 6.1% out of the RM8.1bil locally-owned insurance company category.

As for the group's 1,093ha land bank and two properties around Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Penang and Johor, property division assistant general manager Ivevei Upatkoon said the group was essentially a landowner and property investor, and not a developer.

The eldest daughter of managing director Tan Sri Surin Upatkoon said: "We have no intention of going into developing, as we would need a lot of capital. We are looking for joint-venture (JV) partners to develop the land or if the opportunity arises, dispose it."

Surin himself added that the company does not intend to retain its land or property assets but may consider it if there was good value. "The idea is to maximise the value for shareholders."

MPHB Cap is in a JV with Bandar Raya Developments Bhd for the development of land in Rawang, Gombak and Penang.

Rawang is a residential development with a small commercial village, while Gombak and Penang are planned for residential developments. Its 122ha Gombak land parcel is the long-closed amusement park, Mimaland.

The gross development value (GDV) for the three projects is RM4.2bil. MPHB Cap's share of the GDV is 22%, which rounds up to about RM924mil.

"We have submitted the Rawang masterplan to the authorities for approval but the other two are in the preparation stage," Ivevei said.

The company also fully owns the Flamingo Hotels in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

MPHB Cap's debut on Bursa Malaysia opened at RM1.45 or a 45% premium to its offer price of RM1. The counter closed at RM1.37 on a 2.48-million trading volume.

MPHB, meanwhile, closed one sen lower to RM3.61.

The listing of MPHB Cap, oversubscribed by 1.38 times, was to demerge the financial services and other investments from the gaming business of MPHB to improve the operational and financial efficiency of the businesses.

MPHB is also proposing to change its name to Magnum Bhd to reflect its gaming operations, which the Magnum Corp Sdn Bhd management team continues to helm.

MMC indirect unit buys Aussie firm

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 04:43 PM PDT

PETALING JAYA: MMC Corp Bhd's indirect subsidiary, Australia-based Malakoff Holdings Pty Ltd, has acquired the entire share capital of Meridian Wind Macarthur Holdings Pty Ltd (Meridian Holdings) from Meridian Energy Ltd for RM382.2mil.

The independent power producer (IPP) said in a statement to the stock exchange that Malakoff would hold a 50% stake in Macarthur Wind Farm following the acquisition. The other half is held by AGL Energy Ltd.

According to the announcement, Macarthur Wind Farm is the largest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia, with a generation capacity of 420MW, with 140 turbines of 3MW-rated power each.

"The wind farm was developed by Meridian and AGL through a 50:50 unincorporated joint venture and has been fully operational since it achieved its practical completion of the construction on Jan 31," it said.

Meridian Holdings was incorporated in Australia on March 16, 2007 as a holding company, with a share capital of AU$174.33mil (RM509.6mil).

On the other hand, Malakoff Corp Bhd, a 51%-owned subsidiary of MMC, which, in turn, owns Malakoff Holdings Pty Ltd, has been stepping up investments in clean energy, signing an agreement with Norway's NBT AS a year ago to build a US$600mil (RM1.89bil) wind farm in Pakistan, wires reported.

The country's largest IPP also owns plants in Algeria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Locally, it owns power generation plant stations in Lumut, Prai and Tanjung Bin.

MMC said the acquisition would not have any material effect on its net assets per share, earnings per share and gearing for its financial year ending Dec 31, 2013.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

The Heat not your typical macho buddy cop film

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 02:16 AM PDT

The Heat gleefully breaks the rules of the macho buddy cop film.

The Heat has all the elements you'd expect from a buddy cop movie – the oil-and-water partnership, the car chases, the wisecracks – and a few you wouldn't. For instance, a scene involving Spanx.

Faithfully conforming to the macho genre made famous by movies such as Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon, The Heat is also – curiously – summer's only studio film built around female leads: Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

"If someone asks what you wanna do and you don't really wanna work, you pick the most far-fetched thing," Bullock said. "This was it, a pairing where everyone was equal and you had these storylines that weren't girly. ... It had depth and humour and balls and action. It was just something I saw the boys getting to do."

Directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) from a script by Parks And Recreation writer Katie Dippold, The Heat pairs Bullock as Sarah Ashburn, an uptight FBI agent in ill-fitting suits, with McCarthy as Shannon Mullins, a brusque Boston cop who dresses like a 1980s lady rapper. Instead of romantic pining, the story's emotional undercurrent comes from the loneliness of women who are very good at their jobs.

"It wasn't a movie written for two guys," Feig said. "It was funny in a way women are funny and touched on themes of female friendship, professional women in the workplace who have chosen career over family and kids."

On-screen, Bullock and McCarthy play goofy but capable everywomen, and in a joint interview, they slipped easily into their public personae, sharing photos of their young children, bickering about texts – "You don't answer, that's just a fact," Bullock said. "I'm better at texting than anything else I do," McCarthy responded – and assessing how much teasing a reporter could withstand. "I bet we could push you pretty far," Bullock said, with a twinkle.

Were it not for the presence of enough publicists behind the hotel room door to launch a presidential campaign, it would be easy to forget that these are two of the most powerful women in Hollywood, with the ability to get movies greenlighted and to approve their directors and co-stars.

Once they attached themselves to The Heat, the project went from script to shooting in a matter of weeks – an accelerated progression in a town where even favoured scripts linger in development for years.

That both women are older than 40 – a demographic Hollywood typically ignores – and that McCarthy's body doesn't conform to Size 0 industry norms makes their shared success that much more unusual.

Bullock, 48 and McCarthy, 42, have both risen on that ineffable quality that creates movie stars and sometimes presidents – they seem like they'd be fun to get a beer with. Bullock, the Virginia-born daughter of a Pentagon contractor and an opera singer, came up in the 1990s, propelled by a tomboyish charm in movies such as Speed and Miss Congeniality before winning an Oscar for playing the brassy Southern mother in 2009's The Blind Side.

McCarthy, raised on a farm in Illinois, performed in the LA-based improv comedy group Groundlings and has appeared on TV shows such as Gilmore Girls and her current programme Mike & Molly but is a more recently minted star on the big screen.

She emerged in a breakout role as a rambunctious and occasionally lewd member of a wedding party in 2011's Bridesmaids and solidified her status this year as a star who can open a movie by playing a crook who plagues Jason Bateman's character in the surprise hit Identity Thief.

For Bullock, the increasingly prominent role of women in big-screen comedies is a heartening change from when she emerged in Hollywood 20 years ago. Much of that change she attributes to the rise of writer-performers such as Dippold and McCarthy, who is shooting and starring in a comedy for Warner Bros called Tammy, which she co-wrote with her husband, actor Ben Falcone.

"It does still feel Wild West-ish. Carol Burnett was doing all her writing. You had those iconic women who did it, but they were the exception," Bullock said. "I hope one day we don't say 'Women in comedy', 'Men and comedy', they just go 'Who was in it?'."

The actresses had never met until Bullock called McCarthy in her trailer on the Identity Thief set to see whether she was interested in playing Mullins. As in any screen pairing, chemistry would be critical – The Heat calls for their characters to evolve from elbow-flinging rivals to glass-clinking buddies over less than two hours.

"You have to instantly bond, instantly create a relationship in this weird world that we're in," Bullock said.

"She was game for anything," McCarthy said. "It was fun to poke and jab at her."

"We had a safe word," Bullock said. "Peaches."

In person, Bullock was the alpha female, McCarthy more reserved – in stark contrast to the naughty, all-id characters she often plays.

One thing both women share is a willingness to wield their bodies on-screen in unflattering ways: In The Heat, Bullock is all angles – elbows and knees and pin-straight hair, and McCarthy is a lady linebacker, barrelling after criminals in MC Hammer pants.

"It's those weird quirks to me that make someone who they are," McCarthy said. "A lot of times, especially for women, all of the tools are taken away. You have to look perfect, act perfect, you're perfectly poised, you're always appropriate. I don't know anyone who's like that, but also you've taken away all the tools to be funny or to be odd."

In one scene, Ashburn and Mullins drunkenly dance in a bar – Feig provided a choreographer, but the actresses dismissed the idea, fearing the dance would not be sufficiently awful.

"We have to be the butt of the joke," McCarthy said. "If you're outside commenting or winking ... no, you're the ass. You are the joke. You have to take the hit.

"The more you can take the hit, the funnier it is for people watching ... just out of sheer relief that, 'I'm not the one who ripped her pants'." – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Rising star: Andrea Riseborough

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 01:22 AM PDT

It's been hard to avoid Andrea Riseborough on the big screen this year. The 31-year-old British actress, who first gained notice in this country in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky and Madonna's W.E., has had four films released in the space of two months – Oblivion, Welcome To The Punch, Disconnect and the thriller Shadow Dancer.

"Every job is a milestone," Riseborough says, fresh from the New York set of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's all-star comedy, Birdman.

"That first chance to work with Mike Leigh, or just taking a day of work in a Roger Michell movie (Venus), joining Birdman to work with Inarritu, I'm adding up the milestones, the steps along the path. An actor's career is always a work in progress, nothing that you should ever let yourself get caught up in as it's happening."

Riseborough, having cut her teeth working with the improvisational Leigh, is a writer as well as actress.

But when documentary filmmaker James Marsh pitched her the fictional feature Shadow Dancer, which has her playing a damaged, dedicated IRA member in 1990s Belfast whom British agent Clive Owen sets out to "turn", the writer in her became an eraser.

"I was unclear about who Collette was, because in the original script, she talks an awful lot. Too much, I thought.

"I had a grasp of the situation she was in but not the person that she was. I think I took the role just to figure out who she was. If I didn't commit to the film, I'd never do the research and I'd never figure her out."

Her research made her realise "she should speak less and less and do more with her eyes. In that part of the world, even now, people are very economical with their words. They lived in a very dangerous and paranoid place for a very long time. Her silences give her an authenticity. People didn't talk. Talking could get you killed."

With cop thrillers, science fiction, period-piece dramas and contemporary dramas on her resume and a quartet of projects at various stages of completion, one credit that stands out is Birdman, a comedy about a washed-up screen superhero who stages a Broadway show to make his comeback.

Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis and ex-screen superheroes Edward Norton and Michael Keaton also star. Can Riseborough hold her own in a comedy?

"Oh, I've been doing comedy since I was, what, nine? I did Magicians (2007). Well, that didn't work as well as it should have, but it was supposed to be a comedy." – McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Movies Coming Soon - The Lone Ranger and Despicable Me 2

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 12:00 AM PDT

The Lone Ranger – Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp update the 1949 TV series, with director Gore Verbinski behind the camera. Lawyer John Reid turns into a masked vigilante with the help of Native American warrior Tonto.

Despicable Me 2 – Like the 2010 movie, the sequel is filled with comic talents including Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Russell Brand and Steve Coogan. Everyone's favourite villain, Gru, must now help the Anti-Villain League to take down a super-criminal.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Nautical pursuits take centre stage

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 01:32 AM PDT

This week, we review two vastly different books with one common denominator: the big blue ocean.

AHOY there matey! Come aboard our vessel and check out what seaworthy fare we have this week as we sail off into the blue expanse of ocean-related comic books.

Of course, when you talk about comics and the ocean, two names will usually pop into mind – Aquaman and Namor the Submariner. Unfortunately, while they have a strong following in their own right, these two characters do tend to be slightly overlooked especially when compared to their respective companies' heavy hitters.

Aquaman in particular has always been regarded as something of a joke – that is, until the recent DC New 52 reboot which saw Geoff Johns giving Arthur Curry a much needed profile boost and a great new solo title to boot.

Namor? Well, he has always been something of an enigma, being one of the earliest Marvel superheroes ever created, and also in part because of his anti-hero status that has seen him comfortable in both hero and villain roles in the Marvel universe.

The big two watery heroes aside, there have not really been many significant comic books about the ocean in general. Sure, there have been enigmatic indie graphic novels like Jeff Lemire's The Underwater Welder, and er ... Seaguy by Grant Morrison, but other than that, you'll have to be more than just a casual comics reader to think of any other significant ocean-related comic books.

That's why this week's featured graphic novels are so surprising (to me, at least), because both these titles don't just have strong connections to the sea, they are also brilliant books in their own right.

Spot the Easter eggs
Nemo: Heart of Ice
Creators: Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill
Publisher: Top Shelf/ Knockabout

No, Nemo: Heart of Ice is not about a frozen clown fish. The Nemo here refers to Captain Nemo, the captain of the mighty Nautilus, the submarine from Jules Verne's novel, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1870).

Only, it's not the Captain Nemo from Verne's story. It's not even the Captain Nemo from Moore and O'Neill's League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LXG) universe, but rather, his daughter, Janni Dakkar.

Since taking command of the submarine in League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910, Janni has been travelling around the world, plundering and pillaging with her pirate crew, while still bearing a grudge against her late father, who made it clear to her as child that he was disappointed that he had a daughter instead of a son. Determined to prove herself and surpass his achievements, she sets a course for Antarctica, where her father once led an exploratory overland expedition from which he emerged alone and insane.

Hot on her heels are three hunters – Frank Reade Jr, Jack Wright, and Tom Swift – who are out to retrieve some treasure that Janni's crew stole in the opening pages of the book (though, to be frank, these three protagonists seem to exist only to add a little more urgency to Janni's journey).

Although the story is fairly linear and simple to follow, to fully enjoy and comprehend Moore's story, it helps to be familiar with all the literary sources Moore draws from.

For this trip to Antarctica, for instance, Moore draws heavily from H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains Of Madness (1936), complete with its giant blind penguins, star-headed aliens and horrifying shoggoths, among other literary references. If you're familiar with the literary works Moore refers to here, you'll probably enjoy this book a lot more (and also have a lot of fun spotting all the Easter eggs he and O'Neill pepper around the panels).

O'Neill's art is top-notch as usual, and it doesn't matter whether he is drawing the Lovecraft-ian horrors of the Mountains Of Madness or the stark ice lands of the Antarctica – his art is so detailed that you could spend hours just poring over it.

After a couple of Nautilus-less League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century books (the last two have been set in 1969 and 2009), Nemo: Heart Of Ice is a welcome return to the ship, and it's nice to see Janni's development as captain of the Nautilus.

The story may be more straightforward than most LXG books, but by Jules Verne's beard, it's good to be back on the Nautilus.

Global scale
The Massive, Volume 1: Black Pacific
Creators: Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson
Publisher: Dark Horse

Compared to Moore and O'Neill's literary epic, The Massive is a much easier book to read, though no less intellectually stimulating.

Set in a "post-war, post-Crash, post-disaster, post-everything world", the story revolves around the crew of The Kapital, the point ship of direct-action environmental group Ninth Wave led by activist Callum Israel.

Israel, a man who has dedicated his life to protecting the ocean, now finds himself adrift in the very seas he swore to safeguard, searching for The Kapital's sister ship, The Massive, while figuring out what it means to be an environmentalist in a world that has already been consumed by its environment.

This first volume, which collects issues #1 to #6 of the ongoing Dark Horse series, is a fascinating introduction to Brian Wood's post-environmental disaster world and the characters that inhabit it.

The world of The Massive is one that has been ravaged by an environmental apocalypse called The Crash, in which the planet was hit with a "seemingly endless series of natural disasters unimaginable in scope and intensity, to the point that the very social fabric of global society was undermined. In this world, global economies have collapsed, entire cities were destroyed, and food and water supplies have been severely compromised. Taiwan has been completely submerged by the ocean. Thanks to its towering skyscrapers, a similarly submerged Hong Kong has gone from a city with a port to actually becoming a port. America has been thrown into chaos thanks to a seemingly permanent power blackout. Clean drinking water has now become more precious than diamonds or gold, and money no longer carries any value."

Writer Wood has done this sort of examination of social structures in extreme situations before, albeit on a smaller but no less epic scale with the stellar DMZ. In that series, he imagined the chaos of an American city torn apart by civil war, and focused on the changes that residents of the island of Manhattan in New York went through after it is declared a demilitarised zone (DMZ). Through the eyes of a journalist, Wood explores the devastating implications of turning Manhattan into a DMZ, how its people cope, and the social, ethical, and political issues that plague the area.

With The Massive, however, Wood has a much, much wider canvas to paint on – where DMZ was content to stay within the confines of New York City throughout the series, The Massive casts its net over the entire planet. The central story may be mostly about how Callum and his dysfunctional crew of environmentalists survive and pursue The Massive, but as they traverse the oceans, we also see how different parts of the world cope with the aftermath of the Crash. Wood also handily throws in tantalising little titbits about what is going on around the rest of the world, which makes me wish we could see more of the post-Crash world besides whatever happens on the deck of The Kapital.

Because of its wider, global scale and the narrowness of its characters' point of view, The Massive still has a long way to go before it can come close to the emotional resonance and power that DMZ had. But if the latest issues of the series is anything to go by, then we can surely expect ... er ... massive things from the series in the future.

Nemo: Heart Of Ice and The Massive are available at Kinokuniya Bookstore, Suria KLCC. For enquiries, call 03-2164 8133, e-mail ebd3 kbm@kinokuniya.co.jp, visit kinokuniya.com/my.

Striking a chord in Midnight Fishermen

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 06:37 AM PDT

Midnight Fishermen
Writer and artist: Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Publisher: Landmark Books

THIS collection of gekiga or "dramatic pictures" by the pioneer of the form is an incisive and often risque look at the effect of Japan's Economic Miracle of the 1960s and 1970s on its youth. Specifically, the mushrooming of urban centres, the accompanying "entertainments" and diversions, the culture shock and adjustment crises experienced by conservatively raised youngsters thrust into the bright – frequently red – lights of the big city.

It's not just the youths but also older folk who figure in these tales, sometimes as the root cause of some deep-seated problems, sometimes as the sympathetic focus of stories that highlight the emptiness and futility of a life without perceived purpose.

Midnight Fishermen may focus on a specific period, but its central themes of cultural disruption and social alienation, and the strengths and foibles of its characters in coping with all this, still have a strong bearing on what goes on in the present day.

The title of this anthology comes from the first story, and refers to two men who "fish" for their prospects late at night on the dimly lit streets of the city – one a gigolo, the other a con artist who strays into the path of oncoming cars and convinces the drivers it's better if they settle with him in cash rather than report the "accident" to the cops.

One young man is doing this to accumulate enough money to escape the city; the other, apparently, as an escape from the city. Which, for such a large place, is really quite bad for hiding in.

It's an eyebrow-raising opener to the collection, which follows up with a taut tale of a desperate gambler who seems to know no limits when it comes to putting his possessions on the line.

Cramped living conditions are the basis of several stories, where the characters constantly dream of better privacy, wide open spaces – and sometimes do get to realise those dreams, though not without a price.

The collection is full of stories of people who yearn for something more than what they have, the aspirations of youth and the greed of jaded older people.

Perhaps the most poignant tale is A Woman's Palace, the only science fiction-themed piece in the book, where a lonely old woman is cared for by a robot nurse that is on the verge of falling apart itself. The woman's actual situation becomes sadly clear as the tale progresses, when the "truth" of her long life is revealed.

On one hand it bears a hopeful message: no matter how meaningless we may perceive our lives to be, they still do matter to other people – no matter how strained or distant the connection. On the other hand, it is a sad portent – having been written and drawn decades ago – of something I read recently, of how Japan's ageing population is leaving elderly folk in a situation where their family and caregivers die, leaving them alone in the world.

I must admit that this gekiga stuff is not something I can take in large doses; there's enough drama in life already, so my comic-reading (read: escapism) tastes tend to drift toward the more ... outlandish.

Still, I breezed through Midnight Fishermen, and then went back over the next few days to re-read some of the stories; sometimes to savour them again, at other times to see if there was something I missed in the middle that made the ending seem so abrupt or opaque.

For the most part, the stories are quite relatable no matter what age you are.

There's something about the characters here – urbanite, country boy, fish out of water, outsider, dweller on the fringe – that will strike a chord with the reader because there's a little of most or all these types in us, I think.

According to Wikipedia, the gekiga form arose in the late 1950s and became widely adopted by so-called serious artists who did not want their work to be lumped together with the more children-oriented manga, considered to be "irresponsible" pictures.

(The Wikipedia entry compares the gekiga-manga situation to the way people eventually started using "graphic novel" rather than "comic book" to give the art form some gravitas.)

Oddly enough, Tatsumi's inspiration was the great Osamu Tezuka, the grandfather of manga, who – according to the introduction to this collection – once delivered a scathing criticism of the aspiring artist and his compatriots' ambition to reach out to older audiences than the juvenile market they served at that time.

He wrote an essay addressed to "new children's manga artists" (like Tatsumi) that reminded them of the main audience for such books, and concluded: "Besides, your drawings are not good enough to withstand adult readership anyway."

Ouch – I don't know of many people who could bounce back from something like that. But Tatsumi stuck to his guns, and not only succeeded at his craft but blazed a trail for numerous others besides.

Midnight Fishermen is available at Kinokuniya Bookstore, Suria KLCC. For enquiries, call 03-2164 8133, e-mail ebd3 kbm@kinokuniya.co.jp, visit kinokuniya.com/my.

Of spies and snipers

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 02:57 AM PDT

This week's round-up of the latest books offers a real-life adventure, a true hero and a tragic life story, as well as fictional crime and adventure.

Jungleland: A Mysterious Lost City, A WWII Spy, And A True Story Of Deadly Adventure
Author: Christopher S. Stewart
Publisher: Harper, 288 pages

JUNGLELAND is the real life adventure of an obsessed journalist who spends a month on the Mosquito Coast of Honduras seeking the fabled ruins dubbed Ciudad Blanca, or the White City. The El-Dorado-like city has lured explorers for centuries. Drawn by the mysteries of the lost city like others before him, Christopher Stewart sets out to find the answers, armed with only the personal notebook of a mysterious WWII spy and the coordinates etched on his walking stick.

Is the lost city for real or is it just a myth made up by locals?

Private Berlin
Authors: James Patterson & Mark Sullivan
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, 448 pages

THE latest offering in the Private series from the James Patterson production line has "the world's most respected investigation firm" handling a case in Berlin, Europe's most dangerous city.

When agent Chris Schneider, who usually tackles Private's most high profile cases, suddenly disappears, fellow agent Mattie Engel searches for him by investigating the three people who want him gone: a billionaire, a soccer star, and a nightclub owner. Her chase takes her to treacherous places and reveals secrets from Chris's past that she never knew, even back when they were lovers.

Author: Matthew Plampin
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, 320 pages

ILLUMINATION is a tale of revolution, love and rivalry set in 1870 during the four-month siege of Paris. Starvation looms and desperate times lie ahead as its citizens are caught between defiance and despair. The lights are going out all over the city, but one man shines like a beacon in the shadows.

Jean-Jacques Allix promises to be the one to lead the people and save the city. His young English lover Hannah Pardy is a painter who believes in him wholeheartedly and even takes up arms for his cause.

The Blood Gospel (The Order Of The Sanguines #1)
Authors: James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell
Publisher: William Morrow, 479 pages

AN earthquake in Israel kills hundreds of people and reveals an underground temple with a tomb that conceals the mummified body of a crucified girl. Three investigators – military forensic expert Sergeant Jordan Stone, Vatican priest Father Rhun Korza, and archaeologist Dr Erin Granger – are sent to explore the macabre discovery.

When a vicious attack on the trio occurs at the site, they are forced to go on the run, as they race to recover what was once preserved in the sarcophagus: a book rumoured to have been written by Jesus Christ and said to hold untold secrets. What will happen if the book falls in the wrong hands?

American Sniper: The Autobiography Of The Most Lethal Sniper In U.S. Military History
Authors: Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen & Jim DeFelice
Publisher: Harper, 448 pages

AMERICAN Sniper is the autobiography of US Navy SEAL Chief Chris Kyle, who holds the record for having the most career sniper kills in American military history, from 1999 to 2009.

In this New York Times bestselling memoir, he tells the true story of his decade-long career, of how he went from being a Texas rodeo cowboy to expert marksman and feared assassin. Kyle earned legendary status among fellow warriors, while Iraqi insurgents feared him so much that they even placed a bounty on his head.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Haze: Sime Darby calls for proactive measures to fight haze

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 08:44 AM PDT

PETALING JAYA: Sime Darby Plantations says haze-causing fires in Sumatra were not from areas planted by its subsidiary.

It said in a statement Friday that between June 11 and 19, five hot spots were found on land within the concession area of PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati (PT BNS), a company owned by PT Minamas Gemilang, a subsidiary of Sime Darby Plantation.

However, examination of satellite data and on ground assessment teams established that these fires were not in areas planted by the company.

Sime Darby Plantation managing director Datuk Franki Anthony Dass said to address the current issue of haze from fires in Riau Province in Sumatra, Indonesia, and its causes, PT Minamas Gemilang called on all other stakeholders to enter into constructive dialogue to find a sustainable solution to the problem.

"It is time for all stakeholders to work together to find a way to address what has become an annual problem of the haze, and the tremendous toll it takes on the environment and the health of affected communities on both sides of the Straits of Malacca," he said.

"On our part, PT Minamas would be happy to assist and participate in any constructive discussion on this matter.

"Local communities, civil society groups, academics and other companies operating in affected areas should offer technical assistance and support to the Government of Indonesia to study the issues and address the root causes of the problem," Dass added.

Sime Darby said among the issues that would need to be addressed include:

(1) the responsibilities of different stakeholders;

(2) how various stakeholder groups can work together to prevent future occurrences;

(3) legal issues pertaining to land use and occupation;

(4) best agricultural management practices.

The statement said fires in the Riau Province have resulted in a hazardous smog blanketing Singapore, parts of Malaysia and southern Thailand and the Indonesian authorities have long sought a solution to this annual problem.

Local communities plant a variety of cash crops such as corn and sugar cane, the statement said.

Under current regulations and conventions dealing with local communities and the preservation of traditional farming methods, concession holders are unable to control or influence the practices and activities of these communities.

"PT Minamas has conducted awareness programmes on the negative impact of slash and burn activities on local communities in the peat areas.

"It intends to intensify this awareness programme together with other plantation companies and local authorities," Dass said.

Sime Darby Plantation, the world's largest producer of certified sustainable palm oil, has had a zero burning policy since 1985.

In Indonesia, 20 of the company's 25 mills under PT Minamas have been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

The RSPO is a voluntary certification body, whose members include civil society groups and players along the entire palm oil value chain.

"There are several companies within the palm oil industry who observe high agricultural standards.

"As an industry, we could contribute significantly to discussions on how to solve this problem," Dass said.

For its part, Sime Darby Plantation and PT Minamas would bring to the table, more than 100 years of expertise in best agricultural practices backed by cutting edge R&D capabilities, experience in establishing responsible and successful outgrowers' schemes and experience in the management of land, on both peat and non-peat soil.

Sime Darby Plantation has studied two other areas, one where the company is managing an area cultivated on peat land by local communities under the plasma, or outgrowers' scheme, and another where it had acquired a plantation established on peat soil.

In the first area in Jambi, South Sumatra, local farmers, under the plasma scheme, plant oil palm but are exposed to and educated in the company's best agricultural policies.

In the other area in Lavang, Sarawak, Malaysia, Sime Darby Plantation manages a small estate in which no fires have been recorded since the inception of planting in the mid 1990s as a result of efficient water table management, encouraging beneficial vegetation to protect the soil and strict adherence to the company's policies.

"Out in Riau, our officials and fire fighting teams are already assisting the local authorities and communities to spot and put out fires," Dass said.

"However, for the longer term, sustainable solutions that do not undermine the rights of local communities and traditional farming methods need to be found. For this to be effective, we need multi-stakeholder discussions."

In 2008, Sime Darby Plantation implemented a strict policy prohibiting the clearing of peat areas. Existing areas that were cleared before the implementation of policy are carefully managed to ensure that there is minimal environmental impact.

Syed Hamid: SPAD agrees to 10% surcharge on Raya bus fares

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 07:18 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Express bus companies can impose a 10% surcharge on tickets from July 8 to Sept 8.

Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar said bus operators had previously demanded for a 30% fare hike, citing cost increase over the past five years.

This led to SPAD agreeing to the 60-day period for the surcharge.

Syed Hamid was speaking to reporters at the Hentian Putra terminal in conjunction with the sale of Hari Raya bus tickets.

He also handed out leaflets with information on the surcharge to passengers at the station.

Asked if the Hentian Putra station would be upgraded, Syed Hamid said there were plans to move the operators to an eastbound terminal in Gombak in the future.

Syed Hamid said touts were still a menace and only the electronic ticketing could rid the problem once and for all.

"Touts are a big problem. You don't really see them here but the worst ones are in Pudu Sentral," he said.

"It's not enough for us to enforce the law. Bus operators have to take action. We have to work together on this," he said.

Jonker Walk: Small protests but business as usual at tourist spot

Posted: 28 Jun 2013 07:45 AM PDT

MALACCA: It was business as usual Friday night at the iconic Jonker Walk night market despite the new ruling to allow cars in.

Motorists were diverted from entering the tourist spot at 5pm by traffic policemen and officers from the Malacca Historic City Council.

Other motorists were turned away by a small protests staged by the MCA and DAP, with some shouting "Save Jonker Walk" and holding placards.

Traders and hawkers opened their stalls as usual. Others formed a human barricade to prevent motorists from using the pedestrian mall.

The council's officers also refrained from taking action against the traders and kept watch from a distance.

A brief stand-off came as leaders from the political parties claimed credit of trying to save Jonker Walk.

"Where was DAP 13 years ago, you're the first to oppose when Jonker made its debut," shouted an MCA leader.

A pandemonium was triggered when several traders shouted at motorists who had parked their vehicles during operating hours.

The situation eased when Kota Melaka MCA Youth deputy chief Dr Yee Kok Wah was seen directing cars out of the area.

DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang delivered a speech at a makeshift stage.

State MCA chief and Jonker Walk committee deputy chairman Datuk Gan Tian Loo said he would meet the chief minister again to resolve the issue.

"Jonker Walk has contributed immensely to the state's tourism. In fact, it has also made us proud when it was included in the Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008.

"By opening the place to traffic it could derail plans to promote Jonker Walk as a holistic tourism product," he told The Star.

Gan noted that the protest by traders has nothing to do with politics as they were voicing out their grievances.

"The committee will attempt to meet him (chief minister) again to ask him to look into the predicament faced by the traders," he said.

Related Stories:
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Jonker Walk the real culprit
Malacca CM: Light vehicles allowed in to alleviate jam
Chua: Rethink move to open Jonker Walk to traffic
Jonker Walk closure: MCA will not allow tourist spot to close, says Liow
Nazri urges Malacca to reconsider decision to close Jonker Walk night market

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