Sabtu, 10 Ogos 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

Adoption taboo in Pakistan


In Pakistani society, where tribe, caste, creed and family belonging are of paramount importance, many, if not most, pause at the idea of loving a child that is not one's own progeny.

ISLAMABAD: The babies had apparently been found on a trash heap. The ensuing saga of the television show on which she was given away is well known.

It made news not only in Pakistan but everywhere; CNN did a story and the BBC filmed a segment. The story of the giving away of baby girls, like a car or television or microwave oven, was something everyone could balk at, something that transcended culture and geography.

The show's host, Amir Liaquat, defended his actions; the future "parents" had been vetted, he insisted, and the point of the show was to impress upon viewers that an abandoned baby was a treasure, and not trash.

Underlying the outrage and sensationalism of the whole episode is the complicated issue of adoption itself. Under Pakistani law, guardianship is governed by the Guardians and Wards Act of 1890, a piece of legislation passed 124 years ago.

The stipulations of this 19th-century act set out clear guidelines through which the guardianship of a child can be obtained; local magistrates and court officials can conduct background checks on would-be parents. On completion of these requirements, legal guardianship of a child can be completed.

That is the law on the books, but Pakistan is a messy country and its complications dictate that things rarely proceed along the lines laid down by the law. Among the knots is that the law mandates guardianship, instead of adoption (guardianship of children ends when they attain majority).

In legal terms, this is not a problem; a guardian can enjoy all the same rights as a parent, and the child under their care is, like any biological child, their legal ward.

The law keeps "guardianship" separate from "parenting" and depending on the people assuming legal responsibility, it can be the same thing as parenting, or completely different. The law doesn't say which, and so society and the family can dictate the details of the nature of the relationship.

As stigmatisation goes, religion is added to the mix. Fundamentalist and literal interpretations of Islamic law, such as those dictating that nursing a child is crucial to ensuring a chaste parental relationship, are used as additional curbs and discouragements.

As in the case of all taboos, opposing arguments such as the Holy Quran's repeated exhortations on the value of guardianship are easily forgotten.

The result is that in Pakistan guardianship has the reputation of an option for the hapless, the biologically flawed who must take on the abandoned progeny of others to make up for their own failure to procreate.

Even while these parents will love the child like their own, society at large continues to view them with pity.

In other cases, guardianship is the avenue of the magnanimous who will take on an impoverished child from a shelter or servant. This child is then raised with their own as an expression of their piety and benevolence. The child may be educated with their children, may even participate in family rituals, but no effort is made to disguise its status as different.

The lifelong burden of gratitude is the child's to bear; after all, it could have been a baby on a trash heap were it not for the benevolence of the better endowed.

Undoubtedly, there are many other iterations of the arrangement, some better or worse than the above. In focusing the discussion on these social norms, I hope to place emphasis not on the legal conundrums or the many examples of loving guardians who treat their children just as they would a biological child or even the practices of welfare institutions, but rather on social acceptance and treatment of adoption in Pakistani society.

At fault, at least in part, is the cultural obsession with genetic transmission that demotes adoption to something less or something wanting, but never as something chosen. What follows from this constricted social perception is a pervasive lack of sincerity regarding adoption which consequently deigns that an adopted child must be eternally grateful to be loved in a way that a biological child would never be expected to be.

In a Pakistan clinging to the idea that biological belonging is the ultimate in ensuring love and loyalty, adoption and its children always seem to fall short in mediaeval measures of bloodlines used by society to evaluate them.

Crude as it was, Amir Liaquat's television programme took a jab at this underlying prejudice. In placing a baby along with the bits and bobs of middle-class respectability that so many Pakistanis aspire to, it tried to raise the value of an adopted child to something more than a stand-in for the biological baby that could not be.

> The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

For Mugabe and Britain, ties that bind


The conflicted yet intimate flavour of Mugabe's relationship with Britain is marked by 'the peculiar intensity of a family quarrel'.

WHEN armed white settlers thrust into southern Africa in 1890 to raise the British flag over a land they named Rhodesia, they were lured by promises of gold beneath the ground and land aplenty above it.

More than 120 years later, the contest for the continent's resources in the land now called Zimbabwe seems undiminished, though China, not Britain, leads the scramble.

And, as the July 31 elections in Zimbabwe showed, a parallel battle is still being waged, at least in President Robert G. Mugabe's preoccupation – some might say obsession – with the decades of colonial and quasi-colonial rule that ended with independence in 1980.

Throughout his tenure, Mugabe has prevailed, securing his seventh consecutive term in office a week ago.

Neither his years – he is 89 – nor his political foes, nor sanctions imposed by his Western adversaries in London, Washington and elsewhere have been able to end the increasingly personalised and autocratic rule he has secured through a blend of guile, an iron fist and what his critics call a lust for power.

"Robert Mugabe has survived for so long because he is more clever and more ruthless than any other politician in Zimbabwe," the former US ambassador in Harare, Christopher W. Dell, said in a confidential 2007 cable made public by the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy group.

From another perspective, the outcome of Zimbabwe's election – labelled as flawed by London and Washington – showed the constraints on post-imperial power and, more broadly, the limits of the West's ability to bend defiant regimes from North Korea to Syria to its will.

But Mugabe's survival has again conjured the conflicted and intimate flavour of his relationship with Britain, profoundly hostile and yet marked by what the late Heidi Holland, a biographer, called "the peculiar intensity of a family quarrel".

The Zimbabwean leader, for instance, is said to admire Britain's royal family, and is wont to use the regal "we" in speaking of himself. He upholds British traditions, like afternoon tea, but accuses Britain of harbouring neo-colonial ambitions.

"I've thought about retirement, but not when the British are saying, 'We want regime change'," he said before the vote. "I won't be changed by the British."

The ties that bind European powers to their former African possessions are often a tangle of resentment, self interest, guilt, dependence and emulation, shaded by the dictates of realpolitik.

France, for instance, has long practised a muscular neo-colonialism, underpinned by the deployment of its troops, most recently on a relatively large scale to repulse an Islamist advance in Mali.

Even though it has sent forces to Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, however, Britain has never been prepared to risk a similar military campaign in southern Africa.

Yet, by imputing continued colonial aspirations to Britain, Mugabe has been able to harness Africa's deep-rooted resentment of foreign dominance, casting his political survival as part of the elemental contest between slave and master, rather than as one more skirmish in the war of democracy versus tyranny portrayed by his enemies.

"More than many other African leaders," wrote the filmmaker Roy Agyemang, who made an award-winning documentary about the Zimbabwean leader last year, "Mugabe draws cheers across the continent."

The origins of Britain's fraught relationship with Mugabe long predate the Lancaster House conference that Britain convened in London in 1979 to broker a settlement after seven years of guerrilla warfare, during which Mugabe led the biggest of two rival insurgent forces.

Citing the Maoist adage that political power flows from the barrel of a gun, he showed little interest in ending the war. Britain, for its part, acknowledged that Mugabe and his armed followers could not be ignored, but it sought to blunt his claim on exclusive power through constitutional provisions that some in London hoped would sideline him.

The British miscalculated.

In the elections in 1980, Mugabe won outright victory. When the Union Jack flag the settlers had lofted in 1890 was finally lowered, it was Mugabe who officiated at the handover of power from Prince Charles.

In those early years, the seeds of bitterness between London and Harare, sown under white rule, spread their dark blooms.

Even as British advisers trained the bulk of a new national army, elements of the separate, North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade started a murderous spree against Mugabe's ethnic foes in the western Matabeleland region, killing thousands. Britain looked on, powerless.

"There is a limit to what this country can do to impose its will," Britain's former foreign secretary, Geoffrey Howe, said later, "and to some extent a greater limit in an ex-colony with an extremely sensitive government."

But there was also a phenomenon that Holland called Britain's "unresolved colonial feelings" of condescension and hostility toward Mugabe, contributing to "post-colonial toxicity on both sides".

Promises of land reform enshrined at Lancaster House went unredeemed. Indeed, Mugabe initially seemed to seek an accommodation with the country's 4,500 white farmers while Britain did little to redress the huge imbalances in land ownership before the explosion of farm expropriations ordered by the Zimbabwean leader starting in 2000.

After the elections, Britain greeted Mugabe's victory with what Foreign Secretary William Hague called "grave concern" over the conduct and credibility of the vote.

But his remarks served to highlight the ambivalence of British perceptions blending revulsion at Mugabe's tyranny with frustrated impotence toward the corruption, economic decline and brutality that have been the hallmark of his tenure.

"There may be little that Britain can do," wrote the columnist Stephen Glover in the conservative Daily Mail, "but William Hague should at least speak like a decent human being appalled by the activities of a man who was put into power by a British government and has caused so much suffering to a once bountiful country." – ©2013 The International Herald Tribune

Facebook: Heaven and hell for expressionists


BANGKOK: Mark Zuckerberg may never have thought that his idea of a dating network could turn into heaven and hell for people across the world.

According to Socialbakers statistics, Thailand has 14.6 million Facebook users, which makes it the 16th biggest Facebook country in the world. More than 1.3 million new users have signed up in the last six months, mainly people aged between 25 and 34. Facebook penetration in Thailand is 22.01% of the country's population, and 83.6% in relation to the number of Internet users.

There is only one reason to explain this: Facebook is a tool that makes the world smaller.

When the Internet was introduced in Thailand, e-mail was the first most popular feature. Search engines came of age later, with mega-tonnes of information uploaded from the Internet. But Facebook is a tool that allows people to share their stories with friends and the general public, no matter where they are on Earth.

Facebook is now widely used by companies to promote their products and disseminate corporate information. With Facebook, companies also need to improve their monitoring activities, to root out any postings that contain negative comments.

One of my colleagues used Facebook to voice her grievance against a computer company. As her attempts to contact the company's help centre were useless, she wrote about her problem on her Facebook page. Within the day, she finally got a response. Her problem was solved.

At a session hosted by a week ago, Pirongrong Ramasoota, a professor at the Department of Journalism, Chulalongkorn University, made an interesting remark. She said there is a thin line between private and public life on Facebook. Some think that their Facebook pages are limited only to their friends, but once those friends share those thoughts on publicly-open pages, those opinions are put out there in cyberspace for all to read and react to.

Suthipong Thammawut, an executive at TV Burapa, learnt a lesson the hard way following his accidental posting of a message. His Facebook page is open to all, as he intends to disseminate his Buddhist Dharma-based thoughts to the general public.

The havoc started with a message that had circulated for some time about the quality of packaged rice. He copied it to his message box. But as he was writing a comment on top of that, it was accidentally posted. Calling himself a technology illiterate, he said he should have known that the message could be deleted. When he got help from his company's technician for the deletion, it was too late. In a matter of minutes, he was condemned for joining the chorus of attacks on the government's credibility regarding the rice-price pledging scheme.

Making the matter worse, he reacted to some negative comments in an emotional way. He admitted that he should have followed what his children were told: in this world, we need to maintain our sense of proportion, no matter what our eyes and ears perceive.

The consequence was that he was liable to lawsuits, and he was told by his lawyer to keep quiet on the matter. Only recently did he decide to contact the owner of the rice company in question and apologise for his mistake.

This explains why I post only my own columns, some articles from The Nation, and photos of food and flowers on my Facebook page. I am fascinated with Zuckerberg's product. But now I'm also wondering what the world would be like without Facebook. Would it be quieter and more peaceful, at least in Thailand?


The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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On Cary Elwes’ Horizon


Cary Elwes is set to star in the sci-fi television drama, Horizon. 

THE cast of the pilot episode for the new drama is beginning to come into focus. Horizon will be produced by Gale Anne Hurd, executive producer of the first three Terminator films as well as of the popular TV programme, The Walking Dead.

British actor Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Psych) has accepted a central role in the sci-fi drama, according to The actor's character, a man with mysterious motives and dealings in Washington, struggles with the classic dilemma of whether to disobey authority or compromise his personal ethics.

Elwes will act alongside Mark Famiglietti (FlashForward), Taylor Handley (Vegas) and Meg Steedle (Boardwalk Empire) in the first episode of this show set during World War II and exploring elements of paranoia and conspiracy theory.

Commissioned by the USA Network, the pilot will focus primarily on the FBI secretary played by Irish actress Ruth Bradley (Primeval). The main character of the show decides to investigate the "Horizon" files in secret after her husband, a pilot, dies a suspicious death in the Pacific Ocean. Aliens, government conspiracy and Nazi spies are all expected to make an appearance in the new series.

After The Princess Bride in 1987, followed by several TV projects, Cary Elwes made his film comeback with Saw in 2004. — AFP Relaxnews

Munn's the word


The fast-talking Olivia Munn loves every minute of being part of The Newsroom gang.

TO say that Olivia Munn is sexy, is an understatement. More than that, though, Munn is also a witty, down-to-earth and strong woman who is not afraid to share her opinion on matters that she feels strongly about, as evidenced at a press junket for Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom in Singapore recently.

"In school, I was treated differently from my friend because she was cute and I looked weird, so I learned early on that some people are just nicer to those who are aesthetically pleasing," said Munn.

Now in its second season, The Newsroom revolves around a group of TV journalists and news crew of a show called News Night, which is broadcast under the media group ACN. Although the network, TV programme and characters are all fictional, the news items in The Newsroom are all based on real incidents that have happened (the show is set about two years behind present time). In fact, some of the clips used are even actual footage taken by real newsmen.

Munn, 33, plays financial news reporter Sloan Sabbith on the show, someone who is bold and steadfast when it comes to work, yet a little awkward in social situations. She is also by far the sexiest woman on the show.

"I wanted my character to look a specific way. I didn't want her to wear flashy jewellery, personally I find that a bit distracting. I wanted her to wear a fitted suit and not something baggy because I didn't want her to look like she's apologising for being a woman. I wanted her to flaunt her sexuality," she said, citing Diane Sawyer as the role model for her character.

Sloan began as a small role in The Newsroom, but midway through Season One, viewers began to see more storylines that feature her. "The response I've gotten from women who are in many different positions (work-wise) has been very positive; they relate to Sloan and this shows that there are many out there who want to see more strong female characters on TV. I play Sloan like a strong man not because she's better as a man, but because it's the opposite of what people expect."

Munn has also been getting a lot more lines to spew out in the show, something many actors are wary of when it comes to a Sorkin production. However, the actress relishes the challenge of taking on a dialogue afflicted with the infamous "Sorkinitis" (super-long sentences, no breaks in between conversations, fast delivery of speech).

"I love it! To get it right, you need to read the dialogue over and over again, from comma to comma, word for word. I find that you learn a lot about the character when you do things this way, everything you need to know is somewhere in those lines. I talk really fast anyway but sometimes when I think that I've said a line too fast, I get 'That's good, but can you do it faster?'," said Munn.

Another challenge that Munn has faced before in Season One of The Newsroom is to speak in Japanese for some scenes in the episode, Bullies. Munn was born in Oklahoma in the United States, but her family moved to Japan when she was just a toddler; they moved back to the US when she was in her teens. "I do speak Japanese fluently, but I am out of practice. When they asked me if I could speak Japanese I said yes. 'It's just a few words or two', they said.

"Then later they asked if I could handle doing a whole line in Japanese. I said yes. When I finally got the script, that 'line' turned into a whole big scene where we're doing a news broadcast in Japanese. It's a lot different from just having a conversation in Japanese," Munn shared. She added that one of the show's executive producers Alan Poul has a Masters degree in Japanese so they worked together on getting that scene just right.

"After we wrap up Season Two, I plan to travel to Europe, before heading to Japan and stay there for about a month. I want to brush up on my Japanese," she revealed. The actress goes on to talk about her castmates, showing a particular fondness for Sam Waterston, who plays Charlie Skinner, president of ACN's news division. Simply put, he's Sloan's boss.

In The Newsroom, the two characters have sort of a love-hate (but so far, non-romantic) relationship that is somewhat similar to that of Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) and William McAvoy's (Jeff Daniels), except that theirs sometimes gets a bit comical ... and hostile. "I'm pitching for a Sloan-Charlie relationship in the show," she said, half-jokingly.

Munn added: "One time, we only got our script the night before rehearsal. It was terrifying because it's an Aaron Sorkin script and I had a lot of scenes with Sam Waterston, that genius from Law & Order. I cried from 2am-3am, which was great because I got it all out there before starting work ...

"After rehearsal, Aaron said, 'Now that's a f*****g cast'. The fact that I could please him felt really good. I always work towards making Aaron happy."

The Newsroom

From her stories about being on the show, and her quips about the people she works with, one could tell that Munn is more than grateful for being part of the The Newsroom team. Her background in journalism – she has a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and worked for an NBC affiliate while in college – more or less explains that.

"I turned down offers from other shows to be in this one. I mean, it's an Aaron Sorkin production! But this show is also interesting and it celebrates journalists who are still trying to do things the way it's supposed to be done. The way I was taught in school.

"Journalists get a bad rep these days. I prefer just pretending to be a journalist. Being on the show makes my mum happy, too, because I'm kind of using my degree," she said. Munn goes on to share tales about her mother, whom she says speaks with a Chinese accent. "I swear she puts it on thicker whenever she wants to ask me for something!"

Munn's Chinese mother, Kim, was born and raised in Vietnam but left the country for the US just as the war was ending. Her father Sam is of Irish-German descent, which explains Munn's exotic looks.

"For me to be an actress is just beyond my mother's dreams. I know she's happy and proud of me, of all of us, but she does have her quirks. She'll say things like, 'I never thought you could do it'. When I started making my own money, I bought gifts for my family and I got my mum a Jeep but it wasn't really what she wanted. So I asked what she would like instead and she said, 'I wan fur-nee-chur, but is okay if you cannot afford'," Munn said, poking fun at her mother's accent. "My mother," she concluded, rolling her eyes.

  • The Newsroom Season Two premieres tonight at 9pm on HBO (Astro Ch 411/HD 431) .

Chow Yun Fat returns to TVB


CHOW Yun Fat (pic) is headlining his first TVB production in decades, a Chinese New Year comedy also starring Nicholas Tse.

Back in 1981, before he became a movie star, Chow had appeared in the TVB gambling drama The Shell Game II, with Tse's father, Patrick.

At a press conference for the new movie in TVB City recently, Chow joked: "When I was filming at TVB, Nicholas' mum and dad took care of me a lot. This time, I'll show my gratitude. I'll see if there's a chance to bully him."

Director Wong Jing said Chow was receiving a Hollywood pay cheque for the Hong Kong production, the actor's first in years after a decade packed with Hollywood movies and Chinese co-productions including Bulletproof Monk (2003) and Let The Bullets Fly (2010).

Wong did not say how much Chow would be paid exactly. According to Ming Pao Daily News, the actor's usual fee is US$8mil (RM25.8mil).

Chow said it had been a long time since his last Hong Kong movie, adding: "I watched Nicholas Tse grow up and Nicholas is so big now. He's married and having babies."

Tse cut in, saying: "I'm also divorced", and a stunned Chow answered that he had not heard about it.

He quickly recovered though and quipped: "How come you're divorced faster than me?"

Tse was left dumbfounded as reporters laughed, according to NetEase website. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network


The Star Online: World Updates

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Twitter counters the "Sun King" Murdoch in heated Aussie election


SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is battling not only jaded voters in a bitter election race, but the rancour of Rupert Murdoch, whose newspapers have depicted Rudd as everything from a Nazi colonel to a thief stealing the nation's savings.

The Australian-born Murdoch's crusade to oust Rudd in the September 7 general election has given rise to a heated social media campaign inside a campaign, as Twitter, Facebook and other digital platforms become the weapons used by some to try to outflank Murdoch's "old media".

As the campaign kicked off last week, Murdoch's best-selling Daily Telegraph tabloid urged readers to "Kick This Mob Out" over a picture of Rudd at Parliament House.

In another front page from Murdoch's News Corp stable, Rudd and top lieutenants were shown as the hapless Nazi guards from the 1960s "Hogan's Heroes" television show, while another greeted a high-profile recruit to Rudd and Labor's centre-left cause with the headline "Send in the Clown".

In the finely poised western Sydney seat of Parramatta, Julie Owens a member of parliament for Rudd's Labour party, says the influence of the Murdoch press is hurting, with the billionaire's papers having adopted an even more confrontational stance than in past years.

"People aren't as aware of what we have done, and they can't judge us as a government," says Owens. "They can only judge us as a reality TV show - who is evil, who is bad, who is hard done by - and that's what the news has become."

Exactly what Murdoch's motivations are have been much debated.

Many people think Murdoch is using his 70 percent grip on big-city newspaper sales to protect the dominance of his prized cable TV investments from emerging digital media threats, chiefly a publicly funded $34 billion super broadband network championed by Rudd.

Murdoch lent credence to that theory, taking to Twitter to criticise "Oz politics!" and question how the cross-continent broadband - which the conservative opposition wants to scale back in cost and scope - could be paid for in Australia's AAA-rated but slowing economy.

"News Corp hates the government's National Broadband Network (NBN). The company has formed a view that it poses a threat to the business model of by far its most important asset in Australia, the Foxtel cable TV monopoly," wrote columnist Paul Sheehan for the rival Fairfax newspaper group.

Telecommunications analysts don't doubt Labor's NBN, rolling fibre cable into almost every home, threatens Murdoch's most important Australian asset, Foxtel, jointly owned with phone giant Telstra and near unchallenged in pay TV.

"Broadband, in general, undermines the business model that Foxtel and others have, where you have to buy a package of programmes that you don't want, and 90 percent of which is rubbish," said telecommunications analyst Paul Budde.

But the 82-year-old, who has earned the nickname the "Sun king", also appears to be favouring conservative politics as he has done in Britain and the United States, while reinvigorating an Australian political war that dates back as far as 1975 and the dismissal of then Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam.

Back then, Murdoch oversaw coverage that was seemingly so one-sided in favour of opposition conservatives, and controversial, that his own journalists went on strike.

Rudd has also fought battles with Murdoch's papers over ultimately false accusations of political favours supposedly done in 2009 for a car dealer friend, and again over ill-fated attempts to tighten Australian media regulation following phone hacking scandals in Britain.


Rudd has responded to the Murdoch push against him with a heavy reliance on social media, including announcing the start of the election campaign over Twitter, where he regularly messages and posts photos.

Labor has recruited three digital media heavyweights from U.S. President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign team, including British spoof video expert Matthew McGregor and Tom McMahon, dubbed Obama's "digital attack dog".

McGregor has helped create slick "What we do now" videos, calling for volunteers and telling digital savvy voters that "right now, it's 50/50" and "stopping Tony Abbott starts now".

Abbot is the opposition leader hoping to replace Rudd as prime minister.

Although all parties are using social media extensively, Ed Husic, Rudd's broadband minister, says the new platforms were helping counter the impact of the Murdoch media.

"Social media has been transformational, it's enormously positive. It's allowed MPs to talk about issues of importance to them and their communities that it has been difficult to do so previously," Husic said while campaigning in his western Sydney electorate.

Which approach works best may be decided on September 7, but a week into the campaign, support for Labor is slipping, especially in Sydney's crucial western outer fringes, where the slowing economy, jobs and immigration are flashpoint issues.

The conservative opposition led by Abbott has picked up two points since the campaign began in earnest, according to the latest opinion poll from Neilsen in Fairfax newspapers, mirroring other major surveys.

However, there is also a sense that neither the political parties, nor those like Murdoch agitating on the sidelines, are getting through to many voters, by new media or old, with some analysts tipping a record protest vote despite Australia's compulsory voting system.

"I don't like Rudd, to be honest. But frankly people out here are sick to death of politics and we don't trust any of them anymore," said Jim Baker, 86, grabbing a bite at a fast-food restaurant near hard-scrabble western Blacktown.

"I have the Telegraph here, but I don't take much notice of the front. I just flick the pages until I'm past the first eight pages or so, past the politics."

(Editing by Lincoln Feast and Robert Birsel)

More than 60 dead as Iraqis mark end to lethal Ramadan


BAGHDAD (AFP) - Car bombs ripped through Baghdad cafes and markets while blasts and shootings struck elsewhere, killing 61 people as Iraq marked the end of its deadliest Ramadan holy month in years.

The attacks were the latest in spiralling violence which authorities have failed to stem, with the worst bloodshed in five years raising worries of a return to the all-out Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands in past years.

The latest violence comes just weeks after brazen assaults, claimed by an Al-Qaeda front group, on prisons near Baghdad that freed hundreds of militants and which analysts warn could boost armed groups.

The United States condemned the perpetrators of Saturday's attacks as "enemies of Islam and a shared enemy of the United States, Iraq, and the international community", in an unusually detailed statement.

Iraqis enjoy an attraction at a theme park in Baghdad during the Eid al-Fitr holiday on August 10, 2013

The State Department said the "cowardly" attacks had been "aimed at families celebrating the Eid al-Fitr" holiday that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterated the $10 million award offered for Al-Qaeda in Iraq's purported leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is believed to be sheltering in Syria.

"He has taken personal credit for a series of terrorist attacks in Iraq since 2011, and most recently claimed credit for the operations against the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, the suicide bombing assault on the Ministry of Justice, among other attacks against Iraqi security forces and Iraqi citizens," Psaki said.

"The United States has offered a $10 million reward for information that helps authorities kill or capture Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This reward is second only to information leading to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the chief of Al-Qaeda's network," she added.

Iraqi men inspect the site of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's Karrada commercial district, on August 6, 2013

The State Department response came after a week in which the United States had closed embassies and missions across the Arab world following intelligence reports of a possible Al-Qaeda strike.

Saturday's violence followed major security operations against militants that officials hailed as having resulted in the killing and capture of many.

Overall, 16 car bombs and a series of shootings and other blasts killed at least 61 people and wounded nearly 300 across the country Saturday, security and medical officials said.

A spate of vehicles rigged with explosives were detonated in eight different neighbourhoods of Baghdad, in apparently coordinated strikes.

The blasts hit public markets, cafes, and restaurants, killing 37 people overall, while violence earlier on Saturday killed two others in the capital, according to security and medical officials

Iraqis visit graves of loved ones at a cemetery during the first day of Eid Al-Fitr holiday on August 8, 2013 in Baghdad

At Baghdad's Al-Kindi hospital, medics treated a man, apparently a soldier, whose face, chest and arms were covered in blood.

Medics sprinted into the hospital pushing people on stretchers, one of them a blanket-swathed man whose eyes were closed. Another man ran behind the stretcher, weeping as it was wheeled into the hospital.

Outside, long lines of cars inched along Baghdad roads, held up by increased security measures that came too late for the dozens of victims.

Also on Saturday, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle near a police checkpoint in Tuz Khurmatu, north of the capital, killing nine people. A car bomb in Kirkuk, also north of Baghdad, killed an engineer.

Two car bombs in the southern city of Nasiriyah killed four, while a car bomb in the shrine city of Karbala left five others dead.

Elsewhere, three people were killed and five others wounded in separate attacks in Babil and Nineveh provinces.

More than 800 people died in attacks during the dawn-to-dusk fasting month of Ramadan, which began in the second week of July and ended this week.

Militants struck targets ranging from cafes where Iraqis gathered after breaking their daily fast, to mosques where extended evening prayers were held during the month.

The violence came just weeks after attacks on prisons near the capital in which hundreds of inmates were freed.

Analysts, as well as global police organisation Interpol, have warned that the jailbreaks could lead to a rise in attacks, as the escapees were said to include senior Al-Qaeda militants.

Security forces have meanwhile launched major operations, among the biggest since the December 2011 withdrawal of US forces, targeting militants in multiple provinces including Baghdad.

Violence has markedly increased this year, especially since an April 23 security operation at a Sunni Arab anti-government protest site that sparked clashes in which dozens died.

Protests erupted in Sunni-majority areas in late 2012, amid widespread discontent among Sunnis, who accuse the Shiite-led government of marginalising and targeting them.

Analysts say Sunni anger is the main cause of the spike in violence this year. - AFP

Chinese human trafficking ring busted in Spain, France


MADRID (AFP) - Spanish and French police said Saturday they have dismantled a human trafficking ring that smuggled Chinese migrants into Europe and the United States, charging up to 50,000 euros per person.

A total of 75 suspects including two "main operatives" based in Barcelona were arrested, including 51 in Spain and 24 in France after a two-year joint investigation, a police statement said.

The traffickers charged 40,000 to 50,000 euros ($53,000 to $66,000) per person to provide "false identities and transport Chinese citizens to the United States and countries such as Spain, France, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Turkey," the statement said.

In some cases the ring was involved in the sexual exploitation of migrants, it added.

Map showing the levels of human trafficking across the world.

Spanish police seized 81 fake passports from Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The investigation into the ring, described as "complex", began in July 2011.

"The composition of this perfectly structured, hierarchical organisation, with its kingpin in China and independent cells operating in different countries, completely shut off from each other, complicated the investigation," the police statement said.

The traffickers accompanied their clients all the way from China to Spain, "the last stop (serving as a) trampoline to the final destination, usually the United Kingdom or the United States," it said.

The operatives, mainly from China and Malaysia, had the "complete confidence" of the ringleaders and were "thorough connaisseurs of the European airports and cities along the route of the transfers," the statement said.

A Spanish policeman displays the fake visa stamps seized in a raid in Barcelona, on August 10, 2013

Once their mission was accomplished they would return home immediately, "in order to make it more difficult to track them," police said.

Upon the migrants' arrival in Barcelona, operatives of the trafficking ring would meet them and take them to safe houses before they embarked on the next leg of their journey.

The route taken from China, as well as the travel documents used, "changed constantly according to the successes and failures of previous trips... or in order to prevent discovery of the traffickers," the statement said.

The migrants were given precise instructions on how to avoid detection at customs controls, such as trying to blend in with groups of tourists.

Passports, stamps, printers and mobile phones seized in a human trafficking bust

The two top suspects were arrested in Barcelona, while another 49 were picked up in Spanish airports including those of Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga and Mallorca, plus another 24 in France.

The 81 fake passports were found in two lodgings owned by the ring in Barcelona.

There police also found equipment for forging documents including portable computers, scanners, around 20 fake customs stamps and an electronic magnifier.

Police also provided pictures of a firearm, cellphones and wads of cash, both euros and yuan, that were seized in the operation.

The European Commission warned in a report issued in April that the problem of human trafficking was worsening across the bloc.

It signalled an 18 percent increase from 2008 to 2010 in identified and presumed victims of trafficking in the then 27-nation EU, with the total reaching 23,632.

More than half of the victims -- 61 percent -- were from EU nations, most often Romania and Bulgaria, with Nigeria and China as the most common countries of origin outside Europe.

In a 2010 report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime described human trafficking as "one of the most lucrative illicit businesses in Europe", estimating gains through sexual exploitation and forced labour alone at around 2.5 billion euros per year.


The Star Online: Business

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Up Close & Personal with Michael Andrew


MICHAEL Andrew never once thought that he would one day be jet-setting around the world, experiencing different cultures and tantalising his taste buds with the array of food native to the countries he tarried at.

Since his entry into Big-Four accounting firm KPMG in 1984, now global chairman Andrew has travelled to 104 countries.

"It is a fantastic experience for a boy from Melbourne who never thought he'd travel," he tells StarBizWeek.

"My poor wife doesn't know where I am half the time," he laughs.

Branding himself as the world's expert on travel, Andrew believes that his life is much akin to George Clooney's character in the movie Up In The Air.

The movie is about Ryan Bingham, who travels around the United States to inform workers about their dismissals in place of their employers, and has an ambition to earn 10 million frequent flyer miles.

"It's scary, its so much like my life," he says.

He adds that he probably spends 85% of his time travelling. The remaining 15% is spent in Hong Kong, where he is currently based.

"Last year, I did 210 flights and went to 63 countries," he reveals.

Andrew now lives in Hong Kong with his wife Mardi, while his elder daughter lives in Melbourne, and his younger daughter has set up base in New York. Although most of his time is taken up by work travel, he and his family have at least one vacation together each year.

KPMG's brand, Andrew says, is all about being independent and objective because the firm and its employees has a public interest of responsibility to the broader community.

"We have to ensure that we uphold the governance standards in every country for our multi-national clients. They expect the same standards in Kuala Lumpur as they do in Johannesburg, Frankfurt or New York," he says.

He adds that corporate governance defines the KPMG brand. "If we don't meet the governance standards, then people won't have confidence in our business. Integrity is at the heart of everything we do.

"This is ensuring that we understand that our duty is to the broader community than just to any particular client or particular transaction. Because if we do some work, which turns out to be incorrect, it'll affect our global brand," he says.

Every three months, KPMG employees are required to sign a declaration to maintain their independence around their audit clients.

Prior to his promotion to global chairman of KPMG in 2011, Andrew served the firm as KPMG chairman of Asia-Pacific and Australia from 2007. He started at the firm in 1984 as a tax accountant, due to his background in commerce and law. Known as KMG then, which was in the midst of completing the merger deal with Peat Marwick, it sent Andrews to Amsterdam "because it wanted a lawyer to do all the governance and controls".

A handicap he says was the fact that he was from Asia. "In the 80s and 90s, Asia was still quite small. Europeans and Americans didn't think a lot about Asia," he says.

However, his experience dealing with Japanese clients among other Asian clients provided him with the understanding of the culture, as well as the potential for the Asian region.

In 1992, KPMG sent him back to Amsterdam to open the firm's offices in Central East Europe, and to write the first Asia-Pacific strategy. KPMG told him: "Well, if you wrote the strategy, you might as well go and do it."

So he went back to Melbourne and soon after became managing partner there in 1997, where his work involved dealing with issues in corporate governance, risk management and audit committees.

When his predecessor vacated the global chairman role, the board looked for someone with experience in emerging markets, Europe, and Asia. "It was quite surreal because I never had any impression when I first joined KPMG that I would one day become the global chairman. When I look back, it was sort of serendipitous to have the overseas experience, that I was able to build relationships, understand the Asian business culture, and have had opened offices in Europe," he says.

The first decision he made as global chairman was to move the office to Hong Kong as the country represents a large capital market and is a large investment place. "As much as I love Melbourne, it was too far, and the time zone is wrong. The people I want to meet, the global CEOs, they all come to Hong Kong to talk to their investors," he says.

Hong Kong, Andrew says, is where he spends is time looking at markets in the region, and making sure that KPMG has the right business strategy because he believes the firm's future growth will come from those markets.

Andrew's parents decided to move from the countryside in Victoria to bustling Melbourne when Andrew was just five years old. It was when he was attending Year Eight at age 13 or 14 that his parents pushed him to sit for a scholarship exam for Melbourne High School. Melbourne High is a selective-entry state school for boys in Years Nine to 12, and is known for its strong academic reputation.

"I had not heard about it before, but I sat for the exam anyway and won the scholarship," he says. When he left Melbourne High to go to university, Andrew applied for a law degree.

"I applied to go into law but I didn't pass the law mark. Instead, I got the commerce and law mark, which is the best thing that happened to me."

Andrew spent five years at Melbourne University majoring in accounting and economics. "I actually loved economic history. More importantly, university is where I met my wife," he says.

He was standing behind an attractive lady in the pie and chips queue at the university's canteen during lunchtime one day. "We started talking, and that's how I finished up getting married," he laughs.

His wife, Mardi, is a language teacher. After university, she planned to go to Europe for some overseas exposure. However, Andrew managed to convince her to stay in Australia. Ironically, since joining KPMG in 1984, Andrew has not stopped travelling.

Andrew and Mardi have now been married for 33 years. "She was not my first girlfriend, but she was most definitely the important girlfriend," he cheekily says.

Andrew reveals that when he was younger, he aspired to become a professional tennis player. He says he ranked quite highly, in terms of his age group. "I was a very good player in Australia, which is quite a high standard," he says. So, when he was around the age of 15 or 16, he faced a tough decision: devote his time to become a full-time tennis player, or concentrate on his studies.

I got the best advice from my mother, he says. She told him: "You'll never make money being a professional tennis player. You might be number eight in Australia, but that's not an economic proposition. You have to focus on your studies."

He took his mother's advice and focused on his studies, while tennis merely ranked as his hobby or preferred sport rather than a career choice.

Malaysian economy in stable phase


DESPITE the stiff headwind from a lacklustre global economic environment, major indicators seem to suggest that Malaysia's economy has entered a stabilised phase. Growth is expected to have rebounded in the second quarter of the year, as the recently released industrial production data suggest, but we will only know for sure when the country's gross domestic product (GDP) data is released in the coming weeks.

According to data released by the Department of Statistics, Malaysia's industrial production index (IPI) had expanded 3.7% year-on-year (y-o-y) during the three months to June 2013. This compared with an IPI contraction of 0.1% (y-o-y) in the preceding quarter.

As the IPI - which measures output in manufacturing, electricity, and mining - represents close to 40% of Malaysia's total economy, the index is a good proxy of the country's economic growth.

"The rebound in industrial activities in the second quarter points to an improvement in economic activities, on account of a sustained increase in domestic demand, while external demand for the country's exports remained soft amid uncertainties of the global economy," RHB Research Institute Sdn Bhd economist Peck Boon Soon writes in his report.

And given the latest encouraging data, RHB Research says it expects Malaysia's GDP growth for the second quarter to accelerate to 5.1% y-o-y from 4.1% in the first quarter of the year.

CIMB Investment Bank Bhd and Alliance Investment Bank Bhd also expect Malaysia's GDP growth to accelerate in the second quarter, but both brokerages have a lower target rate at 4.7%, compared with that of RHB Research.

Resilient domestic demand

As it stands, the improvement in the country's industrial output during the three months to June was broad-based, led by a surge in electricity output as well as a strong turnaround in the mining sector.

During the quarter in review, electricity output expanded 6.3% y-o-y, suggesting stronger economic activities. This compared with an increase of 4.7% y-o-y in the first quarter.

Mining output, on the other hand, grew 4% y-o-y in the second quarter, after experiencing a contraction of 2.1% y-o-y in the preceding quarter. The turnaround in mining output was driven by increased production in crude oil.

And despite the volatility in manufacturing output on account of sluggish exports, the sector also picked up pace during the second quarter by expanding 3.4% y-o-y, compared with a mere growth of 0.2% y-o-y in the preceding quarter.

CIMB Investment Bank chief economist Lee Heng Guie argues in his note: "Despite the export retrenchment drag, we think that GDP growth weakness has bottomed out in the first quarter of the year."

Lee attributes Malaysia's economic growth to continued expansion in consumer spending and investments, especially those in relation to the public-driven Economic Transformation Programme projects. He notes that the two salary increments – once in January and another round in July - for the country's 1.4 million civil servants that had cost the Government RM3.9bil would also help sustain consumer spending in the latter part of the year.

On another positive note, Alliance Research says it believes the rebound in Malaysia's economic recovery is taking place sooner-than-expected based on the recent economic releases that have shown that the external environment could already be improving.

Its chief economist Manokaran Mottain notes that, for one, the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for July have shown signals of stronger recovery in the global economies.

In the United States, the benchmark Institute for Supply Management (ISM) index rose to 55.4 in July from 50.9 in the preceding month. And for the first time in 18 months, the 17-nation eurozone economy saw its PMI exceeding the 50-point threshold that demarcates expansion from contraction. The Markit's eurozone composite PMI increased to 50.5 last month from 48.7 in June, in a sign that the economically troubled region could be on the cusp of recovery.

Manokaran argues that improvement in key economic data from major economies such as the United States and eurozone, as well as the relatively cheaper exports on account of the weaker ringgit vis-à-vis the US dollar, would benefit Malaysia's exports.

RHB Research, on the other hand, argues that even though the global economy has been showing signs of stabilisation and momentum is building for growth to gather pace in the later part of 2013 through 2014, there are still risks.

These risks include a sharper-than-expected slowdown of China's economy, and those that pertain to the effects of the tapering of US quantitative easing and resurgence of the eurozone debt problems.

Economists concede that Malaysia's external demand will likely show modest improvement despite the risks. But they maintain the view that it will still be domestic demand that will be driving the country's economy over the medium term.

RHB Research, for one, expects domestic demand growth to outpace that of the country's overall GDP growth in the second half of this year. It says domestic demand growth will be underpinned by the implementation of projects under the various economic programmes of the country, while rising consumerism, high savings and favourable labour market conditions will continue to support consumer spending.

'Cooling off' measures choke supply


Imagine if a regulatory body decided to limit the number of durians purchased by each individual in order to lower the price of durians so that everyone would have the chance to taste the King of Fruits. What would happen?

If this campaign was successful to the point that prices fell to close to or below production costs, durian planters and sellers would rather walk away from their plantations and let the fruits rot on trees than to harvest the fruits, transport them to towns and sell them at a lost. Economics 101 tell us that when supply reduces, price increases.

This is what's happening in the property industry especially in Asian countries today. As a developing and booming region, Asia has seen lots of activities in the property industry in the past 10 years.

The housing price increase in this region is also more significant due to rising input costs, strong economic conditions and growing populations.

To prevent the property prices from surging further due to growing demand and worldwide quantitative easing (money printing) government policies, several governments in this region have introduced various "cooling off" measures with the most insistent being China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

In China, the State Council stepped up a three-year campaign to "cool off" home prices in March. Measures included raising first-time buyers' down payments from 20% to 30%, and second-home buyers' down payments from 50% to 60%, and ordering stricter enforcement of a 20% capital gains tax on sales. The government also limited home purchases in certain areas, tightened credit-quota limits and raised benchmark lending rates.

However, according to a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) China, residential and commercial property sales totalled 3.34 trillion yuan (RM1.77 trillion) in the first six months, jumping 43.2% compared to a year earlier.

The pace of China's year-on-year home price rises in April, May and June was also the strongest this year in spite of the March initiatives. Average new home prices in 70 major Chinese cities climbed 0.8% in June from the previous month based on data released by NBS. New home prices rose 6.8% in June compared to a year ago, the sixth consecutive rise and the fastest pace since January 2011.

In Hong Kong, the government introduced a series of steps to curb prices since 2009. Its measures included a 15% property tax on foreign buyers, mortgage restrictions and taxes on quick resale.

The government also limited the maximum term of all new mortgages to 30 years, and mortgage payments for investment properties could not be more than 40% of the buyers' monthly incomes, compared to 50% previously.

According to a Knight Frank report for the first quarter of 2013, property prices in Hong Kong were 28% higher on average, compared to one year ago despite measures to "cool off" escalating prices.

As for our neighbouring country Singapore, the government just unveiled its eighth round of "cooling off" measures in June. The new rule states that home loans should not exceed a borrower's total debt servicing ratio of 60%. Lenders will also be required to deduct at least 30% from all variable sources of earnings, such as bonuses, and rental revenue when determining an applicant's income streams.

Prior to this, the Singapore government made seven attempts to cool off the residential real estate market since 2009. In January 2013, the government implemented an extensive round of tightening measures by imposing higher stamp duties, lowering loan-to-valuations for mortgages, and implementing stricter rules on permanent residents (PRs) buying their first home.

Nevertheless, despite a series of "cooling off" measures, Singapore private home sales in January 2013 continue to hit a high note, with a 42.8% increase from December 2012, and a 7.5% increase year-on- year.

In our home country, the Government has also introduced a number of "cooling off" measures.

These include the 70% loan policy for third property purchases, requiring the housing loan limits calculated based on net income instead of gross, and the loan tenure reduced from 45 years to 35 years previously, etc.

The "cooling off" measures introduced in various countries are believed to have some impact when they were first implemented, however the overall effectiveness has yet to materialise.

While we understand the good intentions behind these measures, they result in further heating up of the market because the fundamental issue of the shortage of affordable housing is not addressed.

There is fine line between "cooling off" and heating up the market, when the market is having a strong, genuine demand. "Cooling off" measures will constraint supply, and when demand is higher than supply, the prices will eventually increase.

In Malaysia, according to NAPIC, there is only a supply of about 100,000 new houses a year throughout Malaysia, while the demand in Greater KL alone is projected to be an additional one million units if Pemandu achieves its target of increasing the population from six million to 10 million by 2020.

Therefore, if our authorities are pondering further "cooling off" measures, it is beneficial to look at the real experience from other countries and not just the "short term" effects, the different environment of property development in our country should also be taken into account.

The original intention of controlling the price of durians in my earlier story is to allow more people the chance to taste this unique fruit at an affordable price.

However, such good intentions often backfire and worsen the current conditions. "Cooling off" could eventually lead to heating up!

FIABCI Asia-Pacific regional secretariat chairman Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email


The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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Gerard's back on form


Gerard Depardieu returns to Paris for Fifa film after fallout with the French.

VETERAN French actor Gerard Depardieu is shooting a film in Paris for the first time since he sparked a huge outcry by leaving France for tax reasons and taking Russian nationality.

In an exclusive interview with AFP, the 64-year-old film star said he did not move out of the country to escape the taxman but to flee "the way governments use the money they take". The award-winning performer made global headlines late last year when he decided to move to Belgium after the Socialist government sought to impose a 75% tax rate on annual incomes over one million euros (RM4.29mil).

He was subsequently granted Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin. The decision stirred up controversy, as have his friendships with Putin and Chechnya's strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov – both accused of human rights violations.

"It's the first time that I'm shooting again in France (since the controversy)," he told AFP on Sunday of his new film about the history of the Fifa World Cup, in which he plays the competition's creator Jules Rimet.

"I had refused all French films as people could not understand. I am Russian and a Belgian resident. I live in Russia, where I spent three-and-a-half months. I have firms in the countries in which I live because it's more advantageous.

"In 15 years, I have spent maybe only five months in France. Since December 2012, a month-and-a-half ... I am not escaping the taxman but the way governments use the money they take," he said by phone.

The film shoot in Paris will only last around 20 days, and Depardieu will be acting in English alongside "an international cast" of British, Australian and American actors including Tim Roth, he said, without giving more details.

Under the helm of French director Frederic Auburtin, the actors will also work on location in Brazil, Switzerland and Spain, and the film is due to come out in time for the 2014 World Cup.

"The film was planned a long time ago but it proved difficult to set up," Depardieu said. "It's the history of football as told by four men of incredible power," including Rimet, the co-founder of Fifa, the world football governing body.

Known as much for his acting skills as for his erratic off-screen behaviour, Depardieu was recently fined 4,000 euros (RM17,150) and had his licence suspended for driving his scooter in Paris while drunk in November.

But according to a person close to the actor, who refused to be named, he is now "on top form and has stopped all excesses".

Depardieu will play Dominique Strauss-Kahn in an upcoming film inspired by the spectacular fall from grace of the French former IMF chief, who was accused of sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid.

He is also due to star in a historic serial penned by Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of Uzbekistan's leader, with whom he has also released a pop duet. – AFP Relaxnews


The Star Online: Nation

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Slain man was set to celebrate baby’s ceremony


GEORGE TOWN: Scrap dealer K. Veerappan, 37, who was gunned down in Anson Road here, had returned to Penang to celebrate his baby daughter's belated one-month old ceremony, which was supposed to be held today.

Veerappan, whose business was based in Port Klang, came back to Penang about two weeks ago with his wife T. Devi, 29 and their six-week-old daughter.

"My husband was a very loving and caring person. He never hid anything from me," said Devi who was visibly distraught.

Asked if the murder was a case of mistaken identity, she said she was not sure.

Veerappan and Devi met two years ago after being match-made by their families and they tied the knot in August last year.

Veerappan's father V. Kanapathi, 72, said his son went out alone at 9am to pray at a temple.

"He told me he was also going to collect invitation cards for distribution to friends and relatives for his baby's naming ceremony," he said when met at the family's condominium in Bandar Baru Air Itam.

Kanapathi said his son was familiar with martial arts such as Aikido and Tomoi (Thai kickboxing) and had even represented the state in boxing when he was younger.

He rubbished claims that his son was a member of the notorious Gang 36 and that he was involved in the drug trade.

The killing of Veerappan came as a shock to residents of the condominium where the family has been staying since 2002.

Residents said the family did not mingle with neighbours and kept mostly to themselves.

"They bought a unit on the ground floor. We were surprised when they did major renovations in 2007 by extending the front and side of the unit, spending a lot of money.

"But then again, as Veerappan was driving a BMW, we thought he was a successful businessman," a resident said.

Robbers drag out ATM using 4WD


KULAIJAYA: Robbers dragged an ATM out of a bank here using a black four-wheel drive vehicle and carted it away in a white MPV.

The incident took place at around 2.30am yesterday and was believed to involve five suspects.

CCTV footage at the scene showed the machine was dragged out of the premises to the corridor.

Three suspects wearing white gloves were seen tying the machine with a belt and yanking it out of its place before the vehicle pulled it out of the premises.

Two of them then loaded the machine onto a white MPV that was waiting outside.

Kulaijaya OCPD Supt Zulkefly Yahya said the amount of money in the ATM has yet to be determined.

He added that eight fingerprints were obtained from the scene and a black vest that was left behind by the suspects was taken for a DNA test.

"We received a call from an eyewitness who said he heard a loud boom near the scene and contacted the police at around 3am," he said.

He added that road blocks have been carried out at three locations to search for the suspected vehicles.

Supt Zulkefly urged those with information to head to the nearest police station or call the police hotline at 07-221 2999.

'No problem hiring kidney patients'


PETALING JAYA: Most employers may not want to hire workers with serious medical conditions but Wan Zaidon Wan Hassan did not think twice about employing two kidney failure patients.

Wan Zaidon said both Shiaw Wei Luyn, 27, and Mohamad Ali Zakaria, 38, were very hardworking and one of them had even been promoted after joining the delivery and logistics company a year ago.

"They may not be able to carry heavy things or exert themselves physically, but they can still work and deserve the chance to provide for their families," he said.

Shiaw, who was promoted to assistant supervisor in just six months, is the eldest son in his family while Mohamad Ali, who has end-stage renal failure, has two young children.

"There is a perception that hiring workers with medical conditions will be a burden to the company or that the workers will frequently go on medical leave.

"Although they need to go for regular dialysis sessions, their app­ointments do not clash with their working hours, so there is no problem at all," said Wan Zaidon, 55.

Shiaw and Mohamad Ali always feel the need to do more, such as work extra hours, to "make up" for their condition, said Wan Zaidon.

The company employed Shiaw and Mohamad Ali after being approached by the Social Security Organisation (Socso) through its "Return To Work" programme.

Over 7,000 people, who had lost their earning capacity due to illness, accident or disability, have returned to work since the launch of the programme in 2007.

Socso deputy CEO for operations Datuk Dr Mohd Azman Aziz Mohd said employers who hired people like Shiaw and Mohamad Ali usually found them to be the most loyal and hardworking employees.

"This is because they know it is not easy for them to find employment and they want to prove themselves to their employers," he said.

He added that while it had been difficult to find employment for such people at the beginning of the programme, many employers were now more receptive and prepared to hire them.


The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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Lee: GDP growth forecast up


The Singapore economy is holding steady and is likely to grow faster than the expected 2.5% to 3.5% this year, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The full year GDP growth figure was revised upwards from 1 to 3%, as the economy expanded 2% in the first half of the year.

"The economy is holding steady amidst global uncertainties. We are attracting more quality investments. Unemployment remains low."

He added that Singapore must maintain investor confidence and be open for business even as it tightens up on foreign workers and immigration.

The Prime Minister also signalled a shift in Singapore's approach to nation building, saying that the government will play a bigger role to build a fair and just society.

It will help everyone succeed, as Singapore and the world experience changes in society and more pressure from technology on jobs and incomes.

Lee said the government will do more to help children from less well-off families get off to a good start from pre-school, help the elderly cope with healthcare costs, help every family own an HDB flat, and give low-income workers a better deal through the Workfare income supplement scheme.

"In Singapore, everyone will always have a stake in this country, and ample chances to make good in life," he said. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

St Margaret's Secondary girls allowed to go wig-less


The St Margaret's Secondary principal in the Hair for Hope incident has now allowed the five girls involved to go wig-less after discussion with the students, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat in a post about the incident on his Facebook page.

"I am happy to learn that yesterday, (Marion) Tan and her teachers spoke with the students who participated in Hair for Hope," Heng wrote.

"The girls shared with their principal the learning they have had through this experience. Tan, on her part, has also reflected on her decision, and understood that the girls wanted to show empathy and solidarity with cancer patients which entail the experience of going bald.

"With this in mind, she has supported all five in their wish not to conceal their shaved heads. I am glad that the principal, teachers and students of St Margaret's Secondary School have resolved this and will move on from here," he said.

Last week, the St Margaret's students who had their heads shaved for the Hair for Hope charity event in support of children with cancer were taken to task for not wearing wigs after they had promised to do so.

In his blog post on Wednesday morning, Heng added that the teaching community was very proud that the students had shown great character by showing solidarity with those afflicted with cancer. "It is not easy for a teenage girl to shave her head – I fully appreciate and applaud the commitment it shows," wrote Heng adding that the Ministry wants schools to nurture young people with a natural empathy for those who have known suffering.

He noted that Tan felt the same way and did give her support to the students to join in the charity exercise but on condition that the girls would don wigs in school. While some may say the school is being rigid, he said he understood the principal's rationale for asking the girls to wear wigs. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network


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