Sabtu, 31 Ogos 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

Torn between politics and ideology


He may be a controversial figure, but Narendra Modi looks like the Bharatiya Janata Party's best bet to lead it on the road to New Delhi.

AS India heads into an election year, the Congress Party-led government is on its last legs.

After two terms in power, it is enmeshed in corruption scandals and an unshakeable perception of poor governance.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India's main opposition party, which should be taking advantage of the government's dire condition, is faltering.

Following successive election defeats, and a political environment primed for a change, the BJP faces a choice: move toward the political centre or cling to ideological purity and lurch rightward in an attempt at a divide and conquer strategy.

All signs point to a rightward shift. The BJP's embrace of the far right is embodied by the rise of Gujarat state's chief minister, Narendra Modi, a controversial figure who represents an uncompromising strand of his party's Hindu-nationalist ideology.

Should the BJP choose Modi as its standard-bearer for the general election – a real possibility given his increasing popularity – Modi's polarising style would likely scare away prospective coalition partners and lead to an unstable government dominated by small, regional parties.

Most troubling, Modi's Hindu-nationalism is likely to lead to a deepening of sectarian divisions, India being home to the world's second-largest Muslim population. His questionable conduct during the 2002 riots in Gujarat that left more than 1,000 people dead, mostly Muslims, has shadowed his ascent to the national stage.

He is accused at the very least of doing nothing while Gujarat burned, and at worst of having helped to orchestrate the violence.

In a recent interview with Reuters, Modi did not help his cause when asked about the riots. He answered by saying his feelings of pain for the tragedy were similar to how he'd feel if a puppy had been run over by a car in which he was merely a passenger.

As a consequence of the riots, Modi suffers the indignity of a US visa ban, in effect since 2005, and he remains a target of human rights groups the world over.

He also faces the spectre of investigations into the extrajudicial killings of suspected terrorists by the police in Gujarat, which could implicate his closest aides, and perhaps even Modi himself, in the coming weeks.

For all his talents he has few allies outside his party, a handicap in an era of coalition governments.

The BJP should now be welcoming more partners into its fold. Instead, in June it lost its largest ally, Janata Dal (United), in the large swing state of Bihar, a break-up catalysed by Modi's ascension.

Still, most BJP members - and increasing numbers of voters - seem convinced that Modi, with his larger-than-life persona and unquestioned religious pedigree, is their long awaited Hindu Hriday Samrat - the ruler of Hindu hearts.

The son of a tea-stall owner, Modi, 62, has spent most of his life in politics, joining the right-wing Hindu-nationalist Sangh Parivar organisation early on and rising through its ranks by displaying impressive organising abilities.

He moved to the BJP in 1987 and was appointed chief minister of Gujarat as a midterm replacement in 2001 without ever having fought an election.

In the decade since, Modi has won three straight state elections and engineered remarkable economic growth for his province – some even go as far as describing it as the Guangdong of India.

His focus on pro-investment policies, cutting red tape, extensive infrastructure development, while using his personal charm to woo foreign and domestic investment, has been a marked contrast to most other state governments.

When Tata Motors fell out with the West Bengal government in 2008 over plans to set up a production plant for its "People's Car" - the Nano - Modi wasted no time in text messaging Ratan Tata welcoming him to Gujarat with open arms.

Soon enough, the first Nano was rolled out in his state. Other corporations say they've found Gujarat an oasis for investment.

With a national economy that has recently hit a wall, it's no surprise that India's business class stands united behind Modi as their preferred choice for prime minister, a trend mirrored to a lesser degree in recent national opinion polls.

He describes his governing philosophy as "maximum governance, minimum government," a creed familiar to conservatives everywhere.

Impressive as his achievements may be, his model of development is unlikely to be a good fit for the rest of India.

Gujarat may be an industrial powerhouse but the state's performance in areas of concern to the common man, like human development, is spotty.

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal a year ago, Modi appeared out of his depth when he diagnosed his state's high malnutrition rates as being a result of the vegetarian diet, and the state's middle class being "more beauty conscious than health conscious".

The lessons Modi has learned running a one-party state with a strong hand would likely not apply well to the consensual give-and-take nature of a coalition government in New Delhi.

No prime minister of modern India has been able to rule by diktat.

The BJP would do better to look to the example of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose years as prime minister from 1998 to 2004 were largely characterised by a consensual approach to governing.

Vajpayee was like an Indian Ronald Reagan: a true believer in the conservative cause who packaged his ideological stridency into a narrative that depicted the BJP as a responsible party of governance, palatable to its core voters while allaying the fears of disparate coalition allies.

But once Vajpayee left the scene, the BJP steadily drifted toward the far right.

The promise of a Modi victory could prove to be a mirage. Elections are still decided in rural India, where he is yet to be fully tested.

Only L.K. Advani, the octogenarian co-founder of the BJP and Modi's mentor-turned-rival, stands in his path to leading the party.

But Advani's failure as prime minister candidate in the 2009 elections, and the groundswell of rank-and-file support for Modi, may undermine his quest.

Yet, even if Modi is victorious, he would most likely lead an unwieldy coalition government involving decision-making by consultation and consensus, a balancing act that is not his strong suit.

On key global issues like nuclear disarmament, climate change, trade and terrorism, India would find it nearly impossible to craft a coherent policy.

On top of that, India relies on foreign funds to finance its alarmingly large current account deficit – currently contributing to a steep depreciation of the rupee – and if foreign investors were to lose confidence in a new and unstable government, the economy's downward slip would accelerate.

With Indians begging for good governance, the BJP must decide whether to choose Modi's ideological path or to recalibrate to Vajpayee-like inclusiveness.

On that question hinges the outcome of the election – and the future of India.

But Modi's message may well prove difficult to resist: "From snake-charmers, we are now a nation of mouse-charmers. Our youngsters are shaping the world with the click of a mouse." — © 2013 The International Herald Tribune

Krishan Partap Singh is the author of "The War Ministry", the latest in a series of political novels set in New Delhi.

Men, women and the cities


In crimes of sexual violence in urban contexts, men in Pakistan and India can target women without fear of accruing any social cost.

ISLAMABAD: It happened around dusk, the time when the cities of South Asia – Lahore and Delhi and Mumbai and Karachi – exhale collectively and let millions out into the streets to begin their slow crawl home.

The victim was a photojournalist who had been taking pictures of an abandoned factory in Mumbai. For protection, perhaps, she had a male colleague accompany her. It was not enough.

As news reports would decry soon afterwards, the 23-year-old was brutally raped by a gang of five men and her escort beaten. India, which has hardly recovered from the gang rape of a bus passenger in Delhi barely a year ago, was once again stunned by this latest act of gender violence.

Spurred into action by media coverage and denunciations by activists and political parties across the board, Mumbai police authorities had, by Sunday, arrested five suspects, each of whom, if found guilty, is expected to face the maximum 20-year sexual violence penalty passed into law by the Indian legislature a few months ago.

The victim is said to be recovering from her injuries. In a statement to the media, she said: "Rape is not the end of life. I want the strictest punishment for the accused, and to return to duty as soon as possible."

Her brave remarks were praised by activists and political figures across India.

The victim of the gruesome Delhi gang rape, they may have remembered, had died from her injuries and never been able to make such a statement.

Across the border in Pakistan, rape often is the end of life, with many victims choosing to commit suicide or suffer in silence rather than press charges. If social taboos do not destroy their chances of survival, other factors will ensure their persecution.

Even while Indian legislators increased the penalties for rapists this year, the Council of Islamic Ideology, Pakistan's constitutional advisory body on Islamic injunctions, deemed DNA evidence inadmissible as primary evidence in rape cases.

Already, the number of victims coming forth or pressing charges in Pakistani courts is quite low.

The burden that gender places on the subcontinent's females is thus formidable. In both India and Pakistan, droves of people are pouring into cities, leaving behind the communal structures of old.

Recent studies reveal that the Asian cities are seeing the greatest increase of urbanisation in the world.

Karachi is supposed to be the fastest growing city in the world and is projected to overtake Shanghai by the year 2025. Mumbai is similarly situated. On both streets, millions of women take to cars, buses and rickshaws every day, out to earn a living.

The rupees enable them to manage the steep costs of living, a parent's healthcare bills, a sister's wedding or a younger brother's tuition. The demands are many and the pressure is great.

Against all of this are pre-urban social structures that have not yet developed the cultural mechanisms to ensure women's safety or punishments for those that jeopardise it.

In India and Pakistan, the basic moral mechanisms of society continue to be largely communal, resting on the maintenance of reputation, honour and the precept that a woman must be kept at home to be kept safe.

According to the old ways of life, before the city, the best deterrent against the commission of rape is the threat of retaliation and the shaming not only of the person who commits the act but his entire extended family.

In the post-migratory urban environment, this mechanism fails. In crimes of sexual violence in urban contexts, men can target women without fear of accruing any social cost, the intimate nature of the crime precluding the likelihood of their ever being caught.

The anonymity of a newly-grown city, with police forces still dominated by patriarchal ideas of old, serves thus to victimise women.

In the namelessness of new urban landscapes, male reputations, it seems, can be made and remade many times, creating an amoral space where men can do as they please.

Women, however, are left still imprisoned, dangling between governments that are unable to hold men accountable in the newly individualised urban environment and old communal arrangements that expect them to abandon public life for safety.

In sum, the few old strictures that were available to curb male sexual violence are no longer viable, the mores of "protecting" women by restricting them to the home are no longer economically feasible.

At the same time, the mechanisms of state – the laws and their enforcers – are unable or unwilling to fill the moral vacuum or let go of the beliefs that see all women in the public as somehow sexually available.

Growing fast and teeming with women, the cities of South Asia are thus moral spaces that are contested between the old and the new and between men and women.

Acts of collective male violence against women, such as the rape in Mumbai, reveal the gross inequality in the moral costs of urbanisation, where the absence of robust mechanisms for prosecuting rapists effectively creates an environment where women can be victimised without repercussions, leaving them condemned to a life on the defensive.

In this sense, in both Pakistan and India, women's bodies become targets for male rage and aggression, their visibility even being equated with the opportunities being taken away from men in the city where chances are few and the burdens many.

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

Myanmar and the politics of Asean slogans


BANGKOK: After a series of closed door discussions and numerous rephrasing by policy-makers including foreign experts, Myanmar has finally picked the theme "Moving forward in unity towards a peaceful and prosperous Community" for its engagement with Asean next year.

Like previous Asean chairs, the title reflects Naypidaw's agenda and priorities when it takes up the grouping's helm in 127 days.

The 10-word slogan, the longest ever in Asean history, was personally given a nod by President Thein Sein recently.

Earlier a few versions were put forward for consideration focusing on the centrality of Asean, economic cooperation and community building as well as political and economic reforms taking place in the past two years. The chosen theme was neutral and encompassing.

"It is very comprehensive," said a senior Asean official who attended the Asean Economic Ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, where Myanmar made the official announcement.

After the Asean leaders endorsed the 2014 chair in November 2011, Myanmar has studied the themes and performances of each Asean chair since 2008 when the Asean Charter was adopted.

That year, Singapore chaired Asean with an impressive theme "One Asean at the Heart of Dynamic Asia," echoing the island's desire to increase the grouping's profile beyond South-East Asia.

Thailand succeeded Singapore with a major task to implement the new charter. Bangkok was true to its slogan, "Asean Charter for Asean People," with packed programmes of civil society groups' participation, which scared a few Asean leaders away.

Then came Vietnam with a simple theme: "Towards the Asean Com­munity: From Vision to Action." It did not take long for the chair to find out that spurring common actions among the Asean members was an uphill task.

Indonesia took over Vietnam's chair with a shoo-in goal, "Asean Community in a Global Community of Nations".

As the only Asean member in the G-20, Indonesia wanted to be the Asean voice among the world's most economically advanced countries. Asean's position was uplifted. But it was temporary.

Last year, Cambodia's messianic theme of "One Community, One Destiny" had the opposite effect. As the last country to join Asean (in 1999), the practice of the "Asean Way" had yet to sink in.

Cambodia should be credited for narrowing development gaps among the old and new Asean members but very few people took notice.

"Our People, Our Future Together" is the current theme advocated by the chair, Brunei. True to form and substance, every move the chair initiated is based on consultations and consensus.

The remaining four months would be smooth, paving the way for a conservative but holistic approach by the next Asean chair.

Myanmar has good reasons to be cautious with the role.

First, Naypidaw will serve as the chair for the first time – 16 years after its admission.

It skipped the 2005 slot due to domestic crisis along with pressure from the Asean colleagues. It does not want to adopt an "overtly" forwarding looking tone as it could sound a bit patronising.

Second, the theme must be topical enough to reflect norms and values as well as the inspiration of Asean and its peoples. In this case, Myanmar had to forego the so-called non-Asean elements related to their reforms.

Finally, it must also resonate well with the situation at home. The chair's domestic condition would certainly dominate next year's Asean agenda, especially the situation in Rakhine State and the fate of Rohingya people.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei would raise the issue. This time the chair cannot get away scot-free. Myanmar turned down the planned Asean special meeting on in October to discuss Rohingya issue, which was later cancelled.

Concerned Asean countries affected by the influx of Rohingya prefer a regional solution.

Much is at stake for Myanmar, especially its manner in handling sensitive issues with transnational and international impacts. It will serve as a barometer for the depth and scope of its ongoing three-year reforms.

As a latecomer, Myanmar is learning from the Asean experience. A few years after Indonesia turned democratic in 1998, it opened up and discussed internal problems with Asean.

At the recent Asean annual meeting, Jakarta reported voluntarily the human rights condition to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights.

Myanmar was relieved after the deadline for the Asean Community was later postponed to Dec 31, 2015.

That means the chair has an additional year to prepare the grounds for the Asean Community realisation, in which Malaysia will take charge. As the theme suggests, Myanmar now is confident that it can be a catalyst for the strengthening of community-building in Asean.


The Star Online: World Updates

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China's head of state assets regulator under probe for 'discipline violation' - Xinhua


BEIJING (Reuters) - China is investigating Jiang Jiemin, head of the national assets regulator, for "serious discipline violation", state news agency Xinhua reported on Sunday, in what would appear to be another step in Beijing's widening anti-graft campaign.

Jiang, who became head of the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) in March, was previously chairman of top energy group China National Petroleum Company, or CNPC.

(Reporting by Chen Aizhu and Jenny Su; Editing by Paul Tait)

Obama's Syria decision: a walk, a debate, and a new approach


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At the end of the day on Friday, after laying out a strong public case for U.S. military action in Syria, President Barack Obama took a 45-minute walk around the South Lawn of the White House with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough.

They discussed Obama's options for using force.

Despite saying for days that he had not yet made a decision, the president had been leaning toward military intervention since initial reports from his advisers that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons to kill innocent civilians near Damascus, senior officials said on Saturday.

But after a week of laying the groundwork for a targeted attack, Obama had begun to waver about immediate action. Britain, Washington's closest ally, had opted out of an international coalition after its parliament said "no," a decision that weighed on the president.

Republican leaders in Congress, who control the fate of large parts of Obama's domestic policy agenda, had complained loudly about a lack of consultation from the White House ahead of a potential new war.

And polls showed war-weary Americans remained opposed to U.S. involvement in Syria, despite the devastating photos of dead children and their gassed parents.

So the president decided to wait. Rather than ordering a military strike, he would announce his decision that force was necessary while seeking congressional approval to authorize it.

"After careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets," he said on Saturday in the White House Rose Garden, Vice President Joe Biden standing at his side.

"I'm also mindful that I'm the president of the world's oldest constitutional democracy ... and that's why I've made a second decision: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress."

The decision surprised his own advisers, who had not proposed voluntarily seeking lawmaker approval and had concluded Obama had the legal authority to take action on his own. But Obama felt it would be more consistent with his desire, stated earlier this year, to take America off of a "perpetual wartime footing" by getting the backing of Congress and the citizens it represents.

After his walk with McDonough, the president called National Security Adviser Susan Rice, her deputy Tony Blinken, senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, and others into the Oval Office to announce his approach.

They had a vigorous debate that lasted two hours, senior administration officials said. The biggest risk to Obama's new plan: Congress, like the British parliament, would vote no. That would cast serious doubts on Obama's ability to lead in the Middle East where he is already under fire for what critics call a muddled response to the Egyptian military coup.

The benefits outweighed that risk for Obama, who believed lawmakers would be compelled to vote for a measure that would protect U.S. allies Israel and Jordan.

Adding further weight to the idea of a delay, his military advisers said that waiting on a strike would not make it less effective. Assad, the administration believed, was unlikely to conduct another chemical weapons attack while a U.S. threat loomed. A 'yes' vote would give Obama more legitimacy to attack Syrian forces.

And Congress now would share in the responsibility of a decision that could prove unpopular for Obama either way.


Still, it was a risk. Analysts say Assad could use the time to move weapons to more populated areas of Syria. And a difficult debate in Congress could worsen already bad relations between the White House and Capitol Hill.

"The decision to get Congress on board when he hasn't had a huge amount of success working with Congress strikes me as a gamble," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

A failed vote, he said, "could shadow the rest of the administration."

Colin Kahl, a Georgetown University professor and former Defence official, said the passage in the Democrat-controlled Senate was assured, while the Republican-controlled House of Representatives was likely as well.

"There are some sceptics both on the left and the right in the Congress, but I think the administration has a pretty strong case that we need to do this," he said.

"If they start to think through some of the credibility implications of not authorizing this, especially as it relates to Iran, then it will pass in the House."

After making his statement at the White House, Obama and Biden went out for a round of golf.

Lawmakers from both political parties who support action said the president had failed to react as quickly as necessary.

"I support the president's decision. But as far as I'm concerned, we should strike in Syria today," said Bill Nelson, a Democratic senator from Florida who is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"Leadership is about reacting to a crisis, and quickly making the hard and tough decisions," said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee. He said Obama should have demanded that lawmakers, who are on recess until September 9, return to Washington immediately.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria, Paul Eckert, and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Philip Barbara)

Obama asks Congress to approve military strike against Syria


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama stepped back from the brink on Saturday and delayed an imminent military strike against Syria to seek approval from the U.S. Congress in a gamble that will test his ability to project American strength abroad and deploy his own power at home.

Before Obama put on the brakes, the path had been cleared for a U.S. assault. Navy ships were in place and awaiting orders to launch missiles, and U.N. inspectors had left Syria after gathering evidence of a chemical weapons attack that U.S. officials say killed 1,429 people.

But Obama decided to seek the backing of U.S. lawmakers before attacking, as polls showed strong opposition from Americans already weary of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Approval will take at least 10 days, if it comes at all.

"Today I'm asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move as one nation," Obama said in a dramatic shift he announced in the White House Rose Garden.

Obama, whose credibility has been called into question for not punishing the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for earlier poison gas attacks, warned lawmakers they must consider the cost of doing nothing in Syria.

"Here's my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community: What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?" he said.

Obama's approach, which he debated with top aides on Friday night, has left in doubt whether the United States will carry through with the military steps that the president has already approved.

Backing from Congress is by no means assured, with many Democrats and Republicans uneasy about intervening in a distant civil war in which 100,000 people have been killed over the past 2-1/2 years.

Obama's decision to consult with Congress is in line with an argument he has often made for a more collaborative approach to foreign policy in Washington than there was under his predecessor, President George. W. Bush.

But another reason to bring lawmakers into the process is that Obama might be able to share some of the responsibility with Congress if it votes for strikes on Syria that turn badly for Washington.

Lawmakers for the most part welcomed Obama's decision but looked in no hurry to come back to Washington early from their summer recess, which lasts until September 9.

"In consultation with the president, we expect the House to consider a measure the week of September 9," said John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican and speaker of the House of Representatives. "This provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people."

House members are to receive a classified briefing on Sunday from administration officials to hear the case against Syria. Officials briefed senators on Saturday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was unable to persuade the British parliament to back action earlier in the week, welcomed Obama's decision, as did the government of French President Francois Hollande, with whom Obama spoke on Saturday.

In rebel-held areas of Syria, there was a sense of frustration and disappointment.

"God curse everything," said an activist in the rebel-held territory of Idlib, Ahmad Kaddour. "We've become just a game to people. I think this is going to make the situation worse for those of us living here."

A Reuters reporter visited a group of fighters and activists sitting in a home in Aleppo city. They had not watched Obama's speech, and when told of the president's decision, they all agreed it meant there would be no U.S. strike.

"This is the same old hesitancy that the United States have tortured us with since the beginning of the revolution," one said.


At the White House, Obama's decision surprised senior aides when he informed them of it on Friday night after they had concluded the president already had the legal authority to act on his own.

Officials said he laid out the idea of going to Congress during a 45-minute walk on the White House south grounds with chief of staff Denis McDonough, then debated the risks with others in his inner circle, some of whom argued against his logic.

Senior administration officials who briefed reporters after Obama spoke said they believed Congress will vote in favor of a U.S. military strike because of the threat chemical weapons pose to the security of U.S. ally Israel and other friends in the region.

Jon Alterman, a former State Department official who is a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said failure by Obama to get his way "could be something that not only dominates September and October, but could shadow the rest of the administration."

Obama sent draft legislation to Congress on Saturday formally asking for approval to use military force in Syria to "deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade" the potential for further chemical attacks.

The August 21 attack was the deadliest single incident of the Syrian civil war and the world's worst use of chemical arms since Iraq's Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in 1988.

The team of U.N. experts arrived in the Netherlands on Saturday carrying evidence and samples relating to the attack. They had flown from Beirut after crossing the border into Lebanon by road earlier in the day.

The 20-member team had arrived in Damascus three days before the attack to investigate earlier accusations of chemical weapons use. After days holed up in a hotel, they visited the sites several times, taking blood and tissue samples from victims and from soldiers at a government hospital.

War weariness cost Washington the support of its closest ally: Britain has voiced backing for action but was forced to drop any plans for a military strike after Cameron unexpectedly lost a vote over it in parliament on Thursday, straining London's "special relationship" with Washington.

Syria and its main ally, Russia, say rebels carried out the gas attack as a provocation. Moscow has repeatedly used its U.N. Security Council veto to block action against Syria and says any attack would be illegal and only inflame the civil war there.

"I am convinced that (the chemical attack) is nothing more than a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict," Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday.

Syria's Foreign Ministry repeated its denial that the government had used chemical weapons against its own people. Washington says the Syrian denials are not credible and that the rebels would not have been able to launch such an attack.

Syria's neighbour Turkey backs the use of force. The Arab League has said Syria is to blame for the chemical attack but so far stopped short of explicitly endorsing Western military strikes. Arab League foreign ministers are due to meet in Cairo on Sunday.

Iran, Assad's main ally in the region, has condemned plans for strikes and warned of wider war.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria, Patricia Zengerle, Douwe Miedema and Paul Eckert in Washington; Denis Dyomkin in Vladivostok, and Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Alistair Bell and Mohammad Zargham)


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As Tunku saw it: Maintaining the Merdeka spirit for a multi-racial Malaysia


PETALING JAYA: The iconic image of our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman shouting "Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!" is more than a photograph or a soundbite.

It is living history. The birth of a nation that is still growing. A nation that is both a minor miracle and a lost opportunity. A nation that survived bloody guerilla wars (the Emergency), hostile neighbours (the Confrontation) and terrifying racial riots (May 13) in its infancy to become a thriving yet dysfunctional entity.

As we celebrate 56 years of the collective blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors and our peers, it seems that a simple love of this land and of each other is what is needed. And surely no one person exemplified that more than our first Prime Minister.

"No matter what we are, we are all Malaysians," our founding father once said. And  it was his steely determination and commitment to an inclusive Malaysia that has helped steer our course ever since that momentous moment on August 31, 1957.

"Tunku never backed down in the face of extremism and communalism, something sorely missing today," said Universiti Malaysia's Assoc Prof Azmi Sharom to The Star Online.

"Much has been said about Tunku's jovial and open nature which endeared him to Malaysians of all ethnicity.

"But to me, his strong and principled stand as to what Malaysia represented made all the difference.

Universiti Malaysia's Assoc Prof Azmi Sharom

Tunku was adamant that this country was a secular democracy and his key reason for this was because we are a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country," he said.

Sharyn Shufiyan, the great grandchild of Tunku Abdul Rahman,  passionately believes that Malaysians should embrace the fact that they are Malaysians regardless of ethnicity and religion.

"Even among the Malays, a new ideological trend is emerging. There are some who recognize the redundancy of Malay rights and privileges because elevating the poor should be across all ethnicities regardless," she said.

She said ethnic prejudices exists also among non-Malays.

"Malays are sometimes looked down upon by the Chinese. Unless we start mixing with each other and getting to know one another, we will not be truly united as Malaysians," she explained.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin is another who draws inspiration from Tunku's vision.

"Apart from the obvious accolade of being the father of Independence, Tunku laid down the foundations for a nation guided by justice, liberty and harmony, so that we could live beyond tolerance and celebrate each other's diversity," he said.

Prof Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said the spirit of multi-ethnic Malaysia has been deeply embedded into the Malaysian psyche from the very beginning.

"One of the most significant platforms he established, almost immediately after Merdeka, as a vehicle for fostering harmony in multicultural Malaysia was the National Art Gallery in 1958.

"He really believed arts and social integration are inseparable," he said.

Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed first heard about Tunku from his father the late Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat who served as Tunku's political secretary in 1965.

"Tunku was a very honest man and did things for the country. He never thought about enriching himself," said Nur Jazlan.

Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed


He also doesn't think that any leader could unite Malaysia in the way Tunku did, especially when it came to bringing people together just before the Malaya's independence.

"He never played the race or religious card to unite the rakyat," he said adding that Tunku's biggest contribution was the formation of Malaysia.

DAP national chairman Karpal Singh said Tunku was a leader who treated everyone fairly, regardless of  their racial, religious or economic background.

"For me, it is still Tunku Abdul Rahman who was above all. He was one man who was determined to be a leader for all Malaysians,regardless of race," he said.

Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman said despite being a leader of a Malay majority party Umno, the Tunku endorsedmultiracial Malaysia and agreed to a coalition government as a means of fostering unity.

"He was the leader of Umno and an example to all Umno politicians. He was not an extremist. If we Umno leaders are racist, we will lose out," she said.

Jempol MP Tan Sri Isa Samad echoes that view.

"It was Tunku who mooted the idea for power sharing which led to a coalition government in our country," he said.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia chairman Dr Nasir Hashim said Tunku was able to foster a united multi-racial Malaya even though the British colonial rulers had earlier controlled the country through a "divide and rule" policy.

"To sustain this vision we must empower the people and revamp the present exploitative economic system to be  people oriented," he said.

"To progress we must balance out the uneven development of the country through efficient use of resources,  create opportunities, denounce racial policies that create disharmony , and implement poverty eradication schemes , irrespective of race, religion, creed and region," he said.

Malaysia as a nation has taken many steps forward since Tunku took that bold first move but we must be mindful that rapid progress sometimes means that important values get left behind . Our freedom and independence is a flame that must be allowed to shine brightly, not leave us sifting through charred ruins.


'Remain united to defend sovereignty'


KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has called on the people to remain united to defend the sovereignty of Malaysia which has gained independence and free from the clutches of colonialism for decades.

In his message in conjunction with the 56th anniversary of the country's independence today, the Prime Minister pointed out that now was not the time for Malaysians to be disunited.

"Whatever challenges there are, we must not despair.

"We must move forward to develop the country based on national solidarity," said Najib when delivering the message which was aired by local television stations last night.

He said that being a sovereign nation, the people had full rights in all matters pertaining to the administration of the country and decide for themselves the direction the country was heading for.

"In fact, in animating the independence and the incidents involved in attaining it, we must also continue to preserve and defend matters pertaining to the Malay Rulers, the position of the Islamic religion as well as the special privileges of the Malays and bumiputras as had been enshrined by our forefathers in the Federal Constitution," he said.

The Independence Day parade this year with the theme 'Malaysiaku Berdaulat: Tanah Tumpahnya Darahku' ('My Sovereign Malaysia: My Native Land') will be held at the Merdeka Square, here today.

Najib also reminded the people that sovereignty as a factor that buttressed Malaysia's independence did not come on a silver platter.

"Too much sweat had been shed, too much blood had been sacrificed. All these were due to the struggles of the leaders together with that of the past generation, and continued until today," he said.

The Prime Minister said the young generation must continue to be guided and prepared to strengthen their identity and patriotic spirit.

"Only then would Malaysia with its high-minded people remain as a sovereign nation in its real meaning," he said.

Referring to the armed intrusion incident in Lahad Datu, Sabah recently, Najib said the bloody incident was a lesson that Malaysia was not spared from exposure to external threat.

"The tragic incident is a reminder to Malaysians on the importance of remaining united for the sake of defending the country's sovereignty," he said.

Referring to Malaysia as a nation of various races that has made the country unique in the world, he said: "This uniqueness has made us special and an asset that will help us to achieve the developed nation status with high income in the next few years."

True Merdeka has yet to come, says Sivarasa


PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is a beautiful country with much to celebrate, but it has yet to make the final leap to be a truly developed and democratic nation, says Subang MP R. Sivarasa. 

Now 56 years old himself, the former Bar Council member and long time Parti Keadilan Rakyat vice-president has watched Malaysia take many interesting twists and turns through the years.

"Perhaps we must start off by asking how old Malaysia is" he began, only half-jokingly during our interview. "Is it 56 or 50? Because while Malaya became independent in 1957, Malaysia itself was created in 1963. I am certainly proud to have been part of a movement that successfully campaigned for September 16, 1963, which is Malaysia Day to be a national holiday. "

While national days tend to be occasions of pomp and circumstance, Sivarasa feels we need to look at our nation with a critical eye. And yet he considers himself a patriotic man.

"I may not defend the way Malaysia is run, but I will defend the people and this land anytime. I notice this happens especially when I travel. I talk about the country and I feel proud of its people. Every time I look around, I am impressed by the rich diversity of cultures that makes this place a lot more interesting than most countries."

Sivarasa (bottom row, far right) was a reserve on the University Malaya circket team of 1979.

Unlike many of his generation who migrated to the Klang Valley, Sivarasa has resided here since birth. "I've actually always been in this area. At first it was in KL in Jalan Beserah, in the Titiwangsa area near Jalan Pahang. I attended primary school there. Then we moved to Section 14, PJ in 1967. And of course I attended Universiti Malaya. Funnily enough, these particular areas haven't changed that much over the years, although the Federal Highway was smaller then. It was just a dual carriageway."

"There is no question that there have been dramatic changes all over Malaysia. From the late 80s to 1997 the sheer pace of economic growth was reflected all over the country. And it's not just KL, you can see it in Melaka, Ipoh, or Sungai Petani. The development is there although sometimes it feels like every little bit of spare land is grabbed by somebody who has put a tall building there."

Sivarasa describes his early years and influences as quite normal for people of his time. "I had some Malaysian heroes. I used to listen to the Blues Gang and Hamzah Rahmat, but really it was Western music that I grew up with … Deep Purple and Cream. We had Western-influenced, English-speaking interests. Indigenous explorations come when you're older."

"When I was young we also used to look up to sports heroes. I think of the Malaysian badminton team in the late 60s with Punch Gunalan who went to Indonesia and came back with the Thomas Cup. In some ways I'm disappointed now. With the Olympics you see small nations taking on the big ones and winning, I'd like to see that with us again."

"When you are older, you get more open-minded and there is a shift of course. So now when I look back I respect the many unnamed unsung heroes of what was then the Malaysia/Singapore independence movement. Ahmad Boestamam, Said Zahari, Lim Chin Siong and many others are true heroes who opposed not just colonial oppression but post-colonial exploitation."

Sivarasa is seventh in a family of 7 boys and a girl. Four of his siblings eventually emigrated to Australia, and when you take into account that he attended Oxford in the 1970s, Sivarasa would seem to have been a prime candidate to leave the country.

"The question of migration was never a concern," he explains. "I did spend 6 years abroad getting a second degree, and then working and travelling, but Malaysia is my home. I believe we should deal with what problems there are."

"If you look at my field of law, any lawyer will tell you that post 1988 it hasn't been the same. The legal system that we inherited calls for the judiciary to be independent of politics, and I fear that's not the case. It's really been downhill all the way. At the moment, sad to say, serious concerns about the independence of the judiciary remain. 12 High Court judges just struck off election petitions with high punitive costs and a swiftness that did not inspire confidence in the process.

And soon after in the Altantuya case, the Court of Appeal let two men go. The impression in the public domain is that of a manipulated judiciary. But I think sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. I am an optimist and I believe they will get better. "

"I look with envy at our neighbours Thailand and Indonesia. Granted Malaysia (and Singapore as well) are doing better economically, but we are streets behind in terms of political culture. There is still corruption there, but they have a more robust, even-handed press, and a more independent judiciary, especially when you consider the baggage of the past. In those countries a Minister will resign to take responsibility for his actions. I regret to say that Malaysia is still politically backward."

"Of course you can't look at the past and say it was always better. For example ... there were more ISA detentions under Tunku Abdul Rahman than under any other Prime Minister of Malaysia. In terms of human rights, we are not last in the class. I thought we would always be better than Myanmar but even they ironically are making huge strides now.  I think they have more progressive peaceful public assembly laws than us now!"

"One thing is for sure, the culture of political accountability is still stronger in other countries throughout the region. Ministershave resigned for their failures. Indonesia and Thailand jailed members of their election commission for corruption. They are not afraid to go after high level politicians and bureaucrats while in office . In Malaysia we wait until after they leave office to put them in the dock. I think our people deserve better than what they have."

Having said that Sivarasa has witnessed many encouraging changes in the last five years. " I think over the last two general elections, the country has witness some phenomenal changes.

It started with the 2008 elections which took us all by surprise when the opposition broke the government's two-third majority and took over five states. In 2013 this was further extended in terms of the popular vote, whereby more people voted against the government than for it.

R. Sivarasa


This has entrenched the reality that there is a two party system now, and serious political competition forces both sides to perform.

There is the government of the day and a government in waiting, which augurs well for the future."

He also feels that while technological changes have helped many, not all Malaysians become more aware of socio-political issues.

"The media situation in Malaysia mirrors a global trend, whereby control of information is no longer dominated by the mainstream tv and newspapers. Today thanks to the Internet and independent media, Malaysians have much more access to different points of view.

However, there still remains a substantial  number of people, particularly in the rural areas who are denied access to this. This is a major obstacle for further social awareness and nation-building."

Sivarasa is married to schoolteacher/actress Anne James. Does he feel the country has progressed in the field of arts? "I think we certainly have moved in terms of volume of creative work. In terms of the theatre, I think it's a reflection of the increasing education level and the interest of people. There are more art galleries, there are more theatre productions. But it's still well behind what's going on in some neighbouring countries."

There are a number of areas in which Sivarasa in unequivocal about Malaysia's supremacy.

"I think you have to start with food. There isno country that can compare to us. We have Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisine. We've even adapted Western food to our style. You can find it all here in abundance".

"We are also lucky with our natural beauty, you can take your pick of locations, the islands, the highlands, the jungles. If you just look at the Kota Kinabalu area, the mountain, jungle and beaches are all within an hour's reach. Where else in the world can you get quite that combination? At its best it's like paradise. Our coral reefs also are some of the best in the world."

Sivarasa did however conclude with some sobering words. "For me, the real Merdeka is yet to come … a time when we have a truly democratic, open Malaysia. I have to say that I think there is retardation in nation-building.

I feel there is a greater distance between the races than there was 25 years ago. I saw it at university level, but now even it is present even in primary school. I think we now have a society that lives in co-existence where we tolerate rather than respect each other's culture. I think there is a concerted effort to play up ethnic and religious tensions.

Instead of trying to promote understanding and harmony, you have leaders who inflame tensions. That makes me concerned for future generations."


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City Harvest Church Trial: I have not seen the documents, says trustee


A trustee of the City Harvest Church responsible for managing its assets said that he had not seen several documents related to the church's investments.

This, however, was not unusual as the trustees had given an investment firm the power to negotiate and sign agreements on their behalf, he said.

The documents were related to financial tran­sactions which are at the heart of the ongoing criminal trial against church founder Kong Hee and five of his deputies.

The six were charged last year with conspiring to cheat the megachurch of about S$50mil (RM130mil) in total. S$24mil (RM62mil) was allegedly misused to finance Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun's music career, and another S$26mil (RM67mil) purportedly taken to cover this up.

Jeffrey Cheong (pic), a founding member of the church who is now one of its three trustees, said he would have been briefed on other documents about investments at the time he signed them, but he could not recall what he had been told.

Among the documents shown in court yesterday which he had not seen was an letter from John Lam Leng Hung, one of the accused, to the owners of glassware manufacturer Firna. The church had agreed to invest up to S$24.5mil (RM64mil) in Firna bonds, although only S$11mil (RM28mil) was given to the firm.

Part of the contract allowed the church to convert the bonds to shares in the company. However, if this was ever done, City Harvest would sell the shares back to the company at just US$1 (RM3.3), Lam promised in the letter. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Netizens weigh in on Wee's looks and court outfits


While there are six people involved in the alleged embezzlement of over S$50mil (RM130mil) worth of funds in the City Harvest Church (CHC) trial, one woman is standing out – not for her testimonies, but more for her sense of style.

Over the past few days, Netizens have expressed various reactions over the way Serina Wee, former finance manager of CHC, is carrying herself amid the court hearings.

An Aug 29 post on says Wee should be spared from too much pressure. "Give her a break man. She needs to stay Pretty, Elegant and Drop Dead Gorgeous!"

There is also a Serina Wee Facebook page, which describes her as a public figure and a goddess. It currently has over 370 likes. In one of the posts on the page, Facebook user Favored Cenizal says "this kind of looks can earn more money in other ways rather than being accountant in CHC". — The Straits Times / Asia News Network


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City Harvest Church Trial: I have not seen the documents, says trustee


A trustee of the City Harvest Church responsible for managing its assets said that he had not seen several documents related to the church's investments.

This, however, was not unusual as the trustees had given an investment firm the power to negotiate and sign agreements on their behalf, he said.

The documents were related to financial tran­sactions which are at the heart of the ongoing criminal trial against church founder Kong Hee and five of his deputies.

The six were charged last year with conspiring to cheat the megachurch of about S$50mil (RM130mil) in total. S$24mil (RM62mil) was allegedly misused to finance Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun's music career, and another S$26mil (RM67mil) purportedly taken to cover this up.

Jeffrey Cheong (pic), a founding member of the church who is now one of its three trustees, said he would have been briefed on other documents about investments at the time he signed them, but he could not recall what he had been told.

Among the documents shown in court yesterday which he had not seen was an letter from John Lam Leng Hung, one of the accused, to the owners of glassware manufacturer Firna. The church had agreed to invest up to S$24.5mil (RM64mil) in Firna bonds, although only S$11mil (RM28mil) was given to the firm.

Part of the contract allowed the church to convert the bonds to shares in the company. However, if this was ever done, City Harvest would sell the shares back to the company at just US$1 (RM3.3), Lam promised in the letter. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Netizens weigh in on Wee's looks and court outfits


While there are six people involved in the alleged embezzlement of over S$50mil (RM130mil) worth of funds in the City Harvest Church (CHC) trial, one woman is standing out – not for her testimonies, but more for her sense of style.

Over the past few days, Netizens have expressed various reactions over the way Serina Wee, former finance manager of CHC, is carrying herself amid the court hearings.

An Aug 29 post on says Wee should be spared from too much pressure. "Give her a break man. She needs to stay Pretty, Elegant and Drop Dead Gorgeous!"

There is also a Serina Wee Facebook page, which describes her as a public figure and a goddess. It currently has over 370 likes. In one of the posts on the page, Facebook user Favored Cenizal says "this kind of looks can earn more money in other ways rather than being accountant in CHC". — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Police arrest 200 in blitz against loan sharking


Police have arrested 200 suspects for suspected loan sharking activities after an islandwide anti-loan sharking operation that took place over 69 hours from Monday to Thursday.

The 140 men and 60 women were aged between 19 and 74. They were nabbed after officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and six land divisions conducted simultaneous raids at multiple locations in Singapore.

Of the 200 suspects, three will be charged in court under the Moneylenders Act. Investigations against the remaining suspects are ongoing. Separately, another 67 people will also be charged for their involvement in loan sharking activities as runners and bank account holders. They were arrested in previous anti-loan sharking operations conducted by the police.

Said CID Deputy Director and Assistant Commissioner of Police Florence Chua: "By surrendering bank accounts to loan shark syndicates, or by assisting them to transfer money or to carry out harassment acts, these perpetrators are actually helping the syndicates to evade police detection. Police will continue to clamp down hard on all these perpetrators and bring them to justice." — The Straits Times / Asia News Network


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Men feel bad about themselves when their wives succeed


A new study finds that men may subconsciously dislike it when their wives or girlfriends are successful.

SURE, every man says he wants a smart, funny, talented wife. But a new study finds that subconsciously, a man's ego takes a hit whenever his wife succeeds, no matter what the domain.

According to a new study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a man's subconscious self-esteem may be bruised when his spouse or girlfriend excels. Yet, a women's self-esteem wasn't affected by either her male partner's successes or failures.

"It makes sense that a man might feel threatened if his girlfriend outperforms him in something they're doing together, such as trying to lose weight," said the study's lead author, Dr Kate Ratliff of the University of Florida. "But this research found evidence that men automatically interpret a partner's success as their own failure, even when they're not in direct competition."

In the research, Ratliff and her team looked at almost 900 people living in the US and the Netherlands, with findings showing that men subconsciously felt worse about themselves when they thought about a time when their female partner thrived in a situation in which they had failed.

In one experiment, 32 couples at the University of Virginia were given what was described as a "test of problem solving and social intelligence", and then told that their partner scored either in the top or bottom 12% of all university students.

Hearing that their partner scored high or low on the test did not affect what the researchers called participants' explicit self-esteem, or how they said they felt. But when participants were also given a test to determine how they felt subconsciously about their partners' performance, or implicit self-esteem, the results showed something different.

In this test, a computer tracks how quickly people associate good and bad words with themselves. For example, subjects with high implicit self-esteem who see the word "me" on a computer screen are more likely to associate it with words such as "excellent" or "good" rather than "bad" or "dreadful".

Regardless of their own score, men who believed that their partner scored in the top 12% demonstrated significantly lower implicit self-esteem than men who believed their partner scored in the bottom 12%.

In another experiment, 657 participants, 284 of whom were men, were asked to think about a time when their partner had succeeded or failed. No matter the realm of the achievements, be it social or intellectual, men subconsciously still felt worse about themselves when their partner succeeded than when she failed.

Also, women reported feeling better about their relationship when they thought about a time their partner succeeded rather than a time when he had failed, while men did not. – AFP Relaxnews


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The October Sky


Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern

Running Time: 107 mins

This movie came out more than a decade ago but this is the first time I've watched it and although there is nothing remarkably new or fresh about its plot, acting or direction, it still is a great example of how to make a family movie that is inspiring and unsentimental (well almost...) 
Based on a true story from the memoirs of one Homer Hickam, from Coalwood, West Virginia in the Appalachians, October Sky is ripe with the traditional elements of filmmaking, and a triumphant one at that.
The backdrop for the film is the space race between America and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and the story begins with Americans glued to their radios as they listen to reports of the Soviets successfully launching a rocket into space, thereby gaining a distinct lead in the race with the U.S. 
This inspires Homer (Gyllenhaal)'s interest in rockets and he decides to build his own version. Unfortunately, although Homer is a fairly good student, his weaker subjects are maths and science, but encouraged by his teacher Miss Riley (Dern), Homer and a few of his pals start experimenting with building rockets.
He is initially discouraged by his strict father (Cooper) who runs the coal mine that the whole town is built around. His father believes that coal mining is the backbone of the US economy and a job that any American should be proud to undertake. 
Homer though believes that his rocket building experiments could be a ticket out of Coalwood and its hazardous coal mines as he intends to participate in the county science fair. Winning it would mean participating in the National Finals where college scholarships await. 
While being scoffed at initially, his single-mindedness earnestness eventually wins the small town over as they all get involved in one way or another to help Homer achieve his dream.
You know where the story is heading within the first thirty minutes of the film but you still can't help being sucked into its heartwarming message and rooting for its protagonist. 
Gyllenhaal plays Homer with wide-eyed innocence and wonder and the rest of the supporting cast provide solid support, especially Cooper as Homer's dad. You would have seen many similar films but not many have been able to pull off an engaging and inspiring story with the same rewards as The October Sky. There is some slightly harsh language occasionally so the film would be more suited to older children and tweens. - Review by S.N.

Breaking a record over a special bond


Proud mothers and their babies went down in history as they made it into the Malaysia Book of Records for the Largest Number of Mothers Breastfeeding Simulta-neously, at the Gift of Love Charity Bazaar in Grand Seasons Hotel, Kuala Lumpur recently.

Organised by The Breastfeeding Advocates Network (TBAN), an online breastfeeding support group, the event was held in conjunction with World Breastfeeding Week, which was from Aug 1 to 7 this year.

Mothers breastfed their babies for five minutes during the official record-breaking attempt, while supportive fathers and family members gathered at the sidelines.

The official count was 450 participants, breaking the previous record of 308 set in 2006.

Each mother received a certificate for their participation.

Booths featuring various items for both mother and child were also set up at the event, as well as photoshoots and talks by local stars Juliana Ibrahim, Pei Xuan and Lavin Seow, who are all breastfeeding mothers.

This is the second time the charity bazaar has been held since TBAN was founded in 2009.

"The event is to raise funds for an awareness campaign, including a television commercial, posters and car stickers for clinics, offices nursing rooms, shopping malls, baby shops and private businesses," said TBAN founder Gina Yong.

"It is also a good platform for breastfeeding mums to share their experiences and bond with their families," said Yong.

Sylvia Gomez, 31, was one of the mothers who attended the event.

"A support group is important, especially for first-time mothers like me. We can share information and ideas on how to feed our child," she said.

Gomez said there was still resistance towards the idea of breastfeeding among many people today.

"In the old days, most mothers could not afford milk formula for their babies, so they regarded it as a luxury. Breastfeeding is actually the best thing you can give your child," she said.

She added that there were various benefits for both mother and child when one chose to breastfeed.

"I lost 10 kgs from breastfeeding, and I find that I have better eating habits, simply because what I eat is passed on to my child via brestmilk," she said.

Meanwhile, Radiance Chan said the event was a good start to educate people on the benefits of breastfeeding.

"When I was pregnant, I was scared about how to nurse my baby. After joining the group, I felt more confident as I learned from stories and experiences shared by others," said the first-time mum of six-month old Wynd.

Nadiah Noor was another participant who was at the event with her three-month-old infant.

"Breastfeeding has been scientifically proven to be good for the baby. It helps increase their immune system and prevent infection, or reduce obesity in later life," she said.

"All my children have been breastfed," said the 31-year-old proud mother of three.


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