Selasa, 3 Disember 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

Shopping giant Westfield to split mall empire


SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian shopping centre giant Westfield Group on Tuesday announced plans to split its international and Australian assets in a reshaping of its global empire which it said would unlock more value for investors.

Under the restructure, its Australian and New Zealand businesses - with interests in 47 malls - will be merged with those of Westfield Retail Trust, which was spun off from the main company in 2010.

The resulting US$26 billion entity will be named Scentre and listed on the Australian stock market, with a development pipeline for projects worth some US$3 billion.

Westfield Group will be renamed Westfield Corporation with total assets of $US17.6 billion, comprising interests in 44 shopping centres in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe.

Westfield Group chairman Frank Lowy said the company's international and local businesses had both grown in scale and quality to the stage where they could now stand on their own.

"They can each operate more efficiently, and generate greater growth and value for investors, by being independent," he said.

"The proposal represents the latest in a series of capital restructures that have maintained the success of Westfield since it was first listed in 1960."

"Our current structure has served us well, but we believe that this new structure will create more value for investors going forward."

Lowy will be chairman of both entities with Scentre expected to list in mid-2014.

Westfield is one of the world's largest shopping centre operators and Lowy said a purely international focus for the new Westfield Corp would allow it to be more easily compared with international peers.

WTO in ‘make-or-break’ move


NUSA DUA: The WTO launched a frantic drive to salvage its floundering efforts to liberalise global trade at a summit laced with potential make-or-break implications for the body's global influence.

WTO chief Roberto Azevedo implored trade ministers to reach a modest agreement on key trade issues on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, in hopes it will keep alive a stumbling 12-year-old effort to slash international trade barriers.

"It is there for the taking. It is a matter of political will," Azevedo said during an appearance ahead of the four-day summit's opening yesterday.

In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Azevedo called the 159-member group's gathering "the most important World Trade Organisation meeting in years".

"At stake is not only a package of measures to boost the global economy ... but also the role of the WTO and the multilateral trading system in global economic governance," he said in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

In 2001, the WTO launched the "Doha Round" of talks in Qatar, seeking to overhaul the world trading system by setting a global framework of rules and tearing down barriers.

Various estimates say it could create tens of millions of jobs and perhaps US$1tril (RM3.2tril) in new economic activity.

But protectionist disputes between rich and poor countries – as well as the WTO's insistence that any accord be unanimous – has made a deal elusive.

Retreating for now from Doha's lofty aims, the WTO has instead put forward a limited "Bali package" on specific issues.

Azevedo hopes an agreement on that package can keep the Doha Round on life-support for a later push.

But the Bali measures have hit snags, most notably India's insistence that it be allowed to offer subsidies to its millions of poor farmers to keep food prices down. — AFP

Govt plans Asia-centric trade court


SINGAPORE said it plans to launch an international commercial court that will aid in settling an increasing number of cross-border disputes as Asia's economies boom.

The Ministry of Law said in a state­ment the proposed Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) will leverage on robust cross-border investment and trade in Asia, where gross domestic product is expected to triple over the current decade to US$34.9 trillion (RM111 trillion) in 2020.

"Against this backdrop, the number and complexity of cross-border disputes is expected to increase, enabling the legal services sector in the Asia-Pacific to grow significantly," the ministry said.

It said the SICC will build on Singapore's reputation as a leading destination for international arbitration, which allows for disputes to be resolved by third-party arbitrators outside of court.

The Singapore International Arbitration Centre, set up in 1991, last year handled 235 disputes worth S$3.61bil (RM9.15bil).

It is considered the fourth most preferred arbitration institution in the world, after similar bodies headquartered in Paris, London and New York, according to a survey by international law firm White & Case.

"Building on the success of the arbitration sector in Singapore, the proposed international commercial court will make Singapore an even more attractive venue for dispute resolution in Asia and beyond," the ministry said.

With similar commercial courts in London and Dubai handling a growing number of global cases, "a window of opportunity currently exists for an Asian dispute resolution hub catering to international disputes with an Asian connection", said a report of an international committee that looked into the feasibility of setting up the court.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters that Singapore is the "obvious choice" for investors looking to have disputes resolved in a transparent and efficient manner. — AFP


The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

'Sleepy Hollow': A sleeper hit


The enigmatic Tom Mison talks about balancing humour and drama in Sleepy Hollow.

NOBODY would ever accuse the new series Sleepy Hollow of being just another crime procedural. Not when the crimes involve a mysterious Headless Horseman, and an evil conspiracy that reaches back to the Revolutionary War.

And not when the leading man is Ichabod Crane, the Washington Irving character who, in this telling, was the one who relieved the Horseman of his head, in bloody, circa-1776 battle.

And not when Crane wakes up inside a dank cave and walks out into the modern world, and almost instantly joins forces with a police lieutenant who works in the village of Sleepy Hollow.

That all this works – and works so well that Sleepy Hollow has already been renewed for Season Two – has a great deal to do with the charismatic, witty, dashing performance of Tom Mison as Crane.

The British actor and writer has previously been little-known in the United States, with a resume heavy on stage work but light on more mainstream fare. Aside from roles in the film, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, and the miniseries, Parade's End, Mison hasn't had much opportunity to register with American audiences.

All that has changed with Sleepy Hollow, in which Mison's charm and immediate chemistry with his co-star, Nicole Beharie, have made the Brit something of a heartthrob – despite Crane's centuries-old garments.

"At least he gave them a wash in the sink," Mison says. "So he's considerate."

In a conference call with reporters, Mison fielded questions about such matters as when we'll see Crane finally get a new outfit – "I was wondering how long it would be before that question came up" – and how he approaches the role of Crane and the more outlandish elements of the show's storyline.

In conversation, Mison displays the same playful humour that makes Crane's encounters with the mysteries of modern life so drolly delightful (he's offended by the high cost of baked goods, i.e. doughnut holes, and mystified by the multiplicity of Starbucks locations.)

Here are highlights from the interview:

On that costume: Mison promises Crane will wear more modern clothes "soon," but that the show's creative team (the co-creators and executive producers are Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, whose credits include Fringe, and the Star Trek movie) and he liked giving Ichabod "an iconic look".

And there's character motivation behind his period style, complete with long coat and tall boots. Crane is "a long way from home," Mison says. "250 years away from home", so he's inclined to hold on to anything that reminds him of his time. Mison says whenever we're thinking how much those clothes must stink, "think of (them) as a big, stinking security blanket".

On the character of Ichabod Crane: Mison says when he's playing Crane, he's trying to "work out how moody someone would be after they come out of the ground" after all those years. There are "so many plates that need to be spun" to keep Ichabod on track, Mison says, adding that the part is difficult, but enjoyable to play.

On the show's preposterous premise: "I always like to have faith that an audience will suspend their disbelief," Mison says, if "you present it to them in the right way." He had no real trepidation taking the role, he adds, and had "faith in the great American public" that they would come along for the ride.

On balancing the comedy and drama of Crane: The character is shown in the 18th century, finding out that the fate of the world is being threatened by the Headless Horseman (who, it turns out, is Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse). And then he's comically reacting to chugging an energy drink in the modern world. And he's mourning his wife, who's trapped in limbo and is, oh yeah, a witch.

Keeping all this in balance is part of the job, Mison says. "The temptation could be to just go nuts on the comedy." But in the pilot, he and Len Wiseman, who directed, worked out that "the only way you can really sell the comedy is to play it as straight as the serious stuff ... Everything is very real for Ichabod, so we have to try to play everything straight."

That's a saving grace, Mison adds. "It stops me from hamming it up."

On his chemistry with Nicole Beharie: Beharie plays Lt. Abbie Mills, the Sleepy Hollow cop who has her own experience with the supernatural and who teams up with Crane as they learn more about the strange, deadly goings-on in Sleepy Hollow. Mison laughs at the inevitable question of whether there will ever be romantic sparks between Crane and the "leftenant," as he pronounces her title.

"I think there's certainly something magic between Ichabod and Abbie," he says. "They certainly have a connection." If anything were to happen between them, Mison says, "it would certainly be fiery." – The Oregonian/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

> Sleepy Hollow premieres on Nov 27 at 9.50pm on Fox (Astro Ch 710).

'Sin City' TV series in the works


Filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller are set to work on the show.

After unveiling the sequel Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, in theatres next summer, directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller will turn their attention to a TV series based on the Sin City world, produced by The Weinstein Company.

Producer Bob Weinstein, in an interview with The New York Times, remained vague on the format that the TV series might take. Nothing indicates whether the series would have the particular stylized visual effects seen in the first film, released in 2005.

Adapted from the comic books by Miller, Sin City takes the viewer to Basin City, a town characterised by rampant vice. Eva Green, Josh Brolin, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Ray Liotta, Rosario Dawson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt will be in the sequel.

The Weinstein Company also plans to develop a series adapted from the film The Mist, itself adapted from the Stephen King story of the same name and directed by Walking Dead creator Franck Darabont. The forthcoming TV version, in 10 episodes, will tell the story of the inhabitants of a sleepy Maine town who become prisoners of a mysterious supernatural mist.

King's writings have always appealed to TV and film producers, and interest seems to have spiked recently following the success of the miniseries Under The Dome, adapted from King's novel.

Weinstein's production company plans to expand its presence in the TV sector through additional projects, such as an adaptation of Scream for MTV, for which a pilot is reportedly in the works, and Marco Polo, a miniseries for Netflix. —AFP Relaxnews


The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

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The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

Next Bourne movie out in summer 2015


Actor Jeremy Renner will reprise his role as Aaron Cross in the next instalment.

Universal will release the next movie in its Bourne franchise on Aug 14, 2015, the studio announced on earlier this week.

Justin Lin, who directed the last four Fast & Furious movies for the studio, will take over the project while Jeremy Renner will return as Aaron Cross. The film remains untitled. Universal recast the film around Renner as Aaron Cross in the series' fourth instalment, The Bourne Legacy. Matt Damon starred as Jason Bourne in the first three films of the franchise.

Frank Marshall, Jeffrey Weiner, Ben Smith and Lin are all producing the movie, which is inspired by Robert Ludlum's book series.

Universal also announced it would release Lucy, an action-thriller starring Scarlett Johansson Aug 8, 2014. Luc Besson wrote and will direct the film, which stars Johansson as a woman who turns on her captors. Morgan Freeman will also star in the film. — Reuters


The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

Next Bourne movie out in summer 2015


Actor Jeremy Renner will reprise his role as Aaron Cross in the next instalment.

Universal will release the next movie in its Bourne franchise on Aug 14, 2015, the studio announced on earlier this week.

Justin Lin, who directed the last four Fast & Furious movies for the studio, will take over the project while Jeremy Renner will return as Aaron Cross. The film remains untitled. Universal recast the film around Renner as Aaron Cross in the series' fourth instalment, The Bourne Legacy. Matt Damon starred as Jason Bourne in the first three films of the franchise.

Frank Marshall, Jeffrey Weiner, Ben Smith and Lin are all producing the movie, which is inspired by Robert Ludlum's book series.

Universal also announced it would release Lucy, an action-thriller starring Scarlett Johansson Aug 8, 2014. Luc Besson wrote and will direct the film, which stars Johansson as a woman who turns on her captors. Morgan Freeman will also star in the film. — Reuters


The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Mexican Senate passes electoral bill, clearing way for energy debate


MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved an electoral reform demanded by the opposition, helping pave the way for Congress to focus on an energy bill at the center of President Enrique Pena Nieto's economic agenda.

Senators voted 106-15 with one abstention to approve the bill in general, but dozens of points were reserved for further debate that was expected to stretch into the night.

The bill, which would allow lawmakers to serve consecutive terms in office and curb the power of the presidency, will then go to the lower house, which is expected to give it final approval in the next few days.

Opposition conservatives demanded passage of the electoral legislation before they would provide their support for an energy bill that would open the state-controlled oil sector to private investment.

Mexico's peso rallied on Tuesday after the leader of Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the Senate said that lawmakers could turn to the energy bill as soon as the political reform was approved.

Further boosting the peso, prominent Mexican leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was hospitalized with heart trouble, reducing the likelihood that he will be able to lead street protests against the energy plans.


The leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which is opposed to opening the oil sector to private investors, withdrew from a cross-party pact last week, raising hopes that PRI lawmakers and conservatives will pass a far-reaching energy reform.

To reverse almost a decade of declining crude output, Pena Nieto proposed to open up the state-controlled oil sector to allow private investors to team up with oil monopoly Pemex and share in profits of exploration and production.

That bill forms part of a package of reforms encompassing efforts to open up the telecommunications sector, improve bank lending and strengthen the tax collection, which the government hopes will help boost growth in Latin America's No. 2 economy.

The conservative National Action Party (PAN), the PRI's natural ally on the energy revamp, is pushing for more lucrative contracts to be offered, such as concessions, and lawmakers say they are exploring options for a deeper reform.

Long the dominant force in Mexican politics, the PRI lacks a majority in Congress and needs PAN support to pass the energy bill, which is expected to happen later this month.

The PAN has made its support for the energy overhaul conditional on the electoral reform passing first. The electoral reform sets out rules for coalition governments and aims to strengthen Congress at the expense of the president.

In 2000, the PAN succeeded in ousting the PRI from power after 71 years of uninterrupted rule.

When Pena Nieto recaptured the presidency last year, opposition parties resolved to use their leverage in Congress to weaken the PRI's grip on the Mexican political system.

The bill would also empower electoral authorities to annul elections if the winner exceeded campaign spending limits. Pena Nieto was accused by Lopez Obrador and the PAN of grossly overspending in his campaign.

Senators, whose terms last six years, and lower house deputies, who serve three, will be allowed to sit in each respective chamber of Congress for up to 12 years.

At present, Mexican federal and state lawmakers cannot be directly re-elected to the same office. The reform foresees no change for the president, who can only serve one six-year term.

(Reporting by Dave Graham, Michael O'Boyle and Miguel Gutierrez; Editing by Paul Simao)

Venezuelan president says he has proof blackout was sabotage


CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday he had proof that a massive power outage was caused by saboteurs aiming to throw the country into chaos before municipal elections this weekend.

The blackout on Monday night was the second major power outage the year, plunging much of the country into darkness and prompting accusations of government incompetence from the opposition.

Speaking on state TV alongside Electricity Minister Jesse Chacon and other officials, Maduro briefly showed a photo of what appeared to be a cut conductor cable lying on the floor.

"What motive could there be for leaving a whole country without electricity?" he said, adding that Chacon had brought him the evidence and more details would be unveiled on Wednesday.

"We always face these attacks by the right-wing fascists ... they wanted to make me, as president of the republic, decree a state of emergency and suspend the elections."

Critics of the government say lack of maintenance was likely to blame for the outage.

Maduro said power had been restored in record time and praised the workers involved.

"Whoever made this criminal attack wanted to leave our Venezuela without electricity for 24 to 48 hours ... thinking that would convince people not to continue with the revolution."

Maduro's combative rhetoric echoed his allegations in September, when he also accused the opposition of sabotaging the national grid to discredit him after a blackout that was one of the worst in the OPEC nation's history.

Venezuela has experienced periodic power cuts since 2009, although the capital, Caracas, had been spared the worst of the outages, but it was hit by Monday night's blackout, which cut electricity across about half the country.

Nationwide municipal elections on Sunday are seen as a test of Maduro's political strength after he narrowly won the presidency in April to replace his late mentor, Hugo Chavez.

Since coming to power, Maduro has accused the opposition of plotting to assassinate him, and more recently of trying to undermine his government and wreck the economy through price-gouging and the hoarding of consumer goods.

Critics say the electricity problems symbolize the failure of 15 years of socialist rule in Venezuela, a country of 29 million people with the biggest oil reserves in the world.

Delhi's rubble-strewn Connaught Place mirrors ruling party's election struggle


NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The broken paving stones and exposed cables that mar the neo-Georgian grandeur of India's prime shopping precinct give a glimpse into why the ruling Congress party might struggle to hold on to the capital Delhi in a local election on Wednesday.

Work is still unfinished on a costly face lift to Connaught Place that was meant to showcase Delhi to the world for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and businesses located in what is some of the world's most costly office real estate are furious.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hopeful a widespread perception that government corruption and incompetence is to blame for shambles like Connaught Place's facelift will feed into voter anger at high prices and unsafe streets, and help it unseat Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit after 15-years in office.

"We are fed up, for the last five years we have lost our business, we had to lay off four employees, we couldn't pay their salaries," said S.P. Jain, a smartly-suited travel agent and money changer in Connaught Place, speaking over the sound of drilling as workmen dug up the pavement outside the shop he has run since 1963.

"Wherever Congress is ruling, there is corruption," Jain said, echoing a complaint heard across India.

The Congress-led national government was voted back to power in 2009 thanks to strong economic performance and populist schemes, but has since tried voters' patience with a string of corruption scandals and economic missteps.

The Delhi election could give some insight into how the world's biggest democracy votes in general elections due by May 2014. Losing the national capital Delhi to the opposition would be a symbolic blow for the Congress party in its lead-up to general elections.


In Delhi, Dikshit is credited with modernizing the city with a metro train, a network of flyovers and progressive policies such as running buses and taxis on natural gas. But the botched hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2010 cost her a lot of goodwill.

The Games were supposed to be a statement of India's arrival on the world stage. At the time its economy had deftly bounced back from the global financial crisis. Instead, project overruns, corruption and shoddy workmanship focused attention on India's lingering problems.

Facing a strong challenge from the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, the Congress party is keen for a boost from the Delhi poll and four other state ballots held in recent weeks to breath life into its so-far lacklustre national campaign. Results for all five elections are due on Sunday.

But there is palpable anger among many Delhi voters at issues ranging from spiralling food prices - the rising cost of onions was credited with bringing Dikshit to power in 1998 and may now be her undoing - to the safety of women after a gang rape that shocked the world in 2012.

Opinion polls suggest the Delhi race is a tight one, in which the emergence of the new anti-corruption Common Man Party could eat into the BJP's advantage and leave a hung assembly.

The strength of a mish-mash of regional parties at the next general election could help Congress limp back to office, as Modi's Hindu-nationalist ideology is unpalatable to many potential coalition partners.


The Connaught Place overhaul originally had an estimated project cost of $12 million. Media reports now put the cost at up to $107 million. Such overruns remind voters of the staggering blow-out at the Commonwealth Games, where costs spiralled to $6 billion from an original budget of $450 million.

The Delhi government blames the problems in renovating the Colonial-era white shopping arcade on the contractor, a state-run company called Engineers India Ltd. Much of the work is now completed, but it is far from perfect with renovations sometimes rough and sidewalks uneven and dirty.

The BJP's candidate for Delhi chief minister Harsh Vardhan last month berated Congress veteran Dikshit for leaving Connaught Place looking like "a remote village" rather than a destination to showcase Delhi to the world.

"Connaught Place is the physical and symbolic centre of India, and Delhi is the physical and symbolic centre of India, you can't do this in five years, it really speaks volumes about the abysmal quality of governance," said political analyst Subhash Agrawal of think-tank India Focus.

"In China they would have done it in two months, corruption is part of it, but there is also bureaucratic waste, bottlenecks and red tape," Agrawal said.

(Editing by Michael Perry)


The Star Online: Business

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Moody's justifies positive A3 rating for M'sia based on fiscal consolidation and reforms


PETALING JAYA: The positive outlook for Malaysia's A3 rating is based on the improved prospects for fiscal consolidation and reforms, as well as the country's resilient growth, benign inflation rate and current account surplus, said Moody's Investors Service.

Moody's said that while the execution of reforms would be politically and administratively challenging, it would result in narrower fiscal deficits that would stabilise the country's debt dynamics.

Moody's noted that Malaysia's sovereign rating was supported by the Government's favourable debt structure, the depth of onshore capital markets and the high level of domestic savings.

These factors mitigated the effects of wider fiscal deficits and a higher stock of debt as compared to its A-rated peers.

Moody's also pointed out that when compared to these same countries, Malaysia had generally exhibited faster growth, lower inflation and a more robust balance of payments over the past five years.

Since the first quarter of 2012, real gross domestic product growth in Malaysia has averaged 5.1% year-on-year, outperforming other A-rated economies, despite falling commodity prices and relatively lacklustre external demand.

Moody's further noted that Malaysia's economic resilience had been accompanied by price stability, anchored by the credibility of its central bank.

Malaysia's balance of payments remains healthy, despite a narrowing of its current account surplus over the past two years, continued large outward direct investments by Malaysian corporates and banks, and volatile portfolio flows.

Malaysia's foreign exchange reserves have come off from recent highs earlier in the year, and stood at US$137.1bil (RM425bil) as of end-October, but continue to act as a formidable buffer against destabilising capital outflows in the event of an external financial shock, such as the anticipated tapering by the US Federal Reserve of its quantitative easing policy.

"A direct positive consequence of the improving trend in the credit quality of Malaysia is the strengthened capacity of the Government to provide support to the bank in times of stress.

"At the same time, the banking sector's own strength and stable outlook are also beneficial to the sovereign in that they make the contingent liability of banking system support a remote risk," said Moody's.

Moody's cautioned that high household debt, combined with a pronounced appreciation in housing prices, represented potential vulnerabilities to the banking system that could adversely affect overall economic conditions.

In addition, constraints to Malaysia's creditworthiness included limited transparency in relation to the scale of non-financial public sector indebtedness and the increasing use of off-budget financing vehicles.

Bernama quoated Moody's vice-president of Sovereign Risk Group, Christian de Guzman as saying the new electricity tariff structure announced on Monday showed that the Government was on track to implement fiscal reforms.       

"The hike would have a one-off impact on inflation but it will run off," he told a press conference yesterday.

He said that having too many heavy subsidies might not be good for inflation, as countries such as China, Indonesia and India, where utilities and petrol prices were low, experienced highly volatile consumer price indices.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili announced on Monday that electricity rates would go up 14.98% or 4.99 sen to 38.53 sen per kilowatt-hour, effective Jan 1. The new tariff structure coincided with the fuel price increase in September and the budget announcement of the goods and services tax to be implemented in April 2015, which was evidence of Malaysia's commitment to implement fiscal reforms, he added.

KLCI steadies, propped up Tenaga


KUALA LUMPUR: The FBM KLCI held steady early Wednesday, underpinned by gains in heavyweight Tenaga Nasional, after opening down more than four points.

At 9.33am, it was down 0.02 of a point to 1,824.27, staging a recovery from the weak opening of 1,819. Turnover was 104.59 million shares valued at RM74.35mil. There were 125 gainers, 169 losers and 190 counters unchanged.

Hwang DBS Vickers Research said in its market outlook the KLCI could take a breather on Wednesday while on the chart, the index might trade around its resistance line of 1,825 for now.

"In essence, investors are still cautious on the sustainability of the current market breakout judging by yesterday's underlying performance, which saw Tenaga alone contributing to a 9.3-index point increase vis-à-vis an overall 6.1-index point hike," it said.

Public Bank foreign fell the most, down 48 sen to RM18.40 with 1,600 shares done. FGV shed 11 sen to RM4.48 and PPB Group 10 sen to RM15.

Allianz-PA fell 20 sen to RM10.30, UMW and BAT 12 sen lower at RM12.38 and RM62.88 while Tan Chong lost 11 sen to RM6.29.

However, Tenaga bucked the trend, adding 24 sen to RM10.96 as investors were positive about its earnings following the tariffs hike which comes into effect on Jan 1, 2014.

Tiong Nam Logistics warrants, WR jumped 19 sen to 19.5 sen when it was listed following a corporate exercise. Condom maker Karex added 12 sen to RM3.66.

Fed's Williams: Cutting rate on banks' reserves 'would make sense'


SAN FRANCISCO: The Federal Reserve has more reason than ever to cut a key U.S. lending rate it has kept at just above zero since the depths of the financial crisis, a top Fed policymaker suggested on Tuesday.

The Fed set the interest rate it pays banks on their excess reserves at 0.25 percent when it introduced it in 2008, and it has sat there ever since.

Investors have lately been abuzz with speculation that the Fed could cut that rate as a way to signal its seriousness about keeping interest rates low even after it reduces its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying stimulus program.

"As everybody says, it's not going to be a game changer, but given that we're doing a lot of unconventional policy and pushing hard, I think it would make sense," San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams told Reuters in an interview. "If you can get the funds rate trading a little lower and bring down interest rates a little lower, that's a positive."

Williams is a strong supporter of the Fed's bond-buying program. On Tuesday, he said he believes that the Fed needs to do more to prove it is committed to keeping short-term rates low as long as needed to support the recovery.

Most importantly, he said, the Fed should give better guidance on what would induce it to raise rates once the U.S. unemployment rate falls to 6.5 percent, the level at which the Fed said has said it would consider an interest-rate hike.

Williams participates in the meetings of the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee, but he will not become a voting member of the FOMC until 2015.

The rate the Fed paid on excess reserves is distinct from the Fed's main policy rate, which it has kept at between zero and 0.25 percent for nearly five years.

But reducing that rate could force more money into the broader financial system in the form of loans to stimulate investment, hiring and economic growth. Banks keep about $2.5 trillion in excess reserves.

"Most participants" at the Fed's latest policy-setting meeting thought lowering the rate was "worth considering at some stage," according to minutes of the meeting released last month.

Critics worry whether money markets can still function if rates fall to zero; indeed, over the years, the Fed has considered and rejected the idea of reducing the rate in part because of that very concern.

But a new central bank tool blunts that risk, Williams said on Tuesday.

Known as a fixed-rate full-allotment reverse repo facility, the tool has been touted as a way to mop up excess cash in the financial system once the Fed needs to start raising rates. [ID: nL2N0JH20N]

But it could also be helpful should the Fed decide to lower the rate it pays to banks, Williams said.

"We do have this ability through this reverse repo that's been tested by the New York Fed that basically makes sure we can control short-term interest rates even if we ... lowered the interest on reserves closer to zero," Williams said.

Still, Williams did not suggest the idea is necessarily on the Fed's front burner.

"On the margin, I thought the pros slightly outweigh the cons," he said. "Obviously, that's not what we are doing. It's been an issue we've discussed several times over the years. It's always been part of that mix: 'How do you weigh the costs and benefits?" - Reuters


The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

Next Bourne movie out in summer 2015


Actor Jeremy Renner will reprise his role as Aaron Cross in the next instalment.

Universal will release the next movie in its Bourne franchise on Aug 14, 2015, the studio announced on earlier this week.

Justin Lin, who directed the last four Fast & Furious movies for the studio, will take over the project while Jeremy Renner will return as Aaron Cross. The film remains untitled. Universal recast the film around Renner as Aaron Cross in the series' fourth instalment, The Bourne Legacy. Matt Damon starred as Jason Bourne in the first three films of the franchise.

Frank Marshall, Jeffrey Weiner, Ben Smith and Lin are all producing the movie, which is inspired by Robert Ludlum's book series.

Universal also announced it would release Lucy, an action-thriller starring Scarlett Johansson Aug 8, 2014. Luc Besson wrote and will direct the film, which stars Johansson as a woman who turns on her captors. Morgan Freeman will also star in the film. — Reuters

Surprising lesbian revelation


Actress Maria Bello revealed that she is in a lesbian relationship in a New York Times essay on Sunday, making an appeal to be embraced for her own "modern family".

Bello, 46, wrote in a Modern Love column in the Sunday Styles section that she struggled with revealing to her 12-year-old son Jackson her relationship with a woman called Clare who happened to be her closest friend. But she also argued for a broader definition of sexuality and love than what currently passes for social norms.

"I have never defined myself by whom I slept with," Bello wrote, "but I know others have and would."

In the essay, the self-described actress and activist, a favourite of indie movie directors and most recently seen in the thriller Prisoners, worries aloud about her choice: "First, how would it affect my son?" she asked. "Second, how would it affect my career?"

Hollywood does not have much of a track record when it comes to casting women who have come out as gay or bisexual in the past couple of decades, as our social mores around homosexuality have radically changed. But there undoubtedly remains a perceived bias against male movie stars being gay. So Bello isn't wrong to worry. She also isn't wrong to argue for a new definition of sexuality.

Does everyone have to fit in a category, she asks? Bello says her other main relationships have been with men – not always sexual ones. Like, for example, with the former Sony chief John Calley.

"For five years I considered my partner to be a friend then in his 70s, John Calley, with whom I talked daily," she wrote. "He was the one who picked me up each time I had a breakdown about another failed romance. Because we were platonic, did that make him any less of a partner?"

She went on: "And I have never understood the distinction of 'primary' partner. Does that imply we have secondary and tertiary partners, too? Can my primary partner be my sister or child or best friend, or does it have to be someone I am having sex with? I have two friends who are sisters who have lived together for 15 years and raised a daughter. Are they not partners because they don't have sex? And many married couples I know haven't had sex for years. Are they any less partners?"

As it happened, both Bello's immediate family and her 12-year-old son accepted her relationship with Clare. And Bello pleads to avoid labels.

"I would like to consider myself a 'whatever', as Jackson said," she wrote. "Whomever I love, however I love them, whether they sleep in my bed or not, or whether I do homework with them or share a child with them, 'love is love'. And I love our modern family. Maybe, in the end, a modern family is just a more honest family."

I don't know where her career comes out on this, but I'm going to guess it's just fine. Nonetheless, bravo to Bello for her candor, and to offering us all food for thought, and tolerance for all, after our Thanksgiving binge. — Reuters


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Child bride rape case reopened


PUTRAJAYA: The case of a 12-year-old girl who married the man who raped and then divorced her has been reopened by the Attorney-General's Chambers.

Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail said he directed the police to do so after taking into account public concerns on the issue.

He said a decision on whether to prosecute will be announced next week after he received the police findings.

"The DPP at that time withdrew the case on certain grounds.

"When the arrest was made, we only had five statements from the victim, her father, aunt and two suspects but no confession was recorded by the magistrate," Gani told a press conference here.

He declined to provide details on the medical report on the victim, but said her "blood pressure was normal about four to five hours after the (alleged rape) incident."

The Star reported last week that Nor Fazira Saad had lodged a report at the Kulim police station on July 15 last year, alleging that she had been raped by two teenagers including Mohd Fahmi Mohamed Alias, now 20, who later married her.

Mohd Fahmi was charged with committing the offence together with another youth but was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal after the victim and her father Mohd Saad Mustafa withdrew the police report.

Abdul Gani said the other youth had pleaded guilty and was sent to a juvenile rehabilitation centre in Paya Terubong, Penang.

It was reported that Nor Fazira married Mohd Fahmi four months after the alleged rape.

Mohd Fahmi pronounced a talak satu divorce on his young wife last week.

Mohd Fahmi also denied he had raped her and then married her to avoid being prosecuted, although the girl's father has insisted otherwise.

Highway cost overshoots by RM800mil


PETALING JAYA: Construction delays in sections of the East Coast High-way 2, a mega project under the Ninth Malaysian Plan, had cost the Federal Government an additional RM800mil, according to the Auditor-General's Report 2012.

The construction of the 184km, four-lane, two-way highway, which starts at Jabur, Kemaman and ends at Kampung Gemuruh, Kuala Tereng­ganu, was divided between the Public Works Department (PWD) and the Malaysian Highway Autho­rity (LLM).

LLM completed its portion that covers 64km, from Bukit Besi to Telemung along with a 16km spur route, on May 18 last year while the sections under PWD includes managing the construction of stretches from Jabur to Bukit Besi and from Telemung to Kampung Gemuruh.

This included 120km of roads, in addition to a 19.4km spur road, which was projected to cost RM2.09bil but had since risen to RM2.9bil.

The work was divided into 16 sections which PWD tendered out to 12 companies.

Eight contractors failed to complete their projects on time, despite being given extensions of between eight and 18 months, along with variation of price (VOP) which went up to RM31.87mil.

Among these companies were Arah Jitu Sdn Bhd and GPQ Bukit Putri JV, which were contracted to build two sections each. Arah Jitu failed to complete both sections while the latter managed to finish one.

The errant companies had their contracts terminated and the work was re-tendered in 2010.

This process took between 11 and 19 months, causing further delays along with cost due to damage at the construction sites during the period.

To date only 66.92km of the PWD's project has been completed, but only 11.58km is open.

PWD attributed the delays to the time taken by the Works Ministry to approve the re-tendering work and getting additional allocations for the project.

Hamas seeks Umno’s help to reconcile with Fatah


KUALA LUMPUR: Palestinian liberation group Hamas has requested Umno to help in its reconciliation with rival Fatah.

Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Hamas felt that Umno was close to both Palestinian groups.

The request was made by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who is in Malaysia to attend the Umno general assembly tomorrow.

"Khaled has asked me to convey this to the Prime Minister," said Ahmad Zahid. "Hamas has chosen Umno because they are confident with the party and has witnessed the transformation which we have done, not only within the party but for the country," he said.

Hamas and Fatah have been in dispute since 2007, resulting in Hamas controlling Gaza while its rival controls the West Bank.

In January, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak visited Gaza as a humanitarian gesture of solidarity with the plight of the people in the occupied territories.

Ahmad Zahid said Khaled's visit was also part of an effort involving leaders from Umno as well as PAS and PKR.

The effort is being conducted by a body known as the Palestinian Cultural Organisation of Malaysia, under the patronage of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad while Ahmad Zahid is the adviser.

Other members of the organisation include PKR's Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, former PAS deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa and Dr Syed AzmanSyed Ahmad Nawawi, also from PAS.

Related stories:

Najib Reconciliation a must 

Our policies must include other races says Shafie

Najib We must be the peoples party


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Bellman & Black


IN the year of British author Diane Setterfield's birth, 1964, The Beatles set the world on fire with their appearance on America's The Ed Sullivan Show – the band going supernova internationally as a result of its airing.

Some 43 years later, Setterfield did something similar with her debut novel, the globally acclaimed, bestselling The Thirteenth Tale, though the blaze was lit by the Internet rather than by yesteryear's exciting new media (as TV was in the 1960s).

This bookworm has read few more powerful or engaging novels this century. The Thirteenth Tale was a gothic masterpiece of highly rewarding complexity, with a beautifully embroidered narrative, and the power to awe.

Seven years is a long time between a smash-hit debut and its follow-up, but it has finally arrived, and with inevitably lofty expectations. Is Bellman & Black a worthy successor? Does she still have that magic?

Unfortunately, the answers are: "not really" and "not really". Bellman & Black is a fairy good novel. But that's like saying The Beatles were a fairly good band. You're not expecting "fairly good" with Setterfield. Not after The Thirteenth Tale.

Bellman & Black is as atmospherically dark and brooding as her debut, but it is a less interesting and more straightforward outing into the Goth-land of Setterfield's imagination; it's missing the secrets, twists and turns, and the brilliant narrative trickery of The Thirteenth Tale.

Worse, the story is derivative and the characterizations are weak. Reading Bellman & Black reminded me of reading Alex Garland's underwhelming The Tesseract, which followed his stunning 1996 debut, The Beach. In both cases, I thought: "What happened to the author? The flame is still there, but why is it so much dimmer?"

After a third novel, also underwhelming, Garland shifted medium and become a screenplay-writer of considerable renown. What does the future hold for Setterfield? One hopes a return to the form she unleashed in 2006. But back to the present, and to the product in hand.

Bellman & Black's protagonist is William Bellman, who, as a boy of 10, made a bet with his chums that he could hit a crow with a stone from his catapult. As his missile arced through the air, Bellman realised in a fraction of a second that he didn't actually want to kill the creature. But he won the bet – unfortunately for the crow, and, as the following chapters reveal, unfortunately for him.

This single incident foreshadows the rest of his life – crows and rooks become reoccurring and ominous motifs through the book.

Bellman's adult life starts well. He marries the girl of his dreams, sires a large loving family, and discovers in himself a natural aptitude for business.

Indeed, the Bellman-the-businessman aspect of the book overly dominates, thereby diminishing its entertainment value. Page upon page delivers detailed information on retail transactions, outsourcing, vendor relationships, ledgers and accounting, and the financial banter of Victorian England.

But this being a Gothic novel, the Grim Reaper is never far away. One by one, people around Bellman die. And at each funeral, he is startled to see a stranger in black, grinning at him knowingly.

The first to perish are relatives. Then his own children die. Then his wife. Eventually he ends up with just a single loved one, his favourite child, Dora.

As the years crawl by, William becomes a kind of doppelgänger of Charles Dickens' most famous creation, Ebenezer Scrooge of A Christmas Carol. While becoming obsessed with work and the bottom-line, Bellman reminds us of what money can and cannot buy. Duly a morality tale emerges, with a fairly simple equation at its core: compassion and love always trump business, profit-and-loss, and financial gain. That's the way the human condition is.

But where A Christmas Carol has humour, pathos and, ultimately, redemption, Bellman & Black is much less satisfying.

Through her elegant prose, Setterfield remains a master of mood and place, and her descriptions of Bellman's factory and other locales are historically fascinating. One thing you can't deny Setterfield: she certainly does her research. The detail is so sharp, one wonders if the author is some kind of time-traveller.

Less compelling are Bellman's ghosts, whether "real" or of his mind. These seem to be too ephemeral to really spook. More chilling are the crows that flit through these pages, making us wonder if the young Bellman would have had an entirely different life if he had missed with his catapult all those years ago.

In life as in fiction, one random act can change everything forever. This powerful message does add philosophical heft to Bellman & Black.

The Thirteenth Tale took Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and echoed and warped it so eerily that the author earned gushing plaudits for her deft interpretation.

Just as The Thirteenth Tale was homage to Charlotte Brontë, Bellman & Black homages Charles Dickens, but less skilfully.

It's never easy to follow-up an instant-classic masterpiece with a crowd-pleaser for your global readership. Just ask Alex Garland.


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Thai police allow protesters through barricades at government HQ


BANGKOK: Thai police allowed opposition protesters through barricades outside the government and metropolitan police headquarters Tuesday, sharply easing tensions after two days of violent clashes aimed at ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The reason for the sudden thaw in hostilities was not immediately clear but it came after police said they would no longer use force to defend their Bangkok headquarters from thousands of anti-government protesters who marched on the high-profile target.

Demonstrators were allowed to approach the perimeter fence of Government House with no resistance from security forces. Dozens of protesters also streamed into the police building where they were seen shaking hands with officers, AFP reporters saw.

Metropolitan Police chief Lieutenant General Kamronwit Thoopkrajang said his officers would no longer try to fend off protesters at the police base.

"The Metropolitan Police Headquarters belongs to the public," he told AFP.

"There will be no use of tear gas today," he said. "Last night a police officer was injured by a gunshot so if we resist there will be more injuries, and we are all Thais," he said.

The protests, aimed at unseating the elected government and replacing it with a "people's council", are the latest bout of unrest in the kingdom since royalist generals ousted Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra in a coup seven years ago.

The demonstrators seized upon the developments to claim they had won the battle.

"Victory is in the hands of the people's army. We are able to seize all key government facilities," one of the protest leaders, Issara Somchai, said to supporters.

On Monday police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon to fend off rock-throwing demonstrators for a second day, after weekend unrest that left several dead and scores wounded.

It is the kingdom's worst political violence since a deadly military crackdown on pro-Thaksin "Red Shirts" rallies in 2010, although the recent clashes have been largely confined to certain parts of the city, away from main tourist districts.

Thailand's long-running political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based elite backed by the military and the palace against rural and working class voters loyal to Thaksin, a billionaire businessman turned premier.

The latest battle played out on the streets of Bangkok has pitted a shrinking band of hardcore protesters against pro-Thaksin political forces who have won every election in more than a decade, most recently in 2011 under Yingluck.

In her first televised address since the weeks-long protests descended into violence at the weekend, Yingluck said Monday that the protest leader's demands were unconstitutional.

The embattled premier said she would have considered resigning or calling an election if her opponents had not already ruled out these moves as insufficient. She insisted the government was open to "every option" to restore peace.

The violence has caused growing international alarm, with the United States voicing concern about the loss of life.

"Peaceful protest and freedom of expression are important aspects of democracy," a State Department spokeswoman said. "Violence and seizure of public or private property, however, are not acceptable means of resolving political differences."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was worried about the escalating violence, calling on all parties to exercise restraint.

Clashes had continued through the night as police fought to defend barriers at the prime minister's offices and police headquarters.

Police said two of their trucks were set ablaze near Government House. Police helicopters dropped leaflets at the two rally bases giving notice of an arrest warrant issued for protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban for insurrection, urging demonstrators to leave.

The rallies were triggered by an amnesty bill, since abandoned by the ruling party, which opponents feared would have allowed Thaksin to return to his home country, which he fled in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction he contends is politically motivated.

The demonstrators are a mix of royalists, Thaksin opponents, students and supporters of the opposition Democrats, who have not won an election in 20 years.

While the numbers have fallen sharply since an estimated 180,000 people joined an opposition rally on November 24, protesters have besieged high-profile targets - including several key ministries - in what some observers believe is an attempt to provoke a military coup.

Thailand has seen 18 actual or attempted coups since 1932, most recently with Thaksin's overthrow in 2006. But the military has appeared reluctant to intervene in the current standoff.

"I will let this problem be solved by politics. The military will observe from a distance," army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha told reporters Tuesday. -AFP

Related stories: 

UN chief Ban concerned by Thailand violence
US regrets loss of life in Thai protests

Hong Kong confirms first human case of H7N9 bird flu


HONG KONG: Hong Kong on Monday confirmed its first human case of the deadly H7N9 bird flu, according to a report, in the latest sign of the virus spreading beyond mainland China.

A 36-year-old Indonesian domestic helper with a history of travelling to the mainland city of Shenzhen and coming into contact with live poultry has been infected and is in critical condition, Health Secretary Ko Wing-man said, according to the broadcaster RTHK.

The patient was admitted to hospital on November 27 after developing a cough and shortness of breath. She was transferred to intensive care at the city's Queen Mary Hospital last Friday, the report added.

In all, 137 human cases of H7N9 have been reported in mainland China since February with 45 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.

In April Taiwan reported its first case, a 53-year-old man who had been working in eastern China.

The man was eventually discharged but the case prompted the island's authorities to begin research into a vaccine they hope to roll out by late 2014.

Secretary Ko said Hong Kong had suspended the import of live poultry from Shenzhen and escalated the grade of its flu contingency plan to "serious", according to the RTHK report.

People who had come into close contact with the patient recently have also been admitted to another hospital for isolation and testing.

In August, Chinese scientists reported the first likely case of direct person-to-person transmission of H7N9, but stressed that the virus, believed to jump from birds to people, was still inadept at spreading among humans.

The infection comes 10 years after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak swept through Hong Kong, killing 299 people and infecting around 1,800. 

Avian flu viruses have been around for a very long time in wild birds. They do not generally cause disease in humans, though in rare cases they mutate and jump species.

A report by researchers published in The Lancet medical journal in October said closing live poultry markets, though a huge economic setback, is a sure-fire way of curbing H7N9.


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