Rabu, 18 Disember 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro


US 'regrets' diplomat treatment as India seethes

Posted: 18 Dec 2013 03:17 PM PST

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Wednesday voiced regret to India over the treatment of a diplomat whose account of being stripped and cavity-searched triggered outrage.

With New Delhi vowing to "restore the dignity" of diplomat Devyani Khobragade, Indian media reported that the 39-year-old was being moved from her post as deputy consul general in New York to the UN mission in a bid to thwart her prosecution.

As India retaliated against American diplomats in the usually US-friendly country, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to end the row in a telephone call to India's national security advisor Shivshankar Menon.

"As a father of two daughters about the same age as Devyani Khobragade, the secretary empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Ms. Khobragade's arrest," a State Department statement said.

Speaking to Menon, Kerry "expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India," it said.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said it was "particularly important to Secretary Kerry that foreign diplomats serving in the United States are accorded respect and dignity just as we expect our own diplomats should receive overseas."

The White House also tried to quell the rift, with spokesman Jay Carney saying that "this isolated episode is not indicative of the close and mutually respectful ties that we share."

Khobragade was arrested on December 12 in New York for allegedly paying a domestic worker a fraction of the minimum wage and for lying about the employee's salary in a visa application. She is free on bail. 

The fury in India grew Wednesday after an email from Khobragade in which the diplomat said she had been repeatedly stripped and cavity-searched by the US authorities after her detention.

"I must admit that I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a hold-up with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity," she said in the email.

"I got the strength to regain composure and remain dignified, thinking that I must represent all of my colleagues and my country with confidence and pride."

Outrage grows in India

The revelation that a diplomat could be subjected to such treatment at the hands of the United States has caused huge offense in a country that sees itself as an emerging world power.

In an address to parliament, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said it was his "duty to bring the lady back."
"We have to restore her dignity and I will do it at any cost," he added.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed the diplomat's arrest "deplorable" as newspapers hailed his government for a series of reprisal measures.

"India takes on Uncle Sam," read the front-page headline of The Hindustan Times, while the Mail Today splashed with "Bulldozer Diplomacy" on top of a picture of a digger dragging away concrete barricades outside the US embassy on Tuesday.

US consular officials have also been told to return identity cards that speed up travel into and through India. Import clearances for duty free alcohol and other goods have been suspended.

In a separate call, State Department number three Wendy Sherman spoke to Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and voiced hope that Indian authorities "will continue to fulfill their host government obligations regarding the safety and security of our personnel and mission premises," Harf said.

With a general election just months away, the ruling Congress and the nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are both keen to be seen as standing up to the United States over the issue.

Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP foreign minister, said Tuesday that India should now arrest the same-sex partners of US diplomats after a court ruling last week that upheld a colonial-era ban on homosexuality.
Khobragade is alleged to have paid her worker just $3.31 an hour - well below New York's required $7.25 - despite signing a contract to pay her three times that amount.

The US Marshals Service confirmed Tuesday that Khobragade had been strip-searched like all other prisoners after being arrested while dropping her two children off at school.

Harf said the State Department has not received any notice that India wanted to change Khobragade's credentials to the UN mission. Such a move "would have to be approved by all appropriate authorities" at the UN and State Department, she said.-AFP

Killer Indian driver accuses Australia of hatred

Posted: 18 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

NEW DELHI: A lawyer for an Indian driver who fled Australia after a fatal car accident said his client would not get a fair trial if extradited because of hatred towards Indian students.

Anil Mittal, lawyer for Puneet Puneet, told a New Delhi court he opposed his client's extradition to Melbourne to face trial because of the "hatred towards Indian students in Australia".

Mittal cited hate messages on Australian social media sites against Puneet as evidence that his life would be threatened if he returned and that he would not receive a fair trial.

Several attacks on Indian students in Australia in 2011 outraged India and led to accusations of racism against migrants, sparking a diplomatic row between the two countries.

Mittal also accused Australian police of pressuring Puneet into confessing to the crime but did not give details.

"The guilty plea was taken out of him under pressure," the lawyer told the magistrate's court.

"We are opposing his extradition. The trial for the charges that he is facing can be held in India."

Puneet, 24, who is being held in Delhi's Tihar jail, was in court along with members of his family.

The court fixed Jan 9 as the date for the next hearing. — AFP

Sword-wielding man identified as Peter Chua

Posted: 18 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

POLICE have confirmed that the man arrested for wielding a samurai sword in public is called Peter Chua.

On Monday, Chua, who was dressed partly like a Japanese martial art exponent, took a samurai sword on board an MRT train before he was arrested at Victoria Street near Bugis station.

A search on Facebook found a user named Peter Chua who identified himself as a professional tattoo artist and a "head martial arts instructor of Japanese swordsmanship" at Iaido Club.

He also shared a widely circulated photo of the man armed with a samurai sword on the MRT train, without saying he is the person in the picture.

Other users, however, commented on the photo saying that they suspected the man was him.

Chua is being probed under Section 7(1)(a) of the Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons Act. If charged and convicted, he faces a jail term of up to five years and mandatory caning of at least six strokes.

Police said investigations are still ongoing. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio


Perfect pairs

Posted:

In their final column – relax, that's just for this year – the Spudniks realise that duos come in all shapes and sizes.

WHERE do I begin? There are too many dynamic duos on television that I love – you know, two characters who seem to have very little in common but when they team up, they (to steal a phrase from the movie Jerry Maguire) complete each other. We're not talking about romantic duos but buddies, siblings, partners in crime, and soul sisters.

Some of my all-time favourite duos who aren't on TV anymore include Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) from The X-Files – they couldn't be more different but they are so good for each; Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) and Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) from Friends – no two friends have ever been so in sync (I actually cried when Chandler moved out); or JD (Zach Braff) and Tuck (Donald Faison) from Scrubs – they have each other's back, always.

A recent duo that has become a favourite is Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) of Elementary. This is, in more ways than one, a sacred age-old friendship that was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle back in 1887. The show takes liberties with the characters, most obviously by making Watson a woman (Asian, I might add), and transporting them to present-day America.

Still the sanctity of this relationship is retained. Watson is the yin to Holmes' yang. He is charismatic, eccentric, condescending and socially inept but also vulnerable, naive and broken (a recovering addict who has a strained relationship with his family). Watson is the sober, grounded one. She used to be a surgeon but was fired after a grave mistake caused her patient to die on her operating table. She became a professional "sober companion" (like, really?) to recovering addicts which is how she met Sherlock.

Though he resists her at first, the two soon warm up to each other (no romantic angle here, thankfully) and she eventually becomes his anchor, his friend. They have an unspoken bond and she understands his quirks like nobody else.

Another duo I'm starting to like are Ichabod (Tom Mison) and Abbie (Nicole Beharie) of Sleepy Hollow (have you started watching this series? It's good fun). Though they're not giving each other buddy hugs or anything like that, they're a tight pair even though they literally come from different worlds.

And of course, I can't write a piece about dynamic duos without mentioning Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) from Community. Who would have thought a jock and a nerd could be best buds? I mean these two oddballs have a secret handshake, for goodness' sake. And, they built a blanket fort together. And they co-host a fake TV show. They're crazy as hell but they're buddies.

Until Troy met Abed, he was a broken ex-athlete who lost his football scholarship because of an injury he obtained at a keg party. When he and Abed got together, he became whole again. I know that's a horrible cliche, but aren't all good friendships are based on cliches? Together forever, through thick and thin, till death do us part … er… yeah, something like that. Abed taught him self-acceptance and introduced him to a world of possibilities.

Friendship is a two-way street of course. Before Troy, Abed had no real friends. Sure, he was comfortable with himself but he was always alone. No one would have thought he'd let Troy into his mad, mad world but the two found that they are great together. Everyone needs a Troy or Abed in their lives. — SI

I LOVE Troy and Abed too, and I think they add something special to Community, because they are so quirky and I love how they end each show with The Troy And Abed Show. Dynamic duos are a dime a dozen, come to think of it – from the Hardy Boys (Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson in that 1970s TV programme) to BJ And The Bear (Greg Evigan and Sam the Chimp, who sadly passed away from kidney failure about a decade ago) to Laverne And Shirley (Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams).

Then there were all those police/PI duos – Hardcastle And McCormick, Starsky And Hutch, Miami Vice, Moonlighting, CHiPs – so manylah ... good things came in twos it would seem. Entertainment? There was Donny And Marie. Space? Battlestar Galactica had Apollo and Starbuck. Cartoons? Tom had his Jerry, Fred Flintstone had Barney Rubble, Mickey had Minnie, Sylvester had Tweety, the Road Runner had Wile E. Coyote.

There was definitely something about having a partner, whether she or he was a friend or foe. Okay enough rambling on about the good ol' days. Entertainment editor Gordon "Youngling" Kho loves to take me to task for going on about TV shows from the 15th century.

So fast-forward to the present.

This year I had quite a number of favourites – initially there was Castle and Beckett from Castle, of course (Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic). Actually Castle also featured another very interesting duo – Jon Huertas as Detective Javier Esposito and Seamus Dever as Detective Kevin Ryan. While they were only the second line in terms of star power on the show, or maybe even third if you count Alexis Castle (Molly Quinn) and mum Martha Rodgers (Susan Sullivan),

Esposito and Ryan are also very lovable characters and their personalities have been nicely fleshed out, making them worthy supporting cast members.

Another favourite pair is Phineas And Ferb. These two stepbrothers with a wild imagination from the Disney Channel never fail to amuse me with their zany antics and kooky creations. And who else has a platypus for a pet anyway?

As far as siblings go, you can't really miss out the Winchester Brothers. It's been some time since I indulged in Supernatural, I think the upcoming Christmas holidays will be great to correct that.

Last but not least and you'd notice that I've been mentioning him a lot lately is Luther (Idris Elba). I'm still at Season One, so I'm going to lump Luther with Alice Morgan (a murderous genius who has somehow become Luther's friend and ally). Brit actress Ruth Wilson (of Lone Ranger fame) plays her part with such glee that you end up liking her even though you know she's a bad, bad girl. And Luther is just so tormentedly good-looking, well, I am madly in love with him.

So when it comes to dynamic duos – it doesn't really matter what the genre is or whether or not the characters are the protagonists, family members, animals or enemies ... two makes it all seem just right. — AMC

Simon Cowell of X-Factor's comeback

Posted:

The reality-based talent show had been getting low ratings this year.

Although Simon Cowell's X Factor has lost half of its 12 million viewers from Season 1, the executive producer and judge sounds highly optimistic that it will be back next year.

"I think the show, more than think, the show will be coming back next year," he told reporters during a press call earlier this week. When asked again how he viewed the show's chances of returning for a fourth season, he answered, "Good, because it has a solid audience."

Cowell liked to refer to his show as being second to The Voice in ratings. That would be true if one considered that they are the only two major talent competitions airing presently. The truth is when it comes to ratings, The Voice is in a whole other world, regularly scoring about 11 million viewers presently. But at this point, Cowell is trying to change the narrative i.e. it's not about the ratings, but about the talent.

He shared the press call with his finalists, duo Alex and Sierra. The group has been blazing the iTunes charts, it's true. As of last Friday, they had eight songs in the iTunes Top 50. "What Alex and Sierra have achieved on iTunes over the last couple weeks is phenomenal," he continued, "I've never seen this happen with an artist. I'm really happy, because the show has set out to achieve what it has set out to achieve, which is to find a star. So, I'm very happy."

Cowell said that if the show is to come back, there would probably be some changes, including airing just one night a week like ABC's Dancing With The Stars, another new set of judges (here we go again!) and even a role change for Cowell.

"We have to be more different next year than we were this year," he said, considering the crowded marketplace for talent shows. "So, we're in the middle of a presentation to Fox to say this is what we think the show should look like, this is what we think the fans would like. And, yes, my role could change on that show. But, I can't say much more than that."

At any rate, Cowell said he's in it for the long term. "We have 47 X Factor productions running around the world," the 54-year-old said. "In certain countries, it dips a little bit, you make some changes and it goes back to No.1. We're kind of used to doing this." — Reuters

Baz Luhrmann developing show on hip-hop

Posted:

The Australian filmmaker is set to create a television programme on early hip-hop scene.

Baz Luhrmann has teamed up with The Shield creator Shawn Ryan for his first TV project, a musical drama on the emergence of hip-hop in New York, Vulture reports.

The future series, currently awaiting a title and a home network, will follow two young friends on the New York hip-hop scene in 1977, two years before rap reached a wider audience through the Sugarhill Gang's hit Rapper's Delight.

Incidentally, film director Lee Daniels is also moving into TV with a project involving hip-hop – the director of The Butler will direct the pilot for a series on a hip-hop empire for Fox.

Meanwhile, together with Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, HBO is preparing its own music industry drama focusing on Richie Finestra, to be played by Bobby Cannavale of Boardwalk Empire. At the head of a leading New York-based record label circa 1977, the cocaine-fueled Finestra seeks to secure talents at a time when punk and hip-hop are emerging and disco is still in its heyday.

Baz Luhrmann, who directed The Great Gatsby, is already attached to direct a mini-series on the life of Napoleon, a project developed by Steven Spielberg and based on a script written by Stanley Kubrick. — AFP Relaxnews

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews


Tropical memories

Posted:

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul talks about the film experience.

YOU don't just watch an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film. You experience it. That's probably the best way to express what an Apichatpong film is like.

From the feverish jungle sensuality of Blissfully Yours to the mysterious, mythical fantasy of Tropical Malady and the folkish magic of the Cannes-winning Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives, his films have the ability to reach into the dream-like depths of our psyche.

But that is also the problem with his work, which often leaves audiences dumbfounded. The best example of this is Tropical Malady, essentially a love story between a soldier and a young man, but which switches gears halfway and without warning to become a dark, psychological and anthropomorphic fantasy.

During our interview in Kuala Lumpur recently, where Tropfest South East Asia announced Apichatpong's appointment as the festival's ambassador, I told him that I loved Tropical Malady but would be hard-pressed to explain why, if anyone should ask. I asked if that's the reaction his films usually got.

"Yes!" said the soft-spoken director. "And I'm very happy because I always say that I really wish I can make a film as a film. Because a film is not a book. For me, a successful film is something that you cannot express in words. It's film, it's feelings. It's not a book. You cannot explain it, you have to experience it."

Born in Bangkok, Thailand to a couple of doctors (he later put his parents' story in his 2006 film, Syndromes And A Century), Apichatpong recalled his childhood days climbing a guava tree in his neighbourhood. It was the beautiful scenery he saw from atop the tree that still inspires his cinematic vision today, he said.

Apichatpong sees his stint as ambassador for Tropfest SEA as a learning process.

"I, myself, started a film festival more than 10 years ago, and we managed to keep it small," he said. "So, I was very curious about how Tropfest has become such a big event and is still not commercialised. It still celebrates variety.

"I think to be ambassador is to support, and at the same time, to learn. You will learn a lot, especially about organisation ... Another benefit, to me, is to discover the new voices of the region. It is sometimes hard to find these new voices, even though we are so close."

Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) won Apichatpong Weerasethakul the Palme d'Or, the highest honour at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) won celebrated Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul the Palme d'Or, the highest honour at the Cannes International Film Festival.

The 43-year-old director is currently preparing for his next film, titled Cemetery Of Kings. It tells the story of a group of soldiers who gradually fall prey to a "sleep disease." Shooting will commence in September next year.

According to a Hollywood Reporter interview in March this year, Apichatpong was quoted as saying he may have to change the title to avoid any controversy as Thailand has strict lese magiste laws. Anyone perceived to be insulting the king can be jailed.

"Yes, I was thinking about that, but we've been advertising it everywhere as Cemetery Of Kings," he said with a laugh. "I don't know, I might change the title, but for now, it will remain as that. And because I'm still developing the script, and rewriting it, it might change."

He said he doesn't agree with the laws as he feels constructive criticism can help the monarchy and there should not be an atmosphere of fear.

Apichatpong is not new to controversy in Thailand. Syndromes And A Century drew the ire of certain parties because of its depiction of a monk playing guitar and doctors kissing and drinking alcohol in a hospital. Following that, he and several other filmmakers launched a protest called the Free Thai Cinema Movement.

Apichatpong lamented that not much has changed since then, but said at least censorship is now under the jurisdiction of the Culture Ministry and not the police.

"It's a learning process for the officials and the government as well," he said. "Every time there is a ban, people on social media will oppose it. And obviously they learn. It has become true that the government is working for the people because people are dictating the way they operate."

Some people find your films hard to understand or inaccessible. How do you respond to this?

But the more important thing is you'd want yourself to appreciate your own work. (Laughs) So, you must be true to your heart first, and then of course, there will be other people who will agree or disagree. You cannot please everybody.

Even Hollywood films can't do that. As such, when you set out to make a personal film, where the structure of funding and the distribution strategy is different from Hollywood movies, I think it would be counter-productive to constantly think about what the audience wants.

A lot of filmmakers, from Chris Marker to Alain Resnais and yourself, seem intrigued by the idea of time and memory. What draws you to this?

I have a very bad short-term memory! (Laughs) I'm not joking! I really need to keep what I remember and what I can interpret out of it. Film is like a time machine, really. I'm also interested in science.

I think many filmmakers are interested in science because films are the magic of science. It's just light creating an optical illusion, and it creates this illusion of movement.

And you start to think of the fundamentals of an image and the after-image. And you compare them to what's going on in your mind, another kind of image in your mind. So, inevitably, it will lead to the issue of memory.

Even though Uncle Boonme won the highest honour in Cannes, some French critics panned it. One called it "a work that never goes beyond the theoretical intentions of the director and which uses dramatic arbitrariness as an artistic posture." What then, is your approach to story?

I think it depends. Cemetery Of Kings is very story-based. It has a very narrative style. But for Tropical Malady, it's more of light and feelings. So, it depends on what kind of mood you want people to get into.

For me, most of the time, the story is not so important, because the world is full of stories. For film, you operate differently. Story is just one part of it. There are many things that create a film – the sounds, the colours, all these things. It's dealing with the sensory and also memory. When you read a book, you can stop any time.

But for a film, you follow it, very linear actually, but at the same time, you can play around with it and make it non-linear, and make the audience aware that hey, this is an illusion, make them feel there is something larger than the film itself.

Shia LaBeouf wants to make amends

Posted:

The actor hopes to 'work out a deal' to properly credit writer and artist Daniel Clowes.

Shia LaBeouf hopes to work out a deal to give Daniel Clowes proper credit for his short film HowardCantour.com, which caused an uproar this week for its glaring similarities to Clowes' obscure 2007 comic Justin M. Damiano, an individual close to the situation told TheWrap.

LaBeouf's overture may include a monetary settlement of some kind, though how much wasn't immediately clear, as the film wasn't meant to be a profitable enterprise. But a deal would almost surely include proper credit in the film's credits, which previously made no mention of Clowes' source material.

The screenwriter and comicbook artist's associate and publisher told Buzzfeed on Tuesday that the writer was "considering his legal options". LaBeouf apologised over Twitter late Monday night for failing to credit Clowes' work, which he said was "a source of inspiration" for his short film.

The 12-minute short, which debuted at the Cannes Critics' Week, stars Jim Gaffigan as a tortured online film critic named Howard Cantour, who pines for another young journalist played by Portia Doubleday. LaBeouf did not equivocate in his apology – he made it clear that he improperly lifted the story, which was only credited as "A film by Shia LaBeouf".

"In my excitement and naivete as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation," he said in a series of tweets. "I'm embarrassed that I failed to credit (Clowes) for his original graphic novella Justin M. Damiano, which served as my inspiration. ... I f***** up."

LaBeouf's apology may have backfired, however, as it appears to have been partially plagiarised from Yahoo! Answers, giving his critics even more ammunition.

Clowes' long-time editor Eric Reynolds took issue with the apology in an e-mail to Buzzfeed on Tuesday morning. "His apology is a non-apology, absolving himself of the fact that he actively misled, at best, and lied, at worst, about the genesis of the film. No one 'assumes' authorship for no reason. He implied authorship in the film credits itself, and has gone even further in interviews. He clearly doesn't get it, and that's disturbing. I'm not sure if it's more disturbing that he plagiarised, or that he could rationalise it enough to think it was OK and that he might actually get away with it. Fame clearly breeds a false sense of security."

In HowardCantour.com, Thomas Lennon plays a rival critic, while Dito Montiel, who directed LaBeouf in A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, plays a filmmaker in desperate need of a good review. Clowes said at the time that he had no idea his comic had been misappropriated.

"The first I ever heard of the film was this morning when someone sent me a link. I've never spoken to or met Mr LaBeouf," Clowes told BuzzFeed.

"I've never even seen one of his films that I can recall – and I was shocked, to say the least, when I saw that he took the script and even many of the visuals from a very personal story I did six or seven years ago and passed it off as his own work. I actually can't imagine what was going through his mind." — Reuters

Jennifer Lawrence is on fire

Posted:

The actress says it should be 'illegal' to call somebody fat on TV.

Jennifer Lawrence proves why she is one of Barbara Walters' "10 Most Fascinating People of 2013" on an ABC News special when she declares that the (US) government should seriously consider punishing people on television who pick on those for being fat.

"Because why is humiliating people funny?" the 23-year-old American Hustle star said in an interview set to air in the US during Walters' final year-end special. "I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV."

Lawrence, who told Harper's Bazaar UK earlier this fall that she was once warned she might get fired from an acting gig if she did not lose weight, has in the past spoken out against the shallow culture that entertainment can encourage. While speaking to Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer to promote The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Lawrence singled out E! series Fashion Police for doing just that.

"There's shows like the Fashion Police and things like that are just showing these generations of young people to judge people based on things.. that they put values in all the things that are wrong and that it's OK to point at people and call them 'ugly' and call them 'fat' and they call it 'fun' and 'welcome to the real world'," Lawrence said.

She admits in her interview with Walters that she herself has been guilty of such shallow comments, but the media needs to take responsibility. "I get it, and, and I do it too, we all do it. But the media needs to take responsibility for the effect that it has on our younger generation, on these girls who are watching these television shows, and picking up how to talk and how to be cool," Lawrence said.

"I mean, if we're regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect they have on our younger generation, why aren't we regulating things like calling people fat?" — Reuters

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates


Tokyo governor resigns; PM assures no Olympic impact

Posted:

TOKYO (Reuters) - The governor of the Japanese capital resigned on Thursday after being caught up in a financial scandal just three months after he helped his city win a bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan remained committed to offering the best games and the resignation of Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose would have no impact on that.

Inose, an author turned politician who took over as boss of the capital about a year ago, was forced to resign after he received 50 million yen ($484,500) from scandal-hit hospital chain Tokushukai ahead of an election.

His explanation for the nature of the money and other details flip-flopped, drawing the focus of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly despite other pressing issues such as a budget plan for next fiscal year and Olympic preparations.

"I cannot get in the way of preparation for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, where national pride will be at stake," Inose told a news conference. "I decided that there is no way but my quitting as Tokyo governor to break the stalemate."

"I feel very sorry for the people in Tokyo and Japan. Let me offer my sincere apologies," he said, bowing deeply.

Abe, who worked with Inose to win the bid for 2020, said his resignation should have no impact on the games.

"Everyone shares the intention to host the best Olympic Games. That remains unchanged. I don't see any impact," Abe told reporters.

An election to select Inose's successor will likely be held in February, media said.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Rodney Joyce; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Thai protesters march in bid to oust PM, but turnout low

Posted:

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Anti-government protesters marched in Bangkok on Thursday in a bid to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office but their numbers appeared far smaller than earlier in the month, when she called a snap election to try to defuse the crisis.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is demanding political and electoral reforms before any vote is held and wants these to be overseen by a "people's council" his movement will help nominate rather than by Yingluck, who is caretaker prime minister until the election, set for February 2.

About 2,500 people marched along one of the city's main roads holding banners that read "We are anti-corruption" and "No elections before reform". Others are expected to join as they move through central business areas.

One sign read: "We will not accept Square Face", a nickname given to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother and the figure at the centre of Thailand's eight-year, on-off political crisis.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, is adored by the rural poor because of cheap healthcare and other policies brought in while he was in power, but he was toppled by the military in 2006 and now lives in self-exile.

Yingluck won a landslide victory in 2011 and her Puea Thai Party is well placed to win the next election because of Thaksin's enduring support in the populous north and northeast.

Ranged against them are a royalist establishment that feels threatened by Thaksin's rise and a middle class that resents what it sees as its taxes being spent on wasteful populist policies that amount to vote-buying.

Thaksin fled in 2008 before being sentenced to jail for abuse of power in a trial he says was politically motivated.

Suthep's movement gained impetus in early November after Yingluck's government tried to push through a political amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return home a free man.

RALLY ON SUNDAY

After failing to get the politically influential military on his side, Suthep is trying to re-energise his supporters with marches this week and a rally on Sunday.

"We are warming up our engines for Suthep ... so that he can apply more pressure, peacefully, until Yingluck decides to step down," said Pasvut Ittikul, a former strategist for Yingluck's party who resigned to join Suthep's protest.

Suthep massed 160,000 protesters around Yingluck's office on December 9, when she called the snap election, and occupied several ministries and other state buildings before that, but police estimate that no more than 2,000 people are now camped out at the main protest sites in Bangkok's historic quarter.

A court has issued an arrest warrant for Suthep on a charge of insurrection but police have done nothing to apprehend him, despite his appearance at a seminar with the military and other public events.

However, on Wednesday, the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand's equivalent of the U.S. FBI, said it would ask banks to freeze the accounts of 18 rally leaders, including Suthep, to investigate what it called suspicious transactions.

Suthep says he wants to wipe out vote-buying and electoral fraud and has also promised "forceful laws to eradicate corruption", decentralisation, the end of "superficial populist policies that enable corruption", and the reform of "certain state agencies such as the police force".

Even if the vote goes ahead on February 2, its legitimacy could be undermined if the main opposition Democrat Party does not take part. At a conference this week, its members could not agree whether to run in the election or back the protests.

Democrat lawmakers resigned from parliament this month to march with Suthep, who was a deputy prime minister in a Democrat-led government until 2011.

Some agree with his call for reforms to be implemented before another election is held, but others believe their party, Thailand's oldest, should respect the democratic process and run for office. A decision is expected on Saturday.

(Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Robert Birsel)

U.S. prosecutor defends treatment of Indian diplomat

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. attorney in Manhattan defended on Wednesday the treatment of an Indian diplomat who was strip-searched after her arrest last week on charges of underpaying her nanny, a case that has strained U.S.-Indian relations.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, in an unusually lengthy written statement in a pending case, said he wanted to clear up the "misinformation" surrounding the arrest of diplomat Devyani Khobragade, and he questioned why there was more sympathy for Khobragade than her alleged victim.

"Ms. Khobragade was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded," Bharara said, adding that his sole motivation was to "hold accountable anyone who breaks the law - no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are."

He said Khobragade had been "fully searched" by a female deputy marshal after her arrest. "This is standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not," said Bharara, who was born in India, raised in New Jersey and has built a reputation as "The Sheriff of Wall Street" for his prosecution of insider trading cases.

India has been furious about what it considers the degrading treatment of a senior diplomat by the United States, a country it sees as a close friend, and retaliated on Tuesday by removing security barriers at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The barriers would offer some protection against a suicide bomb attack.

Bharara's statement came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the case with Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. Kerry called to express regret about the case and his concern it not hurt the two countries' relationship, the State Department said on Wednesday.

"As a father of two daughters about the same age as Devyani Khobragade, the secretary empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Ms. Khobragade's arrest," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a written statement.

Khobragade was released on $250,000 bail after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to charges of visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid the housekeeper. She faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted of both counts.

The U.S. Justice Department confirmed that Khobragade was strip-searched after her arrest. A senior Indian government source has also said the interrogation included a cavity search.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshals Service, Nikki Credic-Barrett, said Khobragade did not undergo a cavity search but did go through a strip search. Under the agency's regulations governing prisoner searches, a strip search can include a "visual inspection" of body cavities, including the nose, mouth, genitals and anus, without intrusion.

Khobragade told colleagues in an email of "repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing" and being detained in a holding cell with petty criminals, despite her "incessant assertions of immunity."

While common in the United States, jail strip searches have prompted legal challenges from civil liberties groups concerned that the practice is degrading and unnecessary.

Ezekiel Edwards, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said that despite a Supreme Court ruling last year upholding strip searches even in the absence of any suspicion the individual has contraband or weapons, law enforcement authorities should make an effort to distinguish between prisoners who merit invasive searches and those who pose no risk.

"Saying that it's not unusual is not to say that it should be acceptable," he said.

NO HANDCUFFS

Bharara denied media reports that Khobragade had been arrested in front of her children. "The agents arrested her in the most discreet way possible, and unlike most defendants, she was not then handcuffed or restrained," he said.

Officers allowed her to make calls, including to arrange child care, and even brought her coffee, the prosecutor said.

Bharara said Khobragade clearly tried to evade U.S. law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers.

"One wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?" he said.

The Indian housekeeper whose paycheck is at the centre of the dispute, Sangeeta Richard, is said to be upset and disappointed the focus of the affair has shifted.

"The victim in this case is not a criminal defendant but the person who was denied her wages and underpaid for her work," said Dana Sussman, an attorney with the Safe Horizon Anti-Trafficking Program who is representing Richard.

Khobragade falsely stated in her nanny's visa application that she would be paid $9.75 an hour, a figure that would have been in line with the minimum rates required by U.S. law, according to a statement issued last week by Bharara.

The diplomat had privately agreed with the domestic worker that she would receive just over a third of that rate, the U.S. attorney said.

Harf, the State Department spokeswoman, said Kerry had used the word "regret" in his conversation with Menon, but she declined to elaborate on whether this constituted an apology or to offer greater detail on their discussion.

An expression of regret, in the world of diplomacy, is generally viewed as something short of an outright apology.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration is looking into the arrest "to ensure that all standard procedures were followed and that every opportunity for courtesy was extended."

The White House has told Indian officials it expects New Delhi will "fulfil all its obligations" for the safety and security of U.S. diplomats in India, Carney said.

India has appointed Khobragade to its permanent mission at the United Nations and her attorney Daniel Arshack said that, in her new role, she would have diplomatic immunity from prosecution retroactively.

However, the State Department would have to sign off on a request to move her from the consulate to the U.N. mission, and no such request has been received, Harf told reporters. She said the U.S. government notified India of the allegations against Khobragade in September.

SMALL PROTEST

India and the United States have become close trade and security partners, but they have not totally overcome a history of distrust.

"It is no longer about an individual, it is about our sense of self as a nation and our place in the world," Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told parliament, whose usually fractious members showed rare unity on the issue.

Khurshid said work conditions of Indians employed in U.S. consulates would be investigated to root out any violations of labour laws, adding that there would be a freeze on the duty-free import of alcohol and food for diplomatic staff.

In New Delhi, supporters of a right-wing opposition party held a small protest near the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday. About 30 demonstrators, some wearing masks of President Barack Obama and sarongs made from the U.S. flag, demanded an apology.

The controversy over Khobragade's experience is not the first time that overseas observers have been horrified at the treatment of a foreign criminal defendant in the United States.

In 2011, when then-International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was paraded before TV cameras in handcuffs during what is known in the United States as a "perp walk," or perpetrator walk, after being arrested in New York on charges of sexual assault, French media reacted with shock. Prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges.

In France, the presumption of innocence legally bars the media from showing defendants in handcuffs before they are convicted.

The Khobragade case is the latest concerning the Indian elite's alleged exploitation of their domestic workers, both at home and abroad.

Another official at India's consulate in New York was fined almost $1.5 million last year for using her maid as forced labour. Last month, the wife of a member of parliament was arrested in Delhi for allegedly beating her maid to death.

India says Khobragade's former housekeeper left her employer a few months ago and demanded help to obtain permanent resident status in the United States.

One Indian government minister, Shashi Tharoor, has argued that it is not reasonable to expect diplomats from developing countries to pay the U.S. minimum wage to domestic staff because the envoys themselves earn less than that.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Chris Francescani in New York and Shyamantha Asokan and Frank Jack Daniel in New Delhi; Writing by Jackie Frank and Eric Beech; Editing by Eric Walsh)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

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Tropical memories

Posted:

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul talks about the film experience.

YOU don't just watch an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film. You experience it. That's probably the best way to express what an Apichatpong film is like.

From the feverish jungle sensuality of Blissfully Yours to the mysterious, mythical fantasy of Tropical Malady and the folkish magic of the Cannes-winning Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives, his films have the ability to reach into the dream-like depths of our psyche.

But that is also the problem with his work, which often leaves audiences dumbfounded. The best example of this is Tropical Malady, essentially a love story between a soldier and a young man, but which switches gears halfway and without warning to become a dark, psychological and anthropomorphic fantasy.

During our interview in Kuala Lumpur recently, where Tropfest South East Asia announced Apichatpong's appointment as the festival's ambassador, I told him that I loved Tropical Malady but would be hard-pressed to explain why, if anyone should ask. I asked if that's the reaction his films usually got.

"Yes!" said the soft-spoken director. "And I'm very happy because I always say that I really wish I can make a film as a film. Because a film is not a book. For me, a successful film is something that you cannot express in words. It's film, it's feelings. It's not a book. You cannot explain it, you have to experience it."

Born in Bangkok, Thailand to a couple of doctors (he later put his parents' story in his 2006 film, Syndromes And A Century), Apichatpong recalled his childhood days climbing a guava tree in his neighbourhood. It was the beautiful scenery he saw from atop the tree that still inspires his cinematic vision today, he said.

Apichatpong sees his stint as ambassador for Tropfest SEA as a learning process.

"I, myself, started a film festival more than 10 years ago, and we managed to keep it small," he said. "So, I was very curious about how Tropfest has become such a big event and is still not commercialised. It still celebrates variety.

"I think to be ambassador is to support, and at the same time, to learn. You will learn a lot, especially about organisation ... Another benefit, to me, is to discover the new voices of the region. It is sometimes hard to find these new voices, even though we are so close."

Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) won Apichatpong Weerasethakul the Palme d'Or, the highest honour at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) won celebrated Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul the Palme d'Or, the highest honour at the Cannes International Film Festival.

The 43-year-old director is currently preparing for his next film, titled Cemetery Of Kings. It tells the story of a group of soldiers who gradually fall prey to a "sleep disease." Shooting will commence in September next year.

According to a Hollywood Reporter interview in March this year, Apichatpong was quoted as saying he may have to change the title to avoid any controversy as Thailand has strict lese magiste laws. Anyone perceived to be insulting the king can be jailed.

"Yes, I was thinking about that, but we've been advertising it everywhere as Cemetery Of Kings," he said with a laugh. "I don't know, I might change the title, but for now, it will remain as that. And because I'm still developing the script, and rewriting it, it might change."

He said he doesn't agree with the laws as he feels constructive criticism can help the monarchy and there should not be an atmosphere of fear.

Apichatpong is not new to controversy in Thailand. Syndromes And A Century drew the ire of certain parties because of its depiction of a monk playing guitar and doctors kissing and drinking alcohol in a hospital. Following that, he and several other filmmakers launched a protest called the Free Thai Cinema Movement.

Apichatpong lamented that not much has changed since then, but said at least censorship is now under the jurisdiction of the Culture Ministry and not the police.

"It's a learning process for the officials and the government as well," he said. "Every time there is a ban, people on social media will oppose it. And obviously they learn. It has become true that the government is working for the people because people are dictating the way they operate."

Some people find your films hard to understand or inaccessible. How do you respond to this?

But the more important thing is you'd want yourself to appreciate your own work. (Laughs) So, you must be true to your heart first, and then of course, there will be other people who will agree or disagree. You cannot please everybody.

Even Hollywood films can't do that. As such, when you set out to make a personal film, where the structure of funding and the distribution strategy is different from Hollywood movies, I think it would be counter-productive to constantly think about what the audience wants.

A lot of filmmakers, from Chris Marker to Alain Resnais and yourself, seem intrigued by the idea of time and memory. What draws you to this?

I have a very bad short-term memory! (Laughs) I'm not joking! I really need to keep what I remember and what I can interpret out of it. Film is like a time machine, really. I'm also interested in science.

I think many filmmakers are interested in science because films are the magic of science. It's just light creating an optical illusion, and it creates this illusion of movement.

And you start to think of the fundamentals of an image and the after-image. And you compare them to what's going on in your mind, another kind of image in your mind. So, inevitably, it will lead to the issue of memory.

Even though Uncle Boonme won the highest honour in Cannes, some French critics panned it. One called it "a work that never goes beyond the theoretical intentions of the director and which uses dramatic arbitrariness as an artistic posture." What then, is your approach to story?

I think it depends. Cemetery Of Kings is very story-based. It has a very narrative style. But for Tropical Malady, it's more of light and feelings. So, it depends on what kind of mood you want people to get into.

For me, most of the time, the story is not so important, because the world is full of stories. For film, you operate differently. Story is just one part of it. There are many things that create a film – the sounds, the colours, all these things. It's dealing with the sensory and also memory. When you read a book, you can stop any time.

But for a film, you follow it, very linear actually, but at the same time, you can play around with it and make it non-linear, and make the audience aware that hey, this is an illusion, make them feel there is something larger than the film itself.

Shia LaBeouf wants to make amends

Posted:

The actor hopes to 'work out a deal' to properly credit writer and artist Daniel Clowes.

Shia LaBeouf hopes to work out a deal to give Daniel Clowes proper credit for his short film HowardCantour.com, which caused an uproar this week for its glaring similarities to Clowes' obscure 2007 comic Justin M. Damiano, an individual close to the situation told TheWrap.

LaBeouf's overture may include a monetary settlement of some kind, though how much wasn't immediately clear, as the film wasn't meant to be a profitable enterprise. But a deal would almost surely include proper credit in the film's credits, which previously made no mention of Clowes' source material.

The screenwriter and comicbook artist's associate and publisher told Buzzfeed on Tuesday that the writer was "considering his legal options". LaBeouf apologised over Twitter late Monday night for failing to credit Clowes' work, which he said was "a source of inspiration" for his short film.

The 12-minute short, which debuted at the Cannes Critics' Week, stars Jim Gaffigan as a tortured online film critic named Howard Cantour, who pines for another young journalist played by Portia Doubleday. LaBeouf did not equivocate in his apology – he made it clear that he improperly lifted the story, which was only credited as "A film by Shia LaBeouf".

"In my excitement and naivete as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation," he said in a series of tweets. "I'm embarrassed that I failed to credit (Clowes) for his original graphic novella Justin M. Damiano, which served as my inspiration. ... I f***** up."

LaBeouf's apology may have backfired, however, as it appears to have been partially plagiarised from Yahoo! Answers, giving his critics even more ammunition.

Clowes' long-time editor Eric Reynolds took issue with the apology in an e-mail to Buzzfeed on Tuesday morning. "His apology is a non-apology, absolving himself of the fact that he actively misled, at best, and lied, at worst, about the genesis of the film. No one 'assumes' authorship for no reason. He implied authorship in the film credits itself, and has gone even further in interviews. He clearly doesn't get it, and that's disturbing. I'm not sure if it's more disturbing that he plagiarised, or that he could rationalise it enough to think it was OK and that he might actually get away with it. Fame clearly breeds a false sense of security."

In HowardCantour.com, Thomas Lennon plays a rival critic, while Dito Montiel, who directed LaBeouf in A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, plays a filmmaker in desperate need of a good review. Clowes said at the time that he had no idea his comic had been misappropriated.

"The first I ever heard of the film was this morning when someone sent me a link. I've never spoken to or met Mr LaBeouf," Clowes told BuzzFeed.

"I've never even seen one of his films that I can recall – and I was shocked, to say the least, when I saw that he took the script and even many of the visuals from a very personal story I did six or seven years ago and passed it off as his own work. I actually can't imagine what was going through his mind." — Reuters

Jennifer Lawrence is on fire

Posted:

The actress says it should be 'illegal' to call somebody fat on TV.

Jennifer Lawrence proves why she is one of Barbara Walters' "10 Most Fascinating People of 2013" on an ABC News special when she declares that the (US) government should seriously consider punishing people on television who pick on those for being fat.

"Because why is humiliating people funny?" the 23-year-old American Hustle star said in an interview set to air in the US during Walters' final year-end special. "I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV."

Lawrence, who told Harper's Bazaar UK earlier this fall that she was once warned she might get fired from an acting gig if she did not lose weight, has in the past spoken out against the shallow culture that entertainment can encourage. While speaking to Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer to promote The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Lawrence singled out E! series Fashion Police for doing just that.

"There's shows like the Fashion Police and things like that are just showing these generations of young people to judge people based on things.. that they put values in all the things that are wrong and that it's OK to point at people and call them 'ugly' and call them 'fat' and they call it 'fun' and 'welcome to the real world'," Lawrence said.

She admits in her interview with Walters that she herself has been guilty of such shallow comments, but the media needs to take responsibility. "I get it, and, and I do it too, we all do it. But the media needs to take responsibility for the effect that it has on our younger generation, on these girls who are watching these television shows, and picking up how to talk and how to be cool," Lawrence said.

"I mean, if we're regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect they have on our younger generation, why aren't we regulating things like calling people fat?" — Reuters

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M'sia trade from January-October up 3.4% to RM1.13 trillion

Posted:

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's total trade between January and October this year rose by 3.4% to RM1.13 trillion from RM1.09 trillion in the same period last year, according to Malaysia External Trade Development Corp (Matrade).

Chief executive officer Datuk Dr Wong Lai Sum said exports rose by 0.9% to RM591.83bil and imports were up 6.3% to RM540.38bil, both compared to the same period last year.

"We foresee total trade value will surpass last year's by year-end, taking into account the world economic climate and demand," she told a media briefing on Matrade's 2014 trade promotion activities here yesterday.

In line with Matrade's aim to accelerate Malaysia's export growth next year, it has planned 147 trade-promotion activities.

"These comprise participation in international trade fairs, specialised marketing missions, in-coming buying missions, joint promotion activities and organisation of Malaysia International Halal Showcase, Malaysia Services Exhibition and International Trade Malaysia," Wong said.

One of the new initiatives Matrade would undertake for 2014 is the high-impact GoEx programme.

The programme is aimed at enhancing the competitiveness, contribution of exports and internationalising small medium enterprises (SMEs) through market immersion.

"This programme also aims to have 50 export-ready SMEs and to boost exports by 30% annually with five new buyers established for each company per market," she said.

She said this was in line with the Government's objective to ensure that SMEs contributed 40% to gross domestic product and 20% to exports by 2020.

The industry sectors that will be covered by trade promotion activities include oil and gas, maintenance, repairs and overhaul, electrical and electronics, information communication technology, chemical and chemical products, transport equipment, logistics, medical devices, building materials, machinery, lifestyle, biotech and halal products and services, processed food, construction and professional services and business services.

She said Matrade would also host industry-specific international events in Malaysia – the Offshore Technology Conference Asia and Kuala Lumpur International Aerospace and Defence Business Convention next year.

"More than 60% of the promotion programmes planned will be in Asia, as it is expected that this region will continue to be the global economic powerhouse to propel growth in trade.       

"A total of 36 programmes, or 29% of trade promotion activities, will be within Asean," she said. – Bernama

Saab wins jet deal as NSA scandal sours Boeing bid

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BRASILIA/SAO PAULO: Brazil awarded a US$4.5bil contract to Saab AB on Wednesday to replace its aging fleet of fighter jets, a surprise coup for the Swedish company after news of US spying on Brazil helped derail Boeing's chances for the deal.

The contract, negotiated over the course of three presidencies, will supply Brazil's air force with 36 new Gripen NG fighters by 2020. Aside from the cost of the jets themselves, the agreement is expected to generate billions of additional dollars in future supply and service contracts.

The deal is the largest-ever foreign order for the Saab Gripen, building momentum for a programme that has consistently undercut competitors on price, senior executive Lennart Sindahl said in an interview.

Chicago-based Boeing Co and France's Dassault Aviation SA were also contenders for the contract.

The timing of the announcement, after more than a decade of off-and-on negotiations, appeared to catch the companies involved by surprise. Even Juniti Saito, Brazil's top air force commander, said on Wednesday that he only heard of the decision a day earlier in a meeting with President Dilma Rousseff.

Brazilian officials said the deal, one of the most coveted emerging market defense contracts, went to Saab because it provided the most affordable option, as well as the best conditions for technology transfer to local partners.

The choice, Defense Minister Celso Amorim said, "took into account performance, the effective transfer of technology and costs - not just of acquisition but of maintenance."

NSA RUINED IT

Until earlier this year, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet had been considered the frontrunner. But revelations of spying by the National Security Agency in Brazil, including personal communication by Rousseff, led Brazil to believe it could not trust a US company.

"The NSA problem ruined it for the Americans," a Brazilian government source said.

A US source close to the negotiations said that whatever intelligence the spying turned up for the American government was unlikely to offset the commercial cost of the revelations.

"Was that worth US$4bil?" the source asked.

The lament echoes recent complaints by Cisco Systems Inc, which said in November that a backlash against US spying hurt demand for its products in China.

In a statement, Boeing called Brazil's decision a "disappointment," but added that it would continue to work with Brazil to meet its defence requirements.

Dassault, for its part, said it regrets Brazil's decision and called Saab's fighter inferior to its Rafale jet.

"The Gripen is a lighter, single-engine aircraft that does not match the Rafale in terms of performance and therefore does not carry the same price tag," it said.

Saab says the next-generation Gripen NG has a lower operational and maintenance cost than all fighters currently in service. The company has one prototype of the Gripen NG flying and another in production. The Swedish and Swiss armed forces have ordered the updated model for delivery starting in 2018.

Under the terms of their agreement, Brazil and Saab will now finalise contract details within a year. The first jet is expected to be delivered two years later, with about 12 of the aircraft expected each year after that.

SECURING VAST BORDERS

Brazil coexists peacefully with all of its South American neighbors and has no ongoing conflicts. The country, however, is eager to fortify its military as it considers the long-term defence of its vast borders and abundant natural resources.

"We are a peaceful country, but we won't be defenceless," Rousseff said on Wednesday at a lunch with military officials.

Brazil's decision unexpectedly wraps up a prolonged decision-making process.

French President Fran├žois Hollande had personally lobbied for Dassault last week during a state visit. Boeing, for its part, was so committed to winning the contract that it opened a big corporate office in Brazil and named Donna Hrinak, a former US ambassador to the country, as its top executive there.

The timing of the announcement surprised many analysts, who believed that the slowdown in Latin America's biggest economy, coupled with Rousseff's expected bid for re-election next year, would delay the purchase until 2015.

Indeed, the decision coincides with pressure on Rousseff from economists, the private sector and political opponents to curb public spending. Having initially increased the federal budget to spur growth, she now faces growing criticism because of stubborn inflation and a grimmer fiscal outlook.

Still, the country's current fleet of Mirage fighters, which the new jets will replace, is so old that the air force this week is taking them out of service. Brazil's government said the money to pay for the jets would not come out of the budget until 2015, after the contract is finalised.

LOCAL PARTNERSHIP

Analysts said the Gripen's cost advantage stems from its relative simplicity compared with competing jets.

"The Gripen is more accessible in terms of technology," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal Group, a Virginia-based research company for aerospace and defense. "It's something Brazil could conceivably build itself."

At the briefing in which they announced their decision, government officials said Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer SA would be Saab's main local partner. The transfer of technology is crucial to help Brazil develop future generations of fighter aircraft.

"There isn't necessarily a need to produce all the parts in Brazil," Amorim, the defense minister, said. "What's important is that specific aviation technology is transferred to Brazil so we can develop it."

The Gripen, which can fly up to twice the speed of sound, will be the first supersonic aircraft made in Brazil.

Still, Boeing's loss is a setback for Embraer's recent collaboration with the US company. Boeing has offered to help with development and sales of Embraer's upcoming military cargo jet, providing a key ally to crack the coveted US market.

Boeing said the decision would not affect the company's ongoing commitment to expand its presence in Brazil or its partnerships with Embraer and other Brazilian companies.

The delta-winged Gripen, which is Swedish for Griffin, first entered service in the late 1990s and is flown by the Swedish, Hungarian, South African, Thai and Czech air forces, according to Saab's website.

Saab shares rose 1.84% to 133 krona on Wednesday, their highest close in 10 days. Earlier in the day, they rose as much as 5.7% to 138 krona, a five-month high.

Boeing shares fell 0.13% to $135.70 in New York, while Dassault Aviation fell 0.4% to 920 euros in Paris – Reuters. 

End of boom? Not for Australia’s iron miners

Posted:

VALLEY OF THE KINGS, AUSTRALIA: A fleet of charter flights ferry thousands of workers to and from this outback mine site. The resort-like housing offers gourmet food, cheap alcohol, swimming and well-equipped gymnasiums.

Australian iron ore mining seems immune from the spending crunch afflicting other commodities as a slowdown in Chinese growth cools a decade-long mining boom.

Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group are bulking up in Western Australia's iron-rich Pilbara desert as if the mining boom had never ended. A place where capital expenditure is still measured in the billions.

The miners are speeding up transformation of an area the size of Peru into a moonscape of rust-red pits linked via thousands of kilometres of rail lines to giant iron ore ports perched on the easternmost edge of the Indian Ocean.

"All this discussion about the end of the mining boom, we don't see it," said Fortescue Chief Executive Nev Power, before leading uniformed workers through dawn exercises at the company's King's mine. "We sell all we mine."

The chief executive, who left school as a teenager to work in a copper mine, laughs and groans along with the workers through repetitions of star jumps.

Alluding to the riches below the ground, Fortescue named this area after ancient Egypt's Valley of the Kings, where Tutankhamun's tomb was unearthed.

Ore lies close to the surface. It is simply shovelled up and carted to rail cars.

So many trains run to and from the mines that some producers now pay farmers flat annual fees to compensate for cows killed crossing tracks.

BARBECUE PITS

Miners are digging so fast, it's hard to keep up. Australia this week revised up its estimate for exports for the fiscal 2013-14 year to a record 650 million tonnes from 615 million just three months ago.

Powered by Chinese demand, iron ore prices have shot up from under US$87 a tonne in September 2012 to around US$134.

On the other hand, copper prices have slumped 12% this year, while gold, nickel and aluminium offer little or no profit margins.

While Australian miners in some of these sectors have lost their jobs, iron ore firms such as Fortescue are still prepared to lavish expenditure on mining hubs.

By dusk, many Fortescue staff change into shorts and t-shirts and head to barbecue pits or one of two cafeterias for dinner. Others will swim laps in the Olympic-size pool, workout in the gym or spend an evening in a private air-conditioned suite surfing the Internet or watching cable TV.

In more populated areas of Australia, where coal is mined, workers have to find their own accommodation sometimes sleeping three to a room.

Shifts in the Pilbara typically run 10 days on and six days off. Most workers fly home to Australian cities, while some opt for the Indonesian resort island of Bali, a short flight away.

PAST SINS

Warnings by Goldman Sachs, UBS and others iron ore would tumble as low as US$70 a tonne in the third quarter proved unfounded. In fact, it ended the quarter 12% higher.

Driving up prices is China, which buys most of Australia's ore and where steel demand is growing by 8% a year.

Fortescue, despite dabbling in copper and gold and looking at shale oil, remains entirely dependent on iron ore.

"If the iron ore price goes, so goes most, if not all their profits," said Eagle Mining analyst Keith Goode.

BHP and Rio Tinto also risk alienating investors traditionally buying their stock for exposure to a diversified portfolio.

Even buffered by its oil and gas business, BHP would have seen its last full-year earnings before interest and tax drop to US$10bil from the US$21.1bil it reported without iron ore.

Rio Tinto, the world's biggest aluminium producer and a top five miner of copper and producer of a dozen other commodities, last year derived all but a fraction of earnings from iron ore.

Citigroup estimates miners have cut capital spending budgets by US$19bil, or 5%, after some disastrous investments in struggling metals like copper and aluminium.

"Iron ore is covering a multitude of sins committed by these companies," said Morningstar analyst Mark Taylor – Reuters. 

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