Isnin, 6 Januari 2014

The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

'Inside Llewyn Davis' is US critics' top choice

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 05:35 PM PST

The movie work is film of the year according to the National Society Of Film Critics in the US.

Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen brothers' tale of a struggling folk singer in early 1960s Greenwich Village, was named the year's best film by the National Society of Film Critics in the United States last weekend, with star Oscar Isaac winning best actor and the filmmaking brothers sharing the award for best director.

The group, made up of 56 prominent movie critics from newspapers, magazines and other media outlets in the US, chose Cate Blanchett as best actress for Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, in which she plays the troubled wife of a financial fraudster. Best supporting actress went to Jennifer Lawrence for the 1970s-set American Hustle, and James Franco won best supporting actor for his portrayal of a gangster drug dealer in the comic drama Spring Breakers.

In choosing Inside Llewyn Davis, the critics broke away from choices by other groups such as the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle, which respectively chose the quirky Her and American Hustle as best film. Earlier last week, the Producers Guild left the well-reviewed film off its list of nominees for the year's best film.

In the film, which also won the critics' prize for best cinematography and also stars Carey Mulligan, Isaac plays the title character Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk musician on a week-long odyssey set against a musical score of T-Bone Burnett. The film was chosen as the year's best by the Boston Society of Film Critics and is nominated for several Golden Globe awards, including best musical or comedy.

The critics awards are among the last in the run-up to the Oscar nominations, to be announced on Jan 16 in Los Angeles. The Academy Awards ceremony is slated for March 2. Joel and Ethan Coen are a filmmaking team known for producing, writing and directing movies from their 1984 debut Blood Simple, Fargo and True Grit to their Oscar winning best picture, No Country For Old Men.

In other awards, the critics chose the lesbian-theme drama Blue Is the Warmest Color as best foreign-language film, and declared a tie in the nonfiction, or documentary category. The Act Of Killing, about septuagenarian Indonesian mass murderer Anwar Congo, in which Indonesian gangsters reenact killings they participated in during the mid-1960s anti-Communist purge, shared the prize with At Berkeley, Frederick Wiseman's look at the northern California university.

Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke shared the best screenplay prize for Before Midnight, the third film in the romantic series starring Delpy and Hawke. Leviathan took the experimental film prize. Special film heritage honours went to the Museum of Modern Art, the British Film Institute, the DVD American Treasures From The New Zealand Film Archive, and Too Much Johnson, the surviving reels of Orson Welles' debut film which were discovered by Cinemazero (Pordenone) and Cineteca del Friuli, funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation and restored by the George Eastman House. — Reuters

All fired up for 'As The Light Goes Out'

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Director Derek Kwok recalls the danger while shooting his new firefighting film.

Given that a firefighting movie Out Of Inferno came out recently from his compatriots Danny and Oxide Pang, you would think that writer-director Derek Kwok would be feeling the heat since As The Light Goes Out tackles the same topic.

Speaking over the telephone from Hong Kong, he says in Cantonese: "There's always pressure but it doesn't come from others. Rather, it's because you always want to do a movie well.

"Anyway, there is plenty of space for different movies to bloom. Just look at the number of cops-and-robbers flicks out there."

As The Light Goes Out stars Nicholas Tse, Shawn Yue, Simon Yam and Hu Jun as firefighters while Out Of Inferno featured Louis Koo and Sean Lau Ching Wan.

Kwok, 37, stresses that what is more important is whether the film in question has something new to offer - and he is confident on that score.

He was the one who came up with the idea for the film, after his firefighter friend had told him: "The greatest danger you face is thick smoke, not fire. When you enter a fire scene, all you hear is the sound of your own breathing and it is pitch black before you."

It was a scenario that intrigued Kwok and one that he felt other fire flicks had not explored.

So before filming started, he spent half a year doing research on the different types of smoke and their characteristics.

And then the challenge was to present that on film.

He says: "Normally when you film smoke, you simply add some smoke to the scene. But here, I wanted smoke to be a feeling, an actor almost. It could be a monster, a ghost, be everywhere all at once, be weaselly or be forceful."

It took a mix of real smoke and special effects to achieve that.

In addition, there were also fires and explosions added to the combustible mix.

The actors did most of the scenes themselves despite the challenging conditions.

Notes Kwok: "When you use stand-ins, it looks very fake, so the actors requested to do the dangerous scenes themselves."

Some were hurt in the process. Yam had to run about while carrying an injured character and ended up pulling his pelvic muscle. It took him nine months to recover.

And Yue hurt his right hand carrying almost 36kg of equipment for a rescue effort.

Still, Kwok says: "I think it was all worth it because we all want it to be realistic when it comes out."

Next up for him is an action thriller, Kowloon Walled City, with action star Donnie Yen.

And his goal each time he makes a film is the same.

"If I get $100 from investors, I hope to make a movie which looks like it cost $300. It's a big challenge and makes it tough for me and the crew but it's what we're chasing after. The biggest hope is that audiences will like my works."

Along with directors such as Pang Ho Cheung and Juno Mak, Kwok proves that there is still life in the Hong Kong film industry.

His low-budget action comedy Gallants (2010) was both a commercial and critical hit and it won the Best Movie accolade at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

And the bachelor remains passionate about Hong Kong films even as the lure of the China market has proved irresistible for many.

He says: "Regardless of where the audience is from, they all want to watch Hong Kong films which have a distinct Hong Kong flavour. Just make movies according to one's conscience, works that are interesting and dignified, and they will find an audience." – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

> As The Light Goes Out is showing in cinemas nationwide.

Alexa Vega is married again

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 08:10 PM PST

The actress tied the knot with actor and singer Carlos Pena Jr of Big Time Rush.

Actors Alexa Vega and Carlos Pena Jr have tied the knot after two months of engagement.

The couple got married on Jan 4 at the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. "Wow... I'm getting excited nervous!!!! Ahhhh!!!" Vega, 25, tweeted.

Pena, 24, who is one of the four members of Big Time Rush, a boy band with its own popular TV show on Nickelodeon, also tweeted a handful of pictures of the duo at the resort.

"We are so thrilled and blessed that we were able to have all of our close friends and family join us on our special day," the couple told People magazine.

This is Vega's second marriage. Back in 2010, the Machete Kills actress married Sean Covel, the producer of Spy Kids, the child-friendly film series that made her famous. The actress filed for divorce in 2012. A year later, she and Pena got engaged.

Carlos Pena stars in the show Big Time Rush, which is also the name of his music group. 


The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

SNL has a new comedian

Posted: 06 Jan 2014 08:10 PM PST

The popular sketch show adds a black female comedian to its list of performers.

Saturday Night Live has hired comedian Sasheer Zamata as a new cast member for the late-night comedy sketch show, a spokeswoman for network NBC said on Monday, months after the programme was criticised for a lack of diversity among its female cast.

Zamata, who stars in her own internet comedy series Pursuit Of Sexiness, will be the first African-American female cast member since Maya Rudolph left Saturday Night Live in 2007. SNL came under criticism in October for its lack of female diversity after cast member Kenan Thompson said he would no longer play black women such as Whoopi Goldberg and Maya Angelou.

The show later spoofed that criticism with a sketch in which guest host Kerry Washington played several African-American figures, including first lady Michelle Obama, whose character has been left out of much of the show's political satire because of casting. Zamata, who has performed with the Upright Citizens Brigade improv comedy troupe, will make her debut on Jan 18.

Saturday Night Live, which has launched the Hollywood careers of Chevy Chase, Mike Myers, Tina Fey and others, added six new members to its cast in September before the beginning of its current 39th season. NBC is owned by Comcast Corp. — Reuters

5 'Downton Abbey' problems Americans can't relate to

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 06:10 PM PST

US fans just can't figure out the popular British show's household quirky issues.

We understand why more than 11 million Americans tuned into Downton Abbey last season – they can't resist the show's upstairs-downstairs look at helpless aristocrats and the plucky servants who feed, clothe and wash them. But another 300 million or so Americans don't watch Downton – perhaps because we have a hard time relating to adult babies who need a vast cast of basement-dwellers to care for them.

Sure, some of the problems on Downton are universal (someone ... is ... dead). But others are so silly that they make our First World Problems (my ... iPhone screen ... is ... cracked) seem like Third World Problems by comparison. Did you pour your own cereal this morning? By Downton standards, that makes you a survivalist.

Here are five of the most unrelatable problems on the Season 4 US premiere of Downton Abbey (with some minor spoilers):

1. A maid has quit, without notice.

The season premiere finds the entire manor touched by a universal tragedy: One of the household staff has decided to go do something else. The very nerve. The decision sets in motion lots of finger-pointing and a dilemma: Who will dress one of the ladies of the house? Here in the modern age, we've got 99 problems, but "Who will dress me" ain't one.

2. A good carpenter is hard to find. It isn't just the upper-class twits who have to worry. So does the help.

One of our favourite members of the assistant class explains that he needs to talk to a visiting carpenter before said carpenter is allowed to work: "He needs to grasp the quality of the tapestry on the chairs before he starts slamming nails into them."

Yes! Exactly what we've been saying.

3. And can no one bring us a suitable pig man?

In order to diversify, the Crawleys decide to bring in pigs to farm. But things get messy, as they do with pigs, so they end up asking a tenant farmer to manage their pig affairs, because of course they do.

4. Mrs Pattimore's apron rips.

Okay, maybe this doesn't sound like a big deal, but understand: It rips right before the older Lady Grantham is about to come downstairs. That's right, THE Lady Grantham, the one who never comes down to the servant's quarters and will melt, Nazis-looking-at-the-Arc style, if she ever sees one of her employees in a ripped apron.

Luckily, the newfangled maid has a newfangled sewing machine and a massive poostorm is averted.

5. Where to hide the band?

Finally, a problem we can all relate to, right? No? Never mind. Rose decides to surprise someone with a band on his birthday, and conspires with Mrs Hughes to hide them downstairs. The servants are surprised to find out the bandleader is not Caucasian, as are the Crawleys.

But a count is so so taken with the bandleader's wit, pinchable cheeks and diminutive size that he immediately decides to adopt him, as well as his brother Willis (ha-ha), to live at his new dig on Park Avenue. Whatchootalkinbout, Lady Grantham? Nothing. This last part only happens in our dreams. — Reuters

>> Watch the trailer of Downton Abbey Season 4 here


The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Deep freeze grips United States, disrupting travel, business

Posted: 06 Jan 2014 08:30 PM PST

CHICAGO/CLEVELAND, Ohio (Reuters) - A blast of Arctic air gripped the vast middle of the United States on Monday with the coldest temperatures in two decades causing at least four deaths, forcing businesses and schools to close and cancelling thousands of flights.

Shelters for the homeless were overflowing due to the severe cold described by some meteorologists as the "polar vortex" and dubbed by media as the "polar pig."

Temperatures were 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 22 degrees Celsius) below average in parts of Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska, according to the National Weather Service.

Babbitt, Minnesota, was the coldest place in the United States on Monday at minus 37F (minus 38.3C), according to the National Weather Service. It was chillier even than Mars in recent days, where NASA's rover Curiosity showed a high temperature on January 2 of minus 32.8F (minus 36C).

The U.S. cold snap outdid freezing weather in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where it was minus 8F (minus 22C), Mongolia at minus 10F (minus 23C) and Irkutsk, in Siberia, at minus 27F (minus 33C).

More than half the flights at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport were cancelled as fuel supplies froze, leaving crews unable to fill aircraft tanks. The afternoon temperature in Chicago was minus 12F (minus 24C).

The polar vortex, the coldest air in the Northern hemisphere that hovers over the polar region in winter but can be pushed south, was moving toward the East Coast where temperatures were expected to fall into Tuesday. The cold airmass originated over Siberia, the National Weather Service said on its website.

The coldest temperatures in years and gusty winds were expected as far south as Brownsville, Texas, and central Florida, the National Weather Service said.

The Northeast experienced unseasonably mild weather and rain, but authorities warned travellers to expect icy roads and sidewalks on Tuesday. Amtrak planned to operate its trains on a reduced schedule throughout the Northeast corridor on Tuesday, a spokesman said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency, announcing that parts of the New York State Thruway in Western New York would be closed due to extreme winter weather conditions there.

At least four weather-related deaths were reported, including a 48-year-old Chicago man who had a heart attack while shovelling snow on Sunday and an elderly woman who was found outside her Indianapolis home early Monday.

In oil fields from Texas to North Dakota and Canada, the severe cold threatened to disrupt traffic, strand wells and interrupt drilling and fracking operations.

It also disrupted grain and livestock shipments throughout the farm belt, curbed meat production at several packing plants and threatened to damage the dormant wheat crop.

In Cleveland, Ohio, where the temperature was minus 3F (minus 19C) and was forecast to drop to minus 6F (minus 21C) overnight, homeless shelters were operating at full capacity. Shelter operators had begun to open overflow facilities to accommodate more than 2,000 people who had come seeking warmth.

"There are also going to be people that won't go into the shelters," said Brian Davis, an organizer with Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. Frostbite can set in within minutes in such low temperatures, according to experts.

The National Weather Service issued warnings for life-threatening wind chills in western and central North Dakota, with temperatures as low as minus 60F (minus 51C).


Some 4,000 flights were cancelled and 7,500 delayed, according to, which tracks airline activity.

Many airlines could not allow their ground crews to remain outdoors for more than 15 minutes at a time. There were hundreds of cancellations by airlines including United, Southwest, and American.

"The fuel and glycol supplies are frozen at (Chicago O'Hare) and other airports in the Midwest and Northeast," said Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for American Airlines Group. "We are unable to pump fuel and or de-ice."

After five days of scrambling to catch up from storm delays, JetBlue said it would halt operations at three airports in the New York area and Boston Logan International Airport from 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT) Monday until 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) on Tuesday to give crews time to rest.

The bitter cold combined with blowing snow was complicating rail traffic as well. Union Pacific, one of the largest railroads and a chief mover of grains, chemicals, coal and automotive parts, warned customers on Monday that the weather was causing delays up to 48 hours across Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Following last week's storm that dumped up to 2 feet (60 cm) of snow on parts of New England, some shoppers opted for the comforts of home rather than venturing out.

Many people did not have the luxury of staying home.

In the western Chicago suburb of Geneva, Beth Anderson, 38, was shovelling the remains of Sunday's snow from her driveway before sunrise on Monday while warming up her pickup truck for the short drive to her job at a mall.

"I just wish I could get the day off too but it would take more than a bit of weather to close down the mall where I work," she said.

(Additional reporting by Marina Lopes, Phil Wahba and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Chicago; Kay Henderson in Des Moines, Iowa; Heide Brandes in Oklahoma; Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Jana J. Pruet in Dallas; Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Writing by Scott Malone and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)

China refutes report it will centralise military command

Posted: 06 Jan 2014 07:05 PM PST

BEIJING (Reuters) - China denied on Tuesday a state media report that said its military will establish a joint operational command structure for its forces to improve coordination between different parts of the defence system.

The English-language China Daily newspaper reported last week that the government would implement a joint command system "in due course" and it had already launched pilot programmes to that effect.

"With regards to this, the Defence Ministry has clarified that the relevant report is groundless," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

The People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, and its sister tabloid, the Global Times, carried the denials on Monday, citing unidentified ministry sources. The ministry posted the People's Daily report on its website on Tuesday.

China has been moving rapidly to upgrade its military hardware, but military analysts say operational integration of complex and disparate systems across a regionalised command structure is a major challenge.

In the past, regional-level military commanders have enjoyed major latitude over their forces and branches of the military have remained highly independent of each other, making it difficult to exercise the centralised control necessary to use new weapons systems effectively in concert.

The Defence Ministry reiterated a statement last November by its spokesman, Yang Yujun, saying that establishing a joint operational command system was a "necessary requirement".

"In this regard, our army has actively explored this," Yang said, adding that it would form a "joint operational command system with Chinese characteristics". He did not elaborate.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Panama Canal proposes joint financing to end cost row

Posted: 06 Jan 2014 04:45 PM PST

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - The head of the Panama Canal proposed on Monday that it and a Spanish-led consortium expanding the major maritime cargo artery plug a financing gap between them, and said the sides had agreed to talks on Tuesday to defuse a row over huge cost overruns.

The governments of Spain and Panama distanced themselves from the dispute, saying it should be resolved by the Panama Canal Authority and the consortium led by Spanish construction company Sacyr.

Halting work on the $5.25 billion project to widen and deepen the canal would be a setback for companies eager to increase cargo volumes passing through the century-old waterway, especially the first-ever liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from the U.S. Gulf coast to Asian markets as well as other bulk commodity shipments.

"We are talking about some additional funding that they would have to put up and we could also provide," Jorge Quijano, the head of the Panama Canal Authority that administers the waterway, told reporters after meeting with visiting Spanish public works minister, Ana Pastor, who is mediating.

"We have set out what we can do to contribute, as long as they also contribute," he added.

There was no immediate word from building consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) on the proposal.

"Tomorrow they will be able to advance on the financing for what remains of the project," Pastor told a news conference.

"There is good will on the part of the canal and I think also on the part of the consortium. Now it depends on them, the parties, to reach agreements," she added, saying she would remain in Panama through Tuesday evening.

Earlier on Monday, Spain's ambassador to Panama, Jesus Silva, said his government would provide no financial help to Sacyr in sorting out the dispute that is overshadowing one of the world's most important maritime cargo routes.

Last week, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli accused the consortium of "great irresponsibility" when it threatened to suspend work on January 20 if the Panama Canal Authority did not pay for big cost overruns.

The GUPC also includes Italy's Salini Impregilo, Belgium's Jan De Nul and Panama's Constructora Urbana.

Arguing that the project to build a third set of locks for the canal had suffered unforeseen setbacks, the GUPC said last week it had faced $1.6 billion in added costs. It blamed the Panama Canal Authority for carrying out flawed studies of the geological terrain.

Martinelli had earlier turned on Spain and Italy, saying their governments had given him assurances that they would finish the $3.2 billion project to build the locks, prompting Pastor to fly to Panama to seek an end to the impasse.

On Monday, both he and Pastor said their governments would stay out of the spat.

"The canal authority and the consortium need to resolve all their problems between themselves," Martinelli said after meeting with Pastor. "We are sure that the meetings being held will resolve any conflict."

"What the Panamanian government and the government of Spain want most, what everyone wants, is for the Panama canal expansion to be finished," he added.

If the parties fail to reach a middle ground to split the difference over the cost overruns, the project could potentially be offered up to other companies.


On Sunday, the PCA maintained a firm stance, again rejecting the GUPC's arguments on the overruns, and referred the consortium to the arbitration panels the two sides agreed on when the contract was signed.

Quijano told Spanish newspaper El Pais that the two-page letter the GUPC had submitted last week did not justify its demands and that the consortium would need to provide more detailed information to make a viable case.

If work on the project did stop, the authority could take steps to ensure it was completed regardless, "be it by a third party or by the PCA," Quijano told the paper.

Sacyr won the canal contract in 2009 with an offer that was considerably lower than that of at least one rival, as well as below the $3.48 billion reference set by the PCA.

Less than six months later, Martinelli, Panamanian Vice President Juan Carlos Varela and other top officials were already worried about how the project was progressing, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks.

The canal expansion has been one of the top priorities for the government of Martinelli, whose term ends mid-year.

Sacyr, whose debts at the end of September were three times its market capitalization, has also staked a lot on the canal expansion.

The company made 55 percent of its revenue outside Spain in the first nine months of 2013, and Panama contributed 25 percent of its 1.3 billion euros ($1.78 billion) in international sales, according to its 2013 nine-month earnings statement.

Sacyr shares closed up 6.01 percent to 3.387 euros per share on Monday, in heavy volume of 12 million shares, but are still down from their level of 3.767 euros per share at the close of trade December 31, before the consortium announced its threat to stop work on the project.

The Panama Canal dispute has put a spotlight on another project in the works in Central America, a $40 billion canal planned in Nicaragua, which is also trying to cash in on the North American energy boom.

In June last year, Nicaragua granted a 50-year concession to the Hong Kong-based HKND Group to design, build and manage a canal aimed at giant oil and gas-bearing supertankers, many heading from the United States to Asia, that will not fit through the Panama Canal even after its expansion.

HKND is currently conducting feasibility studies and construction on the project, viewed by many with scepticism, is not set to begin until at least January 2015.

Manuel Coronel Kautz, the head of the Nicaragua Canal authority, told Reuters on Monday that Panama's impasse would not affect its own project timetable.

"What's going on in Panama is totally off our radar," he said. "The decisions to construct the Nicaragua canal were based on the perspective of serving the vessels that can't pass through the Panama canal."

(Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami, Fiona Ortiz in Madrid and Gabriel Stargardter and Julia Symmes Cobb in Mexico City; Writing by Dave Graham and Simon Gardner; Editing by Nick Zieminski, David Gregorio and Ken Wills)


The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

China Dec auto sales up; Honda, Ford, Toyota report surge

Posted: 06 Jan 2014 12:07 AM PST

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: Ford Motor Co and its local partners in China sold a total of 94,838 vehicles on a wholesale basis in December, an increase of 35% from a year earlier, the company said on Monday.

That compared to a 47% increase in November and a 55% jump in October.

Sales for the whole of 2013 by the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker totalled 935,813 vehicles on a wholesale basis, up 49% from 2012, helped by Ford Focus, the best-selling model in China last year.

Meanwhile Honda Motor Co Ltd and its two local joint ventures sold a record 101,465 automobiles in China in December, up 60.4% from a year earlier, the Japanese automaker said on Monday.

That follows a 101.5% year-on-year jump in November and a 211% surge in October, which were partly boosted by a low base from the year before when sales tanked due to a surge in anti-Japanese sentiment following a territorial dispute between Beijing and Tokyo.

Honda, which introduced its newest version of the Accord and the Jade in September, sold 756,882 vehicles in 2013, up 26.4% from a year earlier and hitting a record high.

Another Japanese automobile company Toyota Motor Corp and its two local joint-venture partners sold about 108,400 automobiles in China in December, up 19.4% from a year earlier, the Japanese automaker said on Monday.

That follows a 40.7% year-on-year jump in November and a 80.6% rise in October, boosted – just like Toyota – by the low base from last year when sales nose-dived due to anti-Japan sentiments.

In 2013, Toyota sold about 917,500 vehicles, up 9.2% from a year earlier, beating with its target of 900,000 vehicles – Reuters. 

PepsiCo's workplace wellness programme fails the bottom line

Posted: 06 Jan 2014 07:23 PM PST

NEW YORK: A long-running and well-respected workplace wellness program at PepsiCo that encourages employees to adopt healthier habits has not reduced healthcare costs, according to the most comprehensive evaluation of a such a program ever published.

Released on Monday in the journal Health Affairs and based on data for thousands of PepsiCoemployees over seven years, the findings "cast doubt on the widely held belief" that workplace wellness programs save employers significantly more than they cost, conclude Soeren Mattke of theRAND Corporation and his co-authors. "Blanket claims of 'wellness saves money' are not warranted."

Workplace wellness programs, a $6 billion-a-year industry, are a favorite of the business community because they promise to improve productivity, cut absenteeism and reduce medical costs by averting expensive illnesses. They aim, for instance, to help employees quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight and have regular screenings for elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, cancer and other conditions, all of which are supposed to reduce healthcare spending.

Half of U.S. employers with at least 50 workers offered a wellness program in 2012, as did more than 90 percent of those with 50,000-plus workers, according to a 2013 RAND report. PepsiCo's was introduced in 2003.

The programs are also a pillar of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law. The ACA allows employers to reward workers who participate in wellness programs, and penalize those who refuse, with discounts or increases of as much as 30 percent of their insurance costs. That can be thousands of dollars per year.

Some workers have objected to the programs because of the penalties. Others say workplace wellness efforts invade their privacy and promote poor medicine.

Last year, for instance, faculty members at Pennsylvania State University rebelled against a workplace wellness program whose "health risk assessment" asked, among other questions, whether male employees examined their testicles every month and whether women employees intended to become pregnant. They also protested its requirement that even healthy young adults receive frequent cholesterol and other screenings, which physicians recommend against, and the steep penalties for opting out: $1,200 a year.

"You're making employees do something that invades their privacy and that goes against medical advice, and now we're seeing (in the PepsiCo study) that it doesn't even save the employer money," said Al Lewis, founder and president of the Disease Management Purchasing Consortium International, which helps self-insured employers and state programs reduce healthcare costs.

PepsiCo did not respond to requests for comment on the study. Megan Broderick, senior manager of the company's health and wellfare benefits and a co-author of the Health Affairs paper, said she could not speak to a reporter without permission.

The vendor that sold PepsiCo the program, the SHPS division of ADP <ADP.O>, also declined to comment, citing "client confidentiality," said ADP spokesman Dick Wolfe.

Maria Ghazal, a vice president of the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executives of large U.S. corporations, said its members are "as enthusiastic as they have ever been about these (workplace wellness) programs," adopting them not only to control healthcare costs but also to boost employee morale and improve recruitment.

"Wellness is an area where you can distinguish yourself," she said. "Employers feel they help attract and retain" valued workers.


For their study, RAND's Mattke and his colleagues - including two PepsiCo executives - examinedPepsiCo's "Healthy Living" program, which has two components.

One, called disease management, helps people with any of 10 chronic illnesses, among them asthma, diabetes and hypertension. They receive regular phone conversations with a nurse about managing the condition.

Disease management produced healthcare savings of $136 per member per month, largely because of a 29 percent reduction in hospital admissions, the researchers found. When hypertension is well controlled, for instance, people are less likely to land in the hospital with a stroke. When asthmatics take their medication, they don't wind up in the ER unable to breathe.

PepsiCo's disease management program "provides a substantial return for the investment made," Mattke said.

The "lifestyle management component" is what most people think of as a workplace wellness program. It includes a health risk assessment in which workers answer questions about such behavior as eating and exercise habits; smoking cessation programs; and educational materials and telephone sessions with a "wellness coach" to help them lose weight, eat healthy, get fit, manage stress or stop smoking.

PepsiCo employees who participated in these lifestyle programs reported a small reduction in absenteeism, but there was no significant effect on healthcare costs. (The study uses costs as a proxy for health, assuming that if people get sick they seek care. But it did not explictly assess the programs' effect on participants' health.)

"Participation in lifestyle management interventions," conclude the PepsiCo researchers, "... has no statistically significant effect on healthcare costs," and employers considering adopting such a program "should proceed with caution."

The PepsiCo study is not the first to find that workplace wellness programs fall short of their promise. Last year, Mattke was the lead author of a RAND report that found that healthcare costs of workers who participated in such a program averaged $2.38 less per month than non-participants in the first year of the program and $3.46 less in the fifth year. Neither difference was statistically significant.

Researchers who are skeptical of wellness programs' benefits are concerned that the ACA - "Obamacare" - allows employers to offer substantial financial rewards and penalties tied to something ineffective.

"The ACA took a bad idea, workplace wellness programs, and turbocharged it by allowing employers to penalize workers," said Lewis, co-author of a new e-book titled "Surviving Workplace Wellness."- Reuters

Tokyo stocks down 0.51% by break

Posted: 06 Jan 2014 07:20 PM PST

TOKYO: Tokyo shares slipped 0.51% Tuesday morning, adding to the previous day's heavy fall, following losses on Wall Street.

The benchmark Nikkei-225 index shed 81.08 points to 15,827.80 by the break, while the Topix index of all first-section shares was down 0.63%, or 8.09 points, to 1,284.06. The Nikkei ended 2.35% down on Monday.

Investors tracked a weak lead from New York where the three main indexes sank following data that showed slowing growth in the US service sector last month and despite news that November new factory orders hit their highest level in more than 20 years.

The Dow fell 0.27%, the S&P 500 declined 0.25% and the Nasdaq lost 0.44%.

Analysts said the Nikkei's sluggish start to 2014 was little surprise after it surged 57% last year – its best performance since 1972.

A slight pick-up in the dollar against the yen helped push the Japanese market briefly into positive territory Tuesday, but it quickly slumped back into the red as investors booked profits.

The greenback bought 104.30 yen against 104.19 yen in New York on Monday but remains well below the five-year high of 105.41 yen seen last week.

"Stocks have definitely entered a consolidation phase; the only question is how long it will last," Tatsunori Kawai, chief strategist at Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires.

"The fundamentals remain in place for more yen weakness over time, but the market could trade more or less flat for several sessions without sparking any concerns about an end to the current rally."

Sony shares slipped 0.27% to 1,797 yen by the break, Toyota was off 0.31% at 6,280 yen, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal was down 0.28% at 348 yen and Japan's biggest bank Mitsubushi UFJ fell 1.31% to 677 yen – AFP. 


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Paul Walker&#39;s car doing over 160kmh: coroner

Posted: 03 Jan 2014 05:55 PM PST

Autopsy results confirmed after a month.

THE car carrying late Fast and Furious star Paul Walker was doing over 160kmh when it crashed, nearly cutting the high-powered vehicle in half, coroners said on Jan 3.

The 40-year-old actor's body was charred beyond recognition in the Nov 30 accident, they said in a report describing the burned-out wreckage in graphic detail.

The US$400,000 2005 car was driven by Walker's friend Roger Rodas, who also died in the crash in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, where they had attended a charity event.

Neither man tested positive for alcohol or drugs including marijuana, cocaine, opiates and methamphetamine, a coroner's report said, adding that autopsies were conducted on Dec 3, but toxicology results were only confirmed on Jan 3.

"The driver was driving a red Porsche Carrera GT ... at an unsafe speed, approximately 100-plus miles per hour," said the report, citing an investigator's account of the crash.

The report said Walker was found "wearing remnants of a black T-shirt, a pair of black jeans and a pair of gray boxer briefs" and was "lying supine in the passenger seat"

"The decedent was charred and in a pugilistic stance," it said, describing the posture of his body after the crash.

A coroner's spokesman said "pugilistic" described "how the muscles of the body contract due to the heat into a 'boxer-like' appearance."

The report said the driver lost control of the car "for unknown reasons," causing it to spin around and hit a curb, after which the driver's side of the Porsche struck a tree and then a light post.

"The force of those collisions caused the vehicle to spin 180 degrees and continue in an easterly direction. The passenger side of the vehicle then struck another tree and burst into flames," it said.

"The vehicle was totalled with major traffic collision damage all around, and it appeared that the vehicle was almost split in half," the report added, saying: "The majority of the vehicle was also charred."

It said Walker's body "cannot be positively identified visually," adding that "due to the extent of the injuries, the decedent (was) not (a) viable candidate for tissue donation."

Rodas also suffered multiple injuries: his skull was fractured and his brain was exposed, the autopsy report said.

Walker's death stunned fans of the high-octane series The Fast and the Furious, and was a major blow to studio giant Universal Pictures, for whom the franchise is a huge money maker.

Universal announced the studio had shut down production of Fast and Furious 7 following Walker's death.

The first Fast and Furious movie appeared in 2001. The series, with its focus on fast cars, tough guys, sexy starlets and exotic locales, is one of Hollywood's most successful global franchises.

The limited-edition Porsche, which can reach 100 miles per hour in less than seven seconds, has a history of being difficult to control, according to the LA Times which said it lacks a stability management system built into other models.

Late-night talk show host Jay Leno had lost control of the same model of car in 2005, media said.

"I just got a little sideways and then it started spinning," he said, cited by the Hollywood Reporter. "It was kind of like driving on ice," he said. – AFP


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Befrienders founder member dies at 76

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

PETALING JAYA: One of the two surviving founder members of The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur, Dr T. Thurairatnam (pic), died yesterday at the age of 76 following a long illness.

Trained as a dentist, Dr Thurai­ratnam had set up his own clinic and was also active later in arbitration.

However, to the depressed and suicidal, he may be better remembered as the former chairman of The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur, from 1983 to 1985.

Mary Raj, the present chairman of The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur, said he continued to have an interest in the organisation even after retirement.

"He kept in touch with what was happening. As a Befriender he had all the qualities required and was a good trainer.

"We always knew we could depend on him for advice.

"We will miss one of our very dedicated founder members, who was our link to the past."

Dr Thurairatnam was one of a group of 13 who set up what was then known as the Churches Counselling Centre in 1970.

Another founder member, Methodist Bishop (now Emeritus) Datuk Dr Denis C. Dutton, provided a room above the hall at Wesley Methodist Church Kuala Lumpur and a phone line, free of charge.

In an earlier interview, Dr Thurairatnam had said that many of the callers had asked whether the counselling service was Christian-oriented.

So in 1972, the volunteers decided to rename themselves The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur.

When the late Rev Chad Varah, who started the Samaritans hotline in Britain, visited Malaysia, Dr Thurairatnam suggested the formation of a world grouping of similar organisations.

He added that the Befrienders in Malaysia would not mind if the new organisation was called The Befrienders International, which is still used today.

Dr Thurairatnam had wanted to set up a counselling helpline after he found out from psychiatrists that many patients did not really need treatment but "just a listening ear".

He helped to raise funds so that the volunteers could move into their own building in Petaling Jaya in 1979.

Today, Befrienders get over 21,000 calls a year on its two hotlines manned by over 100 volunteers.

Dr Thurairatnam leaves behind wife Arulsothy, daughters Sunitha and Lavinia, and grandson Kishar Tarun.

The funeral service will be held at 10am today at Trinity Methodist Church, Petaling Jaya.

800 students to commute 20km daily to temporary class

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

KOTA KINABALU: Some 800 students of SMK Kundasang, who were left in limbo after their school building was declared unsafe, will attend classes at temporary premises 20km away until their new school building is completed in 2016.

The state Education Department has arranged transport for the students to travel to the temporary premises at the former SMK Agama in Ranau.

Department director Jame Alip said the Education Ministry had allocated RM574,000 for the rental of 21 buses to ferry students from Kundasang to Ranau from January this year to April.

However, the temporary premises of former SMK Agama are also under renovation and work can only be completed by September.

Students will still be able to study in parts of the school that can be used.

Jame said the contractor, who started work in September last year to repair the old SMK Agama premises at a cost RM47.7mil, had been delayed due to the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia and Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia examinations.

On the new SMK Kundasang building at a 150ha site in Masilau at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, he said work was scheduled to begin by July and would be completed in 2016.

He said tenders for the RM43mil school building would be called by next month.

The new building will be constructed using a cabin concept as the area is on hilly terrain.

Anwar on Malaysian Bible Society raid: Why take such drastic action?

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

PETALING JAYA: Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has labelled the Selangor Islamic Religious Department's (Jais) raid on the Malaysian Bible Society as "drastic".

"Such drastic action appears anti-Christian. It causes tension. Why such high-handed methods from the religious department?" he said after a talk at the Centre for Reform, Democracy and Social Initiatives yesterday.

Anwar said that if Jais felt any laws had been broken, the religious enforcers should have "called up the relevant parties to get an explanation" rather than simply raiding the premises.

He also called on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to address the issue.

Related stories:

NUCC faces first major test

Muslim NGOs stage protest at stadium

Protesters stay away from Selangor churches

Address deepening conflict over Allah usage, NUCC urged

For God's sake, find a solution once and for all


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Diversity of art at Contemporary Art VI

Posted: 04 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Art is a uniting force at the Contemporary Art VI exhibition, which features individuals from diverse backgrounds.

WHAT does a photographer, a sculptor, an embroiderer, an astrologer and several painters have in common? Ongoing exhibit Contemporary Art VI suggests the answer is, regardless of genre, it's the artists' love of the creative process that drives them forward and brings them together.

The title of the group exhibition, Contemporary Art VI, doesn't come from the fact it is the sixth in its series. Rather it refers to the six artists from various mediums who have come together for this exhibition.

The collection is on display at the trendy arts space d6, located in Sentul East Design Centre, Jalan Sentul in Kuala Lumpur. It features the work of Ben Toh, Gary Lim, Maxine Xie Xian Xin, Alice Yee Yuen Chin, Ellie Ng and Melissa Lin.

Toh had the idea for a group project with the other five artists whom he had worked with while curating a series of pop up exhibitions at The Refinery gallery across the road from d6.

"Curating other people's work made me want to go back into painting, too. After we were offered a space, it seemed like a good time to put something together with a few familiar faces," explains Toh, a graphic designer and photographer by profession.

"Nyonya In Red" by Ellie Ng, made using mixed media on canvas, combining various styles of embroidery and paint. The painting is part of a group collection which is on display at Contemporary VI exhibit at d6, Sentul East in Kuala Lumpur.

Intricate beauty: Nyonya In Red by Ellie Ng, made using mixed media on canvas, combining various styles of embroidery and paint. The painting is part of a group collection which is on display at Contemporary VI exhibit at d6, Sentul East in Kuala Lumpur.

His contribution to the collection, the One Tree series, marks his first foray in painting after a 30-year break. Toh reveals the set of 10 oil paintings were done all in a span of a month last October.

"It's not that I'm prolific, you could say I'm brushing up on my brush technique," he jokes. Like its title, the One Tree series features a single tree in various settings from an empty field, giving shade to an abandoned bicycle or plunked in a surreal magenta tinted world.

A frequent collaborator of Toh, Gary Lim also chose to feature his oil paintings. His Joyscape series uses calligraphy brush style to create a feeling of energy and freedom that almost jumps of the canvas.

"I wanted to give a sense of freedom, of flowing energy through the flexible strokes of calligraphy. That is reflective of life, how we need to be flexible when dealing with challenges and not stick to rigid straight lines," he explains during a recent interview. He adds that "joy" and "freedom" were one and the same to him, as a person requires one to experience the other.

Lim admits that though he has been painting for 15 years, he only became serious about it about two years back.

"I came to realise it's something I have to do before I die. Some people travel, I paint," he says.

'Joyscape' by Gary Lim is part of his abstract series made using calligraphy brush strokes to convey a feeling of freedom and joy.

Joyscape by Gary Lim employs his use of calligraphy brush strokes to convey the feelings of freedom and joy.

For landscape painter Alice Yee Yuen Chin, it was travel that inspired her to paint. During a holiday to Pangkor Island in Perak, Yee was so moved by what she saw that she attempted to commit it to canvas. That started her love affair with painting the sea and skies.

The result of that love, her Skyscapes and Seascapes series, are both on display at Contemporary Art VI.

"I love how the sky reflects the sea and vice versa. It is particularly beautiful at sunrise, when the sun seems to link the two bodies," shares Yee, as she points to several of her favourites which feature the rising sun.

The idea of love for one's art was a running theme among those featured in the collection.

Maxine Xie Xian Xin, who came from a background in advertising, returned to sculpting after she followed her heart to the Netherlands and had the chance to fall in love again with art. The daughter of a carpenter, Xie picked up the craft by literally picking up leftover wood and paint from her father's workshop and seeing how it could translate her imagination into something physical.

Nowadays she works primarily in clay and wood, under the moniker Magical Maxine, doing what she calls "making something special from the mundane".

Her clay sculptures and busts as pottery add to the diversity of the collection which also includes mixed media embroidery/paintings by Ellie Ng and abstract paintings by Melissa Lin.

Ng describes her mix media piece Nyonya In Red as updated version of Scents Of Mandala, one of her first pieces from her college art student days.

She reveals that the nyonya's baju kurung was made using a collage of lace and jewellery while her make-up was painted on, in a case of art imitating life.

"I use textile and fashion elements a lot in my work. As an art teacher, I find it's a good chance to practice what I teach and show my students what can be done with the medium," she says.

Elsewhere, the intriguing Lin describes her work as the combination of her travels, her interactions with her astrology clients, and a cathartic release.

"For me, painting is an organic process: I begin start working on it, then see what the art says to me and from there I take the next step. There's actually not much planning involved," she concludes.

The Contemporary Art VI group exhibition is showing at d6, Sentul East, 801, Jalan Sentul, in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur till Jan 12. The gallery opens 11am-4pm on weekends, viewing on weekdays is by appointment. Contact Ben Toh (012-205 0716) or Gary Lim (012-218 8851) to make an appointment.

Istana Budaya sets the stage for 2014

Posted: 04 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Musicals dominate in this year's programme.

ISTANA Budaya (IB) will offer a cultural smorgasbord of sorts for its 2014 season, with a whole bunch of pop and rock singers, Broadway musicals, classical music, plays and dance extravaganzas gracing the stage.

Never has there been so much variety offered by Malaysia's premiere performing arts venue, which opened in 1999.

The headliners are Grammy award-winning American singer-songwriters Bruno Mars and Ne-yo who will present An Evening With Bruno Mars And Ne-yo on May 29. Expect to hear hits such as Marry You, Grenade, Let Me Love You, and Because Of You.

Ne-Yo has written songs for R&B's biggest stars, including Beyonce, Rihanna and Usher, while Mars is responsible for hits from Cee Lo Green, B.o.B and Flo Rida.

Both artistes have performed separately in Kuala Lumpur before.

The award-winning musical

High on harmony: The award-winning musical Jersey Boys, which tells the colourful story of US pop group Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, makes its Malaysian debut at Istana Budaya in April.

Locally, the legendary papa rock, Ramli Sarip will belt it out in Konsert 45 Tahun Seniman Ramli Sarip (Oct 17-19). As the frontman of the Singapore-based rock group Sweet Charity, Ramli is a much loved rocker with an illustrious solo career his name.

Kicking off the season is evergreen singer Salamiah Hassan in her first solo concert, Konsert Gelombang Salamiah Hassan (Jan 10-12). Produced by Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman, the concert, her first since her career began, will see Aubrey Suwito as music director, Raja Malek as art director and Pat Ibrahim as director of performance.

The songstress hit the spotlight in the 1970s when she entered RTM's Bakat TV talent show in 1971 and caught the eye of composer Datuk Ahmad Nawab. Since then, she has cut several albums, sung in nightclubs and sang jingles for television commercials, earning her the title Jingle Queen in the 1980s.

Musicals tend to cut the generation divide hence fans can look forward to an entertaining time in the coming months.

According to IB director-general, Datuk Juhari Shaarani, the international musicals are intended to draw in tourists, in line with the Visit Malaysia Year 2014.

"We're also getting big names from Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia to cater for a wider audience and to attract fans from the region," he said at the unveiling of the 2014 programme here recently. "Some producers promise all kinds of things but pull out last minute and there is nothing we can do about it. Last year, 14 productions pulled out so we give preference to groups who have a good record with us."

Ramli Sarip is set to roll back the years with his 'Konsert 45 Tahun Seniman Ramli Sarip' series in October.

Ramli Sarip is set to roll back the years with his Konsert 45 Tahun Seniman Ramli Sarip series in October.

To ensure producers keep to their word, they are now required to place a deposit to book the performance dates so the chances of withdrawing are less. IB recorded ticket sales of a little more than RM9mil for 2013 through 33 musical, theatre and dance performances.

Among the blockbuster musicals are Jersey Boys (April 10-20), Mystic India (Aug 15-24) and Mamma Mia (Dec 15-25), which makes a return.

Jersey Boys traces the story of four blue-collar kids who became one of the greatest successes in pop music history. The musical, winner of the Best Musical Tony Award on Broadway, in London and Australia, takes the audience up the charts, across the country and behind the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

Featuring enchanting music, spectacular aerials and perfectly synchronised movement, Mystic India journeys from ancient India through present, bringing Bollywood tradition to life.

Making a return after a sold-out concert in 2008 is Mamma Mia. Set on a colourful Greek island, the plot serves as a background for a wealth of Abba songs.

A young woman is about to be married and discovers that any one of three men could be her father. She invites all three to the wedding without telling her mother, Donna, who was once the lead singer of Donna and the Dynamos.

Other musicals include Suara Kita (March 3-9), featuring Awie, Erra Fazira dan Ziana Zain; Indonesian production Matah Ati (April 25-27); Rejang Sebuah Muzikal, which revolves around the inhabitants along the Rejang River in Sarawak; and Xuan Zhuang - A Journey To The West The Musical (Oct 27-Nov 9).

Although not yet in the calendar, rumours are abound that P. Ramlee The Musical will also be restaged sometime this year.

Music-wise, look out for Konsert Orkestra Tradisional Malaysia Bersama Bintang (Jan 24), which showcases Datuk Jeffrydin, Datuk A. Rahman Hassan, Datuk L. Ramlie and A. Halim; Hands Percussion's The Next (Jan 21-23), featuring guitarist Man Kidal and Taiwanese aboriginal singer Sangpuy Katetapan; Konsert Gemersik Ahmad Jais Dalam Kenangan (Aug 28-31); Asia Pacific Electone Festival (Sept 27) and An Evening With James Bond (Nov 14-15).

Other highlights include a theatre adaptation of Indonesian novelist Hamka's Di Bawah Lindungan Kaabah featuring actors Adi Putra, Izzue Islam, Erra Fazira and Ziela Jalil (May 9-18). Also expected to stir the audience are Teater Projek Kahwin (June 6-14) and Teater Isabella (June 21-27) starring Aaron Aziz.

Dance lovers can look forward to the International Ballet Gala 2014 (Aug 9-10), Inspitari (Oct 10-11), Yunnan Showcase (Nov 21-23) and Dramatari Gema Zafana (Dec 5-7).

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Bluefin tuna price nosedives in Tokyo

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

TOKYO: Sushi restaurateur Kiyoshi Kimura has paid 7.36 million yen (RM224,000) for a 230kg bluefin tuna in the year's celebratory first auction at Tokyo's Tsukiji market, just 5% of what he paid a year earlier despite signs that the species is in serious decline.

Kimura's record winning bid last year of 154.4 million yen (RM4.7mil) for a 222kg fish drew complaints that prices had soared way out of line, even for an auction that has always drawn high bids. Kimura also set the previous record of 56.4 million yen (RM1.7mil) at the 2012 auction.

The high prices do not necessarily reflect exceptionally high fish quality.

"I'm glad that the congratulatory price for this year's bid went back to being reasonable," said Kimura, whose Kiyomura Co operates the popular Sushi-Zanmai restaurant chain.

Environmentalists say growing worldwide consumption of bluefin tuna is leading to its depletion, and that those in charge of managing fisheries for the species are failing to take responsible action to protect it.

Japanese eat about 80% of all bluefin tuna caught worldwide, though demand is growing as others acquire a taste for the tender, pink and red flesh of the torpedo-shaped speedsters of the sea.

There were 1,729 tuna fish sold in yesterday's first auction for 2014, according to data from the city government, down from 2,419 last year. The 32,000 yen (RM976) per kilo paid for the top fish this year pales in comparison to the 700,000 yen (RM21,350) per kilo last year. — AP

US sends envoy to Sri Lanka to discuss war crimes

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

COLOMBO: A top US envoy will travel to Sri Lanka to discuss allegations of war crimes ahead of a UN review of Colombo's human rights record, officials said.

US Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice Stephen Rapp will spend five days in Sri Lanka discussing rights and reconciliation following the decades-long separatist war, the US State Department said.

The visit comes as the UN Human Rights Council meets in March to discuss whether Sri Lanka has shown progress towards reining in alleged rights abuses and investigated suspected war crimes.

Sri Lanka has resisted calls to investigate allegations that up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed by the security forces during the final push that crushed the rebels.

UN rights chief Navi Pillay has warned Sri Lanka that it faces an international probe into the allegations if it has not shown progress by March. — AFP


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