Selasa, 11 Mac 2014

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro


Return of H7N9 flu driving poultry dealers out of business

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

HANGZHOU: The handful of poultry dealers lingering at Chengbei Market have had little to do since Chinese authorities shut down their livelihoods after the H7N9 bird flu began stalking the country again, killing scores of people this year.

They spend their days counting the losses to their business, gambling at cards and cleaning the cages which once held thousands of live birds, hoping the government will allow the trade to resume.

"The chickens lay every day and I can't sell the eggs. We are losing money," said Li Guiying, local boss of the Xuancheng Shandi Poultry Co.

The H7N9 avian influenza has returned to China with a vengeance, sickening 226 people and killing 72 so far this year, as the government girds for what is likely to be a long battle to contain what one World Health Organisation (WHO) official has labelled an "epidemic".

China has responded by aggressively closing down poultry markets in locations believed to be at threat from the virus, raising an outcry from the agricultural industry and consumers with a taste for freshly slaughtered food.

But in the longer term, experts say the government needs to encourage a shift in behaviour of consumers and clean up the nation's food supply chain, which has been hit by a series of health safety scandals.

Ultimately, fears exist that the H7N9 virus could mutate and become easily passed between people, rampaging through the world's most populous country and crossing its borders to spread around the planet.

After subsiding following the first outbreak early last year, H7N9 resurfaced in the autumn. The figures for the first two months of the year exceed the tallies of 144 infections and 46 deaths for the whole of 2013.

Poultry dealers accuse the government of shutting the markets without scientific evidence and demand compensation for the birds they were forced to slaughter or sell at rock-bottom prices. — AFP

Vietnam expands search Mission to find missing jet

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

HANOI: Massive search for the missing Malaysian plane will be expanded to scour mountainous and forest areas, Vietnam News Agency (VNA) quoted Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army, Lt Gen Vo Van Tuan as saying.

"We have informed units and localities on land, including Military Zones 5, 7 and 9, and localities in the western, southeastern and central regions to deploy forces to seek the plane," Tuan said yesterday while instructing the operation.

Units managing border areas were requested to increase coordination with Lao and Cambodian forces in searching border areas in their territories, he said.

Two hotlines were also set up at the command office in Phu Quoc Island, southern Kien Giang province to promptly provide information relating to the search.

Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Transport Pham Quy Tieu told a press conference on Phu Quoc the same day that Vietnamese forces will continue the operation on a wider area.

Accordingly, the search will be expanded to the east of the initially suspected area, 277km from Tho Chu Island in Kien Giang province, and the south and west of Con Dao Island, 185km off the coast of the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau.

Tieu urged the deployment of aircraft and naval ships for the operation, affirming that Vietnam will do its utmost to seek the missing airplane.

He also asked the Kien Giang province to continue to urge local fishermen for support and be prepared if there were any objects that appear to be from the plane are found.

Meanwhile, Phu Quoc Inter-national Airport was requested to be prepared for rescue work, if necessary.

The naval ship HQ888 has examined waters off southern Ba Ria Vung Tau province without finding any fragments spotted by a Hong Kong commercial aircraft on Monday, according to the National Committee for Search and Rescue.

The Boeing 777-200 plane operated by Malaysia Airlines left Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) for Beijing at 12.41am on Saturday, and lost contact with authorities at around 1.30am the same day.

The aircraft was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members. — Bernama

Faith healer jailed for molesting boy

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A FAITH healer who admitted molesting a 13-year-old boy in his office was jailed for two years.

Mohd Noor Hamid, 65, was hired by the youngster's parents to provide spiritual treatment for their son.

On Aug 21 last year, his mother and elder sister took him to see Mohd Noor to celebrate his birthday.

The pair were meant to go for a meal together at a nearby restaurant. But instead, they stayed alone in his office at Rawatan Ruqyah Syariah on Joo Chiat Road. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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Ukraine appeals to the West as Crimea turns to Russia

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 08:55 PM PDT

SEVASTOPOL/KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's government appealed for Western help on Tuesday to stop Moscow annexing Crimea but the Black Sea peninsula, overrun by Russian troops, seemed fixed on a course that could formalise rule from Moscow within days.

With their own troops in Crimea effectively prisoners in their bases, the new authorities in Kiev painted a sorry picture of the military bequeathed them by the pro-Moscow president overthrown two weeks ago. They announced the raising of a new National Guard to be drawn from volunteers among veterans.

The prime minister, heading for talks at the White House and United Nations, told parliament in Kiev he wanted the United States and Britain, as guarantors of a 1994 treaty that saw Ukraine give up its Soviet nuclear weapons, to intervene both diplomatically and militarily to fend off Russian "aggression".

But despite NATO reconnaissance aircraft patrolling the Polish and Romanian borders and U.S. naval forces preparing for exercises in the Black Sea, Western powers have made clear that, as when ex-Soviet Georgia lost territory in fighting in 2008, they have no appetite for risking turning the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War into a military conflict with Moscow.

Diplomacy seemed restricted to a war of words. The U.S. and Russian foreign ministers did speak by telephone. But the U.S. State Department said Moscow's position offered no room for negotiation and the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning U.S. financial aid to the "illegitimate regime" in Kiev, which it calls ultra-nationalists with "Nazi" links.

That language echoed ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, who gave a news conference in Russia insisting that he was still the legitimate head of state. Toppled by protests sparked by his rejection of closer ties with the European Union in favour of a deal from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yanukovich blamed his enemies for provoking Crimean secession.

Parliament in Kiev, whose position is backed by Western governments, dismisses plans for a referendum on Sunday to unite the region with Russia as illegitimate and resolved on Tuesday to dissolve Crimea's regional assembly if by Wednesday it had not scrapped the plebiscite. There seems no chance that it will.

Moscow, which to widespread scorn denies its troops have any role in the takeover of the once Russian-ruled region, says people in Crimea, a small majority of whom are ethnic Russians, should have the right to secede. It has made much of anti-Russian sentiment among some Ukrainian nationalists - though many native Russian speakers in Ukraine are wary of Putin.

SANCTIONS, REFERENDUM

U.S. lawmakers are preparing sanctions against Russia and European Union leaders could impose penalties, such as bans on visas for key officials, as early as Monday.

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Tuesday he would introduce a bill that would include $150 million in aid for Ukraine, sanctions and backing for a shift in funding for the International Monetary Fund.

The bill echoes one passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week in backing $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine, but it would also authorize $50 million for democracy, governance and civil society assistance, as well as $100 million for enhanced security cooperation for Ukraine and other states in Central and Eastern Europe.

However, by the time the West acts, Crimea could already have voted - in a referendum not recognised by Kiev or the West - to seek union with Russia. The ballot paper offers no option to retain the status quo of autonomy within Ukraine.

Voters among the two million population must choose either direct union with Moscow or restoring an old constitution that made Crimea sovereign with ties to Ukraine. On Tuesday, the regional assembly passed a resolution that a sovereign Crimea would sever links to Kiev and join Russia anyway.

The Russian parliament has already approved the accession in principle of Crimea, which was handed to Ukraine by Soviet rulers 60 years ago. Still, it is not clear whether or how soon Putin would formalise such a union as he engages in a complex confrontation with the West for geostrategic advantage.

In disputes with Georgia, Russia has granted recognition to small breakaway states on its borders, a process critics view as annexation in all but name. It fiercely criticised Western recognition of the independence of Kosovo from its ally Serbia - a process which Crimea's parliament nonetheless cited as a legal precedent for its own forthcoming declaration of independence.

There seems little chance that Crimea's new leaders, who emerged after Yanukovich's overthrow as Russian-backed forces took control of the peninsula, will fail to get the result they want. A boycott by ethnic Tatars, 12 percent of the regional population and deeply wary after centuries of persecution by Moscow, will have little effect as there is no minimum turnout.

In Sevastopol, the Crimean home port of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, Valery Medvedev, the chairman of the city's electoral commission, made no pretence at concealing his own preference:

"We're living through historic times. Sevastopol would love to fulfil its dream of joining Russia. I want to be part of Russia and I'm not embarrassed to say that," he told reporters.

There is little sign of campaigning by those opposed to the government line. Billboards in Sevastopol urge people to vote and offer a choice of two images of Crimea - one in the colours of the Russian flag, the other emblazoned with a swastika.

UKRAINIAN TROOPS

It is unclear whether thousands of Ukrainian servicemen, many of whom are native Crimeans but are effectively trapped on their bases and ships by Russian troops and local militia allies, will take part in the referendum.

One sailor, who declined to be named, said he would only vote if he got the order from his commander to do so, a position echoed by many other servicemen spoken to by Reuters. They all said they would vote for Crimea to remain part of Ukraine.

Elena Prokhina, an ethnic Russian planning to vote for union with Moscow, said she feared the referendum could lead to conflict with others in Ukraine, notably nationalists in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country of 46 million.

"Knowing what I know about the fanaticism of the western Ukrainians, we will have to defend our rights after the referendum," she said. "They won't just let us leave."

Around Sevastopol, Ukrainian military facilities remained under virtual siege on Tuesday. At an air defence base outside Sevastopol, dozens of men who looked like Russian soldiers were camping outside the gate, while an armed Ukrainian serviceman could be seen pacing the base's roof keeping a wary eye on them.

In the port, two Ukrainian warships remained on alert but unable to set sail because of Russian vessels and a cable strung across the harbour by Russian forces. Relatives of the sailors come to the dockside every day to converse and provide food.

A Ukrainian officer said there was a fragile understanding between the two fleets not to escalate the situation, but he said nerves were frayed: "The Russians have not troubled us until now," he said. "But all it takes is one order and they will open fire. We won't be able to hold out long".

CALL FOR HELP

In parliament, the acting defence minister said that of some 41,000 infantry mobilised last week, Ukraine could field only about 6,000 combat-ready troops, compared with more than 200,000 Russians deployed on the country's eastern borders. The prime minister said the air force was outnumbered 100 to one.

Acting president Oleksander Turchinov warned against provoking Russia, saying that would play into Moscow's hands, as he announced plans to mobilise a National Guard, though he gave little detail of its size or expected functions.

Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, who will visit the White House and United Nations Security Council this week, said the 1994 treaty under which Ukraine agreed to give up its Soviet nuclear weapons obliged Russia to remove troops from Crimea and also meant Western powers should defend Ukraine's sovereignty.

"What does the current military aggression of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory mean?" he said.

"It means that a country which voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons, rejected nuclear status and received guarantees from the world's leading countries is left defenceless and alone in the face of a nuclear state that is armed to the teeth.

"I say this to our Western partners: if you do not provide guarantees, which were signed in the Budapest Memorandum, then explain how you will persuade Iran or North Korea to give up their status as nuclear states."

Parliament passed a resolution he had proposed calling on the United States and Britain, co-signatories with Russia of that treaty to "fulfil their obligations ... and take all possible diplomatic, political, economic and military measures urgently to end the aggression and preserve the independence, sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine".

But Western powers have been careful to note that Ukraine, not being a member of NATO, has no automatic claim on their help and Ukrainian officials gave no details on what they hoped for. The wording of the 1994 treaty indicates that help is only required if Ukraine is threatened by a nuclear attack.

(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk, Richard Balmforth and Ron Popeski in Kiev; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Peter Graff and Michael Perry)

Indonesia's next leader unlikely to ease tough mineral export rules

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 08:45 PM PDT

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's next president is unlikely to make major changes to the country's controversial mining rules, after major political parties backed an export ban that has led miners to halt $6 billion in annual mineral exports.

The broad political support will disappoint miners, like Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Newmont Mining Corp, that may have been hoping the tough new rules were only temporary measures imposed by a lame duck administration.

Political parties representing presidential front runners for the July election told Reuters they support the current government's moves to ban mineral exports and tax concentrate shipments, aimed at forcing miners to build smelters in Indonesia.

Freeport has cut copper output by 60 percent due to a prolonged dispute over the export tax imposed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is barred from running for a third term.

Opinion polls show Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) as the most popular presidential pick. If he decides to run, his main competition will likely be ex-general Prabowo Subianto of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and wealthy businessman Aburizal Bakrie of the Golkar Party.

"Golkar will not alter (the export ban policy), instead we will underline the importance of value-added (commodities)," Harry Azhar Azis, a senior member of the Golkar Party's economic team, told Reuters.

Gerindra said the president's handling of the new mining rules had caused widespread investor confusion, but the political party would not change the mining rules if its candidate, Prabowo, wins the presidency.

"We want there to be a consistent message that tells people like Freeport and Newmont to just do it (and build smelters). There may be short term pain, but in the medium to long term it will be better for the economy," Hashim Djojohadikusomo, Prabowo's brother and a senior party member, told Reuters.

PDI-P also fully supported the new mining laws and would not significantly revise them, said Hasto Kristianto, the party's deputy secretary general.

Freeport, whose Indonesian unit runs the world's fifth-largest copper mine, has refused to pay an escalating export tax introduced on January 12 as part of a package of new mining rules, and has been in talks with the government on the issue.

Maintaining the mineral ore export ban would provide legal certainty for foreign mining firms, like Russia's United Company Rusal, that are looking to expand into Indonesia and invest billions of dollars on new smelters.

"If Indonesia sticks strictly to the rules, the investment will come," said Maxim Sokov, first deputy CEO of En+, the parent company of Rusal, which signed an MOU last month to invest as much as $3 billion in smelters.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Thatcher and Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Richard Pullin)

Australian state rejects Glencore bauxite mine bid

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 08:35 PM PDT

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's Queensland state government has rejected proposals from Swiss giant Glencore Xstrata and a local firm to mine bauxite, fearing that neither would develop the mine swiftly enough to benefit the local indigenous community.

The state opened the Aurukun deposit to bids in late 2012, attracting interest from five companies, including Rio Tinto, and receiving final bids from Glencore and Australian Indigenous Resources Pty Ltd (AIR).

"After carefully considering the proposals, the government is not satisfied that either bid ... could deliver what the government had hoped for in a timely manner," Queensland deputy premier Jeff Seeney said in a statement on Wednesday.

The state remains open to proposals that would open a mine "in a timely fashion" and "for the benefit of the local community", he said, without specifying how quickly it wants a mine developed.

Bauxite is used to make alumina, which is then refined into aluminium.

Bauxite prices have improved on the back of a recent ban on exports from Indonesia, the main supplier to top aluminium producer China, but the Aurukun bid came at a time when most miners, facing weaker commodity prices, had retreated from building any mines from scratch.

The Aurukun deposit, where reserves could support production of 6.5 million tonnes a year or the equivalent of nearly 10 percent of China's bauxite imports in 2013, has long been stuck on the drawing board. It was held until 2004 by Alcan of Canada, which failed to develop it over 29 years.

It was then awarded to Aluminium Corp of China (Chalco), which planned to develop the mine as part of a $2.5 billion alumina and aluminium project, but gave it up after the global financial crisis spread to commodities markets.

Aurukun is mainly an Aboriginal community of about 1,000 people in the remote area of Cape York, near similar deposits mined by Rio Tinto.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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No more hope for 'Raising Hope'

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 06:45 PM PDT

The TV sitcom has been cancelled after four seasons.

Fox has cancelled Raising Hope after four seasons. The sitcom's last episode will run as a two-part, one-hour finale on April 4 in the United States.

The night will kick off at 9 pm, with the episode How I Met Your Mullet, in which guest star Lesley Nicol (Downton Abbey) plays Jimmy (Lucas Neff) and Sabrina's (Shannon Woodward) new maid.

Then, in separate a half-hour titled The Father Daughter Dance, Virginia's (Martha Plimpton) dad (guest star Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development) returns to Natesville with a surprise for her and Burt (Garret Dillahunt), including a musical performance by Kenny Loggins (guest starring as himself).

"On behalf of myself, Greg Garcia and Raising Hope's amazing cast and crew, I would like to thank our audience for tuning in and supporting us over the last four seasons," executive producer Mike Mariano said in a statement. "We planned our Season 4 finale with this possibility in mind, and hope our loyal fans enjoy the way we've chosen to say goodbye to the Chances and to Natesville. Thanks again, and we'll see you in syndication."

Kevin Reilly, chairman of entertainment and Joe Earley, chief operating officer, Fox Broadcasting Company added, "Getting to know and love the Chance family on Raising Hope has been a sweet, hilarious ride. Thanks to the incredibly talented cast – along with Greg, Mike and the entire crew – for making us laugh for four fantastic seasons."

Raising Hope, created by Garcia (The Millers), premiered in the fall of 2010. Starring Emmy Award-winners Plimpton and Cloris Leachman – along with Garret Dillahunt, Neff, Woodward and Gregg Binkley – the series follows a lovingly dysfunctional family as they raise an adorable yet unexpected addition to the family: a little girl named Hope.

In 2011, Plimpton and Leachman were both nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards for their leading (Plimpton) and guest (Leachman) roles on the show. — Reuters

'The Following', 'Brookly Nine-Nine' and more live on

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 11:50 PM PDT

Fox has renewed a string of popular shows under their belt.

The crime drama headlined by Kevin Bacon will have a third season, which Fox will unveil in early 2015. The network has also given the greenlight for new seasons of New Girl, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Mindy Project.

In spite of a decline in ratings this season, The Following is slated to return to Fox for a new season, still starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the comedy on everyday operations at a fictional NYPD precinct, has also been guaranteed a spot in the 2014-2015 line-up. Since premiering in September 2013, the series has had a particularly eventful first season. Last January, in something of an upset, Brooklyn Nine-Nine took home two Golden Globes (best comedy series and best actor in a comedy series, for Andy Samberg). Less than one month later, the show attracted 15 million viewers in its episode aired just after the Super Bowl.

Also included in the post-Super Bowl programme this year, New Girl attracted 26 million viewers on the evening of the event. The comedy, which stars Zooey Deschanel as a cheerful school teacher, will return for its fourth season.

Finally, Fox has also renewed The Mindy Project, which will enter its third season. The comedy focuses on the life of Dr Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling), an eccentric doctor looking for her soulmate.

These four shows join Glee, The Simpsons, Bones, and Sleepy Hollow, which will also be renewed, as Fox announced previously. To find out the future of the rest of the current Fox line-up, namely the freshman series Almost Human and Rake, fans will have to wait until May 12, when the network will present its official 2014/2015 schedule in a press conference. — AFP Relaxnews

Katie Holmes is going back to TV

Posted: 09 Mar 2014 07:30 PM PDT

The actress will be joining a yet untitled drama series.

Katie Holmes may return to television in her first series regular role since Dawson's Creek. The actress has joined ABC's untitled drama pilot from Richard LaGravenese, a representative for Holmes told TheWrap.

Set in New York City, the project revolves around the love and rivalry between two equally matched, powerful socialites who play out their obsessive attraction and seduction of each other through their manipulation of others.

Holmes will play Ann, an educated New York blueblood who has never used her place in society for power. Smart, stylish and humble, she runs a charity with her husband. She's drawn into war with fellow socialites after they target her and her marriage. Rufus Sewell also stars as Philip, Ann's biggest enemy.

Aside from her six seasons on Dawson's Creek, Holmes' TV credits include Reelz Channel's The Kennedys miniseries and a recurring guest role on CBS's How I Met Your Mother. Her film credits include Batman Begins, Thank You For Smoking, and the upcoming films Miss Meadows and The Giver.

LaGravenese – who wrote the screenplays for HBO's Behind The Candelabra, the films Beautiful Creatures and Water For Elephants, among others – will write and executive-produce the project. Erwin Stoff (The Matrix), Ilene Staple and Wren Arthur (A Prairie Home Companion) will executive produce with ABC Studios. — Reuters

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The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

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‘Noah’ faces a flood of fatwas in the Middle East

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 11:25 PM PDT

Hollywood's Noah film adaptation starring Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins gets banned in Qatar, Bahrain and UAE ahead of its premiere.

Three Arab countries have banned the Hollywood film Noah on religious grounds before its worldwide premiere and several others are expected to follow suit, a representative of Paramount Pictures told Reuters on Saturday.

Islam frowns upon representing holy figures in art and depictions of the Prophet Mohammad in European and North American media have repeatedly sparked deadly protests in Islamic countries over the last decade, fanning cultural tensions with the West.

"Censors for Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) officially confirmed this week that the film will not release in their countries," a representative of Paramount Pictures, which produced the US$125mil (RM410mil) film starring Oscar winners Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins, told Reuters.

"The official statement they offered in confirming this news is because 'it contradicts the teachings of Islam'," the representative said, adding the studio expected a similar ban in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait.

The film will premiere in the United States on March 28.

Noah, who in the Bible's Book Of Genesis built the ark that saved his family and many pairs of animals from a great flood, is revered by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. An entire chapter in the Quran is devoted to him.

Cairo's Al-Azhar, the highest authority of Sunni Islam and a main centre of Islamic teaching for over a millennium, issued a fatwa, or religious injunction, against the film on Thursday.

"Al-Azhar ... renews its objection to any act depicting the messengers and prophets of God and the companions of the Prophet (Mohammad), peace be upon him," it announced in a statement.

They "provoke the feelings of believers ... and are forbidden in Islam and a clear violation of Islamic law," the fatwa added.

Noah, whose official video trailer depicts a burly Crowe wielding an axe and computer-animated geysers swamping an army of sinners hoping to board his ark, has also stoked religious controversy in the US. 

Jerry A. Johnson, president of a conservative National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) group, said last month he wanted to "make sure everyone who sees this impactful film knows this is an imaginative interpretation of Scripture, and not literal."

Paramount responded by agreeing to issue a disclaimer on advertising for the film.

"While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide," the advisory reads. – Reuters

Idris Elba might play 'Jungle Book' tiger

Posted: 09 Mar 2014 07:30 PM PDT

The actor is most likely to voice the menacing tiger in Disney's live-action remake of the classic cartoon.

Move over, Richard Parker! Disney has found the perfect actor to voice the killer tiger Shere Khan in Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book, as Idris Elba is nearing a deal to star in the live-action movie, an individual familiar with the project has told TheWrap.

Disney's Jungle Book movie, which was written by Justin Marks, will be a mix of live-action and VFX. The studio is in a race with Warner Bros to bring Rudyard Kipling's classic tale to the big screen. WB's project suffered a setback when Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu bowed out.

Jungle Book follows Mowgli, a young orphan raised in the jungle by wild animals. Shere Khan is the tiger who stalks the boy and decides to kill him when he becomes a threat.

Elba, who recently played Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, is preparing to star in Cary Fukunaga's Beasts Of No Nation. The news was first reported by Deadline. — Reuters

David Fincher working on Steve Jobs biopic

Posted: 09 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

The filmmaker is going back to the world of tech with a new film. 

Having put Mark Zuckerberg on the big screen in The Social Network, American director David Fincher is getting back into the world of tech and data with a biopic of Steve Jobs.

The film will be based on Walter Isaacson's biography Steve Jobs, first published late 2011 following the death of Apple's Mac and iPhone champion.

A positive decision by the filmmaker would reunite The Social Network trio of Fincher, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and producer Scott Rudin.

Their interpretation of Zuckerberg's rise to Facebook fame and fortune won three Oscars in 2011.

Design genius to some, controversial for others, Jobs has already been given a feature film biography by way of Jobs.

That 2013 picture focused on the Apple impresario's career up to the iPod's debut in 2001. Ashton Kutcher was in the title role, with Joshua Michael Stern directing.

One common criticism related to its portrayal of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

The computer engineer had instead decided to consult on Sony's upcoming film; he had previously approved of the portrayal of various Apple personalities in 1999 film Pirates Of Silicon Valley, while autobiography iWoz: From Computer Geek To Cult Icon was published 2006.

Fincher makes his return toward the end of 2014 with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl. – AFP Relaxnews

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The Star Online: Nation

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Missing MH370: Kin getting documents in order to make Malaysia trip

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

BEIJING: Families of affected passengers are in the process of sorting out their travelling documents at Lido Hotel here.

Some of them have expressed their interest to be in Kuala Lumpur to get first-hand information and the MAS command centre here has facilitated the issuance of passports and visas with the relevant agencies.

But not all have the intention of leaving Beijing, where they have gathered since Saturday morning.

A Chinese family member told the media he did not see the point of flying to Kuala Lumpur when the missing aircraft has yet to be located.

"All we can do there is wait as well," the man, who refused to reveal his name, said yesterday.

He was also frustrated that no Chinese officials were on hand at Lido Hotel.

"We wish the government would put pressure on (relevant authorities) to improve the efficiency of search and rescue mission," he said.

Missing MH370: Oil slick not from missing plane

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

PASIR PUTEH: The sample of oil slick recovered off the coast of Tok Bali, Kelantan, is not oil from the missing MH370 plane, said the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

The agency's eastern region enforcement chief Datuk Nasir Adam said test results showed that it was "bunker" oil from passing ships.

"The oil slick is from bunkering activities and not from an aircraft," said Nasir at the agency's base in Tok Bali yesterday.

The result was confirmed by the Chemistry Department.

On Sunday, the MMEA's search team found a 16km-long "yellowish" oil slick about 20 nautical miles south of the last point of contact of the plane.

Nasir, who led the MMEA's search and rescue operations, said there was still no clue to indicate the location of the missing aircraft.

"Our search sectors today are closer to the coast of Besut and we did not find any clue," he said.

In Kuala Lumpur, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said New Zealand had come forward to offer its maritime surveillance aircraft for search and rescue operations.

He said he had received a fax yesterday from his New Zealand counterpart John Key, offering the use of their P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft.

"Malaysia accepts the offer and the plane will be used immediately to assist in the joint operations," he said after chairing the Bumiputera Economic Council meeting yesterday.

Najib also announced that he had cancelled his three-day trip to Mauritius to join its independence day celebrations.

In Putrajaya, Department of Civil Aviation director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the search and rescue radius for the missing plane would be expanded to 100 nautical miles from the point it disappeared.

"It is in line with intensifying our search for the airplane," he said.

The search would now cover part of the northern Straits of Malacca, over land in peninsular Malaysia as well as the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam.

He said the search was being widened due to the possibility of MH370 making a flight "turn-back".

Meanwhile, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said fishermen operating the 1,788 vessels in the South China Sea had been asked to help in the search for the plane.

He said the fishermen from Kelantan, Terengganu, Perlis, Perak and Penang had been told to report sightings of unusual objects in the sea to the ministry.

Swedish child abuse trial: Brief reunion for Shalwati and sister

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

STOCKHOLM: It was a tearful reunion for the Malaysian mother on trial in Sweden for hitting her children after she finally met her sister, who is acting as temporary guardian of her children.

Shalwati Nurshal was allowed by court officials to briefly speak with her sister Shalena Hisham Makhzan, although the siblings were not allowed to have physical contact.

Shalena was heard talking about the birthday of Shalwati's eldest child, Aishah, whose 15th birthday is today.

Both Shalwati and her husband Azizul Raheem Awalluddin have not met their children since being detained on Dec 18 last year and only saw the kids testifying in pre-recorded police interviews.

Speaking to reporters during the lunch break, Shalena said she was grateful to be able to speak to her sister even if they were not allowed to hug.

"I needed to come here. It's been a long time," said Shalena, welling up with tears.

"We'll be fine. At least, I could speak to her and my brother-in-law Azizul. I love them so much," she said.

Shalena said she had told her sister that the children were all right and promised that she would continue to take good care of them.

Aishah and her siblings – Ammar, 12, Adam, 11 and Arif, seven – were placed in the custody of their aunt Shalena and her husband Nik Farid Nik Abdullah since they arrived back in Malaysia on Feb 1.

The siblings have since been attending school and living in Kota Baru.

"I'm proud of my sister. Despite being in such conditions, she's been handling it well.

"I know my sister. She's very strong and she knows her rights," said Shalena.

The parents had finished testifying, with Day 10 of the trial moving on to the testimony of various teachers and parents over how the children were alleged to have been abused.

On Feb 10, Shalwati and Azizul were charged with multiple counts of gross violation of a child's integrity by hitting and abusing their children.

The alleged offences took place in the family's home in SpÄnga, a Stockholm suburb, between Sept 15, 2010 and Dec 17, 2013.

The trial continues tomorrow.

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China has not ruled out terrorism

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

BEIJING: China has not ruled out terrorism is the disappeance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in which 153 Chinese/Taiwanese were on board.

The China Daily newspaper wrote in an editorial that the fact that some of the passengers on board were travelling with false passports should serve as a reminder to the whole world that security can never be too tight.

Mystery of MH370

"Terrorism, the evil of the world, is still trying to stain human civilisation with the blood of innocent lives," it said.

Some family members are saying they would not go to Kuala Lumpur today as there has been no information forthcoming.

"There is more we can do here in China," one woman told AFP. "They haven't even found the plane yet."

The lack of information is also said to have irked Chinese authorities.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang was quoted as saying that the Chinese government wanted "the Malaysian side to step up their efforts to speed up the investigation and provide accurate information to China in a timely fashion".

"They should also properly manage work related to family members of passengers and follow-up issues," he added.

Qin noted that "the incident is still under investigation", but China's state-run media minced no words, lashing out at Malaysia and its national carrier over its handling of the missing jet, demanding answers despite the early stage of the investigation.

"The Malaysian side cannot shirk its responsibilities," the Global Times newspaper, which is close to China's ruling Communist Party, wrote. "There are loopholes in the work of Malaysia Airlines and security authorities."

For its part, MAS said in a statement that it is deploying an additional aircraft today "to bring the families from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur".

Malaysia's acting Transport Mini­ster Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, however, denied the allegation that Chinese authorities are unhappy with how Malaysia is handling the matter.

"Far from it." he said. "We are cooperating very closely on three aspects, namely search and rescue operation, identifying those who travelled on false passports and dealing with the families of the passengers.

"We have been in contact from the outset with China. Now, there is a special task force stationed here to help us on the three aspects," he said. "I have had a long discussion with the Chinese parties and from the ministries. The ambassador has seen first-hand what we are doing."

The aircraft's disappearance came one week after a deadly attack at a train station in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, in which a group of knife-wielding assailants killed 29 people and wounded 143.

Both Beijing and Washington have condemned the mass stabbing as an act of terror, with Chinese authorities blaming it on separatists from the restive far western region of Xinjiang.

Even as information remains sparse and the hours tick by, many relatives in Beijing continue to believe that the passengers may yet be found, according to one US-trained psychologist who counselled about 20 families awaiting news at a hotel.

"I think most of them are holding onto that thin ray of hope," he said. "Whether they believe it to be realistic or not, most of them are not letting it go." — Agencies

Case of duo with stolen identities leads investigators to two travel agencies

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

BANGKOK: Two passports stolen in Thailand and later used to board the Malaysia airliner that vanished with 239 people on board were never used to leave the kingdom, the commander of the investigation division at the Immigration Bureau revealed.

It is believed the passports were stolen and taken out of Thailand without being used at immigration checkpoints, Pol Maj-Gen Warawut Taweechaikarn said yesterday.

Mystery of MH370

The officer said criminals faced difficulties producing fake passports due to sophisticated anti-counterfeiting techniques, so resorted to buying real passports from gangs of thieves, which targeted foreign tourists in Thailand.

The gangs would replace the passport holders' photos and alter certain information in the documents before using them, he added.

Fears that terrorism may be linked to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 arose after Austria and Italy said passports used by two male passengers were stolen from their citizens.

Interpol said in a statement that at least two passports recorded in its database, one Austrian and one Italian, were used by passengers on the flight after being reported stolen in Thailand.

Two passengers using Italian and Austrian passports of Luigi Maraldi, 37, and Christian Kozel, 30, had consecutive ticket numbers, according to the Chinese e-ticket verification system Travelsky.

Both tickets were issued on March 6, according to the website of China Southern Airlines Co, which was a code-share on the flight.

Thai police and Interpol investigated two travel agencies – Six Stars Travel and Grand Horizon – where two persons suspected of using fake passports tried to buy tickets.

Six Stars eventually issued online tickets, after receiving copies of the passports, police said. They are still looking into the transaction with Grand Horizon, which had passed on the purchase to Six Stars.

Britain's Financial Times quoted Benjaporn Krutnait, owner of the Grand Horizon travel agency, as saying an Iranian, a long-term business contact whom she knew only as "Mr Ali", had first asked her to book cheap tickets to Europe for the two men on March 1.

Benjaporn initially reserved one of the men on a Qatar Airways flight and the other on Etihad. But the tickets expired when Benjaporn did not hear from Ali.

When he contacted her again on Thursday, she rebooked the men on the Malaysia Airlines flight through Beijing because it was the cheapest available, the paper said.

A friend of Ali paid Benjaporn cash for the tickets, the paper reported, adding that there is no evidence that Ali knew the two men were travelling on stolen passports.

Benjaporn said she did not believe Ali was linked to terrorism, particularly as he had not specified booking the Kuala Lumpur-Beijing flight but had instead asked for the cheapest route to Europe, Financial Times reported.

Benjaporn was quoted as saying that she was speaking about the case because she was concerned over the speculation about a terrorist attack and wanted the facts to be known.

Thai police said Pattaya had no record of the stolen passports.

Police have yet to pin down suspects.

"We still don't have any information on suspects, because they used the copy of the fake passports so they can be issued tickets," Supachai said.

Rommel Banlaoi, an analyst on terrorism in South-East Asia said Thailand had been used by some international terrorist groups as a zone of operation, to raise funds or to plan attacks.

But Banlaoi stressed that the false passports used on the Malaysia flight "could also be linked to other criminal activities, like illegal immigration".

"It's not just linked to terrorism but to other crimes. It's a complex network, connected to other networks," said a Thai Intelligence source. — Agencies

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Fighting fat by eating spinach

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 07:10 PM PDT

According to a study, spinach extract could help prevent obesity.

A natural compound hidden away in spinach has been shown to reduce food cravings between meals and could help prevent obesity, a Swedish scientist said on Monday.

Charlotte Erlanson-Albertsson, a professor of appetite regulation at Lund University in Sweden, found the compound – known as thylakoid – while looking for ways to slow digestion and alleviate hunger pangs.

The compound functions differently to processed foods, which tend to be digested only in the upper intestine. This prevents key hormones that make us feel full from being released to the brain, according to a statement from the university.

"I like to say our intestines are unemployed," Erlanson-Albertsson said. A test group of 15 people who took the compound every morning reported that it had become easier to resist the temptation to eat between meals.

Erlanson-Albertsson discovered the compound after speaking to her husband, a scientist researching photosynthesis. He steered her in the direction of thylakoids, a compound in green leaves believed to slow down fat digestion, meaning the whole intestine has time to get involved, the university said.

But eating spinach itself is not enough. It has to be crushed, filtrated and passed through a centrifuge, freeing the thylakoids from the plant's cells.

"Our bodies can't break it down from fresh spinach directly," the university said. — AFP Relaxnews

Omega-3 consumption linked to better sleep

Posted: 09 Mar 2014 09:30 PM PDT

An early study shows that eating food rich in omega-3 helps to improve sleep in children.

A new pilot study from the University of Oxford indicates increasing children's intake of omega-3 fatty acids may improve their sleep.

The study is said to be the first to analyse the potential link between sleep and fatty acid status in healthy children. Findings will be published in the Journal Of Sleep Research.

Researchers provided 362 children from 74 Oxford primary schools with daily 600mg supplements of algal sources or a placebo over a 16-week period to determine if sleep would improve. Participants were between seven and nine years old. The children weren't selected based on sleep issues, although all had problems with reading.

Previous research has shown an increase in omega-3 consumption can improve children's ability to concentrate, read and spell in addition to lowering disruptive behaviour.

At the beginning of the study, parents filled out a questionnaire, with results revealing that four in ten of the children dealt with regular sleep disturbances. The researchers fitted the 43 children rated as poor sleepers with wrist sensors that monitored movements in bed over five nights.

The study found children who took the daily omega-3 supplements enjoyed 58 minutes more sleep and seven fewer awakenings per night than those who took the placebo. Higher blood levels of the long-chain omega-3 DHA was linked to improved sleep, including "less bedtime resistance, parasomnias and total sleep disturbance".

"Various substances made within the body from omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have long been known to play key roles in the regulation of sleep," said lead study author Professor Paul Montgomery of Oxford University. "For example, lower ratios of DHA have been linked with lower levels of melatonin, and that would fit with our finding that sleep problems are greater in children with lower levels of DHA in their blood."

While further research is needed given the relatively small number of participants, researchers say that if the study results are confirmed implications will be "profound" for children struggling with behavioral and learning issues.

Omega-3s are associated with a number of other health benefits, including their ability to lower blood pressure. A study announced last week and published in the American Journal Of Hypertension found omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are as effective, if not more so, in lowering blood pressure than commonly recommended lifestyle changes, such as exercising more, consuming less sodium and drinking less alcohol. — AFP Relaxnews

Tech and sleep don’t mix

Posted: 08 Mar 2014 03:50 PM PST

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Electronic devices are the bane of children.
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The Star Online: Entertainment: Music

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Avril Lavigne is forever young

Posted: 09 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

The Canadian singer, who turns 30 this year, talks about her music in a phone interview recently.

AVRIL Lavigne's voice is bright and squeaky when she first greets me on the other end of the line. The Canadian singer-songwriter who rose to fame dropping catchy angst-ridden tunes was calling from China where she was touring.

But somewhere between asking her about hitting the big 3-0 (I see where I went wrong now) and her favourite new artistes, Lavigne's spark and ebullience ever so slightly faded, with little to say and little to elaborate at some parts of our 10-minute interview.

Then again, I am informed that the singer had to sit in for numerous back-to-back phone interviews with the Malaysian media ahead of her upcoming Kuala Lumpur performance. Lavigne has also been on the road since December and is probably worn out.

In your latest album, you celebrate being young and carefree but also dive in to other more mature, emotional stuff. Personally, do you feel more grown up now or do you still feel young and reckless?

I think it's a combination. I like to have fun. I am young at heart but at the same time I'm responsible, I work very hard and I'm married now.

You first became popular for songs that perfectly captured teenage angst. Is there a pressure to keep this image even when you're older?

No, I don't. I feel the most important thing is to follow my heart as far as making music goes. I write music depending on my mood and where I'm at in life, unless my record company is forcing me to do otherwise (chuckles).

You're turning 30 this year. Are you excited or do you dread it?

Thank you for the reminder. (Laughs) I'm looking forward to having a big birthday party.

How about turning 30 in general?

I'm embracing it. I don't really think about age all that much.

What do you envision for yourself, musically, in the next decade?

I have lots of goals. I want to do a Christmas record. I plan to still make music, follow my heart and create music that feels natural to me, make music that I want to make.

You entered the music business when you were really young, do you think that has affected you in any way?

My first record came out at 17. I left home at 16. I got to have a normal childhood. I grew up in a small town. I got to be where I am today on my own. I was very independent and ready to work very hard and I'm happy with the age that it all happened at.

Before you shot to fame, you performed country covers. And listening to your new album, it sounds like there's a tinge of country-pop in there.

I agree with you. I started singing at church when I was very young. Then I sang wherever else I could, which was like fairs and banquets and I had to sing country music. And when I was 14, I started writing my own song which became my style now, so yeah, I got my start there.

Is that something you want to explore?

I think it'll be kind of cool. Maybe.

There's a bunch of new artistes coming in every year. Do you feel pressured to constantly stay ahead of the game?

I feel thankful for my fanbase because they've been really loyal, which I'm grateful for. As far as new artistes go, there's tonnes these days and it's all about releasing singles, and sometimes you only hear one single from somebody, so it's very different. I'm glad I came at a time that we sold records and people bought into artistes and their whole careers. The whole industry is different today, it's more digital but I feel grateful. I've been doing this for 12 years now.

Are there new artistes you enjoy listening to?

I listen to the radio. I can't think of anything off the top of my head.

What's your favourite song from the album?

I like Bad Girl, Hello Kitty, Hush Hush and Give Me What You Like.

You'll be performing in Malaysia for the third time, how will it be different this time?

I'll be playing songs from all five of my albums, including songs from my new album. I'll be playing hits from over the years.

Do you have anything to say to your Malaysian fans?

Very excited to be making it to Malaysia this March. And thank you for supporting my music. I hope you can make it to the show.

Avril Lavigne will perform at Stadium Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur on March 14. Tickets are priced at RM88, RM168, RM358, RM388 and RM488. Call 03-8775 4666 for the ticketing hotline or log on to www.airasiaredtix.com.

Interactive set from musician Olafur Arnalds

Posted: 09 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

When you watch Olafur Arnalds in concert, be prepared to be part of the show.

Icelandic composer and musician Olafur Arnalds has a penchant for getting his audience involved in his performances.

The 27-year-old says that he got the idea to collaborate with his audiences from social media.

"I got so interested in how social media is turning fans into collaborators of the musicians, and I eventually brought that idea into the live show as well," he says in an e-mail interview.

"I've always wanted to bring musicians down to the same level as the audience and have them as equal participants in a musical moment, rather than the idea of the musician being this godly figure on stage that everyone looks up to."

Hailing from a small town, Mosfellsbar in Reykjavik, Arnalds' brand of neo-classical music and electronica has taken him all over the world, with gigs across Europe, North America and China.

His compositions have also reached a wider audience after being used as soundtracks for Hollywood flicks such as The Hunger Games (2012) and Looper (2012) as well as British television crime drama Broadchurch.

Last year, he released his third full-length album, For Now I Am Winter, which has garnered positive reviews from the music press.

Music magazine Filter, for example, praises it for being "filled with widescreen ambitions that deliver on every count", while music website Drowned In Sound hails it as "an album that demands attention, not to mention repeated listenings, to draw out the beauty".

Fans who are familiar with the album will experience the music in a whole new light as Arnalds says that he has reworked the songs for his live shows.

"We are bringing an intimate set-up of a piano, violin, cello and vocals in a few songs.

"It's obviously a much smaller set-up than what I recorded For Now I Am Winter with, but I have rearranged the songs for this type of set-up.

"It sounds more intimate and personal, perfect for a live setting."

Having opened for acclaimed fellow Icelandic band Sigur Ros, who also hails from Reykjavik, Arnalds says that the cosy relations between the musicians of Iceland have helped to nurture a scene that has produced many feted artists.

Other Icelandic acts that have made a global impact include singer-songwriter Bjork and, more recently, indie band Of Monsters And Men.

"I'm not sure if there is a certain common trait, but musicians here are generally very bold and tend not too care too much about making the music commercial and marketable," he says.

"I think it's because Iceland is such a small place and the music scene is especially small and close-knit." – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

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China has not ruled out terrorism

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

BEIJING: China has not ruled out terrorism is the disappeance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in which 153 Chinese/Taiwanese were on board.

The China Daily newspaper wrote in an editorial that the fact that some of the passengers on board were travelling with false passports should serve as a reminder to the whole world that security can never be too tight.

Mystery of MH370

"Terrorism, the evil of the world, is still trying to stain human civilisation with the blood of innocent lives," it said.

Some family members are saying they would not go to Kuala Lumpur today as there has been no information forthcoming.

"There is more we can do here in China," one woman told AFP. "They haven't even found the plane yet."

The lack of information is also said to have irked Chinese authorities.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang was quoted as saying that the Chinese government wanted "the Malaysian side to step up their efforts to speed up the investigation and provide accurate information to China in a timely fashion".

"They should also properly manage work related to family members of passengers and follow-up issues," he added.

Qin noted that "the incident is still under investigation", but China's state-run media minced no words, lashing out at Malaysia and its national carrier over its handling of the missing jet, demanding answers despite the early stage of the investigation.

"The Malaysian side cannot shirk its responsibilities," the Global Times newspaper, which is close to China's ruling Communist Party, wrote. "There are loopholes in the work of Malaysia Airlines and security authorities."

For its part, MAS said in a statement that it is deploying an additional aircraft today "to bring the families from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur".

Malaysia's acting Transport Mini­ster Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, however, denied the allegation that Chinese authorities are unhappy with how Malaysia is handling the matter.

"Far from it." he said. "We are cooperating very closely on three aspects, namely search and rescue operation, identifying those who travelled on false passports and dealing with the families of the passengers.

"We have been in contact from the outset with China. Now, there is a special task force stationed here to help us on the three aspects," he said. "I have had a long discussion with the Chinese parties and from the ministries. The ambassador has seen first-hand what we are doing."

The aircraft's disappearance came one week after a deadly attack at a train station in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, in which a group of knife-wielding assailants killed 29 people and wounded 143.

Both Beijing and Washington have condemned the mass stabbing as an act of terror, with Chinese authorities blaming it on separatists from the restive far western region of Xinjiang.

Even as information remains sparse and the hours tick by, many relatives in Beijing continue to believe that the passengers may yet be found, according to one US-trained psychologist who counselled about 20 families awaiting news at a hotel.

"I think most of them are holding onto that thin ray of hope," he said. "Whether they believe it to be realistic or not, most of them are not letting it go." — Agencies

Case of duo with stolen identities leads investigators to two travel agencies

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

BANGKOK: Two passports stolen in Thailand and later used to board the Malaysia airliner that vanished with 239 people on board were never used to leave the kingdom, the commander of the investigation division at the Immigration Bureau revealed.

It is believed the passports were stolen and taken out of Thailand without being used at immigration checkpoints, Pol Maj-Gen Warawut Taweechaikarn said yesterday.

Mystery of MH370

The officer said criminals faced difficulties producing fake passports due to sophisticated anti-counterfeiting techniques, so resorted to buying real passports from gangs of thieves, which targeted foreign tourists in Thailand.

The gangs would replace the passport holders' photos and alter certain information in the documents before using them, he added.

Fears that terrorism may be linked to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 arose after Austria and Italy said passports used by two male passengers were stolen from their citizens.

Interpol said in a statement that at least two passports recorded in its database, one Austrian and one Italian, were used by passengers on the flight after being reported stolen in Thailand.

Two passengers using Italian and Austrian passports of Luigi Maraldi, 37, and Christian Kozel, 30, had consecutive ticket numbers, according to the Chinese e-ticket verification system Travelsky.

Both tickets were issued on March 6, according to the website of China Southern Airlines Co, which was a code-share on the flight.

Thai police and Interpol investigated two travel agencies – Six Stars Travel and Grand Horizon – where two persons suspected of using fake passports tried to buy tickets.

Six Stars eventually issued online tickets, after receiving copies of the passports, police said. They are still looking into the transaction with Grand Horizon, which had passed on the purchase to Six Stars.

Britain's Financial Times quoted Benjaporn Krutnait, owner of the Grand Horizon travel agency, as saying an Iranian, a long-term business contact whom she knew only as "Mr Ali", had first asked her to book cheap tickets to Europe for the two men on March 1.

Benjaporn initially reserved one of the men on a Qatar Airways flight and the other on Etihad. But the tickets expired when Benjaporn did not hear from Ali.

When he contacted her again on Thursday, she rebooked the men on the Malaysia Airlines flight through Beijing because it was the cheapest available, the paper said.

A friend of Ali paid Benjaporn cash for the tickets, the paper reported, adding that there is no evidence that Ali knew the two men were travelling on stolen passports.

Benjaporn said she did not believe Ali was linked to terrorism, particularly as he had not specified booking the Kuala Lumpur-Beijing flight but had instead asked for the cheapest route to Europe, Financial Times reported.

Benjaporn was quoted as saying that she was speaking about the case because she was concerned over the speculation about a terrorist attack and wanted the facts to be known.

Thai police said Pattaya had no record of the stolen passports.

Police have yet to pin down suspects.

"We still don't have any information on suspects, because they used the copy of the fake passports so they can be issued tickets," Supachai said.

Rommel Banlaoi, an analyst on terrorism in South-East Asia said Thailand had been used by some international terrorist groups as a zone of operation, to raise funds or to plan attacks.

But Banlaoi stressed that the false passports used on the Malaysia flight "could also be linked to other criminal activities, like illegal immigration".

"It's not just linked to terrorism but to other crimes. It's a complex network, connected to other networks," said a Thai Intelligence source. — Agencies

Powerful 6.9 quake strikes off US coast

Posted: 10 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

LOS ANGELES: A powerful 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern California, the US Geological Survey said, but there were no immediate reports of damage or a tsunami threat.

The quake struck at 0518 GMT (1.18am Malaysian time) with an epicentre located 77km west-northwest of the town of Ferndale and at a depth of 7km, said the USGS, which monitors earthquakes worldwide.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, but early reports indicate the quake was felt as far away as San Francisco, around 400km south of Ferndale.

Authorities in Humboldt County, the part of sparsely-populated northern California some 400km up the coast from San Francisco, said they had no calls about damage of injuries, local media reported.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a bulletin announcing the quake, but downplayed any danger.

"A widespread destructive tsunami threat does not exist based on historical earthquake and tsunami data," the Center said.

The USGS said there is a 90% probability of a "strong and possibly damaging aftershock" of magnitude 5 or more in the next seven days, and a 5-10% chance of a quake equal to or great than Sunday's temblor. — AFP

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