Rabu, 26 Mac 2014

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro


Bad weather forecast as new images spur MH370 search

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 04:52 PM PDT

Perth (Australia) (AFP) - Thunderstorms and gale-force winds threatened to impede a frantic international search Thursday for wreckage from Flight MH370 after satellite images of more than 100 floating objects sparked fresh hopes of a breakthrough.

Malaysia said the imagery taken in recent days by a French satellite showed "122 potential objects" in the remote southern Indian Ocean, although nothing has yet been pulled from the treacherous seas despite a multinational recovery operation.

Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has cautioned that it was impossible to determine whether the objects were related to the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 which crashed on March 8 with 239 people aboard after mysteriously disappearing.

But the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the search some 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, said they were in an area authorities have pinpointed as a potential crash zone.

"Positions in the satellite information released by Malaysia Remote Sensing Agency were within Wednesday's search area," it said as a fleet of planes prepared to head for the search zone once again before the weather worsens.

Six military planes from Australia, Japan and the United States will fly sorties throughout the day, along with five civil aircraft, AMSA said, in an increasingly frantic hunt for clues to exactly what happened.

The plane deviated inexplicably off its intended course between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, flying thousands of kilometres in the wrong direction, before plunging into the sea. Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted by someone on board.

Five ships are also in the search zone, including Australia's HMAS Success and Chinese vessels Xue Long, Kuulunshan, Haikon and Qiandaohu.

But they are operating in a wild expanse of ocean described by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as "close to nowhere as it's possible to be" where gale-force winds and towering waves are routinely whipped up.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology warned the weather was expected to deteriorate later Thursday.

"Potentially thunderstorms down there as well as winds picking up, and they could get to gale force conditions," said bureau spokesman Neil Bennett.

-- Lawyers fire first salvo -

The new images, provided by European aerospace giant Airbus and depicting some objects as long as 23 metres (75 feet), came as US lawyers fired the first salvo in an expected barrage of lawsuits on behalf of grieving families.

Seeking closure, anguished families of those aboard are desperately awaiting hard evidence, which the aviation industry hopes can also provide clues to what caused one of aviation's greatest mysteries.

But as the search continued, US law firm Ribbeck Law Chartered International said it was getting the ball rolling on potentially "multi-million dollar" lawsuits against Malaysia Airlines and Boeing.

"We are going to be filing the lawsuits for millions of dollars per each passenger based on prior cases that we have done involving crashes like this one," the firm's head of aviation litigation, Monica Kelly, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

A separate statement by the firm, which filed an initial court petition in the US state of Illinois on Tuesday, said the two companies "are responsible for the disaster of Flight MH370".

The airline declined detailed comment.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said Monday that satellite data indicated the plane plunged into the sea in a region off western Australia, possibly after running out of fuel.

- Relatives seek closure -

MH370 relatives have endured more than a fortnight of agonising uncertainty.

Two-thirds of the passengers were from China, and relatives there have criticised Malaysia in acid terms, accusing the government and airline of a cover-up and botching the response.

Scores of relatives protested outside Malaysia's embassy in Beijing on Tuesday and China kept up the pressure, with Premier Li Keqiang urging Malaysia Wednesday to involve "more Chinese experts" in the investigation, according to a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.

While Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted, other scenarios include a hijacking, pilot sabotage or a crisis that incapacitated the crew and left the plane to fly on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel.

Hishammuddin said Razak met Wednesday with Zhang Yesui, a Chinese vice foreign minister sent to Kuala Lumpur over the crisis, and provided him with a full update on the latest information.

Hishammuddin hit back at criticism of Malaysia's handling of the crisis, saying "I think history will judge us well."

Authorities hope to retrieve the "black box" and precious flight data, believing it could hold clues to what happened.

Australian Vice Admiral Ray Griggs said a specialised US Navy black box locator device had arrived in Perth and could be taken to the search area within days.

The clock is ticking, with the battery that powers its locator signal expected to run out in two weeks. - AFP

Philippines, Muslim rebels set for historic peace deal

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 04:44 PM PDT

Manila (AFP) - The biggest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines will sign a peace deal on Thursday aimed at ending four decades of deadly conflict that has condemned millions in the nation's far south to brutal poverty.

The agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and President Benigno Aquino's government envisages a new, southern autonomous region for the Philippines' Muslim minority with locally elected leaders by mid-2016.

"For many years we have been leading the Bangsamoro people's struggle and our people have gone through a lot of hardships," MILF vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar told AFP, using a local term for the Philippines' Muslim minority.

"This agreement is very important to us because this ends the fighting in Mindanao."

Muslim rebels have been battling since the 1970s for independence or autonomy in the southern region of Mindanao, which they regard as their ancestral homeland.

The conflict has left tens of thousands of people dead while Mindanao has become one of the nation's poorest and most corrupt areas, with Muslim and Christian warlords ruling over large parts.

The fighting and poverty has also proved to be fertile conditions for Islamic extremism, with the Al-Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf group and other hardline militants making remote regions of Mindanao their strongholds.

The MILF, which the military estimates has 10,000 fighters, is easily the biggest Muslim rebel group in Mindanao, and Aquino believes a political settlement is the key to securing a lasting peace.

"It is important, it is historic. It is going to be a major contribution for the peace and development of the entire country," Aquino's adviser on the peace process, Teresita Deles, said this week.

Aquino and MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim will oversee the signing of the peace deal during a high-profile ceremony at the presidential palace in Manila attended by about 1,000 people, including Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Malaysia has hosted and brokered the peace talks, which began 17 years ago.

The peace deal outlines plans to create a Bangsamoro self-rule area in Mindanao that would cover about 10 percent of territory in the majority Roman Catholic-populated Philippines.

The autonomous region would have its own police force, a regional parliament and power to levy taxes, while revenues from the region's vast deposits of natural resources would be split with the national government.

The national government would retain control over defence, foreign policy, currency and citizenship.

Fragile peace

However there are no guarantees the peace deal will be implemented by the middle of 2016, a crucial deadline as that is when Aquino is required by the constitution to end his six-year term.

Aquino needs to convince Congress to pass a "basic law" to create the Bangsamoro autonomous region, ideally by the end of this year to allow time for other steps such as a local plebiscite.

But even though Aquino's ruling coalition has a loose majority and he still enjoys record-high popularity ratings, there are concerns politicians could reject or water down the proposed law.

Powerful Christian politicians in Mindanao are regarded as potential deal breakers, while others elsewhere may see political advantage in opposing the deal to appeal to some Catholics ahead of the 2016 national elections.

"There is a danger that this could be hijacked by politically savvy and entrenched politicians," Jesus Dureza, the chief peace negotiator with the MILF from 2001 to 2003, told AFP.

Islamic militants opposed to the peace deal are another threat, and could continue to create enduring violence in Mindanao.

Among the potential spoilers is the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, an MILF splinter group of a few hundred militants that has carried out deadly attacks in the south in recent years.

Troops have been placed on high alert in the south, in case militants seek to distract from Thursday's peace deal with attacks.

The MILF leadership has committed to working with the government to neutralise the threat of the BIFF.

However the MILF will not give up its arms or the identities of its fighters until the basic law has been passed, highlighting the fragility of Thursday's peace deal.

Woman jailed for pimping god-daughter

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A former quality assurance inspector was jailed for 12 months for instigating her teenage god-daughter to have paid sex with a Bangladeshi worker.

The 45-year-old pleaded guilty to instigating the 15-year-old Secon­dary 3 student to have sex with the co-accused, Md Zahangir Alam (Ron­ju) Mohammad Ali Shei­kh, 30, for S$200 (RM520) at Jin Dong Hotel in Geylang last October.

The inspector, who cannot be named so as to protect the minor, was given a concurrent sentence of four months' jail and a S$4,000 (RM10,420) fine after admitting to procuring the girl for prostitution.

A district court heard that the minor met the accused last Sept 30 and mentioned that she was in need of money. The accused then suggested that she have sex with men in return for money, and that she could help her find a man.

The next day, the pair went to Chinese Garden to meet the accu­sed's boyfriend, Bangladeshi natio­nal Md Jewel Abdul Latif, 31, who then invited the co-accused to meet them at the Chinese Garden.

That evening, the accused told the minor to get close to the co-accused and offer him sex for S$200 (RM520), saying S$50 (RM130) of her earnings would have to be given to her.

The minor told the co-accused she was 16, and offered him sex for S$200 (RM520). He agreed and all four took a cab to Geylang where they checked into two rooms on Oct last year.

The minor collected S$200 (RM520) from the co-accused who had sex with her five times.

After checking out of the hotel, the co-accused asked for S$50 (RM130) as he had no money.

The minor obliged. She later handed over S$50 (RM130) to the accused. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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Woody Harrelson joins all-star 'Triple Nine' cast

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 11:05 PM PDT

Set in LA, thriller is on a group of corrupt police officers.

John Hillcoat, the Australian director behind The Road, can now count on another Hollywood A-lister for his next feature. Woody Harrelson, who was recently in the limelight as the star of HBO's True Detective, will have a role in Triple Nine alongside Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The thriller will follow a group of corrupt police officers blackmailed by the Russian mafia into carrying out a nearly impossible high-stakes heist. To create a diversion, the dirty cops decide to assassinate a fellow policeman. But their plan is derailed by a rookie officer, played by Affleck.

Harrelson will play the rookie officer's uncle, Sergeant Jeffrey Allen. Kate Winslet, Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious) and Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies) are also on the cast.

Triple Nine, which is set on the streets of Los Angeles, is scheduled to begin filming this summer. The feature will be the first from director John Hillcoat since Lawless, released in 2012. The film's title is a reference to 999, the police code for "officer down" among US police forces. – AFP Relaxnews

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio


Welcome to 'Big History'

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Everything is connected when you view it in the context of ... well, everything. Welcome to Big History.

SALT. It underpins civilisation in more ways than you have ever imagined. It has launched wars, built monuments and sparked revolutions.

It's even the substance that makes up our thoughts – or so Big History, a new TV series which takes the small things in life and places them within the context of everything, will tell you.

If life is a piece of fabric, Big History shows you how each thread is interconnected; how individual events are woven through space and time into one continuous spread of historical perspective, in which everyone and everything plays a part.

There are no national boundaries in the story of humanity, we all exist because the same, multiple events converged to create the present, our present.

This is the realisation David Christian had back in the 1980s, and he formalised this approach to teaching history.

A scholar of Russian and Soviet Union history at the time, he says it began as an attempt to develop a college course to teach the history of humanity.

"Then I realised I would have to study how humans evolved, and how primates evolved – and that meant studying biology and evolution," he says.

One thing led to another.

To understand the forces that guide biological evolution, you have to understand the changing and evolving conditions of the planet.

"And that meant I would have to understand how the Earth formed, and then the Solar System, and so on. Eventually I realised that the story had a beginning in the Big Bang."

Christian realised this seemed crazy, learning the history of everything in order to tell the story of humanity.

"But then I thought, OK. If teaching the history of humanity means teaching the history of the universe, let's have a go."

Connecting the dots

You may be sceptical.

You might be thinking, but of course you've heard about the Big Bang, and you're familiar with evolution, and you're aware of how early agriculture played an important role in kick-starting organised society.

But the point of Big History is that these bites of information come to us independent of one another.

And though it would be true to say the Big History approach to understanding life, the universe and everything isn't anything new, Christian's course gave it a name.

He gave it structure and made it accessible.

You don't have to be a widely-read scholar voraciously consuming books on astronomy, geology, physics, anthropology and geography before you can finally bask in the wonder and grandeur of how everything is interconnected.

That's because Christian did all that reading, and strung together a summary of its most poignant points in a digestible and enlightening format for you.

"I would say that almost everyone who has done a Big History course has found it exciting and illuminating.

"I kept teaching because of the reaction of my students, and their sense of excitement, about how Big History could give them utterly new insights."

One such student was Bill Gates.

Christian started teaching his courses in universities during the early 2000s, and one day in 2011, he presented an 18-minute summary of the history of the universe at a TED talk.

Gates, a widely known philanthropist and the co-founder of Microsoft Corp, was sitting in the audience, and today, he says it's his favourite course of all time.

"When I first took Big History, I felt like I knew about a lot of the things already. A bit about biology, a bit about physics, a bit about how civilisations had more specialised roles, how populations have grown over time ... but I'd never seen it all put together," he says in a video posted on the website course.bighistory project.com.

Big History, however, made it all make sense, and made Gates wish he'd come across such a thing in college.

Below Zero, the fourth episode of Big History, will reveal how for thousands of years on Earth, cold controlled the fate of our species, changing our bodies, our skin, and even the metals we use to fight our wars.

Below Zero, the fourth episode of Big History, will reveal how for thousands of years on Earth, cold controlled the fate of our species, changing our bodies, our skin, and even the metals we use to fight our wars.

 

So he paired up with Christian and decided to make sure kids today would.

Together, the two launched the Big History Project, bringing the course to schools.

Today, Big History courses have been launched in 80 schools in the United States, 35 in Australia, and also a few in the Netherlands, South Korea and Scotland.

They expect these numbers to at least double in 2014, which shouldn't be too hard, because the course is now available online.

Anyone can do it, or get guidance on how to adapt the syllabus for their own schools.

"And that's just three years since we started," says Christian.

Putting it in perspective

Big History starts out with the Big Bang.

Stars light up, new chemical elements are formed, then single-celled life appears on Earth.

Later, much much later, humans along, bringing with them collective learning, agriculture and the modern revolution; leaving you, in turn, to ponder what the future holds.

Christian thinks communicating the historical context of how we and everything around us came to be is really important.

"People are so used to the idea that knowledge comes in specialised packages that are disconnected (from) each other. At present we teach students in silos.

Prof David Christian came up with Big History when he tried to develop a college course to teach the history of humanity: 'I realised I would have to study how humans evolved, and how primates evolved ... Eventually I realised that the story had a beginning in the Big Bang.'

Prof David Christian came up with Big History when he tried to develop a college course to teach the history of humanity: 'I realised I would have to study how humans evolved, and how primates evolved ... Eventually I realised that the story had a beginning in the Big Bang.'

 

"A bit of language, a bit of maths, a bit of physics, a bit of history.

"We never help them see that all these forms of knowledge are linked.

"And if you cannot see the links, you cannot see the whole picture, and you cannot see knowledge as meaningful."

Big History, he says, shows that there is a unified, coherent story of the history of the universe which links together through all these different disciplines.

It shows how, when understood together, each discipline is deeply meaningful.

The point, however, is what people do with their learning.

Christian believes that students need a more rounded understanding of our world to solve today's problems.

The problem with how we do things now is that, because we learn in silos, we tend to think in silos.

"We don't think of the world as a whole; we think, instead, of this city, or that nation.

"Yet many of the problems we face today, such as climate change, can no longer be solved city by city, or even country by country."

Different angles and a holistic perspective are needed in problem solving, and students trained in Big History will do that naturally, Christian says.

But changing the current education paradigm is likely to be a challenge because understandably, governments tend to want their schools to teach national histories.

Christian, however, hopes that eventually more educators will come around, and want Big History incorporated into national educational curricula.

Just imagine a world where kids have grown up being taught about life from a transnational and "trans-disciplinary" perspective, who are able to think in a more unified and coherent way; and see humanity not as a series of conflicting tribes, but as a single community that faces the same basic problems.

Whatever the future holds for Big History, a new TV series of the same name – from the creators of The Universe and Life After People – airs tonight.

Produced in conjunction with Bill Gates' Big History Project, and featuring Christian as one of its many "talking heads", the show is peppered with quirky gems of knowledge.

For example, did you know that every time we make a call we are connected to explosions from the Big Bang, through a rare and mysterious element called tantalum, which originated then and is still used in trace amounts in every phone today?

Or that bat poop and trees helped shaped the history of weapons?

The 17-episode series delves into a variety of topics, from the wonders of salt to how horses have changed the way we speak, what we wear, and set the hidden limit for the size of our most massive empires.

It covers megastructures, and how they echo a basic principle embedded in the very structure of the universe.

It also looks at brains, gravity, meteors, DNA, supernovas, water and a variety of other things you never realised were so mind-boggling, culminating in a two-hour finale, The Big History Of Everything, on May 20.

Here, everything is linked.

The episode criss-crosses billions of years (to give you a rough comprehension of scale, it would take you roughly 400 years just to count up to 13.7 billion) and weaves together how science and history converged in an epic series of improbable events that gave rise to mankind.

Christian was not deeply involved in the creation of the series, although its entire premise is influenced by his courses.

But he is immensely proud of how far Big History has come: "I believe strongly that Big History has a lot to contribute to our future."

> Big History premieres at 8pm tonight on History (Astro Ch 555 / HD Ch 575).

Animax Carnival is back in Kuala Lumpur

Posted: 24 Mar 2014 02:05 AM PDT

The popular cosplay, anime and manga festival returns for the third time.

GET your kawaii on as Japanese top "anisong" band Angela is set to paint the town red in Kuala Lumpur later this month. The band, comprising vocalist Atsuko and keyboardist/guitarist Katsu will perform at the Animax Carnival Malaysia which will be held on March 29 and 30 at the Mid Valley Exhibition Centre Hall 2 in KL.

This will be Angela's first visit to Malaysia and the band is scheduled to perform its hit singles Angel and Kings, from the popular anime series Coppelion and K. Angela is set to perform on both days of the event, which is open to the public.

"At Animax Carnival, we celebrate the fantastic anime programmes of Animax and Animax On Demand. Just like the variety of great shows on our channel, the event will offer something for everyone to make for an engaging weekend for our audiences and their families. We look forward to welcoming our biggest crowd to date and to build on the success of Animax Carnival," said Sony Pictures Television Asian Content, Networks, Asia vice president Virginia Lim.

Oh, and guess what? If you are an AstroCircle member, you stand a chance to win exclusive VIP passes to meet Angela.

At Animax Carnival Malaysia, visitors will also get to see 10 local cosplayers who are more than ready to face off at the Animax Cosplay Competition and show off their elaborate costumes and role-play their favourite anime characters.

Anime and manga fans will also get to crazy over the wide variety of merchandise up for sale during the carnival. These include collectibles from super-hit shows such as K and Fairy Tale along with Golden Time and Date A Live.

Animax Carnival Malaysia 2014 will be open from 10am to 9pm. The first 500 Astro customers to present their January or February Astro bill stand to receive exclusive Animax merchandise. Go to animax-asia.com/mycarnival2014 for more details.

Lisa Surihani has come a long way

Posted: 25 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

If we had to describe Lisa Surihani in two words, it would be beautiful and confident.

From an 11-year-old girl who started out in a commercial for Ovaltine to winning the best actress award at the 23rd Malaysian Film Festival in 2010, this affable actress has come a long way.

Now, Lisa will be the first Malaysian to be featured on E! News Asia Special, making her an icon and a leader in pop culture.

" I was surprised that they wanted to feature me. In comparison with other (local) celebrities, who have been in this industry for a long time, I feel very humbled with this opportunity but at the same time I'm very appreciative and honoured," Lisa, 28, said.

This show is set to grant viewers a never-seen-before peek into the life and times of the bubbly actress, featuring interviews with Lisa's husband Yusry, family, close friends and most trusted confidants.

"I don't put on a fa├žade in whatever I do, I'm the same everywhere. Sometimes I forget that I'm in this industry. It's a weird complex. If I am out with my family or husband, and people approach us to take pictures, the first thing that comes to mind is, how am I related to these people?

"I may be in the entertainment industry, but that doesn't mean I walk around assuming I am popular," said Lisa who has over four million followers on Facebook and Twitter combined.

Lisa has not seen the show and she's dying to hear what her loved ones has to say about her.

Lisa says the host for E! News Asia Special, Marion Caunter, made her feel comfortable during the shoot; it was like a conversation with a girlfriend.

However, she felt emotional at one point of the half-an-hour show when she was asked about her late father.

The other man in her life, her husband Yusry has always been supportive according to Lisa. "He gives me the independence to make decisions on my own accord," says the loving wife. 

> Catch Lisa Surihani in E! News Asia Special on April 13 at 10pm on E! (Astro Ch712).

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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Rescuer reunited with woman he saved from U.S. mudslide with her painting

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 09:10 PM PDT

ARLINGTON, Washington (Reuters) - In the terrifying moments after she somehow emerged alive from the wall of mud and debris that swallowed her house, the only possession that Robin Youngblood managed to salvage was a painted portrait that once hung in her now-flattened home.

Youngblood, 63, was herself rescued by helicopter an hour after her home was reduced to "match sticks" by the powerful torrent of thick, gray muck that cascaded into her neighbourhood when a rain-drenched hillside across the river gave way without warning on Saturday.

On Wednesday, four days later, Youngblood came face to face once more with the man who whisked her and a precious family heirloom to safety from the rubble of her home northeast of Seattle.

She and crew chief Randy Fay of the Snohomish County helicopter rescue team embraced in a tearful reunion during an afternoon news conference in the town of Arlington, site of a command post for search teams looking for scores more people still missing in the slide that engulfed dozens of homes near the river valley hamlet of Oso.

Speaking to reporters, Fay recounted that Youngblood, who he found covered in mud when he was lowered to her by winch from his hovering chopper, handed him the painting and asked him to save it for her. He said he returned the artwork, a portrait of an individual in traditional Native American dress, to Youngblood once she was safely loaded into the helicopter.

"It's poignant because their whole house is around them," he said. "That's kind of all she's got left ... I'm really glad we could do that."

Recounting her ordeal in a separate CNN interview, Youngblood recalled hearing a loud roar before looking out a window to glimpse a torrent of mud racing toward her house.

She said the slide struck with such force that her house was knocked from its foundation and carried a quarter mile as it instantly filled with mud and water, immersing her in the muck. Fortunately, the roof also was ripped open, allowing her to clamour out of the mud to escape, she said.

The whole episode lasted just 30 seconds, she estimated.

Miraculously, Youngblood emerged mostly unscathed, suffering a minor finger injury, "lots of bruises" and a sore back. Her jewellery and eyeglasses even stayed on somehow, she said.

Youngblood, a member of a Pacific Northwest tribe known as the Okanagan who describes herself as a "shamanic practitioner,"

had not seen Fay since that painful day and came to the news conference to publicly thank him for rescuing her.

"That was really special," Youngblood said afterward. "I didn't know if I'd ever see him again."

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)

Ninety people still missing after Washington state mudslide

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 09:10 PM PDT

ARLINGTON, Washington (Reuters) - The number of people missing after a landslide sent a wall of mud crashing into dozens of rural Washington state homes dropped to 90 on Wednesday, as officials reported finding more bodies but acknowledged some victims' remains may never be recovered.

Four days after a rain-soaked hillside collapsed near the tiny town of Oso, cascading over a river and a road and into homes, a fire official said the death toll had risen to 25 people, including nine whose bodies remained in the debris.

Officials had earlier said additional remains had been found in the devastation zone about 55 miles northeast of Seattle on Wednesday, but declined to say how many until they had been removed and sent to a medical examiner's office.

As hope faded that any survivors might be plucked from the muck and debris that blanketed an area covering about one square mile (2.6 square km), residents of the stricken community and nearby towns braced for an expected rise in the casualty count.

"My son's best friend is out there, missing," said John Pugh, 47, a National Guardsman who lives in the neighbouring village of Darrington. "My daughter's maid-of-honour's parents are missing. It's raw. And it will be for a long time."

Asked whether he expected the death toll to rise significantly, Governor Jay Inslee told CNN: "Yes, I don't think anyone can reach any other conclusion."

"It's been very sad that we have not been able to find anyone living now for probably 36 or 48 hours," he said. "The most discouraging thing is we were hopeful that we would find folks who might be protected by a car or a structure, but the force of this landslide just defies imagination."

About 180 people were known to have lived in the path of the landslide, although not all would have been home at the time of the slide on Saturday, according to Snohomish County's emergency management director, John Pennington.

Authorities who whittled down a list of missing from about 176 people to 90 have said the victims could also include people from outside the community, such as construction workers or passing motorists, who were there at the time of the mudslide on Saturday morning.

The fate of up to roughly 35 more people not counted officially among the missing remained uncertain, Pennington said.

Late on Wednesday evening Brian McMahan, assistant fire chief of the community of Mukilteo, told some 250 people at a community meeting in nearby Darrington that one additional body had been found that day, bringing the known total to 25.

Eight more people survived the slide but were injured, including a 22-week-old baby rescued with his mother and listed in critical condition although he was improving. The mother and three other survivors also remained hospitalized.

SEARCHING WITH DOGS

About 200 search personnel, many wearing rain gear and hard hats, painstakingly combed through the disaster zone under cloudy skies on Wednesday, taking advantage of a break from Tuesday's rain showers.

White markers were placed at the edge of the gouged slope to help detect any further shifting of the hillside, and searchers used dogs and sophisticated equipment such as listening devices and cameras capable of probing voids in the debris.

Backhoes scooped up partial bucket loads of earth and spread the slurry-like soil on the ground where several searchers would sift through the mud looking for possible remains, scraps of clothing or other clues of someone who might be buried there.

A search dog scrambled back and forth over one spot where a Washington state police chaplain said a 3-month-old baby was thought to be missing. He said the infant's anguished relatives have returned to the site daily as part of a group of volunteers assisting in search efforts.

Snohomish County Battalion Fire Chief Steve Mason, directing part of the operation, said teams were making slow but steady progress in locating additional remains.

"There are finds going on continually. They are finding people now," he told reporters visiting the search site. "People are under logs, mixed in. It's a slow process."

Jan McClelland, a volunteer firefighter from Darrington who was among the first to arrive at the scene and has spent long days digging through the thick gray muck, conceded it was possible some bodies may end up forever entombed at the site.

"I'm fearful we won't find everyone," she said. "That's the reality of it."

The slide already ranks among the worst in the United States. In 1969, 150 people were killed in landslides and floods in Virginia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

CRITICISM OVER CONSTRUCTION

County officials also started to address criticism for allowing new home construction in the area after a 2006 landslide in the same vicinity, which followed numerous reports detailing the risks of slides dating back to the 1950s.

A 1999 study by geologist Daniel Miller for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had warned of the potential for a "large catastrophic failure" in the area, about 55 miles northeast of Seattle.

"There's definitely a blame-game going on," Miller told Reuters. "I've always thought it's inappropriate to allow development in flood plains, in areas at risk of landslides, in part because of the danger to human life and also in part because when something happens, even if no one is hurt, public agencies end up coming in to make repairs."

Snohomish County's emergency management director, John Pennington, told reporters that local authorities had spent millions of dollars on work to reduce landslide risks in the area after the 2006 event. He suggested that while officials and residents were aware of vulnerability to unstable hill slopes, Saturday's tragedy came out of the blue.

We really did a great job of mitigating the potential for smaller slides to come in and impact the community," Pennington said. "So from 2006 to this point, the community did feel safe; they fully understood the risks."

But he also said: "People knew that this is a landslide-prone area. Sometimes big events just happen. Sometimes large events that nobody sees happen. And this event happened, and I want to find out why. I don't have those answers right now."

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Darrington, Washington, Bill Rigby in Seattle, Rick Wilking in Oso and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Dan Grebler, Gunna Dickson and Ken Wills)

Chinese police detain suspect after rumour sparks rural bank run

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 08:40 PM PDT

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Police in the rural Chinese city of Yancheng have detained a person suspected of spreading rumours that sparked a three-day bank run, security officials said on the city police force's official microblog on Thursday.

Government, bank officials and residents all referred to a rumour that a local bank branch had turned down a client's request to withdraw 200,000 yuan (19,415 pounds), which sparked the speculation the bank was insolvent. This prompted a rush among depositors to withdraw cash.

"After a police investigation, a person surnamed Cai who spread the rumours has been tracked down, and during the night on March 26 was detained by authorities. The police are now investigating the matter further," Yancheng police said in a statement posted on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

Though the bank incident is isolated and is not expected to impact the economy, authorities have been trying to crack down on the spreading of rumours, which are seen as a potential threat to the stability obsessed leadership under President Xi Jinping.

The panic that hit the corner of eastern Jiangsu province near Shanghai struck a raw nerve and won national airplay, a possible reflection of public anxiety in China over the financial system after the country's first domestic bond default this month shattered assumptions the government would always step in to prevent institutions from collapsing.

The police statement urged people not to start or spread rumours and said those who did would be pursued under the law by authorities.

Jiangsu Sheyang Rural Commercial Bank and the Rural Commercial Bank of Huanghai - the two small lenders affected by the bank rush - declined to comment and Reuters was unable to verify the rumour.

Local police would not comment further on the case to Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Neil Fullick)

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Woody Harrelson joins all-star 'Triple Nine' cast

Posted: 20 Mar 2014 11:05 PM PDT

Set in LA, thriller is on a group of corrupt police officers.

John Hillcoat, the Australian director behind The Road, can now count on another Hollywood A-lister for his next feature. Woody Harrelson, who was recently in the limelight as the star of HBO's True Detective, will have a role in Triple Nine alongside Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The thriller will follow a group of corrupt police officers blackmailed by the Russian mafia into carrying out a nearly impossible high-stakes heist. To create a diversion, the dirty cops decide to assassinate a fellow policeman. But their plan is derailed by a rookie officer, played by Affleck.

Harrelson will play the rookie officer's uncle, Sergeant Jeffrey Allen. Kate Winslet, Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious) and Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies) are also on the cast.

Triple Nine, which is set on the streets of Los Angeles, is scheduled to begin filming this summer. The feature will be the first from director John Hillcoat since Lawless, released in 2012. The film's title is a reference to 999, the police code for "officer down" among US police forces. – AFP Relaxnews

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Balingian by-election: Smooth early voting at Mukah police HQ

Posted: 25 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

MUKAH: Early voting for the Baling­ian by-election, involving 133 registered enforcement personnel, went off without a hitch.

"We expect almost everyone eligible for early voting to do so today. The Election Commission records show 133 eligible voters, although according to our own latest records, one has retired.

"We hope he returns to cast his vote and not waste it," Sarawak Deputy Police Commis­sioner Dep­-uty Comm Datuk Law Hong Soon said.

Civil duty: Early  voting for the Balingian      by-election involved 133 registered enforcement personnel.

Civil duty: Early voting for the Balingian by-election involved 133 registered enforcement personnel.

Early voting took place at the Mukah police headquarters' multi-purpose hall after the state-level Malaysian Police Day celebrations, which was held there.

DCP Law said the campaigning for the by-election had been "peaceful", adding: "There have been no police reports made by either side. This is a very smooth by-election. I want to say thank you to the people for showing such high level of cooperation."

Law said 54 permits for political rallies had been issued so far.

MH370 crash: Flags lowered to half-mast in Johor and Perak

Posted: 25 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

JOHOR BARU: Flags at government agencies, schools and the private sector in Johor and Perak will be flown half-mast as a mark of respect for the passengers and crew on Flight MH370,

Johor State Secretary Datuk Obet Tawil said Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar was sad and concerned for the families of all those on board the flight.

"All flags statewide, whether government or the private sector, were directed yesterday to be flown at half-mast for a day," he said.

In Ipoh, the Raja Muda of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah urged all government departments, agencies, schools and institutions, as well as the private sector, to fly the state flag at half-mast today.

In a statement yesterday, Raja Dr Nazrin expressed his sadness and sympathies to the families of the passengers and crew on Flight MH370.

He said the gesture would be a symbol of sympathy of the people in the state to the affected families.

Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir said in a statement: "In this hour of sadness, we can only empathise and offer our condolences."

In George Town, the Penang Free School lowered the Jalur Gemilang to half-mast as a mark of respect for its alumnus Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

School principal Jalil Saad said the news of the loss of Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean was devastating to all Frees.

"Even though I didn't know Zaharie personally because he was two years my junior, I feel extremely sad for the loss.

"We have lost a respectable and very talented Old Free," he said at his office yesterday.

He added that the school would observe a minute's silence during the assembly when the school reopens on Monday.

The youngest son and the eighth of nine children, Zaharie studied at the Jelutong English School (now known as SK Jelutong Barat) before moving to PFS from 1974 until 1978.

He joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and capped 18,365 flying hours.

Meanwhile, Zaharie's neighbour and close friend Abdul Rahman Bistamam said he felt like his friend was still alive.

"Something tells me that he's still out there.

"There is no concrete evidence to prove that he's dead," he said.

Puspakom to extend mobile inspection service

Posted: 25 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

ALOR SETAR: Puspakom will be extending its Premier Mobile Inspection Service (PMI) to Kedah, Perak, Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan from April 1 to enable customers to obtain vehicle inspection services.

Its chief executive officer Mohammed Shukor Ismail said the service aimed to save time and facilitate vehicle owners to patronise its inspection services without the need to visit Puspakom centres.

"Many vehicle owners cannot spare the time to carry out inspection at our branches, so our PMI unit can serve them at their location. Customers only need to call the PMI toll-free line at 1800-222-210 for an appointment," he said in a media statement.

He said an inspection would only take 30 minutes and the charge was based on the type of inspection, costing between RM20 and RM50, while the service charge was RM100 for a car and RM50 for a motorcycle.

Mohammed Shukor said the extension of PMI was an initiative by Puspakom to raise its quality of service for the comfort of customers.

The PMI service is mandatory under the Road Transport Act 1987 for vehicles with expired road tax for more than a year and new or used imported vehicles. — Bernama

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Keeping the art of Teochew opera alive

Posted: 25 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Teochew opera practitioners Ling Goh and family take to the stage with puppets in tow.

A GENERAL frames a minister and has every first-born in a village killed. A jilted lover poisons the person she holds responsible for her misery. A poor farmer gets caught up, unwittingly, in the state's secret affairs and corruption. And the stories go on, told and retold for centuries, and enjoyed by old and young alike.

Chinese opera, one of the oldest dramatic art forms, combines literature, music and drama – plus elaborate costumes and lots of make-up!

There are not many practitioners in Malaysia who come from a background like Ling Goh of the now-defunct Kim Giak Low Choon (KGLC) Teochew Opera Troupe.

This weekend, Goh, together with family members spanning three generations, will offer a glimpse into the colourful world of Teochew opera at the Theatre Lounge Cafe in Kuala Lumpur.

The performance is divided into two acts, with the first being a scene from The Orphan Of Zhao. The story revolves around a minister who leads a rebellion within the imperial court to overthrow the minister in power, and soon after, adopts a child without realising that the boy is the son of the minister he killed. When the son comes of age, he avenges his father's untimely death.

Goh plays the biological mother of the avenging son, accompanied by her two nieces, Goh Sin Ee, 13, and Sin Jie, 12.

The second act involves, dramatically, the ghost spirit of a woman who commits suicide after being sold to a brothel. The apparition haunts the room, befriends a customer, and convinces him to assist her in seeking revenge.

A Taste of Teochew Opera at Intimate Encounters@Theatre Lounge Cafe. Ling Goh's nieces, the fifth generation of a family of opera practitioners, are being groomed in this ancient art form.

A Taste of Teochew Opera at Intimate Encounters@Theatre Lounge Cafe. Ling Goh's nieces, the fifth generation of a family of opera practitioners, are being groomed in this ancient art form.

Her story is told through iron-rod puppets controlled by skilled puppeteers – truly a family event as Goh's parents, brothers, nieces and sister-in-law are involved, their ages ranging from 12 to 71 years old.

"Before the show, a makeshift stage is built with a straw mat placed on the floor boards. The movements, music and vocals you see here are similar to shadow puppetry," Goh explains, adding that a traditional rod puppetry troupe is made up of nine members who are divided into groups of three to handle the puppets, sing and provide the music.

If the play has multiple characters, multi-tasking becomes the order of the day – the puppeteers and musicians might also sing.

Goh, a fourth generation opera practitioner, learned the art of opera and puppetry from her mother, who has to date been performing in puppet shows for 50 years.

"I started performing at the age of seven. In 2009, I formed KGLC Teochew Opera Troupe to provide local performers and myself with a platform to continue performing," Goh says of the troupe that was based in Penang.

The setting up of the troupe in 2009 was timely, as many other opera troupes were being disbanded in succession around that time.

The KGLC Troupe held out as long as it could, but unfortunately was disbanded last year; Goh cites financial constraints as the reason.

But she continues to perform, motivated by her love for the art form that she grew up with, and the encouraging feedback from the audience – every compliment clearly high praise for someone who describes Teochew opera as "an expression of love for our roots".

Goh comments that local audiences have the perception that Teochew opera performances are staged for spiritual beings – a belief fuelled by the location (temples) and timing (Hungry Ghost Festival) of many performances.

"I would like to change this perception and let people know that this beautiful art form is so much more than that," she says.

To that end, Goh plans to set up a Penang Teochew Arts Centre next month where exhibitions and shows will be held. Workshops will also be conducted.

"We will persevere in our pursuit of this art form. It's our sincere hope that the generations to come will have the opportunity to continue learning and enjoying Teochew opera and puppetry shows," she says.

What better way to start than by watching her perform this weekend.

> A Taste of Teochew Opera is on at Intimate Encounters@Theatre Lounge Cafe (B1-3A, Plaza Damas 3, No.63 Jalan Sri Hartamas 1, Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur) from March 28 to 30 at 9pm. Cover charge is RM65. For details and seating purchase, call 012-236 9100 or 03-6211 3000.

How to thrive in opera: Chicago's homegrown scene has the secret

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 04:50 AM PDT

Opera has seen its fortunes diminish in American cities, all except for Chicago. In the windy city, opera is loud, clear and alive!

The plot summary of US opera in recent years has unfolded like the last act of a Verdi tragedy: New York City Opera, dead; Opera Boston, dead; San Diego Opera, on its final aria. The Chicago opera scene, however, is all up-tempo.

The nation's third most populous city has not only preserved its devotion to opera, it has expanded it, despite hard times for the art form elsewhere. Opera experts credit creative programming, solid philanthropic help and a loyal, enthusiastic audience.

"The Chicago opera scene has been unusually vibrant," said F. Paul Driscoll, editor of Opera News magazine, who compared the enthusiasm at Lyric Opera performances to the excitement at sporting events. "Chicago has a huge appetite for music."

Nationally, 2.1% of the US population attended an opera performance in 2012, down from 3.2% in 2002, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

New York City Opera went bankrupt last year. San Diego Opera announced it would close after the current season finishes in April. New York's famed Metropolitan Opera, the nation's largest, reported a budget shortfall.

In contrast, ticket sales for Chicago's Lyric are up 15% for fiscal year 2013, a 14-month period which ended June 30, 2013.

It no longer sells out the season on subscriptions, as it did in the 1990s, but at 72% of ticket sales it still has the biggest subscriber base of any US company, according to Opera America, a national opera service organisation.

The smaller Chicago Opera Theatre (COT), known for out-of-the-box productions like Duke Ellington's Queenie Pie, last year saw a 20% jump in subscribers, said general director Andreas Mitisek.

New companies have sprung up as well. Haymarket Opera Company specialises in the Baroque era, and South Shore Opera Company has done shows using African-American casts, including William Grant Still's Troubled Island.

"There's a hunger for all these different things," said Mitisek, who also directs California's Long Beach Opera.

Reeling them in 

What's going right in Chicago?

One factor is an active, experimental local theatre scene, Mitisek said. So COT can find an audience for shows like Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus and Eurydice, staged last year at public swimming pools, used as staging for the mythical River Styx.

Northwestern, Roosevelt and DePaul universities all have vocal programmes that feed area companies with fresh talent. And Chicago's generous philanthropic community helps offset the rising costs of mounting operatic productiona, according to opera experts.

Among the most coveted seats in town is on the Lyric Opera's board, which includes Glenn F. Tilton of JP Morgan Chase's executive committee; investor and violinist Howard Gottlieb; and Allan B. Muchin, founding partner of the law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman.

"There's a real commitment, which is an informed commitment, not simply an instinctive emotion," agreed Anthony Freud, Lyric's general director, who came on in 2011.

Lyric has responded to a tougher job selling subscriptions by expanding its offerings. In addition to its eight-opera season, it now offers a musical – next month, it's The Sound of Music.

Lyric also started Lyric Unlimited, with projects ranging from family shows to the world's first mariachi opera. The Second City Guide to the Opera, co-hosted by soprano and Lyric creative consultant Renee Fleming and actor Patrick Stewart, featured comic sketches and songs.

Opera fans interviewed at a recent production of Dvorak's Rusalka said they welcomed new programming, if it helps bring in more young people. "When I'm the youngest person in my row, it's scary," said Wendy Smith, 65.

Lyric is not abandoning the classics. It plans a new production of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, starting in 2016-2017. But fresh programming and US$20 seats for college students bring new fans into Lyric's Art Deco theatre, Freud said.

"For too many years, too many arts organisations existed in hermetically-sealed bubbles," Freud said. "It's no longer tenable simply to do what has been done for decades." – Reuters

Win free tickets to see 'Jersey Boys' in KL

Posted: 22 Mar 2014 09:30 AM PDT

The KL producers of the hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys are giving away tickets to the show in a special contest.

Get suited, get booted, and get dolled up! Jersey Boys, the smash hit Broadway musical about rise to stardom of one of the most iconic pop groups of the 1960s, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, will run at KL's Istana Budaya from April 15 to 27.

This award-winning show tells the rags-to-riches story of four streetwise New Jersey sons who made their music dreams come true against the odds. It's a full-scale song-and-dance performance that will thrill theatregoers and pop fans with lots of classic jukebox hits, lots of choreography, and lots of drama—even in the aisles.

Jersey Boys will showcase classic pop tunes like Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like A Man, Can't Take My Eyes Off You and December 1963 (Oh What A Night).

The even better news is that show promoter Milestone Production Sdn Bhd has 104 tickets to give away. Just answer a simple question on their Facebook page to stand a chance to win a free pass to the show. The closing date for the contest is April 10.

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Undersea volcanoes, huge seas complicate MH370 search

Posted: 25 Mar 2014 11:48 PM PDT

SYDNEY: Searchers racing to find flight MH370's "black box" face daunting hurdles ranging from undersea volcanoes to mountainous seas as they operate in one of Earth's most remote locations, experts said Wednesday.

They warned there was no guarantee that an unprecedented international search operation involving the militaries of six nations would succeed in retrieving wreckage of the doomed Malaysian Airlines plane which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday said the search zone - in the southern Indian Ocean some 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth - was "as close to nowhere as it's possible to be".

University of New South Wales oceanographer Erik van Sebille said the crash site was in an area known as "the Roaring Forties", notorious among mariners for its hostile seas.

"In general, this is the windiest and waviest part of the ocean," he said. "In winter, if a storm passes by you can expect waves of 10-15 metres."

The Soufan Group, a US-based strategic security intelligence consultancy, likened searching for debris in such conditions to "finding a drifting needle in a chaotic, colour-changing, perception-shifting, motion-sickness-inducing haystack".

"A random wave might obscure the object when the eyes pass over it; sun glare off the water may blind momentarily; a look two degrees to the left when the object is most visible may cause the moment to pass," it said.

Even if the search does find verifiable wreckage from MH370 on the surface, geologist Robin Beaman said underwater volcanoes would probably hamper efforts to recover the black box flight recorder from the depths.

Beaman said the Southeast Indian Ocean Ridge cut directly through the search area, meaning the sea bed was rugged and constantly being reshaped by magma flows.

He said the ridge was an "extremely active" range of volcanoes sitting at an average depth of 3,000 metres (1.86 miles), which marked the point where the Antarctic and Australasian tectonic plates collide.

"It's very unfortunate if that debris has landed on the active crest area, it will make life more challenging," Beaman, who specialises in underwater geology at Queensland's James Cook University, told AFP.

"It's rugged, it's covered in faults, fine-scale gullies and ridges, there isn't a lot of sediment blanketing that part of the world because it's fresh (in geological terms)."

Finding the flight and cockpit voice data will be crucial in determining what caused the Boeing 777 to deviate inexplicably off course and fly thousands of miles in the wrong direction.

Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted by someone on board.

University of Sydney aviation expert Peter Gibbens said searchers faced a race against time, with acoustic signals from the black box set to fall silent in about two weeks when its battery expires.

"They're going to be pushing it with time, the chances are stacked against them," he said.

In a sign of the level of cooperation achieved in the search, the US military has sent a hi-tech black box locator to Perth which will be reportedly fitted to an Australian navy ship so it can scour the likely crash site.

Van Sebille said the remote location at least meant searchers did not have to contend with the large collections of random garbage that litter most other oceans, reducing the likelihood they would be distracted by false leads.

"This area of ocean is virtually pristine," he said, explaining that ocean currents in the area naturally moved flotsam north, away from the search area.

He said this meant the large objects that had been sighted by air crews were likely to have come from MH370.

"If the plane would have gone down in any of the other ocean basins I would be much more sceptical that the pieces of debris spotted were actually part of the plane," he said. -AFP

Mystery of MH370 may never be solved, say experts

Posted: 25 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Even if searchers are able to miraculously pluck Malaysia Airlines flight MH370's "black box" from the depths of the vast Indian Ocean, experts say it may not solve one of aviation's greatest mysteries.

Planes, ships and state-of-the-art tracking equipment are hunting for any trace of the passenger jet, which Malaysia said crashed in the forbidding waters after veering far from its intended course.

They face a huge challenge locating the Boeing 777's "black box", which holds vital clues to determining what caused the plane to vanish.

But experts believe the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder may not yield answers on the riddle of how and why the plane diverted an hour into the flight, and embarked on a baffling journey to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

The data recorder details the aircraft's path and other mechanical information for the flight's duration, and "should provide a wealth of information", US-based aviation consultancy firm Leeham Co said in a commentary.

But the cockpit voice recorder – which could reveal what decisions were made by those at the helm and why – retains only the last two hours of conversations before the plane's demise.

That means potentially crucial exchanges surrounding the initial diversion, which took place halfway between Malaysia and Vietnam, will be lost.

"Clearly, it won't reveal anything that happened over the Gulf of Thailand – this will have been overwritten by the end of MH370," it said.

British aviation expert Chris Yates said that even if the black boxes are found, "it seems unlikely that we will get that answer" of why the plane ended up thousands of kilometres off course.

"We still have no idea as to the mental state of the pilot and co-pilot, we have no idea if somebody managed to get into the cockpit to seize the aircraft, and we've certainly had no admissions of responsibility since this whole episode started," he told BBC television.

Paul Yap, an aviation lecturer at Singapore's Temasek Polytechnic, said: "With the new satellite data, I think we can say it is a chessboard," he said of the wide search area. — AFP

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