Khamis, 29 Mei 2014

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro


EU voices 'extreme concern' over Thai coup crackdowns

Posted: 29 May 2014 05:19 PM PDT

BANGKOK: The European Union has voiced "extreme concern" about political detentions and censorship in Thailand, as the military junta chief met officials and began to set out plans for the country's future.

The EU - a key trade partner of the Southeast Asian nation - said only a clear plan for the country's return to democracy could allow its "continuous support" after the Thai military seized power last week and set about rounding up political figures, academics and activists.

"We are following current developments with extreme concern," the EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

"We urge the military leadership to free all those who have been detained for political reasons in recent days and to remove censorship," she added.

The junta on Thursday added nearly 50 more names to the upwards of 250 people it has summoned, having held scores of people without charge at secret locations for up to a week.

Authorities have curtailed civil liberties under martial law and imposed a nightly curfew.

A week after seizing power, Thailand's coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha met central and regional officials and laid out three stages that he envisioned for the country before it could be returned to democratic rule, without giving a timeframe.

The country would stay under "special law" during the first phase and then later set up a national assembly and "reform council", according to army spokeswoman Sirichan Ngathong.

Only then would the country start the process of preparing for elections, she said.

On Thursday, the United States reiterated a call for elections. "We don't believe there is a legitimate reason to delay elections, and we will continue to work with our international partners to use every political lever, economic lever where applicable to put the necessary pressure on," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Thailand has seen 19 actual or attempted coups since 1932.

The regime freed some 30 people, including Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who was caretaker premier at the time of the coup, on Thursday - a day after releasing leaders of the "Red Shirt" movement allied to the ousted government.

It has instructed all those set free to refrain from discussing politics under threat of prosecution in a military court.

Senior members of their rival protest movement as well as former premiers Yingluck Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva have also been held and since released.

A fugitive former cabinet minister arrested by soldiers who swooped on a press briefing a day earlier was brought before a military court Wednesday to acknowledge charges of denying an order to report to the junta, and of "provocation", police said.

If convicted, ex-education minister Chaturon Chaisang could be imprisoned. He had used a press conference to criticise the coup minutes before being detained. 

Army denies Facebook block

Following a threat of a crackdown on social media, Facebook users on Wednesday reacted with alarm to rumours of a "block" of the popular site.

After an outcry on the Internet, the army interrupted national television to deny it had blocked Facebook after the site briefly went down.

But the military has warned against small but persistent daily anti-coup protests, mainly in the capital Bangkok.

Army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said authorities should prosecute demonstrators and could use teargas against the rallies, although he added they would "avoid violence".

The current political turmoil centres on the divisive figure of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's older brother, who was deposed as prime minister by royalist generals in a 2006 coup and now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.

His opponents in the establishment, military and among the Bangkok middle classes view the entire Shinawatra family as corrupt.

Anti-Shinawatra protesters staged nearly seven months of protests before the May 22 coup in an attempt to rid the country of the family's influence.

At least 28 people have died in related violence.

Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician, has broad support among the urban working class and rural communities in the north and northeast, particularly for popular policies including providing nearly free healthcare.

He or his allies have won every election in the country since 2001.

Thailand has been rocked by increasingly severe political division and street protest since he was deposed in 2006.

More than 90 people were killed and hundreds injured during Red Shirt protests in 2010 that ended with a crackdown by soldiers firing live rounds. - AFP

Elderly man suspected of vandalism

Posted: 29 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A 71-YEAR-old man has been arrested for his suspected involvement in acts of vandalism discovered around the Clarke Quay area last week that appeared to be in support of blogger Roy Ngerng.

The police, in a media statement yesterday, said they were alerted to the graffiti when a report was lodged last Friday morning about a bus stop advertisement board along Hill Street that had been defaced.

Officers then carried out checks and found similar graffiti at 11 other bus stops along Clemenceau Avenue, River Valley Road, Hill Street and Victoria Street.

Phrases such as "We support CPF blogger" and "Return our CPF money" were scrawled in black block letters across at least six areas.

These appeared to be messages backing Ngerng, who received a letter of demand from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on May 18 for defamatory remarks made about Lee in a blog post recently.

The arrest of the suspect on Tuesday stemmed from police operations and inspections of closed-circuit television footage.

Anyone found guilty of vandalism could face imprisonment of up to three years, or a fine up to S$2,000 (RM5,100), and could also receive between three and eight strokes of the cane.

However, as the suspect is above 50, he will not be caned if convicted. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network

Lee commences suit against blogger

Posted: 29 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has commenced proceedings on a defamation suit against blogger Roy Ngerng, who in a May 15 blog post alleged that Lee had misappropriated CPF savings.

In the latest letter sent yesterday, the Prime Minister's lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, also responded to a lawyer's letter sent by Ngerng on Wednesday.

Ngerng's lawyer M. Ravi wrote that although Ngerng promised not to "aggravate the injury and distress" to Lee through "similar other posts", this should not be understood as a curtailment of Ngerng's "right to his freedom of expression to write or engage the public on the CPF issue and raise any matters relating to CPF that requires transparency and accessibility to the public".

Davinder's response in yesterday's letter was that Lee "has never once said" that Ngerng is to remove his posts, including those on the CPF, other than those specifically identified in Lee's letters, and Ngerng knew that.

Lee has, since the saga started on May 18, asked Ngerng to remove a May 15 blog post that drew comparisons between the alleged misuse of church funds by City Harvest Church leaders and CPF funds, as well as four blog posts that republish this comparison.

Despite that, wrote Davinder, Ngerng has in Wednesday's letter "sought to give the false impression that our client is seeking to prevent him from expressing his views on the CPF or from exercising his constitutional rights".

"This disingenuous suggestion was made in a letter which your client intended to make public, to bolster his standing and in aid of his continuing public campaign against our client," said Davinder.

Lee will invite the court to "have regard to this malicious conduct when assessing aggravated damages", he added. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio


So long suckers! HBO reveals new posters for 'True Blood'

Posted: 27 May 2014 09:10 PM PDT

Five different taglines used by network in final run of vampire drama.

To promote the seventh and final season of its famous vampire drama, which premieres on Sunday, June 22, the cable network has designed five new posters.

Rather than focusing on the stars of the series, HBO emphasises the show's dark humour in its new promotional materials, which have a minimalist red and white design.

"Goodbyes Suck", "One Last Bite", "Last Call", "Immortality" and "True End" are the taglines the network chose in an effort to attract more of its subscribers with the final run of True Blood. Viewership for the show, which follows the adventures of Sookie Stackhouse and her vampire friends, has declined steadily over the past two seasons. – AFP Relaxnews

Season 7 of True Blood will debut on HBO (Astro Ch. 411) on June 29.

Wang Leehom thanks wife for getting pregnant

Posted: 27 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Couple just got married five months ago.

Hugging and kissing his wife of five months, pop star Wang Leehom announced at a party after his recent concert in Xian, China, that they are having a baby.

Doctoral student Michiko Nishimura, alias Li Jinglei, is said to be five months pregnant, reported NetEase website. She wore a loose top and flats at the party, said the report.

Wang, who celebrated his 38th birthday recently, held his wife and said: "Thank you for giving me the greatest gift."

He announced that he and his wife would soon start a new life as "one plus one equals three", and kissed her, adding: "Thank you for always being with me."

He said he did not know the gender of the baby, but had nicknamed the child Wang Yi, or Wang The First.

Fans call the star Wang Er, or Wang The Second, and Yi has the fewest strokes, the singer said with a laugh.

He said he was moved to tears when he heard of his wife's pregnancy. His wife will give birth in Taiwan, where postnatal care is better, he added. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

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The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz

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The Star eCentral: Movie Buzz


Starlight Cinema, Malaysia's biggest outdoor cinema, is back!

Posted: 28 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Set down your picnic baskets and lay out your mats – Starlight Cinema, Malaysia's biggest outdoor cinema, is back!

Taking place at the Bukit Kiara Equestrian Park from June 13 to 21, moviegoers will be treated to some of Hollywood's biggest titles like The Dark Knight trilogy, Man Of Steel, Pacific Rim, both instalments of Despicable Me, plus classics like The Sound Of Music and Titanic.

"We decided to bring back Starlight Cinema this year due to an overwhelming response from fans who have clearly missed the cinematic event," said organiser Rev Asia Holdings Sdn Bhd's managing director Voon Tze Khay.

"We've lined up an interesting bag of movies, which should keep audiences happy," he added.

Horror flicks such as Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and The Conjuring will also be shown.

On top of that, there will also be a beer garden, a bazaar, plus other activities that will help moviegoers unwind (or you could simply look up and gaze at the stars).

For a complete movie listing and show times, visit starlightcinema.com.my.

James McAvoy wants people to stop asking about his flirtation with priesthood

Posted: 27 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Plus a few other juicy confessions from the X-Men star.

THERE are really only two options to explain why X-Men star James McAvoy is so alert and chipper in New York: either he really is a mutated, further evolved form of a human being, or he's an even better actor than his impressive list of roles over the last decade suggests.

Seriously, no normal human should be able to stand up straight and speak coherently after the two weeks he's experienced – starting with his worldwide promotional duties for the blockbuster comic book sequel and a film at Cannes. Now, he's mixing in some promotion for the well-timed release of his Irvine Welsh adaptation, Filth, and it's possible that he's spent more time in the air than on the ground.

"I started in London," said McAvoy, taking a deep breath as he began reciting his itinerary. "Then I came to New York, did seven days in New York. Then went back to London, did two days in London, then did two days in Brazil, then did 24 hours in Cannes and now I'm doing four more days in New York." The secret to staying awake, he says, is literally running away from his exhaustion.

"I've started running, as soon as I get to the hotel, right off the plane," he said. "Get some daylight and get running, and it's really sort of helped me out. I think 50% of jet lag is psychological. By going out and doing something, you tell that psychological part of jet lag to go away.

He's not a regular athlete – "I don't really exercise, except for playing football – er, soccer – with my pals," he admitted – but we'll leave mutant suspicions for another day, because he will at least cop to being a smidge bit tired thanks to a night of partying after a special screening of Filth.

Unfortunately, he has little control over the minds of other people – he is, after all, not actually Charles Xavier – and so during this globetrotting tour of press appearances, he's had to answer quite a few questions over and over again.

The most frequent: "Is it true that when you were 16 you thought about becoming a Catholic priest?'

I get that all the time," he said, with a grumble somehow that emanated from his smile.

"And yeah, it was true, like briefly. But it's like something I mentioned in an interview when I was like 24, and every time I do an interview, they're like, 'Is it true that you thought about becoming a Catholic priest?' And you're like, 'Yeah, you know it is because you read it in an interview!'"

It's almost discouraging to hear, because it's likely that just about every journalist who asked the question thought they had dug up something that would make their interview unique from the 4,000 others McAvoy has been doing.

Reporters that ask the other most frequent question are less deserving of sympathy.

"And then I get, 'If you could have any kind of superpower, but not the one you have in the movie, what would it be?'" McAvoy said.

"And you keep wanting to come up with a different thing, because you get bored, but you're like, that's not true, I know the one thing I want."

So, why doesn't he just lie? "Some actors do that and I respect them for it, but I can't do it," he says, sighing. "It's not my way."

Luckily, the true stories are generally interesting enough, especially when talking about his experience shooting Filth.

McAvoy spent two months abusing himself while playing a corrupt cop experiencing psychotic episodes while teetering toward a full-blown mental breakdown.

"I ate a lot and drank a lot," he said, noting whiskey as his toxic liquid of choice. "It just helped me feel bad in a way, and it's one of those things where no matter how badly you slept, how sick you feel with flu, no matter how much you drank the night before and how bad your hangover is, it's good, because it's exactly the condition you're meant to be in. So it was just free reign to abuse oneself."

McAvoy, as Bruce Robertson, is striving hard for a promotion to detective inspector, and will leave no rival (including cops played by Jamie Bell and Imogen Poots) un-manipulated in the quest. But he's hardly in a position to pull off his schemes successfully, with his mind filled with mourning for the wife that left him and self-loathing for the horrendous man he's become.

It's ironic that he's seen as playing against type in this role; he quite often finds himself playing a rich British man, but he actually grew up in very working class projects in Scotland.

"People thought I was some kind of posh guy," he said, laughing. (Director Jon Baird later said that he hadn't even initially considered McAvoy for the role of Robertson, as he was under the same assumption).

"I speak kind of well, I suppose and all that, and my accent has changed a hell of a lot over the last, I don't know how many years it's been since I've moved, 14 years or whatever. It's still Scottish, but it's just chilled out a lot." Modulating his voice was a matter of survival in the industry – and getting annoyed at always having to repeat himself.

"Basically you just get tired of people going, 'Pardon me? What did you say?' Even in England, people would just go, 'What? What did he say?'" he remembered, laughing ruefully.

"That was the first four or five years of my experience, people going, 'Dude you talk too fast, I don't understand what you're saying.' I understand even now people have problems with it. But my true accent is thicker."

At the end of the week, he heads back home to London, where he'll get some well-earned relaxation time – after he participates in a charity soccer match, of course. The running really helps. — Reuters

Quidditch coming to life at US documentary festival

Posted: 26 May 2014 08:55 PM PDT

Mudbloods among four feature-length documentaries premiering at AFI Docs.

Muggles, take note: a documentary about Harry Potter fans playing real-life quidditch is about to get its world premiere at a top US film festival.

Mudbloods follows a California university team's journey to the Quidditch World Cup, bringing the fictional schoolboy wizard's favourite contact team sport to life – complete with straw brooms between their legs.

Directed by Farzad Sangari, it's among four feature-length documentaries getting their world premiere at the five-day AFI Docs festival in Washington that starts June 18, organisers announced recently.

Others include the festival opener, Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey by Scott Teems, a salute to actor Hal Holbrook's long-running one-man show celebrating iconic American humorist Mark Twain.

How I Got Over, which tells the stories of formerly homeless women in the US capital, and Back on Board, about the openly gay and HIV-positive US Olympic swimming champion Greg Louganis, round out the list.

Overall, the 12th edition of AFI Docs, hosted by the American Film Institute, will bring together 84 feature-length and short documentaries from 28 countries, selected from nearly 2,000 submissions.

Global politics inform many of the films, such as Point and Shoot, about a young American joining the Libyan revolution in 2011, and E-Team, about human rights investigators on the front lines of conflict.

Lighter fare includes 112 Weddings, in which director Doug Block goes back to see how the many couples whose nuptials he recorded as a videographer are surviving marriage. – AFP Relaxnews

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business


Icon Offshore to raise RM944.9m from IPO

Posted: 29 May 2014 07:16 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Icon Offshore Bhd, which is seeking a listing on the Main Market of Bursa Malaysia Securities, plans to raise RM944.91mil from initial public offer (IPO) of 510.76 million shares.

According to its prospectus issued on Friday, the shares would be offered at an indicative retail offer price of RM1.85 a share.

The IPO of 510.76 million shares comprise of 289.02 million existing shares and 221.74 million new shares.

Upon listing, its enlarged paid-up share capital would be 1.177 billion shares of 50 sen each.

CIMB Research maintains Add on Muhibbah

Posted: 29 May 2014 07:13 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: CIMB Research has maintained its Add on Muhibbah Engineering with a target price of RM3.48, it said in a note on Friday.

The research house said Muhibbah's annualised 1Q14 core net profit made up 86% of CIMB's and 80% of consensus full-year forecasts.

"This is deemed in line as subsequent quarters should be better, driven by the record-high crane order book of RM1.1bil.

"We expect the infra division to play catch-up, as over RM2bil worth of its tenders are focused on Petronas' Rapid project. A 20%-30% success rate over the next 18 months is achievable, in our view," it said.

CIMB added that it is positive about the company's outlook and its RM61.4mil civil works job for a domestic gas terminal should kick-start other catalysts in the medium term.

Though the project is small in value, it is positive on this win as it starts the ball rolling for the replenishment of the group's infrastructure order book, which previously stood at RM704mil.

"Things are bound to get even better in 2H - we believe the award flows for Rapid infra works will gather momentum in 2H.

"Its Rapid tenders amount to a total of RM2bil-RM3bil.  A success rate of 20%-30% is achievable given the industry shortage of specialised contractors for oil & gas and marine-related infra," it said.

Report: Siemens to eliminate 11,600 positions

Posted: 29 May 2014 07:04 PM PDT

Siemens AG's chief executive said the European giant will cut 11,600 positions as the company reduces costs by about 1 billion euros (US$1.36 billion), Bloomberg reported on Friday.


Some 7,600 will be cut through streamlining and the creation of a new divisional structure, and another 4,000 from regional clustering, it reported, citing CEO Joe Kaeser as saying in a webcast conference from New York on Wednesday.

Kaeser said some employees will be assigned other roles, Bloomberg said.

"A certain amount of people do stuff for co-ordinating things, analyzing things," said Kaeser. "About 20 percent of those we believe can be put to work elsewhere, but not there. They can be taken out of the system because the work goes away."

Siemens unveiled a long-awaited restructuring earlier this month in a drive to catch up with more profitable competitors.

As part of the overhaul, dubbed "Vision 2020" the company said it was taking out a layer of management by cutting back to nine core divisions, publicly listing its hearing aid business and separating out management of its healthcare business.- Reuters

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The Star Online: Nation

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Late Sultan laid to rest

Posted: 29 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

KUALA KANGSAR: In keeping with age-old tradition, the body of the late Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak was carried on a yellow pedati (carriage) shaded by white umbrellas to his final resting place at the Royal Mausoleum next to the Ubudiah Mosque here.

Members of the armed forces and police led the hearse in the procession from Istana Iskandariah to the mosque where prayers were performed.

They were accompanied by court musicians playing nobat nafiri and the state's Orang-Orang Besar Jajahan (district chieftains).

Walking behind the open carriage was a grim-looking Sultan Nazrin Shah, his consort Tuanku Zara Salim and other members of the Perak royal family.

All along the way, 86 cannon shots were fired to mark each year of Sultan Azlan Shah's life.

Also in the procession were Selangor's Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir and state executive councillors.

A huge crowd waited for the arrival of the body in front of the mosque. They stayed on for the burial despite the threat of a thunderstorm.

Sultan Azlan Shah was laid to rest after asar prayers next to his son Raja Kecil Sulong Datuk Seri Raja Ashman Shah, who died at the age of 54 on March 30, 2012.

Earlier, royalty, politicians, prominent businessmen, foreign dignitaries, judges and lawyers joined in bidding farewell to Sultan Azlan Shah.

Throughout the lying in state, an endless stream of people came to pay their last respects to the late Ruler.

Among the earliest to pay their last respects were Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, who had rushed back to Malaysia from China.

The Prime Minister and wife, who arrived at 8.45am, were led to the Balairong Seri (Throne Room) by Raja Dr Nazrin Shah where Sultan Azlan Shah's remains were placed on a three-tier catafalque that was draped in yellow and the state flag.

Four uniformed men representing the army, navy, air force and police stood guard.

Sultan Azlan Shah died at 1.30pm on Wednesday at the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur.

He leaves behind Raja Permaisuri Perak Tuanku Bainun Mohd Ali, son Raja Dr Nazrin Shah and daughters Datuk Seri Raja Azureen, Datuk Seri Raja Eleena and Datuk Seri Raja Yong Sofia.

Sultan Sharafuddin was the first of the Malay Rulers to offer his condolences, and Raja Dr Nazrin Shah shed tears when the Selangor Ruler hugged him.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, who was accompanied by Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Hajah Haminah, and the Sultan of Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah were among the heads of state to pay their final respects.

Others included Muhyiddin, Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah and Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng represented the state in honouring the late Sultan.

Both Barisan Nasional and DAP candidates for the Teluk Intan by-election Datuk Mah Siew Keong and Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud were also present.

Sapura Kencana president and group chief executive officer Tan Sri Shahril Shamsuddin, Perak-born fashion designer to the stars and VIPs Datuk Radzuan Radziwill and lawyer Datuk S. Ambiga were also at Istana Iskandariah.

Najib breaks China trip to pay last respects

Posted: 29 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

KUALA KANGSAR: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak interrupted his official six-day visit to China to pay his respects to the late Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah.

Najib arrived with his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor at the Balairong Seri (Throne Room) of Istana Iskandariah, Bukit Chandan, here, at 9am yesterday.

They left to resume their visit to China later yesterday.

The visit coincides with the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and China.

The Prime Minister, who was in black traditional Malay attire, also met members of the Perak royal household to express his condolences on the demise of Sultan Azlan Shah. — Bernama

Liow pays tribute to a wise and intelligent ruler

Posted: 29 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak was a Ruler with great wisdom, intelligence and a heart for his subjects, said MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

"We pay tribute to the Sultan for his immense contribution to the judiciary system in the country and his exemplary leadership will provide the impetus for others to follow.

"He has left a legacy with his many landmark rulings, especially on constitutional and administrative law," he added while conveying his condolences to the family of Sultan Azlan Shah, the Raja Permaisuri and the people of Perak on behalf of MCA.

Liow said Sultan Azlan Shah was a very learned leader who contributed immensely to the judiciary and sports in the country.

"He was a well-respected Ruler who had the people at heart, and will be greatly missed not just by Perakians but Malaysians at large," Liow said in a statement yesterday.

He said Sultan Azlan Shah, being the father of Malaysian hockey, had placed the welfare of the players at heart by setting up the Yayasan Hoki Malaysia so that they could improve from education and have better job opportunities.

"The late Sultan put Malaysia on the international academic map with his outstanding achievements and was accorded recognition by foreign universities," said Liow.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and wife Jeanne Abdullah also extended their heartfelt condolences to the family of the late Sultan.

He said Sultan Azlan Shah was a towering Malaysian whose contributions to the judiciary, sports and the constitutional monarchy were immeasurable.

"In my years in the Government, I found him to be a person of immense wisdom," Abdullah said.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the late Ruler contributed significantly to the country.

"His contributions are invaluable, especially in the judicial system, academically, in sports and even towards the plight of the rakyat.

"However, I am confident that his successor Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah will be able to lead Perak to new heights in all aspects," he said in a statement.

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Music

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Queen to release new tracks with Freddie Mercury

Posted: 28 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Tapes with the late frontman singing with the band found; compilation album to come at year's end.

Queen are to release new tracks featuring Freddie Mercury's vocals by the end of the year, the British rock group's guitarist Brian May said.

The songs, dating back to the 1980s, will be released on a compilation album, May told BBC radio.

Lead singer Mercury died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991. Four years later, Queen released Made In Heaven, their final studio album with the iconic frontman, painstakingly constructing some fresh songs from lines of vocals he left behind.

But May said more tapes in the vault had come to light.

"We found a few more tracks with Freddie singing and all of us playing, and they're quite beautiful, so people will be hearing this work towards the end of the year," the 66-year-old said.

"We're going to put out an album which probably is called 'Queen Forever', and it's a compilation, but it will have this new material on which nobody in the world has ever heard. And I think people will really enjoy it."

Members of Queen: (from left) Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury, John Deacon and Brian May.

In their current form, the songs do not have the bombastic Queen sound, but May and drummer Roger Taylor – bassist John Deacon retired in 1997 – are giving them the band's trademark anthem touch.

"Most of it comes from the eighties when we were in full flight, so it's quite emotional. It's the big, big ballad and the big, big kind of epic sound.

"It wouldn't have been if we hadn't done this restoration job on it because you have to start from scratch really, because we only had scraps.

"But knowing how it would've happened if we'd finished it then, I can sit there and make it happen, with modern technology."

May is also working up some rough tracks that Mercury recorded with Michael Jackson in 1983. – AFP Relaxnews

2NE1 in concert: Sassy and fierce

Posted: 28 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Psychedelic music and bold female empowerment thrive at 2NE1's sophomore concert in Malaysia.

IN a scene where girl groups are made of seductive stuff masked behind suggestive aegyo, 2NE1 (pronounced "twenty-one" or "to anyone") could be regarded as a kind of triumphant anomaly in K-pop.

Where other all-female exports champion empowerment through girly sass (think SNSD, Miss A, Sistar and – if you'll excuse the generalisation – the other gazillion or so Korean girl groups out there), the quartet's approach of fierce grit is somewhat relatively unconventional.

And so, when a fellow member commented during the group's appearance on hit television variety show Running Man that they've garnered a reputation for being "scary unnis" (a Korean term for "scary older sister" as addressed by younger girls) in the industry, it's an observation that is not without its merit.

That particular remark has Running Man regular Yoo Jae-suk jokingly reply that the girls' notoriety probably stems from their heavy eyeliner makeup.

But superficial aesthetics aside, the group plays a crucial role in delivering futuristic-sounding hip-hop and accessible R&B to audiences who ironically frown upon fluffy music in a market that's famed for churning carefully manufactured saccharine pop by entertainment conglomerates.

Leader of the group, CL performed with fierce tenacity during her solo turn at the show. (Above) Fellow labelmate Winner injected some boyish flair during 2NE1's two-hour set.

Leader of the group, CL performed with fierce tenacity during her solo turn at the show.

Above all, 2NE1's success lies in its clever exploitation of a universal template – powerful women, incredible danceability and infectiously catchy sound.

When a loud bang erupted to the cheers of thousands and the stage curtains fall over the sound of Crush's pulsating electronic intro to reveal CL, Dara, Minzy and Bom at Stadium Negara last Saturday night, you know without a shadow of a doubt, that the aforementioned elements are irrevocably present at the group's sophomore concert in the country.

"They love me cause I'm real, they love me cause I kill," the girls sang in the booming chorus of the group's latest full length studio release's opening track.

It's this sort of brash ethos that resonates with Blackjacks (as 2NE1's fans are known). Some even camped out at the venue the day before the event and that devotion certainly paid off.

During the two-hour set, the group whipped up plenty of frenzy, performing a 23-song setlist that included mostly signature hits such as Fire, Clap Your Hands and Don't Stop The Music interspersed with newer numbers such as Gotta Be You and Scream. Fans were even treated to a couple of numbers from guest boy band and the group's labelmate Winner.

Just like the many colourful costume changes they don, the girls of 2NE1 are an eclectic bunch. CL was definitely the firecracker of the show, pumping plenty of bold attitude throughout the evening. She's both aggressive and sultry as she danced, rapped and writhed during her solo turn on a medley of The Baddest Female and MTBD.

On the other spectrum, we have Dara who's all skittish and sings in a luscious albeit thin tone that fares better on pop-esque tracks than powerhouse ballads. Minzy held her own, busting some serious high-strung dance moves on the stage. As for Bom, she performed with a coy detachment that's both intriguing and deterring at the same time.

When it comes to vocal prowess though, they're intent on shattering the autotune stereotype that's often associated with K-pop on an unplugged rendition of the reggae-infused Come Back Home. But the crux of 2NE1's music lies within the periphery of raves, as evidenced on the group's high-octane performance of I Am The Best which saw the girls mounting massive motorcycles on stage.

Co-directed by renowned choreographers Travis Payne and Stacy Walker, the All Or Nothing concert features quirky stage setup and props that does well in enhancing 2NE1's colossal sound. It's just really unfortunate that a ludicrous stage design that's deeply concave deprived those who packed the far left and right of the indoor arena from the complete view.

That little blot in the landscape aside, the girls of 2NE1 excelled at delivering a bombastic show that is worthy of their status as the Queens of K-pop.

Aizat releases music on vinyl; album up for bid

Posted: 27 May 2014 11:00 PM PDT

Singer's release is inspired by local music legends.

Aizat Amdan was just a boy when he first thought about releasing a vinyl record.

"Growing up, I was always very fascinated by the collection of vinyls my parents displayed all over my house," he recalled during the launch of his first vinyl record, Legasi, at the historic Coliseum Cafe at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur, on Tuesday (May 27).

"I especially loved the covers, they're so beautiful and I thought to myself, 'one day, I would love to release a vinyl record,'" he added, showing off his family's vinyl collection including local artistes Sharifah Aini, DJ Dave, Anita Sarawak and international acts The Beatles, Neil Diamond and Queen at the event.

Now at 25, Aizat, who has nabbed numerous awards at the Anugerah Industri Muzik and Anugerah Juara Lagu following his stint on the fifth season of local reality singing series Akademi Fantasia, is in no better position to make his childhood dream a reality.

"Legasi is inspired by all those who have gone before us such as the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee and many others who were around during that time. They have given our music a unique identity and it is something I need to pass on to the next generation," he said on the meaning behind the album title.

Musically, the record reflects this, for instance, on Dwihati (featuring Yuna) which is inspired by the duet between P. Ramlee and Saloma while Catwalk Ke Balai (featuring Lan of Azlan And The Typewriter) has an 1980s disco pop feel.

Despite Legasi containing only five songs, it took more than a year to complete, the longest yet for the singer. "Not all the artistes I collaborated with are in Malaysia, it was difficult for me to get them to record all at once plus the process of making the vinyl also took some time," he reasoned. Besides Yuna and Lan, the record also features duets with Zee Avi and Noh Salleh.

The vinyl, which was pressed in Germany and had to be shipped in, is packaged in a minimalistic black box set and also comes with a hardcover book explaining the artwork on the vinyl cover plus a USB drive containing the songs in digital format.

Each set is signed by Aizat and has a handwritten serial number (from 001 to 222).

Created by Muhammad Najib Timiran or Art:tech, the vinyl cover is a piece of art in itself, featuring a unique illustration of Aizat flanked by each of the collaborative artistes on Legasi.

As only 222 copies are available due to its high cost price, fans can obtain a copy only via online bidding. Bidding will start at cost price, RM150, and will last for 10 days beginning from its launch on May 27.

On why Legasi is released strictly on vinyl, managing director of Kasi Gegar Entertainment and Aizat's brother Amar explained: "We don't want to sell other physical formats such as CDs because we don't want it to dilute the attention from the vinyl."

However, Aizat added that listeners can still get a hold of the songs individually as they have been released on iTunes.

Asked to predict the amount of the highest bid on the vinyl, Aizat joked, "RM500,000". He continued, "We're happy to be able to just cover the cost, anything above it is really a bonus."

Borrowing the words of P. Ramlee, he concluded, "Seni bukan untuk wang, tapi untuk masyarakat (art isn't about money but for the society)."

To bid for Legasi, visit www.legasi.kge.com.my.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Singapore PM launches defamation suit against blogger

Posted: 29 May 2014 03:09 AM PDT

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (pic) on Thursday filed a defamation suit against a blogger who accused him of misusing public funds, setting the stage for the first court case of its kind in Singapore.

Lee's lawyer Davinder Singh told the High Court that a May 15 post by Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, a 33-year-old government health worker, contained statements that alleged "criminal misappropriation" by the premier.

Lee had earlier rejected an apology and compensation offer from Ngerng, who writes a blog called "The Heart Truths" which had more than 3,300 followers soon after the lawsuit was filed.

In general, civil suits are launched in the Singapore High Court when the value of claims is above Sg$250,000 ($199,000), according to guidelines posted on a government website. The court will have the final say on the amount to be awarded.

Ngerng, who has publicly vowed not to be silenced, is the first blogger taken to court for defamation by a political leader in Singapore.

"The offending words and images, in their natural and ordinary meaning, meant and were understood to mean that the plaintiff, the Prime Minister of Singapore and Chairman of GIC, is guilty of criminal misappropriation of the monies paid by Singaporeans to the Central Provident Fund (CPF)," lawyer Singh wrote in a court filing. 

GIC is a sovereign wealth fund that manages more than $100 billion of the city-state's foreign reserves. CPF is the state pension fund.

Lee had been "brought into public scandal, odium and contempt" and his character and reputation had been "gravely injured" by the accusations, Singh added.

Ngerng has previously said the article was meant to call for greater transparency on how the pension fund is handled.

'calculated and cynical'

On Tuesday, he offered Lee Sg$5,000 as compensation but Lee immediately dismissed it as "derisory" and said Ngerng's earlier apology was "not and never meant to be genuine".

Lee also took offence at subsequent actions by Ngerng, including posting a YouTube video about his legal predicament and sending emails to the media that included alternative links to posts that allegedly carried "offending posts".

In the filing, lawyer Singh described Ngerng's conduct as "calculated and cynical," adding that he acted to "use the libels to promote himself and cause further distress and injury" to Lee.

Singh said Lee was claiming damages, legal costs, and an injunction to stop Ngerng from further defaming Lee, but did not give financial details.

"I will be leaving it to my lawyer M.Ravi to deal with the latest development and the relevant legal procedures," Ngerng told AFP after the court filing.

A pre-trial conference has been set for July 4.

Singapore's local media is tightly controlled, leaving independent bloggers as the strongest critics of the long-ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

Prominent Singaporean activist Alex Au last year apologised to Lee and removed a post after receiving a notice from Singh. Lee did not pursue damages against Au.

Media firms like Bloomberg, The Economist and Financial Times have previously paid damages and apologised to Singapore leaders including Lee and his father, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, for publishing articles found to be defamatory.

International human rights groups have accused Singapore leaders of using financially ruinous libel actions to silence critics and political opponents.

But the Lees and other key leaders of the PAP have countered that the lawsuits are necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded attacks. -AFP

Indian cousins found hanging from tree after gang-rape

Posted: 29 May 2014 01:49 AM PDT

LUCKNOW, India: Two teenage girls have been found hanging from a tree in a northern Indian village after they were gang-raped by five men, police said Thursday, in a brutal attack highlighting the country's poor record on sexual violence.

Police have arrested one man over the attack on the cousins, aged 14 and 15 and from the lowest Dalit caste, who were discovered hanging on Wednesday morning in Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh state.

A post-mortem report indicated the cousins hanged themselves late Tuesday after being attacked, police said. The girls had earlier walked into a field to go to the toilet because they didn't have one in their home when they were set upon, according to local media reports.

"The report suggests ante-mortem hanging, which means the girls probably committed suicide. But we will take into account all aspects before coming to a conclusion," Atul Saxena, Budaun police chief, told AFP.

The attack sparked protests by the girls' families and other villagers, who accused police of failing to act after the bodies were found.

Television footage showed the villagers including children sitting on the ground under the tree in protest with the bodies hanging above.

The families belong to the Dalit caste, previously known as "untouchables", considered on the lowest rung of India's deeply entrenched social hierarchy system.

Saxena said police had arrested one suspect after the girls' relatives registered a complaint against five men for gang-rape, murder and child sexual abuse.

"A team of around 50 police officers is on the lookout for the absconding accused," he added. Saxena could not confirm the exact ages of the attackers, but said they were in their "late teens".

Local police officers have also been suspended from duty for their initial apathy over the crime, he said.

'More and more horrendous'

The attack is the latest to highlight India's dismal record on preventing sexual violence, despite tougher laws after the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi in December 2012 shook the nation's conscience.

Earlier this year, a young girl was gang-raped in a remote village in West Bengal state on orders from tribal village elders who objected to her relationship with a Muslim man.

Women's activist and researcher Ranjana Kumari urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his newly elected government to come good on its campaign pledge to improve safety for women.

"Modi must take a stand and say enough because the attacks are just getting more and more horrendous," Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi, told AFP.

"Police attitudes and actions have clearly not improved (since the Delhi gang-rape). Men are targeting girls from minority groups, poor girls and no one cares," she said.

Modi clinched a landslide victory in general elections this month over the left-leaning Congress, thanks in part to a stunning performance by his right-wing Hindu nationalist party in Uttar Pradesh.

Last month, the head of the state's governing party, Mulayam Singh Yadav, told an election rally he was opposed to the death penalty for gang rapists, saying "they are boys, they make mistakes." -AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Bladder cancer 101

Posted: 28 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Bladder cancer is not an uncommon cancer, and it usually affects men more than women.

BLADDER cancer is the sixth most common cancer among males in Malaysia, with an estimated incidence of 4.7%.

One of the biggest risk factors for bladder cancer is smoking. The risk is about four times higher in smokers compared to non-smokers.

The risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked, and the duration one has been smoking.

Chemicals that can cause cancer are present in cigarette smoke. Some of these chemicals are absorbed into the blood and end up in the urine after being filtered by the kidneys.

The chemicals can damage the cells that line the bladder, and over many years, this may cause cancer.

Besides that, the older the person is, the higher the risk of bladder cancer. In Malaysia, the average age of a bladder cancer patient is 65 years old. If you are a male, the risk is also greater.

In a study carried out in a hospital in Malaysia, the male-to-female ratio was 9.4 to 1.

Radiotherapy is a treatment option for bladder cancer, especially if the patient has multiple medical illnesses and is not fit for surgery. - Filepic

Radiotherapy is a treatment option for bladder cancer, especially if the patient has multiple medical illnesses and is not fit for surgery. — Filepic

Exposure to certain chemicals like aromatic amines used in dye factories, rubber, leather, textiles, printing, gasworks, plastics, paints, and in other chemical industries also increases the risk.

Other risk factors include repeated urinary infections, untreated bladder stones, radiotherapy to the pelvis, cyclophosphamide (a type of chemotherapy) and family history of bladder cancer.

The most common presenting complaint of bladder cancer is blood in the urine (haematuria). This is usually visible to the naked eye (macroscopic haematuria), and is usually painless.

Sometimes, the blood is not visible and can only be detected by urine tests (microscopic haematuria).

There may also be urinary symptoms like increased frequency of going to the toilet as well as urgency (a sudden urgent desire to pass urine and not being able to put off going to the toilet).

If bladder cancer is suspected in an individual, a urine test will usually be performed to look for blood as well as cancer cells.

A flexible cystoscope (a thin tube with a camera and light on the end) will then be used to directly view the bladder. A jelly containing anaesthetic will be squeezed into the opening of your urethra to make the procedure less uncomfortable.

The doctor gently passes the cystoscope through your urethra and into the bladder and examines the whole lining of the bladder. The whole test takes a few minutes and you can usually go home after it is finished.

If bladder tumour is seen, the next step is to get the same procedure done under general anaesthesia in the operating theatre, either to take a small piece of tissue (biopsy) or to remove the tumour (transurethral resection of bladder tumour/TURBT).

The tissue specimen will then be sent to the laboratory to be examined under the microscope to look for cancer cells.

If it is proven to be cancer, it will then need to be staged to determine the extent of the cancer, i.e. whether it is localised (confined to the bladder) or advanced/metastatic (spread beyond the bladder into surrounding tissues or distant organs like the liver, lung or bone).

This would entail having radiological imaging like computerised tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Treatment will then be determined by the extent of spread.

Most of the time (about 70% of cases), the cancer is superficial. After complete resection of the tumour with a cystocope, chemotherapy drugs like mitomycin or a vaccine known as BCG (Bacillus Calmette–GuĂ©rin) will be introduced into the bladder.

If the cancer is found to be invasive but has not spread to distant organs, then either surgery (radical cystectomy) or radiotherapy is needed.

Radical cystectomy entails removing the bladder with the surrounding lymph nodes. This can be done either through open surgery, or laparoscopic/robotic surgery. In men, the prostate is removed as well.

To replace the bladder, either a urostomy (ileal conduit), continent cutaneous urinary diversion or a new bladder (neobladder) is formed.

In urostomy, the ureters are connected to a section of the small bowel, which will then divert the urine out through an opening in the abdomen.

In continent cutaneous urinary diversion, a pouch is made from the bowel to replace the bladder. The ureters are again connected to this pouch and urine is emptied by inserting a catheter (small tube) into this pouch through an opening in the abdomen.

In a neobladder, this pouch is connected to the remaining urethra instead of an opening in the abdomen.

Radiotherapy is another option, especially if one has multiple medical illnesses and is not fit for surgery.

This involves high energy rays to kill off the cancer cells. Each treatment takes about 10-15 minutes, and they are usually given Monday-Friday, with a rest at the weekend. A course of radiotherapy for bladder cancer may last four to seven weeks.

Chemotherapy may be given in combination with surgery or radiotherapy.

If the cancer has spread to other sites or organs, then treatment will not be curative. It will depend on the symptoms involved and may require a combination of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or rarely, surgery.

Bladder cancer is notorious for recurrences, even when it is superficial. Therefore, careful and regular follow up is essential.

Cystoscopes and urine examination are needed during clinic appointments, and sometimes CT scans are also required.

Most superficial cancers do well after proper treatment. Those who have poor survival are usually diagnosed late and have advanced cancer that has spread beyond the bladder.

Therefore, early diagnosis and prompt treatment is mandatory. Do not procrastinate. See your doctor if you have any of the symptoms described above.

This article is contributed by The Star Health & Ageing Panel, which comprises a group of panellists who are not just opinion leaders in their respective fields of medical expertise, but have wide experience in medical health education for the public. The members of the panel include: Datuk Prof Dr Tan Hui Meng, consultant urologist; Dr Yap Piang Kian, consultant endocrinologist; Datuk Dr Azhari Rosman, consultant cardiologist; A/Prof Dr Philip Poi, consultant geriatrician; Dr Hew Fen Lee, consultant endocrinologist; Prof Dr Low Wah Yun, psychologist; Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist; Dr Lee Moon Keen, consultant neurologist; Dr Ting Hoon Chin, consultant dermatologist; Prof Khoo Ee Ming, primary care physician; Dr Ng Soo Chin, consultant haematologist.

For more information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The Star Health & Ageing Advisory Panel provides this information for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care.

The Star Health & Ageing Advisory Panel disclaims any and all liability for injury or other damages that could result from use of the information obtained from this article.

Self-harming is on the rise among youth

Posted: 27 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

The rise in poor mental health among young people needs to be addressed.

THERE has been a three-fold increase in the number of teenagers who self-harm in England in the last decade, according to a World Health Organisation collaborative study.

The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) report, due to be published in the autumn, will reveal that of the 6,000 young people aged 11, 13 and 15 surveyed across England, up to one in five 15-year-olds say they self-harm.

There is no comparative data from other countries as England is the first country to ask this question on self-harm since the global study, which is conducted every four years, began in 1983. The decision to include it follows a rise in anecdotal evidence from teachers in secondary schools across the country.

The last comprehensive study of self-harm in England was published by the British Medical Journal in 2002. It surveyed around 6,000 15- and 16-year-olds in 41 schools and found that 6.9% of them said they had self-harmed over the past year. This compares with the 2013-2014 WHO study, which puts the figure at 20% of 15-year-olds.

Self-harm includes actions such as cutting, burning and biting oneself. Professor Fiona Brooks, head of adolescent and child health at the University of Hertfordshire, is the global study's principal investigator for England. She says: "Our findings are really worrying, and it's (self-harm) considerably worse among girls. At age 11, both girls and boys report a good level of emotional well-being. But by the age of 15, the gap has widened and we get 45% of adolescent girls saying they feel low once a week compared with 23% of boys."

She warns of a ticking time-bomb unless the rise in poor mental health among young people is addressed. "We don't yet know enough about why this (poor mental health) is but parents are busy and stressed, and children's lives are becoming more pressurised. They know they need better grades to get to university, but there's no guarantee of a job at the end of it all."

Brooks believes that young people are "turning to strategies such as self-harm to manage stress in the short term".

"Although there has been a decline in traditional risk behaviours like smoking and drug and alcohol abuse, there hasn't been a transition to more positive health behaviours," she says.

Grace, 16, appears to be a bubbly and confident teenager who loves music, singing and netball. However, when she was 12, Grace began self-harming.

"I began cutting my wrists using scissors and razor blades, which I disinfected myself," she says. "As time went on and I got worse, it progressed all the way up my left arm and my upper thighs. I just bandaged it up and left it."

Years of cutting have left her with deep scars that she covers up when around people she doesn't know very well. "At my worst, I was hurting myself once a week or even more. Sometimes it was once a month. It just depended what was going on around me," she explains. "It calmed me down but then I'd immediately wish I hadn't done it as it hurts and you need to hide it."

Grace never confided in her mum, but finally a teacher noticed.

"I was hauled into the headteacher's office one morning, and my mum and my teacher and the head were all sitting there. I was totally bowled over when they said they knew what I'd been doing," she recalls. As a result of the meeting, Grace retreated further into her world, self-harmed more and concealed it better. "Even when I wanted to stop, I couldn't – and it took me longer than I care to admit to get things under control," she says.

She did receive counselling via her school, but says it didn't help because she couldn't relate to the older counsellor.

Although her mum says she feels she has failed her, Grace doesn't blame anyone for what she went through. "It's no one's fault. I just wish I'd been able to cope with things better," she says.

"When I was 12, my mum was moving in with my now stepdad, I wasn't getting on very well with anyone at school, and the few friends I did have weren't being very kind. I struggle with change, so from all aspects it was hard. It had always been me, my mum and my sister, and it was all so new with my stepdad. My real dad worked abroad a lot so I felt I didn't have anyone to talk to and I didn't have any way of dealing with it."

Of her gradual recovery, Grace says: "Maybe I just got used to the changes around me and things got better at school. I have a close group of friends, and for the first time I have a best friend which I've never had before. My family has been very supportive, too."

But she adds that being diagnosed with depression a year ago was a huge relief and she believes that an earlier diagnosis would have helped. "It stopped me being confused about why I felt this way," she says. "Although it sucked to have a label, being diagnosed helped me to realise that there was a reason behind what I was doing and once I dealt with the reasons, I knew I wouldn't have to revert to self-harm anymore."

Selfharm.co.uk is a website set up in 1993 to support the emotional and social needs of all young people. It provides a forum where self-harmers can seek advice and feel connected with others going through similar experiences. Grace was asked to pilot its Alumina scheme, which provides weekly online meetings with counsellors and doctors and she participates in various activities that help to analyse what she is doing.

Prof Brooks believes research is telling us a closer look is needed at what has caused such a dramatic increase in self-harm in the past decade. "We need to know what strategies to put in place to help young people navigate adolescence successfully." – Guardian News & Media

Untapped treasures in herbal products

Posted: 27 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Part 1: Mining for bio-billion$

Concluding our two-part series on Malaysia's potential genetic gold mine of medicinal herbs.

LAST week, we met a team of scientists working to transform misai kucing, a local plant with a long history of traditional medicinal uses, into a cancer-fighting herbal extract. Yet this Penang-based team is an anomaly in the landscape of Malaysia's herbal industry.

We are still a long way from producing anything more than general and medium-claim health supplements that offer "improved vitality", "maintenance of good health", or "promote healthy bones".

For our herbal drug development industry to grow past infancy, it needs to overcome numerous challenges: from Asian superstitions and popular psychology to risk-averse corporations and a lack of coordination across institutions.

Gung-ho about herbs

Where would you look for the next big anti-cancer or hypertension drug?

Nature has provided us with the materials for plenty of revolutions: life-saving antibiotics, game-changing antimalarials, immunosuppressant drugs that enable us to perform organ transplants, anti-cancer drugs ... the list goes on.

Malaysia is one of the richest places on Earth in terms of biodiversity. It is home to about 12% of all plant species, and about 2,000 of those found locally are already known to possess medicinal qualities.

In 2010, the Government announced its intention to make the country a serious player in the high-value herbal products business.

The industry's global market value had more than tripled in just eight years, hitting US$200bil (RM642bil) by 2008.

And it is expected to balloon to 20 times that amount over the next few decades, according to estimates by the World Bank (US$5tril, or RM16tril, by 2050).

This makes the herbal products industry a prime candidate to drive Malaysia's emerging bioeconomy.

The Government made development of the herbal industry a priority under Entry Point Project 1 (EPP1) of Agriculture, one of 12 National Key Economic Areas.

Initially, the focus was on five plants known to Malay traditional medicine – tongkat ali, misai kucing, hempedu bumi, dukung anak and kacip fatimah.

Since then, six more – mengkudu, roselle, ginger, mas cotek, belalai gajah and pegaga – have been added to the list.

The ideal situation would be to replicate what happened with Korean Ginseng which, thanks to a careful government-coordinated research and marketing plan, is world renowned.

From roadside to store

Research is expensive, but necessary; it adds credibility so products can compete on the international market. First, there needs to be demand and support for such products on home ground – but the reality is that there couldn't be a more difficult market to penetrate.

Tradition-minded South-East Asia tends to be very accepting of unregistered herbal medicines and products. Herbal remedies and supplements are ubiquitous, sold in street markets, shops and e-commerce sites, and bought by many.

The trade in unregistered supplements and medicine is booming – not surprising, considering that the region has historically been a confluence of Malay, Chinese and Ayurvedic traditional medicines. Culturally, communities maintain strong ties with traditional beliefs and practices; consulting traditional healers and witch doctors such as bomohs is not uncommon.

Culturally, there is little demand for oversight of the validity of product claims.

It is perhaps ironic that our ready acceptance of herbal medicines is, in fact, partly why it is so hard to drag the industry out of its infancy.

It all boils down to what makes sense as a financial investment.

This is how Prof Dr Ibrahim Jantan, a senior professor at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia who heads the university's Natural Products Research Cluster, explains the psychology behind local investors: "Why should they spend on R&D when products already flooding the market are making so much money?"

It's a toss-up – selling your product overseas may fetch a higher price, but generally, developed markets demand quality.

Herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years around the world. The 1960s heralded a global shift towards synthetic medication; but plants are back in vogue as a medicinal source. 	- Calsidyrose/Creative Commons

Herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years around the world. The 1960s heralded a global shift towards synthetic medication; but plants are back in vogue as a medicinal source. -calsidyrose/Creative Commons.

That's where legal use of the label "clinically proven" really begins to matter, and that's one of the goals EPP1 is striving for.

The problem is that R&D increases costs, so why bother with it if the sole objective is to make money, and there are many willing buyers in Asia?

A report published by the Global Science Advisory Council last year is telling. Entitled Public Research Assets Performance Evaluation: Unlocking Vast Potentials, Fast Tracking The Future, it notes that little is spent by industry, especially SMEs, on R&D.

This indicates that companies in Malaysia generally have a low rate of innovation, and little focus on product development. They want "ready-made" technologies from public research institutions without any cost.

As Ibrahim puts it: "What's happening now is that generally, we are not coming up with our own products – we are trading products."

Hidden dangers

Most countries do not regulate traditional medicine and health supplements.

Like so many of them, Malaysia has less stringent criteria for such products. These read like an abridged version of pharmaceutical product registration criteria.

Which makes sense, if the goal is to nurture growth within a fragile new industry with market incentives stacked against it.

The upshot is that products are evaluated based on their safety and quality, not their efficacy.

As it stands, the active ingredients of many herbal products are not even known.

This leads to a rather bizarre situation: there is no real way of measuring/testing a product to ensure it contains the appropriate dosages in standardised extracts to achieve its claims. Government seed funding encourages R&D and identification of the active ingredients, as well the concentrations required for efficacy.

There's another reason why moving towards more clinically-backed products is important: safety.

Professor Ibrahim Jantan from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia talks about the challenges thrown up by purchasing habits of Malaysian consumers, where a lack of demand for scientifically proven, registered  herbal products means manufacturers have less incentive to invest in R&D.

Professor Ibrahim Jantan from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia talks about the challenges thrown up by purchasing habits of Malaysian consumers, where a lack of demand for scientifically proven, registered herbal products means manufacturers have less incentive to invest in R&D.

Just because something has been consumed for hundreds of years doesn't mean there are no chronic toxicity or side effects, Ibrahim points out.

After all, practitioners are more likely to only notice and make a clear connection between the consumption of a specific herb if the ensuing symptoms are acute.

This also applies to safe dosages: "Let's say the herb is supposed to reduce blood pressure; the question is, does it reduce it to a therapeutic level?"

Either way, there is plenty of merchandise being sold, sometimes at exorbitant prices, to gullible consumers.

So improving standards within the industry will benefit both health and pocket.

The first step is to try and change consumer habits. Products approved by the Drug Control Authority (DCA) may not need to prove efficacy, but safety tests are needed to guard against harmful adulteration – a big problem in the vast market of illegal and unregistered herbal supplements and drugs.

Often the products are bogus; confiscations and tests have showed up poisons, heavy metals and slimming agents.

Prescription drugs such as paracetamol, antihistamines, steroids, anti-diabetics, and synthetic PDE-5 inhibitors (sex stimulants) have also been found, presumably as a deliberate action to produce some sort of therapeutic effect.

Precautions

As the global herbal supplement industry continues to grow, standards and oversight measures are likely to come under closer scrutiny.

Science has shown that many herbs have a huge amount of medical potential, so the target should be to encourage a more science-based approach to the herbal industry, bringing it up to par with conventional medicines.

Public perception and trust in traditional medicines continue to fuel growth, despite widespread media reports about expensive supplements exposed for misleading claims.

It will be a huge challenge to convince local industry players to move away from the temptation to make a quick buck by scrimping on R&D costs, to simply manufacture low- and general-claim products.

With the wealth of promising local herbs, the prize for creating a "killer" scientifically-backed product could be big.

Six EPP1 champion companies have been partnered up with research institutions to bring local herbal products to market.

Only two of the six, however, have their eyes on the high-claim (disease risk reduction) products – Natureceuticals Sdn Bhd, with its anti-angiogenic Misai Kuching extract Canssufive, and Nova Laboratories Sdn Bhd, with its Hepar-P Capsule, a liver protection agent. The two hope to have completed clinical trials by 2017 and 2015 repsectively.

If their work does prove a success, they will be the first Malaysian companies to come up with high-claim herbal products.

For now, however, a better informed public and a crackdown on illegal products and misleading claims (that defy regulations like the Sale of Drugs Act), may go a long way to helping that cause.

Check if a herbal product is legitimate:

> Registered products are affixed with a hologram

> Cross-reference the product registration numbers against the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau database (https://www.bpfk.gov.my/) by doing a QUEST search.

Related story:

Work smart, research smart

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