Jumaat, 30 Mei 2014

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

'Homecoming': Family matters

Posted: 29 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Love and forgiveness takes centre stage in local play Homecoming.

MOST of us are familiar with the story of the prodigal son. For those who are not familiar with the tale, the parable of the prodigal son is about a son who goes astray, indulges in sin and vice, falls to despicable depths and returns home, repentant. Much to the dismay of the other brother, the father receives his errant son with open arms and throws a feast.

It is essentially a story about love and forgiveness and most importantly, family.

And it is exactly this that Andy Darrel Gomes, a speech and drama teacher, wants audiences to bring back with them when they watch Homecoming, a play the 24-year-old penned and directed.

"I wanted to reach out to Malaysians with something that is universal, and family and love is universal. It is what we call the people language," said Gomes.

Inspired by the parable of the prodigal son, Homecoming, which opens today, is a collaborative work between Gomes' Thirty Fold Productions and Youth With A Mission Philippines to raise funds for the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan at Tacloban, Philippines.

Magician Zlwin Chew and electric violinist Dr Joanne Yeoh and Dennis Lau will be part of the opening act for the event.

To make the story relevant and relatable, Gomes kept it "as home as possible" and gave it a modern twist with a "pinch of surrealism".

"I wanted to skip out of the dimension of realism and get into things which are a bit more abstract. So, in the play, there are times when as much as it is real, there is also a very disturbing dimension of things coming in and going out of place," the aspiring playwright pointed out.

An ardent admirer of the works of the late filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad, Gomes said he tailored his story around her scriptwriting style.

"She doesn't believe in creating something, but she believes in adapting things from real life. For Yasmin, to adapt things from real life is to make yourself small and when you make yourself small, you suddenly become bigger," asserted Gomes.

Unlike the original story, there are three brothers instead of two and we get to see the mother as well.

Thasha Gunaseelan, who plays the mother, identifies well with her character.

"The kancheong-ness (panic) and everything else is very much me. And I find it very interesting that no matter what goes on, it looks like she rules and she's the power behind the men. But you will see scenes where she seeks comfort from her husband.

"He's the person who actually runs the show and he's the one who brings it all together in the end," explained Thasha.

And for the 32-year-old drama trainer, Homecoming, is about the freedom one enjoys in the family to be their true self and not be judged for it.

"Regardless who you are and what sort of person you are in the world, you know that there's family that loves you for just you," said Thasha.

And this made the rehearsal process even more delightful for Victor Chen who will be playing one of the sons.

"We all come from different backgrounds, but when we are together, all that doesn't matter anymore. Just like in any family, we can be ourselves," said Chen, 20.

In a society where family is losing its value and individualism is prized, Homecoming serves as a reminder on the importance of the family unit. And maybe, just maybe, as it was for Gomes, the play will be a "supernatural journey" for the audience.

Homecoming opens today at the EX8 Hall, City Harvest Church, Subang Jaya, Selangor and will run till June 1. Showtime: 8pm (May 30-31, June 1) and 3pm (May 31). Tickets are priced at RM30 (adults) and RM25 (students). Free admission for children 10 years and below. For ticketing, donations and inquiries email hctp2014@gmail.com or call 0163550393/0149314909.

British singer Sarah-Louise Young: Life of the party

Posted: 28 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

With Sarah-Louise Young, the model of an English eccentric, is in good hands.

A new found love affair with fish head curry – eyeballs and all – is hardly a topic one would expect from a show with the classy title The English Tongue.

But funnily enough, when British cabaret performer, actress, singer, writer and self-confessed foodie Sarah-Louise Young jokes about forming automatic "relationships" with anything upon making eye contact with it – fish head curry included – the banter fitted perfectly into the performance.

The English Tongue, which Young described as a celebration of the English language through song, ran at Intimate Encounters@Theatre Lounge Cafe in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday, serving a large dose of English humour at its best – wit, self-deprecation and deadpan delivery ... check!

Young, 39, kicked-off the show with Making Whoopie (which the audience helped localise to Making Walau-eh).

Accompanied by two young, talented pianists, she presented some 15 compositions – including one of her own, in the two-hour performance.

Broken into two acts and peppered with impersonations of Carol Burnett, Liza Minnelli and Audrey Hepburn, The English Tongue featured the works of greats like Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, the Gershwin and Sherman brothers and "composers people should know about".

Taking her time with songs like Someone To Watch Over Me, The Girls Of Summer, Could I Leave You, Accentuate The Positive, Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love, Ring Them Bells, Maybe This Time, The Physician and Jolly Holiday, Young's crisp diction and enunciation made listening to the tunes a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

"I'm doing two Sondheim numbers because I can and I'm not doing anything from Andrew Lloyd Webber because we've had enough of him, haven't we?" she said, tongue firmly in cheek.

If the intention was to pay homage to the some of the most memorable lyricists of our time, she succeeded beautifully in her flawless delivery.

In a musical era dominated by inaudible mumbles, ear-piercing screams and rapid fire rapping, her singing definitely brought out the best of the English language.

Perhaps inspired by her English-teacher-mother or the many Shakespeare productions she watched growing up, Young's appreciation for language, history and music was evident.

She explained the words, history of the songs and other interesting nuggets of information behind the birth of the compositions before delivering near-perfect renditions of the classics.

Interestingly, she told of how the late Walt Disney would ask the Sherman brothers' to perform Feed The Birds (from Mary Poppins) for him everyday for two years because he loved the song so much.

Exposed to Bob Dylan and Tina Turner (thanks to her mother) and four older brothers who listened to everything from Kate Bush to New Order and "weird techno", Young shared how she learnt about a myriad of musical genres at home.

Telling the crowd of her days as a gawky, white 14-year-old girl listening to Edith Piaf and Aretha Franklin, she had the room in stitches when she broke into the latter's signature: "R.E.S.P.E.C.T."

Introducing Tom Lehrer's The Masochism Tango, she said it was the one song she wished she had written.

"You know what masochism is right? It's kinda what I do for a living. This song was introduced to me by one of my brothers – he's the black sheep of the family.

"He lives in Poland and I'm the only one who still speaks to him," she said, deadpan.

Donning an elegant sequined black dress, she needed no props to distract the audience from her talent.

Standing on a small stage set against a blood red curtain and a shiny black piano, the show was all about Young and how she made the songs hers.

Singing Let's Not Fall In Love, a number she wrote with Michael Roulston, she requested the crowd to snap their fingers.

"I made you pay for a ticket and now I'm getting you to provide the percussion music. Shocking isn't it?" she said in mock horror.

Cajoling the crowd to join her on Edelweiss, she insisted that everyone can sing – just to different tuning forks.

Like her fellow countrymen, Young admits to needing her afternoon tea fix and always wanting to talk about the weather.

And, true to form, the show ended with a weather medley encore featuring a rainbow mash-up of rainy clouds and sunny skies.

You Are My Sunshine, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, It's Raining Men and Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me were just some of the many song snippets she threw together seamlessly – leave it to the Brits to make the weather fun!

Sarah-Louise Young's My Favourite Things (May 30-June 1) will be showing at Intimate Encounters@Theatre Lounge Cafe (B1-3A, Plaza Damas 3, 63, Jalan Sri Hartamas 1, Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur). Shows are at 9pm daily with a cover charge of RM100. For details and seating purchase, call 012-236 9100 or 03-6211 3000 or visit www.theatreloungecafe.com.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

Birth control pill may influence a woman's sexual satisfaction, says new study

Posted: 30 May 2014 01:20 AM PDT

A woman's sexual satisfaction may be influenced by her historical use of the pill, suggest the results of a new study.

According to research carried out jointly by universities in the UK, Scotland and the Czech Republic, women who were on the pill when they met their partner and continued to use it reported greater levels of sexual satisfaction, compared to women who had started or stopped using the pill over the course of the relationship.

Women who had never used the pill at any point also reported being more sexually satisfied, researchers said.

Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study looked at the connection between contraceptive use and sexual satisfaction among women in long-term, heterosexual relationships.

"Previous research has shown that hormonal contraceptives, such as the pill, subtly alter women's ideal partner preferences and that often women who are using the pill when they meet their partner find the same partner less physically attractive when they come off the pill," said study lead author Craig Roberts from the University of Stirling in Scotland.

"Our new results support these earlier findings but, crucially, they also point to the impact a change in hormonal contraceptive use during a relationship – either starting or stopping – can have on a woman's sexual satisfaction with her partner."

The latest findings build on previous research published by Roberts in 2011, which found that women on the pill tend to choose men who are less attractive and worse in bed when it comes to long-term partners, compared to women who were pill-free. Roberts theorises that the hormone-altering pill skews a woman's perception of chemistry when she makes her choice of a mate.

The upside? Women on the pill who engaged in long-term relationships that were less sexually satisfying had longer relationships and were less likely to separate. – AFP/RelaxNews

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: Music

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Music

Wings: Flying high again

Posted: 29 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Legendary Malaysian rock band Wings is back with a brand new album after 13 years.

THIRTEEN years is a long time to have to wait for an album from your favourite band. But for fans of legendary local band Wings, that's exactly how long they've waited for Awie and gang to finally release their 16th album, Menakluk Kosmos (translation: Conquering the Cosmos).

In fact, it's been so long since Wings' last album (2002's Hari Kiamat) that Awie's voice couldn't cope initially. "I had to get used to singing rock songs again," he said during the official launch of the album at Hard Rock Café Kuala Lumpur recently.

"When we tried recording the first three songs, I could not sing properly, and I actually had to take a break to analyse and relearn how to sing those kinds of songs again."

According to him, everyone in the band is now over 40 years old, so it's not just his singing voice that has changed, but also everyone else's playing styles as well.

The current Wings lineup consists of Awie, 46, guitarist Joe, 44, drummer Black, 47, and bassist Eddie, 45.

The band, which has been around since 1985, have released 16 albums in total before Menakluk Kosmos, which have included some of the most iconic Malay songs of all time, including Sejati, Misteri Mimpi Syakilla, Taman Rashidah Utama, Opera Hidup, and Bernafas Dalam Lumpur.

Although they have not released a studio album in 12 years, the band gave a sterling reminder of what fans have missed in last year's Wings Rockestra concert at Istana Budaya from April 26-30.

Menakluk Kosmos, available in record stores as well as iTunes, is produced by KRU music and distributed by Sony music.

"It's been so long since we had any new material, so this time it's a direction that we will be continuing the journey of Wings," said Joe.

According to Eddie, his style of play has definitely matured over the years.

"My style of playing is no longer like it was in the past, like a kid playing guitar," he said, adding that everyone involved put 101% of their effort into the production. "Our producers worked really hard with us to retain the Wings signature style in terms of vocals and our arrangements."

He was also glad that even after such a long hiatus, the band was still getting a good reception from their fans.

"Our last album was in 2002, and with this new album, we hope that we can appeal to both our older and newer fans' tastes," he said.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Stumbling Thai economy lends urgency to junta's revival efforts

Posted: 30 May 2014 03:22 AM PDT

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Private investment and consumption remained stagnant in Thailand in the run-up to this month's military coup, further evidence of a stumbling economy that will lend urgency to the junta's efforts to get the country working again.

Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy has been battered by political turmoil since late last year, when protesters backed by the royalist establishment launched a bid to oust the populist government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The government clung to power even after a court forced Yingluck out of office for abuse of power on May 7, but the military ousted it in a coup on May 22, saying a takeover was necessary to restore order and prevent further violence.

Gross domestic product shrank 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2014 as the lengthy anti-government protests damaged confidence and scared off tourists.

With only caretaker status after dissolving parliament in December for a February election that was later annulled, Yingluck's besieged government had lacked the power to take policy decisions or approve new spending.

A senior central bank official, Mathee Supapongse, said on Friday that under the new military government, "the overall picture looks better, but it's not easy to get to the central bank's economic growth forecast of 2.7 percent".

"We need time to assess the situation first," said Mathee, head of the bank's macroeconomics department. "It's been half a year now and stimulus measures will not come all at once, but gradually, so the effect will rather be felt next year."

He was speaking at a briefing after the release of central bank data that showed private investment in April, the first month of the second quarter, was 4.7 percent lower than in the same month last year and consumption was down 0.8 percent.

It followed data on Wednesday that showed factory output fell for the 13th straight month in April, imports plunged and exports remained weak, underscoring the difficulty the military government faces in averting recession.


While the United States and other allies have urged a quick return to democracy, Thailand's new military rulers have held out little hope for early elections.

Army chief and coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has spoken of the need for broad reforms before an election. Another top officer said on Thursday that conditions had to be right and divisions healed before a return to civilian rule.

Despite martial law and a ban on gatherings, small peaceful protests against the takeover have been held daily in Bangkok. Activists, spreading word through social media, say they will hold a big show of opposition on the weekend.

A military spokesman said on Friday the junta was "carefully checking" the Internet for the planning of protests.

"If there are gatherings then we will start with negotiations with the crowd but if there is no understanding then we will have to apply the law strictly," deputy army spokesman Winthai Suvaree told reporters.

Thailand has become polarised between supporters of Yingluck and her influential brother, deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and the royalist establishment that sees Thaksin and his populist ways as a threat to the old order.

Despite the animosity of the elite and the Bangkok middle class, Thaksin's popularity in the rural north and northeast has ensured that he or his allies have won every election since 2001.


Navy commander Admiral Narong Pipattanasai, the junta member overseeing tourism, told reporters on Thursday that 26 million people were expected to visit this year, down from a targeted 28 million, because of the unrest.

He said revenue from tourism was expected to drop to 1.8 trillion baht ($55 billion). The authorities had been banking on 2 trillion.

"We will do our best to improve the situation," Narong said. "The next pressing task is to build confidence among tourists and to show them that they can travel in Thailand freely ... through campaigns and other methods."

Tourism accounts for about 10 percent of the economy. Many foreign governments have issued warnings about travelling to Thailand, which can affect insurance cover.

Narong said a nationwide night-time curfew, imposed on the day of the coup for seven hours but cut to four hours on Wednesday, could be shortened again in tourist areas. Even in Bangkok, the curfew is not being strictly enforced.

The protests in Bangkok have been rowdy and tense at times but there has been no serious violence. For a day or two after the coup there were also small protests in the northern city of Chiang Mai, but tourist resorts have been unaffected.

The National Council for Peace and Order, as the military junta is known, has imposed rigorous security and censorship, detaining more than 200 people including Yingluck and ministers of the ousted government, though she and many other detainees have since been released.

An ardent supporter of Thaksin and leader of his "red shirt" activists said upon release from detention he was washing his hands of politics for the sake of national reconciliation.

Suporn Attawong, known by followers as "Rambo Isarn" after the northeastern heartland of Thaksin support, said he had not been pressured by the army to quit politics.

"I had a lot of time to contemplate and realised that some of us need to back down for Thailand to be at peace. I have been in politics since I was 20 years old, it's time to step away," Suporn told Reuters on Friday.

(Reporting by Bangkok bureau; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alan Raybould and Alex Richardson)

Russia has withdrawn most troops from Ukraine border - U.S. official

Posted: 30 May 2014 03:20 AM PDT

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Russia has withdrawn most of its troops from the Ukrainian border, but seven battalions, amounting to thousands of men, remain, a U.S. defences official said on Friday.

U.S. Defences Secretary Chuck Hagel, in Singapore to attend a weekend security conference, has called the withdrawal of thousands of Russian troops from the border a promising sign, but said all troops positioned there earlier this year needed to be moved back.

The defences official said that most of the troops had been pulled back.

"The majority have gone," he told reporters. "But seven battalions remain." The official said he had no figure for the number of troops that had withdrawn. "But ... thousands still remain," he said.

Hagel, speaking earlier on the plane taking him on a trip to Asia and Europe, said it was known that "thousands of Russian troops have been pulled back and are moving away. We also know that there are still thousands of Russian troops still there that have not yet moved.

"Any time you are moving troops away and equipment and assets away, that's promising, but they are not where they need to be and won't be until all of their troops that they positioned along that border a couple of months ago are gone.

The U.S,-led NATO military alliance has previously estimated that Russia had around 40,000 soldiers close to the border.Ukraine's acting defences minister said on Friday that Ukrainian forces would press ahead with a military offensive against rebels in the east until peace and order had been restored there.

Speaking after 14 servicemen, including a general, were killed on Thursday when rebels shot down an army helicopter, the minister, Mykhailo Koval, said: "Our given task is to bring peace and order to the region."

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Two killed after peacekeepers clash with protesters in Central African Republic

Posted: 30 May 2014 03:15 AM PDT

BANGUI (Reuters) - At least two people were shot dead on Friday by Burundian peacekeepers who clashed with protesters in the capital of Central African Republic, in a second day of violent demonstrations after an attack on a church ignited tensions.

A spokesman for the African Union peacekeeping mission said Burundian troops returned fire after being shot at by members of a crowd calling for their departure and the resignation of interim President Catherine Samba-Panza.

However, the protesters said they were unarmed and had come to hold talks with the head of the U.N. mission, which has its headquarters nearby.

"There were some armed demonstrators and they attacked the Burundian base. The Burundians responded with live fire and there were two people killed and two wounded amongst the assailants," Francis Che, spokesman for the African Union mission (MISCA), told Reuters by telephone.

"The crowd has dispersed. We recovered two weapons and a hand grenade."

Demonstrators had gathered outside the headquarters of the U.N. mission in Bangui - which is some 200 metres (yards) from the Burundian base - from around 5 a.m. (4 GMT) on Friday, demanding the departure of the Burundian troops, whom they accuse of favouring Muslims.

Protesters told Reuters TV that five people were killed in the clashes.

"We gathered here this morning, with women and children and with no weapons, and the Burundians have killed five people," said Eric Sako, a businessman. "We were in the U.N. offices trying to explain things, and they opened fire on us." Frustration is running high at the failure of the interim government and some 8,000 African Union and French peacekeepers to return peace to country. It was stoked by Wednesday's attack on the Fatima church by Muslim gunmen in which some 15 people killed.

Youths burnt tyres at roadblocks on main roads in Bangui on Friday while, in several neighbourhoods, residents beat pots and pans in an early morning protest, and others fired guns into the air. French peacekeepers used bulldozers to remove the barricades on Friday.

The country has been gripped by ethnic and religious violence for more than a year since Seleka rebels, who are mostly Muslim, seized Bangui in March 2013. The Seleka left power in January under international pressure and since then the anti-balaka militias have attacked on Muslims.

Those attacks have largely driven Muslims from the capital and areas to the west, effectively partitioning Central African Republic, whose northeast is controlled mainly by Seleka.

Following Wednesday's attack on the Fatima church, Sebastien Wenezoui, a leader of the anti-Balaka Christian militia, accused international forces of abandoning the church to its attackers and singled out Burundian soldiers and French soldiers for being too slow to respond.

(Additional reporting by Hubert-Mary Djamany in Bangui and Daniel Flynn in Dakar; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Bate Felix)

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