Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dr Mahathir Announces War Crimes Tribunal Without Government Backing!

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced Wednesday the creation of a war crimes tribunal that would focus on victims of abuse in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

He said the tribunal -- and an investigating commission linked to it -- was necessary as an alternative to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which he accused of bias in its selection of cases to cover.

The court does not have government backing and Mahathir admitted he needed money to set it up and that it would be hard to persuade heads of government accused of wrongdoing to attend.

"There will be people who take this thing seriously," he said. "This is not a show."

"The one punishment that most leaders are afraid of is to go down in history with a certain label attached to them," he added at a press conference. "In history books they should be written down as war criminals and this is the kind of punishment we can make to them. "We cannot arrest them, we cannot detain them, and we cannot hang them the way they hanged Saddam Hussein."

Dr Mahathir, who played a high-profile role on the international stage before stepping down in 2003, has seized on the issue of conflict in the Middle East during his retirement. He did not specify who would be targeted by the tribunal, but said it would focus on abuses in Iraq, Palestinian territories and Lebanon -- indicating it was aimed at United States and Israeli military actions. "We think that it is time we set up a body, a tribunal, which will give an opportunity for these people to bring up their complaints to be heard."

Mahathir also plans a war crimes commission which would first investigate allegations of abuse. He will sit on its panel along with five Malaysian legal experts, including one from the nation's hardline Islamic opposition party.

The tribunal would be staffed by former judges and law professors from home and abroad, including a Malaysian former chief justice, he said.

However he conceded it would be difficult to obtain the evidence needed to conduct a thorough trial and that the proposal was short on funding. "We are asking for donations from interested people," he said. "It's not been easy."

Mahathir will next week host a war crimes conference attended by some 17 Palestinians, Iraqis and Lebanese who allege they are the victims of abuse and torture. The new commission will then begin investigating their cases. The tribunal itself, provided its judges have been appointed, would operate as soon as the inquiry panel has referred its first dossier upward.

Mahathir did not specify if the court would have a defence and prosecution, saying the accused would be invited to send their representative, but vowed it would not be like the "kangaroo court" that tried Saddam. (Channel Newsasia)

***** So there you are. He is actually unilaterally setting up a war crimes tribunal as well as a commission! If there is one person who can see this through successfully, it is undoubtedly Dr Mahathir. Frankly an alternative tribunal is a good idea. Too much western control of the present mechanism is not a very healthy situation. We wish him good luck and great success.

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Shayna Zaid - A Malaysian Singing Sensation In New York.

The name Shayna Zaid may not sound familiar to Malaysians, but the 22-year-old heartthrob has made a breakthrough in New York after releasing her debut album, Beyond Borders last February. The R&B/Soul genre album has made her name on par with other international female stars.

Shayna will be releasing her second album, which will be produced by The OZONE Production in New York, soon. Lyrics in some of her songs will have a mixture of Bahasa Melayu and English. There will be a new approach in her second album where traditional and modern music elements will be combined. "I have waited a long time to work on a project such as this because I am proud of our traditional instruments and it is a satisfaction for me to be able to introduce our culture overseas," she said.

Shayna has been in the industry ever since she was six years old. She still stays in Malaysia where she is active in theatre and singing. She was 14 years old when she got involved in a play at the Actor's Studio and was also a model for commercial advertisements before she started singing with the likes of Faradhiya and the Phat Family.

Just as she was on her first few steps towards fame, her family decided to move to the United States six years ago. There she persevered to achieve her dream of being a singer.

She enrolled herself at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.It was in that famous music college that she got the chance to meet Jay Deasel, the person who later made her famous in the music industry. He was also the backbone in the making of Beyond Borders. "Jay Deasel is also the producer for my second album which will be out this year," she said.

Although her first album did not hit the Malaysian market, she hopes that her second album will as her fans have never stopped supporting her through her WEBSITE.

Due to positive reviews from her Malaysian fans, Shayna will be back in-town come March where she will be releasing her first single and also her Kali Pertama music video which features local rapper Shazzy and JFK.

"I cannot wait to 'balik kampung', I should thank Shazzy and JFK for convincing me to do something for my own country and I believe this is my chance to use the experiences that I have gathered when I was in New York," she said.

She also said that Shazzy and JFK flew to New York recently to complete their collaboration project and the duo were also involved in the making of Kali Pertama. A few producers from The Digitalist production house based in Canada directed the music video. A reality travelogue that will show the footage of them completing the project will be aired on Astro next month.

To see or hear more of Shayna Zaid, go to DeaselMusic.com
(TheStar)
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Death Of An Author. Sidney Sheldon 1917 - 2007.

The best-selling American novelist, playwright and screenwriter Sidney Sheldon has died aged 89.

He died of complications from pneumonia at hospital near Palm Springs, California, his publicist said.

He had a career writing award-winning Broadway plays and Hollywood film scripts before turning to novel-writing at the age of 50.

His books - such as Rage of Angels and The Other Side of Midnight - were best sellers but did not win over critics.

He said he wrote his books - often featuring strong female characters - so that readers would want to continue to turn the page.

"My books are adventurous and exciting enough so that men want to read them and I hope I have enough insights into women so that women enjoy reading the books," he said in a BBC interview.

He was born 17 February, 1917 in Chicago. (BBC NEWS)
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Chinese Muslim Mosque Issue Shows That Race, Not Religion Is The Biggest Problem In Malaysia.

Getting official permission to build churches it seems sometimes takes decades, with all sorts of obstacles to surmount and silly objections being given by the authorities. Hindu temples meanwhile get demolished at the drop of a five sen coin, when underworked local councils are bored and have nothing better to do. The same applies, albeit at a lesser frequency to Buddhist temples too.

Mosques on the other hand get super easy passage and are constructed regularly with government blessing and the taxpayers' money. The reason is two-fold. One is to pander to the Muslim voter and ensure his loyalty to the ruling party. The other is to maintain the facade that we are actually an 'Islamic' nation.

But here is a report about how difficult it really is to get approval to build a mosque! On the face of it this seems unlikely and is probably a vicious rumour. But wait. The reluctance to give permission to build these mosques has another equation to it. They are mosques meant for Chinese Muslims. So it is AOK for these chaps to convert and become saudara baru, but to have masjids of their own? No way brudder! You may be of the same religion, but brudder you are of a different race. And THAT my friends is what matters most in this fair land of ours. The land which has given a fresh and new perspective to institutionalized apartheid.

The report in today's NST follows:

The Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (MCMA) is facing difficulties in getting approval from state governments to build mosques for their community.

MCMA vice-president Mohd Ridhuan Tee Abdullah said it was unfair for Perak mufti Datuk Seri Harussani Idris to say that state religious departments did not prevent the Chinese community from applying to build their own mosques.

He said MCMA had been trying to build a Chinese mosque in Selangor for about a decade but claimed that the religious authorities were not even interested in hearing their proposal.

"In our last meeting with the former director of the Selangor religious department a couple of years ago, he told us there was no way he would approve a Chinese mosque.

"For him, Islam in Malaysia is all about the Malays and the Malay language," he said when commenting on Harussani’s remarks.

Harussani had lambasted his Perlis counterpart Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin for implying that state governments denied the rights of Chinese Muslims to have their mosques.

Mohd Ridhuan defended the Perlis mufti, saying that the MCMA’s experience in Selangor and Malacca showed that some religious authorities failed to understand the universality of Islam. The Malacca Chinese Muslim Association had its application to build a Chinese mosque rejected three years ago. Mohd Ridhuan claimed that MCMA also proposed the building of a mosque and Islamic centre for the Chinese community to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Abdullah Md Zin but there was no further response.

He, however, was happy with the Selangor mufti Datuk Mohd Tamyis Abdul Majid’s assurance that the state would seriously look into applications to build a Chinese mosque in Selangor. "MCMA will definitely bring up the proposal again and we hope the Selangor state government would approve our application," Mohd Ridhuan said.

MCMA is hoping that a Chinese mosque would reflect Chinese design and architecture and also encourage non-Muslim Chinese to visit.

While Harussani claimed that state religious authorities did not prevent the Chinese from building mosques, he did not explain why there had yet to exist such a mosque in Malaysia.

Dr Mohd Asri when contacted said he hoped his Perak counterpart would be less emotional when dealing with such an issue. "No one is belittling the religious authorities. As a mufti, I believe in showing Islam in its true form, as a caring, peaceful and understanding religion," he said.

***** Moral of the story in the Malaysian context: Convert to Islam if you must but don't expect any less discrimination. A non-Malay you are and a non-Malay you always will be.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

One In Five Malaysians Believe Their Life Is Very Stressful. My, What Optimism!

One in five Malaysians believe that their life is very stressful at the moment, and the difficulty in balancing life with work is creating increased stress for them, according to global market intelligence company, Synovate.

Its Managing Director (Malaysia) Steve Murphy said based on the survey carried out by the company on 10,000 Peninsular Malaysians, 28 per cent of the Chinese claimed that they have been feeling the strain compared to 22 per cent Indians and 18 per cent Malays.

"Despite the increased pressure Malaysians are feeling, the sanctity of marriage still holds firm," he said in a statement issued here Tuesday. He said with two thirds of all Malaysians agreeing that married life is better than being single," the survey showed that Malaysians value marriage and the sense of family it brings. "Malaysia should be proud for being a country that nurtures family bonds, with the inherent family unity to likely help maintain a strong foundation for the country and its people, "he said.

Murphy said however although most Malaysians believe being married is better than being single, more than one third of them think a successful career and a happy family life are not compatible. Although Malaysians have strong family ties and believe in marriage, many are struggling to find a balance between their work and family life.

"Malaysians are united in their view towards family values but are finding it increasingly difficult to incorporate these values into their busy, modern, lives," he said.

"Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of Malaysians said that they are interested in hearing their parents' opinion, and the majority believe strongly in the role of the family and building one of their own.

"However, with just under one third (31 per cent) of Malaysians surveyed believing that you cannot have a successful career and a happy family life at the same time, it is clear that many are finding it difficult to maintain their family commitments alongside their demanding work obligations," he added.

Murphy said the Chinese are the most independent group with 56 per cent ready to listen to their parents compared with 79 per cent Malays and 77 per cent Indians.

"When it comes to a successful union, Malays (72 per cent) and Indians (62 percent) are particularly wedded to the idea of a blissful marriage, while respondents over 30 years old (72 per cent) are convinced that marriage is better than being single when compared to the younger generation (15 to 19 years old (48 per cent) and 20 to 24 years old (57 per cent)," he said.

He said the survey, under the Synovate Media Atlas - a media consumption, lifestyle and attitudes study conducted in Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand, is being carried out via face to face and telephone interviews. (Bernama

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Who Is This Lady Reporter Charged For Assault?

A reporter with an English daily is facing three criminal charges after she allegedly assaulted and abused a policewoman.

The woman, who is a reporter with The Star, was believed to have been under the influence of alcohol when the alleged incident took place early on Saturday.

A Selangor police officer who confirmed the case said the reporter was pulled up after beating the traffic lights near the Petaling Jaya district police headquarters about 1.30am.

"She was abusive and even tried to strangle the policewoman when confronted," the officer said.
"The reporter was arrested and taken to the Petaling Jaya police station where she allegedly continued to hurl abuses at the policewoman." She was put in the lock-up and released on bail on Sunday.

It is learnt that the woman has been admitted to a hospital in Petaling Jaya but is expected to be charged this week. The reporter, in her early 30s, is facing charges of obstructing a public servant from carrying out her duties, disorderly conduct in a police station and for insulting behaviour. (NST)

***** Any idea?
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Malay-Chinese Win-Win Business Ties, Singapore Style.

Small Malay businesses could soon get advice on how to thrive from the Chinese community. This is one of several ideas being discussed by the Community Engagement Task Force. The group is aiming to forge closer ties between the Malay and Chinese communities. Some 120 Malay men and women are learning conversational Mandarin for the workplace.

The training is organised by Mendaki and the Singapore Chinese Chamber Institute of Business to boost the participants' employability and to help them communicate better with their Mandarin-speaking colleagues.

The Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, says Malays can benefit from closer ties with the Chinese business community. "The Chamber has offered visits from their members or consultants to come down and meet small Malay businesses to talk to them about entrepreneurship and how to improve their businesses," he adds.

But Dr Yaacob also wants to foster better understanding between the races from young. So Chinese and Malay students at the Mendaki childcare centre may spend half a day every Friday learning about each other's customs.

And he says the upcoming Chinese New Year is an opportunity for everyone to immerse themselves in the Chinese culture. (Channel Newsasia)

***** It is good to see that the Singapore Malays have realized the importance of forging beneficial business ties with the Chinese there. In fact it would not be wrong to say that the same formula being tried out in Singapore will work in most countries in South East Asia where there is a strong commercial Chinese presence, including Malaysia. However here there seems to be some kind of inertia and absence of urgency probably because the Malays are being spoonfed.

Only when our local Malays are put in a Singapore type of situation where either you prosper or perish, will there be significant improvement in real quality. Whereas in Singapore, Minister Yaacob urges better communication between the races, here in Malaysia, the very policies of the government has caused only estrangement and disaffection. It is also ironical that while in Singapore, Chinese New Year is considered an opportunity for the Malays to 'immerse' in Chinese culture, here we are too busy passing fatwas to keep the religions and races apart.

Singapore Truly First Class Asia.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Malaysia's Race Divide Threatens Economy, Society Says Transparency International Malaysia.

Growing racial divides are undermining Malaysia and the government must act or face severe social and financial consequences, an anti-corruption watchdog warned Monday.

Transparency International Malaysia president, Ramon Navaratnam, said racial polarisation coupled with weak institutions, rising corruption and poor governance were deterring investors and weakening competitiveness.

"We are beginning to see more and more signs of what could be indications of a failing state," he said at a conference on the 2007 outlook for Malaysia. "If we don't address these issues now, it's like gangrene. It gathers in strength and intensity and causes major problems."

Navaratnam, an influential former senior treasury official, said the country was going through a "bad patch" with deteriorating race relations between its majority ethnic Malays and minority Chinese and Indians. "This will affect confidence, this will affect investment and affect growth and then, worse still, affect our ability to distribute (wealth)," he told reporters later. "Migration is rising, people are leaving. I understand the young people ... are reluctant to come back."

Navaratnam said it was critical for the government to review its economic policies, especially those which favour the Muslim Malays, who lag economically behind the Chinese. "Private investment has been declining. If we don't recognise these issues and do something about it, we'll be like ostriches putting our head in the sand."

While the policies are aimed at boosting the wealth of Malays, corruption and poor implementation have resulted in an elite getting wealthy, while marginalising poorer Malaysians, he said.

Meanwhile, poverty is on the rise, he added, warning it could contribute to economic instability. "The income equity gap has widened in the last five years ... If the income disparity widens it can still cause a lot of dissatisfaction," he said in his opening address to the conference.

He also criticised denials from officials and commentators of racial divides, warning that "we might believe our own propaganda" and fail to make changes. (Channel Newsasia)


***** That is quite a frightening scenario presented by Tan Sri Navaratnam! Do you think it reflects the actual situation today in Malaysia or do you consider it a little too alarming?

Ironically today there is also a statement by a federal minister on the above subject but see how the two opinions are so glaringly different! Which is the reality and which is spin is for you to decide: Malaysia Takes Pride In Racial, Religious Harmony
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World Class IJN Performs Open-Heart Surgery Without Blood Transfusion.

The National Heart Institute (IJN) recorded another success Monday when it conducted an open-heart surgery without blood transfusion on a 56-year-old retiree.

The four-hour aortic valve replacement operation on the man started at 8am. IJN had performed three similar operations before this - the last one was about 10 years ago.

Today's operation was conducted by a
10-member team lead by IJN's consultant cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Pau Kiew Kong.

The team comprised two surgeons, three anaesthetists, two perfusionists (person who monitors heart-lung machine), two staff nurses and one OT technican.

Speaking to Bernama after the operation, Dr Pau said the patient, who suffered from aortic stenosis, had asked him to conduct the operation without blood transfusion due to certain reasons.

"He does not want any blood to be given to him. We respect his wish but he must fill up the "no blood" consent form before the surgery takes place," he said adding that such operation would only be carried out on the patient's request.

Blood transfusion which is regarded as the safety net is always practised in major surgery, however, according to Dr Pau heart surgery without blood transfusion was quite safe if carried out properly.

Dr Pau said prior to the surgery certain measures would be taken such as maximising the patient's blood by using drugs. The team must also minimise the patient's blood loss during the surgery.

The local cardiac surgeon said IJN had the expertise to carry out such operations if requested by the patient. "We can do cardiac surgery without blood, safely," he said. (Bernama)


****** Syabas IJN! This is the kind of news that really makes one's day. When we put our minds to it we can be as good as and even better than the best.

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Blogger Defamation Suit - Joint Statement By 'Rocky' And NSTP.

A Malaysian blogger and a pro-government newspaper suing him for defamation agreed Monday to cease publishing items related to the case to ensure fair proceedings.

Lawyers for Ahirudin Attan and the plaintiff, the New Straits Times newspaper, issued a joint statement before High Court Judge Mohamad Hishamuddin Yunus during a brief hearing in his chambers.

The suit by the New Straits Times newspaper against Ahirudin stirred protests by commentators who said the action is a blow to free speech and an attempt to intimidate government critics. The Times sued another political blogger, Jeff Ooi, on similar grounds.

The newspaper alleges that Ahirudin and Ooi defamed the paper and its leadership. The cases are being heard separately.

A joint statement by Ahirudin and the Times said both parties agreed to "henceforth not publish any articles, comments or posts regarding the dispute presently before the High Court" that may prejudice a fair trial.

Ahirudin's blog, called "Rocky's Bru," features political critiques and frequently criticizes the New Straits Times' coverage. He also commented on last year's spat between former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Ahirudin's counsel Edmund Bon said his client voluntarily removed about 400 comments received from readers because some may be construed as legally off-limits while the case is going on. The comments were in response to four entries posted after the lawsuit announcement.

"It is in no way an admission" that any of the content was defamatory, Bon told The Associated Press. "There was no way to remove only selected comments, so we had no alternative but to put it all off-line ... We do this to err on the side of caution, to let the judicial process take its due course."

The lawsuits by the English-language newspaper were the first against Malaysian bloggers for publishing comments on the Internet.

Much of the traditional media in Malaysia are controlled by political parties or by the government, and the suits have raised fears that the freedom of online media may be in jeopardy.

The Times has said it does not want to shut down the blogs, but launched the suits because the postings were defamatory. The newspaper is alleging nearly 50 defamatory posts were on Ahirudin's blog, and 13 on Ooi's.

Ahirudin's move to strike down the lawsuit will be heard in court on Feb. 22. The suit against Ooi begins Tuesday. (IHT)
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Malicious Software - U.S. And China Biggest Culprits.

The Asia-Pacific region has overtaken the United States as the top contributor to malicious software or 'malware,' the cyber world's biggest headache, an IT security specialist's report said on Monday.

Asia also emerged second to the US in spreading unsolicited e-mails, said Sophos' Security Threat Report 2007, fuelled predominantly by China.

Countries in Asia took four out of the top 10 spots in the rankings of countries that hosted the most Web-based malware last year.

The breakdown in The Business Times showed the US was first on the list and played host to nearly 34.2 per cent of malicious Internet programmes. China followed at 31 per cent, Taiwan, at 1.7 per cent, Hong Kong, at 1.0 per cent and South Korea, at 0.9 per cent. When combined, the four economies accounted for 34.6 per cent. (Monsters & Critics)

'Web-hosting companies in the US and elsewhere need to step up their policing of published content, and ensure that malicious code is quickly removed before innocent users get hit,' said Carole Theriault, Sophos senior security consultant.

More spam was sent from the US and China than any other countries, the report said.The US transmitted nearly 22 per cent of all unsolicited e-mails. China, including Hong Kong, was second at 15.9 per cent.
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Skin Colour Counts?

HEADLINE: Fair Skin Can Get You More Money.
Light-skinned immigrants in the United States make more money on average than those with darker complexions, and the chief reason appears to be discrimination, a researcher says.

Joni Hersch, a law and economics professor at Vanderbilt University, looked at a government survey of 2,084 legal immigrants to the United States from around the world and found that those with the lightest skin earned an average of 8% to 15% more than similar immigrants with much darker skin.

"On average, being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an additional year of education," Hersch said. The study also found that taller immigrants earn more than shorter ones, with an extra inch of height associated with a 1% increase in income.

Other researchers said the findings are consistent with other studies on colour and point to a skin-tone prejudice that goes beyond race.

Hersch took into consideration other factors that could affect wages, such as English-language proficiency, education, occupation, race or country of origin, and found that skin tone still seemed to make a difference in earnings. That means that if two similar immigrants from Bangladesh, for example, came to the United States at the same time, with the same occupation and ability to speak English, the lighter-skinned immigrant would make more money on average.

"I thought that once we controlled for race and nationality, I expected the difference to go away, but even with people from the same country, the same race — skin colour really matters," she said, "and height".

Although many cultures show a bias toward lighter skin, Hersch said her analysis shows that the skin-colour advantage was not due to preferential treatment for light-skinned people in their country of origin. The bias, she said, occurs in the US.

Economics professor Shelley White-Means of the University of Tennessee at Memphis said the study adds to the growing body of evidence that there is a "preference for whiteness" in America that goes beyond race.


***** I would like to think that such superficial preferences do not exist to a very large extent in Malaysia. What do you feel?
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"Celebrity Big Brother" - Bollywood's Shilpa Shetty Triumphs.

Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty was on Sunday named the winner of British reality television show "Celebrity Big Brother", following a diplomatic storm over the racist bullying to which she was allegedly subjected.

Shetty, the favourite to win the programme, in which the activities of a group of celebrities living in a specially constructed house are televised round the clock by British broadcaster Channel Four, beat out five other finalists to win 63 percent of viewers' votes.

"It's truly been quite a roller-coaster ride," Shetty said in an interview with Channel Four after she was named the winner. "The highs, the lows, and each one of them have really taught me so much."

Among the comments made in last week's storm, Shetty was called a "dog" and asked whether she lives in a shack, prompting protesters in India to burn effigies of the show's producers.

British lawmakers lined up to condemn the programme when the row was at its height, while Indian officials urged their British counterparts to intervene. The incident overshadowed a visit to India by Britain's finance minister and likely future prime minister, Gordon Brown.

Shetty heard of the furore caused by the show for the first time during the interview, having been shielded from the outside world for the duration of the programme, saying: "I just want to forget things." I want to put one thing at rest ... Things happened, and people make mistakes."

Show producers sought out Shetty and reportedly paid her more than the others - up to 350,000 pounds (US$686,000, 531,000 euros) - to bring some Bollywood glamour to proceedings and attract viewers with south Asian roots.

She was the favourite to win the competition, beating out fellow finalists former Jackson Five star Jermaine Jackson, Ian Watkins of pop band Steps, former Miss Great Britain Danielle Lloyd, and Dirk Benedict, alias Templeton "The Face" Peck from the 1980s US television show "The A-Team".

Her main perceived tormentor, Jade Goody, was evicted by an overwhelming public vote last week, days after the controversy erupted following foul-mouthed exchanges. The actress defended Goody, however, saying: "Jade really didn't mean to be racist. I can say that for sure ... She's not a racist."

In a move which underlined the uphill struggle Goody faces to revive her career following the row, police probing alleged racism on the show have contacted her with a view to interviewing her, British media reported on Saturday. Famous in Britain for her startling ignorance on a non-celebrity version of the show, Goody has made tearful, apologetic television appearances since her eviction in a bid to rehabilitate her tarnished public image.

India has reportedly told Goody, who has applied for a visa to visit the country, that she could not come as an official guest of the country but was free to visit like any other traveller. The Indian tourism office in London had earlier invited Goody "to experience India's healing nature once your current commitments are over". (Channel Newsasia)

The fallout could also be felt in comments by Andy Duncan, chief executive of Channel Four, which screens the programme, who told the Times on Saturday that it now faced "creative and tonal challenges".
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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mighty Tourist Dollar - Even The U.S. Prepares To Shed Unfriendly Image.

The US government and private sector are launching a massive effort to reshape America's image for foreign visitors amid concerns that tightened security measures have made the country inhospitable.

The campaign comes as the number of visitors to the US is just getting back to the levels prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, but with the US share of the multi trillion dollar global travel market shrinking.

Government and business leaders argue that the US needs to fix real and perceived barriers to foreign visitors or risk losing billions of dollars in tourism revenues.

US welcomed some 49 million international travelers in 2005, ranking third behind France and Spain, according to a report prepared for the Commerce Department. But even as global travel is increasing more people are choosing other destinations and the US market share has been on the decline.

"At a time when other countries have become better-funded, more coordinated and sophisticated in their efforts to attract international visitors, the US still lacks a national strategy to compete," said a study prepared by the US Commerce Department's Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.

"This situation puts the US at a distinct competitive disadvantage in efforts to attract world travel." The panel is seeking input for "a national strategy to compete for international visitors.

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Batu Talam By-election - 68 Percent Voter Turnout Until Polling Closed.

Some 7,131 or 68 percent of the 10,525 registered voters for the Batu Talam state seat went to the polls until the centres closed at 5pm.

A spokesman for the Election Commission (EC) said the turnout was good considering the cloudy weather since morning and the boycott by opposition parties.

He added there was no untoward incident.

About 73.4 percent of the 10,866 registered voters went to the polls in the 2004 general election.

Voting at 12 polling centres went on smoothly starting at 8am. The result will be announced the latest by 10pm at the vote counting at Dewan Jubli Perak here.

The by-election is held following the death of Barisan Nasional's (BN) Datuk Tengku Paris Tengku Razlan last Dec 27.

The Batu Talam by-election is a straight fight betwen BN's Abd Aziz Mat Kiram,47, and Independent Ng Chee Pang,22. (Bernama)


***** Keeping in mind that this is a by-election and of course the boycott call by the opposition, 68% is a pretty good figure. It shows that the people are still not averse to exercising their constitutional right to vote.
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UPDATE: BN Retains Batu Talam Seat With Bigger Majority

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Pak Lah Says Proton In Talks With Volkswagen AG

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has said troubled carmaker Proton and German giant Volkswagen AG are in negotiations, but declined to give details of the deal, according to a report. "I don't want to comment because it is being negotiated," Abdullah was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times.

Reports last week said Volkswagen had agreed to buy a controlling stake in Proton's manufacturing division -- news which sent Proton shares up 13.14 percent on Friday to 7.75 ringgit (2.21 dollars).

The government is under intense pressure to announce details of a partnership for loss-making Proton, which last year lost its status as Malaysia's biggest-selling carmaker to rival Perodua.

The deal with Volkswagen is aimed at providing Proton with the expertise it needs to arrest a sharp decline in market share as competition heats up.

Proton has been in talks with US auto giant General Motors, and PSA Peugeot Citroen of France, as well as Volkswagen, while three Malaysian automotive firms have also expressed interest in taking stakes in the company.

The Malaysian government owns 59 percent of Proton, including a 43 percent stake held by its investment arm Khazanah Nasional. It has said an announcement on a partnership deal will likely come in the first quarter of this year.

Proton's market share has fallen sharply in recent years due to the whittling away of duties that has made imports more affordable and a persistent reputation for
poor quality and unimaginative models. (Channel Newsasia)
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French Politician Sacked For Race Comments.

France's Socialist Party on Saturday expelled a politician who said there were too many black players on the national soccer team, party officials said.

Georges Freche was quoted by Midi Libre newspaper in November as saying he was ashamed that as many as nine of 11 starters on the French team were black.

"It would be normal if there were three or four, that would be a reflection of society," Freche was quoted as saying. "But if there are so many, it's because whites are no good. I'm ashamed for this country."

***** Thank God we don't have such racist comments being openly expressed here or given prominence. Otherwise what little gains we have made in badminton, basketball, karate, squash, swimming and tae kwon do would have been for nought.
Read the full report HERE.

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The French Honour Bollywood Legend Amitabh Bachchan

Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan has been awarded France's highest civilian honour, the Legion d'Honneur.

The award was presented to the actor at a function at the French embassy in the Indian capital, Delhi. Ambassador Dominique Girard said it was in recognition of the "quality and height of his achievement".

Bachchan topped a 1999 BBC News website poll to find the greatest star of the millennium, beating the likes of Marlon Brando and Charlie Chaplin. The actor's career spans almost 40 years. He has acted in more than 140 movies.

'Towering personality'

"It fills me with great pride," Bachchan said accepting the award. "It's not just an award for me, it's the recognition of the achievement of the Indian cinema. It's an award for the entire film industry," he said.

"India has arrived on the global cinema stage, the carping critics have been silenced, and the cynicism about the Hindi film industry has given way to world-wide appreciation," Bachchan said.

Describing him as a "towering Indian personality" and the "number-one actor of Indian cinema", Ambassador Girard said the award "brings him [Bachchan] into the international legion of world's greatest artistes". Bachchan arrived at the function in Delhi with his wife and children in tow.

The son of a famous Hindi poet, Bachchan moved to Mumbai (Bombay) to make a career in films after quitting his job as a freight broker in Calcutta. The actor debuted in 1969 with Saat Hindustani [Seven Indians] - in which he played one of the seven leads. He made his name in the 1970s and 1980s as a film action hero and gave several hits like Zanjeer [Shackles], Sholay [Burning Embers], Deewar [Wall] and Don.

Critically acclaimed

He also showed his talent for comedy in films like Chupke Chupke and Amar Akbar Anthony. In recent years, he has done several critically-acclaimed films, including Black [in which he plays an old man stricken with Alzheimer's] and Sarkar [where he plays a role inspired by Marlon Brando's Godfather].

Bachchan also played the very popular host of Kaun Banega Carorepati - Indian version of the UK game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? He has also lent his voice to the Oscar winning French documentary, March of the Penguins, for the Indian market.

In 2000, Bachchan became the first Bollywood star to have a wax statue at Madame Tussaud's museum in London.

The Legion d'Honneur was instituted in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. Among those who have received the award in the past are Hollywood director Steven Spielberg and French actor, Gerard Depardieu. Among the eminent Indian personalities who have received the honour are late filmmaker Satyajit Ray in 1987, sitar maestro Ravi Shankar in 2000 and environmentalist R.K. Pachauri in 2006. (BBC NEWS)

***** I'm sure that the day is not too far away when our very own screen legends will be honoured in similar fashion.
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Inter-Faith Dialogue - Can We Learn From Singapore?

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo stressed the importance of open communication between religious groups, especially in a country like Singapore. The government wants to make it a "habit" for these groups to get together, through meetings like the inter-faith dialogue he was speaking at.

He said this would build up a culture of communication and mutual understanding, among the religions.

Mr Yeo said differences will continue to exist even within religions. But what is important is to seek out the common ideas that bind their believers and use them as a basis for open dialogue with other communities.

Being a small, open country with a largely immigrant population means Singapore will continue to be affected by religious and political tensions in other societies. "This is inherent in our existence because we are multi-ethnic. And we still maintain those links, and those links are what sustain us economically. But those links bring their own problems and we must have the ability, the software, to overcome those problems," said the Foreign Minister.

Speakers at the forum felt that with the resurgence of religion in Singapore, this has to be managed delicately by both the government and the people.

Simon Tay, Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said: "The challenge to governments is how we find the right platforms for dialogue, and how within each religion and between religions, we can have proper dialogue.

"The issue of government controlling the religion is not a harsh hand but rather, an even-handed understanding approach. I think governments have to live with the idea of religiosity. In fact, they should promise freedom of religion, they should encourage more strongly inter-faith dialogue and intra-faith dialogue."

Several inter-faith dialogues have been held all over Singapore in recent months to help community leaders understand the different faiths. The ultimate aim is to make sure that the country holds together in the event of a crisis or terror attack. (Channel Newsasia)

***** Which is a better solution? Malaysia's "the time is not right for open dialogue and all 'sensitive' matters should be discussed behind closed doors by BN component parties" or Singapore's encouragement of the right platforms for inter-faith communication? Let's get your views on this.

Related posts to compare and contrast:
1) Malaysia: Ban On Raising Sensitive Issues For Racial Harmony, Says PM.
2) Across the causeway: Singapore Calls For More Interfaith Dialogue. But Why Is It Taboo In Malaysia?
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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Officers Responsible For Shoddy Police Probes May Get The Boot. But Transfer The Perak CPO First.

Police investigating officers who do a shoddy job leading to their cases getting thrown out by the courts risk being fired from the force, said Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Mohd Johari Baharum.

"We will not compromise with officers who fail to conduct proper investigations into murder cases," he told reporters after opening a seminar for directors and senior management in the security industry here today.

He said this when asked to comment on the botched investigation into the murder of a 21-year-old engineering student in 2003 which led to the case to be thrown out by the Ipoh High Court last Wednesday (Jan 24).

Five suspects in the case, one of them the son of a former Ipoh Mayor, were acquitted without their defence being called. Mohd Johari said the investigating officers in the case would be brought before the Police's Disciplinary Board if found to have failed in carrying out their duties properly.

"It is pathetic ... this is not the first high profile murder case to be thrown out of court ... I want Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan to submit a report on it to the ministry as soon as possible," he added, reports Bernama.

He said he would have a special meeting with Musa and other Bukit Aman senior directors next Wednesday (Jan 31) to discuss and identify weaknesses in the handling of high profile murder cases. "I want to know if elements like corruption are hampering investigations," he added.

Meanwhile, Musa, when met at the World Customs Day celebrations in the Customs Complex in Kelana Jaya here, said police were still investigating the matter (the case that was thrown out in Ipoh) including on claims that the investigating officer had only just joined the force when entrusted with the job.

"This is a serious matter, so give us time to investigate properly," he added. (TheSun)

***** The IGP is to be commended for the fast reaction to this shameful episode and miscarriage of justice. However the number one cop in the state, Perak police chief SAC I Datuk Abdul Aziz Bulat should be the first one to be removed. At the very least he should be transferred to Bukit Aman for an extended period as a desk-bound pen pusher.

Firstly he should have taken direct responsibility for the dereliction of duty by his subordinates. Secondly he should not have too hastily, without thinking supported his officers by saying that
"the police had done all they could to ensure a strong prosecution case." That statement totally exposed him as an untruthful and uncaring person out only to protect the hide of his pegawai2 and himself while not at all concerned about the grave injustice done to the deceased and his family. His subsequent statements in support of his men while good for morale, sets a very bad precedent when senior officials like him appear to condone criminal negligence.

Finally and more importantly it is appalling that such a senior police official thought it fit to cry "unfair remarks," while publicly disagreeing and taking issue with the judge who passed the strictures! His impulsive behaviour is unbecoming of the high office he currently occupies and matters could turn really ugly if the learned judge were to exercise his considerable judicial muscle and cite him for contempt. Abdul Aziz Bulat has to go.

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Conflicting Advice For Batu Talam Voters By BN And PAS.

The farcical proportions to which the Batu Talam by-elections have reached can be deduced from the conflicting advice that the voters have been given by the ruling BN as well as the opposition PAS.

Lets take the Barisan statement first: Prove Democracy Still Alive, Zam Tells Batu Talam Voters.

Batu Talam voters have been urged to come out in full force to exercise their electoral right in Sunday's by-election to prove democracy is still alive in this country.

In making the call, Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin said though this was only a by-election, its outcome was significant as it would mirror the people's trust and confidence in the country's democratic process.

"They must come out in droves to cast their ballots. They should not listen to instigators. When the voters come out to vote tomorrow, they should not pay heed to Opposition claims that this by-election is undemocratic," he told reporters.

Zainuddin said he was optimistic Batu Talam voters would not be swayed by the Opposition's ploys to influence the electorate not to come out to vote.

The by-election is a straight fight between Barisan Nasional's (BN) Abdul Aziz Mat Kiram, 47, and an independent, Ng Chee Pang, 22.

"The Opposition is not contesting to boycott the by-election hoping that the people will also boycott the polls. That's their biggest expectation, (but) the voters must come out to vote to prove the Opposition is no longer relevant in Malaysia's democratic system," he said.

Elaborating on the Opposition's boycott move, Zainuddin said: "There is no more of such groups in Terengganu, there are still some in Kelantan, their defeat here (in Batu Talam) with a good voter turnout means it's only a matter of time they're no more in Kelantan, too. "Nevertheless, some are still fanatic, adamant to change and are backward- thinking, but many have turned against these groups," he said.

On his advice to Batu Talam voters, Zainuddin said: "Go out to vote regardless of rain, storm or floods. Election machinery workers will help bring voters to their respective polling stations. Transport is not a problem."

Now the PAS statement: "Tear The Ballot Paper!" Says
Mohamad Sabu.

Those conversant in Bahasa Malaysia can read here: Batu Talam : Koyakkan kertas undi! - Mohamad Sabu (In case you cannot access the report, click 'Laman' at the Harakah website.)

***** So what do you think? Is this a 'real' election in the truest sense of the word or just a farce being played out to keep to constitutional requirements?
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Serena Williams - 'Queen' Of Australia.

Serena Williams demolished top seed Maria Sharapova in a one-sided final to win her third Australian Open and eighth Grand Slam title on Saturday.

The unseeded American's speed and power overwhelmed Sharapova 6-1 6-2 in one hour two minutes.

Victory caps a remarkable comeback for Williams, who slipped to 81 in the rankings after a serious knee injury.

The 25-year-old will move up to 14 in the world next week, while Sharapova will regain the number one spot.

"You can never underestimate her as an opponent," said Sharapova. "I know what she's capable of and she showed that today. She's an amazing champion and she's showed it here many times. I look forward to playing her many more times and winning a few, I hope."

Williams responded: "I'd like to thank Maria for being such a great champion. She has many more years to go than I do, she's such a great fighter and always fighting to the last point, which is what I like to see."

It was a humbling experience for the new world number one who was blasted off the court from the opening moments.

Williams climbed all over the Sharapova serve and dominated with her own, giving the Russian few opportunities to get a foothold in the match. Under severe pressure, Sharapova double-faulted twice on her way to dropping serve in the second game, and two fizzing returns gave Williams another break in game four. After five games Sharapova was still to make a single winner and the first set raced by in 27 minutes.

And there was no let-up in the second set as Williams broke immediately with a backhand winner down the line. The only glimpse of hope for Sharapova came in the following game when Williams made two double faults to give up a break point, but she recovered with an ace.

Sharapova was able to hold a couple of service games to make the score slightly more respectable but Williams was never threatened, sealing victory with a backhand winner before falling to the floor in celebration. (BBC NEWS)
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International Schools - Education Ministry Starts To Meddle As Usual.

The Education Ministry has made five subjects compulsory for local students who are studying in international schools, reported Utusan Malaysia.

The subjects are Bahasa Malaysia, Local Studies, History, Islamic Studies and Moral Studies.

Education Deputy Minister Datuk Noh Omar said the introduction of the five new subjects is a new policy that the ministry had come up with for international schools.
“The new subjects will not be taught to international students at these schools because the ministry is only focusing on local students,” he said after launching the 10th anniversary celebration of Mutiara Grammar International School.

“This is to instil national values in local students.”

The ministry would not meddle with the syllabus being used at international schools because the matter falls under the purview of the respective school boards.

Of the 12,405 students enrolled in such schools, 2,977 are Malaysians.

***** I had anticipated that the Education Ministry will come in with burdensome regulations sooner or later. Except for Bahasa Malaysia and perhaps Islamic studies what is the necessity to include the rest of the worthless subjects as compulsory? All it will do is to unnecessarily burden the local student.

The reason parents send their children to international schools is to escape the clutch of the ministry and its mediocre standards and senseless requirements. Looks like even here their kids are not secure from the jaws of the overseers of our archaic education system.


Read this related post (May 18th 2006): Cabinet Decision On International Schools - Good Intentions vs Reality.
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Friday, January 26, 2007

Police Probe Into Weaknesses Of Murder Case Investigation.

The police, with the cooperation of the Deputy Public Prosecutor, have initiated an investigation to determine whether the weaknessess in the investigation of a murder case that involved the son of former Ipoh Mayor, Azman Ismail, or "Man Datuk" were intentional.

Perak Police Chief Datuk Aziz Bulat said he had directed the State Crime Investigation Department Chief, SAC II Patrick Jiges Sijore, to lead the probe whose findings will be submitted to the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan as soon as possible.

Abdul Aziz said the investigation was crucial to prevent the police's credibility from being tarnished, and that the public will not have a negative perception on the force. The probe will also involve reviewing investigation papers even though the case had been closed, he said. "We will also study how the failure occurred in court, whether it was the handling of the case or evidence, and we will improve them to prevent similar occurrences," he said.

Musa had said Thursday that he wanted to know immediately whether the weaknesses in the murder investigation were done on purpose to make the case appear weak in court.

The High Court here last Wednesday acquitted Azman, 26, and four of his friends from the charge of killing an engineering student, Mohd Hosni Fadzli Mohd Amin, 21, in 2003. In acquitting the five, Judge Datuk V.T Singham said the police investigation on the case had raised a lot of doubts, while the prosecution was weak. Singham had outlined several of the glaring weaknesses to the case, and had regarded it as the most careless case ever handled by the prosecution. Among the weaknesses were the police's lack of urgency to the crime scene to conduct forensic tests; the autopsy was done by a hospital assistant and not a pathologist; and the prosecutor's refusal to name another suspect who was still at large even though the person was a prime suspect.

Abdul Aziz said revision of the investigation papers would allow the police to detect whether the weaknesses were intentional. He said the case has been closed and no new testimonies can be made. The Royal Malaysia Police discipline committee is expected to summon all the investigating officers of the case soon to get their statements.

Meanwhile, the Attorney-General had filed an appeal on the Ipoh High Court's decision on the case. (Bernama)


***** Surprising how a very strong word from the top man, the IGP, can change opinions within a day. Only yesterday the Perak CPO, Aziz Bulat was singing a very different tune and said that "the police had done all they could to ensure a strong prosecution case!" This was clearly a reflex defence of not only his men but his leadership or lack of it personally. Now, eating humble pie he has no choice but to accept that things have gone awry and those responsible must own up why the investigation and prosecution were so hopelessly shoddy.

It is hoped that the new investigation will shed light on the murderers as well as the culprits in the police force who attempted to prevent the criminals from being punished by the courts.
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Tobacco Companies Cheer South Korean Court Ruling.

A South Korean court Thursday ruled in favour of a local cigarette maker in the longstanding suits filed by ailing smokers and their families against the company, saying there was no evidence to prove smoking caused their illnesses, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. They are the first anti-tobacco lawsuits involving individuals in South Korean legal history.

The court said the plaintiffs failed to prove a connection between smoking and cancer they or their family members contracted. "There is no evidence to prove cigarettes produced and sold by the company had problems in terms of manufacture, design and labelling, and that smoking was the direct cause of their lung or laryngeal cancer," judge Cho Kyung-ran of the Seoul Central District Court said.

In the suits filed separately in September and December of 1999, two groups of 36 plaintiffs sought about 400 million won (US$426,800) in combined damages, accusing the nation's single tobacco maker KT&G Corp. of failing to warn people soon enough about the dangers of smoking and for producing the dangerous, addictive product. Seven of them were cancer patients but four died of the disease before the ruling came.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Bae Keun-ja, said she would appeal. "We cannot accept the ruling denying a tobacco manufacturer's responsibility for lung cancer outbreaks while recognising the general cause-and-effect relationship of smoking and cancer," Bae said.

But KT&G's lawyer Park Ghyo-sun welcomed the decision, saying "it was a wise judgement as the court recognised there could be many other causes of lung cancer in addition to smoking." The ruling was also hailed by KT&G.

If the plaintiffs file an appeal, the future trial is likely to reignite a heated debate about the danger of smoking and the impact of smoking on cancer.

Anti-smoking and consumer rights groups instantly showed strong disappointment. Lee Bok-geun, chief planning official of the Korean Association of Smoking and Health, said the court ruling "could cause far-reaching havoc to the people by encouraging juveniles or those who already quit smoking to smoke."

"The risks of smoking are known to the entire world," said Jang Gwang-mo, head of the Consumers Union of Korea. "We cannot hide our disappointment at the court ruling." (Bernama)

***** Well, well, well. That ruling must bring a lot of happiness to our own legalized murderers, the tobacco companies. Do you agree with the contention of the judge? Is there truly no connection between their illness and smoking? Or should we just take the attitude that since they knew about the dangers of their addiction, they and they alone are responsible for the terrible physical condition they are now in? Your views please.
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An interesting link: How the urge to smoke can just vanish

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