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GEROGE TOWN: All schools in Penang are banned from joining state-level Merdeka celebrations until further instruction from the Education Ministry.

When contacted, an official from the state Education Department communications unit confirmed that its director Datuk Osman Hussain sent the directive to all schools in Penang Thursday.

This letter has since been leaked and is going viral on social media.

Deputy Chief Minister (II) Prof P Ramasamy (pic) said he was told that the Department found fault with the use of the word “bersih” in this year’s Merdeka slogan for the state.

directive_penang_schools_hari_merdeka_210815

“That surprised me. Our slogan this year is ‘bersih, cekap dan amanah’ (clean, skilled and trustworthy). What is the problem?” he asked.

Ramasamy said he suspected that the Department was concerned that the use of the word “bersih” would be linked to the Bersih 4.0 rally slated for Aug 29 and 30.

“This is a national celebration of our country’s best event. In past years, schools and federal bodies have paraded with state agencies happily. Why mar it with politics?” he said.

State assembly speaker Law Choo Kiang, who is the state Merdeka celebrations organising chairman, said the move was irrational.

“Instead of encouraging schools to parade and show their patriotism, the Ministry blocks them. What message are they sending to schoolchildren?” he questioned.

JENNIFER Lawrence has been named Forbes magazine’s highest-paid actress over the last year with earnings of $51 million.

The ‘Hunger Games’ star banked a cool $51 million between June 2014 and June 2015, according to financial magazine Forbes, putting her $16 million ahead of her nearest rival Scarlett Johansson.

Much of Jennifer’s fortune over the last 12 months is attributed to the success of ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1’, but she also took home millions of dollars thanks to her lucrative endorsement deal with Dior.

‘Avengers’ star Scarlett, 30, ranks in second place with an amassed pre-tax fortune of $35.5 million. The blonde beauty starred in the hugely success ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and sci-fi hit ‘Lucy’, and also tops up her income with endorsements with Dolce & Gabbana and Sodastream.

‘Spy’ actress Melissa McCarthy ranked third on the list with earnings of $23 million, followed by Chinese actress Bingbing Fan, who earned $21 million.

Newlywed Jennifer Aniston rounds out the top five, amassing $16.5 million despite starring in just two films, ‘Horrible Bosses 2’ and ‘Cake’. The actress’ income is largely made up of endorsement deals for Aveeno, SmartWater and Living Proof.

Julia Roberts ranked in sixth place with earnings of $16 million, followed by actress-and-director Angelina Jolie with an income of $15 million.

In eighth place is Reese Witherspoon, who also earned $15 million, in ninth is Anne Hathaway ($12 million) and tenth is Kristen Stewart ($12 million).

– BERNAMA

ALOR SETAR: Kedah state assemblymen, including the menteri besar and state executive councillors, will get a salary increase effective Jan 1 next year.

The salaries of the assemblymen, the speaker of the legislative assembly and the state executive councillors were last revised 11 years ago, in 2004.

The salary increase is provided for in the Administrative and Legislative Assembly Members (Remuneration) (Amendment) Bill 2015 that was passed today by the state legislative assembly.

The enactment provides for the salary of the assemblymen to rise from RM4,112 to RM11,000 a month.

The salary of the deputy speaker of the assembly will rise from RM3,993 to RM7,000 a month while the salaries of the speaker and 10 state executive councillors will go up from RM6,109 to RM14,000 a month.

The salary of the menteri besar will go up from RM14,175 to RM22,000 a month.

In winding up debate on the bill, Menteri Besar Datuk Mukhriz Tun Dr Mahathir said the state government undertook a study of the salary increase by making comparisons with the other states.

“The percentage of salary increase for Kedah assemblymen is the least among the states,” he said.

Mukhriz said the salary revision was in tandem with the increased workload and responsibilities of elected representatives in serving the people.

— BERNAMA

MEDINA: More than 4,000 Malaysian haj pilgrims are now in Medina and as of Thursday, they are reported to be in good condition, said the Medina Operations Director for the 1436H Haj Operations, Mohd Zawawi Bostam.

He said 4,446 Malaysian haj pilgrims were now in Medina and staying in three hotels namely Hotel MovenPick, Hotel Al-Saha and Hotel Al-Haram, since the first flight KT1 on Aug 16.

“The number does not include two more groups who are scheduled to arrive today via flights KT14 from Alor Setar (279 pilgrims) at 4.15pm (9.14pm Malaysian time) and KT15 from Johor Baharu (279 pilgrims) at 8.30pm (1.30am on Aug 21, Malaysian time),” he told reporters, here today.

Mohd Zawawi said the last flight carrying pilgrims directly to Medina was schduled to arrive on Aug 30 (at 1.15am local time).

He said pilgrims who were already at the Holy Land had followed the programs organised by the Tabung Haji (TH) such as visiting the Nabawi Mosque, visiting historical places in Medina and listening to religious ceramah and counselling.

The Malaysian haj pilgrims were scheduled to go to Makkah in stages from Aug 24 by bus, with the last group scheduled to arrive on Sept 7.

Overall, he said, 11,088 haj pilgrims would be in Medina on 32 flights while another 32 flights were scheduled to arrive directly in Jeddah.

This year, 22,320 Malaysian haj pilgrims would be flown by Malaysia Airlines and Saudi Airlines.– BERNAMA

ZURICH: Swiss financial regulator Finma is checking with some of the country’s banks on whether they carried out business with 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a spokesman said on Wednesday.

1MDB, whose advisory board is chaired by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, was the subject of a probe by Bank Negara Malaysia which was completed earlier this month. The fund has been dogged by controversy over its RM42bil debt and alleged financial mismanagement.

The Wall Street Journal reported in July that investigators looking into 1MDB had traced nearly US$700mil that moved from an account at Swiss-based Falcon Private Bank in Singapore into accounts in Malaysia they believed belonged to Najib.

Najib later admitted the funds were deposited into his account but said it was a political donation by unidentified source from the Middle East.

Falcon has said previously it was in contact with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and would be fully transparent with the authorities.

“Finma is in contact with several banks about this matter,” the spokesman said.

“In the framework of our supervisory role, we are clarifying whether and to what extent banks are involved and how the terms of Swiss regulatory law were implemented” it said.

The regulator would not comment on the details of its supervisory activity or on individual names it was looking into, the spokesman added.

Earlier this year, MAS also said it was in touch with Malaysian regulators after Malaysia’s government said 1MDB had redeemed US$1.1bil from the Cayman Islands and parked it in the Singapore unit of Swiss private bank BSI.

Representatives for Falcon and BSI did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the FINMA spokesman’s remarks. – Reuters

LANGKAWI – Plans are afoot to make Langkawi a wedding destination through the ‘Experience Langkawi’ wedding package.

A Kuala Lumpur-based wedding planning company, My Wedding Planner Sdn Bhd (MYWP), has been working on its signature package for the last few months and recently held a promotion at a gathering with local tourism players here.

MYWP founder, Patricia Chan said that couples taking up the package would not only have the moments of their weddings in pictures but would also have the opportunity to be together in tour activities in the island here.

“We want them to feel the specialties in Langkawi. We are also working out with other tour operators here to promote their services, such as in water sports activities, arts and cultural exposures, spa and retreat, which come in together in this package.

“We will also be promoting our wedding package in several online portals to reach out to potential clients internationally,” she told Bernama here.

Chan said there were untapped opportunities and resources for couples wanting to celebrate their lifetime union in Langkawi, being a world-class destination.

According to her, the package allowed couples wishing to tie the knot in the island to do away with the tedious tasks of having to deal with parties involved in their wedding preparations individually.

“For either an intimate, private event or for a large scale luxurious affair, whatever race, culture and ethnic background, MYWP consolidates all partners, be it leading vendors, individual partners and suppliers, for a more efficient and organised approach,” she said.

With the ringgit value falling against the US dollar and sterling pound, she saw that there would be improved business opportunities from overseas like the United States and Europe, particularly during the Easter break, summer months and festive cum year-end seasons.

She said Malaysia’s wedding planning industry was growing tremendously as couples wanted creative and competent people to manage their events in exciting new destinations.

For MYWP, Chan said the company which she formed together with co-founder, Lane Ho, had handled more than 230 wedding events over the last eight years.

“MYWP’s signature Langkawi package stands to boost the island’s tourism potential, not only among the wedding couples but also among those celebrating milestone achievements and anniversaries,” she said, adding that its business hub remained in Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, Ho hoped that the package would receive tremendous responses through good collaboration from the local tourism operators and vendors in Langkawi.

“Langkawi will be our breakthrough market, enabling us to also venture to destinations in Sabah and Sarawak and with the ASEAN region, like Bali, which continues to be a top wedding destination,” she added.

– BERNAMA

BUTTERWORTH – The four Malaysian victims killed in a bomb explosion in Bangkok, Thailand last Monday will be buried at the Sungai Lembu Chinese cemetery in Bukit Mertajam.

The remains of Lim Siew Gaik, 49, and her youngest son Neoh Jai Jun, 20, will be buried on Sunday while the remains of her son-in-law Lee Tze Siang, 35, and her grand daughter Lee Jing Xuan, 4, will be buried tomorrow.

The remains of the four victims arrived at the Penang International Airport at 11 pm last night before being sent to their respective residences for prayer rites.

This is believed to be the last picture of the family prior to the tragedy shared by Chinese daily Sin Chew. From left: Lim Su Xee, Neoh Ee Ling, Lee Jin Xuan, Lee Ji Siang, Neoh Hock Guan, Neoh Jai Jun, Lim Saw Sek.

This is believed to be the last picture of the family prior to the tragedy shared by Chinese daily Sin Chew. From left: Lim Su Xee, Neoh Ee Ling, Lee Jin Xuan, Lee Ji Siang, Neoh Hock Guan, Neoh Jai Jun, Lim Saw Sek.

The remains of Siew Gaik and her son arrived at their residence in Taman Dedap at about 2.10 am today while the remains of Tze Siang and his daughter were sent to Taman Cengal and arrived at about 2 am.

Over 100 people, comprising family members, relatives and friends of Siew Gaik and her husband Neoh Hock Guan, began gathering at the compound of their house since 11 pm.

There was a gloomy atmosphere when the remains of Siew Gaik and her son were brought into the house and her grief-stricken mother, Tan Kim Kee, 71, sobbed upon seeing their coffins.

Siew Gaik’s son Neoh Kah Loon, 26, her daughter Neoh Huey Shinn, 31 and husband Hock Guan, 55, who survived the bomb explosion later joined in the funeral prayers.

Her daughter, Neoh Yee Ling, 33, who is five months’ pregnant also survived the incident.

The five Malaysians killed in the bomb explosion, including Lim Su See, 52, who is the elder sister of Siew Gaik, were among seven family members who were on a holiday in Bangkok since last Saturday and were scheduled to return to Malaysia on Tuesday.

The remains of Su See is expected to arrive in Penang tonight.

Monday’s bomb explosion in Ratchaprasong intersection near the Erawan shrine and shopping centres in Bangkok which occurred at 7 pm local time killed 20 people and injured 123.

– BERNAMA

PETALING JAYA: The two giant pandas loaned to Malaysia marked closer diplomatic relations with China, a practice which started centuries ago.

It was reported that “panda diplomacy” was traced back to the seventh century when Chinese Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty gave a pair of pandas to a Japanese emperor as a gesture of goodwill.

In 1941, China gave a panda to the Bronx Zoo as a gesture of thanks to the United States for its help during World War II.

In the 1950s, the furry creatures were given as gifts to Communist allies such as North Korea and the Soviet Union.

Two months after US President Richard Nixon made a landmark trip to China in 1972, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had presented two pandas – Hsing-Hsing and Ling Ling to America.

However some nations have been sceptical of such diplomacy.

Taiwan turned down Beijing’s proposed panda loan for years because of suspicions that the animals would be “a propaganda tool” for China. It was only in 2008 that Taiwan finally accepted two pandas – Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan. To date, China has only had “panda diplomacy” with 14 countries.

The loans are a symbol of friendship between China and the receiving country and are also often interpreted as an exchange for trade and investment deals.

Malaysia’s very own giant pandas given on loan – Liang Liang and Xing Xing, arrived on May 21 last year to celebrate 40 years of diplomatic ties between both nations.

The pair from Chengdu, China, was loaned via the Giant Panda International Conservation Cooperation Agreement Programme.

The agreement on the programme between Malaysia and China was signed in 2012, which gives Malaysia an opportunity to conduct panda-related conservation research, besides developing local expertise on pandas over a 10-year period.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had requested for the panda loan during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in Nanning.

Malaysia was the first Asean country to initiate bilateral ties with China when Najib’s father, then prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein visited China in 1974.

BANGKOK – Authorities are still waiting for lab-test results before confirming the type of bomb that was used to stage the bloody attack in Bangkok on Monday.

Tests can identify the type of gunpowder from soot found on victims’ clothes and tissue,” an informed source said. “From there, we will be able to trace precursor materials of the bomb”.

The government has now described Monday’s bomb blast as the worst ever attack on Thai soil.

Hitting the world-famous Erawan Shrine at the Ratchaprasong Intersection, the explosion killed at least 20 victims and injured more than 100 others.

After the explosion, authorities closed traffic around the intersection until Tuesday afternoon as officials scoured for evidence. Found at the scene were some 0.6-mm ball bearings.

The same source said there was a high possibility that the bomb in the Monday’s attack was TNT.

“It’s inflammable, highly destructive and yellow,” it added.

National Police Commissioner Pol General Somyot Poompanmuang said the bomb had complete combustion, and left hardly any trace at the crime scene.

“That’s why it took time for the explosives ordnance disposal team to collect evidence,” Somyot said.

Pol General Jarumporn Suramanee, an adviser to the national police chief, inspected the blast scene himself.

Also at the shrine was Supanee Wattanawijarn, treasurer of the Than Tao Mahaprom Foundation Erawan Hotel. Her foundation takes care of the Erawan Shrine, where Than Tao Mahaprom (the sacred Brahma statue) is enshrined.

Deputy National Police Commissioner Pol General Ruangsak Jritake accompanied Supanee as they examined the sacred statue together.

“The blast has caused some damage to the statue’s chin and right arm,” he said.

Supanee said the repairs would be done by the Office of Traditional Arts, using plaster and gold ornaments.

“During the repair, people are still welcome to the shrine,” she said, adding that security measures around the shrine would be increased. – The Nation

BANGKOK: It was supposed to be a busy Monday night at the Ratchaprasong intersection, but it turned grim almost in an instant when a deadly explosive blasted at the famous tourist area, killing 27 people (latest figure from Reuters), including two Malaysians, and injuring dozens more, yesterday.

A tourist from Czech Republic, who only wanted to be known as Meck, who witnessed the incident described the scene of the blast as unsightly as there were dead bodies scattered on the road

“I was at a nearby shopping mall when I heard the blast, I rushed out immediately and people were screaming and running hysterically.

“I ran to the scene to find out what was going on and while on the way there I could see fire and smoke from a distance,” he said to reporters here.

The explosion at 7 pm yesterday (8 pm Malaysian time) occurred at the Ratchaprasong intersection, near the Erawan Shrine and Bangkok’s colourful and high-end shopping area.

The blast also damaged several cars and motorcycles.

It was also reported that street vendors along the road were believed to be among the victims of the explosion

Meck, who have never witnessed an explosion before, said when he arrived at the scene, there were a few victims covered with blood on the ground.

“The people on the ground were all over the place with some of them having lost most of their body parts and there was blood everywhere, I was so scared to actually be at the place as I was afraid of another explosion, so I left.

“It is very painful and sad to have to witness this type of incident. My prayers are with the families of the deceased, ” he added.

The nearby Siam Centre and Siam Paragon malls closed early, at 9.30pm yesterday following the explosion.

A journalist from Sin Chew, Soh Li Nah, who is in Bangkok for a media trip, said she heard a loud explosion and tremors were felt when she was on her way for dinner to a nearby hotel.

“We were all in a van and we thought it was a loud thunder, so we just ignored the sound.

“Only later we found out about the blast. I never expect to experience this, especially on my first visit here in Bangkok,” she said to Bernama here.

Ratchaprasong intersection in central Bangkok was also the venue of the protest by the Red Shirt in 2010 and the People Democratic Reform Committee led by Suthep Thuaksuban in 2014 that eventually led to a military coup and removal of ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra.

Despite the bombing occurring not far from the Chitlom train station, the Bangkok Train Service, or popularly known skytrain, remained in operation.-BERNAMA