Thursday, 25 October 2012

Cutting my hair for Rush was risky: Neha Dhupia


ACTRESS Neha Dhupia, who let go of her long locks for her role of a career woman in Rush, says it is the biggest risk she has ever taken in her career.

“We thought a lot... whether to do it or not, and took a big risk. As it’s written here (on movie’s poster) Jo aadmi risk nahi leta, uska sab risky ho jaata hai (A person who doesn’t take risks, has a risky life). (So) I think the biggest risk I took was cutting my hair,” the 32-year-old said on Friday in an interview.

But she has no regrets.

“I am missing my hair but glad that people are liking the look. As an actor, it’s very important that you just be able to experiment and to be able to do different things all the time. When I got this character, it had to be effortless and at the same time sexy, and had to be a career woman, so short hair was the way to go,” she added.

Meanwhile, Neha says Emraan Hashmi, who plays a mediaperson in the film, is just the opposite of his on screen image in real life.

“Working with Emraan is fabulous. Whatever I say about him is not enough. He is just the opposite of the kind of image he has on screen. He is a little boy at heart, he is full of fun, he is very mischievous on the sets,” Neha said.

Directed by Priyanka Desai, Rush, releasing on October 24, also features Sagarika Ghatge and Aditya Pancholi.

If I’m satisfied, I’d be creatively dead: Amitabh Bachchan



FORTY-THREE years in showbiz, over 180 films, national and international honours in his kitty and not to forget a huge fan following - Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan has achieved a lot, but as an actor he never wants to be satisfied.

“I think every actor would wish there is some challenge that is left. I would consider to be creatively dead if I were to say that I am satisfied now,” Big B said in an interview in his trademark baritone.

“I think no actor should be ever satisfied because there is always something new to do, something fresh to get challenged by... I do hope there are filmmakers who will challenge me, who will create stories and characters that would excite me enough and provoke me to perhaps take up a job; so, as I said, I hope I never get satisfied,” added the megastar who is called a “living legend” thanks to many milestones in his career.

From flops to stardom, from failure to scaling dizzying heights of success again, he has seen both good and bad times.

But he said he doesn’t feel like looking back at his past, and added: “I don’t spend much time looking back at what happened. I do remember it, but I don’t see any purpose of wanting to look back. I should only look back at moments that were disparaging, look down upon, negative for me - moments where I could learn something. And if I have been able to use that learning in future, then I am happy about it.” A human being is on the right track if he or she learns from the bad phases of life, he said.

“I do believe that every human being will have ups and downs and I do believe that if we can learn from the periods when we were down, then we are on the right track.

“I would not want to change anything if I had to live another life. I would want the negatives to be there, I would want the downs to be there, because if everything is going to be good for you, then why are you here? You might as well be in heaven. There is some reason why we are here and this is what we all believe in,” he said philosophically.

He wants to face “those obstacles because they taught me what I should be doing or how I should be conducting myself”.

“If I haven’t had all those obstacles, I would have never learnt all that. I feel blessed that I had downs in my life because they were actually lessons for me.” From Zanjeer to Deewar, Sholay to Shakti, he has playd larger-than-life characters on screen in his career, but says no role is big enough or too small.

“They are all tough roles. Every day is a test for me. It’s an examination.

No role is small enough, no role is big enough - they are all equal examinations...this is how I look at it.

“Whether it is a guest role, whether it’s a passing role or a leading role - I always feel that there is a huge amount of concentration, work and the thinking process going into it. I treat each role with the same amount of equality,” said Amitabh.

Recently he turned 70 and is wowing his fan as the host of Kaun Banega Crorepati 6. He doesn’t seem to have any plans to hang up his boots in the near future.

Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel marry in Italy


HOLLYWOOD couple Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel have married in southern Italy, People magazine said on Friday.

“It’s great to be married, the ceremony was beautiful and it was so special to be surrounded by our family and friends,” the couple told the US celebrity magazine in an exclusive statement.

People said it would carry full details of the wedding, including exclusive photos, in next week’s edition.

Sexy Back singer and actor Timberlake, 31, and Total Recall actress Biel, 30, have been dating on and off since 2007. They announced their engagement at the beginning of 2012, and carefully shielded the details of their nuptials from the public.

The pair have been in southern Italy for much of the week, partying with friends and wedding guests on a beach before exchanging vows. It was not immediately clear on which day the ceremony took place.

Timberlake has previously had high-profile relationships with pop singer Britney Spears and actress Cameron Diaz.

Tennessee native Timberlake, who rose to fame in the boy band N’Sync, forged a successful solo music career before moving into films. He played Napster founder, Sean Parker, in the Oscar-nominated Facebook film, The Social Network and more recently starred alongside Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood in Trouble With The Curve.

Biel, who was born in Minnesota, started her career on US television in the long-running family drama 7th Heaven. She broke into movies with a starring role in the 2003 remake of horror flick Texas Chainsaw Massacre and has since been seen in The A-Team and New Year’s Eve.

Katie Finneran takes on Annie



AT the final dress rehearsal this month for the new Broadway revival of Annie, an invited audience of friends and family cheered wildly when Katie Finneran, the Tony Award winner and acclaimed stage comedienne, burst through a door in her first entrance as the boozy orphanage manager, Miss Hannigan. The applause had unintended consequences, however. As Finneran recalled, she was unnerved by the audible expectations and started “acting like Miss Hannigan on crack” – shouting her opening line (“Ah-ha, caught ya!” as Annie is running away) and camping it up from there. By the curtain call Finneran felt she had reduced Miss Hannigan to comic relief rather than playing her as “a tough, desperate woman out of a Eugene O’Neill play,” which is partly how she sees the character.

The next day she and the show’s director, James Lapine, had a long talk.

“James basically told me, ‘Trust the story, and remember the subtlety we’ve worked on,”’ she said.

At the show that night, this time before a paying audience, Finneran felt more grounded but still far from the nuanced portrayal she wants to achieve before the musical opens on November 8
“The hardest thing in musical comedy is to be economical with my performance, to avoid being overthe- top for the sake of it,” Finneran said. “I’m feeling more pressure about Annie than anything else I’ve done.” The pressure is all about expectations – for both the actress and the character. In the last decade Finneran has become one of Broadway’s best scenestealers, beating legends like Estelle Parsons and Angela Lansbury for supporting actress Tonys for her performances as a ditsy blonde in the 2001 revival Noises Off and a drunken barfly in the 2010 revival of Promises, Promises. Now, at 41, Finneran is finally a leading lady in a major Broadway musical, with perks like her first car service – as well as the scrutiny of the spotlight. Some theatre bloggers have accused her of recycling alcoholic bits from Promises to play the hard-drinking Hannigan, while others have praised her for bringing out the lovelorn dreamer in the Depression-era character.

Dorothy Loudon won the Tony for best actress in 1977 for her creation of Hannigan as a blowzy old maid in the original Broadway run (beating Andrea McArdle as Annie), and Carol Burnett received a Golden Globe nomination for slurring her words and bulging her eyes throughout the 1982 film adaptation. Less successful was Nell Carter in the 1997 Broadway revival of Annie; critics panned her as too mean, the production too dark, and it closed after only seven months.

The creators and producers of Annie consider Miss Hannigan so important to its success that they initially discussed several bigger stars than Finneran for the role. Tony winners Christine Ebersole (Grey Gardens), Patti LuPone (Gypsy) and Betty Buckley (Cats) were on an early list, said Thomas Meehan, the show’s book writer, and television celebrity Rosie O’Donnell pursued the part and auditioned.

Even so, Finneran won the role virtually on the spot at her audition last spring. Seven months pregnant, she delivered a sexy and droll turn performing Miss Hannigan’s solo number, Little Girls.

“At first we felt like we needed a giant name in the role to sell tickets for a big Broadway house, so someone like Cher had to play Miss Hannigan,” Lapine said. (Cher was indeed mentioned by associates, Lapine said, but he never took the idea seriously.) “Katie has not been the main event in a show before, but she gave an audition that showed Miss Hannigan as a younger and still hopeful woman who was suffering under all those orphans. You could see that she would get to a really interesting place in the role and she would make an interesting production.” A great audition does not guarantee success, however; Finneran herself had trouble recalling what she did right in her audition for Promises, Promises when rehearsals began a year later for the Broadway run. She eventually found her way back to the character, Marge MacDougall, and her Act II opening scene with the star Sean Hayes was the highlight of Promises for many critics. Ben Brantley of The New York Times called her a “comic volcano” as Marge.

And Hayes is among those with high expectations for her new part, writing in an email: “When I heard that she was cast as Ms Hannigan, I think I had the same reaction everyone from Broadway had – ‘of Course, Katie Finneran! And the Tony goes to ...”’ If the pressure is on Finneran, the challenge of creating a new Hannigan and mastering that performance is more complicated than the usual bouts of nerves and memory slips. Growing up in Chicago and then Miami, she was diagnosed with spatial dyslexia, a learning disorder that made reading books, organising thoughts and writing essays into taxing experiences, she said. To this day Finneran sings the alphabet to herself when she is looking for a book in a store; doesn’t know the order of the months; and relies on her husband, actor Darren Goldstein, to handle finances. (They have two sons, the 20-month-old Ty and the newborn Wes.) The spatial dyslexia is compounded by attentiondeficit disorder, Finneran said, exacting a toll on her abilities as a performer. Memorising lines “is a terribly uncomfortable process for me,” she said, and even straightforward choreography can take days to master. At an Annie rehearsal last month, Finneran peppered Lapine with questions and requests for reminders about line deliveries and stage blocking during scenes between Hannigan and her brother Rooster.

“I always worry that people think I’m flaky, but learning lines and then understanding the action of a line or the body movement – all of those things together is like a whirlwind for my brain,” Finneran said later during an interview, stretched out on a plush sofa in the couple’s modestly sized two-bedroom apartment near the theatre district. As Wes squirmed on her lap, Finneran rubbed his back as she described reading a series of books called Teach Yourself Visually that finally emboldened her to learn to play a guitar or use a computer.

Nothing has given her more confidence, though, than the lifelong certainty that she belonged in the theatre, she said. After her parents – a stockbroker and gym teacher – moved her and her brother to Florida, she became friends with some other young theatre lovers, and they would act out scenes from Annie and her other favourite ‘70s musical, Sweeney Todd. She recalled liking Annie’s songs but identifying more with another orphan, Pepper, the sarcastic one.

“She’s an outsider who wants to be part of the group, which I’ve always related to,” Finneran said.

“Her lines are sassy, and she’s a whippersnapper, and that’s me, too.” Still, Finneran has never considered herself particularly funny. Even with her expressively bright green eyes, malleable face and pratfall instincts, Finneran repeatedly credited writers with creating material she could bring to life.

Barca, Man United inch to next round, Chelsea loses


LONDON ON A night of comebacks in the Champions League, the holders left theirs far too late.

Chelsea is facing an uphill battle to qualify for the knockout stage after slumping to a 2- 1 loss at Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday, the Premier League leaders’ first defeat of the season in all competitions.

Manchester United also fell two goals down but staged a rousing fightback to win 3-2 at home to Braga and stay perfect after three group games.

Barcelona has the same record after needing a goal deep into stoppage time by Jordi Alba to beat Celtic 2-1.

While those two European giants look assured of progress, Chelsea is battling to avoid becoming the first defending champion to fail to advance from its group.

“We need to win our two home games remaining for sure,” Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo said.

Shakhtar moved top of Group E on seven points, three above Chelsea, which was thankful that rival Juventus was surprising held to a 1-1 draw at Danish minnow FC Nordsjaelland. Juve has drawn all three matches to remain unbeaten this season at home and in Europe.

In its 20-year history, no team has retained the Champions League title.

Elsewhere, after its stunning 3-1 win over Bayern Munich last time out, unheralded Belarusian side BATE Borisov came back down to earth with a 3-0 home loss to Valencia to cede its lead of Group F to the Spanish team on goal difference.

Bayern, last season’s beaten finalist, is also on six points in a tight group after Thomas Mueller’s first-half penalty clinched a 1-0 victory at Lille.

Also, Spartak Moscow beat Benfica 2-1 to get off the mark in Barcelona’s group and move a point behind Celtic in the battle for second. Cluj conceded a late equaliser to draw 1-1 at Galatarasary but is still second behind Man United in their group.

Barcelona won its 100th Champions League match and set a new club record of 18 home matches in Europe without a loss, but the win over Celtic was much tighter than expected. With Lionel Messi in subdued form, Celtic took a shock 18th-minute lead when Javier Mascherano deflected a free kick into his own net and the Scottish side defended stoutly before Andres Iniesta equalized in the 45th for Barcelona.

Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster made a string of brilliant saves but was beaten by Alba deep into injury time, the Spain left back glancing in a cross from Adriano. “It’s gutwrenching,” Forster said.

“Everybody’s devastated.” The competition favourites are top of Group G on nine after three games and victory at Parkhead in the return match in two weeks’ time will secure top spot.

United also claimed a third straight win the hard way, after Brazilian forward Alan had taken advantage of some characteristically shoddy defending from United this season to put Braga 2-0 ahead after just 20 minutes.

Qatari tennis players have miles to go


THE Qatar Tennis Federation, headed by former national player Nasser bin Ghanim al Khelaifi, has long been nurturing a dream of getting its players into the ATP events on their merits and achievements, not through wild cards or qualifying rounds.

It has been investing a lot of money into events, both at the local and international levels, and schemes to raise the level of its players. The QTF has also created the facilities for the players, which are one of the best in the world. The local players are not only getting opportunities to play a series of domestic tournaments, they are being sent abroad on regular basis to hone their skills.

A male tennis player has to work his way into the ATP circuit through the Futures and Challengers series events first. Some of the biggest names like Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Rafael Nadal all have risen through the ranks and files before enshrining their places in sports history.

If we scrutinize the local players and their performances during the just-organised three back-to-back Futures tournaments at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, the results leave a lot to be desired.

If asked to summarise the display by the Qatari youngsters in one line, it will be, without being harsh on anyone they have a very long, long way still to go.

Mousa Shannan Zayed is one of the four national players who are being groomed for the future. He redeemed himself a bit as he could clear merely one round in the singles contest. It was in the second Futures Tournament when he came from behind to oust Bahrain’s Ayman Jaffar in three sets. His next challenger was seventh seed Francois-Arhtur Vibert and lost to the French in straight sets by 2-6 2-6.

Apart from Zayed, highlyrated Jabor al Mutawa failed to impress. He was beaten in the first match by Marko Danis of Slovakia by 0-6 2-6.

In the next tournament, French Laurent Malouli defeated him by 6-0 6-2. He wound up with a 1-6 0-6 loss to Italian qualifier Matteo Donati.

Another depressing fact was that no player barring Zayed could even force a three-setter against any rival in the main rounds. Almost the same story continued even in the qualifying rounds of the third and fourth Futures tournaments when there were more players of higher levels in the fray to pick points and fight for the title.

It was in the first Futures tournament this year that the Qatari players had enjoyed some success. As many as six entered in the qualifying rounds and three of them, including the former Qatari No 1 Sultan Khalfan, made it to the main draw.

The 35-year-old Khalfan must be lauded for still maintaining himself as a strong competitor. First, he defeated compatriot Ali al Saygh. Then in the next match, he held off Slovak Miroslav Kleman to book a slot in the main round where he lost the first match fighting against Algerian Mehdi Bouras 4-6 3-6.

The coaching patterns and how the players are taking these coaching sessions have to be analysed minutely. Also the efforts should be made to raise the standards of the domestic events. If there is a tough competition to win a title, it would certainly shape and educate the new crop of players about how to survive at the court and emerge as the winner.

Some may argue that the Qatari players are very young and the level of the Futures events is very high.

Most of our players have been hitting the ball around for about seven to eight years. Now is the high time they start delivering some satisfying results, instead of losing so tamely.

Local players Qualifying round: Jaber al Marri, Sultan Khalfan, Ahmed al Ali all into main round, Ali al Saygh, Jassim al Mulla, Abdulla al Jufairi all lost in the qualifying round.

Main round: Mousa Zayed Shannan beat Ayman Jaffar (Bahrain), lost to Francois- Arthur Vibert 2-6 2-6 Jabor al Mutawa 0-6 2-6), Mohammad al Khinji (0-6 0- 6), Ahmed al Ali (0-6 1-6), Jaber al Marri (0-6 0-6), Sultan Khalfan (4-6 3-6), Abdulla al Mahmoud (0-6 3- 6) all lost in straight sets in the first round.

Qatar F3 Tournament Qualifying round: Jassem al Zeyara, Mohammad al Khinji, Ahmed al Ali, Ali al Sayagh, Abdulla al Jufairi, Jassim al Mulla all lost in straight sets in the first round.

Main round: Mousa Shannan Zayed (1-6 0-6), Abdulla al Mahmoud (2-6 1- 6) and Jabor al Mutawa (0-6 2-6) all lost in first round.

Qatar F4 Tournament Qualifying round: Ahmed al Ali, Abdullah Shannan al Harrasi, Jassem al Zeyara, Ali al Saygh, Abdulla al Jufairi all lost in straight sets in first matches.

Main round: Jabor al Mutawa (1-6 0-6), Mousa Shannan al Zayed (4-6 1-6), Abdulla al Mahmoud (1-6 0- 6) all suffered straight defeats in first matches.

Vettel, Alonso confident ahead of Indian GP


FORMULA ONE championship rivals Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso both have cause for optimism about their victory chances in this weekend’s Indian Grand Prix, as the title fight gets down to its final four races.

Vettel’s victory in the previous race in Korea made it three straight grand prix wins, snatching the drivers’ championship lead from Alonso, who had led by as much as 40 points before the German’s winning streak.

The Indian track the Buddh International circuit about an hour outside New Delhi has similar characteristics to that of Korea: long straights in the early part of the lap followed by more twisting, technical sections.

The Buddh circuit has some fast, sweeping corners, which usually suit the Red Bull more than its rivals, and Vettel is eager to get back on the Indian track where he won the inaugural race last year.

“I loved the track layout last year, but not just because I won the race,” Vettel said.

“The course is the second quickest of the year after Monza. There is a lot of elevation change around the lap which adds to the’s like a roller coaster.

“It really has emerged as one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar for the drivers.” Ferrari, however, believes it has cured its wind tunnel problems, which have put the scarlet cars at a disadvantage to rivals, and expects that should allow it to catch up to Red Bull over the remaining races.

The Italian teams has altered its wind tunnel after finding its upgrades at the past two races haven’t worked on the track as they did back at the Maranello headquarters.

“‘’We got some very interesting answers which we believe will allow us to recover from those problems and so, our aim in this forthcoming Indian GP, will be to make up the ground we have lost,” Ferrari chief designer Nicolas Tombazis said.

He suggested the problem may lie in scale ó the model used in the wind tunnel is not the same size as the actual car ó and the difficulty of making air in the tunnel identically replicate open-air conditions.

“The way aerodynamics works on a modern F1 car is hyper-complicated, based on the interaction of various components and very small details, therefore it is easy to make a mistake,” Tombazis said.

“We have had problems in some areas, but that does not mean that all our work in the wind tunnel has been worthless.” The track layout was praised by all drivers at last year’s inaugural race, with sweeping bends and wide entries into corners to encourage different approaches and overtaking opportunities. However overtaking was made difficult by the dirtiness of the track off the racing line and organisers have reportedly made efforts to alleviate that problem with track cleaning.

A second DRS overtaking zone has also been introduced for this year’s race, while teams have received assurances there will be no repeat of last year’s power failure in the paddock, which caused a panic in the garages.

While the challenge for the driver title appears to have been reduced to Vettel and Alonso, the fight over the standings in the constructors’ championship where a difference of just one spot can make millions of dollars of difference in prize money remains tight.

Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus are separated by just 35 points in the fight for second and third, while fifth-placed Mercedes is only 20 points ahead of Sauber.

Tour de France looks ahead, charts 100th race route


CYCLING on Wednesday sought to move on from the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, as leading riders urged fans not to give up on the sport and Tour de France organisers unveiled the race route for its historic 100th edition.

Two days after world cycling authorities wiped clean Armstrong’s results back to August 1998, including his record seven Tour wins from 1999 to 2005, details of a gruelling 3,360km course were announced of the race the disgraced US rider dominated.

Next year’s Tour, which starts for the first time on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, includes a twin climb of the monster Alpe d’Huez and an unprecedented sunset finish on the sweeping Champs Elysees boulevard in Paris.

The glitzy presentation of the race, however, was dominated by the fall-out from the Armstrong scandal that has left cycling fighting to save its reputation and future from a doping-scarred past.

Race director Christian Prudhomme, who is against re-awarding Armstrong’s Tour titles and is seeking the repayment of the rider’s nearly 2.95 million euros ($3.8 million) in winnings, said cycling needed a “real cultural shift” to move forward.

He urged professional teams to join the “clean cycling” union the MPCC (Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Credible), which has strict rules over the use of banned substances.

“The only way in which to change the culture (in cycling) is to apply draconian rules such as those that members of the MPCC apply,” he told reporters.

“Doping is the enemy, not cycling and even less so the Tour.” Prudhomme’s call indicates a growing recognition that cycling needs to change, given the damage done to its reputation by the Armstrong affair and questions about the credibility of the sport’s authorities’ handling of the scandal.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) is due to meet on Friday to discuss the next steps, after its president described the Armstrong affair as sport’s “biggest crisis” ever and led to one major sponsor pull out, calling the sport “sick” to its core.

Armstrong, meanwhile, could lose another honour after the mayor of the commune d’Huez in the French Alps announced on Wednesday that he wanted to strip the Texan’s name from two corners named after him on the legendary Tour de France climb.

The Alpe d’Huez is probably the most famous climb of the Tour comprising 21 corners over 14km and an altitude of 1,850 metres. Each corner carries the name of stage winners, including Armstrong, who won there twice in 2001 and 2004.

Elsewhere, the Italian sports doctor accused of playing a key role in Armstrong’s elaborate doping programme denied in a new book that he had had any professional dealings with the American since October 2004.

Michele Ferrari — already banned for life by the US Anti-Doping Agency that compiled the devastating dossier against Armstrong — also rejected claims that he had seen other US riders who accused him of overseeing the use of banned substances.

In Australia, 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans added his voice to other big names who have insisted that despite the headlines and focus on Armstrong’s fall from grace, major doping scandals were largely thing of the past in cycling.

The sport had learnt from the past and there was now “a level playing field where the hard work, meticulous equipment preparation and natural ability are winning the big beautiful prestigious races”, the rider said on his website.

“For those who are disappointed with the situation right now: do not despair, do not abandon us now we are in our best years, preparing things for our most important moment yet — the future.

Network launched to boost environment research


DOHA THE Qatar Sustainability Network (QSN) was officially launched on Wednesday as part of the country’s investment in and long-term commitment to the protection of environment.

Several leading Qatari stakeholders have shown their commitment to establishing a network that collectively promotes the culture of research, science and sustainability through active public engagement.

As a contribution to the Qatar’s National Vision 2030 and the Qatar National Research Strategy, the QSN will promote collaborations among the researchers and the academic community as well as NGOs to become a leader in research contributing to sustainable development .

The network aims to inspire, inform, empower and educate stakeholders to improve the quality of life for future generations in Qatar. It also aims to become an active platform for the advancement of science-based sustainability agenda in Qatar and beyond.

During COP18, which will be held in November, the QSN will be the focal point for Arab non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and will actively lobby and give advice on the global climate change debate.

Director of the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) Dr Rabi Mohtar said, “This new initiative highlights the importance of conservation and sustainability in Qatar. It also encourages collaborations and awareness about the crucial role of outreach among the community through the dissemination of science-based information.” Executive Chairman of the Qatar National Food Security Programme and Chairman of the Organising Sub- Committee for COP18/CMP8 Doha Fahad bin Mohammed al Attiyah said, “We are delighted that Qatar is at the forefront of sustainability outreach plans in the region. This new initiative will demonstrate the country’s commitment to ensuring a sustainable quality of life for future generations and advance the culture of research in Qatar with its international partners.” He added: “Qatar is dedicated to ensuring that all voices are heard. We believe that the involvement of local civil society is crucial for developing a more productive exchange of information.

Regional NGOs can teach the international community much about regional solutions. At the same time, we can all learn from our guests about global approaches to sustainability.” The interim management board of the QSN consists of representatives from Doha Oasis, ECO-Q, the Ministry of Environment, the Qatar National Food Security Program, QScience, QEERI and Sustainable Qatar.

Ford to shut Belgian plant by 2014, 4,300 jobs at stake



FORD Motor Co will close a Belgian factory employing 4,300 workers by the end of 2014, shifting production to Spain as the US automaker tries to save money and stem European losses.

Europe’s car market has slumped because the regional debt crisis has led to spending cuts and high unemployment, hurting consumer budgets.

Automakers are battling for survival, cutting production to match demand. This means factories, including the Ford plants in Genk and Valencia, have not been running at full capacity. Moving production to one place should allow Ford make savings.

Wage costs are also cheaper in Spain than in Belgium.

“The proposed restructuring of our European manufacturing operations is a fundamental part of our plan to strengthen Ford’s business in Europe and to return to profitable growth,” Ford Europe Chairman Stephen Odell said in a statement.

Ford management will also meet British unions on Thursday, a spokesman said.

He declined to comment on media reports that Ford could also close its plant in Southampton where it makes its Transit van and employs just over 500 people.

The Genk plant makes the Mondeo mid-size car and Galaxy and S-MAX minivans, but the models are nearing the end of their life cycles. Ford said production of the next models would move to Valencia with the loss of 4,300 jobs by the end of 2014.

In turn, production of the CMAX and Grand C-MAX compact multi-purpose vehicles could move from Valencia to Saarlouis, Germany, in 2014 under the proposed plan, it said.

Ford has about 6,000 workers in Spain, including 3,485 in Valencia. It did not say whether jobs would be created but any would be welcome in the region, one of Spain’s most indebted with 26.3 unemployment.

Unions in Spain said no wage agreement was yet in place but analyst said overall hourly labour costs are as much as 75 percent higher in Belgium than in Spain. The regional government said no tax incentives had been offered in the deal.

Several hundred Ford workers gathered outside the gates of the plant, as local managers met staff representatives on Wednesday morning. They were angry and surprised by the news.

“It’s incredible,” said one of the workers, Peter Aerts. “Just last month I got an invitation to celebrate 25 years working here.” Union leader Luc Prenen said European-level managers did not attend the meeting, leaving local bosses to read a statement.

“After the announcement there were some rough scenes.

There was some pushing and shoving but we managed to calm it down,” said Prenen, the head of the ACV union.

“It was aimed at the management but they left quickly.

It was also among each other as people were very angry and frustrated.” Belgium is no stranger to factory closures in the auto sector. General Motors shuttered its Opel Antwerp plant in 2010 and French carmaker Renault was slammed for its controversial decision to close its Vilvoorde plant on the outskirts of Brussels in 1997.

The shift to Spain also follows GM’s May decision to produce the next generation of its Astra compact car in Britain, after workers agreed a pay deal, leaving its plant in Bochum, Germany in danger of closure.

Ford Europe managers, including Odell, were scheduled to meet Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo and Employment Minister Monica De Coninck at 1pm (1100 GMT), after a separate meeting with members of the government of the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, where the plant is located.

Etisalat eyes prospects to drive growth, earnings: CEO



ABU Dhabi-based Emirates Telecommunications Corp, or Etisalat, is looking at opportunities to expand its footprint in high growth markets, and expects profits to grow as it continues to create more value at its existing operations, the telco’s top executive said on Wednesday.

“Following the global crisis there are good opportunities in the market. In the next 18 months we will be eyeing the opportunities and jumping on the good ones. If it brings good value, we’ll look into that,” Ahmad Julfar, the group’s chief executive officer, told Zawya Dow Jones.

“We operate in 15 markets that are growing fast. There is a huge growth potential in those markets,” he added.

Etisalat said on Tuesday its net profit in the third quarter rose 28 percent on year, helped by gains from an asset sale and as revenue from its international operations grew.

Net profit after federal royalty increased by 28 percent to 2.2 billion UAE dirhams ($599 million), boosted by Etisalat’s sale of 775 million shares of its investment in Indonesia’s XL Axiata.

“Even without our asset sale in the third quarter, our net profits were up 6 percent.

We are confident that we will see growth in our net profits in the coming period,” Julfar said.

And that growth is likely to come on the back of its exposure to markets such as Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, which are growing in double digits, he added.

Moreover, the telco’s chief noted, there is a huge growth potential in the value chain— in services like 3G and LTE.

Etisalat, which is facing strong competition in its home market from rival Du, has looked to its international operations to boost revenues.

In the third-quarter, while consolidated revenues remained flat at AED8 billion, Etisalat said revenue from its international operations rose 7 percent to AED2.4 billion—contributing 30 percent to the top line.

But analysts at EFG Hermes say a recovery in the performance of Etisalat’s UAE operation—the largest contributor to valuation, revenue, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation—is key to improvement in the company’s fundamentals.

The analysts noted that the growth coming from international operations is not yet enough to mitigate the decline in contribution from the UAE unit.

Etisalat, in its third-quarter earnings statement, said the group’s aggregate subscriber number grew 20 percent on year to 130 million by end of September. In the UAE its active subscriber base was up 8 percent at 9 million.

Etisalat shares last traded 0.3 percent higher at AED9.73 on Wednesday.

Cnooc hopeful to get nod for Nexen; raises output target



CNOOC Ltd, China’s top offshore oil and gas producer, said on Wednesday it was working to win regulatory approval from Canada this year for its $15.1 billion bid for energy producer Nexen .

“Our team is still working to obtain approval,” Chief Financial Officer Zhong Hua told reporters on a conference call about Cnooc’s third-quarter results. “We still expect to get the approval by the end of the year.” His comments came days after Ottawa held up Malaysian state oil company Petronas’ $5.2 billion bid for Canada’s Progress Energy Resources Corp, a move that raised concerns that the Chinese offer for Nexen - which would be China’s biggest overseas takeover - could also be blocked.

Under a barrage of questioning from reporters, Zhong said Cnooc had submitted all the documents requested by Canadian and US regulators for the proposed deal. He declined to elaborate further.

A senior industry source told Reuters that Cnooc was shocked by Canada’s decision last weekend to block the Petronas bid, but remained hopeful it would win Canada’s backing for its own deal.

“It’s a shock to everybody, but when you look more at the detail you feel it’s not as bad as it looks,” said the source, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media. He noted the Canadian government needed time to rechart its policy on foreign takeovers of Canadian companies.

Cnooc is confident its bid will go through as only about a quarter of Nexen’s assets are in Canada, while Progress Energy’s operations are centred in Canada, the source said, adding Canada needs China to help develop its vast oil sands industry and buy its crude oil.

“This is a hugely different deal,” he said, noting also that Cnooc had promised to keep all of Nexen’s staff, list shares in Toronto and make Calgary the headquarters for Cnooc’s operations in the Americas.

Cnooc is pressing on in its search for overseas assets as it has only nine years worth of reserves based on its current production - one of the lowest ratios among global oil majors.

Cnooc said earlier on Wednesday it expected to beat its full-year production targets, helped by new projects at home and higher overseas output.

In a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange, Cnooc said its oil and gas production rose 8.5 percent in July-September from a year ago to 87.8 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe).

The company said it expected to produce 335-345 million boe this year, topping its initial target of 330-340 million boe. It produced 331.8 million boe in 2011, when an oil spill at its Penglai 19-3 field in eastern China’s Bohai Bay cost Cnooc 5.9 million boe in lost output.

“2012 net production is expected to exceed the annual production target and achieve 335-345 million boe,” Cnooc said.

Third-quarter unaudited oil and gas sales revenue totalled 48.44 billion yuan ($7.75 billion), up 4.7 percent from a year earlier - even though its average oil selling price fell 6.5 percent from a year ago to $104.74 per barrel. The average realised natural gas price rose 12.5 percent to $5.83 per thousand cubic feet, Cnooc said.

Capital expenditure rose 47 percent year on year to 15 billion yuan in the quarter, due to a jump in the number of new development projects and exploration activities.

Cnooc shares closed down 1.7 percent at HK$16.04 ahead of the announcement, while the benchmark Hang Seng Index added 0.3 percent.

Cnooc shares have gained 3.7 percent in the past month and 27 percent in the past 12 months.

Iran weighs tougher line for stalled nuclear talks with world powers

AP TEHRAN IRANIAN officials say the country is considering a harder line in nuclear talks with world powers: Threatening to step up uranium enrichment unless the West makes immediate concessions on sanctions. The proposed demands outlined by senior Iranian officials this week have not yet been adopted as a negotiating policy, but they suggest economic pressures have pushed Iran to consider ultimatum- style tactics to seek relief from sanctions.

Boosting enrichment levels also would push Iran’s nuclear programme far closer to the “red line” set by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to consider possible military options and shift world opinion away from trying to rein in Iran through economic pressures and diplomacy.

Mansour Haghighatpour, deputy head of the parliament’s influential National Security Committee, said failure to negotiate a deal could clear the way for Iran to enrich uranium above the current highest level, 20 percent. The West fears Iran’s enrichment program could lead to nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. Several rounds of talks have produced little progress. No date has been set for their resumption.

“The West now has a chance to strike a deal with Iran. Perhaps we may need to produce nuclear fuel for large commercial vessels that need 60 percent purity,” he said. That would mark a dramatic move toward the threshold for warhead-grade material at about 90 percent and would certainly bring a sharp escalation in calls for military action from Israel and others in the West. Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons, but there have been suggestions it could ramp up uranium enrichment to future projects such as nuclear-powered submarines.

The tougher line outlined by officials has not been made public and it’s still unclear whether it will be adopted as a negotiating position. But the fact it’s under review suggests Iran is eager for a sweeping deal to lift sanctions and could try to jolt the West with a now-ornever choice: Roll back the sanctions or face a stepped up Iranian nuclear programme.

Syria, most rebel chiefs agree to truce: Brahimi

AFP DAMASCUS PEACE envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday that Syria and “most” rebel chiefs have agreed to a truce this week, boosting hopes of a breakthrough in the conflict, but the main armed opposition group was sceptical.

Syria itself said its army leadership was studying the proposal for a ceasefire in the 19-month conflict which since the summer has been claiming more than 100 lives a day.

A final decision would be announced on Thursday, the foreign ministry said. “The Syrian government has agreed to a ceasefire” during the Muslim holidays of Eid al Adha that start on Friday, Brahimi told reporters in Cairo, adding that “most” rebel leaders contacted said they also would observe the truce.

“If we succeed with this modest initiative, a longer ceasefire can be built” that would allow the launch of a political process, Brahimi said after talks with Arab League chief Nabil al Arabi. Even as fighting raged on, the UN-Arab League envoy told the UN Security Council a ceasefire would be “small step” toward reaching a settlement but that he was unsure if it would hold, according to diplomats at a closed meeting.

Brahimi also appealed for unanimous support for his efforts to reach a ceasefire, warning the 15-nation council that a new failure among its divided members would cause the 19-month old civil war to spread, the diplomats said.

The UN Security Council is bitterly divided over the conflict, with Western nations pressing for action against the regime of President Bashar al Assad while Russia and China have been blocking these moves. The Free Syrian Army, the main rebel group, said it would cease fire during the four-day Eid provided government forces stop shooting first, but it expressed little confidence in the initiative.

A truce if it were to take hold would be the most important breakthrough since the conflict spread from demonstrations and localised clashes back in March 2011 to engulf the entire country in a full-fledged civil war. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that the conflict has now claimed more than 35,000 lives.

Brahimi’s predecessor as the peace envoy to Syria, former UN chief Kofi Annan, announced a short-lived ceasefire in April, two months after being appointed.

Ahead of any ceasefire, at least 63 people were killed on Wednesday, 40 of them civilians, as the army tried to wrest back control of rebelheld enclaves across the country, said the Observatory. At least 20 of the civilians, including eight women and four children, were killed in the rebel-held town of Douma, east of the capital.

Their corpses were found in a building, said the Observatory, citing anti-regime activists who blamed the regime for the deaths.

The army, for its part, said rebels were responsible, giving a toll of 25.

The monitoring group said eight soldiers were killed in a car bombing in the northern province of Raqa bordering Turkey, and that warplanes raided the rebel-held town of Maaret al Numan. The two sides are battling over Maaret al-Numan for control of a key military base and a stretch of the highway linking Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s second city.

Meanwhile, five members of the same family, including a woman and a child, were killed in an air strike on Maaret Shamirin village in the province, said the Observatory.

Air raids further south targeted Irbin and Harasta, in the Damascus suburbs, where four rebels were killed in clashes, and districts of Aleppo also came under air strikes.

Fighting also broke out near Aleppo airport and the military airport at Nayrab.

Security Council backs Brahimi’s Syria Eid truce


UNITED NATIONS THE UN Security Council on Wednesday called on the Syrian government and opposition to heed peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s appeal for a ceasefire in their 19-month-old war.

A statement agreed upon by the 15-member body urged major powers and countries around Syria to “use their influence” on the rival sides to push for the ceasefire during the Eid Al Adha holiday starting on Friday. The council called on all sides, in particular on the Syrian government “as the stronger party”, to agree to Brahimi’s initiative,” said the statement.

The council reaffirmed a demand for the Syrian government to allow “full and unimpeded humanitarian access” to cities where activists say more than 35,000 people have been killed in the past 19 months of fighting.

The Syrian government has said it will release a statement setting out its position on Thursday.

Tobacco use on decline in Qatar: QSA


DOHA THE use of tobacco products in Qatar has declined remarkably in the recent past, according to the preliminary report of a new QSA survey.

The study, Qatar Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), conducted between May and June this year, found that only 17 percent of the men and 2 percent of the women between 15 and 49 years of age used a tobacco product during the period.

Health experts have been highlighting prevention of smoking as a major challenge in the country in light of past studies that revealed per capita consumption of cigarettes in Qatar to be higher than in Europe.

According to a HMC expert, recent surveys by the National Health Strategy revealed that a quarter of boys and 13 percent of girls between 13 to 15 years of age used tobacco products in Qatar. The surveys had also revealed that 36 percent of the overall population in the country, including nationals and expatriates, smoked.

Another startling revelation contained in QSA’s MICS report is that 16 percent men and seven percent women in the age group of 15 to 49 believe that there are times when it is justified for a husband to beat his wife.

These include the wife’s going out without telling the husband, neglect of children by her, argument with the husband, refusal of sex and burning food.

The report also reveals that overall, 44 percent of children in the 2-14 age group have to face violent enforcement of discipline, which includes both psychological aggression and physical punishment.

Comparing the findings for girls and boys, a somewhat higher percentage of boys experience this type of discipline.

The survey further points out that school attendance is high in Qatar with 97 percent attendance registered at the primary and 88 percent at secondary level. Girls and boys are attending primary school to the same extent; the Gender Parity Index (GPI) is 1.00. However, in secondary school the GPI drops to 0.99, indicating a few less girls than boys at the secondary level.

The report also says that around 95 percent of six year olds are attending school even as six is the official school starting age in Qatar. School attendance remains high at this level as well as for children between seven to ten years) of age but starts to decrease after they reach 17, the report adds.

Fifteen to 17 years is the official age range for upper-secondary school. Gender differentials are generally small.

Overall, 94 percent of people in the 15 to 49 year age bracket are somewhat or very happy with their lives. A somewhat higher percentage of women express happiness.

As many as 600 primary sampling units (PSUs) were selected for Qatari households and almost 1,600 PSUs for non-Qatari households for the survey.

The final report is scheduled for publication in early 2013.

Qatar eyes stake in seven Europe banks


DOHA QATAR is considering acquiring significant stake in a number of European investment banks reeling under the impact of economic recession and negotiations are already underway with seven such banks, a leading Arabic news channel has reported.

“Qatari delegations are leading broad negotiations to widen their investment portfolio in Luxembourg, in order to diversify their income generating investments,” Saudi Arabia owned Al Arabiya reported on Wednesday.

Facing economic recession, Europe is looking to attract foreign investors and Qatar is one of the countries that can benefit from these opportunities, the report quoted Basheer al Kahlout, leading economist from the region, saying.

He further said that widening the foreign investments of Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) is part of Qatar’s strategy to diversify its sources of income, away from gas and fuel sectors, which contribute 55 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Qatar Holding invested its budget surplus, estimated at $16.5 billion annually (QR60 billion) in the past two years in lucrative foreign projects, a record for the investments in Europe.

Qatar invested in the Paris St Germain soccer and handball club, French oil major Total and Shell. It also invested $5 billion in the Chinese stock market, bought the building which hosts Le Figaro Magazine in Paris, besides 6 percent of Spain’s Iberdrola. It also bought Harrods in London for $2.2 billion in 2010, in addition to financing 95 percent of The Shard tower in London, the highest skyscraper in Europe.

These investments contributed to transforming Qatar, a country with a population of 1.9 million people and a per capita income over $100,000, into an important player at the economic and social levels working hard to improve the social responsibility of independent funds towards the recipient countries. It is likely that these investments will contribute to creating future jobs in recipient countries and boost the foreign currency reserves of these countries.

Egypt in talks with Qatar to buy gas


CAIRO EGYPT, a gas producer and exporter, has agreed to import Algerian gas and is in talks with Qatar for a similar deal, the prime minister said on Wednesday, a move that may help Egypt meet its own export contracts while domestic demand rises.

In addition, he said Egypt was in talks with Qatar to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) to cover Egypt’s needs. The Emir His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani held meetings in Cairo on Wednesday.

“This is in order to cover Egypt’s needs in the local market and to prevent using fuel oil which is used now in electricity plants and which has negative effects on electricity plants,” the prime minister said.

Qatar, which is the world’s largest LNG producer, said in September it would invest $18 billion in tourism and industry projects along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast over the next five years, in a bid to support the battered economy.

Egypt has two LNG plants and a pipeline to export gas, but energy industry sources say the government has been diverting some gas contracted for export to the domestic market, which suffered fuel shortages and electricity cuts in the summer.

“We have reached a general agreement with the Algerian side to import gas from Algeria but the amount is still under negotiation,” Prime Minister Hisham Kandil told reporters after returning from a trip to Algiers this week.

He said Cairo was also studying importing Algerian crude oil to Egypt, where it would be refined.

Kandil said an Algerian delegation would visit Egypt after the Eid al- Adha holiday, which falls over the weekend. Egypt has also been seeking support from other Arab states and the international community after political turmoil following the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak last year encouraged many investors and tourists to pack up.