Water crisis as drought dries up Malaysia

A Malaysian state has declared a water crisis because of a dry spell that has parched much of the usually rain-bathed country.

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Deputy water minister Mahdzir Khalid warned on Tuesday the government was planning to carry out cloud seeding over the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and its surroundings, where water reserve levels have been critical since last week.

Negeri Sembilan, just south of Kuala Lumpur, declared a “state of crisis” on Wednesday. The central state shares its water supply with the capital and another state, Selangor, which is the country’s main economic engine.

“We have not had any rain here over the past two months, and this has caused water levels at our seven dams to reach critical levels,” Negeri Sembilan chief minister Mohamad Hasan was quoted by The Star as saying.

Natural disaster officials in the state will begin to supply treated water to about 8000 households, where taps have run dry, he said, adding the dams had not been able to draw water from at least two rivers feeding them.

The meteorological department denies Malaysia is in the midst of an unusually dry spell, insisting that warm and dry weather is normal during the first two months of the year.

But some consumers in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor have already experienced water rationing, and reservoirs in the area are reported to be half-empty.

The hot spell has also contributed to the increase in dengue fever cases, as it speeds up the life cycle of the aedes mosquito, which carries the virus, and enhances replication of the pathogen.

Deaths from the flu-like illness – which the World Health Organisation calls one of the fastest-growing viral threats, especially in the tropics – have nearly tripled to 22 during the first five weeks of 2014, compared with eight during the same period in 2013.

The 11,879 reported cases in the year to date are nearly a fourfold increase in the illness, which is marked by symptoms such as severe muscle and joint pain, and in severe cases internal bleeding, organ impairment, respiratory distress and death.

French tycoon Serge Dassault in custody

French industrialist and senator Serge Dassault, the billionaire manufacturer of fighter jets, is in custody for alleged vote buying in his former fiefdom east of Paris.

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The 88-year-old is suspected of buying votes in Corbeil-Essonnes, east of Paris, where he was formerly mayor.

He has been accused of running the suburb like a mafia don.

The veteran industrialist is being grilled in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre, a judicial source said.

Dassault is ranked by Forbes magazine as France’s fourth-richest man and the 69th-richest in the world with an estimated fortune of 13 billion euros ($A19.94 billion).

The judges suspect Dassault of operating an extensive system of vote buying which influenced the outcome of three mayoral elections in Corbeil in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which were won either by Dassault or by his successor and close associate Jean-Pierre Bechter.

The result of the 2008 vote, won by Dassault, was invalidated by the Council of State after the body which oversees public administration discovered a series of payments which could have influenced the outcome of the election.

Dassault heads the Dassault Group, which owns the country’s main conservative newspaper Le Figaro, and holds a majority stake in Dassault Aviation which makes business and military aircraft – including the Rafale fighter jet.

A lawmaker from former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, Dassault admits using his vast personal wealth to help residents of Corbeil, where he was mayor from 1995-2009, but denies any payouts were made in exchange for electoral support.

The vote-buying investigation has been linked – by the media but not publicly by the judges – to two shootings which took place in Corbeil last year and are considered by police to have been attempted murders.

The case has also triggered allegations of attempted extortion and intimidation, both by and against Dassault and his immediate family.

Proteas to ignore Johnson hype: Smith

South Africa captain Graeme Smith says his side must ignore the hype if they are to neutralise Mitchell Johnson and square the three-Test series in Port Elizabeth.

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Smith was peppered with more questions about Johnson in his pre-match press conference than balls he faced from the fiery left-armer in the first Test – four.

The skipper said the South Africa camp respected Johnson’s incredible form, underlined by career-best figures of 12-127 at Centurion, but it was important his teammates treated him like any other bowler.

“We’ve had a general group discussion on areas that we want to improve,” Smith said.

“We haven’t watched any more video or anything different to what we did before the first Test.

“It’s important not to get caught up in the hype.”

Smith was made to look like a tail-ender in the first innings of the opening Test.

He was too late evading a menacing ball from Johnson directed at his skull and popped up a catch.

Smith, whose hand Johnson has broken twice, was not worried about his two ineffective knocks in the opening Test.

“One dismissal doesn’t make you lose credibility,” he said.

“I’ve faced Mitchell a lot of times. Times when he’s had the better of me and times when I’ve had the better of him.

“I can go and watch videotapes of scoring hundreds against Mitchell, which I’ve done.

“Every player here has had success against this attack, and not so long ago, really.

“There’s a huge amount of respect in our team for someone performing well, but it’s important not to get caught up in that.”

Hollywood writer the subject of new book

The young press agent asked the famously cynical Oscar-winning actor what he thought was the key to success in Hollywood.

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“Survival,” replied Humphrey Bogart. “Stick around long enough and everybody else will die or retire.”

That young press agent, Stirling Silliphant, became a screenwriter. Not only did he survive the ups and downs of a Hollywood career, he also had a hand in writing several of the memorable films and television shows that entertained the baby boomer generation. He ended up with his own Academy Award, for the screenplay for 1967’s In the Heat of the Night, which won the best picture Oscar.

Author Nat Segaloff fills the pages of Silliphant’s biography, Stirling Silliphant: The Fingers of God, with entertaining recollections from the natural-born storyteller. There are lots of lessons, too, about writing for the screen.

God-like fingers were needed to maintain Silliphant’s pace. In the last four years of the 1950s, he wrote 68 TV episodes for series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Perry Mason, and found time for five movies.

Silliphant’s endurance and creativity were tested when he wrote 70 of the 116 episodes of the early ’60s series Route 66. With the edgy drama shooting on location across North America, he often churned out pages from a motel room.

While he preferred original stories that drew from his own experience and viewpoint, Silliphant could reimagine another writer’s work for the unique needs of the big screen.

For In the Heat of the Night, he retooled the story to focus on the tense relationship between a big-city black detective (Sidney Poitier) and a small-town white police chief (Oscar-winner Rod Steiger). For Charly (1968) he played down the science in favour of the humanity inherent in the story of a mentally disabled man (Oscar-winner Cliff Robertson) who becomes intelligent through experimental surgery.

Silliphant, who died in 1996 at the age of 78, contributed to pop culture again by kick-starting the ’70s trend of star-laden disaster films, with screenplays for The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974).

His successful formula might be found in this description of leading characters: “In their conflict they exposed their own fears, and therefore their humanity. And as this impacted on the several other characters, we inevitably had to see them as facets of ourselves.”

His own disasters – failed projects, failed marriages, the death of a son, terminal cancer – suggest one reason why writers like to write: They exercise a degree of control over their make-believe worlds that they may never enjoy in real life. The successful ones, like Silliphant, present an overall truth that all of us can ponder.

Asian shares mixed, eyes on US data

Asian markets were mixed, with Tokyo stocks dropping after the previous session’s surge, as investors awaited US housing data and minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last meeting.

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The yen rebounded in Asia after tumbling on the Bank of Japan’s (BoJ) decision on Tuesday to boost lending to commercial banks.

Tokyo lost 0.52 per cent, or 76.71 points, to 14,766.53, Seoul shed 0.20 per cent, or 3.98 points, to 1,942.93, while Sydney gained 0.29 per cent, or 15.4 points, to 5,408.2.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index added 1.11 per cent, or 23.48 points, to 2,142.55 and the Shenzhen Composite Index – which tracks stocks on China’s second exchange – gained 0.14 per cent, or 1.58 points, to 1,157.20.

Hong Kong reversed early losses to rise 0.34 per cent, adding 76.8 points to 22,664.52.

The BoJ announced on Tuesday it would double the sum of loan schemes to banks in a bid to stimulate lending to firms and finance growth-stoking projects, such as environmental research and natural resources development.

That helped Tokyo’s Nikkei index power 3.13 per cent higher on Tuesday, before profit-taking set in on Wednesday.

US stocks closed mostly higher on Tuesday as investors weighed mixed company news and an unexpected slump in home builder confidence.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 0.15 per cent to 16,130.40 while the broader S&P 500 index advanced 0.12 per cent to 1,840.76. The Nasdaq added 0.68 per cent to 4,272.78.

“Equity indices kicked off the abbreviated trading week on a relatively quiet note,” analysts at Briefing上海桑拿, said in a client note. US markets were closed on Monday for the Presidents’ Day holiday.

Later on Wednesday investors are looking to minutes from Ben Bernanke’s last meeting as Fed chief and US housing start figures for January.

“It will be interesting to see if there was any discussion to accelerate or slow the pace of tapering,” National Australia Bank said, referring to the minutes.

The US central bank’s move to pull back on its stimulus drive has rattled some emerging economy currencies including Russia’s ruble, the South African rand and Turkey’s lira.

Eyes are also on the new US housing data after shares of home builders came under pressure.

The National Association of Home Builders said its sentiment index tumbled to 46 in February from 56 in January. It largely blamed unusually severe weather in much of the country.

On currency markets the dollar bought 102.19 yen in afternoon trade compared with 102.40 yen in New York Tuesday.

The euro slipped to 140.60 yen from 140.89 while trading at $US1.3764 against $US1.3759.

Oil prices were mixed in Asian afternoon trade. New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate for March delivery, rose 37 cents to $102.80 but Brent North Sea crude for April eased 26 cents to $US110.20.

Gold fetched $1US,318.37 an ounce at 1040 GMT (2140 AEDT) from $US1,315.44 late on Tuesday.

In other markets:

— Mumbai rose 0.43 per cent, or 88.76 points, to 20,722.97 points.

Adani Enterprises rose 7.04 per cent to 244.05 rupees, while Financial Technologies rose 4.99 per cent to 326.20 rupees a share.

— Bangkok lost 0.39 per cent or 5.21 points to 1,321.00.

Siam Cement fell 1.44 per cent to 412.00 baht, while Bangchak Petroleum gained 2.65 per cent to 29.00 baht.

— Jakarta closed up 0.80 per cent, or 36.46 points, at 4,592.65.

Carmaker Astra International gained 2.21 per cent to 6,950 rupiah, while Hero Supermarket lost 2.44 per cent to 2,600 rupiah.

— Kuala Lumpur gained 4.21 points, or 0.23 per cent, to close at 1,829.45.

Axiata Group rose 0.2 per cent to 6.55 ringgit, while plantation company IOI added 5.7 per cent to 4.60. RHB Capital lost 1.7 per cent to 7.70 ringgit.

— Singapore closed up 0.59 per cent, or 18.01 points, at 3,088.79.

Agribusiness firm Wilmar International gained 1.85 per cent to Sg$3.31 while Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation rose 0.52 per cent to Sg$9.60.

— Manila climbed 1.63 per cent, or 100.65 points, to 6,294.62.

BDO Unibank gained 0.99 per cent to 81.80 pesos while Ayala Land Inc. rose 5.33 per cent to 28.65 pesos.

— Taipei rose 0.24 per cent, or 20.78 points, to 8,577.01.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co was unchanged at Tw$108.0 while leading chip design house MediaTek edged up 0.35 per cent to Tw$435.0.

— Wellington gained 0.39 per cent, or 19.05 points, to 4,914.14

Air New Zealand climbed 0.30 per cent to NZ$1.695 and Fletcher Building rose 1.25 per cent to NZ$9.72.