Friday, 14 December 2012

Lions eye tough Thai challenge

Singapore – Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic has described Thailand as a “top quality team” and the Serbian feels that controlling their star players could be the key factor when the two teams meet in the AFF Suzuki Cup final next week.
Thailand beat Malaysia 2-0 on Thursday at the Supachalasai Stadium in Bangkok for a 3-1 aggregate a victory which ended the reign of the defending champions and set up a rematch of the 2007 final when Singapore prevailed 3-2 on aggregate, thanks to Khairul Amri’s late winner.
Both teams have won the competition three times and Avramovic, who masterminded the Lions’ triumphs in 2004 and 2007, is expecting another tight battle against the tournament’s only remaining unbeaten side.
“By winning all their group matches and putting in two great performances against Malaysia to get into the finals, Thailand has proven to be a top quality team throughout the tournament,” said Avramovic after watching Thursday’s match in Bangkok on television.

Thailand boss Schafer eyes glittering prize

Coach Winfried Schafer is starting to believe that Thailand’s name is on the AFF Suzuki Cup after watching his entertaining team end the reign of defending champions Malaysia with a 2-0 (3-1 aggregate) victory in the second leg of the semi-final on Thursday.
Thailand took a step closer to breaking their decade-long title drought with an at times breathtakingly brilliant display of attacking football that reaped goals from Teerasil Dangda and Theerathon Bunmathan in front of a capacity crowd at Bangkok's Supachalasai Stadium.
“After this win, now I think we want to get the cup,” he said. “Thailand last won (the AFF Suzuki Cup) 10 years ago, the time has come to win again.”
Ever the perfectionist, Schafer felt that Thailand should have scored more goals in the second half when Malaysia were playing with 10 men after the dismissal of central defender Fadhli Shas.
“Everybody (in the camp) was very happy, we were the best team on the night,” said Schafer. “But playing 11 against 10 we had to concentrate more and get goal number three, four and five. That is what I wanted from my team.”
When asked if the red card had changed the complexion of the game, Schafer replied that Thailand had the upper hand when Malaysia still had 11 players.

Bendtner blow for Juventus

 Bendtner blow for Juventus
 Nicklas Bendtner is carried off against Cagliari

Juventus forward Nicklas Bendtner faces a race to be fit for the UEFA Champions League round of 16 after suffering a thigh injury in Wednesday night's Coppa Italia tie.
Juventus are set to lose Nicklas Bendtner for a long spell after the Denmark striker suffered a thigh injury during the 1-0 win against Cagliari Calcio on Wednesday.

Rajagobal lauds Malaysia for gutsy title defence

Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal has praised his players for their stout defence of the AFF Suzuki Cup title and pointed to the dismassal of Fadhli Shas in the 2-0 loss to Thailand on Thursday as the turning point of their campaign.
The Harimau Malaya had absorbed attack after attack from Thailand in the first half of the semi-final second leg at Supachalasai Stadium before central defender Fadhli was sent off in the 44th minute after receiving a second yellow card.
“If we had all our players I am confident we would have had a good result and probably beaten Thailand,” said Rajagobal. “In the first half we absorbed all the attacks and frustrated them. The sending off was the change.”
A downhearted Fadhli echoed the view of his coach.
“It changed the course of the match. I think if the referee had not sent me off, the result would have been very different,” he told Malaysian media.
While admitting that the second yellow for Fadhli was probably justified, Rajagobal said that referee Lee Min-hu of Korea Republic could have kept the card in his pocket.
“He can make a decision to make it more interesting. He calls the shots. I do not think it was the right decision at that time of the game. (But) it was fair that the boy went,” he said.
“We absorbed all the attacks and frustrated them in the first half and that was the change. I was waiting for the right time to play (striker) Safee Sali but it did not happen (because of the sending off).”
The coach added that even with 10 men, Malaysia gave a good account of themselves but were undone by a bit of bad luck in the run up to Teerasil Dangda’s opening goal for Thailand in the 60th minute.

Thailand 2 Malaysia 0 (aggregate 3-1)

Thailand won through to their sixth final in the AFF Suzuki Cup on Thursday with a 2-0 victory over defending champions Malaysia, who played the whole of the second half with 10 men after the dismissal of defender Fadhli Shas.

Second-half goals from in-form striker Teerasil Dangda and the exceptional Theerathon Bunmathon gave three-time winners Thailand a 3-1 aggregate win over a Malaysia side that put up a brave defence of their title in the semi-final at Bangkok’s Supachalasai Stadium.

The teams drew 1-1 in the first leg in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, Teerasil equalising for Thailand with a bullet header after Norshahrul Idlan Talaha had opened the scoring.

Thailand will meet Singapore in the AFF Suzuki Cup final with the first leg at the Jalan Besar Stadium on December 19 and the return game in Bangkok on December 22.

Khairul Amri fired home the only goal of a tight contest on Wednesday as three-time champions Singapore booked their place in the final with a 1-0 victory over the Philippines at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Thailand coach Winfried Schafer said that the time had come for them to win the Asean crown for a fourth time.

“After this win, now I think we want to get the cup,” he said. “Thailand last won (the AFF Suzuki Cup) 10 years ago, the time has come to win again.

“It will not be easy because Singapore are a good side but I will be looking for a good result in the first leg and then present the cup to the fans back here in Bangkok.”

He said that it had been difficult playing against 10 men but the players were up to the task.

“It is not easy against 10 men but I trust my team and they played well in the second half and only gave Malaysia one chance. We showed good spirit and good teamwork and everybody in the camp is very happy,” he said.

Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal said the sending off had changed the game.

“If we had all our players I am confident we would have had a good result and probably beaten Thailand,” he said. “In the first half we absorbed all the attacks and frustrated them. The sending off was the change.”

He added that Malaysia had gifted Thailand their first goal.

“The first goal was a gifted goal,” he said. “Our defender miskicked (probably because of the uneven pitch) and Teerasil was there.”

Thailand named the same team that started the first leg while Malaysia made one change, winger S. Kunanlan coming in for Gary Steven Robbat. Striker Safee Sali, who came on with 15 minutes remaining of the first game, was again on the bench.

Schafer, sent off during the first leg, took a seat in the stands with his assistant Mano Polking directing operations from the sidelines.

The Thais started brightly and Jakkapan Pornsai missed a golden chance after just three minutes. He pounced on a mistake by Aidil Zafuan Radzak on the edge of the box but Farizal Marlias was quick off his line and smothered the ball at Jakkapan’s feet.

Weiss accepts defeat and looks ahead

Singapore – Philippines coach Michael Weiss has accepted that his side came out second best in their AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final against Singapore but they will have little time to dwell on their 1-0 aggregate defeat as they prepare for their next big challenge in March.

Formerly the whipping boys of the competition, the Azkals reached the last four for the second consecutive time this year only to go down to a 19th minute strike by Khairul Amri at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday.

While the visitors had plenty of time to get back into the match, they were able to create very little against the well-drilled defence of the Lions.

Weiss felt that the experience of the Singapore side ultimately overcame his own team’s hunger for success.

“I think that they had an extra portion of experience, cleverness and coolness and also some deserved luck and also good preparation so I think that they were the deserved winners,” said the German.

“We have to be honest, we didn’t produce too many chances and that was the thing that was missing. Our opponents also didn’t create too much but overall, I would say that they deserved it.

“One team has to go home and unfortunately it is us. It would have been a fantastic achievement if we had reached the final but that’s the way it is and in sports, you have to show dignity and grace when you lose and just continue.”

Weiss felt that Singapore’s physical approach made things very difficult for his side to get into the game.

“We saw today that Singapore were very aggressive, especially on our number 10, Phil Younghusband, but no fouls were called and no yellow cards were shown for fairly obvious fouls,” he said.

“However, we don’t want to bring the referee into this because it’s normal when you’re playing in the semi-finals that the home team takes these types of advantages. That was their strategy – to get our striker out of the game and not let us come into the game.

“I think that you can only play as your opponents allow you and they didn’t allow much. The headers were impossible to win and on the ground, they were also very tight on the man and they didn’t allow many things.”

The Azkals boss also lamented the loss of focus by his side that resulted in Amri scoring the only goal of the game off a quickly-taken free-kick by Shahdan Sulaiman.

“Their goal was a gift on our side. We have been talking for the past 10 days when we were preparing to play against Singapore about set pieces, set pieces, set pieces and then we gave away a goal on such a simple set piece.

Avramovic lauds Lions’ determination

Singapore – Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic praised the character and determination of his players on Wednesday after they battled their way through to the AFF Suzuki Cup final with a narrow 1-0 victory over the Philippines at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

The Lions did not enjoy the best of build-ups to this year’s tournament and lost to the Azkals in a pair of warm-up friendlies in September and November.

But the three-time champions have risen to the occasion since they kicked off their tournament with a 3-0 win over defending champions Malaysia and they reached the final for a fourth time thanks to Khairul Amri’s 19th minute strike in front of a full house of 7,500 at Jalan Besar.

Avramovic, who was in charge of the Lions for two of their triumphs in 2004 and 2007, felt that the victory came down to the character of his players, who are fiercely determined to make amends for their group stage exit two years ago.

“We can in some way predict what can happen in these games and depending on how the game is going, we can plan what to do in those situations. But the players gave 100 per cent and thanks to them, we achieved this victory,” said the delighted Serbian, who could afford himself a smile in the post-match press conference as he eyed another appearance for his side in the Asean regional final.

According to Avramovic, the focus and determination of his players was evident after their goalless draw against the Philippines in the first leg of the semi-final in Manila when they turned down the chance to unwind after the match in order to make preparations for the return leg.

“You must wish to win and we have a group of players who really act as a team,” he said.

“I felt that this really came out in the Philippines when the players, on their own initiative, wanted to go back to the hotel. I wanted to give them some time off before we went home but they told me that they wanted to go back to the hotel to prepare for the next game.

Google Maps makes its way back to the iPhone

NEW YORK: Google Inc's mapping tool has returned to the iPhone, months after Apple replaced it with a home-grown mapping service that prompted user complaints, a public apology from Apple's CEO and the firing of a top executive.
The free Google Maps app is now available in more than 40 countries, the company said in a blog post. ( Google's new app adds popular features - previously available only on Android devices - such as turn-by-turn navigation and birds-eye view of landscapes.
Apple launched its own service in early September, replacing popular Google Maps, which previously came pre-loaded in Apple devices, but the service contained embarrassing errors and drew fierce criticism.
The public uproar over the shortcomings led Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook to apologize to customers frustrated with glaring errors and, in an unusual move for the consumer giant, to direct them to rival services such as Google's browser-based Maps instead.
Google's new mapping service was the No. 1 downloaded app in Apple's app store on Thursday.
"People around the world have been asking for Google Maps on iPhone," Google's director of Maps, Daniel Graf, said in the blogpost.

FBM KLCI snaps winning streak, opens lower

KUALA LUMPUR: The FBM KLCI clawed back some of its gains this morning after surging for for eight consecutive days, taking cue from weaker regional markets.
At 9.09am, the local bourse shed 2.98 point to 1649.77 points with 41.26 million shares traded, valued at RM20.04 million. There were 70 gainers, 114 losers and 134 counters unchanged.
"On the domestic front, we think that the FBM KLCI Index would likely trade sideways again as investors look to take profit following the local bourse's strong performance having clocked up 8 days of successive gains amounting to 45.4 points or 2.8%," HwangDBS Vickers Research said in a market preview note today.
Overnight market, US equity indices retreated between 0.6% - 0.7% last night as investors grew concerned on the standoff in federal budget negotiations. It said this overshadowed stronger economic data released yesterday indicating lower unemployment claims and a rebound in retail sales.

Apple adopts technology to bring faster, cheaper PCs

NEW YORK: When Apple Inc marketing head Phil Schiller launched the new iMac in October he enthused about its "Fusion Drive", a storage option combining the cost and capacity benefits of hard drives with the speed of flash memory.
For many, the pitch was probably lost amid the buzz accompanying the launch of the new iPad mini the same day.
But Apple's adoption of a technology that has been around for years, without really catching on, looks likely to finally bring "hybrid" drives into the mainstream.
That will mean faster PCs that are cheap enough for most consumers, very soon.
The outlook has also suddenly brightened for makers of hard disk drives (HDDs), whose share of the $45 billion storage drive market is being eroded by makers of more modern solid state drives(SSDs) that are faster, more reliable but also pricier.
"Hybrid drives will be the future of mass market cheap storage," said John Rydning, an analyst at technology research firm IDC. "Although so far we haven't seen much traction, I see all the pieces falling into place now that even Apple is selling these."
Hybrid drives -- a cross between a standard HDD and a flash chip -- have been slow to take off because until now only Seagate Technology Plc was offering them. PC makers normally shy away from sourcing from a single supplier.
They also cost more than traditional hard drives, and have been seen as a transitional technology as the market waited for SSD prices to drop.
Now, both Seagate and rival HDD maker Western Digital Corp are banking on hybrids to get a leg up in a crowded SSD market, where they compete with more than 100 other firms.
Ultrabooks -- thinner, faster laptops positioned to rival tablets -- present the best opportunity to launch hybrid drives into the mass market, analysts say, and Ultrabooks running on hybrid drives are expected to be a big theme at next month's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Ultrabooks, which have chips supplied by Intel Corp , have been criticized for being too expensive, and manufacturers have shipped fewer than expected.
"An all-SSD solution for an Ultrabooks is very viable but also very expensive," Western Digital President Steve Milligan said in an interview.
Richard Kuegle, an analyst at brokerage Needham and Co, also notes that Intel's strict specification of near-instant boot times for Ultrabooks makes HDDs obsolete, while SSD solutions remain too expensive for most consumers.
"In order to get that instant-on element, you have to have NAND (flash memory) of some kind, so the answer was in front of (manufacturers) all along, and that is hybrid drives," he said.
To be sure, Apple's solution is not strictly speaking a hybrid drive. It is software-based, relying on a huge chunk of flash memory linked to a standard HDD. Still, the underlying rationale puts it in the same category as a hybrid.
"We've certainly been getting more calls from OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) since Apple's announcement," Scott Horn, Seagate's vice president of marketing, told Reuters.
Seagate has shipped only about 1.5 million hybrid drives, branded Momentus XTs, since launching them about four years ago.
Technology research consultancy Gartner expects the hybrid drive market to grow to more than 100 million units in 2016 from its estimate of 1.8 million in 2011.
About 500 million hard drives and less than 50 million solid state drives are sold every year.
Western Digital, which estimates current demand for hybrids at 1.5 million to 2 million a year, will launch its own hybrids early in the new year and expects the market to grow quickly.
"It is important to note that Apple is validating the value of hybrid technologies," Western Digital's Milligan said.
Analysts said that while hybrid drives would let HDD makers make up some ground lost to SSDs, it was too soon to make meaningful financial projections for Seagate and Western Digital, which control 90 percent of the hard drive market.
Demand for storage is soaring.
About 650 terabytes of storage will be sold this year alone, according to Gartner -- enough to store every single piece of data on the World Wide Web twice over.
SSD shipments have almost tripled this year, while HDD shipments have grown less than 5 percent.
"The problem is, (SSDs are) still not cheap enough and hard drives on the other hand are still getting cheaper every day,"
said Ryan Chien, an analyst at research firm IHS iSuppli.
IDC expects the storage drive market to be worth about $57 billion by 2016, about $12 billion more than this year. It expects hybrids to be the standard memory in at least 30 percent of notebooks in four years.
Needham and Co's Kuegle is even more bullish, estimating that almost all hard drives will have a flash component by the end of next year.

Egyptian factions stage final rallies before referendum

CAIRO - Supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi stage final rallies on Friday before a divisive referendum on a new constitution championed by the Islamist leader as a way out of the worst crisis since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
Anti-Mursi protesters shout slogans at Tahrir Square in Cairo December 12, 2012. Egypt's liberal and secular opposition said on Wednesday it would back a "no" vote in a referendum on a divisive new constitution promoted by Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, calling off a boycott as long as safeguards are in place for a fair vote. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
Anti-Mursi protesters shout slogans at Tahrir Square in Cairo December 12, 2012. Egypt's liberal and secular opposition said on Wednesday it would back a "no" vote in a referendum on a divisive new constitution promoted by Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, calling off a boycott as long as safeguards are in place for a fair vote. 

Cairo and other cities have seen a series of often violent demonstrations over the past three weeks since Mursi assumed sweeping new powers to push through the constitution, which he sees as a vital element of Egypt's transition to democracy.
At least eight people have died and hundreds have been injured and a leading opposition figure warned of more blood on the streets during the voting this Saturday and next on a draft the opposition says is too Islamist.
The referendum asks Egyptians to accept or reject a basic law that has to be in place before national elections can be held early next year - an event many hope can steer the Arab world's most populous nation towards stability.
To bolster support for the constitution, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Mursi to power in June's presidential election, will assemble at a mosque not far from the president's palace in Cairo.
A little later in the day, the liberal, secular and Christian opposition will rally in favour of a vote against the basic law outside the palace and in Tahrir Square, symbolic centre of the revolt that toppled Mubarak in 2011.
"During the referendum, I believe there will be blood and a lot of antagonism, so it is not right to hold a referendum," Ahmed Said of the National Salvation Front told Reuters.
Despite the opposition push for a "no" vote, the measure is expected to pass given the well-organised Muslim Brotherhood's record of winning elections since the fall of Mubarak. Many Egyptians, tired of turmoil, may simply fall in line.

Israel's Lieberman, facing indictment, says need not resign

JERUSALEM - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday he need not resign after the Justice Ministry decided to indict him for fraud and breach of trust, less severe charges than were originally considered.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman makes remarks during the 2012 Saban Forum on U.S.-Israel relations at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, November 30, 2012. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman makes remarks during the 2012 Saban Forum on U.S.-Israel relations at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, November 30, 2012. 

However, should he be forced from office by the scandal, it would shake up Israel's top echelon weeks before a general election that the right-wing party of Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is predicted to win.
"According to the legal opinion given to me, I do not have to resign," an upbeat Lieberman said during a speech, rousing supporters to applaud.
"A final decision will be made after consultation with my lawyers and in the consideration of not hurting the voting public."
He denied all wrongdoing and called for speedy legal proceedings.
Lieberman's lawyers, citing legal precedents, had said in a statement they did not believe the courts would force him to resign. Opposition parties called for him to step down.
Investigations into Lieberman, 54, were first opened in 2001 and spanned nine countries. The more serious allegations included money-laundering and bribery, but the Attorney-General said there was no chance of a conviction on those.
The indictment focuses on Lieberman's efforts to promote an Israeli diplomat who had leaked him privileged information about a police probe pertaining to Lieberman.
Netanyahu welcomed the decision not to press more serious charges and said in a statement he hoped Lieberman would "also prove his innocence in the single remaining issue".

Israeli soldiers assault two Reuters cameramen

HEBRON, West Bank - Israeli soldiers punched two Reuters cameramen and forced them to strip in the street, before letting off a tear gas canister in front of them, leaving one of them needing hospital treatment.
Israel's military said on Thursday it took the allegations seriously, but offered no explanation for the assault that occurred on Wednesday evening in the heart of Hebron.
"The regional brigade commander was ordered to open an investigation," Israeli Defence Forces spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said in an email. No further information will be provided until the investigation is complete.
Yousri Al Jamal and Ma'amoun Wazwaz said a foot patrol stopped them as they were driving to a nearby checkpoint where a Palestinian teenager had just been shot dead by an Israeli border guard.
Their car was clearly marked 'TV' and they were both wearing blue flak jackets with 'Press' emblazoned on the front.
The soldiers forced them to leave the vehicle and punched them, striking them with the butts of their guns. They accused them of working for an Israeli NGO, B'Tselem, which documents human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, the Reuters cameramen said.
Locals say B'Tselem has given a number of Palestinians video cameras so they can film soldiers and settlers who live in this divided city. The NGO was not immediately available for comment.
The soldiers did not let the men produce their official ID papers and forced them to strip down to their underwear, making them kneel on the road with their hands behind their heads, the cameramen said.

Iran's civil society under assault, rights group says

DUBAI - Iranian civil society activists have been subjected to a "campaign of repression" in the last three years, with many killed, detained or forced to flee abroad, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Friday.
Iran's government has cracked down on political opposition members, rights activists, journalists, and lawyers ever since the mass protests that followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declared presidential election victory over reformist Mirhossein Mousavi, the rights group said.
"The post-2009 crackdown has profoundly affected civil society in Iran," Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East director, said in a statement accompanying the report, "Why They Left: Stories of Iranian Activists in Exile".
"The images of police beating protesters mercilessly may have faded from television and computer screens, but many Iranian activists continue to make the painful choice to abandon homes and families."
The group interviewed more than 50 Iranian refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan in 2010 and 2011 about their experiences in Iran and their host countries.
Iranian officials have in the past said their government respects human rights, and that Western states who criticise its record are hypocrites seeking only political advantage.

Greek tax reform bill to tax capital gains on shares

ATHENS - Greece will tax capital gains on shares next year as part of efforts to boost revenues and attain a primary budget surplus, a tax reform bill Athens had long-promised its international lenders showed on Thursday.
The European Union and International Monetary Fund have pressed the cash-strapped country to reform a tax administration widely seen as corrupt and ineffective in combating tax evasion, part of demands to unlock financial aid.
A Greek flag flutters in front of the moon in Athens November 26, 2012. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis
A Greek flag flutters in front of the moon in Athens November 26, 2012. 

Based on the draft legislation submitted to parliament, Greece will raise the tax rate on corporate profits to 26 percent from 20 percent but lower the tax on distributed dividends to 10 percent from 25 percent currently.
Capital gains from stock trading on the Athens stock exchange will be subject to a 20 percent tax from April next year, while interest income from bank deposits will be taxed by a higher 15 percent rate versus 10 percent currently.
"The proposed legislation is part of wider plans to create a just and effective tax system, reorganise the tax collection mechanism and apply a stricter framework against tax evasion," the finance ministry said.
The bill reduces the current eight tax brackets to three, imposing a 42 percent top rate on incomes above 42,000 euros (34,000 pounds). Currently, a 40 percent tax rate applies to those earning over 60,000 while incomes over 100,000 are taxed at 45 percent.

Venezuela's Chavez improving after surgery complications

CARACAS - Venezuela's Hugo Chavez suffered unexpected bleeding caused by a six-hour cancer operation in Cuba, the government said, although the ailing president's condition began to improve on Thursday.
A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holds a picture of him while attending a campaign rally of United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV)'s candidate for Miranda state governor, Elias Jaua, in Los Teques outside Caracas December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holds a picture of him while attending a campaign rally of United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV)'s candidate for Miranda state governor, Elias Jaua, in Los Teques outside Caracas December 13, 2012. 

The 58-year-old's health has deteriorated dramatically since he won re-election two months ago, casting doubt on the future of his "21st century socialism" project, which won him huge support among the poor but infuriated adversaries who denounce him as a fledgling dictator.
Officials said Chavez's medical team in Havana had to use "corrective measures" to stop the bleeding which resulted from Tuesday's surgery, his fourth cancer operation in 18 months. But they said his condition had improved since then.
"In the last few hours, his process of recovery has evolved from stable to favourable," Vice President Nicolas Maduro told a rally of Socialist Party supporters, who cheered as he spoke.
"That allows us to continue saying that there is a growing recovery in Comandante Hugo Chavez's situation."
The president claimed he was cured earlier this year, and was able to campaign for re-election in October, but now looks to be fighting for his life again. Officials have stressed that his post-operation process will be long and complex.
The ashen faces of cabinet ministers and sombre tone of their terse official statements since Tuesday's surgery appeared to suggest top government officials are preparing for the worst.
The president has refused to divulge details of the cancer that was diagnosed in June of last year.
He won re-election by a big margin in October and is due to start a new six-year term on January 10. According to the constitution, if he is unable to do so or steps down after starting a new term, an election must be held within 30 days.
On Saturday, Chavez anointed Maduro as his heir apparent in case he had to step down - the first time since he took office in 1999 that he has named a successor.
The 50-year-old Maduro, a former union organizer and loyal Chavez disciple who is seen as a pragmatic moderate, would be the ruling party's candidate.
The president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, said he planned to visit Chavez in Cuba, and Venezuelans held vigils and gathered in plazas to pray for their president's swift return.
State TV launched a spot that opens with Chavez's voice thundering "I am no longer myself, I am the people," followed by Venezuelans of all ages telling the camera: "I am Chavez."
Another shows short clips of Chavez singing folk songs with supporters and reciting poetry. One rally for a "Chavista" candidate in Sunday's regional elections kicked off with a recording of the president singing the national anthem.
The Information Ministry published a document with the words "Loyalty to Chavez - The fatherland is safe" over a picture of Chavez and Maduro sitting below a painting of liberation hero Simon Bolivar. Chavez is shown holding an ornate golden replica of Bolivar's sword.

U.S. Senate committee approves report on CIA interrogations, revives torture debate

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate intelligence committee approved a report on Thursday that the panel's chairwoman said included "startling details" about counter-terrorism practices used by the CIA under former President George W. Bush.
U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) talks to the media after former C.I.A. Director David Petraeus testified at a closed hearing on Benghazi, on Capitol Hill in Washington November 16, 2012. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) talks to the media after former C.I.A. Director David Petraeus testified at a closed hearing on Benghazi, on Capitol Hill in Washington November 16, 2012. 

Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine was the sole Republican who supported the move, joining the panel's eight Democrats in a 9-6 vote. Republicans had largely boycotted the three-year investigation, saying it contained inaccuracies and faulting Democrats for calling too few witnesses.
The nearly 6,000-page report is classified and it is not clear whether a version will ever be made public.
But Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the committee, said it raised important issues and should make clear that the country should never use coercive techniques like those it discussed.
"The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight," she said in a statement.
Reuters reported in April that the three-year investigation was expected to find little evidence that the interrogations produced counter-terrorism breakthroughs. They included the use on a few high-level suspects of a simulated drowning technique known as "water boarding."
The document includes details of each detainee in CIA custody, the conditions under which they were held, how they were interrogated, the intelligence they provided and the accuracy of CIA descriptions of the program to the White House.
"I believe it to be one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the United States Senate, and by far the most important oversight activity ever conducted by this committee," Feinstein said.
With the vote, the Senate intelligence committee also approved the report's 20 findings and conclusions.
Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, the committee's vice chairman, did not vote to approve the document.

Italian election campaign won't change economic outlook - finance minister

NEW YORK - Italy's election campaign will not change the country's economic outlook, but any future government will need to deepen the present government's reform agenda, Italy's economy and finance minister, Vittorio Grilli, said on Thursday.
Italy's Finance Minister Vittorio Grilli speaks during a conversation with journalists on the second day of the G20 at a hotel in Mexico City November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Italy's Finance Minister Vittorio Grilli speaks during a conversation with journalists on the second day of the G20 at a hotel in Mexico City November 5, 2012.

Grilli's comments in New York were aimed at reassuring markets that were ruffled this week when the Prime Minister Mario Monti said he would resign after his technocrat government passes its 2013 budget, expected before Christmas.
His decision, which followed an announcement by his discredited predecessor Silvio Berlusconi that he planned to run for office again, upset financial markets and pushed up Italy's borrowing costs.
General elections are now expected in February, a few weeks earlier than was originally planned.

Japan's LDP set for big win in Sunday election - polls

TOKYO - Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is on track for a stunning victory in Sunday's election, returning to power with hawkish former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the helm, and possibly ending Japan's political gridlock.
Japan's main opposition Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) leader and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to voters during his official campaign kick-off for the December 16 lower house election, in Fukushima, northern Japan December 4, 2012. REUTERS/Issei Kato (JAPAN)
Japan's main opposition Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) leader and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to voters during his official campaign kick-off for the December 16 lower house election, in Fukushima, northern Japan December 4, 2012. 

Opinion polls by the Asahi, Yomiuri and Nikkei newspapers on Friday forecast that the LDP was headed for a hefty majority in the powerful, 480-seat lower house of parliament.
The LDP and its smaller ally, the New Komeito party, could even gain the two-thirds majority needed to break through a policy deadlock that has plagued the world's third biggest economy since 2007.
An LDP win on Sunday would usher in a government committed to a tough stance in a territorial row with China, a pro-nuclear power energy policy despite last year's Fukushima disaster and a radical recipe of hyper-easy monetary policy and big fiscal spending to end persistent deflation and tame a strong yen.
Sino-Japanese relations chilled sharply after Japan bought tiny islands also claimed by Beijing from their private owner.
Abe may temper his hardline toward Beijing with pragmatism as he did when he took office in 2006, but he may have less leeway to do so this time as tensions escalate and experts agree his focus will be to bolster the U.S. alliance.
Japan is in its fourth recession since 2000 and business sentiment worsened for a second straight quarter in the three months to December and will barely improve next year, a central bank survey showed on Friday.
The worsening business outlook strengthens the case for the Bank of Japan (BOJ) to take bolder action to support an economy hurting due to the global slowdown and pressure from the row with China. The BOJ holds a policy meeting next week.

TAR Foundation starts endowment plan

PUTRAJAYA: The Tunku Abdul Rahman Foundation has a new scholarship scheme for high-achieving students who have completed their first year of undergraduate study at local institutions.
Called the Tunku Abdul Rahman Study Endowment, the scheme is open to students shortlisted for but did not secure a Tunku Abdul Rahman Scholarship.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said the new scholarships included tuition fees and a monthly allowance of RM600.
"These scholarships are meant to reward students who have high potential, but just did not meet the requirements of being a Tunku Scholar," he said.

Maid agency owner's three-year jail term for human trafficking stays

KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court has maintained the three-year jail term imposed on a maid agency owner for trafficking two Filipino women.
Justice Mohd Azman Husin on Friday dismissed the application by Eugene Lim Beng Huat Lim, 40, to strike out the case against him.
Mohd Azman also dismissed DPP Mazelan Jamaluddin's bid to increase the jail term, ruling that the Sessions Court's decision was reasonable and should be maintained.
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