In-form Wawrinka takes on outsider Kovalik


Third seed Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 French Open champion, will be hoping his good claycourt form will spill over into the French Open first round when he takes on rank outsider Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Tennis – ATP – Rome Open – Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland v Benoit Paire of France – Rome, Italy- 17/5/17- Wawrinka returns the ball. REUTERS/Max Rossi

PARIS: Third seed Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 French Open champion, will be hoping his good claycourt form will spill over into the French Open first round when he takes on rank outsider Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia on Tuesday.

Swiss Wawrinka enjoyed the best possible preparation for the French Open by claiming the title on Geneva’s clay courts last week, and is the clear favourite against the 152nd-ranked player in the world.

Local hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who also warmed up for the French Open in perfect style by securing his maiden claycourt title in Lyon, takes on world number 91 Renzo Olivo from Argentina.

Moody Australian Nick Kyrgios, who is struggling with hip and shoulder injuries, has been receiving daily treatment ahead of his first-round match against experienced German Philipp Kohlschreiber.

The 22-year-old firebrand, seeded 18th at Roland Garros, pulled out of the Rome tournament and was eliminated in the first round in Lyon last week.

His Australian friend Thanasi Kokkinakis has a tougher task ahead when he faces eighth seed Kei Nishikori.

Britain’s Johanna Konta, the seventh seed, meets Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh, knowing full well that the women’s draw lacks several big names including Maria Sharapova, Viktoria Azarena and world number two Venus Williams.

Men’s top seed Andy Murray, Konta’s compatriot, starts his tournament straight after her match, against Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)



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RBS investor group accepts offer to end lawsuit over 2008 cash call


A group representing Royal Bank of Scotland investors has accepted an out-of-court deal to settle a lawsuit that was set to call disgraced former CEO Fred Goodwin to account over a 12 billion pound (US$15 billion) cash call in 2008.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: People walk past a Royal Bank of Scotland office in London, Britain, February 6, 2013. REUTERS/Neil Hall/File Photo – RTS133EC/File Photo

LONDON: A group representing Royal Bank of Scotland investors has accepted an out-of-court deal to settle a lawsuit that was set to call disgraced former CEO Fred Goodwin to account over a 12 billion pound (US$15 billion) cash call in 2008.

Organisers of the RBoS Shareholder Action Group, that had vowed to see the bank and its former bosses in court, have told their members they will accept last week’s revised, out-of-court offer after days of intense talks delayed a long-awaited trial.

“Having carefully considered the merits of the current offer … we have decided to accept the offer of 82 pence per share on behalf of our membership,” the action group said in a letter dated May 27 that was published on Monday.

“This is a decision which is fully supported by our legal advisers,” it added, acknowledging that some of its claimants, who had been holding out for more, might be surprised.

The settlement is worth around 200 million pounds (US$257 million) in total.

A formal announcement on behalf of the group, which includes around 9,000 retail and 20 institutional investors and has been beset by internal wrangles, changing legal teams and questions over its funding and management structure, is expected later on Monday or Tuesday.

RBS declined to comment.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Lawrence White; Editing by Mark Potter)



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My Dog The Champion



Dora Madison Burge of TV’s FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS stars as Madison, a spoiled big city 16-year-old with a full teenage social life. When her mom is deployed overseas for three months, Maddy is sent to live with her hard-nosed grandfather (Lance Henriksen of ALIENS) at his rural cattle ranch. In this strange place with no Wi-Fi, Maddy will meet cute 17-year-old dog trainer Eli (Cody Linley of TV’s HANNAH MONTANA and CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN), grow to love and respect her stubborn grandpa, and bond with an old cattle dog who just may have the potential to be a blue ribbon champion. Bonding through their mutual sense of displacement, the two outcasts form a special bond in this heartwarming story about the meaning of family, the courage of outcasts, and the promise of new beginnings.

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Muguruza hoping to avoid embarrassing exit in Paris


After world number one Angelique Kerber succumbed in the first round of the French Open, another upset could be on the cards on day two of the claycourt major when Garbine Muguruza takes on Francesca Schiavone on Monday.

Tennis – ATP – Rome Open – Garbine Muguruza of Spain v Venus Williams of the United States – Rome, Italy – 19/5/17 – Muguruza of Spain returns the ball. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

PARIS: After world number one Angelique Kerber succumbed in the first round of the French Open, another upset could be on the cards on day two of the claycourt major when Garbine Muguruza takes on Francesca Schiavone on Monday.

Spain’s Muguruza, who has been in mediocre form on clay this season, could face the embarrassment of becoming only the second defending champion since Anastasia Myskina in 2005 to lose in the women’s first round.

The 36-year-old Schiavone, champion at Roland Garros in 2010, won the Bogota tournament and reached the final in Rabat, both on clay, this season. Muguruza in contrast has won only three matches on red dirt in 2017.

“It’s very strange to find a first round with two past champions,” said fourth seed Muguruza. “I think she’s playing good on clay. It’s a good match to start.”

The match, however, is unlikely to draw thousands onto Court Philippe Chatrier, where proceedings usually open in front of a sparse crowd.

The two players have met twice on clay, taking one victory each.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by Pritha Sarkar)



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Unannounced, new Russian passenger plane completes maiden flight


Russia completed the maiden flight of its new MS-21 medium-range passenger plane on Sunday, its first foray into mainline commercial aircraft since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A view shows an An MS-21 medium-range passenger plane, produced by Irkut Corporation, during a flight in Irkutsk, Russia, May 28, 2017. Courtesy of PR Department of Irkut Corporation/Handout via REUTERS

MOSCOW: Russia completed the maiden flight of its new MS-21 medium-range passenger plane on Sunday, its first foray into mainline commercial aircraft since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia, squeezed by Western sanctions over its role in the Ukraine crisis, is trying to rejuvenate domestic industrial production to make the country less dependant on foreign firms.

It has previously said the MS-21 is superior to its Western-made counterparts in many respects and will be snapped up by both Russian and foreign carriers.

In a surprise statement, manufacturer Irkut Corporation and its state-controlled parent company United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) said an MS-21-300 model had successfully completed a 30-minute flight at a height of 1,000 meters and traveling at 300 km an hour.

“The flight mission has been completed. The flight was fine, there were no observations which will prevent further testing,” test pilot Oleg Kononenko was quoted as saying.

Russia has fought hard to shake its Soviet reputation for old and creaking aircraft flown by inexperienced crews. Flag carrier Aeroflot last year earned its fourth star from independent ratings website Skytrax, ranking it alongside major European and Middle Eastern competitors and ahead of big U.S. carriers such as Delta and United.

President Vladimir Putin called Irkut General Director Oleg Demchenko to congratulate him and his employees with what the Kremlin called “a significant event”.

The twin-engine plane will be built in two variants: the Ms-21-300 which will have 160-211 seats, and the MS-21-200 which will have 130-165 seats. Production is expected to start in the next two years and state media have said numerous contracts with domestic and foreign carriers have already been agreed.

Irkut said it so far had “firm orders” for 175 planes, all of which had been prepaid. State defense conglomerate Rostec, which is headed by close Putin ally Sergei Chemezov, said it had agreed to purchase 85 aircraft and 50 of them would be leased to Aeroflot.

UAC President Yury Slyusar said he estimated global demand for the new MS-21 models at around 15,000 aircraft over the next 20 years. “I’m sure the airlines will appreciate our new aircraft,” he said.

(Editing by Alison Williams and David Evans)



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The Dog Who Saved the Holidays



The Bannister family is back! This time they are travelling to Southern California for the holidays to stay with Aunt Barbara (Shelley Long of TV’s CHEERS), who surprises them with a new puppy named Eve (Peyton List of DIARY OF A WIMPY KID). Everyone is smitten with Eve — except for the Bannister’s dog, Zeus (Joey Lawrence of TV’s BLOSSOM), who sees what a mischievous animal she is when no one else is around. After deciding to run away, Zeus sees Ted and Stewey, two thieves, trying to break into the family home while the Bannisters are at church. It’s up to Zeus and his newest sister Eve to join together to save the holidays for their family!

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Tennis – Kvitova's return to provide French Open with early emotions


Five months after being stabbed during a burglary, Petra Kvitova will provide the French Open with early chills as she makes her return to competition by opening play at Roland Garros on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: Tennis – China Open Women’s Singles Second Round – Beijing, China – 04/10/16. Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova plays against China’s Wang Yafan. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

PARIS: Five months after being stabbed during a burglary, Petra Kvitova will provide the French Open with early chills as she makes her return to competition by opening play at Roland Garros on Sunday.

The left-handed Czech, a two-time Wimbledon champion, takes on American Julia Boserup on Court Philippe Chatrier after making a speedy recovery from a left hand injury sustained in the attack last December.

Whether she will be fit enough to beat the world number 86 is anyone’s guess, but Kvitova was all smiles when she arrived at the stadium on Friday.

“I’ve already won my biggest fight,” she told reporters. “I stayed in life and I have all my fingers.

“I’m happy that I didn’t have to change any technique, and everything seems OK. Of course, the hand doesn’t have that power and the strength yet, but I’m working on it.”

Kvitova, who is seeded 15th courtesy of her protected ranking, reached the French Open semi-finals in 2012.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Greg Mahlich)



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Sri Lanka seeks international help after deadly flooding, landslides


The number of people known to have been killed in floods and landslides in Sri Lanka rose to 113, officials said on Saturday, as the country appealed for international assistance.

People travel on top of a armoured personnel carrier on a flooded road as a man pushes his bike thorugh the water in Bulathsinhala village in Kalutara, Sri Lanka May 27, 2017. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

COLOMBO: The number of people known to have been killed in floods and landslides in Sri Lanka rose to 113, officials said on Saturday, as the country appealed for international assistance.

The state-run disaster management centre said 91 people were still missing after the worst torrential rains since 2003.

The Foreign Ministry said that in coordination with the Disaster Management Ministry, an appeal had been made to the United Nations and neighbouring countries to provide assistance “especially in the areas of search and rescue operations”.

India is sending three Navy ships with supplies and other aid, the first of which arrived in Colombo on Saturday night.

Officials said deaths were reported from the western coastal district of Kalutara, the central southern district of Ratnapura and the southern district of Matara.

Sri Lankan military and rescue teams have used boats and helicopters, but officials said access to some areas was very difficult.

The early rainy season downpours have forced many families from their homes and affected over 270,000 people across the nation.

Police spokesman Priyantha Jayakody said multiple landslides were reported in Kalutara, Ratnapura and Matara.

Military spokesman Roshan Senevirathne said more than 2,000 military personnel had been deployed to help the police and civilian agencies.

The wettest time of the year in Sri Lanka’s south is usually from May to September.

The island nation also gets heavy rains in the North West monsoonal season from November to February.

Sri Lankan meteorology officials said Thursday’s rains were the worst since 2003 and they expected more in the coming days.

(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Andrew Bolton)



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Robo-Dog: Airborne



Meet Robo-Dog, the world’s coolest pet. He can run super-fast, grow a bionic arm, talk, and even fly! After creating the perfect pooch for his son Tyler, genius dad Tom (Patrick Muldoon, “Days of Our Lives”) gets called away. When Tyler and his wacky nerd friend Barry head off to a science fair, Robo-Dog runs away and has his memory chip erased. After starting a new life with a computer whiz and his adorable daughter, will this high-tech terrier ever find his way home to his rightful master?

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Commentary: Spreading the love, taking a piece of Singapore abroad


SINGAPORE: When we opened our flagship Ya Kun coffee stall at 1 China Street in 2001, we hung a corkboard on one of the walls, along with a stack of post-it notes and welcomed customers to leave their feedback or thoughts on their dining experience. 

Initially, posts were sparse, but every night, my mother would go to the stall, take them down and painstakingly reply to each of them – thanking them for their patronage or addressing their feedback – before pinning the replies up the next day.

Before long, this chat board caught on and we were getting daily comments. Regulars and tourists alike were pinning up their thoughts, leaving comments and even stating where they hailed from and how much they enjoyed this uniquely Singaporean breakfast. 

The list grew quickly to include notes from visitors hailing from Japan, the Netherlands, Mexico, Switzerland and South Africa. It did not take long for us to realise that while we were hosting the world at our stall, we could also bring our kopi and kaya to the world.

The first coffee stall by Loi Ah Kun still serves kopi and kaya toast at 1 China Street. 

That was 16 years ago. Today, Ya Kun’s coffee is served in nine countries and in more than 100 coffee stalls.

Beginning with Indonesia, Ya Kun now has stores in Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand and China. In a matter of weeks, we will be proudly brewing for the first time in Macau as well. 

NO SHARED HERITAGE OVERSEAS

While we have expanded to so many locations overseas, every store runs in a manner that is still recognisably Singaporean.

Every outlet still brews their kopi and teh using the pot and sock coupled with the same pulling and occasional twirling. The kaya toast remains toaster grilled and the soft-boiled eggs are cooked to marble-like consistency.

We don’t do this because of vague sentimentalism, much as we take our heritage and brand very seriously. We do it because it’s a winning formula that seemed to have worked with consumers. 

People from all over the world tell us they like the traditional Singapore kaya toast breakfast set, despite coming from vastly different backgrounds and culinary tastes. The Koreans like the coffee for its sweetness and fragrance, while the Westerners love it for its strength and simplicity. The Japanese love the kaya toast for its crispiness while the Chinese love dunking it into the soft-boiled eggs. 

The soft-boiled eggs are the only exception to the unreserved welcome our products receive everywhere. Over the years, especially in cultures not used to having such eggs for breakfast, we have learnt not to impose that particular style of eating on any foreign stores.

In such cases, a pan-fried sunny side-up egg offers a suitable replacement. It is a fine balance between adapting to the local culture and staying true to our menu and so each item is scrutinised carefully before introduction. 

A Ya Kun outlet in Hong Kong. (Photo: Ya Kun/Facebook)

Staying true to our Singaporean roots has been the bedrock of our expansion philosophy. We don’t do this because of values of integrity, sincerity and accessible to consumers, much as these are important business concepts that we hold dear. 

You see, Ya Kun has always been a family-owned, family-oriented, home-grown business and elements of that kinship must be evident whether we are in Indonesia, South Korea or China.

It is not easy to bridge the cultural and commercial gaps when you expand overseas.

Among the different challenges that we have faced taking the brand abroad, one significant hurdle is something I call the issue of shared heritage.

The story of my grandfather Loi Ah Kun, the kopitiam culture and the traditional kaya toast breakfast all lends itself to a heritage that Singaporeans share and a common memory that we can all tap on. 

This is not the case when we break ground overseas. For example, countries like Japan, South Korea and Myanmar have their own breakfast culture and the concept of a heritage coffeeshop is as foreign as hamburgers.

To overcome that, we have repositioned ourselves as a contemporary, trendy cafe that serves an alternative brewing style and type of coffee from what they are familiar with.

A recently opened store in Bangkok. (Photo: Ya Kun/Facebook)

Close neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Malaysia may share similar culinary experiences and eating habits as Singapore. But when we move further north, all that sense of nostalgia quickly dissipates.

This means that unless someone has a fond experience of having breakfast toast and drinking kopi in Singapore before that, we are simply an alternative coffee chain that serves a stronger kind of brew and a greenish odd-looking coconut jam called kaya on toast.

Breakfast is a highly personal routine to most people and to get someone to try something new is quite difficult. 

NO RIGHT COUNTRY, JUST RIGHT TIMING

For our business, this means that we require a much longer runway to establish ourselves in that country’s market. The harsh truth of what it takes to expand overseas is that you must be prepared to be in it for many years to understand the people and the culture and despite all that, success is not guaranteed.

So we have often been asked how do we strategise and select the right countries to enter, to which my reply has been that there is no right country, just right timing.

Indonesia, our biggest presence outside of Singapore has close to 30 stores and over the past 10 years, we have grown to be a part of the local community. 

In Myanmar, a Ya Kun coffee stall greets you both at the airport, as well as when you arrive at the city centre.

There is a difference of 10 years between the establishment of Ya Kun in Indonesia and Myanmar, and yet both are enjoying success in their respective stages of the business cycle. 

A SUITABLE PARTNER IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING

While we apply a common lens when considering whether to enter a market, for example taste profiling, demographic study, economic situation and dining habits among others, the most important criterion of them all is finding a suitable partner.

We are under no illusion that we understand the intricate habits and behaviours of the locals and their receptivity towards a foreign brand. Patience and perseverance are key traits in locating the right partner, one who shares the same values and vision for building the brand in each respective country.

Government agencies like IE Singapore have also been instrumental in providing both the support and the confidence when we explore new territories. 

The interior of the Ya Kun at 1 China Street. (Photo: CNA)

Of course you can have the best business concept, strategy and systems, but you also need good people who make success a reality.

When we opened our inaugural store in Shanghai, China, we seconded one of our best trainers to manage the outlet and brew the coffee there. He was stationed at the stall during operating hours and would regularly give us information on the profile of our customers, their ordering habits and their requests. 

One particular afternoon, he informed me, in real time, that there was a gentleman sipping coffee in our outlet with tears trickling down his cheeks. Naturally, I panicked and asked him to approach the customer to see what was wrong.

It was only after a few moments did I receive a reply that this gentleman was Singaporean and the aroma of the coffee in the winter brought back memories of his native country. It made him reminiscent of home. 

This incident drove the following point home to me: While expansion overseas is the next phase of our business strategy, we are invariably striving for something bigger than simply setting up more outlets.

With each outlet we open and every cup of coffee we serve, we are connecting with our fellow Singaporeans overseas and creating a new memory for the local customers.

We are gently and humbly promoting the Singapore lifestyle in new areas and reaching out to them to introduce what has become second nature to us: Our traditional breakfast and morning routine.

This is our way of life – whether it is breakfast with our families, a post-lunch chat with colleagues or a business discussion over a cup of kopi, our coffee stalls are places that provide the means for these events to happen.

The ability to provide a glimpse – a taste – of Singapore is now what drives us to reach further and wider in the world as we look ahead. It is through this simple fare that we hope to bring people together in kinship, friendship and partnership. 

Jesher Loi is a grandson of Loi Ah Kun and currently the director of Branding and Market Development at Ya Ku Kaya Toast. 



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