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Williams sisters hog Wimby spotlight

Tuesday, 07 July 2015 00:00 Published in Sports

LONDON — Nine Grand Slam champions line-up on Wimbledon's manic Monday (late Monday night in Manila) with places in the quarter-finals at stake and most interest centered on the latest chapter in the three-decade long Williams sisters story.
The 26th clash between Serena and Venus, who have won the Wimbledon title five times each, will be the first at the All England Club since the 2009 final.
They will dominate early Center Court action before the likes of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray become the focus of the day.
Serena holds the US, Australian and French Open titles and her record in 2015 reads 35 wins against just one loss.
A sixth Wimbledon title will give her all four majors at once and leave her with just the US Open to conquer to complete the calendar Grand Slam.
Defending champion Djokovic will face South African 14th seed Kevin Anderson in the fourth round, defending a 4-1 career lead.
Federer, 33, chasing a record eighth Wimbledon and 18th major, faces Spanish 20th seed Roberto Bautista Agut who was voted the most improved player of 2014.
Murray, the 2013 champion tackles 36-year-old Ivo Karlovic, the oldest man to make the fourth round at the All England Club since compatriot Niki Pilic in 1976.
Fourth seed and French Open champion Stan Wawrinka faces Belgian 16th seed David Goffin who has made the fourth round at Wimbledon for the first time. 

Dushanbe, Tajikistan — At a bazaar in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, once a far-flung outpost of the Soviet Union, cheap goods from neighboring China are helping offset the pain caused by Russia’s economic meltdown.
As low world prices for Russian energy exports and Western sanctions over Ukraine stir economic trouble in Russia, Tajikistan has seen its national somoni currency weaken and thousands of migrants drift back home to a mostly jobless environment.
Last month the impoverished Central Asian country’s national bank announced remittances — mostly transfers from Russia where close to half of Tajikistan’s working age males are believed to work — had fallen by over 40 percent comparing the first quarters of 2014 and 2015.
Yet the economic bonds tying the nation of eight million people to gargantuan China are growing stronger every day.
“The trade is good here,” says a Chinese salesmen at the Korvon bazaar in Dushanbe, who gives his name as Wan and hawks affordable synthetic versions of the Tajik national dress worn by conservative families.
“There is always some kind of opportunity,” he told AFP.
Formally China unveiled its Silk Road Economic Belt — a vision of massive investments in infrastructure to power overland trade and economic integration across Eurasia — during a speech President Xi Jinping gave in energy-rich Kazakhstan in 2013.
Beijing’s economic transformation of the lands west of its restive Xinjiang province has gathered pace in the last decade, overhauling Russia as the main trade partner of four of the five Central Asian countries that gained independence from Moscow in 1991 as it splurges billions of dollars on roads and pipelines to link up the disjointed region.
“China is certainly the most visible player economically, and the loudest one,” says Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London.
“The amounts of money that you see being allocated or discussed when Russian leaders or individuals visit the region are always eclipsed by those that follow Chinese visits,” he told AFP.
Publicly Russia has not complained at growing Chinese economic dominance in its onetime backyard while the pair share membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes all five Central Asian states and will mark its 14th annual summit in the Russian city of Ufa next week.
Moscow is also hopeful it will be a core beneficiary of China’s Silk Road vision, but has tellingly resisted the creation of a development bank within the SCO, reportedly fearful it would expose China’s seniority in their regional partnership.
For Tajikistan, lacking the resources of other Central Asian states — Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — China’s belt is a lifeline. Beijing has pledged to invest at least $6 billion or the equivalent of 70 percent of the country’s annual GDP over three years last September.
“China has realized a range of projects in Tajikistan, from strategic highways to electricity transmission lines, cement factories and gold mining projects,” says Farrukh Soliev, head of the department of external economic relations at Tajikistan’s development and trade ministry.
“Every year our partnership grows,” Soliev told AFP.
Tajikistan will also reap significant transit fees from Line D, a branch of a gas pipeline that should carry 65 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan into China by 2020.
Meanwhile a connector road Beijing is building in neighboring Kyrgyzstan will enable Tajik traders to take goods to Russia without crossing into Uzbekistan, a country with whom Dushanbe has sticky relations.
But with China now owning close to half of the country’s external debt of over $2 billion there is apprehension that a traditional dependency on Russia is being traded for one on China.
Beijing’s role in Tajikistan has “become even more noticeable” in the last year amid economic blowback from the Russian crisis, says Muzaffar Olimov, director of the Sharq analytical center in Dushanbe.
Citing a request on Wednesday by the country’s beleaguered national bank for $500 million in stabilizing credits from the state-directed China Development Bank, Olimov calls China’s economic largess a “dilemma.”
“Of course, this support is extremely timely but is it all just out of good neighborliness? Before taking these credits we should ensure we know how to use them, because one day China will want that money back,” he told AFP. 

Khon Kaen, Thailand — Flashing a toothless smile, 96-year-old Gaew breaks into the jaunty, staccato verses of “Mo Lam”, a style of folk music that reaches deep into the heritage of northeastern Thailand.
For generations, the humor-laden lyrics have covered tales of unrequited love, rural hardship and changing political winds, with the traveling Mo Lam — the name also refers to the music’s expert singers — commissioned to spread campaign messages across the remote villages of the Isaan region.
But the politics has for now been pulled from the playbooks under a military government which brooks no dissent — especially from Isaan, the heartland of the “Red Shirt” movement loyal to the elected government toppled by the generals in May, 2014.
“Mo Lam is our history, our culture,” says the remarkably spry Gaew Sornthunthue.
“When I was young we learned Mo Lam under trees in the rice fields while we looked after our buffalo and cows,” he adds.
The male or female Mo Lam delivers the song in the Isaan dialect to the mesmeric tempo of a kaen, a bamboo mouth organ unique to the Thai northeast and neighboring Laos.
Gaew’s early memories of the music stretch back to the start of the 20th century when Thailand was ruled by an absolute monarch, and Isaan’s Laos-origin people were still yet to be fully co-opted by the central state run by Bangkok.
To Isaan people, millions of whom now live and work in Bangkok, its sound still evokes nostalgia for a region which is modernizing at breakneck speed but maintains a proud and distinct culture.
“We use Mo Lam to talk, debate, express ourselves and reflect on our lives and traditions,” says Sarawoot Srihakot, a kaen player and music teacher trying to preserve the art form.
“You can compare it to a community television station of its time.”
His village is in Khon Kaen province, a once-vocal bastion of the Red Shirt pro-democracy movement.
Their hero and patron, former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra — a billionaire who won the region’s loyalty with policies recognizing their changing aspirations — was booted out of office by a coup in 2006, and was then hit with a graft conviction sending him into self-exile.
The fraught years between then and now have curdled a sense of cultural and geographic difference between the center and the northeast — home to a third of Thailand’s people and most of its poorest provinces.
When they are allowed to vote, Isaan people do so in droves for the Shinawatra family.
But the clan is hated by a Bangkok-centric royalist elite whose parties have proved impotent at all elections since 2001 and are reliant on the army to guarantee their ascendancy.
Before the most recent coup last year, Mo Lam songs extolling the virtues of Thaksin and lampooning the Thai elite did the rounds at Red Shirt rallies and on their radio stations.
One, entitled “Thaksin was bullied,” laments the putsch that toppled him and “took away the house of democracy.”
But when the military seized power, it shuttered radio stations and silenced local leaders, tearing down posters of Thaksin and outlawing rallies.
In normal times, Mo Lam — and its racier electric guitar-backed offshoot “Mo Lam Sing” — would be expected to provide the soundtrack to a resistance.
But, this time, the Red Shirts have barely flickered in defiance.
“There is nothing to gain from any movement... it’s better to wait,” a senior northeastern Red Shirt leader told AFP, requesting anonymity.
The genre’s political influence stretches much further back than the current situation, however.
Generations of singers have been paid — or inspired — to promote political candidates or competing ideologies in remote areas reared on storytelling traditions.
“Mo Lam have sung (about) unhappiness with the center for centuries, especially in the pre-television and radio eras,” says Gridthiya Gaweewong of the Jim Thompson Art Center, who curated a recent exhibition on the art form.
“But it has been used as political tool by both sides. During the Cold War period — because of the strong support from the US — the Thai government promoted ideas of democracy and anti-communism through Mo Lam,” she says.
For their part, the Communist Party of Thailand, which fought a guerrilla war against the Thai state through the mid-60s and 70s, wrote lyrics praising their collective system and warning Isaan against becoming “servants of Bangkok” under the yoke of “bastards who don’t have farms.”
But the genre is under threat.
While many village elders can reel off Mo Lam lyrics, youngsters weaned on pop music and 24-hour television often lack the patience to master the complex verses or instruments.
Remodeled in the 1980s, the modernized Mo Lam Sing thrusts the original version from its bucolic village setting onto the big stage with drums, electric guitars and lights, winning new legions of fans to its bawdy and boozy shows.
A more recent revision, with a kaen backed by a funk bass, is pulling crowds on the world music scene.
While the revival is welcome, purists such as Noochid Punsang, a 54-year-old Mo Lam, fear the original art form faces decline, threatening to take with it a key element of Isaan culture.
“There are fewer singers these days... there is a huge notebook of lyrics to memorize,” she said.
“But if you have don’t have the passion, you can’t do it. It takes love.” 

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