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Joffa
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Spain teeters as eurozone unity tested

DateJuly 8, 2012

Spain's borrowing costs have soared back to crisis levels after infighting among eurozone countries signalled a return to the turmoil that has rocked the global economy in recent months.

The interest rate on Spanish bonds touched 7 per cent, leaving Madrid on the brink of asking Brussels for a formal bailout, despite having secured a €100 billion ($120 billion) rescue facility for the country's banks.

Sharemarkets plunged and the euro tumbled as investors withdrew funds from the eurozone. The euro fell 1 per cent to its lowest level against the US dollar since July 2010. A report on the jobs market in the US added to market tensions. The US added only 80,000 jobs last month, well short of the 400,000 it needs to bring down unemployment.

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, warned that it would lower predictions of global growth in 2012 because of a slowdown in Brazil and China as well as the faltering in the eurozone and US economies. ''And even that lower projection will depend on the right policy actions being taken,'' she said.

Advertisement On Thursday the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and Chinese authorities cut interest rates or pumped more money into the financial system to prevent a slump that some economists have warned could be a rerun of the 2008 banking collapse.

The Bank of England increased the volume of quantitative easing by £50 billion ($76 billion) to £375 billion after surveys showed Britain's double-dip recession could stretch into the northern autumn.

The Netherlands and Finland added to the sense of unease after they broke ranks to demand extra collateral for loans. They said that without the involvement of the eurozone's main rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, they would need to secure high-grade assets in case borrower countries could not pay their debts.

Their message was seen as a reference to Spain and Italy, which have avoided using the mechanism to rescue their banks.

The Finnish Finance Minister, Jutta Urpilainen, said Finland would rather leave the eurozone than pay down the debt of other countries.

Russia confirmed on Friday that Cyprus, which hopes to avoid a bailout, had asked it for €5 billion.

Guardian News & Media



Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/spain-teeters-as-eurozone-unity-tested-20120707-21nrq.html#ixzz1zzWHEjYf

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Passage from India

DateJuly 7, 2012

Bollywood stars and cricketers are part of Australia's push to attract visitors from the subcontinent, writes Robert Upe.

Australian tourism officials are targeting Delhi and Mumbai to lure more Indian travellers here.

Along with China, India has one of the world's fastest-growing outbound travel markets, and more than 50 million Indians are expected to take overseas trips by 2020.


A scene from Indian movie Salaam Namaste, filmed in Melbourne. Tourism Australia says Bollywood stars will be used to spruik holidays in Australia.

India is Australia's 11th-biggest inbound tourism market, bringing in 148,200 visitors who spent $867 million last year, but by 2020 officials say that could reach 300,000 visitors spending $2.3 billion.

Delhi and Mumbai have been targeted by Australia because they have an emerging middle class and India's highest concentration of affluent households.

The Minister for Tourism, Martin Ferguson, unveiled an India 2020 strategic plan last month at the annual Australian Tourism Exchange in Perth, the largest travel trade show in the southern hemisphere. "We have put a huge effort into attracting tourists from China recently and the next cab off the rank is India," he said.

The plan means that Tourism Australia's "There's Nothing Like Australia" campaign will be rolled out in Delhi and Mumbai and there will be extensive advertising on TV and digital channels as well as print.

Tourism Australia will spend $5 million on the India campaign in the next year and will also use cricketers and Bollywood stars to spruik the virtues of holidaying here. Cricketers Steve Waugh and Brett Lee have acted as advocates in the past, and more Australian Indian Premier League (IPL) players may be recruited.

Another focus of the strategy is to establish direct air links between Australia and India. There are no direct non-stop flights between the countries but talks are taking place with several airlines believed to include Qantas, Virgin and Air India.

Ferguson says there are 70 national tourism organisations from around the world active in India, and competition to win Indian travellers is fierce.

The India 2020 strategic plan follows the China 2020 strategic plan that was announced by Tourism Australia in June last year, which aims to lure a share of the 100 million Chinese who will be travelling by 2020.

The managing director of Tourism Australia, Andrew McEvoy, has denied suggestions tourism officials are concentrating marketing efforts on China and India at the expense of other more established visitor countries.

"The traditional Western countries are essential to our tourism and have not been abandoned," he says. "We are not fair-weather friends. We have been with these markets [New Zealand, Britain, the US] for 40 years and we have literally invested hundreds of millions of dollars into them. We are still spending strongly in those countries but the growth is coming from Asia."

McEvoy says Tourism Australia will also target Japanese travellers later this year.

"We will do something big and significant to reignite our relationship with the Japanese traveller," he says in reference to the drop in visitors since last year's earthquake and tsunami.

Robert Upe travelled to Perth courtesy of Tourism Australia.

WHO IS VISITING

1. New Zealand (1,172,700)

2. Britain (608,300)

3. China (542,000)

4. US (456,200)

5. Japan (332,700)

6. Singapore (318,500)

7. Malaysia (241,200)

8. Korea (198,000)

9. Hong Kong (166,300)

10. Germany (153,900)

11. India (148,200)

12 Indonesia (140,400)

- 2011 arrivals.



Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/travel/passage-from-india-20120705-21jc1.html#ixzz1zzchfBXw

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batfink wrote:
little wonder that joffa has 42,000 posts.....


:lol:
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Zero hour has come as Europe's central bank cuts its rates

DateJuly 7, 2012
Malcolm Maiden


.The sinking feeling that central banks are running out of heavy ammo was behind the global market's negative reaction to the latest round of monetary easing yesterday.

On Thursday night our time, there was central bank activity that in the past would have sparked a market rally. China's central bank cut its benchmark lending rate by almost one-third of a percentage point to 6 per cent, and the European Central Bank moved its benchmark rate down, by a quarter of a percentage point to a new low of 0.75 per cent. It also cut its deposit rate by a quarter of a percentage point to zero, and the Bank of England expanded a ''quantitative easing'' injection of cash into the British financial system by £50 billion to £375 billion ($567 billion).

Shares fell, key European bond yields rose and the euro plunged, mainly in response to the European Central Bank's moves. It was the creation of a zero per cent deposit rate that was the hot topic: Europe is ground zero for the crisis, and it is now moving into uncharted territory.

The deposit rate cut is an attempt by ECB to encourage the banks in Europe to take a bit more risk, and start lending. Its long-term bank refinancing operation swung €1 trillion of three-year money priced at the central bank's benchmark rate into European banks on either side of Christmas, but the money has so far not transmitted strongly into bank lending. Ahead of yesterday's ECB move, European banks had about €800 billion ($965 billion) parked with the central bank, earning an interest rate of 0.25 per cent a year.

Advertisement You would think that's a lousy return, and you would be right, usually. It's unclear whether even cutting the deposit to zero will get the banks moving right now, however. Demand for credit is low as Europe grinds along in its sovereign debt crisis, and the inclination of the banks to lend to each other or their customers is even lower. Here's a brief statistical tour of the eurozone, one that shows how deep the hole Europe is in is.

The gross domestic product of the Euro area shrank by 0.1 per cent in first quarter of this year, and fixed capital formation - investment across the economy by both the government and private sectors in effect - fell by 2.2 per cent.

Government consumption has fallen for six consecutive quarters as nations rein in their deficits and debt loads, and private consumption has fallen by 0.7 per cent and 0.6 per cent in the past two quarters. Unemployment is at a record high of 11.1 per cent, retail sales have been declining since the beginning of last year, and consumer confidence has fallen by 15.9 per cent, 20.6 per cent and 20 per cent in the past three quarters.

Manufacturing order books have declined by 9 per cent, 14.6 per cent and 15.8 per cent over the same period.

Those are appallingly bad numbers, and the European banks are not just loathe to lend to the relatively few businesses and households who are looking for money, but are uncertain whether the loans they already made are good. They care less about maximising capital returns and more about capital preservation, and in that environment, the ECB is a obvious, even compelling bolt-hole.

With the deposit rate now at zero, the banks will earn absolutely nothing on their deposits, and their inflation adjusted return will be about minus 2 per cent. The central bank's hope is that this is enough pain to persuade them to look elsewhere, and put at least some of that €800 billion pile back to work in the economy.

The ECB boss, Mario Draghi, didn't seem confident yesterday that a sea change was in the offing, however. Recent moves by EU leaders, including the decision to send recapitalisation funding directly to banks that need it instead of through national balance sheets that were already drowning in debt, were positive, he said, but ''downside risks to the euro area growth outlook have materialised''.

Draghi said the €1 trillion ECB funding injection was never going to flow rapidly out through the banks into the economy, and pointed out that credit flows were not uniform across Europe: lending is growing slowly in the north and weakest in the south, where the sovereign debt crisis has hit hardest. He conceded, however, that several months had elapsed since the €1 trillion program had concluded, and credit growth was still weak.

''There are three sets of reasons why banks may not lend,'' he told a press conference. ''Risk aversion, lack of capital, and lack of funding. We have removed only the third, not the other two.''

That comment highlighted the intertwined toxic loop that Europe's policymakers and central bankers are attempting to unravel, and the lengths they are going to as they try.

At the press conference, Draghi was asked an obvious question: was even a zero per cent deposit rate enough to persuade the banks to redeploy their money elsewhere, and if it isn't, will the ECB risk moving to a negative rate, something the markets have no template for and could not have imagined before the crisis emerged?

So-called ''non-standard'' measures wouldn't be discussed in public, Draghi said, but the central bank still had artillery. By the end of the day, Denmark's central bank provided the exclamation mark: it moved its own deposit rate to minus 0.2 per cent.



Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/business/zero-hour-has-come-as-europes-central-bank-cuts-its-rates-20120706-21mf5.html#ixzz205S5jxqU

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Obama hits Romney where it hurts

DateJuly 11, 2012


IF ANYONE still harboured any suspicions that Barack Obama was a transformative figure, above the cut and thrust and rank brutality of modern politics, the past few days should have sorted them out.

On Friday the Obama campaign was hit with two items of bad news: that jobs growth had stalled in June and that over the same month Mitt Romney had taken $US106 million ($A104 million) in donations - $US35 million more than Obama.

The Obama campaign's response was a masterclass in negative campaigning. On Sunday, Democrats fanned out across the morning political TV programs attacking Romney for his Swiss bank account and holdings in a Caribbean tax haven, as revealed last week in a Vanity Fair story.

They all dutifully read from the same script.

''I've never known of a Swiss bank account to build an American bridge,'' said Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley in a typical comment.

On Monday, the President fronted the media at the White House to announce that he wanted to keep tax cuts introduced by former president George W. Bush for everyone earning under $US250,000.

''I believe it's time to let tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, folks like myself, to expire,'' he explained.

It is not a remarkable position, not even a new one, but the timing was great. Obama had contrasted the Democrats' tax position with Romney's personal circumstances.

Romney, whose personal wealth is estimated at $US250 million, pays an effective tax rate of about 15 per cent, because most of his earnings are in the form of capital gains or dividends. Obama had also exploited the White House as a campaign backdrop - securing untold hours of free air-time - and he had distracted attention from his own bad news.

He had also painted Romney into a corner, forcing him to defend tax cuts for millionaires and even billionaires. On Sunday, Romney had very publicly attended fund-raisers at some of these same people's homes and palmed another $US3 million in the process.

This played directly into the hands of the Obama campaign, which has been flooding battleground states with ads attacking Romney for his time at the head of the private equity firm he founded, Bain Capital, which it claims profited by offshoring jobs and breaking up businesses.

Unable to discuss his time as governor of Massachusetts, where he introduced a healthcare reform that was the model for the Obama model he now opposes, Romney has been presenting himself as a successful businessman, capable of rebuilding the economy.

''When you can make a perceived strength an actual weakness, that is when you are running an effective campaign,'' Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist, told The Age.

The early evidence is that the Democrat push to turn Romney into Gordon Gekko is meeting some success. A USA Today/Gallup poll released on Sunday shows that in the swing states where the attack ads are screening, 76 per cent of people who say ads have changed their minds about the candidates favour Obama, compared with only 16 per cent favouring Romney.

Romney's failure to find an adequate response is worrying some senior Republicans.

''Never let an attack go unanswered. It's a rule for a reason,'' Republican strategist Rick Wilson told Buzzfeed, which also reported that Romney's campaign plans to begin calling Obama a liar.

Both campaigns are expected to raise and spend $US1 billion each between now and November 6 - mostly on attack ads.

Ads by Google


Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/obama-hits-romney-where-it-hurts-20120710-21ttw.html#ixzz20IwsYU7Y

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Putin sends warships to boost Syria

DateJuly 12, 2012

RUSSIA has sent a flotilla of warships to its naval base in a key Syrian port in an apparent show of support for President Bashar al-Assad in what would be the largest display of Russian military power in the region since the Syrian conflict began almost 17 months ago.

Two destroyers and three amphibious landing vessels carrying marines set sail from Russian bases in the Arctic and the Black Sea, according to Russian military sources.

The development appeared intended to underline Russia's effort to position itself as an increasingly decisive broker in resolving the anti-government uprising in Syria, Russia's last ally in the Middle East and where Russia has its only foreign military base outside the former Soviet Union.

The move follows Russia's announcement earlier this week that it was halting new shipments of weapons to the Syrian military until the conflict settled down.

Russia's defence ministry insisted the mission was part of a previously scheduled exercise in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea and at least one of the vessels has patrolled waters off Syria this year. Western diplomats say the purpose of the mission is to show support for Dr Assad, to warn the West against military intervention in Syria and to prepare for the possible evacuation of Russian nationals from the country.

Russia has occasionally sent naval vessels on manoeuvres in the eastern Mediterranean, and it dispatched an aircraft-carrying battleship, the Admiral Kuznetsov, there for manoeuvres with other vessels from December 2011 to February 2012. There were rumours in recent weeks that the Russians planned to deploy another naval force near Syria. But the unusually large size of the force announced on Tuesday was considered a message, not just to the region but also to the US and other nations supporting the rebels now trying to depose Dr Assad.

Russia's base at Tartus consists of little more than a floating refuelling station and some small barracks. But any strengthened Russian presence there could forestall Western military intervention in Syria.

Russia renewed naval patrols in the Mediterranean in 2007 after a 15-year hiatus with a wider aim of expressing the country's military resurgence. It was unclear whether the ships heading for Syria were carrying weapons supplies or large numbers of marines.

The Russian announcement got a muted response in Washington. ''Russia maintains a naval supply and maintenance base in the Syrian port of Tartus,'' said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. ''We have no reason to believe this move is anything out of the ordinary, but we refer you to the Russian government for more details.''

The announcement came as a delegation of Syrian opposition figures was visiting Russia to gauge if that country would accept a political transition in Syria that excludes Dr Assad. It also coincided with a flurry of diplomacy by Kofi Annan, the special Syria envoy from the United Nations and Arab League, who said Dr Assad had suggested a new approach for salvaging Mr Annan's sidelined peace plan during their meeting on Monday in Damascus.

The Kremlin has opposed foreign military intervention in Syria, and the ships have been presented as a means to evacuate Russian citizens or to secure the fuelling station at Tartus.

AGENCIES



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/putin-sends-warships-to-boost-syria-20120711-21w3g.html#ixzz20PGuSfGU

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Joffa wrote:
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China praises Gillard Dalai Lama snub

Daniel Flitton, Guangdong, China
June 28, 2012 - 5:19PM

Chinese state-controlled media has heaped praise on Prime Minister Julia Gillard for refusing to met Tibet's Dalai Lama - singling out her break with the past practice of Australian leaders.

But a senior member of the People's Daily - a mouthpiece newspaper for the ruling Communist party - warned an officially sponsored media workshop that Australia's enhanced military ties to the US sent confusing signals to Chinese people.

Liu Huaxin, a committee member of international development at the People's Daily, told the meeting Ms Gillard's decision to snub the Dalai Lama has been "acclaimed" by China.

He also took the rare step of displaying a photograph of the Tibetan religious leader - whose image is almost never seen in China - showing him alongside a separate picture of Ms Gillard with an illustrated speech bubble saying "No!".

China has so far refused requests by Foreign Minister Bob Carr for Australian diplomats to visit Tibet to investigate human rights concerns.

The talks, the Australia China Media Forum, are being held in the southern province of Guangdong and include around 50 representatives of media from both countries and first took place in 2006.

The stated aim is to promote greater links with China's burgeoning media sector, which like in Australia, is undergoing a transformation fuelled by technological change.

But Chinese retains heavy censorship and media representatives are considered unlikely to stray into controversial issues without official imprimatur.

Mr Liu said through a translator there was a view Australia was "tied up to the chariot of the US and it was easy to get on but more difficult to get off".

He realed off a litany of complaints about Australia's attitudes to China, pointing to the decision to base 2500 US marines near Darwin, recent speculation about a secret chapter on war with China in Australia's 2009 military blueprint, banning Chinese company Huawei from investing in the National Broadband Network and plans for American surveilance drones take off from the Australian Indian ocean territory of Cocos Islands.

But he later clarified his remarks, saying he was reflecting general public perceptions, not official policy.

Former Australian ambassador to Beijing, Geoff Raby, told the forum he had no reason to doubt government denials of any secret China chapter in the 2009 Defence white paper.

He said he was "sanguine" about the US-China relationship and thought conflict was unlikely.

But he wanted Australia to do much more to acknowledge the importace of China and the media relationship was underdown, with no commercial TV corespondents from Australia based in China.

The talks also included discussion of promoting business ties and the role of social media in both countries.
Australia's present ambassador to China, Frances Adamson, said it was important not to fall back on stereotypes when reporting both countries.

China's State Council Information Office sponsored Daniel Flitton's travel to Guangdong.


Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/china-praises-gillard-dalai-lama-snub-20120628-214ww.html#ixzz1z5VC4YKP


Breathtaking arrogance by the Chinese government, something we've come to expect.

As for this government rolling over and having its tummy tickled - what a bunch of gutless wimps. The Dalai Lama is up there with Nelson Mandela and Aung San Su Chi (sp?) as a world leader for peace and conscience, and we meekly kowtow to the Chinese.

I understand real politic as much as the next guy, but this is just a low act by a government that lost its moral compass, if it ever had one.
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Embarrassment as Chinese frigate runs aground
DateJuly 13, 2012 - 3:22PM

Email articlePrint .A Chinese warship has run aground while patrolling contested waters adjacent to the Philippines in the South China Sea.

The frigate pinned itself to a reef last night at Half Moon Shoal, on the south-eastern edge of the Spratly Islands, and remains "thoroughly stuck", according to Western diplomatic sources shortly after midday local time, or 2pm AEST.

Salvage operations could be diplomatically challenging, given the vessel appears to have run aground within 200 kilometres of the Philippines coast, which is squarely within what Manila claims to be its Exclusive Economic Zone.

The stricken People's Liberation Army Navy vessel, believed to be No. 560, a Jianghu-class frigate, has in the past been involved in aggressively discouraging Filipino fishing boats from the area.

The accident could not have come at a more embarrassing moment for the Chinese leadership, who have been pressing territorial claims and flexing the country's muscle ahead of a leadership transition later this year.

Today's meeting of the Association of South-East Asian Nations in Cambodia ended in disarray, without a code of conduct for resolving conflicts in the South China Sea, following robust intervention from China.

Also this week, China yesterday dispatched one of its largest-ever fishing expeditions from Hainan Island to another disputed archipelago in the South China Sea.

Earlier in the week, PLA generals and top foreign policy advisers urged China to do more to press its claims.

Cui Liru, president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a leading think tank that reports to the main intelligence department, said Beijing had previously focused too much on seeking common ground with its neighbours and putting disputes on the shelf.

"In the foreseeable future, say at least in five years, the Asia-Pacific region will still be showing every feature of a transitional period, which is characterised by a certain level of chaos," he said.

China's ministry of foreign affairs was not immediately available for comment.



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/embarrassment-as-chinese-frigate-runs-aground-20120713-220r8.html#ixzz20UOKgzGD

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Syria massacres up to 200 in Hama
DateJuly 13, 2012 - 11:41AM

Syrian troops using tanks and helicopters have massacred more than 150 people in the central province of Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

A rebel leader put the toll at more than 200.

It is obvious that the regime knows no limits. The mosque was shelled, it collapsed, and that killed the people in it.
Government troops bombarded a village for about 10 hours using tanks and helicopters, according to the Observatory, which earlier put the death toll at more than 100.


Smoke rises from Kerkenez near Idlib on July 6. Thousands of families in Syria have fled their homes in the past two weeks due to heavy fighting between government forces and rebels and many face food shortages. Photo: Reuters

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by telephone that the bodies of 30 villagers had been identified following the attack, which brought the day's total death toll in the conflict-torn nation to more than 200.

Rebel leader Abu Mohamad, chief of a group based further to the north, told AFP early on Friday that the attack using helicopters, tanks and multiple rocket-launchers had killed more than 200 people in the village.

Abu Mohamad said he had been in phone contact with a resident of Treimsa who told him that government forces were on hills a few kilometres outside the town.

The army and the Shabiha, pro-regime militia who are said to accompany troops to make sure they do not desert, started to bombard Treimsa on "Thursday around 11am (1800 AEST)," Abu Mohamad said.

Hama-based activist who identified himself as Abu Ghazi told AFP via Skype that the bombardment was "followed by clashes with the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, but the FSA does not have a big presence in Treimsa and could not fight long."

"The number of martyrs is very high partly because the army shelled a mosque where scores of people had taken shelter, to treat the wounded and hide from the bombs," Abu Ghazi said.

"But it is obvious that the regime knows no limits. The mosque was shelled, it collapsed, and that killed the people in it."

The village, which had a population of 7,000, "is empty now. Everyone is dead or has run away," he said.

The state-run SANA news agency said there had been clashes between the army and an armed "terrorist" group in the village but made no mention of a massacre and gave no overall death toll.

"There were heavy losses among the ranks of the terrorists," said the report, adding that three government soldiers were killed.

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdel Basset Sayda, voiced outrage about the latest killings and called for a tough UN resolution that allows for military intervention against the Damascus regime.

"This was a massacre perpetrated by the Syrian regime," he said, speaking to Al Jazeera TV.

"It is a shame for the UN Security Council and the Arab League."

"What we want is a clear and straightforward resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which puts all the options on the table, including the use of force. This Syrian regime only understands the language of force."

Abu Ghazi said that with Idlib in the northwest, Homs in the centre and much of the countryside of Aleppo in the north "out of control, the regime is trying to keep Hama on its side."

"Hama is in the centre of Syria, and is a link in a chain of provinces where anti-regime feeling is strong; the regime will do anything to keep it controlled."

The Observatory said more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising erupted in mid-March last year.

It is not possible to independently verify death tolls. The United Nations stopped compiling such figures at the end of 2011.



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/syria-massacres-up-to-200-in-hama-20120713-2204h.html#ixzz20UPPULz8

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Joffa wrote:
Quote:

Syria massacres up to 200 in Hama
DateJuly 13, 2012 - 11:41AM

Syrian troops using tanks and helicopters have massacred more than 150 people in the central province of Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

A rebel leader put the toll at more than 200.

It is obvious that the regime knows no limits. The mosque was shelled, it collapsed, and that killed the people in it.
Government troops bombarded a village for about 10 hours using tanks and helicopters, according to the Observatory, which earlier put the death toll at more than 100.


Smoke rises from Kerkenez near Idlib on July 6. Thousands of families in Syria have fled their homes in the past two weeks due to heavy fighting between government forces and rebels and many face food shortages. Photo: Reuters

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by telephone that the bodies of 30 villagers had been identified following the attack, which brought the day's total death toll in the conflict-torn nation to more than 200.

Rebel leader Abu Mohamad, chief of a group based further to the north, told AFP early on Friday that the attack using helicopters, tanks and multiple rocket-launchers had killed more than 200 people in the village.

Abu Mohamad said he had been in phone contact with a resident of Treimsa who told him that government forces were on hills a few kilometres outside the town.

The army and the Shabiha, pro-regime militia who are said to accompany troops to make sure they do not desert, started to bombard Treimsa on "Thursday around 11am (1800 AEST)," Abu Mohamad said.

Hama-based activist who identified himself as Abu Ghazi told AFP via Skype that the bombardment was "followed by clashes with the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, but the FSA does not have a big presence in Treimsa and could not fight long."

"The number of martyrs is very high partly because the army shelled a mosque where scores of people had taken shelter, to treat the wounded and hide from the bombs," Abu Ghazi said.

"But it is obvious that the regime knows no limits. The mosque was shelled, it collapsed, and that killed the people in it."

The village, which had a population of 7,000, "is empty now. Everyone is dead or has run away," he said.

The state-run SANA news agency said there had been clashes between the army and an armed "terrorist" group in the village but made no mention of a massacre and gave no overall death toll.

"There were heavy losses among the ranks of the terrorists," said the report, adding that three government soldiers were killed.

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdel Basset Sayda, voiced outrage about the latest killings and called for a tough UN resolution that allows for military intervention against the Damascus regime.

"This was a massacre perpetrated by the Syrian regime," he said, speaking to Al Jazeera TV.

"It is a shame for the UN Security Council and the Arab League."

"What we want is a clear and straightforward resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which puts all the options on the table, including the use of force. This Syrian regime only understands the language of force."

Abu Ghazi said that with Idlib in the northwest, Homs in the centre and much of the countryside of Aleppo in the north "out of control, the regime is trying to keep Hama on its side."

"Hama is in the centre of Syria, and is a link in a chain of provinces where anti-regime feeling is strong; the regime will do anything to keep it controlled."

The Observatory said more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising erupted in mid-March last year.

It is not possible to independently verify death tolls. The United Nations stopped compiling such figures at the end of 2011.



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/syria-massacres-up-to-200-in-hama-20120713-2204h.html#ixzz20UPPULz8


Who cares about a few hundred Syrians when there are Russian investmentsa to consider.
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Indonesians impatient on asylum seeker backlog
DateJuly 14, 2012

THE Indonesian government is growing impatient with the 10,000 or more asylum seekers using its country as a waiting room, and wants Australia to accept more of them to reduce the numbers.

The deputy head of the high level Human Trafficking, Refugees and Asylum Seekers desk, Johnny Hutauruk, told The Saturday Age this week that both the large number of asylum seekers, and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's pledge to send them back to Indonesia, threatened his country's sovereignty.

Mr Hutauruk's office, part of Indonesia's Co-ordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, was created in March in response to what is viewed as a growing domestic problem in a country that struggles to feed and house 35 million of its own citizens.

The refugee influx, and Australia's reluctance to accept them, has not until now been a big political issue in Indonesia.

But Mr Hutauruk's comments suggest it may soon become one in a way that could damage relations with Australia. Mr Hutauruk said 5347 registered refugees lived in Indonesia, and perhaps double that number were unregistered. He expected more to arrive from Malaysia.

Indonesia's views on the issue are beginning to strongly echo the ''border protection'' debate in Australia. ''On the one hand we have to guard our sovereignty - we don't want too many of these people here - but we also must respect their human rights,'' Mr Hutauruk said.

Most of the refugees were living in villages and towns in West Java, where the local residents were growing impatient.

Many refugees in Indonesia are Shiite muslims from Afghanistan and Iran, while Indonesia is predominantly Sunni, but Mr Hutauruk denied the conflicts were over religion.

''Some are involved in criminal cases such as drugs and crime … sometimes they marry locals, but they're not legal marriages,'' he said.

''The most important solution is to reduce the number here because they all want to go to Australia. The solution is to open the doors.''

That view reinforces Indonesia's strong aversion to Mr Abbott's plan to push back boats. Asked, though, whether harsher policies in Australia would reduce the numbers in Indonesia by discouraging people from coming in the first place, Mr Hutauruk conceded, ''It's possible.''

His organisation was also seeking help from agencies such as the Indonesian navy to increase patrols to the country's north, he said.

The Greens are claiming vindication on asylum seekers, with their policy of onshore processing and an increased humanitarian intake from Indonesia and Malaysia being backed in many of the submissions to Prime Minister Julia Gillard's expert panel.

Barrister Julian Burnside yesterday endorsed Cathy Oke, the Greens candidate in the Melbourne byelection, as former prime minister Malcolm Fraser and a host of refugee organisations appeared before the expert panel in Carlton.

Mr Burnside praised the Greens for proposing ''a safe and lasting regional solution'', while Mr Fraser called for a higher refugee intake from Indonesia and Malaysia and increased funding for the United Nations' refugee body.

''This year, we have only resettled 61 people from the 1200 recognised refugees in Indonesia. Increasing the number of people we resettle from Indonesia and Malaysia is the only way to stop people getting on boats,'' Mr Fraser said in a submission to the panel.



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/indonesians-impatient-on-asylum-seeker-backlog-20120713-221jw.html#ixzz20VwOiDTE

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Ulugbek Kodirov sentenced to 15 years for Obama kill plot

by: Jay Reeves From:
AP July 14, 2012


AN Uzbek man sentenced to more than 15 years in US prison for plotting to kill President Barack Obama was "a victim of social media", he lawyer claims.


Ulugbek Kodirov, 22, had faced up to 30 years in prison.

Defense attorney Lance Bell argued that Kodirov had accepted responsibility for his actions and was trying to straighten out his life. He said Kodirov wasn't a "big, bad terrorist."
"I'm not calling him a victim, but he's a victim to a degree of social media," Bell said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Whisonant said Kodirov would have tried to kill Obama, and a foreign group would have taken credit, if he had not been arrested a year ago.

"This case is an example of how our youth can be radicalized by the propaganda and lies on the Internet," Whisonant told the judge.

Kodirov pleaded guilty in February to threatening to kill Obama, providing material support to terrorism and unlawfully possessing a firearm. He said he came up with the plan to kill the president as he campaigned for re-election after communicating online with a man he believed to be a member of an Uzbek Islamic group the United States classifies as a terrorist organisation.
.
With limited proficiency in English, Kodirov worked seven days a week in a kiosk at a shopping mall in Alabama before his arrest, the defense said.

A complaint said Kodirov contacted an unidentified person trying to buy weapons in early July 2011, and that person became a confidential source for the government. Accompanied by the witness, Kodirov bought an automatic rifle from an undercover agent and made a final threat against the president, authorities said. The agent also gave Kodirov four hand grenades with the powder removed.

Authorities said Kodirov was in the country illegally because he obtained a student visa but never enrolled in school. He faces deportation after his release from prison.
The defense argued Kodirov was lonely and turned to the Internet for entertainment and companionship after moving to Alabama, where few people speak his native language.
A sentencing memorandum submitted by his defense attorney said Kodirov began viewing jihadist websites and YouTube videos. After communicating with Muslim men, he "came to the belief that Americans were killing his people in cold blood."

Kodirov's beliefs changed after his arrest, when he learned stories he had been told were lies, Bell argued.

Located in central Asia, Uzbekistan and was once part of the former Soviet Union. The vast majority of its population is Muslim. Islamic terrorists have been linked to sporadic violence in the country for more than a decade, according to the State Department

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/world/ulugbek-kodirov-sentenced-to-15-years-for-obama-kill-plot/story-fnd134gw-1226425913146

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Policeman investigated for threat against Michelle Obama
DateJuly 15, 2012

WASHINGTON DC police have stripped an officer of his powers and gun as they investigate his alleged threat against the US first lady, Michelle Obama.

Police and the Secret Service have not yet determined precisely what was said by the officer or his intent, the Police Chief, Cathy Lanier, said on Friday. At a breakfast with other officers on Wednesday, police officials have said, the officer threatened to shoot the first lady.

The officer, whom authorities have not named, works on motorcycle escorts and has been with the force for about 17 years, Ms Lanier said. The White House deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the President, Barack Obama, was ''aware'' of the alleged threat.

Several officials said they had received initial reports the officer used his mobile phone to display a picture of the firearm he intended to use. Those officials later said he may have used an application on his phone that makes the sound of gunfire.

Ms Lanier declined to discuss details of the alleged conversation but it was possible the statement was intended as humour. ''There's absolutely no place for jokes that could be perceived as a threat to the first lady or anybody else,'' she said.

One officer said: ''You don't say things like that, especially when you have access to the South Grounds [of the White House].''



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/policeman-investigated-for-threat-against-michelle-obama-20120714-222pu.html#ixzz20eoRAsxY

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Indian campaign confronts fear of baby girls
DateJuly 15, 2012

ELSEWHERE it would have been front-page news: a couple on the run after being caught trying to bury their newborn baby girl alive. But in India, where there are now 914 girls for every 1000 boys, the case last week in Dausa, Rajasthan, warranted just 300 cursory words on an inside page.

''Yet another incident of apathy towards the girl child,'' said the Deccan Herald.

Call it apathy, call it attempted murder. The fact is, said Zaheer Abbas, ''most Indians are preoccupied with trying to eat two meals a day'' - and not fretting about how the country's sex ratio has become the worst since independence in 1947.

Abbas, editor-in-chief of the Udaipur Times, last year tried to jolt his readers into action by printing a picture of a three-month-old female foetus found in a sewerage canal.

''But look,'' he said, scrolling down his computer screen to below the article. ''One comment. Just one. We want people to be angry about this. But they don't want to be seen by their parents and friends talking about such an issue.''

Female foeticide has shot to prominence largely thanks to Satyamev Jayate, a popular campaigning TV show fronted by the Bollywood megastar Aamir Khan.

One episode was dedicated to the widespread practice of aborting female foetuses, particularly in the state of Rajasthan, which has one of the worst sex ratios in the country, having dropped to 883 girls per 1000 boys in 2011, from 909 in 2001.

Within days of the program airing, Rajasthan's government sprang officials vowed to set up fast-track courts to punish those who practise sex-based abortion. They also cancelled the licences of six sonography centres and issued notices to 24 others for their suspected involvement in female foeticide. A drive is also under way to install trackers at all sonography centres in the state within four months, which will allow inspectors to check how many female foetuses make it to birth and beyond. These clinics are the battleground for campaigners fighting against sex selective abortion.

Dr Arvinder Singh is the Mr Big of antenatal scanning in Udaipur. The calm waters and Rajput palaces of this pretty lakeside city hide a murky secret: Udaipur is one of the Rajasthan districts that ''lost'' girls between the 2001 and 2011 censuses. There are now just 920 girls per 1000 boys; 28 fewer than 10 years ago.

Every day his clinic carries out about 50 antenatal scans. Last week Dr Singh said that not one of his patients in the past six months had asked the sex of their unborn child - it was now well known, he insisted, that to ask (or tell) was illegal.

But Manisha Bhathnagar, a local watchdog, said the state of Rajasthan plans to file a complaint against Dr Singh after undercover inspectors discovered that not all women at his clinic were filling out the compulsory form detailing how many children they have, what gender they are and who has referred them for a scan.

Pragnya Joshi, an academic expert on female foeticide,said the dowry culture was primarily to blame for the ever-worsening gender ratio. Though prohibited by law since 1961, dowry is ingrained in Indian culture, she said. A traditional Hindu wedding blessing was, ''May God give you eight sons'', she said.

It is not unusual for an unwanted baby girl to be given a horrible name, said Usha Choudhary, programme director of Vikalp (''Alternative''), an NGO.''I've met girls called Mafi, meaning sorry, and another called Dhapu, which translates as 'enough' - she was the fifth girl in her family,'' said Ms Choudhary.

As part of an effort to encourage villagers in Rajasthan to celebrate, rather than mourn, the birth of a girl, Vikalp carries out alternative naming ceremonies, giving babies names such as Khushi (Happy) or Pari (Angel).

GUARDIAN



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/indian-campaign-confronts-fear-of-baby-girls-20120714-222py.html#ixzz20eqdW2yt

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Attacks aim to wind back Afghan gains

DateJuly 15, 2012 Rea

FUELLING fears over the dangers faced by Afghan women, a bomb attached to the car belonging to a provincial women’s affairs chief has killed her and seriously injured her husband.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the assassination of Hanifa Safi, who headed the department of women’s affairs in Laghman province, east of Kabul. But a spokesman for the provincial government, Sarhadi Zewak, blamed ‘‘enemies of the people’’ — the term Afghan officials customarily use to describe the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

Friday’s killing comes against a backdrop of high-profile attacks against women in recent months, including the public execution of a woman in a province only an hour’s drive from Kabul, which was captured on video.

With the Western combat role in Afghanistan set to end in 2014, many women are worried about a sharp erosion of gains made in the 11 years since the toppling of the Taliban movement.

Many women fear the government of President Hamid Karzai, which desperately wants to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, would be willing to trade away their hard-won freedoms in order to come to an accord with the fundamentalist Islamist movement.





Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/attacks-aim-to-wind-back-afghan-gains-20120714-222px.html#ixzz20erk3fAl

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Women's rights become a fight to the death in Pakistan
DateJuly 15, 2012

FARIDA Afridi, a 25-year-old women's rights activist, left her parents' home early in the morning of July 4, as she typically did. She was walking to her non-profit organisation's office when two men with Kalashnikovs pulled alongside her on a motorcycle and shot her multiple times, killing her.

Ms Afridi's killing in the town of Jamrud, in the restive tribal Khyber Agency, shocked Pakistan's human rights community of non-governmental organisations, which are no strangers to acts of intimidation and terror, especially against foreigners. Some international NGOs, most recently the Red Cross, have pulled out their personnel.

For activists, Ms Afridi's death made evident an escalating campaign by Islamist militants against anyone promoting equality for women. Zar Ali Khan Afridi, chairman of the Tribal NGOs Consortium, of which Ms Afridi was a member, said it was the first time a Pakistani woman working for an NGO had been killed by militants.

''We are all afraid,'' he said. ''If your activities are against fanaticism, if you are talking about human rights, they will kill you.''

Advertisement Ms Afridi was the founder, with her sister Noorzia, of an organisation that promotes social and economic development in Khyber Agency and other semi-autonomous tribal areas that border Afghanistan. In such areas, the traditions of purdah are the norm, meaning women are expected to conceal themselves from men.

She was from a part of Khyber that only had one school but she managed to get an education, Mr Zar Afridi said. She earned a master's degree and learnt English. In 2004, she co-founded her organisation, SAWERA, or Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas.

Female NGO workers have been accused of not observing cultural norms - not wearing their veils, encouraging other women to work outside the home, and working alongside male colleagues.

''The militants are labelling the NGOs, especially where women are working, as spreading obscenities and vulgarities,'' said a tribal elder in the region, who spoke anonymously.

For colleagues of Ms Afridi, the message sent by her killers was chillingly direct: ''They don't want any women from NGOs to come to their areas and have discussions with their women, because they think we are propagating Western agendas,'' said Zainab Bibi of South Asia Partnership Pakistan, a pro-democracy group. ''Women are totally restricted there.''

WASHINGTON POST



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/womens-rights-become-a-fight-to-the-death-in-pakistan-20120714-222pz.html#ixzz20es57a5c


Edited by Joffa: 15/7/2012 01:27:39 PM
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TROLL-QAEDA: The US's new way of fighting terror

by: Staff Writers From: news.com.au July 19, 2012 2:04PM

AFTER years of trying to win over hearts and minds in the field, the US State Department has a new tactic in the war on terror - trolling.

A Silicon Valley dot com veteran now working for the Government has launched a program called “Viral Peace” which aims to occupy online terror sites and shame, humiliate and annoy fundamentalists, Wired reports.

State Department senior technology adviser Shahed Amanullah told the magazine he wanted to use “logic, humour, satire, [and] religious arguments, not just to confront [extremists], but to undermine and demoralize them”.

Presumably this will involve infiltrating comment threads with lots of comments like "LAME" "You call yourselves a terrorist?", flame wars and pedobears.

Mr Amanullah said rather than trying to censor or take down these extremist websites, a better strategy would be to undermine the macho element so heavily promoted across them.

...
“Online extremists have an energy," he said. "They’ve got a vitality that frankly attracts some of these at-risk people.

“It appeals to macho, it appeals to people’s rebellious nature, it appeals to people who feel downtrodden.”

The aim of the program is to train trolls internationally and let them do the work in their own languages and cultures.

“I want to prove you can do small, inexpensive, high-impact projects that don’t just talk about the problem but solve the problem,” Mr Amanullah said. “And solve it the right way: not with the government’s heavy hand but by empowering local people to do what they already know to do but don’t know how.”

Leading jihad researcher Jarret Brachman agreed with this tactic, calling the people who post on the forums "massive narcissists who need constant ego boosts".

“If you can get rid of them, it’ll pay dividends,” Mr Brachman said.

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/technology/trollqaida-the-uss-new-way-of-fighting-terror/story-fn7celvh-1226430052754

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National Front to sue Madonna over swastika video

From: AFP July 16, 2012

Madonna has overlaid the swastika on French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen's forehead in a stage show's multimedia background.

FRANCE'S far-right National Front says it plans to sue Madonna over a video at the US pop star's concert in France showing party leader Marine Le Pen with a swastika on her forehead.
"We cannot accept such an odious comparison," National Front vice-president Florian Philippot said, adding that the legal action would be filed this week.

The video, which served as a backdrop for Madonna's performance of the song Nobody Knows Me, flashed a picture of Le Pen's forehead superimposed with a swastika, followed by an image resembling Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

There was an audible gasp from the audience at the Stade de France on Saturday when the image of Le Pen appeared briefly on a giant screen in a video clip which also showed Madonna's face merging with a number of public figures including Pope Benedict XVI and toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

"Projecting such an image of Marine Le Pen with a swastika implies that she is a Nazi," National Front lawyer Wallerand de Saint-Just told AFP, adding that the civil complaint for insult would be lodged with a court this week.

Tour promoter LiveNation declined to comment on the National Front action against the queen of pop, who has been no stranger to controversy during her long career.

"This is just another provocation in Madonna's world tour so that people will talk about her," Philippot charged, claiming that the stadium was "far from full" for Madonna's gig and that the tour was a "fiasco".

"Marine Le Pen will defend not only her own honour but her supporters and the millions of National Front voters."

Le Pen, a French presidential candidate, had already warned the US superstar in June that she was mulling legal action after the video was shown at Tel Aviv gig in May when Madonna, 53, kicked off her world tour.

"(When) old singers want to get people to talk about them, it's understandable that they do such extreme things," the 43-year-old Le Pen said at the time.

SOS Racisme however said it supported Madonna, paying tribute to her "resolutely anti-racist" stance. "She made clear last night that the fight against discrimination is a fundamental battle."

About 70,000 people were at the Stade de France to watch the "Material Girl" perform on Saturday night, the latest concert in her MDNA tour which covers about 30 countries in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas and will wrap up in Australia in 2013.

Madonna will next appear in France in Nice on August 21.

In 1987, Madonna caused a stir when she threw her panties into the crowd at a concert where then president Jacques Chirac was in attendance.

On her latest world tour, she made headlines when she flashed a nipple at a gig in Turkey's largest city of Istanbul last month.

Le Pen, the daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, won 18 percent in the first round of the presidential election in April.

But she lost her bid to win a seat in legislative elections last month although the party _ which wants to ditch the euro and battles against what Le Pen calls the "Islamisation" of France _ returned to parliament for the first time since 1998.

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/music/national-front-to-sue-madonna-over-swastika-video/story-e6frexl9-1226426792231

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Extreme right politicians need to accept that their opinions are going to be compared to that of Hitler and get the fuck over it.
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Laws introduced in Republican-controlled states are making it harder to cast ballots, writes Nick O'Malley.


WASHINGTON: Viviette Applewhite once marched in Georgia with Dr Martin Luther King in support of her civil rights and in 1960 she voted for the first time, helping to elect Jack Kennedy.

Though she has voted in nearly every election since, the 93-year-old Pennsylvanian may not be allowed to vote in the presidential election in November, the victim of what the American Civil Liberties Union, among other groups, is calling a systematic campaign of voter suppression.

''I think it stinks,'' Mrs Applewhite told the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to a study by New York University's Brennan Justice Centre released last week, 14 Republican-controlled states have introduced laws making it harder for 5 million voters to cast their ballots. The laws are targeted at groups that tend to vote Democratic.

The states that have introduced the laws account for 127 electoral votes, nearly half of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

''Therefore, the ability of eligible citizens without photo ID to obtain one could have a major influence on the outcome of the 2012 election,'' says the report.

The laws began to appear after the 2010 mid-term elections, when voters angry at the recession and the bank bail-out elected Tea Party affiliated-Republicans across the nation, says a lawyer for the Brennan Centre, Mimi Marziani.

Asked if some of these politicians were changing voting regulations in order to secure their positions in office, Ms Marziani pauses, then chooses her words carefully.

''When you look at this as a pattern it is hard to reach any other conclusion,'' she says.

Civil liberties groups are battling the laws state by state.

Mrs Applewhite, a lead plaintiff in a case being fought by the ACLU against the state of Pennsylvania, is victim of one of the most controversial types of the new laws, which calls for voters to present photo identification at the polling booth. Mrs Applewhite does not drive and her purse containing her identification card was stolen.

About one-quarter of African Americans, 16 per cent of Hispanics and 18 per cent of Americans over age 65 do not have the type of ID that the voting laws require, according to the Brennan Centre report.

The Brennan Centre found one in 10 people lack photo ID in the states that have introduced similar laws - Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

In Texas voters will be allowed to use a gun licence to vote, but not student identification cards.

The Brennan Centre argues some of the laws are effectively a poll tax, because of the expense of securing official documents.

''A birth certificate can cost $15 to $30, a passport $135, a naturalisation certificate or certificate of citizenship $345, and a marriage license from $5 to $40,'' says the Brennan Centre study. ''By comparison, the poll tax outlawed by the Civil Rights Act cost $10.64 in current dollars.''

Those defending voter ID laws say they are needed to prevent voter fraud, but according to Ms Marziani, instances of voter fraud are so rare as to be almost immeasurable, about .0003 per cent of votes cast. She says the risk of jail and or deportation was sufficient deterrent against such fraud.

Some states have introduced laws banning convicted felons from voting even after they have served their sentences. In Florida, a state that could decide the presidential election, felons are banned from voting until they are granted clemency by the governor.

''It essentially gives the governor, an elected official, the power to decide who will (or will not) be allowed to vote in the next election,'' notes the Brennan Centre's report.

In the first four months of this year Florida officials purged 7000 convicted felons from voter rolls.

According to a study by The Miami Herald, Democrats were three times more likely than Republicans to be removed. Blacks were almost as likely as whites to be removed (44 per cent of those removed were white; 43 per cent were blacks), while blacks make up only 16 per cent of the state's population.

At least 13 states have introduced bills to end highly popular election day and same-day voter registration, limit voter registration mobilisation efforts, and reduce other registration opportunities, says the report. These are all programs that have benefited Democrats.

Not surprisingly the new laws are becoming an issue in the election campaign.

Visiting Wisconsin, where new voter laws were recently found to be unconstitutional, the presumed Republican candidate Mitt Romney joked to supporters: ''In my state we joke 'vote early and vote often' and I am afraid the other side has been doing that a bit too much in some places. I like voter ID laws by the way … more of them.'' More seriously he has argued for voter ID laws to prevent people from casting multiple votes.

Equally, Democrats have attacked the laws, most recently at the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People annual convention earlier this month, where the Vice President, Joe Biden, was cheered when he said in a speech, ''I want to remind everybody of one thing - remember what this [the NAACP] at its core was all about … It was the franchise. It was about the right to vote. Because when you have the right to vote, you have the right to change things.

''And we - the President and I and Eric [Holder, the US Attorney General] and all of us - we see a future where those rights are expanded not diminished, where racial profiling is a thing of the past, where access to the ballot is expanded and unencumbered, where there are no distinctions made on the basis of race or gender in access to housing and lending.

''Did you think we'd be fighting these battles again?''

Addressing the convention, Mr Holder, America's first African American Attorney General, compared the laws to the Jim Crow laws that mandated segregation, prompting a furious response from the Texas Governor, Rick Perry.

''In labelling the Texas voter ID law as a 'poll tax,' Eric Holder purposefully used language designed to inflame passions and incite racial tension,'' he said. ''The President should apologise for Holder's imprudent remarks and for his insulting lawsuit against the people of Texas.''

Witold Walczak, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said at the news conference when Mrs Applewhite's case began: ''What we're not talking about here is just any right, we're talking about the right to vote. Two hundred years ago, we actually fought a war for this right.''



Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/americans-right-to-vote-under-siege-20120720-22fft.html#ixzz21DnEEowS

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President siphons a fortune for family

DateJuly 21, 2012

LONDON: Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, has amassed up to $1.4 billion for his family and close associates, analysts say, despite moves in London, Switzerland and the US to freeze his regime's assets.

Many of Mr Assad's assets are held in Russia, Hong Kong and a range of offshore tax havens to spread the risk of seizure, according to the London business intelligence firm Alaco. Myriad companies and trusts are understood to have been deployed to disguise assets that ultimately belong to members of the regime. Iain Willis, the head of research at Alaco, said the millions of pounds frozen in British bank accounts make up just a fraction of the regime's estimated global wealth.

In peacetime the Assads and their close friends owned 60 per cent to 70 per cent of Syria's assets, from land and factories to energy plants and licences to sell foreign goods. But Mr Assad would find it difficult to liquidate these if his regime collapsed.

''In terms of realisable assets, it's likely to be in the region of $US1 billion to $US1.5 billion,'' Mr Willis said. ''This would be in line with Egypt's Mubarak and the Marcoses of the Philippines.

''These are held, not just by Assad himself, but by extended family members, by second cousins, uncles, business partners and their advisers. Those funds are likely to be held in places like Russia, maybe Dubai, Lebanon, Morocco, even Hong Kong, but the assets themselves are likely to be worldwide.''

In Britain, £100 million ($150.7 million) of Syrian regime assets, mostly cash in bank accounts, have been frozen in the past 14 months. The Swiss authorities have frozen 50 million Swiss francs ($49.1 million) belonging to Mr Assad and other top officials in recent months. Switzerland said it has targeted at least 127 officials and 40 Syrian companies related to the Assad regime. Last year Swiss prosecutors froze about €3 million ($3.5 million) held in a Geneva bank by Hafez Makhlouf, a cousin of Mr Assad, for suspected money laundering.

Mr Makhlouf's brother, Rami, is a key fixer for the Assad family and has amassed a fortune since Mr Assad took power in 2000. He is believed to be Syria's richest man.

Mr Willis said Mr Assad's resistance to sharing assets among the military and diplomatic officials may be why he has few friends during the crisis. Mr Makhlouf reportedly once tried to wrest Syria's main Mercedes car dealership from a leading family outside Mr Assad's circle. Mercedes refused to ship cars while the dispute continued and Mr Makhlouf was forced to hand back the licence.

Guardian News & Media



Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/president-siphons-a-fortune-for-family-20120720-22fh0.html#ixzz21G4wbN2w

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afromanGT wrote:
Extreme right politicians need to accept that their opinions are going to be compared to that of Hitler and get the fuck over it.
As they should be. Ditto extreme left and Stalin.
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Quote:

Chinese army for disputed islands

DateJuly 25, 2012

China's government establishes a new city in the disputed South China Sea.


CHINA'S most powerful military body has approved the deployment of a garrison of soldiers from the People's Liberation Army to guard disputed islands claimed by China and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

The troop deployment appeared intended to reinforce China's claims over the South China Sea and its potential energy resources.

The moves came a week after a meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of South-East Asian Nations in Phnom Penh, at which China, according to diplomats at the meeting, used its influence to stop even a rudimentary communique on the South China Sea among the 10 ASEAN nations.


On Monday, 45 legislators elected over the weekend to govern the 1100 people who live on the island groups of the Spratlys, the Paracels and the Macclesfield Bank, had their first official meeting, Chinese authorities told state media.

The new legislators will not only govern the island groups, many of which consist of rocks and atolls, but also about 2 million square kilometres of the South China Sea over which China claims jurisdiction, state media said.

The establishment of a legislature for the islands and the Central Military Commission's troop dispatch will antagonise Vietnam, which claims the same islands. Vietnam and China have fought since the 1970s over the three island groups. Last month, Vietnam passed a law that claimed sovereignty over the Paracels and Spratly islands. In response, China called the islands its ''indisputable'' territory.

The Philippines and China have also been involved in a dispute for months over Scarborough Shoal, an area off the coast of the Philippines claimed by both countries.

On Monday, President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines said his country would not back down from its dispute with China, saying in an address that the nation's military would get dozens of new aircraft and ships for defence of the shoal, which Manila identifies as Bajo de Masinloc.

''There are those who say that we should let Bajo de Masinloc go,'' Mr Aquino said.''But if someone entered your yard and told you he owned it, would you agree?''

Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have conflicting claims in the South China Sea, making the area a source of a potential military showdown. With the Spratlys, the Paracels and the Macclesfield Bank, China's State Council approved the establishment of a prefectural-level administration known as Sansha City to replace a lower county level administration last month.

The election of the legislators and their meeting at a first session of a people's congress appeared to be practical steps to show that China was serious in its drive to put much of the South China Sea under its domain.

The speed of China's actions was not surprising, said Wu Xinbo, deputy director of the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

''Now the Philippines and Vietnam are both advancing their claims so China must also respond accordingly with its own plan,'' Mr Wu said.

New York Times



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/chinese-army-for-disputed-islands-20120724-22n9i.html#ixzz21cW2vbTC

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no wonder joffa has 42,000 posts....!!!!!!!!


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NZ bodies not banking on betting windfalls

TOBY ROBSON
CHIEF RUGBY WRITER
Last updated 05:00 26/07/2012

NZ TAKING A PUNT: New Zealanders may be betting on the Olympics but national sports bodies are not expecting a financial windfall from the TAB's profits.Relevant offersAn expected surge in betting on the London Olympics hasn't convinced New Zealand sporting bosses they will see any post-Games financial windfalls.

The TAB are taking bets on the Games for just the second time and say early interest suggests punters will invest heavily in sports like rowing, athletics and triathlon in coming weeks.

Kiwis were quick to back their team to win a combined 11 medals or more in London, forcing the betting agency to slash the odds from $10 to $5.50.

And TAB head bookie Mark Stafford said yesterday interest continued to build, particularly in the sports in which New Zealand were medal hopes.

"As an example, of the total on all Olympic betting so far, 70 per cent of it has been on the single scull where Mahe Drysdale is an obvious medal hopeful," Stafford said.

With the TAB taking bets on nearly every sport in London, Stafford said it was already clear that turnover would far exceed the take for Beijing four years ago.

That's potentially good news for some New Zealand sporting bodies, who receive 1 per cent of turnover and 5 per cent of profit. Betting on global sports like basketball, golf, and tennis provide regular earnings for the code's national bodies in New Zealand.

However, while New Zealand Football is understood to have pocketed $500,000 after the 2010 World Cup, such windfalls are improbable after the Olympics.

Athletics New Zealand chief executive Scott Newman laughed yesterday as he recalled the cheque that arrived in the mail after Beijing.

"The last Olympics we picked up about $500, so it's not a major . . . to be honest I haven't considered it and we haven't budgeted any revenue from the TAB this year. Generally the amount of betting on track and field is not significant enough to concern us."

There were similar sentiments at Rowing New Zealand's headquarters, where Simon Peterson said the sport had received $2400 from sports betting over the past three years. "We don't encourage gambling, but if there is a run on rowing and we get some benefit that's great, but we'll gladly take gold medals first," he said, before asking what the odds were on Drysdale winning his event.

Stafford said the best financial result for the sporting bodies was if there were upsets in the major events.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/sport/7349742/NZ-bodies-not-banking-on-betting-windfalls

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NZ move to legalise same-sex marriage
DateJuly 27, 2012

.A BILL to legalise gay marriage in New Zealand sponsored by a Labour MP has been officially put on Parliament's agenda, although it is not clear when it will have its first reading.

MPs will be given a conscience vote. Both Labour MP Louisa Wall and Green MP Kevin Hague had proposed bills on gay marriage, and in a joint statement last month said opinion polls showed the public supported a law change: ''It's time to extend the state's recognition of marriage to any couple who love each other.''

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says he does not have a problem with gay marriage, but it is not a priority.

The move came as Scotland's Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said the Scottish government would introduce legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry. Ms Sturgeon said the governing Scottish National Party would bring forward a bill for the first same-sex marriages to take place by 2015.

Many religious leaders hit out at the decision, although the Holyrood administration insisted that protection would be included in the new law to ensure churches, and individuals within them, would not have to conduct same-sex marriages if they did not agree with them.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: ''The Scottish government is embarking on a dangerous social experiment on a massive scale.''

The decision, after almost 80,000 people responded to a government consultation, was hailed by equality campaigners as ''a proud day for Scotland''. AAP, PA



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/nz-move-to-legalise-samesex-marriage-20120726-22v57.html#ixzz21pFWhh88

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Under the gun
DateJuly 28, 2012
Read laterNick O'Malley, Kennesaw


DENT Myers has a friendly presence, rheumy eyes, a firm handshake, a long matted beard that hides his age - at first - and a pair of Colt .45s that he wears loaded and holstered over his denim shorts as he pads about his cluttered Civil War memorabilia shop in the town of Kennesaw, Georgia.

Tourists like to come and get their photographs taken with Dent, and to poke around his narrow shop - properly known as Wildman's Civil War Surplus and Herb Shop. For 25¢ he will pull aside the chain that divides the front room from the back, where he keeps a collection of Civil War long arms and revolvers as well as his collection of excavated artefacts.

Asked why he carries the twin automatics, Myers says in a molasses drawl, ''Well, actually they keep me balanced. If I was just wearing one I'd spend all day walking around in circles.''

Gently pushed he takes the question just a little more seriously. ''Well, actually it's like sucking your thumb, they are a pacifier. Criminals are dumb but they are not stupid. They are going to go where the pickings are easy. These are a deterrent.''

Advertisement Right at the back of the cluttered store by a rack of army surplus coats stands a mannequin wearing what appear to be Ku Klux Klan robes yellowed with age. On its chest it wears a badge that says, ''Fear the Govt that fears men with guns''.

People in Kennesaw, a town that made itself famous in 1982 by passing a law making it compulsory for the ''head of every household'' to own a firearm and ammunition, tend to have firm views on gun ownership.

The 81-year-old Kennesaw attorney Fred Bentley snr sits in his office in a neat blue suit surrounded by his treasures - a clutch of fossilised dinosaur eggs, an ancient Egyptian burial mask, a shipping document bearing the faded signatures of president George Washington and his secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson - and explains how he came to write the Kennesaw law, a story that begins a thousand kilometres north, on the banks of Lake Michigan.

There, in 1981, when the gun control movement was at the height of its powers, the town of Morton Grove, Illinois, banned its citizens from owning guns at all. The law offended the Kennesaw mayor, Darvin Purdy. But worse than the law itself, says Bentley, was the support it received in what today would probably be called the mainstream media.

''They made an awful fuss,'' he says with a flick of his hand.

Purdy decided to knock Morton Grove off the front pages, and had Bentley draft Kennesaw's gun law. Bentley and his son drew up the ordinance, dodging constitutional problems by granting exceptions to the mad and the infirm, to ''paupers'' and to conscientious objectors. The law passed with the full support of the council, and it later survived a federal court challenge by a civil rights group.

Bentley remains proud of the Kennesaw gun law. He claims crime rates plummeted, particularly for burglary, and the law attracted new citizens and tourists. Best of all a point had been made to the sneering north.

Somewhere in the gulf between Kennesaw and Morton Grove you can come to some understanding of America's attitude towards its guns.

It has not always been this polarised, though guns have always been part of American life. American settlers fled European persecution, armed themselves and defended their colonies. They seized their freedom from the British with guns and when they came to form a government of their own they were so suspicious of any centralised authority they made the right to bear arms the second of the ten amendments they call the Bill of Rights.

In the American imagination, government does not grant certain rights to individuals, rather individuals grudgingly cede some of their God-given rights in order to allow a limited government to be formed.

This is the basis of American individualism and it is still deeply felt. Many own guns because they do not expect the government to protect them even if they had faith that it could. Others view government itself as a threat.

Robert Jones is a Pennsylvanian by birth who moved south later in life and made a beeline for Kennesaw after the law was passed. It made sense to him. These days he runs the local historical society and he has written widely on the Civil War and the gun ordinance. Sitting in the local museum he turns to Thomas Jefferson when he tries to explain how the suspicion of government plays into the thoughts of some gun advocates. ''God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion,'' he recites, quoting from the letter that ends with the words, ''The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.''

This suspicion that the government could quickly turn on its people is not uncommon in pro-gun circles.

''That's why we have a second amendment, it's not to go raccoon hunting,'' says Jones, putting on a Southern accent.

To many then the right to bear arms is not a right, but the right. Without it all the others are moot.

Still by early last century there was a growing view that the right to bear arms could be responsibly restricted for the public good, says Adam Winkler, professor of constitutional law at the University of California and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.

Back then the National Rifle Association, which emerged from the Civil War to encourage marksmanship, actually advocated forms of gun control. This was the case up until 1977, when violence was sweeping American cities and the NRA's leadership was co-operating in government plans to restrict the sales of so-called Saturday night specials - the cheap, easily concealed revolvers often used in crime.

A group of NRA hardliners led by Harlon Carter staged a coup and replaced the entire NRA leadership overnight during a Cincinnati convention. Suddenly an organisation that was once concerned with safety training and recreational shooting became a fierce single-minded lobby dedicated to defending the second amendment.

It has successfully seen restrictions on types of firearms repealed, increased the spread of laws protecting the right to carry concealed weapons and spread laws protecting people who use their weapons to kill or maim if they perceive they are under threat in their home and, more recently, on the street.

By the 1994 election the group was powerful enough to start knocking off congressmen who dared disagree, prompting Bill Clinton to write in his memoir, ''The NRA was an unforgiving master: one strike and you're out. The gun lobby claimed to have defeated 19 of the 24 members on its hit list. They did at least that much damage and could rightly claim to have made Gingrich the House Speaker.''

By 2004 the NRA and the Republican Party were walking in lockstep and the Democrats were intimidated. It flexed its muscle by having the ban on assault rifles - like the one used in Colorado last week - abolished.

At the moment its power seems unassailable. Since the shooting in Aurora a small handful of Democrats have called for new gun controls, or at least renewed debate over them.

The independent mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, has been the most outspoken critic of the NRA, writing on Thursday in the news service he founded, Bloomberg: ''The NRA is a $200-million-plus-a-year lobbying juggernaut, with much of its funding coming from gun manufacturers and merchandising. More than anything, the NRA is a marketing organisation, and its flagship product is fear. Gun sales jumped after [Barack] Obama was elected President, based on the absurd - and now demonstrably false - fear that he would seek to ban guns.''

In fact the President has never made any move to restrict gun sales or use, and in a speech on Wednesday that touched upon the most recent mass shooting he made only motherhood statements. ''We have to understand that when a child opens fire on another child, there's a hole in that child's heart that government can't fill,'' he said.

He called for restrictions on the sale of assault rifles to the mentally ill, but little else.

The unofficial Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts banned assault rifles, which he described as ''instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people''.

But this week he said, ''Well this person shouldn't have had any kind of weapons and bombs … and it was illegal for him to have many of those things already. But he had them. And so we can sometimes hope that just changing the law will make all bad things go away. It won't. Changing the heart of the American people may well be what's essential, to improve the lots of the American people.''

He is wrong. So far it appears the accused killer bought the weapons legally and passed his background check.

Either way the reticence of the candidates to engage in the debate in the lead-up to the election is clear.

Even though polls show a nearly even split between those calling for greater restrictions on guns and gun advocates, Winkler says it is not hard to see why the NRA is winning the fight.

Those who support gun control tend to take other matters into account in casting their vote, issues such as the economy, healthcare and the environment. Many of the NRA's supporters are happy to vote on one issue alone, the defence of the single right that guarantees their freedom, the right to bear arms.

''This is democracy, they bring the votes,'' he says.

Winkler thinks much of the debate in America today misses the point in any event. There are, he notes, 311 million Americans and 280 million guns in America. ''There is no point in discussing whether or not there would be less [deaths by gunfire] if there were less guns, that is not on the table any more, it's too late.''

Back in Kennesaw, Fred Bentley is certain guns are contributing to the peace in his little town, even as it is being enveloped by the suburbs of Atlanta. ''We have had one murder and that was with a knife,'' he says with a chuckle. ''We had a warden of a penitentiary in Florida poll his prisoners after our ordinance came out, and the answer to his poll was this: 'I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to go to Morton Grove, Illinois, but I wouldn't step foot in Kennesaw Georgia.'''

Nick O'Malley is US correspondent



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/under-the-gun-20120727-22zn5.html#ixzz21tHwp8rc

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Officials confirm Ebola outbreak in Uganda

Rodney Muhumuza, AAP
July 29, 2012, 11:15 am

The World Health Organisation has confirmed that the deadly Ebola virus has broken out in Uganda.

The deadly Ebola virus has killed 14 people in western Uganda this month, Ugandan health officials say, ending weeks of speculation about the cause of a strange disease that had many people fleeing their homes.

The officials and a World Health Organisation (WHO) representative told a news conference in Kampala on Saturday that there is "an outbreak of Ebola" in Uganda.

"Laboratory investigations done at the Uganda Virus Research Institute ... have confirmed that the strange disease reported in Kibaale is indeed Ebola hemorrhagic fever," the Ugandan government and WHO said in joint statement.

Kibaale is a district in mid-western Uganda, where people in recent weeks have been troubled by a mysterious illness that seemed to have come from nowhere. Ugandan health officials had been stumped as well, and spent weeks conducting laboratory tests that were at first inconclusive.

On Friday, Joaquim Saweka, the WHO representative in Uganda, told The Associated Press that investigators were "not so sure" it was Ebola, and a Ugandan health official dismissed the possibility of Ebola as merely a rumour. It appears firm evidence of Ebola was clinched overnight.

Health officials told reporters in Kampala that the 14 dead were among 20 reported with the disease. Two of the infected have been isolated for examination by researchers and health officials. A clinical officer and, days later, her four-month-old baby died from the disease caused by the Ebola virus, officials said.

The officials urged Ugandans to be calm, saying a national emergency task force had been set up to stop the disease from spreading far and wide.

There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola, and in Uganda, where in 2000 the disease killed 224 people and left hundreds more traumatised, it resurrects terrible memories.

Ebola, which manifests itself as a hemorrhagic fever, is highly infectious and kills quickly. It was first reported in 1976 in Congo and is named for the river where it was recognised, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Scientists don't know the natural reservoir of the virus, but they suspect the first victim in an Ebola outbreak gets infected through contact with an infected animal, such as a monkey.

The virus can be transmitted in several ways, including through direct contact with the blood of an infected person. During communal funerals, for example, when the bereaved come into contact with an Ebola victim, the virus can be contracted, officials said, warning against unnecessary contact with suspected cases of Ebola.


http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/world/14396662/officials-confirm-ebola-outbreak-in-uganda/

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UK, Australia battle for sports projects
By AFP

July 29, 2012 - Updated 1328 PKT
From Web Edition

LONDON: The history of sport is studded with great Anglo-Australian clashes and that rivalry is spilling over into the business world as the two nations vie for juicy contracts from future Olympics and World Cup hosts.



The stakes are high. Brazil, Russia and Qatar will all stage major sports events over the next decade and are also spending heavily to build roads, railways and power plants to serve their fast growing economies.



Australia, its reputation sealed by the success of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, styles itself as "the go-to nation" for major projects in a sports industry that is forecast to be worth $145 billion by 2015.



"Sport is in our core, it's part of who we are and as a platform for business there is nothing better," Australian sports minister Kate Lundy said at a reception in London on Saturday evening to woo potential overseas clients.



Sports administrators and politicians from Qatar, Brazil and Russia were on the guest list as Australia showed how its companies could play a part in every step of the 10-year life cycle of major sports events - from bidding to post-Games legacy - in a series of computer presentations.



It is a model Britain wants its companies to emulate after many of them were given work at the Olympic Park in east London, the centrepiece of a Games funded by nine billion pounds ($14.1 billion) of public money.



"In terms of the Olympics, Sydney is the benchmark on which London works," said British sports minister Hugh Robertson, an interested spectator as Lundy spoke under the chandeliers at the Australian High Commission.



"Our legislation is based on Sydney and quite a lot of Australian companies are involved in the delivery of the London Games. We're sort of the oldest rivals and the greatest friends," he told Reuters.



FOOT IN DOOR



John Armitt, who heads the Olympic Delivery Authority that oversaw the building of the London venues, believes the global exposure from the Games should be good for British business.



"London is a massive shop window in terms of showing the world what we have been able to achieve here and building on the back of it," he said.



Brazil hosts the soccer World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Fellow emerging economic power Russia stages the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and 2018 World Cup.



Britain has broken off security cooperation with Russia after the 2006 murder in London of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko.



That limits the ability of its companies to bid for contracts to build stadia for the 2018 World Cup where security needs to be addressed before construction can begin.



After Russia, the World Cup will head to wealthy Qatar which has plenty of money but little in the way of soccer grounds.



Armitt stressed the value of breaking into such markets when Britain is locked in recession and the government is cutting spending on big building projects at home.



"If you look at what is happening in Qatar, yes it's building new stadia for the football but alongside it there is just an ongoing very large investment in infrastructure and other sorts of buildings," he said.



Armitt cited the example of British builder Carillion which was involved in the Olympic Park in London and recently won a 395 million pounds commercial property development contract in the Qatari capital of Doha.



"As with all international markets, it's a case of getting your foot in the door on the back of something," he said.



It was inevitable that contractors would find themselves fighting their own version of the sporting contests that have helped to define Britain's relations with 'Down Under'.



"On occasions it's possible that British and Aussie companies will be head to head. There's nothing wrong with that, that's the nature of international business," Armitt said.

http://www.thenews.com.pk/article-61104-Britain-and-Australia-battle-for-big-sports-projects

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Brothers in arms, yes, but the US needs to get rid of its guns
DateAugust 1, 2012

John Howard

Australia was right to take a different path to the US and opt for gun control.

EARLY in 2008 Janette and I were guests of the former president, George H. W. Bush or ''41'', as he is affectionately known, at his Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. I spoke to a warm and friendly audience of more than 300 who enthusiastically reacted until, in answer to a request to nominate the proudest actions of the Australian government I had led for almost 12 years, I included the national gun control laws enacted after the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996.

Having applauded my references to the liberation of East Timor, leaving Australia debt free, presiding over a large reduction in unemployment and standing beside the US in the global fight against terrorism, there was an audible gasp of amazement at my expressing pride in what Australia had done to limit the use of guns.

I had been given a sharp reminder that, despite the many things we have in common with our American friends, there is a huge cultural divide when it comes to the free availability of firearms.

Just under two weeks ago, my wife and I were in Dallas, Texas, when the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, took place. The responses of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, his presumed Republican opponent, were as predictable as they were disappointing. While expressing sorrow at such a loss of life, both quickly said that they supported the Second Amendment to the US constitution: long regarded as providing an extensive right for Americans to bear arms.

The Second Amendment, crafted in the immediate post-revolutionary years, is more than 200 years old and was designed to protect the right of local communities to raise and maintain militia for use against external threats (including the newly formed national government!). It bears no relationship at all to the circumstances of everyday life in America today. Yet there is a near religious fervour about protecting the right of Americans to have their guns - and plenty of them.

In this respect it is worth noting that the local police claim that James Holmes, the man now formally charged over the Aurora shootings, had in his possession an AR15 assault rifle (similar to one used by Martin Bryant at Port Arthur), a shotgun and two Glock handguns and 6000 rounds of ammunition. All had been legally obtained.

Obama and Romney are both highly intelligent, decent men who care deeply about the safety of Americans. Yet such is the strength of the pro-gun culture in their country that neither felt able to use the Aurora tragedy as a reason to start a serious debate on gun control.

There is more to this than merely the lobbying strength of the National Rifle Association and the proximity of the November presidential election. It is hard to believe that their reaction would have been any different if the murders in Aurora had taken place immediately after the election of either Obama or Romney. So deeply embedded is the gun culture of the US, that millions of law-abiding, Americans truly believe that it is safer to own a gun, based on the chilling logic that because there are so many guns in circulation, one's own weapon is needed for self-protection. To put it another way, the situation is so far gone there can be no turning back.

The murder rate in the US is roughly four times that in each of Australia, New Zealand, and Britain. Even the most diehard supporter of guns must concede that America's lax firearms laws are a major part of the explanation for such a disparity.

On April 28, 1996, Bryant, using two weapons, killed 35 people in Tasmania. It was, at that time, the largest number of people who had died in a single series of incidents at the hands of one person.

The national gun control laws delivered by the Howard government, following this tragedy received bipartisan support. They, nonetheless, caused internal difficulties for some of my then National Party colleagues. Tim Fischer and John Anderson, then leader and deputy leader of the National Party federally, as well as Rob Borbidge, then National Party premier of Queensland, courageously faced down opponents in their own ranks to support a measure they knew to be in the national interest. Many believed, in the months that followed, that hostility towards these gun laws played a role in the emergence of Pauline Hanson's One Nation cause.

These national gun laws have proven beneficial. Research published in 2010 in the American Journal of Law and Economics found that firearm homicides, in Australia, dropped 59 per cent between 1995 and 2006. There was no offsetting increase in non-firearm-related murders. Researchers at Harvard University in 2011 revealed that in the 18 years prior to the 1996 Australian laws, there were 13 gun massacres (four or more fatalities) in Australia, resulting in 102 deaths. There have been none in that category since the Port Arthur laws.

A key component of the 1996 measure, which banned the sale, importation and possession of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, was a national buy-back scheme involving the compulsory forfeiture of newly illegal weapons. Between 1996 and 1998 more than 700,000 guns were removed and destroyed. This was one-fifth of Australia's estimated stock of firearms. The equivalent in the US would have been 40 million guns. Australia's action remains one of the largest destructions of civilian firearms.

Australia is a safer country as a result of what was done in 1996. It will be the continuing responsibility of current and future federal and state governments to ensure the effectiveness of those anti-gun laws is never weakened. The US is a country for which I have much affection. There are many American traits which we Australians could well emulate to our great benefit. But when it comes to guns we have been right to take a radically different path.

John Howard was prime minister from 1996 to 2007.



Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/brothers-in-arms-yes-but-the-us-needs-to-get-rid-of-its-guns-20120731-23ct7.html#ixzz22G5VtfXM

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