Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Police call for help over woman's bashing

POLICE have taken the unusual step of appealing for public help over an alleged domestic incident that left a Melbourne woman severely beaten and with a broken nose.

The woman was allegedly held captive by her boyfriend Omar Aboueid, 37, for up to 10 hours.

The incident on December 6 started at the 35-year-old woman's house in the northern suburb of Coburg and is believed to have been over missing property belonging to Aboueid.

Senior Constable Dennis Cunha from the Broadmeadows Embona Armed Robbery Taskforce said the woman was repeatedly punched in the head and then dragged into a blue hatchback and driven around Coburg and Reservoir, where the attacks continued.

The woman was eventually returned home, suffering a broken nose and severe swelling and bruising to her face and body.

She reported the incident to police two days later.

"The actual assault was quite vicious, there's some brutal injuries on the victim in relation to the swelling on the face," Sen Const Cunha said.

A warrant has been issued for Aboueid's arrest but police have been unable to find him after two weeks of searching.

They are appealing for anyone with information to come forward.

Sen Const Cunha said Aboueid had access to firearms and was considered dangerous and should not be approached.

He appealed for anyone with information to come forward.

"Police have been actively looking for this male over the past two weeks. The male is aware that police wish to speak to him in relation to this allegation and the male is actively avoiding police apprehension."


Monday, December 13, 2010

107 students show excellence in HSC awards

One hundred and seven NSW students have shown HSC excellence, some of them topping courses before they even begin Year 12 and tackling university subjects while still at high school.

Andrew Ting Li, 16, from the Hills, northwest Sydney, won the award for agriculture despite being in Year 11.

"It's something that's very strong in our school, we're an agriculture High School," the James Ruse Agricultural High School student told AAP on Tuesday.

Andrew said that as he studied agriculture it "became a part of his life" - "There's a lot of everything in agriculture".

Isolde Daniell, 17, from Lismore won her First in Course award for Italian Extension.

The Trinity Catholic College student said her mum found it hard to keep the secret for four days.

"Mum told the house painter, the postman," she said.

Isolde's father is an opera singer - Rhys Daniell.

"He used to sing in the Opera House," she said, adding that she now uses her Italian to help him translate his music.

Maddy Greer, 18, won her award for Philosophy Distinction, which is almost at university level.

But the teen from Dubbo admitted she wouldn't continue to study it all the time as she would "never make any money or get a job".

She said that she uses the principles of the subject in her everyday life - something which might have been useful when she had to deal with flooding in her town.

"I came back from schoolies and the roads were closed around half the city and it was pretty weird going from somewhere where it had barely rained all year and coming back and half the roads were shut from the flooded river," she said.

"Traffic jams have been crazy for Dubbo. For someone who is used to taking ten minutes to get across town, taking half an hour tests my patience," she added.

Girls outperformed boys in the awards with 70 girls achieving first place in at least one subject, compared to 37 boys.

"You should all take extra pride and enjoyment knowing that out of the record 70,000 plus HSC students this year just 107 will receive a certificate of excellence for obtaining first place and the high standard in an HSC course," NSW Education Minister Verity Firth said at the awards ceremony on Tuesday in Sydney.

Seven students managed to take first place achievements in two courses.

Meanwhile, the rest of the state's HSC students are still waiting nervously for their results, which will be released on Wednesday.

Students will be able to access their results from 6am (AEDT) via internet, telephone and text message.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Sydney escort 'having fun' before death

In the hours before her death, Sydney prostitute Victoria McIntyre told supervisors she was "having fun" and was happy to keep working, a court has been told.

Using the working name "Lisa", 23-year-old Ms McIntyre was one of up to four escorts allegedly hired by Sydney neurosurgeon Suresh Surendranath Nair on February 14, 2009.

Nair, 41, is charged with her manslaughter and the November 2009 murder of Suellen Domingues-Zaupa, 22, another prostitute.

He allegedly supplied both women with cocaine at his luxury Elizabeth Bay apartment.

At a committal hearing at Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court, the director of HM Escorts, Anna Monaghan, on Monday testified as to what she knew of the hours leading up to Ms McIntyre's death.

Ms Monaghan said it was practice to make a "safety call" to staff - whom she referred to as "consultants" - and that an employee named Angela Bishop had made contact with Ms McIntyre.

"Lisa told her that she was having fun and, earlier, Lisa indicated that she had to be done by 11 o'clock because she had to go to an engagement party," Ms Monaghan said.

"But in this call she said she was having fun and was happy to keep working."

The court heard that another escort hired by Nair told Ms Monaghan she was sent away "to get a script filled" and that when she returned there was an ambulance outside his apartment.

The same prostitute, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told Ms Monaghan the girls had been taking drugs at Nair's property.

"She just said they were taking a lot of drugs and they were putting it in their orifices," Ms Monaghan told the court.

Under questioning from Nair's barrister, Peter Hamill SC, Ms Monaghan said she became aware that an ambulance was involved.

"Were you not concerned that one of your escorts may be in difficulty?" Mr Hamill asked.

"When we spoke to her she was fine and having fun," Ms Monaghan replied.

"Yes, but when you spoke to one of the other girls she said she had got back and there was an ambulance there," Mr Hamill said.

Ms Monaghan said she then "tried ringing her".

Several women who worked for the Sydney-based agency - which charges between $500 and $700 per hour per escort - are expected to give evidence in the committal hearing.

The hearing, before Magistrate Carolyn Barkell, continues on Tuesday.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Australia remains unsafe for Indian students

An Indian cookery student in Melbourne, who was stabbed by two anonymous men recalled the frightening night and talks about the harrowing experience.

The victim who is been in Australia for 2 years, working in South Yarra bar (in Melbourne).

After winding up work for the day, the victim on the way to railway station on Nov 5, 2008, he was knifed by two men.

He said, "the two men approached me and asked for money when I said I had none, they stabbed me in the stomach, scolded me using foul words."

"I collected some courage to ran away," he added.

The victim was admitted to hospital and doctors performed a emergency surgery on his punctured bowel after the attack. He bares 26 stitches on is stomach after that assault.

He was in hospital for 10 days and only then did he let his parents in India know what had happened.

A police official told, "It appears to be a random racial attack."


Monday, November 22, 2010

Australia Network put up for tender

Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd has announced the Federal Government is putting a 10-year contract for Australia Network, the country's international television broadcasting service, up for tender.

The network is currently provided by the ABC under a five-year contract with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"The Government has decided that the next Australia Network contract will be put to a competitive open tender process to ensure the best possible service in return for its investment," Mr Rudd said in a statement.

The contract period has been extended to 10 years to provide "greater certainty to the service provider".

Australia Network has been running since 1993.

The tender process is expected to open before the end of the year.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Man charged with tattooing genitals on friend's back

A 21-year-old Australian man was charged by a court on Monday with committing grievous bodily harm to a friend by getting the male genitalia tattooed on his back.

Matthew Francis Brady, from Ipswich near Brisbane, appeared in the Ipswich magistrates court Monday, after he allegedly had a tattoo of a 40cm-long image of male genitals and a crude slogan made on the back of a 25-year-old man, The Queensland Times reported.

The friend had actually wanted a Yin and Yang symbol with some dragons.

Brady also faces charges of assault occasioning bodily harm, drunk driving and driving an unregistered, uninsured vehicle after his licence was disqualified.

Read more:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Australian woman sets out on 115km swim

An Australian woman is trying to swim between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Kauai.

Penny Palfrey began her swim on Tuesday morning at Kaena Point on Oahu, hoping to complete the 116-kilometre crossing in 30 to 40 hours.

She is being escorted by a safety boat, which carries lifeguards as well as her swim adviser, Steve Munatones.

Plans call for a non-stop swim, with Palfrey treading water during food breaks.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Two killed in motorbike accident

A motorcyclist and his passenger have been killed in an accident in Sydney's west this afternoon.

Police say the accident happened when the motorcyclist tried to overtake a car on a sweeping bend on Mulgoa Road at Wallacia.

Police say it is believed the motorbike collided head-on with another vehicle as it was overtaking.

The rider and his female passenger died at the scene.

The female driver of the car has been taken to Nepean Hospital with minor injuries.

The RTA has advised motorists to avoid the area as road closures are in place in both directions.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sydney's jumbo joy: another baby elephant born

Taronga Zoo's two male elephant calves have a new sister to play with.

The 120-kilogram female calf was born at 1.12am today, four years to the day after a herd of Asians elephants arrived from Thailand.

Her birth was in stark contrast to that of "miracle" calf Pathi Harn, also known as Mr Shuffles, who made a surprise appearance in March, two days after it was thought he had died in the womb.

The female newborn had a "record breaking" arrival, and was nursing within 90 minutes of birth and standing unassisted within three hours, her keepers said.

The new calf's mother is Pak Boon and her father is the zoo's bull, Gung, which makes her a half sister to the zoo's first calf, Luk Chai, born on July 4 last year.

After a 22-month long pregnancy, Pak Boon delivered her calf outside the elephant barn, in the lower paddock of the complex.

Zoo director Cameron Kerr said the keepers used a sling to help the infant into the barn.

The team included Thomas Hildebrandt from the Berlin Institute of Zoo and Wildlife Research, Taronga vet Larry Vogelnest, and the head elephant keeper, Gary Miller.

The other elephants also supported her.

"The Taronga herd is now quite experienced and managed the process very successfully," Mr Kerr said.

The calf is the fifth born under the Australian Conservation Management Plan for these endangered elephants, with female Mali and male Ongard, also arriving in Melbourne this year.

"This is another outstanding milestone in an exceptional conservation breeding program for Asian elephants," Mr Kerr said.

"In just four years since the self-sustaining regional breeding group was established at Taronga and Melbourne Zoos, the herd has increased in size by 50 per cent."

Pak Boon's name means morning glory flower in Thai. Born in 1992, she originally came from an elephant camp on the outskirts of Bangkok in Thailand.

She is second in the herd hierarchy and is said to have a very dominant and independent personality, although she is also eager to please and seeks attention from keepers and can sometimes be a "drama queen".

A Thai name for the female calf will be chosen in coming weeks to reflect the herd's cultural origin.

Pathi Harn's extraordinary birth made news worldwide.

He had been in an upside down position in his mother's womb, with his head hanging down trapped against her pelvis.

Unable to detect any signs of life after a difficult nine-day labour, Dr Vogelnest and Dr Hildebrandt assumed the calf had died.

But, two days later, his mother, Porntip, gave birth alone in the early hours of the morning and the calf is now doing well.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Woman in custody over ambulance blaze

A BRISBANE woman accused of setting fire to three ambulances and an ambulance station has been remanded in custody to appear in court in December.

Jodie La Spina, 23, appeared in the Cleveland Magistrates Court on Thursday charged with arson, entering with intent and unlawful use of a motor vehicle.

The Cleveland ambulance station and two ambulances were significantly damaged after being set on fire about 12.20am (AEST) on Wednesday.

A third ambulance, allegedly stolen from the station, was set on fire in nearby Ormiston.

La Spina did not apply for bail and has been remanded in custody to re-appear on December 20.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Investigation into fast food toilet explosion

A homemade explosive detonated in the men's toilet cubicle at the restaurant on High Street in Penrith.

The explosion damaged the toilet cistern and an air vent. There was nobody in the restroom at the time.

The remnants of a crudely made explosive device was found and taken away for forensic examination.

Investigators have viewed CCTV footage showing a man at the restaurant who is now wanted for questioning.

The man was last seen walking west along High Street. Police want to speak with him or anybody who might know his identity.

He is described as an 18 to 25-year-old of caucasian appearance, with shoulder-length brown hair.

He was last seen wearing a black T-shirt with a cartoon design on the front, blue denim jeans and a fawn-coloured jacket.

Anyone with information about the man's identity is being urged to contact Crime Stoppers.


Friday, October 22, 2010

One dead in Gympie plane crash

A MAN is dead after a plane crashed near Gympie about 4pm.

It is believed the plane came down on Lagoon Pocket Rd, Lagoon Pocket near Gympie Aerodrome.

"Details are sketchy at this stage," a Department of Community Services said.

"There's believed to be one person in the wreckage, deceased."

It is not known if anyone else has been injured.

A Queensland Ambulance Service spokeswoman said only one passenger was aboard the two-seater aircraft.

Ray Gresham lives about 800m from the crash site and was watching the plane moments before it crashed.

He said the pilot, a man who looked to be in his 60s, and was likely flying his own recreational plane, a three-quarter Spitfire.

"It would seem as though he spun into the ground on the final as he was coming into land," Mr Gresham said.

"I heard it on the downwind, just before he came into land.

"Only about a minute before he lost control I was actually watching him and then I walked back into the house."

Mr Gresham, who has lived at the aerodrome for 37 years, said it was only the second crash he had seen..

He said the plane did not appear too badly damaged from a distance but must have sustained considerable damage as it spun out of control.

Police are securing the scene before Recreational Aviation Australia accident investigators move in.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau senior investigator Richard Batt said the Spitfire was a popular "sport aviation aircraft" but there was "no reason to believe that they are less safe than other aircraft".

Gympie Aero Club past president Graeme Alexander believed the plane was normally kept at the Watts Bridge Memorial Airfield at Mt Beppo, near the Somerset Dam.

"It's a replica Spitfire, which is an 80 per cent scaled version of the original," he said.

"I've seen it around from time to time but I've never met the owner."

The Spitfire was a British, single-seat fighter aircraft used by Britain and its allies in World War II as a short-range high-performance interceptor aircraft.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Duo try to abduct girl in north Melbourne

The hunt is on for two men who attempted to abduct a teenage girl in broad daylight on her way to work on Monday.

The 17-year-old girl managed to struggle free when the men blocked her path with a dark coloured sedan, and tried to pull her inside.

She had been walking through parkland towards a bus stop between Lakes Drive and Fairways Boulevard in Craigieburn, on Melbourne's outer northern edge, about 11.30am (AEDT), Hume Detective Sergeant Steve Azarnikow told reporters on Tuesday.

"It is a fairly brazen attack, she's extraordinarily upset, that's what you would expect isn't it," he said.

"It could be either targeted or it could be opportunistic.

"She managed to struggle and fight them off, she suffered some minor injuries. It's an extraordinarily serious crime.

"She's had a good look at one of the offenders and we have a description."

He was of European or Middle Eastern appearance, about 30 years old, unshaven with thick eyebrows and thick, dark hair. He was wearing dark clothing.

His accomplice was described only as wearing a dark-coloured hooded top and police were also trying to find out more about the car, Det Sgt Azarnikow said.

"Someone knows these people, generally people always talk, they've told someone and I've got no doubt someone suspects who it is," he said.

"We're fairly certain that we'll apprehend these people, so if they are out there I would suggest that they hand themselves in rather than wait for us to find them.

"We're making inquiries to see if this is linked to any other series of crimes, we've got analysts looking at it as we speak."

A woman was abducted and sexually assaulted around Oakleigh, in Melbourne's south-east, on October 3.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

'Mary Mania' as Australia prepares for first saint

"MacKillop" the musical is playing to sold-out shows, extra nuns are pricing souvenirs and in one town, "MacScallops" are the must-have lunch.

Welcome to "Mary Mania", a part-religious, part-nationalist, part-media frenzy which has seized Australia ahead of the canonisation of its very first saint.

This week, Mary MacKillop adorns extensive newspaper and TV coverage, a new stamp -- her second -- and even the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where the late nun's image has been projected nightly.

"I think she would just be very amused, sitting back looking at the onslaught of merchandise -- bumper stickers, keyrings," said Edwina Huntley, museum curator at MacKillop's Sydney tomb.

"As fast as we can tag it, it's on the shelf and off again."

In recent days, MacKillop's list of honours has expanded to a park, gold coins and a second pop song (Mike Brady's "In Mary's Hands", following the Gary Pinto ballad, "Saint Mary MacKillop).

These join her electoral district, a rose, Facebook page and @stmarymackillop Twitter account, where the Sisters of St Joseph -- the order she founded -- post her musings and sayings.

On Thursday, MacKillop's website ( crashed under the sheer weight of visitors.

"It's off the wall," said Anne Walsh, deputy director of the company which designed and hosts the site. "I think everybody who hasn't gone to Rome has jumped on to the site.

"There's so many visitors on the site at the moment that we're upgrading the server."

Nationwide celebrations are planned for Sunday's canonisation, with MacKillop's former home town of Penola expecting up to 20,000 worshippers and special masses across the country.

Interest is such that the government was forced to ban unauthorised commercial use of the late nun's name, prompting an angry response from retailers.

"Are we going to have to get the government's permission to reference God, Jesus or any religious icon?" said Scott Driscoll, president of United Retail Federation.

"It's not illicit drugs we're dealing with, it's an Australian saint."

Nowhere is the excitement more visible than at MacKillop's Sydney tomb complex, where visitor numbers have trebled since the canonisation was announced in December.

Many are loath to leave without a souvenir, forcing the sisters to dedicate extra staff to put price-tags on the MacKillop mugs, brooches and rosary beads to cope with the brisk trade.

"I think people want something tangible, they want to see, feel, touch," says Sister Brigette Sipa, director of the MacKillop Place complex.

In the gift shop, MacKillop perfume sits alongside tea cosies, plates, placemats, magnets and candles, while entire shelves are crammed with her writings and DVDs such as "That Very Troublesome Woman".

Organisers of the "MacKillop" musical said they sold out twice during their Sydney performances, and were expecting more big audiences for the Melbourne run starting on October 23.

Meanwhile, extra MacKillop "miracles" have been the subject of TV documentaries this week, to add to the Vatican-sanctioned healings of two terminally ill women which cleared the way to sainthood.

Commentators say the furore risks overshadowing the vast achievements of MacKillop, who taught children in a disused Penola stable before founding a network of schools and homes for the needy.

"Perhaps it's what we've needed all along to become the nation we've never quite felt we are: a saint," wrote Sydney Morning Herald columnist David Marr.

"A navy and a federation aren't enough. A couple of world wars and a sheaf of Nobel prizes don't quite do the trick.

"Courtesy of the pope we now have a special friend in heaven: Australia's Patrick, our own Joan of Arc, our Wenceslas."

However MacKillop Place's Sipa said the saint-to-be, who knew the importance of wealthy benefactors, would have shrugged off the fuss.

"I'm sure she'd be smiling, probably with a bit of a smirk on her face, thinking 'Oh my goodness, what is all this about? Get on with the real work'," she laughs.

"I think there's probably a reason for all this hype, she would definitely see there is some reason and she would accept it."


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Australian prime minister warns of mining boom 'risk'

Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned on Tuesday against over-reliance on Asian demand for Australia's natural resources as she outlined a series of measures to try and make growth more broad-based.

Mining is Australia's biggest export sector as it rides a wave of demand from China for energy and minerals, but Gillard said an economy that becomes too dependent on any one sector "takes a big risk".

Her efforts to sell economic reforms follow a furious backlash from mining giants against her predecessor Kevin Rudd's proposed "super tax" on the sector.

"Even while demand for commodities remains strong, we face the risk of a 'patchwork economy'.

She warned against "an economy where some of the country booms while other parts go backwards, where some regions cry out for skilled labour while in others, Australians live aimless lives without skills, work or hope".

Gillard said if the demand for raw materials fell away, Australia would only remain strong if economic growth was broad based -- encompassing services, manufacturing and agriculture.

"If the emerging Asian economies continue to grow, while Europe and the US stagnate, then the gap between global demand for our mining and energy compared to our manufactured goods and our services will continue to widen," she said.

"While consumers and capital-intensive industries reap real benefits from a strong (Australian) dollar, the upward pressure on our currency makes life even harder for exporters of services and manufactured and farm goods."

The prime minister said her Labor-led coalition government would embark on a series of reforms to broaden economic growth, including cutting the company tax rate, building infrastructure and investing in skills.

"Some governments have the freedom to throw cash at those who lose from reform," she said. "It's clear mine won't be one of them."

Gillard's comments come as Treasurer Wayne Swan said Australia's mining boom would see the biggest investment in the sector for more than 160 years, despite a new heavy tax on iron ore and coal.

Addressing the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, Swan defended the new mining tax, which seeks to funnel some of the benefits of the skyrocketing price of commodities into the national coffers.

"What we know is that Australia is about to embark on its biggest mining investment boom since the 1850s Gold Rush," Swan said.

"This pushes us to pick up the pace of reform -- to make Australia an even more attractive investment destination."

The government scaled back its plans for a 40 percent levy on all minerals after concerted resistance from the mining sector -- revamping it so it only applies to iron ore and coal, and setting the rate at a lower 30 percent.

The Australian economy has been hailed as the "Wonder from Down Under" for its resilience in the face of the global slump, continuing to grow as other advanced economies went into recession.

Gillard said her government, which hopes to return to a budget surplus by mid-2013, would have to again lift the speed limit of the economy, as the global economy recovers.

"Just as our strong budget position in 2008 allowed us to navigate a difficult global challenge, so we must strengthen our budget position now to deal with the next global challenge to arise," she said.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Aussie hits 2-year high vs U.S. dollar

The Australian dollar hit its highest in more than two years against the U.S. dollar as investors turned towards the high-yielding currency and shunned the dollar on expectations of more U.S. monetary easing.

The Aussie rose as high as $0.9759 AUD=D4, its strongest since late July 2008, leaving it on course for a retest of its 2008 high of $0.9851 as traders shrugged off Tuesday's unexpected Reserve Bank of Australia decision to keep rates unchanged.

"I think people have realised that no matter what, yield differentials are key," an Australian-based trader said.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Four stabbed as brawl erupts after Miss Africa beauty pageant in Adelaide

TWO men stabbed during a brawl involving up to 100 people in the city are in a stable condition in hospital.

The violence erupted among a group of African men near the Austral Hotel in Bent St, between Rundle and Grenfell streets, just after midnight.

Two other African men were treated for "minor" stab wounds and "numerous" knives, tyre levers and wooden clubs were found in the street.

Police say the brawl was the culmination of a string of confrontations between African men since Friday night.

Dozens of interstate people had come to Adelaide for a "Miss Africa" pageant held at Norwood and many were involved in "a handful" of fights, police said.

Officers responded to a fight outside a Hindley St nightclub on Saturday morning when about 150 people were arguing, but a spokesman said he was not aware if anybody was arrested.

After last night's brawl, a Marden man, 21, and a Murray Bridge man, 19, underwent emergency surgery for serious torso wounds, while an Ingle Farm man, 19, and a Kilburn man, 20, were treated for arm or back lacerations.

Police officers who were leaving after their shift this morning from the station at the corner of Bent and Grenfell streets - about 100m away from the brawl - ran to the scene and called for back-up to quell the violence .

Their quick action prevented further injuries, Detective Chief Inspector John Gerlach said.

"It was certainly the case (that) had we not responded so quickly, there would have been further injuries," he said.

Chief-Insp Gerlach said some of those involved in the fight had been at the Austral Hotel before the brawl erupted.

"This incident occurred in the street, it did not happen in the nightclub," he said. "From what we see now, there's no doubt some people have armed themselves in the event they came together again or they might have been looking for trouble.

"We can see now in hindsight that that's probably what's occurred."

Two men underwent surgery early this morning for serious stab wounds. Another two men suffered minor stab wounds.

Police have charged a Victorian man, 20, with aggravated causing serious harm and fighting. A Kilburn man, 19, a Victorian man, 21, and a West Australian man, 22, were charged with behavioural and weapons offences.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Capsicum-sprayed boy was 'totally irrational', police say

One of three policemen involved in an incident in which capsicum spray was used on a 12-year-old boy claims the child was ‘‘totally irrational’’ and threatening police with a steel fence post.

Sergeant John Olver said today police attempted to negotiate with the boy for 80 minutes before using the spray as a last resort to take him into custody.

Police were called to the small town of Axedale, near Heathcote in central Victoria, just after midday yesterday after the boy had a dispute with his mother.

Sergeant Olver, who is stationed at Heathcote, said the boy armed himself with a star picket and refused to speak with anyone, repeatedly running away from police when they attempted to negotiate.

The boy allegedly used the star picket to damage a police car and threaten officers and his mother during the 80-minute ordeal.

He was eventually cornered by three policeman in the shallow waters of the Campaspe River, where he was sprayed.

Sergeant Olver said the boy was given treatment for the spray before he was taken into custody.

Police today came under fire for their response, with Victorian Federation of Community Legal Centres chief executive Hugh de Kretser describing the move as ‘‘alarming’’.

But police chief Simon Overland defended the move, saying police were justified in using the spray because the child was threatening them with a weapon.

‘‘The young boy was armed, behaving incredibly violently and in the circumstances the officers felt that was an appropriate action,’’ Chief Commissioner Overland said.

‘‘It is extraordinary that that would happen but I think the behaviour of the 12-year-old as it’s been related to me was extraordinary. It was incredibly violent and in that situation they were entirely justified to do what they’ve done.’’

Sergeant Olver said the boy ‘‘wasn’t a very big kid’’ but he was ‘‘irrational, totally irrational’’.

He said the spray was used as a last resort but after 80 minutes, the experienced officers involved had not been able to subdue the boy.

‘‘This kid was very agile, very fast and he had a star picket and he was using it in a pretty aggressive manner,’’ he said.

‘‘You just couldn’t let him go, simple as that.

‘‘He could’ve gone back down to the highway ... and just walked out in front of a vehicle.’’

The Ethical Standards Department will oversee an investigation into why police used the spray.

The Victorian Federation of Community Legal Centres said the incident warranted an investigation by the Office of Police Integrity.

‘‘Capsicum spray was introduced in the late 1990s with the limited purpose of being an alternative to firearms,’’ Mr de Kretser said.

‘‘But its use is now becoming routine and it’s used far beyond its original purpose and resulting in the deskilling of police to resolve situations without the use of violence.’’


Friday, September 24, 2010

Hadi Ahmadi gets minimum four years for people smuggling

MARK COLVIN: A Perth court has sentenced the first people smuggler to be extradited from Indonesia.

Hadi Ahmadi has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison, with a non-parole period of four.

The dual Iraqi-Iranian citizen was found guilty last month of helping bring two boatloads of asylum seekers to Christmas Island in 2001.

The judge said that while Ahmadi was not a primary organiser, his conduct was clearly of importance.

David Weber reports.

DAVID WEBER: Justice Andrew Stavrianou said a clear message must be sent. The judge said he accepted Hadi Ahmadi was a middle man in the operation. He said the 35-year-old was of good character and had not re-offended since 2001. Yet there was no alternative but to impose a prison sentence.

Outside the court, Hadi Ahmadi's lawyer Jonathan Davies made a statement on behalf of his client.

JONATHAN DAVIES: The sentence handed down today is severe as is mandated by Australian law. The offences are such that in determining sentence, reduced weight is given to the personal circumstances of Mr Ahmadi.

Mr Ahmadi's trial has been a reminder of the bitterness in the Australian community with respect to those who have no choice in life but to seek safety and freedom on our shores.

This case revealed the danger to refugees in Indonesia at the time; a danger which was largely forgotten by the Australian Government. It revealed action by the federal police at the relevant time, which seemed to increase danger of repatriation of refugees from Indonesia to their countries of origin.

DAVID WEBER: Several of the witnesses who gave evidence against Ahmadi were people who came by boat in 2001 and are now settled in Australia.

The statement read by Jonathan Davies suggested that Hadi Ahmadi still felt some pride in his role.

JONATHAN DAVIES: The case is a sad reminder of the status of Australia's obligations to refugees under international law.

Mr Ahmadi hopes that history will judge him in a far kinder light and asks you to remember that there are members of our community who will forever be Hadi's Australians, thank you.

DAVID WEBER: The prosecutor had said the penalty needed to reflect the concept of general deterrence.

But criminologist Michael Grewcock says he believes people smugglers won't be stopped by the prospect of prison sentences.

MICHAEL GREWCOCK: The reality is that people move for reasons of fear and because they're in need of protection. The people who assist them, and this Mr Ahmadi's a case in point, are often people who are travelling with them or who have protection needs of their own.

He is someone who, like the people he was travelling with, sought the protection of the Australian state of something like the 900 people he was accused of bringing into Australia. Over 860 of them have been granted refugee status. Another way of looking at Mr Ahmadi would be as someone who's served a humanitarian purpose by bringing these people here.

DAVID WEBER: How do you think the Australian Government, the current Australian Government, or future governments will be able to stem the tide?

MICHAEL GREWCOCK: Well, I'd query whether or not there is a tide to be stemmed.

DAVID WEBER: But there may be greater numbers in the future though.

MICHAEL GREWCOCK: Well, the reality is that the reason why people attempt to enter by boat is largely because the formal methods are closed down to them. The numbers of people coming in, even though now it's up around the three or 4,000 mark for this year, is still tiny compared to the people who are refugees globally and it's tiny compared to the numbers of people who seek asylum through more formal routes, through flying in and so on and so I think that we need a sense of proportion about what we're talking about.

Really if the Government was serious about getting rid of people smuggling, it would open the front door, it wouldn't leave the back door as the only option for people.

People smugglers aren't the reason why people seek protection. It's the wars in Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan; the persecution of the Tamils and so on in Sri Lanka, these are the causes of refugee flight, not people smugglers.

MARK COLVIN: The criminologist Michael Grewcock of the University of New South Wales speaking to David Weber.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Papal aide Cardinal Kasper under pressure to apologise

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Catholic Church leader in Scotland, said he expected Cardinal Walter Kasper to say sorry.

Cardinal Kasper pulled out of the Pope's four-day UK visit, with the Vatican citing illness.

The trip is expected to contain a number of protests and statements by groups opposed to it.

Cardinal Kasper had made his remarks during an interview with the German magazine Focus.

He reportedly told a the magazine the UK was marked by "a new and aggressive atheism".

On Wednesday, Vatican sources said Cardinal Kasper was suffering from gout and had been advised by his doctors not to travel to the UK.

They also said his "Third World" comment referred to the UK's multicultural society.

Ahead of the Pope's arrival in Edinburgh, Cardinal O'Brien told BBC Radio Scotland: "[The comment] was unfortunate and each and every person's aides sometimes do make awkward, difficult remarks.

"Sometimes we make awkward, difficult remarks ourselves.

"And simply, if we do that sort of thing we apologise for it, and I'm sure Cardinal Kasper will apologise for any intemperate remarks which he made some time ago."

The Catholic Church in England and Wales said Cardinal Kasper's comments were "the personal views of one individual".
Open debate

Pope Benedict XVI is making the first state visit by a pontiff to the UK.

The invitation has been criticised by a number of groups, including gay and women's rights organisations.

Protest the Pope, an umbrella group bringing together a dozen humanist, atheist, secular and gay rights groups, has said it opposes the idea of the Pope being welcomed to the UK as a head of state, with the UK taxpayer paying for much of the visit.

Pope Benedict has also faced calls to address public concern over the sexual and physical abuse of children by priests.

And reformist Catholics are using the Pope's visit as an opportunity to call on Benedict XVI to open up the debate on priestly celibacy and the ordination of women.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

WORLD FOREX: Yen Rises On Kan's Reelection; Little Momentum

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, left, is congratulated by senior lawmaker Ichiro Ozawa as Kan was re-elected as president of the Democratic Party of Japan during their party convention in Tokyo, on Tuesday. Photo: AP.
Naoto Kan's reelection as leader of Japan's ruling DPJ, keeping him as prime minister, pushed the yen up to a new 15-year high against the dollar.

However, upward momentum soon subsided and the yen was back to trading ranges as the market waits to see if Kan remains reluctant to intervene.

See how the dollar fell against the yen:

Kan's challenger in the election, Ichiro Ozawa, had promised more aggressive policies to help the recovery, including direct market intervention to stop the yen from rising. Concern that Ozawa would win had helped to cap the yen's gains ahead of the election.

Although Japanese events dominated the market, overall sentiment was a lot less certain ahead of new economic data from the U.S. as well as the euro zone.

Global risk sentiment improved at the start of the week because of strong Chinese data over the weekend and the new Basel III accord on bank capital ratios.

The positive impact was proving short-lived, however, because of concern that the new data will provide a reminder of the continued downside risks for the global economy.

In the U.S., retail sales data later in the day are expected to show a rise of only 0.3% last month, down from a 0.4% increase in July.

In the euro zone, the latest ZEW business sentiment survey from Germany came in very mixed. The current conditions index soared to 59.9 from 44.3, instead of rising to just 44.7 as expected, but the economic expectations index plummeted to -4.3 from 14. The market had been looking for it to stay stable at 14.

Sterling started the day lower but then recovered as it bounced around in the wake of U.K. economic numbers. Very soft house price data from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, with the headline balance falling to -32 in August instead of just to -12 as expected, initially pushed the pound lower.

Later, consumer price data showed that inflation remained flat at 3.1% in August from July rather than slipping to 3.0% as expected. As this higher inflation profile lifted expectations of higher interest rates, the pound bounced back up again

By midmorning, sterling was down at $1.5397 from $1.5429 late Monday in New York, according to EBS.

The dollar was down at Y83.31 from Y83.65 and the euro fell to Y106.99 from Y107.66.

The euro was also down at $1.2847 from $1.2873. It fell back from an earlier high of $1.2911 after the ZEW data.

At one stage, the dollar fell through parity against the Swiss franc for the first time since last December, falling all the way to CHF0.9996, before rebounding to CHF1.0027, still well down from CHF1.0072 late in New York.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Quran controversy casts pall over Eid celebrations

Indonesian Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr on Friday after prayers in Denpasar, Bali. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan.
Indonesian Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr on Friday after prayers in Denpasar, Bali. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan
This Friday, Muslims around the world will bid goodbye to a long month of fasting with three days of feasting and festivities.

The faithful usher in the holiday, Eid al-Fitr, with joyous community prayers, acts of charity, visits from far-flung relatives, gift-giving and hearty greetings of "Eid Mubarak," or happy Eid.

This year, however, one controversy has cast a pall over the celebrations for many Muslims: a Florida pastor's threats to burn copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"Although the joy of Eid is still there, the sense that we Muslims belong in this society as equals seems to be under threat and there is a somber note in everybody's preparations," said Wasima Reza of Raleigh, North Carolina.

She said she will take her children to Eid prayer services so they can feel a sense of community.

"I want them to be proud of the fact that they are Muslims and feel that they can practice their religion in their own country, without fear," she said.

Ayaz Hyder of Piscataway, New Jersey, is one of many who feel the holiday -- one of the most important in the Islamic calendar -- has been hijacked by whether or not the Rev. Terry Jones, the head of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, will go ahead with his Quran burning plans.

"He got what he wanted out of this. His 15 minutes of fame," he said. "I will have more people at my place for Eid this year than this guy has congregants but yet he's still dominating the headlines."

Indeed, from Indiana to Indonesia, the planned burning was on many Muslim minds.

In Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged the United States and United Nations to act as he read a statement from the palace grounds on Eid day Friday.

"I am of course aware of the reported cancellation of the deplorable act by Rev. Terry Jones. However, none of us can be complacent until such despicable idea can totally be extinguished," he said.

In Afghanistan, sporadic demonstrations broke out Friday, with the largest demonstration in the northern province of Badakhshan where about 500 Afghans protested outside a NATO base.

The holiday bids goodbye to Ramadan -- a month of dawn-to-dusk abstinence from food, drinks and other sensual pleasures. Muslims believe the Quran, the religion's holy book, was revealed to Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan more than 1,400 years ago.

Eid is one of two major holidays in Islam, alongside another called Eid al-Adha. The latter commemorates the prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God.

The night before Eid, entire communities gather on rooftops, scanning the sky with giddy anticipation to see if they can see the crescent of a new moon.

Preparations for the feast begin as soon as it is sighted.

In Tawab Qurayshi's home in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, the menu includes rice, stew, kabobs and freshly baked Afghan cookies.

Like Muslims elsewhere, Qurayshi and his family members don new clothes -- to symbolize a fresh start, he said.

The fun continues on the second day with a uniquely Afghan tradition: egg fights.

Men, armed with hard-boiled eggs, try to break each others'. The one whose egg cracks receives light-hearted ribbing.

It is a joyous time when even the Taliban cease fighting -- a rare respite in a war-ridden country, he said.

"The day itself is, and has always been, about yummy foods, new outfits," said Sumi Mehtab of New York. "This whole Quran burning issue casts a negativeness on what should be a totally joyous occasion and I'm annoyed at how dumb people can get."

But Ottawa, Canada, native Siffan Rahman wasn't going to let the controversy ruin her holiday.

"I turned off the TV because I don't want to hear about it anymore," she said. "Eid should be about celebrating, house-hopping, stuffing our tummies and staying up late with friends.

And that's what I'm going to do."


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fla. church adamant on burning Korans on 9/11 despite widespread outrage

Despite being condemned by top US officials, a Florida evangelical church appears to be adamant to proceed with its plans to burn copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, Earlier, Terry Jones, head of the 50-member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, had warned that a message needed to be sent that radical Islam couldn't threaten people.

"We must send a clear message to the radical element of Islam that we will no longer be controlled and dominated by their fears and threats," he insisted then.

Meanwhile, speaking at a State Department dinner marking the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, US secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, condemned Pastor Jones for his "disrespectful and disgraceful" approach.

"I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths," she said.

Earlier, the commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, condemned the Church's threat saying the Taliban would exploit the demonstration for propaganda purposes, drumming up anger toward the US and making it harder for allied troops to carry out their mission of protecting Afghan civilians.

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort. "It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community," General Petraeus said.

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen backed Petraeus and added that burning Korans violate the Nato alliance's "values". (ANI)


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Obama launches $50 billion infrastructure plan

US President Barack Obama kicked off his embattled Democratic party's election campaign by announcing a $50 billion plan to create jobs and boost economic growth by modernising roads, railways and airport runways.

'Today, I am announcing a new plan for rebuilding and modernising America's roads, and rails and runways for the long term,' he said in a Labour Day speech Monday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, two months ahead of November elections in which poll watchers suggest Democrats could lose their control of the Congress.

'We used to have the best infrastructure in the world. We can have it again,' he said to loud cheers from a crowd of union workers.

The proposal envisions, over a six year period, rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads, 4,000 miles of rail and 150 miles of airport runways. It also would include modernising America's air traffic control system in an effort to reduce delays and travel time.

'This will not only create jobs immediately. It's also going to make our economy hum over the long haul,' said Obama.

'Now, the plain truth is, there's no silver bullet or quick fix to the problem,' he cautioned. But 'I'm going to keep fighting, every single day, to turn this economy around; to put our people back to work; to renew the American dream for your families and for future generations.'

Obama is expected to announce Wednesday in hard-hit Cleveland, Ohio, another $100 billion plan to permanently extend the tax credit for research and development, hoping to spur companies to invest in their businesses by buying more equipment and hiring more workers.

The president stressed the need for Democrats and Republicans to work together on the transportation initiative, which would need to be approved by Congress.

Even before Obama's speech, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the plan and said Americans do not want to pay want higher taxes.

'A last-minute, cobbled-together stimulus bill with more than $50 billion in new tax hikes will not reverse the complete lack of confidence Americans have in Washington Democrats' ability to help this economy,' he said in a statement.

But even if the two parties come together Congress is unlikely to pass either proposal in the narrow legislative window as lawmakers return from recess next week only to leave Washington for midterm elections in less than a month.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Toll in Lahore bombings rises to 38

The toll from three suicide bombings in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore rose to 38 Thursday as more victims died in hospital from their wounds, rescue workers said.

The number of injured nearly doubled from Wednesday to 300 after officials were able to tally the casualties, who had been taken to various hospitals, slowing data collection.

Three suicide bombers struck a religious procession of Shiite Muslims in Lahore within a span of 20 minutes Wednesday.

Younis Bhatti, a spokesman for the Edhi rescue service, said among the dead were three children, one policeman and the three suicide bombers.

'Some of the 300 injured have left hospitals after medical treatment,' he said. 'They had minor injuries.'

Sunni extremist organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alimi, which is linked to the Taliban, took responsibility for the carnage. The outfit was suspected of several other attacks on official and civilian targets.

Wednesday's Shiite procession was commemorating the death of Ali, a close companion and son-in-law of Prophet Mohammed who was martyred in 661 A.D.

After the bombings, crowds of Shiites set fire to a police station and several vehicles, prompting the government to deploy paramilitary troops in the area.

On Thursday, businesses and schools in Lahore were closed in mourning.

Hundreds of people gathered in a park in the city centre to attend the collective burial ceremony for 16 of the victims.

Lahore has seen several attacks by Taliban-linked groups over the past two years.

Wednesday was the first major militant attack since recent floods devastated Pakistan, submerging one-fifth of the country's land and affecting more than 17 million people.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Putin says 2012 polls important to him

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said the 2012 Russian presidential elections are of greater concern to him than to anybody else, in an interview with Kommersant newspaper.

Ever since Dmitry Medvedev replaced Putin as president in 2008, there has been widespread speculation that Putin plans to return as president at the 2012 elections.

Putin has refused to be drawn on his plans for the election, in contrast to Medvedev. Speaking at Stanford University during his landmark U.S. visit in June, Medvedev said he may run for a second term if he secures enough public support.

"[The 2012 presidential elections] are of concern to me, just like they are to everybody, but actually of greater concern to me than to anybody else. But I am not making a fetish out of them," Putin said.

"On the whole, the country is developing steadily," he said. "I can't see any major problems; the crisis has hampered us a little, of course, but on the other hand, it has helped [us] concentrate on our priorities."

"It is important that the 2012 problem doesn't pull us away from this path of steady development," he said.

Despite growing public dissatisfaction with the government, most recently over the state's apparent inability to take control of the wildfires that ravaged central Russia this summer, Putin continues to be the country's most popular politician.

Opinion polls show that most people in Russia believe that it is he who actually runs Russia, not President Medvedev.

Putin said he was not bothered by the recent fall in the approval ratings of Medvedev and himself.

"I don't follow [the ratings] but I see that they are wobbling; it is the crisis. After all, so many people have fallen on hard times, I understand them," Putin said.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

14 killed in Nepal plane crash

All 14 people aboard a small plane heading for the Everest region, including four Americans, a Japanese and a Briton, were killed when the plane crashed in bad weather near the Nepalese capital on Tuesday.

"Our teams have now reached the site and I can confirm that there are no survivors. All 14 people are dead," said Bimlesh Lal Karna, head of rescue operations with the civil aviation authority.

The Agni Air plane was returning to Kathmandu after it was unable to land at Lukla, its intended destination in a popular trekking spot in the Everest region of eastern Nepal, home ministry spokesman Jayamukunda Khanal told AFP.

Thousands of travellers fly into Lukla, 140 kilometres (90 miles) northeast of Kathmandu, every year to access the stunning Himalayan range that forms Nepal's northern border with Chinese-controlled Tibet.

Local villagers said they saw the plane crash into a field next to a school about 15 miles south of Kathmandu and break up on impact. The cause of the crash was not immediately clear.

"There are small pieces of the plane all over the field and you can see body parts. We are all so shocked," villager Pratap Lama told the Kantipur radio station.

Relatives of some of the passengers gathered at the airport in Kathmandu to wait for news.

"My cousin is a trekking guide and he was flying up to take a group of tourists to Everest base camp," Ganesh Rijal, 40, told AFP.

"He got married recently and his wife is in deep shock. I have been waiting here for hours, but nobody has been able to tell me anything."

The 550-metre-long (1,800 feet) sloping airstrip at Lukla, perched on a hillside 2,757 metres above sea level, is considered one of the most difficult landings in the world.

The last major accident there was in 2008 when a Twin Otter plane carrying 18 people crashed killing everyone on board.

The airport is used by climbers heading for the heights of Everest, though now is the low season for both mountaineering and trekking.

Tourism is a major foreign currency earner for impoverished Nepal and the number of visitors has increased since a civil war between Maoist guerrillas and the state ended in 2006.

Earlier this year, the government announced an ambitious plan to attract a million tourists to the country in 2011 -- around twice the number that visited in 2009.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Bus accident kills 22 in Pakistan

At least 22 people were killed and several others were reported missing when flood waters swept away a bus in Pakistan’s central Punjab province on Monday.

The Peshawar-bound bus turned turtle when it was hit by strong torrents of water in Rajanpur district of Punjab.

Officials said 22 people were killed while 15 were rescued.

A search had been launched for others who were missing, they said.

“The road was closed near Khad Buzdar village due to the danger of water torrents from nearby hills. But the driver ignored the warning and drove on,” a rescue official said.

He said the death toll could rise further.

Last week, over two dozen people were killed in the flood-hit Muzaffargarh district of Punjab when a tractor trolley carrying 40 displaced people was swept away by flood waters.

The devastating floods sweeping Pakistan have killed over 1,700 people and affected 20 million.


Friday, August 20, 2010

43 whales dead in NZ mass stranding

Rescuers have failed in their first attempt to refloat more than a dozen pilot whales stranded on a remote beach in the north of New Zealand.

Dozens of volunteers tried in vain to refloat the whales at high tide on Karikari beach.

The volunteers are surrounded by 43 dead whales that are thought to have washed up on the beach earlier today.

Polly Raharuru-Toby has been on Karikari beach and says only 15 whales are still alive.

"It's just sad to see the whales come up. It's hard to see them die there when we're trying to get them all back out again," she said.

Another attempt will be made to refloat the surviving whales at first light tomorrow.

If unsuccessful they will be lifted into trucks and taken to a more sheltered beach a kilometre away.

Marine mammal specialist Anton van Helden says mass strandings are often triggered by a single whale in distress calling out to other whales for help.

"It's a pretty good survival strategy out in the open ocean, for these oceanic animals, that if an animal's in trouble or ailing in some way, that they essentially communicate with other whales to help, so that other animals come and attempt to buoy them to the surface," he said.

It is not the first time there has been a mass stranding of whales on the beach.

In 1997, 101 whales were stranded on Karikari beach.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Petrol bomb gang attack UK ministers in Pakistan

A petrol bomb hurling mob forced two Cabinet ministers touring floodravaged Pakistan to be airlifted to safety.

A five-car convoy carrying Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell and Tory Party Chairman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi was caught up in a violent demonstration against fuel price increases.

Witnesses said the convoy was pelted with petrol and stones before being re-routed to a nearby airbase. The group were later flown out of the area in an army helicopter.

The ministers, returning to the capital Islamabad, were attacked near the town of Nowshera in a region known for its links to the Taliban.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The ministerial party was re-routed to avoid a large, ongoing public protest as a precaution and are now continuing their programme."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

9/11 families criticise Obama for backing mosque near Ground Zero

Family members of 9/11 terror attack victims have criticised US President Barack Obama for backing a proposal to build a Muslim community centre and a mosque near Ground Zero, citing the Constitution and principles of religious freedom, ahead of the trial, and added that he absolutely has his "priorities confused".

"I think the President absolutely has his priorities confused," Fox News quoted Debra Burlingame of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, as saying.

"He should be focusing on putting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts on trial and allowing them to plead guilty as they said they wanted to do, rather than lecturing the families of those firefighters and their children about religious tolerance at ground zero," she added.

A White House spokesman, however, said politics wasn't a factor in Obama's comments about the proposed mosque near Ground Zero.

"The President felt obligated to make sure all Americans are treated fairly, regardless of their religious views," Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton said. (ANI)


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pakistan floods cause 'huge losses' to crops

Pakistan flood refugees dodge an army truck carrying relief supplies in Muzaffargarh, Punjab province
The overflowing Indus river is wreaking havoc in Punjab and Sindh provinces

Pakistan's floods have caused "huge losses" to its crops, the country's food minister has told the BBC.

Nazar Muhammad Gondal said significant amounts of the grain, sugarcane and rice harvests had been washed away.

Meanwhile a senior religious scholar has said that flood victims living in difficult conditions should not have to fast over the Muslim Ramadan period.

And Pakistan's UK envoy has denied that most of the money given for flood defences has been lost to corruption.

High Commissioner to London Wajid Hasan dismissed the allegation by pressure group Transparency International, and insisted his government was doing all it could to help people in need.

Floodwater triggered by heavy monsoon rains is still surging south along the Indus River, forcing people from their homes.

Food Minister Gondal said grain stocks had been destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North West Frontier) province, but some remained in southern Punjab province.

"We have losses in cotton, in sugarcane, in rice, in pulses and in tobacco - these are huge losses for the future," he told the BBC's World Today programme.

"These are the nation's cash crops which will really affect the economy of Pakistan."

Mohsin Leghari, a member of the Punjab regional assembly, told the World Today aid workers were being attacked by desperate, starving people.

"Their crops have gone, their livestock has gone, the infrastructure, the roads are gone," he said. "Right now our land link with the rest of the country is gone."

Mufti Muneebur Rehman, one of the country's top religious scholars, told the AP news agency that flood victims can perform their Ramadan fast later in the year.

The Ramadan period began on Thursday. Muslims throughout the country go without food from dawn to dusk each day for a month to control their desires and show empathy for the poor.

'God's punishment'

Pakistan's meteorological service warned of floods in Hyderabad, Sindh province, and Kalabagh and Chashma in Punjab.

But forecasters also said the monsoon system should ease over the next three days.

The UN has launched an appeal for more than $450m (£290m) to help the 14 million Pakistanis affected by the floods. At least 1,600 people have died and many more are missing.

The US, which has already committed $55m to relief efforts, announced it was contributing another $16.2m to the UN refugee agency and the International Red Cross.

But in a statement this week, the Pakistani Taliban described the floods as God's punishment on the country for accepting secular leaders. They urged Pakistanis to boycott foreign aid.