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.