|Gillard confirms Rudd
as new foreign minister
SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard
confirmed yesterday that former leader Kevin Rudd will
become her foreign minister, as she reshuffled her cabinet
after narrowly winning government.
“The foreign affairs and defence team will be Kevin Rudd as
minister for foreign affairs and Stephen Smith as the
minister for defence,” Gillard told a press conference in
Smith has served as foreign minister since Rudd won
victory in a Labour landslide in November 2007. The defence
ministry was vacant with long-serving John Faulkner opting
to move to the backbench.
Gillard reshaped her cabinet after forming a minority
government last week with the support of three independents
and a Green MP, after August 21 polls ended with a hung
The nation’s first woman leader, who wrested the Labour
leadership from Rudd in late June after he lost the support
of key factional colleagues, said her promise to the
independents to focus on regional Australia had been
Veteran parliamentarian Simon Crean, more recently trade
minister, will lead a government department dedicated to
regional Australia, she said.
“This is delivering on the focus that I agreed with the
independents in the house of representatives, it is
delivering on a promise to regional Australia to focus on
their needs,” Gillard said.
The prime minister said her deputy Wayne Swan would
continue as Treasurer while Senator Penny Wong, who had
managed Rudd’s ill-fated climate change response as minister
for that portfolio, will take on finance.
Martin Ferguson will remain minister for energy, resources
and tourism while Craig Emerson will head to trade and Chris
Evans, formerly immigration minister, will become the
minister for jobs, skills and workplace relations.
Former Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett, who presided
over a bungled home insulation programme as Rudd’s
environment minister, will become minister for schools,
early childhood and youth, Gillard said.
Greg Combet will become minister for climate change and
“The new ministry will be dedicated to the development of a
national response to climate change driven by a deep and
lasting consensus of the Australian people,” Gillard said in
Chris Bowen will become minister for immigration -- a key
issue in Australia where the increasing numbers of asylum
seekers arriving by boat is believed to have contributed to
the backlash against Labour.
|Pope’s visit to cost British police up
to 1.5m pounds
(AFP) - The security operation for Pope Benedict XVI’s state
visit to Britain will cost up to 1.5 million pounds, the
police commander in charge said.
Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes said the policing cost of
the visit was estimated at between one and 1.5 million
pounds ($1.5 and $2.3 million).
The British Government is paying between 10 and 12 million
pounds for the state elements of the visit, while the
Catholic churches here are contributing up to 10 million
pounds for the religious aspects, of which six million has
already been raised.
Hughes said that besides the Pope, police would also have to
protect those wishing to see him, and protesters.
“There is no intelligence to suggest any specific group will
attack the pope,” he said.
The pontiff is visiting Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and
Birmingham on his September 16-19 trip.
Hughes, the chief of South Yorkshire Police in northern
England, said no previous state visit had involved so many
different sites around Britain.
Commander Bob Broadhurst of London’s Metropolitan Police
will be responsible for protecting Pope Benedict.
He warned people not to underestimate the “fervour” that the
visit would bring.
“People get very passionate and very, very emotional,” he
“We may at times be protecting the protesters from the
faithful if one or two people get hot under the collar.”
The Pope is expecting large-scale protests during his visit
in which officials said this week he may meet 10 victims of
against NGOs skimming flood money
- Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said people
who donated money towards the country’s flood relief effort
should make sure aid organisations were not creaming off
some of the funds.
The retired army general said non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) had to ensure that all the money should go to help
Musharraf, who lives in exile in London, is trying to raise
money towards flood relief.
“I think they are the worst floods in Pakistan’s history,”
he told BBC radio.
“I have been a part of flood relief, physically, since the
time I was in the army.
“Every five years, we have floods in Pakistan of a certain
magnitude. But never like this... It’s very serious.”
Musharraf was asked about fears that donated money might end
up getting lost in corruption.
“There is corruption in Pakistan, there is no doubt about
it, it is heartbreaking how people are not bothered about
the country. They have a lot of money and yet they are
corrupt,” he said.
“The advice I would like to give is they ought to be careful
on who they are giving the money to.
“One thing that I would like to advise when you give your
money, a donor or an organisation getting the money, it’s
good that they show so many hundred thousand dollars
collected but we should ask how much is going to the people?
|Iran delays release of female US hiker
TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran has cancelled the planned release
yesterday of female US hiker Sarah Shourd due to unresolved
legal issues, Tehran’s public prosecutor was quoted as
saying by ILNA news agency.
“Because the judicial process has not been fulfilled in the
mentioned American defendant’s case, (her) release has been
ruled out,” said the prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi.
Commenting on reports about Shourd’s expected release
yesterday, he said: “The judiciary does not validate the
published news and naturally any decision about the
defendants will depend on carrying out the judicial
The office of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also confirmed
the cancellation of Shourd’s release, state news agency IRNA
“The freedom of the American spy wich was to happen in a
ceremony on Saturday has been postponed,” Mohammad Hassan
Salehimaram, spokesman at the presidency office, was quoted
as saying by IRNA.
He, however, said the “details of her release will be
Several Iranian officials had been talking of the release of
Shourd, one of the three US hikers currently held in Iran
for more than a year, with some clearly indicating it was to
take place on Saturday.
Shourd, 31, was arrested along with fellow Americans Shane
Bauer and Josh Fattal on July 31, 2009 after straying across
the border from neighbouring Iraq. The three have been
accused of spying and entering Iran illegally.
Media reports of her expected release began circulating when
a text message was sent late Thursday by Iran’s ministry of
culture and Islamic guidance to news networks inviting them
to report on the event.
Without naming her, the text message said an “American
detainee” was to be released at Tehran’s Hotel Esteghlal at
9am (0430 GMT) yesterday.
On Friday an official from the same ministry confirmed her
yesterday’s release, but said the event would take place in
the Hafezia hall of north Tehran’s Sadabad palace in
presence of a vice president.
|‘Ginseng’ festival major draw
GEUMSAN, South Korea (AFP) – “Look! It’s huge!” shouts a
muddy but beaming Han Myung-Ja, 52, plunging her hoe into
the soil to unearth a giant ginseng root.
Han fills a basket with the man-shaped root as she collects
seasonal presents for family and friends -- one of dozens of
people doing the same at South Korea’s biggest ginseng
The herb, known to Koreans as the “root of life” for its
purported health-giving properties, grows wild in deep
valleys and on shaded hillsides and has also been cultivated
on the peninsula for 1,500 years.
Devotees say the herb increases resistance to stress and
fatigue, has an aphrodisiac quality and acts as a stimulant,
although it has proved difficult scientifically to prove
some of the claimed benefits.
Last year South Korea produced 27,460 tonnes of ginseng
roots, worth about 700 million dollars including exports
valued at more than 21 million dollars.
Geumsan county, 130 km south of Seoul, is the hub of the
industry. Its ginseng market operates year-round and
accounts for 80 percent of all the country’s trades.
Geumsan also draws almost a million visitors every year to
its ginseng festival, which precedes the major holiday of
Chuseok (thanksgiving) at which the root is a prized gift.
The event this year ran from September 3-12.
The festival earned about $76 million last year, including
$27 million in sales of raw ginseng and $13 million spent at
an expo of various products based on the herb.
“Our county is where ginseng was first found -- according to
legend -- and ginseng here is of good quality due to the
nutritious soil and the right amount of sunshine,” county
mayor Park Dong-Cheol said.
The event involves a lot more than digging up roots. In a
food competition, chefs ranging from soldiers to students
are encouraged to be creative.
Among a variety of other dishes, rolls filled with ginseng
and vegetables are used to decorate models of traditional
“It looks delicious and beautiful,” said Russian visitor
Anna Krasnova, 22.
Casual visitors can try out various products for free, while
traders haggle over large orders at a ginseng expo before
“We sell a lot here. I came last year and I plan to come
next year as well because of the large number of visitors,”
said Lee Hyo-Jin, who retails ginseng jelly and snacks.
During the expo, more than 150 tonnes of ginseng products
were sold daily to both locals and foreigners.
Police donate new bike
TAIPEI (AFP) - Police in Taiwan who had arrested a man for
stealing a bicycle discovered he was so poor that they
decided to have a whip round and buy him a bike.
The man, surnamed Huang, stole the bicycle from a high
school near his home in Chiayi city in central Taiwan to
save his daughter from her daily five-kilometre walk to the
closest bus stop on the way to her vocational school, the
China Times reported.
Huang had told his daughter he bought the bicycle
second-hand, but after it was recognised by its former owner
both father and daughter were taken in by the police.
|Building works blamed
for dengue outbreak
NEW DELHI (AFP) - New Delhi’s top health official blamed
building works for next month’s Commonwealth Games for an
outbreak of dengue fever that has concerned participating
“Games projects have been delayed and as a result the
diggings carried out have turned into mosquito breeding
grounds,” V K Monga, chairman of Delhi Municipal
Corporation’s health committee, said.
“This is not the right season for the Games because dengue
is highest at this time of the year,” he said.
The number of people affected by dengue in the capital since
July rose to 1,652 with 72 more cases reported at city
hospitals on Friday, the Press Trust of India official news
|World’s most expensive
book on sale
LONDON (AFP) - A copy of the world’s most expensive book,
which features life-sized prints of flamingoes and swans, is
tipped to fetch up to six million pounds at auction in
Britain, Sotheby’s said.
John James Audubon’s seven-volume “Birds Of America”, which
dates from the 19th century, will be sold alongside literary
treasures like a copy of William Shakespeare’s “First Folio”
and a series of letters by Queen Elizabeth I.
There are thought to be just over 100 copies of Audubon’s
huge book -- which measures around 90cm by 60cm -- still in
existence and another sold for $8.8 million 10 years ago.
|More time spent on
Facebook than Google
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Web surfers spent more time on
Facebook than on Google sites in August, the first time the
social network has surpassed the Internet titan, online
tracking firm comScore said.
Americans spent a total of 413 million minutes on the
Internet during the month and about 10 percent, or 41.1
million minutes, were spent on Facebook, comScore said.
A total of 39.7 million minutes were spent on Google sites,
which include the Google search page, YouTube, Google News,
Gmail and others. Yahoo! sites were next with 37.7 million
|‘Big Brother’ show
LONDON (AFP) - British reality television show ‘Big
Brother’, which launched the career of Jade Goody and
sparked an international row over the abuse of Indian film
star Shilpa Shetty, has gone out with a bang. The show, with
a format used worldwide in which the activities of people
living in a studio house are televised round the clock,
launched in Britain in 2000 and became one of the country’s
most popular programmes.
But one scandal too many and dwindling ratings saw
broadcaster Channel 4 decide to call time with an ‘Ultimate
Big Brother’, featuring former winners and favourites.
|Kouchner denies plan
PARIS (AFP) - The French foreign ministry denied reports
that 70-year-old foreign minister Bernard Kouchner plans to
marry his long-term companion, journalist Christine Ockrent.
“I can assure you on Bernard Kouchner’s behalf that these
rumours are unfounded,” ministry spokesman Bernard Valero
said from Brussels, where Kouchner was attending informal EU
Earlier this week, a source close to Kouchner said the
minister planned to wed 66-year-old Ockrent in Rome at an
unspecified future date.
President Nicolas Sarkozy named Kouchner foreign minister in
2007, but before that he was best known as an outspoken
founder of medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres
(Doctors Without Borders).
|The ghost of 9/11
The ninth anniversary of the devastating
terrorist attacks against the US on September 11, 2001 was
marked under a sombre note.
Even though nearly a decade has passed since the attacks,
Americans have yet to come to terms with the tragedy.
As this column is sent to print, a US pastor prepared to
burn copies of the Holy Quran in the midst of wide ranging
criticism from President Barak Obama, numerous world leaders
to many other ordinary Americans.
Reverend Terry Jones had planned to burn some 200 Quran
copies in front of his Christian church, to mark the
anniversary of the September 11th attacks. But latest
reports said the pastor seemed to have abandoned his burning
plan after pleas from President Obama and the Vatican.
Jones earlier said the event was intended as a message to
violent extremists, like Al Qaeda which carried out the
attacks in New York and Washington. Jones was not alone in
the seemingly anti-religious discourse that has engulfed the
US in recent months.
Since May this year the country has been divided over the
announcement by a moderate Muslim cleric in New York of
plans to build an interfaith religious centre two blocks
from the destroyed World Trade Centre buildings.
In Tennessee, a Mosque that has been in a community for
decades was burned by Christian extremists a week ago.
All these seemingly localised incidents have grabbed world
attention and has exposed US’s inability to come to grips
with the 9/11 attacks, the reasons behind it and those who
carried out the massacre.
At the heart of the debate is whether America sees any
difference between the extremists who attacked in the name
of Islam and the many moderate Muslims who consider
themselves Americans and denounce the use of terror to
further political causes.
These recent controversies have opened a can of worms for
Americans and the values that their country has been
professing for decades.
Religious freedom and tolerance of communities are
considered cornerstones of the so called American value
Yet the New York Islamic Centre controversy has exposed the
harsh reality that the US is a deeply divided society.
More than 70 percent of New Yorkers are opposed to a mosque
being built in the vicinity of the destroyed World Trade
Despite the repeated assurances that the project is
undertaken by moderate Muslims has not been able to persuade
a majority in New York and the rest of the country to see
the endeavour in a positive note.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf the man at the centre of the
controversy is considered a moderate cleric who has
repeatedly condemned the extremists attacks against the US
and has even undertaken missions to the Middle East on
behalf of the State Department.
Yet a majority of Americans see the 9/11 attackers as
Muslims rather than terrorists or even extremists and hold
all Muslims responsible for the attack.
A country which has preached tolerance and civil liberties
to the world for decades finds itself fighting to preserve
those values in an ever more intolerant discourse.
Politics and politicians have not helped the cause either.
The Republican Party which was soundly defeated in the last
presidential election and lost the majority in the Congress
and the Senate has more or less been taken over by ultra
conservative Christian fundamentalists.
They have latched on to the mosque issue and fuelled the
Islamaphobia that it hopes will galvanise their less
educated evangelical party base mainly from rural America.
Unlike years past, this ninth anniversary comes in an
unusually charged atmosphere.
It isn’t just the mosque and cultural centre for Muslims
near the site of the attack or the threat of Quran burning
it is a broader anger fuelled by a deep recession, fatigue
and frustration caused by overseas fighting.
The war in Afghanistan that was a direct result of the 9/11
attacks has not been going well for the US and its NATO
It is nearly nine years since the US-led troops into the
already war devastated country in pursuit of Osama bin Laden
and his Taliban host.
At the time it was assumed to be a quick operation. Then
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even joked, a few weeks
into the US bombing campaign, “Afghanistan is running out of
Yet for all the superpower machismo the main objective of
capturing Bin Laden or the top leaders of the Taliban has
eluded the Americans since the beginning of the conflict.
Nor is the objective of bringing democracy into the country
succeeded either. Hamid Karzai the man appointed by the US
to usher in democracy to Afghanistan has been an abysmal
failure. His regime is accused of rigging elections, making
deals with war lords involved in drug smugglings and war
crimes among other things.
The Karzai Government has lost confidence among ordinary
Afghans due to its nepotism and blatant corruption.
It is this same regime that the US hopes will take over the
shattered country once it withdraws. President Barak Obama
has already announced that he hopes to commence a troop
pullout from Afghanistan by next year.
Unlike in Iraq, where the US completed a pull out of combat
troops last month, in Afghanistan the central government
doesn’t assert its writ beyond the capital except for a few
populated pockets that are currently protected by western
troops. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have been making a comeback
in the last two years with increasing violence directed
against Afghan troops and government officials. After nine
years of war and over one thousand combat deaths the US is
yet to achieve any of its stated objectives. Defeat of
terrorism and establishment of democracy still remains
distant goals just as they were back in 2001.
Many fear that the increasing anti-Islamic sentiments in the
US will empower the extremists all around the globe.
General David Petraeus, the US and NATO commander in the
Afghan capital, Kabul, said last week “images of the burning
of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by the Taliban in
Afghanistan, to inflame public opinion and incite violence”.
Already the Taliban has been distributing leaflets
denouncing the Quran burning.
The 9/11 attacks were not just an attack on the military and
economic symbols of the US but a strike at the very values
on which that country is built. Even after a decade
Americans find themselves torn between their professed
values and the emotions of fear and hatred.
The manner in which the controversies over the building of
the Islamic centre and the burning of the holy Quran play
out would either expose the fallacy of the so called
American values or uphold them in their true sprit. Either
way the only thing that is assured is that the rest of the
world will be closely watching.
It is hoped that America gets this one right.
democracy ‘catastrophe for Russia’
- Parliamentary democracy would be catastrophic for Russia,
President Dmitry Medvedev said, showing his suspicion of
Western systems of government despite a drive to modernise
Medvedev, who liberals hoped would prove a major political
reformer when he took power in 2008, told a meeting of
international experts that Russia’s system of government was
not in need of major change.
“Nothing needs to be radically changed. Not because it is
not allowed, but because there is no need,” Medvedev told
the meeting in the Volga city of Yaroslavl.
Medvedev said Russia does not want a system like that of
Kyrgyzstan, which is due to elect a strong parliament in
October after agreeing constitutional changes that decreased
the powers of the president.
“We are told about parliamentary democracy and our Kyrgyz
friends have gone along that path,” he said.
“But for Russia -- and I fear for Kyrgyzstan --
parliamentary democracy is a catastrophe,” he added.
Russian politics is dominated by the president and his
powerful Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, with the pliant
parliament usually only providing a loyal rubber stamp for
legislation proposed from above.
Although touted by his supporters as a liberal moderniser,
critics accuse Medvedev of doing nothing to dismantle the
strong state control imposed on Russian politics over the
Little serious criticism ever comes from parliament, police
regularly break up even small-scale opposition protests and,
crucially, changes that abolished the elections of regional
governors in 2004 remain firmly in place.
Since former president Putin rose to power 10 years ago,
Russian officials have insisted the country will develop its
own political system sometimes called “sovereign democracy.”
State television pictures showed Medvedev addressing the
experts sitting next to the Kremlin’s shadowy chief
idealogue Vladislav Surkov, seen by many as the architect of
the current political system.
|‘Police abuse’ video
in Kashmir probed
NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian
authorities were investigating the veracity of a video
uploaded onto YouTube that allegedly shows young men being
paraded naked by security forces in Kashmir.
The grainy three-minute video, which has not been
authenticated, purportedly shows four protesters being
forced to walk naked by baton-wielding people wearing police
and paramilitary uniforms.
The unsourced footage has been uploaded onto the video
sharing website, sparking anger in Kashmir at a time when
government forces are battling to contain three months of
“No one has been able to authenticate the video so far,”
Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters in New
Delhi. “I have asked the (police) agencies to find out
whether anyone who is reportedly in the video has stood up
and spoken out.”
Police in Srinagar said the video was “baseless and
malicious clip” being used to malign the security forces at
a sensitive time in the region.
The police also told news networks and other organisations
not to broadcast the footage.
Since the killing of a 17-year-old student by police on June
11, a total of 69 protesters and bystanders have been
killed, mostly by security forces who have used live
ammunition on rallies after being pelted with stones.
Police said a 55-year-old man died in Kashmir a day after he
was injured by stones thrown by anti-India protesters.
|Four dead in gas blast
SAN BRUNO, California (AFP) -
California firefighters voiced hope that the death toll from
a horrific inferno would not rise above four, as attention
turned to what had ignited the devastating explosion.
Emergency workers said they had searched over 75 percent of
the smoldering ruins left by a huge gas pipeline blast,
which injured 52 people injured, including three with
“There are holes in the ground, and some spots are still
smoldering. We are going as fast as we can,” said police
chief Neil Telford, while fire chief Dennis Haag said he was
“fairly positive” the death toll would stay at four.
Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado -- standing in for
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is on a trade
trip to Asia -- was more cautious, stressing that a quarter
of the inferno site had yet to be checked.
“I think it is still premature to say the death toll won’t
rise,” he told AFP, speaking near a Red Cross emergency
center set up in a nearby shopping plaza.
A street-by-street check revealed 38 buildings were
destroyed and seven others significantly damaged by the
explosion and the ensuing inferno.
Local utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said a natural
gas main ruptured, but they have not been able to get close
enough to the heart of the huge smoldering crater left
behind to determine the reason.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Maldonado, who
declared a state of emergency for the city just three
kilometers west of the San Francisco International Airport.
|Policeman, guerilla killed in Caucasus
MOSCOW (AFP) - One policeman and one suspected guerrilla
were killed and five police wounded in three separate
incidents in Russia’s conflict-torn Caucasus, the Interfax
news agency reported yesterday.
In the republic of Ingushetia, “a police lieutenant went
outside late Friday to help his friend fix his car when
unknown attackers drove by and opened fire on him,” police
sources said, adding that the policeman died of his wounds
en route to the hospital.
In the republic of Dagestan, a suspected guerrilla was
killed yesterday in a clash with security forces who stormed
his apartment in the town of Derbent, local officials said.
In another incident, an armoured police car in
Kabardino-Balkaria hit an explosive device yesterday,
lightly injuring five police troops, local police said.
Russia has in recent years been fighting an increasingly
deadly insurgency in the North Caucasus regions of Chechnya,
Dagestan and Ingushetia which has claimed scores of lives
Meanwhile, the death toll from the worst militant strike for
months in Russia’s conflict-torn Caucasus rose to at least
17 as the troubled region of North Ossetia observed a day of
|Afghanistan’s neighbours must help
define future: Kissinger
GENEVA (AFP) - Former
US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said Afghanistan’s
neighbours would have to step up to help define the future
of the country, rather than depend on unilateral US efforts.
After all, countries in the region including China, India,
Pakistan and even Iran could be affected if Afghanistan were
to end up with a fundamentalist regime, he told a conference
organised by the International Institute for Strategic
“A unilateral American role cannot be a long-term solution.
A long-term solution must involve a combination, a
consortium of countries in defining, protecting and
guaranteeing a definition of a statehood for Afghanistan,”
said the 87-year-old elder statesman.
“While the US is so engaged, there may be many countries
that believe that they can wait. I would argue that starting
this effort soon is the best way and maybe the only way to
bring this to a conclusion,” he added.
|Japan concerned over China’s growing
TOKYO (AFP) - Japan voiced concern over China’s growing
military muscle in a defence paper, as a row continued over
the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain in disputed waters.
In its annual Defence of Japan report, Tokyo pointed to
increased Chinese naval activities near its shores,
including tense incidents earlier this year in which Chinese
helicopters staged close fly-bys of Japanese warships.
As it has in past years, the defence ministry report,
approved by Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s cabinet in the
morning, urged Beijing to be clearer about its military
spending, including on a blue-water fleet.
“China has been intensifying its maritime activities,
including those in waters near Japan,” the document said,
adding that Beijing had failed to “disclose a clear,
specific future vision of its military modernisation.”
“The lack of transparency of its national defence policies
and the military activities are a matter of concern for the
region and the international community, including Japan,
which require prudent analysis.”