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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 Melbourne.

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 parliament.
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 honoured.

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 energy efficiency.
“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 a statement.
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

LONDON (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 said.
“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 sex abuse.

Musharraf warns against NGOs skimming flood money

LONDON (AFP) - 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 victims.
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 process.”
The office of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also confirmed the cancellation of Shourd’s release, state news agency IRNA reported.
“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 announced later.”
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 festival.
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 Korean homes.
“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 signing contracts.
“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 to thief

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 nations.
“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 agency reported.

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 minutes.

‘Big Brother’ show calls time

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 to marry

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 talks.
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 haunts America

By Thanapathi
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 system.
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 Centre buildings.
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 allies.
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 targets”.
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.

Parliamentary democracy ‘catastrophe for Russia’

MOSCOW (AFP) - Parliamentary democracy would be catastrophic for Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev said, showing his suspicion of Western systems of government despite a drive to modernise the country.
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 last years.
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 violent demonstrations.
“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 inferno

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 critical burns.
“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 annually.
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 mourning.

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 Studies.
“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 military reach

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.”