|Urban sprawl ‘aided Australian
|SYDNEY (AFP) - Rapacious development in fast-growing
Queensland magnified the horror of Australia’s epic floods,
experts said, with natural buffers paved over by concrete
and new construction paying scant heed to environmental
At least 30,000 homes have been swamped by the devastating
deluge on the Brisbane River which swallowed entire suburbs
of Australia’s third-biggest city after weeks of heavy
rains, which have flooded towns further north.
The Wivenhoe Dam, built after destructive floods which
killed 14 people in 1974, helped moderate the worst of the
unprecedented upstream flows by gradually releasing them
into the river.
But experts said the rapid development of Brisbane and
surrounding areas had worsened the damage by replacing
absorbent green corridors with cement, and by erecting new
buildings on vulnerable sites.
“If you look at the Gold Coast, Brisbane, those kind of
areas over the past 10, 20 years, there’s been an enormous
increase in buildings and hard surfaces,” Rob Roggema, an
urban planning expert at The Royal Melbourne Institute of
“If spatial planning people ... would have listened a little
closer to what you can expect (from the climate) over a
longer period of time, a lot of the damage could have been
Brisbane is one of Australia’s fastest-growing areas, with
the population swelling by half a million between 1986 and
2007 and town planners preparing for an additional 145,000
dwellings to be built by 2026.
The Queensland state capital has a population of some two
million and is growing at an annual rate of about three
As far back as 1999 city authorities were warned that tens
of thousands of properties built after 1974 would be at risk
in the next major inundation, with water likely to be up to
two metres (six and a half feet) higher.
“Those developments have all taken place in areas that were
not flood liable in 1974, but they’ve increased the amount
of water... (and) both volume and velocity of water flow
during that time,” said Chris Eves, from the Queensland
University of Technology.
“Even though that development may be out of flood areas,
it’s created the potential to flood areas that were safe in
1974 and we’re seeing that now,” he said.
|Young Japanese ‘losing sex drive’
|TOKYO (AFP) - Young Japanese men are losing interest in
sex, according to a study commissioned by the government, in
a further warning sign for a nation notorious for its low
birth rate, a doctor said.
The survey also found that more than 40 percent of married
people said they have not had sex in the past month, said
Kunio Kitamura, head of the clinic of the Japan Family
Planning Association, who took part in the survey.
“This is directly linked with falling birth rate. Policy
actions are necessary,” Kitamura said.
The data confirmed a wider social belief that younger men
are becoming “herbivorous”, a label attached to passive men
who do not actively seek women and sex.
The latest biennial survey found that 36.1 percent of
Japanese males between the ages of 16-19 said they had no
interest or even despised sex, a jump from 17.5 percent in
the 2008 study.
Compounding the issue was data that showed 59 percent of
girls in the same age group felt the same way, up 12
percentage points from 2008.
The data is a worry for a government aiming to encourage
couples to have children to reverse a falling birth rate and
avert a potential economic calamity.
Japan’s total fertility rate in 2009 was estimated by the
government at 1.37 births per woman, one of the world’s
lowest, compared with 2.06 in the United States and 1.97 in
|Killing raises fears for liberal
|ISLAMABAD (AFP) - The killing of a provincial governor
by his bodyguard has heightened security fears among
Pakistan’s political liberals who say their voices are being
drowned out by rising religious extremism.
Confessed killer Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri gunned down his
boss recently outside an Islamabad coffee shop, and the ease
with which he carried out his crime has stoked fears among
politicians of more vigilante violence.
They say Salman Taseer’s assassination has deepened a bitter
divide between supporters of a liberal Pakistan and an
increasingly powerful lobby on the religious right who have
welcomed his death and denounced his few outspoken
Rallies have been held to honour Qadri, who was showered
with petals at court after he admitted to killing Taseer
because he sought to amend a blasphemy law recently used to
sentence a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, to death.
Minorities Minister Shabhaz Bhatti, a Christian, who first
spoke out against the blasphemy law, believes he is “the
highest target right now”.
“During this Bibi case I constantly received death threats.
Since the assassination of Salman Taseer... these messages
are coming to me even publicly,” Bhatti said.
Bhatti said fatwas, or religious decrees, had been issued
calling for him to be beheaded, by extremist clerics in the
country who were allowed to publicly spread messages of
violence with impunity.
“The government should register cases against all those
using hate speeches,” said Bhatti, who insists he will work
as usual despite the threats.
“I’m not talking about special security arrangements. We
need to stand against these forces of terrorism because
they’re terrorising the country.
|New faces in Japan cabinet
|TOKYO (AFP) - Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan added new
faces to his cabinet in a bid to appease opposition parties,
help his push to mend the country’s tattered finances and
boost free trade to spur growth.
Among the changes in Kan’s third cabinet since becoming
prime minister were new fiscal policy, trade, justice and
transport ministers, but the premier kept other key posts
such as foreign, finance and defence portfolios unchanged.
In doing so Kan has bowed to pressure from the conservative
opposition in order to help secure the passage of bills to
finance the 2011 budget, as he seeks to energise an economy
mired in deflation, saddled by huge debt and burdened by a
Kan has seen his support ratings tumble after only seven
months as premier as his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)
gears up for a tough 150-day parliamentary session starting
“For Japan and the DPJ government, this cabinet reshuffle
has come at a particularly difficult time,” said new Chief
Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, replacing Yoshito Sengoku,
who takes a top party post.
Opposition parties had threatened to boycott budget sessions
and delay the passage of key legislation unless Sengoku was
removed, citing what was seen as his mishandling of a bitter
territorial row with China.
Kan appointed 72-year-old conservative former finance
minister, fiscal hawk Kaoru Yosano, as his new fiscal policy
minister, also putting him in charge of tax and social
|$100bn for ports upgrade
|NEW DELHI (AFP) - India is aiming to invest $100 billion
to develop new ports and ships under a major new government
plan that seeks to unleash the country’s exporting
“We want to bring our ports at a par with the best
international ports in terms of performance and capacity,”
Indian Shipping Minister G K Vasan said in a statement
released with the “Maritime Agenda 2010-2020” plan.
Vasan said the ministry intends to expand the capacity of
India’s ports to enable them to handle 3.2 billion tonnes a
year. This would be greater than expected annual trade in
2020, which is forecast to hit 2.5 billion tonnes.
A total 4.52 trillion rupees ($100 billion) of investment is
proposed through private and public participation, with 2.87
trillion rupees earmarked for ports and 1.65 trillion for
Improving the country’s creaking ports is seen by economists
as key to making India a global export hub for manufactured
goods, which would generate mass employment and raise
The country has already emerged as a world centre of
small-car production, but relatively few are exported
because of transport and capacity problems that bedevil its
The investments will cover the development of two new major
ports on the country’s east and west coasts -- at
unspecified locations -- while four existing ports in
Mumbai, Kochi, Chennai and Visakhapatnam will be expanded.
As part of the plan, the ministry also aims to raise India’s
share of the global shipbuilding industry from one to five
per cent by 2020.
It also seeks to increase the percentage of Indian seafarers
in the global shipping industry from between six and seven
percent currently to nine per cent by 2015.
|Brazil suffering worst-ever disaster
|TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AFP) - Brazil is suffering its
worst-ever natural disaster after mudslides near Rio de
Janeiro that killed more than 500 people, according to the
Municipal officials in the Serrana region just north of Rio
said at least 506 people were killed, surpassing the 437
killed in a 1967 mudslide tragedy that “up until now seen as
the biggest (disaster) in Brazil,” according to the news
It was feared more bodies were yet to be discovered as
rescuers finally arrived in villages cut off because of
destroyed roads and bridges in the region.
Efforts to locate survivors and bodies were going on under
the risk of further mudslides, as rain continued to fall on
the waterlogged region, making it even more unstable.
“It’s very overwhelming. The scenes are very shocking,”
President Dilma Rousseff said after visiting the area.
She pledged “strong action” by her government, which has
already released $470 million in initial emergency aid and
sent seven tons of medical supplies.
The catastrophe was seen as her first big test since taking
power two weeks ago, taking over from her popular
predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Storms early Wednesday dumped the equivalent of a month’s
rain in just a few hours before dawn, sending mudslides
slicing through towns and hamlets, destroying homes, roads
and bridges and knocking out telephone and power lines.
The worst affected towns were Novo Friburgo, which recorded
225 deaths, Teresopolis, with 223 deaths, and Petropolis,
with 39 deaths, according to municipal officials. Another 19
fatalities were registered in the village of Sumidouro.
The toll of dead from this one disaster was higher than the
473 rain-related deaths recorded for all of Brazil over the
span of 2010.
Churches and police stations were turned into makeshift
morgues, the smell of decomposing corpses heavy in the warm
air. Thousands of survivors took refuge in shelters.
Outside one morgue in Teresopolis, crowds looked at photos
of the dead, searching for loved ones.
“I can’t go inside. I don’t have courage to,” said one
woman, Ana Maria, 40.
“You have no idea how hard it is to see the bodies of so
many children... It’s horrible,” one fireman there said.
Elsewhere in the town, in a gymnasium, hundreds of people
left homeless by the calamity sat around on mattresses,
still in shock, some injured.
|100 dead in Kerala stampede
|THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (AFP) - More than 100 Hindu
devotees were killed after a road accident triggered a
stampede among thousands of pilgrims returning from an
Indian religious festival, officials said yesterday.
The Friday evening tragedy unfolded in a remote, mountainous
area of southern Kerala as pilgrims made their way home from
an annual ceremony at the hill shrine of Sabarimala that
draws three to four million people each year.
Kerala Home Secretary Jaya Kumar said 102 people had been
confirmed dead and dozens more injured, some of them
Police officials said a packed jeep had lost control and
ploughed into a crowd of devotees packed onto a narrow road
in a hilly and densely forested area 10km from the shrine.
“The accident caused a mass panic and triggered a stampede
on the hillside,” said Special Police Commissioner Rajendra
The search for bodies and survivors had been hampered by the
remote location, heavy mist and the thick forest terrain.
Indian television ran pictures of casualties being passed
over the heads of tightly packed crowds of pilgrims in a
rescue effort that stretched deep into the night.
The stampede occurred on the final day of the pilgrimage at
the Sabarimala shrine, located in Idukki district, about
200km from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram
The governor of Kerala, a popular holiday destination and
spice-growing region with sandy beaches and lush green
mountains, expressed his sadness at the loss of life.
R S Gavai said he was “deeply shocked and saddened at the
He added: “I share my profound grief of the bereaved
families and pray for the speedy recovery of those injured.”
Many of the victims were from the neighbouring states of
Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
The shrine is packed with devotees throughout the pilgrimage
season from November to January.
|2010 hottest year on Indian records
|NEW DELHI (AFP) - India experienced its hottest year on
record in 2010, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD)
said on Friday, blaming the rise in temperatures on global
India’s mean annual temperature during 2010 was 0.93 degrees
Celsius (33.6 Fahrenheit) higher than the long term
(1961-1990) average, according to the Annual Climate Summary
of India during 2010.
“Indians experienced the worst summer in the last one
century, and this was a definite result of global warming,”
IMD spokesman B K Bandyopadhyay said. The country’s weather
records began in 1901.
The study also said that that the 2001-2010 decade was the
warmest since the records started, with a temperature
averaging 0.40 degrees Celsius (32.7 Fahrenheit) higher than
that of the previous decade.
“We are still trying to examine the key reasons responsible
for the drastic rise in temperatures and ways to control
it,” the spokesman added.
Experts on climate change warn that without action the
planet’s rising temperatures could unleash potentially
catastrophic change to the earth’s climate system, leading
to hunger, drought, storms and massive species loss.
In late 2009, India announced a plan to reduce the growth of
its greenhouse gas emissions by becoming more carbon
efficient. It aims to cut the emissions generated per unit
of GDP by 20 to 25 percent by 2020 compared with 2005.
Last year a study from India’s environment ministry said
that annual greenhouse gas emissions had increased by 58
percent from 1994-2007, driven by higher industrial
activity, energy production and transport.
|Tunisian president flees to Saudi
|TUNIS (AFP) - Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
fled the country for Saudi Arabia amid a wave of deadly
social protests in a dramatic end to his 23 years in power
that is unprecedented for a leader in the Arab world.
Ben Ali signed a decree handing interim presidential powers
to Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi and flew out of Tunis
after failing to quell growing public anger against his
Saudi Arabia early today officially announced that it was
hosting the toppled Tunisian president and his family.
“Out of concern for the exceptional circumstances facing the
brotherly Tunisian people and in support of the security and
stability of their country... the Saudi government has
welcomed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family to
the kingdom,” a palace statement said.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands totally alongside the
brotherly Tunisian people and hopes that they will close
ranks in order to overcome this difficult period in their
history,” the statement added.
In an address on state television following a day of riots
that engulfed central Tunis and several other towns in the
North African state, Ghannouchi announced that he had taken
over and promised social and political reforms.
“I call on Tunisians of all political persuasions and from
all regions to demonstrate patriotism and unity,” said
Ghannouchi, a 69-year-old career bureaucrat who has served
as prime minister on and off since 1999.
The government earlier said new elections would be held in
US President Barack Obama hailed the “courage” and “dignity”
of Tunisian protesters and called for “free and fair
elections in the near future”.
The European Union expressed “support and recognition to the
Tunisian people and their democratic aspirations, which
should be achieved in a peaceful way”.
Ben Ali came to power in a bloodless coup in 1987 at a time
of stagnation for Tunisia and he was initially hailed by
many people for enacting liberal economic reforms as well as
nipping in the bud the Islamist Ennahdha party.
He has come under growing criticism for authoritarianism and
Mystery surrounded Ben Ali’s planned final destination and
the streets of central Tunis were mostly empty after the
announcement, with the silence punctuated by occasional
bursts of gunfire heard in the distance.
State television reported numerous cases of looting in Tunis
and in other parts of the country and police helicopters
mounted with loudspeakers circled in Tunis, calling for calm
and urging residents to stay in their homes.
The government has declared a state of emergency following
the recent violence and has put in place a dusk-to-dawn
curfew across the country under which anyone disobeying
orders or fleeing from security forces can be shot.
Analysts said the abrupt change of power was likely to send
shockwaves around a region dominated by veteran leaders like
the 74-year-old Ben Ali.
|Gates warns of ‘disconnect’ between China military
and civilian leadership
|Tension in the air
|TOKYO (AFP) - US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said
after a trip to Beijing that China’s revelation of a stealth
jet’s flight test pointed to a “disconnect” between its
military and civilian leaders.
Gates was speaking in Japan during a week-long Asia tour
focussed on the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea
and the increasing military assertiveness in the region of
Pyongyang’s only major ally China.
The Pentagon chief stressed that China’s President Hu
Jintao, whom he met recently, was “in command and in charge”
but also said there were signs that civilian leaders had
been unaware of the J-20 jet’s test flight.
When Gates met Hu and other top officials recently, Chinese
state media published photos that were said to show the
debut flight of the J-20, the country’s first radar-evading
The timing of the stealth fighter’s flight appeared to be a
snub to Washington, fuelling the sense of a military rivalry
despite positive statements from both governments during the
But Gates said that, in his meeting with Chinese civilian
leaders, there were “pretty clear indications they were
unaware of the flight test”.
Gates, speaking at Tokyo’s Keio University, said “this is an
area where over the last several years we have seen some
signs of, I guess I would call it a disconnect between the
military and the civilian leadership”.
China’s government leaders had also appeared to be initially
unaware of aggressive actions taken by their naval vessels
against a US Navy surveillance ship in 2009, and of an
anti-satellite test in recent years, Gates said.
Gates -- who later took off on a flight to South Korea --
renewed his warnings about China’s latest weaponry, which he
said presented a possible threat to the US military’s
long-running presence in the Pacific.
“Advances by the Chinese military in cyber and
anti-satellite warfare pose a potential challenge to the
ability of our forces to operate and communicate in this
part of the Pacific,” he said.
But he said Washington and Tokyo were well-placed to counter
the threat with high-tech hardware and that it was not a
foregone conclusion that China would turn into a military
“I disagree with those who portray China as an inevitable
strategic adversary of the US,” he said.
“We welcome a China that plays a constructive role on the
Gates stressed the importance of the half-century-old
US-Japan alliance and American troop presence in the country
-- both to deter the volatile North Korean regime and
counter China’s more assertive stance.
“Without such a presence, North Korea’s military
provocations could be even more outrageous,” and “China
might behave more assertively towards its neighbours”, said
“Without the forward presence of US forces in Japan, there
would be less information sharing and coordination, and we
would know less about regional threats and the military
capabilities of our potential adversaries.”
The presence of almost 50,000 US troops in Japan, dating
back to World War II, has been a source of friction over the
years, with strong opposition in Okinawa over plans to
relocate an air base on the southern island.
However, tensions on the divided Korean peninsula and
China’s rising military power have renewed interest in the
US-Japan alliance, with officials in Tokyo calling for
bolstering defence ties with Washington.
|Mrs Obama talks tolerance in open
letter to parents
|WASHINGTON (AFP) - First Lady Michelle Obama urged
parents to teach their children tolerance in response to the
deadly Tucson shooting spree that touched off debate about
Mrs Obama, who joined her husband at a memorial service for
the victims, issued an open letter to parents. Children are
struggling, she said, to make sense of Saturday’s shooting
that killed six and left 14 injured, including Congresswoman
“We can teach them the value of tolerance -- the practice of
assuming the best, rather than the worst, about those around
us,” she wrote. “We can teach them to give others the
benefit of the doubt, particularly those with whom they
At the memorial service, President Barack Obama called for
“It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure
that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not
a way that wounds,” the president told the audience at the
University of Arizona convention hall.
The first lady said that message can be passed along to
“We can explain to them that although we might not always
agree with those who represent us, anyone who enters public
life does so because they love their country and want to
serve it,” she wrote.
Some liberals have claimed that the tragedy is linked to a
climate of hate whipped up by conservative political figures
like Sarah Palin. The former Republican vice presidential
candidate rejected any responsibility, saying “acts of
monstrous criminality stand on their own.”
The 22-year-old alleged gunman, Jared Loughner, faces the
death penalty because a federal judge was among the victims.
Michelle Obama said American children probably are asking
the same questions that her two daughters have asked.
“We can teach our children that here in America, we embrace
each other, and support each other, in times of crisis,” she
wrote. “And we can help them do that in their own small way
-- whether it’s by sending a letter, or saying a prayer, or
just keeping the victims and their families in their
|Poll boost for Miliband
|LONDON: Labour have comfortably won the Oldham East and
Saddleworth by-election with a majority of more than 3,500.
Debbie Abrahams held off the challenge of Lib Dem Elwyn
Watkins, while the Conservatives’ vote fell by more than
7,000 as they came a distant third.
Labour said the result - a boost for party leader Ed
Miliband - was a “wake-up call” for the coalition.
Nick Clegg said he was pleased with the Lib Dem performance
- their share of the vote was up 0.3% on May’s result.
Ms Abrahams told activists that the result sent a clear
message to prime minister David Cameron that “you have to
listen, think again and change direction”.
The by-election was called after a special court found
ex-Labour minister Phil Woolas had lied about Mr Watkins in
May’s general election and invalidated the result.
Eight months ago, Labour won the seat by just 103 votes from
the Lib Dems but, this time, it secured a much clearer
victory - finishing 3,558 votes ahead of their closest
rivals with 14,718 votes. The party’s share of the vote
increased by 10% to 42%.
Although the Lib Dems failed to snatch the seat, their share
of the vote actually increased by 0.3% to 32% from May.
They polled 11,160 votes, with the Conservatives getting
4,481 (12.8% share), UKIP 2,029 (5.8%) and the BNP 1,560
However, the Tories’ said it had been a “disappointing”
night as their share of the vote fell by 13.6%.
|War-ravaged railway re-opens after 18
|LUANDA (AFP) - A railroad destroyed during Angola’s
27-year civil war officially re-opened this week, ending a
near two-decade long closure of a 112-year-old line
originally built by colonial ruler Portugal.
The 424-km track between Luanda and the eastern city of
Malanje was one of three major railway routes wrecked by the
conflict and it eventually closed in 1992.
“This one is more modern,” joked Julia Conde Oliveira, 49, a
passenger who said she had taken the train during the
“I am going to visit Malanje and its region as a tourist,”
she said as the train set off around 5:10 am (0410 GMT).
The route is the first major line to re-open under a four
billion-dollar (3.07 billion-euro) rail project carried out
by Chinese firms since the end of Angola’s 1975-2002 civil
Angola, which vies with Nigeria for the title of Africa’s
top producer of crude oil, has been on a massive
infrastructure spending spree in recent years.
China has played a pivotal role in reconstruction, extending
generous credit lines conditioned on the hiring of Chinese
companies and repaid in oil.
|Ten years on, Wikipedia eyes a better
|NEW YORK (AFP) - Ten years after its debut as a geeky
online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia today wants to use its huge,
growing popularity and spirit to spread knowledge across the
In the decade since it was born, the free, non-profit
encyclopaedia that anyone can edit has profoundly changed
the way people access information, becoming almost the
default source for quick online references.
After a failed attempt to launch a conventional online
encyclopaedia called Nupedia, Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia
on January 15, 2001 with little expectations.
“Wikipedia turned out to be more successful than anybody
ever imagined or ever even aspired for it to be. It took on
a life of its own and became this hugely popular thing,”
Wikipedia chief executive officer Sue Gardner said.
Today, Wikipedia is available in more than 250 languages,
includes some 26 million entries, is read by hundreds of
millions across the world and edited by millions of
And now that it has established itself in rich countries,
Wikipedia has set its sights on developing countries, as
Internet access and literacy gradually improve.
“Our goal is to reach people all around the world with
Wikipedia and to make it possible for them to access the
encyclopaedia,” Gardner said in an interview with AFP.
“We know that people are coming online in massive numbers,
particularly through mobile phones, and so we have a new
strategic effort to focus our energies on these developing
countries so, as those people come online, Wikipedia is
there for them to use.”
Wikipedia is set to open its first office outside the United
States in India to increase awareness for the open-source
encyclopedia in the rapidly growing economy where the
growing middle-class is hungry for information.
It is also expanding and improving its website in Chinese,
even though Beijing continues to restrict access to the
“When I talk to Chinese Wikipedians I have the impression
that what they are hoping to do is build up a good
Chinese-language encyclopedia so that come the day that
people in China get unfettered access to the Internet, it is
waiting for them, good and rich to read,” Gardner said.