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On target – thumbs up as greats rate A-League an ‘A’

AUSTRALIA’S footballing future depends on the A-League. And, having attracted several high-profile foreign players, as well as luring back some of Australia’s finest – including Jason Culina, John Aloisi and Stan Lazaridis – there’s reason to believe the league is a solid and growing force.Not everyone is convinced. Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek has equated the domestic football centrepiece to little more than a European league training session. Crowds, ratings and playing standards are unpredictable. And the fragility that once plagued the code locally is not yet entirely a relic.So, more than four years since its inaugural season, is the A-League on the right track? Is it strong? Which clubs have got it right? And, perhaps most importantly, is the league going to produce the kind of players needed to keep the Socceroos moving into the realm of world football’s elite?”Absolutely,” former Socceroo Ray Baartz says. ”I wish I had those opportunities when I was young. The full-time professionalism, the grounds, the coaching, the training … I think everything is in the players’ favour now. If they’re good enough and they’re keen enough, the opportunities are unlimited.”However, Baartz, who played at Manchester United as a teenager in the 1960s and later played 48 internationals, fears that despite the new professionalism, some teams are playing too negatively.”That’s my only criticism,” he says. ”The build-ups are too slow, which is resulting in some teams not creating enough opportunities to score, which is what the crowds want. I’d like to see more emphasis on attacking play.”Nevertheless, Baartz believes faith should continue to be placed in locally produced coaches. He also believes the league will increasingly encourage young players to stay in Australia longer.”I think we’ve got coaches here who are capable of getting the players to approach the game in the right way,” he says.”The competition is a high standard and players can now look to establish themselves here and then maybe go overseas. There’s no point going to minor leagues overseas and struggling when there is a good option here now.”Lazaridis, another one-time star Socceroo, believes the world financial crisis – and the resulting comparative conservatism of European clubs – might force players to stay in Australia longer. It could also influence more good foreign players to come because ”it’s a half-decent league and they can earn a half-decent wage here now”.Lazaridis, who returned from England to play briefly with Perth Glory, says the true merit of the A-League will be evident after next year.”After this World Cup you’re going to see players step aside and that’s when we’ll start to find out if the A-League is producing what we need,” he says.Lazaridis believes the clubs on the best path are Melbourne Victory – ”their crowds have been good and they play good football” – and the Central Coast Mariners.”The Mariners continually finish well, their crowds are stable and they’re careful with their money,” he says. ”They haven’t had big-name stars, yet they keep doing well.”But there are problems.”Probably the big concern for me is the financial stability of the clubs,” he says. ”Adelaide is being run by the FFA, Brisbane is in a bit of strife, Perth was struggling. Each club needs to get 10,000 through the door every week.”One way to do that, he believes, is to stop showing live coverage of matches in their home cities.”I think that’s scaring away 1000 people,” he says.”The TV money is very important, but other sports put games on delay in the home city, so football should, too. My friends go to the pub and spend $20 or $30 watching a match instead of going to the game and spending that money.”Some clubs are still struggling, but a third former Socceroo, Jim Fraser, believes it’s natural. ”The league, like any business, suffered from initial problems of hype followed by a downturn,” says Fraser, who coached Sydney FC’s goalkeepers and now works with their youth team.”The same thing happened with the J-League in Japan, which nearly died and then picked up again. Same in the United States.”Fraser, however, believes it’s encouraging to see the way struggling clubs have rebounded.”Most clubs so far have had a bad year. Melbourne were terrible in the second or third year but bounced back. Central Coast, Newcastle … the clubs are all learning lessons.”I think things are improving and the league is now pretty much an even playing field. The salary cap seems to have worked, there’s no real runaway clubs and I think the model is solid. It looks to me like the basis is there for it to become a strong competition. I don’t think it’s in any danger any more of falling over.”A key to the future, Fraser believes, has been the successful introduction of the youth competition.”With that in full swing now, the A-League is going to produce the kinds of players we need to keep improving at international level.”
Nanjing Night Net

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Maradona’s profane rant to result in FIFA inquiry

DIEGO MARADONA’S profanity-filled tirade on live television after Argentina qualified for next year’s World Cup will lead FIFA’s disciplinary committee to open a case against the former great.During the press conference after Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Uruguay, Maradona, on live television, grabbed his genitals and told reporters to ”keep on sucking”.”The reports we have received so far leave us no other alternative but to ask the disciplinary committee of FIFA to open a case against the coach Diego Armando Maradona,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter said.”As the president of FIFA it is my duty and my obligation to [refer] it to the disciplinary committee.”Blatter declined to further discuss the matter. ”It is now a matter of the FIFA jurisdiction to go into this,” he said.Maradona, who led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title and the 1990 final, had been under intense pressure during Argentina’s stuttering qualifying campaign, which included a 6-1 loss in Bolivia and a 3-1 loss to Brazil at home.”The qualification of Argentina has been expected everywhere in the world,” Blatter said. ”Argentina is a powerhouse in football and always has been. Therefore, we welcome the team of Argentina.”Although Argentina won their final two qualifying matches, both were scrappy wins with late goals – although a draw against Uruguay would have been enough to claim a spot at next year’s tournament in South Africa as one of the top four South American teams.Before the win over Uruguay, striker Martin Palermo scored three minutes into injury time to give Argentina a 2-1 victory over Peru.Before the wins, polls showed a majority of Argentina’s fans thought Maradona was unfit to coach the national team despite his success as a player.Maradona stood his ground in a radio interview before Blatter made his announcement.”[My comments were] a very big outburst after a week of many criticisms,” Maradona said. ”If someone feels wounded, I’ll apologise if they want. And if not, I’m sorry.”However, later in his interview with Argentina’s Radio Continental, he said: ”I have nothing to apologise for.”He called his media critics ”anti-Argentine”, saying he won’t forgive them for wanting ”Argentina to be left out of the World Cup”.Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona, who appointed Maradona and is Blatter’s No.2 official at FIFA, said that, ”if it were another coach or player, the matter would not have had such importance”.Grondona said: ”Everybody knows he’s a temperamental person and he’s already said he won’t speak like that again.”Grondona said he would discuss the issue with Blatter, but predicted the comments would soon blow over.
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Emerton juggles derby dynamite

HE PLAYED two important games for the Socceroos in the past week but Brett Emerton is braced for 90 minutes of total pressure and scrutiny tomorrow in one of the English Premier League’s great rivalries – the Rovers v the Clarets.Emerton will play for Blackburn Rovers against recently promoted Burnley FC – a team based just 12 kilometres from Ewood Park and one that has a 125-year blood rivalry with the Rovers.Emerton left Melbourne just hours after playing his part in securing a 1-0 Asian Cup win over Oman on Wednesday to prepare for the two teams’ first clash in the top flight in 43 years.The week leading into the derby has been staggering, even for Emerton, who has played in the Dutch league and a World Cup campaign. It has included:❏ A beefed-up police presence to quell possible violence across East Lancashire;❏ Historians dredging up moments of valour on the field between the two clubs – and examples of horror off it;❏ Former Blackburn Rovers captain Tim Sherwood describing the game as his old club’s ”biggest” in ages;❏ An opera singer being dragged into a 30-year debate between the two clubs over ”ownership” of the song Wandering Rover .Despite the obvious emotion, former Rovers great Derek Fazackerley urged his club’s large roster of foreign-born players to appreciate what the match means to their fans.”This game is definitely for the fans,” the veteran of 674 games told The East Lancashire Telegraph . “At the end of the season, even if you have finished below your rivals in the league, at least you can say: ‘We won both derby games’.”This game is still massive for the fans, it really is. Particularly with Burnley coming from the Championship, it is the first opportunity to play Blackburn as a Premier League side. Both sets of fans will want to win for local pride.”It is not quite the same for the players. I suppose Burnley are more of an English side, so their players will have seen this sort of rivalry before and perhaps more than Blackburn’s because they have been an established Premier League side for so long.”Emerton, one of the foreign-born players Fazackerley referred to, fully realises the significance of the clash and conceded the pressure was on him to perform.”It’s a massive game, it’s the local derby and everyone takes an interest in it,” he said. ”This was the first game the people here [Blackburn] looked for when the draw was announced.”I spoke to someone about this game and I think they got it right when he compared the intensity to The Ashes. I thought that was a good comparison because this [fixture] means so much to our supporters and to the people of Blackburn.”While helping Australia nut out a 0-0 draw with the Dutch and a desperate 1-0 victory over Oman was gruelling, Emerton needed little prompting to get his head in the right space for the match that will bring East Lancashire to a standstill at 1pm local time.”You really do try to take it one game at a time because each game does require a different approach,” said Emerton, when asked how he could mentally prepare in time after his action-packed week in Australia.”I thought the most important thing was for me to return to the UK and get on the field in the best possible shape to perform well on Sunday.”I’m in the same position as all my teammates, I have to perform and I have to play well because we really need [competition] points.”Burnley is one of those teams that don’t have a stand-out player but the reason why they are doing so well is simple – they play as a team and for each other. I think of us like that. It’s going to be a great game, a wonderful experience.”Goalkeeper Brian Jensen, who has played a mighty role in Burnley being the only newly promoted team to win their first four Premier League home games, warned the derby was not for the faint-hearted.”It’s hostile. The fans don’t like each other and make it known verbally,” Jensen said. “The atmospheres are good and this will probably be the best so far.”But when it comes down to it, it’s just football and it’s nice to be involved in those games.”Fazackerley was also aware of the potential for violence and said it was his hope “the game is played in the right spirit with no trouble”.The local law enforcement was determined that would be the case, with Lancashire Constabulary Superintendent Chris Bithell vowing troublemakers would be quickly dealt with. “We want this game to be remembered for what happens on the pitch,” he said.
Nanjing Night Net

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Language skills under his belt, Polota-Nau says he will be big in Japan

IF THE Wallabies are looking for a tour leader when they play their first major Test in Tokyo in a few weeks, they have one stuck right in the middle of their scrum. Come on down, Tatafu Polota-Nau.As expected of an intelligent man who is into robotics, and whose parents were unimpressed when he took up rugby in his late teens because they believed it would affect his studies, Polota-Nau has been preparing for the Tokyo Test by brushing up on his Japanese.And as usual with the gregarious and often hilarious Polota-Nau, there is a story to go with it. The Waratahs hooker has been learning the language for some years, after his uncle Hopoi Taione played several years of football as a second-rower in Japan in the late 1990s.”As a kind gesture to him and his Japanese wife, Yukiyo, I decided to learn the language, by mainly picking up some phrases from the internet,” Polota-Nau said yesterday.”It has now got to the stage that when I go to a Japanese restaurant, I will try to speak the language, and see how I go. When ordering food, I try to reply to the restaurant staff , and I have found that a good way of learning. There are certain words you pick up, while the grammar is similar to our Tongan language, so that’s helped.”He also works on his Japanese each time he is in contact with his uncle. ”Every time he calls up, I answer back in Japanese … but only to a certain point because he speaks so quickly,” Polota-Nau said. ”I often have to tell him to slow down so I can figure out what he is going on about. So you can see why I’m keen to go there.”Polota-Nau said he planned to escape the team hotel in Tokyo to try the local food halls. Adding to the thrill of heading to Japan is that he is certain to be an Australian mainstay in the Bledisloe Cup Test to be held at the National Stadium on October 31, as he is scheduled to hold onto his starting hooking spot ahead of Stephen Moore.Polota-Nau took over as the starting hooker for the final two matches of the Tri Nations, with his explosive start against the Springboks in Brisbane a crucial factor in the team’s only win of the tournament. In that match, he showed all his skills and incredible mobility during a frenetic 32 minutes before he was replaced due to injury. Also in Wellington, he was here, there and everywhere until one too many knocks meant he was replaced in the second half.”What I always do out there is give the best I can,” Polota-Nau said. ”I look upon it all as what the team needs first. I’m always appreciative of the opportunity to start, but in the end it all depends on what is the best XV for the respective game.”Also I do have a feeling that it is all coming together with the Wallabies, and the spring tour gives us a great opportunity to show that.”Another forward who will have a promotion on the tour is Reds skipper James Horwill, who will take on a senior lineout leadership role in Nathan Sharpe’s absence. ”This is a big tour, and it is really something I am looking forward to,” he said.
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Hamas seeking changes to Palestine unity accord

CAIRO: The Fatah party of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has given a signed copy of a proposed unity accord with rivals Hamas to Egyptian mediators, as the Islamists asked for more time to consider the deal.”I handed over the signed agreement and said what I had to say,” a Fatah negotiator, Azzam al-Ahmed, said. ”Now we are waiting for Hamas’s response.”Hamas said earlier it wanted more time to study the deal and demanded that the accord include a clause on the right to resist Israeli occupation.”Hamas has officially asked Egypt to give it two to three days to complete its internal consultations,” the Hamas-run government spokesman, Taher al-Nunu, saidA Damascus-based spokesman for Hamas and other hardline groups also criticised the agreement earlier, saying it ”lacks a political vision concerning the conflict [with Israel] and the aggression against our people”.”The Palestinian factions will not sign the accord … unless the text includes the principles and the rights of Palestinians, especially that of resisting the Zionist occupation,” Khaled Abdel Majid said. The deal should include the question of ”Jerusalem and the dangers of ‘judaisation’ and permanent aggression that threaten this holy city”, as well as ”the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homes”.Israel, meanwhile, has urged the United Nations Human Rights Council not to ”reward terror” by endorsing a report accusing the Jewish state and Hamas of war crimes in the Gaza conflict, whereas Navi Pillay, the UN’s top human rights official, has backed the report.Mrs Pillay’s endorsement of the report by an expert group led by Judge Richard Goldstone came as Israel warned the UN Human Rights Council that approving the document risked undermining Middle East peace.”The resolution, as proposed, will be a reward for terror and will send a clear message to terrorists everywhere,” Aharon Leshno Yaar, Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the 47-state council.”They will clearly hear that this new form of warfare, as used by Hamas in Gaza, will offer immunity as countries will be prevented from waging effective responses,” he added as the council weighed up the report produced by an independent fact-finding mission.The US has taken a similar view that excessive attention to the report and alleged crimes in the Gaza war could hamper efforts to rejuvenate struggling peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.But Mrs Pillay said it was necessary for both sides ”to carry out impartial, independent, prompt, and effective investigations into reported violations of human rights and humanitarian law” as recommended by the report.The report said Israel and Hamas, Gaza’s rulers, committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during a 22-day conflict ending in January that Israel launched in response to rocket fire from the coastal enclave. The conflict left 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.The Goldstone report recommends referral of its conclusions to the International Criminal Court prosecutor in The Hague, if Israel and Hamas fail to conduct credible investigations within six months. It also recommends the UN Security Council set up a team of experts to monitor and report on any investigations undertaken by Israel on the allegations.Agence France-Presse, Associated Press
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Iran-China ties hinder US sanction efforts

BEIJING: The Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, had said that China is committed to deepening its ties with Iran, a declaration that underscores the difficulty the US will face in seeking broad economic sanctions against Tehran in an effort to rein in its nuclear program.”The Sino-Iranian relationship has witnessed rapid development, as the two countries’ leaders have had frequent exchanges, and co-operation in trade and energy has widened and deepened,” Xinhua quoted Mr Wen as saying at a meeting in Beijing on Thursday with the Iranian Vice-President, Mohammad Reza Rahimi.The US and its allies are counting on China and Russia, veto-holding members of the United Nations Security Council, for support in pressuring Iran to abandon activities the West fears could lead to the development of nuclear weapons.However, Washington is finding little support in Moscow or Beijing. On Tuesday, during a visit to Moscow by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said further sanctions on Iran would be counterproductive.The US President, Barack Obama, disclosed last month that Iran was building a second uranium enrichment plant. Iranian officials say their nation’s nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes only, and Tehran has said it will allow UN inspectors to visit the plant. But the US, leading Western powers and Israel believe that Iran’s ultimate aim is to develop nuclear weapons. The Security Council has imposed sanctions on Iran in each of the last three years on account of Tehran’s nuclear activities.Undercutting hopes China would take a tough stance on Iran now are the ever-growing economic ties between the two countries. In the face of the sanctions already in place, two-way trade between China and Iran rose 35 per cent last year, to $US27 billion, according to irantracker南京夜网.More important, China has signed about $US120 billion worth of oil deals with Iran in the past five years to keep the world’s third-largest economy on a rapid growth path.New punitive measures against Iran might drive up the price of oil for China, the world’s second-largest buyer of crude oil and an expanding consumer of cars. Iran needs China to help vitalise its oil and natural gas industries, which are underdeveloped because of the existing economic sanctions.Last year, the China National Petroleum Corp signed a $US1.76 billion deal with the National Iranian Oil Co to tap Iran’s North Azadegan oil field, expected to produce 75,000 barrels a day by 2012.Los Angeles Times
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Market dives amid fears over Thai king’s ailing health

BANGKOK: Fears for the health of Thailand’s 81-year-old king have triggered two days of big losses on the country’s stock exchange amid uncertainty over the royal succession.King Bhumibol Adulyadej was admitted to hospital in Bangkok last month with pneumonia. The Royal Household Bureau has issued statements almost daily that his general condition is good, but a lack of detailed information has given weight to rumours that he is seriously ill.That uncertainty was reflected on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, which closed down 5.3 per cent on Thursday after falling 8.2 per cent at one point – the biggest one-day fall since the global financial crisis began last October. On Wednesday, the market fell just over 2 per cent.Trading was to be halted yesterday if shares continued to fall, but they appeared to be rallying.Bhumibol, the world’s longest-serving monarch, has ruled Thailand for 63 years, a reign that has seen 15 coups, 16 constitutions and 27 changes of prime minister. He is revered as an almost divine figure who single-handedly restored the glory of a once-moribund monarchy.Bhumibol’s son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, is not perceived to have the stature or moral authority of his father, who has risen above partisan politics to become a unifying figure.The 25th statement from the Royal Household Bureau since the king was admitted to hospital on September 19 said his lung infection was clearing up, but he was not completely recovered. The royal physicians had requested ”that His Majesty remain in hospital … to improve his nutrition status and to provide continuous rehabilitation therapies”.Portraits of Bhumibol are displayed prominently in almost every home, business and public place in Thailand, and wristbands reading ”Long live the king” are hugely popular. Newspapers have been publishing front-page articles daily updating readers on the king’s health. The length of his stay in hospital – and the absence of photographs of his convalescence – have led to speculation that he is seriously ill.The stock exchange president, Patareeya Benjapolchai, called for calm. ”The market would like to warn investors to closely follow announcements from the relevant agencies. They should not panic about rumours.”The Finance Minister, Korn Chatikavanij, asked investors not to trade on hearsay. The stockmarket was ”very sensitive” and investors should consider all information logically before making decisions, he said.Adding to the anxiety has been the political crisis triggered in 2006 when the army ousted the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, after he was accused of corruption. The struggle has been played out in streets of the capital, where Mr Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have staged a series of mass protests.Last year anti-Thaksin activists occupied the Prime Minister’s offices for three months and seized Bangkok’s two airports for a week. A protest by Thaksin followers was planned for yesterday.Guardian News & Media
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Korea’s costly education revolution

SEOUL: At 9pm Lee Ho-seop is heading home after a day of classes he hopes will take him on a pathway into the South Korean elite.The 18-year-old has just started his final year of high school. It will end with highly competitive exams against others trying to gain entrance to one of the ”SKY” universities, the prestigious trio of Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University.Tonight, as every night Monday to Friday, Mr Lee has spent 2½ hours in one of the private coaching colleges known as hagwon, after finishing a long day at school.He will get home, snatch a meal, then get down to homework until 2am or so before getting to bed. At 6.30am he will rise to start the same cycle. The saying in South Korea is ”Four hours’ sleep, pass. Five hours’ sleep, fail.”When he gets to school Mr Lee is one of a classroom full of drowsy heads. ”Yes, I feel sleepy but I fight against falling asleep,” he said.The hagwon system has had South Korea in its grip for decades.To its defenders, it is the backing for the country’s impressive rise from copycat industrial sweatshop to originator of international brands and information-era activity.”It’s because of education that Korea could successfully grow into what it is today,” Yu In-chon, the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told the Herald.”This was led by the parents of Korea, who sacrificed themselves to devote everything to the education of their children.”To their critics, the hagwon are driving creative thinking from the education system, robbing the young of healthy physical and mental development, reinforcing socio-economic privilege, and driving down the birth rate.”The children are only good at solving problems they are set,” said Song Whan-woong, of a reformist group called the National Association of Parents for True Education. ”They don’t know how to solve problems more creatively. And it really costs a large amount of money for education. That’s why parents are wary of having babies.”It is not coincidental that many of the best-rated hagwon like the one Mr Lee has just attended are stacked in gleaming new buildings at Daechi-dong, an intersection in the heart of Seoul’s Gangnam district, home to more than half the city’s lawyers, doctors and top officials.It takes more money than the average working-class family has to afford the high fees charged by hagwon to drill kids for critical exams. Top hagwon have long waiting lists. Their teachers are celebrities, earning far more than teachers in regular schools.Successive governments have tried banning or restricting hagwon, either out of social equity concerns or a belief that too much testing and exams can sap creativity. Hagwon are barred from running classes between 10pm and 5am, and limits are put on fees, though supervision is loose.The conservative government appointed by the President, Lee Myung-bak, has tried the opposite approach. Last year it tried to deregulate hagwon hours and fees but retreated after a public outcry.But Mr Song said attempts to give children a head start over rivals for top university places were spreading down the education system. Parents are paying 1 million won ($950) a month to send their toddlers to English-language kindergartens. ”We even have pregnant women buying English-language CDs to play to their unborn child.”Last year the Government introduced ”one-day tests” to measure the basic skills of children in particular years, similar to the national assessment program introduced in Australia last year to test literacy and numeracy in years 3, 5, 7 and 9.As in Australia, the data enables a school league table to be constructed. In South Korea the top schools earn a bonus that is distributed among their teachers. Mr Song cited one school that had its pupils drilling eight hours a day for two weeks before the test.In cities across Korea primary and middle school children head straight from school to hagwon, which send text messages to parents when they arrive. In rural areas parents pressure teachers to hold extra after-hours classes.”By sixth grade kids are not doing art, music or taekwondo any more but extra maths and English,” Mr Song said. ”Teachers let them skip sport to do more study. Now you don’t bring your kids to weddings or funerals. You say they are studying and everyone says OK. It’s harming Korean culture as well.”At high school the kids on average study to 11pm. They lack sleep and eat junk food between school and hagwon classes, then have dinner at home, so we have more obese children. They go to school and sleep during the classes. They know the textbooks in advance, anyway, at the hagwon.”Kim Ji-young, a middle school teacher in Seoul, said: ”It’s not much fun to teach them. The hagwon go through the textbooks in advance with the children. They are bored. I can’t find the passion to teach.”Hamish McDonald visited Korea as guest of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
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Taliban lead terror on multiple fronts

NEW DELHI: Pakistani militants have bounced back with two weeks of terror, culminating yesterday in a blast in Peshawar that killed at least 11.MORE AFGHANISTAN STORIESA fortnight ago it seemed the insurgents were under pressure.The Pakistani Army had recently flushed Taliban fighters out of the Swat valley and questions were being raised about the authority of the Taliban’s new leader in Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud, who took over after the death of the ruthless commander Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone missile strike in early August.The army is now preparing a ground offensive on the Taliban’s heartland in South Waziristan. But multiple militant attacks since early last week have put the pressure back on the Government and its security apparatus.More than 150 Pakistanis have died in the attacks of the past fortnight, which have left the country on edge.The bloody wave of terror demonstrates the capacity of the militant groups to strike at will across the country. It has also called into question the capacity of security apparatus to combat the terrorist threat.Speaking in Lahore after the city endured a deadly three-pronged terrorism strike, the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, admitted Pakistan was ”not prepared for these kinds of attacks”.”The kind of terrorism we are facing – our forces neither had capacity nor training to counter this,” he said.The attacks have also shown the militants are capable of deploying a variety of tactics.They are adept at complex commando-style assaults as well as suicide bombs using cars and individuals. Many of the armed fighters who have staged raids over the past week have also been wearing suicide jackets.Soft targets such as city market places have been hit with devastating effect. But the recent operations have also targeted high-security installations.These ambitious operations have included a UN compound in a high security area of the national capital, the fortress-like headquarters of the Pakistani Army, and police facilities in Lahore. An increasing number of attacks have involved hostage taking, ensuring a drawn-out stand-off.The insurgency has also proven its ability to launch sophisticated attacks simultaneously, pointing to a high level of training and motivation.On Thursday there were five separate terrorist attacks on a range of targets in different parts of the country.The range of locations is a cause for concern. Many of the most important cities, including Islamabad, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore, have been attacked over the past two weeks.Lahore, the cosmopolitan cultural and political hub, was for years spared a big terrorist attack. Now it is a prime target. This year it has been subject to a spate of prominent attacks, including the ambush of the Sri Lankan cricket team in March.Lahore’s terrorist nightmare worsened on Thursday with simultaneous attacks on a Federal Investigation Agency office and two police training centres. Gun battles raged for several hours on the streets as security forces struggled to regain control.Police said the city was calm yesterday, but its people have been left wondering where and when the militants might strike again.A network of terrorist groups led by the Pakistan Taliban is behind the latest wave of terror, which has broken as the military prepares an assault on South Waziristan.But the attacks suggest that military campaigns like the recent operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley cannot stop the militants from staging terrorist attacks.News Review – Page 5
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World wonders if balloon boy took everyone for a ride

WASHINGTON: Even as the Heene family attended a press conference to say how happy they were that their son had not, after all, drifted off aboard a home-made helium balloon into the blue, but had been at home in a box the whole time, the question was being asked. Was Falcon’s disappearance a fake to gain notoriety?The incident riveted America – and many parts of of the world including Australia – for hours yesterday, Sydney time.The six-year-old had reportedly stowed away in a basket or cabin beneath the balloon which his amateur scientist father built as an elaborate experiment.The dirigible then floated away from the family’s Colorado home, heading south-east to Kentucky.As live video was beamed from local TV helicopters tracking the balloon, authorities from the sheriff’s office, rescue services, the military, the Federal Aviation Authority and Homeland Security raced to determine how and when the balloon might come down.Ambulances screamed through cornfields.But when the balloon landed, no boy was found beneath it and the drama ran out of puff when it emerged that Falcon had spent the entire afternoon in an attic above the garage, some of it asleep in a box. At first, questions about the incident centred on child discipline.Father Richard, who spends his spare time studying storms, clouds and weather patterns, was asked, clearly by a reporter who had not thought the question through, if he had plans to ground his son.”We don’t ground our children. But we are going to talk to him,” he said.Then came suggestions the family had planned the whole thing as a publicity stunt. Mr Heene bristled. ”That’s horrible. After the crap we just went through, no, no, no.”But the CNN exclusive interview arranged with the family soon after did not end speculation. The older son seemed to suggest the family was videoing at the time the experiment went wrong.Asked why he did not answer when people called out his name, young Falcon replied, ”We did it for the show.” A stunned interviewer asked the father what his son had meant. Mr Heene said that was not what he expected from CNN when he agreed to the exclusive deal.Rescuers insist they do not think the incident was a fake.But the family is not media-shy. Richard Heene is an enthusiastic iReporter for CNN, filing clips of storms and extreme weather. The Heenes had also been on the show Wife Swap.Was this a true story? Perhaps we will never know. But for the media it certainly paid off in short-term ratings.with agencies
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All the president’s pennies: Washington, the meticulous businessman

WASHINGTON: One day in 1791 George Washington received a bill for £60, 1 shilling and 7 pence from his friend Dr James Craik, who regularly made the rounds at Mount Vernon, where the great man lived. The invoice ran two pages:”Anodyne Pills for Breachy … Laxative Pills for Ruth … syphilic Pills for Maria … oz 1 Antiphlogistie Anodyne Tincture … Bleeding Charlotte … oz 4 Powdered Rhubarb … Extracting one of your Negroes tooth … a Mercurial Purge for Cook Jack …”This brief glimpse of life in the 18th century is contained in what historians say is a vast and underappreciated cache of financial documents from the life of the first US president.Washington’s diaries and letters have been carefully transcribed, annotated and bound in stately volumes. But his financial records have been treated as scraps.Documenting lives of ordinary people – merchants, tradesmen, servants and slaves – these records are scattered around institutions. In most cases, they have never been transcribed or published in accessible form.That archival quandary lured 25 scholars, some of them ”forensic accountants”, to Mount Vernon, now an educational tourist attraction, for a workshop to plan how to get the records online. ”It is going to be a treasure trove,” said Ted Crackel, editor-in-chief of the Papers of George Washington, a project co-ordinated at the University of Virginia.Washington’s first record dates to when he was 15: a list of books he bought. In the years thereafter he seems to have noted every bag of seed he ever bought. He documented his gambling losses.There are chilling passages for the modern reader: In February 1773, for example, he recorded buying, at a public auction, ”Ned”, ”a girl Murria”, ”Old Abner” and ”a Wench Dinah” and her four children.Scholars hope that, with hyperlinks in online records, some of the more than 300 black Americans who lived at Mount Vernon can be tracked as they reappear in other documents, letters and diaries.As thoroughly researched as the life of Washington has been, his career as a warrior and statesman has largely overshadowed his entrepreneurial history. He was the chief executive, in effect, of a farming, manufacturing and real estate operation that by the end of his life encompassed more than 20,000 hectares of field and forest. Farms, fisheries, weavers, smithies, a grist mill, a distillery – these were just part of the empire.By the end of his life he was one of the richest men in the nation he had helped create. But he knew the frustrations of doing business in a land that lacked banks, roads and industry, where there was little capital, and where he had to depend on trans-Atlantic commerce using information moving at the speed of a sailing ship. Washington was so cash-strapped in 1789 that he had to borrow money from a neighbour to travel to his presidential inauguration.He detailed business matters with double-entry bookkeeping in ledgers running to 100 pages or more. ”He was extraordinarily careful with his accounts,” Mr Crackel said. ”He checks them. Inevitably, they balance.”Joyce Chaplin, a Harvard historian, said the papers offered a picture of ”material culture.” She asks: ”What kind of clothing, what kind of food, what kind of medical care did people have? When did ordinary people have cash?”As Washington aged, he was increasingly repulsed by slavery. After commanding black soldiers during the Revolutionary War, he recognised the hypocrisy of espousing liberty while remaining a slave owner.In the final major gesture of his life, he wrote a will that freed his slaves upon the death of his wife, in effect dismantling the estate he had spent a life creating. He lacked a direct heir so his assets went to nephews and other relatives.His most enduring gift, though, may be his records.The Washington Post
Nanjing Night Net

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Kokoda Track still a testing ground

There are not the words in Koiari to ask about Kokoda’s spirit. That is an Australian construct, and a reasonably modern one: the sort that made Paul Keating bend down and kiss the earth at Kokoda in 1992, that wrote the word ”mateship” on the memorial built there a decade later, and sends almost 6000 Australians down the track each year.After six days on the track I sit in front of one of the last Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, Ovuru Ndiki, and attempt to ask the question anyway; to understand why it is everyone but the Australians must be paid to walk what was, 100 years ago, a simple mail route. Why four years ago we started doing it in such numbers, at such cost, to such risk.”It’s something to remark on what happened,” Ndiki tries to explain the idea of spirituality, 105 years closing in around his eyes and emptying his mouth of teeth. ”There is some of us left behind. Walking the track, you can pick up pieces of that.”In the past decade, the number of people picking up those pieces has increased 74 times. It is now Papua New Guinea’s most popular land-based attraction – a band of wealth in the jungle, worth as much as $50 million a year, supported entirely by Australians.Sports teams come here to bond. Kevin Rudd and Joe Hockey made it one of the first legs of 2007’s Sunrise election. Bags at the airport must now be X-rayed for souvenired grenades. Where two years ago there were five trekking companies, now there are 30. ”If you can get yourself a business card, you can take people up the track,” says John Nalder, who guides me through the 133 kilometres. ”It’s really exploded since 2005.”At night, you can hear the sound of sobbing coming from tents. The track is, without question, the most difficult thing I have done. The climbs are ceaseless and painfully steep. At one point, doubled over with food poisoning that will last six days, I black out from vomiting.”Amazing” is the most common description of the trek. Then gruelling. In 10 days, I lose 13 kilograms. ”Everything is a search for something, a search for identity, for who they are,” Nalder says. ”Australians have had a cringe about who they are, and that’s changing. I do get people who want to brandish the flag, but it’s a love thing, it’s a patriotic thing. It’s not the redneck, white supremacist one.”The track itself is almost an extension of Australia. It was, until 1975, part of an Australian territory. Even now, villagers along the track wear jerseys from the National Rugby League. There is a discarded Vegemite jar on the climb out of Isurava and dull triplets of ”Aussies” and ”Ois” ring through the Owen Stanley Ranges.Many more Japanese soldiers died here than the 625 Australians killed. But Japanese almost never walk Kokoda. Those that come are usually flown in and out by helicopter. They are there not to experience some national myth but to farewell ancestors. Of the two Japanese memorials on the track, one has had the muzzle of its gun set into the ground – a mark of submission lobbied for by the RSL. The other has been destroyed by trekkers.”We get so much exposure to American culture that’s so strong and so steeped in history. Perhaps we’re trying to get on to some of that,” says Andrew Skehan, a 30-year-old history teacher who won a 2GB competition to walk the track. ”The new national curriculum – Australian history is the first thing on there. Perhaps Australia’s push towards a place on the international stage makes us see we have to define ourselves so we can say we stand for something.” For the most part, however, trekkers struggle to explain why they have come; what made them spend up to $6000 on a journey through heat, mud and steep climbs, with heavy packs and sickness. For those without relatives who fought in the 1942 campaign, there is vague mention of achievement. A walk that would buy them a beer back home, with something about national history on the side.But the words of Nathaniel Ryan, a 17-year-old preparing to join either the police or the army, are more common: ”Mate, I’m just concentrating on where to put my feet.”The place of Kokoda in Australia’s psyche is a vestige of Keating’s cosmopolitan prime ministership. This was his region. In 1995, wearing a hornbill headdress, he was inducted as an Orokaivan chief in Kokoda. But it was only after a decade of John Howard’s narrowed patriotism that Australians started walking the track in any great numbers – and the story of Australians defending Australia really set in. A book from Peter FitzSimons helped, too.Three years before Keating’s chiefly induction, he and his entourage flew three RAAF Caribou transport planes to the Kokoda airstrip. It is a cleared piece of jungle, below the razorback country where the fighting took place, with a palm oil plantation on one side and grassland on the other.At the expense of Gallipoli, he described this earth as the essence of Australia’s nationhood. Standing a day’s walk from that spot, on the hillside where the monument Keating wanted was finally built, two girls start crying. My trek leader cries also. A 17-year-old youth announces he will join the army.”There can be no deeper spiritual basis for the meaning of the Australian nation than the blood that was spilled on this very knoll, this very plateau, in defence of Australia,” Keating said here the year that youth was born. ”This was the place where I believe the depth and soul of the Australian nation was confirmed … The lesson of this place is that those young men believed in Australia and we need to give Australians – all Australians, particularly young Australians – an Australia to believe in.”By 2004, as Howard began in earnest his flag-pole assault on Australia’s ”values neutral” schools, the Kokoda walking had already begun. Records, which only start in 2001, show 76 trekkers in a year. By 2005, that number had grown to 2374 and has continued to almost double each year since.That there are both a 96-kilometre tourist track and the 133-kilometre wartime version says a lot about what Kokoda has become. ”I was moved, more so than I expected to be,” says Bec Walsh, a 21-year-old medical science student, part-way down the track. ”It’s hard not to be affected.” Walsh is there as part of an RSL program to educate young leaders. It is the same program that was used, more or less, for the national rehabilitation of Ali Ammar after he desecrated the Australian flag in the Cronulla Riots reprisals. ClubsNSW also fund a group.”I don’t know if I feel more Australian,” says Clair Edwards, who was chosen to walk the track because her grandfather fought there. ”But I feel more deeply in touch with my heritage. I have this deep attachment, it’s not just knowledge; now, it’s emotional. I know my country on a more personal level.”The people walking the track have changed in the past two or so years. There are fewer trophy trekkers, fewer people walking simply to say they did it. They are now more likely to be middle-aged than young adventurers – men with to-do lists, who carry pictures of fathers who fought on the track. But while their fathers had an average age of 18 when they fought here, these men have an average age of 50. ”My dad told the larrikin story, the fun stories,” says Martin Stuart, a 48-year-old engineer whose father was in the 39th Battalion. ”But I’m here to find out the rest, to piece it together.”A day earlier, a trekker in Mr Stuart’s group died after less than two hours on the track. Four others have died in the past 12 months.They are joined by the 13 who died on a Twin Otter flying to Kokoda to begin the trek in August. The deaths are, in some ways, understandable – the trekkers are older, there are more of them, unscrupulous providers are walking without satellite phones or medical supplies – but the effects on the market are unknown. Some suggest the deaths make the myth more real, that memorials to modern dead have been seen up and down the track for years.”It’s not helpful,” the chief executive of the Kokoda Track Authority, Rod Hillman, says. ”It’s difficult to move forward until we find the cause of death. The newspaper here is reporting [the most recent death] as an aneurysm. That could happen watching TV. But the growth’s been quite exponential. I think it’s unlikely to get that growth again.”Erik Jensen travelled to the Kokoda Track with the assistance of ClubsNSW.
Nanjing Night Net

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Big back car seats a danger to children

CHILDREN aged up to 12 should be made to sit in booster seats because back seats on most Australian cars are too deep to allow them to sit up properly, making them seven times more likely than teenagers to sustain spinal and abdominal injuries in a crash.Although about 60 per cent of all back seat passengers are children, researchers at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute tested 50 common cars and found some had seats so deep that a 14-year-old of average height could not sit comfortably without slouching.”[Slouching] causes the lap belt to slide up over their abdomen instead of sitting low across the hip bones, and the shoulder belt to lie across the neck,” the institute’s Lynne Bilston, said yesterday.”This can put all the force of a crash on the child’s soft abdomen and lower spine and allow the head to hit the car. Having the belt across the neck can cause serious neck injuries.”She is calling on car manufacturers to consider urgently reducing the depth of back seats by at least five centimetres, a change which would fit about 34 per cent more children aged eight to 15 but also allow adults to sit comfortably.An average 12-year-old, at 150 centimetres tall, had thighs longer than the base of the rear seat and were tall enough to allow the shoulder belt fitted properly in more than half of the cars measured, she said.”Car manufacturers have slow design cycles so if this change was made, it would be three or four years before we would see it introduced, but it would definitely reduce spinal and abdominal injuries and save lives.”More than 3000 children are injured in car accidents every year, and older children would accept being in booster seats if it became normal practice, Associate Professor Bilston said.”It’s all about peer pressure. It’s common practice now in Europe and if it became common here, I doubt parents would have problems getting children to comply.”The institute also wants the NSW Government to introduce new road rules, approved by the Australian Transport Council in February last year, making it compulsory for children aged up to seven to sit in booster seats.The rules have been adopted in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT, and a spokeswoman for the Roads Minister, David Campbell, said they were expected to be introduced in NSW soon.
Nanjing Night Net