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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.”
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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.
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Sleep drug killed Smith, but who gave it to her?

LOS ANGELES: The American model and TV personality Anna Nicole Smith consumed increasing amounts of a rare sleep medication in the months after her son’s death, eventually drinking the powerful liquid sedative straight from the bottle, her former bodyguard has testified.The drug, chloral hydrate, was cited as the primary cause of Smith’s fatal overdose the following year, and her bodyguard said the model often carried a bottle of it as she grieved her son.”I saw her use a spoon maybe twice, and after that it was bottle to mouth – gulp,” said Maurice Brighthaupt, a Miami firefighter who moonlighted as Smith’s security guard.Mr Brighthaupt took the stand on the second day of a hearing that will determine whether prosecutors have enough evidence to try Smith’s long-time companion, Howard Stern, and two Los Angeles doctors on charges of conspiring to furnish her with illegal prescription medications. All three have pleaded not guilty.One of the doctors, Khristine Eroshevich, a psychiatrist, prescribed the chloral hydrate to Smith after her son, Daniel, died in 2005. Mr Brighthaupt testified that on one occasion, when he drove the doctor from the airport to Smith’s house in the Bahamas, Dr Eroshevich said she was reluctant to give the medication.But ”Anna was begging for it and she really needed it”, he quoted her as saying.Mr Brighthaupt said he saw Mr Stern, a lawyer who became Smith’s adviser and then her lover, pass her a bottle containing chloral hydrate, inject Smith with other medication ”more than seven times” and recounted one occasion he encountered Mr Stern in a bathroom using a cigarette lighter and a spoon to melt Valium into an injectable form. ”They felt it would get in her system faster,” he said.Mr Brighthaupt said he was uncomfortable testifying against Dr Eroshevich. ”I consider her a very kind … person who wouldn’t do anything to anybody,” he said.When a prosecutor asked a toxicologist to testify about the hypothetical effect of hundreds of pills prescribed to Smith 10 days before her death, Superior Court Judge Robert Perry interrupted, asking: ”Whose fault is it that somebody takes too many pills?”The deputy district attorney, Renee Rose, replied that the defendants were ”fully aware” that Smith was an addict. ”It’s like putting a gun in the hand of someone who is suicidal and saying, ‘Don’t pull the trigger,’ ” Ms Rose said.Los Angeles Times
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Is this the kiss of death for Blair as grand pooh-bah of Europe?

LONDON: Silvio Berlusconi, seemingly oblivious to the possibility that his support might be counterproductive, has enthusiastically backed Tony Blair for first president of Europe.In a crisp, six-line letter to the right-leaning newspaper Il Foglio, the Italian Prime Minister has delivered what could be deemed the political kiss of death, saying the former British prime minister has ”all the right credentials in his hands” to take on the position.This should occur, he wrote, as soon as it is legally and politically possible to ensure that a ”great political legacy made with courage, balance and prudence without uncertainty” is not lost and is used to help the renewal of the governance of the European Union.Il Foglio, based in Milan and part-owned by Mr Berlusconi’s estranged wife, Veronica Lario, also reported that he had phoned Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission, to make clear his support for his old friend and ally.While jockeying for the new position of President of the European Council has primarily occurred behind closed doors – and Mr Blair has yet to declare his hand formally – he now appears to have emerged as the favoured candidate after Ireland’s ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.Only the former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, a socialist, is seen as a real rival to Mr Blair though Jean-Claude Juncker, the veteran centre-right Luxembourg prime minister, has also been mentioned.But British newspapers, already generally hostile – and in the case of The Times openly scathing about Mr Berlusconi – have responded with derision about his support for Mr Blair. All returned to Mr Berlusconi’s support for Mr Blair over the decision to deploy troops in the Iraq war during the Bush administration.The British media also recounted with some relish the 2004 summer holiday spent by the Blair family at Mr Berlusconi’s villa in Sardinia. The Italian PM, apparently recuperating from a hair transplant, was photographed in various coloured bandanna-style head coverings. He treated his guests to his now famous musical evenings and a fireworks display which spelt out ”Viva Tony”.Earlier this year, Cherie Blair said that her husband had asked her to stand between him and Mr Berlusconi’s kerchief-adorned head suggesting otherwise the British media ”would kill us”.She told an Italian TV host in May that the scarf was a ”real surprise”: ”When we arrived we were a little surprised to see Silvio with this sort of scarf on his head, that famous bandanna. It was supposed to be a private visit and he told us he’d had some problems with his head but it was obvious to us that he’d had a hair transplant,” she said.
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Serb leader wants right to break up Bosnia

BRUSSELS: The leader of the Serbian half of Bosnia has demanded the right to break up the country as part of a constitutional reform package that is being pushed by the European Union and the US.Milorad Dodik’s demand to be allowed the right to secede collided with an ultimatum from Brussels for Bosnia’s feuding leaders to agree on reforms to streamline the dysfunctional state or forget about their prospects of union membership. European and American officials had emergency talks in Sarajevo last week with Bosnia’s estranged political leaders and will return next Monday.The US and Europe have suddenly become active in the Balkans, amid growing international fears Bosnia could drift back into conflict if the Bosnian Serbs were to mobilise.”We need certain constitutional changes in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” said Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, who issued yesterday’s ultimatum to the country’s leaders.But officials in Brussels and Sarajevo were gloomy about the chances of success. In the 14 years since the Bosnian war ended with the country divided into a Serbian half and a Muslim-Croat federation, the country has become entrenched as a partitioned international protectorate headed by a European viceroy and dominated by nationalist politicians who refuse to deal with one another.Mr Dodik told Western officials preparing next week’s talks that any constitutional reforms would need to include a new article giving the two halves of Bosnia the right to hold a referendum.”It’s an extremist position,” said an EU diplomat in Sarajevo. ”Dodik has already got everything he wants. Now he wants the right of secession.”Mr Rehn, James Steinberg, the US Deputy Secretary of State, and Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister, were in Sarajevo last week in the highest-level bout of diplomacy for years. They are to return on Monday, but Mr Dodik delivered a snub by saying he would be in Serbia then to meet Russian leaders.The Europeans are signalling that 14 years of international supervision of Bosnia has failed to establish a viable country. They are keen to close down by the end of the year the Office of High Representative, the international official running Bosnia.”The country needs to stand on its own feet,” said Mr Rehn. ”It needs to be able to govern itself. No quasi-protectorate can join the EU.”But the Europeans and the Americans are at odds. Brussels is pushing for a quick closure of the international role, but the Americans are less keen.At the weekend Mr Dodik declared his contempt for the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was ”unsustainable”, he said, had no ”legitimacy” as a country, and ruled out constitutional reform.The Government of the Muslim-Croat half, by contrast, is seeking more centralised powers, arguing that the ”Serbian Republic” part of Bosnia is an entity created by wartime ”ethnic cleansing”, genocide, and deportation of non-Serbs.Guardian News & Media
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North Pole to be ice-free in summer: scientists

LONDON: The North Pole will turn into an open sea during summer within a decade, according to data released by explorers who trekked through the Arctic for three months.The Catlin Arctic Survey team, led by British adventurer Pen Hadow, measured the thickness of the ice as they hiked through the northern part of the Beaufort Sea in the North Pole during a research project earlier this year.Their findings, released on Wednesday, show most of the ice in the region is first-year ice that is only about 1.8 metres deep and will melt next summer. It traditionally contained thicker multi-year ice that melted slowly.”With a larger part of the region now first-year ice, it is clearly more vulnerable,” said Professor Peter Wadhams, part of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge, which analysed the data. ”The area is now more likely to become open water each summer, bringing forward the potential date when the summer sea ice will be completely gone.”Professor Wadhams said the survey data supports the new consensus that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within 20 years, and that much of it will happen within 10 years.Martin Sommerkorn of the World Wildlife Fund said the Arctic sea holds a central position in earth’s climate system.”Such a loss of Arctic sea ice cover has recently been assessed to set in motion powerful climate feedbacks which will have an impact far beyond the Arctic,” he said. ”This could lead to flooding affecting one-quarter of the world’s population, substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions from massive carbon pools and extreme … weather changes.”Global warming has raised the stakes over sovereignty in the Arctic because shrinking polar ice could open resource development and new shipping lanes. The rapid melting of ice has raised speculation that the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans could one day become a regular shipping lane.The results come as negotiators prepare to meet in December to draft a global climate pact.Associated Press
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Rwandan spy chief denies genocide

ARUSHA, Tanzania: A suspect accused of forming secret death squads and orchestrating the killings of thousands during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide has pleaded not guilty to war crimes.Idelphonse Nizeyimana, former deputy intelligence chief of Rwanda, entered his plea at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda after being captured in Uganda earlier this month.”I am not guilty,” Mr Nizeyimana, 46, said each time the four counts of war crimes charges were read out to him. A trial date will be set later.Mr Nizeyimana is accused of ordering the killing of children, hospital patients, priests and a revered African queen.More than 500,000 members of the Tutsi minority and moderates from the Hutu majority were slaughtered during the 100-day Rwandan genocide in 1994.Until his capture, Mr Nizeyimana had been on the run, with a $US5 million bounty on his head. He was believed to have hidden in the jungles of eastern Congo, where he belonged to a Rwandan Hutu militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, which continues to commit atrocities.In recent weeks, he had sent emissaries to a UN base in Kimua, Congo, to negotiate turning himself in. The discussions collapsed when Mr Nizeyimana suggested the reward be given to his family if he surrendered.During the genocide, Mr Nizeyimana was alleged to have formed secret units of soldiers that executed leading Tutsis, including Queen Rosalie Gicanda, who was in her 80s, according to his indictment.The Rwandan monarchy had ended decades before the genocide but the queen remained a revered and symbolic figure for Tutsis. Soldiers hauled her and others from her house in Butare and shot them behind the National Museum.Mr Nizeyimana is the second high-profile genocide suspect to be arrested in two months. A former mayor, Gregoire Ndahimana, appeared at the tribunal in Tanzania in September.The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has delivered judgments on 39 people, including six acquittals.The genocide was sparked when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down as it approached Kigali in April 1994. The slaughter ended when Paul Kagame led a group of Tutsi rebels to overthrow the Hutu government. Mr Kagame is now Rwanda’s president.Associated Press
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Kashmir projects stir old border tensions

NEW DELHI: In a simmering spat with China involving border disputes, long-standing mistrust and domestic electoral politics, India’s Foreign Ministry has called on Beijing to halt work on all projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.The demand followed an announcement on Tuesday by the leaders of China and Pakistan that their nations would upgrade a cross-border highway and that China would lend support to a hydroelectric venture. Both projects are in the Pakistan-occupied portion of Kashmir, which India claims.India and China have eyed each other warily since at least 1962, when they fought a month-long border war. China has long been allied with Pakistan, which in turn has fought three wars with India over the past six decades.The latest Indian salvo followed a protest on Tuesday by China after India’s Prime Minister visited the state of Arunachal Pradesh, portions of which China claims, and allegations that Chinese troops fired into India and crossed the border, leaving ”China” painted in red ink on rock faces.China has begun issuing visas to Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh and disputed Jammu and Kashmir on paper separate from their passports. New Delhi has threatened to tighten visa rules for Chinese working in India and to discontinue granting them business visas in favour of more restrictive work visas.The Chinese construction projects and the visit of India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to Arunachal Pradesh were anticipated and hardly surprising. In fact, given that there were mechanisms to address the border disputes, the protests might be a bit of posturing on both sides for domestic consumption, analysts said.”I don’t think it will have any long-term impact,” said Rukmani Gupta, a research fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi. ”Still, these escalating protests are hardly conducive to the dialogue process.”Mr Singh’s visit focused on shoring up his governing Congress Party’s position in the lead-up to elections on Tuesday in Arunachal Pradesh and two other states.”Congress has to keep winning state elections; there’s no international objectives,” said R.Hariharan, a retired military intelligence specialist. ”They [the Chinese] don’t really understand that on the other side. They have no elections.”The two nations have held 13 rounds of talks over the past three decades to try to resolve their border disputes. These stem in part from the 1962 war but, more fundamentally, from demarcations made during the British empire that India recognises but China does not.Another factor in recent tensions, analysts said, was the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader living in northern India. He plans to travel to Arunachal Pradesh next month to visit a site revered by Tibetan Buddhists.Los Angeles Times
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Republicans use icy attack on renegade

WASHINGTON: Conservative Republicans have begun sending bags of salt to Olympia Snowe’s Maine office as part of a protest at her decision to break ranks and vote for a compromise version of Barack Obama’s health-care scheme.Salt is used on US roads to melt snow.”Olympia Snowe has sold out the country. Having been banished to our world after Aslan chased her out of Narnia, Snowe is intent on corrupting this place too. So we should melt her,” said one of the organisers of the rock salt protest.At this stage, Senator Snowe is the only Republican to support the bill but the other Maine senator, Susan Collins, may join her, depending on what emerges from the next several weeks of negotiations among the authors of the five versions now in existence.The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, called for weeks of debate on such an important bill, noting that the Senate had spent seven weeks on education legislation and a month on the farm bill.Initially there had been hopes the bill might be passed before the December recess but most strategists now believe early next year is more realistic.Meanwhile, lawmakers are bracing for a massive campaign from all sides of the debate, from insurers, doctors, patient groups, unions, senior citizens’ groups and drug companies.According to estimates, more than $US120 million ($130 million) has already been spent on TV advertisements lobbying for or against reform but that could easily double before the legislative process is complete.Meanwhile, the Democrat Senate leader, Harry Reid, will have his work cut out convincing some conservative Democrats to support even the compromise bill.”There are many competing views on how best to reform health care within my caucus,” he said. ”I know this isn’t going to be easy.”But the former president Bill Clinton expressed optimism that health-care reform – something that eluded him – would get through this time.”Republicans can’t filibuster in the Senate,” he said.”If there were 45 Republicans in the Senate, Senator Snowe’s vote wouldn’t matter … This time the numbers are different. We have Snowe and if we don’t lose any Democrats … then ‘Katy, bar the door!’ ” he said.
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Aid given to Sri Lanka to stem people smuggling

AUSTRALIA is preparing to provide police assistance to Sri Lanka to help combat people smuggling, including training for local officers. The Government is also paying Indonesia to hold more asylum seekers in Indonesia.The Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, said yesterday that he had discussed measures with the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at an Interpol meeting in Singapore this week. Thousands of refugees have fled Sri Lanka since a military campaign against Tamil separatists this year, and many remain in refugee camps.Mr O’Connor said the Australian Federal Police could support training for Sri Lankan police officers and provide logistical aid, such as computers, cameras and evidence collection kits.A spokesman for Mr O’Connor said: ”This was an especially productive meeting … Australia will provide the Sri Lankan Government much needed resources to assist Sri Lankan authorities to combat people smuggling.”The AFP is setting up a liaison post in Sri Lanka as part of a $48 million people-smuggling program announced this year.Over the next four years Australia will pay Indonesia more than $14 million to help stop asylum seekers coming here, including $1 million to ”enhance capacity” at its two detention centres and $5 million for community housing.The funding adds to at least $70 million poured into the partnership over the past 10 years.In the past, Australia has refurbished two detention centres in Jakarta and Tanjung Pinang at a cost of $7.7 million. That was in 2007. It has also funded a range of border staff to study English and take post-graduate courses in Australia, an upgrade of the nation’s border alert system and training for officials to identify false documents.Another $1 million over the next two years would help Indonesia ”enhance its detention capacity”, a spokesman for the Immigration Department said.A further $5 million would provide community housing for intercepted irregular migrants in Indonesia, he said. Another $8 million, announced earlier, would support outreach offices around Indonesia, near the main people smuggling routes.Yesterday the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said he was confident Indonesia would treat asylum seekers humanely. He acknowledged Australia could not meet the demand of people seeking safe haven worldwide. ”The numbers are huge. They come in around 11 million people, and the reality is we’ve got to find durable solutions in home countries or in transit countries.”The Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, said the Government’s policies had filled Christmas Island to overflowing.
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Estrada promises presidential encore

MANILA: The former Philippine leader Joseph Estrada, ousted in a popular uprising in 2001 and later convicted of corruption, says he will stand again for president in next year’s elections.”Yes, I will run,” Mr Estrada, 72, said when asked to confirm press reports of his decision.The former action-movie star said he had chosen Jejomar Binay, the popular Mayor of Manila’s Makati financial district and a leader of the political opposition, as his vice-presidential candidate.Mr Estrada said he would make a formal announcement of his decision at the Santo Nino church in the impoverished Manila district of Tondo next Wednesday.Tondo was the setting of many of his past movies, in which he gained enormous national popularity by playing tough-guy roles as a defender of the poor and downtrodden.Mr Estrada represents the United Opposition, a coalition of two influential parties that have been critical of the President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.However, there are two strong opposition contenders representing other parties in next year’s elections: Benigno Aquino, the son of the late democracy icon and former president Corazon Aquino, and a billionaire property developer, Manny Villar.The Defence Secretary, Gilberto Teodoro, will represent Ms Arroyo’s ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition.Mr Estrada said he was confident of victory in the election due in May 2010. ”I will not run for the presidency if I’m not sure I’ll win.’Mr Estrada said his edge would be his experience, having climbed the political ladder first as a town mayor, a senator and a vice-president before a landslide victory as the country’s 13th president in 1998.His term, however, was cut short by a military-backed popular revolt in 2001, amid accusations he amassed wealth from illegal gambling kickbacks and shady deals amounting to tens of millions of dollars.He was convicted of large-scale graft and sentenced to life in jail in 2007.But Ms Arroyo, who played a key role in deposing him when she served as his vice-president, pardoned him six weeks later.Agence France-Presse
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We were wrong on Gaza war report, says Palestine PM

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, has conceded that his Government’s mishandling of a United Nations report on the war in Gaza has strengthened its political rival, Hamas.Under pressure from the US, the Palestinian leadership refused to endorse the Goldstone report, sparking furious protests across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.The severity of the backlash forced the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, to reverse the decision. The report was highly critical of Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza in December and January, saying actions by it – and by Hamas – amounted to war crimes.The UN Human Rights Council is due to begin debate today on a move to censure Israel over the Gaza war.The Palestinians are also calling on the Human Rights Council to condemn Israel’s recent closure of the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount, area and demand that UN institutions oblige Israel to end the siege of the Gaza Strip.”There is no question that [our handling of the Goldstone Report] has caused major weakness for the Palestinian Authority,” Mr Fayyad told a foreign press briefing in Ramallah yesterday. “That is obvious. That is what we all witnessed.”The perception we had not done everything to safeguard the interests of the Palestinian people has also strengthened the hand of those who do not subscribe to our point of view of adherence to international law, and negotiation through a peaceful process.”Mr Fayyad said he expected the report to be passed up through normal channels of the UN. “We would like to see the report go through due process, as is normal in the operations of the Human Rights Council under international law.”He also strongly backed the US President’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.Asked if he had lost confidence in Barack Obama, Mr Fayyad said: “No. Obviously we haven’t and we will not. US leadership is essential to making this happen, as is the direct and strong involvement of the European Union, and the Quartet [the US, UN, EU and Russia].”We are disappointed that we are not seeing the process move faster, but that is not to say that we have lost hope.”Mr Fayyad repeatedly emphasised that the Palestinian Authority remained committed to the principles of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state as laid out under the terms of the ”road map” for peace.”We have implemented our obligations under the road map. Israel on the other hand cannot even fulfil its obligation to offer unequivocal support for an independent, sovereign Palestinian state.”Israel was yesterday preparing a vigorous diplomatic campaign to stymie attempts by the Human Rights Council to censure it over the war in Gaza.The Israeli public relations campaign will chiefly be divided between four people: the President, Shimon Peres; the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu; the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak; and the Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman.Each of them has received a list with a number of heads of state with whom he will talk and ask them not to support the Goldstone report.Israel will warn that adopting the report means ending the peace process, because it will not agree to wage a legal-diplomatic battle at the same time as it is conducting a peace process.
Nanjing Night Net