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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.
Nanjing Night Net

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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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