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Afghans more confident in national army

For much of Australia’s time in Afghanistan, Australian troops devoted their time to training, advising and mentoring Afghan soldiers and that appears to be paying off.

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Afghans are increasingly confident in the ability of the Afghan National Army, with 57 per cent saying it will help improve security and 63 per cent believing it’s honest and fair.

A survey by international think tank the Asia Foundation found 86.5 per cent of respondents expressed confidence in the ANA and 73.2 per cent in the Afghan National Police.

But more than half (55.7 per cent) think Afghan security forces will still need foreign support to do their job properly.

That’s most pronounced in southern provinces where insurgents have been most active including Oruzgan, where Australian troops operated until the end of last year.

About 400 troops remain in Afghanistan in a variety of advisory and mentoring roles in Kabul and Kandahar.

The poll interviewed more than 9000 Afghans, half men and half women, from the country’s 34 provinces after the June presidential run-off vote.

This national attitude survey has been conducted every year since 2004.

Despite the ongoing insurgency, Afghans are optimistic about the future with more than 75 per cent saying the government is doing a good job.

Thirty-seven per cent say unemployment and the poor economy is the nation’s biggest problem, followed by insecurity (34 per cent) and corruption (28 per cent).

At the local level, unemployment is seen as the biggest problem (33 per cent), followed by electricity (23 per cent), roads (18 per cent) and drinking water (16 per cent.

Continue reading Afghans more confident in national army

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Guns boom to welcome French president Francois Hollande to Sydney

French President Francois Hollande has been welcomed to Sydney with an honour guard and 21-gun salute.

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Mr Hollande became the first French head of state to visit Australia after attending the G20 Summit in Brisbane.

After the G20, Mr Hollande flew to New Caledonia for his first official visit, before touching down in Sydney.

Mr Hollande met with Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and has planned talks with Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Canberra tomorrow, as part of the two day visit.

Diplomatic relations between France and Australia have historically been frosty after French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

New Caledonia, one of Australia鈥檚 closest neighbours, is one of three French dependencies in the Pacific region and President Hollande has signaled France’s intention to maintain a presence there.

French President #Fran莽oisHollande gets a 21 gun salute at Sydney’s Fleet Steps @SBSNews pic.twitter南宁桑拿会所,/u9Njt0hDQv

鈥?Gary Cox (@GCoxsbs) November 18, 2014

His office says the aim of the visit is to “strengthen the historical links and economic relations” between France and Australia.

During a key-note speech later today at the Business Council of Australia, President Hollande is expected to make growing economic relations with Australia a priority.

He travelled with a large business delegation and will tour a joint French- Australian defence research facility.

France and Australia signed a Strategic Partnership agreement in 2012 as a as a sign of improving relations between the two nations.

In 2012-13, bilateral trade between Australia and France stood at $5.4 billion.

Continue reading Guns boom to welcome French president Francois Hollande to Sydney

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Pilgrims flock to ‘Sex Mountain’ in search of fortune

Married men, cheating housewives, government officials and prostitutes revelling in a mass ritual of adultery and sex.

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This is what happens on Gunung Kemukus in Indonesia, otherwise known as Sex Mountain.

鈥淚 come here to seek good fortune,鈥?regular visitor Mardiyah told me as I follow her journey on tonight鈥檚 Dateline at 9.30pm on SBS ONE.  

She is one of thousands of pilgrims who journey to a mysterious hilltop in Java to perform this ancient ritual. Most of those who take part in the ritual consider themselves devout Muslims.

There are several versions of the mythic tale that date back to the 16th century. Legend has it a young Indonesian Prince Pangeran Samodro had an affair with his stepmother.

They ran away and hid on Gunung Kemukus. One day, while mid-coitus, they were caught, killed and buried atop the mountain. It’s now an Islamic shrine where this sex ritual takes place.

The story goes: pilgrims must copulate on the mountain every 35 days for seven consecutive times and blessings and wealth should come their way.

But for the magic to work and the money to flow, it鈥檚 believed their sex partner for the ritual should not be their spouse.

I meet Gepeng, who like many others has travelled hundreds of kilometres from across the archipelago to get to sex mountain.

鈥淵ou go there to look for a different partner, not the one you have at home. Historically that’s how it works,” he said.

Another man travelling with him explained: 鈥淚 don鈥檛 tell my wife. There鈥檚 no way my wife will find out.鈥?/p>

Pilgrims first pray and make offerings at the grave. They then must wash themselves at sacred springs nearby and once that’s been completed, they have sex.

This ritual isn’t seen anywhere else in Indonesia or the rest of the Muslim world. It鈥檚 a very Javanese blend of religious ideals with Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist influences.

Professor Keontjoro Soeparno, a social psychologist from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, has been studying the ritual for more than 30 years.

鈥淚t鈥檚 a strange thing. A paradox: there鈥檚 a mosque, shrine – but outside 鈥?there鈥檚 a place for having illicit sex,鈥?he said. “The fact is – it’s hypocritical.”

It’s impossible to ignore that the ritual is riddled with contradictions. Islam views adultery as a sin, so the ‘out of wedlock’ sex clearly goes against the mainstream law of the religion.

Karaoke bars and 鈥榮ex shacks鈥?line the hillside. Some are privately owned, others built and funded by the local government. But they鈥檙e loathe to publicly admit there is any sex going on at Gunung Kemukus.

“Pilgrims should come here with pure hearts and clean bodies,鈥?a gatekeeper employed to look after the mountain shrine said.

“We鈥檝e never said the sex is a condition of the pilgrimage. It鈥檚 what they want to do.”

The territory has become prime real estate for commercial sex workers. Professor Keontjoro estimates about half of the women who show up now are prostitutes.

鈥淭he government facilitated the rise of prostitution. The Islamic religion forbids all this, but the government would rather not know about that. Because they鈥檙e more interested in profit 鈥?they leave their religion behind,” he said.

Some say if you pay for sex the ritual doesn’t work. The reality is the local government makes a sizeable profit from sex mountain. They charge the stalls to set up shop and the pilgrims pay a toll to enter the site.

With up to 8,000 pilgrims arriving on the busiest nights and an entry fee of around 5000 rupiah, or 50 cents, a time, it’s big business in Indonesia.

So it鈥檚 not surprising officials and religious leaders turn a blind eye.

 

The question remains though 鈥?how do we know this ancient tradition actually works. Does sex with a stranger really boost your bank account?

Mardiyah genuinely believes it does, attributing sex mountain and its spiritual powers to her recent success.

鈥淧raise be to God, after coming here, even though I have a few debts, my business is making a bit of a profit. Even though it鈥檚 small, I still give thanks that I鈥檝e received blessings from here,鈥?she said to me.

I don鈥檛 know how willing I am to believe in the legacy of Prince Samodro and his stepmother lover, but I can understand the attachment to the myth.

See the full story on Dateline at 9.30pm on SBS ONE.

Continue reading Pilgrims flock to ‘Sex Mountain’ in search of fortune

Bush bids farewell to Washington

Bush and his wife Laura watched new president Barack Obama take the oath of office on the steps of the US Capitol, before departing.

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They were flown from the city to Andrews Air Force Base, from where they will take the former Air Force One to Crawford, Texas.

Many of the crowds gathered to watch Obama\’s inauguration waved to the helicopter as it took Bush on his final sweep over The Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue.

For the first time since January 20, 2001, his helicopter was not called Marine One and the plane was not Air Force One – both call signs reserved for the US president in office.

Bush\’s departure brought the curtain down on eight turbulent years that end with the outgoing president leaving unfinished wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Unpopular leader

Over his term\’s final months, the unpopular leader worked to convince the US public and future historians that he should get credit for guiding the country through a rocky time marked by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Earlier, Bush hosted his successor Obama for a private coffee before they climbed aboard the armoured limousine taking them to the Democrat\’s inauguration.

The outgoing leader followed the custom of leaving a note for the incoming president in the top drawer of the massive Resolute Desk – made from the timbers of the British ship of the same name – in the Oval office.

Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to give details of the confidential letter, but said he focused on “the fabulous new chapter president-elect Obama is about to start, and that he wishes him the very best”.

In his last hours before leaving office, Bush spoke by telephone with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser Stephen Hadley, and former White House chief of staff Andy Card, Perino told reporters.

The outgoing president also took a final walk through the Oval Office, thanked staff, and “gave me a big kiss on the forehead, which I will never forget”, said the spokeswoman.

Continue reading Bush bids farewell to Washington

Kennedy collapses at Obama lunch

Kennedy, the brother of assassinated US President John F Kennedy and Senator Bobby Kennedy, has been suffering from a brain tumour for some months.

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Witnesses report that the ailing 76-year-old suffered a series of violent convulsions. He was treated by paramedics at the scene, and taken away in a wheelchair.

After a battery of tests, doctors treating Kennedy said it appeared the incident was caused by fatigue.

“Senator Edward Kennedy experienced a seizure today while attending a luncheon for President Barack Obama in the US Capitol,” Dr Edward Aulisi of Washington Hospital Centre said.

“After testing, we believe the incident was brought on by simple fatigue. Senator Kennedy is awake, talking with family and friends, and feeling well.”

President rushed to senator\’s side

Kennedy\’s close friends and senators John Kerry and Chris Dodd accompanied him to the ambulance and said Kennedy appeared to be conscious.

“He\’ll be OK, the good news is, he\’s going to be fine – that\’s the best news,” Dodd told reporters, adding Kennedy had said: “\’I\’ll be OK, I\’ll see you later.\'”

Former Vice President Walter Mondale said Kennedy was swapping stories with others at their table when “something happened. I don\’t know what it was, he just stopped.”

“It was really kind of a shock to us all,” he added.

Senator Jay Rockefeller told reporters the new president rushed over to Kennedy\’s side in the Statuary Hall at the US Congress.

“There was a call for silence throughout the room,” he said. “The president went over immediately. The lights went down, just to reduce the heat, I think.”

Obama\’s tribute to Kennedy

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said that after the scare, Kennedy\’s condition had gradually improved as he was taken to the ambulance.

“I\’m not a doctor, but it looked like a seizure,” he said. “It was painful to him but as he gradually was able to calm down, as he got into the ambulance, he kind of looked over at me and smiled, that old wry smile that I know things are going to be all right.”

He was taken to the Washington Hospital Centre, where staff say he is awake, and being assessed by doctors. He is likely to stay in hospital overnight.

CNN reports the senator is now well enough to talk to members of his family.

Obama acknowledged there were concerns about the health of Ted Kennedy, paying tribute to the senator in his speech to the dignitaries gathered on Capitol Hill.

Malignant brain tumour

“He was there when the Voting Rights Act passed, along with John Lewis who was a warrior for justice.

“And so I would be lying to you if I did not say that right now a part of me is with him. And I think that\’s true for all of us,” Obama said.

There were also early reports that Senator Robert Byrd, at 91 one of the US\’s oldest politicians, had been taken ill during the lunch.

The pair were seated at the same table, and had earlier been shown in television pictures; Kennedy, who has been ill since last May, looked remarkably healthy.

Kennedy underwent surgery for a malignant brain tumour last year after suffering a seizure.

The Massachusetts senator, first elected in 1962, made a high profile endorsement of Obama during the primary campaign and gave an emotional address at the Democratic National Convention in August.

Continue reading Kennedy collapses at Obama lunch

Rio Tinto Alcan to slash 1,100 jobs

“Plans are in place to reduce the workforce by approximately 1,100 roles — 300 contractors and 800 employee roles,” Rio Tinto said in a statement.

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“In addition, substantial cost reduction programmes are being implemented across all Rio Tinto Alcan facilities.”

Anglo-Australian company Rio Tinto bought Canadian aluminium group Alcan for 38.1 billion dollars in 2007.

Rio Tinto Alcan said that “in response to global economic conditions,” it would cut its aluminium production by six percent and shut the Beauharnois smelter in Quebec.

The facility, which employs 220 people, will cease smelting activities in the second quarter of 2009, it added.

“Our goal is to align production with customer demand and reduce our operating costs as much as possible,” Rio Tinto Alcan chief executive Dick Evans said in a statement.

“Increasing efficiency throughout our operations and streamlining our organisation will be crucial to achieving our objectives and preserving value for shareholders.

“We are taking steps towards optimising our world class portfolio of lowcost, long life assets, the majority of which are in the lowest half of the industry cost curve,” Evans added.

Rio Tinto repeatedly rejected a takeover offer pursued throughout much of 2008 by rival BHP Billiton, which eventually dropped its bid in November, citing a deteriorating economic climate.

Jacynthe Cote, president and chief executive officer, Primary Metal, Rio Tinto Alcan, said Tuesday that the ongoing worldwide downturn had forced the group to make “difficult” choices about cutting jobs.

“The global economic downturn has meant that we must make difficult but necessary choices for our organisation and we will make sure that those affected are treated with fairness and respect,” said Cote.

“We will continue to honour our commitments to employees, customers, governments, communities and other key stakeholders.”

Cote, who will become chief executive of Rio Tinto Alcan on February 1, is currently carrying out a full review of the division.

Last week, Rio Tinto announced the appointment of Jim Leng, currently deputy chairman of India\’s Tata Steel, as its new chairman. Leng will take over from current chairman Paul Skinner on April 20.

Continue reading Rio Tinto Alcan to slash 1,100 jobs

World welcomes President Obama

British PM Gordon Brown said Obama\’s coming to power marked a “new chapter in both American history and the world\’s history”.

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“The whole world is watching the inauguration of President Obama, witnessing a new chapter in both American history and the world\’s history,” he said.

“He\’s not only the first black American president but he sets out with the determination to solve the world\’s problems,” he added.

New Zealand PM John Key has written to the new President to congratulate him on his new job.

In his letter, Key said Obama\’s leadership would be “crucial” in addressing the challenges the world faced.

Kenyan villagers celebrate

“Our common democratic values and traditions, and long history of co-operating closely to promote international security and prosperity, point to our shared interests across a wide range of issues,” Key said.

President Obama could count on New Zealand to be a good friend and partner, he wrote.

Meanwhile, in Obama\’s late father\’s Kenyan home, Kogelo, villagers were enraptured by television images of his swearing-in ceremony.

“Now we are sure that he really did win and is the President of the United States. Before this moment, it was hard to even imagine,” said Julius Omondi, 21.

Watching the inauguration on a giant screen surrounded by a message reading “Congratulations, our son, our hope,” Josephine Awuor, 30, said Obama\’s accession to the world\’s most powerful office had changed her life.

“I want to pray for a long and productive life for Obama as president. We the people of Kogelo, our minds and our eyes are now open because now we don\’t feel so small, we don\’t feel of so small value anymore,” she said.

Germans, Americans party in Berlin

In Berlin, thousands of Germans and Americans turned out for a party thrown by Democrats Abroad in the city where Obama held the biggest rally of his campaign – before a rapturous crowd of 200,000 – in July last year.

“America was always the example we looked up to and I believe it can become that again,” said Dorothea Kleffel, 46, an executive assistant.

“Under Bush all that faith we had in America was trampled on and betrayed but I feel hopeful again tonight. I have my fingers crossed for Obama!”

US troops in Iraq wept tears of joy as Obama was sworn in.

“I am very proud to see the change in America,” said Sergeant Carla Bruce who has been stationed in the country for the last 15 months.

“To see an African-American rise to such high level. I hope he will work on the economy and get our budget back in order. I also hope that he will get the troops out smartly.”

US troops weep with joy

Her husband, Sergeant Shawn Bruce, also wiped away tears of pride as he watched Obama\’s televised inaugural speech, in which he reiterated a promise to withdraw from Iraq.

“I dedicated all my life to this country which I adore, and now I am so happy to see an African American as the president of the United States,” he said.

“With his election, the ceiling for accomplishment has changed and I am very proud to see my children growing up in this great country.”

Meanwhile, in Basra, dozens of Iraqis from the Movement of Free Iraqis, the country\’s only association of black people, handed out cakes and sweets in celebration.

“The blacks in Iraq are so happy they are overflowing with joy and tears as they watch this great victory of President Obama for freedom and democracy,” said the movement\’s secretary general, Jalal Dhiab.

“The choice of the Americans of Obama is not only a victory for blacks, but whites and all other races,” he said.

Continue reading World welcomes President Obama

Scientists to solve Galileo astronomical riddle

Italian scientists are trying to get Galileo\’s DNA in order to figure out how the astronomer forged groundbreaking theories on the universe while gradually becoming blind, a historian said.

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Scientists at Florence\’s Institute and Museum of the History of Science want to exhume the body of 17th Century astronomer Galileo Galilei to find out exactly what he could see through his telescope.

The Italian astronomer who built on the work of predecessor Nicolaus Copernicus to develop modern astronomy with the sun as the centre of the universe had a degenerative eye disease that eventually left him blind.

“If we succeed, thanks to DNA, in understanding how this disease distorted his sight, it could bring about important discoveries for the history of science,” said the institute\’s director, Paolo Galluzzi.

“We could explain certain mistakes that Galileo made: why he described the planet Saturn as having \’lateral ears\’ rather than having seen it encircled by rings for example,” said Galluzzi.

Replication sought

In an effort to recreate what Galileo — who lived from 1564 to 1642 — saw, the scientific team has made an exact replica of his telescope.

They now want to get DNA proof of what ophthalmologists have said was a genetic eye disease and thereby more fully understand the conditions under which he made observations that revolutionised our understanding of the cosmos.

It will take the team one year to raise the 300,000 euros (390,000 dollars) needed to finance the project and clear administrative hurdles to open Galileo\’s tomb in Florence\’s Santa Croce Basilica, Galluzzi said.

Galileo celebrated

The United Nations proclaimed 2009 the International Year of Astronomy, marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo\’s observations.

In 1609, he discovered spots on the Sun, craters and peaks on the surface of the Moon and satellites orbiting Jupiter, thereby confirming Copernicus\’s theory that planets orbit the Sun rather than the Earth.

Continue reading Scientists to solve Galileo astronomical riddle

Fresh crisis summit planned for Zimbabwe

Southern African leaders planned a new summit to break Zimbabwe\’s political stalemate a day after President Robert Mugabe and rival Morgan Tsvangirai ended marathon talks without a deal.

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After 12 hours of discussions on Monday, Mugabe said he had accepted a proposal from the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc that would have seen Tsvangirai sworn in as prime minister on Saturday.

Earlier talks fail

However a bitter and angry Tsvangirai left the talks, mediated by South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, refusing to accept the post until crucial issues were resolved.

“We came to this meeting hoping we would put the people\’s plight to rest and conclude these power-sharing discussions.

“Unfortunately, there\’s been no progress because the very same outstanding issues on the agenda… are the same issues that are creating this impasse,” said the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

“For us as the MDC, this is probably the darkest day of our lives, for the whole nation is waiting.”

Following the latest failure to try and implement a power-sharing deal struck between the two rivals last September, leaders of the 15-nation SADC bloc agreed to hold another Zimbabwe crisis summit next Monday.

But after several failed SADC interventions analysts were gloomy about its prospects.

“I think precedent basically suggests that one shouldn\’t raise their hopes too high that it will bring about anything of substance,” George Katito, a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs told AFP.

“It could bring some change but… SADC has done little to inspire confidence in their ability to deal with the crisis.”

The key sticking point for Tsvangirai is the distribution of cabinet posts such as the home affairs ministry, which is responsible for the police.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told AFP on Tuesday that the swearing-in of Tsvangirai and his deputies before the resolution of these outstanding issues would be “putting the cart before the horse.”

Tsvangirai maintains firm stance

Tsvangirai argues that since his party won a majority in parliament and he defeated Mugabe during a first-round presidential vote in March, the MDC should wield more influence in government.

The MDC-led parliament resumed sitting Tuesday, but with the government still in limbo, parliamentarians had little before them.

Mugabe, who unilaterally made his ministerial appointments last year, told reporters it had been the MDC\’s refusal to agree to the swearing-in of Tsvangirai and deputies that had led to the failure of the talks.

“We agreed to that proposal from SADC… but MDC-T (Tsvangirai) did not. They came with counter-proposals, so the meeting broke down.”

Mugabe said both sides would keep talking ahead of next Monday\’s summit, the venue of which was still to be decided.

Regional leaders see the unity deal as the best chance for breaking Zimbabwe\’s political deadlock and curbing the nation\’s stunning economic collapse.

March\’s first round presidential election was followed by a brutal wave of political violence.

Tsvangirai pulled out of a run-off, saying he had taken the decision because of violence against his supporters, leaving Mugabe to declare a one-sided victory in June.

Since then Zimbabwe has plunged ever deeper into crisis amid massive unemployment and crippling hyperinflation. More than 2,200 people have died from a cholera epidemic, while half the population is dependent on food aid.

Continue reading Fresh crisis summit planned for Zimbabwe

Rwandan troops enter eastern Congo

More than 1,500 Rwandan troops entered eastern Congo joining Congolese forces in an effort to oust Hutu rebels who participated in Rwanda\’s genocide and have been at the heart of the region\’s conflict, officials said.

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Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said the Rwandan forces arrived Tuesday morning and that the joint military operations would last 10 to 15 days.

“We have officially asked the Rwandan army to participate in the disarmament operations of the Interahamwe (Hutu militia) which have begun,” Mende said.

A Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there was concern that Hutu militiamen might retaliate against civilians.

Rare joint operation

In a rare move, Congo and Rwanda have agreed to step up efforts against the Rwandan Hutu militants who have long destabilised the region. Still, neither country has been able to eradicate the Hutu rebels since they fled to Congo in 1994.

The Hutu fighters, who helped carry out the genocide in which more than 500,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, have remained in Congo untouched, heavily armed, and in control of lucrative mines in remote hills and forests.

The militia has terrorised civilians, given Tutsi rebels a reason to fight and also are the reason why Rwanda invaded Congo previously in 1996 and 1998.

The UN mission in Congo said it was not associated with the operations but confirmed that the Rwandan forces had entered Congolese territory. UN peacekeeping spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said between 1,500 and 2,000 Rwandan soldiers had crossed the border.

Louise Mushikiwabo, the Rwandan minister of information, said all forces were under the command of the Congolese national army.

“There is new momentum and the government of Rwanda is pleased the fundamental obstacle to stability for the last 15 years … is finally being tackled,” Mushikiwabo said.

Ongoing Hutu attacks

The Rwandan Hutus fled to Congo in 1994 and some lived in overflowing refugee camps there. By 1996, their leaders launched an insurgency and began carrying out cross-border attacks into Rwanda, killing more Tutsis.

Fed up, Rwanda attacked the camps and drove on to Congo\’s capital, Kinshasa, installing late Congolese rebel leader Laurent Kabila as president in 1997.

Eager to prove his independence, Kabila in 1998 expelled the Rwandan Tutsis who brought him to power. Three days later, Rwanda organised another Congolese rebellion, and along with Uganda, seized eastern Congo in a war that drew in half a dozen African nations and lasted until 2002.

Since then, Congo has formed a unity government that gave top posts to rebels. Kabila\’s son Joseph won historic elections in 2006.

Continue reading Rwandan troops enter eastern Congo

Fiat to take 35 per cent stake in Chrysler

Under the outline, non-binding deal, Fiat would obtain 35 percent of Chrysler without making any payment in exchange for giving Chrysler access to its own vehicle platforms, products and technology “to expand Chrysler\’s current product portfolio.

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It would offer access to new markets through its international network.

Press reports had suggested earlier that a transfer of technology by Fiat would be aimed specifically at enabling crisis-hit Chrysler to develop quickly a complete range of small, front-wheel-drive and “clean” low-carbon-emission vehicles. Each group would benefit from the other\’s sales outlets.

The deal would enable Chrysler to demonstrate to the US Treasury that it could remain viable, and so avoid having to repay 5.5 billion dollars of just-received federal rescue finance.

Both groups have had unsuccessful trans-Atlantic alliances — Fiat with General Motors and Chrysler with Daimler of Germany.

A statement by the two sides said that in exchange for contributing products and technology, Fiat “would receive an initial 35 percent equity interest in Chrysler.”

The statement with Chrysler\’s main shareholder, US Cerberus Capital Management, said: “The alliance does not contemplate that Fiat would make a cash investment in Chrysler or commit to funding Chrysler in the future.”

The Chrysler group has just received conditional US state aid of 5.5 billion dollars.

Fiat shares gained 3.5 percent when trading in the shares, which had been suspended pending a statement, was resumed.

Chrysler, the smallest of the big three US carmakers including General Motors and Ford, is also considered to be the weakest.

It was bought by Daimler for 36 billion dollars and jettisoned nine years later in May 2007 to US investment fund Cerberus for 7.4 billion dollars.

Cerberus owns 80.1 percent of Chrysler.

In seeking a route out of crisis, Chrysler is handicapped by its range of four-wheel-drive and pick-up vehicles which no longer match the requirements of the economically-strapped US economy and consumers.

The tiny Fiat 500 model, the Cinquecento, is part of the power package now set to pull Chrysler out of its product-range hole.

The Fiat group, founded in 1899 by the Agnelli family and owner of the Fiat, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Maserati and Ferrari brands, grew rapidly in the post-world-war two years with the launch in 1957 of the minuscule Cinquecento.

The small car was designed to scamper through the narrow back streets of Rome and Italy\’s other ancient cities and was re-launched with a city-chic look in 2007.

The new version is credited with having helped pull Fiat car group from its own financial abyss.

Fiat\’s auto unit finalled switched into profit at the end of 2005 after reporting 17 consecutive quarters of losses.

Italy\’s Industry Minister Claudio Scajola welcomed the alliance as a “great opportunity.”

“It\’s a great opportunity for the automotive industry as well as for Italy,” Scajola said in a statement.

Chrysler and Fiat have been hard hit by the global downturn, but Chrysler is in deep trouble, largely also because sales of typical big US vehicles were slashed by high fuel prices last year.

The statement said that Fiat would help Chrysler draft a viability plan for the US Treasury, commenting that Fiat had restructured successfully in recent years and was a “recognized world leader” in innovative and environmentally-friendly vehicles.

Chrysler chairman Bob Nardelli said said the partnership “creates the potential for a powerful, new global competitor.” It would give a return on investment for American taxpayers “by securing the long-term viability of Chrysler brands in the marketplace.”

Fiat, which has emerged from a long period of financial crisis and has tied up several strategic alliances in the last five years, had an unsuccessful alliance with General Motors.

In February 2005, GM agreed to pay 1.55 billion euros to settle a long dispute over an option for the Fiat group to sell Fiat Auto to GM. The deal involved GM surrendering 10 percent of Fiat and the unwinding of alliances.

The chief executive at Fiat, Sergio Marchionne, had explained at the beginning of December that the only way for car makers to withstand the crisis in the global auto industry was to make alliances or marriages.

Continue reading Fiat to take 35 per cent stake in Chrysler

BHP cuts \’shows job stimulus needed\’

Job losses at the world\’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton, demonstrate the need for any new economic stimulus package to focus on job creation, Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull says.

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Mr Turnbull said news that 3,400 Australian jobs would be shed at BHP, paired with other job losses at Rio Tinto, was “very bad news for the workers and families concerned”.

“It underlines the importance of those three priorities I talk about almost every day: jobs, jobs, jobs,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

Rudd \’should focus on jobs\’

“The focus of the government and everybody at this time should be on promoting and preserving employment.

“Any new policies, any new stimuluses, should be directed on jobs and they should be carefully considered, they should be considered for their effectiveness so that the taxpayer gets the maximum economic bang for the taxpayer\’s buck.”

He said the coalition would carefully consider any credit market bail-out on its merits.

The shelving of BHP Billiton\’s Ravensthorpe nickel mine will strip the West Australian government of up to $20 million in mining royalties, Western Australia\’s Acting Premier Kim Hames says.

The mining giant has put the mine, which produces laterite nickel, on care and maintenance indefinitely, slashing 1,800 jobs from the small town in WA\’s south east.

Mr Hames said WA Premier Colin Barnett would take time out from his holidays to fly to the town on Thursday to discuss the situation with the local shire council and the affected workers.

Mr Hames said the cost of the closure to the people of WA would be significant, especially those in Ravensthorpe and the nearby towns of Jerdacuttup and Hopetoun.

WA to \’experience black hole\’

Mr Hames said the government was aware companies had to make difficult decisions with the price of nickel dropping from $US52,000 per tonne in mid 2007 to $US10,000 a tonne now.

Royalties from the mines would leave a black hole of between $10 million and $20 million per year, but the effect of reduced payroll tax had not yet been calculated, Mr Hames said.

The WA government had contributed $18 million in funding to the town for a new school and waste water treatment plant ahead of the mine\’s opening.

The Commonwealth commitment to the town was estimated at $9.8 million for roads.

WA Mines Minister Norman Moore said laterite nickel required high cost processing and he hoped the mine would be reopened if higher growth levels were indicated for China and the need for stainless steel was revived.

Continue reading BHP cuts \’shows job stimulus needed\’

Chinese sites censor Obama speech

US President Barack Obama\’s inauguration speech left China\’s media scrambling on Wednesday, with many attempting to censor his references to communism and dissent.

南宁桑拿

However the attempts appeared to backfire after their omission in Chinese translations drew even more attention to the words on Internet forums.

“Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions,” Obama said in his speech.

State broadcaster China Central Television broadcast the speech live, but when the translator said communism, the channel cut to an awkwardly smiling news anchor, Beijing-based lawyer Xu Zhiyong wrote on his blog.

“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” Obama continued.

China\’s two biggest Internet portals Sina and Sohu omitted the word communism from the translations of the speech on their websites and cut the line about dissent entirely.

However, English versions of the speech appeared in some Chinese media intact.

The state-run, English language China Daily, which is aimed mainly at a foreign audience, concluded its front page story with the dissent quote. It also ran the full English text of the speech on its website.

The interruptions to the live broadcast and carefully edited translations indicate China\’s propaganda officials were monitoring the speech, said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California.

The omissions were not necessarily due to concerns about ideological differences, but rather how ordinary Chinese might respond to Obama\’s words, Xiao told AFP.

“Propaganda filtering is one thing, but there are certain concepts, phrases or lines that ring true among the Chinese people and that is what the Chinese propaganda people really want to filter out,” he said.

“It\’s not about perspective, it\’s about what resonates among the Chinese people and will make people say \’That\’s true.\'”

Continue reading Chinese sites censor Obama speech