Neighbours uneasy with Afghan pact

NEW DELHI: Recent moves by Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve their once-frosty relationship have prompted deep concern in other countries in the region and led some to consider strengthening ties to the political rivals of the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.The US government considers the Afghan-Pakistan overtures essential to combating insurgencies racking both nations. But India, Iran and Afghanistan’s northern neighbours fear they are a step towards fulfilling Mr Karzai’s desire to negotiate with Taliban leaders and possibly welcome some of them into the government.These nations think Mr Karzai’s plans could compromise their security and interests by lessening the influence of Afghanistan’s Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara ethnic minorities, with whom they have cultivated close links, diplomats and government officials say.The apprehension, recently voiced by senior Indian officials, has emerged as yet another challenge for the US, which seeks to encourage new initiatives to stabilise Afghanistan while minimising fallout on the already tense relationship between India and Pakistan.In an attempt to assuage those concerns, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, went to New Delhi last week to meet the Indian National Security Adviser and the Foreign Secretary.The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, also arrived last week for two days of meetings with military and civilian leaders.India has been angered by recent meetings involving Mr Karzai and Pakistan’s top two security officials, General Ashfaq Kiyani, the army chief, and Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the intelligence director.Afghanistan and Pakistan have signed a trade agreement that allows Afghan trucks to drive through Pakistan to the Indian border. Indian officials had wanted to send their trucks through Pakistan to Afghanistan, but the Pakistani government insisted they not be included in the negotiations.Compounding India’s resentment is that it believed it had cultivated close ties with Mr Karzai. India has opened four consulates in Afghanistan, even though relatively few Indian citizens live there, and invested $US1.3 billion ($1.45 billion) in development projects, far more than Pakistan has.”The Indians are shell-shocked,” said a Western diplomat. ”They went in with more than a billion dollars, and now Pakistan is eating their lunch.”? The Taliban have offered to exchange the body of a US Navy member they said was killed in an ambush on Friday in exchange for insurgent prisoners, an Afghan official said.US and NATO officials said two US Navy personnel went missing in their four-wheel-drive on Friday in the eastern province of Logar. Afghan officials believe one was killed and the other captured when they took a wrong turn into a Taliban-held area.The Washington Post, Associated Press
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Artworks come straight from the source

NEW DELHI: The Ganges holds a special place in a billion Indian hearts. But a Melbourne-born artist has become the first to paint the river from source to mouth.Kevin Pearsh travelled by foot, boat and land vehicle, from the river’s source waters in the Himalayan ice cave of Gaumukh to the sprawling delta where the Ganges flows out into the Bay of Bengal, to create an acclaimed series of 21 oils on canvas.The painter, who lives in France, completed his journey in three stages in 2006 and 2007, keeping a comprehensive travel diary of sketches, notes, photographs and watercolours – all painted with Ganges water.”I did it in three parts to try to absorb the vision,” he said. ”But I didn’t start any of the 21 paintings until I had finished the whole journey. It was only then that I felt I could begin.”It took Pearsh 2½ years to complete the paintings at his studio in Burgundy, where he has been based for 25 years.A Varanasi boatman called Deepak, who accompanied Pearsh for the entire journey, acting as interpreter and assistant, suggested he do 21 paintings because it was an auspicious number in Hindu astrology.The large-format canvases depict an array of scenes along the 2500-kilometre river, including the point at Devprayag where two mountain streams meet to officially become the Ganges, bathers at the holy city of Haridwar, complex reflections in the waters off Varanasi, working river boats in West Bengal, the famous Howrah Bridge in Kolkata and Ganga Sagar, where the sacred river finally meets the sea.One of the most popular works features a solitary boy sitting on a wall contemplating the vast expanse of the river in the state of Bihar.”I often felt just like that little boy – sitting on the edge of a wall with all the space of the Ganges in front of me,” Pearsh said. ”We all have those sorts of moments.”The Ganges is sacred to Hindus and millions of Indians bathe regularly in its waters. But humans are incidental, or missing completely, in most of Pearsh’s paintings.”The Ganges holds its own presence and I didn’t feel the need to always depict activity along it,” he said.The collection, called Ganga 21, is on show for the first time in New Delhi and moves to Kolkata early next month.Pearsh, who has paintings in many well-known collections including the Tate gallery in London, was anxious about how his Ganges series would be received in India.”I felt the only way to know if I had got it right, or was at least on the right track, was by the reaction of the Indian public,” he said.”But it has been absolutely phenomenal … They have never seen the Ganga in paint as a journey.”Padam Talwar, the program director of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which is hosting the exhibition, said Pearsh’s work has been enthusiastically received.”They are beautiful paintings so thoughtfully and vibrantly done,” he said. ”It is the first time we are seeing such paintings of the Ganges.”Ashok Raisinghani, a visitor to the exhibition, said Pearsh ”has accomplished what Indian artists could not achieve”.Pearsh, who has travelled and painted extensively in India since the late 1970s, said one of the unexpected highlights of his river journey was encountering the unique Ganges River dolphin.”Sleeping on a boat every night was extraordinary because you see and hear these wonderful creatures,” he said. ”They would come up and you could hear a puff of air and they would go under again.”The Ganges journey has had a big impact on Pearsh’s art.”I didn’t realise this journey would have such an influence on my painting,” he said. ”There was an extraordinary sense of light, a wonderful transparency, that I was able to bring into the paintings. It has really changed the way I look at things now.”
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Two leaders, two promises to slash immigration and ease growth

Where do Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott stand on the big election issues? The Herald provides a snapshot as the countdown to August 21 nears.DEFICIT Neither Julia Gillard nor Tony Abbott know what they’ll do if the global recession returns. Or if they do, they won’t say. Both are committed to returning the budget to surplus in three years’ time.Asked whether they would amend the timetable if conditions turned nasty, neither would countenance the possibility. Ms Gillard simply reiterated the commitment, and talked about how Kevin Rudd had done the right thing last time.Surprisingly, Abbott agreed. The Coalition had supported the measures that pushed the budget into deficit, but not all of them.But when it comes to the present, lingering deficits are bad. What neither would do was acknowledge the question asked.The world economic outlook is uncertain. Last week seven European banks failed so-called stress tests. Seven US banks were taken over by regulators. Are they prepared to reassess their determination to return the budget to surplus if those developments drag down the global economy?Presumably the answer is yes, but without departing from their scripts, neither would say. Mr Abbott talked about debt, Ms Gillard talked about Mr Rudd’s wisdom in deploying it well. Both seemed to wish future economic problems away.Peter Martin IMMIGRATION A sustainable population with a reduced immigration intake was the promise from both sides, in a conscious departure from previous bipartisan rhetoric about population growth.”A prosperous Australia and a sustainable Australia, not a big Australia,” was Ms Gillard’s pitch to the people, promising ”record investments” in solar and renewable technologies.Mr Abbott said population was inextricably tied to immigration which had risen to unacceptable numbers under Labor. ”From about 200,000 when the Howard government left office to about 300,000 under the current government.”This is unsustainable,” he said, repeating his pledge to bring immigration down to 170,000 a year.Ms Gillard said Labor had brought immigration down from a 2008 high of 300,000 to 230,000 last year. Final net migration numbers this year would be down to 175,000 and as low as 145,000 next year, she said. BORDER SECURITY Mr Abbott has an ”action plan” for asylum seekers and it involves returning to the Pacific solution of the Howard government.Ms Gillard wants to stop the flow of asylum seekers before they get onto boats.”It’s not safe to stop the boats because the boats are destroyed before your very eyes. That’s why we need a better solution about stopping the boats before they even leave,” she said. Ms Gillard said she had increased surveillance of borders and was working with Indonesia to target people smuggling.Speaking of Ms Gillard’s ”boat people fix that got lost somewhere in the Timor Sea,” Mr Abbott declared there would never be offshore processing in Timor. ”The Indonesians don’t like it and the East Timorese don’t want it,” he said.Mr Abbott suggested if Ms Gillard was ”fair dinkum” about wanting to stop the boats she would abandon the ”fanciful” Timor solution and place a detention centre on Nauru, which, he said, was willing to reopen its Howard-era camp.But Nauru’s government is in a caretaker mode and its Parliament is deadlocked, Ms Gillard said. ”It is not in a position to deal with these kinds of positions,” she said.Dylan Welch COST OF LIVINGBoth leaders say they are concerned about the price of bread, but neither has much idea about how to restrain it. Mr Abbott said he wouldn’t promise a Grocery Choice website and he wouldn’t run up government debt. Ms Gillard said she wouldn’t impose Mr Abbot’s proposed parental leave tax. Perhaps both of them should visit shops. The Bureau of Statistics reports that the price of bread climbed just 1.7 per cent in the year to March. The overall food price index climbed a mere 0.7 per cent. By contrast Sydney electricity prices jumped 18 per cent, gas prices 15 per cent, and water prices 14 per cent. It’s because investments in new plants are stalled until our leaders make up their minds about emissions trading. It would do more to restrain our cost of living than needless fretting about bread.Peter Martin HEALTH While Ms Gillard warned about what Mr Abbott would do to health if he won power, he cited his own record as health minister to argue his credibility.Ms Gillard attacked Coalition plans to dump Labor reforms for local medical services, but neither made more than a brief mention of health issues.But Mr Abbott said that as health minister he had lifted bulk billing rates to record levels and expanded Medicare to cover allied health services, including dentistry. The Coalition would provide community-run hospitals with more beds.Mark MetherellEDUCATIONJulia Gillard used her opening statement to remind viewers of Tony Abbott’s plans to cut Labor programs to improve teaching and to provide computers and trades training centres to secondary schools.Mr Abbott focused on the government’s school building program, through which he said it was ”wasting billions on overpriced school halls”. If voters elected the Coalition, he said, they would get ”schools run by parents, not bureaucrats”.When asked for an example of when she had the courage to take a decision at odds with public opinion, Ms Gillard nominated setting up the My School website, which allows people to compare the performance of schools. When moderator David Speers suggested public opinion had been on her side and she had only faced opposition from teacher unions, she countered that if school transparency had been so easy, why had it not been achieved until now.Dan Harrison ENVIRONMENTOn climate change, Mr Abbott accused the government of a talkfest but Ms Gillard spoke of the need for community consensus.Mr Abbott dismissed Labor’s plans for a Citizens’ Assembly to develop a consensus on carbon reduction measures as nothing more than talk.Ms Gillard said climate change was real and she believed that her bid to achieve community consensus on the issue would bring about a long-lasting solution.”If we are going to have deep and lasting change I do want Australians to come with me.”She pointed to her policies to stop the construction of dirty power stations, plans to convey electricity from remote sources to the national grid and to spur greener cars and buildings.Mr Abbott said the Coalition would deliver a 15,000-strong ”Green Army” as part of its action on climate change.Mark Metherell BROADBAND Ms Gillard sought to use the issue of broadband to bolster her broader narrative that Labor would take the country forwards, while Mr Abbott would take it backwards.Labor’s $43 billion National Broadband Network was ”so important to the jobs of the future, and how we will live in the future”, she said in her opening statement. She returned to it in her closing statement, reminding the audience that the Coalition had promised to scrap it.Tony Abbott did not mention broadband specifically, but several times restated his pledge to end wasteful spending and repay government debt.The Coalition is yet to announce its broadband plan, but it is expected to use the existing cable used to deliver pay television to deliver fast broadband in metropolitan areas.It has also flagged the use of targeted government funding to deliver broadband to regional areas where services might be commercially unviable.Dan Harrison
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Aboriginal skull reveals the past’s changing shape

ELEVEN thousand years ago a tall and solidly built Aboriginal man lived a hard life. His bones reveal he had arthritis in his jaw, multiple breaks in both forearms and a fractured ankle so severe his shin bones fused together.”Death might have been something to look forward to for him,” the palaeoanthropologist Peter Brown said.But since the skeleton, known as Nacurrie, was discovered in 1948 near Swan Hill on the Murray River it has been the changes to his skull that have been of most interest to Professor Brown.The shape of his cranium suggests Aborigines practised body modification, manipulating the contour of the skull, he said.Nacurrie appears to be the earliest example of the practice anywhere in the world, he said.”You can only change the shape of the head in a baby because the skull is soft and malleable so it can pass through the birth canal,” Professor Brown, who works at the University of New England, said.The skeleton of Nacurrie suggests his skull shape was modified by subtle means, probably by massage from his mother’s hands. Several other skeletons found in the Murray-Darling area also had modified skulls.”It is clear from the archaeological record that a group of people living on the Murray River used to do this … between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago.”Professor Brown said massaging the skull did not cause brain damage because the brain was a flexible organ. The practice was probably done for aesthetic reasons, but no one knows why it had stopped in Aborigines, he said.Cranium manipulation has been common throughout different cultures. By some reports, it was the most popular type of body modification after circumcision, said Professor Brown, whose findings are published in the Journal of Human Evolution.In Papua New Guinea some mothers would bind their babies’ heads with a tight bandage, which created a cone shape, while in South America babies were strapped to cradleboards, creating a flat-shaped head, he said.
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Milat pens indignant letter from ‘dark side’

Serial killer Ivan Milat has protested his innocence in a six-page letter from his ”sunless cement cave” in Australia’s most secure prison.The letter to The Sun-Herald reads like Milat’s last throw of the dice after losing appeals at every level of the justice system, right up to the High Court.The former roadworker is serving seven life sentences for murdering seven backpackers in the Belanglo State Forest south-west of Sydney between 1989 and 1992.Driven mad by isolated confinement and suffocating routine, the 65-year-old has convinced himself the justice system has conspired against him. His waking hours are spent writing letters to courts and judges from the ”dark side” – his Supermax cell in Goulburn jail – urging a review of his trial, the evidence and his conviction.”I have been denied natural and judicial justice continually,” he writes, referring to his incarceration as “a legal anomaly” and a “miscarriage of justice”.His frustration turned to grisly self-harm in January when he gnawed the little finger off his left hand, wrapped it in newspaper and placed it in an envelope addressed to the High Court’s Chief Justice Robert French.”The court refused to acknowledge my correspondence,” he writes. “I end up chew finger off and put it in mail address to High Court.”A lot of nasty things were said of me for doing that act but what else could I do?”In the past nine months, Milat has been in correspondence with the High Court in Canberra, the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney, the DNA Review Panel, the Attorney-General’s Department and the Independent Commission Against Corruption.”I have written to the Chief Justice of NSW, Justice Jim Spigelman, about the matter and requested that I go to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal about the matter and I await His Honour’s reply,” he writes, using his trademark drawing of The Saint next to his signature.At the heart of Milat’s increasingly desperate appeals are two issues:1. None of the DNA evidence collected by the police at the murder scenes produced any match with Milat or any member of his family.2. The police maintained at his 1996 trial that Milat acted alone and offered no evidence that he was in a criminal conspiracy with accomplices. Yet in his final address to the jury, Justice David Hunt canvassed the Crown’s “alternative case” that “there was a small group consisting of at least two persons involved in the murders of these seven victims. Each person may have been involved in all seven or in just some of the murders”.During the course of his relentless letter writing, Milat has obtained a letter from the Supreme Court’s Justice Peter McClennan quoting from the ruling it was “no part of the Crown case that others may have been involved” in the slayings.But he has also received a letter from the DNA Review Panel saying “the Crown case was that another or others were also involved in the murders” and, therefore, a re-examination of the DNA evidence would not assist in any claim of innocence.”I have two legal decisions which contradict each other,” he writes. “I have raised a legitimate legal matter about the Crown’s primary evidence to prove my guilt.”Of the DNA evidence, he writes: “The Crown said no DNA implicated Ivan Milat. Yet it throws off the DNA evidence by suggesting it was ‘contaminated’ but I have never seen any proof of it being contaminated.”Milat’s brother, Bill, who has long campaigned for his brother’s release, told The Sun-Herald: “The police obtained two separate DNA samples from the crime scenes and neither of them match or belong to any of the Milat family.”The police say that anyone who appeals against their conviction is in denial and that their legal actions are about wanting to be in control.”What about the five people in the past two years who have been released after serving more than eight years for crimes they did not commit? They were not in denial, they were stating a fact about their innocence.”Bill Milat also referred to “100 per cent accurate evidence” that on the day two of the backpackers were murdered, Ivan was at his mother’s home. NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham told The Sun-Herald Milat’s appeals for justice were obscene because he had shown no mercy to his victims.Commissioner Woodham said Milat was old, fragile and losing touch with reality. ”He’s in his right place and he’ll be staying there,” he said.
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Nationals hit the campagn trail

NATIONAL Party member Ann Thompson’s rise has been rapid indeed.
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Ten days after joining the party which she says looks out for the interests of country people she was chosen to carry its colours in the March State election. The Lithgow city councillor, former deputy mayor, business owner and mother

could not say whether there were any other candidates in a pre-selection process which began in July.

But ever since she began considering running for Parliament last year, and stood aside in the mayoral elections, she faced a stark choice between standing as an independent or joining a party.

She wanted to send a message to the Sydney-based Labor Government which had failed to deliver quality jobs, better road access and two high profile industries to the Central Tablelands.

“My decision to join the Nationals was based mainly on where I could make the most difference and the answer was in a party.”

And so it was after some discussion with the chairman of the Nationals’ Bathurst electoral council, Peter Pilbeam, who in July mooted a high profile Bathurst businessman as the Nationals’ ideal candidate, that Mrs Thompson got the nod.

Currently a TAFE teacher with work, family and sporting connections in Bathurst she said she was far from unknown west of Lithgow.

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Matchmaker reform after wife’s murder

SEOUL: South Korea will set up a taskforce to reform the international matchmaking business following the fatal stabbing of a Vietnamese woman by her mentally ill husband, officials said.The taskforce will be staffed by officials from the ministries of justice, gender equality, culture and foreign affairs, the prime minister’s office said.It will discuss measures ranging from changing how international marriage brokerage businesses are run to helping foreign spouses settle in Korea.Thach Thi Hoang Ngoc, 20, was beaten and stabbed to death by her 47-year-old husband on July 8, eight days after she arrived in the southern port city of Busan.The man told police he had heard a ”ghost’s voice” urging him to kill her when they quarrelled. He had been treated 57 times for schizophrenia since July 2005.The Prime Minister, Chung Un-chan, called for tighter control over international marriage brokerages and a budget increase for facilities supporting multicultural families.Ms Ngoc’s family will receive 30 million won ($28,000) in compensation, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported.More than a third of South Korea’s fishermen and farmers who married last year chose foreign brides, some because they were unable to find local women happy to live a rural lifestyle.Official figures show that of 1987 marriages to farmers and fishermen in 2009, 35 per cent of the brides were immigrants: 47 per cent from Vietnam, 26 per cent from China and 10 per cent from Cambodia.Activists say some foreign brides, coaxed by false promises or deceptive advertising, end up with spouses who are poor, ill, alcoholic or just difficult.Agence France-Presse
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Editor’s response

BEFORE responding to Mr Perram’s comments, it is important to stress that the Western Advocate raised the questions in response to very serious claims made by neighbours of the woman believed to have been killed by a dog.
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The neighbours claimed that they had complained to Bathurst City Council because the dogs had attacked other pets and created a sense of fear in the neighbourhood.

The Western Advocate fully expected council officers to be sensitive to questioning because of the seriousness of the claims and the fact that Mr Perram was not in Bathurst

when the tragedy took place but, even allowing for this, there seemed to be a deliberate attempt not to directly answer questions.

When a reporter first contacted a council officer he was told the officer could not comment.

The reporter then went to this officer’s superior, Mr Sherley, who told the reporter he had instructed the first officer not to comment on the issue.

It is the right of council’s senior staff to implement whatever policies they deem appropriate in relation to their staff.

We simply reported the fact of the matter, that staff had been instructed not to talk to the media. I fail to see how this is misleading.

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Former Fiji PM faces 12 criminal charges

AUCKLAND: The former Fijian prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry has been charged with a dozen crimes relating to money laundering and tax evasion.Mr Chaudhry, who was held hostage for 56 days before being deposed as Fiji’s leader in a nationalist coup in 2000, appeared in court yesterday, charged with 12 offences, a Fiji police spokeswoman, Ema Mua, said.It is alleged he held up to $400,000 in a Commonwealth Bank of Australia account and $50,000 was given to his daughter in Australia without procedures being followed.The 12 charges, which date back to just after the 2000 coup, include providing false information to the Fiji Islands Revenue and Customs Authority.Mr Chaudhry appeared in Suva Magistrate’s Court, represented by his son, Rajendra Chaudhry, a lawyer. He heard the charges but was not required to enter a plea. He was released on bail and will reappear in court next Friday.”He’s to surrender his travel documents, passport and he’s to report in to the nearest police post to his home every Thursday,” Ms Mua said.Mr Chaudhry was briefly finance minister in the current military-led government of Frank Bainimarama, during which time an independent audit cleared him of any wrongdoing in relation to his overseas financial dealings.He was Fiji’s first Indian leader when he was elected prime minister in 1999 and was overthrown a year later in a coup led by George Speight. While Speight held Mr Chaudhry and his government hostage, the Fiji Military Forces took power, declared martial law and installed an interim prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, who a year later won the post in a democratic election.Mr Chaudhry was the leader of the Fiji Labour Party until 2008 and controversially backed Commodore Bainimarama’s bloodless coup against Mr Qarase in 2006.Australia has been one of the harshest critics of Fiji since Commodore Bainimarama led the coup and stalled democratic elections, which were initially promised for 2009 and have now been pushed back to 2014.Already-frosty relations between the two nations heightened this week when Australia and Fiji became embroiled in a bitter spat over whether a meeting of the Melanesian Spearhead Group should proceed in Fiji.Fiji believed the meeting would lend some credibility to its regime, while Australia thought the meeting would undermine efforts to pressure Fiji to return to democracy.The meeting went ahead. Australia and New Zealand were the only nations in the region not in attendance.Australian Associated Press, Agence France-Presse
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Scott Group 10 coach

GROUP 10 coach Dave Scott will work closely with the group’s newest representative side to help develop young players in the group.
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Scott was reappointed to the position of Group 10 senior coach at the group’s annual general meeting on Sunday, after he led the side to victory over arch-rivals Group 11 last season.

Scott said one of his main jobs will be to help new Group 10 under 21s coach Mitch Luka any way he can to ensure promising players get the best opportunity to shine.

“I am pretty happy with the appointment and I will be doing a lot of work with Mitch Luka and the under 21s, giving them more opportunities to impress,” Scott said.

“It’s a pretty big step from juniors to seniors and this is a positive move.”

Scott was one of the advocates of the introduction of another tier of representative football and he said the likes of Panthers players Christian Luyks, Josh Bateup and Jake Newstead are the ones to benefit most from the decision.

“For a lot of the young fellas it will be a great experience for them to get a run with this side to see how they go and how they handle the step up,” he said.

“It (the under 21s side) was an idea that came out of me and Rock (group president Paul Rossiter) sitting down and talking and it’s great to see it come about.”

Group 10 will play trial matches against Groups Nine and 20 before the start of the Group 10 season and Scott said it was a positive move.

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