The family of young Sydney man Tom Ricketson, who was killed in a nightclub fire in Cambodia, say they will remember him as a “warm and wonderful human being”.
The 32-year-old careworker died in Cambodia’s northwestern tourist hub of Siem Reap overnight.
The blaze broke out at the Hip Hop Club at around 2am as the result of an electrical fault, according to local police.
Mr Ricketson and four Cambodians – three women and a man – died from smoke inhalation, provincial police chief Sort Nady added.
In an emotional statement, the Ricketson family said they would be eternally grateful for knowing Tom, who worked with intellectually handicapped and physically handicapped children in Sydney.
“Our son and brother Tom Ricketson was a warm and wonderful human being who has been taken from us far too soon,” they said on Wednesday.
“Our family now have to walk through life without him at our side but he will be forever in our hearts.”
They said Tom had “fallen in the love” with the Cambodian people during 10 days he spent with impoverished families living in a tip in the capital Phnom Penh.
He had decided to devote the following year to raising funds to provide housing for 20 poor families.
“Our family will now work to ensure that this becomes a reality,” they said.
Tom’s uncle, James Ricketson, had spent time travelling with him in Cambodia.
He confirmed the tragedy on social media, where friends and family have been posting their own tributes.
Mr Ricketson described Tom as a “special spirit” whose “shyness hid a gold mine of generosity”.
“Tom was a sweet, gentle, kind, loving and generous young man,” he added.
An investigation has been launched into the fire, which occurred in the province that is home to Cambodia’s famed Angkor temples.
Paceman Peter Siddle expects his latest match-winning feat to be rewarded by Test selectors.
Siddle took five wickets on Wednesday to bowl Victoria to a crushing innings-and-46-run Sheffield Shield win against a fragile South Australia.
His devastating 5-31 on a placid Adelaide Oval pitch is a timely reminder to selectors who name Australia’s first Test squad on Monday.
Siddle is feeling pressure to retain his Test spot after a lean calendar year returning 51 wickets at an average of 53.70.
But Wednesday’s match-defining spell is compelling evidence for Test selectors to pick him.
“I hope so,” Siddle said. “It’s all I could do.
“I wanted to come out there and bowl well for the team and stand up for the team.”
Siddle claimed five of the initial six dismissals as SA crashed to a pitiful 130 all out in 40.3 overs.
And in the process, Siddle dashed the Test call-up hopes of SA opener Phil Hughes.
Siddle bowled Hughes for 11, after also dismissing the left-hander for seven in the first dig.
“I felt alright out there, had good rhythm, but it’s just nice to get the result,” Siddle said.
His heroics left SA captain Johan Botha in no doubt that Siddle should be an automatic first Test selection.
“Peter Siddle … world-class bowler,” Botha said.
“He’s not far away from 200 Test wickets … with Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris, that is a really top-three seam attack.”
Botha’s Redbacks were red-faced after collapsing in the second innings for a second consecutive game.
They fell apart after Victoria posted a whopping first innings of 7(dec)-607 – the visitors only called a halt an hour into the final day.
The Victorians declared when 176 runs in front with Siddle saying the visitors were mindful of SA’s similar last-day batting effort against NSW last game when skittled for 161.
Botha said other states would continue to view the Redbacks as weak until they produced better performances late in matches.
“It’s a tough result to get bowled out in 40 overs when they have just made 600 on the same wicket,” Botha said.
‘Is this a joke?’: Christopher Pyne’s ABC petition slammedScott Morrison defends ban on UNHCR refugeesPauline Hanson to return to One Nation
Longer working hours, stress, endless emails, and a sedentary lifestyle are all contributing to poorer physical and mental health in workers, researchers say.
The solution? Leave work on time.
Public-health researchers have warned that regularly staying back at work can have serious long term effects.
“Long working hours combined with work intensity are a known risk factor for poor health, especially cardiovascular disease, generally poor physical health, and fatigue,” Head of Public Health at the University of Adelaide, Professor Dino Pisaniello, said.
Professor Pisaniello said the modern work environment often doesn’t always lend itself to supporting good health.
Population studies have revealed that people who worked 10 hours or more a day, or 50 hours a week, were most at risk.
“Studies also show that one in five Australian working men has a 40 per cent increased cardiovascular disease risk. Up to 40 per cent of workers report that they work at very high speed for most of the time, work to tight deadlines for most of the time, and have too much work for one person to do,” he said.
“Around one quarter of Australian workers also report that work frequently interferes with their ability to engage in activities outside work, which means they suffer from a poor work-life balance.”
Professor Pisaniello said this lifestyle generally affected workers in their late 30s and 40s, who had greater financial pressures.
鈥淧eople who feel that they have to support their families, they have a mortgage to pay, they want to make sure they got financial security at an early stage. Particularly the cost of living these days, they just need to work longer hours to make ends meet.鈥?/p>
The warnings come as part of ‘Go Home on Time Day’, held on Wednesday 19 November. Launched in 2009, the Australia Institute’s annual initiative aimed to promote the importance of work-life balance.
鈥淢any Australians continue to struggle with the idea of saying no to last-minute meetings at the end of a working day, or turning their smartphone to silent when they get home, and numerous studies have shown that workers are more productive if they take scheduled breaks and annual leave,鈥?nbsp;Executive Director Dr Richard Denniss said.
According to the 2013 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Better Life Index, 14 per cent of Australians work 鈥渧ery long hours鈥?鈥?much more than the OECD average of nine per cent. Australia is also ranked fourth among 34 OECD countries for long hours worked.
Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in Australia 21 per cent of men work very long hours, compared with 6 per cent for women.
Spending more time with family, on hobbies, physical activity, lowering stress levels are just some of the benefits of leaving work on time, Professor Pisaniello said.
鈥淎n organisation where those psychosocial factors are taken into account, generally speaking, there are better outcomes, better productivity, less exposure to hazards. Those kinds of things are really important from a workplace perspective,鈥?he said.
Workers should try and negotiate greater workplace flexibility with their managers and build a culture where work-life balance was encouraged.
Still, he conceded that not all managers or organisations would be receptive to that idea.
鈥淪ome managers may not be particularly receptive to that idea of changing rosters or flexibility. But there is legislation that does enable that to happen. Managers need to be aware that can and should happen.鈥?/p>
He added that flexibility wasn鈥檛 just valuable for workers, but boosted productivity and benefited companies in the long run.
鈥淲e work to live, rather than live to work. Giving people flexibility also does create the opportunity for creative people to think outside the square. I think that鈥檚 the kind of culture that some organisations are trying to generate anyway.
“In general, our recommendation is that workers take the opportunity to go home on time as much as possible to help reduce work stress and to achieve more life balance. This has the potential to make them healthier and ultimately more productive workers over the longer term,” he said.
Wednesday 19 November is ‘Go Home On Time Day’.
Do you leave work on time? How do you achieve work-life balance? Comment below or tweet @SBSNews
Oceans help regulate the planet’s weather by shifting heat from the equator to the poles.
Changes in salinity and temperature are major forces driving global currents as well as circulation patterns from the surface to the seabed.
Understanding exactly how much heat the ocean can absorb and accounting for tiny differences in salinity are crucial for scientists to figure how oceans affect climate and how that interaction could change because of global warming.
“Getting these circulations right is central to the task of quantifying the ocean’s role in climate change,” said Trevor McDougall of Australia’s state-backed research body the CSIRO, who is part of the international team that updated the methods to define sea water.
He said the new definition allows for the first time to accurately calculate ocean heat content and take into account small differences in salinity. Previous methods assumed the composition of seawater was the same around the globe.
Seawater is a mixture of 96.5 percent pure water with the remainder comprising salts, dissolved gases and other matter. McDougall said data from about 1,000 seawater samples showed global variations.
There were small but significant differences in the composition of seawater between the North Pacific and North Atlantic, for example.
“We’ve got along quite well for 30 years without delving deeper into what the sea salt is composed of,” said McDougall, of the CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship in Hobart in the southern Australian state of Tasmania.
But ever more complex computer models and greater demands to project how oceans and climate will behave in a warmer world mean an increasing need for more precise data.
McDougall said salinity affects ocean density, and changes in density help drive huge vertical ocean circulation patterns.
“Water sinks to the bottom and rises to the top in a very slow circulation that accounts for about half of the heat that the globe needs to transport from the equator to the poles.”
The constant circulation of heat by the oceans and atmosphere keeps the planet livable.
“What we’re doing is providing a more accurate way of estimating that circulation,” McDougall said.
McDougall chairs the Scientific Committee on Oceans Research, an international guiding body, and said he expected the new methods to be formally backed by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission at a meeting in June next year.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)
Wine traditionalists sneerwhen vintners replace cork with plastic.
They howl in contempt at screwtops.
So what will they make of a California company taking an even bolder step: doing away with bottles altogether and replacing them with cardboard tubes?
FOUR wine is marketing its Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah blend inthree-litre (three-quart) canisters.
Cheap wine has been sold worldwide for years in cardboard boxes but FOUR claims this is the first time a premium California wine has broken out of its glass house.
Brand manager Larry Leigon said the tubes are more eco-friendly and less expensive than bottles.
The wine can last longer after being opened, he added. Less oxygen enters through the tube and its spout than a bottle whose cork has been popped.
Leigon is no stranger to innovation, having helped pioneer the productionof premium non-alcoholic wine at Ariel nearly a quarter of a century ago.
“Glass was an innovation in the 1400s or 1500s,” he said in an interview at the Grove Street Winery in Healdsburg, Sonoma County where FOUR is bottled — or rather, bagged.
“If we do this correctly, we can change the tradition and make it better. There\’s a tradition that can grow up around this tube, too.”
Some French winemakers, not surprisingly, are skeptical of storing premium wine in a tube.
“I don\’t see the point. People drink wine with food and you put the bottle on the table. Round cartons are for milk,” said Alain Vauthier, owner of Chateau Ausone in Saint Emilion, part of the Bordeaux winemaking region.
“For a good wine you need good dark glass and a high quality cork. I would also question the durability of cardboard. We have bottles here at the chateau of Ausone from 1849 that taste wonderful. That wouldn\’t happen in cardboard.
“For cheaper wines consumed within two or three years, yes, you can put them in cardboard tubes, but not high quality wines that need 10, 20, 30 or more years of keeping.”
The FOUR tubes — which can hold the equivalent of four bottles of wine — are 28.5 centimeters (11 inches) tall (slightly shorter than a standard wine bottle) and 13 cm (5 inches) in diameter.
— \’At the higher end, tubes will never be there\’ — Everything is recyclable, and the company making the bags that hold the
wine inside the tubes, Smurfit Kappa of Epernay, France, claims a three-litre tube is six times lighter than four 750ml (25.4 fluid ounces) wine bottles.
Producing and transporting tubes is less expensive and requires fewer resources than bottles, which allows FOUR to charge about 40 dollars per tube and to reduce its carbon footprint.
“I\’m a great believer in the romance of the bottle and the cork, I love that. And there will always be a place for that,” said Bill Leigon, Larry\’s brother and business partner.
“But not if I\’m doing that at the expense of my environment.”
The Leigons and winemaker Barry Gnekow eventually hope to market four varietals under the FOUR label — two reds and two whites.
The first run of 10,000 tubes in October is selling well, they say, and another run of 6,000 tubes is planned for late January.
FOUR is set to launch internationally at the ProWein trade show in Dusseldorf, Germany, in late March.
The Leigons originally assumed their market would be restaurants and larger venues such as conference centres and sports arenas — places where many customers buy by the glass and never see the container — but they also hope the tube looks good enough to sit on the back bar at wine bars and taverns.
They are talking to US Airways about using FOUR tubes on airline drink carts, and are also now selling to retail wine stores.
Yet a quick survey of downtown Healdsburg found no evidence of FOUR at a couple of bottle shops, a restaurant or a bar.
None of the four establishments had heard of FOUR, and there was some skepticism mixed in with a willingness to try something new.
Mark Friedrich, assistant manager of The Wine Shop, said tubes are a great idea for storing and transporting wine, but acknowledged drinking wine is also about perception.
“If you\’re taking your wife out to a fancy restaurant and blowing the budget, do you want the waiter to unscrew the cork or undo the spout?” he asked. “At the higher end of the market, I think (tubes) will never be there.”
Toyota Motor Corporation forecast its first-ever operating loss this year as the global slowdown creates “an unprecedented crisis” for the long profitable automaker.
Toyota\’s sharp cuts in forecasts marked a deepening of the woes plaguing the auto industry, which has seen General Motors and Chrysler, two of the US Big Three automakers, on the verge of collapse due to the global financial turmoil.
Toyota, which vies with GM for the crown of the world\’s largest automaker, said it was cutting back production and investment as a slump in sales and a soaring yen wreak havoc on its balance sheet.
“The company is facing an unprecedented crisis where it cannot avoid posting an operating deficit in this term,” Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe told a news conference at the company\’s hub in central Japan.
Toyota, which earlier cut 3,000 jobs in Japan, said it would freeze the launching of a new factory in the US state of Mississippi and scale back production in India.
“The company has decided to either delay or review almost all projects aimed at expanding production ability or building new plants,” Watanabe said.
Japan\’s top automaker said it expected an operating loss of 150 billion yen (1.69 billion dollars) for the financial year, the first loss since it started reporting annual earnings in March 1941. Last year it posted 2.27 trillion yen in operating profit.
Toyota said it still expected to make a profit on a net level but cut its forecast sharply to 50 billion yen, down from a previous estimate of 550 billion yen.
EU stocks down
Toyota\’s forecast was matched by downbeat news from Europe, where the CAC 40 stock market index in Paris plunged 2.31 percent at the close, the Frankfurt DAX was down 1.23 percent and the FTSE in London slid 0.88 percent on pre-Christmas gloom.
Share prices were also down in early trading on Wall Street.
A poll in Germany showed consumer confidence in Europe\’s biggest economy has stagnated at less than half the rate at which it was in December 2007.
Russia\’s biggest car plant, Avtovaz, part owned by France\’s Renault, said it was suspending production for January because of the economic crisis.
In the eurozone economies, industrial orders were down 4.3 percent in October compared to September, falling by 15.1 percent year-on-year, data published by the European statistics office Eurostat showed.
Car demand falls
Toyota has enjoyed hefty profits in recent years fuelled by demand overseas, particularly in the United States, for its eco-friendly hybrid cars.
But demand has fallen sharply in the United States as a credit crisis at banks drags down the entire economy. The White House on Friday offered a 13.4-billion-dollar government lifeline to keep GM and Chrysler afloat.
Analysts said Toyota\’s revision showed the global crisis was affecting all automakers, not just Detroit\’s long troubled Big Three, which also includes Ford.
“It is symbolic for a company like Toyota, representing Japan, to suffer a loss,” said Yasuaki Iwamoto, auto analyst at Okasan Securities.
“Not only Toyota but all the carmakers are finding it crucial to get to the end of this abnormal market condition,” he said.
For the current year, Toyota now expects global sales worth 21.5 trillion yen, down from an earlier estimate of 23.0 trillion yen. It plans to sell 8.96 million vehicles this calendar year, down four percent from a year earlier.
But Watanabe said he believed that global demand will eventually return, especially in emerging economies, once the credit crisis settles — and that Toyota will be in a strong position.
Foreign ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said Pakistan\’s acting High Commissioner Afrasiab Mehdi Hashmi was summoned to the ministry and given the letter purportedly written by Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman.
“In his letter to the Pakistan High Commission, Iman has stated he and the (nine) terrorists killed in the attack were from Pakistan and he has sought a meeting with the Pakistan high commission,” Mr Prakash added.
A ministry official who did not want to be named told AFP a photocopy of Iman\’s original letter had been handed over, adding the gunmen has sought legal aid.
“The letter urges Pakistan to provide him such assistance,” he said. Indian lawyers have refused to represent Iman in court.
In Islamabad, the foreign ministry confirmed that the letter had been forwarded to Pakistan\’s high commission in New Delhi.
It said the suspect claimed in the letter to be a Pakistani, and had asked for legal assistance as well as a meeting with Pakistani officials in India.
“The contents of the letter are being examined,” it said in a brief statement.
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee meanwhile demanded more results from US-led efforts to force Pakistan to co-operate with the probe into the attacks, which India blames on Pakistan-based guerrillas.
“There has been some effort so far by the international community but this is not enough,” Mukherjee told a meeting of India\’s ambassadors called to New Delhi to discuss the November 26 carnage.
Asked whether a military response to the attacks was being considered, he said India would “explore all options” to push Pakistan on its promise to crack down on cross-border terrorism.
Mr Mukherjee said India had “so far acted with utmost restraint” after gunmen killed 163 people in Mumbai — but he added that it could not afford to stand back and rely on others to tackle nuclear rival Pakistan.
“While we continue to persuade the international community and Pakistan, we are also clear that ultimately it is we who have to deal with this problem.”
Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani meanwhile reiterated his country did not want war with India.
“If war is imposed upon us, the whole nation would be united and the armed forces are fully capable of safeguarding and defending the territorial integrity of the country,” Gilani told his ambassador to India, Shahid Malik.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, British Premier Gordon Brown and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have all visited the region since the Mumbai attacks in a bid to calm tensions between the nuclear-armed adversaries.
“We expect Pakistan to do whatever it has committed,” Mukherjee said.
He said Pakistan\’s response to the attacks demonstrated its “tendency to resort to a policy of denial.”
Pakistan refuses to hand over suspects in the Mumbai strikes and rejects evidence that the gunmen were from Pakistan.
Delhi blames the carnage on Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based militant group fighting in Indian-held Kashmir.
Under pressure from the UN, Pakistan banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity which is accused of being a front for LeT.
The Lashkar has already been banned by Pakistan, but India accuses Islamabad of not cracking down on the group.
An elite commando force meanwhile unveiled plans Monday to deploy troops in the four key cities of Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai as a precaution against possible future strikes.
The Delhi-based commando team was instrumental in ending the 60-hour siege in Mumbai.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain and nearly came to a fourth in 2001 after an attack on the Indian parliament blamed on cross-border militants.
India put on hold a 2004 peace process with Pakistan following the Mumbai atrocity.
The inquiry into the arrest of Mohamed Haneef on terrorism charges has found that he should not have been charged and that the cancellation of his visa and his deportation should have been deferred.
The report of the inquiry, which is expected to be released today, has cleared the former Howard government of any political motivation in ordering the detention and later deportation of the Indian doctor from the Gold Coast in July last year, The Australian newspaper reports.
Howard government immigration minister Kevin Andrews also has been cleared of any improper behaviour in cancelling Dr Haneef\’s visa.
Former NSW Supreme Court judge John Clarke QC, who chaired the inquiry, found that the most likely reason Mr Andrews cancelled Dr Haneef\’s visa was that he had grave suspicions as a result of the material put before him and he genuinely believed the community wanted him to act decisively, Fairfax reports.
However, the Clarke report finds that the former minister did not “reflect deeply enough” on what was a “rambling brief” from his department on Dr Haneef, The Australian says.
Mr Clarke suggests there should be clearer guidelines for laying terrorism charges, more cooperation between the police and intelligence agencies, direct ASIO advice to the immigration minister on deportation cases and a standing review of the terror laws and federal police, the paper says.
The Australian says it understands the government will announce the creation of a joint House of Representatives and Senate committee on law enforcement to extend parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies and federal police.
Dr Haneef spent two weeks in police custody without charge after being arrested while trying to board a flight to Bangalore at Brisbane International Airport in relation to a failed UK terror plot.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) finally charged him with recklessly providing support to a terrorist organisation for giving his mobile phone SIM card to his cousin Sabeel Ahmed, the brother of Kafeel Ahmed who died after driving the flaming jeep into Glasgow Airport.
The charge collapsed within days but Dr Haneef was unable to return to his job at the Gold Coast Hospital because of a fight with the Department of Immigration over his visa.
Mr Clarke finished his inquiry several weeks ago but the government delayed releasing his report at the request of authorities in Britain, where a terror trial was still under way, Fairfax reports.
Last week\’s conviction of an Iraqi doctor who tried to murder hundreds of people in London and Glasgow cleared the way for Attorney-General Robert McClelland to finally release the report, the report said.
It\’s clear someone should apologise to Mohamed Haneef, but Australia\’s politicians are again finding “sorry” a hard word to say.
A report by retired NSW Supreme Court judge John Clarke has found the Indian-born doctor was wrongly charged and wrongly detained in Brisbane last year over suspected links to terrorist acts in the UK.
The Australian Greens say both sides of politics should apologise to the former terror suspect who was held in custody for nearly two weeks without charge.
“This man deserves an unreserved apology from the current and former Australian governments for the treatment he endured,” Greens legal affairs spokesman Scott Ludlam said.
But both major parties are refusing to say the “s” word.
Labor says it wasn\’t in power when the case was bungled, and the coalition says the Clarke report proves it\’s got nothing to apologise for.
\’It\’s Andrews who deserves the apology\’
The Liberals have even gone so far as to say former immigration minister Kevin Andrews – who cancelled Dr Haneef\’s visa – is the one deserving an apology.
The Clarke report clears Mr Andrews of any improper behaviour but suggests he didn\’t “reflect deeply enough” on what was a “rambling brief” from his department.
Mr Andrews also failed to properly investigate conflicting information from ASIO and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should apologise to the former Howard government minister.
“There is nothing in the report to suggest that any conduct by any member of the former government calls for an apology,” Senator Brandis said.
“(Mr Rudd) clearly and repeatedly sought to trash Mr Andrews\’ public reputation … the prime minister owes Mr Andrews an apology.”
Political leaders \’must accept responsibility\’
Attorney-General Robert McClelland says political leaders and agency heads must accept responsibility for errors that occurred on their watch.
But asked whether an apology should be made to Dr Haneef, he said that question should be addressed to members of the former coalition government.
Mr Andrews thinks he\’s been wronged.
He says the Australian people expected him to act and he did so “courageously”.
“For the past 18 months, Dr Haneef\’s lawyers and some other commentators have suggested that in cancelling the temporary work visa of Dr Haneef I had acted improperly as part of a government conspiracy to detain him,” Mr Andrews said in a statement.
“These suggestions have been categorically rejected by the Clarke inquiry.”
He also puzzlingly referred to the Mumbai terror attacks, saying they were a timely reminder “that we cannot be complacent about national security”.
Dr Haneef\’s Melbourne-based lawyer Stephen Keim says far from being offered an apology, Mr Andrews should be barred from ever again holding a senior government post.
The Clarke report showed Mr Andrews “has neither the will nor the intellectual capacity” to hold any senior public position in the future, Mr Keim said.
As for the man at the centre of the controversy, Dr Haneef says an apology, from anyone, “would be very handy”.
But if a “sorry” isn\’t forthcoming, monetary compensation might be the next best thing.
Dr Haneef\’s Brisbane-based lawyer, Peter Russo, says his client will now examine whether he is eligible for compensation.
Iraq\’s parliament has finally given authorisation to Australian and other non-US foreign troops to remain in the country for the first half of 2009 after the parliamentary speaker\’s resignation ended a deadlock that had postponed a decision.
Immediately following a resignation speech by the fiery politician, parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to allow the presence of non-US foreign troops after December 31, when a UN mandate expires.
“I announce that I\’m resigning from my position as parliament speaker in the interests of the people,” Mahmud Mashhadani said in his speech to MPs on Tuesday, triggering applause.
His announcement came after a vote last week that was to provide British, Australian and other non-US foreign forces with a legal basis to remain in Iraq into 2009 was suddenly shelved in a row between him and some MPs.
“The parliament authorised the Iraqi government to take all measures in order to realise the complete withdrawal of Britons, Australians, Romanians, Salvadorians, Estonians and those from NATO no later than July 31, 2009,” said Jamal al-Butikh, chief of the secular National List party.
The United States, which supplies 95 per cent of foreign troops in Iraq, has already signed a Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad, under which its combat forces can remain in the country until the end of 2011.
During a surprise visit to Iraq last week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that his country\’s troops would wrap up their mission by the end of May and later said that all but
400 would be out by the end of July.
There are currently 4,100 British troops in Iraq concentrated around Basra airport in the south, and in total less than 6,000 non-US troops stationed in Iraq. The United States currently has 146,000 soldiers in Iraq.
A vast majority of the 223 MPs present in the 275-member parliament voted to approve the resolution that will see the pullout of non-US forces from Iraq in about six months, but the exact breakdown was not immediately available.
“Based on the request put forward by 50 deputies on the withdrawal of foreign troops in Iraq, (a vote was taken) and it was accepted by a vast majority,” said Shi\’ite deputy speaker Khallid al-Attiya.
Parliamentarians burst into loud applause at the end of Mashhadani\’s apologetic but passionate speech.
“What happened in the last session was a slip of the tongue, and what I wanted to say was in the interests of the people.
“But the anger I felt, God did not give me the power to control myself,” he added.
“My excuse to you is I spent 35 hard years of my life moving from one prison to another. If I have hurt you please excuse me. I apologise for my shortcomings,” he said.
The political crisis was sparked when a group of 54 Kurdish and Shi\’ite MPs called for Mashhadani to be fired after he described some politicians as “sons of dogs” during a heated session last week over the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President
George W Bush.
The first reading of a bill on the non-US forces last Wednesday took place amid uproar in parliament in the aftermath of the journalist\’s protest.
Mashhadani lost his temper in the fiery discussion, branding some MPs as “sons of dogs”. He then announced his resignation, but later retracted it.
A year ago, Dutchman Pim Verbeek took over as Socceroos coach as a virtual unknown here and second choice after countryman Dick Advocaat turned his back on an already agreed deal.
The rebound relationship has been a marriage made in heaven.
And 18 months out from the 2010 World Cup finals, Verbeek\’s Socceroos find themselves within touching distance of a second consecutive finals campaign.
Under Verbeek, the results have been spectacular, even if the performances have often been more workmanlike than wondrous.
Verbeek has eight wins, three draws and just two defeats from his 13 matches in charge – a better win-loss record and ratio than his revered predecessor Guus Hiddink.
Already he has guided the Socceroos through a difficult initial qualification phase past Qatar, China and Iraq, with the highlights impressive 3-0 and 3-1 wins over Qatar home and away.
In their last hurdle in qualification, the Socceroos now sit two points clear at the top of their Asian World Cup qualifying group with three wins in three games.
Two of those wins have been away from home, and a victory against Japan in Yokohama in February would virtually guarantee the Socceroos a ticket for South Africa.
Verbeek has made no secret his aim is for Australia to qualify for the World Cup finals – no matter what it takes.
“My first job was to get enough points to qualify for the next stage of the World Cup (qualifying) which we did,” Verbeek told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
“The second was to create a bigger squad of players to pick from and pick up some new players on the way and we have done that.
“But until we qualify for the World Cup I cannot be happy with what I have done because until then, the job is not complete.”
It seems the powers-that-be believe Verbeek\’s results-driven agenda will work and are making plans accordingly – Football Federation Australia bullish on every front over the past 12 months.
A 2018 bid to host the World Cup finals is gathering pace, while the sport\’s governing body has turned a modest surplus in tough economic times.
Crowds have dropped slightly in season four of the A-League, though a spike is expected once teams from the Gold Coast and North Queensland boost the competition to 10 clubs in 2009-10.
But FFA chairman Frank Lowy says despite predictions of the A-League losing its lustre and the global economic slowdown adding to the risks of expansion, there will be no backing away from growing the game.
“Nothing will put the brakes on expansion. I certainly hope by 2010-11 we will have 12 teams and I think at that time we\’ll need to reassess our capacity and our future,” Lowy said.
“The plan is expand next year and then the year after.
“We are talking to Melbourne … and we are talking to a Sydney syndicate that may materialise in the next few months.”
“We have our broadcasting revenue fixed, our sponsors are fixed for the next few years in advance and we have the World Cup coming up.”
Australian soccer\’s bold leap into Asia has also brought respect through an unexpected quarter in 2008 – Adelaide United\’s march through the Asian Champions League.
The Reds stunned all by reaching the final of Asia\’s premier club competition, beating Japanese giants Kashima Antlers and petrochemical-rich FC Bunyodkor from Uzbekistan.
But United came undone in the final, whipped 5-0 on aggregate by Japan\’s Gamba Osaka – effectively having played their final by getting there on a shoestring budget and with a far smaller squad compared to their rivals.
The Reds weren\’t even strictly speaking the best team in the A-League.
Newcastle Jets took out the 2007-08 grand final beating Central Coast 1-0, with Mark Bridge\’s goal the difference.
In a controversial finale, Mariners keeper Danny Vukovic was sent off for striking referee Mark Shield.
He first received a 15-month suspension, then a shorter ban split in two to allow him to play at the Olympic Games, before FIFA intervened to ensure the goalkeeper was not able to play in Beijing.
Vukovic missed little there – the Olyroos failing miserably under coach Graham Arnold and departing at the group stage.
Australia\’s overseas stars had a varied year.
Tim Cahill and Mark Viduka were plagued by long-term injury problems, while Harry Kewell completed a surprising transfer in July from Liverpool to Turkish giant Galatasaray and got among the goals again.
With World Cup qualification looking increasingly likely, Australia\’s next step in proving itself a serious soccer nation is gathering support for its World Cup bid.
The 2018 and 2022 hosts look like being decided at the same time, and Lowy admits how seriously our bid is taken will be a huge test of how far Australian soccer has come in terms of international recognition.
“To get the World Cup here is a mammoth task and if we are successful it means that we have been recognised internationally that Australia is a place to be,” Lowy said.
“That will be a very, very big achievement but we\’re being considered, and I think we are being considered as a very strong candidate by the authorities-that-be.”
The back-slapping, however, hasn\’t lasted long.
Within a few months of the flame being extinguished, the satisfaction over a Games well played has been replaced by concern that this time, the party may really be over for the country that has always done better than it really should.
It is the same concern expressed mid-Games by Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates.
At a point in the Beijing Games when Australian performance was at a worrying low, Coates took the opportunity to implore the federal government to do something about funding or things would become even worse.
As it turned out, things became considerably better without any extra money as Australia moved up to sixth on the medals table with 14 golds and 46 medals overall.
The Games that had looked somewhat dismal for Australia towards the end of the first week picked up nicely in the second and finished with an incredible flourish thanks largely to the gold medals won by Steve Hooker and Matthew Mitcham.
But within weeks of the end of the Olympic year, the gloom has again descended.
The source of it is Britain, the country that made so much of finishing above Australia in the Beijing medal tally.
The Brits have announced they are spending $570 million to prepare their athletes for the London Games.
Australia will spend $230 million on elite sports in the lead-up to 2012 and will pay its top athletes a wage on top of that.
More may yet be provided by the federal government, but in the current economic climate, it will be difficult to justify spending another $100 million or so on something that can be as hard to quantify as winning gold medals.
Britain will undoubtedly win more gold medals than Australia in London, no matter how much we, or they, spend.
But Beijing still held out plenty of hope for Australia.
Half of Australia\’s 14 gold medals went to athletes competing at their first Olympic Games, and all but three of them were under 23.
From Mitcham\’s amazing piece of last gasp perfection in diving to Stephanie Rice\’s three golds and three world records in the pool, it is the youngest members of its team that Australia has to thank for success in Beijing.
Hooker and Mitcham deserve no greater share of Olympic glory than any of Australia\’s other 12 Olympic gold medallists in Beijing.
Yet their efforts seemed to add magic to an Australian effort that looked decidedly shaky after the first week.
On the penultimate night of competition, Hooker, who scrambled through most of the pole vault competition but soared when it mattered most, became Australia\’s first male track and field gold medallist in 40 years.
The following night, Mitcham produced the finest dive ever seen at an Olympic Games to claim a gold medal that hardly ever seemed likely.
Their Olympic titles came on top of a typically classy performance by Australia\’s women swimmers and its rowers.
It also came despite the failure of both the cyclists and the male swimmers who couldn\’t win a gold medal between them, having claimed nine in Athens.
Mitcham\’s gold medal in the 10m platform rates as one of the greatest Australian moments of the Games.
Mitcham\’s victory came with a manoeuvre known in the text book as dive 5255B – a back 2-1/2 somersault with 2-1/2 twists in the pike position.
It is one of the most difficult dives in the book – and Mitcham nailed it.
He scored 112.1 points, the most ever given to an Olympic diver, to overcome a seemingly impossible 30-point deficit going into the final round.
Mitcham may not have evoked the exuberance of Usain Bolt\’s devastating performances on the track, but it wasn\’t a long way off it.
Similarly, Hooker\’s winning vault didn\’t necessarily earn him worldwide attention, but it was miraculous.
Hooker pulled off the gold-medal vault after missing the same height with his first two attempts.
For sheer numbers, and class, Rice was unsurpassed in the Australian team.
The swim queen won all three of her events, each in world record time.
Rice ended the Games as the most celebrated woman swimmer in the world and the most accomplished.
Like Mitcham and Hooker, she was making her Olympic debut.
As were triathlon gold medallists Emma Snowsill, women\’s 470 sailors Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson and kayaker Ken Wallace.
For Coates, the success came after he launched a concerted campaign for more government funding.
“If anyone thinks supporting our elite athletes isn\’t worthwhile, giving young Australians a chance to optimise their performances, to perform on the world stage, have a look at these guys,” Coates said.
“And there\’s many more of them back home.”
There will need to be at least a few if the momentum is to be maintained until 2012.
Australia lost its place among the world\’s top five Olympic nations to Britain and will be under additional pressure in London from such European nations as Italy, France, Ukraine and Spain who finished just behind it on the Beijing medal table.
Australia has also put in some work in the boardroom in preparation for London, announcing last month an upgrade to the incentive payments for athletes.
The AOC has announced a $30 million funding package for London of which $16.7 million will be spent on preparations and $13.4 million for the Games themselves.
While the athletes will receive more, their coaches are to get less.
“While we acknowledge the hard work, dedication and outstanding results achieved by our coaches, the athletes must get priority in these tough economic times,” Coates said.
It is expected Australia will send 400 athletes to London, 35 fewer than in 2008, but there will be two fewer sports on the Olympic program.
As unsporting as it may seem, they will almost certainly return with fewer gold medals than they did from Beijing.
If it matters.
Christmas bonuses from the Rudd Government\’s $10.
4 billion fiscal stimulus package, lower petrol prices and declining interest rates have sparked a return of consumer confidence ahead of Christmas, The Australian reports.
As major manufacturers warn that falls in the Australian dollar will translate to higher prices next year, retailers have welcomed a burst of spending as shoppers open their wallets to grab last-minute gifts.
Furniture and electrical chain Harvey Norman yesterday reported an 8.7 per cent increase in customer orders over the four weeks to December 21, compared with the same period a year earlier.
“It\’s quite amazing — we\’ve been down every week for months, and then we get three straight weeks in positive territory,” Harvey Norman executive chairman Gerry Harvey told The Australian.
Mr Harvey put the sales surge down to lower petrol prices and interest rates, the delivery of part of the Government\’s $10.4 billion in bonuses and first-home buyer grants, and “the euphoria of Christmas”.
Real test \’to come after Christmas\’
But the retailer, often seen as a barometer of discretionary spending, has warned that the “real test” for the economy will come after Christmas when shoppers come down from their spending binge.
Despite the biggest sales increase since September, Harvey Norman\’s profits are expected to be lower this financial year because of competition between retailers and an increase in the cost of importing goods due to the weak Australian dollar.
Department store group Myer also reported a significant increase in sales this week as school holidays began across the country.
The Australian Retailers Association has predicted shoppers will spend $6.32 billion at the post-Christmas sales this year, up just 2 per cent from last year.
Other retailers, including Coles and Woolworths, have declined to reveal their sales, saying that it is too early to tell how shoppers have spent the money.
Woolworths, which owns Big W, liquor stores and supermarkets, said early indications were that shoppers were spending “a proportion of the stimulus package in stores,” Fairfax reports.
The Coles-owned Target said customer foot-traffic was up on last year due to the stimulus package, interest rate cuts and petrol prices.
RELATED: Retail gloom recedes as shoppers lighten their wallets, The Australian