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.
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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
The wave of job cuts has shattered the myth that a job is for life in Asia\’s largest economy, which traditionally prided itself on a middle-class lifestyle.
When auto plants slowed their assembly lines due to slumping demand, Oguihara — a 50-year-old Japanese-Brazilian — was among those out of a job.
The small subcontractor plant producing air-conditioning compressors for Japan\’s leading automaker, Toyota Motor Corp., no longer needed her.
“I was fired because I was a Brazilian, and a temporary employee, even though I had been a hard worker for the past three years,” said Oguihara, one of some 300,000 Japanese Brazilians in Japan who are allowed to stay longer than most unskilled foreign workers because of their ancestral ties.
“I may have to return to Brazil if I can\’t find a new job,” Oguihara lamented.
She has been in Japan for most of the time since 1997, working for auto plants scattered around Toyota city in central Japan — home to mighty Toyota and a number of smaller subcontractors.
Many other Japanese Brazilians, including her cousin who has worked at a plant for the electronics titan Sony, have also lost their jobs amid the recession, leaving them with the problem of finding somewhere to live and education for their children who are used to living in Japan, she said.
Japanese nationals also at risk
It\’s not just foreigners losing their jobs. Japanese temporary workers — who make up an increasingly large share of the workforce following the deregulation of the labour market in recent years — have also been affected.
“It\’s outrageous. I\’ve been working hard to one day become a permanent worker, but that dream was crushed,” said Hidetomo Kita, 37, a temporary worker who lost his job at truck maker Hino Motors in November.
“They\’ve exploited us when they were busy, then shed us even though we worked as much as permanent employees did. It\’s so unfair,” Kita said, adding that he was worried as his wife, a temporary worker for another manufacturer, was also on the verge of losing her job.
Toyota, which expects to post its first-ever operating loss this year, is cutting 3,000 temporary jobs at its domestic plants.
Honda Motor Co. is eliminating 1,210 non-regular jobs, while Nissan Motor Co. is axing all of its 1,000 temporary jobs in Japan. Mitsubishi Motors is cutting 1,100 posts.
Deregulation to blame
Japanese have traditionally seen themselves as a equitable, middle-class society thanks to life-time employment and a narrow gap between the rich and the poor.
But critics say those days are gone, largely because of free-market reforms including deregulation in 2004 that allowed the manufacturing industry to use temporary staff in their plants.
In one novel solution, the small city of Kitsuki in southern Japan has offered jobs and even cabins at campsites to the 1,100 contract workers axed locally by a subsidiary of office equipment and camera maker Canon Inc.
But the problem keeps growing. The latest government survey out last Friday said that more than 85,000 temporary workers have lost or know they will lose their jobs by next March.
“Japan\’s deregulation has gone too far,” said Toshiaki Tachibanaki, professor of economics at Doshisha University.
“It has changed the employment structure in favour of corporate management, which in turn stirred anxiety among the public over their everyday lives,” he said.
Prime Minister Taro Aso\’s government in November submitted a revision to the law on temporary workers to parliament to tighten the rules. The opposition bloc is also seeking tougher regulations.
“Now, the problem of a free-market model is under scrutiny even in the United States. It\’s time to review the past policy in Japan, too,” Tachibanaki said.
A barrage of conferences, summits, reviews and political arguments are where Australia and the world has left 2008, on the thorny issue of climate change, says SBS radio\’s Michelle Aleksandrovics.
From public obscurity less than five years ago to an almost-daily topic in the media, climate change and how to adapt to it became one of the major international issues of concern in 2008.
The first round of United Nations climate change talks got underway in Bangkok in March, following tough negotiations in Bali in November and December 2007.
Parties had agreed at Bali to jointly step up international efforts to combat climate change, with the aim of a plan with set targets in Copenhagen in 2009.
And it was in Bali that the new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced he would ratify the Kyoto Protocol and was serious about tackling climate change.
Mr Rudd had already engaged the services of Ross Garnaut, an economist and mining corporation chairman who suddenly became one of the most famous – and seemingly powerful – people in Australia.
62-year-old Professor Garnaut\’s mandate with his Climate Change Review was to provide the Federal Government with recommendations on economic impacts, and medium to long-term policy frameworks on navigating climate challenges.
His advice was touted as being the main influence on future government policy.
Professor Garnaut\’s final report was released on the 30th of September 2008.
The Government had already said it wanted to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, and 20 per cent of the nation\’s power to be generated by wind, solar and other renewable technology by 2020.
The professor left no doubt as to what he believed was the best way forward for Australia as part of a global community.
“Without early and strong action, some time before 2020 we will realise we\’ve indelibly surrendered to forces that have moved beyond our control. Delaying now is not postponing a decision, it\’s making a decision. To delay is deliberately to choose to avoid effective steps to reduce the risks of climate change to acceptable levels,” Prof Garnaut.
Professor Garnaut\’s final report recommended that Australia should aim for a 25 per-cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 as long as there was a global climate agreement.
He said that if this did not happen, cuts should be ten per-cent because any emissions trading scheme would be too costly if Australia attempted to tackle climate change on its own.
The report also recommended an annual investment of $2.7 billion dollars to be spent on research and the commercial development of low-emission technologies.
Professor Garnaut said emissions trading should start in 2010.
Carbon permits should be sold at a fixed price of $20 a tonne indexed to inflation, plus four per cent.
The final report provided the high level policy recommendations requested by the Federal Government for its policy paper on a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, to be released in December.
It was a report that received mixed response around Australia.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions President Sharon Burrow said Professor Garnaut was being too conservative and the development of green industries needed greater research and financial support.
“Investment in energy efficiency and indeed in technology, green technology. So we so we can take the economic opportunities of growing green jobs that other countries are doing. At the same time we want those trade exposed industries with us with sustainable jobs in 20 years time, so it\’s a big challenge,” Ms Burrow said.
Business groups agreed that financial outcomes were vital to consensus.
Greg Evans, from the Australian Chamber of Commerce, said Austrlaia needed to achieve a realistic picture of how climate policy would affect medium and small businesses.
“We welcome the contribution as a useful report but it\’s just one part of a fairly long process before the government nominates targets later this year. We really need to see what the economic implications are. I mean, it\’s really only half a debate at the moment. But we really don\’t have the bottom line. We really don\’t know how much this is going to affect business. It\’s been said before but this will have a profound impact on business,” he said.
While individual sectors waited for the Federal Government\’s Treasury modelling on the economics of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the rest of the world continued with its own individual national and global talks on the issue.
The first round of United Nations climate change talks in 2008 got under way in Bangkok, Thaliand at the end of March and marked the beginning of a new negotiating phase, drawing delegates from 162 countries tasked with fleshing out the Bali Road Map.
This involved drawing up a work program for a future international climate pact to successfully halt the increase in global emissions within the next 10 to 15 years and dramatically reduce emissions by mid-century.
Talks moved to Bonn, Germany in June and Accra, Ghana in August before finishing in Poznan, Poland in December.
The UN\’s top climate official, Yvo de Boer said the most promising result was agreement on an Adaptation Fund to protect developing countries from the impacts of climate change, and support them to adapt.
The Copenhagen conference in December 2009 is expected to work out a new emissions agreement to replace Kyoto, the first phase of which expires at the end of 2012.
The world was still no closer to agreement on global emissions targets, the responsibility of developed countries for historical carbon pollution, and the challenges of burgeoning economies like India and China.
China had been attacked internationally for its high emitting industries, and now emits 18.5 per-cent of the world\’s greenhouse gases, second only to the United States, on 22 per-cent.
Australia a big polluter
Australia is the world\’s 16th biggest carbon polluter, but actually produces five times more carbon pollution per person than China.
Ross Garnaut says Australia could actually look to China for ways of reducing reliance on energy-intensive industries.
“China right now is doing more to inhibit emissions growth in the energy intensive industries than Australia is. In a series of measures over the last few years it\’s raised the cost of energy to energy intensive industries, it\’s discouraged investment in the energy intensive industries. China has by far the world\’s biggest program for promotion of low emission energy sources,” he said.
Promotion of low emissions energy industries and how Australia would cope was investigated by Federal Treasury, which found that reducing greenhouse gases would not cripple economic growth or drive businesses overseas.
The modelling also showed that emissions trading would push up inflation by around one percent when introduced in 2010, and cost Australian households a dollar a day.
It was a result welcomed by environmentalists and unions, and cautiously received by businesses.
The Federal Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull was not so optimistic.
“In our view, an emissions trading scheme, the design of it, shouldn\’t be finalised until after we have seen what the new US President policy will be and the new US congress\’ policy will be and of course above all, what the rest of the world is going to do as we\’ll see at the Copenhagen summit at the end of next year,” Mr Turnbull said.
The Prime Minister had long been adamant that Australia would not wait for the rest of the world.
White paper released
He released the Government\’s White Paper – its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme – in December.
It was a plan that surprised many.
The Federal Government set a target of reducing Australia\’s emissions by five percent by 2020, if the world didn\’t reach a deal on climate change by that time.
The targeted cut would rise to 15 percent if the world comes to an agreement.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the country that a carbon reduction scheme would push up electricity and gas prices by an average of around six dollars a week, and also increase the price of food and petrol.
“We of course have been very mindful of low income earners and have properly compensated them to ensure that the cost which flows through from this scheme is more than offset by the compensation package provided. We do not make the same provision for all income earners,” Mr Rudd said.
And in the face of environmentalists\’ protests and the Greens political party\’s call for a Senate inquiry into the scheme, Mr Rudd maintained that he had taken the most responsible approach he could, in the current economic climate.
“The Australian government, given the global financial crisis, makes no apologies whatsoever for introducing responsible medium term targets to bring down our greenhouse gas emissions, capable of being built on in the future more ambitiously. That\’s what we\’ve done. We believe it\’s the responsible course of action given the global financial crisis. It\’s necessary for the economy and it\’s also a strong step forward in dealing with this environmental challenge,” the prime minister said.
National opinion was divided on whether the Government had gone too far, or not far enough.
Ross Garnaut stood back and saw many of his recommendations ignored, and others acted upon.
But no matter what Professor Garnaut thought, his job was done – and a bigger job was just beginning.
“As a changed future approaches, Australians will find themselves thinking about how much they care about dimensions of our national life that have always been taken for granted. If we and the world do too little the risks are high that there will be change beyond recognition in the economic and therefore social conditions in the Western district, the South West of Western Australia and in the Murray Darling,”
Captain Ricky Ponting is fighting hard to save Australia from a series defeat against South Africa, scoring an unbeaten 87 at tea on day four of the second Test.
Australia are 7-180 at the MCG, an overall lead of 115, with Brett Lee falling for eight on the last ball before tea.
Dale Steyn has taken nine wickets for the match including 4-64 in Australia\’s second innings.
The paceman\’s victims on Monday have included opener Matthew Hayden (23) and No.6 batsman Andrew Symonds (0), whose places in the side are under threat.
Trailing 1-0 in the three-match series, Australia are in danger of losing their first Test series at home since 1992-93.
A 3-0 sweep in the Sydney Test starting on January 3 would force Ponting\’s side to hand the No.1 ranking to the Proteas.
Resuming on 0-4 on Monday, Australia were 3-86 at lunch after the dismissals of Hayden, Simon Katich (15) and Mike Hussey (2).
The home side staged a modest recovery as Ponting and vice-captain Michael Clarke (29) added 96 for the fourth wicket.
But Steyn removed Clarke and Symonds in one over and Makhaya Ntini had Brad Haddin caught at second slip as Australia lost 3-20 in a middle-order collapse.
Clarke was caught at short cover off Steyn\’s bowling and Symonds was caught at second slip five balls later.
Symonds took a long time to walk off the ground, averaging only 23.85 in four Tests this summer and facing pressure from fellow all-rounder Shane Watson for his place in the side for the Sydney Test starting on January 3.
Hayden, the 37-year-old opener whose 102-Test career is under threat after a run of low scores, was caught at short cover off Steyn\’s bowling.
The once-dominant Hayden has lost his way with 313 runs at 22.35 in eight matches.
Hussey shook his head in dismay after his dismissal, caught off the helmet at mid-wicket off the bowling of Morne Morkel.
Umpire Aleem Dar felt the ball had brushed the gloves on the way to hitting the helmet but replays showed this to be incorrect.
Like Hayden, Hussey has also struggled this year. The West Australian\’s average has fallen from 80.58 to 59.04.
At the end of the year, the pirates were still holding about 17 vessels, and about 300 crew members.
The upsurge in piracy in 2008 prompted the European Union\’s first-ever naval operation, to protect ships delivering aid to Somalia, and civilian vessels carrying other goods through the region.
And late in December, China announced it was also sending navy ships to help police waters off Somalia.
It marked a significant break with tradition, with the modern Chinese navy until now focusing entirely on the defence of China\’s coastal waters.
Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs He Yafei said the problem had become too serious to ignore.
“Piracy off the coast of Somalia has become increasingly rampant, and it is now an international menace, posing a grave threat to international navigation, maritime trade, and security at sea. China is also one of its victims. So far this year, a total of six vessels registered in or rented by China have been hijacked in the waters off Somalia. This has aroused utmost concern from the Chinese government and the general public.” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
As well, in mid-December the United NationsSecurity Council unanimously adopted a resolution authorising international land operations against Somali pirates.
British Foreign Secretary David Milliband welcomed the resolution, though he indicated Britain would not quick to act on it.
“This is an important additional tool to combat those who plan, facilitate or undertake acts of piracy from the territory of Somalia. The UK considers that any use of force must be both necessary and proportionate,” Mr Milliband said.
Sudan\’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Mohamad, was less enthusiastic about the new Security Council resolution.
He said action was also needed to strengthen political institutions in Somalia, which has been without a functioning central government since 1991.
“Some forces may take advantage of this resolution to stay there, in this very sensitive and volatile region. After all, we would like the Security Council to address the root causes of the issue or the problem in Somalia because piracy is just a symptom of a malaise, of a disease. This is why I think efforts should be mobilised to ensure that root causes are addressed, and the political process is enhanced in Somalia,” he said.
U-N Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also welcomed international efforts to combat Somali pirates.
But he warned that the problem could not be divorced from the need to bring a comprehensive peace in Somalia.
“We must be mindful that piracy is a symptom of the state of anarchy which has persisted in that country for over 17 years. Our anti-piracy efforts must be placed in the context of a comprehensive approach which fosters an inclusive peace process in Somalia and assists the parties to rebuild security, governance capacity, address human rights issues and harness economic opportunities throughout the country,” he said.
At year\’s end, Somalia\’s Western-backed transitional government controlled only parts of the country, and it appeared that it could be on the brink of collapse.
The transitional government\’s Foreign Minister, Ali Ahmed Jama, said it condemned the piracy, but it needed international help to tackle the problem.
“These acts of piracy are categorically unacceptable and should be put to an end. But Somalia has no capacity to interdict or patrol its long coastline to ensure the security of the sea lanes, but we have indeed co-operated with the international community in the fight against piracy and we will continue to do so fully now, and in the future.”
Defence Minister Ehud Barak declared on Monday that Israel was in an “all-out war against Hamas” as the Jewish state continued its massive bombardment of the Islamists\’ targets in Gaza.
“We have nothing against Gaza residents, but we are engaged in an all-out war against Hamas and its proxies,” he said.
Meanwhile, the international community has piled pressure on Israel to halt its offensive in the Gaza Strip, as raids on the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas entered their third day.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added his voice to the 15-member Security Council\’s call for an immediate end to
hostilities and urged Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the poverty-stricken territory.
“He deplores that violence is continuing today, and he strongly urges once again an immediate stop to all acts of violence,” which has already left more than 300 people dead, his spokeswoman Michele Montas said in a statement.
The Security Council earlier issued a non-binding statement calling for “an immediate halt to all violence” in the Gaza Strip and urged the parties “to stop immediately all military activities”.
China weighs in
As Israeli air strikes continued and with tanks massed on the border for a possible land offensive, China called for a halt to the military operation.
“The Chinese side is shocked and seriously concerned over the current military operations in Gaza that have caused a large number of deaths and injuries,” Vice Premier Li Keqiang said in a statement.
He called on the Israelis and Hamas to work towards peace, saying both sides “need to resolve differences through dialogue”.
Demonstrators in cities around the world marched on Sunday in protest against the air strikes, which have wounded more than 600 people.
The largest single protest of about 8,000 people took place in Egypt in the southern city of Assiut, while rallies in the capital Cairo and the port city of Alexandria drew around 4,000 each.
Nasrallah calls for action
Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah urged Egyptians to take to the streets in their “millions” to force their government to open the country\’s border with Gaza and help save Palestinians from the bombardments.
In Turkey, thousands of people joined demonstrations in about a dozen cities, while in Syria, protesters burned Israeli and American flags as thousands demonstrated in central Damascus.
There were similar scenes in the Jordanian capital Amman, where hundreds of people led by Islamist lawmakers gathered to demand the closure of the Israeli embassy.
With Egypt, Jordan is one of only two Arab governments to have signed peace treaties with Israel.
In Europe, British police made 10 arrests as a demonstration outside the Israeli embassy in London turned violent.
Danish police arrested a man on the fringes of a march in Copenhagen after he threw a petrol bomb at officers.
Protest rallies were also held in Paris and Madrid.
Earlier, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called for an “urgent ceasefire and immediate halt to all violence”.
Lavrov speaks to Livni
A call to “urgently halt” the military action also came from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who spoke to his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni.
Japan, a leading donor to the Middle East peace process, expressed its deep concern, urging both sides to immediately stop the use of force to avoid a further escalation, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said in a statement.
The top diplomats in Italy and Spain, Franco Frattini and Miguel Angel Moratinos, also spoke by telephone with Livni, who said Israel would try “to limit the suffering of the people of Gaza”, the Italian foreign ministry said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the European Union presidency, told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by telephone of his grave concerns about the escalating violence.
Pope Benedict XVI urged everyone involved in the “tragic situation in the Middle East” to strive for humanity and wisdom.
Canada also appealed for a halt to violence, while mostly Muslim Malaysia accused Israel of using “disproportionate” force and Pakistan condemned the air attacks as “counterproductive”.
Obama \’committed to peace\’
A top aide to Barack Obama said the US president-elect was committed to achieving peace in the Middle East.
Recognising the special relationship between the United States and Israel, Obama would work closely with the Israelis, David Axelrod said in an interview on CBS television.
“But he will do so in a way that will promote the cause of peace, and work closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians on that – toward that objective,” said Axelrod.
By contrast, the outgoing Bush administration blamed Hamas “thugs” for provoking the offensive by firing rockets into Israel from Gaza.
Twenty-two Chinese dairy firms will pay 160 million dollars into a compensation fund for families of babies that died or fell ill after drinking tainted milk, state media said Monday.
Families of children who died after being given the adulterated formula will each receive 200,000 yuan (29,000 dollars) from the fund, the China Daily newspaper reported.
Parents of infants who were hospitalised will get between 30,000 and 50,000 yuan, it said.
Half a dozen babies dead
At least six babies in China died this year and another 294,000 fell ill after drinking milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine, which is normally used to make plastic.
Melamine was mixed into the watered-down milk to make it appear richer in protein. But the chemical caused severe kidney problems and urinary tract problems in babies who drank the tainted milk powder.
The scandal, which emerged in September after initially being covered up, shook the foundations of a Chinese food industry that was already beset by repeated safety problems.
It quickly became a global concern after contaminated Chinese milk products were found abroad.
According to the China Business News, the new fund will come into effect from January and pay for medical treatment and operations for diseases caused by the tainted milk.
In total, the firms will pay out more than 900 million yuan (130 million dollars) in cash and set up a 200-million-yuan medical fund to cover bills for any lingering health problems, the China Business News reported.
The China Daily said a total of about 13.5 billion yuan would be needed to compensate all the victims.
China Life, the country\’s largest life insurer, has been appointed to manage the fund, the China Business News said, adding the government had ordered the firms to pay the compensation.
Amount of money criticised
However, one lawyer representing victims of the scandal said the amount put forward by the milk companies was not enough to provide for all the victims, and criticised the whole compensation process.
“I have seen only the news reports, but from what I have seen the amount of money being put forward is not enough, the payments will be too low,” said Li Fanping, who is representing the families of about 100 victims of the scandal.
“This compensation plan has not been an open process. The victims and consumers were not allowed to participate. They should have the right to go through a judicial process to seek compensation and it is not clear if this will happen.”
Numerous lawsuits demanding compensation for victims of the scandal have so far not been accepted by Chinese courts.
Suspects\’ trial begins
Lawyers for victims have said the government had warned them not to sue, possibly fearing a slew of potentially costly lawsuits that would also attract bad publicity.
The trials of six suspects accused of manufacturing, trading or adding melamine to dairy products began Friday last week, earlier Chinese reports said.
Four more people linked to the scandal went on trial Monday, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Ugandan Lord\’s Resistance Army rebels have killed almost 200 people in northeast Congo, a UN agency says, although rebels issued a swift denial.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its report that the rebels had killed 189 people and torched 120 houses during the bloody campaign in Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, LRA deputy peace delegation chairman Justin Labeja told news agency AFP by telephone that “the accusations that LRA has killed 200 people in DRC are totally untrue. LRA has not killed anybody.”
Labeja, a long-time confidant of LRA leader Joseph Kony, said the group “is still committed to negotiating with the Ugandan government as long as there are guarantees and the International Criminal Court warrants are suspended.”
Troops from DR Congo, Uganda and southern Sudan have been working together since mid-December to find Kony, who is wanted by The Hague-based tribunal for war crimes.
The vice-governor of Orientale province, Joseph Bangakya Angaze, told AFP by telephone that local authorities would ask the Congolese government today to include the Central Africal Republic in the joint mission.
Peacekeepers \’shot Ugandan soldier\’
Ongoing military operations and the LRA\’s continued presence in northeast DR Congo have made security conditions in the region “extremely volatile” and much of the region inaccessible to aid workers, OCHA said.
In a development which only added to the region\’s volatile state, another UN agency operating in DR Congo, the mission in the country known as MONUC, said Monday that a Ugandan soldier had been shot dead after a UN peacekeeper accidentally fired his machine gun.
The Ugandan solider died from his injuries and his body has been immediately flown home, MONUC said in a statement, adding that a full inquiry would be carried out into the accident.
Ugandan army spokesman Captain Chris Magezi had earlier told AFP in a telephone interview that his forces would hunt down LRA members while protecting civilians.
“We have developed a two-pronged approach to stop these senseless killings: We guard civilian settlements while another force pursues the rebels,” Magezi said.
“We are deploying enough forces to increase pressure on the rebels,” he added.
Rape, murder and massacre
Kony\’s rebels are accused of having raped and mutilated civilians, forcibly enlisting child soldiers and having massacred thousands during two decades of conflict.
The Ugandan army have also accused the rebels of hacking to death 45 people in a church in the northeast on Friday.
“Our pledge to those who have been killed is to hunt for the killers and put them out of action so that they do not kill more people,” Magezi said, adding local civilians should report to them on rebel movements.
LRA spokesman David Nyekorach Matsanga on Sunday dismissed the allegations relating to the church killings as a “propaganda campaign by the Uganda army.”
Ongoing peace talks
Uganda and the LRA have been engaged in peace talks led by the government of south Sudan for more than two years.
Kony, a semi-literate former altar boy, took charge in 1988 of a regional rebellion among northern Uganda\’s ethnic Acholi minority.
He has repeatedly refused to sign a peace deal with Kampala because of the International Criminal Court arrest warrants against him and his lieutenants, despite Uganda inking the final peace agreement concluded in April.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced in two decades of fighting between the Ugandan government and the LRA, which is notorious for abducting children as soldiers and sex slaves.
BEIJING (Reuters) – Fears of a prolonged recession in China have triggered a sharp increase in divorce inquiries addressed to lawyers and financial advisers, state media reported Monday, with timing a key issue.
Wealthy spouses were keen to strike a deal while asset values were low, the China Daily quoted the director of the China Divorce Service Centre, Shu Xin, as saying.
“While facing tough financial times is not usually the main reason couples split, it can serve as the last straw for already strained marriages or add new concerns to divorces under way,” the newspaper said, quoting “marriage advisers.”
Ming Li, who works for China\’s first marriage and finance firm, Shanghai Weiqing, said: “Many questions are about how to avoid paying off debts after the divorce and the number of such telephone inquiries has increased from 200 to 300 in recent months.”
But China University of Political Science and Law professor Wu Changzhen said it may be too early to know the impact of the financial crisis on divorce rates.
“It seems the rates may have dropped since the downturn, because divorces are expensive,” he was quoted as saying.
“It has become extremely difficult for couples wanting to divorce to sell their homes at a reasonable price and to maintain two separate households.”
According to a separate story carried on the China News Service website (南宁夜网.chinanews广西桑拿,), the number of people seeking divorce advice increased by 30 percent in the second half of this year.
Most of the inquiries were about how to protect property, it said.
There were 2.1 million divorces in China in 2007, nearly seven times the figure of 1980 when nationwide economic reforms were launched, the China Daily quoted the Ministry of Civil Affairs as saying.
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)
One of America\’s leading Republicans has stoked a bitter racism row by handing out copies of a CD featuring a song called Barack the Magic Negro.
Chip Saltsman, who is seeking to become chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent its members a recording by conservative comedian Paul Shanklin as a Christmas gift.
The 41-track disc included the controversial song – sung to the tune of Puff the Magic Dragon – which began life on conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh\’s radio program.
Its title is a reference to an opinion piece written by David Ehrenstein for the Los Angeles Times, which argued that voting for Obama helped white voters alleviate their guilt over the racial wrongs of the past.
Other tracks on the CD lampooning liberal targets are titled We Hate the USA, The Star Spanglish Banner, Love Client 9 – about former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer\’s prostitution scandal – and Down on the Farm with Al Gore.
Saltsman\’s decision to send out the CD has been condemned by the current chairman of the RNC, Robert Duncan, who said it was highly inappropriate.
\’Lighthearted political parody\’
“The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party.
“I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate as it clearly does not move us in the right direction.”
But Saltsman was unrepentant, insisting the track was not racist.
“Paul Shanklin is a longtime friend, and I think that RNC members have the good humour and good sense to recognise that his songs for the Rush Limbaugh show are lighthearted political parodies,” he said.
In the past, Limbaugh has insisted that the song was a parody to prove a point about liberal white voters.
“I can tell you think the term \’Negro\’ is inappropriate, that it\’s old hat and shouldn\’t be used, that it\’s divisive and this sort of thing, and you may have a point,” Limbaugh told a caller objecting to the song in March 2007.
“But remember what we do on this program: We illustrate absurdity by being absurd.”
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has been charged with assault and affray over a brawl outside a UK bar that left a disk jockey hospitalised with facial injuries.
Merseyside Police announced the charge early on Tuesday – 24 hours after Gerrard was arrested in Southport while celebrating Liverpool\’s emphatic 5-1 victory over Newcastle.
Gerrard, who scored twice in the match on Sunday, was feted as a hero of the win that extended his side\’s lead atop the English Premier League.
A police spokesman said Gerrard was charged with assault and occasioning actual bodily harm in connection with the fight at the Lounge Inn.
In the altercation outside the bar, a 34-year-old DJ had a tooth broken and sustained cuts to his forehead, although he was later released from hospital.
Club DJ injured
Southport, a prosperous seaside town, is known as somewhere where footballers from nearby Premier League clubs such as Liverpool go to socialise.
Gerrard, 28, who has played 70 times for England since making his international debut in 2000, is a local hero on Merseyside.
Born in the Liverpool suburb of Huyton, he has only ever played professional club football for Liverpool, for whom he made his debut in 1998.
Three years ago he inspired the team to come from 3-0 down at half-time to beat Italian side AC Milan in the Champions League final in Istanbul, as Liverpool reclaimed European club football\’s most prestigious trophy.
Last year Gerrard signed a contract keeping him at Anfield until 2011 and this October saw him score his 100th goal for Liverpool.