15 Jan 19

Investigation into polling chaos promised

Gordon Brown held his seat of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, using his acceptance speech to promise an investigation into the polling chaos.

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The Electoral Commission has said an investigation will take place into reports that people have been turned away from polling stations.

With voter turnout higher than expected, the Commission says the guidelines are clear, but accepts the system is flawed. There is speculation that this could lead to legal challenges where reults are close-run.

Latest reports suggest some in Hackney South were turned away an hour before polls closed, with others missing out due to long queues.

Exit polls suggest Tory leader David Cameron would fall 19 seats short of an overall majority, leaving the country with a hung parliament.

The Liberal Democrats, Britain’s traditional third party, could emerge as kingmakers in a power-sharing deal after a surge during a grueling month-long campaign..

Early results could start coming in as soon as an hour later, but the bulk are expected to be declared from around 3:00 am.

The final result may not be known until much later if all hangs on a handful of seats, as some two dozen constituencies are not expected to be declared before noon on Friday.

Election day was marked by a plane crash which injured a high-profile anti-Europe candidate and a protest outside the polling station where Cameron voted.

Several eve-of-election polls suggested the Conservatives had a clear lead over Brown’s ruling Labour Party and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.

But they indicated that under Britain’s first-past-the-post system, Cameron’s Tories could fall short of an overall majority in the House of Commons, setting up the first hung parliament since 1974.

A poll by ICM for the Guardian newspaper predicted Conservative support had increased slightly to around 36 percent, with Labour unchanged on 28 percent, while the Lib Dems had fallen back to 26 percent.

That would roughly equate to 283 seats for the Tories, 253 for Labour and 81 for the Lib Dems. A total of 326 seats are needed for an overall majority.

Such an outcome would spark a scramble for power, with Cameron seeking a partner to govern or doing so through a minority government, possibly with the support of a handful of lawmakers from Northern Ireland.

More than 44 million voters were eligible to cast ballots, with observers predicting turnout could be as high as 70 percent after an unusual campaign transformed by the first televised leaders’ debates in a British election.

A smiling Cameron and his wife Samantha voted in the picturesque village of Spelsbury in his Witney constituency in Oxfordshire, west of London.

Earlier, two pranksters climbed on to the roof of the polling station and unfurled a banner drawing attention to Cameron’s education at the elite fee-paying Eton College, which has produced 18 British prime ministers.

Brown, who has been fighting for his political life in a frantic week of campaigning, was accompanied by his wife Sarah as he voted in steady drizzle in his constituency in Fife, north of Edinburgh.

Clegg, whose surprise strong performance in the first TV leaders’ debate gave his Liberal Democrats a massive boost, cast his ballot in Sheffield, northern England, where he was elected for the first time in 2005.

Nigel Farage, a high-profile candidate for the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), suffered minor head injuries and needed heart tests after the light aircraft he was travelling in crashed at an airfield in Northamptonshire.

His campaign manager said the pilot desperately tried to call for help in the seconds before impact.

“Apparently the plane nose-dived. We had a banner attached to the back of the plane which basically got wrapped around the tail,” said Chris Adams. “It’s all a bit of a shock, especially on polling day.”

Brown, who took over from Tony Blair in 2007, ended his campaign in his native Scotland, issuing a last-ditch plea to wavering voters to back Labour as the best party to safeguard the country’s fragile recovery from deep recession.

“At this moment of risk to our economy, at this moment of decision for our country, I ask you to come home to Labour,” he said.

Clegg pleaded with voters to back him and seize a “once in a generation opportunity to do things differently”.

Late Thursday, one Labour candidate who embarrassed Brown on the eve of the election by branding him Britain’s “worst prime minister” said he would not bother to go the election count later Thursday night.

“I had no chance of winning anyway, but I’ve been disowned by the party… I’ve decided not to go to the count — I’ll stay at home and watch the BBC,” he said.


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15 Jan 19

Aussie news crews rescue Haitian baby

Rival Australian news crews have rescued an 18-month-old baby from underneath the rubble in earthquake devastated Haiti.

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The little girl was lying alongside the bodies of her dead parents who were killed in the 7.0 magnitude earthquake which hit Port-au-Prince on January 12 when the camera crews heard her moans and began to dig her out on Friday.

Richard Moran, a cameraman with the commercial Nine Network, put down his camera and lifted pieces of concrete out of the way while Nine’s interpreter and fixer Deiby Celestino climbed into the tangled mess to retrieve the child.

“And then, out of the ruins came this little girl, and I will never forget it. She did not cry. She looked astonished, almost as if she was seeing the world for the first time,” Nine reporter Robert Penfold told The Australian.

The images of the child’s rescue were captured by Nine’s major rival Seven, and footage beamed around the world showed the network’s correspondent Mike Amor holding the dusty little girl and giving her water.

“That moment, it was beyond news,” Amor said. “I haven’t seen anything so remarkable since the birth of my own child. The emotion for all of us has been incredible.”

Amor said the news crews and the locals who had helped locate the girl were concentrated on rescuing the child rather than news priorities.

“The focus of everybody on that hill was the little girl, and as any of us will tell you, it was Deiby who went into that hole, and dug, and dug, until he got that little girl out. He’s the hero,” he told The Australian.

Channel Nine’s news director Mark Calvert said while disasters can sometimes bring out the very worst in journalists, they can also produce the best.

“I’m proud of the Nine News team, who put the welfare of the little girl before their own safety, and placed their personal convictions before professional pressures,” he said in a statement to AFP.


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15 Jan 19

Hidden camera stings UK MPs

An undercover investigation in the UK has uncovered what many MPs, including former government ministers, are prepared to do for lobbying companies in return for big fees.

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Former Trade and transport Secretary Stephen Byers was allegedly recorded offering himself ‘like a sort of cab for hire’ for up to £5,000 a day ($A8,280), while offering the use of his friendship with Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, which, he said, had proved useful in the past.

The ruling Labour party has promised a crackdown on lobbying by ex-ministers after some of its MPs were caught in joint Channel 4/Sunday Times sting, just weeks before an election.

Senior Labour MPs were filmed by an undercover reporter apparently offering to use their connections with government in return for money – but the MPs and the companies involved now deny wrongdoing.

In Australia, the Rudd government introduced new regulation surrounding politcal lobbying, and the government maintains a Lobbyists Register.

But in the UK, although there is some regulation, there is less openness. Last year, the British government rejected calls for a public register of lobbying, arguing the lobbying industry should be given the opportunity to self-regulate.

The Labour party responded on Sunday by promising tighter regulation on lobbying activities if Brown’s government is re-elected in polls expected on May 6.

“There can never be any suggestion that companies and businesses can only speak to government by buying access through MPs or anybody else,” a spokesman said.

But all polls are already putting Brown behind David Cameron’s Conservative Party, who has been quick to denounce the affair and call for a probe, mindful of the scandals that cost the Conservatives power in the 1990s.

They also threaten to further undermine the reputation of parliament after the enormous and ongoing scandal over MPs’ expenses last year.

“Just as the government has ended the old discredited system of self-regulation in MPs’ expenses, we need to act now to stop self-regulation of lobbyists and give the public greater confidence in the whole system,” the Labour spokesman said.

In a statement, Former Transport Secretary Byers said he had exaggerated his influence to

the undercover reporter and had subsequently retracted his claims, adding that he had “never lobbied ministers on behalf of commercial

interests”.


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15 Jan 19

Bayley case to guide Vic legal aid review

Adrian Bayley’s unsuccessful attempt to have his sentence cut for the rape and murder of Melbourne woman Jill Meagher will guide a review of legal aid funding for criminal appeals.

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Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) is examining how it funds appeals by the most serious criminals against their sentences.

The body will examine whether it should apply stricter tests and limits when deciding whether it will fund such appeals.

The Victorian Court of Appeal took less than 10 minutes to dismiss Bayley’s appeal application last month and find that his 35-year non-parole period was entirely within range given the circumstances of Ms Meagher’s killing.

In reasons published on Monday, Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, Justice Paul Coghlan and Justice Marcia Neave reject arguments by Bayley’s lawyer that the sentence should have not been in the same category as Melbourne CBD killer Christopher Wayne Hudson and gangland killer Carl Williams.

VLA acting managing director Meagan Keogh says the reasons the Court of Appeal rejected Bayley’s publicly-funded bid to appeal his sentence would help guide the review.

“Even an appeal that is dismissed provides guidance to others that the trial judge got the sentence right,” she said.

“This helps lawyers advise other clients about the possible outcomes of their case.”

The decision to fund Bayley’s appeal was criticised, with Ms Meagher’s husband Tom Meagher slamming it as a waste of public money.

Ms Keogh says VLA would not use emotion to decide which appeals it would fund.

“We must adhere to objective processes and cannot be influenced by how we might feel about the individuals involved,” she said.

“If we did not fund legal representation in appeals, courts would be clogged with people representing themselves and unable to understand complex law.”


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15 Jan 19

US seeks resumed security assistance to Pakistan: official

The US State Department has asked Congress to resume more than $300 million in blocked security assistance to Pakistan, officials said Sunday amid an upswing in relations and a visit by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

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“This is part of a long process of restarting security assistance cooperation after implementation was slowed during the bilateral challenges of 2011 and 2012,” deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told AFP.

   

The development came as Secretary of State John Kerry met with Sharif, who is making his country’s highest-level official visit to the United States in years.

   

“We have a lot to talk about and the relationship with Pakistan could not be more important,” Kerry said at the start of the meeting.

   

He called Pakistan a “democracy that is working hard to get its economy moving and deal with insurgency and also important to the regional stability.”

   

The State Department said the pair discussed counterterrorism cooperation, energy, trade and investment, and “the common interest in a secure and stable Afghanistan.”

   

“Both sides agreed on the importance of our continued counterterrorism cooperation, and that extremism is countered in part by opportunities arising from greater economic stability,” the State Department said.  

   

Sharif was elected in May, and Washington has praised his efforts to reduce tensions in South Asia.

   

Relations with the United States have also improved since they plunged to one of their lowest points in 2011 after US commandos killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan and a US airstrike left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead.

   

US security assistance was interrupted during that period, although $857 million in civilian assistance continued to flow, Harf said.

   

“As part of our annual funding process, throughout the course of this past summer the State Department notified Congress of how it planned to program funds from several different accounts for various programs in Pakistan.

   

“Funding was notified to Congress following a rigorous planning process over multiple months, to ensure it was in line with both US and Pakistani interests, and would deliver important results for both countries,” she said.

   

Harf said US security assistance would build the capabilities of Pakistan’s security forces, “which is critical to countering violence in the western border regions.”

   

“And US civilian assistance to Pakistan has delivered real results on the issues most important to Prime Minister Sharif and all Pakistanis: energy, education and economic growth,” she added.

   

Sharif is also due to meet President Barack Obama on Wednesday. Kerry visited Islamabad in August.

   

Washington needs Pakistan’s cooperation as it prepares to withdraw thousands of pieces of heavy equipment from Afghanistan before NATO combat operations end in late 2014.

   

It is also looking to Pakistan to try to help with reconciliation efforts between the Taliban and Afghan leaders.

   

The United States wants the Pakistani government to do more to crack down on militant havens.

   

Pakistan, meanwhile, is chafing at continued US drone strikes against militants on its territory.

   

Drones are “part of a very comprehensive conversation we have on security across the board,” a US official said ahead of the talks.

   

“As we talk about all these security issues that will be a key theme, not drones necessarily, but the security situation writ large.”


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15 Jan 19

Comment: Rethinking the privacy debate

The Greens’ most vocal advocate for cyber-rights, Senator Scott Ludlam, has penned an argument over on New Matilda about six ways to fight surveillance by the State on Australian citizens.

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The democratisation of communications is leading to information sharing, scientific and technical innovation and the formation of a global civil society and that is extraordinarily valuable. We won’t get these benefits unless we actively resist the medium being rapidly transformed into a giant surveillance tool at the hands of unaccountable security agencies. To paraphrase a meme going around the net at the moment, in America you don’t browse the internet – the internet browses you. It’s time we pushed back.

The six methods are listed cursorily.  Senator Ludlam wants security agencies to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and to be subject to the reporting requirements of the Telecommunications Interceptions and Access Act.  He wants security agencies to require a warrant prior to accessing telecommunications information, and to be compelled to provide data breach notifications.  Senator Ludlam also wants telecommunications providers to alert customers to agreements they’ve entered with governments that might breach their privacy.  Finally, Senator Ludlam seeks a revision of the ‘Five Eyes’ agreement.

There is a certain appeal to Senator Ludlam’s proposals.  Who can shake the thought of some Orwellian nightmare where we can’t even send e-mails to our friends without the State cataloging our every keystroke?  Doesn’t it make you uneasy to know that some bureaucrat has access to your shoe porn, hat porn, tree porn, and all your most popular Tumblr posts?  What if ASIO, ASIS, ASD, and the ARG were to bust into your house right now, confront you with all of the DMCA-infringing e-mails you’ve sent over the past thirteen years, and stuff you into a black body bag and ship you to some secret prison — wait, no: gulag — in the Middle East where they’d torture you just like what happened in Zero Dark Thirty?  Wouldn’t that be awful?  Wouldn’t that just be the worst?

Welcome to the world of Australia’s privacy debate.  On the one hand, you have a bunch of — quite frankly — weird people who have fetishised the concept of ‘privacy’, forcing its apotheosis into a 21st Century deity.  On the other hand, you have the people who dismiss all privacy concerns as the domain of the tinfoil hat wearers, who let their lethargy and intellectual inertia hinder robust inquiry.

Senator Ludlam’s article in New Matilda shows us quite clearly how the privacy-fetishists now use intuition pumps instead of arguments in hot button cyber-issues.  If I use the word ‘private’, I mean that I don’t share this information with somebody else.  When Senator Ludlam and other internet activists speak of the ‘private’, they in fact mean information that is already being shared.

If I have a private piece of information, I don’t write it on a giant poster and stick it to the side of a public building.  In the world of Senator Ludlam and co, my information is still private and I should be able to decide who gets to see the poster that I’ve stuck up on the side of the public building.

So when Senator Ludlam writes:

Warrantless theft and storage of vast quantities of detailed and private information about citizens all over the world, their habits on email, at the bank, in the kitchen and in bed, is both illegal and immoral.

The natural response is positive.  Of course taking that private information is terrible!  If it’s not illegal, it should be!

But the ‘private information’ in the middle of that sentence isn’t ‘private’ in the common, ordinary sense of the word.  It’s private in that special Internet-activist sense of the word.  The ‘theft’ is merely observing the information that a person has put into the public space.  It’s information that the person already shares with a host of companies, advertisers, data miners, &c., &c., &c.

In short, this ‘private’ information is — to use the common tongue — ‘public’ information.

It’s important to distinguish very carefully between what I am and what I am not arguing.  I am arguing that the arguments advanced by Internet activists do not hold up under scrutiny.  I am arguing that their use of the word ‘privacy’ relies on a very particular use of the word — one, I’d wager, that the rest of the world does not share — and that their arguments rely on intuitions that distract from the salient details of the problem.

I am not arguing that, simply because the information is already given to a wide range of shady characters, the State should feel welcome to help itself.  My argument is entirely consistent with the point — with which I agree strongly — that we need stronger legislation to protect the privacy of Internet users from companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google.  Simply saying that we ‘choose’ to expose our private information to these companies is weak sauce, considering that the biggest breaches of our privacy are as a result of other people uploading information about us.

At the end of the day, chanting spooky mantras about Australia being ‘deeply complicit in a surveillance culture’ doesn’t get us particularly far.  What we need is sensible, rational people to open up a discussion about what privacy really means to us and why our actions seem to be completely at odds with our language.  We need a conversation to uncover why it’s so popular to hold libertarian intuitions about constraining the State to the weakest possible position when it comes to information about its citizens.  And we need to develop a new way of conceptualising how private citizens who operate in a public space should feel about interactions with the State in light of new technological developments and new social expectations.

Senator Ludlam’s ‘six ways’ are more of the problem, not the solution.

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. He blogs at OnlyTheSangfroid. This article was originally published on AusOpinion.com.


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15 Jan 19

Hominid named greatest hit of 2009

The discovery of a 4.

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4-million-year-old skeleton, human-kind’s oldest known ancestor, was the greatest scientific breakthrough of 2009, the prestigious journal Science says.

The fossil, known as Ardi, topped a list of the 10 greatest scientific advances for the year, which also featured the discovery of water on the moon and the use of ultra-thin carbon atom sheets in experimental electronic devices.

Ardi, or Ardipithecus ramidus, was the subject of 15 years of painstaking examination by anthropologists who said the find, in what is now Ethiopia, provided untold insights into human evolution.

At 1.2 million years older than “Lucy”, previously the oldest known human ancestor, Ardi helped shatter popular myths about the direct similarity between humans and modern apes.

Many of the traits found in Ardi’s skull, teeth, pelvis, hands and feet, showed that African apes have evolved extensively since sharing a common ancestor with humans.

It also quelled hopes of finding a missing link between humans and modern apes.

“(Ardi) changes the way we think about early human evolution,” said Bruce Alberts, Science’s editor.

Among the other developments listed by the journal was the discovery of previously unknown pulsars by NASA’s Fermi telescope, including one located 4,600 light-years from Earth.

The observations helped explain how a pulsar — the rapidly-spinning and highly-magnetized core of a exploded star — works, and how they contribute to electromagnetic radiation in the universe.

Astrophysics provided two more of the top 10 advances of the year, including NASA’s discovery of ice water on the moon.

In October the US space agency slammed a missile into the permanently shadowed Cabeus crater, near the moon’s southern pole, at around 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) per hour.

It was followed four minutes later by a spacecraft equipped with instruments that detected significant amounts of ice water.

NASA was also praised by Science for astronauts’ repairs of the Hubble space telescope, providing unprecedented images of our universe.

Meanwhile physicists working on Earth with bizarre crystalline materials managed to create magnetic ripples that could help confirm the existence of monopoles, a theoretical particle with only one magnetic pole.

And physicists operating an X-ray laser at Stanford University got fresh snap-shots of chemical reactions in progress and molecules 10,000 times smaller than a human hair.

The year also saw the advances in the way we use materials, including graphene — highly conductive sheets of carbon atoms.

Scientists examining the ultra-thin structures were able for the first time to manipulate them into nano-scale electronic devices, raising hopes that the advance could spark an entire industry.

In the biological sciences breakthroughs were made in gene therapy and signal pathways, which offer the hope of extending human life.

While gene therapists developed new ways to treat brain disease, hereditary blindness and some immune disorders, those working on signal pathways worked on a drug that extended the life-span of mice by around 10 percent.

It was the first time the immune-suppressing drug, rapamycin, had been proven to work on mammals.

As climate change topped the political agenda, scientists grasped a clearer picture of plant molecules that could allow them to develop new ways to protect crops against drought.

They isolated the abscisic acid hormone, finding that it triggered when plants detect drought conditions. Thought the creation of hormone variations scientist hope they will be be able to boost plants’ protection.

In the coming year Science’s editors said they expect breakthroughs in stem cell research, cancer cell metabolism and the mapping of the human genome.

With the White House set to decide on funding, the future of human space flight and NASA”s quest to return man to the moon by 2020 and establish lunar bases for further exploration to Mars, may also be decided.


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15 Jan 19

UN experts inspect Iran atomic plant

Sunday’s inspection of the plant, being built inside a mountain near the Shi’ite holy city of Qom, came as US President Barack Obama garnered support from France and Russia for a separate UN-brokered deal to end the crisis over Tehran’s atomic program.

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A four-member team of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors arrived in Tehran early on Sunday and later began inspecting the facility which is being constructed adjacent to a military base south of the capital.

“They are currently doing their job,” said Ali Shirzadian, spokesman of Iran Atomic Energy Organisation, without offering details.

Iran’s Mehr news agency said the UN team is expected to make “several visits” to the plant during their three-day stay.

Iran’s disclosure to the IAEA of the Qom plant’s existence on September 21 sparked a wave of global outrage, with Obama warning the Islamic republic will face “increased pressure” if it fails to come clean on its atomic ambitions.

Atomic bomb fears

Iran has already been enriching uranium – the most controversial aspect of its nuclear project – for several years at another plant in the central city of Natanz, in defiance of three sets of UN sanctions.

Uranium enrichment is the focus of Western concern that Iran’s ultimate aim is to manufacture a nuclear weapon, a charge strongly denied by Tehran.

Enriched uranium produces fuel for civilian reactors, but in highly extended form can also make the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has already criticised Iran for what he said was its late disclosure of the Qom facility’s existence, saying such construction must be revealed on the day it begins.

Iran, which informed the agency about a year after building began, said its disclosure obligation only begins 180 days before it places any nuclear material inside the facility.

Mohammad Kosari, deputy head of parliament’s committee on national security and foreign policy, said the inspectors would inspect only the Qom plant.

Diplomatic push to end crisis

“If they act within the framework of the law and the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) we have no problem, but if they want to go beyond that it is up to us to decide,” he said, indicating that any additional inspection requests would have to be cleared by Tehran.

On Saturday, Mehr news agency, quoting an unnamed Vienna-based official, said the IAEA inspectors would “compare the information given by Iran (about the Qom plant) with the facility”.

Iranian officials say that at the Qom plant they intend to install new generation centrifuges – the devices which enrich uranium at supersonic speed.

The inspection comes as US President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged support for a separate deal to end the crisis over Iran’s uranium enrichment drive.

The White House said the three “affirmed their full support” for a UN-brokered deal under which Tehran’s existing stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) would be sent abroad.

Western powers are concerned that the material, if not shipped out, could be further enriched inside Iran to weapons grade.

Enrichment into fuel rods

France has said the deal calls on Iran to transfer 1,200 kilos of LEU from its Natanz plant to Russia by the end of 2009.

Russia would then enrich the material to the higher 19.75 per cent needed as fuel for a Tehran research reactor which makes radio-isotopes for medical use.

Diplomats say Moscow would sub-contract to France the process of turning this Russian-enriched uranium into fuel rods for the reactor.

The three presidents spoke after Tehran ignored a Friday deadline to respond to the deal, saying it would make its decision in the next week.

But on Sunday criticism continued inside Iran to the deal, which was originally proposed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself.

Enough fuel for 25 years

And a senior Iranian official insisted Tehran needs to keep 1,100 kilos of LEU.

“I think a nuclear accord is not a problem but we have to keep 1,100 kilos of LEU,” said Mohsen Rezai, a defeated candidate in Iran’s presidential election and former Revolutionary Guards chief, quoted by the website Tabnak.

“For the Tehran nuclear reactor we need to send only 350 kilos of LEU… which will allow us to produce the fuel needed for 20 to 25 years,” said the leading conservative.

Iran has around 1,500 kilos of LEU.

Abolfazl Zohrevand, a senior Iranian atomic expert and diplomat, said Western powers want to ship the bulk of Iran’s LEU abroad so it would have to ultimately “suspend” its uranium enrichment drive.


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15 Jan 19

Pooran Singh’s ashes return home

Pooran Singh’s ashes travelled from Victoria to Delhi today, in the safe hands of Indian cricket star Kapil Dev.

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For a humble man who lived a seemingly unremarkable life, it was quite a reception. And touchdown in Delhi marked the final stages of Pooran Singh’s journey.

Instructions for his ashes to be scattered in the River Ganges were ignored for years, and Pooran Singh’s remains stayed in the possession of local funeral directors in Warnambol.

SBS radio journalist Manpreet Singh publicised the story, found photos and even located a relative in England, so after a farewell ceremony at Warnambool a fortnight ago, Pooran Singh’s remains were escorted home.

“I am really touched by this story. I have never really believed some things can happen,” Kapil Dev told SBS.

Pooran Singh’s relatives too part in the cermony.

“It’s a fantastic feeling. It’s like making contact with someone you’ve never seen,” Pooran Singh’s grand nephew said.

A flat tyre slowed the seven-hour road trip, so too did a monsoonal downpour. But it couldn’t dampen the push to Pooran Singh’s ancestral town.

“That really brought it home for us – the whole village was out there waiting for us,” Manpreet Singh said.

At Uppal Bhoupa, in northern India, gifts changed hands, religious ceremonies were observed and Pooran Sing’s material legacy recognised.

He bequeathed 360-pounds to each of his four nephews, who built a home which still carries a special message.

“It was amazing to see the inscription outside the house. It said ‘Pooran Singh. Australian’ and it’s written in pristine Punjabi!”, Manpreet Singh said.

A priest instructed Pooran Sing’s great nephew Harmeel to participate in the final riverbank ritual.

It involved a symbolic dip in the Ganges before the much talked about ashes were opened, mixed with flowers and “holy” river water and rubbed on the body.

Then, in one simple motion Pooran Singh’s wishes were finally recognised.

The ashes dissolved into the Ganges marking a dignified farewell.


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15 Jan 19

Dozens killed in India temple stampede

Sixty-three people, all of them women and children, were crushed to death in a stampede at a temple in India when a gate collapsed triggering panic among the 10,000-strong crowd.

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The devotees had gathered in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh to receive food and clothes from a local holy man when the under-construction gate on the perimeter of the temple complex came crashing down, police said.

“We have now counted all the bodies and they include 37 children and 26 women who had come to collect free gifts,” assistant superintendent of police S.P. Pathak told AFP by telephone from the scene.

State officials said organisers had been unprepared for the size of the crowd that assembled to meet holy man Kripaluji Maharaj at the Ram Janki temple in Pratapgarh, 650 kilometres (400 miles) southeast of New Delhi.

According to his website, Maharaj runs a charitable trust which sets up schools, temples and hospitals and operates five large Hindu ashrams (hermitages), including one in the United States.

Police said 125 people had been injured and were being treated at local hospitals or at the scene.

“I want my sister back,” one distraught woman told the IBN7 news channel. “She came here to get clothes and sweets, but now she is dead.”

“My wife would come here every day,” another mourner said. “Today she came with her friends to participate in the event. She was found dead on the stairs of the temple.”

Stampedes at religious events in India are common as large numbers of excited worshippers pack into congested areas. Panic can spread quickly and, with few safety regulations in place, the result is often lethal.

The worst recent incident was in October 2008 when about 220 people died near a temple inside Jodhpur’s famous Mehrangarh Fort.

More than 25,000 worshippers had rushed towards the hill-top shrine to join in an auspicious moment for offering prayers at the start of Navaratri, a nine-day Hindu festival.

That stampede appeared to have started when a wall along the narrow path leading up to the temple collapsed, killing several people.

Hundreds of people were trampled and suffocated to death in the ensuing panic.

Also in 2008, 145 pilgrims were crushed to death in a stampede after railings collapsed at a popular temple in Himachal Pradesh state.

Religious gatherings, pilgrimages and festivals are a part of daily life in India and Indians across the entire social spectrum participate regularly.

The choice is vast, as is the size of crowds, which can range from just a few hundred worshippers to the tens of millions who flock to the Kumbh Mela festivals at the confluence of the holy Ganges and Yamuna rivers.

In most cases, crowd management measures are rudimentary, or even non-existent, and police action has often been blamed for exacerbating panic when things go wrong.

In 2004, 20 women died in a stampede when politicians handed out free clothes in a bid to garner votes for the Hindu nationalist BJP party.


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