Blog: Team orders causing rifts in top F1 teams

SBS World News Sports reporter Nick Vindin examines how a decision to ignore a team order during the Malaysian Grand Prix could splinter a Champion F1 Team.

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Red Bull screeched across the line taking out first and second spot on the podium at the Malaysian Grand Prix. You would think euphoria would follow after success on the Sepang circuit – instead a hollow radio message filtered to the winner Sebastian Vettel, “You looked like you wanted it bad enough but still – there will be some explaining to do.”

As the three time world champion walked into parc ferme he was all but ignored by his fellow Red Bull driver and second-place getter Mark Webber. The Australian driver was seething and only reminded the German champion of team-protocol, “Multi 21 Seb, Multi 21.” The team-code that means hold stations and don’t pass – an instruction Webber followed and Vettel recklessly ignored.

Webber led the Grand Prix from lap six, and as he dived out of the pits for the final time he was still in front. It was then the Australian received a team message to ease up and nurse the car to the finish, “After the last stop obviously the team told me the race was over, we turned the engines down.” Webber adhered to that order and with his teammate behind him and daylight for third there was no reason to push the car unnecessarily.

The 36-year old was about to feel betrayed. After being told to ease the car home an attack came from his fellow Red Bull. Vettel protested that Webber was too slow and began trying to pass him. A remark crackled into Vettel’s cockpit “Seb, this is silly.”

Silly and dangerous as the two almost collided – the team reportedly reminded Vettel to maintain a gap to Webber. He didn’t. With ten laps to go the German sped past his teammate to take the victory.

Webber spent the remainder of the race contemplating what had just happened. Why had he loyally adhered to the call of “Multi 21” in the past, when he hadn’t received the same support? His emotions hadn’t cooled when it was time for the podium presentations, his body language and cool words said it all – “In the end Seb made his own decisions today and will have protection and that’s the way it goes.”

It’s not the first time Webber has felt Vettel has had favoritism, after winning the British Grand Prix in 2010 the Australian ribbed his team principal after crossing the line, “Not bad for a number two driver,” comments broadcast to the entire watching audience.

Webber could feel further aggrieved now knowing what was unfolding for third and fourth place behind him in Malaysia.

In third was Mercedes recruit Lewis Hamilton who, like Webber was told to ease his car in the closing stages. Behind him was teammate Nico Rosberg who felt he had the pace to get over Hamilton. Rosberg was told not to pass, and unlike Vettel he followed his team instruction.

On crossing the finish line Rosberg reminded his team that he had shackled his individual desire for the glory of the team, “Remember this,” he buzzed through the team radio. And it seems his team did. Lewis Hamilton was thankful and gracious for his support, “Nico should be standing here [on the podium]. Generally he had better pace than me throughout the race. He’s a great teammate and did a fantastic job today.”

Vettel conceded what he did was wrong, “I think we should have stayed in the positions that we were. I didn’t ignore it on purpose but I messed up in that situation and obviously took the lead which, I can see now he’s [Webber] upset.”

Both Mercedes pilots adhered to team instructions and while there is no doubt there will be tension between the silver-arrow drivers – at the core the team came first. While in the Red Bull garage the question of favoritism and inequality will again be omnipresent with seventeen races remaining this season.

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On assignment in PNG

SBS correspondent Kathy Novak reports from Papua New Guinea on the country’s eighth election, which is set to end months of political stalemate during which two men claimed to be prime minister.

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Friday July 6 – Voting deadline extended

Voting in Papua New Guinea’s general elections was due to wrap up today, but the deadline has been extended after bad weather and logistical problems caused delays in some provinces.

Sun July 1 – PNG deputy wants top job

While Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is on track to hold his seat in the southern highlands, his deputy minister Belden Namah could be his biggest competition.

Sat June 30 – Fears PNG will have no female MPs

Papua New Guinea enters its second week of elections, but with the only female MP in PNG retiring, there are fears no woman will be elected in her place.

Thur June 28 – I’ll make sure O’Neill’s jailed, Somare says

EXCLUSIVE: Former PNG prime minister and candidate Sir Michael Somare told SBS he will defeat incumbent PM Peter O’Neill at the election and that ‘Peter will go to jail’.

Mon June 26 – Hela province key to PNG future

The province of Hela is at the centre of Papua New Guinea’s economic future, but locals say they are missing out on their fair share from the boom.

Sat June 23 – PNG goes to the polls

It’s the first day of voting in Papua New Guinea in elections that will carry on for the next two weeks and monitors are expecting some violence and fraud.

Fri June 22 – O’Neill campaigns in PNG central highlands

Incumbent prime minister Peter O’Neill used the last day before the elections to campaign in Tari in the central highlands.

Wed June 20 – Security tightens ahead of PNG elections

Officers from the Australian Defence Force arrived to the Papua New Guinea Highlands – a region notorious for election-related violence – to help beef up security.

Tues 19 June – Poverty, disease key to PNG elections

For many voters, access to housing, transport and health care remain major challenges. And as PNG struggles with an HIV/AIDS epidemic, there are also concerns the election itself will spread more disease.


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Comment: Steps to lower computers, software prices

By Mark Gregory, RMIT University

Australians are paying about twice as much as they should for a range of tech products including computers, software and digital downloads.

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It’s time for the government to act to bring this shameful situation to an end, to stop foreign multinationals from ripping us off. But until then, people should take steps to lower the cost of buying tech products. How? Read on.

Choice report into high IT prices

The Australian consumer watchdog Choice made a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into IT Pricing last week. It found the cost of IT products to Australian consumers could not be justified and that price discrimination was a systemic problem.

The Choice report highlights that the high cost of IT products disadvantages all consumers and prevents Australian companies from competing in the digital economy. The flow-on effect was higher prices for everyone in Australia.

Choice reported that for one product – Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate with MSDN (New Subscription) – it would be cheaper to fly an employee to the US and back twice, and for this employee to purchase the product while overseas. The product’s retail monetary price difference is US$8,665.29 between Australia and the US.

Excuses made for high prices

Multinationals have argued that rental, labour and transportation costs, and the associated GST, cause the disparity. Another gem of a reason was the argument by foreign companies that Australia was a small market and therefore the cost of selling products here would be higher due to marketing costs.

The excuses are flimsy and transparently false. The Choice report states that these cumulative costs do not account for the doubling in prices for IT hardware and software. Digital downloads from some foreign multinationals are sold to Australians more than 50% higher than to US consumers.

Choice spokesman Matt Levey said:

Global companies [are] pricing these products at a point where they think people are going to buy it, regardless if that’s at parity with other countries.

They use a number of technological barriers to actually prevent Australians from accessing these products from parallel importing them and direct importing them from cheaper markets.

How to purchase directly from the USA

Many large US based online stores such as Lands End and L.L. Bean offer similar products to those available in Australia at quite amazing prices and provide international shipping.

But some companies utilise a range of practices to prevent international customers from purchasing directly from the USA. The company might reject the purchase based on the shipping address, the type of credit card used or because your computer is located in Australia.

Other factors you need to check on before making an international purchase are whether the product will work here and if the warranty will be supported.

To purchase directly from the USA it’s important to only use reputable mail forwarding companies and to read the fine print before any purchase. Mail forwarding has become a very competitive market so check competitor prices often.

To purchase directly from the USA follow these steps:

Register with a company that provides a USA address and mail forwarding. Examples are Shipito, MyUS, ForwardIt, and the Australian-based PriceUSA.

Register with an international payment provider that provides purchase insurance, such as PayPal.

If you wish to purchase on a site such as Ebay USA, set the USA address you have been provided with by the shipping company as your registered PayPal address and current shipping address.

Another hurdle to overcome is the use of geo blocking by websites such as Apple iTunes. Geo blocking is a recent move by global online stores to segment the world into markets and control access to products and pricing.

A recent article by Dan Warne on Australian Business Traveller provides a step by step guide on how to create a US iTunes account in Australia. Unfortunatel,y if you also have an Australian iTunes account or sync over multiple devices, you may need to log out of one account and in to the other when carrying out updates or making purchases.

Another approach is to purchase US iTunes gift cards and have them shipped to you from the USA. You cannot use Australian iTunes gift cards (available from stores such as Coles and Woolworths) on the US iTunes website.

Why the Australian government has to act

I have written in the past about the mobile phone data plan rip-off and the international roaming rip-off. The common theme here is that international multinationals consider Australia to be affluent and therefore a target for overpricing.

The Australian political mantra that free trade and low tariffs will be to the Australian consumer’s benefit is obviously not working.

Choice’s three recommendations to combat international price discrimination are:

1) Educate consumers through government initiatives so people know their rights when shopping online – particularly in relation to returns and refunds, accessing legitimate parallel imports from foreign markets, as well as privacy and security.

2) Investigation by the Federal Government into whether technological measures enabling suppliers to discriminate against Australian consumers, such as region-coding or identifying IP addresses, should continue to be allowed.

3) Keep the low-value threshold (LVT) exemption for GST and duty on imported goods unchanged at A$1,000.

It seems Choice has advocated a softly-softly approach to solving the problem of high IT prices in the hope that the Australian government may take baby steps toward solving this problem. I fully support what Choice is advocating, but Australians need to demand more urgent and immediate steps to stop multinationals from price gouging.

Further Reading:

Verizon Wireless vs Telstra: the great mobile rip-off continues Are Australian international roaming charges the greatest rip-off in history?

Mark Gregory does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.


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Sudan executes Darfur fighters

A seventh defendant, also from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), was jailed for 10 years, lawyer Tahani Abdelrahim said

Abdelrahim said the sentences will be appealed.

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The government announced two years ago that the seven were captured in West Darfur after a battle.

About 100 relatives of the accused attended the hearing at a downtown Khartoum court but everyone, including journalists, was ordered out for the sentencing by Judge Moutasim Tajalsir.

Abdelrahim said the accused stood and shouted in praise of JEM’s late leader Khalil Ibrahim as they heard the verdict.

“Khalil is a martyr. We are following his path,” she quoted them as saying.

Government forces said they killed Ibrahim in December. His brother took over as leader of the movement.

JEM spokesman Gibril Adam Bilal condemned the death sentences against its “prisoners of war” and called on the international community to ensure the punishment is not carried out.

One of those condemned to hang is from South Sudan.

More than 100 JEM rebels received the death penalty after the movement staged an unprecedented march to the outskirts of Khartoum’s twin city Omdurman in 2008 before being repulsed.

President Omar al-Bashir later remitted many of the sentences.

Bashir and Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein are wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes committed in Darfur.

In 2003, JEM and other rebels drawn from Darfur’s non-Arab tribes rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government. In response, the regime unleashed state-backed Janjaweed militia in a conflict that shocked the world and led to allegations of genocide.

Since then, much of the violence has degenerated into banditry.

The United Nations estimates that at least 300,000 people have died as a result of the Darfur conflict, while almost two million people remain displaced.

The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000.

Last year, the government signed a peace deal in Doha with an alliance of Darfur rebel splinter factions, but JEM and other key rebels refused to sign.

Instead, they and insurgents fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states formed the Sudanese Revolutionary Front to topple the regime they regard as unrepresentative of the country’s political, ethnic and religious diversity.


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Scientists push for nuclear power in Australia

A group of scientists and engineers has called on Australian political leaders to consider the introduction of nuclear power as an effective way of combating climate change.

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The call has come from the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. The Academy’s concerns have been backed by a number of scientists and engineers from countries across Europe.

As Darren Mara reports, many of them argue that fears over potential mishaps from nuclear power have been vastly overstated.

The President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Professor Allan Finkel, says he believes there has been a lot of unnecessary scaremongering around nuclear energy.

He says this has particularly been the case since the accident at the Fukushima reactor in Japan in 2011.

Hear this story in Italian

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Hear this story in Amharic

Dr Finkel says there were no deaths from nuclear radiation after the earthquake and tsunami and he believes the risk of radiation-linked cancers was near zero.

He believes nuclear technology is safe and could prove to be more effective than solar and wind power in reducing carbon emissions.

“In Australia, nuclear power would need to be eminently safe with minimal low grade waste and strict management of raw material at every stage. We would need a vigorous regulatory system and we would need to adopt internationally proven standard reactor designs. Perhaps we could even use small modular reactors of 300 megawats or less which are the sort that have been used in ships and submarines for nearly 60 years with an excellent safety record.”

That is a view shared by another scientist- Professor Ken Baldwin, who is the Director of the Energy Change Institute at the Australian National University in Canberra.

He believes Australia is at risk of falling behind other countries in the fight against climate change because its political leaders are not prepared to consider nuclear power.

“And if we cut ourselves off from a particular avenue to reducing this carbon dioxide in the world’s atmosphere, then we are essentially fighting the carbon challenge with one arm tied behind our backs (only partially). So that’s really the reason why we need to advance on all fronts simultaneously as hard as we can in order to fill that carbon gap and keep the carbon dioxide levels down to a reasonable level.”

Across Europe, a number of countries have relied upon nuclear power for decades.

The French government estimates three quarters of that country’s electricity is generated by nuclear energy.

Australian-born Dr Ron Cameron is the head of the Nuclear Development Division at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency in France.

Dr Cameron says he believes there would be clear long term economic and environmental benefits if Australia started building nuclear power plants.

“I think the debate around nuclear energy needs to happen and it needs to happen in Australia because of its really heavy reliance on fossil fuels which makes it difficult for Australia to say to other countries in the world, you need to control your emissions when it’s not taking leadership itself.

“So I think the low carbon argument is very strong. The argument of security of supply is very important and that’s where nuclear can help as well and the argument of affordability because Australian electricity prices are increasing rapidly and nuclear would provide a long-term stable electricity price.”

Another nuclear scientist from France, Dr Massimo Salvatores says the industry in his home country is closely monitored by independent safety authorities.

However he concedes that nuclear agencies have often struggled to explain their work to the general public.

“If you have the local people with you I think everything becomes much easier and much more under control. This has been, by the way, the experience in France, where the local population who have been the most informed and who get the most benefits from the installation of power plants in their area- they are the ones who are the most favourable and most in support of nuclear (power).”

Brisbane-based climate scientist, Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe says he believes political leaders need to confront public fears before there can be a sensible debate around nuclear energy in Australia.

He says he can relate to some of these fears, especially if plans were put forward for nuclear reactors in earthquake-prone areas.

“The concern people have I think is that when catastrophic events happen, the consequences if radio nuclear material is involved are much more serious than if it’s coal or gas or solar or wind. The nuclear waste problem is in principle solveable given enough political commitment and technical effort. But so far it hasn’t been solved 50 years into the nuclear power experiment.”

The concern over the disposal of nuclear waste is shared by environmental activist Natalie Wasley from the lobby group Beyond Nuclear Initiative.

She believes past experience has shown that the nuclear industry does not consult as effectively as it should with local communities over where to dump its waste material.

“In the last eight years, there has been a sustained community campaign in the Northern Territory to stop the federal government forcing its plans for a low to intermediate radioactive waste dump there. The government never asked Traditional Owners and local community members or at the time the Northern Territory Government about that proposal.

“That’s the sort of top-down secretive approach we see from governments all around the world in regards to nuclear facilities. It is very important that we do manage radioactive waste safely. As of yet, there is no high level radioactive waste facility operating anywhere in the world.”


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Breivik case shows ‘fine line between bad and mad’

By Arlie Loughnan, University of Sydney

One of the most high profile court decisions on “madness” and crime has concluded.

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In a unanimous decision, the Oslo District Court in Norway has convicted Anders Behring Breivik of the murder of 77 people in the streets of central Oslo and on the island of Utoya in July 2011.

As is well-known, Breivik faced trial for multiple counts of murder, following gun and bomb attacks resulting in mass killing of adults and children. Since his apprehension, Breivik has admitted planning and carrying out the killings, and is on record as saying that they were necessary to start a revolution aimed at preventing Norway from accepting further numbers of immigrants.

Breivik’s conviction was based on a finding that he was sane at the time of the killings. In a strange twist, the court’s verdict is a victory for the defence; they had been instructed by their client Breivik to argue that he was sane. The prosecution had argued that Breivik was insane.

The finding that Breivik was sane and the conviction means that he can be punished and he has been sentenced to 21 years in prison. It is possible that Breivik will be detained beyond that period, under a regime of preventative detention. This means Breivik may never be released. The seriousness of Breivik’s offences and the enormous harm they have caused seems to indicate that Breivik’s conviction and sentence will be well-received in Norway.

The issue in Breivik’s trial was whether he was criminally responsible for the killings. If he was insane at the time of killings, he was not criminally responsible. Criminal responsibility concerns the capacities of the accused. If an accused lacks the necessary capacities, he or she cannot be called to account for his or her actions in the context of a criminal trial.

The question of criminal responsibility goes beyond the issue of liability for an offence: it addresses the issue of whether the accused is someone to whom the criminal law speaks. Criminal responsibility lies at the heart of our criminal justice system.

It prompts us to where the line between “madness” and “badness” lies and to think about how to respond to offenders whose criminal responsibility is at issue.

Media reports indicate that Brievik has been examined by a total of 18 medical experts. Some of these experts concluded that he met the legal test of insanity, which, in Norway, requires that he acted under the influence of psychosis at the time of the crime. But Breivik himself disputed this diagnosis, claiming it is part of an attempt to silence him and stymie his message about “saving” Norway. Other medical assessments concluded Breivik was sane at the time of the offences, his actions motivated by extremist ideology not mental illness. The judges reached the same conclusion.

This difference of opinion among expert should not surprise us. Not only is the process of diagnosing a mental disorder complex, determining whether a disorder had a relevant effect on an individual at a specific point in time, is notoriously difficult. At what point, if any, does ideologically-driven fanaticism become “madness”?

It is tempting to think that Breivik’s crimes were so extreme that he had to be “mad”. How could he think he was performing a “duty” to his country, that such violence was “necessary”? According to this logic, the criminal acts tell us everything we need to know. And criminal responsibility appears to be a trade off between the severity of someone’s mental incapacity and the magnitude of harm resulting from their offence.

But, as a matter of law, in our system, responsibility and harm are separate matters. If an individual is not criminally responsible, the issue of the harm that their actions have caused must be dealt with by means other than punishment. Indeed, treatment for the relevant mental condition may be the most appropriate response when an individual is not criminally responsible.

If this seems too lenient, we must recall that it represents the flipside of a criminal justice system that works on the assumption that everyone is an independent agent, and, in a liberal democratic system, this assumption protects us from excessive paternalism on the part of the state. Our system requires that each individual accused of crime be respected as an autonomous subject of the law.

We must also recall that, even if an individual is not criminally responsible, legal options remain open. If Breivik had been found to be insane at the time of the killings, and not convicted of the offences with which he was charged, he could have been made the subject of a court order, which, in his case, would have seen him detained in a secure psychiatric unit inside a prison. This form of detention could have been just as long as any prison term.

If he had been tried here, and found not to be criminally responsible, Breivik could have been subject to detention – perhaps even indefinitely. But, in that case, our legal system’s response is not so much a moral condemnation of blameworthy conduct, but more forward-looking action aimed at avoiding further harm – to the individual and others – in the future.

The crucial difference with this response is that it is not based on the responsible subject otherwise at the heart of criminal law and process.

Arlie Loughnan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.


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Nuclear power ‘major issue’ in Japan poll

The future of nuclear power is shaping up as the major issue on voters’ minds ahead of national elections in Japan this week.

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It’s been just over 18 months since the tsunami and earthquake that killed thousands of people and triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

But even though nuclear power production is something many want stopped, the party on track to win the poll this Sunday is in favour of keeping the reactors.

Every Friday in front of the Japanese Prime Minister’s residence and Parliament, anti-nuclear protesters turn up to make their voices heard.

Some want whoever wins this Sunday’s election to close down the nuclear power plants immediately – others are worried about the economy.

“They say it’s not something that you can stop quickly. So while they say that you can’t stop it quickly, if you don’t plan on stopping it immediately then it just keeps getting put off. So I plan on supporting a party that says they will stop them immediately.”// “The economy is cooling down a bit. So on top of that if you then go and stop all the nuclear reactors then the economy will get even worse, so there’s the worry that it’s hard to stop all of a sudden.”

COMPLEX POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

This election will see around 1,500 candidates fielded by 12 parties or standing as independents campaign for the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament.

The two main parties are the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the DPJ, and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party or LDP.

Opinion polls have suggested the LDP is on course to return to government as the biggest party, but not with an outright majority.

Its leader, Shinzo Abe, has been Prime Minister before – for one year between 2006 and 2007.

On the sensitive issue of nuclear power, Shinzo Abe told a recent debate audience it’s not as simple as shutting down the plants.

“Assume that places like China continue with nuclear power, and only Japan stops. Then at that point if there’s an accident would Japan really be all right? Or for instance how to deal with spent nuclear fuel, this is a world-wide issue. In order for us to contribute to those issues, it’s necessary to preserve those with knowledge in Japan as well”.

Rikki Kersten is a former Australian diplomat in Japan and now a Professor of Modern Japanese Politics at the Australian National University.

She says the current ruling party, the DPJ, and the minor parties such as the Japan Future Party and Japan Restoration Party are all talking about phasing out nuclear energy.

But not the LDP.

“Only the LDP talks about consulting the experts before deciding what to do. But the electorate is unequivocally in favour of eliminating nuclear energy from Japan’s energy mix. I think what we’re going to see in this election is that parties are going to recognise the popular appeal of this platform, but that does not mean that after the election we are going to see a realisation of that policy.”

One prominent anti-nuclear voice is former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was leader of the DPJ at the time of the Fukushima disaster.

“If the Liberal Democratic Party does indeed manage to get a majority again and looks to really start restarting reactors again and make things as they were then that’s indeed something that I’d want to look to prevent or stop.”

Sophia University Associate Professor of political science Koiichi Nakano says the pro-nuclear camp – including the LDP, business groups and power companies – don’t want to debate the issue.

“They don’t particularly want to have a debate about that. They rather want to shelve the issue, pretend nothing much happened. And they won’t come out saying we are pro-nuclear, let’s continue. But instead they’ll say something like let’s wait for three year.”

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, the long-running dispute between China and Japan over a group of islands in the East China Sea has also featured in the debate.

Earlier this month, four Chinese government ships sailed into the territorial waters of disputed islands, known as Senkaku in Japan, and Diayu in China.

Japan is maintaining its claim to the islands.

The current Prime Minister is the DPJ’s Yoshihiko Noda.

“In order to peacefully and safely control them over the long term, we nationalised them. However unfortunately China is reacting emotionally to this. We plan on maintaining a strong stance towards this”.

Meanwhile, a senior government minister has come under fire for saying North Korea should “waste no time” in holding its planned rocket launch so he can get on with campaigning.

North Korea’s government announced last week that it would launch a rocket before the 22nd of December.

On a visit to his constituency in Osaka, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said government duties were limiting his time to campaign.

Asked by reporters when he would come home again to put his campaign in full swing, he replied that it would depend on when the North Korean missile goes up.

He went on to say, “It will be great if they waste no time and (just) send it up (soon).”

Opposition parties have taken advantage of his apparent gaffe to step up their attack on the DPJ, demanding Mr Fujimura’s resignation.

Rikki Kersten from the ANU says sensitive issues like this make the final election result impossible to predict.

“There’s a lot going on that causes the electorate to be perplexed. I think that things like the firing of the missile by the DPRK (North Korea), any developments over the Senkaku islands with China. These sorts of things at the last minute could swing the electorate in a particular direction”.


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Central African rebels near on capital

The rebels, who already have control of four other regional capitals in the centre and north of the country, faced no resistance as they entered the town of Sibut around 150 kilometres (95 miles) from Bangui, a military official told AFP.

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The streets of Bangui were deserted on Saturday night, according to an AFP journalist, after a curfew was imposed from 7:00 pm to 5:00 am (1800 GMT to 0400 GMT).

Many shops were being guarded by men armed with machetes. “The bosses fear looting so they are paying guards,” said one guard.

Officials on both sides said the rebels of the so-called Seleka coalition had also repelled army soldiers trying to recapture Bambari, a former military stronghold in the landlocked country, one of the world’s poorest despite vast mineral wealth.

A military official described “extremely violent” fighting over the town, with detonations and heavy weapons fire audible to witnesses some 60 kilometres away.

The rebel advance on Sibut, also a base for Chadian soldiers stationed in the country, forced government forces and their allies to retreat to Damara, 75 kilometres from Bangui and the last major town on the road to the southwestern capital.

“The rebels entered Sibut. There was no fighting, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) stationed there and the Chadian troops left the town last night (Friday) for Damara,” the military official told AFP.

Djouma Narkoya, a Seleka leader, claimed that the army suffered “losses” in the fighting for Bambari, while the rebel side had “one killed and three injured” in the fighting.

“We are continuing to progress,” he added.

Sibut residents arriving in Bangui said they saw around 60 Chadian and Central African army vehicles converging on Damara late Friday.

One of the towns under the control of the rebels, who launched their offensive in early December, is the garrison town and key diamond mining hub of Biraosince.

Former colonial power France, meanwhile, boosted its military presence to 400 on Friday with the deployment of 150 paratroopers to Bangui airport, and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) announced reinforcements.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stressed again on Friday that French troops were there only to protect French and European nationals, not fight the rebels.

Regional efforts to mediate a peaceful solution in the landlocked equatorial country were at a standstill.

A day after announcing that the rebels and the government had agreed to hold unconditional peace talks and that more regional troops would head to the country, ECCAS said no dates had been set for either move.

The bloc’s foreign ministers will meet again next Thursday “and that is when they will announce a date for the meeting in (the Gabonese capital) Libreville,” ECCAS’s communications director Placide Ibouanga told AFP, referring to talks between rebels and the government.

The coalition of three rebel movements known as Seleka — or the “alliance” in the Sango language — says the government has not fulfilled the terms of peace pacts signed in 2007 and 2001, providing for disarmament and social reintegration for insurgents, including pay.

Central African President Francois Bozize, who took power in a 2003 coup, has twice been elected into office.

Bozize’s appeals for help from France and from the United States to fight the rebels have fallen on deaf ears.

Neighbouring Chad, which has helped Bozize with rebellions in 2010, earlier sent a contingent to the country, however.

In Bangui, food prices have soared, further spiking tensions and uncertainty.

“I’m afraid of the rebels coming,” said vegetable vendor Euphrasie Ngotanga in the city’s huge Sambo market. “We’re not going to sell our produce if there’s no peace. And then how we will feed our children?”

“We don’t eat properly any more,” said another vendor, Angele Bodero, with her baskets full of condiments before her. “Cassava has become more expensive, everything costs more,” she said, referring to the country’s staple food.

A bag of cassava has risen nearly 50 percent from 13,000 CFA francs to 18,000 FCFA (19.80 to 27.40 euros, $26 to $32).


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Emotional Magnussen wins 100m world title

Australian James Magnussen put a year of pain behind him as he defended his world 100m freestyle title with an emotional victory in Barcelona.

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A year on from his heartbreaking defeat in the London Olympic final, Magnussen reasserted himself as the world’s fastest man as he clocked 47.71 seconds to win Thursday’s thrilling final.

After turning for home in fifth, the 22-year-old powered home in the late stages to beat Americans James Feigen (47.82) and Nathan Adrian (47.84), the man who beat him by one one-hundredth of a second in the Olympic final.

In a surprise result, Australian teenager Cameron McEvoy (47.88) was fourth after producing a huge PB.

Magnussen revealed he was almost too drained to celebrate after what had been a humbling year.

“It was really emotional,” Magnussen said.

“That last 15 metres, I really used the last 12 months of experiences that I’ve gone through.

“I was really aggressive towards the wall and I’m just stoked that I got there.

“I’ve put the last 12 months behind me now and I consider that race the start of my preparations for Rio.”

Magnussen said he was overwhelmed with the emotion of adding a second individual title to his 2011 triumph in Shanghai.

“The last 12 months has sort of kicked me down to the kerb,” Magnussen said.

“But I’ve worked so hard and my support team’s worked so hard.

“I think it’s a great reward for all my friends and family and support team who have stuck by me through what’s been a pretty terrible twelve months.”

McEvoy, 19, was thrilled after finishing ahead of title contenders including Russian Vladamir Morozov (48.01) and Frenchman Fabien Gilot (48.33).

“That was pretty unreal, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that before,” McEvoy said.


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Fijian play celebrates cross-cultural love

The story of love between two cultures is not an unfamiliar one.

南宁桑拿

But ground-breaking a New Zealand theatre company blends traditional Fijian culture and the magic of theatre in a bold new way.

Masi is an extraordinary show that has captivated audiences in New Zealand and Fiji, where it was the first professional theatre show to tour there.

Now it’s in Australia for the first time.

It’s a dance of two cultures. He, a Fijian high chief from the island of Kadavu; she, the daughter of Cambridge school masters.

“It’s a piece that explores loss and memory,” Nina Nawalowalo said, the show’s artistic director and actor.

“[It’s] what represents [the] identity of who we are.”

Nawalowalo, who also appears in the play, tries to recreate her parents’ love story, based on their meeting at a chess club in Wellington in the 1950s.

The story is told without words, using the magic of theatre.

The magic, coming from Harry Potter special effects designer, British illusionist Paul Kieve, who worked on the production.

The show also includes traditional Fijian male dancing, continuing the cultural heritage of Nina’s father in a new, contemporary light.

“You know, when you are another generation and then you are not born in that country and how you connect back to something that is not so familiar,” Nawalowalo said.

“But it may be familiar in your house.”

The dancers enjoy the opportunity to share their culture in a new setting.

“We’ve never come this far with traditional dancing, I mean as far as stage show is concerned,” Master Lai said, lead choreographer for the show and Fiji’s Kabu ni Vanua Dance group.

“It’s always been done in a traditional context. But it’s a great pleasure to see it step up into theatre co-production and now it’s opened up a lot of windows and doors. So, the sky’s the limit.”

The play takes its name from the traditional cloth of the South Pacific Islands, the geometric patterns reflecting the convergence of personal lives, and narratives.

Professional masi maker Ro Miriama is from an outer village in Fiji and is now a story-teller on stage.

“I’m proud to be a masi maker,” Miriama said. “I think its a very good experience for me to show masi to the audience because this come from my village.”

“I believe that it’s a universal story because we all hold onto things when we lose people, objects, things that are close to us,” Nawalowalo said.

“And Masi is something that was in our house when we grew up, we got gifted. And so it was a natural doorway and something when I lost my Dad that connects me to Fiji.”

While her parents died without seeing the play, their story of cross-cultural love lives on, bringing new life and possibilities to Fijian culture and story-telling.


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