Clint Eastwood’s Republican convention surprise

Hollywood tough guy Clint Eastwood made a bizarre cameo at the Republican convention, veering into a surreal conversation with an imaginary President Barack Obama represented by an empty chair.


His off-color and at times rambling performance spawned an immediate debate on the Twittersphere between Republicans, who broadly loved it, and Democrats who said the 82-year-old multiple Oscar winner had clearly lost his marbles.

A raucous roar went up from the thousands of delegates as Eastwood, looking frailer than the gunslinging cowboys he portrayed in his spaghetti Western heyday, stood onstage and grilled the imaginary Obama for failing to revive a flagging economy.

“I think possibly now it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem,” Eastwood said during an address in which he taunted Vice President Joe Biden and talked about the detention center at Guantanamo.

The Oscar-winning director of “Million-Dollar Baby” and star of Spaghetti Westerns like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” looked down several times at the empty chair, as if he was listening to Obama criticize Republican presidential nominee Romney, whom Eastwood has endorsed.

“He can’t do that to himself. You’re absolutely crazy!” the actor/director responded.

“You’re getting as bad as Biden. Biden is the intellect in the Democratic Party. It’s just kind of a grin with a body behind it.”

“And I thought, well closing Gitmo, why close that, we spent so much money on it. But, I thought maybe as an excuse — what do you mean shut up?” he said to laughter from the crowd.

Eastwood spoke about how he had been moved by Obama’s message of hope and change in 2008, but then grew disillusioned by failed policies and Obama’s inability to reduce the unemployment rate below eight percent.

“I think it may be time for, what do you think, maybe a businessman,” said Eastwood, referring to Romney, who became fabulously wealthy as a successful private equity investor.

“When somebody does not do the job, you’ve gotta let them go,” he said of Obama, as he then drew a finger sharply across his throat.

The awkwardness of Eastwood’s rant seemed magnified given that he was taking up a prime spot on the climactic day of the convention that nominated Romney as the challenger against Obama in the November 6 election.

But the Romney campaign insisted there was no harm, no foul.

“Judging an American icon like Clint Eastwood through a typical political lens doesn’t work,” a spokesperson for the campaign said in a statement.

“His ad-libbing was a break from all the political speeches, and the crowd enjoyed it.”

Clint’s 12-minute appearance exploded Twitter and other social media, where the fad suddenly slapped with the hashtag #Eastwooding” — in which people post photos of empty chairs — spread like wildfire.

Obama himself got into the act, tweeting “This seat’s taken” to his 19 million followers and attaching a link to a fundraising web page.

The social media commentary grew so fast, with tweets from celebrities and unknowns alike, that several websites compiled best-of lists of Eastwood remarks.

“I still like Clint Eastwood,” tweeted writer and comedian Frank Conniff (@FrankConniff).

“A crazy Republican talking to a chair is the least harm a crazy Republican has done in ages.”

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Syrian PM ‘defects to opposition’

Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab is joining the rebels in protest at the “genocide” President Bashar al-Assad is carrying out against his own people, his spokesman said, while state television reports Mr Hijab was sacked.


“I announce my defection today (Monday) from the regime of killing and terror, and I join the ranks of the revolt,” he said in statement read by his spokesman Mohammed al-Otri on Al-Jazeera news channel from Amman.

He said his defection comes at a time “when Syria is passing through the most difficult war crimes, genocide, and barbaric killings and massacres against unarmed citizens.”

Otri said the premier was in a “safe haven” with his family.

State television reported that Deputy Prime Minister and Local Government Minister Omar Ghalawanji had been appointed caretaker premier.

“Prime Minister Riad Hijab has been dismissed,” it said in a terse report.

According to the state-owned Tishrin newspaper, Hijab presided over two meetings at the local government ministry on Sunday to discuss “measures to redevelop areas that have been cleansed of armed terrorists.”

If confirmed, Hijab’s defection would be the highest-ranking of the 17-month uprising, and a new blow to President Bashar al-Assad, who has already seen no fewer than 31 of his generals cross the border into Turkey to join the rebellion and a growing number of his ambassadors break ranks.

Hijab was a leading Sunni Muslim in Assad’s minority Alawite-dominated government. His home province of Deir Ezzor in the northeast has been one of the key battlegrounds of the conflict and seen a mounting death toll from operations by the army in recent weeks.

The 46-year-old was only appointed on June 6 following a widely boycotted May 7 parliamentary election that was hailed as a centrepiece of reform by the Assad regime but dismissed as a farce by Arab and Western governments.

An agricultural engineer by training, Mr Hijab was agriculture minister under his predecessor government Adel Safar who was appointed in April 2011, shortly after the outbreak of the uprising.

“Riad Hijab has defected from the regime,” the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.

Abdel Rahman said there were conflicting reports on Hijab’s current whereabouts.

“Some sources say he has arrived in Jordan, others say he was arrested before making his escape,” said Abdel Rahman.

Reports of his defection emerged as the army readied a major ground assault against rebels in commercial capital Aleppo, who say they control half of the city of some 2.7 million people.

They also came as a bomb blast rocked Syrian state television headquarters in the heart of Damascus wounding several people just two days after the army said it had seized the last rebel-held area of the capital.

The morning bombing struck management offices on the third floor of the television building in the heavily protected Omayyad district of the capital.

“It is clear that the blast was caused by an explosive device,” said Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi. “Several of our colleagues were injured, but there were no serious injuries, and no dead.”

Pro-government television channel Al-Ikhbariya, which was itself the target of a deadly attack claimed by the rebel Free Syrian Army in June, broadcast footage of Zoabi inspecting the building’s third floor.

The walls were visibly damaged, water pipes broken, and electric cables hung down from the ceiling. Blood could also be seen on some of the furniture. The broadcaster showed volunteers evacuating a wounded man.

“Syria’s television is being targeted because of its bravery,” Zoabi said. “But nothing will stop the voice of Syria.”

On June 27, gunmen armed with explosives attacked the Al-Ikhbariya offices outside Damascus killing three journalists and four security guards.

On Saturday, rebel fighters attacked the state television building in Syria’s second city, Aleppo.

The same day, the Syrian Observatory reported that state television presenter Mohammed al-Saeed had been executed following an abduction claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front.

Posted on a forum featuring the Al-Qaeda flag, Al-Nusra’s statement showed a photograph of Saeed looking frightened with his back against a wall in an unknown location.

“May this be a lesson to all those who support the regime,” it said.

In Aleppo, the army bombarded a string of rebel neighbourhoods after government security officials said that troops had completed their build-up and that a 20,000-strong force was poised for a ground assault.

A rebel commander was killed in the Salaheddin district in the southwest, and troops shelled the Palace of Justice, as well as the Marjeh and Shaar districts, the Syrian Observatory said.

A total of nine people were killed in Aleppo early on Monday, among them eight civilians, the watchdog.

A senior security official said on Sunday that the army had completed its deployment of reinforcements to Aleppo, ready for a decisive showdown.

“All the reinforcements have arrived and they are surrounding the city,” the official said. “The army is ready to launch its offensive, but is awaiting orders.”

Elsewhere in Syria, the Observatory reported another 19 deaths early Monday — 13 civilians and six rebels.

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How will we remember this election in 100 years’ time?

By Timothy Lynch, University of Melbourne

President Obama addresses a rally in Concord, New Hampshire.


With just days to the election he looks likely to win a second term. EPA/CJ Gunther

I recommend David Malet’s excellent breakdown of what to expect on Tuesday (either side of noon on Wednesday, Australian time). I agree that it looks like Obama. He has more routes to the 270 electoral college votes than does Romney. “Mittmentum” slowed after the presidential debates. His performance in the first one remade the Governor’s campaign but did not decisively shift the maths in his direction. President Obama has an 83 per cent chance of winning, Romney only 16. These numbers have never been less than 60:40. Those holding a candle for a Romney have a very small, flickering flame.

On the basis that I have never met a poor bookie, and barring some remarkable event in the final 48 hours (including most pollsters being in error), Obama will become a two-term president. Republican-leaning editorials – which delighted in Romney’s rise in middle-October – are now written more in hope than expectation. For an example of going out on a limb see Michael Barone’s swing-state-by-swing-state estimate of a Romney victory and Janet Daley’s claim that there are Republicans out there who have been systematically hiding their voting intentions from pollsters – possible but very, very unlikely. Believing that the election is close only makes us “stupider”, said Paul Krugman.

Instead of predicting the winner and his margin – which is increasingly the preserve of a polling technocracy – we might consider how far the result matters at all. Are we reaching the end of one of the most or least important campaigns in American history? Obama’s victory four years ago was supposed to begin a transformation of US and global politics. That has not happened – at least not along the lines Obama contended. We will not remember his election as the Revolution of 2008. If anything, we are now seeing the Reality of 2012.

In the last four years the pattern of the preceding forty continued. At home and abroad, President Obama has been subject to enduring structures and realities; he has not been a key agent of their demise. For sure, his personal credentials – history, family, race, and style – altered some of the optics of the US government. It remains testament to his nation’s desire for and embrace of transformation – if not its actual capacity to so do – that within eight years of 9/11, a majority gave the presidency to the son of a Kenyan Muslim with two Arab names. “I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” He has yet to make a speech to match the power of the one from which this central claim is drawn.

But did his presidency really transcend politics as usual? I think the answer is a clear “no”. These arguments are by now well-rehearsed. Lacking executive experience (okay, except running the Harvard Law Review), Obama struggled to tame the office. His initial appointments – Rahm Emanuel for example – tried to create the illusion of toughness to cover the fact that Obama just wasn’t tough. He was/is no Lyndon Johnson. He twisted not a single Republican arm to secure passage of Obamacare. Of course, GOP intransigence played some role in this. But candidate Obama promised to restore bipartisanship if not create a “post-partisan” politics. Instead, his governing style and especially his campaigning rhetoric has become boilerplate Democratic.

If continued political competition at home was not ameliorated by the force of Obama’s story how about abroad? Was he the un-Bush of leftist (and not a few conservative) hopes? Hardly. He’s given us a competent and cheaper version of the Bush Doctrine. It is one which ends wars (in Iraq), keeps Guantanamo Bay open (because it serves a national security purpose) and kills the real bad guys (Osama bin Laden most gratifyingly).

The rogue opponents he inherited from Bush (which Bush inherited from Clinton) remain. Count them. Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela. Russia and China did not amend their national interests to reflect Obama’s experiment in soft power. They remain strategic competitors. His unilateral multilateralism – offering open hands without the requirement that fists unclench first – was no more successful than Bush’s cowboy unilateralism (and that was at best a caricature). Indeed, Obama’s Muslim war (in Libya) was waged in a smaller coalition than Bush’s (in Iraq).

A President Romney was (is) likely to be subject to similar domestic and foreign constraints. His track record in Massachusetts (essentially a one-party Democratic state) does suggest, however, a greater capacity to get things done on a bi-partisan basis. Abroad, Romney wanted a tougher version of Obama’s approach (itself, a Bush Doctrine in sepia). During the last presidential debate on foreign policy they were on the same page, differing stylistically not substantively.

So if this election does matter and will count in history it is for something other than foreign policy, national security and counter-terrorism. Where might its historical salience reside? 2012 will not stand alone. Rather, in 100 years’ time academics may well recall it as one in a series of contests – perhaps the last – that pitted against each other two contrasting notions of America’s future, though they are often misunderstood.

The first accepts that national power should be increased in proportion to the demands of fairness and equality. The second accepts the utility of such power, will extend it, but has a conscience about doing so. Ever since the 1960s redefined the relationship between citizen and state, presidents of both parties have used the federal government to realise “progress”. In the 1970s, Richard Nixon gave America the Environmental Protection Agency and institutionalised affirmative action. In the following decade, Ronald Reagan, claiming government was the problem, nevertheless increased its spending on welfare (from $106.1 billion in 1980 to $173 billion in 1988) and defence (from $325.1 billion to $456.5 billion).

The last two-term Republican, George W. Bush, spent prodigiously (on foreign wars and national education reform) all while increasing spending on welfare. It was the Democrat Bill Clinton who initiated welfare reform and balanced the budget.

So 2012 is not a battle between big and small government candidates (as Charles Krauthammer argues), between Obama’s European welfare state and Romney’s rugged individualism. Instead, it would be more accurate to see the election as another, and perhaps the last, contest between those who openly embrace the beneficence of big, expansive government and those that have a conscience about that expansion (big government conservatives) – but commit to it nonetheless.

The debt crisis facing the United States may well render 2012 the last year in which candidates could pretend that the spending patterns and expansion of government of the last forty years could continue. 2012 will presage a reality we can believe in.

Timothy Lynch 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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Suu Kyi to boycott Burma’s parliament

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who spent much of the past two decades locked up by the former junta, had been set to make her debut in parliament on Monday after her party’s decisive win in by-elections earlier this month.


But her party’s newly elected members are refusing to take the swearing-in oath that requires them to uphold the constitution, which was drawn up by the country’s former military rulers, a party spokesman said Friday.

It is the first sign of serious discord between Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and the reformist regime since April 1 by-elections that gave the former political prisoner her first-ever seat in parliament.

The authorities have rejected the NLD’s appeal to change the wording of the swearing-in oath from “safeguard” to “respect” the constitution.

The party will write to the presidential office to ask the authorities to reconsider, but a resolution to the row is unlikely in time for the opening of parliament on Monday, said party spokesman Nyan Win.

“As today is the 20th, I don’t see any possibility to go in time,” he told reporters at the party headquarters.

President Thein Sein is on a visit to Japan, where he is set to hold talks with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who is reportedly set to announce that Japan will forgive Burma’s $3.7 billion debt and resume financial assistance.

During the five day trip, which began on Friday, Thein Sein is to meet business leaders and visit power plants, as well as attend a summit of Japan and five Mekong Delta nations — Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.

Burma, which languished for decades under a repressive junta, has announced a series of reforms since a controversial 2010 election brought a civilian government to power — albeit one with close links to the military.

The regime has freed hundreds of political prisoners, welcomed Suu Kyi’s party back into mainstream politics and signed tentative peace deals with a number of rebel groups, although fighting still rages in the far north.

Observers say the regime needs Suu Kyi in parliament to bolster the legitimacy of its political system and spur an easing of Western sanctions.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has said one of her priorities will be to push for an amendment of the 2008 constitution, under which one quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for unelected military officials.

The NLD secured 43 of the 44 seats it contested in this month’s elections, becoming the main opposition force in a national parliament that remains dominated by the military and its political allies.

The vote was largely praised as a step towards democracy by the international community, and Western nations are beginning to lift or suspend sanctions on Burma to encourage reforms.

European Union diplomats told AFP Thursday that the 27-nation bloc had reached an agreement in principle to suspend all sanctions against the country formerly known as Burma, except for an arms embargo, for a year.

The announcement came days after Suu Kyi and British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a joint call for the suspension of the measures after landmark talks in Yangon.

On Wednesday the NLD said Suu Kyi planned to visit Britain and Norway as part of her first trip outside Burma in 24 years.


DATELINE:YANGON, April 20, 2012 (AFP) –

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Tonight’s Dateline: America Votes

Tonight at 9.


30 on SBS ONE, as American voters wake up and head for the polls, Mark Davis and Yalda Hakim host a live edition of Dateline from the United States with insight and opinion from both experts and voters.

Nowhere demonstrates the close-run race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney more than Ohio… whoever wins there is expected to secure the keys to the White House. Mark Davis goes off the beaten track to talk to grassroots voters on both sides of the political divide about who they’re voting for and why.

Mark also presents the program from Washington DC, where he leads a feisty panel discussion with commentators and insiders locking horns over the key election issues for the Democrats and Republicans.

Yalda Hakim hosts from Obama’s home city of Chicago, where she visits some of the toughest neighbourhoods to find out what happened to the President’s promise to change America. Have their lives improved over his four year term?

And Aaron Lewis reports from Pennsylvania… another key state in the race. Four years ago, Dateline spoke to customers in a typical American diner as Barack Obama and John McCain faced the polls. Now we return to hear about the issues affecting their lives and to see who gets their support this time.

Throughout Tuesday’s program, Mark will also be getting more insight from the outspoken Arnie Arnesen, political commentator and a regular face in Dateline’s coverage of US elections. What does she make of it all?

See this in-depth preview of the hotly anticipated election tonight at 9.30pm on SBS ONE, and read more now on the Dateline website.

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Comment: Unpacking the ‘no advantage’ myth

By Kerry Murphy, Australian National University

In August 2012, the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers created a new myth in the language of asylum seekers and refugees.


That was the idea of “the no advantage principle”. It is a variation on the “refugee queue’ myth and is taking on a life of its own. This is because the Government is struggling to explain the fiction of “no advantage” as a fact.

In the Panel Report at 3.49- 3.50 it states:

3.49 Other IMAs not in need of moving to Australia would remain in Nauru until their refugee status is determined and resettlement options are finalised.

3.50 Irrespective of whether IMAs stay in Nauru for the period of their status determination or are moved to Australia, the same principle would apply to all. Their position in relation to refugee status and resettlement would not be advantaged over what it would have been had they availed themselves of assessment by UNHCR within the regional processing arrangement.

Thus the myth begins. The problem is there is no processing time for refugee cases anywhere on the planet. The case takes the time it takes. The reason why some wait years for resettlement is not due to any “queue” or “no advantage test” but simply about quotas. Australia has now increased the total program to 20,000 places, onshore and offshore together. So when the number of visas to be issued is reached in a certain year, other cases are left in an administrative storage until the next visa year begins.

The number of visas and the allocation to various regions can vary from year to year. Some years the priority has been on African cases, sometimes on the Middle East. It is not as if you receive a number and wait for your number to be called. Refugee A’s case may be identified to be in urgent need of resettlement due to the facts of the case, so A may be resettled more quickly than B who arrived at the UNHCR office the same day. Then the next year, C is resettled before B because C is from a minority at high risk due to the new circumstances in the country.

Whatever happens, there is a certain arbitrariness in the process which is why some people come on a boat because they believed that at least their case would be looked at sooner. Hence the “no advantage myth” was created to punish such people. The Minister is unable to say how long the waiting time will be, simply because there are no criteria for working that out.

The “no advantage myth” is now part of the deterrence strategy. It characterises the refugee who comes by boat as bad and makes them wait for an unknown period. You will wait in a tortuous limbo in Nauru or on Manus Island – Australia’s neo colonial centres for refugee warehousing. Or maybe you will wait in Australia on a restrictive bridging visa with no permission to work, wondering when the knock on the door will come and you will be shunted off to Nauru. At least the Temporary Protection Visa (TPV), for all its faults, allowed people to work and look after themselves.

Meanwhile the Opposition is working itself up into a lather over the numbers arriving. The main difference between the Government and Opposition policies is the TPV, everything else – Nauru, offshore processing, Manus Island, is the same. The TPV was introduced in October 1999 and after it was introduced, there was a spike in arrivals, not a decline. There is no objective evidence to support the view that the TPV had any impact on “stopping the boats”.

All the reports on it refer to the serious mental health deterioration it caused while refugees awaited their fate and a chance to reunite with families from whom they had been separated for years.

A flaw in the debate is the focus on ‘stopping the boats’ a main plank in the political debate and also the Panel Report. This is a complex area for policy, and simplistic solutions that fit into 30 second news bytes fail to respect the human rights issues or dignity of all the people involved in this area.

Good policy requires a balance to be struck between competing demands. Good policy does not cave into the populist chant which will only require Governments to become crueller in their treatment of people.

One other aspect of the Panel Report that is more realistic but harder to implement is the call for a regional solution. This is longer term and involves good political will from countries in the region, few of whom have signed the Refugee Convention or other Human Rights Conventions. This process will take a long time, which makes it unattractive to the 24hour news and 3 year election cycles.

Policy development will take longer, and not be the instant reactive policies we have seen in this area since 1989. Meanwhile the conditions for the refugees predictably deteriorate and become more complex and uncertain.

Kerry Murphy is in private practice as a solicitor doing migration cases.

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Australia 0-132 at lunch against Sussex

Phil Hughes made the most of an early life to scratch his way to a valuable half century in Australia’s tour match against Sussex at Hove.


Ed Cowan also has 50, with the opening pair batting through the first session to get Australia to 0-132 at lunch on day one of the three-day fixture.

With David Warner smashing 193 for Australia A this week, there is plenty of pressure on Hughes (70no) and the other batsmen to perform and cement their spot for the third Test at Old Trafford starting next week.

Cowan (57no), who is captaining the side in the absence of Michael Clarke, is fighting to win his place back for Manchester after being dropped for the second Test at Lord’s.

Coach Darren Lehmann wants batsmen scoring big hundreds, and there are no excuses for the Australians against an attack that’s not throwing a lot at them, and on a tiny field with a lightning-fast outfield.

After Australia won the toss, it wasn’t convincing from Hughes early on, but importantly he survived.

He was dropped at second slip in the seventh over off the bowling of Chris Jordan when he was on 22.

Sussex fast bowler Jordan (0-39) had his measure for much of the first 10 overs.

Hughes edged past the slips on a number of occasions and was lucky to miss a few pokes outside his off stump.

But before lunch he started to find his groove, and has 11 boundaries.

So far this Ashes tour, Hughes has batted in every position in the top six.

Versatility-wise it’s good for the 24-year-old that he’ll be considered anywhere in the line-up, but it also reflects his vulnerability.

Hughes made a mature 81 not out in the first innings at Trent Bridge, playing an assist role to Ashton Agar.

But since then he’s looked ordinary in making 0, 1 and 1.

Cowan had a few sketchy moments early, but settled in nicely to find the fence eight times.

The 31-year-old looked more content to bat time, unlike his rash moments at Trent Bridge.

Pressure will be on Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith who are due in at No.3 and 4.

Both have a half century each from the first two Tests, but their positions are far from sewn up.

Former England spinner Monty Panesar had figures of 0-35 from nine overs and holds out hope of playing Ashes cricket if Graeme Swann gets injured or the home side decide to play two spinners at any stage.

Australia selected 20-year-old Ashton Turner to make his first-class debut.

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North Korea dismisses talk of reform

Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, took the reins of power in December following the death of his father, longtime ruler Kim Jong-Il.


Speculation of impending change was fuelled earlier this month when the communist regime sacked prominent military chief Ri Yong-ho and replaced him with a little known general and promoted Jong-Un to the top military post of Marshal.

The secretive nation also made a rare announcement last week that the young ruler is married, in a major departure from the past when the private lives of his predecessors were kept under wraps.

Seoul commentators claimed the changes may have been implemented to set the stage for possible efforts by Swiss-educated Kim to open up the country to political or economic reforms.

But a spokesman for the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which is in charge of cross-border affairs, blasted such hopes as “ridiculous” and “ignorant” in an interview with state-run KCNA on Sunday.

“The puppet group (the South)… tried to give (the) impression that the present leadership of the DPRK (North Korea) broke with the past. This is the height of ignorance,” he said.

“To expect policy change and reform and opening from the DPRK is nothing but a foolish and silly dream, just like wanting the sun to rise in the west.”

He also accused Seoul of trying to impose its capitalist system upon the North by “trumpeting reform and opening”, adding, “there cannot be any slightest change in all policies” of the communist state.

Kim inherited from his father an economy in ruins after decades of mismanagement, and a malnourished population dependent on foreign food aid.

Educated in the West, he has been seen as potentially more receptive than his father to undertaking sweeping reforms which would open up the nation’s crumbling economy.

However, the International Crisis Group (ICG) thinktank said last week that there was nothing to suggest that Kim would take measures to improve the lot of his impoverished people in the isolated state.

The Brussels-based ICG said that economic reform — however necessary to the country’s wellbeing — would contradict the centrally-planned system espoused by Kim’s father and grandfather.

Inter-Korea ties have been particularly icy since the South’s conservative leader Lee Myung-Bak took office in 2008, repeatedly urging the North to reform and saying reunification was imminent, despite complaints from Pyongyang.

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Afghans ‘met Taliban leader in Pakistan jail’

The representatives visited Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a powerful Taliban military chief who has been described as the insurgents’ second in command, and discussed peace negotiations with him, the official said.


Baradar, whose 2010 arrest in Pakistan was blamed for sabotaging peace initiatives, is the most important Taliban leader held in prison and was known as a trusted aide to the militants’ elusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

“Afghan government officials and members of Afghan embassy in Pakistan held secret talks with him (Baradar) in prison two months ago in Pakistan,” Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council told AFP.

“They talked to him about peace negotiations.

“The Afghan government has also asked the Pakistani authorities to release him because he has shown interest in peace talks with the government of Afghanistan,” Qasimyar said.

At the time of his arrest the Afghan government and the former UN envoy to Afghanistan said his detention had adversely affected efforts to talk to the insurgents in a bid to end the decade-long war.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry confirmed Friday that it was in talks with Afghanistan on Baradar’s release, but a senior security official told AFP that no decision had been reached to free him.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has long sought to negotiate with the Taliban but the Islamist militia has in public refused to deal with his administration, branding it an American puppet.

Earlier this year the Taliban also announced they had abandoned contact with US officials aimed at securing a prisoner swap as a first step towards peace talks in the Gulf state of Qatar.

Pakistan has said it will do anything required by Kabul to support an Afghan-led peace process, but there is a wide degree of scepticism in Afghanistan and the United States about the sincerity of the former Taliban ally.

The United States leads a 130,000-strong NATO force against the Taliban, who were toppled from power in a 2001 invasion for harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

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Soward to stay in London

Playmaker Jamie Soward has promised to stay on and help London Broncos restore some pride in the remaining weeks of the Super League season.


The struggling Broncos signed the Australian on a short-term contract in June with a hope he could propel them into the Challenge Cup final.

Those dreams were ruthlessly shattered by Wigan as the Londoners, who have endured a torrid league campaign, were thrashed 70-0 in their semi-final at Leigh Sports Village.

That led some cynics to suggest Soward, who is joining Penrith Panthers next season after being released by St George-Illawarra Dragons earlier this year, may not see out the season in the capital.

The 28-year-old insists that will not be the case.

He told Press Association Sport: “No, I’m not that kind of person.

“We were pretty embarrassing, I’m embarrassed – we had prepared good all week.

“But we’ll go home and prepare for Leeds on Thursday.

“It’s about respect now, trying to get some respect and pride back in the jumper.

“For all the people here, the owner David (Hughes), trying to show them some pride for the next couple of weeks.

“It’s not even about getting off the bottom of the table, just playing for pride.”

London have won just three of their 22 Super League fixtures this season and are three points off Salford at the bottom of the competition.

Problems surfaced in June when captain Craig Gower quit the club and his replacement as skipper, homegrown product Tony Clubb, recently said he also wanted to leave because he was “sick of losing”.

This has come against a backdrop of poor attendances at the Twickenham Stoop and uncertainty over where the club will be located next season.

Once again, there have also been questions over whether the whole concept of a Super League team in London is viable, particularly with the competition considering a restructure.

Soward, even though he will not be there next season, feels that attitude is much too defeatist.

He said: “For England to compete against Australia consistently you have got to grow the game.

“There is no point having it all up north, you have to have it everywhere.

“It is easy to say London finished last (get rid of them), but how are you going to beat Australia and be competitive?

“There are some good youngsters here, and this is part of the experience.

“Wigan are a well established club with lots of depth and they showed how to play for 80 minutes.”

Aside from some good possession early on, the error-prone Broncos were never in the contest against the Warriors, conceding 12 tries to suffer defeat by a record margin in a Challenge Cup semi-final.

Pat Richards set an individual record by scoring 30 points with 11 goals and two tries.

Soward said: “The first 15 was how we wanted to start but when you play against a good side like that you can’t play like that – penalties, missed tackles. We’re all guilty of it.

“It snowballed after that.

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