Crowe protects Steve Irwin’s legacy

Australia’s own gladiator

In an interview during US prime time on the David Letterman show, Crowe said he was trying to save the area in memory of his Wildlife Warrior friend who died in 2006.


“He’s (Irwin) not here to stand up for himself and I just feel, as his friend, that we can’t do nothing,” Crowe said on The Late Show.

“It is a global irresponsibility to do that. I made an offer to the Environment Minister (Peter Garrett) to have a talk about it, but he hasn’t bothered to respond.”

Crowe explained the Wenlock River operated as a water filter and was home to some unique plant and animal species.

His plea added more than 13,000 signatures to an online petition for the “Save Steve’s Place” campaign, taking the total number of signatures to 135,000.

A spokeswoman for the Irwin family’s Australia Zoo said Steve’s widow, Terri Irwin, and others associated with the fight were thankful for Crowe’s support.

Cape Alumina has been conducting environmental studies on the site after winning a court battle to access about 15 per cent of the 135,000-hectare reserve.

The reserve on Queensland’s Cape Yorke Peninsula was purchased by an Irwin family company, Silverback Properties, after Irwin’s death.

Terri Irwin has strongly condemned the planned mine and says it will destroy a pristine environment, including the Wenlock River.

Cape Alumina chief executive officer Paul Messenger said while Crowe was entitled to an opinion, not all of what he said was correct.

“I think Steve Irwin had many friends and some of them are high-profile people who are entitled to their opinion,” he said.

“But it is important to remember that we are not planning to mine the river or affect the river at all. We have no plans to mine any wetland areas.”

Mr Messenger said Cape Alumina had permission to mine the land about three years prior to Mrs Irwin being granted the reserve and said he expected operations to get under way in 2013.

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Inflation figures rule out rate cuts

The latest inflation figures have fallen below forecasts but are likely to put a halt to further interest rate cuts, according to leading economists.


Inflation rose 0.1 per cent in the March quarter, for an annual inflation rate of 2.5 per cent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Market economists had expected today\’s figures to reveal an annual rate of 3.9 per cent.

ICAP economist Adam Carr said the rise meant the Reserve Bank of Australia would hold off on a rate cut for the next few months.

“The trims and the weighted median are both one per cent plus,” he said.

“For an economy that\’s slowing we really should be seeing core inflation going in the other direction.”

“I don\’t think it will spark alarm bells, but in my view it rules out a near term rate cut.”

UBS senior economist Matthew Johnson said: “I think the RBA still have confidence that things will come down in due course,” he said.

“It\’s not going to encourage them to cut rates any faster.”

“The last thing the central bank wants is for inflation to be too high when recovery starts.

“This number definitely tells me they will be on hold for a little while.”

ANZ senior economist Katie Dean said higher than expected core inflation presented a mixed bag for markets.

“In terms of headline numbers, they were brought down significantly by a few very large movements in one off items,” he said.

“They weren\’t necessarily evidence of disinflation.

“It was a mixed bag for markets.”

She said markets would price out a rate cut in May because of the rise, but rate cuts down the track were still a possibility.

“It doesn\’t stand in the way of further interest rate cuts,” she said.

“But the fact that core inflation is still stubbornly high in the short term won\’t be a concern to the RBA, who are more forward looking.”

We\’re confident that as domestic demand eases, inflation will continue to ease from here.

In the short term, the market might price out the chance of a rate cut in May.

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South African elections underway

Ruling party chief Jacob Zuma is confident that he will win by a wide margin in polls which have just opened for South Africa’s fourth general election.


More than 23 million South Africans are registered to vote and some like Ntombi Mthetho have already cast their ballots.

“I came here at 12 midnight because I wanted to be the first in line so that I can go back home and listen to the radio to see how the party I voted for is doing,” the 46-year-old told AFP in Johannesburg.

Landslide predicted

Polls predict Mr Zuma\’s African National Congress (ANC) will take 67 per cent of the vote, virtually guaranteeing his position as president when parliament meets in May to elect a new head of state.

The 67-year-old former anti-apartheid activist has brushed aside concerns that his campaign has been dented by recent corruption charges.

Charges against him were dropped only two weeks ago, but Mr Zuma says he’s confident of a “huge and decisive mandate” and has defended his integrity by denying claims there “clouds” around him.

Zuma’s campaign

While Mr Zuma is revered by the poor, he is distrusted by the middle class because of his tainted image and fears over strong ties to the ANC\’s leftist partners.

He was jailed for a decade alongside former president Nelson Mandela and has campaigned on themes of anti-corruption and good governance.

“We reiterate that we will use our majority responsibly and will not ride roughshod over the rights of the people, or bulldoze other parties into submission,” he said.

Zuma’s presidential bid received a major endorsement when 90-year-old Mandela made a rare public appearance at a mass rally in Johannesburg on the weekend.

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Who\’s who in South Africa\’s elections

South Africa\’s elections have seen the scrappiest, personality-driven election campaign in 15 years of democracy.


With Jacob Zuma a presidential shoo-in, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is offering voters a familiar surname worth ballot gold – anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela\’s grandson and former wife are both on the party\’s candidate list.

Under South Africa\’s voting system, a high rank on the party lists indicates greater likelihood of a choice spot in cabinet or parliament.

Here\’s a brief overview of some of the leaders:

Chief Mandla Mandela

Nelson Mandela\’s grandson, the first Mandela to become a traditional leader in some 70 years, is on the party\’s list to become a member of parliament.

The young Mandela holds a degree in political science and has twice campaigned publicly for Zuma at his grandfather\’s side, giving the party a welcome moral boost.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Nelson Mandela\’s hugely popular former wife, known as the “Mother of the Nation”, is number five on the ANC\’s national list despite a fraud conviction.

Banished, jailed and tortured by the apartheid state, the fiery anti-apartheid heroine\’s reputation was clouded by a guilty verdict in 1991 for the kidnapping of a young activist who was later found murdered. A prison sentence was reduced to a fine on appeal.

She remains one of the country\’s most popular figures despite not being involved in formal politics since 2003.

Trevor Manuel

One of the country\’s longest-serving ministers, Manuel\’s steering of the finance portfolio has earned him international kudos and he is seen by investors as vital to a stable economy.

Speculation of the finance chief\’s resignation in the wake of former president Thabo Mbeki\’s axing sent shockwaves through the markets.

Manuel is number four on the ANC national list after Zuma, current President Kgalema Motlanthe and Deputy President Baleka Mbete.

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang

An Mbeki loyalist, the former health minister\’s leadership of the country\’s AIDS crisis saw HIV infections balloon to the world\’s highest. She is 24 on the ANC party list.

Tshabalala-Msimang was dubbed “Dr Beetroot” for proposing lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and beetroot over anti-retrovirals as treatments. Lack of the critical drugs has been blamed for more than 300,000 premature deaths.

Helen Zille

Leader of the official opposition and mayor of Cape Town, Zille has campaigned relentlessly to win black voters and ditch the party\’s dogged image as being elitist and white.

Zille is the Democratic Alliance\’s candidate for premiership of the Western Cape which the party is expected to win.

A former political journalist, Zille exposed the details of the police-custody death of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko.

Mvume Dandala

A surprise presidential candidate for the Congress of the People (COPE) whose breakaway was hailed as the ANC\’s biggest election challenge, the little-known Dandala is a former bishop of Methodist Church in Southern Africa.

Dandala, who married Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel in 1998, has impressive anti-apartheid and peace resolution credentials and is seen as trustworthy.

But questions remain if he has the political aggression to woo voters from Zuma\’s charisma and the ANC\’s unchallenged dominance in post-apartheid South Africa.

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Khmer boss thanks Jesus for his arrest

Former Khmer Rouge prison chief \’Duch\’ has told Cambodia\’s UN-backed war crimes court Jesus Christ guided journalists to track him down, leading to his arrest.


Duch, a born-again Christian, apologised last month at the start of his trial, accepting blame for overseeing the extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the regime\’s Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21.

As he sat in the dock wearing a white polo shirt, he recounted how journalists Nic Dunlop and Nate Thayer interviewed him at a hotel in a western Cambodian town in 1999.

“I told Nic Dunlop: \’Christ brought you to meet me\’. Nic Dunlop quoted those words and those are the words I spoke to him,” Duch said.

“I said: \’Before I used to serve human beings, but now I serve God\’.”

Dunlop found Duch hiding in a western Cambodian town in 1999 and later wrote a biography of the former prison chief.

Duch – whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav – told the court he confessed his role in the 1975 to 1979 regime after hearing Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot state that Tuol Sleng prison never existed.

“I could not bear what Pol Pot said, so I had to show my face,” Duch said.

“For S-21, I was the chairman of that office. The crimes committed at S-21 were under my responsibility,” he added.

Although Duch says he oversaw the brutal prison, he has maintained he never personally executed anyone and has only ever admitted to abusing two people.

The former maths teacher has also denied prosecutors\’ claims that he played a central role in the Khmer Rouge\’s iron-fisted rule.

He faces life in jail at the court, which does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, and many believe the UN-sponsored tribunal is the last chance to find justice for victims of the regime, which killed up to two million people.

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Aussies give credit cards a break

Consumers are increasingly shunning credit cards and using debit cards instead to pay for purchases as they err on the side of financial responsibility because of the economic slowdown, MasterCard Australia says.


MasterCard Australia executive vice-president, Australasia, Eddie Grobler said the company was noticing a change in the way consumers chose to pay for items.

“We\’ve seen a change in terms of behaviour,” Mr Grobler told AAP after an address at the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia.

Unlike a credit card where the user goes into debt after a purchase, debit cards can only operate if there is sufficient funds in the card account to finance a purchase.

“There is a slowdown in credit card usage but we\’ve also witnessed an increase in usage of our debit card products,” Mr Grobler said.

“It seems to me the consumer is more comfortable to access (their) own funds now.”

Mr Grobler said Australia would eventually become a cashless society, with all purchases being made by card.

“We are currently still a cash-dominated society, where 70 percent of all payments in the retail environment are done by cash.

“Over a period of time we will move to become a less cash-based society and eventually, over time, to a cashless society.”

Mr Grobler said the payment systems of the future would include products such as MasterCard PayPass and Prepaid MasterCard.

PayPass is a “contact-less” way to pay for small purchases where the credit card is tapped against a reader at the checkout.

The card has a built-in chip and antenna technology that communicates with the terminal and does not require a signature or personal identification number.

Mr Grobler said its prepaid cards were used in sectors such as the airline industry and among charities, and were becoming increasingly popular.

“Airlines use prepaid cards to compensate their customers for lost baggage or to give their flight crews an allowance that is accepted in any country.”

He said charities were increasingly using prepaid cards.

“Charities are able to issue prepaid cards on the spot to victims of natural disasters, for example, who have no access to their bank accounts.”

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Chants against Balotelli continue

Juventus fans have continued to attack Mario Balotelli during the club’s Italian Cup semi-final loss against Lazio.


Lazio beat Juventus 2-1 to reach their first Coppa Italia final since 2004 with a 4-2 aggregate victory.

A stunning strike from on-loan Argentina forward Mauro Zarate and a deflected effort from Serbian full-back Aleksandar Kolarov put Lazio in the driving seat before Alessandro Del Piero\’s late goal.

But the game was marred by renewed racist chanting against Inter Milan’s striker Mario Balotelli who is of Ghanaian background.

The chanting began during a game against Inter Milan last weekend when the teenager played keep ball while his side was leading 1-0.

Juve’s Portuguese midfielder, Tiago, retaliated by kicking Balotelli in frustration and was sent off.

Juve had been ordered to play it’s Serie A match at Turnin’s Stadio Olimpico behind closed doors after a section of it’s fans racially taunted Balotelli during a game last weekend.

Renewed chanting against Balotelli took place halfway through the first half, prompting the stadium announcer to ask the fans to desist.

Then announcement was met with jeers.

Before the game began, some Juve fans chanted \’Balotelli\’s a son of a bitch\’.

But other fans made it clear they were not racist with a banner that showed support for other black players.

It read: (Edgar) Davids, (Clarence) Seedorf, (Momo) Sissoko: true champions, true idols.

Lazio will now meet either Inter or Sampdoria in next month\’s final.

The pair meet at the San Siro on Thursday with Sampdoria holding a 3-0 first leg lead.

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Who are India\’s Maoist rebels?

India\’s Maoist rebels, active across half the country and apparently able to strike at will, are a potent symbol of how the fruits of an economic boom have not been enjoyed by all.


In recent years, they have ambushed police and military posts to steal weapons or kill security forces, taken over public buildings and – in their latest attacks on Wednesday – taken over a train along with hundreds of hostages.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of the poorest of the poor, and say their ultimate goal is to capture India\’s cities and overthrow parliament.

Based in the dense forests of the eastern state of Chhattisgarh, the ultra-leftist rebels have found a fertile recruiting ground among rural tribal villagers and landless farmers.

Life in India\’s hinterland for most is far removed from the millions of dollars being made there from the mining and export of minerals.

The most common work is subsistence farming, and the gathering and selling of leaves for Indian “beedi” cigarettes – a job that brings in a meagre 35 cents a day, the lowest level of any state in the country.

Such contradictions of modern India are being played up by the Maoists – now believed to be spreading operations across the east and even in states around the capital New Delhi.

The insurgency, which grew out of a peasant uprising in 1967, has spread to 15 of India\’s 29 states from just four in 1996.

Estimates of the rebel army size nationwide range between 10,000 and 20,000, but little is known about their shadowy leadership – which does not court the media and seldom issues statements.

The common denominator of each attack is the apparent ease and confidence with which the rebels operate.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006 described the Maoists – known in India as \’Naxalites\’ – as a “virus” and ranked them along with Islamic militants as a serious threat to the country\’s internal security.

But while the pool for converts to the Muslim insurgency in Kashmir is limited, the Maoists could potentially attract tens of millions of poor.

With India\’s security forces struggling to contain the problem, and no sign of India\’s boom filtering down to the lowest echelons of society despite promises of rural development, India\’s Maoist insurgency can only be expected to worsen.

“We are seeing a process of very systematic extremist mobilisation which will translate into violence over the next five to 10 years,” said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management.

“You are talking about 10 percent (economic) growth, where 77 percent of the Indian population – that is 836 million – is living on less than 20 rupees a day, which is 50 cents. The Maoists understand the contradiction.”

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France proposes joint Sri Lanka aid plan

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Document\”> France has proposed carrying out a joint relief operation with Britain to help civilians in Sri Lanka who have fled fighting between government forces and Tiger rebels.

“We will try to launch an operation,” Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a radio interviewer on Wednesday, adding he would discuss the plan with his British counterpart David Miliband.

Kouchner said French and British boats could be dispatched to help the tens of thousands of civilians who have fled the conflict zone “because these people are on the beaches and some are drowning at sea”.

Authorities in Sri Lanka said Wednesday that 60,000 men, women and children had managed to escape over the previous two days as the government pressed on with its offensive against the rebels.

Kouchner cautioned that the proposal was still at an early stage.

“You know there have been a lot of relief operations and unfortunately, people are a bit tired of all that, as are governments,” he told France Culture radio.

He also said there were no plans for a military intervention.

“We have certainly not reached that point,” he said.

US and Red Cross officials have raised alarm over the plight of civilians, with Washington saying it feared for the safety of 65,000 or more civilians crowded into tents and makeshift shelters on a beach on the Bay of Bengal.

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Ahmadinejad tirade won\’t deter Obama

Obama said after holding talks with King Abdullah II of Jordan that the Iranian president\’s fiery rhetoric at a United Nations racism conference was “not helpful, it is harmful”.


“I think it actually hurts Iran\’s position in the world, but we are going to continue to take an approach that tough, direct diplomacy has to be pursued without taking a whole host of options off of the table.”

Obama also specifically singled out Iran\’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the most important centre of power in Iran, in a possible attempt to downplay Ahmadinejad\’s capacity to disrupt US engagement plans.

“We will continue to pursue the possibility of improved relations and a resolution to some of the critical issues in which there have been differences, particularly around the nuclear issue,” Obama said.

Obama had been asked whether the jailing of US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi and Ahmadinejad\’s furious rhetoric against US ally Israel could derail his effort to pursue engagement with the fierce US foe.

The international racism conference in Geneva, which the United States boycotted, fell into disarray after Ahmadinejad\’s verbal onslaught against Israel triggered a mass walkout and furious rebukes from Western capitals.

Ahmadinejad, who has previously called for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map, criticised the creation of a “totally racist government in occupied Palestine” in 1948, calling it “the most cruel and repressive racist regime”.

“The (UN) Security Council helped stabilise this occupation regime and supported it for the past 60 years, giving them a free hand to continue their crimes,” he said.

Even before the speech, the diplomatic fallout from Ahmadinejad\’s presence in Geneva was spreading.

Israel recalled its ambassador in protest at the Swiss president\’s decision to meet the Iranian leader – Ahmadinejad\’s first formal meeting with a Western head of state since taking

office in 2005.

Four European nations were among a group of nine countries – including the United States and Australia – which boycotted the meeting before it started.

The remaining 23 EU countries that did send delegations to the event had warned they would walk out if Ahmadinejad made anti-Semitic remarks.

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