I knew nothing of bribery until after ISL collapse: Blatter

BERNE, July 14 –

“I did not know until later, after the collapse of ISL in 2001, about the bribery,” the head of soccer’s world governing body told Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick in an interview to be published on Sunday.

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“It was FIFA who then filed a claim at that time and set the whole ISL case in motion,” he added, referring to May 29 2001 when, after ISL collapsed, FIFA filed a claim for ‘suspicion of fraud, embezzlement as well as misappropriation of funds’.

“When I now say that it is difficult to measure the past by today’s standards, this is a generic statement. To me bribery is unacceptable and I neither tolerate nor seek to justify bribery. But this is what I am accused of now.

“The Swiss Federal Court has this week proven wrong all those people, who for years have accused me of having taken bribes. Now it is on record what I have always said: I have never taken nor received any bribes,” said Blatter.

“Now the same people are trying to attack me from a different angle: ‘Okay, he has not taken any bribes but he must have known.’

“Once again, I only knew after the collapse of ISL years later. And this is because we instigated the whole matter. The people who attack me now know this is the case but still they persist. They want me out.”

A Swiss prosecutor said in a legal document released this week that Havelange and former FIFA executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira took multi-million bribes on World Cup deals in the 1990s from ISL.

ISL sold the commercial rights to broadcast World Cup tournaments on behalf of FIFA. It collapsed with debts of around $300 million in 2001.

Blatter, who has been with FIFA since 1975, and succeeded Havelange as president in 1998, said on Thursday he knew that payments were being made. He referred to them as “commission” and said they were not illegal at the time.

Asked in a question-and-answer session with FIFA’s own website (www.fifa.com) on Thursday if he had known of payments, Blatter replied: “Known what? That commission was paid? Back then, such payments could even be deducted from tax as a business expense.

“Today, that would be punishable under law. You can’t judge the past on the basis of today’s standards.”

Havelange is still FIFA’s honorary president while Teixeira quit his post earlier this year, shortly after resigning as president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). (Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Syrian conflict engulfs university campus

“There are many arrests and raids, especially against Sunni students excelling at their studies,” said an engineering student who gave her name only as “Amira”.

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“The atmosphere is tragic… it is not easy to study when people are being killed everywhere,” she said.

“Emotionally, it is a feeling of daily humiliation because of inspections by our peers of the ‘loyal sect’,” she said, referring to the minority Alawite community to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

The complex sectarian make-up of the campus reflects that of the central city itself.

Sunnis consider themselves the true natives of Homs and never took kindly to the mass influx of Alawites, who adhere to a branch of Shiite Islam, in the late 1960s when a military coup brought Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father and predecessor, to power.

Another student, Abu Baha, 23, said the sectarian faultlines began to surface soon after a revolt against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011, quickly morphing into a civil war in which according to the UN more than 60,000 people have died.

“With the beginning of the revolution, the university devolved into a fifth column of the security forces,” said Abu Baha.

The engineering student described plain-clothes security agents patrolling the campus while the army was deployed on rooftops to bombard neighbouring Baba Amr district in a fierce assault last year.

A disturbing phenomenon, he added, was the arming of pro-regime students.

“The student union became real shabiha (pro-regime militiamen), each one given a weapon and free reign to insult or arrest fellow students for uttering a single word about freedom,” he said.

Mainly divided along confessional lines, Homs has experienced the worst sectarian violence of the 22-month revolt.

Activists accuse the authorities of deliberately fomenting sectarian strife, pointing to a day in July 2011 when some 30 people from various confessions were killed in a bloodbath the regime blamed on the opposition.

All the students quoted in this article, interviewed online in coordination with an Al-Baath student in Beirut, said they had lost friendships during the conflict ravaging Homs, where opposition areas remain under army blockade.

Divisions became “more pronounced after repeated arbitrary arrests, usually because of reports by pro-regime students, most of them Alawite,” said engineering student Abu Mohammed.

“My relations with Alawite students were completely finished after I realised what they were doing.”

“On the days of massacres you find opposition students are upset while pro-regime students are ecstatic with victory,” Amira said grimly.

Professors too are embroiled in the conflict, whether in interrogating students or working to conceal their own personal views.

“Most are afraid to speak about the situation, but in my faculty there is an Alawite professor who spends 70 percent of his lectures provoking opposition students. No one dares challenge him because we would not graduate,” said Abu Baha.

One Al-Baath University professor, himself displaced from Homs, said he went into early retirement due to the prevailing stressful atmosphere and fear of being kidnapped or killed during his daily commute.

“Many students have dropped out. The only ones left are pro-government. The rest are called ‘those from traitorous areas’,” he said during an interview in Beirut, refusing to be named for fear of his safety.

Abu Mohammed naively thought the academic sphere was a safe zone to discuss the uprising when it first erupted.

“In December 2011 I was arrested on several charges, including collaborating with an armed group to kill the dean of the architecture faculty, because of a heated debate with a loyalist Alawite student.”

He was expelled from university and said he was imprisoned for one month without evidence. “Only then did I become truly conscious about the injustice in my country.”

But despite the difficulties, some students, among them Abu Qusay, remain hopeful about the future.

“Employment opportunities were always limited due to nepotism and most young Syrians had been planning to work abroad after graduation, but after the success of the revolution I expect job opportunities to be equal between all Syrians,” he said.

“I am optimistic about a bright future for me in my country.”

NRL season all but over, Cowboys concede

North Queensland co-captain Matt Scott concedes the Cowboys chances of making the NRL finals are almost dead, saying only something special in the final six weeks of the season will steal them a top eight spot.

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After a disappointing 18-16 loss to fellow Queensland strugglers Brisbane on Friday night, a result which appears to have ended Neil Henry’s chances of coaching at the club next season, Scott said the Cowboys would need to win out to give themselves a hope.

But rather than calling it a miracle, the Queensland and Test prop said he believed anything was possible if they could win their last six games.

The Cowboys host competition front-runners South Sydney next week before a tough run home which includes finals aspirations Penrith, Cronulla, Gold Coast and Newcastle.

“It’s not impossible,” Scott said.

“I think we’ve certainly made it tough on ourselves and I think we’re at times playing footy that will get us into the eight if we maintain it.

“At the moment it’s just stupid individual errors that’s really hurting us.

“Win the next six and it’s possible but we’ve got to play a lot better than we did tonight.”

Next week North Queensland chairman Laurence Lancini will reportedly tell Henry, who signed a contract extension earlier this year, that the club will be looking elsewhere for a head coach next season.

Henry said his side had been made to pay for defensive misreads and communication breakdowns, and some players deserved better from their teammates.

The Cowboys were exposed repeatedly down their right edge defence, with all three Broncos tries coming from combinations down that side.

“We’re putting a lot of effort in to the game and we dominate field position for large parts of it,” Henry said.

“The players deserve better decisions off each other.

“They’re the men out there doing the hard yards, they’re working their backsides off for each other and they’re committed but they deserve better for each other in crucial parts of the game.

“And they didn’t do that for each other (against Brisbane) and that’s the difference, simple as that.

“It’s not a lack of confidence, it’s not a lack of will out there, it’s a couple of crucial decisions.”

Henry said he could do little if the Cowboys board decide to terminate his contract.

“I hope not but we’ll see what happens,” he said.

“We’ve got six games to go and potentially six wins and then we’ll all be marching into the finals, hopefully.

“We’ve got a big game against Souths next week and we can’t repeat (Friday night) or the season is well and truly over.”

Male body image: The increase in male cosmetic surgery

Johnny Rahme was 13 when he begged his parents to let him have nose surgery.

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Now at 39, he has had five nose jobs, as well as two ear operations. Being Lebanese, Johnny says he’s never been happy with his ‘look’.

“Everyone used to tease me at school, and being Lebanese, it was even harder going to an all Australian school,” he tells Insight. “[I] got called Gonzo… it was ridiculous.”

After five rhinoplasty operations, Johnny says he is finally happy with his nose.

Johnny is part of a growing number of Australian men who are taking grooming to the next level: from frequent botox injections and body hair removal, to more intrusive surgeries including liposuction and calf implants.

OLDER MEN EMBRACE COSMETIC SURGERY

At 55, train driver Jan Handerek has had ten cosmetic procedures, including an eye-lift and botox. His latest operation involved having liposuction to sculpt a six pack into his stomach. Jan says he was partly motivated by having a new girlfriend who is 10 years younger than he is.

“The eyes, the stomach, the liposuction, it all helps with my whole persona, my whole body, and I’ve never felt better since I’ve had the operation,” he says.

“I feel absolutely fantastic.”

WATCH: JAN ON HAVING COSMETIC SURGERY

MALE BODY IMAGE

Psychologist Julie Malone has dealt extensively with men and women who have body image issues, and says she has seen an increase in the number of male clients.

“There’s an overarching problem here about men trying to achieve an unrealistic body and an unrealistic ideal of masculinity,” she tells Insight.

“It’s a problem for men of all ages starting down at the age of 7, through your teenage years into young adolescence.”

And part of this problem is due to the lack of ethnic diversity in mainstream media, says Dr Nives Zubcevic-Basic, a researcher and marketing lecturer at Swinburne University.

“We have been educated that the ideal man is a hyper masculine Caucasian male and that’s generally what you see throughout mass media,” she says, “we perceive those that don’t fit into that ideal as unattractive.”

Have you seen an increase in male grooming and male cosmetic surgery? Do you manscape? Catch the full discussion tonight at 8.30pm on SBS ONE. The program will also be streamed live here.

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter or by commenting on Insight’s Facebook page.

 

WATCH A PREVIEW

Nathan and Theo Saiden are brothers and both do comedy. They feel that Australian broadcast media are skewed towards white Caucasians, which in turn influences the way that ethnic minorities view themselves and their physical appearance.

DNA breakthrough ‘spelt double trouble for Nobels’

The discovery of the DNA double helix 60 years ago proved to be a headache for the Nobel organisation as the feat became nominated for prizes in different categories at the same time, Nature reported.

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Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins of Britain and James Watson of the United States shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1962, nine years after revealing that the code for life has a spiral-staircase structure joined by chemical rungs.

But two researchers who delved into the award process were stunned to find that the trio were simultaneously nominated for the Nobel Prize for Chemistry that same year.

“The fact that the double helix was the subject of nominations for both prizes must have presented a dilemma for the two [award] committees,” Alexander Gann and Jan Witkowski of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York report in a letter to the journal.

The evidence comes from a letter that French geneticist Jacques Monod wrote to the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, nominating the trio for the chemistry award. Gann and Witkowski found the letter in the archives of the Pasteur Institute in Paris.

In the event, the 1962 chemistry Nobel went to Max Perutz and John Kendrew for work on haemoglobin and myoglobin.

The only person to have won the Nobel in different categories of science is Marie Curie, who in 1903 shared the physics award with her husband Pierre and Henri Becquerel, and in 1911 was the sole winner of the chemistry prize.

Separately, Gann and Witkowski say that Crick wrote a nine-page letter to Monod on December 31 1961 to describe his joint quest with Watson to identify DNA.

In his letter, Crick “acknowledges the importance” of X-ray imaging by Rosalind Franklin in determining “certain features” of DNA’s structure, the pair say.

Franklin has become a cause celebre among some feminists, who say Crick, Watson and Wilkins snubbed her and never acknowledged her vital contribution.

Franklin has even been dubbed “the Sylvia Plath of molecular biology,” a reference to the then-overlooked American writer who took her own life in 1963 during a stormy marriage to fellow British poet Ted Hughes.

Franklin in any case could not be considered for a Nobel in either category, as she died in 1958 and the prize is never awarded posthumously.

Watson and Crick, theoreticians at the legendary Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, published their landmark paper in Nature on April 25 1953.

In it, they acknowledged that their thinking had been “stimulated” by X-ray diffraction images provided by the laboratory at King’s College London that was headed by Wilkins and where Franklin worked.

The wrangle over how to honour research in DNA half a century ago has amplified since then.

Genetics reaches into dozens of areas, from anthropology and psychiatry to crime detection and agriculture, not just medicine.

As a result, the Nobel science awards are often criticised today for being locked into 19th-century categories that fail to give a slot to the newer discipline of life sciences.

Comment: Zimmerman’s not guilty. But Florida sure is.

NEW HAVEN, Conn.

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— It feels wrong, this verdict of not guilty for George Zimmerman. It feels wrong to say that Zimmerman is guilty of no crime. If he hadn’t approached 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, if he hadn’t pulled his gun, Martin would be alive.

But that doesn’t mean Zimmerman was guilty of murder, not in the state of Florida. It doesn’t even mean he was guilty of manslaughter, though that was the middle ground I had hoped the jury would find its way toward. Here’s the problem: To convict Zimmerman of murder, the six women of the jury had to find that he killed Martin out of ill will, hatred or spite, or with a depraved mind. The law didn’t account for Zimmerman’s fear or feeling of being physically threatened.

But the physical evidence suggested that in the heat of the moment, Zimmerman could have felt both of those things. A forensics expert testified that from the angle of his wounds, it appeared that Martin was on top of Zimmerman when he was shot. The neighbor who came closest to being an eyewitness — there were none — said it looked to him like he saw a fight in which the person on top, straddling the person below, was wearing a red or a light-colored shirt. That, too, suggested Martin was on top. Zimmerman did have injuries: lacerations to the back of his head from the pavement and a swollen bloody nose.

It’s true that there was also evidence on the other side: None of Zimmerman’s DNA was found under Martin’s fingernails. None of Martin’s DNA was found on the gun. These facts contradict key aspects of the account Zimmerman gave police. Why believe him about the rest of his account? And even if you do give him the benefit of that doubt, why did Zimmerman feel so very threatened? Why did he pull his gun and shoot to kill?

I don’t know. I don’t think we ever will. Zimmerman didn’t testify; he was never cross-examined. “Zimmerman the man may remain as much an enigma as the events of the night in question,” Jelani Cobb wrote in The New Yorker last week. And all of this focus on the moment of the shooting telescopes this story in a way that feels misleading. It leaves out Zimmerman’s history of calling the cops on black people and his decision that night to follow Martin. It leaves out his excruciatingly terrible, patently racist judgment.

But that doesn’t mean the jury’s verdict was racist. In Florida, a person “who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked” has no duty to retreat. He or she has the right to “meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.” The jury could have faulted Zimmerman for starting the altercation with Martin and still believed him not guilty of murder, or even of manslaughter, which in Florida is a killing that has no legal justification. If the jury believed that once the physical fight began, Zimmerman reasonably feared he would suffer a grave bodily injury, then he gets off for self-defense.

Maybe that is the wrong rule. Maybe people like George Zimmerman should be held responsible for provoking the fight that they then fear they’ll lose. And maybe cuts to the back of the head and a bloody nose aren’t enough to show reasonable fear of grave bodily harm. After all, as writer Adam Weinstein points out, the lesson right now for Floridians is this: “in any altercation, however minor, the easiest way to avoid criminal liability is to kill the counterparty.” But you can see the box the jurors might have felt they were in. Even if they didn’t like George Zimmerman — even if they believed only part of what he told the police — they didn’t have a charge under Florida law that was a clear fit for what he did that night.

This is what Slate’s Justin Peters meant when he reminded us last week that the state has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. “That hasn’t happened,” he wrote. “And if the prosecution can’t prove its case, then Zimmerman should walk.” This is our legal system. It doesn’t always deliver justice, and this case surely points to several ways in which Florida’s version of law and police work should change. It may demonstrate that Zimmerman should face federal civil rights charges.

But what matters most is that Zimmerman was charged with Martin’s killing, even if he wasn’t convicted. The state was late to indict him, yes, and acted only after a sorry spell of botched police work that may have affected the evidence presented at trial. But Florida did try to hold George Zimmerman liable for Trayvon Martin’s death. Martin’s family and all his supporters get most of the credit. His father, Tracy Martin, wrote on Twitter this weekend, “God blessed Me & Sybrina with Tray and even in his death I know my baby proud of the FIGHT we along with all of you put up for him GOD BLESS.” Yes, they did fight, and their battle meant something — meant a great deal — to so many parents of black boys in hoodies, and to the rest of the country, too. Tracy Martin is right to stress that fight for justice at this sorrowful, painful moment. No ill-conceived law, and no verdict, can take that away.

Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family, and kids. Her new book is “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character.”

© Slate, 2013

Clinton backs Egypt’s democratic transition

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threw Washington’s weight behind Egypt’s democratic transition Saturday in talks with new President Mohamed Morsi, laying out plans for economic help to the country.

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“I have come to Cairo to reaffirm the strong support of the United States for the Egyptian people and their democratic transition,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr after her meeting with Morsi.

“We want to be a good partner. We want to support the democracy that has been achieved by the courage and sacrifice of the Egyptian people, and to see a future of great potential be realised,” she said.

During her two-day visit, the top US diplomat will also meet Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi — the country’s interim military ruler after Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year.

Clinton steps into the political maelstrom of a complex power struggle between the Islamist president and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that ruled Egypt after Mubarak was toppled.

Last week, Morsi ordered parliament to convene, defying a military decision to disband the house after the country’s top court ruled it invalid.

“Democracy is hard,” Clinton said. “It requires dialogue and compromise and real politics. We are encouraged and we want to be helpful. But we know that it is not for the United States to decide, it is for the Egyptian people to decide.”

Clinton’s meeting with Morsi, a longtime member of the Muslim Brotherhood, comes after Egypt’s first free presidential elections following the ouster of decades-old US ally Mubarak.

“We are very, very keen to meet you and happy you are here,” Morsi told Clinton as they met at the presidential palace in Cairo’s upmarket Heliopolmet district.

With the economy in a shambles due to a fall in tourism and a lack of growth, Clinton outlined economic support “to help Egypt stabilize its economy and to use debt relief to foster innovation, growth and job creation.”

She unveiled plans for $250 million in loan guarantees to Egyptian small and medium-sized businesss, as well as setting up a US-Egypt enterprise fund with some $60 million in capital.

It was her first meeting with Morsi since he took the oath of office.

Morsi’s decree was applauded by supporters who believed the court’s decision to disband parliament was political, but it set off a firestorm of criticism from opponents who accused him of overstepping his authority.

His decision was seen as an opening shot in a power struggle between Egypt’s first civilian leader and the Mubarak-appointed generals who wanted to retain broad powers even after they transferred control on June 30.

But on Wednesday, the president said he would respect a court ruling overturning his decree, in an apparent bid to mollify an infuriated judiciary and the military.

Clinton said the United States supported the full transition to civilian rule, but added she wanted to commend the military council, or SCAF, “for representing the Egyptian people in the revolution.”

“As compared to what we are seeing in Syria which is the military murdering their own people, the SCAF here protected the Egyptian nation,” and had overseen free elections, Clinton said.

Several hundred protesters meanwhile gathered outside the US embassy and later Clinton’s hotel to denounce what they said was “US interference in domestic affairs,” the official MENA news agency reported.

Clinton will also focus on the protection of religious minorities and of women, and was due to travel Tuesday to the port city of Alexandria to visit women activists and Coptic leaders.

The post-revolution rise of the Islamists has raised fears among women and among the country’s 10-million-strong Christian community that their rights could be rolled back.

Morsi has repeatedly pledged to be a president for “all Egyptians” and said he would appoint a woman and a Christian as his deputies.

During the visit, Clinton will also seek assurances that the key US Middle East ally will continue to uphold a peace treaty with Israel signed in 1979.

The treaty had “allowed a generation to grow up without knowing war and on this foundation, we will work together to build a just comprehensive regional peace in the Middle East,” Clinton said.

Obama, Romney clash on illegal immigration

US President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney clashed over illegal immigration in their testy second televised debate three weeks before Americans go to the polls.

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The issue came up in the second half of the 90-minute face-to-face, with Romney accusing Obama of failing to come up with an immigration reform bill as he had promised before assuming office in 2009.

“When the president ran for office, he said that he would put in place in his first year a piece of legislation, file a bill in his first year, that would reform our immigration system, protect legal immigration, stop illegal immigration. He didn’t do it,” Romney charged.

Romney said he would encourage immigration by people with skills while preventing undocumented immigrants from accessing some government services.

Obama fired back by saying he had in fact tried to push through reform but ran into Republican opposition in Congress.

“That’s not true. I sat down with Democrats and Republicans at the beginning of my term, and said: ‘Let’s fix this system, including Republicans previously on the other side,” Obama said.

“It’s very hard for Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform if their standard-bearer says: ‘This is not something I’m interested in supporting,'” he added.

The president also argued that in the Republican primaries the former Massachusetts governor rejected the “Dream Act,” which would legalize undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, and supported tough anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona along the Mexican border.

“Governor Romney said he wasn’t referring to Arizona as a model for the nation. His top adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the Arizona law, the whole thing,” the president said.

“That’s his policy and it won’t help us grow.”

The controversial Arizona law lets police stop and request ID from people suspected of being undocumented immigrants, although other even tougher parts of the law were struck down by the Supreme Court.

Critics of the Arizona law argue that it encourages racial profiling.

The government says some 11.5 million illegal aliens live in the United States.

Cambodia shoe factory collapse kills two: police

“Two workers — a man and a woman — were killed and six others were injured,” Khem Pannara, district police chief for the area in the southern province of Kampong Speu told AFP.

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“We cannot say how many were trapped under the debris,” he said, adding that the area under the collapsed ceiling was a walkway.

Last month a nine-storey factory complex outside Dhaka collapsed, killing 1,127 people in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters and prompting pressure on Western retailers that rely on cheap labour in the region, where safety standards are often poor.

One worker at the Cambodian factory said police and some staff were working to rescue people from the rubble.

“Every day more than a hundred people work under that area, but I don’t know how many were working this morning,” said Sokny, 29.

“I was so shocked. I am crying. I saw blood in the debris,” she said.

Cambodia earned $4.6 billion from its garment exports last year but a series of strikes has pointed to festering discontent over low wages and tough conditions.

Protests by workers have also turned ugly. Three women, employees of Puma supplier Kaoway Sports, were wounded when a gunman opened fire on protesters demanding better working conditions at factories in February last year.

The shooting prompted Puma, Gap and H&M to express their “deep concern” and urged a thorough investigation.

But discontent lingers on the factory floor where 400,000 people of the 650,000 people employed in the industry work for foreign firms.

The monthly minimum wage for the hundreds of thousands of workers who make clothes for firms such as Levi Strauss of the United States and Sweden’s H&M this month rose from $61 to $75 after months of protest.

Following the Bangladesh disaster top retailers this month pledged to make that country’s factories safer.

Top global brands including Benetton, Carrefour and Marks & Spencer joined clothing giants Inditex of Spain and H&M on Tuesday in signing on for the deal to improve fire and building safety to avert future disasters.

China ‘arrests Tiananmen activists’

Chinese authorities have rounded up hundreds of activists in the capital Beijing, rights campaigners and petitioners said Monday, as they marked the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

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The detentions came as Washington angered Beijing by calling for all those still jailed over the demonstrations on June 4, 1989 — when hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters were shot and killed by soldiers — to be freed.

The anniversary of the brutal army action in the heart of Beijing is always hugely sensitive, but particularly so this year ahead of a once-a-decade handover of power marred by fierce in-fighting in the ruling Communist Party.

“They brought in a lot of buses and were rounding up petitioners at the Beijing South rail station on Saturday night,” Zhou Jinxia, a petitioner from northeast China’s Liaoning province, told AFP.

“There were between 600 to 1,000 petitioners from all over China. We were processed, we had to register and then they started sending people back to their home towns.”

Police made it clear that the round up of petitioners — people who gather at central government offices in Beijing to seek redress for rights violations in their localities — was to prevent them from protesting on June 4, she said.

China still considers the June 4 demonstrations a “counter-revolutionary rebellion” and has refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing or consider compensation for those killed, more than two decades later.

The government attempts to block any public discussion or remembrance of the events by hiding away key dissidents in the run-up to June 4 each year, taking them into custody or placing them under house arrest.

Any mention of the 1989 protests is banned in Chinese state media, and the subject is largely taboo in China. Searches on China’s popular social media sites for June 4, the number 23 and the word “candle” were blocked on Monday.

Despite the heightened security, numerous public events have been held around the nation to commemorate the “Tiananmen massacre” and demand democratic reforms.

More than 80 rights campaigners met in a Beijing square on Saturday, carrying banners and shouting slogans calling for a reassessment of the 1989 protests.

“We shouted ‘down with corruption’, and ‘protect our rights’,” Wang Yongfeng, a Shanghai activist, who attended the protest, told AFP.

“So many people were killed on June 4, we think the government should fully account for what happened.”

Photographs of the Saturday protest posted online showed demonstrators with large placards that said “remember our struggle for democracy, freedom and rights as well as those heroes who met tragedy.”

A similar protest occurred in a park in southeast China’s Guiyang city last week, with police subsequently taking into custody at least four of the organisers of the event, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders group said on its website.

The US State Department on Sunday called on Beijing to release those still serving sentences for their participation in the 1989 demonstrations and do more to protect the human rights of its citizens.

But foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin hit back a day later, saying Beijing expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to what he said were “groundless accusations”.

In Beijing, veteran dissident Hu Jia said on his microblog that, as in previous years on the Tiananmen anniversary, police had stepped up security around the homes of numerous political activists and social critics.

Rights activists and lawyers said police had also contacted them and warned against participating in activities marking the crackdown.

Another rights defender, Yu Xiaomei from eastern Jiangsu province, told AFP by telephone she had been followed by three men when she left her home on Monday.

“I recognised one of them. He had beaten me and detained me two years ago. I ran away, I don’t dare go out onto the street today,” she said.

The only open commemoration of the crackdown to be allowed on Chinese soil will take place in Hong Kong, a Chinese territory that enjoys freedoms not allowed in the mainland.

Organisers say they expect more than 150,000 people to join a candlelight vigil to mark the anniversary.

Mahan baby present on way after Snedeker’s Canadian win

“Zoe will be getting a very nice baby gift from me,” said Snedeker after his three-shot victory at Glen Abbey Golf Club.

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“I can’t thank Kandi (Mahan) enough for going into labour early, otherwise I don’t know if I’d be sitting here if she hadn’t.

“But that is a way more important thing than a golf tournament. I missed a golf tournament when my first was born and it was the best decision I ever made.”

Snedeker, in fact, might well have thought it was his birthday with all the gifts he received at the Canadian Open.

After Mahan walked away from a two-shot lead on Saturday and cleared the way for Snedeker to take over top spot, Dustin Johnson, tied for the lead, triple-bogeyed the 17th on Sunday to gift the FedExCup champion a three-shot victory.

“I’ve been through this before when Kyle Stanley made a big number on the last hole and some people say he gave me the tournament,” said Snedeker. “This is kind of right there with that.

“When Hunter was playing so great, he would have been tough to catch over the last two days but he’s not here so there is no point in going down that road.”

With his victory, the 32-year-old American joins Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar as the only players with multiple wins season. Since 2011, only Woods, with seven titles, has had more wins than Snedeker with five.

One of the game’s best putters, Snedeker started the season as the PGA Tour’s hottest player with a win, two runner-up finishes and a third place from five starts to race to the top of the FedExCup standings.

But following his victory at Pebble Beach in February, Snedeker put himself on the sidelines to rest his sore rib cage to be ready for the year’s first major.

He missed five weeks and ever since has been working at returning to his dazzling early season form.

“It feels like two completely different years for me,” said Snedeker. “First part of the year, I couldn’t do anything wrong. I was playing fantastic, and I got injured.

“I feel like I’ve been fighting to get myself back to the way I was at the beginning of the year.

“I’m not saying I’m there but I’m close to the way I was playing in the beginning of the year.

“It feels great to get a win. To validate all the hard work I’ve put in over the past three months where I haven’t played my best and know that I’m working on the right stuff and able to hold up under some pretty serious pressure this afternoon.”

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

‘Skateistan’ suicide bombing kills four

By Andy Park

A teenage suicide bomber detonated a bomb outside the NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, killing four members of an Australian-founded skateboarding school, Skateistan.

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A statement on their website said “We are very sad to learn that of the six young children confirmed to have passed away, four of them were students, volunteers and youth leaders at Skateistan, who were well-loved and well-known faces for the entire team in Kabul.”

The organisation identified the victims as Khoshid – a girls’ skate teacher, Nawob – a volunteer teacher in boys’ skate sessions, Mohammad Eeza – a long-time Skateistan student, Parwana – An 8-year-old sister of Khoshid and Navid – Seriously injured in hospital.

The Australian-founded skateboarding school was created in 2007 by Australian skater Oliver Percovich and aimed to use skateboarding as a tool of empowerment.

It began as a Kabul-based Afghani charity, and is now an International not-for-profit providing skateboarding and educational programming in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Pakistan.

40 per cent of the charity’s students were girls.

14-year-old Khorshid was an instructor with Skateistan.

According to reports from Afghan security officials, who immediately arrived on scene to secure the area, the suicide attacker was a teenaged youth.

ISAF spokesman Brig. Gen. Günter Katz condemned the attacks.

“Forcing underage youth to do their dirty work again proves the insurgency’s despicable tactics. They are completely detached from Afghan society and the interests of the Afghan people who desire peace and stability in their country,” he said.

Abdul Qudos Amini is the country manager for the program in Afghanistan.

“Sixty per cent of out students are working on the street [so] we knew where our students are working [at the time of the bomb],”

“I was in a house, then I heard the bomb and went directly to the emergency hospital. When I arrived in emergency hospital there was lots of shock and crying,”

“Nawob, he was our student and he was our best skateboarder two years running,”

“Now [he] has passed away because he was exactly near the small kid who had the bomb on his back,” he said.

“It’s very sad news” he said, as he breaks down remembering how he went and visited families of the dead afterwards.

“The families are totally devastated. They say why are these things always happening to poor street kids?

(L to R) Khoshid – a girls’ skate teacher and Mohammad Eeza – a long-time Skateistan student and another member where three of the four victims of the teenage suicide bomber attack in Kabul on Saturday. (FILE: SKATEISTAN)

SBS asked if him the program will be affected by the lost of four students and leaders.

“No, no no. We will just continue our work and we will try to find other ways how we can protect our students,” he said.

The school was the subject of the 2011 documentary film Skateistan: To Live and Skate in Kabul.

Skateistan has established an Emergency Fund at Crowdrise.com in memory of the victims.

Romney releases tax returns

Under-pressure White House hopeful Mitt Romney released his 2011 tax return and a 20-year summary of his payments, but failed to calm a clamor for more transparency over his finances.

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Romney’s refusal to reveal any of his tax returns from before 2010 has led to allegations that the multi-millionaire private equity baron has used sharp accounting practices to protect his fortune from the US tax authorities.

The Republican challenger insists his arrangements are entirely above board, but that he does not want his opponents to pick over the fine detail of a decade of family finances, despite fierce political pressure.

Friday’s fresh data showed that Romney, who faces President Barack Obama in November’s election, paid $1.9 million in taxes on an income of $13.6 million in 2011, an effective rate of 14.1 percent.

The campaign also released a summary showing that Romney and his wife Ann paid taxes for each year between 1990 and 2009 at an average effective rate of 20.2 percent, and that the lowest rate for any given year was 13.6 percent.

Democrats have branded Romney a wealthy plutocrat who is out of touch with everyday Americans, is too secretive about his own income and taxes, and pays a rate lower than the average middle class US tax rate of 15 percent.

Romney released his 2010 returns — which showed he paid a rate of 13.9 percent on $21.6 million in income — and promised he would do the same with 2011 before his October filing deadline.

But he has stressed he will not likely release full tax data for years prior to 2010. Most candidates in recent decades released several years of returns.

Romney’s rates are far below the top marginal rate of 35 percent because the bulk of his income is in capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate.

With Friday’s release, the campaign was clearly seeking to draw a line under the issue and refocus the race for the White House on the state of the US economy.

“Mitt Romney has now released more than 1,200 pages of tax returns, giving voters an incredibly detailed look at his finances,” said Senator John McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 election.

“It’s time to get back to discussing the issues that voters care about.”

The Obama campaign wasted little time getting in its jab, saying Romney’s tax rate was so low “because of a set of complex loopholes and tax shelters” for the wealthiest Americans.

Romney has pledged to slash income taxes by 20 percent across the board if he is elected, but Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Romney “wants to give multi-millionaires an additional $250,000 tax cut at the expense of middle class taxpayers who will see their taxes go up.”

She said the release of the 2011 returns masks Romney’s true wealth and income from Bain Capital, the private equity firm he headed for 15 years, but “it does confirm that he continues to profit from millions of dollars invested overseas.”

Romney bristled over a Vanity Fair report in July that said part of his vast fortune, estimated at $250 million, is hidden in opaque offshore investments including in the Cayman Islands.

The campaign said the Cayman investments are in a blind trust and are “taxed in the very same way they would be if the shares were held in the US rather than through a Cayman fund.”

“There are no offshore accounts,” it added. “These are investments in funds that are organized outside the US.”

Brad Malt, trustee of the Romney blind trust, said the Romneys donated $4 million to charity in 2011, nearly 30 percent of their income.

“The Romneys thus limited their deduction of charitable contributions to conform to the governor’s statement in August, based upon the January estimate of income, that he paid at least 13 percent in income taxes in each of the last 10 years,” Malt added.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who in July said he had inside information from someone linked to Bain that Romney paid no taxes for 10 years, blasted that move as manipulation.

It “reveals that Mitt Romney manipulated one of the only two years of tax returns he’s seen fit to show the American people — and then only to ‘conform’ with his public statements,” Reid said.

With the release window rapidly narrowing, Team Romney likely saw this week as the best option to drop their tax news, given that the series of three Obama-Romney debates begin on October 3.

This week has already been seen as a disaster for Romney after secret video emerged showing him demeaning “47 percent” of Americans as government-dependent freeloaders.

Obama on Friday took a political sledgehammer to Romney over the remarks.

“I don’t believe we can get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of victims — who think that they’re not interested in taking responsibility for their own lives,” he said in the swing state of Virginia.