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.