‘N Korea ready for nuclear test’

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo said the information came from a government source.

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It relates to preparations for a test in the northeastern town of Punggye-ri, where the North carried out two previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

A defence ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report.

A South Korean government official told AFP on April 8 on condition of anonymity that satellite images showed a new underground tunnel built at the nuclear test site besides two others where the previous tests were conducted.

“Heaps of earth and sand which had been piled up outside the new tunnel have disappeared,” a government source was quoted as saying by Chosun.

“It is highly likely that the North has installed a nuclear device inside the tunnel and sealed it (with the piles of earth and sand),” the source said.

Since last year, US and South Korean intelligence authorities have been monitoring the excavation by measuring the amount of soil and rocks dumped from the tunnel, it said.

But it has not yet been confirmed whether the North has installed cables for detonation, the source said.

“It is technically feasible for the North to carry out a nuclear test within two weeks,” the source added.

The North, believed to have enough plutonium for six to eight bombs, tested atomic weapons in October 2006 and May 2009. Both were held one to three months after missile tests.

It has vowed to launch satellites “one after another”, vigorously rejecting international condemnation of an April 13 launch that was seen overseas as a disguised ballistic missile test.

French gunman’s father to sue police

The father of Mohamed Merah, the Islamist gunman who killed seven people in southern France, has hired an Algerian lawyer to sue a French police unit over his son’s death, the lawyer told AFP.

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“Mr. (Mohamed Benalal) Merah came to our office in Algiers yesterday to formally ask us to sue the French security services (RAID) for not having followed procedure during the attempt to arrest Mohamed Merah and his murder,” Zahia Mokhtari said.

“Mr. Merah thinks that his son was murdered. He has asked us to file a complaint against the French security services,” she added. “We will begin the procedure once the burial is completed.”

Algerian authorities have reportedly not yet agreed to a family request that Merah be buried in the north African country

Mokhtari explained that a convention signed between France and Algeria authorises lawyers to pursue cases in both countries.

Mokhtari is a well-known lawyer in Algeria, notably for having won a 2005 case in a German court on behalf of an Algerian man, Ibrahim Badaoui, who was accused of belonging to Al-Qaeda.

Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, was killed by police on March 22 after a lengthy stand-off at his Toulouse apartment.

Merah’s father insisted Wednesday he would not “shut up” after saying he wanted to sue France over the death of his son.

The comment, reported in an Algerian Arab-language daily newspaper, came after French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe reacted angrily to the threat of a legal challenge.

“If I were the father of such a monster, I would shut my mouth in shame,” Juppe said.

When police surrounded Merah’s Toulouse apartment last week, the gunman fought off an initial assault and then, in a conversation with a police negotiator, claimed responsibility for the attacks.

He said he shot dead three soldiers in two separate attacks in Toulouse and nearby Montauban on March 11 and 15, then last Monday opened fire at a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing a 30-year-old teacher, his sons aged five and four, and a seven-year-old girl.

Three Aussies get Oscar nominations

Steven Spielberg’s taut political drama “Lincoln” won the Oscars election Thursday with 12 nominations for the Academy Awards, the climax of Hollywood’s annual prizes season.

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Hugh Jackman was nominated for best actor for his role in “Les Miserables”, going head to head with “Lincoln’s” Daniel Day-Lewis. Fellow Australians Naomi Watts is up for best actress for her role in “The Impossible”, while Jacki Weaver was nominated for best supporting actress for “Silver Linings Playbook”.

‘LINCOLN’, ‘LIFE OF PI’, ‘SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK’ IN SPOTLIGHT

Taiwan-born Ang Lee’s visually stunning 3D adventure “Life of Pi,” based on the novel by Yann Martel, earned 11 nods from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, ahead of the Oscars ceremony on February 24.

“Silver Linings Playbook” meanwhile became the first film since 1981 to win nominations in all four acting categories plus best film, best director and best writer, according to the Academy. Spielberg, whose latest film recounts Abraham Lincoln’s scheming to secure votes in Congress to abolish slavery, said he was woken by his publicist after the predawn announcement in Beverly Hills.

“It’s the best wake up call I’ve had in 14 years! I’m always surprised by recognition… I’m deeply grateful,” said the veteran director, as cited by the Hollywood Reporter.

“Lincoln” star Daniel Day-Lewis was nominated for best actor, as expected, against Hugh Jackman in “Les Miserables,” Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master” and Denzel Washington for “Flight.”

BEST ACTRESS NOMINEES

Best actress nominees are Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour,” Naomi Watts in “The Impossible” and Quvenzhane Wallis for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Both “Lincoln” and “Life of Pi” are nominated for the coveted best film prize, along with “Silver Linings Playbook” and musical “Les Miserables,” which each earned eight nods, and Iran hostage drama “Argo” with seven.

Amid the expected celebrations, there were some surprising snubs.

While “Argo” and Osama bin Laden manhunt film “Zero Dark Thirty” were each nominated for best picture, Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow — widely seen as shoo-ins for best director — failed to secure nods in the category.

BEST SUPPORTING NODS

The best supporting actor race features five Oscar winners, while in the best supporting actress race, the oldest-ever nominee, 85-year-old Frenchwoman Riva, will face off against the youngest, nine-year-old Wallis.

Beyond best film, “Lincoln” earned nods for best director for Spielberg and best supporting actor for Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.

The film — about the 16th US president’s drive to abolish slavery during the American Civil War — had already picked up most nods for the Golden Globes, competing in seven categories in the show this weekend.

Its British-Irish star, Day-Lewis, will be vying to win a record third best actor Oscar, after winning the accolade in 1990 for “My Left Foot” and in 2008 for “There Will Be Blood.”

“Life of Pi,” about an Indian boy cast adrift with a Bengal tiger, will be Lee’s third bid for Oscars glory after a 2001 nod for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and a best director 2006 win for “Brokeback Mountain.”

“I am deeply honored and frankly a little overwhelmed by all of the nominations,” said Lee.

“So many talented people gave everything they had to this film, both in front of and behind the camera, and to see all of them receive this kind of recognition is something I am incredibly grateful for.”

“Silver Linings Playbook,” a romantic comedy drama, has also drawn lots of Hollywood buzz, notably for “Hangover” star Cooper, but also for being a relatively lighthearted film in a field heavy on drama and history.

Heartthrob Cooper woke up earlier than Spielberg.

‘I get up crazy early anyway, and I told myself, ‘OK, I’ll take my dog to the beach, and just see what happens. Whatever goes down.’ So I watched with my mom and my dog. These things are once in a lifetime,” he said.

BEST FILM NOMINATIONS

The best film race features nine films: “Amour,” “Argo,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Django Unchained,” “Les Miserables,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Up for best supporting actor are Jones for “Lincoln,” Alan Arkin for “Argo,” Robert De Niro for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Philip Seymour Hoffman for “The Master” and Christoph Waltz for “Django Unchained.”

Best supporting actress nominees are Sally Field for “Lincoln,” Amy Adams for “The Master,” Anne Hathaway for “Les Miserables,” Helen Hunt for “The Sessions,” and Jacki Weaver for “Silver Linings Playbook.”

For Hollywood veteran Spielberg, a best film or best director Oscar would go with his two top-drawer Academy Awards for 1993’s “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan” in 1999.

French police detain killer’s family: legal source

The girlfriend of Mohamed Merah’s brother was also kept in detention, the source said.

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All three were detained on Wednesday as police surrounded Merah in his apartment in the southwestern city of Toulouse.

Police and prosecution officials have said that Merah’s brother, Abdelkader Merah, is himself a radical Islamist, and that traces of what could be an explosive material were found in his car.

Earlier in the week, prosecutors said the first murder in Merah’s spree was committed after he contacted his victim, a 30-year-old non-commissioned army officer, using his mother’s computer.

The detainees are subject to an inquiry on suspicion of terrorism related offence and can thus be held for four days for questioning without charge. Their detention will thus now expire early Sunday.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said French police had no grounds to detain Merah before he went on a killing rampage.

“There was no single element” to allow for the detention of Mohamed Merah, Fillon told French radio.

“We don’t have the right in a country like ours to permanently monitor without judicial authorisation someone who hasn’t committed an offense… We live in a state of law.”

French authorities have faced mounting questions over why Merah, a self-professed Al-Qaeda militant who was known to intelligence services because of his trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was not detained before he killed seven people, including three children.

But Fillon defended the intelligence services, saying that they “did their job perfectly well; they identified Mohamed Merah when he made his trips.”

He said that intelligence agents “surveilled him long enough to come to the conclusion that there was no element, no indication, that this was a dangerous man who would one day pass from words to acts.”

Merah “was interrogated, surveilled and listened to,” said Fillon, adding that he was a man who “led a normal life.”

“Belonging to a Salafist organisation is not an offense in and of itself. We cannot mix up religious fundamentalism with terrorism, even if we know there are elements that unite them.”

Merah was killed by a police sniper on Thursday as he tried to shoot his way out of his apartment after a 32-hour siege.

Legally blind archer sets first world record

Legally blind archer Im Dong-Hyun set the first world record of the London Olympics and then added another as South Korea broke the team record.

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In the men’s preliminary round, held at the Lord’s cricket ground, Im scored 699 points from 72 arrows to beat his own record of 696 set in May this year.

Along with Kim Bubmin and Oh Jin-Hyek he also helped register a 216-arrow total of 2,087 — smashing the world record also set in Turkey in May by 18 points.

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The 26-year-old Im from Chungbuk is legally blind in his left eye with 20/200 vision. That means he needs to be 10 times closer to see an object than someone with perfect 20/20 vision. His right eye has 20/100 vision.

He won team gold at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics to add to his four world titles and four Asian Games gold medals.

Despite his records, Im wasn’t getting carried away, preferring to concentrate on the push for a gold medal when the competition resumes on Saturday.

“This is just the first round so I will not get too excited by it,” he said.

South Korea coach Jang Young-Sool also warned his team against complacency ahead of the medals clash.

“We will have a day of rest now and prepare for tomorrow,” said Jang.

Jang’s fellow coach Oh Seon-Tek praised the performance of Kim Bubmin who had struggled in practice, but rasied his game on Friday.

“It was a surprise that Kim had done so great in the first half,” said Oh.

“It was his first Olympics shooting so I expected some nervous breakdowns but he did a fantastic job for breaking his personal record.

“He didn’t even do that good on the practice. I think the training on mind controls have worked with Kim.”

Clinton tackles Syria, Iran concerns during Saudi visit

After meeting King Abdullah and other Saudis in Riyadh on Friday, Clinton was to consult with her counterparts from Saudi Arabia and its five Gulf Arab neighbors, all of them US allies.

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Not only does Washington suspect Iran of funneling weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to crush anti-government protests, it also fears Iran is both a potential nuclear weapons and missile threat to countries in the region.

Raising security ties from a bilateral to a regional level, Clinton is breaking new ground here as she will join the first strategic cooperation forum between the United States and the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

“We’re looking to develop a regional missile defence architecture,” a senior US State Department official told reporters traveling from Washington to Riyadh, adding the issue will likely come up in the GCC talks.

“No one nation can protect itself. It needs to rely on its partners in order to have an effective missile defence system,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Iran, he said, “is clearly one of the most significant threats that these nations face in the region,” and he described a missile defence system as a “priority for our partnership with the GCC countries.”

The Sunni Muslim-led Gulf Arab states are extremely wary of non-Arab Shiite Muslim Iran.

In Clinton’s talks with King Abdullah, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and others, the two sides discussed ways to tighten the sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, another State Department official said.

“They talked about keeping the global oil supply strong, and the essential role Saudi Arabia plays in that,” the official said.

The world’s largest oil producer faces Western appeals to boost output to make up for shortfalls when European countries are due to stop importing Iranian oil in June as part of tougher sanctions agreed in recent months.

Officials said Clinton also briefed the Saudis on a diplomatic opening with Iran, which said it expects to resume talks on April 13 over its nuclear program with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

Western countries fear Iran’s uranium enrichment program conceals plans to build a nuclear bomb, but Tehran insists it is only for peaceful purposes.

Clinton also discussed with the Saudis international efforts to send more humanitarian aid into Syria, and support opposition efforts to present a united and inclusive political vision for the future.

They also discussed tightening the array of US, European, Canadian, Arab and Turkish sanctions on Syria, and making sure that countries follow through on their commitments to fully impose the measures.

One official said the US and Saudi sides also discussed “reform in the kingdom, including the role of women,” tackling issues that have been at the heart of the protest movements sweeping other Arab countries since last year.

US officials expected the GCC countries to discuss preparations for the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul on Sunday which is expected to draw ministers from dozens of Arab and Western countries.

But there are differences over how to help the Syrian people in their bid for democracy.

Saudi Arabia and its neighbour Qatar have called for arming the opposition, which includes the Free Syrian Army, made up of Syrian military defectors.

An Arab league summit in Baghdad on Thursday rejected the option of arming any side, and called on all parties to engage in a “serious national dialogue.”

The United States and Turkey have agreed on the need to provide communications and other non-lethal aid to the opposition.

Protests continue against Mubarak verdict

Hundreds continue to occupy Cairo’s Tahrir Square in a protest against sentences handed down the day before to former president Hosni Mubarak and his security chiefs.

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Some of the demonstrators had slept in tents or out in the open overnight in the iconic square, epicentre of an anti-regime revolt that ousted Mubarak in 2011 after three decades of autocratic rule.

“We intend to stay today and possibly tomorrow. We expect a lot more people to come during the day,” said Omar Abdelkader, a young protester in Tahrir Square.

Around 20,000 people had taken to the vast intersection on Saturday after a judge sentenced Mubarak, 84, and his interior minister Habib al-Adly to life for their role in the deaths of more than 800 protesters during last year’s revolt, but acquitted six security chiefs on the same charges.

Corruption charges against Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, were dropped because of the expiry of a statute of limitations, and the ousted leader was acquitted in one of the graft cases.

A senior member of Mubarak’s defence team told AFP the former president would appeal.

Mubarak, the only autocrat toppled in the Arab Spring to be put on trial in person, could have been sent to the gallows as demanded by the prosecution.

Both the toppled dictator’s defence team and lawyers representing his victims said the verdict could easily be appealed.

The verdicts prompted outrage inside and outside the courtroom, with protesters staging rallies in Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities.

“Many people had the feeling while listening to the verdict that we were back in the days of the old regime,” said Feda Essam, a student demonstrator in Tahrir.

The demonstrators erected a memorial depicting a miniature cemetery made of gravestones and sand in tribute to the “martyrs” of the revolution.

“Martyrs, we will not abandon you to the conspiracies of the old regime. In the name of your blood, there will be a new revolution,” said a nearby banner.

Early on Sunday, offices of presidential candidate Ahmad Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, were attacked in two provincial towns, a security services official said.

Shafiq’s campaign headquarters in Cairo had already been attacked on Monday.

A group of protesters invaded the headquarters of Shafiq’s campaign in Fayyoum south of Cairo before setting fire to the building, the security official said.

Premises in Hurghada on the Red Sea were pillaged and the windows smashed.

New shelling overshadows Syria truce deadline

Syrian forces shelled protest hubs and deployed reinforcements, in apparent breach of a UN-backed peace plan, activists and monitors said, as Russia urged its ally to act more decisively to implement the truce.

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But Foreign Minister Walid Muallim said in Moscow that Damascus had started to carry out the plan tabled by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan by pulling some troops out of certain provinces.

A spokesman for Annan, who was visiting Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, said the former UN chief would send a letter to the Security Council later Tuesday, the day his peace accord was scheduled to begin taking effect.

On the ground, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled the villages of Marea and Hawr al-Nahr in northern Aleppo province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Mortar shells also struck old quarters of the flashpoint city of Homs, it said, adding unidentified gunmen killed six soldiers in northeastern Hassakeh province.

Under the peace plan it agreed with Annan, the Syrian government is supposed to draw back its troops and armour from population centres on Tuesday ahead of a ceasefire on Thursday.

Activists said that instead of withdrawing, the Assad government was sending even more reinforcements into at least one other rebel stronghold, the besieged city of Rastan in central Homs province.

The Local Coordination Committees, one of the main opposition groups inside Syria, said “large military reinforcements” had arrived on Rastan’s eastern outskirts overnight.

The reports, which cannot be verified due to curbs on foreign media, came after one of the bloodiest days in Damascus’ crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests that has seen some people take up arms against the regime.

In Moscow, Muallem told reporters after meeting his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that the government in Damascus had started implementing the Annan plan.

“I told my Russian colleague of the steps Syria is taking to show its goodwill for the implementation of the Annan plan. We have already withdrawn military units from different Syrian provinces,” said Muallem.

Lavrov, however, made it clear that Syria should be more decisive in fulfilling the plan of Annan, which most notably calls on Syria to pull out government forces and weaponry from cities hit by protests.

“We believe their actions could have been more active, more decisive when it comes to the implementation of the plan,” he told the joint news conference with Muallem.

Monday’s violence cost the lives of at least 105 people, including 74 civilians, the Observatory said, taking the monitoring group’s death toll for the past three days to close to 300.

The violence also spilled over into neighbouring countries.

Gunfire from Syria wounded four Syrians and two Turkish staff at a camp across the border in Turkey, and killed a television cameraman over the frontier with Lebanon.

Some 25,000 Syrian refugees are currently in camps in Turkey’s three provinces bordering Syria, after fleeing the crackdown on dissent.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Syria of a “clear violation” of common frontiers, while Lebanon demanded a probe into the cameraman’s shooting.

“It was a very clear violation of the border,” Erdogan told reporters on an official visit to Beijing. “Obviously we will take the necessary measures,” he was quoted as saying by the Turkish news agency Anatolia.

Washington rebuked Syria’s government for the border violence, and said Assad was showing no signs his government was sticking by the peace plan after signing up to the deal last week.

“We certainly have seen no sign yet of the Assad regime abiding by its commitments,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Current UN chief Ban Ki-moon made a final plea for Assad to stop attacks on civilians after Monday’s fierce clashes.

“The secretary general reiterates his demand that the government of Syria immediately cease all military actions against civilians and fulfill all of its commitments made through joint special envoy Kofi Annan,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

The peace plan has been under a cloud for days since Damascus said it would keep its side of the bargain only if rebels gave written guarantees they would also stop fighting, a condition rejected out of hand by the rebels.

Amid the clashes, China urged Syria to honour its commitments and to implement the peace deal.

“China urges the Syrian government and parties concerned in Syria to seize the important opportunities, to honour their commitment of ceasefire and withdrawal of troops,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.

On Sunday, Syria’s government laid out new conditions that put the truce in doubt, namely written guarantees from the rebels of a ceasefire and pledges from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey who oppose the Damascus regime that they would stop backing the rebels.

Following his visit to Turkey, Annan will travel to Syria’s ally Iran on Wednesday.

“I remind the Syrian government of the need for full implementation of its commitments and stress that the present escalation of violence is unacceptable,” Annan said at the weekend.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed since anti-regime protests broke out in March 2011, while monitors put the number at more than 10,000.

In their words: Racism in Australia

The government has called for input from community groups on new ways to tackle racism, as indigenous and non-Anglo Australians say it is still rife.

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The Australia Human Rights Commission hopes that a series of public consultations will help it to evaluate where and how racism is being expressed across the nation.

A discussion paper released today outlines possible responses to a 2011 report that showed growing numbers of Australians who said they had experienced discrimination based on their ethnic background or appearance.

The report showed 9 per cent felt that way in 2007, 10 per cent in 2009 and 14 per cent in both 2010 and 2011.

“A zero tolerance approach to racism goes hand in hand with the broad acceptance of multiculturalism in Australia. It is integral to achieving a fair go for all,” Human Rights Commissioner Helen Szoke said in a statement on the web.

DEFINING RACISM

People who responded to an SBS request for personal accounts of their experiences with racism described a wide variety of incidents.

Indigenous Adelaide rapper Colin Darcy – also known as Caper – posted a video on Facebook of a song he wrote decrying racist insults that had been hurled at him.

He says Facebook removed the video after one user complained it contained offensive terms even though Darcy had used these to describe how others had abused him.

The video was put back up after a backlash from supporters.

Media coverage of the row attracted more viewers, and many left vicious racist comments.

‘Since the video got banned, people have checked it out and left racist comments,” Darcy told SBS.

“In a way the comments on the video prove its point.”

(NOTE: There is language some may find offensive in the video and in the comments section below it on YouTube).

Several non-government organisations are currently using ‘How Would You Like To Be Me’ to raise awareness, says Darcy.

RECRUITERS ‘REJECT SKILLED MIGRANTS’

Dr Hassan says he came to Australia on a skilled migration visa, having worked for a pharmaceutical company with a presence in 22 countries.

However, Dr Hassan said he ended up driving a taxi after several recruitment agencies refused to represent him because he had no Australian experience.

Further to that, Dr Hassan said that as a new arrival in the country, he attended a seminar organised by the immigration department.

The attendees – all recent immigrants – were told that Internet job sites only advertised 20 per cent of the positions available, and the rest could be found only through ‘networking’.

“How can people who have just landed in this country network?” asks Dr Hassan. “Is it non-mandatory to advertise?”

“Where should I sit, in the bar and start drinking? I know it doesn’t happen this way. Noone is going to come over to you and say ‘It’s your lucky day, I’ll give you a job,” he says.

‘PUT YOUR SCARF BACK ON’

Perth resident Sara A – who asked that her surname not be published – told SBS that she was ordered to put her headscarf back on or she wouldn’t be allowed to leave Australia.

Ms A says she her passport photograph – taken in her country of origin – showed her wearing the scarf because that was the law there.

However, since becoming a permanent resident of Australia she no longer wore it very often.

“Why do I have to wear Islamic attire at the airport in Australia to be able to travel?” she asked.

“(The border guard) just wanted to insult me for sure. If a man wore a tie in his passport photo does (not) necessarily means he must wear tie again,” Ms A added.

“I was truly hurt by her behavior. this happen to me just once but if I was a true Muslim and always wear scarf this things might happen more often,” Ms A said.

LATERAL RACISM

Melbourne art professor Wayne Quilliam told SBS he was the victim of racism from both the Aboriginal and Anglo communities after he was named Aboriginal Artist of the Year.

“The most recent experience was of an Aboriginal man from Victoria questioning how a lighter skinned man can name as the Aboriginal Artist of the Year when darker-skinned should be given preference,” he said in an email.

“Within our communities we are calling this lateral violence and taking people to task to confront their prejudices,” Mr Quilliam added.

Azarenka edges Ivanovic, meets Stosur in final

Playing in her first tournament since suffering knee and hip injuries at Wimbledon, the Belarussian dug herself out of a second-set hole to subdue the 2008 French Open champion, who also ran hot and cold throughout.

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Australia’s Samantha Stosur will face Azarenka in Sunday’s showdown after the fifth seed utilised her big serve and forehand to repel French wild card Virginie Razzano 7-6 6-3 in the second semi-final.

“It’s something that you expect from Ana, she’s a very big shot maker and loves to bang the ball,” Azarenka told reporters of her hard-hitting Serb opponent.

“For me the key was to not let her make those shots and be the one who was putting the pressure. I did feel more consistent.”

World number three Azarenka raced through the first set, breaking the seventh-seeded Ivanovic three times, but was less than thrilled with her play in the second, where she was broken to love and conceded it with three sizzling forehand winners.

Azarenka composed herself in the third, breaking Ivanovic with a ripping forehand crosscourt winner and never giving the Serb a look at her serve.

Following her win, the double Australian Open champion is guaranteed to pass Russian Maria Sharapova for the number two ranking when they are released on Monday. Serena Williams will remain number one.

SLOW START

Azarenka has won 28 straight matches on outdoor hard courts since her 2012 U.S. Open final defeat, despite withdrawing from three tournaments during the period with injuries.

“The reality is we have most of the tournaments on hard but that’s a great statistic,” Azarenka said.

In the late match, Stosur was able to overcome a 4-0 deficit in the first set by overpowering her ambitious opponent to reach a first WTA final in nine months.

After recovering from her slow start, Stosur dictated most of the action and played a far more authoritative tiebreaker, winning it 7-2 with a big serve that Razzano could barely touch.

The Australian broke Razzano early in the second set and went on to seal victory when the Frenchwoman, who had needed three-and-a-half hours to upset third seed Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals, hit a backhand long.

“I don’t feel like I was playing too bad at the start to be 4-0 down but she was hitting a lot of winners and making me move a lot,” said Stosur, who ripped 20 winners.

“So I thought I have to do something to change this and be more aggressive off the front foot a lot earlier in the rallies, dictate earlier, and that made the difference.”

Azarenka will be a strong favourite going into Sunday’s final with the top seed holding an 8-0 record against Stosur in previous meetings.

(Editing by John O’Brien)