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)

Australia ‘must meet Millennium Development Goals at home’

As Australia portrays itself as a champion of the world’s disadvantaged, critics point to the plight of its own Indigenous people.

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This is Part Two of a two-part series. (Click here for Part One)

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

UN’s Millennium Development Goals, due to run out in just under three years, are an initiative designed to help the world’s poorest people.

As co-chair of a United Nations MDG Advocacy Group, Prime Minister Julia Gillard is supposed to be helping to ensure the goals’ success.

But there are critics of Australia’s performance on the MDGs.

And there are those who say Australia shouldn’t be portraying itself as a champion of the world’s disadvantaged when it has a poor record of looking after its own disadvantaged – notably its Indigenous people.

Back in 2000, 189 members of the United Nations, including Australia, committed to changing the world over the next 15 years through the Millennium Development Goals.

With that time nearly up, attention is already turning to what will come next.

The aid group, Save the Children, is promoting a new set of goals that it claims would ensure the elimination of world poverty forever.

Lynne Benson, from Save the Children, says as co-chair of the MDG Advocacy Group, Prime Minister Julia Gillard is in a strong position to be influencing the post-2015 goals.

“So we would just be advocating for Julia Gillard to use her position with the UN to really push for and advocate for the acceptance and support for the proposed goals that Save the Children is suggesting. It’s important that allof the world gets behind a shared agenda to help the less fortunate people of the world. The existing Millennium Development Goals have been partially achieved, and we need now to take it further.”

At a UN meeting back in September, Prime Minister Gillard acknowledged that attention was turning to the post-2015 world.

But she said she was focusing on what can be done to achieve the current MDGs, before 2015.

“We need to sharpen our focus on things that can be achieved in that remaining period of time, that there are things that can actually be achieved quite quickly, we can sharpen our focus geographically but we can also sharpen our focus on those things that can be achieved quite quickly. A lot of the discussion here at the UN is inevitably going to start to focus on the goals that will be set beyond 2015; the world needs to get this done, and we can’t just put to one side the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals because we’ve become so intrigued about what lies beyond. So whatever goals lie beyond they are built on the strongest possible platform.”

The eighth and final Millennium Development Goal promotes closer relationships between the developed and developing world.

It also asks nations to dedicate 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income to aid programs in poorer countries.

According to OECD statistics, in 2011 Australia devoted 0.34 per cent of its GNI to supporting this goal.

Archie Law, from the humanitarian organisation, ActionAid, says it seems that Australia will fail to comply with the MDG requirement.

“Australia made a commitment that it was going to provide 0.7 per cent of GDP by 2015 to support the Millennium Development Goals. This is then revised down to 0.5 per cent, in monetary terms. It just looks like that isn’t going to happen. I think Australia’s been an enthusiastic supporter with its words but not with its wallet.”

Thulsi Narayanasamy is the campaign co-ordinator for the monitoring group, AID/WATCH.

She says that Australia’s aid commitments are motivated more by self-interest than by trying to achieve the MDGs.

“There are quite a number of questionable items which fall under the remit of the aid budget which are not working towards the eradication of poverty or the MDGs at all, and instead they’re actually working to further Australia’s national and private interests which inflate the aid budget. Big businesses have hijacked the aid budget and we see the aid boomerang leave Australia to go overseas only to end up in the back pocket of rich Australian companies who benefit by being contracted to work overseas anyway.”

Thulsi Narayanasamy argues that Australia could easily increase its overseas aid, while still looking after its domestic problems.

But she says too often, federal governments have shown they’re prepared to squeeze the aid budget to fund programs in Australia.

“And there’s quite a long history of us doing this in Australia. Recently Bob Carr actually announced money would be going towards the detention of asylum seekers, again another far cry from poverty eradication and the goals that were created in 2000. We already don’t have a good record in terms of how much we’re spending on aid, and I think these cuts do reflect badly on us as a country.”

Most of the MDGs set targets for developing countries to achieve, like lowering infant mortality rates, and increasing the number of children getting a primary education.

Except for the target level of GNI for official development assistance, Australia and other developed countries aren’t measured for compliance with the MDGs.

Critics say this leads to incorrect assumptions that all citizens of developed countries must be enjoying high living standards.

Anthony Zwi is a professor of global health and development at the University of New South Wales.

He argues that in Australia’s case, the way the MDGs are assessed is hiding the true situation of its Indigenous people.

“Clearly within a country like Australia there are huge disparities and inequalities, and segments of the population – notably the indigenous population – have much poorer health outcomes and life expectancies than non-indigenous Australians. There certainly is an argument that the issues that have received focus through the Millennium Development Goals are as applicable within countries that are developed and have impoverished minorities and indigenous populations.”

Michael Mansell is the Legal Director of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.

He argues that a wealthy country like Australia should easily meet international development standards – but it’s failing to do so under the existing MDGs.

“Whenever the international community sets standards that countries should apply, they’re the sorts of standards that countries like Australia should easily be able to cope with. Australia is not complying with its own domestic standards and certainly is not complying with international standards.”

Jack de Groot, from the Catholic aid organisation, Caritas Australia, agrees.

He believes Australia must guarantee the goals are achieved not just in developing countries, but closer to home.

“Australia needs to make sure that those who live in extreme poverty in Australia are meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities throughout Australia face extraordinary challenges particularly those questions of health and education and access to those fundamental rights so that they can live a life free of poverty.”

The Melbourne-based Lowitja Institute researches the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Chair of the Institute, Professor Ian Anderson, agrees that Australia and other countries with Indigenous disadvantage aren’t being held to account by the MDGs.

But he points out that governments can be sensitive about the plight of their Indigenous people being raised internationally.

“There is sort of a view on the global stage that nations like Canada, New Zealand and Australia don’t have issues of social disadvantage and that they are relatively wealthy nations. There’s been some reluctance for some nation states to actually open up issues of internal equity and indigenous issues and social disadvantage within their borders and their political jurisdiction.”

The United Nations has started meetings to discuss what should replace the MDGs after they expire at the end of 2015.

Archie Law from ActionAid thinks there are many areas the next generation of global goals could improve upon, some directly applicable to Australia.

“I think when it comes to a post-2015 agenda it’s time to really look at some of the issues that weren’t addressed in the MDGs as they are now: there’s no mention of human rights, there’s no universal goal for all so whereas you say indigenous Australians are counted in the new framework, where do they participate?

Ian Anderson from the Lowitja Institute agrees that Australia should have goals tailored to its unique characteristics.

“I think what we need here are a set of goals and strategies that really address indigenous people being a small minority in a relatively wealthy country in which we globally have political access to the resources needed to make a difference, but we have entrenched social disadvantage that needs to be addressed in a way that might be different than, say in Africa or South America.”

While some supporters may be enthused by Prime Minister Gillard being co-chair of the MDG advocacy group, Aboriginal leaders like Michael Mansell would like to see her focus more on the situation of Australia’s Indigenous people.

Whether or not a new set of international development goals is established, he doesn’t believe much will change for Indigenous Australians without support from the top.

“You can’t point to a Prime Minister in the last 15 years or more that has said look “Aborigines and their situation should be the highest priority for this country”, and until you get a Prime Minister who’s prepared to do that the situation of Aboriginal people cannot improve, because all of the resources and the ability to bring about change is not in the hands of Aboriginal people, it is in the hands of the politicians and Prime Ministers.”

Afghan shift is real workout

Exercise bikes, boxing gloves and power tools will stay.

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But weapons and ammo are going.

Brigadier Andrew Bottrell has a big job on his hands and a tight deadline.

On December 31 the main Australian Defence Force base in Afghanistan will be shut down, with 1000 soldiers going home.

About 300 troops will remain for training and other roles based in in Kabul and Kandahar, while an ongoing role has yet to be set for Australia’s special forces.

An extra 240 experts have been brought in to help with the drawdown, which is being run by Brigadier Bottrell’s cryptically named Redeployment Fusion Cell.

“The manner in which we leave this country is the manner in which we will be remembered,” Brig Bottrell described the philosophy of the task.

Already about three-quarters of the camp has been taken apart or has been earmarked.

One of the most popular areas, a large gymnasium, will be left for the Afghan security forces, complete with electronic exercise equipment and boxing gear.

Brig Bottrell says finicky small items such as power tools will also be gifted.

Talks are under way about the use of the permanent buildings and armoured sleeping quarters.

The entire camp is likely to remain a security precinct, rather than a hospital or school because of the type of facilities that they are.

Brig Bottrell says taxpayers’ money will be saved by not having to take some things apart and ship them out.

“And it gives the Afghanis some robust infrastructure,” he says.

The military logistical expert says Afghan forces have learned to stand on their own two feet after “a lot of blood, plenty of tears and exceptional work”.

Defence says there are no plans to hand over weapons, ammunition or body armour to the Afghan security forces. These will either be destroyed or returned to Australia.

Most of the equipment will be returned by air from Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates and then by sea from the port of Jebel Ali.

Some containers will be sent by road through Pakistan and then by sea from Karachi. But there’s a catch with road transport.

The Afghan government is reneging on a deal not to tax truck contractors and plans to charge an “export fee”.

Senior Defence sources say the tax grab is “not considered a significant issue”.

But a US audit in May found contractors supporting operations in Afghanistan had been hit with almost $US921 million in potentially inappropriate taxes and penalties from the Afghan Ministry of Finance since 2008.

N Korea carries out tests for missiles

North Korea has conducted motor tests to improve its long-range missiles after a failed launch in April, a US think tank said Monday after reviewing new satellite images.

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Since the embarrassing flop in April, the communist regime appears to have carried out at least two tests of large motors needed for rockets and worked on a launch platform, the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said.

The institute examined commercial images of the Sohae satellite launch station between April and September and found that 34 fuel tanks had been moved and vegetation appeared to be burned, next to a flame trench stained with an orange residue.

Such fuel tests would boost development of engines for the Unha-3, the rocket which North Korea unsuccessfully launched in April, or what seemed to be a new, longer-range missile displayed at a military parade the same month.

Some analysts believe that a North Korean rocket, if successfully developed, could eventually reach the range to hit the United States.

Nick Hansen, an expert on imagery analysis, said that North Korea may step up action after elections in both the United States and South Korea, the regime’s two primary foes.

“In the aftermath of the US and South Korean presidential elections, Pyongyang may embark on a new round of activities in the first half of 2013, including rocket and nuclear tests that will contribute to further development of its nuclear deterrent,” he wrote on the institute’s blog, 38 North.

South Korea’s defense minister, Kim Kwan-Jin, said last week that North Korea had completed preparations for another nuclear test and long-range missile launches.

However, 38 North in September reported a work stoppage at a new launch pad for intercontinental missiles — possibly due to rain — that could set the project back by up to two years.

North Korea defiantly went ahead with the rocket launch in April, saying it was trying to put a satellite in orbit, but it disintegrated just two to three minutes after blast-off.

The test put a halt to the latest international effort to engage the isolated state, with the United States calling off plans to deliver badly needed food assistance.

Athletes arrive at Olympic Village

The Olympic Athletes’ Village opened its doors to the first competitors as the logistical operation to handle the arrival of thousands of athletes and officials shifted into a higher gear.

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London’s Heathrow Airport was expecting to handle a record number of passengers, with the Olympics arrivals swelling numbers to almost 237,000 at the west London hub, compared to 190,000 on an ordinary day.

The first priority ‘Games Lane’ went into operation on the M4 motorway leading from Heathrow, to allow athletes and officials to be whisked to their destinations without being delayed by London traffic.

It emerged that nine police forces have had to deploy extra officers to help with security for the Games, a week after the government was forced to draft in 3,500 troops to meet a shortfall in private security guards.

At Heathrow, where passengers have complained of being stuck in passport queues for several hours in recent weeks, the addition of extra border officials appeared to have eased the process.

There were few complaints from spectators or athletes, who were greeted by more than 500 volunteers as they landed.

The Netherlands women’s beach volleyball team flew in from Amsterdam in a blaze of orange tops and said they were impressed by the setup.

One of the players, Marleen van Iersel, 24, told AFP: “From the moment we walked off the plane there were people helping us straight away. It is very well-organised.”

A large US contingent also arrived at Heathrow, including members of the sailing teams.

But experiences of the early arrivals were mixed, with two-time world 400 metres hurdles champion Kerron Clement claiming the bus ferrying him and his US teammates from Heathrow to the Athletes’ Village had taken four hours.

Clement tweeted: “Um, so we’ve been lost on the road for 4hrs. Not a good first impression London.

“Athletes are sleepy, hungry and need to pee. Could we get to the Olympic Village please.”

However, the hurdler later tweeted to praise facilities at the athlete’s village, located in the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London.

“Eating at the Olympic village,” he wrote. “Love the variety of food choices., african, caribbean, Halal cuisine, india and asian and of course McDonalds.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson shrugged off the incident, joking that it had given the athletes “even more of an opportunity to see even more of the city than they might otherwise have done.”

Competitors and officials will be accommodated in 2,818 apartments across 11 residential blocks, each built around a courtyard offering athletes space to relax.

Organisers could do nothing though about the grey skies and persistent drizzle in London as athletes got a first taste of their home for the next three weeks.

The Australian team have already taken over several balconies of one block, with a banner reading “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie; Oi, Oi, Oi” draped across them.

The furore over the giant private security firm G4S showed no signs of abating, despite ministers’ insistence that the Games would be secure. G4S has insisted that the extra police drafted in should be able to withdraw in the next few days.

“This situation is being rectified over the coming days, which should lead to the withdrawal of police officers from those roles assigned to private security,” a G4S spokesman said.

In a heated parliamentary debate on the security issue, Home Secretary Theresa May said it was “untrue” that ministers knew last year that there would be a shortfall in the numbers of security personnel they had been promised.

“G4S repeatedly assured us that they would overshoot their targets,” she said.

Shares in the company, which says it is likely to lose £50 million (about AU $76 million) over the debacle, dived 10 percent in early trading in London before recovering slightly to close down 6.66 percent.

What is billed as the biggest anti-doping operation in Olympic history also got under way on Monday.

Half of all competitors will be tested, with a team of 150 scientists taking more than 6,000 samples between now and the end of the Paralympic Games on September 9.

Explainer: what is depression?

By Philip Batterham, Australian National University; Amelia Gulliver, Australian National University, and Lou Farrer, Australian National University

Many people know what it’s like to feel sad or down from time to time.

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We can experience negative emotions due to many things – a bad day at work, a relationship break-up, a sad film, or just getting out of bed on the “wrong side”. Sometimes we even say that we’re feeling a bit “depressed”. But what does that mean, and how can we tell when it’s more than just a feeling?

Depression is more than the experience of sadness or stress. A depressive episode is defined as a period of two weeks or longer where the individual experiences persistent feelings of sadness or loss of pleasure, coupled with a range of other physical and psychological symptoms including fatigue, changes in sleep or appetite, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or thoughts of death.

To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, individuals must experience at least one depressive episode that disrupts their work, social or home life.

Depression is common in the community, with 12% of Australians experiencing major depressive disorder in their lifetime. More than 650,000 Australians have this experience in any 12-month period.

Because it’s highly prevalent and can be significantly disabling, the World Health Organization reports that depression is the third highest cause of disease burden worldwide, with a greater burden on the community than heart disease. There are also high levels of overlap between depression and other common mental disorders, including anxiety and substance use disorders.

Unfortunately, only 35% of people with symptoms of mental health problems seek help. This may be because of difficulties identifying depression in the community due to a lack of knowledge or accessing care, and stigmatising attitudes towards depression.

Depression prevention programs that provide accessible treatments, increase knowledge and change negative attitudes are an important way to increase access to treatment and reduce the burden of depression.

Causes and risk factors

There’s generally no single reason why an individual becomes depressed. There’s a constellation of risk factors, including physiological, genetic, psychological, social and demographic influences.

Biological risk factors include having a family history of depression, suffering a long-term physical illness or injury, experiencing chronic pain, using illicit drugs or certain prescription medications, chronic sleep problems, or having a baby. Having experienced depression in the past is a risk factor for a further depressive episode.

Psychological risk factors for depression include having low self-esteem, or having a tendency to be self-critical. Demographic and social influences include being female (women are almost twice as likely to suffer from depression than men), stressful life events (such as relationship conflict or caring for someone with an illness), experiencing a difficult or abusive childhood, or being unemployed.

People differ greatly in the amount or type of risk factors they’re exposed to or experience. And having several risk factors alone is not enough to trigger depression.

A combination of risk factors and the experience of stressful or adverse life events may prompt the onset of depression. The greater the number of risk factors that a person experiences, the more vulnerable they are to developing depression when stressful life events occur.

In contrast, those exposed to fewer risk factors are somewhat buffered, and may only develop depression when exposed to extreme levels of environmental stress.

Treatment and prevention

There are a number of effective treatments for depression. The most effective and widely used are cognitive-behavioural therapy and antidepressant medications.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy is a talking therapy that primarily aims to reduce negative thinking patterns, while antidepressant medications target brain chemicals thought to be implicated in depression.

There’s also evidence that low-intensity cognitive-behavioural therapy combined with education about depression can prevent individuals from developing depression. To widen the reach of such prevention programs, internet therapy programs have been developed and shown to be effective in preventing depression. Australian researchers are at the forefront of developing e-mental health platforms to reduce the prevalence of depression and other mental disorders.

There is some evidence that lifestyle changes can also help to prevent depression in some people. Engaging in healthy behaviours, such as getting adequate sleep, avoiding substance use, taking vitamins or fish oil supplements, engaging in physical activity and healthy diet, have all been shown to have associations with reduced depression symptoms. But research continues to examine whether making changes in these areas can lead directly to the prevention of depression.

Future research

There are a number of promising research areas that are currently being explored. Researchers are investigating ways to make cognitive-behavioural therapy more effective through better understanding of the processes involved in recovery. And technology has improved the availability of online, mobile and computer-based treatments, so that people at risk of depression in under-served areas such as rural locations or developing countries can access evidence-based services.

Population-based research is leading to a better understanding of risk factors for depression and improvement in its early detection. Research on the biological and genetic bases of depression is resulting in continual refinement of physical and pharmacological treatments.

A more nuanced understanding of the treatment options that work best for specific individuals has great promise for allowing an individually tailored approach to treating and preventing depression.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support, beyondblue 1300 22 4636 or SANE Australia for information.

Philip Batterham receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Amelia Gulliver and Lou Farrer do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.