Were you annoyed by anti-World Youth Day T-shirts this week? Gearing up for the Tour de France? Or simply excited about Nicole Kidman's first child with Keith Urban? Check out the top stories on SBS World News Australia Online this week.

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World Youth Day has been splattered across the front pages of most news outlets this week, including this one.

However the coverage has been far from favourable for the Catholic Church and WYD organisers. Earlier this week the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, claimed he didn't deliberately mislead a victim of sexual assault, after allegations emerged he erroneously dismissed a complaint made against a Catholic Priest.

In a statement, the leading Catholic cleric said he had sent a letter to the victim, Anthony Jones, that was “badly worded and a mistake” and any fault in the drafting of the letter was his.

Cardinal Pell admitted he made an 'innocent error' but refused any suggestions that he should stand down as head of the Catholic Church in Australia.

But it was the 'anti-annoyance' laws for WYD that got the most clicks from SBS Online viewers, with a story on the Top 10 anti WYD T-shirt slogans among the top 10 most viewed articles.

We can't list them all here, but among our favourites are:

– “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who wear t-shirts that cause annoyance or inconvenience…”

– World Youth Day: You can cross yourself, but not the city

The 'annoying' NoToPope Coalition held a fashion parade in Sydney. While it was far from fashion, the 'models' paraded outside State Parliament with more colourful anti-Pope slogans.

VIDEO: WYD protest hits Sydney

IN-DEPTH: World Youth Day

With surging petrol prices hitting our back pocket (and making the blood boil in the case some motorists) the CSIRO reckons Australians could end up paying $8 a litre by 2018.

In a study entitled Fuel for Thought, the organisation says increased demand for petrol and dwindling supplies could see Australians paying an extra $220 a week to run their cars.

Find out more about the food and fuel crisis.

And climate change was a hot topic at the G8 Summit where world leaders agreed to cut carbon emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050.

But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the commitment on fighting climate change was not strong enough.

“The challenge will be great and there is no great breakthrough at this particular meeting,” Rudd said

The issue of child pornography also made it back into the top headlines this week, with child protection activists again calling for clearer laws to stop naked images of children being presented as art, after a photo of a six-year-old girl appeared on the cover of an art magazine.

Have your say: Nude child photos: art or exploitation?

Entertainment and sport also topped the news agenda this week, with Hollywood glamour girl Nicole Kidman announcing the birth of her first child with hubby Keith Urban.

The baby girl was born in Nashville Tennesee on Monday morning, and has been affectionately named Sunday Rose Kidman Urban.

Kidman, who turned 41 in June has two adopted children, Isabella, 15, and Connor, 13, with former husband, Tom Cruise.

We've also donned the black and gold here at SBS with the Tour de France season. We're providing round the clock coverage of the world's most famous cycling extravaganza here.

Highlights: Tour de France

And we round off the week with a couple of stories from the lighter side of life.

Straight from the category 'Only in America' comes the story of a Florida shopper getting more bang for his buck after being bitten by a deadly rattlesnake in the local Walmart store.

The 30cm-long snake was hiding among leaves in the store's gardening section, when it took a bite out of the man's arm.

Click here for more off beat stories

While we all know rugby is one of New Zealand's favourite passtimes, fans of the country's Toyota Grassroots rugby program got the shock of their lives this week.

Human error saw the station accidentally mix signals and transmit four minutes of porn from Sky TV's pay-per-view 'Spice' channel. Prime Television spokesman Tony O'Brien said technicians established there was a mix-up in the distribution process and that the network apologised for any offence caused, Newstalk ZB reported.

What makes me think most rugby fans wouldn't have minded so much?Read More →

Newcastle moved to the brink of progression in the Asian Champions League with a spectacular, come-from-behind 2-1 win over an under-strength Beijing Guoan.

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The Jets looked to be heading out of the competition after Beijing\’s Australian striker Ryan Griffiths, a former Newcastle NSL player, scored against the run of play in the 69th minute at Energy Australia Stadium.

But the Jets produced an amazing late show with veteran striker Sasho Petrovski equalising in the 88th minute and unknown 20-year-old substitute Sean Rooney hitting the winner four minutes into injury time to put the Jets on track to qualify for the knockout stages.

“There\’s good character in this team and they\’ve pretty much got a never-die attitude,” Jets coach Gary van Egmond.

“I didn\’t think it was over … to come back and to win the game is just a testament to the players\’ resolve.”

The Jets are now second in Group E and only need to draw their final group match against Ulsan Hyundai in South Korea to reach the last 16.

Even if they lose they could still progress if Beijing lose at home to the already-qualified Nagoya Grampus of Japan.

Newcastle will be without Adam Griffiths in Korea after he picked up a yellow card but they will welcome back suspended Ben Kantarovski.

“We\’ll go there with a lot of confidence taken out of a game like this and we\’re very much looking forward to it,” van Egmond said.

The Jets had dominated until Griffiths, the younger brother of Newcastle brothers Adam and Joel, turned the game.

He was released into space by substitute Yang Yun and got between Jets defenders Ljubo Milicevic and Tarek Elrich before calmly slotting the ball past Ben Kennedy.

But the Jets refused to give in and Petrovski pounced on a lovely Elrich cross to fire home from a tight angle.

Newcastle didn\’t take their foot off the pedal either, with Rooney – who was picked up by the Jets from Sydney FC\’s youth team for the ACL – collected a knock-on from Milicevic and fired in a stunning, curling shot from outside the box to send the small but vocal crowd into raptures.

Beijing had kicked off without six players that started in their 0-0 Chinese Super League draw with Shanghai Shenhua on Friday as they battled a heavy fixtures schedule between competitions.

Their Korean coach Lee Jang Soo admitted it had taken its toll.

“The result is disappointing but I\’m satisfied with the players, they gave their best,” he said.

“Because of the high intensity of games in the ACL and Chinese Super League our players are tired.”

The Jets now sit on seven points in Group E, four behind Nagoya, who secured progression by thrashing Ulsan 4-1 at home.

Read More →

REPORTER: Matthew Carney

Israel`s recent attacks on the West Bank flew in the face of international opinion.

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And while the world repeatedly called for Israel to withdraw Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was manoeuvring behind the scenes to make sure the campaign continued. Sharon effectively sidelined his major coalition partner, the Labour Party. They objected to the reoccupation of the West Bank. To make sure the military campaign would be finished to his satisfaction, Sharon brought in this man, Effie Eitam. Eitam is a hardline reservist general and the rising star of the far right in Israel. He wants to see the Palestinian Authority, the PA, destroyed and that`s almost complete.

EFFIE EITAM: The PA is not an innocent civilian authority, we must say that also very clear. It`s the greatest terror consortium in the world.

For the moment Effie Eitam is content with the military`s progress. Eitam was never a supporter of the Oslo peace process. And he now wants to move on to the next phase of his plan – expelling the Palestinian leadership.

EFFIE EITAM: We will have to take this leadership out of the area. Until they are here, until Arafat is here, no chance for any new leadership to come up. So this is the first thing that we`ve got to do, to get rid of him.

REPORTER: So, where do you take him, you just take him out of the country, or…?

EFFIE EITAM: Yes, that is what we have got to do, to take him out of the country, and to make sure that the international community will understand that he`s not a partner any more.

Effie Eitam`s appointment as a minister met with outrage by Labour members and opposition parties. His sudden rise to power meant Labour had just lost their influence and Sharon had moved his Government further to the right. Effie Eitam`s national religious party holding only five seats was now in Sharon`s unity Government and Eitam himself was given a place in Sharon`s inner circle – the security Cabinet. Labour leader and defence minister Ben Eliezer and Labour`s stalwart and Foreign Affairs Minister Shimon Peres effectively lost their power in the Cabinet.

OPHIR PINES-PAZ, LABOUR PARTY: We thought that it was a great mistake of Mr Sharon. Number one, Mr Eitam just entered politics, he had never been a member of the Knesset, he was never elected, he don`t have that kind of experience, he just came out of the army.

As an army man, Israelis have lionised Effie Eitam for his role in freeing these Israeli hostages from Entebbe in Uganda in 1976 and his service in Lebanon in 1982. But his opponents say he went too far in the first Intifada of 1987. Eitam was charged with giving illegal orders to his soldiers to break the bones of Palestinian protesters. Four soldiers were convicted of assault, but Eitam was cleared of any offence.

MOSSI RAZ, MERETZ PARTY: He is not clean. When you talk about somebody who they act in a violent way against civilians, I don`t think that he should be part in our Cabinet.

EFFIE EITAM: No base for these allegations because I mean you can see my record, I seen the first Intifada, I was promoted four times, I became a general in the ADF, they brought it to court, three or four times in court, including the Supreme Court of Justice – just roll them out of the hole, telling them you are coming without clean hands it is all political manipulation.

When the tanks rolled into the West Bank, Eitam was happy. His vision was becoming a reality. Eitam does not believe in a Palestinian state and plans to reoccupy all of the West Bank and Gaza. When all Palestinian militants have been rooted out he`s prepared to offer the Palestinians some autonomy but not democratic rights. But this is only the first stage of Eitam`s grand plan for the Palestinians.

EFFIE EITAM: We saw what happened, 3,000 rifles became an illegal army of terror and we cannot allow them to vote to our Parliament, because that will undermine the Jewish majority in Israel and the Jewish majority is a precondition for what we believe should be a Jewish state.

What has shocked moderate Israeli politicians is Eitam`s support for transfer. The euphemism for removing Palestinians from their homelands in the West Bank and Gaza and relocating them to Jordan or Egypt. He outlined his views to a leading Israeli university: “The Israeli defence force can tomorrow conquer Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip and expel the population there overnight. It`s not a problem to do this. We have a problem of having the will to do this. As a nation, we are inhibited.” Now he is a minister, Eitam says he rejects the idea of transfer as morally repugnant. History tells him that`s precisely what the Nazis did to the Jews, but he still believes the Palestinians have to go.

EFFIE EITAM: Solving the problem is to offer the Palestinians a state which will be combined out of Gaza and Sinai Desert. Sinai is the only significant reservoir of land we have in this region. Egypt doesn`t need it – not for settlement, not for defence, only a few buildings from in there and it is a very huge area, four times bigger than Israel with all the occupied territories. So this must be a kind of cooperation between Israel, Egyptians and the international community and I don`t see any reason why in Hell the Egyptians were enjoying such a massive Western support in money and military aid. Why don`t they offer, or why shouldn`t they offer Sinai as a piece of land which is so empty and really can allow to solve the problem peacefully.

OPHIR PINES-PAZ: His ideology, his ideas – we resent them, we are against them, we oppose them. We don`t like them and we cannot, from my point of view, participate in any Government that he is part of.

In protest at Eitam`s sudden rise to power and his extremist views, Labour says it will leave the Sharon Government.

REPORTER: So when will you leave the Government?

OPHIR PINES-PAZ: I hope as soon as possible. I hope as soon as possible.

REPORTER: When does that mean do you think?

OPHIR PINES-PAZ: I have no idea. I have no idea. I hope that, I mean, we have reasons to leave, daily reasons to leave. The question is when our leaders mainly Shimon Peres and Ben Eliezer will get to the point that they must leave.

EFFIE EITAM: No, they will not come out of unity Government because me and my party came into the Government. That`s rubbish. You know, it`s an area which psychiatrists must really explore. You know, I`m not that good in exploration of hatred, especially not hatred amongst brothers, amongst Jews.

Effie Eitam backs Israel`s Messianic Zionists. They are a minority driven by a biblical vision. They believe the Messiah will only return when every inch of the West Bank, a land they call Judea and Samaria, has been settled by the Jews. Central to their belief is the Jews` first temple needs to be rebuilt on the Temple Mount. This means destroying the al-Aqsa Mosque – Islam`s third holiest site.

DANIEL BEN SIMON, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And he is bringing God with him into politics. And I would say that this is not what the Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs need today – the strong involvement of God. This is a political conflict on politics and mainly on an issue of land and I think that the introduction of religion and God into this conflict is counterproductive and Effie Eitam represents this divine side of bringing religion into politics, I think it is very, very dangerous.

In the face of an unprecedented number of Palestinian suicide bombers, many Israelis are turning to Eitam, a strong man for challenging times. The majority see his ideas as extreme, but he is gaining popularity. 46% of people recently polled supported the idea of transfer.

DANIEL BEN SIMON: Israelis are so disappointed by conventional politics that they are looking for different solutions and then comes somebody who represents himself as a strong believer in God and somebody who will, who will really enhance the coming of the Messiah, many Israelis today are ready to consider very strange ideas even such ideas like the Messiah. So I would say he comes in a very low point in Israeli politics and in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. And within this framework of death and despair, such people can have a lot of support.

The appointment of Effie Eitam means extremism is winning in Israel as it is on the Palestinian sides. If Labour walks out of the unity government it will take any hope of a negotiated political settlement with it. And Eitam`s opponents fear Israel will only see more death and destruction.

OPHIR PINES-PAZ: Because it won`t do anything right now, politically, I`m talking about politically, the terror will rise again in a week time, or two weeks time or three weeks time. It`s a matter of time. So we have to be in that sense wise and try to prevent it by political means.

MOSSI RAZ: I would say that I am optimistic about the long run but pessimistic about the short term. But don`t think anybody knows what is going to happen.

Read More →

Bill Gates, one of the world's richest men, has given more than a million dollars to expand computer and Internet services in NT indigenous communities.

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The Microsoft founder donated $1.25 million to the NT Library as recognition for the 'Our Story' database, which enables Aboriginal people to preserve and share their culture.

The award aims to help Aboriginal communities increase their technology and literacy skills while helping local people preserve and share their cultural heritage.

"It does this by training staff in communities to help archive digital recordings, photographs, film, stories and song in local languages, using library computers," said NT Minister for Local Government Elliot McAdam.

Mr McAdam said the NTL had used an innovative approach bringing computer and internet technology to remote communities.

"This award is one of the highest accolades for libraries across the world and the staff of Northern Territory Library should be very proud that their hard work has been recognised on a global scale," he said.

NTL director Jo McGill accepted the award in Durban, South Africa, during the 2007 International Federation of Library Association's General Conference.

"Being recognised for the work libraries are doing in remote communities is a fantastic accomplishment for us," Ms McGill said.

She said community libraries were helping to address the social and economic disadvantage faced by indigenous communities by connecting people to information.

Ms McGill said Aboriginal people had an oral tradition of sharing knowledge and culture.

"Very little of this knowledge is captured in books. The Northern Territory Library recognised the need to capture this local content and made it accessible to the indigenous communities.

"We have seen people who, for the first time, are able to find photographs of family members and other information related to their family histories.

"This is extremely important, particularly for those who were forcibly removed from their families and communities and suffered a loss of cultural connection."

Read More →

Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has hit back furiously after standing accused of trying to smear rival Barack Obama by circulating a photograph of him in traditional African dress.

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“Enough. If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed,” Clinton's campaign manager Maggie Williams said in a statement.

Obama's campaign had accused the Clinton camp of “fear-mongering” after the picture of Obama in an African robe and turban appeared on gossip website Drudge Report, which said it had been distributed among Clinton aides.

“Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely,” Williams said.

“This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry. We will not be distracted.”

Foreign policy address

The Obama camp's anger over the photograph threatened to overshadow what Clinton billed as a “major address” in Washington on foreign policy, a week before make-or-break primaries in Ohio and Texas.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe had issued a blistering statement accusing the Clinton campaign of underhand tactics over the picture of Obama, whose father was Kenyan, taken during a 2006 visit to Wajir, Kenya.

“On the very day that Senator Clinton is giving a speech about restoring respect for America in the world, her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election,” Plouffe said.

“This is… exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties and diminishes respect for America in the world,” he said.Read More →

REPORTER: Kim Traill

It was a celebration of Russia’s greatest victory, the defeat of Nazi Germany, but as Chechnya marked the anniversary with parades, those opposing Russia gave a reminder that this war has not been won.

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The explosion killed more than 30 people and shattered Russia’s plan to scale back its forces in Chechnya. Among the victims was the man Moscow had installed to run Chechnya for it.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (Translation): Akhmad Haji Kadyrov passed away on 9th May, on the day of our national holiday, the day of victory. And he left victorious as well.

But to many Chechens, Akhmad Kadyrov was a traitor who led a security force even more brutal than the Russian occupation he served.

ALINA, (Translation): Kidnappings and murders haven’t stopped, quite the opposite. Kadyrov recently went on TV and said openly that he was going to kill anyone and everyone who ever dared oppose him.

The assassination of Kadyrov has brought the world’s attention to Russia’s hidden war in Chechnya. These are pictures the world is not supposed to see. Journalists have not been able to report freely on the conflict since the second Chechen war began five years ago. All media are banned from Chechnya, except on highly restricted tours with Russian military minders. To get a glimpse of what was really happening, Dateline gave a camera to a Chechen woman, who we’ll call Mariam. Mariam dares not reveal her identity, for fear of reprisal.

MARIAM, (Translation): People who film or carry out human rights work always have to take measures to make sure they aren’t “disappeared” or just found dead somewhere.

Mariam’s first stop was the refugee camps in Ingushetia, the neighbouring republic to Chechnya, also off limits to media. Even here most people were scared to talk. But some agreed to speak inside the tents they have lived in for four years.

MUSA, (Translation): People keep disappearing and murders happen daily. Funerals. You go to any village and you’re bound to see one. Here’s one man killed, there’s another.

Musa and his six children fled here at the start of the second Chechen war, to escape the fighting. Authorities have told them it’s now safe to go home.

MUSA, (Translation): Why do I stay? Because there’s no guarantee of security. My son has just got out. He’s only 17. I’m here because of him. They’ll take him. My pension is small – just 1,300 roubles. If they take him, they’ll kill him. And I’ll have to buy back his body…

Musa is one of about 70,000 Chechen refugees still living in these bleak tent cities. They hear constant reports of Russian atrocities back in Chechnya. The Russian army often raids the refugees’ camps to arrest suspected rebels. Mariam arrived at this camp a few hours after the latest raid.

MARIAM, (Translation): Today, on the 6th of March, Russian soldiers came in their APCs and took five young men away.

A month earlier a bomb blast in a Moscow metro station killed over 40 people. President Putin immediately blamed Chechens for the carnage. Soldiers who took away the young men told camp residents it was payback time.

OLD WOMAN, (Translation): “In revenge for our metro, we’d have levelled two or three villages.

MARIAM, (Translation): Why do you think they arrested?

MUSA, (Translation): There’s no reason. The only reason is they were Chechens. It’s not our fault we were born Chechens, and of course I’m not sorry. I’m proud of being Chechen. In my opinion they just want to destroy our nation. Why do I think so? If our young men disappear, we lose our next generation…

From the camps in Ingushetia, Mariam drove back to her war-ravaged homeland to film secretly. She had to pass through 12 Russian military checkpoints on the 70km road between the Ingush-Chechen border and Grozny. Soldiers demanded money to pass each roadblock. Grozny, meaning ‘terrible’ in Russian, has been almost completely destroyed.

MARIAM, (Translation): I climbed to the 12th floor. It was the top floor of a gutted house that stood in the centre of Grozny. Even to film from that bombed-out flat was dangerous because I was afraid some sniper would spot me. Because it often happens in Grozny, that snipers shoot people just for the fun of it. It was a dangerous activity. When I first agreed to work with the camera, I never thought, being a Chechen, that I might need protection. But only after I’d had personal experience with the real thing on the ground, did I realise what a mistake I’d made.

Mariam found that most civilians were too frightened to speak out. But some, like 60-year-old Razit, felt they had nothing else to lose. She told Mariam about the day Russian forces came to her home in Grozny.

RAZIT, (Translation): They came at 3:00am and took away my children. He was married with three children. And he had five children.

Like thousands of others, her sons have disappeared without trace. She has no idea if they are imprisoned or dead and is now left to care for eight grandchildren on her own, including 8-year-old Akhmed.

MARIAM, (Translation): Where’s your Dad?

AKHMED, (Translation): In prison.

Back in Moscow, Russian authorities deny military actions against civilians. They insist all that’s happening is a mopping-up operation to wipe out terrorists. Victor Ilyukhin is deputy head of the parliament’s security committee.

VICTOR HYUKKIN, PARLIAMENT SECURITY COMMITTEE, (Translation): There’s no widespread fighting in Chechnya today. We conduct no major military operations. Our special services are at work finding and destroying terrorists.

President Putin has staked his reputation on this claim. Four years ago he flew into Grozny in a MIG fighter jet to declare the war was all but over.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, (Translation): The part of the serious task involving the liquidation… of major rebel groups has been completed.

There has been a tight media clampdown ever since. Chechens smuggled out this powerful testimony of a Russian so-called ‘cleansing operation’ in 2000.

MAN, (Translation): We brought them inside to protect them from feral dogs and cats…

WOMAN, (Translation): That’s my uncle Akhmed Abdulkhanov lying there. That’s my aunt Zina and my Uncle Hassan. They took the gold and the money we had and said they’d spare us. When he gave them the last penny he had, they shot him as well, him, an old man. We don’t even know how we survived. They left us in the fire. Everything around us they set alight. And here’s the result. On the 5th of February in the village of Novye Aldy they killed about 100 people. And today is the 9th of February. For five days we’ve been unable to bury them as we’re afraid to go out.

According to human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Moscow Helsinki Group, operations against civilians are still going on. Former Soviet wrestling champion, Ruslan Badalov, head of the Chechen Committee for National Salvation, claims it’s genocide.

RUSLAN BADALOV, CHECHEN COMMITTEE FOR NATIONAL SALVATION, (Translation): In every sense, it’s genocide. It’s genocide and it’s conducted openly. What else could you call it? It fits the definition. Tens of thousands of innocent people have been killed.

Dateline found a Russian veteran willing to talk about his time in Chechnya. 23-year-old Ivan volunteered to fight in the second Chechen war. He, too, is afraid to reveal his identity. Ivan remains deeply troubled by what he and his comrades did.

IVAN, RUSSIAN VETERAN, (Translation): I remember a little girl coming out of the house or perhaps it was a boy. I remember it was a child, perhaps four or five years old. I had my helmet on, my armour, a knife, grenades, ammo, a machine gun. I was scowling. This was no joke. I remember that a woman ran out and asked me what had happened. But what I remember clearly were the eyes of that child. Those eyes were full of terror. I thought that when that kid grew up, he’d remember me and he’d been angry with Russia, because I’d messed his life up when he was little.

Most Russian atrocities go unnoticed and unpunished. So far, only one Russian officer has been tried for war crimes. Colonel Yuri Budanov was accused of raping and strangling an 18-year-old Chechen girl. Despite his conviction, he became a hero in Russia, where he was widely seen as a victim.

RUSLAN BADALOV, (Translation): The only case was Budanov’s. They had to make an example out of him and his crime because they needed a show before the Council of Europe to stop them putting pressure on Russia. So they caught one poor colonel but there are hundreds like him out there.

Ivan said his under-equipped unit had little choice but to rob civilians.

IVAN, (Translation): They gave them no money or food. So of course they turned to looting. They started to rob local civilians if there were any. They killed cows, robbed people’s houses. They had to feed themselves, that’s apart from fighting. Of course it would happen. They just threw them in, no food or clothes. Of course they’d kill.

Razit knows that only too well.

RAZIT, (Translation): They took everything – money, TV, video, our rugs. Whatever they grabbed they took away. They left us nothing. They smashed everything, they did wherever they wanted.

Ivan admits that drunkenness and drug abuse are rampant amongst the troops. This video was shot by a friend of Ivan’s, as a momento of their time in Chechnya.

SOLDIER, (Translation): Here’s the NCO’s bunk. They’re tough and always drunk. Here’s Gena, the guy on top. He’s also the top drunk. And Yurok here has a hangover. We got drunk together yesterday.

IVAN, (Translation): Lots of them drink vodka because their nerves couldn’t handle it. Quite often men would drink so much… One walked off the roof and died on the spot. Two boys shot each other point-blank and also died. In yet another case, men went at each other with knives. So it was quite normal to lay on your bunk at night if there was no night duty and here a shout, “I’m going to shoot you all!” You paid no attention and just kept watching TV. That passes for normal in our army. That’s the Russian army.

Russia’s state-controlled television has given a very different image of the war.

RUSSIAN MILITARY, (Translation): We’ll keep killing them till we win, however long it takes – a day, a month, a year.

Reports show competent troops working bravely and humanely to restore order in the name of the President.

IVAN, (Translation): When we were in the mountains, we used to watch ORT on TV. When we watched that channel, when we watched the reports about Chechnya, we found it plain ridiculous. It was all lies. To tell the truth, it was painful to watch.

Moscow has learned the lesson of the first Chechen war, which Russian and foreign media covered in graphic detail, from Russia’s invasion of the separatist republic in 1994. It ended two years later in humiliating defeat for the Russian military – Europe’s largest army driven out by poorly armed rebels.

When Russia invaded again in 1999, it closed down outside access. The moderate rebel commander Aslan Maskhadov, who Chechens had elected president, was outlawed as a terrorist. In his place, Russia installed a former rebel-turned Moscow loyalist. Akhmed Kadyrov won the presidency almost unopposed last October in elections international observers condemned as a farce. Every credible candidate was forced to withdraw. Rebels were unable to vote.

AKHMED KADYROV, CHECHEN PRESIDENT (Translation): I expect from these elections the unification of our nation, and peace. Yes. There’ll be no second round.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, (Translation): I don’t think we need any commentary on what’s happening in Chechnya now. I’m not even speaking of the results, which of course, are acceptable to us. But the fact that the turnout was so high tells us that people have hope.

Kadyrov’s clan was given control of Chechnya’s security services. The new militia, led by his son Ramzan, is widely seen to be even more brutal than the Russian army. But it takes its orders from Moscow.

VICTOR ILYUKHIN (Translation): The desire of that clan to rule the Chechen republic indeed exists. We have to admit that. But what we see in Kadyrov is a man who really can prevent Chechnya from sliding over the brink into a new war, into a new set of military developments. Yes, he must be harsh. One has to be. But it must never turn into cruelty or tyranny. Kadyrov is controlled by our security services and by our federal administration.

RUSLAN BADALOV (Translation): There’s no improvement because no real attempt has been made to reach a true, sincere political settlement. Kadyrov and his administration, they’re really appointees, Their appointment was legalised through those so-called elections and referendums. This military administration is propped up by bayonets, It’s never been elected.

Unlike the first war, in Russia there is little public debate or opposition to the ongoing campaign. This is one of the few recent anti-war protests in Moscow. It was held on the 60th anniversary of Stalin’s wartime deportation of the entire Chechen people to Kazakhstan. Riot police outnumbered demonstrators.

DEMONSTRATOR, (Translation): We intended to hold a demonstration here. But the Moscow authorities forbade us to hold it. So we just made some calls, told people the demonstration was prohibited and asked them just to bring some flowers here.

Despite the subdued nature of the protest, police soon moved in to arrest the organisers.

POLICE, (Translation): There’s a presidential decree. And it empowers us to keep order. You’re holding an illegal meeting.

DEMONSTRATOR, (Translation): Are you arresting us?

POLICE, (Translation): Yes, I’m arresting you.

Police detained 10 people. There’s little sympathy in Russia for anti-war groups. A series of deadly terrorist attacks, blamed on Chechen rebels, has convinced most people that Putin is right to keep troops in the republic.

VICTOR ILYUKHIN (Translation): The federal troops in Chechnya are on home territory. It’s our territory, Russian territory and we’re bringing order there. We’re re-establishing federal law and our constitution there.

There’s no doubt that Maskhadov’s government failed to keep order during the brief period of de facto independence between the wars. Criminal gangs and kidnappings flourished and renegade commanders staged attacks inside Russia, but Mariam’s video shows how Russia’s campaign to impose order is only helping create the terrorism it’s vowed to crush. 60-year-old Sowdat has seen two of her eight children killed. Another two have disappeared without trace. Her eldest son, Beslan, was killed by Russian troops as the family fled their village of Bamut in 1995.

SOWDAT, (Translation): There was a blanket over him. I took it off his face. His face was turned to the right. He looked like he was sleeping. He had beautiful, curly hair. There was dirt in his beautiful hair. I patted the dirt out of his hair.

Her second son, Issa, was beaten and arrested by Russian forces in the spring of 2002. That time he was released after three days, only to be abducted again several months later. Sowdat has heard no news of him since.

SOWDAT, (Translation): I didn’t let him sleep at home as I was afraid they’d take him away again. He slept on the street or at neighbours’ houses.

Her eldest daughter Malizha then fell into a deep depression.

SOWDAT, (Translation): When they took Issa, it was such a blow. She was distraught, in pain over it all. Malizha said she’d never forget how the masked soldiers held her brother against a wall and kicked him in his back.

After a few months brooding in her room, Malizha left home, saying she was going to visit her aunt.

SOWDAT, (Translation): She kissed my cheek and said “Mama, forgive me”. I said, “Why are you talking as if you’re going to die?” She replied, “Anything can happen on the road.” She said that to me and left. A week went by, two weeks, and she didn’t return.

On October 23, 2002, a group of men and women in camouflage, with rifles, stormed a Moscow theatre where the performance of a popular musical, Nord Ost, was under way. They fired several shots into the air and announced they had taken all those in the hall as hostages.

SOWDAT, (Translation): I went myself to watch at the neighbours who live opposite in a ruined house. While I was watching it, I recognised her. I knew it was her, though only her eyes were visible. Even so, I knew it was her.

Malizha was killed, along with some 20 other so-called ‘black widows’ on the third day of the siege. All had explosives strapped to their bodies. They were shot at point-blank range after being overcome by gas. But the Nord Ost siege occurred at an important moment for the Russian government. The Chechens were beginning to arouse sympathy for their cause in Europe, with their allegations of Russian war crimes. Putin immediately claimed the Chechen leader Maskhadov himself was behind the theatre siege.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, (Translation): Russia will never make any agreements with terrorists.

It was a popular stance. Unbroken state media coverage of the siege had diminished what little sympathy was left for the Chechens.

RUSLAN BADALOV, (Translation): Now they’re totally hysterical. They call the whole people terrorists. Every day they show films that slander us. According to them, every Chechen is a terrorist from birth.

Another woman Mariam interviewed reveals just how far apart the two sides have been driven. This 22-year-old, who we’ll call Alina, was a close friend of one of the other ‘black widows’ in Nord Ost.

ALINA, (Translation): To me, those people weren’t terrorists. I think they were innocent victims. I think they were heroes. They gave their lives for their people. And I…I don’t doubt for a second that they’re in heaven.

Alina says she, too, is ready to become a martyr like her friend in Nord Ost.

ALINA, (Translation): Maybe there would be civilian deaths but civilians are dying anyway, we are dying. What keeps driving me to do it? It’s really…it’s quite obvious. I think that if I sacrifice myself, someone might come to his senses and say, “We can’t go on like this. We must stop this war”. Can’t you see that even their girls are ready to die for their people?

The Russian soldier Ivan says he can understand why some Chechens become suicide bombers.

IVAN, (Translation): They were mostly conscripts, Boys with nowhere to go. Yes, it was mostly conscripts who fought in that war. They’d come into the house and kill five people… let’s say, one would survive… a man, a child, a woman. Of course, blood for blood. Revenge for revenge. She has nothing to live for. Their Muslim faith adds to it. What does she do? We can see on TV. She straps on explosives, goes to the Tushino airfield and then it all happens.

That bloody revenge struck again last Sunday with the powerful bomb at the Dynamo Stadium in Central Grozny. The death of Kadyrov is a devastating blow to Russia’s current strategy in Chechnya. It had planned to pull back its forces, gradually franchising power to a puppet administration. It must now find a successor to run Chechnya on its behalf. There is speculation Putin may turn to Kadyrov’s son, the unpopular Ramzan, to take over.

Additional Russian reserves are now on standby to enter Chechnya, but Moscow’s continuing deployment of troops to reinforce Kadyrov’s militia is likely to spark still more resistance from the Chechens.

MUSA, (Translation): The more federal Russian troops carry out punitive cleansings, the more our young men take up arms and go to the mountains. Their numbers are growing daily. There are thousands of them. The two enemies must sit down and talk without any puppets involved. Kadyrov is Moscow’s man. He’s their man, he’s pro-Russian. How can he stop this war?

Every person Mariam spoke with wanted Chechnya to be independent of Russia and the Kadyrovs.

ALINA, (Translation): I don’t know how much longer this can go on. It’s already been seven years of genocide and the destruction of our people. It seems to me this can’t just keep going on.

SOWDAT, (Translation): Give us our land so we can live freely on our own land. That’s what I think.

MARIAM, (Translation): Should we live separately from the Russians?

SOWDAT, (Translation): Why do we need these Russians? Let them live in their own home. Let them leave us to live freely and peacefully in our motherland.

After seven years of brutal war, 70,000 Russian troops are still in Chechnya. There is no sign that the Chechens will submit to Russia or its proxies. Putin’s hidden war has no end in sight.

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Researchers have found a way to produce ordinary cells that behave like controversial embryonic stem cells – a breakthrough that could clear the ethical storm around the procedure.

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Scientists and ethicists alike have welcomed the news that two research teams have been able to reprogram skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells – without the use of embryos.

The new cells bypass the moral and ethical questions of using a woman's egg cell to make a human embryo – which is then dissected to derive its stem cells.

The stem cells – which scientists hope to use to treat diseases including diabetes, Parkinson's disease and spinal injuries – will be easier to make as well, as human eggs are very hard to come by and the cloning technology needed to make a human embryo has so far proven near impossible.

Politically, the cells would be eligible for US federal funding without the need for any new legislation.

“It's a win for science and for ethics,” said Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of pro-life activities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We have a technique that doesn't use women's eggs, and doesn't use embryos to make very versatile pluripotent stem cells that are matched to any patient,” Mr Doerflinger said in a telephone interview.

Hopes for cures

Two teams – one led by James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin and the other led by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan and the University of California San Francisco – reported separate methods, each using four genes, to reprogram skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells – iPS cells for short.

Pluripotent cells, such as embryonic stem cells and the new cells, can live almost forever in a lab dish and can morph into any type of cell in the body, but cannot create a baby.

Both teams said the cells are not ready for immediate use in people because potentially dangerous viruses were used to deliver the genes that transformed the cells.

But they said they could be used very soon to screen new drugs and to study diseases.

“It is relatively easy to grow an entire plant from a small cutting, something that seems inconceivable in humans,” said Azim Surani of Britain's University of Cambridge.

“Yet this study brings us tantalisingly close to using skin cells to grow many different types of human tissues.”

Left and right could agree

Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, said the finding should please both left-wing and right-wing critics of embryonic stem cell research, whose worries ranged from the effects on what many consider to be an innocent human being, to the potential for exploiting women for their eggs.

“This is a method for creating a stem cell line without ever having to work through, at any stage, an entity that is a viable embryo,” Ms Charo said in a statement.

“Therefore, you manage to avoid many of those debates with the right-to-life community.”

But Ms Charo worried that the discovery would strengthen the resolve of US President George W Bush, who has repeatedly vetoed legislation in Congress that would widen federal funding of work on human embryonic stem cells using embryos left over at fertility clinics.

Mr Thomson, who first made human embryonic stem cells in 1998, said scientists need to continue to work with them.

Scientists may yet find that embryonic stem cells are more powerful, he said.

“The political controversy has set the field back four to five years,” Mr Thomson told reporters in a telephone briefing.Read More →

Industrial relations is expected to dominate the agenda at the ALP conference today, with unions likely to use their lunchtime forum to air grievances with Labor’s workplace policies.

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A group of unionists will march to Sydney’s Convention Centre, where the conference is being held, in opposition to the government’s plan to allow the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) to retain some of its Howard-era powers.

Unions are also expected to use the conference to urge the Labor government to do more to protect jobs.

The ACTU put out a statement on the first day of the conference saying providing a safety net for workers during the global financial crisis was one of its key priorities.

The statement comes as the mining and construction union warns of major job losses in the coming years.

A report by Access Economics, commissioned by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), says the building industry can expect a sharp decline in output over the next three years.

The report also warns the sector may face more than 80,000 job losses over the same period, and a decline in the number of apprentices entering the industry.

CFMEU Construction National Secretary Dave Noonan released a statement saying the report showed a bleak outlook for the industry.

“While the Prime Minister’s announcement at National Conference yesterday on the creation of long-term green jobs is welcomed, this report shows urgent and immediate action is needed in the construction industry,” Mr Noonan says.

“Construction workers will be looking to the Rudd Government to develop plans that safeguard jobs in this industry and minimise what is shaping up as a disastrous three years.”

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The Australian High Court will tomorrow begin hearing proceedings of a legal challenge to the Federal Government's Northern Territory intervention.

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If the constitutional challenge is successful it may deem both the intervention and the plan to abolish land permits invalid.


Intervention Challenge

The small Aboriginal community of Maningrida in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory may soon be the focus of the entire country. The Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation who run a number of services in the area and traditional owner Reggie Wuridjal have challenged the validity of the Northern Territory Emergency Response Act. They claim the compulsory acquisition of land by the Federal Government and the plan to abolish land permits is illegal.

ST JOHN FRAWLEY, BARRISTER: There's no immediate right to compensation, there's no immediate right to have rent paid.

TONY MUNRO, CEO BAC: The Northern Territory Emergency Response Act which gives the minister the power to seize all of our assets and apply them to his own services or re-assign ownership of them. Now if that was to happen that interferes drastically with our capacity to continue to do business to provide services.

The High Court will have a directions hearing tomorrow where it's expected to decide when the case will be heard.

ST JOHN FRAWLEY: We're hoping that the hearing might come on early next year, perhaps somewhere around February or March.

By that time there could be a different party in power at federal level, but that will make no difference to those putting forward the legal challenge.

IAN MUNRO: This is not about politics, it's not about children, it's not about alcohol, it's not about pornography or any of the other measures. What this is about is trying to get certainty for members of the Corporation.

Even though the legal challenge isn't based on politics, the intervention is polarising communities in the Northern Territory.

MARION SCRYMGOUR, ARAFURA MEMBER: This was Howard's rabbit out of the hat, his black kids' 'Tampa'.

Northern Territory Family and Community Services Minister Marion Scrymgour heavily criticised the intervention, this week backing away from her comments which were criticised by members of both the Liberal and Labor parties.

ALISON ANDERSON: Unlike my colleagues, since the intervention started, I've been out there speaking to people and living in people's verandas and living rooms and talking to them in their first language and I just want to make it very very clear that I have the support of men, women and children and old ladies in my electorate and in my community.

But if the Maningrida legal challenge is successful, the other 72 communities under the intervention could also be in a position to stop the Federal Government taking control of their land.

ST JOHN FRAWLEY: Although the judgement would only effect the two plaintiffs in this proceeding, obviously communities and traditional owners in other communities who find themselves in similar circumstances would have a strong precedent there for proceeding to argue their own case.

This could lead to the intervention taking a different direction, something Mr Munro welcomes.

IAN MUNRO: All Aboriginal communities in the NT are in desperate need of infrastructure and services. The way this should be done is for the government to consult with Aboriginal people on the ground about the services and infrastructure that they need and devise a plan of implementing that in the best way.Read More →

Swine flu could infect half of the US population this autumn and winter and cause up to 90,000 deaths, President Barack Obama’s science advisors have warned.

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Laying out a “plausible scenario” for the epidemic’s impact in the US, the report painted a grim picture of stress on the health care system as it struggles to cope with a flood of flu patients.

The epidemic’s resurgence could “produce infection of 30-50 percent of the US population this fall and winter, with symptoms in approximately 20-40 percent of the population (60-120 million people), more than half of whom would seek medical attention,” the report said.

As many as 1.8 million people could be admitted to hospitals with up to 300,000 of them requiring treatment in intensive care units.

“Importantly, these very ill patients could occupy 50-100 percent of all ICU beds in affected regions of the country at the peak of the epidemic and could place enormous stress on ICU units, which normally operate close to capacity,” it said.

The epidemic, it said, “could cause between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths in the United States, concentrated among children and young adults,” it said.

Threat to school students

That compares with 30,000 to 40,000 deaths from seasonal flu each year, mainly among people over age 65.

The report said the epidemic poses “especially high risks” for people with pre-existing conditions such as pregnant women and patients with neurological disorders, respiratory impairment, diabetes or severe obesity.

It also mentioned Native Americans as being at risk from the swine flu.

The flu’s resurgence could occur as early as September when the new school term begins, and peak in mid-October.

But a vaccine against the A(H1N1) virus is only projected to be available in mid-October, and it will take vaccinated individuals several more weeks to develop protective immunity, the report said.

“This potential mismatch in timing could significantly diminish the usefulness of vaccination for mitigating the epidemic and could place many at risk of serious infection,” it said.

Strain on health services

The report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) said that while the virus is “unlikely to resemble the deadly flu pandemic of 1918-19,” the current strain still “poses a serious health threat”.

According to the latest official US figures, the 2009 swine flu strain has already killed 522 people in the United States and hospitalized almost 8,000 people since it emerged in Mexico at the end of April.

The group recommended accelerating preparation of flu vaccines for distribution to high-risk individuals and clarifying guidelines for the use of antiviral medicines.

Advisors also called on the public to stay informed on A(H1N1)’s expected spread as the northern hemisphere’s regular flu returns with the colder months.

These efforts involve using social networking sites on the Internet to propagate health messages and an “intensive public education” campaign to promote awareness to the threat.

The White House also needs to create a post that has “primary authority to coordinate key decisions” for fighting the pandemic, the report said.

Absentee rule changes

Among other recommendations are for workplaces to “liberalize rules for absenteeism” so employees are not pressured to come to work when they feel sick.

Overall, the PCAST gave the administration positive reviews for its preparation.

“The Federal Government’s response has been truly impressive and we’ve all been pleased to see the high level of cooperation among the many departments and agencies that are gearing up for the expected fall resurgence of H1N1 flu,” said PCAST co-chair Harold Varmus.

“This virus has pulled us all together in common cause,” said another PCAST co-chair, Eric Lander. “The preparations are the best ever for an influenza pandemic,” he said.

Over 20 pharmaceutical companies around the world are racing to test, produce and distribute more than a billion doses of the vaccines in anticipation of the second wave of infection.

A(H1N1) has created a health crisis in Latin America throughout the southern continent’s winter months, causing more than 1,300 deaths, according to an AFP tally of individual government tolls.

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