Indian government survives confidence vote

India's embattled coalition government has survived a chaotic parliamentary confidence vote, clearing the way for it to forge ahead with a civilian nuclear energy deal with the United States.

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh won the backing of 275 deputies against 256 who opposed his Congress-led government, mainly left-wingers and Hindu nationalists, speaker Somnath Chatterjee said at the end of a raucous session on Tuesday.

Mr Singh needed just a simple majority to survive and see through the last year of his mandate. Had he failed, the world's largest democracy will be headed into early elections – with his opponents emboldened.

The result came after a tense hand-count of some votes that apparently were not properly recorded by machine, and a furore over opposition allegations that the ruling coalition paid out large sums of cash in bribes to ensure its win.

The deal gives the government the green light to move forward with a pact with Washington designed to bring India into the global loop of nuclear commerce after decades of international isolation.

“It's a great victory for the party and the government, and this victory is dedicated to the future of the country,” said senior Congress party official Ambika Soni.

Nuclear deal

“The nuclear deal has been endorsed,” said government minister Ashwini Kumar.

The deal would allow India, which has nuclear weapons and refuses to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to be treated as a special case on condition it separates its civil and military programs and allows some UN inspections.

Government officials gave an impassioned defence of the deal during two days of special parliamentary debate, arguing that the country's 1.1 billion people badly need alternative sources of energy to avert an impending fuel crunch.

Left-wingers – who triggered the vote by withdrawing their support for Mr Singh earlier this month – and the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say the deal ties traditionally neutral India too closely with the United States.

They also argue it would compromise the country's nuclear weapons program.

The communists had tried to widen the terms of the debate – speaking out against rising food and fuel prices, and arguing that hundreds of millions of poor have been left behind in India's economic boom.

Bribery claims

The Revolutionary Socialist Party, one of the four left-wing parties that forced the vote, said the government's win had “blackened” the face of Indian democracy.

“We do not recognise this as a victory. They won because of intense horse-trading,” fumed party leader T J Chandrachoodan.

BJP president Rajnath Singh alleged: “There has been pressure on our MPs to take money to either abstain or vote for the government, and this has been done by the (ruling) Congress and their supporters.”

The stormy session saw three opposition BJP MPs wave bundles of cash worth 30 million rupees ($A732,200) that they said they had been paid for their votes.

“Never in the history of our parliament has such a shameful and revolting scandal unfolded,” Mr Singh said.

Officials in parliament said Mr Chatterjee had called in New Delhi's police chief to investigate the bribery claims. The speaker said it was a “sad day in the history of parliament”.

Mission Accomplished? Iraq five years on

It's five years since US President George W Bush stood before the infamous 'Mission Accomplished' banner, to declare an end to major combat in Iraq.

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It's an awkward anniversary for an administration which has taken the country into one of the most unpopular and costly conflicts in US history.

The giant banner on the bridge of an aircraft carrier, provided the perfect backdrop for the President's bold claim.

Just six weeks after ordering the invasion of Iraq, a triumphant George Bush made the declaration that has come to haunt him.

“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended in the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed,” the president said.

'More specific banner needed'

That was then; today the White House had a new take on what that banner really meant.

“The banner should have been much more specific and said, “Mission Accomplished” for these sailors who are on this ship, on their mission',” explained press secretary Dana Perino.

But outside the White House, anti-war protestors weren't buying the administration's attempt to backtrack.

“Four thousand Americans dead, three trillion dollars we will spend on this war when its all said and done according to a Nobel prize winning economist and John McCain says 100 years,” they said.

“We ask you Mr President Mission Accomplished?”

With the mission in Iraq far from over, and the US death toll steadily climbing, the man responsible can now make another claim – to being the most unpopular President in modern US history.

Bush popularity hits new low

A new CNN poll shows George W Bush has a 71 per cent disapproval rating, well ahead of Richard Nixon at 66 per cent and Harry Truman at 67 per cent.

Not surprisingly, Democrats have been making the most of it.

“Five years ago today, President Bush made an outrageous claim, a claim that has become the symbol of his incompetence and failure in Iraq,” said senator Frank Lautenberg.

In Iraq, the killings continue: one American soldier and nine Iraqi civilians, including three women and a child died in this bomb blast in Baghdad.

And there were up to two dozen more deaths in Sadr City, where US and Iraqi forces are still trying to put down the Mehdi Army miltia.

New Orleans – In Katrina's Wake

It is two years now since Hurricane Katrina tore apart historic New Orleans deep in the American South.

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How could we possibly forget that harrowing footage? But, what's not well-known is that the bloke currently in charge of rebuilding the shattered city is actually an Australian citizen who lives in Sydney, Dr Ed Blakely. New Orleans is not his first assignment. In the past, he's been called on to reconstruct other cites around the world pulverised by nature. Our reporter David Brill has just been to New Orleans to examine the city's reconstruction and he found a disturbing extra layer to the crisis, the dreaded race card is well and truly out of the deck. Here is David Brill's report.

REPORTER: David Brill

DR ED BLAKELY, HEAD OF RECOVERY NEW ORLEANS: New Orleans is America's city. It's a unique creature of the United States. New Orleans is the crucible of America. We have no unique institutions except jazz, which was invented here. So this is America's soul, if America's soul dies so does America.

The old New Orleans in the state of Louisiana, they called it the Pearl of the South. But everything changed in August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina blasted ashore leaving 1,500 dead and destroying 250,000 homes across the state. When the levee surrounding New Orleans broke, the city quite literally drowned.

DR ED BLAKELY: Maybe you can compare this with Hiroshima or Nagasaki, where you destroy good portions of the city and you are unable to occupy them for a long time.

I've come here to see what has or hasn't changed since then. In many ways the city looks and sounds normal, at least in the centre of town. And by night, the famous Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is pumping out the jazz, just like the old days. But appearances can be deceptive.

JOHN CANNON, ‘FREE AGENTS BRASS BAND’: Most of us are homeowners who can't even get into our own homes because of the condition that they are in. We are forced to pay high rents and we are not making the wages that we need to pay the rent and just keep our head above water. You talk about a flood that passed through here. There's still a flood here, a lot of people are just barely above the flood-line.

REPORTER: So all these blocks here, there were houses on all these blocks?

JOHN CANNON: Every inch of square land that you see back here…

John is the tuba player from the band and he wants to take me to his home in the hardest-hit part of the city, the Lower Ninth Ward.

REPORTER: Where have they all gone?

JOHN CANNON: The ones that did not wash away were torn down by the city. The ones that washed away ended up almost to Shellmet. I mean, all of this was neighbourhoods, everybody lived here. Think of all the people who had homes here.

The poor and black residents suffered most when the hurricane hit and I'm about to learn that they're still suffering.

JOHN CANNON: And this..I don't know how it's been locked, well… This was the kitchen we had in the house, all the copper piping that was in here, people have been stealing that and there used to be a stove on this side, but..

REPORTER: They've been coming in here, stealing your copper piping?

JOHN CANNON: They steal everything. It's a cut-throat place now, like a third-world country, you have to do what you have to do.

REPORTER: Like the Wild West going on here?

JOHN CANNON: Right.

With his house flooded up to the rafters, John's family was evacuated interstate and hasn't yet returned. He now lives at a friend's place.

JOHN CANNON: Right here in the kitchen, the refrigerator was here.

One of thousands of home-owners caught in a catch 22 situation, he doesn't have the money to rebuild his home and the state government won't let him return untill it's repaired.

JOHN CANNON: You know, I own a property, I'm still paying taxes on it, I have to pay taxes every year or the City will just take my property from me and the bad thing about it is that there is nothing I can do with it, not at this point.

REPORTER: Nothing?

JOHN CANNON: Nothing.

And as bizarre as it sounds, John is even in debt to the city for not cutting his lawn.

REPORTER: So they want you to pay $100 a day to cut this grass?

JOHN CANNON: Yes, a hundred dollars a day, every day that it is not cut it's $100 that I pay to the city. This is a light that has been there since Katrina and that's still Katrina water, two years later, that's how high the water was here.

As I move around, the Lower Ninth resembles a ghost town.

REPORTER: What number's that?

JOHN GREY: 5006.

REPORTER: 5006, and your house used to be in there?

JOHN GREY: Right.

REPORTER: What happened to it?

JOHN GREY: It floated away.

REPORTER: Have you ever seen it since?

JOHN GREY: No, we have never saw it can't even but find it. Was trying to find it and get some sentimental things out there but we couldn't even find it.

John Grey is another resident who seems to be in shock two years after the flood.

REPORTER: How's it affected your health?

JOHN GREY: Mentally, it is devastating, it is devastating. Devastating. This is sad, really sad. And you got people homeless, hungry and everything else out here, committing suicide and everything else and, you know, it's just bad.

John was a paralegal working for a well-known law firm. Ever since Katrina, he's been jobless and survives on the food provided by this charity centre.

BRIAN QUINN, MANAGER, ‘EMERGENCY COMMUNITIES’: We provide three meals a day, we had child care here during the summer. We're gutting houses for people, rewiring houses for people. If it wasn't for the private sector, and the religious groups, a lot of this work wouldn't be getting done because the government's not doing it.

REPORTER: And have most of these people lost their homes during Katrina?

BRIAN QUINN: Just about all of them.

The charity business is booming. I check another centre that's just opened. The story was depressingly similar, more homeless people.

CURTIS BROUSSARD: Before Katrina I was doing alright, I had my own place, I was staying with one of my daughters. But since then the rent is so sky-high. I get $600 something a month. I can't meet the requirements of paying no regular rent. Before Katrina I could afford it.

DON THOMPSON, MANAGER, ‘HARRY THOMPSON CENTER’: Serving about 110-115 meals a day. Serving folks who have no where else to go, no place in the daytime for these folks to go, many of them are folks who had a place to stay, like the gentleman you were just talking to, and have nothing now, no where to go.

REPORTER: Because of Katrina?

DON THOMPSON: Because of Katrina because the apartment they may have rented is flooded out, the landlord couldn't afford to fix it, the other rents they can't afford, so they have nowhere else to go.

REPORTER: But, Don, this is two years down the track. What's gone wrong here?

DON THOMPSON: Oh, there's such little leadership, political leadership around here at the state, local, federal level. Nobody knows what to do or how to do it, they're all passing the buck.

Much of the buck stops with this man. Dr Ed Blakely lives and works in Sydney. He's the chair of urban and regional planning at Sydney University. He was appointed by the Mayor of New Orleans to oversee the reconstruction of the city.

DR ED BLAKELY: Here is a grand facade and it needs to start looking like a grand facade again.

Today he's leading a tour group of would-be investors, civic leaders and journalists.

DR ED BLAKELY: Everything that we are doing has to be done consistent with the public benefit, we’re not doing anything for private benefits, we’re doing these facades for the public benefit.

Two years after any major event like this you'd just be rebuilding. Now, we've rebuilt most of our private home-owner housing stock in that 2-year period, which is quite remarkable. When I came here we didn't even have street signs up. Many of the streets weren't paved. We didn't have basic services and so on so my first thing I had to do was to get those things right. And then we have to start getting our businesses right, they are coming back, about 85% of businesses are back, so we are getting our jobs back. I think we are doing things in the right priority.

No-one could doubt Ed Blakely has a monumental task on his hands to rebuild the shattered city. But where do the homeless and those in the Lower Ninth Ward stand when it comes to priorities?

DR ED BLAKELY: We are taking our time in the Lower Ninth Ward, because we have to knock down houses in order to build them back and, like any development project, all the developers in Sydney know it takes about four or five years to get your permits, and then you got several years of building.

And if working-class home owners are in for a long wait, it's another story altogether when it comes to public housing. When I turned up at the Lafitte housing project, this was the scene.

TRACIE WASHINGTON, LAWYER: Somebody is just throwing out all of my client's personal belongings.

Tracie Washington is a lawyer here for those who once lived here.

TRACIE WASHINGTON: My clients don't know what's going on here. If they knew, maybe they could come and get their things, maybe they could come and get their air-conditioners or their chairs or their clothes or something. These buildings have been shut up for two years and folks haven't been able to get in and they haven't been told what is going on with their property, they haven't been told anything.

These buildings have been slated for demolition under a federal government program. After Katrina the Feds seized the opportunity to begin clearing the area.

TRACIE WASHINGTON: They have said for years that these buildings need to be torn down.

REPORTER: Do they?

TRACIE WASHINGTON: No, let me show you something. If this is my water line, this is my water line, here is somebody's house. The water stopped here! What's interesting, and I want you to see this, I’m sure this is an apartment.. this is in very good condition.

REPORTER: Tracie just here for instance, look here.. there is a DVD there and a washing machine. These are peoples possessions, are they just going to throw those away, are they?

TRACIE WASHINGTON: They are going to throw everything away.

REPORTER: What happens to those people?

TRACIE WASHINGTON They didn't notify any of the people that are here and that's what's so disturbing for me. They spend thousands upon thousands upon thousand of dollars to hire these people to come and throw stuff out but they can't spend the same amount of money to take the shutters off and put my clients back in their building. You come in with a little bleach and water and wash it down and – ta-da! – it's back.

DONALD POWELL, FEDERAL COORDINATOR OF GULF COAST REBUILDING: We wanted to tear down some public housing that has been in deplorable condition for the last 10 years, the conditions are not good and rebuild those homes, and that resulted in a lawsuit so the lawsuit closed down the process of committing on that. Meanwhile, there's 5,000 units that have been rebuilt.

A world away from the Lower Ninth Ward, amidst the marble and fine furniture of this grand hotel, I find Donald Powell. He's the man in charge of federal funding for New Orleans.

DONALD POWELL: Yeah, I think it's a partnership of a lot of people. I think it's a partnership of the federal government, I think it's a partnership of the state and of the locals and the private sector and obviously individuals have to take some initiative to assist and help themselves and I see that quite frankly with people along the Gulf Coast.

DR ED BLAKELY: The federal government has made a decision and we do not think it is the right decision, to keep those units closed until they either knock them down or rehabilitate them. We don't think that's the right decision. We think the right decision is to open some of them up, let some of our residents come back and have them participate in the remodelling of them or in the destruction of them.

Tracie Washington says the Federal government simply wants the poor residents out in order to build condominiums for the wealthy.

TRACIE WASHINGTON: You don't want public housing because you don't want poor people, news flash, folks! You know how you get rid of poor people? You pay them more. You don't keep paying people $6 an hour and tell them we don't have a goddamn place for you to live. That's what's so insane about the city of New Orleans.

And there's a political conspiracy theory going around here too, that Republican power-brokers wouldn't mind shifting out poor blacks who usually vote Democrat.

REPORTER: Any truth in that?

DONALD POWELL: That is a no. That's unfortunate, for instance the labour system is going to be rebuilt, reconstructed, redesigned to protect all the people of New Orleans.

REPORTER: A lot of poor people have said to me that they think it's deliberate, to get them out of some of these areas.

DR ED BLAKELY: I won't go there, but I think there may be something to that.

In the middle of Tracie's tirade against the authorities, one of the elderly ex-residents arrives, worried about her possessions.

TRACIE WASHINGTON: Can you just give her the assurance that she'll come out any time? Can you just give her the assurance…

MAN: I can her the assurance through tomorrow, but after tomorrow, I can't. Through tomorrow. After tomorrow I can't guarantee anything. You'll have to call and schedule an appointment.

TRACIE WASHINGTON: But you tell them when they set the appointment Tracy Murcadale has said he's guaranteeing your stuff will be here only through tomorrow, so if they give you an appointment on Saturday, your stuff is going to be trashed, so tell them you have to have the appointment tomorrow. Alright? Yeah, go put your teeth in!

REPORTER: What about situations where people couldn't get back into their homes to get their possessions out? Two years go past and the possessions have rotted away.

DR ED BLAKELY: That's right. Now, again, that's public housing, and the public housing people weren't able to do that. In private housing, they had access to their houses within a few weeks. Again, here we have a difference between what the federal government wants to do and what the local government wants to do.

REPORTER: And they won't listen to you? If you say to them, “These people want to get things out of their houses and they can't…?”

DR ED BLAKELY: No, no. The federal government has its position and we cannot override the federal government. If the President of the US empowered me to do that, I could, and I did ask for that.

REPORTER: You asked for that?

DR ED BLAKELY: Oh, yeah.

REPORTER: And he said no?

DR ED BLAKELY: He said no.

REPORTER: The federal government blames local government, the local government blames the feds. In the meantime, people are still suffering two years later.

DONALD POWELL: I don't think, Dave, it's productive to blame the individual. This is a partnership between the federal government, the locals and the state. But, look, we're committed to helping, assisting all of our partners in getting this work done.

DR ED BLAKELY: We have an active conflict here. That conflict can't be resolved quickly or easily.

REPORTER: That must be so frustrating for you.

DR ED BLAKELY: It is. That is frustrating for me because I can't really reach into the federal government like that.

While the money for rebuilding the city is divided between State and Federal programs, many say this shared responsibility is just an excuse for buck-passing. Meanwhile, right outside City Hall is the sad result of another blunder by the authorities. Despite the housing crisis, the mayor of New Orleans asked for people to return to their city, so they did and now many find themselves living in this bandstand.

MAN: No homes…at all.

REPORTER: Why's that?

MAN: Because the rent is very high.

REPORTER: And these people can't afford to…

MAN: Pay rent. But they will work.

MAN 2: You know, this is what we came back to.

REPORTER: And you've got nothing.

MAN 2: I don't have anything. I lost everything. I was renting, but I'm taking depression medicine now and before Katrina, I was in perfect health. I have some friends that have killed themselves because of the way we're living.

REPORTER: Depression?

MAN 2: Yeah.

REPORTER: So are there many people like you that you've seen around?

MAN 2: There's a lot of people, a lot of people.

REPORTER: In the same position?

MAN 2: A lot of people. It's all over the city. Big people riding around in big cars, big people living in big homes, poor people still going in the food lines getting food stamps.

REPORTER: Crime's doubled?

DR ED BLAKELY: Yes.

REPORTER: Suicide?

DR ED BLAKELY: Doubled.

REPORTER: What reason do you give for that?

DR ED BLAKELY: Despondency. People have given up and nothing is more important to the mayor and me than this. He talks constantly about our mental health problem. It's really tough here, tougher than you can imagine.

DONALD POWELL: I think it's very important that we operate in the sunshine, in a transparency type of environment. Our office will be putting up, very quickly, a website where various stakeholders can go to that website and see, for example, where a school may be, as it relates to the construction progress, or lack thereof. So the people can see where the hold-up is. “Is the hold-up at the federal level, is it at the state level, or is it at the local level?”

The locals probably don't care where the hold-up is, they just want some action.

LOCALS: Fired up, we ain't take it no more. Fired up, we ain't take it now more.

MAN 3: We had homes at one time, we'd like to have our homes back, we'd like to have a decent living wage, we want to have fair housing projects. We want to have some housing projects open up again.

But not all the good people of New Orleans are waiting on the government. In the upper ninth, these houses have been built by a cooperative of musicians. With funding from a private group called Habitat for Humanity, 70 houses will eventually be built. The musicians are using what's called sweat equity ? you build my house and I'll help build yours.

ALFRED GROWE: Katrina actually brung reality to New Orleans that you know, it could be here today and gone tomorrow, everything is not certain to you.

Alfred Growe is a trombonist in the Free Agents Brass Band.

ALFRED GROWE: It's happening. It's not like it's not happening. It's not happening as fast, like we had thought it would. It's taken two years and it's probably gonna take more than two years, probably five, six, seven, ten years down the line, but we striving to make it work, you know. We gonna make it work. There's no ifs and or buts about it, we gonna make it work.

For many, though, home for the last two years has been a trailer in a trailer park. These parks are still scattered right across the southern states. The lucky ones, like Mrs Mathews, have a trailer parked outside their homes.

MRS MATHEWS: Life has changed totally. It's a different New Orleans to me. I don't know about anybody else. And I still have my feelings, I have my moments, 'cause I know it can never be the same but we gotta move on, and that's what you keep in mind, you gotta move on and go ahead and make the best of each day and try not to let it get you down. That's all, we try to encourage each other, 'cause we have our days, we still do.

And to make matters worse, many of the people living in these trailers, hastily built for the federal government, had to be evacuated again because of toxic fumes from formaldehyde used in the trailer construction. For some, Katrina is a harsh memory that will never fade. This man lost everything. His family was swept away by the flood. I tried to speak with him, but he was too depressed to answer. His mute testimony to the disaster reminded me again that the scars from Katrina may never heal, and rebuilding will take many more years.

REPORTER: People say to me also they can't see any light at the end of the tunnel. They've had it, just worn out.

DR ED BLAKELY: I understand that. As the mayor and I say, “We now see the tunnel, the light will come later.”

I couldn't help thinking that Ed Blakely's plan for New Orleans works for those who can fend for themselves. But those in need, thousands of them, are a very different story.

Feature Report: New Orleans: In Katrina’s Wake

Camera/Reporter

DAVID BRILL

Editor

NICK O’BRIEN

ROWAN TUCKER-EVANS

Fixer

KATY RECKDAHL

My dumping helped inspire Cows: Henry

Getting sacked is never fun but Neil Henry admits his dumping as North Queensland coach has helped inspire the Cowboys’ unlikely NRL finals tilt.

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Henry was understandably unhappy when told last month his services would not be required next year.

However, Henry could find one positive from his axing as the 11th-placed Cowboys looked to extend their three-game unbeaten streak against Newcastle in Townsville on Saturday night.

Asked what has been the difference in the side the past three weeks, Henry said on Tuesday: “There’s a bit of certainty about a few things.

“Obviously my contract, that’s over and done with now. That does alleviate pressure on the players.

“And there was also probably the notion that we weren’t going to make the finals and we relaxed and played a bit of footy.

“Another thing is we have some continuity in our key positions.”

North Queensland have not lost since Henry got the dreaded tap on the shoulder, moving them to one win outside the top eight with three rounds left.

They must seal a club record six straight victories to ensure they remain a finals chance.

But it is enough to keep Henry focussed on the job at hand despite his looming unemployment.

Henry had been linked to an assistant coach role at the Gold Coast Titans.

However, when asked about his future, Henry said: “My job is here, I am not finished yet.

“I will leave it up to any club to make any announcement about my future if they see fit.

“At the moment there has been no commitment to any club but we will wait and see.”

Henry described the current Cowboys’ mood as “quietly optimistic” ahead of their must-win clash with the seventh-placed Newcastle.

“We are getting close but not close enough to start worrying about finals footy yet,” he said.

“But there is a lot of confidence about our footy.”

Henry also credited their turnaround with the emergence of hooker Ray Thompson and halfback Robert Lui, Matt Bowen’s return to form at fullback and rookie Kyle Feldt’s ease at filling injured winger Ash Graham’s big shoes.

But Henry was clearly unhappy with forward Ashton Sims who accepted a one match ban for a grade one careless high tackle charge stemming from last round’s 22-10 win over the Titans.

Asked if Sims needed to change his tackling technique, Henry said: “He’s been told that.

“He needs to re-think it because it has been a bit costly.

“Normally that charge would not incur a week’s suspension but Ashton’s had priors.”

Marquez MotoGP golden run continues

Spanish Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez has won the Czech MotoGP for his fourth successive win and extended his lead at the top of the overall standings.

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Marquez won a thrilling race ahead of compatriots teammate Dani Pedrosa and Yamaha rival and defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo as the Spanish trio dominated proceedings.

Marquez finished the 22-lap race of 118.866 kilometres in 42min 50.729sec, 0.313sec ahead of Pedrosa and 2.277sec ahead of Lorenzo.

The 20-year-old leads the championships on 213 points after 11 of 18 races, ahead of Pedrosa with 187 points and Lorenzo with 169.

“I enjoyed the victory but also the battle with Jorge, and also Dani was there,” said Marquez.

“So I’m very, very happy. Jorge and Yamaha were so strong here (and) Dani won last year. I didn’t expect a victory, I expected to finish on the podium,” he added.

In his first MotoGP season, Marquez has scored the fifth victory and the fourth in a row, beating a 35-year-old record by American Kenny Roberts who won three straight premier-class races as a rookie in 1978.

In that same year, Roberts also won the championship – a feat unrivalled by a rookie to the present day.

Starting fifth, Lorenzo sneaked into the lead before the first turn and widened the gap on the Honda duo to 1.4 seconds by the end of lap two.

Marquez and Pedrosa then worked patiently to narrow his lead.

Marquez then struck three times in lap 16 and got ahead of Lorenzo, who took the lead back two laps later.

But Marquez fought back immediately and then widened the lead on Lorenzo who also gave up to constant pressure from Pedrosa two laps before the end.

New iPhones were the most leaked yet

Apple’s newest product launch was also its least surprising.

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Under Steve Jobs, the company forged a reputation for secrecy.

But when the latest iPhones were revealed about 0330 AEST, what also became clear was that the Apple-watchers had been spot-on, on the back of numerous leaks.

Nothing Apple chief Tim Cook unveiled from Apple’s California HQ overnight came as a big surprise.

As predicted, Cook introduced two new lines of iPhone – one a faster, snazzier version of the iPhone 5, called the 5S; the other a cheaper plastic-shelled model called the 5C.

Pundits called it all – from the colours of the 5C’s shells to the fingerprint security sensor and gold colouring of the 5S.

Sonny Dickson, who runs a self-titled Apple blog from suburban Melbourne, said he was so sure of what Apple would reveal he hadn’t even bothered to get out of bed for the announcement.

“I knew everything was coming,” he said in an email.

Dickson had been instrumental in revealing Apple’s plans. He is well-known in tech circles for publishing pictures of leaked parts and prototypes which he sources from Chinese contacts working in Apple’s manufacturing chain.

In August, Dickson got his hands on the 5C’s colourful casing, and the gold-coloured 5S shell. Then last week, he published high-res images of the 5S’s fingerprint scanner.

In three leaks, Dickson revealed three of Apple’s signature innovations before the company had the chance.

A new, faster processing chip in the 5S was to be expected, he said. Apple always boosts the chips when it upgrades its iPhones.

A beta version of iOS 7, Apple’s new operating system to be released on September 18, had hinted at camera improvements, Dickson said.

He called Apple’s latest launch the most-leaked ever, spurred by himself and other bloggers.

Several leaks were published on Chinese sites and then picked up elsewhere.

Then days before the launch, a Chinese telco accidentally published an advertisement for advanced orders of the phones.

Apple-watcher Jonathan Stewart, the editor of specialist Apple website Macworld Australia, said the launch was one of Apple’s “most correctly predicted events”.

“In recent times the hype and surprise of Apple events has diminished with the increasing levels of correct rumours and speculation in the lead-up to the events.”

But he said Apple was unlikely to be fazed.

“While it certainly takes some fun out of the launches, it also keeps Apple in the spotlight and in the conversation.”

Griffin not surprised by Broncos critics

Critics “singing like canaries” won’t ruffle feathers at the battling Broncos, unfazed coach Anthony Griffin says.

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Griffin says he is not surprised the knives have come out as Brisbane look to finish off their worst season in club history against the Bulldogs at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.

But he may be surprised by the source of one of the fiercest critiques on Wednesday – club great Gorden Tallis.

The former Brisbane captain called for a “massive shake-up” at the club in his News Corp column, taking aim at everything from the club’s development and recruitment to Griffin himself.

“Players used to dream to play for the Broncos. They don’t any more,” Tallis wrote.

“The last three years, the Broncos have gone backwards.”

Griffin – who has held the reins since 2011 – said on Wednesday six-time premiers Brisbane were always going to come under fire after missing the finals for just the second time in 21 years.

But it has been the way they missed it.

Brisbane are currently 13th with a 9-1-13 record.

Their previous worst season was an 11-win effort in 2010 – a tally that resulted in then coach Ivan Henjak being sacked.

“We are fair game at the moment,” Griffin said.

“Everyone is singing like canaries so we will just let them go.

“That was always going to happen.”

Asked what he thought about a club great taking aim at the Broncos, Griffin said: “I have been told about that (column) but everyone is entitled to their opinion.

“From my end we are not going to get dragged into that.”

Still, Griffin admitted it was a bizarre feeling winding down their season just as the finals were about to crank up.

“It’s a bit strange, something we are not used to or want to go through again,” he said.

“I am hurting as much as anyone.

“There are a lot of different answers (to what went wrong), we could speculate about it all day.

“We’ve got some things wrong this year but you can never question the players’ commitment.”

Griffin said he was more focused on acknowledging the likes of Scott Prince (playing his 300th and final game), Peter Wallace (Penrith-bound) and David Stagg (200th game) with a win in front of their home crowd on Thursday night.

Vodafone and Verizon in $US130bn deal

US telecoms giant Verizon has reached a deal with Vodafone to acquire its 45 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless for $US130 billion ($A146 billion).

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The blockbuster deal – which would be one of the biggest transactions in corporate history – will allow Vodafone to bounce back from hefty losses, pay down debt, make new acquisitions and return money to shareholders, according to analysts.

It would also mark the British group’s exit from the US market and inject several billion euros into the British economy that is struggling to lift out of the doldrums.

The company’s share price jumped 3.59 per cent on Monday to close at 213.65 pence before the announcement the deal had been reached, while London’s FTSE 100 index rose 1.54 per cent overall.

Vodafone had earlier confirmed talks were advanced.

Vodafone said that it would return $US84 billion of the funds it receives back to shareholders and plough over $US9 billion into organic investments over the next three years to improve its networks and services.

Vodafone says shareholders will receive all Verizon shares “totalling $US84.0 billion, equivalent to 112p per share and representing 71 per cent of the net proceeds” from the transaction.

Vodafone Group Chairman Gerard Kleisterlee said the company’s investment in Verizon Wireless has created a great deal of value for shareholders and “Verizon’s offer now provides us with an opportunity to realise this value at an attractive price”.

The gigantic buyout will be the second-biggest merger and acquisition deal in global corporate history, according to data firm Dealogic. The world’s biggest M&A deal remains Vodafone’s purchase of Germany’s Mannesmann for $US172 billion including debt, in 1999.

The deal will be so big that some analysts say the effect on the British economy will be as great as the hundreds of billions of pounds injected into the British economy since 2009 by the Bank of England.

Obama to meet gay activists on G20 visit

US President Barack Obama will meet with Russian gay rights activists in the course of his visit to Russia, two groups invited to the meeting say.

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The US leader, who called for equal rights for gays on the eve of his trip to Saint-Petersburg for the G20 summit, will meet with activists on Friday evening, said Igor Kochetkov, an activist who has been invited to the meeting.

Kochetkov, who heads the group LGBT Network, told AFP that he plans to attend to speak about “rights violations based on sexual orientation” and call for international monitoring of such violations.

A representative of another Saint-Petersburg-based gay rights group Coming Out, Anna Anisimova, told AFP they have also received an invitation and will have someone attend.

A White House official said Wednesday that Obama will “meet with Russian civil society leaders to discuss the important role civil society plays in promoting human rights and tolerance”.

Representatives of groups supporting LGBT rights, human rights, free media and the environment have been invited, he said.

Several prominent Russian rights campaigners in Moscow said however that they were invited but will be unable to attend because of constant changes in scheduling by the US delegation.

“We apologised and said we cannot come” because the meeting date was switched several times, making logistics difficult, veteran rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva told Interfax news agency.

While meeting Russian activists, Obama is not holding a bilateral meeting with Putin at the G20 after scrapping a much-anticipated state visit to Moscow over Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

Putin has denied that the “gay propaganda” law is discriminatory, saying in an interview on Wednesday that Russia doesn’t have “any laws pointed against persons with a non-traditional sexual orientation”.

Russia has faced a barrage of criticism for the law, which is widely seen as anti-gay and has led to calls for boycott of the Winter Olympic Games it is hosting in the southern city of Sochi next February.

India’s Lahiri lights up European Masters

CRANS-MONTANA, Switzerland, Sept 5 AFP – Unheralded Anirban Lahiri of India carded an eight under par 63 on Thursday to take a two-shot lead after the opening round of the European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre.

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Ranked 178 in the world entering the prestigious EPGA event in the Swiss Alps, the 26-year-old from Bangalore built his score around two eagles, including a 140-yard second shot on the ninth that flew straight into the cup.

Spanish veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez – who set the course record of 61 on his way to winning in 2010 – and Englishmen Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood were two shots back.

“It’s nice to come back here with a bang as it was a tough pill to swallow last year missing the cut in the manner I did, so I’m delighted,” said Lahiri.

“I did not get off to a great start to be one over after four but then you never really expect to then have two eagles, so I tried just to build on the momentum of that.”

Two-time Ryder Cup winner Thomas Bjoern of Denmark was alone on five-under 66 after firing five birdies during a solid bogey-free round.

Six players, including Spanish veteran Jose Maria Olazabal, Scotland’s Stephen Gallagher and Thailand’s Pariva Junhasavasdikul were a further shot back on 67.

The day, however, belonged to Lahiri, who was lying in fourth place after an opening-round 66 last year but got caught out by a change in weather conditions on day two and ended up shooting an 81 to miss the cut.

“Playing here last year was a new experience for me as I went out in the second morning with about four layers on and after three to four holes I was sweating like a pig,” he recalled.

“The next thing I knew I had to peel off some clothes but then the clouds rolled in and the wind got up and I started then feeling like an icicle on the back nine.

“So that was a harsh lesson to learn and hopefully I can make amends this week.” added Lahiri, who only qualified for his first major at the 2012 British Open, where he not only made the cut but scored a hole-in-one during his third round.

Brooks stars on debut in Tigers NRL win

Luke Brooks completed one of most memorable debuts in recent memory, but Wests Tigers fans will have to wait another six months to see him in the NRL again thanks to the shortcomings of the salary cap.

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Despite impressing the best of judges – including the man he is being compared to in Andrew Johns – Brooks will be banished to under 20s for the rest of the season after starring in the Tigers’ 34-18 demolition of St George Illawarra at the SCG.

The 18-year-old – who scored one try and set up another is a brilliant halfback’s display – was only given clearance by the NRL to play on Saturday because both the Tigers and Dragons are out of the finals race.

The Tigers had already exhausted their second tier salary cap for 2013, but with games against finals contenders South Sydney and North Queensland to close out the season, the teenager will not be permitted to play again until 2014.

It’s a decision that will rob fans the opportunity to see one of the brightest talents in the game.

“Luke Brooks has lived up to all the expectations,” Johns said during commentary for Triple M.

“It’s been a boom debut.”

Having broken a six-week losing streak, coach Michael Potter was clearly enthused about the future.

“My expectations were that he’d go okay and he probably exceeded that,” Potter said.

“It’s a good taste for him, I’m looking forward to next season for him, but we’ve still got two games to go.”

Potter said he would have liked to have had the opportunity to pick him again over the closing two rounds.

“…On today’s performance he looked alright. He’d be in contention wouldn’t he?”

Brooks’ impact wasn’t limited to his own game, with the departing Benji Marshall – who was forced out to the centres – and Braith Anasta producing their best games of the season outside the wonderkid.

With scores locked at 6-all, a scything Marshall run set up Anasta to score before Brooks took over with a try-assist to fellow youngster Curtis Sironen – a sight Tigers fans hope to see for some time to come.

The Dragons scored two quick tries after the break to get back in the contest, but Brooks shut them down with a grubber for Tim Simona’s second before capping a dream debut with a try of his own.

The match represented somewhat of a passing of the baton from Marshall to Brooks.

“Absolutely. I think the future of the club is definitely bright with the talent of Brooksy and a few of the other guys we’ve got coming through,” Marshall said.

“I feel like I’m leaving with the club in pretty good hands.”

Marshall urged fans and the media not to heap too much pressure on the youngster, but he was lapping it up after the game.

“It was pretty good hey?” Brooks said when asked about finally getting his crack.

“… to play with boys like Benji who I’ve looked up to coming up through the grades and who have been my heroes coming up when I was younger (was great).”

Dragons coach Steve Price was still aggrieved after the game that Brooks had been allowed to play, having objected to the clearance via chief executive Pater Doust earlier in the week.

“We clearly support Peter with how we went about it with the NRL this week which was a bit disappointing the outcome, but we’ll take that up next week,” Price said.

Clarke, KP trade insults amid Test grind

The fuse has been lit for an explosive return Ashes series in the summer, after Australian captain Michael Clarke and England star Kevin Pietersen traded barbs on an otherwise underwhelming day three at The Oval.

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In the two overs before tea, with Ian Bell fresh at the crease, Clarke from slip and Pietersen standing at the non-striker’s end yelled school yard insults at each other.

Geoffrey Boycott claimed in BBC commentary that the tension started when Clarke told Pietersen “nobody likes you” and Pietersen retorted, “you’re the captain, and no one likes you.”

Emotions started to boil over as a result of England’s negative go-slow tactics with the bat – Australia desperate to salvage something from the Ashes.

England abandoned plans of winning the series 4-0 and simply dropped anchor in the knowledge that a forecast of rain on day four could make a draw almost inevitable.

At stumps, England are 4-247, going at an excruciating 2.13 runs an over.

After one of the slowest days of Test cricket in recent memory, England still trail on the first innings by 245 runs and need 46 to avoid the follow-on.

The latest on-field clash comes on the back of Australian coach Darren Lehmann admitting his players have been calling England fast bowler Stuart Broad “everything under the sun”.

England opener Joe Root, who set the tone with a dour 68 from 184 balls, said only time will tell what relations will be like by the time the series heads down under.

“We’ll find out at the end of the series if we can all have a beer together,” Root said.

“It’s Ashes cricket, you play cricket hard on the field … I don’t think any of it is malicious.

“Australia are there to win games of cricket, they will try everything they can to do that.”

It’s clear there’s no love lost between the two teams, but Australian quick Peter Siddle said the verbals weren’t out of control.

“I think it’s going along fine,” he said.

“It’s been a tough, long, hard tour.

“I think we were just asking them what they were up to (with their slow run rate)… if they were thinking about playing a few strokes or pushing the runs along. It was pretty tame really.”

Player of the series Ian Bell is 29 not out from 110 balls and debutant Chris Woakes 15no from 49 balls.

But the action wasn’t on the scoreboard, it was out in the middle.

Clarke and Pietersen were smiling throughout most of their exchange which lasted from the moment Mitchell Starc removed Jonathan Trott lbw, to when the players walked to tea.

However, the umpires didn’t see the funny side, with Aleem Dar furious as he intervened on several occasions.

England jammed on the brakes on Friday and a capacity crowd at The Oval paid the price.

However, Starc (2-60) gave Australia a window of hope when he took the second new ball and struck with his very first delivery.

The left-armer trapped Trott for 40 to end a 58-run stand with Pietersen (50 from 133) that was a yawn-inducing 159 balls in the making.

Bell was brought to the crease at 3-176 with England still 117 runs from avoiding the follow-on and the Australians took it as their queue to up the ante.

Wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and fellow slip Shane Watson also appeared to be getting in on the fun with Clarke.

Japan halts rocket launch at last minute

Japan suspended the launch of its next-generation solid-fuel rocket just seconds before lift-off after engineers discovered a technical glitch, the space agency says.

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Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had planned to launch the Epsilon rocket from Uchinoura Space Centre in Kagoshima, southwestern Japan, on Tuesday using just two laptop computers in a pared-down command centre.

But the countdown was automatically stopped just 19 seconds before the planned blast-off “as an emergency measure due to some abnormal positioning” of the rocket, a JAXA spokeswoman said.

“We cancelled today’s launch and can’t say anything about the timing of our next launch, as the cause of the trouble is still unknown,” the spokeswoman said.

The three-stage Epsilon – 24 metres long and weighing 91 tonnes – was scheduled to release the telescope SPRINT-A at an altitude of 1000 kilometres.

SPRINT-A is the world’s first space telescope for remote observation of planets including Venus, Mars and Jupiter from its orbit around Earth, the agency said.

The Epsilon is about half the size of the nation’s liquid-fuelled H2-A rocket and a successor to the solid fuel M-5 rocket that was retired in 2006 because of its high cost.

The small-sized rocket is equipped with artificial intelligence “for the first time in the world” that allows autonomous checks by the rocket itself, JAXA said.

“It also allows us to carry out launching procedures, including ignition, through only two laptop computers,” another JAXA spokeswoman said.

At the control centre only eight workers were engaged in the launch operation, compared with about 150 people usually needed when JAXA launches its mainstream H2-A rocket.