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

Hunter sparked massive Yosemite fire

Investigators believe a hunter sparked the monster wildfire which spread into America’s world-renowned Yosemite National Park and became California’s fourth biggest blaze ever.

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They dismissed earlier reports that the so-called Rim Fire, which is now 80 per cent contained, was caused by activity on an illegal marijuana farm near the US landmark park.

“Investigators from the US Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations and Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office have determined the Rim Fire began when a hunter allowed an illegal fire to escape,” said a statement by the US Forest Service.

“There is no indication the hunter was involved with illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands and no marijuana cultivation sites were located near the origin of the fire. No arrests have been made at this time.”

The hunter’s name is being withheld pending further investigation, the statement added.

The fire, which began on the afternoon of August 17 in the Stanislaus National Forest just outside Yosemite, now covers 95,442 hectares, according to the latest update on the Inciweb inter-agency website.

More than 4,300 firefighters are still working to contain the blaze, while aircraft have dropped more than 15.14 million litres of water and fire retardant over the last 17 days.

It is the fourth largest California wildfire since records began 1932, with an area five times that of Washington DC.

The largest in California history remains the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County, which destroyed 2,820 buildings and left 14 people dead after ripping through 110,000 hectares of land.

Authorities in California have in recent years faced increasing problems with marijuana farms hidden deep in the region’s rugged wilderness.

A 2009 fire that burned 36,420 hectares in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara was triggered by a campfire at a marijuana farm.

7 dead as heavy rains pummel Philippines

Flood-battered residents of Manila are fleeing homes or sitting on rooftops with relentless monsoon rains, which have killed seven people, submerging more than half the Philippine capital.

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Streets turned into rivers with water above two-metres in some parts of the megacity of 12 million people on Tuesday.

More than 130,000 of them have been displaced and countless others have been forced to wait out the storm in or on their homes.

“We have had nothing to eat, nothing to wear. A few people went to houses on higher ground, but most of us had nowhere to go,” Dinah Claire Velasco, 44, a resident of a blue-collar coastal district on the outskirts of Manila told AFP.

“My children and other people were able to seek refuge on the second floor of my house but a lot of others had to just sit on their roofs.

“We’re waiting for rescue, for help, even just food.”

At least 60 per cent of Manila was flooded on Tuesday morning, with some places enduring waters climbing as high as 2.1 metres, an official with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority said.

In one part of the capital, 47.5 centimetres of rain fell in the 24 hours to Monday morning, according to Esperanza Cayanan, a meteorologist in charge of Manila for the state weather forecaster.

She said this was the same amount that normally falls for all of August, already one of the wettest months of the year.

In a potentially serious escalation the Marikina River, a key waterway cutting through eastern Manila, began to overflow on Tuesday afternoon, and 20,000 people close by were ordered to evacuate, the local mayor, Del de Guzman, said.

These people were additional to the 131,000 people across the main island of Luzon, including Manila, that the government said were in evacuation centres or seeking shelter with relatives and friends.

Groups involved in the rescue effort said they were being overwhelmed.

“We are getting a lot of calls for rescue … we would really be hard pressed to rescue all of them,” a Philippine Red Cross official told a government briefing broadcast on national television.

While no-one has been reported killed in Manila, four more people have drowned in flooded farming provinces to the north.

This brings the confirmed toll from two days of flooding across Luzon to seven.

The economic cost has also started to grow, with the stock exchange, government offices and schools in Manila closed for a second consecutive day.

Many domestic and some international flights at Manila’s airport have been cancelled. Flooded roads to the airport are impassable.

The state weather agency says the rain will ease on Wednesday.

Manly still seeking big-name NRL scalp

Without a win over a fellow top four side all year, Manly host a Melbourne side on Saturday night which hasn’t lost to a NRL premiership heavyweight in 2013.

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The meeting of the bitter rivals is a clash of the have and have-nots of the NRL season, with the Sea Eagles still looking for the big-name scalp to prove their title credentials.

A draw against the Storm in round 10 is the Sea Eagles’ best result against a fellow top four side, Manly have lost four other games against South Sydney and ladder-leaders Sydney Roosters.

The Storm have won their three matches against the top two sides – with all of those victories being by more than a converted try.

Coach Geoff Toovey claimed not to be fazed by the lack of success against fellow top four sides, pleading ignorance to the alarming run of outs.

“I wouldn’t even know what it is,” Toovey said when asked about that record.

“I haven’t looked at that. I think in every game though we’ve been in the match this year, no matter who it is.

“We just need to find that bit extra.

“We don’t want to show our cards too early, we think we can show that bit extra come semi-final time.”

The Storm have proven their ability to rise to the occasion, the premiers boasting plenty of big-match experience in the form of key trio Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater.

After a dip in form post-Origin, the Storm have won four in a row – a run that has including two 60-plus scorelines.

Five-eighth Kieran Foran said a win over a side like the Storm would be a massive boost on the eve of the finals.

“We see them as the benchmark and I know we get up for these games,” Foran said.

“This time of year you want that confidence going into the finals and if we could get that win up against the Storm who are travelling really well it’d be a big boost.”

“We’re just focusing on trying to win this game, to wrap up a top-four berth and hopefully build some momentum heading into finals.”

The Sea Eagles need to win one of their last two games – the other being at home to Penrith – to claim a top four finish, while they could still finish third with a pair of victories to close out the regular season.

Federer is highest paid tennis player

Switzerland’s Roger Federer is the world’s highest paid tennis player even though he has slipped to No.

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7 in the ATP rankings, while Spain’s Rafael Nadal is No.4 on a new list published by Forbes magazine.

The list, which takes into account tennis players’ earnings between June 2012 and June 2013, was published to coincide with the start of the US Open, the year’s last grand slam event, which is taking place in New York.

The 32-year-old Federer, who many consider the best tennis player of all time, earned $US71.5 million ($A79.63 million) during the 12-month period, thanks to a December 2012 tour of South America that netted him $US14 million ($A15.59 million) for playing six matches.

“Federer has the most impressive endorsement portfolio in sports, with ten sponsors that collectively pay him more than $US40 million ($A44.55 million) annually, including long-term deals with Nike, Rolex, Wilson and Credit Suisse. The newest addition is champagne brand Moet & Chandon, which signed Federer to a five-year deal at the end of 2012,” Forbes said.

Russia’s Maria Sharapova is in the No.2 spot on the list, with $US29 million ($A32.30 million) in earnings, Forbes said.

“Sharapova completed the career grand slam when she won the 2012 French Open. The win triggered lucrative bonuses with sponsors Nike and Head. She launched her own candy line, Sugarpova, last year and plans to sell accessories under the brand starting this fall,” Forbes said.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, the world No.1, is in third place on the list, pulling in $US26.9 million ($A29.96 million), with about half of that sum coming from prize money.

The 26-year-old Djokovic has reached the finals of nine of the last 12 grand slams.

“Most top players have a apparel/shoe deal with one brand, but Djokovic added Adidas as a sponsor in April to go with his clothing sponsor Uniqlo,” Forbes said.

The 27-year-old Nadal, for his part, earned $US26.4 million ($A29.40 million) despite sustaining a knee injury that kept him off the ATP Tour for seven months.

White-coated PM in science heaven

Clad in a white lab coat, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was in science heaven, extolling the many benefits of advanced medical research.

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He warned it would all be at risk under an Abbott government.

Holding aloft a 3D printed section of plastic DNA for the cameras, the prime minister explained it could be used as a scaffold for the eventual construction of new body organs such as kidneys.

“It’s complex and it’s hard work,” he told researchers at the University of Queensland Translational Research Institute at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.

He was launching a $250 million Medical Research Innovation Fund plus $70 million in additional funding for medical research centres.

Returning to a standard campaign theme, Mr Rudd told his audience Mr Abbott believed he had already won the election.

Mr Rudd says if Mr Abbott was upfront about planned spending cuts to medical research and much more under the coalition government, people wouldn’t vote for him.

He says he worries about the possible fallout if a Liberal government is elected.

“I worry about people’s jobs, I worry about health workers, I worry about researchers, I worry about teachers, I worry about the real human beings who are affected by all of this.”

Polling has not gone Labor’s way since the campaign started but Mr Rudd says the campaign hasn’t even reached the half time hooter.

“I am determined to fight and fight hard,” he said.

Earlier in Brisbane, the prime minister received an enthusiastic response from party members, parents and students at Nyanda State High School in the electorate of Moreton, held for Labor by Graham Perrett on a margin of just over one per cent.

Nyanda, with some 300 students, is having to justify its existence as the LNP state government of Campbell Newman undergoes a process of rationalisation, Mr Rudd claimed.

Mr Rudd said the Newman government was planning to abolish 50 schools while the Liberal government in Victoria shut 300 schools and sacked 900 teachers.

“That’s what Mr Abbott is offering right across the country,” he said.

That prompted a speedy response from coalition campaign spokesman Christopher Pyne who said there were no such plans.

Mr Perrett, once a supporter of former prime minister Julia Gillard and now right behind Mr Rudd, said the mood in his electorate was buoyant and positive.

“And much of that is the Kevin factor,” he said.

Brooks’ phone hacking trial delayed in UK

The trial of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks over allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World has been delayed for legal reasons.

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The trial of Brooks and seven other defendants, including Prime Minister David Cameron’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson, was due to start at the Old Bailey on September 9 but is now expected to begin on October 28.

Brooks, 45, denies a total of five charges, including conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to pay public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by allegedly trying to hide evidence.

Former Sun and NotW editor Brooks, former managing editor Stuart Kuttner, 73, and former news editor Ian Edmondson, 44, also deny conspiracy to intercept mobile phone voicemails between October 3, 2000, and August 9, 2006.

Coulson, 45, who previously edited the now-defunct NotW, denies the same charge.

He and NotW former royal editor Clive Goodman, 55, are also accused of two charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.

Brooks denies two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

In the same trial, she and former personal assistant Cheryl Carter, 49, are charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice by allegedly trying to hide material from the News International archive between July 6 and 9, 2011.

Brooks’ racehorse trainer husband, Charlie Brooks, 50, and News International head of security Mark Hanna, 50, will also appear in the same trial over a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by allegedly hiding documents and computer equipment from police between July 15 and 19 2011, a charge also faced by Brooks.

Bowen will not run for Labor leadership

Former treasurer Chris Bowen says he will not seek the Labor leadership.

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“I have decided I will not be a candidate for the leadership of the Labor party,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

Mr Bowen said it was his decision not to run.

“There’s an obligation on each of us to make ourselves available for positions of leadership if we feel genuinely that we are the best possible candidate at any particular time,” he said.

“Equally, there’s an obligation not to put our names forward if we don’t feel that.

“The conclusion I’ve reached will be obvious to you.”

Mr Bowen said he would fill any role the new leader wanted him to carry out, including that of shadow treasurer.

Mr Bowen said Labor in opposition needed to be united and focused, to hold the new Abbott government to account and to heed the message from Saturday’s federal election.

“We need a period of reflection to determine how best to determine that united and stable opposition but we need to provide it from today,” he said.

Labor also needed to build on its “successes and achievements” in government over the past six years.

“We need to acknowledge and build on our strong record of economic growth in difficult circumstances,” Mr Bowen said.

“Our ability to introduce landmark reforms like DisabilityCare and better school funding.”

Mr Bowen said the deputy Labor leadership was a separate matter.

“We’ll see how the leadership pans out,” he said.

“Again, there will be a number of very good people interested in the deputy leadership if that should be vacant.”

The Kevin Rudd supporter also said the former prime minister could make an “ongoing contribution” to Labor and Australia, although it was up to him to decide what that might be.

“He should be given all the time he needs to make that decision and those announcements and it’s entirely a matter for him,” Mr Bowen said.

Mr Bowen said Labor had a talented team and noted some names had already been mentioned as possible leadership contenders.

“I think all of those potential candidates are people of great talent and ability,” he said.

“They, I know, are going through the process that I have gone through over the last 24 hours to consider their options and they’ll make their own plans in their own good time.”

Those touted as future Labor leaders include Anthony Albanese, from the Left, and Bill Shorten, from the Right.

If they both decided to stand, the matter would go to the grass roots membership for a vote.

If only one stood, Mr Bowen said that person would automatically be declared the leader.

“If there is only one candidate that doesn’t indicate anything other than the fact that there is a consensus emerged, and that is not a bad thing necessarily,” Mr Bowen said.

He said his own decision not to stand was made after he reflected on the qualities he thought he could bring to the job, the qualities of other possible candidates and the point in the electoral cycle.

He also considered what he might be able to contribute as shadow treasurer.

“I decided the best fit for me was that role going forward,” he said.

Mr Bowen declined to endorse another Labor MP for leader, saying he’d wait to see who nominated.

Cats to host AFL final in Geelong

Fremantle will be confronted with the toughest task in the AFL when Geelong host a playoff match at their home ground for the first time in 116 years next Saturday.

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With all four finals in week one to take place in Victoria, the qualifying final between the second-placed Cats and the third-ranked Dockers has been scheduled at Simonds Stadium, rather than Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, despite the latter venue being far bigger.

Simonds Stadium has a capacity of 33,000 – which the AFL has estimated is sufficient to accommodate the expected crowd for a clash between Geelong and Fremantle.

The Cats have won 43 of their past 44 matches at their fortress.

Big-drawing Melbourne clubs Hawthorn, Richmond and Collingwood will host the other three finals in week one at the MCG.

Under coach Ross Lyon, Fremantle have made “play anywhere, anytime” their mantra – one sure to be severely tested on Saturday.

“With our members and fans, we haven’t experienced that many top-four double chances,” said Lyon.

“We have members and fans who couldn’t get a seat or a ticket down there. What’s it seat, 30,000?

“Outside of that, we’re an anywhere, anytime team. We’ll go and play.

“At the start of the year, you thought if you finished third you wouldn’t be playing in a regional centre.

“You’d be playing in a metropolis at world-class venues.

“But it’s out of my control.

“It’s not a problem for me. We’ll go down and play.”

The only other final to have been played in the city of Geelong was way back in 1897 – the first year of the VFL – when Essendon beat Geelong by six points in a semi-final at Corio Oval.

Cats chief executive Brian Cook said the final against Fremantle would be the “biggest national sporting event ever in Geelong”.

That may well be true, but the biggest crowd of the weekend will be for the elimination final between traditional rivals Richmond and Carlton at the MCG on Sunday.

The Tigers will be involved in the September action for the first time in 12 years, while the Blues sneaked into the playoffs at Essendon’s expense after edging Port Adelaide by a point at AAMI Stadium on Saturday.

Collingwood are almost certain to play Port Adelaide in the other elimination final on Saturday night, unless they beat North Melbourne by an improbably large margin on Sunday, in which case the Magpies could move to fifth and take on the Blues.

The opening match of the finals pits Hawthorn against Sydney at the MCG on Friday night in a qualifying final.

Blues rally for superb AFL finals win

There are few more dangerous AFL beasts than a Mick Malthouse-coached side with the odds against it.

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Carlton will go into Saturday night’s ANZ Stadium semi-final against Sydney with the underdog status and growing confidence after making another comeback on Sunday to beat Richmond.

It was the third upset result in an absorbing opening weekend of the finals series.

On Saturday, Fremantle were superb in Geelong against the Cats and Port Adelaide’s fairytale season continued with their stunning boilover win over Collingwood.

Sydney’s ongoing injury woes and their bad qualifying final loss to Hawthorn on Friday night suggest they might be vulnerable.

But the reigning premiers also have become legendary for defying the odds and they will be a tough nut for Malthouse’s surging Blues to crack.

Certainly Carlton cannot afford the starts they have been giving to their opponents in the last few weeks.

On Sunday, the Blues rallied from 32 points behind early in the third term to beat Richmond by 20 points in an epic elimination final.

It is arguably Carlton’s biggest win since the 1999 preliminary final upset against Essendon.

They won 18.8 (116) to 14.12 (96) in front of a record elimination final crowd of 94,690, which was very pro-Richmond.

Carlton also rallied from 39 points down last week to beat Port Adelaide by one point and secure their finals berth.

The Blues finished ninth, but reached the finals, because of Essendon’s AFL penalty.

In round 21, Carlton were 30 points down against Richmond and won by 10 points.

“I’ve never, ever got past Tuesday and thought we couldn’t win a game,” Malthouse said.

“There’s been times on Monday I’ve been a bit shaky, but by Tuesday – I’ve got great belief in my team.

“If I don’t believe, how can I expect my players to believe?

“Right now, on those performances of the last month … that we will give ourselves a real chance of winning.

“They still owe their supporters and still owe it to their teammates who aren’t playing, to have a red-hot crack.”

On Friday, Sydney faded badly in the second half to lose to Hawthorn by 56 points and they will be desperate for Adam Goodes to prove his fitness this week.

Fremantle joined Hawthorn in earning next weekend off with a 15-point win over Geelong in Saturday’s qualifying final at Simonds Stadium.

It was a physical clash and several incidents will attract match review panel scrutiny.

On Saturday night, Port kicked the last four goals of the match to beat the Magpies by 24 points in their elimination final.

The Power will now play the Cats on Friday night at the MCG in the other semi-final.

The AFL have scheduled Fremantle to play a preliminary final in two weekends’ time against either Carlton or Sydney.

When Malthouse heard an AFL official say it would be a day game in Perth, he jumped in with the wish that it start as late as possible.

“Not that I’m jumping ahead – but the poor bastards who have to go over there … I’m just worried about the weather, whoever is in it,” he said.

Skin-eating fungus is killing salamanders

A new kind of skin-eating fungus has been killing fire salamanders in the Netherlands at an alarming rate.

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European researchers found the boldly-coloured yellow and black salamanders have dwindled rapidly since 2010, with just four per cent of their original population left.

Based on an analysis of the dead salamanders, scientists reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a US journal, that they have identified the cause as a fungus called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans.

This salamander-eating fungus appears to be related to another kind – Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd – that is blamed for killing more than 40 per cent of amphibian species in parts of Central America, Austria, Europe and North America, or decimating about 200 species worldwide.

This fungus – which may live in water or soil, or may be a parasite – causes a disease called chytridiomycosis, which has been lethal to some frogs but not others.

“In several regions, including northern Europe, amphibians appeared to be able to co-exist with Bd,” said study author An Martel from the University of Ghent in Belgium.

“It is therefore extremely worrying that a new fungus has emerged that causes mass mortalities in regions where amphibian populations were previously healthy.”

Scientists are probing whether the new fungus came in to the country from another part of the world.

“We need to know if this is the case, why it is so virulent, and what its impact on amphibian communities will be on a local and global scale,” said co-author Matthew Fisher of Imperial College London.

“Our experience with Bd has shown that fungal diseases can spread between amphibian populations across the world very quickly. We need to act urgently to determine what populations are in danger and how best to protect them.”

Scientists said the fungus appears to pass among salamanders in direct contact, but found that it did not infect midwife toads, which can be vulnerable to chytridiomycosis.

Scientists took 39 fire salamanders into captivity for protection and to start a breeding program, but then half of them died between November and December last year. Only around 10 remain.

So far, the fungus appears to be isolated to the Netherlands.

But the emergence of the fungus “is worrying and warrants close monitoring, urgent risk analysis, and its inclusion in any monitoring program assessing amphibian population health,” the study concluded.