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Floods cover vast area of Australia’s northeast

Posted by arnon_k On December - 31 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

(Reuters) – Floodwater rose across a vast area in Australia’s northeast on Friday, inundating 22 towns, forcing 200,000 residents out of their homes, and closing a major sugar export ports.

Flooding has already shut coal mines in Queensland state and its biggest coal export port, forcing miners such as Anglo American and Rio Tinto to slow or halt operations.

The worst flooding in about 50 years has been caused by a “La Nina” weather pattern, which cools waters in the eastern Pacific and has produced torrential rain over the past two weeks across northeast Australia.

In the southern states of Victoria and South Australia, meanwhile, soaring temperatures and tinder dry conditions have sparked bushfires.

Authorities warned of possible “catastrophic” fires if conditions worsened and holiday travelers were asked to prepare evacuation plans.

“We’re asking people to have a plan, how they’re going to get to where they’re going…a plan to get away…if a bushfire happens to threaten,” said South Australia rural fire chief Andrew Lawson.

Firefighters, helped by cooler temperatures, contained small fires late on Friday, but meteorologists said readings could soar again above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the next few days.

In Queensland, authorities warned of rising health risks from floodwaters, along with the danger of crocodiles and snakes in flooded homes.

“This disaster is a long way from over,” Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh told reporters.

“We now have 22 towns or cities that are either substantially flooded or isolated. That represents some 200,000 people spanning an area that’s bigger than the size of France and Germany combined.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard toured the sugar city of Bundaberg, which closed its port on Friday after flood debris was washed downstream into shipping channels and damaged navigation beacons.

“This is a natural disaster across Queensland,” Gillard said, announcing a A$1 million ($1 million) government contribution to a flood aid appeal which now totals A$6 million.

The closure of Bundaberg has disrupted shipments of sugar from Australia, a leading world exporter. The port normally ships about 400,000 tonnes of raw sugar annually, with three 30,000-tonne vessels due to arrive in the next few days.

“If the port is closed for only a few days it won’t be a big issue but any extended delay would cause some concern,” said Brian Mahoney, an executive with Marybrough Sugar Factory Ltd.
The inland sea that now stretches across Queensland is dotted with the roofs of flooded homes, islands of dry ground crowded with stranded livestock and small boats ferrying people and emergency supplies.

Bundaberg resident Sandy Kiddle hugged Gillard as she told of seeing her house flooded.

“It was just a sea of water and I thought the beach would never come to our house,” Kiddle told Gillard at an evacuation center.

Emergency authorities in Queensland said the flooding was not expected to reach a peak in some areas until Sunday and would not recede for at least a week.

Australia has endured its wettest spring on record, according to the national weather bureau, causing six river systems in Queensland to flood. Swollen rivers in New South Wales state have also caused flood damage to the wheat crop.

Possibly as much as half the Australian wheat crop, or about 10 million tonnes, has been downgraded to less than milling quality because of rain damage. That has tightened global supplies and sent prices up about 45 percent this year, the biggest surge since 2007.

The floods have also pushed coking coal and thermal prices sharply higher and tight markets are keeping a close eye on further disruptions. Queensland’s ports have an annual coal export capacity of 225 million tonnes.

Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coking coal used for steel-making and accounts for about two-thirds of global trade. It is also the second-biggest exporter of thermal coal used for power generation.

($1 = 0.983 Australian dollars)

2010 Obsessions: Year of the mistress

Posted by arnon_k On December - 31 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — Who needs a scarlet letter when you’ve got tabloids?

2010 was a year of celebrity mistresses, as the media covered them and the public followed every salacious detail. From Tiger Woods — whose scandal actually broke in 2009, but mushroomed in 2010 — to Jesse James, reports of celebrity straying were everywhere from celebrity magazine covers to internet gossip sites.

And accompanying the straying men would inevitably be the alleged “other woman.”

“He cheated on (fill in the blank) with HER?” was an oft-heard phrase used in reference to these women.

“People love to read these types of stories,” said Us Weekly senior editor Ian Drew whose magazine reported on the marital woes of Tiger Woods as well as Jesse James and now ex-wife Sandra Bullock. “They obviously want to see what the (other) woman looks like and who would leave such a beautiful, talented person for this person.”
Some of the alleged mistresses gave the public more to look at than others.

Be it the tattooed body of model and alleged James mistress Michelle “Bombshell” McGee or the highly touted assets of self-proclaimed Woods mistress, and adult film star Devon James, those branded as the “other woman” often became celebrities themselves — even if only for a short time.

The straying men often go to the media to try to explain or apologize for their behavior.

At a press conference in April, Woods said, “All I know is, I acted just terribly, poorly, made just incredibly bad decisions and decisions that I’ve hurt so many people close to me.” Bullock’s ex, James, was a bit more forthright when he spoke with ABC’s “Nightline”:

“When I was doing it, you know, one, I knew it was horrible, it made me feel horrible. And two, I knew I would get caught eventually, and I think I wanted to get caught.”

The public’s enormous interest is not surprising, said Elizabeth Abbott, author of the book “Mistresses: A History of the Other Woman” which is set to be released in the United States in 2011.

“It is fascinating to learn that a celebrity has a mistress because, on several levels, we are not surprised,” Abbott said. “Celebrities are larger than life and usually rich — or at least much richer than we are — and mistresses are one of the fruits of celebrity.”

What can be shocking, the writer said, is the celebrity’s choice of mistress which the public feels free to comment upon.

“Her status as mistress subjects her to a media free-for-all — no comment is deemed off bounds,” Abbot said.

“John Edwards cheated on Elizabeth with … Rielle Hunter? Couldn’t he have done better than that,” Abbot said, paraphrasing a common refrain about the “other woman.”

“What about Michelle McGee, the tattooed woman whom Jesse James allegedly preferred to elegant, refined and lovely Sandra Bullock? What woman could be more alluring than the gorgeous Eva Longoria, whose husband Tony Parker nonetheless seemed oblivious to her charms and took up with their mutual friend’s wife?”

Abbott said the intensified media coverage just increases the scrutiny as the public is treated to the most intimate details.

“We see photographs and are given detailed, trivial and often embarrassingly intimate information about the relationship: leaked e-mails, tweets, phone calls, Facebook comments,” the author said. “We are treated to expert opinions about the relationship. We know that these mistress revelations will be one of the top 10 most e-mailed stories, usually beating out all but the most dramatic national news and foreign crises.”

Lillian Glass, author of the book “Toxic Men: 10 Ways to Identify, Deal with, and Heal from the Men Who Make Your Life Miserable,” said watching celebrity marriages implode over infidelity flies in the face of the fairy tale.

“In society, one out of every two marriages ends in divorce and in some societies it seems like one out of every one,” Glass said. “We want to see these marriages survive. You want to see a Sandra Bullock and a Jesse James who are so diverse succeed. When we don’t see that, it kind of makes us feel vulnerable.”

And while it takes two to tangle, it’s the other woman who is often vilified, Glass said. Rachel Uchitel, for example, will always be known as the woman first linked with Tiger Woods, she said. Uchitel has been judged harshly because she appears to be “trying to extend her 15 minutes of fame” with a stint on the VH1 reality show “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” she said.

Uchitel joined the show, she has said, to deal with being a love addict. In the course of her treatment, she decided to pursue an ironic career path for a woman famously accused of helping to topple the public image — and possibly marriage — of one of sports biggest stars.

(CNN) — China’s anti-pornography campaign shut down more than 60,000 pornographic websites this year, with police investigating almost 2,200 criminal cases, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported Thursday.

Wang Chen, director of the Information Office of the State Council, said at a news conference that some 350 million pieces of pornographic and indecent internet content were eliminated, according to the Xinhua report.

The government launched a special campaign a year ago to rid the internet of pornographic and vulgar content, Xinhua reported.

Overall, the campaign included 2,197 criminal cases involving 4,965 people who violated Chinese law by disseminating pornography via the internet or mobile phones, the news agency said. Of those, 58 people received prison sentences exceeding five years, the report said.

Wang said the campaign had helped clean up the internet and would continue.

Xinhua reported that Wang’s office has received more than 170,000 tip-offs this year, mostly about online or cellphone-based pornography, with 534 people getting rewards totaling 544,000 yuan (U.S. $81,964) for providing information.

Wang also said that 450 million people in China used the internet, a 20 percent increase over the previous year, according to Xinhua. That means that almost 34 percent of the Chinese population uses the internet, compared to a world average of 30 percent, Wang said at the news conference.

Protesters rally against Cambodia

Posted by arnon_k On December - 31 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Members of the Thailand Patriot Network on Friday rallied in front of Cambodia embassy in Bangkok calling for the Cambodian government to immediately release the detained seven Thais, reports said.

The protesters, led by core leader Somboon Thongburan, burned a coffin attached with photo of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. They vowed to continue rallying in front of Government House until all Thais are freed.

About 50 policemen were deployed at the embassy building compound to maintain law and order.

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