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G8 Summit debates Middle-east crisis, WTO trade talks

Monday, July 17, 2006

The leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) nations met over the weekend in St. Petersburg in Russia for the 32nd G8 Summit, held under Russia’s presidency, to discuss the ongoing Israel-Lebanon crisis, the stalled world trade talks and other issues. They also met with other world leaders, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy.

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‘Guantanamo’-style detention facility under construction on Australian Island

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Australian Government is currently building a “Guantanamo-style detention facility” – a $210 million, 800-bed Immigration Reception and Processing Centre – on Christmas Island, 1400km off Australia’s northwest coast. The project has residents concerned about the prospect of having imprisoned detainees and possible terrorism suspects as neighbours.

Christmas Islanders fear the remote detention facility will be Australia’s very own “Guantanamo Bay.”

The island’s Shire President, Gordon Thompson, says residents are also worried about the effects the controversial detention centre development will have on the island’s tourism industry. “We’re not building tourism based on a prison tour,” he said, also voicing fears that residents would be barred from areas on the northwest point of the island. He said locals were confused and did not know if the centre would just be used for refugees or as a Guantanamo-style prison. Another resident complained that access to popular fishing and snorkelling spots on the island would be limited.

Department of Immigration (DIMIA) said that when construction of the Christmas Island facility was finished, a review was likely to be taken to close some mainland detention centres such as Baxter in South Australia. “Its (Christmas Island) only use is as an immigration reception and processing centre,” said a DIMIA spokesperson.

Mr Thompson, who is opposed to the imprisonment of refugees, said the centre was being built on the island in an effort to avoid public scrutiny from mainland Australians. “It’s a long way from the mainland where the lawyers and trouble-makers are,” he said. “We’ll be kept away from it.”

A resident of eight years, two as shire president, Mr Thompson said he did not trust the federal Government because it ignored the concerns of the 1500-strong community. “There’s a sense the Commonwealth will do what it wants,” he said. “You’ve got to be a little suspicious of a government that lets its own people be held in Guantanamo Bay, like David Hicks. People here have that feeling that when something big is being built away from the media – it’s not fishy, it’s smelly.”

Mr Thomson said the Shire council were not notified when the current Christmas Island detention centre reopened last week to detain seven West Timorese asylum seekers.

Azmi Yon, president of the island’s Malay association, has lived for 37 years on the island and wants the federal Government to leave it alone. He said locals were confused and did not know if the new centre would just be used for refugees or as a Guantanamo-style prison. “We need something from them in black and white to say what it is,” he said. “Tell us something, don’t keep us in the dark.”

Mr Yon said the island was home to a harmonious group of Chinese, Malays and Europeans who respected each other’s cultures. “Why disturb an isolated and unique environment when you can (build the centre) somewhere else?” he said.

Mothballed Detention Centre Reopened

A group of seven asylum seekers were transported by DIMIA to Christmas Island last week. One detainee, his wife and infant children have been allowed to live in the community under new detainment laws. However, three other asylum seekers remain the sole inhabitants of the current Christmas Island detention centre – reopened for the seven from Indonesian West Timor on November 17.

Refugee advocates, Democrats and Greens senators said the recent West Timorese asylum seekers had been “shunted” to the remote facility at a massive cost, raising more doubts about the Howard Government’s promise not to detain children.

Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett, who visited a previous group of 52 Vietnamese asylum seekers in December last year, said he was especially alarmed to learn that children were still being detained despite the Government’s promise that children would only be detained as a last resort.

“We want to know exactly what the cost has been to unnecessarily fly these people over to Christmas Island and why, seeing that they managed to arrive within the accepted migration zone and should be processed here,” Senator Bartlett said. “The only possible reason this family has been transferred to such a remote location is the very deliberate intention of the Government to deny these people proper processing of their claims and to prevent them from accessing adequate legal and other support. It is also assists the Government to keep the family away from media attention or public scrutiny.”

Australian Greens Senator Kerry Nettle says the Government should suspend the construction of the Christmas Island detention centre and review the necessity of the facility. “At a time when the Government claims to be reforming its immigration detention system, it is increasing its capacity to lock people up,” Senator Nettle said. “After the recent scandals and abuses, the public want alternatives to detention, but the Government insists on building more empty prisons.”

According to Immigration Department figures provided at the November 2005 Senate Estimates:

* The current immigration detention centres – Baxter, Villawood, Maribyrnong, Perth, Port Augusta and the existing Christmas Island facility, already have a capacity to hold 1,688 people and they have contingency places for 667 more people, bringing the total capacity to 2,355.

*Port Hedland has a capacity to hold 820 people and is costing $3 million a year to be ready to reopen.

*The infamous Woomera Detention Centre holds 800 and costs $2.6 million to keep mothballed.

Senator Nettle said: “Australia’s total immigration detention capacity is already 3,975 people. The locals on Christmas Island are opposed to this facility, yet the Government is wasting $210 million on another empty prison. Is the government planning to increase the number of people in detention and deport people from the mainland to Christmas Island?”

Environmental Concerns

There has also been environmental concerns about the development. The detention centre site is adjacent to prime “Abbotts booby” habitat, in the north-west corner of the island, and is surrounded by the Christmas Island National Park.

Endangered Abbott’s Boobies nest in tall rainforest trees immediately to the north, south and south-east of the site, and their proximity puts the species at the mercy of turbulence generated by the passage of wind across the clearing.

The National Park encloses the entire range of at least 35 endemic species, more than any other Australian protected area. It is part of the network of habitats of migratory species that Australia must protect under international agreements such as the Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA) and the China-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (CAMBA).

The Wilderness Society have said, “There are several serious environmental concerns with the selection of this site, not least of which was the selection process itself, the Howard government’s self-exemption from environmental scrutiny normally required under the EPBC Act, and its commitment to best practice environmental measures during construction of the detention centre.”

Research has shown that Abbott’s Boobies nesting within 300 m of clearings experience significantly lower breeding success than birds nesting further away. At last count, 36% of breeding sites across the island were located within this 300 m danger zone.

The centre, under construction since January this year, is not due to be operational until late 2006.

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Chula Vista, California becomes model for blight control laws in the US

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The San Diego, California suburb of Chula Vista has responded to the recent housing crisis with an aggressive blight control ordinance that compels lenders to maintain the appearance of vacant homes. As foreclosures increase both locally and throughout the United States, the one year old ordinance has become a model for other cities overwhelmed by the problem of abandoned homes that decay into neighborhood eyesores.

Chula Vista city code enforcement manager Doug Leeper told the San Diego Union Tribune that over 300 jurisdictions have contacted his office during the past year with inquiries about the city’s tough local ordinance. Coral Springs, Florida, and California towns Stockton, Santee, Riverside County, and Murietta have all modeled recently enacted anti-blight measures after Chula Vista’s. On Wednesday, 8 October, the Escondido City Council also voted to tighten local measures making lenders more accountable for maintenance of empty homes.

Lenders will respond when it costs them less to maintain the property than to ignore local agency requirements.

Under the Chula Vista ordinance lenders become legally responsible for upkeep as soon as a notice of mortgage default gets filed on a vacant dwelling, before actual ownership of the dwelling returns to the lender. Leeper regards that as “the cutting-edge part of our ordinance”. Chula Vista also requires prompt registration of vacant homes and applies stiff fines as high as US$1000 per day for failure to maintain a property. Since foreclosed properties are subject to frequent resale between mortgage brokers, city officials enforce the fines by sending notices to every name on title documents and placing a lien on the property, which prevents further resale until outstanding fines have been paid. In the year since the ordinance went into effect the city has applied $850,000 in fines and penalties, of which it has collected $200,000 to date. The city has collected an additional $77,000 in registration fees on vacant homes.

Jolie Houston, an attorney in San Jose, believes “Lenders will respond when it costs them less to maintain the property than to ignore local agency requirements.” Traditionally, local governments have resorted to addressing blight problems on abandoned properties with public funds, mowing overgrown lawns and performing other vital functions, then seeking repayment afterward. Chula Vista has moved that responsibility to an upfront obligation upon lenders.

That kind of measure will add additional costs to banks that have been hit really hard already and ultimately the cost will be transferred down to consumers and investors.

As one of the fastest growing cities in the United States during recent years, Chula Vista saw 22.6% growth between 2000 and 2006, which brought the city’s population from 173,556 in the 2000 census to an estimated 212,756, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Chula Vista placed among the nation’s 20 fastest growing cities in 2004. A large proportion of local homes were purchased during the recent housing boom using creative financing options that purchasers did not understand were beyond their means. Average home prices in San Diego County declined by 25% in the last year, which is the steepest drop on record. Many homeowners in the region currently owe more than their homes are worth and confront rising balloon payment mortgages that they had expected to afford by refinancing new equity that either vanished or never materialized. In August 2008, Chula Vista’s eastern 91913 zip code had the highest home mortgage default rate in the county with 154 filings and 94 foreclosures, an increase of 154% over one year previously. Regionally, the county saw 1,979 foreclosures in August.

Professionals from the real estate and mortgage industries object to Chula Vista’s response to the crisis for the additional burdens it places on their struggling finances. Said San Diego real estate agent Marc Carpenter, “that kind of measure will add additional costs to banks that have been hit really hard already and ultimately the cost will be transferred down to consumers and investors.” Yet city councils in many communities have been under pressure to do something about increasing numbers of vacant properties. Concentrations of abandoned and neglected homes can attract vandals who hasten the decline of struggling neighborhoods. Jolie Houston explained that city officials “can’t fix the lending problem, but they can try to prevent neighborhoods from becoming blighted.”

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CEO Robert Klein of Safeguard, a property management firm, told the Union Tribune that his industry is having difficulty adapting to the rapidly changing local ordinances. “Every day we discover a new ordinance coming out of somewhere”, he complained. Dustin Hobbs, a spokesman from the California Association of Mortgage Bankers agreed that uneven local ordinances are likely to increase the costs of lending. Hobbs advised that local legislation is unnecessary due to California State Senate Bill 1137, which was recently approved to address blight. Yet according to Houston, the statewide measure falls short because it fails to address upkeep needs during the months between the time when foreclosure begins and when the lender takes title.

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Cargo ship Arctic Sea may be found

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A cargo ship spotted off the African island nation of Cape Verde could be the missing MV Arctic Sea.

The Maltese flagged MV Arctic Sea disappeared off the French coast sometime after July 29. Owned by the Russian Arctic Sea company she was operated by the Finnish Solchart Management company and had a Russian crew.

French intelligence sources have found a ship matching the Arctic Sea’s description about 400 Nautical miles north of São Vicente.

The Arctic Sea was on a scheduled route from the Finnish seaport of Pietarsaari to the Algerian seaport of Béjaïa with a cargo of timber when it was boarded in Swedish waters between the islands Öland and Gotland on the night of July 24. The alleged boarders left the ship the same day according to its crew and the ship continued her voyage although it would have been expected to anchor at the nearest port.

The last official contact with the ship was with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in Britain on July 28. Viktor Matveyev, the director of Solchart Management says the ship radioed that it was off the coast of Portugal on July 31. The 98-meter-long ship has so far not reached the Straits of Gibraltar and is now being sought by the Portuguese Navy and Russian Navy.

If proven this could be the first case of piracy in Europe in the modern era. There is speculation as to the reason for the ship’s hijacking, as its cargo of wood, valued at 1.3 million euros, is not especially valuable. Suggestions include possible contraband, and the possibility of a commercial dispute between the crew or some other party and the ship’s owners.

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Coping With Anger And Depression During The Menopause

By Kathryn Whittaker

Menopause. The word is a scourge to many women. It is the shifting of one stage of life to another – from being a creator of life to a point where that is no longer possible. There are many changes which take place on the biological level which can lead to alterations in mood.

In addition to common symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, many women develop rapid mood changes, anger, and depression. These mood swings are the result of hormonal changes brought on by menopause. While there is no ‘cure’ for menopause as it is an entirely natural process, hormone therapy is recommended by some doctors. Even with available treatments to ease this potentially troubling period of time, it is necessary for women to learn to cope with the emotional fluctuations associated with menopause.

When a person is angry or depressed for an extended amount of time, and the menopause can last a number of years, it can lead to negative changes in body chemistry. To gain insight into your anger or depression, it is probably a good idea to get a journal or notebook and keep a running list of things that you believe are causing you to feel this way. By externalising what you are feeling, you can give your emotions a more concrete display and you can examine them.

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One way to cope with menopause is to join a support group. Since every woman will one day endure menopause, there are plenty of groups available where women can share their experiences with others like them. Not all women experience significant mood changes, however, many do. It is important to speak to others who may be going through the same trials and tribulations as you are.

In addition, it is a good idea to explore methods of keeping yourself at ease and reducing stress and anxiety. Think about heading to a day spa, getting a massage, floating in a pool, meditation, purchasing a relaxation tape, taking a warm bath, learning breathing exercises, and taking up yoga.

If you have never heard of the Bach remedies, it may be a good idea to check them out. When you take Larch, Wild Rose, Gorse and Gentian together, it may help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression. There are many holistic remedies available that have provided excellent results.

You can also look into aromatherapy and acupuncture, which not only can provide relief from symptoms of menopause – they can also help you feel better all around. Hypnosis is also an interesting avenue to explore. Through hypnosis you may be able to eliminate some of the behaviors that are troubling you. Hydrotherapy, light therapy, and sound therapy are also treatments that may help you feel better and give you the peace of mind to combat the emotional symptoms of menopause.

If you are depressed for an extended period of time it is suggested that you contact a mental health professional such as a psychologist. Just a few sessions of counselling may help you get in touch with your feelings and realize that they are essentially a reaction to hormonal fluctuations. While it may be difficult to control at all times, encountering your issues up close and personally may give you the strength to overcome them.

Anger and depression are common symptoms of menopause. With help, knowledge, and support you can overcome them. There is no reason that you have to remain feeling angry and depressed for an extended period of time. You owe it to yourself to take control of your situation by seeking the help that you need or implementing coping strategies. Waiting around for things to get better won’t change a thing and will probably make your life and the lives of those around you more difficult.

About the Author: Kathryn Whittaker has an interest in Menopause. For further information on Menopause please visit

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Somali pirates launch attack on oil tanker

Monday, November 9, 2009

Somali pirates have carried out their longest-range attack to date today, firing on an oil tanker 1,850 kilometers off the coast of Somalia. NATO and European Union anti-piracy forces say pirates attacked the ship in the Indian Ocean, 740 kilometers northeast of the Seychelles islands.

The reports say pirates in at least two skiffs approached the tanker and attacked it with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The vessel took evasive maneuvers and escaped. No casualties were reported. The EU says a spotter plane has been sent to monitor the pirates.

Meanwhile, maritime officials say Somali pirates have seized a cargo ship full of weapons. Details are sketchy on the incident. It is not clear when or where pirates seized the ship, which the officials say is using a fake name, Al Mizan.

The Atalanta naval mission of the EU, which operates off the coast of Somalia, released a statement regarding the incident. “This was the longest range of a pirate attack off the Somali coast ever. Automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades were fired. With increasing speed and evasive maneuvers the master managed to evade the attack. No casualties were reported,” it read.

Somali pirates have gradually extended their reach using so-called mother ships that can journey far out to sea. From these, the pirates launch small skiffs to attack and board commercial vessels.

Last year, and for much of this year, most of the pirates’ attacks took place in the Gulf of Aden, north of Somalia. But in recent weeks, the pirates have concentrated their efforts in the western Indian Ocean, north of the Seychelles. The vast area is much harder for foreign naval patrols stationed off Somalia to cover, although the patrols have stopped some pirate attacks in progress.

Somali pirates are holding at least nine ships and well over 100 crew members in all. The pirates are also holding a British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, who they seized from a yacht last month.

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Swiss reject single health insurance

Monday, March 12, 2007

24 of 26 Swiss Cantons rejected the proposal for a single health insurance system, in which premiums would be based on income and wealth. The vote on Sunday was the latest in a series of attempts to cut rising costs and ease the financial burden on citizens.

Around 71% of voters rejected the reform. Turnout was at about 46%, slightly above the Swiss average.

As expected, voters in the main German-speaking part of the country turned down the planned reform, which was supported by the centre-left but opposed by the centre-right as well as the business community, parliament and the government.

Opposition in the French and Italian speaking regions was less pronounced. The cantons Jura and Neuchâtel in the French speaking regions voted in favor of the proposed reforms.

Health insurance premiums are higher in southern and western Swiss cantons than in German-speaking areas.

The Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin said an important part of the Swiss Population appeared to be opposed to “a revolution” in health insurance but he said that he wanted current reforms currently under discussion in the Swiss Parliament to go ahead. He called on all sides, especially health insurers and the cantonal authorities, to make efforts to reduce spending on health insurance and aim for a greater cost efficiency. Currently Switzerland has 87 private insurers providing mandatory basic health care coverage for Swiss residents under a 1996 law. But costs have sky-rocketed. Over 100,000 people are not covered by health insurance due to non payment.

To win the battle of the cost of health care, everyone must place his or her private interests behind the interests of the general public. -Pascal Couchepin at a news conference

Opponents to the initiative argued that a single insurance system would lead to complacency and create a two-tier system, in which the wealthy would be the only ones available to afford to have additional private insurance coverage.

Supporters of the initiative said a single health insurer would increase the system’s efficiency and allow for annual savings of at least 300 million Swiss Francs (about $245 million) in administrative costs. Currently, the funding system is unbalanced, since many clients on low incomes use state subsidies to pay their premiums, according to the Green Party and the Social Democrats.

The initiative to unite all the insurance companies and introduce premiums based on wealth and income was the most recent in a series of attempts over the past ten years to reduce the public spending on health care. A proposal, similar to this recent proposal, to modify the funding system of the health insurance companies was rejected by 73% of voters in 2003.

Switzerland has the most expensive health system in Europe. Switzerland’s expenditure on health care was 11.6% in 2005, in front of Germany and France but behind the United States.

Learn more about Swiss Federal Council and Voting in Switzerland on Wikipedia.
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Possible eruption at Ruapehu Volcano in New Zealand

Thursday, October 5, 2006

A volcano alert has been issued after a moderate 2.8 magnitude earthquake occurred at Mount Ruapehu last night at 10.30 p.m. (NZDT). The quake also broke the Crater Lake cable which generated a call-out from the lahar response team.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation has issued a high risk warning for the crater at Mount Ruapehu and Dave Wakelin, community relations officer for Tongariro-Taupo, said: “The warning was issued Thursday morning, in case more volcanic activity follows.”

It is yet to be confirmed if there was an eruption, as poor weather made it hard to see the crater from plane. Craig Miller, vulcanologist for Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS Science), said: “I had hoped to see if the lake was surrounded by blackened snow. All we could see was cloud.” Steve Sherburn, duty vulcanologist for GNS Science, said: “The cause of the alert would remain uncertain until the weather cleared and there could be a proper examination. Part of the DOC lahar monitoring system appears to have been damaged at the time of the earthquake which suggests there may have been an eruption, but other monitoring data says that any eruption must have been relatively small.” If there was an eruption it was probably only a small one.

The alert level is remaining at one, which means there are signs of volcanic unrest.

Monitoring of Mount Ruapehu will continue.

This was the first reported call-out since 1995.

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