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Jobs surge pushes dollar to near parity

A new surge in jobs pushed the Australian dollar towards record highs on Thursday as traders bet on a swift rise in interest rates.

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Official data showed Australia’s mining-powered economy added a higher-than-expected 49,500 workers to reach 11.3 million in September, holding the jobless rate steady at 5.1 percent.

The Australian dollar rose more than half a US cent to breachits previous post-1983 float record of 98.48, at one point reaching as high as 99.2 US cents, reports said.

A Sydney-based trader told AFP the dollar was testing parity with the greenback.

“It’s been an extremely intense up-trend against the US (dollar),” said the trader, who did not want to be named.

Soon after 7.30pm, the Aussie had settled back down to 98.9 US cents, according to leading currency conversion site xe南宁桑拿会所,.

Pressure still on RBA

Economists said the Reserve Bank of Australia, which surprised markets by leaving rates at 4.50 percent on Tuesday, was now more likely to lift them next month to contain inflation.

“It will certainly make the Reserve Bank more nervous about not acting on their tightening bias for too long,” said Citi economist Paul Brennan.

“It’s definitely now more likely they will feel compelled to act on their tightening bias in November.”

Nomura Australia chief economist Stephen Roberts says the data raises concerns of capacity constraints and inflation, and it could lead the Reserve Bank to be back hiking interest rates in

November or December.

JP Morgan chief economist Stephen Walters says Australia is pretty much at full employment, so the big risk from here is wages growth picking up and adding to inflation pressures.

He predicts the central bank will raise the cash rate from 4.5 per cent to 4.75 per cent.

‘It was the stimulus’

The government hailed the jobs figures as an endorsement of its economic record, which includes helping the country avoid recession in the financial crisis with $70b in stimulus spending.

“What we are seeing is the Australian government stimulus plan really bringing home for Australians job opportunities and strong employment growth and that’s to be celebrated,” Jobs Minister Chris Evans said.

Unemployment has not been higher than 5.5 percent all year, contrasting with current figures of 9.6 percent and 10 percent respectively for the United States and Europe.

Australia’s annual growth is running at about 3.3 percent, powered by strong coal and iron ore exports to Asian countries including fast-growing China.

Australia was the first G20 country to take its foot off the stimulus pedal in October, lifting rates six times before pausing in May over renewed global turmoil.

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Malaria deaths hugely undercounted: Report

Malaria kills more than 200,000 people in India each year, 13 times higher than UN estimates, according to a paper published online Thursday by The Lancet.

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The UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) says that the malarial death toll in India, the most populous country where the disease is endemic, is around 15,000 annually, comprising 5,000 children and 10,000 adults, reports AFP.

But the new study says the WHO’s reporting method is flawed, as it depends indirectly on patients who have been diagnosed by a doctor.

Many deaths in India occur at home, rather than in a hospital or a clinic, which means the underlying cause of many malaria fatalities is likely to be misattributed, it says.

Investigators sent out field workers to 6,671 randomly-selected areas of India to interview relatives or careworkers of 122,000 people who had died between 2001 and 2003.

The field workers sent back a half-page report on each case as well as answers to specific questions which were asked if the individual had died of a fever, AFP reported.

This data was then analysed separately by two physicians, who each gave an independent opinion of the underlying cause of death. A review board adjudicated in cases where there was a dispute.

Rural areas hit hardest

The doctors determined that 3.6 percent of deaths they attributed among people aged one month to 70 years occurred from malaria. Ninety percent of these happened in rural areas and 86 percent occurred outside of a health-care facility.

The fatality estimates coincided geographically with local transmission rates compiled by the Indian malarial control programme, they found.

Extrapolated nationwide, malaria kills 205,000 people a year before the age of 70, comprising 55,000 in early childhood, 30,000 at ages five to 14 and 120,000 at ages 15 to 69, according to the report.

The authors say the WHO may also hugely underestimate the toll of malaria in other countries, which would have big repercussions for health policy.

“If WHO estimates of malaria deaths in India or among adults worldwide are likely to be serious underestimates, this could substantially change disease control strategies, particularly in the rural parts of states with high malaria burden.”

According to the WHO’s website, “nearly one million” people died from malaria in 2008, most of them African children.

In an interview with the BBC, the WHO said it had some doubts on the methods used for the paper published in the Lancet.

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Pool bans skimpy outfits for Ramadan

An official directive for swimmers to “cover up” at a Melbourne swimming pool has drawn criticism from many who say it’s restrictive and unfair.

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A group of Muslim swimming enthusiasts has successfully requested the ban on skimpy outfits to coincide with Ramadan next year.

In multi-cultural Dandenong, east of Melbourne, many residents hail from land-locked African nations.

There’s a strong push to increase water safety awareness after a spate of drownings in the community.

But it hasn’t stopped criticism of an inter-faith women’s swim group which called for a temporary “dress code.”

Some residents are angered that they are being asked to cover up.

But others are disappointed at such a reaction, after organisers were trying to organise the event to foster tolerence and harmony within the community.

Dandenong Council sought the exemption from the equal opportunity act to allow for the restriction during Ramadan, and it’s been granted by Victoria’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The Mayor of Dandenong says it’s not such a big deal.

“The dress code is t-shirt and board shorts. It’s covering the shoulders and covering the knees. Most people dress in board shorts and t-shirts every day.”

The restriction would apply only in August of next year, for two hours in the evening, for one night.

A Liberty Victoria spokesperson said the outcry is overblown.

“It’s a religious event. They’re imposing a dress code as all sorts of people do in all sorts of situations – there’s really nothing remarkable about this.”

Melbourne’s Muslim community remains divided on the restriction.

Some say there should not be restrictions on non-Muslims, while others including Baha Yehia are keen to leave the decision-making to the organisers.

“As organisers, they’re the ones who set the rules, and if they see that it’s in their interest to have these rules, then they know best.”

The ban applies to those aged 10 and over.

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Tales of horror as refugees flee Kyrgyzstan

An estimated 400,000 people – nearly one-twelfth the population – have fled their homes to escape Kyrgyzstan’s ethnic violence, the UN said on Thursday as throngs of refugees huddled in grim camps along the Uzbekistan border without adequate food or water.

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That figure represents half the roughly 800,000 ethnic Uzbeks who lived in Kyrgyzstan’s south before Central Asia’s worst ethnic violence in decades erupted there last week.

More than 200 people – possibly many more – have been killed, and Uzbeks have been all but purged from some parts of the south.

Uzbeks make ‘slaughter’ allegations

Ethnic Uzbeks on Thursday accused security forces of standing by or even helping ethnic-majority Kyrgyz mobs as they slaughtered people and burned down neighbourhoods.

Colonel Iskander Ikramov, the chief of the Kyrgyz military in the south, rejected allegations of troop involvement in the riots but said the army didn’t interfere in the conflict because it was not supposed to play the role of a police force.

The military and police set up roadblocks and began patrols this week after the worst violence was over.

Sexual assaults

Uzbeks interviewed by Associated Press journalists in Osh, the country’s second-largest city, said that on one street alone, ethnic Kyrgyz men sexually assaulted and beat more than 10 Uzbek women and girls, including some pregnant women and children as young as 12.

Matlyuba Akramova showed journalists a 16-year-old relative who appeared to be in a state of shock, and said she had been hiding in the attic as Kyrgyz mobs beat her father in their home in the Cheryomushki neighbourhood.

Akramova said that when the girl came downstairs to bandage her father’s head, another group of attackers sexually assaulted her in front of him.

“What they did to her – even animals wouldn’t do that,” Akramova said.

“She lost consciousness when they started beating her on the back with feet.”

Scale of rapes ‘indeterminable’

Human Rights Watch researcher Anna Neistat, who is investigating the violence in Osh, said it was difficult to say how many rapes occurred.

“…I can say with confidence that cases like this did happen. The question is the scale.”

Members of the Kyrgyz community have denied accusations of brutality and have accused Uzbeks of raping Kyrgyz women.

Eyewitnesses and experts say many Kyrgyz were killed in the unrest, but most victims appear to have been Uzbeks, traditional farmers and traders who speak a different Turkic language and have been more prosperous than the Kyrgyz, who come from a nomadic tradition.

Thousands ‘driven from homes’

Odinama Matkadyrovna, an Uzbek doctor in Osh, said there were probably more rapes than have been reported, but many victims were reluctant to speak out about their experience.

“Our mentality is such that they conceal (cases of rape),” she told the Associated Press Television News.

UN Humanitarian Office spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said an estimated 400,000 people have been driven from their homes.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that at least 40,000 of the internally displaced need shelter, but many have been taken in by family or other people.

Military brought into question

Ole Solvang, a Human Rights Watch researcher investigating the violence in Osh, said he saw soldiers fail to protect residents, and that many witnesses said the military went a step further and helped the rioters.

“This is an extreme failure on the part of the government to intervene and protect these people”, he told APTN.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that Uzbek authorities set up dozens of camps for refugees in three border provinces and made some 70 schools available for sheltering them.

The vast majority of the refugees are women, children and elderly people and over 350 pregnant women have been registered so far.

Aid relief trickles in

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday sent two flights to Uzbekistan to deliver relief supplies to the Andijan area where most of the refugees are located, and other UN organisations also have provided assistance.

Many of the thousands of refugees to have crossed into Uzbekistan said they are afraid to return to Osh, a city with a population of more than 1.1 million together with nearby areas.

Many would have nowhere to live if they returned.

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Sidelined Rudd takes a holiday

There’s no place for former prime minister Kevin Rudd in Julia Gillard’s retweaked cabinet – and Rudd says its time for a holiday.

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Julia Gillard announced one or two retweakings to cabinet posts, but there was no front bench responsibility for the former PM, despite some speculation that he may be given Foreign Affairs.

Rudd says he plans to take a family break before heading to his Queensland electorate to work for re-election.

In his farewell press conference after being dumped as Labor leader, he said he planned to recontest the election later this year.

“I also said I would be prepared to serve the government in an appropriate way in the future and that I would do so in the interests of the government and the country,” he said in a

statement.

“I have indicated to the prime minister in subsequent discussions that this remains my position.”

On announcing the alterations to cabinet positions, Ms Gillard said on Monday she would offer Mr Rudd a cabinet position in a re-elected Labor government.

She said she’d be delighted to do so, but would not be drawn on speculation as to whose decision it ultimately was – his to step down in the meantime, or her decision to sideline him.

Mr Rudd had reportedly lobbied for the foreign affairs portfolio but Ms Gillard said the former diplomat needed to spend more time with his wife Therese Rein and their children.

“It would enable him … to spend more time with his family, which I know is one of his key priorities in life,” she said.

“There is nothing, nothing about this period that is happy or easy for Mr Rudd. It’s obviously a very, very stressful, difficult time

Rudd said decisions on cabinet appointments were a matter for the prime minister, which he respected.

“For the immediate future, my family and I have decided to take a break,” he said.

“Following that, I will be working in my own electorate of Griffith and in any other way deemed appropriate to support the re-election of the government.”

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No Rudd in Gillard’s cabinet

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced the cabinet that will lead Labor into the federal election, with no new immediate role given to deposed PM Kevin Rudd.

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Although there was no cabinet post for Rudd, she has told him she would be ‘absolutely delighted’ for him to serve as a senior cabinet minister if the government is reelected.

She would not be drawn on whether it was his choice or hers that a cabinet position would not be forthcoming before the election .

Kevin Rudd released a statement to the media shortly after the announcement in which he said he respects the PM’s decisions.

‘Ultimately, decisions on Cabinet appointments are a matter for the Prime Minister’, he announced.

‘For the immediate future, my family and I have decided to take a break. Following that, I will be working in my own electorate of Griffith and in any other way deemed appropriate to support the re-election of the Government.’

Crean a ‘safe pair of hands’

Former Trade Minister Simon Crean, who is a ‘safe pair of hands’, said Gillard, takes over her education, employment, workplace relations and social inclusion portfolios.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stepehen Smith added Crean’s Trade portfolio to his Foreign Affairs responsibility.

Smith thanked Crean for setting a ‘firm foundation’ for him in the role, and said it was advantageous to him to have both Trade and Foreign Affairs, due to their interconnectedness.

Gillard denied he’d have too much on his plate.

Lindsay Tanner will continue in his role as finance minister. On announcing this, Gillard said there would be no more changes to cabinet before the election, expected in the spring.

No role for factional chiefs

There was speculation that those involved in the ‘coup’ would not be rewarded with government portfolios, and this was the case.

Former Foreign minister Alexander Downer had criticised the notion, relayed in some quarters of the media, of Kevin Rudd becoming foreign minister, saying that the PM should be personally and politically close to the country’s top diplomat.

Gillard on Friday announced that climate change, border protection and the controversial mining ‘super’ tax would be her top priorities.

Who’s who in the Gillard cabinet

Simon Crean – Takes over Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, and Social Inclusion

Stephen Smith – Takes over Crean’s Trade portfolio, and keeps Foreign Affairs

Wayne Swan – Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister

Lindsay Tanner – Finance and Deregulation

Chris Evans – Minister for Immigration and Citizenship

Penny Wong – Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water

John Faulkner – Defence

Nicola Roxon – Health

Jenny Macklin – Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

Anthony Albanese – Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government

Stephen Conroy – Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

Kim Carr – Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research

Peter Garrett – Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts

Robert McClelland – Attorney General

Joe Ludwig – Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State

Tony Burke – Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Minister for Population

Martin Ferguson – Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism

Chris Bowen – Minister for Human Services, Minister for Financial Services, Superannuation and Corporate Law

Kate Ellis – Minister for Youth and Sport

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Fans wonder what they’d say to England

But plenty of others know what they’d like to say to the England team.

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In an incident heading straight for football folklore, a man got past security and into the dressing room, said what he had to say, and then was escorted from the stadium by a local organising committee official. Police are now investigating.

The incident set off reaction from many disillusioned fans following one of England’s worst performances in years.

“I don’t know what he said, but I know what I would have said,” said Alan Wright, who is 57 and has been a dedicated England fan since the 1966 World Cup triumph.

“They looked terrified,” Wright said of the way England played on Friday night.

“They looked like the lambs to the slaughter instead of slaughtering the lambs.”

So what would Wright have done, if suddenly able to confront coach Fabio Capello and the players?

“To give the team a gee-up, somebody’s got to do it,” he said as he continued to analyse the Algeria match with other England fans over a beer Saturday on Cape Town’s waterfront.

Steve Thompson of Newcastle was more upset with the English squad’s failure to acknowledge the tens of thousands of England fans who travelled to the Green Point Stadium for the match.

Striker Wayne Rooney was upset with fans for booing them off the field.

“I would have told them all to get back on the pitch and go and thank the fans for coming out and support them in vast numbers,” Thompson said.

Zuzzette Holland of Bournemouth said her tirade would not be fit for publication.

“I think it would go beep, beep, beep, beep,” she said, mimicking the sound of curse words being censored on TV.

“They are blaming the ball, which is like bad workmanship, blaming your tools.”

FIFA, football’s world governing body, said it was unacceptable that the fan broke through security lines and entered the England players’ dressing rooms not long after British princes Harry and William had been in there.

FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot says security will be tightened to ensure such an incident never happens again.

“Luckily it was after the princes had left, 10 minutes after,” said Beckham, who is travelling with the England squad despite being ruled out with injury.

“Obviously it has been blown out of proportion. The actual fan literally just walked in very casually and just said something to me and then walked out. There was no

scuffle.”

“He just walked in, said ‘hello,”‘ Beckham said.

Western Cape police are trying to locate the dressing room intruder, but there are indications that the man has already got quite a reputation among other travelling England supporters.

“He is a hero for me, yes. I bought him a drink last night. A great guy,” Wright said.

“I could not get to him – he was like a cult hero.”

Shane Roberts, 46, had an idea of what should happen to the intruder if he ever identifies himself publicly.

“He’ll get knighted when he gets back,” Roberts joked. “He’ll be OK.”

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Google ‘compromise’ over China threat

Google has stopped its automatic redirection of Chinese searches to Hong Kong, following clashes with Chinese authorities.

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‘It’s clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable — and that if we continue redirecting users our Internet Content Provider (ICP) license will not be renewed’, the company announced In a blog posting.

After shutting down in China in March, Google has been redirecting all searches on Google.cn to Google.con.hk, which offers uncensored results. Although this kept defenders of free speech in China onside, the Chinese government objected to it.

In the announcement, Google’s Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, says that without the ICP licence it cannot operate Google.cn , meaning the company ‘would effectively go dark in China.’

Google said ‘a small percentage’ of users were now being directed to a landing page on Google.cn which links to Google南宁桑拿会所,.hk ‘where users can conduct web search or continue to use Google.cn services like music and text translate, which we can provide locally without filtering.’

‘This approach ensures we stay true to our commitment not to censor our results on Google.cn and gives users access to all of our services from one page’, the company announced.

Early reaction saw some bloggers calling this a compromise, where Google was ‘ at least managing to stay in business in the country and continue providing some uncensored search results to the residents’, wrote Gizmodo.

Beijing will not renew the licence if automatic redirection to the Hong Kong site continue – but there is no guarantee that Google’s offer will be accepted.

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Lennon lyrics fetch $1.38m at auction

The winning bid for A Day in the Life was placed by phone on Friday at Sotheby’s auction house, which declined to identify the collector further.

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The price exceeded the pre-sale estimate of $A576,000 to $A921,000.

The double-sided sheet of paper features Lennon’s edits and corrections in his own hand – in black felt marker and blue ballpoint pen, with a few annotations in red ink.

One of the greatest songs of all time

Rolling Stone magazine listed A Day in the Life at number 26 in its compilation of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and Sgt Pepper won four Grammy awards in 1968.

The lyrics, which begin with: “I read the news today, oh boy,” stirred controversy when the Beatles released the album in 1967.

The song was banned by the BBC because it twice features the line,

“I’d love to turn you on,” which was interpreted as supporting illegal drug use. The song was also left off copies of Sgt Pepper’s sold in several Asian countries for the same reason.

The album’s Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was alleged to have glorified the use of the hallucinogenic LSD, a claim that bandmembers denied.

In addition, A Day in the Life features the lyric: “He blew his mind out in a car,” which Beatles aficionados claim is a reference to the accidental death of Tara Browne, the Guinness heir and close friend of Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Single sheet

The lyrics appear on both sides of the single sheet. One side has Lennon’s original first draft, written in a hurried cursive script.

The other side is written almost entirely in capital letters and incorporates the corrections from the first draft and adds the words: “I’d love to turn you on.”

Sotheby’s said the lyrics were consigned by a private collector. Friday’s price came close to the $US1.25 million paid in 2005 for the Beatles lyrics, All You Need is Love, it said. It sold to an anonymous bidder at the British auction house, Cooper Owen.

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Rudd, Abbott address Christian vote

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has given his government a “low-pass mark” in terms of the intervention into Northern Territory indigenous communities.

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In an address to the powerful Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), Mr Rudd said progress had been made in “closing the gap”, but that there was more work to be done to improve the lot of indigenous people.

Both Mr Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott were given the opportunity to address church leaders at an ACL conference in Canberra on Monday night.

The conference was also webcast to thousands of christians watching and listening over the internet.

The two leaders were given equal time to outline policies and their own personal values before being asked the same series of questions on issues such as social justice for indigenous Australians, gay marriage, climate change and refugees.

The prime minister said Australians had benefited from a long tradition of christian charity and church intervention.

“This would be quite a different and poorer country were it not for that contribution,” he said.

Mr Rudd said he stood by the quarantining of welfare payments in the Northern Territory, for both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

Legislation extending the measure to include non-indigenous Australians passed the parliament on Monday night.

The prime minister said the measure would also be rolled out across the rest of the nation depending on its success in the territory.

“I think I give us a low-pass mark so far,” Mr Rudd said in terms of closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

“I give us about 5.5 out of 10, maybe six.”

Rudd defends hard line

Mr Rudd defended his “hard line” on welfare reform.

“It’s hard, it’s also compassionate, it’s trying to get the balance right. But we believe intergenerational welfare dependency is just wrong.”

Mr Abbott agreed that indigenous Australians must take responsibility for themselves.

“Government cannot do it all for them. Government can give them the tools, so to speak, but in the end they have to pick up the tools themselves and make something of their lives.”

The two leaders also agreed that marriage should remain off limits to same-sex couples.

“Like the prime minister, I don’t want to see discrimination against people and I support the removal of discrimination against homosexual people.

“I don’t support any changes that would allow other relationships to mimic … marriage as it’s always been understood.”

Mr Abbott told the conference he wanted people to vote for him not because he was a christian, but because he was an effective politician.

“I want to stress that I am a christian in politics, not a christian politician,” Mr Abbott said.

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Desperate Ronaldo out with a whimper

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Divisive star Cristiano Ronaldo, keen to be known as the best player in the World Cup, has gone out with a whimper against Iberian rivals Spain.

His wait to really make his mark at a major tournament will continue, after Portugal were eliminated in the round of 16 after a 1-0 defeat on Tuesday.

The 94 million-euro man, seen by many as an arrogant, but gifted talent, arrived in South Africa vowing to confirm his status as one of the game’s most enduring talents.

The World Cup is the arena in which football’s true greats have been coronated.

Sporadically decisive in the group phase, when he scored just once in a 7-0 thashing of North Korea, Ronaldo was unable to exert any kind of influence as the 2006 semi-finalists succumbed to Spain’s fabled passing carousel.

Torres also missing

He was not the only headline act to drift out of the match, though, with Spain striker Fernando Torres substituted in the 58th minute after an equally ineffective showing.

“The substitution was made because Torres had done a lot of running and we needed fresh legs,” said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque.

“Llorente had a very good final half-hour. It wasn’t a change of tactics. Llorente gave us vitality.”

Having played from the left against North Korea and as a lone central forward in the 0-0 draw with Portugal, Ronaldo began Tuesday’s game on the right.

Miskicks for Ronaldo

His first involvement saw him horribly mis-control a kick-out from Portugal goalkeeper Eduardo and his first dribble down the flank ended with a foul by Carles Puyol that went unpunished, much to the Real Madrid star’s displeasure.

The skipper registered Portugal’s first shot on target with a typically ambitious long-range free-kick and his next dead-ball effort, from all of 37 metres, drew an unorthodox volleyball-style save from his club-mate Iker Casillas.

The number seven in the white shirt cut a subdued figure in the second half as Spain tightened their grip on the match and was left even more isolated when coach Carlos Queiroz withdrew strapping target man Hugo Almeida in the 58th minute.

The game finished without Ronaldo once getting the fans out of their seats and at 25, he may only get one more chance to bend a World Cup to his will.

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Ethnic Uzbeks refusing to return home

Thousands of ethnic Uzbeks massed on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are refusing to return home, saying they fear for their lives after violent pogroms and don’t trust Kyrgyz troops to protect them.

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Associated Press reporters saw some 50 Kyrgyz troops, many in armoured transport carriers, enter the border village of Suratash and try to reassure refugees in this Central Asian nation that it is safe to return home.

Yet the soldiers’ presence terrified the families – ethnic Uzbeks who fled after attacks and arson by ethnic Kyrgyz – since they blame Kyrgyz troops for abetting the violence that left hundreds of Uzbeks dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.

Entire Uzbek neighbourhoods in southern Kyrgyzstan have been reduced to scorched ruins by rampaging mobs of ethnic Kyrgyz who forced nearly half of the region’s roughly 800,000 Uzbeks to flee.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva says up to 2,000 people may have died in the clashes.

The refugees said they would not return home and are unsure where to go. Some said they would try to sell all their belongings and move to Russia, while others expressed a desire to go to Uzbekistan.

However, there is no official border crossing in Suratash – 16 kilometres away from the region’s main city of Osh – and many refugees lacked documentation since they fled their homes in a rush.

The United Nations estimates that 400,000 people have fled their homes in Kyrgyzstan and about 100,000 of them have entered Uzbekistan.

There is no official estimate of the number of refugees in Suratash, though the Uzbeks themselves claim there may be 20,000.

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Rumours abound of mining stand-off end

Australia has offered mining companies a “watershed” compromise on a controversial new tax which helped trigger last week’s dramatic change of prime minister, according to a reports in the AFR on Wednesday.

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The watered-down proposal makes key concessions to the powerful mining companies, including reducing the profit tax’s impact on existing projects, the Australian Financial Review said, without citing sources.

Fairfax later reported that mining bosses were in talks with the PM today.

But Assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry played down speculation that Gillard was poised to announce a deal as early as Wednesday as she looks to settle the row before calling national elections.

“As Julia Gillard has mentioned on many occasions, a key priority for the government is resolving the uncertainty” over the tax, Sherry told Sky News.

“There is a lot of hypothetical about details and changes, I think we should wait until those negotiations are concluded and announcements are made,” he added.

Fortescue Metals’ billionaire chief Andrew Forrest raised pressure on Gillard by saying Rudd was just 24 hours from announcing a deal before he was sensationally unseated in last Thursday’s quickfire leadership challenge.

“The previous prime minister was cut off bringing a solution onto the table,” he told a conference in Perth on Tuesday, according to public broadcaster ABC.

“I would suggest that the new prime minister brings that solution to the table for a discussion with the whole mining industry as soon as possible.”

Gillard meanwhile called for “a bit more light and bit less heat” in the debate over the tax, which envisaged a 40 percent levy on mining profits over six percent.

“Actually, there’s a bit of agreement here: a bit of agreement that Australians are entitled to a fairer share, a bit of agreement that the mining industry can pay more tax, so let’s build on that,” she told commercial radio.

Gillard’s first act in office was to broker a truce between the government and the mining industry which saw both cancel TV advertising campaigns on the issue.

Mining provides Australia’s two biggest exports, iron ore and coal, and helped the country skirt the worst of the financial crisis thanks to massive demand from Asian countries such as China.

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