Sport mourns ‘miracle’ man Mandela

Nobel Peace Prize winner Mandela won over many whites when he donned the jersey of South Africa’s national rugby team – once a symbol of white supremacy – at the rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium.

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“All of our lives are poorer today at the extinguishing of the great beacon of light and hope that led the way for our country through the transition to democracy,” Oregan Hoskins, President of the South African Rugby Union, said in a statement.

“Madiba was a great man of vision, determination and integrity who performed a miracle that amazed the world as much as it amazed his fellow countrymen.

“Through his extraordinarily vision, he was able to use the 1995 Rugby World Cup as an instrument to help promote nation building just one year after South Africa’s historic first democratic election.

“Mr Mandela was also instrumental in retaining the Springbok as the emblem for our national team at a time when a chorus of voices advocated a change of the symbol, for various reasons. It was an act of reconciliation and generosity of spirit which no one could have expected.”

Ali said he was “deeply saddened” by the death of a man who inspired everyone to break barriers and reach for the impossible.

“He made us realise, we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colours,” he said in a statement.

“He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever free.”

As news of Mandela’s death went around the world, the first of what are likely to be many gestures of respect took place at sporting events.

A minute’s silence was observed before the start of the second day of the second Ashes test between Australia and England at Adelaide Oval and at the first test between New Zealand and West Indies in Dunedin.

‘TRUE STATESMAN’

Cricket South Africa offered its initial reaction via Twitter.

“RIP Tata Mandela. It is because of you that a represented Proteas team can express their talent across the globe,” it read.

IOC President Thomas Bach hailed Mandela’s role in using sport for the greater cause and called him a “true statesman”.

“A remarkable man who understood that sport could build bridges, break down walls, and reveal our common humanity,” Bach said in a message posted on the IOC’s official Twitter handle.

World soccer body FIFA ordered flags to be flown at half mast and a minute’s silence to be held before the next round of international matches.

Mandela’s last major appearance on the global stage came at soccer’s 2010 World Cup finals, the first to be hosted on African soil, when he attended the final in Soweto to a thunderous ovation from the 90,000 strong crowd.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, in Brazil for Friday’s draw for the 2014 World Cup, paid tribute in a statement.

“It is in deep mourning that I pay my respects to an extraordinary person, probably one of the greatest humanists of our time and a dear friend of mine: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela,” said the Swiss.

“When he was honoured and cheered by the crowd at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium on 11 July 2010, it was as a man of the people, a man of their hearts, and it was one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced.”

World number one golfer Tiger Woods also paid tribute to Mandela and recalled meeting the former South African president in 1998.

“He invited us to his home, and it was one of the most inspiring times I’ve ever had in my life,” said the American.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly, editing by)

Bravo sends 1st NZ Test into final day

A resolute Darren Bravo scored a maiden double century to deny New Zealand and ensure the Dunedin Test against the West Indies will go into a fifth day.

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The Windies finished the day at 6-443, forging a lead of 47 over the hosts after starting the day 228 runs behind.

The 24-year-old Bravo, a cousin of the great Brian Lara, batted for more than nine hours in his unbeaten 210 to defy New Zealand’s bowlers on the lifeless University Oval pitch.

He punched the air in delight after reaching 200 and was embraced by captain Darren Sammy as he became the 26th West Indian to pass the milestone.

“It’s a great feeling. I set myself to bat out the day. I backed myself and the team was backing me as well.

“I just went out and enjoyed my game in the best possible way,” he said.

But New Zealand legspinner Ish Sodhi said they had not lost heart despite claiming only four wickets for the day and dropping three catches in the process.

“On the scoreboard, we still are on top and Test cricket’s not an easy game.

“We created enough opportunities. They were tough ones at times, and that’s what we’ve got to judge ourselves on,” the 21-year-old said.

Bravo found useful allies in Narsingh Deonarine (52), Denesh Ramdin (24) and Sammy (44 not out) to frustrate the home side seeking their first Test win of the year.

Starting the day on 2-168 after following on – having been dismissed for 213 in reply to New Zealand’s 9(dec)-609 declared – the tourists lost two early wickets to dent their hopes of saving the Test.

But Bravo, who began the day on 72 after being given not out by the television umpire on the third day after appearing to be caught behind, dug in and mixed gritty defence with powerful drives through the off-side.

The Blacks Caps might have expected to make short work of the opposition when Tim Southee struck in the fourth over to remove Marlon Samuels.

Those hopes were further boosted when Neil Wagner took his first wicket of the Test to claim the prized scalp of veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

The 39-year-old, who a day earlier became just the seventh batsmen to pass 11,000 runs in Tests, was trapped lbw for one to reduce the tourists to 4-185.

But Bravo and Deonarine combined for a 122-run stand for the fifth wicket before Corey Anderson’s first Test wicket on home soil removed Deonarine.

Bravo is averaging 59.64 away from home, the best record by a West Indian.

He added 56 with Ramdin and combined with Sammy in a unbroken stand of 80.

Defence Force concerned ‘turn back boats’ policy may be illegal

By Karen Middleton

SBS has reported exclusively that Defence representatives held a series of meetings with the Attorney-General’s office this week, detailing their legal concerns and requesting that the Government examine its duty of care to defence employees.

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To see all developments regarding Operation Sovereign Borders follow the SBS story stream.

It is understood the Government has agreed to clarify the duty-of-care issue.

But it is still requiring the Navy to turn back asylum boats at sea.

The Attorney-General’s office and the Immigration Minister’s office declined to comment. They directed queries to Customs and Border Protection, which did not provide a response.

In his weekly briefing, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison revealed that four asylum boats arrived this week, including one which ran aground and broke up at Greta Beach, on the south-east coast of Christmas Island, late on Monday night.

“This was an unusual incident,” Mr Morrison said. “There will be a post incident assessment as you would expect. It’s a big ocean. These are small boats.”

The 27 people aboard all survived but spent three days wandering in the jungle before they were found and taken into custody.

Border Protection Commander Lieutenant General Angus Campbell said the incident was another reminder of the risks.

“This is extraordinarily dangerous, people take their lives in their hands, people smugglers lie, the boats are unseaworthy in many cases and the weather is deteriorating significantly,” Lieutenant General Campbell said.

“Do not attempt to come to Australia without a visa on an open boat across the ocean.”

General Campbell said another 162 people and six crew had arrived on the previous three boats, this week.

“What we are seeing in the period of Operation Sovereign Borders is what I might describe as clustering of arrivals,” General Campbell said. He declined to speculate on what might be causing it.

But sources told SBS that the diplomatic row with Indonesia appeared to be hampering border protection efforts, with Indonesia “looking the other way” to teach Australia a lesson and another four boats expected before the monsoon season fully set in.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott hinted that the strain in relations was affecting the people smuggling efforts.

“I do expect continued cooperation from Indonesia in our anti people-smuggling campaign, because let’s face it, people smuggling is illegal in Australia,” Mr Abbott said. “And the point I’ve been making as politely as I can to the Indonesians is that as far as we’re concerned this is a sovereignty issue.”

Indonesia and Australia have agreed on a plan to restore relations, including establishing a diplomatic “hotline” to deal urgently with pressing issues.

But Mr Abbott said neither country had agreed to stop gathering intelligence on the other.

Rolling Stones could return in October

Rolling Stones fans are scrambling to get refunds on concert tickets, hotel bookings and flights after the veteran rockers postponed their Australasian tour – but they could be back in October.

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The postponement could cost tens of million of dollars with all crews, transport and venues placed on standby, and merchandise with dates printed on them now useless.

Frontier Touring said work was underway to reschedule dates for the 14 On Fire tour and an announcement would be made as soon as possible.

The tour was cancelled following the death of frontman Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, L’Wren Scott, in New York.

Jagger was expected to travel to the US from Perth, where the first concert was to be held on Wednesday night.

But The Rolling Stones plane remains at Perth airport and there has been no sightings of the band in the city since Tuesday, when drummer Charlie Watts was reportedly seen shopping in King Street.

Watts, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood were also said to have been spotted in the Hyatt hotel foyer later that night.

Promoter Michael Gudinski was seen leaving the Hyatt just after 2pm (WST), followed shortly after by Watts’ granddaughter Charlotte.

Ticket holders have been asked to keep their tickets until new dates are announced, but those wanting refunds can get them via ticketing agencies.

“If the new dates are not suitable, rest assured you will be able to secure a refund,” Frontier Touring said.

The band was paid $450,000 to open the revamped Adelaide Oval but it is understood that money will be returned to the state government.

The venue is now working to find an alternative date – but that could not be until after the AFL season, which means the rockers may not return to Australia until October, after they tour Europe.

Choice said consumers had a right to a refund and could also seek a refund or date change with airlines and hotels if bookings had to be cancelled.

“While airlines and hotels aren’t obligated to provide refunds, some may show discretion in helping consumers,” Choice said.

“If you’re unable to change your travel arrangements, you may be covered by ticket insurance or travel insurance.”

If Ticketek and Frontier Touring did not provide a suitable outcome, consumers could complain to the department of fair trading or consumer affairs, Choice said.

Viagogo said tickets purchased through its website could be refunded, while eBay policies say its customers can seek a refund or replacement ticket.

UK hopes to foil fraudsters with new coin

Britain is ditching the one pound coin it has used for the past three decades and replacing it with a 12-sided piece that will be harder to fake.

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The Treasury says the new coin, made of two metals in two different colours and modelled on the old Threepenny bit, will be “the most secure coin in circulation in the world”.

About three per cent of all one pound coins, about 45 million, are currently forgeries and in some parts of Britain this rises to six per cent, according to the Royal Mint.

The new coin, worth about $A1.85, will have the same shape of the old “Threepenny bit” that was introduced in 1937 and went out with decimalisation in 1971.

It was popular during World War II when households and businesses had to abide by a blackout to thwart enemy bombings, because its distinctive size and shape made it easy to recognise in the dark.

The new one pound coin will be made using cutting-edge technology that allows it to be easily authenticated.

Combined with the use of two metals and the 12 sides, the Royal Mint hopes it will be hard to counterfeit.

Finance Minister George Osborne said: “After 30 years of loyal service, the time is right to retire the current 1 coin and replace it with the most secure coin in the world.

“With advances in technology making high value coins like the 1 every more vulnerable to counterfeiters, it’s vital that we keep several paces ahead of the criminals to maintain the integrity of our currency.”

The new coin is expected to be in circulation by 2017, following a consultation with businesses.

As with all British coins, the ‘heads’ side will feature the image of Queen Elizabeth II and there will be a public competition to decide the ‘tails’ side.

Hong Kong stocks close flat

Hong Kong shares ended flat as attention turned to the US Federal Reserve’s policy meeting later in the day, while traders also kept an eye on the Crimean crisis.

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The benchmark Hang Seng Index edged down 14.81 points to 21,568.69 on turnover of $US64.17 billion ($A70.54 billion).

Tensions in Eastern Europe rose on Tuesday when President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty absorbing Crimea into Russia following a weekend referendum Western leaders slammed as illegal.

The move comes less than three weeks after Russian troops seized control of the strategic peninsula in response to the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow government.

Kiev’s new leaders warned the showdown had entered a “military stage” after soldiers were killed on both sides following a shootout in Crimea.

However, National Australian Bank said: “Putin indicated he isn’t seeking ‘a partition of Ukraine’, soothing market fears (for now) that the crisis will escalate further. It gave investors the chance to start focusing on the (Fed) meeting tonight.”

The Fed will conclude its two-day policy meeting on Wednesday with analysts expecting a further cut in the bank’s stimulus program as the economy picks up.

But attention will be on new chair Janet Yellen’s follow-up news conference, hoping she will give some idea about the bank’s plans for raising interest rates as the economy shows signs of strengthening.

Internet giant Tencent fell 1.82 per cent to HK$567.50 and HSBC was 0.45 per cent lower at HK$76.8 while Macau casino firm Galaxy Entertainment slipped 2.83 per cent to HK$72.00.

However, US luggage maker Samsonite surged 9.42 per cent to HK$22.65 after announcing net profits leapt 18.6 per cent in 2013 thanks to strong worldwide sales.

In China the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.17 per cent, or 3.47 points, to 2,021.73 on turnover of 79.5 billion yuan ($A14.07 billion).

The Shenzhen Composite Index, which tracks stocks on China’s second exchange, fell 0.50 per cent, or 5.46 points, to 1,094.44 on turnover of 111.5 billion yuan.

Property and banking shares fell on concerns about bad debt after reports surfaced Tuesday that Xingrun Real Estate, a small developer in the eastern city of Ningbo, was unable to pay its debts of around $570 million.

“Banks and property stocks fell after news of the Ningbo developer on worries this could cause losses to lenders and signal a transition in the real estate sector,” Zheshang Securities analyst Zhang Yanbing told AFP.

China Minsheng Banking lost 2.03 per cent to 7.23 yuan while China Citic Bank shed 1.29 per cent to 4.60 yuan.

Poly Real Estate dropped 1.60 per cent to 6.77 yuan and developer Vanke fell 1.32 per cent to 7.50 yuan.

Zheshang Securities analyst Zhang Yanbing said: “Funds are fleeing from banks and property stocks on fears that more developers could declare delinquencies.”

And Capital Securities analyst Amy Lin said that in addition to the Xingrun default “reports housing prices are diving in major cities are spreading through the internet, which has severely weighed down sentiment”.

Hopes of benefits from electricity price reform lifted power firms. Leshan Electricity jumped 1.9 per cent to 7.40 yuan and Shanxi Zhangze Electric Power gained 1.7 per cent to 3.66 yuan.

Crimeans attack Ukraine navy HQ

Pro-Russian protesters have stormed Ukraine’s naval headquarters in Crimea after Moscow claimed the peninsula and the first casualties ratcheted up the stakes in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

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A Ukrainian navy spokesman said the crowd of a few hundred irate activists in Ukraine’s port city of Sevastopol had forced a group of officers to barricade themselves inside the building to avoid a direct confrontation.

“There are about 200 of them, some wearing balaclavas. They are unarmed and no shots have been fired from our side,” said spokesman Sergiy Bogdanov.

“The officers have barricaded themselves inside the building,” he said, adding that the officers had no intention of using their weapons.

A defiant President Vladimir Putin had brushed aside global indignation and Western sanctions on Tuesday to sign a treaty absorbing the flashpoint Ukrainian peninsula and expanding Russia’s borders for the first time since World War II.

The historic and hugely controversial moment came less than a month after the ouster in Kiev of a Moscow-backed regime by leaders who spearheaded three months of deadly protests aimed at pulling Ukraine out of the Kremlin’s orbit for the first time.

Putin responded by winning the right to use force against his ex-Soviet neighbour and then using the help of local militias to seize the Black Sea region of Crimea – the warm water outlet for Russian navies since the 18th century.

The explosive security crisis on the EU’s eastern frontier now threatens to reopen a diplomatic and ideological chasm between Russia and Western powers not seen since the tension-fraught decades preceding the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Russia’s political and economic isolation will only increase if it continues down this path and it will in fact see additional sanctions by the United States and the EU,” US Vice President Joe Biden warned on Tuesday while paying a visit to Poland aimed at reassuring former Soviet satellites of Washington’s backing in the face of the Kremlin’s expansionist threat.

The greatest fear facing Kiev’s new leaders and the West is that Putin will push huge forces massed along the Ukrainian border into the Russian-speaking southeastern swathes of the country in a self-professed effort to “protect” compatriots who he claims are coming under increasing attack from violent ultranationalists.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the speculation while still hinting strongly that Russia intended to play a big future role in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.

“We are not speaking about military actions in the eastern regions of Ukraine,” Peskov told the BBC.

“But Russia will do whatever is possible, using all legal means, all legal means, in total correspondence with international law, to protect and to extend a hand of help to Russians living in eastern regions of Ukraine.”

Putin had signed the Crimea treaty – at this stage recognised by no nation besides Russia – after stressing the move was done “without firing a single shot and with no loss of life.”

But the first bloodshed came to the rugged peninsula of two million people only hours later when a group of gunmen wearing masks but no military insignia stormed a Ukrainian military centre in Simferopol.

The Ukrainian defence ministry said one of its soldier died from a neck wound and another suffered various injuries.

The pro-Russia Crimean police said a member of the local militias had also been killed. A spokeswoman blamed both casualties on shooting by unidentified assailants from a nearby location.

But the violence prompted Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to warn an emergency government meeting that “the conflict is shifting from a political to a military stage.

“Russian soldiers have started shooting at Ukrainian military servicemen, and that is a war crime,” the Wester-backed prime minister said.

The Ukrainian defence ministry soon authorised its soldier in Crimea to open fire in self defence for the first time.

Ukraine had previously forbidden its troops from shooting – in some cases forcing them to stand guard at their bases with empty rifles – to avoid provoking a offensive by its nuclear-armed giant that could spill into an all-out war.

Presciption drug use not widespread: NRL

The NRL’s chief medico Ron Muratore says he believes rugby league does not have a problem with players abusing prescriptions drugs but that the game’s governing body is determined to find out.

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The NRL announced on Wednesday it had reached an agreement with the Rugby League Players’ Association to begin testing for two classes of prescription drugs this year: Benzodiazepines (which include brand names such as Valium, Serepax, Mogadon and Rohypnol) and Zolpidems (which include Stilnox).

New Zealand players were linked with the practice of mixing sleeping pills with alcohol and energy drinks at last season’s World Cup and on Tuesday the Warriors club doctor John Mayhew claimed the practice was widespread in the NRL.

But the NRL’s chief medical officer Dr Muratore said his own research had indicated that was not the case.

“I’m pretty confident we don’t have a problem but until we test the players we can’t be sure,” Muratore told AAP.

“I don’t think it is a widespread problem. But we intend to find out.”

“Obviously there are some players who experiment to get their thrills but I believe the vast majority don’t.

“This is a constructive move to identify if there is a problem.”

Dr Muratore pointed to evidence collected by Australia Sports Anti-Doping Authority surveys over the last 18 months, when players were asked if they had recently taken a sleeping pill. He said of around 560 surveyed before being tested for banned drugs only five said they had taken a sleeping pill.

“Some people call me naive but I don’t think players would lie to ASADA,” Muratore said.

Dr Muratore said they survey indicated rugby league players consumed sleeping pills less than the general population. Approximately 10 per cent of people use drugs such as Valium.

Former NRL star Matthew Johns slammed the move by the NRL.

“To say a player can’t take a heavy painkiller to get pain relief from a broken leg or a torn pec, is absolutely ridiculous,” he told Triple M.

“I hope that is not the case, I hope there is going to be some things put in place there because, if that is the case, if a player is unable to take a painkiller after he sustains a nasty injury, they are making this sport too hard to play.

“Nowhere else in the world do they enforce this and now they are going to do it for a sport that is arguably the toughest.”

Dr Muratore said the provisions now in place were similar to other workplace environments such as with truck drivers working for transport giant Linfox.

“It will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

“If a player tests positive the team doctor will prepare a report as to the reason why.

“But if there is a problem there that is when we look to rehabilitation.”

Aust traveller checks comprehensive: govt

Travel documents of people transiting Australian ports undergo comprehensive and growing scrutiny, the federal government says.

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As global authorities investigate the backgrounds and connections of 239 people on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a spotlight has been shone on border security practices.

Australia, a member of the Regional Movement Alert List, exchanges information about questionable travel documents with the United States and New Zealand, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says.

The system will soon be expanded to include the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, the minister told a tourism and travel forum in Canberra on Wednesday.

Airline liaison officers based overseas worked to check the identities of travellers bound for Australia and there was a “rigorous infringement regime that penalises airlines which persist in carrying improperly documented passengers”.

Mr Morrison said various initiatives culminated in an “exhaustive border management and security system” for Australia.

“My first priority will always be the maintenance of the integrity of these systems and safety of the Australian public,” Mr Morrison said.

“No program or policy will be pursued at the risk of our nation’s security.”

The government has forwarded to investigators details of the six Australians who were on board MH370.

“We have received passenger background checks from all countries apart from (the) Ukraine and Russia,” Malaysia’s acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters on Wednesday.

“So far no information of significance on any passenger has been found.”

Checks will extend to ground staff linked to MH370.

Mr Hussein was quick to insist that all passengers and crew “remain innocent until proven otherwise”.

Innocence stolen by man of God: Vic victim

A man allegedly abused by a Catholic Brother says he is still suffering more than 30 years after his innocence was stolen by a man of God.

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American Brother Bernard Joseph Hartman, 74, allegedly abused two boys and two girls at Altona where he was a teacher at St Paul’s College between 1976 and 1982.

One of the victims told the Melbourne Magistrates Court the scars are still with him.

“In year 11 in 1982 I wanted to kill him,” the man said in his victim statement to the court.

“I have lived a hard life because of my upbringing, all because of Brother Hartman.

“After more than 30 years I am still suffering.

“My innocence has been taken by a man of God.”

The man alleged Hartman would hit him with a metre-long ruler, slap and punch him and pull his hair.

He said the sexual abuse was constant and Hartman would even fondle him while others were in the year 10 classroom.

“This used to happen all of the time,” he said.

“Mostly, every time he abused me sexually, he would finish up physically belting me.”

While Hartman appeared charismatic, in reality he was violent and out of control, the victim’s statement said.

“He would be salivating. He was a bit of a sadist,” he said.

He said if he didn’t meet Hartman’s demands he’d “cop a hiding”.

The man said when he told the headmaster, he was caned.

He believed staff at the school knew what was happening but “Brother Hartman could do no wrong”.

A young girl also allegedly abused by Hartman said he offered her 50c per photo if she agreed to be photographed naked, according to documents tendered to the court.

She said Hartman sexually abused her from age eight to 11.

He also allegedly showed her photos of naked girls and talked about sex.

Years later, the woman says she told a nun from Altona in 1999.

The nun told her there were two Brother Bernard Hartmans.

“(The nun) suggested that I shouldn’t tell anyone about what had happened as it may stir up problems in other people’s lives that they are not ready to deal with,” the woman said in her victim statement.

Another woman said Hartman began abusing her when she was five or six and told her it was a big secret.

She said she got no sympathy when as an adult she complained to the Altona parish priest about Hartman.

“He seemed almost annoyed,” she said.

“He kept saying these things are very difficult to prove.”

Hartman, who returned from the US to face the accusations, was on Wednesday committed to stand trial on 14 counts of indecent assault, two counts of gross indecency with a girl under 16 and two counts of assault.

Egypt general, colonel killed in shootout

An Egyptian army brigadier general and a colonel have been killed in a raid on the hideout of jihadists suspected of involvement in a series of deadly attacks.

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Five jihadists with the Al-Qaeda-inspired Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group also died in what was an hours-long shootout north of Cairo, the interior ministry said.

The slain officers were bomb disposal experts who participated in the operation alongside police, the military said.

The jihadist cell targeted in the early morning raid was suspected of involvement in a Saturday attack on a military checkpoint that killed six soldiers, and the assassination of a deputy interior minister in Cairo in January.

They were hiding out near the Nile Delta town Al-Qanatir Al-Khayriya, roughly 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of Cairo.

Militants have killed more than 200 policemen and soldiers in bomb and shooting attacks since the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.

The military said “a large quantity of explosives” was found in the hideout, with the interior ministry saying militants had used explosive belts during the confrontation.

Most of the attacks following Morsi’s overthrow have taken place in the lawless Sinai Peninsula, where jihadist leaders are believed to be based.

Attacks on security forces have spread to the capital and elsewhere in the Nile Delta.

The deadliest attacks have been claimed by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Partisans of Jerusalem), which is believed to be led by hardline Islamist Bedouin in the Sinai.

The group has claimed responsibility for bombing Cairo police headquarters in January and downing a military helicopter in the Sinai with a heat-seeking missile.

Kyal and Kara win $5000 charity challenge

Married couple Kyal and Kara added a much-needed $5000 to their renovation account through the latest episode of The Block Fans v Faves.

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Taking a break from their apartments, the four teams on the Nine Network reality show put their skills towards a good cause on Wednesday night’s show – redesigning four bedrooms for the charity Lighthouse Foundation, which helps homeless youth.

Each team had $5000 to spend in the challenge and had to incorporate their team colour in their bedroom.

The winning team, “Fans” Kyal and Kara, took home the prizemoney for their yellow-themed bedroom, which featured a timber wall and a little lounge area.

Judge Shaynna Blaze said the room had a “lovely and fresh feel to it” and that the small pops of yellow worked well.

“I’m stoked,” Kyal said, after learning he and Kara had won.

“The most rewarding thing is some kiddie will enjoy the room,” Kara added.

“Fans” Chantelle and Steve, who started off on the wrong foot, bickering with each other over their feature wall and the shade of paint to use, also won praise from Blaze.

She said their blue-themed bedroom, which featured a geometric wall pattern, had “great energy”.

“Favourites” twins Alisa and Lysandra’s green-themed “Zen and chill-out” room was “beautiful” but some choices, such as their green-striped artwork, was “a little too grown-up” for the teenagers who would occupy it.

However, the twins were the only ones to think outside the box when it came to the budget, getting companies to donate knick-knacks and furniture for their room. The twins, in exchange, promised to donate the cost of the products they supplied to the Lighthouse Foundation. They raised $3600.

Fellow “Favourites”, mates Brad and Dale, had the hardest colour to work with – red – but Blaze was impressed they managed to make it work.

“Red is such a hard colour in a bedroom,” Blaze said.

“The fact they’ve taken a relaxed interpretation of it is really good.”

The contestants, aka “Blockheads”, will be back in their apartments, working on their master bedrooms with ensuite and walk-in robes, on Thursday night’s show.

*The Block Fans v Faves airs on the Nine Network at 7.30pm from Monday to Thursday, and 6.30pm on Sunday.

US baseball showcase comes to Sydney

(Transcript from World News Australia)

 

It’s a game that befuddles the unfamiliar like few can.

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..like cricket to anyone outside the Commonwealth.

 

Like cricket, baseball appears to have grown out of the old British folk games from centuries ago and now has grown into a national pastime.

 

But it’s a national pastime in the United States and in several other lands, not Australia, where it’s been around a long time but not in a big way.

 

Now Australian baseball officials are hoping that’s about to change as an international showcase comes to the Sydney Cricket Ground this weekend.

 

Ron Sutton has the story.

 

Ben Foster does not pretend two games in Sydney between a pair of high-profile United States baseball teams will suddenly propel the sport into any kind of dominance in Australia.

 

There is, says the Australian Baseball League boss, simply too much established competition out there on the Australian sporting scene.

 

“Australia’s one of the most densely populated sporting landscapes in the world. I’ve just come back from the US, and, even speaking to some of my counterparts over there who are involved with the major-league teams, when you tell them that a city like Sydney has some 30-plus professional sporting teams, it just blows their mind. Even a city like New York only has eight.”

 

Still, Australian baseball is hoping for a major shot in the arm when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks face off this weekend at, of all places, the Sydney Cricket Ground.

 

More than 40-thousand people are expected for each of the two games launching the 2014 US major-league season, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

 

Behind the fabled New York Yankees, the Dodgers rank as one of baseball’s and the world’s most visible and valuable franchises, selling for more than two billion dollars last year.

 

The Dodgers broke baseball’s colour barrier with the first black player, Jackie Robinson, in the 1940s, then signed the first big-time Asian player, Japan’s Hideo Nomo, in the ’90s.

 

And for decades, they have enjoyed a huge following down through Latin America, the other hotbed of baseball, along with parts of Asia, like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

 

The Arizona Diamondbacks are a relatively new team, born in 1998, but they became the champions of US baseball in just their fourth season.

 

Even before the two teams take the field — indeed, almost immediately after it was announced last year they would do so, says Foster — they have impacted baseball in Australia.

 

“We saw an immediate spike in our membership levels and our number of fans attending games. And so, what that led to, over the course of our recently completed ’13-’14 season, is a 20 per cent growth in ticket sales and attendance. And that was crucial for us, in our fourth year of operation, to see that continued growth and that step forward.”

 

Baseball in Australia actually is believed to date back to the 1850s, when US miners transported the game during the Victorian gold rush.

 

The first competitive series, involving a baseball club and the New South Wales Cricket Association, came in 1875, a year before the first US major-league competition began.

 

Today, the US major leagues, the US minor leagues and Japan’s Nippon Baseball League rank first, second and third in total attendance out of all sport in the world.

 

But much of that is because baseball is played daily over six months, and, even with its improved attendance, the Australian league averaged just 14-hundred people a game last season.

 

Why, then, would US baseball move its season opener 12-thousand kilometres away to Australia, something it has only tried previously in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Japan?

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Jon Deeble, manager of Australia’s national team — or head coach, as some sports would call it — sees it as a reflection on the country’s potential for producing players of that level.

 

“We had 28 kids sign (there) last year, for a total of four-and-a-half million dollars. And two of them are both left-handed pitchers, Daniel McGrath and Lewis Thorpe, they’re both big-time prospects over there. So, you know, because of the same language, because of the same living conditions as there are in America, it’s definitely a hotbed. Even though it’s a long way away, it’s a place where … it’s probably the most over-scouted country in the world. There are a lot of people employed over here to scout the Australian players. And, if we look back, usually 5 per cent of kids signed (to the minor leagues) get to the big leagues, and I think, with the Australian kids, we’re working at about 10 per cent.”

 

Over the years, more than 350 Australians have signed to play baseball in the United States, including two who became all-stars in the major leagues — Dave Nilsson and Grant Balfour.

 

Out of that total, 31 have reached the major leagues.

 

Balfour, who recently signed a new two-year, $12-million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, is one of three or four Australians expected to start this season in the major leagues.

 

Around 60 others are playing in the US minor leagues and another hundred or so at US universities.

 

Jon Deeble, a former coach and now scout with the Boston Red Sox organisation, says Australian players have proved to be good fits for positions that accent power, like pitching.

 

“Our Australian guys, we’re built to pitch, we’re built to catch, we’re built to play the corners — the corner infield and outfield positions. We’re not really built with the speed to play up the middle (positions) like the Latin American kids. So, you know, pitching, we always say to the kids, ‘There are 15 roster spots on a major-league team, there’s one spot at shortstop, so, 30 teams times 15 pitchers, there are a lot more spots.’ But I think that’s just the nature of the beast:* the Australian kids are big and strong, and they throw the ball hard.”

 

Actually, about a dozen spots on a team’s 25-man roster go to pitchers, but the point is well-made — all of the Australians on this year’s opening-day rosters may be pitchers.

 

The interest in developing talent in Australia is strong enough that US baseball helps fund both the Australian Baseball League and a talent academy on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

 

It is a major investment for a game that barely makes the top 20 as a participation sport in Australia.

 

At Baseball Australia, chief executive Brett Pickett says the sport is hoping the Los Angeles-Arizona series can produce, above all, an awareness.

 

“Baseball, up until now, really has struggled for the sort of profile, both commercial, media and general awareness, that hasn’t really allowed us to, I guess, put the sport in the hearts and minds of Australia. And we hope this series is going to be the turning point for the sport, where we can show the hundreds of thousands of kids out there playing sport that baseball’s an option. It’s an option for them on a recreational level, and it’s an option on an elite level.”

 

A few hundred tickets remained available in the final days before the games, primarily because prices ranged from $69 for the worst seats all the way up to $499 for the best.

 

Pickett cites a wide array of costs to host the games, most tied to the huge revamp of the Sydney Cricket Ground to meet major-league baseball’s specific requirements.

 

There was a clay-soil mix required for the infield and pitcher’s mound, for example, not available in Australia and shipped by the tonne from San Diego.

 

But when all is said and done, Ben Foster, back at the Australian Baseball League, is hoping the collaboration helps hike his league to a new level.

 

Timed for the US offseason, when many young players have traditionally played in leagues in Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Australia’s league could find a niche.

 

“I think what we have to offer is something very different in terms of, a) it’s a very real concern for some clubs in terms of safety and security and things of that nature that we have to offer over some of those Latin American countries, and, b) what we have to offer is something in terms of being English-speaking, which is really important for some of the US-based players who maybe don’t have a Spanish (speaking) background.”

 

 

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