Monthly Archives: January 2019

New Greek prime minister sworn in

Conservative leader Antonis Samaras has been sworn in as the prime minister of a new Greek coalition, as he took up the challenge of trying to revise the terms of an unpopular EU-IMF bailout deal.

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“I wish you good luck because the problems you have ahead of you are many and difficult,” President Carolos Papoulias said before swearing in Samaras on Wednesday at a ceremony in the presidential palace following three days of coalition talks.

Samaras vowed an all-out effort to drag Greece out of its crisis.

“With God’s help we will do everything we can to take the country out of the crisis,” he told reporters moments after being sworn in.

Samaras and his New Democracy party, the winners of an election on Sunday, are the senior partners in a coalition with the socialist Pasok party.

The government will also have the parliamentary support of the small Democratic Left party.

“I have the majority to form a long-term government of stability and hope,” said Samaras, a US-educated former foreign minister.

Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos said the new government would begin the battle to get the bailout deal rewritten at an EU summit next week.

“In those two days in Brussels we will carry out a major battle for revision of the loan and negotiate a framework that will boost the recovery and the fight against unemployment,” Venizelos said.

New Democracy won a narrow victory on Sunday against the radical leftist anti-austerity Syriza party, which has refused to support the coalition and is bitterly opposed to the terms of the bailout.

Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis said he expected the cabinet to “release the country from the painful terms” of the multibillion bailout.

National Bank of Greece chairman Vassilis Rapanos, a former professor of economics who served in the government when Greece joined the euro in 2001, is widely tipped to be the new finance minister, Greek media reported.

After two months of political deadlock, the struggling eurozone member is under intense international pressure to get back on track with reforms promised for a bailout that has kept the economy on life support for the past two years.

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Facebook buys face recognition startup

Facebook says it has bought a startup specialising in software that lets computers recognise people’s faces in digital images.

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It was not disclosed how much the leading social network paid for Face南宁桑拿会所, or what its plans are for the company.

“People who use Facebook enjoy sharing photos and memories with their friends, and Face南宁桑拿会所,’s technology has helped to provide the best photo experience,” a Facebook spokesman said in response to an AFP inquiry.

“This transaction simply brings a world-class team and a long-time technology vendor in house.”

Face南宁桑拿会所, announced the acquisition in a blog post that heavily hinted the company’s talents would be put to work for Facebook on smartphones, and cameras which are commonly used to snap pictures and post them to the social network.

“Like our friends at Facebook, we think that mobile is a critical part of people’s lives as they both create and consume content, and share content with their social graph,” Face南宁桑拿会所, said in the blog post.

“By working with Facebook directly, and joining their team, we’ll have more opportunities to build amazing products that will be employed by consumers.”

Facebook has made a priority of staying connected with its members who are increasingly using smartphones or tablets to interact with the service, but has yet to show how it plans to make money from the lifestyle shift.

In recent months, Facebook spent a billion dollars on the startup behind photo-sharing application Instagram and an undisclosed amount of money on “social discovery” startup Glancee.

Glancee founders behind the smartphone application for finding like-minded people nearby joined the Facebook team in what was seen as a talent grab by the Menlo Park, California-based social network.

Face南宁桑拿会所, promised to continue working with developers that use the company’s technology in their applications.

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Australia to stand tall, PM tells G20

Ms Gillard has just concluded a two-day Group of 20 (G20) nations summit in the Mexican city of Los Cabos.

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The prime minister and other G20 world leaders on Wednesday released a final communique from the summit, which included a commitment by eurozone leaders to address the crisis in Europe through growth, fiscal discipline and greater integration of its banking system to restore confidence.

Ms Gillard said each nation had its part to play and there was a commitment to “pulling together”.

“In the case of Australia, we are committed to ongoing investment in skills, tax and transfer reform and investment in infrastructure,” she told reporters in Los Cabos.

She also cited Australia’s recent pledge to provide an extra $US7 billion to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

She said the G20 communique was a “significant development” and would, for the first time, ensure a level of “mutual accountability”.

“Countries’ performance will be subject to peer review.

“If you like, we will be holding each other’s feet to the fire.”

Ms Gillard said it had been a productive summit at a challenging time for the global economy.

“We made good progress but as is always the case, the task we face to restore global growth is an ongoing challenge,” she said.

“In these times, when the global economy is such a strong talking point, Australians can continue to have confidence in their own economic situation.

“Our economy is growing, we’re creating more jobs, inflation is low (and) our government’s finances are strong.”

Ms Gillard said the world economy may face more “stumbles” on the road to recovery.

“But throughout all of that, Australia with its strong economy will stand tall,” she said.

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Greens rush to curb Rinehart powers

Greens senator Scott Ludlam says he will write to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and his opposition counterpart Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday asking them to support legislation that would ensure media owners and board members could not obstruct objective and independent journalism.

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The Greens’ solution could include regulations or an amendment to current broadcasting laws.

“We’re not looking to a knee-jerk solution here,” Senator Ludlam said.

“We’re looking to something that would have integrity and that would actually serve working journalists and the general public.”

The Greens said they would consider introducing legislation before the end of next week, when parliament breaks for six weeks.

Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt said a strong, healthy democracy relied on well-resourced and independent journalism.

“It’s clear that she’s wanting to control what to date has been a very important and independent newspaper and house of journalism for the purposes of influencing public debate,” he said.

The plan to introduce the new laws comes after mining magnate Ms Rinehart increased her stake in Fairfax Media to 18.67 per cent.

She has been seeking a position on the board of Fairfax since becoming its major shareholder at the beginning of 2012.

The news of her increased stake came as Fairfax announced major changes to its newspaper business, which will result in 1900 staff cuts in the next three years.

Mr Bandt said the people affected deserved as much support from the federal government as manufacturing or any other worker in the country.

“That’s 1900 jobs and 1900 families that deserve our support,” he said.

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World leaders open Rio environment summit

World leaders have kicked off a three-day UN summit in Rio, where they are set to back a blueprint on tackling poverty and protecting the environment.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrived in Rio to a military honour guard before travelling in a six-car motorcade accompanied by motorcycle police amid a heavy security presence.

Yet other Western leaders decided not to show, including US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Angela Merkel of Germany, CNN reported.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon formally opened the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development, which brings together 191 UN members, including 86 presidents and heads of government.

The high-profile event comes 20 years after Rio’s First Earth Summit when nations vowed to roll back climate change, desertification and species loss.

The summit was launched to a three-minute movie, Welcome to the Anthropocene, which gave a visual trip through the dramatic changes in the environment since the Industrial Revolution.

The Anthropocene is the name given by many scientists for a new era in Earth’s history. It derives from Greek words to indicate the era of humans.

Summit participants then heard a moving appeal by Brittany Trilford, a 17-year-old student from New Zealand, challenging leaders to lay the foundation for a more sustainable world.

“I stand here with fire in my heart. I’m confused and angry at the state of the world. We are here to solve the problems that we have caused as a collective, to ensure that we have a future,” Trilford, winner of the “Date with History” youth video speech contest, said.

“I am here to fight for my future … I would like to end by asking you to consider why you are here and what you can do here. I would like you to ask yourselves: Are you here to save face? Or are you here to save us?”

Some 191 speakers are expected to take the floor until Friday when the summit leaders are to give their seal of approval to a 53-page draft document agreed by negotiators on Tuesday.

As the summit got under way, eight multilateral development banks announced they would set aside $US175 billion to finance sustainable transport systems over the next decade.

The pledge was made jointly by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank and Islamic Development Bank.

Transport is one of the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases, driven especially by urban growth in giant emerging economies.

Around a billion people are likely to move to cities over the next 20 years, which means traffic congestion, air pollution and road accidents will become major urban challenges.

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Australian gamers get R18+ ratings

An adults-only computer game rating category will at last become a reality with legislation passing federal parliament last night.

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The new law fulfils the Commonwealth’s part of a deal with states and territories to include an R18+ rating in the games classification system.

“These are important reforms over 10 years in the making,” Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said in a statement on Monday.

“The R18+ category will inform consumers, parents and retailers about which games are not suitable for minors to play and will prevent minors from purchasing unsuitable material.

“The reforms also mean that adults are able to choose what games they play within the bounds of the law.”

Previously, the highest rating for computer games has been MA15+ meaning overseas adult-only games are usually banned here or given a lower classification allowing children to obtain them.

The new laws bring computer games in line with the classification system for films and other material and make Australia more consistent with international standards.

They have received overwhelming support during years of consultation – one discussion paper received more than 58,000 submissions with most in favour.

Shadow attorney-general George Brandis said it made sense that Australia’s classification regime would now be uniform “classifying all media according to a single set of criteria”.

“The passage of this bill will no doubt be welcomed by adult gamers all across Australia,” Senator Brandis told the Senate.

“The industry has been waiting for this change for some time.”

The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games)Amendment (R18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012 passed the Senate on with bipartisan support. Similar legislation will be formally passed by the states and territories and will come into effect nationally from January 1, 2013.

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Spain fights full bailout fears

The eurozone crisis widened as a diplomat said Cyprus would soon request aid from Russia and EU partners, while Spain battled fears it will need a full debt rescue.

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European leaders also faced mounting pressure from G20 partners to restore growth and accelerate integration to end a crisis threatening to tear apart the 17-nation eurozone and undermine the global economy.

In Greece, at the heart of the debt nightmare, conservative leader Antonis Samaras was sworn in as prime minister of a pro-euro coalition government bent on changing terms of its bailout to ease public anger over austerity measures.

And as a relative political stability returned in Athens, Spain was to officially request up to 100 billion euros ($A125.27 billion) to recapitalise its ailing banks at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Thursday.

But Spanish Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro insisted that his country would not need a full-blown rescue like Greece, Ireland and Portugal before it.

“Spain has not been rescued because it does not need to be rescued,” Montoro told the country’s parliament.

Taking a cue from Spain, Cyprus will probably request next week eurozone aid to save its banks, which are heavily exposed to the Greek economy, an EU diplomat said.

The crisis-hit Mediterranean island will “first try to get a bilateral loan from Russia” this week totalling between 3.0-5.0 billion euros, the diplomat said.

Cyprus, which is taking over the European Union’s rotating presidency as soon as July 1, has already secured a 2.5-billion-euro low-interest loan from Russia to cover its refinancing needs for this year.

Estimates are that Cyprus needs around 4.0 billion euros to prop up its banks and help narrow the budget deficit, which widened last year to double the EU ceiling of three per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

EU leaders, fresh from a G20 summit in Mexico that ended Tuesday, are gearing up for a series of meetings this month focused on containing the crisis, which has put the economies of Spain and Italy at risk.

Finance ministers meet Thursday while the leaders of the eurozone’s Big Four of Germany, France, Italy and Spain gather in Rome on Friday. The talks will lay the groundwork for a full EU summit in Brussels on June 28-29.

The aim of the summit is to come up with a pro-growth strategy to bring down record unemployment, but governments are divided over whether to tone down the austerity drive championed by Germany.

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Obama, Putin call to halt Syria killings

US President Barack Obama and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin have called for an “immediate” end to the Syria conflict as another 70 deaths are reported in a worsening artillery pounding of cities.

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The call by the rival powers was made as Russia reportedly prepared to send two warships with marines to its naval base in Syria where UN monitors have suspended their patrols because of escalating violence.

“In order to stop the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of all violence,” the two leaders said in a statement after meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.

“We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future,” the leaders said.

Putin told reporters that he and Obama had found “many common points” on the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Obama said he and Putin agreed on the need for a “political process” to halt the conflict and had pledged to work with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on the crisis.

But there was little sign they had agreed a way to end the conflict which monitors say has now cost more than 14,400 lives.

FRUSTRATION

The United States has voiced frustration at Russia’s blocking of UN Security Council moves against Assad. The head of the UN mission in Syria is to brief the Security Council on Tuesday on the deteriorating conflict.

The United States, Britain and France are working on a new UN Council resolution in which they want to threaten sanctions against Assad. But Russia, Syria’s main international ally, and China have already blocked two resolutions which just hinted at measures.

Russia is preparing to send two amphibious assault ships and marines to the Syrian port of Tartus where Russia has a naval base to ensure the safety of its nationals, Moscow news reports said.

The amphibious warships, The Nikolai Filchenkov and The Tsezar Kunikov, are to be sent to Tartus with a “large” group of marines, Interfax news agency quoted an officer at Russian naval headquarters as saying.

There was no official confirmation of the report by Russian authorities, however.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 94 people were killed across the country on Monday, including 63 civilians, three army deserters and 28 government troops.

Government troops stepped up a siege of Tasas in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the anti-regime revolt, said the rebel Free Syrian Army.

The 300 unarmed monitors in the UN observer mission suspended operations on Saturday because of the heightened violence.

The mission’s leader Major General Robert Mood has urged the government and opposition to let “women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones”. But so far there has been no letup.

Mood, is to brief the Security Council on Tuesday amid growing doubts among western nations that the observers will be allowed to stay in the country.

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Chaplaincy father ‘felt weight of parents’

Queenslander Ron Williams said it was as much as he could have ever hoped for the ruling that Commonwealth funding of the program that was set up under the Howard government in 2007 was invalid.

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“We achieved what we went to Canberra for,” he told AAP as he headed home on Wednesday evening.

“It was never correct that John Howard should have launched this clearly political manoeuvre all those years ago.”

Four of Mr Williams’ children attended the Darling Heights State School in Toowoomba, which has employed a chaplain under the program since 2007.

In 2010 he decided to challenge the program as unconstitutional and the full bench of the High Court heard his case in August last year.

The court ruled in a 6-1 majority that the way the program has been funded is invalid under scope of executive power in section 61 of the constitution.

As well as this argument, Mr Williams also challenged it on the grounds of section 116 of the constitution, which bans religious

tests for Commonwealth officers.

The court unanimously dismissed that position.

Mr Williams said he and his lawyers had known from early on that aspect of the case was unlikely to go far because no law had been made to establish the program.

But he believed the question still needed to be raised.

“The separation of church and state matter, that’s what led us to the constitution,” he told AAP.

“I would expect the reason there was no legislation made in the first place to legitimise this funding is because it would have crossed over the line in the (religious test) establishment cause.”

The federal government says it is still committed to the chaplaincy program and will work out how to let funding to still flow to schools.

“It is clear that there is a cure for each of these problems whether it’s particular legislation, whether it’s payments through

the states,” Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said.

Mr Williams was a bit disappointed the government’s first reaction was to find some workaround.

“But we’ll see where it all goes and whatever they do is what they do,” he told AAP.

“I now have an enormous support base of concerned parents and citizens and teachers, and people of faith as well.”

Many of those had donated to help raise about a third of his legal costs.

“It was quite incredible and heartwarming,” Mr Williams said.

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Red Cross eyes evacuation of Syrians

The Red Cross will try to evacuate hundreds of civilians trapped by fierce fighting in Homs, as violence killed dozens of people across Syria.

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The head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, meanwhile, told the UN Security Council of the intensifying violence in the country but said the nearly 300 unarmed monitors were “morally obliged” to stay.

“We are going nowhere,” Major General Robert Mood said after the closed meeting.

On the political front, Russia resisted Western pleas to help remove Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad from power despite the escalating hostilities that have battered a UN-backed peace initiative.

“We believe that nobody has the right to decide for other nations who should be in power and who should not,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said after a G20 summit in Mexico.

The US State Department said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would meet her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Saint Petersburg next week, as the two sides struggle to find a common stance to end the conflict.

Violence on Wednesday killed more than 60 people, more than a third of them government troops, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as an activists spoke of a “desperate” situation in and around Homs.

“Every day there are many wounded from the shelling, and we can’t do anything for them because we have nothing to treat them with,” activist Abu Bilal told AFP in Beirut via Skype.

“The shelling is practically constant, and we can’t get anybody out of the besieged districts,” he added.

Last week the Observatory said more than 1000 families were stuck in the region around Homs and spoke of dozens of people wounded in urgent need of medical care.

“Electricity has been cut off for four days” in the Old City of Homs and “there’s no more flour to bake bread. There really is nothing to eat,” said Abu Bilal.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was hoping to evacuate civilians stranded in Homs city and bring in relief aid and medical supplies with the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The ICRC said it had made a request for a temporary halt in fighting on Tuesday to the government and opposition groups. Both parties said they would respect the pause.

“Our first priority, together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, is to evacuate the wounded and the sick to safer areas, where they can be treated,” said the ICRC’s Beatrice Megevand-Roggo.

The Red Cross and the Red Crescent are ready to enter several Homs city neighbourhoods, including the battered districts of Khaldiyeh and Jourat al-Shiah, which activists say have been pounded mercilessly for days.

Homs has been under intermittent attack by regime forces ever since its Baba Amr neighbourhood was relentlessly pounded for a month earlier this year and the regime retook it from rebels.

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