Medvedev’s sly dig at Bush

Russian President Dimitry Mevedev has seemingly taken a sly dig at former US President George Bush.

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In an interview with ABC America’s George Stephanopoulos, Medvedev first complimented US President Barack Obama.

But after telling the host that he had met Obama sixteen times, Medvedev said throgh a translator the US President was ‘a thinker’, a trait which ‘distinguishes him from many people.’

When asked who he might be referring to by a chortling Stephanopolous, Medvedev smiled, before claiming that he didn’t want to offend anyone.

‘He’s eager to listen to his partner, which is a pretty good quality for a politician ‘, Medvedev said of Obama.

‘Because any politician is to a certain degree a mentor. They preach something. And the ability to listen to their partner is very important for the politician.’

Bush and Medvedev met while Bush was still in power, with the Texan calling his Russian counterpart a ‘smart guy.’

Bush was widely mocked when he met former President -and current Russian PM – Vladimir Putin, claiming he was ‘ able to get a sense of his soul’, after looking him in the eyes.

Hung parliament confirmed in Tasmania

The final seat in the Tasmanian parliament has gone to Greens candidate Paul O’Halloran of the Braddon electorate, confirming a hung parliament.

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The result in Braddon means there are ten seats for the ALP, ten for the Liberals, and five for the Greens.

Libs eye power

Earlier on Wednesday, Liberal leader Will Hodgman cocked a trigger to shoot down Labor should Premier David Bartlett or his party renege on a promise to hand over power in the event of an evenly split hung parliament.

Mr Hodgman has set his sights on a no-confidence motion if Mr Bartlett goes back on his pledge to yield power in the event of a tie and if Labor won less votes overall than the Liberals in the March 20 state election – which they did, with the Greens holding the balance of power.

The ALP polled 37 per cent of the state’s vote to the Liberals’ 39 per cent in the state poll.

Mr Bartlett has repeatedly said that should the number of seats be tied, whichever party polled the most votes overall should be first allowed to try to form a minority government.

He did not reiterate that position on Wednesday and will make an announcement on Thursday.

But the Liberal leader on Wednesday said Labor would do or say anything to hang on to power, including going back on the Bartlett promise.

If they did, and Labor tried to continue in government, “then I would consider them to be an illegitimate government”, he told reporters in Hobart.

Mr Hodgman said he believed a no-confidence motion was a serious option and one he expected the Greens would be honour-bound to support.

“I think Tasmanians would consider it very poor form if the Bartlett government, or whoever leads Labor, tries to take office given that strong commitment made by Mr Bartlett on behalf of the Labor Party,” he said.

ALP would need Greens support

As the incumbent government, Labor has the democratic right to first try to govern in minority – but needs the support of the Greens to do so.

Mr Bartlett has refused to consider entering a deal with the Greens, citing his personal distrust of the party’s leader, Nick McKim.

Mr McKim says a deal is the only thing that will deliver stability.

Senior Labor figures are now wondering why they should give away the right to govern, and why not make a deal with Greens.

While Mr Hodgman reminded everyone of his dibs on becoming premier, Labor’s brains trust was meeting nearby.

The Labor Party has been thrashing out the merits of the Bartlett promise.

Party sources say the behind-closed-door talks could result in a change of leadership or the party may argue the governor had asked it to try to form a government, prompting it to abandon the Bartlett promise.

Five electorates in Tasmania each return five candidates under the 100-year-old Hare-Clark system of proportional representation for the 25-member assembly in which 13 MPs make a majority.

Greens eye posts as Bartlett sworn in

Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett and two ministers were sworn in on Tuesday afternoon, but he has told Governor Peter Underwood he won’t release his full cabinet until next week.

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Mr Bartlett was last week commissioned by Mr Underwood to test his numbers in the state’s lower house, after the March 20 election delivered 10 seats to both the Liberals and Labor, with the Greens picking up the remaining five.

Greens keen on ministries

The ABC reported that Greens Leader Nick McKim announced his party would be keen on accepting ministries in a governing coalition.

“We’d certainly be prepared to accept ministries and that’s because we think it would be in the best interests of stable government and good governance for us to be involved as ministers,” he said.

Both the Greens and Labor were in lengthy party meetings on Monday, with Labor agreeing to be open to the idea of Greens ministers.

But it is still not clear whether Greens MPs will be included in the cabinet, as a formal power sharing arrangement has not been reached.

The Liberals have slammed Bartlett, accusing him of going back on promises to not do deals with the Greens.

Mr Bartlett on Tuesday confirmed he would be sworn in as premier, Michael Aird would be treasurer, while Lara Giddings would be deputy premier, attorney-general and minister for justice.

Labor looks outside of party

“The PLP (Parliamentary Labor Party) is of the view that we should consider – for the first time in Tasmania – Ministers outside the PLP,” Mr Bartlett said.

“I will be holding discussions to this end over the next week and I expect to be able to finalise the full Cabinet before the formal swearing in next week.”

A statement on the governor’s website said it was a constitutional requirement that a premier, treasurer and attorney-general be sworn in no later than seven days after the declaration of the polls – which happened last Wednesday.

“The premier has advised the governor that he will not be able to put forward a complete list of names for ministerial appointments until Wednesday 21 April,” the statement said.

“To ensure that the state is not without a caretaker government between the 14th and 21st April, this afternoon, the governor will swear into office Mr Bartlett as the premier, Ms Giddings as deputy premier, attorney-general and minister for justice and Mr Aird as treasurer.”

Neda death video wins prestigious prize

The unnamed people who captured on video the shooting death of an Iranian protester have won a prestigious journalism prize, the first time it has been awarded anonymously.

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Music student Neda Agha-Soltan was gunned down during protests over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election.

Footage of her death was seen by millions of people and became “an iconic image of the Iranian resistance”, the curator of the George Polk Awards said.

The film made Neda’s name a rallying cry for the opposition and sparked international outrage at the harsh response of security forces.

“This award celebrates the fact that, in today’s world, a brave bystander with a cell (mobile) phone camera can use video-sharing and social networking sites to deliver news,” said award curator John Darnton.

The Polk Awards, presented by Long Island University, are considered among the top prizes in US journalism.

Top journalism prize

They were created in 1949 in honour of CBS reporter George W Polk, who was killed while

covering the Greek civil war.

They will be bestowed at a ceremony in Manhattan in April.

Other winners of the 2009 awards, announced on Tuesday in New York included:

– David Rohde, a New York Times correspondent recognised for a five-part series detailing his kidnapping and imprisonment by the Taliban.

– David Grann, whose New Yorker magazine piece throwing into doubt the guilt of an executed convict sparked a national outcry.

– Steve Kroft and Leslie Cockburn, of CBS News’ 60 Minutes, for The Price of Oil, in which they examined how oil speculation was boosting the price of oil

– Charlie Reed, Kevin Baron and Leo Shane, of Stars and Stripes, who reported on a secret Pentagon program meant to steer journalists toward positive coverage of the Afghanistan war. The Pentagon cancelled the program less than a week after the report.

Canada’s Ricker wins gold in snowboard cross

Maelle Ricker of Canada survived bad weather and challenging course conditions on Tuesday to win the Olympic women’s snowboard cross and the host nation’s second gold medal.

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“It was really, really hard today to get a clean run all the way down the course, but I just held on and did my best,” Ricker said.

“I was really just focusing on doing the run, going through all of the motions.”

Ricker finished fourth in 2006 in Turin, but came into the Vancouver Games leading the World Cup standings.

She easily defeated Deborah Anthonioz of France in the final, and Olivia Nobs of Switzerland won the bronze.

Australian Stephanie Hickey was 18th in qualifying, narrowly missing out on advancing to the head-to-head finals.

In the semi-final, Ricker and Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States were the favourites to advance. Jacobellis was in Vancouver looking to redeem herself after giving away victory four years ago in Turin, but her return trip to the Olympics was even worse.

Early in her semi, Jacobellis lost her balance on a jump, wobbled and skittered to try to regain her balance, but clipped the outside of a gate.

She was disqualified.

She raised her hands in disbelief, then clasped them over her helmet.

The most dominant rider in the world for most of the last decade didn’t even make the medal round, and eventually finished fifth.

Jacobellis is remembered for hot-dogging a jump in Turin, after which she fell and blew her huge lead, ending up with the silver medal. In those same games, Ricker, 31, lost her balance and went off the course and into the netting.

She had to be taken off the course on a stretcher with a concussion and still says she doesn’t remember much from that day.

With Jacobellis out of the way, the final was a breeze for Ricker.

After Helene Olafsen of Norway wiped out early in the race, Ricker took a huge lead on Anthonioz – much like Jacobellis in the 2006 final – and did nothing to mess it up. Anthonioz said she raced without the burden of expectation: “I had no pressure today because nobody was waiting for me,” she said. “I did what I had to do.”

Dutch withdrawal could hit NATO

NATO has called on the Netherlands to keep Dutch troops in Afghanistan after a dispute about their mission brought about the collapse of the government in The Hague.

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A Nato spokesman said the organisation would provide support to Afghans no matter what happened, after the governor of Uruzgan told the BBC that peace and reconstruction efforts would suffer a setback if the Dutch left.

Any withdrawal of Dutch troops would be extremely bad news for the organistaion in its struggle to install the Karzai government across all of Afghanistan, after struggling to gather the 10,000 troops that the US army wants to accompany the 30,000 US reinforcements sent there.

“If they withdraw and leave these projects incomplete, then they will leave a big vacuum,” the governor said.

More than 16 hours of talks failed to save the three-year-old centre-left coalition, after the Labour Party, the PvdA, said it would not support extending the unpopular Dutch deployment in Afghanistan beyond 2010.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen asked the Netherlands earlier this month to take on a new training role and remain in Afghanistan until August 2011, a year longer than planned.

The request had required unanimous cabinet approval.

Around 1,950 Dutch troops are deployed in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, where opium production is high, under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The Dutch mission, which started in 2006, has already been extended by two years and has cost 21 soldiers’ lives.

Alliance spokesman James Appathurai told AFP Saturday that, “This is a Dutch discussion which NATO respects.”

But he added that Rasmussen “continues to believe that the best way forward for the overall mission could be a new smaller Dutch operation after August 201O.”

This new mission would focus on the provincial reconstruction team in Uruzgan, with greater emphasis on training, he said.

“Whatever happens after that date the Afghan people can be sure that NATO will continue to support them for as long as necessary,” Appathurai added.

Aussie recovering after bobsleigh crash

An Australian bobsleigh athlete has been taken to hospital after a crash during training on the same course where a Georgian luger died, prompting international criticism of the track.

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Brakeman Duncan Harvey was taken by ambulance to a medical center in Whistler, complaining of back pain after a training accident late Wednesday.

Medical scans came back clear, and both he and driver Chris Spring were planning to be back at the track Thursday, Australian Olympic Committee spokesman Mike Tancred told The Associated Press.

“All clear,” Tancred said. “They plan to be back out there.”

Several incidents at course

They were one of seven sleds to crash during the opening session of bobsleigh training at the Whistler track, the same course where Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died last Friday when he lost control of his sled and slammed into a trackside steel pole at nearly 145km/h.

Spring and Harvey toppled over around Curve 5 and actually came out of the sled, ending up sliding along the chassis all the way to the bottom of the course, Tancred said.

Spring had some bleeding inside his mouth, but was otherwise fine.

Harvey was conscious, but because he complained of back pain, emergency workers opted to have his back checked out at the Whistler Polyclinic, where he was cleared hours later to resume competition.

‘Scandalous, a joke’

Germany’s bobsleigh chief on Thursday condemned attempts to stifle criticism of the Olympic Games track after a series of high-speed crashes prompted two more safety concerns.

German bobsleigh federation director of sport Thomas Schwab lashed out at the International Bobsleigh Federation’s attempts to ban dissent.

“For me, this is scandalous. It’s a joke,” said Schwab, a former Olympic medallist.

Karl Angerer, the driver of one of the German teams, said the track was dangerous, despite modifications being made in the aftermath of Kumaritashvili’s death last week.

“It’s a very fast track, it’s very dangerous. Personally I’m a bit opposed to these tracks but generally speaking it’s fun going down,” he said.

IBF defends conditions

Despite the smashes, the International Bobsleigh Federation defended the conditions.

“This is not unusual for day one of the Olympic Games (bobsleigh training),” said a spokesman.

“At Park City in 2002 (for the Salt Lake City Games), there were 17 crashes in the first run of training.

“It’s not untypical, it’s a late evening and people are eager to get stuck into the Olympic Games. There were not very many teams that were not holding back at the start.

Military aid heads to Madeira

Violent rainstorms have killed at least 32 people on the Portuguese Atlantic island of Madeira, a senior official said, as Lisbon considered declaring an emergency and seeking EU help.

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In the meantime, Portugal’s military is sending two ships replete with helicopters and medical supplies to the island, where many people are going without electricity and clean water, reports the BBC.

“We already have 32 fatalities and 68 injured, all of them in hospital,” Joao Cunha e Silva, the vice president of the island’s government, told the private Sic Noticias television channel.

Interior Minister Rui Pereira said: “We are studying the possibility of declaring a state of emergency and then seeking help from the European Union.”

Later, Prime Minister Jose Socrates arrived on the island to assess the damage, while the Interior Minister joined him, accompanied by fornsic experts.

TV pictures have shown enormous walls of muddied water cascading downhill in the capital.

Airport closed

The island’s airport was closed on Saturday and Funchal mayor Miguel Albuquerque advised residents to stay at home. Several people were injured, local officials said.

The overnight strong winds and heavy rain caused flooding and landslides and brought down trees, particularly in the south of Madeira, a resort island 900km southwest of the Portuguese mainland.

Winds exceeding 100km/h, high seas and blocked roads had made things more difficult for emergency services, though weathermen said the worst was over in the island, about 500km from the African coast.

Electricity and telephone networks were severed in many areas.

Eldery woman killed in collapsed house

In Funchal, an elderly woman died when the roof of her house caved in while two others were crushed by a crane on Saturday, local media reported.

Several Funchal residents were evacuated from their homes.

“It had been raining since dawn and our hotel was evacuated as it is near a river in the city centre,” said Aymeric Payan, a French hotel employee in Funchal.

Portuguese media said the storms were the deadliest in Madeira since October 1993, when eight people died.

Second body found after plane attack

Emergency workers have found a second body in a tax office wrecked when a pilot with a grudge against the US government flew his plane into the building.

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Joseph Stack, a software engineer furious with the Internal Revenue Service, launched a suicide attack on the agency by crashing his small plane into the office that housed nearly 200 employees.

Stack is presumed to have been killed in the crash, and a member of staff in the building had been reported missing.

“The remains of two individuals have been found in the building,” Candice Wade, a spokeswoman for Austin’s emergency management office. “They are not identified at this time.”

The crash set off a huge fireball that sent workers running for their lives. Thirteen people were wounded.

Pilot left online suicide note

Joseph Stack is believed to have set his own Austin home on fire before heading out in his personal plane from a nearby airport.

He had earlier posted what appears to be a suicide note on the Internet, bitterly railing against the US authorities, who he said had ruined his life.

The unverifiable note concluded that “violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer”.

Fighter jets were scrambled in response to the incident, while the shocking images stirred for many Americans bitter memories of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

But authorities stressed the crash did not appear to have connections to international terrorism.

“This appears to be an intentional act by a sole individual and it appears this individual was targeting federal offices in that building,” said Austin police chief Art Acevedo.

Hurt Locker beats Avatar at BAFTAs

Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq war movie “The Hurt Locker” swept the board at the BAFTA awards Sunday, winning the best film and director awards and leaving ex-husband James Cameron almost empty-handed.

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Bigelow picked up six gongs out of eight she was nominated for, and was the first woman to win the best director award for her movie portraying elite soldiers tasked with defusing bombs in the heat of combat.

Collecting her best film award from US actor Dustin Hoffman, she said the prize was “beyond our wildest imagination.”

“This is so unbelievable, we’re just so deeply honoured and humbled,” said the director at the London awards ceremony.

“The Hurt Locker” also picked up gongs for original screenplay, cinematography, editing and sound at the glittering event, which attracted stars including Uma Thurman, Robert Pattinson and Colin Firth.

The war film beat Cameron’s 3D, computer-animated blockbuster “Avatar” to the major prizes — both had been nominated for best film and best director.

“Avatar”, the world’s biggest-ever grossing movie, picked up just two awards from eight nods for special visual effects and production design.

The BAFTAs come two weeks before the Oscars where “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” are also locked in a dead heat, leading the field with nine nods each.

A glittery event, the BAFTAs is one of the most hotly anticipated in the film world’s calendar and thousands of fans packed out London’s Covent Garden to catch a glimpse of the A-listers as they arrived.

Colin Firth won the best actor award for his role in “A Single Man”, in which he plays a gay academic fighting with grief.

“What (director) Tom Ford doesn’t know is I have the email in my outbox telling him I could not possibly do this,” he said.

“I was about to send this when a man came to repair my fridge… I don’t know what’s best for me so I would like to thank the fridge guy.”

Carey Mulligan scooped the prize for best actress for her part in “An Education”, a coming-of-age drama set in 1960s London, whose screenplay was written by British novelist Nick Hornby.

His books “High Fidelity” and “About A Boy” have been made into successful films.

Best supporting actor went to Austrian Christoph Waltz, for his part as a Nazi in Quentin Tarantino’s film “Inglourious Basterds”, and best supporting actress went to Mo’Nique for her role in “Precious.”

It was also revealed at Sunday’s ceremony that Prince William will become the British Academy of Film and Television Arts’ (BAFTA’s) fifth president, following in his grandfather’s footsteps.

The 27-year-old, who succeeds legendary director Richard Attenborough, was greeted with huge cheers from crowds lining the red carpet on his arrival.

British actress Vanessa Redgrave received a standing ovation when she received the Academy fellowship, the highest accolade from the British Academy for contribution to film.

She follows industry heavyweights who have previously received the award, including Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcok and Steven Spielberg.

Russian dancers spin costume questions

Russian world champion ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin are remaining tight lipped on whether any changes have been made to their Aboriginal-themed dance that has angered some Aboriginal leaders.

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Asked about rumours the Russians have changed their costumes and music, Shabalin was coy.

“Maybe, maybe,” he said after practice.

“You will hear, you will see on the day of the original dance.”

Some Aboriginal leaders have claimed Domnina and Shabalin’s original dance is offensive cultural theft, with inauthentic steps and gaudy costumes.

The music includes a didgeridoo riff, and Domnina and Shabalin wear brown-toned costumes adorned with leaves and white Aboriginal-style markings.

“We thought (the Aboriginal theme) would be interesting, and we like this. We like the way they dance, and their costumes,” Shabalin said.

The ice dancers said they did a lot of research before creating the dance.

“Before we started our Original Dance, we listened to a lot of music. This is not a one-minute decision. We were thinking about it for about one month.”

“We did a big research and after the reactions we did an even deeper research. I don’t think that it is offensive.”

They were surprised when it caused such a furore, and Shabalin said they went back and did more research, including talking with specialists in Aboriginal dance.

“It’s not possible to do a 100 per cent authentic folk dance on skates. We have required elements and we have some restrictions for our costumes, too,” Shabalin said.

“We are very respectful to all our competitors and all cultures. We’re open to discuss it.”

“I want to say that I don’t know anything about these statements — that it is disrespectful,” said 28-year-old Shabalin.

“This is wrong. Our purpose was the opposite. We want to honour the culture, to show a dance as it was 1,000 years ago in the Southeast Asian region.”

And he said they had received a lot of support from Australians.

“A lot of Australian people wrote to our website that they liked the dance,” he explained.

The world champions, among the gold medal favourites, open their Olympic challenge in Friday’s compulsory dance.

Bad weather hampering Indonesia rescue

Rescuers have used heavy digging equipment to clear a muddy landslide that killed at least 15 people and left 57 buried on Indonesia’s main island of Java, an official says.

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Days of heavy rain prompted the landslide on Tuesday afternoon at a mountainous tea plantation near the village of Tenjoljaya in Ciwidey district of West Java province, destroying scores of homes.

Dozens of soldiers and police officers plus two excavators bolstered search efforts on Wednesday and 15 bodies had been recovered from a vast pile of clay by the afternoon, National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said.

He said another 15 people had been injured, two of whom had been admitted to hospital.

Terrain hampering efforts

The winding mountain roads made boggy by the days of heavy rain were hampering efforts to get equipment and rescuers to the scene, he said, adding that more landslides were possible.

“Some 600 villagers from the region have been evacuated to temporary shelters in safer locations”, Kardono said.

Most of these were from unaffected nearby villages that were in landslide-prone areas.

Kardono said 25 people were believed to have died in the plantation’s factory and office.

Over 50 still trapped

“We’ve pulled out seven bodies from the landslide. We believe 64 are still trapped,” West Java police spokesman Dade Ahmad said on Wednesday, updating the overnight toll after heavy rains triggered the landslide in Bandung district on Tuesday.

“The landslide is very deep. At this point, the chance of pulling out victims alive is slim,” Ahmad said.

About 500 rescuers, including officers from the Brimob special police force, are searching for victims buried on the tea plantation near Ciwidey village, about 35km southwest of Bandung city.

“We have six sniffer dogs on site and rescuers are digging manually using hoes and light cutting equipment to reach victims,” Ahmad added.

“We are still trying to bring in the heavy earth-moving equipment. It’s difficult to get to the area, which is on a steep slope,” he said.

Civilian casualties mount in Afghanistan

A NATO airstrike in southern Afghanistan has killed at least 33 civilians, the Afghan Interior Ministry says.

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NATO forces confirmed in a statement that its planes on Sunday fired on a group of vehicles believed to contain insurgents about to attack allied forces, only to discover later that women and children were in the cars.

NATO did not provide a figure of how many died or say if all those in the vehicles were civilians. The Afghan government and NATO have launched an investigation.

Two people missing

Investigators on the ground have collected 21 bodies and two people are missing, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said. Fourteen people were wounded, he said.

That number was later revised up to 33, with a statement from the decision-making council of ministers, headed up by President Hamid Karzai, saying the number was ‘unjustifiable’.

The strike hit three minibuses that were driving down a major road in the mountainous province. There were 42 people in the vehicles, all civilians, Bashary said.

NATO said that its forces transported injured people to nearby medical centres.

“We are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives,” NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal said in the statement.

‘Inadvertent killing’

“I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission. We will redouble our effort to regain that trust.”

McChrystal apologised to President Hamid Karzai for the incident on Sunday, NATO said.

NATO has gone to great lengths in recent months to reduce civilian casualties as part of a new strategy to focus on

protecting the Afghan people to win their loyalty over from the Taliban. Rules for air strikes have been tightened, but mistakes continue to happen.

In the continuing offensive against a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, south of Uruzgan, two NATO rockets killed 12 civilians and others have been caught in the crossfire. On Thursday, an air strike in northern Kunduz province missed targeted insurgents and killed seven policemen.