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‘Greece approves austerity budget plan’

The Greek cabinet approved a 2012-2015 austerity budget plan as well as laws for its implementation, a key condition for further EU-IMF help to tame a massive public debt, government sources said.


The government had committed to another round of stiff budget cuts and tax hikes in return for fresh EU-IMF cash and a new debt rescue deal.

The austerity measures will add up to more than 28 billion euros by 2015 and include a major privatisation programme to raise 50 billion euros — a provision bitterly opposed by the unions who plan a 48-hour general strike in protest.

The government won the confidence motion by 155 votes to 143 but Prime Minister George Papandreou now faces a fraught challenge to overcome dissent within his Socialist party over the debt-cutting onslaught.

Papandreou attends an EU summit Thursday and Friday in Brussels where the Greek debt crisis is very high on the agenda.

His eurozone peers will be very anxious to know if he can get the latest steps through parliament after the close confidence vote.

Eurozone ministers have insisted on the latest measures before they would release the next tranche of debt funding worth 12 billion euros ($17 billion), part of a 110-billion-euro rescue package agreed with the European Union and International Monetary Fund last year.

The money will be used to cover debt repayments coming due next month and give Greece and its partners time to work on the next step — a new rescue plan to keep Greece solvent for long enough so that it can grow its way back to fiscal balance.

The Greek finance minister will meet officials from the EU, IMF and European Central Bank in Athens Thursday to review the implementation of the new measures, the ministry said.

Parliament’s vote on the legislation promises to be dramatic, with the financial markets watching the outcome closely given fears that a Greek default could hit other weaker eurozone members or even sink the euro entirely.

In Washington, US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke warned that the Greek debt crisis could threaten the stability of the global financial system, not just the eurozone.

“If there were a failure to resolve that situation, it would pose threats to the European financial systems, the global financial system and to European political unity,” he told a press conference.

Bernanke stressed that the Fed is not part of the negotiations to resolve the crisis, but has been “kept well-informed,” citing a conference call over the weekend with the G7 (Group of Seven) rich countries on the issue.

During the Greek parliamentary debate leading up to the confidence vote in the early hours, Papandreou called for support “to avoid bankruptcy and keep Greece in the euro core.”

The most immediate concerns are over Ireland and Portugal, bailed out by the EU and IMF like Greece, while Spain, or even Italy and Belgium, are considered potentially at risk of being dragged down should Athens go bust.

“We have a unique opportunity (to change the country)…. If we falter, if we lose heart and squander it… history will judge us very harshly,” Papandreou said early Wednesday.

The union in the electricity operator PPC, which opposes the sale of a 17-percent stake in the company under the privatisation plan, on Monday temporarily cut power at the infrastructure ministry.

It also began hour-long electricity cuts around the country, intending to escalate them when the reforms are being debated.

“In the end, the decision on this matter will be decisive for the future of aid payments to Greece, not (the) vote of confidence,” analysts at Germany’s Commerzbank commented.

“(Socialist) members who were afraid of an early election… will not necessarily vote in favour of the government’s fiscal policy,” they wrote.

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IMF calls Australia to seize mining boom

The International Monetary Fund said Friday that Australia needs to take advantage of the ongoing mining boom to enact tax reforms and build a rainy-day fiscal cushion.


Calling Australia’s economic performance in recent years “enviable”, the IMF said in its annual report that there were few serious weaknesses in the economy.

Australia “was one of the few advanced economies to avoid a recession in recent years, reflecting its strong position at the onset of the crisis and a supportive macro policy response,” the IMF said.

“The good performance can also be attributed to a healthy banking system, a flexible exchange rate, and robust demand for commodities from Asia, especially China.”

But, it underlined, while the economic outlook is “favorable”, the economy does face real risks: a stall in the global economy or faltering Asian growth could hit income from commodity exports.

Moreover, it added, partly due to the disastrous cyclones and flooding in Queensland and Western Australia, the government had a wider-than-expected budget shortfall in 2010-2011 of 3.5 percent of GDP.

“Directors stressed that over the medium term, the government should grasp the opportunity provided by the mining boom to strengthen fiscal buffers further, recommending that a budget surplus of at least one percent of GDP be targeted for the period beyond 2013/14.”

“A reduction in government debt and buildup of public funds would give fiscal policy the flexibility needed to respond to larger shocks and deal with the long-term pressures from aging and rising health care costs.”

It also urged reform to taxes such the state stamp duties on house sales — which it says discourage worker mobility — and reduction of the effective marginal income tax rates, while the economy is strong and government income buoyant.

It said that Australia could supplant the lost income from such reforms with more dependence on consumption and land taxes, and broadening the proposed minerals resource rent tax to cover more than coal and iron.

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Spain set to swing right, stalked by debt threat

Spain’s Conservative leader Mariano Rajoy is set for a crushing win in Sunday’s general election, but will come under instant pressure to convince investors that he can strengthen its public finances.


Rajoy and his conservative Popular Party are expected to beat Socialist Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba by a wide margin when voters punish the Socialists for their economic woes, with unemployment at more than 21.5 percent.

His promises of further tough spending cuts have not stopped him opening a wide lead in the polls, but financial markets have raised the stakes by pushing up rates on government bonds to euro-era records ahead of the vote.

Rajoy has avoided scaring voters with details of his austerity plans but analysts say the rise in debt costs will force him to flesh them out quickly, to reassure its lenders that Spain will not need to be bailed out.

“We must make cuts everywhere” except in pensions, said Rajoy, 56, in an interview published Thursday in El Pais newspaper. “Spain needs to send a message that it takes the issue of the public deficit seriously.”

The cost for Spain to borrow money crept up to dangerous levels in the days before the election. Similar pressures have already prompted changes of government in Italy and Greece.

On Thursday Spain’s Treasury had to pay a rate of 6.975 percent on its 10-year bonds — near the levels that prompted Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek help from the EU and International Monetary Fund.

Its key debt risk premium hit a euro-era record of 4.99 percentage points.

The latest polls suggested the PP could win an absolute majority in parliament, strengthening Rajoy’s hand for reforms if he officially takes over as prime minister on December 20.

“If the government emerging from the election achieves an absolute majority, we consider it highly probable that as early as next week it will announce a package of key reforms aimed at regaining credibility over the economy,” analysts from Bankinter bank said in a note.

They expected reforms to labour laws, taxes and the financial sector.

Measures brought in by the current Socialist government have already cut public sector salaries by five percent, frozen pensions and raised the retirement age, prompting street protests.

In the latest of these, thousands of doctors, teachers and students marched in Madrid and Barcelona in several demonstrations against cuts to education and healthcare budgets by PP-led regional governments.

After seven years of Socialist rule, Spain’s unemployment rate is the highest in the industrialised world at more than 21.5 percent, with nearly five million people jobless, and many voters disillusioned.

“The situation in Spain is bad, awful,” said Alberto Jaray, 38, who sells sweets on a Madrid street.

“And these elections are a farce. The two main parties are both liars. They are only interested in the banks, the big companies.”

Analysts said the new government’s imperative in the weeks after Sunday’s election will be to send a strong message that it has a grip on the public finances to prevent jitters over Greece and Italy spreading to Spain.

“If the markets think the new government is not going to act with the necessary determination, they will raise the risk premium further,” said Daniel Pingarron, analyst at trading house IG Markets.

“They will force the new government to take the austerity measures more seriously.”

Other voters seemed resigned to more austerity.

“The Popular Party is going to win and what’s more it will have to take very drastic economic measures,” said Federico Cres, 43, an airline worker in Madrid.

“The current government took them late. It should have taken them much sooner.”

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Five more dead found on Costa Concordia

The captain of wrecked Italian cruise liner the Costa Concordia has denied he abandoned ship despite audio evidence, as rescue divers found another five bodies, bringing the death toll to 11.


A dramatic coastguard recording of ship-to-shore communications as the disaster unfolded showed that captain Francesco Schettino ignored an order to return to the vessel after it hit rocks and pitched on to its side on Friday.

But Schettino, who was questioned by Italian prosecutors, denied he had left the Costa Concordia and said he had saved many lives as the boat was going down near the picturesque Tuscan island of Giglio.

“The captain defended his role on the direction of the ship after the collision, which in the captain’s opinion saved hundreds if not thousands of lives,” his lawyer Bruno Leporatti said. “The captain specified that he did not abandon ship.”

According to investigators, the flooded engine rooms would have made it impossible for Schettino to navigate the 114,500 tonne ship, which drifted closer to the tiny port on Giglio before capsizing.

Schettino, 52, is accused by prosecutors of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before all the passengers were rescued.

He is in custody awaiting trial but his lawyers said he will be released from prison and put under house arrest.

“Get back on board now, for f***’s sake… You must tell us how many people, children, women and passengers are there,” an increasingly strident port official tells Schettino, according to the Livorno port authority recording.

“What are you doing? Are you abandoning the rescue?” the official asks.

A judge is due to rule at 1900 GMT on a prosection request to deny bail to Schettino, who was arrested along with his first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, on Saturday.

The grilling of Schettino came as the bodies of another five people were discovered after the Italian navy used explosives to blow seven holes in the upturned hull of the Costa Concordia, bringing the death toll to 11.

About two dozen people are still missing.

“The five victims are a woman and four men, who could be passengers but we are not sure, they are between 50 and 60 years old,” said coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini. He said the victims had been wearing life jackets when found.

Earlier, officials had said that 12 Germans, six Italians, four French, two Americans, one Hungarian, one Indian and one Peruvian were still unaccounted for. There were also reports of a missing five-year-old Italian girl.

The dead identified so far include two French passengers, an Italian and a Spaniard and one Peruvian crew member.

About 4,200 people were on board when the ship went down shortly after it had left a port near Rome at the start of a seven-day Mediterranean cruise, and survivors have spoken of scenes of chaos, confusion and panic on board.

The Italian press reported Tuesday that as the vessel began to keel over, the crew initiated the evacuation procedure themselves — 15 minutes before Schettino eventually gave the command.

But in his meeting with prosecutors, “the captain explained his behaviour, his decision, his choices during that phase of emergency”, the lawyer Leporatti told reporters outside the court in the provincial capital Grossetto.

“There is no need for him to be in detention,” he added.

Asked what caused the disaster, Leporatti replied: “He found a rock along his route.”

Schettino has been widely criticised after reports emerged that he ordered an unauthorised sail-by close to the island, which was not on the cruise’s itinerary, to please a local crew member.

“It was bravado, Schettino was showing off, clowning around, it was incredibly stupid. I would sentence him not once but 10 times,” said a former captain who worked with the ship’s owner, Costa Crociere.

Costa Crociere, Europe’s largest cruise operator, said Monday that the accident occurred as a result of an “inexplicable” error by the captain and distanced themselves from the actions of their employee.

A group of more than 70 Italian passengers have joined a class action suit against the owner, consumer rights association Codacons said Tuesday.

Mario Palombo, a former captain of the doomed Costa Concordia with whom Schettino served as first mate for four years, told investigators that he was “too high-spirited and a dare devil”.

As fears rose of an environmental disaster if the ship’s fuel tanks rupture and leak, Marini said crews had laid down absorbent booms after noticing “an iridescence” in the water off Giglio, a marine sanctuary and popular holiday spot.

Forecasts say a storm is expected to lash the rocky island on Thursday, prompting concerns that the semi-submerged ship could sink entirely.

Local officials are calling for strict curbs in the future on shipping routes in an area of outstanding natural beauty and the government is expected to declare a state of emergency there later this week.

Dutch salvage company Smit began assessing the site on Tuesday and plans to begin pumping out the fuel from the Concordia’s tanks this week, although it said the operation would take at least three weeks.

Officials said the giant ship itself could then be taken off Giglio in an unprecedented operation using massive floats.

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Lawyers blame Mubarak, police for deaths

The ailing, 83-year-old Mubarak lay on a stretcher in the defendants’ cage at the trial in which the prosecution has called for him to be hanged for the killing of hundreds of demonstrators in the January-February 2011 revolt.


Sameh Ashour, lead counsel for victims’ families in the Cairo trial, submitted official documents which he said showed that 160 police officers had been armed with automatic weapons and 4,800 live rounds.

The lawyer also showed a report from the Central Security Forces that four units, each made up of 50 policemen, had been supplied with automatic weapons and ammunition.

A speech by Mubarak on January 28, three days after the outbreak of the unrest, amounted to “implicit recognition of the use of force against demonstrators,” according to Ashour.

Mubarak said he had given instructions for police “to protect the demonstrations… before they turn into riots.”

Lawyers for civil plaintiffs have until Tuesday to present their case before the defence takes its turn, after the prosecution last week urged the court to sentence the fallen strongman to hang.

“The law punishes premeditated murder with execution. The prosecution demands the maximum punishment,” Mustafa Khater told the presiding judge, Ahmed Refaat.

Mubarak, detained in a military hospital where he is being treated for a heart condition, is on trial along with seven former security chiefs. The defence is to argue their innocence.

Chief prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman told the court that Mubarak must have ordered police to open fire on protesters during the 18-day uprising that ended his three-decade rule on February 11, leaving more than 850 dead.

Essam el-Batawy, a defence lawyer, told AFP the prosecution’s closing arguments were based, in part, on statements from witnesses they had questioned during their investigation who had not taken the stand.

“They used partial quotes from their testimony,” he said. “We will insist on listening to these witnesses in court,” saying they will be called to testify.

Mubarak went to trial on August 3, after protesters stepped up demonstrations calling on the ruling military to try him and other former regime officials.

None of the police witnesses summoned by the prosecution has directly implicated Mubarak.

The country’s military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades, testified behind closed doors, but lawyers said he did not incriminate the ousted leader.

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Quebec to start emissions trading

The province of Quebec has announced it will start a carbon emissions cap-and-trade system in 2012, days after Canada became the only country to ratify and then withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.


Starting in January, emitters in Quebec will be able to buy and sell greenhouse gas emission allowances on a local market during an initial trial run that could eventually lead to a continental cap and trade system, said a statement.

The following year caps will be imposed on 75 big industrial polluters in the Canadian province whose annual carbon dioxide emissions exceed 24,999 tons of CO2 equivalent.

And in 2015, fuel distributors and importers who exceed the annual threshold will also be subject to the capping.

“Quebec thus officially steps to the starting line, next to California,” Quebec Environment Minister Pierre Arcand said in a statement, pointing to the US state’s similar plan for a carbon market.

Both are based on regulations established under the Western Climate Initiative – a collaboration of 11 US states and Canadian provinces to curb emissions of the gases blamed for damaging Earth’s fragile climate.

The initiative was launched in 2007 amid frustrations with Ottawa and Washington’s inaction on climate change.

However, only California, Quebec and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba remain committed to a cap-and-trade system as part of the group’s efforts to cut regional CO2 emissions.

The second step in Quebec’s program is to reach agreements with those four WCI partners to link their respective cap and trade systems together.

Quebec is Canada’s second most populated province with eight million mostly French-speaking residents.

It set an emissions reduction target for itself of 20 per cent by 2020 based on 1990 levels despite Canada’s withdrawal this week from the Kyoto Protocol, the only global treaty that sets down targeted curbs in global emissions.

Canada agreed under 1997 protocol to reduce CO2 emissions to 6.0 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, but its emissions have instead increased sharply.

Pulling out of Kyoto now allows Canada to avoid paying penalties of up to $C14 billion ($A13.7 billion) for missing its targets.

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent on Monday also cited major impacts on Canada’s economy that will be avoided by withdrawing from the treaty.

Quebec’s move was harshly criticised by local businesses but was welcomed by environmentalist activists.

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Andy Schleck wins stage 18

France in spectacular fashion on Thursday when a bold attack earned him an impressive win in the 18th stage.


The Luxembourg rider, runner-up in the last two editions of the Tour, jumped from the pack in the penultimate climb of the stage, a 200.5-km effort from Pinerolo, Italy.

The Leopard-Trek rider took the day’s laurels ahead of his brother Frank, who finished 2:07 behind, according to provisional results.

Australian Cadel Evans finished third eight seconds further back as he managed to salvage his chances thanks to a terrific effort in the final ascent that dealt a fatal blow to Spain’s three-times champion Alberto Contador.

France’s Thomas Voeckler retained the yellow jersey as he ended the stage in fifth place and leads Andy Schleck by 15 seconds with two competitive stages left.

Frank Schleck lies third 1:08 off the pace with Evans in fourth place four seconds further back.

Schleck attacked with 60 km left in the ascent to the Col d’Izoard, building a three-minute lead over the favourites’ group after joining a few breakaway riders.

With the help of team mate Maxime Monfort, Schleck’s lead grew to 3:45 in the valley leading to the foot of the Col du Galibier, despite strong headwinds.

The gap increased to 4:30 in the first slopes of the 22.8-km ascent to the Col du Galibier at an average gradient of 4.9 percent.

Contador, who suffered from knee pains again, was unable to up the pace in the final climb as the favourites played a waiting game that cost them dearly.

Evans finally decided to take the matter into his own hands as he accelerated with nine kilometres remaining.

Schleck’s lead dropped but an exhausted Contador eventually crossed the line with a 3:49 deficit.

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‘Considerable’ risks to Spain economy: IMF

The IMF warns of ‘considerable’ risks to Spain’s battered economy, saying the authorities had responded robustly to the serious challenges but repairs were incomplete.


Spain faced grave economic risks if it failed to crack down harder on spending, shake up the financial sector and loosen up the labour market, the International Monetary Fund said.

The Fund issued the warning two days after about 200,000 Spaniards took the streets to protest austerity measures and unemployment, and as markets showed deep concern about euro zone sovereign debt strains.

“The repair of the economy is incomplete and the risks are considerable,” the Washington-based IMF said in a report summarising a review of Spain’s economy by its analysts.

“Downside risks dominate,” it said.

In the short term, investor fears about sovereign risk in the euro zone could grow, raising the costs for Spain to borrow money from the financial markets, it said.

In the medium term, Spain risked a long, slow recovery and stubbornly high unemployment.

“In this scenario, domestic headwinds could intensify, creating a downward cycle of falling house prices, slower bank balance sheet repair, and faster household and corporate deleveraging. Combined with potentially unresponsive labor costs, this could undermine employment growth.”

Spain’s economic crisis, triggered by the 2008 property bubble collapse and the international financial crisis, sent the unemployment rate soaring to 21.29 percent in the first quarter of 2011.

The government and central bank had pushed through a “strong and wide-ranging policy response” over the past year, helping to rebalance the economy, the IMF said.

Spain managed to cut the annual public deficit from 11.1 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009 to 9.2 percent of GDP in 2010, the Fund noted.

But Madrid would likely have to take “additional measures” to meet its medium-term targets of cutting deficits further, and eventually dipping below the European Union’s agreed 3.0-percent ceiling.

The IMF said its own forecasts for growth of 1.5-2.0 percent in the medium term were less optimistic than Spain’s, meaning the authorities would have to find an extra two percent of GDP in savings through 2014.

Spain’s government agreed on June 10 to back a bill loosening up the collective bargaining system, part of a slew of hotly debated labour reforms that include cutting the cost of firing workers.

The government has also enacted measures to strengthen bank balance sheets, cut state spending, raise the retirement age and sell off state assets including the national lottery.

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Cyber security and the online arms race: the battle has just begun

Published in collaboration with The Conversation, a website that features commentary, research and analysis from Australian universities and the CSIRO.


Cyber security has been in the news a lot lately. Corporate giants have had their data stolen, intelligence agencies have had their websites taken down and hacker groups have become household names.

Closer to home, an Australian web hosting company distribute.IT confirmed yesterday that a June 11 hack of its servers had rendered the data of almost 5,000 clients “unrecoverable”.

The recent spike in online criminal activity has led some industry players to call for significant overhaul to Australia’s cyber security laws and, indeed, the Federal Government has taken steps down that path.

All of this raises a particularly pertinent question: is the threat of online attack inevitable, or is there a way to make the internet an inherently safer place to work, play and shop?


A recent public lecture delivered by Eugene Kaspersky – CEO and co-founder of one of the world’s largest anti-virus companies, Kaspsersky Lab – shed some light on this very subject.

Kaspersky’s interest in anti-virus systems was triggered when his computer was infected by a virus way back in 1989.

This computer virus stimulated his curiosity, and he started to compile a database of each new computer virus he encountered. This database of virus “signatures” became the basis for his first anti-virus software tool.

In those early days of the internet, the author of the virus that infected Kaspersky’s computer was probably also motivated by curiosity – in this case, curiosity to see whether it was possible to write a program that could spread between computers, even without the owners of those computers knowing.

While curiosity was a major driving force behind both the unknown author of the virus and Eugene Kaspsersky’s response, it’s clear that cyber security is no longer the domain of curious amateurs.


Cyber crime is now a thriving industry driven by those within more traditional criminal circles and, according to Kaspsersky, the second most lucrative criminal activity behind the illegal drug trade.

So just how do hackers make money?

Well, consider the case of “distributed denial-of-service” (DDoS) attacks. In an attack of this kind, an online business or service is disabled by a flood of malicious requests via the internet. DDoS attacks can be used to:

* Swamped an online betting agency with bogus transactions that overwhelm their servers, thus denying access to legitimate customers.

* Blackmail online businesses by threatening to close down the business unless protection money is paid.

* Disable online government services, as was the case in February of this year when Australian government websites were attacked.

For DDoS attacks to be effective, attackers need to generate a high volume of malicious requests which means having a large number of computers at their disposal.

Attackers can use computer viruses and other pieces of malicious software (or “malware”) to gain control of legitimate users’ computers.


These infected computers (collectively known as a “botnet”) can then be used to launch large numbers of malicious requests in a DDoS attack at the attacker’s command. According to Kaspersky, recent botnet DDoS attacks have involved as many as ten million infected computers.

(By way of contrast, “only” a one-million-machine botnet was needed to take down most of Estonia’s online infrastructure in 2007.)

In response to these growing attacks, the network managers of online networks and services continually need to deploy higher-capacity servers and network links, together with filtering systems such as anti-virus software and network “firewalls”.

While this approach to defence aims to protect the target of an attack, it does little to stop the attack at its source, namely, the infected computers. Indeed, all that has emerged is an online arms race in which attackers and defenders are always trying to up the ante.

So, is there a silver bullet to network security that will defuse this arms race?


One possible approach suggested by Eugene Kaspersky (among others) is to trace where requests to access online services are coming from.

In practical terms this might mean the introduction of some form of online identification – an internet passport, if you like. If a user was found to be engaging in questionable online behaviour – such as requesting the same page from a web server repeatedly in a short period of time – the user would need to produce their online identification in order to proceed.

Such methods would make it easier to trace perpetrators of cyber crime and, ideally, discourage such behaviour in the first place.

While better verification of the identity and reliability of users on the internet could help in the ongoing fight against cyber crime, it’s certainly not a silver bullet. This type of verification can itself become the target of a DDoS attack.

Indeed, no single strategy has yet been proven effective in protecting the internet from the persistence of attackers, nor is a single solution likely to emerge.

While the problem of cyber crime may never be completely eradicated, we can only hope that our efforts will someday raise defences to the point where it is uneconomic for attackers to continue with these types of attacks.

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Exclusive: Immigration scam revealed

In an exclusive interview with SBS Mandarin News Australia, a student from China reveals how he was paid to sit an English language immmigration test for someone else.


Following the story, IELTS issued a statement warning test candidates that if they attempt to present fraudulent identities to any IELTS test centre, they will be identified and action will be taken.

Students are under increasing pressure to score higher results in the International English Language Testing System exam, a key criterion for gaining Australian permanent residency.

An underground business is emerging, providing the service of falsifying everything international students need to get permanent residency .

This includes everything from organising fake passports to finding a substitute to sit their English exam for them.

The businessmen allegedly contact the ‘substitute’ students directly, using a popular Chinese instant messaging program.

“Because we are both Chinese, we contact each other by the instant messaging program QQ. It is easy to register an ID contact name for each other. By using QQ contacts, nobody can track your real identification,” one source told SBS.

The source, identified only as ‘Mr L’, says he never has a problem when pretending to be a student sitting for the IELTS exam.

“I am similar looking to the student client. It is hard to figure out the difference between us, especially after changing my hairstyle,” he told SBS.

SBS Mandarin found the IELTS substitution was almost an open secret.

Two test centres at Macquarie University and the University of Western Sydney have introduced new fingerprint scanning machines for identification purposes, and the federal government plans to further toughen the criteria in July.

If you have had any encounter with this kind of business, SBS would like to hear from you. You can email us anonymously at [email protected], or leave a message in the comments section of this article.

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Israelis march against Jewish extremists

Thousands of Israelis gathered to protest against ultra-Orthodox extremists whose campaign for gender segregation has erupted into verbal and physical abuse against women.


Police said about 3,000 people showed up in the town of Beit Shemesh, with “several hundred” police supervising. There were no clashes between participants and ultra-Orthodox residents who have recently been filmed spitting at a woman and verbally harassing an eight-year-old girl.

Organisers had hoped for at least 10,000 to join the protest,

“No incidents were reported,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP. “But we’ll be continuing security patrols in and around Beit Shemesh in the coming days.

Media said ultra-Orthodox rabbis had instructed members of their community to stay away from the event, to avoid confrontation.

Among the protesters were both secular and orthodox Jews, some with banners comparing the extremists to Afghanistan’s Taliban zealots.

“Excluding women is my red line!” another sign read. “We stop it now.”

On Monday, several hundred ultra-Orthodox activists rioted in the town of 80,000, 30 kilometres (18 miles) west of Jerusalem, showering police and television crews with eggs and setting fire to refuse bins.

The majority of the town’s residents are religious Jews, among them a large and growing ultra-Orthodox community. Activists have posted signs in their neighbourhood instructing women to dress “modestly” in long sleeves and calf-length skirts.

Images broadcast on TV last week of an ultra-Orthodox man in Beit Shemesh spitting at a woman led to his arrest on Saturday night. He was freed by magistrates on Sunday.

The same broadcast featured an eight-year-old girl terrified to walk the short distance between her home and school, since she is subject to verbal abuse of ultra-Orthodox men who claim her attire is not sufficiently “modest.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to crack down on acts of gender separation and ultra-orthodox violence towards women, and keep the public “open and safe to everyone.”

The violence came after a wave of incidents elsewhere in Israel in which women have been compelled to sit at the back of segregated buses serving ultra-Orthodox areas or get off, despite court rulings that women may sit where they please.

Women’s rights activists say the ultra-Orthodox — around 10 percent of the population — have become increasingly radical over gender segregation and are winning concessions that harm women.

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Casey Anthony found not guilty

A Florida jury has handed a not guilty verdict in the case of Casey Anthony, accused of murdering her two-year-old daughter Caylee in 2008, in a case that has gripped the United States and dominated social media.


The seven-woman, five-man jury, who deliberated for just a day after a more than six-week trial, also found the 25-year-old not guilty of child abuse and aggravated manslaughter.

She was found guilty on four counts of providing false information to law enforcement — misdemeanor charges that will likely see Anthony set free, after time served in prison awaiting the trial.

Had she been convicted of first-degree murder, Anthony could have faced the death penalty in a widely publicized trial that became a media circus centered on the Orange County, Florida courthouse.

Prosecution lawyers claimed Anthony had suffocated her daughter with duct tape, dumped the body in her car for a few days and then hid it. The skeletal remains of the little girl’s body were found just under six months later.

The defense team maintained the toddler drowned accidentally and that Anthony, along with her father George, covered up the death — circumstances that he denied.

In a statement released through their lawyer, Casey Anthony’s mother, father and brother said the verdict brought “closure” to this period of their life, and they will now “begin the long process of rebuilding their lives.”

“Despite the baseless defense chosen by Casey Anthony, the family believes that the jury made a fair decision based on the evidence presented, the testimony presented, the scientific information presented,” said the statement.

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‘Design flaws’ blamed for China train crash

Local railway officials have blamed ‘design flaws’ in signalling equipment for China’s high-speed train crash in which at least 39 people were killed, the official Xinhua news agency said Thursday.


The system “failed to turn the green light into red”, Xinhua quoted An Lusheng, head of the Shanghai Railway Bureau, as saying during a meeting on the investigation into China’s worst rail disaster since 2008.

At least 39 people were killed and nearly 200 injured in Saturday’s collision on the outskirts of the eastern city of Wenzhou, the worst accident ever to hit China’s rapidly expanding high-speed network.


Wen, a popular figure with China’s masses, visited the scene of the crash as the government tries to assuage mounting anger which has dominated the media and the blogosphere in recent days.

“We will severely punish those responsible for the accident and those who hold responsibilities of leadership in accordance with the country’s laws,” he told reporters at the accident site.

“The high-speed railway construction of China should integrate speed, quality, efficiency and safety. And safety should be put in the first place,” said Wen, who has ordered an “open and transparent” probe into the incident.


The accident has raised questions over whether safety concerns may have been overlooked in China’s rush to build the world’s biggest high-speed rail system, a feat it has achieved in just four years.

China’s state-controlled media has been unusually outspoken in its coverage of the accident, defying directives not to question the official line.

A comment piece on the front page of the People’s Daily, the Communist party mouthpiece, said Thursday that China “needs development, but does not need blood-smeared GDP.”

“Development is of overriding importance. But development should not be pursued at all cost,” said the article, which was attributed to “the newspaper’s commentator”.

“While developing, (we) must… put human safety as the top priority and… balance speed, quality and benefits. We must never solely pursue speed or sacrifice life for money.”

Wen, who typically makes highly publicised visits to disaster sites, will meet with the injured as well as relatives of the victims during his trip to Wenzhou, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

He also urged efforts to “make China’s high-speed railway exports really safe” — after observers said that the accident could scuttle Beijing’s ambitions to sell the technology overseas.


Three senior railway officials have already been fired over the disaster, and Beijing has ordered an “urgent overhaul” of national rail safety.

But that has done little to calm the furious response from the public and the media.

Anger has been compounded by allegations that authorities tried to cover up evidence by burying the wreckage, although officials said this was to help rescuers access the crash site.

Thousands of people have posted on China’s hugely popular micro-blogs, demanding to know why the driver of the second train, who was killed in the accident, was not told to stop in time.

China has ploughed huge sums of money into its high-speed rail network, which covered 8,358 kilometres (5,193 miles) by the end of 2010 and is expected to exceed 13,000 kilometres by 2012 and 16,000 kilometres by 2020.

A new $33 billion high-speed link between Beijing and Shanghai opened to passengers amid much fanfare on June 30 — a year ahead of schedule — but has suffered power cuts and delays.

The high cost of the network has sparked fears over corruption, and China’s state auditor has said construction companies and individuals last year siphoned off 187 million yuan ($29 million) from the Beijing-Shanghai project.

The revelation followed the sacking of former railway minister Liu Zhijun in February, who allegedly took more than 800 million yuan in kickbacks over several years on contracts linked to China’s high-speed network.

Shortly after his sacking, the railway ministry said trains would run between 250 and 300 kilometres per hour on the new Beijing-Shanghai link, which is designed for a maximum speed of 380 kph, for safety reasons.

Posted in 南宁桑拿 | Comments Off on ‘Design flaws’ blamed for China train crash



May 2019
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