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Afghan war violence up 40 per cent: UN Violent incidents in the Afghan war have increased by nearly 40 percent over last year, according to UN figures released Wednesday. The figures showed total security incidents averaging 2,108 a month in the first eight months of 2011, up 39 percent on the same period in 2010. Two thirds of the activity was focused on the southern and southeastern regions, particularly the Taliban birthplace of Kandahar and its surrounds. A report to the UN Security Council shows that despite US-led efforts to protect ordinary people, the number of civilians killed over the summer rose five percent compared to the same period in 2010. From June to August, the UN’s mission in Afghanistan documented 971 civilian deaths, with three quarters attributed to insurgent violence and 12 percent blamed on NATO’s US-led forces. The rest could not be attributed. Recent multi-pronged attacks in Kabul and high-profile political assassinations over the summer have fed perceptions that after 10 years at war, the West’s war effort is losing a grip on the Taliban’s bid to return to power. The average number of suicide attacks each month was unchanged, but complex suicide attacks made up a greater proportion of the violence, with three such attacks each month in 2011, a 50 percent rise on the same period in 2010. “In the context of overall intensified fighting” the report said the rise in violent attacks was mostly due to the use of Taliban bombs and suicide attacks. Air strikes were the leading cause of civilian deaths by pro-government forces, but the number of those killed through ground combat and armed clashes increased 84 percent on the same time period in 2010. The deaths of ordinary people in NATO’s counterinsurgency campaign has long-been a thorny issue for the alliance, with President Hamid Karzai making public rebukes over controversial strikes. The relentless rise in the scale of killing comes as gradual withdrawals of foreign troops begin with the removal of some of the 33,000 US “surge” troops sent in to turn around the war that began in 2001 with a US-led invasion. The UN in June reported that civilian deaths in the first half of the year were up 15 percent, putting 2011 on track to be the deadliest in the long war. Some 130,000 people have been displaced from January 1 until the end of July, the latest report said, an increase of two-thirds on a year before. However, in brighter news for government efforts to eradicate opium crops that generate funds for much of the Taliban’s efforts, the UN and Ministry of Counter Narcotics reported a 65 percent increase in poppy eradication in 2010.

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Lady Gaga fans swamp Amazon for new album Fans of Lady Gaga swamped Amazon. com’s music service to get digitized copies of the pop provocateur’s new album for just 99 cents. Within hours of putting out word that “Born This Way” was available for 99 cents for one day only at Amazon’s Cloud Drive music service, the online retail giant was struggling to catch up with demand. “We’re currently experiencing very high volume,” Amazon said in a message fired off at its official “MP3” account at microblogging service Twitter. “If you order today, you will get the full @ladygaga album for $.99,” the message promised while its music downloads hit delays at the company’s overwhelmed computers. “Thanks for your patience.” Making the hot release available at less than a tenth of the album’s price at Apple online shop iTunes was intended to harden Cloud Drive’s position in the market ahead of the expected debut of a similar music service by Apple. Amazon launched Cloud Drive in late March as a service allowing people to store music on the company’s computers and then listen to tunes on any Internet linked gadgets. Sluggish or delayed downloads at Cloud Drive frustrated some Lady Gaga fans. “Reminds me why I usually use iTunes,” Twitter user Martin Dittman said in a terse reply to the AmazonMP3 tweet. Other feedback was more adoring, with Twitter user “filmfanatic24” marveling at being able to get the album at such a low price and telling Amazon “I love you for it.” Lady Gaga unveiled her second full-length album this week, three years after taking the music world by storm. True to her social media-friendly form, the 25-year-old has released “Born this Way” in unconventional style by posting some songs on online social game Farmville ahead of Monday’s launch, as well as other singles already issued. The title track was released in February, shortly before Gaga — real name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta — caused a sensation by turning up inside a giant translucent egg at the music industry’s annual Grammys awards show. She also raised eyebrows this weekend when, during a television performance of the song on Saturday Night Live, she simulated giving birth as the finale to the song, surrounded by her writhing dancers.

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Deadly clashes continue in Cairo US secretary of State Hillary Clinton has slammed Egypt’s ‘shocking’ treatment of women as Egyptian security forces clashed with protesters for a fourth straight day and the death toll rose to 12. Two people were killed in dawn fighting in Cairo’s administrative heart as security forces swooped to remove the protesters, health ministry sources said. The clashes quickly subsided before several hundred people turned out in Tahrir Square — the epicentre of protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak — for the funeral of a protester killed in the violence. But the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that took power in February denied it had given orders to use force against protesters and said a plot had been uncovered to burn down parliament. SCAF General Adel Emara, interrupting a live news conference, said he had “received a call now to say that a plot was uncovered today to burn parliament and there are now large crowds in Tahrir Square ready to implement the plan.” AFP reporters in Tahrir said there were no signs of tension there or on the square’s outskirts, where a historic building containing national archives was destroyed and protesters were trying to save any surviving documents. Emara said the army “does not use force against protesters” but qualified those in Tahrir as “people seeking to destroy the state… not the honourable people of the January 25 revolution.” But Emara did admit troops had beaten a veiled woman after having ripped her clothes to reveal her bra, sparking nationwide outrage. In the picture and YouTube footage of the incident, the woman is sprawled on the ground, helmeted troops towering over her. One is seen kicking her, and later she appears unconscious, her stomach bared and her bra showing. “Yes, this happened. But you have to look at the circumstances around (the incident),” Emara told reporters. “We are investigating it, we have nothing to hide,” he said. The comments came as rights groups and dissidents slammed retired army general Abdelmoneim Kato — an adviser to the military — for saying some in Tahrir were “street kids who deserve to be thrown into Hitler’s incinerators.” Presidential hopeful and former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei said such statements showed “a deranged and criminal state of mind.” The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information denounced Kato’s comments, saying they “incite hatred and justify violence against citizens.” Footage on social media networks of military police beating protesters, sometimes leaving them motionless on the ground, has caused nationwide outrage. A group of newly elected parliamentarians on Monday announced a sit-in outside the Cairo Supreme Court, demanding an immediate end to the violence against protesters and an investigation. By Monday afternoon, protesters and police hurled rocks and stones at each other over a wall erected by the army in a large boulevard off Tahrir Square. The violence drew international criticism. CLINTON BLASTS ‘SHOCKING’ TREATMENT OF WOMEN US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday denounced Egypt’s treatment of women as “shocking” and a “disgrace” to the state after troops were shown ripping off a female protester’s clothes. In unusually strong remarks, Clinton accused Egyptian authorities of failing the country’s women since the revolution that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak, both by excluding them from power and humiliating them in the streets. “Recent events in Egypt have been particularly shocking. Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago,” Clinton said. “This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people,” Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University about the role of women. In images widely seen over YouTube, helmeted troops were seen beating a veiled woman after having ripped her clothes off to reveal her bra and stomach. ‘EXCESSIVE VIOLENCE’ UN leader Ban Ki-moon accused Egyptian security forces of using “excessive” violence against protesters. Ban is “very concerned by the resurgence of violence,” said his spokesman Martin Nesirky. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged “Egyptian security forces to respect and protect the universal rights of all Egyptians.” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the violence in Cairo was “inconsistent with the democratic process in which Egypt is now engaged.” And rights watchdog Amnesty International urged arms suppliers to halt transfers to Egyptian forces. “It can no longer be considered acceptable to supply the Egyptian army with the types of weaponry, munitions and other equipment that are being used to help carry out the brutal acts we have seen used against protesters,” said Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. A health ministry source said two people were killed on Monday, bringing the death toll from four days of fighting to 12. In the early morning raid on Tahrir and its outskirts, demonstrators held their ground and several dozens milled about the square, brandishing banners denouncing the SCAF, AFP correspondents said. One man held up a bloodied white shirt, which had reportedly been worn by the person killed at dawn. Security forces built another cement wall on a street adjacent to Tahrir near the Institute of Egypt, the historic building housing priceless archives, many of which were destroyed in the latest violence when it was burned. The institute for the advancement of scientific research was founded in 1798 during Napoleon Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt, and contained more than 200,000 precious documents. The French foreign ministry demanded a thorough investigation into the blaze of what was considered Egypt’s richest library, describing it as “a tragedy for world cultural heritage.” The street battles that erupted on Friday raged outside the parliament building and the headquarters of the government. The violence overshadowed the count in the first post-revolution vote that shows Islamists in the lead. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party said it won 39 percent of votes in party lists, while the Al-Nur party — which represents the hardline brand of Salafi Islam — claimed more than 30 percent. The military, which took power when Mubarak was ousted, has decided on a complex electoral system in which voters cast ballots for party lists, that will make up two thirds of the lower house of parliament, and for individual candidates for the remaining third.

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NSW government defends debate choke The NSW government has defended its decision to choke off debate in the state’s upper house, accusing filibustering Green and Labor MPs of an abuse of parliament and wasting taxpayers’ money. The government invoked a provision that has not been used in more than a century to guillotine the debate on its public sector wage reforms, which began on Wednesday and has dragged on into the weekend. On resumption of debate on Saturday morning, the government exercised standing order 99, which has not been used since 1906, to end the filibuster and force the bill into the committee stage. The upper house will now debate amendments to the government’s industrial relations changes, which controversially strips the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) of its power to set public sector wages. Nationals MP and Roads Minister Duncan Gay said debate on the bill had dragged on for 29 hours – an abuse of parliament and a waste of taxpayers’ money. “This is an extraordinary abuse of the parliamentary process,” Mr Gay said in a statement. “The Greens and the opposition have cost the taxpayers of NSW more than $300,000 by forcing it to sit into the early hours of the morning. “The government was willing to give everyone reasonable time to speak, but would not allow the house to descend into farce which is exactly what has happened.” Outraged Labor and Greens MPs yelled abuse across the chamber when the government signalled its intention to use its power to gag the debate. It won a division in the house by 20 votes to 17. In a brief debate that followed the vote, Labor and Greens MPs lined up to condemn the government for shutting down the debate. Labor MP Amanda Fazio accused government MPs in the house of “throwing out over a century of tradition in this house”. “They are now so spineless and so lacking in courage … that they do not want to have full and open scrutiny and a full debate,” she said. The marathon filibuster saw debate stretch late into the night on Thursday and Friday. Greens MP David Shoebridge on Thursday spoke for five hours and 58 minutes to smash the previous record for the longest continuous speech in the upper house, set in 1991. Labor and the Greens have been calling on the government to adjourn the debate until the next sitting day, on June 14, to allow public debate on a bill which will impact on more than 300,000 workers. The government is now seeking a vote to restrict debate in the committee stage, with Finance Minister Greg Pearce saying Labor had handed him 152 amendments. The bill is expected to eventually be passed by the upper house, with the support of cross bench MPs from the Shooters Party and Christian Democrats.

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