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Japan starts shutdown of nuke reactor The operator of Japan’s ageing Hamaoka nuclear plant, located near a tectonic faultline southwest of Tokyo, on Friday began shutting down one of its two running reactors, a plant official said. Chubu Electric Power started installing control rods into the number four reactor of the power plant early Friday, the first procedure in the operation, said Kazuhide Enoo, an official at the plant. “We plan to stop electricity generation in the morning, and then the reactor is scheduled to be non-critical around noon today,” Enoo said. “So far procedures went smoothly as no problems were found,” he said, adding that the reactor was expected to be in “cold shutdown” status “within a day at the earliest.” Prime Minister Naoto Kan last week called for the closure of the plant, eight weeks after a massive quake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant northeast of Tokyo, sparking the world’s worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986. Seismologists have long warned that a major quake is overdue in the Tokai region southwest of Tokyo where the Hamaoka plant is located. It is only 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the capital and megacity of Tokyo. The Hamaoka plant has five reactor units, but only two are currently running — numbers four and five. Reactors one and two, built in the 1970s, were stopped in 2009, and three is undergoing maintenance. The firm also plans to begin shutting down the number five reactor on Saturday. Standard and Poors on Thursday lowered its ratings on Chubu Electric to ‘A+’ from ‘AA-‘, leaving the outlook on the firm’s long-term corporate credit rating negative. “Chubu Electric’s decision to suspend operations at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant will cause profitability and cash flow protection to deteriorate for at least two years,” the ratings agency said. “We expect downward pressure on the ratings will continue, particularly in measures of its financial profile,” it said. The Hamaoka plant accounts for almost 12 percent of the output of Chubu Electric, which services part of Japan’s industrial heartland, including many Toyota auto factories. Kan has explained the plant should stay shut while a higher sea wall is built and other measures are taken to guard it against a major quake and tsunami. Local media said the suspension would last about two years. Japan, the world’s number three economy, endures 20 percent of all major earthquakes and generates about 30 percent of its power from nuclear plants. The record March tremor and wave which battered Japan’s northeast coast caused 11 of Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors to automatically shut down, while triggering a major crisis at the Fukushima plant.

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Turkey death toll nears 500 Homeless survivors of Turkey’s devastating earthquake shivered in sub-zero temperatures as the government admitted that it was struggling to cope with the demand for shelter. As the death toll neared 500 and complaints mounted over the speed of the relief effort, authorities were in a race against time to provide some form of shelter with snowfall expected. After the rescue of a 16-day-old baby and her grandmother sparked scenes of joy on Tuesday, emergency teams managed to beat the odds again on Wednesday by pulling a 27-year-old woman out of the rubble of her home in the eastern town of Ercis, which took the full brunt when disaster struck on Sunday. Gozde Bahar, a teacher, was immediately rushed to hospital after being trapped under the rubble for 66 hours. But her rescue was a rare slice of good news as the number of body bags mounted. The latest official death toll was 461 but the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that “hundreds, possibly thousands” of people are still trapped under the rubble. And as hopes of finding more survivors receded rapidly, the complaints from those left homeless grew louder. There was uproar among the crowds when they learned that the local governor’s office had stopped distributing tents, instead transferring responsibility to village headmen. “Yesterday I waited here until midnight and I received nothing. I came back this morning at 3:00 am and have been waiting since then and now the distribution is cancelled,” said 29-year-old Erdal Bayram, a construction worker. “I need a tent for myself and for my father. We made a makeshift tent to sleep under but it rained last night and the wind was blowing.” Hasan Edemem, a 31-year-old teacher, worried that the village headmen would not give priority to those most in need of shelter. “Now they are transferring the responsibility to village headmen but I am pretty sure they will allocate the tents to their fellows,” Edemem said. On Tuesday, locals had to wait in queues stretching for hundreds of metres outside the governor’s office before being handed supplies by the military police. “They treat us here like animals,” said one young local waiting in line. “We stopped the distribution because there was too much confusion here. It will start as soon as we can restore security and order,” said an official in the governor’s office. While the government in Ankara initially refused outside offers of help it reversed that decision late Tuesday. “We were not expecting such a huge demand for tents,” the daily Milliyet quoted Besir Atalay, the deputy prime minister, as saying. “When people ask for tents for 100,000 households, you cannot meet that demand,” Atalay said. Israel’s foreign ministry said that it had been asked to help despite the recent deterioration of ties between the two countries. Some remote villages in the worst affected Van province have received only rudimentary help so far. In the village of Guvecli, locals said they had had to recover the bodies of their loved ones by themselves. “We had to do it by our own means, by shovels and digging tools,” Guvecli resident Ahmet Yayin told AFP. While the Red Crescent had handed out some tents, they were far from enough to go round. “We are a family of 12 but we could only get one tent,” said Abdulaziz Yatkin, another villager. The tents are designed for a maximum of five. Residents clustered around fires to keep warm on Wednesday. Snow was forecast for later in the day. In Gedikbulak village, only 70 tents were distributed for a population of 2,000, the NTV news channel reported. Only a few houses remained standing there. Turkey has a tragic history of earthquakes, including in Van province. In 1999, two strong quakes in northwest Turkey’s heavily populated and industrialised regions left some 20,000 dead. A powerful earthquake in the town of Caldiran in Van province killed 3,840 people in 1976.

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Athens smoulders after austerity protests “It’s culture that has gone up in smoke,” filmmaker Nikos Kavoukidis lamented as he shot footage of the crowd gathered at the ruins of the Attikon cinema. “What do we have left? Television and football?” Officials say 45 buildings were wholly or partly destroyed by fire as violence erupted during demonstrations while parliament voted Sunday for tough new austerity measures aimed at averting national bankruptcy. The minister in charge of police later said security forces and fire crews had waged a “superhuman” effort to contain violence. “(The police) made superhuman efforts, as did the fire department, despite the fact that they were attacked and impeded from reaching fire outbreaks,” Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis told reporters. Overall, 170 businesses around the city centre sustained damage, including banks, bookstores, jewellery shops, home appliance stores and supermarkets, the Athens chamber of commerce said. The government, neck-deep in debt, said it would find a way to help out. “Ways will be examined to support citizens whose property was destroyed,” said government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis. The Attikon was housed in a neo-classical building dating back to the late 19th century. The cinema was famed for its sumptuous decor, plush red seats and the sweeping curves of its main auditorium. Until Sunday, the film on show was “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” starring Gary Oldman. Around 150 people held a candlelit vigil outside the gutted building on Monday evening in a silent protest campaign organised on Facebook. “I am ashamed, it’s hooliganism,” lamented one of Sunday’s demonstrators, a 55-year-old security guard who gave her name only as Melpo, standing outside the ruined building earlier in the day. The Attikon building was home to several other businesses, including a store whose owner fretted for the future of his four employees in a country where unemployment is more than 20 percent. About 80,000 people took to the streets on Sunday to protest austerity measures, according to police estimates, while media reports said the number was almost double that. Rioters attacked “emblematic buildings, about 10 neo-classical edifices,” dating from the beginning of the 20th century, the deputy mayor in charge of maintenance Andreas Varelas said. Another group tried to storm the Athens city hall but were arrested. A few metres (yards) from the Attikon, a memorial site celebrating Greek resistance to the Nazis during World War II suffered broken windows and had been daubed in red graffiti stating: “Uprising.” Condemnation for the violence came quickly. “Violence and destruction have no place in a democracy,” Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said late Sunday, while calling on Athenians for calm. European Union economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn on Monday slammed the violence as unacceptable. “These individuals do not represent the vast majority of Greek citizens who are genuinely concerned for the future of their country,” Rehn said in a statement. Greece’s new budget cuts were demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund as the price of a second 130-billion-euro ($172 billion) debt rescue to avert imminent bankruptcy and keep Greece in the eurozone. The new cuts include reductions in the country’s minimum wage and further layoffs in the public sector. Athenians on their way to work were shocked at the extent of the damage. “It’s a reminder of December 2008,” deputy mayor Varelas said, in reference to nearly a month of urban violence in Athens sparked after a youth was killed by a policeman. The health ministry said 54 civilians had been hurt, while police said 68 members of the force had suffered injuries. Some 67 people were arrested and police say there was an organised plan by some to cause casualties. “Through their actions, they showed that they sought human casualties,” Greek police chief Nikos Papagiannopoulos told a news conference. Athens police chief Ioannis Lioungas added that 15 people had to be rescued from a burning bank, reviving memories of three people — one of them a pregnant woman — who died inside another firebombed bank branch in 2010. Municipal workers were on Monday clearing up the debris of marble ripped up from the pavements and hurled by rioters. Rubbish bins smoked and everywhere near the centre, from the tourist area of Monastiraki to the chic streets of the Kolonaki quarter, the ground was littered with shattered glass.

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Violence flares in Kosovo, talks delayed EU-brokered talks between Belgrade and Pristina were delayed Tuesday after the latest surge of violence on the disputed Serbia-Kosovo border left four NATO troops and six Serb protesters wounded. “Due to the tension the dialogue has been delayed until tomorrow (Wednesday),” an EU diplomat said in Brussels. Kai Gudenoge, deputy spokesman of the NATO-led KFOR force, told AFP that “four KFOR soldiers are wounded by a pipe bomb (an improvised explosive device). One of them badly and three slightly.” He added that the seriously injured soldier was medivaced for treatment. A manager of nearby Kosovska Mitrovica’s hospital told local media that six Serb protesters who clashed with KFOR at the disputed Jarinje border post were seriously injured by gunfire. The situation around Jarinje was calm but tense after the incident and sporadic gunfire could still be heard, an AFP correspondent reported. KFOR spokesman Ralph Adametz said late Tuesday that the situation “is currently tense but under control”. “Acts such as these, whether by individuals or groups, are a serious threat to the safety,” Adametz told reporters. In Brussels, the European Union called for the removal of barricades and condemned the violence. “The EU supports the removal of the barricades. These barricades restrict freedom of movement and should be removed,” said Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. An EU diplomat said the two delegations were likely to hold bilateral talks in Brussels through the evening with EU facilitator Robert Cooper in a bid to defuse the tension ahead of Wednesday’s resumption of the dialogue. Earlier Serbia’s chief negotiator in the talks, Borko Stefanovic, blamed KFOR for any impact the latest violence might have on the talks. “This is being done with the goal of getting Serbia to give up the dialogue and then accusing it of not wanting peaceful solutions,” Stefanovic said. The talks, the seventh round this year, aim to resolve practical problems caused by Serbia’s refusal to recognise Kosovo’s independence, unilaterally declared in 2008. The Serb majority in the north, while the rest of Kosovo is predominantly ethnic Albanian, refuse to recognise the government in Pristina and still consider themselves to be part of Serbia, which makes control of the border a key issue. Serbian President Boris Tadic urged both sides to show restraint and called for a dialogue to maintain. “The international forces are here to defend unarmed people and not to clash with them, I call on KFOR to exercise maximum restraint,” Tadic said in a statement. The unrest started brewing early Tuesday as KFOR moved to dismantle one of the main roadblocks near Jarinje. After some skirmishes, the Serb protesters moved to erect a new barricade nearby, blocked several KFOR trucks and started pelting the soldiers with stones. The troops hit back firing tear gas into the crowd and rubber bullets. “They (Serbs) threw stones on German soldiers. One soldier was hit and the troops were forced to fire non lethal rounds in self-defence,” deputy spokesman Gudenoge said. This in turn provoked the Serbs at the barricades who approached the KFOR positions and threw explosives, severely wounding one soldier. Adametz later said that a “civilian vehicle attempted to force the gate” at Jarinje and one KFOR soldier “was injured by the vehicle” while the unit tried to stop it. “During the incident, an attempt was made to seize the soldier’s weapon and, after a verbal warning, a KFOR soldier fired a shot, injuring the civilian attempting to steal the weapon,” he said. Nicholas Hawton of the EU rule of law mission said “violence against KFOR or EULEX is not acceptable”. “It is important that everyone shows restraint and acts responsibly,” Hawton said, adding that EULEX was planning to launch an ivestigation into the incident. Last Friday, Kosovo police and EULEX officials took control of the two crossings. Fearing this would limit their access to Serbia, Serbs in northern Kosovo responded by erecting a dozen barricades to block traffic to and from the posts. By stationing Kosovo police and customs officials on the northern crossings, Pristina is trying to assert its authority on the north. The latest tensions follow violent clashes that took place in late July when Serb protesters confronted Kosovo police who tried to take control of the border posts to enforce a trade ban with Serbia.

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Tensions rising on Kosovo-Serbia border Dozens of youths set fire to one of two border posts on Kosovo’s northern frontier with Serbia that have been at the centre of rising tensions, media reports and witnesses said Wednesday. RTS national television showed footage of young masked people, apparently ethnic Serbs, throwing Molotov cocktails at the Jarinje border post and destroying it with the help of a bulldozer. “The entire Jarinje post has been burned and is covered with smoke,” a witness told AFP by telephone. According to the witness, about 25 police and border officers, including some from the European Union’s EULEX mission, took refuge on the Serbian side of the border. EULEX spokesman Nicholas Hawton told AFP no one was injured in the attack. NATO’s KFOR mission in Kosovo said in a statement that its personnel near the border post had been fired upon, and said it was reinforcing its presence in the area to prevent further incidents. Kosovo’s prime minister Hashim Thaci blamed Serbia for the attack. “These violent acts were ordered, coordinated and managed by the highest political structures of the government of Serbia,” he told reporters at a late-night extraordinary press conference. “It was done by masked people but everything is clear. Behind this is Belgrade.” Serbian President Boris Tadic called for an end to the violence. “Extremists and hooligans act against the interests of Serbian citizens and of Serbia and join with the Albanian extremists who want to end, through unilateral acts and violence, the peace process and dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina,” Tadic said in a statement. EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also condemned violence in the area. “I strongly condemn the violence that has taken place in northern Kosovo. These latest developments are unacceptable,” she said in a statement. “It is the responsibility of both Belgrade and Pristina to immediately defuse the tensions, and restore calm and security for everyone. Violence will never be tolerated and unilateral actions are not the way forward,” she said. NATO’s top official in Kosovo, German General Erhard Buhler, said there was “a difficult and tense situation” in northern Kosovo, warning that his 5,000-strong force was ready to act to maintain security. “KFOR is prepared and authorised to defend security by all means,” he said in an interview with local television. On Monday, the ethnic-Albanian-dominated government in Pristina sent elite police units to seize control of the Brnjak and Jarinje border crossings. One officer was killed and four others hurt in a clash with angry local Serbs. The officers were withdrawn on Wednesday, officials said. The goal of the operation was to replace local Serb police officers suspected of turning a blind eye to imports from Serbia after a ban was introduced a week ago. The seizure of the crossings marked a sharp escalation in the trade row between Kosovo and its former rulers in Belgrade, ramping up tensions in an area mainly inhabited by ethnic Serbs.

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London students take to the streets Thousands of students marched through London Wednesday against cuts in university funding as a massive police operation prevented a repeat of the violence at similar protests a year ago. Organisers said 10,000 people joined the march through the heart of London’s financial district in protest against a tripling in higher education fees by the coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron. About 4,000 police were deployed, Scotland Yard said, adding that it did not dispute the number of protesters given by the organisers despite earlier giving a lower figure. Police made 24 arrests, mainly for public order offences but the rally remained largely peaceful despite a few sticks and bottles being lobbed at lines of riot police. The only real moment of tension came when officers forcibly cleared a group of demonstrators who briefly pitched tents in London’s historic Trafalgar Square, leaving one protester with a bloody head injury. Police had warned ahead of the rally that they had authorised the use of rubber bullets in case of “extreme circumstances”, but besides deploying riot and mounted police they did not take any major steps. “It went extremely well. We’re very happy with the turnout, which is good given the amount of intimidation there was before,” Michael Chessum, of the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts, told AFP. “We wanted to send out a clear statement to the government that this is a sustainable movement, it isn’t over, and I think that is what we have done pretty successfully today.” The heavy police presence was in response to the violence that marred a series of four student protests last year against the tuition fees hike, which the government says is needed as part of austerity measures. At the first rally on November 10, 2010, protesters smashed up the offices of Cameron’s Conservative party, while a month later they attacked a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. Riot police in fluorescent jackets lined the route of Wednesday’s protest from the University of London to the City of London financial district, blocking off all side roads, while police helicopters buzzed overhead. They handed out booklets to protesters advising them what to do if there is disorder, for example to stand aside and let officers work, demonstrators said. They also stopped the demonstrators joining a protest camp at St Paul’s Cathedral, where anti-capitalism activists inspired by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement have been camping out since mid-October. A group of protesters had earlier broken off from the main rally to set up around 25 tents in historic Trafalgar Square at the foot of Nelson’s Column, which commemorates one of Britain’s greatest naval victories. Police later moved in, hauling protesters out of the green and blue tents which officers then folded up. “This is what democracy looks like,” screamed one protester with a trickle of blood running down his forehead, as police led him away in handcuffs. Another protester, Glyn Jukes, told AFP the demonstrators were allied to the “Occupy London Stock Exchange” movement in St Paul’s. “We’ve chosen this very public place at the centre of London to serve as a beacon for the general strike on the 30th to help communicate with people,” Jukes said. British trade unions are planning a major walkout over pension reforms on November 30, which the student movement says it will join. Fears of violence had also been raised after London was rocked by riots and looting for four nights in August, which the government blamed on criminality, but which many analysts linked to high levels of deprivation in some areas.

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Factbox: Why Papandreou wanted a referendum Panicked by riots in the street? Hoping to quell political opposition? Or did he simply want to throw in the towel? Greeks are debating Prime Minister George Papandreou’s apparently suicidal decision to call for a referendum on an EU bailout deal, which plunged the euro into a new crisis and enraged his European partners. “It’s tough to find a rational explanation” for his actions, said Thanassis Diamontopoulos, political scientist at Athens University. “Psychoanalysis” would be the only way to understand it, added the expert. “Fearing his government would fall, he perhaps wanted — in a totally irresponsible fashion — to play all his chips at once. “Either he would bring down the political system, even the eurozone. Or he would appear as a master poker player, on line with his father and grandfather”, two charismatic former prime ministers, said Diamontopoulos. The “fatigue and physical and mental pressure” Papandreou has been under probably also played a role, the expert said, as the prime minister has been trying to fight debts and deficits sometimes against his own socialist political DNA since he swept to a landslide election win in 2009. Certainly the 59-year-old marathon runner has harmed his reputation for negotiation and keeping a cool head in a crisis by picking apart a hard-won deal clinched only days earlier in late-night Brussels talks. Political expert George Sefertzis, thought to be close to the Papandreou dynasty, said he believed there were two main reasons for the shock announcement. One motivation was purely psychological: he panicked, said the expert. The other was more political: he wanted to “win the mandate” required to put his country back on its feet, despite the fierce austerity demanded by its creditors. “Being called a ‘traitor’ to his country during demonstrations last Friday that forced the cancellation of national day parades played a major role,” said Sefertzis. Born in the United States to an American mother, Papandreou was in exile until 1974 and once said he was “Greek by choice and not by necessity,” he recalled. He said that Papandreou really had “no choice” but to call the popular vote, in a bid to “stand up to the danger in a situation that had become uncontrollable”, as the main opposition party, New Democracy, continued to fiercely oppose any type of governing pact. “Last Friday, the far-left and the far-right were together in the street to attack the government. That could really lead to chaos in a country in which the administration is no longer working and people are demonstrating every few days. Another analyst, Michalis Spourdalakis, a political scientist at Athens law school, agreed that the anger in the country eventually pushed Papandreou over the edge. “Anger is everywhere,” he said. “Papandreou got caught up in it.” In an interview in June, Papandreou, whose democratic idea of a referendum was praised by several left parties throughout Europe, gave a small insight into the psychological pressure he is under, with the weight of his country and the entire eurozone on his shoulders. “We are in a singular state of war, one that demands a titanic effort and nerves of steel,” he told the To Vima daily. “I would not wish my worst enemy to face what I’m going through,” he said

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Gold Coast Utd boss ‘doesn’t hate football’ Gold Coast United owner Clive Palmer has warned Football Federation Australia that it would commit a major blunder if it kicks his club out of the A-League. Palmer told SBS’s The World Game program that he would take FFA to court if the governing body revoked the club’s licence for the next A-League competition. ”We will injunct them in the Supreme Court and we will fight them in court to a standstill,” Palmer said. ”I have been involved in major business transactions in my life and unfortunately in 68 litigations and our record is 68 to zero. ”So if they want to come on that turf and get off the football ground I would be more than happy to accommodate them.” Gold Coast’s A-League licence expires in two years. Palmer sparked a huge controversy last week when he stood down coach Miron Bleiberg after he commented adversely on the club’s decision to appoint 17-year-old debutant Mitch Cooper as captain. Palmer followed this up with a stinging attack on the game and its governance that sparked a strong response from FFA. Palmer said his comments to a Sunday paper were taken out of context. ”What I was saying was not that I don’t like the actual game but I don’t like the game how it was set up in Australia because we can do a hell of a lot more,” he said. ”When we compare football with rugby league we see the chief executive of the NRL earning less than a million dollars, we’ve seen the five top executives at FFA paid over $5 million. ”We’ve seen the situation of the FFA being insolvent and they had to get $8 million from the Australian government. ”That’s a matter of great concern. ”We are not in crisis. We’ve paid all our creditors, we have a lot of money, I have a lot of money and we see our club as highly successful. ”But someone has to point out the fact that owners are losing an average of $4 million per club which is very disconcerting. ”And there is no light at the end of the tunnel. ”The FFA has run out of finding new owners every year to replace owners who are leaving their clubs. ”That can’t be sustained and we need to have something done about it.” FFA chief executive Ben Buckley, who also was on the show, said Palmer’s comments at the weekend had angered him and his organisation would evaluate Gold Coast’s status in the competition in the next few weeks. ”A lot of people are calling for things to be done like the termination of the licence and so on but the real issue is making sure that the season finishes,” he said. ”It’s been a wonderful season, we’ve had a resurgence in crowds, record television audiences and memberships and I don’t accept that the A-league is in trouble. ”Where has it gone wrong (on the Gold Coast)? There will be some commentary on that in the next six to eight weeks. ”What we say to every new club is ‘what is your strategy around these criteria?’ and I must say the Gold Coast’s one was well put together. ”But there is a difference between strategy on paper and execution. ”This is where we have been collectively let down.”

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Britain welcomes Chinese Premier Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao toured Britain on Sunday and sought to strengthen trade links, as Bejing freed dissident activist Hu Jia. Wen arrived in the central English city of Birmingham on Saturday on the second leg of an European mini-tour, while news emerged that Hu, one of China’s most prominent prisoners of conscience, was to be released. On his first full day in Britain on Sunday, Wen launched the first new MG car to be made in 15 years, the MG6 model, hailing it as a potent symbol of friendship between London and Beijing. The new MG6 will be assembled at the MG car plant in Longbridge, Birmingham, which is now owned by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC), China’s largest automaker. “The successful cooperation of the production of the MG6 and other MG vehicles is a symbol of the friendship between China and the UK,” said Wen, speaking at Longbridge. “The model can be summed up as designed in the UK, manufactured in China and assembled in the UK, thereby making the most of China’s capital and markets, as well as the UK’s technology and managerial expertise.” Outside the factory gates, several dozen protesters were gathered to demonstrate against the visit, including supporters of the Falungong spiritual movement, banned in China, and Free Tibet campaigners. “Cameron and Wen. Human rights before trade,” read the placards of some of the protesters. The British government’s trade minister Stephen Green also attended the MG6 launch and described SAIC as a “pioneer for Chinese investors in the UK”. The Chinese premier later held separate meetings with former British leaders Gordon Brown and Tony Blair and vowed that support to Britain and Europe would be “in concrete actions,” according to China’s state run news agency Xinhua. Wen was keen to deepen China’s “exchanges and cooperation with Britain and Europe”, adding it was in the “fundamental interests” of both parties and vital for world peace and stability, reported the news provider. Wen will hold talks with current British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday and attend a UK-China summit — at which Beijing is expected to unveil huge investment deals. Meanwhile, Chinese dissident Hu returned home Sunday after completing a jail term for subversion — but seemed likely to be muzzled anew. The human rights activist’s release after more than three years in prison comes after Ai emerged last Thursday from nearly three months in police custody amid a government crackdown on dissent. Hu is widely expected to be hit with the same strict curbs as those applied to Ai and a range of other activists and rights lawyers, who have apparently been ordered to keep quiet in exchange for their freedom. Hu returned to his home on Sunday morning, his wife and fellow activist Zeng Jinyan said on Twitter. Britain’s Foreign Office has yet to give an official reaction to Hu’s release. EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton welcomed the news — but her spokesman stressed the bloc’s demands for Beijing to treat Hu fairly and accord him “full rights” after his release. And Germany said it will press human rights issues at its first joint cabinet meeting with China later this week, including the conditions of Ai’s release, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. London has been among international critics, with Foreign Secretary William Hague repeatedly speaking out against Ai’s detention. Earlier on Sunday, Wen indulged his interest in Shakespeare with a visit to the bard’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was treated to performances of extracts from the play “Hamlet”. The premier, who began his trip in Hungary, will leave Britain on Monday for Germany, where he will stress his support for eurozone economies that have been rocked by a debt crisis, with Greece on the brink of a second bailout.

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PM pledges flood relief payments The federal government has activated additional disaster assistance for flood victims in Queensland and northern NSW, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced. “Unfortunately these scenes are only too familiar to us after the events of last summer,” she told reporters in Canberra on Monday. “We’re seeing Australians again in need and in trouble.” Barnaby Joyce: St.George flood update (mp3) The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments will give flood victims $1000 per adult and $400 per child and are available through Centrelink. In Queensland, flood victims in shires of Balonne, Barcaldine, Blackall Tambo, Maranoa, Murweh and Paroo are eligible. In NSW, people affected by floods in Moree, Narrabri and Gwydir can also receive payments. View Queensland, NSW floods 2012 in a larger map People should phone the Department of Human Services on 180 22 66 to find out if they are eligible. The federal government has activated additional disaster assistance for flood victims in Queensland and northern NSW.

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Recent Posts

Default utility Image Japan starts shutdown of nuke reactor

The operator of Japan's ageing Hamaoka nuclear plant, located near a tectonic faultline southwest of...

Default utility Image Turkey death toll nears 500

Homeless survivors of Turkey's devastating earthquake shivered in sub-zero temperatures as the government admitted that...

Default utility Image Athens smoulders after austerity protests

"It's culture that has gone up in smoke," filmmaker Nikos Kavoukidis lamented...

Default utility Image Violence flares in Kosovo, talks delayed

EU-brokered talks between Belgrade and Pristina were delayed Tuesday after the latest surge of violence...

Default utility Image Tensions rising on Kosovo-Serbia border

Dozens of youths set fire to one of two border posts on Kosovo's northern frontier...

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Recent Posts

Default utility Image Japan starts shutdown of nuke reactor

The operator of Japan's ageing Hamaoka nuclear plant, located near a tectonic faultline southwest of...

Default utility Image Turkey death toll nears 500

Homeless survivors of Turkey's devastating earthquake shivered in sub-zero temperatures as the government admitted that...

Default utility Image Athens smoulders after austerity protests

"It's culture that has gone up in smoke," filmmaker Nikos Kavoukidis lamented...

Default utility Image Violence flares in Kosovo, talks delayed

EU-brokered talks between Belgrade and Pristina were delayed Tuesday after the latest surge of violence...

Default utility Image Tensions rising on Kosovo-Serbia border

Dozens of youths set fire to one of two border posts on Kosovo's northern frontier...

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