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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

SECURITY GIANTS

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.

SERIOUS BUSINESS

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.

TANGLED WEB

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?

CATCHING CYBER-CRIMINALS

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 VOWS TO PUNISH THOSE TO BLAME FOR CRASH

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.

ACCIDENT RAISES SAFETY CONCERNS

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.

‘URGENT OVERHAUL’ OF RAIL SAFETY

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.

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‘No contact’ with Taliban over office

Afghan authorities have said negotiations with the Taliban can only take place after they stop their attacks, reject Al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan constitution, which guarantees civil rights.

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The country and its international backers have increasingly looked for a political solution to the 10-year insurgency as NATO-led International Security Assistance Force combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014.

But despite the ongoing debate about the location and conditions for a Taliban office to push forward peace talks, finding a genuine Taliban representative to engage with has proved difficult.

“There hasn’t been formal contact,” an official in the High Peace Council said on condition of anonymity.

“We have been trying for several years for contacts. There have been efforts made, but we haven’t reached a tangible result.

“If we are going to have an office we want to engage with genuine Taliban representatives.”

One Western diplomat said he understood the US and Germany had agreed with the Taliban on the opening of an office in Qatar before Afghanistan voiced its opposition at having been left out of the talks.

Afghan authorities have not ruled out Doha, the Qatari capital, as a possible location for a Taliban address, despite recalling their ambassador over the perceived snub.

President Hamid Karzai convened a top level meeting on December 15 involving members of the High Peace Council to discuss how to move forward with the peace process, which was derailed by the September assassination of council chief Burhanuddin Rabbani.

The meeting put forward Saudi Arabia or Turkey as the preferred location to open a Taliban office abroad.

Afghan authorities also say Pakistan, where many members of the insurgent group are based, must be involved in any talks.

“If Pakistan are not on board the people of Afghanistan will not be able to reach peace,” the High Peace Council official said.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan have severely deteriorated this year. On November 26, US air strikes near the Afghan border killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, leading Islamabad to halt supply routes for NATO forces.

The Taliban issued a statement ahead of the 32nd anniversary of the Soviet occupation on Tuesday vowing to continue fighting US-led forces until the country is “liberated from the occupation” once again.

“The current invaders are bound to be destined with the same fate that the former ones befell,” the statement said.

The Russian occupation lasted nine years and claimed more than one million lives before Soviet troops withdrew.

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