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Greece Anzac story ‘overlooked’

They bore the name Anzac, and many had fought in Gallipoli a few decades years earlier.

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They were told that this time, they would be victorious.

“The task ahead though difficult is not nearly so desperate as that which our fathers faced in April twenty-six years ago. We go to it together with stout hearts and certainty of success,” said General Thomas Blamey in 1941 as he announced the formation of a new Anzac Corps.

What awaited was a grim repetition of history.

“(They were) probably having a moment of deja vu, because again they were in another diversion, and facing a suicidal mission and fighting against unequal odds,” says historian Dr Maria Hill, author of ‘Diggers and Greeks’.

For the second time, Anzacs were caught by surprise due to leadership decisions over which there is still much controversy.

The 6th Australian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division were evacuated to Crete as German troops invaded in a pincer action that saw Greece and Yugoslavia fall.

But on May the 20th, 23,000 German troops landed on the island – half of them by parachute.

“The sad thing about that campaign is that the Allies outnumbered the Germans three to one, and they really shouldn’t have lost Crete,” Dr Hill says.

The campaign bore ‘uncanny parallels’ to the slaughter in Turkey a generation earlier, according to Peter Ewer, author of ‘The Forgotten Anzacs’.

The ‘second Anzacs’ made up 83 per cent of prisoners of war taken by German and Italian forces, according to Dr Hill.

More than 6,000 Australians spent the next three or four years in Nazi camps, suffering hunger and deprivation on top of the trauma of battle, she says.

They came home shell-shocked and jittery, and told of nightmares that plagued them for the rest of their lives.

‘OVERLOOKED’

In the decades after the war – until as late as 1982 – the government of Greece tracked down every Anzac who had served in the campaign, and awarded them a special medal.

But Australia’s defence force forbade diggers from wearing theirs, as it wasn’t an Australian honour.

Veterans of the campaign lobbied defence ministers to recognise them, but were rebuffed, says Dr Hill.

Few veterans remain alive today, but their descendants and supporters have signed an online petition in their thousands, urging the government to award them a posthumous medal.

Dr Hill – who began the petition – says many more signatures are needed before the Defence Department will consider the proposition.

“You basically need a federal minister to champion the cause,” she says.

Watch: Dr Hill explains the significance of the Greek service medal awarded to the second Anzacs.

SBS has contacted the Defence Department for comment, and has been assured of a reply in the coming days.

NEW AUSTRALIANS

The story of the Greek campaign was not wholly one of loss.

Anzac troops formed such enduring bonds with Greek villagers, who in some cases helped escaped prisoners of war to hide from the Nazis for years.

They risked execution if they were found out, and the Nazis frequently reminded them of this via air-drops of threatening pamphlets over villages suspected of harbouring Allied escapees.

Xanthoula Papadopoulos was 14 when the local shepherd brought a bedraggled Australian soldier to her family’s home in a small village in north-eastern Greece.

Bert ‘Slim’ Wrigley had escaped a German camp in Thessaloniki and walked for days. His feet were bleeding, and he was starving.

Xanthoula’s father found him a hiding place and brought him food and medicine until he was strong enough to make the treaccherous trek up Mount Olympus to British military headquarters.

Her father was later sent to a prison camp, where after a year he was executed for his political views.

The family knew no more of Slim until the late 1940s, when they discovered his address written on a scrap of paper in their photo album.

Having studied to be a teacher, Xanthoula’s English was good, and she struck up a correspondence with him on behalf of her family.

Slim sent help as her family struggled through post-war, fascist-controlled Greece.

He was battling his own demons – scarred by the trauma of his time as a Nazi prisoner, Xanthoula recalls.

“He couldn’t settle anywhere, he went up to Queensland, back and forth (it was) very hard after what he went through to pick up a normal life again,” Xanthoula says.

In 1951, Slim sent Xanthoula a letter asking her to marry him.

Listen to Xanthoula tell her story:

 

 

Resolving that she wouldn’t accept if she didn’t like him after arriving, she travelled to Melbourne, where she has now lived for 60 years. She turned 86 two days before Anzac Day.

IMMIGRATION

Slim had learnt to speak fluent Greek, and after joining the Commonwealth Police, became known throughout Melbourne’s huge Greek community.

He became involved in migrant affairs, helping others escape to Australia and guiding them through the bureaucratic process once they arrived.

He passed away recently.

Other Greeks who knew diggers during WWII came to Australia for reasons other than love. Many were sponsored by those they’d helped during the conflict.

While there are no exact figures on how many people came to Australia as a result of the Anzac campaign in Greece, Dr Hill has heard many such stories.

Another veteran became known around Melbourne for his fluency in Greek and skills at making feta cheese. He sponsored Greeks who had helped him to come.

Commander of the 2/2nd Australian Battalion, Sir Frederick Chilton, brought out several members of the Mourtzakis family, whose descendants still speak fondly of him.

‘LESSONS FOR AFGHANISTAN’

Dr Hill draws a parallel between the diggers who served in Greece and those in Afghanistan today.

She says the Greek people loved the Australians for being friendly and deeply respectful of their culture.

She believes the Defence Department could use that experience as the basis for further training in cultural interchange in Afghanistan, where Australia’s mentoring task force deals closely with Afghans.

Factbox: What are ‘black holes’?

By Robert Braun, CSIRO

The concept of a “black hole” is one of the most curious in astrophysics.

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It’s the answer to the question: “What happens if the density of matter in a region becomes so high that not even light can escape?”

The reason this question even arose dates back to Einstein’s prediction of 1916, in his Foundations of General Relativity, that the direction light travels will be bent in the direction of any nearby mass.

That prediction has been spectacularly confirmed in recent years by the discovery of “gravitational lenses” – where a background source and a foreground mass are so closely aligned that the light from the background source is highly distorted, even to the point of forming an almost complete arc around the foreground mass.

Before 1916, we had not considered that this might be possible. After all, why should the mass-less particles of light, photons, feel the influence of any mass they pass? The surprising answer is that the basic shape of our universe is influenced by each mass within it, like the dimples in a rubber sheet caused by an occasional marble.

University of New Mexico

Passing light can be thought of as confined to the rubber sheet and when it passes near a marble it will be deflected from its original path by passing through the dimple. If the dimple becomes too deep, light that passes sufficiently close will be deflected into a spiral path that ends on the marble and it will not escape at all.

The boundary between light paths that just manage to pass a density concentration and those that do not is called the “event horizon” – the greater the mass of a density concentration, the larger the size of this “surface of no return”.

For an object as massive as our sun, the event horizon is about 6km in diameter. The matter density needed to form such a black hole is extremely high – about 2 x 1019 kg per cubic metre. That’s more extreme than the density of an atomic nucleus.

Animated simulation of gravitational lensing caused by a black hole going past a background galaxy.

The densest form of matter so far observed in nature is that encountered in so-called neutron stars, an entire star composed only of neutrons. Yet even a neutron star is not dense enough, by a about a factor of 50, to form a black hole of the sun’s mass.

Density

Curiously, the density needed to form a black hole scales as the inverse square of the total mass. So, the density of a neutron star would be sufficient to form a black hole if the object had about 2,500 times the mass of the sun. What exactly happens when so much mass is concentrated in the same place is not understood.

Will it compress into some new state, such as the quarks that are thought to be the building blocks of neutrons, or some even more fundamental building block? We just don’t know.

The

average density

of the sun – about 1 gram per cubic centimetre – which also happens to be the density of liquid water on Earth’s surface, would be sufficient to form a black hole were it associated with a mass of 100 million times that of the sun.

This is the mass of the compact objects within the centres of massive galaxies. Continuing this line of reasoning, we can ask: “Do we live in a black hole?” – a question that’s dominated cosmology for the past century.

Is the average density of the universe so high that light and everything else around us could never escape? The answer appears to be “no”. The universe is undergoing an accelerating rate of expansion that implies an insufficient matter density to represent a black hole.

How do we know black holes exist?

What evidence is there that the black hole phenomenon actually occurs? At this time, it’s all indirect.

On the scale of individual stars, there are cases where a normal star appears to orbit a compact object that’s very faint but is perhaps ten times as massive as the sun. Since there are no current theories to explain this, such objects have been called “black hole candidates”.

On larger scales, there’s evidence of a massive but compact object at the centre of many, and possibly all, galaxies. The object that resides in the very centre of our Milky Way has been studied by tracking the movements of many nearby stars.

The orbits of these stars have been used to deduce that the central object must be about 4 million times more massive than the sun and that it must be smaller than about 1/1000 of a light year (a light year being equal to approximately 10 trillion kilometres).

Although this is the best current evidence for a very massive, very compact object, it’s important to note that this limit on matter density, of about 10 grams per cubic metre, is still 100 million times smaller than what’s needed – about 1kg per cubic centimetre – to qualify as a black hole of this mass.

Supermassive black holes

It’s thought so-called supermassive black holes – as much as 1 billion times the mass of the sun – reside in the centre of galaxies that are significantly more massive than the Milky Way, particularly those which have an elliptical rather than a disk-like distribution of their stars. Many of these massive galaxies have been host to the “quasar phenomenon” at some point in their history.

The quasar phenomenon is the most energetic type of event that has yet been witnessed in the universe, outshining all of the stars in the hosting galaxies for millions of years, and is understood as a consequence of matter falling into a central massive object.

The extremely strong gravitational attraction of compact massive objects tends to tear apart and pull in anything that comes too close. The tearing action is due to “tidal forces”, the fact the gravitational force acting on the nearest portions of an object is significantly stronger than that acting on the most distant portions.

This same phenomenon causes tides on Earth, since the gravitational attraction of the moon is significantly larger on the side of Earth facing the moon than the side facing away. As material is pulled toward the compact massive object it tends to gather in what is called an “accretion disk”, a very hot, rapidly rotating structure that channels material toward the central object.

The reason for the rapid spin is the preservation of angular momentum, akin to what a slowly rotating ice skater experiences when they draw in their arms from a more extended position. Any small initial rotational motion is strongly amplified during contraction.

The high temperature is the result of the high-speed collisions between material falling in and that already in place.

The final stage of channelling material inward is a challenging one, since somehow the energy associated with the rapid rotation must first be shed. The solution nature has found to this problem is dramatic: the rotational energy of the accretion disk is shed by sending high-speed jets of matter out along the rotation axis of the disk.

The same jet ejection phenomenon is found to apply over an extremely wide range of scales, from the formation process of individual stars, such as the sun, to that of quasar accretion disks, where the result can be the largest distinct objects yet seen, measuring millions of light years from end to end.

But are the compact massive objects seen on a wide range of scales truly black holes, in the sense of having achieved a sufficient mass density to become disconnected from the rest of the universe? Or are they merely a highly condensed state of matter that we don’t yet understand?

A concept drawing showing the accretion lines from a black hole. NAS

Seeing is believing

Direct evidence for the black hole phenomenon might be possible if an image could be made of the event horizon. While this has not yet been done, the best prospects might come from looking at the object at the centre of our own galaxy, since it provides the best combination of a large event horizon size with the closest possible distance.

The expected image size is about 0.2 milli-arcseconds, or about 10,000 times smaller than the typical image size of a star observed with an optical telescope from the ground.

The required resolution could be achieved by a network of radio telescopes separated by thousands of kilometres and observing at wavelengths of about a millimetre. Such a project – the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – is being developed by astronomers at the Smithsonian Institution. If successful, the EHT will demonstrate that nature has truly found a way to squeeze matter together to a required density that even light cannot escape.

Probing the detailed shape of the event horizon and how it depends on total mass should provide clues about the state of matter under these extreme circumstances; circumstances that we can not approximate in a laboratory.

Its likely that nature will have some surprises waiting for us when we do. Each time we peel off a layer of the onion there seems to be another one inside.

Robert Braun does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Mubarak gets life sentence

A judge sentenced former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to life in prison on Saturday after convicting him of involvement in the murder of protesters during the uprising that ousted him last year.

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Also given a life term for the killings was 84-year-old former strongman’s interior minister Habib al-Adly, while six former police commanders were acquitted.

Corruption charges against Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, were dropped due to the expiry of a statute of limitations, as the former president was acquitted in one of the graft cases.

Scuffles erupted soon after the verdicts were delivered and chants of “Void, void” and “The people want the judiciary purged” could be heard, as furious lawyers told AFP they feared Mubarak would be found innocent on appeal.

Mubarak, who wore dark sunglasses and a beige track-suit, had his arms folded and showed no emotion inside his caged dock, however, as Chief Judge Ahmed Refaat read out the verdict.

His two sons, Alaa and Gamal, looking tired with dark circles under their eyes, appeared close to tears on hearing the verdict.

Outside the courtroom, clashes broke following the sentencing, forcing police to use stun grenades to control the crowds.

Mubarak, the only autocrat toppled in the Arab Spring to be tried, Adly and the six others were facing charges over their involvement in ordering the deaths of some of the estimated 850 people killed.

The former strongman, his sons Alaa and Gamal and business associate Hussein Salem, who fled to Spain, were also on trial over an alleged bribe.

And the former president was also accused of selling natural gas to Israel at lower than market prices.

A security official said 5,000 policemen and 2,000 soldiers were deployed to secure the court, at the Police Academy on Cairo’s outskirts, to which the ailing Mubarak was helicoptered in from a military hospital

Egypt has been ruled by the military since Mubarak was forced to resign on February 11 last year, after 18 days of nationwide protests.

Mubarak has been detained at a hospital in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh since his arrest last year, after the military appeared to bow to protester demands that he and former regime officials be put on trial.

But the military insists the prosecution’s investigations and the charges eventually filed were independent judicial decisions.

However, critics say the investigations were hasty and sloppy, resulting in a trial based on patchwork evidence that may see Mubarak acquitted.

During the trial, Mubarak was wheeled into the lecture hall that serves as a courtroom on a stretcher. He reportedly suffers from a heart condition, but the health ministry has denied his lawyer’s claim that he has cancer.

Along with Adly, Mubarak’s co-defendants include six former police commanders.

They have all denied that they ordered police to shoot protesters or use deadly force during the uprising, in which demonstrators torched police stations across the country.

The verdict comes just two weeks before a run-off in presidential elections that will pit Mubarak’s former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi in a highly polarising race.

It is the first openly contested presidential election in any of the Arab countries swept by regional protests and uprisings that challenged decades of autocratic rule.

But the revolt also led to a deteriorating economy and increased lawlessness in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, that has helped Shafiq, a symbol of Mubarak’s regime, win a surprising amount of support.

Israel to build more settler homes

Israel has revealed plans to build 3,000 more settler homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank after a historic UN vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state, with Washington describing the move as “counter-productive”.

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In the Thursday vote in New York, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a resolution recognising Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member observer state.

Israel lashed out in response on Friday, with an official confirming to AFP plans to build the 3,000 settler homes, without specifying exactly where they were to be sited.

Washington said the plan would make resuming peace talks harder.

“We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and east Jerusalem construction and announcements. We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that, despite past failures, Washington would keep trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table.

“That’s the only way that we are going to get to two states for two peoples with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel,” she said.

Like Israel, the Obama administration had tried to stop the Palestinian push for UN recognition, saying it would put another obstacle in the path to peace and that statehood could only come through negotiations with Israel.

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas called for a return to peace talks, but criticised Israel’s latest settlement plans.

“I’ve said a thousand times that we want to resume negotiations and we are ready to do it,” Abbas told reporters in New York.

“We are not setting any condition but there are at least 15 UN resolutions which consider settlement activity as illegal and an obstacle to peace which must be removed,” he said. “Why do (the Israelis) not stop settlement?”

Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi told AFP “it is an act of Israeli aggression against a state, and the world needs to take up its responsibilities.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had warned that by going to the UN, the Palestinians had “violated” previous agreements with Israel, such as the 1993 Oslo Accords, and that his country would “act accordingly.”

Such talks have been on hold since September 2010, with the Palestinians insisting on a settlement freeze before returning to the negotiating table and the Israelis insisting on no preconditions.

Israel has long feared that if the Palestinians won the rank of a UN non-member state, they could pursue the Jewish state for war crimes at the International Criminal Court — particularly over settlement.

With their newly acquired status, the Palestinians now have access to a range of UN agencies as well as to the ICC, but Abbas said he had no plans to immediately petition the tribunal.

“We now have the right to appeal the ICC, but we are not going to do it now and will not do it except in the case of Israeli aggression,” he said.

Israeli media reports said that some new settlement construction would be in a highly contentious area of the West Bank known as E1, a corridor that runs between the easternmost edge of annexed east Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement.

Palestinians bitterly oppose the E1 project, as it effectively cuts the occupied West Bank in two, north to south, and makes the creation of a viable Palestinian state highly problematic.

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as capital of their state and vigorously oppose expansion plans for Maaleh Adumim, which lies five kilometres (three miles) from the city’s eastern edge.

Linking the settlement and the city is an idea espoused by hardliners within Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party but strongly opposed by Washington.

Arab east Jerusalem was captured by Israel with the rest of the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its “eternal, indivisible” capital, and does not view construction in the eastern sector to be settlement activity.

Proposition 8 overturned

During the 2008 election that swept Barack Obama to power, Californians were also asked in a state referendum to vote to ban gay marriage.

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A quirk of American politics, if enough public support for proposed legislation can be raised, a “proposition” can be put to voters at the ballot box.

Proposals can range from legalising marijuana to immigration issues to Proposition 8.

Last Wednesday Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned the 1998 vote, which was challenged on the basis that it violated civil rights under the US Constitution.

Turning convention on its head, the case supporting gay marriage was led by Ted Olson, a former Solicitor General of the United States who argued for George W. Bush against Al Gore during the 2000 Election that was decided in court.

There’s no more fiery debating point in the US than interpretation of its Constitution and what the country’s founding fathers intended back in 1787.

The right of gay couples to marry also produces polarised opinion with well-organised church groups and usually conservative political bodies mobilising to counter supporters.

Judge Walker was not ambiguous in his ruling on the high-profile California case.

“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license,” he wrote. “Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”

“Race restrictions on marital partners were once common in most states but are now seen as archaic, shameful or even bizarre,” he added. “Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.”

Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia. Civil unions are permitted in New Jersey.

The ruling has some relevance to the current election in Australia – if only for limited options available to Australian gay couples who want to marry.

Australia often boasts of its egalitarian qualities but Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government is opposed to the gay marriage.

Here’s a video that suggests Gillard is pandering to religious groups with her opinion. (Warning – explicit language!)

With a hint of surrealism, Senator Penny Wong, the country’s first openly gay Cabinet Minister, strongly supports Gillard’s view claiming a “cultural, religious, historical view around that which we have to respect.”

There’s little to split with Tony Abbot, Leader of the Opposition, who claimed, “I guess I’m old fashioned, in that a marriage is between a man and a woman,”

But back in California, last week’s victory is not yet seen as a complete victory but an important legal step that will see the issue eventually before the US Supreme Court.

Not everyone is happy, of course.

“It’s as if we have absolutely no say in what is going on all around us,” said conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, no doubt with no irony intended. “Decisions are being made for us, in lieu of us and imposed on us.”

Liverpool warmed by the love and largesse on Asian tour

A crowd of up to 95,000 is expected to flock to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday to see the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez take on local club Melbourne Victory in the Merseyside team’s first visit Down Under.

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The MCG blockbuster continues a lucrative three-stop tour for Liverpool, who played an Indonesian XI for 83,000 fans in Jakarta on Saturday and will sign off on Sunday in front of another big crowd in Bangkok against Thailand.

The Melbourne match also comes four days after Manchester United attracted a crowd of 83,000 to Sydney’s Olympic Stadium for their 5-1 victory over an ‘All-Star’ team from the local top-flight A-League.

Liverpool may not win a single match against United in the coming season, but the club’s managing director Ian Ayre could allow himself a smile at the idea of trumping their Premier League rivals with the MCG crowd.

“I don’t think we were surprised. We’ve always known that with some of the activity we’ve seen, in the online retailing business, Australia’s the second-largest market for us after the UK home domestic market, which is staggering really given the size of the population,” Ayre told Reuters in Melbourne.

“The number of people that come to our website online and our social media platforms is huge. Obviously the speed of the sale of the tickets, we knew there would be a huge buy-in from our foundation in this part of the world.”

Once a fixture of Europe’s club showpiece, Liverpool has been out of the Champions League since 2010 and struggled with huge debts and an ownership crisis in recent years.

The five-times European champions reported a loss of 40.5 million pounds for their August 2011 – May 2012 accounts earlier this year, with debts increasing by 21.8 million pounds to 87.2 million pounds as they look to rebuild their squad.

While Asia contributes a miniscule share of global football revenues, dwarfed by Europe and still well behind emerging American markets, the football-mad region has become a lucrative destination for touring club heavyweights to shore up their finances while connecting with local fans.

Local media estimated Manchester United and Liverpool would earn A$10 million (6 million pounds) between the clubs for their visit Down Under, with the hosting state governments kicking in multi-million dollar fees to secure the matches.

The flow-on effects for the local game, which is dominated by rival football codes Australian Rules and the National Rugby League, have encouraged football administrators.

“It’s exceeded our expectations,” Melbourne Victory managing director Richard Wilson told Reuters.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Victory, one of the few clubs in Australia’s fledgling A-League competition to turn a profit, stands to make about A$500,000 from Liverpool’s visit, which includes a fixed fee, sponsorship, hospitality and a small share of ticket sales.

“There’s no doubt the MCC were surprised about getting 93,000 seats sold, I think everyone thought maybe 70,000,” Wilson added, referring to the MCG’s custodians.

Politicians have also crowed about the economic impacts of the matches, with New South Wales state claiming a A$16 million windfall for hosting United, and Victoria A$10 million for welcoming Liverpool.

Liverpool’s visit would not have happened without a government subsidy, however, said Wilson, whose club has hosted Serie A giants Juventus and Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy.

“(Liverpool’s) actually been a significantly wise investment into the coffers of the Melbourne economy. Everyone’s won here,” he added.

“They’ve not always been profitable, I might add. You learn the lessons as you go along.

“Other than the straight dollars, these games’ (value), at the pointy end, is that it’s beamed around the world and it’s live on TV on Australia.”

Like Sydney, Melbourne has seen swarms of red-clad local fans mobbing Liverpool players at marketing and community events and thousands will pay A$15 each to see the team train at the MCG later on Tuesday, with proceeds going to charities.

Hundreds waved red scarves and sang the club anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Fed Square in Melbourne’s central business district as Liverpool players signed merchandise.

“I just love everything they stand for… family, that song,” said Paul McMaster, an office worker who bought an A$185 ticket for himself for Wednesday’s game and another three for friends. He was sanguine about the club’s lean period.

“It’s a club you support through thick and thin,” he said. “There’s promising signs ahead.”

(Editing by John O’Brien)

Islamists gain ground as pressure builds on Mali junta

Mali’s junta is facing increasing pressure to give up power on Wednesday, with world powers tightening the diplomatic screws and Islamists consolidating their grip on the north.

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UN Security Council members were hammering out a joint statement on the Mali crisis, with a vote expected later Wednesday.

France called the emergency meeting of the 15-nation council to negotiate a statement condemning a coup against President Amadou Toumani Toure and the advance of Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants into towns in the north of the country.

The United States took action ahead of the UN, joining the African Union in imposing travel bans on coup leaders as international efforts were redoubled to restore democratic rule in a country descending into chaos.

The US State Department said it would restrict travel to the United States of those “who block Mali’s return to civilian rule and a democratically elected government, including those who actively support Captain Amadou Sanogo,” the coup leader.

Feeling the bite of the mounting sanctions and pressure from all sides, the soldiers who seized power on March 22 proposed a national meeting on Thursday and dispatched a team to Nigeria for talks on an exit from the growing crisis.

Sanogo told journalists that Thursday’s meeting would determine “what will be best for the country in a consensual, democratic fashion.”

Since the coup, ostensibly over the government’s failure to stamp out a northern rebellion, the junta has lost more than half the country’s territory — an area the size of France — in a matter of days to the rebel juggernaut.

Islamists seized control of the ancient trading hub Timbuktu over the weekend alongside Tuareg rebels and have since chased out their allies and declared to residents and religious leaders that they were imposing sharia law.

This sparked alarm abroad ahead of the emergency UN Security Council meeting, with former colonial power France expressing concern over the Islamist threat in a country considered a democratic success until the coup.

The Tuareg rebels want an independent state while Ansar Dine, under notorious commander Iyad Ag Ghaly, wants to impose Islamic law and has linked up with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Three of the four leaders of Al-Qaeda’s north Africa branch, Abou Zeid, Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Yahya Abou Al-Hammam, were in Timbuktu on Tuesday, security and religious sources in the city said.

Residents reported women in the normally secular city that hosted a major music festival in January were on Tuesday wearing headscarves.

A day after being slapped with sanctions by its neighbours, Mali’s embattled military rulers came under travel bans and an asset freeze from the African Union for failing to restore constitutional order, before the US imposed its own travel ban, which will also apply to immediate family members of the coup leaders.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) already cut off the landlocked country which depends heavily on imported fuel, also freezing access to its bank account in Dakar.

In Bamako, long lines formed at petrol stations as panic set in over the impact of the sanctions.

“We hear there is an embargo, we are afraid of shortages so we are taking precautions,” said a youth who wanted to fill half a dozen empty bottles.

The junta on Tuesday sent a delegation to Nigeria, where ECOWAS officials could offer an amnesty in exchange for relinquishing power, a foreign ministry source in Abuja said. However, it appeared a deal was not reached.

Coup leader Sanogo said in Bamako the junta wanted to prosecute ousted President Toure for “high treason and financial wrongdoing.”

As the junta struggled with the intensifying crisis, armed Islamists in the north handed out food and supplies that they seized from humanitarian organisations to residents of Timbuktu, sources said.

Officials from the regional food security office linked to the agriculture ministry and local Red Cross confirmed that the goods being distributed were forcibly taken from their stocks.

The fighting in northern Mali began in mid-January by the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), which wants independence for its homeland in the northern triangle of the bow-tie shaped nation.

A powerful player in northern Mali, Ag Ghaly and his fighters have placed their black jihadist flag around Timbuktu, which was a leading trading and intellectual capital up until the 16th century.

The UN cultural agency UNESCO called on the Malian authorities and the warring factions to respect the desert country’s heritage and the “outstanding architectural wonders” in Timbuktu.

More than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes by the fighting and aid groups have warned that the combination of civil war and drought could lead to one of the continent’s worst humanitarian emergencies.

Blog: What gets the ACT candidates fired up?

Some Aussies living in other capital cities believe Canberra is boring.

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Certainly, the city doesn’t have the striking physical beauty of Sydney, or the hipster chic of Melbourne.

Even its election campaigns aren’t particularly awe-inspiring. There are few slick, highly produced TV ads and billboards, fiery public debates or political punch-ups.

Most electors are concerned with ‘backyard’ issues – public transport, rubbish collection, household rates. Important issues, to be sure, but hardly ones that get the pulse racing.

The legislative assembly has just 17 seats, and covers traditional state areas of concern, as well as local government ones. The Hare-Clark, or single transferable vote system, means candidates are often well-known in their electorates.

For Katy Gallagher that level of recognition is a double-edged sword. The woman who has been Chief Minister for the last 18 months says the smiles, handshakes and outright stares she gets from members of the public are enough to make her 5-year old daughter think she’s a celebrity.

Ms Gallagher told SBS that 95 per cent of people who recognise her are friendly and polite – whether they agree with her politics or not. The other 5 per cent are “ratbags”.

The Labor leader was a long-time member of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) before entering politics. In 1997, her fiancé Brett Seaman was killed in a cycling accident. Ms Gallagher was pregnant with the couple’s first child at the time of his death. The union provided moral and financial support during that difficult time. That inspired her to seek Labor pre-selection in 2001 ACT election.

Ms Gallagher has told SBS that heckling and unsavoury comments like “you shouldn’t be in politics, you should be making me a casserole” are to be expected when undertaking the job of Chief Minister. She just wishes people wouldn’t do it when her kids are around.

Opposition Leader Zed Seselja agrees that having a thick skin is necessary in politics. He says the number of people who react positively to him in public far outweigh the number of creeps he encounters.

The former Department of Transport lawyer, whose full name is Zdenko, personally door-knocks homes in his electorate. He can handle it when people are unpleasant to him, but says his Croatian blood means he gets riled-up when they’re rude to his party volunteers. His background gives him “fire in the belly”, he told SBS.

Greens leader Meredith Hunter gets fired up not when people are rude to her – she told SBS that’s a part of life in politics – but when voters are apathetic. She dislikes it when people say politics has nothing to do with them. The former youth advocate says politics permeates all aspects of life, and people have no excuse not to get involved and affect change.

Watch Shalailah Medhora’s report on YouTube:

Taiwan evacuates 3,000 as typhoon looms

Taiwan has evacuated more than 3,000 people as Typhoon Tembin bore down, threatening powerful winds and torrential rains that authorities warned could trigger landslides.

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About 50,000 soldiers were on standby on the island, where memories are still raw from Typhoon Morakot, which killed about 600 people in August 2009, most of them buried in huge landslides in the south.

Authorities moved swiftly to prevent a repeat, deploying about 500 troops to help in evacuations in eastern Taiwan before the storm, described as a “severe typhoon” by the Hong Kong Observatory, hits.

More than 3,000 people, nearly half of them from Hualien county, had been evacuated by noon (0400 GMT), according to the Central Emergency Operation Centre.

Young conscripts, many wearing facial masks against the sandstorms whipped up by the gusting winds, went from house to house and helped elderly residents, with people willingly obeying the order to move to safer ground.

Tembin could make landfall in Taitung in eastern Taiwan on Friday although its exact path is affected by Bolaven, another typhoon around 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) east of Taiwan, according to the Central Weather Bureau.

The bureau listed Tembin as a mid-level typhoon and warned that it would bring torrential rains and trigger mudslides in the east, an area badly hit earlier this month by Typhoon Saola, which killed six people.

“The impact will be felt from tonight, especially in the eastern area,” Lin Ping-yu, an official from the bureau, told AFP.

As of 12:15 pm (0415 GMT), Tembin was 230 kilometres east of Taitung. With a radius of 180 kilometres and packing winds gusting at up to 144 kilometres an hour, it was moving west at six kilometres per hour.

Near Hualien city in eastern Taiwan the sun was shining early Thursday with gusts heralding Tembin but the weather changed gradually and the area was hit by intermittent rain, as a precursor of the typhoon still lingering in the Pacific Ocean.

A total of 103 domestic and 13 international flights were cancelled, according to the transport ministry.

Two passenger cruise ships scrapped services to Japan’s Okinawa and Ishigaki, an outlying island off Okinawa.

All shipping between Taiwan and its offshore islands was suspended, the emergency operation centre said.

Is the switch to digital killing the community radio star?

By Melanie Withnall, University of Technology, Sydney

The future of radio is digital but that future is at risk for community radio because of government funding cuts.

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There are 37 community radio stations providing on-air services in digital form as part of the first phase of the switchover to digital with new projects and services starting regularly.

But all of this is at risk, due to a funding shortfall in last year’s federal budget of $1.4 million.

In the May 2012 budget the federal government provided four”‘year funding, but that was short by around 40% on the basic transmission costs. This funding is critical to meeting the government’s public policy objective for community sector inclusion in digital radio.

The digital radio legislation requires broadcasters to share a common transmission facility fed by standardised data and audio encoding equipment. Of course, this means community broadcasters must build systems and incur costs in the same manner as commercial broadcasters. In fact, the legislation specifically prevents community broadcasters establishing transmission facilities in any other way.

According to the CBAA, there are a variety of reasons for the legislation being constructed in this manner but the upshot is that linking, data and transmission costs need to be covered by direct government funding support. Not-for-profit community radio services are unable to cover these costs at this stage of the medium’s development, as well as the content, studio and staffing costs.

It is understood by the CBAA, that the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has made several attempts during 2012 to restore the funding, which is much appreciated by the community sector. Even so, time is now running short and the number and range of current digital services will have to be reduced sometime after June 2013 if the funding shortfall is not addressed in the 2013 Federal budget.

If we have to turn off services to cope with this funding shortfall, will they ever be able to be turned on again? And what about the small stations, or regional stations? If big metropolitan stations, like 2SER, 3RRR, 4MBS, Radio Adelaide or Noongar Radio can’t stay on digital radio, how will the smaller sub metro licensed stations, who often serve a vital community need?

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy faces a struggle to help community radio stations make the switchover to digital. AAP/Lukas Coch

Just like digital television, digital radio is clearly the future, and even if there is no policy to turn off FM or AM radio, will you be able to buy an FM receiver in ten or 15 years?

Digital radio is not online broadcasting. It is not streaming or mobile apps. There are issues around social equity as radio is free to receive, once you buy the receiver. It is also the most efficient use of this valuable digital spectrum. Moving to streaming or internet platforms only, would mean drop outs, and huge costs to broadcasters, it would be almost impossible to have all current radio listeners to radio in Sydney or Melbourne, listen at an audio stream at the same time.

Media diversity will suffer if community radio cannot fully make the leap to digital. The community radio sector is made up of stations, serving diverse communities and interests that aren’t catered for by mainstream media, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Ethnic broadcasters; youth; educational, fine music, and religious groups. For many people, community media is the only media that they access, and across Australia, 4.4 million Australians listen to Community Radio each week according to the 2012 McNair Ingenuity National Listener Survey.

This sector also provides local news and information through sub metro stations, or through regional areas where the community radio station is often the only medium that isn’t syndicated from somewhere else.

It would be a shame to turn off digital radio, not to mention a waste of the resources already invested. Community radio is great at innovation. It takes risks and helps drive the take up of this new medium.

It is vital that community radio be helped make the switch to the digital future.

Melanie Withnall is the Managing Director of 2ser 107.3. She is a board member of the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia and sits on the Digital Radio Consultative Committee. Melanie also works as a casual tutor at UTS and the AFTRS. 2ser is owned by UTS and Macquarie University.