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Texans vote online for new license plate

Monday, February 4, 2008

For the first time in Texas’s history, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is conducting an online vote to help decide which license plate design the state will use beginning in early 2009.

The week-long vote is being held at dot.state.tx.us. It started Monday at noon and will end on February 11 at the same time. Anyone can vote for one of five license plate designs, including the current design.

The designs are:

  • Traditional Texas — This simple design features blue highlights at the top and bottom and a gold star.
  • Lone Star Texas — This design uses a mountainous landscape under a bright, cloudy sky as its background. In the top left corner is a white star amid a splash of red and blue.
  • Natural Texas — The background is a field filled with wildflowers.
  • New Texas — This red, white and blue design features a skyline composed of landmarks from major Texas cities including Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. A large gold star is faintly visible in the background.
  • My Texas — This is the current license plate that was introduced in 2000. It features silhouettes of a desert landscape with an oil derrick and a man on horseback, as well as a starry night sky with a space shuttle.

All of the designs incorporate the state’s name, an outline of the state, and the state’s nickname, “The Lone Star State”. TxDOT says they took legibility and reflectivity into account when making the designs, in order to promote safety and law enforcement.

The decision to allow a public vote was made because the state was running out of six-character combinations to assign to drivers. The new license plates will have seven characters, regardless of the public’s decision.

“By the end of this year, we will be out of license plate combinations for the three letters and three numbers that we currently put on the general-issue plate,” said Rebecca Davio, director of Vehicle Titles and Registration. “Because we need to change the plate, we thought it was the perfect time to invite Texans to participate in a design selection.”

According to TxDOT, it took 33 years to exhaust the number of six-character combinations, and using current population growth figures, they project it will take 35 years to run out of seven-character combinations.

The Texas Transportation Commission must give final approval of the design. TxDOT says the commission is “enthusiastic” about giving the public an opportunity to vote for the new design.

TxDOT considered allowing the public to submit designs, but ultimately decided that it would use a “substantial amount of state-worker time” and wouldn’t be a “prudent use of taxpayer money”.

At the time of this writing, an unofficial vote count showed the “Lone Star Texas” design in first place with over 22,000 votes. “Natural Texas” was second with over 14,000, followed by “Traditional Texas”, “New Texas”, and the current design “My Texas”.

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MS Explorer cruise ship passengers are safe

Friday, November 23, 2007

All passengers and crew from the stricken Canadian cruise ship MS Explorer are safe. Since broadcasting a call for help at approximately 05:24 UTC, a number of vessels in the area have raced to rescue her 156 passengers and crew. Four vessels led by the cruise ship the Endeavour were the first to arrive and pick up the evacuees from lifeboats and RIBs, later being transferred to the Norwegian ship, MS Nordnorge.

In less than one hour all passengers and crew, said to be cold but in good health, were safely transferred to the Nordnorge, and that vessel is now heading towards King George Island, three or four hours steaming away. Speaking on the BBC’s News 24, the captain of the Nordnorge said that he was heading for the Chilean research station, from where it is expected that all can be flown back to the South American mainland.

Off the South Shetland Islands the ship struck an underwater object (believed to be a submerged iceberg ) the Explorer developed a fist sized crack and began taking on water. Initially said to be listing to starboard at 25° the Argentine Coast Guard reports that the list has since increased to 45° and the vessel is expected to sink soon. Concerns now turn to possible environmental concerns and damage.

The rescue effort was an international affair involving the coast guards of Argentina, USA, Chile and the UK. The UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency received notification from the US Coast Guard between 5.30-6.00 asking for the Explorer’s emergency data plans.

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US call centre business to create 600 jobs in Wales

Monday, February 20, 2012

Conduit, a subsidiary of the US directory assistance organisation kgb, is to create six hundred new jobs in the Welsh capital Cardiff by the end of 2012. Conduit is currently searching for 320 employees and intends to employ a further 280 this year.

In a statement, First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones described the news as “yet another indication that Welsh government policies are having a beneficial effect supporting the economy and creating jobs during these difficult times”, saying he was “delighted that Conduit is yet again expanding its operations in Wales.” Edwina Hart, Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science, said she was “pleased that using the economic levers we have at our disposal, such as creating sector-specific enterprise zones, we continue to attract and retain world class business in Wales.”

The new employees will work at Fusion Point, an office area in Cardiff city centre. Prior to this announcement, Conduit already had in excess of 1900 employees within three Welsh bases in Cardiff Gate, Swansea, and Cardiff city centre. This new contract has been created in association with a residential care service provided by British Gas.

Conduit Europe chief executive officer Denis Creighton said of the company’s decision: “Wales delivers our best performance figures period. And that’s why we’re planning to focus future growth here.”

Wikinews interviews Duncan Campbell, co-founder of wheelchair rugby

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Wikinews interviews Duncan Campbell, co-founder of wheelchair rugby
Author:

12 Dec

Friday, September 7, 2012

London, England — On Wednesday, Wikinews interviewed Duncan Campbell, one of the creators of wheelchair rugby.

((Laura Hale)) You’re Duncan Campbell, and you’re the founder of…

Duncan Campbell: One of the founders of wheelchair rugby.

((Laura Hale)) And you’re from Canada, eh?

Duncan Campbell: Yes, I’m from Canada, eh! (laughter)

((Laura Hale)) Winnipeg?

Duncan Campbell: Winnipeg, Manitoba.

((Laura Hale)) You cheer for — what’s that NHL team?

Duncan Campbell: I cheer for the Jets!

((Laura Hale)) What sort of Canadian are you?

Duncan Campbell: A Winnipeg Jets fan! (laughter)

((Laura Hale)) I don’t know anything about ice hockey. I’m a Chicago Blackhawks fan.

((Hawkeye7)) Twenty five years ago…

Duncan Campbell: Thirty five years ago!

((Laura Hale)) They said twenty five in the stadium…

Duncan Campbell: I know better.

((Hawkeye7)) So it was 1977.

((Laura Hale)) You look very young.

Duncan Campbell: Thank you. We won’t get into how old I am.

((Hawkeye7)) So how did you invent the sport?

Duncan Campbell: I’ve told this story so many times. It was a bit of a fluke in a way, but there were five of us. We were all quadriplegic, that were involved in sport, and at that time we had the Canadian games for the physically disabled. So we were all involved in sports like table tennis or racing or swimming. All individual sports. And the only team sport that was available at that time was basketball, wheelchair basketball. But as quadriplegics, with hand dysfunction, a bit of arm dysfunction, if we played, we rode the bench. We’d never get into the big games or anything like that. So we were actually going to lift weights one night, and the volunteer who helped us couldn’t make it. So we went down to the gym and we started throwing things around, and we tried a few things, and we had a volleyball. We kind of thought: “Oh! This is not bad. This is a lot of fun.” And we came up with the idea in a night. Within one night.

((Hawkeye7)) So all wheelchair rugby players are quadriplegics?

Duncan Campbell: Yes. All wheelchair rugby players have to have a disability of some kind in all four limbs.

((Laura Hale)) When did the classification system for wheelchair rugby kick in?

Duncan Campbell: It kicked in right away because there was already a classification system in place for wheelchair basketball. We knew basketball had a classification system, and we very consciously wanted to make that all people with disabilities who were quadriplegics got to play. So if you make a classification system where the people with the most disability are worth more on the floor, and you create a system where there are only so many points on the floor, then the people with more disability have to play. And what that does is create strategy. It creates a role.

((Hawkeye7)) Was that copied off wheelchair basketball?

Duncan Campbell: To some degree, yes.

((Laura Hale)) I assume you’re barracking for Canada. Have they had any classification issues? That made you

Duncan Campbell: You know, I’m not going to… I can’t get into that in a major way in that there’s always classification issues. And if you ask someone from basketball, there’s classification issues. If you ask someone from swimming… There’s always classification issues. The classifiers have the worst job in the world, because nobody’s ever satisfied with what they do. But they do the best they can. They’re smart. They know what they’re doing. If the system needs to change, the athletes will, in some way, encourage it to change.

((Laura Hale)) Do you think the countries that have better classifiers… as someone with an Australian perspective they’re really good at classification, and don’t get theirs overturned, whereas the Americans by comparison have had a number of classification challenges coming in to these games that they’ve lost. Do you think that having better classifiers makes a team better able to compete at an international level?

Duncan Campbell: What it does is ensures that you practice the right way. Because you know the exact classifications of your players then you’re going to lineups out there that are appropriate and fit the classification. If your classifications are wrong then you may train for six months with a lineup that becomes invalid when that classification. So you want to have good classifiers, and you want to have good classes.

((Laura Hale)) When you started in 1977, I’ve seen pictures of the early wheelchairs. I assume that you were playing in your day chair?

Duncan Campbell: Yes, all the time. And we had no modifications. And day chairs at that time were folding chairs. They were Earjays or Stainless. That’s all the brands there were. The biggest change in the game has been wheelchairs.

((Laura Hale)) When did you retire?

Duncan Campbell: I never retired. Still play. I play locally. I play in the club level all the time.

((Laura Hale)) When did you get your first rugby wheelchair?

Duncan Campbell: Jesus, that’s hard for me to even think about. A long time ago. I would say maybe twenty years ago.

((Laura Hale)) Were you involved in creating a special chair, as Canadians were pushing the boundaries and creating the sport?

Duncan Campbell: To a degree. I think everybody was. Because you wanted the chair that fit you. Because they are all super designed to an individual. Because it allows you to push better, allows you to turn better. Allows you to use your chair in better ways on the court. Like you’ve noticed that the defensive chairs are lower and longer. That’s because the people that are usually in a defensive chair have a higher disability, which means they have less balance. So they sit lower, which means they can use their arms better, and longer so they can put screens out and set ticks for those high point players who are carrying the ball. It’s very much strategic.

((Hawkeye7)) I’d noticed that in wheelchair basketball the low point player actually gets more court time…

Duncan Campbell: …because that allows the high point player to play. And its the same in this game. Although in this game there’s two ways to go. You can go a high-low lineup, which is potentially two high point players and two very low point players, which is what Australia does right now with Ryley Batt and the new kid Chris Bond. They have two high point players, and two 0.5 point players. It makes a very interesting scenario for, say, the US, who use four mid-point players. In that situation, all four players can carry the ball; in the Australian situation, usually only two of them can carry the ball.

((Laura Hale)) Because we know you are going soon, the all-important question: can Canada beat the Australians tonight?

Duncan Campbell: Of course they are. (laughter)

((Laura Hale)) Because Australians love to gamble, what’s your line on Canada?

Duncan Campbell: It’s not a big line! I’m not putting a big line on it! (laughter) I’d say it’s probably 6–5.

((Hawkeye7)) Is your colour commentary for the Canadian broadcast?

Duncan Campbell: That was for the IPC. I did the GB–US game this morning. I do the Sweden–Australia game tomorrow at two. And then I’m doing the US–France game on the last day.

((Laura Hale)) Are you happy with the level of coverage the Canadians are providing your sport?

Duncan Campbell: No.

((Laura Hale)) Thank you for an honest answer.

Duncan Campbell: Paralympic Sports TV is their own entity. They webcast, but they’re not a Canadian entity. Our Canadian television is doing… can I swear?

((Laura Hale)) Yeah! Go ahead!

Duncan Campbell: No! (laughter) They’re only putting on an hour a day. A highlight package, which to me is…

((Hawkeye7)) It’s better than the US.

Duncan Campbell: Yes, I’ve heard it’s better than the US. At the same time, it’s crap. You have here [in Great Britain], they’ve got it on 18 hours a day, and it’s got good viewership. When are we going to learn in North America that viewership is out there for it? How many times do we have to demonstrate it? We had the Paralympics in Vancouver two years ago, the Winter Paralympics, and we had crappy coverage there. There was an actual outburst demand to put the opening ceremonies on TV because they weren’t going to do it. And they had to do it, because everybody complained. So they did it, but they only did it in BC, in our home province, where they were holding it. The closing ceremonies they broadcast nationally because the demand was so high. But they still haven’t changed their attitudes.

((Laura Hale)) I have one last question: what did it mean for you when they had a Canadian flag bearer who was a wheelchair rugby player?

Duncan Campbell: I recruited that guy. It was fantastic. I recruited him. Found him playing hockey. And that guy has put in so much time and effort into the game. He absolutely deserves it. No better player.

((Laura Hale)) Thank you!

((Hawkeye7)) Thank you! Much appreciated.

Judge orders residents and city to come to agreement on partially collapsed building in Buffalo, New York

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Judge orders residents and city to come to agreement on partially collapsed building in Buffalo, New York
Author:

11 Dec

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Buffalo, New York —Judge Justice Christopher Burns of the New York State Supreme Court has ordered a halt to an emergency demolition on a 19th century stable and livery on 428-430 Jersey Street in Buffalo, New York that partially collapsed on Wednesday June 11, initially causing at least 15 homes to be evacuated. At least two homes remain evacuated.

Burns orders that both the city and the group Save The Livery (www.savethelivery.com) have to come to an agreement on what to do with the building, and try to work out ways of saving at least some portions if it including the facade, side walls and a lift tower. Save The Livery is comprised of concerned area residents who have grown to love the building’s historic and unique character. On June 14, they won a temporary restraining order to stop demolition. The court ruled that the city was only allowed to remove material in immediate danger to residents and pedestrians, but stated that the demolition could only be performed with “hand tools.” The court also ordered that any rubble which had fallen into neighboring yards when the building collapsed, to be removed.

“It is in the interest of the city to have a safe environment–but also important to maintain a sense of historical preservation,” stated Burns in his ruling. Burns has given the sides until tomorrow (Friday June 20) to come to an agreement and has ordered both parties to return to court at 9:30 a.m. (eastern time) “sharp.” Activists of Save The Livery urge supporters of the stable to “fill the courtroom” to show “continued and ongoing support.” The hearing is scheduled to take place at 25 Delaware Avenue in the Supreme Court building, 3rd Floor, trial part 19.

Currently the building is owned by Bob Freudenheim who has several building violations against him because of the buildings poor condition. He has received at least five violations in three months and residents who live near the building state that Freudenheim should be “100% responsible” for his actions. Many are afraid that if the building is demolished, Freudenheim’s charges of neglect will be abolished.

On June 17, developer and CEO of Savarino Companies, Sam Savarino was at the site of the stable, discussing the building with residents and preservationists. In 2006, Savarino proposed and planned The Elmwood Village Hotel, a ‘botique’ hotel on the Southeast corner of Elmwood and Forest Avenues. The project was later withdrawn after residents filed a lawsuit against Savarino and the city. Wikinews extensively covered the story, and contacted Savarino for his professional opinion on the building.

“[I would] love to see it preserved. I was there to see if there was anything we could do to help, to see if anything can be salvaged. I just want to see the right thing happen, and so does the city,” stated Savarino to Wikinews who added that he was allowed inside the building for a brief period.

“The side walls are beyond repair. The roof has rotted and it could come down at any time,” added Savarino who also said that the building “below the second floor appears to be stable.” He also states that the back wall of the building, which borders several homes, appears to be intact.

“Eliminating the back wall could be a problem for the neighbors. It is not unreasonable to leave at least 12 feet” of the back wall standing, added Savarino.

Savarino did not say if he was interested in buying the property, but did state, “I am sure there are a couple of people interested” in buying the property. On Thursday, Buffalo News reported that a “businessman” might be interested in purchasing the property, though Wikinews is not able to independently confirm the report. Savarino says that with the property still slated for emergency demolition, a potential buyer could face tax fees of nearly US$300,000.

Freudenheim gave the city permission to demolish the building on Thursday June 12 during an emergency Preservation Board meeting, because he would not be “rehabilitating the building anytime soon.” Freudenheim, along with his wife Nina, were part-owners of the Hotel Lenox at 140 North Street in Buffalo and were advocates to stop the Elmwood Village Hotel. They also financially supported a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the hotel from being built. Though it is not known exactly how long Freudenheim has owned the stable, Wikinews has learned that he was the owner while fighting to stop the hotel from being built. Residents say that he has been the owner for at least 22 years.

The building was first owned by a company called White Bros. and was used as a stable for a farm which once covered the land around the building for several blocks. The Buffalo Fire Department believes the building was built around 1814, while the city property database states it was built in 1870. Servants and workers of the farm were housed inside resident quarters situated at the rear of the building on what is now Summer Street, but are now cottages where area residents currently reside. Some date as far back as 1829.

At about 1950, the stable was converted into an automobile body shop and gasoline station.A property record search showed that in 1950 at least four fuel storage tanks were installed on the property. Two are listed as 550 square feet while the other two are 2,000 square feet. All of the tanks are designated as a TK4, which New York State says is used for “below ground horizontal bulk fuel storage.” The cost of installing a tank of that nature according to the state, at that time, included the tank itself, “excavation and backfill,” but did not include “the piping, ballast, or hold-down slab orring.” It is not known if the tanks are still on the property, but residents are concerned the city was not taking the precautions to find out.

2006 “Stolenwealth” Games to confront Commonwealth Games in Melbourne

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2006 “Stolenwealth” Games to confront Commonwealth Games in Melbourne
Author:

11 Dec

Friday, March 3, 2006

The possibility of large-scale protests in the face of the 3,000 journalists covering the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, has event organisers and the Government worried.

The group “Black GST” – which represents Indigenous Genocide, Sovereignty and Treaty – are planning demonstrations at prominent Games events unless the Government agrees to a range of demands including an end to Aboriginal genocide, Aboriginal Sovereignty and the signing of a treaty.

The Black GST say they hope the focus of the world’s media will draw attention to the plight of indigenous Australians during the Games. Organisers say supporters are converging from across Australia and from overseas. Organisers say up to 20,000 people may take part in talks, rallies, colourful protests and many cultural festivities designed to pressure the Federal Government on Indigeneous rights issues. They want the Government to provide a temporary campsite for the supporters, saying “organised chaos was better than disorganised chaos.”

The 2006 Stolenwealth Games convergence, described by organisers as the “cultural festival of the 2006 Commonwealth Games,” was virtually opened on March 2nd with the launch of the official “Stolenwealth Games” website. Scoop Independent News and Perth Indymedia reported that the launch was held at Federation Square in Melbourne. The site contents were projected via wireless laptop by the Stolenwealth Games General Manager, and a tour of the website was given on the big screen. He said “overwhelming amusement was the response from the audience.” The group say permanent access points to the website are being set up at public internet facilities across Victoria during the coming weeks.

“Interest in the Stolenwealth Games is building all over the world and this fresh, exciting and contemporary site will draw in people from Stolenwealth Nations around the globe to find out about the latest news and events,” said a Stolenwealth Games spokesperson. “We have been getting many requests from around the world wanting to know about the Stolenwealth Games. We have provided many ways that individuals and organisations can support the campaign by spreading the word.”

The Victorian Traditional Owner Land Justice Group (VTOLJG) which represents the first nation groups of Victoria, has announced its support to boycott the 2006 Commonwealth Games until the Government “recognises Traditional Owner rights.” The group asserts that culture has been misappropriated in preparation for the Games.

Organisers of the campaign say they welcome the formal support from the Traditional Owners. “While some seek to divide and discredit Indigenous Australia, this support is further evidence that the Aboriginal people are united in opposition to the ongoing criminal genocide that is being perpetrated against the Aboriginal people” said Black GST supporter and Aboriginal Elder, Robbie Thorpe.

“We now have endorsement from the VTOLJG and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy for the aims and objectives of the Campaign and we are looking forward to hosting all indigenous and non-indigenous supporters from across Australia in March,” he said. The Black GST group have said “the convergence will be held as a peaceful, family-focussed demonstration against genocide, and for the restoration of sovereignty and the negotiations towards a Treaty.”

But the campaign has received flak in mainstream media, such as Melbourne’s Herald Sun, who wrote: “the proposal to allow BlackGST to set up an Aboriginal tent embassy at a site well away from the Commonwealth Games will be interpreted by some as the State Government caving in to a radical protest group. A major concern for the Government… is to protect the event from disruption… no chances should be taken…”

The Black GST has been planning the convergence for months, calling for Aboriginal people and their supporters to converge on Melbourne. The Melbourne-based Indigenous rights group have called on thousands of people concerned about the plight of indigenous Australians to converge on Melbourne during the Games, which they have dubbed “the Stolenwealth Games”. But the choice of Kings Domain has made conflict almost inevitable, as the area is one of the areas gazetted by the State Government as a “Games management zone”.

Under the Commonwealth Games Arrangements Act, any area gazetted as a management zone is subject to a range of specific laws – including bans on protesting, creating a disturbance and other activities. The protest bans will be in effect at different times and places, and offenders can be arrested. A spokeswoman for the Black GST, which advocates peaceful protest, said the site had been chosen because it was close to where the Queen will stay on March 15. “We figured that she is only in Melbourne for 27 hours or something like that so we thought we would make it easy for her to come next door and see us,” she said. “We are a very open, welcoming group, so she will be welcome to come and join us.”

Kings Domain is the burial site for 38 indigenous forefathers of Victoria. Black GST elder, Targan, said trade union groups have offered to install infrastructure at the site. The group initially worked with the State Government to find a suitable camp site, but the relationship broke down when the Government failed to meet a deadline imposed by the protesters. “While we are disappointed the ministers were not able to meet deadline on our request, we thank them for their constructive approach towards negotiations and the open-door policy exercised,” said Targan.

A spokesman for Games Minister Justin Madden said the Government was still investigating other sites. Victoria Police Games security commander Brendan Bannan said he was not convinced the Black GST represented the views of most indigenous people. “We are dealing with the Aboriginal community and they don’t seem to support it at all … the wider Aboriginal community don’t support disruption to the Games at all,” he said.

The Government was told that Black GST supporters would camp in Fitzroy Gardens and other city parks should it fail to nominate a site. A spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gavan Jennings said the Government was taking the issue seriously, but had not been able to finalise a campsite before the deadline.

Under special Games laws, people protesting or causing a disturbance in “Games management zones” can be arrested and fined. While prominent public spaces such as Federation Square, Birrarung Marr, Albert Park and the Alexandra Gardens fall under the legislation, such tough anti-protest laws cannot be enforced in the nearby Fitzroy Gardens.

Games chairman Ron Walker has urged the group to choose another date for its protest march through the city, which is currently planned to coincide with the opening ceremony on March 15. The group believes that an opportunity to gain attention for indigenous issues was lost at the Sydney Olympics and has vowed to make a highly visible presence at the Games.

The Black GST said the Australian Aboriginal Tent Embassy’s sacred flame, burning over many years at the Canberra site will be carried to Melbourne before the Games, and its arrival would mark the opening of the protest camp from where a march will proceed to the MCG before the Opening Ceremony.

Black GST claims supporters from all over Australia, including three busloads from the West Australian Land Council, will gather in Melbourne during the Games for peaceful protests.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gavin Jennings had offered Victoria Park to the protesters. Victoria Park, former home of Collingwood Football Club, where one of the strongest statements of Aboriginal pride, when St Kilda star Nicky Winmar in 1993 raised his jumper and pointed to his bare chest after racial taunts from the Collingwood crowd.

Black GST, which has labelled the Games the Stolenwealth Games, said the State Government had failed to find a suitable venue. Black GST may encourage protesters to camp in prominent parks such as Fitzroy Gardens and Treasury Gardens. Graffiti supporting the action has also appeared in central Melbourne.

Melbourne City councillor Fraser Brindley has offered his home to the Black GST organisers. “I offered my home up to people who are organising visitors to come to the Games,” he said. Cr Brindley will be overseas when the Commonwealth Games are held and has offered the free accommodation at his flat at Parkville. He said he agreed with the protesters’ view that treaties needed to be signed with indigenous Australians. “I’m offering it up to the indigenous people who are coming to remind Her Majesty that her Empire took this land from them,” said Cr Brindlley. Nationals leader Peter Ryan said: “This extremist group has no part in the Australian community.” Melbourne councillor Peter Clarke said the actions were embarrassing and that he would try to discourage him. “It’s not in the spirit of the Games,” he said.

Aboriginal elder, Targan, said the possibility of securing Victoria Park was delightfully ironic. “There’s a lot of irony going on,” Targan, 53, a PhD student at Melbourne University, said. “GST stands for Genocide, Sovereignty and Treaty. We want the genocide of our people to stop; we want some sovereignty over traditional land, certainly how it is used, and we want a treaty with the government,” Targan said.

UN Secretary-General expresses concern about crises in Chad, Kenya, Sudan

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UN Secretary-General expresses concern about crises in Chad, Kenya, Sudan
Author:

11 Dec

Thursday, February 7, 2008

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern about crises in Chad, Kenya, and the Sudan. The U.N. chief is recently back from Africa where he attended the African Union summit in Ethiopia and met with leaders in Kenya.

On rebel efforts to overthrow the government in Chad in recent days, the secretary-general welcomed an African Union initiative to have the leaders of Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo mediate the crisis. He says the United Nations will do its utmost to help resolve the crisis, urging the Security Council to act swiftly to help bring an end to the violence.

“It has devastating consequences not only for the people of Chad and Darfurian refugees seeking shelter there, but also for Darfur itself,” said Ban.

Mr. Ban told reporters the situation in the neighboring Darfur region of Sudan is no less troubling. He says the deployment of the AU-U.N. peacekeeping force, known as UNAMID, must be sped up and urged member states to properly equip the troops.

“UNAMID still lacks required aviation and ground transportation – chiefly helicopters. Additional troops will not make up for this shortfall,” said Ban. “Those countries that called for intervention in Darfur are under special obligation to deliver on their promises.”

While at the AU summit, Mr. Ban says he discussed some of the outstanding issues affecting the deployment with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and he expects the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to be signed this week. But Mr. Ban remained vague on whether some of the agreement’s sticking points – such as night flights, land agreements, and advance notice of U.N. movements – had been settled.

On Kenya, Mr. Ban says he has been deeply engaged in the post-election crisis and told political leaders during his visit there that they bear particular responsibility for the future of Kenya.

“I stressed to all the Kenyan leaders the need to stop the unacceptable violence and killings, and to resolve their differences through dialogue and democratic process. I also appealed to all the political leaders to think beyond their individual interests or party lines and to look to the future of Kenya as one country,” he said.

Mr. Ban also met in Nairobi with his U.N. predecessor, Kofi Annan, who is leading the panel of eminent Africans trying to mediate the crisis, and said they discussed his roadmap for the talks.

Security of U.N. personnel in Africa and elsewhere has been high on the secretary-general’s agenda, especially in the wake of the December bombing in Algeria that killed 17 staff members. Mr. Ban announced that he is naming diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi to chair an independent panel on safety and security of U.N. personnel and premises. Brahimi is an Algerian, but Mr. Ban says he has no concerns about his fairness or objectivity in heading up the panel.

Swiss court rules in favor of American account holder

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Swiss court rules in favor of American account holder
Author:

10 Dec

Saturday, January 23, 2010

An American client of Switzerland-based bank, UBS, has won an appeal in Swiss court on Friday against providing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States with relevant information about his offshore accounts.

The Swiss court ruled that the man’s failure to complete an IRS tax form, no matter how much money it pertained to, was not in itself fraudulent behavior. The case calls into question an agreement made between Switzerland and the United States last year in which Swiss tax authorities would supply the IRS with information on nearly 4,500 suspected tax evaders and their respective accounts.

A further twenty-five similar cases are still pending; the verdicts of which may be influenced by this precedent-setting case.

The Swiss government will meet next Wednesday to discuss how to better implement last year’s Swiss-US banking accord. As it pertains to the case at hand, if they so choose, Swiss tax officials can file a further appeal petitioning the court’s decision.

UBS and the US Department of Justice both have yet to comment on the matter.

According to the US government, UBS is “hiding” over US$15 billion in assets on behalf of American account holders.

New Zealander on oxygen machine dies after power disconnection

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New Zealander on oxygen machine dies after power disconnection
Author:

10 Dec

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Zealander Folole Muliaga died Tuesday morning after Mercury Energy cut off the power in her household due to $168.40 of unpaid bills. Mrs Folole Muliaga was seriously ill and dependent on an oxygen life support machine that required electricity to run.

The 44-year-old died two and a half hours after the power was cut by a contractor, working for State Owned Enterprise, Mercury Energy. A spokesperson for Mercury Energy has said that they are devastated and deeply sympathetic by the news, but state they did not know that the power was needed to run the oxygen machine. They have stated that discretion is exercised in cases of extreme hardship or when medical conditions make it appropriate and that the same contractor had done so the previous day. However, relatives claim that the contractor was told that the power was needed by family members present, was invited into the house and talked to Mrs Folole Muliaga, but showed no discretion or compassion under the circumstances.

The power was cut at about 11am. Brendan Sheehan, spokesperson for the family, said that after the power was cut, Mrs Muliaga suffered from breathing difficulties. During this time Mrs Mulianga declined an offer for an ambulance from family members. At about 1pm she informed her sons that she was feeling dizzy and asked for hymns to be sung. Her condition quickly deteriorated until she couldn’t speak. When she passed out at 1:32pm, an ambulance was called but Mrs Mulianga could not be revived when it arrived 12 minutes later.

That same evening remaining family members claim they had to grieve in the dark, power was only reconnected after the outstanding amount of $168.40 was paid to Mercury Energy. Mercury Energy claim that the were initially only made aware that a funeral was going to take place and attempted to reconnect the supply at midnight once the full circumstances were made clear but were unable to contact the family. They state the supply was eventually reconnected before 8am the next day. Evidence has been provided by family members to show that they had made two payments to Mercury Energy in the same month trying to clear their outstanding bill, $61.90 on 1 May 2007, and $45 on 17 May 2007.

Trevor Mallard, minister of State Owned Enterprises, said, “I do think it is important that the facts are established before people rush to judgement.”

Both the New Zealand Police and Mercury Energy, the retail operating division of Mighty River Power, are conducting investigations into the events.

The mother-of-four school teacher lived in Mangere, South Auckland and had been suffering from a heart and lung condition, according to relatives of Mrs Muliaga, since February.

Hospital doctors have expressed surprise at the short length of time between when the supply was cut and the death occurred. They have also explained that relatives are trained what to do if the supply is lost, including to call for an ambulance if severe symptoms develop.

Manitoba’s flood creating hazardous conditions

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Manitoba’s flood creating hazardous conditions
Author:

9 Dec

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Red River at Winnipeg is almost clear of ice blocks and ice jamming, however there are still dangers from the Red River flood.

Ice blocks which were as high as two storey buildings were ripping out trees, fences and railway ties. “You’ll see huge pans of ice standing vertical, up to 20 feet (6.1 m) high,” said Steve Topping, an official with the provincial Water Stewardship Department. “Ice was shoved up on the shore and took out trees with a very devastating effect. It has changed people’s view of the river.”

“It is incredible, the force. One piece of ice pushed out of the river about 20 feet. You watch the force push this up right in front of your eyes,” said Dean North, of the Selkirk Golf and Country Club.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police are ticketing sight seers who are driving through road closure signs and approaching excavators, cranes and crews breaking up the ice. Vehicles, people, boats, and kayaks are getting in the way.

An eight year old boy is in critical condition after slipping on a culvert Thursday. He was pulled underwater by the speed of the flowing water and remained under for about five to ten minutes until adults could rescue him. The air ambulance supplied by Alberta’s STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society) remains in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“This is not a spectator sport. It’s not about getting the best pictures for the family albums. I know floods are seen as a bit of an event, but some of the instances I’m hearing about, people should give their head a shake, they really should,” said Steve Ashton Manitoba Emergency Measures Minister, “Those who fall into the river or get into trouble in another way would be not only endangering themselves but the emergency response crews trying to rescue them. I don’t want to see a situation … where we’re trying our darndest to prevent flooding and save lives and somebody [who] decides to go have a white-water experience ends up killing themselves.”

Early Easter Sunday morning floodwater reached the rural municipalities of St. Andrews and St. Clements north of Winnipeg. Residents were sent an evacuation advisory Good Friday, however some residents remained. Rescue efforts commenced Saturday night to find those stranded and unable to leave as their vehicles cannot travel in the swollen overland floodwaters. Some people were rescued from roof tops as entire houses were swept off of their foundations by the large ice blocks hurtling down the river.

Highways in the area remain closed. Neil Gobelle, of Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation said to “definitely continue to watch the Red River Valley and north of the city up in the Selkirk area. Things are changing quite a bit, quite quickly, so we’ll keep an eye on those areas.”

As of Easter Sunday, Winnipeg is expected to be ice free on the Red River. The River rose 4 feet (1.2 m) in the course of 24 hours. Rain is in the forecast and the higher temperatures of 17 °C (62.6 °F) will cause melting of snow and ice.

A weather system caused by La Niña is being watched by the United States National Weather Service and its potential effects between April 16-18 for residents along the Red River Valley. “We want people to be aware there is a very real possibility of the river going higher than what is out there,” said Mark Ewens, data manager at the NWS, “To have spring floods like this back-to-back is just an unfortunate series of events that have come along to plague us this spring. We’re wanting people to understand that this is a potentially serious problem.”