In [6]:
import sys


In [1]:
import os
import collections
import random
import gensim
import smart_open

In [3]:
test_data_dir = '{}'.format(os.sep).join([gensim.__path__[0], 'test', 'test_data'])
lee_train_file = test_data_dir + os.sep + 'lee_background.cor'
lee_test_file = test_data_dir + os.sep + 'lee.cor'

In [4]:


In [6]:
lines = open(lee_train_file)

i = 1
for line in lines:
    print i, line
    i = i+1

1 Hundreds of people have been forced to vacate their homes in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales as strong winds today pushed a huge bushfire towards the town of Hill Top. A new blaze near Goulburn, south-west of Sydney, has forced the closure of the Hume Highway. At about 4:00pm AEDT, a marked deterioration in the weather as a storm cell moved east across the Blue Mountains forced authorities to make a decision to evacuate people from homes in outlying streets at Hill Top in the New South Wales southern highlands. An estimated 500 residents have left their homes for nearby Mittagong. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service says the weather conditions which caused the fire to burn in a finger formation have now eased and about 60 fire units in and around Hill Top are optimistic of defending all properties. As more than 100 blazes burn on New Year's Eve in New South Wales, fire crews have been called to new fire at Gunning, south of Goulburn. While few details are available at this stage, fire authorities says it has closed the Hume Highway in both directions. Meanwhile, a new fire in Sydney's west is no longer threatening properties in the Cranebrook area. Rain has fallen in some parts of the Illawarra, Sydney, the Hunter Valley and the north coast. But the Bureau of Meteorology's Claire Richards says the rain has done little to ease any of the hundred fires still burning across the state. "The falls have been quite isolated in those areas and generally the falls have been less than about five millimetres," she said. "In some places really not significant at all, less than a millimetre, so there hasn't been much relief as far as rain is concerned. "In fact, they've probably hampered the efforts of the firefighters more because of the wind gusts that are associated with those thunderstorms." 

2 Indian security forces have shot dead eight suspected militants in a night-long encounter in southern Kashmir. The shootout took place at Dora village some 50 kilometers south of the Kashmiri summer capital Srinagar. The deaths came as Pakistani police arrested more than two dozen militants from extremist groups accused of staging an attack on India's parliament. India has accused Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad of carrying out the attack on December 13 at the behest of Pakistani military intelligence. Military tensions have soared since the raid, with both sides massing troops along their border and trading tit-for-tat diplomatic sanctions. Yesterday, Pakistan announced it had arrested Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. Police in Karachi say it is likely more raids will be launched against the two groups as well as other militant organisations accused of targetting India. Military tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated to a level not seen since their 1971 war. 

3 The national road toll for the Christmas-New Year holiday period stands at 45, eight fewer than for the same time last year. 20 people have died on New South Wales roads, with eight fatalities in both Queensland and Victoria. Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia have each recorded three deaths, while the ACT and Tasmania remain fatality free. 

4 Argentina's political and economic crisis has deepened with the resignation of its interim President who took office just a week ago. Aldolfo Rodregiuez Saa told a stunned nation that he could not rescue Argentina because key fellow Peronists would not support his default on massive foreign debt repayment or his plan for a new currency. It was only a week ago that he was promising a million new jobs to end four years of recession, days after his predecessor resigned following a series of failed rescue packages. After announcing that the senate leader, Ramon Puerta, would assume the presidency until congress appoints a new caretaker president, the government said he too had quit and another senior lawmaker would act in the role. Fresh elections are not scheduled until March leaving whoever assumes the presidency with the daunting task of tackling Argentina's worst crisis in 12 years, but this time, isolated by international lending agencies. 

5 Six midwives have been suspended at Wollongong Hospital, south of Sydney, for inappropriate use of nitrous oxide during work hours, on some occasions while women were in labour. The Illawarra Area Health Service says that following an investigation of unprofessional conduct, a further four midwives have been relocated to other areas within the hospital. The service's chief executive officer, Tony Sherbon, says no one was put at risk, because other staff not involved in the use of nitrous oxide were able to take over caring for women in labour. "Well we're very concerned and the body of midwives to the hospital - there are over 70 midwives that work in our service - are very annoyed and angry at the inappropriate behaviour of these very senior people who should know better," he said. "And that's why we've take the action of suspending them and we'll consider further action next week." 

6 The Federal Government says it should be safe for Afghani asylum seekers in Australia to return home when the environment becomes secure. The Government has suspended their applications while the interim government is established in Kabul. The Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has refused to say for how long the claims process has been put on hold. But he says the major threat to most people seeking asylum is no longer there. "Many Afghans who have tried to get into Australia or for that matter into Britain and other countries in north-west Europe have claimed that they are fleeing the Taliban," he said. "Well, the Taliban is no longer in power in Afghanistan, the Taliban is finished." Meanwhile, there has been a mass airlift of detainees from Christmas Island to the Pacific Island of Nauru. In total, more than 300 people have been flown from the island in two operations using chartered aircraft. The second airlift today delivered 180 asylum seekers to Nauru where they will await processing of their claims for temporary visas. The Department of Immigration says there are now 211 detainees remaining on Christmas Island. A spokesman says a decision regarding their future is yet to be made. 

7 The United States team of Monica Seles and Jan-Michael Gambill scored a decisive victory over unseeded France in their first Hopman Cup match at Burswood Dome in Perth. The pair, runners-up in the $1 million dollar mixed teams event last year, both won their singles encounters to give the US an unbeatable 2-0 lead. The 28-year-old Seles, currently ranked eighth, recovered from a shaky start to overpower Virginie Razzano, 18, who is ranked 72nd. Seles had to fight hard to get home in straight sets, winning 6-3, 6-4 in 62 minutes. Then the 24-year-old Gambill (ranked 21st) wore down a determined Arnaud Clement, 24, (18th) to win 6-4, 6-4 in 91 minutes. The Americans are aiming to go one better than last year when they were beaten by Swiss pair Martina Hingis and Roger Federer in the final of the eight-nation contest. Gambill said the win was a great way to start the tennis year. "I got a little tentative at the end, but it was a great start to my year," he said. "Arnaud is a great scrapper and I am delighted to beat him, even though I am frankly a bit out of shape. "That is one of the reasons I am here. I will be in shape by the end of the tournament. "I just aim to keep improving in the new year, and if I do, I think I have a chance to beat anyone when I am playing well." Gambill was pressed hard by Clement before taking the first set in 47 minutes. But the American gained the ascendancy in the second set, breaking in the third and fifth games. Seles said she had expected her clash with Razzano to be tough. "She was a top junior player in the world, so it was no surprise that she fought so well," she said. Seles said she still had the hunger to strive to regain her position at the top of her sport. "This is why you play," she said. "But I want to try not to peak too early this season. "Seles, slow into her stride, slipped to 2-3 in her opening set against Razzano but recovered quickly, claiming the set after snatching four games in a row. In the second set, Seles broke her opponent in the opening game and completed victory with relative ease despite Razzano's tenacious efforts. 

8 Hundreds of canoeists are enjoying hard-earned New Years Eve celebrations following five days paddling in the Murray River Marathon. After more than 400 exhausting kilometres battling hot and dusty conditions, a Melbourne team took out the strongly contested K-one Cup this afternoon. Two hundred and thirty canoes left Yarrawonga last Thursday, with just over 200 paddling across the finishing line at Swan Hill. The others fell victim to the gruelling conditions. The event raised about $170,000 for the Red Cross. 

9 There has been welcome relief for firefighters in New South Wales overnight with milder weather allowing them to strengthen containment lines around the most severe fires. But fire authorities are not getting overly optimistic as dry and hot weather is forecast to continue. The weather bureau is forecasting temperatures in the high 30s and westerly winds until at least Friday, which means fire authorities are reluctant to get too excited about last night's favourable conditions. Marks Sullivan from the Rural Fire Service says fire fighters are remaining on guard. "A lot of fires that have been burning in the areas around Sydney and the north coast and further south have been burning within areas that are known and are contained," he said. "However, that's not to say that these fires won't pose a threat given the weather conditions that are coming up over the next few days." Despite the caution, the Rural Fire Service says most of the state's fires that threaten property are burning within containment lines. Greater Sydney is ringed by fires to the north, west and south. Two of those flared overnight. One at Appin in the southern highlands was quickly brought under control. Another flare-up at Spencer, north of the city, is not contained on its north-western flank, but is not threatening property. In the lower Blue Mountains west of Sydney, firefighters have spent the night setting up a 20 kilometre containment line to protect communities along the Great Western Highway from Glenbrook to Bulaburra. Two fires burning near Cessnock, west of Newcastle, are still within containment lines. In the state's north, aircraft will this morning check if lightning from a large electrical storm overnight has sparked any new fires above Grafton. Aircraft have also been used in the Shoalhaven area in the state's south to drop incendiary devices that start fire control lines in inaccessible areas. The Rural Fire Service Commissioner Phil Koperberg says if fire activity increases hundreds of New Year's Eve fireworks celebrations in New South Wales will be cancelled. 

10 Some roads are closed because of dangerous conditions caused by bushfire smoke. Motorists are being asked to avoid the Hume Highway between Picton Road and the Illawarra Highway, where police have reduced the speed limit from 110 kilometres an hour to 80. In southern Sydney, Picton Road is closed between Wilton and Bulli, Appin Road is closed from Appin to Bulli Tops, and all access roads to Royal National Park are closed. Motorists are also asked to avoid the Illawarra Highway between the Hume Highway and Robertson, and the Great Western Highway between Penrith and Springwood because of reduced visibility. In north-western Sydney only local residents are allowed to use Wisemans Ferry Road and Upper Color Road under police escort. 

11 Work is continuing this morning to restore power supplies to tens of thousands of homes that were blacked out during wild storms that struck south-east Queensland last night. Gale force winds uprooted trees and brought down power lines, damaging homes and cars. Energex and Ergon energy have had every available person working through the night to restore power at 150 locations in and around Brisbane, west to Toowoomba and north to the Sunshine Coast. At Boonah south-west of Brisbane, protective tarpaulins were ripped from homes still undergoing repairs, following severe storms just before Christmas. At Nambour, four people were rescued after high voltage power lines fell across their car trapping them inside. And at Landsborough fierce winds sent a large tree crashing into a house, but no one was injured. 

12 Peru has entered two days of official mourning for the more than 220 people killed in a fire that's destroyed part of downtown Lima. Police say the fire began when a fireworks cache exploded in a shop just four blocks from Peru's Congress in a heritage-listed area famed for its Spanish colonial-era architecture. Early evening crowds buying traditional fireworks for New Year's Eve celebrations were trapped by the flames as they raced through surrounding markets and four-storey apartment buildings. Local residents blame vendors of illegal fireworks and say the death toll was exacerbated by poor traffic control in the adjoining, narrow street where cars - themselves engulfed by fire -  trapped fleeing victims. Hospitals have urged the public to donate medicine for the hundreds of burns victims. Peru's President Alejandro Toledo has cut short his beach holiday to oversee an inquiry. 

13 President General Pervez Musharraf says Pakistan wants to defuse the brewing crisis with India, but was prepared to respond vigorously to any attack. "Pakistan stands for peace, Pakistan wants peace, Pakistan wants to reduce tension," he said. "Let the two countries move towards peace and harmony. "However, Pakistan has taken all counter measures, if any war is thrust on Pakistan, the Pakistan armed forces and the 140 million people of Pakistan are fully prepared to face all consequences with all their might." The President said he had received the "support of all political parties". President Musharraf also said he welcomed the intervention of the international community in trying to defuse the potentially explosive crisis. "We would like anybody to play a useful and positive role in defusing the tension." The United States, the European Union and the Group of eight industrialised nations among others, have all called on India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and resolve the stand-off through dialogue. President Musharraf repeated his offer of holding talks with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. "I am for dialogue and I keep on saying this and India keeps on rejecting which gives me a feeling that I am begging to India. If they accept it we do not reject it at all," he said. On Friday he said he was willing to meet Prime Minister Vajpayee on the sidelines of the January 4-6 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Nepal. India ruled out any face-to-face talks. Military tensions erupted between India and Pakistan after the bloody December 13 raid on the Indian parliament. India accuses Pakistan's military intelligence of masterminding the assault, but Pakistan denies the allegation. With both countries massing troops along the border, Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar warned Saturday that the dispute was growing "dangerously  tense" and any small act of provocation could snowball into conflict. President Musharraf said one of the goals of Sunday's meeting was "to take stock of the internal situation, the domestic environment". "I want to eradicate militancy, extremism, intolerance from Pakistani society and I also said I would like to eradicate any form of terrorism from the soil of Pakistan." However he warned the "tension that has mounted on our eastern border in fact is creating obstacles and hurdles". 

14 Talks between Afghan and British officials in Kabul have ended without final agreement on the deployment of a international security force. The lack of a suitable translation of the document meant a further delay. Authorities in Kabul have been giving conflicting signals for weeks now over the number of peacekeepers they would allow and the role the international force would play. The Foreign Minister, Dr Abdullah, appeared to be ending the confusion, saying an agreement was about to be signed. "There is already the agreement, so it was finalised," he said. But a spokesman for the Interior Minister, Yunis Kanooni, emerged soon after to say there was no agreement and nothing to sign. Scores of British peacekeepers are already patrolling the streets of Kabul in tandem with Afghan police. But proposals to enlarge the force to as many as 5,000 international peacekeepers have been criticised by some commanders as tantamount to foreign occupation. 

15 The Israeli army has killed three Palestinian militants who attacked one of its armoured vehicles in the northern Gaza Strip. The three Palestinians opened fire with rifles at the vehicle between the Jewish settlements of Alei Sinai and Nitzanit, on the northern edge of the Gaza Strip. They were killed by shell fire from a tank, the sources said. During the fire fight an Israeli army observation post called in tank fire which killed the three gunmen. The killing brings the death toll of 15 months of the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation to 1,121 people, including 865 Palestinians and 234 Israelis. Alei Sinai was attacked on October 2 when two gunmen from the radical Islamic group Hamas infiltrated the settlement and opened fire on the residents, killing two teenage Israelis. Two Palestinian gunmen also killed an Israeli settler in Alei Sinai on December 2 before being killed by the army. 

16 Only a protest will can now stop Bumblebee 5 from wining the overall handicap honours in the 57th Sydney to Hobart yacht race. The Ian Murray-skippered boat appears to have clinched the coveted title after its nearest rival, Zeus Two failed to finish in the early hours of this morning. Zeus Two is still eight hours away from the finish line. The nine metre yacht is among 16 boats still to finish. All four Tasmanian boats have finished. Meanwhile, a South Australian yacht in the Sydney to Hobart has been towed to St Helens on Tasmania's east coast after losing its rudder. Liberator, skippered by Geoff Catt, got into trouble yesterday 46 miles from Eddystone Point when it apparently struck an object. The were no reported injuries onboard. 

17 South Africa is considering playing left arm spinner Nicky Boje in this week's third Test against Australia in Sydney. Boje was forced to withdraw from the South African squad before the start of the tour due to injury. South African captain Shaun Pollock says he hopes Boje arrives in time to prepare for the Test. "Nicky Boje might be out in time," he said. "As soon as he was fit and ready he was going to come over but we'll be picking the best possible eleven for the Sydney Test." 

18 Spain has begun its Hopman Cup campaign in Perth with a 3-0 victory over Argentina. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Tommy Robredoboth won their singles matches, and then teamed to win the mixed doubles. Sanchez-Vicario says she is hoping to win her second Hopman Cup title after winning the tournament with her brother Emilio in 1990. "It would be very nice to start the year off and as I say it's always tough but it's a very good start for me and I'm looking forward with Tommy to see if we can be the champions again," she said. Today, the United States will play France. Meanwhile, world number one Lleyton Hewitt says he will not be putting pressure on himself to win next month's Australian Tennis Open in Melbourne. Hewitt yesterday teamed with fellow Australian Alicia Molik to beat Switzerland 3-0 in their opening tie at the Hopman Cup in Perth. Hewitt says his first objective will be to reach the second week of the grand slam event. "I think if I play my best tennis and give a 100 per cent no matter who I play I think I'm in with a good chance of getting through to the second week and if that happens then most times in a grand slam it's sort of anyone's tournament from there," he said. 

19 New Zealand has rewarded Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson in its New Years Honours list. Jackson, who has spent seven years on filming the Tolkien classic in his home country has been made a companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. The first of three films employed a cast of over 2,000 and had a budget of $534 million - far and away New Zealand's biggest production ever. There is no chance Jackson himself will become a Lord though - New Zealand's Labour Government last year dropped knighthoods in favour of local honours. 

20 The next few hours are crucial for firefighters on alert in the Blue Mountains. Firefighters are working on a 25 kilometre fire front in the area, which it is feared will devour homes if the wind picks up this afternoon. The weather bureau had initially predicted 80 kilometre an hour southerly wind gusts, but has revised its forecast to 30 kilometres an hour. The wind change is expected to reach the Blue Mountains in the next hour. Mark Williams, the incident controller for the Blue Mountains region, says fire crews will stop back-burning as soon as the wind change nears the area. "Soon as we get word the southerly change for instance, is getting close to the Blue Mountains area, we initially stop our back-burning," Mr Williams said. "Tie it into a local creek or something as close as possible so that it's contained within that area, so we don't have further outbreaks." 

21 Argentine President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa has asked the country's banks to help re-establish peace by facilitating the payment of pensions and salaries to workers and retirees. He says he issued the appeal at a meeting with leaders of the banking community. "I'm very concerned about what has happened in Argentina," Mr Rodriguez Saa said. He says he has asked banks to remain open from 8:00am to 8:00pm Monday, to be able to cash checks of up to 1,000 pesos or $US1,000 per person. 

22 The nation's road toll has risen to 37, after another death on New South Wales roads. A 38-year-old man, who was injured in a crash on the mid-north coast last week, has died in hospital. A 16-year-old boy, who was a passenger in the car when it hit a telephone pole, remains in critical condition. New South Wales has recorded 18 holiday deaths. Seven people have died on Queensland roads, five in Victoria, three in the Northern Territory, two each in Western Australia and South Australia. The ACT and Tasmania remain fatality free. 

23 The Federal Government says new national fuel quality standards for petrol and diesel will greatly reduce toxic emissions from cars and trucks. The Federal Minister for the Environment, David Kemp, says state and territory inspectors will conduct random fuel sampling at refineries, distributor terminals, and petrol stations across the country. He says the new laws, introduced today, will cut the pollution from vehicles and it is hoped this will lead to a reduction in respiratory illness in the community. Lead in petrol will be prohibited under the new laws. The 2.5 million cars built prior to 1986, which use leaded petrol, will be required to use lead replacement petrol. Mr Kemp says it is expected emissions of major pollutants such as benzene and carbon monoxide will be reduced by at least 40 per cent by 2010. By 2020, emissions of those pollutants will be reduced by 70 per cent. 

24 Americans' fears about airplane security continue to increase, after a man made it through two separate flights with a loaded gun in his carry-on luggage. The man was finally stopped before boarding a third plane in Memphis. The man had travelled from Florida to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to Memphis. He was attempting to board his return flight last night when he was stopped by security personnel for a random check. They discovered a loaded 9mm Beretta semi-automatic pistol in his hand luggage. The man acknowledged the gun was his, and was released on $5,000 bail. There is no suggestion he was planning any sort of terrorist attack, but his ability to complete two flights while carrying the weapon has again highlighted airline security problems. The incident follows last week's drama when a man was able to board a plane from Paris to Miami with explosives in his shoes. 

25 A team of police is currently escorting two Swiss tourists back to the safety of a central Australian community after their vehicle sank in sand in the Finke River overnight. A police spokesman says police were called to the area 100 kilometres west of Alice Springs, after an emergency beacon was activated and received by Australian Search and Rescue. The tourists had tried to cross the river when their vehicle became submerged in soft sand. The spokesman says a ground unit also attended, but police officers had to walk the final 12 kilometres to reach the stranded Swiss nationals who were stuck in the vehicle. The tourists and the rescue team are expected to walk for about four hours this morning before driving to the Hermansburg community. 

26 The handicap winner of the Melbourne to Hobart yacht race is close to being decided. "San Miguel", skippered by Gary Clapham, crossed the line at 9:30am AEDT and is favourite to take the race on handicap. Almost half the fleet has crossed the finish line. After leading since the race began three days ago Kontrol crossed the line at 2:15am. Another Victorian boat, Tevake, claimed second place just one minute clear of Wild Card, the only Tasmanian entry in the fleet. The fast-finishing Tevake crossed the line at 6:15am to be runner-up for the second year in a row. Kontrol skipper Peter Blake says modifications to his boat have been more than successful. Firefighters in New South Wales have spent another night back-burning in preparation for the weekend's heatwave conditions. No more homes were lost overnight, despite more than 50 fires still raging around the state. Firefighters are fearing the worst with hot and windy conditions forecast over the next two days. Spencer north of Sydney, and the lower Blue Mountains continue to be of the greatest concern. Homes between Bulabarra and Lapstone are set to be in the line of fire if the forecast wind changes materialise in those areas. Extensive back-burning was conducted overnight, with firefighters concentrating on areas south of Sydney at Sutherland, Illawarra and Shoalhaven. At Spencer, firefighters are desperately trying to stop the flames from spreading across the Hawkesbury River. However, there is some relief in sight for exhausted firefighters, with the arrival this morning of 130 officers from Queensland. Those firefighters are heading to the Hunter region to help battle a blaze at Cessnock. 

27 Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf says he is ready to meet Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, as fears grow of a war between the two countries. Tensions have escalated since a suicide attack on the Indian Parliament two weeks ago. India alleges the attack was backed by the Pakistani intelligence service. General Musharraf says Pakistan will never initiate a conflict between the two countries. He says he is prepared to hold talks with the Indian Prime Minister at a regional summit in Nepal next week. "I don't mind meeting him but as I've said once before, you can't clap with one hand," General Musharraf said. "If there is a willingness from the other side there will be a willingness from my side." 

28 Swedish Round the World ocean racer Assa Abloy has taken line honours in the 57th Sydney to Hobart. Assa Abloy, accompanied by a large spectator fleet, sailed up the Derwent River in light winds this morning. It crossed the finishing line just under two days and 21 hours after starting the journey in Sydney. A large crowd lined the Hobart docks to welcome the yacht. Swedish maxi Nicorette is in second place, two nautical miles behind Assa Abloy. Five other Volvo 60s are nearby. The crew of the Assa Abloy will not be able to spend too much time celebrating - the Round the World yachts have only a few hours rest before racing on to Auckland. 

29 A United States federal magistrate has refused to free on bail a British man accused of trying to detonate his explosives-laden shoes on a transatlantic flight. At a hearing in United States Federal Court, Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Margaret Cronin said Richard Reid was in possession of a "functioning, improvised device," which "if placed beside an outer wall could have or would have created a large hole in the fuselage of the plane". The device contained an explosive called TATP. US Magistrate Judith Dein refused to grant bail for Reid, 28, but left open the possibility of his release later. Reid is charged with intimidation and interfering with a flight crew - offenses that carry 20-year jail terms. No additional charges were filed. He allegedly tried to set fire to his sneakers Saturday on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami that was diverted to Boston. Investigators say the explosives in his shoes were powerful enough to have created a major disaster. 

30 The Palestinian leadership is calling for US peace envoy Anthony Zinni to return to the region to work for a cease-fire and a return to peace talks. Mr Zinni, a retired Marine Corps general, was sent to the region in late November by US Secretary of State Colin Powell. However, he was recalled earlier this month after failing to bring a halt to the bloodshed. A statement issued after a meeting chaired by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called for a "quick return of Zinni and his team to proceed to the application of the Mitchell Plan and the Tenet Memorandum." The internationally-backed Mitchell Plan calls for an end to Israeli-Palestinian violence and the implementation of confidence-building measures, before a return to peace talks. The Tenet Memorandum, a blueprint for implementing a cease-fire, was agreed several months ago but failed to take hold on the ground. The Palestinian leadership underscored the "importance of the role played by the American administration in the peace process, with the support of Russia and the European Union." The US State Department has said Mr Zinni will only return when he and Mr Powell believe his presence could be effective in bringing about a cease-fire. 

31 The Northern Territory Aids Council says it is not surprised the Territory's rate of HIV infection through male to female sex is twice the national rate. A report in the Centre for Disease Control Bulletin says 21 percent of HIV infections in the Territory were from male to female sex, compared to 10 per cent nationally. The council's Frank Farmer says it is another reason for people to practice safe sex. "We do need to be reminded, I think people become a bit complacent and they feel that it can't happen to them," Mr Farmer said. "What these statistics show is that there is a shift in the means of transmission... previous figures were about 80 per cent, but male to male contact has turned around here so that it is a bit of a wake up call for people." 

32 There is a one in 20 chance of a dramatic rise in world sea levels over the next century due to global warming, according to a new risk assessment. The survey by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and Norwegian environmental safety organisation Det Norske Veritas, says there is a 5 per cent chance of the giant West Antarctic Ice Sheet disintegrating due to climate change. Scientist David Vaughan says if that happens, sea levels would rise by one metre in the next 100 years. "You have to balance the likelihood against the severity of the impacts, and in this case even a 5 per cent chance of this happening is really damn serious," he said. Scientists have already predicted a rise in sea levels of 50 centimetres over the next century, due to a combination of climate change and increased extraction of ground water. Mr Vaughan says that estimate did not factor in melting Antarctic ice. "So we might be looking at something like 1.5 metres in the next century," Mr Vaughan said. Mr Vaughan says the possible break-up of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which accounts for 13 per cent of ice on the frozen continent, is not related to the impact of human industrial activity on the climate. He says it is part of a far older process. However, he says major world polluters cannot walk away from the problem. "The potential impacts of a major change in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are severe - sea level rise will be fantastically expensive for developed nations with coastal cities and dire for poor populations in low-lying coastal areas," Mr Vaughan said. 

33 An earthquake measuring 4.1 on the Richter scale has shaken parts of Western Australia's wheatbelt overnight. Geo-science Australia says the epicentre was in Burakin, 240 kilometres north-east of Perth. A spokesman says the earthquake, which occurred at about 12:30am, follows a larger quake in September which measured over five on the Richter scale. Shane Bradford of Ballidu just west of Burakin, says the quake shook his house and woke him from his sleep. 

34 New South Wales firefighters are hoping lighter winds will help ease their workload today but are predicting "nasty" conditions over the weekend. While the winds are expected to ease somewhat today, the weather bureau says temperatures will be higher. More than 100 fires are still burning across New South Wales. The Rural Fire Service says the change may allow it to concentrate more on preventative action, but there is no room for complacency. Mark Sullivan, from the Rural Fire Service, says while conditions may be a little kinder to them today, the outlook for the weekend has them worried. "It certainly appears from the weather forecast, with very high temperatures and high winds that it certainly could be a nasty couple of days ahead," Mr Sullivan said. One of the areas causing greatest concern today is the 30-kilometre long blaze in the lower Blue Mountains. Firefighters are also keeping a close eye on a blaze at Spencer north of Sydney, which yesterday broke through containment lines. There are concerns that fire may jump the Hawkesbury River. Backburning continues in the state's central west and south of Sydney in the Shoalhaven. In the Illawarra, firefighters have been able to carry out back-burning operations in three areas. Operations were carried out in parts of Mt Kembla, as well as an area bounded by Appin Road and the Old Princes Highway at Helensburgh. An area west of Windy Gully near Cataract Dam was also targeted. Meanwhile, Illawarra police have arrested three teenagers in relation to bushfires at Shellharbour, on the south coast of New South Wales. A spokesman says three small fires were extinguished around 7:30pm AEDT yesterday. A short time later police arrested three 15-year-old boys from Shellharbour, Barrack Heights and Shell Cove. All three have been interviewed but no charges have been laid. 

35 Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has announced retaliatory sanctions against India, saying it would also downgrade embassy representation and ban Indian planes from its airspace. "Pakistan regrets the Indian decision to downgrade embassy representation by 50 per cent and confine staff to the municipal limits of New Delhi and ban access to airspace," ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said. "Such efforts will only increase tension and we are forced to take retaliatory actions. "We will downgrade their embassy staff here, confine them to Islamabad limits, and will also ban their access to Pakistan's airspace." As tension mounted between the two rivals after the December 13 attack on the Parliament complex in new Delhi, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh earlier announced a set of new sanctions. Pakistani aircraft would not be allowed to fly over Indian airspace from January 1, and the Indian embassy in Islamabad and the Pakistan mission in New Delhi will have to reduce their staff by 50 per cent, he said. Pakistani embassy staff would be confined to movement within New Delhi, he added. Mr Singh said the measures were being taken as a result of Pakistan's attempts to "dupe" the international community with "cosmetic measures and non measures" against militant groups operating in its territory. India has accused Pakistani military intelligence of sponsoring the Parliament attack and has threatened retaliation, including possible military action. 

36 A spokesman for Afghanistan's Defence Ministry claims Osama bin Laden has fled to Pakistan. Defence Ministry spokesman Mohamad Habeel says the Saudi-born dissident is in hiding under the protection of supporters of a radical Islamic leader who helped to create the fundamentalist Taliban. "Osama himself is under the protection of Maulana Fazalur Rehman in Pakistan, but we don't know for sure in which part of it," Mohamad Habeel said. "He lives in areas which are under the influence and control of Fazalur Rehman supporters, I cannot say from which sources we have received this information. "Bin Laden and his men are no longer here [in Afghanistan]." Mr Rehman, who is under house arrest, is head of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Party, a long time supporter of bin Laden, the leader of the Al Qaeda network which is blamed for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Mohamad Habeel said bin Laden's support in Afghanistan had collapsed completely. "His supporters have no presence any more," he said. "There may be individuals here who have hidden, but altogether we can say that his resistance is over. "His last remaining forces have fled to areas along the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan." 

37 New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani today bade farewell to the city he has led for the past eight years, calling for a "soaring, beautiful" memorial to be built on the site of the World Trade Centre. Mr Giuliani, speaking just four days ahead of his final day in office, further defended his tough stance on crime and homelessness. Time magazine's 2001 Person of the Year also praised New York's diversity as the source of strength pulling the city through the difficult aftermath of September 11's deadly attacks. "This place has to be sanctified," Mr Giuliani said. "This place has to become a place which, when anybody comes here, they are going to feel the great power and emotion of what it means to be an American." During his reign, many in the city's black and Hispanic communities decried Mr Giuliani's 'knee-jerk' support for New York's Police Department during police brutality scandals. However, the Mayor insists his policing strategy has been highly effective. "The reality is that the model that was adopted for dealing with crime in New York City is the very, very best way to ensure you can make your city safe," Mr Giuliani said. "I felt that my job as the mayor was to turn around the city, because I believed - rightly or wrongly - that we had one last chance to do that." Mr Giuliani, a Republican, has served two terms as New York City's Mayor since 1993. Term limits prevent him from seeking a third term in office, and he will be succeeded by billionaire media mogul Michael Bloomberg. 

38 Australia's quicks and opening batsmen have put the side in a dominant position going into day three of the Boxing Day Test match against South Africa at the MCG. Australia is no wicket for 126, only 151 runs shy of South Africa after Andy Bichel earlier starred as the tourists fell for 277. When play was abandoned due to rain a few overs short of scheduled stumps yesterday, Justin Langer was not out 67 and Matthew Hayden 55. The openers went on the attack from the start, with Langer's innings including six fours and Hayden's eight. Earlier, Shaun Pollock and Nantie Haywood launched a vital rearguard action to help South Africa to a respectable first innings total. The pair put on 44 runs for the final wicket to help the tourists to 277. The South Africans had slumped to 9 for 233 through a combination of Australia's good bowling, good fielding and good luck. After resuming at 3 for 89 yesterday morning, the tourists looked to be cruising as Jacques Kallis and Neil McKenzie added 72 without loss. But then Bichel suddenly had them reeling after snatching two wickets in two balls. First he had Jacques Kallis caught behind for 38, although Kallis could consider himself very unlucky as replays showed his bat was a long way from the ball. On the next ball, Bichel snatched a sharp return catch to dismiss Lance Klusener first ball and have a shot at a hat-trick. Bichel missed out on the hat-trick and Mark Boucher and Neil McKenzie again steadied the South African innings, adding 67 before the introduction of part-timer Mark Waugh to the attack paid off for Australia. Waugh removed Boucher for 43, caught by Bichel. Brett Lee then chipped in, trapping McKenzie leg before for 67 with a perfect inswinger. Bichel continued his good day in the field, running out Claude Henderson for 5 with a direct-hit from the in-field. Lee roared in to Allan Donald, bouncing him and then catching the edge with a rising delivery, which Ricky Ponting happily swallowed at third slip to remove the returning paceman for a duck. Bichel did not get his hat-trick but ended with the best figures of the Australian bowlers, after also picking up the final wicket of Nantie Haywood for 14. Lee took 3 for 77 and Glenn McGrath 2 for 66. 

39 A rafter who raised the alarm after most of his party was swept into the Franklin River, in Tasmania's south-west, says for nearly 24 hours he did not know whether his four friends had survived. Richard Romaszko was rafting down the Collingwood River when the party was hit by a huge water swell just before the junction with the Franklin. Mr Romaszko pulled himself to safety and, after camping overnight, he alerted a tour group. He was able to use the group's satellite phone to raise the alarm. A second member of the party was found nearby yesterday afternoon, while the other three were winched out by helicopter about 8:00pm AEDT. Mr Romanszko says he went into survival mode. "When we hit the bottom of the rapid there was a big wave that overturned the rafts," he said. "Before we knew it, we were in the Franklin River. "At least my raft was upside down and the guy who was with me, his raft was upside down." 

40 A total of 14 yachts have now retired from the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, after three more yachts pulled out of the classic overnight, one of them with an injured skipper. Terra Firma arrived at Eden, on the New South Wales south coast, early today. Skipper Peter Bartels is in hospital with neck injuries, but his condition is not serious. Also returning to Eden is Grundig, which has hull damage. Krakatoa is back at Ulludullah, due to a sea sick crew member. The Round the World racers still lead the fleet off Lady Barron on the southern end of Flinders Island, sailing in light winds. Illbruck holds a two nautical mile lead over Team Tyco, while Team News Corp is a further two nautical miles astern, with Assa Abloy close by. Team Tyco will not have its result recorded, after failing to meet a mandatory radio check when off Green Cape. 

41 Firefighters across New South Wales are gearing up for a wind change that may bring further property losses today. More than 100 fires now ring two-thirds of the greater Sydney area. The blazes stretch south of the Royal National Park and north of Wollongong all the way to the Blue Mountains and up towards the edge of the Baulkham Hills shire. Fires are also burning around Huskisson on the far south coast, and as far inland as Mudgee, Narromine and Kempsey, and the Richmond Valley in the north. However, the major areas of concern today are the southern Sydney suburbs of Heathcote and Engadine. Thousands of residents in those suburbs were evacuated overnight. Senior forecaster with the Sydney Weather Bureau Ian Robertson, says the greatest risk will come when winds change direction this afternoon. "We're looking at another dry day ahead throughout the state, particularly along the coast... more average sort of temperatures but the trick will be the winds," Mr Robertson said. "We're looking at south-west winds this morning, an east to south-east sea breeze along the coast, which is going to make things quite challenging for firefighting." Between 4,000 and 5,000 firefighters are currently battling the blazes. Crews have already been brought in from Victoria, but the Rural Fire Service says it expects to call on other states for help. Service spokesman John Winter says property losses have been high. "We are estimating that around 150 homes have been lost, obviously there are areas we're yet to confirm property losses," Mr Winter said. 

42 The man accused to trying to blow up an American Airlines flight on Sunday could not have acted alone, according to a British Islamic leader who knew Richard Reid well. Abdul Hak Baker is the head of the Brixton mosque in south London, where 28-year-old Mr Reid had worshipped. Mr Baker says Mr Reid is a petty criminal who had converted to Islam while in jail. He says Mr Reid had become more and more militant in his outlook, after becoming involved with a group of Muslim extremists. The mosque leader says Mr Reid was easily led and he is not surprised at what happened. "I wouldn't say we were totally surprised, because we said if we remember how he left us this is what he was believing in," Mr Baker said. "This was the type of jihad that he was beginning to believe in. "September the eleventh would have had a profound effect on him." Meanwhile, US television is reporting Osama bin Laden loyalists held prisoner in Afghanistan have told US troops Mr Reid trained in their camps. 

43 Virgin Blue has begun offering $5 flights from Melbourne to five major cities, in an aggressive attempt to stave off potential competition from a revamped Ansett. The 10,000 midweek seats are only available on the Internet until Monday, for travel between January 9 and March 27. The one-way fares are for flights to Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Launceston and Canberra. Vigin Blue spokesman David Huttner says the fares are to thank customers for their support, particularly in Victoria, which has become Virgin's second largest operational base. However, he says it is also very much about ensuring the airline's position in the market. "Suggestions recently in the press by Mr Fox that Ansett's main goal is simply to put Virgin Blue out of business, well, you know, we wish them the best of luck in that endeavour," he said. "Everybody else has failed so far but if that's the only goal in business, they claim to be in the spirit of competition then well, good on them." 

44 After a bad start to the holiday period on Australia's roads, there have been no fatalities reported for two days. The last fatality was on Christmas Day when a 45-year-old man died after falling off his motor bike in the New South Wales Hunter Valley. That state has recorded 10 of the 26 deaths in Australia since the holiday period began. In Victoria, where five people have died, a teenage boy suffered life threatening injuries when he was run down by a car at Baccus Marsh, west of Melbourne, early this morning. Five people have died in Queensland, three in the Northern Territory, two in Western Australia and one in South Australia. There have been no deaths recorded in Tasmania or the ACT. 

45 A Palestinian man has been shot dead as Israeli forces charged into Palestinian-controlled land in the northern West  Bank in hot pursuit of gunmen who opened fire on them earlier, Palestinian officials said. Walid Saadi, 53, was killed by heavy machine-gun fire as tanks and helicopters fought a pitched battle with the Palestinian gunmen, holed up in a house on the edge of the town of Jenin after attacking an Israeli Army post, Palestinian medics said. Israeli military sources said two armed men had been shot, although it was not immediately clear if Saadi was one of them or a civilian caught in the intense fire. Israeli forces did not say how many gunmen they were facing down, although officials had earlier said it was two. An army spokesman said the gunmen had been heading through Israel-controlled territory east of the town when they ran into an army post and opened fire. It claimed they had been planning to attack the nearby Jewish settlement of Qadim. The Israeli soldiers returned fire, but the men escaped into Palestinian self-rule land next to the northern town of Jenin. The army chased them into land under the control of the Palestinian Authority and tracked them down to a house where the men took cover. The Palestinians then threw two grenades at soldiers and border police, injuring one policeman slightly. A firefight erupted around the house, Palestinian and Israeli security officials said, during which the tanks fired two shells into the building. Helicopters also opened fire, killing Saadi, Palestinian officials said. According to Jenin hospital officials, two Palestinians were injured in the exchange, as the tanks and two jeeps entered 400 metres into Palestinian territory to besiege the house. 

46 Sir Nigel Hawthorne, the British actor best known for his role as the scheming civil servant in the BBC hit Yes Minister, died Wednesday from a heart attack aged 72, his agent said. Hawthorne had been battling cancer for the past 18 months and had just come out of hospital where he had been having chemotherapy treatment, said Ken McReddie. He said the cancer treatment had been going well and the heart attack was unexpected. Hawthorne died peacefully at home with his partner and a friend, McReddie added. "He was a brilliant actor and a wonderful friend, I feel very sad and extremely cut up," he said. Playing the smug civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby who always knew better than his master, Hawthorne's performances in Yes, Minister won him a host of awards and the glowing approval of then prime minister Margaret Thatcher. The role led to a sequel, Yes, Prime Minister, as well as a range of more substantial role on stage and screen, including the lead role in the 1995 film The Madness of King George for which he was nominated for an Oscar. 

47 Seven yachts have been forced to retire from the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, after a storm hit the fleet off the New South Wales south coast overnight. South Australian yacht SAP Ausmaid and Secret Men's Business both lost their masts in the storms this morning. Last night, one of the favourites for line honors, Victorian maxi Wild Thing, was forced to head back to Sydney with sail damage. Simply Red, Broomstick, Cadibarra and Sting also sustained damage in the storm and were forced to head back to Sydney. Volvo ocean racer Tyco, leads the race ahead of Assa Abloy. 

48 Australia will be aiming to take early wickets on day two of the second cricket Test against South Africa at the MCG. The Proteas will resume at three for 89 after day one was badly affected by rain with only 40 overs possible. Australian paceman Glenn McGrath, who has two wickets, says the catch taken by Matthew Hayden yesterday is typical of Australia's outstanding slips fielding this summer. "In the series so far there's been some great catches - Ricky Ponting in the last Test, occasionally I get one myself," he said. "It gives you so much more confidence when you know 99 per cent of the catches that go flying to the slips or through the slips are going to be taken." 

49 Thousands of firefighters remain on the ground across New South Wales this morning, as they assess the extent of fires burning around Sydney and on the state's south coast. Firefighters are battling a fire band stretching from around Campbelltown, south-west of Sydney, to the Royal National Park. Hundreds of people have been evacuated from small villages to the south and south-west of Sydney. Authorities estimate more than 60 properties have been destroyed in the greater Sydney area. Fourteen homes have been destroyed in the Hawkesbury area north of Sydney, and 20 properties have been ruined at Jervis Bay. John Winter, from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, says firefighters' main concern is the fire band from Campbelltown through to the coast. "That is going to be a very difficult area today, we do expect that the Royal National Park is likely to be impacted by fire later in the morning," he said. "Certainly in terms of population risk and threat to property that band is going to be our area of greatest concern." In the ACT, it appears the worst of the fire danger may have passed though strong winds are expected to keep firefighters busy today. The fires have burned more than 800 hectares over the past two days. Yesterday, winds of up to 80 kilometres an hour fanned blazes in a dozen areas, including Queanbeyan, O'Connor, Mount Wanniassa, Red Hill and Black Mountain. Strong winds are again predicted for today but fire authorities are confident they have the resources to contain any further blazes. A total fire ban is in force in the ACT today and tomorrow. Emergency Services Minister Ted Quinlan has paid tribute to the efforts of firefighters. "There has just been a whole body of people that have been magnificent in sacrificing their Christmas for the benefit of the community," he said. 

50 European monarchs have reflected on the impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States in their traditional Christmas messages. The sombre mood was typified by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who said 2001 brought many people "more than their fair share of trials and disasters". "The terrorist outrages in the United States last September brought home to us the pain and grief of ordinary people the world over who find themselves innocently caught up in such evil," she said. The Queen also expressed her belief in the importance of faith at such times. "In these circumstances so many of us, whatever our religion, need our faith more than ever to sustain and guide us. "Every one of us needs to believe in the value of all that is good and honest." Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf also referred to September 11 in his annual Christmas speech to the nation, describing how the attacks concerned everyone and had changed life itself. "The need for community and friendship beyond borders is even greater following these tragedies," he said. Spain's King Juan Carlos said the outrages in America opened a new stage in world history. "The terrible attacks of September 11 on the US, of a previously unknown magnitude, have shaken the conscience of humanity and shattered many of the ideas on which we base the way we live," he said. However, King Juan said the international community's reaction showed no tolerance for that kind of attack. "The reaction of the international community has show in a clear way its willingness in the future to prevent those who think that violence and terror are valuable instruments for imposing their ideas and exercising their tyranny," he said. 

51 Afghan security forces have arrested a wounded Arab Al Qaeda fighter, but seven others with weapons and explosives remain barricaded in a hospital in the southern city of Kandahar. A spokesman for provincial governor Gul Agha, Akbar Jan, says the man was arrested when he left his ward. "One Arab, believed to be a Yemeni, was taken into custody when he came out of his ward for a bandage," Mr Jan said. He says the other seven are carrying weapons including pistols, grenades and explosives. "We are trying to persuade them not to detonate their explosives and to surrender their weapons," Mr Jan said. "We are concerned about the safety of other patients." The Arabs, wounded in earlier US bombing of Kandahar airport, were admitted to Mirwais Hospital before the departure of the Taliban militia earlier this month. Before fleeing, the Taliban had handed over some weapons including grenades and explosives so the Arabs could protect themselves. They have been threatening to blow up their hospital room if any attempt is made to arrest them. 

52 Russian authorities have sentenced Chechen warlord Salman Raduyev to life in prison for a 1996 hostage siege in which more than 200 people died. Salman Raduyev is probably the most important Chechen fighter Russian authorities have ever caught. A relative of the first Chechen president, he was at the forefront of the insurgency leading raids against federal troops. He was jealous of the achievements of his fellow commanders. He resolved to outperform his rival and in January 1996, masterminded a hostage taking in the neighbouring republic of Dagestan. Apparently, the aim was to destabilise Dagestan and spread the war to the rest of the Caucuses. He ran out of luck as Russian solders were not prepared to negotiate and cornered Raduyev on the Chechen border. 

53 Skippers are expecting a spectacular start to the 57th Sydney to Hobart yacht race today, with the weather bureau forecasting spinnaker-friendly westerly winds. A total of 76 entrants are in this year's race, including eight round-the-world yachts, which are expected to give last year's line honours winner, Swedish maxi Nicorette, a run for its money. The round the world yachts are set for a flying beginning, with a 200-metre headstart designed to get them out of harm's way. The boats will have to round a buoy further north near Sydney heads, to equalise the distance. Ludde Ingvall, the skipper of Nicorette, says the split start could help the maxis next year. "Split starts are good and maybe next year they will move all the big boats into the front line so that we can get away without hitting somebody," he said. Skipper Ingvall says his start tactics are easy. "At the start it's easy - don't break and don't collide and don't go around and don't make yourself look silly," he said. The New South Wales Weather Bureau says there is a possibility of waves of up to five metres in Bass Strait for this year's Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Severe weather forecaster Ken Batt says if a low pressure system develops more off Tasmania, the worst case scenario could be strong winds and large seas. "As the yachts hit the stronger winds in Bass Strait you'd be looking at say four to five metre significant wave heights," Mr Batt said. 

54 A project working on ways to reduce the debt of prisoners in Australian jails has run out of money. The Criminal Justice Coalition's Prison and Debt Project has been developing tools to educate prisoners and their families about their financial rights. Spokeswoman Anne Stringer says funding from a non-profit organisation has run out and she is now looking for government support to trial the education programs. Ms Stringer says if  successful, the programs may stop prisoners from reoffending to repay accumulated debt. "As soon as you get out of prison, Centrelink starts deducting the money you owe them from your benefit payment so your income is vastly reduced," she said. "You may not have a place to live and your car's probably been repossessed. "Your chances of getting employment and starting to pay back the debt is very very slim." 

55 Police are interviewing a 21-year-old man for stealing a car with a child inside from the Northside Shopping Centre in Alice Springs. Senior Sergeant Michael Potts says the 20-month-old boy was left on Elliot Street when the offender discovered the child shortly after taking the car. Members of the public found the boy sitting on a kerb and returned him to his parents. Police pursued the man in the stolen vehicle along the Stuart Highway and Tanami Road for about 160 kilometres before he ran out of petrol. Senior Sergeant Potts says the man was caught after a short chase through the bush and is currently being interviewed by police. 

56 Melbourne's weather is one of the question marks hanging over the second Test between Australia and South Africa, due to start at the MCG this morning. Melbourne's shaky early summer weather is not yet on the improve. This is Test cricket's traditional day of days and it is receiving Melbourne's traditional greeting - cool and cloudy with possible showers. The other questions are over each team's pace attack. South Africa will probably be forced to take a huge punt on veteran Alan Donald, while Australia is unlikely to punt on Brad Williams, returning Andy Bichel to Test cricket. Williams was called up to the 12 after Jason Gillespie was ruled out of the Test due to a right shoulder injury. Bichel says he is looking forward to the challenge of a call-up to the starting side. "I feel that I'm ready to go for this game and I'm looking forward to it," Bichel said. "The Boxing Day Test has been a good one for me. I've got great memories of it, so hopefully I can repeat those." The day is likely to provide conditions any quick bowler would relish - bouncy with some seam, beckoning the captain who wins the toss to turn his attack loose. 

57 An American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami has been diverted to Boston Airport under escort by two United States fighter jets, after a passenger attempted to ignite explosives he was wearing in his shoes. Director of Boston's Logan International Airport Tom Kinton says quick action by flight attendants on the 767 jetliner averted a potentially serious incident. "The flight attendants became alerted to a smell of sulphur which is a match, and immediately took action when they saw what this individual was attempting to do and literally tackled the individual," he said. The FBI has arrested a 28-year-old mantravelling on what is reported to be a fake British passport. The 185 passengers and 12 crew members have been taken off the plane. 

58 Afghanistan's new interim government is to meet for the first time later today after an historic inauguration ceremony in the Afghan capital Kabul. Interim President Hamid Karzai and his 29 fellow cabinet members are looking to start rebuilding Afghanistan's war-ravaged economy. Mr Karzai says he expects the reconstruction to cost many billions of dollars after 23 years of war. "Afghanistan must go from an economy of war to an economy of peace," Mr Karzai said. "Those people who've earned a living by taking the gun must be enabled with programs, with plans, with projects to put the gun aside and go to the various other forms of economic activity that can bring them a livelihood," he said. 

59 Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf believes there is a strong possibility Osama bin Laden could have been killed in the United States bombardment of the Tora Bora caves in eastern Afghanistan. "Maybe he is dead because of all the operations that have been conducted, the bombardment of all the caves that have been conducted, there's a great possibility that he may have lost his life there," General Musharraf said on Chinese state television. During the visit to Pakistan's close ally China, General Musharraf said Pakistan had stepped up security along its porous border with Afghanistan in a bid to capture the suspected terrorist mastermind. "We have huge borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said. "The Tora Bora region in which he was supposed to be operating has ... about eight passes leading into Pakistan over mountains at a height of about 13  to 14,000 feet ... We are guarding each one of these passes. "If he does enter, if we identify him, he will be handed over". US and Afghan forces have been searching for signs of bin Laden, the number one suspect in the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, around Tora  Bora since forces from his Al Qaeda network fled last weekend. US warplanes and Afghan forces had launched extensive attacks on the network of caves where Al Qaeda members had been hiding out. An Afghan commander in charge in the Tora Bora caves region said Saturday that bin Laden had probably gone to Pakistan. The Pentagon said on Monday that it had no idea where bin Laden was now although it believed he had been in the Tora Bora region until a few days before. 

60 Australian cricket selectors have made just one change to the squad that beat South Africa in the opening Test for the second Test beginning in Melbourne on Boxing Day. As predicted, Queensland pace bowler Andy Bichel replaces spin bowler Stuart MacGill, who was 12th man for the Adelaide Test. MacGill took five wickets for New South Wales on day one of the tour match against South Africa at the SCG Thursday, but it was not enough to sway selectors. The full squad is: Steve Waugh(c), Adam Gilchrist(vc), Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh, Damien Martyn, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Glenn McGrath and Andy Bichel. 

61 Israel has rejected Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's bid to make his annual visit to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve during an security cabinet meeting early today. "The security cabinet made its decision based on the fact that Arafat is not working to dismantle terror organizations and to foil terror attacks against Israel and to arrest and punish terrorists, including the murderers of tourism minister Rhavam Zeevi," a statement from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said. Earlier, Mr Arafat declared he would walk to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve Mass if he has to if Israeli authorities refused him access to the biblical town. Mr Arafat's statement comes as Palestinians in Gaza buried six teenagers killed in the worst internal Palestinian violence in seven years. The funerals in Gaza were peaceful, with Palestinian police staying away and mourners agreeing no weapons were to be carried. This has been a difficult week for Yasser Arafat: he put his reputation on the line by ordering the arrest of some key Palestinian militants in the most important radical group Hamas, then declared an end to its campaign of suicide bombings and other attacks against Israel. Another smaller, but important radical group, Islamic Jihad, might follow Hamas's lead. But the key to all this is Israel's reaction. If it eases its blockade of towns in the West Bank, then Yasser Arafat will have something to show for his efforts. 

62 A Victorian couple is seeking approval to have a baby that has been genetically matched to their first child in a bid to save the toddler from a rare blood disease. The in-vitro fertalisation (IVF) technique involves testing a three day old embryo for inherited genetic disease and ensuring it is a perfect match. The young child has a disease called franconi-anaemia and without a bone marrow donation from a sibling is likely to die before the age of 15. The toddler's parents have requested permission to create another child, but the procedure extends beyond the boundaries of normal IVF technology where embryos are screened for inherited genetic diseases. Approval must be given for blood stem cells from the placenta to be transplanted to the critically ill child. Professor Alan Trounson deputy director of the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development says the institute is ready to carry out the procedure. "There is nothing in the law that would prevent that decision being made by the infertility treatment authority," Professor Trounson said.Professor Trounson does not expect any opposition to the technology. "Who wouldn't think about how you could save a sick child's life. "I would have thought at Christmas time that's exactly what you would want to do, and that's exactly how you would be supportive of a family making that kind of decision." The technology has already been used to save a child in the United States. 

63 Japanese officials say their Coast Guard has sunk an unidentified boat after an exchange of fire in the East China Sea. The BBC reports the unidentified boat, which resembled a fishing trawler, was spotted cruising off south-western Japan by a naval reconnaissance plane. More than 20 Japanese coastguard vessels were mobilised to give chase. Japanese officials said warning shots were fired on several occasions, but the boat ignored orders to stop and continued heading west towards China. The officials said crew members appeared on deck brandishing metal pipes and several hours after the chase began there was an exchange of gunfire in which two Japanese sailors were injured. The patrol boats then sank the vessel and its 15 man crew was thrown into the sea. Some reports said it resembled a North Korean spy boat, but there was also speculation it could have held Chinese smugglers. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is continuing efforts to recover crew members. Six of the 15 on board have so far been recovered from the ocean, although rough weather is said to be hampering rescue efforts. 

64 Tight security is causing headaches for American travellers this Christmas. The September 11 attacks and a weaker US economy have caused a huge drop in the number of people flying in America. But at the start of the holiday season many are venturing back into the skies for the first time and have not been prepared for the increased security. Queues have stretched for up to half a kilometre as suitcases have been opened and Christmas presents unwrapped. Even drivers dropping off passengers have had their cars searched as they approach airport terminals. But airlines are making no apologies and say the tight security controls will remain. 

65 A high profile church leader says the Governor-General must clarify his statement defending his handling of alleged child sexual abuse at a Queensland Anglican school. Prime Minister John Howard is defending Dr Peter Hollingworth against criticism about the way he dealt with the claims of abuse at a Toowoomba Anglican school when he was the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane. Child protection groups still want the Governor-General to resign. The Reverend Tim Costello, who is the president of the Baptist Union of Australia, says further explanation is needed. "I don't think he should step down at this point but I do think that having begun the process with an explanation and a clarification which still leaves some things unclear, there is probably further work on just clarifying and understanding the import of what happened," he said. Meanwhile, Federal Opposition leader Simon Crean has described Dr Hollingworth's explanation as insufficient. Mr Crean says there are inconsistancies regarding where Dr Hollingworth received legal advice and this must be cleared up. "We heard the Prime Minister today saying that the Governor-General never said he got the legal advice from the Chief Justice, but that begs the question as to who he got the legal advice from," he said. "I think it's terribly important that we understand where the legal advice came from and who gave it." 

66 The Chief of the Army, Lieutenant-General Peter Cosgrove, has confirmed an Australian man linked to Osama bin Laden served with the Australia Army in East Timor. But he denies reports the man was a member of the the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. Lieutenant-General Cosgrove says the man was discharged from the Army, but he says he will not comment on the circumstances of the discharge out of respect for the man's family. He says the Australian Defence Force can take take no responsibility for its soldiers once they have left the service. "When you leave your job now will your previous company make any assessment about your skills and what you might carry to another area?" he said. "It's unreasonable beyond saying that they are the laws of the land and I guess people will assess more when any laws of this land have been breached by any individuals' actions." 

67 Argentina's Government has crumbled after at least 20 people were killed and hundreds injured in nationwide riots. Argentina's President Fernando de la Rua has resigned and called for a national unity government with the opposition Peronists. The President's resignation followed 48 hours of rioting across the country. People took to the streets protesting against the Government's economic austerity program. Argentina is now on the brink of defaulting on its next debt repayment, which could be the largest default ever. The opposition parties are reported to have rejected the call for a national unity government. In Washington, the International Monetary Fund said it would work with the new cabinet. Government policy has previously ruled out any devaluation of the peso, fearing a run on the currency and an even greater debt crisis. The Government has also declared a 30-day state of siege in an effort to restore order. 

68 A pay freeze dispute involving Qantas and its maintenance workers will remain unresolved over the Christmas period. The parties failed to reach agreement during talks in the Industrial Relations Commission in Melbourne this morning. More than 2,000 employees have imposed work bans and stoppages in their campaign for a 3 per cent pay rise. Both the union and Qantas say there will not be flight disruptions. 

69 After months of delays, the company behind plans for a multi-billion dollar Timor Sea gas development has reached an agreement with East Timor, to allow the project to go ahead. Six months ago, Phillips Petroleum indefinitely delayed its plan to build a $1.5  billion pipeline to bring gas from the Bayu-Undan gasfield to Darwin. The company blamed the delay on its concerns with East Timor's tax regime. But today Phillips has announced it has reached a deal with East Timor's new Government which will allow the gas project to go ahead. In a statement the company says it welcomes the tax  and fiscal package offered by East Timor's Council of Ministers, and says it is an historic day. But a Phillips spokesman says the deal must first be ratified by Australia, which will share the revenue from the gas project with East Timor. 

70 An Iraqi defector who has applied for residency in Australia claims he has information about top secret chemical and biological weapons plants in Iraq. The man who calls himself Abu Mohammad told ABC Radio he worked for almost a decade as a chemical engineer on Saddam Hussein's military plants, before escaping to the west. He says he can provide documents on the manufacture of weapons and pinpoint the exact locations of secret sites. "New factories are built in place of old factories that [were] bombed and in another place and there's substituted places to any factory," he said. The former chief weapons inspector for the United Nations in Iraq, Richard Butler, told ABC Radio he believes the claims could be true. "I've read a lot of such reports from defectors, from people who've left Iraq, I can't tell you how many," he said. "You get a feel about them and as I read what he said, I thought my goodness this has a real ring of authenticity about it. "Just the detail, the names of places, the sorts of stuff he was discussing, I thought this is true," Mr Butler said. 

71 The Queensland Premier says he accepts full responsibility for a mentally ill killer being able to flee overseas. Claude John Gabriel stabbed to death a Gold Coast teenager in 1998 and was receiving treatment for a mental illness. However, he absconded from a Queensland mental health facility earlier this year and went to live in Melbourne. He is now thought to be in Rome. Premier Peter Beattie says the Queensland Government is seeking legal advice about whether it can force Gabriel to return. "Why he had a passport is beyond me I have to tell you and I'm pretty cranky about that, that he had a passport and left the country," he said. "I'm very unhappy about how this whole matter has been handled and I've made that very clear." 

72 In the United States, Australian actress Nicole Kidman has been nominated for two Golden Globe best actor awards for her roles in the Australian-made musical "Moulin Rouge", and in her new thriller "The Others". "Moulin Rouge" also is one of two pictures leading the Golden Globe nominations, with six possible awards. It is vying for best musical or comedy picture of 2002, best actress in a comedy or musical, best actor in the same category for Ewen McGregor, best director for Baz Luhrmann, best original score and best original song. The other film to pick up six nominations is the Ron Howard directed "A Beautiful Mind" starring Oscar winner Russell Crowe. Crowe was nominated as best actor in a drama for his portrayal of a troubled math genius in the film. 

73 Australian cricket selectors have made just one change to the squad that beat South Africa in the opening Test for the second Test beginning in Melbourne on Boxing Day. As predicted, Queensland pace bowler Andy Bichel replaces spin bowler Stuart MacGill, who was 12th man for the Adelaide Test. MacGill took five wickets for New South Wales on day one of the tour match against South Africa at the SCG yesterday, but it was not enough to sway selectors. 

74 The Prime Minister has thrown his full support behind the Governor-General, Dr Peter Hollingworth. Child rights campaigners have accused Dr Hollingworth of trying to cover-up child abuse allegations at a Toowoomba Anglican school when he was Archbishop of Brisbane. In a statement released earlier this week, the Governor-General said the allegations were unfounded, but there are continuing calls for Dr Hollingworth to resign. But Mr Howard says he has confidence in the Governor-General. "I don't have any direct knowledge of this [matter but] I've talked to him about it and I've tried to form a judgment," Mr Howard said. "The criticism made is that he's involved in a cover-up, well there's no evidence of that, that's ridiculous." 

75 The United Nations Security Council has authorised a multinational force to help keep the peace in the Afghan capital of Kabul, with Britain leading the troops and the United States prepared to rescue them in an emergency. The 15-member council voted unanimously just two days before a vanguard of some 250 British soldiers who will be deployed tomorrow. Afghanistan's new interim government, with Hamid Karzai as Prime Minister, is to be sworn in on the same day. The initial mandate for the new force, called the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), is for six months, subject to renewal and is under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the use of force. The contingents are to help guard government buildings to ensure the new Afghan interim government has a chance to end 22 years of warfare. But the resolution does not give any troop numbers, which Britain estimates could eventually reach 5,000 with NATO members France, Turkey, Italy, Canada, Spain and possibly Germany among the early arrivals. The US military will be in overall charge in case of a conflict and would help rescue the new troops in an emergency. The new force was established in principle for Kabul and its environs as part of a UN-brokered landmark accord, signed on December 5 in Bonn, Germany, among anti-Taliban Afghan groups. The agreement set up an interim government, to be followed by a transitional government and elections called for in two years. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says despite an offer of troops, it seems likely Australian forces will not be needed for peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan. 

76 US President George W Bush has marked the 100th day of the campaign against terrorism by calling on his allies to freeze the assets of two non-US organisations suspected of supporting terrorism. One of the groups is based in Kashmir, the other is alleged to have helped Al Qaeda develop nuclear weapons. President Bush says a former scientist at Pakistan's atomic program had established a group called UTN, after assisting Osama bin Laden's network develop a nuclear bomb. "UTN claims to serve the hungry and needy of Afghanistan, but it was the UTN that provided information about nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda," he said. He also linked a Kashmiri group to the attack on the Indian Parliament last week. "LAT is an extremist group based in Kashmir and is a stateless sponsor of terrorism," he said. Mr Bush says the international financial crackdown has frozen $130 million in terrorist assets. 

77 The death toll in Argentina's food riots has risen to 20. Local media reports say four more people died this morning in clashes between police and protesters near the presidential palace in the capital, Buenos Aires. President Fernando de la Rua has called on the opposition to take part in a government of national unity and apparently will resign if it does not. Looting and rioting has generally given way to more peaceful demonstrations against the faltering government blamed for a 43-month recession. Heavily armed police using powers under a 30-day state of siege decree are attempting to prevent large public gatherings, but union leaders say workers and the unemployed will not stop until the government is removed and living standards restored. With Argentina's discredited economy minister now gone, the Government hopes to approve a new budget acceptable to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avoid default on the $150 billion foreign debt. The presidents of neighbouring Brazil and Chile say they fear the social unrest could infect their own nations unless Argentina and its leaders can resolve the crisis quickly. 

78 The Woomera Detention Centre in outback South Australia has experienced its first quiet night this week since Sunday. It seems the Government's decision to put a freeze on the processing of visa applications is working. From outside the centre, it appeared there were no major incidents at the facility all day yesterday and no unrest overnight. At about 1:00am (ACDT) this morning a minibus load of security officers left the centre and extra police resources brought into the town in recent days were stood down. The Immigration Department claims the damage bill from the arson attacks and vandalism at the centre over the past month has reached $2 million. A spokeswoman has rejected claims that 950 detainees at the Woomera centre are to be relocated to Port Augusta's El Alamein centre next month saying there is room for another 1,000 people at Woomera. 

79 The private business sector has to comply with national privacy laws from today which force them to implement new codes for the handling of personal information. The Government and the credit sectors are already obliged to protect private data, but this is the first time the same rules have been applied to the private sector. The new laws are about consent, knowledge about data use, accuracy and security. In health, data must only be used for the purpose it is taken, for example treatment. The Federal Privacy Commissioner, Malcolm Crompton, says hospitals and doctors collecting health information now have to ask for consent. "They're not in a position any more of being able to give that information out in an identifiable form to research organisations or to pharmaceutical companies and probably most important of all, we now have a right of access to that information, we can now go in and ask for our medical record and we have the right to see it," he said. The laws also apply to companies running competitions who collect names and details, as they will have to state whether the data is intended for marketing. Mr Crompton says a large culture change is happening, but it is backed by his enforcement powers. "Often we're able to broker a solution without having to use the powers very strongly, but I think both consumers and organisations should rest assured that we will use the powers under the act if we need to do so. "But there's very clear evidence that in the vast majority of circumstances we wont have to," he said. 

80 Dozens of people were injured, some seriously, and others were trapped after a roof collapsed at a South African shopping centre, burying some children on a skating rink, witnesses and police said. Initial reports spoke of up to 50 people trapped at the Kolonnade shopping centre, in the north of the capital, but Pretoria emergency spokesman Johan Pieterse later said police had rescued four people from the rubble and could not immediately locate any more. "Police and police dogs are still inside but can't find anyone else just now," he added. By 6:00pm local time (3:00am AEDT), two hours after the collapse, 21 injured people, mostly adults, had been taken to hospitals around the city by ambulance or helicopter, Mr Pieterse said. "Most of those injured were those standing at the glass wall watching people ice skate," he added. Some of the injured included children skating on the ice rink, who were partially buried in rubble when the roof gave way, witnesses said. Some 100 square metres of roofing were believed to have collapsed. A new floor had recently been added to the shopping mall, above the rink, and "the roof had leaked, but according to us everything was fine," ice rink manager Brian Bellis told the AFP news agency. There was "a lot of dust and smoke and then people were just running and screaming, running away from where it happened," the South African Broadcasting Corporation radio quoted one witness as saying. Several people, including young children, were brought out on stretchers while others were helicoptered to hospital. About 100 police and soldiers cordoned off the area. One bystander, Marius duPlessis, said he was searching for his 20-year-old son who had been working at the centre. "His car is there, but he is nowhere to be found. He is not on the casualty list, so I'm just praying that he's not inside," he said. 

81 Zimbabwe has been given five weeks to stop the political violence and invasions of white-owned farms or face possible suspension from the Commonwealth. A meeting in London of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has listed Zimbabwe - the first step ahead of what could mean much tougher action. Under pressure from Australia and the United Kingdom, the issue of Zimbabwe's consistent breach of democratic principles under the Harare declaration is finally and formally on the table. The Commonwealth group is waiting for a response from Zimbabwe to request to allow observers for the upcoming election. Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says if there is not a substantial change in Zimbabwe significant sanctions are possible. "[The] Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group does have a number of weapons available to it and one of them is suspension," he said. At the same time, Fiji's suspension was lifted after its return to democracy. 

82 A rare calm in the Palestinian territories has been shattered with the death of a Palestinian, killed in a firefight with Israeli forces as they moved back into a suburb of Nablus that they had left just hours earlier. Tanks and armoured cars moved into an autonomous Palestinian area of west Nablus that they had quit in the morning, although the army said the movement had been a "tactical change" and not an official withdrawal. Tanks also returned to a West Bank village, evacuated hours earlier. The withdrawal had been seen as a sign that the security situation had improved slightly after a dramatic drop in violence following Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat's peace call on Sunday. But the clashes and the killing, the first since Monday, ruptured the peace. Mr Arafat, apparently getting tough on Islamic extremists defying his call for a cease-fire with Israel, sent his police in the pre-dawn hours today to arrest a senior official of the radical Islamic group, Hamas, in Gaza City. Seven people were injured when the police clashed with armed protesters as they tried to arrest Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi. Weeks of knife-edge tensions had scaled down late yesterday as Israeli and Palestinian officials held their first joint security meeting since US peace envoy Anthony Zinni was recalled to Washington. The Palestinians called the meeting a "failure", but Israeli officials said it had gone well. They moved their forces out of west Nablus and the West Bank village of At Tira and Beitunya, but later sent them back in. No forces returned to Beitunya, however. The areas had been stormed after Hamas suicide bombers killed 26 people in Jerusalem and Haifa at the beginning of the month. 

83 The owner of a nudist resort in South Australia's Riverland is expecting hundreds of people from across Australia to participate in his planned mass nude photo shoot. Following in the footsteps of American Spencer Tunick, who has photographed large groups of people in the nude around the world, Pelican Point Nudist Resort owner, Rex Bakes, wants to do the same at his Lake Bonney resort on January 2. Mr Bakes says there has been a lot of interest so far. "I've spoken to people in New South Wales and Victoria and in South Australia so far and we even had a priest and his wife coming from Perth until today, but unfortunately the poor man has had a heart attack," he said. "It has received a lot of interest from all around the place, but it's all about people turning up on the day." Defence Minister Robert Hill has provided further details of two Australian men believed to have trained with the Al Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan. A 25-year-old man thought to have entered Afghanistan at the beginning of August has previously served with the Australian Army. Senator Hill says the Government believes the man suffered from depression and retired from the defence force. The Government says a 28-year-old man left Australia in March, but it is not yet known when he entered Afghanistan. The man has no record of military service in Australia. Authorities are continuing investigations into the men and their whereabouts but say neither man entered Afghanistan with David Hicks, who is also accused of fighting alongside the Taliban. Afghanistan's interim government has agreed to accept a 3,000-strong multinational force for six months as the United Nations geared up for vote authorising the force today. Disagreements between US allies over defining the mandate of the force and its relationship with the US military operation in Afghanistan had held up a vote on the resolution for days. But UN diplomats said last night a resolution would be adopted by the 15-member Security Council today, or by early tomorrow at the latest. In Kabul, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, defence minister in the interim administration to be inaugurated on Saturday, announced the agreement on the security force yesterday after talks with British military representatives. He said the peacekeepers would only be allowed to stay for six months, leaving when the six-month mandate of the interim administration led by Hamid Karzai comes to an end. After six months, a "Loya Jirga" assembly of Afghan elders is to appoint a new transitional government that will lead Afghanistan into elections. The UN draft resolution defines the role of the peacekeeping as assisting the interim authority with "the maintenance of security in Kabul and its surrounding areas, so that the Afghan interim Authority as well as the personnel of the United Nations can operate in a secure environment". 

84 The Opposition leader, Simon Crean, says a child abuse scandal in Brisbane has damaged the Office of the Governor-General and its incumbent Dr Peter Hollingworth. Child  advocates have called on Dr Hollingworth to step down as Governor-General, saying he did not do enough to prevent abuse of children in an Anglican school when he was Archbishop of Brisbane. Mr Crean says he is not calling on Dr Hollingworth to resign but he says there are still unanswered questions. "I think it has tarnished the Office of the Governor-General, the fact that it took so long for this statement to come out," he said. "Many people have been calling for it, me included. "I think if we are to avoid further damage to the office, we need to clear it up completely." Brisbane's Lord Mayor says the Governor-General's explanation of his handling of child sex abuse allegations at a Queensland school raises more questions than it answers. Jim Soorley, who is a former Catholic priest, says the explanation does not wash. "Within the Christian tradition, bishops are regarded as shepherds," he said. "It's very clear that he was not a good shepherd and there are serious consequences for that. "I think his actions are not the actions of a good shepherd and I think there are still questions to be answered." 

85 It has been confirmed two asylum seekers at the Woomera Detention Centre have mutilated themselves during the current unrest. The department has confirmed two asylum seekers harmed themselves yesterday. An ambulance was seen entering and leaving the facility at high speed but the director of nursing at Woomera hospital says no one from the detention centre has been admitted there since Monday night. Unrest continued at the facility overnight with a collective voice of detainees chanting "visa". The Immigration Department has confirmed at least 50 to 60 detainees breached compound fencing into a prohibited zone in the facility overnight. Twenty-two buildings have been destroyed or damaged by fire in three days. It is thought the cooler temperatures, expected in Woomera today, may lead to heightened daytime detainee activity. South Australian police are expected to reveal details soon of their operations after three days of detainee riots. Meanwhile, a coalition of Australian religious leaders is calling for a greater intake of refugees. Leaders from Christian, Islamic and Jewish communities are meeting in Melbourne in response to what they say is a detention system out of step with religious values. The Reverend Tim Costello says it is important for Christians to remember Jesus was a refugee. He says Australians need to look beyond the small number of trouble makers at the Woomera Centre. "If the Taliban was such an evil government for us to go to war against and risk our boys dying, then surely those fleeing that government deserve our compassion," he said. 

86 Hamas militants have fought gun battles with Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip, trying to arrest one of the Islamic group's senior political leaders. Reports say the fight erupted in the Gaza Strip after dozens of Hamas members surrounded the home of Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi when Palestinian police arrived to detain him. The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, under international pressure to crack down on militants after a wave of suicide bombings in Israel in the past month, has outlawed the military wings of Hamas and other groups and arrested dozens of militants. 

87 Argentina's Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo is reported to have resigned in the face of mounting unrest over the country's crumbling economy. The reports in a number of local media outlets could not be officially confirmed. The news comes as police used teargas to disperse tens of thousands of people who had massed near the presidential palace in Buenos Aires and in other parts of the city to protest against the declaration of a state of emergency. It was declared after mounting popular discontent and widespread looting in the past few days with people over the state of the economy, which has been in recession for four years. 

88 The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has called for pilots to be better trained on the risks of air turbulence. It is a response to helicopter crash last August which claimed the life of media personality Shirley Strachan. Mr Strachan was on  a solo navigation training flight on August 29 when he crashed into Mt Archer on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. Witnesses told of seeing Mr Strachan apparently struggling to control his aircraft just prior to the crash. Safety bureau director Alan Stray says the helicopter was struck by severe air turbulence, a phenomena known as a mountain wave. It caused one of the helicopter rotors to flap and strike the tail boom. While reluctant to attribute blame, Mr Stray says mountain waves are not uncommon and Mr Strachan could have been better advised of local weather conditions prior to the flight. He says the accident is a wake up call to flight trainers to ensure students are fully educated on the dangers of weather phenomena. The helicopter training company which owned the aircraft Mr Strachan died in has declined to comment in detail on the findings. Blue Tongue Helicopters owner, Helen Gillies, says the company respects the findings of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Mrs Gillies says the investigation was a thorough one, but says that the incident is still too painful to discuss. The former chief financial officer of retailer Harris Scarfe will face court on 32 charges following inquiries by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC). The charges to be faced by Alan Hodgson from Beaumont in Adelaide's eastern suburbs, include 18 counts of acting dishonestly as an officer of Harris Scarfe, six counts of acting dishonestly as an employee of the company and eight counts of giving false information to the Australian Stock Exchange. The matter has been brought by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions following ASIC's investigation of the company. The original Harris Scarfe business went into receivership in April with debts of about $160 million. A management buyout by executives not connected with the original company was finalised last month. The buyout saw the closure of 12 stores around Australia and the retention of 23 others in South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. 

89 The coroner investigating the death of a race marshal at the 2001 Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, has indicated he will not stand in the way of next year's race. On the last day of hearings into the death of race marshall Graham Beveridge, the Grand Prix Corporation's legal team sought judicial assurance next year's event would be able to go ahead. Coroner Graeme Johnston said his recommendations were unlikely to alter the corporation's plans for the 2002 race and they would include nothing that could not reasonably be dealt with before the forthcoming race. Ross Ray QC, representing the Grand Prix Corporation and the Australian Confederation of Motor Sports, outlined plans to increase the height of debris fences and seek safety assessments from independent experts. Up to 5,000 soldiers will be deployed in Afghanistan later this month as an international force to provide security for the country's interim government, which is scheduled to take power this weekend. British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon says up to 1,500 British troops will lead the force, which will begin its deployment from December 28. Named the International Security Assistance Force, it will be based in the capital, Kabul, and it is expected to be there for at least three months. Announcing the British deployment, Mr Hoon said with the current tensions in Afghanistan, it will be a difficult and sometimes dangerous mission. An advance unit of 100 British marines will be in the country by the weekend with the United Nations expected to mandate the force before then. Australian involvement in the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan is to be determined by Britain. Australia has offered to take part in the force, but British defence sources have not revealed the nature of Canberra's offer. The sources say Britain has received too many offers for light infantry, but not enough for engineering, mine-clearing, and other logistical needs. Meanwhile,  Afghan forces have begun handing over captured Al Qaeda fighters to a new interrogation centre at the US military base of Camp Rhino in southern Afghanistan. The numbers are likely to swell as the hunt continues for Al Qaeda loyalists fleeing toward Pakistan. Fifteen foreign fighters, captured near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, have now been transferred to the interrogation centre at the US marine base outside Kandahar. Another five prisoners, including the Australian, David Hicks, are being held offshore on a US military ship. Anti-Taliban forces are continuing search for some 500 Al Qaeda fighters, believed to be still at large in the mountains around Tora Bora near the Pakistan border. Local commanders said they had captured 40 foreign fighters over the past few days and were holding them at the nearby city of Jalalabad, pending orders from Kabul. A B-52 bomber circled Tora Bora throughout the morning, but no air strikes were launched. 

90 After the torching of more than 20 buildings over the past three days, the situation at the Woomera Detention Centre overnight appeared relatively calm. There was, however, tension inside the South Australian facility, with up to 50 detainees breaking into a prohibited zone. The group became a problem for staff after breaching a fence within the centre. At one point, staff considered using water cannon to control the detainees. It is not known if they actually resorted to any tough action but a group of men wearing riot gear, possibly Star Force police officers brought in on standby, could be seen in one of the compounds. Late yesterday, government authorities confirmed that two detainees had committed acts of self harm. One of them needed stitches and is believed to have been taken away in an ambulance. No other details have been released. 

91 Anti-child abuse groups are calling on Australia's Governor-General to resign or explain to a full Senate inquiry how he handled claims of alleged sexual abuse at a Queensland Anglican school. Dr Peter Hollingworth has released a statement responding to claims he failed to act on abuse at the Toowoomba school in 1990 when he was the Anglican Archbishop. In a three-page statement, Dr Hollingworth says he could no longer stand by and allow completely unfounded allegations to be made about him. He says at the time of the alleged abuse, legal obligations played heavily in his decision not to intervene personally. The Governor-General says he relied on advice from church officials at the time, who told him not to intervene because it would jeopardise the church's insurance policy. Hetty Johnston, from the People's Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse, says the Governor Generals version of events is hard to believe. "If Dr Hollingworth denies these allegations and refutes them, the voracity of those people who have made these allegations against him need to be tested in a Senate inquiry because there is a lot evidence that disputes the voracity of the statements made by Dr Hollingworth," Ms Johnston said. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie says while the Governor-General has faced serious criticism about his sensitivity in the situation, legal and insurance considerations are a sad reality. "The Governor-General's comment that the issue would have been approached differently and better, now might seem hollow to those involved, but he must be given credit now for having issued [a] statement. "I am sure that armed with the wisdom of hindsight, the issue would have been better handled," Mr Beattie said. 

92 The Flanders graveyard of thousands of Australian World War I soldiers in Belgium could be overrun by a motorway. Flemish authorities are considering a new bypass through the heart of the Pilkem Ridge battlefield, the site of the opening infantry campaign of the Third Battle of Ypres from July to November 1917, in which 9,200 Australian servicemen lost their lives. Five thousand of the Australians are accounted for, but if the proposed route gets the go ahead, many of the thousands still missing will be buried under bitumen and heavy traffic. The proposed route would split the battlefield in two, and also run close to about a dozen war cemeteries in Belgium maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The route of the motorway is to be decided early next year. 

93 Federal Labor MP Carmen Lawrence says there is a lot of momentum within the party for the ALP to change its policy on asylum seekers. Dr Lawrence says maintaining the policy will lose the sympathy of some sections of the community who have thought very carefully about the issues. She says it will also annoy others who supported the Coalition's stance and see the ALP as compromised. The Member for Fremantle says Labor did not suffer in the polls after it differentiated itself from the Coalition in 1996 and 1998. "We committed to native title, we refused the extinguishment options that Howard put forward," she said. "We indicated our willingness to give an official apology on behalf of the nation to the Stolen Generations and we didn't lose a single vote, in fact we came the nearest to winning an election after having been nearly obliterated in 1996." 

94 A senior Hamas official has said the radical Palestinian movement has decided to stop suicide bombings against Israel. He told the Agence France Presse news agency that Hamas had taken an internal decision to end what it calls "martyrdom operations", but it was not going to make an official declaration. The official refused to say what tactics the radical group would use in its avowed struggle to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, or if it would revert to grisly attacks if Israel carries out more "targeted" killings, which have taken a heavy toll on Hamas operatives. "We can't predict anything," the official said. An official from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement also said there had been a meeting of various Palestinian factions in the West Bank on Wednesday and that Hamas had informed them they were halting their operations. The suicide attacks triggered a massive Israeli armed response and sweeping international condemnation. The Fatah official, who likewise asked to remain anonymous, said Hamas had said it did not want to damage Palestinian national unity by carrying on with such operations. Hamas suicide bombers blew themselves up in Jerusalem and Haifa, in northern Israel, at the beginning of this month, killing 26 people and provoking the heaviest Israeli air raids against Mr Arafat's administration to date. Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon severed all ties with Mr Arafat last week after another Hamas attack, which used gunmen and roadside explosives rather than suicide bombings. Mr Arafat in turn ordered the closure of dozens of Hamas offices and has started arresting its militants. A senior Israeli Defence official was quoted by army radio on Tuesday as saying Hamas had shifted the focus in its guerrilla war against Israel, and now  planned to attack strategic targets rather than "soft" ones, such as public buses or crowded shopping areas. The defence source said the focus will be on attacking strategic buildings and senior Israeli officials. 

95 Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says the Commonwealth's democracy watchdog should put Zimbabwe formally on its agenda in the first step to possible suspension from the organisation. Mr Downer says ministers from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) should review whether the reported violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe means it has violated the Commonwealth's code of good governance. CMAG ministers from Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Botswana, Britain, Canada, Malaysia and Nigeria will meet in London tomorrow for talks on Zimbabwe. In recent meetings, they have suspended both Fiji and Pakistan following military coups. However, their talks on the violent campaign of farm occupations in Zimbabwe have been restricted to informal discussions, as President Robert Mugabe's government holds power through recognised elections. Mr Downer also says the Commonwealth ministers should maintain pressure on President Mugabe to allow international observers to oversee presidential elections next March. 

96 Legal abortion in Tasmania is one step closer with the lower house of Parliament voting to change the state's abortion laws. After a marathon 16-hour debate,  the House of Assembly this morning passed by 15 votes to eight, a Private Member's Bill which would allow medically sanctioned abortions. Debate on the bill began at 11:30am AEDT yesterday and at 5:00am today Speaker Michael Polley declared a result. Just before 10:00pm, the Deputy Premier Paul Lennon, Police Minister David Llewellyn and Labor backbencher Steven Kons abstained from voting on the bill's second reading. Then came seven hours of debate on proposed amendments calling for further expert opinion, post procedure counselling, cooling off periods and calls to stop the bill being retrospective. But apart from an amendment to ensure a specialist assessment, and written consent for the procedure, the bill passed unchanged. The Legislative Council will begin debate on the bill at 9:00am today. 

97 England batsman Michael Vaughan has become just the seventh player in the history of Test cricket to be given out handling the ball. Vaughan was on 64 when he flicked the ball with his hand towards a fielder on the first day of the third and final Test against India at Bangalore. The Englishmen says he was disappointed in the appeal by the Indians, which he believes was not in the spirit of the game. "In the laws, I shouldn't have done it, but I thought I was just helping out the fielders," he said. "I feel a bit disappointed on their behalf, one of their players appealed, I'm not too sure who it was, but a bit disappointed really." England finished the opening day at 6 for 255. Mark Ramprakash was out for 58, he and Vaughan adding 113 for the fourth wicket after England was struggling at 3 for 93. Staff at the Woomera Detention Centre are still on red alert as a result of continuing disturbances involving detainees. A further eight buildings were set on fire overnight and a spokesman for Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock says damage from fires at the facility over the past month is now estimated at $2 million. He says six detention officers were injured during last night's disturbance, out of which four have returned to work. He says damage to the buildings ranged from minor to extensive. It is understood some detainees had helped staff extinguish fires last night. The spokesman says up to 300 detainees had tried to break through the main fence during last night's disturbance and tear gas was used to prevent any escape. 

98 Australian authorities are to be granted access to David Hicks, arrested by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. The Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, says the 26-year-old from South Australia is still being held in custody by the United States aboard the USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea. Mr Williams says the suspected Al Qaeda fighter will interrogated by a team of ASIO and Federal Police officers. "What is proposed is that he will be interrogated by an ASIO/AFP team," he said. "He was captured by the Northern Alliance team in a conflict situation. "He's held in military custody and whatever is the appropriate practice in that context will be followed," Mr Williams said. "I do not imagine that he will be offered legal representation in these present circumstances." 

99 The Pentagon says the US military is continuing to search caves in the Tora Bora region, in eastern Afghanistan, even though local Afghan forces have pulled out. US officials say they are still unsure whether suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is in the region. The United States Government says it is still no closer to finding bin Laden and that for now, the US mission will stay focused in Tora Bora, even though local anti-Taliban fighters have pulled out, because they believe there are no Al Qaeda members left. Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has discussed options for the military campaign beyond Afghanistan. "I think the places that we're going to be looking at immediately beyond Afghanistan  first and foremost, those places where we think senior Al Qaeda might be trying to escape to," Mr Wolfowitz said. US forces have now captured 15 prisoners, but are not receiving useful information from them. In Afghanistan, local tribal leaders now believe bin Laden will not be captured. Mujaheddin returning from the mountains, say they have seen no Al Qaeda fighters and doubt they will find bin Laden. Hundreds of anti-Taliban troops are still scouring the hilltops for bin Laden loyalists, believed to be fleeing towards Pakistan. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is still debating key issues in a resolution authorising a multinational force to help provide security in Afghanistan, just days before an interim government is scheduled to take power in the country. Around 100 British Royal Marine commandos are expected in Kabul this weekend to spearhead the force, but local leaders are still haggling over the total number of peacekeepers and the UN is trying to define their mandate. Britain will be leading the force, with contributions expected from several countries including Australia. 

100 The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) says it has already warned operators of piston-engined aircraft of the potential dangers of running engines with an overly lean fuel mixture. The recommendation is a key feature of the Transport Safety Bureau's main report into last year's fatal Whyalla Airlines crash in South Australia's Spencer Gulf. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau today released its report into the crash, which killed eight people in May last year. The report has ruled out pilot error, saying mechanical failures in both engines forced the pilot of the plane to ditch the aircraft. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority says it is already acting on four safety improvement recommendations, with further regulation changes due before the end of the year. The authority says it has also begun to encourage conservative fuel leaning. Other recommendations relating to operating and maintenance procedures for high powered piston engines and procedures for ditching aircraft are still to be investigated by CASA, before a formal response is released. Meanwhile, the husband of crash victim, Teresa Pawlik, says he is yet to digest the full report, but is relieved it has been completed. Wal Pawlik says he and his family are still coming to terms with the loss. "You carry on don't you? I think it's been much more difficult for my daughters. That's about all I can say on that," he said. 

101 The Northern Territory's coroner has found that an Aboriginal boy who died in custody nearly two years ago should not have to be in detention. In February last year, the teenager died in hospital from compression of the neck after hanging himself in the Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre. In his report, the coroner, Dick Wallace, said the 15-year-old was a lonely and negelected orphan who had been offending since he was 13. In January last year, the teenager was given a mandatory 28-day sentence for stealing stationery. However, the coroner said the boy had been eligible to undertake a diversionary program of victim-offender conferencing instead of being sent to detention. The court had not considered that option and neither the prosecutor nor the boy's lawyer had told the magistrate there was an alternative to a custodial sentence. 

102 Ansett's administrators are confident of paying out the entitlements of almost 5,000 workers who opted for redundancy when the airline collapsed last September. About 4,000 workers have been paid their entitlements overnight and it is expected another 800 will be paid out by the end of the week. Administrator Mark Mentha says Ansett's new owners will now decide how many of the remaining employees will be offered jobs, with the remainder to be paid redundancy packages next year. He says it was always hoped the money would be handed over before Christmas as some workers had been without payment for up to 12 weeks. "We would've preferred these payments to have been made a month ago but just the difficulty, in terms of the sheer size of the redundancy programs being undertaken at Ansett and difficulties in negotiation that have prevailed and the complexity of the Federal Government scheme and getting it through the Federal Court has certainly made life difficult, but we're very pleased that the money started flowing yesterday," Mr Mentha said. 

103 The secretary general of the Law Council, Michael Lavarch, says the Government's proposed new ASIO laws need guarantees to protect the rights of individuals. The Federal Government wants to give officers the power to detain suspects for 48 hours without legal representation. ASIO already has the power to jail people for up to five years if they refuse to answer questions. Mr Lavarch, a former Labor attorney-general, says he is concerned ASIO could use the laws to detain people indefinitely. "The government's yet to make its case - it's a very draconian power and if it is required in order to protect public safety, it's absolutely essential that there be important safeguards," he said. 

104 The HIH Royal Commission has heard evidence that there were doubts about the company's ability to pay all of its creditors three months before its collapse. A partner for accountancy firm Ernst and Young, John Gibbons, says he and his colleague, Kim Smith, attended a meeting with HIH on November 28. Mr Gibbons has told the commission, HIH chairman Ray Williams and finance director Dominic Federa were at  that meeting. Mr Gibbons said Mr Smith noted that if HIH was wound up on that date there would be a clear shortage of assets to pay creditors. He says the directors were told it was highly likely all creditors would not receive 100 per cent returns. The commission has also heard that the accountancy firm told the directors that even with HIH's restructuring plans there was potential for insolvency. 

105 Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh has supported fast bowler Brett Lee after criticism of his intimidatory bowling to the South African tailenders in the first Test in Adelaide. Earlier this month, Lee was fined for giving New Zealand tailender Shane Bond an unsportsmanlike send-off during the third Test in Perth. Waugh says tailenders should not be protected from short-pitched bowling. "These days you're earning big money, you've got a responsibility to learn how to bat," he said. "I mean there's no times like 20 years ago when it was not professional and sort of a bowlers' code. "These days you're professional, our batsmen work very hard at their batting and expect other tailenders to do likewise." Meanwhile, Waugh says his side will need to guard against complacency after convincingly winning the first Test by 246 runs. Waugh says despite the dominance of his side in the first Test, South Africa can never be taken lightly. "It's only one Test match out of three, or six whichever way you want to look at it, so there's a lot of work to go," he said. "But it's nice to win the first battle definitely, it gives us a lot of confidence going into Melbourne, you know, the big crowd there, we love playing in front of the Boxing Day crowd, so that will be to our advantage as well." South Africa begins a four-day match against New South Wales in Sydney on Thursday in the lead up to the Boxing Day Test. Veteran fast bowler Allan Donald will play in the warm-up match and is likely to take his place in the team for the second Test. South African captain Shaun Pollock expects a much better performance from his side in the Melbourne Test. "We still believe that we didn't play to our full potential, so if we can improve on our aspects...the output we put out on the field will be a lot better and we still believe we have a side that is good enough to beat Australia on our day," he said. 

106 Fresh palls of smoke are billowing from the Woomera Detention Centre in South Australia's far north. Trouble at the centre has entered day three, with a plume of smoke 20 metres high into the air and up to 100 metres across the compound this morning. Thirteen buildings were either destroyed or damaged by fire on Monday night. Overnight fires and rioting appeared to have abated just after midnight local time. Three fire crews, one ambulance and several police have attended the scene. A water cannon and three tear-gas canisters were used to subdue detainees, who throughout the night were thought to be chanting "visa". It is not known whether anyone has been injured or arrested overnight. The acting Immigration Minister, Daryl Williams, says the Government is not losing control of Woomera. He has told Channel Nine, vandalism is not going to get visas for the detainees. "The detainees, who have been provided with very good facilities and who to our knowledge have absolutely no complaint about the facilities there, are engaging in this campaign of damaging and destroying buildings in order to put pressure on the Australian authorities to grant them a visa," he said. There is a plea for so-called high-risk detainees to be separated from the rest of the population ath the Woomera Detention Centre in the wake of continued disturbances there. South Australian Labor MP Lyn Breuer, whose electorate covers Woomera, says higher risk detainees must be separated from women and children at the centre. "I think that will probably have to be the ultimate solution, we will have to send high risk detainees to other areas," she said. "We can't keep them in an environment where there are young children's all a very nasty situation and I have particular concerns for the people that are guarding them as well, because one of them is going to get hurt very badly, very soon." 

107 The Federal Government has called on Labor not to delay its plans to increase the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation's (ASIO) powers to combat terrorism. Labor wants a parliamentary inquiry to be set up to examine proposals to significantly increase ASIO's powers to detain and interrogate suspects. Under proposed legislation to go before Parliament next year, ASIO would have the power to detain suspects for up to 48 hours without charge and legal representation. If the Opposition's push for an investigation is successful, that could postpone debate on the bill for up to several months. But Labor's spokesman on Home Affairs, John Faulkner, says the Opposition does not want to unnecessarily delay the proposed legislation. "We want to make sure that it is dealt with quickly by the Parliament but we also want to make sure that these important and unprecedented new powers for ASIO get the most thorough public examination and airing that's possible," he said. Attorney-General Daryl Williams says the Government is relying on Labor not to obstruct the bill's passage. "We're looking to Labor's support for this," he said. "Labor has supported the counter terrorism proposals we put forward and we believe that this is an appropriate one for them to support as well." Meanwhile, the Federal Government is under pressure to release more details about plans to place armed security officers on domestic flights. The Police Federation and unions are criticising the Government's handling of security at Australia's airports. The Federal Government says armed air marshals will be on all domestic flights by Christmas, a move which has the Police Federation concerned. Chief executive Mark Burgess there are not enough details. "We know very little about what is proposed, we know virtually nothing about the training that these people will be afforded," he said. Warren Bennett, from the Board of Airline Representatives, says he understands why the plans are being put in place, but says airlines are wary of the move. "It's always a bit of a concern to the captain that there would be anyone with some sort of weapon on the plane," he said. Unions are also worried, saying workers at airports are not being given adequate training to cope with upgraded security measures after the terrorist attacks of September 11. 

108 The Pentagon says the US military is continuing to search caves in the Tora Bora region, in eastern Afghanistan, even though local Afghan forces have pulled out. US officials say they are still unsure whether suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is in the region. The United States Government says it is still no closer to finding bin Laden and that for now, the US mission will stay focused in Tora Bora, even though local anti-Taliban fighters have pulled out, because they believe there are no Al Qaeda members left. Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has discussed options for the military campaign beyond Afghanistan. "I think the places that we're going to be looking at immediately beyond Afghanistan  first and foremost, those places where we think senior Al Qaeda might be trying to escape to," Mr Wolfowitz said. US forces have now captured 15 prisoners, but are not receiving useful information from them. In Afghanistan, local tribal leaders now believe bin Laden will not be captured. Mujaheddin returning from the mountains, say they have seen no Al Qaeda fighters and doubt they will find bin Laden. Hundreds of anti-Taliban troops are still scouring the hilltops for bin Laden loyalists, believed to be fleeing towards Pakistan. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is still debating key issues in a resolution authorising a multinational force to help provide security in Afghanistan, just days before an interim government is scheduled to take power in the country. Around 100 British Royal Marine commandos are expected in Kabul this weekend to spearhead the force, but local leaders are still haggling over the total number of peacekeepers and the UN is trying to define their mandate. Britain will be leading the force, with contributions expected from several countries including Australia. But the UN's deputy envoy to Afghanistan, Ahmed Fawzi, says he is not concerned about the administrative delays. "This is not something we can push through, it's not instant coffee and water," he said. "You have to go through all the details and it's a very complex operation to put together a force like this. "Yes, it was what we had in mind, yes, these are exceptional circumstances, yes, we need to move extremely fast in order to provide the environment necessary for the new interim administration to work in secure circumstances," Mr Fawzi said. In Brussels, the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has told NATO allies to prepare for the threat of nuclear, chemical and biological attacks on their biggest cities. He has told a NATO defence ministers' meeting that the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon may be a preview of what is to come, if they do not make adequate preparations. "The nexus between states with weapons of mass destruction and terrorist networks raises the danger that September the 11th could be a preview of what could come, if the enemies of freedom gain ability to strike our nations with weapons of increasingly greater power," Mr Rumsfeld said. The Federal Government says Australian authorities may soon have access to suspected Taliban fighter David Hicks. The 27-year-old is on board the USS Peleliu in the Indian Ocean. Attorney-General Daryl Williams has told Channel Nine it is still not known whether he will be brought back to Australia after interrogation. He says that depends on what information Australian officials receive. 

109 The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has described economic conditions in Australia as "reasonably robust", in the release of its latest world economic outlook. The IMF says prospects globally remain subject to considerable uncertainty, but a number of factors should help support recovery in 2002, including the stimulus still in the pipeline from policy decisions by central banks and governments around the world. A sharp weakening in oil prices should also contribute. The IMF says growth in Australia is expected to reach 3.3 per cent in 2002 - stronger than this year, but half a percentage point lower than projected in its October outlook. Australia's exports, while sustained so far by a weak currency, could come under pressure if global growth and commodity prices remain weak. 

110 Fire has damaged part of St John the Divine cathedral in New York, one of the world's largest cathedrals. New York firefighters battled the blaze for four hours before bringing it under control. Fire officials say there were no reported injuries, but the cathedral's gift shop had been badly damaged and the sanctuary suffered some smoke and water damage. The fire started at around 6:30am on Tuesday, local time, in the church's gift shop, but around 200 firemen were able to stem the flames' spread, preventing major damage to the sanctuary itself. Thick black smoke and bright orange flames had billowed from the immense structure in north-western Manhattan, near the Columbia University campus. The cause of the fire is as yet unknown. Firefighter Robert Savarese, who was among the first to enter the church, said the main problem was visibility. "We knew which direction the fire was coming from, and we just went toward it," he said. Mr Savarese was among a group of firemen inside the building when Third Division Deputy Chief Edward Dennehy, who was standing outside, noticed flames pouring out of the building's roof. "The guys in side thought it was a small fire because they could not see through the thick smoke," Mr Dennehy said. "The ceiling could have collapsed." The firefighters battling the blaze inside were pulled out, and the fire was subsequently attacked with thick fire hoses from atop a tall crane. 

111 The radical Palestinian group Hamas has reportedly shifted the focus in its guerrilla war against Israel. A senior Israeli Defence official has told Israel Army Radio the Palestinian organisation is now planning to attack strategic targets. Hamas has carried out numerous suicide bombings in Israel, but its targets have tended to be what are known as soft ones, such as public buses, or crowded shopping areas. But now, the Israel official says Hamas' focus will be on attacking strategic buildings and senior Israeli officials and he admits that stopping the group will be next to impossible. Hamas has rejected a call by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for an end to all military operations against Israel, and a return to peace negotiations. 

112 Joseph Gutnick, the saviour and former president of the Melbourne Football Club, has failed in his bid to be re-elected as president, after stepping down earlier this year. He was also dumped from the board. Gabriel Szondy and his Team Vision ticket comprehensively beat Mr Gutnick's Melbourne First ticket, in an election which saw 75 per cent of the club's more than 16,000 members vote. Mr Szondy says he is pleased it was such a decisive victory. "We're very happy that the members have voted so overwhelmingly in support of the ticket and it hasn't been cherry-picked," he said. He attributed the victory to both the presence of former Demon's great Robert Flower on his ticket and Mr Gutnick's ill-timed attempt to settle the presidency issue mid-season. Arriving at the club's annual general meeting last night, Mr Gutnick said regardless of the outcome, he expected the result to unite the club. "It shouldn't divide the club, we should drop all our differences and work together." 

113 Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh has supported fast bowler Brett Lee after criticism of his intimidatory bowling to the South African tailenders in the first Test in Adelaide. Earlier this month, Lee was fined for giving New Zealand tailender Shane Bond an unsportsmanlike send-off during the third Test in Perth. Waugh says tailenders should not be protected from short-pitched bowling. "These days you're earning big money, you've got a responsibility to learn how to bat," he said. "I mean there's no times like 20 years ago when it was not professional and sort of a bowlers' code. "These days you're professional, our batsmen work very hard at their batting and expect other tailenders to do likewise." Meanwhile, Waugh says his side will need to guard against complacency after convincingly winning the first Test by 246 runs. Waugh says despite the dominance of his side in the first Test, South Africa can never be taken lightly. "It's only one Test match out of three, or six whichever way you want to look at it, so there's a lot of work to go," he said. "But it's nice to win the first battle definitely, it gives us a lot of confidence going into Melbourne, you know, the big crowd there, we love playing in front of the Boxing Day crowd, so that will be to our advantage as well." South Africa begins a four-day match against New South Wales in Sydney on Thursday in the lead up to the Boxing Day Test. Veteran fast bowler Allan Donald will play in the warm-up match and is likely to take his place in the team for the second Test. South African captain Shaun Pollock expects a much better performance from his side in the Melbourne Test. "We still believe that we didn't play to our full potential, so if we can improve on our aspects...the output we put out on the field will be a lot better and we still believe we have a side that is good enough to beat Australia on our day," he said. 

114 The Immigration Department says overnight fires at the Woomera Detention Centre are part of a deliberate criminal campaign by detainees. It says 13 buildings were damaged or destroyed. A spokesman for the department says the first fire was lit at about 11:00pm (ACDT) last night, after two earlier demonstrations about visa applications. He says detainees threw rocks, chairs and other objects in an effort to stop staff and local fire brigade officers from putting out the fires. The department estimates the damage bill from fire-related incidents at Woomera has reached more than $1.5 million since November 20. Last night, three accommodation blocks were destroyed, as well as a mess hall and a computing facility. The department say no detainees were injured, but 15 detention centre officers were treated for smoke inhalation. 

115 The Federal Cabinet has today endorsed a series of anti-terrorism measures at a meeting in Sydney. New legislation will give more power to Commonwealth agencies, including allowing ASIO to detain people with information about terrorism for up to 48 hours without legal representation. Terrorism offences will also be inserted in the criminal code and security agencies will be given the power to access unread emails. Attorney-General Daryl Williams says the measures should win widespread community support. "The balancing process that we've undergone in working out the ASIO paths I believe is a fair one and I believe that the public will strongly support it, as I said I hope the Labor party will get behind it as well," he said. Mr Williams has appealed for the Opposition to support the new anti-terrorism measures. "We're looking for the Labor Party to get behind us on all of these proposals and we need the cooperation of the states and territories in relation to some of them," Mr Williams said. Mr Williams also says the first group of 22 air security officers will have finished their training this weekend but he won't reveal when they will take to the air. US and Afghan forces scoured Afghanistan's eastern highlands for Osama bin Laden, as United States President George W Bush expressed certainty the terror suspect would be caught, even though his whereabouts remain a mystery. For the first time in two weeks, the Tora Bora battleground fell silent, as tribal forces claimed they had defeated bin Laden's Al Qaeda fighters defending a complex of caves and tunnels that served as their headquarters. US warplanes suspended their bombing raids at the request of a local commander whose US-backed forces were scouring the mountainous area for fleeing Al Qaeda members, according to the Pentagon, which said there were still pockets of resistance in the area. US commandos also were on the ground searching for bin Laden, though the US administration said it had no clue whether he was still in the area. "A few days ago we believed he was in the area," Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem said in Washington. Asked where bin Laden was now, the Pentagon spokesman said, "anybody's guess is the latest thinking". But President Bush expressed certainty it was just a matter time before the United States catches up with the man accused of masterminding the September 11 attacks on US cities. "We get all kinds of reports, that he's in a cave, that he's not in a cave; that he's escaped, that he hasn't escaped," he said. "There's all kinds of speculation, but when the dust clears, we'll find out where he is and he will be brought to justice." 

116 Australia is continuing to negotiate with the United States Government in an effort to interview the Australian, David Hicks, who was captured fighting alongside Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Mr Hicks is being held by the United States on board a ship in the Afghanistan region, where the Australian Federal Police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) officials are trying to gain access. Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has also confirmed that the Australian Government is investigating reports that another Australian has been fighting for Taliban forces in Afghanistan. "We often get reports of people going to different parts of the world and asking us to investigate them," he said. "We always investigate, sometimes it is impossible to find out. "We just don't know in this case, but it is not to say that we think there are a lot of Australians in Afghanistan, the only case we know is Hicks." Mr Downer says it is unclear when Mr Hicks will be back on Australian soil, but he is hopeful the Americans will facilitate Australian authorities interviewing him. 

117 Yasser Arafat has accused Israel of escalating violence by killing three Palestinians, including a child, one day after he called for an end to all anti-Israeli attacks. Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he was waiting for action and not "empty promises" from the Palestinian leader. He also accused Mr Arafat of "doing nothing to prevent" attacks, in a telephone call with French President Jacques Chirac, the Prime Minister's office reported. President Chirac, meanwhile, said Mr Arafat remains the only negotiating partner for Israel, in separate calls with Prime Minister Sharon and the Palestinian leader. A televised address late yesterday by Mr Arafat, in which he said the persistent attacks must end and that perpetrators would be punished, was hailed by United Nations Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen as "a potential turning point in the search for an end to the violence". But the largest Islamic radical group, Hamas, issued a statement vowing to continue its holy war and slamming his peace call as an invitation for Mr  Sharon to "exterminate" Palestinians. Mr Arafat has closed dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad offices in response to punishing Israeli air attacks and massive international pressure to jail Islamic extremists who have killed dozens of Israelis in attacks this month. But the violence has continued. Today, Palestinian gunmen launched their first ambushes, wounding three Jewish settlers, including a father and three-year-old boy, in two separate shootings in the West Bank. The Israeli Army, which during the day said there had been a marked drop in violence immediately following Mr Arafat's speech - killed three Palestinians in separate incidents. In the first, Israeli troops trying to arrest a wanted Hamas member in Hebron shot the suspect dead as he tried to flee a raid on his house in a Palestinian-controlled area of the West Bank town, Palestinian police said. After Mr Sharon cut off ties with Mr Arafat last week for failing to prevent successive attacks, Israel has said it will take security matters in the Palestinian territories into its own hands. Israeli troops operating in West Bank land nominally under Palestinian control near Nablus also shot dead a Palestinian security officer approaching an army post set up on self-rule territory. 

118 Unions representing Qantas maintenance workers have warned of escalating industrial action if the company rejects an offer to have a long running dispute arbitrated. The parties were locked in private talks yesterday in the Industrial Relations Commission after more than 3,000 maintenance workers earlier voted to reject Qantas' proposed wage freeze. The national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing and Workers Union (AMWU), Doug Cameron, says the unions have done everything possible to resolve the dispute. "If Qantas is not prepared to accept private arbitration, there is absolutely no alternative for these workers to take further industrial action, escalate the industrial action if necessary to ensure that they get a fair go from this company who seemed determined to crush them underfoot," he said. 

119 Australia has beaten South Africa by 246 runs in the first Test at the Adelaide Oval. Needing 375 for victory, the tourists were dismissed late in the second session on the final day for 128. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne each took three wickets, while Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee picked up two apiece. Warne was named man of the match. Jacques Kallis was the major resistance for the Proteas, notching an unbeaten 65. But he was ably assisted by his number 10 and 11 batsmen, Makhaya Ntini and Nanti Hayward, who frustrated the Australians for the best part of two hours. Set 375 for victory and starting the day at 2 for 17, the task was made much harder when Boeta Dippenaar was on his way early this morning, caught at first slip by Shane Warne from the bowling of Glenn McGrath. Two balls later Neil McKenzie, top scorer in the the Proteas' first innings, was out leg before wicket not playing a shot to McGrath. Lance Klusener and Kallis shared in a 33-run partnership, before Klusener, on 18, edged Gillespie to Warne at first slip. Mark Boucher became the third duck of the innings, getting a glove to a ball down the leg-side, Adam Gilchrist completing Gillespie's second wicket. Captain Shaun Pollock scored 1 before he was brilliantly caught at silly point by Ricky Ponting, Warne's second victim. Claude Henderson lasted just four balls after the luncheon interval before popping a catch to Ponting, his fifth for the match, at silly point from Warne's bowling. From there it seemed the match would be over in a matter of minutes, with Ntini and Hayward not expected to offer much resistance. But Ntini batted for more than an hour for his four runs, sharing with Kallis in the highest partnership of the innings, 38 runs. But he fell to Brett Lee, a swinging yorker deflecting off his pads and crashing into the stumps. Hayward also proved a menace to the Australians, taking more than half an hour for his 12 runs before he was caught behind from Lee's bowling and the innings was over. His innings was not without incident though, a Lee yorker crashing into his toes, sending him to the ground for a lengthy examination of the injury. He was out three balls later. Australia is now 1-0 in the best of three series. The next Test starts on Boxing Day at the MCG. 

120 Australia is continuing to negotiate with the United States Government in an effort to interview the Australian, David Hicks, who was captured fighting alongside Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Mr Hicks is being held by the United States on board a ship in the Afghanistan region, where the Australian Federal Police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) officials are trying to gain access. Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has also confirmed that the Australian Government is investigating reports that another Australian has been fighting for Taliban forces in Afghanistan. "We often get reports of people going to different parts of the world and asking us to investigate them," he said. "We always investigate, sometimes it is impossible to find out. "We just don't know in this case, but it is not to say that we think there are a lot of Australians in Afghanistan, the only case we know is Hicks." Mr Downer says it is unclear when Mr Hicks will be back on Australian soil, but he is hopeful the Americans will facilitate Australian authorities interviewing him. 

121 Unions representing Qantas maintenance workers have warned of escalating industrial action if the company rejects an offer to have a long running dispute arbitrated. The parties were locked in private talks yesterday in the Industrial Relations Commission after more than 3,000 maintenance workers earlier voted to reject Qantas' proposed wage freeze. The national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing and Workers Union (AMWU), Doug Cameron, says the unions have done everything possible to resolve the dispute. "If Qantas is not prepared to accept private arbitration, there is absolutely no alternative for these workers to take further industrial action, escalate the industrial action if necessary to ensure that they get a fair go from this company who seemed determined to crush them underfoot," he said. 

122 The latest business expectations survey is raising hopes of a solid economic start to the new year. The Dun and Bradstreet survey has identified positive projections for sales, profits, investment and employment. Of the organisations questioned by Dun & Bradstreet during November, 48 per cent were looking for an increase in sales in the first quarter of the new year. Twenty per cent were planning to take on extra staff compared with 15 per cent who said they had been shedding labour. Profit projections are well up, while investment intentions have improved slightly. The survey has also found companies are finding it significantly easier to comply with the goods and services tax (GST). 

123 At least four people, including two policemen, have been killed during an attempted coup in Haiti overnight. Armed commandos had stormed the national palace in the Haitian capital after midnight, local time and seized control of radio communications equipment. The attackers, understood to be former members of the Haitian military, fired at security guards as they entered the palace - the official residence of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. But the President was at another home in the capital Port-au-Prince during the attack. It is understood some of the gunmen have been arrested and the Haitian Government says it is now back in control. President Aristide was deposed in a coup 10 years ago, but was returned to power in 1994 after a United States invasion. He was recently re-elected for five years. 

124 A new report has revealed there are fewer young people using homeless services than widely thought. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report shows just over 1 per cent of people aged between 15 and 24 used such services over the past year. The main reason for young people seeking assistance was based on family or relationship difficulties. The report suggests the older people become, the less they use homeless services. 

125 The Federal Opposition wants tougher penalties for ships which spill oil after last week's spill which affected Phillip Island. Volunteers hope to clean up the last of the oil at Phillip Island today. Authorities are still trying to track down the source of the spill, which affected 360 fairy penguins. Shadow Environment Minister Kelvin Thomson says better deterrents are needed to prevent further spills. "One of the problems with oil spills appears to be a lack of prosecution action and I believe that it is important that people who recklessly or negligently cause oil spills, which seriously damage the environment are subject to prosecution action," he said. 

126 The United States Space Shuttle Endeavour has touched down at Florida's Kennedy Space Centre after a 12 day mission, bringing home a crew that had been on the International Space Station since August. The shuttle, carrying outgoing space station commander Frank Culbertson and Russian cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin, along with four other astronauts, landed at 12.55pm local time. Taking over from the trio are Russian commander Yuri Onufrienko and US astronauts Carl Walz and Dan Bursch, who travelled to the station aboard Endeavour on December 5. Earlier Monday, the seven US and Russian astronauts on board Endeavour woke up to the tune Please Come Home for Christmas, by the rock group Bon Jovi. On Sunday, the Endeavour crew deployed a small satellite called Starshine 2 from a canister located in the shuttle's payload bay. More than 30,000 students from 26 countries will track the satellite as it orbits earth for the next eight months. The students will collect information in order to calculate the density of the upper atmosphere, NASA said. On Saturday, Endeavour undocked from the space station after making a last-minute maneuver to dodge a piece of Soviet-era space refuse. The Endeavour mission, the 12th shuttle trip to the International Space Station, brought some three tonnes of equipment and materials for scientific experiments to the station. The trip, carried out under extremely tight security, was the first since the September 11 attacks on the United States. 

127 Federal Science Minister Peter McGauran says he is confident security measures at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney are adequate, despite a major protest this morning. Dozens of Greenpeace demonstrators walked through the front entrance of the facility this morning, unfurling anti-nuclear banners on a radio tower and the reactor building. More than 40 people were arrested. Mr McGauran says guards and police quickly had the situation under control. "We won't be rushed into any change of security procedures, because we know we have very strong security," he said. "It was really a decision by the guards at the time to make a risk assessment, and they decided these demonstrators, particularly given their large numbers, could not be stopped. "But quickly New South Wales police could be called," he said. 

128 US forces backed by their Afghan allies are pursuing hundreds of Al Qaeda militants who have fled into the mountains after losing their bases near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan. Local Afghan commanders say the militants have been flushed out of all their cave hideouts by weeks of heavy American bombing and a decisive ground assault. But American defence officials have been more cautious, saying the fight is far from over. They say up to 2,000 Al Qaeda members are on the run. The U-S has conceded that the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden remain a mystery despite reports that his Al Qaeda network appears close to defeat in Afghanistan. A  Yemeni man who surrendered says saw bin Laden in the area 10 days ago. Senior officials say they are certain that bin Laden was in the Tora Bora mountains in eastern Afghanistan and point to bin Laden's distinctive voice being heard on a hand held radio. Local Afghan commanders say they have overrun all the Al Qaeda caves. However the head of the US Central Command, General Tommy Franks, says it will take some time to confirm reports that Al Qaeda fighters are on the run. "We are in fact with these opposition force commanders down in the vicinity of Tora Bora," he said. "They are making progress, but I think it's accurate to say that it's going to be a while before we have the area of Tora Bora fully under control," he said. 

129 Qantas has moved to assure travellers there will be no disruption to flights over the Christmas period, despite threats of industrial action. Qantas maintenance workers have rejected the airline's proposals for a wage freeze. As negotiations over the dispute continue in the Industrial Relations Commission, Qantas Chief Executive Geoff Dixon has expressed his disappointment at the maintenance workers' actions. Mr Dixon points out 92 per cent of the airline's workforce have already agreed in-principle to accept a wages freeze together with an incentives scheme. Mr Dixon claims maintenance workers earn, on average, 28 per cent above average weekly earnings and also receive generous staff travel benefits. Mr Dixon has assured nervous travellers that even if the workers do go out on strike, Qantas flights will not be disrupted. Maintenance unions are refusing to soften their stance against a Qantas wage freeze proposal. Qantas and two maintenance unions are continuing negotiations in the Industrial Relations Commission, where unions produced a leaked airline briefing paper which says Qantas is prepared to escalate the strike to force a resolution. 

130 The Governor-General will issue a statement this week to answer allegations about his response to alleged sexual abuse at a Queensland school. Dr Peter Hollingworth was the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane when a teacher at a Toowoomba Anglican school allegedly abused students there more than a decade ago. Pressure has been mounting on Dr Hollingworth to speak out after public criticism of his role in responding to the claims of abuse. A spokeswoman says Dr Hollingworth is becoming concerned that if he does not respond publicly to the allegations, he may jeopardise the standing of the position of Governor-General. The spokeswoman says Dr Hollingworth will issue a written statement in the next few days after obtaining legal advice. Four people were killed and eight others injured when a fire broke out overnight at a hotel in central Paris. A fire service spokesperson says the fire, which was brought under control within two hours, could have been an act of arson. The number of people staying in the hotel du Palais at the time the fire was not immediately known. The inferno began at around 3am in the elevator shaft of the six-storey hotel, next to the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris' first arrondissement, the centre of the French capital. The flames spread quickly via the shaft to the building's roof. Firemen helped several hotel guests to safety through the windows of their rooms. Two of the victims were found asphyxiated on the fifth floor. One of the injured was said to be in serious condition in hospital. According to police, one man was arrested at the scene and an inquiry has been opened. The theatre was undamaged. 

131 The condition of former Indonesian dictator Suharto has improved, a day after the 80-year-old former ruler was put on an intravenous drip and given oxygen to assist his breathing. Doctors performed a series of tests early today and said Suharto's condition had picked up slightly since yesterday. "He is still attached to an IV drip, but the doctors said 'Bapak' (father's) condition is much better than yesterday's," a staff member told AFP on the condition of anonymity. "The doctors are still talking to his  children," he said. Suharto fell ill on Sunday when he and his family received some 100 visitors, including ex-ministers and former vice presidents at his family house for celebrations to mark the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr. The former president ruled Indonesia for 32 years before he was forced from office in 1998. He has been fitted with a pacemaker and suffered at least one slight stroke as well as periodic breathing and urinary complications. He underwent an emergency appendectomy on February 24 this year. The staff said doctors had planned on hospitalising Suharto on Sunday, but Monday's test result showed he could be treated at home. "His breathing rhythm is normal and unlike yesterday, he does not required an oxygen mask," the staff member added. Suharto has been charged with embezzlling 5.775 trillion rupiah ($AUD1.102 billion) of public funds during his time in office. But he has repeatedly failed to appear in court to answer the charges with his lawyers arguing that he is too ill to stand trial. 

132 The new Solomon Islands Prime Minister has told his people that there are tough times ahead. Sir Allan Kemakeza, the parliamentary leader of the People's Alliance Party, was elected Prime Minister on the first ballot. Sir Allan heads up a team consisting of the surviving members of the outgoing government and a large grouping of newly elected independents. One of those held one of the most senior positions in the Malaita Eagle Force militia that conducted last year's coup, while others who have backed him were elected after being endorsed by the rival Guadalcanal militia, the Isatabu Freedom Movement. That ethnic conflict has left the Solomons economy close to collapse and hundreds of high powered guns remain with the militants. Sir Allan is putting his trust in God. "The times ahead are not going to be easy," he said. "These will be times of sacrifice." Sir Allan says that he also hopes to get agreement on disarming rival militias in the country within his first 100 days in office, in an attempt to remove any remaining high powered weapons from the community. He believes it was his contacts with the grass root militias on both sides of the ethnic war that led to the success of the Townsville Peace conference that brought the war to a halt. Sir Allan, a former policeman, says the police force, part of which took part in last year's coup, needs to be overhauled. "Both must go together, the disarmament program as well as the restructuring of the police force," he said. He says law and order will be one of his government's priorities. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's call for an end to attacks on Israelis has been met with a mixture of hope, scepticism and defiance. Under enormous international pressure to halt the violence, Mr Arafat has called for a halt to all armed operations against Israel, including suicide bombings, and vowed that the perpetrators would be punished. France, Britain and the United States have welcomed the announcement. The Israeli Cabinet Minister, Ephraim Sneh, says while it is a positive sign, the Palestinian Authority has to act on its words. "If he proves that he really means to act very very forcefully, sincerely, effectively, and seriously against the Islamic Jihad and Hamas and his own Tanzin movement that will be a positive sign," he said. 

133 Australia has picked up two wickets in South Africa's second innings late on day four of the first Test at the Adelaide Oval. Chasing 375 for victory, the Proteas are 2 for 17 at stumps, with openers Hershelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten back in the pavilion. Gibbs was out for 9 after chipping Glenn McGrath to Justin Langer at short leg. Then on the last ball of the day, Shane Warne picked up the wicket of Kirsten, caught at silly point by Ricky Ponting, for 7. An impressive century to Matthew Hayden helped Australia build a big lead, the home side declaring its second innings at 7 for 309, an overall lead of 374. Hayden and Mark Waugh shared a 181-run partnership for the third wicket, ensuring South Africa would be chasing a big target. Hayden scored 131 before he was bowled by Kallis, attempting to lift the run rate. His innings came from 207 balls, including 12 fours and four sixes. Waugh scored 74, before a top edge ballooned into the air and was safely taken by wicket keeper Mark Boucher to give Claude Henderson his first wicket. Adam Gilchrist was out for 22, caught on the square-leg boundary by Neil McKenzie to give Jacques Kallis his third wicket. Captain Steve Waugh followed shortly after, caught by his opposite number, Shaun Pollock, from Henderson's bowling, for 13. Shane Warne was the last wicket to fall, clean bowled by Henderson, for 6. 

134 The hunt for Osama bin Laden has shifted to the forests around the cave complex of Tora Bora after a swoop through the last caves failed to reveal any sign of the Saudi-born fugitive. US special forces are now combing the forests alongside anti-Taliban militias. Up to 500 Al Qaeda fighters are believed to have scattered into the hills, many heading south toward the Pakistan border. Local commanders have warned they will shoot any villager who shelters them. US bombing runs have eased off in the past 12 hours as American special forces move to deeper into the forest to coordinate the hunt. Earlier, US forces intercepted a voice communication they believed could be bin Laden speaking by short range radio to his fighters. However, a senior Afghan commander, Haji Zaman, said he believed bin Laden had left the Tora Bora area. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on a visit to US troops at Baghram air base outside Kabul, said the battle against the Taliban and Al Qaeda was not over. "There are still pockets of Taliban and Al Qaeda forces that have drifted into the mountains and could reform and there is a good deal yet to be done," he said. 

135 Israel has reacted with caution to a promise from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to hunt down suicide bombers and end armed attacks against Israeli targets. Mr Arafat made the commitments during a speech broadcast on Palestinian television. The Palestinian leader said Israel was using suicide attacks as a pretext for waging war on Palestinians and that such operations were therefore against Palestinian national interests. Israel will be looking to see whether Mr Arafat is offering anything more than words. He has promised to round up suicide bombers before but very few in fact have been arrested. Mr Arafat said peace was the only way of resolving the conflict and that the changed world situation since the attacks in the United States on September 11 had to be taken into account. The United States Government says it is keenly watching to see whether Mr  Arafat's actions match his words. The White House says it will continue to engage in the peace process, despite the withdrawal of its Middle East envoy. The Bush administration says the Palestinians are more to blame than the Israelis for the current disarray in the peace process, primarily because of Mr Arafat's inability to control terrorists in his ranks. Secretary of State Colin Powell says it is time for Mr Arafat to exert control. "But as President Bush said the other day and we have been saying repeatedly, as leader, he has to lead he has to act like a leader," he said. The White House says it will continue to play a role in the Middle East and expects its envoy General Anthony Zinni to return when he can play a productive role. 

136 A dispute which could threaten air services returns to the Industrial Relations Commission today. Qantas maintenance workers have rejected the airline's proposals for a wages freeze. The dispute involving 3,000 maintenance workers has been running for around six months. After lengthy negotiations last weekend, Qantas had sought a ballot of the maintenance workers. The unions claim 90 per cent of the workforce voted against the company's latest offer. The national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), Doug Cameron, did not rule out the grounding of Qantas jets if the dispute continues and he says the company would only have itself to blame. "If Qantas doesn't come to the party, I think it's inevitable that the industrial action will continue and that will be Qantas' responsibility," he said. 

137 A new report suggests the costs of an aging Australian population have been exaggerated. The report issued by the Australia Institute says a detailed examination of population and health data shows an aging population will not create an unsustainable burden on a shrinking workforce. Far from being an economic and social burden, it found the majority of older people enjoyed healthy and independent lives, many making financial contributions to their families and participating in voluntary community activities. The paper challenges the assumption an older population will see health costs rise to unsustainable levels. It says rising health costs are caused mainly by factors other than aging such as the growth of medical technology, rising consumer demand and escalating prices. 

138 Striking Latrobe Valley power workers will meet today to consider ongoing industrial action. The company, Yallourn Energy, believes Victoria's power supply is under threat. Sixty-five maintenance workers downed tools two weeks ago over job security. Terry Lee from the Australian Workers Union fears up to 200 jobs at the plant are at risk. Mr Lee says the strike action has been timed to avoid power supply interruptions in Victoria. "The only power that will be interrupted is the power Yallourn Energy would at this time like to be selling into the market," he said. But Yallourn Energy mine manager, Lindsay Ward, says all power generation at the plant has been halted and blackouts are possible. Mr Ward admits about 35 jobs at the plant will go when the company modernises its coal mining operations. 

139 The members of the newly-elected Solomon Islands Parliament meet today to choose a prime minister. The much-criticised finance minister in the last government, Snyder Rini, could have the numbers to win. The prime minister who was forced to resign after last year's coup, Batholomew Ulufa'alu, has told national radio he has heard rumours that if he is elected there could be another coup. That is one of the reasons the group he hoped to lead dumped him last week in favour of his former foreign minister, Patterson Oti. The person with the longest list of supporters is Mr Rini, who has given massive import duty remissions on beer and cigarettes to favoured importers despite the parlous state of the Government's finances. The editor of a British tabloid has defended the resumption of its name and shame campaign against paedophiles saying parents have the right to know of potential dangers in the community. The paper published the names of convicted paedophiles who had failed to submit their names to the sex offenders register. The News of the World created uproar last year when it published the names and addresses of child sex offenders with vigilante groups formed and in some cases attacking the wrong men. The latest campaign, which is limited to naming those who have absconded without registering, comes in the wake of the conviction of known paedophile Roy Whiting for the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne. News of the Worl editor Rebekah Wade says it is the public's right to know. "If you have paedophiles in society that aren't monitored, they will strike again," she said. "If the police cannot monitor them, then it is only right and fair if you have a family with three young children then you have a general right to know that to protect your children." British Home Secretary David Blunkett has promised more community involvement in the supervision of known offenders. 

140 Australia will be looking to score quickly today to set South Africa a challenging victory target on day four of the first cricket Test in Adelaide. The Australians will resume their second innings at 0 for 3, an overall lead of 68. South Africa was dismissed late yesterday for 374 with Shane Warne taking five wickets for the 20th time in his Test career. Warne says Australia is well placed to win. "I was very happy with our position in the match, 10 wickets in hand and 70 runs ahead on a pitch that's deteriorating. I think I'd much rather be in our shoes than theirs," he said. But he says Australia will need to bat well today. "South Africa can come out and bowl us out for 150 and suddenly they're chasing 200, or we can make 200 to 250 and they need 300. It's going to be a great last two days." 

141 Osama bin Laden admitted planning the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States in a videotape released by the Pentagon today. In the videotape lasting roughly one hour bin Laden explains planning aspects of the operation and his own calculations in advance concerning the scale of the damage to the World Trade Center in New York and the number of casualties. He said he expected the fire and gas from the attacks on the World Trade Center to topple the floors above the points where hijacked planes struck, not the entire structure. "We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy who would be killed based on the position of the tower," he said, according to a transcript translated into English from the Arabic. "Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only," he said. "That is all that we had hoped for." The video tape showed bin Laden speaking to supporters in a room, possibly in Kandahar in mid-November, the Pentagon said in releasing the amateur videotape, which it said was made with the knowledge of bin Laden and those present. The tape showed the end of the meeting first, followed by an unrelated segment of videotaped material, and ending with a segment recorded at the beginning of the meeting. "We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day," he said, speaking to unidentified sheikh. "We had finished our work that day and had the radio on, It was 5:30 pm our time. I was sitting with Dr. Ahmad Abu-al-(Khair)," he said. "Immediately, we heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center." "After a while, they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it," he said. 

142 United States air strikes on Al Qaeda fighters have intensified following the collapse of surrender talks with the Northern Alliance. The battle for Tora Bora appears to be heading towards a bloody climax. Northern Alliance commanders have now abandoned all attempts to secure a peaceful surrender of Al Qaeda militants trapped in the mountainous area of Tora Bora. Truckloads of armed men have been seen heading toward the area, suggesting a full scale ground attack is imminent. US aircraft have been bombarding the militants' position since first light effectively blocking any possible retreat. Around 4,000 Pakistani troops have fanned across the border in a bid to prevent any Al Qaeda fighters escaping. 

143 The Defence Minister, Robert Hill, says the Australian Government is still trying to interview suspected Taliban fighter David Hicks. Senator Hill says the Government does not know much more than what is on the public record about the 26-year-old's background. He says he was not aware he had applied to join the Australian Defence Force, or that Australian authorities have known about him for some time. Senator Hill has told Channel Seven the Government does not know what motivated the man to fight alongside Taliban forces. "In rare circumstances this does happen, as we know there's one American who has been captured after fighting for the Taliban. "Occasionally people decide to exercise a violent option in pursuing a particular political or religious belief and I think you ought to probably address the questions to the psychologists or the psychiatrists," Senator Hill said. 

144 Kashmiri militant groups denied involvement in Thursday's attack on the Indian Parliament, accusing Indian intelligence instead. "We want to make it clear that Kashmiris have no connection with this attack," said the Muttahida Jihad Council (MJC), an alliance of 18 groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. "We believe it was carried out by Indian intelligence agencies to achieve their motives about the Kashmir issue," the groups added in a statement. The attack on the Parliament building in New Delhi left at least 12 dead. The Indian authorities have not said who they believe was behind the killings. But the Kashmiri groups accused the Indian Government of masterminding the attack in a bid to divert attention from what they called increasing international pressure over Kashmir. 

145 An investigation is underway into what procedures were followed by New South Wales health authorities over the transfer of a woman infected with a deadly bacteria to a hospital in Adelaide. The woman infected with the bacteria, pseudomonas, was transferred from Sydney's St George Hospital late last month to the Intensive Care Unit at Adelaide's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Four people receiving treatment in the unit have since been infected with the bacteria and one of those has died. The South Australian Human Services Department is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the transfer of the infected woman. New South Wales health authorities maintain the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was given adequate information about the patient. A statement from the St George Hospital says "all information about the patient's condition including the bacterial information was provided to staff in Adelaide in discussions over a two-week period to prepare for the effective and safe transfer". A leading Adelaide microbiologist says resistance to antibiotics will continue to increase. Associate Professor John Turnidge, who is the director of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the Women's and Children's Hospital, says it is becoming an ever increasing problem. "If we continue to use antibiotics at the current rate we imagine that the problem will just accumulate, we'll just get more and more resistant bacteria. "There are national efforts underway to try and reduce the amount of antibiotic use whether it's appropriate or inappropriate use just to try and relieve the pressure for selecting for resistant bugs and causing us headaches like this," he said. 

146 Israeli helicopter gunships and warplanes have swooped again on Palestinian cities after the Jewish state dropped a political bombshell on Palestinians with a decision to cut ties with Yasser Arafat in rage at a deadly bus ambush. Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter-bombers blasted security targets in Gaza City, which had been pounded the night before in repeated air raids after Palestinian militants killed 10 Israelis in the West Bank raid. In Ramallah in the West Bank, also hit by missiles less than 24 hours earlier, rocket strikes sent clouds of flames and smoke in the air over a ruined police station close to the centre of the town, which has been partly reoccupied by Israeli tanks. The police station was bombed last October after a Palestinian mob lynched two Israeli soldiers there. Large parts of Ramallah were plunged into darkness after the raid. In Jenin to the north, US-made Apaches blasted a building of Mr Arafat's Fatah movement, witnesses said. Earlier, Israeli troops shot eight Palestinian children near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip, killing one, Palestinian  hospital officials said. Israel had said it would send its forces into Palestinian self-rule areas to track down militants Mr Arafat has failed to arrest despite huge international pressure and more than a week of repeated air strikes. Late Wednesday local time, following the bus ambush which killed 10 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, F-16s blasted security targets in Gaza City, Nablus and Gaza international airport. Apache helicopters also hit a Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation station in Ramallah, and tanks and army bulldozers moved in yesterday to plough the remains into the ground and dynamite the radio mast, a symbolic blow against Mr Arafat's increasingly shaky authority. Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, with the backing of a security cabinet dominated by nationalists, declared Mr Arafat "irrelevant" after Islamic and secular Palestinian militants carried out the bus ambush. Israel said Mr Arafat had forfeited his role as a peace partner by refusing to crack down on Islamic hardliners. "I think we are close as we've ever been to a full military confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority," UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen warned. "Undoubtedly if that happens this will either, in the best case, weaken the institutions of the Palestinian Authority so much that there will be very little central authority, or the Palestinian Authority will be completely crushed," he said. 

147 The Australian and South African sides for the first cricket Test starting at the Adelaide Oval today are not expected to be finalised until just before the start of play. Australian captain Steve Waugh and his South African counterpart, Shaun Pollock, will decide on their lineups after an inspection of the pitch shortly before the start of play. The match holds special significance for Waugh and his twin brother Mark, who play their 100th Test together. Steve Waugh is not placing too much relevance on the milestone. "[I] don't want to read too much into it I guess and then get too carried away but later on when we retire and look back on it it will be significant. "It's nice for the family, mum and dad all the sacrifices they made you know with us growing up and also our brothers so you know it's nice for the family," he said. 

148 The Federal Government is negotiating with the United States and other countries about the fate of an Adelaide man suspected of fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. David Hicks, 26, was captured by Northern Alliance forces three days ago, and is now in the custody of American troops. The head of the Victorian Law Institute, John Corcoran, says Mr Hicks could face a charge of treason under Australian law, the only crime punishable by death. "If the circumstances are permitted, he could be charged with treason under the Commonwealth Crimes Act, which does have the death penalty," he said. If charged under the Foreign Incursion Act, the penalty is less severe carrying a maximum 14-year jail sentence. But the Defence Minister, Robert Hill, says it is too early to say whether the Government will take legal action. "These issues are being looked at, but he was only captured a few days ago and it's difficult to ascertain all the facts," Senator Hill said. The Government is currently holding talks with the United States about Mr Hicks' fate. The Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, has urged the Government to set up immediate diplomatic access to the suspected Taliban fighter. Mr Rudd says consular officials must start to try and establish the facts about the 26-year-old who has been arrested by the Northern Alliance. The Australian Government is trying to ascertain whether he has broken any Australian laws but says he could also be a prisoner of war in Afghanistan. Mr Rudd, who is in the Pakistan capital Islamabad, says if a diplomatic presence is not available, there are other means. "For example, International Council of Red Cross I understand from sources here in Islamabad, is assisting in providing access to individuals currently held by the Northern Alliance of varying nationalities," Mr Rudd said. 

149 The Israeli Government has declared Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat irrelevant and has decided to break off all contacts with him. The dramatic move followed a Palestinian ambush on a bus carrying Israeli settlers in the West Bank, that killed 10 people, and a double suicide attack in the Gaza Strip, that injured four Israelis. In response, Israeli jets and helicopters have attacked Palestinian targets across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The Israelis say they hold Mr Arafat directly responsible for the latest incidents and will have nothing to do with him. The Government position was spelt out by spokesman Raanan Gissin. "In no way does it imply or was there any directive to hurt to harm or to expel Arafat personally," he said. "We are not attacking Arafat personally, we don't have a quarrel with Arafat the person. "We have a real quarrel and a real fight and struggle against terrorism, against Arafat when he represents terrorism, when he support terrorism." 

150 The Federal Opposition says the unemployment rate has fallen because many job seekers have given up looking for work. Employment Minister Tony Abbott says there is a degree of volatility in the labour market with a significant increase in October's figures and a significant fall in the November unemployment rate. But Mr Abbott says the latest figures are encouraging and he is not overly concerned by a reduction in the number of people looking for work. "From month to month these figures bounce around, but the participation rate even with this month's drop is still at high historical records," he said. Labor leader Simon Crean says 4,000 jobs were created last month, but 32,000 people stopped searching for work. "The unemployment rate hasn't come down because jobs are being created, it has come down because people have given up on looking for jobs." 

151 Industrial action will affect three of Australia's biggest banks over the next two days. Banking staff at Westpac and the National Australia Bank are striking today for 24 hours, while workers at ANZ will follow suit tomorrow. The action by members of the Finance Sector Union has been timed to coincide with the banks' annual general meetings and is part an ongoing enterprise bargaining negotiations. The union's Geoff Derrick says the strike is not just about  pay. "Certainly pay's in there, it needs to be but the key issue for us has been around workloads. "We've got a million hours of overtime being worked a week in this industry [and] most of it is unpaid," Mr Derrick said. Westpac's David Lording says today's action is unjustified. "We have an 8 per cent pay increase over two years for all eligible staff on the table, it's a very generous pay offer. "We would also like to introduce a number of other initiatives that will assist our staff balance in particular their work and family life, we would like to do a deal with the union," Mr Lording said. "What we would like is for the union to come back to the negotiating table rather than continuing on with these PR stunts." Mr Lording says there are contingency plans in place to ensure branches can stay open. "We are hoping to offer normal banking services for our customers," he said. 

152 Senior Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) officials giving evidence at the Royal Commission into the Building Industry have been overwhelmed by support from union members. About 700 construction workers have walked off the job for the third day to demonstrate outside the commission venue. Mounted police escorted the protesters from Melbourne's City Square to Collins Place. Morning traffic ground to a halt at the intersection of Russell and Collins streets when the crowd stopped to chant union slogans. CFMEU Victorian secretary Martin Kingham says he has been astounded by the strong support shown by union members on each day of the hearings. He maintains the union has been treated unfairly as it faces allegations of intimidation and using standover tactics on work sites. Mr Kingham is currently giving evidence before the commission. It is the last day of hearings before the Christmas break. The Labor leader, Simon Crean, says senior Labor figures Bob Hawke and Neville Wran will be used to help modernise the party. Labor's national executive is meeting in Canberra. Mr Crean will put his views on the changes Labor needs to make. The executive is expected to ask Mr Hawke and Mr Wran to oversee the process. Mr Crean says they know what needs to be done. "Bob Hawke and Neville Wran understood the importance of modernising the party and that's why they were successful leaders of the country. "I'm sure we don't need to teach them to suck eggs, what I want them to do is to give us guidance as to how we can bring the new approach to Labor in 2002 to enable us to properly present and gain the confidence of the majority of the Australian people," the Opposition leader said. 

153 The mind games are continuing as Australia and South Africa have their final hit-outs in the lead-up to the first cricket Test beginning in Adelaide tomorrow. Shane Warne says he is looking for a new batsman to dominate following Daryl Cullinan's non-selection, while Proteas batsman Jacques Kallis says there is no Australian bowler good enough to get him out. Australian paceman Glenn McGrath begs to differ. He believes he will return to his best against South Africa if he can keep the form he had late in the series against New Zealand. McGrath says he was happier with the way he bowled as the series went on, as the rain that dogged the series also meant there were not as many chances to take wickets. "It would have been nice to get a few more nicks. I felt great in myself, the rhythm's back, I'm bowling long spells and everything's going well," he said. "It's just I didn't get the wickets I would have liked, so hopefully they'll come in this series." He says the Australian and South African sides are at level pegging, but the Proteas have more to prove. "There's probably more pressure on South Africa. We're the number one side at the moment, they have to actually beat us. "They're not the underdogs going into the series and there should be some good, hard cricket played out in the middle but the pressure's probably on them rather than us." Israeli warplanes have bombed Gaza City security buildings close to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's offices, in swift revenge for a deadly ambush on an Israeli bus, Palestinian security officials said. The planes hit naval police offices and the police headquarters which was already flattened in air raids last Thursday, officials said. The other targets were not immediately identified. Palestinian hardliners had earlier killed 10 Israelis in an attack on an Israeli bus in the West Bank, while two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a  Gaza Strip Jewish settlement, injuring four Israelis at the same time. Israel launched almost simultaneous retaliatory strikes on Nablus, a town close to the scene of the bus ambush. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat immediately closed down all institutions belonging to the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups after the bus ambush. "The Palestinian Authority in an urgent meeting headed by Mr Arafat has taken a decision that Palestinian security forces will immediately close down all Hamas and Islamic Jihad institutions, including education, health and political offices," an official statement said. The Palestinian Authority earlier condemned the Palestinian attack on the bus near the Jewish settlement of Immanuel in the West Bank in which 10 people were killed, and two suicide bombings in the Gaza Strip in which three people were wounded. The US special envoy to the Middle East, Anthony Zinni, told Mr Arafat to jail extremists "immediately" after the bus ambush. "Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must move immediately to arrest those responsible for these attacks and destroy the infrastructure of terror organisations that support them," the retired Marine Corps general said in a statement. A radical offshoot of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, said in a statement that it and Hamas were jointly responsible for the attack, in a statement received by the AFP news agency. Ezzedin al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, earlier claimed responsibility for the bus ambush, the television station run by Lebanon's Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah reported. An Israeli Defence Ministry spokesman, in a statement received by AFP, said the attack was carried out by Hamas militants whose names figured on a list of 33 activists wanted by Israel. Israel last week said it gave the list to Mr Arafat. 

154 At least two helicopters have landed near Tora Bora mountain in eastern Afghanistan, in what could be the start of a raid against Al Qaeda fighters, an AFP journalist said. The helicopters landed around 11:00pm local time (5:30am AEDT), a few hours after Al Qaeda fighters rejected a deadline set by Afghan militia leaders for them to surrender or face death. US warplanes have been bombing the network of caves and tunnels for eight days as part of the hunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Several witnesses have spoken in recent days of seeing members of US or British special forces near the frontline between the local Afghan militia and the followers of bin Laden. They could not be seen but could be clearly heard as they came into land and strong lights were seen in the same district. US B-52 bombers and other warplanes staged a series of attacks on the Al Qaeda positions in the White Mountains after bin Laden's fighters failed to surrender. All four crew members of a US B-1 bomber that has crashed in the Indian Ocean near Diego Garcia have been rescued, US military officials said. Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Timothy Taylor, said initial reports said that all four were aboard the destroyer USS Russell which was rushed to the scene after the crash. The B-1 bomber, which usually carries a crew of four and is armed with bombs and cruise missiles, was engaged in the air war over Afghanistan. Pentagon officials said they had heard about the crash just after 5:30am (AEDT) and were unable to say whether the plane was headed to Diego Garcia, or flying from the Indian Ocean island. It is thought the Australian arrested in Afghanistan for fighting alongside the Taliban is from Adelaide's northern suburbs but the Salisbury Park family of 26-year-old David Hicks is remaining silent. The president of Adelaide's Islamic Society, Walli Hanifi, says Mr Hicks approached him in 1999 having just returned from Kosovo, where he had developed an interest in Islam. He says Mr Hicks wanted to know more about the faith, but left after a few weeks. Late yesterday afternoon, Mr Hicks' Salisbury Park family told media the Australian Federal Police had told them not to comment. Local residents confirmed a member of the family called Mr Hicks had travelled to Kosovo in recent years and has not been seen for around three years. But most, including Karen White, agree they cannot imagine Mr Hicks fighting for a terrorist regime. "Not, unless he's changed now, but when he left here, no he wasn't, he's just a normal teenage, adult boy," she said. But a man known as Nick, told Channel Ten he is sure the man detained in Afghanistan is his friend David. He says in 1999 David told him about training in the Kosovo Liberation Army. "He'd gone through six weeks basic training, how he'd been in the trenches, you know, killed a few people, you know confirmed kills and had a few of his mates killed as well," the man said. 

155 Australia and the United Nations have openly clashed in Geneva, over how best to deal with asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. At a refugee conference, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has rejected criticism of Australia's strong stand on asylum seekers from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers. Mr Lubbers says some government leaders base their refugee policies on fear and mistrust, instead of cooperating to share the burden. In a speech at the beginning of the meeting, Mr Ruddock rejected that criticism. Australia has a very fine record," he said. "We are a generous contributor to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees' budget. "When burden sharing is requested, we respond. "We honour our obligations to those people who are refugees and those who seek asylum in Australia." Mr Ruddock alsosaid the 50-year old convention could be at risk because of its overly legalistic system which gives too many favours to asylum seekers. 

156 The former managing director of One.Tel has denied claims he mislead the board while the company was effectively insolvent. Jodee Rich says civil proceedings brought by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) against him, two other former directors and the former chairman, are baseless. ASIC claims that the true financial position of One.Tel was not made known to the other directors of the company. However, Mr Rich says there are discrepancies in the way ASIC has handled the investigation. "I am concerned that as part of this process ASIC has not given us the opportunity to respond to the many claims that they alleged six months ago and that we haven't had an opportunity to respond to these claims that they are now bringing to us," he said. 

157 Industrial action will affect three of Australia's biggest banks over the next two days. Banking staff at Westpac and the National Australia Bank are striking today for 24 hours, while workers at ANZ will follow suit tomorrow. The action by members of the Finance Sector Union has been timed to coincide with the banks' annual general meetings and is part an ongoing enterprise bargaining negotiations. The union's Geoff Derrick says the strike is not just about  pay. "Certainly pay's in there, it needs to be but the key issue for us has been around workloads. "We've got a million hours of overtime being worked a week in this industry [and] most of it is unpaid," Mr Derrick said. Westpac's David Lording says today's action is unjustified. "We have an 8 per cent pay increase over two years for all eligible staff on the table, it's a very generous pay offer. "We would also like to introduce a number of other initiatives that will assist our staff balance in particular their work and family life, we would like to do a deal with the union," Mr Lording said. "What we would like is for the union to come back to the negotiating table rather than continuing on with these PR stunts." Mr Lording says there are contingency plans in place to ensure branches can stay open. "We are hoping to offer normal banking services for our customers," he said. 

158 A British man has been found guilty by a unanimous verdict of the kidnap and murder of an eight-year-old schoolgirl whose death in July 2000 shocked Britain and set off a rampage of anti-paedophile vigilantes. Roy Whiting was sentenced to life imprisonment for the abduction and murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne with a recommendation by trial judge Justice Richard Curtis that he never be released. "You are indeed an evil man. You are in no way mentally unwell. I have seen you for a month and in my view you are a glib and cunning liar," Justice Curtis said. There were cheers of delight as the verdicts were read out by the foreman at Lewes Crown Court. The jury of nine men and three women had been deliberating for nine hours. As soon as the verdicts were declared, the court heard details of Whiting's previous conviction for the kidnap and indecent assault of a nine-year-old girl in 1995. Prosecutor Timothy Langdale told the jury how the defendant threw the child into the back of his dirty red Ford Sierra and locked the doors. "He had driven her somewhere. She didn't know where. When she asked where they were going he said, 'shut up', because he had a knife," Mr Langdale said. "The defendant told the girl to take off her clothes. When she refused, he produced a rope from his pocket and threatened to tie her up. "What he actually threatened was that he would 'tie her mouth up'. "She took her clothes off as he had ordered her to do." Mr Langdale then gave graphic details of the abuse to which Whiting subjected the terrified child. Whiting was given a four-year jail sentence in June 1995 after admitting carrying out the attack in March that year. But he was released in November 1997 despite warnings from probation officers, who were convinced there was a danger he would attack another child. They set out their warnings in a pre-sentence report, prepared after the first assault, and in the parole report before he was released from prison. He was kept under supervision for four months after his release, but was not being monitored by July last year, when eight-year-old Sarah was abducted and killed. Whiting has been arrested three times in connection with the case, but the first and second times was released without being charged. Sarah disappeared on July 1 last year, prompting a massive police search. Her partially-buried naked body was found 16 days later in a field and police believe she was strangled or suffocated. 

159 The AFL's leading goal kicker, Tony Lockett, will nominate for the pre-season draft after all. Lockett approached the Sydney Swans about a return to the game last week but after much media speculation, decided it was not in the best interests of his family to come out of retirement. Today, the 35-year-old changed his mind. He has informed the Swans of his intention to nominate for next Tuesday's pre-season draft. In a statement released a short time ago, Lockett says last week he felt rushed and did not feel comfortable with his decision. He says over the weekend he had time to think the matter through with his family, who support his comeback. Sydney says it is delighted Lockett has decided to make a return and it intends to draft him. 

160 The Pentagon believes it has finally confirmed the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden to an area in eastern Afghanistan where the search had been focusing. The United States Air Force dropped a 6,800 kilogram bomb called the Daisy Cutter into the mountains of the Tora Bora region two days ago. It wreaked havoc in the caves and tunnels of the Al Qaeda hideout and prompted a flurry of communications. The United States intercepted those communications and the Pentagon now believes Osama bin Laden is on the run in those mountains and many of his fighters were seriously injured by the blast. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Richard Myers, said the bomb was effective. "I don't want to go into details, it would have had the desired effect." The United States has now deployed gunships along the Pakistani border to try and stop Osama bin Laden crossing into Pakistan. 

161 A French Moroccan man has been charged in the United States with conspiracy in the terrorist attacks of September 11. It is the first indictment directly related to the suicide hijackings. News of the charge came as President George W Bush delivered a major foreign policy speech. Zaccarias Moussaoui sought flying lessons a month before the hijackings. Attorney-General John Ashcroft claims he was an active participant in the attacks. "Moussaoui is charged with undergoing the same training, receiving the same funding and pledging the same commitment to kill Americans as the hijackers," he said. Three months to the day since the attacks and President Bush says missile defence is now more essential than ever before. "We must protect America and our friends against all forms of terror, including the terror that could arrive on a missile," he said. President Bush says the United States now needs a dramatically retooled military, armed with hi-tech weapons and real-time intelligence. 

162 Australian families of the victims from the Interlaken tragedy have welcomed today's guilty verdicts against six employees from the Adventure World canyoning tour company. A Swiss court has found the six of the eight employees guilty of culpable manslaughter after the tragedy which killed 21 people, 14 of them Australians. They have been given suspended jail sentences of up to five-months and fined between $5,000 and $7,000. Two guides who survived were acquitted. Gary Redmond, who lost his 26-year-old son Scott and 24-year-old daughter-in-law Alissa, says he is satisfied and relieved with the outcome. "All along we hoped that justice would prevail and that whatever the penalties that apply in Switzerland that are appropriate should apply," Mr Redmond said. Some of the families are threatening civil action, but Mr Redmond says the verdict means closure for his family "I'm not of the view that anything that now comes out of this whether there be any further benefit to accrue to us or the survivors, that it will in any way compensate for the loss of our loved ones," Mr Redmond said. The families say that they are still to receive an apology from Adventure World, but Bill Peel, whose son Billy died in the 1999 canyoning accident and is in Switzerland for the court hearing, has welcomed today's verdicts "I always felt that they were guilty because the duty of care was never used...and now the judge has confirmed everything we believed," Mr Peel said. The family of a Bendigo woman killed in the canyon disaster has also welcomed the verdict. Kylie Morrow's mother Elizabeth, says the verdict has made the tour guides accountable for their negligence, and proves the young people who lost their lives did not act recklessly. "I'm not sure where we go from here but you know we've got other children and we've got each other and family and life goes on even when you don't want it to sometimes. "Our lives have been changed forever and nothing that happens from now on can be any worse than what we've been through," Ms Morrow said. 

163 The Federal Agriculture Minister, Warren Truss, says he has not been able to win any changes to the farm bill being debated by the United States Congress. Mr Truss has led a delegation of Australian farmers to Washington lobbying for some of the Government subsidies to farmers to be removed. He says he has not achieved any changes to the amount of Government protection for US farmers. Mr Truss says that will mean Australian farmers will suffer. "We're especially concerned at the clear intent of the farm lobby to seek to entrench a mentality of farm subsidies in the USA. "It is obvious that the US, which was once proudly boasted to be the most efficient farmers in the world, have now degenerated to a situation where US farmers are dependent on the taxpayers for around half their income," Mr Truss said. 

164 The secret Australian budget for the boat people pacific solution is set at $400 to $500 million. The estimate, approved by Cabinet in September when Nauru first agreed to house and process asylum seekers, was based on a joint submission from Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, and the then defence minister, Peter Reith. It covered everything from the defence costs in transporting boat people to health care, camp construction and guarding asylum seekers. The participation of at least three government departments means the costs of setting up the boat people camp in Nauru can be allocated across different portfolios. Some of the first distribution of cash was used to meet Nauru's unpaid bills. Australia is pushing on with the Pacific solution, with agreement yesterday to boost the number of boat people places in Nauru from 800 people to 1,200. 

165 Japanese car maker Mitsubishi, has confirmed that it has asked for more money from the Australian Government. Mitsubishi sources in Japan say that the car maker has applied for strategic investment coordination. In short, the company wants a grant from the Australian Government. The company has refused to say what the money would be used for or how much it wants, although it has reaffirmed its commitment to upgrade its current model of Magna at its Adelaide plants. The grant would be on top of the several hundred million dollars that has already been promised to Mitsubishi under a car assistance plan. 

166 Socceroos coach Frank Farina says he could sign a new contract in "three or four days" after a positve meeting this morning with Soccer Australia chairman Ian Knop about a new contract. Farina says he is "very close" to signing the new deal but wants more information about what Australia's program will be heading to the next World Cup qualifying attempt. "I want to be happy with that and the direction we are going there, but all the discussions thus far have been very good and this morning's was excellent," he said. Farina wants more information about who his support staff will be. When a question was put to Farina about that issue Mr Knop stepped in to stop the coach's answer. "We agreed that this is all we were going to say," Mr Knop said. "We are putting together a program of working together on a long-term basis and that's where I'd like to leave it." Mr Knop also responded to a report that Soccer Australia is considering a $10 levy on junior players to get the organisation out of debt . He says the board of Soccer Australia is committed to see the junior system work and the board is not interested in"kicking it". 

167 The Federal Government says ASIO and the Australian Federal Police have interviewed the family of an Australian man who has been fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The 26-year-old man was arrested by the Northern Alliance at the weekend. The Federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams says he cannot confirm media reports the man has family in Adelaide. But he says he has had more extensive training than American John Walker Lindh who was arrested on December 1 for fighting with the Taliban. "He is understood to have travelled to Europe in mid-1999 to join the Kosovo Liberation Army, he then travelled to Pakistan November 1999 where he undertook some training. "He entered Afghanistan as we understand it in 2000 and he has actually undertaken extensive training with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network," Mr Williams said. 

168 Turning grief into defiance, Americans have paused in remembrance, three months after the deadly September 11 attacks, as a resolute President George W Bush forecast certain victory in his war on terrorism. At 8:46am New York time (12:46am AEDT), the exact moment when a hijacked airliner steered on a suicide mission sliced into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, ceremonies in Washington, New York and around the world honoured some 3,300 people killed on an unprecedented day of horror. "Today, the wrongs are being righted, justice is being done," Mr Bush said. "We still have far to go, and many dangers still lie ahead, yet there can be no doubt how this conflict will end. In New York, firefighters, police officers and community leaders assembled in the wreckage-strewn crater where the World Trade Centre stood, until its signature towers were levelled on the bright sunny morning of September 11. Under grey skies, a lone tenor sung Let There Be Peace on Earth before a priest, a rabbi and an imam addressed a solemn crowd, watched by New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who shepherded his city through September's tragedy. Bagpipers performed a haunting rendition of Amazing Grace as cranes and the heavy machinery of construction workers excavating the site stood idle. At the Pentagon, the target of another hijacked airliner, a US flag was unfurled in front of a gaping hole in the building, where reconstruction is already under way. A lone Christmas tree, daubed with red lights, was fixed to the roof, metres from where the plane hit. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld vowed never to forget the 184 victims who died at the Pentagon, the thousands more killed in New York and on those on a hijacked plane that crashed in rural Pennsylvania, apparently after the intervention of passengers. "In the skies over Pennsylvania they showed those who believed that Americans would not fight back that they were ready to roll," Mr Rumsfeld said. The first person has been charged over the terrorist attacks in the United States three months ago. Zaccarias Moussaoui was charged in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks as a result of the wide-ranging federal probe of the attacks, United States Attorney-General John Ashcroft said. Moussaoui, 33, a French national of Moroccan origin, faces six counts in connection with the terrorists attacks against the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington that left more than 3,000 people dead, Mr Ashcroft told a press conference. Four of those counts carry the death penalty. The indictment also cites a list of unindicted co-conspirators headed by Osama bin Laden, head of the Al Qaeda network, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, as unindicted co-conspirators. The list of co-conspirators also includes the 19 hijackers who commandeered the four jets that were used as aerial targets on September 11, as well as two men who sent funds to the alleged terrorists. 

169 Six Swiss tour company staff have been found guilty of manslaughter over the deaths of 14 Australians and seven others in a canyoning disaster. Two guides who survived the accident on July 27, 1999, were acquitted. Adventure World president Stephan Friedli, vice-president Peter Balmer and director Georg Hoedle were each given a five-month suspended sentence and a fine of 7,500 Swiss francs (about $A8,800). General manager Felix Oehler received five months and a fine of 5,000 francs, base manager Bernhard Gafner four months and 4,000 francs, and lead guide Bernhard Steuri three months and 4,000 francs. All six will pay one-eighth of the court costs and one-eighth of the plaintiffs' costs, about 27,000 francs each. Guides Simon Wiget and Stefan Abegglen were acquitted. Peter Dewar, whose son Bradley died in the 1999 disaster, says more legal action is planned. "I guess if anything the main thing we were waiting for was a verdict of guilty or not guilty," Mr Dewar said. "The guilty verdict at least leaves something open for civil action, we already have legal representation in place." Mr Dewar said he hopes civil action would be a further "form of punishment for the guilty". Bill Peel of Mackay in north Queensland, whose son Billy died in the canyoning accident, is disappointed with the verdict. "It's Swiss law and we have to abide by it, I was very angry, very angry I couldn't believe it. "We were told this when the lawyer came to Australia 18 months ago but it was still hard to believe it was true...oh well at least they are guilty and they have to live that the rest of their lives and that's some punishment anyway," Mr Peel said. 

170 A United Nations panel of judges in East Timor has found 10 militia gang members guilty of crimes against humanity. They were given jail terms up to 33 years for their part in a massacre soon after the territory's vote for independence two years ago. A three-judge panel found the men guilty of killing two nuns, three priests and an Indonesian journalist, as well as carrying out other murders in East Timor's Los Palos district. They also found the gang members guilty of torture, persecution and forced deportation. The court heard how soon after the vote the militia gang members, still loyal to Indonesia, carried out 13 murders, burnt several villages and forced residents of Los Palos to flee their homes. They are the first people to be convicted of crimes against humanity in connection with the violence that surrounded East Timor's vote for independence. 

171 The United States Federal Reserve has cut a key interest rate by a quarter-point to a 40-year low of 1.75 per cent and left the door open to further easing to help bring the US economy out of recession. It was the 11th cut this year to the federal funds target rate and the fourth since the September 11 suicide attacks in New York and Washington. The key rate, which determines overnight borrowing costs between banks, is at its lowest level since July 1961. Policy makers also cut the discount rate, at which commercial banks can borrow from the Federal Reserve, by the same quarter-point margin to 1.25 per cent. "Economic activity remains soft, with underlying inflation likely to edge lower from relatively modest levels," the Federal Open Market Committee said in a written statement. The US economy officially slid into a recession in March, ending an unprecedented 10-year expansion period. The terrorist shockwave has escalated the task of rebuilding growth, experts said. 

172 Drug education campaigns appear to be paying dividends with new figures showing a 10 per cent drop in drug related deaths last year. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1,570 people died from drug related causes in the year 2000. That figure is a substantial drop from 1999 when 1,740 Australians died of drug related causes. Across the states and territories, New South Wales recorded the biggest decrease. The bureau's David Payne attributes the decline of drug deaths to the heroin drought in some parts of the country, better equipped ambulances and emergency wards and above all, effective federal and state drug education campaigns. "They have put a lot of money into the program. "There has been a fall and while you can't discern a trend from that, the figures are going in the right way, right direction," Mr Payne said. 

173 The number of adults and children being diagnosed as obese is on the increase. The findings of a new study have worrying implications for the future of Australia's health system. The study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows the number of people diagnosed as either obese or overweight has increased by 2 per cent over the past two years. The institute's Statistics Unit director, professor Helena Britt, says the findings have grave implications. "There seems to be a shift of 1 per cent going up and if we do that every year for the next 10 years we are in big trouble." Professor Britt says there has been a drop in deaths from heart disease over the past two decades, but if the rise in obesity continues it could reverse that trend, at a great cost to the community. Up to 12 per cent of Australia's children are also now obese. Professor Helena Britt says this is the first time there have been reliable statistics available to show the prevalence of obesity among children, using a new international standard. She says the results are frightening for the future health of Australia's adults. "This is a worry for future heart disease because there has been research demonstrating a relationship between adult heart disease and childhood obesity so its something we have to watch as a society," she said. Nutrition Australia dietitian Rachael Bradford says the results, while disturbing, are not surprising. She says Australians need to look at lifestyle and resist the temptation of convenience food to avert the trend. "I think it's got to do with our nation having less physical activity," Ms Bradford said. "There's a lot of automation with Australia because we are such a privileged country so people are using automobiles, cars more, and not doing as much walking." 

174 United States peace envoy Anthony Zinni has told a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian security officials he had decided to continue his mission to end 15 months of bloodshed, US and Israeli sources said. On Sunday, Mr Zinni walked out of an Israeli-Palestinian security meeting and gave both sides 48 hours to show they were serious about halting violence. "Zinni said he was responding favourably to requests to continue his mission," an Israeli security source said, describing today's US-hosted meeting as positive. A US diplomatic source told the Reuters news agency: "Zinni is continuing his mission". Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met Mr Zinni yesterday and urged him to continue a two-week-old mission marred by constant violence, including Palestinian suicide bombings and retaliatory Israeli air raids. 

175 Milestones in the history of radio will feature on all six ABC radio networks today which marks 100 years since Guglielmo Marconi's first transatlantic broadcast which signalled the birth of radio. To celebrate, all six radio networks - ABC FM, Local Radio, NewsRadio, Radio Australia, Radio National and Triple J -  will broadcast a five-minute simulcast at 11:55am (AEDT) this morning. They will play audio from the top 10 radio news stories of the past 100 years, as voted by listeners. These include coverage of World War I and II, the assassination of President John F Kennedy, the landing on the moon and the terrorist attacks of September 11. 

176 About 60,000 bank staff will walk off the job this week in what is thought to be the first national stoppage of its kind in three decades. The stoppage will occur on Thursday and Friday. It will involve staff from the National Australia Bank, ANZ and the Bank of Melbourne, and will coincide with the banks' general meetings. Tony Beck, of the Finance Sector Union, says the timing is to enable members to deliver their complaints first-hand. "We have proxies from customers and shareholders, and we'll be attending the annual general meetings to say there's industrial action, staff have had enough," he said. "They want better support, better service, better recognition, saying to the directors: 'you need to understand there's a crisis in this industry'." 

177 Anti-Taliban fighters say they have captured key areas in the mountainous Tora Bora region in eastern Afghanistan. The military success comes as the White House considers publicly releasing a videotape which officials say shows Osama bin Laden showing pleasure and surprise at the extent of damage caused by the September 11 attacks. The video was found in a home in Afghanistan 10 days ago. US President George W Bush says when he saw the tape he was reminded of how just the United States' war on terror is. "Those who see this tape will realise that Osama is guilty of incredible murder," he said. "He has no conscience and no soul ... he represents the worst of civilisation." The White House says it will be a couple of days before legal experts decide whether the tape can be released. Meanwhile, reports from London say United States army officers have secretly entered Somalia in the first indication of the extension of the war against terrorism. Five military personnel have held discussions with a rebel Somali group to find the location of suspected terrorist camps. Since the September 11 attacks, the US has taken several steps against Somali individuals and organisations. 

178 Israeli helicopters have again attacked Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip. It is the latest in a series of attacks designed to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to take tougher action against militants accused of violence against Israelis. Two helicopters returned to the skies above Gaza's north in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Eyewitnesses report seeing them fire as many as four missiles into a security post in the north-eastern township of Bayt Hanum. The small one storey building is a local command station for Yasser Arafat's personal guard, Force-17. The building was completely destroyed, but nobody was injured in the attack. Israel has accused Force-17 of direct involvement in the preparation and execution of attacks against its people. But the Palestinian Authority insists it is a legitimate force and a key part of the Palestinian security infrastructure. 

179 A 31-year-old Middle Eastern woman is said to be responding well to treatment after being diagnosed with typhoid in a temporary holding centre on remote Christmas Island. It could be 48 hours before tests can confirm whether the disease has spread further. Two of the woman's three children, a boy aged 13 and a 10-year-old girl, have been quarantined with their mother in the Christmas Island hospital. A third child remains at the island's sports hall, where locals say conditions are crowded and hot. All 540 detainees on Christmas island are being monitored by a health team for signs of fever or abdominal pains, the key symptoms of typhoid, which is spread by contact with contaminated food or water. Hygiene measures have also been stepped up. The Western Australian Health Department is briefing medical staff on infection control procedures but locals have expressed concern the disease could spread to the wider community. 

180 Qantas has unveiled Australia's latest airline today, launching its single-class "leisure carrier", Australian Airlines, which will start operating in the third quarter of next year. Initial flights will be from Cairns to Osaka, Nagoya, Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong and Fukuoka. The board of Qantas gave the go-ahead for the new airline at a meeting last week. Although wholly owned by Qantas, it will have its own separate management and will operate independently of Qantas. An initial fleet of four Boeing 767-300 aircraft will eventually be increased to 12 and services will be extended to every Australian mainland capital, including Perth and Darwin. Australian Airlines is currently negotiating with various unions on wages, conditions and work practices. Australian Airlines is expected to announce it will base its operations in Cairns, following yesterday's Queensland Cabinet approval of an incentive package for the airline. The new airline plans to cut costs by outsourcing some maintenance work and reducing the number of flight attendants. Chief executive Denis Adams says Australian Airlines will operate at far less cost than Qantas, so that re-opened routes to Asian cities will be profitable. Mr Adams says some maintenance work could be outsourced to Singapore, Taipai or Auckland. He says savings will also be achieved with flexibility in the workplace, including conditions, work rules and rostering. The Queensland Tourism Industry Council's Daniel Gschwind, says the airline will open up new routes from Asia for all international tourists. "It will give them greater incentive to travel to regional Queensland, travel to the Whitsundays, travel to Brisbane even and further south. "It will generate enormous traffic through Cairns and it will energise the whole state from an international tourism perspective," Mr Gschwind said. 

181 Australia has linked $10 million of aid to a new agreement with Nauru to accept an extra 400 asylum seekers. The deal means Nauru will take up to 1,200 asylum seekers under Australia's Pacific solution. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer signed the understanding today with Nauru's President Rene Harris. Mr Downer inspected the Nauru camps and says they are are practical and efficient. "I had a good look at the sanitation, the ablution blocks and thought they were pretty good," he said. "The asylum seekers have various things to do. There are volleyball facilities and soccer facilities. "Television is available, they can see 21 different channels on TV. "The catering is good, there are three meals a day provided." 

182 The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating the overnight crash of a Royal Flying Doctor Service aircraft near Mount Gambier, in South Australia's south-east, which claimed the life of the 54-year-old pilot. The crash has been described as both a double tragedy and a miraculous story of survival. The aircraft was on approach to Mount Gambier Airport when it came down in a block of scrub and young pine trees, about four kilometres short of the runway. It levelled a 200-metre-long path through the vegetation before breaking up and catching fire. The pilot was killed, but the only other person on board, a 34-year-old nurse from nearby Millicent, suffered only minor injuries. Chief Inspector Bronwyn Killmier says she was stunned that the nurse walked away virtually unscathed. The aircraft had been flying from Port Augusta to collect a six-year-old boy and take him to Sydney for a liver transplant. Chief Inspector Killmier says the boy and his mother had been waiting at the airport. "The donor went to another person, it is a double tragedy, I mean the pilot's family as well as the six-year-old boy's family." 

183 The Australian cricket team has arrived in Adelaide to prepare for the first Test against South Africa starting on Friday. Leg-spinner Stuart MacGill, who is in the squad in place of pace bowler Andy Bichel says he is not perturbed by reports of a clash of personality with fellow spinner Shane Warne. MacGill says they have always got on well in the five Tests where they have both played. "Cricket teams all over the world are made up of very different people and whilst I'm saying that 'yes, I am different to Shane', I'm also different to Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie and it's the same thing I think you'll find in most local cricket clubs," he said. Warne has also played down reports of a rift, saying he and MacGill have no problems, but that he does enjoy the rivalry. South Africa will go into Friday's first Test against Australia in Adelaide with most of its batsmen in good form. The South Africans scored 5 for 390 in their second innings in the match against Western Australia in Perth with centuries from Jacques Kallis and Neil McKenzie, and half centuries from Gary Kirsten and Lance Klusener. 

184 Most of the Tora Bora mountain complex in eastern Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda fighters have been hiding, has been captured by Afghan militia forces, military commander Hazrat Ali said. "We control all of the Melawa and Tora Bora area, except for one place," Mr Ali told reporters, adding that Al Qaeda still held the very top of the mountain. "We have captured all of the Al Qaeda places with heavy weapons," he said, speaking through an interpreter. The rout came on the seventh day of a fierce offensive by United States warplanes and Afghan militiamen on the Tora Bora area, which is riddled with caves used by Afghan mujahideen during the 1979-1989 war against the Soviets. Earlier, Mr Ali's spokesman, Amin, told the AFP news agency that anti-Taliban forces had captured a number of strategic heights in the White Mountains range, in which Tora Bora is situated, from Al Qaeda fighters. "We have taken Melawa, Palanai and a large portion of Anzare Sar," Amin said. Four Saudi-born Al Qaeda fighters had been killed he added. Amin said US warplanes had been pounding the area heavily but had in the last few hours stopped the bombing "due to our advances". Local commanders are convinced bin Laden, wanted for the September 11 terrorist atrocities in the United States, is holed up in the Tora Bora area with his followers. 

185 The Israel Government has expressed regret and promised an investigation into how two children were killed and several others were injured during a botched assassination attempt on a leading Islamic Jihad militant. The children died when helicopter gunships fired on two cars in the West Bank city of Hebron. Israeli forces were attempting to kill Mohammed Sidr, a man they say is responsible for many attacks. He escaped injured, but alive but two boys aged three and 13 died. Israeli Government spokesman Arye Mekel says he deeply regrets the deaths and that many Israeli children have also suffered. "What happened here is being investigated and hopefully it will never happen again, but we have to understand this is a war," Mr Mekel said. Another Palestinian was killed in the West Bank town of Ramallah when his truck exploded shortly before the arrival of US envoy Anthony Zinni who was there to see Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr Zinni met with Mr Arafat in a fresh attempt to broker a cease-fire with Israel, a Palestinian official said. The meeting in Ramallah followed talks between Zinni and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a day after the US envoy threatened to quit if the two sides failed to agree on a truce. "President Arafat asked Mr Zinni to put pressure on Israel to stop its assassinations, its military escalation and to lift the blockade on Palestinian territories," Nabil Abu Rudeina, an advisor to Mr Arafat said. Mr Arafat also pledged that he was determined to cooperate with the US peace envoy in his quest to secure an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire. On Sunday, Mr Zinni told Palestinian and Israeli security officials they had 48 hours to make "substantial progress" or else he would return to Washington, ending a two-week-old peace mission, an Israeli official said. United States Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Berlin that the US and Germany were working "to get the violence down" in the Middle East in order to get back to peace talks. Speaking to reporters after meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Mr Powell said: "We are trying to get the violence down so the negotiating process can begin". He said "we will continue to work as hard as we can to get both sides", Israel and Palestine, back to the peace process. In Brussels, the European Union challenged Mr Arafat to dismantle the "terrorist networks" of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and  to publicly call for an end to the Palestinians' armed intifada. Foreign ministers from the 15 EU member states issued the strongly-worded message after talks in Brussels with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the Palestinian international cooperation minister Nabil Shaath. 

186 Unions are already expressing their dissatisfaction with the royal commission set up to investigate claims of fraud, corruption and violence in the building industry. Royal Commissioner Terrence Cole QC is investigating the claims. On the first day of the inquiry yesterday, there were allegations of witness intimidation, and a warning from Counsel Assisting the Commissioner, Lionel Roberts QC, that there would be charges against anyone involved in making threats. Unions have been quick to express their dissatisfaction. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's (CFMEU) John Sutton says the focus of the investigation is too narrow. "I think we're going to have to make our voice heard because from what I've seen it's a very one sided process and a very unsatisfactory process to simply be zeroing in on the trade unions as if there's no other issues in the building industry," Mr Sutton said. Several thousand Melbourne construction workers will walk off the job today in a show of support for union leaders giving evidence. The security at Collins Place in Melbourne is being stepped up in preparation for the rally. Union officials are promising a peaceful gathering to show support for various  officials who are giving evidence today, including the CFMEU's Martin Kingham. 

187 United Nationals secretary-general Kofi Annan has accepted the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, declaring that to save one life is to save humanity itself. Mr Annan told a gala audience the world must respect the individual, whose fundamental rights he says have been sacrificed too often for the good of the state. The 63-year-old UN chief, a native of Ghana, shares this year's 100th Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations as a whole. His award was for bringing new life to the world body in his fight for human rights, and against AIDS and terrorism. 

188 Qantas maintenance workers will decide by secret ballot whether to accept the airline's offer of an incentive payment from company profits. Unions will advise members to reject the offer because it includes a wage freeze. Qantas management and unions have been locked in negotiations for two days over the proposed 12 to 18-month wage freeze. Unions say the workers deserve a pay rise, while Qantas maintains it cannot afford it because of the global downturn in the airline industry. The results of the secret ballot will be put before the Industrial Relations Commission next Monday. Failure to resolve the issue could result in industrial action over the Christmas holidays. 

189 One person has died after a Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) aircraft crashed near the city of Mt Gambier in South Australia's south-east, last night. The RFDS says a  Beech 200 aircraft apparently came down just before midnight (ACDT), in an area called Dismal Swamp, about 15 kilometres north of Mt Gambier. The aircraft, with two crew members on board, had come from Port Augusta to Mt Gambier to fly a six-year-old boy to Sydney for medical treatment. However, a spokesman for the RFDS says no passenger was aboard the plane at the time. One of the crew is believed to have died from injuries and the other is believed to be not as badly hurt. No other details have been released and police have sealed off the crash site. Officers from the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation will head to the scene today to determine the cause of the crash. 

190 New statistics released by the Cancer Council reveal some alarming trends about lung cancer. The report reveals lung cancer now rivals breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death among women. The statistics, covering the past three decades, also show high numbers of lung cancer cases and deaths in poorer areas such as some parts of Sydney and far western New South Wales. The Cancer Council's chief executive officer, Andrew Penman, says another trend is in the type of lung cancer which is believed to be caused by changes in the design of cigarettes. "Modern cigarettes are particularly dangerous to the peripheral airways and they're causing lung cancers deeper in the lungs than traditional cigarettes say 40 years ago," he said. About 2,200 people die from lung cancer in New South Wales each year. 

191 Conservationists have applauded the one-year jail sentence given to a man who logged protected rainforest trees. Brett Dempsey, 31, of Ravenshoe pleaded guilty to destroying 23 rainforest trees in a World Heritage Area on north Queensland's Herberton Range in December last year. Dempsey is the first person to be prosecuted under the Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act. The Wilderness Society's Lyndon Schneiders says he hopes the court's decision will help protect Queensland's world heritage rainforests. "It's irrelevant what tree it was, the issue was it's the world heritage area and what sort of management do you have there and the management is [to] protect those world heritage values," Mr Schneiders said. "That is the reason for implementing the World Heritage Management Act and that's the reason for drawing up these plans. "It doesn't matter if you'd gone in and logged two trees or 500 trees, you've got to look at it in the different circumstances, but I think a jail sentence in this instance is appropriate." 

192 Ian Thorpe has emulated Kieren Perkins feat by being named Australian swimmer of the year for the third consecutive year. The champion 19-year-old dominated the July world championships in Japan, winning several gold medals. Thorpe's coach Doug Frost has been named coach of the year. Meanwhile, the Australian cricket team has arrived in Adelaide to prepare for the first Test against South Africa starting on Friday. Leg spinner Stuart MacGill, who is in the squad in place of pace bowler Andy Bichel says he is not perturbed by reports of a clash of personality with fellow spinner Shane Warne. MacGill says they have always got on well in the five Tests where they have both played. "Cricket teams all over the world are made up of very different people and whilst I'm saying that 'yes, I am different to Shane', I'm also different to Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie and it's the same thing I think you'll find in most local cricket clubs," he said. South Africa will go into Friday's first Test against Australia in Adelaide with most of its batsmen in good form. The South Africans scored 5 for 390 in their second innings in the match against Western Australia in Perth with centuries from Jacques Kallis and Neil McKenzie, and half centuries from Gary Kirsten and Lance Klusener. Meanwhile South African vice-captain Mark Boucher says veteran fast bowler Allan Donald is a strong contender for the match despite a limited preparation after a long injury layoff. "I don't think it's lack of bowling that Allan's had, he's been working really hard, he's had a lot of time off to rest, so I think he should be fine," he said. 

193 The United States is intensifying its bombing of the mountains of eastern Afghanistan in a concerted attempt to flush out Al Qaeda fighters. The Pentagon says more than 80 strike aircraft - most of which were FA-18 fighter jets flying from aircraft carriers stationed in the area - have flown sorties over Afghanistan. They were accompanied by long-range B-52 bombers who targeted areas of the White Mountains near Jalalabad where Osama bin Laden is believed to be leading his fighters. In Washington, there is some division about what to do with the man accused of the September 11 attacks. As the BBC reports, dealing with bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar is one of the most difficult problems confronting the United States and senior officials are disagreeing publicly on the issue. Vice-President Dick Cheney says that if either man was captured by other forces they must be handed over to the United States to face justice. The Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has suggested they could be tried elsewhere. Mr Cheney said the leaders were exactly the sort of people who would be tried by the military courts. He gave a strong defence of the court saying extremists had used previous open trials to learn new ways to attack the United States. 

194 A new study shows that nearly one third of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in Australia have been arrested in the past five years. The study conducted by the Australian National University for the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics is the first to compare the arrest rates of the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal population. It finds that unemployment, alcohol and assault rates were the main causes. Study author Boyd Hunter says policy both on a community and government level must deal with these issues if the arrest rate is to be decreased. "Addressing the supply of alcohol in remote communities is seen as the most likely avenue for reducing rates of abuse, alcohol abuse and hence reduce arrest rates in those communities," he said. 

195 The Royal Commission into collapsed insurance giant HIH has been told directors, including chairman Ray Williams, made a bid for huge termination payouts shortly before provisional liquidation. Chief liquidator Anthony McGrath told the commission a resolution was passed at a board meeting on December 14 last year to pay Mr Williams a termination payout worth three times his annual salary at $5 million. Mr McGrath says the payout has not been made. "My understanding is that he has been paid his statutory entitlements for annual leave and long service leave, but no severance payment has been made at this stage," he said. Mr McGrath went on to outline requests from fellow director George Sturesteps, who asked for twice his annual pay at the same meeting. On March 15, only hours before the company was placed into provisional liquidation, director and chief financial officer, Dominic Fodera, asked for twice his annual salary as termination payment. Mr McGrath says he viewed the requests as inappropriate for company directors and that he was concerned as provisional liquidation seemed imminent at the time. 

196 Unions representing Qantas maintenance workers have not ruled out disruptions to Christmas flights following a breakdown in negotiations with management. The issue of a wage freeze was not resolved after two days of hearings before the Industrial Relations Commission. Qantas has put an offer to workers but unions will advise members to reject it because it does not include a pay rise. Doug Cameron from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union says Qantas is being greedy. "Any disruption to Christmas flights is clearly on the head of Qantas," he said. "Qantas have been the company that have been absolutely belligerent in their approach towards their own employees. "Qantas are the company that are trying to cut the wages of the lowest-paid skilled workers in the country and Qantas is the company that have created this situation and they have come and not moved one inch in bargaining." Unions say maintenance workers deserve modest pay rises and an improved career structure. But Qantas maintains it has to impose a wage freeze because of the global downturn in the airline industry. Doug Cameron from the Manufacturing Workers Union says members will decide by secret ballot whether to step up industrial action. "Every time Qantas has come to the table they've been arrogant, they've been belligerent," he said. "Their position is that these workers will bow to the will of Qantas and our view is that is unacceptable for a company that's built its reputation for safety, built its reputation for reliability on the back of the workers who are earning $30,000 a year." Qantas says it is confident an agreement will be reached following the secret ballot. 

197 Olympic 400 metres champion Cathy Freeman will return to competition at the Melbourne Track Classic on March 7. Freeman began training six weeks ago after taking a break from the sport following the Sydney Olympics. The Melbourne Track Classic is a lead-up event to the Australian Championships in Brisbane, which double as the Commonwealth Games selection trials. 

198 The Middle East peace process is under new pressure after an ultimatum from the United States special envoy Anthony Zinni. After two weeks of frustration, he has given Israel and the Palestinians a 48 hour deadline to make some progress or he would go back to Washington. His mission has been accompanied by an upsurge in suicide bombing attacks on Israel and a tough Israeli response. Earlier, Israel rejected a temporary ceasefire offer by four militant Palestinian groups to halt their attacks through to the end of Ramadan next week if Israel agreed to stop assassinating their members. A spokesman for the Government says Israel deals only with the Palestinian Authority and not with terrorist organisations. The conditional ceasefire offer was made by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the military wing of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction and follows a sharp upsurge in fighting in the past 10 days. 

199 Authorities are trying to track down the crew of a vessel that landed undetected at Cocos Islands carrying 69 asylum seekers. The group of Sri Lankan men was found aboard their boat moored to the south of the Islands yesterday afternoon. Shire president, Ron Grant, says investigations are underway as to the whereabouts of the crew, after the asylum seekers told authorities they had left in another boat after dropping them off. "Unfortunately for them there's two P-3 aircraft, the Royal Australian Air Force here at the moment and one's getting prepared to fly off and obviously they will be looking to see if there is another boat," he said. Mr Grant says the Sri Lankans have not yet been brought ashore. 

200 The Royal Commission into the Building Industry has ended the first day of public hearings in Melbourne. Counsel assisting Lionel Robbards QC told the commission of a culture of fear in the building industry. He said some witnesses were afraid to come forward after being physically threatened. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) secretary, Martin Kingham, will respond to allegations made against the unions when he gives evidence tomorrow. It coincides with a rally by thousands of building workers outside Collins Place, where the commission is being held. 

201 The United States says a video tape found inside Afghanistan proves beyond doubt Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The tape is alleged to show bin Laden discussing the success of the mission. In the 40-minute tape,  bin Laden is said to be at a dinner when told a plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre. He is alleged to have told others present what had happened and they cheered. US Vice-President Dick Cheney says the video shows bin Laden was clearly behind the attacks. "There've some disputes in some quarters about it, but this is one more piece of evidence confirming his responsibility," he said. Republican Chuck Hagel of the Foreign Relations Committee says the administration must make the tapes public. "The world needs to see this," he said. "Some officials hope it will be shown to counter concerns in the Muslim world that bin Laden has been unjustly accused. Osama bin Laden was said to be staging a defiant stand in the Afghan mountains, as Taliban rule finally came to an ignominious end with the surrender of the last province under their control. A spokesman for the Northern Alliance said bin Laden was now leading the defence of his mountain hideouts in person, with about 1,000 loyal fighters from his Al Qaeda organisation. "Osama himself has taken the command of the fighting," Mohammad Amin told the Reuters news agency from the eastern city of Jalalabad. "He, along with around 1,000 of his people, including some Taliban officials, have now dug themselves into the forests of Spin Ghar after we overran all their bases in Tora Bora. "He is here for sure," Mr Amin said. "American planes have been carrying out regular and severe bombings to kill him." Mr Amin added that at least one of bin Laden's Arab fighters had been killed in "very intense" fighting. The Saudi-born Islamist accused by Washington of ordering the September 11 attacks on the United States appeared ever more isolated after his Taliban protectors handed over the Zabul province to tribal elders. "The rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan has totally ended," the Pakistan-based Afghan news agency Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said in reporting the surrender of Zabul. At least 24 civilians were killed and 15 injured in weekend bombing raids by US warplanes in Afghanistan's south-eastern Paktika province, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said late Sunday. The Pakistan-based news agency, quoting informed sources, said the US jets blasted several vehicles at Sharana, the provincial capital of Paktika, on Saturday, killing 14 people and injuring several others. The dead were five children, four women and five men. Another 10 people were killed when US planes bombarded vehicles in pre-dawn raids on Sunday in the Mosh Khil area near Sharana, AIP said. It said a mosque was destroyed in the raids. AIP said Taliban rule had been ended in Paktika and the administration was being run by a tribal Shura (council). 

202 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel might step up its military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip following a new Palestinian suicide bombing in Haifa. "Our operations are yielding impressive results but we have not finished our action and because of what is happening we might have to step up our activities," Sharon told Israeli public radio. Earlier on Sunday a Palestinian suicide bomber tried to blow himself up at a bus station in the northern Israeli town of Haifa, injuring several people. The militant was seriously wounded in the botched attack and was quickly shot dead by two policemen who feared he was about to activate a second bomb. Mr Sharon was speaking during a weekly cabinet meeting that was held at the West Bank headquarters of the Israeli armed forces, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El and the Palestinian town of Ramallah. Israeli cabinet ministers were driven to the meeting in an armored bus, the radio said. Mr Sharon has sent in his warplanes, helicopter gunships and tanks to Palestinian police stations across the territories to pile pressure on Mr Arafat to arrest and sentence Islamic extremists behind a wave of suicide bombings on Israeli cities in the past week. Two Palestinians were killed and more than 120 injured in the air strikes. 

203 An International study has found thousands of Australians are involved in the child sex industry, but it remains a largely invisible problem. The report author and national director of Child Wise, Bernadette McMenamin, says the 10-year study revealed a growing number of Australians are involved in paedophilia, child pornography and child sex tours. It also found a growing number of children are working as prostitutes in order to survive. Ms McMenamin says the advent of the Internet has made it easier for offenders to promote sex tours, share images and information, and establish international networks. The child sex trade report has made 29 recommendations to the Federal Government on how to improve investigations of child sex offences and provide improved services to affected children. Ms McMenamin says Australian authorities are ignoring the growing number of children working as prostitutes, preferring to call them homeless or children without support. Ms McMenamin says more needs to be done to address the role of commercial sex in survival on the streets "We're currently not meeting their needs, they're falling through the gaps, they are not entering services because the services aren't gearing towards the needs that these young people have when they're on the streets and they're really, really vulnerable," she said. 

204 Qantas management and unions representing the airline's maintenance workers will meet again today after marathon talks last night failed to resolve a wage dispute. Unions are fighting a proposed 12 to 18 month wage freeze and to secure a better career structure for their 2,500 employees. Bill Shorten of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) says the unions will not rest until a satisfactory outcome is reached. "After eight hours, the AWU and AMWU are still talking to Qantas, we will resume tomorrow morning at 11am [AEDT] in the Industrial Relations Commission to see if we can't work through this position our members now find ourselves in," he said last night. Meanwhile, Ansett workers will sing Christmas carols in front of the Prime Minister's Kirribilli residence in Sydney this morning to remind John Howard about their owed entitlements. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) will hold a 24-hour picket outside Kirribilli House and says about 16,000 workers and their families are facing a bleak Christmas. The News South Wales secretary of the TWU, Tony Sheldon, says the Government promised to deliver about $195 million in entitlements. Mr Sheldon says the financial situation for many workers has reached crisis point. "There's been very little delivered by this Government, a lot of promises, a lot of noise was made before the federal election but very little in substance. "It's important John Howard delivers for the tourism community, for the Ansett workers and for the Australian community generally," Mr Sheldon said. 

205 An Iraqi doctor, being held at Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre, claims he was prevented from receiving a human rights award. Dr Aamer Sultan had been awarded a special commendation at yesterday's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission awards in Sydney but was not able to receive the honour in person. Dr Sultan says he had been hoping to attend the ceremony but says the management at Villawood stopped him from going. "I submitted a formal request to the centre manager who promised me that he will present the matter to migration management here who are the main authority here. "They also came back that unfortunately we can[not] fulfill this request for you, but they didn't give any explanation." Dr Sultan says he was disappointed by the decision. The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, has written a letter of complaint to the Medical Journal of Australia, about an article penned by Dr Sultan on the psychological state of detainees at Villawood. The journal has published research Dr Sultan conducted with former visiting psychologist to the centre, Kevin O'Sullivan. Their survey of 33 detainees over nine months found all but one displayed symptoms of psychological distress at some time. The article says 85 per cent acknowledged chronic depressive symptoms, and close to half of the group had reached severe stages of depression. 

206 Australian's casinos generated a $3.1 billion income in the 2000-2001 financial year. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has found gambling was the biggest money winner for casinos, making up 80 per cent or $2.5 billion of total income. Governments also did well, taking more than $500 million from the casinos for gambling taxes and levies while the 20,000 employees were paid more than $800 million for their work. But despite the expense, the profit for Australian casinos increased by 19 per cent for the year. At the end of June this year, there was almost 11,000 poker and gaming machines and more than 1,000 gaming tables across Australia. 

207 The royal commission into the building industry will hold its first public hearings in Melbourne today. The Howard Government established the commission in July prior to calling the federal election, prompting union claims of a political witch-hunt. But Royal Commissioner Terence Cole QC has stressed the independence of his inquiry. He will examine claims of corruption, coercion and anti-competitive behaviour in the industry. Unions had initially refused to cooperate with the inquiry, but key union figures, including Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) secretary Martin Kingham, have been summonsed to give evidence. A finding is not expected for 12 months. 

208 Geoff Huegill has continued his record-breaking ways at the World Cup short course swimming in Melbourne, bettering the Australian record in the 100 metres butterfly. Huegill beat fellow Australian Michael Klim, backing up after last night setting a world record in the 50 metres butterfly. 

209 Israeli tanks and troops have launched two incursions in the Gaza Strip near the Palestinian self-rule city of Khan Yunis, arresting several people and searching houses. Witnesses say undercover soldiers wearing masks arrived first, followed by tanks and additional troops. Palestinian officials say they were looking for Iffam Abu Daka, one of the leaders of the militant Democratic Front. Earlier, an Israeli F-16 fighter jet struck three buildings in the Palestinian police headquarters in Gaza City, injuring at least 18 people. Palestinian officials say two four-storey buildings inside the compound were engulfed in flames and destroyed. 

210 The Federal Government has confirmed there is a blowout in the Defence budget because of the cost of sending troops to Afghanistan. Defence Minister Robert Hill says the Government will have to consider delaying some Defence projects because of the cost of sending troops to the war against terrorism, but says no projects will be scrapped. Senator Hill says the cost of the deployment means some projects outlined in last year's Defence white paper will have to be reprioritised. He says the Government's options are to boost defence spending or to delay some projects. "Now what I'm saying is you can't enter into major undertakings like contributing to the war against terrorism without knowing it's going to cost extra money," he said. "We have to fund that, there are a range of options to do that." The Federal Opposition says Senator Hill must reveal which projects would be affected. Shadow Defence Minister Chris Evans says the Government should also come clean on the cost of using the Navy to intercept asylum seekers. 

211 The Australian Government is continuing to talk to Indian authorities about a man who has confessed to planning attacks against Australia amongst other countries. Twenty-eight-year-old Mohammed Afroz, who undertook pilot training in Australia in 1997 and 1998, has been charged with waging war against India. He has also made claims about planning terrorist attacks in Australia with the Rialto Towers in Melbourne one target. While the Government is taking the claims seriously, there is some skepticism about them. The Attorney-General Daryl Williams says some of the detail of the claims simply has not been accurate. The claim the man's relatives in Europe have links to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network has been found to be untrue. Australia is asking India for permission to talk to the man, but Government sources say they will not confirm if the request has been granted. 

212 A gunman has died after he went on a shooting rampage that left another person dead and several more people wounded at a factory in Goshen, Indiana, officials said. The gunman was found dead at the scene, but "it's not clear whether the suspect shot himself", Elkhart County Sheriff's Department said in a statement. Officials said a second person was killed and several more were wounded. The shooter was fired from Nu-Wood Decorative Millwork factory after getting into a fight around lunchtime Thursday local time and threatened to return with a gun, the wife of one employee told WNDU television. Four victims were taken to Goshen General Hospital shortly after the incident began around 3:00pm (7:00am AEDT) hospital spokeswoman Donna Rohrer said. Three of them "were being evaluated", for their injuries, a fourth casualty was airlifted to a hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, she said. Police were unable to enter the factory for over one hour, but witnesses told CNN that crack police squads eventually made their way in around 4:45pm. 

213 New Zealand's ambassador to Brazil, Denise Almao, said she had identified the body of murdered sea hero Sir Peter Blake, but she would not say how he died. According to initial police reports, Mr Blake was shot dead by pirates who bordered his yacht, Seamaster, off the town of Macapa, in the mouth of the Amazon River. He was said to have been shot twice in the back, although his mother said she had been told that he was shot in the head. Joyce Blake also told Radio New Zealand that unidentified people had held a grudge against her son. Ms Almao told the radio station she had gone to Macapa to identify the body. "He was shot twice," she said. She would not say if he was shot in the back. Two other crew members who were injured in the attack had been treated in hospital and had returned to the Seamaster, Ms Almao said. "They seem okay. The injuries they suffered were not serious." New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark says she feels devastated by Mr Blake's death. "I think he is to the waters what Sir Edmund Hillary has been to the mountains. You couldn't find a more public-spirited man than this," she said. Ms Almao said Brazilians were also in shock and were providing every sort of assistance. "My impression is that there is a very active investigation proceeding, that everyone from the governor on down is offering every assistance and I think they are doing their utmost to bring the perpetrators to justice," she said. 

214 A Swiss fireman has told a court how he snapped a photograph of a body being swept along by a two-metre high wave as a flash flood rushed down a river gorge. Markus Gerber said he took the photo to prove that his eyes were not deceiving him as he saw the wave sweep down the Saxet canyon following a thunderstorm on July 27, 1999. "I needed proof that I was not deceived that there was a human being in the wave," Mr Gerber said. "I couldn't tell if there was anyone else in the wave, I was expecting that this was a single case." But Mr Gerber's optimism was wrong. The flash flood had swamped a group of tourists on a canyoning excursion, killing 18 tourists, 14 of them Australians, and three guides. Eight staff of the now-defunct Adventure World company are charged with manslaughter through culpable negligence for allowing the tour to go ahead despite the risk of flood from the storm. Mr Gerber became angry as he told the court he had tried to convince Adventure World vice-president Peter Balmer of the need for closer cooperation between his company and the emergency services. "For one-and-a-half or two years I called Mr Balmer and tried to convince him to see that Saxetbach was dangerous, but Mr Balmer assured me that they were all right, there were no problems there," Mr Gerber said. "I finally called him again and said the fire brigade would not take responsibility if anything happened." Asked if he rang Adventure World on the day of the accident to warn them about the storm forecast, he said: "No". 

215 The United States offered full and direct approval to Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor, a move by then-president Suharto which consigned the territory to 25 years of oppression, official documents released today showed. The documents prove conclusively for the first time that the United States gave a 'green light' to the invasion, the opening salvo in an occupation that cost the lives of up to 200,000 East Timorese. General Suharto briefed US president Gerald Ford and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger on his plans for the former Portuguese colony hours before the invasion, according to documents collected by George Washington University's National Security Archive. When Mr Ford and Mr Kissinger called in to Jakarta on their way back from a summit in Beijing on December 6 1975, Suharto claimed that in the interests of Asia and regional stability, he had to bring stability to East Timor to which Portugal was trying to grant autonomy. "We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action," Suharto told his visitors, according to a long-classified State Department cable. Mr Ford replied: "We will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have." Mr Kissinger, who has denied the subject of Timor came up during the talks,  appeared to be concerned about the domestic political implications of an Indonesian invasion. "It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly, we would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens happens after we return. "The president will be back on Monday at 2pm Jakarta time. We understand your problem and the need to move quickly, but I am only saying that it would be better if it were done after we returned." The invasion took place on December 7, the day after the Ford-Suharto meeting. Mr Kissinger has consistently rejected criticism of the Ford administration's conduct on East Timor. During a launch in 1995 for his book <i>Diplomacy</i> Mr Kissinger said at a New York hotel it was perhaps "regrettable" that for US officials, the implications of Indonesia's Timor policy were lost in a blizzard of geo-political issues following the Vietnam War. 

216 Jason Stoltenberg will become the new coach of world tennis number one Lleyton Hewitt, after coach Darren Cahill decided to end his contract with the talented 20-year-old. Darren Cahill started officially coaching Lleyton Hewitt in 1999. Since then the young South Australian has risen to be the world's top male player, a US Open and Davis Cup champion. The breakup of the relationship was confirmed in a statement released by Hewitt's managers late this morning. In it Cahill says it has been a rewarding three years, and he is confident that Hewitt will not skip a beat. Hewitt says he is grateful for the guidance he has been given by Cahill, and that Stoltenberg will provide him with invaluable experience and dedication, which he is quite enthusiastic about. Stoltenberg says he looks forward to helping Hewitt evolve his game further. The former Wimbledon semi-finalist will travel full-time with Hewitt on the tennis tour. They will begin working together after Christmas with their first tournament together coming in January - the Hopman Cup in Perth. 

217 A senior Taliban official confirmed the Islamic militia would begin handing over its last bastion of Kandahar to Pashtun tribal leaders on Friday. "This agreement was that Taliban should surrender Kandahar peacefully to the elders of these areas and we should guarantee the lives and the safety of Taliban authorities, and all the Taliban from tomorrow should start this program...," former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef told CNN in a telephone interview. He insisted that the Taliban would not surrender to Hamid Karzai, the new Afghan interim leader and a Pashtun elder who has been cooperating with the United States to calm unrest among the southern tribes. "The Taliban will surrender to elders, not to Karzai ... Karzai and other persons, which they want to enter Kandahar by the support of America, they don't allow to enter Kandahar city," he said. "The Taliban will surrender the weapons, the ammunition, to elders." 

218 A suspect allegedly involved in planning terrorist attacks on Australia has been detained and charged with waging war against India. If convicted 28-year-old Mohammed Afroz faces hanging or life imprisonment. Police say Afroz was arrested on October 2 after he was found staying in a hotel close to his home. They say Afroz had claimed Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network was planning terrorist attacks in Australia, Britain and India similar to the September 11 attacks on the United States. Razzak reportedly told police four al-Qaeda suicide squads in total had been tasked to carry out hits on the World Trade Centre in New York, the British parliament, a tower block in Australia and India's parliament in New Delhi. Police say an email sent by Afroz to an address in Australia had mentioned plans to attack Britain's House of Commons after hijacking a plane. The Press Trust of India says Razzak spent $212,000 on flying lessons in Australia, Britain and the United States. The Hindustan Times newspaper has also quoted unidentified officials as saying Afroz admitted during questioning the Al Qaeda network had sent him to flight training schools in Australia, Britain and India. Mumbai police have reportedly recovered an "American credit card" from Razzak and a passport with visas for Australia, Britain, Thailand and the United States. India's Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani released details of the claims yesterday. 

219 Refugee support groups are strongly critical of Federal Government claims that the "Pacific Solution" program is working well. The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, says he is pleased with the program, which uses Pacific Island nations to process asylum seekers wanting to come to Australia. President of the Hazara Ethnic Society of Australia, Hassan Ghulam, says the Australian Government is bullying smaller nations into accepting asylum seekers. "If the Pacific countries wanted refugees they can clearly raise their voice in the United Nations and say, 'yes we are accepting refugees'. "And why Australia, who gives this authority to the Australian Government to force the Pacific countries to accept refugees in this form or in the other form?" he asked. 

220 Several people, believed to be as many as 35, have been shot at a northern Indiana factory in the United States. Police said the person who did the shooting was still inside the building. Preliminary reports suggested a disgruntled employee might be behind the mass shooting at Nu-Wood Decorative Millwork factory at the industrial park in Goshen, which occurred around 3:14pm local time (7:14am AEDT). "We're hearing as many as 35 have been shot but we can't confirm that," said a Goshen police dispatcher. "We haven't been able to get inside." She said the person who fired the shots at the factory near Goshen was still inside the facility. The city is about 200 kilometres east of Chicago. 

221 The armed wing of the radical Islamic movement, Hamas has threatened to attack officials from the ruling Palestinian Authority if the Hamas spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, or any of its militants are harmed. It follows the death in Gaza City last night of a Hamas supporter during clashes that erupted when Palestinian police put Sheikh Ahmed Yassin under house arrest. Those clashes have created an unstable situation in Gaza. It was Palestinian against Palestinian as hundreds of police confronted 3,000 Hamas supporters, who determined their leader would not be arrested as part of the crackdown on militants. Stone-throwing youths were met with baton charges, but still the Palestinian police do not have control around the Sheikh's house. The action came against the backdrop of frantic diplomatic activity aimed at averting all-out conflict. The Egyptian Foreign Minister made an emergency visit to both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, urging negotiation rather than confrontation. Palestinian Authorities say they have detained 160 suspects but so far, the Israeli Government says Mr Arafat has not done enough. A security meeting has been arranged between the Israelis and the Palestinians to try to defuse the growing crisis between them. Mr Arafat says the meeting has been set up by the US special envoy to the Middle East, Anthony Zinni. At the same time, the Bush administration is stepping up the pressure on Mr Arafat, saying he must do more to put militants behind bars. 

222 Reserve Bank Governor Ian Macfarlane says he is confident Australia will ride through the current world economic slump, largely brought on by the United States. Mr Macfarlane told a gathering in Sydney last night, Australia's growth is remarkably good by world standards and inflation should come down in the next 18 months. He predicts the United States economy will show signs of recovery from mid-year, and that as a result it is highly unlikely that the Reserve Bank will raise interest rates in the next six months. "Calendar year 2001 has been a difficult one for the world economy and the first half of 2002 looks like remaining weak before recovery gets underway. "Therefore this period will be classified as a world recession like those of the mid 70s, the early 80s and the early 90s," Mr Macfarlane said. "The Australian economy has got through the first half of it in reasonably good shape." 

223 New laws requiring all packaged food products containing genetically modified (GM) crops to be labelled, come into effect today. But the association representing food and grocery companies says consumers will have to look hard to find any on the shelves. Head of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, Mitch Hooke, says since the laws were first proposed companies have been cutting genetically modified ingredients out of their products. "A lot of our companies have sidestepped the products of this technology at this stage to avoid any kind of risk in the market that their brands and their products will be brought into disrepute or that consumers will sidestep their products. "There is not a real and tangible benefit in the technology's products for consumers at this stage," Mr Hooke said. 

224 Indonesian troop re-enforcements have started arriving in central Sulawesi as the government attempts to end days of deadly clashes between Christians and Muslims. Violence in the last week has claimed at least eight lives and left thousands of people homeless. More than 2,000 police and soldiers are being sent in to disarm rival groups and restore calm. There have been no new reports of violence, but residents in the Christian town of Ten Tena say they fear further attacks by Muslim militiamen taking up positions in the hills around the town. In a region where fighting between Muslims and Christians has claimed hundreds of lives in the last two years, many blame the latest upsurge in violence on the arrival of members of the Laskar Jihad Muslim Militia from training camps in Java and from the neighbouring Maluka Islands. 

225 America's Cup winner Sir Peter Blake, one of the most successful sailors in yachting history, was killed in a shooting in Amazonia, Brazil, today, his sponsors said. Mr Blake, 53, was aboard a boat with his crew when they were attacked by pirates and he was shot dead, they said. AFP reported the sponsors, PR company Jour J, as saying he was killed while leading a sailing expedition up the Amazon river, in the western Amazon Basin. The New Zealander won the America's Cup twice in 1995 and 2000 with Team New Zealand. Mr Blake was a two-time winner of the Sydney-Hobart race and also won the Tour of Australia and the Whitbread round-the-world race in 1990. He captured the Jules Verne Trophy in 1994 with a record-breaking non-stop voyage. He received an OBE for services to yachting in 1991. A meticulous planner and a gifted leader, Mr Blake's fierce determination to win always inspired immense loyalty from his crews and unlimited confidence from his backers. The New Zealander was the only man to compete in the first five Whitbreads and his 1989 victory in Steinlager 2 came with an unprecedented clean sweep as his team walked off with line, handicap and overall honours on each of the race's six legs. Steinlager 2 beat a field of 23 boats from 13 countries. Mr Blake's numerous sporting accolades included two New Zealand Sportsman of the Year awards and four New Zealand Yachtsman of the Year awards. He was also chosen to succeed the late Jacques Cousteau as captain of the marine research vessel Calypso 2. 

226 The Federal Government says a man who has claimed to have been planning terrorism attacks against Australia trained as a pilot in Australia in 1997 and 1998. The man, in custody in India, is not an Australian citizen. The Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, says the man left Australia in December 1998 and has not been back. Mr Williams says investigations are continuing. He will not say who the man is, what his nationality is, or where he did his pilot training. "Can I say we are not aware of any specific threat in relation to this man or any other person for that matter in Australia," Mr Williams said. 

227 The three US soldiers killed by a misguided US bomb in Afghanistan were from a US Army special forces unit based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the Pentagon said. The three were identified as Master Sergeant Jefferson Donald Davis, 39, of Tennessee; Sergeant First Class Daniel Henry Petithory, 32, of Massachusetts; and Staff Sergeant Brian Cody Prosser, 28, of California. The Pentagon said they served in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The three were killed when a 900 kilogram bomb dropped by an Air Force B-52 bomber landed too close to their position north of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. 

228 A tense stand-off is continuing in Gaza City between hundreds of supporters of the Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Palestinian police trying to place him under house arrest. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ordered the arrest, but when scores of police approached his home they were driven back amid heavy exchanges of gunfire. Up to 2,000 Hamas supporters have arrived from across the city after word spread of the attempted arrest. The 63-year-old Sheikh is revered by the Hamas militants who have carried out the bulk of the suicide bombings against Israel since 1994. However the Palestinian head of security, Jabril Rajoub says militant groups must recognise who is in control. "This is very difficult, but I don't think that we can surrender to individuals or groups who are trying to behave as if they are dictating their understanding on this authority," he said. "I hope that those groups, that those individuals will conclude the right conclusion and understand there is one authority." 

229 The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, says the so-called Pacific Solution is working as a way of deterring people from coming to Australia and he does not want to abandon it. Mr Ruddock says the Government would only change its policy of using Pacific Islands to process asylum seekers if so many people arrived they could not all be housed on the available islands. Mr Ruddock says the significant fall in the number of people arriving illegally in Australia is a sign the Government would not change the policy. "What I'm saying is the policy works. "If you face changed circumstances you may have to change your approach but that doesn't suggest that what you're doing is unable to cope or is in any way ineffective, when clearly we had something like 1,000 arrivals in August, something like 1,200 in September and between the 10th of November and now we've had no boat arrivals," Mr Ruddock said. 

230 The Federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, says he accepts the need for the Government to look for ways to cut waste and reduce spending. The Treasurer, Peter Costello, says the Government's expenditure review committee, or razor gang, will try to make cuts before the next budget, especially to programs which have served their purpose and are no longer needed. Mr Costello last made sweeping cuts when the Coalition was elected in 1996. Labor says the Government should start by slashing its own spending on advertising for Government programs. Mr Nelson will not identify any areas within his new portfolio which could be cut and says he is not afraid of the scrutiny of the senior ministers in the razor gang. "Whilst the razor gang might be described in pejorative or critical terms by some of my colleagues, it's there ultimately to serve the best interests of Australian taxpayers. "I don't think there's anything that should be feared but seen to be something that's responsibly looking after the best interests of Australian taxpayers," Mr Nelson said. 

231 Two Swiss guides who survived the 1999 Interlaken canyoning accident - in which 14 Australians died - have denied any wrongdoing in leading the trip into the Saxet River. A court in Switzerland has been told the huge wall of water which swept down the river was an unpredictable natural catastrophe. Both Simon Wiget and Stefan Abegglen told the court of their sorrow about the accident, but denied making any mistakes, nor did they think weather conditions were inappropriate. Asked if they had received adequate training in weather analysis from their Adventure World supervisors, they said they had. But when asked what specific training they received, they were unable to give detail. They also acknowledged their salaries as guides were dependent on the number of trips they took and the number of people who accompanied them. For some of the Australians the day ended with an emotional visit to the river where their children died. 

232 The US space shuttle Endeavour has blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre en route to the International Space Station (ISS) with a replacement crew. Endeavour's launch was delayed three times, most recently by bad weather over the space centre yesterday. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had earlier pushed back the launch twice due to problems with the docking of a Russian cargo ship at the station, rectified on Monday by a spacewalk completed by two Russian cosmonauts. The shuttle is taking to the station its fourth long-term crew - Russian commander Yuri Onufrienko and Americans Carl Walz and Dan Bursch - and is due to return to earth on December 16 with the current crew members, who have been on the station since August. The shuttle is also carrying the Italian Raffaello module, laden with 3.5 tonnes of equipment, food, supplies and materials for scientific experiments. It was the first US space shuttle launch since September 11 when hijacked airliners left around 3,500 people dead and missing in New York, Washington and  Pennsylvania. Tight security surrounded the space centre during the launch. 

233 Australian swimmers have won nine of the 12 events contested at the skins swimming event in Sydney last night. The 50 metres races were swum in an elimination format with four races to determine the overall winner. Geoff Huegill won the 50 metres butterfly in 24.21 seconds and is looking forward to the World Cup event in Melbourne tomorrow. "Every race is just getting better and better in terms of jumping in and making sure that I nail the first 15 [metres] under water and exploding out of the water and really working turns and trying to nail finishes," he said. Elka Graham won the womens 300 metres freestyle which was contested by having three races over 100 metres. She says former champiom Kieren Perkins was behind her victory. "I swam with Kieren this morning and he gave me some awesome advice. He told me to close my eyes [in the last 25 metres] and to absolutely go for it," she said. American Ed Moses won the men's 50 metres breaststroke while Liesel Jones took the women's event. World champion Matt Welsh was the first swimmer eliminated from the 50 metres backstroke,  which was eventually won by Australia's Ray Hass. The winners of each event received five thousand dollars but Welsh had an early night when he was the first eliminated in the  50 metres event won by Ray Hass. Rebecca Creedy caused another upset, defeating Sarah Ryan in the 50 metres freestyle. Julia Ham won the women's 50 metres butterfly and says the $5,000 in prizemoney will go towards paying for a $13,000 heater for the pool in Queensland where she trains children. "The thermostat's broken on the old one, it just goes up and down and I went in yesterday and it was 36 degrees in the water and it was just terrible. It was like a spa," she said. 

234 Three US troops and five members of the Afghan opposition were killed by a stray US bomb near Kandahar in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said. The Pentagon had earlier confirmed that two US special forces soldiers were killed and 20 others wounded north of Kandahar when a B-52 bomber dropped a 2,000-pound bomb too close to them. "The B-52 was flying in support of opposition forces north of Kandahar," said Pentagon spokeswoman Victori Clark. "We have an update since this morning, and unfortunately the number of US forces killed is now three." Rival Afghan factions signed an historic power-sharing agreement to form a post-Taliban government and set the country on the road to recovery and democracy after two decades of war. The accord was sealed after nine days of exhausting negotiations and paves the way for a six-month interim administration headed by moderate Muslim Hamid Karzai, from the dominant Pashtun ethnic group. The deal gives the Northern Alliance control of three key portfolios in the 30-member cabinet, which includes two women and is due to be up and running by December 22. It also gives a symbolic role to the former king and provides for a UN security force for Kabul. The agreement was signed in the German city of Bonn by the leaders of the four delegations and UN special envoy for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi to applause from an audience which included German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. "We were the champions of resistance and will be proud to be the champions of peace," said Yunus Qanooni, the Northern Alliance's chief negotiator and the  interim government's interior minister. A delegate from the so-called Peshawar group, Sayed Hamed Gailani, summed up the atmosphere in a single phrase. "There are two things evident today: Yesterday's rain does not have the courage to cry, and the sun cannot hide its smile," he said. The appointment of Karzai, a 44-year-old tribal Pashtun tribal leader currently fighting the Taliban near their last stronghold of Kandahar, was seen as an attempt to balance Afghanistan's delicate ethnic mix. It cements a whirlwind transformation in Afghanistan's fate since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the trigger for massive US air  strikes that have dislodged the Taliban militia from most of the country and put the Northern Alliance back on top. Showing the strain from nine days of frantic diplomacy, Brahimi recognised the accord was far from perfect, and that its signatories were not fully representative of the Afghan people 

235 The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has expressed concern about a man who was arrested in India and has reportedly confessed to planning suicide attacks in Australia. The man was arrested a month ago in India on suspicion of links to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. India's Home Minister, LK Advani, has been quoted by the Reuters news agency as telling a meeting of business and industry leaders in New Delhi that the man has confessed to planning suicide attacks in Australia and Britain, as well as on the Indian Parliament. The report says Mr Advani says Indian authorities have confirmed and verified the confessions. Mr Downer has told Channel Seven it should not be dismissed. "I understand that his claim, that he wanted to conduct suicide attacks against a number of countries including Australia, is a claim that he believes," Mr Downer said. "I don't think this is a hoax or should be treated as a hoax. "I think these are claims that need to be taken seriously  - we can be grateful for the fact that he has been arrested by Indian authorities." 

236 Israel has demanded the arrest of 36 Palestinian militants and given leader Yasser Arafat just 12 hours to comply. The Government says if those on the list are not rounded up in time, the army will resume its attacks on Palestinian targets. Mr  Arafat was told of the deadline by the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, in a telephone conversation. The Palestinian leader said his security forces could not move to make the arrests because of fear of Israeli bombing. So now, he has just 12 hours in which his men will be given free rein. Mr Arafat has accused the Israelis of attempting to sabotage attempts to jail militants and undermine his authority. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman earlier said Mr Arafat was finished and it was time for a new Palestinian leader. 

237 Two Swiss guides who survived the 1999 Interlaken canyoning accident - in which 14 Australians died - have denied any wrongdoing in leading the trip into the Saxet River. A court in Switzerland has been told the huge wall of water which swept down the river was an unpredictable natural catastrophe. Both Simon Wiget and Stefan Abegglen told the court of their sorrow about the accident, but denied making any mistakes, nor did they think weather conditions were inappropriate. Asked if they had received adequate training in weather analysis from their Adventure World supervisors, they said they had. But when asked what specific training they received, they were unable to give detail. They also acknowledged their salaries as guides were dependent on the number of trips they took and the number of people who accompanied them. For some of the Australians the day ended with an emotional visit to the river where their children died. 

238 High interest rates on credit cards have prompted a call for an inquiry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The Australian Consumers Association (ACA) says banks are not passing on all Reserve Bank interest rate cuts. The association's Katherine Wolthuizen says while the Reserve Bank again cut official interest rates yesterday, credit card interest rates remain high. "We would certainly like to see a proper investigation into that and hopefully some movement to bring the banks to account for it. "They don't like being regulated and sometimes the threat of regulation can cause them to amend their ways, but of course they do have a very long way to go," Ms Wolthuizen said. 

239 Centrelink is urging people affected by job cuts at regional pay TV operator Austar and travel company Traveland to seek information about their income support options. Traveland has announced it is shedding more than 500 jobs around Australia, and Austar is letting 400 employees go. Centrelink finance information officer Peter Murray says those facing uncertain futures should head to Centrelink in the next few days. "Centrelink is the shopfront now for Commonwealth services for income support and the employment network so that it is important. "If people haven't been to us before they might get a pleasant surprise at the range of services that we do offer to try and help them through situations where things might have changed for them," Mr Murray said. 

240 The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has moved to clarify what it says are misunderstandings about a report on the Indian economy, launched by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. The 172-page document released on Monday says Australian firms could become more competitive by outsourcing to India's information technology (IT) sector. The Community and Public Sector Union has been critical of the report, saying DFAT is encouraging Australian businesses to export jobs to India. But the department says the aim is to boost Australia's export potential and encourage competitiveness in the industry. DFAT does not want to make any further comment and the Minister's office says he is not available for interview. 

241 Counting is proceeding very slowly in the Solomon Islands national elections, as  officials are keen to avoid any allegations of vote tampering. There was a heavy police presence around the three counting centres in the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara, when the first ballot boxes were opened late last night. Counting in some of the more remote of the 50 seats in the Solomon Islands Parliament will not even start until Saturday after the ballot boxes are transferred to a single location. A large contingent of international observers are monitoring the count in an election that is regarded as crucial if the Solomons is to break out of a cycle of economic and social disintegration, flowing from a bitter ethnic war between armed militants from its two largest provinces. 

242 Australian swimmers have won nine of the 12 events contested at the skins swimming event in Sydney last night. The 50 metres races were swum in an elimination format with four races to determine the overall winner. Geoff Huegill won the 50 metres butterfly in 24.21 seconds and is looking forward to the World Cup event in Melbourne tomorrow. "Every race is just getting better and better in terms of jumping in and making sure that I nail the first 15 [metres] under water and exploding out of the water and really working turns and trying to nail finishes," he said. Elka Graham won the women's 300 metres freestyle which was contested by having three races over 100 metres. She says former champion Kieren Perkins was behind her victory. "I swam with Kieren this morning and he gave me some awesome advice. He told me to close my eyes [in the last 25 metres] and to absolutely go for it," she said. American Ed Moses won the men's 50 metres breaststroke while Liesel Jones took the women's event. World champion Matt Welsh was the first swimmer eliminated from the 50 metres backstroke,  which was eventually won by Australia's Ray Hass. The winners of each event received five thousand dollars but Welsh had an early night when he was the first eliminated in the  50 metres event won by Ray Hass. Rebecca Creedy caused another upset, defeating Sarah Ryan in the 50 metres freestyle. Julia Ham won the women's 50 metres butterfly and says the $5,000 in prize money will go towards paying for a $13,000 heater for the pool in Queensland where she trains children. "The thermostat's broken on the old one, it just goes up and down and I went in yesterday and it was 36 degrees in the water and it was just terrible. It was like a spa," she said. 

243 There has been another suicide bomb attack in the Middle East, this time in Jerusalem. Three people have been injured after an apparent Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Hilton Hotel in west Jerusalem. Israeli police say the three were standing at a bus stop and were hurt by flying glass when the explosion occurred near an entrance to the former Hilton Hotel. The suicide bombing follows a wave of Israeli air strikes against Palestinian security installations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after 25 people were killed at the weekend in several suicide bombings. 

244 Four Afghan factions have reached agreement on an interim cabinet during talks in Germany. The United Nations says the administration, which will take over from December 22 will be headed by the royalist anti-Taliban commander Hamed Karzai. It concludes more than a week of negotiations outside Bonn and is aimed at restoring peace and stability to the war ravaged country. The 44-year-old former deputy foreign minister, who is currently battling the Taliban around the southern city of Kandahar, is an ally of the exiled Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah. He will serve as chairman of an interim authority that will govern Afghanistan for a six-month period, before a Loya Jirga or grand traditional assembly of elders, in turn appoints an 18-month transitional government. Meanwhile, United States Marines are now reported to have been deployed in eastern Afghanistan where opposition forces are closing in on al-Qaeda soldiers. Reports from the area say there has been a gun battle between the opposition and al-Qaeda close to the Tora Bora cave complex where Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding. In the south of the country, American marines are taking part in patrols around the air base they have secured near Kandahar, but are unlikely to take part in any assault on the city. However, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers says they are prepared for anything. "They are prepared for engagements, they're a robust fighting force and they're absolutely ready to engage if that's required," he said. 

245 The Reserve Bank has cut official interest rates again, still concerned about the slowing global economy. The central bank has delivered a further cut of 0.25 of a per cent. It is the sixth rate cut for the year, taking the cash rate to 4.25 per cent. The cut has been quickly passed on in full by all the major banks and a host of smaller lenders. The Reserve Bank says international conditions remain weak, with the US and Japanese economies in recession, Europe stalled and contractions in a number of Australia's east Asian trading partners. The bank says 2001 and 2002 combined will produce the weakest period of growth since the early 1980s, although the threat of an even sharper decline after the September 11 attacks in the US has abated somewhat. Low interest rates and a sharp drop in oil prices should see a recovery start in the 12 months ahead. Westpac's Bill Evans is among those who believe the cut will not be the last. "The Reserve Bank has certainly not closed the door to further rate cuts next year," he said. 

246 Federal Treasurer Peter Costello has warned continued economic growth in Australia is dependent on an uncertain world outlook. The latest figures show the economy grew by 1.1 per cent in the September quarter. Mr Costello is stressing the seriousness of the current global economic downturn. "As serious as anything we've seen in the last two decades," he said. Both he and the Reserve Bank governor, Ian MacFarlane believe the timing of any pickup is unclear. Mr Costello is hopeful about the United States prospects next year and says a pickup sooner rather than later in the year could keep Australia in a strong position. "I think with every confidence, the December quarter is going to be strong, if the US comes back we might defy again what has happened in the world," he said. Shadow Treasurer Bob McMullan says the Treasurer is left relying on things out of his control. "All the Treasurer has got in plan for 2002 is the hope the American economy will pick up in time," he said. He says the Government has limited its own ability to respond to the international shocks by spending too much this year. 

247 The AFL's all-time leading goalkicker, Tony Lockett, will decide within the next week if he will make a comeback. Lockett has told the Sydney Swans he is interested in coming out of retirement and placing himself in this month's pre-season draft. Lockett retired at the end of the 1999 season and will turn 36 in March. Swans chief executive Kelvin Templeton says the club would welcome Lockett back. "We're not putting any undue pressure on him," Mr Templeton said. "The approach really came from Tony to us, rather than the other way." Mr Templeton says if Lockett does make a comeback, the club would not expect him to play every game. "He certainly could play a role, albeit a reduced role from the one the fans knew him to hold a couple of years back," he said. 

248 The Royal Commission into HIH has been adjourned until Monday after interviewing of the first witness ended abruptly. Lawyers acting on behalf of several former HIH directors requested that cross-examination of David Lombe and an inspector appointed by insurance watchdog, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) be held at a later date. The commission was due to hear evidence from Mr Lombe after the details of his report for APRA were read in this morning's hearing. The report raises allegations that corporate governance was inadequate and concealed the true state of HIH's financial position. The report questions the solvency of HIH prior to it being placed into provisional liquidation on March 15. It raises issues of intangible assets like tax and goodwill, being treated as tangible for the acquisition of Allianz to boost the financial position of HIH. The report also says significant losses by HIH in the United States and the United Kingdom were concealed from APRA at meetings last year. The commission has also heard APRA had serious concerns about the accounting practices being followed by HIH in July last year. 

249 Darwin Aboriginal custodians will become property developers at Palmerston, after the settlement of a native title claim lodged seven years ago. It is the first claim to be settled in the Darwin region. The agreement was due to be signed off before the last Northern Territory election, but was delayed by the death of an elder's son. The Larrakia people plan to take a lease from the Territory Government under commercial terms and develop almost 50 hectares in the new Palmerston suburb of Rosebury over the next few years. The agreement will also mean that a further 200 hectares at Rosebury and Bellamack will be free for urban growth without native title concerns. The Larrakia have also withdrawn their claim from the Archer Sporting Complex at Palmerston. 

250 The Defence Minister, Robert Hill, has announced more Australian SAS troops have arrived in Afghanistan. The forces which arrived today, join the advance party which has been in the south of the country since Monday. Senator Hill says further deployments will happen as they are required. He says for security reasons specific tasks, locations and missions will not be revealed. Meanwhile, a senior member of the Northern Alliance attending the UN-sponsored Afghan talks in Bonn said that an interim Afghan administration would assume power on December 22. Ahmad Wali Masood, brother of the assassinated legendary Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Masood, also said he expected the four Afghan groups locked in intensive dialogue for eight days would reach agreement on composition of the government later on Tuesday. "I expect a result tonight," Wali Masood said, adding that all four Afghan groups negotiating in Bonn had submitted their lists of nominees to the United Nations. Earlier on Tuesday, diplomatic sources indicated that new interim government for Afghanistan was expected to be installed in Kabul next week. "The interim government will be installed one week after the signature (of the Bonn accord) and thereupon enjoy international recognition," said a western  diplomat among official observers at the conference. "This will mean that (ousted president Burhanuddin) Rabbani is no longer recognised," the source said. Diplomats observing the UN-sponsored Afghan talks said they expect a formal signing ceremony for the power-sharing deal, which aims to pave the way for a democratic Afghanistan, to be signed at the Petersberg talks on Wednesday. 

251 Israel launched massive air raids across the West Bank and Gaza Tuesday, piling pressure on Yasser Arafat with a rocket strike on  a police post next to his offices, after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon branded his administration a "sponsor of terrorism". Israeli F-16 warplanes launched a series of strikes on Gaza City, while Apache helicopters fired rockets on Palestinian security offices in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip and on the West Bank towns of Salfit and Tulkarem. They also fired missiles on a security post just metres from Mr Arafat's offices in Ramallah, but the Palestinian leader, who was in his office at the time, was unhurt. But two policemen were slightly wounded, officials said. Israeli army spokesman Brigadier General Ron Kitrey said Mr Arafat was not targeted. Two people were killed in the Gaza strikes and around 120 injured, half of them schoolboys, Palestinian hospital officials said. The attacks came as Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he did not believe Israeli forces would take direct action against the Palestinian  leader. The strikes also came a day after Mr Sharon, furious that Mr Arafat had not stopped hardline Islamic groups, who killed two dozen Israelis in devastating suicide attacks at the weekend, ordered his forces to blast symbols of Mr Arafat's  power. Gunships destroyed Mr Arafat's three helicopters in Gaza City, while bulldozers ploughed up the runway at Gaza international airport used by Mr Arafat for his frequent travels abroad. Palestinian officials called Mr Sharon's campaign an attempt to topple Mr Arafat and destroy his self-rule Palestinian Authority. Mr Arafat told CNN television that Mr Sharon was trying to torpedo his own crackdown on terrorism with the airstrikes. "He doesn't want me to succeed, and for this he is escalating his military activities against our towns, our cities, our establishments," the Palestinian leader said. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine accused Israel of conducting a deliberate policy aimed at eliminating Mr Arafat. "Arafat has been weakened by the harassment of the Israeli army ... and as a result people are using his weakness as an argument to say that since he can not re-establish order in his own camp, he should in some way be eliminated." However, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush expressed "sympathy" with Israel and called on all sides "to do anything they can to stabilise the situation". Mr Sharon's hard words and air strikes opened major divisions in his cross-party government, with left-wing Mr Peres denouncing what he called a bid during Monday's emergency cabinet meeting to cause "the downfall of the Palestinian Authority". The region had been braced for a huge Israeli retaliation after three Palestinian suicide bombers from the hardline Islamic movement Hamas killed 25 people on Saturday and Sunday in the suicide attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa. Mr Sharon made a national address after blasting Gaza City and Jenin in the West Bank on Monday, accusing Mr Arafat of having "chosen the path of terrorism" and  being "the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East". Mr Peres said the move by Mr Sharon's dominant right-wingers "in effect means Israeli policy is based purely on force with no political hope". Public radio said Mr Peres had called all the ministers from his Labour Party for a special meeting Wednesday to discuss the fallout of the strikes and Mr Sharon's accusation that Mr Arafat was "responsible for everything that has happened here". Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, speaking after Mr Sharon's speech Monday evening, said the words amounted to a "declaration of war". He called on the United States and Europe to rein in Mr Sharon and dispatch international observers to oversee the spiralling conflict. 

252 Interest rates and economic growth take centre stage for Australian financial markets today. A rates cut is still expected despite what is thought to be a respectable set of national accounts. The Australian economy has been held up as one of the few to be still ticking over well, while so many others around  the world are in recession or slowing sharply. Today's national accounts for the September quarter will be the definitive measure. SG Australia chief economist Glenn Maguire says he expects a quarterly figure of just under 1 per cent. "If we do see economic growth up around 0.9 per cent, which is the market consensus, that is actually a relatively very good outcome," he said. That would translate to an annual growth rate of 2 per cent. Mr Maguire says domestic economic activity remains centred on the housing sector. "I think the national accounts will reveal that the bulk of economic growth is being driven by the housing sector and those areas which are related to the housing sector, such as retail trade and manufacturing." But he says some areas of weakness are emerging. "Company profits were quite soft. "Also average earnings are likely to post a softer footing over the quarter as well, so looking forward, softer incomes, probably softer production as well suggest that the domestic economy will be slowing as we move into 2002," Mr Maguire said. Financial markets are also waiting on a possible announcement from the Reserve Bank after its board meeting of yesterday. There is a high level of expectation that rates will be cut by 0.25 per cent. The Australian Trade Commission says there are signs of recovery on global markets three months after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Senior Austrade staff from across the globe are in Adelaide to discuss the impact of the attack on the US and  major international markets. Austrade's executive general manager Roger Bayliss says the vast majority of global equity markets have bounced back and growth is expected to return by the third quarter of next year. Mr Bayliss says while there are serious challenges ahead, Australian firms should not retreat. "The most important point is to really study your markets. "Get good advice, make sure you're looking after your customers well, and certainly not staying in your shell, or in your cocoon, and adopting a very aggressive approach to overseas marketing," Mr Bayliss said. 

253 The Labor Party is set to have a wide-ranging review of its structures, with frontbencher Martin Ferguson pushing for the process. The new Labor leader, Simon Crean, is taking a set of proposals to next Thursday's national executive meeting. Mr Ferguson wants the meeting to call a review. He says suggestions for party changes, such as the call by frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon for the scrapping of a New South Wales rule forcing Labor members to belong to a union, should be dealt with internally. "Perhaps the time has come for us to actually sign up to a federal executive process which actually enables debate to go forward in a highly constructive way rather than individual proposals being put out there without an end game in sight," Mr Ferguson said. He says he is happy for the process to include looking at abandoning the 60-40 rule, but says scrapping the rule would only be a minor factor in the party's self-examination. "For a long time I've believed there is a requirement for the Labor Party to actually have a hard look at whether or not an archaic formula of union representation is the key to our future." 

254 Computer virus experts have warned of a new "goner" computer virus that can erase data from a user's hard drive. According to, a leading anti-computer virus software company, the virus is attacking both home and business computers. The company has given the virus a high-risk rating, its most serious warning. The virus, also known as a worm, gets into computers via Microsoft's Outlook email program. If a user activates the virus by opening up an infected email attachment, it can create havoc. The virus, the company warned, "can delete files from users' computers. The Goner worm then emails itself to every email address contained in the user's address book". This new virus comes right after the Badtrans Internet worm, another Outlook attacker that replicates itself by sending copies out to everyone on a user's address list. Badtrans, however, did not erase data. McAfee is recommending that users upgrade their anti-virus software. The company also warns against opening up unexpected attachments. 

255 Defendants in the Interlaken canyoning trial in Switzerland are continuing to deny they played any role in the deaths of 21 people, including 14-Australians, who drowned in 1999. When chief guide Bernard Strureewas asked why he did not call off the canyoning trip on that fateful July afternoon, he said the water level was so low there would be enough time to evacuate the river if it flooded. Mr Struree told the court guides were instructed to leave the canyon if water levels rose or changed colour, adding they were always advised to pull out if a strong storm was forecast. But like those before him, when asked if he remembered what the weather conditions were like at 4:00pm that afternoon, he said he had not noticed. The witnesses are providing few insights, nor are they being sternly challenged and two days of evidence is revealing little. Tomorrow the Australian families will take the journey to the Saxet River gorge to pay tribute to those they lost. 

256 The New South Wales State Emergency Service (SES) says it has now received 5,000 calls for help in the wake of Monday's fierce storms. Natural disaster areas have been declared throughout Sydney and surrounding areas and parts of the state's north-west. In Sydney, more than 2,000 homes, mainly in the northern suburbs, remain without power. SES spokeswoman Laura Goodin says several hundred volunteers will be back in the field this morning. "We've had about 5,000 calls for help of which we've completed about two-thirds. "We've had about 800 volunteers in the field being helped out by the Royal Fire Service and the New South Wales Fire Brigades and we're expecting to have most jobs completed by about Friday," Ms Goodin said. The extensive storm damage has prompted a warning about people falsely claiming to work for the SES. The warning, from Fair Trading Minister John Aquilina, follows reports from the suburb of Hornsby that people claiming to work for the SES are asking for payment from the storm victims. Mr Aquilina has reminded householders that the SES is a volunteer organisation and does not charge for its work or employ sub-contractors. He has suggested residents contact the police if they are approached by such people. The Government is also warning householders against dealing with unlicensed tradespeople. 

257 A survey of literacy and mathematical skills of 15-year-old Australian school students has shown some alarming trends in boys' education. The survey was part of a study undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and involved 31 countries, including the United States, Canada, Brazil and Japan. The head of the Australian Council for Educational Research, Professor Geoff Masters, says although the overall Australian results are very encouraging, there are some alarming signs. "Boys tend to have more negative attitudes to reading, they read less often than girls, they are less interested in reading narrative texts, storybooks for example," he said. 

258 Hundreds of fans stood vigil today for the immersion of George Harrison's ashes into the Ganges river at the Hindu holy city of Benares. But officials and sect leaders remained tightlipped on when or where last rites for the former Beatle, a long-time devotee of the Hindu Hare Krishna sect, would take place. He was closely attached to Benares, where devout Hindus come to scatter the ashes of their dead relatives in the Ganges in a ritual symbolising the journey of the soul towards eternal salvation. The Beatles' former lead guitarist died on Thursday of cancer, aged 58, amid chants and prayers of Hare Krishna devotees who were at his bedside. According to details of the ceremony released by members of the Hare Krishna movement yesterday, Harrison's widow Olivia accompanied by son Dhani were to scatter some of the ashes early this morning in a "discreet" ceremony at Hinduism's holy river. Some of Harrison's ashes could also be immersed in the Ganges at Allahabad - another holy spot for devout Hindus - about 130 kilometres upstream from Benares, a spokesman for the Hare Krishna group said. Tomorrow Harrison's family members were supposed to take part in a special prayer meeting in Vrindavan, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, 150 km north of the Indian capital. The news brought hundreds of journalists, fans and curious onlookers to Benares' 80-odd "ghats" - platforms or steps from which the ashes are strewn into the river - this morning. But as the day wore on, local administration officials and Hare Krishna devotees in Benares refused to confirm when and where along the Ganges the ceremony would take place. 

259 Australia has escaped with a draw after a dramatic final day of the third Test against New Zealand in Perth. Set 440 to win, Australia finished the match at 7 for 381 with Adam Gilchrist not out 83. Australia retains the Trans-Tasman Trophy after the rain-affected series ended 0-0. During the final day Zimbabwean umpire Ian Robinson made two controversial decisions in favour of Australia. Captain Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie both were given not out despite television replays showing they were caught behind by wicket-keeper Adam Parore. 

260 Israeli forces have launched attacks on some of the key Palestinian symbols of autonomy, including Gaza International Airport. The strikes come as Israeli authorities announced they were stepping up military operations against Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, appealed for intervention from the United Nations Security Council after Israeli air strikes yesterday and accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of declaring war on the Palestinians. Mr Sharon's Government also placed Force-17, the armed group in charge of Mr Arafat's protection, and the Tanzim military groups of his Fatah faction on its list of terrorist organisations, a senior Israeli official said. The decisions were taken in a five-hour marathon late-night session of the national unity government, said the official, who asked not to be named. In a series of incursions and air strikes, the Israeli military targeted Mr Arafat's symbols of power, after holding him to account for a spate of deadly suicide bombings by Palestinian Islamic militants. The Israeli army carried out reprisal attacks against targets in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Israeli tanks advanced to about 500 metres from Mr Arafat's offices in the West Bank town of Ramallah, witnesses and Palestinian security officials said. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces penetrated the airport Mr Arafat uses for his travels abroad and started to churn up the only runway, a Palestinian liaison official said. Mr Sharon, blaming Mr Arafat for the weekend suicide bombings that killed 25 Israelis, earlier sent his airforce to blast the Palestinian leader's heliport in Gaza and offices in the West Bank town of Jenin. The radical Islamic movement, Hamas, claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks. Shortly after Apache combat helicopters struck Gaza City and F-16 fighter bombers hit Jenin, Sharon made a hard-hitting televised address, telling Israelis a "war of terrorism" had been foisted on the Jewish state. "In choosing to try to win political accomplishments through murder and in choosing to allow the ruthless killing of civilians, Arafat has chosen the path of terrorism," Mr Sharon said. "Arafat is the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East," Mr Sharon charged. 

261 Traveland's wholly-owned travel centres have ceased operating from today, leaving more than 550 staff seeking other jobs. The failed company's administrators say they have a buyer for Traveland's franchise network but have not been able to save the company stores. One of the administrators, Richard Albarran, says the deal, which is yet to be approved by a committee formed today of creditors, will unfortunately leave hundreds of people who have booked holidays through the company stores out of pocket. "The dollar value is approximately a tad over $1 million," Mr Albarran said. They will now be entitled to make claims through the Travel Compensation Fund. The meeting of company's creditors was told this morning staff are owed nearly $9 million in entitlements. The Australian Services Union's Luke Foley says he will be doing everything he can to ensure they receive every cent. "Ansett administrators are liable for perhaps the lion share of those employee entitlements, we're confident that'll be met," Mr Foley said. And more than 400 staff are to lose their jobs at Australia's biggest regional pay television operator, Austar. The company has this morning announced wide-ranging restructuring plans. Management at the struggling pay TV operator has now completed a review of all its activities. As a result of this review, the Austar board has decided to outsource a number of existing functions, cease operating its own Internet network and streamline other processes. The company anticipates annualised savings of around $90 million. More than 400 staff will be made redundant from the end of December. Austar has given assurances that redundant workers will receive their full entitlements and redundancy payments in line with company policy. The company says they will receive all statutory entitlements and redundancy payments in line with company policy. On the stock exchange, Austar shares rose five cents to 31.5 cents shortly before 1:00pm AEDT. 

262 Afghan opposition leaders meeting in Germany have reached an agreement after seven days of talks on the structure of an interim post-Taliban government for Afghanistan. The agreement calls for the immediate assembly of a temporary group of multi-national peacekeepers in Kabul and possibly other areas. The four Afghan factions have approved a plan for a 29-member ruling council composed of a chairman, five deputy chairmen and 23 other members. The council would govern Afghanistan for six months, at which time a traditional Afghan assembly, called a loya jirga, would be convened to decide on a more permanent structure. The agreement calls for elections within two years. 

263 At the royal commission inquiry into the collapse of insurance giant HIH, it has been revealed that a report on the solvency of the company was given to the board in November last year. The company was placed into provisional liquidation in mid March. Counsel assisting the royal commissioner Wayne Martin QC tabled a report by accountancy firm Ernst and Young on HIH's solvency. The commission was told that the report stated the view there was an extreme risk the company's liabilities would not be satisfied. The Ernst and Young report was handed to the board in November last year with the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) receiving a copy in December. Mr Martin says despite this report the company continued trading and APRA took no action to stop it. The commission was told, one had to take into account people who took out policies after this report in the belief the company was trading solvently. The hearing continues. 

264 A director of a defunct Swiss company that organised a canyoning trip in 1999 that ended with 21 people dying, 14 of them Australians, has denied responsibility for the tragedy. Along with two co-directors who are also charged with manslaughter, Adventure World director Stephan Friedli appeared in court on the first day of their trial. He described the deaths of 21 people in the Saxeten River Gorge as an accident that was unforeseeable and not preventable. Friedli said he was aware of the possibility the river could flood, but when asked whether his company carried out risk analysis he replied: "We know the region, we live here". To the question, "you know what you are accused of, have you made any mistakes?", Mr Friedli replied: "No, I don't think so". 

265 Widespread damage from yesterday's violent storms in New South Wales has forced the Government to declare more areas of the State natural disaster zones. Up to 700 volunteers and fire fighters are continuing the big mop-up. State Emergency Services (SES) volunteers are still clearing some of thehuge trees that came crashing down on homes in Sydney's north. Martin Walker was sitting on his back deck when the storm struck "It sounded like a freight train was about to hit our house. "You could hear it coming with such ferocity and as it hit, all the trees just seemed to bend and there was stuff hitting the back of our house," Mr Walker said. Pitwater, Bankstown, Sutherland, Hurstville and Liverpool in Sydney, and Gunnedah and Tamworth, in the state's north-west, have been added to the list of natural disaster areas. New South Wales Premier Bob Carr has inspected one of the worst hit parts, Wahroonga in Sydney's north. "I'm struck by the unpredictability of this storm damage, we've had storms before but never winds of this force and it was uneven and unpredictable in its impact," Mr Carr said. The final damage bill is expected to be more than $10 million. 

266 The Federal Government is under fire from unions over a new departmental report which recommends Australia outsource information technology (IT) to India. The document says India has a low cost skilled workforce. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Alexander Downer, has given his support to the document from his department entitled "India: New Economy, Old Economy". The report says sectors like IT, finance and telecommunications offer attractive direct investment opportunities. It also says Australian firms could become more competitive by outsourcing to the Indian IT sector. The Community and Public Sector Union's Wendy Caird says the Government seems to be encouraging local companies to export jobs to India. "I think that's quite alarming, obviously labour is a great deal cheaper in India and that's assisted by the Indian Government removing labour laws and bankruptcy laws," Ms Caird said. The union says while the initiative may create jobs in India, it will not help Australia's rising unemployment. 

267 Australian fast bowler Brett Lee has been fined $8,250 for yesterday's on-field outburst during the third cricket Test against New Zealand in Perth. Lee has not been suspended for any games which will allow him to play in the first Test against South Africa in 10 days. The penalty represents 75 per cent of Lee's match pay for the five-day Test. Match referee Jackie Hendriks found Lee guilty of using crude or abusive language and making offensive gestures after dismissing Shane Bond at the end of the New Zealand innings yesterday. 

268 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has opened an emergency security Cabinet meeting after placing blame for recent suicide attacks squarely on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "I called an urgent meeting of the heads of all the security systems and very shortly the Government will hold a special session, the Government will meet in order to make decisions about how to deal further with terrorism," he said in a national address on public television. The Government was to discuss its policy on the Palestinian Authority, which Mr Sharon implied was the enemy of the Jewish state and should bear the consequences. "Those who rise up against us to kill us are responsible for their own destruction," he said, in a statement interpreted by a Palestinian official as a call for war. "Arafat has made his strategic choices, a strategy of terrorism: in choosing to try to win political accomplishments through murder and in choosing  to allow the ruthless killing of civilians, Arafat has chosen the path of terrorism," Mr Sharon said. "The Government represents practically the whole of the Israel public and we have the paramount goal and need for unity in order to cope with all the brutalities facing us," he added. "Tonight we heard a declaration of war," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat on CNN television. "Sharon has chosen the path of darkness." Even before his address, Israeli helicopters and warplanes attacked targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including Arafat's offices and a police headquarters in Jenin and the Palestinian leader's three helicopters in Gaza City. The air strikes were launched on Palestinian targets in the wake of weekend suicide attacks by the Islamic militant group Hamas which left 26 Israelis dead. Meanwhile, Hamas has defied the Palestinian state of emergency and called for more suicide attacks against Israel at the funeral of a gunman who killed a settler. More than 1,000 supporters of the hardline group gathered to bury 19-year-old Muslim al-Aarage, one of two Palestinians who shot the settler dead on Sunday in the north of the Gaza Strip before being killed by Israeli soldiers. "The suicide operations will continue as long as the enemy continues its occupation" of Palestinian lands in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, a militant from the group told a crowd with a loudspeaker. "When Sharon kills women and children our people have the right to defend ourselves. Then they call us terrorists," he said. "Every religion and law in the world gives us the right to defend ourselves," he said, shortly before the air strikes began. Security services have arrested some 100 militants from Hamas and its smaller rival Islamic Jihad in the crackdown since Sunday. Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned "deliberate attacks" by the Palestinian suicide bombers at the weekend. "These attacks are horrifying and tragic," Amnesty said in a statement. "We call on armed groups to end immediately the direct targeting of civilians which  contravenes the most fundamental principles of humanity." The organisation called on the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to remember "that no abuses of human rights by armed groups can excuse violations of fundamental human rights and humanitarian law". 

269 Opposition forces claimed to have captured half of Kandahar airport after fierce fighting with Taliban troops as residents reported a further cranking up of US bombardments on the city. "We have now taken half of the airport," said Gul Lali, a key lieutenant to former Kandahar governor Gul Agha. Lali said that their forces had killed 11 foreign Taliban fighters in the operation and overrun a building that appeared to have been used as an office by members of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. "These were 11 of bin Laden's men, from Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Nineteen more were injured," Lali said from the battleground. Opposition commanders had earlier expressed confidence that the airport would fall by the end of the day, with the Taliban's defence tactics hamstrung by aerial attacks from US warplanes. "We can hope but I am not 100 per cent sure we will capture it by the end of the evening," a spokesman for Gul Agha said after speaking to the opposition leader at noon local time. Bombing raids by US warplanes on Taliban positions around the airport had helped the push, according to fighters on the ground. Residents who left Kandahar early Monday confirmed that there had been no let-up in the US bombing. Abdul Masood, 30, said at that planes were now flying in five-strong sorties. "The frequency has increased. They now come within an interval of half an hour," he said. "They are targeting the airport area and Taliban positions outside the city. "They are also hitting the road between the city and the airport. I saw at least four trucks which had been overturned, lying on the road." Masood also said he had reports that some opposition soldiers had been killed in a suicide attack by Taliban supporters. "Some people told me that several Arabs with grenades strapped around their abdomen managed to enter an advancing column at Torkotal (near Kandahar airport). I believe there were heavy casualties." His claims could not be independently verified but a doctor working for the relief agency Muslim Hands said that he had treated six of Agha's men after they crossed the border Monday. They were later dispatched to Chaman hospital. Nearly 100 civilians have been killed and 200 wounded in three nights of US airstrikes near Jalalabad, the provincial military chief said. Commander Haji Mohammad Zaman said the bombs targeted an area south of Jalalabad near the Tora Bora mountain cave complex where terror suspect Osama bin Laden is believed to have a hideout. Zaman, who directs military operations in Nangarhar province, said the first night of bombings left nearly 80 civilians dead and 150 wounded. A second night of air raids killed eight civilians and wounded 18, he said, and the third night left eight dead and many people injured. 

270 The Prime Minister, John Howard, has revealed he will go to Indonesia for a summit meeting with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri. There have been talks underway since Mr Howard was re-elected on the timing and venue for the summit. Mr Howard has now revealed he expects to travel to Indonesia for the top level meeting in February or March. It will be his second visit to Jakarta within a year. The two leaders met in Jakarta in August shortly after President Megawati took on the role. Australia and Indonesia are co-hosting an international summit on people smuggling issues in February and those issues are expected to again be a key part of the bilateral talks. Australia and Indonesia are also discussing the resumption of military ties. President Megawati signalled the relationship between the two nations had strengthened by sending a congratulatory letter to Mr Howard after the election. 

271 Businessmen Solomon Lew and Lindsay Fox have called on the Federal Government to help break Qantas' dominance to ensure their bid for Ansett is successful. The pair met with the Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, yesterday to update him on the progress of the bid. Over the weekend, the Federal Government ruled out further assistance for the proposal. Mr Lew says he has not requested financial assistance from the Government, but a review of trade practices could be important. He says he is also hopeful the Government will help break Qantas' dominance of the aviation industry. "We are concerned of the fact that at this point in time...the largest competitor has over 90 per cent market share and the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, did quote both to Lindsay and myself and publicly that he would regulate it to 65 per cent," Mr Lew said. He says the bid does not require any other government help. "At no time did we ever ask the Government for any grant or any cash payment or any dollars from taxpayers. "What we asked for was for business from the Government, which will be forthcoming in our opinion, and an assurance  that there would be a trade practices review of the current airline situation." 

272 A director of a defunct Swiss company that organised a canyoning trip in 1999 that ended with 21 people dying, 14 of them Australians, has denied responsibility for the tragedy. Along with two co-directors who are also charged with manslaughter, Adventure World director Stephan Friedli appeared in court on the first day of their trial. He described the deaths of 21 people in the Saxeten River Gorge as an accident that was unforeseeable and not preventable. Friedli said he was aware of the possibility the river could flood, but when asked whether his company carried out risk analysis he replied: "We know the region, we live here". To the question, "you know what you are accused of, have you made any mistakes?", Mr Friedli replied: "No, I don't think so". 

273 The storm clean-up in Sydney will resume in earnest this morning as fresh crews are brought in to replace State Emergency Service (SES) personnel who worked through the night. The storm hit Sydney early yesterday afternoon and two schoolgirls died when a tree fell on them at a reserve at Hornsby Heights in the city's north. A number of other people were injured as the storm brought down trees and power poles and lifted roofs. New South Wales Emergency Services Minister Bob Debus says welfare and emergency funding arrangements have been put in place with the declaration of natural disaster areas in Campbeltown, Hornsby, Warringah and Kurringai. "Welfare services become available if they are needed, local government is refunded any money it spends on the clean-up or that it spends on repairing its own infrastructure. "Low interest loans, if they are needed, are available to small business to help them get back on their feet again," Mr Debus said. Energy Australia says power has been restored to 35,000 customers and work will continue today to reconnect those still without electricity. Energy Australia's Peter Leete says work will concentrate around the worst hit areas. "The worst of the problems we have still got are in Sydney's northern suburbs which seem to be the worst hit of all, and that's around Hornsby, St Ives, Turramurra and Frenches Forest," Mr Leete said. Four hundred SES volunteers are responding to more than 3,000 calls for assistance. The volunteers have worked throughout the night to remove trees from homes and roads. The SES' Laura Goodin says it will take several days before the damage is cleared up. "While the SES has received fewer calls for help than in the storm two weeks ago, many of the jobs in this storm are actually quite complicated involving large trees or extensively damaged homes and businesses. "We're estimating that most of the tasks will be completed by Friday if no new storms develop," Ms Goodin said. Outside Sydney, the storms caused damage in north-east of the state and the lower Hunter. Scores of homes and farm buildings have been damaged and literally hundreds of trees have been brought down. The storms, accompanied by gale force winds and hail, left large areas around Tamworth, Gunnedah and Quirindi without electricity and telephone services. 

274 The royal commission into the collapse of insurance giant HIH will resume in Sydney this morning. On the first day of public hearings yesterday, royal commissioner Justice Neville Owen warned all parties not to break confidentiality agreements, following the possible leak of a report to the media last month. He told the commission one of the single biggest factors in the company's collapse was that it did not plan for future claims and did not have prudential margins over the estimate of future liabilities. He says all parties involved in the crash will have a chance to put their views. "Of course fundamental principles of fairness require that before that stage of the inquiry is reached, any person whose interest might be adversely affected by a finding of a fact or a recommendation must be made clearly and unequivocally aware of that risk and be given ample opportunity to present any evidence and submissions relevant to that issue," he said. 

275 Around 1,000 people have braved the cold for a vigil in the hometown of former Beatle George Harrison, who died last week. "Tonight we are gathered here in memory of George Harrison, a true son of Liverpool, whose music reached out to the whole world and shaped a generation,"  Lord Mayor Gerry Scott said. Plans for a candlelight vigil had to be scrapped due to fierce northern winds, and Harrison was honoured instead by dozens of pictures of the guitar hero, who died of cancer at age 58. After a minute's silence the crowd heard a recording of "My Sweet Lord," Harrison's biggest solo hit after the break-up of Liverpool's Fab Four, the most famous rock group in history. Harrison's family requested a second minute of silence to be held at 9:30pm local time. "We felt we had to come tonight because losing George is like losing one of the family," said Elsie May, who joined the throng in paying tribute to the Beatle known as the Silent One. "His music shaped our lives, and in the past we would take our children to see the Beatles when they were passing in a cavalcade. He was a wonderful man,"  she said. Leanne McCormack, a university student, said: "George was a talented musician and his music touched the lives of millions of people. "I wanted to come here tonight to pay my respects because he was such a talented man. I feel lucky to have been staying in Liverpool when he died as it  has been really moving to see all the different memorials." Just before the ceremony, students from Harrison's school, Dovedales Juniors, planted a tree in his memory close to another tree planted two years ago in memory of John Lennon, another Beatle gunned down by a crazed fan in 1980. 

276 Australian cricket coach John Buchanan says his team will be going into the final day of the series deciding third Test against New Zealand in Perth aiming to win the game. Australia will resume at 2 for 69 after being set 440 to win. Matthew Hayden is on 31 and Mark Waugh eight after Justin Langer was dismissed for a duck and Ricky Ponting 26. Buchanan says the outcome of the first session will determine whether Australia continues to pursue victory. "Hopefully we get through that without too much damage to our upper order," he said. "Lunchtime I think will be a good time to reassess where the game actually stands." Meanwhile Australian fast bowler Brett Lee faces a possible ban after being charged over alleged misconduct during day four of the  match. Lee faced a disciplinary hearing last night over an incident where he twice pointed New Zealand tailender Shane Bond towards the dressing room after bowling him. He also allegedly used abusive language towards the Kiwi number 10 batsman. South African match referee Jackie Hendriks will announce his verdict before play begins today. 

277 Defence Minister Robert Hill has confirmed Australian troops arrived in Afghanistan this morning. Senator Hill says it is an advance party and the rest of the troops will arrive within the next few days. He says Australian forces will operate with US troops in southern Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda networks. Senator Hill says the operation could take several months. 

278 Israeli soldiers have shot dead five Palestinians in two West Bank towns. An Israeli military source said the soldiers shot four Palestinians near Jenin, when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an army patrol and the troops returned fire. Another Palestinian was killed by Israeli soldiers near the West Bank city of Tulkarem, a Palestinian security source said. Meanwhile, Palestinian police have arrested three senior leaders of the hardline Hamas group in a crackdown that netted more than 75 Islamic militants following a wave of suicide attacks in Israel, a Palestinian security source told the AFP news agency. A Hamas official confirmed the arrests of two senior leaders, Ismail Abu Shanab and Ismail Haniya, and said police have issued arrest warrants for another two, but he refused to name them. The security source said more than 75 militants from Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad were rounded after Yasser Arafat's Palestinian leadership vowed to crackdown on them for a wave of anti-Israeli suicide assaults. Most of the arrests came after the Palestinian leadership declared a state of emergency in the Palestinian territories giving police sweeping powers to round up militants. 

279 The royal commission looking into the collapse of insurance giant HIH says the possible leak of a confidential document is a criminal offence. Royal commissioner Justice Neville Owen has opened the public hearings into the collapse, more than eight months after the company was placed into provisional liquidation. In his opening statement, Justice Owen called on all parties to adhere to the confidentiality requirements of a royal commission. Justice Owen says there could have been a leak of a report on the role of auditors, circulated in early November. "It is possible that someone, to whom the commission delivered a copy of the report in strict confidence disclosed its contents to the author of the article. "If so, there may have been a breach of section 6B (4) of the Royal Commissions Act 1902, that is a criminal offence," he said. 

280 Forward indicators of the Australian labour market are failing to improve, with a further decline in newspaper employment advertising. The ANZ Bank job advertisement series has measured a 0.8 per cent fall in the number of employment notices placed in major daily newspapers during November. ANZ chief economist Saul Eslake says it is the third drop in a row, to just under 19,000 per week on average, the lowest level since March 1997. He says the survey points to a national unemployment rate of 7.25 per cent early in the new year and provides added justification for a cut in official interest rates this week. Meanwhile, the Olivier Recruitment Group's measure of Internet job advertising has recorded its biggest drop since it was started almost two years ago. It has dropped 14 per cent, following a 9 per cent fall in October. The latest result suggests 9,500 fewer jobs were advertised in cyberspace during November. The Olivier Internet Job Index is now the lowest it has ever been. The company's director, Robert Olivier, describes the job market in Australia as "shot to pieces". 

281 The Greens have officially won their second Senate spot in Federal Parliament. The Senate count for New South Wales has been finalised with Kerry Nettle from the Greens taking the final position from long time Democrats Senator Vicki Bourne. Senator Bourne says she is very lucky to have served in the Parliament for 12 years and has nominated serving as an observer at the East Timor independence ballot as the high point of her career. She has wished Kerry Nettle well, saying it is a great honour and a great responsibility to be elected to the Senate. 

282 Eight people are to appear in a Swiss court tomorrow charged with the manslaughter of 18 tourists and three guides, after the 1999 Interlaken canyoning tragedy. The first three defendants are managers of the now defunctoperator, Adventure World. Twenty-one people including 14 Australians were killed when a thunderstorm struck when they were canyoning down the Saxeten River Gorge near Interlaken. A massive wall of water hit the group and swept them to their deaths. It will be alleged the company, Adventure World, allowed the trip to proceed with no safety provisions in place, that they employed inexperienced staff and guides who had a lack of knowledge about the violent weather changes which can occur in the mountains. If convicted they face one year jail sentence. 

283 The administrator of the financially troubled travel chain, Traveland, says he is confident he will have a buyer for the former Ansett subsidiary by the end of the working day. Traveland went into voluntary administration last week for the second time in three months, leaving its 550 employees uncertain about their future. Administrator Jeff McDonald says he has had offers for some, or all of the chain, from every large competitor in the travel industry. "We're going to be getting back to those people who have expressed an interest and there's quite a number and saying to them, 'put your best offer in'. "We've actually got sale contracts going out to all those people today and we're really looking at accelerating the whole thing so that we can make some final decisions," Mr McDonald said. 

284 France is celebrating victory over Australia in the Davis Cup tennis final, after Nicholas Escude defeated Wayne Arthurs in four sets in the deciding rubber yesterday. Pat Rafter was forced to withdraw from the match with a recurring arm injury just hours before he was to take the court. The deciding rubber was to be Rafter's farewell match before taking an indefinite break from the sport. Arthurs, who has not played a singles match since October, says he was bitterly disappointed to lose. "Any tennis players dream to be out there in front of a partisan Australain crowd. You couldn't ask for anything more in your tennis career and I'm just unbelievably disappointed I didn't get the job done," he said. Team captain John Fitzgerald has defended the decision to play Rafter in the doubles on Saturday, saying he was always in doubt for the final match. "There was no guarantee he could have played. I tell you anyone with less character wouldn't have lasted nearly as long. "There was no guarantee he could play the doubles to start with, let alone the singles and if he had a day off there was still no guarantee." Rafter failed to show up to the post-match media conference. Team officals said he was tired, however Todd Woodbridge hit out at the media for wanting to ask him about his future plans. "It's been [asked] 55 times every day for two and a half weeks, I mean what do you want him to say?" he asked reporters. French team captain Guy Forget says the victory in part makes up for France's defeat against Australia in Nice two years ago. "You're back in Australia against a better team on grass, against the number one player in the world and you pull off a win, it's very, very exciting and the way it happened is just very, very special," he said. Escude says winning the match for France is the highlight of his career. The Palestinian Authority has launched a crackdown on Islamic militants arresting more than 70 members of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas groups in the wake of a weekend of deadly bomb attacks against Israel. The Israeli Government is warning of a harsh response to the attacks, the latest in the coastal city of Haifa. A lone suicide bomber boarded a bus in the northern Israeli town and detonated a device that killed 15 Israeli passengers, some of them blown clear of the wreckage. That attack came just 12 hours after a triple bombing in Jerusalem which killed 10 young Israelis. Several Israeli Government ministers suggested that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership should now be toppled. A decision on a military response is likely to be made later today when Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, returns from the United States. After the White House demanded action, the Palestinian Authority has declared a state of emergency and launched late night raids to arrest scores of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

285 Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States believes Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden is in the "southern and eastern part" of Afghanistan. Mr Powell says it is "just a matter of time" before bin Laden is found and the ruling Taliban defeated. Appearing on the CBS "Face the Nation" program, Mr Powell reported on the status of the US operation in Afghanistan. "[The Taliban] still hanging on in Kandahar and some of the southern provinces and the mountains to the east and to the south but they are under enormous pressure," he said. "It is just a matter of time before we achieve our objectives." Mr Powell says US President George W. Bush does not care how long the campaign takes. "He wants Osama bin Laden, he wants Al Qaeda ripped up and the Taliban has to be totally removed from power,"  Mr Powell said. "You can be sure that we are looking [for bin Laden] and we have quite a few ideas to pursue." The United States has a total of 1,500 to 2,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "We have got 1,500 to 2,000 people," he said. Officials had earlier announced that over 1,000 US Marines are deployed near the southern city of Kandahar, the last stronghold of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban militia. The US forces also include light infantry troops in the north. Mr Rumsfeld also confirmed non-US coalition forces are also on the ground. US officers in Afghanistan say British, German and Australian liaison officers are working with the US Marines in southern Afghanistan. 

286 A new economic report claims Australia's economy is strong enough to break its close link with the United States economy and resist following it into recession. The BankSA Trends bulletin says Australia's economy has been boosted by strong rural exports. It also says the Australian share market has been more stable over recent months and has built up a stronger immunity to the threat of recession. BankSA's acting managing director Colin Taylor, says Australia is now very capable of avoiding slumping with the US as the world economy slows. "It doesn't necessarily follow that Australia will follow the patterns in the states, although normally that would be the case," Mr Taylor said. "What we're finding at the moment is that the Australian economy is quite strong, our rural sector is quite strong and the values on our stock exchange companies are also at levels which are relatively consistent." Meanwhile, forecasting firm BIS Shrapnel says interest rates are set to remain low and will contribute to an economic boom in the middle of the decade. The firm has released its latest set of long-term projections. 

287 Malaysian police have arrested a man believed to have smuggled thousands of boat people into Australia. The arrest comes after a two-year investigation by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Department of Immigration. Naeil Ahmad Abdullah, 41, was arrested in Malaysia last month for allegedly transporting thousands of boat people from the Middle East to Indonesia and into Australia. AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty says the arrest will have a significant impact on people smuggling. "What we often forget is this is transnational crime at its best," he said. The AFP says the arrest would not have happened without the coordinated effort of Malaysian and Australian authorities and believes it will lead to further arrests. 

288 A royal commission will begin this morning in Sydney into the collapse of insurance giant HIH. While the commission held an initial procedural hearing in September, today the public hearings will begin, more than eight months after the company was placed into provisional liquidation. More than one million pages of documents have already been subpoenaed from witnesses including former directors, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Prudential Regulatory Authority. The terms of reference include determining what contributed to the collapse, whether any laws were broken and whether regulations need to be changed. Western Australian Justice Neville Owen heads the commission, but today it is expected to hear mainly from Counsel Assisting, Wayne Martin QC. A spokesman for the commission, John Dickie, says it faces a great challenge. "The issues are quite complex really and certainly I think it's the first one into a corporation collapse like this one," Mr Dickie said. The inquiry is expected to be finished by the end of next June. 

289 Eight people are to appear in a Swiss court tomorrow charged with the manslaughter of 18 tourists and three guides, after the 1999 Interlaken canyoning tragedy. The first three defendants are managers of the now defunctoperator, Adventure World. Twenty-one people including 14 Australians were killed when a thunderstorm struck when they were canyoning down the Saxeten River Gorge near Interlaken. A massive wall of water hit the group and swept them to their deaths. It will be alleged the company, Adventure World, allowed the trip to proceed with no safety provisions in place, that they employed inexperienced staff and guides who had a lack of knowledge about the violent weather changes which can occur in the mountains. If convicted they face one year jail sentence. 

290 There is a renewed attempt to move the debate over choosing an Australian head of state forward, after a conference in southern New South Wales at the weekend. In Corowa, delegates adopted a proposal which recommended a plebiscite to direct another constitutional convention and referendum on a republic and Australian head of state. A committee will meet in about four weeks to work on the next step in the campaign. One of the proposal's developers, historian Walter Phillips, hopes there is a vote on an Australian head of state in about five years. "I think that in five or six years we should be pretty near if we can get this process going and carried forward. "Now we have to persuade our political leaders that it is something they should take up, that's going to be one of the problems," Mr Phillips said. 

291 A third case of mad cow disease has been confirmed in Japan. A panel of experts at Japan's Health Ministry has confirmed that another cow has the disease. Officials say all meat and organs from the dairy cow will be incinerated. It is Japan's third case of mad cow disease and a ministerial spokesman says he cannot tell how many more cases will be found as a nationwide test continues. The government has not determined the source of the outbreak. 

292 Unions and a major electricity producer will take part in government-sponsored talks this afternoon, in a bid to end a long running dispute over an enterprise bargaining agreement. The row has been running nearly two years, and has led to work bans as unions press their case. The Victorian State Government has called in Yallourn Energy and power industry unions to try and resolve the dispute, which could lead to blackouts. The Yallourn Power station is Victoria's third biggest, producing a fifth of the state's electricity. Despite in-principle support for a new enterprise bargaining agreement being reached last year, it still has not been signed off. Yallourn Energy takes the matter to the Industrial Relations Commission tomorrow, seeking compulsory arbitration. Victoria's Industrial Relations Minister, Monica Gould, admits the dispute is frustrating. "We want this matter resolved as soon as possible and the only way to do that is for the parties to sit around the table and negotiate an outcome," she said. 

293 Rival Afghan factions are deadlocked over the shape of a future government. The Northern Alliance has demanded a 10-day adjournment of power-sharing talks in Germany, after its President Burhanuddin Rabbani objected to the appointment system for an interim administration. President Rabbani has objected to the plans for an interim government to be drawn up by appointment as discussed in Bonn, saying the interim leaders should be voted in by Afghans themselves. He also says there is no real need for a sizeable international security force. President Rabbani says he would prefer local Afghan factions drew up their own internal security forces of around 1,000 personnel. But if the world insisted there should be an international security presence, there should be no more than 100 or 200 personnel in their security forces he says. President Rabbani's objections are likely to cast doubt on his delegation's ability to commit the Northern Alliance to any course of action decided upon in Bonn. He now threatens to undermine the very process he claims to support in the quest for a stable government in Afghanistan. 

294 George Harrison the guitarist, songwriter and film producer was widely known as the "quiet" Beatle. As the youngest Beatle, he had to be snuck in underage to venues prior to the band's phenomenal success in the early 1960s. He was responsible for some of the band's classic songs, such as Taxman, Here comes the Sun and Something. But up against the genius of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, his songs were hard-pressed to make it onto vinyl. Resentment built up and Harrison withdrew from the limelight. After the Beatles broke up he found solo success in 1971, with the track My Sweet Lord, although he was successfully sued for plagiarism and had to pay out half-a-million-pounds in damages. Always against a Beatles reformation, he famously declared in 1989 that the band would reform when Lennon was no longer dead. In later years he was beset by lung and throat cancer. He was lucky to survive a stabbing by an intruder in his UK home in 1999. He was known for his love of eastern mysticism, motor racing and his second wife Olivia, who saved his life in the knife attack. 

295 Virgin Airline's first dawn flight between Launceston and Melbourne got away on time this morning, despite passengers being checked-in through a tent. Virgin Blue has set up a temporary marquee terminal at Launceston airport after it was told by Ansett administrators that it could no longer share its terminal space. Virgin's deputy chief executive Rob Sherrard says the airline had an agreement with Ansett to use the check-in facilities for its lunchtime Launceston to Melbourne service but this could be terminated with seven days notice. Virgin was told last Thursday, it would have to move out throwing into disarray the airline's plans for second daily flight to Tasmania launched this morning. Mr Sherrard says he has not heard from the administrators since. "Basically they were unwinding the contract that we had and we certainly were not able to access the terminal for our second daily flights to Launceston and of course Canberra as well," he said. "That meant we had to make alternative arrangements." 

296 A team of Australian and Israeli scientists have conducted what they believe is successful research into using human embryo cells to repair brain damage. But their findings have been released just days after US president George W Bush criticised similar research by a team of Americans. Earlier this week Massachusetts based company Advance Cell Technologies said it had successfully cloned an early stage human embryo. The announcement sparked recriminations from US Congressmen with President Bush saying he was 100 per cent against any type of human cloning. Now an Australian-Israeli team has used excess IVF embryos to create precursor brain cells which they injected into the brains of baby mice. The findings show the brain cells grew to be indistinguishable from other brain tissue. While the research could prove useful in treating a variety of conditions including Parkinson's disease, it is likely to come under fire from human rights groups as it involves the destruction of human embryos. 

297 Today is World Aids Day and the latest figures show that 40 million people are living with HIV world-wide. The latest United Nations report on the AIDS epidemic has found Eastern Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union are becoming the new battleground in the fight against the disease. UN officials say in Russia the number of people carrying HIV doubles almost annually, while Ukraine has become the first nation in Europe to report 1 per cent of its adult population is HIV positive. The officials say a combination of economic insecurity, high unemployment and deteriorating health services are behind the steep rise. 

298 The Federal National Party has rejected a possible merger with the Liberals' at this stage, but it has not ruled out the option over the next three years. Liberal Party President Shane Stone is reported as saying amalgamation has to be considered as a strategy for the future of the Coalition. It comes as the two parties fight over numbers and muscle within the parliamentary groupings of the Coalition. National Party President Helen Dickie says merging the two parties is not necessary. "I guess you cannot categorically rule out anything. There will be discussions by all states, but the states at this stage have led me to understand that certainly amalgamation for them is not an issue," she said. 

299 A University of Canberra academic's proposal for a republic will be one of five discussed at an historic conference, starting in Corowa today. The conference is part of Centenary of Federation celebrations and recognises the Corowa conference of 1893 which began the process towards the federation of Australia in 1901. University of Canberra law lecturer BedeHarris is proposing three referenda to determine the republic issue. They would decide on whether the monarchy should be replaced, the codification powers for a head of state and the choice of a republic model. Doctor Harris says any constitutional change must involve all Australians. "I think it is very important that the people of Australia be given the opporunity to choose or be consulted at every stage of the process." 

300 Australia will take on France in the doubles rubber of the Davis Cup tennis final today with the tie levelled at 1-1. Wayne Arthurs and Todd Woodbridge are scheduled to lead Australia in the doubles against Cedric Pioline and Fabrice Santoro. However changes can be made to the line-up up to an hour before the match and Australian team captain John Fitzgerald suggested he might do just that. "We'll make a team appraisal of the whole situation, go over the pros and cons and make a decision" French team captain Guy Forget says he will not make changes but does not know what to expect from Australia. "Todd is the best doubles player in the world right now so I expect him to play," he said. "I would probably use Wayne Arthurs but I don't know what to expect really." Pat Rafter salvaged Australia's Davis Cup campaign yesterday with a win in the second singles match. Rafter overcame an arm injury to defeat French number one Sebastien Grosjean in three sets. The Australian says he is happy with his form. "It's not very pretty tennis, there isn't too many consistent bounces, you are playing like I said a bit of a classic old grass court," Rafter said. Rafter levelled the score after Lleyton Hewitt's shock five set loss to Nicholas Escude in the first singles rubber. But Rafter says he felt no added pressure after Hewitt's defeat. "I knew I had a good team to back me up even if we were down 2-0," he said. "I knew I could win on the last day, I know the boys can win doubles, so even if we were down 2-0 I still feel we are a good enough team to win and vice-versa, they are good enough team to beat us as well."

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