Police and protesters clash in Melbourne

Police and anti-capitalism protesters clashed in ugly scenes in Melbourne after a group was evicted from their CBD camp.

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The scuffles spilled into city streets after officers forcibly removed Occupy Melbourne demonstrators from the City Square on Friday morning, dragging many writhing and kicking and carrying others.

Police denied using excessive force to break up the protests, which blocked major city intersections and public transport for most of the day.

Up to 20 people were arrested and could face charges such as trespass, resisting arrest and hindering police, but police said a number of protesters were removed and later released.

More than 20 protesters had minor injuries, with one taken to hospital, while two officers were also injured, one of whom was taken to hospital to have his eye flushed.

One protester claimed a 14-year-old boy was trampled by a horse and then sprayed with capsicum spray.

Another protester, Thomas Tymms, said police kneed him in the face, giving him a bloody nose and black eye in actions he described as “outrageous”.

“This is what needs to happen for people to stand up and wake up. We don’t really live in a democracy, we live in a place ruled by the rich and police protect the rich,” he said. But Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana denied police used excessive force.

“We don’t really want to engage in this sort of activity but we’re not going to back down either,” Mr Fontana told reporters.

He said police boosted numbers from 150 to more than 400, in line with the increase in protesters.

“We will continue to keep moving through until we have cleared the streets,” he said.

“We’re trying to use the minimum amount of force as possible.

“They’ve had more than ample time to make their point in terms of what their protest is about and I think it’s time to give the City Square back to the citizens of Melbourne.”

He said police were resourced to deal with any future protests if it continued into the weekend.

The chaos was sparked after about 100 Occupy Melbourne demonstrators, who had camped out in the City Square for a week as part of global protests against corporate greed, defied an order to leave by 9am.

By about 12.30pm, a huge police contingent, including the riot squad, began dragging protesters out of the square and cleared the area within 10 minutes.

As the protesters were moved on, more joined in, blocking trams and the busy intersection of Swanston and Collins streets before being pushed further down Swanston Street. Mounted police, riot police and the dog squad controlled the scene.

Occupy Melbourne spokesman David Schoeffel earlier said organisers had told demonstrators to remain peaceful.

“We’re not violent. We’re occupying, we’re not going to leave,” he said.

“But we’re going to be peaceful and that may mean that people may have to be arrested, unfortunately.”

At the 9am evacuation deadline, protesters linked arms, surrounded their makeshift tents and yelled slogans including: “whose square, our square” and “this is what democracy looks like”.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has said a week was long enough to occupy the centre of the city. Mr Doyle said the site would remain fenced for about 48 hours while it was cleaned up and any damage fixed.

The protest moved down Swanston Street towards Trades Hall, where protesters were on Friday night deciding on their next move.

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Phelps dominates in Berlin

US swim star Michael Phelps finished Berlin’s World Cup short-course meet with four victories in four world best times this year as the 14-time Olympic champion continued his preparations for London 2012.

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Having won the 100m and 400m individual medley finals on Saturday, the 26-year-old added victory in the 200m IM and 200m backstroke on Sunday.

Phelps comfortably took the individual medley final in a time of 1 minute 51.89 seconds, then timed 1min 50.34secs to win the backstroke final by more than a second.

He declined to race in Sunday’s 100m butterfly final having qualified second fastest from the heats, but Phelps looks a good prospect to add more Olympic titles in London to the eight he won at the 2008 Games and six in 2004.

The US star has repeatedly said he is happy with his form for next July’s Olympic Games with the US trials set for June.

“I am quite happy with the way things are going, I was here to test myself and see how good I am at the moment,” he said, looking relaxed and in the same top condition he showed in Beijing.

“I am in good shape and feel a lot stronger than I was a year ago. Now, it’s a case of keeping the training going and putting the work in.”

Phelps stayed away from the freestyle events, avoiding going head-to-head with Germany’s Paul Biedermann, who dominated both the 200m and 400m freestyle here, also in world best times.

“He is one of the swimmers who makes me want to get into the water to compete against him,” said Phelps of the German, who beat him in the 200m freestyle in Moscow last week.

“I have the greatest respect for Paul.”

US teenager Melissa ‘Missy’ Franklin is proving she will be a name to look out for in London as the 16-year-old broke the 200m backstroke world record on Saturday.

This is the first time a record has been broken since the ban on high-tech swimsuits in 2009.

“I still can’t believe it,” said the teenager, who was mobbed for autographs by fans as she left the Berlin stadium.

“It is all so unbelievable, I didn’t even know what the world record was before the race.

“These World Cup races are great fun and I am having the time of my life with this team.”

She backed up her record with victory on Sunday in the 100m backstroke and 100m freestyle, when she beat reigning Olympic champion Britta Steffen, who finished third, and came close to Natalie Coughlin’s US record of 51.88 secs.

But the teenager had to settle for second behind Britain’s Francesca Halsall in the 100m IM.

Steffen, who was racing in her home town, was over-shadowed as the double Olympic champion finished second in Saturday’s 50m freestyle final behind world champion Therese Alshammar and third in Sunday’s 100m final.

“I am a very ambitious girl and therefore a bit disappointed,” admitted the 27-year-old Steffen.

“Maybe I should be happier with what I did here.”

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Occupy Sydney protesters vow to continue

Police were accused of using excessive force in the 5am (AEDT) raid on Sunday in which police, including officers from the riot

squad, cleared Martin Place of more than 100 protesters.

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Forty people were arrested, with activists claiming they were manhandled off the site with little warning from police.

The group had been at Martin Place for over eight days as part of a global campaign against corporate greed.

“At 5am … Sydney police joined Melbourne police in stamping out protests that are peacefully occurring in 1600 cities around

the world,” Occupy Sydney spokesman Tim Davis Frank told reporters in Sydney.

“This movement will only get stronger because of these illegitimate actions attempting to silence us.”

YOUR SAY: What do you think about the ‘Occupy’ protests?

Another Occupy Sydney spokesman, Mark Goudkamp, said he saw police throwing punches and protesters held on the ground with bloody noses, while his own wrist was held painfully behind his back.

“Police were clearly on a mission to get us out of there and they used whatever force they decided was necessary,” Mr Goudkamp

said.

“(But) the movement is still very much alive, and will continue, even if it is in another form.”

In Melbourne on Friday, police forcefully evicted scores of anti-capitalism protesters from City Square, making almost 100

arrests and dragging away many of the demonstrators before erecting a cyclone fence around the site.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch rubbished claims that officers were violent in their Sydney raid on Sunday, saying

they had acted with the “utmost professionalism”.

Mr Murdoch said protesters were given plenty of warning but refused to leave and linked their arms.

They then used “varying levels of resistance” against police attempts to remove them, and police responded with “commensurate

use of force”, he told reporters in Sydney.

“Some people had their arms bent behind their backs. I make no apologies for that, absolutely none,” he said.

“It was to ensure compliance and their own personal safety and the safety of my police.”

The raid came after two protesters were charged with assaulting police and resisting arrest on Saturday night.

A police officer was treated for lacerations to his head after he was allegedly struck with a metal torch in what Mr Murdoch

described as a “completely unprovoked attack”.

He said police had gone out of their way to negotiate with the group, giving them the option on Wednesday of confining their

protest to daytime only.

Occupy Sydney activists said they turned down the option of a daytime protest because the global occupation movement was about

remaining in one place permanently.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell supported the protesters’ removal, saying police took appropriate action.

“I think police have acted lawfully, they have acted in the interests of the public and have acted responsibly,” Mr O’Farrell

told reporters in Sydney.

Of the 40 people arrested, four were charged with assaulting police, 29 were issued with infringement notices for breaching a local government act and seven were issued court attendance notices for the same offence.

The Occupy Sydney group is scheduled to meet at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) at 5pm (AEDT) on Sunday to discuss the

next step, but spokesmen say there are no initial plans to return to Martin Place.

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Syrian leader names new governors

Syria’s president has come under increased international pressure as he appointed two new governors in flashpoint provinces, while security forces reportedly killed eight more civilians.

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EU president Herman Van Rompuy, meanwhile, said at the close of a summit in Brussels that European Union leaders were ready to slap more sanctions on Damascus failing a halt in the regime’s violence against dissenters.

EU leaders “expressed grave concern over continued brutality against the population in Syria”, Van Rompuy said, adding that if the violence did not stop the bloc “will impose restrictive measures against the regime”.

The bloc has issued several rounds of sanctions against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, extending sanctions against members of his inner circle to banks and the oil sector.

The EU leaders also issued a fresh call to Assad to step aside and allow a political transition amid more reports of fatalities in a crackdown on dissent that has left more than 3000 people dead.

The EU “condemns in the strongest terms the ongoing brutal repression led by the Syrian regime against its population,” leaders said in a statement.

“President Assad must step aside to allow a political transition to take place in Syria,” the statement added.

Also upping the pressure, US Senator John McCain raised the prospect of possible armed intervention to protect civilians in Syria.

“Now that military operations in Libya are ending, there will be renewed focus on what practical military operations might be considered to protect civilian lives in Syria,” McCain told a World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan.

Five civilians, including a woman, were killed during military raids in the central city of Homs on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

State television said Assad named new governors for the northwestern province of Idlib and for the Damascus governorate, both of which have seen massive anti-regime demonstrations over the past seven months.

Assad has sacked several governors since the wave of protests erupted in mid-March, including the Hama governor who was dismissed in July after a record 500,000 protesters rallied there against the regime.

Yasser Salman el-Shufi was named as Idlib’s new governor while Makhluf Makhluf was appointed governor for the Damascus province.

Activists meanwhile called fresh protests on Sunday under the slogan “It’s your turn” – a reference to Assad – hoping to force him out of power in the way Libyans ended the rule of Muammar Gaddafi.

The Observatory said a funeral for two civilians shot dead at dawn quickly turned into an anti-regime rally in the flashpoint province of Hama.

Angry mourners in the Hama village of Al-Madiq “demanded the fall of the regime”, the Britain-based group said in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia.

Hama’s history is steeped in blood. An estimated 20,000 people were killed there in 1982 when the army put down an Islamist revolt against the rule of Assad’s late father, Hafez al-Assad.

A third civilian was killed on Sunday when security forces manning a checkpoint in Mayadeen near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor opened fire, and two others were seriously wounded, the Observatory said.

Elsewhere, troops backed by security forces raided the villages of Dael and Ibtaa in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the pro-democracy protests, to end a strike by residents.

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Google may finance Yahoo takeover: report

Google is exploring the possibility of financing a deal by others to acquire internet search company Yahoo, according to a report published by the Wall Street Journal.

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Google Inc has talked to at least two-private equity firms about potentially assisting them to finance a deal to buy Yahoo Inc’s core business, according to the story, which cited a person familiar with the matter, and did not identify the source.

The Journal said Google and prospective partners have held early-stage discussions but haven’t assembled a formal proposal. The source said Google may not end up pursuing a bid.

A spokeswoman for California-based Google declined to comment to The Associated Press. A spokeswoman for Yahoo said the company doesn’t comment “on rumour or speculation”.

Any involvement by Google in a Yahoo acquisition would likely draw antitrust scrutiny from regulators, because of both companies’ shares in the internet search business.

The report came as investors have recently driven up Yahoo’s stock price, betting that the company will sell itself, either in whole or in part.

Closing Friday at $16.12 apiece, Yahoo shares have gained nearly 25 per cent since September 6, when CEO Carol Bartz was fired. They are up 45 per cent from the stock’s 52-week low reached in early August.

There has been repeated speculation that the company might be sold to an assortment of buyout firms that prey upon troubled companies.

Alibaba Group, a Chinese internet company of which Yahoo owns a 43 per cent stake, has expressed interest if it can line up the financing for a deal that would likely require a bid of more than $20 billion, the current market value of Yahoo’s shares. Microsoft Corp, which offered to buy Yahoo for $US47.5 billion in 2008 before withdrawing the bid, also has been mentioned as a possible suitor.

Since Bartz’ firing, Tim Morse has been filling in as Yahoo’s interim CEO while also working as chief financial officer. After the company’s third-quarter earnings announcement on Tuesday, Morse told analysts that he couldn’t discuss what the company’s next step might be or when it might take it.

Yahoo is under pressure because its revenue has been falling at a time when the internet advertising market has been growing as rivals such as Google and Facebook gain market share.

Although it’s still recognised around the world, Yahoo’s brand has been losing its lustre as people increasingly embrace social networks such as Facebook and short-messaging service Twitter to keep track of what’s going on instead of relying on a media hub like Yahoo’s website.

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More conflict for Libyan people: expert

More conflict and uncertainty lies ahead for the Libyan people in the wake of dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s death, an expert predicts.

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RMIT University international affairs expert Dr Binoy Kampmark says the dictator’s killing will mean greater stability for the National Transitional Council (NTC), created in the aftermath of the uprising against Gaddafi.

“It means that a key figure in the uprising has been eliminated quite literally, and it means that there will be certainty for (the transitional council),” Dr Kampmark said.

But he says there will be uncertain times for the people of Libya.

“The transitional council itself is marred by inner conflicts, so that’s one of the problems there, we’re not sure how those conflicts will play out,” he said.

The 69-year-old Libyan strongman was killed by new regime forces in their final assault on the last pocket of resistance in his hometown Sirte on Thursday.

Dr Kampmark predicts more conflict, given Libya is already racially divided and its capital Tripoli is run by militias with various loyalties.

“All of them claimed to be united against, for instance, Gaddafi for a time, but of course now that Gaddafi is dead the common object is gone, so it means that the possibility for further conflict may actually exist amongst the members of the NTC,” he said.

Dr Kampmark said the killing could set a precedent for international intervention.

“It sets the precedent for intervention in the case of a collection of powers such as NATO in terms of backing UN security council resolutions,” he said.

“And it means that the Arab Spring is not just a case of local movements that don’t have external support.

“It seems that the Libyan example shows that external forces will be involved when it comes to overthrowing regimes in the context of the Arab Spring.”

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Wotif expects H1 profit of over $27m

Online bookings website Wotif.

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com Holdings expects to meet most analysts’ expectations that the company will report a first half operating profit of more than $27 million.

Wotif chief executive Robbie Cooke told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting that the company’s performance for the rest of this year would be influenced by exchange rates and consumer confidence.

In the first three months of the current financial year, Wotif’s flights business had experienced a 13 per cent increase in the value of bookings processed, and room nights “stayed” had risen by two per cent.

Most analysts looking at Wotif had forecast a full year after tax profit ranging between $54 million and $58 million, implying a first half result between $27 million and $29 million, Mr Cooke said in Brisbane on Monday.

“Based on performance in the first quarter and upon unaudited management accounts, the company considers it likely that it will deliver an operating result for the first half in excess of $27 million.”

Mr Cooke said 2010/11 had been tough for Wotif and other businesses that depended upon domestic travellers.

The high value of the Australian dollar had helped fuel the voracious appetite of Australians and New Zealanders for overseas holidays.

“The impact this has had on all participants in the local travel sector is self-evident: hotels, serviced apartment operators, holiday-home owners, restaurants, theme-park operators and domestic airlines all, to varying extents, felt the impact of the `vanishing Australian’ and New Zealand `vacationer’,” Mr Cooke said.

“It has not been an easy time for any whose businesses rely on this domestic traveller, and Wotif is no exception with the domestic break traditionally being one of our key booking sources.”

Mr Cooke said that if the Australian dollar fell and consumer confidence waned, there would be a rapid swing back to domestic travel activity, which had benefited Wotif in the past.

Meanwhile, Wotif had boosted its marketing, introduced multi-lingual capability to one if its booking sites to attract more Asian customers, and extended the Wotif booking window from three months to six months.

Wotif booked a 3.8 per cent fall in full-year profit to $50.96 million in 2010/11.

Shares in Wotif were gained 12 cents, or 3.4 per cent, to $3.70 on Monday, rising from Friday’s two-and-a-half-year low $3.58.

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Australian police may return to PNG

More Australian police could be sent to Papua New Guinea, under a plan to boost the country’s underfunded and undisciplined police force.

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Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, told reporters in Port Moresby on Friday PNG had raised the issue of policing during last week’s ministerial forum between the two nation’s in Canberra last week.

Australia currently has 14 Australian Federal Police (AFP) members in PNG working with the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) in a mentoring and support role, as well as one AFP liaison at the High Commission.

“The sense of the need to have more police on the ground, more federal police, is certainly an issue that was raised on the PNG side, and it’s certainly one we take very seriously and we’re keen to assist,” Mr Marles said.

“We have undertaken with the government here to have a very short review into the needs of policing, which we will have a response to.”

“But no decision will be made until that review is done.”

He said the review was expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“After that, we do plan to do what we can to assist PNG with improving its law and order situation.”

Australia’s last law and order mission to PNG ended in mid 2005, when 150 Australian police were withdrawn when their legal immunity was ruled invalid by the PNG Supreme Court.

Following the ministerial forum last week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australia will provide a range of training and support services to improve the capabilities of the PNG police.

Ms Gillard and her PNG counterpart Peter O’Neill also agreed on a plan to place AFP members with the RPNGC.

“These positions will be subject to PNG needs and officers will work in senior, strategic roles. They will not undertake front-line policing,” a statement on Ms Gillard’s website says.

“Final details will be determined in discussions with Papua New Guinea.”

Police discipline issues and corruption are big problems in PNG.

UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur Manfred Nowak reported in February this year “a general atmosphere of violence” in PNG’s prisons.

The report also found that while in police detention “women are extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse from police officers or other detainees”.

“Owing to insufficient human and financial resources, a high level of corruption and a lack of professionalism, the (RPNGC) is unable to provide security and prevent and investigate crime throughout the country, particularly in rural areas,” Mr Nowak wrote in his report to the UN General Assembly.

“As a result, private security companies have taken over much of the ordinary police work.”

Former police commissioner Anthony Wagambie, who in late September was dismissed by the government, had made discipline his personal crusade, with local media frequently publishing full page ads featuring the commissioner demanding higher standards from officers.

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‘Three Speed Economy’

While much has been said about Australia’s two-speed economy, a new analysis of the states and territories suggests there are actually three.

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Commonwealth Securities’ quarterly State of the States report believes the nation’s eight jurisdictions have effectively divided into three groups.

CommSec’s chief economist, Craig James, says Western Australia is clearly the nation’s strongest economy and sits in a group by itself.

“The next level comprises the ACT, Victoria and South Australia,” he said, releasing the report on Monday.

“And then there is another gap to the next four states and territories – Tasmania, NSW, Northern Territory and Queensland.”

Each quarter CommSec analyses the states through eight key indicators – economic growth, retail spending, equipment investment, unemployment, construction work done, population growth, housing finance and dwelling commencements.

“The main change in the state rankings over the past three months has been the significant outperformance of the WA economy,” Mr James said.

Still, WA’s main weakness is its residential sector, with below-average dwelling starts and falling home prices.

Looking ahead, Mr James expects Queensland should continue to benefit from building activity after the floods and cyclone early this year, and has posted strong results in retail spending, construction and equipment investment over the past quarter.

In the October review, the ACT continued to lead the way on four of the eight indicators, and is clearly the second-strongest economy, but Victoria and South Australia aren’t far away.

The ACT scores well on population growth, commercial and engineering construction, housing finance and dwelling starts, but underperforms on retail spending while having the weakest unemployment and equipment investment performance.

Victoria is strongest in the housing sector, while the South Australian economy performs solidly on overall economic growth and on building and construction work.

There is little to separate the four in the third group, Mr James said.

Tasmania outperforms with a relatively low unemployment reading, but somewhat surprisingly underperforms on retail spending.

NSW benefits from above-average population growth, firmer growth in housing finance and above-normal equipment investment, but dwelling starts are both below normal and below year-ago levels.

The Northern Territory continues to outperform with low unemployment and solid growth of retail spending, but population growth, construction work and housing finance are below long-term averages and underperforming other states and territories.

While the Queensland economy should continue to lift over the coming year, it is dragged down by a housing sector that is not helped by weakness in population growth and unemployment.

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Independent MPs defend policy stance

Key independents have launched a passionate defence of their policy positions as a new poll shows they are likely to lose their seats at the next election.

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NSW independents Rob Oakeshott, who holds the seat of Lyne on the mid-north coast, and New England MP Tony Windsor sided with Labor after the 2010 election to allow Julia Gillard to form a minority government.

They also helped draft, and voted in favour of, the carbon pricing scheme which comes into effect on July 1, 2012.

A Newspoll published on Monday shows Mr Windsor’s primary support has fallen from 61.9 per cent to 33 per cent and he trails the Nationals 47-53 per cent after preferences.

Mr Oakeshott’s primary support has collapsed from 47.1 per cent at the time of the 2010 election to 26 per cent. After preferences, the Nationals lead 62-38 per cent in Lyne.

The pair face pressure from the coalition, with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott accusing them of failing their voters and pledging to target the seats.

“I think some of the independent members of parliament haven’t been listening to their electorates and if you don’t listen to your electorate you pay a price,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne.

Mr Oakeshott said the coalition and Labor had held inconsistent positions on carbon pricing, but he had made it known at the 2007 and 2010 polls he supported the policy.

“Unlike many others, I won’t change my mind on what the experts say is the lowest-cost, lowest-risk insurance policy against the risk of climate change,” Mr Oakeshott said.

“We should demand results, consistency and resolve from our political representatives.”

He said voters would swing around to carbon pricing once they became aware of the household and industry assistance.

Mr Windsor puts the loss of support down to anti-carbon tax sentiment whipped up by the coalition. “I guess that is because of the fear campaign that was run,” he told ABC Radio.

“It’s obvious they don’t know the detail – the detail hasn’t been well marketed.”

The Nationals have yet to select candidates for the two seats, but the party’s 2010 election candidate, David Gillespie, a friend of Mr Abbott’s, has been active in the area this year.

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce is considering a shift to the lower house, and could stand in New England if he can’t get preselected in Queensland.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has temporarily moved her office to Perth, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) starting on Friday.

Ms Gillard plans to meet with business leaders, representatives of key non-government organisations and foreign dignitaries in the lead-up to the summit which she will chair.

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