Noordin laptop videos show bomb planning

Indonesian police have released a series of files from slain terror leader Noordin Mohammed Top’s laptop showing detailed and chillingly nonchalant planning behind the July bombings in Jakarta.


Videos on the computer seized in the Central Java raid this month that killed Noordin, 41, show suicide bombers and other militants discussing and making preparations for the July 17 attacks, which killed seven people.

In one video, the two suicide bombers, Dani Dwi Permana, 18, and Nana Ikhwan Maulana, 28, are seen doing stretches near an empty lot in front of the targeted JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.

In another video, the bombers and hotel florist Ibrohim — who police say helped stage the attack from the inside — picnic on biscuits and apples on the grass in front of the hotels.

Syaifudin Jaelani, a fourth militant still on the run from police, says off camera: “America, destroyed; Australia, destroyed; Indonesia, destroyed.”

In yet another clip, teenage bomber Dani is seen in front of the hotels saying: “This is not suicide, this is a good deed.”

“We see how they are preparing themselves, how they have filmed their plans and their surveys of targets through their own eyes,” police spokesman Nanan Soekarna told reporters.

“We see how they really did prepare themselves, that this isn’t just something the police have been saying.”

“We found the laptop on Noordin’s back,” he said.

Other files found on Noordin’s laptop included videos showing shopping and discussions of the impending attacks, as well as letters by Jaelani intended for his family that describe the operation’s organisational structure.

“We’re an organisation with efficient leadership, there are administrators, those who manage funding… those who look after the families of holy warriors, those who find transport, look for explosives, look for weapons, handle internal and overseas affairs,” Jaelani wrote.

Detective Tito Karnavian said police still regard the network Noordin built as a potent threat despite his death.

“This network has the capability to build new cells — for example, Syaifudin’s (Jaelani’s) cell, which has not been destroyed yet,” Karnavian said.

“The targets previously were the far enemy (such as the United States and Australia) but now they are also targeting the Indonesian government which they say is promoting democracy, which is being pushed by the West,” he said.

Noordin, a Malaysian who headed a violent splinter faction of the radical Jemaah Islamiyah network, was killed along with three of his militants during a September 17 raid on a village house outside Solo city.

Noordin headed an organisation he dubbed “Al-Qaeda in the Malay Archipelago” and was one of Asia’s most wanted men for allegedly masterminding attacks including a 2003 bombing of the Marriott that killed 12 people.

He was also wanted for the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta and 2005 attacks on tourist restaurants on the holiday island of Bali.

Gates makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates flew into Kabul for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and commanders about Washington’s new strategy to send 30,000 extra troops to fight the Taliban.


It is the first official US visit since President Barack Obama last week announced he would boost the the US deployment in Afghanistan to 100,000 to counter an increasingly virulent Taliban insurgency.

The Pentagon has said the first wave of 1,500 extra US Marines will begin arriving in southern Afghanistan next week as the top military officer said there was a short window to seize back the initiative from the Taliban.

Open to talks

“We want to talk with President Karzai and (Defence) Minister Wardak about the president’s decision and the implementation of that decision, how we will use our troops and the additional troops from our allies in partnership with the Afghan national security forces,” Gates told journalists.

The Pentagon chief said he would raise the issue of stepping up the training and retention of Afghanistan’s fledgling army and police, a cornerstone of Obama’s strategy which hopes to bring a quick end to the war.

In an interview with CNN, Karzai said Afghans wanted to be in charge of security “sooner, rather than later” but said it would take two years to train Afghan forces to the point where they can lead operations in many areas.

Concerns mount for Afghan youth

Experts warn that Afghanistan lacks literate young men, veterans with leadership skills, facilities for training and money for weapons.

A senior NATO commander has warned that the current police force of around 68,000 is prone to corruption. Out of 94,000 soldiers trained so far, 10,000 have defected and 15 percent of the armed forces are drug addicts.

Obama’s plan to start withdrawing US troops in July 2011 has sparked major concern in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan that the Taliban could sit out the surge, regroup and attack a pared down US force in 18 months’ time.

Gates said he was seeking to reassure Kabul of the long-term US commitment, despite strenuous domestic opposition to the war back home.

“Another major message will be the importance of a long-term relationship between the United States, ISAF (the NATO-run multinational force based in the country) and Afghanistan,” he told reporters.

Karzai delayed cabinet

Karzai, who faces huge pressure to form a transparent government after his fraud-tainted re-election in August, has postponed the unveiling of his long-awaited cabinet until Saturday at the earliest, a parliament spokesman said.

Washington has warned Karzai to fight corruption or see his cabinet bypassed in favour of lower level officials to provide services to Afghans as part of the sweeping new war strategy.

Gates emphasised “the importance for us of capable, honest ministers in areas that are critical for our success, such as defence and interior” — calling both the current incumbents “very capable people”.

The Pentagon chief will also hold talks with top US and NATO commanders, but not the overall commander on the ground, US General Stanley McChrystal, who is due to appear before Congress in Washington later Tuesday.

NATO boosts troops

NATO allies have agreed to support the US surge by dispatching another 7,000 troops, which are expected to swell the ranks of foreign forces in Afghanistan next year to 150,000.

With military commanders, Gates is due to discuss the logistical challenges facing the influx of reinforcements after signing deployment orders for the first wave of 17,000 more US troops that will arrive early next year.

“It’s going to require a lot of efforts,” Gates told reporters.

Gates’ visit to Kabul comes four days after more than 1,000 US Marines, British troops and Afghan forces launched a major offensive in the southern province of Helmand, a Taliban heartland and primary opium-growing area.

Most of the first wave of extra US troops will be going to Helmand and neighbouring province Kandahar, the spiritual capital of the Taliban and the scene of the worst fighting since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban.

Soaring violence has made this year the deadliest since the Taliban fell from power, killing record numbers of civilians, Afghan and foreign troops.

Cardinals rally around Pope at Easter

Pope Benedict XVI steered clear of the paedophile priest scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church in his high-profile Easter speech, while top prelates closed ranks around him.


“The people of God are with you and do not allow themselves to be impressed by the idle chatter of the moment,” said the dean of the Vatican’s College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano.

The unusual gesture just before Benedict began celebrating Easter mass in St Peter’s Square echoed the embattled pope’s own remarks a week ago when he urged Christians “not be intimidated by the idle chatter of prevailing opinions.”

The pope, in his much-anticipated “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message on Sunday, made no mention of the scandals.

Humankind is in a ‘profound crisis’: Pope

However the pontiff made a broad call for a “spiritual and moral conversion” and said humankind was in a “profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences.”

In contrast, leading bishops in both Belgium and Germany issued forthright condemnations of the Church’s role in covering up for predator priests.

Belgium’s Andre Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, said in his Easter homily that the Church had mismanaged the crisis “with a guilty silence.”

Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, for his part, said: “Today particularly we must set out together and examine inconceivable events, awful crimes, the Church’s dark aspects as well as our shadowy sides.”

Concerns mount over scandal

Vatican expert Bruno Bartoloni said the Church was going through its “hardest period since the publication (in 1968) of the ‘Humanae Vitae’ (Of Human Life)” — a papal encyclical by pope Paul VI that attacked use of the birth control pill as a mortal sin.

“At that time the crisis was as deep, with personal attacks against the pope and the Church in general,” Bartoloni told AFP.

Many of the pilgrims among the tens of thousands huddled under umbrellas for the rain-drenched Easter mass here defended the pope.

Edgar Meier of Germany accused the media of blowing up the affair, saying: “It’s not a typical thing of the Church. Journalists are making it something bigger than it really is.”

Calls for resignation

But another German in the crowd, Claudia Binion, said the pope “should resign because he is too implicated” in the crisis, which she called a “huge problem.”

“For those who have these tendencies, the Church is the best place to go because they are with children and are hidden and protected,” she charged.

The US group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said the victims still seek concrete action from the pope.

“When we speak up and tell how our childhood innocence was shattereed by sexual assaults by priests it is not ‘petty gossip’,” said SNAP president Barbara Blaine. “Lofty statements from Vatican officials do not change the facts.”

Easter mass at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral did not go as smoothly as protesters hung pairs of children’s shoes on the railings to represent the victims of predator priests.

Abuse survivors heckled Archbishop Diarmuid Martin as he went inside, and protesters held placards reading: “Hypocrites for Jesus. Catholic Church rapes, abuses, destroys children and covers it up, covers it up, covers it up.”

In his homily, Martin said: “The spotlight of media and public opinion is focused on the failures and the betrayals of Church leaders and a damaging culture which has grown up in the Church.

“The truth will set the Church free, even if the truth is hard to digest,” he said.

Scandals trace back to 1930s

Predominantly Catholic Ireland has been rocked by three judicial reports in the past five years detailing child sex abuse and cover-ups going back to the 1930s.

The pope last month addressed a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics expressing “shame and remorse” over predator priests in Ireland and chided Irish bishops for making “serious mistakes” in responding to allegations.

The scandals have cast a pall over Easter, normally the most joyous day in the Christian calendar, commemorating the day when Jesus Christ is believed to have been resurrected.

In the United States on Saturday, fresh allegations emerged in court documents that Cardinal William Levada — now the head of the Vatican department in charge of disciplining predator priests — had reassigned an alleged child molester in the 1990s without warning his parishioners.

The pope headed the same department — the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — from 1981 to 2005, and himself faces allegations that he helped to protect predator priests both in that role and when he was archbishop of Munich.

Billionaire Mark Cuban cleared of insider trading, blasts U.S. government

Cuban, 55, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, lashed out at the U.


S. government and lead prosecutor Jan Folena after the verdict, saying the government had tried to bully him.

“Jan Folena, who represents the United States of America, stood up there and lied,” an angry Cuban told reporters after the nine-member jury read its decision.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world, and I’m glad I could stand up to them,” he said.

Estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of $2.5 billion, Cuban was accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of trading on non-public information when he sold his 600,000 shares in Internet search company – worth $7.9 million – and avoided a $750,000 loss.

George Canellos, the co-director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said Cuban’s comments were inappropriate.

“Mr. Cubans’ comments are without merit and uncalled for. Our lawyers acted in the finest traditions of government counsel and entirely appropriately in strongly advocating the position of the government in this matter,” he said in a statement.

The SEC brought the civil lawsuit against Cuban in November 2008. A judge dismissed the suit in 2009 but an appeals court revived the case the following year.

Cuban refused to settle and went to trial, even though he said on Wednesday that he had spent more on fees for lawyers than the possible fines for admitting to insider trading. He could have faced up to $2 million in fines, his lawyers said.

“It’s personal. You take all these years of my life, it’s personal,” Cuban said.

SEC lawyers rushed from the court after the verdict without making extensive comments. The agency later issued a short statement saying it was disappointed by the outcome.

“We respect the jury’s decision,” SEC spokesman John Nester said in Washington.

“While the verdict in this particular case is not the one we sought, it will not deter us from bringing and trying cases where we believe defendants have violated the federal securities laws.”


The decision in the Cuban case was a blow to the SEC, which was still riding high after it won a blockbuster case against former Goldman Sachs vice president Fabrice Tourre this summer.

The SEC argued that Tourre had committed fraud in a failed mortgage securities deal during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. In August, a jury agreed and found Tourre liable on six of seven counts.

At the two-week trial of Cuban, prosecutors argued that he sold his stake soon after learning from Chief Executive Guy Faure that the Montreal-based company was planning a private placement that would dilute his holdings in the company. shares dropped 9.3 percent on the morning after the offering was announced. By that time, Cuban had already sold his shares.

Cuban, who rose to prominence before the dot-com crash by selling his company, Broadcas南宁夜生活,m, in 1999 to Yahoo Inc for $5.7 billion, said he did nothing wrong when he sold his 6.3 percent stake in

Cuban testified during the two-week trial that there were many reasons for selling his shares, including the private placement and’s possible association with a known stock swindler.

His lawyers suggested that word of the private placement had leaked into the market because potential investors were being contacted to participate in the private placement.

“This case should have never been brought to trial,” Cuban’s defence lawyer Stephen Best said after the verdict on Wednesday in federal court in Dallas.

In addition to his ownership of a professional basketball team, Cuban is one of the stars of the popular television show “Shark Tank,” which features financiers analyzing and deciding whether to invest in new products presented by entrepreneurs.

“I know I’m a target,” Cuban said of his high profile. “I recognize that when I do things people pay attention.”

(Reporting by Jana Pruet; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Greg McCune, Bernard Orr and Lisa Shumaker)

Former Vic priest Rapson jailed for abuse

Former Catholic priest David Edwin Rapson preyed on vulnerable Melbourne schoolchildren to inflict cruel, sadistic and violent sexual abuse.


He drugged some of his victims with spiked Milo, and on other occasions gave them alcohol and cigarettes, or lured them to him by letting them play computer games.

Rapson, 60, was on Thursday jailed for 13 years for the abuse of eight boys at two Catholic colleges between the 1970s and 1990.

Victorian County Court Judge Liz Gaynor said Rapson’s crimes of unrelenting sexual exploitation were an incalculable breach of trust.

“These were dreadful crimes against vulnerable victims who were entirely in your power,” she said.

“You have ruined lives.”

Judge Gaynor said Rapson had joined a circle of abusive staff at one of the schools.

“You soon became an enthusiastic member of the sexually deviant group of religious operating at the school at the time,” she said.

The judge said Rapson had preyed on students who had trusted him, including some with learning difficulties and a boy whose father had cancer.

One boy was so badly abused that he could not walk the following day and needed surgery a short time later.

Judge Gaynor said Rapson used his position as a priest and teacher to avoid being caught.

“It was brazen, it was manipulative and it was heartless,” she said.

Judge Gaynor sentenced Rapson to 13 years’ jail, with a non-parole period of 10 years.

In a statement read to the court last week, one of Rapson’s victims said he had thought about the abuse every single day since it happened.

“It’s like I’m always running from him,” he said.

“My life would have been so, so different if not for the abuse.”

Judge Gaynor said Rapson had been raised by a cruel and alcoholic stepfather, and was sexually abused as a teenager.

Rapson was in 1992 jailed for two years after being convicted of the sexual abuse of a boy at one of the schools.

He was removed from the priesthood in 2004 after the Australian head of his order travelled to the Vatican to personally ask Pope John Paul II that he be defrocked.

Minister Macfarlane outlines energy policy

Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has urged the states to take greater steps to lower electricity and gas prices for consumers and business.


There is much more that can be done to cut power bills alongside axing the carbon tax, Mr Macfarlane told the Energy Users Association of Australia conference in Brisbane on Thursday.

“There is a real need to address pressures in our electricity and gas markets to ensure these markets operate as efficiently as possible to promote competition and better outcomes for consumers,” Mr Macfarlane said.

He will be working with the states and territories to finalise the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) energy market reform agenda.

And the government is in the early stages of a national energy white paper and an east coast gas supply strategy.

However Mr McFarlane reiterated the coalition’s opposition to a domestic gas reservation policy.

Work is well under way within COAG on energy market reform to ensure a reliable supply of electricity at a minimal and sustainable cost, he said.

The states were heavily criticised by the previous Labor government for overspending on poles and wires, which has pushed up power prices.

The minister said deregulating electricity prices would improve the market’s productivity, as had been seen in Victoria and South Australia.

He encouraged other states to consider a similar move, but acknowledged the Queensland government had made it clear any move to privatise electricity generation would be taken to an election before a decision was made.

“I encourage the Queensland government to follow through with that process,” Mr Macfarlane said.

He said the energy white paper should focus on streamlining regulation, improving workforce development and stimulating research and development.

“Our energy policy needs to balance our long-term domestic energy needs and growing our exports of energy products – both unrefined and value added – with putting in place the environmental safeguards the community expects,” he said.

India stun Aust with incredible run chase

Australian skipper George Bailey was philosophical rather than shattered after India produced the second-highest run chase of all time to stun the tourists and level their one-day series.


Set a mammoth 360 for victory in game two in Jaipur, after Bailey (92no) and Phil Hughes (83) fired Australia to 5-359, the task seemed insurmountable.

But India did the unthinkable – cruising to a nine-wicket victory with 39 balls to spare, with Rohit Sharma (141no) and Virat Kohli (100no) scoring spectacular centuries to go with Shikhar Dhawan’s 95.

Bailey changed up the bowling, set new fields and implemented every plan Australia had prepared.

But none of it was effective on the docile wicket.

“Some times you just have to take your hat off and say India batted beautifully,” said Bailey.

“The full ones were going over our heads, and the short ones were going over the side fence.

“I don’t think it mattered where they (bowled).”

Bailey admitted the loss was deflating, but insisted his team was capable of picking itself up off the canvas in time for the third clash in Mohali on Saturday.

“It’s deflating, absolutely,” Bailey said.

“We don’t have time (to worry). There’s five games left.

“We’ve just got to jump back on (the horse). There’s a lot to like still.

“That’s two games in a row we’ve batted beautifully. We’ve bowled beautifully in one game.

“And it’s one-all.

“I don’t think there’s too much consoling that needs to be done.

“New wicket, new conditions … you bounce back. That’s what you do.”

At the halfway mark, everything pointed to Australia taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Every member of Australia’s top five passed 50, the first such instance in one day international history, as the score ballooned to their equal sixth highest international total.

To that point it was also the highest ever score at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium.

What happened next was something Australian cricket fans are becoming increasingly familiar with, having now conceded the four highest one-day chases of all time – and all since 2006.

The same favourable conditions which eased Aaron Finch, Shane Watson and Glenn Maxwell past 50 soon turned against the Australians.

And India pounced, blazing a 176-run opening stand between Dhawan and Sharma.

That was to be outdone by Sharma and Kohli, who piled on 186 at nearly 11 runs an over to close out the game in devastating fashion.

The tourists rued a missed opportunity to remove Dhawan when he was on just 18 – with wicketkeeper Brad Haddin grassing the chance.

A leading edge flew so high Haddin had enough time to reach square leg to field it – but he made a meal of it and the ball bounced out of his gloves.

It proved costly, with Dhawan making the Australians pay an extra 77 runs after Haddin’s error.

The Australian vice-captain appeared to have redeemed himself with a brilliant stumping with Dhawan on 42, quickly whipping the balls off after Xavier Doherty (0-70) sent a faster one wide outside off stump.

Replays showed the decision could not have been closer and after three minutes of deliberation the third umpire ruled Dhawan not out.

Perhaps an extra frame would’ve worked in Australia’s favour.

But by then, the tide had turned and the momentum was firmly with India.

Not even Dhawan’s dismissal to James Faulkner (1-60) could stem the tide, with Virat Kohli joining the onslaught with a ruthless 52-ball innings that included seven sixes – one so large it nearly left the ground.

Kohli’s was the fastest ODI century by an Indian, and comfortably the fastest ever scored against Australia.

Between both sides a remarkable 23 sixes and 75 boundaries were hit on the day.

Earlier, Hughes and Finch again got off to a flier, while Watson foreshadowed the fireworks to come by stepping up the tempo in true Twenty20 fashion when he arrived at the crease.

Betham handed Wallabies debut against All Blacks

In another change forced by a rash of injuries, goal-kicking centre Christian Leali’ifano was replaced in the number 12 shirt by ACT Brumbies team mate Matt Toomua, who made his own debut at flyhalf against the All Blacks in this year’s Rugby Championship.


Flanker Scott Fardy’s eye injury forced another reshuffle in the back row, with Ben McCalman coming off the bench at number eight and Ben Mowen switching from the back of the scrum to the blindside flank.

Scrumhalf Will Genia, stunningly dropped from the starting line-up by McKenzie during the Rugby Championship, will win his 50th cap.

His halfback partner Quade Cooper will start at flyhalf against the country of his birth for the first time this year and is also expected to assume kicking duties.

Like Cooper, Betham was born in New Zealand and Saturday’s start at Otago Stadium caps a remarkable rise for a player who was by no means a guaranteed a starter at the New South Wales Waratahs at the beginning of the season.

A powerful and dynamic runner, Betham was called up on Tuesday after injuries to Joe Tomane, Chris Feauai-Sautia and Nick Cummins and was the only fit specialist winger in the squad.

“The reality of rugby is that most players get an opportunity at the misfortune of one of their team mates, but it’s about what each individual does with that opportunity that counts the most,” McKenzie said.

“That doesn’t just apply to Peter but to a number of guys who are receiving a chance this week. There is no better way to make your mark than by playing well against the All Blacks.”

Australia ran in seven tries to hammer Argentina 54-17 in their last outing two weeks ago but have not beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2001.

The All Blacks also earlier retained the Bledisloe Cup for the 11th successive season by beating the Wallabies in the opening two tests of the Rugby Championship.

“The All Blacks are the most consistent team in world rugby and their record proves just how formidable they are when playing at home in front of their fans,” McKenzie said.

“It was pleasing to see us take a step in the right direction against Argentina, but the test for us now is to produce that form week-in and week-out.”

Team: 15-Israel Folau, 14-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13-Tevita Kuridrani, 12-Matt Toomua, 11-Peter Betham, 10-Quade Cooper, 9-Will Genia, 8-Ben McCalman, 7-Michael Hooper, 6-Ben Mowen, 5-James Horwill (captain), 4-Rob Simmons, 3-Ben Alexander, 2-Stephen Moore, 1-James Slipper

Replacements: 16-Saia Fainga’a, 17-Benn Robinson, 18-Sekope Kepu, 19-Sitaleki Timani, 20-Dave Dennis, 21-Nic White, 22-Mike Harris, 23-Bernard Foley.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Trans-Tasman roaming charges set to fall

Mobile phone bills are set to fall on both sides of the Tasman after the Australian and New Zealand governments indicated they will honour a deal to crack down on exorbitant roaming charges.


Former prime minister Julia Gillard announced the trans-Tasman roaming agreement with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key in February, with both leaders warning telcos to slash the sky-high charges faced by millions of travellers between the countries or face greater regulation.

The Australian Labor Party failed to legislate the changes before losing office in September’s election.

While stopping short of fully committing to the deal, newly installed Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull indicated the Australian government will honour the proposals – which include mandatory price caps on calls and data.

“The Minister for Communications is consulting with his colleagues on the proposed arrangements with New Zealand,” Mr Turnbull’s spokesman told AAP.

“While this consultation is still ongoing, the government is viewing the proposed arrangements positively.”

The New Zealand government remains fully committed to the crackdown, which comes as a new report in Australia revealed the “extraordinary” and “confusing” array of roaming charges consumers now face.

“Legislation is being drafted for introduction early next year,” a spokesman for New Zealand Communications Minister Amy Adams told AAP.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) welcomed Mr Turnbull’s apparent willingness to honour the deal and said it would like to see similar crackdowns arranged with other countries.

ACCAN published research showing that Australian consumers face wildly varying roaming charges, ranging from $3.50 for a text message down to 38 cents.

Data costs range from a whopping $51.20/MB down to 50 cents/MB.

ACCAN says buying and using a local SIM card is still the best option for many travellers.

Australia’s largest telco, Telstra, says its charges have fallen since a joint Aussie-Kiwi report into roaming costs was published in February.

Telstra has also introduced new SMS alerts giving customers specific pricing details for each country they roam in and alerts for every 20MB of data they use.

Iran, powers pledge new nuclear talks

Both Washington and Tehran were upbeat after Iran agreed to hold fresh nuclear talks with world powers next month and made a “breakthrough” proposal to allow spot checks on its nuclear sites.


After the talks deal on Wednesday, Iran said it was hopeful for a “new phase in our relations” with the international community.

The White House said Iran had shown a greater level of “seriousness and substance” than ever before at the two days of talks in Geneva.

Germany was also positive, saying the latest talks had boosted hopes for a diplomatic solution but a wary Russia warned there was “no reason to break into applause”.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters the next meeting would convene in Geneva on November 7 and 8.

She read from what she underlined was an unprecedented joint statement agreed with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and herself as chair of the international negotiating team.

The EU is at the helm of the so-called P5+1 group – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany – which has spent years trying to reach a deal with Iran amid fears that it is developing nuclear weapons.

The Islamic republic vehemently denies that and insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

The statement described this week’s Geneva talks as “substantive and forward-looking”, calling Iran’s plan a “proposed basis for negotiation”.

The talks were the first between all parties’ nuclear negotiators since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, seen as a relative moderate, succeeded conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August.

They ended a six-month freeze over Iran’s refusal to curb uranium enrichment in exchange for easing the international sanctions battering its economy.

Amid signs of a thaw with the international community, Rouhani has pledged transparency on the nuclear program and engagement with major powers to try to remove the sanctions.

“We hope that this a beginning of a new phase in our relations,” Zarif told reporters.

While the details remain under wraps, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said its proposal involved “proportionate and reciprocal steps by both sides”.

He said the proposal had the “capacity to make a breakthrough”.

Iran’s plan contains three steps that could settle the nuclear dispute “within a year”, Araqchi has said, the first achievable “within a month or two, or even less”.

He said that snap inspections of Iran’s atomic facilities were part of the last step.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Iran’s presentation at the talks was “useful”, showing a “level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before”.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki cautioned however that “a great deal more work that needs to be done”.

But Russian negotiator Sergei Ryabkov was less than upbeat.

“The talks were difficult, sometimes intense, and sometimes unpredictable. One of the reasons is the extremely low level of mutual trust – practically the absence of the required level of trust,” he said.

“There is no reason to break into applause. Things could have worked out better,” he said.

Iran has already drawn red lines, saying it will not accept demands to suspend uranium enrichment or ship stockpiles of purified material abroad.

“We will not back down on our rights,” Zarif said.

Israel’s International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz said Wednesday the country was watching the talks “with hope and with concern”.

“We see the worrying signs and we don’t want Geneva 2013 to turn into Munich 1938,” he said on Israel’s army radio, referring to Britain and France’s failed bid to avert war by agreeing to Nazi Germany’s annexation of swathes of Czechoslovakia.

Israel has not ruled out a military strike to halt Iran’s nuclear drive.

We’ll assess Senate carbon options: Milne

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne has left open the possibility of flicking the government’s carbon tax repeal legislation to a Senate committee, delaying a vote until well into 2014.


The government will introduce a package of eight bills to parliament in November hoping the Senate will consider them before Christmas.

However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has acknowledged an unsympathetic upper house may stymie that timetable.

Asked if the Greens and Labor would use their controlling numbers in the Senate to send the bill to a committee, potentially delaying the vote for months, Senator Milne told reporters in Canberra on Thursday: “We’ll look at all the parliamentary options that we have when the legislation is introduced.

“Rest assured, given the opportunity to vote on it we will vote on it and vote against any repeal.”

How the Greens would deal with the parliamentary process depended on “how things come through”.

Both the Greens and Labor have said they will block the repeal of the carbon tax, prompting threats from Mr Abbott of a double-dissolution election.

But Senator Milne said the prime minister would “run a mile” from going to the polls next year.

“I don’t think Tony Abbott will have the courage to face the people,” she said, adding the Greens “absolutely” did not think it was in the national interest to rush to an election.

There has been speculation that Mr Abbott may wait for the half-Senate changeover in July, which will transfer the balance of power to the more like-minded mix of the Palmer United Party bloc and conservative independents.

Long term, short term view keeps All Blacks on top

Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock’s decision to commit to four-year contracts were indications of the New Zealand Rugby Union’s early planning for the arrival of the 2017 Lions, according to the body’s head of player services Chris Lendrum.


The Canterbury Crusaders duo, whose agreements were announced last weekend, became the second and third players contracted through until the tour after Otago Highlanders utility Ben Smith signed a four-year contract earlier this year.

The trio join 15 other players considered to be likely to be in coach Steve Hansen’s plans for the All Blacks side he hopes will defend the World Cup in England in 2015, while at least 10 others in that bracket are signed through until 2014.

“We have cyclical factors and pinnacle events within that cycle and clearly rugby World Cups are obvious (targets),” Lendrum told Reuters at NZRU headquarters in Wellington.

“We are focused on 2015 but also thinking about who are the players who will be core players who can then take us through to the Lions in 2017.

“We are starting to turn that page now but four to five years in rugby is a lot of seasons.

“The guys in high impact positions, there is a lot of rugby to go through but for the guys like Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock we are confident they can get there.”

The NZRU operates a policy of not picking overseas-based players for the national team, which is seen as a major tool in their battle to retain talent in the country.

Of the players signed through until 2014, focus would now likely turn to securing young forwards Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina and Luke Romano as well as backs Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Israel Dagg until 2015 and beyond.

Players like Conrad Smith (32) and Cory Jane (30) however fall into a second category – likely to be in Hansen’s plans for England but with 2017 probably a step too far.

A similar approach was applied prior to the 2011 World Cup, Lendrum said, where short-term the All Blacks aimed to be ‘the best defenders of the Webb Ellis trophy’ in 2012 while longer term, younger players were locked up with an eye on 2015.

“If there was a player we weren’t quite certain about and were important for the first goal for 2012 and then they thought, or we thought, they weren’t going to get through to 2015 then those players were important to the here and now of winning All Blacks games,” Lendrum said.

That decision as to when it might be time for a player to leave New Zealand rugby, he added, was normally driven by the All Blacks management with input from the Super Rugby franchise coaches and the organisation’s talent identification programmes.

“The hard conversations are often delivered by the coaches, (who) are critical. They provide constant feedback on the way the team is performing,” Lendrum said.

“At the end of the day it’s what’s best for (the player) and sometimes for their legacy it is best to let them go so they’re not just flailing around at the end of their career. That’s a horrible, lasting memory to have of a player.

“A lot of times you just know. It might be physical reasons, or just that you look at a player who can see that there are a bunch of young kids coming through.”

Lendrum’s biggest concern at the top end of the market was always money, with French and Japanese clubs providing the biggest challenges to keeping players in New Zealand.

Rival codes like rugby league, and to a lesser extent Australian Rules, were targeting younger development players he said, while rival Super Rugby franchises from Australia were also looking at provincial or age-grade players.

“The focus is on not keeping all players. You can’t,” he added. “You have to keep as many of the right players as you can.

“We can’t compete on money so we want them to look at us and think we provide the best environment, best coaches, best pathway to the All Blacks and say ‘I want to stay here because it can make me the best player I can be’.”

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

CBA unveils tap-and-go smartphone payments

Commonwealth Bank customers may soon be able to ditch their wallets.


The bank has announced a plan to roll out small stickers which customers can attach to the back of their smartphone and tap on counters and checkouts to make payments under $100.

The stickers, which are about one-third the size of a regular credit card, will be activated and controlled via a revamped online banking app and will work with Android phones and iPhones.

Some Android phones have in-built contactless payment technology, meaning they will not need the sticker, but the bank did not specify which models have the appropriate technology.

The strategy reflects an increasing hunger among Australians for mobile banking and tap-and-go payments, Commonwealth Bank said.

Three years ago, 88 per cent of the bank’s online banking logons were via a desktop computer. Today, 56 per cent log on via a mobile device.

Meanwhile, Commonwealth Bank said contactless payments by their customers have risen six-fold in the last 12 months.

The Thursday unveiling came as retailer Coles announced a trial of 5000 of its own smartphone stickers, which use the same technology.

Contactless payments in Coles stores increased by 70 per cent in the last year, the company said.

A recent report from MasterCard, who helped pioneer the technology, said Australia was among a handful of “nearly cashless” countries.

It said just 14 per cent of the total value of consumer payments in the country are now made using cash.

But Matt Barr, the head of Australasian innovation at MasterCard, told AAP cash still dominated small value payments.

He predicted tap-and-go smartphone technology would “keep Australia at the forefront of the evolution of electronic payments”.

Commonwealth Bank said it will begin rolling out the stickers in the coming months.