After Iowa win, Romney wins McCain support

Republican hero John McCain has backed Mitt Romney to be the party’s 2012 standard bearer, after a bruising Iowa battle reshaped the unruly field, forcing one candidate to quit.

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Veteran Senator McCain, who was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee against Democrat Barack Obama, called on supporters to crown Romney this time around and then catapult him into the White House in the November elections.

“Our message to President Barack Obama is: ‘You can run but you can’t hide from your record’,” said the decorated Vietnam War veteran, who accused Obama of “destroying our national security”.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who ran against McCain in 2008, squeaked to victory in Tuesday’s first test in the 2012 White House race, defeating devout Christian conservative Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes out of the 120,000 cast.

The result cemented Romney’s status as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination among the remaining six candidates, but failed to dispel lingering doubts about the depth of his popularity especially among the Republicans traditional conservative base.

McCain, who carries huge political weight, remains popular in New Hampshire, where he beat Romney 37-31 per cent four years ago.

His backing for Romney reflected an effort by the Republican establishment to avoid an intra-party bloodletting that could leave the eventual nominee in a weakened position to take on Obama.

The first casualty of Tuesday’s vote was Iowa-born Representative Michele Bachmann, who announced she was quitting the race after her disappointing sixth place finish in the heartland state.

“Last night the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice and so I have decided to stand aside,” the former darling of the conservative right said.

But Texas Governor Rick Perry, having hinted he might drop out after coming in fifth in Iowa, teased supporters, saying in a tweet on Wednesday: “And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State … Here we come South Carolina!!!”

After an agonising delay that stretched into Wednesday morning, the final Iowa count gave Romney a razor-thin victory of 30,015 votes to Santorum’s 30,007 – or 25 per cent each.

Both candidates were swift to declare that they were moving on to the next battle-ground in northeastern New Hampshire, which will hold the nation’s first primary of the 2012 presidential race on January 10, followed on January 21 by South Carolina.

Romney however dismissed concerns that the Iowa split – in which firebrand libertarian Representative Ron Paul took some 21 per cent to finish third – marked an inconclusive showing.

“This was a seven-person field. You can’t do in a field of seven what you can in a smaller field. And I also ran a national campaign,” Romney insisted on America’s ABC.

He also said he had “broad shoulders” as former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who finished fourth in Iowa, signalled he was gunning for Romney, slamming the multimillionaire businessman and venture capitalist as a “liar”.

“I know the attacks are going to come. They’re going to come more fast and furious now,” Romney said.

New Hampshire polls taken before the Iowa results showed Romney polling strongly in the state, with around 43 per cent support.

Pundits have raised doubts whether Santorum – a devout Catholic whose pro-life stand and fierce opposition to gay marriage resonated with Iowa’s evangelical voters but might find less traction in New Hampshire – has the necessary resources and on-the-ground organisation to take on Romney’s well-oiled, well-funded political machine.

Santorum, who came from behind to give Romney a run for his money in Iowa, insisted however there was still everything to play for.

“Game on!” he told cheering supporters in Iowa late on Tuesday.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman – who did not campaign in Iowa so he could focus on New Hampshire – said Tuesday’s results, in which he finished last, showed Republican voters still haven’t quite made up their minds.

“You’ve got three people sharing a tie. And a whole lot of people are looking for an alternative,” the former ambassador to China told MSNBC television.

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Indonesians dump sandals over child rights

Indonesians have dumped more than 1200 pairs of sandals, thongs and slippers at collection points across the country in support of a teenage boy who was convicted of stealing.

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The 15-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found guilty of stealing a police officer’s sandals, a district court in Central Sulawesi province said in a ruling late on Wednesday.

The boy could have received five years in prison, but was sent back to his parents for counselling.

“Based on evidence and witness testimonies, we found him guilty legally and convincingly of committing a theft,” judge Rommel Tampubolon told Palu district court.

“But considering his age, we decided to send him back to his parents,” he said.

The boy claimed he was beaten by police. In a country where official corruption is rife and theft of millions in public funds is often punished with just a slap on the wrist, the case has turned into a cause celebre.

“This action of solidarity by the public shows that they disagree with the criminalisation of juveniles, that it goes against a sense of justice,” Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of Indonesia’s Child Protection Commission, told AFP.

“This is only a case because the stolen flip-flops happened to belong to a police officer. That is arrogant and we hope it stops here.”

Police in the city of Palu, including one who said he owned the stolen sandals, caught the boy and badly beat him and two of his friends in the street, demanding the footwear be replaced.

“The policemen slapped and beat us. I fell into a ditch and got bruises on my face and legs,” the boy told AFP.

“I did not mean to steal. The sandals were left on the street outside the policeman’s front yard.”

The theft took place in November 2010 but has turned into a protest movement in recent days because of the court action.

People have also been hurling footwear at the police station in Palu.

“We will send the collected footwear to the national police headquarters to replace the stolen ones,” National Commission for Child Protection spokesman Naswardi said.

Police said they had jailed one of the officers who beat the boys for 21 days and stripped him of an upcoming promotion.

Children can be jailed in Indonesia alongside adults, but child protection laws state that imprisonment should be a “last resort”.

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‘Lost world’ of Antarctic sea life thrives

A seven-pronged starfish, a mysterious pale octopus and a new kind of yeti crab are among a teeming community of previously undiscovered life on the sea floor near Antarctica, British researchers say.

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The species, described this week on the online journal PloS Biology, were first glimpsed in 2010 when researchers lowered a robotic vehicle to explore the East Scotia Ridge deep beneath the Southern Ocean, between Antarctica and the tip of South America.

The dark and remote area is home to hydrothermal vents, which are deep-sea springs that spew liquid at temperatures of up to 382C, and have previously been found to host unusual life forms in other parts of the world.

“Hydrothermal vents are home to animals found nowhere else on the planet that get their energy not from the Sun but from breaking down chemicals, such as hydrogen sulphide,” said lead researcher Alex Rogers of Oxford University.

“The first survey of these particular vents, in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, has revealed a hot, dark, ‘lost world’ in which whole communities of previously unknown marine organisms thrive.”

Hydrothermal vents were first discovered in 1977 off the Galapagos Islands.

The latest discoveries 2400-2600 metres deep include several new types of sea anemones, stalked barnacles and unidentified octopi, and a new kind of starfish that was observed feeding on the fauna around the vents.

A new type of blond, furry-legged yeti crab, a species formally known as Kiwa hirsuta which was first seen at hydrothermal vents in the South Pacific in 2005, was also found to have different DNA than those already known to man.

Fish were uncommon, and only seen on the peripheries of the hot zones.

Researchers were equally intrigued by what they did not find – including many of the giant worms, vent mussels, crabs, clams and shrimp that have been found before at other deep sea vents in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

The differences in species suggest that the geographic conditions of the area may make it a distinct province for certain forms of life, which have been unable to migrate to other parts of the globe’s sea floor.

“These findings are yet more evidence of the precious diversity to be found throughout the world’s oceans,” said Rogers.

“Everywhere we look, whether it is in the sunlit coral reefs of tropical waters or these Antarctic vents shrouded in eternal darkness, we find unique ecosystems that we need to understand and protect.”

Researchers on the project came from the University of Oxford, University of Southampton and the British Antarctic Survey. Their research appears online in the January 3 issue of PLoS Biology.

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Refugees charged following unrest on Nauru

Nauruan police have insisted they acted within the law when they detained 183 refugees, including at least one child.

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The refugees were held overnight in police cells on Nauru after a series of demonstrations.

The arrests came amid escalating tensions on the island, where refugees released into the community said they were being treated as second class citizens.

A 13-year-old boy was among those arrested by Nauruan authorities, which claimed he threw rocks and injured a police officer.

Police said all those arrested were released on bail, with at least 10 expected to appear in court later this month on charges of unlawful assembly.

One of the refugees living on Nauru with her mother and sister, 23-year-old Iranian Sahar Ashouri, said she fears for their safety.

“It is dangerous and frightening and I am afraid to go out of the house,” she said.

“They don’t want refugees. We were protesting and we were crying, but they locked (us up).”

Nauru’s deputy police chief, Superintendent Kalinda Blake denied refugees were being targeted.

“There is no different laws for refugees and different laws for Naruans, they are the same,” she said.

“Gathering in groups there is a criminal code for unlawful assembly for three or more persons.”

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the refugee demonstrations will have no influence on the Australian government’s policies.

Meanwhile, advocates say the current unrest increases their concern for the more than 100 children who remain in the detention centre on Nauru.

The Tamil Refugee Council’s Trevor Grant claimed one four-year-old girl had lost 15 per cent of her bodyweight, hardly eats and is in constant distress.

“It is just a terrible existence for kids,” Mr Grant said.

“She noticed some of the people on Nauru were being sent back to Australia for various medical problems, such as a broken leg or broken arm and when she was told this she said, ‘Mummy, can you please break my arm so I can go to Australia?'”

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Sydney abuse killing exceptional: judge

Jessica Silva was in the “agony of the moment” when, after years of abuse, she took the drastic step of stabbing her former partner five times.

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The case is so “exceptional” that despite manslaughter carrying a maximum of 25 years in prison, Justice Clifton Hoeben decided not to send her to jail.

James Polkinghorne died on Mother’s Day 2012 after Silva stabbed him in his back and head outside her parents’ Marrickville home in Sydney’s inner west.

The 25-year-old pleaded not guilty to his murder on the basis of self-defence but was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter last year.

Throughout her trial the voice of her former partner filled the court room with haunting regularity.

Fortuitously, Silva’s phone was being tapped by police who were investigating Mr Polkinghorne over the shooting death of his associate Nikolas Argiropoulos months earlier.

What the recordings revealed was an angry young man increasingly fuelled by the drug “ice”.

Mr Polkinghorne had been abusive from an early point in their four-year relationship.

“While the incidents of physical abuse in the early years … appear to be sporadic, there was a significant escalation, particularly in physical abuse, towards the end of 2011 and during 2012,” Justice Hoeben said.

As Silva herself put it, “I dealt with it for so long, I thought I could change him”.

By the afternoon of his death the verbal abuse was coming in thick and fast.

“I’m going to cave your f***ing head in,” he spurted, adding an hour later, “I’m gonna break your f***ing jaw ‘cos you’re a dog.”

Silva, meanwhile, was highly emotional and increasingly fearful of what he might do when he got to her home.

Although Justice Hoeben was not satisfied Silva believed Mr Polkinghorne was going to kill her, he found she wanted to protect herself and her family from further violence.

As Mr Polkinghorne struggled with her brother and father outside, Silva went back inside the house and grabbed a knife from the kitchen.

She remembered stabbing him once, “maybe twice”.

“This act of violence was the outcome of her disturbed state of mind at the time and the particular events of the day,” Justice Hoeben said.

There was no doubt Silva, who broke down frequently during the trial and her sentence, was remorseful, he added.

She was not anti-social or violent, unlikely to reoffend, and the offence involved elements of self-defence and provocation, the court heard.

“Despite the offence involving the felonious taking of a human life, and the repugnance with which society views such an occurrence, there are in this case exceptional circumstances,” Justice Hoeben remarked.

“The offending was committed under extreme circumstances in the agony of the moment.”

He sentenced Silva to two years’ imprisonment from August 2014 but suspended it on the condition she be of good behaviour.

Silva held her head in her hands and wept after the sentence was handed down.

Outside court her family hugged and thanked her barrister Gregory Scragg.

“It’s now time to heal,” her lawyer Adam Houda told reporters.

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European stocks mixed at open

Europe’s stock markets have diverged in opening deals, as investors cautiously await key US non-farm payrolls data.

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Sentiment was also subdued one day after the European Central Bank revealed it will launch its 1.1 trillion-euro ($A1.56 trillion) quantitative easing stimulus program next week.

In initial trade on Friday, London’s benchmark FTSE 100 index dipped 0.16 per cent to 6,949.75 points and the CAC 40 in Paris shed 0.20 per cent to 4,953.68.

On the upside, Frankfurt’s DAX 30 rose 0.08 per cent to 11,513.89 points compared with Thursday’s closing level.

The euro meanwhile held near 11-year US dollar lows, hit on Thursday by the ECB news.

“After yesterday’s unleashing of QE by the ECB, the bulls had a nice rally off the back of it but as usual, there’s a little trepidation ahead of the big (US) jobs figure,” said dealer Jonathan Sudaria at London Capital Group.

Focus is now on Friday’s US non-farm payrolls figures.

Analysts expect growth of 240,000 jobs in February and a fall in the unemployment rate to 5.6 per cent from 5.7 per cent.

On Thursday, ECB chief Mario Draghi told a news conference that from Monday, the bank would buy 60 billion euros of private and public bonds each month for at least 18 months in a bid to ward off deflation.

He also said it had increased its 2015 eurozone growth forecast to 1.5 per cent, followed by 1.9 per cent in 2016 and 2.1 per cent in 2017.

At the same time, he forecast inflation at zero this year, lower than previously projected, but added it would pick up to 1.5 per cent next year and to 1.8 per cent in 2017.

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AFL bars six ‘Dons from training session

Essendon coach James Hird is at odds with the AFL again, angry that six Bombers were stopped from taking part in a special training session.

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The match simulation on Friday afternoon at Essendon’s Tullarmarine headquarters featured players from VFL team Williamstown.

It was organised to give extra training for the 21 Essendon players who are sitting out the pre-season until the AFL anti-doping tribunal hands down its verdicts.

On Saturday, Essendon will play their opening NAB Challenge match against St Kilda in Morwell.

Essendon also wanted six players who were not at the club in 2012 – Brendon Goddard, Adam Cooney, James Gwilt, Joe Daniher, Zach Merrett and Patrick Ambrose – to be part of Friday’s session.

But the AFL, mindful of St Kilda and the fans at Morwell, said if those six players were not playing on Saturday then they also should not be part of the special hitout.

“We would have thought if Brendon Goddard was to play any competitive football, then that would be in Morwell,” AFL operations manager Mark Evans told the league’s website.

Hird said it should have been Essendon’s call.

“We’re disappointed those (five) players aren’t part of that session, but it is what it is and the AFL run the competition,” Hird said.

“Every club should be allowed to pick their team for round one of the NAB Challenge and prepare for round one of the regular season the way they choose.”

Collingwood president Eddie McGuire also bought into the issue, saying the Saints would be “filthy” if Essendon players took part in the Friday training session rather than play on Saturday.

“I don’t really care what Eddie McGuire thinks,” was Hird’s response.

Essendon’s pre-season squad features 13 top-up players brought in while the club waits for the anti-doping tribunal verdict.

The tribunal is considering charges against 34 current and former Essendon player relating to the club’s 2012 supplements scandal.

“We have our reasons why the team is playing tomorrow as they are,” Hird said.

“We have six guys who won’t be getting any competitive practice, I suppose, but we will train them in the right way today and get them ready to round one.

“We’ve had a lot of obstacles to jump over in the last two years and we’ve jumped over most of them.

“We’ll do it again.”

He added there were various reasons why the six players were kept out of the NAB Challenge squad.

Hird was asked if his makeshift team can beat the Saints.

“I don’t see why not,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone goes into a NAB Challenge game too concerned about winning or losing, it’s how we play.”

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Harrison Ford seriously injured in small plane crash near Los Angeles

The 72-year-old had “blood all over his face” when he was pulled from the wreckage by golfers, an employee at the course told a local TV station.

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The veteran actor was initially reported to be in a critical condition but that was later downgraded.

The plane’s pilot was in a “fair to moderate” condition when he was taken to hospital, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman told reporters at the Penmar Golf Course in Venice, southwest of Los Angeles.

Harrison reportedly suffered multiple gashes to his head after the World War II two-seater plane went down early on Thursday afternoon.

Footage of the downed plane shows its nose cone ripped open, with substantial damage to the rest of the plane’s bodywork.

Witnesses helped Harrison escape the wreckage. The actor was able to use his legs and was alert and conscious, the fire spokesman told reporters.

Jeff Kuprycz was golfing when he saw the plane taking off, AP reports.

“Immediately you could see the engine started to sputter and just cut out, and he banked sharply to the left,” he said.

“He ended up crashing around the eighth hole.”

Kuprycz said the plane was about 200 feet (61 metres) overhead when it plunged to the ground.

“There was no explosion or anything. It just sounded like a car hitting the ground or a tree or something. Like that one little bang, and that was it,” Kuprycz said.

Paramedics performed first aid before Harrison was taken to a local hospital.

The Federal Aviation Administration has begun its investigation at the site, which is expected to be closed for at least one day.

Ford is married to actor Calista Flockhart, 50, and they have a son, Liam.

Last June, Ford broke his leg on the set of the new Star Wars movie at Pinewood Studios outside London.

Filming began in May last year on the new episode of the iconic franchise, directed by blockbuster filmmaker JJ Abrams.

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Highlanders steal unlikely win

The Highlanders have stolen an unlikely 20-17 win against the Chiefs in their fourth round Super Rugby match at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.

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Trailing 14-3 at halftime, the Chiefs steamed back with two penalty tries in the second spell, but paid the price for not taking their chances as the Highlanders added two late penalties to steal the win.

The Chiefs dominated possession and territory early on, looking sharp in shifting the ball wide despite the absence of centre Charlie Ngatai, out after tweaking an ankle earlier in the week.

They were also missing All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick, sidelined with a shoulder injury picked up in last week’s 40-16 thumping of the Crusaders, but received a late boost with the inclusion of No.8 Liam Messam after passing a concussion test.

The Highlanders absorbed intense pressure for much of the first half, taking a 6-3 lead on penalties into the last 10 minutes as the Chiefs struggled with handling errors and poor option-taking.

The Highlanders scrum worked hard to hold off the Chiefs close to the line, then second five-eighth Shaun Treeby sparked a length-of-the-field try as the visitors struck on the counterattack.

Wing Patrick Osborne finished the movement in style, sidestepping his way through four defenders to touch down for his eighth Super Rugby try.

Lima Sopo’aga couldn’t add the conversion, but managed a late penalty right on the halftime whistle to give the Highlanders a 14-3 lead going into the break.

If the Chiefs, unbeaten so far this season, lacked patience and accuracy in the first spell, they rediscovered both right from the restart.

Highlanders lock Joe Wheeler was sin-binned after five minutes for playing the ball on the ground, the home team capitalising almost immediately with a maul from the resulting scrum winning a penalty try.

The Chiefs continued to dominate up front, scoring a second penalty try as the hour marked approached, Aaron Cruden’s conversion giving them a 17-14 lead with just over 20 minutes remaining.

They held the lead until replacement No.10 Marty Banks sank a 77th minute penalty to level the scores, following that up two minutes later with a second three-pointer to seal the win.

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Hockey urges use of cheap money

Treasurer Joe Hockey has urged businesses to use record low borrowing rates to turbo-charge the economy.

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Mr Hockey on Friday conducted a media blitz a day after releasing the five-yearly Intergenerational Report.

The report warned of lower incomes, tax hikes, higher government debt and massive budget deficits for the next four decades unless action is taken to improve productivity, workforce participation and economic growth.

The treasurer told a business lunch in Brisbane many challenges would be thrown at the Australian economy in coming years, including falling commodity prices, lower terms of trade, recessions in Europe, war and terrorism.

But a “consistent” policy course and innovative businesses making the most of low interest rates and ramp up investment would help the country withstand the shocks and generate jobs.

“There’s a lot of money out there and it’s looking for returns,” Mr Hockey said.

“Interest rates are at record lows, they’re probably going to be at record lows for a long time.

“So I say: `Have a go’.”

The cash rate is at 2.25 per cent but expected to fall even further.

Mr Hockey earlier said tax, superannuation and workplace changes would be needed to drive economic growth and balance the federal budget.

One of the key pressures outlined in the report is the ageing of the population, which will put pressure on government revenue and spending, especially on health.

“Should superannuation laws be changed so they can accommodate our needs as we go in and out of the workforce, and change careers?” Mr Hockey said.

“These are the sorts of questions we need to have answered.”

Mr Hockey said the government would not change tax rates for super in this term, but “broader” thinking was needed ahead of the next election.

Attitudes also had to change about employing older people, which could be helped by changes to the tax system and pay rates.

The report projects a drop in immigration as a percentage of the total population – a view in line with the treasurer’s own thoughts.

“Immigration is a rather lazy way to try to grow your economy,” Mr Hockey said.

“What we’ve got to do is increase our output per hour.”

Mr Hockey challenged the Senate to pass the remainder of the 2014/15 budget.

“If everything went through the Senate we would actually start living within our means,” he said.

He said the government’s small business package to be released before the budget would include incentives to start up businesses, innovate and reward employees.

“The question for all of us is how big are our dreams.”

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S. Korea probes US envoy attacker’s motive

South Korean police say are investigating possible links the man behind a shocking knife attack on the US ambassador may have had with North Korea, as Seoul voiced disgust at Pyongyang’s reaction to the incident.

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Kim Ki-jong, 55, faces possible attempted murder charges after slashing ambassador Mark Lippert with a paring knife in an assault that left the US envoy needing 80 stitches to a deep gash on his face.

The profile painted of Kim is that of a lone assailant with strong nationalist views who saw the US as one of the main obstacles to the reunification of the divided Korean peninsula.

But it also emerged that he had visited North Korea more than half-a-dozen times between 2006 and 2007, and had tried to erect a memorial to Kim Jong-Il in Seoul after the late North Korean leader’s death in 2011.

Any red flags such activities may have raised were only underlined by North Korea’s reaction to the attack, which the official KCNA news agency described as “just punishment” and a valid “expression of resistance” to ongoing US-South Korea joint military exercises.

Lippert’s case is being handled by a special investigation team comprised of more than 100 prosecutors and police officers, and led by the anti-terrorism bureau of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

“We are investigating his possible connection with North Korea,” Yoon Myung-soon, the police chief of the central Seoul district where the attack took place, told reporters.

“There is no evidence yet, but we are trying to find out whether he has violated the national security law,” Yoon said.

Enacted in 1948 to protect the fledgling South Korean state from infiltration by the communist North, the law prohibits the spoken or written promotion of North Korean ideology, deeming any such activity to be “anti-state” and subject to up to seven years’ imprisonment.

Kim’s home and office in western Seoul were searched early on Friday, with documents and computer hard drives removed for further examination, police said.

As he was moved from the police station to court on Friday, Kim was asked if he had acted on the orders of North Korea.

“No, nothing like that,” he replied, saying the idea was “outrageous”.

Prosecutors said they would pursue a charge of attempted murder, given the premeditated nature of the attack.

Doctors at the hospital where Lippert underwent two-and-a-half hours of surgery said the envoy was recovering well and would have his stitches removed early next week.

There was no irreversible nerve damage to his face, although a cut to his left hand had damaged the nerves of his little finger that could take six months to repair.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which is responsible for inter-Korean affairs, said it was appalled by the North’s response to the assault.

“We strongly censure North Korea for giving support to the incident and distorting its nature,” said ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol.

“North Korea should stop its irrational incitement and think seriously about what it should do for the development of inter-Korean relations and true peace on the Korean peninsula,” Lim said.

During the assault, Kim screamed a slogan in favour of reunifying the divided Korean peninsula, and later shouted his opposition to the joint US-South Korean military drills that began on Monday.

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Hird says ‘Dons united in AFL

James Hird is as confident about Essendon’s fate at the AFL anti-doping tribunal as he is adamant that no-one at the club has broken ranks.

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As the Bombers deal with several issues surrounding the fallout from their 2012 supplements scandal, Hird also said on Friday he is too busy for now to repair his relationship with the league.

Essendon’s anti-doping drama, now into a third year, had its latest twist this week when four players from their 2012 list were picked for their opening NAB Challenge game on Saturday against St Kilda.

It was widely assumed that all 25 current Essendon players who were at the club in 2012 would sit out games until the anti-doping tribunal verdicts are known.

That is to protect the anonymity of the charged players among them.

About 18 of them are facing charges relating to the 2012 Essendon supplements scandal and they are sitting out games to protect potential backdated suspensions if they are found guilty.

But Nick O’Brien, Jackson Merrett, Elliott Kavanagh and Lauchlan Dalgleish will play against the Saints.

That immediately led to some strong media commentary about an Essendon backflip and players breaking ranks.

“The whole club and the leadership group were happy with it,” Hird said.

“So talk about breaking from the ranks or whatever was said in the paper today – it’s a ridiculous comment.

“The group is united on that decision and, obviously, we want the identity of those (charged) players protected.

“But we also want the individual careers of players to go ahead.”

Essendon did not volunteer what 2012 players were in the Morwell squad when it was announced on Thursday, but Hird said they had not tried to keep it a secret.

The anti-doping tribunal is weighing up verdicts on 34 current and former Essendon players.

Despite the charged players sitting out the pre-season in case they need to preserve the option of backdated suspensions, Hird is upbeat about their fate.

“We’re not thinking they (their top-up players) will be required in the regular season, because we’re very confident with the way the tribunal will go with our players,” Hird said.

“We’re concentrating on the fact we’ll have our best team out there in round one against Sydney and that’s our plan.”

It has also emerged that captain Jobe Watson and fellow senior players Brendon Goddard and David Myers met last week with AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan.

“I know what they wanted to do is improve relationships between the club and the AFL,” Hird said.

“That’s important for everyone.”

No-one at Essendon has a more fractured relationship with the AFL than Hird.

When asked if he might think about trying to rebuild burnt bridges, Hird replied: “I’m trying to coach our football team – it’s a very busy job.

“I’m trying to do the best possible job I can to get our football team ready for the (season).

“That’s where my focus is and a time down the track for that to happen? Maybe.”

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Indonesia struggling to nurture another world champion

In a year when Jakarta stages the world championships for the first time since 1989, Taufik remains Indonesia’s last singles world champion in 2005.

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The men’s team has found itself in an unstable position following the decision by three of its four top 40 players to leave the national set-up.

With Olympic qualification due to start on May 1, the Indonesian Badminton Association (PBSI) also has a decision to make on selection criteria ahead of Rio 2016.

World number 11 Tommy Sugiarto is the brightest prospect, but he left the national programme for the second time in January after failing to find the right balance of coaches.

Ricky Subagja, an Olympic doubles’ champion and the PBSI’s team manager at the All-England Championships this week, said that there were now eight junior players in the national team and prospects were bright.

“The PBSI are concerned for the players in the national team and we will have to look at the process (for Olympic qualification),” he told Reuters.

“We are really preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Games.”

Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka, Indonesia’s number two, beat a flu-ridden Sugiarto in an all-Indonesian first round clash at the All-England this week, but he is another who has opted to train away from the national programme.

“We still have several years to find the next Taufik,” admitted Dionysius.

“We can’t expect it as we aren’t in the national team, so maybe the juniors are the best place. If people think that I am the next Taufik, then it will be hard for me.”

At least Dionysius, the world number 23, admits that the lions’ den atmosphere at Jakarta’s iconic Istora Senayan Stadium will suit him when the world championships are held in August.

“It makes me feel spiritual to play in front of a home crowd. Some find the pressure too much, but I am really confident.”

It is a quality that Taufik, who retired in 2013, is searching for in a player.

“I want to watch a good quick player who is something special,” the 2005 world champion said.

(Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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