NZ divers wait to inspect wrecked Rena

Fresh oil on New Zealand beaches is being cleaned up, while a dive team waits to assess the submerged stern of the wrecked container ship Rena when conditions improve.

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The stern sank on the Astrolabe Reef in the Bay of Plenty on Tuesday morning, but rough seas have prevented a dive team from salvage company Svitzer inspecting the wreck.

Steady seas on Sunday could provide an opportunity to confirm the state of the stern and any underwater obstacles, before salvors decide the next steps in the ship’s recovery.

An observation flight on Saturday showed there no change in the Rena’s state, and the swell is starting to ease.

“The current sea state, combined with the dangerous state of the wreck, is preventing dive operations at this stage,” Maritime New Zealand said on Saturday.

Svitzer will take the Smit Borneo barge out to the reef this afternoon if weather conditions permit.

“There appears to be less oil leaking out of the wreck,” Maritime New Zealand said.

However, debris and oil continue to wash up during peak holiday season in the beautiful region.

Small spots of oil measuring up to 2cm have been found over 2km off coastline at Papamoa East and teams are going to Motiti Island to survey any oil that may have come ashore.

Protective booms remain in place at Maketu, Little Waihi, and Waihatanui.

Seventeen containers have been removed from Waihi Beach and two are ashore north of Waihi Beach in rocky coves, while work continues to recover 11 containers on Matakana Island.

One oil-covered little blue penguin was collected from Papamoa Beach on Friday night.

The Rena ran aground at the beginning of October, spewing about 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the sea, which washed up on Bay of Plenty beaches, before salvors were able to pump most of the remaining oil from the ship.

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Al Jazeera journalists arrested for flying drone in Paris

Three journalists for TV station Al Jazeera have been arrested in Paris after flying a drone from a park on the edge of the city, a judicial source says.

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“The first was piloting the drone, the second was filming and the third was watching,” said the source.

Wednesday’s arrests come after multiple drone sightings over the French capital for the past two nights, although there was no immediate suggestion that the arrested journalists were linked to the earlier incidents.

The trio were apprehended in the Bois de Boulogne, a park on the western edge of the city.

Flying drones over Paris is banned by law, and the latest sightings come at a time of heightened vigilance following last month’s jihadist attacks.

The names and nationalities of the three journalists from Al Jazeera’s international service were not given. They are aged 34, 52 and 68.

A police source said witnesses and security forces reported at least five sightings overnight Tuesday to Wednesday over central Paris – that may have been the same drone or several.

The tiny aircraft were spotted near the US embassy, not far from the Invalides military museum, the Eiffel Tower and several major thoroughfares leading in and out of the French capital, the source added.

Authorities have been left scratching their heads as they remain unable to catch any of the operators or determine whether the flyovers are the work of pranksters, tourists or something more malicious.

There were five separate drone flights over parts of Paris the previous night.

French law prohibits small civilian drones from sensitive areas such as nuclear facilities, which are protected by a no-fly zone that spans a 2.5km radius and a height of 1,000 metres.

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Australia welcomes Burma prisoners release

The federal government has welcomed the release of hundreds of political prisoners in Burma, saying the country’s military-backed regime has made an important step towards democracy.

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The south-east Asian nation’s rulers have pardoned prominent dissidents, journalists and a former premier under a major prisoner amnesty, building on a series of reforms undertaken in the past year.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd says the release of prisoners is a “very important” step towards democracy in Burma.

“President Thein Sein and the Burmese government deserve recognition for taking this important decision,” Mr Rudd said in a statement on Saturday.

He said the Australian government would reform its targeted sanctions on Burmese citizens following the release of more political prisoners.

Mr Rudd said the Australian government also supported the announcement by Opposition Leader Aung Sung Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, that they would contest by-elections on April 1.

Ms Sung Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace prize winner and long-time political prisoner, has said she would contest for a seat in suburban Rangoon.

Her party boycotted the November 2010 elections in Burma.

The foreign minister said the ceasefire agreement between the Burmese government and the Karen National Union, a major ethnic rebel group, was to be welcomed.

“We recognise the vital importance of ethic issues in Burma and urge both the Burmese authorities and ethnic groups to honour all ceasefires and to work in good faith to resolve conflicts peacefully,” he said.

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Murdered wife thought husband was cheating

In the months before a Sydney woman was allegedly murdered by her husband, the pair had been sleeping in separate bedrooms and she thought he was cheating on her, her daughter says.

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Tony Thao Do is accused of murdering his 54-year-old wife Kim Lien Huynh, who died on September 13, 2012 from a combination of neck compression and sharp and blunt force injuries to her head.

He has pleaded not guilty.

His trial has already heard how Ms Huynh’s daughter Aminda had come home that night from work, cooked dinner, watched television and texted friends.

It wasn’t until later, when she had turned on lights in the stairway of the Cabramatta home and illuminated the front room that she saw her mother’s body, she says.

Aminda, 22, cried on Thursday as the Triple-0 call, which she made shortly after the discovery, was played to the court.

“It’s my mum … she’s um, she’s um … She’s not moving,” Aminda is heard saying.

As her voice becomes increasingly high-pitched, she tells the operator, “I think she has been here for a while and I haven’t noticed”.

When the operator tells Aminda to go toward her mum and check to see if anything is blocking her airway, she cries, “I really can’t do this, I really can’t do this.

“Why is this happening? I don’t understand.”

Aminda told the court that when she eventually touched her mother she was “freezing cold”.

She said when Do first came to live with the family in September 2011 it was clear they cared for each other.

“They were always together,” she said.

But four months before her death, they were no longer sleeping in the same room and her mother began locking her bedroom door.

Aminda said she heard her mother get angry at Do for not doing enough around the house.

“She thought he was cheating on her via the computer,” she said, adding they fought about how much time he spent on it.

She would say, “he’s talking to other women” and “you can go back to America … I have no use for you anymore”.

Under cross examination by Do’s barrister Craig Smith, Aminda agreed that at the time, her mother was also short-tempered towards her.

The trial continues.

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Italy wins Merkel praise

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday assured Italy its tough austerity measures would be ‘rewarded’, amid signs her own economy was grinding to a halt as tensions in eurozone markets simmered.

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Capping a flurry of diplomatic activity as leaders strive to stem the crisis that threatens to tip the 17-member eurozone into recession, Merkel expressed “great respect” for Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti’s reform efforts.

Rome’s painful austerity measures “will strengthen Italy, will improve its economic prospects,” said Merkel, adding: “We have watched with great respect how quickly they have been implemented”.

“I think that overall, the work inside the Italian government will be rewarded,” said the chancellor, who has spearheaded Europe’s efforts to tame the eurozone crisis now entering its third year.

For his part, Monti expressed his hope the markets would recognise the bitter sacrifices demanded by the austerity plan he has pushed through and that this would “translate to sensible rates”.

Italian borrowing costs had remained stubbornly above the seven-per cent mark commonly seen as unsustainable, but dropped to 6.94 in late Wednesday trade as investors also cheered better-than-expected deficit figures from Rome.

Italy’s public deficit fell to 2.7 per cent in the third quarter from 3.5 per cent 12 months earlier – its lowest level since the third quarter of 2008, official statistics showed.

Monti insisted that despite the debt mountain looming in the euro area’s number three economy, Italy’s problems were “not contagious for the eurozone”.

However, Germany’s statistics office Destatis earlier Wednesday said that Europe’s top economy, until now relatively immune to the crisis, likely went into reverse in the fourth quarter of last year.

Despite growing by a solid 3.0 per cent in 2011, German gross domestic product (GDP) appeared to shrink by “around a quarter of a percentage point” in the final quarter, Destatis official Norbert Raeth told a news conference.

The data prompted many analysts to predict that Germany would enter a recession at the start of this year – defined as two successive quarters of negative growth – although most forecast a bounce later in 2012.

Christian Schulz, senior economist at Berenberg Bank, said the German economy would probably contract in the first quarter.

“If the euro crisis does not get worse or is finally brought under control, the German economy can rebound nicely from the summer onwards,” he said.

However, there was a one-in-four chance of the crisis not being resolved or even spiralling completely out of control and “in such a scenario, Germany would enter a major recession,” he warned.

Signs the crisis was far from being resolved emerged from the European Central Bank where figures showed banks parking a record sum with the ultra-secure Frankfurt-based institution rather than lending to each other.

Meanwhile, on the bond markets, Germany paid a record low rate at an auction of five-year bonds amid huge demand, suggesting nervous investors were flocking to what is seen as the safe haven of Europe’s strongest economy.

With market conditions still unstable, Spain meanwhile said it planned to borrow 86 billion euros ($A107.03 billion) on financial markets in 2012, nearly 10 billion euros ($A12.45 billion) less than it raised by issuing sovereign debt in 2011.

And in Greece, where the eurozone crisis began, Development Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis said the country’s 2011 public deficit, a key gauge of its recovery closely monitored by creditors, had reached 9.6 per cent of GDP.

The figure was higher than state budget estimates but better than a feared two-digit shortfall.

Greece was likely near the top of the agenda as French President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed his former finance minister Christine Lagarde back to Paris, this time as managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

Lagarde, who made no comment after the 45 minutes of talks, also met French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Lagarde said during a visit to Berlin on Tuesday that aid to Greece needed to be increased by “a significant amount” of “tens of billions” of euros, a German government source told the business daily Handelsblatt in a pre-release of its Thursday edition.

Greece stands to unlock some 130 billion euros ($A161.79 billion) in new aid from the eurozone, provided it can successfully wrap up talks with banks on a writedown of its privately-held debt of at least 50 per cent in order to reduce the country’s debt by 100 billion euros ($A124.46 billion).

EU officials have said a deal is near and the chief negotiator for private investors, Charles Dallara, the head of the Institute of International Finance, is set to meet Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos on Thursday, according to sources.

According to the Handelsblatt, Lagarde and Merkel also agreed at their Tuesday meeting on the need to complete talks between banks and Greece on a debt writedown even if that meant not getting as much from the banks as hoped.

“This subject must be resolved in order to calm the markets,” the source said.

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LG TV named best gadget at CES

A razor-thin television from LG Electronics has been crowned best gadget of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

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Microsoft was a big winner in its final appearance at the annual trade event.

The 140-centimetre TV set from the South Korean electronics giant is just four millimetres thick and uses OLED, or organic light-emitting diode, display technology.

OLED TVs do not require backlighting and feature better colour contrast than standard flat-screen LEDs and LG and another South Korean titan, Samsung, both wowed the crowds at CES in Las Vegas with 55-inch models.

A panel of experts from technology news site CNET awarded the LG 55EM9800 the title of “Best TV” at CES on Thursday, but also named it “Best of Show” among the thousands of new products on display at the four-day event.

CNET said it gave the nod to the LG TV over the Samsung model in part because it has an actual shipping date – the third quarter of the year.

When the super-set does finally hit the market it won’t be for just anyone – the 55-inch LG OLED TV is expected to cost several thousand dollars.

Microsoft, which has announced that this year’s CES will be its last, saw products powered by its Windows software scoop up a couple of awards.

The Lumia 900 touchscreen from Finland’s Nokia was named best mobilephone and the Envy 14 Spectre laptop from Hewlett-Packard was tapped as the best computer.

The Lumia 900, which runs on Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system, is seen as Nokia’s bid to break into a US smartphone market dominated by Apple’s iPhone and handsets powered by Google’s Android software.

The Windows-powered HP Envy 14 Spectre is what is known as an “ultrabook,” a slim, lightweight laptop in a category pioneered by Apple’s MacBook Air.

The HP Envy 14 Spectre is to go on sale in February for $US1399. Pricing and availability of the Lumia 900 have not been released.

BlueStacks for Windows, a program which will ship on some upcoming Windows 8 computers, was named best software application. BlueStacks provides access to the hundreds of thousands of Android applications.

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer or his predecessor, Bill Gates, have delivered the opening keynote address at CES for the past 15 years and the US software giant has traditionally had one of the largest booths on the exhibition floor.

But Microsoft announced last month that it is bowing out of the show, which attracted more than 3100 exhibitors this year, because the January timing does not coincide with its product development calendar.

An Android-powered tablet computer from Taiwan’s Asus, the Asus Memo 370T, was named best tablet at a show which featured dozens of new rivals to Apple’s iPad.

The Asus Memo 370T, which has a 17.8-cm screen, is powered by the latest version of Android software for tablets and costs $US250, half the price of the cheapest iPad.

Other CES winners were the mirrorless Fujifilm X-Pro 1, which was named best camera, and the MakerBot Replicator, which snatched the title of “Best Emerging Tech Product.”

The MakerBot Replicator is what is known as a 3D printer and can make objects as large as a loaf of bread by working off a blueprint fed into the machine.

While LG and the other winners were expected to be celebrating their awards in Las Vegas on Thursday night they should be mindful that recognition at CES is no guarantee of success in the marketplace.

Last year’s winner of the “Best in Show” title was the “Xoom” tablet computer from Motorola but it has failed to make any headway against the iPad.

The 2009 CES winner was a smartphone from Palm, the Pre.

Sales of the Pre failed to live up to expectations and the company was bought the next year by HP, which has since stopped making mobilephones using Palm’s webOS mobile operating system.

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Brit Awards 2015: Madonna falls off stage after wardrobe malfunction

It was the first time the 56 year old has performed at the Brit Awards in two decades, and it was certainly a show stopper.

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Just moments into her song ‘Living for Love’, Madonna, who was wearing a cape, was pulled backwards down a small flight of stairs by a backup dancer.

The cape she wearing failed to come apart from her costume during the dance routine, resulting her embarrasing tumble. To make matters worse, the lyrics she was singing at the time was, “I will carry on”. 

On Facebook, Madonna thanked her fans for their support, reassuring them that she was fine. 

“Armani hooked me up! My beautiful cape was tied too tight! But nothing can stop me and love really lifted me up! Thanks for your good wishes! I’m fine!”

Post by Madonna.The rest of the night carried on without any mishaps.

Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran took home the coveted best album prize at Britain’s top music honours on Wednesday for “X” at a star-studded Brit Awards show in London. 

The singer looked genuinely surprised as he climbed on the stage to pick up the trophy, a pale pink statuette designed by British artist Tracey Emin.

“I didn’t expect it… It’s been a very good year for British music”, he said. 

Other winners of the night included Paloma Faith for British female artist and Royal Blood, who defeated popular boy band One Direction to be named the best British band. 

Award for the best international female artist went to Taylor Swift, who opened the show. The pop-heavy ceremony also saw performances from Take That, Sam Smith and Madonna.

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China looking at carbon tax, official says

China’s lead negotiator on climate change says the world’s largest emitter is considering imposing a tax on carbon to reduce the use of dirty energy as its economy grows.

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Su Wei, on a visit to Washington, said that the fast-developing Asian power was looking at the impact of an outright tax on carbon and whether it would overlap with China’s plans for a pilot scheme on carbon emissions trading.

“I think the carbon tax is one of the instruments that can be used,” Su Wei told reporters on Wednesday during a visit to the World Resources Institute, a think-tank.

Su, director general of the climate change department at China’s powerful National Development and Reform Commission, said officials had not taken a final decision and were debating whether to use the term “carbon tax”.

“Whether we call it a carbon tax – or environment tax or resource tax or even fuel tax – we have lots of tax already. We need to carefully redesign the category and type,” he said.

Chinese state media said last week that a proposal submitted to the finance ministry would impose a tax of 10 yuan ($A1.55) per tonne of carbon within the next three years, targeting large users of coal, oil and natural gas.

In a speech at the institute, Su said China was also looking at a plan to put voluntary labels on products that are low-carbon “in order to try to give a clear signal to business and industry”.

China has surpassed the US as the largest emitter of carbon, which many scientists say is contributing to the world’s rising temperatures and extreme weather.

China has pledged to reduce the intensity of its carbon emissions but it says it is not realistic to reduce its carbon emissions in net terms while lifting millions of its citizens out of poverty.

The European Union, which has been at the forefront of action on climate change, has baulked at imposing a direct tax on carbon and instead has a “cap and trade” system that restricts emissions and allows companies to trade in credits for action.

Australia in November imposed a carbon tax, which at $A23 a tonne is much higher than China’s proposal. Australia plans to move to a trading system in 2015.

Proposals for nationwide action on climate change have died in the US Senate. But California and East Coast states have launched their own trading initiatives.

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Philander absence may test depth, balance but not result

Philander’s injury disrupted South Africa’s attack against India, with the defending champions scoring over 300 and smashing Wayne Parnell for more than 80 runs from his nine overs of seam bowling.

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AB de Villiers side will now need to decide how best to make up their attack with backup paceman Kyle Abbott having played only 11 ODI matches and none at the World Cup.

If Abbott is picked then all-rounder Farhaan Behardien could possibly replace Parnell and share the 10 overs needed to be bowled with JP Duminy.

It is the second time in the last six months Philander has missed one-day internationals due to a hamstring injury.

Philander’s partnership with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel has earned the trio the label as the most-balanced and penetrating attack in world cricket.

The express pace of Steyn is complimented by the steepling bounce off a length from Morkel, while Philander is ‘Mr Consistent’, delivering an outswinging line and length that restricts batsmen scoring and puts them under pressure.

Results in the longer form of the game speak for themselves.

In the 28 test matches the trio have all played together, South Africa have won 17, lost four and drawn seven.

In the limited overs arena, however, their impact is not as influential has many would expect.

The trio have played just 16 one-day internationals together, with Philander, an automatic choice in the test side having really only cemented himself in the limited overs team in the last 18 months, despite making his debut in 2007.

While Philander’s absence has placed the focus on their pace trio at the World Cup, it is actually South Africa’s vaunted batting lineup that propelled them into tournament favouritism with Australia.

In the past 13 months, South Africa have won 17 of their 25 completed games, scoring more than 300 on seven occasions — matches they all won.

In 11 of those victories, they have batted first.

Of their eight losses, five came when they are asked to chase the total, something West Indies captain Jason Holder may take into consideration if he wins the toss at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O’Brien)

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Oakeshott concerned over pokies reform

A key independent MP has expressed concerns about the lack of details on the Gillard government’s proposed reforms for poker machines.

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Rob Oakeshott says he is yet to see draft legislation to reform gambling while his other worry is a gambler would require at least seven separate cards to play poker machines across Australia.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard made an agreement to introduce mandatory pre-commitment to poker machines with independent MP Andrew Wilkie following the 2010 election.

It was a deal struck in return for Mr Wilkie’s support for Labor after the election to form a minority government.

Mr Wilkie has said he would withdraw his backing if Labor failed to legislate mandatory betting limits on poker machines by this May.

Mr Oakeshott, one of the potential votes Ms Gillard needs for the passage of proposed gambling reforms through the lower house, said he has only received an initial departmental briefing.

“It became clear in that briefing that the strategy the department is taking is to introduce ‘framework’ legislation this

parliamentary session, with all the key details to come at some later date via regulations,” the member for Lyne on the mid-coast of NSW said in a statement on Saturday.

He said there would also need to be a mandatory pre-commitment card for each separate operating system in Australia, which meant “at least seven different cards” for each gambler.

“This week I have indicated to both the Prime Minister and Mr Wilkie that both these matters are of concern if my support is being sought,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

Ms Gillard is scheduled to meet Mr Wilkie in Hobart on Sunday.

Mr Oakeshott said he supported gambling reform and no reform of poker machines hit the poorest communities the hardest.

“I therefore urge all parties to continue so as to achieve a necessary reform for Australia and Australian productivity,” Mr

Oakeshott said.

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