Egypt police move on Morsi camps, ’15 dead’

At least 15 people have been killed as police moved in to disperse two huge protest camps set up in Cairo by supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, Mohamed Morsi.

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The interior ministry said two Egypt security force members have been killed at the demonstrations.

An AFP correspondent who counted the bodies at a makeshift morgue at the Raaa al-Adawiya camp said many appeared to have died from gunshot wounds.

Egyptian security forces, backed by armoured cars and bulldozers, moved on Wednesday to clear the camps, showering protesters with tear gas, state television and security officials said.

An Associated Press television video journalist at the scene of the larger of the two camps said he could hear the screams of women as a cloud of white smoke hung over the site in the eastern Cairo suburb of Nasr City.

He said an army bulldozer was removing mounds of sandbags and brick walls built by the protesters as a defence line in the Nasr City camp. Army troops, however, were not taking part in the operation.

The simultaneous actions by the Egyptian forces – at the pro-Morsi encampment in Nasr City and at the site outside the main campus of Cairo University in Giza – began around 7am (1500 AEST).

The pan-Arab Al-Arabiya TV showed images of collapsed tents and burning tyres at the Nasr City protest site. Ambulances were also seen at the scene, as well as some protesters being arrested and led away by the troops.

The Anti-Coup Alliance, an umbrella of pro-Morsi supporters, said in a statement dozens had been killed and injured so far in Wednesday’s attacks.

Egypt’s interior ministry warned Islamists not to use women and children as human shields during the police operation, a statement on its website said.

Streets around the two main areas were blocked, said local residents.

The military-backed government described the protest camps as violent and unlawful.

Carbon changes to benefit budget: Rudd

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says scrapping the carbon tax and moving to an Emissions Trading Scheme would save households around $380 dollars a year, but will cut spending in the budget by almost $4 billion.

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Treasury estimates that moving from the carbon tax to an ETS in 2014 would cost $3.8 billion but Mr Rudd says making other cuts to spending would ensure the transition from a carbon tax is revenue-neutral.

Amanda Cavill reports.

 

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says if he’s re-elected, he’d cut fringe benefits tax, some senior public service jobs and some environmental programs to pay for his plan.

 

The cuts include removing a tax concession on the personal use of salary-sacrificed or employer-provided cars, netting the government $1.8 billion.

 

The changes would not affect people who use their own car for work-related reasons or existing concessions for some uses of taxis, panel vans and utes.

 

The government would also cut $144 million from the Carbon Farming Futures program.

Further cuts would come from public service efficiency dividends, such as better procurement practices.

One per cent of executive level and senior executive public service positions will be also cut.

This would affect about 800 jobs, mostly based in Canberra.

 

Mr Rudd says government assistance to emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries would remain unchanged.

He says he has always been committed to moving from a fixed carbon price to a market-based floating price.

 

“When I was elected back in 2007 as Prime Minister I was elected to bring in an emissions trading scheme and a floating price. I believe overall this is a good package, it’s a balanced package. It’s good for families, it’s good for pensioners, it’s good for small businesses. It’s also good for the environment.”

 

Mr Rudd says households would continue to receive financial assistance but handouts to affected businesses would be cut when Australia moves to a floating price emission trading scheme next year.

 

He says the nation’s 370 biggest polluters would continue to pay for their carbon pollution but the cost would be reduced, meaning less pressure on consumers.

 

Treasury modelling suggests moving to a floating rate a year ahead of schedule would ease the cost of living by around seven dollars a week per family.

It says the impact would be greatest on electricity and gas bills, with the average household saving just over $200 a year on gas and electricity.

 

In all, Mr Rudd says, the average household would be around $380 a year better off.

 

Treasurer Chris Bowen says the carbon tax changes wouldn’t impact on the government’s household assistance package or on investments in the renewable energy sector, such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

 

However Mr Bowen has announced cuts to the Ending Energy Security Fund, changes to the Coal Sector Jobs package, the deferral of payment to the Carbon Capture and Storage program and cuts to the Clean Technology Program.

 

But he acknowledges not everyone will be happy with the cuts.

 

“This decision means that we have a positive impact on the budget bottom line. These savings measures will not be universally popular with everybody. They are not easy to make: savings decisions never are. But they are the right decisions to make in a fiscally responsible way. This announcement means that we embrace the market mechanism in a way that should be done.”

 

However Greens Leader Christine Milne says moving to an Emissions Trading Scheme in 2014 will do nothing to help the environment.

 

She says it will simply reward the big polluters while drastically cutting important environmental programs that are desperately needed.

 

And Senator Milne has ridiculed the idea of protecting the environment by cutting environment programs.

 

“Particulary in the savings they are going to find, the $3.8 billion of savings in order to bring forward emissions trading by one year, in order to make it cheaper for the for the polluters to pollute, they are going to cut a billion dollars from programs that actually help to protect the environment, build resilience in the landscape and to help farmers and to help people in manufacturing to be able to transform to clean energy programs.”

 

Opposition leader Tony Abbott says Mr Rudd is simply fast-tracking Julia Gillard’s plan to move to an emissions trading scheme in 2015.

 

Mr Abbott says the Prime Minister’s decision just underlines what the Coalition has always said about the carbon tax – that it doesn’t work and should be axed.

 

“Look what Mr Rudd has announced is not the abolition of the carbon tax. All he’s done is simply brought forward Julia Gillard’s carbon tax changes by twelve months. He’s not the terminator, he’s the exaggerator. He’s not the terminator, he’s the fabricator. He’s changed its name but he hasn’t abolished the tax.”

 

Under Mr Rudd’s plan the carbon price would fall from a forecast, fixed $25.40 a tonne to around six dollars a tonne under the floating regime.

 

Fort Hood shooter seeks execution: lawyer

The US army psychiatrist who has admitted to opening fire on fellow soldiers in the Fort Hood massacre is deliberately seeking the death penalty, his stand-by defence lawyer says.

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Lieutenant Colonel Kris Poppe urged a military judge on Wednesday to either prevent Major Nidal Hasan from representing himself at the high-profile trial or else allow the court-appointed lawyers tasked with assisting him to be distanced from the case.

“It became clear his goal is to remove impediments and obstacles to the death penalty,” Poppe told the court as the second day of Hasan’s trial began.

Hasan interrupted Poppe, declaring “this is a twist of the facts” and insisting he was not trying to martyr himself.

Military judge Colonel Tara Osborn cleared the courtroom to discuss the matter privately with Hasan and then called an early end to the day’s proceedings.

Hasan has repeatedly attempted to plead guilty to killing 13 people and wounding dozens more in the 2009 attack at a Texas military base.

Military law prohibits Hasan from pleading guilty to a capital offence and so he has been given the opportunity to try to convince the jury that he does not deserve death for his actions.

Now aged 42, Hasan was due to deploy to Afghanistan weeks after the attack. He has said he shot the soldiers to protect his fellow Muslims from an “illegal” war.

“The evidence will clearly show I am the shooter,” Hasan declared in his opening statements Tuesday.

The statement, which lasted just a couple minutes, reiterated his radical views.

“We, the mujahedeen, are imperfect Muslims trying to establish a perfect religion in the land of the supreme God,” Hasan said.

“I apologise for any mistakes that I made in this endeavour.”

Obama, security team meet on Syria

US President Barack Obama has met with security aides on a response to Syria’s alleged chemical attack, with the Pentagon saying it’s preparing for possible military action.

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The Saturday meeting came a day after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the military had presented options to Obama and was moving forces into place ahead of any possible decision.

However, despite the reports of a massive chemical attack on rebel-held areas near Damascus, Obama has continued to voice caution, warning that a hasty response could have unforseen consequences, including embroiling the US in another prolonged Middle East conflict.

“The president has directed the intelligence community to gather facts and evidence so that we can determine what occurred in Syria,” a Whitehouse official said.

“Once we ascertain the facts, the president will make an informed decision about how to respond.

“We have a range of options and we are going to act very deliberately so that we’re making decisions consistent with our national interest as well as our assessment of what can advance our objectives.”

Obama is under mounting pressure to act following reports of an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus that opposition groups say killed as many as 1300 people.

If confirmed, it would be the deadliest use of chemical agents since Saddam Hussein gassed Iranian troops and Kurdish rebel areas in northern Iraq in the 1980s.

The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons, and on Saturday state television said soldiers entering a rebel-held area had “suffocated” on poison gases deployed by “terrorists.”

Obama warned a year ago that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces was a “red line” that could bring about a more strident Western intervention in the two-year-old civil war.

However, he has also voiced caution about the kind of intervention that could draw the United States into a quagmire.

US commanders have nevertheless prepared a range of options for Obama if he chooses to proceed with military strikes against Damascus, Hagel told reporters during a visit to Southeast Asia.

The New York Times cited a senior US administration official as saying Washington was looking at NATO’s air war over Kosovo in 1999 as a blueprint for strikes on Syria without a UN mandate.

It pays to be Roode

In the process I “outed” myself as an admirer of the squared circle, asserting that wrestling fans (and everyone else) should never feel the need to defend what they find entertaining.

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It was very “Revenge of the Nerds”. But with slightly more boogers.

A few days go by and after logging on to Youtube to see if my latest video could finally crack the “20 views” mark, I pretty much freaked to find more than 20,000 of you had not only watched the interview, but liked what you saw.

The blog itself was one of SBS Online’s most viewed articles that week, prompting a colleague to quip, “I’ll never turn my nose up at wrestling stories again.”

It’s what every journalist aspires to hear one day.

So a huge thank you for your support and feedback, which included requests for “Pop, Cultured” to do more of the same.

So while most of Australia was fixated on Kim Kardashian’s magical mystery tour (“mystery” in the sense that many were asking “Why the hell is this getting so much media coverage?”), I managed to score an interview with another visitor to our shores.

Bobby Roode has been a professional wrestler for 13 years – most of them with Impact Wrestling, the closest competitor to WWE.

His visit came just days after winning the company’s Heavyweight Championship for the first time, in an episode that was screening in the US literally as we spoke.

Just hours before he was to host a seminar to a group of budding wrestlers in Sydney’s west, he arrived at SBS studios with some very precious cargo.

You’ll notice in the video that it caused several people to wander past our set-up more than once just to get a closer look.

Once again, if you’re a little shaky on your wrestling knowledge, click here for a condensed version of the interview…

…but for my fellow die-hards, click here for the director’s cut (aka – the better one).