2000 troops fight forest fires in Russia

Thousands of firefighters, including army troops, battled hundreds of forest fires that raged across central Russia in the worst heatwave for decades, destroying houses and killing more than 30 people.More than 2000 troops have been sent in to help firefighters, a defence ministry spokeswoman told ITAR-TASS news agency on Saturday.A total of more than 16,000 firefighters are battling the flames, along with 56 helicopters and planes, the emergency ministry said on Saturday.Four hundred fires were still burning over more than 120,000 hectares on Saturday morning, while 387 fires had been extinguished in the past day, the ministry said in a statement.In the Nizhny Novgorod region, one of the worst hit, firefighters struggled to quench flames amid strong winds, with 11 separate fires still burning on Saturday, the ministry said.Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday visited the village of Verkhnyaya Vereya in the region where more than 300 houses were destroyed by the fires, leaving more than 500 people homeless, and was confronted by tearful residents.”By winter, all the houses will be standing. I promise you that your village will be restored,” Putin pledged, as residents circled round him in a televised encounter.He also promised to give each person 200,000 rubles ($A7341) in compensation for their lost possessions.Putin allocated five billion rubles ($A183.14 million) to rebuild houses and said he would personally control the process, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies on Friday.Three bodies were found on Saturday in burnt-out houses in the district visited by Putin, the regional emergency ministry told the Interfax news agency, raising the toll from nine to 12.Officials had reported deaths of 29 people in fires on Friday, although the emergency ministry did not give a toll for the whole of central Russia.The defence ministry allocated 550 troops, including a tank regiment, to help the firefighting in the region, the emergency ministry said.Temperatures of around 40C are predicted for the Voronezh region on Saturday, where more than 500 people have been left homeless by fires raging in the suburbs of the regional capital and television reports showed the city shrouded in smoke.A television report showed residents returned to scrape through the ashes of their burnt-out homes, with some carrying out jars of pickles that survived the flames in cellars.A record-breaking heatwave has seen the agriculture ministry declare emergency situations in 23 regions, with crops blighted by drought on around 10 million hectares of farming land.In Moscow, smoke from smouldering peat and forest fires swathed skyscrapers with smog this week and Thursday saw temperatures hit 38.2C, the hottest recorded in the city since records began.As people cool off by taking dips in lakes and rivers, many of them without life-saving equipment, Russia has also seen a high death toll from drownings.Thirty-five people drowned on Friday alone, the emergency ministry said.AFP
Nanjing Night Net

Thousands mourn Love Parade victims

Thousands of people paid their respects on Saturday in the German city of Duisburg to the 21 people who died in the Love Parade tragedy a week earlier.The memorial at Salvator Church, which opened with sombre organ music, was shown on screens in a football stadium and a dozen other churches in the western city of Duisburg. Several TV stations carried the service live, and flags across the country flew at half-mast.Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff were among several hundred mourners in a church service. Family members of the victims also attended.The 21 people who died were aged 18 to 38 and included foreigners from Spain, Australia, Italy, Bosnia, China and Holland.The ceremony was led by Roman Catholic and Lutheran Protestant clerics – representing Germany’s two main denominations.”The Love Parade was danced to death,” Nikolaus Schneider, the head of the Rhineland Lutheran Church Assembly, said in his sermon. “In the middle of a celebration of lust for life, death showed its ugly face to all of us.”Franz-Josef Overbeck, the Catholic bishop of the neighbouring city of Essen, said: “Life can be so oppositional: One moment there is a party, the next moment we are lying helplessly on the ground.””We want to stir our life in secure ways, but don’t have it under control.”After the sermons, rescue helpers lit 21 candles for the victims of the tragedy.In Duisburg’s football stadium, a large black cross several metres high was set up on the pitch. Many of those in the stadium wore black and had tears in their eyes. The solemn ceremony was also carried live on television.Before the service church bells rang mournfully out across the western industrial city of half a million people, where flags were at half-mast, as they were across the whole of a shocked Germany.”I was there, working as a helper and saw it all happen. A friend of mine was hurt,” Markus Spanke, aged around 20, told AFP in the stadium. “I will never forget it.””We were at the Love Parade, we saw everything from the bridge. We can’t shake those images of panic from our heads,” said Phil Napeirala, 21, from nearby Essen.Later on Saturday a march was due to take place from Duisburg train station towards the narrow tunnel that served as the only entrance to the grounds hosting the techno music festival. Reports said 20,000 people were expected.It was in this lethally packed bottleneck of a tunnel, now a solemn sea of candles and flowers and photos, that the victims died as revellers desperately tried to escape.The dead included seven foreigners, from Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Bosnia and Spain who had come for one of Europe’s top techno events. More than 500 people were hurt, 25 of whom are reportedly still in hospital.One man absent from public view however was Adolf Sauerland, the mayor, who has come under intense pressure to resign amid accusations that he ignored warnings that the event was a disaster waiting to happen.An interim police report on Wednesday also put the blame on Love Parade organisers, listing a catalogue of catastrophic mistakes in managing the crowd of hundreds of thousands. Prosecutors have opened an investigation.The grounds opened nearly two hours late, leading to an initial blockage in the tunnel, Dieter Wehe, chief of police in the local North Rhine-Westphalia state, said as he presented the preliminary findings.Thereafter, police said organisers were incapable of dispersing the crowds at the tunnel’s exit, partly because there were fewer stewards than promised and partly because there were no loudspeakers to control the crowd.When the scale of the crush became clear, police ordered stewards to close the heaving access points but this order was not carried out, Wehe said, fighting back tears at a news conference.”It’s going to take a long time before Duisburg can get back to normal,” said Reiner, one of the mourners at the football stadium.AFP/AP
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New MP earns more than PM

NICK LALICH, Labor MP for Cabramatta and mayor of Fairfield City Council, is one of State Parliament’s ”double dippers”.When he was elected to Parliament in 2008 at a byelection he decided to keep his job as mayor and collect both salaries.His parliamentary salary is $130,540 a year, his annual electoral allowance is $39,950, his logistical support allowance is $31,380 and he has a mail-out allowance of $65,384. Total pay and allowances: $267,254.As mayor he receives $53,980, plus $20,320 as a councillor. He enjoys the full-time use of a council-supplied Ford sedan, and ratepayers pick up the tab for his petrol, registration, insurance and servicing. Total council remuneration: $74,300.To sum up, as MP and mayor Lalich receives a total of $341,554 a year, which is more than the salary of Prime Minister Julia Gillard ($335,580).The 65-year-old former electrician entered Parliament after the abrupt resignation of Reba Meagher, the permanently suntanned former health minister. She held Cabramatta with a 29 per cent majority even though she lived in the breezy comfort of the beachside suburb of Coogee. The anti-”Grim Reba” backlash was so great that Lalich suffered a 22.7 per cent swing against him but still squeezed home.He may not be so lucky in March, when he again faces the conscientious Liberal candidate Dai Le, a former ABC journalist. Her victory would end Labor’s hold on Cabramatta since it was carved out of Fairfield in 1981.As the local Labor powerbroker, Lalich had a role in recruiting Mekong Club founder Phuong Ngo to the NSW ALP. He wrote to then Labor general secretary John Della Bosca: ”I believe the membership of the party would be greatly enhanced by the presence of Mr Ngo.”Unfortunately, Ngo’s enhancing gifts did not extend to Cabramatta Labor MP John Newman. He was gunned down in the driveway of his home in September 1994 in Australia’s first political assassination and Ngo was charged with his murder.Lalich made headlines when he visited Ngo while he was on remand behind bars, and voted with the Labor group to continue to pay Ngo’s council allowance before his trial. Ngo is now serving life in Goulburn jail’s Supermax section.Team Keneally – packed with colourful characters.
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Now Sartor tipped to exit sinking ship

ENVIRONMENT Minister Frank Sartor has been urged by friends to quit politics for a career in the private sector, as the resignation of John Della Bosca added to expectations that a stream of Labor MPs will jump ship before almost certain election defeat in March.Mr Sartor firmly denied whispers doing the rounds of Macquarie Street that he has sounded out a number of financial institutions in the city about possible roles post politics.The former planning minister and former long-time lord mayor of Sydney said he was still considering whether to stand again in March but would not decide until November or December.”People have said, ‘If you’re looking around, here’s a suggestion’, but actually I have more people bailing me up in supermarkets in the electorate saying ‘Run again,”’ Mr Sartor said.”Every election, every MP has a think about it.”Most politicians are pretty unemployable – it’s the nature of the job.”You become unpopular with some sections and your skills are very general.”That did not stop Mr Della Bosca, a former health minister and key election campaign strategist, landing a $150,000-a-year role as head of the National Disability and Carer Alliance’s campaign for the establishment of a national disability insurance scheme.Mr Della Bosca announced his departure on Thursday.Premier Kristina Keneally conceded a day later that she was expecting more departures before the election.Blue Mountains MP Phil Koperberg, a former environment minister, is weighing up his future.Joe Tripodi was recently linked with a $400,000-a-year job as general manager of Club Marconi.Others who will be reviewing their positions are Blacktown MP Paul Gibson and Mount Druitt MP Richard Amery.The veteran MPs are believed to be under pressure from ALP head office to free up their safe seats.Treasurer Eric Roozendaal is rumoured to be open to offers from the big end of town, perhaps following in the footsteps of former premier Bob Carr, who landed on his feet at Macquarie Bank after he retired from politics.As Mr Della Bosca showed last week, the charity sector is another avenue for retired Labor politicians.John Watkins, the deputy to Morris Iemma when he was premier, now heads Alzheimer’s Australia NSW.Disillusioned former juvenile justice minister Graham West also went to the charity sector.Opposition MP Brad Hazzard said he expected more Labor MPs to jump ship before the election.He said they realised they had not delivered the services and improvements that NSW people expected.
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Greens hope for two more seats in Senate

THE Greens will make a bid for votes today at their campaign launch, saying they are the only party offering stable leadership and a vision for the future.Leader Bob Brown will also warn that the Coalition needs to pick up only one more Senate spot to have the power to block legislation in its own right.”The electoral ogre waiting in the wings is like the Senate in 2004 when [former prime minister] John Howard gained control,” Senator Brown said. ”No one listened to me then. If there was a push to Tony Abbott [on August 21] and he picked up one more extra seat he would have control.”If the Coalition gained one more seat in the Senate it would have 38 – out of 76 – spots. That would mean it could block legislation because tied votes are resolved in the negative.The Greens’s campaign launch will be held in Canberra and comes at the start of the third week of campaigning.Labor will not launch its campaign for another two weeks and the Coalition is likely to wait at least another week as well.The Greens are confident both the Senators that are up for re-election – Christine Milne and Rachel Siewert – will be returned.In addition they are hopeful of at least another two Senators being elected to their ranks.Senator Brown said disillusionment with Labor and the Coalition would play to the Greens’ advantage.”People are very undecided,” he said.”There’s a lack of real choice but there’s also no vision.”It’s no good saying you’re moving forward if you can’t say where you’re moving forward to.”At today’s launch the Greens will renew their bid for a high-speed rail link between major capital cities.They want a one-year, $10 million feasibility study to be commissioned to examine the proposal and will release a Galaxy poll showing that 74 per cent of people are in favour of the project.The Greens will also announce plans to push for more marine reserves, saying 30 per cent of Australia’s ocean waters should be protected from fishing and resource extraction and exploration.This puts them in direct contrast with the Coalition which said last week it would stop the government’s work on expanding marine parks.The third announcement to be made at the launch will be pitched at carers and will push for the Fair Work Act to be amended so carers are given the right to request flexible work arrangements.At the moment only parents of preschool-age children and carers of children with disabilities are covered but the Greens want to include parents caring for adult children with disabilities and people caring for elderly parents.
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