May 30

My ex is a hired killer: NASCAR driver

Kurt Busch, the NASCAR driver known as ‘The Outlaw’, testified on Tuesday he believes his ex-girlfriend is a trained assassin dispatched on covert missions around the world who once returned to him in a blood-splattered gown.

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Busch, appearing in court again over Patricia Driscoll’s request for a no-contact order, continued the push of his legal team to discredit his ex as a scorned woman out to destroy his career, portraying her as a character fit for a screenplay.

“Everybody on the outside can tell me I’m crazy, but I lived on the inside and saw it first hand,” Busch said when his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, questioned why he still believed Patricia Driscoll is a hired killer.

Busch said Driscoll repeatedly asserted her assassin status and claimed the work took her on missions across Central and South America and Africa.

He recounted one time when the couple was in El Paso, Texas.

He said Driscoll left in camouflage gear only to return later wearing a trench coat over an evening gown covered with blood.

A day earlier, Busch’s said his ex-girlfriend told him she was a mercenary who killed people for a living and had shown him pictures of bodies with gunshot wounds.

Busch said on Tuesday Driscoll had claimed that a female character in “Zero Dark Thirty,” a film depicting the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden, was a composite of her and other women.

Last month, Michael Doncheff, who served as a personal assistant to Busch and Driscoll, said an ailing Driscoll told him in September that she had been picked up by a big man and slammed to the ground while helping round up immigrants at the Mexican border, a story Doncheff considered “far-fetched.”

Doncheff said Driscoll also asserted that she was a trained assassin for the US government and once told him, “I take down foreign governments. I own Washington.”

During the hearing, which stretched over four days, neither Driscoll nor her lawyer refuted the testimony.

Driscoll was not immediately available for comment after the hearing.

Busch testified on Monday that he decided to end his relationship with Driscoll after a race last year because she was monopolising his schedule and he needed to focus on racing.

Driscoll said Busch assaulted her in his motorhome at Dover International Speedway a week later, grabbing her by the throat and slamming her head into a wall three times.

Busch and his lawyers have denied the allegations, which are the subject of a separate criminal investigation.

Busch has testified he repeatedly told Driscoll to leave after she showed up unannounced at his motorhome, finally cupping her cheeks in his hands, looking her in the eye and telling her she had to go.

“He advised that her head tapped the wall as he was doing that,” Detective James Wood testified on Tuesday, recounting Busch’s interview with Dover police in November.

Richard Andrew Sniffen, a Christian music minister who performs at NASCAR outreach events and befriended Busch and Driscoll, said Driscoll told him on the night of the alleged assault only that Busch had pushed her and that she hit her head.

Sniffen said Driscoll was upset, angry and broken-hearted, but that she never said she was afraid of Busch and seemed intent on reconciling.

That attitude shifted in the weeks that followed, Sniffen said, with Driscoll going “from a broken heart looking for love and reconciliation to anger and a little bit of revenge.”

“I will destroy him,” Sniffen said Driscoll told him, adding that she repeatedly claimed she would take Busch down.

A court ruling on Driscoll’s request for a no-contact order is expected later this month or in early February.

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May 30

Thompson hoping to catch Kyrgios

Jordan Thompson says it was about four years and a foot and a half ago that he could beat Australia’s top men’s tennis player Nick Kyrgios but he’s hopeful he’s on track to repeat the feat.

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The 20-year-old Thompson and 19-year-old Kyrgios have been close friends and on-court rivals since they were eight.

Sydneysider Thompson said he used to regularly win their fierce battles in the junior ranks.

“I’ve only lost to him once but I haven’t played him since we were about 16,” Thompson said.

“He’s better than me these day – in the top 50 – but that pushes me.”

The imposing Kyrgios now has more than 10cm in height on the slightly-built Thompson, the world No.273.

But Thompson showed he also has the ability to make an impact on the world stage in his opening match of the Kooyong Classic against Japan’s world No.5 Kei Nishikori.

Thompson pushed the US Open finalist all the way to a third-set tiebreaker before going down 6-4 3-6 7-6 (7-4).

Nishikori, the defending champion at the eight-man round-robin tournament, has been in impressive form after advancing to the semi-finals at last week’s Brisbane International.

Thompson said it was a confidence-building match ahead of next week’s Australian Open, which he won entry to by taking out the wildcard playoff for the second straight year.

“It’s hard not to take confidence out of playing a top-five player and pushing him all the way in the third set,” he said.

“He’s pretty quick and he has a deceptively good serve and he’s on every ball so he’s a tough opponent.”

Thompson also played in last year’s invitational tune-up for the Australian Open and beat Argentina’s Juan Monaco and had a narrow loss to Frenchman Richard Gasquet.

At the Open he was up two sets to love against 20th seed Jerzy Janowicz before fading in the searing heat.

Nishikori was impressed by his young opponent.

“Jordan was playing well, especially in the second set, he was not missing much and going for his shots,” he said.

After rain prevented any play on day one, there were a further three matches played under grey skies and swirling wind.

Spaniard Fernando Verdasco overcame world No.22 Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-2 7-6 (7-3) before Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov had a straight sets win against young Serb Filip Krajinovic 6-4 6-3.

France’s Richard Gasquet then finished the day with a 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 6-2 win over world No.14 Feliciano Lopez of Spain.

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May 30

Calls for wiser synthetic drug response

Outdated approaches to problem drug supplies in Australia are feeding an entirely new market of synthetic and potentially deadly materials, medical experts say.

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Two men, aged 33 and 41, have died in central Queensland and others are ill after a suspected batch of poisonous synthetic cannabis passed through the region.

Mackay health chiefs have warned of a recent increase in the number of hospital patients complaining of adverse impacts associated with the synthetics.

“These drugs pose a major risk to an individual’s physical and mental health and the community,” Mackay Hospital and Health Service boss Dr David Farlow said

Synthetic cannabis, commonly purchased over the internet, was outlawed under current legislation and could result in charges of possession, supply or trafficking, Detective Acting Inspector Sam Bliss said.

“The chemical compounds found in these drugs are dangerous and are not herbal or natural alternatives to `real’ drugs,” she said.

“They contain synthetic compounds which are toxic and extremely dangerous.”

Deaths associated with such synthetic materials are well-documented in toxicological literature, Senior Australian National University Clinical Lecturer in Medicine Dr David Caldicott said.

The industrially-produced chemicals used in synthetic cannabinoids are sprayed onto plant material to give the impression they are natural.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Dr Caldicott said.

“They have generally been designed by well-respected and well-intentioned neuro-chemists for the purposes of investigating the neuro-biology of cannabis in animals.”

Most materials were never designed for consumption by humans, he said.

“We need wittier and wiser responses to the problem of harm from drugs, if these deaths are not to become a more frequent occurrence in a generation of young Australians.”

The large variety of cannabinoids with largely unknown toxicity presented a problem for researchers scrambling to keep up, University of Sydney PhD student Richard Kevin said.

“Using a synthetic product is a lot like picking up a random pill off the ground,” he said.

“You can’t know exactly what you’re getting, so you’re taking a big risk.”

Synthetic cannabinoids have been linked to serious health problems including acute kidney injury, panic attacks and seizures.

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May 30

Long work hours and alcohol abuse linked

Too much work and too much wine go together like biscuits and cheese, a new international study finds.

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A new study of over 330-thousand people in Australia, Europe and North America shows those who work more than 48 hours a week are more likely to engage in risky alcohol consumption.

The findings published in the British Medical Journal show that across the board, more work generally means more drinking – regardless of gender, age or socioeconomic status.

The study found that people who worked more than 40 hours a week were 11 per cent more likely to be heavy drinkers than those who worked 38-40 hours.

It also found that people working from 49-54 hours a week were even more likely to be drinking at “risky” levels – categorised as more than two drinks per day for women and three for men.

Australian Drug Foundation’s Phillip Collins said work can be a major trigger for alcohol abuse.

“Organisations that have high stress do have a higher rate of depression and people leaning on alcohol as a way to reduce stress.”

Mr Collins said employers should take responsibility for the consequences of overworking employees.

“They need to ask themselves what sort of environment are they creating that makes somebody be stressful and therefore use alcohol to reduce that stress.”

Study author Marianna Virtanen said while alcohol might help ease the stress of working long periods of time, risky consumption could lead to difficulties in the workplace, such as poor performance.

“But many people, for example well-educated managers and professionals, work much longer hours to achieve faster promotions, salary increases, and more control over work and employment,” said Prof Virtanen, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

On average full-time workers are putting in an extra six hours overtime, beyond the ordinary 38 working hours allowed per week – much of is is unpaid.

Research from the Australia Institute says about 4.9 million workers report to have no work-life balance. It said the evolution of smart phones and the mobile office is, in part to blame.

The Institute’s Matt Grudnoff said for the sake of mental health, we need to be escaping with a holiday not a glass of wine.

“People feel that work life balance is getting worse and unless something is done it’s likely to continue to do so as technology improves and we’re able to stay in contact with each other businesses are able to use this.”

“Some businesses automatically switch over to answering machin at five o’clock. Some businesses disable email while workers are on holiday, there are certainly things employers can do to make this issue better.”

About 20 per cent of Australians drink at levels that put them at risk of lifetime harm from injury or disease. Drinking alcohol can affect the liver or cause brain damage, heart disease, high blood pressure and increases the risk of many cancers.

In Australia, it’s recommended that healthy men and women drink no more than two standard drinks a day.

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May 30

Funerals in France and Israel for attack victims

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Funerals for seven of the people killed in last week’s attacks in Paris have taken place in France and Israel.

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Meanwhile, new video has emerged of the moments following the shooting rampage on the offices of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Naomi Selvaratnam reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

In Paris, the families, friends and colleagues of three police officers killed in last week’s Islamist attacks gathered to say farewell.

President Francois Hollande presented each of the officers with the country’s highest honour – the Legion d’honneur – pinning a badge on each of the coffins in a final salute.

President Hollande says the officers each made the ultimate sacrifice.

“I express my gratitude and also my pride. Because of you, with you, France is still standing. Long live the republic, long live France.”

Meanwhile, in Israel, thousands of mourners gathered at a cemetery for the funeral of four Jewish men who were killed at a kosher supermarket during the siege that followed the Charlie Hebdo shootings.

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attended the service, telling mourners the victims’ lives had been “cut down by hatred”.

“I have been saying it for many years and I will say it again here. These are not enemies of the Jewish people alone. They are enemies of all of humanity and the time has come for all enlightened people to unite and uproot these enemies from our midst.”

Speaking at the funeral, Valerie Braham, the widow of one victim, Philippe Braham, said she was still in shock.

“I am crying but I know that you are all crying with me and I thank all of you, for all of this. I wouldn’t have believed all of this. Phillipe, protect me.”

Meanwhile, the first front cover of Charlie Hebdo since the attack has been produced, showing a crying Prophet Mohammed above the slogan “All is Forgiven”.

It’s been reproduced by media around the world.

But major media in many Arab, African and Asian countries, haven’t shown the cover, because many devout Muslims view any depiction of their prophet as forbidden.

Speaking at a press conference, Charlie Hebdo cartoonist, Renald Luzier, says the decision to depict the Prophet on the cover was obvious.

“We are above all cartoonists who like to draw little characters just like when we were kids. And by the way, the terrorists, they were once children, they did drawings too. Like us. Like every child. So at some point they lost their sense of humour, they lost their child soul, which allows people to see the world from a distance. Because that’s what Charlie is about, to look at the world with a bit of distance. Then there was nothing but that for the cover idea. This idea of drawing Mohammed. I am Charlie.”

In another development, new video has emerged showing the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices.

The video, shot from a rooftop near the magazine’s Paris office shows the brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi driving their black getaway car down a narrow street.

After being blocked by police, the men got out of the car and began firing at the police vehicle, which can be seen reversing away.

The men were later killed by police gunfire after a siege at Danmartin en Goele.

 

 

 

 

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Apr 29

Dresden still divided after Paris attacks

Over 25,000 people gathered on Monday to protest against the perceived rising tide of Islamisation in Europe.

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PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West) supporters marched through Dresden’s centre wearing black armbands as a mark of respect to the 17 victims gunned down in Paris last week.

One sign read “Paris today, Dresden tomorrow” noting that the Islamist militant threat might also reach Dresden if its residents were not politically vigilant. The city has a diverse multicultural population of less than 3% however that did not stop over 25,000 people from turning out last night.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had earlier that day cautioned Pegida from staging a demonstration reiterating her support for Germany’s Muslim population. Yet, in defiance the crowd gathered rapidly waving several flags of different German federal states and other European countries including France.

One demonstrator held a placed with Merkel donning a hijab (face veil) in reference to her comments denouncing the racist nature of Pegida.

The weekly Monday marches, organised mostly through a growing Facebook page, are styled on the peaceful democratic marches in 1989 against the east German government which eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The rallying cry of “Wir sind das volk” (We are the people) was shouted at these rallies and are now heard loudly in the Pegida marches.

Speakers at the pre-march gathering of thousands at Skatepark emphasised that the rise of Islamism had threatened the Judeo-Christian values of Europeans and that the Charlie Hebdo attack was proof that more bloodshed was imminent.

One city, two protests

More than 2000 police officers, including riot police, were deployed from various German federal states to keep protestors away from counter-Pegida demonstators according to one police officer who spoke to SBS. Anti-Pegida marches gathered about 5000 people in Dresden and over 100,000 nationwide in cities such as Berlin and Leipzig. 

“They say we are the people but they are not. They are afraid of losing their identity” said Frank Eckhardt, one of the main organisers of the anti-Pegida gathering yesterday that drew a smaller crowd compared to an earlier one organised on Saturday which had 35,000 attendees.

“Dresden is a conservative city and we had a conservative government for 25 years but this is purely hate against foreigners” he added. Referring to broom wielding protestors, Eckhardt who is director of the Dresden Cultural Forum noted “our task now is to clean the city of racism and mad thinking”.

Throughout the city’s main streets, both protestors (Pegida and anti-Pegida) were holding banners commemorating the deaths in the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

University student Maria, 25, said “this is dangerous, they (Pegida) use it for their purposes. We say we are not Pegida, we are Charlie!”

Muslims caught in cultural conflict

Marwa El Sherbiny cultural centre and mosque is located a few kilometres away from Dresden’s centre. The centre is named an Egyptian woman who was murdered at a Dresden courthouse by a Russian immigrant in 2009.

“Fewer people come to the mosque on Mondays compared to the other days, especially the refugees and asylum seekers, because of what’s currently happening” said Mohamed Hassan, who was leading midday prayers on the day after the protests when SBS spoke to him.

“Those with distinctive features such as dark skin or sporting a beard tend to stay at home to be on the safe side”.

Moroccan asylum seeker Abdel Fattah Al Nasseri, who had only been living in Dresden for seven months, shared the same feeling.

“We can’t come to perform our evening prayers on Mondays” he told SBS. “The situation is frightening because these protests are targeting Islam”.

Tensions continue

Indonesian student Ramadan Islam, who had moved to Dresden from Hamburg recently, espoused a different view instead questioning Pegida’s fragmented political asks and messages

“I don’t feel afraid…They were here on the street on Monday night close to the mosque but it’s a little bit uncomfortable because I do not know what they are doing”

“I saw a video of Pegida protestors circulating on the internet saying first they don’t like Islam, then refugees, then foreigners. I do not know what they are doing”

Pegida has already announced the details of the next demonstration and has vowed to continue with its demands even though they are still confusing to many including Ramadan.

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Apr 29

Jihadist video ‘shows boy killing Russian spies’

The Islamic State jihadist group has released a video purporting to show a young boy executing two men accused of working for Russian intelligence services.

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The video released on Tuesday shows the two men apparently being shot dead by the child after being interrogated on camera about their alleged attempts to infiltrate the IS group in Syria.

Entitled “Uncovering an Enemy Within” in English, the video is narrated in Russian and opens with the interrogation of one of the men, who says he is a Kazakh citizen.

He says he was recruited by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) to get close to an unnamed IS fighter.

The second man, who does not give his nationality but says he worked for the FSB in Russia previously, says he was tasked with killing an unnamed IS fighter.

Both men say they were told to collect and transmit information about IS fighters in Syria.

After the interrogations, the video cuts to an outdoors scene, where a bearded adult IS fighter in military-style clothes is standing next to a young boy armed with a pistol.

The man recites religious verses and says the two men are in the “custody of the lion cubs” of IS’s self-declared Islamic “caliphate”.

The boy has long hair and is dressed in a black zip-up sweater and military-style trousers.

The two men, dressed in matching grey outfits, are kneeling before the man and the child, who steps forward and shoots both men once in the head and then several times again after they collapse.

The end of the video appears to feature footage of the same boy from an earlier IS propaganda video telling an interviewer he wants to grow up to kill “infidels”.

That footage appears to come from a video that emerged last year, showing the boy participating in a training camp for children, taking apart and reassembling a gun.

In that video, he gave his name as Abdallah, and said he was from Kazakhstan.

Russia’s FSB agency had no immediate comment on the video.

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Apr 29

Dropping oil price helps city motorists

Falling oil prices have pulled down Australian petrol prices, but people in regional and rural areas have not benefited as much as their city-dwelling peers.

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The greatest reductions in fuel prices over the past six weeks have been in metropolitan areas, with a slower decline in regional and rural Australia.

Higher demand in metropolitan areas was one of many pressures forcing prices down faster, Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association chief executive Nic Moulis said.

“There is a time lag,” Mr Moulis said.

“Because [regional sellers] don’t sell through their fuel as quick.”

Another factor was people in rural areas generally had less access to fuel sales competition, Mr Moulis said.

Regional areas often have storage between long distances, creating another source for time lag.

Greater supply of crude oil worldwide was pushing prices down, Mr Moulis said.

The decline in oil price had affected Australian fuel prices, but the declining Australian dollar had offset the effect, Mr Moulis said.

Fuel prices across Australia have dropped more than 10 per cent since the week ending November 17, according to the Australian Institute of Petroleum’s (AIP) latest figures.

The AIP were contacted for comment but were unavailable.

Australian Automotive Association spokesperson James Goodwin said rural drivers should not be made to pay more than they have to.

“We have concerns they’re paying too much,” Mr Goodwin said.

While transport and demand in rural areas may be an issue, so might lack of competition, Mr Goodwin said.

“An average price difference of 15 cents per litre is unjustifiable,” he said.

On December 3, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released its Monitoring of the Australian petroleum industry report.

The price of crude oil, which has fallen globally in recent years, was the biggest single factor contributing to retail fuel prices in Australia’s five largest cities, the ACCC said.

Despite the effect of excise, Australian tax of fuel was among the lowest of OECD countries, the ACCC said.

The report said Australia’s five largest cities were subject to retail fuel price cycles, which are responsible for large differences in fuel prices between some days.

“These price cycles do not generally occur in Canberra, Hobart, and Darwin, or in most regional locations,” The ACCC said.

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Apr 29

British Jews fear future in Europe: poll

Almost half of British Jewish people fear they have no long-term future in Britain or Europe, according to a survey.

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The poll of 2230 British Jewish people by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA) found that 45 per cent feared Jews may have no future in Britain, and 58 per cent were concerned they have no long-term future in Europe.

The online survey published on Wednesday was conducted from December 23 to January 11 – a period that spanned the attacks in Paris that targeted the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket – leading France to increase security at Jewish schools and synagogues.

“The results of our survey are a shocking wake-up call straight after the atrocities in Paris,” said CAA chairman Gideon Falter.

“Britain is at a tipping point. Unless anti-Semitism is met with zero tolerance, it will grow and British Jews will increasingly question their place in their own country.”

A quarter of those surveyed by the CAA said they had considered leaving Britain in the past two years.

The CAA said 2014 saw the most anti-Semitic incidents recorded by police since records began 30 years ago.

Official figures from London’s metropolitan police showed anti-Semitic crimes more than doubled in the capital during the 12 months to November 2014, compared with the same period a year earlier.

Anti-Semitic views are not uncommon among British people, according to a separate study of conducted by pollster YouGov for the CAA.

A quarter of 3411 adults surveyed by YouGov believed Jewish people chase money more than other British people.

Meanwhile, 17 per cent thought Jews had too much power in the media, and 13 per cent said Jews talked about the Holocaust to get sympathy. Overall, 45 per cent of those surveyed believed at least one anti-Semitic statement.

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Apr 29

A united Iraq to face down Japan in Asian Cup

Iraq is tipped to challenge defending champions Japan for top spot in group D at the Asian Cup, but following a disastrous Gulf Cup campaign and a coaching change in November, the main challenge for the 2007 champions is to find the glue that unites the side.

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Iraq came to the Asian Cup with a squad drawn from various parts of the world and a mixture of religious backgrounds.

It’s also a young squad with all but four of the players aged 23 or under.

But star midfielder Yaser Kasim believes there is a cohesion and confidence in the team the team.

“With time I think players will gel, will understand each other a bit more and one or two have the language barrier, but the Iraqi people are very nice people it works or will work,” he said.

Born in Baghdad, Kasim moved to England as a seven-year-old and is now a team mate of rising Socceroos star Massimo Luongo at Swindown Town.

Kasim said it would be great to cross path with his friend at some stage of the tournament.

After scoring the winner in Iraq’s 1-nil victory over Group C rivals Jordan, the 23-year-old hopes that meeting will be at the tournament decider.  

“You know we could do something special because Iraqi players are very motivated to do well for their country considering the turmoil we are in,” he said.

Justin Meram is another player drawn from the Iraqi diaspora and although he has never set foot in the country, he always felt closely connected to the land of his parents. 

He said being called up to for the Iraqi national team is the proudest moment of his career.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” he said.

“Growing up in Michigan the whole state is basically Iraqis. That’s been with me since growing up, I’m just like one of them, I was just born in America.” 

Iraq has some of the most passionate fans to whom football and the national team are symbols of hope and unity. 

Those fans are hoping their side can make it two wins from as many games when Iraq takes on Group D rivals Japan on Friday night.

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