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July, 2019

At least 26 killed in Mogadishu fighting

At least 26 people have been killed by fresh fighting in Mogadishu, half of them when a mortar shell hit a mosque as worshippers left after evening prayers.

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Police commander among the victims

Mogadishu’s top police commander and five children were among 13 people killed earlier. The mosque carnage then made Wednesday one of the worst days in weeks of clashes between the Somali government and Islamist insurgents.

The five children killed earlier were also killed by a single mortar shell. The death toll in Mogadishu has climbed well above the 250 mark in just over a month.

Colonel Ali Said Hassan, Mogadishu’s police chief, was killed during the fierce fighting that broke out early in the day when government fighters attacked rebel strongholds in the capital’s southern Hodan district.

Hassan, one of Somalia’s most respected police officers, was hit by sniper fire from the rooftop of a nearby building, witnesses said.

“The commander of Mogadishu police died in the line of duty,” said a senior police official, who asked not to be named.

“He was a brave officer who has expended tremendous effort to bring peace. He was killed by terrorists.”

Civilian, children killed in the fighting

The pre-dawn combat erupted when government forces attacked positions controlled by Islamist insurgents. Shelling continued into the evening as rebel-held areas of the capital were heavily pounded.

Other police sources said three other members of the force had been killed in the fighting. Witnesses said nine civilians, five of them children, had died from mortar fire in a nearby neighbourhood.

An AFP reporter saw the bodies of the children — aged between nine and 14 years — lying in pools of blood under a balcony where they had sought shelter from the shelling.

“The five children were trying to hide when a mortar shell landed at the same place they were hiding, unfortunately they all died on the spot,” said Habibo Adan, a resident very close to the area.

An ambulance driver said at least 50 people had also been wounded in the renewed violence. “They include children and women and some of them have serious injuries,” said the driver, Sheikh Mohammed Ali.

St George joins rate hikers

St George Bank has followed the other big banks in Australia by raising its interest rates on fixed home loans.

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The bank which was recently amalgamated with Westpac increased the interest rates on its three, four and five year fixed mortgages by 50 basis points yesterday.

Three-year fixed home loans now stand at 6.49 per cent, while both four and five year loans will cost new customers 7.14 per cent in interest per annum.

There was a smaller increase on one-year fixed mortgages which were raised by 10 basis points to 5.44 per cent.

Two-year fixed mortgages were increased by 20 basis points to 5.94 per cent.

Commonwealth leads rate increases

Banks attracted criticism for the rates rise made this week after the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) announced it would increase interest rates on a range of products last Friday.

The CBA blamed the high costs of term funding for increasing its standard variable and fixed home loans by 10 basis points on Monday.

National Australia Bank (NAB) also hiked its rates on Monday for a range of fixed home loans by as much as 40 basis points, taking their fixed rates to between 5.09 per cent for a one-year loan to 7.79 per cent for a 10 year term.

NAB spokeswoman Luisa Ford says the bank has raised rates on three-year fixed home loans by 120 basis points since April 14, and by 110 basis points on five-year fixed mortgages since May 18.

NAB, CBA and Westpac all raised rates on fixed mortgages in April, with ANZ moving earlier.

Ms Ford says fixed rates are determined by the fixed wholesale funding market which has been “moving very quickly over recent months”.

But NAB has no plans to raise interest rates on standard variable mortgages, she says.

Westpac follows suit

Westpac Banking Corporation on Tuesday raised rates on fixed home loans by up to 50 basis points.

Westpac’s one-year fixed mortgage rate was lifted 10 basis points to 5.49 per cent, its two-year fixed mortgage rate increased by 20 basis points to 5.99 per cent, and all other rates on terms up to 12 years were hiked by 50 basis points.

A 10-year fixed home loan from Westpac will now cost new customers 7.79 per cent in interest per annum.

ANZ Banking Group spokeswoman Cherelle Murphy says its fixed and variable interest rates on loans in any category are under review, but the bank currently has no specific plans to change them.

ANZ’s rates stand at 5.35 per cent for a one-year fixed home loan, 6.34 per cent for a three-year term, and 9.39 per cent for a 10-year term.

Standard variable rates on mortgages from the major lenders currently stand at 5.74 per cent from NAB and CBA, 5.7 per cent from BankWest, 5.79 per cent from St George, and 5.81 per cent from Westpac and ANZ.

Business confidence surges

A new report shows business confidence has grown significantly despite dismal market conditions not seen since Australia’s last recession in 1991.

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The joint industrial trends survey by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and Westpac shows that the actual composite index rose by rose 3.9 points to 38.9 in the June quarter.

A level below 50 indicates more respondents are suffering a contraction in business activity than those enjoying an expansion.

“It does indicate some signs of economic improvement and it may indicate that we have bounced off the lows of the March quarter,” says ACCI’s acting chief executive Greg Evans.

The index of labour market conditions improved by eight points to minus 25, but remains well below a decade positive average of six.

“That is still at a level that’s historically consistent with a sharp slowing in jobs growth through the second half of this year,” Westpac senior economist Anthony Thompson says.

He says the survey was also consistent with a jobless rate of eight per cent.

Business confidence surges

Business sentiment, however, bounced by a strong 57 points, the largest improvement since 1975, to a reading of minus four.

It was the highest outcome since the December quarter of 2007 and compared with a decade average of minus six.

The jump in confidence was encouraged by “green shoots” of a global recovery, the relative resilience of the Australian economy, improved housing indicators and a reduction in the perceived difficulty of obtaining finance, the report says.

Figures could be misleading

But Mr Thompson is suspicious of such a large jump.

“Respondents are probably only recognising the conditions are unlikely to get any worse, rather than declaring a robust future,” he says.

“That would drive a shift in respondents from the ‘further deterioration’ category to the ‘stay the same’ category…explaining 40 points of that 57 point increase.”

Mr Evans believes there is scope for further official interest rate reductions over the next six months by the Reserve Bank of Australia, but there are more limited opportunities for fiscal policy.

He says the 30 per cent investment allowance for large business should be extended to the end of the year, allowing a further six months for businesses to take advantage of the initiative.

Iran protesters aided in online battle

Cyber-sympathizers from around the world have joined forces online to help Iranian protestors dodge censorship, get out news of violent clashes and avoid real-world capture following Iran’s disputed election.

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Pictures, videos and updates from the streets of Iran continued to pour in to social-networking and image-sharing websites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr despite efforts by Iranian officials to cut off mobile phones and the Internet.

“The revolution may not be televised in Iran, but it may well be tweeted,” user ‘kaplanmyrth’ said Wednesday in one of the concise messages flooding an Iran election feed at the microblogging service.

Blocks evaded with assistance

Online allies have set up Internet-linked computers called “proxy servers” that can be used by people inside Iran to get around blocks imposed to stifle the spread of news about demonstrators accusing incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of having stolen last Friday’s presidential election.

“If everybody sets up proxies that are rerouting Twitter traffic from there, unless they know what your proxies are, they can’t block them,” said Nitin Borwankar, a US technology consultant specializing in social data mining.

“It’s like a needle in a haystack, much worse than a needle and a haystack. So people are setting up a lot of proxies.”

Users ‘hidden’ in the crowd

Twitter users have been changing time and location settings to make it appear they are messaging from Tehran to make it harder for authorities to find those really tweeting from that country.

Twitter on Wednesday was abuzz with messages and links by those claiming to have dissected photos of an Ahmadinejad victory rally and found the images were doctored to make the crowd appear many times larger than it actually was.

Hackers are siding with Iranian protestors in a growing cyber-battle with government forces, according to Iranian blogger Omid Memarian.

Online allies have been sending Iranian protestors software to crack Internet filters or launch “denial of service” attacks on websites supporting Ahmadinejad’s regime, Memarian said.

“This is happening constantly,” said Memarian, who is at the University of California, Berkeley, journalism school as a Rotary Peace Fellow.

“There is an Internet fight between the two sides. People who are more techie have started to shut down conservative websites.”

Memarian read to AFP from a Revolutionary Guards press release warning against the posting of protest news, pictures or videos on the Internet.

“It shows how the Internet is playing a major role in Iran now,” Memarian said.

Internet can ‘route around damage’

It is problematic to block all satellite and telephone service across the country because doing so would cut military and police communications, according to Borwankar.

“You can block certain channels but you can’t really do a blanket blocking,” Borwankar said.

The Internet is a network with redundant and alternate pathways to assure the free flow of data, and in that structure lays opportunity for those wishing to dodge censorship.

“There’s a principle that says the Internet routes around damage; that’s how it was designed,” Borwankar said.

“It can withstand a nuclear attack. So, socially now people have created communications channels that route around damage. Censorship is viewed as damage and people find ways to get around it.”

Twitterers go green

A sea of green was spreading on Twitter in a display of solidarity, as users changed or tinted ID photographs or avatars to the campaign colour of moderate candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

“Show support for democracy in Iran add green overlay to your Twitter avatar,” Craigslist founder Craig Newmark said in a forwarded tweet.

The use of Web technology amid the Iran protests is being closely watched in Washington, where a State Department official asked Twitter to postpone a planned maintenance shutdown by a day to allow Iranians to speak out and organize.

“We promote the right of free expression,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in defending the US request, adding that Twitter was a vital means to enjoying such freedoms.

“I wouldn’t know a twitter from a tweeter, but apparently it is very important,” Clinton said.

The Internet has neutered Ahmadinejad’s propaganda machine and “everyone is talking about” what is really going on in the streets of Iran, according to Memarian.

Even if Iran officials could cut off all Internet and unsanctioned television broadcasts in the country, people there are now skeptical of news being spoon fed to them by the government, Memarian said.

Both Koreas in World Cup

For the first time in 44 years North Korea will play in the World Cup.

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They needed just one point from their match against Soudia Arabia in Riadh last night to booked a spot in the tournament in South Africa next year.

The North Koreans held firm for a scoreless draw to finish second in their group and join South Korea which came first as automatic qualifiers.

It will be the first time both Koreas will be part of the football’s competition and the North’s first appearance since their trailblazing quarter-final performance at the 1966 tournament in England.

Battle for fifth begins

There was gloom in Iran as they blew their qualification chance in their must-win match against South Korea with a 1-1 draw.

The Saudis still have a hope of qualifying as part of the Asia’s third-place playoff they can beat Bahrain.

They will then need a win over the Oceania champions New Zealand if they are to reach their fifth consecutive World Cup finals next year.

Bahrain qualified for September’s Asian playoff with a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in Manama to finish third behind Australia and Japan in Group 1.

North Koreans hold Saudi storm

The Saudis attacked from the kickoff, needing to take all three points to leapfrog North Korea into the second automatic qualifying spot, but the North Koreans hung on.

“We battled to qualify for the World Cup finals,” North Korean coach Kim Jong-Hun says.

“It was so hot in Saudi Arabia after the long journey from Korea, but the belief in the ability of the players snatched the ticket to South Africa.”

“We focused on defending as we had come under a lot of pressure from the Saudis and I think our preparation for the game was one factor that earned the victory.”

Saudi Arabia remain confident

Losing coach Jose Peseiro says he remains confident Saudi Arabia could still qualify through the back door as the fifth Asian team for South Africa.

“It was a game against a strong team who just came here to bag one point, and they did. I think it is a historical moment for the Koreans,” Mr Peseiro says.

Iran’s hopes dashed

Six Iranians players were wearing green wrist bands to symbolise their support for defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

But in Seoul away from the turmoil in Iran, the team’s chance of qualifying for the World Cup was crushed by a second-half equaliser for South Korea from Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung.

“We played too conservatively after scoring the first goal,” Iranian coach Afshin Ghotbi says.

“Our defence sat back and allowed South Korea to dominate the match.”

Group one results

In Group 1, second-half substitute Mahmood Abdulrahman struck a thunderous free-kick in the 74th minute to clinch victory for Bahrain over the Uzbeks to keep their World Cup dream alive.

Tim Cahill popped up for his match-winning brace against Japan after Australia had conceded their first goal in eight qualifiers.

Cahill scored in the 59th and 76th minutes to continue his “lucky charm” effect on the Socceroos and conjure memories of his late double when Australia came from behind to beat Japan 3-1 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Japan’s 2-1 loss to Australia in Melbourne last night means they came second in group 1 and automatically qualify for the World Cup.