India braces for Ayodhya verdict

India is braced for a court ruling on a bitter Hindu-Muslim dispute which led to the razing of a mosque in 1992 and subsequent riots in which 2,000 people died.

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Thousands of paramilitary police have been deployed around the north Indian town of Ayodhya — home to the 16th century Babri mosque, which was razed by Hindu extremists in 1992, and is claimed by both religious groups.

The High Court in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh will Thursday hand down its ruling on who owns the site, in a judgment which poses serious security concerns for a government preoccupied with hosting the Commonwealth Games, which open in New Delhi on Sunday.

The destruction of the mosque sparked some of the worst communal violence in India since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, leaving 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.

The government has issued public appeals for calm ahead of the verdict, as well as placing advertisements in newspapers urging respect for the rule of law and mobilising tens of thousands of security forces.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday said 190,000 security troopers would be on duty across Uttar Pradesh.

Security has been tightened in Ayodhya and 32 other sensitive locations across the country — four of them in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

“Security men, who were sent back to the barracks last week, have been recalled and deployed,” a senior police official told AFP.

“There are around 40,000 security personnel deployed at strategic Ayodhya locations,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Security has also been stepped up in India’s financial hub Mumbai where religious tensions have spilled into violence in the past.

Hindus say the Babri mosque was built by the Moghul emperor Babur on the site of a temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu warrior god Ram.

The High Court judgement will turn on three key questions: whether the disputed spot was Ram’s birthplace, whether the mosque was built after the demolition of a temple and if the mosque had been built in accordance with the tenets of Islam.

Any ruling is likely to be challenged in the Supreme Court.

Hindus want to build a Ram temple on the site with some predicting a ruling against them would be greeted with violence.

“We will build our temple and if the verdict is against us Hindus, then no force on Earth will be able to contain the reaction,” warned Ayodhya shopkeeper Shivan Gupta.

“There will be bloody riots again,” Gupta warned.

V.N. Arora, who heads the department of strategic studies in Ayodhya’s Saket College, tried to allay fears of a repeat of the 1992 carnage.

“But there is a possibility that a splinter Muslim group could try and offer prayers at the site if the verdict goes in their favour,” Arora told AFP.

Since 1992, the site has been cordoned off and guarded by troops.

A Home Ministry advisory has requested all states to remain on high alert for Thursday’s ruling, which could trigger “sharp reactions and communal passions among both Hindus and Muslims depending on what way the judgement goes.”

India has avoided any major outbreak of Hindu-Muslim clashes since riots in the western state of Gujarat in 2002.

Aussie forces open new Afghan base

The new patrol base Musazai provides secure accommodation for about 50 troops mid-way between two other patrol bases.

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On August 20, partway through the construction of the facility, insurgents launched a major attack that lasted an hour. with Australian troops and engineers calling in support from a coalition Apache helicopter, which fired its 30mm cannon and Hellfire missiles.

Commander of the Australian mentoring task force Lieutenant Colonel Mark Jennings said the insurgents were threatened by this base, unsuccessfully attacking it a number of times during the course of its construction.

“Obviously the insurgents did not want this base to proceed and tried their hardest to slow down its construction,” he said in a statement.

“The Mirabad Valley is a strategically important region with a history of violence in recent years.

“Combined with two nearby outposts, the base will have a significant and enduring impact on security in the Mirabad Valley and will empower the Afghan Security Forces to protect their communities long into the future.”

Project manager Major Carl Miller said the local community was consulted throughout the construction process along with key government stakeholders in Tarin Kowt.

He said from inception back in April, the plan was to build a patrol house that could accommodate the Afghan National Army and coalition force presence in the Mirabad Valley.

“And that’s what we’ve done – it’s like a big, significantly fortified house,” he said in a statement.

“The base can accommodate over 50 people and is strengthened by a ringed perimeter fence, two guard towers and an over-watch position. It includes air-conditioning and kitchen facilities.”

Contador suspended after drugs test

Alberto Contador has spoken about the suspension he has been handed after a failed drugs test, saying food contamination was to blame.

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Earlier, ycling’s world governing body confirmed the provisional suspension of three-time Tour de France champion Contador.

The UCI released a statement at the world road championships in Geelong on Thursday afternoon, a couple of hours after Contador’s camp dropped the bombshell about his positive test.

Contador tested positive to the drug clenbuterol on July 21, the second rest day at the Tour de France.

But the UCI also implied the tests were not everything they could be.

“The concentration found by the laboratory and in consultation with WADA was estimataed at 50 picograms which is 400 times less than the antidoping laboratories accredited by WADA must be able to detect.”

He went on to beat Andy Schleck by only 39 seconds for his third Tour title.

Contador had also beaten Australian Cadel Evans to take out the Tour title in 2007.

The result comes at the worst possible time for the world road titles in Geelong.

Local publicity for the championships has already suffered because of a big week of AFL news and Saturday’s grand final replay.

A message sent by Contador’s press officer said the UCI informed him of the positive test on August 24.

“From the time of the first communication from the UCI, August 24, Alberto Contador alleged food contamination as the only possible explanation of what happened and has been turned over to the cyclist authorities since then in the confidence that this very serious problem could be clarified, which now is public,” the statement read.

The UCI said in its statement that the concentration of clenbuterol in Contador’s positive test was 400 times less than what World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-accredited laboratories must be able to detect.

“The rider … was nevertheless formally and provisionally suspended as is prescribed by the world anti-doping code,” the UCI statement read.

“The case required further scientific investigation before any conclusion could be drawn.

“The UCI continues working with the scientific support of WADA to analyse all the elements that are relevant to the case.

“This further investigation may take some time.”

Watson wants to hurt India

The Indians may have lost Ishant Sharma, one of their only two pace bowlers, after he complained of a knee problem and was taken to hospital for scans.

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Ishant had looked out of sorts in bowling eight no balls, including four in one over.

“Who knows exactly what’s happening with Ishant Sharma, but there’s no doubt that unfortunately when a bowler does go down it means there’s a lot more pressure physically on the other bowlers,” said Watson after scoring his second Test hundred.

“There’s no doubt we have to make the most of that slight advantage you do have and I suppose that is the only downfall of playing two spinners and two quicks, the unfortunate thing that might happen like today puts a lot of pressure on the other bowlers.

“But they do have Virender Sehwag, who did get six wickets in Delhi two years ago.”

Watson (101no) also defended his captain Ricky Ponting (71) after an ugly confrontation with the Indian paceman Zaheer Khan (3-45), following the run out that proved to be the turning point of the day’s play.

“As you did see on the footage, everyone knows exactly how Ricky is, and he’s not going to go really looking for a fight,” said Watson.

“Unless someone steps out of line out of the huddle and has a bit to say, and that’s exactly what everyone was able to see, so Ricky’s a very proud person and he knows how important it is as Australian captain to not get involved in situations.

“Everyone saw the footage so everyone knows exactly what happened.”

Zaheer was spoken to by match referee Chris Broad after play.

Watson will resume alongside wicketkeeper Tim Paine, who was unbeaten on a nervous one not out overnight.

Roosters will be bold: Smith

Sydney Roosters coach Brian Smith says his side won’t cower in the face of the famed St George Illawarra wall in Sunday’s NRL grand final as he vowed to hit the Dragons with every trick in the Roosters book.

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Ahead of his side’s third tilt at trying to beat the Dragons this season, Smith said it was vital the Roosters stuck with the attack-based game-plan which had got them this far.

“I get the sense that throughout the year watching other teams play against them that some of them were just trying to limit the damage or they were testing the water,” said Smith, whose Roosters lost to the Dragons 28-6 in round seven and 19-12 in round 22.

“We didn’t do that.

“The first time around we maybe had a little bit of that about us, but the second time around we had a proper go and both times we came up short.

“We’re getting a third shot at it on the biggest day of all – to have a crack at them, to take it to them … be bold.

“You’ve got to throw something back.

“If the score’s 10-8 this weekend I bet I know who everyone thinks is going to win, because I probably do too.

“We’ve got to be better than that, we’ve got to put stuff back on them to win the game – but that’s okay, that’s our bag, that’s what we’re good at.”

With in-form halves Mitchell Pearce and Dally M medal winner Todd Carney, the Roosters have the players to test a Dragons defence that for two years has been the most miserly in the competition.

The Dragons conceded less than 13 points a game over the course of the regular season – an effort which has gone up a notch during the finals where Manly and Wests Tigers have scored a combined 12 points against the red and whites.

Over the five-match winning streak they take into Sunday’s decider, the Roosters have averaged just a tick over 26 points per game.

But while those sorts of numbers reflect their attacking record over the season as a whole, it is at the defensive end that Smith believes the Roosters have made great strides in recent weeks.

Over the same five-match stretch the Roosters have conceded just 55 points at an average of 11 per game, with Smith lauding the effort in holding Gold Coast to just one try in the preliminary final as the side’s best of the season.

“The focal point of our season really has been our attacking stuff, but then on the big occasion where we needed it to be right, we had our best defensive game for the season,” Smith said.

“Some of our losses – we had 60 points put past us at one stage of the year – no-one ever scored more than 28 points against the Dragons all year.

“We haven’t earned that (defensive reputation) until recently – that’s still going to be the question mark for us this weekend isn’t it?

“First and foremost we’re going to have to defend well this weekend and then we’ve got to attack on top of that.”

Last rider standing for Delhi cyclists

A string of top stars have pulled out or failed selection, diminishing the quality of competition but also giving the event a fresh look.

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Hosts India are competing for the first time in 32 years but are not seen as serious contenders with Australia and England expected to dominate.

The hosts’ run-up has been marred by controversy, with national champion Dayalaram Jat and veteran rider Rajendra Soni complaining about a lack of transparency in selection after being left out.

England go into the road events with a team well suited to Delhi including young world class stars Lizzie Armitstead and Alex Dowsett.

They line up with experienced riders such as Jeremy Hunt, Russell Downing and Olympic medallist Emma Pooley, who arrives fresh from winning the world time trial title in Australia.

But the International Cycling Union’s decision to use November’s European Championships as a qualifier for the 2012 Olympics has meant some top names, including Olympic champions Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy, will be absent.

Olympic team pursuit gold medallist Geraint Thomas was one of four British cyclists to announce his withdrawal, along with Peter Kennaugh of the Isle of Man and England’s Ian Stannard and Ben Swift.

Welsh rider Thomas said he was not prepared to risk his health in New Delhi, with reports of an outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue, as well as issues of sanitation in the village.

Sarah Storey, meanwhile, will be the first Paralympian to compete for England in able-bodied sport at the Commonwealth Games, as part of the women’s track team.

Storey made her name as a swimmer, winning five Paralympic titles before switching to cycling in 2005, and added two further gold medals to her haul at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“We have selected a young track team for the Commonwealth Games to give England’s rising cycling stars an opportunity to experience a large scale multi-event competition as they’re preparing for their first Olympics,” head coach Shane Sutton said.

Cycling, first included in the 1934 London Games, will feature 14 track events and two road events, with 30 medals up for grabs for the men and 24 for the women.

The velodrome at the Indira Gandhi sports complex is rated by cycling’s world governing body as second only to Beijing.

Mark Cavendish, of the Isle of Man, who brings the curtain down on his season in Delhi, took a gold in the men’s track cycling scratch event in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne 2006.

Seven world champions, led by 2004 Olympic and reigning Commonwealth Games champion Anna Meares, have been named in the Australian team.

They will look to replicate their dominant performance on both road and track at the Melbourne 2006 Games and the recent UCI World Track championships where they finished as the number one ranked country.

However, top rider Richie Porte has been forced to pull out as his Saxo Bank team denied him clearance to compete.

New Zealand road cyclist Greg Henderson has withdrawing over concerns about health and security. The points race gold medallist at the 2002 Manchester Games said that he had long harboured doubts about going to India and seeing photographs of squalid conditions at the athletes’ village made up his mind.

China asks Japan to ‘maintain relations’

China has called on Japan to “maintain the full spectrum of relations” between the two nations amid a damaging territorial row that has rumbled on for more than three weeks.

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“China attaches great importance to its relations with Japan. We hope Japan will work with China to maintain the full spectrum of bilateral relations,” said Ma Zhaoxu, the chief spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs.

The statement came after Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan called on China to behave as a “responsible member of the international community” as the two sides work through their worst spat in several years, centred on a disputed island chain.

In what is perhaps the most conciliatory statement to come from Beijing since the standoff began with the September 8 arrest of a Chinese trawlerman, Ma nevertheless reiterated China’s claim to the islands in comments posted on the foreign affairs ministry website.

He said the Senkaku islands, known as the Diaoyu islands in Chinese, “have always been Chinese territory” and repeated Beijing’s line that Tokyo’s arrest and detention of the fisherman was “absurd” and “illegal”.

Earlier Friday, Kan told the opening of the Japanese parliamentary session: “The Senkaku islands are an integral part of our country, historically and under international law.”

Japan’s centre-left leader also voiced concerns about China’s military muscle and its recent display of hardball diplomacy in the bitter spat.

“We are concerned that China… has strengthened its defence power without transparency and that it has intensified its maritime activities in regions from the Indian Ocean to the East China Sea,” Kan said.

Japan and its top security ally the United States have in the past called for greater transparency in China’s military spending, which has seen double-digit growth for much of the past two decades.

The comments Friday from Ma, China’s most senior foreign affairs spokesman, could be an attempt by Beijing to ease the row between the two economic giants that began with the arrest of the fisherman for allegedly ramming Japanese coastguard vessels.

He was subsequently released in what was criticised at home as a climbdown by Japan in the face of Chinese pressure, but the war of words continued.

China’s arrest of four Japanese for allegedly illegally intruding on a military site last week heightened tensions, although both sides insisted the move was unrelated to the maritime spat.

Three of the four were freed and arrived back in Japan on Friday, although a fourth remains in detention.

In an apparent conciliatory move by Japan, Tokyo this week signalled Kan’s intention to go to Brussels for the EU-Asia summit in a bid to engineer a meeting with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.

Feelings in Japan continue to run high, however, with nationalists planning to hold a rally in Tokyo Saturday to protest what they see as Japan’s weak response to China.

Bandt warns ALP over unions, climate

He’s also called on politicians to stop fanning fears about refugees or risk creating an “isolationist and dark future”.

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But Mr Bandt’s central message on Thursday was a call for action on climate change.

“The scientists have spoken,” the new member for Melbourne said.

“It is now over to politics to craft solutions.”

The Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union made a record $325,000 donation to the Greens’ 2010 election campaign.

Mr Bandt, a former industrial lawyer for Slater and Gordon, in his speech thanked the union’s state secretary Dean Mighell, saying “your strong support was so valuable”.

The Victorian ETU cut ties with Labor earlier this year over the government’s failure to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

“I think we are witnessing the development of unions being prepared to no longer automatically support one party but instead to assess parties and candidates on their merits and support the one that is best going to represent their members,” Mr Bandt said on Thursday.

“(It) is of great merit for Australian democracy and the cause of unionism and workers in general.”

Mr Bandt was the first crossbench MP to officially do a deal with Labor after the August 21 election delivered a hung parliament.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was in the chamber for Mr Bandt’s speech while Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was not.

Also watching were the five current Greens senators, including party leader Bob Brown.

Mr Bandt is the first Greens member elected to the House of Representatives at a general election.

Pollies play to the worst in use

On Thursday, he said most people had a positive story to share about someone who’d arrived in Australia as a refugee, yet politicians “play to the worst in us”.

“If fear and suspicion are the organising principles of our approach to our fellow human beings from other places, then we are condemning ourselves to revisiting this issue election after election and setting ourselves up for an isolationist and dark future,” Mr Bandt said.

But the member for Melbourne believes politics can have a more optimistic future. He wants to put compassion back on the agenda and promote another side of humanity.

“One that sees someone in trouble and extends a helping hand. One that says we need more love, not less.”

The Greens MP said the idea of full substantive equality had receded from public life.

Same-sex couples couldn’t get married. Human rights were suspended for indigenous Australians under the Northern Territory intervention and building workers were “worse off than accused criminals” under the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Climate change

But Mr Bandt was most passionate when taking about climate change.

“Our actions in heating the planet have led us to a very real climate emergency,” he said.

“Accepting the science means accepting the science, not what we’d like the science to say.

“Their consensus is a heart-rending cry for urgent action, imploring us to cut greenhouse gas emissions massively within a decade, after which it may be too late.”

Mr Bandt said Australia had to tackle head-on the brand of economics that prioritised endless growth over sustainability.

School head to lead MacKillop pilgrimage

A pilgrimage to Italy this year has paid off for Catholic school principal Joe Caruana, who has been asked to lead a group of Australians to Rome for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop this month.

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Australia’s first saint will be created on October 17 when Pope Benedict XVI canonises MacKillop at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Mr Caruana said he had gone on a pilgrimage earlier this year and that with his newfound knowledge, Harvest travel agency approached him look after a flock of pilgrims who are heading to Rome.

“Harvest has been inundated with bookings to the Mary MacKillop canonisation and they were looking for people to lead groups,” Mr Caruana told AAP.

“The first time was so spiritually enlightening, and I got to have first-hand experience of things that I’d heard about or read about.”

Mr Caruana, one of eight children of a family that migrated to Australia from Malta almost 50 years ago, said he developed a special affinity with Mary.

“Mary MacKillop looked after those who were less fortunate and those needed help and support and that’s been my credo throughout my personal and professional life,” Mr Caruana said.

“People looked after us in our time of need and I, and the rest of my family, have returned the favour to Australia.”

Mr Caruana, principal at the Holy Cross School, New Gisborne, northwest of Melbourne, will lead 49 other Australians during the pilgrimage, which will also visit religious sites in cities such as Venice, Florence and Sienna.

He believes up to 7000 Australians will be among the crowd in St Peter’s Square when the Pope canonises MacKillop and five others.

“To be there for the canonisation of Australia’s first saint will be tremendous – it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m so blessed and so thrilled that I have the opportunity to go,” he said.

RBA may hold rate rise

Weaker than expected building approvals figures could prompt the central bank to postpone an interest rate rise next month, despite a tightening job market.

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Economists say the Reserve Bank of Australia might want to see upcoming inflation numbers before tightening monetary policy.

However, it comes after the release of strong job vacancy figures on Thursday, foreshadowing a period of labour capacity constraints.

ICAP economist Adam Carr said the building approvals data was “quite a bit weaker” than he was expecting.

“I don’t think the RBA should, or necessarily will, be hiking next Tuesday,” Mr Carr said in a statement.

“We need to see that CPI number to ensure that there is a near-term case to hike rates.”

He said there was a chance that the upcoming CPI figures, due to be released in late October, could be soft.

“Given the weakness in the August housing/credit numbers, global uncertainties and the bank’s confusion over the consumer, then the case to tighten is much reduced.”

He noted that building approvals declined in every month bar two this year.

Australian building approvals fell 4.7 per cent to 13,049 units in August, seasonally adjusted, from an downwardly revised 13,699 units in July, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday.

In the year to August, building approvals were up 4.4 per cent.

Meanwhile, the total number of job vacancies in Australia in August 2010 was 181,300, in seasonally adjusted terms, the ABS said on Thursday.

This was an increase of 9.8 per cent from the previous quarterly survey, conducted in May 2010.

Nomura Australia economist Stephen Roberts said the home building approvals data was a “bit on the soft side of expectations” but the return to the job vacancies data could “hardly be stronger”.

“It was very strong in relation to capacity constraints in the labour market,” he said.

While an interest rate rise next week was a real possibility, there was a good chance the RBA would want to see inflation data before lifting the cash rate, Mr Roberts said.

“I think they may wait until November, but I recognise that there’s still a very good chance that they could go next week.”

The futures market is now pricing in a two in three chance the RBA will take the cash rate to 4.75 per cent from 4.5 per cent, when it meets on Tuesday.

Mr Roberts said a slight fall in national house prices, recorded in the latest RP Data-Rismark Hedonic Australian Home Value Index, was “great news”.

“We could not afford to have housing running strongly,” Mr Roberts said.

Australian capital city home prices fell by 1.2 per cent in the past three months, with Perth falling 4.8 per cent, Brisbane down by 2.3 per cent and Melbourne down by 1.5 per cent, the data showed.

“If we had a housing boom we’d been talking about interest rates at 10 per cent, so the fact that house prices are coming back and are likely to stay down, probably for quite some time to come, is exactly the news we need,” he said.

A subdued housing sector would allow room for business investment spending.

Westpac economists noted that building approvals weakness in August was “heavily concentrated” in private sector houses, which registered a 4.3 per cent fall in August, the third month in a row.

“Overall, the report shows activity continuing to weaken in response to interest rate rises and a wind-down in first home buyer activity,” Westpac economists said in a statement.

They said there were some “tentative signs” that housing markets were starting to find a base in August/September.