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1000 US troops begin Afghan surge

US Marines have swooped down behind Taliban lines in helicopters and Osprey aircraft in the first offensive since President Barack Obama announced an American troop surge.

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About 1,000 Marines and 150 Afghan troops were taking part in ‘Operation Cobra’s Anger’ in a bid to disrupt Taliban supply and communications lines in the Now Zad Valley of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, the scene of heavy fighting last summer, Marine spokesman Major William Pelletier said.

David Petraeus, the top general in charge of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, said the offensive was part of preparations for the arrival of 30,000 new US reinforcements.

Petraeus told The Associated Press on Friday that the military has been working for months to extend what he called “the envelope of security” around key towns in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Helicopters drop hundreds of US troops

Hundreds of troops were dropped Friday by helicopters and MV-22 Osprey aircraft in the northern end of the Now Zad Valley while a second, larger Marine force pushed northward from the main Marine base in the town of Now Zad, Pelletier said.

A US military official in Washington said it was the first use of Ospreys, aircraft that combine features of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, in an offensive involving units larger than platoons.

Combat engineers used armoured steamrollers and explosives to force a corridor through Taliban minefields – known as IED Alley because of the huge number of roadside bombs and land mines, Pelletier said.

Roadside bombs and mines have become the biggest killer of American troops in Afghanistan.

There were no reports of US or Afghan government casualties. The spokesman for the governor of Helmand province, Daood Ahmadi, said at least four Taliban fighters had been killed and their bodies recovered.

He said more than 300 mines and roadside bombs had been located in the first day of the operation.

NATO reinforcements to arrive

The offensive began three days after Obama announced that he was sending 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan to help turn the tide against the Taliban and train Afghan security forces to take responsibility for defending against the militants.

The US’s European allies will send an estimated 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan next year “with more to come,” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced Friday.

Most of the new troops are expected to be sent to southern Afghanistan, including Helmand, where Taliban influence is strongest.

Friday’s fighting was taking place in one of the most challenging areas of the country for the US-led NATO force, which has been trying for years to break the Taliban grip there.

Now Zad used to be one of the largest towns in Helmand, the centre of Afghanistan’s opium poppy growing industry.

However, three years of fighting have chased away its 30,000 inhabitants, leaving the once-thriving market and commercial area a ghost town. Instead the area has become a major supply and transportation hub for Taliban forces that use the valley to move drugs, weapons and fighters south toward major populations and to provinces in western Afghanistan.

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Astana team in 2010 ProTour

Alberto Contador’s Astana team is registered to race on the International Cycling Union’s ProTour calendar of events next year.

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The UCI approved the Kazakh-backed team’s 2010 season entry but still wants assurances that Astana can meet its budget.

“The UCI awaits this bank guarantee and is confident it will be provided soon,” the governing body said in a statement.

Contador weighed up departure

Contador, the 2009 Tour de France champion, was expected to leave if Astana was excluded.

The oil-rich Kazakhstan government has said it will back Astana’s total budget for next year, a pledge worth $US22 million ($A23.94 million).

Some riders not paid

Astana riders went without some paychecks last season when Contador and Lance Armstrong were teammates.

Armstrong rode without a salary and has since set up his own United States-based team, RadioShack.

“The UCI requested (Astana) to provide an additional bank guarantee so that the regrettable situation in 2009 would not be repeated,” it said.

Financial security

Failure to provide that financial security would “reactivate” a request to the UCI’s ProTour Council for Astana’s racing license to be withdrawn, the UCI said.

Astana’s registration brings the total to 17 teams – including RadioShack and the new Sky team from Britain – that have been accepted for next season.

Lampre Farnese Vini refused entry

The ProTour’s council decided on Wednesday to refuse the registration of Italian team Lampre Farnese Vini featuring star rider Damiano Cunego.

The reason for the refusal was not disclosed.

The UCI’s License Commission will next consider Lampre’s future.

ProTour schedule

ProTour teams commit to ride in 16 stage races and one-day events next season, including the Dauphine Libere in France and Amstel Gold race in the Netherlands.

These top-tier teams can expect invitations to signature races like the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, and one-day classics such as the Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo.

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Rare book found in family loo

A first edition of Charles Darwin’s seminal “On the Origin of Species” will be sold this week after it was found in a family’s toilet in southern Britain, an auction house said Sunday.

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The book, which was first printed in 1859, was bought by a family for just a few shillings in a shop about 40 years ago, Christie’s auction house said.

The family has since kept the work on a bookcase in the guest lavatory at their home in the Oxford area, it said.

The book will go under the hammer in London on Tuesday, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the publication of the father of the theory of evolution’s famous work.

Book ‘a bargain’

The book, about 1,250 copies of which were first printed, is expected to fetch 60,000 pounds ($A108,725).

Margaret Ford, head of books and manuscripts at Christie’s, said the book would have been a bargain when it was bought by the present owner.

“It’s incredibly important,” Ford said, adding of the current owner: “He knew it (the book) was textually important.

“He maybe did not know how much of a bargain he was getting.”

Christie’s said the son-in-law of the current owners was at an exhibition on Darwin and spotted a picture of the spine of the work.

He realised the book in the toilet was something special, matching the binding of the work in the picture.

Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” set out his theory of evolution, by which species develop from generation to generation by a process of natural selection.

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Climate summit begins

A UN climate conference has opened for two weeks of negotiations among 192 nations to forge a pact to secure the world from calamitous global warming.

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Conference president Connie Hedegaard, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer and the UN’s chief climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri were set to address the thousands of delegates in Copenhagen on Monday.

During the summit, members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will negotiate over reducing carbon emissions that trap the sun’s heat, inflicting potentially catastrophic climate damage.

They will also wrestle with building a mechanism to channel hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to poor countries, helping them reduce their greenhouse-gas pollution and shore up defences against drought, flood, storm and rising seas.

The meeting will peak on December 18 with more than 100 heads of state or government in attendance.

Negotiations have dragged on for two years, only recently showing signs of breakthroughs with new commitments from the US, China and India to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Speculation surrounds talks

What the summit will achieve is subject to global speculation.

The leaked email saga, known as “climate gate”, is strengthening the resolve among climate sceptics but the UN’s top official remains confident that the conference won’t fail.

Central to talks, will be the specifics, how much each country should cut emissions by and in what time frame.

UN hopes to secure committment

The United Nations hopes that the conference will deliver clear committments from world leaders.

“I think that at the end of this two-week session, I need to be able to show you a piece of paper that says this is what the US has committed for 2020, this is what the EU has committed for 2020, this is what Japan has committed for 2020. In other words, a sort of lump sum, where you don’t know who’s going to take responsibility for what, is not good enough,” Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said.

The summit runs Decenber 7-18.

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Chimp’s owner won’t be charged over attack

A woman who owned a chimpanzee that mauled and blinded a woman won’t be charged because there’s no evidence she knowingly disregarded any risk the animal posed, a prosecutor says.

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State’s Lawyer David Cohen said on Monday it wasn’t evident that Sandra Herold of Stamford had been deliberately reckless in handling the animal.

The 91-kilogram chimpanzee went berserk in February after Herold asked Charla Nash to help lure him back into her house. The animal ripped off Nash’s hands, nose, lips and eyelids.

Cohen said that there was no record of the animal attacking anyone previously, and that it had interacted with Nash many times before the attack.

The decision not to file charges “does not in any way minimise the horror that we all feel with what occurred and with the horrendous injuries suffered by Ms. Nash,” Cohen said. “Our prayers go out to her and her family.”

Messages were left for lawyers for Herold and Nash, who revealed her heavily disfigured face last month on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Nash’s family is suing Herold for $US50 million ($A54.7 million) and wants to sue the state for $US150 million ($A164.1 million).

Nash’s family has said Herold was negligent and reckless for lacking the ability to control “a wild animal with violent propensities.”

A biologist for the state Department of Environmental Protection warned officials before the attack that Travis the chimp could seriously hurt someone if he felt threatened, noting that he was large and strong.

But Cohen said on Monday there’s no evidence those concerns were conveyed to Herold.

Herold’s lawyer has called the attack work-related and said her family’s case should be treated like a workers’ compensation claim.

The strategy, if successful, would limit potential damages in the case and insulate the chimp owner from personal liability.

Test results showed that Travis had the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in his system. Cohen said it is impossible to say what effect, if any, the drug had on the animal.

The chimp, which was shot and killed by police, had also escaped in 2003 from his owner’s car and led police on a chase for hours in downtown Stamford. No one was injured.

Records obtained by The Associated Press through an open-records request show the state began receiving warnings immediately after that event.

Nash’s lawyer has said the environmental department had information for at least five years that would have allowed the agency to remove Travis from the home.

Environmental protection officials have said that during the 13 years Travis was with Herold, the agency received only a few inquiries about the chimp among thousands in general about

possession of wild animals.

They said the memo from the biologist underscored the need for a clear, new law that would forbid ownership of potentially dangerous animals as pets and impose stiff penalties for those possessing them, and they blamed the failure to act on a communications problem and a lack of expertise in exotic animals at the agency.

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Two executed over tainted milk scandal

Zhang Yujun was executed for endangering public safety and Geng Jinping was executed for producing and selling toxic food, the official Xinhua news agency said.

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The men were sentenced to death earlier this year by a court in the northern city of Shijiazhuang for producing and selling toxic ingredients that ended up in infant milk powder.

The scandal shocked China last year when children were given baby formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, which can cause kidney stones and kidney failure.

Melamine, used in the manufacture of plastics and fertiliser, was added to watered-down milk to fool inspectors testing for protein, and to boost profits.

Zhang, a cattle farmer, and Geng both had been convicted of producing and selling a phony protein powder containing melamine, much of it to producers who sold tainted milk to the now-defunct Sanlu Group Co, at the time one of China’s biggest dairies.

No public inquiry

Geng’s brother, Geng Jinzhu, was given eight years; his sentence was upheld on Thursday.

In all 21 people were tried and sentenced in January over the scandal, including Sanlu’s general manager, Tian Wenhua, who was given a life sentence after pleading guilty to charges of producing and selling fake or substandard products.

Three other former Sanlu executives were given between five years and 15 years in prison.

A total of 21 defendants were being sentenced Thursday in connection with the case.

The harsh sentences underscored the government’s resolve in tackling recurring food safety problems and an eagerness by the communist leadership to move past the embarrassing scandal.

However, no public investigation was ever made into accusations that news of the melamine tainting was suppressed ahead of last year’s Beijing Olympic Games because the government did not want it overshadowing the prestigious event.

The scandal came to light in September 2008, reviving long-standing fears over product safety in China and leading to recalls and bans around the world of Chinese-made products.

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ETS deal goes past deadline

Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that it is “deeply, deeply disapointing that the liberal party has not honoured this agreement” when speaking about the ETS scheme this afternoon.

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The negotiated deal between the federal government and the opposition on the carbon pollution reduction scheme missed its 15.45 senate deadline with many amendments undebated.

The senate sits again on Monday, but there are dozens of amendments still to be discussed before the scheme is voted on at some point next week, and more delay and potential filibustering is a likelihood.

Shortly after the deadline, Gillard said that “endless delay is not going to cut it any more”, and would not speculate on whether this leaves the government looking for a double dissolution.

“We are not focused on anything other than delivering the carbon pollution reduction scheme”, Gillard answered when asked if the deadlock-resolving procedure was on the cards.

Gillard was heavily critical of the Opposition. She said the government will be turning up to the senate on Monday, but the Opposition must also be there to honour their word.

“I would like to pay a tribute to Mr Turnbull”, Gillard said. “He has acted constructively and in the nation’s interest.”

But she was scornful of those in the Opposition trying to scupper the deal.

“If they fail to honour the agreement…they have been conqured by the sceptics and deniers in their ranks”

Gillard also recalled that the Liberal Party fought the last election, under John Howard, committed to a deal on an emissions trading scheme.

Deal looking unlikely early on in the day

By half past two in the afternoon, the senate had only addressed four amendments, and a vote was looking unlikely.

As the deadline approached, Deputy Leader in the Senate Eric Abetz attacked the government, asking “why is the Labor Party so scared of a few extra days?” to debate the bill.

Earlier, liberal senator Scott Ryan on Friday asked Senator Wong to clarify an answer already given to Greens senator Christine Milne about Kyoto units, which refer to certified levels of carbon emissions expressed in tonnes.

Wong annoyed at Libs ‘taking up a lot of time’

“With respect Senator Ryan, you’re doing a far better job than Senator (Julian) McGauran and Senator (Barnaby) Joyce yesterday in taking up a lot of time,” Senator Wong said.

“And that’s fine. We’ll continue to answer questions. You’re chasing every rabbit down every path.”

But Senator Ryan was not satisfied, seeking a further clarification.

“And quite frankly, I reject the assertion that this is in any way some sort of filibuster,” he said.

“I think I’ve asked most of my questions here in well under five minutes and they have been questions rather than speeches.

“If you want me to start making speeches, I can do that as well.”

Earlier, Greg Combet, Junior Minister for Climate Change Greg Combet said

“If that time comes around and the legislation has not been dealt with, it is a clear indication that the extremists and conspiratists in the Liberal party and the National party have got the upper hand,” Mr Combet told reporters in Canberra.

“It’s clearly been a commitment that we expect to be delivered, that the legislation be voted upon … this afternoon.”

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Woods’ mother-in-law released from hospital

Tiger Woods’ mother-in-law has been released from an Orlando-area hospital after being treated for stomach pains.

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Health Central Hospital spokesman Dan Yates said Barbro Holmberg was released on Tuesday, about 11 hours after she was admitted.

Holmberg returns to mansion

She went back to Woods’ mansion.

Emergency crews had been summoned to the home when someone there called the emergency phone number about 2.35am on Tuesday.

Background

Holmberg, who arrived in the US a few days ago, was taken by ambulance to Health Central.

She lives in Sweden and is the mother of Woods’ wife, Elin.

Health Central is the same hospital where Woods was treated after he crashed his sport utility vehicle outside his home in the gated Isleworth community in Windermere last month.

Woods fined

The Florida Highway Patrol last week cited Woods for careless driving and fined him $US164 ($A180).

The accident – and Woods’ refusal to answer questions about it – fuelled speculation about a possible dispute between him and Elin.

Reports of affairs

Just days before the crash, a National Enquirer story alleged Woods had been seeing a New York nightclub hostess, Rachel Uchitel, who has denied it.

After the crash, Us Weekly reported that a Los Angeles cocktail waitress named Jaimee Grubbs claims she had a 31-month affair with Woods.

Woods releases statement

Last week, Woods issued a statement saying he had let his family down with unspecified “transgressions” that he regrets with “all of my heart.” He did not elaborate.

A police report on the crash released on Monday showed that a Florida trooper who suspected Woods was driving under the influence sought a subpoena for the golfer’s blood results from the hospital he was taken to after the crash, but prosecutors rejected the petition for insufficient information.

A witness, who wasn’t identified in the report, told trooper Joshua Evans that Woods had been drinking alcohol earlier.

The same witness also said Woods had been prescribed two drugs, Ambien and Vicodin.

The report did not say who the witness was but added it was the same person who pulled Woods from the vehicle after the accident.

Woods’ wife, Elin, has told police that she used a golf club to smash the back windows of the Cadillac Escalade to help her husband out.

His injuries were minor.

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Hockey yet to deny leadership bid

Joe Hockey is still refusing to speak on whether he intends to run against Malcolm Turnbull for leadership of the Liberal Party.

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Yesterday, he was spotted visiting former Prime Minster John Howard at his home in North Sydney, reportedly to get his advice on his own future and the direction of the Liberal Party.

Meanwhile, Turnbull and Hockey are neck and neck amongst voters as preferred leader, a Galaxy poll shows.

The poll of 400 voters, published in the Sunday Telegraph, puts Turnbull and Hockey on 29 per cent each, with Tony Abbott trailing on 22 per cent.

Turnbull, though, is claiming that he has the full support of the Shadow Treasurer.

“Joe Hockey has told me as recently as last night that I have his complete support,” Mr Turnbull said.

Speaking to the Nine Network on Sunday morning, Turnbull said “Joe is absolutely at one with me on the need to get this legislation passed.”

Turnbull then entertained the idea of a Hockey leadership, if only to denounce it.

“If Joe was the cuddly, friendly face of the Liberal Party but spouting Nick Minchin’s lines that would destroy him and destroy the party,” Mr Turnbull said.

Hockey thought to have more support than Abbott

One liberal frontbencher told the Australian newspaper that “there will be a change of leadership. If Joe runs it will be him and if Tony Abbott runs against Malcolm it will be Tony.”

Tony Abbott has declared he’s willing to challenge Turnbull, but Turnbull says if it comes to a vote at Tuesday’s party room meeting, he has the numbers to win.

Gillard slams Hockey

Hockey’s silence has been slammed by Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard who says he can’t be a credible Liberal leadership contender if a bunch of “tweets” convinces him to change his mind on emissions trading.

Mr Hockey last week went on the Twitter website asking for views on the government’s amended ETS, in what was seen by some as a sign his support for the scheme may be wavering.

Gillard told ABC TV that Hockey can’t expect to be seen as rational or serious if he changes his mind after sending a tweet into cyberspace.

Turnbull on the attack

Mr Turnbull came out swinging at his right-wing rivals this morning.

“The Minchinites (referring to Senator Nick Minchin) do not want to delay consideration of the legislation, they do not believe that climate change is real, they do not believe that humans are causing it and they do want to do anything about it,” the opposition leader said.

“If Nick Minchin wins this battle he condemns our party to irrelevance.”

Mr Turnbull questioned the integrity of Senator Minchin, Mr Abbott and last week’s leadership challenger Kevin Andrews for previously supporting an ETS and now opposing Labor’s scheme.

“There is a recklessness and a wilfulness in these men which is going to destroy the Liberal Party.”

“I will win on Tuesday and am not interested in being a mouthpiece…for people who’s views are completey wrong and contrary to the best interest of..our nation and the Liberal Party.”

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Woods voted top athlete of decade

US sports editors have voted Tiger Woods as the Athlete of the Decade, a decision that reflects the golfer’s ten years of sporting greatness, rather than the sex scandal that has tainted his reputation in the last three weeks.

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Woods received 56 of the 142 votes cast by Associated Press member newspaper editors since last month. More than half of the ballots were returned after the November 27 car accident outside his Florida home that set off sensational tales of infidelity.

Just like so many of his victories, it wasn’t much of a contest.

Armstrong comes in second

Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor who won the Tour de France six times this decade, finished second with 33 votes. He was followed by Swiss tennis great Roger Federer, who won more Grand Slam singles titles than any other man, with 25 votes.

Record-setting Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps came in fourth with 13 votes, followed by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (6) and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt (4). Five other athletes received one vote apiece.

Woods won 64 times around the world this decade, including 12 majors, and hoisted a trophy on every continent golf is played. He lost only one time with the lead going into the final round. His 56 PGA Tour victories were more than anyone except four of golf’s greatest players won in their careers.

Woods, who has not been seen since the accident and has issued only three statements on his web site, was not made available to comment about the award.

Woods boosted ratings

Few other athletes have changed their sport quite like Woods. His influence has been so powerful that TV ratings soared whenever he played, even more when he has been in contention. Prize money has quadrupled since he joined the PGA Tour because of his broad appeal.

A new image emerged quickly in the days following his middle-of-the-night accident, when he ran his car over a fire

hydrant and into a tree. He became the butt of late-night TV jokes, eventually confessed that he “let my family down” with “transgressions” and lost a major sponsorship from Accenture.

Even so, US editors found his work on the golf course over the last 10 years without much of a blemish.

“Despite the tsunami of negative publicity that will likely tarnish his image, there’s no denying that Woods’ on-the-course accomplishments set a new standard of dominance within his sport while making golf more accessible to the masses,” wrote Stu Whitney, sports editor of the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Argus Leader.

“The only proof needed are the television ratings when Tiger plays in a golf tournament, compared to those events when others have to carry the load.”

Woods tumbled from the pinnacle of his sport in just about three weeks. The 10 years that preceded that fall, however, represented perhaps the greatest decade in golf history.

He won the career Grand Slam three times over, including one US Open by a record 15 shots at Pebble Beach and another US Open on a bad leg in a playoff at Torrey Pines. He twice won the British Open at St. Andrews, the home of golf, by a combined 13 shots.

Woods dominates rankings

Woods won 56 times on the PGA Tour this decade, a rate of 30 per cent that is unprecedented in golf. Nine of those victories were by at least eight shots. He was No. 1 in the world ranking for all but 32 weeks in the decade, that when he was revamping his swing.

He did his best work in the biggest events.

Along with his 12 majors this decade – he has 14 overall, four short of the record held by Jack Nicklaus – Woods was runner-up in six other majors. He won 14 times out of 27 appearances in the World Golf Championships.

Woods finished the decade with $US81,547,410 ($A90.08 million) in earnings from his PGA Tour events, an average of $US482,529 ($A533,004) per tournament.

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