Afghanistan dominates Biden talks in India

US Vice President Joe Biden has held talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he sought to calm fears over the exit of US troops from Afghanistan and capitalise on growing investment opportunities.

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Biden also met President Pranab Mukherjee and a top opposition party figure, Sushma Swaraj, and will be guest of honour at a dinner hosted by his counterpart Hamid Ansari in the capital later on Tuesday.

Biden, the most senior US official to visit India since President Barack Obama in 2010, discussed with Singh the security situation in Afghanistan during a 75-minute meeting, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.

The vice president has said the world’s two largest democracies share common goals on a range of regional security issues.

But there is widespread unease among Indian leaders over what will happen in Afghanistan once US combat troops have left in 2014, with many fearing that Pakistan has most to gain from the withdrawal.

During talks, the pair confirmed that Singh will meet Obama during a six-day visit to Washington from September 20, PTI quoted sources as saying.

They also discussed implementation of a landmark civil nuclear deal and ways to build up two-way commerce, the sources said.

Boosting bilateral trade is expected to form the cornerstone of a keynote speech Biden is scheduled to make in Mumbai on Wednesday.

India has spent more than $US2 billion ($A2.1 billion) of aid in Afghanistan since the Taliban, hardline Islamists who were strong allies of Pakistan, were toppled in a 2001 US-led invasion.

Even though plans for talks between the US and the Taliban collapsed last month, the possible return to power of the insurgents alarms many in India.


Parents arrested over UK fire deaths

The parents of six children killed in a house fire have been arrested on suspicion of murder.

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Mick Philpott and his wife Mairead were arrested in Derby city centre in connection with the blaze at the house on May 11.

Their children Jade, 10, and brothers John, nine, Jack, seven, Jessie, six, and Jayden, five, all died in the fire, and a sixth sibling Duwayne, 13, died of his injuries in Birmingham Children’s Hospital two days’ later.

Petrol was used to start the blaze at the house in Victory Road, Allenton, Derby, police have revealed.

Derbyshire Police said a 55-year-old man and a 31-year-old woman from Derby were arrested together but did not name them.

Five days after the fire, Mr and Mrs Philpott faced the media in an emotional press conference.

Mr Philpott thanked those who tried to rescue his children and spoke of how he and his wife had decided to donate Duwayne’s organs for transplant, saying it “takes a bit of the pain away”.

The 55-year-old, who is believed to have fathered 17 children, was said by police to have made “valiant” efforts to rescue his children during the blaze.

Dubbed Shameless Mick in 2007 after demanding a larger council house, he is well known in the local community because of media reports about his large family, and has also appeared in a reality TV show alongside former government minister Ann Widdecombe.

This morning a mobile police office van was parked outside the Philpotts’ semi-detached house and a uniformed officer stood guard outside the taped off property, where numerous floral tributes still lay. Announcing the arrests today, Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill urged anyone with “crucial information” to come forward.

He said: “I suspect there may still be people with crucial information who have not yet come forward to speak to us.


Timeline: Liberia under Charles Taylor

Key dates in the life of warlord turned Liberian president Charles Taylor, who has been convicted by an international court of arming rebels who killed and mutilated thousands in Sierra Leone.

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– December 24, 1989: Taylor leads a rebellion by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).

The uprising leads to one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars, involving at least seven rival factions and claiming between 250,000 and 300,000 lives.

In June, 1990, a month-long siege of the capital Monrovia takes place. In August, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sends a peacekeeping force which secures Monrovia in October.

– March 23, 1991: The notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by former army officer Foday Sankoh, crosses the border from Liberia into Sierra Leone.

The civil war, which lasts until January 2002, leaves some 120,000 dead and thousands of civilians mutilated.

The wars are marked by atrocities by drug-fuelled combatants who gain notoriety for murders, systematic rapes, abductions, amputations and the kidnapping of thousands of children who were then forced to fight among their ranks.

– July 19, 1997: Taylor wins elections in Liberia and is sworn in as president on August 2, marking the culmination of a peace accord.

– August-September, 1999: Fighting rages in Liberia between government troops and forces in the north.

– January 25, 2001: The United Nations accuses Taylor of fuelling the civil war in Sierra Leone and profiting from trade in “blood diamonds” and arms traffic, and slaps sanctions on Liberia.

In June, 2003, a UN-mandated court in Freetown announces it has indicted Taylor for war crimes relating to Sierra Leone’s civil war.

– August 11, 2003: Taylor, under pressure from rebels and the international community, hands power to his deputy and heads for exile in Nigeria.

– March-July, 2004: The UN and the United States freeze Taylor’s assets.

– March 29, 2006: Taylor is arrested in Nigeria, deported to Liberia and taken to Freetown where he is put behind bars at the UN special court.

On June 20 he is transferred to the Netherlands.

– June 4, 2007: Taylor’s trial opens in the Hague, to which he was transferred for security reasons. The trial wraps up on March 11, 2011.

– April 26, 2012: Taylor becomes the first former head of state convicted by a world court since the World War II Nuremberg trials.


Sharks, skulls feature in Hirst retrospective

British artist Damien Hirst this week opens his first major retrospective in typically brash style, with expensive merchandise sitting alongside key works like his dead sharks and diamond skull.

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From Wednesday for five months the Tate Modern gallery in London will showcase the work of the enfant terrible-turned-multi-millionaire as part of a festival of arts which has its finale at the 2012 Olympics.

The exhibition, which opens on Wednesday and will run until September 9, features 70 works including classics like “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, a shark suspended in formaldehyde.

Another major draw will be “For the Love of God”, a life-sized platinum cast of an 18th-century skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds, which will be on display under tight security in the Tate’s massive turbine hall.

But as well as seeing Hirst’s artworks on show, visitors can go to the gift shop and spend £36,800 ($A56,508) on a plastic skull decorated in the style of one of Hirst’s so-called spin paintings.

For £700 ($A1,074) they can get a limited edition roll of wallpaper with prints from his butterfly series of paintings, a butterfly-print deckchair for £310 ($A476) and a spot painting skateboard with signature for £480 ($A737).

The 47-year-old, who shot to fame in the 1990s as one of the so-called “Young British Artists” rejected criticisms that he had become more of a self-promoter interested in making money.

“You get the Mona Lisa and then you get the postcards, the T-shirts, the mouse-pad, the earrings and the mugs,” Hirst told reporters on Monday.

“One thing is the artwork and the other is getting it out there and I’ve always been torn between the two.”

MIXED REACTIONS

The retrospective has drawn mixed reactions from Britain’s art critics, whom Hirst has long divided.

Julian Spalding, a critic and former curator who has written a book called “Con Art — Why You Ought To Sell Your Damien Hirst While You Can”, said the artist’s work would soon become “worthless financially”.

“The bubble that is Con Art blew up, like the sub-prime mortgage business, in the smoke and mirrors world of financial markets, where fortunes have been make on nothing,” he wrote in the Independent newspaper.

In September 2008, just as the bank Lehman Brothers was going bust, Hirst made headlines when he sold his own work direct through Sotheby’s auction house and raised an astonishing £111 million ($A170 million).

But Ann Gallagher, the curator of the Hirst retrospective, rejected the criticism and said Hirst’s work had long been interested in the relationship between art and commerce.

“I think visitors that are just walking in this exhibition and if they haven’t seen any pictures of his work, they may be startled by some of the exhibits,” she said.

She said Hirst’s work focuses on traditional themes such as life and death, but is also “very interested in belief in value systems…. that includes science, it includes religion, it includes art, and also wealth.”

Hirst, born in 1965, was brought up by his mother in the northern English city of Leeds.

He burst onto the scene with his early works including the pickled shark but his reputation in Britain has dipped in recent years, with criticism that much of his output is produced in workshops.

The retrospective includes not only the sharks but other animals suspended in formaldehyde in glass cases; a cow and a calf (“Mother and Child Divided”), sheep and fish.

Also on show will be “A Thousand Years”, featuring a cow’s head, flies and an insect-killing light element.

Works fashioned from medical instruments will be on display, along with rooms full of the famous spot paintings, in which Hirst demands of the painters in his workshop that no colour be repeated next to itself.


Goodes ‘gutted’ by racial slur

Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes says he was called an “ape” by a Collingwood fan in last night’s clash at the MCG.

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Goodes was visibly distressed towards the end of the game, pointing out the fan to security staff who later ejected the young girl.

She’s believed to be 13 years of age.

Her comments come in the indigenous round of the AFL, and as the league launches its anti-racism campaign.

Goodes says it’s vital players and the community are united in the fight against racism.

“Racism has no place in our industry, it has no place in society, hopefully any person out there that’s been named-called, that’s been verbally abused, can stand up for themselves after seeing what happend last night.”

Goodes says it is not the first time he has been subjected to racial slurs, but that this latest attack has hit him hard.

“When I saw it was a young girl, I was just like ‘really?’. I was just like ‘how could that happen?’ This week is a celebration of our people, our culture.

“It’s not her fault. Unfortunately it’s what she hears, it’s the environment she’s grown up in that makes her think it’s OK to call people names.

“She would have no idea how it makes someone feel, calling someone an ape. She’s 13, she’s uneducated. If she wants to pick up the phone and apologise, I’ll take that call.

He says when asked by police he refused to press charges against the girl and urged people not to start a ‘witch hunt’ against the girl over the incident.

Instead he says there should be more education on racism and how it can hurt people.

“It affected me so much I couldn’t be on the ground to celebrate a victory last night, to celebrate indigenous round.

“I’m still shattered; personally it’s tough.”

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou says it’s disappointing to have an incident of racism in the league’s Indigenous round.

Mr Demetriou says he will offer support and counselling to the 13-year-old girl and her parents to assure they’re not the target of unnecessary retailiation.

He says while the AFL has come a long way in raising awareness in racism, there’s clearly a long way to go.

“But I again remind everyone this is a 13-year-old girl. And we need to be very, very careful. Having said that, I want to reiterate again though, we have a zero tolerance policy around these issues. You’ve seen the great awareness campaign of this week for our indigenous round, the great contribution that our indigenous players make to the game, the great contribution that this code makes to this nation when we talk about the significant role that indigenous Australia plays in this nation.”

Geelong captain Joel Selwood has led the tributes to Sydney AFL star Adam Goodes who was visibly distressed after being the victim of the racial taunt during Friday night’s MCG match.

Dual Brownlow Medallist Goodes was arguably best-afield in Sydney’s 47-point win over Collingwood in the round-nine fixture with 30 disposals and three goals.

However the 33-year-old left the field shaking his head late in the game and went straight into the change rooms to compose himself after clashing with a female fan in the closing stages of the contest.

The fan was evicted from the stadium after Goodes stood only metres away and pointed directly at her in a bid to identify the Collingwood supporter to security staff.

“Much respect for Adam Goodes on all fronts tonight,” Selwood said on Twitter.

Sydney midfielder Dan Hannebery said the incident was sad, while Richmond forward Jack Riewoldt was speechless.

“The person who did that has to have a hard look at themselves,” Hannebery told afl.com.au website.

“It is a disgrace considering the era that we’re in. It’s just completely unacceptable.

“I’m really shocked.”

Riewoldt said on Twitter: “Something clearly said to Adam Goodes, sitting on the couch speechless and really flat! #bloodydisappointing.”

West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui, whose parents are from Fiji, said: “Not to assume the worst, but to disrespect a legend on Indigenous Round is appalling.

“Racial Vilification has no place in sport and goodesy dealt with it like a champ. Lets NOT let it shadow how well he performed tonight tho,” Naitanui added.

Melbourne onballer Nathan Jones said: “Racial vilification has no place in footy or society. Ignorance is no excuse, What a legend & icon @adamroy37 is for our game. #inspiring.”