Maldives ejected from Commonwealth panel

The Commonwealth has expelled the Maldives from its disciplinary panel which has begun investigating the political chaos in the country after repeated court interventions that scuttled elections, a diplomat says.

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The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which can recommend the expulsion of countries from the 53-member bloc, ejected the Indian Ocean islands during a meeting in the Sri Lankan capital on Wednesday.

“As long as Maldives remains on the agenda of CMAG, it can’t be a member of this panel,” the diplomat said after the Commonwealth issued a statement confirming that the Maldives was discussed on Wednesday.

The country faces a constitutional crisis after three presidential elections were cancelled, with Western and Indian diplomats increasingly vocal in their criticism of the regime of incumbent Mohamed Waheed.

Opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed has won two votes in the last two months with more than 45 per cent of ballots, but a run-off election has been repeatedly delayed by the Supreme Court.

“Ministers will continue to monitor the situation in Maldives closely over the coming days,” the Commonwealth said in a statement. “The chair of CMAG will brief Commonwealth heads of government on 15 November 2013, when they meet in Colombo.”

Nasheed resigned in February 2012 following demonstrations and a mutiny by security forces which he denounced as a coup engineered by Waheed and former former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The Maldives, an upmarket honeymoon destination famed for its coral-fringed islands, began with multi-party democracy for the first time in 2008 after 30 years of control by Gayoom.

Commonwealth leaders are massing in Sri Lanka ahead of a three-day summit starting Friday.

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Filipinos rush to help typhoon survivors

Filipinos abroad who have spent harrowing days trying to contact loved ones after a typhoon devastated their homeland are mobilising to send relief, despite misgivings about corrupt local officials pocketing aid on the ground.

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With thousands feared dead and aid only trickling in after Super Typhoon Haiyan laid waste to entire coastal towns on Friday, many among the 10-million-strong disaspora are still frantically trying to find out if their relatives are alive and their homes still standing.

And from Asian capitals to the US and Europe, Filipino communities are taking to churches and social media sites to raise funds for communities left with nothing – and growing increasingly desperate.

In Hong Kong, where some 150,000 Filipinos work as domestic helpers, the Red Cross said a hotline set up to trace the missing had been overwhelmed since the typhoon smashed into the nation’s central islands, displacing an estimated 673,000.

“The maids were crying. They didn’t know what to do,” spokeswoman Denise Wong told AFP.

Liezel Miralles, a 40-year-old domestic worker from Batad, a coastal town of 20,000 people, had not been able to contact her husband and other relatives to find out if they had survived.

“I feel very, very, very sad, my whole family is there,” Miralles said as she bought groceries for her employer at a street-side market. “There is no house, no phone, no connection.”

On Sunday, when Hong Kong’s downtown throngs with domestic helpers congregating on their day off, worker groups will hold an “information drive” on the crisis and gather donations.

But support group United Filipinos is one of many organisations and individuals around the world planning to direct aid only to non-government agencies.

“We are afraid that if we send to the government, it will just to go their pockets and will not reach the beneficiaries,” secretary general Eman Villanueva told AFP.

“Politicians are using it for their own benefit even in the midst of this devastating situation. They are still thinking for themselves.”

In Singapore, Filipina expatriate Dimples Larrazabal said the 24 hours it took for her to get in touch with her mother, her brother and his family in the town of Ormoc in devastated Leyte province seemed like an eternity.

“At first I was half-positive (that things would be OK) because our house is a good structure,” said Larrazabal, a 35-year-old home-maker. But she began to panic after seeing photos showing the unimaginable devastation.

“That’s when I cried ‘Oh my God! Nothing was spared!” she said. “I knew that Ormoc was directly in the path of the typhoon.”

Social media sites were inundated with posts from people searching for missing relatives, uploading pictures of individuals and families to Facebook and Twitter in posts tagged #tracingPH or simply #missing.

Google said it had updated its Person Finder site — which helps people find loved ones after a disaster – to include Philippines mobile numbers.

Krima Molina, a 26-year-old teacher from storm-struck Leyte now living in Tokyo, said she watched in horror as Facebook posts from friends at home turned into increasingly desperate pleas for help.

Homeless survivors were becoming ill from exposure, left with no shelter but makeshift shanties made of plastic tarps draped over plywood, she said. “They need medicine. They need volunteer doctors. A lot of people are injured.”

Many of the homes destroyed have been built with the earnings of the staggering 10 per cent of the population which works abroad.

Although many toil for low wages as construction workers, maids, sailors and janitors, they are collectively a major economic force and last year sent home $21.4 billion, almost 9 per cent of the nation’s economic output.

“Support from our kababayans (countrymen) abroad is overwhelming. Despite their dire circumstances, they are more than willing and ready to pitch in,” said Garry Martinez, the chairman of Migrante International, a group supporting overseas Filipinos.

“The bigger tragedy is if corrupt officials in government exploit this calamity to further plunder and steal funds meant for victims and survivors, Martinez said.

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Munich snub highlights need for bid process review

Munich looked to have good chances with only Kazakhstan’s Almaty and Ukraine’s Lviv having officially announced their intentions until that point on Sunday.

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Yet the majority of citizens of all four communities, including the city of Munich, rejected the plan for a bid after the failed attempt to land the 2018 Games two years ago.

As jaws dropped in the star-studded and confident pro-Olympic camp following the announcement of results, the main explanation for what had just occurred was that the Germans were critical of major sports events and apprehensive of their benefits.

“I think it was not a problem with a concept but rather a growing criticism of parts of the population with mega sports events,” Munich mayor Christian Ude said.

Franz Beckenbauer, one of the big names brought in to drum up support for a renewed Olympic candidacy, called the result “stupid” and a “missed opportunity”. Olympic skiing champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch, another supporter, said voting against the bid had been “narrow-minded”.

The Munich snub came just days before Atlanta, host of the 1996 Olympics, announced the demolition of the Games stadium to make way for middle class homes, while Germany continued to debate the merit of hosting the Games’.

BRAZIL PROTESTS

Protest and construction delays plaguing Brazil ahead of next year’s football World Cup and criticism levelled against Qatar for their preparations and workers’ conditions for the 2022 tournament have no doubt worked in favour of a negative Munich vote.

Russia’s own massive price tag of $50 billion to stage the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics and turn the Black sea resort into a winter sports hub has also done little to dispel any fears of massive bills and grave environmental impact.

There are also financial concerns, including what some in Munich have called “oppressive contracts” with the International Olympic Committee and an expensive bid process that can be close to $100 million for a summer Games campaign with no guarantees of success.

“The citizens shared our fears and the problems with the bidding such as cost and oppressive contracts with the IOC,” said the Green party’s Bavarian parliamentary leaders Ludwig Hartmann, a long-time opponent to the bid.

For the former long-time IOC marketing director Michael Payne, it is clear the current process is too complicated.

“I have been on the other side and the process has become way too bureaucratic, way to costly, let’s be very clear,” Payne told Reuters.

“If (Norway’s) Lillehammer had to go through the process as it stands now I don’t think they could or would have bid and they ended up organising one of the most successful winter Games (in 1994).”

For new IOC president Thomas Bach, a revision of the bid process to enhance the appeal of the Olympic product is necessary.

ATTRACTIVE PRODUCT

The German, elected to the presidency in September, had told Reuters days before assuming the post: “Maybe we are asking too much of them (bid cities).”

“We must ensure that organising the Games is attractive and feasible for as many cities and countries as possible. In this respect we may have to reconsider the bidding procedure to make it more encouraging while ensuring operational excellence.”

Munich, at the foot of the German Alps, was not the only traditional European winter destination to pull out with Swiss Davos and St Moritz seeing their bid killed off by a referendum in March.

With six bid cities expected by Thursday’s deadline, the 2022 campaign is double the number it was for the 2018 Games with Munich bidding alongside Annecy and winners Pyeongchang.

Sweden’s Stockholm and Norway’s Oslo have this week joined the 2022 race along with Almaty, Lviv, a joint Chinese bid from Beijing/Zhangjiakou, and Poland’s Krakow. The IOC will announce the official list of candidates on Thursday.

“The IOC has a fine line to navigate. Naturally you want to remove risk issues before you elect,” Payne said. “But on the other hand are you going too far? Is it too costly, too expensive to bid?”

He said it was important to provide a vision with the concept and communicate that vision successfully.

“Clearly what has happened in Brazil has been a reinforcement that the governments should have a proper vision and strategy and not go on some ego trip.”

“I don’t think the problem is the World Cup. The problem is 12 stadiums being built when eight would have sufficed.”

“You have to make sure the process, the product, the end result is beneficial. Otherwise you are going to run out of volunteers to stage the Games,” said Payne.

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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Ange to keep Socceroos on their toes

The Socceroos may be feeling on edge about their place in the side but coach Ange Postecoglou plans to keep his poker face on and leave them in the dark about what cards they’ll be dealt.

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Postecoglou put his entire squad through their paces on Wednesday as they prepare to face Costa Rica at Allianz Stadium next week.

Tim Cahill was the only player in the 22-man squad to miss the session after his flight to Sydney was cancelled, forcing him to arrive on Thursday.

Postecoglou is yet to name a captain for Tuesday’s clash and hasn’t given much away when it comes to his starting 11.

And that’s just the way the two-time A-League championship-winning coach plans to keep it.

Speaking at the event marking 40 years to the day since Australia first qualified for a World Cup, Postecoglou said the current crop should be reminded of the honour that comes with representing their nation.

“There is obviously a bit of uncertainty there but maybe I sort of cultivate a bit of that as well – it keeps people on their toes,” he said on Wednesday.

“They won’t get all the answers in this camp.

“We were part of something today that shows just what it means to play for your country and that will be at the essence of everything we do.

“It’s not an entitlement it’s an absolute privilege and it’s something that you need to continually strive for and not take for granted.

“I plan to have an environment that hopefully has the players on edge the whole journey.

“It may be a game of poker but I pretty much know what everyone is holding, so I’m in a good spot.”

Long-time skipper Lucas Neill is by no means assured of leading the team but has made it clear he’s still up to the task.

And Postecoglou says that’s the kind of drive he expects to see from his players.

“I’d be disappointed if he felt any other way,” he said.

“I’d be more worried if he was resigned to something rather than saying ‘I want to prove that I should still be here and can still lead the team or play in the team’ and that goes for every player.

“I spoke to them as a group for the first time this morning and the message was pretty clear that I really want to be surrounded by driven people, ambitious people with the same mindset that I have.”

Standing in the same room as members the 1973 squad along with his counterpart, then coach Rale Rasic, Postecoglou recalled watching his “hero” Jimmy Mackay slot home the goal that secured Australia a spot at the 1974 World Cup in West Germany.

He said while there’s still a lot of work to be done, he hopes to create similar lasting memories during his tenure starting with a win on Tuesday.

“We start with winning and work backwards,” he said.

“We want to achieve a lot of things but there’s a game there to be won.

“They’re going to be a tough opponent, they’ve qualified for the World Cup and we need to be able to compete against teams like that in seven months time.

“I’m confident we’ll see some foundations laid and certainly the message will be to go out there and try to win.”

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Aurizon gets first strike on pay

Rail operator Aurizon’s shareholders have delivered a `first strike’ against what they have cited as an overly generous executive pay policy.

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A vote resulted in 28 per cent of shareholders rejecting the report.

If 25 per cent or more of investors reject the report again in 2014, delivering what is known as a `second strike’, they may get a vote to oust several board members at Aurizon, formerly known as QR.

Both the Australian Shareholders Association (ASA) and proxy advisers ISS had recommended voting against executive pay.

An increase in chief executive Lance Hockridge’s base pay from $1.65 million to $1.93 million, plus a larger short term bonus of $2.5 million, were criticised.

Longer term performance rights for Mr Hockridge potentially worth millions more were also criticised for being too generous, along with a jump in chairman John Prescott’s pay to $479,000 from $407,000.

Aurizon’s annual profit rose by one per cent in 2012/13 to $477 million, as higher earnings offset redundancy costs.

A high protest vote of 18.6 per cent was also lodged against awarding the performance rights to Mr Hockridge.

The ASA has called for Mr Prescott to resign, arguing he has allowed bonuses to be paid that should not have.

“We think the grant is excessive,” an ASA spokesman told Mr Prescott at the company’s annual general meeting.

Mr Prescott defended Aurizon’s remuneration policies, saying they were aligned with creating shareholder value, and fixed remuneration was frozen for now.

Aurizon shares lost 16 cents, or 3.3 per cent, to $4.65.

Formerly owned by the Queensland government, Aurizon was privatised in late 2010, and derives the bulk of its earnings hauling coal from mines in Queensland and NSW to ports.

Several shareholders raised concerns about plans to transport coal near the Great Barrier Reef, while protesters outside the meeting were also critical of hauling coal from the Galilee Basin.

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