• Former Wallaby back from the wilderness


    It’s not quite hell and back, but former Wallaby Stephen Hoiles has endured quite the journey trying to revive his Super Rugby career.


    Hoiles has been to Sweden and back.

    “My father and I flew over. We had about 11 flights in 11 days,” he told AAP.

    “It was like a massive trek to get there and then I was back out of there about five days later.”

    But it’s mission accomplished after the 32-year-old globetrotted on a wing and a prayer hoping last-ditch surgery on his troublesome achilles tendon could get him back on the paddock for the first time since 2010.

    The gamble paid off, with Hoiles making two appearances for Randwick in Sydney club rugby last August to earn a training contract with the NSW Waratahs.

    Painstaking research, doctors and former coaches pointed him to Dr Hakan Alfredson, who Hoiles hailed as “if not the best, then one of the best tendon surgeons in the world”.

    “He just deals with chronic cases or people who are a little bit left of centre.”

    Hoiles was definitely that, if not at his wits’ end after being frustrated by an injury that started as a “stiff foot” from double training loads with the Brumbies and the Wallabies midway through 2010.

    Clean-up surgery at the end of that season was meant to sideline the classy back-rower for 12 weeks.

    But he’s been in the wilderness since.

    Apart from the emotional toll its had on Hoiles, who couldn’t even chase his two young children on the beach without pulling up sore, the former Brumbies captain has also lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost earnings.

    “I had to leave Canberra because of it because I had another year left on my contract and Jake White wasn’t really happy coming into the side with the captain potentially not going to play for the whole year,” he said.

    After two unsuccessful six-month rehab programs at the AIS, Hoiles emailed Dr Alfredson last January and was on a flight two weeks later for surgery.

    “I was either going to go over there and he’d tell me that it’s unrepairable and that I’m done, or he’d be able to fix it,” Hoiles said.

    “So either way, it was going to be closure. If it was no good, I could accept that. I’d have given it every shot.”

    Dr Alfredson asked Hoiles to run up and down on the spot to aggravate the injury before an ultrasound identified a loose bone fragment in his foot.

    “Then he split me down the back of my heel, opened me up and cleaned it up while I was awake,” Hoiles said.

    “It was probably a two-hour operation but, after pretty much two-and-a-half, three years of utter frustration because of it, it’s all sorted now.”

    Hoiles has completed 10 weeks of intense off-season training with the Waratahs without needing achilles treatment even once.

    His only focus now is on the Waratahs’ February 1 trial against the Melbourne Rebels in Albury.

    “There’s been no guarantees, no promises,” he said.

    “I don’t know where it’s going to lead me footy-wise. I’ve got to work pretty hard to try and get an opportunity to play here because there’s a lot of guys in front of me.

    “But I still believe that the years I missed may be a bit of a blessing for me.

    “I still feel like I’ve got a couple of good years in me at least.”

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  • Indonesia warns anew on boat turnbacks


    Indonesia has again warned the federal government against asylum-seeker turnbacks following reports the Australian Navy secretly turned around at least one boat in recent weeks.


    Reports from Indonesia and Australia say an Ashmore Island-bound boat was turned back either in December or on Monday – or possibly on both occasions – and subsequently became stranded on Rote Island, near West Timor.

    The Indonesian reports quoted local police, while Fairfax Media cited unnamed Australian Defence sources and the Indonesian water police.

    Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not comment on the conflicting reports for “operational security reasons”, despite the coalition having a pre-election policy to turn boats back when safe.

    Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa also refused to comment on the specifics when asked about the reports on Tuesday.

    “But as a policy, I shall repeat this once again: Indonesia rejects and is against the policy of boat turnbacks because it’s not a solution,” he told reporters in Jakarta, speaking in Indonesian.

    Agus Barnas, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry for Politics, Law and Security – which has responsibility for people smuggling – said he was unaware of any turnbacks.

    He said Indonesia was still observing a moratorium on co-operating with Australia on people-smuggling after last year’s spying scandal.

    “So far, there’s no policy that the co-operation would resume,” Mr Barnas said.

    “The talk on forming a code of conduct is still in process.”

    Speculation about possible boat turnbacks follows a stand-off in November when Australia tried to force a vessel back into Indonesian waters.

    The Abbott government backed down after Indonesia refused to accept the asylum seekers, who were eventually transferred to Christmas Island.

    Mr Morrison says that Australia respects Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty “and will continue to do so”.

    “It is not the policy or practice of the Australian government to violate Indonesian territorial sovereignty,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

    Dr Natalegawa said Indonesia’s relationship with Australia was still in a “difficult phase” in the wake of the spying revelations.

    But he said he was in daily contact with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in an effort to repair the damage.

    “What’s needed is a gradual process of restoration of confidence or trust, and this is where we are just now,” he said.

    The Greens want Mr Morrison to provide details of any turnback operation, saying the lives of asylum seekers could have been endangered.

    “These people could have drowned,” Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

    “How many other boats has this occurred to that we’ve never heard about?”

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  • Women’s drawcards crash in Sydney


    Refusing to panic, Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki insist they remain Australian Open contenders despite making premature exits from the Sydney International.


    Radwanska slipped up 7-5 6-3 against American qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands, marking the first time in the professional era that the women’s champion has bombed out in her opening match of her title defence.

    Wozniacki, the sixth seed, followed her out the exit gates later on Tuesday with a 6-4 7-6 (9-7) second-round loss to Czech Lucie Safarova.

    Radwanska is adamant she remains an Open threat despite having not won a competitive match since October and also seemingly carrying a shoulder injury.

    The world No.5 received treatment on her serving shoulder during last week’s Hopman Cup in Perth and, while loath to blame the injury for her loss to the 48th-ranked Mattek-Sands, admitted it was still bothering her.

    “Maybe a little bit, but I have good painkillers,” Radwanska said.

    The non-sanctioned Hopman Cup aside, Radwanska hasn’t won a set – let alone a match – in more than two months after also losing all three of her round-robin encounters at the season-ending championships in Istanbul.

    The former Wimbledon runner-up’s run of outs is a far cry from last year when the Pole arrived at Melbourne Park for the season’s first grand slam riding a nine-match winning streak after picking up back-to-back titles in Auckland and Sydney.

    But the 24-year-old isn’t concerned, claiming four wins at the Hopman Cup exhibition event is proof enough she’s not playing badly.

    “Every week is different story. You start over and over again,” Radwanska said.

    “You’re not winning every week every match. I think just couple of guys can do it.”

    Wozniacki was the last Sydney champion not to win a match in her title defence – back in 2011 – but insisted her latest defeat was no setback ahead of the Open getting underway in Melbourne on Monday.

    “I played two matches here then I get a few days over there and get to play a few sets as well with some of the girls and with different types players,” the Dane said.

    “Yeah, I should be ready for Melbourne.”

    Mattek-Sands’ surprise second-round win – after she beat higher-ranked Canadian Eugenie Bouchard and Radwanska enjoyed a first-round bye – thrust her into a quarter-final with fellow American Madison Keys, a 6-0 3-6 7-6 (7-4) victor over Croatian wildcard Ajla Tomljanovic.

    Czech second seed Petra Kvitova and German fifth seed Angelique Kerber avoided the carnage to safely progress to the quarter-finals.

    Kvitova thrashed US qualifier Christine McHale 6-1 6-0 in one hour neat to book a last-eight date with Safarova, while Kerber downed big-hitting Estonian Kaia Kanepi 6-3 6-4 to set up a quarter-final with Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.

    Reading More >>

  • Wang hauls Brooklyn into NYC fashion week


    For decades the poor cousin of Manhattan, Brooklyn cemented its growing status as the hip soul of New York on Saturday by hosting its first couture catwalk show in fashion week.


    Alexander Wang, creative director of Balenciaga, unveiled his hotly anticipated collection at the same Brooklyn Naval Yard venue chosen by Lady Gaga for her recent album launch.

    Wang turned the Duggal Greenhouse into a futuristic set with metallic pillars and a rotating stage to show off his androgenous collection. Techno music blasted as models showcased his wares.

    Wang said the idea was to combine sartorial elements with the great outdoors and a nod to global warming, making the Duggal Greenhouse the perfect location.

    A highlight of his work was the use of heat-activated fabric that changed from black to colour when exposed to warm temperature.

    The greenhouse, which he described as an “amazing location,” is “really a big part in the whole concept of the heat sensitive material,” the designer said.

    Asked about his choice to decamp to Brooklyn, he said “why not?” and that it had been really fun.

    “I don’t know if it’s a trend, it is something I feel very strongly about and fashion is always moving forward and changing, so why not have the location change?” he said.

    The female models, with their hair gelled and combed over to mimic male haircuts, powered down the runway in sharp, tailored coats and suits that had angular lines and blocks of colour.

    Outfits on display included outerwear covered in pockets, woollens with 3D applique squares that seemed to mimic dials on a machine, tops with buckles on cuffs, and black and brown leather shirts.

    There were also leather boots rising to mid-thigh that were tight around the foot but open in the back.

    The tomboy androgenous look was emphasised by models with shaved eyebrows, some of whom carried purses reminiscent of a carpenter’s tool belt.

    Wang wooed his fashionista crowd across the river with discounted prices on a taxi service and laid on buses and water taxis for guests coming from Manhattan.

    Reactions to the show were generally positive.

    Chris Moore, a photographer for the Financial Times, Britain’s Sunday Times and Harpers Bazaar UK, said the show was “fast and furious” with a “very lovely ambiance.”

    Jawria Waupe, a stylish male audience member sporting a turtleneck sweater and a cross around his neck, said it was one of Wang’s best.

    “This show was one of the most amazing shows he’s ever done. I liked it,” he told AFP.

    “I like the boots more importantly,” he said.

    Reading More >>

  • Record-equalling Bjoerndalen wins gold


    Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen made a mockery of his 40 years on Saturday when he won a record-equalling 12th Winter Olympic medal as Sochi’s senior citizens nudged aside younger rivals.


    Bjoerndalen went level with compatriot Bjorn Daehlie, who also gathered 12 medals in his cross country career.

    He also became the oldest gold medallist in an individual event thanks to an astonishing display of raw power and technique which saw him romp to victory in the 10km sprint.

    But the Norwegian, nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’, wasn’t the only evergreen athlete chewing up the competition on the first full day of action on the edge of the Black Sea.

    Outspoken ski star Bode Miller, 36, was headline-grabbing on and off the slopes at Rosa Khotur, dominating downhill training before lambasting the state of the course.

    Meanwhile, 30-year-old Austrian veteran Daniela Iraschko-Stolz was the top performer as women made their ski jumping debut at the Olympics.

    And 33-year-old Marit Bjoergen won her fourth Olympic title and became the most successful female Norwegian Olympian in history, after taking the first cross-country skiing gold of the Games in the women’s skiathlon.

    At least, snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg of the United States broke the magic spell of the senior performers when the 20-year-old claimed the first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics in men’s slopestyle.

    Bjoerndalen was the undoubted star of the day when he overcame a penalty lap to clock 24min 33.5sec to take his seventh Olympic gold in his sixth Games ahead of Austria’s Dominik Landertinger, in 24:34.8sec, and Jaroslav Soukup of the Czech Republic, who clocked 24:39.2.

    In the aftermath of the race, Daehlie told reporters that Bjoerndalen was comfortably the greatest ever Norwegian athlete.

    “It is nice to hear that from Bjorn, but for me he still is the biggest star in Norway and in the world,” said the champion.

    Ski veteran Miller, who won gold, silver and bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, was fastest in training for Sunday’s blue riband medal race up in Rosa Khutor.

    But he then unleashed a fierce critique of the challenges of the course.

    “This course is very treacherous. It has teeth everywhere,” he said.

    In the spectacular slopestyle event, Kotsenburg, who only just squeezed into the final, claimed the inaugural title.

    His first run scored 93.50 and although some of his rivals put in high scores on their second runs, the 20-year-old from Utah held on for victory.

    “I’m really excited. It feels awesome. I don’t know what to call it,” said Kotsenburg.

    Norway’s Staale Sandbech (91.75) claimed silver while Mark McMorris of Canada took bronze with 88.75.

    Bjoergen claimed her fourth career gold to become her country’s most successful female Olympian, surpassing legendary figure skater Sonja Henie.

    Under stunning blue skies at the Laura cross-country ski centre, Bjoergen won the combined 7.5km classic style/7.5km freestyle event.

    Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla was second with Heidi Weng of Norway taking the bronze.

    Bjoergen won three golds in Vancouver four years ago.

    In women’s ski jumping, Iraschko-Stolz won two of the three training jumps, ahead of Japanese teen star Sara Takanashi.

    Speed skater Sven Kramer retained his Olympic 5000m title, destroying the field to win by nearly five seconds as the Netherlands swept the podium, 50 years after the last clean sweep.

    Kramer’s time of 6min 10.76sec was a new Olympic record. Jan Blokhuijsen took silver in 6:15.71 while Jorrit Bergsma (6:16.66) won bronze.

    In the last medal event of the day, Justine Dufour-Lapointe edged out sister Chloe as the Canadians ended the reign of American Hannah Kearney in the women’s moguls.

    The youngest of three sisters in the freestyle skiing moguls final, 19-year-old Justine scored 74.80 percent in the final run to claim victory.

    Middle sister Chloe, 22, scored 72.20 to take silver while Kearney, the champion in Vancouver four years ago, took bronze with 71.63.

    Reading More >>

  • Finance News Update, what you need to know



    The Australian dollar is higher after the it was reported that the US unemployment rate fell to 6.


    6 per cent from 6.7 per cent January.

    At 0630 AEDT on Monday, the local unit was trading at 89.59 US cents, up from 89.44 cents on Friday.

    And the Australian share market looks set to open higher following gains on Wall Street despite disappointing US jobs data.

    At 0645 AEDT on Tuesday, the March share price index futures contract was up 37 points at 5,159.


    LONDON – Britain’s data watchdog has launched a probe after confidential files relating to Barclays Bank customers were allegedly stolen then sold on to rogue brokers.

    LONDON – The Bank of England’s flagship forward guidance policy linking interest rate decisions to unemployment is widely expected to be ditched – in its current form – this week, after just six months.

    AUCKLAND – Up to 125 workers will lose their jobs after Australasia’s biggest food company Goodman Fielder confirmed it would close its Hamilton meat factory.

    CARACAS – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro says he wants to speak to Toyota’s top official for Latin America after the carmaker said it would stop production in the South American nation.

    LONDON – Mobile phone operator Vodafone has reportedly tabled a seven billion euro ($A11 billion) bid for Spanish cable company Ono as it attempts to revive its European business.

    TAIPEI – Taiwan technology giant Foxconn group has signed a letter of intent to invest up to $US1 billion ($A1.12 billion) in Indonesia as it seeks to diversify production away from China, officials said Sunday.

    RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian tycoon Eike Batista will turn over the bulk of his debt-ridden OGX oil company to creditors in a $US215 million ($A240.60 million) deal that aims to ensure the firm continues to operate.

    SINGAPORE – Top Asian airlines’ profit margins are being eroded by a struggling air cargo business, even as they capitalise on increasing passenger demand, industry executives say.

    Reading More >>

  • NZ dollar edges higher after US jobs data


    The New Zealand dollar advanced after a key US employment report pointed to a weaker economy than expected and as risk appetite returned to the market.


    The kiwi touched 84.95 yen over the weekend, its highest level this year, and was trading at 84.81 yen at 8am in Wellington from 83.89 yen at 5pm on Friday.

    The local currency was at 82.83 US cents, from 82.90 cents at the New York close and 82.27 cents at 5pm in Wellington on Friday.

    Investors are looking ahead to testimony by new Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen amid speculation it may be more dovish than previously anticipated after a report in the US on Friday showed the US added 113,000 nonfarm payrolls in January, less than the 185,000 expected.

    Meanwhile, concern about emerging markets is abating, turning investor attention to risk-sensitive currencies such as the kiwi and away from safe havens like the yen.

    “The NZD/USD has benefited from a general improvement in risk appetite, and more specifically from a soft USD on Friday night,” Kymberly Martin, markets strategist at Bank of New Zealand, said.

    “Generally, risk appetite has begun to return to markets as emerging market ructions have moved out of the spotlight as emerging markets have stabilised. This has helped appetite for ‘risk sensitive’ currencies such as the NZD return, at the expense of currencies such as the JPY.”

    The New Zealand dollar rose to 92.39 Australian cents from 91.95 cents in Wellington on Friday ahead of tomorrow’s report on Australian business confidence.

    The local currency advanced to 60.77 euro cents from 60.52 cents on Friday, and increased to 50.47 British pence from 50.39 pence. The trade-weighted index rose to 78.16 from 77.61 last week.

    Reading More >>

  • Base metals close higher


    Base metals on the London Metal Exchange (LME) have closed higher amid an improvement in near-term risk appetite in financial markets and the return of Chinese investors after Lunar New Year celebrations outweighed a weaker-than-expected reading on the US labour market.


    At the close of open-outcry trading in the London ring on Friday, LME three-month copper was up 0.2 per cent at $US7,141 a metric ton.

    Aluminium rose 0.4 per cent to $US1,720 a ton, while zinc climbed 1.3 per cent on the day to $US2,022 per ton.

    “Most metals hit multi-week (multi-year in aluminum’s case) lows early in the week but they then rallied strongly ahead of the resumption of trading on the Shanghai Futures Exchange,” noted BNP Paribas commodities strategist Stephen Briggs.

    “Zinc has recovered particularly impressively; we are not alone in favouring this metal.”

    The risk-related metals recovered as emerging market jitters eased and a degree of risk appetite returned to global markets.

    The improved sentiment in the LME complex even withstood a downbeat reading on the US labour market on Friday.

    The Labor Department said the US economy added 113,000 jobs last month, fewer than the 189,000 increase forecast by economists. As base metals are used in a variety of different sectors for a range of applications, such disappointing data on economic activity can push prices lower.

    But prices were robust as Chinese buyers returned from their holidays. The absence of the top consumer had weighed upon market activity and trading volumes. Next week, Chinese trade data will be keenly eyed for price direction, analysts said.

    Reading More >>

  • Gold closes higher on the Comex


    Gold prices have risen as a mixed US employment report forced investors to recalibrate their assumptions about the Federal Reserve’s future monetary policy.


    Gold for April delivery, the most active contract, on Friday gained $US5.70, or 0.5 per cent, to settle at $US1,262.90 a troy ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. This was the highest settlement price since January 27, when futures closed at $US1,263.40 an ounce.

    The Labor Department on Friday reported that the US economy added 113,000 new jobs in January, well below forecasts of a 189,000 increase. The disappointing data fanned hopes that the Federal Reserve would keep its stimulus program in place for longer than previously thought, sending gold to the day’s high of $US1,272 an ounce.

    However, gold futures were unable to hold those intraday highs. Some market participants pointed to bright spots in the jobs report such as the upward revisions to November’s employment data as well as a month-on-month improvement from December.

    “It’s a bad report, but I think you’ll need to get another one or two pretty bad ones before the Fed makes a move,” said Bob Haberkorn, a senior commodities broker with RJO Futures in Chicago.

    The Fed voted last month to reduce its monthly bond purchases by $US10 billion to $US65 billion, continuing the tapering process it started in December. Gold had benefited in recent years from the Fed’s efforts to spark the US economy to life, as successive rounds of bond buying fanned investor fears of high inflation or a weaker US dollar and many purchased the precious metal as a hedge. However, gold fell 28 per cent in 2013 on expectations the Fed will start reducing its bond-buying program.

    Bill Baruch, a senior market strategist with futures brokerage iiTrader, said that gold’s lacklustre performance is in part because recent labour-market weakness could be explained by poor weather. Much of the US has been blanketed in snow during parts of December and January, disrupting people’s ability to find jobs in key industries like construction.

    “These bad reports can be blamed on the weather, so that’s keeping the market in check,” said Bill Baruch, a senior market strategist with futures brokerage iiTrader in Chicago.

    In the equity market, US stock futures initially fell following the jobs report only to rebound shortly thereafter. The S&P 500 was up 1.1 per cent in recent trade. Gold is considered less risky than stocks and tends to lose favour with investors when equities are doing well.

    Settlements (ranges include open-outcry and electronic trading):

    London PM Gold Fix: $1,259.25; previous PM $1,256.50

    Apr gold $1,262.90, up $5.70; Range $1,255.50-$1,272.00

    Mar silver $19.936, up 0.8 cent; Range $19.755-$20.090

    Apr platinum $1,379.20, up $4.30; Range $1,374.40-$1,392.30

    Mar palladium $708.80, down $1.55; Range $708.00-$715.00

    Reading More >>

  • Moyes searching for killer instinct as United struggle again



    United enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but could not turn their dominance of the ball into the solid currency of three points and were undone in the 94th minute when Fulham’s Darren Bent grabbed a late leveller.


    “We deserved to get back in the game and we deserved to win it, but we gave away a diabolical second goal,” Moyes told reporters.

    “We should have made it 3-1 and it was really disappointing that we didn’t do that. We should have seen the game out.

    “I don’t know if we could have done an awful lot more. We completely dominated the game and should have won it comfortably.”

    He added on MUTV: “We needed to take the opportunities that were given to us, like some of the half chances.

    “I don’t think anyone can really say we did a lot wrong, we tried to play it, get it wide at the right times. What we needed to do was get the third goal when we were 2-1 up.”

    The draw was a blow to United’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League and left them in seventh place, nine points adrift of Liverpool in fourth.

    United’s leaky defence were undone after 19 minutes when Steve Sidwell was left unmarked to sidefoot home a pass from Lewis Holtby.

    The champions set up camp in the Fulham half but did not find a breakthrough until the 78th minute when Robin van Persie finished from close range.

    When Michael Carrick’s deflected effort gave them the lead it looked like United were set to complete a deserved victory, but out of nowhere Bent headed home in stoppage time to leave Moyes scratching his head for answers once again.

    “I was probably the most relieved person (when we went 2-1 up) because I thought ‘my goodness’ as we needed to win the game,” Moyes said.

    “Even in the last five minutes Fulham weren’t even coming up for the ball, we were keeping the ball and they weren’t necessarily trying to score an equaliser – but somehow they did…

    “But maybe there were a few things today that we didn’t quite do well enough. Maybe our finishing wasn’t quite good enough and bits of our defending weren’t quite good enough either.”

    (Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Rex Gowar)

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  • Grumbles drowned out as Sochi party gets under way


    As the $51-billion (31.


    09 billion pounds) Winter Olympics got into full swing on Sunday, the answer from spectators, seeing the Olympic Park up and running for the first time, was a resounding “Yes”.

    “It’s just fantastic,” Sergei Klyuyev, from the Adler area where the park was built, said as he walked through with his family, admiring the state-of-the-art stadiums and enjoying the party atmosphere.

    “There’s been building work here for five years but look at all this around us. We regret nothing, not even the cost.”

    Some Sochi residents are still angry that hosting the Games meant turning the city into what even President Vladimir Putin described as the world’s biggest construction site, and have set up a website – Blogsochi.ru – to vent their spleen.

    In the heart of the sub-tropical city on the western edge of the Caucasus mountains, cranes still tower over half-finished apartment blocs.

    But the critics were nowhere to be seen at the venues far from central Sochi as the Games began, partly because some have been barred from travelling to Sochi and partly because of the good impression created by the new stadiums.

    Putin hopes the Games will portray Russia as a successful and thriving modern state, and protests would threaten that.

    “There are definitely people who had a hard time of it here,” said Yevgenia Mertilova, referring to the hundreds of people whose homes were razed to make way for Olympic buildings and were mostly housed elsewhere by the state.

    But, as she walked beside the main Fisht stadium with her nine-month-old baby, she said: “Look how good these stadiums are. After the Games there’ll be a trade centre here, which can only be a good thing. I’m impressed.”

    “BETTER THAN 1980”

    On one side of the park, men in red peasant tunics and women in colourful blue and white dresses performed traditional dances to the music of balalaikas.

    In the centre, the Olympic flame burned fiercely in its cauldron towering over the park. In fountains beneath it, shoots of water rose and fell to the music of Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

    “I was at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and this is much more grandiose,” said Nadezhda Kharitonova, a woman in her seventies who was dressed in her red Sunday best as she walked hand in white-gloved hand with her husband.

    “It’s all down to Putin. Without him, it would never have happened. Whatever the cost, it was worth it,” she said.

    That will be music to Putin’s ears after months of carping at home and raised eyebrows abroad over the high cost, plus criticism of his stance on gay rights.

    Russia’s first medal of the Games brought whoops and cheers from a crowd watching on a big screen, and concerns about security seemed to have been forgotten as security officers patrolled the perimeter fence on horseback.

    There were, however, a few in the crowd who were still unhappy at the hefty price tag.

    A man who gave his name only as Vasily said he had taken leave from his job as a clothes designer to work as a cleaner at the Games so that he could soak up the atmosphere.

    “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. I wanted to see it from the inside,” he said, a broom in his hand. “It’s all amazing but of course the cost is too high for Russia. You should really think more about the many poor people.”

    Putin says the Olympic construction will give the city and region an economic boost. Critics doubt this and Blogsochi.ru posted its latest criticisms as the Games got going.

    “Because of the Olympics endless queues have appeared in Sochi like queues for sausage in Soviet times,” wrote Alexander Valov, who has repeatedly used the website to draw attention to problems in Sochi.

    But even he wrote of an “unforgettable experience” at the Olympic Park and the criticisms on the site were interspersed with entries celebrating Russia’s first medals at the Games and unusually positive interjections such as: “Hurrah! Well done!”

    Reading More >>

  • Residents recall terrifying Victorian fire


    Residents have described scenes resembling an atomic bomb blast as they packed children into cars to escape a blaze that destroyed three homes and threatened many more at Warrandyte in Melbourne’s northeast.


    Hundreds of people packed a school hall in neighbouring Park Orchards on Sunday night where residents heard how fire destroyed three homes and damaged another.

    Follow the latest bushfire emergency updates

    Marisa Dantanarayana, who lives in the street where the fire started, said she left on Sunday afternoon after seeing smoke.

    “I’d just got home after being out with my kids and I just smelt smoke … I saw billowing smoke and I just knew it was so close that we had to get out,” she said.

    The fire started in the the middle of a residential area about 1pm and burned within a 10 hectare area.

    During the meeting several residents thanked the local Country Fire Authority for their efforts, inspiring loud applause.

    Ms Dantanarayana said the actions of the CFA probably saved her home.

    “They (the CFA) were there so quickly … they had 52 trucks right in our street area, that’s just unbelievable, they do a fantastic job,” she said.

    Bijal Latham said her parents live in Warrandyte and left their home as soon as they saw the fire from their backyard.

    “Mum and dad saw it and everything just went up and it looked like an atomic bomb had just been dropped,” Ms Latham said.

    Sara Longo could see flames about 400 metres from her home and said she left with her two children.

    “I was in the pool and I was swimming with one of my sons and I could see the smoke and the flames,” she said.

    “I just got my kids, I had to get dry and got dressed, get in the car and get out.”

    Reading More >>

  • Off-screen drama at Berlin film festival


    The longer, more explicit version of scandal-courting Danish director Lars von Trier’s sex addiction opus Nymphomaniac Volume I premiered to cheers at the Berlin film festival on Sunday.


    But while the no-holds-barred director’s cut of the film generated excitement at the 64th Berlinale, the antics of the cast and crew threatened to upstage the screening.

    Von Trier, 57, who took a “vow of silence” with the media after being booted out of Cannes for a maladroit Nazi joke to reporters in 2011, showed up at a photo call wearing a “persona non grata” t-shirt with Cannes’ golden palm leaf logo.

    He refused to join the subsequent news conference, leaving his stars Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman and newcomer Stacy Martin to face the press.

    But when fielding his first question, about doing a movie with so much sex, a scowling LaBeouf quoted French footballer Eric Cantona’s infamous insult of a pesky press corps.

    “When seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea,” he said.

    The 27-year-old actor, wearing a dirty baseball cap and chomping on chewing gum, then marched out of the room, drawing stunned smirks from the rest of the cast.

    The main event, the world premiere of the uncensored, two-and-a-half-hour-long Nymphomaniac Volume I, nevertheless went down a storm at an afternoon press preview.

    The movie, which screened out of competition, tells the story of Joe, played by Anglo-French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, and her sexual awakening from birth to age 50.

    For a film with major Hollywood actors, the erotic encounters leave little to the imagination, complete with full-frontal nudity and explicit sex acts filmed using porn actors as doubles and prostheses.

    Martin, a model in her first film role, said that she developed a relationship with von Trier and her on-screen lovers which allowed her to abandon her inhibitions.

    “I’ve always really loved his films so for me the sex scenes really were part of the film and I trusted Lars… so immediately it makes the job much easier,” she told reporters.

    “I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t really have anything to lose, being my first film.”

    Thurman, who turns in a fierce, hilarious performance as a wronged wife and mother of three, said von Trier’s more theatrical approach to filmmaking with extremely long takes was refreshing and lively and exciting.

    “Lars wrote this basically fantastic monologue — this fury of a woman scorned,” she said.

    “It was a really great challenge to memorise seven pages of Lars’ female diatribe of rage.”

    Producer Louise Vesth said the version of Nymphomaniac Volume I seen in Berlin included more graphic footage than the film that has already released in some markets.

    “The sexual content is more explicit in the long version than the short one,” she said.

    “It’s not like it’s another story, it’s kind of all the material that Lars wanted to use from the shooting is in the long version and therefore you will have a deeper feeling of the topics discussed in the film.”

    She said it was not yet clear when the uncut Volume Two at a length of around three hours would be shown.

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