By David Ireland, CSIRO and Louise Osborne, CSIRO
Silicon Valley is a bit like the ancient city of Babylon.
A confluence of the right geography, right timing, and the right mix in the melting pot allowed them both to thrive.
Even the mythological status is fitting. After all, it’s not easy to replicate what circumstance has brought together.
And yet, many are looking for the secret recipe to copy what Silicon Valley has achieved. But is it just a matter of understanding the recipe, picking the right scale, and being patient?
There have been successful innovation hubs elsewhere and in disciplines outside of information technology. Take the Cambridge Science Park for instance. The site was donated to Trinity College in 1546, but wasn’t developed until 1970. It is now one of the leading innovation and research hubs in the world.
One imperative for the development of the Cambridge Science Park was a push from the then UK Government to improve returns on investment in basic research and higher education through increased technology transfer and new technologies. There are strong parallels here with the current push in Australia to improve the connection between research and industry.
In Cambridge, it took a decade for the number of companies in the science park to grow to 25. Initially being close to the world class research activity of Cambridge University was the pull. As a mini-cluster of technologies and talented people emerged in the 1980s it became attractive to more people and organisations, and so the effect snowballed. Venture capitalists and spin-outs joined the mix.
Importantly, there was also investment in accommodation and sporting facilities, conference and meeting places, and eating places. These facilities helped to develop the culture of the Cambridge Science Park.
In the 1990s, the number of companies grew to around 64 with larger and better funded companies present, and a focus on life sciences emerged. Some degree of evolution to the natural focus for the geographical area has been in the recipe for success in Cambridge.
There are also plenty of examples of less successful innovation clusters. The One-North Science Habitat in Singapore encompasses a number of other science parks creating better integration and private sector participation. It was built with further investment from the Singapore Government after the initial Singapore Science Park only achieved modest success. The Singapore Science Park was originally largely government directed in its set up with a low density design and no direct academic links.
The lessons from these examples are that culture is critical. Silicon Valley, Cambridge Science Park, and other successful examples of clusters have brought people together and actively facilitated interactions between them.
The benefits of this kind of collaboration extend beyond immediate economic growth. Close interactions give rise to new networks. New networks then facilitate the flow of expertise and knowledge between people and organisations which is essential for supporting future discoveries and breakthroughs.
Networks are important for the types of challenges we are facing. Think about climate change, biosecurity, and food security; these span country, organisational and disciplinary boundaries. Collaboration across traditional disciplines and between sectors (particularly between the research and industry sectors) is an essential ingredient in developing solutions to the world’s most wicked challenges.
Then there are the efficiency dividends from joining up the players, and lowering the costs of interacting.
Australia can learn from these international examples to improve its own collaborative effort. The 2013 Global Innovation Index placed Australia at 19 out of 142 countries, behind countries such New Zealand, Israel, the Republic of Korea and Ireland.
Two of the areas in which Australia performed poorly related to our ability to form clusters and export high technologies. Increasing collaboration and knowledge adoption are key areas that need to be improved if Australia is to remain globally competitive.
In Australia, we have a number of successful programs that improve collaboration such as Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs), Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence, Enterprise Connect, Research and Development Corporations, Technology Parks, and CSIRO’s National Research Flagships. CSIRO is also currently developing five Global Precincts.
At the moment, however, we still don’t have anything that combines the right geography, the right scale and the right mix in the melting pot to get the broad and deep connections of a Silicon Valley or Cambridge Science Park.
There are certain areas in Australia were there is sufficient expertise and industry activity to build collaborative melting pots of global scale. We have natural focus points such as manufacturing in Melbourne, and resources in Perth. Taking key lessons from around the globe we can build on these strengths to improve collaboration. High density, shared facilities and direct links to academia would also improve flows between industry, research, and government.
With scale comes international visibility, easier access, greater efficiency of investment for public and private funds, and that magic that happens when people with different backgrounds collaborate. The critical part will be to get the culture right.
With patience we can bring research and industry together and improve our collaborative performance. CSIRO’s own Global Precincts aim to do just that by emphasising physical closeness, direct linkages, and active facilitation of collaboration.
Australia might not have a Silicon Valley, but these kinds of projects already underway, will help Australia compete in the increasingly global innovation system.
David Ireland is the General Manager: International, Precincts and Innovation Systems Business Services and is involved in developing the Australian Global Precincts mentioned in this article.
Louise Osborne works for the CSIRO in the Global Precincts program.
The National Football League’s last four playoff berths will be decided by Sunday’s final regular-season games, two of them showdowns in which the winner advances and the loser is done.
Chicago entertain Green Bay and Philadelphia will visit Dallas with the winners in each capturing a division crown and first-round home playoff game and the losers packing up for the season .
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who had back surgery on Friday to repair a herniated disc, will be replaced by seldom-used backup Kyle Orton when the Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles to decide the NFC East champion and a playoff spot.
Romo threw for 3,828 yards and 31 touchdowns in 15 games this season for the Cowboys.
It’s the third year in a row in which the Cowboys will either make or miss the playoffs based on their final game, having fallen to Washington and the New York Giants the past two years.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was named on Thursday as the Packers’ starter at Chicago against the team that sidelined him in a road triumph last month.
A victory gives the Bears or Packers the NFC North crown and spells the season’s end for the loser of the NFL’s oldest rivalry, which will be contested for the 188th time.
Seattle, Carolina and San Francisco have secured National Conference playoff spots with the Chicago-Green Bay and Dallas-Philadelphia winners joining them.
The sixth and final NFC spot will go to either New Orleans or Arizona. New Orleans can clinch the berth by winning at home over Tampa Bay but anything less would allow the Cardinals to take the final wildcard berth by beating visiting San Francisco.
Seattle can seal a home-field edge throughout the path to the Super Bowl with a home win over St Louis but a loss opens the door for San Francisco to overtake them for the NFC West title.
Carolina need a victory at Atlanta to clinch a first-round bye and the NFC South division crown.
In the American Conference, playoff spots have been clinched by division champions Denver, New England, Cincinnati and Indianapolis as well as wildcard qualifiers Kansas City.
That leaves four teams — Miami, Baltimore and San Diego at 8-7 and Pittsburgh at 7-8 — vying for the last wildcard spot in a complicated mess where all of the clubs need help from results in other games to advance.
Miami need a home victory over the New York Jets and either a loss by Baltimore at Cincinnati or a San Diego home victory over Kansas City.
A win by reigning Super Bowl champions Baltimore would still need Miami or San Diego losing to keep the Ravens in the running to defend their crown. San Diego must win and have Baltimore and Miami lose.
Pittsburgh need a win and losses by the other three contenders to reach the playoffs. If all four teams lose, the Ravens advance.
Denver clinched a first-round playoff bye but must win at Oakland or have New England fail to beat visiting Buffalo to ensure the Peyton Manning-led Broncos have a home-field edge all the way to the Super Bowl.
Cincinnati could deny New England a first-round bye with a victory if the Patriots falter against Buffalo and Indianapolis could take the bye by beating Jacksonville if the Patriots and Cincinnati both lose.
India lost their last nine wickets for 136 as they crashed from 198 for one to 334 all out, with Steyn the catalyst for the collapse as he ended a barren run of 414 deliveries between wickets in the series with a fiery spell of bowling after lunch.
South Africa raced to 82 without loss in their reply during a marathon three-hour final session with openers Graeme Smith (35 not out) and Alviro Petersen (46 not out) to resume on Saturday as the Proteas aim to build a big lead.
Nine of the 10 Indian wickets were caught behind as the South African pace barrage that had looked so meek on day one came to life with Steyn’s inspired spell in the afternoon session in which he took three wickets in 10 balls.
“I said to (bowling coach) Allan (Donald) that it was one of my best fifers because I had gone so long without a wicket. Most people would have capitulated,” Steyn told reporters referring to his haul of more than five wickets.
After the morning was completely lost to rain, Cheteshwar Pujara (70) was Steyn’s first victim as India added 17 runs to their overnight 181 for one, caught by wicketkeeper AB de Villiers pushing forward to a pitched-up ball.
It brought to an end a fine second-wicket stand of 157 between Pujara and Murali Vijay that had so frustrated South Africa on the opening day.
“After it rained there was a little bit of moisture in the wicket and in the first hour it was doing a bit. The ball had more carry and was skidding off the wicket,” Pujara said in a TV interview.
“We could have got 400, but we are happy with this total we have. The ball has started turning a bit and once we get the reverse swing the fast bowlers will come into the picture.”
Vijay moved to within three of his century before he succumbed to Steyn’s short-pitched attack, gloving the ball down the leg-side to De Villiers.
On the very next ball Rohit Sharma (zero) misjudged the bounce as he shouldered arms to a delivery that always looked destined to crash into middle stump.
Virat Kohli was on course for his third half-century in as many innings in the series before he was out 10 minutes before tea for 46, another catch down the leg-side by De Villiers, this time off Morne Morkel.
India advanced to 320 before they lost their sixth wicket, MS Dhoni (24) providing a catch for Smith at first slip off Steyn.
Jacques Kallis, playing his 166th and last test, reached perhaps one final milestone when he pouched Ravindra Jadeja (zero) at slip off spinner JP Duminy – his 200th catch in five-day cricket.
Kallis is second only to former Indian batsman Rahul Dravid (210) on the all-time list for a fielder.
Zaheer Khan (zero) and Ishant Sharma (4) became Steyn’s fifth and sixth victims as they edged to De Villiers, before the innings was complete when Mohammed Shami was taken at first slip by Smith off Morkel.
Steyn finished with figures of six for 100 in his 30 overs, while Morkel recorded three for 50 in 23.3 miserly overs. T
Morkel said South Africa were determined to “make something happen” and win the test in honour of Kallis.
Steyn added: “There are three days left, so I hope we can get a result, especially for Jacques. We will do everything in our power to try and win it for him.
“We were on the edge of winning in Johannesburg and then we didn’t, but rather than go 1-0 down there, we stand a chance of winning the series here.
“He (Kallis) sat down and had a little talk with us and said he didn’t want to play his last test in Durban and for it to fizzle out and be a draw.
“So we have to do whatever it takes. Whatever it is, whether we have to score quickly, take 10 wickets again, whatever, we’ll do it.”
(Reporting by Nick Said; editing by Justin Palmer and Ken Ferris)
Being an Australian actor in Hollywood can have its drawbacks.
That’s why Gigi Edgley puts on her best LA accent when she fronts directors and producers at auditions.
Edgley is back on the beat for Hollywood’s pilot season now she has finished hosting the reality series Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge.
The series follows 10 aspiring creature creators who have to make and create mechanical characters and whimsical beasts in a bid to join the famed puppet and muppet workshop. There’s also $100,000 prize money.
Edgley was called up to host the series by Brian Henson, the chairman of the Jim Henson Company and son of the late Jim Henson who created The Muppets.
Brian Henson was co-creator of the sci-fi series Farscape, which Edgley appeared in for four seasons, and called her manager in January, inviting her to host the show.
Teaming up again with Henson has reignited Edgley’s love affair with the US and was the catalyst for her trying out for pilot season, when the TV networks cast for new shows.
Edgley says she keeps pre-audition banter to a minimum and always converses, in or out of character, with an LA accent.
“I feel positive and excited by the show (Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge) and I thought I’d really like to give Hollywood another whirl,” Edgley told AAP from Hollywood.
“I go in speaking like an American and with a seamless accent.
“That’s because there are rumours around town that if you go in as an Australian they won’t be able to focus on the scene because they’ll be listening to your accent and trying to pick flaws in it.
“I make very little talk in the intro other than questions about the character or the script.”
Edgley says life is tough for actors in Hollywood during pilot season and it’s not unusual to turn up to an audition and find a dozen or more hopefuls competing for the same role.
But the competitiveness hasn’t taken the edge off her enthusiasm.
“You just have to go in and be as prepared as you can be and enjoy the journey and sooner or later the right role will fall into your lap.”
Edgley recently returned to the US after she finished filming the biopic Carlotta for the Nine Network.
She will return to Australia in April for two pop culture conventions to chat with fans of Farscape.
“I was only going to be in it for one episode and I stuck around for five years and I love the autograph signings,” Edgley says.
“It’s a chance to meet people who are passionate about what I am passionate about.”
* Supanova Pop Culture Expo is being held at the Gold Coast Convention Centre on April 5 & 6 and at the Melbourne Showground on April 12 and 13.
The pressure mounting on Sydney FC is “too easy” says Serbian recruit Nikola Petkovic, who feels maybe the current crisis is exactly what the under-siege club needs to galvanise them.
Having spent most of his career playing in the unforgiving European leagues – including Serbia, Germany, Turkey and Russia – fan revolts and bad press are “nothing special” for the defender.
Fans at Allianz Stadium on Saturday unfurled banners calling for coach Frank Farina’s head and that of chairman Scott Barlow and chief executive Tony Pignata.
Dozens of supporters also vocally protested wanting Farina gone as the club slumped to its seventh loss in 10 matches against Adelaide and a record third straight defeat at home.
But Petkovic says having played in front of some very volatile crowds in Europe and during his time at Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade, what he witnessed on Saturday paled in comparison.
“To be honest for me this is nothing special,” he said.
“I come from a country where you have one draw and you’re in trouble with the fans but there it’s different, they attack the players not the coaching staff and the board.”
And it’s the players who Petkovic believes should take responsibility for the team’s situation with the honest 27-year-old saying maybe the heat should be turned up.
“Here is too easy,” he said.
“Everyone says this is pressure, but this is not pressure.
“I think maybe if we have more pressure we will feel the problem.
“The players just need to switch on and think about our job on the field because no one can play for us – not the board or the president or Farina.”
Petkovic said players being banished from first-team training was common practice in Europe and while he had never been in the situation himself he hoped Farina’s decision to send Nick Carle and Matt Thompson home from training on Monday would put others on notice.
“For them it’s not easy but maybe it’s a good reaction for the team. Maybe everyone start to think `what is this now? Maybe I’ll be in the same situation?’,” he said.
“Maybe some players will switch on after this.”
Both Carle and Thompson had been accused of being a “negative influence” on the team but Petkovic denies this saying: “Negative is when we lose every week and when we don’t fight.”
The Sky Blues could climb back into the top six with victory over Perth on Saturday and Petkovic says this tumultuous week could be just what the team needs to spark them into action.
“This is the biggest motivation for us I think,” he said.
“We have the supporters, the newspaper, everything is against us and if this is not motivation then we are not the right players for this team.
“We have to deal with this and we have to keep going to prove ourselves on Saturday night.”
The death of a 14-year-old housemaid abused by her employer has sparked a public outcry in Morocco, giving ammunition to those demanding an end to the exploitation of child workers in the kingdom.
The girl, known as Fatima, died last March after suffering third-degree burns to her hands and face.
Her female employer was jailed for 20 years in January after being convicted of her death.
The trial became a symbol of the ordeal that some of the tens of thousands of child domestic workers have to endure in the north African nation, rights groups say.
Morocco’s labour laws prohibit the employment of anyone under the age of 15 and require the authorisation of a guardian for anyone under 18.
Despite some improvements, the national planning commission says, however, there are still more than 90,000 children under 15 working in Morocco.
And Human Rights Watch said in January that girls as young as eight continued to work in private homes for up to 12 hours per day, and for as little as $US11 ($A12.22) per month.
The country has no laws protecting domestic workers – both children and adults – but parliament has tabled a bill aimed at regulating their working conditions.
The proposed law would give domestic workers contracts and a minimum wage of around $US100 ($A111) a month – half the national figure – as well as one day’s holiday per week and an annual leave allowance.
Employers who flaunt these terms could face financial penalties of up to 5000 dirhams ($A666.50).
Finalised in June, the bill “has been endorsed by the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, the (state) National Council of Human Rights and we are totally open to all propositions” from parliament, Labour Minister Abdesslam Seddiki said.
But the legislation has its critics too, and rights groups and opposition politicians have demanded the bill be expanded to offer better working conditions.
Human Rights Watch last November urged Moroccan lawmakers to revise the bill, saying it had “a unique opportunity to put an end to the exploitation of domestic workers by bringing the draft law in line with standards set by the International Labour Organisation.”
“Morocco can become the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to ratify the domestic workers’ treaty,” HRW’s Tamara Alrifai said in a letter to Seddiki.
The South Australian government has given the go-ahead for a $1.
5 billion wind farm to be built on the Yorke Peninsula.
The 197-turbine Ceres Project will be located between Ardrossan and Minlaton, Planning Minister John Rau said on Thursday.
The development has been approved subject to conditions relating to its construction and operation and infrastructure such as transformers, transmission lines and cabling.
The development will connect to the Adelaide electricity grid via an under-sea transmission cable from Port Julia to St Kilda.
“It is estimated that the Ceres wind farm would be able to power the equivalent of 225,000 South Australian homes a year,” Mr Rau said.
“This will avoid the creation of up to 2.5 million tonnes of carbon pollution each year, or the equivalent of a 278,000 hectare tree plantation.”
It is expected to generate 500 direct jobs during construction, as well as 50 full time jobs over the 25 year operational life of the development.
Mr Rau said the company has also proposed a community benefit fund of $200,000 per annum over the 25 year period.
Clean Energy Council chief executive David Green congratulated the state government and Senvion Australia for winning approval for the wind farm.
It would provide enough renewable energy to power the equivalent of 225,000 homes a year, he said.
“It will also be the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere when completed in 2016 – a title currently held by AGL’s Macarthur Wind Farm in western Victoria,” Mr Green said.
“The Renewable Energy Target is due to be reviewed this year and, if left alone to do its job, will continue to provide an incentive for clean energy projects such as Ceres that provide hundreds of direct and flow-on jobs for the local economy.”
China’s troubled Jade Rabbit lunar rover has survived a bitterly cold 14-day lunar night, prompting hopes it can be repaired after a malfunction last month.
The problem was a setback for Beijing’s ambitious military-run space programme, which includes plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually sending a human to the moon.
“The rover stands a chance of being saved as it is still alive,” Pei Zhaoyu, spokesman for China’s lunar probe programme told the official news agency Xinhua.
An earlier report by the semi-official China News Service said an attempt to restore the vehicle to full functionality on Monday had been unsuccessful.
The rover, named Yutu or Jade Rabbit after the pet of Chang’e, the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology, experienced a “mechanical control abnormality” as the lunar night fell on January 25, provoking an outpouring of sympathy from Chinese Internet users.
But Pei said on Thursday: “Yutu has come back to life!”, adding that the rover “went into sleep under an abnormal status”.
Scientists had been concerned it might not be able to survive the extremely low temperatures of the lunar night, when it was supposed to remain dormant, but it was now receiving signals normally, Xinhua cited him as saying.
But experts were still working to establish the causes of its mechanical control abnormality, the agency reported, without giving details.
Australia-based independent space expert Morris Jones said that the problem involved a solar panel on the rover failing to close.
“This allowed heat to escape from the rover in the cold lunar night. The cold has probably damaged some parts of the rover permanently, but it seems that some parts are still working,” he said.
Beijing sees the space programme as a symbol of China’s rising global stature and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party’s success in reversing the fortunes of the once-impoverished nation.
The Jade Rabbit was deployed on the moon’s surface on December 15, several hours after the Chang’e-3 probe landed.
The landing – the third such soft-landing in history, and the first of its kind since the Soviet Union’s mission nearly four decades ago – was a huge source of pride in China, where millions across the country charted the rover’s accomplishments.
An unverified Weibo user “Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover”, which has posted first-person accounts in the voice of the probe, on Thursday made its first update since January.
“Hi, anybody there?” it said, prompting thousands of comments within minutes.
Xinhua has said the account is “believed to belong to space enthusiasts who have been following Yutu’s journey to the moon”.
Police have fired rubber bullets and tear gas at about 16,000 landless farmers marching for land reform in clashes that left 42 people hurt.
Wednesday’s march in the capital Brazilia was the latest in a series of protests rocking the nation, raising security concerns just four months before Brazil hosts football’s World Cup.
After a peaceful beginning, protesters clashed with police as they neared the presidential palace and began to dismantle barricades.
President Dilma Rousseff was not in the building as the disturbance unfolded.
A spokesman for the marchers told AFP that police moved in after some demonstrators began to erect a barricade of tents.
In the end, 30 police were injured – as well as 12 of the protesters, police and the Landless Movement (MST) said.
A protest in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday ended in tragedy when TV cameraman Santiago Andrade was struck on the head by a flare thrown by a demonstrator, and died of his injuries four days later.
A 23-year-old man suspected of throwing the flare was arrested in northern Brazil. He faces up to 35 years in prison.
This year has seen sporadic demonstrations in Brazil, while the burning of buses in business hub Sao Paulo has become an almost daily occurrence.
Last week’s unrest in Rio was sparked by the latest rise in transport fares, the same issue that prompted nationwide demonstrations in June.
Protests since then have been smaller but more radical as anarchist groups have infiltrated them. Police have responded, sometimes in heavy-handed fashion.
Brazilians are angered by poor public services while their country spends billions of dollars to host the World Cup and the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Wednesday’s marchers in Brasilia comprised agricultural workers marking 30 years of the MST movement whose previous marches had been peaceful.
Across the square from the protest, Brazil’s Supreme Court suspended its session owing to the size of the protest.
The marchers dispersed shortly after the clash with police.
Many grumbled that Rousseff, though a leftist, is allowing agro-business to undercut chances of land reform instead of worrying about them.
The landless movement has spent decades demanding wide-ranging land reform but frustration has grown at the slow progress being made.
Born in 1984 in the final days of two decades of military dictatorship, the MST has become Brazil’s main organised social movement, helping some 350,000 families obtain land.
Forge is on the verge of being delisted from the Australian Securities Exchange, just two days after its financiers, including ANZ Bank, announced they had withdrawn their support for the company.
Receivers KordaMentha said 1300 employees on power stations and mining projects in Western Australia and Queensland were retrenched on Wednesday after the principals of the construction jobs exercised contractual rights on the projects.
“Moves by some of the owners of the projects forced our hand because there is no cash to carry employees,” receiver Mark Mentha said in a statement.
Employees were notified of the redundancies on Wednesday afternoon.
Forge’s clients include mining giants Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill Holdings.
Administrators Ferrier Hodgson and receivers KordaMentha were appointed after the company recently reported significant cost over-runs and profit downgrades in power construction contracts.
Mr Mentha said Forge’s financiers had done everything possible to give the company time to find a solution to repair its balance sheet.
The action has left administrators to complete the Diamantina Power Station in Queensland and West Angelas Power Station for Rio Tinto’s expansion in the Pilbara region of WA.
Mr Mentha said Forge employees would receive their entitlements from the sale of Forge assets and the federal government scheme that guaranteed basic entitlements.
“There is no money to pay employees and no work to perform,” Mr Mentha said in a statement.
“We are working closely with the administrators to do whatever we can to help the employees at this dreadful time for them and their families.”
He said the receivers would bring employees back to their home town and help them apply for their entitlements.
One employee told Fairfax radio he is owed eight weeks pay, while 457 visa holders had 90 days to find another job before being forced to leave the country.
Forge had 1,753 employees in Australia and 814 overseas.
Mr Mentha added that Forge’s international businesses in South Africa, Asia and the US would operate as usual ahead of a sale of those businesses.
The development has cast a cloud over the construction of a $1.47 billion processing facility at Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill iron ore project in WA, which was worth $830 million to Forge.
Meanwhile Opposition Leader Bill Shorten lamented the loss of more Australian jobs following the collapse of Forge Group, calling it a “devastating announcement”.
“Our thoughts are with the workers and their families,” Mr Shorten said in a statement.
The S&P Dow Jones Indices said it will remove Forge Group from the S&P/ASX 200 at the close of trade on Thursday as a result of the company being placed in voluntary administration.
The company will be replaced by Nine Entertainment Co after the close of trade on February 19.
The decision to appoint administrators came less than a fortnight after Forge said it expected to post a full year loss of up to $25 million.
In December, Forge announced writedowns of $127 million associated with its Diamantina Power Station in Queensland and West Angelas Power Station for Rio Tinto’s expansion in the Pilbara region of WA.
The first meeting of creditors is scheduled to take place in Perth on February 21.
The evacuation of civilians and delivery of aid to besieged rebel-held areas of Syria’s third city Homs has resumed as peace talks in Geneva struggle to make headway.
Government and opposition delegations again met face-to-face on Wednesday, day three of the second round of talks in Switzerland, but the government side refused even to discuss a transition plan put forward by the opposition.
And the hard-won talks had no effect on the bloodshed at home, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting an average daily death toll of 236 people since the launch of their first round on January 22, the highest since the uprising erupted nearly three years ago.
The observatory said the army launched an offensive backed by air power against Yabrud, the last rebel bastion in the strategic Qalamoun region.
A total of 217 civilians who wanted to escape more than 18 months of tight army blockade were evacuated from the rebel enclave on Wednesday, after the relief operation was suspended the previous day, provincial Governor Talal al-Barazi told said.
“The operation went well and smoothly,” Barazi said.
The evacuations bring the total number of people given safe passage out since Friday to more than 1400.
They came hours after 190 food parcels and 4700kg of flour were taken into the besieged rebel enclave, the Syrian Red Crescent’s head of operations Khaled Erksoussi said.
“There are children there, and this is very heartbreaking, that this is the first time they see a banana,” Erksoussi said.
Red Crescent staff backed by UN agencies began evacuating some of the estimated 3000 civilians trapped in besieged areas on Friday under a UN-brokered humanitarian truce between the government and the rebels.
Concern has grown, however, over the fate of some 336 male evacuees aged between 15 and 55, who UN officials say were detained for questioning by the security services as they left Homs.
According to Barazi, 111 of them have since been released.
Activists inside Homs said some men leaving had been prevented from heading to the destinations of their choice, and had been stripped of their standard issue identity cards.
The evacuations have also been marred by violence in violation of the promised truce, with aid convoys coming under fire and 14 people killed in shelling.
The operation has been welcomed internationally, and is providing desperately needed relief for civilians who have described surviving on little more than olives and wild plants.
“We will use any chance we get to get in and deliver aid and help people to leave, because we believe this chance won’t come again,” Erksoussi said.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to tighten security in cities across the country after protests against his government turned deadly, killing three people and injuring 26 others.
“There will be no coup d’etat in Venezuela; you can rest assured. Democracy will continue, and the revolution will continue,” Maduro said on national television on Wednesday.
“I have given clear instructions to state security agencies to secure the country’s main cities. Anyone who goes out to try to carry out violence will be arrested.”
At least 30 people were arrested as rival protests linked to his country’s deepening economic crisis exploded into violence.
A pro-government demonstrator and two student protesters were killed as rallies both for and against Venezuela’s government escalated.
Unidentified assailants earlier fired into a rally outside the attorney general’s office in Caracas.
The OPEC member nation – with an institutionally socialist government dependent on oil revenues in a state-led system – sits atop the world’s largest proven reserves of crude.
Yet its economy has been battered by inflation of more than 50 per cent a year.
Venezuela has had economic problems go from bad to worse amid shortages of hard currency, while dwindling supplies of consumer goods have frustrated some government supporters.
The government blames “bourgeois” local business interests for trying to profit from its largely low- and middle-income political base. It has engaged in privatisations and unpopular currency controls.
National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello denounced “the killing of a fighting member of the Bolivarian Revolution in the Plaza La Candelaria” some 200 metres from where the opposition supporters were rallying.
“This is a provocation from the right,” Cabello charged, calling for “calm and sanity.”
Authorities took several actions against reporters and media.
Journalists union chief Marco Ruiz said that a photographer and a reporter were arrested while covering the protests, and that they were taken to different military detention facilities.
And Colombian news channel NTN24, which had been covering the protests in depth, was abruptly pulled off the air.
Outside AFP’s office in Caracas, riot police used tear gas to break up about 100 student protesters.
Then equipment used to film the news, including one video camera belonging to AFP, was stolen as authorities looked on.
Thousands of students, accompanied by several opposition politicians, had converged in downtown Caracas to denounce the economic policies of Maduro, who succeeded the late Hugo Chavez as president last year.
A day earlier, five youths were shot when more motorcycle-riding gunmen opened fire on protests in the Andean city of Merida, local media and student groups have said. Another 10 students participating in the protests were arrested.
Sydney’s ANZ Stadium will not shut during a planned but unfunded $250 million upgrade, which should see a retractable roof and moveable stands built at the Olympic venue.
The ambitious construction project could begin in 2015 – the same year the venue is expected to host a series of prestigious and valuable events, including key parts of the showpiece Asian Cup soccer competition.
ANZ Stadium, which generated more than $100 million for the NSW economy in 2013, is slated to host group stage, quarter-final, semi-final and final matches for the important regional football competition in January.
The venue is also expected to host a series of national and international events through 2015, including the Sydney Swans, numerous NRL clubs, the Wallabies, A-League Allstars, T20 and State of Origin matches.
A spokesman for the venue insisted there will be no stadium shutdown or cancellations in 2015, should the significant financial backing be found to allow the major upgrade work to start.
“There are already discussions with the codes and clubs that hire the stadium to minimise impact,” the spokesman told AAP.
The upgrade work will not increase the current 83,500 capacity at ANZ Stadium, but it may help improve spectator vantage points and atmosphere at some matches.
Lower seating areas will be reconfigured and moveable grandstands built at the southern and northern ends, according to plans unveiled by Stadium Australia Operations Pty Ltd.
That will move fans attending football code matches to within five metres of the deadball line and square-off the previously curved north and south seating areas.
The playing arena area will also be widened – becoming close to the stands – on the eastern and western sides to cater for cricket and AFL matches.
ANZ Stadium, like other arenas built for athletics but now hosting football matches, has been strongly criticised for lacking atmosphere during some events as fans are forced to sit far from the action.
There will also be upgraded food and drink outlets inside and outside the stadium, including a new pub on the venue concourse.
“Our ambition is to create the greatest multi-purpose sports and entertainment stadium in the world,” said stadium managing director Daryl Kerry.