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Comment: Could Australia ever have its own Silicon Valley?

By David Ireland, CSIRO and Louise Osborne, CSIRO

Silicon Valley is a bit like the ancient city of Babylon.

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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.

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Four NFL playoff spots at stake

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.

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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.

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Steyn’s six put South Africa on top in decider

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.

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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.

REVERSE SWING

“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.

INNINGS COMPLETE

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)

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Dozens hurt in Brazilian peasants’ protest

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.

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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.

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At least 1300 Forge employees sacked in WA

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.

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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.

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Homs evacuations resume as talks resume

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.

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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.

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Maduro says no chance of coup after demos

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.

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“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.

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Upgrade will not close ANZ Stadium

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.

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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.

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Salvadoran castaway says ships ignored him

The castaway who survived 13 months adrift in the Pacific says several ships passed by during his ordeal but they ignored his cries for help.

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As Salvadoran Health Minister Maria Isabel Rodriguez relayed a new chapter in Jose Salvador Alvarenga’s amazing tale on Wednesday, the fisherman urged journalists to leave him in peace so that he can recover from his 12,500km odyssey.

Alvarenga, 37, spent his first full day back in his homeland in a hospital near San Salvador, where doctors said he was in impressive physical shape but needed psychological attention.

“He told us that he almost lost any hope of returning to the world because he did not get support,” Rodriguez told a news conference.

“He told us how several boats passed by, including close to him. He asked for help and they did not want to help him.”

One ship’s crew waved back at him but did not stop to help the shaggy-haired castaway, who was only in his underwear, she said.

Another came so close that “it almost destroyed his little boat because it passed next to him,” Rodriguez said.

Alvarenga says he set off on an ill-fated shark fishing trip off southern Mexico in late 2012, floating in a seven-metre fibreglass boat before washing ashore in the Marshall Islands on January 30.

A 24-year-old crewmate died four months into the voyage, unable to stomach a diet that was limited to rainwater, urine, turtle blood, raw fish and bird flesh, according to Alvarenga.

In a short video released by the health ministry, Alvarenga said from his hospital bed that he was “doing well” but pleaded with journalists who have followed his every more since he returned home to leave him alone.

“No more questions or pictures. I want to be alone with my family, that I be given time to be able to speak after I recover, because right now I am not in condition to give explanations,” he said, wearing a blue hospital blouse and resting his left arm above his head.

He also asked reporters to leave his family alone after an emotional reunion with his parents and 14-year-old daughter Fatima, who last saw him eight years ago.

Pictures showed them hugging him tightly as he lay in bed. His family thought he was dead until he emerged in the Marshall Islands.

Alvarenga was taken to the San Rafael National Hospital after landing late Tuesday following a long flight home.

His psychological fragility contrasted with his good physical shape, which has impressed doctors given Alvarenga’s unusual diet.

“His physical condition is enviable,” Rodriguez said.

Alvarenga asked for a corn tortilla and sugary bread at the hospital.

Kidney and heart tests found nothing abnormal, but he underwent psychological evaluations to determine when he can return to his family’s Pacific coast village of Garita Palmera.

“He gets tired quickly, loses a little bit of control. He is still not ready to communicate with the world. He cries easily,” Rodriguez said.

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‘Unspeakable catastrophe’ in CAR: UN

BANGUI, Central African Republic, Feb 13 AFP – The head of the UN’s refugee agency says he has witnessed “a humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions” during his visit to the Central African Republic.

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“Massive ethno-religious cleansing is continuing. Shocking barbarity, brutality and inhumanity have characterised this violence,” Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement on Wednesday.

He also said the country’s new government is incapable of effectively protecting its citizens.

His statement clashed awkwardly with a speech on Wednesday by the CAR’s new transitional president, Catherine Samba Panza, who vowed war against a mostly Christian anti-balaka militia whose recent attacks have led to a mass exodus of Muslims.

“We are going to go to war against the anti-balaka,” she told a crowd in the town of Mbaiki, south of the capital Bangui.

“They think that because I’m a woman, I’m weak. But now the anti-balaka who want to kill, will themselves be hunted,” she said.

The anti-balaka emerged last year after a mostly Muslim rebel group seized control of the country. They have gone on the rampage in Bangui and elsewhere, largely targeting Muslims, since the rebels were ousted from power last month.

During her speech, Samba Panza was joined on stage by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

France has grown increasingly strident in its calls for action against the anti-balaka, fearing that the violence could lead to partition of the country.

But the UN refugee agency said much will be needed to stem the attacks, and spoke of “dramatic underfunding” of relief operations.

“The international community must come together for a significant and immediate increase of the forces and police on the ground,” said Guterres.

“Our resources are overwhelmed and ability to do more hampered. The Central African Republic is falling through the cracks of international attention. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

Even a huge airlift launched on Wednesday by the UN’s World Food Programme is unlikely to make a dent in the humanitarian crisis.

The first cargo aircraft, loaded with 80 tonnes of rice, landed in Bangui in the early afternoon. There will 24 daily supply drops to the city.

“This is a rather exceptional operation, our biggest emergency air operation in a long time, bigger than for Syria and the Philippines,” WFP spokesman Alexis Masciarelli told AFP.

But he admitted the operation “would not completely solve the problem” in CAR, where 1.3 million people – more than a quarter of the country’s population – is in need of food assistance.

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Waratahs learning how to win

The NSW Waratahs have recruited with purpose but coach Michael Cheika says it’s a personality transplant that will ensure Groundhog Day doesn’t come around in the 2014 Super Rugby season.

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On the eve of his second season in charge, Cheika has refused to back down from his stated goal of a top-two placing for the Waratahs – but stressed that bold statement is an ambition not a prediction.

After all, a star-studded side talking the talk has become an all-too familiar scenario for long-suffering NSW fans, and still the trophy cabinet is bare.

In Israel Folau, NSW possess the most dynamic attacking weapon in Australian rugby.

With halves Kurtley Beale and Nick Phipps returning to their home state and South African enforcer Jacques Potgieter arriving to give the pack a more physical presence, the Waratahs have also shopped better than their Australian Conference rivals.

However, Cheika knows that NSW could have signed every international on the open market and not be guaranteed a win without a fundamental change in thinking.

Cheika is confident he’s removed the soft underbelly and his players have learned what it takes to convert expectation into results.

“I believe quite clearly that the personality of our playing squad and our rugby has changed,” Cheika told AAP.

“There’s a certain liking of hard work now.

“Guys are getting stuck in with no questions asked.

“You don’t just say, ‘I’m going to win’, and it starts happening. They are learning how to become winners.

“They know everything we get we’ve got to earn.

“We’ve got to make sure we show that on every occasion.

“I think we’re definitely ambitious to be up there in the top two. That’s not about predicting anything, it’s about saying that’s our ambition and we’re going to work hard to get there.”

Cheika has been particularly impressed with the pre-season form and aptitude of Beale, who has a point to prove in his return to the Waratahs.

The smart money is on Beale to run the show at No.10, however there remains a strong possibility he could play inside centre to accommodate fellow Wallaby and incumbent playmaker Bernard Foley.

Where Beale and Foley line-up will ultimately dictate the positions played by Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne and Jono Lance.

Folau as a roaming presence at fullback is the only certainty.

Cheika says he’s comfortable with changing midfield combinations throughout the season, based on the opposition they are facing, and isn’t concerned about too many (playmaker) cooks spoiling the broth.

“One big thing we’re clear on is everyone’s role and responsibility within the team according to the number that’s on their back,” said Cheika.

“Once you’re in the No.10 you have a certain role, or in the 12 or 15 or 11.

“That’s what good winning teams start to do. They load up on what their role is and go hard on doing their job.”

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Unemployment rate hits 10 year high

Economists expect little improvement in the jobs market in the months ahead, after the unemployment rate hit six per cent for the first time in over 10 years.

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Australia’s jobless rate for January rose from 5.8 per cent in December, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“The unemployment rate should continue to edge higher over the next six months or so and this expectation fits in with the Reserve Bank of Australia’s outlook for the jobs market,” St George chief economist Besa Deda said.

“The slowdown in mining investment is making its presence felt among the resource states, with the soft labour market present in Western Australia and Queensland likely to persist.”

RBC currency strategist Michael Turner said ongoing deterioration in the labour market was to be expected.

But the jobs figures would not cause the RBA board to regret their recent decision to signal a period of stable interest rates.

“People have been expecting a little bit more of a bounce back from December’s employment growth numbers but that wasn’t to be,” he said.

Mr Turner expects the unemployment rate to drift a little higher in the first half of 2014 before moderating in the fourth quarter and into 2015.

“Given the slow pace of employment growth it’s hard to see it getting back below six per cent on a sustained basis for most of this year,” he said.

“The leading economic indicators have indeed improved gives some hope that the peak in the unemployment rate is not too far away.”

Ms Deda also said leading indicators of employment, such as job ads, have been stabilising over recent months.

“Employment gauges are a lagging indicator of the economy and so the improvement witnessed in the economy over the past months would not yet show up in the labour numbers,” she said.

The growth in part-time employment at the expense of full-time employment could be explained by employers not wishing to lay off employees because of an anticipation that economic activity will improve, Ms Deda said.

“There was a lift in average hours worked in January, but for now firms are still not willing to take on the risk of lifting their headcount,” she said.

The total number of people with jobs fell 3,700 in January, and was down 23,000 in December.

Full-time employment fell 7,100 in January and part-time employment was up 3,400.

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Cupid flaps wings online in France

The internet is powering Cupid’s wings in France, with use of online dating sites soaring, according to matchmakers preparing to help singletons maximise their seduction opportunities this Valentine’s Day.

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Of the 18 million single people in France “one in two uses internet dating” said Jessica Delpirou, director in France of the Meetic dating website, which was launched in 2001 and recently taken over by the US website Match广西桑拿,.

The run-up to St Valentine’s Day – before New Year resolutions are forgotten – is a particularly busy time.

On February 14 last year, Meetic, which has around 840,000 paying subscribers in Europe, registered a 38 per cent increase in people signing up compared with other Thursdays in the month, said Delpirou.

Keen to woo Paris’s singletons with a bit of pampering, Meetic, the biggest advertiser in the sector, this year organised what it calls “Operation Boudoir”, a vintage 1950s-style lorry which serves as a mobile massage and manicure salon on the streets of Paris.

Since last year, the site has also been offering members a range of different ways of finding love, including soirees, dinners, and other activities such as cooking or photography workshops.

This Valentine’s week alone the firm, which usually puts on around 100 events every month, has organised 35 evenings in France.

Another firm, Lovoo, says it has seen recent monthly increases in users of around 30 to 40 per cent.

The company, which started in Germany and now has seven million users worldwide, is largely aimed at the under-30s with 70 per cent of subscribers aged between 18 and 30.

To mark Valentine’s Day this year it is inviting women to photoshoots to update and improve their profile photograph “because that’s what counts”.

Men, meanwhile, can benefit from an old fashioned shave in a barber’s chair and some all-important internet dating advice.

Stephane Boulissiere of Lovoo said he was not surprised by the increasing numbers turning to online dating, citing increased use of smartphones and tablets.

But France’s economic woes were also seen as an incentive for single people to find a mate.

Faced with financial insecurity, people see a relationship as “a safe haven to cope with daily life”, said Celine Petre of dating site Parship.

A study published in January by the eDarling website found 63 per cent of single people believed recession was not a hindrance in their quest for love.

In fact, “the general mood gives people strong motivation” to look for a partner, the study said.

Nearly eight out of ten consider themselves “in a stronger position to confront the gloom of daily life” as a couple and 75 per cent say that the economic crisis does not change their search criteria.

“They know that the notion of getting established in life is being lost, that nothing is gained at the professional level, and that therefore it is better to base relationships on the human qualities of their partner, rather than on his or her financial stability,” said Sabrina Philippe, a psychologist and consultant at eDarling.

“Obviously in times of crisis, living as a couple with two incomes can only improve daily life, provided that the income is not the main criteria of members when they use our services,” added Alexandre Lubot, general manager of Meetic.