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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.