IOC bans Burke memorial stickers from helmets

The IOC has told at least one athlete, Australian snowboarder Tora Bright, to refrain from using a sticker.

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“For us it is a question of what is appropriate,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters. “We have huge sympathy and she (Burke) needs to be well remembered either individually or collectively.

“The competitions themselves are not the right place to do that and we would like to keep that separate.”

He said the IOC could help organise another event or news conference to remember multiple X Games champion Burke, who died in January from injuries sustained in a training crash in Park city, Utah.

She had successfully lobbied for the inclusion of the superpipe event at this year’s Sochi Games.

“I ride with a Sarah sticker on my snowboard and helmet always. The IOC however, consider Sarah stickers ‘a political statement’ and have banned them. WOW,” Bright wrote on social networking site Instagram.

“Sarah is a beautiful, talented, powerful woman, who’s spirit inspires me still. She is a big reason why skier pipe/slope are now Olympic events.”

The IOC also sent a letter to the Norwegian Olympic Committee reminding them that their decision to wear black armbands in memory of an athlete’s relative who had died before the start of the Olympics in Russia was inappropriate.

The brother of cross-country skier Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen died suddenly a day before the Games opened and the wanted to commemorate him and support their athlete.

Norway’s four skiers in Saturday’s skiathlon raced with black armbands in memory of Jacobsen’s brother.

IOC officials said the letter to the NOC was not an official reprimand but rather a reminder of the rules.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Taiwan to raise press freedom in China

Taiwan says it will raise the issue of press freedom with China at their first government-to-government talks since 1949, after media outlets were refused accreditation for this week’s meeting.

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The Mainland Affairs Council, which formulates the island’s China policy, said its chairman Wang Yu-chi would “discuss issues related to equal exchanges of news information” when he meets on Tuesday with his counterpart Zhang Zhijun, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office chief.

“Press freedom is a universal value. We’ve repeatedly said that the most important thing regarding news exchange between the two sides is the free and equal flow of information,” it said in a statement.

The talks in Nanjing in China’s eastern Jiangsu province, and a later visit to Shanghai, are the fruit of years of efforts to normalise relations and mark the first official contact between sitting governments since a split six decades ago.

Two million supporters of the nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan – officially known as Republic of China – after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists in 1949.

The island and the mainland have been governed separately ever since.

The mood surrounding the talks soured in Taiwan after Beijing refused to issue credentials to the Taipei-based Apple Daily and the US government-funded Radio Free Asia on the weekend.

China’s decision also sparked rebukes from the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) and the affiliated International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) over what they described as an attack on journalists.

“Again this indicated that the Chinese government has gravely suppressed freedom of press,” the ATJ said in a statement on Sunday.

The IFJ said it also called on the governments of Taiwan and China to sign an “Agreement to Ensure News Freedom” and to immediately refrain from using visas or permits as “instruments of censorship”.

Apple Daily was founded by Hong Kong business tycoon Jimmy Lai, an outspoken critic of human rights standards in China, while Radio Free Asia was established to provide an alternative to state-run media for people living under repressive regimes.

Taiwan’s leading opposition Democratic Progressive Party also demanded Wang relay “serious protests” to China during his four-day trip.

Wang has previously said he wants to use the visit to raise issues including proposed liaison offices, bilateral efforts on regional economic integration and better healthcare for Taiwanese students studying on the mainland.

Ties between Taiwan and China have improved markedly since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008 on platforms of beefing up trade and tourism links.

He was re-elected in January 2012.

Vic premier seeks money for Toyota workers

Premier Denis Napthine will fly to Canberra on Tuesday in a bid to secure commonwealth support for Victorian workers impacted by Toyota’s decision to cease manufacturing in Australia.

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About 2500 jobs are expected to be lost from the state’s Altona plant, with countless more likely to go from the components sector.

Dr Napthine said he would seek a package that extends to workers in the supply chain when he and Deputy Premier Peter Ryan meet with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

He dismissed estimates the announcement could cost 30,000 jobs, but said the number of supply chain losses would potentially be several thousand.

A comprehensive adjustment package was needed for affected workers, he said.

“We are looking to provide assistance to affected workers,” Dr Napthine told reporters on Monday.

“We need to work with the workers to identify other opportunities for training and retraining to enhance their job prospects in a broader, diverse job market in Victoria.”

He would not put a dollar figure on the package he is seeking.

Toyota’s decision follows announcements by Holden and Ford to shut down local production.

About 1000 jobs will go from Victoria by the time Ford closes shop in October 2016, with another 1300 to be lost when Holden follows in 2017.

But the premier dismissed suggestions the state was headed for recession.

“The Victorian economy is a diverse and robust economy,” Dr Napthine said.

Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Mark Stone says it is more important than ever that governments work with business to capitalise on enduring strengths and overcome obstacles.

Unions have savaged the federal government following Toyota’s announcement.

The ACTU said the Abbott government goaded Holden into leaving and had done nothing to keep Toyota.

But Dr Napthine said world factors were responsible for the irreversible decision.

“In each of the recent decisions, the companies concerned have referred to international factors,” he said.

These include the high Australian dollar, fierce competition in the local market and the relatively high cost of production.

Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the Napthine government would be remembered for doing nothing while the car industry died.

“Fifty thousand Victorian workers needed a jobs plan but Denis Napthine failed every single one of them,” Mr Andrews said.

NSW farmer warns of CSG Trojan Horse

Farmer Alistair Donaldson is worried a CSG project in northern NSW will have a devastating impact on a forest, sacred sites and agriculture in the region.

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“It’ll just turn this place into an absolute shithole,” he says of Santos’ coal seam gas (CGS) project in the Pilliga.

There are eight wells operating at the moment as part of the pilot phase but Mr Donaldson reckon’s it’s only the start, claiming about 6000 had been sunk through the Great Artesian Basin in Queensland.

“This is the Trojan Horse here, 850 wells,” the 51-year-old told AAP from the farm his family have been working on for 135 years.

“It’ll probably move to other areas of the scrub and the actual forest and the conservation areas and then in all directions.”

Since July, only 50mm of rain have fallen on Mr Donaldson’s property which relies on four bores for his cattle and crops.

Drilling through the Great Artesian Basin will make the already scarce water harder to access and less reliable, he says.

“Anyone out there … if they don’t have a decent underground water supply they’re literally finished, their business will effectively close down,” Mr Donaldson said.

“I have such a fear for the future of agriculture.”

With many of the younger locals “frying their brains and their livers” on the huge wages they’re paid to work in the resources sector, Mr Donaldson fears there will be “a lost generation” of farmers.

“It’s pretty hard to find anyone that’s coming back on the land.

“The average age in farming around here’s about 57, 58.”

Earlier on Monday, officers ordered all protesters to leave the Pilliga but Carmel Flint from Armidale locked herself to a truck to prevent it moving parts of a drill rig through the forest.

The 42-year-old freed herself on Monday afternoon and was arrested, protesters told AAP.

A Santos spokesman said the actions of some protesters on Monday put their lives at risk, along with the safety of Santos workers.

“Santos’ exploration and drilling program in the Pilliga has all of the relevant government approvals to allow us to carry out a program that is both safe for the community and safe for environment,” he told AAP.

Barca, Real on the brink of Cup final showdown

The record domestic Cup winners with 26 titles, Barca are 2-0 up on Real Sociedad ahead of their semi-final second leg in San Sebastian on Wednesday (2100 GMT).

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Real, who have claimed the trophy 18 times and are third on the all-time list behind Athletic Bilbao with 23, have a 3-0 cushion before their trip across the capital to play holders Atletico Madrid on Tuesday (2000).

As well as revenge for last season’s 2-1 defeat in the final, Real’s convincing performance in last week’s first leg at the Bernabeu was the latest evidence they are coming into form just as the season is approaching a critical juncture.

Barca suffered a surprise wobble in La Liga at the beginning of the month, losing 3-2 at home to Valencia, but have made serene progress in the Cup and returned to the top of the league thanks to Sunday’s impressive 4-1 comeback win at Sevilla.

Their four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi has taken time to get back into his stride following a two-month injury layoff around the turn of the year but his superb double in Seville suggested he is not far off his scintillating best.

“If anyone says anything negative about him all they are doing is provoking him,” Barca coach Gerardo Martino, who hails from Messi’s home town of Rosario in Argentina, told a news conference.

“And if you provoke the world’s best player his next opponent will have a problem.

“He is always decisive, even if it is merely a matter of dragging opposition players into the centre and anything that distracts their attention is positive.”

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Real also look to have their latest “galactico” signing, Wales winger Gareth Bale, back to full fitness after a series of minor niggles.

The world’s most expensive player opened the scoring in Saturday’s 4-2 La Liga win at home to Villarreal and set up Karim Benzema for the second of the night.

“I scored a fantastic goal and made an assist,” Bale told reporters. “I am very pleased and available for the coach for our upcoming games.

“I am working hard on the pitch and in every training session so I can be in the team.”

Once the Cup semi-finals are out of the way, Barca have one more La Liga game, at home to struggling Rayo Vallecano, before they play at Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League on February 18.

Real play at Getafe and host Elche in La Liga before their trip to Germany to meet Schalke 04 on February 26.

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)