UGL to split engineering and property arms

UGL will split its shrinking engineering business from its growing property arm to reflect the property division’s greater global focus.

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UGL wants to complete the demerger into two independent Australian Securities Exchange-listed companies in fiscal 2015.

Chief executive Richard Leupen said separating the domestic engineering business and the DTZ global property services business was the best thing for the company’s future.

“There’s very little in common between the needs of both companies,” Mr Leupen said on Monday.

DTZ’s business was largely US-based and, outside of that, its biggest targeted markets were China, Singapore, Europe and Canada.

“This business (DTZ) needs to be an American business, it needs to be run in America, it needs to have a focus on the major global corporates,” Mr Leupen said.

He said that not many investors wanted to own both a property company and an engineering firm at the same time, given that they frequently had different economic cycles.

Property was now in an up-cycle and engineering was in a down-cycle.

Also, both businesses would be better able to pursue consolidation opportunities as stand-alone entities.

The split was announced as UGL booked a 72.8 per cent drop in net profit for the 2012/13 financial year.

Net profit was $36.5 million, down from $134.3 million for the prior year.

The result was skewed by the cost of an internal restructure, rebranding and underperforming power projects.

Underlying profit was $92.1 million, down from $168.3 million in the prior year but in line with company guidance.

UGL has forecast an annual underlying profit of $120 million to $130 million for the 2013/14 financial year, subject to a continued reasonable economic outlook.

Shares in UGL were 11 cents, or 1.49 per cent, higher at $7.51 at 1256 AEST on Monday.

Engineering’s revenue fell 30 per cent to $1.8 billion in the last financial year as capital investment in the resources and infrastructure sectors in Australia slowed down.

The underperformance of several power projects also impacted engineering’s earnings, but these projects were expected to be closed out over the coming months.

Operations and maintenance revenue fell 18 per cent to $489.4 million as big miners cut costs.

But, Mr Leupen said, engineering would not remain in the doldrums forever.

UGL was considering the expansion of engineering into Asia and had recently established an office in Mumbai, India.

DTZ’s annual revenue rose 21 per cent to a record $1.9 billion, helped by an improvement in the US property market and a strong performance from the Chinese and Asia-Pacific markets.


‘Islam is a country’ candidate quits race

The One Nation candidate ridiculed after referring to Islam as a country in a television interview has withdrawn from the election campaign.

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Stephanie Banister, 27, was running for the seat of Rankin in Queensland but One Nation leader Jim Savage told reporters on Saturday Ms Banister has decided to withdraw following the fallout from her interview with the Seven Network.

During the interview, which Mr Savage says was misrepresentative, Ms Banister referred to Islam as country as well as referring to the Koran as “haram” and saying the national disability insurance scheme was “working at the moment”, when it does not begin until 2016.

“She continues to have the full support of the One Nation executive, and contrary to reports on the media last night and in the newspapers today, Stephanie has not been disendorsed and will not be disendorsed,” Mr Savage said.

“However, due to the threats against Stephanie’s family, herself, her children, the abuse she’s copped and the enormous pressure she’s been put under, Stephanie has decided she wants to withdraw from the candidacy for the seat of Rankin. We have accepted it with regret.”

Ms Banister had only been in politics for 48 hours at the time of the interview and made a short statement alongside Mr Savage but wasn’t allowed to answer any questions on Saturday.

“With the way Channel Seven edited my interview, I was left quite the fool,” Ms Banister said.

“I’d like to apologise to One Nation, to my friends and family, for any embarrassment this has brought to them.”

Mr Savage said it was his responsibility such a novice candidate had been allowed to conduct an interview without appropriate preparation but also claimed Channel Seven had unfairly targeted Ms Banister.

He said it was unclear at this stage if One Nation would nominate a replacement candidate for Rankin with the deadline for nominations on Thursday.


Margaret Thatcher laid to rest

Britain has laid to rest one of its most influential and divisive Prime Ministers in modern history.

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Margaret Thatcher was the country’s longest serving leader of the 20th Century.

 

Over two-thousand representatives from 170 countries attended her funeral service in London, with thousands more watching on from outside St Paul’s Cathedral.

 

Darren Mara has the details.

 

The bells of St Paul’s Cathedral rang out across central London to mark the arrival of the coffin of Margaret Thatcher.

 

Thousands had been waiting outside the cathedral under grey skies in the hours leading to Baroness Thatcher’s funeral service.

 

It was a time for Britons and others around the world to remember a woman who loomed large over the latter part of the 20th Century.

 

Baroness Thatcher’s coffin, draped with a Union Flag, was borne on a gun carriage to St Paul’s, nine days after she died from a stroke at the age of 87.

 

It was a ceremonial funeral with full military honours.

 

At her request, it was not a state funeral, but has been compared in its grandeur and scale to the state funeral given to Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill in 1965.

 

Indeed, Baroness Thatcher’s was the first funeral for a former Prime Minister since Mr Churchill’s to be attended by the ruling British monarch, Queen Elizabeth.

 

The Dean of St Paul’s, the Reverend David Ison, opened the service: “We recall with great gratitude her leadership of this nation, her courage, her steadfastness and her resolve to accomplish what she believed to be right for the common good. We remember the values by which she lived. The ideals she embraced – her dignity, her diligence, her courtesy and her personal concern for the wellbeing of individuals.”

 

The Bishop of London Richard Chartres, who was a close friend of Lady Thatcher, said she became a “mythological” figure in British society during and after her time in office.

 

“The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher, who became a symbolic figure, even an ‘ism’ (Thatcherism). But today the remains of the real Margaret Hilde Thatcher are, here at her funeral service, lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.”

 

Bishop Chartres went on praise Lady Thatcher’s resilience as a politician, especially in the face of discrimination because she was a woman.

 

“By the time she entered parliament in 1959, she was part of a cohort of only four per cent of women in the House of Commons. She had experienced many rebuffs along the way, often on the shortlist for candidates, only to be disqualified by prejudice against a woman and, worse, a woman with children.”

 

Thousands of well-wishers applauded as the coffin of the so-called “Iron Lady” left St Paul’s Cathedral.

 

Amongst her admirers, Baroness Thatcher will be remembered for her rapprochement with the Soviet Union, which helped bring about the fall of Soviet Communism.

 

During her 11 years as leader she also oversaw the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina, considered the defining moment of her Prime Ministership.

 

Supporter John Loughrey explains why he came to pay his respects.

 

“She will be talked about in 500 years’ time. She is one of our greatest Prime Ministers of all time and also our first woman Prime Minister and I couldn’t miss that because I will never get the opportunity to see this again in my lifetime.”

 

But just as mourners gathered to remember Margaret Thatcher, so did groups of protesters as the debate over her legacy continues.

 

Under Margaret Thatcher, free market economics prospered and Britain’s heavy industry struggled.

 

Her policies prompted lengthy and bitter industrial disputes that gave her many long-lasting working-class enemies..

 

The demonstrators at the funderal were shouting against what they termed attempts to idolise her.

 

Hundreds of protesters turned their backs as her funeral cortege went by, booing and chanting “Maggie, Maggie Maggie! Dead, dead, dead!”

 

This protester was opposed to the huge cost of the funeral: “There are people that are unable to pay their fuel bills, They are in energy poverty, There are people who are selling their homes to pay their care bills. There are people who are having benefit cuts. I really feel that even Margaret Thatcher would have said 10 million pounds on a funeral in this economic climate is inappropriate.”

 

Lady Thatcher’s coffin was taken to the Royal Hospital Chelsea ahead of a private cremation at the Mortlake Crematorium in London.


Abbott in surplus budget pledge

Budgie smugglers are out, for now, but a budget surplus will be in, Tony Abbott promises.

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Mr Abbott joined 85,000 others on the road between Sydney’s CBD and Bondi Beach on Sunday, running with blind athlete Nathan Johnstone in the 14-kilometre City2Surf fun run.

But the Opposition Leader said joining in the run on the morning of his debate with prime minister Kevin Rudd wasn’t a big shift from his usual morning routine.

“I could either run around the back blocks of Forestville or I could be out with 80,000 of my fellow Australians,” he told Macquarie Radio.

Running to raise money for motor neurone disease research, Mr Abbott finished in a respectable time of one hour, 21 minutes and 16 seconds.

Earlier on day seven of the campaign, Mr Abbott and Liberal frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull announced a $15 million boost for surf clubs and a new policy to deal with drowning black spots.

Asked if he had considered making the announcement in his budgie smugglers, Mr Abbott, a surf lifesaver himself, laughed and said: “Election campaigns should be budgie-smuggler-free zones.

“You won’t see me in budgies this side of polling day.”

Mr Abbott also said a coalition government would return the budget to surplus in its first term, provided the Labor government’s budget figures – which will get another going over in Tuesday’s Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook – were correct.

“If the budget figures that the government has so far put out are correct, yes (there will be a surplus in the first term),” he said.

“But we can’t guarantee what the starting point is.”

He said the coalition’s costings would be announced well before election day on September 7.

Labor was yet to release its full list of costings and had failed to deliver any of its promised surpluses to date, Mr Abbott added.

Mr Abbott left Sydney for Canberra to take part in the first debate of the election campaign against the prime minister.

“I’m looking forward to it because it’s both of our chances to present directly to the Australian people what are our positive plans for the future,” Mr Abbott said.


Hawks’ AFL stars back to play Magpies

Top-placed Hawthorn have regained three of their biggest stars – Lance Franklin, Luke Hodge and Grant Birchall – for Friday night’s bumper AFL clash with in-form Collingwood.

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Franklin missed last round’s win over St Kilda with hamstring soreness, captain Hodge was out with a thumb injury, while running defender Birchall hasn’t played since round 13 because of a knee injury.

The Magpies, coming off an impressive win over Sydney, have named an unchanged side.

Carlton have lost captain Chris Judd, defender Matthew Watson and speedster Jeff Garlett to injury for Saturday’s crucial MCG clash with Richmond.

But after losing to the Western Bulldogs last round, they still dropped forward Sam Rowe and tagger Jaryd Cachia.

Debutant Nick Graham was among their inclusions, while Mitch Robinson earned a recall.

The Tigers have lost former skipper Chris Newman (ankle) but Dylan Grimes returns for his first AFL game since round six, after overcoming a foot injury.

Essendon, coming off three big losses, have made five changes for Saturday’s meeting with North Melbourne.

Dustin Fletcher and Paddy Ryder are out suspended, Jason Winderlich (hamstring) is also a forced omission along with Scott Gumbleton (soreness), while David Myers has been rested.

The Bombers have handed Lauchlan Dalgleish a debut.

Gold Coast have lost Campbell Brown to suspension and Nathan Bock, Sam Day and Alex Sexton to injury for Saturday’s clash with Port Adelaide.

The Power have lost Domenic Cassisi and John Butcher.

West Coast forward Mark LeCras will miss Saturday night’s encounter with Geelong, but Luke Shuey returns.

The Cats have left out star forward Tom Hawkins (back), with ruckman Mark Blicavs added to their side.

Sydney have added Gary Rohan to their extended squad for Sunday’s SCG meeting with St Kilda, for what would be his first AFL game since a severe leg break in round four last year, if he makes the final 22.


Northern Ireland shines a light on dark past

It’s holding an Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry into child abuse in children’s homes and other residential institutions between 1922 and 1995.

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For nearly ten years during that period, nearly 110 children in care were sent to live in Western Australia.

 

Now the inquiry wants them to come home and testify about what those years in care were like.

 

At Tuart Place in Fremantle, Western Australia there is laughter, good food and friends.

 

It’s a place where children who were in institutional care can talk about their past, present and future.

 

For one of them, a child migrant, the near future will be a trip back to the country from where she was “stolen” as a five-year-old.

 

Anne, the daughter of an unwed Catholic mother, spent the first five years of her life at Nazareth House in Northern Ireland before she was sent to Western Australia – without her mother’s permission.

 

She was one of 110 children in care who made the trip between 1947 and 1955.

 

Anne intends to testify at Northern Ireland’s Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, which is calling for the surviving child migrants to share their experiences.

 

“I want to speak on behalf of those that are unable to. Those that have passed on, including my mother, and for my family in Northern Ireland and for my family in Australia. I have a son and a partner, we’ve never married, but we’ve been together for 38 years or so. It’s on their behalf that I want to speak out because my partner’s a child migrant as well. He’s an English child migrant so I want to go and speak for them.”

 

Anne’s and her mother’s story began as the Second World War was coming to an end.

 

“In 1944 she had a relationship with an American soldier who was stationed in Northern Ireland during the war. In June, he was sent to Normandy to fight on D-Day, got injured and got repatriated back to America. My mother found out she was pregnant, so as a result she left Northern Ireland to have me in southern Ireland in a place called Manor House, Castle Pollard in West Meath. That was in November 1944.”

 

A few weeks later, Anne was taken to Nazareth House in Belfast, Northern Ireland where she would spend the next five years.

 

It was a children’s home run by Catholic nuns who, according to former residents, would beat children and lock them in cupboards until they stopped crying.

 

Anne says she can’t remember any of her time there or coming to Western Australia.

 

“To me it’s my way of coping. Not remembering the horrible stuff and I don’t even recall the trip out on the boat. It’s all been blocked out. That’s my way of coping. (Reporter: because that would have taken some time, the journey on the boat). Yeah, about five, six weeks, yeah, it would have been a while. We had two nuns that came over, but they have denied it. I can recall when they came over and said we cut your hair and you locked yourself in your cabin for three days because they cut me hair, but that’s, other than that, I don’t know a thing; don’t remember a thing.”

 

Unbeknown to Anne at the time, her mother came to visit her, as she often did, at the home.

 

She was told her daughter, who she was paying maintenance for, was gone – taken to the other side of the world.

 

Anne says she spoke to her mother about it, but she can’t remember what she tried to do to get her back.

 

In Western Australia, Anne’s new home was Saint Joseph’s in Subiaco.

 

She can remember this home.

 

“Well, brutal at times. Schooling was under duress. Frightening at times because if you couldn’t do your homework or couldn’t fathom out what was being taught you got whacked around a bit so it wasn’t the best. To me I equate it to a modern day Oliver Twist because you were always fearful. You were always looking after one another in case you were going to cop it next type thing. But then again we had our good times as well because as kids we made our own fun. We used to play tricks on the nuns. Do different things. Life was what you made it. You had your fun but you also saw a lot of brutality as well. But not all of them. Just a handful made it bad for all the others because there were some good nuns as well.”

 

Some of the brutality has stayed with Anne.

 

“Two girls ran away one time and they were away for a few hours and we’d all gone to bed and we were woken up, about eight or nine o’clock, and made to go down to the hall, form a circle and witness their punishment with a cane, which today I’ve never gotten over. It was quite brutal. The noise, the horrible noise was bad, bad.”

 

Anne was at the home for ten years, but her school friends knew her as Lucy.

 

It was common practice for children to have their names changed.

 

When “Lucy” reached her mid-teens, she was sent away to work.

 

At her last placement, when she was about 17, she refused to go back.

 

Anne feared if she returned to St Joseph’s, she would become a “working girl” – stuck at the children’s home working for the nuns.

 

She locked herself in the toilet and refused to come out until she had assurances from the owner’s son that she wouldn’t be taken back to Subiaco.

 

“When he came to collect me, he said ‘yes, you’re not going back’ and when I got back late in the evening, I went to bed wherever I went and that following morning when I woke up, I got such a shock because there was barbed wire on all the windows and I thought ‘far out, I’ve been sent to jail!’ I couldn’t believe it. So that was that and it was Mt Lawley receiving home. I’d been sent to a juvenile detention centre.”

 

She spent three weeks there and was finally found a job at Government House as a kitchen lady.

 

Free at last, she was encouraged by her welfare officer to see her family in Northern Ireland.

 

She knew their address after her mother had sent her a letter when she was in Grade Four, which the nuns made her read in front of her class.

 

Despite the contact, Anne didn’t really think her mother would come to get her.

 

“You did in a way because like from where we were in the playground or in class, you could always hear the front door bell ringing and you’d stop and you’d think ‘is it going to be for me? Is it my mother coming over?’ and then in the end you joked about it and said ‘yeah, she’s walking across the water just to come and see me’, you know you make a joke of it, but you knew that it wasn’t going to happen. It was just too far away. Not that I realised the distance in those days, but you just thought it’s never going to happen. It just wasn’t going to happen.”

 

So Anne moved to London in 1967 and made it happen.

 

For the next two years she got to know her family, including a caring step father who treated her as his own, during frequent visits to Northern Ireland.

 

But her six siblings only knew her as their cousin at first.

 

“It was a long time before I realized it shouldn’t have happened, but I didn’t get upset about it until quite a few years later. I just went with the flow. I didn’t get angry until I had my own son. When I had my own son, I realized what he was missing. There was no extended family, no cousins for him to play with. That’s when I started to get angry. (Reporter: Who were you angry at?) The system for what happened. Everything. I was just angry. I would bawl my eyes out for no reason. I just got angry at the whole situation. (Reporter: what about your mother? Any anger towards her?) When I first met her, we just had, not shouting words, you know: ‘you thought more of yourself than of me, you just dumped me, blah blah blah. The usual stuff, but there was nothing confrontational or anything like that. Just wondering why. What happened? It’s all it was really.”

 

But Anne had a family at last and when her mother died in 1984, the penny dropped for the remaining siblings who hadn’t figured out the truth.

 

Now her next trip to Northern Ireland will be to speak on their behalf, her mother’s and her own about the decades they all spent apart.

 

The director of Tuart Place Phillipa White says there are other child migrants who want to make the same journey as Anne, but ill health and raw emotions are preventing them.

 

“A lot were too young to remember anything, but of those who do recall, you know the same kind of abuse that occurred in Australia. There was violent, physical abuse, there was sexual abuse, lack of education , emotional cruelty, separation from siblings, lack of information about themselves. Some were given misinformation about whether their parents were living or not and other types of misinformation as you heard before, people’s names were changed arbitrarily, given different birth dates, that kind of thing.”

 

Dr White says they want the inquiry to come to them, which the inquiry is considering.

 

But there are others whose voices will never be heard.

 

“There would be a number who have died because the group are an older cohort of adults and some maybe living interstate. It was not uncommon once children left institutions to take off to rural WA or interstate and to try to get as far away as possible from their recollections of being in institutional care. So a lot don’t read newspapers. A lot don’t listen to electronic media. Particularly at the moment as there’s a lot of coverage of things like the Royal Commission and that can be quite retraumatising for people.”

 

No date has been set yet for child migrants to make the journey to their country of birth to relive the trauma of the past.

 

The inquiry is scheduled to conclude in 2015 with a report to be handed to the Northern Ireland Executive by January 2016.

 


2012 broke climate records: report

The world lost record amounts of Arctic sea ice in 2012 and spewed out all-time high levels of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel burning, international climate scientists say.

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Overall, 2012 was among the top 10 on record for global land and surface temperature, said the State of the Climate report issued annually by researchers in Britain and the United States.

“Globally-averaged, 2012 ranked as the eighth or ninth warmest year since records began in the mid-to-late 1800s, according to four independent analyses,” said the report, released on Tuesday.

“The year was 0.140.17 above the 1981-2010 average, depending on the dataset considered.”

When it came to Arctic sea ice, a new record low was observed in September for sea ice and another all-time low for snow cover was observed in the Northern Hemisphere, it said.

Meanwhile, permafrost temperatures reached record high values in northern Alaska and 97 per cent of the Greenland ice sheet showed some form of melt, four times greater than the average melt for this time of year.

The amount of carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels also hit new highs, after a slight decline in recent years that followed the global financial crisis.

“In spring 2012, for the first time, the atmospheric CO2 concentration exceeded 400 parts per million at seven of the 13 Arctic observation sites,” it said.

Droughts and unusual rains struck different parts of the globe last year, with “the worst drought in at least the past three decades for northeastern Brazil,” the report said.

“The Caribbean observed a very wet dry season and it was the Sahel’s wettest rainy season in 50 years.”

On a positive note, the climate in Antarctica remained “relatively stable overall” and warm air led to the second smallest ozone hole in the past two decades, it said.


Will Chelsea Manning be treated humanely?

On Thursday, Manning publicly came out as a transgender woman.

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In a statement, Manning asked that “starting today, you refer to me by my new name”—Chelsea—“and use the feminine pronoun.” There is one exception: In “official mail to the confinement facility,” Chelsea Manning will still be “Bradley.” There, she will be “he.”

Manning is set to serve her sentence at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. It is a male-only facility; female military prisoners are all housed at the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego. Though Manning and her lawyer have announced hopes to begin her physical transition while locked up, an Army spokesman said that hormone therapy and sex-reassignment surgery would not be available to her. Some jurisdictions across America now require facilities to provide hormone therapy to trans inmates as a part of their routine medical care, but Leavenworth is not currently compelled to do the same. It appears that Leavenworth’s plan is to treat Chelsea Manning just like a man.

That’s a problem for Manning, but it could end up being a problem for Leavenworth, too. As a trans woman living in a men’s prison, Manning will not only be denied hormone therapy. She will also face an elevated risk of harassment and sexual assault behind bars from both fellow inmates and members of staff. One 2006 study of California prisons found that trans women housed in men’s prisons are 13 times as likely to be sexually abused than other prisoners. That year, 59 percent of transgender women in the system were abused. And Just Detention International, an organization dedicated to ending sexual abuse behind bars, notes that once “targeted for abuse, the majority of transgender survivors are subjected to repeated sexual assaults.”

Over the past two decades, laws have emerged that put the onus on detention facilities to prevent these assaults. After a trans woman named Dee Farmer was repeatedly raped and beaten in an all-male Indiana prison, she took her case all the way to the Supreme Court; the 1994 decision in Farmer v. Brennan found that the government’s “deliberate indifference” to the sexual assault of inmates under its care was unconstitutional. Now, detention facilities (including military ones) must follow special policies to protect inmates like her. In 2003, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Though real-world implementation of the PREA standards has been slow-moving, the act ostensibly requires facilities to—among other things—take extra care in assigning housing to transgender inmates to reduce their risk of assault. That often means respecting the prisoner’s stated gender identity. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, housing decisions “must be made on a case-by-case basis” and “cannot be made solely on the basis of a person’s anatomy or gender assigned at birth.” The transgender inmate’s “views regarding their personal safety must be seriously considered,” as well, and the “decisions must be reassessed at least twice per year.” Simply placing the at-risk inmate in solitary confinement to sidestep the gender issue is not an acceptable option.

It’s unclear how Leavenworth will ultimately deal with Manning’s gender identity; she came out publicly just today. Whatever the facility does, we will hear about it, because Chelsea Manning is now the most famous transgender prisoner in America. Her lawyer has pledged to fight to ensure she’s treated humanely in prison. Here’s to hoping that her example—and her legal team—will help shine a spotlight on the challenges faced by trans inmates across the country, too.


India works to salvage sub after blast

Indian divers are pumping water out of a submarine that has sunk at its mooring in a Mumbai military shipyard after it exploded, with 18 sailors on board.

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India’s prime minister voiced “deep regret” over the accident which is feared to have left no survivors.

The fully armed INS Sindhurakshak, returned by its original maker Russia earlier this year after a major refit, was engulfed by a fireball that lit up the night sky at a Mumbai dock early on Wednesday. The vessel then sank.

The disaster, considered the navy’s worst since the sinking of a frigate by a Pakistani submarine in 1971, has cast a long shadow over India’s military capabilities as it seeks to counter a build-up by increasingly assertive China.

Divers had opened the main hatch and were pumping out water on Thursday to raise the diesel-powered vessel, which is lying in shallow water, officials said. Part of the stricken submarine protruded out of the water.

“So far we have not found any survivors but we have not gone through the entire boat yet. Also we have not sighted any bodies in the area searched,” a senior navy official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Separately, a top defence ministry official, who asked not to be quoted, told AFP that the vessel had suffered “very, very extensive damage”.

“The dewatering of the submarine is on,” the official said.

Three sailors who were on the outside of the vessel managed to leap to safety.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing the nation in the traditional Independence Day speech at the Red Fort monument in Delhi, voiced sorrow over the tragedy, which marked a major setback for the rapidly modernising navy.

“We have deep regret that we lost the submarine INS Sindhurakshak in an accident. Eighteen brave sailors are feared to have been martyred,” he said.

“The accident is all the more painful because the navy had recently achieved two major successes in the form of its first nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, and the aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant,” Singh said.

In recent days India launched its first domestically produced aircraft carrier and began sea trials for the first Indian-made nuclear submarine, trumpeted as a “giant stride” for the country.

Newspapers lamented the loss of the submarine on their front pages. “Navy Catastrophe”, said the Indian Express in a headline. “Defender of the seas meets fiery end”, said The Hindustan Times.

The Times of India called it the country’s “worst peacetime disaster”.

The world’s biggest democracy has been expanding its armed forces to upgrade its mostly Soviet-era weaponry and respond to what many in India perceive as a growing threat from regional rival China.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony described it as the “greatest tragedy in recent time”.

Navy chief D.K. Joshi said on Wednesday no sign of life had been detected since the submarine was engulfed by flames.

Amateur video footage showed a fireball in the forward section of the Sindhurakshak, where torpedoes and missiles were stored as well as battery units.

An inquiry board will probe the cause and look at the possibility of sabotage, but “the indicators at this point of time do not support that theory”, Joshi said.

The board is due to report its findings within a month.

Other sailors on vessels near the INS Sindhurakshak were admitted to a navy hospital in Mumbai with burns.


Iran prepares for presidential elections

The president of Iran is elected for a four-year term, and nearly 50.

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5 million Iranians are eligible to vote.

 

This year, six candidates approved by Iran’s ruling Guardian Council are running in the poll – and none has a reformist platform.

 

David Crisante reports.

 

The winner of this week’s presidential elections in Iran will face a series of international challenges including tougher sanctions and growing pressure from Western countries over the country’s nuclear program.

 

There is also the declining state of Iran’s internal affairs – rampant inflation, a worsening economy, and mounting unemployment among young adults.

 

Iran’s Guardian Council had approved eight presidential candidates, but two dropped out in the week leading up to the election.

 

One of the favourites, conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, has promised to bring the economy back on track in two years should he be elected.

 

He maintains Iran cannot open a new chapter in history amid an economic downturn and what he calls slow diplomacy.

 

“We are need of a shift in the managerial approach of our society’s administration. One part of this change relates to foreign policy: diplomacy in this field did not bring about the acceptable outcomes which were in our plans.”

 

Mr Qalibaf is among four of the remaining candidates seen as close to the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

 

The Ayatollah was the target of mass demonstrations in 2009 by reformist demonstrators who accused Iran’s conservative rulers of rigging the vote.

 

In the upcoming election, none of the election candidates is progressive, and those that led the reformist campaigns in 2009 are under house arrest.

 

The approved candidates all hold similar positions on some critical issues.

 

All have expressed support for Iran’s nuclear energy program, which Western countries claim is being used to develop nuclear weapons.

 

But in the last of a series of televised debates, moderate candidate Hassan Rohani criticised Iran’s hardline stance on the issue, which has resulted in several rounds of United Nations sanctions.

 

“We need to get away from extremism, this also relates to foreign policy. We should maintain the country’s interests and national security so as to provide conditions where we create opportunities for people to participate politically, economically and socially.”

 

His view is opposed by hardline candidate Saeed Jalili, who became Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator in 2007.

 

He’s vowed to continue the nation’s nuclear program and says Iran must not make any concession to the West on domestic affairs.

 

“They should understand that Iran will not only defend its nuclear rights, but any other rights. They should know that they can’t trifle with Iran when it comes to its rights. Iran is serious about its rights.”

 

Iranian Rasouf Alidoust migrated to Australia in 2007 and organised pro-democracy protests in Melbourne after the 2009 elections.

 

Mr Alidoust says voters have a bleak choice between what he calls ‘bad candidates and even worse ones’, because all those vying to be president are puppets of the Ayatollah.

 

Iranians in Australia are eligible to vote.

 

But Mr Alidoust says, for the first time in his life, he won’t vote because he believes these elections won’t be free or fair.

 

“All the people who are already involved in the politics, in the positions of the Islamic Revolution, they’re all sort of one family and we cannot even separate these members of the family from each other.”