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Zimbabwe quits Commonwealth

“Zimbabwe has withdrawn its membership from the Commonwealth with immediate effect,” the government said in a statement.

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“This is unacceptable. This is it. It (Zimbabwe) quits and quits it will be,” the information ministry quoted President Robert Mugabe as telling the presidents of Nigeria, South Africa and Jamaica when they told him of the Commonwealth’s decision by phone.

Leaders agreed to keep Zimbabwe from the group indefinitely at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Nigeria.

At the meeting, in the capital Abuja, it was agreed a seven-nation panel that includes Australia will monitor Zimbabwe’s progress in improving its human rights record and increasing dialogue with opposition parties.

Zimbabwe has been suspended since March of last year because of an election which saw President Robert Mugabe voted back into office amid widespread vote-rigging and violence.

Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo, the current chairman of the Commonwealth, said: “We will watch the situation in Zimbabwe very carefully.”

The decision was confirmed by Secretary General Don McKinnon, but a statement read out a press conference said that all heads of state would work to end the suspension and promote reconciliation in the country.

Mr Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since it won independence from Britain in 1980, threatened on Saturday to pull out of the body altogether if the summit favoured its continued exclusion.

The decision came after leaders from 52 nations at Chogm received recommendations from an ad-hoc panel comprising the leaders of the seven-nation committee.

A spokesman for Zimbabwe’s ruling party expressed shock at the decision, reiterating it was likely Zimbabwe would withdraw from the grouping.

“My immediate reaction is one of surprise and shock that the Commonwealth would have taken the decision it has taken,” said Nathan Shamuyarira, spokesman for the Zimbabwe African National – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

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Disaster declared in flooded France

France’s second city has been lashed by heavy rain in recent days and the state weather service, France Meteo, heightened an existing alert ahead of more forecast wind and rain.

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President Jacques Chirac flew over the region and briefly visited a crisis coordination centre to express his solidarity with the 7,000 police, firemen and soldiers deployed and sympathy for the victims.

The government announced it was giving 12 million euros ($A19.74 million) in emergency relief for the disaster.

The central square of Montpellier was underwater, with just the tops of park benches visible and the empty main street inundated up to the doors of shops.

Cars were left abandoned in the torrents that had formed over other roads. Army trucks were used to transport people whose homes had been flooded.

Road and rail traffic in southern France have been severely disrupted, with many routes submerged, while more than 9,000 people living close to swollen waterways have been evacuated and tapwater was declared too contaminated to drink.

The reactors in two power plants were shut down because of floating debris in the river that threatened to clog cooling inlets.

Authorities updated their casualty toll Wednesday, saying five people had drowned.

The disaster recalled floods last year in the same part of France that killed 24 people.

It also tested the reactions of government officials who had been taken to task for their perceived mishandling of an August heatwave that cost the lives of 15,000 people.

Local authorities said the Rhone river, which runs from Lyon, in the southeast of France, to Marseille, was channelling a huge amount of water – 12,000 tonnes a second –and was at a dangerous level.

France Meteo said the river was overflowing under the heaviest rainfall seen in the region in half a century.

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Khazal brothers would fight extradition

Bilal Khazal and his brother Maher are still in Australia but were sentenced in absentia by a military court in Lebanon for funding the group which carried out the bombing of a Beirut McDonald’s restaurant this year.

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Earlier this year, regulations were added to Australia’s extradition Act to add Lebanon as an extradition country.

The Prime Minister John Howard says Australia will facilitate any formal request from Lebanon for their extradition.

The brothers were found guilty of providing finances to a militant Sunni Islamic group.

They are amongst more than 25 people convicted of carrying out a string of anti-US attacks across Lebanon.

Bilal, a former Qantas baggage handler, and his brother live in Sydney’s western suburbs.

The brothers’ lawyer Chris Murphy says the Federal Government should be protecting the men and he will fight any attempt to extradite them.

“The High Court of Australia would not uphold this extradition,” said Mr Murphy.

He added that the men believed they were giving money to a charity not to a militant organisation.

But Mr Howard says he is willing to hand the brothers over.

“There has been no extradition request received by Australia but if there is one received, we would respond positively,” he said today.

The Australian federal police say neither Bilal nor Maher Khazal are facing charges under Australian law.

However the Justice Minister Senator Ellison has confirmed one of the brothers is the subject of an ASIO investigation relating to his alleged links with Al-Qaeda.

Bilal was allegedly named in a CIA report and Spanish court documents for his suspected links to Al-Qaeda, claims which he has repeatedly denied.

Lebanon’s State Prosecutor is considering whether to seek extradition.

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PNG laws hamper votes of no confidence

The government of Papua New Guinea has flexed its political muscle for the second time in two days, passing amendments critics say will make it harder to unseat Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

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The vote, to amend PNG’s constitution to give parliament a month’s notice before votes of no confidence, was carried – on a vote of 82/2 – amid calls by deputy opposition leader Sam Basil for Mr O’Neill to resign.

Mr Basil said the report recommending the law was doctored.

The laws also require parliament to sit for a minimum of 40 days a year, down from 63, and require a minimum of 22 of PNG’s 111 MPs to mount a vote of no confidence.

Mr O’Neill told the single House of Parliament he will resign if he loses the confidence of at least half the country’s sitting national MPs.

“To maintain confidence in a government you will continue to need 56 members of parliament to maintain that level of confidence, and I want to reassure this house, if I ever lose that confidence, I will resign as prime minister,” the Post Courier reported him as saying.

Since his election win in August 2012, Mr O’Neill has seen his grand coalition grow to 101 MPs with just a handful of undeclared MPs. The opposition numbers just seven.

Deputy opposition leader Sam Basil and opposition MP Tobias Kulang were the only nay votes.

The laws passed on Thursday are watered down versions of laws proposed by Mr O’Neill earlier this year.

The original was for votes of no confidence to be made public three months before the vote, with the backing of 37 MPs.

The vote marks the second time in recent days the government has passed major legislation.

On Wednesday, parliament passed laws granting the state 100 per cent ownership of the Ok Tedi copper mine in the Western highlands.

The laws also quashed mining giant BHP’s immunity from prosecution for damage sustained when the mine was built.

Earlier this year, parliament voted to extend bans on votes of no confidence from 18 to 30 months of a government’s five year term.

Mr O’Neill has argued previous governments – which in PNG are always made of broad coalitions of different parties – have been held hostage by surprise threats of votes of no confidence in the past.

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Honda eyes quadruple Indonesian sales

Japan’s Honda Motor launched its first low-cost car for Indonesia’s booming automotive market Thursday, part of plans to more than quadruple sales in the country by 2016.

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The launch of the Mobilia, a multi-purpose vehicle, comes as Honda builds its second plant in Indonesia to boost both production and sales.

Honda sold nearly 70,000 vehicles in Indonesia in 2012, and 62,000 in the first nine months of this year.

“Now we are going to enter the more mass-oriented market,” president-director of Honda’s Indonesian arm, Tomoki Uchida, told reporters.

“Our target is to achieve 300,000 unit sales in 2016,” he said.

With its second plant Honda plans to increase production capacity in Indonesia from 80,000 units to 200,000 by early next year.

Japanese carmakers hold a 95 per cent share of Indonesia’s market of around one million units annually in recent years.

Honda holds an 8.4 per cent share, far behind Toyota with 40 per cent.

Toyota has stayed ahead with its multi-purpose vehicles, popular with Indonesians who often travel with large families and prefer high elevation to cope with floods during the wet season.

A burgeoning middle class is moving up from motorbikes to low-cost family cars, with multi-purpose vehicles representing more than 30 per cent of the total market.

Indonesia, with a population of 240 million, has become a target for automakers as sales slow in developed nations and as its people become wealthier.

The car market is expected to exceed Thailand’s and become the biggest in Southeast Asia next year.

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Napoli aiming for sole lead of Serie A

Fired-up Napoli are looking to build on their impressive start to the Serie A season under Rafael Benitez with a win at ailing AC Milan on Sunday.

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Napoli beat last year’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund in a midweek Champions League match and share the lead in Italy with AS Roma, who could take sole possession of top spot if they do better against city rival Lazio than Napoli do against Milan.

But after finishing second to Juventus last season, Napoli is confident of winning a first title since Diego Maradona led them to glory in 1990.

“We have a great team, a great coach and I hope we can go on like this,” striker Gonzalo Higuain told Sky Sport Italia.

“A striker likes to feel he is important and know he has the faith of the coach.”

Although AC Milan ran out 2-0 winners over Celtic, the Rossoneri failed to convince against the Scottish champions, who dominated for long spells in the second half.

Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri was quick to turn his attention to Sunday when he will be without a host of first-team regulars.

Having claimed just one win in their last three league games, Allegri can only look at Napoli in admiration.

“Compliments to Benitez. In two months, he’s created a strong team which is tactically versatile,” he said.

“For us it will be a difficult game.”

With only mid-table games being played on Saturday, all eyes will be on Inter, Fiorentina and Juventus – who are just two points adrift of Napoli and Roma and could go top with a win.

Inter, a disappointing ninth last year, have enjoyed a positive start under former Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri and will expect three points when they visit promoted Sassuolo, who prop up the table after three defeats and just one goal.

Juventus will be expecting the same return when they host Verona, where midfielder Claudio Marchisio could return from a knee injury suffered in the Italian Super Cup final triumph over Lazio last month.

Fiorentina, held 1-1 at home to Cagliari last week, travel to Atalanta without injured striker Mario Gomez and midfielder Juan Cuadrado.

With eight goals and just one conceded, Roma are flying under new coach Rudi Garcia and will be expected to dominate a Lazio side that has shipped five in three games.

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Scorchers try to spin their way to glory

Perth Scorchers coach Justin Langer will consider a four-pronged spin attack in his attempt to guide a young side to glory in this year’s Twenty20 Champions League.

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The Scorchers have been dealt blow after blow in the lead-up to the lucrative tournament, which will be held in India this year.

Shaun Marsh, Mitch Marsh and Pat Cummins have all been ruled out through injury, while Mike Hussey and Nathan Coulter-Nile are also unavailable after being called up by their Indian Premier League sides.

On top of that, the Scorchers will be without veteran all-rounder Alfonso Thomas after he failed to secure a release from his English County side Somerset.

Although the Scorchers lack star-power, their spinning stocks look to be a major strength.

Hogg and Michael Beer are already proven T20 performers, while Ashton Agar and Ashton Turner are rising stars of Australian cricket.

“Our spinners are the advantage we’ve got, particularly in India as well,” Langer said.

“And two of those are spinning all-rounders.

“Ashton Agar opened the batting and batted three for us in our pre-season games in Darwin, and he batted magnificently well. And Ashton Turner is the same: he could bat anywhere in the order.

“It gives us great depth to be able to have those guys available. They might all play in India.”

Hogg isn’t contracted for this summer’s Big Bash League in Australia, but hopes a strong showing in India will earn him a deal.

The Scorchers start their Champions League campaign on Monday with a match against South African champions Highveld Lions in Ahmedabad.

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Moscow derbies take centre stage

Two Moscow derbies that may prove decisive dominate the Russian Premier League this weekend.

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Reigning champions CSKA Moscow face a tough examination of their title claims against city rivals Spartak in Moscow’s most famous derby at the Lokomotiv stadium on Sunday.

CSKA lead the league with 20 points from eight matches, three points ahead of Spartak, who share second with Zenit St Petersburg.

Matches between CSKA and Spartak are historically tense, causing concern for Moscow police with rival fans known for their mutual hatred.

Mass brawls between CSKA and Spartak supporters ahead and after their league meetings have become routine.

CSKA go into the match on the back of a disappointing 3-0 defeat in their Champions League opener against European champions Bayern Munich.

They have also been hit by a number of injuries.

Ivory Coast sharpshooter Soydou Doumbia has a hip problem picked up in the Red Army side’s match with Amkar Perm two weeks ago and is sidelined for around four more weeks.

Russian international midfielder Alan Dzagoev is also out for up to three weeks after his leg injury suffered against Rostov last time out.

Sweden midfielder Rasmus Elm is unavailable, still recovering from a foot injury.

Spartak have injury problems of their own, as their Italian defender Salvatore Bocchetti, Ukrainian goalkeeper Andrei Dykan, and Brazilian midfielder Romulo are all out along with recently-signed German Serdar Tasci, who has arrived at Spartak’s base with a minor leg injury.

Another pair of Moscow clubs, Dynamo and Lokomotiv, open the weekend program on Saturday.

Dynamo, who earned a confident 4-1 win at Yekaterinburg on Monday courtesy of Andrei Voronin’s hat-trick, will be without German striker Kevin Kuranyi and Armenian international goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky.

Fourth-placed railway-backed Lokomotiv will visit Dynamo’s Khimki Arena without their first-choice Brazilian goalkeeper Guilherme.

Three-time former champions Zenit take on fifth-placed Rostov.

Zenit are without skipper Roman Shirokov who is out for three weeks after suffering a hip injury in last week’s match with Terek Grozny, while their Italian left back Domenico Criscito is still short of full fitness.

Rostov are missing French forward Florent Sinama-Pongolle.

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Experts question Labor leader contest

Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese promise a clean fight for the Labor federal parliamentary leadership, but the chances of an amicable outcome are slim.

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That’s the view of at least two psychology experts who have spent decades studying workplace scenarios similar to the current contest for the top ALP job.

“The chances of them working together, one as the winner and one as subordinate, is extremely unlikely,” specialist Simon Brown-Greaves told AAP.

With more than 30 years experience working as an organisational psychologist in the field of leadership development, Brown-Greaves said the loser would struggle to recover.

“It is a really tough thing to come back from – this sort of fight – and it’s difficult to come back and report to the person who beat you in this race,” he said.

“You have to fit into the other person’s agenda, when you’ve been on record putting a point of view that’s a different point of view: that you’re the right man for the job and he’s not.”

The Labor movement also stands to suffer from the public contest, says head of the College of Organisational Psychologists, Leanne Faraday-Brash.

“By disenfranchising someone, a lot of their energy after that can go into protesting and back stabbing and undermining,” she said.

Labor’s successful leadership candidate will be determined by a ballot of rank and file members and a vote in caucus, under new guidelines aimed at creating leadership stability and increasing grassroots participation.

Both Albanese and Shorten launched their campaigns promising not to engage in negative tactics or personally attack their opponent, but within days the pressure was showing.

In veiled reference to Mr Shorten’s involvement in the dumping of prime ministers Kevin Rudd in 2010 and Julia Gillard in June this year, Mr Albanese said he had been loyal and never engaged in “internal shenanigans”.

Shorten responded Labor’s return to unity required MPs to move “beyond the sledging”.

“Everyone knows it doesn’t matter if you are a football team, a netball team, or indeed a political party. If you can’t govern yourselves, then Australians will mark you down.”

Three years ago, a very public battle for the UK Labour leadership saw the Miliband brothers pitted against one another in a stoush that resulted in a narrow victory to younger sibling, Ed.

Post-contest, his brother David Miliband – who had been a senior minister in Gordon Brown’s government – retreated to the backbench.

The elder brother said his presence in the shadow cabinet “would be a route to real difficulty” and instead of focusing on winning the next election, Labour would be distracted.

“The team would be subject to permanent scrutiny of body language, everything from sneezes to comments. Ed needs an open field to lead as he sees fit,” David Miliband said.

He has since resigned from parliament.

Brown-Greaves said it was typical in big business scenarios for the unsuccessful candidate of a senior leadership battle to move on once the winner was declared, but in politics “you are stuck with the loser”.

The ongoing presence of the unsuccessful candidate can prove divisive for a party.

“With what has been going on in the Labor party over recent years the level of trust is going to be critical in coming years and therefore the risk of having someone who’s a close second in a leadership struggle would lead to the potential of mistrust,” Brown-Greaves said.

But Faraday-Brash sees some hope for Labor, so long as the loser is given a significant role, acknowledging his skills.

“You’re talking about a scenario which will end in the ultimate success of one candidate versus the professional let down and public embarrassment of the other,” she said.

“But it depends entirely on whether, at the end of the day, they are able to put the good of the party or the organisation before their personal ambition and ego and accept the umpire’s decision.”

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Knights see Storm as ultimate NRL team

Newcastle veteran Danny Buderus say not only do the Knights want to beat Melbourne Storm but they want to be like the NRL premiers as well.

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The Storm and unfancied Knights meet in a knock-out semi-final at AAMI Park on Saturday night with the winners to face the Sydney Roosters for a grand final berth.

Buderus said he admired the Storm for their consistent competitiveness.

“I think they are just the ultimate competitors,” the hooker said.

“They play the game at a level where we want to get to.

“I think every team aspires to be as competitive as Melbourne. That’s us. That’s where we want to be.”

Buderus says his battle-hardened troops have no fear of facing the Storm on some hostile home turf.

They haven’t won in Melbourne since 2004 but Buderus said the big-game experience amongst his teammates meant they were confident of an upset.

“There has to be confidence going into a semi-final; you’ve got to give yourselves a chance,” said Buderus.

“It’s a good scenario (to have the experience) and it’s in the forwards and that’s where the battle is going to be.

“There’s some guys there that will instil a bit of confidence into the younger guys.”

Buderus said the Knights had also been buoyed by record of their master coach Wayne Bennett, who has seven premierships to his name.

“We’re feeding off that – he’s our leader,” he said.

“He’s won a lot of premierships so he knows what he’s talking about.”

Buderus, who played in the Knights’ 2001 NRL title win, will retire at season’s end.

He said he couldn’t help but think each training session and match might be his last.

“Leading into this game and into the semi-final, I’m just very happy to be a part of September,” the former Test star said.

“That’s a bonus and I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting out there with a group of guys that would do anything for each other.

“Hopefully we go deep into September.”

Another player calling it quits is Storm prop Jason Ryles.

Ryles missed the Storm’s grand final victory last season with a hamstring injury and was well aware this was his last chance for glory.

“I won’t lie to you – it’s always in the back of your mind but it is what it is,” Ryles said.

“To play finals footy, it doesn’t happen every year for a lot of players so I’m very grateful for that and I just want to take every opportunity that I’ve been given.”

Ryles wasn’t giving away who would start in the Storm No.6 jersey with Gareth Widdop named but Brett Finch an outside chance to return from injury.

“They’ve both been training in the first team so they’re both as good a chance as each other,” he said.

“Gaz brings the youth and he won a premiership last year and Finchy brings another dimension.”

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Face veils in UK hospitals under review

Ministers have asked doctors’ regulator the General Medical Council to ensure there is “appropriate” face-to-face contact with patients, the BBC reports.

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Currently, there is no national guidance on the issue in the National Health Service. Some hospitals allow women to wear the veil for religious reasons, while others do not permit it to ensure open communication with patients.

Britain was dragged into a debate earlier this week on Muslim women wearing full-face veils in public, with its biggest selling newspaper adding to calls from politicians to join European countries that have banned its use.

   

The topic had stayed below the British political radar until the past week when a judge ruled that a Muslim woman will be allowed to go on wearing a veil but must take it off while giving evidence at her trial.

   

Her case came after Birmingham Metropolitan College, in a central English city which has a large Muslim population, dropped a ban on Muslim face veils after thousands of people signed a petition against the rule.

   

Junior Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne called on Monday for a “national debate” on the issue.

   

It exploded onto the front pages Tuesday after The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s top-selling British tabloid, carried a huge splash with the headline “UNVEILED” over a picture of the woman defendant wearing a niqab.

   

The Sun, which sells 2.25 million copies a day, demanded “vital reforms” that would ban veils in schools, courts, hospitals, airports, banks and secure areas but give women “freedom to wear them in streets and parks.”

   

By way of comparison, it carried a picture of veiled women in Birmingham — one of them flicking a V-sign with her fingers — next to a picture of uncovered women in the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

   

There is no ban on wearing the full-face veil in Britain, and a number of Muslim women do so, particularly in cities with large ethnic communities such as London, Birmingham and Bradford.

   

The debate is one that Britain, which prides itself on a liberal heritage and ethnic tolerance, has largely avoided even as some of its European neighbours with large Muslim populations have acted.

   

France has banned women from wearing full-face veils in public since April 2011 and Belgium followed suit three months later.

   

Other nations are considering similar legislation, including Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands.

   

The leading Muslim Council of Britain has expressed “concern at the direction of the national conversation currently taking place on the niqab”.

   

“There are few people who wear the niqab, and they should be allowed to wear this veil if they freely decide to do so,” said Talat Ahmed, chairwoman of the council’s committee for social and family affairs.

   

“Every time we discuss the niqab, it usually comes with a diet of bigoted commentary about our faith and the place of Islam in Britain.”

   

Sun managing editor Stig Abell said on Tuesday that the front page was an “attempt to balance pragmatism and religious freedom”.

   

And the Sun’s intervention follows a version of what a growing number of politicians in Britain have been saying.

   

Prime Minister David Cameron, from the centre-right Conservative party, had backed Birmingham Metropolitan University’s stance on wearing the veil.

   

Then Browne, from the centrist Liberal Democrats who are in coalition with the Conservatives, weighed in on Sunday when he said that Muslim girls and young women should be banned from wearing veils in schools and public places.

   

Browne told the Telegraph newspaper he was “instinctively uneasy” about restricting individual choice but added: “I think this is a good topic for national debate.”

   

His views echoed those of some Conservatives in parliament who have been pushing for a ban.

   

But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said he opposed any legal ban.

   

“My own view, very strongly held, is that we shouldn’t end up like other countries issuing edicts or laws from parliament telling people what they should or should not wear,” Clegg said.

   

But the government may find it needs to address the issue sooner than it thinks.

   

Judge Peter Murphy — who in the veil case on Monday ordered the 22-year-old woman from London to go uncovered to give evidence in her trial on a charge of intimidation — said there needed to be clarity on the legal situation.

   

He expressed the “hope that parliament or a higher court will provide a definite answer” to the issue soon, adding: “The niqab has become the elephant in the courtroom.”

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Worsfold doesn’t blame players for demise

West Coast players loved John Worsfold right until the end, but they simply had nothing left in the tank to fire a shot when it mattered most.

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Worsfold sent a shock through the AFL earlier this month when he stepped down as Eagles coach after 12 years in the role.

Just days earlier, the 44-year-old had indicated he was keen to coach on, but he soon realised he no longer had the passion, drive or hunger to thrive in such a demanding job.

West Coast’s last three weeks of the season took a heavy toll on Worsfold, with the team losing to Collingwood, Geelong and Adelaide by a combined 214 points.

The 86-point loss to Adelaide in the final round was particularly damning, especially considering it was the farewell games of retiring greats Andrew Embley and Adam Selwood.

Worsfold has kept a low profile since stepping down, but he has met a number of players to detail his reasons for stepping down.

A host of Eagles players have expressed disappointment with how they performed in the dying weeks of the season when Worsfold’s future was up in the air.

But he doesn’t blame them for his demise, saying they simply had nothing left to give after a trying season in which the club was ravaged by injuries.

“It wasn’t through a lack of effort or desire … of the players,” Worsfold told the club’s website in a farewell video on Friday.

“But it was certainly a build up of the disappointment of the year, the fact that we had a pretty young squad playing and that, mentally, I think they had nothing left to give.

“The fact they couldn’t even fire a shot for the last games of Andrew Embley and Adam Selwood shows they wanted to (fire), but they just couldn’t give anything.”

Worsfold will be remembered as the club’s greatest figure.

He captained West Coast to two flags during his 209-game playing career, and also coached the club to the 2006 premiership.

But perhaps his greatest achievement was the way he led the club through the illicit drugs crisis of last decade, which culminated in Ben Cousins’ sacking in 2007 and led to an overhaul of the club’s culture.

“I’m proud of the way I leave the playing group and the culture within it,” Worsfold said.

“It’s a very strong, self-governing culture.

“Players hold each other very accountable.

“They’re the ones that know what each other are up to more than the coaches will ever know.

“They do a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure that if a player is tempted outside of the values the players want to uphold, they’ll be brought into line or they’ll get questioned about whether they want to remain at the footy club.”

West Coast hope to appoint Worsfold’s replacement by mid-October.

Worsfold said assistant coach Scott Burns and former West Coast forward Peter Sumich would be ideal candidates for the role.

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Sex selection abortions ‘aren’t illegal despite all the noise’

By Jennie Bristow, University of Kent

The Crown Prosecution Service’s ruling that it would not be in the “public interest” to prosecute two doctors exposed in an undercover Daily Telegraph investigation into “sex selection” abortions has caused a predictable flurry of complaint from that newspaper, as well as from anti-abortion groups.

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More worryingly, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, argued: “We are clear that gender selection abortion is against the law and completely unacceptable”. Even some pro-choice politicians have stated that abortion over foetal sex is “illegal”. And the Christian Legal Centre now says it is preparing a private prosecution of the two doctors involved.

In all the heat generated by this story, we should remind ourselves what the British abortion law actually says about sex selection – which is, quite simply, nothing. The law is silent on the matter.

Many of those working in the abortion service find the practice ethically objectionable and might refuse to authorise an abortion. But it is not illegal, providing that the legal grounds are still met.

Foetal sex is not a specified ground for abortion within the Abortion Act 1967, but nor is it specifically prohibited. Other reasons for abortion that are widely accepted as “good” reasons – for example, if the woman has been raped – are not specified either.

The only thing that matters from a legal point of view is that an abortion of a foetus is authorised by two doctors, acting in good faith, on one (or more) of the following grounds (with each needing to agree that at least one and the same ground is met):

    That the pregnancy has not exceeded its 24th week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family.

    That the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.

    That the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated.

    That there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

The CPS understands this point. In a statement issued on September 5, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor Jenny Hopkins said: “When looking at the culpability of the doctors in this case, we must take into account the fact that doctors are required to interpret the law and apply it to range of sensitive and difficult circumstances which are not set out in the legislation.”

“The evidence in this case was finely balanced and the law gives quite a wide discretion to doctors to determine when a risk to the health and well-being of a pregnant woman exists.”

She added: “Taking into account the need for professional judgement which deals firmly with wrongdoing, while not deterring other doctors from carrying out legitimate and medically justified abortions, we have concluded that these specific cases would be better dealt with by the [General Medical Council] rather than by prosecution.”

Doctors’ discretion forms the centrepiece of the 1967 act: there is no list of specific conditions under which women are permitted abortions. When making a decision to prosecute, the CPS is not about creating new legal standards for what is considered by some to be right and wrong; it’s about looking at the law as it is, and whether that law has been broken.

As the outcry following this story has shown, there are a number of people who wish that the law did explicitly ban abortion for reasons of gender. There are a number of others who would like abortion in general to be more heavily restricted.

They can argue these points if they want to, and thereby engage in an honest debate with those of us who consider that Britain’s abortion law works well; that sex selection is not a big problem in this country; and that “sting” operations by newspapers don’t constitute evidence of a problem with abortion, either in law or in practice.

What is objectionable, however, is the propensity for critics of abortion, or of “sex selection”, to pretend that the law says something it does not, and then to hound doctors on that basis. This shows a startling lack of respect for health professionals, the law, and the women who depend on them.

Jennie Bristow is supervised by Professor Frank Furedi and Dr Ellie Lee. She is also a conference and publications manager for British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), and editor of BPAS’ Reproductive Review. She recently edited the pamphlet Britain’s Abortion Law: What it Says, and Why

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