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Syrian humanitarian blockade must be lifted: MSF

Julie Bishop, Australia’s new Foreign Minister faces perhaps the most important first week on the job of any previous incumbent for a generation.

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Minister Bishop will soon travel to New York to participate in United Nations Security Council deliberations seeking to resolve the terrible conflict in Syria, and in particular ensure that chemical weapons will play no further role in that conflict.

There has been much diplomatic discussion focused on the recent chemical weapons attack in al Ghouta, eastern Damascus. Médecins Sans Frontières has been supporting a network of doctors working in this area and reported the harrowing effects of that attack on the patients treated with our assistance.

However, these victims represent only a small proportion of the thousands treated by Médecins Sans Frontières own hospitals operating in opposition controlled areas for over a year, dealing with the massive impact that the conflictis having on civilians both in terms of the violence of war and the complete collapse of the Syrian health system.

The focus of the diplomatic community on finding a non-violent solution to the threat of further chemical weapon use is laudable but will do nothing to alleviate the suffering of these civilians who now live under bombardment by conventional weapons and without access to healthcare which is killing hundreds every week.

This week, Medecins Sans Frontiers coordinator in Syria Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol has called on the international community to help end ‘the humanitarian blockade crippling Syrians living in opposition-held areas’.

For the past two years, the bulk of international humanitarian aid – provided by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – has been channelled through Damascus and distributed according to the whim of the government. This same government prohibits the provision of medical assistance to people living in opposition-held areas.

“The blockage must be lifted,” Dr Bradol says, “starting with the eastern suburbs of Damascus whose residents have been exposed to chemical weapons and are still facing bombing raids and a blockade.”

Just a few days ago, a field hospital in al Bab, northern Syria, was bombed by the Syrian airforce, killing nine patients and two medical staff. Across the country some members of the armed opposition have also been involved in criminal behaviour against ordinary Syrians, aid workers, journalists and prisoners of war. While other members of the opposition may disavow these acts, the abuses persist, and continue to hinder the distribution of humanitarian aid where it is already cruelly lacking.

The Australian government recently championed an initiative at the G20 to galvanise more international support for medical/humanitarian action in Syria and to seek to build agreement from parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian access, winning support from eight countries.

Minister Bishop should continue with this humanitarian objective, and do all in her power to ensure that the humanitarian blockade crippling Syrians living in opposition-held areas is lifted.

Australia’s good relations with key allies of both the Syrian government and the opposition provide avenues to urge all parties to commit to ensure the safety of civilians, journalists and aid workers in Syria, and to ensure that UN agencies, the ICRC and NGOs are able to provide emergency assistance either from Damascus or from neighbouring countries.

As humanitarian aid workers, it is not for us to take a position on possible retaliation for chemical weapons strikes or on an armed intervention. However, we are duty bound to speak out when aid is so demonstrably being prevented from reaching the people who need it most.

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Bangladeshi arrested over campus assault

A foreign student allegedly sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl in the second attack of its kind this year at a university in Sydney’s north.

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A 21-year-old Bangladeshi man has been charged over the alleged assault at student accommodation at Macquarie University.

The girl told police she woke in a bedroom on the campus in North Ryde and found a man sexually assaulting her in the morning of August 31.

Her alleged attacker was arrested on Thursday and charged a day later with the indecent and sexual assault of the girl.

Police confirmed the Bangladeshi man is in Australia on a student visa.

He’s been granted conditional bail to appear Ryde Local Court on October 16.

It is the second sexual assault at Macquarie University this year.

In February, a 20-year-old male Sri Lankan asylum seeker was charged with indecently assaulting a 20-year-old student at the same student accommodation.

The man was an asylum seeker on a bridging visa but was not living in student housing at Macquarie University at the time of the attack.

The accommodation is owned and run by Campus Living Villages (CLV), which is also responsible for security on site.

The accommodation provider said they are providing assistance to police as they investigate the latest case.

“CLV is focused on providing continued support to village residents to ensure the continued safety, security and wellbeing of all residents,” a CLV spokeswoman told AAP in a statement.

“As the matter is subject to an ongoing police investigation, CLV is unable to make any further comment.”

Another incident also took place this year at the Parramatta campus of Western Sydney University.

In June, a female student was indecently assaulted by a man who snuck into her room.

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Menezes quits as Flamengo coach after home defeat

“I told the club that I’m no longer coach of Flamengo,” Menezes, fired by Brazil in November last year after just over two years in charge, told a news conference immediately after Thursday night’s game at the Maracana.

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“I felt that after four months, I wasn’t able to transmit to the team the way I think about football,” added Menezes who managed five wins, six draws and six defeats in his 17 matches in charge.

“When a coach feels that his team is stagnating and things are repeating themselves and he has to keep saying the same things over and over again, then he is the one who has to go.”

“As I felt things were no longer going the way they should, I took this difficult decision, which is unprecedented in my career.”

Flamengo raced to a 2-0 lead in only eight minutes after Hernane headed in from close range and Luiz Antonio rifled home from the edge of the area. The hosts could have added more goals but instead Fran Merida pulled one back in the 19th minute and Delatorre levelled after the re-start when he was released by Everton’s superb reverse pass.

With the Maracana crowd growing restless, Atletico finished the job with two goals in three minutes as Marcelo scored a breakaway goal and Roger fired home unmarked from inside the area.

Flamengo, 15th in the 20-team table with 26 points and only two clear of the relegation zone, previously fired Dorival Junior and Jorginho this year.

Dunga, another former Brazil coach, saw his Internacional side lose ground on the leaders after they lost 2-0 at Bahia where Feijao and Fernandao scored early and late in the game.

Internacional are fifth with 34 points although they are closer to Cricuma and Vasco da Gama in the relegation zone (24 points) than to leaders Cruzeiro (49).

Portuguesa beat bottom club Nautico 3-0 to move out of the danger zone in front of a paltry crowd of 1,808 fans.

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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Comment: Race and beauty bring out the ugliness in some

Last Sunday, a woman who looks good in a bikini and was tactfully able to answer a question about plastic surgery won the Miss America contest.

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The story should not have gone any further than that, except the woman in question – Nina Davuluri – also happened to be of Indian descent.

In typical Twitter style, the outrage was instant.

Vast numbers of people confused Ms Davuluri for an Arab – which for many Americans is synonymous with terrorist –  with some even taking offence that “an Arab” was crowned Miss America four days after the 9/11 anniversary.

Yes, really.

Americans, of course, are quite frequently ridiculed for their ignorance about the rest of the world. After all, we’re talking about a same country where the vast majority don’t hold a passport. Where most can’t even point to Iraq on a map, despite the fact that US forces have been in the country since 2003. Where many believe Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim because of his name. Yes, you could be forgiven for believing the stereotype that America sees itself as the centre of the world is alive and well.

That’s why it’s easy for us in Australia to say that while the racist outrage shown towards Nina Davuluri is typical of Americans, Australians wouldn’t react that way. This is an admirable idea but it’s also incredibly naive.

The fact is that we as a nation aren’t renown for our forward-thinking in matters of race.

Two years ago, in a bid to be seen as being in tune with multicultural Australia – or if you’re being cynical, appeal more to the UK populace where the show is still a hit – the producers of Neighbours introduced an Indian family to Ramsey street.

The response to their presence was not pretty. Many Aussies took to social media to vent racist comments against the family that boiled down to the fact that because the family was of Indian descent they couldn’t be considered Australian.

It wasn’t long before the family was quietly written off the show, which came as a big surprise to some of the actors.

It doesn’t take much more than walking out your door to see we are a diverse country of many cultures, races, and religions. But if you turn on your TV to watch any Aussie drama, news or talk show on the major networks, you’ll be hard pressed to find any diversity.

At least reality TV is serving as some kind of harbinger of change. This week the final three contestants of Australia’s Next Top model were announced. Unusually, two of the three girls aren’t white. The forerunner amongst the three, Shanali Martin, also happens to be half Fijian-Indian.

It’ll be interesting to see if Shanali does win and what sort of response her win may get. Hopefully it’ll be a positive one.

While Australia’s Next Top Model isn’t as significant as Miss America – as far as the fairly sexist concept of contesting the physical appearance of young women is concerned) – it is showing us that our ideals of a “Western Beauty” are changing. While the blonde-haired, blue-eyed look was an aesthetic that was most upheld in Western society – and to be fair, still is – change is afoot. And yet for some this is a hard concept to get around.

As the hateful tweets against Nina Davuluri revealed, many people still have difficulty in reconciling a person who isn’t white, or a practicing Christian as a “real American”.  As the eminent author Toni Morrison once said in an interview: “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”

The same holds true for Australia. If you consider yourself Australian and you aren’t white you are almost guaranteed to be asked, “where do you come from?” And the answer they’re looking for is not your suburb, or city, but your ethnic make-up.

Once we can freely call ourselves Australian without getting any questioning looks in return, then maybe we can say we are better than the Americans. Until then, we can assume there’d be similar outrage in this country if Nina Davuluri had been Australian.

Saman Shad is a storyteller and playwright.

 

Launching my new national campaign, #CirclesOfUnity! Tweet me your pics and thoughts about cultural awareness! pic.twitter.com/ZCW13ViWxy

— Nina Davuluri (@MissAmerica) September 19, 2013 What do you think? Join the conversation on our Facebook post.

Post by SBS World News Australia.

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Venezuela accuses US of blocking visas

Venezuela has accused the United States of hampering its diplomatic efforts, saying Washington was denying airspace to its China-bound president and blocking visas for its UN delegation.

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In a fiery speech in the capital Caracas, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro bristled with outrage at the “serious offense” of denying his plane rights to American airspace over the Atlantic, and vowed his planned trip to Beijing this weekend would not be delayed.

   

The leftist leader — hand-picked successor to the late anti-US firebrand leftist Hugo Chavez — also accused the US of refusing visas to some of the members of his delegation to the UN General Assembly next week.

   

US officials did not immediately confirm or comment on the charges.

   

Venezuela and the United States were often at odds during Chavez’s 14-year rule and relations have remained tense under Maduro. The two countries have not had ambassadors in each other’s capitals since 2010.

   

Caracas said it had received word from US authorities that Maduro’s plane was denied rights to American airspace over the Atlantic.

   

“We denounce this as another insult of North American imperialism against the government,” Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told reporters.

   

“No one can deny airspace to a plane carrying a president on an international state visit. There is no valid argument to refuse airspace.”

   

In his speech, Maduro said “denying permission to a head of state to fly over the airspace it colonized in Puerto Rico is a serious offense.”

   

But he said his trip would not be delayed, as his plane could take a longer route.

   

“We are not going to be stopped by the US government from going to China,” he added.

   

Jaua, who is set to travel with Maduro to Beijing, expressed hope that US authorities would “rectify the error,” which he blamed on lower-level officials.

   

Maduro said Washington has also denied visas to high level members of its UN delegation.

   

“You are required to give visas to the whole Venezuelan delegation,” the Venezuelan leader said, without confirming whether he would now attend the meeting in person.

   

“We will not accept that you deny a visa to Minister (Wilmer) Barrientos, nor to the head of the military, nor to any other member of the delegation,” he said, threatening diplomatic retaliation on a “more drastic level, if necessary.”

   

Maduro also suggested the UN should move its headquarters out of the United States.

   

The accusations quickly drew support from regional allies.

   

Bolivian President Evo Morales called for an emergency meeting of regional leaders to propose “the immediate withdrawal of ambassadors to the US” in solidarity with Venezuela.

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