Mariachi ‘Prince’ sure to grab headlines for Mexico

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Mexican-born Hubertus von Hohenlohe, whose family come from Austrian ancestry and German royalty, will be representing the Latin American country in the men’s slalom at his sixth Games.

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One of the oldest winter Olympians ever – he will be 55 on Sunday compared to the oldest competitor who was 59 – will not trouble the favourites but he is sure to make headlines.

Known for his theatrical flair on the slopes, his mariachi-style ski suit will certainly make a statement at Sochi and for him representing Mexico at the Games is the true prize.

“It’s a miracle that we’re there. It’s very difficult to qualify. For me it has been a lot, a lot of effort and we did it,” von Hohenlohe told Reuters.

“I now want us to go well, I don’t want to think about what placing because it won’t change anything in Mexico, nor the world, if I am 42nd, 56th or 31st, it won’t change absolutely anything.

“What will change is that (we) represent Mexico with dignity, with a good image and good intentions,” he said.

Nicknamed ‘the Prince’ because of his royal heritage, von Hohenlohe hopes his participation in Sochi will pay homage to the artistic heritage and diversity of his Mexican homeland.

“I’m representing a country with a lot of creativity, with many artists, of a people that for thousands of years have made divine things,” he said.

“It’s best to show off this side of Mexico, it’s artistic side, the very beautiful side that it has.”

Not satisfied with being an Olympic skier, von Hohenlohe is also an accomplished photographer, pop singer and was a friend of the late U.S. artist Andy Warhol.

(Writing by Paul Vieira; Editing by Rex Gowar and Ken Ferris)

Gales, rain hit north Qld as cyclone brews

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Evacuation centres in Townsville are preparing to open as a low-pressure storm moves closer to north Queensland.

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A cyclone warning is in place for every town and city between Cairns and Mackay on Wednesday as the huge tropical system approaches the coast.

An emergency storm tide alert has been issued for Townsville and the council will open three evacuation centres on Thursday morning.

The system, which was about 515 kilometres east of Cairns on Wednesday afternoon, is forecast to form into a cyclone before it makes landfall on Friday morning.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is warning people to batten down as the storm will likely bring heavy rain and winds up to 120km/h.

“Currently we’re anticipating the cyclone crossing the coast somewhere in the Townsville region, granting that it is a fairly long way out at the moment,” BOM Queensland regional director Rob Webb said.

BOM will issue warnings every three hours.

Gales are already battering coastal areas from Cairns to Mackay.

A king tide of up to 4.12 metres is forecast to hit the coast when the storm reaches land, which could cause dangerous storm surges.

Coastal residents between Innisfail and Hamilton Island are being warned sea levels could rise rapidly on Thursday and Friday, flooding low-lying areas.

Storm tides may also affect coastal residents between Cairns and Innisfail and also between Hamilton Island and St Lawrence.

On Wednesday the Townsville City Council released a map showing where people are likely to be affected by the surge.

Mayor Jenny Hill says three evacuation centres will open for at least three to four hours from 6am (AEST) on Thursday.

“We’re making these available for people who feel they’re at risk,” she told AAP.

She says potential flooding caused by a combination of high winds and king tides on Thursday and Friday morning were of most concern.

Large areas along the north Queensland coast are expected to see daily rainfall totals of 100mm-200mm between Wednesday and Friday, which could cause flooding, particularly in low-lying areas.

A cyclone watch alert is in place for coastal areas from Mackay to St Lawrence and inland to Clermont.

A cyclone warning was cancelled for areas between Port Douglas and Cairns on Wednesday.

Hinchinbrook Shire Council and Cassowary Coast Regional Council mayors urge residents to be prepared.

Cairns far north district acting Chief Superintendent Brett Schafferius had a similar message for Cairns residents.

“We’re never out of the firing line,” he told media on Wednesday.

“I’d urge everyone not to think they’re safe just because it’s heading further south.”

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Lee Johnson urged people living in the zones to prepare their properties and listen to advice from authorities.

“Whilst the advice from the bureau this time is that it will be a low category if it does form, we’re still going to get very, very strong winds, certainly flooding rains and on the coast damaging wave action,” he told reporters.

Finance News Update, what you need to know

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WORLD FINANCE UPDATE:

The Australian dollar has bounced back after falling on weak Chinese manufacturing data.

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At 0630 AEDT on Friday, the Australian dollar was trading at 87.78 US cents, up from 87.34 cents on Thursday.

And the Australian share market looks set to open higher following solid gains on Wall Street after data showed that the US economy had grown better than expected.

At 0645 AEDT on Friday, the March share price index futures contract was up 15 points at 5,155.

ELSEWHERE:

WASHINGTON – The US economy grew at an annual rate of 3.2 per cent in the 2013 fourth quarter, slightly stronger than expected despite the partial government shutdown.

WASHINGTON – New claims for US unemployment insurance benefits jumped last week, breaking out of a five-week stretch of modestly low numbers, the US Labor Department said Thursday.

FOSTER CITY, California – Visa’s fiscal first-quarter net income increased nine per cent, as higher card spending boosted the number of payments it processed.

LONDON – Royal Dutch Shell will suspend drilling in offshore Alaska after a US court decision and as the oil major streamlines operations following a slump in annual profits, it said on Thursday.

NEW YORK – US oil giant ExxonMobil says fourth-quarter earnings have sagged under a drop in oil and gas production and major declines in its international refining and chemical businesses.

STOCKHOLM – Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson said Thursday it doubled profits in 2013 despite sluggish sales and a weak fourth quarter.

MILWAUKEE – Harley-Davidson’s fourth-quarter earnings rose 6.8 per cent as motorcycle sales continued to rise worldwide.

NEW YORK – 3M says its fourth-quarter earnings have jumped more than 11 per cent, fuelled in part by a revenue gain from the Post-it note maker’s industrial business.

NEW YORK – Viacom is reporting a 16 per cent jump in net income for the first quarter thanks in part to smaller losses at its film division.

NEW YORK – Facebook shares have staged a strong rally, buoyed by news of stronger-than-expected profits and sizzling gains in mobile advertising revenue.

McIlroy masterclass lights up Dubai

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Rory McIlroy has confirmed he’s back on top form with a stunning 63 as the first round of the $US2.

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5 million Dubai Desert Classic got underway with a barrage of birdies.

Firing seven birdies and an eagle, the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland continued his storming start to the season which saw him take second place at Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, his first tournament since winning the Australian Open in early December.

It was a flawless display of golf that left playing partner Tiger Woods in the shade, although the world number one was happy to settle for a four-under 68 in what is also his second tournament of the year.

His opener last week at Torrey Pines, San Diego ended in him firing a 79 on Saturday to miss the secondary cut at the Farmers Insurance Open.

The third member of the group, defending champion Stephen Gallacher of Scotland, was also high up the early leaderboard with a 66.

McIlroy said that the round and score was one of his finest for a while.

“Definitely up there. Controlled my irons a little better (than at Abu Dhabi), distance control was better. Wedges are still not where I want them to be but it’s getting close. It was good.”

With playing conditions ideal at the par-72 Majlis Course, hosting the 25th anniversary of a tournament which blazed new paths for the European Tour and put the Gulf region onto the golfing map, scoring was understandably low.

Playing down the easier back nine to start with, McIlroy, on the rebound after a frustrating 2013, had five birdies in seven holes from the 12th to briefly take the lead at the turn.

Minutes later Frenchman Julien Quesne pitched a sand wedge into the 17th green from 105 yards and it spun back into the hole for eagle which eased him out to six under.

But a birdie at the second and a 10-foot putt for eagle at the third saw McIlroy back on the pace. He then sunk a 15-footer at the par-three seventh to get to nine under and only Quesne was within three strokes of his pace-setting at that stage.

The Ulsterman parred his way in from there, coming up just short with a 15-footer for birdie at the last. It was his first 63 in tournament play since the first round of the Hong Kong Open in 2010

Woods, meanwhile, started well with four birdies down the back nine and while he struggled for accuracy off the tee on the way in, his short game was good enough to avoid any bogeys.

“Overall it was a pretty good score. Maybe could have gotten two more out of it,” said Woods.

“I hit a lot of good putts which was nice. Last week I didn’t do it. It was nice to actually play well again.”

Quesne was rock solid till the ninth, his last, when he went into the water and took a double bogey to card a fine 66.

Late in the day Italian Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari came in with a 65 to be solo in second place two shots behind McIlroy.

A shot further back level with Quesne and Gallacher were South African Richard Sterne, Ireland’s Damien McGrane and Matthew Baldwin of England.

Shell suspends drilling in Alaska

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Royal Dutch Shell will suspend drilling in offshore Alaska after a US court decision and as the oil major streamlines operations following a slump in annual profits, it said on Thursday.

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The Anglo-Dutch group said it would halt the project this year after a federal appeals court last week ruled that the US government had improperly relied on inadequate information in the process of awarding licences for exploration in Alaska.

“The recent decision … raises substantial obstacles to Shell’s plans for drilling in offshore Alaska,” Shell said in a statement accompanying the earnings release.

“As a result, Shell has decided to stop its exploration programme for Alaska in 2014.”

Chief executive Ben van Beurden said it was a disappointing outcome, “but the lack of a clear path forward means that I am not prepared to commit further resources for drilling in Alaska in 2014”.

“We will look to relevant agencies and the court to resolve their open legal issues as quickly as possible.”

Shell revealed the news in a poor results statement that also laid out plans to sell off $US15 billion ($A17 billion) of assets over the next two years.

Capital spending will also be reduced to $US37 billion in 2014, from $US46 billion in 2013.

“We are making hard choices in our worldwide portfolio to improve Shell’s capital efficiency”, van Beurden added.

Two weeks after a profits warning, Shell confirmed that net profits dived 39 per cent to $US16.371 billion in 2013, compared with $US26.712 billion a year earlier.

Shell shocked investors earlier this month with its first profit warning for a decade, blaming high exploration costs, pressures across the oil industry and disruption to Nigerian output.

Russia names suicide bombers

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Russian security services have published the names of the alleged suicide bombers who carried out two deadly blasts last month, and say they had also arrested two suspected organisers.

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The National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAC) released the names in a statement just a week before the Winter Olympic Games are set to open in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

It named the bombers who killed 34 people in the southern city of Volgograd in twin blasts on December 29 and 30 as Asker Samedov and Suleiman Magomedov.

The two were identified shortly after the attacks, the NAC said, adding that they were from an Islamist group based in Buinaksk, a town in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan.

The statement said security forces had also detained in Dagestan two brothers who helped the suicide bombers.

“Brothers Magomednabi and Tagir Batirov, who were involved in transporting the suicide bombers to Volgograd, have been detained,” it said.

A well-known North Caucasus Islamist website earlier this month posted a video of two men who it said were about to become suicide bombers in the “operation in Volgograd”.

The video included footage of the damage and scattered dead bodies from the blasts that struck the main Volgograd train station and a trolleybus.

In the video, two young men warned of “presents” in store for President Vladimir Putin and visitors to the Olympic host city Sochi.

Sochi’s proximity to the Russian North Caucasus and Georgia’s rebel region of Abkhazia, has led to unprecedented security measures.

Insurgents based in the North Caucasus are seeking to set up an Islamist state in the region and have vowed to disrupt the Sochi Games to undermine Putin.

Trust in government bucks global trend

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Australia appears to be bucking a global trend of distrust in governments since the election of the coalition last September.

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But a new global survey suggests Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his team still have work to do.

The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer showed trust in the Australian government as an institution jumped 14 points in the past year to 56 per cent, compared to a global average of 44 per cent.

“While trust levels in the United States and Europe have witnessed historic declines, Australia has bucked the trend and found confidence in the new government,” Edelman Australia CEO Michelle Hutton said on Friday.

In its 14th year, the barometer is a global study of 27,000 participants across 27 countries examining levels of trust across the institutions of government, business, non-government organisations and the media.

Ms Hutton said the latest survey has seen a significant rise in trust across all of Australia’s institutions and sectors, rebounding from the crisis in leadership.

However, before the Abbott government gets too smug, the survey also sends a warning it must work harder to engender trust among everyday Australians.

It found that three in five Australian respondents do not trust government leaders to tell the truth, while two in five do not trust them to make ethical and moral decisions.

“Last year, our new prime minister announced Australia was ‘open for business’ with the intent to rebuild trust among Australians and sustain confidence in business,” Ms Hutton said.

“While this year’s results paint a rosy picture for government and business, expectations are high – and as recent history has shown us, Australians have a low tolerance for leaders that fall short of what was promised.”

Peanuts used to control peanut allergy

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Small doses of peanut powder taken over several months seemed to induce tolerance in children with the potentially deadly allergy, a research team wrote in Wednesday’s The Lancet medical journal.

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After six months of treatment, dubbed oral immunotherapy or OIT, 84 per cent to 91 per cent of the children in a trial could safely tolerate daily doses of 800 milligrams of peanut powder – the equivalent of about five peanuts, wrote the team.

This was 25 times the amount they could tolerate before the therapy, and much larger than any accidental dose is likely to ever be.

“The treatment allowed children with all severities of peanut allergy to eat large quantities of peanuts, well above the levels found in contaminated snacks and meals, freeing them and their parents from the fear of a potentially life threatening allergic reaction,” said study leader Dr Andrew Clark from Cambridge University Hospitals.

“The families involved in this study say that it has changed their lives dramatically.”

The trial involved 99 allergic children aged seven to sixteen. One in five of the kids receiving OIT reported “adverse events” – mostly mild itching of the mouth, the authors said.

They stressed that people should not try the treatment at home as more research was needed.

Peanut allergy affects about one in fifty children and is the most common cause of fatal food allergy reactions, said a press statement. About 10 million people around the world are allergic to peanuts.

Symptoms vary from mild to severe, from swollen lips or shortness of breath to anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal.

While “exceptionally promising”, the method remains experimental, Matthew Greenhawt from the University of Michigan Food Allergy Center wrote in a comment also carried by The Lancet.

“It is unknown if OIT can produce lasting tolerance,” he wrote

Google sheds Motorola in $US2.91b deal

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Google has agreed to sell Motorola to Chinese technology giant Lenovo for $2.

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91 billion, after a lacklustre two-year effort to turn around the smartphone maker it bought for $12.5 billion.

The deal ends Google’s run as a handset maker after it biggest-ever takeover, which was announced in 2011 and finalised in 2012.

It also provides Lenovo footholds in smartphone and tablet markets, while acting as a peace offering to Samsung and other partners that make devices powered by Google-backed Android software.

“It is win-win,” said analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies in Silicon Valley.

“Google keeps the patents and the research group, and they keep partners off their back, while Lenovo gets what they need to get into the US smartphone market.”

The deal comes a week after Lenovo said it would buy IBM’s low-end server business for $2.3 billion, giving it a platform to compete in that sector with US giants Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

However, Lenovo’s Hong Kong-listed shares dived 8.21 per cent to $HK10.06 ($A1.47) on Thursday as investors were spooked about Motorola’s profitability.

Motorola failed to gain traction in a rapidly evolving smartphone market now dominated by South Korea’s Samsung and US-based Apple.

Lenovo chairman and chief executive Yang Yuanqing said the acquisition “will immediately make Lenovo a strong global competitor in smartphones. We will immediately have the opportunity to become a strong global player in the fast-growing mobile space.”

The Chinese company was the fifth-largest smartphone maker in the fourth quarter, with a 4.5 per cent market share, barely behind fellow Chinese maker Huawei and South Korea’s LG, according to a report by research firm IDC.

Qatar gets 14 days to send labour report to FIFA

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“FIFA expects to receive information on the specific steps that Qatar has taken since president Sepp Blatter’s last trip to Doha in November 2013 to improve the welfare and living conditions of migrant workers,” world soccer’s ruling body said in a statement on Thursday.

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“The application of international norms of behaviour is a FIFA principle and part of all of FIFA’s activities and is expected from all hosts of its events.

“FIFA firmly believes in the power the World Cup can have in triggering positive social change in Qatar including improving the labour rights and conditions of migrant workers,” the statement read.

The report will eventually be presented by FIFA executive committee member Theo Zwanziger to a hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels on February 13.

“We are currently in the middle of an intensive process which is exclusively aimed at improving the situation of workers in Qatar,” said Zwanziger.

“Ultimately what we need are clear rules and steps that will build trust and ensure that the situation, which is unacceptable at the moment, improves in a sustainable manner.”

Amnesty International and the International Trade Union Confederation have criticised the treatment of migrant labourers in Qatar.

Amnesty hit out at Qatar for “non-payment of wages, harsh and dangerous working conditions and shocking standards of accommodation”.

The European Parliament joined the controversy in November when it passed a resolution expressing concern at the plight of the workers.

However, it stopped short of calling for the scrapping of the Kafala, or sponsorship, system under which employees cannot change jobs or leave the country without the permission of their sponsors.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez) nL3N0L45IQ