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Grosjean no longer Suzuka’s ‘first lap nutcase’

The Frenchman made a storming start for Lotus from fourth on the grid to seize the lead and stay in front for half the race before Red Bull’s strategy put 2012 world champion and series leader Sebastian Vettel in the driving seat.

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Even then a second place might have been Grosjean’s consolation, had he not been held up by backmarkers and then overtaken on the penultimate lap by Red Bull’s Australian Mark Webber on fresher tyres.

“I thought it was the day that the first victory was coming,” Grosjean, a former GP2 champion who has a chequered past, told reporters after appearing on the Suzuka podium.

“I said ‘our car is beautiful today, it’s going to be good…”

The Frenchman’s 2012 season was littered with first corner crashes, including one that brought him a race ban for the Italian Grand Prix, but Sunday’s start showed how much progress he has made.

“When I dropped the clutch I said ‘Whoah, that’s a good one, come on, come on go for it’. Amazing,” he said.

“Then when you’re leading it makes the thing easier on the first stint. We were very quick on the option (tyre).

“I think it would have been nice with Mark until the end of the race but we caught some slower cars, lapped cars, and they really blocked me a lot. I lost the position against Mark. I don’t know if I could have held him until the end.”

The race was a marked contrast to last year’s at Suzuka, when a furious Webber branded Grosjean a “first-lap nutcase” and berated him after they collided in the opening seconds.

Webber had been on the front row last year as well, alongside Vettel, but his hopes were wrecked by the Frenchman.

The crash left him fighting back to ninth.

The Australian, who is leaving Formula One at the end of the season for a new career in sportscars with Porsche, was far more complimentary on Sunday about his old sparring partner.

“I think it’s very clear that Romain has a very different mental approach to the job at the moment this year,” he said.

“He’s driven some quite strong races, putting together the whole weekend which is a sign of a driver starting to get a bit more relaxed and confident. A lot fewer mistakes, not just in races but in practice.

“You know, we’re not here to blow smoke up his arse but in the end he’s doing a very good job this year and it’s a big step for him…I hope he doesn’t improve too much more before the end of the year.”

Sunday’s third place was Grosjean’s fourth podium finish of the season and his second in a row after being overshadowed for most of the year by team mate and 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Josh Reich)

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Cole ruled out of Poland qualifier

Baines is likely to keep his place in Roy Hodgson’s lineup against Poland, whose loss to Ukraine on Friday means they are unable to qualify.

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Given his strong club form there had been calls for Baines, capped 20 times by England, to replace Cole in the starting line up before he was withdrawn, but the 28-year-old said who ever played would do a good job.

“It’s difficult to say because each week is different, some times you’re on top form one week and for no reason the following game you’re not quite at it,” he told reporters at a news conference on Sunday.

“I think the important thing is that the manager feels that both of us can do the job, that he can call on either one of us and I guess that’s all that matters really, that the job gets done.”

Baines was largely untroubled as England scored four second half goals against Montenegro, but despite Poland having little to play for, the match would be another step up.

“We know how big it was on Friday to keep it in our own hands really, to win the game and make sure were in a good position,” he said.

“We’ve got the job half done now, as the manager said, and we’ve got to try and finish it off. We know it will be a tough game, but we’ll be prepared for it.

“There will be a good crowd there and it’s a big occasion. It’s something that all the players at this level are accustomed to.

“It’s important we go and get the right result.”

England lead Group H by a point from Ukraine and will secure automatic qualification for next year’s finals in Brazil with a win over the Poles at Wembley.

Defender Kyle Walker will miss the match through suspension, while Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling had replaced the injured midfielder Tom Cleverly.

(Reporting by Josh Reich; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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Malala says she’s no Western puppet

Malala Yousafzai hit back at claims that she has become a figure of the West, insisting she was proud to be a Pakistani.

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The 16-year-old, who was shot by the Taliban for championing girls’ right to an education, claimed she retained the support of people in her homeland, and reiterated her desire to enter Pakistani politics.

The activist was shot in the head on her school bus on October 9 last year for speaking out against the Taliban.

She was flown for specialist care in Britain, where she has continued her education, while she has been feted and honoured in the West.

On Thursday, she won the European Union’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize, while US President Barack Obama welcomed her to the White House on Friday.

Asked in a BBC television interview broadcast on Sunday about some people in Pakistan thinking she was a “figure of the West” and “a Westerner now”, she said: “My father says that education is neither Eastern or Western. Education is education: it’s the right of everyone.

“The thing is that the people of Pakistan have supported me. They don’t think of me as Western. I am a daughter of Pakistan and I am proud that I am a Pakistani.

“On the day when I was shot, and on the next day, people raised the banners of ‘I am Malala’. They did not say ‘I am Taliban’.

“They support me and they are encouraging me to move forward and to continue my campaign for girls’ education.”

She highlighted the problem of education in the midst of the Syrian conflict.

“We want to help every child in every country that we can,” she said.

“We will start from Pakistan and Afghanistan and Syria now, especially because they are suffering the most and they are on the top that need our help.

“Later on in my life I want to do politics and I want to become a leader and to bring the change in Pakistan.

“I want to be a politician in Pakistan because I don’t want to be a politician in a country which is already developed.”

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Vidmar refuses to say if keen on top job

Caretaker Socceroos coach Aurelio Vidmar is refusing to say if he’s interested in the top job on a full-time basis following the sacking of Holger Osieck.

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Osieck was axed after Australia lost to France 6-0 in Paris.

Vidmar will lead the team against Canada in the up-coming friendly on Tuesday night London time (0600 AEDT Wednesday).

Asked directly if he’d be interested in the top job Vidmar said: “At this stage I don’t even want to talk about any of that.”

Vidmar certainly doesn’t see Tuesday’s match as an audition of any sort.

“No, not at all,” he told reporters in London on Sunday.

“For us it’s a matter of trying to get a fit team out on the park and trying to perform as best we can.

“There are a number of players carrying injuries and niggles so we are scratching the surface really to have many fit players.”

Former coach Guus Hiddink is the frontrunner to replace Osieck.

Other foreign candidates include former Chile and Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa and ex-Chelsea manager Robert Di Matteo.

Australians Ange Postecoglou and Graham Arnold are also in the frame.

Vidmar said it was always an “unfortunate situation” when a head coach was dumped.

“It hasn’t been a very good time over the last couple of days.

“The way football works is I was the assistant coach and someone needs to take the game for the international game on Tuesday and that’s me. That’s how it is.”

Asked if it was time for an Australian manager to lead the Socceroos, Vidmar said: “Obviously, yes that would be nice and probably one day that’ll happen.”

The 46-year-old said he hadn’t been given any guarantee he’d remain assistant under any new regime.

“We are all under scrutiny – staff, players, the whole lot,” he said.

“That’s what normally happens when someone gets dismissed.

“At the end the organisation will have to make a decision about what’s going to happen moving forward.”

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Two million Muslim pilgrims begin hajj

Some two million Muslims have poured out of the holy city of Mecca to begin the annual hajj, their numbers reduced on fears of the MERS virus.

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Saudi Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabia told reporters late on Saturday that authorities had so far detected no cases among the pilgrims of the virus which has killed 60 people worldwide, 51 of them in Saudi Arabia.

The pilgrims moved from Mecca to nearby Mina valley by road, by train or on foot, the men wearing ihram, the seamless two-piece white garment that rituals require, the women covered up except for their faces and hands.

In Mina, a small site with 45,000 fire-resistant tents that can accommodate two million people, they will pray and rest before moving on to Mount Arafat on Monday for the climax of the pilgrimage rituals.

The recently constructed electric railway is scheduled to carry 400,000 of the pilgrims taking part in the world’s largest annual gathering.

Saudi Arabia has deployed more than 100,000 troops to ensure the safety of the pilgrims and has warned it will tolerate no demonstrations or disturbances.

Interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki told a news conference on Saturday that the kingdom “will not allow any action that may subject the pilgrims’ safety to risk”.

Security forces are monitoring the holy sites in and around Mecca with 4,200 hi-tech cameras, some of which are so advanced that can cover a distance of 60 kilometres.

Authorities said more than 20,000 buses are ferrying the pilgrims to Mina using 58 tunnels under Mecca’s high mountains.

But some pilgrims, like Egyptian Mustafa Abu el-Wafa, decided to walk the 10-kilometre distance despite the heat and humidity.

“I am so excited that I finally managed to perform the hajj and come to the areas that the Prophet (Mohammed) had once been to,” Wafa said as he walked towards Mina.

From Mina, pilgrims will head to nearby Mount Arafat, where they spend Monday in prayer until sunset.

The oil-rich kingdom has also mobilised huge medical and civil defence resources to ensure the smooth movement of the pilgrims, around 1.4 million of whom come from abroad.

That figure is sharply down on last year’s 1.75 million.

Riyadh has imposed a 20 per cent cut this year on the quota for pilgrims coming from abroad.

It has also slashed the number of domestic pilgrims by half because of MERS virus fears and reduced capacity resulting from multi-billion-dollar construction work.

The fact that the kingdom accounts for the overwhelming majority of MERS cases reported around the world has raised concerns pilgrims could be infected and return to their homelands carrying the virus.

Despite being marred by deadly incidents in the past, including floods, stampedes and fires, in recent years, the hajj has passed nearly incident-free, thanks to multi-billion-dollar projects being implemented every year.

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60 killed in India temple stampede

A stampede on a bridge outside a Hindu temple has killed at least 60 people in India and dozens more may have died after they leapt into the water below, police say.

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“Sixty people are confirmed killed and the figure could reach 100,” said local Deputy Police Inspector General D.K. Arya.

“More than 100 others have been injured” in the disaster in the Datia district of central Madhya Pradesh state, he added.

Arya said the stampede was triggered by rumours the bridge might collapse after being struck by a heavy vehicle around lunchtime.

“There were rumours that the bridge could collapse after the tractor hit it,” he said.

“Many people are feared to have fallen into the river and are unaccounted for.”

Other police sources said that some 20,000 people were on the bridge over the River Sindh when the stampede broke out.

Large crowds began converging on the site from early morning, according to witnesses.

Up to 400,000 devotees were already inside or around the temple in Datia district, which is around 350 kilometres north of the state capital Bhopal, when the stamped happened.

NDTV, an Indian television network, cited sources at the scene as saying the situation was exacerbated by police charging at the crowds with heavy wooden sticks known as lathis.

However Arya insisted “there was no baton-charge” by the police.

The Times of India reported that crowds could seen pelting police with stones as frustration grew over the rescue operation.

Efforts to reach the injured and ferry them to hospital were being hampered by the huge volume of traffic in the area.

A team of around 20 medics had however managed to reach the scene of the tragedy and the casualty wards of nearby hospitals were being emptied to cope with the influx of victims, the newspaper added on its website.

Hindus are celebrating the end of the Navaratri festival, dedicated to the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga, which draws millions of worshippers to temples especially in northern and central India.

India has a long history of deadly stampedes at religious festivals, with at 36 people trampled to death back in February as pilgrims headed home from the Kumbh Mela religious festival on the banks of the river Ganges.

Some 102 Hindu devotees were killed in a stampede in January 2011 in the state of Kerala while 224 pilgrims died in September 2008 as thousands of worshippers rushed to reach a 15th-century hill-top temple in Jodhpur.

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Ireland set to exit EU-IMF bailout

Ireland will become the first eurozone country to exit its bailout in December, Prime Minister Enda Kenny says.

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He warns, however, that there is still some way to go to full recovery.

Ireland was forced to turn to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for an 85-billion-euro ($A121.96 billion) bailout in 2010 after its banks collapsed and its overheated property market went into meltdown.

Kenny told a conference of his Fine Gael party on Saturday there were “fragile times” ahead and a budget due on Tuesday would be tough, but that Ireland was ready to leave the bailout.

“Tonight I can confirm that Ireland is on track to exit the EU-IMF bailout on December 15. And we won’t go back,” he said.

“It won’t mean that our financial troubles are over. Yes, there are still fragile times ahead. There’s still a long way to go.

“But at last, the era of the bailout will be no more. The economic emergency will be over.”

Kenny admitted the budget would include another 2.5 billion euros in tax rises and spending cuts.

But he said it would leave Ireland running a 4.8 per cent deficit next year, and pledged that the government would publish a new economic plan for the medium term by the end of the year.

Ireland enjoyed double-digit economic growth for a decade from the mid-1990s, earning it the nickname of the Celtic Tiger, but it was hammered by the 2008 global financial crisis.

In return for the bailout, the government was forced to introduce stringent austerity measures.

But it has been described as a “poster boy” for bailed-out EU economies, exiting recession in the second quarter of this year with growth of 0.4 per cent thanks to solid expansion of its construction and export sectors.

If Ireland does leave the scheme in December, it will be the first of the four bailed-out eurozone countries to do so.

Financial packages have also been given to Cyprus, Greece and Portugal.

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Record crowds watch A-League openers

As the national team stumbled abroad, soccer in Australia took another giant leap with record crowds attending the A-League opening round.

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Adelaide United and Brisbane Roar banked season-opening victories on Sunday and helped the league create new attendance records.

Bolstered by massive crowds in Sydney, Melbourne and Gosford, some 100,998 people attended the opening round.

The figure surpasses the previous best for a regular-season round of 93,500, set in last season’s first round.

The record was set on Sunday as Adelaide beat Perth Glory 3-1 at Coopers Stadium in Adelaide, and Brisbane Roar notched a last-gasp 2-1 away win against Wellington Phoenix.

Adelaide and Brisbane joined Sydney FC as first-round winners.

The Sky Blues showed early signs of revival after a disappointing last season, notching an impressive 2-0 triumph against Newcastle Jets before a 20,103-strong Sydney crowd on Friday night.

Melbourne’s derby between the Victory and Heart was a scoreless draw watched by 45,202 spectators at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.

The crowd was the second largest for a non-finals A-League match, the all-time record remains the 50,333 who watched Melbourne Victory play Sydney FC at the same venue in 2006/07.

In other results in the initial weekend of the new season, reigning champions Central Coast Mariners drew 1-1 with defending premiers Western Sydney Wanderers before 17,143 fans at Gosford on Saturday.

The first free-to-air coverage of an A-League match on Friday night also helped generate a new record for a TV audience for a game in the competition, with an average of 358,000 viewers watching Sydney FC’s clash with Newcastle on SBS and Fox Sports.

Head of the A-League Damien de Bohun said the first round lived up to the pre-season hype.

“Record crowds, record TV figures, a sell-out crowd, magnificent atmosphere and some fantastic football – the A-League is back with a bang,” de Bohun said in a statement.

“It was a fantastic start to the season and full credit to the players, coaches and fans, who all played their part in creating the first round of theatre. We had some big crowds, tight matches and tense derbies.”

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Strong winds expected amid NSW bushfires

Firefighters are bracing for a night of strong winds and thunderstorms, as a number of homes in NSW were destroyed by bushfires.

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The NSW Rural Fire Service has downgraded bushfires in Port Stephens in the state’s Hunter region to `watch and act’ levels, but warns a southerly change could spread the blaze.

“It can prove to be quite problematic because there’s going to be extremely strong wind gusts that come with it,” a spokesman told AAP on Sunday.

“When we get a shift from the wind and it turns south which we’re seeing tonight, the sides of the fires can then turn into the fronts of the fires.”

Five properties have reportedly been damaged or destroyed between Salt Ash and Tanilba Bay in Port Stephens.

“We don’t have solid confirmation of that yet,” the NSW RFS spokesman said.

“But obviously there’s been footage on the news tonight which clearly shows there have been properties destroyed.”

The fires across the state come as the Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the mid-north coast, the Hunter region and other parts of NSW.

The bureau is urging people in those areas to move their cars away from trees and stay indoors.

Conditions are easing on the Tangory Mountain fire ground, 15km east of Singleton but authorities warn the southerly change could make the situation worse.

Once the southerly change passes tonight, firefighters expect conditions to ease considerably. They’ll use the calmer conditions in the next two days to contain the remaining fires.

More than 100 firefighters are also working on controlling a large bushfire in the Webbs Creek area, near Wisemans Ferry, in the Hawkesbury region.

Meanwhile, 43 cars were destroyed near Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney’s west when a grass fire spread into a carpark near an aquatic centre, Fire and Rescue NSW Superintendent Ian Krimmer told AAP.

Around 1500 people were evacuated and three people were treated for smoke inhalation.

Authorities have declared the area safe but will continue to monitor it overnight.

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Labor to decide on deputy leader, frontbench

Mr Shorten defeated former deputy leader Anthony Albanese after a month-long campaign for the Labor leadership.

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The Labor caucus will today begin putting together a team to take on the Coalition government for the next three years, with Mr Shorten expected to allocate portfolios on Friday.

Bill Shorten says he has “things to learn” after winning federal Labor’s historic leadership ballot despite being backed by just 40 per cent of the party’s grassroots members.

While the new leader won the backing of his parliamentary colleagues, the party’s rank and file overwhelmingly backed his rival Anthony Albanese.

The membership tally was 60-40 per cent in favour of Mr Albanese, but Mr Shorten took the top job after caucus backed him by 55 votes to 31.

“This ballot shows that there are still things for me to learn,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Canberra.

“The party has spoken and what I undertake to do is to learn, is to listen but also to help the process of rebuilding Labor with good policies.”

The ballot marked the start of “the renewal of Labor” as an alternative government.

Despite the ballot numbers, the Right faction powerbroker said he knew of moderate members who voted both for and against him.

Mr Shorten played down his perceived lack of parliamentary experience, citing his battle as trade union leader against the Howard government’s WorkChoices industrial relations laws before he entered parliament in 2007.

“I do believe that Australians in the Labor movement contribute through a variety of ways, not just through parliament,” he said.

When quizzed about his role in the downfall of two Labor prime ministers in three years, Mr Shorten said people would see him as someone who would always work in the best interests of the nation before he considered his party.

He vowed not to be as “relentlessly negative” as Prime Minister Tony Abbott was in opposition.

Labor will meet on Monday to decide its shadow ministry and name a deputy opposition leader, likely to be Mr Shorten’s pick Tanya Plibersek.

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