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Middle East on the brink as violence rages

TENSIONS in the Middle East heightened with two suicide bombings rocking Israel. The suicide bombings – in Jerusalem and the northern port city of Haifa – resulted in numerous citizen casualties. Israeli forces were quick to retaliate with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s helicopters taking the brunt of their wrath. Calls have increased for Mr Arafat to bring radical groups such as Hamas to heel. However, the Palestinian leader pointed out that even a huge world power such as the United States could not effectively stop the effects of terrorism from reaching its shores – citing the events of September 11 as proof.

IN Afghanistan the net around Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden, who has been accused of masterminding the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, is tightening. The Taliban stronghold of Kandahar fell this week, leaving Bin Laden and Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar with few places to hide. Anti-Taliban forces believe they have the two Taliban leaders cornered in the Tora Bora mountains and that it is just a matter of time before they are brought to justice. However, questions have been raised to Afghanistan interim governor Hamid Karzai as to how the pair was able to slip through the fingers of anti-Taliban forces.

AND as the anti-Taliban forces continue to pound the Tora Bora region, Australian SAS troops have started combat operations in southern Afghanistan. So far they have not come into direct contact with opposition forces. It appears some of the kit they took with them has proven inappropriate for the terrain they are fighting in. The troops have been issued with a piece of plastic called a “hoochie” for use as a tent, but it requires two trees to support it. Suitable trees are rather rare in the area where the SAS is operating. However, the Australian-made four-wheel drives the troops took with them are believed to be ideal for the desert conditions.

THE WA Government has announced details of the long-awaited Royal Commission into allegations of police corruption in WA. The Royal Commission, a pre-election commitment, has been granted 18 months, from March next year, to investigate alleged corrupt and criminal conduct since the beginning of 1985. Geoffrey Kennedy QC, one of three commissioners for what became known as the WA Inc Royal Commission, has been appointed Police Royal Commiss-ioner. The Commission will also look at existing procedures and statutory provisions for preventing, exposing or investigating alleged police misconduct.

IN other commission news, the HIH Royal Commission continued, while plenty of talk about union muscle surrounded the Federal Government’s royal commission into the building industry, with claim and counter-claim that the inquiry was an investigation into unions alone and not the whole industry. The terms of reference of this commission include workplace relations, hiring decisions, accounting practices and the use of super and redundancy funds.

VIRGIN Blue flew into Perth this week and will continue to do so daily, from both Adelaide and Melbourne. Meanwhile little happened publicly on the Ansett front, although Canberra Airport has proposed to take over the Canberra Ansett terminal for common use and Sydney also has expressed interest in putting a similar proposal.

Meanwhile Qantas followed last week’s promise of regional flights in WA with announcements to extend the number of flights and introduce self-service check-in facilities on high-frequency eastern states routes, and to introduce more packaged meals on short-haul flights. The market leader continued to fend off complaints and threats over its proposed 12-month wage freeze and said its efforts to streamline company operations would not include redundancies.

THE State Government has addressed safety issues in the marine industry, announcing an independent safety audit of the Dampier Port, ahead of significant industrial expansion on the Burrup Peninsula and following the closure of the port’s control tower in August.

THE reputation of WaterCorp was on the nose during the week, with two sewage spills, one into the Canning River near the Mt Henry Bridge and the second just three days later at a Brookdale liquid waste treatment plant. The Brookdale spill followed weekend protests over the alleged presence of cancer-causing agents on the site.

LOGGERS and their families may feel a sense of betrayal as the battlers’ party makes good on a promise to end old-growth logging. The State Government’s decision could wipe up to 4,000 jobs involved directly or indirectly in the industry.

But the Government has promised not to leave the workers bleeding, announcing a $123 million industry assistance package and tourism and plantation timber initiatives.

MONEY already has begun to flow in the direction of the South West. Fronty’s Pool, the Manjimup swimming hole, has been the first recipient of funding under the South West Industry Assistance Scheme receiving a $19,600 grant. The money will be used to develop a new 500 tonne production winery in the town with capacity to increase to 2,000 tonnes.

WA shipbuilding took another step forward with WA firm Tenix being awarded a $300 million contract to build 16 search and rescue vessels for the Philippine Coast Guard. WA builds about 40 per cent of the world’s lightweight high-speed passenger/car ferries. The industry contributed more than $1.6 billion to the WA economy during the past decade.

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