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Pressure mounts on Afghanistan’s Taliban

BOMBS continue to fall on Afghanistan as the United States and Britain prepare to up the ante in the war on terrorism before sending in ground troops to flush out Osama bin Laden. The US military says its jets have hit targets in Kabul and other Afghan cities, taking out airports, radars, military bases and suspected terrorist training camps. During the raids, a United Nations mine-clearing operation building and a residential area were destroyed by misguided bombs. One week into the military campaign, US President George W Bush offered Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers a second chance to hand over bin Laden who is, according to reports, hiding out in a mountain cave. Bush’s olive branch is yet to be taken by Taliban.

WHILE the US has the support of Australia and many other Western countries, our near neighbours Indonesia and Malaysia are less than pleased about America’s attacks on the Taliban. In a televised speech from Jakarta, Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri has criticised the bombing of Afghanistan, saying “blood can not be cleansed with blood”. Ms Soekarnoputri initially supported the actions of the US but has since changed tack amid growing public outrage and pressure from her Muslim political partners. Radical groups have continued to stage protests across Indonesia and have threatened to expel American and British nationals and boycott US products.

FEARS of bio-terrorism have grown in the past week as packages with suspicious white powder continued to surface, principally in the US. The deadly Anthrax bacterium claimed one life in the US, but the number of confirmed cases of exposure has grown to 13 after four more cases were reported at the weekend. At home, buildings in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Townsville were evacuated after mail containing a suspicious white powder was received. In WA, the suburb of Lynwood was cordoned off when an Avon sales repre-sentative received a package from Sydney containing a white residue. Police say the substance, which is now being analysed, was unlikely to be dangerous.

THE Federal election campaign and the leaders’ debate dominated domestic news this week. Prime Minister Howard warned that a Federal Labor Government would undo economic and industrial relations advances made by his Government, while Opposition Leader Kim Beazley criticised the privatisation of Telstra to retire debt and promised budget surpluses.

Meanwhile, Federal Treasurer Peter Costello was forced to deny a front-bench claim the Australia’s 2001 fourth quarter GDP would fall 0.6 percentage points.

AFTER steadfastly refusing to abandon the controversial premium property tax for a month, the State Government last week did just that, to the cheers of hundreds of Perth property owners. Premier Geoff Gallop announced the backflip last Thursday, saying it was in response to growing community opposition to the tax. “It had become clear that this proposal was becoming an increasingly divisive issue at a time when community cohesion is paramount,” Dr Gallop said.

And division was something Federal Labor candidates did not need with the election just three weeks away. The Government said it would make up the $12 million shortfall through further cutbacks on consultancy and advertising costs and deferring funding allocations to various projects for a year. Property Council of WA executive director Joe Lenzo congratulated the Government but noted local businesses had not been spared from land tax increases. Mr Lenzo suggested the Government review these increases, which will net an additional $28.6 million.

REGIONAL business is set to benefit from another announcement concerning an $8 million upgrade of the Goolhi pumping station, near Southern Cross, to double capacity. The upgrade is just one part of a program to boost water supply to the Goldfields and agricultural regions through the Mundaring Weir to Kalgoorlie-Boulder pipeline.

THE far north tourism industry also may profit from the announcement of a $45,000 allocation to develop a of a new Kimberley tourist route, the Savannah Way, which will connect Broome, via the Gibb River Road and Great Northern Highway, to the Northern Territory and through to Cairns.

THE WA Government made a number of announcements during the week affecting business throughout the State. The liquor trades industry no doubt welcomed the announcement that the Government would oppose recommendations to further deregulate the liquor industry through the National Competition Policy review of the Liquor Licensing Act.

FURTHER good news for tourism and other business activity in the north included the promise of four hundred thousand dollars annually, over four years, to be allocated to capital works and development projects in each of the Pilbara, in the Kimberley and Gascoyne regions. Projects favoured will be those deemed to attract regional investment, promote regional partnerships and/or enhance tourism development.

THE Government continued to woo regional WA, launching a free WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy training package aimed at reducing injuries and death in the mining industry and announcing it would jointly fund Edith Cowan research into the provision of Government services in regional WA.

AMADEUS Petroleum has reported an eight per cent fall in gross oil and gas production revenue from its Texas operations during the first quarter, a period when the West Texas Intermediate posted oil price began at US$25.95, climaxed at US$29.89 and then slid to US$23.43.

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