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SAS joins coalition forces in Afghan fight

AUSTRALIANS have been warned to prepare for casualties as the first of Australia’s elite Special Air Service troops arrived in Afghanistan this week. An advance party of troops landed in the war-torn country on Monday and will be soon followed by a further 150 soldiers. The SAS could be deployed in a range of missions including reconnaissance, search and rescue and ambush. As the Australians stepped on to Afghan soil, the US continued to bomb the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in preparation for a final assault on the southern city. Refugees are reported to be fleeing the city in thousands and Taliban officials are said to be attempting to negotiate a safe retreat for their troops through the border town of Spin Bolak.

WHILE the United Nations works to install an balanced government in Afghanistan, violence has again erupted in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials have blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for a wave of weekend bombings that killed 26 people, and have responded by bombing Gaza City. Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing of a bus in the Israeli city of Haifa and the suicide bombing in downtown Jerusalem, leading Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to claim Mr Arafat was not doing enough to control the radical groups. The Israeli response was swift. Missiles rained down on Gaza City, some falling close to Mr Arafat’s headquarters. The US has backed the retaliation, claiming Israel has a right to defend itself.

FEARS were raised this week that emissions from Alcoa’s Kwinana and Wagerup alumina refineries could be responsible for the health problems of plant workers and nearby residents. Documents provided to a parliamentary inquiry indicate the company was aware almost a decade ago that its liquor-burning units produced compounds that were possibly carcinogenic. The company has acknowledged some emissions contained the compounds but said air samples taken around the plant had shown the compounds were only present in very low concentrations. In light of the revelations, workers at the Kwinana refinery walked off the job. Environment Minister Judy Edwards has requested further independent testing and has requested several health practitioners, including local doctors, report their findings to her tomorrow.

THE Fab Four are now two with the passing of Beatles guitarist George Harrison. Mr Harrison died on Thursday after a long battle with cancer, leaving a generation of baby boomers in mourning. Known as the quiet one of the Beetles, Mr Harrison was behind songs such as Here Comes The Sun and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. After the legendary group split in 1970, Harrison was the first to launch a successful solo career with his album All Things Must Pass, which spawned the hit My Sweet Lord. He was behind the foundation of the Travelling Wilburys – a group also featuring Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan. Harrison has also been credited as a pioneer of charity rock concerts and successful film producer.

SHOWING even the largest companies are vulnerable, Enron, once the seventh largest US company, has collapsed, filing the largest Chapter XI bankruptcy case in history. The energy company had assets of $US50 billion and debts of $US31.2 billion, exceeding Texaco 1987 $US35 billion collapse.

The collapse sent shock waves through financial markets, many looking at their own exposure. Australian banks have more than $670 million tied up with Enron. ANZ lent $230 million, NAB $200 million, CBA $144 million and Westpac $98 million.

ARGENTINA is again in damage control after announcing it would not be able to meet loan repayments to the International Monetary Fund. The news resulted in a flood of money fleeing Latin America’s third largest economy as news spread of its debt blow out to $253.6 billion. The run on the banks was quickly cut short by a presidential decree on Saturday, which limits transfers of money abroad and cash withdrawals. The measures will provide breathing space for the Government until it completes a massive debt re-structure.

FARMING communities and the State Government are hoping this week’s visit to drought-affected areas by the National Rural Advisory Council, an advisory body to the Federal Government, will result in acceptance of WA’s application for ‘exceptional circumstances’ assist-ance to the tune of $50.3 million. The visit includes discussions with farmers and local government representatives in Mukinbudin, Morawa and surrounding shires.

STILL on regional news, four new appointments were made to the Great Southern Development Commission board and five to the Mid-West Development Comm-ission.

THE WA Government also announced final allocation to various projects and campaigns of its $5 million injection into the State’s tourism industry.

A further $4 million has been promised from local, national and international industry players to help offset the effects of the Ansett collapse and the downturn in international travel.

QANTAS has jumped into WA’s market opportunities, this week confirming it will begin daily B737 jet services to Broome, Karratha and Kalgoorlie and additional weekend flights to Broome, to complement existing BAE146 flights to the towns.

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