Pharrell Williams defends Miley Cyrus

Music star Pharrell Williams “loves” Miley Cyrus.


Williams, the genius behind the Oscar nominated song Happy, worked with the Wrecking Ball singer on a song for his new album, G I R L.

While Miley has sparked a storm of controversy for her racy lyrics and onstage antics, Williams is convinced she was destined to be a star.

“I love Miley man,” he told Ryan Seacrest on the presenters US radio show.

“I’ll never forget talking to you like a year or two years ago telling you like, she’s on her way.”

Williams also says critics should give the 21-year-old singer a break, insisting it’s a natural progression for her to grow up and change from her Disney days.

“Everyone thinks that she’s Hannah Montana and that’s a really thin slice of her personality, there’s so much more there,” he said.

“And you know the saying still goes, there’s so much more to her and when you guys see where she’s headed next and what she’s up to you’ll get more of the breadth of what she can do.”

Cyrus appears on the track Come Get It Bae from Williams’ new album. He also said he loved working with such a creative star.

“It was a pleasure having her on the record,” he said.

Williams meanwhile is coming down from his high-octane performance at Sunday night’s Academy Awards.

Oscar-winners Lupita Nyong’o and Meryl Streep were among those who got up from their seats to boogie with the singer, who says that moment was a “highlight” of his life.

He gushed about Streep: “I love her man, I’ve always loved her. So that was awesome man, to get a chance to do that it was awesome!”

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Calls for arrest of Sudan’s leader

More than 30 human rights and civil society organisations have called for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on the fifth anniversary of his indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.


The groups expressed grave concern in an open letter on Tuesday to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court at the continuing impunity that al-Bashir enjoys despite being accused of “the world’s most heinous crimes.”

They accused the international community of not only failing to arrest al-Bashir but also allowing the Sudanese government “to continue its crimes in Darfur and throughout Sudan with impunity.”

The court issued an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir in March 2009 on five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes for allegedly orchestrating atrocities in Darfur. It added three counts of genocide to the charges against him in July 2010.

Darfur has been gripped by bloodshed since 2003 when rebels took up arms against the government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination and neglect. The United Nations says 300,000 people have died in the conflict and 2.7 million have fled their homes.

Al-Bashir refuses to recognise the court’s authority and has repeatedly said he will not turn himself in to stand trial.

The organisations urged all 15 Security Council members and the 122 countries that are parties to the Rome Statute “to stand for justice and make this year the last year of Bashir’s impunity.”

Among the signatories of the letter are United to End Genocide, Physicians for Human Rights, Enough Project, International Justice Project and seven groups supporting the people of Darfur.

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Scrapping allowance unfair: Swans captain

The scrapping of Sydney’s cost of living allowance is unjust punishment for luring superstar Lance Franklin, the AFL club’s co-captain Kieren Jack says.


Jack says he’s irked at a belief that the Swans used their controversial allowance to sign Franklin on a nine-year, $10 million contract.

“It does annoy me,” Jack told AAP in Adelaide on Wednesday.

“We took a massive risk, offering a nine-year deal.

“If other teams wanted to do that, they could have offered a nine-year deal too but no-one was prepared to do it.

“(Sydney chief executive) Andrew Ireland said if we didn’t take the risk and we didn’t get Buddy, we would still have the cost of living allowance.

“But we took a nine-year risk and we picked him up and we’re really happy we got him.

“But now we have suffered because of that and they’re taking the allowance away.”

The AFL on Tuesday night decided to phase out the allowance, after rival clubs protested the Swans getting 9.8 per cent more in their salary cap to compensate for high living costs in the NSW capital.

“It is disappointing from a playing point of view,” Jack said.

“I certainly know how hard it is to live in Sydney, not if you’re an established player and you’re already earning okay money, it’s alright. But younger players coming in, they really struggle.

“The cost of living allowance has been around for 20 years so I don’t know why all of a sudden it has now become a big issue.

“It’s a tool used for equalisation.

“Look at all the stats and Sydney is a lot more expensive to live than any other city. That is how we saw it and that is what we used it for.”

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AFL captains name three grand finalists

Reigning premiers Hawthorn, runners-up Fremantle and Sydney are the only potential grand final opponents for an AFL team this season, according to a poll of the 18 club captains.


The release of their annual survey coincides with Wednesday night’s AFL season launch in Adelaide.

The skippers were asked which other team will make the grand final – 10 went for the Hawks, five for Fremantle and three for Sydney.

Predictably, those three clubs also received the maximum 17 votes when the captains were asked which other seven teams will make the top eight.

The popularity of those three teams reflects a widely-held belief that there will be a wide-open competition this season between fourth and 15th on the AFL ladder.

Curiously, one skipper picked Geelong to not make the top eight and Collingwood only received 12 votes.

West Coast (11), North Melbourne and Richmond (nine apiece), Essendon and Port Adelaide (seven apiece) and Adelaide and Carlton (two apiece) were the other top-eight picks.

Gold Coast was not named, despite the Suns having reasonable claims to break into the finals for the first time.

New Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury was the most popular Brownlow Medal fancy, attracting votes from four of his counterparts.

Last year’s winner Gary Ablett and Adelaide star Patrick Dangerfield polled three votes and 10 players in total were nominated.

No captain predicted Hawthorn’s Jarryd Roughead would win the Coleman Medal last year – this time, four have nominated him.

Collingwood key forward Travis Cloke and West Coast’s Josh Kennedy were the most popular picks with five apiece.

Nine captains correctly named Jaeger O’Meara last year as the Rising Star winner and this time seven have gone for his Gold Coast team-mate Jack Martin.

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China targets 7.5 per cent growth

China is targeting growth of about 7.


5 per cent in 2014, Premier Li Keqiang says, unchanged from last year as the government tempers expectations for an economy transitioning to a more balanced, sustainable model.

The announcement came in Li’s speech on Wednesday to the annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature.

“We must keep economic development as the central task and maintain a proper growth rate,” Li said, according to his text.

“On the basis of careful comparison and repeatedly weighing various factors as well as considering what is needed and what is possible, we set a growth target of around 7.5 per cent.”

The world’s second-largest economy grew 7.7 per cent in 2013, the same as in 2012 – which was the worst rate of growth since 1999.

Rising prosperity is a key part of the Communist Party’s claim to legitimacy in China, and the government usually sets a conservative growth target that it regularly exceeds.

The economic growth estimate figure is closely watched by analysts for insight into the leadership’s thinking about the economy and how they expect it to perform.

The “around 7.5 per cent” goal came after soft recent economic data, with a key manufacturing index slipping to an eight-month low in February, the government said Saturday.

“We believe China can achieve 7.5 per cent GDP growth this year,” economists with Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a research note, despite what they described as recent “negative news and data” such as manufacturing declines.

They said they would maintain their slightly higher forecast of 7.6 per cent.

China’s leadership says it wants to transform the country’s economic growth model away from an over-reliance on often wasteful investment, and instead make private demand the driver for the country’s future development.

They expect the change to result in slower but more sustainable rates of expansion.

“This target… will boost market confidence and promote economic structural adjustment,” Li said in the speech, his first work report since becoming premier at last year’s NPC.

“Boosting domestic demand is both a major force driving economic growth and an important structural adjustment,” he added.

China’s once regular annual double-digit growth rates have been on a slowing trend, and the 2013 result meant GDP growth had been in single figures for three consecutive years for the first time since 2002.

Li reiterated the government’s commitment to economic reform.

“Reform has brought us the greatest benefits,” he said.

Li also said the government would keep the target for the increase in the consumer price index (CPI) at about 3.5 per cent, the same as last year’s.

Inflation was tame in 2013, with CPI rising 2.6 per cent for the year.

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South Sudanese fleeing to troubled Darfur region

The civil war in South Sudan has left people so hungry and desperate for relief that they are even fleeing across the border into Darfur, a long-troubled region of famine and suffering in neighbouring Sudan, the UN humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan says.


Some 900,000 South Sudanese are homeless since the war erupted in December, and about 195,000 of them have fled as refugees to Uganda, Ethiopia and even into Darfur, Tony Lanzer said on Tuesday.

South Sudan broke away from Sudan to become independent in 2011. Sudan’s western Darfur region has been gripped by violence since 2003, when rebels took up arms against the government.

“I never thought I would see people fleeing into Darfur,” Lanzer said.

“It’s a very painful thing for the world’s youngest country if your people are fleeing.”

South Sudan’s civil war broke out in December between supporters of ousted Vice President Riek Machar, from the Nuer ethnic group, and the forces of President Salva Kiir, who is an ethnic Dinka. The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in January, but that agreement does not appear to be holding.

A total of 3.7 million South Sudanese are “food insecure,” or unsure of where their next meal will come from, Lanzer said, out of a population of about 11 million.

Lanzer is organising donations for international relief aid in the coming weeks during the dry season, when roads are passable. The World Food Program hopes to pre-position 146,000 tons of food. By June, during the wet season, supplies would have to be airlifted at far greater cost.

“Now, 90 per cent of funds go toward relief, and 10 per cent to delivery,” Lanzer said. By June, that ratio will have flipped.

Adding to the urgency, people need to sow crops before June but are afraid to go into the fields.

“There will not be a harvest if people do not cultivate,” Lanzer said.

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Armstrong doco on a riding to nothing

It would be too easy to dismiss Alex Gibney’s The Armstrong Lie as a two-hour-and-three-minute exercise in moral relativism and rationalisation, too late to the party about a cheating athlete we’ve already made up our minds about – again.


But the Oscar-winning Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) had access to Lance Armstrong before he was caught cheating, and after. His cameras captured the seeds of Armstrong’s undoing. And while he allows plenty of screen time to condemn the corrupt, arrogant, bullying Tour de France champ, he is just as interested in bringing back the context, the “everybody was doing it” argument that Armstrong has fallen back on himself. It might be the truest thing Armstrong has said.

Built on the ruins of an abandoned 2009 documentary that was to celebrate Lance’s comeback in that year’s Tour de France, Gibney goes back to Armstrong just as he was forced to ‘fess up to Oprah in 2012, figuring a guy “who lied to my face … owed it to me”.

And he did.

What Gibney brought to life is a tale of power, of a hyper-competitive control freak who, even now, is wrestling for control of his story, his myth.

The myth? An arrogant, underachieving young cyclist from Plano, Texas, gets testicular cancer in the 1990s, comes close to death, is cured and roars back to win seven Tour de France titles, beginning in 1999. His yellow leader’s jersey for that event becomes an iconic colour as legions of cancer patients and those who love them rally to his Livestrong Foundation.

Glory, endorsements, celebrity and a cause – Armstrong had it all. The constant whispers about cheating, blood doping, that his success was “too good to be true” – were all dismissed as Armstrong passed drug tests, and sued, threatened and bullied former teammates and journalists who dared accuse him.

Gibney admits he “got caught up” in Lance-mania, too, working on the film where he followed an older Armstrong “racing clean” on that “comeback” Tour de France. But Gibney had his suspicions, and as that tour ended and the accusations piled up, he gave up that film only to come back to the subject years later, to give Armstrong a chance to come clean and maybe own up to what a jerk he was.

“He just can’t stand to lose,” a former supporter says of him. And what do competitors such as Armstrong crave above all else? An edge.

Gibney, with footage from 2009 and fresh interviews with Armstrong’s victims, shows the intimidation Armstrong used to keep his myth intact and keep those rumours at bay. Most despicably, Armstrong was never shy about playing the cancer card, suggesting that there was an “ends justify the means” logic to his chicanery and self-righteous pose.

Gibney, knowing what to look for in that old footage, plays a wonderful game of catch-up here. He is never less than blunt about the scope of the cover-up and the corruption of the sport and those who monitored it. This is a real inside-cycling “how they did it” expose, with teammates such as George Hincapie laying out the MO for the program of injections, blood transfusions and private jet flights (to hide their activities from the world) that propped up Armstrong’s US Postal Service team.

Armstrong’s candour, at long last, is refreshing, though grudgingly given. He doesn’t come off as a good guy here, even if the data is there to show that, yes, “everybody” pretty much was doing it. He was just better at it.

But the absence of fresh interviews with two of Armstrong’s fiercest critics – teammate Floyd Landis is seen in archival interviews with other journalists, and the only legitimate American Tour de France winner, Greg LeMond, is nowhere to be found – makes you wonder if, even now, Armstrong is controlling his story.

And at this point, with lawsuits going after his ill-gotten millions, lost endorsements, stripped of his titles and with even his most diehard fans disillusioned, the question that shouts from the cheap seats as The Armstrong Lie reaches its closing credits is: “Is there anything new here?”

* The Armstrong Lie releases in Australian cinemas on March 13

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Qld doctors ready to walk over contracts

Highly skilled doctors say they will walk away from Queensland’s public health system unless the state government abandons controversial new work contracts.


A rally is being staged on Wednesday afternoon at Ipswich Hospital – the latest action by doctors who say the contracts offer them little security and could compromise patient care.

Dr Rob Thomas, who has been with Queensland Health for 14 years, is one of about 100 doctors expected to attend the rally.

He says the contracts allow changes to be made without written consent as well as remove unfair dismissal provisions, include unattainable key performance indicators, and don’t consider fatigue management.

The contracts also mean doctors could be sent anywhere in their health district, which might be hundreds of kilometres from their families, he says.

Dr Thomas, who has specialised in anaesthesia, intensive care and pain medicine, says he’s looking at his options in private hospitals.

“I will certainly be walking if this happens and I certainly am aware of other major specialties that are not easily replaced – for example transplant surgeons – who are quite prepared to take their skills elsewhere,” Dr Thomas told AAP.

“You have to draw a line in the sand somewhere about your life.

“If they’re going to impose untenable conditions that put yourself at professional risk … then you have to move on.”

Dr Thomas said doctors felt frustrated about having to mount a campaign against the contracts.

“Doctors don’t want to get involved in political conflict,” he said.

“We want to resolve these issues and what isn’t being seen are the months and months of attempts to negotiate with the government and we are being stonewalled and just being given ‘party line’ responses.”

Unions have warned that many of the state’s 3500 senior medical officers could move interstate or into the private system as early as the end of March.

Assistant Health Minister Dr Chris Davis, a former president of the Australian Medical Association Queensland, has also threatened to quit cabinet if the new contracts cause patient harm.

But the government says the contracts are a good deal for doctors, and a lot of misinformation is being circulated.

Premier Campbell Newman this week urged doctors to see through that and consider how the contracts would improve things.

“They are getting the best deal of any state and it is also a better deal than they would get in the private sector as well,” Mr Newman told parliament on Tuesday.

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No jail for Vic ex-bikie over club brawl

Former Bandidos enforcer Toby Mitchell has avoided jail over a strip club brawl, but a judge has told him he’s too old for that kind of behaviour.


Mitchell, 39, pleaded guilty to affray over the wild nightclub brawl in central Melbourne in November 2010.

Staff were punched and bar chairs thrown after Mitchell and two other men were asked to leave the Centrefold Lounge on King Street.

Since the incident Mitchell has twice been shot and nearly died after one of the shootings, the Victorian County Court heard on Wednesday.

Sentencing Mitchell and co-offenders Savvacis Tsivicios, 41, and Peter Robert Algie, 43, on Wednesday, Victorian County Court Judge John Smallwood said the trio were “getting a bit old for it”.

“The fact of the matter is you can’t behave like this in public,” he said.

“You are all big blokes.”

Judge Smallwood said Mitchell had admitted the brawl happened for no good reason.

He said while the brawl was not the worst example of affray he had seen, it was not a trivial matter.

Judge Smallwood noted Mitchell’s poor health and agreed with a submission from his lawyer that he would be a target in jail.

He said delays in the matter being finalised, which were no fault of the three men, were also a factor in his sentence.

Judge Smallwood jailed Mitchell and Tsivicios, of Taylors Lakes, who also pleaded guilty to affray, for four months but wholly suspended the sentence for 12 months.

Algie, of Southbank, pleaded guilty to recklessly causing injury and was given a two-month jail sentence, wholly suspended for nine months.

Mitchell, who wore a pink shirt to his sentencing, appeared relieved as he left court without commenting to reporters.

The court was told during his pre-sentence hearing on Tuesday that Mitchell was no longer a member of any gang or club and was concerned that other inmates would seek to attack him if he was sent to prison.

Mitchell was shot five times in the back outside a Brunswick gym in 2011 and was again shot in March last year after more than 30 rounds were fired at a Melton bikie clubhouse.

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Rudd denies Russia visit linked to Ukraine

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s visit to Russia has no connection with events in Ukraine, his office says.


The West Australian newspaper reports Mr Rudd arrived in Moscow on Monday to meet President Vladimir Putin’s top foreign affairs officials.

It cited unnamed Australian diplomats of suspecting Mr Rudd was attempting to “deal himself” into the crisis, which threatens a Cold War-style stand-off over the ex-Soviet state between Russia and G7 powers.

But a spokeswoman said the visit was linked to Mr Rudd’s new role as a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy school and a related research project on China.

“Mr Rudd is meeting with think tanks and other officials in Europe including the UK and Russia on this and broader foreign policy interests,” she said.

“This travel was planned more than a month ago and is not connected with recent developments in the Ukraine.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has issued updated advice for Ukraine, urging Australians to reconsider travelling there.

It comes after the government’s warning earlier this week not to travel to the Crimea.

Ukraine’s West-leaning government has accused Russia of staging a de-facto invasion by deploying troops in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

But Moscow insists it may be forced to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine amid unrest following an uprising against fugitive former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych.

A former Labor colleague, Richard Marles, said Mr Rudd had booked the trip to Russia some time ago.

“As we all know, Kevin is a man who wants to keep abreast of world affairs,” he told ABC radio.

“I’m not sure Kevin is putting himself in the position of trying to broker peace there.”

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss was surprised by the report but supposed Mr Rudd had good intentions.

“I don’t think Kevin Rudd’s ever been short of ambition,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said he couldn’t shed any light on Mr Rudd’s trip.

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