As bombings hit capital, Egypt plans sweeping anti-terror laws

Cairo: The blast echoed around Cairo, shattering a rare quiet morning in a city that is fast growing used to hit and run-style bombings.
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Not far from the city’s centre, a policeman lay on his back under one of Cairo’s giant overpasses, his left leg maimed in the explosion, his blood a bright red stain on the brown concrete walkway.

Tuesday’s attack was the latest in a spate of bomb blasts around Egypt that appear to have been designed to minimise civilian casualties, targeting army, police and government officials and moving ever closer to the capital.

More than 500 people – mostly police and soldiers – have died in the insurgency  since the army, backed by popular protests, overthrew president Mohamed Mursi last July, government officials say.

But the discovery earlier this month of four bombs at Cairo University – two exploded in quick succession, killing a senior police official, another exploded as investigators and journalists arrived at the scene, while a fourth was defused – brought the campaign closer to civilian targets and hardened the government’s resolve.

Even though it has been driving a ferocious security crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, along with students, academics, unionists and journalists that has resulted in the arrest of at least 16,000 people and the deaths of more than 1400, the government has elected to go further.

Backed by the country’s all-powerful military, Egypt’s interim government looks set to adopt new counter-terrorism laws that significantly broaden the definition of terrorist activities and expand the application of the death penalty.

Human rights groups are deeply concerned by the proposed law, while students from the Anti-Coup Alliance are defiant. “They have already killed and arrested so many of us, what more can they do?” says Mohamed al-Azhary, a student from al-Azhar University.

“Every time there is a bomb blast the debate is reignited around how we deal with political violence . . .  and counter-terror legislation,” says Karim Ennarah, a criminal justice researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

The new draft, which has yet to be signed into law by interim President Adly Mansour but which has been approved by the Council of Justice, contains many articles that are “visibly unconstitutional and incredibly repressive”, Mr Ennarah says.

Along with extending detention without charge from 24 hours to 72, its wording is so vague as to deem peaceful protests that hamper the work of government institutions or the economy to be “terrorist activities”, he warned.

“It also expands the scope of the death sentence to include crimes where no loss of life occurred.

“We are against the death penalty – we believe there should at least be a moratorium in Egypt on the death penalty because clearly there is a problem with [the] judiciary,” Mr Ennarah says, referring to the case earlier this month in which a judge sentenced 529 people to death without hearing from the defence, a sentence that is expected to be confirmed by the court on Friday Egyptian time.

There is not doubt that attacks are occurring, Mr Ennarah says, and they fall into two distinct categories – the large, mass-casualty attacks of the Sinai-based terror group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and the smaller, improvised attacks targeted mostly at police and army.

“There are genuine fears about these developments . . .  but there is also a paranoia on the government’s part and an attempt to completely control and close down the political and public space.

“This has been on the mind of every government in the last three years, but this is the only government that has the power to be able to implement it.”

And although Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for the most lethal attacks, the Egyptian government has repeatedly sought to blame the Muslim Brotherhood for all blasts, large and small.

It designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation in a hasty, overnight cabinet decision that Mr Ennarah says lacks legal standing, while the United States this week listed Ansar Beit al-Maqdis as a terrorist group. Egypt says the two work hand in hand – a charge the Brotherhood denies.

In a separate operation, Egypt’s military has been trying to quash what it has described as an Islamist uprising in its restive North Sinai province. It is a battle yet to be won.

“They already have a completely free hand to do whatever they want in the North Sinai and yet still they are not able to win,” Mr Ennarah says. “They have curfew from 4pm, they have shut down whole towns and communication networks, they do whatever they want – it is an army-run operation – and yet they are still not able to accomplish much there.”

Since the government crackdown began, at least 106 students have died and more than 1000 male and 18 female students have been arrested at al-Azhar University, Mr Azhary says.

“The government is now trying to oppress all kinds of opposition,” he says. “It does not matter who this opposition belongs to, whether they are Islamist or not, it is just a further security measure to scare people off, especially to scare the students from protesting, because with this ambiguous law even protesting can be considered a terrorist act.”

Egypt is dealing with “exceptional circumstances”, says Adel Abdel Sadek, a security and strategic expert at al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

The country has tried and failed to tackle the problem of terrorism with a security solution, he said. It was time to work on a political solution – like a tough but short-lived counter-terrorism law.

“The state had to come up with certain legal and political measures to deter these threats against the state and its institutions,” Mr Abdel Sadek says. “I am not saying that this one law will prevent attacks like [Tuesday] morning’s . . . and I do have certain problems with some aspects of the law such as giving extreme power to the president and the police, but we are in exceptional circumstances.”

Many analysts expect the attacks to escalate in the lead-up to the country’s presidential elections on May 25 and 26.

But without any economic or social strategy beyond its  proposed anti-terror laws, Egypt’s security forces may be powerless to prevent them.

Game of Thrones 2014: See which characters nations favour

Love to hate … King Joffrey certainly has fans among the Americans. Risk-y ruler … Cersei Lannister could win world domination.
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S4E2 recap: Joffrey’s weddingS4E1 recap: Deadly soap opera returns

He may be among Game of Thrones’ most evil characters but it seems that hasn’t stopped one nation of fans from favouring Joffrey Baratheon best.

If figures from web data collector, Outbrain, are to believed, the United States reads more online about King Joffrey (who truly is an inbred Lannister), played by 21-year-old Irish actor Jack Gleeson, than any other Thrones character.

It many not surprise many to learn that Australia cannot get enough of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and is ranked the second biggest nation of Thrones fans behind the United Kingdom. Our fellow Commonwealth nation appears to have succumbed to wildling wiles of Snow’s paramour Ygritte, played by Scottish actress Rose Leslie, 27.

But if the Game of Thrones was to be turned into Risk, a game of world domination, then the character commanding the attention of most nations (and possibly able to stake a claim for the Iron Throne) is Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey. Germany, Italy, India, Philippines and Singapore all prefer to read about the icy queen, who would rather bed her twin brother than make friends.

That leaves Cersei’s much-maligned dwarf brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) with the conquest of France and Daenerys Targaryen, mother of dragons and freer of slaves, with Spain as the only place to call home.

But Daenerys fans don’t despair, the rightful heir of Westeros has in no way been banished to the desert of our minds. According to the data, she still gets the most media attention and fills the most headlines.

But poor Sansa Stark (played by Sophie Turner) is the least popular character among global fans.

Outbrain has claimed to have used a data base of over 100,000 publisher sites and more than 150 billion recommendations each month to infer, with a bit of theorising by its staff, these national insights.

It even goes so far as to suggest that the US is well down on the scale of diehard fans globally, coming seventh out of a possible 10 nations, with Italy being the country that least favours Thrones out of the forementioned nations.

Still television ratings in the US may beg to differ, with this week’s Thrones episode (Beware spoiler: ending in the demise of the most-loved-to-hate boy king) almost equalling the new season premiere; garnering 6.3 million viewers just down on the 6.6 million viewers from the week before.

Season four’s episode two, titled The Lion and the Rose, broke piracy records, with roughly 1.5 million people downloading the episode, according to TorrentFreak data.

Australia once again held the lion’s share (ahem) of torrent downloads at 11.6 per cent, while the US made up 9.3 per cent of downloads and 5.8 per cent came from the UK. The top downloading cities were Melbourne, Athens, Sydney, London and Stockholm.

Local pay TV figures mirrored trends in the US, suffering a minor downturn to 237,000 viewers compared to 316,000 viewers who tuned in overall for the new season launch last week.

Tim the Yowie Man: Secret circle

Sarah chills out in Garran’s mystery stone circle. Photo: Tim the Yowie ManHave you noticed how green our hills are at the moment? I can’t ever recall seeing our countryside this verdant, especially so far into autumn. In fact, if you venture into one of our nature parks, it’s so lush that you could easily be excused for thinking you were on a ramble in England, rather than a walk in Canberra.
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One part of our territory where the countryside looks especially English is on the bit of Red Hill tucked in behind Garran, where a stone circle sits prominently on a grassy knoll. Yes, you read correctly, a stone circle! Well actually it’s more oval than circular but it’s quite substantial (about 15 metres long and half as wide).

Sure, if you were in the British countryside where stone circles, with many relics from ancient times, are a dime a dozen, you’d hardly bat an eyelid, but here on the slopes of Red Hill?

I was tipped off about the stone arrangement by Greg Hutchison, who recently stumbled upon the unexpected scene while on a recce for a walk he was leading for the Melba Shed.

Although it’s clearly no Avebury or Stonehenge, it’s clearly identifiable on Google Maps and during the week, Sarah, my six-year-old daughter, tried to count the number of stones but lost count (read: got hungry!) at about 500. Some of the stones are quite large and would have required considerable effort to carry or roll them into place, but who built it?

Equally as perplexed as to its origins as Hutchison and his merry band of wanderers, I referred the mystery to the Red Hill Regenerators – this column’s authority for anything strange afoot on Red Hill. If a crimson rosellas near as passes wind on their patch, this group of passionate park carers are on to it.

Surprisingly some members had never seen (nor heard) of the Garran stone ”circle” but the general consensus was that ”it had been constructed about 15 to 20 years ago by a character who used to stand in it daily in the mornings to perform meditative and physical exercises”.

”Strangely, I only ever saw him facing west towards Woden whilst he went through his routines,” reported one confidant, who added, ”he took a couple of years to complete and raise the height of the circle and he obtained his materials from the surrounding hillsides … I haven’t got the faintest idea who he is and in fact haven’t seen him for about eight years.”

The Garran stone ”circle” is just the latest in a growing list of stone arrangements (although none quite so grand) popping up on our hills and reported to this column over the past 12 months.

While many may have artistic merit (I understand some were the result of a school art project), most are actually being constructed in nature reserves where, Michael Mulvaney of the Red Hill Regenerators reports, ”it is an offence to make such a structure”.

More pertinently, Mulvaney wants these budding landscape graffiti artists to be aware of the environmental consequences of moving rocks. ”Parts of Red Hill are habitat for the nationally vulnerable pink-tailed worm lizard (Aprasia parapulchella) that needs rocks like this to be flat amongst native grass absorbing heat from the sun for the lizard to lie under and regulate its own body temperature,” says Mulvaney, who adds that marbled geckos, delicate skinks, three species of scorpions, several centipede species and a host of beetles and other insects live under the rocks or rely on rocks embedded into the soil.

Do you know about the origins of the Garran stone ”circle”? Please let me now.Fact file

Garran stone ”circle”: Located in the Red Hill Nature Reserve and closest access point is a footpad leading up from a gap in the fence near Astley Place, Garran. The stone ”circle” isn’t signposted, so you will have to hunt around a bit to find it. It’s about two-thirds of the way up. Around 150 to 200 metres east-south-east of Astley Place, look out for a line of stones (presumably placed as a path/marker by the builder of the stone ”circle”) leading in a northerly direction off the footpad.

Melba Shed: Based on the ”Men’s Shed” concept that has recently developed throughout Australia over the past decade, which primarily caters for older men no longer in the workforce who meet regularly to socialise, and undertake various excursions. Unlike most other ”sheds”, the Melba Shed doesn’t have a workshop, but instead focuses on a speaker program and interesting outings (like to mystery stone ”circles”!) around Canberra. The Melba Shed is located in the neighbourhood centre next to the North Belconnen Uniting Church, Conley Drive in Melba, and meets most Friday mornings. More: melbashed爱上海同城论坛m

Red Hill Regenerators: Red Hill Bush Regeneration Group is a registered Parkcare organisation formed in 1989 to restore the original native bushland environment of the Red Hill Nature Park. More: redhillregenerators爱上海同城论坛.au

Don’t miss: A rap song about the plight of the Pink-tailed worm lizard which appears on the ABC Catalyst website (abc爱上海同城论坛.au/catalyst/stories/3429624.htm) and is sung by David Wong, a PhD candidate at the Institute of Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra. Maybe next time, instead of recording it in a studio, Wong, who has been studying the legless lizard for several years, could give a live performance of his catchy number while actually sitting in the Garran stone ”circle”. I’m not sure who would be more amused at such a sight (and sound!) – members of the Red Hill Regenerators on one of their regular weeding exercises or the friendly mob of eastern grey kangaroos who call this south-western end of Red Hill home.

Do You Know? There are stories of a family who lived on the slopes of Red Hill back in the 1920s-30s. Do you know where their hut/shelter was?SPOTTED

Monster mushrooms

Recent rain has resulted in a proliferation of mushrooms in parks, gardens and roadsides around Canberra.

This week, on two separate occasions I saw cars pulled over on the Kingsford Smith Drive median strip in Latham, their occupants snapping photos of mushrooms, so I stopped to see what all the fuss was about. The mushroom caps are the size of a small dinner plate and one reaches over 20 centimetres tall. For comparison, I placed a 20 cent coin on the cap of one. Have you seen a bigger mushroom in Canberra?

Meanwhile, Susan Pitt, who is astounded at the number of mushrooms along the side of Limestone Avenue in Ainslie, wonders if it is easy to tell the difference between harmless mushrooms and the death cap mushroom, a poisonous introduced fungus that is responsible for 90 per cent of all deaths related to mushroom consumption.

Although death cap mushrooms often grow near established oak trees, official advice from the ACT Government is that people should not pick or eat any wild mushrooms and that anyone who may have accidentally eaten death cap mushrooms should seek urgent medical attention at a hospital emergency department.MAILBAG

Peg your nose

Barely had I returned from my expedition to Robertson to catch a whiff of the foul-smelling stinkhorn fungus (On the Nose, April 12) when during the week this missive arrived in my inbox from Denis ”Stinky” Wilson.

”Shame you were not with us today, at Wombeyan Caves Road, Tim … this red stinkhorn was huge – with four ‘fingers’ longer than my friend’s entire hand. It was still ‘poo-scented’ but it was the size which took me by surprise,” wrote the Southern Highland-based naturalist.

Variously called devil’s fingers, octopus stinkhorn or helicopter stinkhorn, the scientific name of this red stinkhorn is Clathrus archeri and although Australian in origin, it has apparently spread to North America and Europe. ”Serves them right for the sending us the rabbit, the sparrow and thousands of plant weeds,” Wilson says.

Last week’s expose on smelly fungus brought back childhood memories for Lee Freeman, who reports, ”In Adelaide there was a ‘stinky tree’ which had small black seeds not much bigger than a peppercorn. If you wanted to clear a room (such as Mr Palmer’s maths class) all a kid had to do was stomp one open, spit on it and a toxic cloud would emerge and envelop all within smell-shot like a malevolent genie.” Freeman also recalls several unwanted encounters with ”the ‘itchy bomb tree’ which had seed pods about the size of a golf ball and were loaded with itchy fibres that could drive a kid mad when inserted down the back of the shirt”.CONTACT TIM

Email: [email protected]爱上海同城论坛m or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick. A selection of past columns is available at: canberratimes爱上海同城论坛m.au/travel/blog/yowie-man.

Andrew Gaze warns Patty Mills to carefully weigh up move from San Antonio

Andrew Gaze says Patty Mills would be making the wrong decision if he left the Spurs to chase a starting spot at a less-credentialled team.Australia basketball legend Andrew Gaze says Patrick Mills couldn’t be blamed if he leaves star-studded San Antonio for bigger money elsewhere, despite the Spurs entering the NBA play-offs as championship favourites.
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And Gaze believes being labelled a ”fat arse” by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been a major catalyst for his stellar form.

Canberra product Mills is a free agent at the end of the season, and Gaze said he’s in a ”fantastic situation” as he weighs up the toughest decision of his professional career.

The point guard’s stocks on the open market have risen dramatically after a breakout season in which he’s averaging 10.3 points, 2.4 assists, 2.1 rebounds and 19 minutes a game off the bench.

“He’s a free agent and I don’t think anyone’s going to begrudge him the opportunity to go out there and explore the market, and do his very best to take care of himself,” Gaze said.

“There’s no doubt he’s in an outstanding position personally right now, and either way he’s going to be pretty comfortable.

“But if someone provides a godfather offer out there, I don’t think anyone’s going to begrudge him that.”

Gaze, who was part of the Spurs’ championship-winning squad in 1999, believes Mills would be making the wrong decision if he left simply to chase a starting spot at a less-credentialled team.

“If he’s just going there on the promise of greater opportunity elsewhere, I’m not sure that’s in his best interests,” Gaze said.

“I’m not sure he’s going to get a better situation than what he’s in now.

“It’s a balancing act; he’s in a fantastic situation with a great coach, and has found a niche for himself in a system and playing group he looks comfortable in.”

Gaze credited Mills’ better shooting, decision-making and physical fitness as the main reasons for finally earning the faith of coach Gregg Popovich after struggling to get any meaningful court time last season.

Popovich labelled Mills “Fatty Mills”, and spoke publicly last month about how he challenged the 25-year-old to get in better shape this season.

“He was a little fat arse,” Popovich said.

“He had too much junk in the trunk. His decision-making wasn’t great, and he wasn’t in great shape.

“He changed his entire body. He came back svelte and cut, and understood you have to make better decisions, point-guard type decisions. He did all those things better and he earned it. He’s been real important to us, obviously.”

Gaze said Mills’ improved fitness has helped him become sharper and more consistent.

“Not that he was out of shape, but you physically look at him now and he’s clearly in better shape,” Gaze said.

“That’s enabled him to be sharper in a few different areas and his endurance, he’s a bit quicker on defence.

“Real small things at that level can become big things, because the margin between each athlete is so small.”

Three-time NBA championship winner Luc Longley believes Mills’ better game sense and greater desperation in defence have helped him take the next step.

“His shot selection is off the charts, he used to have what I would categorise as ordinary shot selection,” Longley said.

“He’s playing with composure, poise and confidence, the backing of his teammates and he’s playing ‘d’.

“I still believe there is room for loyalty in sport, which is why he’s playing for Australia. He might feel that organisation [Spurs] has groomed him, and stay there.”

The Spurs begin their play-off campaign against Dallas at 3am on Monday AEST.

Fitzgibbon links with Kangaroos

Former Australian player Craig Fitzgibbon has rejoined the Kangaroos ranks after being added to Tim Sheens’ coaching staff.
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Fitzgibbon, who played 18 Tests for Australia, will join David Furner as Sheens’ assistant coach for the one-off Test match against New Zealand on May 2. He replaces Sheens’ long-term trainer Brian Hyder, who stood down following the Kangaroos’ World Cup triumph last year.

Fitzgibbon received a phone call from Kangaroos’ performance manager Gareth Holmes asking if he wanted to join the group.

“It was a pretty quick discussion with [Roosters coach] Trent Robinson and my family to get the time allowance but it wasn’t much of a decision to make,” Fitzgibbon said. “I’m pretty excited. It’ll be great to be among the staff in any capacity.

“I’ve only had one brief chat with Tim. I’ll try and catch up with him at some point leading up to the Test match. Any opportunity to get involved in a rep set-up, you’re lucky. I am really thankful I’ve got the opportunity to spend some time with coaches like Sheens and Furner, and I’ll be trying to soak in and learn as much information as possible.

“Any time I got to wear the green and gold, it was always an emotional moment.”

Fitzgibbon’s addition is the only change to the support staff, who helped guide Australia to victory against New Zealand in the World Cup final. The Roosters defensive coach will be the on-field message provider for Sheens to the players.

The appointment means Fitzgibbon has had to relinquish his assistant coaching duties of Country Origin, a role he filled last year.

“It was a bit of a shame,” Fitzgibbon said. “I had to ring Trent Barrett and tell him, he was cool and wished me all the best. I had a great week with the Country boys last year so I am a little disappointed but you can’t pass up this opportunity.”

The former Rooster, and Steelers and Dragons back-rower, continues to add to his coaching credentials with the hope of eventually leading an NRL side. Although his coaching career is still in its infancy, Fitzgibbon, 36, said his long-term goal would be to become a head coach.

“Any experience you can gather outside your club environment is great,” he said. “You have to have your own ideas as a coach but it’s good to watch other people work. Not only that, it’ll be great to be surrounded by high-quality players.

“I like talking to ex-coaches and players, and talking footy. I think it’s important for me not to think too far ahead as a coach. I’m really enjoying my role at the Roosters and we’ve got a great coaching environment.

“I still feel like it’ll be a way off before I would consider myself to be ready to be a head coach. I don’t want to make the mistake of thinking about it too early and get impatient and jump in. My role chews up enough time and energy as it is, so I don’t want to be thinking about anything else.

“I love coaching, it’s my job and you want to progress, and down the track I would consider it.”

Sheens is set to pick a largely unchanged squad for the game against the Kiwis.Vice-captain Paul Gallen (knee injury) is the only one struggling to be fit.