Egyptian protesters keep up the pressure

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians massed in Cairo’s now iconic Tahrir Square on Friday to celebrate the fall of strongman Hosni Mubarak and to pressure their new military rulers to deliver reform.

南宁桑拿

Influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi addressed the host of people during Friday prayers, calling on Arab leaders to listen to their people, to cheers from a crowd with a large contingent of Islamist activists.

“The world has changed, the world has progressed, and the Arab world has changed within,” said Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric based in Qatar.

“Don’t obstruct the people,” he said. “Don’t try to lead them on with empty talk. Conduct a real dialogue with them.”

Protesters performed their prayers in massed ranks, with tanks surrounding the square and a light security presence.

Before the crowds swelled for the Friday prayer, a military band in full dress uniform was playing patriotic music to the cheers of the adoring crowd.

Elsewhere in Cairo, several hundred demonstrators gathered on a square in the middle class Muhandiseen district in a show of support for Mubarak, saying the veteran leader had been wronged by the protesters.

“The people want to honour the president,” they chanted, an inversion of the revolt’s slogan, “The people want the overthrow of the regime.” The rally was peaceful, as fewer than a dozen police looked on.

Activists ratcheted up pressure on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that took power when Mubarak stepped down on February 11 by calling a march in Cairo to commemorate their dead and press for the release of detainees.

The Coalition of the Revolution Youth, which groups pro-democracy movements that helped launch the revolt, called for the gathering to “remember the martyrs of freedom and dignity and justice”.

At least 365 people were killed and 5500 injured in the protests leading up to Mubarak’s downfall, according to the health ministry.

The coalition has vowed to keep up the pressure to ensure the rest of its political demands are met, including the “immediate release of all detainees”, it said in statement posted on Facebook.

Hundreds of people went missing during the protests, rights groups say, blaming the army, which they have also accused of torture.

Gamal Eid, a lawyer who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said: “There are hundreds of detained, but information on their numbers is still not complete … The army was holding detainees.”

On Thursday, Amnesty International called on the military to halt the use of torture against detainees, saying it had fresh evidence of abuse.

Both Amnesty and the New York-based Human Rights Watch said they interviewed former detainees who described being tortured by the military.

The coalition of activists is also calling for “a speedy replacement of the current caretaker cabinet by a government of technocrats” that are not seen as corrupt, it said.

Pro-democracy activists are also seeking a lifting of the decades-old emergency law and support for the pay strikes that have surged around the country.

“We are going today to commemorate the martyrs and in doing so we are awaiting justice,” Mohammed Waked, a protest organiser, told AFP.

“If those detained during the protests are not released, let alone the older political prisoners, it would be a bad sign. It would show the army is not sincere about political reforms.”

In Tahrir Square, taxi driver Farag Radwan, who took the day off to celebrate, said he was following other revolts in the Arab world on television.

“Why can’t we be united like Europe?” he said. “The problem is with the presidents not the people.”

Activists, who are also calling for a complete dismantling of Mubarak’s regime, welcomed the arrest of reviled former interior minister Habib al-Adly, whose security forces were given wide powers of arrest under the emergency law.

Adly was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of money laundering and ordered held for 15 days.

And prosecutors ordered former tourism minister Zuheir Garana, former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi and businessman Ahmad Ezz also to be held for 15 days “to assist in an investigation”, a judicial source said.

Ezz, a steel magnate, was a member of the former ruling National Democratic Party. He was considered to be a mentor of Mubarak’s son Gamal, who was long considered a possible successor to his father.

On Thursday, the United States gave Egypt, a key ally in the region, $US150 million ($A148.6 million) in crucial economic assistance to help transition towards democracy.

Gaddafi loyalists threaten Libyan protests

Muammar Gaddafi’s regime has vowed to snuff out attempts to challenge the Libyan leader, after an opposition “day of anger” became a bloodbath and two policemen were reported hanged by protesters.

南宁桑拿

According to a toll compiled by AFP from different local sources, at least 41 people have lost their lives since demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday.

That toll does not include two policemen who were killed on Friday.

Oea newspaper, which is close to Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam, said they were killed after being captured in the eastern city of Al-Baida.

Security forces were deployed around Al-Baida on Friday, a source close to the authorities told AFP, following reports on the internet that anti-regime protesters had seized control of the city.

“Security forces were deployed heavily around the city and control all roads in and out, as well as the airport,” the source said, declining to be named.

Twenty buried in Benghazi

Oea also reported 20 people were buried in Libya’s second city of Benghazi on Friday after being killed in protests. A previous toll supplied by a medical source in the city was 14 dead.

And protesters set fire to the headquarters of a local radio station in Benghazi after the building’s guards withdrew, witnesses and a security source told AFP.

Seven people were killed in protests in Derna, east of Benghazi, Oea reported.

Earlier, the Revolutionary Committees, which are the backbone of Gaddafi’s regime, laid down the law to protesters.

“The response of the people and the Revolutionary Forces to any adventure by these small groups will be sharp and violent,” the Revolutionary Committees said on the website of their newspaper, Azzahf Al-Akhdar (Green March).

“The power of the people, the Jamahiriya (government by the masses), the Revolution and the leader are all red lines, and anyone who tries to cross or approach them will be committing suicide and playing with fire.”

Several thousand mourners on Friday went straight from weekly prayers to funerals for the Benghazi dead, witnesses told AFP, with one reporting that 13 victims were buried in the city’s Hawari cemetery.

“The security forces’ vicious attacks on peaceful demonstrators lay bare the reality of Muammar Gaddafi’s brutality when faced with any internal dissent,” said Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa director, Sarah Leah Whitson.

In Al-Baida, a well-informed Libyan source told AFP 14 civilians have been killed since Wednesday, including both protesters and members of the Revolutionary Committees.

The source could not say how many members of the security forces had been killed.

In another sign of growing disorder, about 1000 inmates broke out of a prison in Benghazi, Quryna newspaper reported on its website, and four convicts were killed by security forces when they tried to flee another prison outside Tripoli, a security services source said.

The overall reported toll does not include the four prisoners.

Arab League meet ‘not postponed’

Iraq, meanwhile, denied that an Arab League summit set for March 29 in Baghdad, the first since popular unrest in the Middle East flared last month, had been postponed, as the Libyan presidency of the pan-Arab group had said.

Gaddafi, 68, is the longest-serving leader in the Arab world, but his oil-producing North African nation is sandwiched between Tunisia and Egypt, whose long-time leaders have been toppled by popular uprisings.

Opponents of his regime used Facebook to call for a national “day of anger” for Thursday, and Gaddafi sought to counter its impact with his own pro-regime rally in the heart of Tripoli.

Hundreds joined the rally in Green Square.

Gaddafi himself turned up briefly early on Friday, getting a rapturous welcome, according to images on state television which also showed what it called similar rallies in Benghazi, Sirte and other cities.

US President Barack Obama on Friday condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.

“I am deeply concerned by reports of violence in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen,” he said in a statement read to reporters aboard Air Force One.

“The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever it may occur.”

Britain, France and the European Union have called for restraint by the authorities in Libya, whose relations with the West have improved sharply over the past decade after years of virtual pariah status.

France said on Friday it had suspended authorisation of exports of security equipment to both Libya and Bahrain over the killing of anti-government protesters.

And Britain stopped the export of some security equipment to Bahrain and Libya because of the risk it might be used to suppress anti-regime protests, the foreign office said.

Libyan ‘massacre’ fears as protests grow

Anti-regime protests in Libya spread on Sunday as a brutal crackdown killed scores of demonstrators, while Bahrain came under fresh pressure to introduce reforms and thousands rallied for change in Morocco.

南宁桑拿

New fighting erupted in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi as protests against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi crept nearer to the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Human Rights Watch said it feared a catastrophe, with more than 100 people dead in a bloody crackdown. The BBC reported the claims of doctors that over 200 had been killed, with a doctor telling the network that a ‘real massacre’ had taken place.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Arab nations to speak out and said he would raise the iron-fisted crackdown with EU ministers beginning a two-day meeting in Brussels late on Sunday.

‘No cooperation’

Libya bluntly warned the European Union it will “suspend cooperation” in the fight against illegal immigration if the bloc does not stop fanning pro-democracy protests, the EU presidency said.

When the ambassador of Hungary, which holds the EU chair until the end of June, was summoned by Tripoli on Thursday, it was “signalled” to Europe that “if the EU were to continue to encourage demonstrations, Libya would suspend its cooperation with the EU in the fight against illegal immigration”.

Libyan security forces clashed with anti-regime protesters in the Mediterranean city of Misrata, 200km from Tripoli, witnesses said.

Demonstrators took to the streets there to show support for residents of Benghazi, 1000km from the capital, who have endured the brunt of a crackdown in eastern Libya, they said.

The witnesses said Libyan security forces backed by “African mercenaries” had been shooting into the crowds “without discrimination”.

‘Thousands’ defiant

In Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, there were protests against Gaddafi’s four-decade rule and new fighting, lawyer Mohammed al-Mughrabi told AFP by telephone.

“Lawyers are demonstrating outside the Northern Benghazi court; there are thousands here. We have called it Tahrir Square Two,” he said, referring to the Cairo square central to protests that brought down Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Separately, others are “storming the garrison” and “taking fire from snipers,” Mughrabi said, without elaborating.

“At least 200 have been killed altogether (since the outbreak of unrest this week) but we can’t verify from hospital. We are pleading for the Red Cross to send field hospitals. We can’t take it any more.”

Pressure in Bahrain

Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim ruling family came under increased pressure to open in-depth negotiations with the Shi’ite-led opposition on Sunday, as protesters stayed camped out in the capital Manama’s Pearl Square.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for immediate reforms and blasted as unacceptable any violence by the Gulf kingdom’s security forces.

“Bahrain had started on some reform and we want to see them get back to that as quickly as possible,” she told ABC’s This Week program in an interview conducted on Friday.

Bahraini Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has offered to open a sweeping national dialogue with the opposition, after a deadly police raid on Pearl Square on Thursday, which was followed by the army deploying to quell anti-government protests.

Moroccans protest

Morocco became the latest in a string of Arab nations rocked by protest, as thousands gathered in several cities demanding political reform and limits on the powers of King Mohammed VI.

Between 3000 and 4000 people demonstrated in the capital Rabat, shouting “The people want change” and denouncing corruption.

In Casablanca, the North African nation’s biggest city, more than 4000 people came out demanding “Freedom, dignity, justice”, an AFP correspondent reported.

Demonstrations in other Moroccan cities, including Marrakesh and the port of Tangier, were peaceful as of early Sunday afternoon.

Thousands of young Moroccans have joined the “February 20” movement on the social networking site Facebook, calling for peaceful demonstrations demanding a new constitution limiting the king’s powers and more social justice.

Around 60 people rallied in the Spanish capital Madrid in solidarity, waving Moroccan and Berber flags alongside banners demanding an end to “corruption and police repression”.

Other demonstrations were planned in Barcelona and Paris.

Unrest in Tehran

In Tehran, police fired tear gas as anti-government demonstrators took to the streets of the capital and other Iranian cities, opposition websites said.

State news agency IRNA reported that the daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was arrested for “provocative behaviour”, and Fars agency said she was held while “leading a number of anti-revolutionaries and rioters”.

Citing witnesses, opposition website Rahesabz南宁桑拿, said: “Police fired tear gas as a cat-and-mouse game began in Vali Asr Square” in Tehran.

Crowds of demonstrators were shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest), the Sahamnews广西桑拿, website of opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi said.

It also reported gatherings in the central city of Isfahan and the southern city of Shiraz, while Fars reported that Iran’s second largest city of Mashhad in the northeast was calm.

Fars said that “calm” prevailed in Tehran because security forces were present in “full strength”.

Foreign media have been banned from covering any opposition gatherings.

Q&A with expert on Christchurch quake

The earthquake that devastated the New Zealand city of Christchurch had its destructive power amplified by its “shallow” epicentre beneath the city, an expert says.

南宁桑拿

The 6.3 magnitude event was also “by far the largest earthquake to have occurred in the Christchurch region in historic time” said Gary Gibson, Principal Research Fellow in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

Dr Gibson has offered this early expert view on the earthquake, explaining how it could cause much more damage than the 7.1 quake that hit the city in September last year, in a question and answer format released by the Australian Science Media Centre.

Q: Just how bad is an earthquake of magnitude 6.3?

“A magnitude 6.3 earthquake will occur when an active fault area approximately 15km square ruptures, and one side moves about one metre relative to the other.

“Its effect depends on how close it is (to a population centre), and ground shaking will be severe within 10 to 20 kilometres of the rupture.”

“The critical issue with this earthquake was that the epicentre was at shallow depth (5km) under Christchurch, so many people were within 10km to 20km of the fault rupture.

“The magnitude 7.1 earthquake on September 4 (last year) was 30km to 40km west of Christchurch and ruptured mainly to the west.

Q: Should we expect further large earthquakes in the area? Are aftershocks likely?

“The September earthquake and this earthquake will have relieved the majority of stress in the regions in which they occurred, so another larger earthquake is unlikely.

“However, aftershocks will certainly occur over the next few days and weeks which may cause further damage in weakened buildings, and will be very distressing for residents.”

Q: Is there a geological reason for multiple large earthquakes occurring within such a short time?

“Earthquakes always cluster in time and space with some large earthquakes having foreshocks and most large earthquakes have many aftershocks.

“Multiple large earthquakes are not uncommon, often when the main rupture of the earlier event is extended into an adjacent segment of the active fault.”

Q: Why is the New Zealand South Island so geologically active?

“New Zealand is on the tectonic plate boundary between the Pacific Plate and the Australia-India Plate.

“The plate boundary is east of the North Island and crosses to the west of South Island.

“Christchurch is not on the plate boundary, but is near to related secondary faults that result from the bend in the plate boundary to the north.

“In the past 200 years, and in the long term, large earthquakes will occur less frequently in Christchurch than along the plate boundary.

“However all earthquakes in the Christchurch region will be shallow, so the effect of a given earthquake will be worse than from a deeper plate boundary earthquake of the same magnitude.”

Q: How does this rate historically against other earthquakes?

“This is by far the largest earthquake to have occurred in the Christchurch region in historic time.

“Earthquakes larger than magnitude 6.0, usually deeper than this event, occur about annually in New Zealand, including one of magnitude 7.8 that occurred in the remote southwest of South Island in July 2009 with little damage.”

Q: Why is NZ seemingly more prone to earthquakes than Australia? Is a similar earthquake likely to occur in Australia?

“New Zealand is more prone to earthquakes because it is on the plate boundary and has many plate boundary earthquakes. Large earthquakes occur infrequently in Australia.

“In all of Australia a magnitude 6.0 or larger event occurs on average every ten years.

“In the capital cities of Australia, a nearby magnitude 6.0 will occur on average every few thousand years. All earthquakes in Australia are at shallow depth, similar to those in Christchurch.”

Q: Is it possible to predict earthquake activity? How much better are we at predicting them and how good can we hope to get?

“It is not possible to predict earthquakes, giving location, time of occurrence and magnitude, with certainty.

“Aftershocks have continued at a decreasing rate since the September earthquake. Recent aftershocks have been east of the original rupture.”

Q: Are there engineering or town planning measures which could be improved to reduce the impact of earthquakes?

“Building standards are already very high in New Zealand, but are upgraded as knowledge develops, and as higher standards become economically viable.”

Fear, shock in Christchurch after quake

Thousands of shocked people wandered rubble-strewn Christchurch, many searching for loved ones and trying to reach trapped people, after a major earthquake threw the city into chaos.

南宁桑拿

Screams rang out across the southern New Zealand city’s main square as parts of Christchurch Cathedral toppled to the ground, while TV footage showed onlookers clinging to each other and others bleeding and limping.

As police reported fatalities, emergency workers rushed to free those trapped in several office buildings by the quake which buckled roads and rained debris on streets packed with lunchtime shoppers.

“They are going to come and get you down.

Just keep away from the edge,” one woman yelled to a distraught colleague trapped on the top level of what had been a four-storey building, but which folded like a concertina.

The distressed woman was rescued by fire workers on a crane soon afterwards, and hugged her colleagues after reaching the ground which was littered with shattered glass, office paperwork and broken computers and desks.

But as more aftershocks hit the city, workers said they feared another four colleagues were trapped under concrete on one of the building’s lower floors, as horrified office workers, some with bloodied heads, looked on.

“We are just worried about other colleagues. Just hoping that they are OK,” one woman told TV3.

The 6.3-magnitude quake comes almost six months after a 7.1 tremor devastated the island nation’s second largest city, weakening buildings.

“The (September quake) is nothing compared to this,” one shaken man told New Zealand television as he surveyed the damage.

Television images showed residents hugging each other as they stood in the streets on Tuesday, gazing at cars, buildings and roads destroyed by the quake which hit at 12.51pm (1051 AEDT). “It’s just a disaster,” another person told TV3.

“There must be deaths this time.” “It really and truly was horrendous,” said one man, who was inside a central city restaurant when the quake hit.

Reports said the city had run out of ambulances to rescue the injured, and television footage showed a private four-wheel drive car being used to ferry away several injured workers.

“It’s just huge. It’s huge,” said one witness, as he surveyed the wreckage of Christchurch’s iconic cathedral.

US House votes to cut $US61bn in spending

The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives has voted to cut about $US61 billion ($A60.

南宁桑拿

43 billion) in government spending, setting the stage for a bruising political battle with Democrats who control the Senate and the White House. The 235-189 partisan-line vote came early on Saturday after a dramatic all-night session rife with political posturing and heated debate. The measure is largely expected to be blocked in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where many of the approved cuts are opposed. But a stalemate could have serious political consequences. Since members of Congress were unable to agree on a budget last year, the US government is funded through a stop-gap spending measure, which expires on March 4. Experts warned that increasingly nasty verbal sparring and finger-pointing in the US Congress could lead to a failure to adopt a replacement, triggering a government shutdown. The approved cuts included measures to deny funds for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating industries that are emitting greenhouse gases and to limit the government’s role in education. One of the approved amendments would even bar salaries for government workers implementing the law. “The quickest way to achieve savings, if you have to do it very fast, is cutting off pay cheques,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a think tank that advocates fiscal responsibility. “It’s the easiest way to do it.” Republicans were jubilant. “It’s democracy in action,” Republican Speaker John Boehner told reporters before the vote. Democrats dismayed But Democrats, who unanimously voted against the blueprint, were dismayed. “Defunding health care reform will leave behind thousands I represent in Wisconsin,” said Democratic Representative Tammy Baldwin. One of the approved amendments called for halting funding for Planned Parenthood, a family planning organisation. Since opening the debate on Tuesday, the House has also voted to scrap funds for a second engine for the F-35 fighter aircraft, restore money for police officers and firefighters, and eliminate funding for the US Institute of Peace as well as the East-West Centre — which Congress envisioned as a bridge to Asia. But not all of the Republican proposals saw the light of day. The House defeated a Republican proposal to withhold dues to the United Nations pushed by Representative Paul Broun, who had said Washington’s yearly contribution was like throwing money down “rat holes”. The United States is the biggest contributor to the United Nations, paying more than $US2.5 billion ($A2.48 billion) to the UN peacekeeping and regular budgets last year. They have also rejected an amendment to cut $US400 million ($A396.26 million) from a fund to build up war-torn Afghanistan’s infrastructure, and another to eliminate the $US1.5 billion ($A1.49 billion) Iraq Security Forces Fund. And they defeated a push to withhold money critical to settling a cotton subsidy feud with Brazil in a 246-183 ballot. Narrow window for compromise The House and Senate are in recess next week, giving lawmakers a narrow window to agree on a compromise measure and making it increasingly likely that the Congress will have to adopt a short-term spending bill. But Speaker Boehner warned on Thursday that he would not accept any measure that did not markedly reduce spending — a step that, if rejected by the Senate, would trigger a government shutdown. “When we say we’re going to cut spending — Read my lips: We’re going to cut spending,” he told reporters. Republicans have vowed to largely spare the Pentagon, and keep aid to Israel and Egypt intact, but say Washington needs to tighten its belt to deflate its yearly budget deficit and reduce its swollen national debt. Democrats have broadly agreed on the need for austerity, but have denounced an array of foreign aid cuts in the bill, warning that paring back the State Department’s funds could notably hurt its efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Aussie doctors caught in NZ quake

More than 400 Australian doctors attending a prostate cancer conference in Christchurch will spend the night in a park after their hotel was damaged by an earthquake.

南宁桑拿

A 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit the New Zealand South Island city, killing 65 people and destroying the city’s cathedral.

The death toll is expected to rise. Dr David Malouf, president of the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand, was at the health conference attended by more than 600 delegates from around the world, including 439 Australians, at Christchurch’s Crowne Plaza Hotel when the quake struck.

He said it felt like a wrecking ball was being smashed into the side of the building as the ground shook for between 45 seconds and a minute.

“The noise was incredible,” Dr Malouf, from Kensington in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, told AAP.

“I don’t understand what made that noise but it was like a jet engine outside. “The whole building started to shake, violently shaking to the point where, if you were trying to stand up, you would fall over.”

The doctors made their way to the hotel foyer, which was covered in glass and pieces of the ceiling, before they walked through the shattered front windows and onto the street.

“There were just people slowly filing out of buildings with this sort of look of bewilderment on their face,” he said.

“People were very distressed. “What was really quite disturbing was water coming out of the ground.

Lakes were just appearing in the middle of the street.” Dr Malouf said there were cracks in buildings and fissures opening up in the roads, while trees had been ripped out of the ground.

The delegates, most of whom have been accounted for, have been evacuated to Hagley Park, where they are likely to spend the night.

Dr Malouf said the doctors’ belongings remained in hotels, including money and passports.

They could retrieve them until engineers assess the buildings. He appealed to Prime Minister Julia Gillard to get them home.

“We don’t need to be here. We’re tourists in a city which has been hit by a disaster and we’re 300 people that the Kiwis shouldn’t really have to look after,” he said.

Arrests in China after rare demonstrations

China has detained top activists and deployed heavy security in large cities after the launch of a web campaign calling for protests echoing popular uprisings in the Arab world, campaigners said Sunday.

南宁桑拿

Up to 100 leading Chinese rights lawyers and activists have disappeared since Saturday with police also descending onto protest sites around the nation, ready to put down any unrest, campaigners said.

The government appeared to be censoring Internet and text messages calling for the demonstrations, revealing deep-seated concerns among Chinese leaders over the possibility of Arab-style protests spreading to China.

“We welcome… laid off workers and victims of forced evictions to participate in demonstrations, shout slogans and seek freedom, democracy and political reform to end ‘one party rule’,” one Internet posting said.

The postings, many of which appeared to have originated on overseas websites run by exiled Chinese political activists, called for protests in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and 10 other major Chinese cities.

Protesters were urged to shout slogans including “We want food to eat”, “We want work”, “We want housing”, “We want justice”, “Long live freedom” and “Long live democracy”.

At Beijing’s central Wangfujing shopping district where protesters were told to gather, there was a massive police presence but no overt demonstration.

At least two people were seen being taken away by police, one for cursing at the authorities and another who was shouting: “I want food to eat.”

Hundreds of police

Up to 300 uniformed and plain-clothed police dispersed and videotaped shoppers, onlookers and foreign journalists, with scores of uniformed policemen arriving and leaving the scene as crowds swelled and receded.

Xinhua news agency reported that crowds dispersed in Beijing and Shanghai after police arrived, with at least three people detained in Shanghai.

According to postings on web forums, only a few demonstrators appeared in other cities, although large police contingents were seen at designated protest spots in Shanghai, Harbin, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

“I don’t think the call to protest was serious, no one really intended to protest because there are too many police,” leading rights lawyer Li Jinsong told AFP.

“By taking this so seriously, police are showing how concerned they are that the Jasmine Revolution could influence China’s social stability,” referring to the revolt in Tunisia that kicked off similar uprisings in the Arab world.

As the word spread on the demonstrations, numerous political dissidents and rights lawyers were placed in police custody, activists said.

“Many rights defenders have disappeared (into police custody) in recent days, others are under house arrest and their mobile phones are blocked,” rights lawyer Ni Yulan told AFP.

“The police detachment outside my door has increased. They follow us if we go out,” Ni said of the surveillance on her and her husband.

Telephone calls to prominent rights lawyers including Teng Biao, Xu Zhiyong and Jiang Tianyong went unanswered Sunday. Friends and other activists said they had been detained by police.

According to the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, up to 100 activists had been detained, “disappeared” or placed under house arrest in Beijing, Zhejiang, Sichuan, Guizhou, Hunan, Shanghai and other localities.

“This is linked to the calls for a Jasmine Revolution,” the Hong Kong-based group said in a statement.

Chinese authorities have sought to restrict media reports on political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East.

Searches Sunday for “Jasmine Revolution” on China’s Twitter-like micro-blog Weibo produced no results, while messages on the popular Baidu search engine said that due to laws and regulations such results were unavailable.

Some Chinese Internet search pages listed “jasmine” postings but links to them were blocked. Mobile text messages including the word “jasmine” also appeared to be blocked by mobile phone operators.

The Chinese government has deployed tremendous resources to police the Internet and block anti-government postings and other politically sensitive material with a system known as the “Great Firewall of China”.

In a speech Saturday, President Hu Jintao acknowledged growing social unrest in China and urged the ruling Communist Party to better safeguard stability.

Australia considering Libya evacuation

The federal government is drawing up plans to evacuate Australians from Libya as it warns the Gaddafi regime may inflict mass casualties to cling to power.

南宁桑拿

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the 105 Australians believed to be in Libya should try to leave the country after the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade lifted its travel warning to the highest level.

“Our embassy in Cairo – which is accredited to Libya – and our consul-general in Tripoli are making contingency plans for emergency evacuation options,” Ms Gillard told parliament. The UK had offered to help evacuate Australians if necessary, Ms Gillard said.

Ms Gillard’s comments came amid reports the Libyan embassy in Canberra had taken the extraordinary move of severing ties with the Gaddafi regime.

Ambassador Musbah Allafi could not be contacted to confirm the reports.

Libya’s representatives to the United Nations and the Arab League have severed ties with their government in recent days.

Ms Gillard condemned the regime’s violent crackdown on the anti-government protesters who took to the streets one week ago.

Hundreds of protesters seeking an end to Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade rule are believed to have died in the clashes. “What we have seen is a state take up the weapons of war against its own people,” Ms Gillard told parliament.

“The results – and we have seen them for ourselves on our TV screens – have been bloody and they have been shocking.”

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the Libyan regime’s response was the most brutal seen since a string of popular uprisings began in the Middle East in December.

“We have now entered a danger zone in Tripoli – if the regime uses full force to survive, we may be looking at mass casualties,” Mr Rudd told the National Press Club in Canberra.

Mr Rudd called on the United Nations Security Council to get involved.

“The Libyan regime should be placed on notice by the supreme council of the United Nations that the international community is watching and the international community will act if crimes against humanity are committed,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a short time later the security council would meet to discuss the crisis. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the world was watching with alarm.

“Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed,” she said in a statement. Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown said Gaddafi’s “cruel dictatorship” should be brought to an end.

International uni students happy in Aust

A survey of international students at Australian universities has found the vast majority were happy with their experiences.

南宁桑拿

The 2010 International Student Barometer found 86 per cent of the approximately 36,000 international students surveyed were satisfied with their Australian university experience.

Some 84 per cent reported a high overall rate of satisfaction overall with their studies, and 86 per cent expressed high satisfaction with life in Australia.

The survey, released by Universities Australia on Monday, found three-quarters of respondents would recommend studying and living in Australia to others – but not the food.

Seventy-four per cent of international students said catering was disappointing, with meals either unhealthy or too expensive.

Despite disturbing attacks on international students in recent years, almost all of those surveyed said they generally felt safe on campus, but only 70 per cent felt safe on public transport.

Low levels of satisfaction were reported consistently in relation to work opportunities, employability and career advice.

“Australian universities need to recognise that students facing repayment of fees regard the entry to productive work as a core graduate attribute,” the report stated.

Universities Australia chief executive Glenn Withers said while many of the survey’s findings were positive, more could be done to improve international students’ experiences.

“There is no room for complacency and still room for ongoing improvement,” he said.

“For example, the report identifies mismatches between students’ expectations of living in Australia and their actual experiences.”