Month: January 2019

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Huxley’s alleged killer to face trial

The alleged killer of Sydney man Morgan Huxley will stand trial for murder after waiving his right to a committal hearing.

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Daniel Jack Kelsall, 21, is accused of indecently assaulting Mr Huxley and stabbing him to death in Sydney’s north in the early hours of September 8 last year.

The 31-year-old was found by his female flatmate in their Neutral Bay unit, wearing only a T-shirt and allegedly suffering from more than a dozen stab wounds.

Kelsall waived his right to a committal hearing at Sydney’s Central Local Court, where he appeared on Thursday via video link dressed in prison greens and wearing glasses.

It means the kitchen hand will face trial at the NSW Supreme Court on charges of murder, indecent assault and aggravated break and enter.

Kelsall’s lawyer, George Breton, indicated Kelsall will plead not guilty to those charges, and to stealing a mobile phone and a few coins on the night of Mr Huxley’s death.

“He has exercised his right to have those matters determined by a jury,” Mr Breton told reporters outside court.

Kelsall will also plead not guilty to two counts of possessing child pornography, in the form of images police say were found on his personal computer as well as on a hard disk.

That matter will remain in the local court, with a hearing date yet to be set.

Mr Huxley was last seen at around 1.30am on September 8 walking barefoot out of The Oaks Hotel after a nightcap.

Police allege Kelsall followed him home with the intention of having sex with him.

Security footage last captured Mr Huxley talking to a man wearing chef’s pants at a busy intersection near his unit.

Kelsall reportedly worked as an after-hours dish cleaner at the Sydney Cooking School, less than 100 metres away from Mr Huxley’s home.

Mr Breton said Kelsall’s waiving of his right to a committal hearing was just a “procedural matter”.

He reiterated that his client was “settled” in custody and was committed to fighting the charges.

Kelsall will be arraigned in the Supreme Court on August 8.


23/01/2019 0

Experts to determine Gay’s Gunns windfall

Former Gunns boss John Gay’s insider trading profits will be determined by expert evidence, the public prosecutor has told a Hobart court.

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The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has launched a proceeds-of-crime action against Gay, who was convicted of insider trading in August 2013.

DPP lawyer Roslyn Shaw told the Tasmanian Supreme Court on Thursday the amount being pursued was yet to be determined.

Ms Shaw said expert evidence would be relied on to estimate how much Gay benefited when he offloaded $3 million of Gunns shares in 2009 with information not available to the market.

Chief Justice Alan Blow ordered the DPP to file its documents by August 21.

The application was filed just three days before a nine-month time limit on action under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The DPP is seeking a pecuniary penalty be paid to the Commonwealth by Gay, who was fined $50,000 when he changed his plea to guilty.

The grounds for the application are that Gay “derived benefits from the commission of the offence” and that the offence was serious.

The DPP action comes after the Australian Federal Police decided not to pursue Gay.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission chairman Greg Medcraft recently said Gay’s sentence disappointed “the whole country”.

The Australian Shareholders Association has also said Gay’s fine was too lenient.

In earlier court hearings, the prosecution estimated the windfall at more than $800,000, a figure challenged by Gay’s lawyers.

Sentencing judge David Porter said the crime fell into a less-serious category because Gay had decided to sell the shares in ill health and before he had the price-sensitive information.

He had faced a maximum penalty of five years jail or a $220,000 fine.

In April, Gay had a ban on holding company directorships partially overturned so he could continue to manage his family businesses.

Gay’s spokeswoman has said he will make no comment.


23/01/2019 0

Shrouded in secrecy, opposition to TPP mounts

Right now, a handful of people regularly meet to discuss an issue with huge ramifications for our nation, internally and worldwide.

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When it comes down to it, these people have more power to change our day-to-day lives than almost anyone else in the country.

Their job involves determining the future of affordable healthcare in Australia, critical choices about our internet freedoms and determining how we protect our environment for future generations.

You’d expect such an influential group of people to be greeted with some fanfare. But this group want just the opposite: they’re the negotiating team for Australia in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a huge trade deal with eleven other countries that touches on everything from cattle-farming to pharmaceuticals.

They want to reassure us that we don’t need to worry about spiralling drug costs or curtailed internet freedom, but they’re not willing to let us see the text of the deal to back up their claims.

For the negotiators, keeping a low profile is an essential part of doing business. So far, meetings with “stakeholders” are some of the most “public” engagement DFAT has agreed to during the trade talks, and attendance will be tightly controlled.

It’s not that surprising that unelected officials in the negotiating team don’t want to be put under the microscope when it comes to the TPP – it’s not really part of their job description. But their political bosses – Tony Abbott and Andrew Robb – don’t seem to have much to say on the specifics of the deal either. They want to reassure us that we don’t need to worry about spiralling drug costs or curtailed internet freedom, but they’re not willing to let us see the text of the deal to back up their claims. Indeed, the only way the public have been given opportunity to see the detail of the TPP is due to successive leaks of draft chapters, most notably those published by Wikileaks in November last year.

There are some exceptions to the secrecy that surrounds the deal, however. Corporate lobbyists have had privileged access to the negotiations throughout, with some estimating the involvement of around 6,000 US lobbyists. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent since before negotiations even formally began by huge companies trying to ensure they got the best possible deal for maximising their profits.

Corporations also stand to gain from another controversial part of the deal: investor state dispute settlement (ISDS). ISDS makes it possible for companies to sue governments if they introduce regulations that may diminish companies’ profits under the terms of the trade deal. Cases are heard outside national courts in tribunals closed to the public. Philip Morris, the tobacco giant, used an ISDS provision in another trade deal to sue the Uruguayan national government when they tried to regulate tobacco sales and advertising. Philip Morris could attempt a similar challenge against Australia’s recent adoption of plain packaging on cigarettes. Dow Chemicals did the same to fight the Canadian government attempts to restrict use of a pesticide they thought might be hazardous.

Opposition and concern about the deal isn’t in short supply. Already, Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson has asked people to take part in a consultation he’s launching to find out more about where ordinary Australians stand on ISDS. The Australian Labor Party have equivocated when it comes to supporting or opposing the deal. AFTINET, a coalition of campaigning groups and trade unions, have opposed the deal for years. Health advocates such as the Public Health Association of Australia and consumer group CHOICE have been widely critical of the impact on Australian customers. We’ve even seen opposition to the deal from Pascal Lamy, former head of the World Trade Organisation who has labelled the TPPA as the ‘last big old-style trade agreement.’

This is not an ideological battle – the secrecy surrounding this deal masks some very real concerns with real-world impacts. Suggested changes to copyright laws will give more power to multinational media organisations, allowing Hollywood studios to demand personal information of suspected copyright infringers, without requiring evidence or probable cause. The elimination of important trade barriers could jeopardise transparent labelling of food products, including palm oil – an industry responsible for widespread deforestation of virgin rainforest. Pharmaceutical patents would be expanded way beyond their current lifespan, protecting drug company monopolies and blocking the distribution of cheaper generic versions of medication from ever reaching the marketplace.


As the public learns more about this secretive deal, dissention and opposition are rising. Nearly 100,000 have already signed a petition demanding that Tony Abbott stand up for Australian democracy and walk away from the deal completely. Such a substantive international trade deal deserves at very least the transparency of open, democratic government process, not meetings hidden deep with government bureaucracy.

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman is the Executive Director and Founder of Sum of Us.

Last year, WikiLeaks released the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. The Feed’s Andy Park explains the significance of the leak, including its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents.

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23/01/2019 0

‘Haunted’ Venice island auction called off

Italian authorities have called off an auction offering a 99-year-lease on a “haunted” island in Venice’s lagoon after dismissing the top offer as too low, campaigners say.

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Poveglia, like many isolated islands in the Venice lagoon, used to be a confinement station for plague victims, and was later the site of a hospital. Uninhabited since the 1970s, legends have it that it is full of ghosts.

“It will remain in the hands of the state because” a 513,000 euro ($A751,961) offer from Luigi Brugnaro, a local businessman, was judged “not adequate,” the association Poveglia per tutti (Poveglia for all) said in a statement.

Poveglia per tutti – a community group that sprang up in revolt at plans to “privatise” the island – had submitted a rival bid for 472,000 euros, with the aim of turning the site into a self-governed public resort.

“We decided not to try to beat the offer, even if we had the means to outbid it by 1000 euros, because we were counting on authorities to call off the auction altogether,” Lorenzo Pesola, a member of the association, told DPA.

He said Poveglia per tutti would now petition the central government in Rome to manage the site on behalf of the local community.

Pesola said the association cut off the Venice municipality from its plans 10 days ago, just before Mayor Giorgio Orsoni, who had supported the Poveglia per tutti initiative, was placed under house arrest on corruption charges.

“It seems that it was a far-sighted move on our part,” Pesola commented, insisting it was “unlikely” that Italian authorities would try to put Poveglia up for auction for a second time.

The government is selling some of its assets in a bid to reduce Italy’s huge mountain of debt, standing at around 135 per cent of its gross domestic product, against an European Union limit of 60 per cent.


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World Cup misery for ex-Adidas workers

Indonesians are not immune to the World Cup excitement gripping the globe, except those who earn about $1 an hour to ensure big profits for its sportswear sponsors.

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Around 200 unemployed workers from Tangerang, a city 25km west of Jakarta, marched on the German embassy this week to protest their treatment by Panarub Industries, a maker of Adidas shoes.

In 2012, they were among 1300 workers who took strike action to improve their 5000 rupiah ($0.46) hourly pay.

In response, Panarub offered to let them go, with a severance pay of 1.6 million rupiah.

Outraged, they refused and have been protesting every week since – not only to be reinstated, but for fair pay for others they say were bullied into returning to work.

Those workers now earn $1.40 an hour filling an order of Adidas Predator football boots destined for Australia.

They’re the black and white ones all over advertisements for the World Cup sponsor, which is reportedly counting on the global spotlight to boost its earnings above last year’s $2.4 billion.

In Australia, a pair of Predator boots costs about $240.

For the people who stand on the sweltering production line to make them, that’s a month’s wages, says union spokeswoman Kokom.

“We’re angry, we can’t take it anymore,” she told AAP.

“Adidas’ fame is a result of us and they don’t want to resolve the problems in Panarub.”

Kokom was one of the women who refused to accept Panarub’s meagre severance and claims she’s now been blacklisted by other factories in Tangerang for her activism.

Sari, who still works for the company, says union members face intimidation from supervisors in an already highly stressful workplace.

In January, there were 43 workers to make 140 shoes per hour. In May, there were 37 people to meet the same target.

With workers too frightened to organise, they are voiceless.

“It’s difficult to raise awareness of our working conditions when we’re in such a repressed situation,” she says.

Wednesday’s march halted traffic in Jakarta’s centre and included a pantomime where a giant shoe and soccer ball crushed workers.

Kokom doesn’t want a boycott of the brand; that would devastate hundreds of poor families.

But she wants people who buy Adidas to make the decision with full knowledge of the product’s background.

Panarub Industries did not respond to requests for comment.

But a spokeswoman for Adidas says the workers’ claims have been investigated and dismissed.

“To portray Panarub as anti-union does not take into consideration the fact that the main factory, which makes for Adidas, has three very active and vibrant trade unions,” she said.

“We have seen no evidence of victimisation, as has been alleged.

“Nor have we see any evidence of bullying to force workers to accept a severance payment.

“This allegation was raised with us previously; we investigated, interviewed workers and could find nothing to corroborate these claims.”


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US opens investigation of airbag ruptures

US safety regulators are investigating whether 1.

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1 million vehicles from five car makers have airbags that could hurt people in a crash.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it opened the probe on Wednesday after getting six reports of airbags rupturing. Three people were hurt when struck by airbags or parts, but the injuries were not life-threatening. Ruptured airbags also do not protect people in crashes.

Vehicles from the 2002 through 2006 model years made by Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Chrysler and Toyota are being investigated.

All have airbags made by parts supplier Takata Corp, which is based in Japan. Takata said it was co-operating in the investigation.

NHTSA said that starting in August 2013, it received complaints of airbags rupturing from drivers of a Honda Civic, a Toyota Corolla and a Mazda 6. Takata reported complaints from drivers of a Nissan Sentra and Dodge Charger, according to NHTSA documents.

The safety agency says the incidents happened in Florida or Puerto Rico, where humidity is high.

The agency said several manufacturers recently recalled vehicles for rupturing airbags, and it was investigating to find out what other vehicles had the same inflators.

In one complaint in August, a Honda driver’s lawyer told NHTSA the car was in a crash, and both driver and passenger airbags inflated. The driver’s airbag inflator ruptured “and propelled a one-inch piece of shrapnel into the driver’s right eye”.

The driver lost sight and suffered cuts requiring 100 stitches, the complaint said.

On Wednesday, Toyota Motor Corp said it would recall 2.27 million vehicles worldwide to fix similar problems with front passenger airbag inflators. About 2.14 million of the cars were recalled in 2013 for a similar problem, but the fix was incomplete.

The company, the world’s biggest auto maker, said the initial recall was based on incomplete serial numbers from Takata.

The inflators contained improperly made propellant that could cause them to work abnormally, and possibly cause fires, in a crash. Toyota said it had received one report of a burn on a seat cover from faulty airbag deployment.


23/01/2019 0

Taliban swap for US soldier a ‘tough call’

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel has staunchly defended the swap of five Taliban detainees for a US soldier as a “tough call,” but a necessary one to secure Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s release.

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Seeking to counter a barrage of criticism from lawmakers, Hagel insisted President Barack Obama had to act quickly given Bergdahl’s deteriorating health and that the swap deal brokered by Qatar represented the “last, best opportunity” to ensure the soldier’s freedom.

“We made the right decision, and we did it for the right reasons – to bring home one of our own people,” Hagel told a tense hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.

Hagel, the first administration official to testify publicly about the swap, said Obama faced a “tough call” but made the right choice.

He described a dramatic chain of events leading up to Bergdahl’s release, with US officials worried about Taliban militants staging an attack on special operations forces receiving the American soldier.

After signing a memorandum with Qatar on May 12 on the details of the transfer of the Taliban detainees, the Qataris issued a warning to US officials that “time was not on our side,” Hagel said.

“This indicated that the risks to Sergeant Bergdahl’s safety were growing,” he said.

Up to one hour before the release, the United States did not know the precise location where Bergdahl would be handed over, he said.

The May 31 exchange was in keeping with past US conflicts and there was no prospect of prosecuting the Taliban detainees held at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Hagel said.

But Republicans at the hearing hammered away at Hagel, often interrupting him, accusing the White House of making concessions to “terrorists” and violating its legal obligation to consult with Congress.

The exchange for Bergdahl has turned into a growing political problem for the White House.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll showed a majority of Americans opposed the deal, with 53 per cent saying they disapproved.

If Bergdahl is shown to have deserted, then 63 per cent rejected the swap.

Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and others charged the Obama administration had failed to abide by a law requiring 30 days’ notice to lawmakers before detainees are transferred out of the Guantanamo prison.


23/01/2019 0

FIFA chief Blatter ready to run again despite opposition

World soccer’s governing body is reeling after allegations in Britain’s Sunday Times that a former top FIFA representative made payments to officials as part of a campaign to win support for Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

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Yet Blatter, who has led FIFA for 16 years, made no direct reference to the scandal throughout Wednesday’s annual Congress, and instead pressed his case to extend his tenure.

“My mission is not finished,” he told officials from FIFA’s 209 member associations at the close of Congress, held in Sao Paulo on the eve of the opening game of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup.

“Congress, you will decide who will take this great institution forward, but I can tell you I am ready to accompany you in the future,” he added.

Blatter, who ignored calls made this week by European countries not to run again in next year’s FIFA election, enjoys the support of enough delegates to have his way even if he will not be unopposed.

Former FIFA Deputy Secretary General Jerome Champagne, who announced his candidacy for the top job last year, later said in a statement he was looking forward to an open debate about the issues facing the game ahead of the vote.

“No one should fear this open discussion in front of the people of football, which would honour those organising and conducting it,” it read.

“As a consequence, I am very much looking forward to the debate in front of us, a debate even more necessary after the events having unfolded in the past weeks.”

Earlier at the Congress, the lawyer investigating allegations of corruption surrounding FIFA said he would leave no stone unturned in a bid to dispel concerns that the probe would not take into account key evidence that recently came to light.

Michael Garcia handed in a report this week on the findings from nearly two years of work, but told FIFA delegates it did not signal the end of his investigation.

The Sunday Times newspaper reported recently that some of the “millions of documents” it had seen linked payments by former FIFA executive committee member Mohamed Bin Hammam to officials to win backing for Qatar’s World Cup bid.

Bin Hammam has not commented on his involvement since he was banned for life from soccer in 2012, while Qataris working on the project say he was not a part of their official bid.

Garcia said he and his team already had access to the “vast majority” of those documents, and hoped to see the rest soon.

“We have gone to what appears to us to be the original source of that data and we are confident we will have full access to whatever else may be in that data set and we will review that data for anything else relevant prior to issuing any final report,” he told FIFA.

Garcia added that his team would consider any fresh material provided to them, but would not delay the publication of the final report indefinitely.

He is due to submit it to German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, head of the Ethics Committee’s adjudicatory chamber, in about six weeks and, if he finds corruption, Qatar could be stripped of the Cup, or at least face a challenge to its position as host either through a re-vote or other processes.

FIFA DIVIDED

Allegations over Qatar’s bid overshadowed the buildup to the World Cup, yet they were barely mentioned at FIFA’s Congress.

Member associations and confederations were promised “extraordinary success premiums” after a profitable financial year, and Blatter even threw in a surprise in the form of a proposal to introduce radical new rules to the game.

While only an informal suggestion at this stage, he proposed allowing managers to appeal against refereeing decisions up to twice each game, using video footage to settle the issue.

The mood at this year’s Congress has been unusually subdued, with statements from regional groupings underlining deep divisions in an organisation that controls the world’s most popular sport and billions of dollars in advertising revenues and television rights.

Senior soccer officials from Europe, concerned that FIFA’s image was being irrevocably damaged by scandals that have dogged it for years, told Blatter bluntly that he should not run again.

“This (election) period has not yet started and I have to accept some number of blows,” Blatter told reporters after the meeting. “This has been the most disrespectful thing I have experienced in my whole life.”

He declined to comment on remarks by David Triesman, former head of English soccer’s governing body, who told the upper house of Britain’s parliament that FIFA was corrupt and any investigations it conducted into itself were cover-ups.

“FIFA, I’m afraid, behaves like a mafia family. It has a decades-long tradition of bribes, bungs and corruption,” said Triesman. A FIFA spokesman declined to comment on the remarks.

The peer was for a while in charge of England’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

As European soccer lined up against Blatter, he won overwhelming support during meetings with delegates from Africa, Asia, Oceania and beyond, suggesting that he would comfortably win an election should he decide to take part.

Underlining the anger at this year’s Congress over the Qatar allegations, the head of the Congolese Football Association attacked what he said was “a calumnious campaign against African football”.

Omari Selemani also played down the role of African nations in voting to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The “ignorant” British media has led the attacks on Qatar, he said in a speech days after the Sunday Times published the second in a series of reports putting African soccer bosses at the centre of bribery allegations to secure the 2022 tournament for the tiny Gulf nation.

The rows over Qatar and Blatter’s future have diverted much of FIFA’s attention away from the Brazil World Cup, which opens on Thursday with the hosts taking on Croatia.

Nothing but a win will do for a country that many people consider the spiritual home of soccer, and victory on the pitch might generate more excitement off it after a surprisingly subdued buildup to the tournament.

(Additional reporting by Asher Levine, Esteban Israel and Mike Collett-White; Writing by Mike Collett-White, editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris)


23/01/2019 0

Bishop condemns Iraq terrorist group

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has condemned military attacks launched by an Islamist terrorist group in Iraq, which has stunned authorities by capturing two major cities in just days.

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The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – described as one of the world’s most deadly and active terrorist organisations – seized Tikrit overnight a day after taking Mosul city.

It now controls large swathes of territory in northern Iraq and north-eastern Syria, where it’s fighting to establish an Islamic state and enforce its strict version of sharia law.

Ms Bishop expressed her deep concern at ISIL’s military advance, and their kidnapping of Turkish diplomats in Mosul.

“The Australian government condemns in the strongest terms the attack, and taking of Turkish consular staff as hostages by ISIL,” Ms Bishop told AAP in a statement.

“We join Turkey and the international community in calling for the immediate release of Turkey’s kidnapped diplomatic personnel.”

ISIL was listed as a terrorist organisation by the federal government in December amid concerns Australian fighters in Syria could be signing up to join its swelling ranks.

The government says it’s attracting a large number of foreign fighters, including Westerners, and uses cash from kidnapping and extortion to buy weapons and run its campaigns in Iraq and Syria.

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek expressed concern at the threat posed by this extremist group in the region.

“We have sought an urgent briefing from the government on the recent events,” a spokesman for Ms Plibersek told AAP on Thursday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Wednesday updated its travel advice to Mosul, a city of two million people, recommending Australians evacuate immediately if safe to do so.

It warned the government could not help any Australians there due to the challenging security situation.

Australia officially ended its six-year military presence in Iraq in 2009, but only withdrew its last two officers in November last year.


23/01/2019 0

Brazil hopes for smooth opener as World Cup kicks off

Brazil’s national team hosts Croatia in the opening match at a newly built stadium in Sao Paulo whose cost and late delivery came to embody the troubled World Cup preparations.

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Brazil is seen by many fans around the world as the spiritual home of football and hundreds of thousands will descend on the country for the month-long tournament, but until now the enthusiasm among Brazilians has been muted.

Many are angry over the $11.3 billion spent on hosting the World Cup when basic social services are poorly financed.

Massive street demonstrations rocked the country last year and although they have faded in numbers recently, officials expect a hard core of a few hundred people to try to block traffic to the stadium on Thursday. That could cause violent clashes with police.

Brazilians say the country will rally as soon as the action starts, especially if their team justifies its billing as favourite to win the tournament for a record sixth time.

“Just wait until Brazil starts winning. Then you’ll see people in the streets,” said Rogerio Souza, a fan in Sao Paulo, although he warned failure would cause more discontent.

“Brazilians only count titles. No one cares about second place. If they don’t win the Cup at home, you’ll see the criticism rain down,”

President Dilma Rousseff dismisses complaints about the heavy spending and delays in preparing stadiums and airports, and is betting Brazil will put on a show on and off the field.

“What I’m seeing more and more is the welcome given to the teams and the happiness of the Brazilian people with our team,” she said in a speech on Wednesday.

Yet the list of possible problems is long. In fact, hosting a successful World Cup may ultimately prove harder for Brazil than winning it.

The main risk, for both fans and the government, appears to be violent street demonstrations.

Protests and labour strikes are planned in the 12 host cities, including a 24-hour slowdown by some airport workers in Rio de Janeiro although the threat of a long subway strike in Sao Paulo has eased.

Some businesses in Rio, the venue for seven Cup games including the final, had boarded up windows and doors by late on Wednesday in case protests erupted.

Officials privately expressed fears that protests and traffic problems could mean some fans might still be stuck outside the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo when the opening match starts at 5 p.m. (2000 GMT).

The government has decreed a partial holiday for Thursday to help ease congestion. Still, a long list of VIPs including 10 heads of state and senior officials from world football body FIFA mean traffic will still be complicated.

UNTESTED STADIUM

The stadium itself has been a source of anxiety.

Not only was it delivered six months late at a cost of $525 million, about $150 million over budget, but because of the delays Thursday’s game will be the facility’s first at full capacity. That’s a big no-no in the field of logistics and a violation of FIFA’s normal protocol for World Cup games.

“I’m praying that nothing goes wrong,” said Lizbeth Silva, a clerical worker at a Sao Paulo school. “You hear about all these problems, but you still want to root for Brazil.”

The stakes for Brazil go well beyond the World Cup itself.

Rousseff is running for re-election in October, and a rough tournament would likely cause her popularity, already under duress, to fall further. Polls show she currently holds a lead of about 10 percentage points over her likely rival if the vote goes to a second round, as most expect.

Any major logistical problems and unrest could also further dent Brazil’s reputation among investors, which has suffered since a decade-long economic boom fizzled under Rousseff.

At least one element is expected to cooperate on Thursday: the weather. Forecasters expect clear skies and a high of 75 degrees (24 C) – warm for the southern hemisphere winter.

Brazil’s team, led by its exciting 22-year-old star striker Neymar, is heavily favored to beat Croatia.

As the tournament progresses, the fervor of foreign fans, hordes of whom have already descended upon host cities, could also help ease any tension among Brazilians themselves.

Outside Rio’s Maracana stadium on Wednesday, Brazilians cheered and whistled as an SUV with a Colombian flag draped atop it stopped at a red light.

“We wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said the driver, adding that he and his three passengers left Colombia by road nearly three weeks ago.

(Additional reporting by Paulo Prada in Rio de Janeiro and Brad Haynes and Esteban Israel in Sao Paulo; Editing by Todd Benson and Paulo Prada)


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