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Firefighter killed battling bushfires A firefighter from Canberra has died while battling a blaze near the devastated Victorian town of Marysville, after a tree branch fell on his vehicle. Victoria Police said a firefighter had been killed on the fireground at Cambarville, east of Marysville, at about 7pm (AEDT) on Tuesday. “Initial reports indicate the man and a passenger were driving in the area when a tree limb fell on the vehicle,” spokeswoman Senior Constable Karla Dennis said. The driver died at the scene, near the intersection of the Warburton-Woods Point and Marysville-Woods Point roads, about 20km east of Marysville. A second person in the car was uninjured. Truck hit by falling tree The ACT Emergency Service Agency later confirmed the death of one of its firefighters in Victoria. “A large tree appears to have crashed on to one of our fire tankers at Cambarville, resulting in an ACT Fire Brigade firefighter confirmed dead,” said agency commissioner Gregor Manson. “Fortunately, no other firefighters were injured,” he said. ACT Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell described the news as tragic. “I am extremely saddened to hear the news of the loss of one of our highly respected and dedicated firefighters,” Mr Corbell said. The dead firefighter has not yet been named. Deadly fires still raging The Emergency Services Agency has created a special hotline for family and friends of ACT firefighters deployed in Victoria. The number is (02) 6232 5639. The accident happened high in the Yarra Ranges National Park, which has been ravaged by bushfires that have raged in the area for more than a week. Hundreds of interstate and overseas personnel have been brought in to assist local Victorian crews fighting Australia\’s greatest bushfire disaster. Major collisions police will investigate and prepare a report for the Victorian coroner. The death brings the toll from Victoria\’s fires to 201, just hours after authorities announced it had reached 200 with the discovery of 11 new bodies.

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Rich or poor, tobacco still a killer Previous research in developed countries have shown that disparities in income translate into significant gaps in health and longevity. But the extra years of life that, on average, come with being in the highest social brackets are more than wiped out by smoking, showed the study, which tracked mortality rates over a 28-year period among 15,000 men and women entering into old age. Lighting up likewise cancelled out the survival advantage enjoyed the world over by women, who generally live several years longer than men. The findings also confirmed that it is never too late to quit: ex-smokers had survival rates much closer to those who had never smoked than to those with a confirmed tobacco habit. For the study, residents aged 45 to 64 from two towns in western Scotland, recruited in the mid-1970s, were divided into four groups depending on their social class and income level. They were further divided by sex, and into smokers, former smokers, and “never smokers” who had consistently avoided the tobacco habit. Survival rates after 28 years spelled out the risks of smoking with stark clarity. Among non-smokers who had never smoked, the survival rate was 65 per cent for women and 53 per cent for men in the top social tier. The rates in the lowest tier were 56 for women and 36 for men. For women who smoked, the percentage of survivors dropped to 40 for the most affluent smokers, and 35 for those on the bottom rungs of the social ladder – fully 30 percentage points less than wealthy non-smokers. For men the gaps were even larger. Smoking cut the survival rate for the well heeled in half to 25 per cent, and for the most income-challenged the percentage dropped to 18. For both sexes, smoking had a far more devastating impact on mortality than being poor. “This study provides further evidence that cigarettes indiscriminately damage and kill their users, regardless of social position,” said the study, led by Laurence Gruer at NHS Health Scotland and published in the British Medical Journal. “Smoking itself was a source of greater health inequality than other factors associated with social position in that population.” The results also suggest that moving up the socioeconomic ladder will have little effect on the health of those who continue to puff away. “The combination of the greatly increased mortality of smokers with the now much lower prevalence of smoking among the more affluent is the major contributor to the widening health inequalities observed in the United Kingdom and other industrialised countries,” the researchers concluded.

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Firefighter killed in bush blazes named A firefighter who died when he was hit by a falling tree while battling Victoria\’s bushfire disaster has been identified as a father-of-three from Canberra. David Balfour, 46, from Gilmore in the ACT, was killed on Tuesday evening when his crew – drafted in to battle Australia\’s worst wildfires – were on their last shift in the disaster zone. Mr Balfour, a firefighter for 10 years, was connecting a hose to his team\’s tanker in the Yarra Ranges National Park at Cambarville, near Marysville, when a tree branch fell onto him. The United Firefighters\’ Union has asked of Australia\’s fire brigades to observe a minute\’s silence in his honour before beginning their shifts on Wednesday. “Mr Balfour was a well respected elected officer of the United Firefighters\’ Union, ACT Branch who served his fellow fire-fighters and the community at the highest level,” UFU national secretary Peter Marshall said. \’Horrific tragedy\’ “It is extremely sad that a person with such a strong record in promoting community safety has paid the ultimate price for its protection. “On behalf of 13,000 firefighters nationwide, our deepest sympathies go out to his family, friends and colleagues,” Mr Marshall said. The government has also paid tribute to Mr Balfour, with Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin describing his death as a “horrific tragedy”. “All I can say to his family is that he has paid a terrible, terrible price and he\’ll certainly never be forgotten,” she said. Mr Balfour is survived by his wife and three children, aged nine to 15. The 120 members of his ACT firefighting team are believed to be on their way back to Canberra on Wednesday.

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Facebook halts changes amid protests Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, in a post on the company blog, said the popular networking site was withdrawing the change to its terms of use that prompted concern among users over who owns the content on Facebook. The February 4 change to the terms – the online agreement that users must accept to join – included new language giving Facebook “perpetual worldwide licence” to anything posted on the network. The move sparked a backlash among users with more than 85,000 joining a Facebook group calling itself “People Against the new Terms of Service”. Zuckerberg, in his blog post, said Facebook “had received a lot of questions and comments about the changes and what they mean for people and their information. “Based on this feedback, we have decided to return to our previous terms of use while we resolve the issues that people have raised,” he said. Facebook reverts to previous terms of use Facebook posted a “Terms of Use Update” on the home pages of the tens of millions of Facebook members on Wednesday explaining the decision to revert to the previous terms and invited members to share their thoughts. Zuckerberg said the terms would be revised – but with the input of users this time. “More than 175 million people use Facebook,” he said. “If it were a country, it would be the sixth most populated country in the world. “Our terms aren\’t just a document that protect our rights; it\’s the governing document for how the service is used by everyone across the world. “Since this will be the governing document that we\’ll all live by, Facebook users will have a lot of input in crafting these terms,” Zuckerberg said. Facebook members routinely share comments, pictures and more online and the website needs legal permission to be a platform for such exchanges. Facebook bill of rights created Zuckerberg said a new group had been created – “Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” – to allow users to post “questions, comments and requests”. The group had more than 55,000 members just a few hours after its creation. Facebook also posted an apology for its handling of the issue. “We never intended to claim ownership over people\’s content even though that\’s what it seems like to many people,” the statement said. “This was a mistake and we apologise for the confusion.” Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt, meanwhile, addressed the users who joined the protest group and reiterated that Facebook had never claimed ownership of the photos and other content posted on users\’ pages or shared with friends. “Facebook does not, nor have we ever, claimed ownership over people\’s content. Your content belongs to you,” he wrote on the protest page. “Selling user information for profit or using it to advertise Facebook in some way was never part of our original intent,” he said. “Assurances aren\’t enough, though, and we plan to codify this in our revised terms through simple language that defines Facebook\’s rights much more specifically.”

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Zimbabwe ministerial pick charged Roy Bennett, a leading figure in Tsvangirai\’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was formally charged with illegal possession of arms for purposes of committing banditry, insurgency and terrorism, as well as immigration violation. The 52-year-old appeared in the Mutare magistrate\’s court shortly after the historic cabinet session at the Munhumutapa government headquarters in downtown Harare. He was remanded in custody for a new appearance on Wednesday. Bennett\’s case had overshadowed the historic cabinet meeting, from which little detail emerged. “This was a familiarisation of how issues are addressed or are discussed in cabinet,” a government source told AFP. “It was a really good beginning as members interacted really well.” However, no further details were forthcoming on what issues were raised in the inaugural meeting which lasted around two hours. “People are sworn to secrecy on the cabinet deliberations,” the source said. Bennett is earmarked to join the government as deputy agriculture minister when junior ministers are sworn in this week. The arms possession charge stems from 2006, when weapons were discovered in the home of a currently imprisoned former white policeman, Peter Michael Hischmann, who said they belonged to Bennett, a source in the attorney general\’s office said. The second charge stems from Bennett\’s arrest last week at a Harare airport where he was accused of having tried to leave Zimbabwe without presenting himself to an immigration officer. The party had maintained that the charges are trumped-up and said Tuesday that it was “inconceivable” that Bennett\’s nomination for office would be withdrawn. “The earlier that is accepted, the earlier the inclusive government can get down to the real work of creating conditions for economic recovery and dismantling institutions of dictatorship that have haunted Zimbabwe for some long,” it said. “The country needs healing.” The MDC\’s secretary general and newly appointed finance minister Tendai Biti said Monday the party would take unspecified “action” if Bennett was not released. “The prime minister is in touch with Mugabe. We hope that the situation will be resolved today,” Biti told South African radio. Ministers in the unity government reported for work Monday, with some holding meetings with Tsvangirai and his deputies, The new Prime Minister also met representatives of teachers unions and donor communities. Most teachers in public schools have been on strike over pay since last year and Tsvangirai has promised to pay them and other key professionals and soldiers in foreign currency from the end of this month. Zimbabwe, once seen as a post-colonial success story, has been brought to its knees by the collapse of its economy since the turn of the decade and the inflation rate is now the highest in the world. The economic crisis has also led to the collapse of the country\’s health infrastructure and more than 3,000 people have been killed by a cholera outbreak in recent weeks. The former British colony has been ruled since independence in 1980 by Mugabe who was beaten into second place by Tsvangirai in the first-round of a presidential election in March last year. Tsvangirai subsequently pulled out of the run-off after scores of his supporters were killed and only agreed to enter the unity government after months of wrangling over the division of powers.

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Armstrong hopes Twitter may track stolen bike Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong is calling on legions of Twitter users to track down a one-of-a-kind bicycle stolen from a northern California racing venue. Armstrong sent out a rallying cry to the more than 128,000 Twitter members who have signed up to receive the brief text messages he routinely fires off on the popular micro-blogging service. Cycling Central: All the latest on the Tour of California “Whoa! They just came to my room and said our truck was broken into and someone stole my time trial bike!” Armstrong wrote in a Twitter message sent before sunrise on Sunday. “APB out to the twitterati.” The seven-time Tour de France champion had used the bicycle a day earlier at a rain-pelted, wind-pounded opening of the Amgen Tour of California. The 750-mile race continues through the week. Armstrong\’s bicycle was one of four stolen from an Astana team truck parked behind a hotel in the California capital city of Sacramento. The other bicycles reportedly belonged to team members Janez Brajkovic, Steve Morabito and Yaroslav Popovych. Armstrong later posted a picture of his stolen bicycle in a Twitter “twitpic” accompanied by the message “There is only one like it in the world therefore hard to pawn it off. Reward being offered.” Replies ranging from supportive and empathetic to biting and cynical streamed back to Armstrong. “On it,” a Twitter user with the screen name \’krenoir\’ replied to Armstrong on Tuesday. “Spread the word and get it found … and the perps too!” Another Twitter follower wrote that he or she posted the bicycle\’s picture on social-networking website Facebook to “help spread the word in hope of finding this amazing machine.” “Sorry to hear about the bike,” Twitter member \’Hotonabike\’ said Tuesday in a message to Armstrong. “If it\’s any consolation, you can borrow mine.” A Twitter member noticed what may have been the bicycle for sale at online auction house eBay, which was alerted and the page removed. “Why some lowlife would list this bike on eBay is beyond me,” wrote Twitter user \’seaflite,\’ who sent a message revealing a defunct eBay page. “Definitely poor taste.” Cancer-survivor Armstrong, 37, retired in 2005 but has set out to make a comeback. The California race is his second on a comeback trail that started last month in Australia, where he finished 29th place in the Tour Down Under. Armstrong intends to compete in this year\’s Tour de France. “Hitting the sack early tonight,” Armstrong wrote in a Twitter update late Monday. Two days in the pouring rain has worn my old $$ out.”

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Unions concerned about Virgin Blue job cuts Unions say they are confident Virgin Blue will be able to ride out turbulent times in the airline industry, after the company announced it would cut up to 400 jobs from its Australian workforce. But they are concerned about the effect the airline\’s planned restructure will have on the airline\’s staff and their families. Virgin Blue confirmed last night it would cut up to 400 jobs from its Australian workforce and remove eight per cent of capacity or as many as five aircraft from its domestic fleet in the coming financial year. The company said it would consider all possibilities, including job-sharing and shifting some staff to international start-up V Australia, before sacking workers. Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said the union would be holding urgent meetings with the company today. “It is a very worrying morning for many people at Virgin Blue,” he told ABC Television. The restructure was a strategic decision aimed at shoring up profit in the next half-year. “We\’re confident, they\’ll be able to achieve (that),” Mr Sheldon said, adding the company was well placed to cope with challenges facing the airline industry. Qantas restructures flight schedule News of Virgin\’s planned cutbacks came only hours after Qantas announced a restructure of its flight schedule. Low-cost offshoot Jetstar will replace the flying kangaroo throughout New Zealand\’s domestic market from June 10 and the schedules for China and India will be overhauled. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce remained positive despite the changes. “These changes are about adjusting our schedules to meet the needs of those markets alongside our own need to generate reasonable returns on our operations,” Mr Joyce said in a statement. Qantas will also cut its Melbourne-Shanghai and Sydney-Beijing flights, but the Sydney-Shanghai service will be increased from five flights per week to seven from March 31. Mr Joyce said the decision to pull the legacy carrier out of New Zealand\’s domestic market was built on the “unique” dynamics of the market. “We need to be flexible to ensure we remain competitive. “This means applying our two brand strategy and utilising the right airline, with the right cost base and product for the right market, to offer competitive, sustainable services.” Singapore Airlines to cut capacity The airline\’s announcement comes amid continuing dire news from the aviation sector. On Monday, Singapore Airlines confirmed it would cut capacity by 11 per cent from April. It will also decommission 17 planes. “The drop in air transportation has been sharp and swift,” Singapore Airlines chief executive Chew Choon Seng said. “Given the falls of over 20 per cent that we have seen recently in air cargo shipments, and the tradition of demand for air travel following closely behind trends on the cargo side of the business, we have to face the reality that 2009 is going to be a very difficult year.”

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