Comment: First impressions from the tabloids

By Sinclair Davidson, RMIT University

DT Day

To a large extent this must reflect the views of its Sydney based audience – we’ve been hearing a lot about the anger directed towards Labor over issues such as boat arrivals and corruption at the State level.

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The Brisbane based Courier Mail has a neutral front page.

CM Day

This is an accurate and very concise summary of each of the speeches we heard late yesterday. If Rudd’s blurb appears weak that’s because he is starting from a position of weakness – to win the election he must win the campaign. He said as much yesterday.

The difference between the two pages is that Queenslanders are probably not overtly angry about specific policies. Rudd is a local candidate. There is talk that Labor might pick up seats in Queensland. Unlike most elections where government can sandbag marginal seats Labor will have to pick up seats to win. So this page also reflects the views of the Brisbane audience.

The objective in each case is to attract eye-balls and sell newspapers (actually advertising). The Daily Telegraph imagines that it is going to attract angry eye-balls while the Courier Mail doesn’t see its audience as being angry.

How does this insight help either political party? Well it doesn’t much. They already know what the editors know – but it does give observers an insight into local conditions.

So rather than simply argue the Daily Telegraph is campaigning for the Coalition we should see this as a reflection of Sydney views.

Long story short: Don’t shoot the messenger.

Sinclair Davidson does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Comment: MRRT court challenge ‘could backfire on miners’

By Michael Crommelin, University of Melbourne

Fortescue Metals’ controversial challenge to the Federal Government’s mining tax began this week in the High Court.

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Legal counsel for Fortescue argue the tax, which is under pressure for raising just $126 million in its first six months of operation instead of $2 billion originally anticipated, is unconstitutional.

But Professor of Law at the University of Melbourne, Michael Crommelin, explains that there is a possibility that the case may backfire on mining companies.

First what are the main arguments?

A: Two major arguments have been put forward. The first is that the tax is an unconstitutional interference by the Commonwealth with important state functions. The other is really a design argument: that a particular feature of this tax breaches a provision of the Constitution that prohibits the Commonwealth, in the exercise of its taxation power, from discriminating among the states.

Would both these arguments need to be accepted to overturn the tax?

A: No, either one would be sufficient for Fortescue to win, but the consequences that would flow from acceptance of each argument would differ. To understand this better, let’s look at the two arguments in turn.

First, the argument over the design feature of the tax, which is in a sense the narrower argument. The Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MMRT) allows mining companies to obtain a full credit against MRRT liability for state royalties that they’ve paid. The royalty regimes are different from state to state and much has been made in argument about the differences between the Western Australian and the Queensland royalty regimes – particularly relevant in this case.

The argument is that in allowing a full credit against MRRT liability for different state royalties the MRRT Act discriminates between states, because a mining company gets a bigger credit for royalties paid in Western Australia (where royalties are higher) than it would if the same operation were conducted in Queensland.

There are two possible consequences that could flow from acceptance of this argument. One is that this design feature is so central to the Act as a whole that the entire Act is unconstitutional. The other more limited consequence is that only the provision allowing companies to credit royalty payments against MRRT liability is unconstitutional, and the rest of the Act survives. In other words, companies would lose the credit allowance but remain liable to pay the tax…in fact, more tax.

So this argument could backfire on them?

A: Yes, it could, but that depends on whether the royalty credit provision is integral to the MRRT regime, or severable from it.

And the second argument?

This is a wider argument based on the Melbourne Corporation Case, which in 1947 established an important principle that the Commonwealth legislation can’t preclude the performance by the states of their constitutional functions within our federal system of government. The resources subject to MRRT, iron ore and coal, are the property of the states in which they are located and have been since prior to federation. Since the colonial era, the states have been responsible for the management of these resources. Fortescue Metals argues that the MRRT diminishes the capacity of the states to continue to manage these resources, contrary to the Melbourne Corporation principle. This argument is supported by the Attorneys General of Western Australia and Queensland, who have intervened in the case.

If this argument were successful it would be difficult for the Commonwealth to redesign the tax. It’s not a design problem; it’s a more fundamental problem about who has authority to do what within our federal system.l

So in essence the mining companies are betting that the constitutional arguments are strong enough to bring down the whole thing, not just the royalty credit arrangements, while allowing the tax to survive.

A: Yes. The arguments are aimed at the entire MRRT regime, but those arguments may fail completely, leaving the regime intact, or may succeed only in bringing down the royalty credit arrangements, leaving the companies exposed to increased MRRT liability.

Michael Crommelin does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Afghan forces regain control of Kabul

Afghanistan said its forces regained control of Kabul Monday after killing Taliban militants — some disguised as women in burqas — who launched one of the biggest attacks on the capital in a decade of war.

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A total of 47 people were killed and some 65 wounded in Kabul and three neighbouring provinces where government and military targets also came under attack, Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi told a news conference.

“A couple of the insurgents in Kabul were wearing burqas and carrying flowers” before opening fire, he said.

“Once again, like in the past, all the insurgents were humiliated and were killed by the Afghan security forces.”

Kabul was hit by a wave of attacks in three areas Sunday, with embassies and foreign military bases coming under fire in what the Taliban said was the start of its spring offensive.

Afghan security forces took the lead in countering the assault, but a spokesman for NATO forces in the country said they had provided air support in response to requests from the Afghans.

The attacks raise fears over the precarious security situation in Afghanistan as NATO prepares to withdraw its 130,000 troops by the end of 2014 and hand responsibility for security to Afghan forces.

But NATO was quick to hail the performance of the Afghans.

“I am enormously proud of how quickly Afghan security forces responded to today’s attacks in Kabul,” said General John Allen, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

“They were on scene immediately, well-led and well-coordinated. They integrated their efforts, helped protect their fellow citizens and largely kept the insurgents contained.”

However, the fact that so many militants had managed to make it through Kabul’s so-called “Ring of Steel” checkpoints and attack high value targets in the heart of the capital has raised questions about lapses in security.

“That they did manage to pull off simultaneous complex attacks shows quite a level of sophistication in preventing detection… so that would be a failure in intelligence,” said Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts’ Network.

“But having said that, in a big bustling city like Kabul it is incredibly difficult to stop this type of attack,” she said.

US Ambassador Ryan Crocker said the ability of Afghan security forces to respond to the attacks was a “clear sign of progress”, while ISAF labelled the attacks “largely ineffective”.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Crocker to discuss the “cowardly” attacks, the State Department said, and asked him to convey to President Hamid Karzai her appreciation for the “swift and effective response” of Afghan forces.

The US, British, German and Japanese embassy compounds came under fire as militants attacked the city’s diplomatic enclave and tried to storm parliament, sparking a gun battle as lawmakers and bodyguards fired back from the rooftop.

Outside the capital, militants attacked government buildings in Logar province, the airport in Jalalabad, and a police facility in the town of Gardez in Paktya province.

One militant in Logar escaped and had resumed fighting from a new position in the capital Pul-i-Alam, provincial police chief Ghulam Sakhi Rogh Liwanai told AFP.

“There’s one attacker who managed to escape and he is now in another building firing at us,” he said.

The attacks marked one of the biggest assaults on the capital in 10 years of war in terms of their spread and coordination, observers say.

In September last year Taliban attacks targeting locations including the US embassy and headquarters of foreign troops in Kabul killed at least 14 during a 19-hour siege.

And in August, nine people were killed when suicide bombers attacked the British Council cultural centre.

Wolff makes full test debut with Williams

“I think she was pretty good, she was pretty quick and that’s really fantastic to see a lady driving Formula One,” Ferrari’s Felipe Massa told reporters after the final day of a young driver test at Silverstone.

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“I was really happy when I saw the lap times and pretty happy for her.”

Wolff, now 30, may not be a young driver but she was as thrilled as any of those making their test debuts after completing 89 laps and setting the ninth fastest time of the 16 drivers on track during the day.

Her best lap of one minute 35.093 seconds compared to the day’s fastest of 1:32.894 set by triple champion Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull.

“It was important for me to show I had the performance,” the Scot, wife of Mercedes motorsport head and Williams shareholder Toto Wolff, told reporters.

“It was fantastic today. The team did a great job getting me through the day, talking me through everything step by step.

“Physically it wasn’t easy but it was what I was expecting. I was well prepared so it was completely manageable,” added the development driver who spent seven seasons racing in the DTM (German Touring Car) series but scored only four points.

Formula One has not had a female driver in decades, with Italian Giovanna Amati the last to try to get on the grid when she failed to qualify in 1992. Compatriot Lella Lombardi was the last to start a race, in 1976.

Wolff has taken part in straight-line aerodynamic tests, without other racing drivers present, and as development driver was the first to drive this year’s car.

“After such a tough end to my DTM career, many people presumed that I was just always at the back and wasn’t quick enough but I think today can show that that was possibly an unfair judgement,” said the Briton.

Spaniard Maria De Villota was appointed test driver for Marussia last year, before she lost an eye in an accident during an aerodynamic test in England. However she never took part in a general test with other drivers.

Britain’s Katherine Legge also tested a Minardi in Italy in 2005.

Race drivers such as Vettel and Massa were limited on Friday to testing the new type of Pirelli tyre to be introduced at next week’s Hungarian Grand Prix after a spate of blowouts at last month’s British round at Silverstone.

Massa, who suffered a near-fatal head injury when struck by a bouncing spring that came off compatriot Rubens Barichello’s car in Hungary in 2009, said they seemed more consistent.

“For construction and safety it is better – and nothing has happened here,” the Ferrari driver, who suffered one of the race failures, told reporters. “There were no blowouts or punctures like we saw in this race. That is the most important thing.”

Pirelli motorsport head Paul Hembery said the test had been useful.

“The established performance of the 2012 structure, consolidated with the speed of the current compounds, is set to provide an interesting mix of strategies for the races ahead,” he added.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis and Clare Fallon)

Indian court says BCCI probe illegal

An Indian court ruled on Tuesday a probe ordered by the country’s cricket chiefs into a betting scandal was illegal, causing further trouble for cricket head N.

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Srinivasan, reports said.

The Bombay High Court, which retains Mumbai’s former name, ruled a panel set up to probe the betting scandal in the Indian Premier League (IPL) competition was “illegal” and “unconstitutional”.

The ruling comes just two days after the panel’s report, leaked to the media, found no wrongdoing by senior cricket officials or IPL owners over the scandal.

Tuesday’s court ruling could derail the return of Srinivasan, who stepped aside temporarily as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on June 2, after his son-in-law was arrested, and later released on bail, over alleged links to illegal bookmakers.

Son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan is one of the owners of IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings, a team bought by Srinivasan’s India Cements conglomerate when the league was launched in 2008.

The BCCI appointed the panel of two retired High Court judges in June to conduct an internal probe. The investigation was separate from probes being carried out by the Delhi and Mumbai police into the IPL scandal, with charges expected to be filed shortly.

A petition was lodged in the High Court against the BCCI-ordered probe, which cricket chiefs said last month would aim to clean up the sport in India.

“We find that the manner in which BCCI has constituted a panel under its own rules is illegal and unconstitutional,” NDTV quoted the court’s order as saying.

Amit Naik, a lawyer for the petitioner, told NDTV that it was now “up to the BCCI to see what is to be done next”.

A BCCI source declined to comment until lawyers had studied the order. The BCCI could still appeal to a higher court.

The BCCI’s interim chief Jagmohan Dalmiya was due to place the report, which has yet to be released publicly, before the IPL’s governing council in New Delhi on Friday.

The scandal in the money-spinning IPL, a Twenty20 tournament that sees top international stars play alongside domestic players, has shaken fans’ faith in India’s most popular sport.

Police have questioned Raj Kundra, husband of Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty and co-owner of the Rajasthan Royals franchise, which had three players arrested for alleged spot-fixing in the IPL.

A BCCI source had told AFP on Monday that the probe had cleared Srinivasan’s India Cements, Rajasthan Royals, Meiyappan and Kundra of spot-fixing allegations.

“There is nothing in the report to implicate these people,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

“I don’t think we can, or have the right, to stop Srinivasan from coming back as president now,” the highly-placed source said.

‘Some dead’ as Algeria hostage crisis ends in turmoil

Algerian special forces on Thursday launched a rescue operation on a desert gas complex, killing fleeing Islamists and an unknown number of their hostages, the communication minister said.

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Communication Minister Mohamed Said said a number of kidnappers had been “neutralised” as they tried to flee, in the first official comment on the operation, but admitted that “some” hostages were killed or wounded.

He did not give any casualty figures from the operation which ended late on Thursday, according to Algeria’s APS news agency, amid reports that scores of people had died.

According to a source quoted by Reuters, eight Algerians, two Japanese, two Britons and one French national were among those killed. This has not been confirmed.

Earlier, one of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamists said “warplanes and ground units” had begun an operation “to take the complex by force,” and threatened to “kill all the hostages if the Algerian forces succeed in entering the complex.”

He said 34 hostages and 15 kidnappers were killed in an army air strike, a claim that could not be verified.

APS said the army freed four foreigners — two Britons, a Frenchman and a Kenyan — and 600 Algerian workers held hostage at the In Amenas plant in southeastern Algeria.

The communication minister said that a peaceful solution to the crisis would have been preferred, but accused the heavily armed Islamists of “brinkmanship.”

He said the attack on the major gas complex, jointly operated by BP, Statoil and Sonatrach, was the work of a “multinational terrorist” organisation that wanted to “implicate” Algeria in the Mali conflict and destroy its economy.

Late on Wednesday, Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia had insisted that Algiers would not negotiate with the “terrorists.”

On Thursday, he told the online edition of Algeria’s Arab-language daily Echorouk the hostage-takers had come from Libya.

The Islamists launched their attack at dawn on Wednesday, killing two people, including a Briton. They also took scores of Algerians and 41 foreigners hostage, among them American, British, French, Irish, Norwegian and Japanese.

The gunmen said their attack was in retaliation for Algiers supporting French air strikes in Mali, and demanded that 100 radical Islamists held in Algeria be released and sent to northern Mali in exchange for the hostages.

The Islamists on Thursday called on the army to pull out of the area to allow negotiations to begin, and said Algerian snipers had fired at the site where the hostages were held, wounding a Japanese.

On Thursday morning a Briton, a Japanese and an Irishman, identified as hostages, appeared on Al-Jazeera, demanding the withdrawal of Algerian troops.

Foreign governments voiced growing concern about the rescue operation which a foreign diplomat in Algiers said “did not go too well for the hostages.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron postponed a major EU speech planned for Friday because of the crisis and warned that Britain should brace itself for “the possibility of bad news.”

Norway said it had no news on nine of its citizens, and Japan, whose engineering firm JGC had said five of its workers were believed to have been seized, demanded that the rescue mission be stopped “immediately.”

Dublin said an Irish passport-holder from Belfast was free and in good health.

APS reported that some 30 Algerians managed to escape, while private TV channel Ennahar said 15 foreigners, including a French couple, had also escaped.

E Timor gets new president

As the impoverished half-island nation of 1.

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1 million prepares to celebrate the anniversary, the dusty, potholed streets of its capital Dili are being spruced up to welcome VIP guests including Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Australia’s governor-general and Portugal’s president.

This is a crucial year for the country also known as Timor-Leste. It will choose a new prime minister and government in general elections on July 7, then at year’s end will bid goodbye to UN forces stationed since 1999.

Taur Matan Ruak is due to take over the largely ceremonial post of president, which enjoyed a high profile under Ramos-Horta, at 11:30 pm (1430 GMT) Saturday.

Ruak, a former armed forces chief and ex-guerrilla fighter, won a run-off election last month that was widely lauded as peaceful and fair.

He takes over a country that is hobbled by extreme poverty, corruption and an over-reliance on energy revenues.

But the unstable nation has now enjoyed several years of peace.

“I would sum up the challenges and two priorities of our country as security and the well-being and prosperity of our people,” Ruak, 55, told AFP.

“This is what people voted for and yearn for as demonstrated in the elections.”

The UN has said that peacekeepers, stationed since 1999, will pull out as planned by year’s end if the general elections are also peaceful.

The former Portuguese colony voted for independence in a UN-supervised referendum in 1999, after Indonesia’s 24-year occupation had left up to 183,000 people dead from fighting, disease and starvation.

The Indonesian military and anti-independence militias went on a savage campaign of retribution after the vote, ravaging the new nation’s infrastructure and killing more than 1,000 people.

The UN administered East Timor until May 20, 2002, when sovereignty was formally handed to its first president.

Since then the nation has suffered bouts of violence — a political crisis in 2006 killed 37 people and displaced tens of thousands, and Ramos-Horta was lucky to survive an assassination attempt in 2008.

There has been no major political unrest since then, and government spending has increased dramatically in line with East Timor’s increased energy income.

Still, the grinding poverty is visible everywhere.

In Dili, away from the venues for the weekend celebrations, mud canals flood slum neighbourhoods after rains, barely clothed children play in the streets, and infrastructure is limited to a few paved roads, a single port and a tiny airport.

The International Monetary Fund calls East Timor the “most oil-dependent economy in the world” after the discovery of large fields of oil and natural gas at sea.

Petroleum products account for more than 90 percent of total government revenue. A special fund, geared for development spending now and to cushion the next generation, recently swelled to $10 billion.

Facebook racial hate page ‘taken down’

A Facebook page filled with racially abusive messages about Indigenous people has been taken down, after hundreds of people campaigned to have it removed.

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SBS reported yesterday on the Facebook page, which allows posts with racially abusive “memes” about Indigenous people. The page was temporarily removed, before re-appearing on the site with a tag noting that the content contained “controversial humour”.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy weighed into the debate, saying he thought it should be taken down.

“We don’t want to live by the same standards that Facebook does,” Mr Conroy said. “I think it’s an offence. It’s been reclassified but I think it should be taken down.”

Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke warned the page could be a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.

“[The page] potentially does insult and offend, but it probably does more than that. I think the depiction of these images on Facebook actually moves more in to vilifying.”

HUNDREDS PROTEST PAGE

“It is an openly racist page that is encouraging hate towards Aboriginal people. I find it incredible that Facebook would refuse to remove this page,” says Jacinta.

FACEBOOK RESPONSE

The social media site has responded to complaints with the message: “After reviewing your report, we were not able to confirm that the specific page you reported violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”

When contacted by SBS, Facebook responded with this email message:

“We have nothing to share at this time but will let you know if that changes,” Facebook spokesperson Mia Garlick replied.

ACMA INVESTIGATION

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has now launched an investigation into the page. The content has also been formally submitted to the Classification Board for classification.

“The ACMA is currently investigating specific URLs that contain the online content noted in the SBS story after receiving a complaint yesterday,” an ACMA spokesperson told SBS in an email today.

“The ACMA investigates online content upon receipt of valid complaints from Australian residents or a body corporate that carries on activities in Australia. Investigations are conducted using powers under schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992,” the statement said.

The page has caused outrage among many Facebook users.

The page uses internet jokes or “memes” to racially vilify Indigenous Australians, with text referencing colonialism and substance abuse placed against photos of Indigenous people without their consent.

FACEBOOK PAGE ‘CHANGES NAME’

Last night the words “(Controversial Humour)” were added and the page has now gathered more than 4000 “likes”.

SBS believes the site was created and is maintained by a 16-year-old Perth boy.

A post made to the site yesterday by the site’s moderator reads “this page aint racism, its the truth, keep passin the petrol cuzzins”.

Facebook user Mike Gurrieri said he reported it to the social network via the “report” tab.

“I reported the page for hate speech against a race, and I think the page should be taken down immediately,” he said.

ACMA’s stance on its role regarding the page has changed.

Asked yesterday by SBS about Facebook users’ claims they had reported the page to ACMA, a spokesperson said it was not their jurisdiction, despite it being the government agency responsible for regulating the internet.

“It’s a policy area. Our jurisdiction lies in preventing terrorism, online child pornography, national security and educating the public on how to stay safe,” the spokesperson said yesterday.

UPDATE: The page has been removed as of 6pm 8/8 2012.

Seize the moment, Obama tells US

President Barack Obama inaugurated his second term Monday with an ardent call for unity, but warned his foes their ‘absolutism’ must not thwart action on climate, immigration and gun control.

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Obama was publicly sworn in for another four White House years before a flag-waving crowd of hundreds of thousands, then delivered an inaugural address in which poetic power veiled clear signs of a liberal governing agenda.

“We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few,” Obama said, from the Stars and Stripes-draped West Front of the US Capitol building, the epicenter of America’s political divides.

The 44th president repeatedly used the “We the People” preamble to the US Constitution to suggest how to reconcile America’s founding truths and the current discord and dysfunction of its embittered political system.

“Decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay,” said Obama, flexing the freedom of a leader who no longer needs to face voters, and the urgency of a president who knows that second-term powers soon wane.

“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” Obama declared.

Though his speech was watched across the globe, Obama sketched over foreign policy, disdaining “perpetual war” and promising diplomatic engagement backed with military steel — though he did not dwell on specific crises like Iran.

“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”

While reaching for a soaring note of national unity, Obama’s address was laced with liberal ideology, and policy certain to enrage Republicans.

“Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune,” Obama said.

“Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.

While irking Republicans, Obama’s signs of intent on issues like gun control and climate change may also worry Democrats from conservative territory running in 2014 mid-term polls, who may hold the fate of his agenda in their hands.

In an apparent bid to frame his legacy, Obama said America must shield the weak, the poor and those lacking health care and demanded equality for all races and gay rights, and security from gun crime for children.

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Obama said.

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” he said, signaling a policy drive on a deeply contentious issue.

And in an oblique reference to his bid to end the scourge of gun violence, Obama said: “our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”

Obama also vowed the meet the threat of global warming, despite skepticism on climate change among some Republicans and daunting political and economic barriers to meaningful action.

Obama’s Republican foes welcomed his reach for unity but like the president, hinted at ideological divides.

“The president’s second term represents a fresh start when it comes to dealing with the great challenges of our day; particularly, the transcendent challenge of unsustainable federal spending and debt,” said Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.

Defeated Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan congratulated Obama saying, “we serve the same country, one that is still in need of repair.”

Earlier, the president raised his right hand and rested his left on Bibles once owned by Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln, below the gleaming white dome of the Capitol.

“I Barack Hussein Obama…” the 44th president said, vowing to faithfully execute his office and to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution,” led in the oath of office by black-robed Chief Justice John Roberts.

Speaking to AFP, Republican senator John McCain, who lost the White House race to Obama in 2008, damned the address with faint praise.

“I thought it was an excellent speech, delivery was obviously excellent,” McCain said. “I didn’t hear any conciliatory remarks associated with it.”

Obama, his smile flashing bright, appeared more relaxed than at his first inauguration four years ago, when he took office as an untested leader as an economic depression threatened.

After his speech, Obama dined on bison and lobster with VIP members of Congress before heading back to the White House on the inaugural parade route.

One Obama supporter, the Reverend Ruddie Mingo, 54 — who donated time and money to the president’s winning campaign against Republican Mitt Romney — admitted the festivities were less mobbed than four years ago.

“My hope is that his next four years we can get more stuff accomplished on both sides,” he said.

Obama took the oath for a first time Sunday in a private ceremony at the White House because the constitution states that US presidential terms end at noon on January 20.

Poignantly, Obama took his second, second term oath of office on the federal holiday marking civil rights pioneer King’s birthday.

Israel puts ‘temporary hold’ on Gaza ground operation

“A decision was taken that for the time being there is a temporary hold on the ground incursion to give diplomacy a chance to succeed,” he said after a late-night meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s key ministers, the Forum of Nine.

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“They discussed both the state of the diplomacy and the military operation,” he said on condition of anonymity.

As an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire plan took shape at indirect negotiations in Cairo between Israel and a Hamas team, a stream of top-level diplomats headed for the region to throw their weight behind efforts to end the violence which on Tuesday entered its seventh day.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who is currently in Cairo, is to meet Israeli President Shimon Peres and US officials said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would break away from an Asia visit to travel to Israel, Egypt and the West Bank.

Palestinian officials said she was expected to visit Ramallah on Wednesday morning for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

At the same time Israel is building up its ground forces along the Gaza border, ready to go in if required, the Israeli official told AFP.

“Preparations for the ground incursion continue,” he said.

“If we see that diplomacy does not bear fruit — and the time we’ve given to diplomacy is limited — all the preparations are being undertaken so that if and when the order is given the ground incursion can happen expeditiously.”

A statement from the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, said its Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee would meet during the day to rubber stamp a request by Defence Minister Ehud Barak to raise to 75,000 the number of army reservists he can call up, in a move already approved by the cabinet.

At least 16,000 reservists had been mobilised by the end of last week, out of 30,000 callups previously authorised.

The army would not give an updated number on Tuesday, saying only that reservists were constantly being drafted according to need.

Click the interactive map below to see more information about missile strikes in Gaza and Israel. This map is a guide only, and does not represent the hundreds of rocket attacks that have been reported in both Israel and Gaza in the last few days.

View Israel-Gaza conflict in a larger map

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