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China rebukes US over jet sales to Taiwan

The United States has announced a $US5.

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85 billion ($A5.71 billion) upgrade of Taiwan’s F-16 fighter jets, leading to a swift rebuke by China even though the deal stopped short of selling new planes.

Taiwanese and US officials insisted that the upgrade would improve the island’s defences as it faces a rising China, which has ramped up military spending and has widened its strategic edge over the self-governing territory.

“After the upgrade, the air force’s combat capability will be advanced hugely,” Taiwan’s defence minister Kao Hua-chu told a hastily called media conference in Taipei on Wednesday.

China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and has repeatedly warned the United States not to sell weapons, summoned the new US ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, and warned of repercussions.

“The wrongdoing by the US side will inevitably undermine bilateral relations as well as exchanges and cooperation in military and security areas,” China’s vice foreign minister Zhang Zhijun said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Zhang Yesui, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, also lodged a strong protest in Washington, Xinhua said.

The Pentagon formally notified the US Congress of the package for Taiwan on Wednesday, ending prolonged speculation over the extent to which Washington would help modernise the island’s air force.

TAIPEI’S REQUEST

Taipei applied in 2007 to buy 66 F-16 C/D fighters, which have better radar and more powerful weapons systems than its F-16 A/Bs, in response to China’s growing military muscle.

The US offer to upgrade Taiwan’s existing fleet of 146 US-made F-16 A/Bs falls short of that ambition and is seen by some observers on the island as a “consolation prize”.

US politicians across party lines had pressed President Barack Obama’s administration to sell new jets, saying that the move would both protect Taiwan and create badly needed jobs in the United States.

Republican Senator John Cornyn accused the Democratic administration of kowtowing to China and failing to meet obligations under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which requires Washington to ensure Taiwan’s self-defence.

The arms decision “bestows upon Communist China a newfound sway over American national security, and this capitulation should be met with concern by US allies everywhere”, Cornyn said.

“Taiwan must have the tools to defend itself against potential Chinese aggression,” he said.

Cornyn has introduced legislation that would force the sale of 66 new F-16s. The senator represents Texas, which would be expected to benefit economically from arms production for Taiwan.

However, both the Pentagon and Taiwan’s defence ministry said that the upgrade, which would take 12 years to complete, would give the island’s F-16 A/Bs a significant boost.

The jets will be equipped with radar capable of detecting Chinese stealth aeroplanes and may also be armed with precision munition, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry.

The Pentagon said that the retrofit of the aircraft, to be led by weapons giant Lockheed Martin, “will greatly enhance the recipient’s ability to defend its borders”.

“This proposed sale serves US national, economic and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernise its armed forces and enhance its defensive capability,” the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement.

The Pentagon agency also said that Taiwanese pilots would travel to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona for training in “disaster relief missions, non-combatant evacuation operations and other contingency situations”.

Sanctions applied to Egyptian terror group

The federal government has imposed strict sanctions on Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, a militant group behind a string of deadly attacks in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

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The group also has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Wednesday announced targeted financial sanctions would be applied to Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis (Supporters of the Holy House), under a United Nations resolution aimed at preventing and suppressing terrorist acts.

The listing of ABM, which earlier in February released a graphic beheading video, makes it a serious criminal offence to use or deal with the group’s assets, or to make assets of any kind available either directly or indirectly.

The offence is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and attracts substantial fines.

An Egyptian court ruled in April last year that ABM was a terrorist organisation. The group declared its allegiance to Islamic State in November last year.

ABM released a video on February 10 showing the beheading of eight men from North Sinai tribes, allegedly for collaborating with Egyptian armed forces and Israeli Mossad.

The video shows eight men being decapitated by militants wearing military uniforms and disguised by black scarves around their heads, which analysts have said represented a warning to tribes in North Sinai not to collaborate with the Egyptian security forces.

Anyone who believed they held an asset that may be owned or controlled by a listed person or entity must immediately notify DFAT at [email protected]广西桑拿网, and the Australian Federal Police, Ms Bishop said.

NTC troops probe Gaddafi hometown

Desperate residents fled Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown Sirte on Friday as fighters of Libya’s interim government probed the city’s eastern outskirts in anticipation of a final assault on one of the fallen leader’s two remaining bastions.

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A commander of National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters near Sirte said pro-Gaddafi forces were targeting residents even as they fled, with a fighter killed and a packed family car destroyed when their convoy washit.

NATO said it was nearing the “final phase” of its air war in Libya, a day after warplanes struck just one target in an intense bombing campaign that has lasted six months.

And a commander of the new regime said a captured general loyal to Gaddafi had said the fugitive Libyan leader was secretly moving around in the southern desert.

One month to the day since Gaddafi’s compound fell to rebels in Tripoli, the campaign to take Sirte and the ex-Libyan leader’s other principal remaining bastion of Bani Walid was on hold for another day.

But commanders and fighters said they had probed the city’s eastern outskirts without resistance.

“Our fighters are in control of the eastern gate of Sirte,” commander Ahmed Zlitni from the operations centre told AFP.

“They are two kilometres ahead of the gate and holding positions there. Technically we can say that we entered Sirte from the east,” Zlitni said, adding that the fighters “did not face any resistance” when they crossed.

“Three to four brigades have entered through the eastern gate,” confirmed commander Mohammed al-Marimi.

Asked why NTC fighters were delaying a final assault on Sirte, commander Osama Muttawa Swehly told AFP: “We’re trying to get the families out.

“We are averaging between 400 to 500 cars a day. We are basically trying to starve (the Gaddafi forces) out.”

He said one escape convoy had come under fire from anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.

“One fighter was killed and one family car was destroyed,” he said, with an unknown number of occupants also presumably killed.

“We are giving the families every chance to get out. Once that stream turns into a trickle then stops, then it will be time to act,” he added.

Meanwhile, NTC officials announced fresh talks on Saturday on forming an interim government after a previous round failed last weekend.

One official insisted the meeting would be “decisive” and that there would be “agreement on the new government lineup”.

When rebel fighters stormed and captured Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya headquarters on August 23, they found no trace of the strongman, who has since made several broadcasts claiming he is still in Libya.

While the country’s new authorities do not know where he is, they are focused on taking Sirte and Bani Walid, two places where some think he might be.

But reports also emerged that he may be in the south.

“General Belgasem al-Abaaj, who we captured on Monday, said that Gaddafi had contacted him by phone about 10 days ago, and that he was moving secretly between (the oases towns of) Sabha and Ghat,” an NTC commander, Mohammed Barka Wardugu, told AFP.

Abaaj had said that Gaddafi “is helped by Nigerian and Chadian mercenaries who know the desert routes”, added Wardugu, spokesman for the Desert Shield Brigade.

Earlier this week, NTC forces announced they had captured Sabha, southern Libya’s largest city, but the situation in Ghat, a remote town close to the Algerian border, remains unclear.

In recent days, new regime forces have also claimed full control over all three main towns of the Al-Jufra oasis, north of Sabha, leaving Gaddafi loyalists in Sirte and Bani Walid effectively cut off from any line of escape to the south.

While a full-scale assault on Bani Walid was on hold Friday, an AFP correspondent with NTC fighters a few kilometres outside the town said clashes had erupted there early in the day.

In other developments, the UN atomic agency confirmed the existence of raw uranium in Libya after US news channel CNN reported that new regime forces had found potentially radioactive material.

International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor said the uranium, stored by the Gaddafi regime, had been declared to the agency and that it hoped to examine the material “once the situation in the country stabilises”.

French oil giant Total meanwhile announced it would restart production from an offshore oil platform off Libya within days, making it the first major to return to work since the fall of Gaddafi.

Pattinson fires Vics on Shield return

Inspired bowling from Australia Test paceman James Pattinson and leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed helped Victoria rip through the in-form Queensland batting line-up, breathing some life back into the Bushrangers’ Sheffield Shield campaign.

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Queensland limped to 9-206, compiling barely two runs an over on day one of the first Sheffield Shield match to be played in Alice Springs.

Recently-capped Test batsman Joe Burns played a lone hand for Queensland, top-scoring with 86 before Pattinson had him caught behind amid a last-session slump by the Bulls.

It was a strong return to form for the Vics who have suffered two hefty defeats since the mid-season break, including a three-day loss against NSW last week.

Pattinson, who has played just one other first-class match in the past 12 months as he continues to rehabilitate following a serious back injury, looked strong throughout his 17 overs collecting 3-34.

At the other end Pakistan-born leg-spinner Ahmed was equally impressive nabbing 4-49 off 26 overs to move top of the Shield wicket-takers list for the season.

“We have been down for the past two games, so it is a good effort in this hot weather, especially from Jimmy (Pattinson) and the fast bowlers,” said Ahmed.

“It was a good effort from everyone bowling at the other end, and I was really relaxed because of that.

“The wicket reminded me of playing back home in Pakistan with no grass and hot weather. The wicket was slow which was hard for the batters but for us bowlers as well. It will be a good test for our batsmen.”

Opener Charlie Hemphrey made 31 while middle-order batsman Michael Philipson hit 39 but the latter’s dismissal kick-started a collapse which saw the Bulls lose 5-32.

Burns said the wicket was extremely slow and will offer an opportunity for the Queensland bowlers to achieve similar success.

Aussie dollar falls below parity

The Australian dollar briefly fell below parity with the greenback on Thursday afternoon, on concerns that the US Federal Reserve was not doing enough to stimulate America’s ailing economy.

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At 1236 AEST, the local unit reached 99.92 US cents, the lowest since August 9 and down from 102.81 US cents at the end of Wednesday’s local session.

It fell heavily in offshore trade on Wednesday night after the US Federal Reserve announced new measures to support the American economy.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy setting arm, kept its key interest rate target at an ultra-low zero to 0.25 per cent overnight, saying economic growth “remains slow”.

In a revival of the Fed’s 1961 “Operation Twist” bond-buying program, the central bank said it would sell short-term bonds and purchase, by the end of next June, $US400 billion of Treasury securities with six- to 10-year maturities.

RBC senior economist Su-Lin Ong said traders were sceptical as to whether the Fed’s plan would be enough to generate growth.

“This isn’t technically (another round of) quantitative easing because there is really no change to the money supply,” Ms Ong said.

Meanwhile, Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) assistant governor Philip Lowe comments on household saving and spending levels, in a speech in Sydney on Thursday morning, revealed little new information, leaving the Australian dollar largely unchanged, Ms Ong said.

“The underlying message from the RBA is that consumption probably does look a bit better than the popular perception, but that’s been noted a number of times.”

At 1200 AEST the Australian dollar was trading at 100.69 US cents and has traded as high as 100.76 US cents since 0700 AEST.

Meanwhile, Australian bonds were firmer at noon.

At 1200 AEST on Thursday, the December 10-year bond futures contract was trading at 95.870 (implying a yield of 4.130 per cent), up from Wednesday’s close of 95.775 (4.225 per cent).

By 1308 AEST, the contract reached 95.910 (4.090), which was its highest level in two-and-a-half years.

The December three-year bond futures contract was at 96.460 (3.540 per cent), up from 96.370 (3.630 per cent).