Buddhist attacks leave at least four dead in Sri Lanka

More deadly violence has flared in a Sri Lankan coastal resort where Buddhist hardliners set shops and homes alight for a second night running in defiance of a curfew, police and residents say.

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Amid mounting international concern over the unrest, residents of a town which has borne the brunt said a security guard was killed in an attack outside a Muslim-owned farm, raising the overall toll to four.

“More than a dozen houses and shops have been burnt overnight,” a police source said from the mainly Muslim town of Alutgama after another night of mob violence by followers of the extremist Buddhist Force.

Hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to help police put a lid on the violence.

Although the unrest on Monday was not as widespread as the previous night, it came despite the announcement of an indefinite curfew.

Residents said that several vehicles had also been set alight in Alutgama although there were no reports of fresh violence in the neighbouring town of Beruwala where property was also set on fire on Sunday.

Police said that the curfew would remain in force although residents would be given a four-hour window to stock up on provisions till noon.

The authorities say nearly 80 people have so far been seriously injured in clashes while many more have suffered minor injuries.

Dozens of homes, shops and mosques have been partially or completely destroyed.

The most senior Muslim member of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government threatened on Monday to resign at the decision to allow militant Buddhists to rally in the flashpoint region on Sunday.

The fighting erupted after a prominent Buddhist monk threatened to obliterate the predominantly Muslim towns in the majority Buddhist nation.

The UN human rights chief Navi Pillay expressed concern that the riots could spread to other areas and demanded that Colombo immediately bring the perpetrators of Sunday’s attacks to justice.

“The government must urgently do everything it can to arrest this violence, curb the incitement and hate speech which is driving it, and protect all religious minorities,” Pillay said in a statement.

The United States, which has led international condemnation of Sri Lanka’s human rights record, had also urged Colombo to end the violence.

Sri Lanka hold out for draw with England

Sri Lanka tail-ender Nuwan Pradeep survived the final five balls of the match as the tourists clung on for a thrilling draw with England in the first Test at Lord’s.

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England, in their first Test since their 5-0 Ashes drubbing in Australia and with a new-look team including three debutants, thought they’d won when Stuart Broad had Pradeep given out lbw off the penultimate ball of the match.

But Pradeep reviewed Australian umpire Paul Reiffel’s decision and, with technology showing an inside edge, he was reprieved.

Sri Lanka, set 390 to win after England captain Alastair Cook declared before the start of Monday’s play, finished on 201 for nine.

The match was meandering towards a draw until England spearhead James Anderson struck either side of tea on the way to a remarkable return of four wickets for 25 runs in 19 overs, but it wasn’t quite enough to secure a stunning win.

Instead the result left the teams all-square ahead of Friday’s second and final Test of the series at Headingley.

“I can’t praise the lads enough,” said England captain Alastair Cook at the presentation ceremony.

“That was a flat wicket … we gave ourselves a chance and to come up short is frustrating.”

Cook declared on England’s overnight 267 for eight, which owed much to Gary Ballance’s 104 not out – the Zimbabwe-born batsman’s maiden Test century in only his second match at this level.

That left Sri Lanka needing to break the Lord’s record for a winning fourth-innings total in a Test of 344 for one, requiring 342, set by the West Indies against England in 1984, for victory.

It was a target they never looked like approaching in Monday’s final 90 overs.

But Cook said England’s slump to 121 for six on Sunday had delayed his declaration.

“When you’re setting up the game, we were trying to play positively and gave wickets away.

“Those four or five wickets yesterday (Sunday) cost us having half an hour at them last night.”

England’s Joe Root was named man-of-the-match in his comeback Test for a first-innings 200 not out – his maiden Test double century.

Starbucks offers employees university aid

The global chain of coffee shops said its full- and part-time US-based employees will be eligible for aid to complete a bachelor’s degree with Arizona State University (ASU), one of the country’s most active in providing on-line college degrees.

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Nearly 70 percent of Starbucks US employees are college students or young people who want to go to college.

   

It said that nearly half of Americans who begin college these days will not finish, largely because of high costs and difficulties in juggling jobs with the rest of their lives.

   

“Supporting our partners’ ambitions is the very best investment Starbucks can make,” the company said on its website.

   

The cost of higher education is a red-hot topic today in America.

   

Universities have become so expensive — tens of thousands of dollars per year is a common figure even at non-elite schools — that students take out loans to get degrees and are saddled with huge debts they carry with them for years.

   

And economists warn these debts hinder the economy by preventing these young people from doing economy-stimulating things like starting families and buying big-ticket items like houses and cars.

   

Employees who join the program in their third or fourth year as per ASU’s admission requirements will earn full tuition reimbursement for each year of coursework they complete toward an undergraduate degree, Starbucks said.

   

First and second year students will receive a partial scholarship and need-based financial aid toward “the foundational work of completing their degree. Partners will have no commitment to remain at Starbucks past graduation,” the company added.

Schumacher moved to Swiss hospital

Formula One champion Michael Schumacher has been transferred from a French hospital to a facility in Switzerland after emerging from a coma following his devastating ski accident in December.

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In a surprise announcement, the retired German racing star’s spokeswoman Sabine Kehm said he had left hospital in the French Alpine city of Grenoble, where he had been treated since December 29 when he slammed his head on a rock while skiing with his son and friends.

The 45-year-old was transferred to a hospital in the Swiss city of Lausanne where he will be undergoing further treatment, hospital spokesman Darcy Christen told AFP.

Stressing the hospital’s commitment to privacy, Christen said Schumacher’s family was with him “in a space created especially to ensure their intimacy and to ensure the best possible care”.

The Lausanne hospital has renowned neurology experts and Schumacher, his wife Corinna and two children live nearby in the small town of Gland.

In a statement, the seven-time world champion’s spokeswoman Kehm said his family wanted to “thank all his treating doctors, nurses and therapists in Grenoble as well as the first aiders at the place of the accident, who did an excellent job in those first months.”

“For the future we ask for understanding that his further rehabilitation will take place away from the public eye,” she said.

She gave no further details about Schumacher’s condition, which has been kept under a tight lid since his accident.

The racing star underwent two operations to remove life-threatening blood clots after the accident, before being plunged into a medically induced coma.

News of his transfer to Lausanne was welcomed by Schumacher’s close friend Lukas Podolski, the German footballer who is currently in Brazil for the World Cup.

“What a great news. Get well soon Schumi. I’m so glad and happy when I just heard it!!” he tweeted.

Known as the Red Baron in reference to an ace World War I German fighter pilot, Schumacher has won an unprecedented 91 races, and seven world titles including five in a row with Ferrari from 2000 to 2004.

Great whites plentiful off US west coast

Great white sharks are likely rising in numbers off the coast of California and are not at risk of extinction despite some reports to the contrary, US researchers say.

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The findings are good news for the ocean predator, suggesting that around 2000 of them are swimming about in the Eastern North Pacific, not 219 as research released three years ago had indicated.

“If something is wrong with the largest, most powerful group in the sea, then something is wrong with the sea, so it’s a relief to find they’re in good shape,” said George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research.

“That we found these sharks are doing OK, better than OK, is a real positive in light of the fact that other shark populations are not necessarily doing as well,” said Burgess, a co-founder of the Shark Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

The earlier count was based on research at two sites – the Farallon Islands west of San Francisco, and nearby Tomales Point – where seals congregate and so do the sharks that eat them.

By accounting for all life stages of sharks there, researchers found that their numbers were more likely around 2000, not 200.

Since sharks are difficult to count, and populations were so fluid at those two sites, researchers also widened their research scope to include other known gathering spots from Mexico into British Columbia and Alaska.

The US National Marine Fisheries Service has declined petitions to add white sharks to the endangered species list, estimating the Eastern North Pacific population at about 3000 sharks.

Shell to sell most of Woodside stake

Australia’s largest oil and gas company Woodside Petroleum will spend nearly $3 billion to get Royal Dutch Shell off its share register.

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Woodside’s largest shareholder, petroleum giant Shell announced plans on Tuesday to sell 19 per cent of its $6.3 billion stake.

The desire to split is mutual, with Woodside keen to remove the overhang that has capped its share price for years and Shell in the middle of a $15 billion global asset sale, including Australian refineries and service stations.

Former treasurer Peter Costello blocked Shell’s attempted $10 billion takeover of Woodside in 2001 on national interest grounds – one of only two such rejections in Australian history.

Woodside will buy back 78.3 million of its shares – or 9.5 per cent of the company – from Shell for $US2.68 billion ($A2.90 billion) or $A36.49 a share, if shareholders back the deal.

Another 78.3 million shares will be sold to institutional investors at $A41.35 per share.

Shell will be left with a 4.5 per cent stake.

Its chief executive Ben van Beurden said it would net $US5 billion ($A5.41 billion) from the deal.

Woodside, which operates six of Australia’s seven LNG processing plants predominantly in WA, described it as a new chapter.

It was a natural transition in the evolution of the company, Woodside chief executive Peter Coleman told an investor briefing.

“It is the first time in many, many years we have not had a substantial shareholder on the register,” he said.

“We now look very much like most of our peers in the marketplace.

“I think that it is a really good thing, the market will be able to fully value us, we will get full value on our ASX listing with respect to our weighting on the index as well.”

Shell had increasingly flagged its desire to sell over the years, reducing the incentive for other institutional investors to buy in until that happened, Royal Bank of Canada analyst Andrew Williams said.

“Who knows if the stock may have been at current share price levels earlier if that overhang had been removed,” he told AAP.

Shell reduced its stake by 10 per cent for $A42.23 a share in 2010, well above Tuesday’s sale prices.

Woodside’s shares are in a halt and last traded at $42.85.

Woodside will cancel the 9.5 stake it is buying back, delivering real value to shareholders through enhanced earnings per share, cash flow and dividends, Mr Coleman said.

It can afford to do that, he said, through existing cash and debt, low gearing and last month’s collapse of its planned $US2.6 billion ($A2.81 billion) share in the Israeli Leviathan gas project, freeing up capital.

Woodside could now be vulnerable to a takeover, although Mr Coleman said that was not part of the company’s plans.

Mr Williams said the market remained concerned about Woodside’s growth prospects, given the uncertainty around what new proposed projects would emerge to replace their North West Shelf and Pluto projects that would eventually decline.