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By Michael Perry  

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australians began voting on Saturday in national elections to decide whether to end more than 11 years of conservative rule or give Prime Minister John Howard, who trails in opinion polls, a fifth term.

“Its in the hands of the people,” Howard said as he took his morning walk from his Sydney Harbor-side residence.

Howard, 68, again warned voters that if they elected a Labor government it would threaten Australia’s economic prosperity.”

The government to be chosen today will set the direction of the country for years into the future,” Howard said on YouTube Web site, in a pitch to young voters he has struggled to woo.

“So if you think the country is heading in the right direction don’t risk that right direction by changing the government,” he said.Howard, a staunch U.S. ally, has made a commitment to keep Australian troops in Iraq if re-elected. He has offered voters A$34 billion ($29 billion) in tax cuts, but few new policies.

In contrast, opposition Labor leader Kevin Rudd has pledged to withdraw combat troops from Iraq and sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, further isolating Washington on both.

The Mandarin-speaking former diplomat would also be expected to forge closer ties with China and other Asian nations.

An Australian commando died fighting the Taliban on Friday, the third soldier killed in recent months in Afghanistan.

Both Howard and Rudd want to keep troops in Afghanistan, but opinion polls show Australians opposed to operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and are losing faith in Howard’s tough security stance, which has won him previous elections.

Howard has been written off by opinion polls throughout the six-week campaign, with some predicting a landslide win for Rudd, after only 11 months as party leader.

But a Newspoll on Saturday had Labor only slightly in front.Howard risks becoming the first prime minister to lose his own seat in an election for 78 years.

Boundary changes have turned his blue-ribbon Sydney electorate, which he has held since entering parliament in 1974, into a marginal seat.”LAZARUS”Many voters of Asian origin see Howard as anti-immigration, due to his tough stance against boat people. An anti-Muslim leaflet distributed by his party in the closing days of the campaign may reinforce their belief.

Labor needs to win an extra 16 seats to take office and both Howard and Rudd say the election will be very close, possibly decided in a handful of marginal seats.Howard once described himself as “Lazarus with a triple bypass” for his ability to be resurrected from political defeat.

Even if he wins it will be his last hurrah, as he has promised to step down mid-term for his treasurer, Peter Costello.Rudd, 50, is offering voters a generational change, saying Howard is too old and tired to lead Australia.“I offer Australia new leadership for the future, a positive plan for the future because Mr Howard’s government’s best days now lay behind it,” Rudd said on Friday. “Mr Howard has gone stale in his government’s approach to the future.”

Howard has attacked Rudd’s lack of experience, insisting that a Labor government dominated by former trade unionists would wreck an economy which has recorded 17 years of growth and record unemployment.

He says that under his tenure, dominated by security and the economy, Australia has become more secure and stable.Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, Australia has been on medium security alert.

Australia’s military in 2006 was at its highest operational level since the Vietnam War, with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

© Reuters2007All rights reserved   

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LUSAKA: Zambia has acknowledged that India’s assistance to Zambia has gone a long way in supplementing its development agenda.Finance and National Planning Deputy Minister Jonas Shakufuswa commended India for its continued technical and economic assistance.

The close historic interaction between the two countries has paved way for the establishment of diplomatic relations since Zambia’s independence in 1964, Shakufuswa said during the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation day (ITEC) in Lusaka last evening.

He noted that Indian investment is further contributing to Government’s economic recovery programme. Shakafuswa expressed hope that Zambian and Indian companies will continue to exploit the abundant resources in the country to explore new areas of cooperation.

The minister observed that cooperation between the two countries is a testimony of the commitment of both the governments towards promotion of south to south cooperation.

Speaking on the occasion, Indian High Commissioner to Zambia, River Wallang said ITEC is a vehicle which India utilises to channel its aid to Africa and other developing countries.

Wallang explained that the ITEC programme is based on India’s own experience in development. He disclosed that his country will this year alone provide about 4000 scholarships under ITEC in the civilian sector from which Zambia will have 60 places.

Wallang added that Indian government is currently working with the ministry of science and technology to set up two public computer learning kiosks to enhance computer learning skills among Zambians.

Source: Economic Times

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one-zambia-one-nation.jpgmedium_flag_of_zambia1.gifThe Zambian Enterprise has now officially entered the donor community for the first time in history.

Zambia has donated over 10,000 metric tones of white corn worth $2.5 million dollars to the U.N World Food Program (WFP) to feed orphans and people living with AIDS, WFP country manager for Zambia, David Stevenson disclosed.

“It is the first time Zambia has done so (donating food) and it’s a tremendous gesture in many ways that shows we are collaborating well with Zambia in meeting the needs of hungry people,” Stevenson said.

He added assessments were underway in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland on food requirements, and part of the Zambian donation could go to help feed hungry people elsewhere in Africa. 

This donation will also boost local food markets because the government buys its maize from small-scale farmers. So far in 2007, WFP has bought 34,000 tons of food in Zambia valued at US$7.3 million. Over the past six years, WFP purchased 295,000 tons at a cost of US$63 million in Zambia. 

In another development, Josette Sheeran, WFP Executive Director welcomed a critically needed donation worth in excess of US$20 million by the Republic of Korea (South Korea) to WFP’s food assistance to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), where a lack of funds has already forced the agency to cut back feeding programs for schools and for at-risk infants and small children.  

WFP warned that many millions of North Koreans still face severe food shortages. Even with WFP now being able to reach 1.9 million people, there are still millions of vulnerable North Koreans who are going without food assistance to cover their nutritional needs. 

The Zambian Enterprise may want to find news means and ways to help the North Koreans now that a communiqué is in place, international co-operation is necessary especially if we are the ones on the giving side this time around as in this instance … thanks a trillion.

Brainwave R Mumba, Sr. 

CEO & President – Zambian Chronicle 

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