AUSTRALIA – Brisbane residents join military in cleanup effort

Brisbane | A volunteer army was wading through stinking mud and drenched homes Saturday in a massive cleanup operation as floodwaters receded in Australia’s third-largest city.

Thousands of residents joined 600 military personnel in what was dubbed “Salvation Saturday” to shovel up the muck and clean houses and businesses inundated by the Brisbane River earlier this week, another casualty of weeks of flooding across the state of Queensland.

“Everybody rolls up their sleeves in this town,” said Brisbane Mayor Campbell Newman, but cautioned that the complete cleanup of the city would take months, and reconstruction could take up to two years.

Weeks of relentless rains and flooding across Australia’s northeast have left 26 people dead. An additional 20 people are still missing.

CHINA – New trial for farmer who evaded highway tolls

Beijing | A Chinese court announced Friday it will retry a farmer sentenced to life in prison for evading highway tolls after a massive public outcry over his heavy punishment.

The court in central Henan province had sentenced Shi Jianfeng to life imprisonment for fraud for avoiding highway tolls that added up to more than $560,000, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. He was also fined $302,000.

Shi mounted fake military license plates on his two trucks so they could avoid paying tolls more than 2,300 times between May 2008 and January 2009 when he ran a business transporting gravel. Military vehicles don’t have to pay highway tolls.

IRAN – Envoys tour Iran’s nukes, but major powers absent

Tehran | Several international envoys – but crucially none from the world powers – got a look inside an Iranian nuclear site Saturday as part of a tour the Islamic Republic hopes will build support before a new round of talks on its disputed atomic activities.

Iran is trying to sell the tour as a gesture of transparency ahead of the Jan. 20-22 talks in Istanbul, Turkey. In a blow to the effort, however, major powers Russia, China and the European Union refused the Iranian invitation. The EU said it should be up to inspectors from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency to verify whether Iran’s program is entirely peaceful.

Iran’s offer pointedly did not include the U.S., one of its biggest critics internationally, nor three other Western nations that have been critical of the Iranian program – Britain, France and Germany.

Ambassadors to the U.N. atomic energy agency from Egypt, Cuba, Syria, Algeria, Venezuela, Oman and the Arab League arrived in Tehran early Saturday and visited the unfinished heavy water reactor near Arak in central Iran, state TV reported.

SRI LANKA – U.N. to lead appeal for flood aid in Sri Lanka

Karaithivu | The U.N. said it will appeal for emergency flood aid for Sri Lanka, where 38 people have died, hundreds of thousands are homeless and vast rice fields ready to be harvested are now under water.

The flooding has disrupted the livelihoods of many in the eastern region hardest hit after the heavy rains. The U.N. will issue an appeal in the coming days for money to help replant the fields and repay people affected, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Neil Buhne said in a statement late Friday.

U.S. Ambassador Patricia A. Butenis said Saturday that America is providing Sri Lanka with $300,000 in flood assistance. The U.S has given boats to evacuate those marooned and donated bottled water, cooking materials and tarps, the embassy said.

VENEZUELA – Venezuelan station halts Colombian TV soap opera

Caracas | A Venezuelan television station has stopped airing a Colombian soap opera after government regulators demanded its removal calling it offensive.

The soap opera “Chepe Fortuna” features an unscrupulous secretary named “Venezuela” who has a dog called “Little Hugo,” an apparent reference to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Venezuela’s telecommunications regulatory agency Conatel said in a statement that the character Venezuela, in contrast to her sister named Colombia, “is repeatedly characterized as associated with illegal activities, meddling and vulgarity.”

The private TV channel Televen did not air the program on Friday. The station didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at: on Saturday, Jan. 15 and Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011.)


1. For each of the 5 countries, give the following information:
a) the continent on which it is located
b) the name of the capital city
c) the type of government
d) the chief of state (and head of government if different)
e) the population

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country: type of government, capital and executive branch (chief of state/head of government) can be found under the “Government” heading; population is listed under the “People” heading.  Go to for a list of continents.]

2. For Australia:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Think about natural disasters you have read about around the world. How does the level of participation in the cleanup efforts by the flood victims and their fellow citizens compare to other countries? Why do you think all Australians appear to be taking part in this effort? Explain your answer?

3. For China:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What was the total amount of highway tolls Shi Jianfeng evaded – how was he able to avoid paying the tolls?
c) What do you think of his initial punishment of life in prison?

4. For Iran:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Which world powers declined an invitation from Iran for the tour? Why did they decline?
c) Which world powers were purposely excluded by the Iranian government?
d) Ask a parent what he/she thinks of this situation, and whether he/she approves or disapproves the way the U.S. is handling the situation.

5. For Sri Lanka:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What immediate emergency aid has the U.S. given to Sri Lanka?

6. For Venezuela:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Why did regulators say the show was offensive?
c) Why shouldn’t the Venezuelan government have the authority to ban a show mocking the president/government? Explain your answer.



  • Iran’s 20 year secret nuclear program was discovered in 2002. Iran says its program is for fuel purposes only, but it has been working on uranium enrichment which is used to make nuclear bombs.
  • Under the United Nations’ NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) countries are not allowed to make nuclear weapons (except for the 5 that had nuclear weapons prior to the treaty – the U.S., Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom).
  • Safeguards are used to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
  • The IAEA issued a report on Sept. 15, 2008 that said Iran has repeatedly blocked an investigation into its nuclear program and the probe is now deadlocked.
  • The U.N. Security Council has already imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear defiance. Despite the sanctions, Iran has refused to end its nuclear program.
  • A group of U.S. and Russian scientists said in a report issued in May 2009 that Iran could produce a simple nuclear device in one to three years and a nuclear warhead in another five years after that. The study, published by the nonpartisan EastWest Institute, also said Iran is making advances in rocket technology and could develop a ballistic missile capable of firing a 2,200-pound nuclear warhead up to 1,200 miles “in perhaps six to eight years.”
  • The Iranian government has called for the destruction of Israel on numerous occasions. It is believed that once obtained, Iranian President Ahmadinejad would use nuclear weapons against Israel.

VENEZUELA: (from the U.S. State Department website at

  • In January 2007, President Chávez announced a renewed effort to implement his vision of “21st Century Socialism” in Venezuela.
  • He asked the National Assembly to grant him special constitutional powers via an “enabling law” to rule by decree with respect to a broad range of issues.
  • The all-“chavista” Assembly granted those powers, for a period of 18 months.
  • Chavez used that authority to take major steps to nationalize the telecommunications and electricity sectors, as well as to finalize a majority government share in many oil projects, all sectors with significant foreign investments.
  • In the first months of 2009, the Chavez administration passed a series of new laws, including laws to centralize control over ports, roads, and airport; nationalize major industries; and strip the opposition mayor of Greater Caracas of authority and resources.  

SRI LANKA: (from the U.S. State Department website at and the CIA World FactBook website at

  • Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean, south of India.
  • Sri Lanka (formerly know as Ceylon) became a British colony in 1802, and was united under British rule by 1815.
  • As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; its name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972.
  • Sri Lanka is a lower-middle income developing nation with a gross domestic product of about $41 billion (official exchange rate). This translates into a per capita income of $4,500 (purchasing power parity).
  • Sri Lanka’s 91% literacy rate in local languages and life expectancy of 75 years rank well above those of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. English language ability is relatively high, but has declined significantly since the 1970s.
  • Sri Lanka’s income inequality is severe, with striking differences between rural and urban areas. About 15% of the country’s population of 21.3 million remains impoverished.
  • The effects of 26 years of civil conflict, falling agricultural labor productivity, lack of income-earning opportunities for the rural population, high inflation, and poor infrastructure outside the Western Province are impediments to poverty reduction.


AUSTRALIA:  Read a detailed news article about the volunteers helping in the flood cleanup at

Watch a news video of the flood aftermath:

and a news video of the volunteers:

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