Thursday, January 13, 2011

14-year-old boy acclaimed for 'awe-inspiring' speech in defence of gay rights teacher

Graeme Taylor pleaded with the board of Howell High School in New Jersey, US, to overturn Jay McDowell’s suspension and said his actions had been “amazing”.

Mr McDowell disciplined two boys for saying homosexuality was “against their religion” on October 20.

He was suspended from his job after pupils claimed he became irate, slammed doors and shouted at the two boys. Mr McDowell is also accused of provoking the incident by asking the first student if he accepted homosexuals.

But Graeme asked school board officials to reinstate Mr McDowell, whom he said had stood up against the sort of prejudice that had driven him to make a suicide attempt at the age of nine.

He warned of a “silent holocaust” against homosexuals, around six million of whom commit suicide every year around the world.

“I myself am gay and I’m a young person, and that causes a lot of trouble,” he said.

“And when I hear things like Dr King’s speech in which he says he hopes his grandchildren will be judged not on the colour of their skin but the content of their character; I hope that one day we too can be judged on the content of our character.”

The 14-year-old added: “[Mr McDowell] did an amazing thing. He said something that inspired a lot of people, and whenever I have a teacher who stands up for me like that they change in my eyes.”

Graeme’s speech, described as “incredibly articulate and inspiring” by the influential Gawker blog, made headlines in the US and the teenager was interviewed with Mr McDowell on the MSNBC channel. The showbusiness blogger Perez Hilton said the speech had "brought tears to my eyes".

The incident, and the surrounding media attention, prompted the school district to hold a meeting Monday night to discuss ways it can promote diversity and respect for the opinions of all students and teachers.

Graeme will appear as a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres show on Monday, along with the singer and actor Justin Timberlake.

An advert on the show’s website says: "Last week, an incredible 14-year-old named Graeme Taylor gave an inspirational speech defending his teacher for stopping gay bullying. Today he's here to tell Ellen what motivated him to do it."

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Argentinian toddler rescued from abandoned well

Rescue workers and firefighters spent over six hours trying to rescue Vanessa Mamani from an abandoned irrigation well in Buenos Aires.

The toddler was taken to a hospital in Florencio Varela where the director Arnaldo Medina said she was suffering "from a state of shock" but "was doing fine."

Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner called the rescue operation, which was broadcast live on national television, "a miracle."

After visiting the toddler in hospital, Kirchner added, "She got out and screamed as if she had just been born."

Rescuers monitored Vanessa's health by lowering fibre optic cameras down the well, realising that the space was too small for someone to go down and fetch her, they sent the toddler a harness that she had to put on herself.

Six and a half hours after the rescue operation had started and with temperatures rapidly decreasing as midnight approached, Vanessa emerged from the well to a scene of cheering and jubilation.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beaujolais region wants to change image

In what has become a global wine ritual, just after midnight on the third Thursday of November, corks began popping around the world, starting in Japan, celebrating this year's newly harvested Beaujolais.

Made from the Gamay Noir grape, the light tipple with a hint of banana, best served slightly chilled, has become a global marketing phenomenon and is one of the few wines allowed under French law to be sold during its year of harvest.

But overproduction, variable quality and the arrival of other 'primeurs' – "new vintages" – have led to sales halving in the past five years to around 36 million bottles in 2010. Meanwhile, discerning drinkers often dismiss the drink as little better than glorified grape juice.

"We have damaged our image a little bit too much by focusing on the Nouveau," admitted Dominique Capart, president of l'Interbeaujolais, the region's wine board.

"We have to stop people saying when a bottle of Beaujolais is put on the table: 'Oh no thank you, I prefer something else' because they don't know what's inside," he told the Daily Telegraph.

To counter this, the region is now pumping 75 per cent of its marketing funds into promoting its 'vins de garde' – wines that can be kept for years, such as Fleurie, Saint-Amour or Juliénas.

"A wine like Moulin à Vent can rival any top Burgundy but the problem is many people are unaware our top wines from Beaujolais," said Mr Capart.

That said, the region is keen not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs – Beaujolais Nouveau still accounts for a third of its sales and year's vintage was hailed one of the best on record.

Critics describe this year's Nouveau as supple, lively and with strong hints of red fruit.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'Bomb' found on Germany-bound plane in Namibia, police say

Namibian police intercepted a suspicious object with a detonator and a running clock in the luggage on an Air Berlin plane from Windhoek to Munich.

Authorities in Namibia were investigating whether the device found during the loading of the Airbus jet on Wednesday could have exploded.

"A subsequent X-ray (of the luggage) revealed batteries that were attached with wires to a detonator and a ticking clock," the German authorities said in a statement.

"Only the ongoing forensic investigation will show whether this was a live explosive."

The suspicious package was discovered hours after German authorities stepped up security measures after saying they had received intelligence pointing to a planned attack in the country towards the end of this month.

Thomas De Maiziere, the interior minister, said that a foreign tip-off had indicated an al-Qaeda cell was planning an attack on Germany. He said the country was being actively targeted by extremist groups as a result of its involvement in Afghanistan.

"There is reason for concern, but no reason for hysteria," he said at a hastily convened press conference.

Karl Peter Bruch, the interior minister of the south-western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, on Wednesday said there were "concrete indications" of attacks being planned in major cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.

And on Thursday Konrad Freiberg, the head of Germany's police union, warned the nation of "security deficits", saying that Germany was not prepared for a terrorist attack.

"We have missed a few steps along the way and there are security deficits that we have drawn attention to," he told the Hamburger Abendblatt daily.

On Thursday, Sabine Teller, a spokesman for Air Berlin, said no explosives had been found in the bag. She said it was unclear which plane the suitcase had been intended for, and that all of the Air Berlin luggage had been rechecked after passengers identified their bags.

After a lengthy delay the plane was able to leave and arrived with all passengers in Munich on Thursday morning.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Chicago among world's top dining cities as two restaurants receive three Michelin stars

But it now has a stronger claim than ever before to also satisfy diners with a more sophisticated palate.

The first Michelin guide to the Illinois city, which is published this week, awards the highest grade of three stars to two restaurants – the same total held by San Francisco.

The two top-class establishments, Alinea and L20 – which are both located in the city's Lincoln Park area – join just 91 others around the world to boast the same honour.

In all, 23 restaurants around Chicago were given Michelin stars, propelling it into the guidebook's top 10 world cities by total number for 2011.

It was hailed by Jean-Luc Naret, the director of Michelin, both for its "cheap eats" and "unique level of avant-garde cuisine".

It was selected for a guidebook after Los Angeles was dumped, Mr Naret claiming its residents chose eateries "not based on the number of Michelin stars, but based on the number of stars who go."

Grant Achatz, the 36-year-old chef and co-owner of Alinea, which serves avant-garde American dishes, said he was delighted. "These things come in life very rarely," he said.

Mr Achatz, who once lost his sense of taste while suffering from tongue cancer, won plaudits for his 21-course, $195 (£122) tasting menu, which includes dishes like "hot potato, cold potato soup".

The tasting menu at L20, features 10 courses of Japanese-European delicacies including caramelised sablefish with cilantro, and is priced at $245 (£154).

Rich Melman, who owns L20 as well as two other one-star Chicago restaurants, reacted coolly to his awards. "There is no such thing as a perfect restaurant, one that can't be better," he said.

The chef credited with much of L20's success, Laurent Gras, departed unexpectedly earlier this month and it is thought he will not be returning.

Rick Bayless, a favourite chef of Barack Obama, who lived and built his political base in Chicago before being elected president, was also honoured by Michelin.

Mr Bayless, who cooked a state dinner in Washington for Mr Obama and Felipe Calderón, the Mexican President, received one star for his Mexican-themed restaurant Topolobampo.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

China 'hijacks' 15 per cent of world's internet traffic

A state-owned Chinese telecommunications firm re-routed around 15 per cent of all web traffic through its own servers during a brief period on April 8, the report said.

The incident has raised fears that China may have harvested highly-sensitive information from re-routed emails.

Another theory is that it could be testing a cyberweapon that could disrupt internet traffic from foreign servers.

The traffic included email exchanges from websites of the US Senate and the Department of Defense, along with "many others" including Nasa and the Department of Commerce.

Chinese internet officials have claimed that the re-routing was accidental, but the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission's annual report suggested the hijacking could have been "malicious".

"Evidence related to this incident does not clearly indicate whether it was perpetrated intentionally and, if so, to what ends,” the report said.

“However, computer security researchers have noted that the capability could enable severe malicious activities.”

Larry Wortzel, a member of the commission, said: "We don't know what was done with the data when they got it. When I see things like this happen, I ask, who might be interested with all the communications traffic from the entire Department of Defense and federal government? It's probably not a graduate student at Shanghai University.

"What could you do if you had the stream of email traffic for 18 minutes to and from the US Joint Chiefs of Staff? Most importantly you would get the internet addresses of everybody that communicated."

While sensitive data such as emails are generally encrypted before being transmitted, the Chinese government holds a copy of an encryption master key which could be used it to break into redirected traffic.

Carolyn Bartholomew, vice chairwoman of the commission, said the efforts of Chinese individuals and organisations to penetrate US networks "appear to be more sophisticated than techniques used in the past," raising fears that the Chinese Government is behind the attacks.

"The massive scale and the extensive intelligence and reconnaissance components of recent high profile, China-based computer exploitations suggest that there continues to be some level of state support for these activities," she said.

McAfee, the web security firm, has warned of a rise in political cyber attacks, pointing to China as one of the major actors launching assaults on foreign networks.

US targets include the White House, Department of Homeland Security, US Secret Service and Department of Defense, McAfee said in a report last year.

China's capacity to launch cyber-attacks on US commercial interests was also highlighted this year after Google threatened to completely shutter its operations in the Asian country, saying it became the target of a series of sophisticated cyber-attacks there.

The superpower has come under fierce criticism for its extensive censorship of the web. Wikipedia, the BBC website and a raft of blog spots are among the sites that have been temporarily or permanently blocked by the Government.

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

China hijacks internet traffic: timeline of Chinese web censorship and cyber attacks


China purchases over 200 routers from an American company, Cisco Systems, that allow the government more sophisticated technological censoring capabilities.

In October, the government blocks access to Wikipedia.


In January, a group of former senior Communist party officials in China criticise the internet censorship, warning that it could "sow the seeds of disaster" for China's political transition.

In February, Google agrees to block websites which the Chinese Government deems illegal in exchange for a licence to operate on Chinese soil. The search engine responds to international criticism by protesting that it has to obey local laws.

In May, Chinese internet users encountere difficulties when connecting to Hotmail, Microsoft’s popular email service. Microsoft says the break in service is caused by technical problems, but there is widespread speculation that the incident is linked to state censorship. In the last week of May, Google and many of its services also became unreachable.

In July, researchers at Cambridge University claim to have broken through the Great Firewall of China - the government imposed blocks on large portions of the web.

In November, the Chinese language version of Wikipedia is briefly unblocked before being shut down again the same month.


In January, Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, pledges to "purify" the Internet. He makes no specific mention of censorship, saying China needs to "strengthen administration and development of our country's Internet culture."

In March, access to the LiveJournal, Xanga, Blogger and Blogspot blogging services from within China become blocked. Blogger and Blogspot become accessible again later the same month.

In June, American military figures warn that China is gearing up to launch a cyber war on the US and plans to hack into US networks to glean trade and defence secrets.


In April, MI5 writes to more than 300 senior executives at banks, accountants and legal firms warning them that the Chinese army is using internet spyware to steal confidential information.

In June, Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, makes his first tentative steps online by answering questions on a web forum.

In August, China faces widespread criticism for internet censorship in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. The government surprises critics by lifting some of the restrictions, making the websites of human rights organisations such as Amnesty International accessible for the first time.


In March, Bill Gates weighs into the internet censorship row, declaring that “Chinese efforts to censor the internet have been very limited” and that the Great Firewall of China is "easy to go around". His comments are met with scorn by commentators on the web.

The same month, the government blocks the video-sharing website YouTube after footage appearing to show police beating Tibetan monks is posted on the site.

In June, China imposes an information black-out in the lead up to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, blocking access to networking sites such as Twitter as well as BBC television reports.

The same month, China faces a storm of criticism over plans to force all computer users to install Green Dam internet monitoring software. The plan is dropped in August.

Lord West, the British security minister, warns that Britain faces the threat of a "cyber cold war" with China amid fears that hackers could gain the technology to shut down the computer systems that control Britain’s power stations, water companies, air traffic, government and financial markets.

In August, the US Government begins covertly testing technology to allow people in China and Iran to bypass internet censorship firewalls set up by their own governments.

In December, the government offers rewards of up to 10,000 yuan (£888) to users who report websites featuring pornography. The number of pornographic searches rockets.


In January, China announces plans to force its 400 million internet users to register their real names before making comments on the country's many chat rooms and discussion forums.

Around 5,000 people are arrested for viewing internet pornography and 9,000 websites are deleted for containing sexual images and other "harmful information".

The same month, Google threatens to pull out of China if it is not allowed to operate without censorship. The search engine blames the government for "highly sophisticated" attacks on its servers and attempts to target the Gmail accounts of human rights activists.

The government responds by saying internet companies have a "major responsibility" to help maintain "social stability and harmony" by "guiding" public opinion. It denies any part in the cyber attacks.

In March, Google shuts down its China-based search engine and redirects users to an uncensored site based in Hong Kong.

In April, a Chinese state-owned telecommunications firm "hijacks" 15 per cent of the world's internet traffic, including highly sensitive US government and military exchanges, raising security fears.

In June, the government restricts access to Foursquare after players used the geolocation service to draw attention to the 21st anniversary of the Tianamen Square massacre.

In July, Google stops automatically redirecting users of its Chinese search engine to its Hong Kong site, but continues to allow users to access the uncensored search engine by clicking a separate tab. The following week, the row between the search giant and the superpower seems to have drawn to a close as the government a renews Google's licence to operate its business in China.

In November, a security report to the US Congress warns that the hijacking of 15 per cent of the world's internet traffic by a Chinese telecommunications firm may have been "malicious".

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Cyprus leaders to attend UN talks in attempt to break deadlock

President Demetris Christofias, head of the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government, and Turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu are to have talks with Mr Ban and their own private negotiations in New York later today.

The Mediterranean island has been partitioned since 1974 and several UN mediation attempts have failed since. The current campaign started two years ago and Mr Ban said last week that "a solution was long overdue," in a sign of the growing international frustration.

Mr Ban said that the leaders "would need to show the courage required to break the stalemate on the remaining core issues," according to a spokesman.

Diplomats and UN officials have warned against expecting a major breakthrough even though there are mounting international stakes involved.

According to UN envoy Alexander Downer, the former Australian foreign minister, Mr Ban wants to use the talks to assess how willing Mr Christofias and Mr Eroglu are to make a settlement.

"No one is trying to force anything on anybody, it will be up to the two sides to make the solution in the end, we just want to know where we stand," said another UN official close to the talks.

The two leaders will meet with Mr Ban for one hour before lunch and two hours later in the day, said a UN spokesman Farhan Haq. "We will see if there is anything further after that," he added.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops invaded the northern third in 1974 in response to a Greek-Cypriot coup seeking union with Greece.

Some European nations are becoming impatient because the Greek Cypriot government is holding up increasing amounts of European Union business because of the dispute, diplomats said.

The talks are also important for Turkey because the divided island has become a key obstacle in its efforts to progress its bid to join the EU.

Only Turkey recognizes the northern administration and it has kept more than 35,000 troops in the sector.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Founders of The Huffington Post sued for 'stealing website blueprint'

Peter Daou and James Boyce claim they came up with the site's signature blend of blogs by prominent people, news aggregation, original reporting and online community-building, originally envisioned as a liberal counterpoint to such conservative-tilting sites as the Drudge Report.

In a statement, Huffington Post co-founders Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer called the claims "pure fantasy."

The site has become an online colossus, built on the idea of shared effort. It has made the top 10 current events and global news sites, launched city-specific pages and developed a roster of sections such as food and books. The work of its 70-person paid staff is augmented by content from news outlets and 6,000 bloggers who write for free.

Mr Daou and Mr Boyce claim they repeatedly discussed their plan in detail with Ms Huffington and Mr Lerer in 2004 and responded to a request from them for specifics, believed they were all partners, communicated with at least one potential investor and suggested some of the celebrity contributors who ended up writing for the site.

Ms Huffington and Mr Lerer used their ideas to raise millions of dollars and develop the site but cut the consultants out before it was launched in May 2005, according to the lawsuit, which was filed on Monday in a Manhattan state court.

"The reality of Peter's and James' role in the conception and creation of the site has been erased from history, and Peter and James have never been compensated for their participation in the joint venture," it says.

It seeks unspecified damages. Mr Daou, who was then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Web director during her 2008 presidential run, and Mr Boyce, who runs a new-media consulting firm, said in a statement they would donate proceeds from the lawsuit to progressive causes and online writers.

"How noble," Ms Huffington and Mr Lerer retorted in their statement.

The pair "had absolutely nothing to do with creating, running, financing, or building the Huffington Post," the two said, calling the consultants' claims "ludicrous."

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Guantánamo prisoner Ahmed Ghailani cleared of 276 charges

In a blow to the Obama administration, Ahmed Ghailani, a 36-year-old Tanzanian, was on Wednesday night cleared by a jury in New York of 276 counts of murder and attempted murder and five counts of conspiracy.

He was convicted of just one charge of conspiring to damage or destroy American property with an explosive device, but still faces at least 20 years in prison.

Ghailani had been accused of plotting with an al-Qaeda cell to kill US citizens in the attacks on the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

A spokesman said the Department of Justice was “pleased that Ahmed Ghailani now faces a minimum of 20 years in prison and a potential life sentence for his role in the embassy bombings.”

However the verdict was viewed as a setback to the plan by Barack Obama, the US President, to try alleged terrorists, including the self-proclaimed ringleader of the 9/11 attacks, in civilian courts.

Ghailani was held by the CIA after being arrested in Pakistan in July 2004.

He was transferred to the prison at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in late 2006.

The prosecution against him was dogged by problems after the judge, Lewis Kaplan, blocked it from using its star witness, who claimed he had sold Ghailani the explosives used in the Tanzania attack.

Judge Kaplan barred the use of the witness, Hussein Abebe, because his confession had been extracted during interrogations in a secret CIA prison, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The prosecution claimed Ghailani had helped to buy a Nissan truck and gas tanks used in the Tanzania attack, and that his mobile phone had been used by plotters in the weeks leading up to the bombing.

In his closing argument, Harry Chernoff, an assistant US Attorney, said: “This is Ahmed Ghailani. This is al-Qaeda. This is a terrorist. This is a killer.” His defence team, however, said he was duped into associating with senior al-Qaeda operatives and that he had never known about the plot.

“Call him a fall guy. Call him a pawn,” his lawyer, Peter Quijano, said in his closing argument. “But don’t call him guilty.”

Jurors deliberated for five days after a month-long trial. Earlier this week, one passed a note to the judge asking to be excused because they felt threatened by fellow jurors. The request was turned down.

Four other men were convicted 10 years ago of carrying out the attacks and were sentenced to life in prison. Ghailani is due to be sentenced on January 25.

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Haiti cholera epidemic: Violent street protests continue for a third day

Aid workers complained that protests were again holding up relief operations in the troubled second city of Cap Haitien, while a top UN official said the demonstrations were being “orchestrated”.

Two local Haitians were killed in riots in Cap Haitien on Monday, one shot by a UN peacekeeper as protesters set a police station and vehicles ablaze and threatened to torch a UN compound.

A police source told AFP a third person was shot dead in fresh rioting in the city on Wednesday afternoon. It wasn’t clear if the latest fatality was a UN peacekeeper, a member of the Haitian police, or a protester.

UN spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese could not confirm the fatality, but said UN workers had not been able to get to work on Wednesday because of the tensions in the city.

The Oxfam aid group confirmed the protests and said it was worried that the unrest could lead to a faster spread of the cholera that has already killed more than 1,100 people in the country.

“Roads are blocked with protesters and burning tires, and we physically can’t get to our work sites, especially with trucks carrying crucial supplies like soap, water tablets or rehydration salts,” said Julie Schindall, Oxfam spokeswoman in Haiti.

“We have told our staff, most of whom are Haitian and live in Cap-Haitien, to stay at home while our operations are suspended. The few international staffers have been told to stay at the office for now.”

The UN said that in one incident this week, a World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse had been looted of 500 tonnes of food and burned.

Schindall said: “The violence is delaying our cholera response in Cap-Haitien. We’re obviously frustrated by it and worried for the people that desperately need clean water.”

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Profile: Roberto Saviano, Italy's anti-mafia activist

The 31-year-old journalist based the book, Gomorrah, on his undercover investigation of the feared Camorra mafia, which is based in Naples and surrounding towns but has a global reach.

The title of the book is a play on the word Camorra as well as an allusion to the Biblical city of sin.

The book is touted as “the most thorough account to date of the Camorra and its chillingly significant role in the global economy.” Known to its members as “the System”, the Camorra makes huge amounts of money from toxic waste disposal, drug trafficking and construction.

Its malign influence has given Campania the dubious distinction of having the highest murder rate in the whole of Europe.

Saviano had to be placed under constant police protection after enraged clan bosses threatened to kill him.

He moves from one secret location to another, although more recently he has started appearing on television in Italy.

He was born in Casal di Principe, the ramshackle town outside Naples which is home to the Camorra’s most feared mobsters, the Casalesi clan.

In the book he writes: “Compared to Casal di Principe, Corleone (the stronghold of Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia) is Disneyland.” As a child he witnessed his father, a doctor, receive a brutal beating after going to the aid of one of the Camorra’s victims.

He has said that the only thing that has kept him sane during his enforced internal exile is boxing.

”Boxing saves me from everything: life in a box, the impossibility of a love life, continual transfers from one hiding place to another,” he told Il Mattino newspaper.

His courage in writing the book and continuing to denounce the mafia on television and in newspaper articles has seen him hailed as a national hero.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

'Honeymoon killer' Gabe Watson to be deported to US

Christina Watson's body lies on the sea bed (right) as an unidentified diver poses for the photo (center) and a dive leader (left) hurries to Watson Photo: AP

Watson was released from a jail in Queensland last week after serving 18 months for the manslaughter of Tina Thomas just 10 days after they were married in 2003.

However, instead of being handed over to US authorities, who want to try him for murder, Watson was taken to an immigration detention centre while the Australian government sought assurances that he would not face execution if found guilty.

Australian law does not allow the country to deport anyone who could face capital punishment.

An immigration spokesman said that Australian officials had received assurances from US officials that "the death penalty would not be sought, imposed or carried out."

"We are now satisfied that our international obligations have been met and are commencing plans for Mr. Watson's removal," she said.

She would not give details on the timing of his deportation but said it would be "as soon as possible." It is believed Watson, 33, could be deported within days, but his lawyer has asked for at least 48 hours notice.

Watson, a former bubblewrap salesman dubbed the "Honeymoon Killer" by the Australian media, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his wife last year. Officials in Queensland initially charged him with murder, arguing he killed Tina by turning off her air supply and holding her underwater in a "bear hug", but under a plea deal that was strongly criticised by his wife's family and the Alabama police, Watson agreed not to contest the lesser charge.

Troy King, the Alabama attorney general, claims that Watson planned to kill his wife before the newlywed couple left the US for their Australian honeymoon.

The Queensland coroner said Watson might have been motivated by his wife's modest life insurance policy.

He has since remarried.

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