Victoria Arts lover honoured with AO

Betty Amsden didn’t get involved in the Melbourne arts scene until she was in her 70s, 20 years later she is being made an Officer of the Order of Australia for her service to the field.

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“I’m a little awe-struck,” she told AAP.

“It’s a big responsibility.”

Ms Amsden has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours for her work with the Arts Centre Melbourne, the Australian Ballet School, Orchestra Victoria, and Victorian Opera, among others.

This year she sponsored the Play Me I’m Yours program that allowed Melburnians to tickle the ivories of 24 pianos located around the city in what she said was an attempt to help them feel connected to the arts precinct.

A City of Melbourne assessment of the program found 98 per cent of participants felt happy after playing along.

Eighty-three per cent felt inspired and 75 per cent felt creative.

“It has made me so proud and so, so thrilled,” Ms Amsden said.

Ms Amsden is no stranger to being honoured for her philanthropy, having already been awarded a medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2002.

But when she looks back on her years of philanthropy, the moments she finds most rewarding aren’t the medals or the accolades, they’re the personal tokens.

She recalls the story of a young, disadvantaged woman who couldn’t afford to buy a stethoscope after being accepted into medical school.

Ms Amsden donated the money, and received a “most gorgeous, gorgeous letter” in return.

The AO recognises not just her contribution to the arts, but her involvement in the Melbourne community broadly.

Ms Amsden is also involved in Guide Dogs Victoria and the RSPCA and says she wants to nourish and support future leaders.

“I think that middle management of any organisation is very much forgotten and I like to encourage them to advance themselves and empower them,” she said.

Former Melbourne Lord Mayor John So was also made an Officer of the Order of Australia for service to local government.

Newey and Red Bull agree new deal

Red Bull principal Christian Horner said at the Canadian Grand Prix that Newey would work on as yet unspecified new Red Bull Technology projects as well as “advising and mentoring” the team.

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Newey, a key and highly-paid part of Red Bull’s success who would be snapped up in an instant by any of the other leading teams, said he would be taking a step back once the 2015 car was signed off.

“I will be involved in the initial layout and stuff then in the future I will be involved with the guys…just mentoring them and stuff and being an advisor really,” he told Sky Sports television.

“I have loved the career I’ve had, but I feel I need some new challenges and stimulations. I said I didn’t want to spend my whole career purely in motor racing and now it is time to look at a few different things.”

Newey, who also has a love of racing the classic cars in his own collection, has been at Red Bull since the start of the 2006 season after designing multiple title-winning cars for Williams and McLaren.

Milton Keynes-based Red Bull have won the last four drivers’ and constructors’ championships in a row with Germany’s Sebastian Vettel and were determined not to lose Newey to a rival outfit.

The new agreement effectively ensures that does not happen while giving Newey fresh air to satisfy his desire to try something different.

The Briton had made clear last month, when he moved to quash speculation about a possible big money bid from rivals Ferrari, that he wanted to stay at Red Bull despite the current domination of Mercedes.

Newey, 55, has been linked to Ferrari in the past as well as a switch to Americas Cup yachting – which could now play a part in his future.

He has also forged a close working relationship with Horner, who told reporters in Monaco two weeks ago that Newey had a “paternal feeling” towards Red Bull.

“He has been involved (with the team) since the beginning, is much more involved than he has been at any other team, and he enjoys the environment he works in,” said the Briton.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Steve Tongue/Gene Cherry)

Grandparents facing poverty as more take over parenting duties

A federal Senate Committee inquiry is looking at the challenges grandparents who care for their grandchildren face, along with the support they need.

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At its first public hearing in Melbourne today, the Mirabel Foundation warned many grandparents face old age in poverty having exhausted their savings caring for their grandchildren.

The Foundation’s Nicole Patten said there was no support beyond the standard Centrelink payments for grandparents raising grandchildren.

“It means they’re using the savings they had put away for retirement,” Ms Patten said.

The Australian Foster Care Association said grandparents who are struggling to cope can be afraid to reach out for help.

The Association’s Bev Orr said there is a fear of stigmatisation.

“Particularly where their children may be living with grandparents for things that may be perceived as socially unacceptable, such as family breakdown, mental health breakdown, substance abuse,” she said.

Grandparents often find themselves caring for their grandchildren in traumatic circumstances.

Grandparents Australia said the health and wellbeing of aged grandparents can be neglected as the needs of grandchildren are put first.

Director Anne McLeish said there needs to be greater support for ageing grandparents.

“Although they are coping they do need, I think, special support from the community to fulfil their role properly and healthy,” she said.

SBS has also learnt some grandparents were put off filing submissions to the inquiry, fearing retribution from family or adverse reactions from child protection services.

The Australian Foster Care Association said it had received abuse over its submission.

“We’ve had some grandparents come back to us and criticise us, saying that we’ve done grandparenting a gross disservice because grandparenting is a wonderful experience,” Ms Orr said.

Basel game a good chance for Real revival, Ancelotti says

Real were beaten 2-1 by champions Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu on Saturday, their second successive La Liga reverse, and some of the club’s notoriously demanding fans made their anger clear by roundly whistling captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

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The experienced Ancelotti, one of only six people to win Europe’s elite club competition as both player and coach, noted on Monday that Real also stuttered at the beginning of last season before securing a record-extending 10th European title and winning the King’s Cup.

“I feel like a coach who has to fix things in the team, the same as happened last year,” he told a news conference.

“This match comes at the right time as it is a chance to show a positive reaction and demonstrate the good things in the team,” added the Italian.

“Starting this competition well is very important. I believe we will be competitive and we will try to win it again.”

Ancelotti’s immediate task is to integrate new signings Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez in midfield, where they have replaced the departed Xabi Alonso (Bayern Munich) and Angel Di Maria (Manchester United) respectively.

Real appear to be missing the control Alonso provided in his central holding role, while Di Maria was often the player with the energy and skill to break down stubborn defences.

Ancelotti said he was happy with the squad at his disposal, assembled at a cost of hundreds of millions of euros by Real president Florentino Perez.

“The problem is clear, it’s not that complicated. We need more consistency over the 90 minutes,” he told reporters.

“We have analysed together what is happening and we all agreed that we lack consistency and we are working to improve that.

“I have a very, very good squad, very competitive, and I think the players all think the same way.

“We can challenge in all the competitions, there is no doubt about that among the players and I think they are all very happy to be at Real Madrid.”

Liverpool host Bulgarian champions Ludogorets in Tuesday’s other Group B game.

(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Ed Osmond)

German teen Wehrlein appointed Mercedes F1 reserve

Mercedes announced the appointment a day after the teenager won from pole position for Mercedes in a DTM race at the Lausitzring and only four days after his first test in a grand prix car.

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The DTM championship has now been decided, with Germany’s Marco Wittmann winning for BMW with two races to spare.

Wehrlein’s new F1 role means he will attend this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix and future races as a potential replacement should championship leader Nico Rosberg or Britain’s 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton be unable to race.

Wehrlein has already worked with the team this season, completing more than 30 days in the Formula One simulator and driving more than 12,000 km at the wheel of the virtual F1 W05 Hybrid car.

He drove a Formula One car for the first time at Portugal’s Algarve circuit last Thursday when he tested the 2012 Mercedes and completed 500km.

“He has worked hard behind the scenes this year in our simulator, playing a very important role in our pre-race preparations,” said Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff.

“Aside from Nico and Lewis, he is the driver most familiar with all the procedures of our F1 W05 Hybrid and therefore the right choice for the role of reserve driver.

“Pascal has a bright future ahead of him and we are excited to have him onboard for what will be an intense conclusion to the Formula One season,” added the Austrian.

Rosberg and Hamilton are in a duel of their own for the championship, with the German 22 points clear of the Briton with six races remaining.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ossian Shine)

Scotland name cricket squad for Aust tour

Scotland have named a full-strength squad for their tour of Australia and New Zealand later this month, as they ramp up preparations for next year’s Cricket World Cup.

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National selectors on Monday announced a 16-man squad for the trip, which forms part of the team’s preparations for the 2015 World Cup, with the 26-year-old Preston Mommsen chosen to lead the side ahead of regular skipper Kyle Coetzer.

“Preston Mommsen is going to lead this team for this tour, while we will announce our World Cup captain when the squad is revealed,” head coach Grant Bradburn said.

“We now have a number of potential leaders and players who are desperate and proud to lead their country.

“It is deemed a great honour to captain Scotland. Cricket-wise, however, it’s imperative that a captain can command with his performance.

“Preston Mommsen will captain on the back of the fact that he has thrived in recent times in this capacity and will lead the team on this tour.”

Mommsen played a pivotal part in ensuring Scotland reached the World Cup – scoring 520 runs in eight innings and claiming player of the tournament in the ICC qualifying event earlier this year.

Bradburn added that Coetzer remained a “valued and highly respected senior member of the side”, but said he wanted the 30-year-old to “focus on his own game without the additional responsibility that captaincy brings”.

Scotland face 50-over games against the Tasmanian Tigers and Queensland Academy of Sport XIs before heading to New Zealand to play a Kiwi invitational XI and three domestic first-class sides.

“It’s a great opportunity to get our full-strength squad together on a tour which helps us prepare for a huge World Cup ahead of us,” Bradburn said.

“This tour will allow us to have a good mix of game and training time.

“We have 15 games between now and the World Cup, and this initial tour allows us to work through our combinations and game plans.

“Strategically, we have chosen some quality training opportunities and opposition.

“It’s a chance to really improve on playing spin and quick pace – something we don’t get the opportunity to do as much as we would in our home conditions.”

The squad will depart on September 22 and return on October 24.

Scotland squad: Preston Mommsen (capt), Kyle Coetzer, Josh Davey, Alasdair Evans, Gordon Goudie, Michael Leask, Calum MacLeod, Richie Berrington, Freddie Coleman, Matthew Cross, Hamish Gardiner, Majid Haq, Matt Machan, Safyaan Sharif, Rob Taylor, Iain Wardlaw.

IRB ready to sniff out sevens ‘fraudsters’

The International Rugby Board (IRB) says it is confident it will sniff out any dubious attempts to use Olympic sevens qualification matches to secure a shift in nationalities for the 15-man game – and that their system has the full backing of the IOC.

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After a spate of border-hopping around the time of the 1999 World Cup, the IRB introduced rules that basically prevented anyone playing for a second country if they had already been capped for another.

However, with rugby sevens due to make its Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the IRB had to amend their rules to come into line with the softer, passport-based stance of the IOC (International Olympic Committee).

The IRB and IOC consider the change to apply only to sevens but, in something of a potential loophole, it appears that a player who earned a switch in nationality via an Olympic sevens qualifying event would subsequently be technically allowed to also represent his adopted nation in the 15-a-side game.

The issue has been brought into sharp relief by the announcement of the French rugby union that they have a list of 10 foreign players who might be brought into their squad, including former England flanker Steffon Armitage, who has been plying his trade with great success in Toulon for the past three years.

Armitage, who won five England caps between 2009 and 2010, and was last season named European player of the year after helping Toulon win the Heineken Cup and French league title, has been overlooked for England selection due to Rugby Football Union rules that say overseas-based players will be selected only in extraordinary circumstances.

BONA-FIDE SEVENS CREDENTIALS

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said last week that Armitage, and others, were in the process of applying for a French passport, which would open the door for a France call-up via the sevens route.

IRB chief executive Brett Gosper accepts that the rules appear to allow any player to switch but said only players with bona-fide sevens credentials would get the go-ahead to switch.

“We had to change our rules to comply with the Olympic Charter but we are reasonably sure that the spirit of the law – which is to qualify people for the Olympics – will be upheld,” Gosper told reporters in London on Monday.

“The IOC are happy for us to have a qualification process for the Olympics, which is not under question. Where it becomes more controversial is the knock-on for 15s.

“Of course there will be discussion around that but we want to be sure that the spirit is being upheld. I think the regulations committee will be wary of activity which looks as if it is to qualify people for 15s.”

France may have shot themselves in the foot by announcing publicly their ambition to bring Armitage into the 15-man fold – especially as his sevens experience is negligible.

Other situations might not be so clear cut, especially with some major rugby countries still not clear on whether they are going to stick with their established sevens teams for the Olympics or draft in a few heavy-hitters from the 15s.

However, it is not an issue that is overly-taxing the IRB a year out from the rugby World Cup and two years from what they consider a hugely important Olympic sevens debut in Rio.

“We are talking about a very small number of potential cases,” an IRB spokesman said.

“Many federations have government and national Olympic Committee support for their sevens programmes because it is now an Olympic sport and I wouldn’t think they would want to jeopardise that.”

(Editing by: Ossian Shine)

Saints alive! Reports of collapse seem premature

Moreover, though, it further blew away a cloud of gloom that had hovered over the south coast stadium since the summer.

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Even in the rhetoric-rich environment of tabloid football coverage, the Saints had received lurid treatment.

Southampton were a rudderless, sinking ship, driven by an inexperienced chairman. New manager Ronald Koeman was a man left standing on a burning deck.

‘Exodus!” numerous headlines shouted, with more than one news outlet mocking what it called a fire sale. “Roll up, roll up, get your international players here,” one website smirked.

The club was unambitious and there was only one way Southampton were headed – and that was further south.

However, nobody, it seems, bothered explaining that new reality to the players. Or perhaps Koeman did.

Just four matches into the season Southampton are flying high in fourth spot. It is, of course, too early to be predicting great things for Koeman’s team, but it is perhaps not too early to dispel the spittle-flecked scaremongering of the summer.

Pundits and commentators had been queuing up to read Southampton their Premier League last rites, but now at least one has publicly thought again.

“After a mass exodus of players at St Mary’s during the close season I tipped Southampton to go down,” BBC pundit and former Manchester United striker Garth Crooks said, evoking the ‘E’ word once more.

“I think I may owe Saints fans an apology.”

LOOKING FORWARD

Nobody at St Mary’s expects an apology, but perhaps fewer experts will now dismiss chairman Ralph Kreuger’s assertion that the Saints are stronger since the transfer window.

“We think we’ve made good business decisions, good sports decisions,” Krueger told local BBC Radio Solent.

“We have a team which is filled with character and, we feel, more depth in the line-up and I think that’s something that was the goal from the get-go. Last season we played from a starting 11 and there was not much behind it. I feel we are (now) in a really strong position.”

Man for man, there is an argument that Southampton replaced the departing characters with men of at least equal calibre.

Coach Mauricio Pochettino, who quit for Tottenham, was replaced by former Ajax and Feyenoord coach Koeman. The hole created by the exit of England full-back Luke Shaw – a 27 million pounds acquisition for Manchester United – was plugged with the loan signing of Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand, a player with a Champions League winners’ medal.

Serbian international midfielder Dusan Tadic, a signing from FC Twente, is looking lively in the space previously inhabited by Adam Lallana, who joined Liverpool for 25 million pounds.

Dejan Lovren’s exit was one of the more acrimonious, but utility defender Toby Alderweireld’s arrival from Atletico Madrid has Saints fans smiling and looking forward rather than back.

Burly Italian forward Graziano Pelle has bagged four goals in his first five appearances for Southampton, while the man he replaced, Rickie Lambert, is yet to get off the mark at Liverpool.

Throw into the mix an England goalkeeper in Fraser Forster, and Senegalese striker Sadio Mane yet to make his start, all signs are that the future is bright on the south coast.

Certainly a 4-0 thumping of a weak Newcastle is insufficient basis for any grand predictions, but the style and swagger of Southampton’s early play may be causing some to pause for thought.

(Editing by Stephen Wood)

United find their Angel of the North

At last, at Manchester United, one of the least valued superstars in world football – if there can be such a creature – may just have found the place where he can be truly, madly, deeply appreciated.

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The standing ovation which Di Maria soaked up from his new Old Trafford admirers after his thrilling man of the match contribution in United’s crushing defeat of QPR on Sunday had a touch of reverential rediscovery about it.

It felt like the Theatre of Dreams had found a buccaneer with the pace, invention and elan which seemed to have deserted the place of late, a man worthy of inheriting the red number seven shirt previously donned by the likes of George Best, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo.

More than that, you could sense on this breakthrough day for manager Louis Van Gaal the possibility that Di Maria, with all the abundant gifts that make him at nearly 60 million pounds ($97.4 million) the most expensive signing in English football, may have found a club where he could again become the king, not some undervalued courtier.

That’s how Di Maria had begun to feel at Real Madrid. In a galactico panoply, he was the star who, whatever his considerable achievements on the pitch, could never shine quite brightly enough for his club President Florentino Perez not to be dazzled and distracted by new comets.

“Angel was never appreciated. It was like they didn’t want him in the club and showed him no affection,” wailed his dad Miguel.

“My son is tired of always fighting, demonstrating and showing everything.”

He had a point. His boy had been key to Madrid achieving La Decima last season, his numerous assists and electric contributions, capped by his historic slalom sprint down the left flank which led to Gareth Bale’s key goal in that Champions League final, making him invaluable for coach Carlos Ancelotti.

Not for Perez, though, apparently. In came the World Cup flavours of the month, Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez, for untold riches, leaving Di Maria to have to ask once again where he exactly he fitted into the stellar plans.

Eventually he decided.

“Unfortunately, today I have to go but I want to make it clear that I never wished to leave,” he wrote in an open letter to Madrid’s fans, who, to be fair, like his team mates had never taken him for granted.

There was an irony here. If Di Maria had been able to complete his World Cup journey – injury in the quarter-final cut short his growing influence on the competition – who is to say Argentina might not have gone on to win the trophy?

FINANCIAL PARITY

If so, Perez would have had a World Cup-winning galactico on his books and he would have been forced to keep him on. Instead, he was happy to offload someone who was by now apparently demanding financial parity with more lauded team mates. Di Maria’s only real mistake, seemingly though, was not to be as pretty or marketable as a Rodriguez or a Ronaldo.

Yet even if the transfer fee was inflated, nothing so far, as Madrid have struggled to find the team balance and impetus that Di Maria helped Ancelotti find last season, has suggested it was business that made any sense.

They already look as if they miss him. Real kick off their Champions League defence against Basel on Tuesday after a distinctly stuttering start to a campaign in which Ancelotti is no longer able to call upon the man who, like Ronaldo, was so invaluable with his direct, pacy breaks.

Real’s loss already looks United’s gain. Di Maria may have lost the chance to play Champions League football for a season but there are compensations in going to a place where he can feel not just wanted, but needed.

This is a player who, for the last four years, has had to play second, sometimes third, fiddle for club and country despite being one of the very best in the business.

At Real, he was in the shadow of Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and company. For Argentina, another Rosario chum, a certain Lionel Messi, has eclipsed him.

At United, though, a vacancy for someone with a Cantona-esque ability to inspire and electrify awaits. Van Gaal knows it, even if the old schoolmaster in him still had the Dutchman ticking off Di Maria for a few stray passes.

“I see things we can improve,” Van Gaal said. He can also presumably see a man who could act as his side’s main galvanising force, United’s new Angel of the North.

(Reporting By Sam Holden)

Fluidity not formation likely to be Van Gaal’s approach

When United began life under Van Gaal on their pre-season tour of the United States, the Dutchman unveiled a 3-5-2 formation which quickly won praise.

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That was the formation that took the field for United’s first home game of the Premier League season, against Swansea City, but it lasted just 45 minutes as injuries forced a switch to a more familiar 4-4-2 line-up during the 2-1 defeat.

With the addition of Daley Blind, Angel Di Maria, Marcos Rojo and Radamel Falcao during the final days of the transfer window last month, Van Gaal should not need to change formation due to lack of options.

But it is the abundance of attacking talent at his disposal that is likely to lead to a pragmatic approach to formation.

For while pundits have obsessed throughout the past two months about ‘three at the back’, the Dutchman has always been clear that there are many different formations he can deploy.

Even after the triumphant debut of his new system in the 7-0 win over L.A Galaxy in Pasadena, Van Gaal pointed out that he was flexible.

“I can change back if the system doesn’t work,” he said.

What Van Gaal appeared to be doing during pre-season was making sure his team were familiar with a system that he has used so that they could add that option to the formations that were already part of their football educations.

“They know already the other system (4-4-2 or 4-3-3); they have played that from their youth, so that’s easy,” he said during the tour, before quickly adding a reminder that even with the Netherlands he was never reluctant to alternate.

“You saw that in the game against Mexico – I’m sorry to say that when we were 1-0 down I changed the system to 4-3-3 and then we beat them,” he said.

On Sunday, United’s second attempt at a re-launch was an entertaining 4-0 rout of Queens Park Rangers using an ‘old-fashioned’ four-man defence.

PRAGMATIC REASONING

Again Van Gaal answered the inevitable questions with pragmatic reasoning.

“I could hardly play with five defenders because (Chris) Smalling and (Phil) Jones were injured,” he said.

The debate over formations is, in any case, becoming meaningless in modern football.

While commentators and analysts talk of various combinations of numbers and midfield ‘diamonds’ the reality is that the game has changed enormously, with individual players covering so much more of the field, meaning that strict definitions of ‘lines’ is close to being obsolete.

The role of the full back has been transformed over the past decade and it is often hard to define whether they should be counted as part of a back line or a midfield.

Before the World Cup, former Germany coach and current United States head coach Juergen Klinsmann challenged the fixation.

“It always sounds cool when you talk about 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 or 4-4-2 diamond but it’s actually useless,” said the former Bayern Munich and Tottenham forward.

“All these discussions…are not up to speed anymore. The systems are not the key – they were maybe 10-15 years ago”.

For Klinsmann, the fact that midfielders become forwards when their teams have the ball means that talk of a ‘lone striker’ or ‘two up front’ is meaningless.

There was no better example of that than United’s win on Sunday with Juan Mata and Di Maria frequently featuring in dangerous positions near the opposition goal and Wayne Rooney happy to drop deeper at times.

Blind and Ander Herrera had mainly defensive responsibilities in midfield and the other four attacking players were charged with different roles. So 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 4-2-4?

The new-look United are by no means alone in this approach.

None of Chelsea’s trio of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Andre Schuerrle could be simply described as midfielders or strikers and Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling does not fit easily into one category.

The days when dividing 10 by three was a useful way of describing a team’s approach are probably over.

And with Colombian striker Falcao still to be integrated, Van Gaal is unlikely to make himself a prisoner of numbers.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

GM confirms at least 19 death claims

General Motors has acknowledged that more people died in crashes linked to its faulty ignitions than the 13 it originally reported, saying 19 death claims were approved for compensation.

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In its first report on processing compensation requests for the problem, GM said it had received claims for 125 deaths, another 58 for crippling injuries and 262 for hospitalisation stemming from ignition-related accidents.

Of those, it has so far determined 31 claims eligible for compensation, including 19 of the death claims.

GM said on Monday that the rest of the claims are either still awaiting review or are judged deficient and needing more documentation, with independent compensation claims expert Kenneth Feinberg in charge of deciding which claims are valid.

In the base plan announced by Feinberg on June 30, for each eligible death claim, GM will pay a minimum $US1 million ($A1.1 million) for the victim, $US300,000 for the surviving spouse and another $US300,000 for each surviving dependent.

Financial and medical treatment compensation of at least $US20,000 will also be offered to those with eligible physical injury claims from an accident.

GM set up the program earlier this year after recalling 2.6 million cars over the problem, in which the faulty ignition could turn off power to a car’s power steering and safety airbags while it is in motion.

GM knew about the problem for a decade or more, but only took recall action beginning in February, after hundreds of possible accidents and deaths in the affected cars.

Before Monday the largest US carmaker had only acknowledged 45 accidents and 13 deaths.

UN troops withdraw from Syrian Golan

Hundreds of UN troops have withdrawn from the Syrian to the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan two weeks after al-Qaeda-linked rebels kidnapped dozens of peacekeepers.

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They crossed in a UN convoy on Monday afternoon into the Israeli-occupied sector, an AFP correspondent said.

The peacekeepers in the Golan Heights withdrew to the Israeli side after Syrian fighters advanced near their positions, a UN spokesman confirmed.

The armed groups posed “a direct threat to the safety and security” of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) troops, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

UNDOF monitors a 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights.

In late August, rebels on the Syrian side including al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front seized the Quneitra crossing and kidnapped more than 40 Fijian UNDOF troops, who were released two weeks later.

They also clashed with 75 Filipino members of the force, who eventually fled a nearby outpost.

Dujarric said the situation on the Syrian side of the Golan “has deteriorated severely” and that “armed groups have made advances in the area of UNDOF positions”.

Rebels including Al-Nusra have now taken control of most of the Syrian side of the plateau from forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, a Britain-based Syria monitoring group said on Saturday.

The fighting has driven thousands of Syrian families from their homes.

“Clashes between government forces and the armed opposition have intensified in recent days in Quneitra governorate – in Quneitra city in particular, where access to clean water, food, and health care is limited,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

The ICRC said it has provided emergency relief for more than 50,000 people, but warned the number of displaced people was “expected to grow”.

Atletico still a work in progress, coach Simeone says

Atletico won the Spanish league title for the first time in 18 years last term and were losing finalists to Real in the Champions League before top scorer Diego Costa and fullback Filipe Luis departed for Chelsea along with on-loan goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

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Players Atletico brought in included Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic, France forward Antoine Griezmann and Italy winger Alessio Cerci, and Simeone said their integration was ongoing as they prepare to play at Greek champions Olympiakos Piraeus on Tuesday in the latest edition of Europe’s elite club competition.

“We are a work in progress after the arrival of the new players,” Simeone told a news conference in Athens ahead of the Group A opener.

“We will try to create a cohesive group without changing our style,” added the Argentine, who has transformed Atletico into genuine contenders in Spain and Europe since taking over at the end of 2011.

Atletico and Olympiakos have met just once in European competition, when the Spanish side won 4-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1992-93.

The Greeks made it to the last 16 of the Champions League last term and beat Manchester United 2-0 at home before losing 3-0 in the return.

The club’s Spanish coach, Michel, who played for Real and Spain, said Atletico’s win at their crosstown rivals at the weekend was evidence that Simeone still had a formidable team despite losing some key performers.

“Atletico has changed some players but they are still as strong as ever,” Michel told an earlier news conference.

“They are a team that has been put together with a lot of hard work so changes in individuals does not mean that much.

“Simeone has created a genuine unit and the results speak for themselves.

“But we are completely prepared. We have the experience and we will fight hard to get a result.”

(Writing by Iain Rogers, editing by Stephen Wood)