Analysis: As boomers age, Harley hunts for younger riders

Harley-Davidson Inc doesn't do much quietly. Its motorcycles are notoriously noisy. Its slogans - "Screw It. Let's Ride." - are loud too.

So why was the Milwaukee company quiet last year when by its own numbers it successfully zoomed past a demographic hazard analysts had fretted about for years?

Some background: In a recent interview, a top Harley-Davidson executive told Reuters that in 2012, for the first time in years, the average buyer of the company's bikes was not a baby boomer.

For a brand defined by the emergence and, lately, the aging of the post-World War II cohort of consumers, that's a big deal - proof the 110-year-old company is gaining traction with a new generation of riders.

Yet its top global marketing guru, Mark-Hans Richer, continues to insist it's no biggie - even though investors have long wondered how Harley would survive as boomers, who embraced its bikes as totems of rebellion in the 1960s and 1970s and drove its growth in the ensuing decades, rode off into the sunset.

One top analyst, Robin Farley at UBS Investment Research, suggests the company's muffled messaging reflects its desire to avoid having the accomplishment examined too closely. That's because by her calculation the average age of riders is still going up, not down. The company disputes her math but says even if she were correct, a new marketing focus means metrics like average age are less important than in the past.

Farley is skeptical. Average age is important because "that's ultimately the core customer," she says. "That's one of the reasons they don't want to talk about it."

BEYOND THE BOOMER THAT BRUNG YA

Harley-Davidson has long known its reliance on an overwhelmingly white, male and middle-aged consumer base would ultimately challenge sales in North America, where it still earns two-thirds of its revenue.

So several CEOs ago, the company began an effort to attract buyers born after 1964. An outreach program was launched to gain favor with women and minorities; products were redesigned.

Harley-Davidson regularly claims the effort has been a success - and trots out supportive research from RL Polk, a leading provider of auto industry data, which shows Harley has been the market leader among riders ages 18 to 34, as well as women, African-Americans and Hispanics, for five years running.

But internal numbers have been hard to find, at least recently. Prior to 2009, Harley regularly reported data on average rider age. It stopped, it says, because the number did not measure the outreach effort - as much about winning over nonwhite, nonmale riders of all ages as about wooing the young.

Harley-Davidson also stopped talking about its boomer problem, analysts say, because it didn't want to appear to be repudiating the generation that still buys a lot of its bikes but now has a choice of several other brands with the "Made in the USA" cred vying for its dollars.

Still, as the company's annual shipments to dealers retreated from a record of 350,000 set before the recession to the 259,000 to 264,000 bikes it expects to ship in 2013, investors worried the outreach effort was not working and that Harley-Davidson's demographic problem was getting worse.

Not so, says Richer. In the interview with Reuters, he said the company's average buyer is now 47 years old, one year younger than five years ago, and holding steady.

If true, that means that in 2012 the average Harley rider was born in 1965 - the first year of Generation X, according to the Census Bureau's definition. Given the demographic concerns, that's huge.

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Not everyone is buying it, including Farley, who has covered Harley-Davidson for a decade. She says that until the company stopped routinely disclosing the number, average rider age was rising steadily at a rate of about 6 months every year since at least 1999.

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In 2008, Harley-Davidson said its average rider was 48 years old, up from 46.1 in 2004 and 43.4 in 1999, Farley says. Extrapolating from those figures, she believes the current average rider is over 50 and, by definition, still a boomer.

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After she published a note based on her calculations, she says a company "senior manager" called her to say she was mistaken - but that the real number was 49 years, 6 months - a boomer still and not the 47 Richer claims.

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Spokeswoman Maripat Blankenheim says the unnamed executive misspoke because he did not refer to "the most recent and more accurate database we are using."

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Most analysts accept Harley-Davidson's claims that the outreach is working. Jamie Katz, an analyst at Morningstar, said that while the company has "a long way to go" before it gets back to the shipping rate it hit before the recession, "What they've done on the outreach front is impressive.

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"Our biggest concern was that their core consumer - the old white man - was obviously decreasing in size."

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QUEASY RIDERS

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The tactics the company has employed to penetrate new markets have ranged from programs at rallies popular with minority riders, to garage parties for women, to redesigns that made the company's bikes appear more "sinister," in the words of William Blair & Co analyst Sharon Zackfia.

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The plan has hit some potholes along the way. In 2003, Harley-Davidson bought Buell Motorcycle Co, and in 2008 MV Agusta, an Italian motorbike company. The purchases were part of an effort to sell to riders who thought they weren't yet up to a Harley, said Zackfia.

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In 2009, shortly after long-time insider James Ziemer retired as CEO and was replaced by outsider Keith Wandell, Harley-Davidson dumped both bike makers and refocused on its own brand.

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It offered souped-up, all-black versions of existing bikes straight out of Batman or graphic novels to kick-start sales to younger riders. Women were enticed with the 883 Low, a lighter, lower-to-the ground model; the V-Rod was meant for boys looking for pulse-racing performance. Buyers were allowed to customize their bikes online and install lucrative add-ons at the factory rather than at motorcycle dealerships, often perceived as forbiddingly clannish.

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Katz at Morningstar estimates that outreach customers now account for about one-third of Harley-Davidson's domestic sales, or nearly 50,000 bikes last year. "It's really made me rethink the potential of the business," she says.

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Roberta Lamerdin, a 49-year-old small business owner north of Chicago, is one of the new female loyalists.

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She never figured she'd ride a motorcycle. She changed her mind a few years back when her husband asked her to pick him up at a Harley-Davidson dealership, where he was having his bike repaired.

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While waiting she sat on a Sportster 883 Low, the company's flagship product in the push to win over women.

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She bought it on the spot. Six years later, Lamerdin leads the local "Ladies of Harley" group, helping new women riders get comfortable in the saddle.

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"Men just love it," she said. "Not everybody, of course. Some of the old bikers, the so-called real bikers, don't like it at all. But too bad."

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(Editing by David Greising, Mary Milliken and Prudence Crowther)

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Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Benin's voodoo heartland

The small club-shaped West African country of Benin is not on most tourists' radar but its palm-fringed white sand beaches in the south and surprisingly good wildlife parks in the dusty north will reward more intrepid travelers.

It has some of the best and cheapest food in the region, blending French and African influences. But the biggest reason to visit is the country's rich and intriguing history; for hundreds of years it was at the mercy of the slave trade and it remains famous for being the birthplace of voodoo.

 

Voodoo is the official religion for 17 percent of Beninese, although almost everyone incorporates it into their lives. Originally is was called "vodun" meaning: 'the hidden'. Voodoo centers around several vodun spirits and deities.

Traditional priests are consulted for their power to harness the spirits through rituals that often involve the sacrifice of a chicken or goat. It is seen as essential to call upon the spirits for protection or prosperity and they can be used for malicious ends. Commonly seen are fetishes; an object, sometimes a doll, which is blessed with a spirit's power.

If you can, visit Benin on January 10, the official Voodoo Day with celebrations all over the country.

The small town of Ouidah on the Atlantic coast is the cradle of voodoo, a culture far from the image projected in Hollywood in films featuring Indiana Jones and James Bond.

A Reuters correspondent with local knowledge helps you get the most out of a weekend trip to this magical spot.

Friday

4:30 p.m. - You've probably just spent two hours on a bumpy car journey from the dusty capital Cotonou and are need of refreshment but its worth making a stop at the Point of No Return. A giant gate memorial right on the beach, marking the launching point where 12 million slaves were deported between the 16th and 19th centuries. For a small fee a guide will talk you through its thought provoking history.

6 p.m. - Stop at the shack Coast Bar just down from the memorial for a well earned rest. Pull up a wooden stool on the sand and enjoy the sunset over a cold La Beninoise beer and perhaps a boiled egg with spicy pepper - only 10 cents a throw.

7:30 p.m. - Check-in at the relative luxury of Casa del Papa and be sure to get a bungalow on the beach. Ask reception to book you a driver/guide for your voodoo-packed day tomorrow. Your best bet is to stay here for the evening as Ouidah is no party town. There is bound to be some fresh fish on the menu and you can wash it down with very decent and affordable wine. www.casadelpapa.com/

10 p.m. - Take a stroll along the deserted beach and sit on your balcony listening to the crashing waves before bed.

Saturday

7 a.m. Time for a swim. You can have a few lengths in the pool overlooking the beach or take on the sea. The waves are rough but it's a good morning workout. Don't go much beyond the break of the waves as the West African currents are legendary.

8 a.m. Enjoy croissant, eggs, coffee and delicious fresh fruit for breakfast. Watch the lines of fishermen pulling in the morning catch, looking much like a one-sided tug-of-war.

9 a.m. Start your cultural experience at the small Musee D'Histoire De Ouidah, where you'll get a grounding in Benin's slave and voodoo history.

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10:30 a.m. Visit the Voodoo Python Temple. It's a bit of a tourist trap but the sight of a room filled with dozens of pythons is sure to stick in the memory and if not you can get a picture with one draped around your neck.

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12 p.m. Just around the corner is the peaceful Sacred Forest, which contains a 400-year-old Iroko tree that allegedly King Kpasse, the town's founder, turned himself into to evade his enemies. There are several bizarre sculptures depicting voodoo deities, including the well-illustrated God of virility!

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1 p.m. - Stop at the artistic guest house Le Jardin Secret for lunch. A small but perfectly formed menu is likely to feature fresh fish, prawns and maybe some goat, all served with either rice, chips or sautéed potatoes. Delicious meals will cost around $10 each. Allow plenty of time because, like everything else in Benin, service is at a relaxed pace. www.lejardinsecretouidah.net/

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3:30 p.m. - You're now ready to visit the Voodoo King - if he grants you an audience. The Voodoo Palace, which he describes as the Vatican of voodoo, has a myriad of totems, fetishes and deity sculptures adorning several outbuildings. If the King agrees then you'll be led into his decorative chamber, where he says he often hosts the President of Benin for private consultations. When he enters you must kneel on the floor and bow at his feet. Bring along your most pressing problems and the King may see fit to solve them, from psychological demons to physical ailments, he claims nothing is beyond his powers.

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5:30 p.m. - Hit the coastal road and head for the town of Grand Popo, a short drive towards the border with Togo.

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7 p.m. - Head straight for Auberge de Grand Popo, a colonial-style guesthouse on an empty golden beach, peppered with palm trees. Have dinner in the thatched-roof terrace overlooking the sea, where you'll enjoy some of the best food in Benin. All the fish, steaks and chicken come with rich sauces and cooked vegetables with wines to match. Finish the evening playing the French game Petanque, or boules, on the sand by the restaurant and then take a stroll down the beach before settling into a comfortable sea-view room. here

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Sunday

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8:30 p.m. - After breakfast ask the hotel to organize a Pirogue boat trip to the Bouche du Roy, a large expanse of water where the Mono River empties into the ocean. You'll spot many scenic island villages on a great two hour trip. www.naturetropicale.org/

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12 p.m. - On your drive back to Ouidah ask the driver to take you to a traditional voodoo temple. If you're lucky you'll see vodun worship at its most atmospheric, if slightly grisly. You might witness a ceremony aimed at spurring love, where two voodoo dolls are bound together before sacred gin is poured over them and a chicken is sacrificed. It's fascinating stuff but if you're not keen on watching a decapitated chicken spraying blood around a dark room full of skulls and fetishes then it might be best to avoid it.

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3 p.m. - Talk about your experiences over a beer and perhaps a strangely delicious spaghetti sandwich in one of the bars down the alleyways of central Ouidah. Grab a plastic chair and a beer, listen to hypnotic West African music and ask the locals about their thoughts on voodoo.

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(Writing by Joe Brock, editing by Paul Casciato)

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Neighbors relieved as Fritzl 'dungeon' sealed off

The cellar where Josef Fritzl kept his daughter captive for 24 years and fathered seven children with her is being sealed off with concrete, much to the relief of neighbors keen to forget one of Austria's most horrific crimes.

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Fritzl, 78, was sentenced in 2009 to life imprisonment in a special unit for the criminally insane for incest, rape, coercion, false imprisonment, enslavement and for the negligent homicide of one of his infant sons.

 

"The dungeon will be filled with concrete and thus sealed at the family's request," estate liquidator Walter Anzboeck told Friday's edition of the Oesterreich newspaper.

The construction work began on Thursday and is expected to take a week, costing a total of 100,000 euros ($131,800).

The idea is then to sell the house in the town of Amstetten in the province of Lower Austria, Anzboeck told the paper.

Neighbors welcomed the news, though some said the house should be demolished.

"Hopefully it will quiet down again and Amstetten will no longer be known as the Fritzl town," Katharina Sitz, 34, told the Krone newspaper.

"There will always be crazy people who want to buy the house because of Fritzl. It should be torn down," said Oliver Michailov, 45.

Krone quoted an unnamed neighbor as saying: "They should cement Fritzl in there as well."

Fritzl imprisoned his daughter Elisabeth in the basement of the family home when she was 18. His wife, Rosemarie, reported her missing but Fritzl ordered his daughter to write a letter saying she had run away.

Three of the seven children he fathered with Elisabeth lived with her until they were freed in 2008. Fritzl and his wife fostered the other three surviving children after Fritzl claimed Elisabeth had given birth to them and then abandoned them to join a religious sect.

The Fritzl case followed the uncovering in 2006 of the Natascha Kampusch saga. Kampusch was kidnapped at the age of 10 by Wolfgang Priklopil and held in a windowless cell under his house near Vienna for eight years before she escaped.

(Reporting by Michael Shields, editing by Gareth Jones)

Travel Picks: Top 10 European Cities To See Now

With summer prices on the rise, everyone is eager to explore some places that are just starting to appear on many travelers' radars. With up and coming spots in Europe as the focus, the editors and members of travel website VirtualTourist (www.virtualtourist.com) have compiled a list of the 'Top 10 European Cities To See Now'. Reuters has not endorsed this list:

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1. Lviv, Ukraine

 

Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine that's become a modern business hub, is the spot VirtualTourist members unanimously agreed is the top European city to see now. Many of its highlights are found in an incredibly compact central area, making it the perfect place to explore on a weekend jaunt. Start in Rynok Square, the center of city, which is surrounded by almost 50 unique architectural monuments including the Kornyakt Palace, a Renaissance landmark. Visitors can't miss the Lviv Opera House, a Neo-Renaissance treasure that is often compared to opera houses of Paris and Vienna. In July, the city hosts "Night Lviv," a festival that includes over 100 night tours and theatrical performances, like a fire show, late into the night.

2. Hamburg, Germany

Located in Northern Germany on the Elbe River, Hamburg has been overshadowed by Berlin for far too long. With the diversity of being Germany's second largest city and the outdoor opportunities of a metropolis on the water, Hamburg is primed for a great tourism boom in coming years. Providing both small town qualities with big city growth, you can stroll along Jungfernsteig on Alster Lake just as families have done throughout history or check out the city's concert hall-in-the-making, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, in the buzzing neighborhood of HafenCity. 3. Vilnius, Lithuania

Home to the largest Baroque old town in Eastern and Central Europe, Lithuania's capital is a great destination for travelers interested in architecture. The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is a Baroque masterpiece, with close to 2,000 stucco figures inside, and the pink façade of the Church of Saint Catherine makes it difficult to miss. Multiple VirtualTourist members recommend visiting St. John's Church and its bell tower, and while Vilnius is famous for Baroque buildings, the gothic St. Anne's Church is also a must-see. Another interesting spot, the Gates of Dawn, is a shrine within the sole surviving gate of the first original five gates in the city wall; it houses an exceptional portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 4. Valencia, Spain

Only a short train ride from Barcelona, Valencia is finally coming into its own as Spain's third largest city and a tourism destination in its own right. The city has a unique combination of historical sites and modern attractions. Near the Plaza de la Virgen, visitors can see a number of religious landmarks, such as the Catedral, which holds the Holy Chalice that according to tradition was used by Christ during the last Supper. Another historical site is the Llotja de la Seda (Silk Exchange), a UNESCO Heritage Site and a great example of Gothic architecture that illustrates the important role the city has in Mediterranean trade throughout history. Newer landmarks are Valencia-born "starchitect" Santiago Calatrava's City of Arts and Sciences a complex which includes an IMAX theatre, the largest aquarium in Europe, an interactive science museum, and a four hall performance arts center.

5. Porto, Portugal

Built into the hillsides that rise above the Douro River, Porto has long been a favorite amongst VirtualTourist travelers. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site and its wine is renowned the world over. Favorite spots among VirtualTourist members include strolling the Ribeira district along the waterfront, visiting the Cathedral or the Sao Bento railway station to view the azulejos (ceramic hand-painted tiles), and stopping by the Lello bookshop. There are also great new buildings to see in Porto including Rem Koolhaas' Casa de Musica, which hosts classical music concerts every Sunday at noon for less than 10 Euros.

6. Zagreb, Croatia

Croatia's cities along the Adriatic Sea have long been in the limelight, but the country's capital, Zagreb, is ready for its close-up. Members love riding the funicular to the city's Upper Town, where the Zagreb Cathedral, St. Mark's Church, and the Lotrscak Tower are located. The neo-gothic Cathedral is actually within a medieval fort making it a must-see for both architecture lovers and history buffs, and St. Mark's Church is famous for the coat-of-arms on its colorful roof. VirtualTourist members also noted that the Oktagon, a shopping passage in the Lower Town, is a beautiful experience and a nice change of pace for sightseers.

7. Valletta, Malta

Only 93 km (58 miles) south of the Italian island of Sicily, Malta has historically had great strategic significance due to its location, and is finally coming into its own as a travel destination. Valletta, the country's capital, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was recently named the European Capital of Culture for 2018. One of the most concentrated historic areas in the world, Valletta offers some truly remarkable landmarks including the Co-Cathedral of St. John with its exquisite Baroque interior and two paintings by Caravaggio.

8. Budapest, Hungary

Although it has long been on lists of European cities to watch, it seems Budapest is finally primed to be a destination unto itself. Originally two separate cities on either side of the Danube, the capital is noted for its romantic architecture, landmarks with panoramic views, and spa culture. The Buda Castle, Fisherman's Bastion, and Matthias Church in Trinity Square are lie on the Buda side of the river, while the Parliament Building and the Gresham Palace, an outstanding example of Hungarian Art Nouveau architecture (now home to the Four Seasons Hotel) are on the Pest side of the river. Many VirtualTourist members enjoy photographing the sites from boat cruises along the Danube.

9. Riga, Latvia

While many Baltic cities are becoming more popular with tourists, the city of Riga undoubtedly provides an eyeful for every visitor. Known for its grandiose Jugendstil facades, the city is widely recognized as having one of the greatest collections of Art Nouveau architecture in Europe. Old Riga, the historical center on the right bank of the Daugava River, is also popular with visitors for its quaint squares and cobblestoned streets. Favorite spots of VirtualTourist.com members include St. Peter's Church, the House of Blackheads, and the "Three Brothers," a set of three buildings on Maza Pills Street which reflect the changing trends of Latvian architecture over time.

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10. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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While many are aware of the city's ethnic struggles in the 1990s, far too few know of Sarajevo's cultural history and successful rebuilding. The city's position made it directly in the middle of Roman, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian influences throughout the years, all of which are now evidenced in its diversity and its neighborhoods. Bascarsija, the Turkish area of the old town, includes the Sebilj Fountain, built with Moorish details and positioned in front of the Bascarsija Mosque. Other landmarks of note include the Serb Orthodox Cathedral, the Academy of Arts housed in a former Evangelical church, and the Latin Bridge over the river Miljacka. It was on this bridge that Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, inciting the World War 1.

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(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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Heeding Putin, Russian Duma backs ban on same-sex adoptions

Russian lawmakers passed a bill on Friday barring same-sex foreign couples from adopting Russian children, heeding strong signals of support from President Vladimir Putin and broadening a rift with Western nations over gay rights.

The State Duma, or lower house of parliament, approved the bill by a 444-0 vote in its third and final reading, sending it to the upper chamber, which is also expected to approve it.

 

Both houses are dominated by the United Russia party, which is loyal to Putin.

In power since 2000, Putin has championed socially conservative values and held up the Russian Orthodox Church as a moral compass since he weathered a wave of protests by mostly urban liberals and started a third Kremlin term last year.

He has rejected U.S. and European criticism of a ban on spreading gay "propaganda" among minors that the Duma passed earlier this month that gay rights activists fear has fuelled attacks on homosexuals.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement on Thursday that the "propaganda" ban could stigmatize gays and cause discrimination, and the United States has said it severely restricts freedom of expression and assembly.

The Duma vote to ban adoptions by same-sex couples from abroad came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has criticized Putin over civil rights, met him at a showcase Russian economic forum in St Petersburg.

Germany has also condemned the gay "propaganda" ban and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who is gay, said after its passage that attempts to stigmatize same-sex relationships had no place in a democracy.

"WAVE OF HOMOPHOBIA"

Putin says Russia does not discriminate against gays, but he has criticized them for not adding to Russia's population, which has declined sharply since the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.

The same-sex adoption ban was rushed through parliament after Putin said in late April that a new French law allowing same-sex marriage went against traditional Russian values.

It also bars adoptions by unmarried foreigners from countries where same-sex marriage is legal.

The ban fits into a Kremlin campaign to restrict foreign adoptions, a sensitive issue after Americans and Europeans flooded into Russia in the post-Soviet era to adopt children.

In December, Putin signed a law banning all adoptions by Americans, a move motivated by disputes with Washington over human rights and what Russia says is the insufficient prosecution of adoptive U.S. parents suspected of abuse.

Advocates of adoption say same-sex couples can provide loving homes for children who might otherwise founder in Russia's troubled system of orphanages. Relatively few Russian couples adopt despite state efforts to promote the practice.

Same-sex marriage is legal in 15 countries, including seven in Western Europe, and in some jurisdictions in the United States and Mexico. Same-sex couples are not recognized under Russian law and cannot adopt.

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A March poll by the independent Levada Centre found that 85 percent of Russians opposed same-sex marriage. But there is no big grassroots movement against gay rights in Russia and critics say the measures are being imposed from the top down.

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"It's pretty strange to see this major wave of homophobia in a country where two-thirds of society was brought up by same-sex couples - mother and grandmother," one Internet user said in an online forum, referring to the problem of absentee fathers.

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(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Art helps Roma children dream again in Hungary

In a classroom in this impoverished corner of eastern Hungary, children draw pictures of an imaginary village filled with colorful houses where Roma and non-Roma families live in harmony and people have enough money to get by.

When the class ends in the town of Berettyoujfalu, some 270 km east of the Hungarian capital, pupils go home to their real-life village, Told, where houses have no running water or sewage and illiteracy is often a problem among the mostly Roma families who live there.

 

A small art class brings little change to the dire poverty that plagues hundreds of thousands of people in Hungary, but that does not stop a few activists from trying such programs in the most destitute areas of the country.

A lucky few children do end up better off as a result.

Istvan Otvos, 15, started drawing four years ago. Last year he and another pupil had a chance to go to Portugal where they won a prize at an international art contest.

From September he hopes to enroll at one of Hungary's best secondary schools, run by the Catholic church.

"This is a fantasy bird, a kind of fairytale bird," Otvos said, showing off his painting of a huge golden peacock-like bird depicted against a bright blue sky.

"I'd like to make something better with my life through drawing," he said with a timid smile.

The Igazgyongy (Pearl) art education foundation, which teaches the art classes, tries to give Roma children like Otvos a chance to break out of hopeless poverty in families where generations grow up without seeing their parents work.

In Told only 12 of the 354 local residents have jobs, and about 30 more are on state-run public works programs.

In all, there are 670 children who learn to draw and paint in classes run by the Pearl foundation from two dozen nearby villages, including Told and the village of Hencida, where Otvos lives. More than two thirds come from underprivileged families.

In the last census two years ago, 315,000 people in Hungary declared themselves Roma. But the actual size of the minority group is estimated at 700,000 in a population of 10 million.

Most of them live in poverty-stricken areas of eastern and southern Hungary. Prejudice and resentment against the Roma is widespread in the central European country and has been exacerbated by a Europe-wide economic crisis.

"The biggest problem is that poverty has been accumulating for generations in these isolated pockets," said Nora Ritok, who set up the foundation more than a decade ago.

"We don't want all 670 kids to become artists, that's not our primary goal. The most important is whether we can help them develop their personalities in a way that builds self-esteem... and could strengthen their will and give them a goal in life."

BREAKING OUT

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Helena Szabo, 11, is one of six children in Told who receive a monthly grant of 10,000 forints ($45.60) from the foundation, which their families get in the last week of each month, providing the children attend school and the parents agree to cooperate with the foundation.

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By then, even buying basic foodstuffs is often a problem. Social workers help these families decide what the money could be best used for - food, clothing, or books.

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Besides the immediate financial help, the main goal is to help parents understand that going to school and studying is important and can be a way out of misery.

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"I will be a good student... and may become a florist, or a shop owner," Szabo says, proudly showing her drawings.

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She lives in a house in Told which has no glass windows and the door is covered with a piece of cloth. The house had been so badly infested with rats that the foundation had to step in to help eradicate them.

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Ritok says for some time, she believed a good school could help work off some of the enormous disadvantages for children like Szabo. But she says a much more complex solution is needed to tackle the problems.

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The foundation is doing social work besides art education, and keeps in close contact with the children's families.

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They collect and distribute charity aid, help families to get to the doctor if needed and have created a community house and garden where locals grow vegetables.

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Using the children's drawings, local women make embroidered pillowcases and bags that are on sale in the shop of Budapest's Museum of Ethnography.

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The children win hundreds of prizes in art contests at home and internationally each year, Ritok says.

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But she believes it would be a mistake to declare it a success if one or two Roma manage to get into higher education.

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"I'd say the real success is when it's a case of 100 or 200 children...achieving some kind of positive change," she said.

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($1 = 219.2816 Hungarian forints)

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(Reporting by Krisztina Than, editing by Paul Casciato)

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Merkel tells Putin Germany wants looted art returned

Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Vladimir Putin on Friday that German art seized by the Soviets in the wake of World War Two should be repatriated to Germany, a claim the Russian leader swiftly rejected.

The tense exchange took place as they opened an exhibition at the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg during a trip by Merkel to Russia. The exhibition about the Bronze Age includes 600 items carried off by the Soviet Union as war reparations, according to the German government.

 

Merkel said it was an important step that the works were now going on public display for the first time.

"It's our opinion that these exhibition pieces should be returned to Germany," she said.

Putin replied that it was time to stop making repatriation claims against each other, otherwise Turkey could also demand the return of art from Germany. He said it didn't matter to the average citizen if art is displayed in Berlin, St Petersburg, Moscow or in Turkey.

According to Berlin's Humboldt University, the Soviets plundered more than a million books and thousands of works of art at the end of the war.

Many pieces have still not been traced and it remains a touchy issue in both countries.

The Hermitage museum exhibition, "The Bronze Age of Europe: Europe Without Borders", opens to the public on Saturday, the anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

According to the Hermitage website, the exhibition includes items from a collection known as Priam's Treasure, which were discovered by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century.

Earlier on Friday it had looked as if Merkel's trip to Russia was going to be eclipsed by a spat over the museum event when a German government spokesman in Berlin, Georg Streiter, said Russia had called off the event, arguing that "it was impossible for the host to find the time".

German media seized quickly upon the apparent last-minute change of schedule as a likely sign of deteriorating relations between the two countries, proclaiming an "Uproar about looted art" and writing that "Putin is a miserable diplomat".

But Putin later dismissed the speculation of a bust-up and said the museum trip was going ahead. He said there had been some uncertainty over whether there would be time for the event.

"SENSITIVE QUESTION"

Merkel was in Russia to address an economic forum in St Petersburg hosted by Putin.

Addressing the issue of repatriating artworks, Putin said earlier: "I think this is a very sensitive question for civil societies in both countries... So if we want any progress, we should not blow the problem out of proportion but seek ways to solve it".

"Probably we should not start a discussion now because people will appear on the Russian side who would evaluate the damage done to our art during World War Two." he added.

_0">

Tension between Berlin and Moscow was apparent when Putin visited the Hanover trade fair in April.

_1">

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, criticized Russian government pressure on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations, saying: "A lively civil society can only emerge when individuals can operate without fear or worry, of course on the basis of law".

_2">

Her foreign minister, the openly gay Guido Westerwelle, has also protested about a new law against homosexual "propaganda".

_3">

But Germany has to keep up good ties with Russia because of its dependency on Russian natural gas. Merkel says maintaining a dialogue is the best way to improve civil rights in Russia.

_4">

(Additional reporting by Erik Kirschbaum and Stephen Brown in Berlin, Steve Gutterman and Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow; writing by Sarah Marsh; editing by Stephen Brown and Tom Pfeiffer)

_5">

Pottyless in Seattle: age-old problem of where to go vexes city

Seattle has endured sewage problems since the 19th century, when waste from flush toilets washed back to the city at high tide. Today, it is public potties that have officials of the West Coast city on the edge of their seats.

Seattle wants to replace five self-cleaning toilets that were installed a decade ago for more than $5 million but ended up auctioned on eBay for less than $13,000 because they were often used for drugs and prostitution.

 

In its search for the perfect prefabricated public toilet, the city is looking no farther than Portland, Oregon, its trendy neighbor, and the Portland Loo.

Patented by Portland in 2010, the toilet reflects the attitude of a number of North American municipalities that simple sidewalk toilets that meet a basic public need while discouraging other uses are the way to go.

"It's designed to be not convenient to go into and do something illicit or something you shouldn't be doing," said Linc Mann, spokesman for Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services, which oversees toilet maintenance in the city and helps cover its costs by selling the Portland Loo to other cities. The starting price: $90,000.

Although big enough to accommodate a bicycle or a stroller, the Portland Loo is much smaller than Seattle's previous large stainless steel toilets. It is also less private, with metal slats along the top and bottom that allow a view if police suspect illegal activity inside.

To cut the time people spend in the toilet and to discourage clothes washing, the sink is on the outside of the Portland Loo. And, unlike the toilets Seattle sold that had a three-minute self-cleaning cycle between each use, the Portland Loo is cleaned the old-fashioned way, twice a day.

Cities like Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles have toilets similar to Seattle's castaways, with installation and maintenance costs typically paid by vendors in exchange for advertising in the toilets and at bus shelters.

Each week, Portland fields a handful of calls about its public toilet, Mann said. The Canadian cities of Victoria and Nanaimo have each purchased a Portland Loo, as has Ketchikan, Alaska. San Diego, Cincinnati, Houston and other cities have expressed interest.

Romtec, Inc, based in Oregon, recently began marketing its own version of the Portland Loo, called a Sidewalk Restroom, for less than half the price.

QUEST FOR A TOILET

Seattle is expected to decide at a City Council meeting within the next few weeks whether to buy one Portland Loo. A proposal before the council calls for a private developer to foot the bill for purchase and installation.

"There are literally tens of thousands of people coming here and no public restrooms", said Leslie Smith, head of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, which is spearheading an effort to bring the Portland Loo to a part of town that has two sports stadiums. "People have to have somewhere to go."

According to the most recent U.S. census figure, 608,660 people live in Seattle.

Robert Brubaker, a program manager with the American Restroom Association, which advocates for more and better public toilets, said the Portland Loo is an improvement over Seattle's previous toilets. But, he observed, "It's difficult to solve the problem with a single unit where multiple toilets are needed."

Brubaker said that in addition to toilets, cities are well-served by signs directing people to such facilities and paying businesses that open restrooms to the public.

_0">

He said many states have enacted plumbing codes requiring businesses to open their restrooms to customers and "visitors," but increased security has made it harder to gain access to restrooms in public or semi-public buildings.

_1">

A 2008 city report found that in downtown Seattle, where most restaurant toilets were reserved for customers, alleyways had become an option.

_2">

Gary Johnson, Seattle's city center coordinator, said he does not think the problem has gotten any better since that report. "Just because access to toilets has gone away, the need for them certainly hasn't," Johnson said.

_3">

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Arlene Getz, Toni Reinhold)

_4">

Gangs of Cairo? Egyptian minister fights culture war

"Gangs of New York" seems a fitting favorite movie for Egypt's new culture minister, a film studies professor who styles himself an outsider fighting to break the hold of a privileged elite over spending on the arts.

Artists enraged that he fired the head of Cairo Opera, and fearing Muslim puritans may ban ballet, have barricaded Alaa Abdel Aziz from entering his own ministry.

 

The "culture war" has come to symbolize a wider conflict between the Islamist government and secular opponents ahead of rival mass rallies later this month to mark the first anniversary in power of President Mohamed Mursi.

Speaking at the dusty state publishing house where he has set up camp, Abdel Aziz told Reuters he would ban nothing. Rather, he would support "people's art" beyond the capital, end corruption inherited from the old regime and see that cultural spending reflects how democratic revolution has changed Egyptian society.

"My concern is providing cultural services throughout Egypt, not financial benefits for a few intellectuals," he said in an interview, justifying high-profile dismissals that have prompted the sit-in, and occasional scuffles, at the Culture Ministry.

As for his own tastes, the 52-year-old academic cites films by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, Iranian and French cinema, and the work of American director Terrence Malick.

One favorite is Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" - perhaps appropriately, a Civil War-era tale of upstart incomers and corrupt, entrenched interests battling for power on the streets of a new country.

That taste for Hollywood sets Abdel Aziz apart from some allies of Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood, who have used the power they won in elections since the 2011 revolution to urge an end to public displays of ballet or belly-dancing, or even censorship of on-screen romance.

"FRIGHTENING AND BARBARIC"

To his opponents, Abdel Aziz is an artistic nobody, a know-nothing pawn of the Brotherhood, bent on an Islamic morality campaign that threatens a cosmopolitan cultural scene long envied across the socially conservative Arab world. The truth, he says, has more to do with vested interests than artistic freedom.

"Very simply, I am from outside the traditional cultural community which has controlled Egyptian cultural life for long decades," he said. "That poses a kind of threat to them."

He accused opponents of spreading lies about him and called some of the criticism "frightening and barbaric".

"The revolution took place to create change in society," he said. "And culture also has to change to keep pace with that."

After Abdel Aziz removed the French-trained flautist who had run the Opera House complex for the past year, a performance of Verdi's set-in-Egypt "Aida" was replaced by a protest by singers and musicians against the "Brotherhoodization" of culture.

Now the fate of ballerinas has become an unlikely rallying cry for millions who say they will join street protests to mark Mursi's anniversary on June 30.

His year in office has been marked by complaints that the Brotherhood has leveraged its organizational muscle into dominating political institutions, and now wants to impose its social views on the less cohesive liberal factions which were its allies in toppling veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak.

_0">

But Abdel Aziz, a member of a small Islamic party, laughed off fears of Islamist "colonization" of the administration. He said anyone "competent and trustworthy" was welcome in it, "whether Muslim Brother or ... Marxist or liberal."

_1">

Nor was he out to censor, as his opponents feared: "With the opera and ballet, this isn't about wanting to abolish anything; we are addressing ... administrative failure," he said.

_2">

"When there's a ballet on in a theatre that seats 620 and only eight seats are booked, that's a disaster ... Yet when measures are taken to address those errors, you find yourself confronted by these ferocious, frightening, barbaric attacks."

_3">

Budgets are still under review and it is unclear whether Abdel Aziz may divert resources beyond the big cities. "People's art" is a priority - "art that has a public to receive it".

_4">

He would like to help Egypt's film industry back to the heyday it last enjoyed in black and white, but takes a global view. "I care about all kinds of cinema," he said. "I watch Hollywood cinema as much as I watch Iranian cinema, or French cinema.

_5">

"I'm very interested in cinema that critiques society, like Scorsese's 'Gangs of New York' - one of the films I love."

_6">

As the army prepares to prevent rival camps shedding blood on the streets of Cairo, Abdel Aziz said protest was fine, but accused opponents in the culture war of fighting dirty.

_7">

"I don't object to protests because I was once a protester myself and took part in sit-ins," he said of his exile from the ministry. "But the problem is when you lie."

_8">

(Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Mark Trevelyan)

_9">

Nik Wallenda smiles in face of dangerous Grand Canyon wire walk

When daredevil Nik Wallenda caught sight of the taut cable stretched over the yawning chasm of the Grand Canyon for the first time on Friday, his reaction ahead of his death-defying high-wire crossing on Sunday was pure glee.

"It was funny, I couldn't get the grin off my face. My playground's there and it's almost set up. It looks incredible," Wallenda, looking relaxed in jeans and a blue T-shirt, told reporters at a news conference in Flagstaff, in northern Arizona.

"I know that I'm mentally prepared, I know that I'm physically prepared, and now I can see that wire in place and visualize where I'm going to walk and how I'm going to walk and what I'm going to see," he added.

 

The self-described "King of the High Wire," Wallenda plans to step out late on Sunday onto the two-inch diameter steel cable rigged across a remote section of the Grand Canyon with nothing but the Little Colorado River more than a quarter mile below.

The 1,400-foot (426.7 meter) walk will be the highest tightrope attempt ever for the 34-year-old, at a height greater than the Empire State Building. It will be carried live on the Discovery Channel, with a 10-second time delay.

A seventh-generation member of the "Flying Wallendas" family of acrobats, Wallenda made history last year by becoming the only person to walk a wire over the brink of Niagara Falls. He will be using the same cable in the attempt on Sunday.

He first dreamed of the challenge during a visit to the Grand Canyon with his parents as a teenager. He said he has been mentally preparing since a return in 2007 by imagining himself stepping onto a wire.

There was no immediate word on any potential financial gain for Wallenda, but he is listed by the Discovery Channel as one of the executive producers of the live broadcast of his high-wire crossing.

A Discovery Channel spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

GREATEST CHALLENGE THE WIND

Viewers watching the challenge live in 217 countries will be able to share Wallenda's dizzying point of view from the cable during the 25- to 30-minute crossing, through the two cameras rigged to his body, he said.

"Although I won't hear their thunderous applause, I know they will be applauding when I get to the other side," he said.

During the crossing, Wallenda will wear moccasins his mother made with an elk-skin sole, which allow him to feel the wire and have an all-weather grip. He will hold a 43-pound (20-kg) balancing pole.

The life-threatening danger inherent in the attempt without a tether or safety net is ever present. Clan patriarch Karl Wallenda, Nik's great-grandfather, slipped and fell to his death from a high wire in Puerto Rico in 1978.

Wallenda said his greatest concern is the unpredictable wind gusts that are prone to buffet the site in a remote section of the crimson-hued Grand Canyon on the Navajo Nation.

"The wind, it's really an unknown ... it's really the only concern I have stepping on that wire," he said, noting gusts of 38 miles per hour were recorded at the site on Thursday.

_0">

Wallenda trained in Florida during the gales of Tropical Storm Andrea to prepare, and used air boats to blast him with side and updrafts of 55 miles per hour.

_1">

A safety team, led by his father, will be on hand to pluck him off the cable within 60 seconds should he face a life-threatening situation on Sunday

_2">

"Even if the winds start to pick up, if there were crazy gusts, anything, I can go down to that wire and hold on and have rescue there very quick," he said.

_3">

While his strong Christian faith, which he talks about in his new book "Balance," plays little role in the training, it is clearly a comfort to Wallenda as he contemplates the danger to his life as he steps out into the void on Sunday.

_4">

"That's really where I get my peace," he said. "I have confidence that if something were to happen to me, I know where I'm going." The story was corrected to add dropped word "of" in first sentence

_5">

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)

_6">

Nik Wallenda confident ahead of Grand Canyon high wire act

Daredevil Nik Wallenda, confident but with his heart pounding, will take a step onto a high wire stretched taut over the yawning chasm of the Grand Canyon on Sunday in a death-defying crossing that will be broadcast live around the world.

"Sunday is go time, and that's when the adrenaline kicks in and ... before you know it, it's all over," Wallenda, smiling and looking relaxed in jeans and a T-shirt, told reporters at a news conference before the challenge.

The self-described "King of the High Wire," Wallenda plans to walk a 2-inch diameter steel cable rigged across a remote section of the crimson-hued Grand Canyon with nothing but the Little Colorado River more than a quarter mile below.

The 1,400-foot (426.7 meter) walk will be the highest tightrope attempt ever for the 34-year-old, at a height greater than the Empire State Building. The walk will be carried live on the Discovery Channel starting at 5 p.m. PT (midnight GMT), with a 10-second time delay.

 

After checking out the newly rigged wire on Friday, Wallenda said: "I'm ready ... I know that I'm mentally prepared, I know that I'm physically prepared, and now I can see that wire in place and visualize where I'm going to walk and how I'm going to walk and what I'm going to see."

A seventh-generation member of the "Flying Wallendas" family of acrobats, Wallenda made history last year by becoming the only person to walk a high wire over the brink of Niagara Falls. He will be using the same cable on Sunday.

He first dreamed of the challenge during a visit to the Grand Canyon with his parents as a teenager.

There was no immediate word on whether Wallenda will gain anything financially, but he is listed by the Discovery Channel as one of the executive producers of the live broadcast of his high-wire crossing. A Discovery Channel spokesman could not be reached for comment on that issue.

'SEE YOU IN A LITTLE BIT'

Viewers watching live in 217 countries will share Wallenda's dizzying point of view from the cable during the 25- to 30-minute crossing, through cameras rigged to his body, he said.

There will be no special ritual before he steps over the void, just a kiss, a hug and a prayer with his wife, Erendira, and their three children, then the words, "See you in a little bit."

"I am a man that believes that words are strong and that's why I say ‘See you in a little bit' and not ‘Goodbye,'" he said.

During the crossing, Wallenda will wear moccasins his mother made with an elk-skin sole, which allow him to feel the wire and have an all-weather grip. He will hold a 43-pound (20-kg) balancing pole.

The danger of the attempt without tether or safety net is ever present. Clan patriarch Karl Wallenda, Nik's great-grandfather, slipped and fell to his death from a high wire in Puerto Rico in 1978.

Wallenda said his greatest concern was the unpredictable wind gusts that are prone to buffet the site in a remote section of the Grand Canyon's watershed on the Navajo Nation. These gusts were recorded at nearly 40 miles per hour before the weekend.

Wallenda trained in his Florida hometown of Sarasota as Tropical Storm Andrea barreled ashore and used air boats to blast him with side and updrafts of 55 miles per hour.

_0">

A safety team, led by his father, will be on hand to pluck him off the cable within 60 seconds should he face a life-threatening situation.

_1">

While his strong Christian faith, which he talks about in his new book "Balance," plays little role in the training, it is clearly a comfort to Wallenda as he contemplates danger.

_2">

"That's really where I get my peace," he said. "I have confidence that if something were to happen to me, I know where I'm going."

_3">

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson)

_4">

Geeks oust miners among Australia's new rich as boom fades

In a country synonymous with larger-than-life mining tycoons and Outback heroes, the geeks are quietly inheriting the earth.

As coal magnate Nathan Tinkler, the poster boy for Australia's fading 10-year minerals boom, publicly battles against bankruptcy, software entrepreneurs Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar are riding high.

 

The former college buddies behind fast-growing software firm Atlassian unceremoniously bumped Tinkler off the top of Australia's "young rich list", leading a charge in the country's blooming technology industries.

The tech start-up and biotech sectors are at the forefront of a push to transform Australia from an exporter of iron ore to an exporter of ideas.

"It's a pretty primitive economy," said internet entrepreneur Matt Barrie. "We basically dig stuff up out of the ground, put it on a boat and ship it."

As part of ambitious plans to change that, the government has announced millions of dollars in new venture capital funding and large-scale reviews of the technology sector. A A$38 billion ($36.2 billion) National Broadband Network (NBN) will bring high-speed internet to almost all the 23 million population.

"As the rollout of the NBN continues, the capacity for start-up companies, particularly in the tech and digital sectors, to create game-changing businesses and applications is unprecedented," said Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

START-UP SUCCESS

Online and high-tech start-ups account for just 0.1 percent of GDP and 9,500 jobs, but the sector is growing rapidly. A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) suggests it could account for 4 percent of GDP and 540,000 jobs by 2033.

That puts Australia well behind Silicon Valley in California, the epicentre of start-ups, but growing activity in Sydney and Melbourne are putting those cities on the edge of the world top 10 that currently includes London, Tel Aviv and Singapore alongside U.S. cities San Francisco, Seattle, Boulder and Austin.

All eyes are currently on Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar, amid expectations they will list Atlassian on Nasdaq within the next year, a plan first flagged in 2010 when U.S. venture capital firm Accel Partners saw its potential and invested $60 million.

Founded by the pair straight out of university 10 years ago using a A$10,000 credit card debt, Atlassian is now a world leader in collaboration and bug tracking software, pulling in revenue of A$103 million in 2011 without a single salesperson.

Its products are used by 25,000 companies in 135 countries, including McDonalds Inc, Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc, eBay Inc, Boeing Co and the U.S. space agency NASA.

Cannon-Brookes said the company had an annual compound growth rate of 30-35 percent, but declined to give a timeframe for listing.

"It's a logical next step for us to take," Cannon-Brookes said.

He said the company planned to add another 100 employees in the next quarter to its current staff of 700, based mainly in Sydney, San Francisco and Amsterdam.

_0">

YOUNG, RICH AND AUSSIE

_1">

The success of Atlassian propelled Farquhar and Cannon-Brookes to the top of the Business Review Weekly Young Rich List, ousting Tinkler, the former youngest billionaire in the country, whose rags-to-riches-and-back tale took another twist this month with the sale of his stake in Whitehaven Coal Ltd.

_2">

Farquhar, and Cannon-Brookes are worth A$480 million combined, on 2012 figures, ahead of Tinkler's A$400 million fortune.

_3">

The gap has widened further since then, with Atlassian growing and Tinkler dropping off the magazine's more recently calculated main Rich List of the country's wealthiest 200 people.

_4">

On current form, he will also disappear from the 2013 Young Rich List, which ranks the 100 wealthiest people under the age of 41, when it is published later this year.

_5">

While the main Rich List is still dominated by entrenched mining tycoons such as Gina Rinehart and Fortescue Metal Group's Andrew Forrest, the young list is notable for containing 24 people who made their fortunes in technology.

_6">

Close behind the Atlassian duo at No.4 was PC Tools founder Simon Clausen. No.8 was Ruslan Kogan, a serial entrepreneur specialising in online retail sites. At No.10 were Mitchell Harper and Eddie Machaalani, who built software-as-a-service platform Bigcommerce. Matt Barrie was at No.50 thanks to his rapidly growing recruitment site freelancer.com.

_7">

BIOTECH GROWTH

_8">

And it's not just the tech geeks rising through the rich ranks. Their contemporaries in the biotech sector are also poised for financial windfalls.

_9">

As the Australian population ages and Asian countries grow increasingly affluent, there is potential for significant growth in the sector, which currently has 95 listed companies valued at A$49 billion, according to research group Bioshares.

_10">

Silviu Itescu, a doctor, scientist and chief executive of stem cell research firm Mesoblast Ltd, features on the main Rich List with a A$400 million fortune, as his company reportedly considers a second listing on Nasdaq.

_11">

Among the minnows tipped to be the next super-earners are neurodegenerative disorder specialist Cogstate Ltd, disinfection and sterilisation expert Nanosonics Ltd, IVF diagnostic test developer Universal Biosensors Inc, sleep disorder appliance maker SomnoMed Ltd.

_12">

"These are all companies that we are expecting to reach profitability in the next 12 to 18 months," said Mark Pachacz, research principle at Bioshares.

_13">

ROADBLOCKS

_14">

But industry experts warn the grand plans to use tech start-ups and biotech to help transform the economy could be stymied by a lack of funding for new ventures in both sectors, a brain drain overseas and a dearth of local science graduates.

_15">

Venture capital firms have been burned by some spectacular failures in recent years, such as regulatory hurdles that hit key products from drug maker Pharmaxis Ltd, while low government grants have been criticised by industry.

_0">

The government moved to address that last week by announcing a review of employee share scheme regulations, which companies such as Atlassian have argued have forced talented staff in new businesses overseas.

_1">

A group of industry leaders, including the Atlassian duo, recently formed Blackbird Ventures to invest A$20 million in Australian start-ups that have the potential to be global success stories.

_2">

Blackbird Managing Director Niki Scevak said it would address a funding gap between a raft of accelerator funds ploughing seed money of up to A$1 million into the market and "series A" funding of more than A$10 million for more established companies from U.S. funds like Accel.

_3">

Blackbird has so far invested in online design platform Canva and Ninja Blocks, a software developer bringing the remote controlled home to the masses by connecting home devices to web and mobile apps.

_4">

"It's a national imperative that we've got to build up the technology industry in this country," said freelancer.com's Barrie. "I can't think of another industry could help us go into next 20, 30 years." ($1 = 1.0486 Australian dollars)

_5">

(Editing by Alex Richardson)

_6">

As Asia embraces casinos, India hedges it bets

Like many visitors to the Casino Royale Goa on a rainy Saturday night on India's western coast, Salim Budhwani said he does not gamble but also had no objection to the betting at the busy tables downstairs.

Despite socially conservative India's ambivalence about gambling, consultancy firm KPMG estimated that $60 billion was wagered in the country in 2010. Much of the gambling is illegal, but attitudes are slowly changing as more Asian countries embrace class="mandelbrot_refrag">gaming as a revenue generator and tourist draw.

 

Legal gambling in the increasingly wealthy country of 1.2 billion is limited to state lotteries, horse races and a handful of class="mandelbrot_refrag">casinos. Most gambling in India, from penny-stake class="mandelbrot_refrag">games at street corners and card parties in affluent homes to wagers on cricket and underground numbers games, is illicit and goes untaxed.

"People are playing on the roadside everywhere. People are playing in their houses," said Budhwani, 33, a luggage retailer from the city of Hyderabad who had brought his family to Goa, a tourist destination and one of two Indian states with class="mandelbrot_refrag">casinos.

"People are educated, they know what's at stake."

Gambling on cricket, India's most popular sport, draws hundreds of millions of dollars.

The country was transfixed last month by a scandal in which several players were accused of taking bribes from bookies, spurring calls for legalizing and regulating sports betting from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, a powerful class="mandelbrot_refrag">business lobby, and others.

Legislation proposed after the cricket scandal is aimed at making cheating in sports a crime although it does not address regulating or legalizing betting.

"It looks like the government has at least become amenable to this discussion, which is important," said Vidushpat Singhania, a lawyer who helped draft the match-fixing legislation and favors legalizing gambling.

Despite the allure of India for global operators, Indian law forbids foreign direct investment in casinos, meaning companies like Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts can only tap the market by targeting Indians going overseas.

Many wealthy Indian families hold wedding parties in Macau, the world's largest class="mandelbrot_refrag">gaming destination, bringing affluent guests for the festivities and the gambling.

In recent years, major awards ceremonies for the massive Bollywood film industry have been staged in Singapore's Marina Bay Sands, Malaysia's Genting Highlands, Macau and South Africa's Sun City, all gambling venues.

Besides drawing thousands of visitors from India's well-heeled glitterati, some of the highest-stakes class="mandelbrot_refrag">games around these events involve film stars and producers, insiders say.

For many Indians, gambling is considered propitious around the Diwali festival in October/November, with tens of millions of rupees won or lost during illicit night-long sessions of teen patti or flash, a three-card poker game.

"Indians are prone to gambling as much as the Chinese," said Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, a billionaire investor who with his wife holds a nearly 7 percent stake in Delta Corp, owner of the Casino Royale Goa.

FINAL FRONTIER?

_0">

Inspired by Singapore's two thriving casino resorts, which opened only in 2010 but are among the most lucrative in the world, Asian countries from South Korea and the Philippines to Sri Lanka are developing similar gambling projects.

_1">

Macau is adding at least six casino resorts in the next three years at a cost of $20 billion. The Philippines is building four, while Japan is mulling gaming legislation and Taiwan is in the process of allowing casinos on offshore islands.

_2">

In Sri Lanka, Australian billionaire James Packer's Crown Ltd is close to agreement with authorities to build a $350 million casino resort, which could be a significant draw for visitors from nearby India.

_3">

In India, gaming regulation is fragmented and sometimes contradictory, with some laws dating to the 1800s. Casinos fall under the purview of provincial governments, and just two out of 35 states and other territories have them.

_4">

Online gaming is a grey area. While it is forbidden under information technology law, it is not clear whether that applies to betting on games of skill. Many Indians bet on cricket and other sports at offshore websites, although remittances from such activity violate Indian foreign exchange rules.

_5">

Given the regulatory thicket and slow pace of policymaking in India, many industry-watchers say it will be years before gambling in India becomes a major, mainstream proposition, although a pragmatic acceptance is growing.

_6">

Michael Lobo, a hotel owner and state legislator from the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that rules Goa, said he personally opposes gaming but acknowledged it helps tourism and believes it should be limited to holiday destinations and needs stronger regulation.

_7">

"In the larger interest of Goa, where tourism is concerned, we have to allow casinos," said Lobo, who favors banning Goans from casinos and earlier this year threatened a hunger strike to block the opening of India's first Playboy Club in Goa.

_8">

Jhunjhunwala said it could take roughly 15 years for casino gaming to go from niche to mainstream in India and said opposition to gaming is part of the democratic process.

_9">

"There was prohibition in Bombay once," he said, referring to a ban on alcohol in India's financial capital, now known as Mumbai. "The process of change is always, in India: opposed, consolidation, opposed, acceptance."

_10">

CARDS AND KIDS

_11">

At the Casino Royale Goa, there is as much action on the entertainment and dining floor as at the tables. When a Russian dancer takes the stage, dozens of customers crowd forward to record her performance on cellphone cameras.

_12">

Where in most places entry to casinos is free, those in Goa have a cover charge. At the Casino Royale Goa, which floats on the Mandovi river, the Saturday night entry fee is 2,000 rupees ($34), a hefty sum for India that deters the merely curious. Of that, 500 rupees goes to the Goa government.

_13">

Once inside the 24-hour casino, food and drinks are free, including for patrons who are not placing bets.

_14">

The crowd on a recent night included well-dressed young couples as well as families, who can drop-off their small children in the crèche at the entrance level.

_15">

At some of the tables, dealers teach first-timers. Minimum blackjack bets range from 200 to 5,000 rupees ($3.40-$85), with a maximum bet of 50,000 rupees. The top baccarat bet is 300,000 rupees.

_0">

Three-card poker is also available but roulette is especially popular. "You don't have to spend much time," said 25-year-old Viral Khoda, from Belgaum, a town in the interior of India. "It's quick."

_1">

($1 = 58.7400 Indian rupees)

_2">

(Additional reporting by Farah Master in Hong Kong; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

_3">

Daredevil Nik Wallenda completes high-wire walk across Grand Canyon

Daredevil Nik Wallenda completed a historic high-wire walk on a 2-inch (5-cm) steel cable over the Grand Canyon on Sunday and was greeted by wild cheers after his hair-raising stunt.

Wallenda, the self-described "King of the High Wire," took 22 minutes and 54 seconds to walk 1,400 feet across the crimson-hued canyon with just a distant ribbon of the Little Colorado River beneath him. The event was broadcast live around the world.

Wallenda, the first person to cross the canyon, made the walk without a tether or safety net.

Wallenda could be heard praying almost constantly during the walk, murmuring "Thank you, Jesus." He kissed the ground when he reached the other side.

"It took every bit of me to stay focused that entire time," Wallenda said. "My arms are aching like you wouldn't believe."

He said he stopped and crouched down twice, first because of the wind, the second because the cable had picked up an unsettling rhythm.

He spat on his hands and rubbed it on the sole of his shoe for grip as the cable had gathered dust.

Wallenda said the walk was stressful. But he also said the view, from 1,500 feet above the snaking river, was "breathtaking."

"It was a dream come true," Wallenda said of the crossing. "This is what my family has done for 200 years, so it's part of my legacy."

A seventh-generation member of the "Flying Wallendas" family of acrobats, Wallenda also made history last year by becoming the only person to complete a high-wire walk over the brink of Niagara Falls. He used the same cable on Sunday.

The 34-year-old first dreamed of Sunday's challenge during a visit to the Grand Canyon with his parents as a teenager.

There was no word on the financial benefits of Wallenda's stunt. He was listed by the Discovery Channel as one of the executive producers of the live broadcast. A Discovery spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Viewers watching live in 217 countries were able to share Wallenda's point of view from the cable during the crossing, through cameras rigged to his body. Wallenda held a 43-pound (20-kg) balancing pole.

Nik's great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, slipped and fell to his death from a high wire in Puerto Rico in 1978.

In an interview after Sunday's walk, Nik Wallenda teared up describing how he thought of his great-grandfather.

"I knelt down and I thought of my great-grandfather and that everything I do is to honor him," Wallenda said. "It took my mind off all this movement underneath me ... and I was able to focus on him and regain composure."

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Wallenda said before the crossing that his greatest concern was the unpredictable wind gusts that are prone to buffet the site in a remote section of the Grand Canyon's watershed on the Navajo Nation.

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Wallenda trained in his Florida hometown of Sarasota as Tropical Storm Andrea barreled ashore. He also used air boats to blast him with side and updrafts of 55 miles per hour.

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Wallenda talks about his Christian faith in his new book "Balance."

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"That's really where I get my peace," he said. "I have confidence that if something were to happen to me, I know where I'm going."

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For a future stunt, Wallenda said he dreams of walking between New York's Chrysler Building and Empire State Building.

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(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Doina Chiacu and Stacey Joyce)

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Quirky 'Dumb Ways to Die' campaign sweeps advertising awards

An Australian public service ad campaign that became an internet hit for its black-humored list of reckless ways to die - such as "poke a stick at a grizzly bear" - has added to its luster by scooping up a record number of international class="mandelbrot_refrag">advertising prizes.

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The three-minute short co-produced by Melbourne private rail service Metro Trains to teach people to be careful around trains, 'Dumb Ways to Die', has notched up more than 50 million views on YouTube since its release in November 2012, sparked hundreds of parodies and even become a smartphone game.

 

The clip employs an insanely catchy tune and colorful blobs which die in a variety of ways, including "keeping a rattlesnake as a pet" and "selling both kidneys on the Internet," before culminating in train-related deaths that are described as "the dumbest way to die".

It swept the awards at Sunday's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, winning a record five Grand Prix awards, 18 Gold Lions, three Silver Lions and two Bronze Lions, the most ever awarded to one campaign in the festival's 59-year history.

"The idea stemmed from our staff seeing people doing risky or dumb things around trains," said Leah Waymark, General Manager Corporate Relations at Metro Melbourne, which partnered with class="mandelbrot_refrag">advertising agency McCann Melbourne to produce the class="mandelbrot_refrag">video.

The song, composed by members of Australian bands the Cat Empire and Tinpan Orange, has hit music charts in 28 countries and rocketed to the top 10 on Apple's Australian iTunes charts within 24 hours of its release.

Best of all, Metro Trains reports a 21 percent reduction in accidents and deaths since the campaign began.

"We could never have predicted the scale and speed at which it's grown," Waymark said.

(this story has been corrected to change the management of Metro Trains to private from government)

(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Elaine Lies)

Geeks oust miners among Australia's new rich as boom fades

In a country synonymous with larger-than-life mining tycoons and Outback heroes, the geeks are quietly inheriting the earth.

As coal magnate Nathan Tinkler, the poster boy for Australia's fading 10-year minerals boom, publicly battles against bankruptcy, software entrepreneurs Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar are riding high.

The former college buddies behind fast-growing software firm Atlassian unceremoniously bumped Tinkler off the top of Australia's "young rich list", leading a charge in the country's blooming technology industries.

 

The tech start-up and biotech sectors are at the forefront of a push to transform Australia from an exporter of iron ore to an exporter of ideas.

"It's a pretty primitive economy," said internet entrepreneur Matt Barrie. "We basically dig stuff up out of the ground, put it on a boat and ship it."

As part of ambitious plans to change that, the government has announced millions of dollars in new venture capital funding and large-scale reviews of the technology sector. A A$38 billion ($36.2 billion) National Broadband Network (NBN) will bring high-speed internet to almost all the 23 million population.

"As the rollout of the NBN continues, the capacity for start-up companies, particularly in the tech and digital sectors, to create game-changing businesses and applications is unprecedented," said Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

START-UP SUCCESS

Online and high-tech start-ups account for just 0.1 percent of GDP and 9,500 jobs, but the sector is growing rapidly. A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) suggests it could account for 4 percent of GDP and 540,000 jobs by 2033.

That puts Australia well behind Silicon Valley in California, the epicenter of start-ups, but growing activity in Sydney and Melbourne are putting those cities on the edge of the world top 10 that currently includes London, Tel Aviv and Singapore alongside U.S. cities San Francisco, Seattle, Boulder and Austin.

All eyes are currently on Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar, amid expectations they will list Atlassian on Nasdaq within the next year, a plan first flagged in 2010 when U.S. venture capital firm Accel Partners saw its potential and invested $60 million.

Founded by the pair straight out of university 10 years ago using a A$10,000 credit card debt, Atlassian is now a world leader in collaboration and bug tracking software, pulling in revenue of A$103 million in 2011 without a single salesperson.

Its products are used by 25,000 companies in 135 countries, including McDonalds Inc, Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc, eBay Inc, Boeing Co and the U.S. space agency NASA.

Cannon-Brookes said the company had an annual compound growth rate of 30-35 percent, but declined to give a timeframe for listing.

"It's a logical next step for us to take," Cannon-Brookes said.

He said the company planned to add another 100 employees in the next quarter to its current staff of 700, based mainly in Sydney, San Francisco and Amsterdam.

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YOUNG, RICH AND AUSSIE

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The success of Atlassian propelled Farquhar and Cannon-Brookes to the top of the Business Review Weekly Young Rich List, ousting Tinkler, the former youngest billionaire in the country, whose rags-to-riches-and-back tale took another twist this month with the sale of his stake in Whitehaven Coal Ltd.

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Farquhar, and Cannon-Brookes are worth A$480 million combined, on 2012 figures, ahead of Tinkler's A$400 million fortune.

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The gap has widened further since then, with Atlassian growing and Tinkler dropping off the magazine's more recently calculated main Rich List of the country's wealthiest 200 people.

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On current form, he will also disappear from the 2013 Young Rich List, which ranks the 100 wealthiest people under the age of 41, when it is published later this year.

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While the main Rich List is still dominated by entrenched mining tycoons such as Gina Rinehart and Fortescue Metal Group's Andrew Forrest, the young list is notable for containing 24 people who made their fortunes in technology.

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Close behind the Atlassian duo at No.4 was PC Tools founder Simon Clausen. No.8 was Ruslan Kogan, a serial entrepreneur specializing in online retail sites. At No.10 were Mitchell Harper and Eddie Machaalani, who built software-as-a-service platform Bigcommerce. Matt Barrie was at No.50 thanks to his rapidly growing recruitment site freelancer.com.

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BIOTECH GROWTH

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And it's not just the tech geeks rising through the rich ranks. Their contemporaries in the biotech sector are also poised for financial windfalls.

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As the Australian population ages and Asian countries grow increasingly affluent, there is potential for significant growth in the sector, which currently has 95 listed companies valued at A$49 billion, according to research group Bioshares.

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Silviu Itescu, a doctor, scientist and chief executive of stem cell research firm Mesoblast Ltd, features on the main Rich List with a A$400 million fortune, as his company reportedly considers a second listing on Nasdaq.

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Among the minnows tipped to be the next super-earners are neurodegenerative disorder specialist Cogstate Ltd, disinfection and sterilization expert Nanosonics Ltd, IVF diagnostic test developer Universal Biosensors Inc, sleep disorder appliance maker SomnoMed Ltd.

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"These are all companies that we are expecting to reach profitability in the next 12 to 18 months," said Mark Pachacz, research principle at Bioshares.

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ROADBLOCKS

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But industry experts warn the grand plans to use tech start-ups and biotech to help transform the economy could be stymied by a lack of funding for new ventures in both sectors, a brain drain overseas and a dearth of local science graduates.

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Venture capital firms have been burned by some spectacular failures in recent years, such as regulatory hurdles that hit key products from drug maker Pharmaxis Ltd, while low government grants have been criticized by industry.

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The government moved to address that last week by announcing a review of employee share scheme regulations, which companies such as Atlassian have argued have forced talented staff in new businesses overseas.

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A group of industry leaders, including the Atlassian duo, recently formed Blackbird Ventures to invest A$20 million in Australian start-ups that have the potential to be global success stories.

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Blackbird Managing Director Niki Scevak said it would address a funding gap between a raft of accelerator funds plowing seed money of up to A$1 million into the market and "series A" funding of more than A$10 million for more established companies from U.S. funds like Accel.

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Blackbird has so far invested in online design platform Canva and Ninja Blocks, a software developer bringing the remote controlled home to the masses by connecting home devices to web and mobile apps.

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"It's a national imperative that we've got to build up the technology industry in this country," said freelancer.com's Barrie. "I can't think of another industry that could help us go into the next 20, 30 years." ($1 = 1.0486 Australian dollars)

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(This story refiles to add dropped words "that" and "the" in the final paragraph)

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(Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Does adding exercise to a diet help heavy kids?

Tacking regular exercise on to a diet program for obese kids and teens typically doesn't help them lose any more weight, a new review of past data suggests.

"Changing diet, improving diet, reducing calories is enormously important for weight loss both in kids and adults," said Gary Bennett, who studies obesity prevention at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

"Exercise is important too, but I think we sometimes overemphasize how important exercise is," Bennett, who wasn't involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.

 

Researchers analyzed results from 14 earlier trials that assigned overweight and obese youth to a diet and exercise program or a diet-only intervention. Those programs lasted anywhere from six weeks to six months.

Most studies found kids tended to have a lower body mass index (BMI) - a ratio of weight in relation to height - and a smaller percentage of body fat after completing either type of intervention. Adding aerobic exercise such as jogging or dance to a restricted-calorie diet had little effect on weight loss.

However, kids who did resistance training lost more body fat than those who didn't exercise, according to the analysis. Strength training for an hour or less each week was tied to an extra half a percent drop in body fat and a greater increase in muscle.

"Exercise does not just burn off calories, more importantly it helps to build muscle mass which is beneficial for long-term weight loss and/or weight maintenance," lead author Mandy Ho, from the University of Sydney, Australia, told Reuters Health in an email.

"This is particularly important for the growing kids because over restricting dietary intake may cause adverse effects on normal growth and development."

Ho and her colleagues found some measures of cholesterol and blood sugar, including insulin and HDL ("good") cholesterol, improved with the addition of regular exercise. But changes in other levels, such as LDL ("bad") cholesterol, were greater with a diet plan alone.

In many of the studies, kids gained back the weight - and any cholesterol or blood sugar benefits went away - once the programs were over, the study team wrote in JAMA Pediatrics.

Helping young people lose weight, and especially keep it off, has proven a difficult challenge. One recent study, for example, found little evidence that at-home weight loss programs can affect kids' BMI (see Reuters Health story of June 12, 2013 here: reut.rs/1a59b7d).

Bennett said programs that can change both diet and exercise habits probably are most effective. But for parents who are struggling with a heavy child, "diet is absolutely critical," he said.

"That's really where I would tell parents to focus their time."

SOURCE: bit.ly/12e3mwx JAMA Pediatrics, online June 17, 2013.