Syrians abroad begin voting in election

Syrians living abroad have started voting in the presidential election, which incumbent Bashar al-Assad is expected to win.


Syrian television reported heavy turnout for the one day of expatriate voting, held at the country’s diplomatic missions abroad on Wednesday.

Al-Assad is running alongside two little-known candidates, Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri, in the election, which will be held at home on June 3.

In Lebanon, thousands of Syrians, mainly supporters of al-Assad, queued to vote.

“I am here to vote for my country, Syria, and our leader Bashar al-Assad,” said Fatima, a Syrian from the northern province of Aleppo who refused to give her full name because some of her relatives live in a rebel-held area of Aleppo.

“We are voting for our great leader Bashar al-Assad, who will bring us, God willing, back to our homes,” said Mohammed al-Ali, who hails from the southern Syrian province of Daraa.

Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim, said the polls would be open until 7pm (1600 GMT).

“If the crowd continues to increase, we might extend the voting by two more hours,” he said.

An estimated 1.1 million Syrians are living as refugees in Lebanon.

According to UN agencies, more than 40 per cent of Syria’s pre-war population of 22.4 million people has been displaced by the conflict, which is in its fourth year.

As well as the 2.6 million refugees in neighbouring countries, about 6.5 million are displaced inside Syria.

Several countries – including France, Germany, Belgium and Gulf states – have said they will not allow the Syrian presidential polls to be held in their territories, dismissing them as a sham.

The opposition and its Western allies have repeatedly demanded that al-Assad step down as a first step to ending the civil war, which started in 2011 and has claimed at least 162,000 lives.

An election law adopted by the Syrian parliament this year prevents those who have lived outside Syria for the past decade running, ruling out the participation of most high-profile opposition leaders, who live in exile.

Al-Assad became Syria’s president in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez, who ruled the country for almost 30 years.

Qantas Brisbane staff not warned of cuts

Some Qantas call centre workers who will lose their jobs in Brisbane first heard the news through the media, a union says.


Qantas’ Brisbane call centre, which employs around 200 full-time equivalent employees will be closed by 2016, while its Melbourne operation, which employs approximately 250 full time equivalent employees, would close by mid-2015.

Australian Services Union’s Queensland secretary Julie Bignell said Brisbane staff were given 10 minutes to prepare for a meeting, but some had already heard the news after it had been leaked to the media.

“By then the union office was already receiving text messages and phone calls from our members in the call centres saying `what’s going on?’,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

“That’s just an appalling lack of consideration for your loyal employees to have to run around and ask other people whether they’ve got a job or not.”

Employees in the Brisbane and Melbourne call centres will be offered re-deployment to Hobart, where the airline will base its call centre operations in a single facility by 2016.

Ms Bignell said while the Tasmanian government was offering incentives for Qantas to move its operations to the state, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman had been ignoring repeated requests to meet with the union.

Mr Newman said Qantas, which has moved heavy maintenance and catering to Brisbane in the last year, needed to make its own business decisions.

“They have to arrange activities as they see fit,” the premier said.

“I certainly expect that Qantas will look after the families affected.”

But Shadow Treasurer Curtis Pitt told AAP the premier was standing by to watch more and more companies shed jobs.

“The premier needs to work with industry to help affected workers and drive down Queensland’s 6.3 per cent unemployment rate, levels not seen since the GFC.”

The ASU will meet with Qantas on Thursday to fight for the jobs, but believes more will be heading offshore.

Qantas previously announced a $2 billion transformation program, which will eventually see it shed 5000 jobs.

The airline later rejected claims from the ASU that the announcement of the cuts was leaked by the carrier to media before staff were briefed.

A spokesman for Qantas told AAP that employees were called in for an announcement at the call centre sites before the announcement being made to media.

Quintana takes lead amid confusion on Giro


Quintana, last year’s Tour de France runner-up, pulled away in a controversial descent from the Stelvio pass and increased the gap in the final climb of the 139km trek from Ponte Di Legno.


There was confusion as organisers appeared to neutralise the race during that descent, made dangerous by the terrible weather conditions, but then told teams to ignore the instruction.

“Wrong communication: no neutralisation for the descent from the Passo dello Stelvio. Sorry for the wrong information,” the Giro’s official Twitter feed said in a message replacing an earlier one.

Not everyone was clear about it, however. “Neutralisation of the Stelvio-descent wasn’t brought to all team cars. Big confusion,” Team Saxo Tinkoff wrote on their Twitter feed.

Later on Tuesday, organisers said that they never intended to neutralise the descent.

“In consideration of audio recordings of instructions relayed to Directeurs sportifs during today’s stage, the Directors of the Giro d’Italia would like to clarify that Race Radio provided an inaccurate interpretation of the indications stipulated by the Directors,” they said in a statement.

“As previously stated, the intention was to guarantee rider safety during the first section of the descent (the first six hairpins, approximately 1500 metres) of the Passo dello Stelvio, where visibility was restricted due to low cloud and fog.”

Riding his first Giro, Quintana finished the stage eight seconds ahead of Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal and Frenchman Pierre Rolland took third place 1:13 off the pace.

Quintana now leads Uran, who finished the stage in ninth place and 4:11 down, by 1:41 with Australian Cadel Evans in third place overall 3:21 behind.



“I don’t understand why there is a polemic (dispute). I made up more time on the climb, we didn’t make so much on the descent,” said Quintana.

It was a day to remember as riders suffered gruelling moments in the Dolomites.

Rain froze on the TV cameras as the riders went through a snowy Gavia pass before taking on the feared Stelvio climb.

OPQS manager Patrick Lefevere used Twitter to direct his anger at the man responsible for the sport and technical area of the Giro, writing: “I don’t know if this has something to do with modern cycling, Mauro Vegni. Giro d’Italia shame on you.”

He then took aim at International Cycling Union (UCI) president Brian Cookson, asking: “Is this modern cycling, Brian Cookson?”.

In the descent from the Stelvio, Spain’s Dario Cataldo continued his efforts as confusion rippled through the peloton over the possible neutralisation.

Uran and Evans were dropped by a group featuring Quintana and Rolland.

Going into the final 22.4km climb, Quintana, Rolland, Cataldo and 2012 champion Hesjedal had a 1:30 lead over Uran and the other top contenders.

Cataldo was quickly dropped and, midway through the ascent, the lead had grown to 2:30 with Quintana doing all the work in the front group and accelerating on the steepest part 7.5 km from the finish.

Rolland and Hesjedal made it back on to Quintana’s wheel but Rolland paid for his efforts and disappeared five km from the finish, while Hesjedal had to let go at the end.


(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Alan Baldwin and Ken Ferris)

10 million Twitter fans for Rooney

Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney has cemented his place as the most popular British athlete on social media by going past the 10 million followers mark on Twitter.


The social network released the figures on Monday to mark Rooney hitting the milestone, which also revealed that 74 per cent of his followers are based outside the UK.

The United and England number 10 is now the fifth most followed footballer globally, with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo leading the way with 30 million followers of his official account.

Rooney is the first Premier League player to reach 10 million followers.

Despite playing for Manchester United, London is the city with the highest volume of Rooney followers, and Twitter revealed that 29 per cent of those following Rooney’s official account also do the same with pop star Katy Perry.

The US singer remains the most popular account, with more than 58 million followers.

Rooney now sits ninth on the list of most followed British Twitter users, with One Direction’s Harry Styles top with just over 22 million followers.

Also in the top five are Adele and actress Emma Watson, as well as Styles’ One Direction bandmates Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson.

Rooney is around 500,000 followers behind X Factor boss Simon Cowell, with comedian Russell Brand completing the top 10, which also includes another member of One Direction in Zayn Malik, and fellow musician Ed Sheeran.

As of March this year Twitter had around 240 million monthly active users worldwide, 15 million of which are based in the UK.

The site is still working to keep pace with rival Facebook, which boasts more than one billion active users around the world.

Both sites are said turning their attention to mobile payments, with Twitter already trialling a Buy Now button, where users will be able to make purchases directly from tweets.

New screenshots also seem to suggest Facebook is preparing to introduce a peer-to-peer payment feature to the Messenger app, which would enable users to send money to friends.

Michael Phelps suspended from USA Swimming-sanctioned events for six months

The arrest last Tuesday marked the second time the 29-year-old Baltimore-area native had been arrested for drunken driving, the first being in 2004.


In the first case, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of driving while impaired in exchange for 18 months’ probation.

“Membership in USA Swimming, and particularly at the National Team level, includes a clear obligation to adhere to our Code of Conduct,” USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus said in a statement.

“Should an infraction occur, it is our responsibility to take appropriate action based on the individual case. Michael’s conduct was serious and required significant consequences.”

Phelps was arrested last week after speeding and then crossing the double-lane lines inside a Baltimore tunnel, police said, adding he was clocked by radar travelling 84 miles per hour (135 kph) in a 45-mph (72-kph) zone.

Documents indicate that Phelps registered .14 percent on a Breathalyzer test after being pulled over in his 2014 Land Rover. The legal limit for intoxication in Maryland is .08.

Phelps apologised for the incident and said on Sunday he was checking himself into rehab for six weeks in order to “better understand myself.”


He can train with his member club during his suspension, but is ineligible to participate in USA Swimming-sanctioned competitions through March 6, 2015. Phelps, who has won 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold, will also forfeit a monthly stipend from USA Swimming during the six-month suspension.

“Michael accepts USA Swimming’s sanctions,” said a spokesman at Octagon, the group that represents Phelps. “He has apologised for his actions and, as he shared yesterday, is taking steps to address them.”

Although he has not indicated a desire to compete at the 2016 Olympics, many view Phelps’ recent return to the pool as a clear sign he wants to stage a comeback.

Dara Torres, a 12-time Olympic medallist, said she believed Phelps could still make the U.S. squad for Rio de Janeiro.

“I don’t think the suspension is going to affect him physically, because they’re not saying he can’t train. He just can’t compete,” Torres, a former teammate of Phelps, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“He can still stay in shape and he knows what to expect and how to compete. It’s not like he’s starting something new.”

Wielgus said: “Michael has publicly acknowledged the impact of his decisions, his accountability especially due to his stature in the sport and the steps necessary for self-improvement. We endorse and are here to fully support his personal development actions.”

(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Blatter must go, FIFA told

FIFA will lack credibility until Sepp Blatter leaves his role as president, a leading integrity expert says.


Blatter has been accused of bribery and corruption and of being a dictator of world football’s governing body.

Michael Hershman, who served on FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee, said that Blatter’s presence was directly causing a lack of belief in the organisation.

“I don’t believe FIFA will ever have enough credibility unless there’s a change in leadership and that doesn’t appear to be happening,” he said.

Blatter recently announced his intention to run for a fifth term as president, having begun his reign in 1998.

Hershman, who is the founder of anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, said nothing will change unless those who hold the money are persuaded.

“There’s a great deal of cynicism about FIFA and frankly it’s well-deserved, but I’d rather see more anger than cynicism,” he said.

Blatter recently insisted that an internal investigative report into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups would remain private.

Hershman said that decision was another indication of FIFA and Blatter burying bad news.

“I would like to see FIFA release the report, with appropriate protection for people’s privacy, because some people may be innocent,” Hershman told a conference of the International Centre of Sport Security in London.

“Without a release of the report, FIFA will continue to be ridiculed in the press and by other stakeholders.

“I find it very odd that a few executives called for the release of the report, then they had a meeting of the executive board, and president Blatter said there had been no calls for the report to be released.

“That gives you the idea of internal pressures that people face within FIFA to toe the line.”

2015 Giro to run from San Remo to Milan

Giro d’Italia officials have unveiled a balanced route for next year’s race, which they believe will allow cyclists to compete in the Tour de France as well as the Italian classic.


The 2015 Giro will take the riders from San Remo to Milan, via central Italy, the Dolomites and the Alps over a total of 3481.8 kilometres from May 9-31.

Organisers on Monday revealed the 21-stage route, which includes five days in the high mountains and seven medium mountain stages.

There are also seven legs for sprinters, an individual time trial and a team one.

There are two rest days and relatively short transfer distances, which organisers hope will convince many of the big-name Grand Tour contenders to join Alberto Contador in riding both the Giro and Tour in 2015.

“Looking at the recovery time, I think it’s possible to do the double,” race director Mauro Vegni said.

“It’s a hard Giro but it’s a very balanced one. The climbs are spread out and there are very few transfers. It’s the lowest amount of transfers we’ve had in 20 years, down to 800 kilometres or so.

“The ideal would be to race both the Giro and the Tour as similar to a two-legged football match and then the Vuelta as a one-off.”

Contador announced last month that he would compete in both the Giro and the Tour next year, as he aims to become the first rider to win both races in the same year since Marco Pantani achieved that feat in 1998.

The Spaniard was at the unveiling of the route at Milan’s Palazzo del Ghiaccio.

“I like this course, it’s suited to my characteristics as an aggressive rider,” he said.

“This Giro is very tough, with a lot of climbs, but the factor that makes it different to the Tour or the Vuelta is the weather, often it can be cold or snowy in Italy at that time of year.”

How genes can influence children’s exam results

By Eva Krapohl, King’s College London and Kaili Rimfeld, King’s College London

Put simply, all this means is that children differ in how easy and enjoyable they find learning and that these differences are to a large extent explained by differences in their genes, rather than differences between schools or teachers.


We know from previous research that educational achievement in primary, middle school years and at the end of compulsory education is highly heritable. Heritability is a population statistic – it doesn’t tell us anything about a single individual. It describes the extent to which differences between children can be put down to DNA differences, on average, in a particular population at a particular time.

Twins’ exam results

Our new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on the UK-wide standardised exam results at age 16, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). We obtained exam grades from over 13,000 identical and non-identical twins from the Twins Early Development Study who were also assessed on nine broad psychological domains, including intelligence, educational self-belief, personality, behaviour problems, and well-being.

Identical twins share 100% of their genes, whereas non-identical twins, just like any siblings, share on average only half of the genes that vary between people. If overall, identical twins are more alike than non-identical twins on a particular trait, then this implies there is a genetic influence.

Our study showed that the mean results in the GCSE core subjects of English, mathematics and science is more heritable (62%) than the nine other psychological domains (35–58%) we looked at.

This means that differences in how well children perform at exams are to a large extent explained by the difference in their DNA. Importantly, it does not mean that genetics explain 62% of a single child’s school achievement.

Not just intelligence

When we analysed different traits, we found that educational achievement is correlated with many characteristics of children, not just intelligence. Our results indicate that these correlations are largely mediated by genetic factors. To the extent that children’s traits predict educational achievement, they do so largely for genetic reasons.

Although intelligence accounts for more of the heritability of GCSE results than any other single domain, the joint contribution of children’s self-belief, behaviour problems, personality, well-being, and their perceptions of school environment, collectively account for about as much GCSE heritability as intelligence. Together with intelligence, these domains account for 75% of the heritability of GCSE performance.

Indicator of equality

The children in this study were all taught the national curriculum, so to some extent received a similar education. As children’s learning experiences become more similar, they begin to explain the similarities between them rather than the differences between them. As a result of these diminished environmental differences, the relative genetic influences increase. So in a way, high heritability is an indicator of equality.

For example, despite high heritability, with sufficient educational effort, nearly all children could reach minimal levels of literacy and numeracy. This is an explicit goal of education in Finland. Success in achieving that goal would reduce differences in children’s educational achievement, which could change heritability. Hypothetically, if all environmental effects on individual differences (such as educational inequality) were to be minimalised, then the heritability estimate for educational achievement would be 100%.

Personalised learning

So what to make of this? Genes are important, not just in educational achievement or intelligence, but in a whole raft of other traits which contribute to how easy and enjoyable children find learning. Education is more than what happens passively to a child. Children are active participants in selecting, modifying, and creating experiences that are matched to their genetic predispositions. In genetics, this is known as “gene-environment correlation”.

At the practical level, our findings add support for the trend in education toward personalised learning rather than a one-size fits all model. None of this means that schools, parents or teachers aren’t important. Of course they are – and each has an important role in helping children achieve the best of their potential.

Next read: Better at reading than maths? Don’t blame it all on your genes

Eva Krapohl receives funding from the Medical Research Council Studentship.

Kaili Rimfeld receives funding from the Medical Research Council Studentship.

Facebook closes WhatsApp buy

Facebook has completed its $US19 billion ($A20.


56 billion) buy of mobile messaging application WhatsApp, appointing one of the startup’s co-founders to the social network’s board as part of the deal.

“We are looking forward to connecting even more people around the world, and continuing to create value for the people who use WhatsApp,” Facebook said in a statement on Monday.

Along with joining the Facebook board of directors, Jan Koum will remain chief of WhatsApp.

Koum’s salary will be a dollar a year, according to a filing Monday with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The symbolic annual pay mirrors that of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg.

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton will remain with the company under terms of the acquisition, which promises “inducement grants” of millions of shares of stock that will incrementally vest during the coming four years for Koum and Acton if they remain with the company, according to Facebook.

European Union regulators on Friday cleared the buyout of the WhatsApp mobile messaging service by Facebook, despite opposition by telecom companies afraid of the growing power of US technology giants.

In a statement explaining its approval of the deal, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said Facebook and WhatsApp were “not close competitors” and that consumers would continue to have a “wide array of choices”.

Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, announced the buyout of the WhatsApp messenger service, used by 600 million people, in February and US authorities approved the deal in April.

Mexican army disarms police in Iguala

Mexico’s federal forces have taken over security in a southern city where 43 students disappeared and disarmed the entire municipal police force after gang-linked officers shot at the aspiring teachers.


Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia, the national security commissioner, said the Iguala police officers will be sent to a military base to undergo evaluations while investigators check whether their guns were used in any crimes.

The federal police’s new paramilitary-like gendarmerie took over public safety in the city while the army will guard Iguala’s entrances in the violence-plagued southern state of Guerrero, he said.

Rubido said federal authorities will “shine light on the criminal events in the Iguala area” as well as contribute to the search for the missing students.

The move came after the weekend discovery of a mass grave containing 28 unidentified bodies outside Iguala, where the students were last seen more than a week ago.

Authorities say it will take at least two weeks to get the results of DNA tests to identify the corpses found about 200 kilometres south of Mexico City.

Some were in pieces after being set on fire in a bed of branches.

Witnesses say several students, who are from a teacher training college known as a hotbed of radical protests, were whisked away in police vehicles on the night of September 26 after officers shot at buses the youngsters had commandeered to return home.

Prosecutors say the Guerreros Unidos drug gang participated in the night of violence that left six people dead, 25 wounded and 43 missing.

Two gang hitmen linked to Iguala’s municipal police force have confessed to killing 17 of the 43 students in the same Pueblo Viejo district where the clandestine grave was found, authorities say.

But authorities say they are treating all 43 as missing until the identities of the bodies are confirmed.

The federal takeover came after President Enrique Pena Nieto vowed to punish those responsible for the mass disappearance.

Twin Peaks set to return to screen 25 years on

Warm up the coffee and break out the cherry pie: “Twin Peaks,” the Golden Globe-winning cult 1990s television series from David Lynch, is making a comeback.



“Dear Twitter friends… it is happening again,” Lynch tweeted on Monday with a trailer showing dead heroine Laura Palmer, the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign, the Showtime logo and the date 2016.

Dear Twitter Friends… it is happening again. 南宁桑拿网,南宁夜生活,/r0l9rhK4eB #damngoodcoffee

— David Lynch (@DAVID_LYNCH) October 6, 2014

Showtime announced in a statement that the series — the tale of a small-town murder in quirky Twin Peaks, and the even quirkier FBI agent investigating it — will return as a limited series in 2016, 25 years after the show’s last airing.


Series creators Lynch and Mark Frost are on board to write and produce all nine episodes, set in the present, and the show will offer “long-awaited answers for the series’ passionate fan base,” Showtime said.


Lynch — an Oscar nominee whose feature films include “Blue Velvet” and “Mulholland Drive” — will direct all nine episodes, it added.


“The mysterious and special world of Twin Peaks is pulling us back,” Lynch and Frost — who set TV blogs ablaze with cryptic tweets about the project on Friday — said in the statement.


“We’re very excited. May the forest be with you.”


No cast information was provided. Original cast members include Kyle MacLachlan (as FBI Agent Dale Cooper), Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle and Joan Chen.


Before the new episodes air, Showtime will rebroadcast the original two seasons of the show, which were first shown on ABC in 1990 and 1991, generating fan buzz due to the show’s offbeat style.


The series also led to a feature film, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.”

Cannabis oil gives Aussie dad appetite to fight terminal cancer

Four years ago, the Barraba resident was as fit as a bull.


But at the beginning of 2012, his heath took a downward turn.

Plagued by rapid weight loss, exhaustion and gastric issues, the 39-year-old was urged to get a blood test. The prognosis was bad – he had cancer.

A colonoscopy also revealed a tumour had breached the wall of his colon, and metastasised to his lymph nodes.  

After going through three bouts of failed chemotherapy and various surgeries, doctors told Leahy there was nothing they could do, with some even saying he had days to live.

On top of that, the prescribed opiates he was taking for pain were impacting on his nervous system.

The father-of-two told Insight he’s never been much of a hippy herbal, but was open to trying new alternative medicines, including the use of cannabis oil.

Three times a day, Leahy mixes one or two drops of cannabis oil with either olive or coconut oil, and swallows it washed down with water.  

The former Canberra public-servant-turned-publican says it has really helped with managing the pain and has even allowed him to work again.  

“It’s certainly reduced the nausea. It’s made it a lot easier for me to cope with the chemo, with the chemotherapy on a day-to-day basis. That combination has allowed me to go back to work part-time and do some work, whereas earlier this year I wasn’t able to work at all. And a great deal of appetite,” he said.  

“We came to cannabis oil because we had gone through what is a living hell trying to get him help.”

Standing at 6″4′, Leahy weighed 120 kg when he was diagnosed, then he dropped down to 80 kg.

He credits the oil for helping push his weight up to about 90kg.   

“Managing your weight and weight loss when you’re going through the treatment, the journey for cancer, it becomes problematic, it becomes difficult and it’s helped a great deal.”

Leahy says a three month supply of the product can cost anywhere between $450 and $1000, although he’s heard of some people being quoted as high as $9000.  

His wife, Rechelle, said that while using the oil in conjunction with the chemo has delayed the progression of his disease, this is not nearly as important as seeing her husband getting to spend some quality time with their young sons James, 5 and Hamish, 3.

“We came to the cannabis oil because we had gone through what is a living hell trying to get him help and I think the reason we’re passionate about this is we don’t necessarily have the time to wait for someone to say let’s keep trialling this, ” Rechelle says.

“We have pumped him full of drugs and chemotherapy that has stripped away his life and I have done that in the trust of doctors and that is what frustrates the absolute living heck out of us in this particular issue,” she said.

As a country hotelier, Leahy says he’s dealt with people who are suffering from the long term effects of substance abuse and have seen the serious harm it causes.

However as someone who has benefited from cannabis oil, Leahy fully supports the legalisation of marijuana as a controlled pharmaceutical drug.

Rechelle adds: “In my mind, if you can divorce opium poppies being grown in Tasmania for opiates that I fed him to keep his pain under control, but you can’t then say that we can improve marijuana or cannabis to be grown appropriately … we don’t understand why we’re going to doctors at all anymore because that is where the frustration lies for all of us who are carers and advocates for patients.”

“With the correct legislation behind it which we are absolutely for, that’s what we’re supporting.”

Allistair and Rechelle Leahy are guests on Insight’s Marijuana show. Tune in 8.30pm on SBS ONE.

Phelps banned from swimming for six months

Michael Phelps, the 18-time Olympic swim champion arrested last week for drink driving, has been banned for six months by USA Swimming and dropped from the 2015 World Championships.


The punishments came six days after Phelps was apprehended by police in his hometown of Baltimore and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, excessive speed and crossing the centre line while driving inside a tunnel.

On Sunday, Phelps said on Twitter that he would be taking a break from swimming and “take some time away to attend a program” for treatment of unspecified personal issues.

In announcing sanctions against the Olympic superstar, USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus said Phelps’ actions required “significant consequences.”

“Michael has publicly acknowledged the impact of his decisions, his accountability especially due to his stature in the sport and the steps necessary for self-improvement,” Wielgus said.

“We endorse and are here to fully support his personal development actions.”

The discipline meted out, which includes forfeiture of Phelps’ funding from the federation for six months, is based on USA Swimming rules that prohibit conduct “detrimental to the image or reputation” of USA Swimming or the sport.

Phelps will still be allowed to train with his club, but cannot compete in USA Swimming-sanctioned competitions through March 6, 2015.

According to the federation, Phelps has agreed that he will not represent the United States at the World Championships next August in Russia.

The worlds were expected to provide a key measure of whether Phelps’ comeback had him on course to challenge for more Olympic gold at Rio in 2016.

The 29-year-old retired after the 2012 London Olympics with a record 22 Olympic medals, but launched a comeback earlier this year.

He won three gold medals at the Pan Pacific Championships in late August in Australia to cement his place on the world championship team.

Phelps said in his statement on social media on Sunday that he was entering a program “that will provide the help I need to better understand myself.”

He gave no further details of the issues he expected to deal with.

Police say a breathalyser administered after Phelps’ arrest measured his blood alcohol level at .14, almost twice the legal limit of .08 in Maryland.

Phelps’ trial is scheduled for November 19.

Ten years ago, Phelps pleaded guilty to driving while impaired in rural Maryland. He was sentenced to 18 months’ probation and fined $250 for what he later described as an “isolated incident.”

He was under the microscope again in 2009 – after his glittering eight-gold haul at the 2008 Beijing Olympics – when a photograph of him apparently smoking a marijuana pipe was published in a British tabloid and went viral.

USA Swimming banned him for three months over that incident.