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Syria crisis nears dangerous point: UN

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Syria’s refugee crisis is approaching a “dangerous turning point” as nearly four million people face worsening conditions in exile.

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UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Thursday “the nature of the refugee crisis is changing”.

He also called for “massive international support” for countries that have opened their borders to fleeing civilians.

“As the level of despair rises, and the available protection space shrinks, we are approaching a dangerous turning point,” Guterres told the 15-member council.

Close to 12 million people have been displaced by the nearly four-year war in Syria including 3.8 million who have fled to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, now the biggest refugee-hosting country in the world.

Guterres warned almost two million refugees under the age of 18, many without access to education or jobs, “risk becoming a lost generation” and more than 100,000 children born in exile could become stateless.

“If this is not addressed properly, this crisis-in-making will have huge consequences not only for the future of Syria but the whole region,” he said.

The refugee chief pointed to the Kuwait donor conference on March 31 as key to helping the region cope with the overwhelming strain on services.

With Syrians increasingly taking to dangerous boat crossings, Guterres called on European governments to step up search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

Governments should also step forward to take in refugees with flexible visa policies, expanded family reunification, scholarships and private sponsor schemes, Guterres said.

He praised Germany and Sweden for their help and called on other countries in Europe and the Gulf to help ease the pressure on Syria’s neighbours.

Planned spending points to weak outlook

Posted by admin on 30/01/2019
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The backdrop for the May budget looks set to be one of soft economic growth and even lower interest rates.

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The Department of Treasury has been waiting for Thursday’s latest figures for business spending plans to feed into their economic budget forecasts.

They would have been disappointed.

New data shows the first estimate for business investment in the 2015/16 financial year is $109.8 billion, more than 12 per cent lower than the first indication for 2014/15.

Macquarie Research economist James McIntyre described Thursday’s result, along with a larger than expected 2.2 per cent fall in actual capital expenditure in the December quarter, as “cringe-worthy”.

He said the report solidifies his view that the Reserve Bank will cut the cash rate to two per cent from 2.25 per cent at next Tuesday’s monthly board meeting.

“Where the data does shift our thinking is on the likelihood that the RBA will need to take the cash rate below two per cent,” Mr McIntyre said.

The fall in capital expenditure in the final three months of 2014 suggests next week’s national accounts will show annual economic growth remaining below three per cent and keeping upward pressure on the jobless rate.

It will put further pressure on the budget through welfare payments and dwindling tax revenue.

But Treasurer Joe Hockey is putting on a brave face, saying the government has come a long way in its structural repair of the budget, although he concedes there is more to do.

“The government can start to see some clear air, start to have some sunshine … in relation to the budget,” he told Sky News.

Mr Hockey will release his five-yearly intergenerational report next Thursday, which will show the challenges facing Australia over the next 40 years.

He said as long as the government lives within its means it can make sure that Australians over the next four decades have the same, if not better, quality of life than today.

The treasurer also said the $200 million that is expected to be raised from foreign investment application fees will largely go towards funding a compliance unit in the Australian Taxation Office and the cost of improved screening processes.

“There may be some left over to help repair the budget,” Mr Hockey said.

Every little helps.

A Victorian councillor has had her Twitter account suspended after she tweeted graphic female genital mutilation photos to a supporter of a controversial mosque development.

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Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman has been outspoken against Islam in her campaign to stop a $3 million mosque development, approved by Bendigo City Council in June 2014.

A mosque supporter had sent a message on Twitter to Chapman stating she hoped the mosque gets built soon.

“It’s great to see someone who cares about all Bendigo residents and their religions,” the supporter tweeted.

Ms Chapman responded with the image showing five babies with bloody wounds.

“Oh, we could have this here too? Would you like your fanny sliced off,” she captioned the photo.

“Yes. I’m opposed to female genital mutilation, child brides, inequality, women beating, all part of Quran, read it.”

Chapman’s account was suspended by Twitter on Thursday night and she now faces a meeting with City of Greater Bendigo Mayor Peter Cox next week.

The tweets do not reflect the view of the council which voted to approve the development in June last year, Mr Cox told AAP.

He said he would initiate a process to address the issue of Ms Chapman’s “disappointing” opinion, but would not say what that process will involve.

“Hopefully we can discuss this in a fair manner and take it from there,” he said.

Ms Chapman was one of two councillors who voted against approving the mosque, which would include two prayer rooms, a shop and community sports centre.

The project has been the subject of vocal protests and a social media campaign from opponents, including 350 who submitted formal objections to the council.

About 40 letters of support were also received.

The planning approval has been appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and hearings are ongoing.

Record-equalling Henning leads Joburg Open

Posted by admin on 30/01/2019
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A birdie-birdie-eagle, front-nine start powered South African Nic Henning to a course record-equalling 62 and a one-stroke lead at the Joburg Open on Thursday.

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The 45-year-old is one shot ahead of compatriots Titch Moore and Tjaart van der Walt and Belgian Thomas Pieters at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.

Australian Jason Schrivener sits another stroke behind on eight under par with South Africans Dean Burmester and Garth Mulroy.

Henning, from the Western Cape resort of Knysna, did not perform like a golfer without a tournament triumph in nine years.

It did help, though, that he played on the west course — considered easier that the east — in the two-course European Tour co-sanctioned event.

Four under after three holes, Henning snatched three more front-nine birdies for a half of 29, seven under in perfect, late South African summer conditions.

His hot streak cooled on the second nine with just two birdies, but he did not drop a shot and matched the eight-year course record of compatriot Desvonde Botes.

“It was fantastic,” four-time Sunshine Tour winner Henning told reporters.

“For each shot you stand over the ball and decide to hit it as best you can. That worked today and hopefully I can carry it on.”

Dane Joachim Hansen, among six golfers to card 65s, needed only 28 shots to cover the second nine of the west course.

He picked up an eagle and five birdies and did not score higher than three on six consecutive holes from the 12th.

South African George Coetzee launched his Joburg Open title defence with a 66 while new Europe Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke from Northern Ireland had to settle for a 72.

Swan blames shock-jocks for PM ‘cow’ slur

Posted by admin on 30/01/2019
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Treasurer Wayne Swan has laid the blame for comments comparing Prime Minister Julia Gillard to an “old cow” at the feet of Sydney’s shock-jocks and opposition leader Tony Abbott.

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Cattle company chief executive David Farley reportedly made the comments during a speech in Adelaide on Thursday.

Mr Farley was referring to plans to build a new abattoir when he said: “It’s designed for non-productive old cows – Julia Gillard’s got to watch out.”

Mr Farley has said the comments were meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek but they have been slammed on social media and by federal politicians since they were picked up by media nationally.

“There is no place in Australian society for this sort of personal abuse,” Mr Swan told reporters at the Tasmanian Labor state conference in Hobart.

“Unfortunately it’s crept in because people like Mr Abbott and the shock-jocks, particularly on Sydney radio, have descended to new lows in terms of the public conversation.

“It’s become frequent, we see it particularly on Sydney radio and we’ve seen it in the behaviour of some people in the federal coalition and there is no place for it in our public life or indeed in society.”

Mr Farley’s comments recall Sydney radio host Alan Jones’ infamous declaration that Ms Gillard should be thrown to sea in a “chaff bag”.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said in Sydney on Saturday Australians who thought they had permission to make “sexist and silly” remarks about the leader of the country should think again.

She said voters and public figures were free to criticise government policy but political leaders should not be subject to personal attacks.

“There’s no need to make these sort of sexist and silly remarks,” Ms Roxon told reporters.

“I am concerned that people think that there is permission to make these sorts of comments about the prime minister … in the footy parlance, play the ball, not the man.”

Federal Minister for Women Julie Collins said the comments were unacceptable.

“They amount to destructive prejudices long past their use-by date in our modern, diverse society,” she said in a statement on Friday.

Mr Farley’s comments were reportedly met with laughter.

Ms Collins said those who laughed along with Mr Farley’s jibe should take a “long, hard look at themselves.”

“Australians expect more of their corporate leaders,” she said.

US blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh

Posted by admin on 30/01/2019
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A US blogger of Bangladeshi origin has been hacked to death in Dhaka by unidentified assailants, police say, with his family saying the writer had received numerous threats from Islamist militants.

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Avijit Roy, founder of Mukto-Mona (Free-mind) blog site which champions liberal secular writing in the Muslim majority nation, suffered machete blows to the head on Thursday.

“He died as he was brought to the hospital. His wife was also seriously wounded in the attack. She has lost a finger,” local police chief Sirajul Islam said, adding that the attack occurred when the couple were returning from a book fair.

Police have launched a probe and recovered the machetes used in the attack on Roy, said to be around 40, but refused to say whether Islamist militants were behind the incident.

But Roy’s father said the blogger, a US citizen, had received a number of “threatening” emails and messages on social media from Islamist militants unhappy with his blog.

“He was a secular humanist and has written about ten books and numerous articles,” his father Ajoy Roy told AFP.

Roy is the second Bangladeshi blogger to have been murdered and the fourth writer to have been attacked since 2004.

Atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death in 2013 by members of a little known Islamist militant group, triggering nationwide protests by the tens of thousands of secular activists.

“The attack on Roy and his wife Rafida Ahmed is outrageous. We strongly protest this attack and are deeply concerned,” Imran Sarker, head of an association for bloggers in Bangladesh, told AFP.

Asylum seekers swim ashore at Cocos Islands

Posted by admin on 30/01/2019
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Suspected asylum seekers have swum ashore on the Cocos Islands after their boat made it undetected to the Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.

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An Australian Customs spokeswoman confirmed a suspected irregular entry vessel had reached the islands, 2750km northwest of Perth.

Australian Customs Vessel Hervey Bay is at the scene where local resident Jack O’Donnell says he spotted a boat on Wednesday morning about 200 metres offshore.

“About 10 minutes later four of the refugees, they’re Tamils, swam with life jackets through the surf,” Mr O’Donnell told the ABC.

The boat was crowded, and one of the men who swam ashore told Mr O’Donnell in broken English there were 69 people on board who were exhausted and in need of food, he said.

“We were just worried that they might try and traverse the surf, which would be dangerous. Well, it would be catastrophic because it’s jagged reef,” Mr O’Donnell said.

The customs spokeswoman said she was aware of the reports four people had swum ashore but could not confirm them.

Asked at a Melbourne press conference if he was aware of the situation, Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan replied: “No.”

ACV Hervey Bay intercepted a suspected asylum seeker vessel west of the islands, also known as the Keeling Islands, overnight. It was believed 28 people were on board.

The vessel initially was detected by customs and border protection officers on West Island of the Australian territory.

Those aboard were transferred to Australian government authorities on Cocos (Keeling) Islands for basic health and security checks pending transfer to Christmas Island.

The navy patrol boat HMAS Ararat also intercepted a suspected asylum seeker boat north of Christmas Island on Wednesday morning. The 43 passengers and two crew said to be on board have been transferred to Christmas Island.

Australia, UAE sign uranium agreement

Posted by admin on 30/01/2019
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It is the latest of 22 nuclear safeguard agreements covering 39 countries, including the US, Russia, Korea, UK, Canada, Argentina and China.

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It is the second in the Middle East after Egypt.

“We are very, very happy that the UAE has fulfilled all the conditions and requirements that we would seek of a partner,” Senator Carr told ABC Radio on Thursday.

Although rich in oil, the UAE has opted for nuclear for domestic power generation and in July became the first country in more than two-and-a-half decades to begin building a maiden nuclear power plant.

Senator Carr said the agreement allowed a comprehensive range of safeguards to ensure Australian nuclear material was not used for anything but peaceful purposes.

“There is a very strong guarantee and that is that it’s in the interest of the UAE to stick to what they have committed themselves to do,” he said.

Supply of Australian uranium would cease if the UAE started to enrich it, or gave it to a third party, or announced it was going to use the uranium for a nuclear warfare capacity.

Senator Carr said Australia, as a uranium supplier, had an obligation to sell to countries that adhered to all the rules, delivered on all the safeguards and were committed to non-proliferation.

“If we don’t provide uranium to such countries, then we are not providing an incentive to play by the rules,” he said.

Senator Carr said he did not believe there was any appetite in Australia for a debate on a domestic nuclear energy program. “And I’m not going to initiate it,” he said.

Senator Carr once endorsed nuclear power but said such views were expressed before joining the federal government. “And you will only get from me an expression and a defence of Australian government policy,” he said.

The Brazil-born Spain international returned from a three-match suspension for stamping on Liverpool’s Emre Can last week, a penalty imposed on video evidence after a media outcry.

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“I’m never going to change the way I play. That’s what got me here, that’s the way I play,” Costa, who denied his stamp was deliberate, told reporters after training this week for Sunday’s League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur.

The burly striker is Chelsea’s top scorer this season and likely to start at Wembley even though he is still not back to peak fitness following the ban. “I’m running a little bit behind, trying to do my best, working hard and hopefully I’ll be 100 percent,” he said.

Manager Jose Mourinho has suggested Costa and his team mates are victims of an anti-Chelsea campaign and consequently have not been treated equally with players from other teams.

Costa said: “I do know now that I have to be a little bit more careful because it’s not the same when I do something or when someone else does it. Something I do, it’s talked about much more than another player. I have to be extra careful…

“After last season, I had a few injuries and when I was on top form, when I was at my best, I had that suspension and I still don’t even know why it happened.”

Costa has scored 17 goals in 20 games for Chelsea after joining from Atletico Madrid this season, but they have all come in the Premier League rather than cups.

“I don’t pick tournaments to score, or rivals or other teams to score against. I’m a striker, every game I play I want to score. If it hasn’t happened in the cup, I’m hoping to God it happens on Sunday.”

He said he was delighted to be playing at Wembley, host of many historic games and prestigious players. More importantly the final represented Chelsea’s first bite at silverware this season. They are five points ahead of Manchester City in the title race and still in the Champions League.

“It’s an important game whatever way you look at it. What gives it more importance is it’s my first final at the club. So I will go in with the mentality and have the motivation to come away with the title.”

(Reporting by Clare Lovell, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

WA gas hub proponents try to sway Brown

Posted by admin on 30/01/2019
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Traditional owners will meet former Greens leader Bob Brown in a bid to sway opposition to Woodside Petroleum’s proposed $30 billion Kimberley gas hub.

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The retired senator and environmental activist is in Broome, in Western Australia’s far north, as part of a protest against the development by international anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd.

Dr Brown and Sea Shepherd Australian director Jeff Hansen are scheduled to meet members of the Jabirr Jabirr people on Tuesday afternoon.

The Jabirr Jabirr have a joint native title claim over the James Price Point site, 60km north of Broome, where Woodside wants to build what could become the world’s biggest LNG processing plant. The other claimants are the Goolarabooloo people, who are mainly opposed to the project.

Waardi chairman Warren Greatorex, whose organisation represents the Jabirr Jabirr and which will administer a $1.3 billion compensation package as part of a native title deal with Woodside, said Jabirr Jabirr elders were concerned their views were being ignored.

“(Dr Brown) consistently refers to the Goolarabooloo as the one and only true traditional owners of that area,” Mr Greatorex told AAP.

“It’s caused a lot of frustration and anger amongst our elders and we want to clear up any misconceptions.” Mr Greatorex said the Jabirr Jabirr were not the only traditional owners who wanted the gas hub, as the majority had voted in favour of it.

“The money will help our people and change lives – not just in its present form, but for future generations,” he said.

“Our people have lived below the poverty line for decades and a project like this, an opportunity like this, doesn’t come on a regular basis.”

Mr Greatorex said traditional owners shared the same environmental and cultural concerns as the Greens and other gas hub opponents, but wanted to work alongside Woodside and the WA government to ensure no problems.