Hundreds flee Lebanon

Written by admin on 05/02/2019 Categories: 深圳桑拿论坛

The evacuees began their 75 kilometre trip from Beirut to Cyprus with the sound of fighting ringing in their ears.

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Two explosions from an Israeli air strike echoed over the city as families clustered at the assembly point.

“It’s very bad, very sad, I can’t believe what’s happening,” said a tearful Lubna Jaber, an Australian who had come to visit relatives in Lebanon , as she waited in downtown Beirut with about 350 compatriots hoping to board a ferry to Turkey.

Three ships docked in the port of Larnaca, Cyprus, overnight, a US- chartered cruise liner carrying 1,044 people, mostly Americans, a United Nations ship with an unknown number aboard and a French ship with 320 on board.

When unloaded from the vessels, the tired-looking evacuees were whisked past reporters to be taken to a large building for processing.

The conflict has so far seen nearly 300 people killed in Lebanon and nearly 30 in Israel.

Australians set to go

As many as 500 Australians will be able to leave Lebanon later today on British and Greek warships, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

Mr Downer says the government has chartered six ships to evacuate 6,000 Australians from the conflict, but told reporters that Israeli curfews were delaying its rescue operation.

Hundreds of Australians were left stranded on the dock at Beirut port yesterday, after Israel refused to extend a curfew and guarantee a Greek navy ship safe passage. Some Australians made it on board in time, but about 200 others could not be processed.

Mr Downer says charter ships will begin arriving in Beirut on Friday, “If all of those ships are able to get into Beirut, and that is a very big qualification, if they are, we will have enough capacity to take out around 6,000 people,” he said.

More than 7,000 Australians are registered with the embassy in Lebanon. The government estimates that 25,000 Australian citizens are living in Lebanon, although the vast majority have dual nationality and did not plan to leave.

Mr Downer believes that already 400 or 500 Australians have already managed to escape Lebanon, but there are still more waiting to escape. Family back in Australia say the government isn’t doing enough to get their loved ones home. It’s an accusation the prime minister denies.

“The main message I want to convey to distressed relatives in Australia, and indeed through them to their loved ones in Lebanon, is that we are concerned, we have not abandoned them, and any suggestion we have is unfair and I reject it totally, completely, but we are doing our best,” John Howard told Arabic radio.

Concerns have also been raised about whether evacuees might have to meet costs involved in their evacuation. “Cost is not an issue as far as I’m concerned, and cost has never been an issue as far as (Foreign Minister Alexander) Downer is concerned,” Mr Howard said.

He also urged evacuees to travel light, after some people were unable to board a helicopter taking them to a British warship because of excess luggage. “I’m told, for example, that 40 people declined an offer to go out on a helicopter because they had their luggage and the British helicopter people understandably said ‘we can’t take the luggage as well’,” Mr Howard said.

One Melbourne man who escaped, Lebanon Victor Kheir said he was among about 100 Australians aboard the HMS Gloucester. He said the Australians were being given two nights accommodation in Cyprus, but would have to sort out their own flights home or to other destinations. “Or the Greek Islands – like me!”

Marines to the rescue

Meanwhile, about 40 United States Marines have landed on a beach in Beirut to help with the evacuation of US citizens caught up in the conflict. Attached to the troop carrier USS Nashville, they came ashore dawn.

It has been nearly 23 years since US Marines were in Lebanon; they left in 1983 after Hezbollah blew up a barracks in Beirut killing 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel and three Army soldiers.

“I’m excited to go in and bring out the American citizens,” said Navy hospital corpsman Tanya Callaghan who was part of the mission. Her operation is only part of a massive land, sea and air operation to bring out thousands of Americans and caught in the fighting. A US official says that by Wednesday the United States will have the capacity to evacuate up to 6,000 Americans.

“Over the next couple of days you are going to be seeing a very large influx, maybe five, maybe six, maybe seven (thousand), I think we just have to wait and see.” said US Ambassador Ronald Schlicher.

Those Americans already out of the country are expected to be quickly returned to their homeland, among them eight-year-old Ali Makki, from Michigan. He said he had been frightened by Israeli bombs.

“The thing I was scared the most about was when they shot the bombs on our building,” he said.

Canadians fly out in style

The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on a trip in Europe, has ordered his official plane to be diverted to Cyprus on Wednesday to pick up Canadians who have been evacuated from Lebanon.

France was evacuating its citizens by sea to Cyprus, while Germany sent at least 500 of its citizens to Syria in a convoy of buses. Poland and Sweden also took moves to evacuate their citizens.

Six British ships, including two aircraft carriers, stood ready to receive Britons from Lebanon. Some 5,000 Britons are to leave.

The Thai foreign ministry says all 100 Thai workers in Lebanon have either left the country or moved to areas they believe are safe. So far, 29 Thais have evacuated to the Syrian capital Damascus where they are waiting to fly home. Another 30 have left Beirut for areas in Lebanon they believe are safe, the ministry said.

Thailand has no plans to evacuate the 25,000 Thais working in Israel.

Philippines plea

Meanwhile, the Philippine president Gloria Arroyo has appealed to Israel and Hezbollah to avoid harming some 30,000 Filipinos stranded in Lebanon, and urged the international community to help evacuate her citizens.

Filipino officials have conceded that they are unable to evacuate thousands of their citizens on their own, and have appealed to the United States, European countries and Gulf states to find space for Filipinos on planes and ships evacuating people from Beirut.

So far around 200 Filipinos are holed up in a Roman Catholic Church in the Christian part of Beirut waiting to be taken across the border into Syria, but many others are being told to sit tight.

The government also released just under three million US dollars to help the evacuation process and said it would try to help any of the 25,000 Filipinos in Israel who wanted to be taken out of the country.

Meanwhile Manila radio and television stations have heard emotional appeals from Filipinos stuck in the conflict zone. “I am very afraid. I have not slept since the bombings began,” said domestic worker Virgie Valencia, adding that she and other Filipina maids were holed up in a Beirut condominium in fear of their lives.

“I will not come back anymore,” she said. “I did not wait for my employers, it might take them a long time to decide to evacuate.”

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No limits for pole vault star Lavillenie

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Newly-crowned pole vault world record holder Renaud Lavillenie says he’s a risk-taker whose limits knew no bounds.

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The 27-year-old Frenchman last month cleared 6.16 metres in Donetsk to break by one centimetre Ukraine legend Sergei Bubka’s 21-year-old world record.

“It was a strange feeling, because it’s not a big difference between jumping 6.16m and 6.01,” said Lavillenie, speaking on the sidelines of the World Indoor Athletics Championships which he is sitting out through injury.

“In the pole vault you always know what you’re going to do.

“When I saw the bar staying on stands and that it was not going to fall, something crazy happened in my head. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had!”

Lavillenie said he did not regret immediately attempting a vault at 6.21m after his new record in Donetsk. He injured his foot in the landing, hence his absence from the world indoor pole vault, won on Saturday by Greek Konstadinos Filippidis (5.80m).

“My goal wasn’t to break the record again, it was just to try a vault and see how my body would react,” he said.

“I felt confident and I thought I had a good opportunity to see if my body was able to go to that level.

“It’s just the feeling of the moment, the feeling during competition. I have to know and have to see how it’s going to be in the future.

“I always want more,” he said. “I have no regrets about that.”

Lavillenie credited his improvement to changes both technical and physical.

“I’ve tried to be more powerful on the runway,” he said. “I’ve also switched to a longer, stiffer pole with a grip 7cm higher up.

“For the 6.16m jump, I used a pole I’d never used before. I knew if I was able to bend the pole, I could go high because the pole was very strong.”

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Paris Hilton unveils beach club in Manila

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Hotel heiress Paris Hilton is ready to launch her own real estate empire.

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The great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton, who bought his first hotel in Texas in 1919, has unveiled her first property project.

The Paris Beach Club has been officially opened in the Philippines, three years after the idea was first discussed.

The bean-shaped, three-story club fronts a man-made beach within the Azure condominium community in Paranaque City.

Although Hilton has put her name to many different businesses over the years, including her own perfume range and a sunglasses line, this is her first foray into the world of luxury beach clubs.

“I’m so excited to see the first of our many projects together,” she said of her collaboration with Century Properties Group, during a press conference at the grand unveiling.

Although fans are more accustomed to seeing the 33-year-old lounging around at a luxurious beach club than running one, Hilton assures critics that this venture has been a long time coming.

She confesses that the finished product beats her other career highs, which have included reality TV show Paris Hilton’s British Best Friend and acting roles in the Razzie award winning movie House of Wax.

“I’ve been dreaming about this for the past three years. When I first walked in, I was just so blown away. It exceeded all my expectations. Just being here is one of the proudest and happiest moments in my life.”

The Paris Beach Club is situated in decadent Azure Urban Resort Residences in Paranaque, Manila.

The heiress found time to share her top tips for success, and was adamant that you don’t need a privileged upbringing to triumph in business.

“Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to what others say. Work hard. Be a good person,” she said.

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‘I watched my crops die day by day’: Vic grain farmers optimistic after devastating harvest season

Written by admin on 07/08/2019 Categories: 深圳桑拿论坛

Grain farmers in parts of Victoria’s Mallee and Wimmera districts are coming off a devastating season with some barely able to harvest.

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Despite predictions of another dry season, they’re counting on good advice, experience and technology to improve this year’s yields.

Across the country, grain farmers are hoping timely dumps of early winter rain will get freshly sewn crops off to a favourable start.

Grain farmer Brad Martin is pensive as he prepares to sow his final barley paddock of the season. This year, he’ll crop 1,800 hectares of this southern Mallee farm.

“The hardest part is you’re pretty much watching your crops die in front of your eyes day by day.”

Mr Martin said it was important to remain optimistic, but memories of 2014 are difficult to avoid.

“The hardest part is you’re pretty much watching your crops die in front of your eyes day by day and you know that it’s not going to be good but the full ramifications obviously don’t hit until after harvest,” he said.

In Victoria’s wheat belt, the weather bureau’s forecast of an El Niño or prolonged dry spell is far from welcome.

Birchip Cropping Group Chief Executive Chris Sounness says everyone feels the pinch, including small businesses in the district’s small towns.

“People were very conservative with their spending which flows through so the small businesses lose confidence,” Mr Sounness said.

In parts of the southern Mallee last year’s annual rainfall was about 60mm below average, which for some farmers signals the difference between a $250,000 loss – or a profit exceeding half a million dollars.

But Mr Sounness said yields weren’t determined entirely by rainfall.

“You need to be aware of those, however, in the end, you really got to focus on what you can control. And research and development is going to be the key getting that innovation in the paddock getting it adopted as soon as possible,” Mr Sounness said.

It’s a philosophy embraced by Patchewollick farmer Jamie Frankel who has diversified into legumes and lupins, instead of traditional staples wheat and barley.

He says he also pre-sells some grains and uses GPS guidance to preserve paddocks and improve yields

“We will shift it across from one year to the next so we’re not seeding right on the straw row from last year,” Mr Frankel said.

But in a district where rainfall makes or breaks, all eyes will unavoidably remain on the sky.

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Hadron Collider reboots after 2-year break

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The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has started delivering physics data as a result of what has been described as a “milestone” collision.

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After an almost two-year shutdown and several months of recommissioning, the world’s largest particle accelerator is now providing collisions to all of its experiments at the unprecedented energy 13 tera-electronvolts (TeV).

That is almost double the collision energy of its first run.

The latest collisions mark the start of season two at Cern’s LHC, opening the way to new discoveries.

The LHC is now expected to run around the clock for the next three years.

Speaking after stable beams were declared, European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN)’s director-general Rolf Heuer said: “Congratulations to everybody, here and outside! We should remember this was two years of teamwork. A fantasic achievement. I am touched. I hope you are also touched.

“Thanks to everybody. And now time for new physics. Great work.”

But he reminded his colleagues they would have to wait for results, saying: “We have provided the basis, now the experiments have to follow.

“However, don’t expect that it will be tomorrow, do not expect that it will be in a month – be patient.”

During the first run of the LHC, the Atlas and CMS experiments announced the discovery of the so-called Higgs boson, an elementary particle that gives other particles mass, which had eluded detection for nearly 50 years.

It was the last piece of the puzzle known as the Standard Model.

With the ability to tap into higher energy, the scientists hope to explore mysterious realms of “new physics” that could yield evidence of hidden extra dimensions and dark matter.

Dark matter is the invisible, undetectable “stuff” that makes up 84 per cent of material in the universe and binds galaxies together, yet whose nature is unknown.

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Interpol hunts six in FIFA probe

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Interpol has put two former FIFA officials and four corporate executives on its wanted list for racketeering conspiracy and corruption.

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The international police organisation said it had placed “red notices” on the six at the request of the US authorities.

The US Attorney General’s office indicted nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives in late May, including the six sought by Interpol.

Former top FIFA executives Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago and Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay were both on Interpol’s list.

Alejandro Burzaco and Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, all of Argentina, and Brazilian Jose Margulies, also known as Jose Lazaro, are the others.

The six are wanted in the US face charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies over the course of 24 years.

According to US judicial authorities, Warner faces bribery charges and the sports executives are wanted for having “systematically paid and agreed to pay well over $US150 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments.”

Seven FIFA officials were separately arrested in Switzerland, last week in a broad operation that has cast a shadow on the prestigious football governing body.

The US probe includes allegations that FIFA forwarded a $10 million dollar payment from South Africa to an account controlled by Warner in connection with their election as 2010 World Cup hosts.

Swiss authorities are meanwhile also investigating the World Cup host elections for 2018 and 2022 in a separate probe.

Blatter on Tuesday announced his decision to resign, saying that the end of his 17-year tenure was necessary to give the federation a “profound overhaul.”

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Lewis warns of rugby league’s TV issue

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Representative rugby league star Luke Lewis believes his code is so perfect for television consumption it may be contributing to its downfall in the escalating battle for live crowd support from Sydney’s spoilt sport fans.

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A massive crowd of 83,598 packed into Sydney’s ANZ Stadium on Tuesday night to watch English Premier League champions Chelsea beat Sydney FC 1-0.

That was just three days after more than 71,500 attended the same venue to watch Sydney lose by the same scoreline to another EPL side, Tottenham Hotspur.

The Sydney Swans had over 32,000 fans attend their AFL indigenous round clash with Carlton at the SCG last Friday.

Although rugby league’s first State of Origin drew 80,122 punters to ANZ Stadium last Wednesday, club games are struggling to pull big crowds.

Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold warned the sleeping giant of football had awoken and pointed out the attractive live TV Monday night showdown between NRL competition heavyweights Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm drew just 8,265 through the gate at Allianz Stadium.

Lewis acknowledged the NRL had a fight on their hands from both soccer and AFL.

“I think soccer and AFL are doing a great job in trying to take over the sporting environment in NSW,” Lewis said on Wednesday.

“I think the crowds that soccer are pulling and the way that the crowds pull that atmosphere, it’s pretty scary.

“But the worst thing for us I think is that our game is such a good game to watch on TV, you can see everything twice, you don’t miss too much.

“When you’re at the game, you are looking or you are watching on the big screen to see what happened (in replays).

“I think that’s probably our biggest downfall is that our game is such a good game to watch on TV.”

Overlooked by NSW coach Laurie Daley for the State of Origin series opener, Lewis isn’t optimistic of a call-up for game two, even though he said he would grab any opportunity.

“I can’t see the team changing too much, they only lost by one point,” Lewis said.

“I love playing for NSW, I always have. I love playing in the rep arena, but I won’t hold my breath on anything.”

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Veterans revisit site of deadly, largely unnecessary battle

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(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Eight Australian veterans are returning to the site in the South China Sea that marks the country’s largest and last major battle in the Second World War.

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Hundreds of Australians died in the little-commemorated Borneo campaign.

Next week is the 70th anniversary of what historians say was a largely unnecessary battle.

Stefan Armbruster reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Gathered in Brisbane, some of the last veterans of a largely forgotten Second World War campaign.

Age has wearied them, but, for Patrick Curtis, memories of the war in Borneo remain as sharp as yesterday.

A veteran of Operation Oboe in Borneo in June 1945, he was part of the largest ever seaborne landing by Australian soldiers.

Now, eight Borneo veterans are returning to the old battlefields to mark the 70th anniversary of the landings.

“Yes, it’s going to be upsetting. (It) even upsets me now, thinking about it. They were prepared to lay their lives down for their country … Pardon me.”

90-year-old Patrick Curtis wipes away the tears.

Jan Curtis, his wife of almost 50 years, says this is one of the few times she has heard him talk about the war.

Serving as a telegraphist on the landing ship HMAS Westralia, he was one of more than 70,000 Australians involved.

Hundreds died.

“As they went along the beach, we could see them, and then they were strafed, a few times. You could see the people, the soldiers, being killed, with the Japanese planes coming in and going and strafing them and knocking them over. Yeah, that was … that was a sad point, that.”

Sailors like Patrick Curtis watched on helplessly from the Westralia.

The landings at Tarakan, Labaun and Balikpapan are considered textbook military operations.

But they are eclipsed by the Kokoda campaign in Papua New Guinea.

Australian National University historian Dr Peter Dean is the author of 1944-45: Victory in the Pacific, due out for release later this year.

“So this was not an operation that was at the tip of the spear,* in terms of defeating Japan. This was an operation that was very controversial even at the time, so … And in many respects, while tactically outstanding operations, they were operationally really not that important, and strategically they were quite questionable as well.”

In June 1945, the Japanese Imperial forces were on the retreat.

The Allies fought them back through the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, leaving Borneo sidelined.

It was less than two months before the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the war in the Pacific.

Peter Dean says the Borneo campaign was politically motivated.

“The main reason for them going ahead was our alliance, our coalition that was happening in the Second World War, and about ensuring that Australia was going to get a place at the peace table when those eventual peace negotiations came up with Japan.”

Fighting the desperate and isolated Japanese army was an ugly affair.

Dr Karl James is a senior historian at the Australian War Memorial.

“By this stage of the war, it’s a very gritty, nasty business. A lot of fighting is still being conducted in fairly close quarters. Yes, you have naval gunfight support, you have airstrikes, you have flamethrowers, but a lot of the work is still done … almost to the point of bayonets. It’s a very gritty business.”

The Australian 7th and 9th Divisions, including veterans of fighting the Germans and Italians in North Africa, were the main force.

Historian Karl James highlights the case of war hero lieutenant Tom “Diver” Derrick.

“The death of Derrick was a huge blow to the Australians fighting on Tarakan. This is a decorated soldier. He served in the Middle East. He’s at Tobruk. He’s at El Alamein. (He was) awarded the Victoria Cross in New Guinea. And a lot of people saw his death as an example of the pointlessness, of the futility, of the campaign. During the 1940s, he’s possibly our best known soldier during the Second World War.”

In all, 568 Australians were killed and about a thousand wounded.

They were serving under the commander of Allied forces in the Pacific, US General Douglas MacArthur, the focal point of historian Peter Dean’s research.

“He played a very duplicitous hand. He told the Australian government that it was being demanded by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US High Command. But he was also telling the US High Command that the Australian government was demanding this go ahead. And so, while there were concerns by both the US and Australian governments about this, it was really MacArthur who drove this ahead.”

General MacArthur fulfilled in Borneo what historian Karl James likens to a vanity project.

“It’s a little bit of a sideshow, the operations in Borneo. They really came about because of MacArthur’s personal desire to liberate parts of the Netherlands East Indies.”

For battle scarred veterans like Patrick Curtis, those debates are no longer a concern.

Returning to Borneo for the anniversary, he just wants to remember those who were lost 70 years ago on a faraway shore.

“About Borneo, I don’t know that there was anything outstanding that it would be remembered by.”

Historian Karl James says it is veterans like Patrick Curtis who are really the key to marking this anniversary.

“I think the most active form of commemoration is, really, commemoration through understanding. The generation who fought the Second World War are now very rapidly passing from us, so it’s really useful to talk to these veterans, to hear about their experiences, while we still can, because, in another 10 years or so, that generation will largely be gone.”

 

 

 

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Blatter’s resignation welcomed in Australia

Written by admin on 07/07/2019 Categories: 深圳桑拿论坛

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Football Federation Australia has welcomed Sepp Blatter’s resignation as president of world football’s governing body FIFA, calling it the first step in changing its culture.

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And critics of the organisation have echoed those thoughts, some saying a total overhaul is needed before the people running the game can be trusted.

Bence Hamerli reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

In the lead up to his latest re-election as FIFA president, Sepp Blatter described himself as a mountain goat that just keeps going and going and going.

Now, he has stopped going.

And his resignation is a welcome surprise for those who have been demanding change.

SBS football analyst Craig Foster says it is good that Blatter seems to have finally been forced out, but he warns that does not fix FIFA.

“One can assume that Blatter stood, perhaps, in order to protect the political network around him. And that’s what worries me about this move, that it can potentially be influenced by the fellow executive members, who know they have something to hide and they’re trying to influence the next election.”

Football Federation Australia defied Blatter, albeit at the last minute, and voted for his only rival, Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Hussein.

In a statement, the FFA promised to keep working towards reform.

It promised to be an active voice within the forums of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation in promoting governance reform and a new era of transparency.

Many, like long-term FIFA critic Bonita Mersiades, are suggesting there is no need to rush to a new election until it involves candidates outside the FIFA system.

“You may look at someone like Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, and current head of the UN development program Mitt Romney. There are a number of people around the world who are capable of taking on that role, who are completely independent of football, completely independent of FIFA, do not have baggage, don’t have history, but know how to set up an organisation that is run with the right level of accountability, transparency and probity.”

Senator Nick Xenophon says Qatar should be stripped of the 2022 World Cup — if not for corruption, then for the deaths of 1,200 workers building its stadiums.

He says he does not believe Australia should bid again without knowing what happened to the 45 million dollars it spent last time with no success.

“Unless there is systemic, sweeping reform of FIFA, then Australia, together with Europe, the US and other countries, needs to set up an alternate organisation to FIFA.”

 

 

 

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Obama signs bill reforming US surveillance program

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President Barack Obama signed into law on Tuesday legislation passed by Congress earlier in the day reforming a government surveillance program that swept up millions of Americans’ telephone records.

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Reversing security policy in place since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the bill ends a system exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The spy agency collected and searched records of phone calls looking for terrorism leads but was not allowed to listen to their content.

Malcolm Jorgensen, a Research Associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, says it’s the first time US Congress has reduced the powers of the government for acts of surveillance.

The decision puts the US at odds with the Australian government, which moved to make it easier for agencies to access metadata in March this year.

“On the one hand the Australian laws do give a wider discretion to the Minister, so the Minister here doesn’t have to go through the process of gaining a warrant, as is now the case in the American system,” he told SBS.

“There is perhaps more provision for abuse of the system in the Australian regime, in the sense that there’s no independent body overlooking it in the same way there is specially constituted courts in the United States system – which now have a public interest monitor [and] is now part of that system put in place by the new Freedom Act.

“In the Australian system, there’s an Ombudsman, but at the end of the day the Minister has such a wide discretion that that may mean there are less protections in the Australian system now.”

Passage of the USA Freedom Act, the result of an alliance between Senate Democrats and some of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans, was a victory for Obama, a Democrat, and a setback for Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

After the Senate voted 67-32 on Tuesday to give final congressional approval to the bill, Obama used his Twitter account, @POTUS, to say he was glad it had passed. “I’ll sign it as soon as I get it,” the tweet said.

Glad the Senate finally passed the USA Freedom Act. It protects civil liberties and our national security. I’ll sign it as soon as I get it.

— President Obama (@POTUS) June 2, 2015

Before voting, senators defeated three amendments proposed by Republican leaders after they reversed themselves and ended efforts to block it. The House of Representatives passed the measure overwhelmingly last month.

In the end, 23 Senate Republicans voted for the Freedom Act, joining 196 who backed it in the House. In a rift between Republicans, who control both chambers, House leaders had warned that amendments proposed by McConnell would be a “challenge” for the House that could delay the bill.

A federal appeals court on May 7 ruled the collection of “metadata” illegal.

The new law would require companies such as Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc, to collect and store telephone records the same way that they do now for billing purposes.

But instead of routinely feeding US intelligence agencies such data, the companies would be required to turn it over only in response to a government request approved by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The Freedom Act is the first major legislative reform of US surveillance since Snowden’s revelations two years ago this month led to debate over how to balance Americans’ distrust of intrusive government with fears of terrorist attacks.

Along with the phone records program, two other domestic surveillance programs authorized under the 2001 USA Patriot Act have been shut down since Sunday.

Missed deadline

After Republican Senator Rand Paul, a 2016 presidential candidate, blocked McConnell’s efforts to keep them going temporarily, the Senate missed a deadline to extend legal authorities for certain data collection by the NSA and the FBI.

McConnell made an unusually strong last-ditch argument against the Freedom Act after his amendments failed. “It surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our war fighters, in my view, at exactly the wrong time,” he said in a Senate speech.

Telephone companies had been less than thrilled about potentially overhauling their record-keeping systems to become the repositories of surveillance records.

Together with civil liberties groups, they opposed specific requirements for how long they must retain any data, which were proposed in some amendments that were later defeated. A Verizon official, for instance, spoke in support of the Freedom Act, without such a mandate, in a Senate hearing last year.

After the vote, Microsoft Corp General Counsel Brad Smith praised Congress. “Today’s vote by the Senate on the USA Freedom Act will help to restore the balance between protecting public safety and preserving civil liberties,” Smith said in a statement.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a leading Senate privacy advocate, voted for the Freedom Act. He pledged that he and his allies would continue pushing for more limits on surveillance.

“This has always been about reforming intelligence policies that do not make America safer and threaten our liberties,” Wyden told reporters.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the Freedom Act was a milestone, but did not go far enough. “The passage of the bill is an indication that comprehensive reform is possible, but it is not comprehensive reform in itself,” ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement.

A senior US intelligence official said the bulk telephone data collection system had been shut down since shortly before 8 p.m. EDT on Sunday.

It was not immediately clear how soon the NSA program would be restarted. The Freedom Act allows it to continue for six months while the new system is established.

The White House said the administration would move quickly to get it up and running again.

With Obama’s signing of the bill, the executive branch will have to apply to the surveillance court for reauthorization.

(Additional reporting by Alina Selyyukh, Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, Mark Hosenball, Roberta Rampton and Eric Walsh; Editing by Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)

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Cowboys re-sign coach Green

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The ink had barely dried on Paul Green’s new contract before the North Queensland coach claimed he planned to deliver an NRL title by the time his three-year Cowboys deal had expired.

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No one can doubt Green’s Midas touch after the Cowboys grabbed a share of the NRL ladder lead at the halfway mark of the season thanks to a club record nine straight victories.

In just his second year as an NRL head coach, Green has 24 wins from 38 games with a 63 per cent success rate – the highest percentage of any Cowboys mentor.

In fact he is the only coach in North Queensland’s 20-year history to have a positive for-against record.

Yet Green hardly sounded satisfied judging by the bold plan he revealed after putting pen to paper on a contract that will expire at the end of the 2018 season.

“Premierships are hard to come by,” he said.

“But we want to compete in finals every year.

“And if we give ourselves a chance to win a premiership in that time, that is certainly part of the plan.”

Asked if the new deal had changed his expectations of the Cowboys, Green said: “None more than what is already on them – we fully expect success up here.”

Still, no one would be surprised if Green was the man to finally lead the Cowboys to the NRL’s holy grail.

He grabbed the Cowboys reins after claiming back to back Queensland Cup titles with Wynnum-Manly and enjoyed the Sydney Roosters’ 2013 NRL title success as an assistant to Trent Robinson.

He steered the Cowboys to the finals on debut last year despite North Queensland languishing in 13th spot as late as round 17.

“I was really lucky to be given the opportunity,” Green said.

“It’s been a real privilege. It’s not lost on me.

“I am humbled by the fact I have been given this chance and am excited about what we have done and what we can do in the future.”

Green’s North Queensland side travel to Parramatta on Monday night.

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Pell a man of integrity: Australian archbishops

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Australia’s Catholic archbishops have backed Cardinal George Pell as a man of integrity.

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The archbishops of Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Hobart and Canberra-Goulburn said they know Cardinal Pell well and while his style can be robust and direct, underneath he has a big heart for people.

“He is a man of integrity who is committed to the truth and to helping others, particularly those who have been hurt or who are struggling,” the joint statement said on Thursday.

Cardinal Pell was one of the first bishops in the world to put in place a comprehensive church response to investigate allegations of sex abuse by Catholic clergy and to provide survivors with redress and counselling, the statement said.

“He has responded to criticisms that have been made of his handling of these matters over the years, acknowledged mistakes frankly, and apologised for them.”

Cardinal Pell has repeatedly rejected claims he tried to bribe one victim to keep quiet, ignored complaints and was involved in moving Australia’s worst pedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, to a different parish.

The claims were aired again during the child sex abuse royal commission’s public hearing into widespread abuse in the Ballarat diocese.

The commission will ask Cardinal Pell to give evidence in its second Ballarat hearing, expected to be held in November or December. He has told the commission he is prepared to return to Australia from Rome to testify.

A member of Pope Francis’s child protection commission, Peter Saunders, has said Cardinal Pell’s position as the Vatican’s finance chief is untenable.

The archbishops’ joint statement, also backed by Sydney’s auxiliary bishop and the bishop of Broken Bay, said they appreciated the cardinal’s strong and unfailing support for the royal commission.

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart on Monday said Cardinal Pell has always been determined to address the evil of clergy sexual abuse in the church, deal with perpetrators and provide healing for survivors.

The only Australian archbishop not to speak out in support of Cardinal Pell is Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, who took leave in March to fight a NSW charge of concealing child sex abuse committed by pedophile priest James Fletcher in 1971.

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Nigeria seek to step up after years as also-rans

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But in recent years the gap has narrowed and after Nigeria finished runner-up in last year’s Under-20 Women’s World Cup, there are now hopes Nigeria could be a realistic challenger.

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“Our desire is to be counted at the World Cup and we won’t leave any stone unturned to ensure we achieve the target,” coach Edwin Okon said in a recent Nigeria press interview ahead of the June 6-July 5 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

The target is at least a place in the last eight, emulating Nigeria’s best ever achievement at a Women’s World Cup when they got to the quarter-finals in 1999.

Key to Nigeria’s hopes will be a positive result in their opening game in Group D against Sweden in Winnipeg on Monday. They also play Australia and the United States in a tough draw.

Okon has put heavy emphasis on fitness ahead of the tournament and there has been a lengthy preparatory camp.

African Women’s Footballer of the year Asisat Oshoala leads their squad, having made a recent move to join Liverpool’s ladies team and in the process become the first African in England’s Women’s Super League.

She is an exciting forward who was voted the best player at last year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup, also played in Canada, after a tournament-record seven goals.

The Nigerian captain is Evelyn Nwabuoko and 12 of the players are foreign-based, a major factor in the improvement of Nigeria’s performances.

“As African champions I want you to go to the World Cup this time with a clear determination to do better than any of your predecessors have ever done,” Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick told the team before they left for Canada two weeks ago. “We believe you can.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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