Jul 30

Up to 5000 EU nationals join jihadists

Up to 5000 European Union citizens have joined jihadist militant ranks, the head of European police agency Europol has told British lawmakers.

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“We’re talking about 3000, 5000 EU nationals,” Rob Wainwright told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday when asked how many foreign fighters had left from Europe.

The Europol chief added that the mostly young men pose a threat to their country of origin if they return there.

“We’re dealing with a large body of mainly young men who have the potential to come back and have the potential or intent and capability to carry out attacks we have seen in Paris in the last week,” Wainwright said.

Calling the returning militants “the most serious terrorist threat that Europe has faced since 9/11” 2001 attacks, Wainwright called for greater scrutiny of the use of social media, which he said was used as a recruitment tool by jihadists.

“We have to have a closer, much more productive relationship between law enforcement and technology firms.

“One of the important evolutions we’re seeing right now in the current terrorist threat is the way the internet is used, clearly much more aggressively, much more imaginatively by the networks,” he added.

The names of about 2500 suspects have been collected by Europol from the security services of various EU countries, Wainwright said.

The European Union’s counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove estimated in September 2014 that around 3000 European citizens had joined jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

De Kerchove said in an interview with AFP in Brussels on Tuesday that around 30 per cent have returned to their EU countries.

The issue of home grown jihadists has gained prominence in recent days following a string of attacks in Paris by assailants born in France.

One of two brothers responsible for an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week, Said Kouachi, studied at a Yemen college founded by a fundamentalist cleric before undertaking weapons training with an al-Qaeda affiliate.

His brother Cherif was part of the so-called Buttes Chaumont network in Paris, which helped send recruits to join the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda.

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Jul 30

Obama compared to Hitler for Paris no-show

A Republican congressman from Texas has apologised after he essentially compared US President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler in a tweet about last week’s deadly attacks in France.

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“Even Adolph (sic) Hitler thought it more important than Obama to get to Paris,” Randy Weber posted on Twitter, after the US leader failed to join the more than a million people who marched through the French capital in an unprecedented show of defiance against Islamist extremism.

“For all the wrong reasons,” Weber added, presumably referring to Hitler’s survey of German-occupied Paris in June 1940. “Obama couldn’t do it for right reasons.”

The president was criticised for not participating in the massive unity rally or even sending a top emissary such as Secretary of State John Kerry to a march attended by several world leaders.

And the White House apologised for the misstep.

But Weber’s caustic attack was seen as beyond the pale, and several Jewish groups reportedly demanded an apology.

“I need to first apologise to all those offended by my tweet,” Weber said in a statement on Tuesday some 17 hours after his original post.

“It was not my intention to trivialise the Holocaust nor to compare the President to Adolf Hitler. The mention of Hitler was meant to represent the face of evil that still exists in the world today.

“I now realise that the use of Hitler invokes pain and emotional trauma for those affected by the atrocities of the Holocaust and victims of anti-Semitism and hate.”

Other lawmakers including House Speaker John Boehner expressed their disapproval.

“The Speaker believes the tweet was inappropriate,” Boehner aide Michael Steel said.

House Democrat Nita Lowey called Weber’s Obama-Hitler comparison “disgraceful and severely unbecoming of a representative in the United States Congress”.

This is not the first time Weber has used German symbolism in criticising Obama.

Just before the president’s State of the Union address in January 2014, the congressman tweeted, again with a spelling error: “On floor of house waitin on “Kommandant-In-Chef”… the Socialistic dictator”.

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Jul 30

Flights resume after Tonga eruption

A plane from Tonga has landed in Auckland after a volcanic plume near the kingdom’s capital interrupted flights for three days.

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And the problems caused by the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai undersea volcano appear to be over, with only residual sulphur dioxide left in the air, New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority chief meteorological officer Peter Lechner said.

The Virgin Australia additional service left Sydney for Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa on Wednesday morning, and arrived in Auckland at 5.30pm.

A spokeswoman for the company said flights to and from the island were now operating as normal, and affected customers had been fed and put up in hotels while they waited.

The successful flight came just hours after an Air New Zealand flight to Tonga was forced to return to Auckland after another pilot flying near the destination airport smelled sulphur dioxide which can cause breathing difficulties for passengers and crew on the aeroplane.

An Air New Zealand flight departed from Auckland just before 5pm on Wednesday headed for the capital.

Some domestic flights have continued as normal despite the ash.

Mr Lechner told AAP the ash which had put holiday plans on hold had now gone.

Flights should now be operating as usual – unless the volcano erupted again, he said.

Volcanic ash “can get into the engines and basically stop the engines, but it can also get into all sorts of other parts of the aeroplane and cause critical problems”.

“We have had ash getting into fuel switching systems and causing the fuel supply to stop,” he said.

The volcano – which is 60km from the capital – began erupting in late December, but only began causing problems for airlines this week when the wind direction changed sending the plume towards the capital.

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Jul 30

HK leader takes hard line on public vote

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers have staged a dramatic walk-out as the territory’s leader told the legislature there will be no deviation from Beijing’s policy on elections.

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In his first speech to Hong Kong’s legislature since huge street rallies calling for free leadership elections, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made no concessions to protesters and questioned their “understanding” of the intricacies of politics in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

“Hong Kong’s power originates from the central authorities (in Beijing),” said Leung.

“Hong Kong’s autonomy… is a high degree of autonomy, not an absolute autonomy.”

Beijing has ruled that candidates for the city’s first ever public vote for its chief executive in 2017 must be vetted by a loyalist committee, which campaigners denounce as “fake democracy”.

Around 20 pro-democracy lawmakers walked out of the legislative council chamber and two were bundled out by security before Leung’s speech.

Carrying banners and yellow umbrellas, the symbol of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, they shouted: “Down with CY Leung! True universal suffrage!”.

Security guards surrounded two members of the People Power party who refused to leave and were shouting “shameful” at Leung.

Chan Chi-chuen and Chan Wai-yip were eventually carried out.

Leung, whose address was delayed for 15 minutes, gave a faint smile and busied himself reading through his speech as the protests continued.

The chief executive usually lays out domestic policies for the year ahead in the annual address, which this year also covered issues including the economy, housing and transport.

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Jul 30

Rain delays Dellacqua’s Hobart QF bid

Casey Dellacqua will go a second day without competitive play with rain delaying her bid for a quarter-final berth at the Hobart International.

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The event’s top-seed was due to play Italy’s Karin Knapp on Wednesday but a downpour lasting more than 20 hours across the island capital meant players didn’t get a chance to step on court.

“Unfortunately rain has meant that @caseydellacqua match at #HobartTennis is cancelled for today,” the 29-year old’s management @EmageoGroup tweeted.

Tournament organisers soon after confirmed that the Australian’s match will be rescheduled for Thursday.

Following her first-round three-set win over America’s Lauren Davis on Monday, Dellacqua showed surprise that she would not play her second round until Wednesday.

“Oh, really … I thought we may have played every day from now on,” she told reporters.

With the Australian Open just five days away the left-handed world No.29 will be keen to get as much match practice as possible.

Hobart tournament director Mark Handley said he will do whatever he can to facilitate player requests as the schedule is revised.

“I’ll do whatever Casey wants.

“She’s a top seed at a career-high world ranking, she’s Australian, if she comes to me and says she’d like to play at a particular time I’m going to try and honour that request as I would with any of the players.”

Schedules will be revised to try and avoid players having two matches on a day, and organisers will use outside courts to help with the catch up, he added.

The Hobart venue has only one court that is capable of hosting night matches.

Nothing can be done about the weather, except maybe the addition of a very expensive roof, Handley said.

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Jun 30

Qld’s north becomes frontline battleground

Once a World War II garrison city, Townsville has become a key battleground for the Queensland election.

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Premier Campbell Newman and Annastacia Palaszscuk have both visited the seat, held by a margin of 4.7 per cent by the Liberal National Party’s John Hathaway, twice so far during the campaign.

The city’s economy relies heavily on the large Lavarack Barracks, the Townsville airforce base and the commercial port.

But it hasn’t been doing well – unemployment peaked at 10.5 per cent last year.

Mr Newman announced his plan to turn Townsville’s fortunes around on Wednesday by pledging $150 million in funding for a new sports stadium precinct.

He says the project will eventually include residential and commercial complexes that will transform the city.

“Townsville in the last year and a half has been through a more difficult period, this is the confidence boost it needs,” Mr Newman said.

Townsville is the centrepiece of Labor’s plans to win back north Queensland, where Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has spent the vast majority of her time campaigning.

Since the January 31 election was called nine days ago, Ms Palaszczuk has only been in the south-east for two days.

The key seats of Whitsunday, Barron River, Cook, Townsville and Cairns were lost to the LNP in 2012 and Labor is trying to claw them back.

The party is also trying to sandbag Mackay after the surprise resignation of Deputy Opposition Leader Tim Mulherin last week.

Mr Newman was adamant Townsville was critical to Queensland’s economic future.

“It’s vitally important that Townsville has a clear path forward, a clear vision forward and that’s what we’re doing by making this announcement,” he said.

However, there’s still a shortfall in funding because the government plans to contribute $150 million, and the overall project will cost $210 million.

The premier is confident interested parties like the city council and NRL, as well as private sector involvement, will cover the remaining $60 million.

No matter who wins the seat in the election, the stadium project will receive funding because Labor has already pledged $100 million.

Local Government Minister David Crisafulli also took a swipe at Labor’s pledge because it did not include an urban renewal project.

“The opposition flopped into town, picked a number out of the sky, had no way of paying for it, and had absolutely no vision about how they would energise the private sector to come on the journey and make this more than just one announcement,” he said.

But Ms Palaszczuk, campaigning on the Great Barrier Reef, said Labor’s plan was better for Townsville because they would not need to “sell-off” the city’s port to fund it.

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Jun 30

Mills impresses in Spurs’ NBA loss

Patty Mills has continued his good form following his return to NBA action, scoring 12 points in San Antonio Spurs’ 101-93 loss to the Washington Wizards.

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Mills came off the bench for nearly 25 minutes of court time on Tuesday (Wednesday AEDT) and scored all of his points from beyond the arc, on four of six three-point shooting.

It’s been a big week for the Australian point guard, who scored a season-high 19 points in the Spurs’ 108-93 win against Minnesota on Saturday and spent Monday visiting US President Barack Obama at the White House with his Spurs teammates.

San Antonio are the defending NBA champions and the visit to the White House is a tradition for major championship winning teams in America.

Mills returned to the Spurs line-up at the end of December following off-season shoulder surgery.

In the loss against the Wizards on Tuesday, only starting point guard Tony Parker scored more points than Mills, while fellow Australian Aron Baynes was not selected to play.

Meanwhile, Australian centre Andrew Bogut scored nine points for Golden State Warriors in their 116-105 win against Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.

It is the first time in franchise history Golden State have won 30 of their first 35 games in the NBA.

For Utah, Australian Joe Ingles scored 12 points to go with five rebounds and one blocked shot.

Dante Exum came off the bench for the Jazz but didn’t trouble the scorers, going none-for-three from the floor.

Elsewhere, Phoenix Suns spoiled LeBron James’ return to action, beating Cleveland Cavaliers 107-100.

James scored 33 in the loss and new teammate J.R. Smith added 29, but Markieff Morris scored 35 to help the Suns to a 23-18 season record.

The Cavaliers posted a 1-7 record in James’ injury layoff since December 28 and with the loss against the Suns, boast a 19-20 season record.

In other games, Atlanta beat Philadelphia 105-87, Dallas beat Sacramento 108-104 and Miami beat Los Angeles Lakers 78-75.

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Jun 30

Hobart aim to keep BBL finals hopes alive

To say Hobart need a bit of luck to make the Big Bash League Twenty20 semi-finals is an understatement.

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And so far, the portents are not so good for the Hurricanes after flight delays ensured they arrived late ahead of Thursday night’s must win Gabba clash with Brisbane.

The fifth-placed Hurricanes must down the bottom-placed Heat then rely on up to four other results going their way to scrape into the BBL semi-finals.

They will look to reverse their fortunes against the Heat after flight delays ensured Hobart arrived in Brisbane late on Wednesday and had to cancel their pre-match press conference.

Hobart posted video on social media of two Hurricanes teammates playing “tennis” with what appeared to be a cricket glove during the long wait for their belated flight to Queensland.

“A few delayed flights today but the boys are making their own entertainment at the airport!” they tweeted.

At least Hobart will back themselves to keep up their end of the bargain with a win over Brisbane, even without captain George Bailey and spinner Xavier Doherty (national one-day duty).

When the teams met earlier this season, Hobart reeled in Brisbane’s daunting 6-208 with an over to spare.

And last season they defeated Brisbane in their regular season finale to make the top four before they made it all the way to the final.

Tim Paine will take over the Hobart captaincy while big hitting Travis Birt (hamstring) returns.

The Heat (1-6) are reeling from Tuesday night’s five-wicket loss to Melbourne Renegades after being bowled out for a club record 80 – the third lowest total in BBL history.

They have recalled paceman Mark Steketee and batsman Nathan Reardon to replace Cameron Gannon and Jason Floros in their 13-man squad.

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Jun 30

Obama pushes cybersecurity law after hacks

US President Barack Obama says the hacking of Sony and the Pentagon Central Command’s Twitter feed highlights the urgent need to pass new cybersecurity laws.

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“Cyber threats are an urgent and growing danger,” Obama said on Tuesday as the White House unveiled a proposal to revive cybersecurity legislation stalled over the past few years.

“This is a matter of public safety of public health, and most of this infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector. So neither government nor the private sector can defend the nation alone. It’s going to have to be a shared mission – government and industry working hand in hand.”

Obama, who spoke at a Department of Homeland Security co-ordination centre, is again trying to persuade congress to pass legislation to encourage better co-operation between the government and private sector, an effort stalled since his first proposal in 2011.

“With the Sony attack that took place, with the Twitter account that was hacked by Islamist jihadist sympathisers yesterday, it just goes to show how much more work we need to do … to strengthen our cybersecurity,” the president said earlier in the day at a meeting with congressional leaders.

The proposal unveiled on Tuesday would allow increased sharing of information on cyber threats from the private sector with protection from liability.

The measure also would make it illegal to sell stolen financial data and require companies to notify consumers about data breaches.

As well, the plan would allow for the prosecution of the sale of botnets – a group of programs which communicate with similar programs – and give more tools to law enforcement and the courts to crack down on the sale of stolen US financial information and spyware used to stalk or commit ID theft, according to the White House.

The proposal would shield companies from liability if they share information about cyber threats with the Department of Homeland Security, which has been setting up special units for threat analysis and sharing.

Earlier efforts on cybersecurity legislation have stalled amid opposition from civil libertarians, who feared it could allow too much government snooping, and conservatives who argued it would create a new bureaucracy.

The concerns on cybersecurity have been heightened by the hacking of Sony Pictures and massive data breaches affecting retailers including Target and Home Depot.

On Monday, the US Central Command suspended its Twitter page after a group declaring sympathy for Islamic State jihadists hacked its social media accounts and posted internal documents.

Scott Belcher, chief executive of the Telecommunications Industry Association, welcomed the plan, saying it “will help arm businesses with more weapons to fight attacks and give them more freedom to pursue innovative and aggressive solutions”.

But Amie Stepanovich at the digital rights group Access said any effort should be accompanied by reforms at the National Security Agency, whose vast data sweeping capacity has been disclosed in leaked documents.

And Harley Geiger at the Center for Democracy and Technology said the plan “relies heavily on privacy guidelines that are currently unwritten” and argued that “privacy protections and use restrictions must be in effect before information sharing occurs”.

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Jun 30

Labor to spend $100 million on reef

Labor has promised $100 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef, but can’t specifically say what the money will be used for.

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Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk made the announcement on Green Island, off the Cairns coast, on Wednesday after taking a reef tour in a glass bottom boat alongside her environment spokeswoman Jackie Trad.

Ms Palaszczuk said a “high-level taskforce” would provide recommendations to government to determine how best to spend the $100 million over five years.

The taskforce will have several targets, including reducing nitrogen run off by up to 80 per cent in key catchment areas by 2025.

But Ms Trad would not be drawn on what concrete initiatives the $100 million would be spent on and whether the taskforce’s targets would be legislated.

“We will make that decision after we listen to the evidence, after we listen to the experts,” Ms Trad said.

“Unlike (Premier) Campbell Newman who has picked a fight with everybody in our community … (and) who doesn’t believe in the science of climate change.”

Ms Palaszczuk says it’s too early to detail exactly what the money will be spent on because it was just the start of Labor’s reef plan.

She says Labor will “absolutely” prioritise addressing debt and reveal its long-awaited fiscal strategy on Friday, 15 days before the state poll.

The opposition leader also hit out at Mr Newman’s promise of $150 million to go towards a new Townsville football stadium, saying Labor had already committed $100 million to the project without having to sell off the city’s port.

Ms Palaszczuk has already made two visits during the campaign to Cairns, a traditional Labor seat the party hopes to win back from Liberal National Party (LNP) MP Gavin King, who holds it with a 8.9 per cent margin.

LABOR’S REEF POLICY

* $100 million over five years

* Reduce nitrogen run-off by up to 80 per cent in key areas, like the Burdekin, by 2025

* Reduce total suspended sediment run-off by up to 50 per cent by 2025

* Implement taskforce with members from local government, conservation groups, primary producers, tourism operators and scientists

* Lobby federal government for more reef protection funding

(Source: Queensland Labor)

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