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Manila to evacuate 13,000 from Libya

Manila to evacuate 13,000 from Libya

The Philippines is preparing to evacuate 13,000 citizens from Libya, as violence continued to rage and a Filipino worker was beheaded and a nurse gang-raped there.

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At the same time, Greece was sending a warship to evacuate some of its nationals as well as some from other countries, while Spain is pulling out most of its embassy staff.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario was heading to neighbouring Tunisia to organise an evacuation, as fighting resumed between militias seeking to control the Libyan capital’s crippled international airport.

Del Rosario said he was repeating a 2011 mission that evacuated thousands of Filipino workers during the uprising that toppled Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

“Our major challenge, as in 2011, is to convince our folks that they must leave Libya at the soonest time to avoid the perils of a highly exacerbating situation there,” he told reporters in Manila.

The Philippines ordered an evacuation on July 20, hours after the discovery in the eastern city of Benghazi of the beheaded remains of a Filipino construction worker who had been abducted.

Manila also imposed a travel ban to the North African country, which has been plagued by violence since Gaddafi’s overthrow.

On Wednesday, a Filipina nurse was abducted by a gang of youths outside her residence in Tripoli and gang-raped before being released two hours later, the foreign department said.

Despite the dangers, del Rosario said many of the Filipinos, mostly construction and health workers, are refusing to leave because they would be unemployed back home.

In Athens, meanwhile, an official said a navy frigate was en route to Libya to evacuate some 200 people, including diplomatic staff and the Spanish foreign ministry said it was pulling its ambassador and all but one of the embassy’s staff due to the worsening security situation.

The United States, Canada, France and Brazil have temporarily shuttered their embassies in Tripoli, while several Western countries and Egypt have advised their citizens to leave immediately.

RAAF medics ready to fly to Ukraine

RAAF medics ready to fly to Ukraine

A military medical team on standby in the Netherlands is hoping for the best but planning for the worst when unarmed Australian and Dutch police investigate the MH17 crash site.

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A seven-person RAAF aero-medical evacuation (AME) team is stationed at Eindhoven airbase ready to fly to eastern Ukraine at a moment’s notice if a member of the international mission is injured.

The team, led by 34-year-old Dr Jo Darby from Brisbane, includes another doctor, a specialist anaesthetist, two nurses and two medical assistants.

“I really hope nothing happens and we don’t have to use our resources and our intensive team,” Dr Darby told reporters on the tarmac at Eindhoven.

“But if we do need it, then that’s what we are here for. It’s an unknown in terms of what our tasking will be.”

Dr Darby said when planning a potential medical evacuation “you always think about the worst case scenario and have a contingency plan in place”.

Dutch police heading up the international probe into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 believe the situation around the crash site remains perilous despite a small team managing to access the scene.

There’s been intense fighting in recent days between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian militants.

The Ukrainian parliament on Thursday ratified a deal that authorises Australia and the Netherlands to send in armed personnel to help secure the area if necessary.

But Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has previously stated an international military mission is “unrealistic”.

The RAAF medical team stationed in the Netherlands would be pleased if the most serious injury it deals with is a broken bone or rolled ankle.

They arrived at Eindhoven on Tuesday and spent Thursday practising with the Dutch team they’ll be working side-by-side with if there is need for any evacuations.

The Dutch don’t have C-17s so are getting used to working on the Australian aircraft.

One C-17 can move four ICU patients and up to 36 patients on stretchers depending on their injuries.

Dr Darby says the Boeing Globemasters are the Rolls Royce of transporters when it comes to doing AMEs – especially when moving seriously injured casualties.

Liquid oxygen is available on a continuous supply so medics don’t have to worry about changing cylinders. Medical machines can be plugged straight into power so batteries aren’t needed.

The Australian and Dutch have previously worked together in Afghanistan and Dr Darby says the teams in Eindhoven are melding perfectly as they are equally matched in terms of expertise.

Tas winds calm as snow falls to 300m

Tas winds calm as snow falls to 300m

Thousands of Tasmanians are still without power but the destructive winds that lashed the state all week have finally calmed.

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Instead the state has been blanketed with snow to 300 metres above sea level as temperatures dropped well below the average.

Powerful winds started buffeting Tasmania on Monday night, bringing down trees and leaving more than 22,500 homes and businesses without power by Thursday.

That number dropped to 3700 by Friday afternoon.

TasNetworks chief executive Lance Balcombe said crews were working round the clock to get power back on.

“Improved weather conditions mean crews are in a better position to restore power, however some areas remain difficult to access due to heavy snow, road closures and poor road conditions,” Mr Balcombe said on Friday.

There are 3200 customers still without power in the north and 500 in the north-west.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Simon McCulloch said most of Tasmania struggled to make it into double digits as the cold snap hit.

“Across the state today it was about three-to-seven degrees below average,” Mr McCulloch told AAP.

He said the severe winds that brought down powerlines and trees – killing one woman in Launceston on Thursday – subsided on Friday.

“We had a south-west-to-southerly change pushing across the state today, that’s really the last in the sequence of fronts that have been crossing the state since Monday,” he said.

Snow fell to 300 metres above sea level on Friday, and Mr McCulloch said it would drop to 200 metres in some areas overnight.

“Lots of places will get below zero tonight, (there will be) snow on the ground, icy conditions tomorrow,” he said.

Argentina blames US for debt woes

Argentina blames US for debt woes

Argentina has blamed the US for the legal battle that forced it to miss a debt payment and, despite ratings agencies’ declarations to the contrary, denied being in default.

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Ratings agency Fitch declared Argentina in “restrictive default” on Thursday after 11th-hour talks failed to resolve the country’s dispute with two US hedge funds which refuse to accept a write-down on their Argentine bonds.

Fitch’s label echoed the “selective default” declared on Wednesday by Standard & Poor’s. Both terms indicate that Argentina has defaulted on one or more of its financial commitments but continues to meet others.

US District Judge Thomas Griesa has blocked Argentina from paying its “exchange creditors” — those who agreed to take a 70-per cent write-down after the country’s 2001 default — without also paying two American hedge funds that took it to court demanding full payment.

Argentine stocks plummeted on Thursday, closing 8.43 per cent down as the repercussions of the default began to set in.

President Cristina Kirchner’s cabinet chief, Jorge Capitanich, blamed the US government, Griesa and a court-appointed mediator for the messy legal dispute, which made Argentina miss a $US539 million ($A583.18 million) payment to exchange bondholders.

“If there’s a judge who’s an agent of these speculative funds, if the mediator is their agent, what is this justice you’re talking about? There’s a responsibility of the state here, of the United States, to create the conditions for the unconditional respect of other countries’ sovereignty,” he said.

He accused Griesa and mediator Dan Pollack of “incompetence” and said Argentina would take the matter to international courts.

Argentina says paying the holdouts the $1.3 billion it owes them could expose it to claims for up to $100 billion from exchange creditors, who are entitled to equal treatment under what is called a Rights Upon Future Offers, or RUFO, clause.

The US State Department said it opposed the court ruling but called on Argentina to get its books in order.

“They’ve made some good progress towards meeting their obligations,” said Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

She said it is in Argentina’s interests to normalise relations with all of its creditors.

Kirchner denied her country was in default, reiterating that it had transferred the payment in question and condemned the tactics of the hedge funds, which she calls “vulture funds.”

“We live in a profoundly unjust and profoundly violent world and this is also violence. Like missiles in war, financial missiles also kill,” the president said in a nationally televised address.

“I want all Argentines to remain very calm because Argentina is going to use all the legal instruments our contracts give us.”

The Bank of New York confirmed Buenos Aires’ payment to the exchange creditors was still sitting in the US bank’s account at the Argentine central bank, frozen there by Griesa’s ruling.

Amid the back-and-forth, some in the financial world called for a simple yes or no on whether the country had defaulted.

The International Swaps and Derivatives Association, a trade organisation for participants in the derivatives market, said it had accepted a request from Swiss bank UBS to rule whether Argentina was in default or not.

A default would activate insurance contracts on the relevant debt.

Argentina got a show of support from more than 100 economists, including Nobel laureate Robert Solow and other prominent academics, who sent a letter to the US Congress urging it to intervene.

“The district court’s decision… could cause unnecessary economic damage to the international financial system, as well as to US economic interests (and to) Argentina,” said the signatories, warning the ruling created a “moral hazard” by guaranteeing creditors full payment no matter how risky their investment.

With Argentina scrambling to find a way to placate the hedge funds until the RUFO clause on its restructured debt expires at the end of the year, sources close to the case told AFP that JP Morgan and other banks were in negotiations with the holdouts to buy some or all of their bonds.

JP Morgan declined to comment.

Analysts said the damage could still be controlled if the default was fleeting but warned a lengthy standoff would deepen Argentina’s current recession, fuel inflation and unemployment and further the country’s isolation from global financial markets.

Argentina’s 2001 default on $US100 billion in foreign debt, the largest in history at the time, plunged the country into crisis. Rioting left 33 people dead after the government froze savings accounts to halt a run on the banks.

But analysts say the global impact of the new default will be far smaller, since Argentina has since been locked out of international capital markets.

Investigators reach MH17 crash site

Investigators reach MH17 crash site

A small advance team of Australian and Dutch investigators has managed to access the MH17 crash site in Ukraine but the area remains risky, with their convoy and media crews being fired upon.

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A larger team of 40 is planning to go to the site later today but the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe says that will depend on a security assessment.

Extremely dangerous, is how Foreign Minister Julie Bishop describes the mission, and media representatives have found out for themselves just how dangerous it is.

SBS Dateline journalist Nick Lazaredes and his crew are lucky to be alive after coming under fire as they approached the crash site.

“We got as far as we could and then there was a tree across the road. We rang the mayor of the town who was going to come and meet us and guide us to safety and then we came under gunfire, so we hit the ground and eventually our driver managed to get us out of the situation. He took off his shirt, which was white, and waved it out of the car. We put our heads down and we drove out: we were fired upon again as we drove out.”

Before escaping, the reporters got close enough to see that parts of the crash site were alight.

“There were fires burning all around today. Now that wreckage is burning. I’m sorry to say it but I mean, I guess, bodies and body parts are burning, I mean it’s really a terrible situation and to have to negotiate your safe passage every day into this mess is going to be really, really difficult.”

At this stage the plan is to send in a larger team.

Alexander Hug is deputy head of the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine.

“What we will try to do tomorrow is to see of course a difference between what we have seen today and how the picture will be there tomorrow if we reach the scene again. It is a permanent reassessment, constantly, by the hour if not less on the situation”

Negotiating safe passage has been the subject of talks in Belarus between Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE.

Ukraine’s parliament has given Australian and Dutch officers the legal authority to lead the forensic investigation at the crash site.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the vote gives the police teams an insurance policy by allowing them to carry weapons.

But she says they will not take arms onto the site and it will remain a police-led humanitarian mission.

There are reports memebers of Australia’s elite Special Air Service are on standby.

But SBS journalist Nick Lazarades says in the absence of any agreement guaranteeing the safety of the mission, it might be something that requires peacekeepers.

“The Prime Minister had said we’re in for the long haul and I’m afraid that’s probably what it’s going to be but let’s hope that by some chance there’s some other political resolution or that peacekeepers are deployed. I think that’s what it really requires, certainly to guarantee safety you’d be looking a no less than the SAS, you’d want that protection, I think and at the end of the day can you afford to get them drawn into this messy battle over here?”

Baird urges cool heads over land clearing

Baird urges cool heads over land clearing

NSW Premier Mike Baird has called for cool heads to prevail after the shooting death of an environment officer sparked fresh debate over land clearing laws.

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Farmer Ian Robert Turnbull, 79, is accused of killing environment officer Glen Turner in northern NSW on Tuesday.

Mr Turner, 51, was carrying out duties related to land clearing north of Moree at Croppa Creek when he was allegedly murdered.

NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner has criticised land clearing rules since the death.

But Mr Baird says that’s the wrong attitude.

“The events we saw are tragic and when you see something like this emotions bubble to the top and commentary will follow,” he told reporters in Ashcroft in Sydney’s southwest on Friday.

“Supporting this family and completing the criminal case, that’s the priority.

“The onus is on everyone to have a cool head.”

Turnbull was charged with murder and refused bail on Wednesday. The case was adjourned to August 5.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge accused Mr Stoner of validating an act of political violence.

“If a parking ranger had been killed enforcing an unpopular parking law, or a police officer had been killed enforcing an unpopular speeding law, we would never tolerate this kind of discussion,” he told reporters.

“Members in the right of politics are looking for an opportunity to attack a set of laws and they’re willing to exploit the tragic death of this worker to further their political agenda.”

Assistant General Secretary of the Public Service Association Steve Turner said: “No one’s death should be used as a political pawn.”

Mr Stoner said the allegations against him were “insensitive, cheap and amount to slanderous lies.”

“This is a tragic crime that cannot be justified on any grounds,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr Stoner said his comments were “contextual (and) made in response to media questions about the Native Vegetation Act. They were in no way an endorsement of the alleged criminal act”.

Vic Liberal candidate quits over tweets

Vic Liberal candidate quits over tweets

A Victorian Liberal candidate who resigned over a series of crude tweets has apologised, but claims some of the social media posts were taken out of context.

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Aaron Lane, the endorsed Liberal candidate for the upper house seat of Western Region in the upcoming November 29 state election, resigned on Friday after the tweets came to light.

Mr Lane apologised for the “inappropriate and offensive tweets” posted more than two years ago on a private account.

“I really regret the fact these tweets were there, I regret the offence. I’m deeply embarrassed by it. I’m ashamed of it,” Mr Lane told ABC radio.

“I think we’ve all said things that on reflection we wish we hadn’t.

“The problem that’s befallen me today is that some of these tweets have been stripped of all context.”

He said he resigned because he didn’t want the scandal “hanging around the neck of the government”.

Mr Lane withdrew his candidacy for the election before a meeting of the Liberal Party’s administrative committee to discuss his future on Friday afternoon.

Liberal Party state director Damien Mantach said while Mr Lane had apologised unreservedly for the comments, the party believed it was important to send a strong message that this behaviour will not be tolerated.

“The Liberal Party acknowledges that the comments made by Mr Lane on social media are hurtful to many people and are entirely unacceptable,” Mr Mantach said in a statement.

Premier Denis Napthine also slammed the tweets just hours before Mr Lane’s resignation.

“There is no place in my team or in the coalition team for this sort of behaviour and these sort of comments,” he told reporters.

Some of the posts published in the media use the term “faggots” and one states “The problem is (IMO) many homos make their sexuality a defining aspect of their being”.

In one post he refers to former Labor leader Simon Crean as “a giant C”.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the views were offensive and wrong.

“There is no place for this sort of bigotry and hatred in the Victorian parliament or anywhere in our state,” he said.

Titans lose Don for Cowboys clash

Titans lose Don for Cowboys clash

It’s been two steps forward and one back for a Gold Coast outfit desperate to stay in the NRL finals hunt in Townsville on Saturday night.

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Speedy centre James Roberts has overcome a hip problem and rising back-rower Paul Carter has shrugged off a foot gash to line up against North Queensland at 1300Smiles Stadium.

But a virus, which swept through the Titans’ camp earlier this week, has accounted for winger Anthony Don which has forced another backline change by coach John Cartwright.

Regular centre Brad Tighe will start out wide against a resurgent Cowboys side that will welcome back co-captain Matt Scott from his State of Origin cheekbone injury.

Roberts’ availability is a key boost for the Titans as the former Penrith danger man has scored four tries and made five line breaks from just 41 runs in six games.

Cartwright wants Roberts and converted left centre Dave Taylor to both get their hands on the ball more to wreak havoc in the must-win match for the 13th-placed Titans.

“It’s a huge game in the scheme of the competition,” Cartwright said.

Coming off two vital away wins, the Cowboys have jumped into seventh spot and are looking dangerous with four of their last six games to be played at home.

“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” Scott warned. “This time of the year is when you have to be playing your best footy.

“We have improved but we want to continue the momentum.”

While unsure of his match fitness, Scott is confident his cheekbone is ready for the hammering expected.

“They will obviously test me, they are very good through the middle of the ruck and that’s how they play so I’m fairly certain I will have a fair bit of work to do,” he said.

In moving Matt Wright into the centres to mark up against Taylor, the Cowboys have set the stage for Tautau Moga to do some damage on their right wing.

“He’s a great attacking weapon,” Scott said. “His hands are like a bunch of bananas; they are massive so we hope to use him in the air.

“He’s a big unit and has a fair jump on him.”

Fukushima children visit Australia

Fukushima children visit Australia

A group of Japanese schoolchildren affected by the Fukushima Nuclear disaster has travelled to Australia this week, as part of a trip organised by charity project.

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The Rainbow Stay Project is designed to give the children a chance to do things they can no longer do at home, due to the fear of radiation poisoning.

Some of the survivors of the Fukushima nuclear disaster spend the morning having fun in Sydney’s Hyde Park.

Playing soccer and volleyball, and practising their karate moves.

The group of children, aged between ten and sixteen, are here on a charity-sponsored trip.

It is world away from the ongoing fear of radiation which affects their daily lives back home.

This is 11-year-old Kazuki’s first time in Australia.

“I am so happy to come to Australia. It’s very safe place and I’m to feel that so many people support me … and I won’t be able to forget that.”

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami on the north-east coast of Japan changed their lives forever.

A young boy, also called Kazuki, is dressed in his karate outfit as he remembers what happened that day.

“I was in primary school in the classroom and had to evacuate. I was very nervous because I lost contact with my parents and family, but I finally found them.”

Some of the children who are here in Australia this week had family members die.

Most still haven’t been able to return home.

Kazuki says the threat of radiation still affects her life in many ways.

“I was really sad because everything was polluted by radioactive material. I couldn’t swim in the sea anymore and my mum told me to stay inside and not touch the soil.”

There have been several trips like this since 2011, thanks to a Japanese woman living in Sydney.

Yukiko Hirano set up a Rainbow Stay Project with the aim of giving the children new hope.

” I tried to invite the Fukushima children to come over to Sydney. Beautiful environment, and no fear of radiation earthquake. They can enjoy entire holiday, without fearing those kind of things.”

The children have spent time at Bondi Beach, Taronga Zoo and visiting landmarks like the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

They’ve also spent time meeting local Australian children in schools.

Andrew Vickers is from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union which helped make the trip a reality.

“They can’t eat fish from the sea, they can’t pick up plants and flowers, they can’t touch any wild animals for fear of further radiation poisoning – so it’s not just coming to another country, it’s a totally new experience”

World Cup boosts revenue for bookmaker William Hill

World Cup boosts revenue for bookmaker William Hill

In his first day in the job on Friday, new Chief Executive James Henderson said his priorities were to grow the business internationally, develop its technology and profit from the increasing number of ways in which its customers can now bet.

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Betting on the World Cup in June and July was up by 80 percent on comparable figures from the last time the tournament was played in 2010.

The World Cup helped to offset the impact of unfavourable sports results earlier in the year when bookmakers had to make big payouts on weekends when a number of favourites won, particularly in English Premier League football.

Revenue rose 7 percent to 805 million pounds in the 26 weeks to July 1, while operating profit dipped by 2 percent to 177 million. Both figures were slightly ahead of consensus forecasts.

Shares dipped 1.2 percent to 348.2p by 0730 GMT (8.30 a.m. BST).

HARD ACT TO FOLLOW

Henderson, who has been with the company for 29 years, faces the tough task of replacing the highly regarded Ralph Topping.

Topping had been with William Hill for more than four decades, serving as CEO in the last six years.

He won plaudits for an international expansion which has taken the company into Australia, the United States, Spain and Italy and developing the online business.

That expansion has seen William Hill stride clear of rival Ladbrokes to establish itself as the biggest company in the sector.

Henderson said he planned to build on what Topping had done rather than changing strategy.

“I will be looking hard at how we can continue to create shareholder value in developing a focussed but internationally orientated gambling group,” Henderson said.

The industry is facing financial and regulatory pressures in Britain where the government is tightening controls on betting shops and increasing taxes on both online gambling and high stakes gaming machines.

(Reporting by Keith Weir; editing by James Davey)