Australians Warned Worst Bushfires May Be Yet To Come

Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, 350km north of Sydney on November 9, 2019 as they try to contain dozens of out-of-control blazes that are raging in the state of New South Wales. At least two people have died and 100 homes have been destroyed as an unprecedented number of bushfires tore through eastern Australia.
PETER PARKS / AFP

 

Sydney is facing a “catastrophic” fire threat, authorities said on Sunday, as firefighters in eastern Australia raced to prepare for worsening conditions after ferocious bushfires devastated communities.

Fires have killed three people and razed more than 150 homes since Friday, but cooler weather overnight provided a welcome reprieve for firefighters and residents.

Authorities were assessing the damage on Sunday, with more than 100 fires still burning across New South Wales and Queensland, including several blazes that remained out of control.

Wider swathes of the states — including greater Sydney — are now bracing for perilous fire conditions predicted for the coming days, as is Western Australia state.

It is the first time Sydney has been warned of a “catastrophic” fire danger, the highest possible level, since the grading system was introduced in 2009.

Massive fires tore through several towns on Friday and Saturday.

The mayor of Glen Innes, where two people died, said residents were traumatised and still coming to terms with their losses.

“The fire was as high as 20 foot (six metres) and raging with 80 kilometres-an-hour (50 miles-an-hour) winds,” Carol Sparks told national broadcaster ABC.

Five people reported missing have been found, but the unpredictable nature of the disaster means officials have not ruled out the possibility that others could still be missing, NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.

In Old Bar, which was spared the worst when the wind changed direction, hectares of bushland had turned charcoal and small pockets of flames continued to smoulder.

Peter McKellar, 75, was clearing debris from his property as his neighbour’s home sat in ruins.

“The firies (firefighters) saved ours,” he told AFP. “They are doing a wonderful job. They’re angels.”

High temperatures, low humidity and strong winds forecast from the middle of the week are predicted to fuel blazes that authorities have warned they will be unable to contain ahead of time.

“We are ramping up for probably another 50 trucks full of crews to be deployed into New South Wales on Monday night ahead of conditions on Tuesday,” NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shan Fitzsimmons told reporters in Taree, one of the worst-hit areas.

“We have seen the gravity of the situation unfold… What we can expect is those sorts of conditions to prevail across a much broader geographic area as we head into Tuesday.”

‘Primed to burn’

In Queensland, where a state of emergency has been declared, more than 1,200 firefighters were battling over 50 active fires on Sunday.

“Queensland does not usually have a fire season like we’ve experienced this year and last year,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters.

With thousands of people forced to flee from their homes, Australia’s government was offering immediate emergency assistance payments of up to Aus$1,000 (US$685) to those affected and extended financial support for anyone unable to work as a result.

Many residents are now returning to their scorched communities to assess the extent of the fire-inflicted damage, amid warnings it could take months for them to rebuild their lives.

Emotions were running high at an evacuation centre in Taree, with one man breaking down in tears as he was embraced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“People are under a lot of pressure,” Morrison told reporters. “The level of optimism, despite the circumstances, is quite inspiring.”

Morrison, whose government has downplayed the threat of climate change, was also heckled about the issue at a fire command centre in nearby Wauchope.

“Climate change is real, can’t you see,” the Australian newspaper reported a man as yelling before he was escorted out of the building.

Bushfires are common in Australia but the country has experienced a dramatic start to what scientists predict will be a tough fire season — with climate change and weather cycles contributing to the dangerous combination of strong winds, high temperatures and dry conditions.

The current disaster has not wreaked the human devastation of Australia’s worst recent bushfires, the Black Saturday fires that killed 173 people in Victoria state in 2009, with some experts attributing that to better early warning systems.

But Ross Bradstock, from the Centre for Environmental Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong, described the situation as “unprecedented” for the affected regions, which have rarely — if ever — experienced such severe fires.

“Sadly, given the weather forecast for the coming week, the crisis may worsen and extend southward into landscapes primed to burn via extreme dryness,” he said.

France Crush Australian Dreams To Win Fed Cup Final

France’s Caroline Garcia (R) talks with Kristina Mladenovic during the doubles match against Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur of Australia in the Fed Cup final tennis competition between Australia and France in Perth on November 10, 2019. Tony Ashby / AFP

 

A jubilant Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia led France to its first Fed Cup title since 2003 on Sunday, winning a deciding doubles rubber to crush Australian dreams 3-2.

In the last tournament played under the current format, the pair kept their focus at Perth Arena to overcome Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-3, denying the home team their first crown in 45 years.

It was France’s third title and first since they beat the United States 16 years ago, piling more misery on seven-time champions Australia who have now lost all nine of the last Fed Cup finals they have appeared in.

Mladenovic and Garcia, who won the 2016 French Open doubles title, bounced back from going an early break down in the first set to expose Stosur’s weaknesses, with the veteran out-of-sorts and making too many mistakes.

World number one Barty, stunned by Mladenovic in a singles rubber earlier Sunday, did her best to keep Australia in the hunt, but the French pair were clinical, racing to victory as their team-mates went wild.

“I’m the proudest man on the planet right now, I’m so proud of my girls and my team. They deserve it because they fought for a long time for this title,” ecstatic France captain Julien Benneteau said courtside.

“For sure I am going to have a lot of beers now.”

The final marked the last Fed Cup played under the current format, with an overhaul next year seeing 12 nations compete in a six-day event in Budapest.

That will mean an end to home ties and the atmosphere they bring, with the 26,951 fans turning up over two days in Perth the second-highest Fed Cup attendance on record after Roland Garros (30,000) in 2005.

The doubles clash was set up by Ajla Tomljanovic hauling the home team back into the tie by beating France’s Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 7-5.

She came on court after 40th-ranked Mladenovic upset Barty 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/1) in an epic.

Croatian-born Tomljanovic, in her Fed Cup debut for Australia, had been thrashed 6-1, 6-1 by Mladenovic in the opening singles rubber on Saturday.

But captain Alica Molik kept faith with her and she bounced back to beat Parmentier 6-4, 7-5.

“Really glad I got a second chance today and got the win and kept us in,” said the Australian. “The team has been unbelievable all week and it is such a privilege to play for you guys.”

Earlier Barty, who has been in scintillating form, whipping Garcia 6-0, 6-0 on Saturday after winning the WTA Finals in China last weekend, crashed in a classic.

“From my point of view I fought as hard as I could and I hope that I did my team proud and all Australians proud. I fought with everything I had left,” said Barty.

Barty started where she left off after the “double bagel” of Garcia on Saturday, breaking Mladenovic’s first service game with a net volley to extend her streak to 15 games this weekend.

But Mladenovic held serve to end the Barty run and it became a closer affair before the Australian began forcing errors to take the first set.

Barty saved five break points in the opening game of the second set, but Mladenovic finally worked a first crucial break with some quality passing shots, with a forehand long from Barty giving her a 5-4 lead.

She held her nerve to serve out the set.

Mladenovic, who beat Barty on clay in Rome earlier this year, was on a roll with the French star breaking then holding for a 3-1 third-set lead.

Stung, Barty rallied for 3-3 but the errors again crept in and the set ultimately went to a tense tie breaker where Mladenovic triumphed.

“I just kept believing because I felt I was out there fighting and giving her a hard battle. I’m just so proud how I kept pushing and obviously won the game,” said Mladenovic.

‘Uncharted Territory’ As Bushfires Rage Across Australia’s East

Smoke from rural bushfires are seen over Sydney Harbour on October 31, 2019. Sydney residents coughed and spluttered their way around Australia’s largest metropolis as a bank of smoke from rural bushfires enveloped the city prompting health warnings. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

 

Dozens of bushfires raged out of control across eastern Australia on Friday, blocking escape routes for residents and shuttering the main highway linking major cities on the country’s Pacific coast.

More than 90 blazes pockmarked the New South Wales countryside, 50 of them uncontained, tearing through tens of thousands of hectares.

“We are in uncharted territory,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told public broadcaster ABC. “We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level.”

Authorities said fires had breached containment lines and forced the closure of the Pacific Highway linking Sydney and Brisbane in two places.

Emergency warnings were introduced for 14 flashpoints, bringing warnings to evacuate immediately.

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In some areas, residents were told to simply “seek shelter as it is too late to leave”.

Local radio stopped normal programming and provided instructions about how to try to survive fires if trapped at home or in a vehicle.

A prolonged drought, strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures have conspired to make the landscape a tinderbox.

“It’s a very dynamic, volatile and dangerous set of circumstances,” said Fitzsimmons.

Bushfires are common in Australia, but the country is gearing up for busy bushfire season with record temperatures predicted for the summer months.

FIFA U-17 World Cup: Nigeria Qualify Despite 2-1 Loss To Australia

 

Nigeria’s golden eaglets lost to Australia 2-1 in a dead rubber third group B match at the ongoing FIFA U-17 world cup at the Estadio Bezerrao in Brazil.

A goal by Peter Olawale was not enough to overturn the brace from Australia’s Noah Botic, which ensured a first-ever win for the Aussies over Nigeria at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, after six attempts.

The golden eaglets failed to pull a comeback, unlike the other two group fixtures which they recorded victories, but secured six points from a possible nine, and finished top of the group

READ ALSO: Match Fixing: NFF Issues Warning To Members, Match Officials

Coach Manu Garba’s boys could not be overtaken by Ecuador’s 3-2 victory over Hungary in the other group game played simultaneously due to a superior goal advantage.

Nigeria will play their round of 16 match on November 5.

Consumer Watchdog Sues Google Over Location Data Use

(FILES) A file photo taken on November 20, 2017 shows logos of US multinational technology company Google displayed on computers’ screens. Google is dropping out of the bidding for a huge Pentagon cloud computing contract that could be worth up to $10 billion, saying the deal would be inconsistent with its principles. The decision by Google, confirmed to AFP in an email October 9, 2018, leaves a handful of other tech giants including Amazon in the running for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract aimed at modernizing the military’s computing systems. PHOTO: LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

Australia’s consumer watchdog on Tuesday announced legal action against Google for allegedly misleading customers about the way it collects and uses personal location data.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) claims Google collected, kept and used “highly sensitive and valuable personal information” of Android phone and tablet users without giving them an informed choice.

The tech giant is accused of making misleading on-screen representations about the location data it was collecting and when certain Google Account settings were enabled or disabled.

ACCC chair Adam Sims said the watchdog was seeking “significant penalties” and for Google to acknowledge its past behaviour was “inappropriate”.

“We’re also alleging that some of the behaviour is continuing,” he told reporters in Sydney. “We want declarations that the current behaviour should not continue.”

The ACCC says that between 2017 and 2018 Google failed to disclose that both “location history” and “web & app activity” settings needed to be switched off to prevent location data collection.

The Silicon Valley titan allegedly also told customers such data would only be used for their personal use of Google services, and did not disclose that it may be used for other unrelated purposes.

Those actions constituted a breach of Australian consumer law, claims the ACCC, which has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court.

A Google spokesperson said the company was reviewing the details of the allegations and would defend itself in court.

The lawsuit stems from an 18-month ACCC inquiry into the power of digital platforms, which resulted in calls for far-reaching new regulations on tech giants.

The watchdog urged tighter controls on the use of personal data and measures to ease Facebook and Google’s dominance of online advertising.

The government is due to announce which of the ACCC recommendations will be implemented by the end of the year.

AFP

England Send Out World Cup Message With Big Win Over Australia

England’s lock Maro Itoje (R) catches the ball in a lineout during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final match between England and Australia at the Oita Stadium in Oita on October 19, 2019.
CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP

 

England showed they will take some beating at the Rugby World Cup as they thumped their old enemy Australia 40-16 to become the first team to reach the semi-finals on Saturday.

Wing Jonny May scored the first two of England’s four tries in three first-half minutes as they set up a last-four clash against defending champions New Zealand or Ireland, who play later.

Kyle Sinckler and Anthony Watson crossed in the second half and 20 points flowed from Owen Farrell’s perfect kicking as Eddie Jones’s men throttled the Wallabies’ attempts to claw their way back into it.

“We did what’s needed. We had the lead and obviously Australia were throwing everything at us,” said Farrell. “We wanted to play the game at our pace not theirs, and we did that in the second half.”

With his contract up after the World Cup, the defeat appears to have ended Michael Cheika’s five-year stint as Wallabies coach whose highlight was reaching the World Cup final in 2015.

“The better team won, that’s the way it is. You’ve got to suck that up sometimes,” said a disconsolate Cheika, a former team-mate of Jones at Sydney’s Randwick club.

“I was supposed to get this done for the people here and the Australians. It’s so disappointing.”

Australia looked dangerous early on but England seized the advantage with May’s quickfire try double.

England stretched the Australian defence as they attacked right and then left, before man of the match Tom Curry drew the final defender to give the left wing an easy score in the corner.

Henry Slade then intercepted the ball on halfway and raced towards the try-line before chipping into space with a kick that was deftly gathered by the England wing.

‘Little bit Surreal’

Three Christian Lealiifano penalties kept Australia in touch at 17-9 at half-time, and they came storming back after the restart when Marika Koroibete skinned Elliot Daly to cross for the Wallabies.

But England hit back almost immediately when Farrell picked out Sinckler with a bullet pass and the prop burst through a gap for his first international try.

Watson’s late intercept try completed the job for England, who equalled their record margin of victory against Australia — and beat them for a third time in the World Cup quarter-finals.

In Saturday’s second match the All Blacks, going for their third straight title, will start as firm favourites against an Ireland team who are yet to hit their stride in Japan.

However, both teams are mindful of the fact that Ireland have won two of their last three games against the world’s top-ranked side, after 2016’s 40-29 win in Chicago and a 16-9 victory in Dublin last year.

Conor Murray and World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton, one of the world’s most settled and formidable half-back pairings, lead Irish hopes against a youthful New Zealand backline.

Beauden Barrett remains at fullback behind fly-half Richie Mo’unga in Hansen’s double playmaker ploy, while Jack Goodhue comes into the centres and Sevu Reece and George Bridge are on the wings.

“It’s a little bit surreal, it’s a little bit ‘I can’t believe it’s finally here’. This time four years ago I was a spectator like you guys and it’s not a great place to be,” said Sexton, who missed Ireland’s 2015 quarter-final — a 43-20 defeat to Argentina — with a groin strain.

“So I’m really looking forward to going out there on the biggest stage and trying to show what we can do against the best team in the world, a team that hasn’t lost for two World Cups.”

On Sunday, Wales face France in Oita and hosts Japan, the tournament’s surprise package, play the first World Cup quarter-final in their history against South Africa in Tokyo.

FIBA: France Beat Australia To Clinch World Cup Bronze

French players celebrate with their medals after winning the Basketball World Cup third place game between France and Australia in Beijing on September 15, 2019. WANG Zhao / AFP

 

France roared back after half-time to defeat Australia 67-59 and claim a successive World Cup bronze on Sunday — and extend the Boomers’ long wait for a major medal.

Turkish-based guard Nando De Colo led all scorers with 19 points for France and Nicolas Batum had nine points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals.

The French, one of the tallest teams at the tournament, defeated reigning two-time holders the United States in the quarter-finals, but then lost heavily to Argentina.

French coach Vincent Collet paid tribute to his team’s battling qualities.

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“For us it’s something very, very special and important we did it after a very difficult first half,” he said.

“Many teams could have given up, even easy shots we were missing in the first half.

“We started to move the ball better in the second half and that’s why we won this game.”

It was hard on Australia, who similarly led for long periods in their semi-final against Spain before being hauled back in a double-overtime defeat.

It is still a best finish for the Boomers, who had never gone beyond the quarter-finals at 11 previous World Cups, but they are yet to claim a medal at the worlds or Olympics.

At the Rio 2016 Olympics they were similarly squeezed out by Spain in the bronze-medal match.

They led 30-21 at half-time in Beijing against France with the Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles playing a starring role. He was to finish with 17 points.

But Orlando Magic’s Evan Fournier spearheaded a third-quarter French revival, reducing Australia’s lead to just two points with 1:31 left in the quarter.

France, bronze medallists at the previous World Cup, were in the ascendancy and grabbed the lead 47-46 with two free throws by De Colo at the start of the fourth quarter.

With two minutes left on the clock, the comeback was nearly in the bag, France leading 60-56, before driving home their advantage.

They dominated the fourth quarter 25-13 as Australia’s World Cup fizzled out.

Spain play Argentina in the World Cup final later Sunday.

AFP

Australia Advance To World Cup Semi-Final For First Time

Australia’s Matthew Dellavedova (L) and Martin Kriz of the Czech Republic fight for the ball as Australia’s Jock Landale (R) watches during the Basketball World Cup quarter-final game between Australia and Czech Republic in Shanghai on September 11, 2019. WANG ZHAO / AFP

 

San Antonio Spurs’ Patty Mills was in sparkling form once more for Australia as they reached the Basketball World Cup semi-finals for the first time on Wednesday.

The Boomers, who had never gone beyond the quarter-finals in 11 previous appearances, defeated tournament debutants the Czech Republic 82-70 and will meet Spain on Friday.

This was undefeated Australia’s sixth win in a row in China and in doing so they avoided becoming the latest surprise casualty at this unpredictable World Cup.

Argentina stunned favourites Serbia on Tuesday while reigning two-time champions the United States were dumped out by France on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old guard Mills led the scoring with 24 points. He also had six assists and four rebounds.

Australia were heavy favourites in Shanghai against the Czechs, who bravely hung on until midway through the third quarter, when the Boomers cranked up the pressure.

Australia survived the World Cup “Group of Death” also including Canada, Senegal and Lithuania, before beating the Dominican Republic and then fellow semi-finalists France.

Veteran Australian Andrew Bogut was again loudly booed throughout by fans in Shanghai upset with a tweet he wrote in July about Chinese swimming star Sun Yang.

He goaded the crowd afterwards with a dance as he came off the court.

Australia’s Cardinal Pell Loses Child Sex Abuse Appeal

 

 

Disgraced Cardinal George Pell lost his appeal against child sex abuse convictions Wednesday, prompting relief from those who fought to bring one of the Catholic Church’s most powerful men to justice.

Once the Vatican’s third-ranking official, Pell had been trying to overturn the verdicts and six-year sentence for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys at a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s.

The high-profile case pitted the powerful 78-year-old — who previously helped elect Popes, ran the Vatican’s finances and was involved in the church’s response to child sex abuse claims — against a single surviving former choirboy.

Pell, dressed in a dark suit, occasionally bowed his head as Chief Justice Anne Ferguson dismissed his arguments and described his victim as “very compelling” and someone who “was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth.”

The ruling prompted cheers to ripple into the courtroom from a large crowd gathered outside, and produced emotional statements from victims, their families and advocacy groups.

The now-adult victim — who cannot be named for legal reasons — said the “stressful” four-year legal fight had taken him “to places that, in my darkest moments, I feared I could not return from.”

Dismissing vocal media critics, the man said the death of his friend, the second choirboy, from a drug overdose had prompted him to break his silence.

“After attending the funeral of my childhood friend… I felt a responsibility to come forward,” he said in a statement read by his lawyer.

“I am not an advocate. You wouldn’t know my name. I am not a champion for the cause of sexual abuse survivors.”

A lawyer for the father of the second victim said he felt “a weight had been lifted.”

“He feels that justice has been delivered today. He has a real sense of relief that George Pell is behind bars tonight,” Lisa Flynn told AFP.

Following the ruling, Pell — who will be eligible for parole in three years and eight months — maintained his innocence and said he was now considering a second and final appeal.

“Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today,” said a statement issued through the church.

“His legal team will thoroughly examine the judgement in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court.”

‘Done their job’

Pell’s lawyers now have 28 days to consider further legal steps.

They had raised 13 objections to his convictions, casting doubt on everything from the physical possibility of Pell removing his robes to carry out the act, to the credibility of the main witness.

The case was unusual in that it relied heavily on the closed-door testimony of the sole surviving victim.

The three judges unanimously dismissed two so-called “fallback” arguments for Pell related to alleged procedural errors during his trial.

His lawyers argued they should have been allowed to show an animated reconstruction of peoples’ movements in the cathedral on the days of the assaults.

They also took issue with the fact that Pell was not arraigned in the presence of the jury. The process was completed via video link so the large pool of potential jurors was able to watch.

Ferguson said that despite these complaints the judges “decided that it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Cardinal Pell was guilty of the offence charged.”

Following Wednesday’s ruling Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed sympathy for the victims.

He said the “courts had done their job” and indicated Pell would be stripped of his Order of Australia honour.

During Pell’s trial under a court-ordered veil of secrecy, the Vatican gradually removed him from top Church bodies with little explanation.

Shortly after his conviction, Pell was removed from the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals that are effectively the Pope’s cabinet and inner circle of advisers.

The Vatican dropped him as the Church’s finance chief and opened its own probe into his actions after his conviction was made public in February.

Convicted Cardinal Pell’s Fate Hangs On Appeal

Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell leaves after making an appearance in court in Melbourne on May 1, 2018. WILLIAM WEST / AFP

 

An Australian court will rule on George Pell’s appeal against child sex abuse charges Wednesday, when the convicted cardinal could walk free or begin a new round in his protracted legal fight.

Once the Vatican’s third-ranking official, 78-year-old Pell was sentenced this year to six years in jail for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys at a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s.

After more than two months of deliberations, a three-judge appeals panel will hand down their decision.

Pell is the most senior Catholic convicted of child sex abuse, making his case and Wednesday’s ruling a touchstone moment for believers and victims groups around the world.

The clergyman’s lawyers raised 13 objections to his convictions, casting doubt on everything from the physical possibility of Pell removing his robes to the credibility of the main witness.

The case is unusual in that it relies heavily on the closed-door testimony of the sole surviving victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

The verdict could have wide-ranging implications for sexual assault cases that rely on the account of a single victim.

On Monday the father of the second victim — who died of a drug overdose in 2014 — expressed hope that “justice would prevail” and that the ordeal would soon be over.

“He just wants closure so he can try to get on with his life and stop thinking about it every single day,” lawyer Lisa Flynn told AFP.

But a quick resolution seems unlikely.

If the judges agree with the defence that the jury’s verdict was “unreasonable”, Pell could walk free immediately, although he could face a possible appeal from the state.

Victorian Bar Association president Matt Collins told AFP it was not common for an appeals court to reverse a jury’s verdict but “nor is it rare or unheard of”.

 Retrial or appeal? 

Two so-called “fallback” arguments for Pell relate to alleged procedural errors during his trial.

His lawyers argued they should have been allowed to show an animated reconstruction of people’s movements in the cathedral on the days of the assaults.

They also took issue with the fact that Pell was not arraigned in the presence of the jury. The process was completed via video link so the large pool of potential jurors was able to watch.

If the appeal judges — Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, Court of Appeal president Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg — agree on either of these points they may decide to order another trial.

That would leave open the door for Pell — who has already faced two juries after his first trial in 2018 ended in a hung jury — to argue he would not receive a fair trial third time around.

Finally, the judges could dismiss Pell’s appeal entirely. If that happens, he will have to return to prison to continue serving his six-year sentence.

But he would still be able to challenge the decision in Australia’s High Court, the country’s final court of appeal.

Collins said there was “no doubt” Pell’s legal team would consider this option, with an application for leave to appeal required to be filed within weeks and a decision on whether to hear the appeal usually made within a matter of months.

AFP

Cardinal Pell Appeal Ruling To Be Announced August 21

 

The ruling in Australian Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his conviction on historical child sex abuse charges will be handed down on August 21, court officials announced Thursday.

Pell, 78, the former Vatican number three, was sentenced in March to six years in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting two choirboys in the 1990s.

A three-judge panel of Victoria state’s Supreme Court has been deliberating his case since hearing his appeal over two days in early June.

The judges can decide to reject the appeal, order a retrial or acquit Pell, the Catholic Church’s most senior convicted child molester.

Pell was convicted of sexually abusing the two choirboys in 1996 and 1997 after Sunday Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

His lawyers raised 13 objections to his conviction on five counts of sexual abuse, arguing it was “physically impossible” for the cleric to have committed the crimes in a crowded cathedral.

They cast doubt on everything from the timing of the incident following Sunday services to whether he would have been able to move his cumbersome archbishop’s robes enough to commit the assaults.

The appeal maintains that the case against Pell was unreasonably dependent on the testimony of a single victim –- the other died in 2014 — and fell short of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prosecutors insisted the jury verdict against the one-time top Vatican official was “unimpeachable”.

Whichever side loses the appeal is expected to take their case to Australia’s High Court — the country’s final court of appeal.

Since his conviction, Pell has been removed as the Vatican finance chief and lost his place in the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals that is effectively the pope’s cabinet and inner circle of advisers.

The Vatican has opened its own probe into Pell’s actions. If his conviction is upheld, it could lead to his expulsion from the priesthood.

AFP

6.6-Magnitude Earthquake Hits Northwest Australia

Australia on the map.

 

A strong 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck off northwest Australia Sunday, shaking buildings over a wide area but causing no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The shallow quake hit early Sunday afternoon 10 kilometres under the Indian Ocean 203 kilometres (126 miles) west of the West Australian beach resort of Broome, the US Geological Survey said. No tsunami alert was issued.

Sergeant Neil Gordon of the Broome police department said the quake rattled the city for more than a minute.

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“The building here was shaking for about a minute and a half … a steady shaking for that period of time,” he told AFP by telephone.

He added that there had been “no reports of any injuries or any damage throughout the district,” following the tremor.

The national broadcaster ABC said there were some reports of minor damage from the quake, and no injuries.

Australian media said the tremor was felt across a long stretch of the northwestern coast of Australia, from the West Australian capital of Perth and the mining centres of Karatha and Port Hedland to the south and as far as Darwin to the north.

AFP