Man Dies In Shark Attack In Australia

File Photo: Scott Ling / Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies / AFP

 

A man has died following a shark attack in Australia despite the efforts of “incredibly brave” surfers and bystanders who came to his aid, authorities said Sunday.

The man, believed to be in his 20s, was mauled by the shark at Emerald Beach near Coffs Harbour, about six hours north of Sydney, according to paramedics.

Emergency crews, including a helicopter medical team, rushed to the scene just before 11:00am local time on Sunday after receiving calls for help.

Chris Wilson, a New South Wales Ambulance inspector, said paramedics arrived to find local surfers and bystanders attempting to save the man, saying the group was “incredibly brave in a very challenging situation”.

“It was devastating for everybody on the beach this morning,” he said.

“The patient suffered a critical injury to his arm, but despite the best efforts of bystanders, paramedics and other emergency services, the patient couldn’t be revived.”

The Coffs Harbour Lifeguards service said the beach and surrounding waters were closed to swimmers and surfers due to the incident.

“Our sympathies go out to family and friends. Please don’t enter the water in the area,” a Facebook post said.

It was the second fatal shark attack recorded in Australian waters this year, according to the Taronga Conservation Society Australia.

There were 26 maulings in 2020, eight of them fatal, data from the government agency shows.

AFP

Australia’s Second-Largest City Extends Lockdown

A man walks along the main road in the central business district of Sydney on June 26, 2021, as Australia's largest city entered a two-week lockdown to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant. Saeed KHAN / AFP
A man walks along the main road in the central business district of Sydney on June 26, 2021, as Australia’s largest city entered a two-week lockdown to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

Five million people in Australia’s second-largest city will remain under stay-at-home orders for at least another week after authorities extended a lockdown Wednesday after failing to curb Melbourne’s latest Covid outbreak.

The city entered its sixth pandemic lockdown last Thursday after a fresh Delta variant cluster emerged at a Melbourne school and quickly spread.

Daniel Andrews, the premier of the state of Victoria, said lockdown rules will be extended until at least August 19, after 20 new cases were detected overnight including several “mystery” cases.

“There are too many cases, the origins of which are not clear to us… for us to safely come out of lockdown now,” he said.

In Sydney, more than five million people are enduring their seventh week under stay-at-home orders, currently scheduled to remain until the end of August.

The state of New South Wales recorded 344 new cases Wednesday, taking the total for an outbreak that began in Sydney in mid-June to more than 6,100 cases.

Hundreds of thousands of people outside Sydney — including in Newcastle, Byron Bay and most recently, Dubbo — are in lockdown after cases emerged in recent days.

Authorities are pinning their hopes on a fresh vaccination drive, suggesting some restrictions could be eased if enough people get vaccinated in the coming weeks.

“If we keep the vaccination rate up, we will get to six million jabs by the end of August, which will give us an opportunity to think about what additional freedoms we can give people in September and October,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Australia won global praise for its successful coronavirus response in the early stages of the pandemic, but in recent months has struggled to contain the highly transmissible Delta variant amid a glacial vaccination rollout.

The nation has recorded more than 37,000 cases of Covid-19 and 941 related deaths to date in a population of 25 million.

AFP

 

Tokyo Olympics: D’Tigers Lose Opening Group B Match To Australia

D'Tigers
D’Tigers had an impressive run in tune-up games before the Olympics, defeating the US in one of the matches.

 

Nigeria’s senior men’s basketball team, the D’Tigers have lost 84-67 to Australia in their opening Group B match at the Tokyo Olympics.

Two weeks ago in Las Vegas, the Boomers were 39 points better than Nigeria but in today’s encounter at the Saitama Super Arena, Coach Mike Brown’s team got off to a good start but in the crucial stages of the match, poor shooting let them.

Both teams combined for 46 turnovers with Australia contributing 22. The first quarter was a tight affair, it ended 23-23 and the direction of the match was hinged on the second-quarter performance.

Australia won it 20-17. Nigeria lost seven free throws, easily they would have taken the lead into the break.

In the third quarter, the arena’s buzzer couldn’t function properly and that affected the momentum of the game. Notwithstanding, the Boomers got their shooting right, Nigeria struggled with theirs and lost the quarter 15-12.

In the 4th quarter, Patty Mills took things personally with exceptional shooting and the Boomers won 26-15 to wrap up a fine performance with defense being the main focus for coach Brian Goorjian’s team.

Mills was Australia’s best performer with 25 points while Joe Ingles and Dante Exum recorded 11 apiece. Nigeria’s Obi Emegano had 12 points, Josh Okogie finished the game with 11 points while Jordan Nwora and Precious Achiuwa recorded 10 points each.

The D’Tigers will hope to make amends when they take on Germany in their second group match on Wednesday, 28th July.

Sydney COVID-19 Outbreak A ‘National Emergency’ As Cases Spike

A man wearing a face mask walks towards tram station at Circular Quay in Sydney on July 19, 2021, amid a lockdown in Melbourne and Sydney as Australia seeks to contain a surge in coronavirus cases. Saeed KHAN / AFP
A man wearing a face mask walks towards tram station at Circular Quay in Sydney on July 19, 2021, amid a lockdown in Melbourne and Sydney as Australia seeks to contain a surge in coronavirus cases. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

Sydney’s fast-growing coronavirus outbreak has become a “national emergency,” state leaders said Friday, as Australia’s largest city reported another record number of new infections.

Admitting a month-long lockdown had failed to stop a Delta-variant outbreak, the state of New South Wales pleaded for Canberra to urgently send more vaccines and resources.

Calling the outbreak a national emergency could pave the way for more federal government involvement in stemming the crisis.

“We have an obligation on behalf of the nation to contain the virus,” said New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian. “There is no doubt that the numbers are not going in the right direction.”

Her state on Friday reported 136 new cases, a record for this outbreak, which now totals 1,782.

With the virus “spreading everywhere” and half the country’s 25 million people currently in lockdown, Berejiklian said the government must “refocus” its glacial vaccine rollout.

Just 12 percent of Australians have been fully vaccinated, due to problems with supplies of Pfizer jabs and scepticism about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“We need, at least, more first doses of Pfizer,” Berejiklian said, while warning Sydney’s five million residents that restrictions could run until October.

But a request to channel vaccines to hard-hit areas was rebuffed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“We’re not going to disrupt the vaccination programme around the rest of the country,” Morrison said, insisting his home city will make it through this crisis.

Berejiklian also announced non-essential workers in specific areas of Sydney would now be barred from leaving, tightening a lockdown that is almost certain to be formally extended next week.

“It is fairly apparent that we will not be close to zero (cases) next Friday,” Berejiklian said. “We will have a clearer view next week on what August, September, and October look like.”

Morrison on Thursday apologised for the country’s slow vaccine rollout, admitting targets had not been met.

“I take responsibility for the vaccination programme. I also take responsibility for the challenges we’ve had,” he said. “Obviously, some things are within our control, some things that are not.”

‘Ring of steel’

With Sydney cases spiralling, Victoria state premier Dan Andrews called for a “ring of steel” to be thrown up around the city, banning any travel in or out.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that a travel bubble between the two countries would be suspended for at least eight weeks.

Australians will no longer have quarantine-free entry to New Zealand, and return flights will be arranged for New Zealanders in Australia.

“There are now multiple outbreaks, and in differing stages of containment, that have forced three states into lockdown,” Ardern said.

“The health risk to New Zealanders from these cases is increasing… now is the time for a suspension to ensure New Zealanders aren’t put at undue risk from Covid-19 and to ensure we retain our hard-won gains.”

Quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia began in April after more than a year of closed borders and was hailed by tourism operators as a “saviour for businesses”.

However, New Zealand has several times since halted the bubble with individual states and territories as outbreaks erupted in Australia.

 

AFP

The COVID-Era Summer Travel Rules For Europe

A picture taken on June 29, 2021 in Paris shows a passport next to a mobile phone whose screen bears a EU Digital Covid certificate. – The European health certificate, which Belgium began using on June 16, 2021, will become operational across the EU on July 1, 2021. (Photo by Olivier MORIN / AFP)

 

 

Europe’s tourism hot spots are gearing up for what they hope will be a summer season marked by the return of foreigners eager for a taste of freedom after a year of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns worldwide.

But visitors will face a hodgepodge of entry rules across the bloc, even with the launch of a “travel pass” for EU residents aimed at speeding up processing at arrival points.

Access for tourists from some countries outside the bloc has also become easier, but others continue to impose draconian restrictions as governments try to avert a fourth coronavirus wave while throwing tourism a lifeline.

Here is a summary of rules in some of Europe’s key tourism spots:

France

France, the world’s top tourist destination, uses a colour-coded map laying out entry protocols, with EU residents who are vaccinated or have a negative PCR test able to enter freely.

The same goes for a number of “green” countries, including the United States, Australia, South Korea, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand and Singapore.

Visitors from “orange” zones, which include Britain and most of Asia and Africa, have to produce a recent negative Covid test even when vaccinated.

For non-vaccinated people coming from “orange” zones, however, only essential trips are allowed and a seven-day self-quarantine imposed.

Just over 20 countries remain largely off-limits, including India, South Africa and much of South America, including Brazil.

Mask-wearing remains mandatory indoors, but curfew rules have been lifted.

Spain

Anyone who has been fully vaccinated can enter Spain, irrespective of their point of origin.

Arrivals from several countries or regions no longer even need proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. They are Albania, Australia, South Korea, the United States, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Rwanda, Serbia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Macao.

Non-vaccinated travellers from EU countries need to produce a negative Covid test less than 48 hours old.

Arrivals from Britain, which makes up the biggest foreign tourist group in Spain, again need to show a negative PCR test, a requirement that had been dropped previously.

Masks are mandatory indoors, but no longer outside, and curfews and domestic travel restrictions have been lifted.

Restaurants and bars are cleared for outdoor and indoor seating, but there are some restrictions on hours and the number of patrons allowed at any one time.

Nightclubs have reopened in the Madrid region and Catalonia, which includes hotspot Barcelona.

 

Italy

Italy hopes for 20 percent more tourists than last year.

Arrivals from the EU can enter freely if they have either been fully vaccinated, recovered from Covid or present a negative Covid test less than 48 hours old.

The same goes for passengers arriving from the United States, Canada, Japan, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Rwanda, Singapore and Thailand.

Visitors from Britain are subject to a five-day quarantine after presentation of a negative test. A second test is required after quarantine.

Italy remains off-limits for tourists from Brazil, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Masks are no longer compulsory outside, but must be worn indoors.

Curfews have been lifted, as have restrictions on restaurants and bars but tables must still be placed at least one metre (3.2 feet) apart.

Portugal

According to rules in force until July 11, all arrivals need to present proof of vaccination or a PCR test less than 72 hours old or an antigen of less than 48 hours.

Non-vaccinated arrivals from Britain will need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Except for EU member countries, Schengen members and a small number of other countries including the US and Australia, travellers need a compelling reason to enter Portugal.

Social distancing and mask-wearing are mandatory, and special rules are in place for beaches and swimming pool areas, with a distance of three metres minimum required between parasols.

Greece

The Greek government is hoping to reach about half of its pre-pandemic tourism revenues this summer which, if confirmed, would double last year’s figure.

Some 150,000 tourists have travelled to Greece since the start of the season on May 14, according to Tourism Minister Haris Theocharis.

Arrivals from EU countries and the Schengen area are authorised to enter Greece, as are residents of Canada, the US, Israel, China, Thailand, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

But they are required to fill in a form and produce proof of full vaccination, or a PCR test of less than 72 hours, an antigen test of less than 48 hours, or a certificate of post-infection immunity.

The authorities said they will also carry out spot antigen testing of arriving passengers.

UK

Travel to Britain is made difficult for most of the world by strict curbs on arrivals, costly quarantine requirements and expensive Covid tests.

The tourism sector’s efforts are mostly focused on domestic holidaymakers.

Travellers from “green” countries — including Australia, New Zealand and Iceland — need only produce a negative Covid test.

The green list was extended by 16 countries on Wednesday, including Israel, the Balearic Islands and the Cayman Islands.

Arrivals from Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands can enter freely.

Covid infections due to the delta variant delayed the planned lifting of many social restrictions, but Britain hopes to scrap a ban on large social gatherings, and non-seated drinking in pubs, on July 19, as well as to reopen nightclubs.

Over 10 Million Australians In Coronavirus Lockdown

People walk past statues of kangaroos in Perth on June 29, 2021, as several positive Covid-19 coronavirus cases have led to a four day lockdown of the Perth metropolitan area. (Photo by TREVOR COLLENS / AFP)

 

 

More than 10 million Australians have been ordered into lockdown as coronavirus cases spread across the country, and Brisbane on Tuesday became the fourth major city to issue stay-at-home orders.

The three-day snap lockdown for Brisbane, starting on Tuesday evening, comes on top of similar measures imposed in Sydney, Perth and Darwin in recent days.

“These are tough decisions,” Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said, after Australia recorded 23 virus cases in 24 hours.

“We are having lockdowns in major cities because the overseas arrivals are bringing the virus here.”

Australia has been broadly successful in eliminating local transmission through a mix of border closures, mandatory hotel quarantine for overseas arrivals and snap lockdowns.

But it is now battling flare-ups of the highly contagious Delta variant — which first emerged in India — as public anger grows at the slow pace of vaccinations.

Less than five percent of adults are believed to have received both vaccine doses.

Brisbane resident Nicola Hungerford, 57, said she expected lockdowns to keep happening “until the government gets their bloody act together” on the vaccine rollout.

“It’s gobsmacking and they’re just irresponsible. It shows how little respect they have for people,” she told AFP.

As well as Brisbane, surrounding coastal regions and the small northern city of Townsville are also subject to the latest order, after an unvaccinated hospital worker spent up to 10 days travelling around Queensland while infectious.

On Tuesday morning, Perth residents woke to a four-day snap lockdown after a local cluster grew to three cases.

Shubh Singh, manager of Punjab Sweets & Curry House, backed the decision even though he expected his Perth business to lose about 50 percent of revenue during the shutdown.

“But the measures are necessary to ensure it doesn’t linger for months, because a lengthy lockdown would be disastrous,” he told AFP.

“It is eerie though seeing these streets so quiet.”

 

A healthcare worker takes a swab from a patient at a drive-through testing station in Perth on June 29, 2021, as several positive Covid-19 coronavirus cases have led to a four day lockdown of the Perth metropolitan area. (Photo by TREVOR COLLENS / AFP)

 

– Cluster concern –
The largest outbreak is in Sydney, where 150 people have tested positive for Covid-19 since mid-June, with the city’s residents now under stay-at-home orders for two weeks.

A small cluster linked to an outback gold mine sent Darwin into lockdown after exposure sites were found for the first time in the northern city, which is home to a large Indigenous population feared to be more vulnerable to Covid-19.

The announcements come during school holidays for large parts of the country and are expected to cause a wave of travel cancellations, with unaffected states warning people not to visit impacted areas.

New Zealand said Tuesday it would partially reopen its travel bubble with Australia from July 5, but only with states that have not recorded any cases.

Under pressure over his government’s response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced vaccines will become mandatory for aged care and quarantine hotel workers, while the AstraZeneca jab will be available to people aged under 60 who sign an indemnity form.

Morrison’s newly appointed deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, meanwhile, was fined Aus$200 (US$150) after a member of the public reported him for not wearing a mask.

In all locked-down areas, people are generally required to stay at home except for essential work, exercise, to buy groceries or for medical reasons.

Masks are mandatory across swathes of the country.

Australia has recorded a total of just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths in a population of about 25 million since the pandemic began.

Australia Deputy PM Loses Job In Government Climate Split

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce addresses a press conference in Sydney on July 5, 2016.
Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce addresses a press conference in Sydney on July 5, 2016.

 

A climate change revolt in Australia’s governing coalition on Monday brought in a new deputy prime minister likely to challenge the country’s already hesitant moves to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Barnaby Joyce, best known internationally for threatening to euthanise Johnny Depp’s dogs, defeated incumbent Michael McCormack in a snap internal party vote, elevating him to the role of deputy PM.

The vote for the leadership of junior coalition partner the Nationals came as apparent cracks emerged in the ruling coalition over climate change policy.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told G7 leaders last week that Australia wants to achieve net-zero carbon emissions “as soon as possible”, and preferably by 2050.

McCormack had reportedly been accused by party colleagues of failing to push back against such accelerated climate action, a charged topic among the Nationals’ rural conservative voters.

READ ALSO: Nine Children Among 10 Killed In Storm-Hit Alabama Crash

On Monday, Joyce dodged questions on whether he would support Australia taking a net-zero by 2050 target to November’s UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow.

But he echoed conservative talking points that strong climate change action posed a threat to Australia’s commodity-dependent economy.

“If the National Party room believes that the best deal for regional Australia is to make sure that we secure their jobs, is to make sure that we secure their industries… that’s the view that I’ll support,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Joyce previously held the Nationals’ leadership but stepped down in a 2018 scandal when it was revealed the married father-of-four had an affair with a young adviser and she was pregnant.

He was also accused of sexual harassment by a prominent rural woman but an internal investigation failed to reach a conclusive verdict.

Joyce called the allegations “spurious and defamatory”, adding that after three years on the backbench he hoped to “be a better person to do a better job”.

He gained international notoriety after threatening to put down Hollywood star Johnny Depp’s two Yorkshire Terriers over a quarantine violation in 2015.

Morrison congratulated Joyce on his elevated role, saying in a statement that they shared a “passion for ensuring our regions and rural communities thrive”.

Tariffs: Australia To Take Wine Dispute With China Before WTO

PHOTO USED TO ILLUSTRATE THE STORY: NICOLAS ARMER /DPA PICTURE-ALLIANCE VIA AFP

 

Australia will take China before the World Trade Organization over Beijing’s imposition of crippling tariffs on Australian wine exports, it announced Saturday, in the latest sign of worsening tensions between the two countries.

The decision “to defend Australia’s winemakers” comes six months after Australia lodged a separate protest at the WTO over tariffs on Australian barley and is in line with the government’s “support for the rules-based trading system”, it said in a statement.

It added, however, that “Australia remains open to engaging directly with China to resolve this issue”.

It is the latest incident in an escalating tussle between Australia and its largest trading partner and follows warnings by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that his government would respond forcefully to countries trying to use “economic coercion” against it.

READ ALSO: WHO Declares An End To Second Ebola Outbreak In Guinea

China in November slapped tariffs of up to 218 percent on Australian wines, which it said were being “dumped” into the Chinese market at subsidised prices.

The crackdown virtually closed what had been Australia’s biggest overseas wine market, with sales falling from Aus$1.1 billion (US$ 840 million) to just Aus$20 million, according to official figures.

“The actions taken by the Chinese government have caused serious harm to the Australian wine industry,” Trade Minister Dan Tehan said at a press conference announcing the decision to lodge a formal dispute with the WTO.

“We would love to be able to sit down and be able to resolve these disputes” directly with the Chinese, he said, but added that lower-level official contacts had failed to make progress.

“We will use every other mechanism to try and resolve this dispute and other disputes that we have with the Chinese government,” he said.

Tehan acknowledged that the dispute process within the WTO was difficult and estimated it would take two to four years for any resolution.

 

– ‘Coercive behaviour’ –

Beijing has imposed tough economic sanctions on a range of Australian products in recent months, ranging from high tariffs to disruptive practices across several agricultural sectors, coal, wine and tourism.

The measures are widely seen in Australia as punishment for pushing back against Beijing’s operations to impose influence in Australia, rejecting Chinese investment in sensitive areas and publicly calling for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Saturday’s move came just a week after a summit of the G7 grouping of advanced economies echoed Australia’s call for a tougher stand against China’s trade practices and its more assertive stance globally.

The G7 summit ended on June 12 with the announcement of US-led plans to counter China’s trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative”, the hallmark of its efforts to extend economic influence around the world.

The grouping promised hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries in a “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project.

The B3W was seen as aimed squarely at competing with China’s efforts, which has been widely criticised for saddling small countries with unmanageable debt.

Morrison attended the summit as part of a G7 plus formula that also brought in the leaders of South Korea, South Africa and India, and made clear he would push the other nations for joint action against China’s aggressive trade policies.

“The most practical way to address economic coercion is the restoration of the global trading body’s binding dispute-settlement system,” he said in a speech just ahead of the summit.

“Where there are no consequences for coercive behaviour, there is little incentive for restraint,” he said.

Morrison has received explicit backing in his government’s confrontation with China from the US as well as from French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Paris following the G7 meeting.

AFP

Australia To Close Embassy In Afghanistan Over Security Fears

A security personnel guards an entrance near the Australian embassy at the Green Zone in Kabul on May 25, 2021, after Australia abruptly announced to shutter its embassy in Afghanistan this week over security fears as foreign troops withdraw. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)

 

Australia on Tuesday abruptly announced it will shutter its embassy in Afghanistan this week, expressing fears over the “increasingly uncertain security environment” in Kabul as foreign troops withdraw.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the facility would close as an “interim measure” on May 28 — in just three days — “in light of the imminent international military withdrawal from Afghanistan”.

The United States and allied forces are in the final stages of withdrawing their remaining troops from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest-ever war, but heralding an uncertain future for a nation in the tightening grip of Taliban militants.

Around 80 Australian troops are also leaving, and without that small contingent and the larger US force as back-up, Morrison said there was an “increasingly uncertain security environment”.

“The government has been advised that security arrangements could not be provided to support our ongoing diplomatic presence,” he said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Indonesia Arrests Four For Stealing Vaccines Meant For Prisoners

The elected government in Kabul and Afghan security services remain fragile despite two decades of foreign capacity building, and their success is far from assured without continued US military support.

Western diplomats and military officials have been scrambling to work out how to provide security for their future civilian presence in Afghanistan with fears growing of a Taliban comeback.

The Taliban on Tuesday pledged to provide a “safe environment” to foreign diplomats and humanitarian organisations.

“(We) will not pose any threats to them,” spokesman Mohammad Naeem told AFP.

When the Taliban seized control of Kabul ahead of their brief time in power in the 1990s, the group entered the United Nations compound, where they abducted and brutally murdered the country’s former leader Najibullah Ahmadzai.

And in 1998, the Taliban oversaw the killing of 10 Iranian diplomats at their consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

“The only incentive for foreign embassies to remain is the humanitarian work that they are involved in, but if their personnel are endangered then there is no point in remaining here,” a foreign defence official based in Kabul told AFP.

“Several other embassies will follow Australia in the coming weeks or months.”

Nishank Motwani, an Afghanistan specialist based in Australia, said the Taliban would interpret Morrison’s announcement as a victory.

“The Taliban will see it as… a clear sign that other NATO and non-NATO partner countries are likely to shutter their diplomatic missions because of the US’s decision to exit Afghanistan and the security vacuum its departure will inevitably create,” he told AFP.

– ‘A sad indictment’ –

In recent weeks, violence in the country has soared and Afghan forces have clashed with Taliban fighters not far to the east and west of Kabul.

President Joe Biden has said all American troops will leave by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda attacks that sparked the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban.

It was not clear whether there was a specific threat made against the Australian embassy, which is located in the heavily fortified Green Zone, not far from the US mission.

Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said it hoped Australia would review its decision, adding it was committed to offering security to diplomatic missions.

Key among the concerns of foreign embassies is making sure Kabul airport — the exit route for Western diplomats and humanitarian workers if security breaks down — can function securely.

The sudden closure of the Australian embassy surprised some experts.

“It is not set in stone that this is going to be a Taliban roll-up in the next few weeks,” said John Blaxland, Professor of International Security at the Australian National University.

“This is not Saigon 1975,” he added, a reference to the dramatic helicopter evacuation from the roof of the US embassy in South Vietnam as the Viet Cong and regular communist military forces seized the city.

Australia’s two-decade presence in Afghanistan was not without scandal.

A years-long Australian military inquiry recently reported evidence that elite special forces “unlawfully killed” 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners during the war.

A special war crimes prosecutor has been appointed to further investigate atrocities including summary executions and “body count competitions” and bring those responsible to justice.

AFP

China Suspends Economic Accord With Australia

A pro-Beijing supporter holds China's national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city's pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
China’s national flag. PHOTO: Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

China on Thursday suspended an economic agreement with Australia, worsening an already-troubled relationship fractured by spats over the Covid-19 pandemic and human rights abuses.

Tensions between the two sides have soared after Canberra called for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and banned telecoms giant Huawei from building Australia’s 5G network.

China — Australia’s biggest trading partner — has already imposed tariffs on more than a dozen key industries, including wine, barley, and coal, decimating exports.

In the latest volley, the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue was pulled “based on the current attitude” of the Australian government, China’s National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement Thursday, blaming some officials of a “Cold War mindset” and “ideological discrimination”.

READ ALSO: Tuchel Hails Chelsea’s Desire After Real Madrid Win

Beijing will “indefinitely suspend all activities under the framework” of the agreement, the statement added.

Australia called the decision “disappointing”, with Trade Minister Dan Tehan saying the dialogue had provided an important forum for the two countries, but adding no such talks had taken place since 2017.

The Australian dollar sank 0.6 percent soon after the news.

Canberra has previously described the accord — designed to boost trade between both sides and introduce large Chinese investors — as one of the “premier bilateral economic meetings with China”.

The first meeting in 2014 was called a chance for “closer economic ties” by Canberra.

But relations between the two have sunk into the deep freeze.

“It’s mainly a symbolic move but still, the trend that it points to… discussion and dialogue being suspended at lower and lower levels, is a real concern,” said James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at University of Technology Sydney.

“Overall, what we’re seeing in Canberra and Beijing is both sides doubling down and hardening their stance,” he said.

Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government scrapped a Belt and Road deal between Beijing and the state of Victoria.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative is a vast, trillion-dollar plan for a network of investments and infrastructure across Asia and the world.

Beijing reacted with anger to the Victoria state announcement, warning that taking the axe to the deal would cause “serious harm” to relations.

But critics have claimed the stand-off between the two sides is cover for Beijing to create geopolitical and financial leverage.

This week Australia added to the row by saying a Chinese company’s controversial 99-year-lease on Darwin Port was also under review and could be scrapped.

Darwin is the most important port on Australia’s north coast, the closest to Asia and a base for US Marines who rotate in and out of the country.

Defence minister Peter Dutton told the Sydney Morning Herald his department had been asked to “come back with some advice” about the 2015 deal and refused to rule out forcing Chinese firm Landbridge to divest on national security grounds.

The deal — brokered by local authorities in Australia’s Northern Territory — had raised serious concern in Canberra and Washington, where it was seen as a strategic liability.

It was not immediately clear if the row would impact on a free trade agreement between China and Australia that came into effect in 2015.

AFP

Thousands Evacuated In Australia As ‘Scary’ Flooding Escalates

Workers look at an inundated main road by floodwaters in Richmond suburb on March 22, 2021, as Sydney braced for its worst flooding in decades after record rainfall caused its largest dam to overflow and as deluges prompted mandatory mass evacuation orders along Australia's east coast. Saeed KHAN / AFP
Workers look at an inundated main road by floodwaters in Richmond suburb on March 22, 2021, as Sydney braced for its worst flooding in decades after record rainfall caused its largest dam to overflow and as deluges prompted mandatory mass evacuation orders along Australia’s east coast. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

Torrential downpours lashed Australia’s east Monday, forcing thousands to flee the worst flooding in decades and pushing communities already battling drought, bushfires, and the coronavirus pandemic to “breaking point”.

Around 18,000 residents were told to evacuate their homes, as days of relentless rainfall caused rivers in Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, to their highest levels in 30 years.

“The devastation is quite unbelievable,” said Port Macquarie cafe owner Marten Clark, who waded through waist-deep water to find his furniture washed away, and freezers, fridges and cooking equipment destroyed.

Aerial images from hard-hit areas showed the flood consuming rows of houses, with only their roofs above the water.

READ ALSO: 71 Homes Destroyed As Australia Bushfire Rages Near Locked-Down Perth

As some coastal communities received three months worth of rain in a few hours, emergency services said they rescued hundreds from floodwaters and fielded more than 8,800 calls for help.

In some areas, emergency workers travelled inland on “Surf Lifesaving” ocean rescue boats to reach stranded people.

So far, no fatalities or serious injuries have been reported.

But with more rain expected, eight million residents in Sydney and across the state were on Monday told to work from home if possible and avoid unnecessary travel.

Workers look at an inundated main road by floodwaters in Richmond suburb on March 22, 2021, as Sydney braced for its worst flooding in decades after record rainfall caused its largest dam to overflow and as deluges prompted mandatory mass evacuation orders along Australia's east coast. Saeed KHAN / AFP
Workers look at an inundated main road by floodwaters in Richmond suburb on March 22, 2021. coast. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

“The water is still rising,” said Jo Dunstan, who owns a florist shop in the outer Sydney suburb of Windsor, as she watched debris-littered stormwater race past neighbouring homes.

“It’s scary, very eerie to say the least.”

Just over 12 months ago the region was parched: suffering prolonged drought, water restrictions and unprecedented bushfires.

“When you have been through three or four incidents that are life-changing on top of each other, it can make you feel like you are at breaking point,” said New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

“I don’t know any time in a state history where we have had these extreme weather conditions in such quick succession in the middle of a pandemic.”

Australia ‘tested once again’

Scientists have warned Australia can expect more frequent and more extreme weather events as a result of climate change.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose conservative government has been accused of dragging its feet on climate action, said Australia was “being tested once again” by a “terrible event”.

He told parliament that Australia’s defence force was expected to be called in to assist with the clean-up and recovery.

New South Wales’s Mid North Coast has been particularly badly affected, with Berejiklian declaring the region had been struck by a “one in 100 year” disaster.

In Sydney’s vast Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley, swollen rivers were at levels not seen since 1990, after the Warragamba Dam, the city’s main drinking water source, spilled over Saturday.

Around 500 gigalitres of water were drained from the dam — roughly equivalent to 200,000 Olympic size swimming pools or the total volume of water in Sydney Harbour.

Residents in some affected areas were allowed to return to their homes Monday after waters receded, but others were placed on high alert as floods moved toward their regions.

Education authorities said more than 200 schools were closed, including some that were damaged in the floods.

Andrew Hall, CEO of the Insurance Council of Australia, said it was too early to understand the extent of destruction and to “estimate the insurance damage bill”.

‘A dangerous situation’

The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast “treacherous” conditions Monday before the wild weather eases later in the week.

Flood operations manager Justin Robinson warned the rain was expected to cause flooding in previously unaffected areas as well as “renewed flooding in many of those communities that have already been impacted”.

“It is quite a dangerous situation that New South Wales is currently facing,” he said.

Rainfall records were expected to keep tumbling in the coming days as the deluge spreads into the state’s northwest, and further north into Queensland state where weather warnings were also issued.

Flash flooding occurred at the Gold Coast — almost 10 hours’ drive from Sydney — as the tourist hotspot was drenched.

Health officials have said the rain and floods will delay the already halting rollout of coronavirus vaccines in Sydney and surrounding areas.

 

AFP

Facebook To Restore Australia News Pages After Deal On Media Law

In this file illustration photo taken on March 25, 2020, a Facebook app logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file illustration photo taken on March 25, 2020, a Facebook app logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

Facebook said Tuesday it will lift a contentious ban on Australian news pages, after the government agreed to amend a world-first law requiring tech giants to pay media companies.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook said a compromise had been reached on key aspects of the law, which was fiercely opposed by the tech companies.

“As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism, and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days,” said Will Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia.

The social media firm sparked global outrage last week by blacking out news for its Australian users and inadvertently blocking a series of non-news Facebook pages linked to everything from cancer charities to emergency response services.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison had angrily accused Facebook of making a decision to “unfriend” Australia.

But the last minute compromise — as parliament looks set to pass the law this week — means that Facebook and Google, which was also targetted, will not be penalised so long as they reach some deals with local media firms to pay for news.

They will also get an additional two months to broker those agreements.

“We’re pleased that we’ve been able to reach an agreement with the Australian government and appreciate the constructive discussions we’ve had” said Easton.

– Precedent-setting -The tech firms had fiercely opposed the legislation from the get-go, fearing it would create international precedent that would threaten their business models.

“There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” said Frydenberg.

In particular, the companies objected to rules that made negotiations with media companies mandatory and gave an independent Australian arbiter the right to impose a settlement.

Google was keen to avoid creating a precedent that platforms should pay anyone for links, something they could make their flagship search engine unworkable.

Facebook — which is much less reliant on news content — had said being forced to pay for news was simply not worth it.

“We have come to an agreement that will allow us to support the publishers we choose to, including small and local publishers,” said Facebook vice president for global news partnerships Campbell Brown.

Despite earlier threats to pull its services from Australia over the legislation, Google had already softened its stance and brokered deals worth millions of dollars with a host of local media companies, including the two largest: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Nine Entertainment.

Facebook and Google still face the prospect of having to agree deals with media around the world, as the European Union, Canada and other jurisdictions move to regulate the sector.

Since their emergence around the turn of the century, Google and Facebook have been largely unregulated and have grown into two of the world’s largest and most profitable companies.

But a string of scandals about misinformation, privacy violations, data harvesting and their virtual monopoly on online advertising has triggered the attention of watchdogs.

For every $100 spent by Australian advertisers today, $49 goes to Google and $24 to Facebook, according to the country’s competition watchdog.

Critics of the law have said it is punishing successful companies and amounts to a money grab by struggling but politically connected traditional media.

They also lament that there is no requirement in the law that money gained by the media companies from Facebook and Google be spent on expanding public interest journalism rather than just boost profits.

Thousands of journalism jobs and scores of news outlets have been lost in Australia alone over the past decade as the sector watched advertising revenue flow to the digital players.