‘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.

READ ALSO: Five Killed, 120 Injured In Iran Earthquake

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.

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

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

World Number One Halep Stunned In Sydney

Simona Halep of Romania hits a return against Australia’s Ashleigh Barty during their women’s singles second round match at the Sydney International tennis tournament in Sydney on January 9, 2019.  PETER PARKS / AFP

 

World number one Simona Halep’s preparations for next week’s Australian Open suffered a huge setback Wednesday when she was bundled out of the Sydney International at the first hurdle.

The Romanian hadn’t played since withdrawing from the WTA Finals in October with a herniated disc and was no match for fast-rising Australian Ashleigh Barty, who scored the biggest win of her career 6-4, 6-4.

Halep, the reigning French Open champion, and 2018 Australian Open runner-up had a bye through to the second round, meaning she heads to Melbourne Park for the opening Grand Slam of the year with just one game under her belt.

“It was a great match after almost four months (since the last one). I think I played a good level of tennis but I had no inspiration in some important points,” she said.

“She played really well and deserved to win. But I was also very close to winning.

“No pain at all, that is a great sign,” she added of her back. “The tennis is good, I just have to believe in myself more.”

Barty, who ended a breakthrough 2018 with a WTA title in Zhuhai and is now ranked 15, brought the momentum into the new year and is now in the quarter-finals, where she will meet either Belgian 10th seed Elise Mertens or Estonian Anett Kontaveit.

She had already accounted for another French Open winner, Jelena Ostapenko, in the opening round and had an extra gear against Halep, breaking serve twice to win the first set.

 Nothing to lose 

Halep, without a coach after splitting with Darren Cahill who wanted to spend more time with his family, was first to break in the second set and had a chance to hold for 5-3.

But Barty was undaunted, using her signature court craft to break straight back and secure victory two games later.

“It was extremely difficult conditions, very swirly down at court level. So I figured if I’m going to play Sim anytime, and it’s her first match, it was now. I was very happy to make the most if it,” said Barty.

“I had nothing to lose out here so I just came out and played with freedom. I believed I could win.”

Earlier in the week, Halep admitted the back injury that ended her 2018 season early was “very scary”.

The early finish to 2018 was a disappointing end to a spectacular season, which saw the 27-year-old secure the year-end number one ranking for the second year running.

She got off to a stellar start, reaching the Australian Open final and went on to win the Shenzhen Open, the Rogers Cup and her debut Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros.

In other matches Wednesday, Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky beat Australia’s Sam Stosur 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 to make the last eight, where she will meet Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus following her three-set win over Priscilla Hon.

In the men’s draw, third-seeded Argentinian Diego Schwartzman booked his place in the quarters by beating Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in two sets. He will meet Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka, who ousted Russian Andrey Rublev.

Veteran Italian Andreas Seppi is also through to face top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, while fifth-seeded Alex De Minaur set up an all-Australian last eight tie with Jordan Thompson.

AFP

Nigerians Usher In New Year With Prayers And Fireworks

Nigerians have joined the rest of the world in ushering in the year 2019.

Earlier, Sydney and Hong Kong put on stunning fireworks displays in a spectacular welcome to the New Year, among the first in a wave of celebrations for billions around the world.

Australia’s largest city organised its biggest-ever fireworks display, using a record amount of pyrotechnics as well as new effects.

Colours lit up the city’s skyline for 12 minutes and dazzled the more than 1.5 million spectators who packed the harbour front and parks.

 

New Year’s Eve fireworks erupt over Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2019.
PETER PARKS / AFP

An earlier thunderstorm did not dampen the spirits of revelers who camped out at vantage points, some since the morning.

To mark the international year of indigenous languages in 2019, the harbour also hosted a ceremony celebrating Aboriginal heritage that included animations projected onto the bridge’s pylons.

In Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands of revelers packed the streets on both sides of the city’s Victoria Harbour for a spectacular 10-minute firework show.

Some $1.8 million worth of pyrotechnics bathed the city’s skyscrapers in a dizzying array of colours accompanied by a score that included Auld Lang Syne sung in Cantonese, Mandarin and English.

Fireworks explode over Victoria Harbour during New Year celebrations in Hong Kong on January 1, 2019.
ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP

In Nigeria, many Christians took to their various churches where night vigils held to herald the new year.

While some Nigerians took to the churches, there were others at city centres and parks where official countdown concerts took place.

The One Lagos Fiesta was one of the events put together to usher in the new year, with various artists and performers thrilling revelers who thronged to the venue of the fiesta put together by the Lagos state government.

And when the clock struck 12am signaling the berth of a new day, Nigerians across the country especially in Lagos, took to the streets in jubilation. At certain centres around Nigeria’s economic hub, major firework displays lit up the skies as each-one bad the other “Happy New Year”.

President Urge Nigerians To Vote Without Fear

President Muhammadu Buhari has in his New Year Message reminded Nigerians that there are new opportunities to be explored in 2019.

Buhari who reminded Nigerians of the polls in 2019, told the people that the election is not a do or die affair, hence, they must not approach the process with fear.

The President made the call in a New Year Message sent out on Monday, December 31.

According to the President, 2019 is a very significant year in the nation’s history and as such Nigerians must brace up for the new moral grounds to be broken.

Sydney, Hong Kong Kick Off 2019 Parties With Dazzling Fireworks

New Year’s Eve fireworks erupt over Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2019. PETER PARKS / AFP

 

Sydney and Hong Kong put on stunning fireworks displays in a spectacular welcome to the New Year, among the first in a wave of celebrations for billions around the world.

Australia’s largest city organised its biggest-ever fireworks display, using a record amount of pyrotechnics as well as new effects. Colours lit up the city’s skyline for 12 minutes and dazzled the more than 1.5 million spectators who packed the harbour front and parks.

An earlier thunderstorm did not dampen the spirits of revellers who camped out at vantage points, some since the morning.

To mark the international year of indigenous languages in 2019, the harbour also hosted a ceremony celebrating Aboriginal heritage that included animations projected onto the bridge’s pylons.

In Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands of revellers packed the streets on both sides of the city’s Victoria Harbour for a spectacular 10-minute firework show.

Some $1.8 million worth of pyrotechnics bathed the city’s skyscrapers in a dizzying array of colours accompanied by a score that included Auld Lang Syne sung in Cantonese, Mandarin and English.

Fireworks explode over Victoria Harbour during New Year celebrations in Hong Kong on January 1, 2019. ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP

 

Revellers were packed shoulder to shoulder on the densely crowded streets, many festooned with LED lights and sparkly glasses reading “2019”.

In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, more than 500 couples tied the knot in a free mass wedding organised by the government, with fireworks shows cancelled out of respect for tsunami victims.

New Year’s Eve celebrations were also called off in nearby Banten province, where the disaster struck on 22 December killing more than 400 people.

In Japan, locals flocked to temples to ring in 2019, as US boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather came out of retirement to beat Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa in a multi-million-dollar “exhibition” bout outside Tokyo.

Around the world

Fireworks explode over the Chao Phraya River during New Year celebrations in Bangkok at the start of January 1, 2019. Krit Promsakla Na Sakolnakorn / AFP

 

The party atmosphere is set to sweep across major cities in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas as the clock ticks past midnight.

A strong police presence has become a key element of the festivities, to protect crowds that could be targeted in terror and vehicle attacks.

In Moscow, concerts and light shows will be held across the Russian capital’s parks and more than 1,000 ice rinks have been opened for merrymakers.

In Paris, a fireworks display and sound and light show under the theme “fraternity” is set to go ahead on the Champs-Elysees despite plans for further “yellow vest” anti-government protests at the famed avenue.

In Berlin, music lovers will party at a concert at the Brandenburg Gate, but a popular German tradition of setting off fireworks to mark the occasion has been banned in some other cities over safety concerns.

Britain’s capital London will usher in the New Year by celebrating its relationship with Europe amid turmoil over the Brexit referendum vote to leave the EU, with the fireworks display at the London Eye to feature music from the continent’s artists.

Scottish capital Edinburgh’s traditional Hogmanay celebrations will also take on a pro-European theme ahead of the year in which Britain is due to exit the union.

Revellers in Dubai will flock to see fireworks at the world’s tallest tower, Burj Khalifa, while another United Arab Emirates city — Ras al-Khaimah — will attempt to set the Guinness World Record for “longest fireworks show”.

Rio de Janeiro’s famous hilltop statue of Christ the Redeemer will be brought to 3D life with special light projections before fireworks illuminate the city’s Copacabana beach where around two million revellers, many dressed in white, will party till dawn.

Looking ahead to 2019

People watch special children’s fireworks near the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, on December 31, 2018. Robin UTRECHT / ANP / AFP

 

As the world parties, many will also look forward to 2019 and wonder whether the turmoil witnessed during the previous year will spill over into the next.

The political wrangling in Westminster over Brexit was one of the key stories of this year, with a resolution yet to be reached ahead of the scheduled March 29 departure.

US President Donald Trump dominated headlines in 2018 as he ramped up his trade war with China, quit the Iran nuclear deal, moved the American embassy to Jerusalem and met his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un in Singapore for a historic summit.

North Korea’s commitment to denuclearisation will remain a major political and security issue into next year, as will Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s reassertion of control after Trump’s shock military withdrawal announcement.

The war in Yemen, which started in 2014 and has already killed about 10,000 people and left some 20 million at risk of starvation, could take a crucial turn after a ceasefire went into effect in mid-December.

Numerous countries go to the polls in 2019, with key elections in India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, South Africa, Argentina and Australia.

Major sporting events on the calendar include the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the cricket one-day international World Cup in England and the athletics World Championships in Qatar.

New Year’s Eve fireworks erupt over Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2019. PETER PARKS / AFP

 

AFP

Australia Celebrates 2018 With Unique Fireworks In Photos

 

Australia rang in the New Year Sunday with a spectacular display of rainbow-coloured fireworks cascading from Sydney Harbour Bridge. 

About 1.5 million people packed the city’s foreshore to watch the pyrotechnics light up the sky above the historic bridge and the iconic opera house, the first major celebrations worldwide after New Zealand.

 

See Photos Below:

 

Australia Welcomes 2018 With Eight Tonnes Of Fireworks

Australia rang in the New Year Sunday with a spectacular display of rainbow-coloured fireworks cascading from Sydney Harbour Bridge, as revellers marked the nation’s legalisation of gay marriage amid tight security.

About 1.5 million people packed the city’s foreshore to watch the pyrotechnics light up the sky above the historic bridge and the iconic opera house, the first major celebrations worldwide after New Zealand.

“This is a fabulous way to see out 2017 — the year that four out of five Sydneysiders said a resounding ‘Yes’ to marriage equality,” said Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore of the nationwide postal vote in support of change.

Thousands turned out earlier in New Zealand’s largest city Auckland for the annual New Year’s Eve street party, marked by a major fireworks display from the Sky Tower.

– Around the world –

Celebrations will move to Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and finally the Americas, with dazzling light shows bidding farewell to 2017.

– Hong Kong: “Shooting stars” will be fired from the rooftops of skyscrapers in a 10-minute musical fireworks display.

– Jakarta: Some 500 couples will wed in a mass ceremony sponsored by the government, and festivals and bazaars will be held on main roads and at tourist sites.

– Dubai: The city is replacing its main midnight fireworks with a laser show on the world’s tallest tower, the 828-metre Burj Khalifa.

– Moscow: Major boulevards and squares will be decked out to welcome the new year, with fireworks to light up 36 key sites.

– Berlin. Special tents will be set up at the Brandenburg Gate to care for women victims of sexual harassment or those who feel threatened, following mass assaults by migrant groups on women in Cologne two years ago. In Cologne itself, 1,400 police will be mobilised, street lighting will be improved and more video cameras installed.

– Paris. Hundreds of thousands are expected to line the Champs-Elysees for a light show and fireworks at the Arc de Triomphe. Nearly 140,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers will be deployed nationwide to guard against the jihadist threat. But with no major attack in France since mid-2016 the atmosphere was noticeably more festive than in the past two years.

– Rio: Millions will gather on Copacabana beach to watch the fireworks, with many wearing white, the traditional colour to usher in the new year.

– Toughest security in years –

Stricter security has been a key focus amid fears that crowds could be targets for vehicle and other terror attacks.

In Australia, the stronger police presence included some officers carrying semi-automatic rifles in Sydney and bollards used as barriers against vehicles.

Earlier in December one man was killed and more than a dozen hurt when a man ploughed a car into a crowd of pedestrians in Melbourne.

“You’re going to see more police than ever out, it will be our largest contingent… (given) the current security environment,” said Victoria state police acting chief commissioner Shane Patton.

Other cities are also on alert following deadly vehicle assaults over the past two years in Barcelona, Nice and London.

New York’s Times Square celebrations are set to go ahead despite the Arctic chill gripping much of the central and northeastern United States and Canada.

But revellers there will be guarded by the strongest security presence in years, after two recent attacks apparently inspired by the Islamic State group.

– Looking ahead to 2018 –

IS’s defeat in Iraq and Syria was one of the key stories this year, although the jihadists remain a threat and numerous attacks around the world were claimed by them or Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

Donald Trump stole the news spotlight after making his debut as US President in January 2017, with “America first” policies and a bombastic personal style that has shaken up international diplomacy.

The former reality television star is likely to continue dominating headlines in 2018, with escalating tensions over North Korea among a host of global challenges.

Other political and diplomatic earthquakes set to rumble into 2018 include the crisis in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar, and the humanitarian disaster in Yemen.

In Europe, further talks on Brexit will help shape the region’s future trade relationship while Russia is set to host the football World Cup amid frictions with the West.

AFP

Six Die In Sydney Seaplane Crash

A policeman walks through crowds at Circular Quay as they gather ahead of the New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Sydney on December 31, 2017. Australia’s largest city Sydney will welcome 2018 with a rainbow-themed fireworks spectacular marking new same-sex marriage rights, with heavy security for festivities that kick off a wave of celebrations around the world.
PETER PARKS / AFP

Six people were killed when a seaplane crashed into a river in Australia on Sunday, police said, with divers recovering three bodies so far.

The plane went down in the Hawkesbury River near the suburb of Cowan 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Sydney, said police in New South Wales state.

Acting Superintendent Michael Gorman told reporters the single-engine aircraft was lying in 13 metres (43 feet) of water.

“Police divers are on scene and three bodies have so far been recovered,” police added in a statement. “The recovery operation continues.”

There were no details on the identity of the occupants and investigators did not yet know why the plane crashed.

Debris and an oil slick was spotted by a rescue helicopter after the crash, with local media reporting the aircraft was from scenic flight company Sydney Seaplanes.

Sydney Seaplanes is popular with celebrities and recent passengers have included Pippa Middleton, sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, and husband James Matthews during their honeymoon in Australia.

A spokesman for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau told AFP the aircraft was believed to be a DHC-2 Beaver Seaplane on a return flight to Rose Bay in Sydney Harbour.

The accident came just hours before Sydney Harbour was set to be lit up in a spectacular fireworks display to welcome in the new year.

AFP

Prince Harry Tours Sydney To Promote 2018 Invictus Games

Britain’s Prince Harry braved the rain and toured Sydney Harbour on Wednesday to promote and launch the 500 day countdown to the 2018 Invictus Games.

Harry, grandson of Queen Elizabeth and fifth in line to the throne, is a founding patron of the games, established three years ago for wounded military personnel from allied nations.

Prince Harry also watched an Invictus wheelchair basketball demonstration on Wednesday, where former New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Australian Wallabies Captain Stephen Moore tried their hand at the game.

Over 500 competitors from 17 countries will participate in the 2018 Invictus Games which are due to take place from October 20 – 27, 2018.

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Prince Harry Kicks Off Trip In Singapore

Sydney Police Arrest Terror Suspects

Sydney Police Arrest Terror Suspects The Police in Sydney have arrested two male suspects in a counter-terror operation.

The 15-year-old and a 20-year-old have been charged with conspiracy to conduct a terrorist act.

The Police explained that the arrests were linked to a plot outlined in a material seized in 2014 as part of Operation Appleby.

The operation in September 2014 was sparked by intelligence reports that Islamist extremists were planning random killings in Australia.

Australia PM Urges Regional Action Against Islamic State

australia pm speaks in is crisisAustralia Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is asking Asia Pacific Nations to combat Islamic State (IS), saying the group has global ambitions.

At a conference in Sydney on countering terrorist propaganda, Mr Abbott said IS is a death cult with far reaching tentacles.

Australia believes more than 100 of its citizens are fighting with militant Jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Mr Abbott  maintained that the main challenge faced was working out how to stop young people from joining the groups, which would be the work of the conference.

“We need idealistic young people to appreciate that joining this death cult (IS) is an utterly misguided and wrong-headed way to express their desire to sacrifice,” he said.

Mr Abbott’s remarks come after US President, Barack Obama, approved sending up to 450 more military personnel to Iraq to train forces fighting IS.

Last year, Australia raised its threat level and has conducted series of counter-terrorism raids.

Amid concern about the domestic impact of Jihadist groups, Australia has introduced new national security measures including criminalising travel to terror hot spots, and giving extra funding to Police and security agencies.

The government recently announced plans to remove citizenship from dual nationals who support extremist groups.