US President Barack Obama says he is examining options short of sending ground troops to help Iraq counter a Sunni extremist offensive, but warned the country must heal its own divisions.

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“We will not be sending US troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces,” Obama said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government has asked the United States to provide military assistance to counter a stunning advance by ISIL, a Sunni extremist movement.

But, in brief remarks to reporters at the White House, Obama warned the Baghdad government that it had brought disaster on itself by failing to heal the divides between Sunni and Shiite camps in the country.

“The United States will not involve itself in military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together,” he said.

“We won’t allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which while we’re there we’re keeping a lid on things and, after enormous sacrifices by us, as soon as we’re not there, suddenly people end up acting in ways that are not conducive to the long-term stability of the country.”

The US withdrew the last of its occupation forces from Iraq in 2011, eight years after they overthrew the then-dictator Saddam Hussein, but Obama said he was studying options to increase ongoing support for the Iraqi military.

He added, however, that “any action that we may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq’s leaders to set aside sectarian differences”.


Alexis Sanchez put Chile ahead from close range after 12 minutes and two minutes later Jorge Valdivia made it 2-0 with a well-struck shot as the South Americans looked in control.

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Australia fought back strongly, though, and Tim Cahill replied with a trademark header after 35 minutes and thought he had equalized with another early in the second half only to have it ruled offside by an excellent linesman’s decision.

Both sides went close in an end-to-end second half before Jean Beausejour grabbed a third for Chile in stoppage time, and they will now have to try to get something from games against Spain or the Netherlands, who thrashed the holders 5-1 earlier in the day.

Amidst the 40,000 spectators at Cuiaba’s brand new Pantanal arena, dominated by Chile’s “Red Tide” of fans, the South Americans looked to be coasting to a comfortable victory when Sanchez and Valdivia scored in quick succession.

“The ambience really helped the team establish its authority to go after those goals at the beginning,” Chile’s Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli told reporters.

CHILE WILL ‘CORRECT THINGS’

Charles Aranguiz neatly kept the ball in play on the right with defenders scrambling to block him and he chipped into the middle where Eduardo Vargas and Mile Jedinak jostled for the header, the ball falling for goalscoring talisman Sanchez to poke home.

Chile were quickly two up, carving through Australia’s defence before Sanchez squared for Valdivia to rifle into the roof of the net from the edge of the box.

A heavy defeat looked on the cards for the Socceroos but Chile sat back and allowed them to settle.

Australia’s record goalscorer Cahill got above Gary Medel to head powerfully home and the striker was denied again moments later when his low strike was saved by Claudio Bravo.

The lowest-ranked team of the 32 in Brazil began the second half strongly with Cahill’s bullet header ruled out and then veteran midfielder Mark Bresciano forcing Bravo into another sprawling save, this time one-handed low to his left.

Australia had a let-off when Alex Wilkinson got back to clear off the goalline from Vargas but Chile could not relax.

Cahill again demonstrated his renowned aerial ability when he climbed above his marker Gonzalo Jara but this time headed over.

Any hopes of securing a point vanished when substitute Beausejour drilled a low strike into the far corner in stoppage time.

Even so, the outcome was a victory of sorts for Australia coach Ange Postecoglou, hired in October to rejuvenate an aging team only to be faced with one of the toughest groups in December’s draw.

“The good thing is that we believe in our football, we believe in our structure,” said Cahill, who scored his 33rd goal for Australia.

“Last week they were questioning whether we could create chances – we did create quite a lot.”

After the tougher-than-expected challenge from Australia, Chile recognized that they need to do better to get to the next stage. They play Spain in Rio de Janeiro on June 18.

“This is good to correct things and we need to play more complete games to face the strong teams ahead of us,” Sampaoli said.

(Additional reporting by Rex Gower; editing by Ed Osmond)


Suspended MP Geoff Shaw looked like a man “relishing the spotlight” not shouldering the harshest penalty imposed by the Victorian parliament in a century, Labor says.

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The independent MP has drawn more fire after his first public appearance since he was suspended from the Victorian parliament was on stage at a Friday night comedy event in Melbourne.

“Geoff Shaw didn’t look like a man who was suffering terribly from the punishment meted out to him by (Premier) Denis Napthine and the Liberals last week,” Labor shadow attorney-general Martin Pakula told reporters on Saturday.

“He looked like a man ready to go off on a couple of months’ paid vacation.

“It’s a shame that Denis Napthine didn’t join with us last week to put this circus to an end once and for all.”

The government successfully moved on Wednesday to have Mr Shaw suspended from the parliament for 11 sitting days over the misuse of his parliamentary car and fuel card.

He must also repay $6800 and formally apologise before his return on September 2.

The suspension curtailed a move by Labor to have Mr Shaw expelled from parliament.

“I get the distinct impression that Geoff Shaw is relishing the spotlight and it’s probably a demonstration of the fact he knows that last week he dodged a bullet,” Mr Pakula also said.

During the wide-ranging Q&A session with comedian Sammy J at the Wheeler Centre on Friday, Mr Shaw told the audience he was “exceptionally sorry” but also that he had been “screwed” by the parliament. He also played the bagpipes.

Labor has repeatedly accused Mr Napthine of protecting Mr Shaw because his vote is needed for the government to keep its grip on power.

Mr Shaw’s suspension has left the Victorian government and opposition deadlocked on 43 votes apiece in the lower house.

Mr Pakula also said he expected the government to bring forward legislation where there was common ground with Labor to ensure the Speaker was not repeatedly called on cast a tie-breaking vote.


The federal government is cautiously optimistic it will succeed in scrapping the carbon tax now the Palmer United Party has dropped its demand the repeal be retrospective.

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Finance Minister Mathias Cormann says he will not disclose details of negotiations with PUP leader Clive Palmer.

“What I can say is that we are cautiously optimistic and we welcome the comments that were made by Clive Palmer earlier this week,” he told Sky News on Saturday.

“We think it is absolutely in the national interest to get rid of the carbon tax.”

Earlier this week, Mr Palmer acknowledged he was prepared to compromise.

“Our party policy was that if it’s a bad tax, it should be repealed back to the day it was first introduced. But I mean, I guess on those sort of things we’re prepared to compromise to a certain degree,” he told ABC radio.

However, Mr Palmer still wants a requirement that savings be passed on to consumers.

The federal government will have to negotiate with Mr Palmer’s party after July 1, when it and key independents will hold the balance of power in the Senate.

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh said the government was pressing ahead with plans to get rid of the carbon tax in the face of evidence it was working at reducing emissions.

He said new figures showed a 0.8 per cent reduction in emissions for 2013.

“Now, that’s nearly one per cent. If we can get one per cent on an annualised basis, we would comfortably meet the five per cent emissions reduction target by 2020,” he told Sky News on Saturday.

Mr Leigh said this was the biggest fall in emissions in a quarter of a century and much of that was in the electricity sector.

“This is a policy which is working, which has reduced electricity emissions by 11 per cent since it came into effect, which is doing so while providing household assistance through increased allowances,” he said.


Blues fans need not worry, the Hayne Plane is soaring again.

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After being grounded all week with a leg cork, game-breaking fullback Jarryd Hayne left NSW teammates feeling awestruck at training on Saturday ahead of State of Origin II in Sydney on Wednesday night.

Hayne was able to run freely for the first time since entering camp at Coffs Harbour last Wednesday and the Blues are predicting their attacking freak will trump his breathless man-of-the-match display in the series opener.

“He was awesome,” said veteran back-rower Luke Lewis.

“He was flying today and we’ve got another big session tomorrow and I think we’ll see the best of him tomorrow and he’ll start to build up his preparation from tomorrow onwards.

“I think he’s in for another man-of-the-match performance hopefully.”

After Hayne’s devastating display in Brisbane, Lewis has no doubts the Maroons’ prime focus will be trying to limit his impact at ANZ Stadium – but he suspects the NSW No.1 will still find a way to terrorise Queensland once more.

“They would have done their homework,” Lewis said.

“Any game you play, even if it’s a club game, Haynesy is your No.1 priority if you play against him.

“You need to look after him and shut him down as best you can and I’m sure they’ll be doing that.

“But Haynesy’s been doing his video as well and I’m sure he’s got an attack to combat that as well.”

Hayne’s sublime game one showing ranked alongside some of Wally Lewis’s all-time great Origin performances, but Blues five-eighth Josh Reynolds is tipping the superstar fullback to take it up another level still.

“He’s one of those players you don’t know how far he can go, really. He’s a special player,” Reynolds said.

“The thing is, we can’t just hope for him to do that … We know he can do it. So it’s good to have there, but we’ve got to make sure we’re doing everything to help him out as well.

“There’s no expectation on him.”

Lewis said some of the tricks Hayne pulled off at training on Saturday were mind-blowing.

“He’s pretty skilful. You don’t realise,” Lewis said.

“You watch him on the field but when he’s at training he does all these other little soccer things when he flicks it up behind his back, heads it and then drop goals and it’s hit five out of five.

“He’s good value to have around, very competitive.”

With 18 interstate matches under his belt, Hayne is also the Blues’ most experienced Origin campaigner. Reynolds said the 26-year-old’s steadying influence on rookies like himself and halves partner Trent Hodkinson was invaluable.

“He’s that calm it’s not funny,” Reynolds said.

The Blues will ramp up their preparations on Sunday with a heavy team session before returning to Sydney for one final captain’s run as they look to clinch a first series win since 2005.


Brazil 2014 merchandise is popping up in many sports stores around the country but the items are not necessarily racing off the shop floor.

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Around 41,000 tickets to World Cup matches have been snapped up by Australians — the second largest foreign take-up of tickets behind the US and ahead of England and Colombia.

Former Socceroo Peter Katholos owns Football Depot in the Sydney suburb of Belmore. He says the retail industry is a tough business.

“It’s not an easy industry because you’re competing with the world and basically you’ve got online stores in the UK and Europe which people have got access to.”

His online sales form 40 per cent of total sales, but most purchases are made on the shop floor.

He is expecting a late rush.

“The next month is going to be busy and buzzing and people that haven’t got merchandise…When they go to an event, or they go to somebody’s house to watch things, they want to get dressed and have a scarf or a cap – because if they don’t, they’ll feel left out.”

Travel agents report ticket sales for trips to Brazil have already seen an uptick as enthusiasm for the World Cup ramps up.

The number of Australians visiting the country has doubled to more than 20,000 over the last decade, according to the Bureau of Statistics.

Felicia Georgas from Metro Travel in Marrickville says Brazil has pulling power.

“It’s got a fantastic culture.” she said.

“It’s got the flamboyant beach cutlure of Copacabana, the annual events like Carnival, [and] the natural wonders of the world like Iguazu Falls.”

She says her business has already seen an increase in Brazil-related inquiries because of the World Cup.

Goldman Sachs says around 41,000 tickets to World Cup matches have been snapped up by Australians. It is the second largest foreign take-up of tickets behind the US and ahead of England and Colombia.

While that means more Aussies on planes, Felicia Georgas says many have used the event as an excuse to bring forward their travel plans.

“Instead of travelling during the usual Christmas holiday period, they’ve chosen to visit family, relatives and friends around the World Cup instead.”

Believe it or not, the World Cup can make some investors a bit of money.

Goldman Sachs says the winning country can expect its sharemarket to outperform the global market by 3.5 per cent before those gains taper off.

Brazil will win either way. History shows the host nation’s sharemarket will see a brief outperformance, rising by 2.7 per cent.

Ultimately, it will be Brazil’s $2.5 trillion economy hoping for a boost, with low growth, high inflation, internationally uncompetitive labour costs and an overvalued currency hindering growth.

Economist at the University of New South Wales, Tim Harcourt says the World Cup is important to the Brazilian economy.

“They’ll get big increases in GDP with the influx of tourism and so on,” he said.

“The question is whether they would have built those stadiums and transport anyway or if they [would have] pulled it forward like they did in Sydney in 2000.”

Soccernomics? What does @FIFAWorldCup mean to Brazil? Watch @BUSINESSricardo & I on @SBSNews @Craig_Foster pic.twitter南宁桑拿网,/fvrBAtXtsa

— Tim Harcourt (@TimHarcourt) June 11, 2014

Its success is critical in aiding an economy which buys more than $740 million worth of Australian goods and services.


The US soldier freed in a swap with the Afghan Taliban is in stable condition after five years in captivity but has not yet reunited with his parents, military officers say.

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Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who returned to the US in an overnight flight, was undergoing medical treatment and speaking to psychologists at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

The 28-year-old “looked good” upon arrival, Major-General Joseph DiSalvo told a media conference.

He joked that Bergdahl appeared “a little bit nervous” before a two-star general like himself, “just like any sergeant would”.

Officials said Bergdahl’s reintegration process involved slowly increasing his chances to make choices and have control, something he was denied during his time in the Taliban’s hands.

Bergdahl was able to walk into the hospital without problems, and doctors were encouraged by his stable condition, said Colonel Ronald Wool, a physician at the medical centre.

“Overall, we’re pleased with his physical state,” he said.

“We allowed him to get settled in to the hospital and into his room and his environment, and we are going to be planning more comprehensive testing and consultation.”

The only American in uniform to be held by insurgents in the Afghanistan war, Bergdahl will eventually face questions from investigators about the circumstances of his disappearance and whether he deserted his post.

But first, he will receive more medical attention, as specialists gradually try to help him shift from a prisoner’s survival mode to more “normal” behaviour, officers said.

Under the military’s “reintegration” rules for freed prisoners of war, the soldier can decide when to meet family, but officials declined to specify a date for his parents’ first visit, to safeguard their privacy.

Amid a media frenzy over his case, Bergdahl’s parents, who live in Idaho, appealed to be left alone while they try to help their son.

His father, Bob Bergdahl, has said his family now faced a long road to aid their son’s recovery.

“It isn’t over for us,” he said last week. “In many ways, it’s just beginning for Jani and I and our family. There’s a long process here.”

Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance from a base in eastern Afghanistan fuelled speculation that the soldier abandoned his post before he was captured and that he may face prosecution by military authorities.

The US Army said that once Bergdahl’s “reintegration” was complete, “the army will continue its comprehensive review into the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity”.

The soldier was handed over to US special forces in Afghanistan on May 31 in return for five senior Taliban detainees who were sent to Qatar from the US military-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The exchange has triggered outrage among some US lawmakers who have accused President Barack Obama of capitulating to “terrorists” and failing to fulfil his obligations to give Congress advance notice about transfers of Guantanamo detainees.


(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Members of Australia’s Iraqi community have expressed their shock and concern over the latest wave of unrest in their homeland.

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It’s been estimated that half a million people have been forced to flee the city of Mosul after Islamic militants seized control, before pushing further south.

Rhiannon Elston reports.

It’s a busy weekday afternoon in the Sydney suburb of Auburn.

But there’s no business trading inside a main street barbershop, where Iraqi born workers and their clients gather around a television, watching scenes of the military crisis in Mosul play out.

Ali Mohamad is among them.

His wife lives close to Iraq’s second largest city.

“It’s ok. I called my wife, she says that it’s ok because she says school is stopping and everything because of the situation problem.”

He says she’s safe, for now.

But there are many others in the country that remain at risk.

In the tobacconist next door, Essam Zaki is worried about his family, living in Baghdad.

Though it’s quiet there now, he isn’t sure how long that will last.

“We are closely monitoring what is really hapening in Iraq, especially in this past last week, when everyone was surprised and shocked when a proportion of rebels were taking over the second-largest city in Iraq, which is Mosul.”

And the 29-year-old, who came to Australia as a refugee six years ago, can’t believe the government capitulated so quickly.

“Last ten years ago, because there was bombing everywhere, assassination, killing people, the first time they were surprised, they were shocked. But now, this time, everyone’s taking it naturally. However, this time they’re taking over big cities, so that’s a big concern to the Iraqi people.”

Australia is home to about 50,000 people who were born in Iraq — many of whom came here as refugees.

Those who have remained in Iraq through more than a decade of conflict are again facing displacement.

Mohammad Kandil is the head of communications at the group, Islamic Relief Australia.

“We are already in the process of delivering non-food items, clean water and food commodities to those who have been internally displaced. They are currently living in mosques, tents, friends’ homes in the region.”

The organisation has begun a fundraising campaign to help those displaced by the upsurge in violence in Iraq.

But like many aid agencies in the region they’ve had to suspend day-to-day operations in the wake of the crisis.

“The security situation is kind of spiralling out of control and it’s moving into areas surrounding the region. As well, electricity is not constant in the area so that is causing a lot of trouble for people who are fleeing to find a place to settle with their family.”

Ali Mohamad hopes his wife will soon be able to join him in Australia.

“She is waiting for an Australian visa. She is studying there for TAFE and after she is finishing the studying she is coming here.”

Until then, he watches, and waits.

 

 


Police used pepper spray to scatter protesters at Hong Kong’s government headquarters in an angry rally against plans for a new town development, with 21 arrested, officials say.

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About 900 people gathered at the city’s harbourfront government complex with some trying to force their way into the building to oppose the project, which they say will displace villagers and turn farmland into housing estates – favouring property developers.

Television footage showed protesters pushing over barricades and surging towards an entrance to the Legislative Council as MPs met to discuss funding for the development.

Police cordons inside and outside the building pushed back the rally late Friday as protesters tried to prise the doors open with bamboo sticks, shouting “Withdraw the plan”.

They managed to smash a hole in a glass panel, which police inside then used to pepper-spray protesters, while MPs were forced to suspend the meeting.

About 200 protesters then chained themselves together for a sit-in outside the building and anti-riot police were sent in to disperse them and make the arrests.

A police spokesman said a “minimal level of force” was used to handle the protest.

He added police had acted to remove the protesters upon a request from the Legislative Council – the city’s top legislative body.

Jasper Tsang, speaker of the Legislative Council, condemned the protest.

“We feel very regretful that some people disrupted the committee meeting of the Legislative Council through such means,” he told reporters on Saturday.

Hong Kong suffers from a serious shortage of housing, and government leader Leung Chun-ying made increasing supply a policy priority when he took office in 2012.

He hopes to cool record-high housing prices, which have rocketed due to an influx of investment from mainland China.

But concerns have been raised that the new housing projects threaten the city’s nature reserves and will encroach on its country parks.


By Julian Burnside, Australian Catholic University and Daniel Reynolds

Several years ago an asylum seeker wrote a letter about his experiences at the now-decommissioned Woomera Detention Centre.

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This is an extract:

I have been in this cage for 13 months … Why should all these women and children … be in this cage? What have we done? Where should we seek justice? Who should we talk to and tell our story?

Aren’t we human beings? … Animals in Australia have more rights than we have! They worth more than we do.

He was right on the last point: animals do have greater rights than asylum seekers in Australia. In fact, Australian law requires that animals be treated humanely, yet allows humans to be treated like animals.

Let’s start with animal rights. Legislation to protect animals in Australia dates back as far as 1837. Today, every state and territory has an animal protection act.

The federal government has taken an active role too, developing the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy in 2005. The strategy was implemented to ensure “that animals under human care or influence are healthy, properly fed and comfortable, and that efforts are made to improve their well-being and living conditions”, so that they receive “proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care and humane handling”.

For its rationale, the strategy explains that “a sentient animal is one that has the capacity to have feelings to experience suffering and pleasure. Sentience implies a level of conscious awareness”. It concludes:

Sentience is the reason that welfare matters.

Contrast this with asylum seekers’ rights in Australia. Asylum seekers and animals are both sentient beings, but Australia does not treat them with equal tenderness at a practical level. Instead, the government is solely concerned with dissuading boat people from reaching Australia, indifferent to the impact of a deterrence policy on those who risk their lives to get here.

An asylum seeker fleeing to Australia today can expect to face not only the risks of drowning or indefinite detention, but also the risk of being seriously wounded or even killed while under Australian care.

Disparity enshrined in law

This disparity is even more pronounced at a legal level. In Victoria it is an offence to torment or terrify an animal; to load, crowd or confine an animal in a place likely to cause unreasonable pain or suffering; or being the person in charge of an animal that is confined or unable to provide for itself, to fail to provide the animal with proper and sufficient food, drink or shelter.

In New South Wales, it is an offence to convey an animal in a manner that unnecessarily inflicts pain; to fail to provide an animal in your care with proper food, drink, shelter and even exercise; to commit or authorise any act of cruelty on an animal; and to fail to take reasonable steps to alleviate the pain of an animal that is suffering.

Penalties range from fines (up to $100,000) to imprisonment for a maximum of five years. Conviction rates are relatively high.

Allegations of cruelty can halt live animal exports, but Australia ships asylum seekers offshore regardless of evidence of their suffering. AAP/Xavier La Canna

Asylum seekers do not enjoy such protections. In recent times the treatment of boat people has been actively hostile.

On arrival at Christmas Island, most people are fairly distressed. Typically, they have spent five or six days in a small boat on the open ocean; have not had enough water to drink or food to eat; and have had no opportunity for ordinary sanitation, so they are likely wearing clothes soiled with their own faeces and urine.

After disembarking, they are not allowed to wash or change before their initial interview with Immigration Department officers. There is no obvious reason for this humiliation.

They are searched soon after arrival. Any medications or medical documentation are confiscated. Packets of tablets are popped out of their blister packs into a bin and thrown away. Medical prosthetic devices – artificial limbs, dentures, hearing aids, spectacles – are confiscated and not returned.

System causes suffering and sickness

A group of doctors employed by International Medical and Health Services (IHMS) to work in the system wrote to their employer in 2013 to protest at the conditions. Their letter reported:

… numerous unsafe practices and gross departures from generally accepted medical standards, which have posed significant risk to patients and caused considerable harm.

The letter included statements that:

Patients are “begging for treatment”;Asylum seekers must queue for up to three hours for medication. Some have to queue four times a day;Basic medical stocks are low. Drugs requested by doctors are not provided; andThere is a high risk of depression among children and no effective system for identifying children at risk.

One doctor who had worked on Christmas Island told of a woman who was displaying signs of extreme mental disturbance, which continued for many days. Working out the cause of the problem was made more difficult because the medical consultation took place via an interpreter who “attended” by phone from Sydney.

Ultimately, the doctor discovered the problem: the patient’s clothes had been confiscated on arrival. She had been issued with fresh clothes but no underwear; she was incontinent, so she could not walk around without urine running down her legs. The humiliation was driving her mad.

The doctor had difficulty arranging incontinence pads – these are not normally available. Even when it was agreed that pads would be made available, the department provides an inadequate supply. The woman has to ask for more each day, thus keeping her humiliation fresh.

For some asylum seekers, the consequences of mistreatment are even more severe. The tragic case of Reza Barati, who was killed while under Australian care in the Manus detention centre in February, has still not been satisfactorily accounted for.

Asylum seekers in immigration detention slip into hopelessness and despair as an entirely predictable result of their circumstances. They have no legal remedy because this mistreatment is mandated by Australian law and ignored by PNG and Nauruan law. Amnesty International has described the conditions in which people are held in Nauru as “a human rights catastrophe with no end in sight”.

Australian law entrenches clear protections designed to ensure that animals are treated responsibly, humanely and with dignity.

Asylum seekers should be so lucky.

Julian Burnside is patron of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Daniel Reynolds does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.