Belgian envoy decries Turnbull comments

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s linking of the European refugee crisis with the Brussels bombings is dangerous, the Belgian ambassador says.

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Mr Turnbull warned in a speech on Wednesday that Europe faces a “perfect storm” from failed or neglected migrant integration, foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria, and porous borders.

He said recent intelligence showed the Islamic State group was using the refugee crisis to send its operatives into Europe.

But Belgium’s ambassador to Australia Jean-Luc Bodson said such comments were dangerous.

“It’s dangerous because it’s precisely what (Islamic State) wants – that we would make a confusion between terrorism and migrants and between terrorism and Islam,” Mr Bodson told the ABC on Thursday.

“My view is that the terrorists who committed the latest attacks in Paris and in Belgium are European-raised and born. Maybe from foreign origins, but they are Europeans.

“So it has nothing to do with the refugee crisis and I think that is the main danger to assimilate that.”

Mr Turnbull told the ABC’s Lateline program on Thursday the Australian government carefully checks refugees.

“ASIO and our other agencies, the AFP and so forth, are taking great care in ensuring that those people who come in are as far as we can ascertain not people that would pose any security risk to Australians and we make no apology for that,” he said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was a “bit early” to start diagnosing what had happened in Brussels.

Australia’s national terror threat level is unchanged at “probable” following Tuesday’s airport and metro attacks in Brussels that killed at least 31 people and injured more than 200.

Australians are being advised to reconsider any travel to Belgium.

Security has been stepped up at Australia’s international airports.

European security officials said one of the suicide bombers was Najim Laachraoui, a Moroccan-born Belgian whom police had been hunting as the suspected bombmaker in the November 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

The other two suicide bombers were Belgian-born brothers, Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui, both known to the police as common criminals, not anti-Western radicals.

An unidentified fourth man shown in airport video surveillance footage remains at large after his suitcase bomb failed to detonate properly.

Kerry seeks further drop in Syria violence

US Secretary of State John Kerry says a fragile partial truce in Syria has reduced levels of violence there, but that he wants to see a further reduction as well as greater flows of humanitarian aid.

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Kerry was speaking at the start of a meeting in Moscow on Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and will later meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Peace talks in Geneva between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition are bogged down, and Washington believes that Moscow, closely allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, can nudge Damascus to make concessions.

“It’s fair to say three weeks ago there were very, very few people who believed a cessation of hostilities was possible in Syria,” Kerry told Lavrov at the start of their talks in Moscow.

“The result of that work has produced some progress. There has been a fragile (yet) nevertheless beneficial reduction in violence.”

Kerry said there was a hope that his meetings in Moscow could “further find and chart the road ahead so that we can bring this conflict in Syria to a close as fast as possible.”

Russia and the United States have emerged as the two outside powers with a decisive say in what happens next in Syria’s five year-old civil conflict.

The United States and its allies has been backing armed groups that rose up against Assad’s rule, while Moscow has asserted its role with a five-month military campaign that turned the tide of the fighting in Assad’s favour.

Kerry said he was looking forward to constructive conversations with Lavrov and Putin, and said it was encouraging that Russia and the United States were able to co-operate “despite differences … in the face of this urgency to do what is necessary to meet the challenge.”

Commenting on the cessation of hostilities, Lavrov said: “Our cooperation on Syria, our persistence allowed us to succeed because we worked by forming a balance of interests, not only those of Moscow and Washington but also of all the sides involved both in Syria and outside it.”

Wright into Rip Curl Pro second round

Unflustered by a couple of early falls, world championship pacesetter Tyler Wright has powered into the second round of the women’s Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach.

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The Australian’s off to a flying start in 2016 after winning the season opener on the Gold Coast last week, as she chases her first world crown.

She carried her form into day one at Bells on Thursday, racking up a combined two-wave score of 15.43 points to overcome Hawaiian Coco Ho (14.20) and American Sage Erickson (7.76).

“I knew that the lines I was taking were the correct lines. It’s just that sometimes the wave throws up a little section you can’t see because you’re already halfway through the turns,” Wright said after twice falling off her board early in the non-elimination heat.

“I just backed it off a touch so I could finish and complete a wave.

“But I was comfortable the whole time.”

Wright was the only Australian heat winner on Thursday, with six-times world champ Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons pitched into sudden-death second-round encounters.

Bianca Buitendag from South Africa edged Gilmore in the opening heat, while Fitzgibbons was pushed into second spot in her heat by Hawaiian Malia Manuel.

The other round-one winners were reigning world champion Carissa Moore from Hawaii, American Courtney Conlogue and France’s Johanne Defay.

Mick Fanning will not start the defence of his Rip Curl Pro men’s title until Good Friday.

Organisers decided not to begin the men’s event on Thursday because much bigger waves are expected during the Easter long weekend.

Three-time world champ Fanning will take a sabbatical from the pro tour after the Bells Beach event is over.

He decided he needed a break following a tough 2015, which included a shark attack in South Africa, a marriage break-up and the death of his brother.

Finkel review: Coalition MPs play down heated energy debate

A coalition party room meeting had to be extended into Tuesday evening to debate a report by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel which, amongst other recommendations for the nation’s electricity system, proposes a clean energy target.

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Nationals MP Mark Coulton was angered to see reports based on leaks by “some pissant”.

“The reports … are simplistic and do not really relate the burden of responsibility that the coalition is carrying on their shoulders at the moment,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

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Mr Coulton said it was wrong to portray MPs as either being “for Finkel, or against Finkel”.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the various views would be used to prepare a submission to cabinet, and then return to the party room.

“That’s how a proper democratic process should work,” he said.

Mr Joyce insisted the party hears the need for affordable power.

“We don’t have that titanic religious position the Labor Party has where you can’t mention the word coal.”

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Junior minister Zed Seselja labelled the discussion a “very healthy debate” focusing on lower energy costs, energy security, and meeting emission reduction targets.

Liberal MP Jane Prentice raised the need to consider nuclear power.

Labor senator Anthony Chisholm said coalition MPs were was fighting among themselves while Australian families were missing out.

“The Abbott-Turnbull wars are back,” he told reporters.

The Clean Energy Target was a sensible proposal that should’ve been taken seriously. Once again, Turnbull has failed on climate change.

— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) June 13, 2017

Senator Chisholm pointed to the reported tense exchange between former prime minister Tony Abbott and Liberal frontbencher Craig Laundy after the meeting.

“It shows that this is not business as usual,” he said. “They are absolutely at war over the Finkel report and the tragedy is that the Australian people are the losers from it.”

Greens MP Adam Bandt said the government should cut loose Mr Abbott and fellow climate change deniers.

“I am sick of this parliament wasting so much time trying to devise a climate policy just aimed at keeping Tony Abbott happy,” he said. 

Why the Maroons are better for Origin II

WHY QUEENSLAND ARE BETTER FOR STATE OF ORIGIN GAME II

BILLY SLATER

Slater’s puzzling omission from Game I may not have cost them the match, but the Maroons needed his spark from the back.

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Slater, who turns 34 on Sunday, has scored five tries and set up 12 in 11 games for Melbourne since returning from his latest career-threatening shoulder injury, and is the Maroons’ equal third all-time tryscorer with 12 from 27 matches.

THE CENTRES

The likely shift of Will Chambers to right centre could shut down the ever-dangerous Jarryd Hayne. Chambers has missed just nine tackles in his five Origin games to be considered safe in the backs. In comparison the man he is replacing, Justin O’Neill, missed eight tackles in Origin I.

CLUB COMBINATIONS

The Maroons now have super combinations where it matters most. The return of Slater at fullback to join Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk reunites Melbourne’s spine and spells constant danger for the Blues. Smith also has a strong combination with debutant prop Tim Glasby, having put him over for a try last weekend against Cronulla. Meanwhile Johnathan Thurston works well on the edges with Cowboys teammates Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess who have been called in.

A BETTER PACK

The Maroons were dominated in the pack in Game I, but an injection of in-form players should at least temper that. Jarrod Wallace, Coen Hess, Gavin Cooper and Tim Glasby have been chosen to stem NSW’s Andrew Fifita-led dominance up front, giving the Maroons’ star-studded backline and halves the chance to work their magic.

JOHNATHAN THURSTON

It’s stating the obvious to say Thurston will have a strong influence on return from injury and the numbers illustrate that it’s no fluke their great Origin run has coincided with his career. Thurston has set up more tries (30) than any player in Origin history, along with the second most line-break assists (32) in his 36 games for 23 wins.

*Stats courtesy Fox Sports

Jailed US student flown out of North Korea ‘in coma’

The release of Otto Warmbier, 18 months into a 15-year sentence, came as US President Donald Trump invited South Korea’s new leader Moon Jae-In to Washington for talks on the nuclear stand-off.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said his department had “secured” the 22-year-old’s release in talks with North Korea and is pushing for three more Americans to be freed. It was not immediately clear if he had made any concessions.

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The news came as flamboyant retired NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman — a former contestant on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality show — flew to Pyongyang to resume his quixotic quest to broker detente between his US homeland and Kim Jong-Un’s authoritarian regime.

“Otto has left North Korea,” his parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement to CNN. “He is on medivac flight on his way home. Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016. We learned of this only one week ago.”

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Warmbier’s parents were told their son was given a sleeping pill soon after his trial in March last year but never woke up. A Washington Post report says the parents had been told he may have been infected by botulism while in the North Korea jail system.

Tillerson told US senators at the start of a budget hearing that the State Department had no comment on Mr Warmbier’s condition, “out of respect for him and his family.”

The United States had accused the North of using Warmbier as a political pawn, and condemned the sentence as far out of proportion to his alleged crime.

File: American student Otto Warmbier speaks as Warmbier is presented to reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea.AAP

The announcement came amid tension between Washington and Pyongyang following a series of missile tests by the North, focusing attention on an arms build-up that Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on Monday dubbed “a clear and present danger to all.” 

Almost immediately on taking office in January, Trump and his team — having been briefed by outgoing leader Barack Obama — declared the North’s attempts to build, test and arm a nuclear-capable ballistic missile to be Washington’s biggest threat.

Washington has stepped up pressure on China and other foreign powers to enforce existing UN sanctions, and has deployed increased military assets of its own in the region.

Now, parallel to this track, basketball showman Rodman has arrived in Pyongyang, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a cryptocurrency set up for marijuana marketers.

The star has visited the Stalinist state at least four times before, most recently in 2014 when he attracted a deluge of criticism after being filmed singing happy birthday to his “friend for life,” leader Kim.

Before arriving this time, Rodman told reporters that Trump would be happy with the trip, since he was “trying to accomplish something that we both need,” sparking speculation that he may be operating as an unofficial envoy.

US officials dismissed this, saying he was travelling as a private citizen, but the basketball icon is probably Kim and Trump’s only mutual friend.

Related reading ‘Worst mistake’ 

Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, was arrested for removing a political banner from a wall in a North Korean hotel during a visit.

He was detained at the airport as he was leaving the country with a tour group in January 2016.

At a press conference before his trial, a sobbing Warmbier said he had made “the worst mistake of my life” and pleaded to be released.

The other US citizens currently being held by North Korea include Kim Hak-Song and Tony Kim, both professors at the Pyongyang University of Science and technology. They were arrested this year for “hostile acts” and trying to “overturn” the regime. 

Korean-American Kim Dong-Chul was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years’ hard labor on charges of subversion and espionage.

The North has occasionally jailed US citizens and released them only after visits by high-profile political figures, including former president Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, the White House said Moon and Trump will meet on June 29 and 30 to discuss ways of building on what America frequently calls its “ironclad” alliance with South Korea.

Moon, a center-left politician who was sworn in last month after a landslide election win, wants to engage with the North to bring it to the negotiating table, rather than continuing the hardline stance taken by his ousted predecessor Park Geun-Hye.

Trump gives military authority to set Afghan troop levels as Mattis admits US ‘not winning’

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no immediate decision had been made about the troop levels, which are now set at about 8,400.

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The Pentagon declined to comment.

The decision is similar to one announced in April that applied to US troop levels in Iraq and Syria, and came as Mattis warned Congress the US-backed Afghan forces were not beating the Taliban despite more than 15 years of war.

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier on Tuesday. “And we will correct this as soon as possible.”

Mattis said the Taliban were “surging” at the moment, something he said he intended to address.

Mattis says ‘we’re not winning’ in Afghanistan

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It has been four months since Army General John Nicholson, who leads US and international forces in Afghanistan, said he needed “a few thousand” additional forces, some potentially drawn from US allies.

Current and former US officials say discussions revolve around adding 3,000 to 5,000 troops. Those forces are expected to be largely comprised of trainers to support Afghan forces, as well as air crews.

Deliberations include giving more authority to forces on the ground and taking more aggressive action against Taliban fighters.

Some US officials have questioned the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan because any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security. To date, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and more than 17,000 wounded since the war began in 2001.

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Any increase of several thousand troops would leave American forces in Afghanistan well below their 2011 peak of more than 100,000 troops.

The Afghan government was assessed by the US military to control or influence just 59.7 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts as of Feb. 20, a nearly 11 percentage-point decrease from the same time in 2016, according to data released by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

A truck bomb explosion in Kabul last month killed more than 150 people, making it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a NATO-led coalition after ruling the country for five years.

On Saturday, three US soldiers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them in eastern Afghanistan.

The broader regional US strategy for Afghanistan remains unclear. Mattis promised on Tuesday to brief lawmakers on a new war strategy by mid-July that is widely expected to call for thousands more US troops.

Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, pressed Mattis on the deteriorating situation during the Tuesday hearing, saying the United States had an urgent need for “a change in strategy, and an increase in resources if we are to turn the situation around.”

“We recognize the need for urgency,” Mattis said.

Sara Zelenak’s mum attends London attack inquests opening

The mother of Australian nanny Sara Zelenak has sat in a London court to hear how her daughter was killed in the London Bridge terror attack at the start of inquests into the deadly rampage.

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Julie Wallace, with her partner Mark Wallace by her side, was in attendance as Coroner Andrew Harris opened and adjourned inquests at the Southwark Coroner’s Court on Tuesday for five victims of the attack.

“All of our thoughts and condolences are with you at this terrible time, one of the most horrible things is for parents to be in court hearing the details of a death, particularly a violent one, of their children,” he told them.

Ms Zelenak, 21, and South Australian woman Kirsty Boden, 28, were among the eight people killed on June 3, when three attackers ploughed into pedestrians with a white van before stabbing revellers in Borough Market.

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Details of the frenzied knife attacks on unarmed victims in the London Bridge terror attack were set out at the inquests into their deaths.

Ms Zelenak, from Brisbane was found in Borough High Street, stabbed in the neck, and was subsequently identified by dental records and DNA.

Ms Boden, from Loxton, South Australia, ran towards the danger in a selfless bid to save people.

She was found in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, on Montague Close, with a stab wound to her chest, and was later identified by DNA and dental records.

Australian attack survivor speaks out

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The inquest also detailed how Sebastien Belanger, 26, of France, James McMullan, 32, from London and Ignacio Echeverria, 39, from Spain all died in the area on June 3.

McMullan, from Brent, northwest London, was killed by a haemorrhage after being stabbed in the chest in Borough Market.

He was found lying outside the post office on Borough High Street and was later identified by his father.

Chef Mr Belanger, originally from Angers, western France, was drinking at the nearby Boro Bistro when he was stabbed repeatedly in the chest, the inquest heard.

His body was located in Borough Market and he was identified by dental records and fingerprints while his loved ones spent several days unaware of his fate.

HSBC analyst Mr Echeverria, from As Pontes, Spain, was knifed in the back on London Bridge, having tried to defend a woman with his skateboard. His body was identified by his brother several days later, the hearing was told.

Armed police shot dead ringleader Khuram Butt, 27, and his two accomplices Rachid Redouane, 30, and Youssef Zaghba, 22, just eight minutes after the first emergency call was made.

The inquest proceedings were suspended by the coroner so the vast police operation was not hampered by his investigation.

A hearing will take place on Wednesday into the deaths of Canadian Christine Archibald, 30, and Frenchmen Xavier Thomas, 45, and Alexandre Pigeard, 26.

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Sex offenders to have wings clipped

The federal government has flagged tougher sentences for Australian child sex offenders as it moves to ban thousands of them from travelling overseas.

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Wednesday introduced to parliament draft laws to restrict the movement of about 20,000 registered offenders.

The legislation creates a new offence for reportable offenders to travel or attempt to travel overseas without permission.

It also gives the minister the power to deny them a passport when requested.

More than 770 Australian child sex offenders went abroad in 2016 – half of whom were deemed “medium to high risk” by police.

A third of them violated an obligation to tell police of their intended travel.

“These offenders have a high propensity to re-offend in countries where they are not monitored and where child sexual exploitation is rampant,” Ms Bishop said.

“These laws will make Australia a world leader in protecting vulnerable children from child sex tourism.”

Existing measures were ineffective and the process resource-intensive, she told MPs, but the new bill addresses those deficiencies.

“These tough new measures send a strong message to child sex offenders that they cannot use overseas travel to sexually exploit and abuse children,” she said.

Any decision by the foreign minister to cancel or refuse to issue a passport to an offender cannot be appealed by a review board under the proposal.

Ms Bishop flagged further legislation to criminalise “emerging forms of child sexual exploitation” and strengthen the sentencing and management of Commonwealth child sex offenders.

She hopes the bills will be introduced to parliament in the Spring sitting.

“Such abhorrent crimes will not be tolerated.”

Labor said it was prepared to work constructively with the government on the issue but was waiting to see more details.

“We all want to ensure what is best for Australian children and indeed children from overseas as well,” Senator Anthony Chisolm told reporters in Canberra.

Macron says ‘door always open’ for UK to stay in EU

The meeting in Paris followed the leaders’ remarkably different political fortunes in the past week, which saw Macron’s party headed for a massive parliamentary majority, while May lost her slim advantage in the House of Commons.

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“Of course the door is always open as long as the negotiations on Brexit have not finished,” Macron said in a press conference.

But he stressed that the British people had taken the sovereign decision to leave the 28-member bloc in their referendum a year ago, adding that the beginning of talks would be a milestone.

“Once it (the Brexit process) has started we need to be collectively clear that it’s more difficult to reverse course,” he said at the Elysee palace.

May stressed that she would stick to her timetable of starting Brexit discussions next week in Brussels, saying the talks were “on course”, despite her domestic difficulties.

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Her Conservative party lost its majority in a bungled snap election last week which some observers suggested might lead May to abandon her plans for a so-called “hard Brexit”.

But she countered: “There’s a unity of purpose among people in the UK. It’s a unity of purpose having voted to leave the EU that their government gets on with that and makes a success of it.” 

Crackdown on online extremism

 After their talks, May and Macron watched a football friendly between England and France where a minute’s silence was held before kick-off to remember the victims of recent terror attacks in Manchester and London.

The order of the national anthems was reversed, leading thousands of French fans to put aside centuries of rivalry, war and their own history of regicide in a moment of cross-Channel solidarity.

“God Save The Queen” they thundered before the match began. 

The poignant moment served to underline May and Macron’s main message, namely that France and Britain will continue to work together despite Brexit. However there was no comfort for May on the pitch, with France running out 3-2 winners.

The French and British leaders also announced a joint action plan to crack down on extremism and terror propaganda online, accusing internet companies and social media networks of doing too little.

The measures aim “to ensure the internet cannot be used as a safe space for criminals and terrorists and it cannot be used to host the radicalising material that leads to so much harm,” May said.

Priorities include looking into encrypted communication platforms used by extremists to evade security forces and new laws to impose penalties on internet companies which fail to remove offensive content.

Facebook, Twitter and other social networks had long argued that they were unable to monitor content posted online by their users, but have grown increasingly sensitive to criticism. 

Germany lawmakers recently introduced legislation requiring internet companies to remove content flagged as hate speech within 24 hours.

Macron vs May 

Before May arrived to meet Macron, many commentators had underlined their contrasting fortunes. He is a 39-year-old centrist seemingly clearing all obstacles from his path after standing in and winning his first-ever election this spring.

Last Sunday, his new Republic On The Move party won the first round of parliamentary elections and is on course for control.

She is a 60-year-old rightwing veteran now fighting to keep her job following the loss of the Conservative party’s majority.

“Everyone assumes that she’s a zombie,” Francois Heisbourg, a former French diplomat and chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, told AFP.

He also repeated the conclusion of May’s former cabinet colleague George Osborne, now the editor of the London Evening Standard newspaper, who called her a “dead woman walking”.

Macron’s comments on leaving the “door open” are likely to encourage Britain’s minority europhiles who still dream of keeping Britain inside the European Union.

But the reversal of the historic Brexit decision last June would probably require another referendum. 

Macron’s comments were echoed on Tuesday by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

“If they wanted to change their decision, of course they would find open doors, but I think it’s not very likely,” Schaeuble told Bloomberg Television.

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Israel returns envoy to NZ, ends rift

Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand is returning to his post, ending a six-month rift in relations over a United Nations resolution against Israeli settlements on occupied territory which Palestinians seek for a state.

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Israel recalled its ambassador in December after New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal sponsored a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement activity .

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the two leaders spoke on the phone earlier this week, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Michal Maayan said in a statement on Tuesday.

“I regret the damage done to Israel-New Zealand relations as a result of New Zealand proposing Resolution 2344 at the Security Council,” English wrote, according to the Foreign Ministry statement on Tuesday.

The UN resolution passed in the 15-member Security Council because the United States, under the administration of former President Barack Obama, did not wield its veto power and instead abstained, breaking with its long-standing tradition of diplomatically shielding Israel at the international body.

Continued settlement building on land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War and which Palestinians hope will eventually form part of an independent state has drawn criticism from the United Nations and most of the international community. Palestinians cite it as a major obstacle in now-stalled peace talks.

On June 4 Israel said it was returning its ambassador to Senegal, after recalling him over the UN Security Council resolution. Israel does not have diplomatic ties with Malaysia and Venezuela.

Maayan said the Israeli ambassador to New Zealand will return to Wellington in the next few days.

New US strategy demanded in Afghan war

US Senators have sharply criticised Pentagon leaders for failing to complete a new strategy for the 16-year war in Afghanistan, as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis acknowledged that “the enemy is surging right now”.

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Just a few hours later, President Donald Trump gave Mattis the authority to make decisions on US troop levels in Afghanistan, officials told The Associated Press.

The officials, who spoke on Tuesday on condition of anonymity said the move gives Mattis the ability to adjust troop levels more quickly.

At the Senate hearing earlier, Senator John McCain demanded that Mattis wrap up his plan for the war, threatening that, “unless we get a strategy from you, you’re going to get a strategy from us”.

He said he had expected the plan in the first 30 to 60 days of the new administration and snapped: “We want a strategy. I don’t think that’s a helluva lot to ask.”

Mattis, in response, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he will provide details on the new strategy for the war in mid-July.

The US has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan and earlier this year, the Pentagon was considering a request for roughly 3,000 more troops, mainly for training and advising. That decision, however, has been stalled by the broader administration review of Afghan policy and a push for NATO to contribute more troops.

Mattis left no doubt about the situation.

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible.”

The Taliban’s resurgence has been coupled with a growing threat from Islamic State militants trying to establish a foothold in the country. The increased fight has led to a recent string of American deaths.

Women dress as ‘handmaids’ to protest US anti-abortion bill

Sixteen women in the US state of Ohio have dressed as characters from the dystopian TV show ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ to protest a proposed bill which would ban the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions.

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Based on the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, the show explores a dystopian future in which ‘handmaids’ are captured and forced to become pregnant surrogates after fundamentalists take control of the United States.

Donning white bonnets and red robes, the women staged a silent protest against a state bill which would ban the ‘dilation and evacuation’ abortion method – which health experts say is the safest and most common abortion procedure for women in the 12th to 23rd weeks of pregnancy.

The procedure, described as ‘dismemberment abortion’ in the legislation, involves removing fetal tissue through the cervix using a range of medical instruments.

The wording of the legislation itself borrows from anti-abortion activists’ talking points, describing tools which “slice, crush and/or grasp a portion of the unborn child’s body to cut or rip it off.”

Exemptions exist in cases where the mother’s life is endangered.

The room has really filled up now. The handmaids sit silently. #SB145 #Ohio #ProChoice #HandmaidsTale pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/Bwia6TjbT4

— Rachel Coyle (@RRuby44) June 13, 2017

The legislation is part of a coordinated effort by the National Right to Life anti-abortion lobby group, which has successfully campaigned for similar legislation in several other states.

Roughly eight per cent of abortions in the United States are performed in the second trimester.

Anti-abortion activists say they are seeking to prevent a brutal medical procedure, but opponents of the bill say the move is a cynical attempt to circumvent constitutional abortion rights by blocking a safe and common method.

“Let’s call Senate Bill 145 what it is: part of a broader effort to end access to safe, legal abortion in Ohio,” said NARAL Pro-Choice lobby group Deputy Director Jaime Miracle.

Ms Miracle said the demonstration was inspired by a similar ‘handmaids’ protest in Texas earlier this year.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, one of the year’s most critically acclaimed shows, has inspired several similar protests against anti-abortion legislation.

The entire series will be available to Australian viewers on July 6, when it premieres on SBS On Demand.

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