Thai crisis: PM faces charges, clashes kill four

The National Anti-Corruption Commission said that if found guilty of the charges – which relate to a controversial rice subsidy scheme – Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could be removed from office.

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The announcement came hours after gunfire and explosions shook an area of the city’s historic district just a short walk away from major tourist attractions, as riot police moved to clear sites of protest rallies.

 

A policeman was shot dead and three civilians were killed, according to the Erawan Medical Centre. Nearly 60 other people were injured, including one foreigner.

 

The protesters have staged more than three months of mass street rallies demanding Yingluck’s resignation.

 

Police launched another operation to reclaim besieged government buildings and clear rally sites on Tuesday, tearing through razor wire and sandbag barricades near the capital’s Democracy Monument.

They met fierce resistance from protesters and were eventually forced to retreat amid gunfire. It was unclear who was shooting.

 

About 150 opposition demonstrators were arrested at a different rally site at an energy ministry complex in the capital on charges of violating a state of emergency – the first mass detentions during the current protests began.

Thailand has been periodically rocked by mass demonstrations staged by rival protest groups since a military coup in 2006 that ousted then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother.

 

Yingluck’s opponents say she is a puppet for her brother Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician who fled overseas in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.

 

The protesters are demanding Yingluck hand power to a temporary, unelected government that would carry out reforms to tackle corruption and alleged misuse of public funds before new elections are held.

 

The National Anti-Corruption Commission said Yingluck had ignored warnings that the flagship rice policy was fostering corruption and causing financial losses. It summoned her to hear the charges on February 27.

Demonstrators have blocked major intersections in a self-styled shutdown of the capital, although attendance has dropped sharply compared with December and January.

 

Yingluck’s government held a general election on February 2 to try to ease tensions, but the opposition boycotted the vote, saying it would not end the long-running political crisis.

Top commander sent to Manus Island

Operation Sovereign Borders commander Angus Campbell is being sent to Manus Island to assess security measures at the detention centre following a deadly riot this week.

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Lieutenant General Campbell arrives on Thursday morning and will report back to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison with any suggested security improvements.

Iran, Labor and the Australian Greens want answers over the death of a 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker during a fracas outside an Australian-run detention centre on Manus Island.

The man, an ethnic Faili Kurd, was among the first asylum seekers sent to PNG under former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd’s resettlement deal with the PNG government in July 2013, the Refugee Action Coalition says.

The man died after the Monday night riot, in which 76 other asylum seekers were also injured, with five requiring medical evacuations.

Australian ambassador to Iran Paul Foley on Tuesday spoke to Iran’s foreign ministry about the death. Consular director Seyyed Hossein Mirfakhar was reported to have expressed Iran’s “protest and discontent” about the “practice of violence and mistreatment” that led to the death.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said only that “Ambassador Foley met officials from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the death of an Iranian national”.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said it was a “bit rich” of Iran to criticise Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers considering its own human rights record.

PNG authorities are investigating the death.

After Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, demanded an independent inquiry into the violence, Mr Morrison confirmed someone from outside his department will investigate the incident.

“We need to understand why the Manus Island detention facility is melting down under Morrison’s watch,” Mr Marles told reporters in Canberra.

However, he said the PNG detention centre was the linchpin of Australia’s strategy of stopping asylum-seeker boats, and there was no need to stop transferring asylum seekers there.

Mr Morrison said the inquiry would be conducted along the same lines as those under the previous Labor government into fires and riots at Nauru detention centre, Villawood and Christmas Island.

Mr Morrison said the mood was calm and quiet at the detention centre overnight, but 51 security staff are enroute to Manus Island from Brisbane to help beef up protection at the facility.

Manus Island local MP Ron Knight said the actions of PNG police in the riots would be scrutinised.

“The mobile squad of Papua New Guinea is rated as the second-toughest police force in the world and they don’t play around,” he told ABC Radio.

“If it’s found the police acted in the wrong circumstances, police will be charged.”

Mr Morrison confirmed the mobile squad were present on Monday night.

“They were never to my knowledge in the camp,” he said.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said the Iranian man’s death was a murder, not a tragic incident as Mr Morrison had described it.

He accused Mr Morrison of being selective in describing the injuries of asylum seekers. He said Mr Morrison did not reveal that one Iranian asylum seeker airlifted to Port Moresby had his throat slit during the riots.

Principal lied about abuse case: Church

The Catholic Church has accused a former principal of lying under oath about a child sex abuse scandal at his primary school.

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Terence Hayes has admitted he didn’t tell police, superiors or parents the full truth about allegations against pedophile teacher Gerard Byrnes in 2007 and 2008.

But Mr Hayes also admitted to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Wednesday that he knew at the time he had an obligation to tell police.

He was first told of serious sexual abuse allegations against Byrnes in September 2007, but kept them secret from parents and police until the teacher was arrested in November 2008.

Mr Hayes himself was tried in 2009 for failing to pass on the allegations to police.

He was found not guilty after proving he understood his instructions were to report sex abuse claims only to superiors at the Catholic Education Office.

However, under a savage and unrelenting cross-examination by Jane Needham for the Church, Mr Hayes admitted on Wednesday he had been told by superiors that he was obligated to report any child sex abuse claims to police.

Ms Needham asked Mr Hayes if he understood that those two positions were fundamentally inconsistent.

“Yes,” he replied.

Ms Needham then put to the former principal that he lied during his 2009 trial and then made up stories to pass on blame and get himself out of trouble at the Royal Commission.

“I deny that,” Mr Hayes said.

Ms Needham said: “I put to you that you are quite prepared to make things up to suit whatever situation you find yourself in”.

“I categorically deny that,” he replied.

But it is understood that counsel assisting could refer Mr Hayes, who still works as a Catholic school teacher, to the Department of Public Prosecutions over his inconsistent evidence.

Mr Hayes agreed his failure to report Byrnes, even though he thought he was a risk to students, amounted to gross incompetence.

For the first time during the hearing an emotional Mr Hayes also expressed remorse about what had happened under his watch.

“I knew every child in my school. I knew 90 per cent of the parents by first name and so that catastrophic situation that happened, all that happened in the last six years has been central to me, but I’ve never forgotten where the real pain lies.”

A short time later Commissioner Jennifer Coate excused Mr Hayes, before his superior Christopher Fry took the stand briefly.

The hearing continues on Thursday.

Fugitive Venezuelan opposition leader turns himself in

 Lopez, blamed by President Nicolas Maduro for violent clashes that left three people dead last week, appeared at an anti-government rally in eastern Caracas and quickly surrendered to the National Guard after delivering a brief speech.

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He was escorted to a National Guard vehicle amid a tumult among his followers and the media.

   

Lopez dropped out of public view after Maduro ordered his arrest on charges of homicide and inciting violence, but in a video message on Sunday, he invited his followers to join him in a march Tuesday at which he would turn himself in.

The Maduro government is grappling with angry student protests orchestrated by Lopez that began in the interior of the oil-rich country and boiled over last week in street clashes in Caracas that left three dead.

It’s believed the violence flared when students at a university in the western state of Tachira staged a demonstration against rampant crime after a student was raped.

  

Maduro’s regime has issued a warrant for his arrest, but Lopez — who has been underground for the past several days — emerged, undaunted, at Tuesday’s demonstration to cheers of protesters.

   

Lopez issued a statement on Sunday, all but encouraging authorities to apprehend him at the demonstration.

   

“I have nothing to fear,” he said. “I’ve done nothing wrong,” he wrote, taunting the government on Twitter.

   

“If there is some decision to illegally jail me, I will be there to assume that persecution,” he said.

   

His staunch opposition to the government dates back to the regime of late firebrand president Hugo Chavez, who in 2011 barred him from holding political office for three years.

   

His party, Voluntad Popular or People’s Will party, has been front and center in leading the demonstrations that have roiled this oil-rich nation, which has been deeply divided in the aftermath of Chavez’s death and the unsteady stewardship of the economy by Maduro.

   

The demonstrations have sprung up amid growing public discontent over rising crime and a worsening economy, despite having the world’s biggest proven oil reserves.

Lopez and two other opposition leaders — deputy Maria Corina Machado and the mayor of metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma — advocate using street protests to force Maduro from office.

   

The strategy, which they dub “the exit,” is controversial even within the opposition.

 

Park’s World Cup hopes improve after recall for friendly

He recently joined Championship (second tier) side Watford on loan until the end of the season, boosting his chances of more playing opportunities.

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Hong had left the former South Korea captain, who played at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, out of his squad for previous warmup matches for this year’s finals and said this might be his “last chance” to see Park before naming his squad for Brazil.

“I agonised over this decision,” Hong told reporters on Wednesday. “I spoke to him on the phone a few times.

“Though he’s not playing at the moment, I figured he is still in decent form, and it wouldn’t be a problem to have him on our time.”

South Korea, who will be making their eighth consecutive appearance at the World Cup finals in Brazil, lost their recent friendly matches to Mexico and the United States and will play Greece in Athens on March 5.

The Koreans have been drawn in Group H in Brazil, alongside Belgium, Russia and Algeria at the June 12-July 13 tournament.

Squad: Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka), Kim Seung-gyu (Ulsan Hyundai), Kwak Tae-hwi (Al Hilal), Hong Jeong-ho (Augusburg), Hwang Seok-ho (Hirosima Sanfrecce), Cha Du-ri (FC Seoul), Kim Jin-soo (Albirex Niigata), Lee Yong (Ulsan Hyundai), Park Joo-ho (FSV Mainz 05), Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff City), HA Dae-sung (Beijing Guoan), Koo Ja-cheol (FSV Mainz 05), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton), Ki Sung-yueng (Sunderland), Nam Tae-hee (Lekhwiya SC), Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen), Park Jong-woo (Guangzhou R&F), Han Kook-young (Shonan Bellmare), Ji Dong-won (Augusburg), Lee Keun-ho (Sangju Sangmu), Park Chu-young (Watford), Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Hyundai)

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by John O’Brien)

Echidna, wallabies among seized animals

Wildlife officers say they have seized almost 100 exotic animals and birds, including cockatoos, echidnas and wallabies, that had been smuggled into the Philippines for sale to wealthy collectors.

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The cache, hidden in small containers in a van, was made up of wildlife from Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, said Eric Gallego, spokesman for the local office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

They included yellow-crested cockatoos and long-beaked echidnas, two species listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

They also included four wallabies from Australia and about 90 exotic parrots from Indonesia, said Gallego.

Several of the birds or animals had died, possibly from the stress of long travel in harsh conditions, he said.

Law enforcers acting on a tip stopped a van with the wildlife and two attendants in the southern city of Surigao on Mindanao island on Saturday, just as the vehicle was about to board a ship heading north.

The birds and animals are believed to have been shipped from Indonesia to Malaysia and then across the maritime border to the southern Philippines where they would be taken to Manila, said Gallego.

“There must have been an order from a rich person in Manila for the animals as collector’s items. It must be someone who is into rare animals,” he told AFP.

The head of the government’s wildlife division Josefina de Leon said a crime syndicate with members from different countries was known to be smuggling rare animals from Malaysia into the southern Philippines.

Two men caught with the van will be charged with illegally transporting wildlife, a crime punishable up to six months in jail and a 50,000-peso ($A1,245) fine depending on the rarity of the animals involved.

Boat trespass won’t happen again: Morrison

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is confident there won’t be a repeat of Australian border-protection vessels entering Indonesian waters.

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A Defence and Customs review has found Australian ships inadvertently entered Indonesian territory six times in December and January.

“On each occasion the incursion was inadvertent, in that each arose from incorrect calculation of the boundaries of Indonesian waters, rather than as a deliberate action or navigational error,” the review says.

Mr Morrison described the breaches as accidents.

“It’s very clear from the government’s policies and operational instructions that operations were to be done only where it was safe to do so and they were not to incur on Indonesian sovereign territory within 12 nautical miles of the archipelagical (sic) baseline,” Mr Morrison told Macquarie Radio.

“It was an accident.”

He said measures were in place to ensure there were no repeat incidents.

The minister confirmed formal apologies to Indonesia took place weeks ago.

The joint review examines all patrols by navy and customs vessels on Operation Sovereign Borders between December 1 and January 20.

Customs has released only the executive summary of the review, which does not disclose what the Australian vessels were doing when they entered Indonesian waters, or how far they intruded.

There had been speculation they might have been towing back asylum seeker boats.

A range of policies and procedures will now be reassessed, and the chiefs of the navy and customs will consider if there were any lapses in professional conduct.

Training for Australian crews involved in Operation Sovereign Borders will be amended to emphasise staying outside Indonesian waters.

Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, called for the full report to be released.

“Serious implications remain in terms of our relations with Indonesia,” he told AAP.

“The statement released today highlights a systemic problem arising out of this government’s border-protection policy.”

Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young indicated she would demand the full report be tabled in the Senate.

Question mark over Myles at Titans

The injury cloud over X factors Albert Kelly and David Taylor has cleared, but Gold Coast coach John Cartwright admits co-captain Nate Myles might not be so lucky.

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Cartwright gave the green light to exciting half Kelly (foot, rib) and blockbusting forward Taylor (corked knee) for their final NRL trial against the North Queensland at Toowoomba on Saturday night, despite the pair missing Wednesday’s training session.

It’s a shot in the arm for the Titans before their NRL season opener away to the Sharks on March 10.

However, the jury is out on whether Myles (groin) will take his place in the first round after Cartwright appeared uncertain about the inspirational forward’s availability.

Initially, the Titans had hinted only players named in their final trial squad would be considered for their NRL opener against Cronulla.

But Cartwright is keeping the door open for workaholic Myles.

“We will have to give him another week leading into the Sharks game,” he said.

“If he is not 100 per cent, we are not going to push him. He has another long season ahead of of him.”

Cartwright also put a line through the name of enforcer Ryan James (shoulder) for the weekend trial.

“It’s more precautionary,” he said. “We don’t want him going into the season with a niggle. We will consider using him in the Queensland Cup (before the NRL opener).”

Five-eighth Aidan Sezer (hamstring) has been cleared, while rookie recruit Paul Carter appears to have first crack at hooker.

Titans trial team: Will Zillman, David Mead, Maurice Blair, Brad Tighe, Kevin Gordon, Aidan Sezer, Albert Kelly, Luke Bailey, Paul Carter, Luke Douglas, Greg Bird (capt), Ben Ridge, Ashley Harrison. Interchange: Dave Taylor, Matt White, Mark Minichiello, Sam Irwin, Mark Ioane, Anthony Don, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa, Siuatonga Likiliki, Jamie Dowling, Brad Takairangi, Matt Beddow.

Watson will only return as allrounder

Shane Watson will only return to the Test side if he’s fit enough to bowl, according to Michael Clarke.

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Watson is approaching a level of fitness where he could play as a specialist batsman, but Clarke suggested that would not happen on the three-Test tour of South Africa.

“The information I have from the selectors is if he’s not bowling, he’ll be unavailable for selection,” Clarke said of Watson, who is recovering from a calf injury.

As such it is unlikely national selectors will have to make a tough decision on how to fit Watson in their XI until at least March 1, when the third Test starts in Cape Town.

When news broke of Watson’s calf issue 10 days ago, team physio Alex Kountouris suggested the plan was for the allrounder to “be able to train unrestricted by two or three days’ out (from a Test)”.

Watson batted in the nets on Tuesday, but instead of taking part in the main fielding session he completed some short shuttle runs at limited pace under the watchful eye of team doctor Peter Brukner.

There is no obvious candidate to be dropped for Watson, but Clarke was keen to have the allrounder back in the side as soon as possible.

“It’s a good problem to have, Any time you’ve got a class all-rounder available you’ve got to try and find some room,” he said.

“He’s a huge player for us, so the sooner we can have Watto back I think the better for this team.”

In the absence of Watson, Clarke is likely to again throw the ball to part-time medium pacer David Warner.

Warner, who is now charging in off his long run-up instead of sending down leg-breaks at training, finished with figures of 0-3 from two overs in the first Test.

“It’s been good fun working with him, he’s actually a pretty good student,” paceman Peter Siddle said of the dynamic Australia opener.

“He’s been in the nets working on his little off-cutters and leg-cutters.

“They’re coming out alright.”

Young Bomber to miss AFL season

Two young Essendon players have personified the best and worst of life in the AFL.

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The Bombers announced a two-year contract extension on Wednesday for forward Nick Kommer, only hours after confirming utility Alex Browne will not play again in 2014 because of a knee reconstruction.

Browne, 21, has played eight games in three seasons, including no senior matches through an injury-interrupted 2013.

Browne ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament during Monday night’s pre-season game against the Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium.

“Alex was very unlucky,” club doctor Bruce Reid said on Essendon’s website.

“His leg got caught under his body on the field and as a result he has torn his cruciate and medial ligament.

“Unfortunately, he does need a full, traditional reconstruction.”

Essendon coach Mark Thompson said Browne had been enjoying his best pre-season campaign.

“While it’s a long road to recovery for players who require reconstructions, we have no doubt that Alex will come back stronger,” Thompson said.

Ruckman Tom Bellchambers (ankle) is also on the sidelines, and is expected to miss the first month of the season.

Meanwhile, Kommer has signed a two-year extension that ties him to the Bombers until the end of the 2016 season.

The 23-year-old made his senior debut in 2013 and played 19 games after being drafted from East Perth as a mature-age recruit.

“We have a pretty strong midfield, so I will keep working up forward and try to have more of an impact on the scoreboard, but hopefully I can push through there over time,” Kommer said.

Thompson said Kommer was rewarded for his outstanding debut.

“To play 19 games in his debut season is a credit to the way he attacks his football and he has become an important part of our forward line structure,” he said.

“Nick knows he has a lot to build on, but he has shown glimpses of his potential and we’re really excited about his future.”