Steve Smith gives batting tips to Stokes

Australia skipper Steve Smith put the Ashes rivalry to one side during the recent Indian Premier League when he helped mentor England vice-captain Ben Stokes.

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Smith, who is a fiercely competitive batsman, and fiery all-rounder Stokes will be among the most high-profile combatants in the five-Test series that starts on November 23 at the Gabba.

However, during the IPL they were teammates at finalists Rising Pune Supergiant.

Stokes was sold for a staggering $2.8 million in the league’s auction, with Pune skipper Smith telling the franchise’s owner to “just do what you have to to get him”.

The Englishman returned the favour by being named the event’s Most Valuable Player (MVP); if he was available for the finals then Smith’s side may well have won their first title.

Stokes revealed on Monday in England that the pair talked tactics during the tournament.

“It was really good,” Stokes said.

“I remember doing a batting session with some power hitting towards the end, where the guy who I will actually be playing against in the Ashes … was helping me.

“Which is something that you would never be able to fathom when you are playing against each other.

“The IPL is probably the only place where you get that … once you get in the same team together you obviously want the same goal, which is to win.

“And if a guy wants to improve on something and another guy has a tip that can help, they are obviously going to share that with you.”

It isn’t always the case in the IPL.

India offspinner Ravichandran Ashwin largely kept to himself and bowled leg spin in the nets to IPL teammate Smith in 2016, not wanting to give the batsman any insights before this year’s Test series.

Smith and Stokes will square off in the pool stage of the Champions Trophy, which starts next week and is being hosted by England. Bookmakers expect both Australia and England to reach the final.

“We’ve earned the right to be the favourites,” Stokes said

Paceman Josh Hazlewood admitted Australia’s first-choice ODI side was far from obvious ahead of their tournament opener against New Zealand on June 2.

“Over the last six to 12 months there’s been a few people rested on different tours and injuries as well,” Hazlewood said.

“That first game is going to be a tough gig for selectors. Every player in the 15-man squad puts a good case forward.”

Most of the interest is centred on whether Australia finally unleashes a fearsome four-prong pace attack of Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson for the first time ever.

“It’s pretty exciting. We’ve grown up playing against each other a lot of the time in different tournaments, under-17s and under-19s,” Hazlewood said.

“It’s great to have us all here together and bowling well.”

Manchester blast "carnage": witnesses

WHAT WITNESSES HAVE SEEN AND HEARD:

* “It was a huge explosion – you could feel it in your chest.

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It was chaotic. Everybody was running and screaming and just trying to get out.” – concertgoer Catherine Macfarlane told Reuters.

* “Everyone was in a huge state of panic, calling each other as some had gone to the toilet whilst this had gone off, so it was just extremely disturbing for everyone there.” – concertgoer Majid Khan said.

* “It’s shocking what happened. Just carnage everywhere. There was a good 20 to 30 of them [victims]. Some were young kids, some were disabled people.” – Andy, a father said.

* “My 2 daughters caught up in the Manchester explosion at the arena. They are thankfully safe, but I fear for others.” – Liverpool City Region metro mayor Steve Rotheram tweeted.

* “Everyone just fled. Some people were injured. We saw blood on people when we got outside. People were just running all over the place.” – concertgoer David Richardson told Manchester Evening News.

* “It almost sounded like a gunshot. That’s how I would describe it. It was very loud.” – 18-year-old Calvin Welsford told BBC.

* “The bang echoed around the foyer of the arena and people started to run. I seen (sic) people running and screaming towards one direction and then many were turning around to run back the other way.” – eyewitness Oliver Jones said.

* “We saw young girls with blood on them, everyone was screaming and people were running. There was lots of smoke.” – Sasina Akhtar told MEN.

* “Just as the lights have gone down we heard a really loud explosion… Everybody screamed. When we got out they just said ‘keep on running, keep on running’.” – Michelle Sullivan who attended the concert with her daughters aged 12 and 15 told BBC.

Lib MP queries compo for Stolen Generation

A federal Liberal backbencher has questioned whether any compensation paid to the Stolen Generation should be passed down to their descendants.

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Twenty years after the landmark Bringing Them Home report there are fresh calls for compensation.

West Australian Senator Chris Back has some concerns.

“I have heard comments saying there’s a need for compensation to be passed down to grandchildren. I have difficulty with that argument,” Senator Back told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

He agreed the Stolen Generation should get government support for mental health, medical or other issues.

“I think you need to think very careful about what the level (of compensation) would be and what it would be used for,” the senator said.

Queensland Labor senator Murray Watt said there was merit in a compensation scheme, pointing to the ex-gratis payments made by his state to indigenous people whose wages had been stolen.

“Twenty years on I think we need to think about how we properly recognise the immense trauma people went through,” he told reporters.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek would not be drawn on the question of compensation but pointed to the impact of the Bringing Them Home report.

“Ordinary people could no longer pretend they didn’t know about the life long multi-generational impact of government policies to remove Aboriginal children from their families and their communities,” she said.

“We can’t turn a blind eye to this and as a nation, we have a responsibility to make amends for what happened.”

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said the government was focused on other measures to improve the lives of indigenous Australians.

“It’s focused on getting kids into schools, it’s focused on getting adults into work and of course keeping communities safe,” he said.

Liberal MP Andrew Laming is not “terribly keen” on the idea of compensation.

“Right now I think there’s a need for a greater focus on the fundamentals,” he said.

Trump ‘reaffirms’ US closeness to Israel

Donald Trump has followed his two-day Saudi Arabian stay with another two-day visit, this time in Israel.

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The US President was reunited with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, a man he has long called an “old friend”.

Mr Trump says they reaffirmed the bond between their countries.

“We are more than friends, we are great allies. We have so many opportunities in front of us. But we must seize them together. We must take advantage of the situation and there are many, many things that can happen now that would never have been able to happen before and we understand that very well.”

On his first day in Israel, Donald Trump became the first sitting US president to visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

He placed his hands on the holiest prayer site in Judaism, and left a note in a crack in the wall.

And in his meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu, he again took aim at Iran, Israel’s long-term bitter rival.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly denounced a deal struck between the US and Iran under the Obama administration.

The 2015 agreement aims to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, in exchange for a relief in economic sanctions.

But the Israeli Prime Minister believes Iran will ignore the deal and build atomic bombs.

Donald Trump says he will ensure that won’t happen.

“The United States and Israel can declare with one voice that Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon, never ever, and must cease its deadly funding, training and equipping of terrorists and militias and it must cease immediately. On those issues there is a strong consensus among the nations of the world, including many in the Muslim world.”

Tehran has repeatedly denied an intent to build atomic bombs.

Iran’s newly re-elected President, Hassan Rouhani, was sharp in his response to President Trump’s continued criticism.

“We are waiting for this (US) government to become stable intellectually, and in terms of its stances and its future plans. I hope it can settle down so that we can more accurately pass judgements on their leaders in Washington.”

Attention also turned to the generations-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Donald Trump reiterated he wants a peace deal between the sides, but remained vague about what form it should take.

“We are willing to work together. I believe that a new level of partnership is possible and will happen – one that will bring greater safety to this region, greater security to the United States, and greater prosperity to the world. This includes a renewed effort at peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I thank the Prime Minister for his commitment to pursuing the peace process. He is working very hard at it – it’s not easy. I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all. But I have a feeling that we’re going to get there eventually.”

Benjamin Netanyahu said he shares Mr Trump’s commitment to peace.

“The peace we seek is a genuine and durable one in which the Jewish state is recognised. Security remains in Israel’s hands and the conflict ends once and for all.”

But analysts say many people on both sides of the conflict are deeply sceptical about the chances of progress.

Donald Trump is struggling to contain two scandals engulfing him back in the US, after firing James Comey as FBI director.

Last week the President admitted he shared sensitive security details with the Russian foreign minister.

That information was a provided by a partner state – without its permission – with the White House all but confirming that was Israel.

At the end of a meeting with Mr Netanyahu, Mr Trump made a point to mention it to reporters.

“Just so you understand I never mentioned the word or the name, Israel, never mentioned it during that conversation, they’re all saying I did, so you had another story wrong, never mentioned the word Israel.”

News outlets had not accused Mr Trump of naming Israel as the source of information in his meeting wih the Russians.

A special prosecutor has also been named to investigate Russia’s alleged involvement in last year’s presidential election.

Donald Trump will later meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

 

 

Human ancestors from Europe, not Africa

Just where the last common ancestor between chimps – our closest relatives – and humans existed is a matter of hot debate in the scientific community.

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The new hypothesis, released on Monday, says the origin of mankind is based on 7.2 million-year-old pre-human remains found in caves in Greece and Bulgaria.

Researchers from France, Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada and Australia analyzed the dental roots of two known specimens of the fossil hominid Graecopithecus freybergi.

Using a specialized X-ray known as computer tomography to scan a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar from Bulgaria, they found characteristics suggesting these ape like creatures – nicknamed “El Graeco” – were likely pre-humans, or hominids.

“We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” said co-author Jochen Fuss, a researcher at the University of Tubingen.

The findings also showed Graecopithecus is far older than the oldest known potential pre-human from Africa — Sahelanthropus from Chad, which is six or seven million years old. 

The fossil in Greece was dated to 7.24 million years, while the Bulgarian one was 7.175 million years old, said the report in the journal PLOS ONE.

“This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area,” said co-author David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist.

Environmental changes may have helped drive the evolution of pre-human species, separate from apes, said co-author Madelaine Bohme, a professor of human evolution at the University of Tubingen.

“The incipient formation of a desert in North Africa more than seven million years ago and the spread of savannahs in Southern Europe may have played a central role in the splitting of the human and chimpanzee lineages,” said Bohme. 

The two fossils were found in sediment that contained red-colored silts “and could be classified as desert dust,” said the report.

“These data document for the first time a spreading Sahara 7.2 million years ago, whose desert storms transported red, salty dusts to the north coast of the Mediterranean Sea in its then form,” it said.

Severe droughts and wildfires may have forced apes to seek out new food sources, and begin walking upright more often.

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Unis not consulted over 457 visa changes

Universities were not consulted about changes to temporary foreign worker visas until after the overhaul was announced.

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The decision to replace 457 visas and slash the list of 650 occupations which qualify by 200 was scrutinised by an advisory council including industries, unions and state governments, but universities were not represented.

“The universities had an opportunity then to respond to the announcements and we’re working through a process with them to understand the nature of their concerns,” immigration department deputy secretary Rachel Noble told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

Universities have flagged concerns the changes will inhibit their access to the best and brightest minds from around the world including researchers, academics, and newly-graduated PhD scholars.

Labor senator Kim Carr was incredulous the research sector wasn’t consulted sooner on the visa changes.

“Blind Freddy could have told you what their reaction would be,” he said to immigration officials.

Immigration boss Michael Pezzullo said he relied on the employment, education and training departments to determine which jobs needed to be filled.

It was his team’s job to go and fetch the talent from overseas.

“We’re basically the HR department of Australia so we go out and recruit folks,” he said.

“We’re not the personnel strategy or workforce strategy, if you want to think of it in those terms, so we take advice from the relevant expert line department.”

It was also up to the ministerial skills council to collate the list of occupations.

“We expect them to be across their brief and understand what Australia’s skills needs are,” Mr Pezzullo said.

He said government departments could consult on changes “to the nth degree” but people would always have issues.

“But you haven’t consulted, that’s the point. No degree here, none whatsoever,” Senator Carr quipped back.

He then quizzed the immigration chief about how much correspondence he’d received following the visa crackdown.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve been sort of overwhelmed but we have noticed the level of noise and the level of concern in some sectors and it can all be addressed,” Mr Pezzullo said.

Ms Noble said it was not the government’s intention to curtail research co-operation in Australia, and any unintended consequences could be rectified when the occupation list was revised every six months.

Trump becomes first sitting US president to visit Western Wall

Wearing a black skullcap, he paused in front of the holiest site where Jews can pray, then placed what appeared to be a written prayer or note between its stones, as is custom.

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Trump was not accompanied by any Israeli leaders during the hugely symbolic visit.

Allowing them to do so could have led to accusations that Washington was implicitly recognising Israel’s unilateral claim of sovereignty over the site, which would break with years of US and international precedent.

Security was tight, with the usually bustling Old City, where the Western Wall is located, essentially on lockdown and the plaza leading to the site cleared.

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As Trump’s convoy of dozens of cars entered the square around 4:00 pm (1300 GMT), armed security forces were positioned on nearly every building nearby as well as on the outer wall of the Old City.

In the nearby Jewish Quarter, barriers had been erected to make viewing the square impossible from ground level, and some residents said they had been told not to go onto their roofs overlooking the Western Wall.

Simon, a 20-year-old American studying in a nearby Jewish seminary, said he was “excited” by Trump’s visit but disappointed he would not see him.

Around a dozen ultra-Orthodox Jewish men had crammed into a tiny terrace on top of one house looking over, seemingly having been granted permission.

Related reading’A great honor – peace’

Trump was accompanied by the Western Wall’s rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovitz, during his visit.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism and is married to one of the president’s top aides Jared Kushner, visited the women’s side of the wall.

Trump, who is Protestant, is the first US president to have Jewish members of his immediate family.

Under strict interpretation of Jewish law, men and women must pray separately at the wall. The rule has been repeatedly challenged by progressive Jewish movements seeking equal prayer rights.

Trump wrote “This was a great honor — peace!” before signing his name in the wall’s guest book.

Rabinovitz presented him with a gold-leafed Book of Psalms stamped with the president’s name, according to pictures released by the holy site’s administration.

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Speaking later in the day, Trump said he had been “deeply moved” by the visit.

“Words fail to capture the experience,” he said ahead of dinner at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence.

“It will leave an impression on me for ever.”

The Western Wall is the last remnant of the supporting wall of the second Jewish temple, built by King Herod and destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

It is situated below the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest site, referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount and considered their holiest.

The visit to the Western Wall drew controversy before Trump even left Washington, when US officials declined to say whether it belonged to Israel.

The status of Jerusalem is ultra-sensitive and has been among the most difficult issues in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Mexicans turned away

Israel occupied east Jerusalem, where the Western Wall is located, and the West Bank in 1967 in moves never recognised by the international community.

It later annexed east Jerusalem and claims the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The traditional American position has been that Jerusalem’s status must be negotiated between the two sides.

Trump visited the wall as part of his first trip abroad as president, which includes stops at important sites for Christians, Muslims and Jews.

On Saturday and Sunday he was in Saudi Arabia, and later stops will include the Vatican.

Before visiting the Western Wall, Trump toured the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built at the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

A group of six Christian Mexicans hoping to see the church discussed ways to get out of the Old City with Israeli police, after being told they could not visit.

Group member Mauricio Guerra said he was “very disappointed” not to be able to visit the site as he had only one day in Jerusalem.

“We have travelled here to see the church,” he told AFP.

“We as Mexicans have Trump as our neighbour and now he is following us here as well,” he laughed, with Trump having pledged to build a wall between the United States and Mexico during his campaign.

“He is our cross (to bear)” he said, holding his arms wide to imitate a crucifixion.

“You can do what you like with a wall on the border, but don’t ask us to pay for it!” Guerra added of Trump’s many claims that Mexico would foot the bill.

Icebreaker contract not so bad: department

Federal bureaucrats have rejected the findings of an audit that Australia’s new $1.

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9 billion Antarctic icebreaker isn’t good value for money.

The contract to build a replacement for the Aurora Australis – which is chartered by the Australian Antarctic Division – was awarded to a Dutch company, with the new ship to be built in Romania.

An audit published in March found the environment department’s tender process largely non-competitive after one of the two competing companies withdrew before the contract was awarded.

It also found the cost of operating the new icebreaker would be significantly higher over the 34-year contract than what the government pays now to lease the Aurora Australis.

But department head Gordon de Brouwer told senators on Tuesday the figures the auditor used weren’t comparable, with some taking into account fuel and insurance costs and others not.

“We reject the ANAO report,” he told the Senate committee hearing.

“We’ll take the learnings from it but we reject … that it’s not value for money.”

The department has not investigated options for terminating the contract and starting the tender process afresh.

West Australian Liberal senator Linda Reynolds told the officials she was very disappointed to see the work go offshore.

“We already have the capability in Western Australia to fabricate that ship,” she told them.

“Defence have shifted focus to Australia-first and they’re finding we’ve got the capability to do more than perhaps government departments in Canberra thought we did.”

Officials said the bulk of the $1.9 billion would be spent on operations and maintenance over 30 years, which would support Tasmanian businesses.

Come clean on Middle East air strikes: HRW

Human Rights Watch has demanded the Defence department come clean on the extent of civilian casualties in its past air strikes in Iraq and Syria.

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The department has begun a new transparency drive publishing fortnightly reports on its website.

Its first report, a day before the May 9 budget, carried a brief description of seven strikes on the Iraqi city of Mosul between April 18-30.

The second report, released on Tuesday, detailed 12 operations on Mosul between May 1-18.

It says the focus was on west Mosul.

“The rate of effort has increased since the previous report to align with Iraqi Security Forces offensive operations,” Defence said.

Neither publication specifically mentioned any reports of civilian casualties and a spokesman for Defence Minister Marise Payne said the department would respond to any allegations of that nature.

Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Elaine Pearson said the reports were a good first step and urged the department to provide backdated reports from the past two-and-a-half years.

Senator Payne’s spokesman ruled out issuing backdated reports.

Ms Pearson called on Senator Payne to detail any past investigations into civilian casualties.

“We urge you to immediately release details on civilian casualties caused by Australian air strikes, and if you are not collecting such information, to start doing so without delay,” she said in a letter to the minister.

Ms Pearson said reliance on video assessments taken from the air wouldn’t give the full picture of casualties, especially in densely populated areas.

“The government should actively seek this information and not wait for it to be publicly reported before beginning an investigation,” she said.

Documents released under freedom of information in March said the federal government did not collect “authoritative” data on the enemy or civilian casualties.

Ms Pearson said the government should also collaborate with Airwars, a non-government group monitoring air strikes and civilian deaths in the Middle East.

It estimates 3530 civilians have been killed in coalition air strikes.

The US-led coalition acknowledges an estimated 352 civilian deaths.

Airwars last year rated Australia one of the least transparent members of the international military coalition.

The US is the only member of the coalition against Islamic State militants that has admitted to causing civilian casualties.

Missile ready for mass production: NKorea

North Korea says it’s successfully tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile, and says it met all technical requirements and can now be mass-produced, although US officials and experts are questioning the extent of its progress.

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The US, which has condemned repeated North Korean missile launches, says Sunday’s launch of what North Korea dubbed the Pukguksong-2 was of a “medium-range” missile, and US-based experts doubted the reliability of the relatively new solid-fuel type after so few tests.

US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the test did not demonstrate a new capability, or one that could threaten the US directly. But the test was North Korea’s second in a week and South Korea’s new liberal government said it dashed its hopes for peace.

US officials have been far less sanguine about the test of a long-range KN-17, or Hwasong-12, missile just over a week ago, which US officials believe survived re-entry to some degree.

North Korea said that launch tested the capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead” and put the US mainland within “sighting range.”

Western experts say the Hwasong-12 test did appear to have advanced North Korea’s aim of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the US mainland, even if it is still some way off from achieving that capability.

The UN Security Council is due to meet on Tuesday behind closed doors to discuss Sunday’s test, which defies Security Council resolutions and sanctions.

Washington has been trying to persuade China to agree to new sanctions on North Korea, which has conducted dozens of missile firings and tested two nuclear bombs since the start of last year.

US President Donald Trump has warned that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea is possible over its weapons programmes, although US officials say tougher sanctions, not military force, are the preferred option.

North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, said the latest missile test was supervised by leader Kim Jong Un and verified the reliability of Pukguksong-2’s solid-fuel engine, stage separation and late-stage guidance for a nuclear warhead. It said data was recorded by a device mounted on the warhead.

“Saying with pride that the missile’s rate of hits is very accurate and Pukguksong-2 is a successful strategic weapon, he (Kim) approved the deployment of this weapon system for action,” KCNA said.

“Now that its tactical and technical data met the requirements of the Party, this type of missile should be rapidly mass-produced in a serial way …, he said.”

South Korea’s military said the missile flew about 500 kilometres and reached an altitude of 560 kilometres.

It said the test would have provided more “meaningful data” for North Korea’s missile programme, but further analysis was necessary to determine whether Pyongyang had mastered the technology needed to stop the warhead burning up on re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

US-based experts said the Pukguksong-2 would have a maximum range of about 1,500km and questioned North Korea’s assertion that the reliability of the solid-fuel missile had been proven, given limited testing.

“Entering mass production at this early in the development phase is risky, but perhaps a risk North Korea feels comfortable managing,” said Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.