Storm destroys 1000 refugee homes in Nigeria

At least 4,300 people have been affected by violent storms that swept the state of Borno, the heart of the eight-year jihadist insurrection, said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) after assessing conditions in 44 camps for displaced people in the state.

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“Rain are just beginning and they will last for three or four months,” Henry Kwenin, an emergency coordinator for the IOM told AFP.

The region has been devastated by eight years of conflict, with the majority of roads inaccessible for security reasons. The conflict between the army and Boko Haram jihadists has led to over 20,000 deaths and displacing 2.6 million people since 2009.

Several hundred thousand people have fled to the capital of the region, Maiduguri.

“The number one priority is to reinforce the shelters, to build adequate drainage systems, and safe places in camps where people can gather in case of violent storms,” Mr Kwenin added.

The storms came with powerful winds damaging precarious structures in Jere, Kaga, Konduga and Maiduguri, killing one person, the IOM said.

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“It began with a sandstorm which lasted for an hour and was followed by a heavy downpour which continued for the next two hours,” said a resident of Pompomari, a district in Maiduguri.

“Our neighbourhood has little trees to break the wind and this makes our houses vulnerable to windstorms.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 5.2 million people could need life-saving food aid in three northeast states from June to August.

But lack of funding is forcing aid agencies to cut feeding programs in the northeast Nigeria, the UN said last month, warning of growing pressure on resources as refugees return.

The World Food Program has said nearly two million people were living on the brink of famine in the remote region.

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Kohli in awe of Yuvraj’s performance against Pakistan

India’s top four batsmen helped themselves to fifties but none of them looked as fluent as Yuvraj, whose quickfire 53 off 32 balls enhanced his reputation as one of the sweetest timers of the ball.

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“I felt like a club batsman while playing alongside ‘Yuvi’, the way he was hitting the ball,” Kohli said after India kicked off their title defence with a comprehensive victory over their arch-rivals.

A 136-run opening stand between Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan laid the foundation for a big total but Kohli appeared to struggle for momentum in the rain-interrupted match.

But Yuvraj’s unbridled aggression lifted the pressure on Kohli, who accelerated towards the end to remain not out on 81 off 68 balls.

“The way he batted, I think it was the game-changing innings to be honest. That gave all of us the confidence to start striking the ball well,” Kohli said of Yuvraj, who missed both India’s warm-up games with viral fever.

“The way he batted was the way only he can strike the ball, hitting low full tosses for fours and sixes, and even digging out yorkers for fours – he was outstanding.”

It was only after he had been dropped on 43 that Kohli stepped on the gas and clobbered three sixes.

“I could not get the big ones because it was tricky,” the 28-year-old said of the sluggish phase.

“We went off about four times and we came back in. So a player who likes to play a long innings and usually plays like that for the time, it becomes very difficult to find momentum every time you come back.”

India meet Sri Lanka in their next Group B match at the Oval on Thursday.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Peter Rutherford)

Thurston, Slater on track for Qld: Walters

Kevin Walters has left the door ajar for Billy Slater to be welcomed back into the Queensland line up for State of Origin II and also indicated strongly that Johnathan Thurston will be passed fit to play.

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Faced with having to win in Sydney to save the series, the Maroons coach said he was open to recalling the Melbourne veteran despite dumping him for last week’s game one loss to NSW.

After back-to-back shoulder reconstructions, Slater – widely considered one of the great modern day fullbacks – was overlooked for game one in favour of Brisbane skipper Darius Boyd.

But after Queensland suffered their worst home defeat to the Blues, Walters is under pressure to make changes.

Slater has been superb since his return this year and Walters said his performance in the Storm’s 40-12 rout of last-placed Newcastle had put him in the frame.

“There’s no concern with Billy Slater,” Walters told Sky Sports Radio on Monday.

“We’ve just seen him get better and better. That’s what we hoped would happen with Billy. He’s right back in the frame now for game two.”

Walters also rated North Queensland playmaker Thurston a 70 per cent chance of resuming his place in the Queensland side after missing game one with a shoulder injury.

Thurston was replaced by Anthony Milford in the series opener and is racing the clock having not played since the May 5 Anzac Test in Canberra.

“He’s not over the line as yet. He’s got to do some more stuff around his rehabilitation in Townsville,” Walters said.

“He’s hopeful of playing (for North Queensland) this weekend. If he plays this weekend and comes through, then that’s no dramas.”

Walters also said he was open to selecting Coen Hess despite the North Queensland young gun’s insistence he wasn’t ready for rugby league’s toughest arena.

With Nate Myles struggling with an elbow injury and the likes of Jacob Lillyman and Aidan Guerra under pressure to hold their spots, the 20-year-old has burst into the frame.

He has grabbed attention after scoring nine tries in the opening 13 rounds – the fourth most in the competition and the most of any forward.

Hess said he was unsure if he was ready for Origin after just 21 first grade games however Walters said he was being considered.

“I think he was just being a little bit humble, which is a good sign because you don’t want to be throwing yourself out there that you’re the next big thing in Origin,” Walters said.

“That only brings you undone, doesn’t it?”

Thousands join Hong Kong vigil for Tiananmen Square anniversary

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong on Sunday for a candlelight vigil to mark the 28th anniversary of China’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests in and around Beijing’s Tianamen Square, while Taiwan urged China to make a transition to full democracy.

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Nearly three decades after Beijing sent tanks and troops to quell the 1989 student-led protests, Chinese authorities ban any public commemoration of the event on the mainland and have yet to release an official death toll.

Estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand killed.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is the only place on Chinese soil where a large-scale commemoration takes place, symbolising the financial hub’s relative freedoms compared with the mainland.

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This year’s events are especially politically charged, coming just a month before an expected visit of President Xi Jinping to mark 20 years since Hong Kong was handed back to China.

“When Xi Jinping comes, he’ll know the people of Hong Kong have not forgotten,” Lee Cheuk-yan, an organiser of the annual candlelight vigil, said.

On a sombre night, many held aloft flickering flames, sang songs and listened to speeches calling on Beijing to fully atone for the crackdown.

Organisers of the vigil, held in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, said the event drew some 110,000 people, enough to fill more than six football pitches. Hong Kong police estimated the crowd at 18,000.

“The students who died (in 1989) still haven’t got what they deserve. They fought for their future, in the same way we’re fighting for our future,” Yanny Chan, a 17-year-old high school student at the vigil, said.

Video clips were shown of the relatives of four men who were arrested last year and charged earlier this year for subversion by Chinese authorities for manufacturing and selling bottles of Chinese liquor, or “baijiu”, with specially designed labels commemorating June 4.

Interactive: What really happened in Tianamen Square?

In Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen marked the anniversary with an offer to help China to make the transition to democracy.

Tsai said that the biggest gap between Taiwan and China was democracy and freedom, needling Beijing at a time when relations between China and the self-ruled island are at a low point.

“For democracy: some are early, others are late, but we all get there in the end,” Tsai said, writing in Chinese on her Facebook page and tweeting some of her comments in English on Twitter.

“Borrowing on Taiwan’s experience, I believe that China can shorten the pain of democratic reform.”

Beijing distrusts Tsai and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party because it traditionally advocates independence for Taiwan. Beijing says the island is part of China and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control.

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had long ago reached a conclusion about June 4.

“I hope you can pay more attention to the positive changes happening in all levels of Chinese society,” she said without elaborating.

In Beijing, security was tight as usual at Tiananmen Square, with long lines at bag and identity checks. The square itself was peaceful, thronged with tourists taking photos.

One elderly resident of a nearby neighbourhood, out for stroll at the edge of the square, said he remembered the events of 28 years ago clearly.

“The soldiers were just babies, 18, 19 years old. They didn’t know what they were doing,” he told Reuters, asking to be identified only by his family name, Sun.

While some search terms on China’s popular Twitter-like microblog Weibo appeared to be blocked on Sunday, some users were able to post cryptic messages.

“Never forget,” wrote one, above a picture of mahjong tiles with the numbers 6 and 4 on them, for the month and day of the anniversary. 

Remembering Tianamen Square

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Aust boycott of nuke ban talks a cop out

Sheer dumb luck is the only reason the world has so far avoided a nuclear weapons catastrophe, a former Australian foreign minister says.

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Gareth Evans, who served under the Hawke and Keating governments, believes it’s a “cop out” for Australia to boycott United Nations negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

He said nuclear armed states, and those sheltering under their umbrella like Australia, were failing to recognise the scale of risk associated with nuclear weapons.

“We will see, sooner or later, human error, system error, accidental miscalculation producing a catastrophic nuclear event,” Professor Evans told a European Union-Australia leadership forum in Sydney on Monday.

“That we have survived seven decades without any catastrophe is not a matter of any inherent system stability or great statesmanship, it really is a matter of sheer dumb luck.”

Professor Evans said there was no reason that luck would continue indefinitely, especially with the large numbers of nuclear weapons in the world – 15,400 half operationally deployed and 2000-odd on hair trigger alert.

“The other great existential risk is of course climate change but… nuclear weapons can kill us a hell of a lot faster than CO2,” Professor Evans said.

Australia should unequivocally be participating in the UN negotiations, he said.

“I think it’s very important to get the normative momentum going, just as was the case with cluster bombs and land mines,” Professor Evans said.

“We have to create an environment in which the nuclear weapons are delegitimised.”

Professor Evans acknowledged negotiations weren’t going to be able to deliver enforceable results any time soon. But he said nuclear armed states and their allies needed to argue their reservations, not just stand aside.

“I think this is a complete cop out by Australia,” the Australian National Univeristy chancellor said.

Last week Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials told a Senate estimates hearing that Australian diplomats would be watching a webcast of UN talks later this month, rather than participating with the 130 other countries.

EU countries are also divided on the issue of a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

Austria, Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Sweden supported kicking off negotiations, while the Netherlands and Finland abstained from voting.

Other EU countries were against.