Burn victim from Venezuela protest dies

A burn victim has died of injuries sustained in a protest against President Nicolas Maduro, becoming the 65th fatality in more than two months of anti-government demonstrations, a prosecutor said Sunday.

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Orlando Figuera, 22, died of injuries he sustained May 20, the prosecutor’s office said on Twitter. The protests have been raging almost daily since April 1.

“He was the victim of an attack by fascists…a hate crime,” President Maduro said on his weekly TV show, blaming national assembly speaker Julio Borges, one of the leaders of the protests.

Opposition leader Henrique Carpiles said all Venezuelans wanted justice for “Orlando and all the dead and wounded. The main guilty party: Nicholas Maduro.” 

Protests were prompted by the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision to dissolve parliament and transfer all legislative powers to itself, leaving the two remaining branches of the Venezuelan government in the control of President Maduro’s United Socialist Party.

The decision was reversed three days later but protests have continued, the country in the middle of a severe food shortage and economic crisis. According to a study by a group of universities, almost a third of the population eat two meals a day or fewer.

Huge protest in Caracas, Venezuela

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Protesters blame President Maduro for the country’s economic collapse as he has aligned it ever more closely with the communist-led Cuban model. The President is due to serve until January 2019.

President Maduro wants to hold elections for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, and on Sunday he proposed July 30 as the date for voting. The proposed date must be approved by the Supreme Electoral Council.

Critics say he will stack such a body with his allies as part of ploy to cling to power.

Cuba is Caracas’ closest ally. Venezuela, used to spending its huge oil wealth freely, has seen its revenues shrink due to sharply lower crude prices.

However, President Maduro says poverty in 2016 fell from 19.7 per cent of the population to 18.3 per cent. Extreme poverty has fallen from 4.9 to 4.4 per cent.

Elected in 2013, President Maduro is resisting opposition calls for an early election to remove him. He says the crisis is a US-backed conspiracy.

The protests are believed to be the biggest in Venezuela in over a decade.

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Company profits balloon as wages stay weak

New figures highlight why people might be a bit sceptical about the theory of “trickle-down economics”.

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Monday’s economic data show that while company profits have ballooned, people’s wages are going backwards.

Company profits grew by six per cent in the first three months of the year, building on the 20.1 per cent jump in the December quarter, to be a hefty 39.7 per cent higher over the year.

In contrast, wages grew by a slim 0.3 per cent in March quarter to be just 0.9 per cent up on the year, less than half the rate of inflation at 2.1 per cent.

Little wonder voters have become disillusioned with their politicians, and feel they are missing out from Australia’s economic expansion over the past quarter of a century.

Monday’s business indicators have been compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and feed into Wednesday’s national accounts, which are expected to show the economy grew by a modest 0.3 per cent in the March quarter.

This would be a marked slowdown from the 1.1 per cent rise in the final three months of last year, dragging down the annual rate to 1.7 per cent from 2.4 per cent in December.

However, economists expect the company profits result and growing business inventories will lessen the risk of a negative growth result, which was seen as a real threat following last week’s disappointing housing construction and investment numbers, and the subdued retail data for the quarter.

“While the GDP number now looks likely to be considerably better than early forecasts, the persistent weakness in wages and the ongoing lack of inflationary pressure is likely to continue to worry the (Reserve Bank),” ANZ senior economist Felicity Emmett said.

Economists will finalise their growth forecasts after the release of international trade and government spending figures on Tuesday.

The central bank will also hold its monthly board meeting on Tuesday.

Economists expect the Reserve Bank to leave the cash rate at a record low 1.5 per cent – where it has stood since August.

JP Morgan chief economist Sally Auld says despite increasingly bearish commentary on the economy in the media, she does not expect much change in governor Philip Lowe’s post-meeting statement.

“In our view, it will take a little longer for the RBA to reappraise their outlook, and for now, we expect the Bank will only acknowledge the ongoing correction in commodity prices, and perhaps pre-emptively downplay a weak (March quarter) GDP result,” she said.

Londoners wake up to beefed up security

Londoners are waking up to beefed up security and transport delays after terror struck the capital when a van veered into pedestrians on London Bridge before three men went on a stabbing rampage killing seven and injuring 48 others, with 21 of them remaining critical.

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The attack on a balmy Saturday night in the popular Borough Market was the second in two weeks for the UK, after the Manchester Arena concert suicide bombing on May 22, and the third in three months.

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Monday and police raids in London apartment blocks have resulted in 12 arrests.

“They went ‘This is for Allah,’ and they had a woman on the floor. They were stabbing her,” one witness Gerard Vowls said.

Florin Morariu, a Romanian chef who works in the Bread Ahead bakery, said he saw people running and some fainting. Then two people approached another person and “began to stick the knife in … and then I froze and I didn’t know what to do.”

He said he managed to get near one attacker and “hit him around the head” with a bread basket.

“There was a car with a loudspeaker saying ‘go, go’ and they (police) threw a grenade. … and then I ran,” he said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says Britain must now toughen up on stamping out Islamist extremism and has proposed regulating cyberspace, adding that Britain has been far too tolerant of extremism.

“It is time to say, enough is enough,” May said.

With the UK national elections due on June 8, the country’s major political parties temporarily suspended campaigning but May says the vote will take place as scheduled because “violence can never be allowed to disrupt the democratic process.”

Four Australians were injured in the attack, including 34-year-old Brisbane woman Candice Hedge, who is recovering in hospital after her throat was slashed and Darwin electrician Andrew Morrison, who also had his throat slashed and is now on his way back to Australia. Two others are believed injured, Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull said.

Canadian woman Christine Archibald is also among the dead, with her fiance’s family issuing a statement that she died in her fiance’s arms after being hit on London Bridge. They paid tribute to her saying she had worked as a volunteer in homeless shelters before leaving for Europe. A French national has also been confirmed dead.

London police said officers killed the attackers within eight minutes of arriving at the scene. Eight officers fired some 50 rounds, said Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the force’s head of counterterrorism.

A public vigil will be held for the seven people who died at 6pm (local time) on Monday at Potters Fields Park, an open space which surrounds City Hall on the River Thames near Tower Bridge.

The mayor’s office says the gathering is an opportunity for Londoners and visitors “to come together in solidarity to remember those who have lost their lives in Saturday’s attack, to express sympathy with their families and loved ones and to show the world that we stand united in the face of those who seek to harm us and our way of life.”

Participants also will be invited to place flowers by the flagpoles outside City Hall.

London police say cordons will remain in place around London Bridge and the Borough Market area well into Monday as officers carry out further investigations, while train services will also be disrupted.

Holmes can’t see himself in Maroon yet

Valentine Holmes admits he was “a bit shocked’ not to be picked in Queensland’s series-opening State of Origin side last month.

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But it doesn’t mean the Cronulla fullback believes he could have made the difference in their 28-4 loss to NSW last Wednesday, or that he’ll get a chance to make his mark in the second clash at ANZ Stadium.

Instead, he believes that honour will go to the man he is marking up against in Thursday’s grand final rematch with Melbourne: Billy Slater.

Maroons coach Kevin Walters admitted on Monday that Slater was back in the frame for selection, which would see Darius Boyd put back on the wing at the likely expense of Justin O’Neill in the centres.

Holmes said he was far more surprised by Slater’s omission than his own.

“I thought Billy Slater probably would have got on,” Holmes said.

“If I was in his shoes I would be a bit upset and a bit cut.

“He’s done very well for the Queensland jersey and he’s done awesome for Melbourne since he came back from injury.

“I’m sure he will be in the running for the next game … I’m sure he will be there.”

Thursday’s clash at Cronulla has been billed as a showdown between the two fullbacks as they bid to make their way into Queensland’s side.

There is, in fact, room for both of them if Dane Gagai or Corey Oates is cut, with the former a chance to move to the centres in place of the out-of-form O’Neill.

But Holmes doesn’t believe that even a game-breaking performance would get him selected in the Maroons squad.

“I honestly don’t think this game will make a decision on his selections,” he said.

“Corey Oates and Dane Gagai played very strong and I thought they were probably the best players in the team there.”

Holmes was the only Queensland member of Australia’s Anzac Test squad not to be picked for the Maroons.

However, the 21-year-old – who was banned from Origin last year for breaking a camp curfew – understood why Maroons selectors stayed loyal.

“I was obviously a bit shocked, but not disappointed,” he said.

“I know they did the job last year and they did it well and they won. I knew they wouldn’t change the team too much.”

Crows can’t hide from AFL critics: Walker

Defiant Adelaide captain Taylor Walker doesn’t care how hard critics come at his AFL side.

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But Walker says the Crows won’t be sheltered from the harsh fallout from their deflating loss to Geelong last Friday night.

“We have got to own it. There’s no hiding away,” Walker told reporters on Monday.

The Crows lost top spot on the ladder, and their premiership credentials took a hit, with their 22-point defeat in Geelong.

Walker said he was unfazed by widespread criticism of his side’s lacklustre performance.

“It doesn’t bother me how hard people come (at us),” he said.

“… People get paid for their opinion and they can have their opinion. But to me, it doesn’t bother me.

“You would think we’re probably bottom of the ladder at the moment, the way the talk is.

“But we’re eight (wins) and three (losses) and we’re playing some okay footy.

“We had a bit of a hiccup on the weekend and I’m super-confident that the resilience in this group, we’ll be able to get through it.”

But Walker said a theme had emerged in Adelaide’s three defeats – an inability to rise to the challenge of opponents.

“This competition is so ruthless now that you have to be unconditional in your effort and intent to win the footy and win your fair share,” he said.

“And at this stage, we’re not at the level.

“And it’s when we get challenged, we need to be able to bounce back and puff the chest out and put it back in the opposition’s face and win our fair share and play it on our terms.

“The most disappointing thing is that we have been able to play our way, bring it into a contest, but the three games that we have lost we haven’t been able to match it.

“I know that we can do it. It’s just disappointing that we can’t do it when we’re challenged at the moment.”

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.