Saudi king orders reopening of Qatar border to pilgrims

The Salwa border crossing had been shut after regional kingpin Saudi Arabia as well as Egypt, Bahrain and the United  Arab Emirates severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing the emirate of fostering Islamist extremist groups.

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The announcement to reopen the border for Qatari pilgrims came after Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received an envoy from Doha, according to the official Saudi Press Agency, in the first public high-level encounter between the nations after the crisis erupted.

The king has permitted “the entry of Qatari pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through Salwa border crossing to perform hajj, and to allow all Qatari nationals who wish to enter for hajj without electronic permits”, a statement on SPA said.

Saudi King Salman, in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. AAP

He also ordered that private jets belonging to Saudi airlines be sent to Doha airport “to bring all Qatari pilgrims on his expenses”.

The crown prince emphasised the “historical relations between Saudi and Qatari people” after his meeting with Qatari Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Jassim al-Thani, the statement added.

Saudi Arabia had last month said that Qataris wanting to perform this year’s hajj would be allowed to enter the kingdom, but imposed certain restrictions including that those arriving by plane must use airlines in agreement with Riyadh.

Qatari authorities had subsequently accused Saudi Arabia of politicising hajj and jeopardising the pilgrimage to Mecca by refusing to guarantee their pilgrims’ safety.

Some observers cautioned that the diplomatic crisis was far from over despite the apparent bonhomie.

“This is a goodwill gesture towards the Qatari people and not a breakthrough with the Qatari govt,” Ali Shihabi from the Washington-based think tank Arabia Foundation said on Twitter, referring to the reopening of the border.

Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies shut down air, maritime and land links with Qatar, and imposed economic sanctions, accusing Doha of supporting “terrorists” and of being too close to their regional nemesis Iran.

Qatar denied the allegations and denounced what it called a “blockade” aimed at bringing the wealthy emirate to its knees.

The tiny emirate with a population of 2.6 million, 80 percent of them foreigners, ranks as the world’s richest on a per capita basis, according to the International Monetary Fund.

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It holds a staggering $330 billion in a sovereign wealth fund, with assets heavily invested abroad.

The hajj, a pillar of Islam that capable Muslims must perform at least once in a lifetime, is to take place this year at the beginning of September.

More than 1.8 million faithful took part in last year’s hajj. The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam and all Muslims who can must perform it at least once in their lives.

Week more taxing for Joyce than Labor

It would appear Scott Morrison is already in election mode.

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In a parliamentary week overshadowed by talk of by-elections, and even an early national vote, the treasurer was honing his attack on Labor with a campaign-style stunt.

It could take months for the High Court to determine if Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is eligible to remain in the parliament – after he found out he was New Zealander – leaving the government’s one-seat majority in the balance.

Whether it was an attempted distraction or fearing the worst, Morrison burst into the week claiming families and small business would feel the brunt of a $167 billion tax hit under a Labor government.

Favoured media outlets were given what was claimed to be “independent new modelling” – but in essence was a compilation of year-old Parliamentary Budget Office costings and Treasury projections – of Labor’s “tax blizzard”.

“Under Bill Shorten, there would be a tax winter coming to this country,” Morrison warned in a Game of Thrones-style threat.

The treasurer’s figuring included Labor’s rejection of the government’s $65 billion 10-year business tax plan, including a repeal of tax cuts already approved by parliament.

Morrison’s hit list also includes $32 billion from “scrapping negative gearing”, but doesn’t mention the tax break would apply to new properties and existing arrangements will be protected from the change.

Then there were the $20 billion of “secret” Labor superannuation changes, along with alterations to capital gains tax, family trusts and the top marginal tax rate

The PBO wasn’t impressed, insisting it had no part in the so-called modelling.

In a rare political intervention, agency head Jenny Wilkinson said: “The analysis reported in the media this morning was not conducted by the PBO.”

While the government continued to talk about Labor’s $150 billion-plus tax grab as a fact, the opposition dismissed it as a desperate scare campaign.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the parliamentary term was barely a year old and the treasurer has been reduced to making stuff up.

It’s reminiscent of previous election stunts.

During the 2016 election, Morrison drew banner headlines claiming Labor had a $67 billion “black hole” in its costings that would increase to a staggering $200 billion over the next decade.

But in a media conference that was meant to push home the point, the treasurer admitted $35 billion was flexible if the opposition changed its mind on some measures.

Suddenly the $67 billion became a worst-case scenario.

Labor is no innocent, having been previously caught over-egging numbers.

In the 2013 election, Labor claimed there was a $10 billion hole in the coalition’s proposed election savings, citing figures from Treasury, Finance and the Parliamentary Budget Office.

Later it was revealed the analysis was based on earlier work by the departments.

In an extraordinary move, the heads of Treasury and Finance distanced themselves from Labor’s statements, saying they had never assessed any coalition policies.

Some things never change, unlike the heritage of parliamentarians, apparently.

Lighter gloves spell quick end of Mayweather, says McGregor

“That was a good thing for me.

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I’m very happy with it,” McGregor told reporters on a conference call.

Mayweather had nearly all of his 49 professional wins using eight-ounce gloves, which may accentuate one of his advantages – his hand speed.

McGregor preferred the lighter gloves since he is used to the fingerless, four-ounce gloves typically worn in MMA.

“That’s it in a nutshell, you’ve got pros and cons on both sides,” he said. “Favours us both in certain ways.

“I believe now that the gloves are eight ounces, I don’t believe he makes it out of the second round,” McGregor added.

“Part of me … kind of wants to show some skills and dismantle him that way. (But) I do not foresee him absorbing the blows in the first two rounds.”

While most pundits have McGregor, who has never boxed professionally, as a heavy underdog, the Dubliner said he was determined to prove the doubters wrong.

“I’m just looking forward to Aug. 26, going in and proving what I’m saying and educating the world on what martial arts is,” he said. “And earning my respect in this game also.”

The Irishman said his gruelling preparations for the fight would enable him to triumph no matter how the fight develops.

“There is no way in hell that I am not ready to fight in the deepest of trenches in this contest,” McGregor added.

“The training sessions and the practice that we’ve been putting in has been through hell and back. We are ready for absolutely every scenario.

“I’m ready to go to war for the full 12 rounds and I am ready to put him away in the first 10 seconds. That’s where my head’s at.”

Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), followed McGregor on the conference call and predicted the fight could even threaten the reported $600 million haul from the Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao 2015 showdown.

“This is the biggest event ever in combat sports history. This is the most distributed event in pay-per-view history,” White said, also citing the additional digital reach.

“This thing is in like 200 countries on pay-per-view. Boxing doesn’t usually do a lot of digital. If you’re in Manhattan or on a desert island somewhere, if you have Wifi you can buy this fight.”

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

David Jones under fire for apologising to customer critical of black model

One of Australia’s largest retailers has copped a barrage of social media criticism for apologising to a customer who complained about the use of a black model on a catalogue cover.

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Sudanese-Australian Adut Akech, 17, fronts David Jones’ Summer Beauty catalogue, launched in Sydney last week.

Her placement led a Gold Coast woman to post on the retailer’s Facebook wall on Tuesday, complaining that Akech was unrepresentative of Australia’s general population.

“How on earth am I expected to relate to this cover?” the woman wrote.

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“I can’t wear any of her make-up, I don’t know ANYONE who looks like her…she could have been used on the back page…[by the way] did you even notice the irony? On the opening page you have a section on fake tans.

“You people have really missed the mark here, and I’m pissed off and sick of big companys [sic] going for the minority feel good. Please think about your shoppers next time.”

David Jones responded by telling the customer the company was “so sorry you feel this way”.

“We have passed your feedback on to our Marketing Department for their information and consideration,” the reply concluded.

The woman’s post has been removed by David Jones, however not before attracting more than 400 reactions, 350 comments and 47 shares. 

Customer comments condemned David Jones’ initial response.

“Why are you apologising to someone for hate speech?” customer Katrina Bicket asked.

“DJ’s show some character and backbone, and stop pandering to prejudiced people,” Elvy Golden-Brown wrote.

“You should have stood up for your choice and defended your beautiful model, not grovelled to someone with the ridiculous idea that only models whose skin color they can relate to are acceptable on your cover.”

A statement said David Jones’ reply was not appropriate and made by a staff member “without enough thought as to how it could be misinterpreted”.

“We have not, and will never, apologise for representing the diverse make up of the Australian community in our marketing materials or campaigns. This is at heart of our values as a company,” the statement said.  

Adelaide’s Akech is a fast-rising star of world fashion, having spent the last three seasons appearing exclusively for Saint Laurent including earlier this year at Paris Fashion Week.

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Rally victim’s message magnified: mother

With tears and defiant tributes, hundreds of purple-clad people have packed a Charlottesville theatre to remember the woman who was killed when a suspected white nationalist crashed his car into anti-racist demonstrators.

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Heather Heyer, 32, a paralegal whom colleagues said was devoted to social justice, was killed after clashes on Saturday between white nationalists attending a “Unite the Right” gathering and counter-protesters.

James Fields, a 20-year-old Ohio man, has been charged with her murder.

“They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well guess what? You just magnified her,” Heyer’s mother Susan Bro said to long and loud applause from those gathered at the city’s 1930s-era Paramount Theater.

“I want this to spread. I don’t want this to die. This is just the beginning of Heather’s legacy.”

In the crowd were Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, US Senator Tim Kane and Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer.

Many of those in attendance wore purple, her favourite colour, at the request of Heyer’s family.

Hundreds of people held lit candles and sang songs in Charlottesville later on Wednesday night to remember Heyer at what was billed as a vigil for unity.

Fallout from Heyer’s death and the street fights among protesters has become President Donald Trump’s biggest domestic challenge.

Trump was assailed from across the political spectrum over his responses blaming “many sides” for the violence.

Residents of the usually quiet, left-leaning Virginia city were horrified by the violence they said was brought by outsiders.

White nationalists called Saturday’s rally to protest against plans to remove a statue of General Robert E Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army in the US Civil War.

Amid concerns trouble could erupt outside Wednesday’s memorial, a small group of anti-racist protesters wearing pink helmets and carrying baseball bats and purple shields stood quietly near the theatre.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump described Heyer as “beautiful and incredible … a truly special young woman. She will be long remembered by all!”