Melbourne council seeks government talks on Australia Day row

A Melbourne council wants a meeting with the federal government after its power to hold citizenship ceremonies was revoked following a vote to stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day.

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Yarra City councillors voted unanimously on Tuesday night to move its traditional citizenship and citizen-of-the-year award ceremonies from January 26 to another date out of respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

It will also cease to refer to January 26 as Australia Day and officially join the change-the-date campaign in its publications and social media.

The move by the Greens-dominated council angered Canberra, which on Wednesday stripped the power of Yarra Council officers to hold a citizenship ceremony at any time of the year.

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Yarra Mayor Amanda Stone says the council does not believe it is in breach of the citizenship ceremonies code and is seeking a meeting with the government.

“We are working through the implications of the (minister’s) announcement,” she said in a statement on Wednesday night.

“We will be seeking to discuss this matter with the Assistant Minister as soon as possible.”

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Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Alex Hawke said the government was “committed to ensuring that citizenship is treated in the ‘non-commercial, apolitical, bipartisan and secular manner’ which the code mandates.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the council’s decision to change the way it commemorates the day was “utterly out of step” with Australian values.

“On Australia Day, we recognise the greatness of our achievement as Australians,” Mr Turnbull said in parliament on Wednesday.

“To change the date would be to turn our back on Australian values”.

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Prospective citizens within the City of Yarra will now have to go to ceremonies held by neighbouring councils while the Department of Immigration and Border Protection will hold events within the city as required, including on Australia Day 2018.

Council argued community sentiment was largely in favour of the change across a community in Melbourne’s inner east that includes some of the city’s most valuable real estate, public housing and suburbs with working-class roots.

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Sierra Leone mudslides: 105 children among hundreds killed in disaster

President Ernest Bai Koroma said flags would fly at half-mast after calling the humanitarian challenge ahead “overwhelming” and seeking urgent help after visiting the devastated hilltop community of Regent on Tuesday.

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Officials at Freetown’s central morgue said Wednesday that 105 of the more than 300 officially dead were children, and burials began on Tuesday for some of the bodies too mutilated to identify. An independent but unofficial morgue estimate put the toll at 400 dead.

The government of Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has promised relief for what the Red Cross says is more than 3,000 people left homeless, opening an emergency response centre in Regent and registration centres to count those left on the streets.

The United Nations said Tuesday that it was evaluating humanitarian needs in country, while the first Israeli aid packages were sent from Senegal and the World Food Programme (WFP) distributed two-week rations of rice, pulses and cooking oil to 7,500 people.

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UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York that the UN country team was “supporting national authorities in rescue operations, helping evacuate residents, providing medical assistance to the injured, registering survivors, and providing food rations, water and dignity kits to those affected.”

Several aid organisations warned that the rainy season was not yet over and that more flooding could arrive at any moment in the west African coastal city of around a million people.

From shock to anger 

Speaking to AFP at the mortuary at the Connaught Hospital, technician Mohamed Sinneh Kamara said his team lacked equipment to process and identify the bodies that are still piling up.

“We have logistical constraints including a lack of gloves, PPE (personal protective equipment) and rain boots,” he said as families gathered to identify their loved ones’ bodies.

Mabinty Sesay’s family had gone to Regent for an all-night prayer session when their church was buried in the mudslide. “I have lost 13 of my family members but was only able to identify two,” she told AFP at the morgue.

One woman collapsed after seeing her husband’s dead body among the piles of corpses, amid a powerful stench of decomposing flesh.

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Adele Fox, national health coordinator for Sierra Leone at the charity Concern Worldwide, told AFP that the search for bodies continued but that survivors were facing difficult conditions.

“There is basic need for food, water, sanitation equipment and medical assistance. Since it is still the rainy season, further flooding is also a possibility,” she said.

The sentiment among those in the disaster areas had shifted from shock and grief to anger at what is an annual problem in Freetown, though never before on this scale.

“There is some frustration over the regularity of flooding and destruction during the rainy season and its effects,” Fox said.

The British charity Oxfam said it was trying to prevent a cholera outbreak by distributing clean water and hygiene kits to 2,000 households.

“These are some of the poorest areas in Freetown. Water and sanitation in homes is at best very basic, but at worst nonexistent. Overcrowding is a serious health risk and a potential breeding ground for the spread of disease,” said Daniel Byrne, part of the Oxfam team in the city.

Wake-up call?

There was growing concern that the warning signs had been missed in a city where illegal construction on precarious ground is common, and President Koroma said in a statement released by his office that “relocation and opening up of a new settlement around the Freetown peninsula” would be considered.

Many homes are now without a water supply due to damage to a reservoir near Regent, according to the Guma Valley Water Company.

An official with Freetown’s city council said that 150 burials took place on Tuesday evening and that many victims would be laid to rest in graves alongside those of the country’s last humanitarian disaster, the Ebola crisis, in nearby Waterloo. 

But a government statement said the burials of unidentified bodies would take place on Thursday and Friday.

Guinean President Alpha Conde visited to express his solidarity with Sierra Leone on Tuesday and was galvanising other west African nations to provide aid, his aide Naby Youssouf Kiridi Bangoura told AFP.

Three days of torrential rain culminated on Monday in the Regent mudslide and torrential flooding elsewhere in the city, one of the world’s wettest urban areas.

Freetown is hit each year by flooding during several months of rain, and in 2015 bad weather killed 10 people and left thousands homeless.

Sierra Leone ranked 179th out of 188 countries on the UN Development Programme’s 2016 Human Development Index, a basket of data combining life expectancy, education and income and other factors.

White House braces for Trump fallout

President Donald Trump has no doubt pleased part of his political base by passionately arguing that both right- and left-wing extremists were responsible for violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia.

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But his remarks, one day after, under pressure, he explicitly condemned neo Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, left White House officials bracing for fallout from disappointed Republicans whose support he needs to govern in the coming months and years.

“Your base isn’t going to win you re-election … nor is it going to keep you a majority in Congress,” said one administration official. It was political reality that the controversy over Trump’s response would last for some time, he said.

The remarks at Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday that sparked that reality at times bordered on the surreal.

Trump pulled out the statement he read on Saturday in an apparent effort to show, despite the subsequent criticism, that his initial instincts that “many sides” had been at fault were correct.

“What about the alt-left that came charging at the … alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?” he demanded, using terms that refer to right- and left-wing extremists.

He lashed out at the news media, a frequent foil, for its reporting about his reaction to the violence.

And he praised Susan Bro, the mother of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who died after a car driven by a man reported to have harboured Nazi sympathies ploughed into the rally opponents.

The praise, however, was for her warm remarks about Trump.

“Under the kind of stress that she’s under and the heartache that she’s under, I thought putting out that statement, to me, was really something,” the president said.

Trump’s political supporters embrace his style, and the Tuesday back-and-forth with reporters was an example of a characteristic that defines him, said a former adviser: a dislike for being criticised or pressured.

“When you push the president to do something, he’s not going to do it. He’s going to make a point not to do it,” said Sam Nunberg, a former campaign aide.

White House officials said time would tell how long the issue would remain in the headlines, and whether it would hurt Trump badly with legislators and others within his political base.

For now, the administration official said, the best strategy to deal with the fallout was to stay mum.

“Let’s just put a pin in it, and you know, not tweet, not comment any further,” he said. “Right now explaining is losing.”

‘It’s the screams I can’t get over’: Homeless men hailed as heroes in Manchester attack

Chris Parker, 33, had been begging in the arena foyer where suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated his device late Monday, killing 22 people.

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Amid the carnage and chaos as people began to leave the concert by US pop star Ariane Grande, who has a large teenage girl following, he rushed to help victims.

Stephen Jones, 35, who had been sleeping rough near the arena in the northwest English city, also ran to help deal with the gruesome aftermath.

Members of the public have raised thousands of pounds (dollars, euros) to pay them back for their heroics.

A tearful Parker recounted: “I heard a bang and within a split second I saw a white flash, then smoke and then I heard screaming.

“It knocked me to the floor and then I got up and instead of running away my gut instinct was to run back and try and help,” he told the Press Association news agency.

“There was people lying on the floor everywhere.

“I saw a little girl… she had no legs. I wrapped her in one of the merchandise T-shirts and I said ‘where is your mum and daddy?’ She said: ‘my dad is at work, my mum is up there’.”

He said he thought the mother had died.

Watch: Messages of hope at Manchester vigil

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‘I haven’t stopped crying’

Parker, who has slept rough in Manchester for about a year, regularly goes to the arena to beg for change as crowds head home from the 21,000-capacity venue.

He said he tended to a woman who died as he tried to comfort her.

“She passed away in my arms. She was in her 60s and said she had been with her family,” Parker said.

“I haven’t stopped crying.

“The most shocking part of it is that it was a kids’ concert.

“There were nuts and bolts all over the floor. People had holes in their back.

“It’s the screams I can’t get over and the smell… I don’t like to say it but it smelled like burning flesh.”

A crowdfunding webpage set up for him has raised more than £10,000 ($13,000, 11,600 euros).

The page was set up by Michael Johns, who said he felt compelled to help “one of our most vulnerable in society who showed great selflessness and courage”.

Johns said he was not yet in touch with Parker but was trying to track him down through journalists who spoke to him.

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Jones, a former bricklayer who has been sleeping rough for more than a year, recalled wiping blood from children’s eyes after dashing to help.

“It was a lot of children with blood all over them, crying and screaming,” he told ITV television.

“We were having to pull nails out of their arms and a couple out of this little girl’s face.”

Jones said it was “just instinct” to help.

“If I didn’t help I wouldn’t be able to live with myself walking away and leaving kids like that,” he said.

A crowdfunding page for Jones has also raised £10,000.

“Just because I’m homeless, it doesn’t mean I haven’t got a heart,” he said.

“There’s a lot of good people with Manchester who help us out and we need to give back too.”

Watch: IS claims Manchester concert bombing

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Liveris agrees on axing of Trump council

Australian Andrew Liveris says disbanding Donald Trump’s Manufacturing Council was the right thing to do following the US president’s heavily criticised response to the deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Mr Trump had appointed Darwin-born Mr Liveris, chairman and chief executive of Michigan-based Dow Chemical Company, to be the head of the White House advisory group, also known as the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative.

Mr Liveris had become a visible presence in the White House, a vocal supporter of the president and as late as Tuesday said he would stay on the council despite the resignations of other key business leaders including the chief executives of Under Armour, Merck and Intel.

Mr Liveris, after discussions with the White House on Wednesday, changed his mind.

“Every member of the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative condemns racism and bigotry, and there cannot be moral ambiguity around the driving forces of the events in Charlottesville,” Mr Liveris said in a statement.

“However, in discussions I had with the White House earlier today, I indicated that in the current environment it was no longer possible to conduct productive discussions under the auspices of the initiative.

“And so, as proud as I am of the efforts we were taking on behalf of the American worker, disbanding the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative was the right decision.”

Another of Mr Trump’s high-powered advisory groups, the Strategy & Policy Forum, also suffered resignations following Mr Trump’s condemned Charlottesville comments, in which he insisted groups protesting against the white nationalists were just as much to blame for the violence.

Mr Trump’s comments on Tuesday appeared to be the tipping point for the CEOs.

With more resignations signalled, Mr Trump announced on Wednesday he would disband the two groups.

“Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both,” Mr Trump wrote in a tweet.

“Thank you all!”

Shortly after Mr Trump’s tweet, the CEOs of two other major companies, Johnson & Johnson and 3M, announced they were resigning from the council.

The president blamed “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday in which a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured when a man crashed a car into anti-racist protesters.