Hawks veteran Hodge guilty of striking

Hawthorn launched an impassioned ‘steel arms’ defence at the AFL tribunal on Tuesday night but it wasn’t enough to get veteran Luke Hodge off a one-game suspension.

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Hodge was charged by the match review panel with striking Sydney’s Tom Papley during the second quarter of the Hawks’ six-point win over the Swans at the MCG on Friday night.

But Hawks legal counsel Peter O’Farrell argued Hodge was simply moving to block Papley as he ran toward an open goal.

“We’ve got a saying – ‘steel arms’ – so if someone goes through you try to hold them or get a hand in to slow them down,” Hodge told the tribunal.

“If I had let someone go past Clarko (coach Alastair Clarkson) would have roared at me at halftime.

“If I think I’ve done the wrong thing (over my career) I’ve copped the whack – in this incident I didn’t punch or strike him so that’s why I’ve challenged.”

But the jury – consisting of Paul Williams, Stewart Loewe and Richard Loveridge – deliberated for 21 minutes before finding the four-time premiership star guilty.

The 33-year-old, who will retire at the end of the season, will miss Sunday’s clash against Richmond, which is also good mate Jarryd Roughead’s 250th game.

“We disagreed with it being (assessed as) a strike … we didn’t think it was but they didn’t agree with that,” Hodge told reporters after the hearing at AFL headquarters.

“It’s disappointing with Rough playing his 250th this week. I guess that was part of the reason behind (the challenge) as well – to try and get out there to play with him.

“But that’s footy – you take what they give you and I look forward to the week after.”

The 302-game veteran didn’t risk missing any extra matches if he was unsuccessful at the tribunal, but was slapped with a $2,500 fine in addition to the ban.

The Hawks, a game-and-a-half outside the eight in 12th, must beat the Tigers at the MCG if they are to keep their faint finals hopes alive.

Criminals trying to ‘corrupt’ visa system

Authorities are concerned that organised criminals are using bribery and other means to try and corrupt Australia’s visa system – potentially for terrorism or fraud.

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It’s also feared some businesses are establishing inappropriate relationships with public officials in a bid to bypass the country’s strong biosecurity controls.

The head of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity on Tuesday warned a parliamentary committee looking into Australia’s border arrangements that both were significant issues.

Michael Griffin, who oversees a number of agencies including federal police and Border Force, said organised crime groups are motivated by the fact Australia is one of the world’s most profitable markets for illicit drug importations.

He said there were a lot of indicators of criminals attempting to corrupt the visa issuing process both domestically and offshore to enable organised crime, possibly terrorism and commercial fraud.

“They are the traditional methods of corrupting officials through the use of influence, through extended family relationships, through bribery, through entrapment processes – we are seeing that,” Mr Griffin said.

“It is of such significance to draw our attention and to have us focused very closely on it.”

He also expressed concern about the possibility of unscrupulous businesses circumventing Australia’s border regulations through forming corrupt or inappropriate relationships with public officials.

“It is premature for me to say much more in public, although it is enough to say that this type of corruption may introduce significant biosecurity risk through lax procedures in the screening of agricultural imports,” he told the hearing in Canberra.

The watchdog has uncovered a number of cases of officials accepting “very substantial bribes”.

Mr Griffin noted 26 matters had been prosecuted and convicted recently, ranging in punishments of up to 14 years in jail.

The AFP is also concerned organised crime figures are getting work at airports and ports and exploiting their security passes.

It has identified drug importations facilitated by “trusted insiders” in aviation.

“Airport criminal infiltration may exploit vulnerabilities across a lengthy supply chain from airport logistics and functions, air freight logistics, security, baggage handling and even air crew,” AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan told the inquiry.

More than 60 organisations and companies can issue aviation and maritime security identification cards, with the AFP warning the more people who can dish them out, the more vulnerable they become.

The Office of Transport Security, which regulates Australia’s airports, ports and and offshore oil and gas sites, is pursuing a raft of measures to crack down on staff security.

Anyone with links to serious or organised crime would be blocked from getting identification cards under legislation before parliament.

The agency is boosting screening of airport staff working in restricted areas, expanding the scope of background checks and forcing those who issue ID cards to verify identities face-to-face.

They’re also looking at the design of the aviation and maritime ID cards, including their security features.

OTS executive director Sachi Wimmer told the inquiry the agency was investigating the possibility of introducing biometrics into the cards and cutting the number of people who can issue them.

Trump’s new communications director gone in 10 days

This time, newly appointed Anthony Scaramucci is out as communications director.

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He had spent a little more than a week in the job.

Anthony Scaramucci is no longer communications director for the Trump administration, having lasted just 10 days in the job.

It marks the latest turn in a string of tumultuous staffing changes at the White House.

An official statement says Mr Scaramucci is leaving because “he felt it best to give chief of staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders has confirmed he is out.

“He does not have a role at this time in the Trump administration. And we put out a statement earlier announcing that. And I don’t have much else to add beyond that.”

The announcement came just hours after President Trump swore in John Kelly, a retired Marine general, as his chief of staff following Reince Preibus’s dismissal.

Mr Trump had tweeted there was “no chaos in the White House” and later said it was a “great day!”

While Mr Scaramucci’s reign was brief, he had made headlines with profanity-filled comments to The New Yorker magazine about some key staff figures.

He attacked Mr Priebus, chief of staff at the time, and Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

Sarah Sanders says the comments worked against him.

“The President certainly felt that Anthony’s comments were inappropriate for a person in that position. And he didn’t want to burden General Kelly, also, with that line of succession. As I think we’ve made clear a few times over the course of the last couple of days to several of you individually, General Kelly has the full authority to operate within the White House, and all staff will report to him.”

In the first six months of Donald Trump’s presidency, a national-security adviser, a communications director, a press secretary and a chief of staff have all come and gone.

CNN commentators Brian Stelter and Gloria Borger have speculated President Trump may not have enjoyed the attention Mr Scaramucci was garnering.

(Stelter:) “Of course, Mooch became bigger than Trump, and haven’t we seen this before? The fact that I’m using the word Mooch, using the name Mooch, he was in the tabloids all weekend. He was the centre of attention.”

(Borger:) “But not in a good way. I was just texting with a source, who said to me, ‘Look, he was getting too far out front, and in a bad way,’ and that the President realised it. And I’m sure family, by the way, realised it. I’m sure Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner did not like the language that Scaramucci was using. And to your point, there is only one star in this constellation, and that is Donald Trump.”

House Intelligence Committee member Jim Himes has told CNN Mr Scaramucci’s behaviour was unacceptable for the White House.

Mr Himes says he is hopeful General Kelly can bring some order to Washington.

“Well, I’m not at all surprised. I think, look, Kelly in and Scaramucci out is nothing but good for this White House and for the country. Mr Scaramucci showed on about Day 3 that he was all about himself, that he was willing to step well beyond the bounds of anything acceptable in the most powerful building in the land. And, you know, John Kelly, a Marine, well-respected, he … if anyone can bring order to what has been a chaotic White House operation, I would expect it would be a four-star Marine. I think he’s respected around town, around Washington. I think he’s going to be respected within the White House.”

Former press secretary Sean Spicer had stepped down on July the 21st in response to Mr Scaramucci’s appointment.

Mr Spicer said he would continue to serve until the end of August, but it is unclear what his status will be now.

 

 

Border agencies under pressure as plane plot investigation continues

How much do we know about the people looking after our borders?

According to national border protection and security agencies, not enough.

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An inquiry into Australia’s border integrity has revealed serious gaps within vetting procedures and a lack of checks on border employees.

It follows the breaking up of a plot to bring down a passenger plane, with police arresting several men in Sydney following raids over the weekend.

The group is being held without charge under special terror-related powers while investigations continue.

Passengers passing through Australian airports are adjusting to longer wait times and heightened security arrangements, which could be ongoing.

The Australian Federal Police says it will maintain a presence at airports as long as deemed necessary by intelligence agencies.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan says while the organisation realises the demands of national security, its resources are being tested.

“We’re stretched, there is no spare capacity. We do not have people ready to respond to something. If something happens, I have to risk-manage other activities. It’s like asking a senior police officer who already wants more resources a bit of a vexed question because the answer is always going to be ‘yes we do’, but it’s a matter of priorities across government, which I understand. If we’re going to police more designated airports within the current funding environment, that will mean something else we’re doing is not going to be done.”

The A-F-P merged its aviation portfolio into its protection operations in March 2016.

Assistant Commissioner Gaughan says he’s particularly concerned about staffing in the industry, and who is given clearance to receive an aviation or maritime security identification card, known as an ASIC (A-sik) or MSIC

“We know that individuals with links to criminal groups have been able to gain employment at Australia’s ports, and obtain ASICs or MSICs. These employees were able to exploit processes, procedures, and their access to restricted areas within the airport because of their ASIC/MSIC status – I think it would be very naive to suspect this is not ongoing.”

On Monday the courier company DHL voiced concern over the continued use of paper documents for security and background checks, and recommended a biometric system.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission agrees the current vetting system is inadequate.

The Commission’s executive director of intelligence, Col Blanch, wants continuous checks.

“Someone may come in to an organisation with pure intentions and work well for five or six years and then find themselves in a situation later on in life where things have changed or they’re related to a person perhaps doing the wrong thing. It’s not necessarily the initial vetting, that’s certainly important to make sure you get the right people in, but people’s circumstances change.”

The organisation has also called for domestic travel to be tightened, to stop organised crime exploiting a loophole where travellers don’t need identification.

Australian Border Force says controls are in place for those who break the rules.

James Watson, from Border Force, says there are disciplinary avenues.

“We have a number of mechanisms to ensure the right people are in the right place at the right time. If we detect breaches, we have a number of options that are available to us as an issuing authority, and that might be issuing a warning, for instance, to an individual or to individuals if they have not complied with the requirements of an ASIC to move in and out, we could issue an infringement, or indeed an exclusion or, where necessary, prosecutions can occur.”

 

 

 

Worries of more conflict following Venezuela vote

President Maduro has declared a sweeping victory in the election of the new legislative body, which grants his party the power to rewrite the constitution.

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But much of the world — and many of his own citizens — are refusing to recognise the results, calling it an assault on democracy.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is celebrating the results of Sunday’s vote for a new Constituent Assembly as what he calls a “vote for the revolution.”

“The Venezuelan people have shown that, when fate challenges us, when the stateless oligarchy challenges us, when imperialism challenges us, it is when we make known the blood of the liberator that runs through the veins of men, women, children, youths.”

The victory means the President’s ruling socialist party will replace the current legislative body, the National Assembly, with a new, 545-member Constituent Assembly.

The new assembly, all nominated by the Maduro administration, will have virtually unlimited powers, including the ability to rewrite the constitution.

It was hoped the vote would lead to peace in Venezuela, which for months has endured violent protests that have killed more than 120 people.

But it appears to have further divided the country, with many Venezuelan citizens incensed.

“There cannot be peace when there aren’t legitimate things. Like this constitutional assembly. The constitution clearly states you have to consult the people to decide on a constitutional assembly, and they didn’t do it.”

Venezuelans have taken to the streets for months to challenge the vote.

It prompted the government to ban protests and promise punishment for anyone disrupting the electoral process.

Despite that, violence marred the voting day, as many boycotted the election and a number of polling stations were attacked.

At least 10 deaths have been reported in new rounds of clashes between protesters and police.

The country’s elections authority, the National Electoral Council, says more than 8 million people voted, more than double the turnout estimated.

But members of the opposition are disputing the count, saying only 2 to 3 million ballots were cast.

The president of the opposition-led National Assembly, Julio Borges, is calling for fresh protests.

“No-one can think that, because the government, through blood and fire, literally, his fraudulent process … no-one can think that the regime got away with it.”

And it is not just those in Venezuela refusing to recognise the results.

The United States has labelled President Maduro a “dictator,” imposing sanctions on his administration for undermining democracy.

Under the sanctions, US firms and individuals are banned from doing business with him.

US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchi says it sends a clear message to his government.

“Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuela people. By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and the support for the people of Venezuela, who strive to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”

Latin American nations from Argentina to Mexico, which usually do not side with the United States in regional disputes, are sharply condemning the vote.

Spain and Canada have also joined in the condemnation, and the European Union says it is unlikely to acknowledge the result.

European Commission deputy chief spokeswoman Mina Andreeva says the recent violence has cast doubts over the state of Venezuela’s democracy .

“The Commission has, indeed, grave doubts as to whether the election result can be recognised. The events of the past 24 hours have reinforced the European Union’s preoccupation for the fate of democracy in Venezuela.”

Analysts say Venezuela is heading towards becoming a pariah state.

Economist Luis Vicente León is president of the Venezuelan data-polling centre Datanálisis.

He warns, while the results may consolidate President Maduro’s power, they are also likely to deepen the country’s political crisis.

“This is not a typical election. It’s an election that doesn’t resolve a problem but, rather, amplifies it. And that’s not normal.”

 

 

US assures Balkan allies of support against Russia

It comes as US vice president Mike Pence has called on Russia to reverse a decision limiting the US diplomatic presence in that country.

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Russia’s move followed the announcement of new sanctions to be imposed on Russia by the United States.

United States vice president Mike Pence has sought to reassure Baltic states of US support in the face of any Russian aggression.

While visiting the Estonian defence-force headquarters in Tallinn, Mr Pence has voiced assurances that the United States firmly backs NATO’s doctrine of collective defence.

That doctrine states that an attack against one ally is considered an attack against all the allies.

“At the heart of our alliance is a solemn promise that an attack on one is an attack on all. But this oath requires action, and every NATO member must renew their commitment to our common defence, and they must renew it now.”

Mr Pence’s comments to the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania come ahead of large-scale military manoeuvres Russia has planned next month with Belarus.

The comments also come under the shadow of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and US president Donald Trump’s lukewarm support early on for NATO.

Mr Pence says President Trump is due to sign legislation soon that will strengthen sanctions against Russia.

“President Trump has called on Russia to cease its destabilising activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and to cease its support for hostile regimes like North Korea and Iran. And under President Trump, the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable for its actions, and we call on our European allies and friends to do the same.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin has retaliated to an announcement of new US sanctions against Russia last week by slashing the US embassy and consular staff in Russia.

He ordered it cut by about 60 per cent.

While the vast majority of the roughly 1,200 US embassy and consulate staff in Russia are Russian citizens, the cuts are still the most dramatic between the two since the Cold War.

Speaking on Russian state television, President Putin says Russia had to respond.

“We have a lot of options how to respond. Why now? Because the US has made this, what’s really important, unprovoked step to deteriorate the US-Russia ties, to impose illegal restrictions, to influence their allies who want to develop relations with Russia. (Russian …) I decided that it’s time for us to show that we will not leave anything without response. Is it a lot? Well, from the point of view of an embassy, it’s considerable.”

Mike Pence says the United States is open to a better relationship with Russia but Russia must reverse the actions, he says, caused the sanctions to be imposed originally.

Russian analyst Anna Matveeva, from King’s College in London, has told Al Jazeera television Russia is sending a signal it has lost hope in improving ties with the United States.

“Definitely, this is a response action. Most of the policy has been reactive. They have been already hesitant to what extent the early hopes to build a good relationship with President Trump can come to fruition. Now, this is a signal that there is a serious sign of doubt. Moscow has not been really responding to various hostile actions coming from the US. This is the first time where Moscow actually responded in kind.”

Mike Pence has also visited Montenegro, the NATO alliance’s newest member, and Georgia, an aspiring member that fought a brief war with Russia in 2008.

 

Etihad working with AFP over alleged terror plot

There are calls for stronger security presence in regional and domestic airports, following a thwarted alleged terror plot to bring down a commercial airliner.

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Abu Dhabi-based Etihad has not confirmed the alleged plot was targeting one of their flights, but has said that it is working with Australian police.

“The Etihad Airways aviation security team is assisting the Australian Federal Police with its investigation and the matter is ongoing,” the airline said in a statement. 

“Etihad is complying fully with the enhanced security measures at airports in Australia and monitoring the situation closely.”

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The Trade Workers Union believes less stringent security measures at regional airports are posing a major risk.

“They are still failing to come and to engage, and say ‘who is responsible’ for some airport breaches that are happening at our airports,” TWU Secretary Tony Sheldon told reporters in Sydney.

0:00 ‘We have to be more prudent’: AirAsia CEO on security measures Share ‘We have to be more prudent’: AirAsia CEO on security measures

“There is high staff turnover, lack of training, poor conditions, and no whistleblower protections.”

AirAsia X CEO Benyamin Ismail has told SBS World News that aviation safety rests on the shoulders of each airport.

“Everybody is concerned about attacks, but we just have to make sure we work together with airports to make sure that all these [security] processes are seamless,” Mr Ismail said.

At a Parliamentary inquiry into Australian border security, the newly-founded Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) said there remains an “unprecedented risk” to national security.

“In terms of the aviation and maritime sectors: they are highly vulnerable to serious and organised crime exploitation,” said ACIC deputy Paul Williams.

“They are a key link to the international illicit economy. They can facilitate the importation of illicit goods into Australia.”

Sydney father and son Khaled and Mahmoud Khayat, and Khaled and Abdul Merhi, remain behind bars without charge after being arrested on Saturday during raids across Sydney.

It is believed the alleged terror plot to bring down an Australian plane was “fairly well along” when authorities moved in, according to a Reuters report citing two US officials familiar with the case. 

Police have already obtained a court order to hold and question the four men for seven days, as investigators strengthen their case to lay charges.

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MPs deny same-sex marriage vote threatens Turnbull leadership

Trump fires Scaramucci after 10 days as Communications Director

Chinese Christian churches targeted in religious crackdown

In an old apartment building in Beijing, a covert gathering of a dozen Christians takes place every Friday.

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They meet to read the bible, pray and sing Christian songs.

“We’ve been questioned by the police before. Friday is a less obvious day for us to meet,” says Pastor Xu Yonghai.

Every other day of the week the apartment is simply home to Pastor Xu and his wife. But on Friday it becomes a ‘house church.’

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“A few decades ago there was no such thing as a ‘house church.’ We had never even heard of Christianity. Now I believe there are thousands in this city alone,” says Pastor Xu.

And it’s this growth, says Bob Fu from the US-based NGO China Aid, which has caught the attention of the Chinese government.

“We definitely have been seeing a major deterioration and worsening. That has to do with the overall President Xi regime’s hardening policy.”

According the official estimates there are about 23 to 30 million Protestant Christians in China, but Bob Fu believes there are up to 100 million unregistered believers.

The state only recognises the Protestant ‘Three-Self Patriotic Movement’, a government-aligned church based on the principles of “self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation.”

Freedom of religion is guaranteed in China’s constitution, but many independent churches like Pastor Xu’s are outside the Chinese Communist Party’s control, “so they’re perceived as threat,” says Mr Fu.

Christians are turning to illegal ‘house churches’ in a bid to evade authorities.SBS World News

Punishment against Christians intensifying 

Last month Wang Zuo’an, director of China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, published an article in a Communist Party magazine banning religion for its approximately 90 million members. Wang wrote that “foreign forces have used religion to infiltrate China.”

Concealing his identity to avoid punishment for speaking out, human rights lawyer Wang Yuan (not his real name) specialises in cases involving religious freedom. He says in some areas of China local authorities are intensifying punishment for Christians found worshipping in ‘home churches’.

Mr Wang says one of his clients from Xinjiang province was recently charged for ‘disturbing public order’ after holding a four-person Bible study at home.

“Disturbing public order usually refers to large gatherings in public places, such as protests etc. But these were just people in a private home reading and praying,” he says.

“Previously, people caught in home churches would be detained for 15 days at most. Now they’re being charged and sentenced to three, four or five years in jail. Even six and seven years.”

But Wang Yuan says the treatment of Christians varies throughout China.

“In some areas and cities the attitude of the local government is different. There are many Christians who can practice religion without too much trouble,” says Mr Wang.

But Bob Fu says churches previously allowed to grow unhindered have in recent years faced intense scrutiny, or have been destroyed.

Chinese are turning to Christianity in greater numbers.SBS World News

Crackdown nothing compared to decades before

In May a church in China’s northeastern Henan province was demolished after being deemed an “illegal structure,” by authorities.

The congregation of about 40 Christians reportedly tried to stop the demolition and were detained, but not charged. Weeks before government officials in the southern Zhejiang province reportedly forced their way into a church to install surveillance equipment.

“These cases are very common, more and more so in recent years,” says Mr Fu.

Pastor Xu Yonghai says he’s aware of the risk involved in continuing to run his ‘house church’, but has no intention of stopping.

He is no stranger to being imprisoned for his beliefs.

“I’ve been arrested three times. The first time in the ’90s I was sent to a labour camp for two years for ‘smearing the government’ in an article I wrote about the growth of Christianity.

“In 2003 I wrote another article about the treatment of Christians in the south, and was sentenced to two years in prison for “leaking state secrets”. In 2014 thirteen of us from our ‘home church’ were detained for one month because at one stage our congregation became too big and caught the attention of the police.” 

“We’ve since changed locations,” he adds smiling.

Pastor Xu feels the current crackdown is nothing compared to decades before.

“There hasn’t been a day when a Christian in China wasn’t in jail. But Christians before us in the ’50s were given lifelong sentences, they were in jail for 20 years. Compared to that, what we face is nothing, right? In some things you take two steps forward, five steps back. Right now we’re just in the five steps back stage.”

Followers of the Christian faith attend a ‘house church’.SBS World News

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PNG waiting to have next PM confirmed after chaotic and violent poll

Parliament will sit for the first time since the poll to vote for a prime minister, with the incumbent Peter O’Neill claiming his coalition has the numbers.

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Mr O’Neill’s People’s National Congress (PNC) was invited last Friday to form government during a controversial return of election writs, with counting in only 80 of 111 electorates completed.

A further extension of writs means a possible six electorates could still be undeclared when the 10th parliament sits, the largest number of empty seats for the first sitting ever in PNG history.

Mr O’Neill claims his coalition has at least 56 members, enough to rule, while an opposition alliance made up of the National Alliance, Pangu Parti and independents claims it almost has 50 MPs and is within striking distance of power.

The election has been marred by widespread electoral roll irregularities, with many thousands of people unable to vote, in what was described by international election observers as alarming.

Violence between rival supporters over disputed vote counting has cost numerous lives in the volatile Highlands, including two police officers killed with assault rifles, and caused rioting in major centres.

Electoral commissioner Patilias Gamato has faced calls for him to resign for incompetence, allegations he rejects.

Former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta came out of political retirement to win a seat as an independent and has condemned the handling of the poll.

Mr O’Neill has said it was one of the most peaceful elections on record.

No one party has ever held a majority, but after writs the one with the highest number of MPs is usually asked to try to form government.

In the lead up to parliament sitting, “camps” of MPs-elect try to build a coalition, with PNC and its allies meeting in the regional town of Alotau, while opponents united by a shared wish to unseat Mr O’Neill met in Kokopo and Goroka.

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Both camps have returned to Port Moresby ahead of parliament sitting, with each keeping a careful watch that MPs who have declared their allegiance do not swap sides.

About 50 per cent of MPs lose their seats in PNG’s five-yearly election and many high-profile PNC ministers have been thrown out, while some veteran politicians have returned, along with newcomers with no parliamentary experience.

MPs are often financially broke after the election and allegations of inducements circulate, including offers of money and plumb ministerial positions being offered by the camps.

As the last of the electorates were still being declared and the opposing sides built up their numbers, at least one opposition MP was the target of a kidnap attempt at gunpoint.

Mr O’Neill said the alleged plotter, a failed candidate who was accompanied by police, was no longer a member of the PNC.

With the widespread election irregularities, many MPs will face further challenges in the court of disputed returns.

After the 2012 poll, it took four years to finalise the last cases.

One certainty is the new parliament will be all male, with no women elected after a record number in the previous term and despite the highest number of female candidates in the country’s short democratic history standing.

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Charity row over Italian migrant rescue rules

“There were two sticking points that prevented us from signing the code,” said Tommaso Fabbri, head of MSF’s Italy mission, after the charity took part in a meeting in Rome between the interior ministry and non-governmental organisations.

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One was the obligation for rescue vessels to operate with an Italian police official on board, and the other was the ban on moving rescued migrants from one aid vessel to another at sea, which complicated missions, he said.

“We are doctors, not policemen,” Fabbri told AFP.

“We will continue to carry out rescue operations without changing anything,” he said, but added the organisation was “open to controls” by the Italian coastguard in the name of transparency.

The code, created to address the biggest migrant phenomenon in Europe since World War II, lays down 13 rules Rome insists must be followed to prevent aid groups rescuing migrants from acting as a magnet for human traffickers.

But the rules have been widely criticised by the NGOs as making it more difficult for them to save the lives of those attempting the perilous crossing from the shores of crisis-hit Libya to Europe.

The interior ministry said those who “refuse to agree and sign are excluded from the system of sea rescues”.

The German NGO Jugend Rettet, a privately-funded aid organisation which has been carrying out rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, also refused to sign.

“We would only sign if the new rules made our work more efficient and increased the security of our volunteers,” spokesman Titus Molkenbur told journalists at the close of the meeting in Rome.

 ‘Restore climate of trust’

The new rules, which have been given a green light by Brussels, forbid NGOs from sailing into Libyan waters unless lives are at risk, or communicating with smugglers — including using lights that could attract traffickers.

Save the Children had signed up because its ship — the Vos Hestia — already operated according to most of the rules laid out in the code, the charity’s director general Valerio Neri said in a statement.

He said the decision to agree to the code “was dictated by the desire to guarantee continuity for the rescue operations, in a transparent fashion, and restore a climate of trust and collaboration”.

The charity said it would “constantly monitor” the code’s application “to make sure it does not hinder the efficacy of search and rescue operations at sea by NGOs”.

MOAS, the Maltese-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station, also rubber-stamped the rules “in solidarity with the government and the Italian people,” said founder Christopher Catrambon.

“Our mission has always been to save as many lives as possible at sea, and this document allows us to continue to do just that,” he said.

Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms sent a letter to Rome saying it was willing to sign the code, the ministry said.

Nearly 95,000 people have been brought to safety in Italy this year, a rise of one percent on the same period last year, according to the interior ministry.

The privately-funded aid boats performed 26 percent of the rescues carried out in 2016, rising to 35 percent so far this year.