Last Man on Manus Island

REPORTER: Olivia Rousset

I’m flying to remote Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

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Along with Nauru, it’s one of the two processing centres set up for asylum seekers under the Howard Government’s Pacific Solution.

Deliberately placed far from human rights workers, lawyers and the media, for a long time it was almost impossible for an outsider to visit here.

PNG GUIDE: This is the gate, be aware of that gun pointing at you on the right. Good morning. SBS.

PNG OFFICER: OK, we’ll have to direct you down to the commander officer and we go down there and you will see him and talk to him. I will come with you.

Since September 2001, asylum seekers have been brought to the Lombrum Naval Base, where they’re guarded by the PNG military at Australia’s request. But now there is only one person left here, a 25-year-old Palestinian refugee from Kuwait – Aladdin Sisalem.

REPORTER: Hello, Aladdin. Olivia, nice to meet you.

Aladdin has been here for 15 months, he’s been alone for the past seven. I am his second visitor in that time.

ALADDIN SISALEM: All that I can do now is remember things. Remember that some people were with me here and just to forget that I am living here alone.

Aladdin’s solitary confinement has cost the Australian taxpayer about $5 million dollars so far. The detention centre can house around 1,000 asylum seekers. It has gym, a mess area, a children’s playground, and even a makeshift mosque. But most of Aladdin’s day is spent in his room, plotting his escape on the computer.

ALADDIN SISALEM: The Internet is the only window I can look out from this detention centre. So I spend all my day inside the room. Finding research for information, trying to find help outside, that’s all that I can do here.

When Aladdin first arrived, there were about 150 people here.

ALADDIN SISALEM: They are in Auckland now. This is in Auckland as well, New Zealand.

Of all the asylum seekers brought to Manus, Aladdin was the only one to have actually made it to Australia. But he was also the only one left behind when his friends departed.

ALADDIN SISALEM: This is when the first group of New Zealand was going.

REPORTER: How did you feel when they left? Did you think that you would go soon?

ALADDIN SISALEM: I just felt happy for them. I just wished that some day I would leave like them.

The guards are discouraged from talking to the sole inmate here so his only company is a stray cat – Honey.

ALADDIN SISALEM: Hi, Honey. Give me your hand.

Aladdin’s prolonged incarceration has had a heavy impact on his state of mind. He used to take five different pills daily, until the psychiatrist and the doctor left along with the rest of the asylum seekers.

ALADDIN SISALEM: I told them don’t stop this medicine because they tried to stop it.

Now a guard gives him just one anti-anxiety tablet each afternoon. Even so, he’s still plagued by thoughts of suicide.

ALADDIN SISALEM: I don’t see the government planning for any end for my situation. Only just to maybe they want me to end it myself. And I can’t. I don’t have the courage to do that. And I won’t do it. And I need my rights to live. And I want to live. I don’t want to be forgotten here until I make my own decision. I don’t want that. I can’t do it.

ERIC VADARLIS, ALADDIN’S LAWYER: There is no doubt in my mind that Aladdin is really stuck between a hard place and a rock. He’s not in a place of his own choosing, he came here because he believes that Australia was a free country, you know, signatory to the convention on refugees, obligated to give refuse to those people seeking asylum and unfortunately he was wrong because we’re a hard-arsed country here.

Eric Vadarlis is a prominent Melbourne solicitor who’s taken on Aladdin’s cause. He says that in 27 years of practising law, he’s never seen a case like this.

ERIC VADARLIS: He is a classic refugee. He’s a classic person for whom the convention was created back in 1947. Classic. And yet, he comes here, he’s stateless, he’s a Palestinian, he’s got no travel documents, he really can’t be anywhere. I mean, he can’t go to Mars, and yet they put him on Manus Island.

How Aladdin ended up on Manus Island is an extraordinary story. He was born in Kuwait but as the son of a Palestinian refugee he didn’t have automatic right to residency. Unable to work legally and harassed by the police, he left three years ago after getting a tourist visa to Indonesia. When he arrived in Jakarta he applied for asylum with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR. But after a year of living on the streets and no progress with his application, he set off for Papua New Guinea.

ALADDIN SISALEM: I come with the ship from Java, Indonesia…

Aladdin got a ship to Indonesian West Papua and travelled through dense jungle to the border with PNG.

ALADDIN SISALEM: This is the closest point between Indonesia and PNG and I arrive at about here.

After trekking for two weeks through the rainforest with no food, he arrived in Kiunga, Papua New Guinea. When he requested asylum he was told to walk back through the jungle to West Papua. Aladdin refused to go. He was jailed for illegal entry and says he was beaten in prison.

ALADDIN SISALEM: I spent seven months in Port Moresby trying with the immigration department…

When he was told that PNG doesn’t take asylum seekers from terrorist countries, he finally decided to try his luck in Australia.

ALADDIN SISALEM: So I flew from Port Moresby to Daru Island, this one here, Daru Island, PNG, Daru island. You see the border, it is close. And this is Saibai Island, Australia’s Saibai Island. It’s not far from the PNG border.

A fisherman took Aladdin to Australia’s Saiwai Island in the Torres Strait. At this critical moment he says he approached local immigration officers and asked for asylum. He was then flown to Thursday Island where officials in Canberra interviewed him by telephone. Aladdin thought his 2-year journey was finally over.

ALADDIN SISALEM: And in the morning they come, the immigration officers, the same ones they come and took me to the airport. I said “What’s happening? Where we going?” They said “We’re going to Manus Island.” I said “Why?” They said “It’s Australian centre, immigration centre. We’ll put you there and process your case.”

Aladdin waited here in the detention centre for nearly two months to hear about the processing of his case. But no-one approached him about it.

ALADDIN SISALEM: I see them come and talk to the other asylum seekers, told them about their situation but nobody tell me about my case. So I feel confused. And they told me – the immigration officer said to me – the same one who interviewed me for my asylum claim – he said to me “We don’t have an asylum application for you.” Now I start to understand the situation. I start to find it’s getting serious.

As a signatory to the UN refugee convention, Australia is obliged to grant asylum to anyone who lands in the migration zone, if they ask for it, and are found to be a refugee. Since arriving on Manus, Aladdin has been granted refugee status by the UNHCR. So what about Australia’s obligation to him, given that he sought asylum in Australian territory? The Government says he didn’t ask for the right form.

ALADDIN SISALEM: I didn’t want Australia to ask for tourist visa. I mean, I didn’t risk my life to enter some remote Australian remote island because I want – I am economy migrant or something like this. I needed help. I went there and first thing I asked, I asked for asylum. I was interviewed. I mean, if Australian immigration does not consider me as an asylum seeker why they ask me about the harms I suffered in Kuwait and the persecution? Why they ask me about that, if they don’t want to process my application for asylum?

REPORTER: Minister, can you tell me what someone’s required to do once they land within the Australian migration zone to ensure that a visa application for asylum is under way?

SENATOR AMANDA VANSTONE, MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION: Well, look, if someone wants some advice on how to make an asylum claim they should get it from the Immigration Department.

REPORTER: But if someone – if a refugee, say, lands within the migration zone of Australia, what do they need to do?

SENATOR AMANDA VANSTONE: As I say, if someone wants some advice on the legal requirements for making a claim, they can get that from the Immigration Department.

REPORTER: But if there’s someone who has –

SENATOR AMANDA VANSTONE: You’ve asked me that twice and I’ve given the same answer twice. I know why you’ve asked me that twice and I’m going to give you the same answer every time.

ERIC VARDARLIS: There’s no special way for a person to claim asylum. I mean logic helps because this guy landed on Saibai Island, in northern most part of Australia on his own and he’s a Palestinian and he sought asylum. I mean he says “I sought asylum” they said “No, you didn’t because you didn’t fill out the form.”

When Aladdin did submit a written claim for asylum he received this letter from the Department of Immigration.

DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION, LETTER: Dear Mr Sisalem, Australia does not have an obligation to extend protection to a person who is outside Australia. You are currently in Papua New Guinea and have applied for asylum there. Papua New Guinea is a signatory to the UN convention relating to the status of refugees.

ERIC VADARLIS: When this hit my desk the first time around I looked at it and I thought somebody must have ticked the wrong box for this man to be in the position he’s in today. I thought it was a simple misunderstanding that it would be sorted out fairly quickly.

Eric Vadarlis will be representing Aladdin in a Federal Court case next month, attempting to prove Aladdin is Australia’s responsibility.

ERIC VADARLIS: I think we need to go back a step and work out how Aladdin got there. Aladdin didn’t get there because he bought a ticket to Manus Island. He was taken there by the Australian Government, specifically taken and dumped there. Now whose problem is he? So, you know, is the Australian Government into the slave trade? Do they pick people up and just take them off to Manus Island and drop them there and say they are someone else’s problem?

In fact this is precisely what the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs claims.

SENATOR AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, you’ve asked me this a couple of times, I’ve indicated to you Mr Sisalem is not the responsibility of the Australian Government.

REPORTER: It just doesn’t seem very clear that the PNG Government says that as far as they’re concerned the detention centre is Australian property, it’s virtually Australia. You’ve got a guy who entered the migration zone here and was flown by Australian authorities to Manus Island detention centre where he’s being looked after by people who are paid by the Australian Government, how can he not be Australia’s responsibility?

SENATOR AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, as I’ve indicated to you he’s not the Australian Government’s responsibility. I understand that’s agreed. I’m not privy…

With Aladdin’s court case pending, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone refuses to discuss his case in detail. While Aladdin sits alone, the locals enjoy a Sunday soccer match just outside the fence of the detention centre. As no-one can visit him, they know nothing about him.

GIRL (Translation): We’ve heard that he’s married to a Papua New Guinean woman so he comes out, he walks around…

In fact, Aladdin hasn’t left the centre since early February when he was taken out for a couple of hours escorted by guards. He no longer wants to go outside, he’s afraid that Australia is pressuring PNG to give him asylum and based on prior experiences, he’s terrified he’ll be killed.

ERIC VADARLIS: I think Aladdin is very scared at the moment. He really doesn’t know what’s going on. It’s all a bit beyond him. And frankly I don’t blame him. He’s been imprisoned by the PNG system, so really he wouldn’t have very much faith in the process and I don’t blame him.

Aladdin says the manager of the camp knows he’s in danger.

ALADDIN SISALEM: He told me, he agreed with me that if I left PNG authorities my body would be in the jungle and he said “That’s why I don’t want you out of here.” But he’s still pushing me to get out.

The Papua New Guinean Foreign Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu wants to close the gates when the lease comes up at the end of this year.

SIR RABBIE NAMALIU, PNG FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, our feeling is that the detention centre has probably served its purpose. There’s only one soul left at the centre, and if that is going to be the case, we feel there is no point in continuing with the centre.

For the time being, Australia is happy to keep the camp open with Aladdin as its sole occupant, at a cost of $23,000 a day.

ALADDIN SISALEM: There is not any reason to keep me on my own here, OK. What between them and Australia and the PNG government, this is their own business, their own work. Myself, I need my right for freedom and safety.

ERIC VADARLIS: The way things look he’s going to be there forever, in a sort of Gilligan Island’s scenario. We’re just going to sit out and wait. So there’s a human being involved and he ought to be processed in accordance with the law and promptly.

REPORTER: There’s someone who for seven months has been alone and has only had two visitors in that time and is slowly going mad from that experience. Do you feel sorry for him as a genuine refugee who’s tried for two years to get asylum in Indonesia, then Papua New Guinea and then Australia and has found himself sort of in this detention centre all on his own not knowing what’s going on?

SENATOR AMANDA VANSTONE: With respect, I might have some different information from that which you have and no, I cannot say that I have any sorry for Mr Sisalem’s position.

REPORTER: You don’t feel sorry for a stateless refugee?

SENATOR AMANDA VANSTONE: You’ve just asked me a question and I’ve answered it.

Aladdin is allowed only two phone calls each month. He’s calling his family in Kuwait where they live as refugees.

ALADDIN SISALEM (Translation): The whole world is talking about it, but it’s no use.

His father hasn’t left the house in 15 years and recently had a stroke brought about by the stress of Aladdin’s perilous journey.

ALADDIN SISALEM (Translation): Look after my father, all right? Look after my father.

REPORTER: Do they worry about you?

ALADDIN SISALEM: They just feel helpless. They feel helpless. They have their own problems to worry about. They have a lot. So actually, I am the one who worries about them.

REPORTER: What do they say to you?

ALADDIN SISALEM: Don’t give up.

Springboks guilty over armband protest

Rugby’s governing body has found the Springboks guilty of bringing the game into disrepute with an armband protest against a ban given to Bakkies Botha.

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Charges were laid after the side wore white armbands bearing the word ‘justice’ during their third Test defeat by the British and Irish Lions last month.

The armbands were worn as a symbol of solidarity with lock Botha, who the South Africans felt had been unfairly banned for dangerously charging into a ruck during the second Test of the series.

The International Rugby Board (IRB)’s independent disciplinary committee fines of STG10,000 ($A19,700) on the South African Rugby Union (SARU), STG1,000 ($A1,970) on Springbok skipper John Smit and STG200 ($A400) on each of the other players.

The committee said the sanctions would have been much more severe but for legal technicalities, and the IRB could yet seek tougher measures by appealing against the ruling of its disciplinary committee.

No apology

SARU acknowledged the guilty verdict but held off a response until it had reviewed the findings.

“We note the outcome of the International Rugby Board’s Disciplinary Committee hearing into the charges brought against the South African Rugby Union, Springbok players and management,” said SARU president Oregan Hoskins.

“We are reviewing the full findings of the committee and will respond once that review is concluded.”

The IRB committee was made up of two judges, Sir John Hansen of New Zealand and Guillermo Tragant of Argentina, and former Australian captain John Eales.

In its ruling, the committee said that the action of the Springboks “brought the game into disrepute, criticised the judicial process and was misconduct”.

The committee also noted the absence of any apology from SARU, the team’s management or the players themselves.

World Cup ban

It emphasised that “the playing arena is no place for protest” and that the wearing of the armbands “showed a serious lack of respect and consideration for their opponents”.

SARU was found to have failed to make any attempt to prevent the protest, approved of it and effectively consented to conduct which was prejudicial to the best interests of the IRB and of the game.

In a statement the IRB added that: “The Independent Committee was unanimous in its view that, had it not been for the legal technicalities… both SARU and the Springbok players and

management would have faced much more serious sanctions”.

It said those sanctions could have faced “a more severe fine in the case of SARU and the suspension of the Springbok players and management from the Rugby World Cup 2011 (such sanction to have been suspended in the absence of further acts of misconduct before then).”

The IRB said it was “extremely disappointed” at the level of sanctions imposed and would consider an appeal in the hope of securing tougher punishment to act as a deterrent against any repeat of the Springboks’ action by players around the world.

Troops patrol Peru quake town

Rescue crews were now focusing on aid efforts for tens of thousands of people left destitute by the massive earthquake.

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President Alan Garcia has threatened to impose a curfew to stop looting by angry mobs, with 200,000 people said to have been affected by Wednesday's magnitude-8 quake which left 500 dead and 1,600 injured.

"I have ordered to use the harshest measures and if needed to impose a curfew," Mr Garcia told reporters in Pisco, the town, 240 kilometres southeast of Lima, hit hardest by the quake.

More than 1,000 troops and police armed with assault rifles were patrolling the streets of the town which was 70 percent destroyed in the quake.

At least 500 dead

Police on Sunday released the latest official death toll in Pisco. The tally is likely to increase the overall toll in Peru's southern Pacific Coast, previously estimated at 500.

National police colonel Roger Torres told news agency AFP at least 308 people were confirmed dead in Pisco, including 160 worshippers who were crushed when the town's San Clemente church collapsed. Mr Torres believed a further 150 were still buried in rubble elswehere in the town.

Amid mounting reports of looting and assaults, President Garcia on Saturday ordered more troops to the quake-stricken southern area and promised that authorities would keep the peace "whatever the cost."

Many thousands were left homeless by the quake and on Sunday faced a fifth night sleeping in the streets in the chilly southern hemisphere winter.

Emergency workers meanwhile abandoned rescue efforts as hopes for finding any more survivors faded. "The possibility of finding someone alive is nearly nil," Jorge Molina, search and rescue operations chief for the local firefighters, told AFP.

Efforts would now focus on recovering the dead in the rubble and helping secure the distribution of aid, officials said.

Angry mobs

Desperate mobs have been looting trucks carrying food and water, and some people tried to break into the air force base where relief efforts have been centralized.

Close to the provincial capital of Ica, another mob tried to raid a convoy of trucks carrying emergency supplies.

In nearby Chincha, a group of people tried to break into a hospital believing it held emergency food supplies.

Spanish fire-fighters searching the rubble of the Pisco church with trained sniffer dogs also had to stop their work late Saturday when gunfire broke out around them.

Aid workers are also worried of the risk of an outbreak of disease in the town.

Health Minister Carlos Vallejos said some 1,500 doctors and nurses were struggling to prevent the spread of epidemic diseases among earthquake victims.

"The problem is not only that there are still unfound bodies, the problem is water," and how human waste is being disposed of, he said.

Fears over disease

There were fears of an outbreak of infectious diseases in the quake-stricken areas such as diarrhea and cholera, while a choking dust from the rubble of the town was causing respiratory problems.

Medical officials said Saturday that symptoms of respiratory infections have begun to emerge as a floating dust cloaks the town, and warned the situation could deteriorate into an epidemic if residents fail to take precautions.

A field hospital has been set up by 22 US doctors in the grounds of the Pisco football stadium.

Among aid from other countries, the French embassy in Lima said fire-fighters from France had arrived in Peru to help.

Aftershocks are also continuing to keep people on edge. Peru's geophysical institute reported more than 400 tremors following the quake, which was the most devastating to hit the country since 1970.

Assad sets price of weapons handover

President Bashar al-Assad says Syria will give up its chemical weapons, but has demanded the US drop threats of military action.

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“When we see that the United States truly desires stability in our region and stops threatening and seeking to invade, as well as stops arms supplies to terrorists then we can believe that we can follow through with the necessary processes,” Assad said in an interview on Russian television.

Washington should dispense with the “politics of threats”, he warned.

Assad also signalled that he was ready to start the disarmament process by filing documents to the UN as the first step towards joining an international convention outlawing the possession and use of chemical weapons.

Despite Assad’s demand, US President Barack Obama said he was hopeful US-Russia talks due to start in Geneva could produce a workable weapons transfer plan that will avert the need for military action.

Assad had earlier rejected suggestions the threat of airstrikes had forced his hand.

“Syria is handing over chemical weapons under international control because of Russia,” he said. “US threats have not affected the decision.”

Backed by a large team of experts, US Secretary of State John Kerry was to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva.

“I am hopeful that the discussions that Secretary Kerry has with Foreign Minister Lavrov as well as some of the other players in this can yield a concrete result and I know that he is going to be working very hard over the next several days over the possibilities there,” Obama said.

Washington wants to see if Assad is serious about putting his chemical weapons stockpile under international control, amid allegations the regime used sarin gas in an attack near Damascus last month.

Norway’s Breivik studying in cell

Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in a rampage in 2011, has been allowed to study certain political science subjects in his cell.

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Last month, the University of Oslo rejected an application by Breivik to enrol in a political science course, arguing that he was not academically equipped to pursue a degree.

However, the extremist subsequently applied for permission to take individual subjects within the course, and this has now been granted by the university.

“Norwegian law recognises that all detainees have the right to work and study,” said Karl Gustav Knutsen, warden of Skien Prison in southeast Norway, where Breivik is being held under high-security conditions.

Breivik, who describes himself as a “militant nationalist” combating a multicultural society and a “Muslim takeover” of Europe, set off a bomb in Oslo’s government district on July 22, 2011, before opening fire on participants at a Labour Youth camp on the island of Utoeya.

“Breivik does not deserve to be able to study anything,” Ingrid Nymoen, a survivor of the Utoeya shooting, remarked on Twitter.

The extremist will only be allowed to study in his cell, without access to the internet.

“He won’t be able to leave jail and go to campus to study,” said Ole Petter Ottersen, the university’s rector.

According to his lawyer Vibeke Hein Baera, Breivik hoped to study political theory, international politics and public administration, but he has decided to focus on just two of these subjects, which will give him academic credits if he passes the exams.

Breivik has said repeatedly that he hopes to continue his ideological struggle from behind bars.

Sydney blazes burn into the night

Dozens of residents who survived the 1000-hectare blaze that tore through bushland west of Sydney say they never received an emergency phone alert as the fire bore down on their suburbs.

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Locals packed into a Winmalee school hall on Thursday night for a meeting with Blue Mountains City Council, National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Police and Rural Fire Service (RFS) representatives.

High temperatures and strong winds had fanned flames around Winmalee earlier this week, plunging the region into emergency.

Locals were warned to evacuate or prepare for impact and firefighters were still water bombing the burning bushland on Thursday.

But a show of hands at the community forum revealed about a third of those present never received an emergency text alert on Tuesday.

An RFS official told the crowd the problem would be investigated and may have been due to individual phone service providers.

“Getting this information out is really important,” he said.

“I don’t issue emergency alerts lightly.”

Leeanne Connor was one local who did receive the text, but said it came too late for her to evacuate.

The Hawkesbury Heights mum told AAP of her frantic efforts to gather her belongings, her dog and an elderly neighbour before heading to the local primary school for her children.

“I’d been getting texts from my friends saying `the fire’s broken containment, you’ve got to get out of there’,” she said.

By the time she received the official text, though, a roadblock was in place on her street.

Her only option then was to shelter there while her three young children spent the night with family.

“I just wanted to be with my kids,” she told AAP.

One woman at Thursday’s forum took the microphone simply to thank the firies who saved her home.

She recalled her terror as the flames spread to her street.

“(But the firefighters) kept us in the loop, knocking on doors, helping out,” she said.

“It was unbelievable.”

Other residents voiced concerns that hazard reduction burns may have been to blame, and should have been carried out earlier in the year.

AAP understands investigations into what sparked the blaze may be complete as early as Friday.

Miserable-looking fish wins ugly award

The blobfish, a denizen of the Pacific that looks like a bald, grumpy old man, has been named the world’s ugliest animal, organisers of the offbeat competition say.

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More than 3000 people contributed to an online poll aimed at raising awareness of unsightly species that play an important role in the ecological web.

The blobfish, a squidgy pink creature capable of enduring otherwise crushing pressures at great depth, is becoming a casualty of deep-sea trawling.

It was a clear winner, snatching 795 votes, said Coralie Young of the British Science Association, which announced the results at an annual festival in Newcastle, northeastern England.

Runner-up was the kakapo, a rare flightless owl-like parrot that lives in New Zealand, and third was the axolotl, a Mexican amphibian also called the “walking fish.”

Other candidates were the proboscis monkey, which has red genitals, a big nose and a pot belly, and the Titicaca water frog, which also goes under the less-than-scientific moniker of “scrotum frog.”

A total of 88,000 people visited the website where the polling took place, reflecting wide interest in the issue, Young said.

“It’s a light-hearted way to make people think about conservation.”

The blobfish’s reward is to be enshrined as the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society (南宁桑拿网,uglyanimalsoc.com), a loose association of stand-up comedians who humorously champion endangered but visually unappealing species.

“The Ugly Animal Preservation Society is dedicated to raising the profile of some of Mother Nature’s more aesthetically challenged children,” it says on its website.

“The panda gets too much attention.”

Western jihadists ‘killed in Somalia’

Two Western jihadist fighters and two locals have been killed by the Islamist al-Shabaab militia in Somalia, witnesses say.

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The four were part of a group that splintered from al-Shabaab this year, citing the increasingly radical nature of the organisation, which has become affiliated with al-Qaeda.

The two foreigners are believed to be Omar Hammami, known as al-Amriki because of his ties to the United States, and Osama al-Britani, a British citizen of Pakistani origin. Hammami grew up in Alabama.

They were killed after a fierce gun battle outside the town of Bardhere in the Gedo region.

The US State Department this year offered a 5-million-dollar reward for the capture of al-Amriki, who was known for posting jihadist rap videos on YouTube.

Ahmed Abdi Godane, the hardliner now heading al-Shabaab, and is said to be taking the group in the direction of global jihad as the militia appears to be increasingly on the back foot inside Somalia.

“Godane gave the orders to kill these men,” said an al-Shabaab member in southern Somalia.

The two foreigners and their local allies were affiliated with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Somali Islamist who led the split from al-Shabaab this year.

Aweys is now being held by the central government, which is seeking ways to reconcile the different communities in the country after more than 20 years of civil war.

Meanwhile, a roadside bomb exploded in the Juba region, killing seven people. The target was apparently Ahemd Madobe, an interim regional leader.

Madobe, whose condition was unknown, was returning in a convoy from a meeting with representatives of the federal government.

Turnbull rejects NBN petition

Incoming communications minister Malcolm Turnbull is facing a social media backlash after he seemingly brushed aside a snowballing online campaign to save Labor’s national broadband network (NBN).

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An internet petition set up by a Liberal-voting student six days ago had more than 200,000 online signatures by 4pm (AEST) on Thursday, making it the largest ever online petition in Australia.

The NBN petition on Change.org calls on the incoming coalition government to scrap plans to create a fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network in place of Labor’s existing fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) approach.

When asked on Twitter to reconsider policy in light of the petition, Mr Turnbull replied: “Wasn’t there an election recently at which nbn policy was a key issue?”

Mr Turnbull’s stirred a hornet’s nest of response, with hundreds of people flooding his Facebook page with comments and thousands appealing to him through Twitter.

“Wasn’t the NBN preceded and overshadowed by ‘stop the boats’ and ‘axe the tax’ at that recent election?” one Twitter user wrote.

“I would actually go as far as to say that your NBN policy was what saved Labor from annihilation,” said another.

The previous largest online petition called on advertisers to boycott controversial broadcaster Alan Jones in 2012.

Coincidentally, Mr Turnbull commented on that campaign, saying Mr Jones was getting a taste of his own medicine.

Labor’s FTTH network connects every home and business with optical fibre cables, which provides download speeds up to 1000 megabits a second (Mbps), upload speeds of 400Mbps and aimed to be completed by 2021.

The coalition’s FTTN policy, which will rely on existing copper lines, will provide most homes with download speeds of 50Mbps and upload speeds of 5Mbps by 2019.

The capital cost of the NBN under the coalition’s plan is $29.5 billion, against Labor’s $44.1 billion.

Niqab laws barely used, review finds

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

New laws requiring people in New South Wales to uncover their face for police identification have reportedly caused anxiety among some Muslim women.

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However, a review by the state’s Ombudsman has found the leglisation has been little used.

The Ombudsman’s report, tabled to the New South Wales parliament, found police used the power less than 10 times in the first year it was introduced.

The findings have some civil liberty groups wondering if the law is needed at all.

New South Wales law changed two years ago after a woman was accused of falsely claiming a police officer tried to remove her niqab at a traffic stop.

The Law Enforcement Powers and Responsibilities Act was expanded to include a provision which authorises police to require that a person uncover their face when being identified.

The New South Wales Ombudsman has conducted a review of the law and says it was used infrequently and uncontroversially.

However, Ombudsman Bruce Barbour says the laws have enhanced the identification process.

“We do believe the law is beneficial and we think that it’s an improvement. It certainly clarifies the circumstances when a person can be asked or required to remove face coverings. And I think what it also does is it balances that with protections and safeguards in the legislation.”

Of the eight documented instances between 2011 and 2012, seven of them involved a woman wearing a niqab.

The review found some women were concerned about male police officers misunderstanding their request for further privacy as a challenge to the officer’s authority.

Some women said they avoided driving out of their suburb in case they encountered male officers who weren’t used to interacting with women wearing a niqab.

Mr Barbour says indications that the new laws are causing anxiety for some Muslim women often relates to privacy.

“I think if there is any anxiety that arises it is just in circumstances where it is a male officer involved and also there is little opportunity to provide privacy.”

Under the current law the onus is on an individual to request a female police officer.

However, even if a female officer is requested, there is no obligation for the police officer to follow through with the request.

This 64-year-old Muslim woman works in Lakemba in Sydney.

She doesn’t wear a face covering, but says many women in the community are concerned about the extent of police powers.

“They were very anxious, they didn’t like it. Because It would prevent them from driving or going out like doing whatever they want freely. I think with the mention of a few rules to help them in situations where in front of another officer, female office or in a private room. So that will make them maybe a little bit more at ease. But its still the extent and implementation of this recommendation we don’t know how far it is going to go. It depends on the situation and on the officer of the time. So it’s still not helping a lot.”

The review has recommended that, where requested and practicable, a female officer be made available to look at the face of any woman.

The United Muslim Women Association in New South Wales says this is important, because for many Muslim women the process of revealing their face to a male stranger is invasive.

The Association’s Executive Officer Maha Abdo says privacy should be an important consideration.

“I think for most women that practice, wearing the burqa, the niqab, it is a spiritual act. It is something that they hold very, very dearly. In the that fact that it’s very similar to sort of wearing clothes. And a lot of people don’t like to undress in front of others.”

The New South Wales Police Force submitted to the review that any new safeguard could be used to deliberately delay police operations.

Ombudsman Bruce Barbour says the recommendations are practical and have acknowledged that there needs to be a balance between police duties and religious beliefs.

Some other groups say the motivation for introducing the law in the first place was purely political.

President of the New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties Cameron Murphy says the law creates an unnecessary divide in Australian communities.

“Well I think it’s very difficult to see how a law has been beneficial when the law isn’t being used. I mean what’s been demonstrated in the past periods since the law’s been enacted is that it’s not necessary. And the only thing the law has served to do is create a rift between the Islamic Australians and the rest of the community.”

But Maha Abdo says people in the Islamic community are generally supportive of the law, because it clarifies police roles.

“I’d like to have less laws and more social interaction and awareness but unfortunately it’s not happening. So this particular law or legislation when it came in I don’t see it at all as a tool of division. Rather I see it as a tool of recognising that these are the issues that we need to work with.”

A significant problem the review did identify was a lack of awareness about the police powers in the wider community.

Ombudsman Bruce Barbour says knowledge of the legislation is important if it is to continue to run smoothy.

“We’ve certainly recommended as part of this review that there be ongoing education, community consultation and engagement. To make sure that everybody knows as well as possible what the circumstances are of the law how it can be used, what the potential penalties are.”

Syria asks UN to join chemical arms treaty

A UN spokesman confirmed that Syria had sent accession documents to the world body, which is guarantor of the 1993 convention banning the production and stockpiling of the arms.

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Syria’s UN envoy said joining the convention was the end of a “chapter” in the Syria crisis.

   

“In the past few hours we have received a document from the government of Syria,” said UN spokesman Farhan Haq, adding that it was “an accession document.”

   

Syria had been one of seven UN members that have refused to join the 1993 convention.

   

But President Bashar al-Assad’s government announced it would sign up as part of a Russian plan to put his country’s chemical arsenal under international control.

   

The United States and other western nations accuse Assad’s government of launching a sarin gas attack on August 21 near Damascus in which hundreds died and Washington has threatened a punitive military strike.

   

The UN spokesman said it could take a few days to complete the accession process.

   

Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari said his government now considered itself a full member of the convention.

   

“With this, the chapter of the so-called chemical weapons should be ended,” Jaafari told reporters.

   

“The chemical weapons in Syria are a mere deterrence against the Israeli nuclear arsenal,” he added.

   

Jaafari said he expected a UN report on the August 21 attack — which his government blames on opposition rebels — to be handed to UN leader Ban Ki-moon early next week.

   

“We have nothing to hide,” the ambassador said, while adding that Syria does not want “any partial report, any politicized report, any manipulated report.”

   

Under the 1993 convention, Syria will have to destroy any chemical arms it possesses.

Sizzling Snedeker takes early control

The fast-talking American fired a flawless eight-under-par 63 despite tricky, gusting conditions at Conway Farms Golf Club to seize control of the third of the PGA Tour’s four lucrative FedEx Cup playoff events.

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Helped by a 40-foot putt which he sank from the back fringe of the green at the par-three 17th, his eighth hole of the day, Snedeker reeled off seven consecutive birdies from the 13th to rocket to the top of the leaderboard.

Compatriot Zach Johnson opened with a seven-birdie 64 and world number one Tiger Woods shot a 66 to end the day level with fellow American Steve Stricker and South African Charl Schwartzel but Snedeker commanded the spotlight.

“It was one of those days where everything seemed to go right in the middle of the round,” Snedeker, the reigning FedExCup champion, told reporters after totalling only 22 putts in an eight-birdie display.

“Got off to kind of a slow start and made a great birdie from off the green on 13 that got everything moving in the right direction. To roll off seven birdies in a row kind of came out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting it.”

Woods, seeking his sixth PGA Tour victory this season, was not in the best of moods after failing to birdie any of the three par-fives.

“I’m not exactly real happy,” said the 14-times major winner, who mixed seven birdies with two bogeys. “I certainly wasted a lot of shots out there today. I missed three short ones (putts) and played the par-fives stupendously.

“One of those days. I played well, and I just didn’t get much out of that round.”

Seventy players have qualified for the elite BMW Championship, the penultimate playoff event.

Of the 30 who advance to next week’s season-ending Tour Championship, any of the top five would automatically clinch FedExCup honours and a staggering $10 million bonus with victory in Atlanta.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

Armstrong returns Sydney Olympic medal to officials

“The International Olympic Committee and the USOC had previously requested that the medal be returned.

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The USOC has made arrangements to return the medal to the IOC.”

The confirmation came shortly after Armstrong had tweeted: “The 2000 Bronze is back in possession of @usolympics and will be in Switzerland asap.”

The American lost his seven Tour de France titles last year and in January admitted to years of performance-enhancing substance use in the most spectacular drugs case in recent years.

Following his public confession, the IOC ordered the return of the bronze medal he won in the time-trial at the Sydney 2000 Games and declared the race results void.

Thomas Bach, who was elected president of the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday, had said the previous day the organisation was still seeking the medal.

“We will continue to work with the United States Olympic Committee to get this medal back as requested in our decision,” Bach, previously an IOC vice president and head of its juridical commission, told an IOC session in Buenos Aires.

“This (the IOC’s January) decision has been communicated to Mr Armstrong and the USOC. This decision has not been appealed neither by Mr Armstrong, nor by the USOC and what we are lacking, sadly, is getting back the medal. Legally the case for the IOC is closed.”

The once-revered athlete is battling to hang on to what remains of his reputation and his earnings and is fighting several lawsuits, including one from the U.S. Justice Department.

In February, the Justice Department said it was joining a fraud suit filed in 2010 by Floyd Landis, a former Armstrong team mate. Landis filed the suit under a federal law that allows whistle-blowers to report fraud in exchange for a reward.

The U.S. Postal Service paid $40 million from 1998 to 2004 to have Armstrong and his team mates from Tailwind Sports wear its logo during record-breaking wins. At least $17.9 million of these fees went to Armstrong, according to the government.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue)