Archive For 03/19/2019

China under fresh fire over sea rows

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China has come under renewed criticism over its rising profile in the South China Sea as it jostled with the United States for regional influence at the conclusion to a week of top-level diplomacy.

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Asia-Pacific leaders met in Malaysia with China finding itself in the firing line over its land reclamation projects that have turned tiny atolls into fully-fledged islands with potential military uses.

“The world is watching,” to see if Beijing will behave like a “responsible global leader” in the stand-off, Philippine President Benigno Aquino told the assembled leaders.

The talks – which included the United States, China, Japan and others – were hosted by the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

President Barack Obama, who earlier in the week repeated US calls for China to stop the land reclamation, announced Sunday he would host the ASEAN leaders at a meeting in the United States next year.

“This region … is critical to security, prosperity and human dignity around the world,” he said, while also pledging continued trade, diplomatic, and security support for the region.

The annual season of summitry, which began a week ago in Turkey for the Group of 20 meeting, and continued with regional forums in Manila and Kuala Lumpur, has been overshadowed by the string of recent deadly extremist attacks.

But attention in Malaysia shifted back to Chinese actions, which have raised fears of potential conflict at sea.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waded into the fray, calling for the South China Sea, a key route for global seaborne trade, not to be militarised, while refraining from directly naming China, according to Kyodo news agency.

China insists on sovereignty over virtually all the resource-endowed South China Sea, which is also claimed in part by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and non-ASEAN member Taiwan.

Beijing has displayed irritation with Washington’s expressions of support for the claims of China’s neighbours, and once again refused to budge on the issue in Kuala Lumpur.

With Obama present, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told Sunday’s closed-door summit that countries “from outside the region” should stop inflaming tensions over the maritime dispute, a Chinese official said afterward.

Earlier Sunday, the heads of ASEAN signed an agreement to formally establish the region as an EU-style common market.

Actually realising the vision of the “ASEAN Economic Community” remains a distant goal due to significant non-tariff and other barriers, and large development gaps across the diverse region.

Diplomats have admitted Sunday’s declaration has no practical effect and was largely meant to avoid having ASEAN – regularly criticised for its lack of concrete achievements – miss its own deadline of 2015 for the AEC.

But the move takes the region a small step closer to a hoped-for single Southeast Asian market with free flow of goods, capital and skilled labour across borders.

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Cheika looking forward to taking on Jones

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Australia coach Michael Cheika is already looking to next summer’s series against England in anticipation after his long-standing friend Eddie Jones was placed in charge of the Red Rose.

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Jones was appointed Stuart Lancaster’s successor on Friday and once the Six Nations competition has been negotiated, the 55-year-old will begin preparations for a three-Test tour against Cheika’s World Cup runners-up.

The pair played in the same pack at Randwick and have remained in close contact since, but Cheika insists their relationship will be put to one side when they lock horns in June.

“There’s no such thing as friends when the game’s on, brother,” said Cheika, speaking after the Barbarians had lost 49-31 to Argentina at Twickenham.

“When the game’s on, it’s the battlefield and when it’s over, life returns to how we know it.

“There will be a bit of banter when the tour comes and that’s good fun because we both enjoy that.

“I want Eddie to be happy, but I don’t want him to do too well obviously. He’s a bit older (seven years) so has given me the odd bit of advice here and there, which I’ve appreciated.

“I know that won’t be happening any more though and he won’t be wanting me to do well!

“That’ll be the relationship and I’m looking forward to the opportunity of when we go up against each other.

“I’m really proud that we’re both Australian and from the same club, but will be doing battle in a different arena.”

Cheika insists Jones, whose extensive coaching CV includes spells with Australia, South Arica and Japan, will prove a wise appointment by England.

“I’m a mate of Eddie’s so I can only speak highly of him. He’ll be a good fit for what’s required over here,” Cheika said.

“He’ll enjoy it, is an international level coach and will do very well. This is the sort of level he should be coaching at.

“He’ll bring the style of play he believes will suit England best. I’m sure we’ll see that pretty much straight away in the Six Nations.

“He will pick a staff to support what he wants to do and those will be the guys he’ll be looking to bring through.”

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Three WA fire emergencies, two ease

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The alert level for two major bushfires in Western Australia has been downgraded as the threat to lives and homes has eased, but three emergencies remain.

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An emergency warning for parts of Myrup, east of Esperance in the state’s south, has been reduced to a watch and act because the spread of the blaze has slowed.

The fire threatened more than a dozen streets earlier on Sunday after it broke through containment lines and still poses a possible risk to lives and homes as conditions are changing.

Residents in an area bounded by Hills Road, Lake Road and Quarry Road are allowed to return to their properties but may need to leave again if the slow-moving fire worsens.

Another emergency warning that was issued for the western part of Ellenbrook, on Perth’s northeastern fringe, has also been reduced to a watch and act.

The fire was directly threatening homes on Charlotte’s Vista, which faces bushland, and is now being showered in embers.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services says spot fires are starting up to 500 metres ahead of the blaze, with flames higher than rooftops.

Also north of Perth, emergency warnings remain in place for the Julimar State Forest in the Toodyay Shire, Bindoon in the Shire of Chittering – where the fire has jumped Great Northern Highway – and Brand Highway in North Muchea.

Emergency evacuation centres have been set up at town halls in Bindoon and Toodyay.

In North Muchea, the out-of-control and unpredictable bushfire is moving fast.

Last week, a local farmer and three tourists were killed in a bushfire north of Esperance.

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Most Reclaim rallies calm, violence in Vic

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Violence marred rival anti-Islam and pro-diversity protests in Melbourne but similar rallies around the country were rowdy but largely trouble-free.

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A large contingent of police was well prepared to handle any skirmishes, with roughly one officer for every two protesters at the Melbourne rally.

The right-wing Reclaim Australia group held a series of anti-Islam rallies in the capital cities on Sunday, matched with equally noisy protests from left-wing groups.

The largest was in Melbourne, where Reclaim Australia and locals protested about the planned construction of a mosque.

Six people were arrested – one for animal cruelty accused of punching a police horse, two for riotous behaviour and three for weapons offences.

The rally attracted about 1000 people, with 500 on each side, separated by around 500 police, some in riot gear.

Capsicum spray was used as scuffles broke out.

Victoria Police acting Commander Alan Byrnes said three people were injured but the protest was largely peaceful.

“It’s always a bit disappointing to see people turn up with masks,” he said.

“You wonder what their motives are for doing that, but we think all in all it was fairly peaceful.”

About 250 Reclaim Australia supporters abandoned their Brisbane CBD anti-Islam protest as pro-diversity groups chanted “na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye” across metal dividing barriers with up to 30 police stationed in-between.

Reclaim speakers were drowned out by about 350 counter-protesters with chants including “Nazi scum off our streets” and “Muslims are welcome, racists are not”.

Reclaim blasted Cold Chisel’s Khe Sanh across the barriers in response, but were drowned out again when the counter-rally hit back with a louder rendition of John Farnham’s You’re The Voice.

One man, 64, was charged with public nuisance after he allegedly jumped a barricade.

In Adelaide, a 48-year-old man was charged with affray in the rallies at Adelaide Festival Plaza.

In Sydney, crowds aligned with the Refugee Action Coalition pushed police along Macquarie Street from Martin Place, knocking batons from police belts before officers forced them back.

About 250 people, including parents with children on their shoulders, chanted pro-diversity slogans.

At the other end of Martin Place, Reclaim Australia protesters held two minutes’ silence – broken by calls of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” – for victims of terrorism worldwide.

Soaring heat in Perth did not keep rowdy rival protesters at home, with a strong police presence near parliament, but people on both sides behaved as they tried to drown each other out with Aussie music and chants.

The rival rallies ended peacefully and with no arrests in Canberra Hobart, police say.

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McIlroy wins European season finale, tops money list again

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McIlroy carded a final round 66 to end with a 21-under aggregate score of 267, having begun the day on 15 under, a shot adrift of England’s Sullivan at the $8 million European Tour’s season finale.

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Playing partner Sullivan’s 68 left him on 268, one stroke short despite stretching his advantage early on as McIlroy seized control mid-round with seven birdies in 11 holes.

The four-time major winner could even afford to take a drop on the 17th after finding the water, eventually recovering to make a 40-foot bogey before sealing victory with a 12-inch par putt on the final green.

It’s probably the longest putt I’ve ever made for a bogey; I don’t think there’s been one that’s come at a better time, so definitely the best bogey of my career,” the Northern Irishman told reporters.

The victory was his fourth of the year and first since May, McIlroy having missed three tournaments including the British Open at St. Andrews after rupturing ankle ligaments while playing soccer in July.

McIlroy’s 12th tour title means the 26-year-old also retained the Race to Dubai, formerly known as the Order of Merit and given to Europe’s top money earner. He was also victorious in 2012 and 2014.

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Ahead of play, McIlroy practiced his putting until almost the last moment while Sullivan casually waited on the opening tee. But the duo seemed at ease with each other, amiably chatting and joking as they walked the first fairway.

Sullivan, ranked 53 in the world, sunk an eight-foot birdie on the first after seeing McIlroy miss a 15-footer that ended just short.

Both birdied the second, Sullivan moving to 18 under and McIlroy two adrift on 16 under.

On the par-three fourth, McIlroy seemed perturbed after pulling his tee shot and although he recovered with an 80-foot putt to within four feet of the pin, he scuffed his next effort for a bogey that gave Sullivan a three-stroke advantage.

The duo again picked up shots with close range putts on hole five, McIlroy’s the first of three successive birdies that lifted the world number three to 18 under.

Sullivan also birdied six but then bogeyed eight – his first dropped shot in 22 holes – as his lead was reduced to one stroke by the turn.

“I gave it everything on that front nine, I just couldn’t quite get the putts to drop on the back nine,” said Sullivan.

“I didn’t really hit it close enough again, (but) to come up head-to-head with someone of Rory’s quality was absolutely awesome and something that will stick with me for a long time.”

McIlroy took a lead he was not to relinquish on 14, tapping in from two feet for a third birdie in four holes, although a bogey on 17 narrowed his lead to one stroke and gave Sullivan a final chance.

The Englishman’s 20-foot birdie attempt on the 18th, which would have forced at least a play-off, rolled inches wide and McIlroy then took two putts to seal victory by a stroke.

“If I hadn’t won today, I wouldn’t have been too happy,” said McIlroy. “Andy had chances to make a couple of birdies and didn’t quite convert and I was able to just hang on.”

South Africa’s Branden Grace (67) was third on 273, while compatriot Charl Schwartzel (69) was one of six players tied on 275.

(Reporting by Matt Smith, editing by Alan Baldwin)

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