Two-thirds of Australians want deputy PM to resign over sex scandal-poll

The Australian High Court decision against Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, right, has left Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s coalition in the precarious position of a minority government. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2018
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Two-thirds of Australians want deputy PM to resign over sex scandal-poll

SYDNEY: Two-thirds of Australian voters want Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to resign following his extramarital affair with his former press secretary, a poll showed on Monday, adding pressure on a government already fractured by the scandal.
Joyce, a Catholic who campaigned on “family values” and who has been married for 24 years, refused to resign when it was made public he was expecting a child with his former staffer.
Some 65 percent of voters want Joyce to step down as leader of the rural-based National Party, the junior partner in the government led by the Liberal Party, The Australian newspaper’s Newspoll showed.
The Liberal-National coalition has existed since 1923, with the National leader usually taking on the deputy prime ministership.
The scandal has damaged the government’s re-election chances, according to Newspoll. The government, which has only a one-seat majority, now trails the main opposition Labour Party by a margin of 53-47 percent on a two-party basis.
The government must call an election by May 2019.
With mounting public pressure, Joyce sought to turn the tide of public opinion, giving a rare interview on Monday with the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, where he blamed public life for the breakdown of his marriage.
Joyce has began a highly unusual week-long leave of absence at the urging of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who will this week travel to Washington, which would have typically seen Joyce installed as acting prime minister. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann will now be acting leader.
As well as alienating voters, the scandal has fractured the ruling conservative government, with Joyce last week publicly criticizing Turnbull for “causing further harm” through comments about his affair.
The scandal has prompted Turnbull to ban sexual relationships between ministers and their staff.
Turnbull and Joyce held urgent talks on Saturday. “We’ve put whatever tensions there were behind us,” Turnbull told a radio station in Melbourne on Monday.
However, Turnbull said there was no guarantee that Joyce would continue as deputy prime minister with the leadership decision in the hands of National Party lawmakers.
On Sunday, Australian media reported that senior National Party figures were openly canvassing constituents with a view to removing Joyce from the party leadership.


US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

Updated 25 April 2019
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US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

  • International and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year, UN says

WASHINGTON: The US envoy negotiating with the Taliban voiced regret Thursday over findings that US-backed forces were killing more civilians than the militants, and said the solution was a peace deal.

A UN report released found that international and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year.

“We deeply regret any loss of innocent life during military operations. We never target innocents,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator who is set shortly to resume talks with the Taliban in Qatar on ending the war.

“War is treacherous, and unintended consequences are devastating. While we strive to prevent casualties, real solution is a cease-fire or reduced violence as we pursue lasting peace,” he tweeted.

Khalilzad appealed to the Taliban and other Afghans to “work to make this the year of peace.”

He struck a different tone than the spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Col. Dave Butler, who said the US pursued “the highest standards of accuracy and accountability” and that troops “reserve the right of self-defense.”

President Donald Trump is eager to find a negotiated way to pull out troops and end the longest-ever US war.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with whom the Taliban refuse to negotiate, has called for next week a “loya jirga,” a traditional gathering of all the country’s communities, although it is unclear how broad the attendance will be.

Officials in Kabul said the Taliban ambushed a security convoy in western Afghanistan, killing nine policemen, and in Kabul, a would-be attacker died when a bomb he was trying to plant at a private university detonated prematurely.

According to a councilman in western Farah province, Abdul Samad Salehi, the ambush took place in Anardara district as the convoy was heading to defuse a roadside bomb on Wednesday afternoon.

Shortly after the attack, other Taliban insurgents targeted and briefly overran the district police headquarters, setting off hours-long clashes, Salehi said. Reinforcements arrived later and managed to wrest back control of the headquarters.

In Kabul, a bomb meant to target the private Jahan University blew up apparently prematurely inside a campus bathroom, killing the suspected militant and wounding three students.

Basir Mujahid, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said the blast took place around 10:30 a.m.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion but the Taliban and Daesh have targeted schools and placed of education in the past.

Also on Thursday, unidentified gunmen wounded a local reporter in eastern Nangarhar province, said Farid Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

Khan said Emran lemar, a reporter for the Mazal radio station, was shot inside a park in the provincial capital of Jalalabad. He was hospitalized and a police investigation into the attack has begun, Khan said.

In March, Sultan Mahmoud Khirkhowa, a local TV journalist in eastern Khost province, was shot and killed when two men on a motorcycle opened fire on his vehicle. The Daesh affiliate claimed the attack in Khost.