Australia PM rules out early poll after by-election blow

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media on the grounds of Kirribilli House, Sydney, Australia, October 21, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Australia PM rules out early poll after by-election blow

  • While most analysts said it appeared likely Phelps would hold on to the win, Prime Minister Scott Morrison struck a more upbeat tone

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged Sunday his embattled government would serve out a full term despite the conservative coalition looking set to lose its majority after a voter backlash in a crucial Sydney by-election.
The Liberal-National coalition, which has a one-seat parliamentary majority, appeared headed for minority government status after a huge swing in a traditionally safe seat, fueled by anger over the ousting of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
But despite the Liberal candidate conceding defeat Saturday after high-profile independent Kerryn Phelps captured an apparently insurmountable lead in the seat of Wentworth, the count has narrowed sharply as postal votes are counted.
Phelps’ lead of more than 54 percent under Australia’s voting system — which allocates voters’ second preferences if no candidate secures a majority — shrank Sunday to just over 50.61 percent, or 884 votes over her Liberal rival.
It rose late Sunday to a margin of 1,616 as routine recounts for several booths increased her lead.
While most analysts said it appeared likely Phelps would hold on to the win, Prime Minister Scott Morrison struck a more upbeat tone.
“If it (the margin) gets as close as 100 then an automatic recount is triggered under the normal rules,” Morrison told reporters. “I am not saying it will get to that.”
The prime minister, who must call national elections by mid-May, acknowledged voter anger over political infighting in Canberra but said he was determined to stay on even if the coalition becomes a minority government.
“Australian people expect governments to serve their term. We are elected to serve our term and that is what we are going to do,” he said.
The by-election in the wealthy seat was triggered after Turnbull, the local MP, resigned after being toppled in a party coup in August.
Turnbull had held the seat with a comfortable margin of 18 percent, but support for the Liberals tumbled over his treatment.
Morrison signalled he was willing to work with minor parties and independents to address what Phelps said would be the first item on her agenda — removing refugee children held in Australian detention camps on the Pacific island nation of Nauru.
Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach the country by boat to remote Pacific facilities including on Nauru to deter them from trying to come to Australia.
There has been growing international and domestic pressure on Morrison to move the children to Australia amid reports they are suffering from serious health problems.
A final count for Wentworth might only be declared after the November 2 deadline for postal votes has passed.


Spanish emergency services working to rescue toddler trapped in well

Updated 16 January 2019
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Spanish emergency services working to rescue toddler trapped in well

  • Among debris pulled out of the well, rescuers found hair, which DNA tests confirmed belonged to the child
  • Emergency services are using cameras to try to locate the child but said access was difficult, with soil partially blocking the well

TOTALAN, Spain: Spanish emergency services were working to rescue a toddler trapped in a well since Sunday.
The two-year-old boy was seen falling into the well as his family walked through a private estate in Totalan, Malaga, in southern Spain, his father Jose told Spanish media.
Among debris pulled out of the well, rescuers found hair, which DNA tests confirmed belonged to the child. No signs of life have been detected.
The town’s residents turned out on Wednesday for a vigil to support the family, many holding homemade placards reading “All of Spain is with you” and “We are sending you our strength.” One man held a sign simply reading “Julen,” the name of the toddler.
Emergency services are using cameras to try to locate the child but said access was difficult, with soil partially blocking the well, which is just 25 cm (10 inches) wide and 100 meters (328 feet) deep.
“We are not only giving voice for all the residents of Totalan but also for the rest of the country because we have all had Julen in our minds since last Sunday,” resident Patricia Calderon told reporters.
Spanish police said members of a Swedish firm which helped locate 33 Chilean miners rescued after 69 days underground more than seven years ago had arrived on Tuesday to help in the rescue operation.
Alternative routes were being studied and officials said they were working to dig a tunnel next to the well.