Australian prime minister calls May 21 election

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on April 10, 2022. (AFP)
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on April 10, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 10 April 2022

Australian prime minister calls May 21 election

Australian prime minister calls May 21 election
  • Morrison’s conservative coalition is seeking a fourth three-year term
  • The Liberal Party-led coalition is again behind in most opinion polls

CANBERRA: Australia’s prime minister has called for a May 21 election that will be fought on issues including Chinese economic coercion, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday advised Governor-General David Hurley as representative of Australia’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, to set the election date.
Morrison’s conservative coalition is seeking a fourth three-year term. The date is the latest available to him.
He urged voters to stick with a government that delivered one of the lowest pandemic death tolls of any advanced economy rather than risk the opposition Labour Party.
“This election is a choice between a government that you know and that has been delivering and a Labor opposition that you don’t,” Morrison said.
Morrison led his government to a narrow victory at the last election in 2019 despite opinion polls consistently placing the center-left opposition Australian Labour Party ahead.
The Liberal Party-led coalition is again behind in most opinion polls, but many analysts predict a tight result.
The last election occurred in the hottest and driest year Australia had ever experienced. The year ended with devastating wildfires across Australia’s southeast that directly killed 33 people and more than 400 others through smoke.
The fires also destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed 19 million hectares (47 million acres) of farmland and forests during the Southern Hemisphere summer.
Morrison was widely criticized for taking a secret family vacation to Hawaii at the height of the crisis while his hometown Sydney was blanketed in toxic smoke.
He cut his vacation short due to the public backlash, but was further criticized over his explanation for his absence: “I don’t hold a hose.”
His government was criticized for its responses to the fires and also record flooding this year in some of the same areas in Australia’s southeast that were razed two years earlier.
Both the government and opposition have set a target of net zero carbon gas emissions by 2050.
Morrison was widely criticized at the UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November for failing to set more ambitious targets for the end of the decade.
The government aims to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels, while other countries have made steeper commitments.
The Australian Labour Party has promised to reduce emissions by 43 percent by 2030.
Australia was initially successful in containing the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic largely through restrictions on international travel.
But the more contagious delta and omicron variants have proved more difficult to contain.
The opposition criticized the government over the pace of Australia’s vaccine rollout, which was derided as a “stroll out,” as it fell months behind schedule. Australia’s population is now one of the most vaccinated in the world.
The government has defended its pandemic record and takes credit for Australia having the third-lowest death toll among the 38 Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation countries.
With China imposing official and unofficial trade sanctions against Australia in recent years, the government argues that Beijing wants Labor to win the election because the party was less likely to stand up to economic coercion.
Labor takes credit for thwarting the government’s plan in 2014 to sign an extradition treaty with China. Bilateral relations have since deteriorated, and the government now warns that Australians risk arbitrary detention if they visit China.
Several experts say both sides of politics are largely united on national security issues and that the government in confecting differences on China.
“The government is seeking to create the perception of a difference between it and the opposition on a critical national security issue, that is China, seeking to create the perception of a difference when none in practice exists,” said Dennis Richardson, a former head of Defense, Foreign Affairs and the spy agency Australian Security Intelligence Organization and the former Australian ambassador to the United States.
“That is not in the national interest. That only serves the interests of one country and that is China,” Richardson added.


NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership
Updated 12 min 11 sec ago

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership
  • Move will further increase Russia’s strategic isolation in the wake of its invasion of neighboring Ukraine

BRUSSELS: The NATO has launched the ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership on Tuesday, sending the bids of the two nations to the alliance capitals for legislative approvals.
The move will further increase Russia’s strategic isolation in the wake of its invasion of neighboring Ukraine in February and military struggles there since.
The 30 ambassadors and permanent representatives were earlier set to formally approve the decisions of last week’s NATO summit when the alliance made the historic decision to invite Russia’s neighbor Finland and Scandinavian partner Sweden to join the military club.
Despite the agreement in the alliance, parliamentary approval in member state Turkey could still pose problems for their final inclusion as members.

 


Last week, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Ankara could still block the process if the two countries fail to fully meet Turkey’s demand to extradite terror suspects with links to outlawed Kurdish groups or the network of an exiled cleric accused of a failed 2016 coup in Turkey.
He said Turkey’s Parliament could refuse to ratify the deal. It is a potent threat since NATO accession must be formally approved by all 30 member states, which gives each a blocking right.
Tuesday’s expected signing-off does bring both nations deeper into NATO’s fold already. As close partners, they already attended some meetings that involved issues that immediately affected them. As official invitees, they can attend all meetings of the ambassadors even if they do not yet have any voting rights.

 


Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest
Updated 05 July 2022

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest
  • Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens

QUETTA, Pakistan: At least six people, including women and children, were killed when the roofs of their homes collapsed in heavy rains lashing southwestern Pakistan and other parts of the country, a provincial disaster management agency said Tuesday.
There were fears the death toll could be higher as several people went missing after flash flooding hit southwestern Baluchistan province’s remote areas overnight, according to a statement from the agency.
Authorities say the latest spell of torrential rains, which started on Monday and continued on Tuesday, also damaged dozens of homes in Baluchistan.
Since June, rains have killed 38 people and damaged more than 200 homes across Pakistan, including in Baluchistan, where over the weekend, a passenger bus skidded off a road and fell into a deep ravine amid heavy rain, killing 19 people.
Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens.


Hacker claims to have stolen 1 billion records of Chinese citizens from police

A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 July 2022

Hacker claims to have stolen 1 billion records of Chinese citizens from police

A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • “Databases contain information on 1 Billion Chinese national residents and several billion case records, including: name, address, birthplace, national ID number, mobile number, all crime/case details”

SHANGHAI: A hacker has claimed to have procured a trove of personal information from the Shanghai police on one billion Chinese citizens, which tech experts say, if true, would be one of the biggest data breaches in history.
The anonymous Internet user, identified as “ChinaDan,” posted on hacker forum Breach Forums last week offering to sell the more than 23 terabytes (TB) of data for 10 bitcoin, equivalent to about $200,000.
“In 2022, the Shanghai National Police (SHGA) database was leaked. This database contains many TB of data and information on Billions of Chinese citizen,” the post said.
“Databases contain information on 1 Billion Chinese national residents and several billion case records, including: name, address, birthplace, national ID number, mobile number, all crime/case details.”
Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the post.
The Shanghai government and police department did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Reuters was also unable to reach the self-proclaimed hacker, ChinaDan, but the post was widely discussed on China’s Weibo and WeChat social media platforms over the weekend with many users worried it could be real.
The hashtag “data leak” was blocked on Weibo by Sunday afternoon.
Kendra Schaefer, head of tech policy research at Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China, said in a post on Twitter it was “hard to parse truth from rumor mill.”
If the material the hacker claimed to have came from the Ministry of Public Security, it would be bad for “a number of reasons,” Schaefer said.
“Most obviously it would be among biggest and worst breaches in history,” she said.
Zhao Changpeng, CEO of Binance, said on Monday the cryptocurrency exchange had stepped up user verification processes after the exchange’s threat intelligence detected the sale of records belonging to 1 billion residents of an Asian country on the dark web.
He said on Twitter that a leak could have happened due to “a bug in an Elastic Search deployment by a (government) agency,” without saying if he was referring to the Shanghai police case. He did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The claim of a hack comes as China has vowed to improve protection of online user data privacy, instructing its tech giants to ensure safer storage after public complaints about mismanagement and misuse.
Last year, China passed new laws governing how personal information and data generated within its borders should be handled. (Reporting by Brenda Goh, Sophie Yu, Stella Qiu, Eduardo Baptista and Josh Ye; Editing by Robert Birsel)


Australia floods worsen as thousands more Sydney residents evacuate

An emergency vehicle blocks access to the flooded Windsor Bridge on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Monday, July 4, 2022.
An emergency vehicle blocks access to the flooded Windsor Bridge on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Monday, July 4, 2022.
Updated 05 July 2022

Australia floods worsen as thousands more Sydney residents evacuate

An emergency vehicle blocks access to the flooded Windsor Bridge on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Monday, July 4, 2022.
  • An intense low-pressure system off Australia’s east coast is forecast to bring heavy rain through Monday across New South Wales

SYDNEY: Hundreds of homes have been inundated in and around Australia’s largest city in a flood emergency that was impacting 50,000 people, officials said Tuesday.
Emergency response teams made 100 rescues overnight of people trapped in cars on flooded roads or in inundated homes in the Sydney area, State Emergency Service manager Ashley Sullivan said.
Days of torrential rain have caused dams to overflow and waterways to break their banks, bringing a fourth flood emergency in 16 months to parts of the city of 5 million people.
The New South Wales state government declared a disaster across 23 local government areas overnight, activating federal government financial assistance for flood victims.

A couple walk through flood waters from their semi-submerged car at Richmond on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, July 5, 2022. (AP)

Evacuation orders and warnings to prepare to abandon homes impacted 50,000 people, up from 32,000 on Monday, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
“This event is far from over. Please don’t be complacent, wherever you are. Please careful when you’re driving on our roads. There is still substantial risk for flash flooding across our state,” Perrottet said.
Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke credited the skill and commitment of rescue crews for preventing any death or serious injury by the fourth day of the flooding emergency.
Parts of southern Sydney had been lashed by more than 20 centimeters (nearly 8 inches) of rain in 24 hours, more than 17 percent of the city’s annual average, Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Jonathan How said.
Severe weather warnings of heavy rain remained in place across Sydney’s eastern suburbs on Tuesday. The warnings also extended north of Sydney along the coast and into the Hunter Valley.
The worst flooding was along the Hawkesbury-Nepean rivers system along Sydney’s northern and western fringes.
“The good news is that by tomorrow afternoon, it is looking to be mostly dry but, of course, we are reminding people that these floodwaters will remain very high well after the rain has stopped,” How said.
“There was plenty of rain fall overnight and that is actually seeing some rivers peak for a second time. So you’ve got to take many days, if not a week, to start to see these floodwaters start to recede,” How added.
The wild weather and mountainous seas along the New South Wales coast thwarted plans to tow a stricken cargo ship with 21 crew members to the safety of open sea.
The ship lost power after leaving port in Wollongong, south of Sydney, on Monday morning and risked being grounded by 8-meter (26-foot) swells and winds blowing at 30 knots (34 mph) against cliffs.
An attempt to tow the ship with tugboats into open ocean ended when a towline snapped in an 11-meter (36-foot) swell late Monday, Port Authority chief executive Philip Holliday said.
The ship was maintaining its position on Tuesday farther from the coast than it had been on Monday with two anchors and the help of two tugboats. The new plan was to tow the ship to Sydney when weather and sea conditions calmed as early as Wednesday, Holliday said. The original plan had been for the ship’s crew to repair their engine at sea.
“We’re in a better position than we were yesterday,” Holliday said. “We’re in relative safety.”
Perrottet described the tugboat crews’ response on Monday to save the ship as “heroic.”
“I want to thank those men and women who were on those crews last night for the heroic work they did in incredibly treacherous conditions. To have an 11-meter (36-foot) swell, to be undergoing and carrying out that work is incredibly impressive,” Perrottet said.


Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
Updated 04 July 2022

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
  • Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades

CANAZEI, Italy: Search and rescue operations resumed on Monday in the Italian Alps with 17 people missing, authorities said, after part of a mountain glacier collapsed, killing at least six people and injuring eight.

The avalanche took place on the Marmolada, which at more than 3,300 meters is the highest peak in the Dolomites, a range in the eastern Italian Alps straddling the regions of Trento and Veneto.

Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades.

It was not clear what caused the ice to break way but an early summer heatwave across Italy saw temperature rise abruptly, including on the Marmolada.

“For weeks the temperatures at high altitudes in the Alps have been well above normal values, while this past winter there has been little snow, which hardly protects the glacial basins anymore,” Renato Colucci from the polar sciences institute of the National Research Council (CNR) said in a statement.

Four victims were identified on Monday, three of them Italian, including two alpine guides, and another from the Czech Republic, news agency AGI reported, citing rescuers.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the head of the National Civil Protection agency were due to visit the area later on Monday.