‘They will kill me’: Saudi woman seeking asylum in Australia returned en route

Authorities in the Philippines intercepted a Saudi woman fleeing to Australia and helped organise her return to Saudi Arabia, where her life is in danger, Saudi Arabian feminist activists have said.

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Dina Ali Lasloom intended to enter Australia on a tourist visa – seen by The Australian – and then claim asylum.

“If my family come, they will kill me. If I go back to Saudi Arabia, I will be dead,” Ms Lasloom said in a video sent to an activist and posted to Twitter.

“I stopped in Philippines,” she said, “they took my passport and locked me for 13 hours – just because I’m a Saudi woman – with the collaboration of Saudi embassy.”

The incident sparked a viral social media campaign under the hashtag #SaveDinaAli, but activists say Ms Lasoom has since been forced to return to Saudi Arabia, escorted by relatives.

The Saudi embassy in the Philippines on Wednesday issued a statement branding the situation a family matter and said the woman had returned “with her relatives to the homeland”.

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Meagan Khan, a Canadian woman who says she witnessed the incident and attempted to help, said in a video posted to Twitter that “someone important” spoke with authorities and told them to prevent onward travel – in another post an activist referred to Ms Lasoom’s “diplomatic uncles.”

Ms Kahn told The Australian that she let Ms Lasloom use her phone to send messages and videos, and that the woman became very upset when men arrived who she said were her relatives.

Reuters has reported that witnesses saw a woman being carried through the airport.

“I heard a lady screaming from upstairs. Then I saw two or three men carrying her. They weren’t Filipino. They looked Arab,” one Filipino woman told the news agency.

Philippine Star reported that immigration officials said that because she was a transit passenger, it was a matter for the airline and not immigration.

The newspaper reported that it was unable to independently verify the details of the incident.

SBS has sought confirmation of details from Saudi and Philippine government representatives – but has not yet received a response.

A rare gathering of about 10 Saudi activists appeared in the arrivals area of the Riyadh airport around midnight on Wednesday, after a hashtag began circulating on Twitter urging people to “receive Dina at the airport.”

One of them, a 23-year-old medical student named Alaa Alanazi, appeared to have been detained after approaching airport security about the case.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, when asked to confirm that a tourist visa was issued to Ms Lasoom, said they could not comment on individual visa matters for privacy reasons.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries when it comes to women’s freedom – women require permission from a male “guardian” to study, marry, travel, go to the doctor and conduct other everyday activities.

– with AAP

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Protesters in S. Africa urge Zuma to quit

More than 30,000 people have marched in Pretoria calling on South African President Jacob Zuma to quit, keeping up pressure on the leader over his handling of the struggling economy.

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The protesters marched through the city and held a rally at a field outside the Union Buildings, the site of Zuma’s offices.

Zuma, who turned 75 on Wednesday, has survived previous protests but the main opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) and other parties behind the protest believe they can drum up support to force Zuma out of office following his dismissal of respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in a cabinet reshuffle.

South Africa’s parliament said on Wednesday a motion of no-confidence in President Zuma has been postponed until a court decides whether the vote should be taken by secret ballot.

Opposition parties have said that a no-confidence vote could have a chance of success if it is held by secret ballot, but the ruling African National Congress party, which has a majority in parliament, has said it will vote against it.

South Africa’s economy has grown lethargically over the last six years and the jobless rate stands near record levels.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party has rejected calls for Zuma to step down. He has denied repeated allegations of corruption since winning power in 2009 and more than 60,000 people marched on Friday calling for him to quit.

The ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters and other parties took part in Wednesday’s protest, dubbed “National Day of Action”.

“He is misusing state money,” said 21-year-old student and Pretoria resident Thomas Monyoko wearing a red EFF T-shirt.

“Let the message be clear today that Zuma is no longer a credible president of South Africa,” Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema said.

“We don’t care whether you are white, whether you are Indian, whether you are black, we are here to defend the future of our children.”

Zuma had accused Friday’s marchers of having racist motives. Like Friday, a mixed racial profile of people attended Wednesday’s rallies but there were less white people.

The rand climbed to a one-week high on Wednesday, in part encouraged by comments from the new finance minister indicating no significant change in policy.

Malala becomes honorary Canadian

Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai has returned to Canada to receive her honorary citizenship and address the country’s lawmakers after her first visit to Parliament in 2014 was put off because of a terror attack.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presented her with a framed certificate of citizenship. She’s only the sixth person to receive the honour and the youngest ever.

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The 19-year-old Pakistani activist was 15 when she was shot in the head by Taliban militants while returning from school. She was targeted for advocating women’s education.

She won world acclaim for her campaign and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

Malala originally was scheduled to receive honorary citizenship in October 2014, but the Canadian Parliament was stormed by an armed terrorist that day. The gunman killed a soldier standing guard at Ottawa’s war memorial shortly before storming Parliament in an attack that was stopped cold when he was shot to death.

“The man who attacked Parliament Hill called himself a Muslim – but he did not share my faith. He did not share the faith of one and a half billion Muslims living in peace around the world. He did not share our Islam – a religion of learning, compassion and mercy,” Malala said.

Malala also praised Canada for welcoming more than 40,000 Syrian refugees, and appeared to add an appeal to the US as well.

“I pray that you continue to open your homes and your hearts to the world’s most defenceless children and families,” she said, “and I hope your neighbours will follow your example.”

The other five honorary Canadian citizens are the Dalai Lama, the Aga Khan, Nelson Mandela, Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

Tensions high, North Korea readies nuclear test: report

The 38 North analysis group described the test site as “primed and ready.

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“Commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site from April 12 shows continued activity around the North Portal, new activity in the Main Administrative Area, and a few personnel around the site’s Command Center,” the North Korea-related analysis website said.

A barrage of recent North Korean missile tests has stoked US fears that Pyongyang may soon develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.

There is speculation that the country could be preparing a missile launch, or even another nuclear test — this would be its sixth — to mark the 105th birthday anniversary of its founder Kim Il-Sung on Saturday.

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The Voice of America said Wednesday night, quoting US government and other sources, that North Korea “has apparently placed a nuclear device in a tunnel and it could be detonated Saturday AM Korea time.”

President Donald Trump’s administration has been forceful in its warnings to Pyongyang that leave military options “on the table,” as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said.

The threat carries extra weight after the US strike on a Syrian air base last week.

“We are sending an armada. Very powerful,” Trump said Wednesday. “We have submarines. Very powerful. Far more powerful than the aircraft carrier.”

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He was referring to a strike group headed by the USS Carl Vinson supercarrier that has been re-routed to the Korean peninsula in a show of force against Kim.

The strike group, which deployed with about 6,500 sailors, is still some way south, conducting exercises with the Australian navy.

The US Navy already has a massive regional presence, including another carrier strike group headquartered at Yokosuka in Japan.

Russia-US relations sour over Syria

The presidents of the United States and Russia have both presented souring views of the relationship between their two countries, exchanging sharp words as Moscow extended an icy welcome to the United States’ top diplomat in a face-off over Syria.

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In Washington, President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States’ relationship with Moscow “may be at an all-time low.”

Trump’s comments follow the biggest foreign policy decision of his new presidency when he ordered 59 cruise missiles be fired into Syrian air base as payback for a deadly poison gas the US believed the Syrian regime carried out on April 4. Russia condemned the US action.

Hours earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin was equally pessimistic, saying in an interview on Russian television: “The level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated.”

The rhetoric came as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson received an unusually hostile reception in Moscow, where any hope of better US-Russia relations were dashed by the American missile strike.

Tillerson met Putin in the Kremlin after talking to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, for about three hours. The Kremlin had previously declined to confirm Putin would meet Tillerson, reflecting the renewed tensions.

Trump had frequently called during the 2016 US presidential election campaign for warmer ties with Putin, despite criticism from lawmakers in his own Republican Party.

But the civil war in Syria has driven a wedge between Moscow and Washington, upending what many in Russia hoped would be a transformation in relations.

As Tillerson sat down for talks with Lavrov on Wednesday, a volley of statements, including from a senior Russian official, appeared timed to maximise the awkwardness during the first visit to Moscow by a member of Trump’s cabinet.

Lavrov doubled down on Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, repeating denials that Assad’s government was to blame for the gas attack, instead saying it may have been faked by Assad’s enemies.

Tillerson reiterated that Assad must eventually relinquish power in Syria.

“We discussed our view that Russia as their closest ally in the conflict perhaps has the best means of helping Assad recognise this reality,” he said.

Lavrov said the missile strike was illegal and accused Washington of unpredictable behaviour.

But Lavrov said some progress has been made and that a working group would examine the state of US-Russia ties. He also said Putin had agreed to reactivate a US-Russian air safety agreement over Syria that Moscow suspended after the US missile strikes.

Tillerson noted the low level of trust between the two countries. “The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship,” he said.

Moscow’s hostility to Trump administration figures is a sharp change from last year, when Putin hailed Trump as a strong figure and Russian state television was often full of effusive praise for him.

In another possible setback Trump backtracked on comments he made last year that NATO was obsolete but added that member nations must be their share to be part of it.

Trump flatly declared US relations with Russia were not good at the moment.

“Right now, we’re not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of a relationship with Russia. This has built for a long period of time. But we’re going to see what happens,” Trump told the news conference.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said his administration’s policy was not to demand Assad step down as part of a “peaceful resolution to the conflict,” in some contrast to Tillerson’s remarks in Moscow.

The Wall Street Journal cited Trump as saying that Assad’s use of chemical weapons again would elicit another military response, but he also said he would not intervene in depth in the conflict.

The US has accused Moscow of trying to cover up Assad’s use of chemical weapons on April 4.

Russia blocked a Western effort at the UN Security Council on Wednesday to condemn the gas attack and push Assad to cooperate with international inquiries into the incident.

Racism wrecks AFL: Adelaide star Betts

Adelaide star Eddie Betts says racism is wrecking the enjoyment of the AFL.

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Betts said “enough is enough” after being subjected to more racial abuse from fans during the Showdown with Port Adelaide last weekend.

“Stuff like this wrecks it,” Betts told Adelaide radio station 5AA on Thursday.

“We want to make footy an enjoyable place and support your team, win or lose.

“There is racial abuse … it’s not kid-friendly. It’s just not a great place to be.”

A woman has been charged by police after she labelled Betts an “ape” on social media, after the Crows beat the Power last Saturday.

A Port fan had his club membership rescinded for making a racial taunt during the game, while an Adelaide fan racially abused Port ruckman Paddy Ryder during the match.

“Enough is enough,” Betts said.

“It’s racism and we want to stomp it out of the game.

“It affects me but it affects people around me more.

“Anna, my wife, was very upset with it this week, just the hatred of it. She was teary.

“Our kids are indigenous and they will have to grow up with this stuff as well.”

Last August, a Port supporter threw a banana at Betts during a game and had her membership cancelled.

Betts said the latest furore had been tough to handle but he was grateful for widespread support.

AFL chief Gillon McLachlan pledged to do more to combat racism while the Adelaide and Port Adelaide clubs issued a joint message in a bid to end racial vilification.

The AFL Players’ Association and various AFL identities also spoke out in support of Betts and Ryder.

“The support that has been shown to me and my family by both footy clubs, the players’ association, has been fantastic,” Betts said.

“And the AFL with (chief executive) Gillon McLachlan calling me three days ago before his press conference.

“I thank everyone for their support.”

Pedophile priest admits more offending

The harm caused by Australia’s worst pedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale is still being felt, a victims’ advocate says.

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The former Victorian Catholic priest has admitted to abusing more than 60 children, but the true number could be as high as 1000.

Ridsdale, 82, on Thursday pleaded guilty to 20 new charges including rape, buggery and indecent assault against another 11 victims between 1962 to 1988.

“I plead guilty to all charges as presented,” Ridsdale told the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.

He will now face a two-day plea hearing on August 15 before being sentenced.

“Yes, I understand. Thank you, Your Honour,” he told the court.

The latest charges relate to 10 boys and one girl in Ballarat and the surrounding area.

Ridsdale has already been convicted of abusing 53 children between 1961 – the year he was ordained – and the late 1980s.

Ridsdale was a skilful and devious predator who may have sexually abused as many as 1000 children, victims’ advocacy group Broken Rites spokesman Dr Wayne Chamley said.

“It’s not just the 60 or so that he’s been charged with. It’s in the hundreds,” Dr Chamley told AAP.

“He was starting to abuse children when he was still a seminarian and he continued it until he was in his 60s.”

Ridsdale abused children throughout the Diocese of Ballarat, which covers the western third of Victoria, and after being sent to work in Sydney in the 1980s.

“For the people of western Victoria it’s been one of the great tragedies, just a horrendous impact on the lives of hundreds of people, families, siblings,” Dr Chamley said.

Two Ballarat bishops knew of Ridsdale’s crimes, one as early as his first year as a priest. And two Sydney archbishops knew he had “sexual problems” and should be kept away from children, the child sexual abuse royal commission has previously heard.

“The lives of children were not as important as the reputation of the Catholic Church,” Dr Chamley said.

Former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who died last year, knew in 1975 Ridsdale had abused boys but moved him between parishes where he continued offending.

“The combination of Mulkearns’ alcoholism and Ridsdale’s pedophilia was a total disaster for children from Ballarat to Portland,” Dr Chamely said.

“We’re still living with the fallout.”

Ridsdale spent three months in prison after his first convictions in 1993 and has been in jail since 1994, serving an effective total sentence of 28 years.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Deficits ‘not good enough’: economist

As Treasurer Scott Morrison puts together his May 9 budget, a prominent Australian economist has issued a simple message: “We’ve messed up”.

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Chris Richardson, an economist at Deloitte Access Economics, and self-diagnosed “budget tragic”, says governments thought the China boom would last forever and spent accordingly.

And this comes at a time when Australia’s economy is about to chalk up 26 years of continuous economic expansion, claiming the world record from the Netherlands.

“The most prosperous generation we have ever seen is running deficits after deficits after deficits … that is not good enough,” Mr Richardson told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

This has left Australia vulnerable to external shocks, such as a downturn in China.

Mr Richardson released a new analysis describing three possible scenarios facing Australia – an economic stumble in China, the benefits of a stronger Asia beyond China and becoming “cyber savvy”.

However, the latter two require governments to undertake much-needed reform, something the present politics is failing to allow.

“A big part of the reason for what we are doing here … is actually to convince Canberra and politicians across Australia more generally to act now while times are good,” Mr Richardson said.

He hopes it doesn’t take the doomsday scenario of China in decline to activate politicians, although history suggests Australia responds better during a recession.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said if China experienced a big economic setback, the whole world would suffer.

“China is such a huge part of the global economy now, the impact of a really serious turndown in China would be large,” he told reporters in Mumbai.

But he saw no reason to forecast that, saying the transition to a broader-based economy driven more by consumer demand was so far going smoothly.

“Economists can paint scenarios but … standing here today, I would not be forecasting a big slowdown in the Chinese economy,” he said.

While Australia’s defences would swing into action should China stumble – the Australian dollar would fall, the Reserve Bank would cut interest rates and the federal government would start stimulus spending – Mr Richardson says it still wouldn’t prevent a recession.

“We just don’t have enough ammo to fight it off anymore, ” he said.

That’s because since the last time there was a threat of a recession during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, interest rates are already lower and can’t be cut much further, the dollar too is lower and the federal budget is notably in the red, meaning the government would be more cautious in stimulus spending.

“Most importantly, Australian families have borrowed up a storm since the GFC, while housing prices are now dangerously dumb.”

While he isn’t forecasting a China crisis, it’s entirely plausible at a time of high trade tensions between Australia, its biggest trading partner and its biggest ally in the US.

There would be winners in such troubled times – a lower dollar would help farmers and some manufacturers, particularly brewers.

“Australians drink more in recessions,” Mr Richardson says.

But house prices would fall nine per cent and the share market would drop 17 per cent, wiping almost a trillion dollars off the nation’s wealth.

“If China did stumble, then the hit to the Australian economy would strip out $40 billion from the budget bottom line in 2019/20 alone,” he warns.

Scary Canberra NRL forwards can get better

Already one of the NRL’s most explosive right-edge combinations, Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana’s competitive streak is driving their rise.

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The “Leipana” pairing has played just 36 games for Canberra but are already leaving a mark.

This NRL season alone the duo has combined for 11 tries and six assists in the opening six rounds.

They will be aiming to carry momentum from last week’s win over Gold Coast, a game in which Rapana bagged a hat-trick, to Saturday’s match against the Warriors at GIO Stadium.

Veteran Raiders forward Sia Soliola has been in awe of how they’ve clicked.

“They’re constantly challenging each other, that’s why they get the best out of each other,” Soliola said.

“Every single day whether it be a small game of rock, paper, scissors or a game of golf.”

Soliola said their style and attitude had been contagious throughout the Raiders’ camp with players pushing each other.

“You see big Papa (Josh Papalii) and big Junior (Paulo) out there doing their little extras with (Shannon) Boydy,” he said.

“Everyone’s keeping each other accountable and making it fun as well which is great to see here.”

With a relatively short time together the question for Rapana, 27, and Leilua, 25, is how much can they improve?

“Their stats and what they produce on the field, it speaks for itself,” Soliola said.

“It’s just mind-blowing what they can do and it’s scary that at this time of year they’re producing all that stuff.

“It’s scary what they’re going to do later on.”

While the Raiders posses a significant arsenal in attack, with Kieran Foran in the halves the Warriors have boosted their own creativity and travel to Canberra also coming off back-to-back victories.

“I think (Foran’s) helped out all the other guys – Shaun Johnson, Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck,” Soliola said.

“He adds a composure to the Warriors team which is always a dangerous thing for oppositions.”

LEIPANA – THE STORY SO FAR

* 2017 – six games, 11 tries

* 2016 – 25 games, 35 tries

* 2015 – five games, two tries.

Ivanka Trump may have influenced Syria missile strike decision, says brother Eric

Ivanka Trump may have played an influential role in her father’s decision to launch missile strikes on an airbase operated by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to her brother Eric.

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United States President Donald Trump ordered the military operation last Friday in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack in Idlib province, which killed 87 people including many children.

Mr Trump, who has blamed the Assad regime for the attack, said he was compelled to act after seeing the disturbing images of injured children caught up in the deadly incident.

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But his decision to bomb the air base may have also been influenced by Ivanka, who said she was “heartbroken” and “outraged” over the incident, according to Eric.

“Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I’m sure she said: ‘Listen, this is horrible stuff,’” Eric Trump told the Telegraph in an interview.

Ivanka said on Twitter following the US strike she was proud of her father for making the difficult decision.

Heartbroken and outraged by the images coming out of Syria following the atrocious chemical attack yesterday.

— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) April 5, 2017

The US launched 59 tomahawk missiles from US Navy warships in the Mediterranean Sea to retaliate to the suspected chemical attack, a measure which drastically raised the stakes in the Syria’s six-year civil war.

Moscow slammed the US strike as “aggression against a sovereign state” and has defended the Syrian leader against US allegations that his forces used chemical weapons against his own people. Russia has blamed Syrian rebels.

White House Secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday “Ivanka and others weighed in” on the decision.

The comments by Eric and Mr Spicer are likely to raise further questions about the level of influence Ivanka has in her informal advisory role.

Questions about possible conflicts of interest arose after it was announced on March 20 that Ivanka, 35, would become an informal adviser to her father, with an office in the West Wing.

She has been an increasingly influential adviser to the president and her husband, Jared Kushner, is a powerful Trump adviser.

-With Reuters

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