More than 50 people killed in multiple Pakistan attacks

Authorities said 37 people were killed and more than 150 wounded when twin blasts tore through a market in Parachinar, capital of Kurram district, a mainly Shiite area of Pakistan’s tribal belt.

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Local official Nasrullah Khan told AFP that the first blast detonated as the market was crowded with shoppers preparing for the Eid ul-Fitr festival marking the end of Ramadan.

“When people rushed to the site… to rescue the wounded, a second blast took place,” he said.

Basir Khan Wazir, the top government official in Parachinar later told AFP that apparently both the blasts were carried out by two suicide bombers.

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“We have transported 15 injured to Peshawar but condition of 15 to 20 injured people were critical,” Wazir said and warned that the death toll could rise. 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for security to be beefed up across the country as he condemned the attack, saying that no Muslim could ever imagine committing such a “horrific” act.

0:00 EU leaders agree on measures to counter terrorism Share EU leaders agree on measures to counter terrorism

Pakistan has seen a dramatic improvement in security in the last two years, but groups such as the umbrella Pakistani Taliban and other extremist outfits still retain the ability to carry out attacks.

Local lawmaker Sajid Hussain Turi, the owner of the market, said bazaars in Parachinar had been barricaded off and vehicles banned from the area after multiple attacks have hit the city this year. 

Smoke billows from the scene of a suicide bomb blast at Toori market in Parachinar, Pakistan, 23 June 2017.AP

Parachinar was the location of the first major militant attack in Pakistan in 2017, a bomb in a market which killed 24 people in January and was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban. In March a second Taliban attack killed a further 22 people.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday’s attack.

Kurram, one of Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous tribal districts, is known for sectarian clashes between Sunnis and Shiites, who make up roughly 20 percent of Pakistan’s population of 200 million.

Improved security?

The twin blasts in Parachinar followed a bombing earlier in the day in southwestern Quetta, capital of  insurgency-wracked Balochistan province, that killed at least 13 people.

Investigators said the attack targeted police. It was claimed by both the local affiliate of the Islamic State group and by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban, according to the SITE monitoring group.

There was no immediate explanation for the dual claims. Islamic State Khorasan Province, the Middle Eastern group’s affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been known to work with the myriad of Pakistani militant groups in previous attacks, including with JuA. 

People carry a victim who was injured in a suicide bomb blast at Toori market in Parachinar, PakistanAAP

Officials at the city’s Civil Hospital said at least 13 people were killed and around 20 injured, mostly by shrapnel. Police officials said nine policemen were among the dead. 

At the hospital in Quetta, worried children stood by the bloodstained cots of wounded relatives, and Pakistani soldiers visited injured colleagues.

Stunned survivors could give few details about the attack. “I was sitting on a chair. There was an explosion. I got injured and fell down,” said one victim, Gulzar Ahmad. 

Separately, gunmen on motorcycles Friday shot dead four policemen sitting at a roadside restaurant at SITE area in southern port-city Karachi.

Asif Bughio, a senior police official, told AFP that four attackers wearing helmets fled the scene.

Pakistan has waged a long war with militancy, but security has markedly improved in the country since its deadliest-ever terror attack, an assault on a school in northwestern Peshawar in which Taliban gunmen left more than 150 people dead, most of them children.

That attack shocked a country already grimly accustomed to atrocities, and prompted the military to intensify an operation in the tribal areas targeting militants. 

The army has also been fighting in mineral-rich Balochistan, the country’s most restive province, since 2004, with hundreds of soldiers and militants killed.

Its roughly seven million inhabitants have long complained they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth, but a greater push by Pakistani authorities has reduced the violence considerably in recent years.\

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Johnny Depp apologises for Trump assassination joke

The “Pirates of the Caribbean” star made the off-color comments late Thursday at the Glastonbury Festival in southwest England, telling the crowd it had “been a while” since an actor had assassinated a president.

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The remarks drew a stern response from the White House, as Depp said he had intended no malice.

“President Trump has condemned violence in all forms and it’s sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead,” said Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“I hope that some of Mr. Depp’s colleagues will speak out against this type of rhetoric as strongly as they would if his comments were directed to a Democrat elected official.”

In a statement to celebrity magazine People, the 54-year-old expressed regret that that his words “did not come out as intended,” ading that he had intended no malice and “was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone.”

“I apologize for the bad joke I attempted last night in poor taste about President Trump,” he said.

The A-Lister had turned up at a drive-in cinema at Glastonbury, introducing his 2004 film “The Libertine” and answering questions from the 1,500-strong audience.

“I think he needs help and there are a lot of wonderful dark, dark places he could go,” Depp said when asked about Trump.

“When was the last time an actor assassinated a president? I want to qualify, I am not an actor. I lie for a living.

“However, it has been a while and maybe it is time,” Depp added.

In 1865, Civil War president Abraham Lincoln was shot dead in a Washington theatre by actor John Wilkes Booth.

“This is going to be in the press, and it will be horrible,” the actor acknowledged to the Glastonbury crowd, telling them he was glad they were “all a part of it.”

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Depp is the latest of a string of entertainment industry figures to make controversial statements about Trump. 

Singer Madonna was reportedly the subject of a Secret Service investigation after saying she wanted to “blow up the White House”.

Comedian Kathy Griffin lost her New Year presenting job at CNN after posing for a picture while holding a mask styled to look like Trump’s bloody severed head.

A production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in New York’s Central Park was recently interrupted by right-wing protesters outraged that it appeared to depict Trump, as Caesar, being knifed to death.

Demonstrators shouted that the play had the “blood of Steve Scalise on its hands,” referring to the recent shooting of the Republican congressman, although its defenders highlighted that a 2012 production featuring Barack Obama as Caesar attracted little controversy.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in a media briefing Friday, described both the play and Depp’s comments as “troubling.”

“It is troubling the lack of outrage that we have seen in some of those instances where people have said what they said with respect to the president,” he said.

“The president had made it clear that we should denounce violence in all of its forms.”

Depp, who has drawn headlines recently for all the wrong reasons, was revealed in January to have spent so lavishly that he reached the brink of financial ruin.

Over the best part of two decades, the actor has been spending $2 million a month, according to a lawsuit from the Beverly Hills-based The Management Group, which is suing the star in Los Angeles for an unpaid loan.

Depp and actress Amber Heard, 31, reached an out-of-court settlement in August last year to end their 18-month marriage, agreeing that he would pay her $7 million.

Ten prepares to face its creditors

Creditors of the Ten Network will gather for the first time next week to meet with the newly appointed administrators and discuss possible futures for the embattled broadcaster.

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The first meeting of the Ten Network’s creditors will be held at the Sofitel Hotel in Sydney on Monday.

The creditors-only meeting follows the third-ranking free-to-air network’s failure to secure a new debt facility and its consequent slide into voluntary administration on June 14.

After calling for refinancing or sale options with advertisements in national newspapers this week, administrators KordaMentha have drawn criticism from the Australian Shareholders’ Association, which is angry that shareholders and media are barred from Monday’s meeting.

According to a spokesperson for KordaMentha, the administrators will provide creditors with an overview of the administration process so far and creditors will vote to appoint a committee of creditors and on whether the administrators should continue in their role.

Lead administrator Mark Korda told the ASA on Friday that only registered creditors would be admitted into the meeting in Sydney.

However, Network Ten journalists, in their capacity as creditor employees will be admitted, the spokesperson said.

ASA director Allan Goldin said the move was disappointing and that the ASA, as the peak body for Ten’s 17,000 small shareholders, should be given access.

“Since the administrators were appointed, Ten’s own news services have been talking up the likelihood of the company regaining its listing, so with this in mind we were keen to be represented on the creditors’ committee but now won’t be able to put that proposition,” Mr Goldin said in a statement.

The ASA will instead be briefed by Mr Korda after the meeting.

A second meeting will be held within 25 days for the administrator to provide a defined strategy to creditors.

The Ten Network called in the administrators after it became clear two key backers – billionaire shareholders Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon – would not extend their guarantee on the network’s $200m debt facility to a new, $250m facility needed by December.

Mr Murdoch and Mr Gordon, who hold 7.7 per cent and 15 per cent of Ten, through their respective private investment companies Illyria and Birketu have combined their voting power and are working together on a plan to restructure or repay Ten’s debt.

The two are not expected to attend Monday’s meeting.

Following speculation that Mr Murdoch and Mr Gordon could emerge as possible buyers should Ten go into liquidation, the network’s fall has renewed concerns around Australian media ownership laws and that “business as usual” at Channel Ten – as the administrator has pledged – may not be an option.

Ten shares are suspended from the ASX, having last traded at 16 cents.

Papua New Guineans head to the polls

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is considered the frontrunner to retain power as voting kicks off in his country’s national election.

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Polls open on Saturday and voting finishes on July 8.

For some remote villagers it will be an arduous trek through rugged terrain to get to a polling booth.

And it won’t be a cakewalk either for incumbent Mr O’Neill, Lowy Institute Melanesia Program research fellow Jonathan Pryke warns.

There’s been an average turnover rate of 50 per cent of MPs at PNG elections since independence in 1975 and no opinion polling is carried out in the country.

The vast majority of electorates are in rural areas where grassroots issues and service delivery will drive the results.

“You really have to look at this not as a national election but as 111 separate local council elections,” Mr Pryke told AAP.

Mr O’Neill is also under pressure in his home province and Mr Pryke said if the prime minister doesn’t win his seat outright quickly, then others could get a head start on negotiating a coalition to form a government.

But he says Mr O’Neill is likely to win and has more advantages than his challengers.

“He has the biggest party, the most resources, the track record and has proven to be a capable politician,” Mr Pryke said.

Corruption allegations have continued to dog the prime minister.

0:00 PNG’s national election campaign is entering its final days Share PNG’s national election campaign is entering its final days

Last year, police in Port Moresby opened fire on a group of students who planned to march from the University of PNG to parliament to demand Mr O’Neill quit over corruption allegations.

Opposition Leader Don Polye’s Triumph Heritage Empowerment party doesn’t have huge numbers in parliament but a loose coalition of big names including former PNG leaders Michael Somare, Mekere Morauta and Julius Chan is forming.

“The real question is who is going to lead that bloc? There’s a lot of personalities in that mix,” he said.

Total candidate numbers are down since the 2012 election but 30 more women are running this time.

More than 3300 candidates including 165 women are contesting the poll, representing 44 political parties including the quirky named Wontoks in Godly Service Party, Paradise Kingdom Party and a One Nation Party (not linked with Australia’s Pauline Hanson).

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In the 42 years since independence, only seven women have been elected to Papua New Guinea’s parliament. Australia has trained 127 female political candidates.

There were only three women MPs in the last parliament but Mr Pryke said there was a possibility that could go backwards.

However, gender equality has featured as an issue in the campaign.

The biggest issues facing the victor will be turning around a tanking economy, barrelling budget deficit and fixing the inflated exchange rate suffocating the private sector, Mr Pryke says.

Tough for Moore to make World Cup: Ledesma

Stephen Moore’s lofty ambition of reaching the 2019 World Cup is only going to get “harder and harder” with age, Wallabies scrum coach Mario Ledesma warns.

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But Ledesma is confident the Australian Test skipper won’t die wondering, saying his thorough approach to fitness and conditioning will give him every possible chance.

Moore will lead the Wallabies out for the first time this year in Saturday’s clash against Italy at Suncorp Stadium, his 120th cap making him the 10th-most capped international of all time.

It comes after the 34-year-old was benched against Fiji and Scotland, which triggered debate around where Moore fits in Australia’s long-term plans and whether he should hand the captaincy over to Michael Hooper.

Ledesma said what happens in the future was all up to Moore and how he responded to challenges from up-and-coming hookers like Tolu Latu and under-20s star Jordan Uelese over the next two years.

“I can tell you ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and I could be right or wrong,” he said.

“I’ve been there. You never know when you’re going to hit the wall.

“You might be tracking really well and then all of a sudden you have no more legs and everything starts going too quickly for you.

“I hope he does. I’m waiting for the guys who will come and push him out – not that I’m wishing that but we need that depth.

“He needs to be challenged to get there in 2019 so I hope everybody challenges him.”

Ledesman said Moore held up his end of the bargain by making all the right off-field choices.

“He’s pretty good in his individual preparation on and off the field – food, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he sleeps alright, he’s always asking (fitness) coaches every detail he can work on to be better on the weekend and long-term too,” he said.

“He’s got a three-year contract so he’ll go there anyway and if he’s good enough, he’ll be there.”