Nigeria attacks kills 42 people

Two bombings in a key Nigerian city, targeting a prominent cleric and a former head-of-state, have killed at least 42 people in the latest violence blamed on Boko Haram Islamists.

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Officials ordered everyone off the streets and imposed an around-the-clock curfew to restore order in the targeted city of Kaduna, as rescue workers raced to care for the dozens of wounded.

Police on Wednesday said the first attack was carried out by a suicide bomber on the convoy of Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, a cleric who has fiercely criticised Boko Haram’s deadly five-year uprising.

The blast which went off at about 12.30pm local time (2130 AEST), killed at least 25 people, but Bauchi escaped unhurt, Kaduna state police chief Umar Shehu said.

The second attack some two hours later that killed 17 people, targeted Muhammadu Buhari, one of Nigeria’s most prominent opposition leaders who also ruled the country as a military dictator from 1983 to 1985.

Buhari, who was not injured, has also been threatened by Boko Haram, which accuses him of betraying Islam by accepting democratic rule.

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the circumstances pointed directly to the Islamic extremists, whose uprising has increasingly threatened the stability of Africa’s most populous country and top oil producer.

Kaduna state Governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero placed his capital under a “24-hour curfew… aimed at forestalling (the) breakdown of law and order,” following the attacks, his spokesman Ahmed Maiyaki told AFP.

Maiyaki added that the governor was worried about an outbreak of chaos in a city that has known sectarian clashes in recent years, because the two targets, Bauchi and Buhari, “hold eminent positions in the eyes of the people”.

Boko Haram has sought to brand Nigeria’s senior Islamic leaders as traitors for submitting to the authority of a secular government, currently led by a devout Christian, President Goodluck Jonathan.

Geale dedicates Golovkin fight to sick mum

Daniel Geale faces the most devastating puncher in boxing at Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden this weekend, but it is nothing compared to the battle his beloved mum is facing back in Australia.

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Michelle Geale is fighting cancer.

It’s an uphill struggle, but the Geales are used to overcoming adversity.

“This one is for Mum,” Geale announced at his pre-fight press conference on Wednesday.

Las Vegas oddsmakers give the Launceston-born boxer next to no chance of upsetting Kazakh heavy hitter Gennady Golovkin in their world-title fight, with most expecting Geale to end up flat on his back on the canvas.

As the bout draws close and Geale is inundated with pre-fight hype half a world away in New York, the quietly spoken former world champion looks to his mum, diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, for inspiration.

“Mum is going through a bit of a tough time, but she’s a tough girl,” Geale told AAP.

“She fights hard.

“Mum says, ‘I’m fighting hard and I’m going to beat this too’.

“That gives me a lot of motivation.

“If she can battle through that and not give up I can do the same in the ring.”

Golovkin, 32, is risking his WBA and IBO middleweight belts against Geale in Saturday’s (Sunday midday AEST) bout inside the hallowed New York indoor arena.

The undefeated Golovkin collected and repeatedly defended the belts by destroying opponents.

The Kazakh has knocked out 26 of his 29 victims, a statistic unrivalled by any other champion in the sport.

But, Geale has shown plenty of mettle.

He claimed the IBF belt by going to Germany to beat Sebastian Sylvester in a split decision in 2011, went back to Germany a year later and took Felix Sturm’s WBA title and won the war with Anthony Mundine in their Sydney grudge match in 2013.

Geale lost a split decision to Darren Barker almost a year ago, despite the Australian knocking the UK fighter down in the sixth round.

Just as Geale, 33, has no doubt he will beat Golovkin, he knows his mum will also be victorious.

“I can see the little tinkle in her eye which is good,” Geale said.

Geale has a 30 win (16 KO), two loss professional record.

The fight will be broadcast in Australia by Main Event.

Flags of the world mourn MH17 victims

The sound which interrupted the solemn silence at Eindhoven Airbase was the most symbolic of all.

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Seventeen flags of the countries impacted by MH17, raised at half mast, rattled gently against their poles.

The breeze offering a defiant reminder that the 298 people killed in the Malaysia Airlines disaster nearly a week ago in the Ukraine are gone but not forgotten.

With sun shining and not a cloud in the sky on Wednesday, the first 40 bodies touched down on Dutch soil from Kharkiv.

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove best summed up the mood.

“Why is it that such sad occasions often occur on beautiful days,” said Sir Peter following the completion of a moving ceremony.

At 3.47pm local time, the Dutch C130 Hercules arrived with 16 bodies on board.

Minutes later, the Australian RAAF C17 transporter landed, with its Australian crew carrying 24 victims.

The two planes formed a v-shape on the tarmac as military personnel took guard.

About 1000 relatives and friends of victims, Australians among them, and dozens of dignitaries – including Sir Peter, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the king and queen of Holland – watched on.

In a separate section stood hundreds of the world’s media.

Finally, the overwhelming sound of the propellers and engines ceased and stoic flags aside, all went quiet.

Then the spine-tingling Last Post rang out.

After a minute’s silence, the dignified process of moving bodies from the planes to 40 hearses began.

The black hearses lined up in two rows of 12, in between the two aircraft.

One can only imagine the thoughts of relatives, wondering whether the bodies inside each wooden casket was a loved one.

Until a specialist team in Hilversum, north Holland, begins the agonising process of identifying bodies on Thursday, Sir Peter said the dead were nationals of a united humanity.

“So today they were all Australians. And they were all Dutch. And they were all the other nations,” he said.

Letters and numbers were written on a small strip of masking tape stuck to the side of each casket.

Some featured just one inscription to identify who or what was inside; others had up to three markings of letters and numbers.

What that might mean is a gruesome thought, indeed.

The hearses departed the tarmac in silent convoy; 24 in the first motorcade, 16 in the next.

Later, the Dutch C130 and Australian RAAF would take off, back to the Ukraine to do it all again, until all the accounted bodies have arrived in Holland for identification.

Australian families and friends will be notified as soon as bodies are recognised, a process which could take months.

In the meantime, the flags of the world will remember.

Operation Bring Them Home has begun.

World Bank offers India billions

The World Bank has offered India up to $US18 billion ($A19.

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5 billion) in financial support in the next three years, while lavishly praising new right-wing premier Narendra Modi’s “ambitious vision” for the country.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Party was elected in May with the biggest electoral majority in three decades on pledges of reviving India’s sluggish economy.

Speaking at the end of a three-day visit to India, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim told reporters he was hugely impressed with Modi’s “comprehensive and extremely ambitious vision for the country”.

“I am more optimistic leaving (about India’s prospects) than when I arrived,” Kim said on Wednesday, following talks with Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to discuss the new government’s development priorities.

Modi, 63, “has an extreme sense of urgency”, Kim said, as he outlined an offer to India of “financial support worth $15 billion to $18 billion over the next three years” to help lift hundreds of millions of Indians out of poverty.

“His (Modi’s) intention is to grow this economy quickly, grow the number of jobs quickly and demonstrate to the Indian people you can do things at scale with great speed,” Kim said.

As part of Modi’s anti-poverty drive, Kim strongly urged him not to block a landmark world trade deal, due for acceptance by July 31, that would make it easier for goods to cross borders and inject an estimated $1 billion into the global economy.

India has been threatening not to ratify the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement reached last year in Bali unless it gets assurances that it can help its poor citizens with food subsidies.

While Modi is pro-business, his government says the trade facilitation agreement or TFA is biased in favour of wealthier nations which assert that food subsidies lead to distortions in global trade.

Australians march in to AC/DC

AC/DC’s Back in Black is hardly a marching tune, but it just seemed to fit when Australia’s head banging athletes strode into Celtic Park to the rousing anthem as the Commonwealth Games officially got underway.

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Anna Meares led the Australian contingent of around 375 athletes and officials into the home of Celtic Football Club to a welcoming ovation from the 40,00 crowd as loud as any AC/DC number.

And in case they needed any more pumping up for the Games opening ceremony, the raucous entrance tune lifted the Australians even higher.

“Just before we went into the stadium I turned around and did the `Aussie, Aussie, Aussie,’ chant and the whole team followed along,” Meares said.

“That was incredible.

“Standing there, waiting to walk in and then being welcomed in hearing AC/DC, the vibe in there was just electric.

“So happy, so colourful – lots of Aussie flags and boxing kangaroos around the place as well, I can’t stop smiling.”

Their wintry green rain jackets were an unnecessary accessory on a balmy Glasgow evening at the end of the city’s hottest day of the year.

Strolling behind Meares and the flag, the massive Australian team spread out along the multi-coloured track, holding up the traffic as they stopped for the obligatory selfie and paused to take in the atmosphere, while marching wasn’t good enough for some who walked on their hands.

They took out their cameras again when swimming great Ian Thorpe walked past them as he carried the Commonwealth Games Federation flag around the stadium.

But they also joined in a sombre moment as the stadium rose for a minute’s silence to honour the 28 Australians and other victims of the MH17 plane disaster, more than 100 of whom were from Commonwealth countries.

Meares was whisked back to the athletes village shortly after leading the team to their place in the infield, to prepare for her 500m time trial on Thursday morning.

And how else would a champion cyclist have travelled to and from the stadium?

“My coach and team manager met me outside the stadium with my bike and I rolled down the hill to here – save the legs for tomorrow,” she said.

“I rode up to the stadium and rode home from the stadium.”

MH17 cockpit voice recorder ‘intact’

Dutch experts investigating the shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine say data from the cockpit voice recorder is intact and has not been tampered with.

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“The cockpit voice recorder was damaged but the memory module was intact. Furthermore no evidence or indications of manipulation of the cockpit voice recorder was found,” the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) said, as the black boxes were being analysed in Britain.

The recorders, salvaged from the plane wreckage in eastern Ukraine, have been handed to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) headquarters in Farnborough, southwest of London.

AAIB experts are tasked with extracting information from the cockpit voice recorder, which should give them hours of pilots’ conversations, as well as the contents of the flight data recorder.

“The cockpit voice recorder data was successfully downloaded and contained valid data from the flight. The downloaded data have to be further analysed and investigated,” the OVV said.

“Tomorrow (Thursday) the team will start the examination of the Flight Data Recorder. This will show whether this recorder also contains relevant information, in which case the data from both recorders will be combined.”

The boxes – which are actually orange in colour – were delivered to Farnborough by the OVV, which is leading an international investigation into the crash in which 298 people died, including Australia citizens and residents.

The OVV is coordinating investigation teams from eight different countries, including Russia.

Pro-Russian rebels controlling the crash site handed the boxes over to Malaysian officials on Tuesday.

Western governments say the evidence points to the Boeing 777 plane having been shot down with a missile by pro-Russian separatists.

Hamilton seeks fifth victory in Hungary

Lewis Hamilton is aiming to win his third straight Hungarian Grand Prix and fifth overall as he chases Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg for the championship lead in the last race before the summer break.

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Mercedes has won nine of the season’s first 10 races and Rosberg leads the drivers’ standings with 190 points, 14 more than Hamilton.

Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull is third with 106 points.

If previous results are anything to go by, Rosberg would not seem to have much of a chance to hold off Hamilton in Sunday’s race.

Rosberg’s last three placings at the winding, slow Hungaroring circuit have been going from bad to worse – ninth, 10th and 19th.

Hamilton, meanwhile, won in 2012 and 2013 and was fourth in 2011. He also took the top spot on the podium in Hungary in 2007 and 2009.

“I don’t really have any secrets there,” Hamilton said.

“I’ve just been very fortunate in that race and it’s a circuit I really enjoy. It’s one where you can really attack … so perhaps it suits my driving style a little bit more than some others.”

Hamilton drew much praise for his performance at last week’s German GP in Hockenheim.

After crashing during qualifying and taking a five-place grid penalty because of a gearbox change, he started in 20th place and climbed up to finish third.

“I can’t focus more or work harder than I am doing right now,” Hamilton said.

“The championship is proving a big challenge for me but that’s how I love it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

High track temperatures are expected again this year, though weather forecasts say light rain is likely on Saturday and thunderstorms on Sunday.

After Hungary, the Formula One circuit returns from vacation for the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps on August 24.

Russia to raise forecast despite sanctions

Shrugging off the threat of additional Western economic sanctions, Russian officials have indicated the 2014 growth forecast is likely to be doubled.

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“We are moving at a level of about one per cent annual growth in GDP … and are likely to stay there until the end of the year,” senior Kremlin adviser Andrei Belousov was quoted on Wednesday as saying by Russian news agencies.

Russia’s current 2014 growth forecast of 0.5 per cent is set to be updated, and Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said at a separate news conference that at this point “we’re talking about an increase to the forecast”.

Earlier this month, officials said the Russian economy, which was buffeted by market uncertainty surrounding Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of a violent pro-Russian separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, escaped entering a technical recession in the second quarter of this year.

Officials said they expected data to show the Russian economy remained flat in April through June, after having contracted by 0.3 per cent in the first quarter.

The European Union and United States imposed in April only limited sanctions on Russia that target individuals and businesses.

This hit sentiment and sparked massive capital flight, which then prompted the government to lower the growth forecast after the Russian economy recorded 1.3 per cent growth last year.

However, the tensions calmed and recent industrial production data has been encouraging.

“The current sanctions will not have a macroeconomic effect, it is a problem for specific companies,” said Belousov.

But both the European Union and the United States are moving towards imposing sanctions on entire economic sectors, which some analysts see as likely by September unless the Ukraine crisis is resolved.

Analysts at London-based Capital Economics warned that the widespread presumption that Russia will prove resilient in the face of any additional sanctions could prove complacent.

“Even if the direct impact of sanctions is limited, the indirect impact can be significant,” Chief Emerging Markets Economist Neil Shearing said in a recent research note, adding the sanctions could spark another increase in the flow out of the country and deter a rise in both foreign and domestic investment.

Early missteps show Abbott needs a plan B to deal with the Senate

By Mark Rolfe

Last week, television news presented grabs of former prime minister John Howard arriving in Canberra.

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It is unknown if Howard was there to share his wisdom with Coalition MPs on how to deal with minor parties controlling the balance of power in the Senate. If he was, it would demonstrate a lack of corporate memory in the Coalition government of how to deal with this situation.

Having to seek advice from Howard would fly in the face of Tony Abbott’s election promise of a team of experienced ministers from the Howard era: Christopher Pyne, Joe Hockey, Warren Truss, Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Eric Abetz and Abbott himself. But lessons on how to deal with the upper house have been hard learned by some governments – even by Howard in his first term.

Ever since Labor introduced proportional voting for electing the Senate in 1948, the government of the day has rarely controlled the upper house. Since the Democratic Labor Party’s (DLP) arrival in the 1950s a variety of minor parties and independents have found it easy to gain the lower thresholds of votes to get into the Senate, especially after further reforms under Labor prime minister Bob Hawke.

As a result, the experience of prime ministers Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s and John Howard after 2004 were throwbacks to the first half of the century when governments faced overwhelming support or overwhelming opposition in the Senate.

What the 1948 change did was to accentuate the natural inclination of federal parliament. Australia has two chambers of almost equal powers. The only difference is that the Senate cannot initiate or amend “money bills”.

In effect, Australia’s political system is a recipe for both conflict and co-operation. And it is necessary for any political leader to judge the uses and limits of both aspects.

In that respect, we can expect – but should not take too seriously – parties to spout while in government about their electoral mandate to get policies through, after rightly declaring in opposition their scepticism of the concept – which this government has done on both counts.

 

As prime minister, John Gorton did it ‘his way’ and was reluctant to deal with a hostile Senate. NAA

 

The complexities were lost on John Gorton, who was prime minister between 1968 and 1971. Gorton’s way of dealing with people was summarised by a newspaper with a song by Frank Sinatra – My Way. As Gorton notably said:

I am always prepared to recognise that there can be two points of view – mine and one that is probably wrong.

As such, Gorton sometimes attacked or refused to negotiate with the DLP, upon which his government depended for passage of legislation.

Gorton was brought down by Fraser, who proved not much better at dealing with a minor party when he became prime minister. Admittedly, the Democrats formed from breakaways of the Liberal Party and were led by former Liberal minister Don Chipp, who labelled Fraser, Labor’s Gough Whitlam and their parties bastards who needed to be kept honest. Still, Fraser tried to ignore the political upstart.

This changed with the Hawke government. It decided to work with the Democrats, who used the balance of power where they could – that is, only when the Liberal and National parties were opposed – to modify ALP legislation.

Meanwhile, antagonism towards the Democrats seeped through the Coalition souls, leaving them convinced that the Democrats were a pro-ALP or even radically left party. Adversarial rage prevented any appreciation of their small-l Liberal origins or the shift of the political spectrum to the right during the 1980s and 1990s.

When the Coalition returned to government in 1996, its mind was generally set on ideological incompatibility with the Democrats. Although Peter Reith negotiated changes to industrial relations with Democrats leader Cheryl Kernot, there was a reversion to type. Like Fraser, Howard tried to ignore them for the sake of dealing with Tasmanian independent Brian Harradine and Labor turncoat Mal Colston. Howard was more ideologically comfortable with Harradine’s social conservatism than with the Democrats.

 

John Howard was forced to deal with Senate Democrats over the GST. AAP/Alan Porritt

 

The comfort was not to last. After the 1998 election, Howard and treasurer Peter Costello didn’t even consult the Democrats about the GST upon which they had staked their campaign. There was no Coalition plan for concurrent negotiations with different players. There was no plan B when Harradine said no to the GST.

The government was completely unprepared, even though it knew the Democrats had the balance of power from July 1999. Howard and Costello backflipped. They suddenly found the Democrats a delight to work with.

Abbott and current-day treasurer Joe Hockey knew PUP and others would have the balance of power in the Senate from July 2014 but also made no preparations. As crossbench senator Ricky Muir’s senior adviser Glenn Druery said:

Not a single minister, not a single member of the government, has come and knocked on the door and offered to buy us a coffee or have a chat. It should have begun weeks ago. If I could give the government some gentle advice I would say they need a little more empathy with those they have to deal with.

As the debacles of the last two weeks have shown, Druery’s comments were not simply self-serving.

Last October, I posited belligerence as a style of this government which can leave:

… voters with perceptions of ridiculous stubbornness or humiliating backdown.

With belligerence goes bluster, particularly with the range of promises at the election that could not be met or were contradicted by the budget; with the failure to recognise the limits with the Senate; but also in the refusal to countenance the public backlash.

Since last year, the government has manoeuvred itself into this position where its bluster has made it vulnerable to Clive Palmer’s bluster. Bluster has begotten bluster.

Mark Rolfe does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

World Cup will inspire Rio Olympics – IOC’s Bach

“I think the success of the organisation of the World Cup helped, and will help, the organisation of the Games,” Bach told Reuters in an interview ahead of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.

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“I could really feel this during my visit there for the final weekend of the World Cup. It was much more confident and optimistic. Brazil realised that it can deliver.”

Preparations for Rio 2016 were called the “worst ever” by IOC vice-president John Coates in April, but Bach, elected to his position in September, said progress was being made before the first Olympic Games to be held in South America.

“Since the last meeting with the organising committee in March, you can feel, not only feel, you can see the commitment and the determination coming from the top of the government,” said German Bach, a 1976 Olympic champion in fencing.

“They were extremely clear by saying that from the Monday after the World Cup the Games would be top priority.

“But it does not mean that you can lean back. There is still a lot to do, but I think we can be really confident that we will have a great Games, with all the Brazilian enthusiasm and joy of life.”

With FIFA yet to decide whether to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in the summer or winter, the 60-year-old Bach is certain the tournament will not clash with the Winter Olympic Games in the same year.

“I spoke with FIFA about this a couple of months ago and it is very clear that in mutual interests there would be no conflicting situation,” Bach said.

“I am very relaxed because FIFA knows it would not be good to compete against the Winter Games and we also know that it would not be good for the Winter Games to compete against the World Cup.”

Bach did concede, however, that the IOC needs to do more to attract cities to bid for the Winter Games after several decided against hosting the 2022 event due to financial concerns.

Sochi cost Russia an estimated $50 billion (29.34 billion pounds) because of the huge infrastructure projects undertaken in the Black Sea resort but Bach stressed that the operational costs of the Winter Olympics have been the same for last few Games at around $2 billion.

Around $700 million of those running costs for Sochi were met by the IOC, who might contribute even more towards the running of the next Winter Games.

“What happened with the bids, I think, is a kind of misunderstanding of what needs to be done to organise an excellent Winter Games,” Bach said.

“We think we need to explain that the cost for the organisation of the Winter Games is about the same as it was for the Sochi Games.

“We need to explain this and then it is up to each of the bidding cities to make best use of their existing infrastructure, their existing facilities, and in such a way organising sustainable and feasible Olympic Winter Games.

“There was clearly a misunderstanding of this concept and we are addressing this.”

(Editing by Ed Osmond)