Senior police jailed over Rohingya attacks

Myanmar’s police court has sentenced three senior officers to prison for negligence after Rohingya insurgents overran three border posts in October, killing nine policemen, a government official said.

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Several hundred Rohingya men, from a Muslim minority that many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar view as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, attacked the border guard posts on October 9. Most were armed only with sticks.

The attacks set off a crackdown on the minority, prompting more than 70,000 people to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

Information Ministry director Ye Naing told Reuters on Friday an official investigation probed how the poorly trained and barely armed insurgents could successfully stage the attacks.

The government says the militants, who stole weapons and ammunition in the raids, have links to radical Islamists abroad.

The court sentenced the three senior officers in the border town of Maungdaw to one to three years in prison, Ye Naing said.

“They were jailed because they were guilty of negligence regarding security during the October 9 attacks,” he said.

Ye Naing could not specify the date of the sentencing or details of the investigation. Several other high-ranking police officers were still under investigation by the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs, he added.

About 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship.

The United Nations has documented mass killings and rapes committed during the crackdown by security forces that it says may amount to crimes against humanity. No senior police or army officers have been found accountable for these alleged crimes.

The civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly denied almost all allegations against the country’s still-powerful armed forces during what it has said was a lawful counter-insurgency campaign that began in October.

Garmin employee gunned down in Kansas

GPS device-maker Garmin is reeling after one of its employees was killed and another wounded in a shooting at a bar close to their workplace in Kansas City.

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The tech company has long revered diversity in its workforce, even when the locale of its ever-sprawling operational headquarters – a largely white Kansas City suburb – didn’t reflect it.

It’s the place 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla came to work a few years ago and his wife said on Friday he willingly spent long hours on an aviation systems engineering team alongside Alok Madasani, a friend and colleague also 32 and from India.

Kuchibhotla’s trek led him to have a kinship with his boss, Lebanese native Didier Popadopoulos, who says he moved to America at Kuchibhotla’s age and once held the same Garmin job.

But Garmin – a billion-dollar tech giant launched in Kansas as a startup by two men nearly three decades ago – is now trying to digest Kuchibhotla’s shooting death on Wednesday at a tavern just down the road from work. Madasani was wounded, along with a stranger who tried to help.

Witnesses say the gunman, Adam Purinton, yelled at the two Indian men to “get out of my country” and opened fire. Purinton, who was arrested hours later at a bar in Missouri, remains jailed on murder and attempted murder charges.

On Friday, Garmin comforted grieving employees at a closed-door vigil at its campus in Olathe, Kansas. Kuchibhotla’s widow, Sunayana Dumala, addressed the group of about 200 workers, which included Madasani.

Laurie Minard, Garmin’s vice president of human resources, doesn’t believe the shooting will jeopardise its recruitment of workers from overseas.

“We tend to be a family here,” she said at the Garmin campus, which is waging a $US200 million ($A260 million) expansion.

“We want people to feel safe. We embrace it. We encourage it. We support it. It’s extremely important to us about acceptance.”

At any given time, she said, more than 100 Garmin employees are part of a program, which lets American companies bring foreigners with technical skills to the US for three to six years.

IS suicide blast kills 51 near Syria’s Al-Bab

The bomber blew up a vehicle packed with explosives outside a rebel command centre in the village of Susian, eight kilometres northeast of Al-Bab, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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The blast devastated the twin command posts and also seriously wounded a large number of fighters, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

Most of the dead were fighters.

There was no immediate claim for the attack but it bore all the hallmarks of IS, which had put up fierce resistance in Al-Bab for weeks.

The strategic town, just 25 kilometres south of the Turkish border, was the jihadists’ last stronghold in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo.

Turkey sent troops into Syria last August in an operation it said targeted not only IS but also US-backed Kurdish fighters whom it regards as terrorists.

With its support, the rebels launched an offensive to take Al-Bab last year.

It has proved the bloodiest battle of Ankara’s campaign accounting for most of the 69 Turkish losses so far.

Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik said on Thursday that its rebel allies now had “near complete control” of the town.

The town was also seen as a prize by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, who had advanced to just 1.5 kilometres (one mile) from its outskirts in recent weeks.

On Thursday afternoon, an AFP correspondent heard intermittent gunfire as rebel units continued to clear the heavily damaged town.

Rebels pounded outside Aleppo

The battle against IS around Al-Bab is just one front line in the fighting in Aleppo province.

West of the second city, which government forces took full control of in December, fighting flared with rebels in its western suburbs even as peace talks got under way in Geneva.

Exchanges of rocket and artillery fire first broke out on Wednesday, centred on the rebel-held district of Rashideen, the Observatory said.

The government responded with intensive air strikes on Thursday that killed at least 32 rebel fighters.

“The regime wants to reinforce its positions around Aleppo and is using the rocket fire by the rebels as a pretext to bombard their positions and attempt to drive them out of the suburbs,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

A fragile ceasefire between government forces and non-jihadist rebels has been in force since late December, brokered by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.

It has led to a sharp reduction in fighting in many areas.

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But parts of the country which are held by IS or its jihadist rival, former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, are not covered by the truce.

The talks in Geneva between government and opposition representatives formally opened on Thursday.

They are the fourth round of UN-brokered negotiations, aimed at ending a conflict that has dragged on for nearly six years and claimed more than 310,000 lives.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said: “I’m not expecting miracles,” but warned of dire consequences if the talks “fail again”.

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Kings’ new recruit has Australia’s Indian communities aflutter

Amritpal Singh, at 2m 12cm tall, is set to make a big impact in the backup centre position this season.

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Singh’s arrival has already been met with approval by the Punjabi community and he’s set to become the first India-born player to play in the NBL.

He was a late starter to the sport of basketball at the age of 19.

Before then he was more interested in playing Kabaddi, a contact team sport popular in South Asia.

Now 26 years old, Amritpal Singh is on the verge of his most exciting challenge as a professional basketballer.

The news he’s been contracted for next season has already caused great excitement in Sydney’s Indian community.

Surinder Singh is a director on the Australian Sikh Association.

“Singhs are Kings! That’s why we’re excited today, Singhs are Kings! It’s really great news for the community. And I can tell you community will be behind Amritpal and will be behind the Sydney Kings.”

Amritpal Singh played in Japan’s ‘B’ League last season, and he admits the step up into Australia’s National Basketball League will be a test for him.

“I played last year in Japan league, but this time this NBL league is a main league of Australia and this is a very tough competition for me.”

Last year the Sydney Kings were the first to have a China-born recruit play in the National Basktball League.

Bo Liu has since returned to China.

This year Amritpal Singh is one of 11 full-time contracted players at the club.

According to the club’s Managing Director Jeff Van Groningen, the move isn’t just a marketing exercise in community engagement.

“Perhaps if you had 30 or 40 players to sign you could say well there’s a guy in there that might be helpful for us in a marketing sense. He’s earned his way in and it’s categorically that he is one of the better players that we’ve looked at over the off-season at that back-up centre position.”

But Van Groningen does believe there are undeniable positives behind having a player that has already captained India’s basketball team on the Sydney Kings’ books.

“There’s media footage now going to India overnight. We understand most of the major sports agencies have at least a cursory interest in this move because it’s quite significant in the sport of basketball so we’re happy to do our part, we’re happy to get the Sydney Kings brand far and wide.”

The Sydney Kings coach is Andrew Gaze.

He believes Singh needs more experience before he can be a regular starter for his side.

Gaze says judging by first impressions, Singh has got the right ingredients to make it.

“It’s great for the game and the good thing about it too is with Amritpol he seems very friendly he seems willing to get out there and spread the word. He’s got that personality that’s very infectious. Already he’s only been with our team a couple of days, but you can tell that he’s bonded well with his teammates and hopefully that permeates into the community and they fall in love with him and they come along and support the Sydney Kings.”

As for Amritpal, he’s already fallen in love with Sydney.

“The City is very beautiful and I like it – its nice and I’m very excited the first time to play in Sydney.”

The Sydney Kings’ first match of the season is againt the Adelaide 36ers on October 7.

 

TV ad for same-sex marriage ‘No’ vote roundly condemned

Shown on commercial television, the ad features three mothers voicing their concerns about how changing the Marriage Act will affect what their children are taught in schools.

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“The school told my son he could wear a dress next year if he felt like it .. “

“When same sex marriage laws pass overseas this sort of program becomes widespread and compulsory .. “

“Kids in year seven are being asked to role play being in a same sex relationship .. you can say no.”

But less than 24 hours later, several of those claims have been refuted.

The high school at the centre of the claim that a male student was told he could ‘wear a dress next year’ has told SBS that simply isn’t true.

Principal of Frankston High School in Melbourne’s east, John Albiston, has called the statement a complete fabrication.

“We’ve spoken with all the teachers of her son’s classes and we know that didn’t happen and never did she raise that as a concern when I’ve met and spoken with her, which I do find interesting.”

The ad was commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage, a group led by the Australian Christian Lobby.

The Coalition’s David Van Gend has defended the claims, refering to material distrubuted by an LGBTI youth organisation that supports gender-neutral school uniforms.

“This is the sort of gender-bending material being inflicted on our kids and it’s confusing them. And that’s going to be exponentially worse if we bend gender within the Marriage Act.”

He says legalising same-sex marriage will lead to sweeping reforms about how the issue will be taught in schools.

However those claims have been rejected by the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham.

“It is patently ridiculous to suggest that allowing same-sex couples to marry is somehow going to see some new wave of teaching reform sweep across the country, that’s just not going to happen. This is a simple issue, and it should not be conflated with other issues.”

The ad was also slammed at the launch of a group calling itself Australian Christians for Marriage Equality.

Anglican reverend Keith Mascord has accused the Coalition for Marriage group of scaremongering.

“To put out an ad that links same sex marriage or marriage equality with the safe schools program is, for me, an admission of failure. It’s not looking at the substance of the debate, it’s fear-mongering. It’s irresponsible and wrong.”

His comments are supported by the rector of Melbourne’s Xavier College, Father Chris Middleton.

Father Middleton is urging parents to consider all sides of the argument before voting, and called upon the church to reflect on the overwhelming support for marriage equality among young people.

“I think my first intention was, ‘let’s try and lift the debate and see where both sides are coming from’. Personally I don’t think the case has been made against same sex marriage. So I’d be leaning towards ‘yes’.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has called the ad offensive and hurtful to LGBTI Australians and their families.

“When I first saw the ad I wondered if it was send-up. I thought it was so primitive and thought it was rubbish. The idea that if you vote in this $122 million postal survey that somehow your little boys will go to school and be made to wear dresses it’s just ridiculous. It’s offensive.”

However Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says Labor rejected the chance for strict advertising standards to be in place when it rejected a plebiscite, and only has it itself to blame for this sort of advertising in the lead up to the postal vote.

“We offered the ALP a chance to have every single protection that they wanted and they rejected it. They rejected a legislated plebiscite. So I’ll leave that to Mr Shorten to explain why he rejected the protections.”

 

Curfew in Houston as Trump visits flood-ravaged Texas

Houston has imposed an overnight curfew beginning on Tuesday night for an indefinite period amid incidents of looting, armed robberies and people impersonating police officers, city officials said.

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The curfew will run from midnight after initially being ordered for 10pm, Mayor Sylvester Turner told a news conference on Tuesday evening.

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 A home is surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. AAP

The city is also bringing additional police from other regions.  “You cannot drive, nor be in any public place. We have had problems with armed robberies, with people with guns and firearms,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.

The city is opening several additional emergency shelters to alleviate crowding at the convention center, which has 10,000 people. Some of those will be moved to a nearby concert hall and basketball arena. 

Round the clock rescue

Four days after Harvey slammed onshore as a monster Category Four hurricane, turning roads to rivers in America’s fourth-largest city, emergency crews are still racing to reach hundreds of stranded people in a massive round-the-clock rescue operation.

Eager to strike a unifying tone as the country faces the first natural disaster of his presidency, Trump landed with first lady Melania in the coastal city of Corpus Christi, which bore the full brunt of Harvey’s fury, for a briefing by state and federal officials leading the relief effort.

Emerging from the meeting held inside a local fire house, Trump climbed up on a ladder for an impromptu address to the mix of supporters and banner-waving protesters gathered outside.

“We love you, you are special, we are here to take care of you,” the president called out. “It’s historic, its epic, but I tell you, it happened in Texas – and Texas can handle anything.”

Trump earlier expressed hope the Harvey response would come to be seen as a textbook case.

“We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it,” he said.

The US leader was not planning to visit Houston – swathes of which remain under water – and his spokeswoman said his schedule would be fine-tuned to avoid disrupting ongoing recovery efforts.

But he was nevertheless seeking to make a political statement, learning from the mistakes of former Republican leader George W. Bush, whose response to Hurricane Katrina – which walloped New Orleans exactly 12 years ago – was widely seen as botched.

Houston mayor confirms police officer died in Harvey’s aftermath

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Tuesday that a city police officer died in floodwaters over the weekend while driving to work.

“While I’ve encouraged other people to stay at home, our first responders they have been working 24 hours, 24-7, on behalf of the people of the city of Houston,” the mayor told reporters. “At the same time, they have been putting themselves in harm’s way.”

“Today, I’m sad and deeply saddened to announce the death of Sergeant Steve Perez,” he said, adding the 60-year-old officer died Sunday.

0:00 Rescue operations continue during widespread flooding in Texas Share Rescue operations continue during widespread flooding in Texas

Thousands displaced

More than 8,000 people have been driven into emergency shelters across the Lone Star State, and hundreds more still await rescue.

“We’re Trumponites. I trust he’s going to take care of us,” said Darla Fitzgerald, a 58-year-old nurse based in a Red Cross shelter in Winnie, a town east of Houston, where the rain fell heavily Tuesday.

Ray Henrichson, a white-haired 74-year-old shelter volunteer, was equally upbeat.

“I think it’s nice that he’s coming,” she said.

“He’ll probably fly around in a helicopter and see some flooded lands which we saw on the way driving here,” she said. “It is pretty dramatic.”

Levee breached

Harvey is known to have left at least 11 people dead and officials warned the danger has far from passed.

Rising floodwaters breached a levee in Brazoria County south of Houston, with officials urging residents of the 50 homes in the immediate vicinity to leave immediately.

“The levee at Columbia Lakes has been breached!!” the county government tweeted. “GET OUT NOW!!”

The US Army Corps of Engineers has already moved to open the Addicks and Barker dams — under pressure from what the agency has dubbed a “thousand-year flood event” — to prevent a catastrophe on the outskirts of Houston.

People push a stalled pickup to through a flooded street in Houston, after Tropical Storm Harvey dumped heavy rains Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017. AAP

With neighboring Louisiana squarely in the storm’s path, Harvey, now a tropical storm, is pressing eastward and is expected to make landfall again late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Residents of low-lying New Orleans — which bore the brunt of Katrina’s wrath in 2005 — are bracing for heavy rain and flash floods.

RELATED READINGSouth Texas Project nuclear plant running despite Harvey storm

The two nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project plant 90 miles from Houston are operating at full capacity despite calls from watchdog groups for the facility to shut due to Tropical Storm Harvey, a spokesman for the plant said on Tuesday.

“We’ve got significant rain but flooding has not been an issue here,” spokesman Buddy Eller said in a phone call.

The reactors, 44 percent of which are owned by NRG Energy Inc, provide 2,700 megawatts of power to 2 million customers in Texas. The rest of the reactors are owned by the city of San Antonio’s CPS Energy utility, with 40 percent, and the city of Austin’s Austin Energy, with 16 percent.

0:00 Houston inundated by water as Harvey pummels Texas Share Houston inundated by water as Harvey pummels Texas

New Orleans ‘a wild card’

“The single greatest threat continues to be the rainfall,” Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the Miami-based National Hurricane Center, told AFP, describing the situation as “catastrophic.”

“This is not over,” he said.

The National Weather Service tweeted Tuesday that Harvey appears to have broken a US record for most rain from a single tropical cyclone, with 49.32 inches (125.27 centimeters) recorded at a gauge southeast of the city.

The Texas bayou and coastal prairie rapidly flooded after Harvey struck the coast on Friday, but the region’s sprawling cities where drainage is slower were worst hit.

0:00 Mass rescues in Houston Share Mass rescues in Houston

Highways were swamped and homes were rendered uninhabitable, with power lines cut and dams overflowing, sparking massive floods across Houston — a city of 2.3 million people — and its wider metropolitan area of six million.

Houston can expect two to four more inches of rain as the storm moves away, but flooding will likely linger through the week, meteorologist Eric Holthaus told AFP.

In New Orleans, as of Tuesday morning, two inches of rain had already fallen over the city famous for its jazz music and Cajun cuisine – but particularly vulnerable because it lies below sea level.

“It is really sort of a wild card right now,” Holthaus said.

“There are some forecasts for up to 10 inches of rain over the next 36 hours or so for New Orleans. I would definitely not be surprised if it became more than that.”

Federal officials estimate that up to half a million people in Texas will ultimately require some form of assistance – but for now the focus remains immediate disaster relief, with many lives still at stake.

“Recovery is a slow process,” Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said as he welcomed briefing Trump in Corpus Christi along with Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Long said.

0:00 Widespread devastation in the wake of Hurricane Harvey Share Widespread devastation in the wake of Hurricane Harvey

Bangladesh eye series triumph after maiden Australia win

The 20-run victory at Shere Bangla National Stadium came five months after Bangladesh secured their first test win over Sri Lanka and a month before the first anniversary of their maiden triumph over England in the longest form of the game.

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Mushfiqur said the first innings partnership of 155 between Man-of-the-Match Shakib Al Hasan and opener Tamim Iqbal had been crucial to the victory with the former also taking 5-85 with his spin-bowling to help wrap up the win on Wednesday.

“Obviously a great feeling, beating Australia. A great effort by the boys, especially Shakib and Tamim were outstanding,” Mushfiqur said at the post-match presentation.

“If you look at our home performance, it has been pretty consistent. Against England (last year) also, we were very close in the first test and beat them in the second test. That’s the belief we have.

“I think the spinners did a great job. I thought Taijul (Islam), Miraj (Mehidy Hasan) and Shakib bowled really well in both the innings (but) I think Tamim-Shakib partnership in the first innings set up the game for us.”

Mushfiqur said the lower order woes that prevented Bangladesh from driving home their first-innings advantage showed there was plenty of room for improvement.

“The lower order is working hard and if you see at the last few series, they are much better now,” he said.

“In this test, the wicket was pretty tough to bat on, that has to be said, because the top order also found it difficult to bat.

“The boys showed character. All the credit goes to the bowlers, and fielders. They did miss some (catches) but it can happen. Hopefully we’ll come harder at them in the next test and hopefully we’ll seal the series.”

Australia did well to make the contest so close after starting the second innings needing 265 to win on a deteriorating pitch.

David Warner top-scored with a brilliant 112 but captain Steve Smith said they ultimately paid the price for a poor performance in the first innings, when they made 217.

“It was a great test match, credit to Bangladesh the way they played,” he said.

“In the first innings the partnership between Tamim and Shakib really set the game up for them and then I thought we really fought back well after that.

“We probably let ourselves down in the first innings with the bat, probably should have made a few more there. It was pretty difficult batting here in the second innings and I thought we did pretty well to get 240 in the end.

“It’s set it up for a really good series.”

Chittagong hosts the second and final test from Monday.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney,; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Aussies Bangladesh Test loss: ‘no excuses’

Australian captain Steve Smith says there are no excuses after a disastrous 20-run defeat to minnows Bangladesh in a gripping first Test in Dhaka.

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Set an imposing 265 to win, the visitors collapsed to be bowled out for 244 shortly after lunch on Wednesday’s fourth day, with man-of-the-match Shakib Al Hasan claiming 5-85 to finish with 10 wickets overall.

It is Bangladesh’s first Test victory over Australia. A similar triumph in next week’s second and final Test in Chittagong would result in Australia tumbling to No.6 in the world rankings.

David Warner’s aggressive century had given Australia hope of achieving their second-highest fourth-innings chase in Asia.

But the visitors lost five wickets in the final hour before lunch and were unable to hold on in the following session despite a valiant unbeaten 33 from tailender Pat Cummins.

The match unravelled for Australia during a disastrous first innings in which they fell to 4-33 on the way to 217, with Warner, Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja all dismissed cheaply.

Australian skipper Smith said there was no excuse for his side failing to adjust to the conditions after making great strides earlier this year during their tour of India.

“I think we made a few errors, a few guys getting out ways they’ve got out before and not learning from their mistakes, which is really disappointing,” Smith said.

“But you’ve got to keep trying to learn and keep trying to get better in these conditions. It’s a difficult place to play.

“We’re a young team and a team that is hopefully going to continue to improve.”

An embarrassed Australia lost to a side ranked No.9 in the world who had only won nine of 100 Tests.

The first Test between the two sides in more than a decade had loomed as an opportunity for Australia to overcome their dreadful record on the subcontinent and notch their first series win in Asia since beating Sri Lanka 1-0 in 2011.

But for all their dominance at home, Australia showed they remained a fragile side overseas who could be easily exposed by quality spinners.

Shakib confirmed his status as the world’s No.1-ranked allrounder across all three formats, taking five-wicket hauls in both digs after top-scoring with 84 in the first innings.

Australia had reached a competitive 2-158 on day to be on track for victory before their five-wicket collapse.

After resuming on 75, Warner raced to triple figures before being trapped lbw by Shakib on 112.

Smith, who survived a tight stumping decision from his first ball on day three and had twice been dropped, finally ran out of lives a short time later, caught behind on 37.

Peter Handscomb (15) and Matthew Wade (four) soon followed, while Glenn Maxwell (14) was bowled by Shakib with the first ball after lunch.

Cummins belted offspinner Mehedi Hasan for two sixes in one over to reduce the deficit but it was all over when Taijul Islam trapped Josh Hazlewood lbw for a duck.

Billabong HY loss deepens to $16.1m

Struggling surfwear retailer Billabong has downgraded its full-year earnings guidance after its first-half loss widened to $16.

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1 million.

The Gold Coast-based retailer said on Friday it expects full-year earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of between $52 million and $57 million.

Billabong’s previous guidance was for earnings of between $60 million and $65 million, but it revised the figures following this week’s $60 million sale of swimwear brand Tigerlily to Crescent Capital.

Billabong’s total revenue for the six months to December 31 dropped 9.6 per cent to $511 million, pushing its loss out from $1.6 million in the prior corresponding period.

The group said it had a weak October with comparable store sales down 16 per cent in Australia.

However, comparable sales improved during December to rise 0.9 per cent.

For the entire six months, comparable store sales declined 4.2 per cent in Australia and 3.7 per cent for the group’s Asia Pacific market.

The company said full-year earnings will rely heavily on the second half, when the Americas business is expected to pick up significantly following the region’s comparable bricks-and-mortar sales growth of 0.5 per cent in the first-half.

Chief executive Neil Fiske said the results were consistent with the company’s warning in November that the first half would be substantially down but that the second half would improve.

“There is a strong profit lift in the Americas as we enter its seasonally bigger second half,” he said.

“Gross margins in the region were up 170 basis points overall year-on-year.”

He said this combined with reduced costs and better inventory gives him confidence in the second half.

BILLABONG”S HY LOSSES WIDEN

* Net loss $16.1m vs $1.6m loss

* Revenue down 9.6pct to $511m

* No interim dividend

Farmgate milk price may lift: MG

The price that dairy processor Murray Goulburn pays farmers for their milk could improve in fiscal 2018 as the co-operative benefits from stronger prices for dairy commodities, and if seasonal conditions for farmers remain good.

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Murray Goulburn says that since last August, prices for dairy commodities – full-cream milk powder, skim milk powder, butter and cheddar – had improved towards their 10-year average.

Farming conditions had also improved, after very wet weather last August and September reduced the amount of raw milk produced on farms..

Better weather meant more milk available to dairy processors, Murray Goulburn chief executive Ari Mervis said on Friday.

“If these factors remain in place, we can look forward to a more favourable future and a more favourable outlook,” he said.

Interim chief financial officer Alan Tilley said that, hopefully, the heavy rains that had impacted on fiscal 2017 would not be repeated in fiscal 2018.

“And given where commodity prices are sitting now compared to where they were this time last year, and with the (co-operative’s) cost-reduction initiatives well on track, it gives confidence for an improved milk price for FY18,” Mr Tilley said.

Murray Goulburn’s positive outlook for the farmgate milk price echoes dairy processor Bega Cheese’s similar assessment on Wednesday.

Murray Goulburn on Friday booked a first-half loss of $31.87 million, compared to a profit of $10 million a year earlier, after taking an impairment on its milk supply support package for dairy farmers, and making step-up payments to milk suppliers.

Excluding one-off items of $41.3 million, net profit for the six months to December 31 fell six per cent to $9.4 million.

Business was hit by a near 21 per cent drop in milk supply due to the very wet conditions in the southern milk region.

And, with production across the industry down about 10 per cent because of the weather, processor competition for the reduced pool had been aggressive .

Murray Goulburn said competition accounted for 60 per cent of the drop in its milk intake, seasonal conditions for 25 per cent, and dairy farmer retirement for 15 per cent.

As a result of tighter milk supply, Murray Goulburn’s farmgate milk price had risen to $4.92 per kilogram of milk solids, from $4.86.

Murray Goulburn maintained its forecast average farmgate milk price for fiscal 2017 at $4.95, indicating a possible three cent step-up.

Units in Murray Goulburn’s listed entity, the MG Unit Trust, were 4.75 cents, or 4.9 per cent, lower at 92.75 cents at 1419 AEDT.

COMPETITION, WET WEATHER HELP CRIMP MURRAY GOULBURN PROFIT.

* First-half net loss of $31.9m, vs net profit of $10m a year earlier

* Revenue down 14.8pct to $1.18bn

* Interim distribution of 1.7 cents, down from 3.5 cents, fully franked

These businesses are refusing to cut penalty rates for their staff

The directors of Lush Australia and New Zealand have confirmed that the cosmetics company will not be applying reduced penalty rates to its staff.

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On Thursday, the Fair Work Commission announced that Sunday and public holiday penalty rates will be reduced for hospitality and retail workers

But in a Facebook post to staff, Lush directors Mark Lincoln and Peta Granger confirmed that no employees will be “adversely affected”.

“On behalf of Lush Australia, we wish to advise that we will not be applying these reductions to the rates of pay our staff are currently paid,” the post read.

“We will continue to pay our staff under the existing terms and conditions for employees working on Sundays and public holidays.”

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The development was then confirmed in a statement on Friday morning.

“At Lush we have always had a commitment to trading fairly, committing to pay a fair trade premium to struggling communities who produce ingredients and components for our products,” the directors said in the statement.

“Applying Fair Work’s ruling on penalty rates is a choice. The happiest and most productive employees are those who feel safe, valued and listened to by their employers. We encourage other employers to carefully consider the implications on their employees before making the choice.”

A small number of cafes around Australia have also taken to social media to publicly confirm that they will also ignore the changes.

“Our staff are our family,” posted Brisbane’s Delfina’s Bistro on Facebook.

We’re proud to support our staff for the wonderful work they do, they deserve their #penaltyrate pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/5somwkrQcH

— Delfina’s Bistro (@delfinasbistro) February 23, 2017

“We will continue to pay their penalties because we value their work and their time. As employers we have a choice and these changes have not taken that choice away from us.”

“We value our staff who give up their Sundays to serve you tasty food on your day off,” said the owners of Bonta Vera café near Newcastle.

Post by Bonta Vera.

“Ain’t gonna happen. Period,” posted The Hairy Giraffe Café near Hobart.

Post by The Hairy Giraffe Cafe.

And the Surf Café on the NSW Central Coast slammed the penalty rate changes. In an expletive Facebook post, the owner said they “believe in a fair playing field” and will continue to pay staff above the previous rates.

WATCH: Fair Work Commission cuts penalty rates

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The changes explained

Under the changes, workers in retail (including pharmacies) will no longer be paid double time on Sundays. Their rates will drop to time-and-a-half except for casuals, who will receive time-and-three-quarters instead.

It is much the same for hospitality workers, but there will be no change for casuals. In fast food, time-and-a-half pay will drop to time-and-a-quarter. Fast food casuals will receive time-and-a-half.

Public holiday rates have also been cut but still remain above double time.

The Fair Work Commission says the changes will lead to more jobs, and longer trading hours on Sundays and public holidays.

But the Labor Party and the Australian Council of Trade Unions have slammed the decision, saying some of Australia’s lowest paid workers would lose thousands of dollars a year.

RELATED READING

Transgender students decry Trump’s ‘dangerous’ bathroom policy reversal

The White House decision to allow states and school districts to decide whether students can access bathrooms of their choice violates civil rights that should be enshrined at the national level, they said.

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Fewer than half of all states currently ban public accommodation discrimination based on gender identity while four Republican states actively restrict bathroom access or restrict laws that would allow it.

“Things I never imagined happening are just blowing my mind,” said Lauren Bocketti, mother of 10-year-old Zach, whose needs she says were always treated fairly at school on Long Island, New York.

“We’ve been lucky and want everybody to feel lucky,” she told a news conference of Long Island parents and transgender students who joined an avalanche of human rights groups already criticizing the move.

Lauren Bocketti with her 10-year-old transgender son, Zach, says it’s not a choice.AAP

“It’s not a choice. It’s who he is. He knew by two years old who he is. He is a boy. He’s a boy trapped in a girl’s body,” she said.

Madeline Bruni, 18, who began transitioning in middle school, said even in a state as liberal as New York life was not easy. A year and a half ago, a restaurant called the police when she used the women’s restroom.

‘Boggles my mind’ 

“In this day and age it just boggles my mind that is something that still goes on,” she told reporters.

Ethan Diaz, 16, said that while he had never had a problem, the decision made him angry on behalf of others who had experienced fear and anxiety about using the bathroom.

Ethan Diaz, a transgender 10th grader from Hempstead, New York, at a news conference in the LGBT Network offices in Woodbury, NY.AAP

“New York is a great place to transition, people do feel comfortable. But for people not in New York that’s the fear,” he told AFP.

Toxic schools contribute to higher rates of depression, suicide, homelessness and HIV infection for transgender youth, activists say.

New York LGBT Network CEO David Kilmnick warned that the decision will increase the stigma attached to transgender youth and put them at “greater risk for hate-motivated violence.”

“What this policy does is increase the likelihood of that violence taking place,” he told the news conference. “Refusing to protect our most vulnerable youth is both deplorable and dangerous.”

Three quarters of transgender youth report feeling unsafe at school, more than 40 percent have been physically abused at school and more than half report skipping school to avoid bullying, Kilmnick said.

He rubbished arguments put forward by conservatives that the protections put in place by Barack Obama’s administration had put other children at risk.

‘High risk’ of assault

“We know that the transgender community is not at risk for committing sexual assault, the transgender community is at high risk of being a victim of sexual assault.”

His network, which he founded 24 years ago, set up a 24-hour hotline on Thursday and is now assembling a team of lawyers to take action against institutions or the federal government if warranted.

David Kilmnick, CEO of LGBT Network, speaking at a news conference at the LGBT Network offices in Woodbury, New York.AAP

The issue will be a rallying cry at a national LGBT march on Washington scheduled for June 11 and Kilmnick said there was an increased urgency for all marginalized groups to unite in protest.

“There’s always going to be something we’re going to be marching for on a Saturday for the next four years it seems,” he said.

Bathroom rights are a hot-button social issue at the center of a broader cultural battle between conservatives and liberals.

When North Carolina passed a law requiring transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates, a string of companies and sports teams boycotted the state.

The US Supreme Court is set next month to consider the case of a 17-year-old in Virginia who was born a female but identifies as a male and filed suit to be able to use the boys’ bathroom at his high school.

Related

One dead as Storm Doris hits British Isles

A woman suffered a fatal head injury from a piece of debris blowing down onto the street in Wolverhampton, central England.

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Storm Doris was heading eastwards from the Atlantic Ocean across the British Isles, and was expected to clear the east coast around sunset.

I am deeply saddened at today’s tragic news that a women has lost her life in our city centre as a result of todays storm thoughts with all

— WolvesMayor (@WolvesMayor) February 23, 2017

The gales caused around 10 percent of flights to be scrapped at London Heathrow Airport.

In Britain, the top wind speed of 94 miles (151 kilometres) per hour was recorded at Capel Curig near Snowdon, the highest mountain in  Wales.

In Ireland, wind speeds of 87 mph (140 kph) were recorded at Mace Head in County Galway on the Atlantic west coast.

West Midlands Ambulance Service said several paramedics were sent to the fatal incident in Wolverhampton.

“On arrival, crews found a woman who had suffered very serious head injuries,” a spokesman said.

“Sadly, it quickly became apparent that there was nothing that could be done to save her and she was confirmed dead at the scene.”

Wheelie bins on as street in Warrington are blown to the floor as storm Dorris hits Warrington,AAP

A West Midlands Police spokeswoman said: “The incident is believed to be related to Storm Doris.”

Rebecca Davis, a 40-year-old teacher who saw the victim receiving emergency treatment, said the debris “was a big piece about the size of a coffee table”.

The storm caused travel disruption.

A Heathrow spokesman said: “Strong winds and poor weather across the UK have resulted in approximately a 10 percent reduction to Heathrow’s flight schedule.”

Speed limits of 50 mph (80 kph) were imposed on several train lines in Britain, while many trains were cancelled, including services linking London with Manchester and Liverpool.

The Port of Liverpool in northwest England was closed due to the winds, while some ferry services to Scotland’s west coast islands were disrupted.

Some roads were shut due to strong winds and snow.

The Republic of Ireland’s state Electricity Supply Board said some 37,000 customers were without power due to around 1,000 separate faults, with high winds and falling timber damaging electricity lines.

In neighbouring Northern Ireland, NIE Networks said they had restored electricity to around 14,000 customers, with some 2,700 still affected.

Our Crews have restored supply to 40k who lost power due to #StormDoris we work on to get as many customers back as possible tonight

— ESB Networks (@ESBNetworks) February 23, 2017