Macron in Mali for diplomatic push on Sahel anti-jihad force

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Mali on Sunday to boost Western backing for a regional anti-jihadist force, with France urging greater support for the Sahel region amid mounting insecurity.

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The so-called “G5 Sahel” countries south of the Sahara – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – have pledged to fight jihadists on their own soil with instability and Islamist attacks on the rise.

Macron is joining these nations’ heads of state in Bamako for a special summit where France’s backing for the force will be announced, with a likely focus on providing equipment.

Based in Sevare, central Mali, the 5,000-strong G5 Sahel force aims to bolster 12,000 UN peacekeepers and France’s own 4,000-member Operation Barkhane, which is operating in the region.

Macron is also looking to extra backing from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States – which already has a drone base in Niger – beyond a pledge of 50 million euros ($57.2 million) made by the European Union.

Serge Michailof, a researcher at the Paris-based IRIS institute, described the EU contribution as “a joke” given the EU’s “very deep pockets” and the poverty of the Sahel countries.

“This force is going to cost $300-400 million (262-350 million euros) at the very least,” he told AFP.

Chadian President Idriss Deby has said his country cannot afford to mobilise large numbers of troops simultaneously for the UN peacekeeping mission and also in the new force.

Deby and Macron are due to meet on the margins of the Bamako summit to discuss the financial issue, according to the French presidency. Chad’s military is widely viewed as the strongest of the five Sahel nations.

Al-Qaeda’s Mali branch, meanwhile, offered a reminder of the jihadists’ threat, with the release of a proof-of-life video of six foreign hostages.

The clip posted Saturday by Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, also known as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, includes elderly Australian surgeon Arthur Kenneth Elliott and Frenchwoman Sophie Petronin.

Elliott was abducted in January 2015 in Djibo, Burkina Faso, where he and his wife had run the district’s sole medical clinic since 1972. Petronin was abducted in late 2016 in the northern Malian town of Gao.

In the video, the hostages are separately introduced by a narrator, who says that so far there have been no negotiations for their release.

Phased rollout

Macron visited Gao in northern Mali in May, his first foreign visit as president outside Europe, and promised French troops would remain “until the day there is no more Islamic terrorism in the region”.

France intervened to chase out jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda who had overtaken key northern cities in Mali in 2013.

That mission evolved into the current Barkhane deployment launched in 2014 with an expanded mandate for counter-terror operations across the Sahel.

The new Sahel force will support national armies trying to catch jihadists across porous frontiers, and will work closely with Barkhane.

Operations across Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, all hit with frequent jihadist attacks, will be co-ordinated with French troops, a source in the French presidency told AFP earlier this week, while help would be given to set up command centres.

Multiple fronts

While weighing up the challenges of the G5 Sahel operation, analysts frequently compare it with the Multinational Joint Task Force battling Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region, composed of troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

Despite heavy initial criticism, that force “has succeeded in a part of its mission, which is to reduce the territory controlled by Boko Haram and limit its actions,” said Rinaldo Depagne from the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation that works on conflict resolution.

However, the G5 Sahel force has supplementary challenges in the weak armed forces of Burkina Faso and Mali, while Chad and Niger are already engaged on multiple fronts, he added.

The three-nation border of Liptako-Gourma will become a “laboratory” for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger where French forces will aim to work in tandem with these nations, before bringing Chad and Mauritania into the mix, Depagne predicted. 

The G5 Sahel force’s top commander, Malian general Didier Dacko, has said that at first each country’s contingent would operate on its own soil, gradually becoming more focused on their mutual borders.

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Brisbane Lions stun Essendon in AFL upset

The tight AFL season is about the only thing going for Essendon’s finals hopes after their stunning eight-point loss to struggling Brisbane.

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The Lions had their best performance under first-year coach Chris Fagan on Sunday at Etihad Stadium, roaring back in the last quarter for a shock 13.12 (90) to 11.16 (82) win.

After leading by 27 points early in the last term, the Bombers again were found wanting in a tight finish.

Brisbane small forward Ryan Lester somehow took an uncontested mark deep in attack with two minutes left and kicked the goal that ensured the win.

It came a week after Essendon coughed up a 19-point lead in the last couple of minutes against Sydney.

Essendon have lost four of their past five games – but they remain two wins outside the top eight.

“At the moment, you would say maybe the only thing that’s keeping us in the mix is that no team is grabbing it and running away with it.,” Essendon coach John Worsfold said.

“I would much rather be saying we’re in the mix for the finals because of the good footy we’re playing.

“From today, I can’t say that. Previously I would have said that.

“Today, we’ve got to say ‘how do we bounce back from this? What sort of footy can we play over the next eight weeks?'”

Fagan said the main focus for his team was restricting Essendon’s uncontested marks.

He noted that when Essendon dominate that statistic, they beat good teams.

On Sunday, the young Lions won that category 93-63.

It did not matter that the Bombers won the inside 50s 61-48.

“For a team to say that they achieved what they wanted to achieve, by stopping us doing that, is an indictment on our ability to take that on,” Worsold said.

It is unfair to single out Essendon players – so many of them underperformed – but midfielder Zach Merrett was noticeably down.

He only had 19 disposals – his lowest return for nearly two seasons.

“I don’t know the answer to that – he didn’t indicate anything (wrong) at half-time,” Worsfold said.

“We were obviously looking at the impact he was having and we were concerned about that.

“But no, he was OK.”

First-year key forward Eric Hipwood starred for the Lions with four goals, while Dayne Zorko rebounded from a quiet match last weekend and had 30 disposals.

In his second senior game, teenager Alex Witherden was excellent across half-back.

Adding to the lustre of the win, the Lions lost key defender Darcy Gardiner in the first quarter.

His season could be over after he was taken to hospital with a dislocated elbow.

‘You need to lead for everybody’: Rhiannon slams Greens leader

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon has hit out at Richard Di Natale’s leadership as the party looks to reform the way it works with its NSW arm.

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Her remarks follow a decision by the party room to exclude her from discussion on contentious legislation after a rift emerged over her campaigning on schools funding.

“I have been disappointed in Richard’s leadership but you need to lead for everybody and it is not just me locked out of the party room, the Greens NSW members no longer have a voice in the party room,” she told ABC TV on Sunday.

“Isn’t it time to make the party more democratic for members so they can have a vote for the leader?”

0:00 Lee Rhiannon temporarily suspended amid schools row Share Lee Rhiannon temporarily suspended amid schools row

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Senator Di Natale told AAP he welcomed Lee’s support “for the proposition I put to our national conference last November”.

Senator Rhiannon, who was accused of undermining a potential deal with the government on the so-called Gonski 2.0 policy, continues to insist she did nothing wrong.

She says it was understandable members wanted to prosecute the case for the original Gonski package and it was a “bread and butter” issue she supported.

The NSW Greens are being asked to work with the national council on how to stop its MPs being bound to vote against a decision of the federal parliamentary party room.

But Senator Rhiannon says the party needs to be more member driven and focus on global issues, such as inequality and homelessness.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with young members who join the party who want to talk about socialism,” she said.

Her colleague Nick McKim is confident with goodwill the party can work through the structural issues it faces with the NSW Greens and there won’t be a split.

“Ultimately there is far, far more that unites us in the Greens than divides us,” he told Sky News.

Senator McKim said there was no time frame on changes, but he would like to see it addressed as soon as possible.

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Iraqi forces retake hospital near Mosul’s Old City

Iraqi forces have recaptured a hospital and other medical facilities in west Mosul, further isolating IS holdouts in the Old City, officers said.

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The country’s security forces are in the final stages of the gruelling battle to retake second city Mosul, which they launched more than eight months ago.

Interior ministry forces recaptured the Ibn Sina Teaching Hospital along with other medical facilities including a blood bank and a clinic, Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir Yarallah said in a statement on Saturday.

Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat, the commander of the country’s federal police, said the area where the hospital is located, Al-Shifaa, had been completely retaken, limiting IS’s presence in Mosul to the Old City.

“Our forces are advancing from three sides and are pursuing the terrorist groups in the few remaining areas of the Old City,” Jawdat said in a statement.

Black smoke is seen around Mosul during fighting between IS and Iraqi forces.Yomiuri Shimbun

Iraqi forces have been fighting to retake the Old City for weeks, and launched a renewed assault on the area on June 18.

On Thursday, they recaptured the remains of the mosque where IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only known public appearance, a significant symbolic victory for security forces.

But IS made sure that the Nuri mosque was not captured intact, blowing it up along with its famed leaning minaret as Iraqi forces closed in.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since regained much of the territory they lost.

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Australia’s youngest CEO making her mark at 16

While school holidays are usually a time for students to relax or catch up on studies, 16-year-old Ali Kitinas also has a business to run.

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“It can be a little bit of a challenge at times to find the right balance,” she said. “But I think that happens with anything.”

“My work hours are kind of in the evening. Often I get really excited about something and I want to keep working but I know that I have to wake up for school the next day.”

At the age of 11, Ms Kitinas dabbled in social media marketing in an effort to make some money doing something she loved.

She then put those earnings towards her current venture, making and selling body-scrub powder with the help of two humanitarian groups.

The Freedom Hub provides recycled coffee grounds, sourced from a farm supporting rehabilitation services for women in Rwanda and child soldiers, for Ms Kitinas to use in her products.

Part of her earnings go towards The Hope Foundation Hospital, which provides medical services to a group of children in the Indian city of Kolkata.

Ms Kitinas began Freedom Scrub shortly after visiting the area two years ago.

“A lot of these girls were my age that needed the services of the hospital,” she said.

“I had already been making coffee scrubs and body scrubs as gifts for people, and I saw that as a great collaboration.”

The young entrepreneur participated in last year’s TedXYouth at Sydney’s Opera House.长沙桑拿,moeloco长沙桑拿按摩论坛,

Homelessness hits home

Ms Kitinas’ entrepreneurial skills recently led to her participate in an international mentoring program with socially-minded business leaders, including Virgin founder Richard Branson.

Upon returning home she approached St Vincent de Paul about taking part in its annual CEO Sleepout – an initiative where some of Australia’s most successful business people sleep on the streets to raise awareness about homelessness.

She was accepted, becoming the youngest person to ever participate in the initiative which has so far raised more than $5 million across the country.

Her participation was particularly special for her mother, Lynne Kitinas, who herself lived on the streets when she was around her daughter’s age.

“I was sleeping in a cardboard box, staying over with friends, sleeping in church halls,” she explained. “It was cold. It was scary. There was a lot of violence. There were a lot of incidents where kids were taken advantage of.

“They are human beings. They have an identity, and the longer that you’re in the despair situation, the harder it is to get out of that.”

Ali Kitinas started her first business when she was still in primary school.Freedom Scrub blog

‘We have a real crisis’

More than 105,000 Australians sleep rough every night, and more than 2.5 million live below the poverty line.

Saint Vincent de Paul’s New South Wales chief executive Jack de Groot said the numbers have been steadily rising in recent years, thanks in part to a lack of action by state governments to address Australia’s ongoing housing-affordability crisis.

“People still can spend in excess of five, and sometimes ten years on the public-housing wait lists,” he said.

“We have a real crisis.

“The Commonwealth can put funding arrangements forward to the states, but we know, in different states, there is not enough public, social or affordable housing being made available.”

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Woodward hails ‘invincible’ Itoje after Wellington win

The 22-year-old justified Warren Gatland’s decision to start him in Wellington, delivering a combative performance that checked the All Blacks’ attacking intent and helped drive the Lions forward to level the three-match series at 1-1.

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“He was immense from start to finish and the feeling of invincibility a young tyro like the England lock brings to proceedings should not be underestimated,” Woodward wrote in the Mail on Sunday of a player who did not start the first test.

“It wouldn’t occur to him for a second that New Zealand were unbeatable. He doesn’t really understand the concept of defeat and long may that last.

“No wonder the Lions fans were chanting his name football-style afterwards. There were shades of (Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi in their worship of the man.”

While many pundits bemoaned a high penalty count for the visitors, former Lion Austin Healey said it was an inevitable price to pay for taking the match to New Zealand, who had Sonny Bill Williams sent off for a shoulder charge after 25 minutes.

“Conceding 13 penalties is not in the manual of how to win a test match,” Healey wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. “But the point was the Lions were prepared to play right on the edge rather than let the All Blacks march all over them.

“Of course you would like the penalty count to come down but if anything, the Lions need to ramp up the aggression even further.”

Former England flanker Lawrence Dallaglio said the victory was based on an astonishing display of “heart and nerve”, and saluted Gatland for keeping faith with creative duo Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell even as the clock ticked down.

“‘Finishers’ has become a popular term in rugby but sometimes it pays to stick with your starters — the reason why you go with them from kick-off, after all, is because they are your best players,” he wrote in the Sunday Times.

Most commentators predicted a “Blacklash” in next week’s decisive test at Eden Park, although former Ireland wing Shane Horgan believes the series may hinge on how New Zealand react to the pressure of facing a possible series defeat.

“(Accuracy and composure) will be in short supply in New Zealand’s media and fans this week; the Lions will pray this will transmit to their team,” he wrote in the Sunday Times.

(Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by John O’Brien)

Suicide car bomber chased by security forces kills 18 people in central Damascus

A suicide car bomber pursued by security forces blew himself up in eastern Damascus on Sunday, with a monitor reporting 18 killed in the deadliest attack to hit the Syrian capital in months.

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Syrian state media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said security forces intercepted three car bombers on their way into the city early on Sunday morning.

State television said two of the vehicles were blown up on the outskirts of the city.

A third managed to reach the eastern Tahrir Square district, where he was surrounded but able to detonate a bomb.

The Observatory, a Britain-based monitor, said 18 people were killed in the bombing, including at least seven members of pro-regime security forces and two civilians. It had not identified the remaining victims. 

Syrian state news agency SANA quoted an interior ministry statement as saying two of the vehicles had been “destroyed” at a roundabout on the road to the city’s airport. 

The driver of the third blew himself up while being pursued, it said, “killing a number of civilians, injuring others, and causing material damage to public and private properties.”

A series of car bomb explosions hit the Syrian capital on Sunday, including a suicide attacker who blew himself up after being surrounded by security forces.SANA

Extensive damage

An AFP correspondent at Tahrir Square saw extensive damage to nearby buildings. Two bombed-out cars were visible to one side of the square, which was strewn with debris.

A woman was crying in an apartment near the site of the attack. Her balcony had collapsed and the living room was a mess of broken glass and shattered masonry, with pictures and curtains strewn across the floor. 

The woman said her daughter had been taken to hospital after being injured by flying glass.

Tahrir Square resident Mohammad Tinawi told AFP that he had heard “gunfire at around 6:00am (0300 GMT), then an explosion which smashed the glass of houses in the neighbourhood.”

He said he had seen Red Crescent volunteers treating two wounded soldiers. A shopkeeper confirmed that the explosion had gone off at around 6:00 am.

Damascus has been spared the large-scale battles that have devastated other major Syrian cities during the country’s six-year civil war.

But dozens of people have been killed in bombings, particularly on the outskirts of the capital.

In mid-March, bomb attacks on a courthouse and restaurant in central Damascus killed 32 people. That rare assault in the heart of the city, which remains under government control, was claimed by the Islamic State group. 

That came days after two explosions that left 74 dead in the capital’s Old City and were claimed by the Tahrir al-Sham coalition led by the jihadist Fateh al-Sham Front.

Battlefronts around Damascus have calmed since a May deal that saw opposition fighters withdraw from several neighbourhoods, along with a separate agreement on “de-escalation” zones – including one in a rebel stronghold just outside the capital.

Syria’s conflict broke out with anti-government protests in 2011, but has since evolved into a multi-front war that has killed more than 320,000 people.

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Lions flanker O’Brien cleared to play third test

O’Brien was cited after television footage showed his forearm clearly made contact with the face of All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo as the Irish loose forward joined a tackle in the 59th minute of the match at Wellington Regional Stadium.

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Naholo was taken from the pitch for a concussion test, which he failed, forcing his replacement. Referee Jerome Garces, who had sin-binned Lions prop Mako Vunipola minutes before, took no action on the pitch.

The Ireland flanker was charged by citing commissioner Scott Nowland after the game but New Zealand Rugby (NZR) said on Sunday he had been cleared.

“Having conducted a detailed review of all the evidence available, including all video footage and additional evidence from the player and submissions from his legal representative Max Duthie, the Independent Judicial Committee dismissed the citing complaint,” NZR said in a statement.

The committee had earlier banned All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams for four weeks after he was shown a red card for a shoulder charge on Anthony Watson in the 25th minute of the match.

O’Brien has played both tests for the Lions on this tour and his contribution in the second test had earlier been praised by assistant coach Graham Rowntree who described him as ‘outstanding’ and the benchmark for the team’s performance.

“Right to the end of the game he is the barometer for us with his energy,” Rowntree said. “His aggression and ball pressure, his tackling, his carrying. I think he has been outstanding.”

Lions coach Warren Gatland said he was pleased with the committee’s decision, while O’Brien said: “Firstly, I hope Waisake is okay. I’d like to thank the panel for carefully considering the case.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Additional reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Clare Fallon)

Saints in finals mix after ending hoodoo

They’ve broken their Perth hoodoo and are sitting a game inside the top eight, but St Kilda coach Alan Richardson isn’t daring to dream about finals action just yet.

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The Saints ended their six-match losing streak in Perth with a thrilling nine-point win over Fremantle at Domain Stadium on Sunday.

Consecutive wins over North Melbourne, Gold Coast, and Fremantle have improved St Kilda’s record to 8-6 heading into Saturday night’s crunch clash with Richmond at Etihad Stadium.

But with only one top-eight scalp to their name this season – a shock win over GWS in round seven – the Saints aren’t getting carried away just yet.

Before Sunday’s win in Perth, St Kilda had lost 25 of their past 28 matches outside of Victoria.

Now they have won two of their past three games outside of Victoria, boosting Richardson’s hopes that they are becoming a team that can start winning regularly on the road.

The next five weeks could make of break St Kilda’s finals hopes.

After taking on the in-form Tigers, St Kilda face Essendon, Sydney (SCG), Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval) and West Coast.

“I won’t be focusing on the next five weeks, nor will our players,” Richardson said.

“We have Maddie’s Match against the Tigers. It’s going to be a really big game for our club.

“We need to play really strong. We know the Tigers are playing terrific footy.”

The Saints face a nervous wait to see if star midfielder Jack Steven is suspended for his punch to Hayden Ballantyne’s mid-riff.

Defender Sam Gilbert is also in doubt for the Tigers clash after being concussed against Fremantle.

Gilbert was stretchered off after his head was driven into the turf by a lingering tackle from Fremantle’s Cameron McCarthy.

Richardson paid tribute to Jack Steele, comparing him to St Kilda great Lenny Hayes after the midfielder laid 17 tackles against Fremantle.

“He comes from a rugby state. He’s a Canberra boy and his tackles are real tackles,” Richardson said.

“When he tackles, they stay in the tackle. Very rarely do they get rid of the footy. He’s a good size.”

Sam Burgess slaps down sin-binning

South Sydney skipper Sam Burgess has taken a subtle dig at the NRL referees and rule book following his sin-binning in his side’s 42-14 trouncing of Penrith on Sunday.

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In the wash up, Burgess’ sin-binning proved a turning point and seemingly lit a fire under his teammates.

The Englishman was marched after he and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak engaged in what could only be described as a slapping match in which neither connected with any force.

After Nathan Cleary dived on a loose ball, Burgess came in over the top, leading with his shoulder in a legal tackle.

However the Penrith half’s teammates took exception and rushed from all corners of the field, setting off an all-in push-and-shove.

Burgess and Watene-Zelezniak were each sent to cool off for 10 minutes for striking under the NRL’s new anti-slap rules.

In their absence, Panthers captain Matt Moylan threw a wild cut-out pass to no one with Alex Johnston picking up the spoils and racing 90 metres for the first of the Rabbitohs’ seven tries.

Had Watene-Zelezniak been on the field, he would have likely been in a position to dive on the loose ball.

Asked if he was shocked to be sin-binned, Burgess said: “Were you?

“I guess it’s the game we play at the moment.

“I wouldn’t have pushed back if someone hadn’t have run in from 15 metres.

“It’s the rules and the game that we play these days. You’ve just got to wear it. I’m certainly disappointed.”

He also claimed he never connected with the Panthers winger.

“In super slow mo it didn’t look like it, did it? You can’t do anything at the moment,” Burgess said.

When Souths coach Michael Maguire was asked whether the episode was embarrassing, he said: “You just said it.”

“It is the rules as Sammy spoke about.

“The game’s tried to tidy up a lot of that area. I’m not sure that was worth 10.”