‘Fired up’ Ferrari in the hunt, says Vettel

Vettel’s quickest lap was nearly three-tenths of a second slower than Mercedes pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton but the four-times world champion felt he had left a better time out on the track.

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“I was not entirely happy with my lap,” the German told reporters.

“I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap so I don’t think — I would have loved to — but I don’t think pole was up for grabs.

“Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. As I said the car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace feels much better than yesterday when we had some practice.”

Mercedes have swept the driver and constructors’ championships for the last three years running, while Ferrari failed to win a race last season.

But a raft of technical changes to the cars, including fatter tyres and improved aerodynamics, are seen levelling the playing field and Ferrari showed impressive reliability and pace during winter testing.

Vettel, who crossed to the glamour team in 2015 after four F1 titles with Red Bull, has been at pains to downplay Ferrari’s prospects and hopes of a heavyweight championship battle with three-times winner Hamilton.

But with Hamilton and retired champion Nico Rosberg hogging the front row throughout 2016, there would have been some satisfaction for Vettel to wedge his Ferrari between the Mercedes cars at Albert Park.

Rosberg’s replacement Valtteri Bottas will start third in Sunday’s race, sandwiched between Vettel and his Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen.

“I think we have a good car,” said Vettel. “I think we are working well as a team, things are improving.

“We had a mixed day yesterday but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we’ve showed it again today.

“It’s been a big winter for us, a lot of change we’ve gone through as a team the last 12 months. And to the better, I think the team’s getting stronger, pushing very hard. I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.”

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

Trump suffers bruising defeat as health reform effort collapses

Barely two months into his term, Trump was forced to withdraw an embattled Republican health care bill, moments before a vote, leaving his campaign pledge to dismantle his predecessor’s health care reforms unfulfilled.

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“We were very, very close,” Trump said in the Oval Office regarding support for the bill. 

But with no Democratic support, “we couldn’t quite get there.”

Trump had thrown his full political weight behind the measure, spending days arm-twisting recalcitrant Republicans, and he declared himself “disappointed” and a “little surprised” by the defeat.

The battle was an eye-opening experience for Trump, a billionaire real estate tycoon who entered the White House with no experience of politics or government, including the delicate navigations of Congress.

And the bill’s defeat marked a second major policy setback for the new president who has seen his attempt to curb travel from Muslim-majority countries twice frozen by the courts.

The president met with House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier in the day, then spoke with him by telephone when it was clear the party did not have the votes to get its plan across the finish line. 

“I told him that the best thing I think to do is to pull this bill and he agreed with that decision,” Ryan said.

But while Trump was quick to blame Democrats for not giving “a single vote” for his plan, Ryan owned up to the failures.

“I will not sugar coat this. This is a disappointing day for us,” said the top Republican in Congress.

While Trump expressed disappointment, he said he was optimistic that his lieutenants will be able to craft an “even better” piece of health care legislation. 

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The Trump-backed plan, intended to bring free-market competition to the insurance industry and lower the cost of premiums for most Americans, would also have slashed public assistance to people who have no health coverage through their employer. Some 14 million people stood to lose their coverage starting next year, according to forecasts.

Basic benefits covered under Obamacare — such as maternity care and emergency room visits — would no longer have been considered essential.

The bill now appears dead, with Republican lawmakers urging a return to the drawing board.

“Clearly the votes weren’t there,” said congressman Charlie Dent, one of several moderate House Republicans who expressed concerns over the bill’s impact on poor and elderly Americans.

“So I think it’s important now that we start over, and we do a durable, sustainable health care reform and it be done in a bipartisan way,” he added.

By pulling the bill, Ryan flew in the face of a White House which had declared negotiations over and demanded a vote on Friday.

Trump had put his reputation as a dealmaker on the line with the high-risk vote.

Congressman Mo Brooks, a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus that largely opposed the measure on grounds it was too similar to Obamacare, said he was “pleased as could be that the legislation has failed,” arguing it would have been bad for Americans.

But he refused to place blame on the president, who failed to rally enough Republicans to his cause despite days of intense negotiations.

“I don’t think this reflects on the president in any way, shape or form,” Brooks said. 

“Quite frankly President Trump did the best he could trying to sell a very bad product.”

READ THESE STORIES TOO’Law of the land’

Passage would have handed Trump a monumental victory, and put him on a path toward fulfilling his promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare.

Instead, as Ryan said, “Obamacare is the law of the land. It’s going to remain the law of the land until it’s replaced.”

It was not clear when Congress would turn once again toward health care, as Trump said he would shift quickly toward tax reform, another longstanding goal of Republicans.

Ryan, the reform’s chief champion in the House, had initially planned a Thursday vote but was forced to pull the bill off the floor when it became clear it lacked sufficient backing.

But Trump issued an ultimatum to his party: Vote Friday, and if it fails, Obamacare will remain in force and he will move on to other items on his policy agenda.

Coulthard backs up in Supercars at Aus GP

Three straight wins for emerging Supercars tour giants DJR Team Penske haven’t convinced Jamie Whincup Red Bull Racing’s hold on the sport will be challenged this year.

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The six-time champion already knew they were the real deal.

Penske’s Fabian Coulthard claimed his second win of the non-championship round at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday, finishing ahead of Whincup while his teammate Scott McLaughlin was third.

On Friday, McLaughlin took race one ahead of Coulthard before the flying Kiwis reversed the order in race two.

Coulthard should lock up overall honours given McLaughlin – his closest challenger – will start from the back row in Sunday’s fourth and final race at Albert Park.

It’s been a breakout meet for the cashed-up contenders.

Both drivers took home a second place in two races at Adelaide’s Clipsal 500 a fortnight ago but Shane van Gisbergen’s pair of wins gave the impression Red Bull Racing was still top dog.

Now, nobody’s really sure.

But Whincup saw the Penske challenge coming.

“We predicted they would be very strong at the end of last year,” he said.

“It’s going to be a great battle … but it’s not going to be a two horse race.

“The biggest winner is everyone who loves the sport and comes out and watches it.”

Coulthard, who won race three from pole position on Saturday, said he hoped to continue up the front at Symons Plains next month, with championship points on the line.

“The guys have given us a fantastic car, both Scotty and I, and it’s nice to be battling up the front,” he said.

“We’ve been to three tracks now, Eastern Creek, Adelaide and the Grand Prix. We’ve shown good speed at all of those. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.”

McLaughlin said starting from the back of the grid on Sunday could actually be helpful for his title hopes.

“We’ll take some adjustments into tomorrow’s race and go a bit crazy with it and see what we can do, learn some stuff,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to coming through the field. It’s going to be a bit of fun and I’ll be learning how to pass with the new car and having a big dip.”

Sezer learns from painful NRL expectation

It took more than half the season for Aidan Sezer to learn how to deal with the high expectation that surrounded Canberra’s NRL hopes, but it’s a lesson he won’t have to take twice.

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Sezer has snapped back to form in recent weeks, as the Raiders embark on an unlikely mission of five sudden-death games to make this year’s finals series.

Among the favourites at the start of the season, Canberra slumped to seven losses in nine games midway through the year to fall as low as 12th, their finals hopes spiralled out of control.

But it was only after that seventh loss, against North Queensland last month, that Sezer learnt the key to dealing with the expectation and eventual criticism of his game.

“I made a conscious effort not to give a s*** and just play footy,” Sezer said.

“I’m just playing footy and taking every game on its merit, not worrying about what the outside public is saying.

“I dropped everything and just tried to find out why I enjoy the game. That’s come with more positive performances.”

When Sezer says he took that approach, it’s with no disrespect to the Raiders’ jersey and what the team is trying to achieve.

In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

After the loss to the Cowboys, Sezer admitted he hit a low place and was no longer a positive influence on those around him.

And he knew something had to change.

“That came with my footy as well,” he said.

“If you’re not happy you don’t play good footy, you’re not going to play in a positive manner.

“This year’s been a big learning curve for me in how to deal with a bit of adversity and playing with a team that has high expectations.

“I can speak for most of us, we’ve never been in a position where we’ve come into a season with high expectations on us.”

Subsequently, the new mindset has worked wonders for Sezer on the field.

A golden-point 40-20 against St George Illawarra highlighted his new-found confidence and he has set up three tries in the past fortnight, and busted six tackles.

After swapping sides with five-eighth Blake Austin, the Raiders have beaten the Dragons and South Sydney, while being competitive against Melbourne.

“I’m just enjoying my footy again,” Sezer said.

Eagles dominant in AFL win over Lions

West Coast forward Josh Kennedy has boosted his chances of winning a third-straight Coleman medal after booting six goals in a 68-point AFL win over Brisbane at Domain Stadium.

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In a match that failed to reach any great heights, the Eagles booted five goals to nil in the second term to set up the 17.11 (113) to 6.9 (45) victory.

West Coast’s 10th win of the year lifted them to eighth on the ladder, and brought a positive end to a tumultuous week.

The Eagles copped widespread criticism after their costly fadeout against Collingwood last round.

With questions being raised about West Coast’s ageing list, Brownlow medallist Matt Priddis announced his retirement on Friday.

Sam Mitchell is expected to follow suit in the coming weeks, with Drew Petrie and Sam Butler also set to retire at the end of the season.

Sunday’s match against the Lions featured plenty of handling errors, but West Coast coach Adam Simpson was relieved to end the week with a win.

West Coast face St Kilda at Etihad Stadium on Sunday in a game that could make or break their finals hopes.

Kennedy’s return of 6.4 and nine marks gave the crowd of 32,652 something to cheer about in a match that featured few highlights.

“He’s an A-plus talent,” Simpson said of Kennedy.

“He is a one-in-a-million type player for us. He had 10 shots today.

“There were a couple of times when there were other guys potentially on but he just has such a presence and he knows how to run.”

The 29-year-old Kennedy missed five games with a calf injury, but now has 49 goals to his name after booting 15 goals in his past three matches since returning.

Essendon’s Joe Daniher leads the Coleman race with 53 goals, while Lance Franklin and Ben Brown have 51 apiece.

Brisbane defender Daniel Rich (32 disposals) and midfielder Dayne Beams (41 disposals, nine clearances) tried their best to lift their side, but the youthful Lions were never in the hunt.

Debutant Sam Skinner produced a special moment in the first quarter when he snapped truly for his first AFL goal.

Skinner had to overcome two knee reconstructions just to get his shot at AFL level and his teammates mobbed him once he kicked the goal.

Although Brisbane finished with their lowest score of the year, coach Chris Fagan still had things to smile about.

“Jacob Allison came over and played his first game and ended up with 20 touches,” Fagan said.

“At different times his speed really stood out on the wing. He’s still got a little bit to learn.

“But I walk away from the day thinking there’s a bloke who can become an AFL player in time.

“And the same with Sam Skinner.”

Delays at Australian airports as security bolstered after alleged terror plot

Travellers have been warned to arrive two hours earlier because of “additional scrutiny” and security experts say the arrangements will likely be in place for the foreseeable future.

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“What people can expect to see is an increased police and security agency presence,” Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said in Sydney on Sunday.

“You can expect longer delays to make sure that more screening is being done on baggage – both hold luggage as well as hand luggage.”

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The measures began at Sydney Airport on Thursday before being extended across Australia.

Dr John Coyne, who heads the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Border Security Program, said the immediate counter measures to eliminate threats would give authorities the chance to analyse potential vulnerabilities.

Passengers might notice more precise x-ray screenings or an increase in swab tests, but there could also be more personnel behind the scenes monitoring anomalous behaviour, he said.

“The question will be how were these guys allegedly planning to get this device onto a plane,” Dr Coyne told AAP on Sunday.

Just arrived at #MelbourneAirport domestic. Screening process didn’t take any longer than normal but there was more security.

— Ricardo Goncalves (@BUSINESSricardo) July 30, 2017Exceptional work @Qantas #Sydney airport staff managing heightened security measures (+ huge queues). Professional & not a whiff of chaos!

— Joseph Scales (@JosephScales) July 30, 2017So now I have to get to airport 2 hrs early today?

— Elaine Stead (@ElaineStead) July 29, 2017

“Is there an actual vulnerability they were going to exploit, and is it something we need to mitigate.

“That will be the big question that will be faced now and over the coming weeks.”

On Saturday afternoon, NSW and Federal Police swooped on five properties in the Sydney suburbs of Surry Hills, Lakemba, Wiley Park and Punchbowl and arrested four men.

0:00 Sydney anti-terror raids conducted over ‘plot’ Share Sydney anti-terror raids conducted over ‘plot’

Mr Colvin said terrorists were becoming “ingenious” about coming up with ways to bypass security, but he was also confident Australian security procedures would have stopped the plan.

Dr Coyne agreed and said constant reviews and input from international experts kept travellers safe.

“I don’t mean to sound flippant, but you’re still safer travelling by plane anywhere in the world – even with the current counter terror threat – than you are driving on Australian roads, if you’re talking about statistical probability of getting hurt or killed.”

Mr Colvin said there was no reason to believe the integrity of airport security had been compromised.

The terrorism threat level in Australia was raised to “probable” in 2014.

0:00 Counter-terrorism expert analyses Sydney terror ‘plot’ response Share Counter-terrorism expert analyses Sydney terror ‘plot’ response

Since that time, terror incidents overseas have involved everyday items including vehicles being used as weapons.

But in a submission to a Senate committee examining aviation security, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) noted “civilian aviation will remain a high-value terrorist target for the foreseeable future”.

Terrorists were “adapting to security measures already in place and subsequently changing and refining their methods”, the committee’s report said.

Two killed, four wounded in German disco shooting: police

The 34-year-old attacker “was critically injured in a shootout with police officers as he left the disco, and later succumbed to his wounds in hospital,” police said in a statement.

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Police said they did not believe that a nightclub shooting in the southern city of Constance was a terror attack.

“We’re not assuming that this is an act of terrorist violence,” Fritz Bezikofer told rolling news channel NTV.

Officers began receiving emergency calls from terrified clubbers at around 4:30 am (0230 GMT) after the man began shooting in the nightclub in an industrial zone in the city of Constance, killing one person on the spot and leaving three other people seriously wounded.

Police officers stand at the door of the night club ‘Grey’ in Konstanz, Germany, 30 July 2017 (AAP)AAP

Shortly after he left the building, he was shot by police. One officer was also injured in the exchange of fire.

Terrified nightclubbers had either fled the building or found a place to hide, police said, adding that the danger was now over.

Helicopters were circling overhead and special forces were also deployed to secure the site.

Local broadcaster SWR reported witnesses saying that the gunman was armed with an automatic pistol. 

A bouncer at the site had sought to stop the attacker, but was himself injured by the man, SWR said.

The shooting came just two days after Germany was shaken by a knife attack in the northern port city of Hamburg.

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A 26-year-old Palestinian had killed one and injured six in an assault at a supermarket.

He was a known Islamist with psychological problems, and investigators say his motives remain unclear.

Germany has been on high alert about the threat of a jihadist attack, especially since last December’s truck rampage through a Berlin Christmas market that claimed 12 lives.

But it has also been hit by other assaults unrelated to the jihadist threat.

Among the deadliest in recent years is a Munich shopping mall rampage by 18-year-old German-Iranian man which left 10 people dead including the gunman himself.

Labor pledges to crack down on ‘unfair’ family trusts

The opposition has unveiled plans to impose a 30 per cent tax rate on payments to adults from discretionary trusts.

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It says this will curb the legal but unfair practice of high income-earners funnelling money through trusts to lower-earning family members, thus avoiding paying top tax rates.

“The lucky few, riding the business end of the tax system are able to opt out of paying taxes,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.

“Nice deal if you can get it! The real challenge here is that we want to create one system for Australians.”

The 30 per cent level is just below the second marginal income tax rate, paid by people earning less than $87,000 a year.

0:00 Shorten promises Republic vote Share Shorten promises Republic vote

The policy will “prevent leakage” in the billions from the federal budget, adding $4.1 billion to commonwealth coffers over four years and $17.2 billion over a decade, Mr Shorten said.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen issued a challenge to the Turnbull government.

“Either come out today and defend income splitting, defend the current arrangements and promise no change, or admit there’s a problem and look at adopting Labor’s proposals,” he told reporters, anticipating the government

would opt for a scare campaign.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann offered a flavour of the response on Sunday morning, though conceded he didn’t know the full details of Labor’s policy.

“This is ultimately going to be a tax hike in particular on the many small business operators across Australia who use trust structures as a legitimate way of managing their financial affairs,” he told Sky News.

“They will want to see how Bill Shorten thinks he’s going to be able to take $17 billion out of their pockets.”

He said trusts were predominantly used for legitimate purposes and there was an integrity taskforce within the tax office to rout out the rorters.

Mr Bowen acknowledged there were legitimate uses, such as asset protection for small business owners or succession planning.

Labor’s “carefully calibrated” changes shouldn’t affect these.

“There are many, many hundreds of thousands of small businesses in Australia and most don’t use discretionary trusts,” he said.

“Where a small business is employing a family member … they will or can pay them a wage and of course they’ll be taxed at the normal rate and they can claim the tax-free threshold, there’s no change.”

Farm trusts, charitable trusts, disability and those set up to manage deceased estates will be exempt.

There are about 642,000 discretionary trusts operating in Australia and Labor estimates its policy will affect 315,000 of these – and 98 per cent of taxpayers will see no change.

Left-wing think tank The Australia Institute says there has been an explosion in the use of discretionary trusts in recent years and they now hold more than $3.1 trillion.

Income from trusts overwhelmingly flows to the wealthiest Australians, director Ben Oquist told reporters, with more than half going to the top 0.5 per cent of the population.

“It’s time something was done about them. This is a modest step in the right direction by Labor today,” he said.

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Leaders beef up China-Australia free trade

China’s growing middle class has an insatiable appetite for Australian beef, and now an extra 36 Australian meat exporters will be granted special access to put steaks on hot plates.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and China’s second most powerful leader Li Keqiang sealed a deal during their bilateral meeting on Friday, expanding chilled meat market access from 11 firms to all eligible Australian exporters.

The Chinese premier also denied his country was militarising the South China Sea, insisting defence equipment on artificial islands was in place to help maintain freedom of navigation.

The meat announcement is part of a new phase of the year-old China-Australia free trade deal.

“Australia is the only country in the world with this market access,” Mr Turnbull said, adding Australian beef exports to China are already worth $600 million a year.

“This new agreement will drive significant future growth.”

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said Australia will also be selling donkey meat and edible skins into China. He’s pushing to export kangaroo meat too.

“What we are providing is food for a more affluent society,” Mr Joyce said, adding fillet steak would always be preferred over cow udder.

“Once people start making a buck and they eat fillet steak they want to eat it again and again and again.”

China and Australia are set to establish a high-level security dialogue which will cover cybersecurity, trans-national crime and legal and judicial cooperation.

The leaders had been expected to discuss the legal fate of the 14 Crown employees arrested and detained for five months without charge.

China has been anxious for progress on an extradition treaty, which is facing parliamentary delays in Australia, in order to bolster its efforts to crack down on corrupt officials who have fled the country.

On hot-button strategic issues, Mr Li and Mr Turnbull discussed the ongoing nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

The prime minister praised China’s decision to freeze North Korean coal imports in line with United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“The only thing that can tip our boat upside down is if North Korea goes crazy and then it all goes to poo very quickly, but if we have peace the whole show gets ahead,” Mr Joyce said at a separate press conference.

Asked about the South China Sea maritime dispute, Mr Li played down his country’s “so-called” military build-up on artificial islands.

“With respect to the so-called militarisation, China never has any intention to engage in militarisation in the South China Sea,” Mr Li told reporters in Canberra through an interpreter.

“China’s facilities on Chinese islands and reefs are primarily for civilian purposes, and even if there is a certain amount of defence equipment of facilities, (it) is for maintaining the freedom of navigation and overflight.”

China would “bear the brunt” if shipping routes were disrupted because it was the largest global trader.

Mr Li noted in the past year up to 100,000 commercial ships sailed in the sea lanes of the South China Sea.

China has copped international criticism for its reclamation activities in the disputed territory amid reports it has installed weapons on all seven of its artificial islands.

China claims most of the South China Sea, while Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei claim parts of the waters.

OTHER MAJOR OUTCOMES OF THE MEETING:

* A commercial deal – worth $6 billion – between BBI Group and China State Construction Engineering Corporation to develop the Balla Balla mine, railway and iron ore export facility in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

* A new Australian consulate in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province in 2018.

* The free trade deal’s chapter on services and investment is up for review.

* A ramp-up of quarantine and inspection cooperation.

* Ministerial level talks on energy and an innovation dialogue.

* Vocational education and training cooperation.

* Cultural exchanges in the arts.

* Business roundtable meetings.

Expert helping Australian women affected by Female Genital Mutilation get better care

Senior Health Education Officer for the New South Wales FGM education program Linda George told SBS an increasing number of services were seeking advice on how to work with affected clients.

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“Most Australian service providers are not aware of FGM at all. So if a woman presents to hospital to have a baby it’s a shock and can cause a panic to the midwife herself,” Ms George said.

“So it’s about educating and making service providers skilled and equipped to deal with the sensitive care that these women need.” 

There are an estimated 200 million women and girls around the world who have been subjected to FGM, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

Related reading’They aren’t aware they’re harming them’

It isn’t known how many women and girls living in Australia have been affected by FGM.  

There has been one court case involving FGM occurring in Australia, in 2016.

While there isn’t evidence of the practice happening in Australia, Ms George said the number of women living in Australia who need assistance is likely rising due to increased migration from countires where the practice is common. 

“We are seeing more service providers contacting us requesting training,” she said. 

Ms Geroge also said some women in Australia are concerned the surgery may happen to them when they return to their countries of origin to visit. 

FGM is practiced in 29 countries in Africa and also in a small number of communities in some parts of the Middle East and Asia.

Ms George, who herself migrated from Sudan to Australia 27 years ago, said there are often misconceptions in the Australian community about why FGM takes place.

“The misconception is that this is a practice that is done to intimidate to break the girl, that this is parents abusing their kids. That is not the case,” Ms George said.

“When mothers take their daughters to a circumciser it’s out of them believing that this is the best thing that they do for their daughters. They are not aware they are harming them.”

(File photo) One West African refugee is on a mission to improve health services for women in her home country.SBS Dateline

‘The silence has been broken’

National and international advocates and workers in area of FGM will gather on Friday at a conference in Melbourne to share ideas and research.

Ms George said while Australia was one of the leading OECD nations in community and service FGM education, programs in some states have recently lost funding, despite the growing demand for services.

Amina Mahmoud Warsame is a leading international FGM researcher from Somalia, who is in Australia to address the conference. 

She said despite the practice still being common in her home country, community attitudes were beginning to change.  

“The last ten years the silence around the subject has been broken.  People discuss it and many are actually question the validity of the practice,” she told SBS.

“It will take a long time because of the way it is so deep rooted in the mindset of people, but it is gradually changing”.

Ms Warsame said her research has shown that FGM can’t be tackled in isolation from other issues of gender equality that were prevalent in the societies were the practice is most common.

“An over holistic approach is needed, that also takes into account the empowerment of a woman from the economic side, political side, social side,” she said. “So you have to combine many things to get rid of it.”  

Related readings

 

Taiwan court hears landmark gay marriage case

A panel of 14 grand justices will hear a debate over a disputed law that critics say is unconstitutional because it prevents unions between gay couples.

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Campaigners for change gathered with rainbow flags outside the court in Taipei, which was heavily guarded Friday morning. 

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“Gay people as citizens deserve equal rights and protections under the law,” 24-year-old salesman Lan Shi-kai told AFP. 

Two petitions for an interpretation of Taiwan’s Civil Code have been brought by veteran gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei and the Taipei city government, which has been receiving a growing number of requests to register gay marriages.

Lawyers for Chi, legal experts and government officials will take part in the court debate, with a ruling expected within two months.

“The constitutional court’s decision is legally-binding,” Hsieh Kuo-lien, a law professor at National University of Kaohsiung, told AFP. 

“If its decision is favourable to gay rights activists, it would be effectively legalising same-sex marriage.” 

Second reading

At the centre of the case is a clause in the Civil Code which says an agreement to marry should be made between a man and a woman.  

Authorities in Taiwan have been rejecting applications for same-sex marriages based on this clause. 

The court will hear arguments over whether that part of the Civil Code contravenes elements in Taiwan’s constitution which guarantee equality and freedom of marriage.

It comes after the first draft of a bill to legalise gay marriage was passed by Taiwan’s parliament in December. 

A legislative committee approved an amendment to the civil law that would allow gay couples to legally tie the knot. 

That bill is now due for a second reading.

Taiwan is considered progressive on many issues including gay rights, however its roots in Confucianism translate into a strong sense of adherence to traditional mores. 

There has been growing momentum behind the campaign to change the law. 

However, the debate has also split society, with conservative groups saying allowing same-sex unions would destroy family values. 

Both sides have staged huge marches in recent months, with tens of thousands taking to the streets. 

Activist Chi brought the petition to the constitutional court after multiple failed legal bids to seek recognition of his marriage. 

His latest setback was in 2014 when the Taipei High Administrative Court ruled in favour of a government agency that turned Chi and his partner away when they tried to legally register their union.

“I am cautiously optimistic as the world trend is to recognise same-sex marriage and the grand justices are unlikely to bar it,” Chi told AFP ahead of the court hearing Friday.

Past attempts to legalise same-sex marriage stalled under the Kuomintang party, which dominated politics for decades until it was unseated by President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party last year. 

Campaigners were given new hope when Tsai was elected as she has openly supported marriage equality. 

Britain on alert as attacker named as British-born man

“To the men and women who propagate this hate and evil, you will not defeat us.

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Mr Speaker, let this be the message from this House and this nation today. Our values will prevail.”

That was British prime minister Theresa May addressing parliament after the attack in the heart of London that has left the country on high alert.

The man suspected of carrying out the attack has been named as 52 year-old Khalid Masood.

Born in Kent, he had previous convictions for assaults, possession of offensive weapons and public order offences but nothing linked with terrorism.

Theresa May has confirmed he had previously been investigated for links to what she calls “violent extremism,” but says he was a “peripheral figure.”

She says he had not been part of the current intelligence picture.

A candlelit vigil has been held in central London’s Trafalgar Square, where Mayor Sadiq Khan paid tribute to the victims.

“We come together as Londoners tonight to remember those who’ve lost their lives and all those affected by the horrific attack yesterday, but also to send a clear message, ‘Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism.'”

Among the victims was police officer Keith Palmer, who has been described as a hero for his actions.

Aysha Frade and Kurt Cochran, a tourist from the United States, have also been named as victims.

A fourth person, a 75 year-old man, died in hospital from his injuries after his life support was withdrawn.

A German national who lives and works in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, Patricia Neis-Beer, was among those injured.

The mother of two has undergone surgery for a crushed foot.

At the United Nations, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson has thanked world leaders for their condolences.

“There are victims in London from 11 nations, which goes to show that an attack on London is an attack on the world. And I can tell you from my talks here in the United States with the US government and with partners from around the world that the world is united to defeat the people who launched this attack and to defeat their bankrupt and odious ideology.”

Authorities say Britain’s terrorism alert level will not be raised to “critical,” instead remaining at “severe,” the second-highest level.

But the attack has prompted calls for security to be increased at government buildings.

Police Federation chairman Steve White says there will need to be a debate about whether more officers are armed.

“Policing in the United Kingdom is largely unarmed, and I think police officers and the public understand and probably want that. But, of course, the Police Service has got to be flexible. It’s got to be able to respond to the threat, the ever changing threats. And what we saw yesterday, despite the protection that there was there, there were still vulnerabilities.”

 

More fighting as latest talks on Syrian war resume

Formal indirect talks and bilateral meetings between United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and the warring sides are expected to begin later today.

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The deputy envoy for Syria, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, says he has held discussions with the Syrian opposition after earlier meeting with the government delegation.

“Substantive discussions. We went through all the issues that need to be clarified before we start. And, in that sense, I think it was a positive meeting, so, let’s see what happens.”

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias, has representatives attending the Geneva talks.

Each side blames the other for violating the ceasefire.

The latest round of talks coincide with clashes in the capital Damascus, where rebels and the army are fighting on the edge of the city centre in Jobar district.

The chief negotiator of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee representing the opposition groups, Nasr Al-Hariri, blames the government for the ongoing fighting there. “There were breakthrough attempts to break into these areas and aerial bombing. Therefore, the area where the fighting is taking place now is the same area that was targeted by the regime and its allies, and it’s the same passages where the regime and its allies tried to break through. So this is clear self-defence, and, because the regime attempts to get into these areas, you would not have seen these backwards results.”

The UN humanitarian adviser on Syria, Jan Egeland, says 300,000 civilians are at risk as the battle around Damascus rages on.

Those are the civilians of the besieged Douma and Kafr Batna areas of rural Damascus.

Mr Egeland says the Syrian government is not giving the go ahead for convoys and armed groups are not guaranteeing their security, meaning much needed aid is not getting through.

“You know, supplies are dwindling, supplies are not there anymore. The informal routes into this area were there when there was less fighting. They are gone. So they are totally dependent on our supplies. Starvation will just be around the corner unless we get there in the coming weeks.”

The fighting in Syria is also leading to increasingly busy and dangerous airspace.

Russian bombers have conducted a number of strikes in support of President Assad, and Syrian military planes are also in the air.

The now crowded skies over territory held by the self-proclaimed Islamic State have also complicated US-led air strikes targeting IS in both Iraq and Syria.

A US pilot, Lieutenant Commander William Vuillet, involved in the bombing campaign, says the situation is resulting in close calls.

“There are some close passes every once in a while. Again, we try to mitigate it as much as possible, but, with the remotely piloted aircraft, obviously there’s no crew on board, so they don’t have the same visual lookout that we do on board our aircraft. So it happens every once in a while where we have passes.”

But air strikes remain more dangerous for those on the ground.

Earlier this week, it was alleged a US-led coalition air strike near the Syrian city of Raqqa hit and killed more than 30 civilians, although the Pentagon denies the allegation.

Now in its seventh year, observers estimate the war has led to the deaths of more than 320,000 people and 280,000 continue to live under siege in Syria.