Americans detained in North Korea appeal for help

Three US citizens held in North Korea pleaded Monday for help to secure their release but said they have been well treated in the hardline communist country.

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“Continue to pray for me,” Kenneth Bae, the longest-held detainee, said in a message to family and friends, asking them to work for his release.

   

Bae told the network he was working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labour camp, but added he had been treated “as humanely as possible”.

   

Bae, Jeffrey Fowle and Matthew Miller were speaking to CNN at a hotel in Pyongyang.

   

Bae was arrested in November 2012 and later sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the North Korean government.

   

Fowle, 56, entered the North on April 29 and was arrested after reportedly leaving a Bible at a hotel.

   

He said he has “no complaints” about his treatment.

   

“It’s been very good so far, and I hope and pray that it continues, while I’m here two more days or two more decades,” he said.

   

Fowle suggested former US presidents Bill Clinton or George Bush should be dispatched as special envoys for talks with Pyongyang on his release.

   

“I’m good for the time being, but I need to let people know that I’m getting desperate, I’m getting desperate for help,” he said.

   

Miller, 24, was arrested in April after he apparently ripped up his visa at immigration and demanded asylum.

   

North Korea said in July it would put Miller and Fowle on trial on unspecified charges related to “perpetrating hostile acts”.

   

Miller pleaded for help from the US government.

   

“My situation is very urgent, that very soon I am going to trial, and I would directly be sent to prison,” he said, adding he would not learn the charges until he goes on trial.

   

All three men said they signed statements admitting their guilt, CNN reported.

   

Bae began serving his sentence in May 2013.

   

“I’ve been the only prisoner in the camp for the last year and a half. I didn’t have anybody else in the camp other than the guard,” he said.

   

North Korea, which tightly controls religious expression, accused Bae of being a militant Christian evangelist and charged him with seeking to topple the regime.

   

In an interview published in July, Bae — photographed in a prison uniform with the number 103 on his chest — said he felt abandoned by US authorities.

   

At that time he said he was suffering from serious lung and liver ailments.

   

Bae’s family has voiced fear that he is being used as a bargaining chip by North Korea.

   

The US special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, has twice tried to visit the North to secure Bae’s release, only for Pyongyang to cancel at the last minute on both occasions.

   

Last month a representative from Sweden, which handles US interests in the North, visited Bae at his labour camp.

Cowboys edge past Sharks

North Queensland have locked down an NRL finals berth but it was ugly and it was late, the Cowboys grinding out a tense 20-19 golden point win over Cronulla in Townsville on Monday night.

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The Cowboys moved to fifth on the ladder with the victory over a spare parts Sharks side but the match raised plenty of questions over the club’s premiership credentials.

Johnathan Thurston kicked two field goals to help claim the win, the first five minutes from fulltime before again being called to the fore in extra time.

Trailing 19-12 with four minutes to play, Cronulla scored a converted try through Sosaia Feki before Daniel Holdsworth booted a booming 45m field goal to lock the scores up with 24 seconds to go.

On paper, it was a monumental mismatch with the Cowboys boasting Test bookends Matt Scott and James Tamou, star playmaker Thurston and a host of in-form players across the paddock.

The Sharks went into the match gutted by the ASADA investigation into the club and an injury curse, with seven first graders suspended and another nine in the injury ward.

Add to that the sacked Todd Carney and retired Beau Ryan and there wasn’t much left for the club to even field a team.

And it looked as if the Cowboys would cash in, boom lock Jason Taumalolo scoring beside the sticks inside the first 90 seconds of the match.

But while the bookmakers had abandoned them, the Sharks came in full of belief and had the Cowboys stunned as they ran out to a 12-6 lead through tries to Pat Politoni and Feki.

Thurston’s class kept the Cowboys in the hunt, the captain earning his side two repeat sets before crossing himself to lock up the scores at the 30 minute mark.

Taumalolo snatched the lead back for the Cowboys in the 58th minute, wrestling his way through a sea of blue for another try sent upstairs to be adjudicated.

Thurston had seemingly iced the game with five minutes to play with his field goal, but Feki scored his double to keep Cronulla in the contest.

Holdsworth then silenced the 11,712-strong crowd when his second attempt at a field goal was successful.

While the win was ugly, it keeps North Queensland’s hopes of sneaking into the top four – and the double chance that comes with it – alive heading into round 26.

With a strong for and against record (+176 points) a spot in the top eight is a lock, the Cowboys now needing to beat Manly in the final round and hope Penrith lose to the Warriors to lock up fourth spot.

Cowboys coach Paul Green was relieved with the win and revealed a flu outbreak in his squad had hindered the side.

“We were considering not training at all because we had so many blokes who had the flu,” he said.

“Not making any excuses, I didn’t think it was a particularly bad performance … in saying that I think we’ve got to pay some respect to the way Cronulla played.

“But some of the guys out there for us were really struggling.”

Sharks coach James Shepherd was pleased with how his side toiled.

“It was a massive effort from our boys,” he said.

“Inexperienced team, a little bit under strength and obviously some changes in personnel this week due to injury and suspension.

“But they just keep working for each other … magnificent effort.”

Australia child-relocation hearing opens in Ireland

Around 50 former residents of institutions in Northern Ireland were set to give evidence in a series of hearings in Banbridge, County Down, about the child migration program that ran from the 1920s until the 1970s.

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Documentation examined by the inquiry found that around 140 young children from Northern Ireland, who were in the care of voluntary institutions, religious charities or state bodies, were sent to Australia as child migrants.

Many were allegedly sexually abused in Australia.

The hearings were expected to last for three weeks and form the second part of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland.

The inquiry is set to hear evidence from children who were taken away without the knowledge or consent of their parents.

The International Association of former Child Migrants and their Families, which represents thousands of British child migrants who it says were ‘trafficked’ overseas, called on Prime Minister David Cameron to launch a full judicial inquiry into similar programmes across the whole of Britain.

“Following the inquiries in Australia and now Northern Ireland, it is time for the British Government to look properly at what we believe is the largest child abuse scandal in the history of the UK,” the charity’s Norman Johnston said.

“We need answers as to how these schemes were approved, who gave authority for these children, many with families in the UK, so that they could be taken out of the UK to face abuse in Australia,” he said.

Then prime minister Gordon Brown issued a formal apology in 2009 to around 150,000 children, mainly from deprived backgrounds, who were sent from Britain to Commonwealth countries, where they were often abused and forced into unpaid labour.

Their parents believed their children had gone to live a better life, and the children were sometimes wrongly told that they were orphans.

Scott backs ‘Roos for big AFL finals

Coach Brad Scott wants North Melbourne to dream big in the AFL finals series.

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He has backed them to have an almighty crack this month, starting with Saturday night’s elimination final against Essendon at the MCG.

Scott says the Kangaroos have never been as resilient in his five years as coach.

Adelaide’s improbable 1998 premiership is the only time under the current finals system that a team has won the flag from outside the top four.

North finished sixth this season after winning their last four games.

When asked if it was possible for a team in the bottom half of the eight to go all the way, Scott replied: “not in the last decade.

“We’ll make some history if we do, but we know the enormity of the challenge.

“This is why we play this game … we’re competitors.

“Competitors want to stand up in September and this is when reputations are made.

“We’ll give it an almighty crack.”

After struggling with inconsistency, North cemented their first finals berth in two years with a solid month of wins.

“The players have grown, they’ve matured, they’re more resilient than they’ve been at any point before in my tenure at the football club,” Scott said.

“I look back and say ‘how did we handle it?’ (their earlier inconsistency) – we handled it with 14 wins.”

North made five changes for the weekend’s win over Melbourne and Scott indicated they will probably do the same for Essendon.

Todd Goldstein, Lindsay Thomas, Luke McDonald, Michael Firrito and Levi Greenwood all missed the Melbourne game.

Lachie Hansen could be in doubt with a sore hip and Leigh Adams suffered a heavy knock against the Demons.

“No-one is definite this week – we have some really good problems,” Scott said of the five players who are likely to return.

“We’re not concerned about making a number of changes.”

There is plenty of pressure on North this month, given their inconsistent form earlier this season and the fact they have not won a final since 2007.

The last time they made the top eight, West Coast smashed them by 96 points in an elimination final.

“We qualified eighth on the back of about eight elimination finals in a row and when the real elimination final turned up we were just not ready to take our opportunity,” Scott said.

“We got completely shown up on the day.

“The fact it was a final, away from home – all that sort of stuff is irrelevant.

“We were just cooked at that stage of the season.”

China’s Hong Kong clampdown sparks outcry

The standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp parliament, decided that the next chief executive will be elected by popular vote in 2017, but candidates must each be backed by more than half the members of a 1200-strong “broadly representative nominating committee”.

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Democracy advocates in the semi-autonomous Chinese city say this means Beijing will be able to ensure a sympathetic slate of candidates and exclude opponents.

“This is one person, one vote, but there is no choice. They have that in North Korea but you can’t call it democracy,” Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau said.

The pro-democracy group Occupy Central said it would go ahead with its threat to take over the city’s Central financial district in protest, at an unspecified date.

Hundreds rallied in a park outside the city’s legislature late on Sunday chanting “No to fake democracy!” and blowing vuvuzelas.

“A new chapter is unfolding in Hong Kong. It is an era of civil disobedience,” Benny Tai, a co-founder of Occupy, told supporters in front of a stage decked with two large Chinese characters that spelt the word “Disobedience”.

“I am very sad,” Henry Chung, a 37-year-old scriptwriter, said.

 

“We have waited so many years. But now we have nothing.”

Public discontent in the former British colony handed back to China in 1997 is at its highest for years over perceived interference by Beijing, with the election method for the chief executive a touchstone issue.

The text of the NPC decision, released by the official news agency Xinhua, said universal suffrage must have “institutional safeguards” to take into account “the actual need to maintain long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong”.

 

The nominating committee will pick two to three candidates, it added.

NPC official Li Fei dismissed the activists’ demands, adding that Hong Kong’s leader must be loyal to China’s ruling Communist Party.

“The Hong Kong leader must be a person who loves the country and the Party,” he said.

 

Late on Sunday, a large group of protesters chanted slogans and sang outside a hotel where Li was believed to be staying after being barred by hundreds of police officers behind barriers.

 

Leung Chun-ying, the city’s current chief executive who was picked by a pro-Beijing committee, hailed the NPC’s decision as a “major step forward in the development of Hong Kong’s society”.

   

“If we are willing, the majority of Hong Kong people, and that is some five million people eligible to vote, will no longer be bystanders in the next election,” he told reporters.

 

But Beijing’s plan to vet candidates caused dismay among democracy advocates, who said it could not be considered genuine universal suffrage.

 

“There is no genuine choice. They (Beijing) will just give us one or two or three people they have chosen,” Lau said.

In a statement, Occupy Central said: “All chances of dialogue have been exhausted and the occupation of Central will definitely happen.”

Activist leaders have said they intend to start with small acts of civil disobedience before launching wider direct action such as the mass sit-in to block Central’s roads.

 

Student leader Joshua Wong said preparations would be made for class boycotts among secondary students within the next two months.

Some university students have also vowed to go on strike.

 

A pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmaker broke down on live television

after the NPC announcement, saying there was “no way out for Hong

Kong”.

“This is the darkest and most painful day for Hong Kong’s democracy movement,” said a sobbing Ronny Tong of the Civic Party.

His colleague Claudia Mo said: “They’re turning Hong Kong into a bunker and they can do whatever they want, basically.”

 

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China on July 1, 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement, which allows residents civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest.

Since then the city’s leader has been chosen by a 1200-member pro-Beijing committee.

 

China promised a popular vote in 2017 but with strict curbs on candidates.