Former refugee Hieu Van Le assumes role as SA governor

Hieu Van Le has become the first Vietnamese-born person to be appointed as the Queen’s representative in South Australia.

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He says the journey from refugee to South Australia’s governor has had its challenges.

He was only 23 years old in 1977 when he fled war-ravaged Vietnam on a small boat with his 19-year-old wife.

“It was one of the fiercest battles that occurred in that land and quite miraculously I survived in that environment,” he said.

The tiny boat offered little protection against a three-day monsoon and volcano eruption in Indonesia. The food and fuel supplies also rapidly dwindled.

After being refused entry in Thailand, Hieu Van Le ended up in Malaysia where he lived in a refugee camp.

“Living in a refugee camp was one of the most horrific experiences one can go through,” he said of the experience.

He boarded another leaky vessel to try for Australia, nervous of being turned away. But the fears proved to be unfounded. He says he still recalls the greeting he received from a pair of fisherman in a small boat off Darwin Harbour.

“One of the guys raised a stubby up as if proposing a toast. ‘G’day mate,’ he shouted. ‘Welcome to Australia’.”

From 1976 to the mid-1980s, Australia accepted about 90,000 Vietnamese refugees – the first wave of Vietnamese migrants.

Hieu Van Le says while he encountered racial hostility he also saw opportunity.

“Thanks to the generosity of spirit and the way this society treated us, we were offered a fair go.”

He forged an accounting career with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) and was tasked with fighting corruption.

“We wanted to ensure that the people weren’t being ripped off by all these white collar cowboys and rogue operators,” he said. “So I found it extremely satisfying not just on the career and professional point of view, but also on the personal values.”

Struck by the Australian obsession with sport, he named his two sons after Australian cricketers, Don Bradman and Kim Hughes.

“So I named my first son Don, with the hope he would turn out to be a good cricketer.

“Now Don turned out to be quite a hopeless sportsman, he’s not good at sport at all!”

With his second son, he saw another chance.

“One of the guys playing cricket caught my eye. He was fantastically built and had the skill – Kim Hughes.

“…Now, [my son] Kim turned out to be not a bad cricketer, so I’m quite happy with that,” he said.

He says he steps into his new role as South Australia’s governor with a sense of trepidation but also with a fair amount of optimism.

“My appointment says very loudly about the way the society appreciates and acknowledges the work and the contribution of all migrants and all refugees who come to this land.”

Paris building explosion toll rises to 7

The death toll from an explosion in an apartment building outside Paris rose to seven on Monday, with rescue workers scrambling against time to find one last man still missing.

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Local prefect Philippe Galli said a woman in her 80s who lived on the first floor was buried under the rubble after the four-storey residential block in the Paris suburb of Rosny-sous-Bois collapsed on Sunday morning.

“We have to dig her out. She’s stuck in the rubble,” Galli told reporters.

In addition to the octogenarian, the disaster has already claimed the lives of a 40-year-old mother and her two children aged 14 and 18, a 10-year-old child, a 45-year-old woman and another adult who has yet to be identified formally.

Rescue workers are now combing the site with sniffer dogs and mechanical diggers in a bid to find one more person unaccounted-for, a man in his 50s who lived on the ground floor.

“Time is not on our side,” said Gabriel Plus, a spokesman for Paris firefighters.

“But as long as all the missing people have not been found, we’ll keep the operation going,” added Plus.

Galli however doused hopes of a miracle, saying the chances of finding a survivor were “very, very small.” All the potential air pockets have been explored and the rubble is “extremely compact,” he said.

Rescue workers had searched through the night with powerful floodlights in the hope of finding anyone else alive.

The tragedy also injured 11 people, four seriously but Galli said their lives were not in danger. Two of the injured were children aged 10 and 13.

Neighbours said the blast, which happened on Sunday, was strong enough to shake buildings some 100 metre away.

The building was practically scythed in two. Wallpaper, toilet seats, family photos and other everyday items were left open to the elements.

Early indications were that it was an accidental gas explosion. Plus said there were “gas and electricity works on the site,” but did not immediately draw a direct link to the building collapse.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who visited the scene, and police initially pointed to a gas leak as a likely cause of the blast.

GRDF, the company in charge of delivering gas to homes, told AFP that “no leaks had been reported previously” in the area.

Neighbour Maryline Yyvon suggested the explosion was indeed the result of a gas leak. “They’d been digging under the footpath just in front of the building,” she told AFP.

“Given the force of the explosion, it wasn’t just a gas canister, that’s for sure,” she said.

“Our house moved, we were trembling from fear,” said Pauline, a neighbour, adding that the explosion was so loud that “our ears were ringing”.

ARENA heads for Senate showdown

The Abbott government is preparing for a climate change contest in yet another arena.

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That’s the Australian Renewable Energy Agency – or ARENA as it’s known.

Legislation abolishing the agency is being sent to the Senate where a showdown between the government and Palmer United Party senators is expected.

The coalition, which cleared the bill’s passage through the lower house on Monday, is shutting ARENA down because it says it will prevent wasteful spending of taxpayer money to the tune of $1.3 billion.

But it’s promised to retain 200 solar, marine and biofuel technology projects the agency has funded as its responsibilities are shifted to the Industry Department.

The agency was merely set up by the previous Labor government to satisfy the political whims of the Australian Greens, parliamentary Secretary Michael McCormack told parliament on Monday.

Ticking off a series of ARENA-funded “flops”, Mr McCormack said the agency had its shortcomings like several other Labor-Greens ideas.

Labor used protracted debate to protest the abolition by accusing the coalition of fostering climate change denial.

Victorian Labor MP Andrew Giles said it was the latest attempt by the government to dismantle the renewable energy industry, following the release of the Warburton review which proposed the renewable energy target be closed to new entrants in wind or solar farms.

Labor frontbencher Mark Dreyfus said axing ARENA jeopardised 191 renewable energy projects now being supported and a further 190 projects in the pipeline.

It was unclear why a set of renewable energy policies that have been “resoundingly” successful should now be the target of such “destructive activity” by the Abbott government, he said.

Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer said after discussions with former US vice-president Al Gore, his senators would oppose the repeal of ARENA.

Mr Palmer said the coalition made clear before the election there would be no changes to the renewable energy target.

His party stood ready to hold the government to account and will vote down any changes along the lines recommended by the Warburton review, he said.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014 now goes to the Senate.

Kiev troops abandon airport ahead of talks

Ukrainian forces have been forced to retreat from Lugansk airport in the face of a Russian troop attack and Moscow soldiers moved into key cities in the east on Monday.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Europe of ignoring the Ukrainian military’s “direct targeting” of civilians in the conflict and said the offensive pushed by insurgents there were simply an attempt to expel Kiev’s forces from residential areas.

He also urged the EU to show “common sense” after its threat to impose more sanctions on Moscow over the months-long crisis that has sank East-West relations to their lowest level since the Cold War.

The latest accusations of Russian troops partaking in the fighting that has pitted pro-Moscow rebels against Kiev’s troops came as a “contact group” of Russian, Ukrainian and OSCE representatives was due to discuss the conflict during a meeting in Minsk on Monday.

Ukraine’s defence minister said that Russian troops were moving in the main cities of Lugansk and Donetsk.

“The information that Russian troops are there has been confirmed,” Valeriy Geletey told Ukraine’s Inter channel.

“We are fighting Russia and it is Russia which is deciding what will happen in the Donbass,” he said referring to the informal name for Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

President Petro Poroshenko meanwhile told military cadets in Kiev on Monday that “the situation has aggravated in recent days – there is direct, overt aggression against Ukraine from the neighbouring state.”

Kiev military spokesmen said after an hours-long battle against a “reinforced tank battalion of the Russian armed forces,” Ukrainian troops retreated from their positions south of rebel bastion Lugansk.

“Ukrainian soldiers received an order and made an organised retreat from the Lugansk airport and Georgiyivka village,” security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said. “Judging by the precision of the strikes, professional artillery men of the Russian armed forces are the ones firing.”

The retreat marked the latest setback for Ukrainian troops, which had been closing in on rebels in Donetsk and Lugansk until about a week ago, when the insurgents opened a new front in the south, with, according to Kiev and NATO, the help of regular Russian troops.

Since then, the rebels’ lightning offensive has forced Ukrainian army units to abandon numerous positions in the south and east and geared up to defend the strategic port of Mariupol, which had been peaceful for months after government troops routed the rebels in May.

AFP correspondents said the presence of Ukrainian army in the region has visibly decreased in recent days, with another checkpoint in the western outskirts of the rebel hub Donetsk disappearing on Monday.

Kiev and the West have repeatedly accused Russia of direct involving in the pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, with NATO saying last week that Russia had more than 1000 of its troops deployed in Ukraine and 20,000 massed on the border.

Russia has repeatedly denied the charges, with Sergei Lavrov saying on Monday in the latest rebuttal: “There will be no military intervention (in Ukraine), we are for an exclusively peaceful resolution of that most serious crisis, that tragedy.”

Lavrov also called for an “immediate ceasefire” to be discussed by Russian, Ukrainian and OSCE representatives meeting in Minsk later on Monday.

“I am very much counting upon the negotiations set for today, to above all focus on agreeing an immediate and unconditional ceasefire,” Lavrov said.

Tripoli under militia control, govt admits

The interim government led by prime minister Abdullah al-Thani, which resigned last week, said armed groups, mostly Islamist militias, were in control of ministries and blocking access to government workers.

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“Ministry and state offices in Tripoli have been occupied by armed militias who are preventing government workers from entering and are threatening their superiors,” the government said in a statement.

It said the interim government was in contact with officials and “trying to ensure the continuity of services from afar.”

Libya has been sliding into chaos since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed three years ago, with interim authorities confronting powerful militias which fought to oust the veteran dictator.

The interim government announced last week it had tendered its resignation to the elected parliament, days after a rival Islamist administration was created.

The parliament and government are operating out of Libya’s east for security reasons.

A rival body, the General National Congress, last week named pro-Islamist figure Omar al-Hassi to form a “salvation government”.

Interim authorities have been steadily losing ground to the militias and the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) mainly Islamist alliance, which seized Tripoli airport on August 22 after weeks of fierce fighting with nationalist rivals.

On Sunday, Islamist militiamen moved into the US embassy compound in Tripoli that was evacuated in late July, with videos showing cheering men diving from an upstairs balcony into the facility’s swimming pool.

Fajr Libya members said they had gone in to secure the complex of several villas in southern Tripoli, not far from the airport, to prevent it from being looted.

US Ambassador Deborah Jones, now posted in Malta, said on Twitter that there was no indication the complex had been damaged.

Several foreign missions have fled in the face of growing insecurity in the capital.

On August 25, Thani, the prime minister, accused Fajr Libya militiamen, who hail mostly from the city of Misrata, east of the capital, of having ransacked and set ablaze his residence in southern Tripoli where the airport is also located.

A political transition has been stymied by the political deadlock pitting Fajr Libya against the internally-exiled authorities, which are operating from Tobruk, 1,500 kilometres from the capital.

Fajr Libya rejects the legitimacy of the elected parliament because it allegedly supported air raids last month – which US officials said were carried out by the United Arab Emirates – against its fighters deployed at the airport before they defeated nationalist militia rivals.

Parliament has in turned branded Fajr Libya as terrorists, putting them in the same boat as the Ansar al-Sharia jihadists who control most of second city Benghazi.