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.

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.