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SYDNEY: Australia on Wednesday (Mar 20) cut its annual intake of immigrants by nearly 15 per cent, and barred some new arrivals from living in its largest cities for three years, in a bid to ease urban congestion.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison - who is trailing badly in the polls ahead of a federal election in May - hopes to tap into rising voter frustration over house prices and congestion, which some see as a consequence of population growth.
"This is a practical problem that Australians wanted addressed," Morrison told reporters in Canberra, the capital, after announcing the annual immigration intake would be cut to 160,000 people, from 190,000 previously.
The immigration policy change comes at a time of national reflection over Australia's attitude towards migrants after the shooting of at least 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand's city of Christchurch.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after a lone gunman opened fire at the two mosques during Friday prayers.
"My great frustration is that, in addressing these issues of population and immigration programs, these debates often get hijacked by those of competing views who seek to exploit them for other causes," Morrison added.
"I reject all of that absolutely."
A ReachTel poll published in September showed that 63 per cent of Sydney residents supported curbs on the number of migrants moving to Australia's biggest city.
Morrison said the cap would include places for up to 23,000 people who could migrate to Australia under a new skilled visa.
Such arrivals could gain permanent residency after living outside of Australia's largest cities for three years, he added.
They will be barred from living in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney or the Gold Coast, where infrastructure is overutilised, said immigration minister David Coleman.
Authorities will require proof of residential and work addresses in future applications for permanent residency, he added, as a way of enforcing the requirement.
Business welcomed the bid to alleviate regional skill shortages.
"While Australians in our major cities are frustrated by congestion, those in our regions have told us they need more people, skills, jobs and investment," said Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Australian Business Council.
There is no cap on temporary migration, such as students on temporary visas, who form the bulk of migrants to Australia, which issued 378,292 student visas in the year to Jun 30, 2018.
NEW YORK: Boeing's 737 MAX aircraft are grounded across the world following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302, casting a harsh spotlight on the plane's safety certification and the close relationship between Boeing and American authorities.
Nearly 10 days later, what do we know?
On Mar 10, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed southeast of Addis Ababa, killing the 157 people on board.
It was the second accident in five months for a 737 MAX aircraft, a product line meant to replace the 737 NG.
The first crash, involving a MAX 8 operated by Lion Air, occurred Oct 29 in Indonesia's Java Sea and left 189 people dead.
The aircraft have been temporarily grounded or banned from airspace around the world.
ARE THE TWO CRASHES RELATED?
Both aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff.
Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges said Sunday that a study of the flight data recorder retrieved from the Ethiopian plane had shown "clear similarities" to that of the Lion Air flight in Indonesia.
She said the parallels would be the "subject of further study."
WHAT HAVE INVESTIGATORS FOUND?
In both cases, investigations are still underway, with the outcomes not expected for several months.
The flight recorders retrieved from the Ethiopian crash have been sent to France for analysis.
Preliminary results in the Lion Air crash have pointed to a possible malfunction on the aircraft's stabilisation system intended to prevent stalling, known as MCAS, or the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System.
American pilots have also reported encountering problems using MCAS.
WHAT DOES BOEING SAY?
The manufacturer has expressed its condolences to the victims' families, sent staff to the crash sites and says it is cooperating with investigators.
Boeing's CEO Dennis Muilenburg said the company was finalising a software update to the MCAS and an update for onboard manuals and pilot training.
The US Federal Aviation Administration has given the company until April to carry out these changes.
Sources familiar with the matter told reporters that the fix should be ready by Mar 25 and that it should take around two hours to perform.
Boeing has also suspended deliveries of 737 MAX aircraft but has continued to manufacture them.
WHY SUCH CONTROVERSY?
Since the Ethiopian Airlines crash, questions have arisen about Boeing's ties to the FAA, which has offices within the company's plants.
For a decade, the FAA has allowed manufacturers themselves to certify their aircraft.
FAA-accredited Boeing employees notably certified the MCAS system, sources say.
Critics say the aviation regulator has been too soft on Boeing, a major player in the American export economy whose planes are also at issue in the current US-China trade talks.
WHAT OTHER US AUTHORITIES SAY
The Justice Department, as well as the inspector general's office at the Department of Transportation, have both opened investigations into how the 737 MAX was certified, according to media reports.
The Justice Department investigation is reportedly a criminal matter.
The House of Representatives Committee on Transportation is also considering an investigation and calling on FAA officials to testify in public.
WHEN WILL MAX FLY AGAIN?
Three months is the best-case scenario, according to Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at Teal Group.
United Airlines is banking on this scenario after canceling flights that were scheduled to use 737 MAX 9 planes at the end of May.
In 2013, the 787 Dreamliner was grounded for four months following battery problems.
WHAT IS BOEING'S FINANCIAL HIT?
The cost will depend on what the accidents' cause turns out to be. If it is only an MCAS modification, the repair bill will be less than US$1 billion, according to Ken Herbert of Cannaccord Genuity.
This would be peanuts for Boeing, which is aiming for US$15 billion in cash flow this year after record revenues of more than US$100 billion last year.
The company may still have to pay damages demanded by clients or victims' families.
In the meantime, Boeing has already lost roughly US$30 billion in market capitalisation on Wall Street.
The company is also facing a logistical dilemma: Where to store the 737 MAX aircraft it continues to produce?
If the grounding and air space bans continue, can it keep building the jets, knowing it will be unable to deliver them?
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: The Australian charged with murder in the mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques appears aware of the situation and plans to represent himself, his court-appointed lawyer told AFP Monday (Mar 18).
Brenton Tarrant was charged with one count of murder and appeared at Christchurch District Court on Saturday after the rampage during Friday prayers which left 50 people dead.
Duty lawyer Richard Peters represented the 28-year-old during a preliminary court hearing, but was dropped after Tarrant "indicated he does not want a lawyer".
"He wants to be self-represented in this case," said Peters, who played down suggestions that Tarrant may not be fit for trial.
"The way he presented was rational and someone who was not suffering any mental disability. That's how he appeared. He seemed to understand what was going on," Peters said.
Fifty people were killed and dozens wounded at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to toughen gun laws in the country. She said that firearms including two semi-automatic rifles, two shotguns and a lever-action weapon were bought legally and used in the attacks.
CHRISTCHURCH: A solemn New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday (Mar 15) the deadly mosque shootings in Christchurch had plunged the country into one of its "darkest days".
"Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence," Ardern said in an address to a shocked nation.
New Zealand police have confirmed multiple fatalities at two mosques during afternoon prayers.
"Presently the police do have one suspect in custody. However, there could be others involved," Ardern said.
"There are multiple scenes involved in this incident as well and police will be giving more details as they can as the situation unfolds," she added.
"Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here," Ardern said.
"They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.
"They should have been in a safe environment," she said.
"For now, my thoughts, and I'm sure the thoughts of all New Zealanders, are with those who have been affected, and also with their families."
Ms Ardern also urged residents to follow police's instructions to remain indoors.
"I acknowledge that that may mean that some families are separated ... (but) please remain in lockdown (as) we are potentially still dealing with an evolving situation."
The prime minister said she was going to return to the nation's capital city of Wellington where she would meet with government agencies.
"I intend to speak again publicly at that point."
Echoing her comments, leader of the opposition Simon Bridges said: "We stand with and support the New Zealand Islamic community.
"No one in this country should live in fear, no matter their race or religion, their politics or their beliefs."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was among the foreign leaders who expressed their concern.
"I'm horrified by the reports I'm following of the serious shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand," he said.
"The situation is still unfolding but our thoughts and prayers are with our Kiwi cousins."
WASHINGTON: The United States grounded Boeing's money-spinning 737 MAX aircraft on Wednesday over safety fears after an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash that killed 157 people, leaving the world's largest planemaker facing its worst crisis in years.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cited new satellite data and evidence from the scene of Sunday's crash near Addis Ababa for its decision to join Europe, China and other nations in suspending 737 MAX flights.
The crash was the second disaster involving the 737 MAX, the world's most-sold modern passenger aircraft, in less than five months.
The new information from the wreckage in Ethiopia and newly refined data about the plane's flight path indicated some similarities between the two disasters "that warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause," the FAA said in a statement.
The acting administrator of the FAA, Daniel Elwell, said he did not know how long the U.S. grounding of the aircraft would last. A software fix for the 737 Max that Boeing has been working on since a fatal crash last October in Indonesia will take months to complete, Elwell told reporters.
The single-aisle 737 is central to Boeing's future in its battle with European rival Airbus SE. The new variant of the 737, the fastest-selling jetliner in Boeing's history, is viewed as the likely workhorse for global airlines for decades.
"The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analysed today," the FAA said, shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the planes would be grounded.
It was the second time the FAA has halted flights of a Boeing plane in six years. It grounded the 787 Dreamliner in 2013 because of problems with smoking batteries.
Boeing, which maintained that its planes were safe to fly, said in a statement that it supported the latest FAA move.
"Boeing has determined - out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety - to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft."
The crash involving a Boeing 737 MAX in Indonesia killed 189 people. Passengers have been spooked by the two disasters. U.S. travel website Kayak was making changes to let customers exclude specific aircraft types from searches, and booking sites were looking to reroute passengers.
U.S. airlines that operate the 737 MAX, Southwest Airlines Co, American Airlines Group Inc and United Airlines, said they were working to re-book passengers. Southwest had 5 MAX-related cancellations on Wednesday and American nearly 40.
Southwest is the world's largest operator of the 737 MAX 8 with 34 jets.
France's air accident investigation agency BEA will analyse black-box cockpit voice and data recorders from the crashed plane, a spokesman said.
The French announcement resolved uncertainty over the fate of the two recorders after Germany's BFU said it had declined a request to handle them because it could not process the new type of recorder used on the 737 MAX jets, in service since 2017.
Shares of the company ended up 0.5 percent at US$377.14, recovering from a more than 3 percent fall in the afternoon when the FAA announcement was made.
The United States had held back on suspending 737 MAX flights on Tuesday even as many of the world's top economies such as China and European nations grounded the plane.
Trump called Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg on Wednesday to inform him that the United States was preparing to ground the fleet, a White House official said.
"I spoke with a number of airlines. And speaking to the airlines, I think that we all agree that this was right decision to make. It didn’t have to be made, but we thought it was the right decision to make," Trump told reporters.
The grounding was welcomed by air workers in the United States. John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union of America, which represents aviation workers and flight attendants, said the grounding of the fleet was right "both for air travellers and aviation workers."
NEW SATELLITE DATA
Canada also grounded 737 MAX jets on Wednesday, saying satellite data suggested similarities to the previous crash involving the same plane model in October.
U.S.-based aircraft-tracking firm Aireon provided the satellite data to the FAA, Transport Canada and several other authorities, company spokeswoman Jessie Hillenbrand said.
Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw said it was still unclear what happened on Sunday, but its pilot had reported control issues as opposed to external factors such as birds.
"The pilot reported flight control problems and requested to turn back. In fact he was allowed to turn back," he said.
Brazil, Mexico and Panama on Wednesday became the first Latin American nations to suspend the Boeing 737 MAX. Earlier, Panama's Copa Airlines had suspended operations of its six Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft until the findings are published of an investigation into Sunday's crash.
The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Democrat Peter DeFazio, called for a probe into why the 737 MAX received certification to fly.
MELBOURNE: Disgraced Australian Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to six years' jail for child sex crimes on Wednesday (Mar 13).
He "may not live to be released from prison", the judge warned a Melbourne court.
Pell, the most senior Catholic clergyman ever found guilty of child sex abuse, was sentenced for assaulting two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral in 1996-97.
The Australian cleric has been in custody since late February ahead of the sentencing hearing.
Sitting at the back of the court as Justice Kidd read out his remarks, Pell was impassive and did not wear his white clerical collar with his black shirt and light olive-coloured jacket.
The cardinal is "entitled to the balanced and steady hand of justice", Chief Judge Peter Kidd told the County Court of Victoria as he opened his sentencing remarks.
He warned that the cleric was on trial and not the Catholic Church and lamented a "lynch mob mentality" among some of the public, adding: "You are not to be made a scapegoat."
"I am not sitting in judgment of the Catholic Church," Justice Kidd added, vowing to deal with only the facts of the case.
Going through the crimes in graphic detail, Justice Kidd said that Pell's actions had a "profound impact" on the life of the boy who survived his abuse and likely had a similar impact on a boy who later died of a heroin overdose.
Assaulting two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral with both present likely caused additional "degradation and humiliation", he said.
He accused Pell of "callous indifference" to the suffering of the boys, who have not been named.
The jury was told that Pell abused the two boys after catching them swigging from a bottle of sacramental wine in the sacristy after Sunday mass. He exposed himself and forced one of them to perform oral sex on him, and fondled the boy's genitals while masturbating.
Justice Kidd said the offences in the sacristy "involved a brazen and forceful sexual attack on the two victims".
"The acts were sexually graphic. Both victims were visibly and audibly distressed during this offending," he said.
Acknowledging Pell's age and his health issues including cardiac problems and hypertension, Justice Kidd said that his sentence "carries with it a ... possibility that you may not live to be released from prison".
"Of some real importance in my sentencing exercise is the fact that each year you spend in custody will represent a substantial portion of your remaining life expectancy," he added.
Pell was found guilty by a jury in December, but a suppression order Justice Kidd prevented media from reporting the case until late February, when prosecutors withdrew plans to hold a second trial.
MELBOURNE: A refugee footballer who was detained in Thailand and threatened with extradition to Bahrain said he feels sure "no one can follow me now," after becoming an Australian citizen on Tuesday (Mar 12).
Hakeem al-Araibi, who was granted refugee status and residency in Australia in 2017 after fleeing Bahrain, became an Australian at a ceremony in Melbourne.
The 25-year-old shot to international fame when he was arrested while on honeymoon in Thailand last year.
He was wanted by Bahrain on offences linked to the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
Amid a worldwide outcry, he was eventually allowed back to Melbourne, where he plays semi-professional football.
Spotting a big smile on his face and a salmon-pink jacket, al-Araibi posed for photos with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne after the ceremony at Federation Square in Melbourne.
"I am very grateful to you, now I feel safe. No one can follow me now," al-Araibi wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
"It's a wonderful and awesome feeling to gain all this respect in my citizenship ceremony, I'm really proud to see Marise Payne ... and other government representatives participating in my ceremony it make me feel secure."
Payne told the ceremony the massive outpouring of support for the footballer "played an enormous part in ensuring he was returned to Australia".
CARACAS: A major power outage hit crisis-stricken Venezuela on Thursday (Mar 7), according to Reuters witnesses, a problem the government of President Nicolas Maduro quickly blamed on "sabotage" at a hydroelectric dam that provides much of the country's power.
Electricity outages are frequent in Venezuela, where the economy is collapsing under hyperinflation, with chronic shortages of food and medicine and a mass emigration of more than 3 million citizens.
Critics say corruption and under investment have left the country's power grid unable to function, while Maduro says the problems are intentionally created by political adversaries.
Crowds flooded a main avenue of Caracas. Many people said they expected they would have to walk several hours to their homes because the few buses on the streets were full and the city's metro system was shut down.
"The person responsible for this is named Nicolas Maduro," said Pedro Fernandez, 44, a systems engineer in the Altamira neighbourhood of Caracas, on his way by foot to the other side of town.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg given all the things we're suffering."
Local media and Twitter users reported that the outage was affecting the capital of Caracas as well as 15 of the country's 23 states. A reporter for state television described it as a "national blackout".
"They've attacked the generation and transmission at the Guri (hydroelectric dam), the backbone of the electricity system," said Electricity Minister Luis Motta via state television, without offering evidence.
He said service would be restored within around three hours.
MOSUL, Iraq: Explosives left behind by the Islamic State group in Iraq's Mosul took 12-year-old Abdallah's left leg, but another kind of terror may cost him his arm: antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Doctors around the globe are sounding the alarm over bacterial infections immune to modern medicine, but their prevalence in Mosul - where thousands of patients are struggling to recover from severe war wounds - can be even more dangerous.
"I have a bacteria - bacteria are bad," said Abdallah Ali Ibrahim matter-of-factly, leaning against the crutches that support his right and only leg.
"Whenever I go outside, I have to put on a gown and gloves, and sterilise my hands," he adds from his isolation room at a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Iraq's Mosul.
The city was controlled by extremists for three years until Iraqi forces backed by an international coalition ousted Islamic State in 2017.
It emerged ravaged, its streets littered with unexploded mines, one of which detonated in August 2018 as Abdallah and his older brother walked to the market.
The explosion killed Abdallah's brother and sheared off the younger Iraqi boy's left leg and most of his left arm.
But after five surgeries and endless consultations in three of Mosul's hospitals, Abdullah's health kept deteriorating.
"My son wasn't responding to medication. Whatever they would give him, his body wouldn't react," his father recalled.
"The kid was collapsing," the 49-year-old told reporters.
It wasn't until January that Abdallah was referred to MSF's special facility in eastern Mosul, where doctors diagnosed him with a bacterial infection resistant to antibiotics.
A DEADLY COCKTAIL
The World Health Organization says antibiotic resistance constitutes one of the biggest threats to global health, with illnesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis evolving into forms harder to treat with normal medication.
In the Middle East, antibiotics are easily available over-the-counter and therefore over-used, allowing bacteria to develop a tolerance.
Zoom in on Mosul and the problem is even more acute.
"Conflicts play a huge role in this: we saw antibiotic resistance evolve and spread here," said doctor Zakaria al-Bakri, the medical supervisor at MSF's facility.
He described a deadly cocktail: decades of unregulated antibiotics use among Iraqis, poor health generally across Mosul's population during Islamic State rule, war wounds from months of fighting, polluted water sources, and a healthcare system in ruins.
The number of hospital beds in Mosul province dropped from 6,000 before the extremist takeover to 1,000 by the time Islamic State had been driven from the city.
Since opening in April 2018, MSF's facility has treated more than 130 patients, nearly 40 percent of them suffering from multi-drug resistant infections.
One man among them had sold his house to afford costly operations that ultimately did not address the root infection.
Another spent 30 years bouncing from hospital to hospital because of a wound sustained in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.
Like Abdallah, they were treated in one of the facility's 10 isolation rooms "to keep this bacteria limited to the patient and prevent it from spreading to medical staff, relatives, or nurses that provide daily care," said Bakri.
In a sign of the prevalence of these super-infections in Mosul, all 10 rooms were occupied during reporters recent visit, with part of an adjacent ward temporarily sectioned off to isolate another three patients.
Anticipating an even greater influx, MSF has begun building 40 additional isolation rooms.
ROAD TO RELIEF
That level of solitude can be devastating, said MSF's mental health activity manager Olivera Novakovic.
"People become bored, upset. They have more time to think about past traumas in their life," said Novakovic, 31.
"It's especially more difficult for children because they like to go out, to play, to be very social with other people."
Layla, a 25-year-old patient from west Mosul, has spent most of her two weeks at the MSF facility dreaming about a family reunion.
"The first thing I want to do when I get out is just walk around the houses in Mosul and see my son. I can't imagine how happy I'll be," she said.
Her left leg was wounded during the last stages of the Mosul offensive in 2017, but her infection has kept it from healing.
She pulled back her blanket to reveal black plates screwed into her left shin.
"I went to five different doctors for seven surgeries, three of which failed. They'd give me medicine but nothing would happen," said Layla.
She was ultimately referred to MSF, who took a bone and skin sample to confirm her bacterial infection.
Although it may take a month to treat, Layla said things are looking up at last.
"I was so relieved. We finally knew the reason I wasn't healing."
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump pressured his chief of staff and White House counsel to grant his daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump a security clearance against their recommendations, CNN reported on Tuesday (Mar 5).
Trump pushed for John Kelly, his chief of staff at the time, and Donald McGahn, who was then his White House counsel, to grant the security clearances to his daughter and Jared Kushner, her husband and another White House adviser, following concerns raised by the personnel office, CNN reported.
Both men refused to grant the security clearances to the couple, and ultimately Trump awarded them to the pair himself, according to reporters, which cited three sources.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The New York Times reported last week that Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant Kushner a top-secret security clearance. Senior administration officials were troubled by the decision, and Kelly wrote an internal memo about the order.
Ivanka Trump said in a television interview last month that her father had "no involvement" in granting her or Kushner clearances.
It was not clear what the specific issues with their security clearances were.