12 injured in suspected acid attack in London club

A London Fire Brigade spokesman told AFP an “unknown corrosive substance” was thrown in Mangle, a club in east London, in the early hours of Monday.

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It was identified as “an acidic substance” from testing, he said, adding that there were around 600 people in the venue at the time of the incident.

“Twelve people showing signs and symptoms attributed to corrosive substances were treated on scene by ambulance and brigade personnel prior to removal to hospital,” he added.

The police said in a statement that all the injuries were “non-life threatening” and the incident was not believed to be terrorism-related.

Police were called to the scene at around 0010 GMT “after members of the public complained of a noxious substance,” the statement said.

The streets around the club have been closed to traffic as the investigation continues and no arrests have been made.

London has seen a sharp rise in acid attacks in London in recent years.

There were more than 1,800 reports of attacks involving corrosive fluids in London since 2010, according to police data cited by the BBC last month.

In 2016, corrosive fluids were used in 454 crimes, compared to 261 in 2015.

pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/Z5diE0iugv

— Phie McKenzie (@PhieMcKenzie) April 17, 2017

Some experts have suggested that criminal gangs may be switching from carrying knives to acid because it could lower the risk of prosecution.

In an acid attack in north London earlier this month, a 40-year-old father, 36-year-old mother and their three-year-old son were hurt.

The woman and child were later discharged from hospital but the man suffered “life-changing injuries”, police said.

 

Turkey’s Erdogan celebrates referendum win as opposition challenges result

With political tensions once again escalating in Turkey after a contest opponents fear will hand Erdogan one man rule, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for dialogue to seek calm.

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The referendum was seen as crucial not just for shaping the political system of Turkey but also the future strategic direction of a nation that has been a NATO member since 1952 and an EU hopeful for half a century.

The ‘Yes’ camp won 51.41 per cent in Sunday’s referendum on a new presidential system and ‘No’ 48.59, according to near-complete results released by the election authorities.

But Erdogan’s victory was far tighter than expected, emerging only after several nail-biting hours late Sunday which saw the ‘No’ result dramatically catch up in the later count.

Turkey’s three largest cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – all voted ‘No’ although ‘Yes’ prevailed in Erdogan’s Anatolian heartland.

With the opposition crying foul over alleged violations, all eyes will be on Monday afternoon’s announcement by international observers from the OSCE and the Council of Europe who will give their initial assessment of the vote.

Watch: Skuffles and protests following Turkish referendum

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“On April 17, we have woken up to a new Turkey,” wrote the pro-government Hurriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi.

“The ‘Yes’ was victorious but the people have sent messages to the government and opposition that need to be carefully considered.”

The new system is due to come into effect after elections in November 2019.

However the parliament faction chief of the ruling Justice Development Party (AKP), Mustafa Elitas said Erdogan would his month get an offer to rejoin that party he founded but had to leave when he became president — under the last constitution a supposedly apolitical role.

Watch: Turkey’s PM thanks people for win

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‘Polls invalid’

In a bid to get back to business, Erdogan was on Monday to chair a cabinet and security meeting at his presidential palace that could extend the nine-month state of emergency brought in after the July 15 failed coup, Turkish media said.

But the opposition were not content to rest on their better-than-expected performance despite a lopsided campaign in which the ‘Yes’ camp enjoyed vastly greater resources and dominated the airwaves.

Huge crowd outside President #Erdogan’s #Istanbul compound letting off flares + fireworks. He thanked them via telephone held up to mic pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/sJPNih1ean

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) April 16, 2017

Both the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said they would challenge the results from most of the ballot boxes due to alleged violations.

“There is only one decision to ease the situation in the context of the law – the Supreme Election Board (YSK) should annul the election,” the Dogan news agency quoted CHP deputy leader Bulent Tezcan as saying.

The opposition were particularly incensed by a decision by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) to allow voting papers without official stamps to be counted, which they said opened the way for fraud.

Watch: Erdogan’s ‘first job’ after Turkey referendum win

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“The Higher Election Board has thrown a shadow on the people’s decision. They have caused the referendum’s legitimacy to be questioned,” said CHP chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Monitors from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) are to give their own assessment of the vote at 1200 GMT.

Overnight sporadic protests by disgruntled ‘No’ voters erupted in parts of Istanbul, with demonstrators banging pots and pans to voice their discontent.

“A victory of the nation,” said the headline in the pro-government Yeni Safak daily. “Turkey has won.”

But the Cumhuriyet opposition daily focused on the alleged violations: “A shadow fell over the ballot boxes,” it said.

Reviving the death penalty?

Throughout the campaign, Erdogan launched bitter attacks on the European Union, accusing member states of behaving like the Third Reich in failing to allow his ministers to campaign among expats.

The initial reaction from Turkey’s Western allies was far from ebullient, with top EU officials saying Turkey had to find the “broadest possible” agreement on the changes in view of the closeness of the result.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel that Berlin expects Ankara will now “seek respectful dialogue with all political and social forces in the country.”

In an indication more strife with Brussels could be in the offing, Erdogan said he would now hold talks on reinstating capital punishment, a move that would automatically end Turkey’s EU bid.

If the opposition failed to support such a bill, he said another referendum could be held on reinstating the death penalty.

The French president’s office on Monday warned reviving capital punishment would be a break with European values.

“The organisation of a referendum on the death penalty would obviously be a break with (the) values and engagements which were accepted by Turkey when it joined Europe’s top rights watchdog, the Council of Europe,” the presidency said.

The new system would dispense with the office of prime minister and centralise the entire executive bureaucracy under the president, giving Erdogan the direct power to appoint ministers.

It would also mean that Erdogan, who became president in 2014, could seek two more five-year terms leaving him in power until 2029.

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Mike Pence arrives near DMZ after North Korea’s failed missile test

Mike Pence arrived at the gateway to the Demilitarised Zone dividing the two Koreas on Monday, an AFP correspondent reported, in a show of US resolve hours after North Korea failed in its attempt to test another missile.

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The US vice president flew by helicopter into Camp Bonifas, a US-led United Nations command post just a few hundred metres south of the DMZ.

From there, he was expected to move to the truce village of Panmunjom that straddles one of the most heavily militarised borders on Earth.

Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have soared in recent weeks, as a series of North Korean weapons tests have wrought ever-more bellicose warnings from Donald Trump’s administration.

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The new and inexperienced US president has indicated he will not allow North Korea to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the western United States.

A top White House foreign policy advisor on Sunday became the latest Trump official to warn that while diplomatic pressure was preferable, US military action is very much on the table.

“We have a wide array of tools at disposal for the president should he choose to use them,” the official said.

Watch: US wants ‘peaceful’ North Korean resolution

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US National Security Adviser HR McMaster told ABC News: “There’s an international consensus now – including the Chinese and the Chinese leadership – that this is a situation that just can’t continue.”

Amid sharply heightened tensions, McMaster said the US and allies were studying all actions “short of a military option,” though the Trump administration has not ruled that out.

Some 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea.

Trump has ordered a naval strike group, led by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, to the region, though the vessels remain a long way from the peninsula.

McMaster repeatedly stated that China – North Korea’s key ally – is increasingly concerned about the reclusive communist state’s behavior.

Watch: North Korea must change behaviour: US

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The new consensus is “that this problem is coming to a head. And so it’s time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully,” McMaster said.

Trump turned to Twitter to underscore the importance of cooperation with China on North Korea.

Having blasted Beijing throughout his presidential campaign for unfairly manipulating its currency, he tweeted Sunday: “Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem? We will see what happens!”

A threat to all people

McMaster said Trump had directed US military, diplomatic and intelligence officials to provide him with options – in concertation with regional allies including China – that could be used “if the North Korea regime refuses to denuclearize.”  

He called Kim “a threat to all people in the region, and globally as well,” but cautioned that Trump “is clearly comfortable making tough decisions.”

A White House foreign policy adviser, briefing reporters on the plane that carried Pence to Seoul, was asked what steps China had committed to when President Xi Jinping met recently with Trump in Florida.

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“There were a number of steps that were discussed,” the briefer said on condition of anonymity, adding that when China recently turned back ships bringing North Korean coal, it was a “good first step”.

“China is the key,” Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Sunday on NBC.

“They can stop this if they want to because of their control over the North Korean economy.”

‘Medium-range’ missile test

Congressman Mac Thornberry, McCain’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, said Kim’s message to the United States was “we are strong and we can hurt you”.

“This guy (Kim) is not interested in negotiation. He wants to have an [intercontinental] ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead to threaten us, and I think he’s determined to get it. Even failed launches tell them something and improve their program,” Thornberry told Fox News Sunday.

Trump has repeatedly said he will prevent Pyongyang from developing a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.

Watch: Pence reaffirms US-South Korea alliance

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The latest missile launch came a day after Pyongyang staged a massive military parade, showcasing nearly 60 missiles – including a suspected new ICBM.

But the missile involved in the failed test evidently was smaller. The briefer on Pence’s plane called it “medium-range.”

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Trump was aware of the failed test but had “no further comment.”

North Korea has often test-fired missiles to mark major dates such as Saturday’s 105th anniversary of the birth of the nation’s founder Kim Il-Sung, or as gestures of defiance when top US officials visit the region.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said that by conducting the latest test just a day after displaying a series of missiles, “North Korea has threatened the whole world”.

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Barbs spurred Bombers forward into action

Essendon forward Cale Hooker says he used as motivation the stinging criticism levelled at him after the Bombers’ loss to Richmond.

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Hooker’s goalless AFL outing against the Tigers moved Melbourne great Garry Lyon to label him a liability and remark on SEN radio he was “playing like he has no clue what he is doing”.

The 28-year-old, who has kicked 23 goals from 12 games this season, booted two goals in his next match then slammed through five in a 70-point demolition of Port Adelaide.

“I heard the comments. I didn’t agree with them but I understand how the media works … it’s an important part of the game,” Hooker said on Tuesday.

“I didn’t take it personally. It didn’t worry me too much. If anything it gave me a little bit of motivation to keep pushing and keep striving to perform for the team.”

Hooker, an All Australian defender in 2014, was moved forward midway through the 2015 season and kicked 21 goals.

Debate has raged over the best use of his talents but coach John Worsfold remains adamant the veteran plays a vital role in attack even when he’s not kicking bags of goals.

Hooker has an open mind when it comes to whether he sees himself as a permanent forward.

“I think even this year I’ve swung down back at times throughout games when it suits and I’m happy to do that,” he said.

“Whatever the team requires I’m happy to do and I’ll give it my best shot.”

The Bombers are eighth with a 6-6 record coming out their bye and face a tricky encounter against Sydney at the SCG on Friday night.

The resurgent Swans, who are 12th, came from behind to beat Richmond by nine points last week, their fifth win in six matches.

Sydney superstar Lance Franklin was held to one goal by Tigers defender Alex Rance but he has an impressive record against Essendon.

The three-time Coleman medallist has kicked 64 goals in 13 games against the Bombers – an average of nearly five a match.

“We’re not too worried about one player in particular,” Hooker said.

“We know the Swans are an even team, a good side, and we’ll have to be at our best to beat them.”

Bold is beautiful for Saints: Billings

St Kilda feel they’ve been rewarded by playing bold football which has put their season back on track.

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Saints forward Jack Billings said his AFL team had been “boring” in their three-game losing streak, which ended with a 17-point win over North Melbourne last Friday night.

“We wanted to be more bold with the footy,” Billings said.

“We felt like we got a bit boring with the way we were playing so we tried to get back a bit of flair that we had early in the season.

“Hopefully we’ve got a bit of form going into the next few weeks because the competition is so tight you’ve got to be on your game every week.”

St Kilda host Gold Coast at Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon, when the Suns will be desperate to give their veteran midfielder Gary Ablett a game worthy of his 300th.

Billings has been one of the Saints’ most consistent performers this season, which he puts down to an injury-free full pre-season.

He admitted his goal-kicking could improve, so far booting 13.17 this season.

“I wish I knew the answer… sometimes you probably try too hard and overthink it so it’s something I’ve got to keep working on,” Billings said.

The 21-year-old is currently in talks to extend his 54-game career at St Kilda, who on Tuesday announced they had re-signed young defender Jimmy Webster for a further two years.

Billings said he’d put on his recruitment hat to try to add to the Saints playing list himself by luring Greater Western Sydney rising star Josh Kelly to the club.

The pair played together as juniors and Billings said he’d had a word with Kelly after the AFL teams met in round seven this season.

“I had a cheeky word to him at the end of the game and just said, ‘What are you thinking?’,” Billings said.

“He’s obviously really happy at the Giants, and why wouldn’t you be, they’re big premiership contenders.

“You never know, there’s obviously a few teams chasing him… I’d love him in the Saints colours next year.”

Tabcorp, Tatts merger expected by August

Tabcorp expects its proposed $11 billion merger with gaming rival Tatts Group to be completed by August.

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Tabcorp chairman Paula Dwyer said the Australian Competition Tribunal’s approval of the merger on Tuesday is an important step towards creating a “world class, diversified gambling entertainment group.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with Tatts to successfully complete the transaction and are working towards implementation in August 2017,” Ms Dwyer said in a statement.

The deal will deliver significant value for shareholders of both companies and “material benefits” to other key stakeholders, she said.

The combined company is forecast to generate annual revenue of more than $5 billion and dominate Australia’s tote betting market by bringing together TAB and the Tatts-owned UniTAB.

Tabcorp said it still expects the merger to deliver at least $130 million in earnings annually from synergies and business improvements, which will be realised in the first full year after completion of the integration.

“The combination will bring together two great Australian businesses, well positioned to invest, innovate and compete in a global gambling entertainment marketplace,” Ms Dwyer said.

Tabcorp shares were up 17 cents, or 3.7 per cent, at $4.80 at 1430 AEST, and Tatts shares were up 16 cents, or 3.8 per cent, at $4.33.

Meanwhile, Tabcorp said it expects its revenue for the year to June 30 to be in the range of $2.22 billion to $2.24 billion, growth of 1.4 per cent to 2.3 per cent from the previous year.

Net profit before significant items is forecast to be between $173 million and $180 million, down from $186 million in 2015/16.

ACT president Justice John Middleton said the tribunal was satisfied the proposed merger of Tabcorp and Tatts would benefit the public.

The only condition imposed by the tribunal is that Tabcorp continues with the already agreed sale of its Queensland gaming machine monitoring business, Odyssey, in response to concerns over competition in the sector.

Tabcorp said the competition watchdog has given the nod of approval to the proposed purchaser, Australian National Hotels, a subsidiary of Federal Group.

‘Big four’ may yet face another downgrade

Australia’s big four banks are at risk of another a credit agency downgrade.

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Standard & Poor’s in May cut the ratings of 23 small Australian lenders, but retained those of ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac, reflecting expectations of support from the federal government in the event of a housing crash.

“There is a chance we could downgrade the big four banks,” Gavin Gunning, S&P senior director of financial institutions ratings, told a briefing on Tuesday.

If Australia’s sovereign rating, which is already on a negative outlook, came under pressure, that would have an impact on bank ratings.

Also, if there was a shift away from government support for the banks, as seen in the US and Western Europe.

“If this trend also takes hold in Australia that also could also impact the Australian major ratings,” Mr Gunning said.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded 12 Australian banks, including the big four, on Monday citing elevated risks within the household sector heightening the sensitivity of Australian banks’ credit profiles to an adverse shock.

While it does not anticipate a sharp housing downturn, the risk represented by increased household sector indebtedness became a material consideration in the context of the very high ratings assigned to Australian banks, the agency said.

The downgrade suggests bank funding will be slightly more expensive when raising money overseas, a factor that has forced higher independent interest rate increases in the past.

The downgrade came as a double blow to the big four banks after parliament passed legislation imposing a new levy on them.

The levy, announced in the May budget, will be imposed on the big four and Macquarie from July 1 and is expected to raise $1.6 billion in the first year.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has rejected a recommendation from a government-dominated Senate committee to review the levy after two years, as requested by the banks.

The committee also said the legislation should be amended to allow the treasurer to suspend the levy in cases where banks are in extreme financial hardship.

“There is no need to do any of those things,” Mr Morrison told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“The bank levy has been legislated as I said it would be.”

The committee also said the Treasury should better explain why foreign banks were excluded.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the Senate the levy would apply to foreign banks if they were ever to meet a liabilities threshold but, at present, none fits the “major bank” category.

The indexed threshold starts at $100 billion.

Treasury conceded to a Senate hearing last week its modelling assumed some “pass through” to customers and shareholders from the levy.

Bank shares fell on Tuesday, contributing to an overall decline on the Australian stock exchange.

Big four facing open banking threat

The domination of Australian banking by the big four banks is nearing its end as agile, tech-focused competitors chip away at their markets, a new report on the evolution of global banking suggests.

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ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac’s position as the nation’s central providers of financial products is being eroded by the consumer-centric rise of fintech, the Capgemini World Retail Banking Report says.

Capgemini banking and capital markets industry practice head, Phil Gomm, said Australian banks are latecomers to open banking opportunities compared to institutions elsewhere.

“The clock is ticking, the barriers to distribution have eroded through technology, so the majors need to embrace and collaborate with fintechs,” Mr Gomm said.

“The majors have the scale to maintain an advisory interface but the days of the model of dominant distribution of financial products are over.

While traditional banks still enjoy a significant hold on their customer base, more agile and customer-centric fintech firms are achieving traction worldwide, with nearly one-third of banking customers surveyed having a relationship with at least one non-traditional firm.

Fintechs – or financial technology companies – use digital technology, including data-derived services and online interaction – to offer new products in financial services ranging from payments to loan applications.

According to the report, released Tuesday, the key to securing customer loyalty is for traditional banks to collaborate across technology providers and drive open banking – the sharing and personalisation of banking data.

Such a move would boost innovation and allow banks to monetise their data, opening up new revenue streams.

However, Australia is well behind the eight ball on that measure, Mr Gomm said.

“It is a mistake for Australian banks to stall on an open banking strategy by simply defending their position using inflated security concerns,” Mr Gomm said.

“It’s just not sustainable for Australian banks to hide behind legacy models.”

Mr Gomm said regulation is driving innovation in Europe and the market is driving innovation in North America.

“Australia is somewhere in the middle,” he said.

The Australian government introduced an open banking regime in its federal budget, with the scheme to increase customers’ access to their personal banking data from 2018.

“The government has been telling banks to get on with it and open your banking to new technologies. The clock is ticking, the barriers to distribution have eroded through technology,” Mr Gomm said.

According to Mr Gomm, there is some cause for optimism, as National Australia Bank, through its Nablabs and NAB Ventures and Westpac through its Reinventure fund both look to be progressive.

“If the banks accept the government position that ultimately consumers own the data then it is up to the consumer to decide what is ultimately done with it, Mr Gomm said.

Sharks coach praises departing Bird

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan says he’s come to terms with Jack Bird’s decision to fly the coop, praising his centre’s handling of his NRL contract drama over the past week.

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Two days after informing the Sharks of his decision to leave the Shire at the end of the year, Bird scored a decisive try in his team’s 28-2 demolition of Penrith on Sunday.

Flanagan was full of superlatives for Bird post-match, saying he’s thankful the NSW State of Origin representative is at least at the club as they aim to win back-to-back titles.

“I just spoke about it in the dressing room, how he handled the whole week. It’s a tough decision for a young man to make,” Flanagan said.

“The reason why as a club we’re so disappointed that he’s going is because of what you saw there today. He’s a quality player.

“In the end I’ve got to be real happy and grateful that he was with us last year to win a competition and he’s here for the rest of the year.

“Good luck to the Broncos or whoever’s got him for next year, but grateful that we’ve got him now.”

Flanagan said the 22-year-old did an outstanding job limiting Panthers counterpart Tyrone Peachey on the Sharks’ right edge, and he also proved a handful in attack.

He finished the match with 85 metres off 11 carries with four tackle busts.

“He’s a dangerous player Peachey – a couple of times there Jack nailed him first contact. And then he scored a great try, turns up in the right place all the time,” Flanagan said.

“Some of those carries was very similar to the grand final.

“He found Peter Wallace, made him have a tough night. I think Wallace will be sick seeing the sight of Birdy carrying it off the sideline there.”

Sharks skipper Paul Gallen admitted Bird, who declined to talk to media post-match, will be missed but is adamant he will be a key contributor for the rest of the season.

“We’ll miss him but that’s the game we play. People come and go and it’s unfortunate,” he said.

“Not only is he a good footy player, we really like him as a bloke and person. But he’s going to have to be replaced and next year the club will do that.

“There’s not a chance in hell that he’s not going to leave every stone unturned to bust his arse for us this year, he’ll be going flat out every game.”

Treason: former Afghan president hits out

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has accused his successor of committing treason by allowing the US military to drop the largest conventional bomb ever used in combat during an operation against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan.

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Karzai, who also vowed to “stand against America”, retains considerable influence within Afghanistan’s majority Pashtun ethnic group, to which President Ashraf Ghani also belongs. His strong words could signal a broader political backlash that may endanger the US military mission in Afghanistan.

Afghan defence officials have said the 9797kg GBU-43, dropped late on Thursday in the eastern province of Nangarhar, had killed nearly 100 suspected militants, though they acknowledged this was an estimate and not based on an actual body count.

“How could you permit Americans to bomb your country with a device equal to an atom bomb?” Karzai said at a public event in Kabul, questioning Ghani’s decision. “If the government has permitted them to do this, that was wrong and it has committed a national treason.”

Ghani’s office said the strike had been closely coordinated between Afghan and US forces and replied to Karzai’s charges with a statement saying: “Every Afghan has the right to speak their mind. This is a country of free speech.”

Public reaction to Thursday’s strike has been mixed, with some residents near the blast praising Afghan and US troops for pushing back Islamic State militants.

While the bomb has been described as one of the largest non-nuclear devices ever used, its destructive power, equivalent to 11 tonnes of TNT, pales in comparison with the relatively small atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, which had blasts equivalent to between 15,000 and 20,000 tonnes of TNT.

During Karzai’s tenure as president, his opposition to airstrikes by foreign military forces helped to sour his relationship with the United States and other Western nations.

“I decided to get America off my soil,” he said. “This bomb wasn’t only a violation of our sovereignty and a disrespect to our soil and environment, but will have bad effects for years.”

Turkish referendum is a vote for country’s future, Erdogan says

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the tightly-contested referendum on expanding the powers of the head of state was a vote for the future of Turkey.

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“We carried out some referendums (in the past) but this referendum is a choice of change and transformation for a new administrative system in the Turkish Republic,” he said after casting his vote in an Istanbul school.

“God willing, this evening our people will walk to the future by making the expected choice.”

Erdogan cast his vote in Uskudar on the Asian side of Istanbul, posing to cameras together with his headscarf-wearing wife Emine, his grandchildren, elder daughter Esra and son-in-law Berat Albayrak, the energy minister.

“First of all, the referendum today is not an ordinary vote,” he said.

“I believe our people will, God willing, decide to open the way for a much faster development,” he added.

“Because we must make an out-of-the-ordinary choice in order to attain the level of modern civilisations envisaged by the hero Mustafa Kemal,” the president said, referring to modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Turks are voting on whether to grant Erdogan strengthened executive powers for a change of the parliamentary system into a presidential system. 

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Critics say the move is part of a grab by Erdogan for one-man rule, but supporters say it will simply put Turkey in line with France and the United States and is needed for efficient government.

Over 55.3 million Turks are able to vote in the referendum.

Polling stations opened in Diyarbakir and other cities of eastern Turkey at 4.00am GMT on Sunday, an AFP correspondent said, with voting in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities getting underway an hour later.

Opinion polls, always treated with caution in Turkey, predicted wildly divergent scenarios with analysts saying the outcome remains too close to call despite the clear advantage in resources and airtime enjoyed by the ‘Yes’ campaign.

As the rival sides held rallies up until the last hour of legal campaigning Saturday to sway undecided voters, Erdogan confidently predicted that the ‘Yes’ camp had victory in the bag.

But he urged people not to succumb to “lethargy” in voting, saying “the stronger result the better”.

“A ‘Yes’ that emerges from the ballot box with the highest margin will be a lesson to the West,” he said in the Istanbul district of Sariyer, the last of a stamina-busting sequence of rallies.

‘Turning point’

If passed, the new presidential system would dispense with the office of the prime minister and centralise the entire executive bureaucracy under the presidency, giving Erdogan the direct power to appoint ministers.

The system would come into force after November 2019 elections. Erdogan, who became president in 2014 after serving as premier from 2003, could then seek two more five-year mandates.

A wave from President Tayyip #Erdoğan as he departs his final #TurkishReferendum campaign event in #Istanbul @SBSNews pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/R23JUpQR7g

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) April 15, 2017

But it could also have even wider implications for the key NATO member, which for the last half century has set its sights on joining the European Union.

Erdogan has warned Brussels that in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote he would sign any bill agreed by parliament to reinstate capital punishment, a move that would automatically end its EU bid.

Western reactions to the referendum outcome will be crucial, after Erdogan accused Turkey’s allies of failing to show sufficient solidarity in the wake of the July 15 failed coup.

“The referendum will mark another turning point, or rather crossroads in Turkey’s political history,” wrote Hurriyet Daily News chief editor Murat Yetkin.

Sinan Ekim and Kemal Kirisci of the Brookings Institution think-tank said in a report the changes if agreed “would set in motion the most drastic shake-up of the country’s politics and system of governance in its 94-year-long history”.

WATCH: Pro-Kurdish party’s final rally in Turkey

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‘Bus with no brakes’

The opposition has cried foul that the referendum has been conducted on unfair terms, with ‘Yes’ posters ubiquitous on the streets and opposition voices squeezed from the media.

The poll is also taking place under a state of emergency that has seen 47,000 arrested in an unprecedented crackdown after the botched putsch.

Supporters see the new system as an essential modernisation step for Turkey but opponents fear it risks granting Erdogan authoritarian powers.

The standard-bearer of the ‘No’ camp, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, warned at his final rally that Turkey was deciding if “we want to continue with the democratic parliamentary system or one-man rule”.

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He described the new system as “a bus with no brakes and whose destination is unknown”.

Key factors influencing the result will include whether the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) can perform the delicate balancing act of bringing both nationalists and conservative Kurds behind the new system.

Jihadists nabbed pre-poll

After a slew of attacks over the last year blamed on Kurdish militants and jihadists, security is set to be a major issue on polling day.

Authorities in Istanbul on Friday detained five people suspected of planning an attack on polling day, following the arrest of 19 alleged Islamist extremists in the Aegean city of Izmir earlier in the week.

The Dogan news agency said a total of 49 IS suspects had been detained in Istanbul alone over the last week.

More than 33,500 police officers will be on duty in Istanbul alone on referendum day, according to Turkish media.

Italian Emma Morano, last known survivor of 19th century, dies at 117

Morano, born on November 29 1899, died at her home in Verbania, in northern Italy, the reports said.

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“She had an extraordinary life, and we will always remember her strength to move forward in life,” said Silvia Marchionini, the mayor of Verbania, a small village of some 2,000 residents.

According to the US-based Gerontology Research Group (GRG), Morano ceded the crown of the world’s oldest human being to Jamaican Violet Brown, who was born on March 10, 1900. 

Morano’s death, at the age of 117 years and 137 days, means there is no one living known to have been born before 1900. 

Her first love died in World War I, but she married later and left her violent husband just before the Second World War and shortly after the death in infancy of her only son. That was 30 years before divorce became legal in Italy.

She had clung to her independence, only taking on a full-time carer a couple of years ago, though she had not left her small two-room apartment for 20 years.

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She had been bed-bound during her latter years.

In an interview with AFP last year, she put her longevity down to her diet.

“I eat two eggs a day, and that’s it. And cookies. But I do not eat much because I have no teeth,” she said in her home at the time, where the Guinness World Records certificate declaring her to be the oldest person alive held pride of place on a marble-topped chest of drawers.

‘Age at a slower rate’ 

She also refused to be taken to hospital, with the exception of a cataract operation.

Her Eyesight did become very poor and she latterly spent much of her days  sleeping. 

But she kept her sense of humour till the end.

“How does my hair look,” she asked before blowing out the candles on her 117th birthday cake last year.

“What impresses me most is her memory. She forgets nothing,” Yamile Vergara, her nurse for over 40 years, said at the time.

“Her sense of humour is her therapy”.

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The eldest of eight children, Morano outlived all of her younger siblings.

Robert Young, director of the Los Angeles-based GRG’s Supercentenarian Research and Database Division, said he had been following Morano ‘s progress for the past seven years, calling her an example of “super-ageing individuals who seem to age at a slower rate than normal — maybe even a few percentage points slower, but enough to make a difference”.

The world longevity record, he noted, remained with French woman Jeanne Calment, who died at 122 in 1997, having outlived both her daughter and grandson. “That’s superconfirmed,” Young said.

Emma Morano goes into the record books as the fifth longest life ever verified.

In 1900, when Violet Brown was born, Jamaica was part of the British West Indies, so her records are from the British government, in Queen Victoria’s time.

“Unless a surprise candidate comes out of the trees, she is the oldest living Victorian,” said Young.

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Celebrating Easter Sunday around Australia

Australians have celebrated Easter Sunday with chocolate eggs, church services and shows across the country.

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In Sydney, Catholics flocked to the imposing St Mary’s Cathedral for services, while Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies preached at St Andrew’s Cathedral near Town Hall.

Tens of thousands of people chose to spend the day at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, which had attracted 78,000 people by 4pm.

In Brisbane, religious leaders urged worshippers to stave off fear and absorb the hopeful message of the resurrection.

“(Easter is) about God launching a huge repair project in the world as we know it,” Archbishop of Brisbane Phillip Aspinall said.

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“There’s no shortage of suffering in the world. But Easter has a different message, it says that those things do not enslave us.”

The Melbourne Easter Show is being held in the city’s southeast suburb of Cranbourne, while the Big Goose farm and adventure park on the Mornington Peninsula is hosting huge “Easter egg scrambles” through to Monday.

St Paul’s Cathedral, the cathedral church of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne ran services throughout the day and some of the city’s Catholics attended St Patrick’s Cathedral, where Archbishop Denis Hart held a solemn mass.

Australian political and religious leaders, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull praised the work of emergency service workers during cyclone Debbie and floods in their Easter messages.

On Sunday, Labor leader Bill Shorten paid tribute to the nation’s battlers during a visit to a Melbourne nursing home, where he took part in an egg hunt with elderly residents.

“Easter is a great time to catch up with family and friends but I think it’s also important to remember that so many of our fellow Australians are doing it tough,” he told reporters.

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