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苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/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苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/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.

Related reading

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.

Related reading

“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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Zorko among AFL’s top five: Dayne Beams

Brisbane Lions skipper Dayne Beams reckons Dayne Zorko is a “top five player” but doesn’t get the credit he deserves because he plays outside of Melbourne.

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While the rebuilding Lions are stuck to the bottom of the AFL ladder amid another losing season, Zorko’s stunning form has given them some cause to celebrate.

The 28-year-old has improved on nearly all of his major career statistical averages, picking up nearly 27 possessions, six clearances, two goals and seven tackles per game.

Champion Data’s AFL Player Ratings rank him as the seventh-best player in the competition.

In last week’s 40-point defeat to Port Adelaide, he collected 32 touches, laid 12 tackles and kicked two goals.

Beams believes there is no doubt Zorko has broken into the AFL’s elite bracket.

“I don’t think Zork gets the credit he should,” he said.

“If he was playing at a Melbourne club – and I’ve played at a Melbourne club – and producing the type of footy he’s producing, he’d be talked about a lot.

“I look at the competition now, I watch a bit of footy, and he’s a top five player.

“He’s always been a very talented player but probably maybe lacked a bit of consistency, but he’s producing every week now and is vitally important for us.”

Zorko has won Brisbane’s best and fairest Merrett-Murray Medal for the past two years and at this rate would be in strong contention for All-Australian honours.

“I think he should be in consideration, yeah,” Beams said.

“His form’s as good as anyone’s. Statistically if you look at him, he’s as good as anyone going around.”

The Lions host Greater Western Sydney at the Gabba on Saturday.

Otto Warmbier dies after being released in coma from North Korean prison

Mr Trump made the comments following the death of 22-year-old Otto Warmbier,  who was returned to the United States on June 13 in a coma.

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“A lot of bad things happened but at least we got him home to be with his parents, where they were so happy to see him even though he was in very tough condition. But, he just passed away a little while ago,” he said.

“It’s a brutal regime and we’ll be able to handle it,” he added.

Earlier, Otto Warmbier’s family released a statement confirming his death.

“Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible,” his family said.

0:00 Otto Warmbier pleads to be returned to US Share Otto Warmbier pleads to be returned to US

Warmbier was imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months before being returned home in a coma less than a week ago.

Cincinnati doctors said he had suffered an extensive loss of brain tissue and was in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness”, but it wasn’t clear what caused his injuries.

Secretary Tillerson: We hold #NorthKorea accountable for Otto Warmbier’s unjust imprisonment. 苏州美甲培训学校,长沙SPA,/MwHNCuUjyw

— Department of State (@StateDept) June 19, 2017

Pyongyang said that Warmbier fell into a coma soon after he was sentenced in March last year for stealing a political poster from a North Korean hotel.

Warmbier’s parents were told their son had been in a coma for more than a year, after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill.

He was sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years in prison with hard labour, convicted of subversion tearfully confessing to trying to steal the banner, calling it the “worst mistake” of his life.

Statement issued by the family of #ottowarmbier on his passing pic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/0loUSdBmrM

— Bret Baier (@BretBaier) June 19, 2017’No excuse’

Warmbier’s release came amid mounting tensions with Washington following a series of missile tests by Pyongyang, focusing attention on an arms buildup that Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has dubbed “a clear and present danger to all.” 

His father, Fred, lashed out at North Korea last week, telling a news conference, “there is no excuse for any civilised nation to have kept his condition secret and denied him top-notch medical care for so long.” 

In their statement Monday, Otto’s family said they believed the young man had found a peace of sorts after being flown home. 

“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished,” they said. 

“Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace.  He was home and we believe he could sense that,” they added. 

“We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers. We are at peace and at home too.” 

Three more US citizens are currently being held by North Korea, including two men who taught at a Pyongyang university funded by overseas Christian groups, and a Korean-American pastor who was accused of espionage for the South.

-With AFP

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Gonski 2.0: Education union split on schools deal

Teacher unions have splintered over the Turnbull government’s school funding overhaul, with one state branch saying parliament should now support it.

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The package, dubbed Gonski 2.0, will give a better deal for public schools in Western Australia compared with the status quo, the State School Teachers’ Union of WA says

That stance is at odds with the national Australian Education Union, which has campaigned strongly against the government’s package.

Branch president Pat Byrne told The West Australian newspaper she agreed with the AEU’s position of opposing legislation in its current form.

But it should pass if it ensured states pay 80 per cent of a set per-student funding amount for public schools.

Under the federal government’s plan, it is guaranteeing public schools 20 per cent of that amount.

Mr Byrne would also be unhappy if the bill failed, saying it offered WA public schools an average 6.8 per cent growth each year compared to the 4.7 per cent in the existing system.

It would also lock in overfunding for many private schools.

“I am not comfortable with that at all,” Ms Byrne said.

Cabinet minister Steve Ciobo said it was no surprise “one of the most leftist unions in this country” was fractured.

“They want to do the right thing but they’re also heavily conflicted by their support for the Labor Party and wanting to do the bidding of the Labor Party,” he told Sky News.

The split may influence the Greens to back the package in the Senate.

The minor party already has won big concessions from the government, including measures that ensure the states meet their funding obligations.

But some of its nine senators are yet to be swayed by the arguments of leader Richard Di Natale and education spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young who support an amended package.

In-language videos to help new arrivals with renting

Just over two years ago, the Shashy family fled Iraq with just the clothes on their back when IS arrived in their home city of Mosul.

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They spent time as refugees in Jordan before seeking refuge in Australia.

Nurse and mother-of-three Eman Shashy says the prospect of finding a house was intimidating.

“I know some conversation of English, but I don’t know how I find a house, how I speak with anyone. How I find a house so big difficult for me.”

AMES Australia housing worker Law Baw Doe helped the family find a three-bedroom home in Melbourne’s north.

She says the challenges confronting newly arrived renters are many and varied.

“No rental history, language barrier … of course, the market as well. And the price, actually.”

It has prompted the Victorian Government to launch a series of online videos in four languages, now available through the state’s Consumer Affairs website.

AIMS’ Catharine O’Grady helped create the short animations.

She says they outline tenants’ rights and responsibilities and even the steps required to request maintenance and repairs.

“They can access it repeatedly in their own language and understand simple steps that they can take to ensure they meet their obligations and the landlord’s meeting theirs as well.”

Property lawyer Denis Nelthorpe says the videos will also help migrants deal with unscrupulous agents and landlords who often view ill-informed tenants as a “soft target.”

“And then when they start to ask for repairs, they’re threatened with eviction, so they can be mistreated right from the beginning. They’re often very scared to challenge authority.”

For some migrants, like Say Htoo Eh Moero, (say too MOR-o) who came to Australia via a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border, even living in a brick home was foreign.

“Give the bamboo and leaves for the roof and the walls to make a very small house, and they don’t have to worry about signing contract or anything. They just build their own house.”

For the Shashy family, and many like them, securing a simple rental property represents the first step in their new lives.

And 25-year-old Eman Shashy says she feels truly at home now for the first time in as long as she cares to remember.

“I feel safe, in first thing, and I feel I am happy, because I can start my life with my family.”

 

 

 

 

Macron seals large majority in final round of voting

The result, based on official figures and poll projections, fully redraws France’s political landscape, sidelining the Socialists and Republicans who have alternated in power for decades.

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s parliamentary majority comes just weeks after his own presidential victory.

His La Republique en Marche party has won well over 300 seats in the 577-seat national assembly.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe addressed the country after the result.

“This Sunday, you have given a clear majority to the President of the Republic and to the Government. This majority will have a mission, to act for France. By their votes, the French people have, in their large majority, preferred hope over anger, optimism over pessimism, confidence over retreat.”

Many of the party’s new recruits are political unknowns, and Mr Philippe has attributed their election to a public appetite for new faces in parliament.

Polls project President Macron’s party and its Modem allies will win between 355 and 365 seats in the 577-seat lower house, fewer than previously forecast.

Macron wins massive majority in parliament

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The conservative Republicans and their allies would form the largest opposition bloc, with 125 to 131 seats.

The Socialist Party, which has been in power for the past five years, and its partners would secure 41 to 49 seats, their lowest ever in the postwar Fifth Republic.

The interim president of the Republic on the Move party, Catherina Barbaroux, has hailed the election result as historic.

“For the first time in the Fifth Republic, there will be a profound renewal of the National Assembly. It will be more diverse, younger, strengthened with diverse professional, voluntary and political experience. But, above all, and let me be personally very delighted, it’s a historic moment for the representation of women in the National Assembly,” she said.

Mr Macron’s party has filled the political space created by the disarray within the Socialists and the Republicans.

Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, the leader of the French Socialist Party, has resigned after he was knocked out of the running for parliament in last week’s first round of voting.

He said the party will have to rebuild from the top down, suggesting what he terms “the left” needs to change radically if it still wants to be a strong force in French politics.

“Emmanuel Macron’s triumph is unquestionable. The left’s defeat is unavoidable. The rout of the Socialist Party is irrevocable. The right is facing real failure. And the populists from all sides are pushed to the margins,” he said.

RELATED

Nationalist leader Marine Le Pen has won a seat in the National Assembly for the first time.

Her National Front party clinched at least eight seats in total, a result she has celebrated, but it may disappoint supporters, who were dreaming of her winning the presidency a month ago.

Ms Le Pen has cited record low levels of voter participation – less than half of the eligible voters – minimised the significance of Mr Macron’s victory.

“Abstention has today broken new records. The low turnout shows that mistrust towards politics has reached a peak. The election of Mr Macron to the presidency of the Republic seems to have sent the country into a state of indifference and weariness vis-a-vis the Republic, which is very worrying. Massive abstention considerably weakens the legitimacy of the new National Assembly.” 

The scale of the victory gives the president a strong platform, though, for enacting campaign promises to revive France’s fortunes.

He has promised to clean up politics and relax regulations which, investors say, shackle the eurozone’s second-biggest economy.

But the abstention rate shows he must go carefully in a country with strong trade unions and a history of street protests that have forced past governments to dilute new legislation.

 

Car ploughs into police van in Paris Champs-Elysees ‘attack’

The assailant died in the incident, although investigators offered no immediate details about the cause.

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There has been no claim of responsibility for the assault.

The attack — which occurred just a short distance from where a jihadist shot dead a police officer two months earlier — was carried out by a man who had been on France’s security watchlist since 2015 over ties to “the radical Islamist movement”, sources close to the probe said.

They identified him as Adam Dzaziri, who had been raised in the hardline Salafi Islamic ideology, and did not have a criminal record.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said a car hit the leading vehicle in a line of police vans as they headed down the Champs-Elysees, near the Grand Palais exhibition hall. 

“The security forces have been targeted in France once again,” he said.

A man on the radar of French authorities was killed Monday after ramming a car carrying explosives into a police vehicle in Paris.AAP

Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the car, a white Renault Megane, caught fire.

Video showed a thick orange smoke pouring from the car after the impact as the vehicle sat in the middle of the prestigious avenue which is lined with shops and cinemas.

Police sources told AFP that they found a Kalashnikov assault rifle, two handguns, ammunition as well as a gas bottle in the car.

The “arms, explosives… could potentially blow this car up,” Collomb said. Sources previously told AFP that there were multiple gas bottles in the car.

No police or bystanders were injured in the incident, which occurred near the Grand Palais exhibition hall.

The suspect’s father told AFP that his son “had a registered weapon, he practiced shooting”. A source close to the case said the young man had a firearms permit.

Police searched on Monday night the residence the suspect shared with his family in Plessis-Pate, a town about 40 minutes’ drive from central Paris. 

The local mayor Sylvain Tanguy said the family was “very discreet and didn’t go out much”.

“You could tell when you saw them in the street that they were very religious,” he said.   

‘Threat remains extremely high’

Anti-terrorism prosecutors have opened an investigation into the incident that briefly sparked chaos on the world famous avenue.

“People were running every which way,” said a 51-year-old bystander who gave his name only as Alexandre. “Some shouted at me to get away.”

Police closed two of the Metro stations on the Champs-Elysees, but two hours after the attack tourists were back taking selfies of the Arc de Triomphe and visiting shops.

Collomb said the attack “shows once again that the threat (of an attack) remains extremely high in France”.

The incident occurred almost two months to the day after a policeman was shot and killed nearby in the runup to the first round of France’s presidential election.

The gunman, Karim Cheurfi, was shot dead by police and a note praising the Islamic State group was found next to his body.

On June 7, a hammer-wielding Algerian man was shot and wounded by police after he struck an officer on the head in front of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, shouting it was in revenge “for Syria”.

He had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in a video found at his home.

String of attacks

The attack Monday was the latest in a string incidents in France and Britain.

Earlier Monday, a van ploughed into a crowd of Muslims near a London mosque, injuring 10 people. It was the second terror attack this month in the British capital.

Two weeks ago jihadists used a van and knives to kill eight people enjoying a night out around London Bridge. Three of the victims were French.

In May, a suicide bomber killed 22 people, including children, at a concert by US singer Ariana Grande in Manchester.

France remains under a state of emergency imposed after the November 2015 attacks in Paris, when IS jihadists slaughtered 130 people in a night of carnage at venues across the city.

Previous major attacks targeted the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in January 2015.

A senior police officer and his female companion were both killed by a radicalised man at their home in the Paris suburbs a year ago.

And in July last year, a radicalised Tunisian man killed 86 people as he rammed a truck through a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the Riviera city of Nice.

On Wednesday, the French government is to unveil a new anti-terrorism law, designed to allow the state of emergency to be lifted.

“To those who question the necessity of such laws, you can see that the state of France today necessitates it,” Collomb said.

“If we want to effectively ensure the security of our citizens, we must be able to take a certain number of measures,” he added.

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‘Portugal weeps’ as forest fire death toll rises to 63

Many victims were burnt as they were trapped in their cars around the epicentre of the blaze in Pedrogao Grande, in what is the deadliest such disaster in Portugal’s recent history.

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“Portugal weeps for Pedrogao Grande,” said the one newspaper while mainstream Publico’s headline simply read “Why?”

“The fire has reached a level of human tragedy that we have never seen before,” said a visibly moved Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who announced three days of mourning from Sunday.

After the death of a firefighter who had been hospitalised, the official death toll rose to 63, officials said. The total number of injured in the region of the fire since Saturday stood at 135.

Portugal’s national Route 236 was transformed into “a road of hell” where 47 of the fatalities occurred as the ferocious blaze ripped through the wooded countryside. Most of them families who had spent the afternoon at a beach on a nearby river, local authorities said.

Although the searing temperatures had dropped slightly on Monday, the fire was still raging, spreading to neighbouring regions of Castelo Branco and Coimbra, as firefighters continued their grim search for bodies.

Related readingTraumatised 

Local residents too have stepped in to try to stop the blaze. At the small village of Atalaia Fundeira, a big cloud of smoke billowed from a scrub of land as villagers including 76-year-old Palmira Coelho rushed out with buckets of water and a tractor arrived with a tank of water and hose. 

After 10 minutes of frantic activity, the fire was largely extinguished, leaving charred ground in its wake.

“I have witnessed a lot of fires, but never like this, it’s never happened here — the way it spread, the speed,” said Betty Jesus, a 50-year-old Venezuelan who has lived in the area for decades.

In the village of Figueiro, people are still traumatised by the swift moving blaze.

“The fire didn’t spread by the ground… it spread through the air at the height of the trees… in five minutes all were on fire in an area of around 10 kilometres,” said Virgilio Godinho.

“Our pain is immense,” said Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. “We feel a sense of injustice because the tragedy has hit those Portuguese of whom one speaks little — those living in an isolated rural zone.”

Related reading’Tree hit by lightning’

Police chief Almeida Rodrigues blamed dry thunderstorms for the blaze which broke out on Saturday in Pedrogao Grande, ruling out arson. “We found the tree hit by the lightning,” he said.

“Everything burnt very quickly given the strong winds. The flames passed within two or three kilometres of my house,” said local resident Isabel Ferreira, 62.

“It was really hell. I thought the end of the world had come,” said Maria de Fatima Nunes, another survivor.

The wooded hills in the area north of Lisbon, which 24 hours before had glowed bright green with eucalyptus and pine trees, were gutted by the flames.

Along the IC-8 highway cutting through the fire zone, smoke was still rising from the ground and small pockets of fire burned among the charred, black tree stumps.

One road running through Pedrogao Grande was littered with burnt-out cars. At one spot, a police officer watched over the covered body of a victim of the fire.

‘We lost everything’ 

Other bodies were found in houses in isolated areas. At least three villages near Pedrogao Grande were evacuated.

At a retirement home in Pedrogao Grande on Monday, about 150 people who had been evacuated or fled were waiting to learn when they could go home.

Military personnel arrive at the village of Vila Facaia to help recovery efforts in the aftermath of the 17 June forest fires (AAP)AAP

Boxes of donated food and drinks were outside the makeshift refuge, the air still reeking of smoke.

“We have people here who are waiting for news of their loved ones, who want to know and are really anxious,” said Soledade Lourenco, 51, a nurse volunteering at the centre.

Over the weekend, Portugal sweltered under temperatures topping 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in several regions.

About 35 forest fires continued to burn across the country on Monday, with more than 2,000 firefighters and 700 vehicles mobilised.

Spain, France and Italy have sent water-bombing planes and Greece has offered firefighters. The European Union has also offered to help.

Portugal was hit by a series of fires last year which devastated more than 100,000 hectares (1,000 square kilometres) of the mainland.

Fires on the tourist island of Madeira in August killed three people, while across 2016 around 40 homes were destroyed and 5,400 hectares of land burned. 

Arnold keen to restore Coleman lock combo

Rory Arnold is taking Adam Coleman’s ferocious lead as he pushes for a return to the Wallabies’ starting side for Saturday’s Test against Italy at Suncorp Stadium.

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Arnold is keen to restore his impressive second-row combination with Coleman from last year, having come off the bench in Australia’s last two matches.

His bruising 40-minute effort in replacing Sam Carter against Scotland was one of the few highlights for the team and could see him elevated after Wallabies coach Michael Cheika flagged multiple changes in response to the shocking 24-19 defeat in Sydney.

“I’ve done a couple of alright things off the bench,” Arnold said.

“It’s up to Cheik, if he wants me to stay on the bench to finish the game or if he wants me to start. I’ll take any opportunity he gives me.”

Arnold and Coleman, who have both played 11 Tests, were among the finds of the year for the Wallabies in 2016 as Cheika handed debuts to a flood of next-generation players.

Coleman, 25, is now Australia’s top lock and arguably one of the country’s most important players.

His relentless workrate, abrasive tackling and general physicality are qualities Cheika wants to see more of from the Wallabies and Arnold is not ashamed to admit he is trying to copy his teammate’s output.

“I enjoy playing with Adam. We had a couple of good games together,” he said.

“There’s always a bit of niggle around Adsy in a game.

“At the moment he’s carrying himself really well on the field.

“He likes that physicality, he likes throwing his body around. If you look at all the good locks in the world, they do that and do it well.

“That’s why he’s starting in the Wallabies at the moment – because he’s physical, big and likes to carry.

“I’m looking at what he does and seeing if I can bring that off the bench.”

No NSW prize for home Origin win

No NSW captain has lifted the State of Origin shield in Sydney since 2004, a statistic Blues legends are demanding must change on Wednesday night.

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The only problem: Presentation protocol will ensure the shield won’t be awarded until after Game III in Brisbane.

Even if the Blues clinch the series in front of an anticipated 80,000 fans at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday night, Origin tradition dictates that the presentation is held after the last match of the series.

It comes after Cameron Smith was handed the trophy in front of an almost-empty ANZ Stadium after 2016’s Game III dead rubber, despite having earlier wrapped up the series in Brisbane.

In fact, in three of the last four times the series has been decided after the second match, the victorious captain has lifted the shield away from their home fans.

As a result it’s a tradition that NSW legend Steve Roach said needs to change.

“It’s weird,” Roach told AAP.

“They should change it. If you win the shield on your own turf you should be able to lift it.”

Roach started at prop in 17 games for NSW between 1984 and 1991, and won three series with the Blues.

His call was also backed by the last halfback to direct NSW to a 3-0 series whitewash, Brett Kimmorley.

“You don’t want to go up and lift the Shield in front of Queensland. You want to lift it here in front of 80,000 NSW fans,” Kimmorley said.

The last Blue to lift the shield on NSW soil, Danny Buderus, could however find reason in the justification that the series isn’t formally over until the end of the last game.

Buderus captained NSW to their 2004 and 2005 series wins, and said neither presentation was more special – despite the latter of the victories coming in Brisbane.

“If I’m Boyd Cordner and I get to do it up there Game III, I’d be stoked,” Buderus said.

“It’s a proud moment no matter where it is.

“You want to enjoy it with your teammates, they’re the ones you’re looking straight at.”

The current NSW captain, Cordner, is for his part unfussed when he receives the trophy – as long as they win it.

“An Origin series win is an Origin series win, no matter where you lift the Shield or at what time,” he said.

“But it’s obviously a long way away.”

The annual issue will be put to bed for at least the next two series, with the second game of 2018 and 2019 to be held in Melbourne and Perth respectively.

Blues confident of repeating bench heroics

NSW captain Boyd Cordner has backed his bench to replicate a State of Origin I performance that former Blues enforcer Steve Roach labelled as one of the best ever.

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The Blues’ four bench players – David Klemmer, Wade Graham, Jake Trbojevic and Jack Bird – ran an extra 82 metres than their Queensland counterparts in NSW 28-4 series-opening win at Suncorp Stadium last month.

It ensured NSW lost no momentum either side of halftime, as they crossed for four of their five tries between the 40th and 60th minutes.

“They just didn’t lose tempo when blokes like Wade Graham and all those guys go on,” Roach said.

“It was a great performance, one of the best performances ever.

“But the big challenge is to do it more than one time.”

The Blues bench is likely to face a much sterner test on Wednesday night however.

Their performance also cost Queensland counterparts Sam Thaiday, Aidan Guerra and Jacob Lillyman their spots in the Maroons team, they were just some of the seven players axed by coach Kevin Walters.

It’s left Michael Morgan as the only player to remain from the Maroons’ Game I bench, while Josh Papalii has also dropped onto the interchange after starting in the back row at Suncorp Stadium.

The inclusions of Coen Hess and Tim Glasby could also provide a threat, given their combination with Queensland’s spine from their NRL clubs of North Queensland and Melbourne.

The Maroons new bench quartet have now scored 11 more tries and made double the amount of linebreaks their NSW opponents have in NRL matches this year.

Roach said the Blues longevity off the bench – highlighted by the fact Klemmer is the only member not to average at least 75 minutes per match at NRL level this year – should help them reproduce the same form from Game I.

“A lot of the blokes play for the 80 minutes,” he said.

“It means that they and everyone else can go out there and try and gas themselves.”

Cordner agreed with Roach’s assessment.

“Most of (the NSW bench) are normally starting players for their team anyway,” he said.

“They are quality players and they’ll now how to handle any situation that they’re put in.”

HOW THE BENCHES COMPARE AT NRL LEVEL IN 2017

Games – NSW: 49, Queensland: 51

Tries – NSW: 8, Queensland: 19

Average metres – NSW: 482, Queensland: 382

Tackle busts – NSW: 103, Queensland: 124

Try assists – NSW: 10, Queensland: 12

Line breaks – NSW: 13, Queensland: 26

Offloads – NSW: 43, Queensland: 36

Average tackles – NSW: 92.1, Queensland: 79.2

* Stats: Fox Sports Stats