Iraq offensive to reclaim Tal Afar

Iraqi security forces have launched an offensive to take back the city of Tal Afar, their next objective in the US-backed campaign to defeat Islamic State militants, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says.

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“You either surrender, or die,” Abadi said in a televised speech announcing the offensive, addressing the militants.

A longtime stronghold of hardline Sunni Muslim insurgents, Tal Afar, 80km west of Mosul, experienced cycles of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and has produced some of Islamic State’s most senior commanders.

The city was cut off from the rest of Islamic State-held territory in June. It is surrounded by Iraqi government troops and Shi’ite volunteers in the south, and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the north.

US Army soldiers with guided missile launcher in the village of Abu Ghaddur, east of Tal Afar, Iraq, 20th Aug 2017.AAP

Hours before Abadi’s announcement, the Iraqi air force dropped leaflets over the city telling the population to take precautions. “Prepare yourself, the battle is imminent and the victory is coming, God willing,” the leaflets read.

About 2,000 battle-hardened militants remain in the city, according to US and Iraqi military commanders.

They are expected to put up a tough fight, even though intelligence from inside the city indicates they have been exhausted by months of combat, aerial bombardments, and by the lack of fresh supplies.

‘Mainly foreign and Arab nationals’

“Intelligence gathered shows clearly that the remaining fighters are mainly foreign and Arab nationals with their families and that means they will fight until the last breath,” Colonel Kareem al-Lami, from the Iraqi army’s 9th Division, told Reuters.

Islamic State’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” in effect collapsed last month, when US-backed Iraqi forces completed the takeover of the militants’ capital in Iraq, Mosul, after a nine-month campaign.

But parts of Iraq and Syria remain under Islamic State control, including Tal Afar, a city with a pre-war population of about 200,000.

The main forces taking part in the offensive are the Iraqi army, air force, Federal Police, and the elite US-trained Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), who began encircling the city on Sunday.

The Shi’ite Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), some of whom are trained and armed by Iran, confirmed they are also taking part in the battle. Their involvement is likely to worry Turkey, which claims an affinity with the area’s predominantly ethnic Turkmen population.

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Eurovision hopes to bring song contest to Asia

While final plans have not been confirmed, official Eurovision broadcaster SBS has signed an exclusive option with the European Broadcasting Union alongside production partner Blink TV to look at how the format could work for Asia.

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Organisers say they are in the development phase and exploring ways to bring the competition to Asia. They have also asked enthusiasts to share their thoughts on their website.

In a statement, SBS said: “SBS and Blink TV are continuing to explore and develop the exciting opportunity to bring a world class event like Eurovision closer to our shores. The Eurovision Asia website is the next phase in that development.

“As discussions continue with potential partners across the Asia region, we are now engaging with both the passionate Eurovision and Asian pop fan communities for their input in shaping this event.”

Celebrating music since 1956, we can’t wait to keep doing it next year in Lisbon. Roll on #Eurovision2018! pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/8uSCJBoBy2

— Eurovision (@Eurovision) July 26, 2017

The contest, which began in 1956 with just seven nations, currently has 52 countries represented.

Each participant originally had to sing in their original language but many now do so in English. Viewers choose their favourite by awarding a set of points from 1-8, with highs of 10 and 12, in televotes from each country.

Eurovision has made history as the ‘Longest Running Annual TV Music Competition’ in the Guinness Book of Records, and nearly 1,500 songs have been performed to date.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, more countries signed up to take part, with Australia joining in 2015.

Last year, around 204 million people tuned in for some or all of at least one of the three shows.

The next Eurovision will take place next year in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 8, 10 and 12.

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Refugee student wins national award for aged care

Jolie Kaja decided to pursue a career in aged care after she arrived in the coastal regional centre three years ago.

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Whether at home or work, Jolie Kaja says she spends her days doing what she loves most — caring for others.

“I love to help other people, because, when I help them, I feel happy.”

That generous spirit rarely goes unnoticed by those around her.

And, now, her compassion and hard work have been recognised with the national Community Education Student of the Year award.

Fellow aged-care worker Jane Donovan says Ms Kaja adapted quickly to the profession right from the start.

“Jolie’s very compassionate. I saw that straightaway in her. She’s very caring towards the residents. And, yeah, I wanted to take her under my wing,* and I saw a lot of potential in Jolie, and, yeah, she’s beautiful, a beautiful (lady).”

For Ms Kaja, helping others is a natural instinct, something she has done all her life.

Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she worked as a Red Cross volunteer but was forced to flee her home when war broke out 10 years ago.

She sought shelter at a refugee camp in Zambia, where she lived for seven years as a single mother looking after her four daughters.

“It was very hard. If you are not strong, it’s very … It’s terrible. The people who are living in the refugee camps, they’re suffering too much.”

Ms Kaja and her family were resettled as refugees in Coffs Harbour, on New South Wales’ north coast.

She is fluent in French, Swahili and several other African languages but did not know a word of English when she arrived.

She took up English language classes at TAFE and went on to study aged care as a way to give back to the community.

One of her trainers, Amanda Johnston, from Coffs Coast Community College, says the staff was impressed by Ms Kaja’s ability and willingness to learn.

“She came across as an extremely caring student, to start with, but she did have difficulties with language. And she overcame all those barriers and proved us all very wrong. And she actually shone in the class and was extremely liked by all her classmates.”

Ms Kaja now works at the Saint Joseph’s Aged Care facility in Coffs Harbour.

New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro presented the award to her.

“Jolie’s an example of a great refugee story, from being a refugee single mum of four, who’s used community college and the opportunity to learn some skills in a sector that is growing, like aged care, and her contribution will be like the many before her, refugees and migrants, that have made this nation the great nation that we are.”

After all she has achieved and all she has seen, Ms Kaja says she is determined to use her new skills to continue helping others.

And she has a dream.

“My dream is to take this knowledge to Congo and Zambia to help others. Yeah, my dream.”

 

 

Human rights campaigners fear returning to the Philippines after Duterte’s threats

It’s been three months since human rights campaigner Ellecer Carlos has been home to the Philippines.

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Walking through the streets of Melbourne, where he’s resided for the last week, he says it’s much colder here than he expected.

Cold, he said, but safe given the threats he faces back home.

“He threatened to harvest us, using that exact term. He threatened to behead us, this was actually in November,” he told SBS World News.

“It’s just a matter of ordering the police and vigilantes to go after you. It’s a Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.” 

Ellecer Carlos with colleagues in MelbourneSBS

The threats come from president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte.

He is angered by nationals like Mr Carlos campaigning in the US, Europe and Australia against the his so-called war on drugs.

Mr Carlos said the president has all but guaranteed freedom from litigation for police and vigilante groups, as the death toll of those accused of drugs crimes mounts.

“He has effectively put in place a permission structure for mass murder. He has through sustained public announcement incited to violence.”

Human Rights Watch claims over 7,000 have been killed since President Duterte took office June last year.

Mr Carlos said the toll has risen dramatically in just the last week.

“In just three areas alone, 65 killings and in total 90 killings and these are just the documented ones. There are many many cases we continually come across which have not become part of the official figures.”

Founder of a Filipino expat human rights group in Australia, May Kotsakis, claims most of the victims are likely users and low-end distributors from the poorest regions.

She said the most powerful drug lords escape prosecution.

“The big drug lords, the most powerful, are not being persecuted. It’s the poor people being victimised.”

May Kotsakis founder of Gabriela AustraliaSBS

But far from damaging his reputation, popular support for the president rose to 66 per cent last month.

Ms Kotsakis said she thinks it’s the Mr Duterte’s rhetoric that garners the favour of the people.

“He says he’s going to get rid of corruption, he’s going to have independent foreign policy, he won’t be pushed around by the US so the people thought this is a good president.”

Human rights groups are calling on the Australian government to intervene.

Amnesty International Campaign Manager Michael Hayworth said pressure needs to be put on the United Nations to mount an independent investigation into human rights abuses in the Philippines.

“The Australia government along with other governments in the region can send a loud and clear message to President Duterte that this sort of behaviour, these killings are completely unacceptable.” he said.

“The Australian government, like other governments, can also support the call for an international UN-led investigation to get justice for the victims of these killings.”

Protesters in Manila display placards during a rally to condemn the recent killings in President Rodirgo DuterteAP

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop told SBS World News she raised Australia’s concern about extra-judicial killings and the importance Australia attaches to human rights with President Duterte when she met the President in Manila earlier this month.

In a statement, Ms Bishop said the practice of extra-judicial killings to combat drug trafficking and usage remains of deep concern to Australia.

But Mr Carlos said he fears that without strong diplomatic intervention the situation in the Philippines will continue to escalate.

“This presents grave risks to all Filipinos. We are all dehumanised because of this, and it has made human life very cheap in the Philippines.”

Catholic churches in the Philippines have issued a joint statement, that every night for three months church bells will ring to raise alarm over the growing death toll in the country’s war on drugs.

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Pies won’t budge on timing of Buckley call

Nathan Buckley will go into the round 23 clash against Melbourne not knowing if it will be his last game as Collingwood coach.

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The Magpies’ board will have a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday evening but the club is maintaining its long-held position that no decision on the coach will be made until after the season is over.

Speculation has been rife over Buckley’s future in his sixth year as coach, with the Pies, who are 13th with eight wins, to miss the finals for a fourth season in a row.

Buckley has handled himself with aplomb for the most part despite the uncertainty around his future.

“I would hope I’d be able to coach and respond and be as impressive as he’s been under this scrutiny and this uncertainty,” St Kilda counterpart Alan Richardson told Fox Footy’s AFL 360.

“He just looks like he’s there for their footy club.

“He’s been very impressive.”

Collingwood president Eddie McGuire and his board are waiting on the findings of three separate internal reviews before deciding if they will offer Buckley a new contract.

There have been several reports in recent weeks that the club is leaning towards a scenario similar to the ones that played out at Richmond last year and Geelong in 2006.

Changes were made after exhaustive reviews, but under pressure coaches Damien Hardwick and Mark Thompson survived and went on to enjoy much-improved seasons – the Tigers are currently fourth and the Cats won the flag.

But while it has clearly been a difficult year for the Magpies and their coach, Geelong coach Chris Scott would be surprised if Buckley doesn’t have some inkling of what lies ahead of him.

“I think it’s really hard to speculate as to what has actually been discussed, but I would be staggered if Nathan and his superiors hadn’t had discussions all the way through,” Scott said on AFL 360.

“Similar to the way coaches and list managers talk to senior players toward the end of their careers.

“It’s not (a case of) ‘Ok now we have to talk about this for the first time’. It’s a process that you work through over a period of time.

“Even though their public position has been ‘We’ll make that decision at the end of the year’ I’d be staggered if they hadn’t had some sort of discussions to give him a bit of a feel for what’s going on.

“That would be a difficult position to be in.”