China’s choice Lam wins Hong Kong leadership, vows to heal rifts

Hong Kong’s new leader Carrie Lam has pledged to mend political rifts after winning a vote dismissed as a sham by democracy activists who fear the loss of the city’s cherished freedoms.

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Hong Kong has been semi-autonomous since it was handed back to China by colonial ruler Britain in 1997.

But 20 years on, there are serious concerns Beijing is disregarding the handover agreement designed to protect Hong Kong’s way of life. 

The former career civil servant was chosen as the next chief executive by a mainly pro-China committee and was widely seen as Beijing’s favourite to head the city.

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Critics say she will deepen divisions in the city, but Lam said she wanted to unify Hong Kong. 

“Hong Kong, our home, is suffering from quite a serious divisiveness and has accumulated a lot of frustrations. My priority will be to heal the divide,” she said after her victory.

Lam pledged to uphold Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous “one country, two systems” set-up and protect its core values, including freedom of expression and an independent judiciary.

Asked how she would address concerns that Beijing is tightening its grip, she said there was “no difference” between the Hong Kong government and Chinese authorities’ views in terms of safeguarding the city’s status and freedoms. 

But the China analyst Ma Ngok told SBS News that Lam will be remembered “as someone who was not elected with a popular vote, only with strong control from Beijing”. 

The democratic Civic Party founder Alan Leong accused China of interferring in the election outcome.

“The high-handed manner by which the Central People’s Government has interfered it this election has left Hong Kong people wondering how much more we can trust their policy of one country, two systems,” he said.

It was the first leadership vote since mass “Umbrella Movement” rallies calling for fully free elections in 2014 failed to secure reforms, and came after a turbulent term under current chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

Leung, who is seen by opponents as a Beijing puppet, will step down in July after five years in charge. Lam, who will be the city’s first woman leader, was formerly his deputy.

An emotional Lam, 59, bowed to supporters as it was announced she had won comprehensively with 777 votes against 365 for John Tsang, seen as a more moderate establishment figure.

The third and most liberal candidate, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, received just 21 votes.   

Around three quarters of the 1,194 members of the election committee were from the pro-China camp.

Lam is intensely disliked by the pro-democracy camp after promoting the Beijing-backed political reform package that sparked 2014’s massive protests.

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That plan would have allowed the public to choose the city’s leader in 2017, but would have insisted that candidates must be vetted first. 

It was eventually voted down in parliament by pro-democracy lawmakers and reforms have been shelved ever since. 

Since then frustration among activists has sparked calls for self-determination for Hong Kong, or even a complete split from China. 

Hundreds of protesters including leading pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong gathered near the harbourfront voting venue.

Nearby, pro-China supporters played marching music surrounded by national and city flags. 

Rebel legislator Nathan Law, who as a lawmaker has an automatic vote, said he would enter a blank ballot. 

“It is still a selection from the Beijing government,” Law told AFP. 

Protesters raise a yellow umbrella and placards to protest against Carrie Lam.AP

Uphill struggle

Representatives of a broad number of sectors, from business to education, sit on the committee that chooses the chief executive, but the vast majority of the city’s 3.8 million electorate have no say in the vote. 

Pro-democracy committee members threw their weight behind Lam’s main rival, ex-finance secretary Tsang. 

But activists said he was still on Beijing’s side and rejected the vote outright as unrepresentative of Hong Kong people.

Lam will face an uphill struggle to unite a city in which young people in particular have lost faith in the political system and their own overall prospects. 

With salaries too low to meet the cost of property in an overpriced market fuelled by mainland money, getting ahead in life is seen as increasingly difficult.

While she said Sunday she wanted more democracy for Hong Kong, Lam said she intended to prioritise social issues such as housing.

Critics fear she will pave the way for more interference from Beijing after an number of incidents under Leung that rocked public confidence.

They include the disappearance in 2015 of five Hong Kong booksellers known for publishing salacious titles about China’s political elite. The booksellers all resurfaced in detention on the mainland. 

Last year, the disqualification from parliament of two publicly elected pro-independence lawmakers following Beijing’s intervention also prompted accusations the city’s legislature had been seriously compromised. 

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Sydney TB cases being treated-NSW Health

NSW Health has dismissed fears of an outbreak of the bacterial infection tuberculosis after a Sydney doctor misdiagnosed a man who went on to infect 10 others.

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The patient, 23, went to his GP over three months but it wasn’t until his third visit that the doctor referred him for an x-ray that revealed a hole in his lung, The Daily Telegraph reported.

During that period he reportedly passed on the disease, which mainly affects the lungs, after coming into contact with 10 people.

But NSW Health’s Director of Communicable Diseases Vicky Sheppeard said this didn’t mean there was an outbreak of tuberculosis in Sydney.

“Public announcements about people with TB disease are rarely necessary as TB is spread via close and prolonged contact, not spread by brief, casual exposures,” Ms Sheppeard told AAP in a statement on Monday.

“As TB remains a relatively rare disease in Australia it is not unusual that it is not recognised on the initial presentation to a doctor.”

NSW has one of the lowest rates of the disease in the world.

Across the country about 1300 new cases are reported every year. In NSW in 2016, there were 533.

NSW Labor has called on the Berejiklian government to consider whether GPs needed to brush up on their knowledge of TB.

Doctors they should be able to identify symptoms in order to protect the community, opposition health spokesman Walt Secord said.

TB is a nationally notifiable disease and can be a very serious if not diagnosed early and treated.

All of the 11 persons affected in this latest case are now being treated.

Clarke questions ‘negative’ Indian batting

If India suffer a rare Test series loss at home to Australia they will rue “negative” batting in the Dharamsala decider, according to Michael Clarke.

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Former Australia captain Clarke was shocked with India’s tactics during a rollercoaster second day of the fourth and final Test. The hosts will resume on Monday at 6-248, still trailing Australia by 52 runs.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane both looked set during the post-lunch session, during which the hosts only added 89 runs. It came after they scored 64 runs in Sunday’s morning session.

India’s pre-lunch struggles were a result of inspired fast bowling from Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, who made good use of the new ball. India opener KL Rahul dubbed it the toughest session he had ever faced.

Clarke felt there were no such excuses for India’s run-rate after lunch, opining that India had the best batting conditions either side will enjoy in the game.

“If India do lose this Test match, I’ll tell you where they lost it – it’s 30 minutes before tea on day two,” Clarke said on Star Sports.

“It was so negative with their batting. Australia bowled spin from both ends, they sat on the crease and blocked and blocked and blocked.

“They’ve lost two quick wickets (after tea) … they’re under enormous pressure.

“If India can’t get a decent total in this first innings, batting last here is going to be extremely tough (if they are) chasing 200 runs.”

Australia’s only Test series win in India during the past 47 years came in 2004, when Clarke made his debut. India have lost a single series at home in the past 12 years.

The ongoing series is level at 1-1. The visitors will retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy if the final Test ends in a draw.

Former Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin echoed Clarke’s sentiments.

“India have to win the Test match and I don’t think you’re going to get better batting conditions than in that session,” Haddin said on Fox Sports.

“I was bit shocked that Pujara didn’t try to move the game forward a little bit. It looked like he put a lot of pressure on Rahane, then he’s sort of got bogged down in his shell a bit too.”

Nut allergies fade but probably never go away

One in 20 children between ages 10 and 14 has an allergy, and researchers say it is important people understand the reaction their bodies could have as they age.

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Liam Wray was just a toddler when his parents, Chris and Lisa Wray, discovered he had an allergy.

“He had an allergic reaction to pistachios — he was given some — and he came out all in hives, and he was finding it quite difficult to breathe.”

From that scary moment, Liam Wray discovered he had a reaction to other nuts, too.

Now, as a 14-year-old, the Melbourne youth carries an EpiPen and antihistamines with him everywhere he goes.

“I get, like, really tingly in my throat. Like, it’s very itchy, but it’s like an inside, like in-your-throat itch, and you can’t actually get rid of it. And then I’ll start to feel sick.”

His parents have worked hard to ensure he is independently aware of the risks.

But now, thanks to participating in a landmark study at Melbourne’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, he has some uplifting news.

“I used to be allergic to hazelnuts and almonds, but I’ve grown out of being allergic to them — which is good, because I can have Nutella and stuff now.”

The study assessed 15 food allergies of 10,000 children between ages 10 and 14 to find out both how common allergies were and the cause and scale of the reactions.

Lead researcher Professor Katie Allen says her team discovered one in 20 children had an allergic reaction to food.

“There’s what we call the transient food allergies and the persistent food allergies. So the transient food allergies are the early-life ones, like cows’ milk and egg allergy. They’re more likely to be grown out of. We know that 80 per cent of them will grow out of it by age 5. But this has now confirmed what we thought clinically, that children with nut allergy are more likely to have persistent problems.”

Professor Allen says it highlights the importance of patients being retested as they advance into secondary school and beyond to better understand the severity of their condition.

“Children with nut allergy are more likely to have lifelong allergies. They’re also more likely to have anaphylaxis. And, unfortunately, the fatalities are more likely to be associated with nut anaphylaxis.”

As researchers work towards a treatment, the benefits of getting tested can be immediate.

They were for Liam Wray, whose routine, like his allergy, has now changed.

“If I didn’t get the testing done, I wouldn’t have been able to have almonds or hazelnuts, and I wouldn’t have known what they’re like. And so it’s good to know I can have some … some type of nuts.”

 

 

Terrorism, trade, cooperation dominate AUKMIN talks

This year’s talks have focused on counter terrorism, trade ties and closer geographic cooperation.

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They were also a chance for British officials to explain what the future will look like — or so they hope — after Britain leaves the European Union.

Terrorism, trade and Brexit have been top of the agenda for the annual talks between Australia’s and Britain’s foreign and defence ministers.

After holding bilateral talks on day one, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and British foreign secretary Boris Johnson were joined by defence officials from both nations today.

Discussions were also believed to have touched on security and foreign affairs, as well as opportunities for Britain to expand its influence in Asia.

Sydney is the last stop on a diplomatic tour for Mr Johnson, following trips to Japan and New Zealand.

It has been an important chance for British officials to discuss their post-Brexit vision and begin laying the groundwork for a potential free-trade agreement with Australia.

The former London mayor says he is pleased with the progress made towards a future deal.

“As we go through the process of leaving the arrangements of the European Union, we are going to widen our horizons and work even more closely, and we have, today, reaffirmed our shared goal of concluding a free-trade agreement as soon as possible after we leave the EU.”

Ms Bishop has described Britain as an important ally in a changing world.

“We are seeing a level of uncertainty that we’ve not witnessed in a very long time. Therefore, it is more important than ever before for like-minded countries to find common cause in supporting that international rules-based order. Bilaterally and plurilaterally and multilaterally. And you could not find two more like-minded countries than Australia and the United Kingdom.”

Talks inevitably turned to terrorism, with both nations acknowledging the threat was now much closer to home, including the issue of returning foreign fighters.

Britain’s defence secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, says increased cooperation on security and intelligence will strengthen both countries’ defence capabilities.

He says that will better prepare them for an uncertain future.

“We believe that Australia, as an enhanced partner in NATO, can play a pivotal part in enhancing NATO’s understanding of the challenges that we share in the Indo-Pacific region. And, we believe that the Five Power* Defence Arrangements have a greater role, too, to play in building regional security, in increasing maritime security and helping to fight terrorism.”

Recent concerns over North Korea’s growing nuclear capabilities also prompted a stern warning from Australia’s defence minister, Marise Payne.

“The Foreign Minister has spoken at length on previous occasions in relation to our engagement in terms of sanctions and reinforcing our strong view of the application of sanctions and our extension of those just recently. That is an important message from not just Australia but from other members of the international community, and, out of our discussions today, we are as one in terms of our condemnation of the North Korean regime.”

A lucrative British tender to build Australia’s next fleet of warships was also believed to have been mentioned, with Spain and Italy competing against the British maker B-A-E.

It is the largest peacetime naval investment in Australia’s history.

Meanwhile, a joint leadership forum is planned for next year, involving leaders from across business, politics and the community.

The Australian High Commission in London will also hold an international workshop on trafficking and modern slavery next month.

 

Sweden’s data breach claims ministers as PM reshuffles cabinet

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven vowed he would be staying on despite speculation he could call a snap election.

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Interior Minister Anders Ygeman, a political heavyweight, is standing down “at his own request”, Lofven said at a press conference, adding that Infrastructure Minister Anna Johansson will also step down.

Ygeman reportedly knew about the leak from the national transport agency, which made the private data of millions of citizens accessible abroad, but failed to tell the prime minister.

The scandal has blown up in recent weeks after it emerged that an entire database on Swedish drivers’ licences was made available to technicians in the Czech Republic and Romania, with media reporting that the identities of intelligence agents may have been jeopardised.

Lofven’s Social Democrat-led minority government has been badly rattled by one of Sweden’s largest data breaches in decades, and opposition parties had threatened the coalition with a vote of no confidence.

Many political commentators had expected Lofven to call a snap election at Thursday’s press conference — but he insisted he intends to stay on until his term ends in 2018.

“I have no intention of plunging Sweden into a political crisis,” he said, pointing to “formidable challenges” the country is facing including tensions in the Baltic region, Brexit, and the government’s plans for social and economic reforms.

“I looked at several alternatives, and I chose the best one for the country,” Lofven said.

Defence minister next?

The data leak stems from the Swedish transport agency’s hiring of IBM in 2015 to take over its IT operations.

IBM in turn used subcontractors in the Czech Republic and Romania – making the sensitive information accessible by foreign technicians who did not have security clearance.

Sweden’s Interior Minister Anders Ygeman in Stockholm in 2015. (Getty)AFP

The Swedish military said information on its personnel, vehicles and defence and contingency planning could have been included in the leak, although the transport agency denied having a register on military vehicles and said there was no indication the data had been “spread in an improper way”.

Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist kept his job in the reshuffle despite facing claims that, like the interior minister, he knew about the scandal but failed to tell the premier.

However, Hultqvist still faces the threat of being forced out in a censure motion launched by the opposition on Wednesday against all three ministers caught up in the scandal.

Opposition parties have yet to confirm whether the motion will now go ahead.

Maria Agren, head of the transport agency at the centre of the leak, quit in January for undisclosed reasons but has since confessed to violating data handling. She accepted a fine of 70,000 Swedish kronor (around 7,000 euros, $8,000).

Hultqvist and Ygeman reportedly found out about the leak last year, but the prime minister was only informed in January.

Johansson, who oversees the transport agency, said her former state secretary had known about the leak but kept the information hidden from her – triggering heavy criticism among opposition parties who said she should have known what was happening.

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Drug testing the wastewater: WA has biggest ice problem

Australia’s ice problem could be the worst in the world, according to Justice Minister Michael Keenan.

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While ice continues to be a risk to the nation and is the most dangerous of illegal drugs, figures show it remains the most popular.

“This is a diabolical drug,” Mr Keenan said on Wednesday.

Results of a national study of wastewater find Western Australia has the biggest problem of all the states, with one regional site averaging just over 80 doses per 1000 people per day, while Perth had around 60 doses.

“Australia has probably the most significant ice problem in the world,” Mr Keenan said.

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He said high prices for illicit drugs in Australia had made the nation an attractive market for organised crime.

The average street price of ice in China is $100 per gram compared to $620 in Australia, based on UN figures, leading to a significant increase in the amount and purity of ice smuggled into Australia.

Mr Keenan said Australian Federal Police had begun fighting the drug at its source and were now working with Chinese authorities.

He said the approach “is a great example of how international co-operation is stopping drugs from hitting the streets here in Australia,” with 13 tonnes of ice already being stopped in the past 18 months.

A network of anti-gang squads across Australia is also working to stop illegal drugs in the community but the damage ice inflicts on users, families and frontline staff in hospitals and emergency services makes it the main focus.

The study of wastewater from 37 treatment plants which cover 51 per cent of the population between October 2016 and February 2017 also found the consumption of pain killers oxycodone and fentanyl had dropped but their use remained significant, particularly in regional Australia.

The analysis of Australia’s sewage is the second in a series of nine tests of the nation’s wastewater for drugs.

Of the 13 drugs tested for, alcohol and tobacco remained the most used in all states and territories with cocaine use in Australia’s capital cities double that of the country sites tested.

Researchers also found the use of cocaine dramatically increased in the ACT in December 2016 and was on the rise while alcohol consumption, along with ice use actually dropped below the national average.

Britain to tighten ties in Indo Pacific

Britain is determined to become more active in the Indo Pacific region once it finalises its exit from the European Union, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says.

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In a wide-ranging speech in Sydney, Mr Johnson reminisced about a year-long, fun-filled stay in Australia as a 19-year-old in the 1980s, before turning to the more serious topic of talking up Britain’s prospects post Brexit.

Mr Johnson said Britain would strengthen its relationship with ASEAN after its split with the EU is final in 2019, as well as develop trade, military and security ties across the region.

“There is nowhere more exciting to do that than here in the Indo-Pacific; here where there is a third of the global economy, around two thirds of the global population – here where the growth is,” he told a crowd of about 200 people at the Lowy Institute’s annual lecture on Thursday.

“And that is why we have decided once again that the UK must be more present, more active, and more engaged in this region.”

Mr Johnson said Britain aimed to have good relationships with all major countries in the region, including China, Japan and India as well as Australia and New Zealand.

And he flagged that Britain would not shy away from playing a role in maintaining order and weighing in on issues such as China’s military build up in the South China Sea.

Mr Johnson, who led Brexiteers to victory in last year’s referendum in Britain, also talked up the UK’s prospects once its divorce from the EU is finalised in 2019.

And to anyone who thought Britain could not succeed on its own in the world, Mr Johnson invoked the classic Aussie saying: “Don’t come the raw prawn with me.”

In making his case for Brexit he asked the audience – which included Treasurer Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and business leaders – to consider what Australia would have done if it had joined the EU as it has done the Eurovision singing competition.

“I think we can look at Australia today and after 26 years of continuous growth, and with per capita GDP 25 per cent higher than in the UK, I think we can say that it was not absolutely necessary for Australia to join the Common Market,” he said.

“When we look at what Australia has achieved, we can see grounds for boundless excitement and optimism.”

Mr Johnson, who is in Sydney for three days of talks with Australian government ministers, reiterated his desire that Britain sign a free trade deal with Australia soon after Brexit, saying he hoped it would be “at or near the front of the queue”.

Mr Johnson’s Lowy Lecture followed a day of talks with Ms Bishop and UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon and Australia’s Defence Minister Marise Payne, with all ministers agreeing to strengthen trade and security ties.

Aussies all out for 300 in series decider

Steve Smith posted yet another captain’s century but Australia wasted a strong start to be all out for 300 late on day one of their Test series decider against India.

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India were 0-0 in response at stumps on Saturday, having survived the one over delivered by Josh Hazlewood.

Smith and David Warner blitzed the opening session of the fourth Test in Dharamsala, powering the visitors to 1-144 shortly after lunch.

Left-warm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav, on debut in the absence of injured captain Virat Kohli, then turned the match on its head by kickstarting a collapse of 5-64.

“A little bit, yeah,” Matthew Wade said, when asked if his side squandered a chance to build a far more imposing total.

“At 1-140 after lunch, you’d hope to push on.

“They bowled really well through the middle session and we had to find a way to grind out 300. I thought to get there in the end was a good effort.”

Yadav, mentored by Kolkata teammate Brad Hogg during the Indian Premier League, shed a tear when he claimed his first Test wicket and finished with figures of 4-68.

“We have a look at everyone before the start of the series, so the boys were on top of what he was going to bowl,” Wade said.

“It’s different when you get out into a game scenario … he bowled quite well.”

Wade rallied with his first Test half-century since Australia’s 2013 tour of India but the top-ranked Test side turned the screws superbly.

Momentum shifted dramatically when Yadav, India’s first ever left-arm wrist spinner at Test level, snared the key scalp of Warner.

It broke a 134-run stand between Smith and Warner, the first century partnership between the captain and vice-captain. The leaders, who scored 111 and 56 respectively, had looked set to march Australia to a 400-plus total.

Instead, Warner prodded forward to a ball that reared off the pitch, took the edge and carried to stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane at first slip.

Yadav then clean bowled Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell – both for eight, bamboozling them with late drift and a wrong ‘un respectively. Pat Cummins became the 22-year-old’s fourth victim when he chipped a catch back to the bowler.

Rahane clasped a low slips catch to dismiss Smith for 111. The classy right-hander, who won the toss for the third time in the series, was undone by a straight delivery from ace offspinner Ravichandran Ashwin.

Wade was impressed with how Rahane rallied his side with minimal input from Kohli, who regularly ran drinks and passed on encouragement and pointers to teammates.

“They were very, very good. They were very calm and went about their work today. They weren’t over excited, they just went about their work,” the wicketkeeper said.

The high-stakes match, which comes with the series at 1-1, started with Karun Nair putting down a one-handed slips catch offered by Warner.

EU leaders mark bloc’s 60th anniversary

European Union leaders have marked the 60th anniversary of their founding treaty as a turning point in their history in the knowledge that Britain will officially trigger divorce proceedings from the bloc next week.

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Desperately trying to portray that sustained unity is the only way ahead in a globalised world, the no-show of British Prime Minister Theresa May was a symbol of the crisis the 27 other EU nations are going through.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called Brexit “a tragedy”.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said that sustained unity was the only way for the EU to survive.

“Europe as a political entity will either be united, or will not be at all,” he told EU leaders at a solemn session in precisely the same ornate hall on the ancient Capitoline Hill where the Treaty of Rome founding the EU was signed on March 25, 1957.

“Only a united Europe can be a sovereign Europe in relation to the rest of the world,” Tusk said. “Only a sovereign Europe guarantees independence for its nations, guarantees freedom for its citizens.”

In a series of speeches, EU leaders also acknowledged how the bloc had strayed into a complicated structure that had slowly lost touch with its citizens, compounded by the severe financial crisis that struck several member nations over the past decade.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who was hosting the summit, said that over the past dozen years the EU’s development had stalled.

“Unfortunately, we stopped” he said, and “it triggered a crisis of rejection”.

At the same time though, the summit in sun-splashed Rome, where new civilisations were built on old ruins time and again, there also was a message of optimism.

“Yes, we have problems, yes there are difficulties, yes there will be crisis in the future, but we stand together and we move forward,” Gentiloni said. “We have the strength to start out again.”

At the end of the session, all 27 leaders signed a new Rome Declaration saying that “European unity is a bold, far-sighted endeavour”.

“We have united for the better. Europe is our common future,” the declaration said.

Trump, after stinging defeat, promises a ‘great’ health plan

“ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE.

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Do not worry!” the Republican said on Twitter.

But it was far from clear how soon Trump and the Republicans would be willing to wade again into the perilous political minefield of health care reform. 

Friday’s defeat was more than a small stumble: Trump had thrown his full political weight behind the measure, the first big legislative test of his nascent administration. 

The bill’s failure marked a second major policy setback for Trump, after courts froze his efforts to block travelers from several Muslim-majority countries.

The real estate mogul-turned-politician — who built his candidacy on his skills as a negotiator and deal closer — had very publicly twisted the arms of recalcitrant Republicans to rally votes, extending both carrots and sticks.

But far-right lawmakers of the so-called Freedom Caucus mostly stood their ground, and every Democrat shunned the Republicans’ legislation, forcing the last-minute cancellation of a vote.

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Not like campaigning

That raised questions about how Republican leaders will deal with the stubborn conservative bloc on major issues like tax reform and infrastructure spending, and on how well Trump will be able to work with a divided party and a deeply polarized Congress.

It was a sobering lesson for the president on the differences between the top-down operation of a big company and the murky legislative process often compared to sausage-making.

“For Mr. Trump,” said a New York Times editorial, “it is a rather brutal reminder that campaigning is the easy part.”

Trump declared himself “disappointed” and a “little surprised” by the defeat of the bill, placing the blame on Democrats and the “arcane” ways of Washington.

He said that “bad things are going to happen to Obamacare.”

“It’s imploding and soon will explode and it’s not going to be pretty.”

As a candidate, Trump had promised a “terrific deal” that would improve health care coverage while lowering costs. 

Instead, House Speaker Paul Ryan conceded that Obamacare would remain for the “foreseeable future,” and Trump himself seemed unusually subdued on Friday.

‘Pathetic’

Republicans had for years insisted Obamacare repeal was a paramount priority. While political analysts said the matter seemed dead for now, some conservatives urged Republicans not to throw in the towel. 

The National Review website exhorted Republicans not to quit. 

“They have spent seven years saying they were going to replace Obamacare. They didn’t say they were going to spend a few weeks on a half-baked plan and then give up. Back to work, ladies and gentlemen.”

Others were more scathing.

Philip Klein, managing editor of the conservative Washington Examiner, called the setback “the biggest broken promise in political history,” concluding that “failing and then walking away on seven years of promises is a pathetic abdication of duty. The Republican Party is a party without a purpose.”

Friday’s setback sparked a flurry of finger-pointing among Republicans — both publicly and behind the scenes — as they weighed the damage to their credibility and sought a path forward.

A who-is-blaming-whom graphic on the New York Times website looked a bit like an octopus, with Trump publicly blaming Democrats, and other factors, while privately fingering Ryan.

Trump’s comments about letting Obamacare collapse raised concerns among some Democrats, who feared the administration might find ways other than legislation to undercut Obamacare. 

“The danger is that a wounded president and his GOP allies will act on their sore feelings by irresponsibly attacking the existing health care system in other ways,” a Washington Post editorial said. 

“Mr. Trump should not imagine that angry Americans will blame Democrats, who are totally locked out of power, if he presides over an unraveling of the system.” 

 

Steve Smith posts Test ton in decider

Steve Smith has extended his recent streak of dominance against India, delivering yet another Test century when Australia needed it most.

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Smith posted the 20th ton of his Test career on day one of the series decider between Australia and India in Dharamsala.

It came as his teammates threatened to throw away the ascendancy he and David Warner had built in the high-stakes contest. Warner, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell departed amid a collapse of 4-34.

Smith, as was the case in Ranchi where he ran out of partners and finished 178 not out, looked like he was batting on a different pitch.

“It looks that easy for him. It’s obviously not that easy for him when he’s out there but from sitting off the ground it’s like he’s playing a different game,” Matthew Wade said.

“He’s the best player in the world at the moment but he’s on track to be one of the greatest players Australia has ever seen.”

The innings will continue to fuel debate about whether Smith is Australia’s greatest batsman since Don Bradman.

Smith doesn’t have a commanding grip on that title but will almost certainly grasp it if he continues to peel off hundreds with such remarkable consistency and composure.

Bradman and Indian icon Sunil Gavaskar are the only batsmen to have reached 20 Test centuries in fewer matches than Smith, who celebrated the milestone in Test No.54.

It is even more remarkable given Smith started his international career as a legspinning allrounder. He didn’t reach three figures until his 12th Test.

The 27-year-old now has seven centuries from eight consecutive Tests against India, having also ruled the 2014/15 series between the sides.

“He’s just got them totally rattled and they don’t know what to do,” former Australia captain Allan Border said.

“They’ve tried different lines to him, they tried some around the wicket with the new ball.

“Nothing has worked.”

Smith is the second visiting captain to score three centuries during a Test series in India, joining Alastair Cook who managed the feat in 2012, leading England to a shock series win.

If Australia record their second Test series win in India since 1969, Smith will almost certainly be named man of the series.

He won the toss on Saturday then brought up his half-century in 67 deliveries, picking gaps and stroking boundaries with ease as India’s rejigged attack and bumbling fielders struggled to keep the runs down.

He needed a further 83 balls to reach three figures as batting partners shuffled on and off the field during an eventful post-lunch session.

UN envoy urges Russia, Iran, Turkey to help uphold Syria ceasefire

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias from nearby countries, are seeking to staunch the biggest rebel assault in months, which began this week in the capital Damascus and the Hama countryside.

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“Growing violations in recent days are undermining the ceasefire regime addressed through the Astana meetings, with significant negative consequences for the safety of Syrian civilians, humanitarian access and the momentum of the political process,” de Mistura said in a statement on the third day of peace talks.

The U.N. envoy said he had written to the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey — the three guarantors of the ceasefire that came into effect on December 30, urging them to “undertake urgent efforts to uphold the ceasefire regime.”

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Nasr Hariri, lead negotiator of the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said after meeting the U.N. envoy on Saturday that 15 civilians were killed and 70 wounded in the bombing of a market in Hamouriya in the Damascus countryside.

“I am talking about the killing machine and terror machine of the Assad regime,” Hariri said, reading the names of victims of the “massacre” to reporters in Geneva.

He also accused the government of the forced displacement of civilians and imposing “demographic change”.

“Any political solution would not be meaningful or credible if it was not accompanied with a real ceasefire on the ground,” Hariri said. “If we don’t have that real ceasefire then things will deteriorate very badly.”

Hariri said the opposition delegation and de Mistura had discussed political transition, one of four themes that the two sides have agreed to as the agenda for this fifth round.

The government delegation led by Syrian ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari presented the U.N. mediator on Saturday with a paper on fighting terrorism, another agenda item that Damascus views as the priority.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said in a report it had documented 948 civilians killed, including 192 children and 91 women, “largely at the hands of the Syrian regime and Russia” since the last round of Geneva peace talks ended on March 3.