EU boss Juncker scolds empty parliament as ‘ridiculous’

Jean-Claude Juncker, known for his sharp wit, was angry to find only a handful of MEPs present at the assembly in Strasbourg to hear a report on Malta’s just-completed EU presidency.

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But his remarks drew a sharp response from parliament head Antonio Tajani, who said his colleague was out of order and should mind his tongue.

“The European Parliament is ridiculous, totally ridiculous,” Juncker told the chamber, which seats 751 deputies.

“I salute those who made the effort to turn up but the fact that only about 30 deputies are here for this debate clearly shows that parliament is not serious!” he said.

Tajani interrupted from the podium: “You can criticise the parliament but it is not the Commission which controls parliament.”

“It is parliament which controls the Commission!” Juncker retorted: “There are only a few members in the plenary to control the Commission. You are ridiculous!”

“Mr President, I ask you, please use different language. We are not ridiculous,” Tajani said.

Juncker begged to differ and signed off with a blunt admonition: “I will never again attend a meeting of this kind.” It is a courtesy for the head of the country holding the EU’s rotating presidency, in this case Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, to present parliament with a report on their work during the country’s six-month leadership.

Juncker, a former long-serving Luxembourg premier, became head of the Commission in 2014 promising a more political approach.

He also has a reputation for sometimes undiplomatic language which tends to amuse and infuriate in equal measure.

Italy’s Tajani became president of the parliament in January and served as EU transport commissioner from 2010 to 2014.

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Turnbull says he won’t be reshuffling cabinet

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has indicated he is unlikely to bow to calls to reshuffle his cabinet to bring in more conservatives.

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“My cabinet reflects all traditions in the Liberal party and indeed the National Party. It is a very, very talented and capable cabinet,” he told Fairfax Media when asked if he had enough conservatives.

There have been reports that some senior Liberals are agitating for moderate cabinet ministers to be dumped in favour of conservatives to end dissension in the ranks.

Tensions in the Liberal party have been rising since a recording of senior cabinet minister Christopher Pyne boasting of the moderates’ influence in the government nearly a fortnight ago.

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Former prime minister Tony Abbott has stepped up his criticism of the direction of the government, and he said on Wednesday that he would not stop.

He’s told his local newspaper, The Manly Daily, that he doesn’t want a job back in cabinet.

“I am very happy being a backbench member of the government because it gives me the freedom to speak as I think best, and it gives me more time to be a very conscious local member.”

He said he had done nothing wrong by talking publicly on policy issues.

“Obviously I support the government, I support the prime minister,” he said.

“I am a member of the government and it has always been the Liberal Party tradition that backbenchers can speak their mind on policy issues.”

Fellow Liberal MPs and National colleagues have called on Mr Abbott to ease up.

Nationals senator John Williams on Tuesday said the public divisions in the Liberal Party were taking away from the government’s achievements.

“That is very frustrating, it is very annoying and I’m just fed up with it,” he told ABC radio.

Northern Ireland executive still stalled

The leaders of Northern Ireland’s two main political parties say talks on a new power-sharing executive in the British province have broken down and no agreement is expected in the near future.

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Northern Ireland’s political scene has been in crisis since the collapse in January of the coalition mandated under a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of sectarian Protestant-Catholic violence.

The Irish Catholic nationalist Sinn Fein and the Protestant pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have been in talks since a March election to form a new power-sharing government.

The British government, which is overseeing the talks alongside Ireland’s government, warned on Monday it would have to step in to manage public spending in the province, and might call new elections unless a deal was reached soon.

Both parties said on Tuesday that no deal had been agreed and that progress was not expected in the near future.

“Obviously we are disappointed that we don’t have an agreement this afternoon and indeed we’ve been disappointed for quite some time that we haven’t been able to reach an agreement,” DUP leader Arlene Foster told reporters.

“However we are going to keep working at it over the summer and hopefully we can come to an agreement later on in the year.”

Sinn Fein blamed the impasse on British Prime Minister Theresa May, who struck a separate deal last week with the DUP to support her minority government in the British parliament – something they say has compromised the government’s neutrality.

“What this constitutes is a monumental failure on behalf of Theresa May. She has set back decades of work that has been done here throughout the years,” said Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader, Michelle O’Neill.

Britain’s Northern Ireland minister, James Brokenshire, signalled he would be prepared to wait for a deal and the overriding priority was to reach an agreement on restoring the executive.

Canada to compensate ex-Gitmo inmate

Canada’s Liberal government will apologise to former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr and pay him around $C10 million ($A10 million) in compensation, two sources close to the matter say, prompting opposition protests.

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A Canadian citizen, Khadr was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at age 15 after a firefight with US soldiers. He pleaded guilty to killing a US Army medic and became the youngest inmate held at the military prison in Cuba.

Khadr later recanted and his lawyers said he had been grossly mistreated.

In 2010, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Canada breached his rights by sending intelligence agents to interrogate him and sharing the results with the United States.

The case proved divisive: defenders called Khadr a child soldier while the then-Conservative government dismissed calls to seek leniency, noting he had pleaded guilty to a serious crime.

“Meet Canada’s newest multi-millionaire – Omar Khadr,” said the Conservatives as they unveiled a protest petition.

Tony Clement, the Conservative Party’s public safety spokesman, said “it is one thing to acknowledge alleged mistreatment, but it is wrong to lavishly reward a convicted terrorist who murdered an allied soldier who had a wife and two children”.

Khadr spent a decade in Guantanamo before being returned to Canada in 2012 to serve the rest of his sentence. He was released on bail in 2015 and lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Canadian government and Khadr’s lawyers agreed on the compensation deal, said the sources, who asked to remain anonymous given the sensitivity. Canada has reached a series of expensive settlements with citizens imprisoned abroad who alleged Ottawa was complicit in their mistreatment.

Khadr, 30, had sued Ottawa for $C20 million on grounds of violating his human rights. News of the settlement was broken by the Globe and Mail newspaper.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale declined to comment.

Khadr was taken to Afghanistan by his father, an al-Qaeda member, who apprenticed the boy to a group of bomb makers. The father died in a battle with Pakistani forces in 2003.

French PM urges end to spending addiction

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says it’s time to end France’s addiction to easy public spending, promising to cut expenditures over the next five years and rein in debts he says are at an unacceptable level.

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New president Emmanuel Macron regards taming spending and reducing its budget deficit as key to winning the trust of European Union partner Germany and persuading Berlin to embark on reforms to shore up the bloc.

“The French are hooked on public spending. Like all addictions it doesn’t solve any of the problems it is meant to ease. And like all addictions it requires willpower and courage to detox,” Philippe told the National Assembly to applause on Tuesday.

Philippe said that for every 100 euros Germany raised in taxes it spent 98 euros, while France spent 125 euros for every 117 euros levied in taxes.

“Who really believes this situation is sustainable?”

The government and its program comfortably won a vote of confidence. The lower house, dominated by Macron’s Republic on the Move party, voted 370 in favour of the government with only 67 voting against – mostly far-left and far-right lawmakers.

Some 129 people abstained, with a large number of conservatives from the Republicans party not opposing the government.

Philippe’s talk of austerity comes just as other major economies such as Germany, the United States and even Britain are signalling an easing of fiscal policy to underpin growth.

But last week France’s independent auditor revealed a more than 8 billion euro funding shortfall in this year’s budget, forecasting a deficit once again above the EU cap of 3 per cent of national income.

Philippe, a relatively unknown conservative before he was picked by Macron, said his objective was still to haul the deficit below the EU’s cap this year and he would target cuts in spending by three per cent of national income over five years.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the far-left party France Unbowed, and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen accused Philippe of ignoring the anger of voters with measures they said would hurt their spending power.

Philippe acknowledged that a record high abstention rate in June’s parliamentary election meant his government would have to tread carefully with its social and economic reform agenda, but that France could not ignore its problems.

On Europe, Philippe stressed Macron’s stance that any talks with Britain over its future relationship with the EU would only come after orderly negotiations over its exit from the bloc.

“Conducting orderly negotiations over the United Kingdom’s exit will be a prerequisite for the future relationship’s framework,” Philippe said.

North Korea missile capable of reaching Australia: Bishop

North Korea’s latest missile test is a “serious escalation” which may be capable of reaching Australia, according to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

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“We have been saying for some time North Korea is not just a regional threat it’s a global threat,” Ms Bishop told Sky News. 

The foreign minister said the concern is that North Korea will master the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile. 

“It’s the scale and the pace of North Korea’s testing and the development of its ballistic missile program that makes it a threat not just to South Korea and nations in the region but to the United States and directly to Australia,” the Foreign Minister said.  

0:00 Julie Bishop on the possible threat to Australia Share Julie Bishop on the possible threat to Australia

Ms Bishop once again called on China, a North Korean ally, to take stronger action against the regime ahead of further meetings of the United Nations Security Council on the issue.

“The regime must get a global message that its behaviour is unacceptable,” she said.

The US government has said all options are on the table to deal with North Korea, but the foreign minister said any action would require a “risk assessment”.

“It would mean assured destruction of North Korea if it were to be so provocative and foolhardy as to seek to dump a nuclear payload on the United States.”

Ms Bishop said the US will work with coalition partners, including Australia, on any response but “all options” have to be considered to ensure stability and security in the region.

0:00 Australia in firing line of North Korea missile: analyst Share Australia in firing line of North Korea missile: analyst

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd said the ICBM test,now president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, described the launch as “right up there in the league of provocative activity”.

But Mr Rudd warned against an escalating trade war.

“It’s now entering into the vocabulary of every nation-state that we can take action and counteraction, tariff and counter-tariff,” he told ABC Radio.

“It all heads in a very bad, spiraling direction.”

He urged prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to use the imminent G20 Summit to “argue passionately in favour of keeping the open arteries of trade functioning around the world”.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un supervised the test believed to have been launched from Panghyon, 100km northwest of the North Korean capital Pyongyang.

The missile flew for almost 1000km over 40 minutes before landing in Japanese waters.

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Peru reveals face of ancient female ruler

She died in her 20s about 1700 years ago and is believed to have ruled over a desert valley in ancient Peru, where her elaborately tattooed body was buried with weapons and gold objects.

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But a glimpse of the former priestess, the Lady of Cao, can now be seen in a replica of her face, which was unveiled in Lima on Monday.

Using 3D imaging technology and forensics archaeology, the replica was based on the mummified remains of the Lady of Cao’s skull and ethnographic research, and took 10 months to create, Peru’s culture ministry says.

Culture Minister Salvador del Solar says the goal was to bring the world closer to one of Peru’s best archaeological finds and remind Peruvians of their rich cultural heritage.

“Its relevance is really incalculable,” del Solar said of the oval-shaped face with high cheekbones on display under a golden crown.

“We can now show the world her face, a face that Peruvians see ourselves in.”

The discovery of the Lady of Cao’s mummified remains in 2005 shattered the belief the ancient Moche society, which occupied the Chicama Valley from about AD100 to AD700, was patriarchal.

Several Moche female mummies have been found since in graves with objects denoting a high political and religious standing.

Archaeologists believe the Lady of Cao died due to complications of childbirth but otherwise lived a healthy life.

Her arms and legs were covered with tattoos of snakes, spiders and other supernatural motifs.

Discovered near her funerary bundle was a strangled adolescent, who might have been a sacrifice to guide her into the afterlife, according to the museum at the El Brujo archaeological site where she was found.

The replica, made by a collaboration of archaeologists, the Wiese Foundation and global imaging company FARO Technologies, will be displayed in Peru’s culture ministry in Lima and then at the museum at El Brujo.

Millions in compensation for former Canadian Guantanamo Bay detainee

Canada’s Liberal government will apologise to former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr and pay him around C$10 million  in compensation, two sources close to the matter said on Tuesday, prompting opposition protests.

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A Canadian citizen, Khadr was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at age 15 after a firefight with US soldiers. He pleaded guilty to killing a US Army medic and became the youngest inmate held at the military prison in Cuba.

Khadr later recanted and his lawyers said he had been grossly mistreated. In 2010, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Canada breached his rights by sending intelligence agents to interrogate him and sharing the results with the United States.

The case proved divisive: defenders called Khadr a child soldier while the then-Conservative government dismissed calls to seek leniency, noting he had pleaded guilty to a serious crime.

“Meet Canada’s newest multi-millionaire – Omar Khadr,” said the Conservatives as they unveiled a protest petition.

Tony Clement, the Conservative Party’s public safety spokesman, said “it is one thing to acknowledge alleged mistreatment, but it is wrong to lavishly reward a convicted terrorist who murdered an allied soldier who had a wife and two children”.

Khadr spent a decade in Guantanamo before being returned to Canada in 2012 to serve the rest of his sentence. He was released on bail in 2015 and lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Canadian government and Khadr’s lawyers agreed on the compensation deal, said the sources, who asked to remain anonymous given the sensitivity. Canada has reached a series of expensive settlements with citizens imprisoned abroad who alleged Ottawa was complicit in their mistreatment.

Khadr, 30, had sued Ottawa for C$20 million on grounds of violating his human rights. News of the settlement was broken by the Globe and Mail newspaper.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale declined to comment. Khadr’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment. The US Embassy was closed for the July Fourth holiday.

Khadr was taken to Afghanistan by his father, an al Qaeda member, who apprenticed the boy to a group of bomb makers. The father died in a battle with Pakistani forces in 2003.

“It is the right decision in light of the callous and unlawful treatment meted out to Mr. Khadr with the complicity of Canadian officials,” said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

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Gambian schoolkids denied US visas for robotics competition

The group of five teenagers from the tiny West African nation were invited to attend the FIRST Global Challenge in Washington DC this month to show off their engineering skills in front of peers from 160 countries.

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“It is going to be sad if we cannot be in the US to exhibit the robots we built ourselves,” said Fatoumata Ceesay, 17, describing the team dedicating “six to seven hours a day on building the robots” during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The competition is aimed at building interest and confidence in engineering and technology in schools worldwide. Africa has an acute shortage of qualified engineers, according to experts.

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Although the group’s mentor has vowed to reapply for visas costing $170 a piece on their behalf, Ceesay said they could be forced to “ship the robots and follow the proceedings on Skype.”

The US embassy in Banjul did not respond to AFP calls for comment.

Forbes magazine reported last week that six girls from Herat, Afghanistan had faced a similar fate and would be blocked from attending the robot battle, despite two rounds of interviews for a one-week visa.

The US authorities’ decision to deny access to schoolchildren from Muslim-majority African and Asian nations from participating in the science competition follows several other high-profile examples of stricter visa policy since President Donald Trump took power.

In March, every single African due to attend the African Global Economic and Development Summit, a trade conference in California, had their visa request rejected, according to organisers.

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Meanwhile, a separate travel ban now explicitly targets visitors from six countries: Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen, but Afghanistan and The Gambia are unaffected by the travel ban.

The coordinator of the Gambia Robotics Team, Mohtarr Darboe, told AFP they had not given up. “We are reapplying for US visa tomorrow. The Gambian team now consists of five students and one mentor,” he said.

The United States blocked travel visas for Gambian government officials in October 2016 when former president Yahya Jammeh was still in power in a dispute over The Gambia’s refusal to take back illegal immigrants.

$1.1bln NT remote housing rollout begins

Work has begun to address the chronic housing shortages plaguing indigenous communities in the Northern Territory under the government’s 10-year $1.

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1 billion remote accommodation program.

Housing Minister Gerry McCarthy will today visit Titjikala in central Australia, one of 21 Aboriginal communities where Labor’s flagship election promise is rolling out for additional living, sleeping and cooking spaces for local families.

The NT has the worst rates of homelessness and overcrowding in the country, with Aboriginal families making up 98 per cent of those living in severely overcrowded conditions.

The NT royal commission has heard an Aboriginal “housing crisis”, where up to 30 people live under the same roof and kids sleep on the floor, is a key driver of youngsters entering the child protection and youth detention systems.

Crowded housing affects a child’s capacity to maintain hygiene, allows infections to pass quickly, and increases exposure to cigarette smoke and loud noises, while poverty limits nutrition, the commission was told.

This has created an “epidemic” of hearing loss in indigenous children that leads to learning difficulties, family breakdown and criminal involvement.

Mr McCarthy acknowledged the issue has been overlooked for too long.

He says a good home has lasting impacts on health and education outcomes that are key Closing the Gap targets.

“This massive project will create hundreds of jobs and improve thousands of lives,” Mr McCarthy said.

The scheme will be delivered by local workforces to strengthen community economies and will be guided by local decision-making, with tenders awarded to indigenous businesses.

Mr McCarthy concedes the record investment still isn’t enough and he wants federal funding support to match, or better, it.

$1.1 BILLION OVER A DECADE:

– $500m to build new homes.

– $200m to build additional living spaces on existing houses.

– $200m for repairs and maintenance

– $200m for new government employee housing