Powerful IS-claimed blast targets NATO convoy in Kabul

The explosion, which came during morning rush hour on a busy road near the US embassy and NATO headquarters, killed “mostly” civilians, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP without giving a breakdown.

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NATO said three coalition service members had received “non-life threatening wounds” in the attack.

“[They] are in stable condition, and are currently being treated at coalition medical facilities,” a spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan said, without confirming their nationalities.

IS claimed responsibility for the blast via its Amaq propaganda agency, saying the eight dead were all American soldiers. The militants are known to exaggerate their claims.

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The attack comes three weeks after the US dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on the jihadist group’s hideous in eastern Afghanistan.

NATO commander in Afghanistan General John Nicholson said the strike, which triggered global shockwaves, showed there was “no space” for IS in the war-torn country. 

Monday’s attack comes as the US seeks to craft a new strategy in Afghanistan and NATO mulls boosting troop levels as they face a “stalemate” against the resurgent Taliban. 

The blast, which IS said was a suicide car bomb and NATO said was an improvised explosive device (IED), damaged two of the heavily armoured vehicles in the convoy and left a small crater in the road, witnesses and an AFP photographer said.

MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles, which are designed to withstand large explosions, are routinely used by international forces moving around Kabul. 

At least three civilian cars were also damaged, with one ablaze, while windows were shattered up to several hundred metres away. Firefighters and ambulances rushed stunned survivors to hospital.

Nicholson has said the US decision to drop the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast on IS hideouts in Nangarhar province last month was a “very clear message” to the group: “If they come to Afghanistan they will be destroyed”.

Some observers have condemned the move against a militant group that is not considered as big a threat to Afghanistan as the Taliban. Others suggested it would boost the Taliban, who have been in a turf war with IS in Nangarhar.

The weapon, dubbed the “Mother of All Bombs”, killed at least 95 jihadists, according to the Afghan defence ministry, but fighting in the area has continued. 

Last week, two US troops were killed in an operation against IS near where the bomb was dropped. The Pentagon has said it is investigating if they were killed by friendly fire.

Watch: Eight dead in Kabul blast

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Pentagon chief Jim Mattis warned of “another tough year” for both foreign troops and local forces in Afghanistan when he visited Kabul last month.

He would not be drawn on calls by Nicholson for a “few thousand” more troops to break the “stalemate” against the Taliban insurgents.

But NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told a German newspaper Sunday that the 28-nation alliance was considering boosting its troop strength once more given the “challenging” security situation. 

The US has around 8400 troops in the country with about another 5000 from NATO allies. Most are taking part in NATO’s train, assist and advise mission, though some are also carrying out counter-terror missions targeting IS and Al-Qaeda.

First emerging in 2015, ISIS-K overran large parts of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, near the Pakistan border, but their part in the Afghan conflict had been largely overshadowed by the operations against the Taliban.

Captain Bill Salvin, spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, said the local IS presence peaked at between 2500 to 3000 but that defections and recent battlefield losses had reduced their number to a maximum of 800.

“We have a very good chance of destroying them in 2017,” Salvin told AFP recently.

Afghan forces have been straining to beat back the Taliban insurgents since US-led NATO troops ended their combat mission in December 2014.

With more than one third of Afghanistan outside of government control, civilians also continue to bear a heavy brunt, with thousands killed and wounded each year and children paying an increasingly disproportionate price, according to UN figures.

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Smith deals with unfamiliar AFL territory

Midfielder Isaac Smith has entered unfamiliar territory in his AFL career as Hawthorn deal with a succession of heavy losses.

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But he knows enough to realise if catastrophic change is coming, it won’t be pretty.

Since his 2011 debut, Smith has played in three premierships and he boasts a 75 per cent win-loss record.

The number 75 was St Kilda’s winning margin over Hawthorn on Sunday, which prompted coach Alastair Clarkson to warn of potential catastrophic change at the club.

The Hawks are in crisis with a 1-5 record, which also features 86-point losses to Gold Coast and Geelong.

“I’m guessing in footy clubs, when teams aren’t playing too well, the players go fast and then, if the rot keeps going, then the whole club changes – a shake-up,” he told RSN.

“Footy doesn’t wait for anyone – history shows that if you keep losing and keep losing badly, the whole club gets turned upside down.”

Smith has backed Hawthorn’s abilities – on the rare occasion they’ve been brought to an AFL match.

He noted on Thursday they have also shown signs of life this season.

“We beat West Coast the other week and beat them really well, so it shows when we bring it, we can play well,” he said.

“We’re the only side to be up by four or five goals against Adelaide with 10 minutes to go in the third.

“We’re just not bringing it at the moment.”

They now play Melbourne, who are coming off a strong win over Essendon and are 3-3.

Hawks great Jordan Lewis will be the focus of attention at the MCG on Sunday when he plays against them for the first time.

“Most people who’ve played against Lewy know he has a bit of lip on him and he’s a bit of a character out there,” Smith said.

“Lewy’s going to be pretty fired up, but we’re going to be pretty fired up as well, so it’s going to be a nice contest.”

NZ refuse to be intimidated by Kangaroos

Veteran Simon Mannering admits New Zealand have been overawed by Mal Meninga and his all-conquering Australian team.

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Not this time.

Friday’s Test between the Kiwis and Kangaroos is shaping as a battle of wills and minds, something 41-Test stalwart Mannering says the New Zealanders have struggled to get right.

The Kangaroos are hot favourites for Friday’s trans-Tasman clash in Canberra as well as the end-of-season World Cup, but some of aura has been taken away from the side in recent time.

Paul Gallen and Corey Paker are retired, Greg Inglis and Matt Scott are missing due to injury and Johnathan Thurston is racing the clock to overcome a calf iproblem.

The Kiwis are fielding an all-star spine of Warriors quartet Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke.

Lock and Dally M co-winner Jason Taumalolo is arguably the best player in the game – having averaged more than 200m for North Queensland this year.

All of this has served to feed into the belief of the Kiwis side as they attempt to win just their third mid-season trans-Tasman Test since 1997.

“You just look at the results. When you’ve had a number of results go against you, it’s hard not to have that doubt there,” Mannering said.

“That’s definitely a thing of the past. You put it to one side.

“But it’s one things having that strong team on paper. You’ve got to have that belief and take it on the field.”

The Kiwis were buoyed by three straight wins over Australia in the 2014 Four Nation and 2015 trans-Tasman Test but haven’t beaten the Kangaroos in their four attempts since.

For the Kiwis, Mannering’s Warriors teammates Foran, Johnson, Luke and Tuivasa-Sheck shape as key having honed their combination over the past five rounds.

For years the Kiwis have always performed better during long tournaments, getting better as they get time together under their belts while in one-off matches have seemed to lack the same cohesion.

But Kidwell’s side is growing in its consistency and will only improve if they’re able to field the same side more regularly.

“It always helped when you do have regular faces in the side,” Mannering said.

“We’ve probably had that for the last few years now. We saw that in 2015 when we had a pretty consistent team and managed to get a result against a tough Australian team.

“Everyone is pretty familiar with each other and we have some combinations there with the nine, six, seven and one all being at the same club (the Warriors) but at the end of the day it’s not going to get us the win.”

Kanaks hesitant to sever French connection

It is a weekly ritual in the heart of New Caledonia’s capital Noumea.

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Young indigenous Kanaks release their frustrations through music and dance on the main square, Place des Cocotiers.

Andre Fatoumaou is a singer and beatboxer.

As a French citizen, he says he feels less than equal.

“Yes, yes, there’s a two-tiered system.”

It is a tension lying just below the surface in New Caledonia, with security fears over so-called “delinquents,” the term used to describe young, socially disaffected Kanaks.

An independence referendum due in this French territory next year came with a pledge from France 30 years ago to level out the inequalities resulting from 160 years of colonisation.

But young Kanaks still struggle to find jobs, and Andre Fatoumaou says, when they do, it is often in low-skilled occupations.

“It’s about appearance – ‘Oh, you’re a Kanak, we don’t want you’ – because it’s always the cliches.”

The French government has invested heavily in education, but the French MP for New Caledonia, Phillippe Gomes, admits Kanaks’ results are well below national standards.

In France, the high school completion rate in 2016 was 88.5 per cent.

Kanaks achieved about 50 per cent, up from 15 per cent 30 years ago.

Mr Gomes says it cannot be a quick process.

“A journey has been achieved, but you can’t complete a journey like this in only one generation.”

While many young Kanaks have fallen through the cracks in the system, there have been improvements for others.

Charles Washetine, spokesman for the Kanak Liberation Party, one of the main independence groups, makes that clear.

“We don’t have to stigmatise all the young Kanaks, because there are others that have achieved something with their lives.”

French migrants and long-term settlers are in the majority on this Pacific island, living a European lifestyle.

Kanaks, who make up about 40 per cent of the population, were once confined to reserves.

Mr Gomes, the French MP, says, today, they are over-represented in the prison population.

“Our country has failed on this subject, and it’s true that, today, we are now paying the price for it.”

Suspicions remain high on both sides.

And Andre Fatoumaou, the beatboxer, has a warning.

“Everyone has to be in the same boat, or, otherwise, we won’t get independence.”

“… this morning … wah … That’s right. Okay … My name is Andre … Goodbye, everybody.”

 

Greens largely backing Coalition school funding plan

The Turnbull Government plans to inject $19 billion into schools over the next decade.

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Over 9,000 schools would benefit, while just 24 private schools would lose money.

A further 350 schools would receive a funding boost, but less money than they were expecting under previous deals.

And the Catholic education sector is complaining many of its schools would lose out after what it has said is a lack of consultation.

The director of Catholic Education in Canberra, Ross Fox, says it could affect schools’ fees.

“Yesterday, the Minister and the Prime Minister announced a plan that will see pressure on Catholic school fees and, therefore, will reduce the choice that parents have in choosing a school for their kids.”

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has rejected that criticism, saying Catholic schools would be funded the same way as any other private school under the plan.

“Unsurprisingly, people who didn’t get everything they asked for might sometimes complain about the consultation. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t consultation. It just means that we are not going to continue with a system that is based on special deals for one state or another state, one sector or another sector. Our proposal is to treat every school fairly, equitably, under the same terms, regardless of their background, regardless of their school sector, regardless of their faith.”

In the next four years, non-government schools would get a funding increase of $1.2 billion, while government schools would get $2.2 billion.

But Labor is accusing the Government of actually cutting funds from education, because the total amount is less than what Labor promised when it was in power.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek says the Government is using the name of David Gonski, who led the committee behind Labor’s plan, to sell a worse deal now.

Mr Gonski has stood with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the new plan, but she says the reality about the plan remains.

“This education funding cut announcement is the new Coke of education announcements. This is taking a trusted brand and using that to cover up an inferior product, a product that no Australian parent will buy.”

The Greens say they want to see more details but are cautiously supporting the changes.

Greens leader Richard di Natale has welcomed the funding cut for some wealthy private schools on the east coast.

“If that means making sure that a tennis court doesn’t get built, or an extra swimming pool doesn’t get built, or another set of rowing sheds doesn’t get built in a wealthy private school, so that our public schools get the facilities and infrastructure that they need to give kids the best start in life, well, we’ll do that.”

But there was less enthusiasm from the Government’s state Liberal colleagues in New South Wales.

The state’s education minister, Rob Stokes, has threatened court action to protect the funding the state negotiated with the previous Labor Government.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says her Government is not backing down.

“New South Wales doesn’t shy away from the fact that we expect the original agreements and funding arrangements we signed up to to be delivered. And that’s a position we’ll continue to advocate. So we were very pleased to be the first state to sign up to the Gonski agreements, and we will continue to ensure those agreements are honoured. And, we’ve articulated that publicly and privately to our colleagues over a number of occasions and will continue to do that, and that’s something we won’t digress from.”

 

 

Protests to hit Trump, Turnbull meeting

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull isn’t the only person who’ll be turning out to greet Donald Trump in the US president’s home town.

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The native New Yorker, whose image for decades was interwoven with his hometown, is making his first trip back to Manhattan since taking office.

Several protests are planned across New York City, including near the USS Intrepid on the Hudson River, where Trump is scheduled to meet with Mr Turnbull on Friday (AEST), and the president’s home at Trump Tower, threatening to snarl Manhattan’s streets and produce images of a city rejecting its most famous native son.

“Thousands of people are ready to protest Donald Trump,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition which is co-organising one of the large-scale protests. “On the president’s first trip back to New York City, the world will see us rise up and oppose him again.”

The New York Police Department is gearing up for the visit with an eye toward those anti-Trump demonstrations. The turnout is uncertain, but activists are using Facebook and other social media to call on protesters to gather at several locations throughout the city to voice opposition to his immigration, health care and other policies.

Hundreds of police officers will be assigned to secure Trump’s Intrepid appearance, with more on standby on surrounding blocks if needed to make arrests.

Trump will deliver a speech on the USS Intrepid, a World War II-era aircraft carrier, and hold his first meeting with Turnbull since they held a contentious phone call in February.

A show of force is already a fixture at Trump Tower, where the Secret Service and heavily armed NYPD officers have used barricades, checkpoints and street closings to secure the iconic skyscraper where the president has a penthouse apartment.

Firewall concerns at Perth kid’s hospital

Western Australia’s building regulator is investigating claims of defective firewalls at the new Perth Children’s Hospital, as the construction union warns that replacing them could take many months.

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Building Commission director of compliance Sandy Randall said the information came from an anonymous source about the construction and inspection of firewalls at the already-delayed project.

“Building Commission inspectors are conducting a preliminary assessment of the firewalls to establish whether there is any validity to the information received,” Ms Randall said.

CFMEU state secretary Mick Buchan said the complaint was detailed and he was concerned the allegations would prove accurate.

The firewalls may need to be ripped out and replaced, he said.

“The worst case scenario is it could take months and months if they do it all at once,” Mr Buchan told AAP.

“They can’t accept anything less than the Australian Standard.”

WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt indicated to reporters he wasn’t overly worried.

“I’ve not yet received any information that would suggest to me that the Building Commission is particularly concerned about something that no doubt, as a result of what’s happening today, will get a report in due course,” he said.

The main problem that continues to plague the hospital is elevated lead levels in drinking water and the opening date remains unknown.

Mr Buchan said he didn’t believe the state government acted prematurely by accepting handover from the builder before the water supply was given the all clear.

He said it was a common strategy to get more hands on and take control of a project, and didn’t affect warranties for defects.

Birthplace or heritage? NRL stars picking sides ahead of World Cup

This weekend, Tonga meets Fiji in a match that would ordinarily only interest people of Pacific Island heritage.

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But the new rules mean players of the calibre of Manu Vatuvei and Daniel Tupou are all coming to the party after previously representing New Zealand and Australia respectively.

And even though some of the young guns like emerging Penrith hooker Sione Katoa may now miss out, just the chance to rub shoulders with the stars is a great experience.

Tonga hooker Sione Katoa prepares to play FijiSBS

“Hopefully the young up and coming Tongans can see what they’re doing and follow in their footsteps,” Katoa told SBS News. 

The new rules may upset some who believe you should only be allowed to play for the country of your birth, but according to Vatuvei, wearing a New Zealand jersey can’t hide his roots.

“I know I’ve played for the Kiwis, but even though I’ve played for them putting that jersey on is always representing my heritage and that’s Tonga,” he told SBS News.

Vatuvei will play his first-ever match for Tonga against Fiji and he couldn’t be more excited.

“It’s going to be a really special moment for myself and my family,” he said.

The World Cup runs from October 27 to December 2 and includes matches in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

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Turnbull to take swing at fairway diplomacy with Trump

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be looking to tap into US President Donald Trump’s penchant for golf when they meet face-to-face in New York.

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Mr Trump has played an estimated 18 rounds since he was sworn in as president on January 20, making frequent trips to Florida where he owns two golf courses.

The president tried to forge a bond with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over a game in February, but some critics have wondered if his time on the fairway has come at the expense of presidential duties.

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Nevertheless, when Mr Turnbull arrives in New York on Thursday he’ll be looking to deploy a little golf diplomacy of his own to smooth over a rocky start between the two leaders.

In an interview with SBS News, Mr Turnbull said he would give the president a gift for his golf collection.

“We have a beautiful timber gift, it’s made of jarrah and silver ash, by an Australian craftsman from Bungendore and it’s designed to hold golf balls,” he said.

“The president is a keen golfer so I hope that will be part of his golfing collection to hold a dozen golf balls.”

It is customary for heads of state to exchange gifts when they meet, but Mr Turnbull will be hoping to strike the right note with Mr Trump, with whom he reportedly clashed earlier this year.

During a phone call on January 28, the property tycoon blasted Mr Turnbull over a refugee resettlement deal struck by then President Barack Obama, the Washington Post reported.

Mr Trump described the agreement as a “dumb deal” in a Twitter post, but has reluctantly agreed to accept refugees held on Nauru and Manus Island if they pass what he describes as extreme vetting.

Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017

Trump was an outspoken critic of Obama’s golf habit, but he appears to have outpaced his predecessor.

He has played one game every 5.7 days, compared to Obama’s once every 8.8 days, according to the Washington Post.

“@gretawire: PresObama is not busy talking to Congress about Syria..he is playing golf …go figure”

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 8, 2013Watch: Trump’s road to the White House

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Gonski 2.0: Greens not ruling out backing government’s schools package

The party’s education spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young has told ABC radio people are sick of the argy-bargy between the states and the federal government and sick of the hyper-partisan fights between the government and the opposition.

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Senator Hanson-Young says they want more funding for the schools that need it, to look after our kids and give them certainty, and for those schools that have been over-funded for far too long to be reined in.

“People are sick of the argy-bargy between the states and the federal government, they’re sick of the hyper-partisan fights between the government and the opposition, we’ve got to get the politics out of this,”the party’s education spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young told ABC radio.

“We want more funding for the schools that need it, we want to look after our kids and give them certainty, and for those schools that have been getting off with being over-funded for far too long, they need to be reined in.”

Two dozen non-government schools are in line for reduced federal funding, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed.

The list could include eight Catholic schools in NSW, Victoria and the ACT despite Education Minister Simon Birmingham insistence Catholic schools will not be worse off under what the government’s dubbed Gonski 2.0.

Asked if the 24 schools were “rich, private schools”, Mr Turnbull told the Seven Network on Wednesday: “Yes, that’s right.”

“They’re non-government schools. They will receive less per student, not a lot less, and the reason for that is that the goal is to get everybody being treated equitably and consistently.”

WATCH: Catholic education sector upset at cuts

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Senator Birmingham earlier confirmed a further 300 schools will experience lower rates of funding growth under the plan to be put to state education ministers on May 18 and premiers in June.

The Catholic education sector is angry, claiming a majority of its schools are on the hit list for cuts.

But Senator Birmingham denied they will be worse off – pointing to funding growth of 3.7 per cent per student under his proposed model.

“That is growth well above the wages growth that mums or dads around Australia are exercising at present,” he told Nine Network.

Overall, federal funding for schools will grow from $17.5 billion in 2017 to $30.6 billion in 2027.

To stop cost shifting, states will need to maintain real per student funding levels or face receiving less commonwealth funding.

WATCH: Plibersek: Gonski 2.0 is ‘$22b cut’

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In 10 years, the federal government will provide 20 per cent of the minimum Gonski be recommended “school resourcing standard” for government schools – up from 17 per cent – and 80 per cent for non-government schools.

David Gonski, who was first commissioned by Labor, to conduct a review of schools funding will now prepare a report for the coalition government on how to turn the extra money into better student outcomes.

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes welcomed the extra funding, but warned Canberra it was moving away from existing agreements with the states.

NSW was considering “all the options available to us”, suggesting the possibility of court action.

WATCH: Budget cuts leave students in lurch

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Senator Birmingham said he would be surprised if NSW wanted to spend money on lawyers instead of schools.

Labor has criticised the plan, which it says is a $22 billion cut from its original proposal.

Labor leader Bill Shorten: “Australians will never trust the Liberals when it comes to properly funding schools. When they think they can get away with it, they’ll cut.”