Paralysed man feeds himself using thoughts

A paralysed man in the US has fed himself mashed potatoes for the first time in eight years, aided by a computer-brain interface that reads his thoughts and sends signals to move muscles in his arm.

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The research, published in the journal Lancet, is the latest from BrainGate, a consortium of researchers testing brain-computer interface technology designed to give paralysed individuals more mobility.

Prior tests of the technology allowed paralysed people to move a robotic arm or a cursor on a keyboard just by using their thoughts.

The team at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center used the brain-computer interface and an electrical stimulation system that allowed Bill Kochevar, 56, to control his own arm.

To achieve this, the team implanted two sensors, each about the size of a baby aspirin, loaded with 96 electrodes designed to pick up nerve activity in the movement centres of the brain.

The sensors record brain signals created when Kochevar imagines moving his arm, and relay them to a computer.

The computer sends the signals to the electrical stimulation system, which directs impulses through about 30 wires implanted in muscles in Kochevar’s arm and hand to produce specific movements.

Kochevar, who was paralysed below his shoulders in a cycling accident eight years ago, first learned to use the system to move a virtual reality arm on a computer screen.

For the movement phase of the trial, Kochevar had to go through 45 weeks of rehabilitation to restore muscle tone that had atrophied over the years of inactivity.

Using the brain interface system, he can now move each joint in his right arm individually, just by thinking about it.

To accomplish tasks like drinking through a straw, or scratching his face with a dry sponge, Kochevar is aided by an arm support, a device he also controls with his thoughts.

Kochevar said the chance to do simple things for himself has been “better than I thought it would be”.

’18C debate heading down a dark and dangerous path’, says Dastyari

Senator Malcolm Roberts on Tuesday told the Senate section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act silenced citizens from reporting terrorists and instances of pedophilia.

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“We want to be able to call out Muslim drug dealers, child mutilators, hate-preachers, terrorists and perverts,” Senator Roberts said.

However Senator Dastyari told SBS the government had to take some responsibility for Senator Robert’s comments, because he said it started political debate around the Racial Discrimination Act.  

Senator Malcolm Roberts on 18C

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“What we have had now as a nation is a debate over several weeks over how much more racist we should be as a society, and I think it is, and it was always going to, lead down some dark and dangerous paths,” Senator Dastyari said.

“Frankly the government has to take some responsibility for creating a debate about racism that we didn’t need and don’t want.”  

Senator Dastyari said One Nation was in a “downward spiral” of trying to be as “offensive as they can be”.

“I think they are very dangerous and hurtful comments, but fundamentally they are also a little bit unhinged,” he added.

During a Senate debate regarding changes to 18C on Wednesday, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said she had been the victim of racism and had chosen to not let it affect her.

She recalled an incident meeting with Aboriginal elders in 1996. 

“When I approached the elders, they called me ‘white trash, a pig in mud’ and I was abused. So I just turned and walked away,” she said. 

Watch: “There is reverse racism in Australia”: Hanson on 18C

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‘Where is it going to stop?’

Adel Salman, vice president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said it was extremely concerning comments like these were becoming common in the public discourse.

“The dial keeps moving every day towards more and more extreme and outrageous speech. Where is it going to stop?” he told SBS.

“What more needs to be said to shock the rest of Australian into saying ‘enough is enough’? This type of speech is not appropriate for a society like Australia.”

Mr Salman said he believed One Nation was responsible for creating more social disharmony in Australia towards Muslims and encouraging public hostility and harassment.

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“In the past they (comments like this) were seen as fringe, extreme and they were dismissed … But now these extreme hateful views are part of the mainstream public discourse,” he said.

Tasneem Chopra, chairperson of the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights said she was increasingly concerned about the tone of the political discourse.

“It is disappointing we aren’t seeing a stronger counter-response from leadership,” she told SBS.

“When you don’t see that strong counter-response, you basically say to racists its open slather with impunity.”

One National leader Pauline Hanson has called for the Muslim faith to be banned.Twitter

When One Nation leader Pauline Hanson called for a ban of all Muslims entering Australia, after the attack at Westminster in London earlier in March, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said her comments were “dangerous”.

“The object of the terrorist, the Islamist terrorist, is to get the broader society to turn on Muslims at large,” Mr Turnbull told 3AW radio at the time.

“Inciting hatred against any part of the Australian community is always dangerous. It undermines the mutual respect that we have in our community”. 

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Eyes on rising rivers amid Debbie’s deluge

Cyclone-battered Mackay won’t know until after high tide if it has escaped the threat of flooding from rising river levels.

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Cyclone Debbie, which is now a rain depression, has dumped vast amounts of water over coastal and inland catchments in north Queensland, and the region is on alert for flooding.

The Pioneer River in the Mackay region is rising but authorities are confident no homes in the town are under immediate threat.

The Clark Range in the Pioneer River catchment area has recorded over 340mm of rainfall in the past 24 hours.

Mackay Regional Council mayor Greg Williamson said some streets in the township of Mirani, on the upper reaches of the Pioneer River, had flooded.

Mr Williamson said water level monitors along the river were being carefully watched and while serious flooding isn’t anticipated, residents will be alerted and evacuations ordered if it was necessary.

“We’ve got a really good system of early warnings along the river system so if the waters are rising to a dangerous level we should know very quickly,” Mr Williamson told AAP.

“We’re as prepared as we can be.”

Mr Williamson said the key time for Mackay would be Wednesday’s high tide at 1.30pm AEST.

“The high tide’s going to be a little test,” he said.

“The good thing with the Pioneer River is it is a short river system, so if we do get floods they tend to be short-lived.”

At 8.10am the Pioneer River was at 6.6m and rising.

The river is expected to rise towards 8m and a moderate flood level later on Wednesday but isn’t forecast to reach 9m – the level which would flood homes in the town.

Authorities are also watching the Fitzroy River at Rockhampton, with a vast amount of water flowing into the Connors and Isaac rivers that feed it.

The latest warning from the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) showed the Isaac River at Yatton was at 7.31m at 8.20am AEST and rising.

Authorities expect the river to exceed the major flood level of 16.50m at that point sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

At this moment the BoM doesn’t believe the Fitzroy will break its banks at Rockhampton although heavy forecasted rainfall will have to be monitored.

“The system is starting to move south, bringing a lot of rain with it and that’s heading towards the Rockhampton area now, and their catchments,” meteorologist Adam Blazak told AAP.

“I’d expect those catchments are going to take a bit of a deluge today.”

Moderate flood warnings are also in place for the Don and Proserpine Rivers, and the lower Burdekin River.

The Don River, which flows through Bowen and was only a trickle early on Tuesday, has now broken its banks but is not believed to have affected any homes.

And a flood watch is current for coastal catchments between Ayr and the NSW border, extending inland to parts of the Central Highlands and Coalfields, Central West, Maranoa and Warrego, and Darling Downs and Granite Belt districts.

Dragons lose Dugan for Manly NRL match

St George Illawarra have suffered a significant body blow ahead of their vital NRL match against Manly, with fullback Josh Dugan ruled out due to a hamstring injury.

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Dugan pulled up sore from last week’s golden-point loss to Canberra however, at this stage, the Dragons are hoping the injury is only minor.

“Upon follow-up scans, it was determined that he would miss this weekend’s game against Manly,” performance manager Nathan Pickworth said.

“He will be reviewed and progressed accordingly over the next couple of days.”

It caps off a difficult week for the NSW State of Origin centre, who has been the focus of the fallout from the Blues’ series-decider loss after he and Blake Ferguson’s six-hour visit to a pub on a day off.

It represents a massive hit to the Dragons’ top-eight hopes.

St George Illawarra are hanging on by a thread to their spot in the eight, having dropped seven of their past 10 games.

Jason Nightingale will return to fullback – a position he has played regularly this year – while Matt Dufty is set to make his NRL debut off the bench as Kurt Mann goes to the wing.

In better news for the Dragons, Russell Packer is set to overcome a hip injury to play, while Tyson Frizell is also considered certain to return from a hip injury.

Blake Lawrie, after playing NSW Cup on Saturday for Illawarra, will drop off the bench, along with Taane Milne.

The injury news came after coach Paul McGregor believed he had seen the Dragons turn a corner in last week’s loss.

“We know where we are on the ladder,” McGregor said.

“It wasn’t a complete performance but it was a clear sign of improvement on previous weeks.

“We created three good scoring opportunities last week. We played direct, we played more straight and we engaged the line better.

“We do need to execute our finishes a little bit more. The line speed was more consistent last week.

“We need to build on that performance.”

Manly also have injury worries, with boom hooker Apisai Koroisau ruled out with a calf injury.

They will also rely on a secondary goal-kicker, with winger Matthew Wright succumbing to a hip issue.

STATS THAT MATTER:

* The Dragons scored at least 16 points in their first seven rounds, but have done so just four times since

* The Dragons’ left edge is the most-dominant in the NRL, with 31 tries this year

* Manly lead for points per game (23.3)

‘Mystery’ signal from space is solved. It’s not aliens

It hasn’t.

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The signal, which has been formally named “Weird!” was interference from a distant satellite.

Of course, astronomers said all along that extra-terrestrials were quite far at the bottom of the list of possibilities for the signals detected from Ross 128, a dim star known as a red dwarf some 11 light-years away.

To experts, the true mystery was that they couldn’t figure out if the bursts were unusual stellar activity, emissions from other background objects, or interference from satellite communications.

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“However, many people were more interested in the signals as potential proof of transmissions from an extraterrestrial intelligent civilization,” wrote Abel Mendez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo in a blog post Friday, revealing the true nature of the signals.

After further fueling speculation by summoning the world experts in the hunt for life elsewhere in the universe — The SETI Berkeley Research Center at the University of California — the team issued its conclusion.

“We are now confident about the source of the Weird! Signal,” Mendez wrote.

“The best explanation is that the signals are transmissions from one or more geostationary satellites.”

The signals only appeared around Ross 128 because it is located “close to the celestial equator where many geostationary satellites are placed,” Mendez added.

Study of people 

He also released the results of an informal survey that he had posted on his website, asking people to weigh in on what they thought the source of the signals was, and whether or not they were scientists well versed in the matter.

“Nearly 800 people participated in this informal survey (including more than 60 astronomers),” he wrote.

The whole group’s consensus was that the signals were most likely coming from some story of stellar activity, or some kind of astronomical phenomenon.

Most people discounted the possibility of radio interference or instrumental failures, saying these were least likely. This, Mendez explained, was hardly a scientific approach to the question.

“This is interesting since in the absence of solid information about the signal, most astronomers would think that these were probably the most likely explanation,” Mendez wrote.

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Furthermore, about one quarter of respondents said “the most likely explanation of the signal was that of a communication with an Extraterrestrial Intelligence (ETI),” he added.

“These results reflect the still high expectations the public maintains on the possibility of contacting ETI.”

Still, all was not lost in these last few weeks of speculation and tumult.

“The Planetary Habitability Laboratory of the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo made many new friends from this experience,” Mendez said, adding it had been a “great experience of open science.”

“The lesson here is that we all need to continue exploring and sharing results openly. Some people prefer to only learn about the successes, but others prefer science in real-time, no matter the end result.”

Justin Bieber banned from China to ‘purify’ nation

The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture revealed it was not a “Belieber” when it said the 23-year-old Canadian, who last played in the country in 2013, had a lot of growing up to do if he wanted to return.

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The statement came after Chinese fans posted comments on the agency’s website demanding to know when their heart-throb would be allowed to perform in China again.

It is “inappropriate to introduce bad behaviour into the performing arts” it said, calling the performer out for his antics and urging him to turn over a new leaf.

““In order to maintain order in the Chinese market and purify the Chinese performance environment, it is not suitable to bring in badly behaved entertainers,” the statement from the Chinese government said.

“We hope Justin Bieber can improve his words and deeds in the process of growing up and become a singer people really like.”

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The singer recently helped hit single “Despacito”, originally released by Luis Fonsi in January before Bieber came out with a remix two months later, achieve 4.6 billion streams, according to the Universal Music Group.

The Beijing cultural bureau did not specifically mention Bieber’s 2014 visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead, including convicted World War II war criminals.

The shrine is seen across Asia as a symbol of Japan’s perceived lack of penitence for its past imperialist aggression, under which China in particular suffered heavily.

Shortly after his trip, the singer behind the hit song “Sorry” issued an apology to scandalised Chinese fans, saying he was “mislead to think the shrines were only a place of prayer”.

But some have never forgiven him.

“Anyone who knows and then visits the Yasukuni Shrine is annoying,” a user called Qiao Ating wrote on China’s Twitter-like Weibo website on Friday.

Another Weibo post agreed: “It’s good he’s not coming. He is a bad boy.”

Fan Jiayi, a jewellery designer in Shanghai, told AFP she supported the authorities’ stance, saying: “I do not think the government would reject him unless there was a big problem.”

Bieber is due to perform in Hong Kong in September as part of his “Purpose Tour”.

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Big-name Western acts have in the past been banned from performing in mainland China over political gestures.

Maroon 5 cancelled a concert in 2015 after authorities refused permission because a band member had met the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing views as a separatist threat.

Later the same year American rock group Bon Jovi — who have included imagery of the Dalai Lama in a show — abruptly scrapped two dates in Beijing and Shanghai.

Chinese officials have been especially sensitive about live concerts since Icelandic singer Bjork chanted “Tibet! Tibet!” during a performance of her song “Declare Independence” in Shanghai in 2008.

China says its troops “liberated” Tibet in 1951, but many Tibetans accuse Beijing of religious repression and eroding their culture.

2.1 million Australian motorists urged to check potentially deadly airbags

A fatal Sydney crash is a “terrible reminder” for Australians to check whether their car contains a faulty Takata airbag which is linked to 18 deaths worldwide, says consumer advocate Choice.

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A 58-year-old man was killed in a collision at Cabramatta on July 13 when his Honda CRV slammed into another vehicle at an intersection in Sydney’s southwest.

NSW Police on Friday said a faulty airbag was likely to blame after the driver was “struck in the neck by a small fragment”.

“Further investigations revealed the vehicle in the incident was subject of a worldwide recall for a faulty airbag,” they said in a statement.

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Three others involved in the incident were taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The dodgy Takata airbags, which can explode and launch metal shards when deployed, have previously been linked to 17 deaths and at least 180 injuries worldwide.

“The tragic news out of New South Wales this evening is a terrible reminder to motorists to check whether their own vehicle is one of those on the recall list,” Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said in a statement.

Prior to last week’s incident, there had not been any fatalities involving Takata airbags in Australia.

However, in late April a 21-year-old Northern Territory woman suffered serious injuries when one of the faulty airbags didn’t deploy properly during a crash in Darwin.

She was struck in the head by a small metal fragment, NT Police said at the time.

The recall covers approximately 100 million vehicles worldwide and 2.1 million in Australia.

Takata have been contacted for comment.

Sex robots: perverted or practical in fight against sex trafficking?

But look a little closer and it is clear they are not women but silicone sex dolls with wigs and artificial brains that Santos believes will not only earn him money but may also be used to staff brothels and help combat sex trafficking.

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“Hi Samantha,” Santos said, switching on one of his dolls.

“I’m here, what’s up?” the robot replied, its bright blue eyes staring into nothing as a cable plugged into its neck charges the computer processor in its “brain.”

Artificial intelligence (AI) is making its way into the global sex market, bringing with it a revolution in robotic “sextech” designed to offer sexual gratification with a near-human touch.

The robots’ responses are driven by microprocessor and an artificial intelligence algorithm (Reuters)Reuters

But the arrival of sex robots has divided opinion. Inventors like Santos argue they can potentially replace prostitutes, reduce sex trafficking and help lonely people, while critics say they objectify women and normalise sexism and rape culture.

“Get sexy,” instructed Santos, 39, who founded Synthea Amatus in 2015 and aims to start selling his sex robots in coming weeks, starting from about $2,000 each.

“I’m ready, what about you? I hope you are. I enjoy being with you, always,” the big-breasted robot replied, while Santos’ wife Maritsa Kissamitaki works at a desk in their home office.

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Roboticists like Santos and those from U.S.-based Abyss Creations are racing to become the first in the world to bring sex robots – which talk and respond to touch through AI technology – to the consumer market.

Sex robots at bigger companies like Abyss Creations will start from about $10,000 depending on added extras.

Experts say the increasingly life-like robots raise complex issues that should be considered by policymakers and the public – including whether use of such devices should be encouraged to curb prostitution and sex trafficking, for sex offenders, or for people with disabilities.

“I don’t see anything wrong in using a sex robot to provide sexual satisfaction to people who can’t achieve it in relationships with other humans. It’s much better for lonely and miserable people than no sex at all,” he said.

“Sex robots are just providing an alternative.”

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As the technology advances, brothels in global cities will be staffed by robot prostitutes, says Levy, and like most consumer electronics, such as laptops and mobile phones, the cost of sex robots will drop – to the point where it will be cheaper than paying for a human prostitute.

He believes as the stigma of having sex with robots wears off, robotics could disrupt the sex trafficking industry.

“The advent of sex robots will probably reduce the popularity of having sex with a sex worker. And if it’s going to have that effect, it will also reduce sex trafficking,” Levy said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I don’t see that anybody can possibly be harmed by people having sex with robots, so I think that the idea of a robot brothel should not only be legal it should probably be encouraged in order to reduce sex trafficking.”

Globally, nearly 46 million live as slaves, forced to work, sold for sex, trapped in debt bondage or born into servitude, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index by Australia-based rights group Walk Free Foundation.

Santos said owning a sex robot could lead to fewer people visiting prostitutes which would combat sex trafficking.

“Should you be trafficking humans? I think it’s obvious – no. So what we should do is stop that, and make people spend the money on the doll,” he said.

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She said comparing prostitutes to robots was dehumanising and the sexual objectification of women through sex dolls was also problematic.

“I don’t think sex robots will reduce sex trafficking. It will just become another option on the menu for an already distorted and dehumanised commercial market,” said Richardson, an academic at De Montfort University who has been studying robotics for more than a decade.

“There’s something more insidious going on in sex trafficking about how you control and dominate another human being – and the pleasure you derive from rape.”

Richardson said sex dolls and robots could even be dangerous, used as proxies to act out fantasies like rape or pedophilia.

“Giving someone who wants to rape children and fantasises about that a doll with orifices that he can penetrate is . . . dangerous. It’s absolutely, extraordinarily irresponsible to promote that idea in wider society,” she said.

The Salvation Army in Britain, which supports survivors of sex trafficking, said it opposed the use of sex robots because it rewards people for exerting control over another.

“Trafficked people are being seen as a commodity and we don’t think that sex with a robot is going to reduce that,” said Kathy Taylor from the charity’s Anti-Trafficking and Modern Slavery unit.

“The reason some people purchase sex is because it can be a power dynamic in itself. And if you can buy a robot, does that not normalise this distorted power dynamic?”

But Santos, who aims to develop male robots as well, said sex robots had the potential to benefit society – from helping closeted lesbian, gay and bisexual people, to preventing sexually transmitted diseases, and progressing AI technology.

“Technology is always like that: people are against it, people are for it. But eventually, if you develop technology in the right way, you’ll always have many benefits for people,” he said.

Trump Jr, Manafort want private testimony

President Donald Trump’s eldest son and his former campaign chairman won’t testify publicly next week, and are instead discussing being privately interviewed by a Senate committee investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

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The committee initially called for Donald Trump Jr and Paul Manafort to appear publicly Wednesday.

But the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee now say the men are negotiating the terms of their appearances, and lawmakers don’t currently plan to issue subpoenas to force them to appear.

Both men face questions about attending a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016, that was described to Trump Jr in emails as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

Trump Jr was told the lawyer had damaging information that could be used against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top White House aide, also attended the meeting.

He is scheduled to speak behind closed doors with the Senate intelligence committee Monday, and with the House intelligence committee Tuesday.

The revelation of the Trump Tower meeting renewed questions about the campaign’s possible connections with Russia, and put some of Trump’s inner circle at the forefront of ongoing federal and congressional probes.

Word of the negotiations with Trump Jr and Manafort comes as the president’s legal team evaluates potential conflicts of interest among members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election meddling also appears likely to include some of the Trump family’s business ties.

Attorney Jay Sekulow, a member of the president’s external legal team, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the lawyers “will consistently evaluate the issue of conflicts and raise them in the appropriate venue”.

Two of the people with knowledge of that process say those efforts include probing the political affiliations of Mueller’s investigators and their past work history.

Trump himself has publicly challenged Mueller, declaring this week that the former FBI director would be crossing a line if he investigated the president’s personal business ties.

Daw cops a spray from Kangaroos’ AFL coach

North Melbourne coach Brad Scott gave Majak Daw an almighty mid-match bake on Saturday after the muscle-bound ruckman came up short in several contests with Essendon’s Tom Bellchambers.

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The 26-year-old Daw – playing only his 31st match since making his AFL debut back in 2013 – was given a rare shot at the No.1 ruck role against the Bombers after 2015 All-Australian Todd Goldstein was omitted.

The stats suggested he pretty much broke even in his personal battle with Bellchambers in the match at Etihad Stadium which the Bombers won by 27 points.

But Scott still felt the need to forcibly deliver some home truths to Daw when the Sudanese-born ruckman was on the interchange bench during the third quarter.

“I was disappointed with a few of Majak’s efforts but he’s still learning the game,” said Scott in his post-match media conference.

“The challenge for him is still the technical nature of the game, because it’s a bit incongruous that the strongest man ever to play the game at AFL level is getting pushed out of the way.

“That is a technical thing – not a physical strength thing.

“Maj and I had a bit of a laugh about it after the game in terms of just the ability to utilise his strength and we’ve got to keep working on that.”

Goldstein will play this weekend in the VFL.

The Kangaroos’ other ruck option, promising 22-year-old Braydon Preuss, is battling a back complaint.

It leaves the Kangaroos’ selectors with plenty to think about ahead of next Saturday’s clash with Melbourne and their giant ruckman Max Gawn.

“I thought (Daw) showed glimpses without grabbing that mantle and saying ‘you have to play me – irrespective of who is available next week, you have to play me first ruck’,” said Scott.

“So we’re still going to have a decision to make next week.”

Chinese police guard late dissident’s Liu Xiaobo home, empty or not

More than a week after the Nobel Peace Prize winner succumbed to liver cancer in custody, four agents stood watch on the stoop of the apartment where his widow, the poet Liu Xia, has largely been kept under house arrest since 2010.

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Their presence contradicts official claims last weekend that Liu Xia, 56, is “free”.

She appeared in a government-released video on July 15 showing her husband’s sea burial in the coastal city of Dalian, but close friends have been unable to reach her and believe that she is under police control in southern Yunnan province.

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But the medley of uniformed and plainclothes officers outside her home on Friday were undeterred in their surveillance — even if they may have been guarding an empty apartment.

“Where are you going?” a man wearing a “special duty” uniform asked two middle-aged women who approached.

“We live here,” one of them retorted, as if accustomed to the question.

On the other side of the gate, a uniformed officer sat in a chair parked outside the entrance to Liu Xia’s apartment.

Three other men sat inside the dark entranceway, including one eating a bowl of noodles.

They all stood up when an AFP reporter approached.

“What are you doing here? You don’t live in this neighbourhood,” said the uniformed officer, gesturing for the reporter to leave.

Outside the gate, security agents talked among themselves as they waited for their lunch break.

“Yesterday there were five to six reporters who came,” a middle-aged man said to the group. He wore a black T-shirt, the preferred attire of plainclothes agents.

“Those foreigners just come here to make trouble. They want to take photos of everything. Lunch time is rush hour for them, then things die down after 7 p.m.”

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Earlier that day, a four-person foreign television crew had come through one of the complex’s main gates.

They were soon surrounded by officers in both black and green uniforms.

“Do you know who Liu Xia is?” one of the journalists asked a guard, who barked back: “Never have I met anyone as rude as you!”

At around the same time, an AFP photographer was held by police who asked him to delete three photos he had taken of the apartment exterior.

He did not comply, and was shortly released.

Business as usual 

All was calm on the riverfront boardwalk that Liu Xia’s apartment overlooked, as joggers, bikers and fishermen alike appeared to be unaware of the commotion on the other side of the gate.

The Chinese government has erased virtually all mentions of Liu Xiaobo, a 1989 Tiananmen Square protest veteran, from the internet and domestic media.

Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “subversion” after co-writing Charter 08, a petition calling for democratic reforms in the Communist Party-ruled country.

The following year, he became the first Chinese person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but was not allowed to attend the ceremony in Oslo.

“I don’t know who (Liu Xia or Liu Xiaobo) is,” said a young woman who lived in the apartment complex.

“Many government employees live in this compound. The guards are here for their safety,” she said.

An elderly man collecting trash on the boardwalk said he believed it was the building’s proximity to Beijing’s main thoroughfare that brought increased security.

“And I think (Chinese President) Xi Jinping was here?”

Hooker kicks five for Bombers in AFL win

Essendon’s Cale Hooker was a long way from the best forward on the ground for most of Saturday’s AFL shootout against North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium.

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But Hooker was the central figure when the game was in the balance, booting four of his equal career-best five goals in a purple patch in the final quarter opposed to third-gamer Dan Nielson.

The Bombers quelled a brave challenge from the under-manned Kangaroos to win by 27 points. The 20.12 (132) to 16.9 (105) victory lifted Essendon back into the eight, while condemning 17th-placed North Melbourne to a seventh-straight loss.

There were still plenty of positives for the Kangaroos, whose personnel woes went from very bad to worse when star defender Robbie Tarrant hurt his back in the warm-up, gifting a shock debut to Josh Williams.

With skipper Jack Ziebell and Marley Williams also among the absentees and Todd Goldstein and Lindsay Thomas dropped to the VFL, the Kangaroos – including seven players with less than 10 games’ senior experience – looked ripe for the picking.

For three quarters at least, they took it right up to the Bombers.

Coleman Medal contender Ben Brown continued his career-best season, kicking six goals, taking five contested marks and seeing off the challenges of Michael Hartley and Essendon’s most-accomplished defender Michael Hurley.

Veteran duo Jarrad Waite (four goals) and fullback Scott Thompson were also very good, as was Taylor Garner.

But Essendon – and Hooker – were better when it mattered most in the final quarter, as the home side won three games on the trot for the first time in three years.

Small forwards Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti combined for seven goals, with the Bombers spreading the attacking load on a rare quiet day for Joe Daniher.

“It was obviously a very tight game for a fair part of the game, a bit of a contested game, a one-on-one game that North brought,” said Essendon coach John Worsfold.

“I thought they handled it better than us early in terms of getting outside that contest.

“But what I was rapt with was that we stayed in that contest the whole time.”

Essendon’s Tom Bellchambers had the better of an intriguing duel with Majak Daw, who copped a huge spray from coach Brad Scott during the third quarter after coming up second-best in several physical exchanges.

“I was disappointed with a few of Majak’s efforts but he’s still learning the game,” said Scott.

“The challenge for him is still the technical nature of the game, because it’s a bit incongruous that the strongest man ever to play the game at AFL level is getting pushed out of the way.”

The Bombers improved their win-loss record to 9-8 ahead of next Sunday’s clash with the Western Bulldogs back at Etihad Stadium.

Philippines to extend martial law in south to year end

The legislators backed President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for an extension in the Mindanao region to deal with Islamist gunmen who have occupied parts of a southern city for two months.

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Duterte had previously imposed a 60-day martial law over Mindanao when fighting broke out in Marawi on May 23, but it was set to expire Saturday.

The Philippine Congress opened a special session Saturday to vote on President Rodrigo Duterte’s bid for an extension of martial law in the south to defeat Islamist gunmen.

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A slide presentation accompanying Duterte’s request, seen by AFP, compared the Marawi crisis to the Islamic State takeover of the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Marawi itself could now become a magnet for foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, it said.

Most of the militants’ leaders remain at large, the presentation added, while about 90 of the gunmen have slipped past security cordons and can link up with other armed groups in the region to mount similar widescale attacks.

At the hearing, defence and security officials justified the need for martial law, saying that aside from Marawi, Islamist militants were planning attacks in other parts of the southern Philippines.

They said almost a thousand pro-IS militants, holding 23 hostages, were still active elsewhere in the south.

In Marawi, the military said only about 60 gunmen were left in a 49-hectare (121-acre) area of Marawi, but Duterte said he needed martial law powers to rebuild the city and ensure the war did not spread elsewhere.

“I cannot afford to be complacent,” Duterte told reporters Friday, adding the military would be conducting further “mopping up operations” even after they recapture Marawi.

“If there is a spillage it will not be as bad if you have this stopgap,” he added.

Duterte imposed 60-day martial rule — the maximum period allowed by the constitution — over the Mindanao region on May 23 within hours of the gunmen beginning their rampage.

On Monday he asked Congress to extend it until the end of the year, along with the continued suspension of a constitutional safeguard against warrantless arrests.

In an unprecedented move, both the House and the Senate met jointly on a weekend to vote on Duterte’s request.

Recommended ‘Nationwide martial law’ 

Martial law allows the military to establish control with measures such as curfews, checkpoints and gun controls in a country where civilians are authorised to keep licensed firearms in their homes.

However, any martial law extension must be approved by Congress.

The subject remains sensitive in the Philippines, decades after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos put the country under military rule for part of his 20-year term.

Thousands of critics, political opponents as well as communist guerrillas were killed, detained or arrested during the period, according to historians.

About a dozen protesters in the gallery interrupted Saturday’s hearing, chanting “never again, never again to martial law” before being escorted out.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has said previously he sees no roadblock to the swift approval of the extension by both chambers of Congress.

Duterte had already beaten back a Supreme Court petition to declare martial law in Mindanao illegal.

But opposition politicians have criticised Duterte’s proposal for an extension, with some alleging it is part of a Duterte plot to eventually bring the country under a military-backed dictatorship.

“Once he feels that there is not enough opposition to a nationwide martial law declaration, he will go for it,” Senator Antonio Trillanes told AFP on Tuesday.

After this he could declare a revolutionary government to allow him to stay in office beyond his six-year electoral term in mid-2022, Trillanes says.

Duterte, 72, insists he has no plan to stay in office beyond his term.