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.

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.

Six dead in worst Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed for years

Six people were killed in the bloodiest spate of Israeli-Palestinian violence for years, prompted by new security Israeli measures at Jerusalem’s holiest site.

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Three Israelis were stabbed to death in a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, hours after three Palestinians were killed in violence prompted by Israel’s installation of metal detectors at entry points to the Noble Sanctuary-Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s walled Old City.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered the suspension of all official contact with Israel until it removed the metal detectors. He gave no details, but current contacts are largely limited to security cooperation.

“I declare the suspension of all contacts with the Israeli side on all levels until it cancels its measures at al Aqsa mosque and preserves the status quo,” Abbas said in a brief televised speech.

The three Israelis stabbed to death and a fourth who was wounded, were from the fenced-in West Bank settlement of Neve Tsuf. Israeli media said the three dead were all members of the same family, two men aged 60 and 40 and a woman of 40.

The wounded woman, 68, was hospitalised with stab wounds to her back, Israeli media said.

A still photo carried by Israeli television showed a kitchen floor completely red with blood. The family had sat down to a traditional Friday evening meal when the attack occurred, according to Israel Radio.

The Israeli army and media said the assailant slipped into the settlement under cover of darkness to carry out his attack. 

Israel Radio identified him as a 19-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank village of Khobar near Ramallah. It said he was shot, but his condition was not initially known.

0:00 Israel reopens sensitive holy site, but Muslims refuse to enter Share Israel reopens sensitive holy site, but Muslims refuse to enter

Earlier, Palestinian worshippers clashed with Israeli security forces. Tensions had mounted for days as Palestinians hurled rocks and Israeli police used stun grenades after the detectors were placed outside the sacred venue, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said Mohammed Sharaf, 17, and Mohammad Hassan Abu Ghannam, age unknown, died of gunshot wounds in two neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem somewhat away from the epicentre of tension in the walled Old City. It reported a third Palestinian fatality, Mohammed Lafi, 18, later.

It was not immediately clear who fired the shots, with unconfirmed media reports that an Israeli settler was responsible in Sharaf’s death.

Israel decided to install the metal detectors at the entry point to the shrine in Jerusalem’s walled Old City on Sunday, after the killing of two Israeli policemen on July 14.

The shrine includes the al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, and the golden Dome of the Rock. It was also the site of an ancient Jewish temple, the holiest place in Judaism.

Despite international pressure to remove the metal detectors, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet decided in Friday’s early hours to keep them in place, saying they were needed to prevent arms being smuggled into the shrine.

In protest, thousands of worshippers gathered for Friday prayers at various entrances to the sacred compound, which sits on a marble and stone plateau in the Old City. They refused to enter, preferring to pray outside, in some cases filling the narrow alleyways of the Old City’s Muslim quarter.

“We reject Israeli restrictions at the Aqsa Mosque,” said Jerusalem’s senior Muslim cleric, Grand Mufti Mohammad Hussein.

Muslim leaders and Palestinian political factions had urged the faithful to gather for a “day of rage” on Friday against the new security policies, which they see as changing delicate agreements that have governed the holy site for decades.

0:00 Three Israelis stabbed to death in West Bank Share Three Israelis stabbed to death in West Bank

Israeli police mobilised extra units and erected barriers to carry out checks at entrances to the Old City. Access to the shrine for Muslims was limited to men over 50 but open to women of all ages. Roadblocks were in place on approach roads to Jerusalem to stop buses carrying Muslims to the site.

At one location near the Old City, stone throwers did try to break through a police line, and police used stun grenades to drive them back.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said four officers were injured in the sporadic clashes and the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service said at least 377 protesters had been hurt, some suffering from tear gas inhalation.

The hilltop compound has long been a source of religious friction. Since Israel captured and annexed the Old City, including the compound, in the 1967 Middle East war, it has also become a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. “This is our place of prayer, we have sovereignty here,” Salaam said.

On Thursday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to press for the removal of the metal detectors. Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East, appealed for calm and the White House called for a resolution. Jordan, the custodian of the holy site, has also been involved in mediation efforts.

But Netanyahu’s 11-member security cabinet opted in a late-night meeting to retain the metal detectors to ensure no weapons were smuggled in, a week after three Arab-Israeli gunmen shot dead two Israeli policemen in the vicinity of the complex.

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White House spokesman Spicer out as Trump seeks to fix image

While not a surprise, Spicer’s departure was abrupt and accompanied other changes in Trump’s media and legal teams, as an investigation of possible ties between his campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election widened.

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After six months in power and still without a major legislative win, Trump shuffled some of his closest staff, parting ways with Spicer after naming Anthony Scaramucci as the new White House communications director. Spicer had been communications director as well as press secretary following the resignation of Mike Dubke as director early last month.

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A Republican close to the White House told Reuters that Trump settled on Scaramucci, 53, a political supporter and former Goldman Sachs banker, for the head media job on Thursday and met with him on Friday morning to formally offer it to him.

A White House official briefed on what happened next said Spicer was told of Scaramucci’s hiring and Trump urged Spicer to stay on. But Spicer, 45, said he did not want to stay on under the terms and conditions described to him and quit.

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A source close to the White House said: “Basically Donald Trump likes Scaramucci on TV and saw the communications director job as a way to … make him a top TV surrogate.”

The source said Trump wanted Spicer to be press secretary and do much of the communications director’s work as well, “with Scaramucci holding the ceremonial title with no responsibility. And that was the real challenge.”

At an early afternoon briefing, Scaramucci, in his debut before the White House press corps, named Sarah Sanders as the new press secretary. She had been Spicer’s deputy.

Known by insiders as “Mooch,” the new communications director is a Harvard Law School-educated Long Islander who founded a hedge fund after leaving Goldman, and sold it to join the Trump administration.

Spicer, a veteran Washington staffer, was parodied memorably by actress Melissa McCarthy on the “Saturday Night Live” TV comedy show for his combative encounters with reporters.

“I am grateful for Sean’s work on behalf of my administration and the American people,” Trump said in a statement. “I wish him continued success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities. Just look at his great television ratings.”

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Spicer will stay on the job through August.

From the start, Spicer invited controversy, attacking the media in his first appearance as press secretary for reporting what he called inaccurate crowd numbers at Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,” he said, an assertion that quickly drew scorn.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Spicer wrote, “It’s been an honor & privilege to serve @POTUS @realDonaldTrump & this amazing country. I will continue my service through August.”

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Before Trump tapped him for the job of press secretary, Spicer was the Republican National Committee’s spokesman. He had previously worked in the administration of former President George W. Bush. During that time, he dressed up in an Easter Bunny costume for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

Spicer and other Trump aides shook up White House dealings with the media, including cutting back daily televised news briefings and replacing them with audio briefings only.

Scaramucci told reporters, “I love the president. … It’s an honor to be here.” Asked how he was going to right the White House ship, Scaramucci said there was nothing to fix.

“The ship is going in the right direction. I like the team. Let me rephrase that: I love the team,” he said.

Trump turmoil

Separately, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the possible Trump-Russia ties, has asked White House officials to preserve any records of a meeting last year between the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer, a source with knowledge of the request said on Friday.

The spokesman for Trump’s outside legal team, Mark Corallo, resigned. His departure came amid media reports that the role of Marc Kasowitz, who had been leading the team, was being reduced.

On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions brushed off sharp criticism from Trump, saying he loved his job and planned to stay in it. Trump took a broad swipe at his administration’s top law officers this week in a New York Times interview, saying he would not have appointed Sessions as attorney general if he had known he would recuse himself.

White House unrest was not limited to communications and legal staff, said two officials familiar with the situation.

Trump has ignored the recommendations of national security adviser H.R. McMaster and his senior director for Russia, Fiona Hill, on dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

They said McMaster is frustrated by continuing debate about sending more U.S. forces to Afghanistan. One official said tension persists between McMaster and chief White House strategist Steve Bannon and chief speechwriter Stephen Miller.

Poland’s senate approves controversial court reform

The legislation, which was pushed through by parliament Wednesday, was approved by 55 senators, with 23 opposed and two abstentions.

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During the 15-hour debate thousands of demonstrators took to the streets nationwide to protest the law, which reinforces political control over the Supreme Court.

After the vote, protesters gathered in front of parliament shouting “Shame!” “Traitors!” and “Democracy!”.

The reform of the Supreme Court, which supervises lower courts, still needs to be signed by President Andrzej Duda, himself from the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, to become law.

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The head of state has 21 days to sign the document, veto it, or, if in doubt, submit it to the constitutional court.

The opposition and protesters are all calling on Duda to veto the reform, as well as two other measures recently adopted which they say increase the control of the executive branch of government over the judiciary.

The opposition argues the measures amount to a “coup d’etat” but the PiS says the reforms are essential to rationalise the judicial system and fight corruption.

The PiS, which began making judiciary changes after coming to power in late 2015, has argued resistance to the initiatives is a case of the elite defending their privileges.

Under the current system, candidates for the Supreme Court are selected by an independent body consisting mainly of judges but also included a few politicians.

The European Commission has warned against the changes, threatening to halt Poland’s voting rights in the 28-nation bloc further down the line — a so-called “nuclear option” that the EU had never invoked.

The EU first warned Poland in early 2016 over reforms of the constitutional court, whose main role is to check that laws comply with the constitution.

Those changes resulted in tilting the makeup of the court in the conservatives’ favour and installing a PiS ally as the chief justice.

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While noting that Poland was a close ally of Washington, the US State Department said America was concerned by the legislation, according to a statement.

Last week, both houses of parliament adopted two other contested pieces of judicial legislation, including a bill stating that the justice minister will name the chief justices of Poland’s common courts.

The second bill stipulates that from now on the parliament, instead of an independent body, will choose the members of the National Council of the Judiciary, which is meant to protect the independence of the courts.

Slater, Smith injured in Storm’s NRL win

Melbourne’s NRL premiership hopes have suffered a major blow with Cameron Smith facing a stint on the sidelines and Billy Slater suffering a severe head knock in the Storm’s 20-14 victory over Canberra.

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Medical staff fear Smith could miss four to six weeks after aggravating a pectoral strain. This forced him to miss most of the second half of Saturday’s clash at GIO Stadium.

But the Storm skipper was more optimistic about the injury, saying scans on Sunday would determine its severity.

“The decision was to come off because there’s still a long way to go in the season,” Smith said.

“It wasn’t worth the risk, to be honest.”

It was the first time since 2009 the ultra-durable Smith had featured in less than 50 minutes of a match for Melbourne.

Slater was taken from the field on a medicab 10 minutes into the second half, after being knocked out by a high shot from Sia Soliola who was lucky not to have been sent off.

The Raiders’ forward was placed on report and apologised to Slater who had regained consciousness by the time he left the ground.

“He’s talking, but he’s not feeling too good, so we’ll just have to see how it goes throughout the week,” Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.

“For him to get knocked out like that, it’s pretty severe.

“If it’s not a sending off, then I don’t know what is a sending off.”

Cameron Munster extended the Storm’s lead to 14-6 with a penalty goal after the Slater hit but, without their superstar fullback and hooker, the Raiders sensed their chance.

Young gun Nick Cotric scored a try with less than 15 minutes remaining to reduce the deficit to four points.

But the Storm showed grit to stem the tide with Dale Finucane scoring his second try, diving on a grubber which trickled under the posts.

Munster was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul in the final minute and, moments later, Raiders halfback Aidan Sezer completed his own try-scoring double.

But it was too late to avoid another close loss.

The defeat keeps Canberra two wins out of the top eight, but that could be extended to three on Sunday if St George Illawarra beat Manly.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was furious with the refereeing after the match, calling for officials to be made accountable.

“Those poor bastards in there – my players – they’re accountable every week,” Stuart said.

“They busted themselves tonight; that’s was one of the best games they played all year tonight.”

Greek holiday island Kos battles to recover from deadly quake

The 6.

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7-magnitude tremor also left hundreds more injured in the Turkish resort of Bodrum, just about 20 kilometres across the sea from Kos.

“Given the amount of people outside at the time, having only two victims is a miracle,” deputy Kos mayor David Yerasklis told Kathimerini daily.

The undersea quake struck at 1:31 am Friday (2231 GMT Thursday) between Kos and Bodrum.

At the time, tourists in both places were out enjoying the nightlife.

0:00 Kos earthquake: residents, tourists assess the damage Share Kos earthquake: residents, tourists assess the damage

On Kos, a wall collapsed on people in the yard of a nightclub, killing a 22-year-old Swede and a 39-year-old Turk.

Another 120 people were hurt, seven of them seriously, while some 360 people were injured in Bodrum — many after jumping out of windows. 

The badly injured on Kos were flown to hospitals in Athens and Crete, including two men from Sweden and Norway who are in critical condition.

The Swede lost his lower leg, and doctors are struggling to save his other leg. The Norwegian has serious head injuries.

Kos is one of Greece’s top travel destinations, and particularly popular with British and Scandinavian tourists.

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Government officials and expert divers on Saturday were inspecting the harbour, which was cracked asunder by the tremor and has been declared unsafe for use. 

But the rest of island’s infrastructure is mostly intact, they stress.

Ferries have been rerouted to the smaller port town of Kefalos in west Kos until repairs are made.

Some residents spent the night outdoors, setting up tents in parks and squares, but officials noted that the majority of hotels were unaffected by the quake.

At Kos airport, delays were noted for a second straight day with over 50 outgoing flights scheduled. Over a dozen flights had landed by mid-morning.

“There is no problem at the hotels, the tourists have dealt calmly with developments,” Constantina Svynou, head of the local hotelier association, told Ta Nea daily.

Some areas of the port town were still without water, however.

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No injuries were reported among the 800 migrants and refugees housed on the island, which is one of the main gateways into Europe for people fleeing war and poverty.

But asylum procedures have been curtailed until at least Monday as the quake damaged passport inspection facilities at the harbour.

Many archaeological and medieval monuments — including the medieval Knights of St John fortifications near where the deaths occurred — have also been closed until further notice.

Turkey and Greece sit on significant fault lines and have regularly been hit by earthquakes in recent years.

This year alone, Turkey’s western Aegean coast was hit by several significant earthquakes.

In June, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake gutted a village on the Greek island of Lesbos, killing a woman and leaving more than 15 injured.