Philippines extends Mindanao martial law

Philippine lawmakers have voted to retain martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until the end of the year, giving President Rodrigo Duterte more time to tackle armed extremists allied with the Islamic State group.

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Some 261 legislators agreed to extend military rule in a seven hour-long joint special session of the House of Representatives and the Senate, more than the required two-thirds of the Congress.

Security officials had told lawmakers that martial law was needed to stabilise a region where Islamic State was gaining influence, and supporters could be inspired to stage uprisings in other areas of Mindanao.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana warned of more serious problems if the government did not have the powers to act swiftly.

“We need martial law because we haven’t addressed yet the existence of other Daesh-inspired groups,” he said, referring to another name for Islamic State.

Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law on May 23 when heavily-armed militants belonging to the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, along with foreign fighters, stormed Marawi City, sparking the biggest security crisis of his presidency.

The battle to liberate Marawi continues two months after, with more than 420 militants, 100 soldiers and 45 civilians killed. Some of those were executed by the rebels, according to the military.

Government troops pulverised and retook some of the Maute strongholds after weeks of artillery attacks and airstrikes, but an estimated 70 militants remained holed up in the downtown area.

“The rebellion in Marawi continues to persist and we want to stop the spread of the evil ideology of terrorism and free the people of Mindanao from the tyranny of lawlessness and violent extremism,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.

But martial law remains a sensitive issue in the Philippines as it brings back memories of human rights abuses that occurred in the 1970s under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

He was ousted in a “people power” revolt in 1986. Saturday’s vote paves the way for the first ever extension of a period of martial law since the Marcos era.

Opponents expressed fears Duterte might eventually place the entire country under martial law, but the authorities have dismissed that.

Senator Franklin Drilon said the extension until end of the year was too long, and Senator Risa Hontiveros, a staunch critic of Duterte, said martial law has “no strategic contribution to the military’s anti-terrorism operations”.

Congressman Edcel Lagman said there was “no factual basis” for martial law and that the siege in Marawi was terrorism, not rebellion.

Rebellion is one of the pre-conditions for declaring martial law under a 1987 constitution that was drafted to prevent a repeat of the Marcos era abuses.

Military chief General Eduardo General Ano said retaking Marawi has proven difficult because it was the first time troops had engaged in a “Mosul-type, hybrid urban warfare”, referring to the fighting in the Iraqi city until recently held by Islamic State.

70 villagers kidnapped in Afghanistan, at least 7 killed: police

Around 30 villagers have been released but at least 30 others are still missing, Abdul Raziq, the head of Kandahar provincial police told AFP.

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“The Taliban abducted 70 people from their house in a village along the Kandahar-Tarinkot highway, Friday. They killed seven of them today,” Raziq said. “Their bodies were found by villagers this morning.”

“They released 30 and are still keeping around 30 others,” he said, adding they were “civilian Pashtuns”, the ethnicity of many Taliban fighters.

The highway runs from Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, to Tarinkot, capital of Uruzgan province, a poppy-growing area where the Taliban have a heavy presence.

It is not clear why the villagers were seized. Government officials and security forces are usually the target of such incidents.

Afghan Police stand guard on a highway leading to Shah Wali Khan district, in Kandahar, AfghanistanAAP

Civilians are increasingly caught in the crosshairs of Afghanistan’s worsening conflict as the Taliban step up their annual spring offensive, launched in April against the Western-backed Kabul government.

Highways around Afghanistan passing through insurgency-prone areas have become exceedingly dangerous, with the Taliban and other armed groups frequently kidnapping or killing travellers. 

But it is unusual for the Taliban to go into villages to take civilians as hostages. In general they intercept vehicles on the road, checking to see if passengers have links to the government.

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In July, Taliban fighters closed a highway connecting Farah to Herat city, stopping a bus and forcing 16 passengers to dismount. They shot at least seven of them, while the remaining nine were taken hostage.

Friday’s incident was confirmed by officials at the Independent Human Rights Commission in Kandahar and Kabul in a statement condemning the kidnappings and executions.

Fighting is underway in several northern and southern provinces in Afghanistan, including Helmand where 16 Afghan police officers were killed by a US airstrike on Friday night — the latest setback to Washington’s efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.

The strike hit a compound in Gereshk district, large parts of which are under Taliban control.

Chiefs moving on from Cane yellow card

Coach Dave Rennie won’t question the yellow card shown to flanker Sam Cane which had the potential to sink the Chiefs in their gripping quarter-final against the Stormers.

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The Kiwi side emerged 17-11 winners in Cape Town, overcoming the contentious sin-binning of co-captain Cane in the 60th minute.

The Chiefs were just one point ahead soon after the All Blacks flanker’s exit but tightened up admirably as the Stormers pressed for the lead.

Cane’s punishment was debatable after he and No.8 Michael Leitch crunched Stormers winger Dillyn Leyds with a double tackle in the chest/shoulder region.

South African TMO Johan Greef called for a review and twice overruled the views of referee Jaco Peyper, firstly in deeming a penalty was warranted and then a yellow card.

Rennie said the incident “absolutely” shouldn’t attract further judicial action but was careful with his assessment of the yellow card.

He compared it to a similar act and punishment for prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen in the Hurricanes’ win over the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday.

“All you want is consistency. We’ve got to accept the fact that there might have been shoulder contact with the jaw,” Rennie said.

“I was really just rapt with the way the boys stood up with one down.”

Rennie said victory was built on spirit rather than execution, noting his players largely struggled for cohesion.

He was keen for his team to win the territory battle and placed extra emphasis on defence, which had let them down in the 34-26 loss in Cape Town in April.

“We were able to choke them and cause a lot of turnovers,” he said.

“We probably over-kicked and we were a bit loose early.

“But this is play-off footy now. Even though the game was tight, I felt we had control.”

Rennie said his team were “excited” by the prospect of facing the Crusaders in Christchurch.

It is the second of what would need to be three wins on the road to claim a third Chiefs title.

“We wanted to be in contention with a couple of weeks to go,” he said.

“We’ve got a great group of men. They work hard for each other and they’re very tight.

“We know it’s a big challenge but we’re embracing that.”

Family denied last chance to stay in Australia after second bid for intervention fails

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has refused to intervene in the case of the Lees, despite thousands signing a petition to stop them being thrown out of the country.

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The Department of Immigration and Border Protection advised the family in a letter that their final appeal for intervention by the Immigration Minister had failed. 

“The department has assessed that this request does not meet the guidelines for referral to the minister,” the letter said.

Byran Lee said he is devastated by the decision.

“Someone can just decide our whole future within two days…this one guy. It’s shocking. I am just crushed,” he told SBS World News.

The Lees had urged Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to intervene after a migration scam swallowed up more than hundred thousand dollars of the family’s savings. 

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The migration agent hired by father David Lee to get him permanent residency instead fled the country with the money. Subsequent visa bid extensions, involving the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, failed due to what the family said was poor legal advice.

The plight of the Lees has led to more than 6,000 people signing an online petition started by their local Catholic Church, St. Christopher’s Parish Syndal.

Patrick Jackson from the local church said it hard to see the family experience such hardship.

“They are very hardworking members of this parish and it’s a real tragedy that they have been slapped down,” he said.

A spokesman from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said the Lee family’s case has been carefully considered.

David Lee, an IT engineer, has run a series of businesses and was recently granted an innovation patent for a web-based device he invented that can control home appliances.

His wife Jessica works as a piano teacher.

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William and Harry’s last call with mum

Princes William and Harry have revealed their last conversation with their mother was a brief phone call on the day she died that now weighs “heavily” on William’s mind.

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In a TV documentary about Diana, William and Harry speak of the remorse they feel at how short their final chat with their mum was, with Harry confessing it is something he will regret “for the rest of my life”.

But looking back at the life of the princess, whose death 20 years ago shocked the world, Harry said “to myself and William she was just the best mother ever” who “brought a breath of fresh air to everything she did”.

The TV program chronicles Diana’s personal journey, her campaigns supporting the homeless, AIDS victims, and banning landmines, and her death, Harry says he has only cried twice for his mother – once at her funeral and during an undisclosed occasion.

William was 15 and Harry just 12 when their mother was killed in a car crash in Paris on August 31 1997.

On the day she was killed William described the “very good time” they were having at Balmoral, the Queen’s private Scottish home, where the brothers were playing with their cousins.

William, interviewed with his brother at Kensington Place for the ITV documentary, told of his regrets about the call.

“Harry and I were in a desperate rush to say goodbye, you know ‘see you later’…if I’d known now obviously what was going to happen I wouldn’t have been so blase about it and everything else.

“But that phone call sticks in my mind, quite heavily.”

Asked if he remembers what his mother said he replies “I do” but does not divulge the conversation.

Harry described how it was his turn to chat to mum after his brother.

“It was her speaking from Paris, I can’t really necessarily remember what I said but all I do remember is probably regretting for the rest of my life how short the phone call was.

“Looking back on it now it’s incredibly hard, I’ll have to sort of deal with that for the rest of my life. Not knowing that was the last time I was going to speak to my mum, how differently that conversation would have panned out if I’d had even the slightest inkling her life was going to be taken that night.”

On Diana’s birthday – July 1 – William, Kate and Harry, joined by Prince George and Princess Charlotte, attended a service to re-dedicate her grave at Althorp house, where she was buried on an island.

Harry said: “The first time I cried was at the funeral on the island and probably only since then maybe once. So there’s a lot of grief that still needs to be let out.”

In lighter moments the princess’s sons talk about her sense of humour with Harry saying: “Our mother was a total kid through and through, when everybody says to me ‘so she was fun, give us an example’ all I can hear is her laugh in my head…”

Reflecting on the 20 years since his mother’s death, Harry revealed his struggles.

“It has been hard and it will continue to be hard, there’s not a day William and I don’t wish that she was still around and we wonder what kind of mother she would be now, and what kind of a public role she would have and what a difference she would be making.”