Kamis, 21 Oktober 2021

Asia is in the midst of a space race, but it's not just about exploration. It's also a military flex - ABC News

The space race has never purely been about planting a nation's flag on an object in space or benign scientific discovery.

It's always had a military and strategic dimension.

For almost half a century, as the US and Russia competed for dominance above Earth, both superpowers spent billions exploring space weapons, like death rays fired from rocket ships.

Yet while the cold war ended some 30 years ago, some fear that a new space race may be a sign the world is poised to enter another arms race too.

This time, however, it won't just be limited to global superpowers.

"The reality is that militarisation — and, if you like, democratisation — of space technologies, means that there are going to be more and more entrants into the area," said Brett Biddington, a space policy expert based in Canberra.

Today, the pool of countries deploying huge amounts of cash to stake out their claims in the skies above is growing larger.

China, India and Japan have already started to demonstrate both the ambition and technological skills necessary to be considered space powers.

This week, South Korea revealed that it too wants to be taken seriously on the global stage, refusing to be left behind in the race to space.

The launch of the gleaming South Korean space rocket Nuri, the first fully domestically produced space launch vehicle, was supposed to be a moment of national pride for the country.

The result was mixed. The rocket launched successfully but the dummy satellite it carried didn't make it into orbit. 

Still, South Korean President Moon Jae-in promised a "Korea space age" and said his country's ambitions would not be thwarted.

How South Korea 'flew under the radar'

While its neighbour North Korea is more widely known for its nuclear weaponry, South Korea has been quietly working on developing its own military capability. 

In recent years, the country has increased its military spending, earmarking roughly $US85 billion ($113 billion) in funding for arms improvements between 2020 and 2024.

A white rocket is carried on wheels on a hilly road
KSLV-II Nuri rocket is moved to its launch pad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung.(Supplied: Korea Aerospace Research Institute)

But Dr Biddington said the launch of Nuri was a significant milestone for South Korea because "launching a launch vehicle is a really difficult thing to do".

"South Korea has a long and quite distinguished space heritage. It set up its space agency in 1989," he said.

"I feel like it's been flown under the radar, so to speak.

Dr Biddington suggested the launch was also a sign that South Korea now wants to assert its independence not only to its rivals but also to its allies.

"It's also a message to the neighbours of Korea, maybe North Korea especially," he said.

"But also it's a comment to Japan and to China and to Russia, and even the United States that Korea has quietly and patiently developed capabilities that allow it to stand on its own two feet when it comes to its interest in outer space."

The space race and the arms race

Nuri's launch comes at a time of heightened tensions in the region with a full-blown arms race in action.

Koreans have become accustomed to projectiles being launched from their peninsula.

Kim Jong Un wearing a western-style suit walks past a crowd of applauding soldiers
Kim Jong Un's regime recently showed off a Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile. (KCNA via Reuters )

On Thursday, North Korea showed off its new Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) only a month after South Korea had shown off its own version.

But it's not just confined to the peninsula, with reports this week suggesting China had tested a new 'hypersonic missile' that utilises space rocket technology to create a potentially devastating weapon.

China dismissed the reports but Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at the Korea Aerospace University, said it was almost certain what China deployed was a weapon.

"They definitely tested a hypersonic vehicle, not a space rocket," he said.

Moon Jae-in in military flying gear and a surgical mask waves from a tarmac
South Korean President Moon Jae-in was at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition this week. (Yonhap via Reuters)

Against such a backdrop, South Korea is not hiding that its space program has major military implications.

"When we improve our civilian space technology, we also improve our military space technology," said Professor Chang.

This week the country welcomed hundreds of international delegates to its major arms fair, the Aerospace and Defence Expo or ADEX.

It was jam-packed with theatrics: Fighter jets manoeuvring overhead, drawing giant love hearts in the sky with their contrails as delegates below chowed down on smoky Texas grill and burgers.

Moon Jae-in sits in a jet pointing out of the cockpit.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived inside a FA-50 Fighting Eagle during Seoul International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition.(Reuters via Yonhap)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in made his own surprise visit to the event in the back of a fighter jet, urging the country to redouble its efforts to become a global defence leader.

"The goal of building strong defence power is always to foster peace," he told the crowd.

The benefit of a space race

South Korea may not yet have its own dedicated 'Space Force' like the US, but it has made clear that space is crucial to its defence.

However, there are also legitimate civilian and scientific motivations for its ambitions for a space industry.

South Korea's capacity to launch its own rockets is a critical step for reaching goals like a national 6G cellular network and a sovereign radio navigation system like the American GPS.

Five rockets stand at different angles on a launch pad.
Scientists are excited by the research possibilities of South Korea's rocket launch.(Supplied: Korea Aerospace Research Institute)

Lee Hyung-mok, who is a professor emeritus in physics and astronomy at Korea National University, said he and his fellow scientists were excited about the opportunity to use these rockets.

He said they will help transport observation equipment outside the earth's atmosphere, allowing them to better understand our universe.

Such a discovery doesn't come cheap and Professor Lee said he recognises that space travel can be expensive.

He also said he knows that national defence is often an easier way to get the government to loosen the public purse strings.

"Maybe the government decided to spend a huge amount of money because of the military importance," he said.

Although competition might be spurring further investment in space, he still worries about where it might lead.

"What I really hope is that instead of competing too much, it's better to collaborate," he said.

"So in many areas, they try to work together."

But he said within Asia, no-one is in that "mood" yet.

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2021-10-21 19:38:52Z

Trump ally Steve Bannon held in contempt by House for defying subpoena - Sydney Morning Herald

By Mary Clare Jalonick

Washington: The House voted on Friday AEDT to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime ally and aide to former President Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee investigating the violent January 6 Capitol insurrection.

In a rare show of bipartisanship on the House floor, the committee’s Democratic chairman, Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson, led the floor debate along with Republican Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the panel. Still, the vote was 229-202 with most GOP lawmakers voting “no,” despite the potential consequences for Congress if witnesses are allowed to ignore its demands.

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former adviser.

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former adviser.Credit:AP

The House vote sends the matter to the US attorney’s office in Washington, where it will now be up to prosecutors in that office to decide whether to present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges.

On Tuesday, the January 6 committee voted 9-0 to recommend the contempt charges after Bannon missed a scheduled interview with the panel last week, citing a letter from Trump’s lawyer that directed him not to answer questions.

The committee noted that Bannon did not work at the White House at the time of the attack, and that he not only spoke with Trump before it but also promoted the protests on his podcast and predicted there would be unrest. On January 5, Bannon said that “all hell is going to break loose”.

The partisan split over Bannon’s subpoena — and over the committee’s investigation in general — is emblematic of the raw tensions that still grip Congress nine months after the Capitol attack. Democrats have vowed to comprehensively probe the assault in which hundreds of Trump’s supporters battered their way past police, injured dozens of officers and interrupted the electoral count certifying President Joe Biden’s victory.

Lawmakers on the investigating committee say they will move swiftly and forcefully to punish anyone who won’t cooperate with the probe.

“We will not allow anyone to derail our work, because our work is too important,” Thompson said ahead of the vote.

Republicans call it a “witch hunt,” say it is a waste of time and argue that Congress should be focusing on more important matters.

Indiana Representative Jim Banks, leading the GOP opposition on the floor, called the probe an “illicit criminal investigation into American citizens” and said Bannon is a “Democrat party boogeyman”.

Cheney and Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger are the only two Republicans on the January 6 panel. Both have openly criticised Trump and his role in fomenting the insurrection, even as other Republicans have mostly remained silent in the face of Trump’s falsehoods about massive fraud in the election. Trump’s claims were rejected by election officials, courts across the country and by his own attorney general.

Lawmakers on the panel said Bannon was alone in completely defying its subpoena, while more than a dozen other subpoenaed witnesses were at least negotiating with them.

“Mr. Bannon’s own public statements make clear he knew what was going to happen before it did, and thus he must have been aware of -- and may well have been involved in -- the planning of everything that played out on that day,” Cheney said ahead of the vote. “The American people deserve to know what he knew and what he did.”

Even if the Justice Department does decide to prosecute, the case could take years to play out — potentially pushing past the 2022 election when Republicans could win control of the House and end the investigation.

There’s still considerable uncertainty about whether the department will prosecute, despite Democratic demands for action. It’s a decision that will determine not only the effectiveness of the House investigation but also the strength of Congress’ power to call witnesses and demand information.

While the department has historically been reluctant to use its prosecution power against witnesses found in contempt of Congress, the circumstances are exceptional as lawmakers investigate the worst attack on the US Capitol in two centuries.

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2021-10-21 20:45:46Z

Notebook found with remains during Brian Laundrie search could reveal truth to Petito case | 7NEWS - 7NEWS Australia

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2021-10-21 10:24:11Z

Female volleyball player beheaded - Courier Mail

A female volleyball player has been killed by the Taliban — with photos of the Afghan posted online, her coach has revealed.

An Afghan volleyball player on the girls’ national team was beheaded by the Taliban — with gruesome photos of her severed head posted on social media, according to her coach.

Mahjabin Hakimi, one of the best players in the Kabul Municipality Volleyball Club, was slaughtered in the capital city of Kabul as troops searched for female sports players, her coach told the Persian Independent.

She was killed earlier this month, but her death remained mostly hidden because her family had been threatened not to talk, claimed the coach, using a pseudonym, Suraya Afzali, due to safety fears.

Images of Ms Hakimi’s severed neck were published on Afghan social media, according to the paper, which did not say how old she was.

Conflicting reports online suggested that happened earlier, with an apparent death certificate suggesting she was killed August 13 — the final days of the Taliban’s insurgency before seizing Kabul.

However, the Payk Investigative Journalism Center said its sources also confirmed that Ms Hakimi “was ‘beheaded’ by the Taliban in Kabul.”

The governing group has yet to comment, Payk Media said.

Afzali told the Persian Independent that she was speaking out to highlight the risk that female sports players face, with only two of the women’s national volleyball team having managed to flee the country.

“All the players of the volleyball team and the rest of the women athletes are in a bad situation and in despair and fear,” she told the paper. “Everyone has been forced to flee and live in unknown places.”

One of the players who escaped, Zahra Fayazi, told the BBC last month that at least one of the players had been killed.

“We don’t want this to repeat for our other players,” she told the broadcaster from her new home in the UK.

Many of our players who are from provinces were threatened many times by their relatives who are Taliban and Taliban followers.

“The Taliban asked our players’ families to not allow their girls to do sport, otherwise they will be faced with unexpected violence,” Ms Fayazi said.

“They even burned their sports equipment to save themselves and their families. They didn’t want them to keep anything related to sport. They are scared,” she said.

Another teammate who escaped told the BBC everyone was “shocked” when they heard that one of their team had been killed.

“I’m sure it was the Taliban,” said Sophia, a pseudonym to protect her family members still in Afghanistan. “Maybe we will lose other friends,” she said.

This story was published by the New York Post and reproduced with permission.

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2021-10-21 19:20:42Z

Human remains found in search for Brian Laundrie | 9 News Australia - 9 News Australia

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2021-10-21 08:37:04Z

India administers 1 billion COVID-19 doses but only 30 per cent of Indians fully vaccinated - ABC News

India has administered 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, a milestone in the country where the Delta variant fuelled its first crushing surge earlier this year.

About 75 per cent of India's total eligible adult population has received at least one dose, while nearly 30 per cent of people are fully immunised.

The country of nearly 1.4 billion people is the second to exceed a billion cumulative doses, with the most populous country, China, doing so in June.

"India scripts history," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter.

Mr Modi marked the occasion with a visit to a government hospital in New Delhi.

And The health ministry announced musical and other programs across the country, as well as special illuminations of national monuments, including a colonial-era jail.

Coronavirus cases have fallen sharply in India since the devastating months at the start of the year when the highly transmissible Delta variant, first detected in the country a year ago, was infecting hundreds of thousands daily, sending COVID-19 patients into overwhelmed hospitals and filling cremation grounds.

Two women wearing PPE carry a coffin with a crucifix painted on the end
More than 450,000 people have died in India from COVID-19.(Reuters: Samuel Rajkumar)

Officials have bolstered the nation's vaccination campaign in recent months, something experts say has helped control the outbreak.

Still, there remains a worrying gap between those who have received one shot and those fully immunised.

Ramping up the second dose is "an important priority," V K Paul, the head of the country's COVID-19 task force, said at a briefing last week.

"We would like to see this number go up. Complete coverage is absolutely critical."


India, an important supplier of vaccines globally, halted the export of doses in April as cases at home surged. It only resumed exports earlier this month.

The government is now optimistic the country's vaccine supply, which has increased, will be enough to cover its international and domestic commitments.

Both of the two main suppliers have ramped up production, with the Serum Institute now producing about 220 million jabs a month and some 30 million from Bharat Biotech, Mr Paul said.

Experts say the vaccine situation on the ground will need constant review.

"There can be no written-in-stone rule. If infections rise drastically, they can again stop exports until there's enough doses," K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, said.

Delta cases not expected to explode again

A man wearing white scrubs and a mask and shield walks by a fire.
More than 60 per cent of India's population has antibodies to COVID-19.(Reuters: Danish Siddiqui)

On Wednesday, India confirmed more than 14,000 new cases of COVID-19.

Its active cases make up less than 1 per cent of its total caseload, now more than 34 million, including more than 450,000 deaths, according to the health ministry.

Serological surveys carried out in June and July showed more than 60 per cent of the population had antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19.

That reduces the likelihood of another massive surge in the coming months, according to some experts.

Even states where infections were swelling a few weeks ago, such as Kerala along the tropical Malabar coast, have seen a sustained decline.

"There is a sense of comfort that India has suffered the worst of the Delta variant, but this must be accompanied with a feeling of caution," Mr Reddy said.

"Even if cases go up, we are unlikely to see the scale of the surge earlier," he added.

"If that does happen, it would be fairly unexpected."

In recent months, life in India has swung back to normal. Markets are buzzing with activity, tourists can enter the country after a 19-month hiatus, and the country is gearing up to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

But there are fears this could be the lull before the storm. Even though India may have borne the brunt of the Delta variant already, things could escalate quickly if a new variant emerges — either from within the country or outside it.

"If the virus becomes different or mutates, it changes the dynamics," Mr Paul said.

"This could change everything."

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2021-10-21 06:41:04Z

Shares in China’s Evergrande plunge as deal collapses - Al Jazeera English

Deal falls through as debt-ridden property developer faces looming bond payment deadline.

Shares of China Evergrande Group, the world’s second-largest economy’s most indebted property developer, have plunged as much as 14 percent when they resumed trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange following a two-week suspension.

Thursday’s opening bell sell-off came after Evergrande announced that a deal to sell a $2.6bn stake in its property services unit had fallen through.

Evergrande recovered some of its earlier losses but was still down 9.8 percent in later trade. Its property services unit dropped 5 percent, while its electric vehicle arm plunged as much as 10.3 percent. Hopson rose 5.6 percent.

Shenzhen-based Evergrande was once China’s top-selling developer but as it struggles with more than $300bn of debt, investors have become concerned. In recent days, government officials to come out in force to say the firm’s problems will not spin out of control and trigger a broader financial crisis.

Evergrande said on Wednesday it had scrapped a deal to sell a 50.1 percent stake in Evergrande Property Services Group to Hopson Development Holdings, a Hong Kong firm, because the smaller rival had not met the “prerequisite to make a general offer”.

Both sides appeared to blame each other for the setback, with Hopson saying it did not accept there was “any substance whatsoever” to Evergrande’s termination of the sales agreement, and that it was exploring options to protect its interests.

The deal is the second one to collapse as the developer scrambles to raise cash. Two sources told the Reuters news agency last week the $1.7bn sale of its Hong Kong headquarters had failed amid buyer worries over Evergrande’s dire financial situation.

The latest setback comes as the expiry of a 30-day grace period for Evergrande to pay $83.5m as part of its payments for an offshore bond looms. If it cannot do so it will be considered in default.

Evergrande in a filing on Wednesday said the grace periods for the payment of the interest on its US dollar-denominated bonds that had become due in September and October had not expired. It did not elaborate.

“The scrapped transaction has made it even more unlikely for it [Evergrande] to pull a rabbit out of a hat at the last minute,” a lawyer representing some of the creditors told Reuters requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

“Given where things are with the missed payments and the grace period running out soon, people are bracing for a hard default. We’ll see how the company addresses this in its negotiations with creditors.”

Evergrande was first listed in Hong Kong in 2009, raising 70.5 billion Hong Kong dollars ($9bn) in its initial public offering in a debut that made it China’s largest private property company and its founder, Xu Jiayin, the mainland’s richest man at the time.

In an expansion spree, Xu – also known as Hui Ka Yan in Cantonese – bought the then-embattled Guangzhou football team in 2010, renaming it Guangzhou Evergrande and spending a fortune on top-class players and coaches.

The group diversified into other sectors too, including bottled water and electric vehicles.

But Evergrande started to falter after a government crackdown on developers in August 2020, which forced the group to sell properties at increasingly steep discounts.

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2021-10-21 04:56:19Z

Taliban praise suicide bombers, offer their families clothes, cash and promises of land - ABC News

The Taliban have praised suicide bombers who died during the war against the former government and its Western allies and offered their families sums of cash and promises of land.

Sirajuddin Haqqani — the acting interior minister who has a $US10 million bounty on his head as a "specially designated global terrorist" — met the families at a ceremony at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, which was itself targeted by suicide bombers in 2018.

Official photographs of the meeting on Tuesday obscured his face.

"In his speech, the minister praised the Jihad and sacrifices of the martyrs and Mujahidin and called them heroes of Islam and the country," the ministry said in a statement on Twitter.

Families of the suicide bombers were given clothing, 10,000 afghani ($166) and promised plots of land, spokesman Qari Sayeed Khosti said.

Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack.
The meeting took place at the Intercontinental Hotel, which was itself targeted by Taliban suicide bombers in 2018.(Reuters: Mohammad Ismail)

Haqqani took over from his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, as head of the Haqqani network, a militant group affiliated with the Taliban that was blamed by Western intelligence services for some of the bloodiest suicide attacks of the war.

He is wanted for questioning by the FBI in connection with an attack on another hotel in Kabul in 2008 in which six people, including an American citizen, were killed.

Following the Taliban's victory over the Western-backed government, which collapsed in August, Islamic State militants have carried out a series of suicide bombings against mosques and other targets, killing hundreds of civilians.

Russia hosts Afghan talks

Taliban officials sit at a rounded table in Moscow.
Russia invited the Taliban and other Afghan parties for talks in Moscow.(AP: Alexander Zemlianichenko)

On Wednesday, Russia hosted talks on Afghanistan involving senior representatives of the Taliban and neighbouring nations.

Russia worked for years to establish contacts with the Taliban, even though it designated the group a terror organisation in 2003 and has not taken it off the list.

Any contact with such groups is punishable under Russian law, but the Foreign Ministry has responded to questions about the apparent contradiction by saying its exchanges with the Taliban are essential for helping stabilise Afghanistan.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov opened the talks and emphasised that "forming a really inclusive government, fully reflecting the interests of not only all ethnic groups but all political forces of the country" is necessary to achieve a stable peace in Afghanistan, a nation of 39 million people.

Mr Lavrov commended the Taliban for their efforts to stabilise the military-political situation in the country and to ensure the operation of state structures.

Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov speaks to a member of political delegation from the Afghan.
Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov (left) spoke to Taliban officials before the opening of the talks in Moscow.(AP: Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Zamir Kabulov, the Kremlin envoy on Afghanistan who also attended the talks, said international recognition of the Taliban will hinge on the inclusiveness of their government and their human rights record.

The talks' participants called for an international donor conference under the auspices of the United Nations, "with the understanding that the core burden of post-conflict … reconstruction and development of Afghanistan must be shouldered by the powers [that] had military contingents in the country for the past 20 years".

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan. Their abrupt withdrawal earlier this year paved the way for the Taliban to seize back control of the country in August.

Washington chose not to attend the talks, citing technical reasons.


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2021-10-20 23:06:12Z

Top diplomat says US 'looking for increased ambition' from Australia on emissions targets - ABC News

America's top diplomat in Australia has warned the Morrison government that its commitments to cut emissions "will be noticed" by the United States, Europe and China, as the Coalition continues to wrangle over climate policy in the lead-up to the Glasgow climate conference.

Charge d'affaires Mike Goldman also said that while a net zero 2050 target was "necessary" it was "perhaps not sufficient" to stave off the climate crisis without sharper cuts to pollution this decade.

It comes as the Biden administration tries to increase pressure on major emitters to ramp up their climate commitments in the lead up to the Glasgow summit.

Net zero target 'necessary'

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and top Liberals are still trying to win agreement from the Nationals for the federal government to formally embrace a net zero by 2050 target that the Prime Minister can take to Glasgow.

The junior Coalition partner has also made it clear it will not back any increase to Australia's current short-term target to cut emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent by 2030.

A portrait photo of Michael Goldman with a US flag in the background.
Mike Goldman is the most senior American diplomat posted to Australia.(US State Department)

But this morning Mr Goldman told a climate conference that "there has to be ambition" to make deeper cuts to emissions by 2030 in order to make the 2050 target meaningful.

"[Net zero by] 2050 is necessary [but] perhaps it's not sufficient. You won't magically in 2049 decide OK we are going to shut everything off and you'll get to net zero within a year," he said.

"There needs to be all sorts of preliminary steps and these preliminary steps are better undertaken in the early years in this decade, than in the 2040s. So, in that sense we are looking for increased ambition.

Mr Goldman said that the Paris climate agreement was clear that all countries should re-evaluate their position and make new climate commitments for this decade.

He also observed that Australia's carbon emissions were not insignificant.

"Australia isn't in aggregate as big an emitter as China or the United States, or even close, but according to the Union of Concerned Scientists it comes in at number 16 globally, so in the top 20," he said.

Australia has an 'important role' at Glasgow 

The charge d'affaires also said that Australia had an "important role" to play at Glasgow because it was one of the top emitters in the world on a per capita basis.

That meant it had a "similar level of responsibility" as the US to cut emissions, and the US pledged to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 50 to 52 per cent by 2030.

"Moreover, as a G20 partner and a democracy and as one of the world's most advanced economies, Australia's positions will be noticed," Mr Goldman said.

"It will be noticed by us, Australia's positions will be noticed in Europe, by our partners, and by leaders in Beijing."

He also praised a recent speech from federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who warned last month that investors might abandon Australia if it lagged on climate action.

"There are clear costs to inaction. The IPCC laid out environment costs in terms that are stark and undeniable, but there are economic costs as well," he said.

Josh Frydenberg opens his mouth to speak
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg recently publicly backed a net zero target by 2050.(AAP: Lukas Coch)

Foreign pressure ramping up 

European countries have also been applying pressure on Australia to increase its commitments to cut emissions this decade.

Yesterday evening, French ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault lavished praise on state governments and the private sector for their climate commitments, while pointedly excluding the federal government.

"Australia has the ability to be a strong voice in Glasgow and can announce the strong commitments that are needed and expected by all stakeholders," Mr Thebault said.

UK High Commissioner Vicki Treadell also said that all countries needed to make more ambitious commitments to cutting emissions at Glasgow, although she said she didn't want to be drawn into Australia's domestic debate on climate policy.

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2021-10-21 04:54:50Z

Rabu, 20 Oktober 2021

Parkland high school shooter pleads guilty, says he's 'very sorry' - SBS News

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Cruz, who was dressed in a blue collared shirt and sweater vest and wearing large glasses and a face mask, responded "guilty" as Judge Elizabeth Scherer read off each of the charges in a Fort Lauderdale courthouse.

He told the judge he was suffering from a "little anxiety" but understood the charges against him and was pleading guilty of his own volition.

Cruz will now go before a jury for the penalty phase of the trial. He faces a minimum of life in prison without parole but prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

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The judge set 4 January 2022 for the start of jury selection for the penalty phase.

Following his guilty pleas, Cruz, who is now 23, apologised to the relatives of his victims.

"I am very sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day," he said, reading from a prepared statement. "It brings me nightmares."

"If I were to get a second chance I would do everything in my power to try to help others," he said.

Addressing relatives of the victims, Cruz said: "I believe it's your decision to decide where I go, whether I live or die, not the jury's."

Relatives of some of the victims were among the spectators in the courtroom and wiped away tears as a prosecutor recounted the attack in chilling detail.

Gena Hoyer wipes away tears as her son's name is read aloud during high school shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea at the Broward County Courthouse in Florida.

Source: Getty Images North America

Mental health problems

The shooting was the worst school massacre in the United States since the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, which left 26 dead.

The Florida shooting stunned the country and sparked new efforts, led by students from the school itself, for tougher gun control, although the polarised US Congress has yet to enact meaningful gun reform.

A rally organised by Stoneman Douglas students, "March for Our Lives", drew hundreds of thousands to the nation's capital in March 2018.

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President Joe Biden marked the third anniversary of the Parkland shooting in February with a call on Congress to enact "commonsense" gun law reforms.

"This administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call," President Biden said. "We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer."

Mr Biden said he wants Congress to pass laws that would require background checks on all gun sales and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

"The time to act is now," he said.

Gena Hoyer shows the pendant given to her by co-workers, bearing an image of her son, Luke Hoyer, 15, who was killed in the 2018 high school shooting.

Source: South Florida Sun Sentinel

Cruz bought the weapon legally, despite having been in local records as having a history of mental health problems.

Expelled from school for disciplinary reasons, Cruz was known to be fixated on firearms and had reportedly been identified as a potential threat to his classmates.

The FBI confirmed it was alerted several months before the attack to a message posted on YouTube, in which a user named Nikolas Cruz vowed: "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."

On the day of the attack Cruz arrived at the school in an Uber, began shooting indiscriminately at students and staff, and fled nine minutes later, leaving behind a scene of carnage.

He was arrested nearby shortly afterwards.

Footage recovered from his phone showed he had filmed his plans to attack his former school, saying his goal was to kill "at least 20 people".

Cruz told a detective after his arrest that he heard demons ordering him to "buy weapons, kill animals and destroy everything".

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2021-10-20 19:44:27Z

Remains found in hunt for Laundrie -

Police have reportedly found partial human remains in an area where some personal items belonging to Brian Laundrie were earlier discovered.

Law enforcement have reportedly found what appears to be partial human remains in an area that was underwater, near where some belongings believed to belong to Brian Laundrie were found

A senior law enforcement official told NBC that the remains were found in Florida’s Carlton Reserve.

There is no confirmation the remains belong to Laundrie. A medical examiner is reported to be on the scene.

The remains were found near a backpack, according to this source, which is believed to have belonged to Laundrie.

His parents Chris and Roberta reportedly directed FBI agents and police to the location where “some articles belonging to their son were found,” according to a statement by Laundrie lawyer Steven Bertolino.

The Sun earlier reported that a white bag was found at the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park.

Mr Bertolino said in a statement: “Chris and Roberta Laundrie went to the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park this morning to search for Brian.

“The FBI and NPPD were informed last night of Brian’s parents’ intentions and they met Chris and Roberta there this morning after a brief search off a trail that Brian frequented some articles belonging to Brian were found.

“As of now law enforcement is conducting a more thorough investigation of that area,” he said.

Laundrie and Petito, who met in New York before moving to Florida two years ago, were around two months into their planned four-month cross-country road trip touring the US’ national parks before Petito vanished sometime around August 27.

Laundrie quietly returned home to Florida alone on September 1, failing to alert police or Petito’s family that she was missing.

He reportedly acted “without a care in the world” upon his return, neighbours said, mowing the front yard and enjoying idyllic bike rides with his mum.

Petito was eventually reported missing by her mother in New York on September 11. That came after 10 days of allegedly being stonewalled by Laundrie and his parents about where her daughter was, she said.

Then, on September 14, Laundrie allegedly vanished after telling his parents he was going hiking at Carlton Reserve.

But they didn’t report Laundrie missing until three days later.

A month long search for Laundrie has so far yielded no leads beyond speculation and a handful of potential sightings.

Laundrie is not currently considered a suspect in Petito’s murder but is considered a person of interest.

He does, however, have a warrant out for his arrest on bank fraud allegations after allegedly racking up $1000 in charges on a debit card that’s believed to have belonged to Petito.

Last week, autopsy results revealed that Gabby Petito was strangled up to four weeks before her body was found.

The manner of her death was ruled a homicide, but the autopsy report has revealed information on her cause of death.

Teton County Coroner Dr Brent Blue confirmed that Petito died by strangulation during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

He added that Petito’s predicted death was three to four weeks before her body was found. The body was outside “in the wilderness” for this time.

The doctor also confirmed that Petito was not pregnant at the time of her death and that a toxicology report was unable to be released at this time.

Following the autopsy, the young woman’s body was returned to the mortuary who are dealing with the family at this time, the doctor added.

Following the results of the autopsy, Mr Bertolino, released a statement saying: “Gabby Petito’s death at such a young age is a tragedy.

“While Brian Laundrie is currently charged with the unauthorised use of a debit card belonging to Gabby, Brian is only considered a person of interest in relation to Gabby Petito’s demise.

“At this time Brian is still missing and when he is located we will address the pending fraud charge against him.”

Dr Blue declined to say more about the autopsy or the case overall, saying he was prevented by Wyoming law that limits what coroners can release.

This article originally appeared in The Sun and is republished here with permission

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2021-10-20 16:46:11Z

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to 17 counts of murder - ABC News

Nikolas Cruz has pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people during a rampage at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, leaving a jury to decide whether he will be executed for one of the nation's deadliest school shootings.

Relatives of the victims who sat in the courtroom and watched the hearing via Zoom shook their heads or broke down in tears as Cruz entered his pleas and later apologised for his crimes.

"His guilty pleas are the first step in the judicial process but there is no change for my family. Our bright, beautiful, and beloved daughter Gina is gone while her killer still enjoys the blessing of life in prison."

The mother and widow of two people killed in the Parkland shooting embrace in court after Cruz's guilty plea.
A mother and a widow of two Parkland shooting victims embrace in court after the guilty pleas.(Reuters: Amy Beth Bennett/Pool)

The guilty pleas will set the stage for a penalty trial in which 12 jurors will determine whether Cruz, 23, should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. 

Given the case's notoriety, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer plans to screen thousands of prospective jurors.

Cruz entered his pleas after answering a long list of questions from Judge Scherer aimed at confirming his mental competency. 

He was charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for those wounded in the February 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, located just outside Fort Lauderdale.

As several parents shook their heads, Cruz apologized to them, saying, "I'm very sorry for what I did. … I can't live with myself sometimes."

He also added that he wished it was up to the survivors to determine whether he lived or died.

Anthony Borges, a former Stoneman Douglas student who was shot five times and severely wounded, told reporters after the hearing that he accepted Cruz's apology, but noted that it was not up to him to decide the confessed murderer's fate.

"My decision is to be a better person and to change the world for every kid. I don't want this to happen to anybody again. It hurts. It hurts. It really hurts. So, I am just going to keep going. That's it," he added.

Cruz's lawyers announced his intention to plead guilty during a hearing last week.

Following the pleas on Wednesday, former Broward State Attorney Mike Satz recounted the details of the murders. 

Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members on Valentine's Day 2018 during a seven-minute rampage through a three-story building at Stoneman Douglas, investigators said. 

Parkland shooting survivors Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg stand together at a protest to end gun violence.
Parkland shooting surivors David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez of Parkland High School at a 2019 protest against gun violence.(Reuters: Michael A McCoy/File photo)

They said he shot victims in the hallways and in classrooms with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. 

Cruz had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas a year earlier after a history of threatening, frightening, unusual and sometimes violent behaviour that dated back to preschool.

The shootings caused some Stoneman Douglas students to launch the March for Our Lives movement, which pushes for stronger gun restrictions nationally.

Since days after the shooting, Cruz's lawyers had offered to have him plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, saying that would spare the community the emotional turmoil of reliving the attack at trial. 

But Mr Satz rejected the offer, saying Cruz deserved a death sentence, and appointed himself lead prosecutor. 

Mr Satz, 79, stepped down as state attorney in January after 44 years, but remains Cruz's chief prosecutor.

His successor, Harold Pryor, is opposed to the death penalty but has said he will follow the law. 

By having Cruz plead guilty, his attorneys will be able to argue during the penalty hearing that he took responsibility for his actions.


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2021-10-20 17:43:06Z