Somali survivors tell of bloody siege

Somali survivors have described harrowing scenes of the night-long siege of a popular Mogadishu restaurant by al-Shabab Islamic extremists that was ended by security forces.

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At least 17 people, including foreigners, were dead, police and an ambulance driver said. Survivors of the attack were led by soldiers from the Pizza House restaurant building.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility as the restaurant was under siege.

Soldiers surrounded the restaurant building and fired guns mounted on the backs of vehicles. Troops entered the ground floor while the insurgent snipers held positions upstairs.

All five attackers were killed and after dawn the soldiers secured the building, said senior Somali police office Captain Mohamed Hussein.

Survivors recounted harrowing stories of hiding under tables, as armed attackers continued firing in the restaurant and hunted for patrons. Attackers moved from room to room, looking for people, said a survivor.

“I never thought I would have the chance to see the sun again. They were killing people on sight,” Saida Hussein, a university student, told The Associated Press. She said she survived the attack by hiding behind a large table downstairs.

Another survivor, Aden Karie, was wounded by an attacker who spotted him moving behind a curtain in the dark room.

“He shot at me twice and one bullet struck me on the leg,” said Karie as he was taken to an awaiting ambulance.

The roofs were blown off the restaurant and nearby buildings from the powerful blasts.

The bodies of five girls thought to have been killed by the militants were found in the restaurant, police said. Inside the building, the body of a Syrian man who worked as a chef at restaurant lay near the rubble of a blood-spattered and bullet-marked wall.

The attack began Wednesday evening a car bomb exploded at the gate to the restaurant and gunmen posing as military forces stormed into the establishment.

Courts cannot be immune from criticism: PM

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it’s “very unusual” for three of his senior ministers to be hauled before a court for criticising Victorian judges, and added that he supports of their right as “Victorian citizens” to voice concern.

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Mr Turnbull said Health Minister Greg Hunt, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar respect the independence of the judiciary but criticism of court decisions must be allowed.

“The idea that you can protect the independence of the judiciary by prohibiting criticism of the judiciary is just wrong,” Mr Turnbull told 3AW on Thursday.

“I would never imagine that public comments or criticism, whether it’s by a politician in parliament or a newspaper columnist, would influence a judge in their deliberation.”

Mr Turnbull said his ministers are “citizens of Victoria” and there is “real concern about law and order and the failure of the state government and the system to protect people”.

Lawyers for the three ministers are expected to face court on Friday to explain why they shouldn’t be referred for prosecution for saying the Victorian judiciary was being soft on terrorists.

Mr Hunt accused the Victorian court system of becoming a forum for “ideological experiments” as the Court of Appeal considered a federal prosecutor’s appeal over the sentence of a terrorist.

Liberal Democrat Senator Leyonhjelm says he thinks contempt of court “is when you do a brown eye” and not when judges or their decisions are criticised.

“Judges are not elected and these dear, little daffodils are saying ‘we shouldn’t be criticised for the way we are doing our job’,” he said in Canberra on Thursday.

Mr Sukkar told The Australian newspaper the judiciary should focus more on victims and less on terrorists’ rights, while Mr Tudge said some judges were “divorced from reality”.

Labor and the Greens have slammed the government’s decision to publicly fund the ministers in court on Friday.

“The three ministers made comments to a newspaper on a matter that had nothing to do with their respective portfolios,” shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus said.

“The cost to the public purse in deploying the Solicitor-General to the Supreme Court of Victoria tomorrow will no doubt be upwards of $10,000.”

Greens Senator Nick McKim said if the ministers are “foolish enough to try to bring the court into disrepute for base political purposes, then they should stick their hands into their own pockets.”

Government reveals revamped citizenship test

The bill was introduced to parliament today.

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If passed, it would require aspiring citizens to sit a more challenging English language exam.

Labor is undecided on the bill, but is already warning the new English test could be too hard.

Would-be citizens will need to prove they can read, write and speak English at a ‘competent’ level, if the government’s reforms pass through parliament.

The law would leave it up to the Immigration minister to decide what ‘competent’ means.

But Labor’s Tony Burke says the government has floated an increase to IELTS 6*.

And he warns many would find that far too hard.

“If you take a 6, universities start admitting people – some of them demand a 5.5. So this is harder than it is to get into some universities. So with a series of these issues, we’re setting standards that a very good number of Australians who were born here do not meet and will never meet.”

Tony Burke warns that could create an underclass of migrants who never pass the test, and spend their lives in Australia living as non-citizens.

Applicants who hold passports from English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, the US and New Zealand will not be required to sit the English test.

The bill also confirms permanent residents will need to wait four years before taking the citizenship test.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says applicants will need to sign a values statement.

“The Australian values statement includes an understanding of respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women, equality of opportunity for individuals regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background. And English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society.”

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is pressuring Labor to back the bill, despite its reservations over the English requirements.

“They’re unable to support the need to demonstrate integration into the Australian community. They’re unable to support a requirement to commit to our values and pledge allegiance to Australia.”

But Labor is yet to make up its mind on which elements of the citizenship changes it will support.

Opposition Treasury spokesman,Chris Bowen, points out the bill has only been available to read since this morning.

“The Immigration Minister’s been standing at the despatch box, bellowing about Labor voting for legislation he hadn’t introduced and we had not seen. So we’ll of course now take the opportunity to examine the legislation and take it through our normal party processes.”

 

 

Love of football central to new All Abilities league

All Abilities Soccer caters for men and women to train and compete regularly at club level,

The only essential requirement?

A love of football.

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The 16 players of the Northern Falcons All Abilities football team know what it is to struggle.

Each has an intellectual disability of some degree.

But for three hours a week on the soccer pitch there’s no stigma and no limitations, there’s only football.

Coach Anthony Risoli says whether it’s a game or a training drill these players give it their all.

“They try as hard as they can, and I set drills as I would for any other player, different age group, it doesn’t matter. They participate, they give it a go.”

In 2009 the Northern Falcons became one of the first clubs in the state to start an All Abilities football team, making the sport accessible to every player with a passion for the round ball.

Starting with six, the club now has 16 regular players and continues to grow.

Coach Risoli says many come to the club having never experienced organised sport.

“A lot of these players are first time players, first time training. Even at the age of 40 it’s the first time they’ve been able to be a part of a team and play sports.”

After years of campaigning by the Northern Falcons, an official league was launched this year with the backing of Football Federation Victoria, allowing players to test out their new skills against other All Abilities teams across the state.

Defender John Kourlinis says it was nerve-racking getting the chance to finally play a competition match in front of a crowd.

“We’ve been training all this time and now the actual match is coming, you know what I mean. And then I get a sense of fear that I’m going to embarrass myself in front of everyone.”

And while victory is the ultimate goal for most clubs, the Northern Falcons offers more than a chance at glory – it offers a chance to belong.

Player Megan Sloan says the best part of playing is being part of the club.

“All the people are willing to lend a helping hand. It’s just fun to be around other people, that have the same interests such as soccer and stuff.”

The club fields two teams in the All Abilities league, with players ranging in age, gender and disability.

Northern Falcons President Frank Pizzo says while every goal is celebrated, just wearing the guernsey [jumper, pr. GERN-zee] is victory enough.

“The fact they get to represent the club and try and win for the club, they put the guernsey on, the same guernsey everyone else wears, that’s the biggest thing for them.”

 

 

High-rise audit in Australia needed after London blaze: Xenophon

In the wake of a deadly residential tower fire in London, Australian authorities have been told an audit of high-rise buildings with cladding is needed to ensure the material is fire-retardant.

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While investigators say it’s too early to determine the cause of the blaze in which at least 12 people died, residents have blamed new aluminium composite cladding — installed to make the building more energy efficient — for aiding the fire’s rapid spread.

“We need to have an audit of all high-rise buildings which have cladding to ensure that it’s fire-retardant, meets Australian standards or if it’s not, it needs to be removed,” independent senator Nick Xenophon told Sky News on Thursday.

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Fire safety engineer Stephen Kip says he’s seeing materials being used which are non-compliant.

“What I’m seeing when I audit buildings are uses of foam-based cladding materials, polystyrene, polyethelene and sometimes polyuretheane, which are not compliant with the building code, but which are used because they’re cheap and energy efficient,” he said.

A Senate committee has been investigating the use of non-conforming building materials and is due to finalise a report by October.

“But so far the evidence we have got is very disturbing,” Senator Xenophon said.

“Firefighters say this external cladding is flammable, non-conforming; stuff that shouldn’t be on buildings and poses an enormous risk on residents and to firefighters.”

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Other building products were being imported to Australia that did not conform with local standards, the senator said.

Thousands of kilometres of electrical cables already have been recalled and banned from the market by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“There are 22,000 homes in this country where this is a potential risk of fire or electrocution because of defective cables,” Senator Xenophon said.

Insulation Australia chairman Scott Gibson fears there is a proliferation of building products used in Australia that don’t comply or conform with building standards and he fears many have been used during the recent apartment building boom in Sydney and Melbourne.

His organisation wants governments to make it compulsory for all building products to undergo strict tests by an independent body to ensure they don’t pose fire or other safety risks.

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