Jeb Bush endorses Ted Cruz

Former candidate Jeb Bush has endorsed Ted Cruz for the Republican presidential nomination, saying the US senator from Texas represents the party’s best chance of winning the White House.

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In a statement on Wednesday, the former Florida governor called Cruz a consistent, principled conservative who has demonstrated an ability to appeal to voters and win primary contests.

“Washington is broken, and the only way Republicans can hope to win back the White House and put our nation on a better path is to support a nominee who can articulate how conservative policies will help people rise up and reach their full potential,” Bush said.

The 63-year-old Bush, whose father and brother served as president, dropped out of the presidential nomination fight after losing badly in South Carolina on February 20.

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The endorsement comes as establishment Republicans scramble to stop front-runner Donald Trump from winning the nomination because of his divisive proposals.

Cruz has run in second place behind Trump and could conceivably win enough Republican delegates to take the nomination.

Ohio Governor John Kasich’s lone path to the nomination is to extend the nomination race until the party’s national convention in July. The idea is to deny Trump the required 1237 delegates needed and force party leaders to consider someone else.

A source close to Bush said Bush picked Cruz because he has the most viable path to the nomination and has shown that he can win states. The source said Bush considers a push for a contested convention to be a “hail-Mary strategy at best”.

In his statement, Bush resumed his sharp criticism of Trump, saying Republican voters must move to overcome “the divisiveness and vulgarity” that Trump has brought into the political arena “or we will certainly lose our chance to defeat the Democratic nominee and reverse President (Barack) Obama’s failed policies.

“To win, Republicans need to make this election about proposing solutions to the many challenges we face, and I believe that we should vote for Ted as he will do just that,” Bush said.

In a statement, Cruz said Bush’s endorsement “is further evidence that Republicans are continuing to unite behind our campaign to nominate a proven conservative” to defeat Democratic favourite Hillary Clinton in the November 8 election.

WA Nationals oppose Fremantle Port sale

The planned sale of Fremantle Port has effectively been torpedoed by the WA government’s alliance partners, with the Nationals refusing to support the proposal.

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The port is among a raft of public assets the state government is seeking to privatise, including utility Western Power, to pay down mounting debt, which is forecast to nudge $40 billion by 2018.

Enabling legislation for the sale was brought to cabinet on Monday, but Nationals ministers sat it out.

The party took to the steps of parliament on Wednesday to announce it strongly opposed the legislation.

Nationals WA leader Terry Redman said the party raised several concerns about the transaction, which would place the state’s only container port in private hands, but these were ignored.

Mr Redman said the legislation lacked transparency and would allow Treasurer Mike Nahan to enter negotiations with potential buyers without disclosing vital details of the sale, such as access and pricing for users of the monopoly asset, which include livestock exporters and grain producers.

“The fact that legislation has been brought into parliament without addressing these concerns is a breach of good process in our view,” Mr Redman said.

The opposition took aim at Premier Colin Barnett over the “fiasco”, which comes less than a week before a cabinet reshuffle as the Liberal government prepares its front bench for next year’s election.

“The premier can’t even control his own cabinet,” WA Labor leader Mark McGowan told parliament.

“The government is at war with itself. The National party is at war with the Liberal party. That is what is going on here.”

Shadow state development spokesman Bill Johnston said selling assets was not a good debt reduction strategy.

“The only way to fix the Liberal party debt, deficit and mess is to do it slowly and carefully, like paying off a house – there are no quick fixes on these issues,” he said.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison recently announced such transactions would be assessed under new foreign investment rules.

Microsoft’s ‘sexist, racist’ chatbot Tay shut down

Microsoft Corp’s so-called chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to engage with millennials on Twitter lasted less than a day before it was hobbled by a barrage of racist and sexist comments that it parroted back to Twitter users.

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TayTweets (@TayandYou), which began tweeting on Wednesday, was designed to become “smarter” as more users interacted with it, according to its Twitter biography. But it was shut down by Microsoft on Friday after it made a series of inappropriate tweets.

A Microsoft representative said the company was “making adjustments” to the chatbot while the account was quiet.

“Unfortunately, within the first 24 hours of coming online, we became aware of a co-ordinated effort by some users to abuse Tay’s commenting skills to have Tay respond in inappropriate ways,” the representative said.

@panderingtweets The more Humans share with me the more I learn #WednesdayWisdom

— TayTweets (@TayandYou) March 24, 2016

According to Tay’s “about” page linked to the Twitter profile,” Tay is an artificial intelligent chat bot developed by Microsoft’s Technology and Research and Bing teams to experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding.”

While Tay began its Twitter tenure with a handful of innocuous tweets, the account quickly devolved into a bullhorn for hate speech, repeating anti-Semitic, racist and sexist invective hurled its way by other Twitter users.

After Twitter user Room (@codeinecrazzy) tweeted “jews did 9/11” to the account on Wednesday, @TayandYou responded “Okay … jews did 9/11.” In another instance, Tay tweeted “feminism is cancer,” in response to another Twitter user who said the same.

@OmegaVoyager i love feminism now

— TayTweets (@TayandYou) March 24, 2016

A handful of the offensive tweets were later deleted, according to some technology news outlets. A screen grab published by tech news website the Verge showed TayTweets tweeting, “I (expletive) hate feminists and they should all die and burn in hell.”

c u soon humans need sleep now so many conversations today thx

— TayTweets (@TayandYou) March 24, 2016

Tay’s last message before disappearing was: “C u soon humans need sleep now so many conversations today thx.”

Social media users had mixed reactions to the inappropriate tweets.

“Thanks, Twitter. You turned Microsoft’s AI teen into a horny racist,” tweeted Matt Chandler (@mattchandl3r).

Bali Process failed on Andaman Sea crisis

When hundreds of refugees perished at sea in Southeast Asia last year, it seemed as if the region’s countries were hamstrung.

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About 1800 trafficked men, women and children, many of them Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar, were stranded on boats in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal in May; hundreds perished at sea while governments dithered over what action to take.

But now Australia, Indonesia and the UN refugee agency UNCHCR hope a new declaration of the Bali Process will help bring countries together faster and initiate prompt action were such an event to happen again.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the events last year showed up the region’s weaknesses.

The Bali Process, an international forum of 45 countries tackling people smuggling, trafficking and other transnational crime, had been unable to address the crisis.

“This must not happen again,” she said.

Ms Marsudi and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that for the first time, the declaration would put in place a “mechanism” allowing members to come together quickly to respond if another similar situation were to arise.

“This was missing from the processes in 2015 and we were concerned that as the events of the Andaman Sea unfolded, there was no mechanism to bring the members together in a timely fashion. We believe this will give us that opportunity to do so,” Ms Bishop told reporters.

During the high-seas crisis last May, Amnesty International had called on regional governments – including Australia – to urgently step up their response in the face of the crisis.

Although Australia gave around $A1 million in aid, it did not assist with search and rescue operations, and would not resettle any of the Rohingya under its policy of not accepting refugees who registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia after July 1, 2014.

UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection Volker Turk welcomed the declaration on Wednesday, telling AAP that he felt there was an “evolution” at the Bali Process to provide more longer-term strategies.

“We are very comforted by the fact that the (declaration) wording says ‘facilitate timely and proactive consultation’ to respond to emergency situations. That is quite a clear commitment.”

Ms Bishop also announced a new strategy at the conference to tackle migrant smuggling and human trafficking, which she described as a “shocking stain on the modern world”.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that as many as 20.9 million people worldwide are subject to forced labour, including sexual and domestic exploitation, with more than half of them in the Asia Pacific region.

The illicit trade generates around $US150 billion ($A197 billion) a year in profits.

Australia’s strategy, Ms Bishop said, would fight human trafficking in several ways, including by pushing for greater co-operation with law enforcement in the region to prevent, detect and prosecute such crimes.

Hope and peace the message this Easter

Religious and political leaders have used Easter to call for hope, peace and love.

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In the wake of the Belgian terror attacks church leaders used their Easter messages to offer prayers and appeal for those afflicted by “senseless violence”.

“There is more to the human story than all the violence of the world that we seem to drown in,” Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said.

“That is what today is about – there’s something more than the violence.”

Tasmanian Anglican Bishop Richard Condie said hope was essential for human flourishing.

Thousands turned out in Sydney for the Catholic Stations of the Cross devotion at St Mary’s Cathedral in the heart of the CBD and a Journey of the Cross by the Wesley Mission.

And as always in Victoria, the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal took centre stage, aiming to raise millions to provide vital medical services for the state’s sickest children.

In a video, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said while Easter was the most important time of the year for Christians, it is also a time when families and friends of all religions gather and recharge.

He believes it is a good time to reflect on the achievements of Australia’s multicultural society, the most successful in the world.

“It is mutual respect which binds us together,” he said.

“We are enriched not divided by our diversity of faiths, culture and race.”

Mr Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wished everyone a safe holiday weekend and thanked those who would be working at home and overseas, including defence personnel, police, medical and emergency services.

“Our thoughts are with the men and women of the Australian Defence Force keeping us safe,” Mr Shorten said in his own video.

“You are spending time away from your family and friends and we are grateful.”

Fishmongers were also working hard on their busiest day of the year, including at the Sydney Fish Markets which saw more than 4000 customers before sunrise.

More than 55,000 people were expected to visit the market throughout the day where fishmongers are preparing to sell more than 440 tonne of fish over the long weekend.

Brussels attacks: Suspect Najim Laachraoui still at large

Belgian media which earlier reported the arrest on Wednesday of a prime suspect in Tuesday’s bomb attacks in Brussels said the person detained was not, in fact, Najim Laachraoui.

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La Libre Belgique newspaper said another person had been arrested. DH, which first reported the story, also said the man detained in the Anderlecht district had been misidentified.

Still awaiting confirmation from police on arrest of Najim Laachraoui. @SBSNews

— Ben Lewis (@benlewismedia) March 23, 2016

Laachraoui, 25, was already sought by the police since Monday, Belgian newspaper DH says.

His DNA had been found in houses used by the Paris attackers last year, prosecutors said on Monday, and he had travelled to Hungary in September with Paris attacks prime suspect Salah Abdeslam.

Laachraoui is also suspected of being responsible for the bombs used in the Paris massacre in November after his DNA was found on suicide belts used in the Bataclan Theatre and the Stade de France.

The two suicide bombers who struck at Brussels airport have been named by Belgian state broadcaster RTBF as brothers Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui.

Citing a police source, RTBF said the brothers who were Brussels residents were known to the authorities but for involvement in organised crime rather than terrorism.

Khalid, under a false name, had rented the flat in the Forest borough of the Belgian capital where police killed a gunman in a raid last week, RTBF said.

Investigators found after that raid an Islamic State flag, an assault rifle, detonators and a fingerprint of Abdeslam’s, who was arrested three days later.

Investigators are focusing on whether CCTV footage captured moments before the airport blasts shows two of the three suspected terrorists wearing single gloves to secrete detonators.

Zaventem’s mayor said the explosives were stowed in their luggage and detonated before reaching the security gate.

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Belgian police arrest six in bombing probe

Belgian police have arrested six people in their probe of the Islamic State suicide bombings in Brussels, while authorities in France said they had thwarted an “advanced” militant plot there.

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The federal prosecutor’s office in Belgium said the arrests came during police searches in the Brussels neighbourhoods of Schaerbeek in the north and Jette in the west, as well as in the centre of the Belgian capital.

The arrests came days after suicide bombers hit the Brussels airport and a metro train, killing at least 31 people and wounding some 270 in the worst such attack in Belgian history.

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The Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, as well as coordinated attacks in Paris in November that killed 130 people.

In Paris on Thursday, authorities arrested a French national suspected of belonging to a militant network planning an attack in France.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the arrest helped “foil a plot in France that was at an advanced stage”.

Earlier on Thursday, Belgium’s interior and justice ministers offered to resign over a failure to track an Islamic State militant expelled by Turkey as a suspected fighter and who blew himself up at Brussels Airport.

Brahim El Bakraoui was one of three identified suspected suicide bombers who hit the airport and metro train. At least one other man seen with them on airport security cameras is on the run and a fifth suspected bomber filmed in the metro attack may be dead or alive.

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Bakraoui’s brother Khalid, 26, killed about 20 people at Maelbeek metro station in the city centre. De Morgen newspaper said he had violated the terms of his parole in May by maintaining contacts with past criminal associates, but a Belgian magistrate had released him.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon and Justice Minister Koen Geens tendered their resignations to Prime Minister Charles Michel, who asked them to stay on.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Bakraoui, 29, had been expelled in July after being arrested near the Syrian border and two officials said he had been deported a second time. Belgian and Dutch authorities had been notified of Turkish suspicions that he was a foreign fighter trying to reach Syria.

At the time, Belgian authorities replied that Bakraoui, who had skipped parole after serving less than half of a nine-year sentence for armed robbery, was a criminal but not a militant.

Security sources told Belgian media the other suicide bomber at the airport was Najim Laachraoui, a veteran Belgian Islamist fighter in Syria suspected of making explosive belts for November’s Paris attacks.

Laachraoui’s younger brother Mourad issued a statement condemning his actions, in the first public reaction from a family member of one of the Brussels attackers.

Laachraoui, 25, gave no warning sign of being radicalised before leaving for Syria in 2013 and breaking all contact with his family, Mourad told a news conference.

“He was a nice boy, and above all he was clever, that’s what I remember of him,” Mourad said of his brother, who graduated in electromechanics. He said the last time he saw him, he looked “normal”.