Rights group urges China to release North Korean refugees

China should immediately reveal the whereabouts of eight North Koreans it detained last month, Human Rights Watch said Monday, adding they risk severe torture if they were returned to the North.


Most North Korean refugees begin their escape by crossing into China and then try to make it to third countries – often in Southeast Asia – where they seek asylum in the South.

If caught and returned to the North they can face severe punishment.

China regularly labels North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” and repatriates them based on a border protocol adopted in 1986.

“By now, there are plenty of survivor accounts that reveal Kim Jong-Un’s administration is routinely persecuting those who are forced back to North Korea,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

Watch: North Korea ‘ready for final battle’

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The group it highlighted – which includes at least four women – was detained by Chinese officials in mid-March after they were stopped for a random check in Shenyang, in northeastern China.

Human Rights Watch said that on the basis of information from sources it considers usually reliable, the group was still believed to be jailed in China.

But it feared they may soon be returned to the North since “most repatriations happen two months after detention”.

“There is no way to sugar coat this: if this group is forced back to North Korea, their lives and safety will be at risk,” Robertson said.

More than 40 North Koreans, including children and pregnant women, have been held by China over the past nine months, Human Rights Watch said, and at least nine forcibly returned to the North.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, more than 30,000 North Koreans have escaped – most after a deadly famine in the mid-90s – and settled in the South.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is believed to have tightened border controls since he came to power after the death of his father Kim Jong-Il in December 2011.

The number of refugees arriving in South Korea plunged nearly 50 per cent to 1,417 last year.


Canada, Germany deliver shock World Relays wins

Despite that disappointment, the Americans still ended the two-day competition in Nassau with the most gold medals, five.


A strong leg by Olympic silver medallist Andre De Grasse and a solid exchange with anchor Aaron Brown put the Canadians out front in the men’s 4×200 and Brown raced home for the year’s best time of 1:19.42.

Brown said the team had been determined to make up for a dropped baton that knocked them out of Saturday’s 4×100.

“It did not go well yesterday,” said Brown. “But I’m glad we were able to break the curse, get the monkey off our backs and show the world what we are able to do in the relays.”

The win, the first in the event by a non-U.S. or Jamaican team at the World Relays, came after Canadian leadoff runner Gavin Smellie was called for a false start in the heats.

“There was maybe a little twitch, but I didn’t move,” said Smellie. “I was asking the officials to watch the video to see there was no false start.”

The officials agreed and the red card was withdrawn.

The United States, running without Justin Gatlin, were second in the final in 1:19.88 and Jamaica took third (1:21.09).

In the women’s 4×100, anchor Rebekka Haas held off Jamaica’s Sashalee Forbes to give Germany their first World Relays victory in 42.84 seconds

“We were just hoping to get a medal, but we got gold,” said German leadoff Alexandra Burghardt.

The United States won three of Sunday’s other finals.

Olympic bronze medallist Clayton Murphy outdueled Kenya’s Ferguson Rotich in the men’s 4×800 as the United States came home in 7:13.16 with Kenya running 7:13.70.

Olympian LaShawn Merritt anchored the Americans to a narrow victory over Botswana in the men’s 4×400, the Americans winning in 3:02.13, just 0.15 seconds ahead of Botswana.

There was no such drama in the women’s 4×400 where the Americans came home in 3:24.36, nearly four seconds ahead of Poland.

“These ladies blew that thing open for me,” said American anchor Natasha Hastings.

Host Bahamas finally struck victory in the finale of the night, the mixed 4×400, in 3:14.42.

The top eight finishers in the 4×100 and 4×400 for men and women automatically qualified for the IAAF world championships in London in August.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Budget to have another go at dole bludgers

The Turnbull government is going back to basics with its May 9 budget and having another crack at dole bludgers.


After weeks of speculation over what the budget might bring to ease housing affordability pressures, Malcolm Turnbull has attempted to tone down expectations despite a red-hot property market in Sydney and Melbourne.

A new poll has found voters agreeing with the prime minister about housing affordability, saying while it’s an important issue it isn’t necessarily a top priority.

The government will crack down on people who claim welfare but won’t participate in work-for-the-dole schemes, closing a loophole that allows payments to continue despite people refusing interviews or placements.

Employment Minster Michaelia Cash says there is a cohort of people in Australia that actively says no to suitable work

“I think all taxpayers would rightly expect that those who can work should work and our welfare system should be there as a genuine safety net, not as something that people can choose to fund their lifestyle,” she told reporters in Brisbane on Monday.

Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher is a “bit suspicious” when a coalition government attempts to demonise and attack those who rely on welfare.

“We support rigour around people being responsible for the money they receive and actually having to play by the rules. There is no problem with that,” she told reporters in Canberra.

But Labor wants to make sure the government isn’t being “harsh and unfair” by attacking those who are most vulnerable.

However, Senator Gallagher welcomed a backflip by the government that will enable Australia’s most vulnerable people access to legal services under new funding arrangements.

The government will provide $39 million for community legal centres and $16.7 million for indigenous legal services in the budget.

“We’re actually announcing this in advance of the budget because we want to send a very clear signal about where the government’s priorities lie,” Attorney-General George Brandis told reporters in Brisbane.

The coalition has come under sustained fire from Labor, minor parties and community groups for not guaranteeing ongoing funding to the legal services, with previous commitments set to end on July 1.

Senator Gallagher said it was a humiliating about face by Senator Brandis.

“Just eight weeks out from these cuts taking effect, for those who have campaigned against the cuts, the victory is theirs today,” she said.

A new survey found a majority (57 per cent) of voters regard Medicare and hospitals as their top priority.

The polling, by JWS Research for the Australian Financial Review, found stimulating economic growth and employment came second on 48 per cent, followed by welfare and social issues on 46 per cent and then housing affordability and funding for education and schools, both on 41 per cent.

Storm wary of Foran and Warriors

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy says the addition of playmaker Kieran Foran has made a huge difference to the Warriors ahead of their Anzac Day clash.


The Warriors No.6 played his first game for his new NRL club in round five and Bellamy said he had improved their attack.

In his three games this month the New Zealand-based side have won two and lost one, falling to the highly-rated Raiders in Canberra last round.

“Foran makes a lot of difference,” Bellamy said ahead of the Tuesday night match at AAMI Park.

“He’s a really experienced player and he’s a real competitor and he really straightens up their attack a lot.

“He’s come in and I suppose taken over the organisation of the attack which means less responsibility on (Shaun) Johnson’s shoulders so he’s been real important for them.”

Foran, who is off-contract and is set to return to an Australian NRL club, has been linked to a move to the Storm but Bellamy delivered an emphatic denial on Monday when asked if they were interested.

While the Storm boast the best spine in the competition in fullback Billy Slater, halfback Cooper Cronk and hooker Cameron Smith, Bellamy said he was aware of the talents of the Warriors trio in Foran, fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and hooker Issac Luke.

Bellamy said he’d been stunned by the recovery of Tuivasa-Sheck from a knee reconstruction when they met in a pre-season trial.

“Usually it takes a while to get back their speed and agility but in their trial I can’t remember a guy come back from an ACL and move as well as Sheck did,” Bellamy said.

“He’s a freak of nature, he’s such a good player.”

Bellamy wouldn’t reveal whether he would continue with Ryley Jacks at five-eighth or give Cameron Munster a start following his recovery from a fractured jaw.

Munster came off the bench in their hard-fought win over Manly last round.

“Both of them are in really good form so we will work out what’s best for the team,” Bellamy said.

“Munster’s done a wonderful job for us for two years so with all due respect he’s probably earnt the right to have first go but whether that’s the right time this week with the time he’s had out,” Bellamy said.

Government finds ‘new money’ for community legal centres after backlash over funding cuts

The Federal Government has cancelled its plan to cut millions of dollars in funding for community legal centres across Australia after backlash from the sector.


Centres had been bracing for a 30 per cent slash in funding from July 1, working out at nearly $35 million over three years, but today Attorney-General George Brandis announced he’d return funding and go further.

“This is new money, it is not being removed or taken away or transferred from other priorities of the government,” the Attorney-General said.  

“It represents the largest single commitment on an annualised basis by the Commonwealth Government to the legal assistance sector ever.”

The sector will receive a funding boost of $55.7 million over the next three years, which includes $16.7 million for Indigenous legal services.

Senator Brandis has blamed the funding shortfall on the previous Labor Government’s 2014 budget, however the Coalition also made savings during its time in office.

“We are announcing this in advance of the Budget because we want to send a clear signal about where the Government’s priorities lie,” he said.

Acting Shadow Attorney-General Katy Gallagher welcomed the increase in funding but said it was a humiliating change of heart from Senator Brandis.

“Yet he still continues to deny any responsibility for the uncertainty and the devastating impact that these potential cuts have caused,” Senator Gallagher said. 

Watch: Brandis announces funding for CLCs

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The U-turn is a relief for many centres, with the Law Council of Australia calling it a “tremendous victory” for access to justice.

“The scheduled budget cuts would have significantly deepened the funding crisis affecting the legal assistance sector, with enormous downstream costs to taxpayers,” Law Council President Fiona McLeod said.

“Those who work in the legal assistance sector are the unsung heroes of our community, working long hours in extremely challenging conditions to achieve justice for their clients.”  

Ms McLeod said many centres had been factoring in the cut, which was to take place in eight weeks, by slashing services or staff.


In 2014 the Productivity Commission determined the community legal sector was underfunded, and needed a $200m injection of funding.

It highlighted the spending would be offset by savings for taxpayers by reducing costs and demand for the courts.

Today’s announcement takes funding for the services to 2020, when a national partnership agreement with the states and territories ends.

All jurisdictions will have to negotiate a new funding deal from that point.


China calls for North Korea, US restraint

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for all sides to exercise restraint in a call with US President Donald Trump, as a nervous South Korea and Japan sought to join drills with a US aircraft carrier strike group headed for Korean waters.


Reclusive North Korea said at the weekend it was ready to sink the US aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, which Trump had ordered to waters off the Korean peninsula as a warning to the nuclear-armed North.

Japan said on Sunday it had sent two Japanese destroyers to join the carrier group for drills, and South Korea said it was also in talks about holding joint naval exercises.

China is increasingly worried the situation may spin out of control, leading to war and a chaotic collapse of its isolated and poverty-struck neighbour.

Xi told Trump that China resolutely opposes any actions that run counter to UN Security Council resolutions, a Chinese foreign ministry statement said.

China “hopes that all relevant sides exercise restraint, and avoid doing anything to worsen the tense situation on the peninsula”, the statement paraphrased Xi as saying.

The nuclear issue can only be resolved quickly with all relevant countries pulling in the same direction, and China is willing to work with all parties, including the US, to ensure peace, Xi said.

Tensions have risen sharply in recent months, with Washington and its allies fearing Pyongyang could conduct another nuclear missile test or launch more ballistic missiles in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

North Korea celebrates the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday, and has marked similar events in the past with nuclear tests or missile launches.

Earlier, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described his conversation with Trump as a “thorough exchange of views”.

“We agreed to strongly demand that North Korea, which is repeating its provocation, show restraint,” Abe told reporters.

“We will maintain close contact with the United States, keep a high level of vigilance and respond firmly.”

Abe also said he and Trump agreed that China, North Korea’s sole major ally, should play a large role in dealing with Pyongyang.

The US government has not specified where the carrier strike group is, but US Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive “within days”.

South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun gave no further details about the South’s plans, other than saying Seoul was holding discussions with the US Navy.

“I can say the South Korean and US militaries are fully ready for North Korea’s nuclear test,” Moon said.

Canberra recommits to China extradition

The federal government has sought to reassure China it remains committed to a controversial extradition treaty during high-level security talks.


The government was forced to pull debate on the treaty from parliament in March because of its likely defeat amid internal and Labor opposition.

But senior ministers, including Attorney-General George Brandis, recommitted to the treaty during talks with China’s domestic security chief Meng Jianzhu in Sydney on Friday.

“It does remain the policy of the Australian government to move towards the ratification of the extradition treaty with China. We’ve told the Chinese that, they understand it,” Senator Brandis told Sky News on Monday.

“This is terribly important, particularly for dealing with transnational crime and with counter-terrorism.”

Senator Brandis hopes to persuade Labor there are appropriate protections in the extradition treaty, which was first signed by the Howard government in 2007.

“There is absolute ministerial discretion on the part of the Australian minister to ensure that nobody is extradited if there were to be, for example, human rights issues of concern,” he said.

Meanwhile, Australia and China agreed not to launch or support cyber attacks aimed at stealing intellectual property from each other after high-level security talks.

“Australia and China agreed that neither country would conduct or support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets or confidential business information with the intent of obtaining competitive advantage,” Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop said in a joint statement on Monday.

The deal is similar to an arrangement between China and the United States, and follows the prime minister raising cyber intellectual property theft with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during his visit to Australia in March.

The countries also vowed to work together in a fight against cyber crimes including child pornography and email scams, terrorism and transnational crimes such as money laundering, fraud and corruption.

Tatts predator to allow dividends

Pacific Consortium will allow Tatts Group to continue to pay dividends if the consortium’s proposed acquisition of the lotteries and wagering firm can’t be completed the end of the 2017.


The private equity group last week revised its takeover bid, offering $4.21 in cash for each Tatts share in the hope of boosting its chance of success against a proposal that would merge Tatts and wagering giant Tabcorp.

The Tatts board supports the merger proposal.

Under the consortium’s revised proposal, the consideration of $4.21 may include a special dividend of up to 25 cents per Tatts share.

Pacific’s proposal had assumed that, with the exception of any special dividend, Tatts would not pay any further dividends or capital returns prior to completion.

On Monday, the consortium said that should the transaction timetable extend beyond December 31, 2017, the consortium is willing to allow Tatts to continue to pay dividends to ensure the company’s shareholders are treated equitably.

“In this event, the future dividends would be received in addition to the $4.21 consideration received by Tatts shareholders,” the consortium said in a statement.

Pacific Consortium chair Dr Kerry Schott said confirmation that Tatts shareholders could continue to receive dividends showed that its revised proposal was superior to the Tabcorp proposition.

“In the interests of Tatts shareholders, the consortium believes the independent chairman and directors of Tatts should consider our proposal seriously and to allow access to due diligence,” Dr Schott said.

“We see no reason to not allow the prompt commencement of due diligence by the consortium.”

Tatts on Monday said, in a statement, it had not yet formed a view on how the consortium’s revised proposal compared to the Tabcorp merger proposal.

The Pacific Consortium comprises Macquarie Capital, Morgan Stanley Infrastructure, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and First State Super.

Tatts shares closed three cents higher, or 0.68 per cent, at $4.45.

Spotless rejects Downer EDI takeover bid

The board of cleaning and catering company Spotless has rejected mining services group Downer EDI’s $1.


26 billion takeover bid, describing it as hostile and highly conditional.

A statement from Spotless on Monday said the $1.15 per share offer was opportunistic, timed to take advantage of Spotless’s historically low share price, and did not represent adequate value for shareholders.

It described the bid as “hostile, highly conditional and not certain to proceed”.

“The Spotless board is unwavering in its belief in the fundamental strengths of the business,” Spotless chairman Garry Hounsell said.

“These include a blue-chip customer base and a strong portfolio of long-term government, health, defence and PPP (public private partnership) contracts.”

He said the company’s turnaround strategy was already delivering results.

The board recommends shareholders reject the offer

Spotless said it had also engaged in detailed discussions with a global facilities services company for a potential merger that had greater value than the Downer offer.

But talks ended on April 22 when an agreement could not be reached.

Spotless shares hit an all-time low of 79.5 cents in February after the troubled company signalled a reduction in dividends following a $358 million half-year loss that included heavy writedowns.

Downer launched a takeover bid in March and planned to fund the acquisition through a $1.01 billion rights share issue and debt.

Shares in Spotless closed down 0.45 per cent at $1.105, while shares in Downer were steady at $5.63.

Lethal injections scheduled in Arkansas bid to rush through executions

What began as a macabre plan to put eight convicted murderers to death in 11 days – a record, had it been carried out – has now seen one prisoner executed and four win reprieves.


The US Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to deny staying the executions of all eight condemned inmates.

But with the clock still ticking, Arkansas authorities are preparing to administer lethal injections Monday to Marcel Williams and Jack Jones. Four days earlier, on Thursday, Ledell Lee was put to death in the state’s first execution in more than a decade.

One more execution is scheduled for later in the week: Kenneth Williams, whose lawyers say he is intellectually disabled, on Thursday.

Arkansas’s Republican governor Asa Hutchinson has said the accelerated execution timetable is necessary as the state’s stock of a controversial sedative will expire at the end of the month.

Death-row inmates Jack Jones, left, and Marcel Williams. The two Arkansas inmates scheduled to be put to death Monday, April 24, 2017.Arkansas Department of Correction

The state attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, has pledged to overcome the stays and haul the convicts back into the death chamber.

Many of the legal clashes over Arkansas’s plan focus on use of the drug midazolam, a sedative meant to render a condemned person unconscious before other drugs induce death.

Critics say it does not always adequately sedate prisoners, potentially causing undue suffering.

And McKesson Medical-Surgical, a distributor for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, had asked courts to ban the use of a paralytic it sells, vecuronium bromide, in the chemical cocktail used to kill prisoners.