Suspected gas attack kills 58 in Syria

A suspected gas attack, believed to be by Syrian government jets, has killed at least 58 people including 11 children under the age of eight in the northwestern province of Idlib, a war monitor and medical workers in the rebel-held area said.

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A Syrian military source strongly denied the army had used any such weapons.

The attack caused many people to choke or faint, and some had foam coming out of their mouths, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, citing medical sources who described it as a sign of a gas attack.

The air strikes on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, in the south of rebel-held Idlib, also wounded more than 60 people, said the Observatory, a British-based war monitoring group.

“This morning, at 6.30 am, warplanes targeted Khan Sheikhoun with gases, believed to be sarin and chlorine,” said Mounzer Khalil, head of Idlib’s health authority, adding that the attack had killed more than 50 people and wounded 300.

“Most of the hospitals in Idlib province are now overflowing with wounded people,” he told a news conference in Idlib.

It would mark the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since sarin gas killed hundreds of civilians in Ghouta near Damascus in August 2013. Western states said the Syrian government was responsible for that attack. Damascus blamed it on rebels.

Activists in northern Syria circulated pictures on social media showing a purported victim with foam around his mouth, and rescue workers hosing down almost naked children squirming on the floor.

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Tuesday that Russian planes had not carried out air strikes on Idlib.

Obese kids have nowhere to go: study

Childhood obesity is a priority issue yet the level of public support available to Australian families is “inadequate”, according to new research presented at the World Congress on Public Health in Melbourne.

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Currently there is no publicly available national childhood obesity management program in Australia for children who need to lose weight, says Dr Helen Vidgen from the Faculty of Health at Queensland University of Technology.

Given there are evidence-based programs that have been proven to work, this is a situation that urgently needs to change given a quarter of all Australian children are now considered overweight or obese, she says.

“We hear so much about childhood obesity in the media yet if a family want to get some support from a health professional there really isn’t a clear place for them to go,” Dr Vidgen told AAP.

“If you have a child with a health issue – such as poor hearing or vision – there is a clear, integrated pathway through the health system and access to national services to manage this issue.

“But when it comes to managing childhood obesity there are no universally accessible services and there is no integrated pathway through the health services.”

Research led by Dr Vidgen found two specialised healthy lifestyle programs Go4Fun and PEACH, trialled in NSW and Queensland respectively, to be highly effective in reducing a child’s body mass index (BMI), activity levels and eating habits.

But they were hard for families to access because of the red tape involved in running the programs and a lack of direction and communication between different health professionals.

There is a real disconnect and a properly resourced national approach is needed, Dr Vidgen says.

“The strongest thing that we learnt is that there needs to be a clear directive on whose responsibility it is to deliver services to families and then the line of funding identified to match that responsibility,” she said.

“Left unchecked, an estimated one in three Australian children will be overweight or obese by 2025, so the need to find the right solutions for this complex problem is more pressing than ever.”

The Go4Fun program resulted in an average:

* 1.5 cm reduction in waist circumference

* 0.6kg/m2 reduction in body mass index

* Increase of 3.6 hours per week spent being physically active

* Decrease of 2.8 hours per week in sedentary activity

* Increase in fruit and vegetable consumption (by almost one additional serve per day)

* Decrease in sweet drink consumption (by almost 1.5 serves per week)

* Increase in fitness and self-esteem

Study finds evidence of ‘Brexit 1.0’

Scientists have found evidence of how ancient Britain separated from Europe in what they are dubbing “Brexit 1.

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0″ – a flooding event that happened in two stages thousands of years ago.

In research published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday, the scientists said they now have proof that the opening of the Dover Strait in the English Channel, severing the land between Britain and France, occurred in two episodes – an initial lake spill over, followed by catastrophic flooding.

“The breaching of this land bridge between Dover and Calais was undeniably one of the most important events in British history, helping to shape our island nation’s identity,” said Sanjeev Gupta, a professor at Imperial College London who co-led the work.

“When the ice age ended and sea levels rose, flooding the valley floor for good, Britain lost its physical connection to the mainland,” he said. “This is Brexit 1.0 – the Brexit nobody voted for.”

The first pieces of the puzzle came some 10 years ago, when researchers found geophysical evidence of giant valleys on the seafloor in the central part of English Channel. They believed these valley networks were evidence of a megaflood gouging out the land, probably caused by a breach in a chalk rock ridge joining Britain to France.

In the study, new geophysical data collected by colleagues in Belgium and France has been combined with seafloor data from Britain showing evidence of huge holes and a valley system located on the seafloor. This helped the team establish how the chalk ridge was breached.

The ridge acted like a huge dam and behind it was a proglacial lake, the researchers explained. The lake overflowed in giant waterfalls, eroding the rock escarpment, weakening it and eventually causing it to fail and release huge volumes of water onto the valley floor below.

“We still don’t know for sure why the proglacial lake spilt over,” said Jenny Collier, a co-author of the study from Imperial’s department of earth science and engineering.

“Perhaps part of the ice sheet broke off, collapsing into the lake, causing a surge that carved a path for the water to cascade off the chalk ridge. Maybe an earth tremor… further weakened the ridge and caused (it) to collapse, releasing the megaflood that we have found evidence for in our studies.”

Either way, the scientists said, if it was not for a set of chance geological circumstances, Britain may have remained connected to mainland Europe, jutting out into the sea like Denmark.

The researchers still have no exact timeline of events, but said they now want to take and analyse core samples of the in-filled sediments in the plunge pools to try and pinpoint the timing of erosion and the filling of the pools.

They cautioned, however, that this next step will be tricky, since getting samples in the Dover Strait means navigating huge tidal changes and the world’s busiest shipping lane.

Despite young age, Matsuyama banking on experience at Masters

Matsuyama three months ago was the hottest player in the world, with three victories and three second-placings in a sizzling run of six starts globally, seemingly destined to go into the U.

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S. Masters as one of the favourites.

But the softly spoken 25-year-old kept expectations low during his press conference ahead of Thursday’s first round, telling reporters that he has struggled recently with his short game, a key component of success at Augusta.

“Compared to last November and December, my game isn’t at that same level right now,” he said through an interpreter.

But Matsuyama also said that since the WGC-Match Play in Austin two weeks ago he has seen improvement, so much so that he has returned focus to his long game.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m really looking forward to this week, to see how my game stands up,” he said.

Another reason for optimism, he said, is his familiarity with the course, where he has top-seven finishes the past two years.

In 2010 he won the Asian amateur championship, a victory that he said was critical to his development as a player and one that earned him a spot in the 2011 Masters.

“Every year I play the course, you learn a little more, especially where not to hit it,” he said.

“That’s been one of the keys, playing five times before, that I’ve been able to learn and to understand.”

Matsuyama knows he will have plenty of support from his homeland.

“At the Masters, the Japanese golf fans have an opportunity to see more maybe of the world’s best, and in that sense, it’s a special tournament among all the majors.”

(Editing by Andrew Both)

Bob has his day in politics

POLITICAL LIFE OF BOB DAY

2006 – South Australian housing developer Bob Day endorsed by federal Liberals to run in seat of Makin, with strong support from John Howard.

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2007 – Labor wins Makin and Kevin Rudd takes government.

2008 – Day unsuccessfully contests Liberal preselection in Mayo, then quits to run as a Family First candidate. Fails to win seat.

2010 – Day runs as Family First senate candidate in SA, but fails to win seat.

2013 – Day wins SA senate seat for Family First.

2014 – Day tells Finance Department officials he doesn’t want to use former senator Don Farrell’s Adelaide CBD office. Instead he wants to use a Kent Town building. Finance officials tell then-Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson that Day owns the building and intends to sell it on condition the office is leased to the commonwealth. After lengthy negotiation Day agrees to terms for lease.

2015 – Lease signed between building’s new owners and commonwealth. No rent paid.

August 2016 – Day approaches new Special Minister of State Scott Ryan about rent on the office. Ryan seeks further information on the background of the lease and discovers there may be a constitutional breach.

October 2016 – Ryan terminates lease and seeks independent legal advice from constitutional law expert David Jackson. Day announces he will resign as his Home Australia Group of companies goes into liquidation. Ryan receives legal advice regarding the possible invalid election of Day, with concerns over indirect pecuniary interest because building owner owes Day money.

November 2016 – Day tenders his resignation to the Senate President. Senate refers the lease matter and Day’s possible invalid run for parliament to the High Court.

April 5, 2017 – High Court finds Day was ineligible to run under section 44 of the constitution, which states a member or senator can be disqualified where there is “any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the public service of the commonwealth”.

How almost a tonne of ice was found in Vic

AUSTRALIA’S LARGEST EVER METH BUST

HOW WAS IT DISCOVERED?

* January – AFP tips off Victoria Police about a drug syndicate in Melbourne’s east.

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* Weeks later – 40kg of ice, 175,000 cigarettes, $140,000 in cash and other contraband uncovered when police raid 12 properties in Blackburn North, Blackburn South, Box Hill North and Doncaster.

* February 2 and 3 – Two men, believed to be Australian-born, are arrested.

* February 6 – AFP raids a warehouse in Norcal Rd, Nunawading and finds 70 boxes of floorboards. About two kilograms of crystal methamphetamine was found inside each floorboard. A further $5 million worth of cash, vehicles and property was seized as suspected proceeds of crime.

WHO HAS BEEN CHARGED?

Blackburn man, 53, and a Doncaster man, 36, have been charged with drug trafficking. They face life in jail if convicted. Police say they are “significant players”.

HOW DID THE DRUGS GET HERE?

Police won’t reveal which Asian country the drugs came from, but do say the floorboards came through the Port of Melbourne.

WHAT THEY SAID?

“This is money that hasn’t gone into the pockets of organised criminals and, of course, it means this is an enormous number of hits of ice that have been taken off our streets.” – Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan

“As you can see, a fairly sophisticated concealment methodology where organised crime groups are going to great lengths to try and thwart the activities of law enforcement.” – Australian Federal Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan

HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO PREVIOUS HAULS?

It’s the biggest haul of ice ever seized in Australia, according to the AFP.

Previous large seizures include:

– November 2014: 849kg seized in NSW, along with almost two tonnes of MDMA.

– February 2015: 720 litres of liquid meth found in gel push-up bras, paint bottles and art sets in Sydney.

– March 2017: 300kg found inside metal gates in Melbourne.

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

The two men charged are expected to reappear in court in June.

Police have released images of two more men, in their 30s, thought to be involved.

Day paired with critic Snedeker at Masters

Jason Day has been given a potentially spicy grouping for the opening rounds of the Masters, teeing it up with one of the most vocal critics of the Australian’s alleged slow play.

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World No.3 Day has been grouped with England’s Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose and American Brand Snedeker, who spoke out against Day’s desire to be more deliberate on each shot in 2017.

In January, 29-year-old Day revealed his approach to tournaments in 2017 would be to “get back to what makes me good. If that means I have to back off five times, I’m going to.”

Snedeker, a two-time Ryder Cup player and eight-time PGA Tour winner, took exception .

“If I were to get paired with Jason on the weekend of a major championship … and we get put on the clock and I need a minute on a shot late on Sunday afternoon, am I allowed to have that time because Jason has played slow all day?

“That creates a problem with me. I don’t feel that creates a level playing field, and it’s not being respectful to your fellow tour pros.”

Meanwhile, 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott has been drawn with American Kevin Kisner and Englishman Andy Sullivan for Thursday and Friday at Augusta National, while in-form Australian Marc Leishman will play with world No.7 Justin Thomas and fellow American Bill Haas.

In the traditional pairing of the US Amateur winner and reigning Masters champion, Western Australian amateur Curtis Luck will go around the famed Georgia golf course with Danny Willett, as well as veteran Matt Kuchar, who himself played his first Masters way back in 1998 as the reigning US Amateur champion.

Rounding out the Australian contingent at Augusta is veteran Rod Pampling, who will play his first Masters since 2007 alongside American William McGirt.

In the big-name pairings, world No.1 Dustin Johnson has been grouped with two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker and will be the second to last player to tee off on the Thursday.

World No.2 Rory McIlroy will play 36 holes with Japanese golfer Hideto Tanihara and rising Spanish star Jon Rahm, while world No.6 and 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth will partner Martin Kaymer and Matthew Fitzpatrick.

World No.4 Hideki Matsuyama is grouped with No.8 Rickie Fowler and Scotland’s Russell Knox.

Former senator Day ruled ineligible: court

The High Court has ruled former Family First senator Bob Day was ineligible to have been elected.

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Mr Day formally resigned as a senator for South Australia on November 1 last year to deal with the collapse of his Home Australia group of companies.

However, six days later the Senate referred his eligibility for election to the High Court on the grounds he may have benefited from the commonwealth through a lease arrangement relating to his Adelaide electoral office.

Under section 44 of the constitution, a member or senator can be disqualified where there is “any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the public service of the commonwealth”.

The court decided on Wednesday Mr Day was incapable of sitting as a senator under Section 44 and the vacancy should be filled by a “special count of the ballot papers”.

A single judge will make further directions and orders in relation to the count.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the government was to blame for the mess.

“The very deal that the Turnbull government did with Mr Day to keep him onside, is the very thing that rendered him ineligible,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“The government was told this arrangement was improper as early as February 2014, when the Department of Finance warned then Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson.”

The department said at the time it had “concerns about how such a transaction might be perceived”.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann was alerted to the situation in December 2015, but he did nothing, Mr Dreyfus said.

“Malcolm Turnbull turned a blind eye to doubts about Bob Day’s eligibility to be a senator because he wanted Mr Day’s vote to get his regressive legislation through the Senate.”

Probe into Qld dam after dramatic rescues

The Queensland government has ordered an independent review of how a dam was operated before floods hit the Eton area, south of Mackay, sparking dozens of dramatic rescues.

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Choppers had to pluck Eton residents to safety last Wednesday after Cyclone Debbie crossed the coast, flooding properties downstream of the Kinchant Dam.

State Water Minister Mark Bailey has ordered the state’s chief scientist to review how the dam was operated, whether that contributed to the scale of the flooding, and the adequacy of warnings given to downstream residents.

Residents have said they weren’t told of releases from the dam after phone and internet services went down, and believe those releases made the flood disaster much worse.

Mr Bailey said Queensland’s Chief Scientist Professor Suzanne Miller would investigate the dam’s operation.

“It is crucial for communities living and working downstream of the dams to receive timely and clear notifications of any spills,” he said on Wednesday.

She’s due to report back by June 30.

More than 40 people had to be rescued from the Eton area after floodwaters inundated homes.

Some residents were forced to clamber onto rooftops, where they waited for rescue, which in some cases didn’t come until the following day.

They’ve questioned why more water wasn’t released before the cyclone crossed the coast.

SunWater has defended its management of the dam and has told Mackay’s Daily Mercury that it began water releases on Monday, the day before Debbie crossed the coast.

At that stage the upstream dam was sitting at 103 per cent of its maximum operating level, the Mercury reported.

Executive general manager of operations Colin Bendall said SunWater had done what it could to warn those downstream of ramped up releases.

He said it wasn’t SunWater’s role to ensure those warnings reached people when the dam operator’s text messages stopped getting through.

“It’s not SunWater’s role to go out into a cyclone and knock on doors. That’s the local disaster management group and emergency services would perform that role. And we wouldn’t send our staff out into the cyclone until it is safe to do so.” he told the Mercury.

“SunWater feeds information into these groups as part of the bigger picture, not just the isolated section that relates to the dams.

He also said there were three branches of Sandy Creek that flow to the Eton area and Kinchant Dam affected just one of those.

Cleary wants to link more with Martin

Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary is eyeing a more direct combination with fellow playmaker Te Maire Martin ahead of Friday night’s home clash with South Sydney.

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The pair have now played five NRL matches together, enduring a start to the season that has yielded two wins and three losses to leave the Panthers in eighth spot on the ladder.

They linked directly for the Panthers’ only try in the 28-6 loss to Melbourne on Saturday, marking just the second time this season the two youngsters had passed to each other in the lead-up to a try.

Cleary wants it and Penrith need it to be more than just a one-off combination.

“We’ve been working on that a fair bit at training in the past few weeks and I think it’s something that’s slowly developing,” Cleary said.

“As the season goes on hopefully it develops more.”

Despite entering the season with 19 and 21-year-old halves in Cleary and Martin respectively, the Panthers entered the 2017 season as equal favourites to take out the premiership, along with the Storm.

And in terms of possession (57 per cent) and field position – they were tackled 62 times in the opposition’s 20, the most of any team in any game this year – they dominated the Storm

Yet for all that, the Panthers scored just one try.

“It’s just about the opportunities,” Cleary said.

“When Melbourne give you those opportunities you need to take them.

“We need to learn off them in some aspects – they’re a great benchmark.”

Cleary said he shouldered the responsibility for the Panthers inability to cross the stripe, given his role as lead playmaker.

“It was a big learning curve for me,” he said.

“I took a lot out of that game. Definitely some people to look up to.

“They’ve been doing it for ages now and they’re obviously so clinical in what they do. They’re just freaks.”