Monthly Archives: January 2019

Thousands mourn east Ukraine rebel chief

Thousands have attended the funeral of rebel chief Alexander Zakharchenko in Ukraine’s Donetsk.The funeral in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk of a pro-Russian rebel leader killed in an explosion last week has drawn vast crowds of mourners in the breakaway region.

Alexander Zakharchenko was fatally injured in an explosion in a cafe in Donetsk on Friday. Russia’s foreign ministry accused Ukraine of his murder, while Kiev blamed his death on separatist infighting.

The official media outlet of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said 200,000 people had gathered on Sunday for the funeral of Zakharchenko, the republic’s leader since 2014. Reuters was unable to verify that figure.

Footage showed long queues of mourners, many carrying red carnations, lining up to pay their respects outside the city’s main opera theatre, where Zakharchenko’s coffin stood.

“I am here because I really respected him. He did everything for the people … A good person is gone,” Anna, a member of the crowd, said through tears.

A woman who described herself as Zakharchenko’s former neighbour, Natalya, was also crying.

“It is such a shame, such a waste. He was everything to us … He left, he left fighting for his country. There are no words,” Natalya said.

“We will not forgive this,” she added.

His coffin, draped in the separatist region’s flag and the flag of the Russian Airborne Troops, a division of Russia’s armed forces, was carried out of the theatre to silent applause, footage showed.

It was placed on the gun-carriage of a large artillery weapon, which was then towed past the crowds by a truck.

“I didn’t know him personally but he was a leader to all of us,” Katya, a young woman attending the funeral, said.

At least five other leading separatist commanders have been killed in unexplained circumstances not connected to frontline combat since the conflict started in 2014, when Russian-backed rebels threw off Ukrainian central rule in an armed uprising.

A shaky internationally-brokered ceasefire has been in force since 2015, halting large-scale fighting, but frequent outbreaks of shooting on the front line between the separatist and Ukrainian forces continue.

Farmer confidence dries up as drought hits

The ongoing drought has hit confidence in the rural and regional sector.Farmer confidence has plummeted to the lowest levels in more than a decade as drought ravages large swathes of rural .

The latest quarterly Rabobank Rural Confidence Survey found confidence levels are the lowest since 2006, during the devastating millennium drought.

More than half of farmers surveyed had a pessimistic view on the 12 months ahead.

Some 56 per cent of those surveyed expect economic conditions to deteriorate over the next 12 months, significantly up from 35 per cent in the June quarter.

Those expecting an improvement in conditions declined to from 18 to 13 per cent, while 25 per cent expect similar conditions to last year, down from 41 per cent last quarter.

But the drought has done little to dent resilience in the sector, with farmers reporting relatively strong business viability at levels higher than much of the past decade.

Rabobank chief executive Peter Knoblanche said farmers across the country were demonstrating exceptional resilience and adaptability through worsening conditions.

“Parts of central and western Queensland have been in drought for seven years, with only sporadic short-term relief, while the whole of NSW is drought declared and its reach is spreading into South and Victoria,” he said.

Drought was cited as a key reason conditions were likely to worsen by 89 per cent of people, up from 75 per cent.

While there are growing concerns because of drought, Mr Knoblanche said longer-term business outlook remained positive with 93 per cent of farming businesses reporting viability

That figure is well up on levels during the millennium drought.

“The outlook for ‘s ag sector is fundamentally very sound, with strong commodity prices – particularly for lamb, beef, wool and cotton and, more recently, grain – ensuring the majority remain in overall strong positions,” Mr Knoblanche said.

Mr Knoblanche said farmers in Western , South and southern Victoria were enjoying improved seasonal conditions.

All of NSW is affected by the big dry, while more than 58 per cent of Queensland is officially in drought.

‘Rough end of the stick’: Drought toll on wildlife starts to mount

Thirsty kangaroos gather for a drink at a residential fountain in Gunnedah as the drought’s grip tightens. Photo: Peter LorimerThe worsening drought is beginning to affect the state’s wildlife, drawing animals closer to roads and towns and triggering a big jump in calls to rescuers.

With all of NSW declared in drought, competition for grazing for kangaroos has intensified. Drying or dying trees have also cut the moisture available to marsupials such as koalas and possums, Christie Jarrett, vice chair of the Central West branch of the WIRES rescue service, said.

While farmers are often able to secure bales of fodder to keep their stock going, “wildlife gets the rough end of the stick” at times like this, Ms Jarrett said. “It’s starting to affect animals more and more.”

Based about halfway between Orange and Bathurst, Ms Jarrett’s WIRES branch has registered a big rise in calls to treat kangaroos. So far this year, her team has rescued or had to euthanise 722 roos, up from 440 for all of 2016.

Drivers should pay special heed particularly at night as kangaroos gravitate to roadside in search of grass.

Likewise, fringes of towns and cities are likely to see more animals so long as the rain holds off, Ms Jarrett said. “We need it desperately.”

Mardi Cook, a coordinator with WIRES New England in Armidale, said “there’s just no living creature that’s not affected”.

Koalas are unusually on the move as trees wilt and leaves become less nutritious, leaving them at risk of attack from dogs or being hit by cars. Birds such as barn owls and tawny frogmouths are also being found in poor health or injured after chasing mice to roadside verges, Ms Cook said.

An emu cock and his chicks struggle to find pickings in northern NSW. Photo: Peter Lorimer

One challenge is to find properties where animals can be released after care.

“We’ve had animals coming home for a feed” after release, Ms Jarrett said. “That’s unusual.”

Another is that more people have been given licences to shoot kangaroos to reduce numbers, resulting in additional calls to care for badly injured animals or surviving offspring. “It’s a really bad situation,” Ms Jarrett said.

With many marsupials carrying young in pouches – such as roos, wombats, possums and koalas – people finding a struggling animal should check – providing it’s safe to do so – for any joey that may be alive, she said.

Other steps to help wildlife include putting out shallow bowls of water or appropriate feed. Longer term, planting native trees and plants will increase the food sources.

The full impact of the drought will take time to play out as offspring numbers drop, Ms Jarrett said: “It’s probably going to have bigger implications for years to come.”

Those seeking an animal rescue or to make a donation to WIRES can ring 1300 094 737.


Panthers pumped after Storm win in NRL

Penrith interim coach Cameron Ciraldo believes his side have a decent chance in the NRL finals.Penrith feel that knocking off title favourites Melbourne on their home turf is the perfect springboard into the NRL finals.

The Panthers found some much-needed form to snap a two-game losing streak with with a 22-16 victory against an under-manned Storm outfit.

They sit fifth on the ladder but could still be leap-frogged by St George Illawarra or Brisbane, although they would need big wins to do so.

Interim coach Cameron Ciraldo, who took over after Anthony Griffin was sacked last month, said the team hung tough when they trailed 10-6 at halftime with a 11-4 penalty count against them.

They also managed to stay in the match despite having two players, Josh Mansour and James Tamou, sinbinned almost back-to-back in the first half.

Ciraldo said the Panthers would draw confidence not only from the win, which was their first ever at AAMI Park, but also from the performance.

“The performance that we put out there, if we can do that again next week I think we’re in with a chance,” Ciraldo said.

“Coming down here the performance was more important than the result.

“The Storm are a great side so it’s a good way to finish off the regular season and gives us a good chance leading into next week.”

Skipper James Maloney, who missed the two losses with a knee injury, was integral in the win, probing the Storm’s shaky right edge defence to set up two tries.

He also took advantage of Melbourne’s makeshift halves combination after Cameron Munster and Brodie Croft were late withdrawals with knee injuries.

The veteran playmaker said he always had confidence the Panthers would regain their form ahead of the playoffs.

“That performance out there is the perfect springboard to go into the finals so we’ll play our best footy next week,” Maloney said.

London Crossrail link delayed by 9 months

London’s east-west railway, Crossrail, will miss its scheduled December opening by almost a year.The opening of Europe’s biggest infrastructure project, London’s new Crossrail train line, has been delayed by about nine months because the STG 15 billion ($A27 billion) scheme needs more time to be completed.

When fully open, the Elizabeth line, named after Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, will connect destinations such as Heathrow Airport in west London to areas such as the Canary Wharf financial district in the east.

It will alleviate overcrowding and speed up journeys between key transport hubs in Britain’s capital city.

The central section was meant to open in December this year but it has now been delayed until next autumn.

“The original program for testing has been compressed by more time being needed by contractors to complete fit-out activity in the central tunnels and the development of railway systems software,” Crossrail said in a statement.

“Testing has started but further time is required to complete the full range of integrated tests.”

More than 200 million passengers are expected to use the Elizabeth line every year once it is operational.

Britain has a chequered past when it comes to delivering large infrastructure projects on time and within budget, including high-profile overspends such as the Millennium Dome and the 2012 Olympic Games.

It has taken decades for politicians to decide on building a new runway at Heathrow airport.

Crossrail received STG11.7 billion from the Department for Transport and Transport for London between July 2008 and May 2018, according to the British parliament’s website.

TfL said on Friday it was working closely with Crossrail to ensure all necessary work was completed.

“The delayed opening is disappointing, but ensuring the Elizabeth line is safe and reliable for our customers from day one is of paramount importance,” said Mark Wild, London Underground and Elizabeth line managing director.