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French journalist forced to leave China over critical reporting

China will force a French journalist who criticised its treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority to leave the country, her employer, the weekly l’Obs news magazine, says.

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The press visa of Ursula Gauthier, the magazine’s Beijing correspondent, expires on December 31 and Beijing has refused to grant an extension, saying a report she wrote supports acts of violence by Uighurs that China considers terrorist activity.

The story, dated November 18, suggested that China was using last month’s Paris attacks to justify crackdowns on Uighur people in northwest China’s Xinjiang region.

Hundreds have been killed in recent years in the region, beset by ethnic tensions that Uighur groups blame on repressive government policies while China denies any human rights abuses and says it faces a campaign from Islamist radicals and separatists.

L’Obs said Gauthier was the subject of editorials in state-controlled media and even death threats after her article was published.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, said the article “openly supports terrorist activity, the killing of innocents and has outraged the Chinese public”. His comments appeared in a question-and-answer posted on the ministry’s website on Saturday.

Lu added that because Gauthier did not make a public apology, she could not work in China.

L’Obs, which changed its name from Le Nouvel Observateur in October 2014, said on Friday it stood by its correspondent.

It wrote in an editorial that China’s refusal to extend her visa represented a “major incident” at a time when France and China were strengthening their economic, cultural and diplomatic ties.

The French foreign ministry on Friday issued a terse statement in which it regretted that her visa was not renewed. “France would like to remind how important it is for journalists to be able to work everywhere in the world,” it said.

Windies’ Boxing Day woes extend to DRS

Mark Taylor has lashed West Indies opener Rajendra Chandrika for wasting a review on the second day of the Boxing Day Test.

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Chandrika and Kraigg Brathwaite started reasonably well by their standards – a 35-run stand equalled the side’s highest opening partnership this year.

Nathan Lyon broke the stand by removing Brathwaite.

But it was Chandrika’s dismissal that showcased yet another aspect of the inexperienced tourists’ troubles.

Chandrika was trapped lbw by James Pattinson when he shouldered arms to a delivery that would have crashed in to middle stump.

Taylor couldn’t believe the 26-year-old, playing his third Test, then opted to review the verdict.

“That’s just absolutely wasting the review,” the former Australia skipper said on the Nine Network.

“It’s almost worth a fine it’s that bad. Why would you review that?

“That ball has to be clearly missing the stumps for that to be overturned.

“I’m not too sure what Chandrika was thinking … that’s out every day of the week.”

Taylor added it was two poor errors of judgment.

“You’re not playing a shot then you’re reviewing it,” he said.

The Decision Review System (DRS) provided further frustration for the visitors on day two at the MCG.

It had nothing to do with the technology or the umpires’ application, rather their own inability to properly use the system.

In Pattinson’s next over after Chandrika’s dismissal, flat-footed veteran Marlon Samuels was trapped lbw by Pattinson for a duck.

However, on this occasion ball-tracking technology suggested the Kookaburra would have gone over the stumps.

Samuels didn’t review the verdict.

“That’s the problem when you waste one,” Taylor said.

“You have a frivolous review followed by Marlon Samuels not reviewing it.”

A similar incident happened in the first Test at Hobart, where Jason Holder would have stayed at the crease if he reviewed his lbw dismissal.

The skipper instead shuffled off after a brief discussion with Darren Bravo.

It was easy to forget DRS was in use during Australia’s first innings, such was the dominance they exhibited in a total of 3(dec)-551.

Holder’s first, only and very optimistic lbw review came when Adam Voges was on 74 and the hosts were 3-473.

Ball-tracking replays confirmed the ball would have missed the stumps.

Rambler damaged in Sydney-Hobart collision

Get twitter updates from SBS reporter Nick Vindin aboard the yacht MaseratiRead and watch all our additional race coverage here

A collision with a submerged object looks to have cost American entry Rambler her shot at Sydney to Hobart race line honours.

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The incident occurred in Bass Strait early on Sunday afternoon when the 88-foot yacht surprisingly led the fleet from super maxi Comanche.

“We had a bit of a disaster … we hit a submerged object with our starboard daggerboard so our boat speed on port tack is severely limited,” navigator Andrew Cape said by phone from the boat.

None of the crew saw what they struck, but it might have been marine life.

“It was a pretty solid hit, it knocked the boat and did quite a bit of damage to the board, so it’s not the best scenario,” Cape added.

At about the same time fellow American boat Comanche passed and took over in front.

She too hit something overnight and almost withdrew before opting to press on with damage to the steering system.

Rambler had been one of few boats to report a good night, with rough conditions from a southerly buster sparking 24 withdrawals from the starting fleet of 108 within day one.

But the challenge lay ahead for the George David-owned Rambler.

“It’s upwards all the way to Tasman (Island) so we’ve still got a lot of pain to come unfortunately,” Cape said, noting that third and fourth placed Ragamuffin and Maserati were both within 30 nautical miles.

“It’s going to be tricky,” he said, of being able to maintain second position.

“We’re going to have to give away a lot of miles … but we’re determined to get to Hobart.

“We haven’t got serious structural damage or anything, but it is limiting our boat speed.”

As the weather calmed to a moderate 20-knot breeze for the lead pack, the waters produced other hazards.

Team Ragamuffin reported its own wildlife encounter.

“Just dodged a couple of whales … big ones too,” the crew posted on the boat’s Facebook page through the afternoon.

Qld flash flooding hampers rescue crews

Heavy drought-soothing rain has left motorists stranded in northwest Queensland and hampered emergency and clean-up teams at a freight train derailment.

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Pouring rain from the tropical low in the Gulf of Carpentaria over the weekend brought relief to Queensland’s parched northwest but forecasters are braced for new flooding fears.

The Bureau of Meteorology on Sunday downgraded the cyclone warning over the Gulf as the tropical monsoonal low brought flash flooding to both coastal and inland areas in the most remote parts of the state.

The Flinders Highway near Julia Creek was cut due to flood waters on Sunday morning which also made it difficult for emergency teams to access a derailed Aurizon train 150m from the highway at Quarrells.

The freight train spilled diesel fuel and 200,000 litres of sulfuric acid while three Aurizon employees suffered minor injuries in the incident in which all 26 carriages and the locomotive came off the tracks.

Most rainfall was registered in Burketown when 189mm fell in the 24 hours until 9am on Sunday.

The torrential rainfall saw 10 people stranded by flood waters at nearby Harris Creek airlifted to safety on Saturday afternoon, with another seven motorists opting to stay with their vehicles.

While forecasters can’t say whether it will be drought-breaking for some areas of the state, the falls have been the biggest this wet season and more thunderstorms are expected around Mt Isa and Cloncurry.

The tropical low is expected to continue to drift eastwards but the bureau is warning about the potential for flash flooding north of Townsville, especially around Innisfail, on Tuesday.

Forecaster Adam Blazak said heavy rains were expected as the tropical low moved over Queensland and a convergence zone would also come into play.

“There will be northwesterly winds colliding with southeasterly winds along that north tropical coast,” he told AAP.

“That’s a recipe for heavy falls as well.”

The BOM has also issued a thunderstorm warning for most of southeast Queensland on Sunday evening.

Outback school offers lessons in perspective to city peers

It’s a hot summer day in the far western NSW town of Menindee, and school is in session.

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But there are no books, classrooms or structured lessons today.

Just the cool waters of Copi Hollow, where a group of students is seeking refuge from the heat.

Killara High School teacher Karen Meaney travelled with around 20 students from Sydney’s northern suburbs for a week-long visit to Menindee Central School, almost 1000 kilometres from the coast.

She says her students are learning, without even knowing it.

“The education that our city kids get out here, you just can’t get that from a textbook,” she says.

Menindee is a town with around 500 residents. About 65 per cent of the school’s students are Indigenous.

Killara students spend time in the community as well as taking part in more structured school activities. 

Ms Meaney says the purpose of the visit is to promote cultural understanding as well as country life.

“It’s very hands-on. They get to interview elders and a lot of Aboriginal people in the community,” she says. 

A young student named Jade is happy to show the visitors what life is like away from the coast.

“It’s quiet,” she says. “There’s a lot of open space.”

Killara pupil Olivia says it has also been eye-opening in some respects.

“I really enjoyed visiting the health centre, because we got to see how much people in the community can do to support each other,” she says.

“They’re working extra hours and things like that, just to be there for their community.”

Menindee Principal Daryl Irvine says the informal nature of the visit is important.

“They are the things that are not planned, aren’t able to be scripted, that seem to really resonate with kids. Just the experience of being in someone else’s patch.”  

The visit is part of a pilot program called the City-Country Alliance.

It began as a sister school arrangement between Menindee and Lindfield Primary School, also on Sydney’s north shore.

Daryl Irvine says it has since grown to include more than 20 schools from across NSW – and there are hopes it may be expanded in the future.

“That diversity of cultural background and religious background – the chance to take people off their patch and to be able to talk openly about where they’ve come from,” he says.

“That’s a really powerful experience. I keep saying the word powerful, but it is, there’s really no other word for it.” 

Momentum on Thunder’s side: Kallis

Long-time Big Bash League easybeats Sydney Thunder have finally shed their perennial losers tag and superstar allrounder Jacques Kallis says the Twenty20 franchise has found the momentum they have craved for several seasons.

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After back-to-back wins over Sydney Sixers and Melbourne Stars the Thunder face fellow undefeated shortformers Adelaide Strikers on Monday without Australian Test No.3 Usman Khawaja.

A win over the Strikers at Spotless Stadium will equal the Thunder’s output from their last three campaigns.

“Obviously we’ve got a bit of momentum now and hopefully we can carry that through into the next match,” Kallis said on Sunday.

“We’re just going to try and do the basics correctly and then hopefully recognise those big moments in the game when they do appear and try and play them better than what they do.”

Khawaja starred with an unbeaten 109 in the Thunder’s last-start win over the Stars, a knock that cemented his return to the Australia side for the Boxing Day Test against West Indies.

Kallis is confident the Thunder have become enough of a well-rounded side to overcome the loss of key personnel.

Ryan Gibson comes into the Thunder’s 13-man squad in place of Khawaja.

“We are a well balanced side, a better balanced side than last year,” said Kallis, who is enjoying his second season with the Thunder.

“We can play on all types of wickets and in all conditions.

“It is sad that we lose Usman but we have a number of exciting players who can take his place.”

Captain Michael Hussey starred with 80 not out in the Thunder’s defeat of the Sixers in the BBL05 opener, the outfit’s first ever win over their crosstown rivals.

West Indian Andre Russell has starred with the ball in both games.

Kallis and Shane Watson are yet to get amongst the runs but both have made vital contributions with the ball.

“It (so many allrounders) gives you options, you can either play the extra batter or extra bowler,” Kallis said.

“To have three allrounders in one side is a real luxury, it gives us those options that perhaps other teams don’t have.”

Victorian fire: Meticulous planning saved lives

More than 100 houses were destroyed in the Great Ocean Road towns of Wye River and Separation Creek but authorities have praised local volunteers for preventing an even bigger disaster.

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“I would have thought they would have lost at least 200 homes in this town,” Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley told reporters on Sunday.

“This brigade, this community, actually had a community plan that had planned for many years about a fire coming into Wye River. This is not new to them.”

Local CFA brigade captain Roy Moriarty said Wye River’s fire safety plan – first written in 1984 – had helped save the town.

“I couldn’t believe that we’ve saved as many houses as what we’ve saved,” he told reporters.

“I did expect three times more than that to go, at least.”

Mr Moriarty said when home-owners contacted him, he gave it to them straight.

“You’ve got to tell them – if their house is gone, their house is gone,” he said.

Mr Lapsley said power companies were working to secure fallen lines, while firefighters were watching for trees that could come down.

The Insurance Council of Australia estimate initial insurance losses at $25 million.

No one died in the fires, although three firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said residents had shown courage in the face of the adversity.

“People were looking out for each other and there was a sense of love and care and compassion,” he told Network Seven.

Those affected will soon be able to access up to $1300 in emergency relief funds.

Surf Coast shire councillor Clive Goldsworthy said the Spirit Foundation was set up in 2013 to help locals in need.

“We see this as part of Lorne community – we dodged the bullet and unfortunately Wye River and Separation Creek didn’t,” he told ABC 24.

Victoria expects cooler weather on Monday but the fire danger rating will rise again on New Year’s Eve when it hits 37C.

Over 100,000 flee flooding in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay

In the worse affected country, Paraguay, around 90,000 people in the area around the capital city of Asuncion have been evacuated, the municipal Emergencies Office said.

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Many are poor families living in precarious housing along the banks of the River Paraguay.

The Paraguayan government has declared a state of emergency in Asuncion and seven regions of the country to free up funds to help those affected. Several people have been killed by trees falling in the storms that caused the flooding, local media reported. There was no official death toll yet.

In Alberdi, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Asuncion, the government recommended that several thousand more people living along the banks of the River Paraguay evacuate.

“(The flooding) was directly influenced by the El Niño phenomenon which has intensified the frequency and intensity of rains,” the national Emergencies Office said.

This year’s “El Nino,” which sparks global climate extremes, is the worst in more than 15 years, the U.N. weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said last month.

“Severe droughts and devastating flooding being experienced throughout the tropics and sub-tropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Nino, which is the strongest in more than 15 years,” WMO chief Michel Jarraud said in a statement.

Officials at Paraguay’s Emergencies Office said the river might rise even more in the coming days, stabilizing and falling back towards normal levels from January onwards.

Bad infrastructure

In northern Argentina, around 20,000 people have also had to abandon their homes, the government said on Saturday.

“We are going to have a few complicated months, the consequences will be serious,” said Ricardo Colombi, the governor of the Corrientes region, after flying over the worst affected areas with national Cabinet Chief Marcos Pena.

Pena said national government aid was already on its way and the new president, Mauricio Macri, who took office earlier this month, intended to make improving infrastructure a priority so that such flooding did not occur again.

“Argentina has a very big lack of infrastructure,” he said. Macri will visit the flooded areas on Sunday.

In Uruguay, more than 9,000 people have had to flee their homes, according to the national Emergencies Office, which added that it expected water levels to remain at their current level for several days before subsiding.

At least four people have died in Argentina and Uruguay due to the storms and floods, according to local media reports. One was reported to have drowned while another was electrocuted by a fallen power cable.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff also flew over the flooded areas on the border with Argentina and Uruguay on Saturday morning. Rio Grande do Sul state Civil Defense said 1,795 people were left homeless there after 38 towns were affected by heavy rains.

Windies woeful, Aussies want away wins

Australia embarrassed West Indies on day two of the second Test but Adam Voges knows the challenge is to replicate that form overseas.

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Voges was one of four Australian centurions in a total of 3-551, with Steve Smith declaring on Sunday as records tumbled at the MCG.

James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon grabbed two wickets each to reduce the visitors to 6-91 at stumps.

Smith, who finished 134 not out, is set to mull enforcing the follow-on for the second time in the three-Test series.

Voges, who averages a staggering 542 against West Indies after his unbeaten 106, noted the side’s full attention was on their current opposition.

But the veteran acknowledged February’s two-Test tour of New Zealand would be a better gauge of how far they’ve come since losing the Ashes in England earlier this year.

“The ball is not moving nearly as much as what it did over in England,” Voges said.

“You’re seeing that around the world, teams are playing very well at home and winning away from home is becoming harder and harder.

“I’m sure we’ll get challenged when we do go to New Zealand and the ball might move around a little bit more there.

“We’ve batted exceptionally well this summer … we’re bowling well in our conditions.

“I hope so (Australia can reproduce this form in NZ).”

Voges was unsure about Smith’s thoughts on the follow-on, which would be complicated by the fact there’s a short break before the third Test at the SCG.

“We will have fresh bowlers with a ball that is probably still reversing and we can get stuck into their tail and see what happens,” he said.

The visitors’ collapse of 6-48 seemed as inevitable as it was ignominious.

Marlon Samuels, Denesh Ramdin and Jason Holder were all out for ducks.

Siddle was on a hat-trick after dismissing keeper Ramdin and skipper Holder.

“We batted fairly well leading up to tea and after tea there were some soft dismissals,” West Indies coach Phil Simmons said.

“All you can say to them is you have another chance to bat on that wicket, which to me has been a batting paradise.”

It’s not quite a carbon copy of the first Test at Hobart, where Australia won by an innings and 212 runs, but there are plenty of similarities.

Already the series is shaping as one of the most lopsided between the two sides.

It is the first time ever that four Australian batsmen scored tons in a single Test innings in Australia.

Australia’s batting average for the series is 162 – the highest by any team that has faced at least 200 overs in any series ever.

West Indies’ bowling has been woefully ineffectual – they’ve snared six wickets and conceded 1134 runs in the series in two innings.

The Caribbean force achieved a 3-0 series win over Australia at home in 1984 without losing a second-innings wicket, something Smith’s men are well placed to achieve in Melbourne.

Residents return to towns ravaged by Victorian fire

Downed power lines and falling trees are the main hazards for devastated Victorians trying to return to coastal towns where a bushfire razed 116 homes.

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Wye River lost 98 homes in the Christmas Day bushfire – a third of the houses in the town – while nearby Separation Creek had 18 homes destroyed.

“(We are) concentrating on the hazardous trees, and making sure we can get the roads open, the power companies able to declare the power lines all safe,” the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s Alex Shilton told reporters on Sunday.

“Our aim is to try and open it up so that it’s safe for people to get back in.”

Fallen domestic solar power lines remain a threat, while many trees are still burning and on the verge of falling over.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said residents had shown courage in the face of the bushfires.

“People were looking out for each other and there was a sense of love and care and compassion,” he told Network Seven on Sunday morning.

Those affected by the devastating Christmas Day bushfires will soon be able to access up to $1300 in emergency relief under a joint state and federal government scheme.

The Great Ocean Road’s tourism industry has also taken a hit as roads to the area remain closed and accommodation cancellations pile up.

Mr Andrews urged tourists to continue enjoying their holidays in the area, but to stay aware of conditions at all times.

“The message to tourists, to visitors, is this is a beautiful part of our state. This is pristine coastline,” he said.

“If you are aware of your circumstances … then you can still visit those areas that are open.”

Mr Shilton said firefighters will be working in the area for weeks to come.

“We’ll be going on this until there’s heavy rain and we’re confident everything’s out,” he said.

The 2200-hectare Jamieson Track fire started with a lightning strike on December 19.

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Surf Coast shire councillor Clive Goldsworthy said the Spirit Foundation was set up in 2013 to help locals in need, and it was being used to help out after the fires.

“We see this as part of Lorne community – we dodged the bullet and unfortunately Wye River and Separation Creek didn’t,” he told ABC 24.