Monthly Archives: March 2019

Israel plays down threat of war

Israel was burying two soldiers killed in a Hezbollah missile strike that triggered Israeli fire on southern Lebanon, raising tensions between the bitter enemies to their highest in years.


But the Israeli-Lebanese border was calm, and Israeli officials on Thursday played down the threat of a new war with the powerful Iran-backed Shi’ite group’s militia.

In an unusual declaration, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Hezbollah had passed on a message through the UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon saying it did not want a further escalation.

“We have received a message… that, from their point of view, the incident is over,” he told public radio.

The two soldiers were killed when Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles at a convoy in an Israeli-occupied area on the border with Lebanon.

Israeli forces responded to the attack — which came in retaliation for an Israeli strike on the Golan Heights that killed senior Hezbollah members — with artillery, tank and air fire on several villages in southern Lebanon.

There were no reports of Lebanese casualties, but a 36-year-old Spanish peacekeeper with UNIFIL was killed in the exchange of fire.

At the local UN base on Thursday a blackened concrete tower could be seen with part of its wall blown out, and a Spanish flag was flying at half-mast.

Hundreds of mourners gathered at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem for the burial of one of the soldiers killed, 25-year-old Captain Yochai Kalangel.

The other soldier, 20-year-old Staff Sergeant Dor Chaim Nini, was to be buried later in the town of Shtulim in south-central Israel.

Analysts said Israel, fresh from a summer war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and heading for a general election in March, was not eager for a full-scale conflict with Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah has 100,000 rockets, compared with the 10,000 of Hamas,” said analyst Boaz Ganor of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Centre.

“The human cost of such a war would be enormous, and no Israeli leader will be pro-active in this direction,” he said.

As for Hezbollah, it is deeply involved in Syria’s civil war, fighting with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against mostly Sunni rebels.

“The chances (of an escalation) are very slim, almost none, because none of the sides has an interest in moving to a big operation or a small war,” Yaakov Amidror, a former major general and security advisor of Israel, told AFP.

“Hezbollah is very busy in Syria; the last thing that it needs is a second front,” he said.

Tension in the area had been building before Wednesday’s attack, especially after an Israeli air strike on the Syrian sector of the Golan Heights killed six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general on January 18.

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Scientists ‘hunt’ singing blue whales

Blue whales are the biggest animals ever known, but it’s still quite a job to find one.


They weigh up to 180 tonnes, reach 30m in length and eat up to 3.6 tonnes a day of what scientists assume is krill.

The behemoths are now the most high-profile target of Australian and New Zealand scientists aboard a New Zealand research vessel, Tangaroa, which set sail for Antarctica on Wednesday.

The reseachers have new equipment designed to listen underwater for the blue whales’ `songs’.

Blue whales were decimated by commercial whaling in the 19th Century, and the Southern Ocean population of about 250,000 dropped to a few hundred before whaling was banned in 1964.

It may now have recovered to a few thousand.

Despite their size, the whales are fiendishly difficult to spot.

The International Whaling Commission says there have just been 200 sightings in 30 years.

Unlike humpback whales, which migrate past coasts, including through the Cook Strait, blue whales migrate through the open ocean and the only information about migration is from whaling data in the 1900s.

Some were tagged in the Southern Ocean a few years ago, but the tags didn’t last long enough to record any migration.

They are also very difficult to count, says the Australian Antarctic Division’s Mike Double.

“But we do have some data now to say they are recovering but they are recovering very slowly.”

The expedition scientists are confident they won’t be looking for a needle in a haystack.

“We have learned how to find these whales,” Dr Double says.

That involves dropping sonobuoys in the water to listen for the whales’ song and then triangulation can pinpoint their location.

Humpbacks are prolific singers but by comparison the blue whale song is very boring, Dr Double says.

“It’s very low-frequency monotone, occasionally it does the odd squeak … but to call it a song is very generous,” Dr Double said.

The song travels great distances underwater.

“We don’t have to go far from Wellington before we start hearing whales that are singing in the Antarctic. It’s that powerful.”

Once the whales are found – possibly aggregating in hotspots – the scientists hope to find out why they are there and what they are eating.

If the whales swim close enough to the Tangaroa, samples may be taken and GPS tags attached.

However, before the ship starts tracking the blue whales, it will head to the Balleny Islands – a string of islands about 200km from Antarctica, which are made up of just ice and rock – a hot spot for feeding humpback whales.

“We don’t even know what they eat down there,” says voyage leader, Richard O’Driscoll, from New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, known as NIWA.

It could be krill, or a small cod called the Antarctic silverfish, which is regarded as the only true pelagic fish in Antarctic waters and an important food species.

That fish is also something of a mystery. An echo sounder, to be moored in Antarctica’s Terra Nova Bay, will hopefully catch evidence of their life cycle.

Their eggs and larvae are in the water, but it’s not known if the fish spawn under the ice or if the eggs and larvae drift down from further north.

The echo sounder will hopefully catch the fish as they come into the area.

The other fish under investigation is the toothfish and its prey, icefish and grenadiers, in the Ross Sea.

Twenty-one scientists from the NIWA, Antarctica NZ and the Australian Antarctic Division are on board Tangaroa.

The expedition is costing $A3.7 million and the scientists say it will be well worth it for the information gathered.

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Thai tuna tycoon nets Sheffield Wednesday after completing buyout

Businessman Dejphon Chansiri, whose family owns Thai Union Frozen Group, has acquired a 100 percent stake in the Championship (second tier) club.


The club confirmed the takeover on their website (南宁夜网 on Thursday with local media reports saying the buyout cost around 30.0 million pounds ($45.40 million).

Outgoing chairman Milan Mandaric, who has been in charge since December 2010, confirmed earlier this month the club were in talks with potential investors.

“Once the final details and Football League approval have been concluded I will step down as chairman and as a director. In my four years in Sheffield I have come to regard this city as my home,” Serb-American Mandaric told the website.

Saying he would happily assist the new owners in an advisory role, he added: “I desperately (still) want to be a part of the journey we all started together when I arrived which I am sure will ultimately see our club back in the Premier League very soon.”

Chansiri, who watched Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Birmingham City from the directors box at Hillsborough on Tuesday, said: “I am very excited at the prospect of taking over control from Milan.

“I believe this club has huge potential and I can assure all our supporters that I will be working extremely hard to bring the success that I already sense from my short time in your city our supporters so desperately crave.”

The deal remains subject to ratification by the Football League but Chansiri’s involvement has already led to funds being made available to strengthen the squad.

Wednesday, formed in 1867, are the fourth oldest League club in England and have been English champions four times in 1903, 1904, 1929 and 1930 as well as winning the FA Cup three times in 1896, 1907 and 1935.

They are currently ninth in the Championship, nine points off the playoff places.

($1 = 0.6608 pounds)

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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Viennese waltz in the desert for Dubai leader Wiesberger

World number one Rory McIlroy was handily placed on 66, as was Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher who is bidding for a hat-trick of victories after landing the trophy in 2013 and 2014.


Sharing second spot on seven-under were English pair Lee Westwood and Andy Sullivan, Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium and American Peter Uihlein.

Twice tour winner Wiesberger, who had only 25 putts in ideal conditions at the Emirates Golf Club, reeled off birdies at the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th.

“I struggled with my putting early on, just didn’t get the ball to the hole, and finally hit one close on six, got a nice birdie on nine and took advantage on the back nine,” the 29-year-old from Vienna told reporters.

“Once I got the pace right on the greens, which was a bit slower than expected, the ball started dropping.”

Wiesberger led after the second and third rounds of last week’s Qatar Masters before finishing third behind South African winner Branden Grace.

That effort helped him jump eight places to 59th in the world rankings, within sight of becoming the first Austrian to qualify for the U.S. Masters.


Former winner McIlroy posted seven birdies, including two in succession at the start.

“Compared to when I first won here in 2009 my golf game is much better and these sort of scores come a lot easier to me these days,” said the 25-year-old Northern Irishman.

“Managing my game and knowing how to shoot a score is kind of second nature whereas back then, 66 would have been a really good score for me. These days it’s sort of what I expect of myself.”

Gallacher showed he was not about to hand his crown back lightly, notching five birdies and an eagle and holing out from a greenside bunker.

“This round is a statement that I don’t want to give the trophy back without a fight but then it is only the first round and I still have three rounds to play,” said the Ryder Cup Scot.

Gallacher is looking to join a select group of five players to have won three European Tour events in a row.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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Djokovic and Wawrinka in ‘Showdown III’ at Melbourne Park

Serb Djokovic and Swiss Wawrinka’s five-set marathons at Melbourne Park in 2013 and 2014 were arguably the most thrilling matches at both tournaments, with the victors going on to hoist the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup as champions.


Friday’s ‘Showdown III’ promises to be another engrossing spectacle and could prove equally defining for the tournament.

Both players have been in ominous form, Wawrinka humbling U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori in straight sets in his previous match and Djokovic doling out the same treatment to highly-rated Canadian Milos Raonic.

Losing to Djokovic, perhaps even more than beating him, was career-defining for Wawrinka, who wept bitter tears after being edged 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10 in the fourth round of the 2013 tournament, his 11th straight defeat to the Serb.

Wawrinka said he cried because he felt he could not have played any better and still lost. Djokovic would go on to notch his third straight Australian Open title.

The Swiss lost another five-setter to Djokovic at the U.S. Open in their next meeting and further losses at regular tournaments, but he was a raging ball of fire when he met him again in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park last year.

In a nerve-jangling match of the highest quality, Wawrinka bluntly refused to be beaten and Djokovic was the first to wobble, pushing a regulation volley into the tramlines to lose 2-6 6-4 6-2 3-6 9-7.

The victory generated enough belief for Wawrinka, long stuck in the shadow of compatriot Roger Federer, to go on and win his maiden grand slam.

He became the first player to break the grand slam cartel of Federer, Rafa Nadal, Djokovic and Murray since Juan Martin del Potro’s shock 2009 U.S. Open win over Federer.

As champions tend to, Djokovic recovered from the loss to win his seventh grand slam title at Wimbledon and finished the year on top again.

He remains hot favourite to take back the throne at Melbourne Park but knows Wawrinka has the game and the composure when the stakes are raised deep into a fifth set.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Alan Baldwin)

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Wiesberger leads by one in Dubai

Austrian Bernd Wiesberger emerged the sole leader at Dubai Desert Classic after Thursday’s first round featuring a deluge of birdies at the Emirates Golf Club Thursday.


The 29-year-old Wiesberger appeared to be struggling on the greens as he did not make a single birdie in his first five holes, but warmed up his putter nicely, needing just 25 putts to complete a round of eight-under-par 64.

It kept him one ahead of American Peter Uihlein, Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts and the English duo of Lee Westwood and Andy Sullivan.

And gave him a two-shot advantage over the world number one Rory McIlroy and the defending champion Stephen Gallacher, who both shot matching 66s.

The scoring conditions were ideal, with not an iota of wind on the course for much of the day with the greens extremely receptive and rolling well.

The scoring average for the field was more than a shot less than par – 70.97 – and as many as 80 players in the 132-man field submitted sub-par scores.

Westwood, who closed his 2014 season with a win in the Thai Golf Championship, started his year well, and two huge birdie putts in his last five holes – one was from 35 feet on the fifth hole and the other from 18 feet on the ninth – saw him close on a 65.

McIlroy also finished on the tough par-4 ninth, but he made his only bogey of the day there after struggling to find fairways off the tee.

Colsaerts met with a similar fate as McIlroy, and having started from the 10th tee and making eight birdies, he too closed with a bogey on the ninth for a 65.

Wiesberger, who finished inside the top-six in the previous two events, could have closed his round with six straight birdies, but missed a chance on the par-5 18th for his 64.

“Just a bit disappointed to miss that last birdie. It would be my first 63 out there but still a great day,” said Wiesberger, who could move into the top-50 of the world ranking with a good result this week.

“I had a bit of problem with the pace of the greens early on and I left a lot of good chances short, which I didn’t like really. It was all right after I started getting the pace right.”

McIlroy did not have the best driving day of his life – he just found five out of 14 fairways – but he still managed to hit 14 greens in regulation and made his only bogey on his closing hole with another errant tee shot.

“I started pretty similar to how I started in Abu Dhabi,” said McIlroy.

“I didn’t hit a fairway until the 17th, which was my eighth hole, but I scored well for those holes. I can’t complain with 66 to start.”

Defending champion Gallacher joined McIlroy on 66, while Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell were among a group on 67.

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McLaren unveil Honda-powered F1 car

McLaren unveiled their new car, the MP4-30, which will be piloted by former world champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button in 2015, in an online presentation on Thursday.


The British marque will be running Honda engines for the first time since 1992 and they hope that Alonso and Button will help them end two years in the Formula One wilderness.

But despite resuming their partnership with Japanese engine manufacturer Honda, the new car retains the predominantly grey livery synonymous with the team’s 20-year partnership with Mercedes.

“Although our renewed alliance began again many months ago, the launch of the McLaren-Honda MP4-30 marks the start of a lengthy journey,” said chief executive Ron Dennis in a statement.

“We’ve come a long way already and, although there’s a lot of work to do before we can expect to repeat the level of success we enjoyed together 25 or so years ago, it’s already clear that there’s enormous synergy and potential in our partnership.”

Flecks of red along the MP4-30’s snout recall the red and white cars of McLaren’s Honda-powered glory days in the late 1980s, when Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna dominated the sport.

Those days have seemed a distant memory over the past two seasons, during which time McLaren failed to register a single victory, but two-time champion Alonso said the team are ready to challenge for honours again.

“I’ve done a lot of training during the winter break, to reach my peak physical fitness, and I’ve been working hard in preparation for this new era of McLaren-Honda,” said the Spaniard, who will be the first man to drive the new car in testing at the Spanish circuit of Jerez on Sunday.

“I’ve never felt better, or more ready for a new season. Of course, we’re prepared for a steep learning curve, but it’s clear to see that inside McLaren-Honda there’s total commitment, and a real change in feeling, as we start this new partnership.”

Button’s place in McLaren’s line-up was not confirmed until late last year, with the 35-year-old Briton only retaining his seat after a battle with rookie Kevin Magnussen.

But ahead of his sixth season with the team, Button is eager to begin his partnership with Alonso.

“The off-season has really brought about a sense of renewal coming into 2015,” said the 2009 champion.

“Continuing my relationship with McLaren, getting married, and now embarking on such an exciting chapter.

“I’m also looking forward to working with my new teammate, Fernando, and I’m confident that our joint experience on track will pay dividends in our development race to get our team back to the front of the grid.”

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Rodgers excited by Sturridge’s Liverpool return

When Sturridge was ruled out with a thigh injury on international duty in early September, Liverpool’s goals dried up.


Left without the services of their top two scorers from the previous season, with Luis Suarez sold to Barcelona last July, Liverpool’s season effectively imploded.

A recent resurgence has been built around a change of system with Raheem Sterling drafted in to a makeshift striker’s role, but he has effectively been keeping the position warm until Sturridge could make his comeback.

That looks likely to happen against West Ham United at Anfield on Saturday.

While Rodgers remains cautious about rushing the England forward back into action, he is certain their season would have panned out differently had Sturridge stayed fit.

“We have to be careful with him as he’s been out a long time but to have him back for the second part of the season will make us a better team,” Rodgers told reporters on Thursday.

“Daniel not playing has had a huge impact on our season. If you trace it back to the beginning of the season against Tottenham you could see what a reference he was for the team in that game.

“From that point he hasn’t played and we struggled for a few months. Thankfully, over the past few months we have nailed down a way of working and returned to our football ideas.

“We’re becoming better and better and Daniel coming back will shine a different light on to the team. He looks in top class condition.”

Liverpool are eighth in the Premier League, five points adrift of fourth. They have taken 13 points out of the last 15, however, and again look capable of challenging for a Champions League qualification spot.

Among the positives to have emerged from their recent league run and their narrow League Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea on Tuesday has been the form of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who was dropped for several weeks at the tail-end of 2014.

When he was left out in favour of back-up Brad Jones he looked a barrel of nerves.

Since his return, however, he has been sharper and more confident.

“Simon’s shown the benefits of having a bit of time out of the side,” Rodgers said.

“He looks like a different goalkeeper…

“Since he’s come back into the team he’s shown why we brought him here.”

(Reporting by Toby Davis, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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Death row Aussies inspire Bali inmates

Indonesians who turned their lives around with the help of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan believe the pair should be spared from execution so they can reach hundreds more.


One success story, Dayu, has gone from Kerobokan inmate to the top of her class in 12 months.

She was just 16 when the Indonesian courts gave her four years and three months in jail as punishment for drug use.

If that wasn’t scary enough for the teenager, riots broke out, creating a “second hell”, she says, with no power or water.

She was at her lowest point when she discovered Sukumaran’s art class.

With his guidance, she surprised herself: she could paint.

“I would lose track of time,” she says.

“I felt I was no longer in the jail.”

With the initiative of Chan and Sukumaran, Kerobokan jail now has a computer room, cooking school, and guest classes from experts in yoga, dance, reflexology and philosophy.

Lawyers seeking a review of their death sentences will urge the courts to consider their rehabilitation over the past decade, and how they’re inspiring other inmates to change.

Some, like Dayu, find self-esteem and purpose.

She’s back on track to becoming an accountant and the future looks bright.

Except for the thought that “Master Myu” could soon be executed.

“If someone can change so much, why can’t they be deserving of a second chance?” she says.

For others, the art studio provides job skills.

Keyenk sells his paintings – fluorescent pop art creations – on the Legian tourist strip.

And behind the store, a community of former students meets to support each other through the ups and downs of life after jail.

Keyenk and his friends, who served time for assault and drug use, were downcast after saying perhaps their final goodbye to Sukumaran.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like (without him),” he said.

“He’s not a doctor, he’s been sentenced to death.

“But the rehabilitation he has introduced is better than any psychologist.”

While Keyenk gives a spirited defence of his friends, Anna weeps.

With Sukumaran’s encouragement, the 56-year-old discovered new talents in jail.

Painting brings her such contentment, she says she will never use marijuana again.

She now holds a full-time job, and relishes being a new grandma.

Any spare moments are spent praying that President Joko Widodo will reconsider Sukumaran and Chan’s cases for clemency.

“Don’t only listen to what’s said here and there, see for yourself,” Anna would tell the president.

“See their kindness, and who is it for?

“For the development of the Indonesian people. For our future.

“If the government had a heart, it wouldn’t do this”.

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Reed targets majors, and a top-10 habit

The 24-year-old Texan has climbed to 15th in the world rankings after winning four PGA Tour titles during the past 18 months, a meteoric rise for someone who had not competed in a major until last season.


“That’s the one missing piece for me right now, being able to contend and trying to win a major,” Reed told Reuters at this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. “I know that will come with experience and hopefully this year will be that time.

“I only played my first majors last year but I was able to see what they were like. I made just two cuts, but on the Sunday I wasn’t even a factor.

“I just want to keep improving, and have a chance coming down the stretch on a Sunday to at least make some noise at a major.”

Reed clinched his fourth PGA Tour title at the winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in Hawaii earlier this month, beating fellow American Jimmy Walker in a playoff.


With that success, he joined Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia as the only players over the past 20 years to have won four times on the U.S. circuit under the age of 25 but readily admits he does not share that trio’s consistency.

“I have only been out here on Tour for a couple of years while Rory has been out here a long time so that experience is definitely going to pay off,” said Reed.

“You know how to handle some different situations so I think that’s partly to do with it. I definitely want to make my percentage of top-10s better … just to get that consistency better.”

This season has already been proof positive of that inconsistency with Reed having posted just one top-10 in four PGA Tour starts.

At last week’s Humana Challenge, he fluctuated between the exceptional and mediocre as he recorded scores of 65, 70, 67 and 71.

“I kind of played well one day and didn’t play very well the next,” he said. “That was the reason why I wasn’t able to be closer to the lead going into the final round and have a chance to win the event.

“That’s something that I need to work on and improve on.”

Reed’s biggest victory so far came at the elite WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral last March, where he brashly claimed he was “one of the top five players in the world,” though his form since has been erratic.

“Everyone is trying to be the best in the world, but that’s going to take a long time,” he smiled. “It’s nothing that happens overnight, that’s for sure.

“But winning at Kapalua just kind of backs up that I’m moving in the right direction, I’m on the right path.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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