Harry to serve in Darwin, Perth and Sydney

Prince Harry will be embedded with the Australian army in Darwin, Perth and Sydney during a four-week tour starting in April, with time out to attend the Anzac centenary in Gallipoli.

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Kensington Palace has announced details of Harry’s trip to Australia and New Zealand after it was first leaked in the British media a fortnight ago.

The palace also confirmed the 30-year-old Apache helicopter pilot will quit the British armed forces in June following a decade of full-time military service, including two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

It’s not yet known what Harry will do next, with the prince stating “I am considering the options for the future”.

“Before leaving operational service, Prince Harry will spend four weeks in April and May seconded to the Australian Defence Force where he will be attached to various units to gain an appreciation of the Australian army’s domestic operating environment and capabilities,” Kensington Palace said in a statement.

“He is expected to spend time at army barracks in Darwin, Perth and Sydney where he will take part in a range of unit-based activities, training exercises and domestic deployments.”

During his attachment, the prince will travel to Gallipoli to represent the royal family at the Anzac Day dawn service along with his father, Prince Charles.

After his time with the ADF, Harry will undertake an official tour of New Zealand in May.

It will be the prince’s first visit to New Zealand. He’s previously visited Australia in 2003 on his gap year and in 2013 for the international fleet review.

“Spending time with the Australian Defence Force will be incredible and I know I will learn a lot,” said the prince, who is called Captain Harry Wales while on active duty.

ADF head Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin believes the Australian army has prepared a “challenging program” for the prince.

“Captain Wales’ embed with the Australian army is an extension of his regular British army duties,” he said in a statement.

“It will build on his previous experience with coalition forces along with his advocacy work with wounded, injured and ill service personnel.

“It is also an opportunity for Australian army personnel to learn from their British counterpart.”

After quitting the British military mid-year, the prince will travel to Africa where he’ll do volunteer conservation work.

He’ll then return to the UK and volunteer with the Ministry of Defence supporting wounded service personnel.

“Moving on from the army has been a really tough decision,” Harry said on Tuesday.

“(But) inevitably most good things come to an end and I am at a crossroads in my military career.

“I am considering the options for the future and I am really excited about the possibilities.”

Harry’s older brother, Prince William, quit the armed forces in September 2013 and will start his new civilian job as an air ambulance pilot mid-year following the birth of his second child, who is due in mid to late-April.

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Bouchard eager to carve out new memories

Having celebrated her 21st birthday last month, the self-assured Canadian with a lethal forehand dreams of rising to top spot in the global pecking order and winning her first grand slam singles crown.

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“I’m (ranked) seven right now, so it takes steps to get there. I also want to be more consistent this year,” the Montreal native said after crushing American CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3 6-2 in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open on Monday.

“I want to go to every tournament well prepared, go to every tournament believing that I can win, being prepared to win, expecting to win, and having that kind of mindset.”

Last year, Bouchard reached the semis at the Australian Open and French Open as well as the Wimbledon final and, though there is very little she wants to change in her overall game, she is excited to be working with a new coach.

Bouchard, who became Canada’s first grand slam singles finalist at Wimbledon last year, readily accepts that lofty expectations have been heaped upon her.

“I have definitely felt a change in the past year or so, a lot more outside attention, pressure and expectations,” she said.

“But I really try to not focus on it and focus on the pressure I put on myself, because that’s more than enough already. Just focus on my goals.”

Bouchard, who was hammered 6-3 6-0 by Czech left-hander Petra Kvitova in last year’s Wimbledon final, linked up with a new coach, Sam Sumyk, earlier this season and is already excited about their prospects.

“I like what he thinks about my game and the vision he has going forward, but we are keeping my same aggressive game and just trying to improve on that,” she said.

“I can improve a bunch of aspects of it, but I’m not looking to change anything big.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Murray nearing Henman record in California

Andy Murray has stepped closer to a British record, the Scot closing to within two career wins of surpassing the victory record set by Tim Henman at the Indian Wells Masters.

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Murray, a 2009 finalist in the desert, beat Philip Kohlschreiber 6-1 3-6 6-1 on Monday and will play Adrian Mannarino after the Frenchman upset Latvian 14th seed Ernests Gulbis 6-4 6-4.

Murray scored his 495th win as he overcame his German opponent to reach the fourth round. Henman, Murray’s mentor, retired with 496 victories and was the most successful of the British men – as a four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist – until Murray won the grass grand slam in 2013.

Murray advanced in just under two hours against Kohlschreiber to stand 2-1 in that series. The German stole the second set with a reflex volley off his heels followed by an ace to level at a set each before dropping the third set badly.

The winner said that conditions were complex, with the ball speeded up by the heat at midday and other weather factors.

“Always when you play in big arenas, when a bit of wind does get in, it’s much stronger than it appears,” he said.

“When you add that into the conditions it makes the ball even tougher to control.

“I’ve been pretty happy with the way I have struck the ball. I hit the ball very clean considering in my first two matches, which is a good sign.

“But I don’t look ahead or think about winning events whilst in the third or fourth round. It’s just concentrate on the next match and try and beat whoever you are playing on that day.”

US Open finalist Kei Nishikori, seeded fifth, beat Spain’s Fernando Verdasco 6-7 (6-8) 6-1 6-4 In women’s play, Swiss teen Belinda Bencic scored an upset by beating 2011 winner Caroline Wozniacki, the fourth seed 6-4 6-4.

The seed didn’t help her effort by striking eight double-faults in a loss lasting one hour, 40 minutes.

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Putin laughs off 10-day absence rumours

Russian President Vladimir Putin has laughed off days of frenzied “rumours” over his health and whereabouts as he reappeared in public after an unusually long 10-day absence.

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Emerging after days of speculation that he was either ill or had even been deposed in a palace coup, Putin on Monday met with the leader of ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan just outside Saint Petersburg.

The typically tardy Putin was two hours late but showed up looking relaxed with no visible signs of ill-health, quelling the rumours that had nevertheless highlighted the fragility of Russia’s tightly-controlled political system dominated by one man.

“We would be bored if there were no rumours,” Putin said as he met Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov took delight in mocking the rumours.

“So everyone has now seen the paralysed president captured by generals who has just returned from Switzerland where he was delivering a baby,” he quipped.

“We no longer want to talk about this. Everything is good.”

But observers said the reaction underscored the brittleness of the personality-based political system he has created after emasculating all forms of open opposition, whether in parliament, business or the major media.

The usually omnipresent Putin, 62, had last been seen in public on March 5 at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

While the Kremlin kept releasing footage of Putin in meetings, many speculated that the footage had been filmed much earlier than when it was broadcast.

The internet and foreign media lit up with speculation that Putin had died, had been deposed or that his rumoured girlfriend, a former Olympics gymnast, had secretly had a baby in Switzerland.

Morbid jokes and gags spread on Russian social networks – one of the last bastions of free speech in Russia – and the hashtag #Putinumer (#Putindead) trended on Twitter.

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Pam must prompt climate action by Aust: UN

Heart-breaking images of cyclone devastation in the Pacific must prompt Australia and other countries to act on climate change, a United Nations representative says.

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Super Cyclone Pam has left a trail of destruction across the Pacific nations of Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.

Harrowing stories are emerging from Vanuatu, which was hardest hit and where an estimated up to 70 per cent of the country’s population may have been displaced.

At least 24 people are dead, including a mother and her teenage son who were hit by flying sheets of tin roofing. The toll is expected to climb significantly as help reaches remote outer islands where entire villages appear to have been wiped out.

The head of the UN’s Development Program in Fiji, who has responsibility for the four countries affected by Cyclone Pam, says the latest disaster to hit the Pacific must result in a binding deal on greenhouse gas emissions.

“The situation in the Pacific is the most illustrative example where you really see the tangible impacts of climate change. It’s really quite devastating,” Osnat Lubrani told AAP on Tuesday.

“The frequency and the level of the natural diasters is becoming more extreme, and experts are making that link to climate change.

“This is a very important year with our hope that a binding agreement on climate change will be reached by all UN member states. And of course it is our hope that Australia will reflect and be able to be supportive of this important goal.”

Ms Lubrani said there was no doubt those negotiations were going to be difficult.

“But I really hope the visuals of what’s happening right now in the Pacific might sway minds and hearts into reaching a binding agreement.”

Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale has said climate change was a key factor in the scale of devastation caused by Pam.

Earlier this month a report by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said economic losses from disasters around the world total an average of $A329.8 billion to $A392.5 billion annually.

And UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of a looming tipping point where natural disasters, fuelled by climate change, will become so fierce and frequent the world will not be able to adequately respond.

Ms Lubrani will head to Vanuatu on Wednesday, where she’ll inspect the work being done by a UN team which is assessing damage, getting communication links up and directing relief efforts.

She said another UN assessment team was also headed to hard-hit island nation of Tuvalu, where there’s been extreme damage on outer islands and a state of emergency is in place.

Assessments are also going on in the nation of Kiribati, which has suffered serious damage from cyclone-related flooding.

There’s been flooding too in the Solomon Islands, but at this stage the government has yet to declare a national disaster.

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