Crimea marks year since annexation vote

Crimea has kicked off celebrations to mark one year since a controversial vote that led to Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.


Fireworks and concerts were planned in the Black Sea peninsula on Monday for the festivities a year after the controversial poll saw residents vote under the watchful eye of elite Russian troops in unmarked uniforms who had swarmed key sites in Crimea two weeks earlier.

Pro-Russian authorities said nearly 97 per cent of Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and become part of Russia in the hastily-organised referendum, but with no independent observers allowed the poll was widely dismissed abroad.

Two days later Putin signed a treaty incorporating Crimea into Russia, sending his ties with the West into a tailspin but boosting his popularity at home to record highs that official statistics said hit 88 per cent last week.

As the red, white and blue Russian flag fluttered throughout the peninsula on Monday, the European Union criticised the growing militarisation of Crimea, the home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, under Moscow rule.

“One year after the holding of an illegal and illegitimate referendum of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia, the European Union is firmly committed to the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

In a documentary broadcast on Sunday, Putin presented himself as the saviour of Crimea forced to deploy troops to prevent a war with “nationalists” in Kiev.

He also said that at the time he had prepared to put his nuclear forces on alert in case of western intervention.

The annexation of Crimea was a critical event in the Ukrainian crisis, which many believe triggered the separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine where more than 6000 have since been killed in fighting.

Continue Reading →

Aid workers struggle with scale of Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s shocked president has described the cyclone that hammered the tiny South Pacific archipelago as a “monster” and says climate change is partly to blame for the devastation.


Aid agencies say conditions in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu are among the most challenging they have ever faced with fears of disease rife.

The official death toll in Port Vila, where relief workers said up to 90 per cent of homes have been damaged, stands at six with more than 30 injured, although aid workers believe this is likely a fraction of the fatalities caused by the storm.

Relief flights, including from Australia and New Zealand, continued arriving in the battered capital Port Vila after Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through on Friday night packing wind gusts of up to 320 kilometres an hour.

But workers on the ground say there is no way to distribute desperately needed supplies across the archipelago’s 80 islands, warning it would take days to reach remote villages flattened by the storm.

Oxfam country director in Port Vila Colin Collett van Rooyen said a lack of enough clean water, temporary toilets, water purification tablets and hygiene kits needed to be addressed rapidly.

“Friday night was the first emergency with the arrival of Cyclone Pam, disease will be the second emergency without clean water, sanitation and hygiene provision,” he said.

“There are more than 100,000 people likely homeless, every school destroyed, full evacuation centres, damage to health facilities and the morgue.”

Charlotte Gillan, an Australian paramedic who lives in the village of Tango on the outskirts of Port Vila, said the front part of her house had collapsed.

“I fought tears seeing that devastation,” she said, adding that disease was now her main concern.

Save the Children’s Vanuatu director Tom Skirrow said the logistical challenges were even worse than for Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in November 2013, leaving more than 7,350 people dead or missing and ravaging an area as big as Portugal.

“I was present for the Haiyan response and I would 100 per cent tell you that this is a much more difficult logistical problem,” he said.

Aurelia Balpe, head of the Pacific office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, agreed the task facing aid agencies was likely unprecedented in the region.

Skirrow said flights over remote islands in the archipelago, which spans more than 12,000 square kilometres, had confirmed widespread destruction elsewhere in the impoverished nation of 270,000.

Balpe said initial reports from two volunteers in the northern Torres and Banks islands were not as devastating, but no contact had been established with other areas and it appeared the southern island of Tanna had suffered widespread damage.

President Baldwin Lonsdale said changing weather patterns were partly to blame for the destruction.

“Climate change is contributing to the disaster in Vanuatu,” the emotional leader said before leaving Japan, where he was attending a UN disaster meeting.

“This is a very devastating cyclone in Vanuatu. I term it as a monster, a monster.

“It’s a setback for the government and for the people of Vanuatu. After all the development that has taken place, all this development has been wiped out.”

The president said because of the break in communications, even he could not reach his family.

“We do not know if our families are safe or not. As the leader of the nation, my whole heart is for the people, the nation.”

Communications were still down across most of the islands, although the airport in Port Vila re-opened to commercial flights on Monday.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the cyclone, which was the maximum category five when it hit, had affected countries across the South Pacific, including the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Tuvalu.

Mr Lonsdale later said his island nation needed the world’s help to rebuild “everything”.

“The humanitarian need is immediate, we need it right now,” he said.

“In the long term we need the financial support, assistance, to start rebuilding our infrastructure – everything, we have to build.”

Continue Reading →

Conservatives rallied to Abbott rescue

Tony Abbott’s leadership was saved in part by a last-minute email campaign by a conservative group which denigrated Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop.


The prime minister survived a Liberal leadership spill motion last month by 61 votes to 39.

The size of the vote sent shockwaves across the government, which since then has ditched a number of controversial policies such as the Medicare co-payment in a bid to satisfy disgruntled coalition backbenchers.

ABC’s Four Corners program revealed on Monday a key conservative group, the National Civic Council, was so worried for the prime minister that it launched an email campaign.

The campaign asked people to email their federal Liberal MPs to ask them to support Mr Abbott in the spill.

One of those who received the email, barrister Robert Colquhoun, told the program he was astonished by it.

“I was being told that I should write to all the politicians, all the Liberal Party, telling them that if Tony Abbott was disposed (of) I would not vote for the Liberal Party at the next election,” he said.

The NCC email said Mr Abbott had “held the line” on marriage and repealed the carbon tax.

“Whatever his failings, the alternatives are Malcolm Turnbull, who failed as leader, and Julie Bishop, who was forced to resign as shadow treasurer,” the email issued by NCC vice-president Pat Byrne said.

Four Corners aired fresh criticism of the PM’s chief of staff Peta Credlin and the conflict of interest of having her husband Brian Loughnane as the Liberal Party’s federal director.

A leaked text message from party treasurer Philip Higginson to a senior Liberal member described Ms Credlin as “the Horsewoman of the Apocalypse”.

Mr Higginson said in another message he hoped Ms Credlin’s removal could be negotiated because “she has `effed’ the parliamentary wing thru (sic) her non-understanding of team harmony … and she has `effed’ the organisational wing …”

Liberal senator Ian Macdonald told Four Corners that having a husband and wife as the principal advisers for the party and government “doesn’t make for a good interaction between the parliamentary wing and the organisational wing”.

“I’ve always thought that was unfortunate and I would hope that something might be done about that,” he said.

Ms Bishop told reporters the latest internal party leaks are damaging and should stop.

“It’s always unfortunate if there are leaks to the media that are damaging in any political party,” she said.

“Anything of that nature is obviously most unfortunate and shouldn’t be said.”

Continue Reading →

Bees should be abuzz about ‘Moneyball’ Midtjylland

His game plan, akin to that used by the Oakland Athletics baseball team immortalised in the best-selling book and hit movie ‘Moneyball’, has proved a huge success in Denmark and Benham sees no reason why it cannot work in England.


Warburton led Brentford, who are known as The Bees, to promotion last season and now they are in with a fighting chance of making the top flight for the first time since 1947.

His reward was to be told last month that even if he led the club to an improbable but enormously lucrative promotion to the Premier League he would not be allowed to stick around come the end of the campaign.

Benham made it clear he wanted a more ‘Moneyball’ approach run through a director of football whereas Warburton did not.

Brentford issued a statement saying the club would introduce a new recruitment structure “using a mixture of traditional scouting and other tools including mathematical modelling”.

The decision was greeted with incredulity by fans and pundits but in Denmark it came as less of a shock because Benham’s other club are enjoying unprecedented success.


“If Midtjylland are the most improved team at the end of the season I would be very happy,” chairman Rasmus Ankersen told Reuters in an interview, “and if we are the most improved team I’m confident we will also finish top of the league.”

The former Midtjylland player, whose top-flight career was effectively ended by a serious knee injury 15 minutes into his senior debut, explained how his side could outperform rivals like free-spending FC Copenhagen.

“We do quite a few things differently but the two main things are the statistical analysis and the way we approach talent development,” said Ankersen.

The new numbers-based regime was implemented when Benham bought a majority shareholding in Midtjylland in July 2014.

The Danish club and, to a lesser degree, Brentford, are run along similar lines and although Ankersen acknowledges the human element is important in terms of running the club, the stats are key.

“The data is not perfect but I think it’s less imperfect than the human judgement. It’s got to be a combination all the time,” he added.

“You’ve got to know where human judgement has a role to play and you’ve got to know what part of the process the data has a role to play in.”

With a limited budget, analysis is particularly important when it comes to recruitment.

“We use the data to find undervalued players in undervalued markets and we also do a lot in terms of development. More than 50 percent of our starting XI players are from the academy,” said Ankersen.

“The data will not tell us who to pick but it will tell us where to look. You’ve got to know what data can do for you and what data cannot do for you.”


Ankersen added that statistical analysis is used in almost every aspect of the team’s preparations, from recruitment and training to what they do on the pitch and why.

“There is more randomness in football compared to many other sports like basketball or handball,” he said.

“The fewer goals there is in a sport, the more impact random events like the referee making a mistake or the ball hitting the post and going out instead of in, the more impact those events will have.

“That means that, statistically, the best team wins less often than in handball or basketball. Football coaches tend to say the league table never lies whereas we would say the league table almost always lies.”

The Midtjylland formula has proved a winning one though.

“We have identified metrics that we know statistically work over time,” said the 31-year-old Ankersen.

“I can’t say in detail what we look at but it comes down to the number of dangerous situations we create and the number of dangerous situations we prevent the opponent from creating.”

Ankersen said the project has so far only scraped the tip of the iceberg and that ultimately the club would like to combine the free-flowing football beloved by the Danes with a pragmatic statistical approach.

“We have an idea about how we would like to play but we don’t only look at that from a romantic point of view,” he explained. “We look for where the inefficiencies are.”

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

Continue Reading →

Coe against any boycott of football World Cup

Coe, who is standing against Ukrainian pole vault great Sergey Bubka for the presidency of world athletics body IAAF, won his medals at the boycotted Moscow and Los Angeles Olympics of 1980 and 1984.


“I will always oppose boycotts of sport,” the London 2012 Olympic chief told Reuters at an event to promote the 10km Great Newham London Run to be held in the Olympic Park in July.

“I don’t think they actually achieve what they set out to do. The only people they really damage are competitors and athletes,” added Coe, who was on the England committee that bid against Russia for the finals.

“I think it is far better to have sport as a soft power, helping change all sorts of things.

“You either believe in its power to change and to be a catalyst for social and political change or you don’t. I happen to believe that sport has done far more to bring communities together than to isolate and separate them.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko posted on Twitter that “while there are Russian forces in Ukraine, I believe that holding the World Cup in that country (Russia) is not possible.”

He also told German newspaper Bild that his country’s allies should consider a boycott if Moscow failed to pull its troops out of Ukrainian territory.

The IAAF election is in August and Coe has been busy campaigning, visiting four continents in the past two weeks.

He said the most pressing issue was to engage more young people in athletics.

“If the challenge for sport in the 20th century was taking it to communities, the big challenge in the 21st century is taking it to young people,” said the Briton.

“And you really do need to recognise that while your sport is athletics…the business is entertainment.

“The biggest challenge we have is to renew our fan base, our audience and make sure that our competitions are relevant to young people.”

Newham London Run organisers aim to become Britain’s biggest mass participation running event with a target of 60,000 people taking part annually within five years.

The Great North Run is currently the biggest annual running event in Britain with 57,000 participants. The London Marathon attracts roughly 40,000.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer)

Continue Reading →