Romney seals Republican nomination

Mitt Romney clinched his Republican party’s White House nomination by winning its Texas primary, vowing to get America ‘back on the path to prosperity’ by defeating Barack Obama in November.

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But the milestone was clouded by a rehashed controversy over claims by billionaire tycoon Donald Trump, a high-profile Romney supporter, questioning President Obama’s birthplace.

“#1144. Thank You. Whatever challenges lie ahead, we will settle for nothing less than getting America back on the path to prosperity,” Romney tweeted, referring to the number of delegates required to win his party’s nomination.

The former Massachusetts governor, the only candidate who actively campaigned in Texas, won 71 percent of the vote, according to Fox News, CNN and NBC television.

US congressman from Texas Ron Paul won 10 percent in his home state, Catholic conservative Rick Santorum 7 percent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 5 percent, according to CNN.

In Texas 155 delegates were at stake — which added to Romney’s tally of 1,064 should take him well over the 1,144 nomination threshold, according to the website RealClearPolitics.

But while Romney celebrate the achievement, the campaign was risked veering off message thanks to interventions by flamboyant real estate tycoon Trump, who endorsed the candidate in February.

Trump — with whom Romney was attending a fundraiser in Las Vegas as the Texas results came in, spent much of Tuesday insisting there were still lingering doubts about whether Obama was really a natural born US citizen.

“Nothing has changed my mind,” he told CNBC about the so-called “birther” issue, adding: “There are some major questions here and the press doesn’t want to cover it.”

That provided an opening for Obama’s campaign to slam Romney for lacking “moral leadership” over his appearance with Trump.

“If Mitt Romney lacks the backbone to stand up to a charlatan like Donald Trump because he’s so concerned about lining his campaign’s pockets, what does that say about the kind of president he would be?” said Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.

Romney’s campaign was forced into awkward damage control hours before the two men appear together, with spokeswoman Andrea Saul saying Romney “has said repeatedly that he believes President Obama was born in the United States.

“The Democrats can talk about Donald Trump all they want — Mitt Romney is going to talk about jobs and how we can get our economy moving again.”

Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus hailed Romney’s Texas win, saying it paves the way for the party’s August convention in Tampa, Florida, where Romney will be formally nominated and reveal his running mate.

“Gov. Romney will offer America the new direction we so desperately need. We cannot afford four more years of President Obama’s big government agenda, deficit spending, and attacks on American free enterprise.

In nominating a multimillionaire former businessman, the Republican Party is in familiar territory, but in one key respect Romney is making history, as the nation’s first-ever Mormon nominee of a major political party.

The Republican base has long been dominated by evangelical Christians, and Romney’s faith has occasionally come under scrutiny by some religious leaders.

But Romney is counting on Americans seeing him as the pragmatic problem solver with the business credentials to turn the economy around better than Obama has.

Romney, 65, pivoted toward Obama in his campaign speeches and events more than a month ago, when it became clear his long march toward the nomination at the party convention in August would not be stopped.

But it was a brutal primary season. Rivals like Gingrich and Santorum humbled Romney by stealing some victories, rallying voters to their more conservative agenda and highlighting his flipflops on key issues such as abortion.

Polls show a steadily tightening White House race, with Republicans coalescing behind Romney in the weeks since Gingrich and Santorum dropped out.

Poll aggregates show Obama narrowly ahead. The latest RealClearPolitics average shows the president with a two-point lead, 45.6 to 43.6 percent.


UK scientists ‘find evidence of Syrian chemical attack’

British military scientists have found forensic evidence that chemical weapons have been used in the conflict in Syria, the Times newspaper is reporting.

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A soil sample thought to have been taken from an area close to Damascus and smuggled back to Britain has provided proof that “some kind of chemical weapon” had been fired, it quoted defence sources as saying.

The tests were carried out at the Ministry of Defence’s chemical and biological research establishment at Porton Down, it added in the front-page story.

Diplomats at the United Nations said on Thursday that Western Nations have “hard evidence” that chemical weapons have been used at least once in the Syrian war, without giving details.

The British team were unable to discern whether the weapons had been fired by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime or by the rebels fighting him, nor could they say if there had been widespread use, The Times said.

It cited an unnamed source as saying: “There have been some reports that it was just a strong riot-control agent but this is not the case — it’s something else, although it can’t definitively be said to be sarin nerve agent.”

The Ministry of Defence had no comment when contacted by AFP, although the Foreign Office said it was deeply concerned about the possible use of chemical weapons.

“We are deeply concerned about multiple reports alleging the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” a spokesman said.

“We have shared our concerns with the UN secretary general and fully support his decision to investigate.

“The use of chemical weapons would be a horrific crime. Those who order the use of chemical weapons, and those who participate in their use, will be brought to account.”

Assad’s government has asked the United Nations to investigate its claims that opposition rebels fired a chemical weapon shell in Aleppo province on March 19.

In response, the UN assembled a team of international experts, led by Ake Sellstrom of Sweden, in the region.

But Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem wrote to UN chief Ban Ki-moon this week saying the government could not accept an inquiry that extended to claims against its own forces.


Emirates A380 forced back to Sydney

The pilot of the Dubai-bound Airbus plane carrying 380 passengers made the decision to turn back shortly after take-off on Sunday night.

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“Emirates flight EK413 from Sydney to Dubai on November 11 turned back shortly after take-off due to an engine fault,” the carrier said in a statement.

“Emirates apologises for any inconvenience caused to its customers. However, the safety of our passengers and crew is of the highest priority and will not be compromised.”

Fairfax journalist Matt Campbell was on the plane and told the Sydney Morning Herald the aircraft was still climbing.

“It seemed about half an hour into the flight when I saw a bright orange flash, heard a loud bang and there was a big thump through the cabin,” he said.

“The flight attendants were rushing about through the cabin and then eventually the PA came on and the captain said there was an engine problem with engine number three and that engine had now been shut down.”

An Emirates spokesman told AFP the carrier was still working on what caused the scare but admitted passengers may have “seen a flash and heard noise”.

“There were no flames or smoke,” he added, despite some passengers telling local media they saw fire.

“The pilot made a decision to turn back as a precaution.”

Another passenger told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph the Emirates flight attendants “panicked more than the passengers”.

“Everyone was running left and right (with) no one knowing what’s happened.” Amal Aburawi, a doctor, told the tabloid, and said non-English speaking passengers were not properly informed about what was happening.

She said usually Arabic announcements followed the English but “this time no one mentioned anything in Arabic and there (were) many Arabic passengers, many of them old ladies.”

Qantas, which recently sealed a major partnership with Emirates, had an engine explode on one of its A380s over Indonesia in November 2010.

The accident, during a flight from Singapore to Sydney, led the Australian carrier to temporarily ground its entire A380 superjumbo fleet.

Subsequent investigations pinpointed a manufacturing defect which caused fatigue cracking in an oil pipe, resulting in a fire and potentially catastrophic engine failure.


Indigenous mentoring program goes global

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Australian Indigenous Mentoring Excellence – or AIME – has unveiled its “Mentors 4 Life” program in Adelaide.

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A traditional welcome for academics, business leaders and more than 500 students set the scene for AIME’s chief executive, Jack Manning-Bancroft, to explain the motivation driving his mentorship program.

“You have these uni students there for the right reasons, not because they wanted to go and help Aboriginal people because they felt sorry for them – they wanted to go learn from people like you guys, they wanted to learn how to be better people and then the students who are there actually want to step up. So we cut the bullshit, we weren’t going to pander to the students and we aren’t going to pander to you guys – if you guys want to step up a have a good life we’ll walk every step of the way with you.”

The initiative has had a meteoric rise.

It started out nine years ago with 25 students; today it’s mentoring for more than 2,000 – and now it’s going global.

“So today we’re launching our mentors for life program around Australia which is sharing our mentoring model with individuals, the general public and businesses around the world, and that’s going to help us fund the program back here in Australia with the kids as well so nine years on we’re now standing there, a hundred staff and now we can see if we can try and grow this thing around the world and have some fun in the process.”

It’s this aspiration to go international that’s caught the eye of one of the world’s best-known entrepreneurs – Sir Richard Branson.

“And it seems, from the little I know about it, it seems like a great idea. I think we all benefit from mentors and I think this is a tremendous program.”

The head of the Virgin group of companies explained how hard work, vision and persistence saw him build a global empire despite being a high school drop-out.

“I think the people who are going to achieve their dreams and their goals are the people who take the knocks, get knocked down, pick themselves up, try again, get knocked down, pick themselves up, try again, learn from every knock and then ultimately they’ll break through. Lack of financial resources is definitely a big issue. I didn’t have any money when I started, and I had to kind of conjure resources out of thin air and we came very, very close to failure on a number of occasions.”

It’s inspired 15 year old indigenous students Kevin Benbolt and Damon Wanganeen.

“I thought he was a pretty intelligent guy, I didn’t think that, since he was a billionaire, I didn’t think he was not good in school – I thought he would like finish year 12 or something, because he’s that rich. Yeah. So what has this inspired you to consider? To not give in – follow your dreams – and go as high as you want like him, yeah.”

University of South Australia Vice Chancellor David Lloyd hopes the AIME initiative can foster a sense of social responsibility in senior students as they mentor younger students to achieve their life goals.

“It helps connect directly with Indigenous Australians to break down the cultural divides that do exist still today in 21st century Australia. This for us is a leap forward in terms of our commitment to reconciliation and I believe it has the ability to make a profound difference in terms of both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants in the scheme.”

For students Kevin Benbolt and Damon Wanganeen, those life goals might now be a little bit bigger.

“I hope to play AFL but if I don’t make it I’ll do like an engineer, because I’m good with that. Yeah, same.”


Russia urged to end arms transfer

Human rights organisation, Amnesty International has called on the Russian government to cease the transfer of arms to Syria, in a bid to end the country’s escalating violence.

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The organisation says Russia must comply with UN Security Council recommendations to bring Syria’s crimes against humanity to account.

“Amnesty International is baffled at Russia’s persistent shielding of the Syrian government from international accountability at the UN Security Council,” said Michael Hayworth, a Crisis Response Campaigner for Amnesty International Australia.

Both the Chinese and Russian governments have already blocked two resolutions calling for tougher action against Syria at the UN Security Council.

“Russia has a special relationship with the Syrian authorities. In fact, Russia is allegedly still sending arms into Syria. This is very concerning given the current crisis that we see.”

Amnesty has published a damning report of the Syrian government’s human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, mass arbitrary arrests, systematic pattern of torture, the targeting of medical workers, and the wanton destruction of property.

The organisation recently embarked on a research mission to examine country’s human rights abuses, despite being banned by the Syrian government. The research team visited 23 towns in northern Syria, interviewing 200 Syrians for first-person accounts of the crisis.

One mother told Amnesty that her three sons were taken by soldiers in March, only to be found shot dead, with their bodies set on fire underneath a pile of motorcycles outside their family home.

In spite of substantial evidence by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria and the UN Committee against Torture, Amnesty says little is being done to end the violence.

“If nothing happens, then we’re going to continue to see the horrific things being documented in our report,” said Mr Hayworth.

“This is absolutely unacceptable, and it’s why there’s no other option but for the international community to come together, introduce accountability, increase the UN Supervisory Mission and ensure that the flow of arms is stopped to the Syrian government.”