Skies clear for Gallipoli dawn service

Queenslander George Johnson has made his first trip to Gallipoli and also “probably the last” but he hopes young people will keep visiting to pay their respects to the fallen.

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The 63-year-old, from Bluff in central Queensland, was impressed with Monday’s dawn service at North Beach which went off without a hitch amidst boosted Turkish security measures.

He was one of an estimated 1200 or more Australians and New Zealanders who attended, many sleeping out overnight in front of the main stage above the Aegean Sea.

“I came to show my respect for what was done and why we’re still here,” Mr Johnson told AAP after the service.

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“I just hope the younger people keep coming back and keep it all happening. Without them it won’t happen will it?”

Mr Johnson said he was not at all deterred by security concerns following a spate of terror attacks in Turkey this year and was grateful to Turkish paramedics who tended to his “crook leg” overnight.

Australian Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan, who gave an address at the service, praised the Turkish government for doing an “outstanding job” making sure Australians and New Zealanders could commemorate Anzac Day in a safe way.

“It’s gone without incident which is very relieving for everyone.”

This year security was tightened with airport-style screening taking place, while armed Turkish police and soldiers stand guard at checkpoints into the Gallipoli sites.

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A sudden thunderstorm on Sunday night had attendees rushing for the cover of the security tent but that passed and the service went ahead under largely clear skies.

In his speech Mr Tehan said that more than 11,000 Australians and New Zealanders died in the eight-month-long ordeal that was the Gallipoli campaign.

But he highlighted the successful evacuation of more than 93,000 allied troops from the peninsula in December 1915.

“It was the task of moving a city the size of Rockhampton or Bunbury or Palmerston North from this peninsula without the enemy engaging.

“The countless lives that were saved, the untold tragedy that was avoided, has meant that Anzac didn’t end as a story that we remember bitterly,” Mr Tehan said.

New Zealand Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee told the gathering that New Zealanders came to Gallipoli to remember the sacrifices made and the “terrible toll” of the campaign.

“But most of all we come because the actions of the Anzacs have become for New Zealand our coming of age as a nation.”

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Mr Brownlee said the Anzacs’ “resilience and humanity in the face of hardship remain fundamental to New Zealanders’ sense of nationhood to this day”.

“Today we are proud to stand yet again alongside our Australian cousins, with whom we share the enduring Anzac bond.”

Also at the service a Turkish army officer read out a 1934 message from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey and a key military leader at Gallipoli, urging Australian and New Zealand mothers who lost sons there to “wipe away your tears”.

Ataturk said their sons were “now lying in the soil of a friendly country” and were at peace.

“After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

Manly heap more woe on Knights in NRL

Manly coach Trent Barrett expects Daly Cherry-Evans to be better for the run after the Queensland and Australian playmaker returned to spark the Sea Eagles to a 26-10 victory over Newcastle at Hunter Stadium.

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Returning earlier than anticipated from a high-ankle sprain, Cherry-Evans was below his best but did enough to steer the Sea Eagles home against the inexperienced Knights.

On a day when both teams lost key players to potentially serious injuries – Jarrod Mullen (hamstring) and Peter Mata’utia (knee) for Newcastle and Brett Stewart (hamstring) and Tom Trbojevic (ankle) for Manly – Barrett was relieved to see Cherry-Evans finish the game intact.

“He got through unscathed, which was good,” said Barrett, who also hopes to welcome back hooker Matt Parcell from a hamstring injury against North Queensland at Brookvale on Saturday.

“He blew a few cobwebs out, but it’s certainly good to have Cherry back.

“We’ve just got to keep improving.”

Cherry-Evans created a try for Tom Trbojevic in the 60th minute to give Manly a 20-6 lead, capping a 15-minute period in which the Sea Eagles dominated possession and field position.

In a bizarre turnaround Newcastle scored from the restart, Tyler Randell crashing over to make in 20-10 after Jamie Lyon sloppily batted back a short Dane Gagai kick-off.

But any slight hopes of a comeback were put to bed when lock Jake Trbojevic scored a converted try in the 78th minute.

Ten minutes earlier Trbojevic had to watch as his brother was helped from the field. He in turn had replaced Stewart at fullback after the former NSW and Australian custodian limped off in the 45th minute.

Barrett said Trbojevic was of more immediate concern than Stewart, though he did not expect either player would be available to back up against the Cowboys on Saturday night.

Mullen had collapsed to the ground after bursting into the clear in the 67th minute, and Knights coach Nathan Brown did not expect him or Mata’utia to be available for selection any time soon.

Mata’utia, who returned to Newcastle from the Dragons last week, lasted just 26 minutes of his homecoming game after sustaining damage to the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

Brown said Mata’utia could miss six to eight weeks and Mullen even longer.

Knights prop Sam Mataora was reported in the 65th minute for a possible crusher tackle.

Manly had taken a 10-6 lead to the break when prop Brenton Lawrence crashed over to score in the final seconds of the first half.

Replays showed the ball rolled loose as Newcastle defenders tried to halt Lawrence’s progress but review official Ashley Klein could not find enough evidence to overturn referee Gavin Badger’s on-field ruling of a try.

The Knights had no such luck earlier in the half when wingers Nathan Ross and Aku Uate were both denied tries by the bunker.

Negative gearing windbacks could deliver $5.3bn a year

Charis Palmer, The Conversation

Tax reform to target Australia’s distorting capital gains tax and negative gearing regimes could net the government A$5.

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3 billion in tax revenue per year, according to a new report from the Grattan Institute.

The report recommends reducing the capital gains tax discount for individuals and trusts to 25%, and phasing in limits to negative gearing over 10 years.

“The case for reform is extremely strong and we do not think that this is likely to lead to a material crash in the housing market,” said the report’s author John Daley.

Daley and report co-author Danielle Wood have modelled the impact of their recommendation on house prices, rents and the rate of new housing development, estimating house prices would be 2% lower than otherwise.

Under their suggested tax changes people would no longer be able to write off losses from passive investments like housing against unrelated wage income.

“The only developed country we have found that lets you deduct the costs of interest and allows you to deduct it from your labour income apart from us is New Zealand,” Daley said.

Curtin Law School Associate Professor Helen Hodgson said the proposals were well balanced, based on sound evidence, and would improve the efficiency and fairness of the tax system.

She said the challenge was to claw back concessions without creating further distortions. “In that respect the Grattan Institute recommendations go further than those proposed by the Australian Labor Party.

“The ALP proposals allow existing negatively geared properties to remain deductible. This would have a lock in effect similar to the pre-CGT exemption from capital gains tax. Borrowers would be reluctant to sell their property and reinvest in other, potentially more productive, forms of investment.

The Labor Party proposal would reduce the capital gains tax discount to 25% and restrict negative gearing to new properties only.

Daley said this approach was likely to create a new distortion in the housing market.

“Essentially those new houses will be higher priced than the older houses and so you’ll get a distortion as investors disproportionately show up to the auctions for new housing and owner-occupiers disproportionately show up to the auctions for old housing. I’m not sure why we’d want to encourage that.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has argued Labor’s proposal would deliver “massive shocks” to the residential housing market, removing all investors. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has said it would drive down the value of established properties, and push up the cost of rental accommodation.

But Daley said given new housing supply was significantly restricted by planning rules rather than inadequate returns, it was unlikely there would be any material impact on supply or rents.

“As Commonwealth Bank CEO Ian Narev, who sits on a loan book of $400 billion has said, what keeps him awake at night is interest rates and unemployment rates, not negative gearing.”

Data from the Australia Tax Office shows negative gearing is more popular among taxpayers on higher incomes, and the Grattan Institute argues it largely benefits the wealthy.

Reforming the system would result in more funds instead flowing into equities, businesses and bank deposits.

“The current regime pushes people into property, it encourages them into much higher leverage than they would have otherwise, and that increases the volatility of the housing market and the vulnerability of the financial system,” Daley said.

 

Charges unlikely for parents who took boy

The parents of a severely disabled boy who took him from a Brisbane hospital are unlikely to be charged despite a frantic search that spanned two states.

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Police found Chase Walker-Steven in NSW on Friday afternoon after an amber, or emergency, alert was issued earlier in the day.

They are yet to determine why Chase’s parents took him from Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital just after midday on Thursday.

But his mother Cini Walker’s social media posts confirmed she and her partner are anti-vaxxers who believed his condition was caused by immunisation and feared hospital food would kill him.

Ms Walker previously warned she would walk out of hospital with Chase if they refused to give him medicinal marijuana.

Detective Acting Inspector Grant Galston said a member of the public spotted Ms Walker, 26, in Newcastle and contacted police.

“The mother gave police information as to where her son and the father may be,” he said on Friday afternoon.

“Contact was made with the father and he returned with the boy to where police were with the mother in Newcastle.”

The boy, who was in need of medical attention, was taken by ambulance to nearby John Hunter Hospital for treatment.

Insp Galston said Chase was found safe and would remain in the care of his parents for the time being.

He said Ms Walker and Chase’s father Marc Alexander Steven, 28, were co-operating with police but he did not think they would be charged.

“At this stage, no,” he said. “We were primarily concerned with the welfare of the child.”

Ms Walker posted on Facebook one day before Chase’s disappearance that they stopped vaccinating him at age two because it gave him seizures.

She also alleged the vaccination caused him to develop “spastic, quadriplegic cerebral palsy and undiagnosed, uncontrolled epilepsy”.

Ms Walker claimed on January 18 the Department of Child Safety threatened to take her son unless they took him to hospital that night to be fed.

“They still think that they have the right to feed my son this formula synthetic s***,” she said.

“They’re going to kill my kid with food and they don’t care.”

Ms Walker said her son’s health improved after he went off medication, started eating organic food and took medicinal marijuana.

“He’s happy, he’s stopped seizuring (sic), he’s coming back and still it’s not good enough,” she said.

Ms Walker said she would take him to hospital but would insist he be given medicinal marijuana to keep him alive.

“I will be doing this and if they choose not to do it…. I’ll walk out of that hospital,” she said.

“I don’t care if child services have to get a court order to come get Chase, at least I know I saved my child and I’ll keep doing it, I will not stop.”

NSW to fight Victoria to host Comm Games

Australia’s bid to host the 2026 or 2030 Commonwealth Games is heating up with western Sydney and regional Victoria pushing to win the rights to hold the event.

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Western Sydney leaders began their audacious bid on Friday as the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue made its pitch at the Out There Summit in Parramatta to bring the Games west.

It came just a few weeks after 11 regional Victorian towns floated their potential bid for the 2030 games.

Commonwealth Games Australia chief executive officer Craig Phillips says the body is yet to consult with the potential bidding teams but he’s “thrilled” to see such enthusiasm.

A decision on host cities for the 2026 and 2030 Games will not be made for a several years, but Mr Phillips said he expected an incredible amount of domestic and international competition for the right to host.

The idea has been well received by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who said at the summit that if the case stacked up, she would “definitely” consider it.

“I love the thought of greater Sydney, especially western Sydney, being the events capital of the region,” she said.

“I’m always open to those suggestions.”

Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue chairman Christopher Brown said the idea was a “no brainer”.

The region has “everything in place” to make it a success including a rich sporting culture and ready facilities, he said.

“It’s no cost for a major event because 90 per cent of the venues are already built,” Mr Brown told AAP.

“All we need is the new athletes’ village, which is a great opportunity to renew existing public housing estates in the region.”

ANZ Stadium, the main stadium for the 2000 Sydney Olympics is to be reconfigured into a rectangular ground, potentially making it too small for an athletics track.

Mr Brown said if Western Sydney did secure the games, it would help ensure the region’s infrastructure was up to date.

“I’m confident the city will deliver the infrastructure in time,” Mr Brown said.

The leadership group wants the premier to set up an exploratory committee and develop a business case for a possible bid for the 2026 or 2030 games.

“We don’t think regional Victoria has nearly the appeal that this region presents and would cost taxpayers much more money,” Mr Brown said.

The city of Shepparton is heading a bid by 11 regional Victorian towns, also including Geelong and Ballarat, to host the 2030 Games.

ACCC says Murray Goulburn ‘misled farmers’

The consumer watchdog is accusing Australia’s biggest dairy processor Murray Goulburn os misleading farmers about prices it would pay for their milk before announcing a shock price cut that pushed many into financial distress.

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has begun Federal Court proceedings against Murray Goulburn, the co-operative’s former managing director Gary Helou and its former chief financial officer Bradley Hingle.

The ACCC accuses Mr Helou and Mr Hingle of being “knowingly concerned” in the alleged misleading conduct up to April 2016, with commission chairman Rod Sims saying the former executives were “heavily involved”.

The ACCC claims Murray Goulburn misled farmers between June 2015 and February 2016, when it told them there was a reasonable basis for milk prices to start at $5.60 per kilogram of milk solids (kgms) and reach a final price of $6.05.

Between February 2016 and April 2016, the processor also said it could maintain the opening price of $5.60 and that a final price of $5.60 was most likely.

In April 2016, Murray Goulburn slashed its price to between $4.75 and $5.00, saying $5.60 was no longer achievable, after a glut in the global dairy market caused a slump in prices.

“The ACCC alleges that Murray Goulburn’s conduct had an adverse impact on many farmers who, as a result of Murray Goulburn’s representations regarding the farmgate milk price, had made business decisions,” Mr Sims said.

Mr Sims said the ACCC had formally interviewed the two men but details were confidential.

The ACCC alleges the co-operative maintained its forecast of what farmers would receive for their milk in the 2015/16 season despite knowing the prices were “overstated and unachievable”.

The watchdog is not seeking fines against Murray Goulburn because they would be borne by the co-operative’s farmer-members, but does want declarations, compliance orders, corrective notices and costs.

He said the ACCC wanted to send a message to the company and all agricultural industries that they should not engage in the sort of behaviour the watchdog alleges occurred.

However, the ACCC is seeking penalties against Mr Helou and Mr Hingle, who could face penalties of up to $220,000 for each breach of Consumer Law.

Mr Helou told a Senate hearing in February he did not mislead farmers over the farmgate price, saying the company acted on the best information available at the time.

Murray Goulburn on Friday said it was considering the proceedings.

The NSW Farmers’ Association welcomed the legal action, with dairy committee chair Erika Chesworth saying it showed a commitment by the ACCC to investigate agricultural supply chain issues.

“For our farmers in the MG (Murray Goulburn) Southern Milk Region, the decision made by Murray Goulburn 12 months ago placed them under unprecedented pressure, and finally they are being held to account,” Ms Chesworth said in a statement on Friday.

Mr Helou quit as MD of Murray Goulburn in April 2016 following the price cut and a profit downgrade.

The ACCC has decided not to take action against dairy processor Fonterra, which also cut the farmgate milk price in April 2016, saying it was more transparent about the risks and potential for a price cut.

Manus asylum seeker speaks about incident involving boy

The Afghan asylum seeker at the centre of conflicting reports about how violence involving gunshots broke out on Manus Island on Easter weekend has denied any wrongdoing.

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Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has repeatedly claimed an attack on asylum seekers by PNG military personnel was sparked after a young boy was led into the detention centre.

Mr Dutton has insisted the incident involving the child, and a separate sexual assault, helped elevate tension on Manus Island before the violence broke out.

The regional police commander on Manus and Manus Island politician Ronny Knight have questioned and contradicted Mr Dutton’s account.

The PNG military says the incident was instead triggered by an altercation on a football field.

Now, the 34-year-old Afghan refugee, who asked not to be named, has given an explanation of his actions in leading the boy, thought to be 10 years old, into the detention centre.

The man has told the A-B-C his actions were completely innocent and he was only giving the boy food.

“I grew up in a country that had war and bombs and fighting and all of these things, and I was raised without a father. I experienced hunger, I experienced being thirsty, I experienced poverty, and I know how it feels for a child to be hungry. And when I see that, I cannot just close my eyes and not help.”

The Afghan man said he had fruit inside the centre and walked with the boy through a staffed security gate.

He says his actions were well-received by guards and the boy.

He denies taking the boy inside the centre caused angst in the local community and says it happened days before the violence broke out.

“It’s a shame for Peter Dutton to say that. I did this child a favour. In other countries, is it shameful to help a poor child? In my country, it is respected, and we all do this. I just helped a child, but Peter Dutton took something else from it.”

Mr Dutton is not backing off his version of events, repeating his position on the matter again on 2GB radio yesterday.

“We have seen reports. We are concerned about some allegations of sexual behaviour by the asylum seekers toward girls and women on Manus. I was very clear in what I said, and I stand by it a hundred per cent. I haven’t deviated from it at all, and I won’t, because I know what I’ve said to be factually true. So, that’s the reality.”

The Afghan man and two other men involved in the allegations have requested the CCTV footage of them walking with the boy be released.

The Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul says he has spoken to the men and it is imperative Mr Dutton clear up the facts.

“Now there are straight-out lies being told about them, lies that could be easily cleared up by the release of CCTV footage on Friday night. There’s CCTV coverage around the whole of the detention centre, as you can imagine. The idea that this is classified is just absurd. So people are upset, they’re angry, that these kinds of accusations are being put against them by the Minister.”

 

 

Australia’s Sierra Leonean community offers thanks

In Sunday church, it is the sound of gratitude.

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It is the sound of Adelaide’s Sierra Leonean community giving thanks for all their new country has given them.

The chairwoman of the Sierra Leone Community of South Australia, Constance Jones, says she hopes their message will be heard by all Australians.

“We want them to recognise that we’re here to help, and to support, also. Not only to take from them, but also to give back to the community.”

In Friday mosque, it is a different religion, the same message.

Muslim members of the Sierra Leonean community are also giving thanks, likewise opening their hearts and their wallets to show their sincerity.

Imam Imdiaz Naveed Ahmed of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Mosque says he is very happy to support the cause.

“This is our training. Wherever we go, we have to help the communities, we have to help the humanity.”

Constance Jones says the community wanted to support Aboriginal Australians in particular.

“We wanted to give back to the land. That was the first thing we all decided, that we were going to give back to the Australian government but give back specifically to the Aboriginal people, because this is their land and we’ve come here and we haven’t done anything for them.”

Funds raised will go to the Fred Hollows Foundation, which works in Indigenous communities across Australia to restore eyesight.

Foundation chief executive Brian Doolan says the donation has come as a surprise.

“Look, it was a great surprise, and what a fantastic surprise, to be supported by these new Australians who have decided to adopt probably one of the most Australian charities in the Fred Hollows Foundation. It was an absolute delight.”

Sierra Leone was torn apart by 11 years of civil war, which ended in 2001.

About 2 million people, one-third of the country’s population, were displaced from their homes.

About 3,000 have since settled in Australia under the humanitarian program.

Fashion designer Abdul Rahman Sazzoh was among those forced to leave.

“Then I fled for my life, because I was tied up, they looted my school, they do whatsoever they wanted to do. But thanks me to the Almighty God, today, I’m here.”

Constance Jones says the community still faces many barriers to social inclusion in Australia and hopes to work with the government to resolve them.

“I mean, the community has come a long way. You know, they’ve been through a lot of trauma, they’ve come here as refugees, and they’ve struggled so much.”

But, she adds, there is much more to be done.

“We have a lot of people suffering in their homes. They don’t have affordable homes, they’re losing their families, we have people going through domestic violence … There are so many issues that the Sierra Leone community is struggling from, that we’re hoping that these new executives, and me as a chairperson, would help to restore those issues, so that the Sierra Leonean people can be comfortable and, at the same time, while they’re embracing their culture, they embrace the Australian culture also.”

Constance Jones says she hopes such actions will create pathways to stronger inclusion.

Meanwhile, there are plans for the thanksgiving service to become an annual event.

 

 

Ku-ring-gai Council merger still an option

The Berejiklian government says it will push ahead with plans to forcibly merge two northern Sydney councils despite its decision not to appeal a court ruling which blocked the amalgamation.

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The government this week missed the deadline to appeal a NSW Court of Appeal ruling that the proposed merger between Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby councils could not proceed in its current form.

The court found Ku-ring-gai Council had been denied procedural fairness because the government failed to provide access to two reports used to justify the mergers.

But a spokesman for Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton on Friday told AAP the government remained committed to the merger “given the clear benefits it will have for the local communities”.

“There are a series of matters before the courts … which is why the government is not considering one case in isolation,” he said in a statement.

The government now has the option of going back to the Boundaries Commission – an independent statutory authority – to restart the merger process.

Ku-ring-gai Council mayor Jennifer Anderson says the government’s decision not to challenge the ruling shows its forced council mergers policy is “fatally flawed”.

“Our ratepayers should not be subjected to an undemocratic process based on secret reports, which has no demonstrable benefit to them, only to see their rates increase by up to 30 per cent in five years’ time,” she said in a statement to AAP.

The council says its made several requests to meet with Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Ms Upton to discuss the council’s future but have heard nothing.

The government is facing four other legal challenges over proposed mergers with Woollahra Council’s appeal due to be heard in the High Court next month.

Greens MP David Shoebridge says the Ku-ring-gai court decision had challenged “every forced amalgamation that has either happened or been threatened to date”.

“The Court of Appeal said the obvious, that it is blatantly unfair to forcibly amalgamate a local council on the basis of a secret report,” he said in a statement.

Mr Shoebridge has urged the government to abandon the “undemocratic” policy.

There are 20 already-amalgamated councils across NSW with five more to be created in Sydney if their legal challenges are unsuccessful.

Ms Berejiklian decided to walk away from proposed regional mergers but forge ahead with those in the city after she replaced Mike Baird as premier in January.

Woman dies after Stockholm truck attack

A woman in her 60s who was injured in the April 7 truck attack in Stockholm has died, raising the death toll to five.

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The Stockholm police said in a statement the woman, who has not been publicly identified, had been hospitalised in southern Sweden.

A 39-year-old Uzbek man, Rakhmat Akilov, has pleaded guilty to a terrorist crime for ramming the truck into a crowd on a main pedestrian shopping street in the Swedish capital.

Police have not disclosed a motive for the attack and no extremist group has claimed responsibility for it.

Akilov’s Swedish residency application was rejected last year but police said there was nothing to indicate he might plan an attack.

After the rejection, Akilov had been been ordered to leave Sweden in December.

Instead, he allegedly went underground, eluding authorities’ attempts to track him down.

Akilov was caught in a northern suburb of Stockholm, hours after he drove the stolen beer truck into the crowd of afternoon shoppers outside the upmarket Ahlens store.

Other victims of attack were an 11-year-old Swedish girl, a 31-year-old Belgian woman, a 69-year-old Swedish woman, and a 41-year-old Briton whom the British government identified as Chris Bevington.

Fourteen others were injured in the attack.

The attack had shocked Sweden, known for its welcoming policy toward migrants and refugees.

In 2015, a record 163,000 asylum-seekers arrived in the country – the highest per-capita rate in Europe.

The government responded by tightening border controls and curtailing some immigrant rights.

Trump spurns Taiwan’s request for new call

President Donald Trump has spurned the Taiwanese president’s suggestion that the two leaders hold another phone call, saying he did not want to create problems for Chinese President Xi Jinping at a time when Beijing appears to be helping with efforts to rein in North Korea.

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In a White House interview, Trump brushed aside the idea after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen told Reuters on Thursday she would not rule out talking directly again to the US president, an act certain to incense China.

The status of self-ruled Taiwan is possibly the most sensitive issue between Washington and Beijing.

“Look, my problem is I have established a very good personal relationship with President Xi. I really feel that he is doing everything in his power to help us with a big situation,” Trump told Reuters, referring to signs that China may be working to head off any new missile or nuclear test by Pyongyang, Beijing’s neighbour and ally.

“So I wouldn’t want to be causing difficulty right now for him,” Trump added.

“I think he’s doing an amazing job as a leader and I wouldn’t want to do anything that comes in the way of that. So I would certainly want to speak to him first.”

As president-elect in early December, Trump took a congratulatory phone call from Tsai.

It was the first contact between a leader of Taiwan and an incumbent or incoming US president in nearly four decades, and Trump cast doubt on Washington’s longstanding policy of acknowledging Beijing’s “one China” policy, which asserts that Taiwan is a part of China.

The call angered Beijing because it fears contacts between Taiwan and leaders of other countries would confer sovereignty on the island. Democratic Taiwan, self-ruled since 1949, has no interest in being ruled by autocratic China.

Trump agreed to honour the “one China” policy in February and then hosted Xi at his Florida resort earlier this month.

Trump’s dismissal of Tsai’s suggestion underscored the importance he is placing on enlisting China’s help defusing tensions with North Korea, which has become his biggest national security challenge since taking office in January, 100 days ago on Saturday.

Trump: Major conflict with NKorea possible

US President Donald Trump says a major conflict with North Korea is possible in the standoff over its nuclear and missile programs, but he would prefer a diplomatic outcome to the dispute.

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“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump told Reuters in an Oval Office interview ahead of his 100th day in office on Saturday.

Nonetheless, Trump said he wanted to peacefully resolve a crisis that has bedevilled multiple US presidents, a path that he and his administration are emphasising by preparing a variety of new economic sanctions while not taking the military option off the table.

“We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult,” he said.

Trump lavished praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping for Chinese assistance in trying to rein in North Korea. The two leaders met in Florida earlier this month.

“I believe he is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well.

“With that being said, he loves China and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it’s possible that he can’t,” Trump said.

Trump spoke just a day after he and his top national security advisers briefed US lawmakers on the North Korean threat and one day before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will press the United Nations Security Council on sanctions to further isolate Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.

The Trump administration on Wednesday declared North Korea “an urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority”.

It said it was focusing on economic and diplomatic pressure, including Chinese cooperation in containing its defiant neighbour and ally, and remained open to negotiations.

US officials said military strikes remained an option but played down the prospect, though the administration has sent an aircraft carrier and a nuclear-powered submarine to the region in a show of force.

Any direct US military action would run the risk of massive North Korean retaliation and huge casualties in Japan and South Korea and among US forces in both countries.

Asked if he considered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to be rational, Trump said he was operating from the assumption that he is rational, noting that Kim had taken over his country at an early age.

“He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age.

“I’m not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I’m just saying that’s a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational,” he said.

Merkel shows tough Brexit approach: PM May

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments about Britain having illusions over its future relationship with the European Union show how tough the upcoming Brexit negotiations will be, Prime Minister Theresa May is set to say in a speech.

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Earlier on Thursday Merkel said some people in Britain still had illusions over the EU rights they would continue to enjoy after Brexit and insisted the bloc would only agree on future ties with London after an exit deal has been nailed down.

May will use a speech in the opposition Labour stronghold of Leeds in northern England on Thursday to urge voters to back her Conservative Party at an election on June 8 to give her “the strongest possible hand” in negotiations.

“This election is not about who you may have voted for in the past. It is about voting in the national interest. Voting for the future. And every vote cast for me … will strengthen my hand when I negotiate with the Prime Ministers, Presidents and Chancellors of Europe,” she will say according to advance extracts released by her party.

“(Merkel) says the UK has ‘illusions’ about the process and that the 27 member states of the European Union agree. We can see how tough those negotiations are going to be at times.”

May, whose Conservatives have a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, will say that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would be “a weak leader negotiating Brexit”.

“Our opponents are already seeking to disrupt those negotiations, at the same time as 27 other European countries line up to oppose us,” May will say.

“That approach can only mean one thing – uncertainty and instability, bringing grave risk to our growing economy with higher taxes, fewer jobs, more waste and more debt.”