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.”