Sydney residents face blackout after storm

More than 16,000 Sydney homes and businesses are preparing to spend a night without power after a severe storm ripped through the city bringing trees crashing down on power lines, houses and cars.

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Trains and flights were delayed while commuters heading home experienced traffic chaos on Wednesday afternoon with damaging winds and heavy rain.

Residents in Mount Druitt and the Hills District were the worst hit with lightning and strong winds cutting power to 33,000 properties at the peak of the storm late Wednesday afternoon.

By the evening, power was restored to around 17,000 properties but just over 16,000 were still without electricity, an Endeavour Energy spokesman told AAP.

Residents in Mount Druitt, Castle Hill and Penrith will remain without power overnight and into Thursday with additional crews brought into the storm-affected area to help clean up and repair work.

In Sydney’s north 800 homes in Berowra were under a blackout while 1300 were in the dark in the Central Coast suburbs of Woy Woy and 400 in Saratoga.

But those residents can expect to have power back up by midnight, an Ausgrid spokeswoman told AAP.

The NSW SES received 418 calls for help mostly in western Sydney with several reports of trees falling on roofs and cars.

“It’s been quite a quick, fast, intense storm that’s come,” SES spokeswoman Becky Gollings said.

A child who was reported missing in floodwaters in the western Sydney suburb of Shalvey was safely pulled from the water by friends.

Train commuters to the Central Coast were left stranded with cancelled services while Blue Mountains travellers were delayed by 20 minutes.

In St Marys, lanes in the Great Western Highway were closed after a tree fell onto power lines.

The storm dumped up to 20mm in just a matter of minutes in some suburbs. Baulkham Hills was pelted with 27mm in 15 minutes.

The storms are expected to move over the city on Wednesday evening after unstable conditions persisted throughout the day.

Wind gusts reached 85km/h at Cowra in the central west and Goulburn in the southern tablelands.

The Bureau of Meteorology said even stronger gusts could be recorded in Sydney.

Conditions should settle by the end of the week, however, with only a few showers expected on Thursday and Friday.

Girl born with four legs has surgery success

A baby girl from the Ivory Coast born with four legs and two spines has been successfully separated from a parasitic twin in a rare and complex surgery at a Chicago hospital.

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Ten-month-old Dominique underwent a six-hour procedure involving five surgeons at the Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, on March 8. She is now thriving with the Chicago foster family who will look after her until she is well enough to return home, her doctors and foster mother told Reuters on Monday.

“It’s going rather well. She was only in the hospital a total of five days. She’s been home with ‘step-mum’ and just doing very, very well,” said paediatric and reconstructive surgeon Frank Vicari.

Dominique was born with a parasitic twin. The bottom half of her not-fully-developed twin’s body protruded from her neck and back.

Watch: Baby Dominique’s new lease on life

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“A parasitic twin is an identical twin that fails to fully separate in development,” said John Ruge, a paediatric neurosurgeon at the hospital. “In other words, not another independent twin, but a twin that was dependent on her body system, such that Dominique’s heart and lungs provided the nourishment.”

Doctors did not give Dominique’s family name.

Nancy Swabb, from Edgebrook, Illinois, has looked after Dominique since she arrived in the United States for the surgery.

“She’s been a joy. We really enjoyed having her in our family,” said Swabb.

“We send a lot of photos and updates and so we know that Dominique’s family sees what she’s doing and seeing that she has two new teeth and she’s learning to wave and doing all sorts of special things.”

Swabb said she did not want to think about saying goodbye to Dominique when she returns to her family in the Ivory Coast.

“She has touched our hearts. She’s a member of our family,” Swabb said. “She’s pretty amazing.”

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Guterres wins Timor Leste election, bringing hope for greater stability in the region

With 100 per cent of the ballots counted after Monday’s election, Guterres secured 57 per cent of the vote, according to figures from the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration which were released on Wednesday.

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His closest rival, social affairs and education minister Antonio da Conceicao, was in second position with 32.5 per cent.

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Guterres will be the first presidential candidate to have won a clear majority in the first round since independence hero Xanana Gusmao was overwhelmingly elected as president in 2002.

The result is expected to be confirmed on April 2.

Guterres is backed by the Fretilin party and CNRT, the party founded by Gusmao, who provided key support to Guterres during his election campaign.

The election was the first since United Nations peacekeepers left the country in 2012.

Supporters of Presidential Candidate from Fretilin party Francisco Guterres Lu’Olo shout slogans as Guterres arrives at Fretilin’s headquarter in Dili.EPA

Analysts said the outcome of the election is likely to strengthen stability in the tiny nation of 1.2 million people.

East Timor’s economy is heavily reliant on oil revenues but its $US16-billion sovereign wealth fund derived from petroleum money is fast drying up, analysts said.

The country remains one of the world’s poorest, with about 40 per cent of its population categorised as poor.

Violence erupted after East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in a UN-sponsored vote in 1999 as Indonesian troops and pro-Jakarta militia unleashed a campaign of destruction.

The United Nations administered the former Portuguese colony until 2002, when it became formally independent, but a UN mission stayed until 2005 to help the fledgling country establish state and security institutions.

A UN peacekeeping mission was deployed in 2006 after a new bout of political violence.

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Root reflects ahead of crucial fourth Test

Joe Root’s England have arrived at Old Trafford in a state of reinvention as the new captain acknowledges the important lessons already learned during his short tenure.

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Victory in Manchester will deliver a 3-1 series success over South Africa in Root’s maiden series in charge but it has been far from plain sailing.

Sandwiched between impressive victories at Lord’s and The Oval was a 340-run trouncing in the second Test at Trent Bridge.

It was after that mishap that former England captain Michael Vaughan claimed the current team were failing to “respect” Test cricket, specifically with their gung-ho approach to batting in Nottingham.

Asked if the experiences of Trent Bridge could turn out to be a watershed for his developing team, he said: “Maybe slightly. We weren’t good enough, and I think it was important that we sat down and found a way to come back from that. The response the guys came up with was excellent.”

“One thing we can take from last week was that batting approach, playing in that manner,” he added.

“If we try and harness that and repeat that over and over, we will give ourselves the best chance.

“There were very few dismissals in that first innings where we gave our wickets away on a very bowler-friendly surface.”

Root is already beginning to think about fine-tuning plans for the Ashes in November, including settling the batting order, which last week featured two debutants.

Several positions remain far from certain, including that of Keaton Jennings as Cook’s opening partner.

Jennings began his Test career with a century on debut in Mumbai, but averages only 15.33 against South Africa this summer.

Root has been impressed nonetheless by the Durham batsman’s general composure.

”He’s a very level-headed guy. He’s got a very strong character and throughout he’s been very much the same in the way he’s approached his training and in each game as well,” he said.

”It’s great to see someone so light of experience be very mature and go about it in the right way.”

Drug testing dole recipients harmful: RACP

Plans to drug test Australians on welfare won’t work and could seriously harm those battling addiction, says The Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

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The RACP – which represents more than 15,000 physicians across Australia and New Zealand – will on Friday lodge its its submission to an inquiry into the federal Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017.

Legislative changes being proposed will force about 5000 Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients to undergo drug testing and subject them to a variety of restrictions if they test positive.

The RACP is “strongly” opposed and is urging the federal government to instead “appropriately” invest in alcohol and drug treatment services.

“RACP members see first-hand the many and varied harms caused by addiction when treating their patients in Australia’s addiction clinics, rehabilitation centres, liver clinics, cancer wards and hospital emergency departments,” the submission states.

Drug and alcohol addiction is a serious, complex health problem and there is “absolutely” no evidence to show drug testing trials will work, says RACP President Dr Catherine Yelland.

The experience of countries like America and New Zealand, she says, have shown drug testing has a poor record in modifying drug use.

“Similar programs have been shown to be ineffective in identifying people with substance dependency and have been criticised for discriminating against some of the most vulnerable people in those communities.”

The RACP also has serious concerns about amendments that will remove drug and alcohol dependency as a legitimate reason for jobseekers to not meet participation requirements.

It won’t help addicts and it won’t motivate them to seek treatment, Dr Yelland says.

“Taking payments away from these people will only cause even greater hardship and a likely spiral into worse health,” she said.

Forgotten Sun could make Freo remember him

Peter who?

Gold Coast forward Peter Wright will attempt to etch his name into the brain of Fremantle coach Ross Lyon in Saturday night’s AFL clash at Domain Stadium.

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Fremantle’s biggest challenge in defence will be halting star Suns forward Tom Lynch but 20-year-old Wright, who doubles as a part-time ruckman, also poses a threat.

Wright sits second on Gold Coast’s goalkicking tally this season with 24.17 from 18 matches.

He would have kicked even more goals had he not dropped a series of gettable marks throughout the season.

Lyon is well aware of Wright’s talent, but remembering the name proved a bit tricky this week when the coach was assessing Gold Coast’s forward set-up.

“Lynch is a superstar of the competition,” Lyon said.

“They’ve got some other height with Peter … I forget his last name, it escapes me at the minute.”

Lyon was then told the name was Peter Wright.

“Peter Wright. There you go. He’ll probably be thinking he’ll make me remember it post-game,” Lyon said with a smile.

Both sides enter the match desperate for a win.

The Dockers have lost eight of their past nine to crash out of finals contention while Gold Coast coach Rodney Eade is fighting for his future with his side 15th on the ladder.

Fremantle recalled Jon Griffin and Danyle Pearce to replace Connor Blakely (shoulder) and Sean Darcy (rested).

Gold Coast made six changes, headlined by the return of Gary Ablett and Steven May from injury.

Trent McKenzie, Josh Schoenfeld, Daniel Currie, and Mitch Hallahan are the other inclusions.

Jarrod Witts (shoulder), Brayden Fiorini (hamstring), Jesse Lonergan (axed), Michael Rischitelli (rested), Callum Ah Chee (shoulder), and Ben Ainsworth (knee) are out.

Lyon is unlikely to apply a hard tag to Ablett, but said it would be a good experience for his young group to see such a class player in action.

“I have heard the comment that the more you tag (Ablett) the more he gets,” Lyon said.

“So you have to try and spread off him and attack him a little bit because he’s great. I love him. I don’t think we’ll tag him, but we’ll deal with it when it comes.

“He’s a great player and it would be a great experience for our lads to mark him at some point in time.”

Marschall targets spot in pole vault final

It’s only natural that Kurtis Marschall would draw inspiration from the exploits of Steve Hooker.

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What better role model for an Australian pole vaulter than the man who won Olympic gold in 2008 and the world championships title in 2009, both in thrilling fashion?

The 20-year-old Marschall is tracking ahead of Hooker’s exploits at the same age.

He improved his personal best to 5.73m last month and is already a regular fixture on the prestigious Diamond League circuit, where he recently finished ahead of French great Renaud Lavillenie in Monaco.

“That was pretty unexpected because he is the world record holder and world-renowned for being one of the most consistent guys on the circuit,” said Marschall, who is targeting a spot in the final at the world championships, which start on Friday.

“It’s probably not the best year he has jumped but you know anyone’s scalp is there to take and his was that on the day.

“It was huge, a real confidence booster knowing I am not just one of the guys filling the field.”

Marschall acquitted himself well on his Olympic debut last year, clearing 5.60m and only missing out on a spot in the final on countback.

The South Australian is already consistent around the 5.70m mark – a standard Hooker didn’t reach until he was 22 when he made a giant leap forward.

“He obviously is the best vaulter that’s ever lived in Australia,” said Marschall.

“I know he wasn’t an early bloomer like me, he picked up the pole a little bit later and progressed a little bit later.

” … I would like to fulfil what Steve has accomplished in winning the Olympic Games, winning the world championships, winning world indoors – that’s pretty insane.”

Marschall’s progression to date more closely resembles that of another Australian, 1996 world junior champion Paul Burgess, also a member of the exclusive six-metre club but whose career never reached the dizzying heights of Hooker’s.

“(Burgess) had all the records before me,” said Marschall.

“I equalled his under-18 national record and I beat his under-20 national record so I am sort of comparing myself to him because we are on the same sort of path and he jumped six metres in the end as well.”

The men’s pole vault qualifying is on Sunday and the final is on Tuesday.

American Sam Kendricks and Poland’s Piotr Lisek top the entry list, with both having already cleared 6m this year.

Hasler pressure mounts as Dogs lose again

Under-fire Canterbury coach Des Hasler has rubbished suggestions that speculation about his future contributed to his side’s dismal display against Parramatta.

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Hasler described his side’s performances as “unbelievably undisciplined” after they were comprehensively beaten 20-4 at ANZ Stadium on Thursday night.

While the gulf between the two teams wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard, due to the wet and difficult conditions, the Bulldogs were never in the match.

The game’s stats made for ugly reading for Bulldogs fans.

The Eels forced nine drop-outs to three and ran for 1486m to the Dogs’ 1185m.

The Bulldogs made 11 errors – four of which came from Josh Morris – had 13 tackles inside the opposition red zone compared to Parramatta’s 39 and had just 42 per cent of possession.

Despite being re-signed on a two-year deal just four months ago, Hasler’s future at Belmore is uncertain unless he can right the ship in the remaining four rounds.

He was forced to front the club board last week, while Jim Dymock, Trent Barrett and Paul Green have been linked to the Dogs’ head coaching job.

However Hasler, with his side sitting in 13th with just seven wins this year, denied the scrutiny had taken a toll on his players.

“I don’t think they’d cop that excuse,” Hasler said.

“We just dropped the ball didn’t we? We executed poorly. We didn’t play wet weather football.

“I don’t know how you want to dress it up or beat it up, the second half, I thought we were a lot better.”

Hasler is set to miss the finals for the first time since 2004 but skipper James Graham said that wasn’t a factor in their performance.

“I don’t believe so,” he said when asked if the spotlight on Hasler had rubbed off on him and his teammates.

“It’s never good when you’re losing games, it knocks you around in terms of your confidence and your ability.

“I don’t know if it’s down to a combination of things or just confidence, I honestly don’t know.”

Moses ignites Parramatta’s finals charge

Mitchell Moses has discovered career-best form in Sydney’s west and has Parramatta daring to dream.

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The Eels provisionally moved into the NRL top four with a comprehensive 20-4 dismantling of Canterbury in wet conditions at ANZ Stadium on Thursday night.

After being 13th through six rounds, the Eels have lost just three times since then and are on a six-match winning streak to be peaking at the right time of year.

The catalyst behind the Eels’ surge has been Moses’ controversial mid-season shift from the Wests Tigers.

After being maligned throughout his career for his failure to regularly deliver, he has found consistency under Brad Arthur.

His kicking game has come along in leaps and bounds, as demonstrated on Thursday night when he strangled the life out of the Dogs with his short game and regularly gave his team field position with his long kicking.

The Eels forced Des Hasler’s side to make nine drop-outs and Moses made good use of the advantage, setting up two tries to spearhead an important victory.

“We had a bit of a target on our kicks and what we wanted to achieve and where they started their sets and the boys did a really good job,” Arthur said of his halves Moses and Corey Norman.

The Eels are now assured of playing finals football for the first time since 2009 and have rivals looking over their shoulder.

Eels great Peter Sterling said during the Network Nine broadcast that the blue-and-golds could do anything in the finals if they finish in the top four.

“You wouldn’t want to be playing Parramatta in the last month,” Sterling said.

Arthur has been reluctant to talk up his side’s finals hopes, arguing their spot in the top eight wasn’t yet assured.

He said there was no reason they couldn’t compete with the best sides in the competition if they keep putting in performances similar to what they did against the Bulldogs.

“We’ve still got a bit to work on,” Arthur said.

“If we can continue to improve every week and stick to our plan like we did tonight with our discipline, and not get carried away, we can make some real noise.”

Brazil police arrest ex-Rio infrastructure head in Olympics graft probe

Police and federal prosecutors said in statements that 35.

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5 million reais (8.67 million pounds) in bribes were paid by companies that built a bus rapid transit system linking Rio’s main airport to Olympic areas, as well as works to clean sewage-infested waters near the Olympic village, which remain badly polluted.

Federal prosecutors said a consortium led by construction firms OAS SA and Carioca Engenharia paid bribes to officials at the federal Cities Ministry so they would free up funding to city officials for the projects. They also allegedly paid bribes to city officials once the firms were paid for their work.

Police arrested Alexandre Pinto, head of infrastructure in the government of former Mayor Eduadro Paes, who oversaw much of Rio’s Olympic efforts.

Brazil’s Supreme Court opened an investigation in April into Paes, accused in plea bargain testimony of taking at least 15 million reais in bribes related to Olympic contracts. He denies any wrongdoing.

Paes said in a statement on Thursday that it would be “a great disappointment” if the accusations against Pinto and about the overall scheme were found to be true. The former mayor underscored that Pinto was not a political appointee, but a career bureaucrat.

Pinto could not immediately be reached for comment. It was not clear who was providing legal counsel for him.

Thursday’s accusations were not the first to be made in connection with Brazil’s hosting of the world’s two largest sporting events – the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Games.

In April, federal investigators alleged that contracts to build or refurbish at least six soccer stadiums, including Rio’s famed Maracana, were alleged to have been won by firms paying bribes to officials.

In March, investigators made arrests in connection to alleged bribes paid in connection to the extension of Rio’s subway line to the main Olympic area.

Investigators in France are probing whether money was doled out to members of the International Olympic Committee to vote in 2009 for Rio to win the right to host the Games.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Truce begins in another Syria ‘safe zone’

Russia’s defence ministry has announced a ceasefire for a third safe zone in war-torn Syria, paving the way for the delivery of sorely needed humanitarian relief to rebel-held areas north of the city of Homs.

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In central Syria meanwhile a swap between Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate ended with more than 7000 fighters and civilians crossing into rebel-held parts of northern Syria in return for the release of five Lebanese militants who arrived in government-held parts of the country.

Military spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said Russia would deploy military police in the area on Friday and set up two checkpoints and three observation points around its borders.

It is the third of four planned ceasefires reached in recent months under an agreement brokered by Russia, Iran, and Turkey in May that aims to “de-escalate” the violent and prolonged Syrian civil war.

Russia and Iran are providing military support to President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey sponsors some of the opposition forces arrayed against him.

Pro-government forces have besieged the enclave north of Homs for years, but have been unable to capture it from the opposition even as it recovered territory elsewhere.

Shelling and air strikes against the enclave have eased since the May agreement was signed, said Khaled. Residents will now be expecting further relief.

The agreement, according to notes leaked by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, follows the model of another ceasefire zone for the suburbs of Damascus.

Both truces were negotiated in Cairo between Russia and what the ministry of defence described as the “moderate opposition”.

The agreement also prescribes the release of political prisoners, long a demand of the opposition.

The government’s air force has cut back its attacks on the four “de-escalation zones” designated in the May agreement.

The Philippines open to ‘fresh perspectives’ from ADF in fight against IS in Marawi

The Philippines government says it is open to learning from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to aid its fight against IS in Marawi.

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“We are always open to learning the best military practices around the world so that we can incorporate them in our own doctrines,” Defence Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana told SBS World News from Manila.

“Australia would be able to provide us fresh perspectives drawn from its own operations across the globe.”

IS rebels in the southern city of Marawi continue to hold out against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s forces since first claiming the city earlier in the year.

The Defence Secretary said the need to defeat IS in the region was vital.

The Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. (AAP)AAP

“Our collective victory on this front will also benefit Australia and the rest of the world as a single foothold of IS in this region will surely affect other countries,” he said.

Secretary Lorenzana did not confirm whether the Philippines had officially requested Australian soldiers to help train its forces, but said the two countries already shared military bonds.

“The Status of Visiting Forces Agreement between both governments enables the ADF and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to regularly conduct joint exercises and training in order to increase interoperability, familiarisation and goodwill.”

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Australia recently sent two AP-3C Orion surveillance aircraft to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“The regional threat from terrorism, in particular from Daesh and foreign fighters, is a direct threat to Australia and our interests,” Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne said when announcing the deployment.

Secretary Lorenzana said the Philippines is open to international support.

“We welcome any technical assistance that our allies can provide while the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the process of developing its own capabilities,” he said.

0:00 Fighting in Marawi, The Philippines explained Share Fighting in Marawi, The Philippines explained

“Australia can share vital information and intelligence, provide technical assistance to our operating units, and combat the spread of violent extremism by helping the Philippine government target its root causes – poverty and underdevelopment that breed social injustice.”

Approximately 300 Australian soldiers have been deployed to Iraq to train and advise the Iraqi military in the fight against IS.

The ADF is also mentoring its counterparts in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is due to visit Manila over the weekend to meet with government officials.

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Webb well off pace at Women’s British Open

Australia’s Karrie Webb heads into the second round of the Women’s British Open in Scotland a whopping 11 shots off the pace following a round to remember from Michelle Wie.

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The American finished with three straight birdies to finish eight-under-par. She took until the par-4 fourth to record her first after bogeying the second but that was the last of her mistakes. The 27-year-old from Hawaii shot 30 on the back nine.

Wie has a one-shot lead over In-Kyung Kim who shot 65. American Lindy Duncan is a shot further back and England’s Mel Reid and Jodi Ewart Shadoff part of a five-strong group on five-under.

“I felt like I struggled in the last couple of British Opens and made it a point to come over early,” Wie, who is seeking a first victory since the 2014 US Open, told Sky Sports.

“I felt the Scottish Open (where she was 19th) was a great way to get into links golf. It’s a different way of playing so it was good to hit a couple of shots I haven’t hit before but I love it, it’s so much fun.

“It makes it a little tougher with the hard lies, it jars it a little bit, but I felt great.”

Webb, who finished tied for second at last week’s Scottish Open, was unable to back up that form on day one at Kingsbarns, carding a three-over 75 alongside compatriot Sarah Jane Smith.

The seven-time major winner had two bogeys in her first three holes and recorded two more in her round with the only highlight a birdie on the par-4 ninth.

Whitney Hillier is the best-placed Australian at one-under after a 71, one shot clear of Minjee Lee. Stacey Peters dropped two shots late to card a 74.

Webb wasn’t alone among big names struggling. New Zealand’s Lydia Ko is nine shots off the lead.

The world No.5 managed one early birdie, followed immediately by two bogeys and played to par for the rest of a one-over 73.