Russia vetoes UN resolution on extending Syria gas attacks probe

 Russia on Tuesday vetoed a US-drafted resolution that would have granted a one-year extension to the mandate of a panel investigating who is behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

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It was the ninth time Russia has used its veto power at the Security Council to block action targeting its Syrian ally.

Russia opposed renewing the mandate of the joint UN-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) panel before it releases a report on a sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, which is expected on Thursday.

The United States, France and Britain have accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of carrying out the April 4 attack on the opposition-held village, killing scores of people, including children.

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After Russia cast its veto, US Ambassador Nikki Haley accused Moscow of “once again” siding “with the dictators and terrorists who use these weapons.”

“Russia has once again demonstrated it will do whatever it takes to ensure the barbaric Assad regime never faces consequences for its continued use of chemicals as weapons,” Haley said in a statement.

“By rejecting the renewal of the work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) — an independent, purely technical body — Russia has made it clear that it does not care about stopping the use of chemical weapons in the world.”

A resolution requires nine votes to be adopted at the council, but five countries — Russia, Britain, China, France and the United States — can block adoption with their veto power.

China and Kazakhstan abstained, while Bolivia voted against the renewal and 11 other countries backed extending the mandate. Russia used its veto to block adoption.

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Russia failed at the opening of the meeting to garner enough support for a measure that would have delayed the vote until next month. The JIM’s mandate ends on November 17.

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia accused the United States and its partners of seeking a vote on the measure “to show up and dishonor Russia.”

“What is taking place today is not very pleasant,” said Nebenzia. “It stinks, in fact.”

The ambassador renewed his criticism of the panel, saying its methodology and “the lack of evidence” in the Khan Sheikhun investigation was “laughable.”

But Nebenzia said the council could vote again on renewing the JIM after it has had the opportunity to study the Khan Sheikhun report.

“We did not close the JIM. We simply did not take a decision on extending it today, but we will return to it,” he said.

More than 87 people died in Khan Sheikhun, drawing global outrage and prompting the United States to fire cruise missiles at a Syrian air base from which the West says the attack was launched.

Last month, UN war crimes investigators said they had evidence that the Syrian air force was behind the attack, despite repeated denials from Damascus.

Russia maintains that the sarin attack was most likely caused by a bomb set off directly on the ground, not by a Syrian air strike as alleged by the West.

While the OPCW has established that sarin was used in the April attack, it does not have a mandate to assign blame, leaving that determination to the JIM.

The JIM has already concluded that Syrian government forces were responsible for chlorine attacks on three villages in 2014 and 2015, and that Islamic State jihadist group used mustard gas in 2015.

Bunnings UK sales weigh on Wesfarmers

Falling sales at Wesfarmers’ Bunnings businesses in the UK and Ireland have prompted analysts to voice concerns about the conglomerate’s foray into the UK home improvement market.

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Bunnings, which bought the British Homebase business in February last year, says its UK and Ireland business suffered a 13.8 per cent fall in sales to $457 million during the first quarter of the 2018 financial year.

This follows the division’s $89 million loss in the 2017 financial year.

During a results briefing on Wednesday, analysts expressed concerns about the “high risk” move into the UK.

Merrill Lynch’s David Errington told Wesfarmers executives he was worried the UK troubles were being brushed aside and asked when the company would cut its losses and “get out.”

“I’m worried that this business will turn into that Monty Python scene where you get an arm chopped off and you say ‘it’s only a flesh wound’ and then a leg gets chopped off and you say ‘we are right, everything is fine,’ and then the poor bloke is left with just a torso and then nothing is left,” Mr Errington said.

“There’s no way that you would have expected to be in this position that you are in – in a very troubled market in the UK – with 250 Homebase stores that are going backwards.”

Outgoing Wesfarmers chief executive Richard Goyder said while the UK expansion had risks, it was too early to judge the move.

“We are not happy with the performance of the Homebase stores,” Mr Goyder said.

“This (turnaround) will take longer than we would have liked but we continue to think there’s a significant opportunity to grow a profitable business in the UK.”

Wesfarmers’ Australian and New Zealand Bunnings business continued to perform strongly with store-on-store sales up 10.8 per cent in the 13 weeks to September 24 – markedly higher than the 5.5 per cent growth posted for the same period a year ago.

However, the group’s supermarket business Coles suffered a slowdown in first-quarter sales growth, courtesy of a rapid fall in the price of fresh produce and competition from a resurgent Woolworths.

The retailer’s comparable food and liquor sales grew only 0.4 per cent in the first quarter compared to a 1.8 per cent lift in the same period a year ago.

Wesfarmers says a 2.3 per cent fall in food and liquor prices during the first quarter of 2017/18 weighed on Coles’ sales growth, with bumper supplies of fruit and vegetables keeping produce prices down.

Coles managing director John Durkan said excluding fresh produce, food and liquor comparable sales were broadly in line with the trend achieved in the 2017 financial year.

Convenience store comparable sales growth was also weaker at 0.2 per cent, dragged down by a 21 per cent fall in fuel volumes.

Mr Goyder said overall, the group’s sales performance was “generally pleasing” and noted continued strong performance from the Bunnings Australia and New Zealand, Kmart and Officeworks chains.

Shares in Wesfarmers closed down $1.24, or 2.9 per cent, at $41.49.

WESFARMERS FIRST QUARTER RETAIL SALES BREAKDOWN:

* Coles total food and liquor sales up 1.5pct to $7.97b * Coles Express sales down 9.5pct to $1.4b * Bunnings Australian and NZ sales up 11.5pct to $2.96b * Bunnings UK & Ireland sales down 13.8pct to $457m * Kmart sales up 9.0pct to $1.36b * Target sales down 6.4pct to $602m * Officeworks sales up 7.8pct to $497m

‘No evidence’: Lawyer claims Australian school teacher’s husband was not at scene of killing

The estranged husband of Australian teacher Gabrielle Maina could face the death penalty in Kenya if he is charged and convicted of her murder.

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But the investigation is still in the early stages and charges have not been laid.

The 40-year-old mother of two boys, aged eight and four, was killed by a single gunshot to the neck in the upmarket Nairobi suburb of Karen last Thursday.

Her husband, Cyrus Bernard Maina Njuguna, and another man John Njuguna Waithira were arrested on Monday local time over the shooting and faced court on Tuesday.

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The Kenyan judiciary has warned the pair could face a “mandatory death penalty” if charged and convicted.

Their lawyer, Wilfred Nderishu, told the ABC his clients were innocent and there was evidence to show neither was at the scene of the killing.

“There is evidence that is capable of corroboration by many people, as many as 10, that Cyrus was in his office at the time that the murder took place,” Mr Nderishu said.

Gabrielle Maina was a headteacher in Nairobi.Hillcrest Schools / Twitter

“Therefore, there is no way he can be placed at the scene.”

The court granted police a request to hold the two men in custody for another seven days while they gather evidence. They are next due to appear on October 31.

Before Tuesday’s court hearing Ms Maina’s lawyer George King’ori, who became her legal representative before her death, told AAP the couple was in the midst of divorce proceedings in the Kenyan courts.

The head teacher at Hillcrest Prepatory School in Karen was granted a restraining order against her husband in April.

“She feared he had become irrational,” Mr King’Ori told AAP.

Karen police have confirmed to Kenya’s The Standard that Mr Maina was being held as the prime suspect in Ms Maina’s murder.

“We believe he has information that can help us know how and why she was murdered,” Karen OCPD Cunningham Suiyanka told the newspaper.

“He is here with another suspect for interrogation.”

Police have also seized and are checking Ms Maina’s phone, which was taken by one of her alleged attackers.

Investigators believe she was accosted by three men while walking home after dropping off one of her sons at a friend’s home.

A post-mortem revealed she was shot in the neck, with the bullet exiting through her back, authorities said.

Because of the angle of the bullet and marks on her knees, investigators believe she was kneeling at the time.

Ms Maina moved to Nairobi from Sydney in 2015 so her two sons could experience another culture and grow up near her husband’s extended family, a friend told AAP this week.

She had taught English and drama for almost five years at Sarah Redfern High School in Sydney.

Kraft and Bega in peanut butter dispute

A jarring dispute between Bega Cheese and global food company Kraft-Heinz has escalated with legal action under way over who has rights to the design of a peanut butter container.

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The dispute follows Bega’s finalisation in July of the purchase of Vegemite and a suite of food products including Kraft peanut butter from global food giant Mondelez International.

The deal, announced in January and hailed for returning Vegemite to Australian ownership, allowed Bega 12 months to use the Kraft peanut butter brand.

Dispute has now arisen, however, over which company has the rights to the design of the yellow-lidded-and-labelled jar used for Kraft peanut butter prior to the deal, and by Bega for its recently introduced Bega-branded nut spread.

Last week Kraft-Heinz took the matter to a New York federal court, alleging Bega could not use Kraft’s peanut butter jar design.

Bega on Wednesday acknowledged the claim, saying in a statement to the ASX that the legal action by Kraft-Heinz related to an agreement between companies in the Kraft and Mondelez groups at the time of their separation in 2012.

Mondelez was created in 2012 by the separation of Kraft’s confectionery business, while Kraft, which focused on food brands, subsequently merged with Heinz.

“Bega Cheese is assessing these proceedings but is confident of its legal rights in its peanut butter products and will vigorously enforce those rights,” Bega said on Wednesday.

The company asserted that as part of the acquisition of Modelez’s Australia and New Zealand grocery and cheese business, it had also secured the associated intellectual property rights and the manufacturing facility at Port Melbourne, along with the skilled staff.

“The only change has been the removal of the Kraft brand,” Bega said.

Kraft-Heinz on Tuesday announced it will bring its own locally manufactured peanutbutter brand back to Australian supermarketshelves in early 2018.

Perth’s acting lord mayor vows stability

Perth’s new acting lord mayor has vowed to return stability to the council following Lisa Scaffidi’s agreement to step aside while she appeals an 18-month disqualification.

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Jemma Green was elected deputy mayor of the City of Perth on Tuesday night during a lengthy meeting following a tied vote between former deputy mayor James Limnios and Reece Harley.

Ms Scaffidi stood down in September pending an appeal after the State Administrative Tribunal found she breached the Local Government Act 45 times by failing to disclose gifts, including a $US24,000 BHP Billiton-funded package to the Beijing Olympics.

Ms Green is the co-founder and chair of renewable energy company Power Ledger and has a background in academia and investment banking.

“We’ve had a lot of division in council and at the recent election there was a clear message from ratepayers that they wanted a council that was going to work together and I think everyone was very cognisant of that,” Ms Green told ABC radio on Wednesday.

“Many people in the community and the business are looking for stability and I hope to bring that.”

Ms Green said she did not intend to have a conversation with Ms Scaffidi.

She said discussions on Tuesday night had allowed councillors to rebuild fractured relationships and “clear the air”.

“We need to make things happen in the city, there’s high office vacancy, parking is stifling business, we need more activation, we need to stimulate economic activity,” Ms Green said.

Ms Scaffidi lost key backers Judy McEvoy and Keith Young at last weekend’s local government elections.

Premier Mark McGowan and Opposition Leader Mike Nahan have long called for Ms Scaffidi to quit.

Retired police commissioner Karl O’Callaghan also weighed in on the “messy” issue on Wednesday, saying the city needed a clean break.

“I think people are probably getting a bit debilitated by the whole thing going on for so long,” he told 6PR radio.

A shady deal: New Zealand’s National Party loses Eminem copyright case

National, which won the 2014 election but was tipped out of power last week following the latest ballot, was accused of breaching copyright by using a work entitled “Eminem Esque”.

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The Detroit rapper’s music publishers, Eight Mile Style and Martin Affiliated, launched proceedings in September 2014 arguing “Eminem Esque” was “Lose Yourself” under a different name.

Five months after a two-week hearing in May, the New Zealand High Court found the National Party guilty.

“Eight Mile Style is entitled to damages on a ‘user principle’ basis in the sum of NZ$600,000, with interest, from 28 June 2014,” the court said in a statement.

Eminem’s publishers argued the music was a rip-off of the rapper’s acclaimed Grammy and Academy Award-winning song “Lose Yourself” from the soundtrack of the 2002 movie “8 Mile”.

National said the music may have been inspired by Eminem’s hit but was different.

The party insisted it bought the music in good faith from a recognised supplier and was assured there was no risk of copyright infringement.

In a statement issued after the ruling, National Party president Peter Goodfellow said they were considering the implications and “already have a claim against the suppliers and licensors of the track”.

During the hearing, National’s lawyer Greg Arthur claimed the industry practice of making so-called “sound-alike” songs that were different enough to avoid copyright issues was well-established.

But Eight Mile’s lawyer Gary Williams said the National Party infringed copyright by using the song, or a substantial reproduction of it.

Williams described “Lose Yourself” as “without doubt the jewel in the crown of Eminem’s musical work”.

“The licensing of the song has been extremely carefully controlled. Despite many requests, it has only rarely been licensed for advertising purposes,” he said.

“When licensed, it can command in the millions of dollars. That’s how valuable it is.”

WA primed for Shield ‘golden era’: Stoinis

No stranger to domestic success, Marcus Stoinis believes talent-stacked Western Australia are primed to end Victoria’s Sheffield Shield dominance.

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Stoinis has returned to the Warriors and will play in their season opener against Tasmania from Thursday at the WACA.

The Perth native’s move to Victoria coincided with a golden period for the Bushrangers, who won the past three Shield titles.

With Australia’s leading players available for the first three Shield rounds, allrounder Stoinis will be one of several WA batsmen contending for an Ashes berth along with Shaun Marsh, Mitch Marsh and Hilton Cartwright.

The Warriors also boast proven performers in pacemen Nathan Coulter-Nile and Jason Behrendorff and talented up-and-comers in allrounder Ashton Turner and wicketkeeper Cameron Bancroft.

Harnessing that raw talent is the next step for the Warriors. They finished third last season and last claimed Shield honours in 1998-99.

“It’s a good chance for a golden era for WA cricket,” Stoinis told reporters on Wednesday.

“It’s going to be hard for selection but it’s also great for the team to have those problems.

“I think we had something special in Victoria. It was never a massive focus to be talking about it too much. It was almost as if we expected to win them.

“There were a few games where we were well and truly out of the chase but that belief that we had was an overriding factor.”

The Warriors will face a Tasmanian side featuring returning wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, who faces a huge battle to hold his spot for the Ashes.

Stoinis announced his arrival as a serious short-form talent when he blasted 11 sixes on the way to a brilliant unbeaten 146 to lift Australia to victory over New Zealand in February’s one-day series.

Yet to make his Test debut, Stoinis is among half a dozen contenders for Australia’s No.6 spot if he can deliver plenty of Shield runs.

But the 28-year-old downplayed his Ashes chances, instead nominating teammate Shaun Marsh as the most likely to get the nod.

“Someone like Shaun, last tour to India he went there and saved a Test match – it doesn’t seem that long ago really,” Stoinis said.

“To be honest, I think he’s probably a better player now than when he’s played some of his Test matches in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the team.”

No obvious successor as Xi increases power

China’s ruling Communist Party has broken with recent precedent to reveal a new leadership line-up without a clear successor to President Xi Jinping, who has become arguably the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.

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Apart from Xi, Premier Li Keqiang was the only one to retain his spot amid sweeping changes on the Politburo Standing Committee on Wednesday. There is now speculation Xi could seek to stay on in some capacity beyond the end of his second term in 2022.

All seven Standing Committee members are in their 60s and, for the first time, no member was born before the 1949 Communist revolution.

The committee includes one person known to be very close to Xi – Li Zhanshu. Li, who often accompanies Xi on overseas trips, was named the third-ranked member, meaning he will most likely assume the role of head of the largely rubber-stamp parliament. That will not be confirmed until parliament meets in March.

The Communist Party on Tuesday elevated Xi’s status by inserting his name and dogma into the constitution alongside past leaders Mao and Deng Xiaoping, cementing his status as the country’s most powerful leader in decades.

Xi himself made no mention of who his successor might be as he introduced his new Standing Committee in a large room in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, an event shown live around the country.

He did not take questions from the assembled media but said the party had weathered trials and tribulations.

“These experiences have taught us that peace is precious and development must be valued,” Xi said.

“We will also work with other nations to build a global community with a shared future, and make new and greater contributions to the noble cause of peace and development for all humanity.”

Guangdong party secretary Hu Chunhua and Chongqing party boss Chen Miner had been previously seen as prominent contenders to succeed Xi among the party’s so-called sixth generation of leaders but were not included in the Standing Committee.

Instead, both were named to the wider 25-member Politburo, a rung below the Standing Committee.

India prevail in Pune to level NZ series

Tight bowling and fifties from Shikhar Dhawan and Dinesh Karthik have helped India secure a series-levelling six-wickets victory against New Zealand in the second ODI in Pune.

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Opener Dhawan top-scored with 68 and Karthik was 64 not out as the hosts reached the 231-run victory target with four overs to spare at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium.

There was drama before the match when the ground curator was suspended following a TV sting operation in which he allegedly agreed to tamper with the wicket.

Indian bowlers, especially new ball colleagues Bhuvneshwar Kumar (3-45) and Jaspreet Bumrah, laid the foundation for their comprehensive victory by restricting New Zealand to 230-9 after the tourists opted to bat.

On a slow track, the pace duo combined slower balls with bouncers, conceding 83 runs in 20 tidy overs while sharing five wickets between them.

New Zealand were reduced to 58-4 in the 16th over and none of the touring batsmen managed a 50, crawling to the 100 mark in 26 overs.

Following their poor start, Tom Latham (38) and Henry Nicholls (42) tried to rebuild the Kiwi innings and Colin de Grandhomme made 41 off 40 balls to lend some respectability to the New Zealand total.

Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal dismissed de Grandhomme and Adam Milne off successive deliveries but New Zealand, who won Sunday’s series opener in Mumbai by six wickets avoided being bowled out in the contest.

India lost Rohit Sharma early in their reply but Dhawan added 57 runs with skipper Virat Kohli to help them overcome the early loss.

Kohli fell for 29 but the left-right combination of Dhawan and Karthik thwarted the tourists, mixing caution with aggression during their 66-run association.

Dhawan, who was adjudged caught behind on 46 before the decision was overturned, hit five boundaries and a couple of sixes before falling to Milne.

Karthik then combined with Hardik Pandya, who chipped in with a 30-run cameo, to keep India on course, and Karthik went on to hit Tim Southee for his fourth boundary to seal India’s victory.

Kanpur hosts the third and deciding one-dayer on Sunday.

Carrera free, Bullets to contest NBL fines

Cairns import Michael Carrera has escaped NBL suspension after the club successfully had his charge downgraded.

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The Taipans’ Venezuelan international was facing two games on the sidelines after he was charged with “unreasonable contact with the face” in his NBL debut against Perth.

But the club’s Wednesday submission saw the charge downgraded from intentional to careless, allowing Carrera to avoid suspension and accept a fine with an early guilty plea.

The forward was one of nine NBL players hit with a total of 13 charges across two fiery Sunday games.

The tribunal will sit on Thursday as Brisbane pair Adam Gibson and Tom Jervis contest their sanctions from the fracas in the match against Illawarra.

Cairns’ Jarrad Weeks and Nnanna Egwu, as well as Perth’s Jean-Pierre Tokoto and Illawarra’s Rotnei Clarke and Delvon Johnson all pled guilty to their charges and will cop fines.

An early guilty plea also saw Hawks import Demitrius Conger escape a one-match suspension and face a fine for making unreasonable contact with the face.

The Carrera result was an important one for Cairns, who fed off his energy in his return from injury to end Perth’s unbeaten season in a 21-point victory.

The initial charges were widely ridiculed by players and fans on social media on Monday night, with Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis keen to seek clarity from the league given it is promoted as one of the most physical in the world.

“It’s an interesting situation, the NBL is doing what they consider to be right,” Lemanis said.

“But we’re in a league that they keep calling ‘hard ball’ and they want us to be aggressive and play an aggressive style of basketball and when players go running in I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen.

“We just want some clarity on what we’re supposed to do if that happens.”

Jervis drew the ire of officials after his involvement in a scuffle with several Hawks players following a heavy collision between Illawarra’s Mitch Norton and Gibson.

“I felt like what I did was a reaction to something that was done to me,” Jervis said.

“If any human got punched in the face for just standing there obviously they’re going to have a bit of reaction to it.”