US rolls out travel ban, but who will be hit?

Delayed by legal challenges until the Supreme Court partially backed Trump this week, the ban comes into effect at 8 pm Thursday Eastern time (0000 GMT Friday), putting tight restrictions on the issuance of visas to travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

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Immigrant rights groups and Democrats in Congress blasted a relatively narrow definition of who could continue to come based on “close family relationships.”

But the Trump administration insisted the ban was necessary to protect the country from terror threats.

“As recent events have shown, we are living in a very dangerous time, and the US government needs every available tool to prevent terrorists from entering the country and committing acts of bloodshed and violence,” a senior administration official told reporters.

Officials stressed that anyone with a valid visa issued before the ban begins would still be admitted, promising to avoid the airport chaos that accompanied the original travel ban announcement in January.

All authorized refugees booked for travel before July 6 will also be admitted.

“We expect business as usual at the ports of entry starting at 8 pm tonight,” said a second administration official. “Our people are well prepared for this.”

‘The world is watching’ 

Nevertheless, immigration activists and lawyers said they would be at airports to support any arrivals unfairly denied entry.

“The world is watching the United States of America, and what they are saying is, we thought that it was the country for opportunity and justice for all, but it does not seem that way,” said Murad Awawdeh of the New York Immigration Coalition, speaking at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The ban imposes a 90-day halt on travelers from the six countries, and a 120-day ban on refugee entries, while the government reviews its vetting procedures.

But questions remain over the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to allow exemptions for anyone having a “bona fide relationship” in the United States.

According to guidelines issued in a State Department cable to embassies, that exemption will include people with “close family relationships” in the United States, defined to include parents, spouses, children, sons- and daughters-in-law, siblings and step- and half-siblings.

But “close family” does not include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-laws and sisters-in-law, fiances and any other “extended” family members, the guidelines say.

People with formal relationships with a US entity, who have for instance been offered a job or been accepted to study or lecture at a university, will also qualify for visas during the ban. But a hotel reservation, even if already paid for, does not qualify.

And the order stresses that non-profit groups cannot establish relationships with hopeful travelers or refugees just to allow them to skirt the ban.

Redefining ‘family’ 

Democratic legislator Bennie Thompson blasted the government for a “lack of preparation and transparency” in putting into place the ban.

“Just hours before the president’s unconstitutional and misguided travel ban takes partial effect tonight, administration officials briefing Congress were unwilling or unable to provide meaningful answers about how they determined whom the ban would affect,” said Thompson, the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Lawyers and advocates both for and against the travel ban say they expect a flood of legal challenges after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Rama Issa, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said the government is redefining what a family is.

“I was raised by my grandparents, so the idea of grandparents not being part of a family is very foreign to me,” she said at Kennedy International, preparing to help arrivals after the ban takes effect.

“I’m engaged to get married. I have family who lives in Syria today — not only my father, but my aunts and uncles who I would love to be at this wedding, and unfortunately are not going to be able to be here.”

Russian jury finds five guilty of Boris Nemtsov murder

Former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, was gunned down just metres from the Kremlin as he walked home with his girlfriend late on the evening of February 27, 2015.

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The brazen murder in central Moscow was the most high-profile political killing in Russia since Putin rose to power some 17 years ago, but Nemtsov’s family insists authorities refused to probe people close to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who they suspect ordered the hit.

0:00 Boris Nemtsov before his death Share Boris Nemtsov before his death

The 12-person jury ruled on its third day of deliberations that defendants Zaur Dadayev, Shadid and Anzor Gubashev, Temirlan Eskerkhanov and Khamzat Bakhayev – all ethnic Chechens from Russia’s volatile North Caucasus – carried out the hit as a gang for some $250,000.

Dadayev – a former officer in an interior ministry battalion in Chechnya – was found guilty of firing the four fatal shots.

The Gubashev brothers, Eskerkhanov and Bakhayev were found guilty of being accomplices.

The jury’s decision was reached by majority vote after they first failed to reach unanimous decisions on the long list of charges against the defendants at the end of ten months of hearings.

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The suspects have always denied they were involved in the killing and several retracted initial confessions they said were made under torture.

They are now facing lengthy jail terms, with the judge set to deliver sentencing after prosecutors set out their demands next week.

Real masterminds untouched?

While the rulings provide some answers over the killing, Nemtsov’s family is adamant that those who ordered the charismatic politician’s death have not been identified.

Nemtsov’s daughter Zhanna Nemtsova wrote that the case remained “unsolved” even though she agreed that all of the accused, with the exception of Bakhayev, were involved.

“This was not a complete investigation but only an imitation,” she posted on Facebook.

“In two years… they could not find the organiser and mastermind of the murder,” her lawyer Vadim Prokhorov said. “It’s a complete fiasco.”

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Nemtsov’s allies say the evidence clearly shows that those close to Kremlin-loyal Chechen strongman Kadyrov – or Kadyrov himself – were actually behind the assassination.

The Chechen leader – who rules his conflict-scarred region with an iron fist – has denied all involvement and defended some of the accused.

Nemtsov’s family tried and failed to get Kadyrov and some of his top lieutenants, including Dadayev’s commander Ruslan Geremeev, questioned.

Investigators only named Geremeev’s driver Ruslan Mukhudinov as an organiser and said he offered the suspects 15 million rubles (about $250,000 or 220,000 euros at current rates) for the murder.

Mukhudinov has since fled and investigators said after the verdict that the case against him was still ongoing.

No real motive has ever been offered by authorities as to why the hit on Nemtsov was ordered.

Echoes of Politkovskaya

Once one of Russia’s most popular politicians, liberal reformer Nemtsov was at one stage seen as a possible successor to former president Boris Yeltsin.

After initially backing Putin when he came to power, Nemtsov soon became one of his fiercest critics. But as the ex-KGB officer cracked down on dissent, Russia’s opposition – and Nemtsov along with it – became increasingly marginal figures.

At the time of his death aged 55, Nemtsov was probing official Russian involvement in the bloody conflict in east Ukraine. Some supporters insist he was killed to stop his political activities.

The Kremlin called his shooting a “provocation” and spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was for investigators to decide now if the case is at an end.

The murder and subsequent trial have strong echoes of a string of earlier high-profile assassinations that Kremlin critics say have been left unsolved, including the 2006 shooting of anti-Putin journalist Anna Politkovskaya in her Moscow apartment building.

Eventually five men – including four members of the same Chechen family – were found guilty of the murder, but over a decade later Politkovskaya’s family and former colleagues remain convinced the masterminds have not been brought to justice.

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South32 NSW coal mine suspended again

South32 has again suspended operations at its Appin underground coal mine in NSW over concerns of a build-up of methane gas levels.

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The diversified miner says it had withdrawn the mine’s workforce on Wednesday as a precautionary measure and notified the NSW department of planning and environment authorities.

While the company said it had not breached gas limits at the site, the regulator had issued a prohibition notice for the mine.

The regulator also had expressed broader concern about recent events at the Illawarra Metallurgical Coal operation – when gas limits had been exceeded – as well as its operating practices, South 32 said in a statement on Friday.

The company said it was working with the regulator to address these issues.

Operations are continuing at the Illawarra Metallurgical Coal unit’s other mine, Dendrobium.

Ongoing problems at the Appin mine has prompted South32 to repeatedly lower the Illawarra unit’s production guidance.

Production was disrupted in September 2016 due to roofing problems at one of the longwalls, and again in November and May when methane gas levels forced temporary suspensions of operations.

The miner on Friday said that having already achieved production of 7.05 million tonnes by June 28, it did not expect the unit’s most recent full-year production guidance to be affected by the latest incident.

The company in May lowered its forecast for full-year production to 7.1 million tonnes.

South32 will detail production guidance for the 2018 financial year when it releases its full-year results in August.

Turnbull’s year since the federal election

WINS AND LOSSES ONE YEAR SINCE THE FEDERAL ELECTION

JULY 2016:

* The coalition scrapes back into power with a one-seat majority with 50.

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4 per cent of the two-party vote.

* Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces royal commission into the Northern Territory’s youth detention system after revelations of abuse.

AUGUST

* The coalition concedes defeat in the Queensland seat of Herbert confirming its one-seat majority.

* An angry Turnbull suggests heads will roll after ordering a review into how cyber attacks disrupted the 2016 Census.

SEPTEMBER

* Government suffers an embarrassing defeat after MPs leave parliament early, losing control of the lower house and a series of votes following a Labor stunt.

NOVEMBER

* Government grilled over who knew what and when, amid revelations former crossbench senator Bob Day breached the constitution in a financial agreement with the commonwealth.

* Proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite is defeated in the Senate.

* Government faces allegations it made a deal with the Western Australian government to run dead on a High Court case in a move that would have dudded taxpayers out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

* Government finally restores the building industry watchdog, passing the two bills it used to trigger the July 2 double-dissolution election.

DECEMBER

* Government finally passes its controversial backpacker tax, following an eleventh-hour compromise deal with the Greens, ending 18 months of uncertainty.

JANUARY 2017

* Turnbull forced to reshuffle his cabinet after an expenses scandal forces the resignation of health minister Sussan Ley.

FEBRUARY

* PM forced to hose down reports he was berated by Donald Trump over a refugee swap deal.

* Outspoken coalition backbencher Cory Bernardi quits the Liberals to start his own Australian Conservatives Party, angering the government.

* Parliament votes to scrap the life gold travel pass for retired federal MPs and to establish an expenses watchdog to hold politicians to account in the wake of the Ley scandal.

MARCH

* Major overhaul of the child care system clears parliament with crossbench support.

* Controversial changes to race-hate speech laws are killed off in the Senate.

* Turnbull gets a partial win on his centrepiece economic policy, securing a tax cut to businesses with turnovers under $50 million after failing to get the Senate on board for a $50 billion plan to cut taxes for all businesses.

APRIL

* The 457 visa program for skilled migrants abolished.

* Turnbull unveils plans to make it harder to become an Australian citizen.

MAY

* Treasurer Scott Morrison hands down his second budget, announcing a gradual thaw of the Medicare rebate freeze that almost cost Turnbull the election.

JUNE

* Australian government debt hits half a trillion dollars for the first time.

* New levy to raise $6bn from the nation’s biggest banks clears parliament.

* Turnbull responds to Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s review of the energy market with new rules to restrict gas exports and a plan to scrap a process that allows power companies to hike prices.

* Major school funding overhaul, aka Gonski 2.0, clears parliament with crossbench support.

* Newspoll shows that while Turnbull maintains lead over Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as preferred PM, support for the coalition has dropped more than three percentage points since the election.

US warns China over Hong Kong freedoms

The State Department said the success of Hong Kong, which was given a large degree of autonomy when British colonial rule ended in 1997, was due to its unique status.

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“The United States… admires the city’s outstanding achievements, which are the result of its high degree of autonomy, its economic and personal freedoms, and its respect for rule of law,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

But while Washington valued its “excellent cooperation” with Hong Kong’s government it “remains concerned about any infringements of civil liberties in Hong Kong, including intrusions on press freedoms,” Nauert added in a statement.

Recent incidents in Hong Kong — including the disappearance of five publishers who were known for salacious titles about the Chinese leadership — have sparked fears that Beijing is choking the city’s freedoms.

Last year, the city’s High Court disqualified two democratically elected pro-independence lawmakers from taking their seats after they added expletives and used derogatory terms for China when taking their oaths.

The court’s move was preempted by an earlier intervention from Beijing which said they should not be allowed to join parliament.

Mass protests in Hong Kong in 2014 demanding more democratic reform failed to wring any concessions from the authorities, leading to an increase in calls for self-determination or even full independence.

High-profile pro-democracy campaigners including Joshua Wong and young legislator Nathan Law were arrested Wednesday night after staging a protest outside a Hong Kong convention center that will host some of the anniversary events this weekend.

The State Department said the US “support(s) the further development of Hong Kong’s democratic systems, including the implementation of universal suffrage in accordance with the Basic Law” — a reference to its de facto constitution.

Hong Kong was handed back to China by colonial ruler Britain in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula designed to protect its freedoms and way of life.