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Greg Bird joins NRL’s most suspended

Greg Bird has joined the undesirable ranks of the NRL’s most suspended players, after copping an eight-game ban at the judiciary.

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The NSW and Gold Coast enforcer was suspended until mid-July for his lifting tackle on Kiwi winger Jason Nightingale in the Kangaroos’ Test loss on Sunday.

The ban means he will miss the entire State of Origin series.

Bird pleaded guilty to a dangerous throw but went to the judiciary to challenge the grade two grading, which was upheld by the judiciary panel of Chris McKenna, Bronson Harrison and Mal Cochrane.

Since his NRL debut in 2002, Bird has now been outed for a total of 29 matches, making him the fourth most suspended player since the NRL was formed in 1998.

Bad boy John Hopoate holds the dubious honour of the NRL’s most suspended, with a massive 45 weeks, followed by Luke O’Donnell and Craig Smith with 32 weeks.

Danny Williams rounds out the top five with 28 weeks.

Steve Matai is another currently-serving player with a considerable judiciary record.

Currently suspended, the Manly star has earned a total of 23 weeks on the sideline.

Bird declined to comment after the hearing, leaving Titans coach Neil Henry to express his disappointment.

“Obviously we are very disappointed in the outcome,” Henry said.

“We thought we made a strong case for a downgrade – grade two to grade one- and we thought we had evidence to prove that.

“Unfortunately that wasn’t the case with the judiciary.

“As a club we are very disappointed to lose the services of Greg for an extended period of time.”

Bird is next eligible to play for the Titans in the round 19 fixture against Newcastle at Hunter Stadium.

MOST SUSPENDED PLAYERS SINCE THE NRL WAS FORMED IN 1998*

John Hopoate 45 weeks

Luke O’Donnell/Craig Smith 32 weeks

Greg Bird 29 weeks

Danny Williams 28 weeks

Jason Stevens/Adrian Morley 26 weeks

* Source: Fox Sports Stats

GREG BIRD’S SUSPENSIONS SINCE HIS NRL DEBUT IN 2002

2004: Striking – 10 matches

2004: Dangerous throw – 3 matches

2005: Dangerous throw – 2 matches

2011: Striking – 1 match

1014: Dangerous throw – 2 matches

2014: Dangerous throw – 2 matches

2014: Dangerous throw – 1 match

2015: Dangerous throw – 8 matches

*No bans resulted for Bird after judiciary appearances in 2003 and 2013.

** Source: Fox Sports Stats

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Bollywood star Salman Khan gets five years in prison for hit-and-run

An Indian court sentenced Bollywood film star Salman Khan on Wednesday to five years in prison for killing a man in a hit-and-run accident, the latest twist in the tumultuous career of one of the country’s biggest box-office draws.

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The district criminal court’s order drove down shares of firms connected to the actor and, if upheld, will derail major projects in the pipeline of what is the world’s most prolific movie industry. 

Judge D.W. Deshpande of the Mumbai court upheld prosecution charges that Khan, 49, was driving under the influence of alcohol and lost control of his car in the 2002 accident. Four people were injured.

The 49-year-old actor had denied being behind the wheel, in spite of several witnesses testifying against him.

Khan, who has delivered some of Bollywood’s highest-grossing films in recent years, faces up to 10 years in jail but can appeal in a higher court.

Sentencing is expected later in the day.

The Salman Khan case is trending on twitter with people divided on the verdict. 

Many Salman to social media defend him with hashtags like #Istandwithsalmankhan and #salmonkhannotguilty trending.

 

Shame Indian judgement system! we all love you till our death @BeingSalmanKhan #SalmanKhan #SalmanNotGuilty

Heart broken at the verdict against @BeingSalmanKhan.Prayers & strength to him & his wonderful family.

— kunal kohli (@kunalkohli) May 6, 2015Heart breaking!! Stay strong @beingsalmankhan Feeling really sad, May god give you and your family a lot of strength.

— Yo Yo Honey Singh (@asliyoyo) May 6, 2015No Bollywood Moves for me till my Man @BeingSalmanKhan is free.watched his movies&will continue 2watch his movies only #IStandWithSalmanKhan

— sabina lamba (@SabinaLamba) May 6, 2015

But others have defended the verdict

Better late than never #SalmanVerdict Convicted

— Ritu Lalit (@Phoenixr2) May 6, 2015The law has to be same for everyone and that’s what has happened. No matter how high you are, there is law above you. #SalmanVerdict

— Aarti Madan (@AartiMadan) May 6, 2015Bollywood does not just represent our popular culture – in its reaction to #SalmanVerdict, it represents us and our ugliness #SalmanGuilty

— Pawan Khera (@Pawankhera) May 6, 2015

Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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John Kerry pushes for pause in Yemen fighting in Saudi meetings

U.

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S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday to press for a pause in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, so food and medicine can be delivered to people caught in the fighting.

Speaking at a news conference in Djibouti, the first secretary of state to visit the tiny Horn of Africa nation, Kerry said the United States was deeply concerned with the worsening humanitarian conditions.

“The situation is getting more dire by the day and we are concerned about that,” Kerry said before flying to Riyadh. “We will be discussing the nature of the pause and how it might be implemented. I am convinced of their desire to implement the pause.”

Kerry suggested he spoke to Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif this week to convince the Iranian-backed Houthi fighters to also agree to a pause.

“In my conversation yesterday with another foreign minister from another country, there was an indication that … the

Houthi might be willing to engage in a pause,” he said.

A Saudi-led Arab coalition began air strikes in Yemen on March 26 against the Houthi fighters. Backed by forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Houthi have seized control of parts of the country, including the capital, Sanaa. 

Saudi Arabia says the campaign is aimed at restoring President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government. The Houthis say their campaign was aimed at fighting al Qaeda militants and to combat corruption.

So far, the effects of the Saudi attacks look limited. On Wednesday, Houthi militia fought their way into a district of Aden, where Hadi briefly based his government when he was forcedout of Sanaa. Houthi attacks on Aden have since forced him to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Shortly after his arrival in Riyadh, Kerry met with Saudi Arabia’s new heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, before a slew of more meetings on Thursday, including with Hadi and Saudi’s new King Salman.

Kerry said the United States had urged both sides in the Yemen conflict to comply with humanitarian laws and to ensure that civilians were not caught in the line of fire.

He announced $68 million in new U.S. aid for relief agencies working in Yemen, as humanitarian groups warned fuel shortages could affect their efforts to tackle the crisis. That shortage has crippled hospitals and food supplies in the past weeks.

In New York, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continued to push a full-fledged ceasefire.

“Short of that, there is a need for a humanitarian pause,” he said when asked about Kerry’s remarks. “It’s particularly urgent to have some kind of pause to allow for aid to get in,” said Haq.

Kerry was pressing for shelling to be halted at the airport in Sanaa so flights carrying aid could land. Ports also need to be opened so that fuel and other facilities can get in, Haq added. 

“We are broadly supportive of the effort for a humanitarian pause, but that should be seen as just a stepping stone towards what we want, which is ultimately a ceasefire,” he said. 

The head of aid group Oxfam America, Raymond Offenheiser, said while Kerry was in Riyadh, he must insist that land, sea and air routes into Yemen are opened immediately.

“The time for quiet diplomacy has long since passed,” Offenheiser said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Larry King)

 

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Afghan judge sentences four to death for mob killing of woman

Eight defendants were jailed for 16 years for participating in the attack in which a frenzied crowd beat and kicked the woman, named Farkhunda, and set her body on fire in central Kabul.

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Judge Safiullah Mujadidi found 18 others not guilty due to lack of evidence.

The four men sentenced to death were convicted of murder, in part on the basis of mobile phone footage of the attack that was played in court during the five-day trial.

Some of those arrested were tracked down after posting footage of the attack on social media and bragging about taking part.

Nineteen police officers were also on trial, accused of standing by and doing nothing to stop the attack. Their verdicts and sentencing are due later in the week.

The attack proved a polarising incident in Afghanistan, a deeply conservative Muslim country. Initially, some clerics said the killing was a defence of Islam.

Many others were outraged by the attack, even before an investigation showed that Farkhunda had been falsely accused of desecrating Islam’s holy book.

Several protests against religious extremism and violence against women sprung up in Kabul, including one in the last week that re-enacted the attack. 

Such demonstrations are rare, even though women’s rights were enshrined in the constitution after the Taliban’s hard-line Islamist regime was ousted in 2001.

Under the Taliban’s five-year rule, women were banned from leaving home without a male guardian, denied education and forced to wear the all-covering burqa.  

(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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EU seeks UN approval to seize migrant boats, Russia against destruction

Europe is seeking United Nations Security Council approval to seize boats used to traffic migrants across the Mediterranean from Libya, though diplomats said Russia has signaled it would not allow destruction of the vessels.

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European Union leaders agreed last month to “identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers,” but it is unclear how that may be achieved and the 28-nation bloc wants U.N. authorization for its operation.

U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a resolution has been drafted by European members of the Security Council – Britain, France, Lithuania and Spain – under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter which allows the use of force.

The draft text would authorize the EU to intervene on the high seas, in Libyan territorial waters and onshore in Libya to seize vessels “to prevent trafficking, smuggling and illegal migration across the Mediterranean,” said a senior U.N. diplomat.

Diplomats said Russia, which has veto power on the Security Council, initially appeared supportive of the measures, but drew the line at approving destruction of boats. The Russian U.N. mission was not immediately available for comment.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is due to brief the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors on Monday on the proposed operations. Diplomats said a draft resolution could be circulated to the 15 council members next week.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said there is no military solution to migrants drowning in the Mediterranean.

About 1,800 migrants have perished during the crossing already this year, the U.N. refugee agency said. Some 51,000 have entered Europe by sea, with 30,500 coming via Italy, fleeing war and poverty in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Libya has descended into factional fighting, leaving the country almost lawless nearly four years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Two competing governments backed by militia brigades are scrambling for control of the oil-producing country and the chaos has created havens for Islamist militants.

The group controlling Libya’s coastal capital Tripoli said it would “confront” any unilateral EU moves to attack sites used by people-traffickers. Mogherini said any action being considered to stem the flow of migrants should not be perceived as an attack against the Libyan people.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols)

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No near-term deals for BHP spin-off

BHP Billiton’s spin-off South32 is keeping its eye out for opportunistic mergers and acquisitions but is in no rush to seal any deals, chief executive Graham Kerr says.

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Mr Kerr says any deal would also have to be sold “very strongly” to investors.

He said mergers and acquisitions were not a key strategy for South32, which bundles together BHP Billiton’s aluminium, base metals, silver, manganese and coal assets.

“I think M&A is always opportunistic and you only do it for value,” Mr Kerr told reporters.

“We will look, we’ll be aware of M&A opportunities, but we would only pursue those if we had the mandate from our investors and we saw value.

“The industry gets fixated on growth for growth’s sake – we’ll be very focused on how we grow our cashflow.”

Mr Kerr’s comments came as BHP Billiton’s shareholders in Australia and Britain overwhelmingly backed the mining giant’s plans to spin off South32 as a separate entity.

At meetings held in Perth and London late on Wednesday, shareholders voted in favour of the spin-off.

When asked about the commodities that South32 could have on its divestment radar, Mr Kerr said each asset would have to “win the right to stay in the portfolio”.

He touched on the company’s coal assets, saying they were “not the most value accretive way we can see ourselves using our people, time or resources at the moment”.

“I think our investors in the first six months would be expecting us to actually deliver on the regional model, deliver on increased productivity and operational targets to build up a sense of confidence in the management team.

“At the same time with M&A, six months, 12 months, 18 months – we’ll always be prepared.”

Mr Kerr said South32 needed to think deeply about what it would do with its manganese assets, given volatile prices for the commodity.

Slowing down production while prices were low would be considered, he said.

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Raiders prepare for tough Titans NRL clash

They beat defending premiers South Sydney but Canberra coach Ricky Stuart reckons Saturday’s clash with Gold Coast will be the Raiders’ toughest NRL match of the last month.

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In the past four rounds, the Raiders have beaten Manly, Wests Tigers and last start toppled the Rabbitohs, with a narrow loss to Melbourne their only blemish.

But Stuart believes the Titans, on a run of three consecutive victories, pose a bigger threat – even without star forward Greg Bird following his eight-week suspension.

“They’re a very opportunistic football team,” Stuart told the club’s website on Thursday.

“They’ve scored the most tries in the NRL this year – 31 – and 12 of those have been scored from their tryline to their 20, so they’re 80-90 metre tries.

“So they have a lot of speed, a lot of talent; their back five are very, very fast.

“I personally think this game will be our toughest game over the last month.”

The Raiders have won four of their five matches on the road so far this season, but are yet to taste victory at GIO Stadium.

Not since Canberra’s inaugural 1982 side has the club lost its first three fixtures at home.

Stuart, eager to end that run this weekend, believes the Raiders have played better and more consistent football on their own turf but the results haven’t fallen their way.

“There’s two games we could’ve won, but we didn’t,” he said.

“But it’s a situation now of just making sure we’re doing the best prep for our next game and that’s the way we look at it.

“A lot of teams are 4-4, we’re in a very, very congested competition at the moment.

“It’s just a matter of trying to win the next match.”

The Raiders have named a similar line-up to the one that beat the Rabbitohs in Cairns, with Jordan Rapana cleared to play despite hurting his cheekbone.

Stuart said consistency was key to ensuring a place in the finals later in the year.

“Everybody wants to be fighting for a top-eight spot and consistent football early in the season, right through the representative season, is very important,” he said.

“And that comes from not having a lot of injuries and players in good form, so you can create combinations and have players gel together.”

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Burnley in last-chance saloon, need a miracle

Sean Dyche’s side have earned plenty of plaudits for their style of play this season, but not enough goals or points.

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When they stunned champions Manchester City 1-0 in March they were one point behind 17th place and survival appeared to be well within their grasp.

Five defeats and a 0-0 home draw with Tottenham Hotspur in their next six matches, however, leaves the humble Lancashire club needing a sporting miracle.

With three games left to play they have 26 points, compared to 17th placed Hull’s 34. They must beat Hull, Stoke City and Aston Villa and hope for favours elsewhere.

Despite their predicament, Dyche said his team remains motivated and midfielder Matt Taylor insists the fight goes on.

“There’s three games left and we’ll continue to fight,” Taylor told the Lancashire Telegraph.

“We won’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ll dust ourselves down and go again.”

While Burnley’s Premier League status looks almost certain to last only one season, as it did in 2009-10, fellow promoted side Queens Park Rangers are also in dire straights, although Leicester City look like surviving.

QPR, on 27 points, will be doomed by the time they travel to Man City on Sunday, should Hull beat Burnley, Aston Villa beat West Ham United and Newcastle United beat West Bromwich Albion the day before.

Third from bottom Sunderland, who are a point behind Hull with a game in hand, could put the jitters up the teams just above them with victory in Saturday’s early kickoff at Everton.

A Sunderland win against Roberto Martinez’s side would take them, for a few hours at least, above free-falling North East rivals Newcastle United who have lost eight league games in a row and are spiralling out of control.

Newcastle, in 15th spot with 35 points, had two sent off in the 3-0 capitulation at Leicester last week, after which manager John Carver suggested defender Mike Williamson had got a red card on purpose.

Such is the disarray at St James’ Park that skipper Fabricio Coloccini wrote an open letter apologising to the club’s fans.

“Players and staff have come together in order to leave all past problems aside and to focus 100 percent on the three ‘cup finals’ that we have left,” he said.

With Chelsea already champions and Arsenal and Manchester City scrapping for second place, the only real intrigue at the top is whether fourth-placed Manchester United can clinch a place in the top four, having lost three consecutive games.

Victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday would ease their nerves.

(editing by Justin Palmer)

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Federer falls under Kyrgios spell in Madrid exit

Ten months after the then 144th-ranked Kyrgios overwhelmed Rafa Nadal in the Wimbledon fourth round with a fearless brand of tennis, the Australian showed that he is a force to be reckoned with on clay too.

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Now ranked 35th on the back of contesting his first ever ATP final in Estoril last weekend, Kyrgios brought an abrupt end to Federer’s hopes of winning a fourth Madrid trophy with a heart-pumping 6-7(2) 7-6(5) 7-6(12) victory.

“I think he’s the greatest of all time… I knew before the match that I would have to play one of the greatest matches I have ever played, I wasn’t intimidated at all,” the remarkably composed 20-year-old said courtside following his victory in two hours 37 minutes.

“It doesn’t really feel real at the moment. It’s a strange feeling… it’s pretty exciting.”

While Kyrgios was celebrating what he called “definitely the greatest win of my career”, Federer was condemned to his earliest exit in 11 visits to Madrid.

On the day he had hoped to celebrate the first birthday of his twin boys Lenny and Leo with a routine victory, the world number two was first rankled when Kyrgios broke him in the opening game of the match.

The irritation went up a few notches as he was heard snapping “We need a clown for this circus” when the second set slipped away from his grasp under a barrage of aces and crunching baseline winners.

Facing an opponent who was just eight when he won the first of his record 17 grand slam titles in 2003, Federer wasted two match points in the tension-filled third set tiebreak.

Instead Kyrgios was the one holding his arms aloft in victory after he wrapped up the contest on his sixth match point when Federer slammed a forehand wide.

Following a disappointing season in which he has claimed only one low-key title, Nadal went back to using his old racket model to record a 6-4 6-3 win over American Steve Johnson.

He was joined in the third round by Tomas Berdych and 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov but U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic followed Federer out of the exit door after a 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 6-3 defeat by Fernando Verdasco.

Kei Nishikori also progressed with a 6-2 4-6 6-4

victory over Belgian David Goffin, while second seed Andy Murray rounded out the day’s action with a 6-4 3-6 6-0 victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber.

(Writing by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ed Osmond/Nick Mulvenney)

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Britain’s opposition leader Miliband holds rally on eve of election

The leader of Britain’s main opposition party, Ed Miliband, rallied supporters to show up in force at polling stations on Thursday as he seeks to lead the next government in what appears to be the closest election race in the country for a generation.

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Miliband addressed an audience of supporters in the northern English city of Leeds where he promised to reward hard workers.

“We’re fighting for a Britain where we reward the hard work of every working person not just those who get the six figure bonuses in our country. We’re fighting for a Britain where every young person whatever their background, wherever they’re from has a chance to live a better life than their parents.

“We’re fighting for a Britain where everyone plays by the same rules. And yes where we take on the tax evaders the hedge funds that avoid their taxes and the Tory donors and say enough is enough,” he said.

Miliband re-iterated his view that his Conservative rivals were a party for the rich and privileged.

“And in the closing hours of this campaign, this is my message to the British people. For five years this country has been run for the richest and most powerful but tomorrow is your day. Tomorrow it’s your voice that counts. Tomorrow you have the power to make Britain work for working people once again. You have the power to build a country which rewards hard work again.

“You have the power to build a future for our young people. You have the power to rescue our NHS. You have the power to elect a government that understands that it’s only when working people succeed that Britain succeeds. Use your power for you, your family, and for our NHS. Use your vote. Use your vote to vote Labour and together let’s build a country that works for working people once again,” he added.

A late burst of opinion polls on Wednesday suggested that Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour challenger Ed Miliband had fought each other to a standstill on the eve of Britain’s most unpredictable election in a generation.

Despite five weeks of campaigning, neither party has opened up a clear lead in the polls, pointing to a potentially messy and uncertain outcome from Thursday’s vote.

The stakes are high because Britain’s future in the European Union, as well as its national cohesion, could hinge on the result.

Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on whether to stay in the EU if he returns to power, while polls suggest Scottish nationalists could emerge as the third-largest party, despite losing a plebiscite last year on whether Scotland should break away from the United Kingdom.

 

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