South Sudan’s opposition leader Machar to return to Juba

South Sudan’s opposition leader Riek Machar said on Thursday he would return to the capital Juba on April 18 to form a transitional government with President Salva Kiir, more than two years after a feud between the two men erupted into war.

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Kiir sacked Machar as vice president in 2013, exacerbating a political dispute that erupted into fighting in December that year between soldiers loyal to both men, reopening ethnic rifts between Kiir’s Dinka group and Machar’s Nuer.

Fighting was initially contained to Juba but Machar and his supporters left the capital. After that violence spread across South Sudan, killing thousands and forcing more than 2.3 million people to flee their homes.

Under pressure from the United States, the United Nations and other powers, the sides signed an initial peace deal in August and agreed to share out ministerial positions in January. The deal has broken down repeatedly.

“I am therefore confirming the date of my arrival to be April 18 and thereafter form with President Kiir the Transitional Government of National Unity and hold the Transitional National Council of Ministers,” Machar said in a letter to the head of the body monitoring the implementation of the peace deal.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan said in a statement on Wednesday it had helped Machar’s SPLM/A group transport 802 military and police officers to Juba, including two of its generals.

Machar said in February that a condition to his return to Juba and taking up his old position of vice president was the demilitarization of the capital and that some of his soldiers be allowed to return with him.

The conflict has hit hard the economy of South Sudan, an oil exporter. Its currency has weakened, inflation has spiraled and oil revenues have dropped due to falling production and falling world prices.

Cheng case relies on 2000 intercepts

Legal proceedings for three men linked to the fatal shooting of police accountant Curtis Cheng look set to be delayed, with prosecutors saying they need more time to analyse thousands of telephone intercepts.

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Talal Alameddine, 23, Raban Alou, 18, and Mustafa Dirani, 22, were charged with numerous offences, including being a known member of a terrorist organisation, after 15-year-old Farhad Jabar gunned down Mr Cheng at the NSW police headquarters in October.

Jabar was fatally shot by police at the Parramatta police headquarters.

They had been due to face committal in June, but prosecutors on Thursday requested the date be vacated so they could make transcripts of 2000 telephone conversation recordings, many of which are in foreign languages.

State prosecutor John Sfinas said the case, which will also rely on CCTV and surveillance footage, was unusually complex.

“The brief will simply not be ready by June,” he said in Parramatta Local Court.

“It’s a circumstantial case. We need to… establish the links in the chain before proceeding to committal.”

Alameddine and Dirani are accused of supplying the weapon used to kill Mr Cheng, while Alou is the only one to face a Commonwealth charge of committing a terrorist act.

Mr Sfinas said reviewing the large amount of evidence would allow prosecutors to decide whether the commonwealth, state or both would take control of the cases.

Alameddine appeared in court via video link to watch his lawyer enter a plea of not guilty to an unrelated weapons charge.

The man spoke only to acknowledge the magistrate but attempted to communicate with loved ones using signals, which seemed to depict hugs, telephone calls and rocking a baby.

The court heard he is expected to be charged with another weapons charge at a later date.

Magistrate Timothy Keady allowed the matters relating to Mr Cheng to be moved to Central Local Court, where they will next be mentioned in June.

Alameddine’s unrelated charges for weapons and cannabis possession will return to court in May.

Vic town blacked out before tanker roll

A blackout may have contributed to a petrol tanker crash in a Victorian town that closed roads and cut power.

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Emergency crews worked into Thursday afternoon to right a petrol tanker and contain a 50,000-litre fuel leak after the truck went out of control on a bend and slid on its side into a power pole in Inglewood, near Bendigo, on Wednesday night.

As the situation was given the all-clear on Thursday evening, the Calder Highway was re-opened to one lane through the town and power had been restored to most residents.

Power had gone out in Inglewood about 5pm on Wednesday because of storm activity.

Pauline Wellman, who works at the local motel and caravan park where many people evacuated to, said the town was in darkness.

“The electricity was out hours and hours before the truck hit the pole, so the town was in absolute pitch blackness last night,” she told AAP on Thursday.

“You come off the fastest road and into the town and I would say that the town being dark wouldn’t have helped the truck navigate the bend.”

Police at the scene also told reporters the town was pitch black, and the driver crashed where the speed went from 100km/h to 60km/h.

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) said 28 people were evacuated from their homes at the height of the incident.

Most residents had power restored by 4.30pm on Thursday, but a handful did not get power back until 10pm, as Powercor worked to restore the original fault.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) said the fuel spread up to 1.5km from the crash site and soil was used to stop it flowing into a creek.

“We will work to remove the contamination and it’s most likely that will be through excavation,” the EPA’s Danny Childs told AAP on Thursday.

“We need to scope out the extent of the contamination but these sort of clean-ups take a matter of weeks.”

About 28,000 litres of fuel had been removed from a drain, and pumping would continue on Friday.

The truck’s driver was admitted to hospital with minor injuries and a woman from a house nearby was taken to hospital after falling ill, an ambulance spokesman said.

The truck was towed away from the crash site shortly after 2pm on Thursday.

Local police are investigating the crash, but the resources of the Heavy Vehicle Unit could be used, a police spokeswoman said.

Queensland government chooses polluters over people with Adani

Even as Australia’s most eminent reef scientists lament the worst ever outbreak of bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, the Queensland government has granted a mining licence for Adani to dig Australia’s biggest ever coal mine.

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We know the Carmichael coal mine will create millions of tonnes of climate pollution for many decades to come – and recent images from the reef have shown that even minor temperature increases have led to widespread bleaching events. So how the Palaszczuk Government can in good conscience approve this development against the will of most Australians is deeply perplexing.

The Reef is loved by people all over the world for its beauty and diversity. But in the past few weeks’ news outlets from the Wall Street Journal to the BBC have been filled with stories not of its beauty, but of the thousand-kilometre stretch from PNG to Cairns and beyond that has been bleached white by abnormally warm sea temperatures.

The National Coral Bleaching Task force has estimated that 95 per cent of the coral reefs in that northern region are now severely bleached.

The only real conclusion to draw here is that the Queensland government had become beholden to the wishes of the powerful coal lobby. One thing we can say for certain is that if the State and Federal government side with Adani rather than listening to the millions of Australians who want to protect the reef, they will have a hell of a fight on their hands.

At present there are two major legal challenges to the Carmichael mine going ahead. This month the Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners of the land rejected for the third time an Indigenous land use agreement with Adani. They have gone to the federal court seeking a judicial review of a decision by the National Native Title Tribunal to issue leases associated with the mine.

So, far from offering free and prior consent, the area’s Traditional Owners are actively contesting the project, with community spokesman Adrian Burragubba emphatically stating: “This is a disgraceful new low in the exercise of government power at the expense of traditional owners’ rights.”

Meanwhile, ACF is challenging Federal Environment Minister Hunt’s approval of Adani’s Carmichael project on the basis that the Minister failed to properly consider the impacts of climate pollution on the World Heritage-listed Barrier Reef. The challenge will be heard in the Federal Court in May.

So aside from the unthinkable proposition of adding significant pressure in the form of carbon pollution to an already overstressed reef, the scale of the developments in the basin would blow Australia’s chances of meeting the modest climate targets we set in Paris and would further imperil Australia’s most loved national icon.

Data released earlier this year by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that carbon dioxide concentrations jumped by 3.05 parts per million (ppm) during 2015, the largest year-on-year increase in 56 years. And February 2016 was 1.65 degrees centigrade higher than temperatures at the beginning of the 20th century and 1.9 degrees above the pre-industrial level.

With the mine expected to operate for 60 years, we estimate Carmichael will generate 4.73 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (Gt CO2) in scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions over the lifetime of the project. That means this mine alone would generate more emissions than many countries including Vietnam, Belgium and Austria.

What our political leaders are failing to register is that, in the words of Stefan Rahmstorf of Germany’s Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research we are now “in a kind of climate emergency.” The approval of a mine that will emit pollution on this scale is not the kind of action any government serious about addressing climate change should be taking.

There is a way forward – we need our governments to stop approving coal mines and make the transition to renewables that communities around Australia are urgently calling for.

Kelly O’Shanassy is CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

US, Turkey plot to push IS east in Syria

US officials are discussing with the Turkish military and government how the moderate Syrian opposition can push Islamic State farther east in Syria, Washington’s ambassador to Ankara says.

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“We have had some progress in recent weeks as these groups pushed further east along the border,” ambassador John Bass told a group of diplomacy correspondents on Thursday. “We will continue to focus on that area,” he said.

Syrian rebel forces seized numerous villages from IS near the Turkish border earlier this week. The offensive includes factions fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army that have been supplied with weapons via Turkey.

A sustained rebel advance near the Turkish border would erode IS’s last foothold in an area identified by the US as a priority in the fight against IS.

“There is conversation with the Turkish military and government to talk about opportunities to intensify support to those groups and to push Daesh east from the current line,” Bass said, using an acronym for IS.

The US is not providing the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, its close ally in the fight against IS, with weapons or ammunition, Bass said.

He said Washington is opposed to efforts by any Syrian group to change the demography of a region “under the guise” of fighting IS.

Turkey has accused the YPG of “cleansing” towns of ethnic Arabs and Turkmen.

Bass repeated a call to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to lay down its weapons and cease attacks on Turkey. The PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey and violence flared anew in July.

Ankara says the PKK, designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the European Union, is closely linked with the YPG.