Cats decline to match Port’s Motlop offer

Steven Motlop is officially a Port Adelaide AFL player after Geelong declined to match the Power’s offer to the restricted free agent.

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Motlop has signed a four-year deal at Alberton Oval, with the Power beating crosstown rivals Adelaide — who were thought to have offered a more lucrative deal — in the race for his services.

It continues a busy trade period for Port, who earlier this week secured former Brisbane skipper Tom Rockliff as a free agent and are frontrunners to sign Melbourne forward Jack Watts.

The AFL are yet to confirm the compensation Geelong will receive for Motlop but it is expected to be a late second-round draft pick.

Motlop, who played 135 games for the Cats and booted 175 goals, said he was impressed by the presentation made by Power coach Ken Hinkley and skipper Travis Boak.

“It was a difficult decision to leave Geelong,” he said.

“I spent nine great years there and they were fantastic for my footy and a great support for me and my family.

“I already have a connection to the Power where my older brother, Daniel, played for six seasons and my cousin, Marlon, still works in the community department.

“Port Adelaide is also an industry leader with its indigenous community work, which is an area that is really important to me.”

Geelong football boss Simon Lloyd said Motlop had been a strong contributor for the Cats.

“It is always a difficult day when a long-term player departs,” Lloyd said.

“He helped us reach the finals seven times and was a creative and dynamic player who was invested in our program.

“We thank him for his service to Geelong and wish him well in his new journey with the Power.”

Motlop’s decision to join the Power could result in Adelaide forcing wantaway speedster Charlie Cameron to play out the final year of his contract despite Brisbane offering a first-round draft pick.

Death toll climbs to 35 as US fires rage

Fire officials in Northern California have reported further headway against the most lethal outbreak of wildfires in the state’s history, as the death toll rose to 35 and teams with cadaver dogs combed charred ruins for human remains.

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The wind-driven blazes, which erupted on Sunday night in the heart of California’s renowned wine country, north of San Francisco, have destroyed an estimated 5700 homes and businesses and forced the evacuation of at least 25,000 people.

With more than 200 people still missing on Friday in Sonoma County alone, and rubble from thousands of incinerated dwellings yet to be searched, authorities have said the number fatalities from the so-called North Bay fires would likely climb higher.

Even as firefighters gained more ground during a second day of better weather, they braced for a return of higher temperatures, lower humidity and strong, gusty winds that could increase the threat to communities still in harm’s way.

Ground crews raced to clear drought-parched vegetation along the southern flanks of fires, removing highly combustible fuels adjacent to populated areas before extreme heat and winds were forecast to revive over the weekend.

“We’ve challenged the troops to get out there and secure mainly the south parts of these fires in preparation for those strong north winds,” Bret Gouvea, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), told a news conference.

As of Friday afternoon, 17 major wildfires – some encompassing several smaller blazes merged together – had consumed nearly 222,000 acres of dry brush, grasslands and trees across eight counties.

Governor Jerry Brown planned to visit the area with California’s two US senators on Saturday.

Officials have said power lines toppled by gale-force winds the first night may have sparked the conflagration, though the official cause remained under investigation.

Much of the devastation centred in and around the Sonoma County town of Santa Rosa, where whole neighbourhoods were reduced to landscapes of grey ash, smouldering debris and burned-out vehicles.

Some victims were asleep when flames engulfed their homes, and many survivors had only minutes to flee.

The picturesque town of Calistoga, at the northern end of Napa Valley, faced one of the biggest remaining hazards. Its 5000-plus residents were ordered from their homes on Wednesday night as a fierce blaze dubbed the Tubbs fire crept to within 3km of city limits.

The 35 confirmed fatalities – 19 in Sonoma County – mark the greatest loss of life from a single fire event on record in California, surpassing the 29 deaths from the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles.

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said his office had investigated nearly 1500 missing-persons reports stemming from the fires, and all but 235 had since turned up safe as of Friday evening.

Still, Giordano said 45 search-and-rescue teams and 18 detectives had been deployed to scour obliterated neighbourhoods for more victims.

At a fairground converted to a shelter in the nearby city of Petaluma, about 250 cots were full by Friday, and people slept in tents in the parking lot as volunteers served porridge and eggs for breakfast.

Yasmin Gonzalez, 28, her four children and husband, a grape picker, were anxious to leave the shelter and return to their apartment in Sonoma.

“It’s horrible to leave your home, and your things and not know what’s going to happen,” Gonzalez said.

The year’s wildfire season is one of the worst in history in the United States, with nearly 8.6 million acres burned, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In the worst year, 2015, about 9.3 million acres burned.

Iraq forces retake positions from Kurds in disputed Kirkuk

Iraqi forces Friday retook positions controlled by Kurdish peshmerga fighters since 2014 in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk amid a bitter row with the Kurds over a vote for independence last month.

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A senior Kurdish official said thousands of heavily armed fighters had been deployed to defend themselves “at any cost” against the Iraqi operation and called for international intervention.

Ethnically divided but historically Kurdish-majority Kirkuk is one of several regions that peshmerga fighters took over from the Iraqi army in 2014 when Islamic State (IS) group swept through much of northern and western Iraq.

Baghdad is bitterly opposed to Kurdish ambitions to incorporate the oil-rich province in its autonomous region in the north and has voiced determination to take it back.

The Iraqi army and the peshmerga have been key allies of the US-led coalition in its fights against IS and the threat of armed clashes between them poses a major challenge for Western government.

“The Iraqi armed forces are advancing to retake their military positions that were taken over during the events of June 2014,” an army general told AFP, asking not to be identified.

Speaking from an area south of the provincial capital Kirkuk, the general said federal troops had retaken “Base 102” west of the city after peshmerga fighters withdrew during the night without a fight.

The peshmerga’s Kirkuk commander, Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa, said his forces had withdrawn from areas they had recently entered during fighting against IS in the west of the province.

RELATED:’We will fight’

“We withdrew to our lines in the area around Kirkuk and we will defend the city in the event of an attack,” he said.

“If the Iraqi army advances, we will fight.”

Kurdish media said the peshmerga had withdrawn from around 72 square kilometres (28 square miles) of territory.

Sheikh Mustafa said there had been an attempt to negotiate an agreed disengagement of forces through Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi but it had been overruled by field commanders.

A top aide to Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani vowed the  peshmerga would defend their positions “at any cost”.

“Thousands of heavily armed peshmerga units are now completely in their positions around Kirkuk,” Hemin Hawrami said. 

“Their order is to defend at any cost.”

The Kurdish authorities accused the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) — paramilitary units dominated by Iran-trained Shiite militia — of massing fighters in two mainly Shiite Turkmen areas south of Kirkuk in readiness for an attack.

Hawrami urged the international community to intervene and call on the Iraqi prime minister to “order PMF to pull back if he can or if they listen to him”.

Iraqi Kurdish premier Nechirvan Barzani urged Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s highest Shiite religious authority, to intervene to prevent “a new war in the region” and called for dialogue with Baghdad.

A legislator close to Abadi said Iraqi special forces, police and PMF fighters were advancing “to retake control of the oil fields taken by the peshmerga when IS entered Iraq”.

It was “logical for the peshmerga to withdraw” in the face of the advance, said Jassem Jaafar.

The PMF issued no statement but it published photographs of one of its fighters making a victory sign in front of a Kurdish flag.

Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Iran-backed Badr group that is part of the PMF, called on the peshmerga to withdraw, saying it is the Iraqi army’s “duty” to retake those positions.

Lucrative oil fields

The surge in tensions comes two weeks after Kurdish voters overwhelmingly backed independence in a non-binding referendum that the federal government condemned as illegal.

The September 25 polls were held in the three provinces of the autonomous Kurdish region as well as several other Kurdish-held areas, including Kirkuk.

On Friday, Iraqi President Fouad Massoum, a Kurd, was in Kurdistan for talks with Kurdish officials, sources there said. 

Meanwhile, a blast targeted the offices of a Kurdish mobile phone provider in Hilla, south of Baghdad, causing material damage but no casualties, a police source said. 

The Kurdistan Regional Security Council said its intelligence reports suggested that Iraqi troops and armour were preparing to take over the Kurdish-held oil fields, an airport and a military base.

The Kurds export an average of 600,000 barrels of oil per day under their own auspices, of which 250,000 bpd come from the three fields they control in Kirkuk province.

Abadi has repeatedly denied any intention of ordering an assault on his own people but tensions have been high for days.

On Friday, residents in Kirkuk city queued at petrol stations with jerry cans to fill up while other civilians took up arms and deployed on the streets.

One of them, Khasro Abdallah, vowed “to defend Kirkuk to the death”.

The federal government suspended international air links in and out of Iraqi Kurdistan after the referendum.

It said there could be no negotiations on wider autonomy until Kurdish leaders annul the vote and commit to remaining part of Iraq.

McGowan further tweets on Weinstein claim

Rose McGowan has returned to Twitter after a 12-hour suspension of her account with claims that Harvey Weinstein raped her, clarifying previous statements that she had been sexually assaulted by an unnamed studio head.

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McGowan, who was suspended because, according to Twitter, “one of her Tweets included a private phone number,” which violates the platform’s Terms of Service, said in a series of five tweets directed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that Weinstein “raped” her. “Over & over I said it,” she wrote. “He said it hadn’t been proven. I said I was the proof.”

Her return to Twitter is also coinciding with a #WomenBoycottTwitter campaign for a 24-hour boycott of the platform from midnight on Thursday (New York local time) in protest against women’s voices being silenced.

McGowan urged the head of Amazon Studios, who had optioned a show she had written, to “do the right thing” regarding Weinstein, but after trying to to get her script back from Amazon, the studio pulled the plug on her show, she said.

A recent New York Times investigative report revealed that Weinstein allegedly reached confidential settlements with at least eight women over sexual misconduct allegations. McGowan reportedly received a $100,000 settlement from Weinstein over a 1997 incident.

Weinstein’s representative Sallie Hoffmeister said that Weinstein denies the allegation, saying that “any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.”

Weinstein previously released a statement that vigorously denied any allegations of sexual assault and claims that he “believes that all of these relationships were consensual.”

Labor divided in Rocky path to Qld poll

Queensland Labor is embroiled in a preselection factional showdown with the premier backing local mayor Margaret Strelow against party stalwart Robert Schwarten for the seat of Rockhampton.

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Annastacia Palaszczuk on Friday endorsed Ms Strelow, a fellow member of the Right, before the mayor indicated she was interested in running for the seat vacated by outgoing Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne.

It has set the scene for a heavyweight stoush with Mr Schwarten, a former Beattie and Bligh government minister, who said he would seek preselection if his Unity faction’s preferred candidate, Dan Coxen, was blocked from running.

Mr Schwarten, a Unity powerbroker who held the seat from 1995 to 2012, believes he would win Rockhampton again but would prefer to see Mr Coxen pre-selected.

Ms Palaszczuk acknowledged Mr Schwarten’s experience but vigorously threw her support behind Ms Strelow, a long-time factional foe.

“I think Margaret Strelow would make an outstanding candidate,” she said.

“She has been a strong voice for Rockhampton; she has been an excellent mayor.”

Just hours after the premier gave her “blessing”, Ms Strelow announced she had lodged an expression of interest and had a “huge decision to make”.

“I haven’t quite really settled on what I’m going to do but I felt that I needed to at least show my hand in a more formal way,” she said on Friday.

The decision will upset the Labor Unity faction which has held the seat of Rockhampton since the 1970s, and is also in an alliance with the Left to hold more influence in government than the Right.

Party rules state aspiring candidates must have been members of a local branch for at least six months.

Even though he’s been a party member for eight years, teachers union delegate Mr Coxen has belonged to a Rockhampton branch for only three months.

He would be preselected if he ran unopposed, but if Ms Strelow officially enters the race, he could be excluded.

Mr Schwarten says it would be hypocritical to apply the rule to Mr Coxen as he had seen it ignored “more than a dozen times” in his 48 years in the party, including when Dr Anthony Lynham was shaping up to run in the Brisbane seat of Stafford.

“They’re clearly using the mayor as a ‘stalking’ horse,” he told AAP.

“They’re hypocrites. It’s just a bit of raw, stupid, factional bastardry.”

Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls seized on the premier’s support for Ms Strelow, saying it was “on like Donkey Kong” before the election, which could be held next month or otherwise early next year.

“We’ve seen the Labor party break out in their usual factional brawls up in Rockhampton,” he said on Friday.

“If you can’t govern yourself you can’t govern the state, and Labor clearly can’t govern themselves.”

Shorten sidesteps unpopularity claims

Bill Shorten has sidestepped claims his personal unpopularity was a drag at the 2016 federal election, insisting Labor defied all expectations by coming close to victory.

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The Seven Network has reported an internal review of the ALP’s campaign found Mr Shorten hindered the opposition’s success.

The report, written by 18 senior Labor members, has not been publicly released and is understood to have only been read under strict conditions by a handful of ALP national executive members in August.

Mr Shorten says the party’s performance had surprised “all the experts” and he had learned valuable lessons from the campaign.

“People didn’t give Labor any chance when Turnbull took over … that’s it, he will be there for a decade,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Perth on Friday.

“The point is people are not interested in the personalities but interested in the action and substance. Labor put together policies for the last elections, 100 positive policies.

“We campaigned on them and got close.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was reluctant to comment when asked about the ALP report.

“The important thing is that we won the election and look at how much we’ve done with a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives and nowhere near a majority in the Senate,” he told the Seven Network.

Labor won a net 14 seats at the election, almost defeating the coalition after one term in government.

The party’s campaign focused heavily on policy, while the coalition sought to take advantage of Mr Turnbull’s personal popularity after ousting the unpopular Tony Abbott in September 2015.

The Australian reported last week that Labor senator Jenny McAllister briefed the national executive on the report’s statistical analysis and executive members held a broad discussion about the campaign.

Energy, climate policy enters final stages

Coalition MPs could get their first glimpse at the Turnbull government’s energy policy as early as next week.

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Cabinet’s energy subcommittee met on Wednesday to examine what one minister described as an “enormous amount of progress” on the policy.

Minister Christopher Pyne told Sky News on Friday: “We will soon have a comprehensive energy policy.”

He indicated the government’s thinking on subsidies for renewable energy had changed in recent times.

“One of the things we have discovered is the competitive disadvantage of solar and wind in the past versus coal and gas is no longer the case,” Mr Pyne said.

“It’s as competitive to bring solar and wind into the equation as it is to do coal and gas – when that happens you need to change your thinking about things.”

The government has received advice from business and industry, the Australian Energy Market Operator, energy regulators, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Energy Security Board, which was set up in August.

The advice is understood to have covered the topics of gas supply, wholesale market structures, integrated energy and climate policy, network regulation and retail competition.

Federal cabinet is expected to discuss progress on the policy on Monday and the coalition joint party room is scheduled to meet in Canberra on Tuesday.

Beyond next week’s meeting, there are only two more scheduled meetings of the full coalition joint party room – senators and members – before the end of the year.

AAP understands ministers have given a commitment that backbenchers will be given ample time to consider the policy.

Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told a forum this week he understood the “delicate balance” in developing a policy that dealt with escalating power bills, preventing summer blackouts and reducing emissions in line with Australia’s Paris agreement commitments.

“Should reliability and affordability be compromised, public support for tackling climate change will quickly diminish and previous gains lost,” he said.

“This is in nobody’s interest.”

An estimated $200 billion in investment is needed in the Australian energy industry during the next three decades and investors have been crying out for a long-term policy framework.

Parliament will next week receive a report on proposed laws to abolish limited merits review and possibly pass the laws.

Mr Frydenberg says abolishing the review system, in which network companies can appeal decisions on the prices they can charge, could take pressure off energy prices in the order of billions of dollars.

Man suffers cardiac arrest after sole jumps down his throat

South Western Ambulance Service said medics were called after an angler received the shock of his life when he attempted kiss a 15-centimetre Dover sole fish in celebration before it jumped down his throat.

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The 28-year-old fisherman caught the prized fish off a pier in Bournemouth, southern England, and as tradition decided to kiss his prize.

However, the Dover managed to wriggle out of his hands and jump down the his throat stopping his breathing and causing cardiac arrest.

Beautiful sunny day at Boscombe Pier near Bourneouth Dorset England UK Europe.Getty Images

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Friends attempted to resuscitate the 28-year-old before paramedics were able to pull the 15cm fish from the man’s throat and save his life.

“It was clear that we needed to get the fish out or this patient was not going to survive the short journey to Royal Bournemouth Hospital,” ambulance paramedic Matt Harrison told the BBC.

Dover sole (Solea solea) fish whole on a white studio background (AAP)iStockphoto

“I was acutely aware that I only had one attempt at getting this right as if I lost grip or a piece broke off and it slid further out of sight then there was nothing more that we could have done to retrieve the obstruction.”

Paramedic Matt Harrison said he tried to remove the fish with forceps “although the fish’s barbs and gills were getting stuck on the way back up”. On the sixth attempt he managed to extract it whole.

The ambulance service said the man, who has not been identified, suffered “no lasting effects” from the mishap.

-With AAP

California wildfires: Firefighters making gains as death toll rises to 31

The latest casualty figures mark the greatest loss life from a single California wildfire event in 84 years with 3,500 homes and businesses incinerated and 77,000 hectares scorched.

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Whole neighbourhoods in the city of Santa Rosa have been reduced to gray ash and smouldering ruins dotted with charred trees and burned-out cars.

The official cause of the disaster is under investigation, but officials say power lines toppled by gale-force winds on Sunday night may have sparked the conflagration.

A resurgence of extreme wind conditions that was forecast for Wednesday night and early Thursday failed to materialise, giving fire crews a chance to start carving containment lines around the perimeter of some of the blazes.

But fierce winds are expected to return across much of the state as early as Friday night, and a force of 8,000 firefighters in Northern California are racing to reinforce and extend buffer lines before then, officials said.

Despite progress, fire crews remained “a long way from being out of the woods,” Ken Pimlot, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), told reporters in Sacramento.

Mark Ghilarducci, state director of emergency services, added that: “We are not even close to being out of this emergency.”

Authorities have warned that the death toll from the spate of more than 20 fires raging across eight counties for a fourth day could climb higher, with more than 400 people in Sonoma County alone still listed as missing.

0:00 mailman trying to make delivery in fire ravaged neighbourhood Share mailman trying to make delivery in fire ravaged neighbourhood

One of greatest immediate threats to population centres continued to be in the Napa Valley town of Calistoga, whose 5,000-plus residents were ordered from their homes on Wednesday night as winds picked up and fire crept closer.

Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said anyone refusing to heed the mandatory evacuation would be left to fend for themselves if fire approached, warning on Thursday: “You are on your own.”

Twenty-nine people, all civilians, were confirmed dead in four counties, tying the record for California’s most lethal wildfire, the 1933 Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles.

President Donald Trump has declared a major disaster in California, freeing up federal funding and resources to help fight the fires, and Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in eight counties.

Michael Desmond, 63, was among the hundreds of residents of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood who lost their homes.

“I feel violated, like a thief came in,” said Desmond, who sobbed as he surveyed the rubble of the house where he grew up.

Forest fires are common in the western United States during the summer but this year’s blazes in California are among the deadliest ever.

The Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles County in 1933 killed at least 29 people, and 25 people died in the 1991 Oakland Hills fire.

China congress, leadership shake-up to have implications for Australia

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to shake up his government’s inner circle and spell out his country’s agenda for the next five years.

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China’s Communist Party next week is having its five-yearly congress from Wednesday, which will include a leadership reshuffle.

Mr Xi is expected to retain his position and install key allies into the politburo standing committee (cabinet of seven) and 25-member wider ministry.

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His second term is expected to wrap up in 2020 and there’s wild speculation over whether he will name a successor or perhaps push for an unconventional third term.

The outcomes of the congress will have implications for Australia, which is dependent on a strong economic relationship with China.

Treasurer Scott Morrison, in a speech to a business function in New York on Thursday, US time, urged caution about China being a key source of growth for Australia.

“The risks to the upside that have borne so much fruit for the Australian economy, can be just as sharp on the downside,” he said.

Given the risk to the economy of a slowing China, the government had sought to expand and diversify other trade relationships.

Mr Morrison reflected on the challenges facing China as it undertook necessary structural reform, weaned itself off investment-led growth and boosted private consumption while reining in debt.

A high level of credit has intensified the risk in China’s financial system, especially among lower-tier banks and in the “shadow banking” sector.

The treasurer also pointed out creating 13-15 million jobs a year to prevent unemployment rising was no easy task.

“China generates more jobs in just over week than we do in a year,” Mr Morrison said.

China’s foreign policy platform will also hold strategic implications for Australia and the Asia Pacific region.

Specific examples include freedom of navigation amid the South China Sea maritime boundary dispute as well as China’s actions on curbing the North Korean nuclear threat.

Mr Xi’s signature One Belt One Road infrastructure bonanza is expected to be heavily spruiked at the congress.

While Australia has not officially signed up to the scheme, Australian businesses could be in the running for contracts in third-party countries.

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US, UK police look at Weinstein sex claims

Detectives in New York City and London are taking a fresh look into sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein now that some 30 women have accused the Hollywood film producer of inappropriate conduct.

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New York Police Department spokesman Peter Donald said on Thursday that investigators are reviewing police files to see if anyone else reported being assaulted or harassed by him.

So far, no filed complaints have been found, he said, other than one well-known case that prompted an investigation in 2015, but authorities are encouraging anyone with information on Weinstein to contact the department.

London police were also looking into a claim it had received from the Merseyside force in northwest England, British media reported Thursday. Merseyside police said the allegation was made a day earlier and concerned “an alleged sexual assault in the London area in the 1980s.”

Some 30 women – including actresses Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow – have now spoken out to say Weinstein had sexually harassed or sexually assaulted them. Rose McGowan, who has long suggested that Weinstein sexually assaulted her, tweeted on Thursday that “HW raped me.”

The initials were an apparent reference to Weinstein, and The Hollywood Reporter said the actress had confirmed she was referring to the disgraced film mogul. The New York Times earlier reported that Weinstein paid a financial settlement of $US100,000 ($A127,820) to McGowan in 1997 over an incident in a hotel room at the Sundance Film Festival.

“Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein,” Weinstein’s representative Sallie Hofmeister said Thursday.

Weinstein was sacked on Sunday by The Weinstein Co., a studio he co-founded with his brother.

Some of the allegations involved conduct at hotels in Beverly Hills, but police there didn’t return calls on whether they were investigating any possible crimes.

Detectives in the NYPD’s special victims unit have been told to identify and speak with any potential victims, including the women who spoke about their encounters with Weinstein in a recent New Yorker article, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.

In The New Yorker expose, a former actress, Lucia Evans, said Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex in 2004 when she was a college student.

At least one other unnamed woman said she was raped by Weinstein, but the article did not disclose when or where it happened. A third woman, actress Asia Argento, told the magazine that Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in 1997 at a hotel in France.

Weinstein, through a spokeswoman, has denied any nonconsensual sexual conduct with any women.

The media mogul has long been a major figure at the Academy Awards, where his films have regularly won Oscars.

He reappeared briefly on Wednesday outside a Los Angeles home, telling the paparazzi he’s “not doing OK,” but he’s hoping for a “second chance,” according to video posted by celebrity website TMZ. He also told the photographers he needs to “get help” and “we all make mistakes.”

Actress Kate Beckinsale has also recounted she was 17 when Weinstein greeted her in his bathrobe. Years later, Beckinsale said, she met Weinstein again and he asked if he had tried anything at their first meeting. She said she realised “he couldn’t remember if he had assaulted me or not.”

Hachette Book Group has also “terminated” Weinstein Books.

Canada cans ‘inappropriate’ asylum seeker questionnaire appearing to target Muslims

Canadian authorities have withdrawn a border control questionnaire that appeared to single out Muslim asylum seekers crossing into the country from the US.

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The questionnaire was deemed “inappropriate and inconsistent with government policy” by government department Public Safety Canada, after asking claimants how they felt about women who do not wear religious head coverings, and equality between men and women, reports The Toronto Star.

Some of the other 41 questions appeared to specifically target Islamist groups, asking respondents about their view on the Islamic State and the Taliban.

No other religious practices or terrorist groups were mentioned.

The questionnaire was reportedly only used in Quebec.

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Scott Bardsley, spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had suspended “that version” of the guide after their office became aware.

“The minute we became aware of the interview guide, we were immediately concerned and contacted the RCMP,” Mr Bardsley said.

“Some of the questions were inappropriate and inconsistent with government policy.”

Asylum seekers from Haiti leave Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Canada.AAP

Canada has seen an enormous increase in asylum seekers attempting to cross in to the country from the US. 

Police have caught up to 13,200 people seeking refuge in Canada since January due to the Trump administration’s hardening stance on illegal immigrants.

The number increased by more than six times in July and August compared to previous months, official data showed on Tuesday.

Canada’s immigration ministry said more than 5,700 people were intercepted by the RCMP in August, while over 3,150 were detained in July.

The monthly average for the first half of the year was 727 people.

Once intercepted by police, people are handed over to border authorities for their asylum applications to be processed.

Most asylum seekers who arrived during the summer were Haitians fleeing the United States ahead of the expected loss at the end of the year of temporary protection granted to nearly 60,000 people from the country following a devastating 2010 earthquake.

Faced with the sudden influx of asylum seekers, the Canadian government has increased personnel on the border and built temporary shelters for migrants.

– With AFP

Fatah and Hamas: A decade of strained relations

The split, which has at times erupted into deadly conflict, has seen rival administrations run by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and by Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

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Here is a look back at the history of the dispute:

Islamists win at the polls

In 2006, the Islamists of Hamas take part in elections to the Palestinian parliament for the first time, sweeping to a landslide victory over Fatah, which had dominated it since it was established.

A unity government is installed with Hamas taking key posts but it is dogged by International demands, rejected by the Islamists, that they renounce violence and recognise Israel and past peace deals.

Hamas seizes Gaza

In early 2007, simmering tensions between the rival factions erupt into bloody clashes in Gaza. 

After a week of violence in June, Abbas dismisses the unity government and declares a state of emergency in the territory.

But Hamas fighters rout pro-Abbas forces and take control, a move the president calls a coup. 

Reconciliation stillborn

In April 2011, Fatah and Hamas say they have reached an understanding to create an interim government to prepare for elections, but implementation is repeatedly delayed.

In January 2012, the rivals strike a prisoner exchange agreement. The following month, they agree that Abbas should lead an interim government, but the deal is disputed within Hamas and never implemented.

In April 2014, the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas finally agree on a unity government.

It is sworn in on June 2 but fails to exercise authority over Gaza where Abbas accuses Hamas of setting up a parallel administration.

In July-August 2014, the factions put up a united front after Israel launches a 50-day blitz against Gaza in response to rocket fire, but the unity government falls apart months later.

Pragmatism

In May 2017, Hamas makes a major revision to its founding charter, easing its stance on Israel after having long called for its destruction.

The Islamist group says its struggle is not against Jews but against Israel as an occupier, and accepts the idea of a Palestinian state in territories occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967.

The group — which remains blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union as well as Israel — is seen as seeking to ease its isolation without marginalising hardliners in its ranks.

Pressure and concessions

Tensions persist over the formation by Hamas of an “administrative committee” in Gaza which is seen as a rival Palestinian government.

Abbas puts the squeeze on Hamas including by cutting payments for electricity supplies to the territory.

An Egyptian-led reconciliation push receives a major boost when Hamas agrees on September 17 to dissolve the committee and cede civil power, saying it is ready for talks on a new unity government and elections.

Egyptian push

In early October, Palestinian Authority prime minister Rami Hamdallah visits Gaza for the first time since 2015. 

His ministers take formal control of government departments in the territory.

On October 10, the two factions open detailed reconciliation talks mediated by Egypt in Cairo.

On October 12, the two sides announce they have reached a deal.

Fatah says Abbas will visit Gaza within a month and sanctions he had imposed on the territory will soon be lifted.

Some 3,000 Palestinian Authority police officers are to redeploy to Gaza, a member of the negotiating team says.

But the two sides remain sharply at odds over the future of Hamas’s 25,000-strong armed wing, which the Islamists say is non-negotiable.