‘Potentially catastrophic’ Hurricane Irma nears US

Highly dangerous Category 5 Hurricane Irma is rolling towards the Caribbean and southern United States, packing winds of 295 kilometres per hour as Texas and Louisiana still reel from devastating Hurricane Harvey.

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Irma’s eye was forecast to cross the northern Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico, on Tuesday night or early Wednesday (local time) , and hurricane warnings were in place from there to the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in a statement.

0:00 View of Hurricane Irma from the International Space Station Share View of Hurricane Irma from the International Space Station

The NHC called Irma a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 hurricane and tweeted that it was “the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic (Ocean) outside the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in NHC records”. Category 5 is the highest NHC designation.

Category 5 #Irma with 185-mph winds- #Hurricane preparations in the NE Leeward Islands should be nearing completion 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/tMhL53YX5I

— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) September 5, 2017

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Irma was about 295 km east-southeast of Barbuda in the eastern Caribbean and moving west at about 22 kph, according to the NHC. Maximum sustained winds were 295 kph, with hurricane-force winds extending 96 km from the eye.

Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello urged the 3.4 million residents of the US territory to seek refuge in one of 460 hurricane shelters before the storm is expected to hit as early as Tuesday night.

0:00 Florida Governor urges residents to be prepared for Irma Share Florida Governor urges residents to be prepared for Irma

He will ask US President Donald Trump to declare a federal state of emergency before the storm passes to allow disbursement of US emergency funds.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency, and said on Tuesday he also asked Trump to make a “pre-landfall” emergency declaration.

#Irma key messages for Advisory 26. #Hurricane preparations should be rushed to completion in the NE Caribbean. 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/3OSkumDsdV

— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) September 5, 2017

Irma is expected to reach southern Florida on Saturday, and shares in insurance companies with exposure in the state tumbled in Tuesday trading.

Airlines cancelled flights to the region, and American Airlines added three extra flights to Miami from San Juan, St Kitts and St. Maarten.

Residents of Texas and Louisiana were still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, dumping several feet of rain, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, killed an estimated 60 people and displaced more than 1 million others.

‘Cruel’ and ‘self-defeating’: Obama slams Trump’s decision to scrap ‘Dreamers’ program

Former President Barack Obama has called President Donald Trump’s decision to phase out the so-called DACA program “cruel” and “self-defeating”.

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The program provided nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation. The Trump administration announced it’s rescinding the program and leaving it to Congress to come up with an alternative.

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Obama did not mention Trump by name in his statement but wrote in a Facebook post a “shadow has been cast” over some of the nation’s best and brightest young people.

Targeting them is wrong “because they have done nothing wrong”, he said.

Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017

Obama says it’s up to members of Congress to act and he joins his voice with the majority of Americans who hopes Congress will step up.

“Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally,” Obama said. “It’s a political decision, and a moral question.”

“Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us.”

The action was announced not by the president but by Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, who called theprogram an unconstitutional overreach by Obama. There would be an “orderly, lawful wind-down,” Sessions said.

Trump issued a written statement saying that “I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognise that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”

0:00 US rescinds protections for young immigrants Share US rescinds protections for young immigrants

Trump later told reporters he has “great heart” for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children and he wants Congress to produce a legislative solution for them.

“I have a great heart for the folks we’re talking about, a great love for them,” Trump said 

“I can tell you in speaking to members of Congress they want to be able to do something and do it right and really we have no choice.”

The administration said nobody covered by the program, which provided work permits in addition to deportation protection and primarily benefits Hispanics, would be affected before March 5.

Most of the people covered by DACA are in their 20s.

People react toAttorney General Jeff Sessions announce the end of the program that protects immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as DACA, AAP

By deferring the actual end of the program, Trump effectively kicked responsibility for the fate of those covered by DACA to his fellow Republicans who control Congress. But neither Trump nor Sessions offered details of the type of legislation they would want to see, and Trump’s spokeswoman offered only a broad outline.

Since Trump took office in January, Congress has been unable to pass any major legislation, most notably failing on a healthcare overhaul, and lawmakers have been bitterly divided over immigration in the past.

0:00 New York angered after Trump ends immigration program Share New York angered after Trump ends immigration program

The looming congressional elections in November 2018 could also complicate prospects for compromise between the two parties and within an ideologically divided Republican Party.

The Democratic attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, said a coalition of states planned to file suit in the coming days to defend DACA, and one advocacy group announced its own legal action.

0:00 Protests outside the White House after DACA announcement Share Protests outside the White House after DACA announcement

“President Trump’s decision to end DACA is a deeply shameful act of political cowardice and a despicable assault on innocent young people in communities across America,” said Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives.

“This is a sad day for our country,” added Facebook Inc (FB.O) founder Mark Zuckerberg. “The decision to end DACA is not just wrong. It is particularly cruel to offer young people the American Dream, encourage them to come out of the shadows and trust our government, and then punish them for it.”

Nearly 800,000 people stepped forward, admitted their illegal immigrant status and provided personal information to the government to apply for the DACA program, and now face the potential of being deported starting in March.

The “Dreamers” are a fraction of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, most of whom are Hispanic.

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Supporters of the program argue that people covered by it were raised and educated in the United States and integrated into society, with scant ties to their countries of origin. Opponents of DACA argue against amnesty for illegal immigrants and say that such immigrants take jobs from US citizens.

“The cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible,” the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement.

Sessions said the action does not mean DACA recipients are “bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way.”

“To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. It’s just that simple. That would be an open-border policy and the American people have rightly rejected that,” Sessions said.

Ending DACA was the latest action by Trump that is sure to alienate Hispanic Americans, a growing segment of the US population and an increasingly important voting bloc. Most of the immigrants protected by DACA came from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

The Mexican government said it “profoundly laments” the decision to phase out DACA and would strengthen efforts to guarantee consular protections for affected Mexican youth.

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Government to seek advice to save a number of coal-fired power stations

The advice, to be compiled by the Australian Energy Market Operator, comes amid confusion over the future of the Liddell power station in NSW.

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Owner AGL told the stock market on Wednesday it would close the Hunter Valley plant in 2022, reaffirming a decision announced in April 2015.

“AGL will continue to engage with governments, regulators and other stakeholders to deliver appropriate outcomes but notes that the company has made no commitment to sell the Liddell power station nor to extend its life beyond 2022,” the company said.

However, the prime minister said AGL had told him it was prepared to “discuss the sale of the power station to a responsible party”.

0:00 Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg on AGL Liddell Power station statement Share Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg on AGL Liddell Power station statement

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Mr Turnbull said the government had been advised that after 2022, when the Liddell plant was scheduled to close, there would be a 1000MW gap in baseload, dispatchable power generation.

The Snowy Hydro 2.0 project would not be available in time to fill the gap.

“What are now doing is ensuring that we put in place all of the options that we can examine to make sure that that 1000 megawatt gap in dispatchable power is not realised,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.

It was too early to speculate whether AGL, which would meet with the government next week, would be offered financial incentives to keep the Liddell plant running.

Mr Turnbull said keeping Liddell open was one option, but “no doubt there are others”.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said another part of the solution lay in a “strategic reserve” of electricity which was estimated to cost $50 million a year to stave offload shedding.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce earlier said AGL was open to selling the plant in order to provide electricity to NSW residents and businesses until 2027.

Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon, whose seat is in the NSW Hunter Valley, accused Mr Turnbull of offering false hope.

“Liddell is almost 50-years-old; no-one would be happier than me as the local member to think that we could extend the life of Liddell but it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Nationals senator and former resources minister Matt Canavan predicts people would be lining up to buy the station.

Turnbull holds ‘warm’ talks with Trump on North Korea

The pair held a half-hour discussion on Wednesday morning on the security threat posed by Kim Jong-un’s regime but also talked about IS in the Philippines.

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“It was a very good call, very warm discussion, very constructive,” Mr Turnbull said.

“Naturally we focused on the threat posed by North Korea. We are absolutely of the one mind in condemning this reckless conduct.”

It was the pair’s third phone call since Mr Trump became President and follows their heated discussion in February – leaked details of which revealed the tense talks over the Australia-US refugee swap deal.

In their latest call, Mr Trump and Mr Turnbull reaffirmed the importance of the alliance and agreed that North Korea posed a “grave threat” to international security.

But both stressed that China held the greatest leverage over North Korea.

“We will both continue to encourage China to bring more economic pressure to bear on North Korea to bring this regime to its senses,” Mr Turnbull said.

The PM heading into his phone call with @realDonaldTrump this morning. pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/7dY7DMv4lw

— The PMO (@thepmo) September 5, 2017

However, Mr Turnbull could not go into what potential steps the US could take against the regime.

“A lot of our conversation I can’t go into,” the Prime Minister said.

“Everybody wants to get this dangerous situation resolved, bring this reckless, dangerous, provocative regime to its senses without conflict. A conflict would be catastrophic – everyone understands that.”

Meanwhile, Labor leader Bill Shorten will head to South Korea and Japan with his foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong in September.

The pair will meet political leaders and government officials to express support for allies amid threats from North Korea. 

I’ll travel to Japan and Sth Korea this month with @SenatorWong to show bipartisan support for regional partners in these challenging times.

— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) September 6, 2017

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi under mounting pressure

Pressure is mounting on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to halt violence against Rohingya Muslims that has sent nearly 125,000 of them fleeing over the border to Bangladesh in just over 10 days.

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says there is a risk of ethnic cleansing and regional destabilisation and has written to the UN Security Council urging restraint and calm to avoid a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Reuters reporters witnessed hundreds more exhausted Rohingya arriving on boats near the Bangladeshi border village of Shamlapur on Tuesday, suggesting the exodus is far from over.

Government sources in Dhaka, who did not want to be named, told Reuters Myanmar has been laying landmines over the past three days along the border to stop Rohingya Muslims from returning.

“They are putting the landmines in their territory along the barbed-wire fence” between a series of border pillars, said one of the sources.

Bangladesh will on Wednesday formally lodge a protest against the laying of land mines so close to the border, the sources said.

The International Organization for Migration are calling for urgent increases in humanitarian assistance saying there’s now a funding gap of $US18 million ($A23 million) for lifesaving servces over the next three months.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said after meeting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka that Jakarta was ready to help Bangladesh in dealing with the crisis.

“This humanitarian crisis shall be ended. I want to repeat, this humanitarian crisis shall be ended”, she told reporters in Dhaka, a day after she held talks in the Myanmar capital.

The latest violence in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine state began on August 25, when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base. The ensuing clashes and a military counter-offensive have killed at least 400 people and triggered the exodus of villagers to Bangladesh.

Myanmar officials blamed Rohingya militants for the burning of homes and civilian deaths, but rights monitors and Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh say the Myanmar army is trying to force them out with a campaign of arson and killings.

When asked if the violence could be described as ethnic cleansing, Guterres told reporters on Tuesday: “We are facing a risk, I hope we don’t get there.”

The treatment of Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s roughly 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya is the biggest challenge facing Suu Kyi, who has been accused by Western critics of not speaking out for the minority that has long complained of persecution.

Myanmar says its security forces are fighting a legitimate campaign against “terrorists.”